COOKING ADVENTURE #56: Lasagna
Imagine getting home from a seemingly super long day at work. Snow has just begun to fall outside and you are absolutely chilled to the bone. You get inside, peel off your coat, turn up the heater and look into your fridge for dinner. And there, staring up at you with a heavenly glow is a casserole dish full of scrumptious meaty lasagna. This is the euphoria I’ve been having the last couple nights. There are only a few comfort foods that make me this excited to rush home and eat. Lasagna is definitely one of them. Thursday, when I’d gotten home, I assembled all of the ingredients on the counter, prepared to dive into what would hopefully be a better dinner than my stew from last week (Eeehhhhwwww). All in all, the recipe was very easy which I was grateful for. It also didn’t have me using a bunch of weird ingredients (like coconut milk). However, nothing can be “too” easy. My kitchen utensils have ways of refusing cooperation, which is precisely what happened this time around. I’m beginning to think that Matilda, my demonic grater, is staging a coup with the other utensils against me…
After last week, I decided to take a step back and make a dish that I knew would be more delicious when it was finished (if everything went according to plan.) Lasagna seemed a very good choice and, oddly enough, it seems a few people I know all made it the same night. Kind of scary… I don’t have a family recipe for lasagna so I resorted to searching online for one. I found this wonderful recipe from Food Network called Mama’s Lasagna, which was credited to The Neelys. I ended up altering some of the measurements to fit into a smaller pan so if you want to make a much bigger lasagna, you can find the original link here.
The first step for me was to put my stainless steel saucier pan on the stove, dribble some oil into it, and heat it up. I love this saucier pan. It is literally my go-to pan for almost everything that I cook. As the oil heated, I took my santoku knife and sliced up a couple of garlic cloves, making sure to finely chop them into tiny little bits. I added them to the pan and savored the smell. The smell of garlic is like an instant salivate switch. The moment I get a whiff of it, I seriously can’t contain my excitement. The recipe calls for you to chop up a medium onion and add that as well. I didn’t buy an onion. The reason being, although I love onion in certain things, I hate onion left overs. And because my local supermarket apparently doesn’t know the definition of a medium onion, I always ending with these honking huge onions that I only use a quarter of at most and then have to store. And then something like last week happens where I open the freezer and can practically taste the onion in the frosty air that spills out. So, no. I didn’t add any fresh onion. Instead, I added some dehydrated onion slices that I’d bought in New York from a Mennonite store.
When those had browned, I added some ground turkey to the pan making sure to break it up a little bit as I did so. Then, I threw the top on the pan and let the turkey brown. I’ve discovered that I personally prefer ground turkey when it comes to lasagna. You can certainly use ground beef for this though. While I waited for that to cook through, I turned my attention to the lasagna noodle problem. Once again, I failed to pay closer attention to the directions. Apparently, I was supposed to have bought box-no-boil lasagna noodles… which I didn’t even know existed! I had just assumed I’d be boiling them. Also, I had been avoiding doing this recipe because the 13 x 9 pan that I own that this recipe calls for is currently still being occupied by those awful lemon bars that I made a couple weeks ago. Yes. I know. That’s gross. But I have to chisel them out and… honestly, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
So, I decided that I would use a smaller dish. This worked out anyway because in order to fit the lasagna noodles into the pot of boiling water, I had to break them up. This step resulted in flying lasagna shards which, upon breaking, soared at my face and across the kitchen floor. I waited until the meat had completely cooked through and then drained the oil from the pan. The recipe asks for one can of stewed tomatoes. Well, I had bought crushed tomatoes… again. You’d think I would have learned from last week. Oh, well. I added it anyway. Oh, yeah, and then it asks for a can of tomato sauce. Whoops. I opened the fridge and pulled out some left over spaghetti sauce that I thought there was a bunch of. I opened it and the dregs of the can slowly slipped out into the sauce. Certainly no where near a can full… not even a half full. I mixed it into the ground turkey anyway using a nifty little stirring stick that a friend at work whittled for me a couple weeks ago. Thanks again, Ed!
Next: add a can of tomato paste. This wasn’t one of those easy pop the top lids that I like so much. I’d need a can opener for this one. I searched through my drawer frantically for my favorite red one but it wasn’t there. I realized that it was in the sink under all the dishes and quickly decided it wasn’t worth it to wash. I have a second can opener but it doesn’t work nearly as well. This is the one that I dug out from the drawer and latched it onto the tomato paste can. I tried turning the knob. The can turned horizontal and after going only a couple centimeters, detached from the can opener and fell. I attacked it with the can opener again but the same thing happened. It took me several minutes of reapplying the can opener and opening the can centimeter by centimeter until I finally had gone around the lid. I pushed on one side of the lid hoping the other would pop up. Instead, it just sank into the tomato paste, and the red ooze burst up into view over it. At this point, I lost all patience, took a little lobster fork from my drawer and attacked the can until I had scraped all of the tomato paste from the tiny opening at the top. It was ridiculous, folks.
Once the meat sauce mixture was all combined and heating up, I returned my attention to the noodles which had boiled to an al dente state. However, after I drained the water, I also found that they’d stuck to each other so well that it took a fork to pry them apart. I moved onto the next part of the recipe. In a smaller bowl (too small, I later realized), I added one egg, a tbsp of parsley, pepper, and salt. Then, I started adding scoops of ricotta to it. I was honestly afraid that if I tried to add a full eight oz. it wasn’t all going to fit. I’m glad that I didn’t try. Turns out that the amount I used was just fine… probably more like five oz. I mixed all the ingredients together until they formed a white parsley-flecked sauce.
Now for the assembly! Honestly, I completely forgot to line the bottom of my 7×9 baking dish with lasagna noodles and added a layer of the meat first. On top of that, I added a layer of noodles, then smothered a bunch of the ricotta mixture on top of those. Sprinkling a layer of shredded cheddar cheese, I added another layer of meat, noodles, ricotta and cheese. Then in an oven pre-heated to 375, I slid the casserole dish in and let it cook for a half an hour.
I had some lasagna noodles and meat left over and I was starving. I tried to turn that into a dinner but… eh… it wasn’t as appetizing as the idea of the lasagna cooking in the oven. During my skype conversation that night, I pulled the lasagna out of the oven and gazed at its splendor. I was enraptured. It had actually come out looking and smelling amazing. And when I tried a piece of it later that night, I was completely blown away. I LOVE this recipe. And I’ll most definitely be doing it again and again. Yum.
Next week on Cooking Adventures, we’ll be looking at a scrumptious breakfast recipe and take a break from dinner stuff for a while. Since I did French Toast around this time last year, I thought it might be fun to do a similar recipe. So, Orange-Pecan French Toast Casserole is next week! Stay tuned!
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