Lasagna

This one takes a long time, but it’s worth it. The basic recipe makes a deep 9 x 12 pan full, modify it to make more. I like to make several smaller pans full and freeze most of them, since this is so much work. I also usually buy aluminum pans from the grocery store, because they’re deeper and then I don’t have to scrape baked-on cheese off my glass pans.

  • 1 lb hamburger
  • 1 chopped onion
  • either 2 cloves chopped garlic, or a heaping teaspoon of jar garlic
  • 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 5 oz can tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves, broken in half
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp dried parsley leaves
  • 1/8 tsp fennel seeds (about 10)
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp black pepper, depending on taste
  • Salt to taste
  • A bag of sliced mushrooms, if you like them
  • 1 box wide lasagna noodles
  • 1 12oz bag fresh baby spinach
  • 32 oz small curd cottage cheese (lowfat is okay, don’t use nonfat)
  • 16 oz ball of mozzarella cheese (lowfat is okay, don’t use nonfat) in 1/8 inch slices
  • Grated parmesan cheese

So here’s how it goes, and you have to have all the separate pieces done before you put it together:

Make the sauce. Cook the onion, garlic and hamburger in a bit of olive oil, maybe 2 tsp. Add all three kinds of tomatoes, stir. Add the spices (and those are approximations, be creative with the spices!). Cook for an hour over low heat; it should simmer but not boil. Add the mushrooms, cook another hour to two hours.

Meanwhile, boil a big pot of water with a little olive oil in it. When it’s seriously boiling, add the whole box of lasagna noodles and stir til it comes back to a boil. Stir every minute or two so they don’t stick. Stop cooking them a bit on the hard side, just before ‘al dente’, because they’re going to get cooked more in the lasagna.

When the pasta is done, drain it and put it in a bowl; if it’s going ot be a while, put a cover over them to keep them moist.

When you’re ready to put the whole thing together (usually when the sauce is done, 2-3 hours along), set up a workspace. You need easy access to the sauce, the pasta, a bowl of spinach, the sliced mozzarella, the tub of cottage cheese, and the parmesan.

Just before you start putting it together, put the whole bag of spinach in a microwavable bowl and nuke it for two minutes on high.

Now you’re ready to put it all together! In your deep casserole dish(es), here’s the order:

  1. A small spoonful of sauce spread all over the bottom so the first layer of pasta doesn’t stick
  2. A layer of lasagna noodles; overlapping the edges a bit is okay, but it should just be one layer thick.
  3. A couple of spoonfuls of sauce, spread to cover the noodles
  4. Slices of mozzarella, maybe 3 slices torn in pieces scattered over a 9 x 13 inch pan; don’t worry about leaving space between, they’ll melt and there’ll be plenty of cheese.
  5. A couple of large spoonfuls of cottage cheese, spread around
  6. Sprinkle with parmesan. Maybe 1/8 cup?
  7. Another layer of noodles
  8. About half the spinach
  9. More mozzarella
  10. Repeat from step 2 until you run out of stuff. You have to kind of judge how much you have of each thing, how deep your pans are and how many pans you have. If possible, end up with the meat/3 cheeses step, so that the cheeses are on top to melt and bubble and brown.

This is the point where you can cover and freeze the lasagna, if you want. Or put it in the oven on a baking sheet at 350 for about an hour, til the edges are bubbling and the top is browned. If the top browns first, cover with aluminum foil. If the edges bubble, you can brown it with the broiler. Serve and enjoy.

Frozen lasagna- put it in the fridge for 12-24 hours to thaw, then cook as above. Cold lasagna might take an hour and a half to cook, depends on how thick it is and your oven.

You can make it vegetarian by taking out the meat, or adding tofu. You can add a layer of zucchini, slightly broiled on a cookie sheet after being brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper; don’t cook them too much or they’ll mush. Ditto slices of eggplant. You can pretty much do what you want with this- add stuff, subtract it, change up the spices, use ricotta instead of cottage cheese (I think it’s too sweet, but you might like it.) Have fun!

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Pumpkin Pie Cake

I have no idea where I got this, somewhere on the interwebs, but oh my GOD it’s delicious. The whole weekend after Thanksgiving we’ll leave this out in the kitchen with a spoon beside it and take a bite every time we walk past…!

  • BOTTOM LAYER:
  • 29 oz can pumpkin
  • 13 oz can evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed, I made this mistake once!)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c white sugar
  • 1/4 c packed brown sugar
  • TOP LAYER
  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • Pecan halves (optional)
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter

Mix all ingredients for the bottom layer; you can even do this several hours ahead, and keep it in the fridge in a bowl, covered with saran wrap.

When you’re ready to cook it, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking oil, and put in the bottom layer. Then sprinkle the whole yellow cake mix on top. Slice the sticks of butter thin and dot them all over the top. Put pecan halves on top of that (if you like them)

Bake at 350 for 50 minutes, and I think it’s much better if you let it cool for fifteen minutes or so before serving. Just use a big spoon, it doesn’t cut like a cake. You can put whipped cream on it if wanted. And it gets even better as leftovers…

 

Chocolate Coconut Cake

I’ve been making this every year for our summer party for nearly thirty years…

  • 2 c sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 c shortening, softened
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 c flour
  • 1 c shredded coconut
  • 1 c boiling water

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

Line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with foil, and butter it lightly.

