Friday, December 26, 2014

Old School Lasagna

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. We celebrated twice, a noisy family and friend get-together on Christmas Eve and a quiet Christmas Day dinner with Mom Tilton. I loved both of them, it's always an excuse to try out new recipes and ideas. My family is used to being guinea pigs! Sometimes that's how I find a BEST recipe, better than the one I thought was the best... that's what happened this year when I made an old school Italian family recipe that's been passed down in Martha's family over at A Family Feast. It is homemade from start to finish, so you just might want to plan ahead and make the tomato sauce one day and the meat sauce another. I hope you won't say,"This is too much trouble"... it is so worth it! I made a few variations, I left out the mint and shredded an additional 8 oz. block of mozzarella in place of the fresh sliced mozz. One more trip to the grocery store might just have pushed me over the edge ;)

A recipe that every Italian Grandma knows by heart, the next time you need a 9x13 showstopper this one will fit the bill!

          1 pound box of dry lasagna noodles (you will need 16 noodles. A one pound box contains 20                noodles so you will have four extra. Usually a few get broken so this usually works out)
    For the Meat Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground Italian sausage meat (I used Jimmy Dean Italian Sausage)
  • 1 28-ounce canned crushed tomatoes (Cento is my favorite)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry oregano
  • 2 tablespoons dry basil or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint (I left this out)
  • For the cheese mixture
  • 2 pounds whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley 
  • Other ingredients you’ll need
  • 2 ½ cups tomato sauce (see recipe here)
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella sliced into 12 slices (I took another shortcut and shredded an 8 oz block of mozzarella)
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Cook lasagna noodles according to box directions but keep them slightly undercooked (I cooked them 8 minutes). They should still have a good bite to them. Rinse and cool. Keep moist while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and cook the onions for about two minutes over medium high heat. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Add the meat, stir and cook until there is no pink. Depending on the fat content of the meat you are using, you may need to drain off some liquid. There should only be a few tablespoons of liquid after cooking the meat. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes and mint. Reduce to medium and simmer ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix ricotta, 1 cup shredded mozzarella, beaten eggs, 1 cup Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and the chopped parsley. Mix to combine and set aside.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and put oven rack in center of oven.
  5. In a 9X13X3 glass baking dish, ladle in one cup of tomato sauce into the bottom and lay four lasagna noodles overlapping slightly. Add one third of these cheese mixture, one third of the meat mixture and half of the sliced fresh mozzarella. (The sliced mozzarella will not cover the whole pan, just spread as evenly as possible). Repeat with four more noodles, one third of cheese mixture, one third of meat mixture and the other half of sliced fresh mozzarella. Cover with four more noodles and top with remaining cheese mixture, remaining meat mixture and 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese. Finish with four more noodles, 1 ½ cups tomato sauce, 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella and ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese.
  6. Lay a piece of parchment paper over top and then cover tightly with foil. Cover a sheet pan with foil and place a rack in foiled pan. Now place the covered lasagna on the rack and place in the oven. The rack is to circulate heat and the lower pan will catch and drips.
  7. Bake for one hour covered. Remove foil and parchment and cook uncovered for 30 more minutes. Let rest 15-30 minutes before cutting.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas Simmering Potpourri

I'm a sucker for anything that smells good. If I had invested in Glade sprays or Yankee Candles, maybe we could have retired early on profits! Fragrance is one of those things that's very personal though. This time of year when all the perfume inserts come in the ads, I have to open them and take a whiff. Jessica McClintock is my favorite, it's description are "top notes of cassia, basil, ylang-ylang, bergamot, black currant and lemon; middle notes are jasmine, lily-of-the-valley and rose; base notes are musk and woody notes"... hmm, that pretty well covers all smells known to mankind! But we know what we like and this time of year we all love for our homes to be welcoming and smell like Grandma's house! Even if you haven't had the time to put one single cookie in the oven, you can have that delicious aroma swirling around if you make either one of these potpourri's.  

Simmering Christmas Potpourri #1
Shared from Estelle's Kitchen at The Maine House
Sliced apples
Sliced lemons
Sliced oranges
Bay leaves
Whole cloves
Cinnamon sticks
In a slow-cooker, combine fruit the way you like. Cover in water. Top with bay leaves, whole cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Leave slow-cooker on. Makes your house smell like Christmas Memories!

Simmering Christmas Potpourri #2
1 Quart Pineapple Juice

1 Quart Water
1 Quart Apple Cider
3 Sticks of Cinnamon
16 Cloves
1 Teaspoon Allspice
2 Teaspoons Pickling Spice
Simmer over low heat, until the house smells delicious. Add more water as needed and you can reheat this mixture for days. If you have an electric potpourri pot, all the better! This is just wonderful!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Christmas Album

The year my Dad passed we were expecting our first Grandson Jackson. It was a long winter to go through, depression and anticipation are an odd mix. I decided that keeping busy was the best medicine for me so I began putting together a Christmas Album. Up till then, the various years were scattered from album to envelope to the "Picture Box." Every night I'd set down to watch TV and go through the pictures, 1970-1994. Years of Christmas mornings spread out before me to be placed in the pages of an album that I hoped would mean something in time to the Grandchild waiting to be born.

As I went through the pictures, the memories flowed back. Stephanie was 2 when we were stationed at Biloxi, Mississippi in the above pictures (1972).

Stephanie and her Daddy under the mistletoe...Sacramento, California 1974

1981, Amy was 2 and Stephanie 10

Many, many Christmases at our parents houses. We were lucky, they lived across the pasture from each other so when we went it meant TWO Christmases!

1987 at Mom and Dad's

1988, the next year Stephanie graduated from High School

When you look at a picture you see many things, the look of surprise on someone's face, the excitement of opening the gifts and you remember the feelings you had at that moment of being with the ones you love the most.

It was the perfect project for me to work on. I relived the many happy years that my Dad enjoyed his Grand Daughters. His greatest joy was when we were all together. Whether it was Christmas, or digging potatoes out of the huge garden he grew each year, or at the table laughing and talking all at once...he loved every minute. I think that's probably what I inherited from him that I value the most. It's those moments in our lives that add meaning and joy and make each Christmas something so very special...
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