February 26, 2013

Quick and Messy Lasagna with Bechamel Sauce

Wow that's some title! LOL. But I wanted to put it all out there upfront.
 
I love lasagna, I mean who doesn't right? But it takes so much time to make it that I hardly ever do it. But then I saw good ole Rach.el R.ay do this trick and it changed my lasagna eating life. All the yum with half the work.
If you do it quick and dirty, with just browned meat and canned sauce... you could easily pull it all together in about a half hour for a quick weekday dinner. But if you take the time to make a nicer sauce, like mine below, it will take a bit longer and taste a lot better. Still, from start to finish, I had dinner on the table in under an hour.
 
You could use pretty much any recipe for lasagna and then use this method and it would work nicely, but this is my recipe, adapted to this method... and I must say that my own recipe is quite good. :)
 
Basically, you take the lasagna noodles and break them up into pieces before you boil them. I try to break each piece about 4 times. You'll get all different shapes and sizes, and that's great! So you boil them according to the instructions on the package, plus 1 minute. Then drain, and add to your meat sauce.
Then stir to coat them all and get it evenly distributed.
Put half of it in a cake pan (9x13) and then top it with some cottage cheese (or ricotta if you're fancy) and a sprinkle of dry parsley.
Then put the rest of the noodles on top of the cottage cheese.
Top that off with the bechamel sauce (or grated cheese if you prefer), and a sprinkle of grated parmesan, and stick in your oven on 350 for about 25 minutes.
Let it rest for 5 minutes before you serve it.
The only drawback is that I can't get a "clean slice" to make a nice picture. It's "messy" lasagna, remember?
But oh, so yummy!
 
Now if you want my own recipe, which you totally should because it's awesome, here it is.
 
So first, you need to take a red bell pepper and get it roasting in the oven. Put it in a pie tin about 6 inches below the top heating element and set your oven to "high broil." Keep it in there until most of the skin has turned black, about 10-15 minutes.
Cover it with foil, or a bowl of some type to let it steam as it cools. When it's cool enough, remove all the skin, stem, and seeds... throw those away. Finely dice the meat of the pepper and reserve it.
 
Now it's time to make your meat sauce. I believe in using ground sausage instead of ground beef. Trust me, it's so much better.
You brown that up with some finely chopped veggies... I mean finely chopped. You want the taste in your sauce, but you don't want to have visible pieces of veggie.
One onion, one carrot (I grate that), one stalk of celery. Put all of that in with the raw sausage and cook it until the sausage is brown and crumbly.
Add 3 or 4 cloves of minced/pressed fresh garlic. Let that cook for about a minute, then add one 14oz can of beef broth (or chicken broth if you prefer), as well as the reserved diced bell pepper.
 
 Cook it at a boil, stirring often, until pretty much all of the broth disappears, about 10 minutes.
Once the broth has reduced down to nothing, add 48 ounces of canned spaghetti sauce,1 TBS of vinegar, 2 TBS of dried oregano, and some fresh basil. I've stopped using fresh basil during the winter, and I get this stuff instead because it lasts longer in my fridge.
And I add this much...
Then stir and let it simmer while you make the noodles and bechamel.
So break up, boil, and add the noodles how I described above. Then remove the noodle/meat sauce mixture from heat and set it aside while you make the bechamel sauce.
 
First, what's bechamel sauce?
I used to make lasagna and top it with GIANT amounts of shredded cheese. Expensive and yummy. Then I decided to try bechamel sauce. It's a creamy cheesy yummy goodness sauce. I actually like it better than topping it with cheese, plus it's cheaper, more authentic, and is just rich and thick and gooey... mmmmm.
Try it.
 
