Build a Better Lasagna

I haven’t been cooking a ton, nor have I been super creative with meals lately but it’s my crazy season at work. See me at the end of May and I’ll have space in my head to think. Until then, I’ll keep concentrating on work, wedding planning, and meals that don’t require TONS of effort. Also, mother nature seems to be holding spring just out of the reach of us New Englanders.

The other night I decided to grab lasagna ingredients so I’d have a few meals in my back pocket for nights I am too crazed, googly-eyed, and have brought work home with me. Lasagna is such a great freezer item, especially since I’m cooking for just Mr. J and myself. One batch makes 2 small ones…one for now and one to freeze for later! There’s a tiny bit more time in the season for delicious meals like this.
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Lasagna is something I can’t usually order out (red meat factor) so I make it myself. I also think there are wayy too many bad lasagnas out there so I wanted to share a few tips. I think lasagna is best when baked. Let to rest, and baked again another time. I think the small touches are what make lasagna better. Using different sauces is a big one. I sneak some pesto and cream sauce into my lasagna in small amounts. I have one additionsl sauce in there, but it’s a secret. Hey, I can’t give away ALL my secrets!

Ingredients

1 pound lasagna noodles
¾ pound meat mix of your choosing (ground turkey & sausage / sausage & ground chicken / ground pork & ground turkey etc)
chopped leeks, onions, or shallots
2 cups whole milk ricotta
1 egg
2 cups shredded mozzarella
½ cup shredded Parmesan
2 cups baby spinach
spices: dried oregano, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, & red pepper flakes

Directions

Cook lasagna noodles unless using no-bake
Mix ricotta with egg, and dried spices
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Cook the meat layer (I used ground chicken and crumbled sausage) and add in somebody in the onion family
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Spread marinara into pans and layer with noodles and a few red pepper flake shakes
Then add the meat layer with leeks/onions/shallots, some pesto, shredded cheese, and more noodles.
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Spread some marinara or alfredo, and top with ricotta, parmasan, and chopped spinach before adding more noodles.
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Top the whole thing off with more marinara, spices and bake for 45 minutes. If eating right then, top with mozzarella until melted.

The meat mix is important. It is better when there is more than one in there. A few shakes of seasoned breadcrumbs will also make sure it’s not greasy or bland. Different cheeses are also a huge part in a good lasagna. Mixing shredded mozzarella with some Parmasan provides a good flavor combo. I’ve learned my lesson with part skim ricotta…not a corner to cut. It ends up dry & crumbly, not creamy, and even with the help of the egg, it doesn’t bind well.

I like veggies in there, and think it’s a good balance with all the meat and cheese. Mr. J liked the baby spinach this time over shredded zucchini I’ve done in the past. Some mushrooms in there would be good too, but somebody doesn’t like ‘em. I had some leeks so I tossed ‘em into the meat layer.

I used no-bake noodles for the first time. While it would definitely save some time, I was using a circular pan for one of my batches and these buggers were tricky to fit in. If I made a 9 X 13 pan I’d definitely use them again.

Lasagna always reminds me of the time I ate “veggie lasagna” at the home of a very important Children’s Book author who shall remain nameless (well, she didn’t cook it so ohh well). The quotes are important because there weren’t any noodles, instead there was squash slices. There wasn’t any cheese, sauce, or meat…instead, there was spinach. Ohh it was interesting let me tell you…

Any lasagna tricks up your sleeve? What makes yours better than the average lasagna?

Itsa meatball!

I made meatballs for the first time ever. Well, not never, but I made them by myself for the first time. I can’t eat red meat so if I want meatballs, they have to be turkey and it usually means I eat them at home after buying them.

When I was little I remember making meatballs. My mum would put all the ingredients into a bowl and dad would let us help roll and cook them. I think as a kid I probably thought she was “letting us help” but it was probably more that she doesn’t like to handle meat with her hands because of the “ick” factor.

We would get some cooking and then make a big one with all the remaining mix and giggle relentlessly before continue to roll them.

Even after buying some frozen turkey meatballs at Trader Joe’s (theirs are the best!). I decided to make some and they were AMAZING, if I do say so myself. This is a prime example of a simple meal, made with really great ingredients, and letting them speak for themselves.

