Lasagna: The Company Dinner

The hearty sauce for this lasagna recipe is made from scratch and provides enough for a very large pan of lasagna. However, if you’re going to go the trouble of preparing a pan of lasagna, double the recipe and freeze one to bake at a later date. Also, don’t get overwhelmed looking at the ingredient list. The only things that get chopped are onions, garlic, and parsley. Everything else is a simple shake, stir, or squash in.

This is one of those meals, where you could sneak a book into the kitchen and rattle pans once in a while and people will assume you’ve been hard at work the whole time, even though there is a significant down time while the sauce simmers.

If you don’t want to go to all the trouble of lasagna, serve the hearty meat sauce over spaghetti noodles or toss with ziti and mozzarella. Add some fresh spinach or sauteed mushrooms, bell pepper or zucchini and skip the immersion blender for some variety. It’s not rocket science, as long as you don’t stray too far from the bones of this recipe, you’ll have a fantastic meal.

Company’s Coming Lasagna

Sauce:

  • 1 lb hot or mild bulk Italian sausage
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 onion diced
  • 3 cloves garlic – minced
  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste
  • 2 6.5oz can tomato sauce (or just use one 15oz one, it’s not critical)
  • 2 TBSP white sugar (cuts the acidity of the sauce, omit if you use seasoned tomatoes as they frequently already contain sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried basil (or use 2 – 3x as much fresh
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 4 TBSP chopped fresh parsley – divided

In a large, heavy pot brown the beef and sausage over medium heat, drain and set aside. I set the meat on paper towels to soak up any remaining grease. Do not wash the pot, all of the browned bits from the beef and sausage add flavor to the final sauce. If you’d like, give the pan a quick wipe to remove any excess grease.

Onion garlic seasoningPlace the pot back on the burner over medium heat and add the diced onion, dried basil (wait if you are using fresh), Italian seasoning, fennel, salt, and pepper. Once the onion begins to soften, add the minced garlic.

To the onions, garlic, and seasoning add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar and if you choose, fresh basil. Return the meat to the pot, stir until well combined and lower the heat to low.

Cover and simmer for 1 – 1.5 hours. Alternately, place all the ingredients in a large crockpot and cook on low all day.

While the sauce simmers, boil 8oz of lasagna noodles according to the package directions.

Also, assemble the ricotta filling.

Add 2 TBSP of parsley at the very end of cooking, unless you skip the blender step. In this case, add all the parsley.

Immersion Blender

I don’t like big chunks of meat in spaghetti or lasagna sauce, except for meatballs. I never said it was rational, it’s just one of my quirks. So, I give the whole sauce a good whir with an immersion blender. I use this thing for everything from soups to smoothies; stick blenders can be found for as little as $25. I’m sure high-end ones are great, but I’ve been happy with my el cheap-o for several years. Add the rest of the parsley and stir.

Now it’s time to assemble the lasagna.

Ricotta filling:

  • 16oz ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 lb pkg frozen spinach, drained completely, squeeze the ever loving life out of it! I mean it

Mix all ingredients well.
That was rough, eh?

Other ingredients for lasagna assembly:

  • 1 lb mozzarella – grated
  • 1 generous cup grated Parmesan (use a Parmesan Romano mix if you’d like)
  • boiled lasagna noodles (the number depends on the size of your pan, use your judgement)

To assemble:

Preheat the oven 375F.

sauce layer Spoon just enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan.

noodle layer Add a single layer of noodles.

CHEESE Spread with 1/2 the ricotta mixture, sprinkle with 1/3 the mozzarella and parmesan. Repeat layers and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.

**optional tip** add a layer of thinly sliced zucchini, mushrooms, and summer squash.

Cover tightly, but do NOT let the foil touch the cheese or you’ll yank off all the yummy goodness when it is removed. Alternately, add a layer of parchment paper between the lasagna and foil, this works very well.

Bake for 25 minutes, remove the foil and bake for an additional 25 minutes. If the cheese isn’t nicely browned, broil just long enough to add some color.

**Warning, all the cheese makes this dish nuclear hot, allow it to cool some before serving.**

Enjoy.

Lowcountry Boil

It’s Memorial Day weekend in the US. Spend time with your loved ones and remember those who sacrificed so we could spend this time together. The recipe below is a classic great for get-togethers with the framily [sic].

Heather says:

Making Low Country Boil is a time honored tradition in the South. Remember how leery I was when I posted my recipe for fried chicken? Lowcountry boil* is another traditional recipe where people will bicker over the right way to get things done. What I’m sharing below is a framework; how you change the ingredients to fit your taste will depend on the tradition you are following or creating.

*notice that sometimes there is a space and sometimes there isn’t, that’s a whole other debate. I tend to stick to Lowcountry, but other people have strong opinions on the matter.