Melt one stick of butter and then add 1/3 cup of flour. Whisk together to make a roux, let it cook for about a minute, maybe two. Then slowly add 2 cups of whole milk, whisking the whole time. Also add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp nutmeg. Yes, that's right, I said nutmeg. Trust me, it's good and doesn't end up tasting like nutmeg, it just gives it a background zing.
Keep whisking (or else  you'll get lumps) until it gets nice and thick, like really thick and creamy gravy.
Can you see the "streaks" that the whisk left in it?
Remove from heat and whisk in 3/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese until it incorporates (melts into) the sauce. It will get nice and cheesy, almost stringy.
That's when you want to pour it over everything, and sprinkle another 3/4 cup grated parmesan on the very top for color and texture... and gluttony.
350 for 25 minutes.
So yummy.
***
1 pound of lasagna noodles (NOT "oven ready" noodles)
24oz of cottage cheese
1-2 TBS dried parsley
1 pound of ground Italian sausage
1 red bell pepper
1 bulb onion (I use white, but whatever)
1 carrot, grated
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 - 14oz can of beef/chicken broth
2 -24 oz cans of spaghetti sauce
1 TBS vinegar
2 TBS dried oregano
1 bunch of fresh basil/basil paste
1 cube of butter, melted
1/3 cup of flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided

February 13, 2013

Orange Chicken in a Crockpot

I love orange chicken from asian restaraunts. Like, love it. Unfortunately, I'm also allergic to soy which is pretty much guaranteed to be in everything they make, if even in the form of soy sauce. So I jumped when I saw this recipe...
orange chicken...
in a crockpot...
made with frozen oj concentrate...
Yes, please! Sounds right up my alley!
Of course I had to change the recipe a bit, but overall... I'm ecstatic to have a nice substitute for the food I crave without worrying about what strange ingredients are being added.
 
3 big handfuls of baby carrots, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 or 5 frozen chicken breasts
3 garlic cloves, pressed (powder is fine, about 1 tsp)
1 inch fresh ginger root, finely diced (powder is fine, about 1 tsp)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 - 12oz can of frozen orange juice concentrate
2 TBS cornstarch (optional)
3 green onions (scallions), sliced
*** This would be even better with a couple TBS of soy sauce, if you can eat it.***
 
First, put all the sliced/chopped carrots on the bottom of your crockpot.
Then add the chopped peppers on top of that.
And the frozen chicken breasts on that. Then the garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, brown sugar, pepper flakes, and top it all off with the orange juice concentrate.
Cook on high for 6 hours.  (Or high for an hour and then low for about 8-10.)
About an hour or so before you're ready to eat, take out a couple forks and sort of "shred" the chicken. Not fully shredding, just breaking it up into more bite sized pieces, also letting the sauce cook through more deeply. Stir and let cook for the last hour like that.
This step is totally optional.
Using a slotted spoon, take out all the chicken and veggies... and reserve it in a large bowl.
That leaves the "broth" in the crockpot. And it's runny like broth. Delicious, but runny.
I wanted my sauce to be more... saucy.
So in a seperate cup, mix 2-3 TBS of cornstarch with the same amount of cold water. Mix completely and add to the liquid. Stir it around every few minutes until it thickens.
 
 
It will be more like gravy than like the see-through gooey sauce you're used to, but I like it better because it doesn't feel so "chemical." Also it took my crockpot about 15 minutes on high, stirring frequently, to get it to the desired thickness. I realized it would've been easier to just boil it over the stove, but then I'd just have another pot to clean... not worth it. :) Just plan on doing this part while your rice cooks.
 
Once your liquid is thick enough for you, add the chicken and vegetables back to the crockpot and toss to coat.
 
Serve over rice with sliced green onions for garnish.
Mmmmm.
 
One more note... I loved it and so did my husband. My kids didn't appreciate all the ginger that I like. So if you have kids, cut the amount of ginger down by half or more and they'll love it.

January 28, 2013

Rosemary Roasted Root Veggies

I love potatoes. But sometimes, you're just in the mood for something with a bit more variety. Still traditional and filling, but a bit different, and super yummy.
Well, this is it!
I love how everything gets turned jewel bright. Such a beautiful side dish!
You'll get rave reviews with it, even my kids will eat it.
I got the recipe originally from my good friend's BLOG. She's amazing.
This is what you'll need... for a giant batch of it.
Last night I had a big family dinner, 11 adults and 8 kids. I made 2 whole chickens in the crockpot... I had to borrow an extra crockpot, and I made this as a side. It was awesome! But this is a lot! So I'm cutting the recipe down to 1/3 of what I made last night, so that it would be appropriately sized for a normal family dinner.
 