Ingredients

¾ pound ground turkey
2 links sweet Italian sausage
1 egg
1 cup bread crumbs
½ cup milk
2 tbs parsley
2 tbs minced garlic
2 tbs Parmesan cheese
½ cup red wine
salt & pepper

Directions

Remove sausage from casing.
Mix bread crumbs and milk. Let sit a minute.
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Combine ground turkey, sausage, egg, parsley, garlic, Parmesan, wine, salt and pepper. Add breadcrumb mix and combine well.
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Form into balls depending on your size preference. I went with larger ones.
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Heavily oil a baking sheet.
Bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees, turning every 10-15 minutes to evenly brown.
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I was so happy with these! I thought sausage would provide enough fat for moist meatballs instead of proscuitto or bacon, but those would be good too. I was super diligent about turning them to ensure that they cooked evenly. I could have fried them but baking them was way easier.

I’ll continue to purchase them but they weren’t a big deal to make myself. The wine was a HUGE flavor enhancement. A few glug glug glugs of a pinot noir that was already open definitely added some depth of flavor.

They smelled simply amazing! Have you met my sous-chef Windsor? He was standing by, under my feet in our tiny kitchen as usual. I think he was super excited to see what delicious item was coming out of the oven! Even with that cute face he still doesn’t get anything I make.
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Part of my inspiration to make some came from another blog I love We Are Not Martha. Theirs were featuring prosciutto and were pan fried. I literally read the recipe and thought, ooo red wine would be good with these as I channeled my wine-loving college roommates as inspiration. Parsley isn’t my favorite so I just used dried parsley. Rosemary would be good.

I served these with a basic red sauce and spaghetti. I thought my meatballs were good enough and deserved to shine! I’m so proud!
meatball_plate_290_200I didn’t make a ton of meatballs but now that I know this recipe is a winner I’m sure I’ll make more and freeze them. I will probably also make some cute little ones to freeze for appetizers or soup. They aren’t that much effort and I keep thinking about all the exciting additions! Spinach very finely chopped would be good, sun dried tomatoes, maybe a little nugget of mozzarella? Mmmm the possibilities are endless. I also love sweet & sour meatballs which would definitely highlight these guys.

Say mmmm: Chicken Pot Pie with Cheddar Biscuit Topping

This is a great meal to come home to or to pull out of the freezer (adding drop biscuits just before cooking).

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I’m not a fan of peas, so I don’t include them in my pot pie. In the past, I’ve included edemame for some color. Individual ramekins would mean you could customize per person! How fun?! Turkey instead of chicken, sweet potatoes, celery, turnips, or anything else you like of would be great additions too.

I make this occasionally and thought it was a great use for leftovers too! I made a crock pot recipe the other day which wasn’t great. It was chicken, white wine, cream cheese, onions, and a packet of italian dressing. I served it over egg noodles and it was OK but not overly blog-worthy. When photographed it showed how white it was!

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts, cooked
2 cups carrots, cooked and cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup corn
2 medium potatoes, cooked and cut into cubes
1 can cream of celery soup (or cream of potato, or cream of mushroom, or cream of chicken)
1 cup milk
drop biscuits (recipe below)

Directions

1) Cook potatoes and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2) Cook carrots and corn.
3) Tear or dice chicken and put into a greased 9” pan.
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4) Add chopped potatoes, chopped carrots, corn, and onions.
chickenpotpie2_290_2005) Combine cream of celery soup and milk. Pour into pan.
6) Mix the pot pie insides and spread drop biscuits onto the top.
7) Bake 30-40 minutes at 375 degrees.
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Drop Biscuits Recipe
Ingredients

1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons butter, cut in small chunks
3 to 4 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (if desired)

Directions

1) Combine flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a bowl stirring well.
2) Cut in butter to form small chunks.
3) Stir in enough milk to form a wet batter (I make it more soupy when it is for topping).
4) Mix in cheddar (if desired).
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The drop biscuits don’t look great, but trust me, it is awesome when baked. This time I turned the broiler on for the last 2 minutes to get it more golden once I was sure the biscuit was totally cooked and not gummy underneath.

I like these amounts but thought about mixing the insides with cream of celery soup and a cup of chicken broth. I’ll probably try it next time. Sometimes I make a second one and leave off the topping to freeze it. Just add the topping before baking. Pie crust or puff pastry would make a good topping too, but I’m partial to the biscuit myself. Enjoy!