This recipe for Lowcountry boil can be multiplied to feed a crowd. The proportions are for 4lbs medium to large headless, deveined shrimp.

It’s a casual dinner, meant to be enjoyed with cold beer, lots of napkins, talk about the heat, and good friends.

Lowcountry Boil is a one pot wonder. The sausage, potatoes (and onions, if you’d like) are tossed in first, then comes the sweet corn, and finally, at just the last minute the shrimp join in the fun. Never forget, over cooked shrimp are rubber shrimp; as soon as they are cooked through, it’s time to lift the basket or strain the contents.  I’m not cool enough to have a basket insert. Large batches can be prepared outdoors in a turkey fryer, with the exact same timeline.

If you have a picnic table, cover it with newspaper or butcher’s paper, dump out the spread and everyone can pick at the Lowcountry boil to their hearts’ content. Having to peel the shrimp slows people down enough to enjoy the meal and complain about the heat and bugs. It’s a bonding experience.

Lacking a picnic table, we chose to eat indoors, but enjoyed it all the same.

Recipe for Lowcountry Boil

  • 2 lbs smoked or kielbasa sausage, cut into 1 inch pieces  (We prefer smoked, sorry Mom)
  • 3 lbs new or Yukon Gold potatoes – If they are large, quarter them
  • Optional 1 – 2 onions, paper removed and quartered
  • 6 ears of corn, husks and silk removed, broken or cut in half
  • 4 lbs medium shrimp, headless and deveined
  • Crab Boil (love me some Zatarains) or Old Bay Seasoning (I two time on Zatarains w/ Old Bay)  – to taste, somewhere between 2 tsp per quart of water – 1 TBSP per quart
  • 3 – 4 whole cloves (not heads) of garlic

Heat a large pot of water over medium-high heat and add the crab boil or Old Bay.

While waiting for the water to boil, beware of sneak thieves, they will lurk about.

When the water boils add the potatoes, garlic, optional onions, and sausage. You can reduce the heat a little, but keep it boiling. After 10 minutes add the corn

Cook for 5 minutes.

Add the shrimp, turn off the heat, and cook for 3 minutes.

Strain.

Serve.

Enjoy.

Garlic and Soy Chicken Thighs

Heather says:

The humble chicken thigh certainly doesn’t get as much attention as its counterpart the boneless skinless chicken breast.  In my area BSCB have been running in the neighborhood of $5 a pound on sale, which makes thighs much more attractive. This recipe is flexible, substitute low sodium soy sauce if you wish.  If you have it on hand, consider adding fresh, grated ginger.

Printable Grocery List.

Garlic and Soy Chicken Thighs

Ingredients

  • 6 – 8 chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 spring onion or 2 green onions, chopped
  • 3 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • black pepper* to taste

Directions:

Trim the excess skin and fat from each chicken thigh. I leave just enough skin to cover the meat.  Place the breasts in a baking dish just big enough to accomodate the chicken.  If you have too much space between the pieces the sugars in the sauce will burn and your evening’s entertainment will consist of dish scrubbing.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Whisk together the soy sauce, honey, onion, garlic, and pepper*.  Pour the sauce over the chicken.  Turn each piece so it is well coated and then leave it skin side up.

Bake at 350°F for 30 – 40 minutes.

*If you aren’t cooking for sensitive palates (ie young kids or picky spouses) consider substituting crushed red pepper flakes for the black pepper.  These will add a nice kick.

Gluten-Free Chicken Marsala

Heather says:

Like many people, I love chicken marsala. If you’ve gone gluten free, no worries, you don’t have to leave chicken marsala behind. This version is a simple variation on the classic, all you need is brown rice flour (This is the one I use) to use in place of wheat. I made this for company the other night and it turned out well. I hadn’t expected the brown rice flour to hold up as well in the sauce as it did. This is also a lower cholesterol version of the recipe -the original called for butter, I only used olive oil to stay within a guest’s dietary restrictions. Modify the recipe as you see fit.

I prefer to serve it with a side of roasted potatoes rather than gluten-free pasta, but it’s a to each their own kind of comfort food. For what it’s worth, mashed potatoes or hasselback potatoes would work wonderfully, too. And if you’re going lower carb just serve it over a bed of quickly sauteed greens like kale or spinach. This will also add some color to an otherwise pale plate.

And yes, I’m totally cheating and using pictures from the first time I photographed chicken marsala. (I was hosting a dinner party and have only just found my 50mm I thought I lost in a move).

If you want to speed up production, you can use two skillets. Since I was cooking for a group, I let the mushrooms begin to cook down in a second skillet while I cooked the chicken. Just be sure to use the pan used for the chicken so you can scrape up all those wonderful bits of goodness produced by the Maillard Reaction should NOT go to waste.

I went with a sauvignon blanc brought over by a friend, which we finished with the meal.

