A gratin of leeks, potatoes and cheese cooked in the French style

Here is a satisfying recipe and review submitted exclusively for La Petite by a  guest blogger, (and sweetie), author of “Thread and Bones”.

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“The other week I was on a plane and decided to re-watch the movie Julie and Julia, which, if you haven’t seen it, is an excellent though fatally flawed film starring the amazing Meryl Streep as Julia Child, who’s life is fascinating and delightful, written by the lovable Nora Ephron, and heavily featuring Food, in all it’s glory. Continue reading “A gratin of leeks, potatoes and cheese cooked in the French style”

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Lazy Mans Lasagne (Or Sam Spade Lasagne)

(Here is an old post I thought worth regurgitating to you. I want to make this again and needed a refresher. But it all brings back “The Maltese Falcon”. Do you ever associate movies with foods?)

I told my son that I was making Lazy Mans lasagna.

Hey!” He was offended.

“No, the one making it is lazy, not the ones eating it.” Although I could make a case…nevermind.

notice the browned cheesy part on top and strings of cheese around the plate

Lets get a closer look, shall we?

mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

So much easier than lasagna and just as delish, well in my humble opinion. Not that I’m never making lasagna again. (gasp!)  It’d be like giving up an old faithful dog for a cute new puppy. Sort of. Anyway sweetheart, its like this see…

(I should mention that we just finished watching “The Maltese Falcon” with Sam Spade, Private Eye playing the “I’m not going to play the sap” lead, so it may have colored my vocabulary tonight.)

I don’t even have a recipe for this and you won’t need one either. You see, you have to be too lazy to even have a recipe. Thats how lazy you feel tonight. So you line up your cast of characters…

(Fat Man: Well, sir, what do you suggest? We stand here and shed tears and call each other names… or shall we go to the…” kitchen.)

Pasta. I used some kind of penne, but egg noodles or another fun shape would do. Not spaghetti types though. Sorry Angel.

Get a large pot of water to boiling and cook the pasta. In the meantime…

A favorite spaghetti sauce. I had half a jar of one in the fridge and a Trader Joes can of marinara I mixed with it and of course added “a little bit of this…a little bit of that…a pot, a pan, a broom, a hat” (oops, wrong movie.) I added some seasoning, but not much, ’cause I’m too lazy. I really don’t need to add any. Just heat it up.

Hamburger. I just happened to have some thawed out.  So I fried it up, dicing it and adding it to the sauce. Could have added diced onions. Could have. Didn’t though.

mozzarella cheese. Grated. Some and be ready to grate more. But if you run out, just use what you have ’cause you’re too lazy to run to the store for more. (Your even too lazy to write out the whole word “because”.)

Cottage cheese. I use this instead of the ricotta.

Parmesan, grated. Now this can be fresh grated or the green can for all I care. (“People lose teeth talking like that. If you want to hang around, you’ll be polite”) Sorry Sam. I’ve loved the name Sam ever since my hero, Samwise Gamgee from LOTR.

Lets see, I think that’s it. Get a pot of any size that will fit whatever amount you are making. I used a small round La Cruset baking pan, but almost used the glass Pyrex. But I wanted it to be a little deeper than that to put layers in.

To make it easier on myself (of course) I mixed the pasta with the meat sauce. Then I spooned in a layer of pasta into the pot.

Now a layer of cottage cheese, a layer of parmesan and some mozzarella. More pasta with meat sauce, and the 3 cheeses. Do this as many layers as you have ingredients. I think I ended with 3 layers of saucy-meat-pasta, topping with mozzarella.

Now, under normal circumstances, you would now bake this for, oh, say 30 minutes on 375 oven. But since it was in the high 80’s the day I made it (It was high 90’s today, 90’s!…okay so I’m whining) I decided I had 2 choices.

