Lasagna: Everyone’s favorite casserole

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So as I mentioned yesterday, I had quite a busy baking Sunday.  I knocked out that pull apart bread and tomorrow you will get to see the delicious holiday bundt cake I made.  So I wanted to make a delicious dinner that tasted like I spent all day making it, but didn’t take that long.  I have made lasagna before and I have had great success using a blend of methods out of my own recipes and my go-to cookbook: “Pasta Revolution” which was produced by America’s Test Kitchen.

Typically I like to blend the recipe for classic lasagna out of this cookbook and use my pork ragu that I described in my very first post.  On Sunday however I did not have the time or energy to spend two hours putting together my delicious sauce, so I went with the much quicker, about 20 minute, sauce that they use in the cookbook.  The sauce is a straight forward and rather simple tomato sauce so it is perfect for a quick meal.

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The other thing that I really like about this lasagna recipe is that it incorporates two of my favorite things in a pasta: cheese and fresh basil.  The recipe has lots of ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella cheese in every layer which adds a delicious richness in every bite.  Mixed in with the cheese is lots of fresh basil.  The taste of fresh basil locked into a tomatoey sauce and layers of cheese adds a fresh pop to the dish.  The two things should be included in every pasta dish

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So I admit that I used the recipe directly out of the cookbook, and thus have little to cut up in it.  However, the recipe provides one and I made on small adjustment that could be useful to some.  The people at America’s Test Kitchen have opened my eyes to a lot of new and interesting ideas when it comes to cooking pasta.  Maybe the biggest is their use of NO BOIL lasagna noodles.  These are dried noodles you can find in the pasta aisle at the grocery store that require no pre-cooking, they simply go into the dish with the rest of the elements, then cook and become tender during baking.  I had my reservations about this at first but after trying it once, I doubt I will ever boil another lasagna noodle.

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The cut up that I made must be attributed to my mother.  As I have made clear, I cook for just my wife and I.  This recipe makes a 13×9 baking sheet of lasagna, which is more than enough for even a large family.  If I made that much, we would end up throwing half of it away before we ever finished it.  So, I had talked to my parents and mentioned that I was making the recipe and my mom mentioned that she had already tried it.  She spoke highly of the dish, but also mentioned that she was able to successfully divide all of the ingredients in to two 8×8 pans and froze on lasagna for another day.  So that is what I decided to do.  If you are cooking for more, just make the recipe as described below.  If cooking for 2-3, make the dish into two pans, and each layer will use only 2 noodles.

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Classic Lasagna with Hearty Meat Sauce

  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound pork Italian sausage
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 28 oz can tomato puree
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 15 oz package ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 egg
  • 12 no boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound mozzarella cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 375
  2. Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened.  Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add the sausage, and break up. Cook until no longer pink.
  3. Add the milk and simmer until mostly evaporated.  Stir in both cans of tomato and simmer until everything has blended together nicely and the flavors have melded.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, Parmesan, basil, egg and salt and pepper.
  5. LAYERING: spread a little bit of the sauce in the bottom of the pan.  Top three noodles with about 3 tablespoons each of the ricotta mixture and layer in the pan.  Top with about a cup and a half of the sauce then sprinkle with 1 cup of mozzarella cheese.  Repeat the layering 2 more times.  For the final layer, place 3 noodles over the top (no ricotta this time).  Top with the remaining sauce, mozzarella, and a little bit of Parmesan.
  6. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil.  Bake covered for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for about 25 more minutes until the cheese is browned and sauce is bubbling.  Let stand for about 10 minutes so the lasagna can set.  Serve and enjoy.

This recipe comes from “Pasta Revolution” from the people at America’s Test Kitchen

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Smoky Mac n Cheese: You would never know that there is no bacon

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As we continue our adventure of recipe cut ups, I have an interesting opportunity to try and solve one of the problems I have had making mac n cheese for a while now.  My mom and I have always enjoyed the flavor that can be added to mac n cheese when you include bacon in the dish.  However, the bacon is never as satisfying in the dish when I eat it.  It may be a preparation issue but if simply crisping the bacon and then adding it to the dish before putting it into the oven is not the appropriate procedure, then I don’t really want to take the time to make it work.  The solution that I discovered in one recipe is to replicate the smokyness that you get from the bacon with smoked cheddar cheese.  At first I was hesitant to use the cheese because after my wife opened the brick and sampled it (I don’t enjoy raw block cheese so I had her test it) I noticed that it had a very similar aroma to smoked salmon, which is also something I don’t particularly enjoy.  But after melting it down in the sauce, and adding my other cheesy cut up, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the flavor was mostly the same as when bacon and straight cheddar are used.

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And the other great part about this dish is that you can prepare it whenever you have time, then refrigerate in the casserole dish until you are ready to bake it.  Just add another ten minutes of covered cooking time at the front to ensure you have a hot center when  you go to serve.

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So while we have solved the bacon dilemma, this was not really my cut up, just the method used in the recipe.  I did make one small addition.  In the past when making a baked mac n cheese with a stove top prepared, flour thickened sauce, the sauce often comes out slightly grainy.  It may be the cheese or it may be the flour  but i wanted to find something that would melt down completely and could add a little richness to the dish.  My little addition was some goat cheese.  It provided a rich mouth feel to the sauce as well as a tasty little tang.  The other thing that I have learned in my last two mac n cheese recipes I have tried is that the addition of mustard (preferably dried, but a small amount of brown mustard can do the trick but over power very easily) can add a very nice depth of flavor.

And for those that were wondering, I did cut myself yesterday…while shaving.

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The following is the recipe that I followed, it makes a small amount that is perfect for just my wife and I.  If you are cooking for more, go ahead and double most things and use a 13×9 baking dish.  The only thing I wouldn’t completely double is the chicken stock.  Don’t go out of your way to buy a box of broth when a can will do the trick even though you are just a couple ounces short.

Smoky Macaroni and Cheese

  • 80z elbow macaroni
  • 3oz smoked cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 of an onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, but cook for the very low end of the time, if not even a little shorter to ensure that your pasta doesn’t come out over-cooked after baking
  3. In a sauce pan, cook the onions in the chicken broth for about 5 minutes over medium- high heat or until the onions are just tender.
  4. In a tightly sealed container, shake together the half-and-half, mustard, pepper, and flour
  5. Add the flour mixture to the pan and cook over medium heat stirring often until it just starts to bubble
  6. Remove from heat and add both cheeses to the pan and stir until most of the cheese is melted
  7. Put the macaroni into a small, 2qt casserole dish.  Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni and mix together
  8. Bake the dish, covered with tin foil, for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for about 10 more minutes or until the sauce is bubbly.  Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

This recipe was adapted from a recipe found in my mother-in-laws recipe books that was taken out of a newspaper, likely the Oregonian.  There is no discernible way to know how old it is or who wrote it for the paper.