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lasagnapan

I have a confession. There are a few simple things that I just cannot seem to master. Among those are pancakes, gravy, biscuits and lasagna. Seriously, who can’t make pancakes and lasagna? It’s embarrassing. Well, last weekend I was craving traditional lasagna. This is strange for me because I’m not the biggest traditional meat lasagna fan – I usually go for the veggie stuff. I’m good about trying to overcome my culinary weaknesses so I decided to give it a go. I researched recipes for longer than I’d like to admit before finally deciding on this Sausage, Cheese and Basil Lasagna on epicurious.com. I figured if it had received 4-fork reviews from 325 people it must be good.

I’m happy to report that it wasn’t just good…it was awesome. I probably said to Brandon five times during dinner, “Wow, this is really delicious. I can’t believe I made good lasagna.” I loved the flavor combination with the homemade sauce, Italian sausage and fresh basil. I’ve decided that I prefer using all Italian sausage versus a sausage/ground beef mixture. If you’re going to make this lasagna DO NOT skip making the homemade sauce. It is so simple and makes a huge difference in the flavor.

Now on to modifications that I did make to the original recipe. First, I read multiple reviews that there was not enough sauce. I corrected this by using a smaller pan – 9 x 11 instead of 9 x 13. It was just Brandon and me and we can never finish a whole pan anyway. Alternatively, I recommend increasing the sauce recipe by one half. It would have been nice to have extra sauce for the leftovers too. Second, I was totally not in the mood to deal with cooking and draining lasagna noodles. I decided to throw caution to the wind and just use uncooked noodles in the lasagna (I didn’t even use the “no-boil” noodles). I rinsed them in water first to dampen them and made sure they were completely covered by sauce. I was extremely pleased to find that they’d cooked perfectly when I served the lasagna.

One final recommendation is to make sure to let  your lasagna rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. I think this makes the biggest difference in having a pretty lasagna that holds together and doesn’t turn into a mess on the plate.

So now that I’ve overloaded you with my ramblings and recommendations, here’s the recipe.

Sausage, Cheese and Basil Lasagna
(Recipe source epicurious.com, originally printed in Bon Appetit)

Ingredients:

FOR THE SAUCE
1 pound spicy or sweet (your preference) Italian sausage, casings removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

FOR THE FILLING
1 1/2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 (15-ounce) container plus 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 6 ounces)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

FOR THE ASSEMBLY
12 lasagna noodles
3 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 12 ounces)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
Nonstick cooking spray
Aluminum foil

Directions:

FOR THE SAUCE
Brown Italian sausage in a large saucepan over medium heat until crumbly and cooked through. Drain and wipe down pan.

Heat olive oil in same pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until they begin to look transparent and soft. Add garlic, red pepper and oregano and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add crushed and diced tomatoes and cooked sausage and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

FOR THE FILLING
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until combined.

FOR THE ASSEMBLY
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a 9 x 13 glass baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 1 1/4 cups sauce in bottom of baking dish. Arrange 3 noodles on sauce. Drop 1 1/2 cups filling over noodles and spread evenly to cover. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layering of sauce, noodles, filling and cheeses 2 more times. Top with remaining 3 noodles. Spoon remaining sauce over noodles. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Spray large piece of foil with nonstick cooking spray. Cover lasagna with foil, sprayed side down.

Bake lasagna 40 minutes. Carefully uncover and increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake until noodles are tender, sauce bubbles thickly and edges of lasagna are golden and puffed, about 20 more minutes. Remove from oven and let stand at least 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: 8 servings

lasagna

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cajjambalaya22

I look for any excuse to cook for a special occasion – especially fun things like Fat Tuesday, St. Patricks, Cinco de Mayo, even the opening ceremonies of the Olympics (we had friends over for a Chinese feast!). While menu planning this week, I knew Fat Tuesday had to be Cajun themed.

We started the day out at IHOP for free pancake day. If you didn’t hear about it you missed out! IHOP was giving away a free short stack of pancakes to everyone to raise money for The Children’s Miracle Network. Fat Tuesday was originally known as “Shrove Tuesday” – the day before the Christian time of fasting and prayer called lent. Apparently, one of the Shrove Tuesday traditions is eating pancakes. Read more on Wikipedia

On to dinner. I’d been craving jambalaya for the last few weeks so there was no hemming and hawing over what to make (which is abnormal for me – usually I pour over recipes for hours). I’ve tried several recipes over the last few years and have recently found my favorite – it’s Emeril’s Cajun Jambalaya. I love all the veggies along with the trio of shrimp, andouille and chicken – it also has a great flavor and a good amount of heat. Surprisingly enough, this comes together relatively quickly, especially if you buy deveined shrimp. I definitely recommend this next time you are in the mood for a cajun dish!

cajjambalaya

Cajun Jambalaya
(Recipe source Emeril Lagasse)

Ingredients:

12 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
4 oz chicken, diced (can sub chopped cooked chicken if you have some on hand)
1 tbsp creole seasoning (Emeril’s Essence or any other cajun seasoning)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (I use drained diced if I don’t have fresh on hand)
3 bay leaves
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp hot sauce (or more if you like heat)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional – not included in the original recipe but good if you like heat)
3/4 cup white rice
3 cups chicken stock
5 oz andouille sausage, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a bowl, combine shrimp, chicken and Creole seasoning. If you’re using pre-cooked chicken do not add the chicken in with the shrimp. Work in seasoning well.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in onion, celery and bell pepper and cook about three minutes. Add garlic, tomatotes, bay leaves, worcestershire, hot sauce and cayenne. Stir in rice and slowly add broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until rice absorbs liquid and becomes tender, stirring occasionaly, about 15 minutes. Then add shrimp, chicken and sausage. Cook until meat is done, about 10 more minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and creole seasoning.

Yield: 4 servings

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