(“You getting this all right, son, or am I goin’ too fast for ya? )

Get out  my holiday roaster and plug it in on the patio to bake it. But that was too much work for a lazy lady like me. So I put on the broiler, figuring the casserole was all pretty hot to begin with anyway and wouldn’t need much help warming up. A broiler was quicker and I had every fan on.  Then I walked away for a leedle too long, it cooked faster than a woman can think up a lie. I thought I burnt it! (“You… you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head you”)

As luck would have it, the cheese got nicely browned and crunchy, just the way we like it around here on top of the “lasagna”. In fact that’s the part we usually fight over. We spooned some out into our pasta plate with some salad (and  I pretended not to notice Paul didn’t eat that.) Now Paul had some the next night, since dad and I were having something he didn’t like. And some the next day for lunch. There is one portion left. With narrow eyes we watch to see who is going to try to eat it first.

“You don’t have to trust me as long as you can persuade me to trust you.”

This was lazy, easy, rich and creamy. Enjoy.

“By gad, sir, you are a character”

Maybe I should have called it “Sam Spade Lasagna”. Or “Fat Mans Lasagna.” or even “Effies lasagna”. I bet she was tired at the end of the day and would have made this. (Effie is Sams trusty secretary and all around good Joe.)

Good eating.

“Look at me, Sam. You worry me. You always think you know what you’re doing, but you’re too slick for your own good. Some day you’re going to find it out.”

“Don’t be too sure I’m as crooked as I’m supposed to be.”

“Don’t worry about the story’s goofiness. A sensible one would have had us all in the cooler.”

Lasagna-zilla! Beware the beast! Part 1

I am going to go out on a limb and say that, if you are reading this post, you probably like lasagna. Maybe even love it and want to marry it. I have spent the cooking part of my life searching for the perfect lasagna recipe.

I think I found the perfect fried chicken recipe.

I know I found the perfect donut recipe.

But I was still searching for the perfect lasagna recipe. Have I found it? I am not quite sure.

Maybe.

There are some frozen lasagna out there that aren’t too hideous. But tastes change too. We used to love Stoffers frozen lasagna back in our early ‘salad years’. Then we found better and better lasagna and left that in the dust.

When I go out to eat, and we happen to get a lasagna, I will perform a dissection first, carefully peeling back layer upon layer of noodles to reveal its delicious stuffing’s.

Fillippis in San Diego was my first taste of jaw dropping lasagna. Theirs was different in that it was layer upon layer of cheese stuffed noodles, with a ‘mama mia!” sauce slathered over the top. I guess like a giant multi-layered cheese stuffed ravioli, covered in sauce.

Cortinas Italian Market and restaurant has amazing and wonderful lasagna, smothered in a delicious meat sauce.

I wanted mine to rival theirs.

Now, lets step into the way-back machine and step back several years ago. Hubby and I were in San Diego, and, while driving along, came upon a unique little book store. We stepped inside to pass the time, since we were early for…something. I wandered toward the cookbooks while he checked out books on sailing.

Thats where I found this interesting book called “Carmine’s family style cookbook. More than 100 classic Italian dishes to make at home” (whew). The picture of spaghetti and meatballs on the cover still makes me drool. I am currently drooling on the keyboard right now, with the book at my elbow. There is also a picture of a restaurant on the cover. It would seem Carmine’s is a famous Italian place in New York (and now in DC. as well.)  All the pictures looked wonderful and I purchased the book.

I have never regretted it. Every recipe I have tried from that book  has won me accolades. Whether it’s the “halibut with seafood risotto” which is actually halibut, shrimp and scallops with a white wine sauce, and risotto. Or steak with peppers and onions. What I really like about it is that each recipe teaches me some basic skill or recipe that I can use across the board with other recipes. Like the Carmine’s bread crumbs. Basic, but it has made all the difference in my meatballs!

Anyway, enough about the book review.

The things I learned about lasagna are this…

Are you ready?

Sure?

First, make the sauce ahead of time. Like, days ahead of time. It needs to be cool or cold when assembling the lasagna. I never knew this! This one simple thing makes quite a difference in the ease of assembling. So lavage is not a last-minute decision, but must be planned ahead.

