Friday, April 12, 2024

Friday Food: The One With the Lasagna


Short version: Not-Lent scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: One kid asked as he was eating, "Where's the meat?" I said the eggs are the meat. And he said, "Oh yeah. It's Friday."

Except it wasn't actually a Friday in Lent, so we were not eating eggs for that reason. We were eating them because they are easy; I have a lot of eggs on hand right now; and the one child who doesn't much care for scrambled eggs wasn't home.

Good reasons.

I did go to all the effort of microwaving some potatoes to dice and fry, which is always a good idea. Plus, I put both grated cheddar cheese and fresh parsley in the eggs. All in all, a nice dinner, even if it was meatless.

Pretty, too. Well, prettier than most of my food, anyway.


Short version: Lamb chops, cheesy potatoes, raw broccoli

Long version: I took out one bag of lamb chops and it was . . . a lot of lamb chops.

Enough that I needed two skillets to cook them.

We had several left over, but only because one of the children who normally eats multiples was very tired and not very hungry.

Cheesy potatoes were a staple of my childhood, but they are not something I make much now. The only reason I made them this time was because I had a LOT of bechamel sauce left from making the lasagna, so all I needed to do to make the potatoes was add shredded cheddar to some of the bechamel, then microwave (again!) potatoes and slice them to mix with the sauce. And bake it, of course. 


Short verson: Insane lasagna, garlic bread, green salad with vinaigrette, Italian cheesecake

Long version: I've already told you about the lasagna. 

Pasta in process.

I had a sort-of pizza crust left over from pizza night the week before, when I had too much dough for the smaller pizza I made in a skillet. So I took some dough and put it in another skillet and baked that partway. I stuck that in the freezer, figuring I would find a use for it later. I did, this night, by smearing the top of it with garlic butter (soft butter mixed with finely diced green garlic) and baking it until crispy. Because there weren't enough carbohydrates in the lasagna, you see.

And then, as if this wasn't a heavy-enough meal, I finished it off with cheesecake.

I had originally intended to use my frozen ricotta cheese in the lasagna. But when I made the more-traditional Italian version of lasagna that does not use ricotta, I still had that ricotta to use. So of course, I combined it with a ton more dairy, plus sugar, to make cheesecake.

I loosely used this recipe, except (always the recipe excepts for me) I made a 3/4 recipe--which already almost completely filled my 9-inch springform pan, so the entire recipe would definitely have been too much--and I didn't use as much cream cheese as called for. I just weighed all the creamy things, starting with the ricotta, adding one block of cream cheese, and then adding sour cream until I had the correct weight for the three. Or close enough, anyway.

I also did not mix it for twenty minutes. I thought surely that was a typo in the recipe and it was meant to be mixed for two minutes. But no, careful reading assured me the recipe really intended me to stand there for twenty minutes with a handheld mixer.


Two minutes was fine.

The hardest part with these kinds of recipes is remembering to get the thing out of the oven and into the refrigerator after it's sat in the cooling oven for two hours. I forgot about it until I was going to bed, so it sat in there for more like three hours, but at least I didn't forget and leave it in there overnight. That would have been sad.

One child couldn't get over the slightly grainier texture, but everyone else loved it. Some liked it even better than a very heavy New-York-style cheesecake.


Short version: Leftovers, sausage, bread and butter, raw produce

Long version: The kids had lasagna at school for lunch. The coincidence of that being the day after I had made my first ever lasagna was pretty funny. It also meant that I didn't serve any of my leftover lasagna for dinner.

Instead I cooked one package of boudin and one of plain smoked sausage. There were some lamb chops left, so that made enough meat to apportion for everyone. Some people had the leftover cheesy potatoes; everyone else had bread and butter for their starch.

Everyone had either raw bell pepper or cucumbers with salt and vinegar for their vegetable. Such as it was.


Short version: Lamb, lamb-y rice, onions, green salad with vinaigrette

Long version: I used one of the boned-out ram leg roasts for this. I cut it in half so it would fit in the pan, browned it, then sliced it and put it back in the pan to cook some more, along with onions, garlic powder, and apple cider vinegar.

The rice was lamb-y because I cooked it in the lamb stock I had made with the Easter leg bone. I did cut it with an equal amount of water, though, so the lamb flavor wouldn't overpower the rice. That worked well.


Short version: Meatless fried rice, leftover lasagna

Long version: I had thought there would be some lamb left over. There was not.

After-work (and First Communion class) Plan B!

I used the leftover rice, plus the leftover onions, to make fried rice with just eggs and frozen peas. All those who wanted it had a small amount of the last of the leftover lasagna, and then filled in with the fried rice.


Short version: Chicken soup, biscuits, chocolate pudding

Long version: This was chicken soup from just before Easter that I stuck in the freezer when we had way too many leftovers on hand. It had potatoes in it, which broke down in the freezer, but that just thickened it. I put in a bit more rice to cook as it was heating up, and I also added the last of the fat I had skimmed off the lasagna's bolognese sauce, which added some nice flavor.

