Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lazy Lasagna

Lazy Lasagna
Matt's Wife's Lazy Lasagna
Matt's Lazy Wife's Lasagna
Four Pound Pasta

Call it what you will - this dish is quick, easy, and yummy. It's family friendly, budget friendly, fridge and leftover friendly, and freezes very well.

And it's also one of the dishes I like to make (yeah - go back and note how many of MY posts have actually contained recipes. Um - yeah!)

So what are we waiting for? Let's get cooking!

Lazy Lasagna
1 lb pasta
1 lb mozzarella (I use part skim)
16 oz jar of pasta sauce**
15 oz container ricotta cheese (I use part skim)
oregano to taste
grated Parmesan cheese

** the sauce is the primary source of seasoning in this dish, other than the oregano. If you like garlic in your pasta dishes, I recommend a garlic based sauce rather than adding raw garlic because there is really no chance for raw garlic to get cooked and for that flavor to mellow. I was in a cheesy mood this go round, so chose the Four Cheese sauce. Diavolo is also a nice spicy variation.

1. Bring one gallon of salted water to a boil in a six quart (or larger) pot. Add your pasta, and cook as directed on the box. Try not to over cook the pasta, as it'll pull some moisture from the cheese sauce. Also, don't pre-cook your pasta. You'll need the heat from the freshly drained pasta to help melt the cheese. (hmm -this sounds like Matt's mac-n-cheese - but he says it so well!!)

2. Shred the mozzarella. You could use a food processer for this, but I like doing it by hand.

3. Reserve about a 1/2 cup of the cheese for later.

4. Combine the ricotta and shredded mozzarella together in a LARGE bowl. You will be mixing everything in this bowl, so give yourself some extra room. I like a stainless bowl, as the tomato sauce will stain a plastic bowl.

5. Drain the pasta and add it to the cheese mixture. Mix everything together thoroughly. Don't give the pasta a chance to cool down -the heat of the pasta will help melt the cheeses and make everything combine more uniformly.

6. Add the jar of pasta sauce to the cheese and pasta mixture. Add grated Parmesan and dried oregano to taste. **if you crush the dried oregano between your hands before adding it, it will release more of it's flavor.

7. Mix thoroughly to combine. Mixture should be on the wet and sticky side.

8. Move the mixture into a large casserole and top with the remaining shredded mozzarella. (nnd of course you can never go wrong with even MORE shakey cheese aka grated Parmesan)

9. Bake at 400F for 20 minutes, or until cheese on top is bubbly and melted.

Serve and enjoy!!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

stovetop mac 'n cheese

Another mac 'n cheese recipe?!? Sure, I'm thinking we have at least a few more in store for you.

This is one of our go-to weeknight meals. It's really easy, and it's tastygood. The original recipe is from Alton Brown's Good Eats (of course), but we've been tweaking it since we first made it.

stovetop mac 'n cheese
1 lb. box elbow macaroni (we like using Barilla Plus Multigrain... but you already knew that.)
12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
4 oz. swiss cheese, freshly shredded
4 large eggs
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper*
1 tsp. hot sauce
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk (we use fat-free evap. milk)
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed

*yup, I guess you could use white pepper so you don't see it in the final dish. I like to see the pepper in the final dish.

1. Bring one gallon of salted water to a boil in a six quart (or larger) pot. Add your pasta, and cook as directed on the box. Try not to over cook the pasta, as it'll pull some moisture from the cheese sauce. Also, don't pre-cook your pasta. You'll need the heat from the freshly drained pasta to help build the sauce.

2. While the pasta is cooking, crack your eggs into a medium mixing bowl and beat well with a whisk.

3. Combine the salt, pepper and dry mustard in a small dish, and slowly sprinkle it in as you beat the egg. Add the hot sauce and beat just a little while longer.

4. While still beating the egg, SLOWLY drizzle in the evaporated milk. Have you checked your pasta recently? Good. Set the egg/milk mixture aside until the pasta is done.

5. When the pasta is done, cut the heat, drain the pasta, and return it back to the pot. Add the butter and stir it into the warm pasta to melt.

6. While no one is looking, scoop up a spoonful of buttered pasta, sprinkle on a bit of kosher salt, and pop it in your mouth. Mmmm.... it's good to be the cook.

7. When the butter is melted, pour in the egg/milk mixture and turn the heat to medium. Stir the mixture to heat through.

8. Slowly start adding the shredded cheese by the handful, and mix in to melt.

9. When all the cheese is in the pot, and melted, continue to cook for three minutes, stirring constantly. Serve hot.
This recipe can easily be halved. Just use a small can of evaporated milk. We make it full-sized, and fridge or freeze the leftovers.

Leftovers.... hey, that gives me an idea....

