Monday, October 17, 2011

Step 1: Cooking Dinner

Long before I ever entertained the idea of giving up my business, the first step I took toward getting back to the mom and wife I wanted to be, was making a plan to cook dinner more often.

I have always loved to cook, but I REALLY love to eat out.  Probably more than I should even admit.  Even today, eating out is my largest vice, and I imagine it probably always will be. 

Because of his work schedule, my husband is only home at dinner time once or twice a week, so I had always figured cooking dinner didn't matter.  The kids and I would eat out, or grab something easy, and he could get himself food when he was hungry.  Our method kept us all happy for a time, until he finally told me that he wished I would cook dinner more often. 

I think I replied with something along the lines of, "What do you care?  You're never here at dinner time." 

You know, because I have a wonderful way with words. 

But he said he didn't care.  He'd warm it up when he got home, but he just loved the idea of coming home to a plate of food. 

And I guess I couldn't argue with that.  It made sense after all, that something I made with my hands,  would make my family feel a little bit more loved.  I guess the fringe benefit is that I feel loved, and needed, and useful, too. 

So, with all this in mind, how about a recipe?

I love to make up my own recipes, which I have learned is a bit much in the pressure department.  (My new job is to figure out how to stop putting so much pressure on myself!)  But, I finally have a good repertoire of recipes that are simple and healthy and delicious.

Cast your gaze upon the wonderfully delicious White Lasagna with marinara and AMAZING bread:

89/365 - White lasagne with red sauce and ridiculously good bread

The prep on this was really simple, and you can modify it to fit your needs.

-1 box of oven-ready lasagna noodles (but it never hurts to have a second box on hand, just in case)
-1 15oz container ricotta
-Mozzarella - I use fresh wherever possible.  I usually buy one container of perlini (pearl-sized mozzarella balls) for ease of prep.  Of course, you can buy a bag of already grated mozzarella or grate your own, or slice the larger balls of fresh mozzarella, too.
-Parmesan cheese (any kind works, but I like fresh best!)
-Minced or granulated garlic, as well as salt and pepper.
 -Fresh spinach leaves washed and ready to go
-Marinara sauce - whatever kind you like - if you have homemade, you rock and I want you to teach me how to make it.
-2 cups of fresh White Sauce

Don't know how to make White Sauce?
My quick instructions are as follows:
Make a roux by melting a couple tablespoons of butter in a pan, and adding an equal amount of flour to the melted butter.  Let the roux bubble for a couple minutes, whisk it well so you don't have any lumps.  Pour a bit of milk in.  In this case I used about 2 cups.  Whisk some more.  Add whatever you'd like to add to make it taste yummy.  Your options include garlic, salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese (or any kind of cheese, for that matter).  Taste it and make sure it's good.  A truly delicious white sauce will be perfectly salted, and usually it takes a little more salt than you think it will.  Bland white sauce is, well, bland.  The roux you made at the beginning will thicken the sauce.  If it gets too thick, add a little more milk.  You will use this recipe a lot, so it's a good one to know and use and practice often.  Make this before you start the rest of your lasagna prep and set it aside so it is ready when you need it.

Spray a 9x12 baking dish with nonstick spray.  Start by placing one layer of the oven-ready lasagna noodles in the pan.  Pour about 1/3 of the white sauce over the noodles.  Next, put a layer of spinach leaves down.  Do this to your taste, some people like more, some like less.  I do two good-sized handfuls. This is your first layer.

The second layer will be a cheese layer.  Start with another layer of pasta, then add the ricotta.  It can be somewhat challenging to spread the ricotta evenly, but there are a few tricks.  I usually scoop out about 4-5 large dollops and drop them, evenly spaced, onto the pasta and then spread them out with a silicone spatula.  You can also add a couple tablespoons of milk (or marinara sauce when making traditional lasagna) to the ricotta and stir it in, to thin it and make it easier to spread.  Once the ricotta is spread, spread the mozzarella, then sprinkle Parmesan.  I usually sprinkle granulated, or fresh minced garlic on every other layer, pepper on every other layer and salt only once during prep.  Now is a good time to add some garlic and pepper.  This is your second layer.

The third layer will be a repeat of your first: pasta/white sauce/spinach
(make sure you save some white sauce for the top layer!)

The fourth later will be a repeat of the second: pasta/ricotta/mozzarella/Parmesan/
 (It is very important that you reserve some mozzarella and Parmesan for the top layer!)

On this particular day I had the perfect amount of ingredients to do a perfect four layer lasagna.  This does not always happen.  You can wing it when you start to realize your ingredient balance isn't working out, that's why it never hurts to have a second box of lasagna noodles on hand.

To finish your lasagna, add the final layer of pasta to the top of the pan, pour the remaining white sauce over the pasta and sprinkle the reserved mozzarella and Parmesan and lightly salt, pepper and garlic the top.

Cover the pan tightly with foil.  This is important because the trapped steam is what will ultimately cook your noodles.  Bake at 350 degrees f for about 40 minutes.  Check it by piercing with a fork or butter knife.  If it feels tender, I usually cut a small bite from the edge and taste it.  The cook time on this is pretty flexible and can vary based on the kind of pasta you use.  If it isn't tender when you check it, throw the foil back on and cook it for another 10 minutes, then check again.

When the pasta is tender remove the foil and allow the top to brown for 5-10 minutes.  It will get bubbly and golden and lovely. 

While your lasagna bakes, warm the marinara on the stove top and prep your AMAZING bread.

For the AMAZING bread, you'll need:
-1 loaf of delicious bread.  I like Pugliese or Ciabatta or really anything yummy looking in your grocery store's bakery department. 
-Olive oil

Slice the bread about 1 1/2" thick.  This makes for a great crunchy-to-soft ratio.  Lay them out on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Do this a little while in advance so the oil can soak in really good.  Sprinkle each slice with a tiny bit of salt, fresh black pepper and garlic (right now I'm using up a giant container of granulated garlic from Costco, but you can use fresh garlic, too!)  I make this same bread without garlic sometimes, too, which is also delicious.

Just let the bread sit there while your lasagna is baking, and when you take the lasagna out, change the oven to broil, and put the bread in.

Now: watch.  While you cut servings of lasagna, keep an eye on the bread.  Don't burn it or you will cry.  Believe me, I have cried over burnt bread more than once in my life.  It will probably take about 6 minutes or so to get nice and golden.  There is a VERY fine line between done and burnt.  Once it looks a little bit golden, start watching it like a hawk.

Here is another photo of my plate, with a better view of the aforementioned AMAZING bread:
Another photo, with a better view of the AMAZING bread you've heard so much about

Serve the lasagna with the marinara drizzled over the top of it.  Use meat sauce if you prefer a non-vegetarian dinner.  Have a piece of your AMAZING bread on the side.  Green salad is an excellent accompaniment to this meal, as well.

Enjoy!  Everyone in our family loved this meal.  One 9x12 pan fed the four of us for two meals.  My kids eat adult-sized portions now, so it might even feed your family for more than two meals.

The bread, of course, is gone in one meal.  No one can keep their fingers off of it.

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