1 red beet, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 sweet potato (not yam!!!), peeled and chopped
1 russet potato, washed and chopped
1/3 of a butternut squash, peeled seeded and chopped
1 TBS olive oil
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp salt
 
Toss it to coat, and put in a baking pan. For this amount, probably just a cake pan should do it for yah and you can cover it with tinfoil. But for the full amount you see in the pictures... I used my roasting pan. Ha! I haven't used it in forever, because now I always do my chickens in the crockpot... but it has found a use again!
Cover and cook at 400 degrees for 1 hour. I usually stir it around at 40 minutes, just to make sure it's cooking evenly. And quite often I'll cook it for an extra 20 minutes to get the carrots nice and soft enough for my 1 year old to eat on her own... but I find that makes the rest, especially the squash, be really over cooked. My brilliant fix for that is to put the harder veggies at the bottom and the softer on top. So the beets go on bottom, then carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and squash. (Still stir it around to mix it at 40 minutes.)
Look at how pretty!
 More nutrients, more variety, more taste.
Mmmmm.
The only complaint I ever get is from my husband who misses all the extra butter I put in mashed potatoes. LOL. But he just adds it here and is plenty happy.

January 23, 2013

Beef Stroganoff

This is a favorite around here. A staple. Easy, cheap, warm, filling. Comfort food at its finest!
 
I think I originally got the inspiration for this from Rach.ael R.ay, but I have tampered with it so much to make it "perfect" that it doesn't really resemble what she did originally. 
 
Okay, so first get a red bell pepper roasting in your oven. I know you can buy them canned, but... seriously, puke.... easy enough to do yourself and it tastes a thousand times better!
I need to get a post up on how to just roast a pepper, instead of including the directions on every blasted post... Hmmm. I'll work on that, but for now, you can look at the directions HERE.
 
So now, in a frying pan, over medium-high heat:
 
1 bulb onion, chopped
1 pound hamburger
8oz fresh mushrooms, sliced or diced
salt and pepper to taste
 
Cook all of that until the meat is browned and the veggies are tender-firm. Then add:
 
2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed
Let that cook for about a minute, then add:
1 family sized can of Cream of Mushroom soup
OR
3 "cans" of the cream of anything soup mix, prepared nice and thick
2-3 TBS paprika
2 tsp dillweed
1 roasted red bell pepper, (skinned and seeded) finely diced
 
Simmer over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes... Which gives you time to make the noodles or the rice. Oh yeah, did I mention, you serve it over egg noodles, or rice?
 
Mmmm.... delicious!

Cream of Anything Soup Mix

Yeah, so I'm allergic to a lot of things. A LOT of things. And it pretty much sucks. Do you know how hard it is to make a casserole when you can't have canned soup?
And then I found this recipe.
*Heaven!*
I found it on THIS blog, and I have no idea where it originated.... er... originally.
But it is a life saver for me!
Also I must say, that even without all my food problems, I would still choose this over canned cream soup. First, it's pennies on the dollar compared to the canned stuff. So cheap to make! And it only has a few ingredients, so you know exactly what you're eating... no chemicals and stuff you can't pronounce. But most important to me, is the taste. I mean, being healthy and frugal is great and all, but if it tastes like cardboard then no thanks! But this is so good! Tastes SO MUCH BETTER than the canned soup. For serious.
Try it out.
You won't regret it.
(Also, if you're into emergency preparedness and food storage, this is an AWESOME thing to plan on having. All the ingredients can easily be found in a long term storage package.)
2 cups powdered milk
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup chicken bouillon granules
2 tsp Italian seasoning
Mix it together and store in a plastic or glass container.
To make it into soup:
1 1/4 cup cold water
1/3 cup of dry mix
Whisk it together over medium-high heat until it thickens. The key is to use cold water, so that the cornstarch will dissolve all the way before you even turn on the stovetop. Then just keep whisking (to keep the other ingredients from falling to the bottom of the pan and burning), just like you're making gravy. You don't want lumps, so whisk away. The longer/hotter you cook it, the thicker it will get.
Substitute that amount of mix for one 10 3/4oz can of condensed soup in recipes. Or you can eat it straight, just how it is. Delicious! Only, don't thicken it so much if you're just eating it. You don't want goo.
So I just use my own Italian seasoning when making this. But you could also buy the little packets. In fact, you don't officially have to add the spice at all, it just makes it better.
But that's the beauty of this recipe. You can make it however you want it.
Want cream of potato soup? Add potatoes and different spices. Want cheese soup? Add some grated cheese (I love sharp cheddar!) while you're whisking away until it incorporates with the soup. Want a sauce for salisbury steak? Use beef bouillon granules instead of chicken, or just add some worcestershire sauce and smoke flavoring.
Try it out, you won't be sorry...