Measure everything else into a large bowl in order and mix well. When you get to the dry ingredients in the list, mix them in slowly, stirring constantly. Once that’s all mixed, add the coconut, then mix in the boiling water.

Pour in baking pan, cook at 325 or til done. Cool 1 hour before frosting with Creamed Cheese Frosting.

Berbere Stew

A camping buddy cooked this and it was AMAZING. He gave me the recipe, and it’s one of our favorites now.

  • 1 onion
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic OR a heaping teaspoon of chopped jar garlic
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp Berbere spice*
  • 1 1/4 c red lentils*
  • 1/2 c Teff grain*
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 32 oz box of chicken broth

Saute onions and garlic in oil, add spices and cook a bit, add everything else, simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Add more liquid if it starts to dry out.

*All three of these things are available at Ethiopian markets. Berbere is a spice mix, like Garam Masala in India, and it’s delicious. I also got Teff grain and a jar of Berbere spice on Amazon very inexpensively.

You can easily add meat to this, after the spices. I like boneless skinless chicken thighs, but it’s good with sausage too.

 

Tamale Pie

Oh, we love this Chez Otter. It’s very flexible, and it makes great leftovers.

  • 1 lb hamburger
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1-2 cloves chopped garlic OR a heaping half teaspoon of jar chopped garlic
  • 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 8 oz tomato sauce
  • 14 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 11 oz can corn (I like the kind without added sugar) drained
  • 1 chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Cornbread mix, whatever you like, and the ingredients to mix it

Cook the onion and garlic in olive oil.
Add the hamburger, brown it and break it up.
Add tomatoes and sauce
Add spices and stir it up.
Add all the veggies.

Let it cook for twenty minutes or so.
While it cooks, get out a 9 x 13 casserole dish.
Turn the oven to whatever temperature the cornbread package says.
Mix up the cornbread mix according to the package directions.

When the meat mixture has cooked for the twenty minutes, put it in the casserole dish. Spoon the cornbread on top, and spread it out as much as possible. Put it in the oven, leave it til the cornbread browns. If the cornbread is not brown on top, it’ll be gooey underneath, so watch it to be sure it gets brown but doesn’t burn. I usually check every minute or two for the last five minutes.

This is one of those wonderful recipes that you can change depending on what you like, or what you have in the fridge. Any kind of vegetables are good, you can add cheese to the top at the last, you can use turkey or chicken, change the spices, whatever. Have fun.

(Buffalo) Chili

This is my favorite chili recipe, although it takes about three hours. If you have access to buffalo meat, go for it, that’s the best.

  • 14 oz can chicken broth
  • 3 lbs buffalo stew meat, or flank steak, or a chuck roast, cut in bite size pieces
  • 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 7 oz can diced green chiles
  • 4 cloves chopped garlic OR 1 heaping tablespoon if it’s from a jar
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 chopped green pepper
  • 1 12 oz can corn (I like the kinds with no sugar added)
  • Shredded monterey jack cheese
  • 1-2 limes

Mix all ingredients from chicken broth to brown sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer one hour. Add onions, green pepper and corn. Simmer 2-4 hours.

Add lime juice and cheese to taste, stir til cheese melts, serve.

 

 

Chicken and Rice

This is one of our favorites, I make it at least once a month.

  • 6-8 chicken thighs, with bones and skin*
  • A cup or so of cheap chardonnay**
  • A 14 oz can of chicken broth
  • 2 packages of Zatarain’s New Orleans Rice mix- any two. We like mixing Red Beans and Rice with Jambalaya, or Black Beans and Rice with Yellow Rice. If you’re only doing 4 thighs, just use one package of rice mix, but the same amount of wine and broth. They make low-sodium rice mixes as well, these are delicious too, and (of course) less salty.

Put the chicken in a stewpot or dutch oven, pour wine and broth over it, and cook until the skins are easy to pull off with a fork. On the stovetop with medium heat, this will take about 45 minutes to an hour. Don’t cook too long, you don’t want the chicken falling off the bones yet.

(You can also put the chicken, wine and broth in a crock pot and cook low for 4-5 hours, or 6-7 if chicken is frozen.)

Lift the chicken out into a bowl. Pour all the delicious liquid into a big measuring cup, see how much there is and put it back in a stewpot. Add enough water to be about 1/4 cup less than the total water listed on the instructions of both rice packets together (so if one package needs 2 1/2 cups water and the other needs 3 (total 5 1/2), and you have 4 1/2 cups of liquid, add enough water to equal 5 1/4 cups liquid, or 3/4 cup.)

Open both packages of rice and pour in, stir. Turn heat to medium high.

Use a fork to remove the skins from the chicken thighs and throw the skins away. They have done their good work. Put the chicken thighs in the rice and liquid, bring to boil, turn heat low so it simmers when covered. Cover.

Let it cook for 45 minutes, stir about every 15 minutes.

Take it off the heat and uncover, let it sit for ten minutes or so.

*Yes, you can use boneless skinless thighs, or breasts, but trust me, it tastes WAY better this way.

**If you don’t want to open a whole bottle of wine for one cup, you can get a 4 pack of cheap wine for about 6 bucks (where I live) and it’s pretty bad except as cooking wine, which it is excellent for. Use one of the four bottles for this.