Make the noodles a bit ahead of time, rinsing with cool water and tossing with oil.

After baking the lasagna for an hour, let it sit an hour to settle. Who knew? That way it doesn’t slop around the pan and your plate when you go to serve it up.

Lastly, have some hot  marinara sauce on the side to pour over it.

So, what happened when I went to assemble that turned it into lasagne-zilla?

I followed the instructions most carefully. I had everything ready to go, cool, mixed and so on.It called for an 8 x 11 pan, which just looked too small to me. So i used my Pyrex 9 x 13 pan. It didn’t look deep enough, but after rummaging around the pantry, garage and cupboards, I realized that I did not have anything deeper that wasn’t just too big.

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Or oval. I did not want an oval lasagna.

But it should be alright, right?

I read the instructions and found it would have 5 layers. A meat sauce layer, a ricotta layer, meat sauce layer, another ricotta layer then the marinara layer. All these layers had some mozzarella and Parmesan as well.

I started building.

3 layers in it became apparent that this pan was NOT deep enough. So what to do? It’s not like I could unbuild it. And I had no deeper pan!

E gads! What’s an Italian mama to do?

Then a little voice whispered in my ear. Kind of Field of Dreams.

“Build up the pan with foil” it whispered to me.

“Build up the pan with foil”.

I kind of wish it has said something before I started building. But whatever.

I tore off some aluminum foil, folded it in half and proceeded to ‘tuck’ the foil strips around the edges. But the gooey lasagna did not want to give.  Where I pulled away here, it slithered over there. It was like trying to put panty hose on an octopus. I finally took a bench scraper and used it to pull the noodles away from the edge. I pushed the foil down as well as I could and made a dam as it where all around the pan, raising the level of the pan.

Presto, redneck deep pan method...
Presto, redneck deep pan method…

It seemed to be working!
I put the whole baking dish on a baking sheet, (forgetting the parchment, oops) and popped it into the 400 degree oven.

It bubbled and cooked.

It grew and grew.

It reached up to just about the top of the foil!

Then I took it out and let it rest.

It settled. It shrunk, it toned down a bit.

And it was fabulous. When I pulled the foil away, there it was, at least an inch above the baking pan, sitting high and beautiful.

What she lacks in beauty, she makes up for in flavor. She makes your taste buds do the tango.
What she lacks in beauty, she makes up for in flavor. She makes your taste buds do the tango.
We were so busy digging in, I almost forgot to get a shot with the camera phone.
We were so busy digging in, I almost forgot to get a shot with the camera phone.

It was lasagna heaven! The best I’ve made yet. But not for the faint of heart. First, you had better get a freakishly deep pan to bake it in!

Then, allow yourself several days to leisurely prepare everything. Sauce one day. Ricotta another. I used Costco marinara sauce in jars, so that step was easy.

For those few of you who are not scared away, I will share the recipe in my next post. This one is too long already.

So good-bye for now.

Adieu.

Hasta la Vista.

Taco Chicken Cassarole

(Kitchen graffiti night will be on the next post)

Last night was All Hallows Eve and I tried a new dish for dinner from Stephanie at Plain Chicken. But more on that in a minute

Although my kitchen is torn out, I am determined to keep on keeping on making home cooked food for the family a majority of the time, and have been invited to share kitchens with friends and family as well. So it has not been too hard yet the whole 4 days this has been going on. We have stocked up on paper plates now, plastic cups and utensils. While it goes against my grain and everything I believe in to use disposable items like that, I realize in a pinch like this what a convenience it is to have them, especially when I am hunched over the bathtub washing dishes.

Look at it smiling at me…I’ve got quite the system for washing up. Just look twice before hopping into the shower!

Monday was a perfect storm of events here with both the kitchen being demo’d and hubby coming home with a U-Haul full of car parts that needed sorting and storing. What a week. We are going to be arm wrestling for space on the patio. (Hint: get your car parts off my patio cooking area!) We were so exhausted that first night that we were glad to go pick up some St. Georges Pizza, with wings and salad. Ah, to sit down and eat after hauling grimy heavy old Alfa Romeo parts.

