Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cooking, and a great lasagna recipe

I love to cook. 

This statement makes both my mother-in-law and my mom look at me quizzically and say "It won't last long!" or "why?!".

I grew up in a household with a reluctant cook. My mom isn't at her best in the kitchen, and while she made dinner most nights of my childhood, she never has really enjoyed it. (And she admits this freely. and has lots of other wonderful talents! love you, mom.)
Anyway, I grew up with a pretty limited cooking repertoire, mostly casseroles and dishes with minimal ingredients and boring spices, which left me with a blank slate when I entered my own kitchen. Early on in my marital cooking adventures I discovered epicurious.com, allrecipes.com, and The Pioneer Woman, and from there - dozens of food blogs. A whole world was opened up to me and as I began to see food as a creative expression rather than just basic sustenance, I started to love it. I bought and used spices and ingredients (and cheeses!) I'd previously never heard of, cooked all kinds of ethnic foods, and *gasp* even started experimenting without using a recipe.

Now when I get home from work I kick off my shoes, put on an apron and start chopping, sauteing, or roasting - it's easily one of the most relaxing times of my day (even more so with a glass of wine for company!). The kitchen has been my haven, my retreat after a long day.

Before you roll your eyes at my waxing poetic about my love of cooking - please know that I fail often. Oh, the flops. E and I have worked out a system for avoiding hurt feelings in those situations. When he loves a meal, he asks me to save the recipe for a repeat. When he doesn't love it - he still eats, still thanks me for dinner, but doesn't suggest holding on to the recipe for future dinners. This works well for us.

We had a friend and classmate of E's over for dinner last week (as we do almost every week) and I made lasagna that was save-worthy. It was so good I had to share the recipe, which was adapted from The Bride and Groom First & Forever Cookbook.

Homemade Meat Marinara (this is my best guestimate as a lot of the seasoning is 'to taste')
4 - 14 oz cans of sliced tewed tomatoes
8 oz of ground beef
8 oz of hot Italian sausage
2 tblsp olive oil
2 sweet onions, diced
4-6 cloves garlic, miced
2 tsp oregano
1 large handful of fresh basil (or 2 tsp of dried basil)
2 tsp of sugar

Crumble and brown the sausage and ground beef together in a heavy bottom pot for 8-10 minutes. Strain out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add 1 tblsp of olive oil to the pot over medium heat and cook onions for 3-4 minutes, then add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.
Pulse the stewed tomatoes in a food processor, two cans at a time, until lightly blended. Add to garlic and onions, with oregano and sugar (and dried basil if you don't have fresh). Stir for a minute, and then add the cooked meat to the mixture.
Simmer over medium low heat for 5 minutes, remove from heat, and stir in fresh basil  and another drizzle of olive oil.

Homemade marinara and three cheese sauce for lasagna. #dinnerwinner

Lasagna  (adapted from The Bride and Groom First & Forever Cookbook, which I cannot recommend highly enough)
Serves 6-8

8 oz cream cheese
12 oz ricotta cheese
3/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 c. pesto
1 pkg (8 oz) of no boil lasagna noodles
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Blend cream cheese and ricotta until well combined, and stir in parmesan, pesto and 1/4 tsp pepper.
lightly grease a 9x13 baking pan and then layer as follows.

1 c. meat sauce
noodle layer
1 1/2 c. meat sauce
1/2 of the cheese mixture in spoonfuls
noodle layer
1 1/2 c meat sauce
other 1/2 cheese mixture
noodle layer
1 1/2 c meat sauce
noodle layer
rest of meat sauce
mozzarella cheese

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for additional 10-15 minutes to brown the cheese. Let rest for a few minutes before serving.

Verdict on lasagna: outrageously good. Recipe to come


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