Italian Seasoning and Salad Dressing

Here's a little quickie that I like to always have on hand. It's a dry Italian seasoning mix. Use it as a dry rub... mix it with oil and vinegar to make a salad dressing.... sprinkle it in your food... whatever.
 
It's cheaper (and healthier) to make than it is to buy those individual packets, and it tastes much better.
 
1 TBS garlic powder
1 TBS  onion powder
2 TBS oregano
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp thyme
1 tsp basil
1 TBS parsley
1/4 tsp celery seed
1 tsp sea salt
 
Shake, stir, or otherwise mix together.
Store in a plastic or glass container.
It makes about 6TBS, I usually make it 4 batches at a time, and it lasts forever.
 
To make it into a nice salad dressing:
 
1/4 cup vinegar of your choice
2/3 cup olive oil (extra virgin of course!)
2 TBS of the dry mix
 
Combine and chill for at least 30 minutes before using.

January 21, 2013

Succotash Recipe

Okay, this is probably my all time favorite side dish. Full of veggies and flavor, with almost nothing "unhealthy" in it, and takes all of 10 minutes to make.  You could easily make it into a main dish by adding black beans and serving it over rice... or adding some shredded chicken breast and serve it over noodles... or something easy like that. I've done both, they're good, but I always fall back to the straight veggie version. 
 
I grew up watching that cartoon cat use succotash as a curse word, and had no idea that it was an actual food item. A very yummy food item at that! Then a few years ago I saw some chef on TV doing his version of it, I guess it's an old traditional recipe that's supposed to have come down from when the American Indians helped the Pilgrims survive.
Wow, who knew?
 
It's supposed to be sauteed in bear fat,
but if you can't find that at your local store (ha!) you can just use oil.
I usually just use olive oil, but sometimes I'll use bacon grease to feel more pioneery.
Anyway, I've been making it ever since I saw that show, and I've changed it many times over. This is just my version, but I love it... and my kids even love it, which really counts for vegetable dishes.
 
So get out your largest frying pan, and heat a little oil in it. Then add:
 
1 white onion, chopped
1-2 zucchini squash, chopped
1-2 yellow summer squash, chopped
1 tsp salt
 
Let those sautee over medium-high heat for a little, because they'll take the longest to cook. After about 2 minutes, add:
 
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
 
Wait another minute... what I really do is just chop the veggies as I go, in the order I'm telling  you. (Chop onion, dump it. Chop squash, into the pot. Add salt. Chop pepper, in it goes.) I chop very slowly, which gives it just the right amount of time to cook, so that at the end (10 minutes tops), everything is tender-firm and delicious.
 
Okay, so next add:
 
1-2 cloves garlic, pressed
2-3 roma sized tomatoes, chopped
4-5 dark green leaves (I like kale, but you could use collards or spinach too) Cut those leaves into "ribbons" for a pretty look, or just chop them and stick them in.
More salt and pepper to taste
 
Leave over heat just long enough for the leaves to get tender.
And that's it. Just eat it.
Sometimes I'll add a pinch of oregano or something, but usually I just rely on the veggies to flavor themselves. And, unless you cooked it over too high of heat, you should have a nice amount of liquid in it which helps it to pair nicely with a grain or something.
 
I know this is a huge amount of food, but we really do love it that much, plus I'm frequently cooking for lots of people... and anything veggie that my kids will eat is something worth making a lot of!
So you could easily cut the recipe in half, or even quarter it, just to try it and see if it's a fit for you.