Standard baking powder biscuits. And remember, there is no rule that says they have to be round.

Or even all the same shape. Chaos abounds.

I had a whole gallon of milk that tasted slightly off as soon as I opened it in the morning, despite the use-by date being at least a week in the future. Boo. I made a double batch of this pudding, which used about half the gallon.

Refrigerator check!

Nice block of asadero there.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Lasagna Insanity

Some time ago, I realized I had never actually made a lasagna myself.

This seems odd, given the fact that I love lasagna, and cook so much. I had this thought about five months ago, and then it sort of sat there in the back of my mind since then.

Then I had to make ricotta cheese a couple of months ago with some milk that was heading south. That sat in the freezer until I thought, "Hey, doesn't lasagna have ricotta cheese in it? I could make lasagna with that."

I also had two packages of ground bull meat and the last quart jar of roasted tomato puree from the garden last year. This all seemed to me to be the ideal start to a really good lasagna.

And THEN I thought, "Well, if I'm going to have all these homemade ingredients in it, I might as well just make the pasta, too, right?"

Yes, this is really how I think.

I looked up several recipes for lasagna with homemade pasta, which is when I discovered that traditional Italian lasagna doesn't actually have ricotta in it. Or mozzarella. Instead, it has a bechamel (white sauce made with butter, flour, and milk) layered with the meat sauce.

I've never had this kind of lasagna, and also didn't have a lot of mozzarella on hand (or rather, asadero, which is my mozzarella substitute), so I decided I would try it.

I used this recipe for the meat sauce and bechamel (described by the author as "a beast of a recipe"--indeed), and for the first part of the pasta making in a food processor. For the rest of the instructions for the pasta making, I used the description in my absolute beast of a book, The Old World Kitchen: The Rich Tradition of European Peasant Cooking, by Elizabeth Luard*. That had instructions for rolling the lasagna noodles by hand, which I had to do because I don't have a pasta machine.

I made the bolognese (meat sauce) on Friday, which required several hours of simmering. Because I had four pounds of ground bull, I actually made a double recipe of that, which is a LOT of bolognese.

I made the rest of it on Saturday. I decided to make enough for my 10"x15" Pyrex baking dish, so I made 1.5 of the recipe parts. This is also a LOT of bechamel sauce. And honestly, stirring the bechamel for so long while adding the milk in small increments was sort of painful for my hand and arm.

Then I compounded the hand and arm excercise by rolling out all the pasta with my rolling pin. It has to be really thin, and that's a lot of pasta. It required some pretty steady, intense pressure to get it rolled out thin enough. And THEN, I had to grate all the Parmesan. I was actually sore the next day. Those Italian peasant women must have had arms like Arnold.


I finally got all the parts made and ready for layering.

I had rolled the four pieces of pasta out on their own pieces of parchment paper, so I could move them and stack them that way. Worked really well.

I had some help with the assembly.

Of course.

I had just enough for four layers in that pan.

Ready to bake.

I did not, however, bake it on Saturday. I figured I would enjoy it more if I had a break to forget all the work that went into it, so it just went into the refrigerator until Sunday, and we had it for our Sunday dinner.

That was a good call.

So the big question: Was it worth the literal hours it took to make?

Not really. 

I mean, it was delicious, and I was surprised at how good the bechamel was with the meat sauce. A. also really liked the homemade pasta in it, which was much softer and more delicate than storebought. I also liked how light it was in comparison to the typical American lasagna that is so loaded with cheese.

But I think I still like the cheese in the American version. Maybe just not so much of it.

I have more bolognese from the giant batch that I froze, so I think I might make another lasagna sometime with storebought noodles, still the bechamel (I had a bunch of that leftover, too, which I froze), and some asadero cheese in it. Then I can compare the American and the Italian versions.

Oh, and you might notice that although this all started because I had ricotta in the freezer to use, I didn't actually use it in the lasagna. So instead, I made an Italian cheesecake with it. Which we ate after the lasagna, of course.

So the final verdict: I'm glad I tried it, but I probably won't do it this way again.

* This is such a great book. So detailed and comprehensive, and her voice throughout is very engaging. At the end of the two-page pasta recipe detailing how her friend Michaela in Italy made this lasagna in her own kitchen, she said "Michaela would be proud of you." I was certainly proud of me, and I'm sure Michaela would have been, too.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Snapshots: Blooms

The tulips have started blooming!

Mostly purple, white, and yellow ones, which I like better than red.

I went to the church on Friday to see how the Easter flowers were faring on the altar. There's no heat in our church during the week, and the cool environment really preserved the flowers remarkably well.

There were some droopy ones, though, so I dismantled the big arrangement and distributed the good flowers to the other vases, also moving the Easter lilies.

I'm not Church Lady this month, but I'm going to take care of the flowers as long as they last. So I guess I'm an Altar Society of one.

It had been a long time since the kids had set up a game with toys in the living room, but they certainly did this weekend.

There was a whole long story associated with these cars.

And then there was this installation.

They always were very expansive in their games.

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.