Saturday, November 8, 2008

the pasta toss: variations on a theme

Pasta tosses are a favorite around our house because they are simple, quick, and always delicious. You've already seen at least one pasta toss here, trains, planes, automobiles... and sausage?!?, and I'm sure you'll see many more.

Here are the basic building blocks for pasta tosses.

Yup, betchya didn't see that one coming, did you? I like to use "spoonable" pastas, such as rotini, cut fusilli, penne or farfale, in these dishes. They mix better with other ingredients for that "all-flavors-in-one-spoonful" experience. We really like the Barilla Plus mulitgrain pastas 'round here. They are a bit sturdier than standard semolina-based pastas, and better for you, and they actually have some flavor. I used Barilla Plus penne this time out.

Here's where the flavors begin... with your choice of onion, shallot, garlic, celery, carrot, etc. I usually start by dicing a medium-sized onion, and sweating it in olive oil with a pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Towards the end of the sweat, I'll toss it some minced garlic. I toss it in late so that it doesn't burn.

Protein... or not
There is almost ALWAYS pasta toss-friendly meat frozen safely in our freezer. Chicken is our main staple, but we also have used sausage, and in some cases, we've left out the meat completely, and used portobellos. For the dish (photo) above, I found three links of the pre-cooked Italian sausage leftover from an earlier pasta toss. I bias-sliced it, and added it to the onion and garlic to brown up.

Sorry, Mom always said to eat our veggies, so in they go. In the Summer months, we like to hit the local farm market for fresh zucchini, squash and tomatoes, but canned diced tomatoes and frozen green beans, spinach, broccoli, peas, cauliflower and the like, are terrific and easy to keep on hand. I was lucky to find some young zucchini and yellow squash at our local grocery store (a bit surprised to find nice ones in November), so I had to go with them. To save some cook-down time, I coarse diced them, put them on a microwave-safe bowl, covered them and nuked them for about one minute on high to soften them. I then gave them a quick stir and nuked them for an additional minute. These then went into the skillet with the aromatics and browned sausage and little bit black pepper.

Here's where you pull out your herbs and spices, either fresh, or dried. When we plan ahead, we try to get fresh herbs, but in most cases, I'm punting, so dried herbs work great. Parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, dill, chives, etc. are all great additions. I went simple, and only used dried parsley and oregano, but I added it along with the veggies to give it a bit of time to rehydrate.

A little something special...
Time to go for the "Ooooo" factor. Maybe it's a chiffonade of fresh basil, a few grinds of coarse black pepper, a shake of red pepper flakes, a big honkin' spoonful of feta, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a bit of lemon or lime juice, a splash of balsamic vinegar... or in this case, a few shavings of peccorino romano. Whatever you choose, it'll help put your dish over the top.

One great thing about pasta tosses is that it is pure creativity with simple ingredients. And the creative part, well, that's where the fun is. Don't be afraid to try something new and unique. If you like a particular combination, scribble it down in your recipe file (future post), and share it with friends... or food bloggers. If you were less than thrilled, think of what you would change to make it an awesome dish of your own.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween Leftovers -if there is such a thing

The first Halloween Matt and I spent together, away from our respective families, we did what our parents had always done - we went out and bought candy for the neighborhood kids who would come trick-or-treating.

We did not even stop to think that we lived at THE dead end of a dead-end road (the end of the road turned into our driveway) and that this road was a turn off of another dead-end road, and that most of the homes were summer cottages, and those few people who were left were years older than we were and unlikely to go trick or treating.

Needless to say we had leftover candy - LOTS of leftover candy (I think I bought four bags).

It was SweeTARTS - I will never ever ever forget that it was SweeTARTS, because I think we were still eating them in August - 2 years later.

Not a lot you can do with leftover SweeTARTS.

We stayed away from buying candy for a while after that - until we bought our house, which is at the corner of a subdivision, right in the village, right across the street from two houses that go OVER THE TOP decorating - and we realized we would get a lot of traffic.

Right then we decided two things:

1. we would buy GOOD candy that kids would actually eat, and not be the house with the strange candy or 'gasp' non-candy toys.

2. we would buy candy that we could use in other ways.

... and of course we would buy candy that WE liked.

Our choice ended up being plain chocolate Hershey Bars - very versatile, very yummy. We even used them in lieu of cigars as birth announcements when the Munchkin was born.

Ah - The Munchkin -the new wild card in this Halloween equation. See, now that we have a family member out collecting candy from others, we have lost what delicate control we had over the contents of our candy dish at home.

Enter the "baking with candy" quest - Mommy's proactive search of the internet to see what ideas I could come up with to help wrangle the candy influx. Surprisingly I did not find many ideas - but those that I did find I decided to copy here. Since links are tenuous - and many dead links were found in this quest, I decided to copy the recipes here but to tell you that these little tidbits came from The San Marcos Record in San Marcos, TX.

These have not been field tested by our team - YET. If you try these and have any feedback, please let us know.