Gluten-Free Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup seasoned brown rice flour (add a pinch each of: salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, and dried basil. Stir)
  • Approximately 4 TBSP olive oil
  • 3/4 cup sweet white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 3 cups mushrooms, sliced – baby portabellas, crimini, shittake or even button
  • salt / pepper to taste
  • optional green onions for garnish

Remove any visible fat from the chicken breasts and cover them with plastic wrap or wax paper and pound thin with a mallet, empty wine bottle, or rolling pin. Pro-Tip Pounding the chicken breasts physically breaks down the muscle tissue, leaving you with tender chicken you won’t ever need a knife to cut. Don’t skip that step, go ahead and take out some of the day’s frustrations. It’ll be worth the effort, I promise.

Cut the chicken into manageable pieces. You don’t have to go to bite size, but generally you want pieces people will only need to cut in half. This is a nice compromise between fiddly, fussy cooking and providing a pleasant dining experience. Cut it smaller than in the picture, that’s just to illustrate what the pounded chicken should look like.

Heat your pan over medium to medium high heat. Add 2 TBSP olive oil to the pan. Dredge the chicken in the seasoned rice flour, shake off the excess.

Cook the chicken 2 – 3 minutes a side in the hot pan. Then set aside. You’ll need to cook the chicken in two – three batches to avoid crowding the pan too much.

When the chicken has been browned and set aside, add another small drizzle of olive oil to the pan, then the 3 cups of mushrooms.

Cook the mushrooms until they start to sweat. If your pan starts to dry up too much, turn the heat down a little and cover. When the mushrooms are golden brown around the edges, releasing their liquid magic, it’s time to add the 3/4 cup of  wine.

Simmer until about half the liquid is gone, then add the 1 cup of chicken stock or just more wine, if you prefer.

Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to medium, simmer for 3 minutes and add the chicken back to the pan and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Return the chicken to the skillet and ensure it has all been coated in the sauce.

Serve and enjoy.

Shared on : Mouthwatering Monday at A Southern Fairytale

Tomato Pie: Smack Your Granny Good

Heather says:

Two years ago I stumbled upon the deliciousness that is tomato pie. The framework for this recipe can be credited to Paula Deen, but it has been played with enough, to call it my own.

Before giving this pie a shot, make sure you have fully ripe tomatoes. I know, I know it’s tempting, what with the bacon and basil, but just sit tight and wait. Don’t ruin this with a tomato that has seen the inside of a refrigerator. Fine, you won’t ruin it, but. . . it’ll be worth it.

Some people get very persnickety about the bottom crust. You have three options:

  1. Blind bake -pre-bake the bottom crust-  but know that you will absolutely have to protect the edge of your pie during the real baking and I hate putzing around with foil like that
  2. Instead of draining the seeded tomato slices in a colander you can do so on a clean flour sack towel -it doesn’t have to be that particular one, you just don’t want to end up with linty tomatoes. Bleh.
  3. Suck it up and deal with it because it’s delicious.

Double Crust Tomato Onion Bacon Pie

Double Crust Tomato, Onion, and Bacon Pie Recipe Ingredients

  • 1 recipe pie crust (9″ pie) – feel free to cheat and use refrigerated pie crust if you’re in a hurry and sometimes I am
  • 4 very ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • 3 slices bacon crumbled
  • 3 TBSP cream cheese or mayonnaise*
  • 1 tsp dried basil, divided -If you have fresh, use a small handfull and cut into a chiffonade -fancy word meaning thin raggy strips
  • salt/pepper to taste

*It absolutely must be mayonnaise, not low-fat and for the love of all that is holy not miracle whip

Tomato Pie Recipe Instructions

Core each tomato. This is simply a matter of removing the hard area around the stem. Cut each tomato in half through the equator. Use your finger to scoop the seeds out and into the trash or sink. Then slice each tomato. Place the sliced tomatoes in a colander over a large bowl or the sink, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Allow this to sit while preparing the other ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Slice the onion very thinly. No, thinner. No, thinner still, we want the Calista Flockhart of onions.

In a bowl combine the cheese, bacon, and 3TBSP mayo. Mix thoroughly.

tomato layerCarefully lay the bottom pie crust in a 9″ pie plate. Arrange a layer of tomatoes, sprinkle with half the sliced onion and 1/2 tsp dried basil.

Repeat the first layer with the remaining tomatoes, onion, and basil.

Top with cheese mixture. Add the second crust, seal the edges, and cut slits in the top.

Use water to glue on any decorative touches.

Use water to glue on any decorative touches.

Tomato PieBake for 45 minutes, checking after 30. Use the foil trick from the pie crust recipe to protect the edges of the crust.

Allow the pie to cool for 10 minutes (at least) on a wire rack. If you can wait longer to slice the pie, the cheese won’t be as runny.

We look at each other and say, but we LIKE the cheese to be runny.

Enjoy.

***Submitted to: Mouthwatering Mondays***