One womans junk, another mans treasure. This was the light stuff, which really is mostly what they had me hauling. That and keep them supplied in ice water.
Shadows getting long, friends and neighbors gathering around to help or watch with interest. At one point there were a whole herd of men-folk gathered around chatting. Nothing like a little car grease to bring them out of the woodwork.

We no longer have a functioning washer either being as it was in the kitchen, so our grubby clothes will be staying grubby until I get to a laundry facility. (oh mommmm!)

But I have managed to squeeze a little space here and there. One for the rotisserie so we had organic air chilled rotisserie chicken the next night.

I know we will be eating out more, but I am trying to stagger it out for health reasons and not to overburden the old moth-eaten pocketbook.

The next night I actually went out and bought a couple of rotisserie chickens (2 nights in a row, who will notice?) but this time shredded one of them for this interesting looking casserole I found. (chucked the other one in the fridge for future shredding) Now some of my family is not overly fond of imitation Mexican food, but this they gobbled up no problem. And I could bake it in the same roaster I made the pumpkin seeds in (see last post). I just brought it in and set it on a folding table. The only hard part was the electrician was here working. That meant the electricity was out, like in much of the east coast right now. So I was trying to put the casserole together and it was quickly getting dark. He was working as fast as he could but eventually we were holding flashlights for him to work by and I had to stop the assembly since I could not bake it until I had power anyway. So we ate a little late, so what. So the trick or treaters were approaching a dark house with only a glowing pumpkin on the porch, big deal.

We were hungry and I was tired to the photo is not very good, but it really was delicious with a side of organic corn chips from Costco on the side. (trying to stay away from that gmo corn out there).

lighting is making it look all yellowy, partly because of all the cheese on top, partly due to poor photography. Okay, poor photographer who is not going to take the time to set up proper lighting when all we want to do is eat!

Here is the recipe:

Chicken Taco Casserole:

12 corn tortillas (I used a few more)

2 cans cream of chicken soup

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1 can Ro-tel, drained (oops, forgot to drain, still good though)

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained (them I did drain, in the bathroom sink)

1 packet taco seasoning

3 cup cooked, chopped chicken (half of a rotisserie chicken)

2 cups Mexican blend cheese (or in my case, half cheddar, half mozzarella)
Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly grease a 9×13-inch pan.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken soup, sour cream, Ro-Tel, black beans, taco seasoning and chicken.  Set aside.

Tear 6 (or so) corn tortillas and put them in the bottom of the pan.  Spread half of the chicken mixture over the tortillas.  Top with 1 cup of cheese.  Repeat with corn tortillas, chickeny stuff and more cheese.
Bake 30 minutes, until bubbly and cheese is starting to brown.

A nice Mexican salad would have been nice on the side, but it was not in the cards for last night. Instead it was a side of Snicker bars and lollypops. It was Halloween after all.

Someone goofing off while unloading engines. Have you ever tried lifting an engine? They did use the engine puller at one point. After that, sheer muscle power.

Taming of the Shrew over enchiladas

Tonight we watched the incomparable Liz Taylor/Richard Burton duo in Shakespeares “Taming of the Shrew”. I had never seen it and concluded that it was the most un-feminist story I have ever encountered.

I loved it.

The costumes were amazing. I was nibbling on my chicken enchiladas (courtesy of the Pioneer Womans cookbook) and trying to keep up with the old English. I had seen a “Kiss Me Kate” production in high school and it must have been memorable, because it was all those years ago and I still remembered that I went. I can’t say that for all the plays and movies I had had the misfortune to sit through.

But this one was delightful. I see too many untamed shrews on our screens and in our public places. This was certainly a breath of fresh air.

Katerina starts early on with “Of all things living, a man’s the worst!” and by the end her tune has changed to “Such duty as the subject owes the prince.”