Baby Ruth Crater Bars

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups coarse chopped Baby Ruth

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 15 x 10-inch jellyroll pan.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.

Beat brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter and peanut butter in large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Spread dough evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle with Baby Ruth; press in lightly. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

Three Musketeers Fried Pies

1 (10-count) can biscuits
1 large Three Musketeers bar
confectioners sugar

Separate biscuits and roll thin. Cut candy bar into 10 pieces. Place 1 piece in center of each biscuit; fold over and seal edges. Deep fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

Oatmeal Brownie Crunch Bars

1 (18.5-ounce) fudge cake mix
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
2 eggs
4 ounces finely chopped Hershey’s Special Dark (or semi-sweet chocolate bar)
2-3/4 cups quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats, uncooked
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped dry-roasted honey peanuts
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted
1-3/4 cups M&Ms or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 15 x 10 x 1-inch pan with non-stick foil.

Stir cake mix, water, butter, and eggs until combined. Add chopped chocolate and combine. Set aside.

In large bowl combine oats, flour, sugar, nuts and baking soda; add butter until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Toss in M&Ms until evenly distributed. Reserve 3 cups mixture.

Pat remaining mixture onto bottom of baking pan to form crust. Pour prepared fudge cake mix over crust, carefully spreading into thin layer. Sprinkle reserved oatmeal crumb mixture over top of fudge mixture; pat down lightly.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool completely. Cut into bars. Store in tightly covered container.

Peanut Butter Milk Duds Cookie Cups


1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine (not the type in a tub)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated white sugar, packed
1/2 light brown sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 (10 ounces) package Milk Duds candies
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

Optional Glaze:
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp smooth peanut butter


Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large bowl, cream together margarine, peanut butter, egg, white sugar, and brown sugar. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture, half at a time, to margarine mixture, beating well to combine. Place a heaping teaspoon of cookie dough into the palm of your hand. Press one candy into the center and press dough around it to form a ball. Roll in confectioners' sugar and place in ungreased mini-muffin tin. Bake 12-14 minutes, until lightly browned on top. Let cool in the baking tins at least 15 minutes, then remove to racks to cool completely.

Optional Glaze:

Melt chocolate chips and peanut butter together until smooth. Pour into a plastic zip-top bag, squeeze out the air, and seal. Cut a small corner from the bottom of the bag and drizzle chocolate over the tops of the cooled cookie cups.

Note: Rollo candies, Reese's Bites or any other candies that will mix well with peanut butter can be substituted for Milk Duds.

Candy Corn Rice Crispy Treats

1/2 cups butter
10 cups Crispy rice cereal
9 cups miniature marshmallows
2 cups of candy corn
3/4 c miniature chocolate chips
Candy pumpkins
Yellow and red food coloring


Melt butter and marshmallows; stir until smooth. In a large bowl, mix rice cereal, candy corn and miniature chips together. To marshmallow mixture, blend in 2 drops yellow food coloring and 1 drop red food coloring, adding more coloring if necessary to reach desired shade.

Add marshmallow mixture to cereal mixture; stir quickly to combine. Spread on a large buttered pan; press with buttered hands. While warm, press on candy pumpkins spaced 1 to 1/2-2 inches apart. Refrigerate and cut into squares.

Smashed Bugs Candy Recipe


2 cups (about) square snack pretzels
1 package (12 ounces) Rollo chocolate-covered caramel candies
8 (about) large marshmallows, each cut into 8 pieces
1 cup (about) pecan halves

Preheat oven to 300 F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place pretzels in rows 1 inch apart on lined baking sheets. Top with chocolate caramel candies.

Place marshmallow on top. Bake for 3 minutes only. Immediately place pecan half on top of each and gently press down so all layers stick together.

Snickers Cookie Bars Recipe


1 package (12 ounces) Snickers Popables chocolate candy pieces, chilled
1 roll (1 pound) chocolate chip cookie dough, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with non-stick foil.

Cut cookie dough in half lengthwise. Oil your hands and use your fingers to gently press the dough into the bottom of the pan.

The layer will be thin. Evenly distribute the chocolate candy pieces on top of the dough and gently press down so they don’t roll.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool about 20 minutes, then cut into bars while warm.

Tootsie Roll Ice Cream Sauce


35 Tootsie Roll Midgees
1/4 cup of water
1 extra cup of water

Using the cutting board, cut up each Tootsie Roll Midgee into three or four pieces.

Place the Tootsie Roll pieces and 1/4 cup of water in the smaller of the two pots. Pour the extra 1 cup of water into the bigger pot. Place the smaller pot into the bigger pot (it will float on the water).

Heat on stove, on medium heat, until Tootsie Roll pieces melt.

Stir them together with the water.

Let the mixture cool and then pour on top of ice cream.