All this and not by Petruchio (Burton)  wooing her with soft words. You do not tame a shrew, it would seem, with soft words and sensitive conversation. On the contrary, her father has to bribe him with rich dowry to made the deal sweet. Where everyone else ducks and runs for cover from her, he says from the first, “Will you, nill you, I will marry you.” and then proceeds to chase her all over the estate, while she runs, screams and throws things at him, once even kicking a chair out from under him.

I think it’s a hoot.

Enjoyed the enchiladas too. Catch them at:

http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2008/09/simple-perfect-enchiladas/

It’s also in her cookbook. I am not such an enchilada fan, but this one I will actually have seconds on. And eat leftovers!

Shepherds Pie

Have you ever had this? Sometimes it goes by other names, like mashed potato pie. I have seen it in restaurants, usually Irish in nature. It is supposed to have ground lamb in it. We use ground beef because I have a hard time finding ground lamb. (Little lambies, sniff.)  It has mounds of fluffy mashed potatoes on top, with melted cheese. A rich sauce with meat, mushrooms, onions and vegetables is hiding underneath.

Shephers Pie, a la mom

Its one of our favorites and it is going on this site so that someday, when I am, um, unavailable, my grown kids can say, “Whatever happened to that shepherds pie mom used to make,? Boy, I sure loved that stuff. Wish she had written it down…oh yeah“. So here you go guys (and gals, although I dont remember if I made it when Jess was still home.) Continue reading “Shepherds Pie”

Mexican Lasagne

Here is grandma Janets standby Mexican dish. Great for potlucks, si? Thanks, mom for sending the recipe and the picture.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1   lb   ground beef
1/2 C  chopped celery
1/2 C  chopped onion
1 (10 oz) can Old El Paso tomatoes & green chilies
1 (10 oz) can enchilada sauce
1  C  creamed cottage cheese
1/4 C sliced ripe olives
1/2 tsp. salt
Dash pepper
bag tortilla strips
1 C shredded American cheese
I egg, slightly beaten
Cook ground beef, celery & onion until meat is brown and veggies are tender. Drain. Stir in tomatoes & chilies, enchilada sauce, olives, salt & pepper. Simmer 10 minutes uncovered.
Combine cheeses & egg
Spread 1/3 meat mixture in bottom of 8 or 9 in baking dish or pan. top with half of cheese mixture. Top with single layer of tortilla chips. Repeat process for second layer omitting cheese. top with last of meat sauce, then end with cheese mixture. bake uncovered in 350 degree over for 30 minutes. Let stand at least 5 minutes before cutting and serving. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

Mac and Cheese on Steroids

Pot Luck Pleasing Pasta

So we are going out to a friends house for shish-ka-bobs and I am bringing a side dish. I didn’t want to go to the store and even though I had all week to plan this, here I was on the day of still trying to make up my mind. I ended up running out of time and throwing up my hands saying (to no one in general) “fine! I’ll make mac and cheese” Continue reading “Mac and Cheese on Steroids”

Baked Rigatoni-Grandma style

Well there is a story that goes with this one.

This was a favorite of my dads and so mom made it often for all of us. To this day it is requested by my sisters family when mom goes up to visit. So when I was thinking of recipes to include for old time favorites, I thought that I had to include this. But I have never actually made it. (for reasons to follow)

I called mom. Continue reading “Baked Rigatoni-Grandma style”

Deluxe tuna and noodles

(Any minute now I am going to make a batch to take the picture.)

I have had tuna and noodle casserole all my life. It is one of my favorite comfort foods. It was my deep sorrow that no one in my family liked it but me, so I hardly ever bothered to make it. Then bless my soul if my youngest son, Paul, didn’t up and decide he loved it too! Hurray! It is a standby quick meal that my Aunt Jo Ann makes almost every I see her. (which isn’t near often enough now that she lives in Alabama and I am in SoCal.) Hers tuna and noodles  just has a little extra something (I think its the love she puts in it.) So I wanted to share her recipe here. Continue reading “Deluxe tuna and noodles”