Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lasagna and Home Made Ragu

I did a bunch of lasagna research and found that béchamel based lasagna is Northern Italian and Ricotta based is Southern Italian.  I found one Giada recipe on Food Network that had both which I didn’t find anywhere else.  One day I will try doing a béchamel lasagna, but so far I always punt on that cause I am tired of cooking by assembly time. Instead of making separate tomato sauce and then sprinkling on the meat, I make a ragu.  And instead of layering the ricotta and spinach separately, I mix them together first.  The quantities below make either two medium size lasagnas or one really big one and will feed 12 adults. 

Ragu sauce (make day ahead or some other day and freeze)
  • 1.3 lbs of mild Italian sausage
  • 1.3 lb of ground chuck
  • 2 cans 28 ounces diced tomatoes (good ones will make a taste difference)
  • 1 can 28 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 2 medium yellow onions chopped
  • 2 carrots finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks finely chopped
I used a big Le Creuset for all of this:

Brown and drain the meat.  Make sure to cook and drain thoroughly or you will end up with greasy lasagna. Remove to a paper towel lined bowl.  Saute the veggies in the same pot in some olive oil until soft (you can also add chopped garlic but I didn’t).  Add the meat back and all the tomatoes and some pepper (the sausage usually is salty enough) and a couple bay leaves. Cook covered in the oven at 275 for 3-4 hours.  When done, it will have a totally different consistency, everything blended together and actually not very saucy.  If you don’t cook it this long the flavors just don’t happen and it will taste like raw tomatoes with some meat and very bland.  This is great for just topping pasta BTW.

I mixed two packs of chopped spinach (after thawing and squeezing all the water out) with two 16 oz containers of ricotta and 3 lightly beaten eggs. 

Olive oil sprayed the baking dish then layered:
  1. Thin layer of the ragu on the bottom of the pan
  2. Single layer of noodles (regular or GF)
  3. Ricotta and spinach layer
  4. Shredded mozzarella cheese
  5. Ragu
  6. Noodles
  7. Ricotta and spinach layer
  8. Ragu
  9. Mozarella
  10. ¼ cup of grated parmesan
Cover loosely with foil (I kind of tented it so the moisture could escape) and bake at 375 for somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour + till all bubbly, then uncovered for about 15 minutes to brown.  I put a foil covered baking sheet under it, which protected the oven and made it easier to take out. Then let it rest for a full 30 minutes.  A few tips:  if you spray the foil it isn’t supposed to stick to the cheese.  I didn’t do this and it stuck.  The resting time is essential or you will end up with soupy lasagna.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Personal Size Apple Crisp

Post Thanksgiving, tragically we had run out of apple pie.  But I had a leftover peeled Granny Smith apple in the refrigerator so I decided to improvise a personal size apple crisp suitable for the application of appropriate amounts of vanilla ice cream.

Referencing an online recipe for crisp topping, I approximated the ratios.  The filling I eyeballed, so some adjustment may be necessary.


  • 1 large ramekin
  • white sugar
  • brown sugar
  • cinnamon
  • oatmeal
  • flour
  • salt
  • butter
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple peeled

I thinly sliced the apple and in a mixing bowl, combined the apple slices, some white sugar (about 2 tablespoons or so), some cinnamon (about 1/4 tsp) and a dash of salt until well coated.  I put this in the ramekin with enough left over for a small ramekin.

In a 2 cup pyrex measuring dish, I melted 2 Tbs of butter.  I added to that 2 Tbs oatmeal, 2 Tbs flour, 3 Tbs brown sugar, about 1/2 tsp cinnamon and a dash of salt, combined and pressed on top of apple mixture in Ramekin.  There wasn’t enough for the small ramekin too, so it went “naked”.

In a rush to get this goodness in me, I decided to use the combination cook setting on our microwave/convection oven after preheating it to 400 degrees.  In about 15 minutes the apples looked done but the topping not quite.  I changed the oven to convect only at 400 degrees and gave it another about 7 minutes.

After cooling slightly and with the requisite ice cream, it was as good as anticipated.  Yummm.

Before cooking:


After cooking:



Saturday, November 05, 2011

Easy Crème Brulee

Though I have successfully made Crème Brulee the “traditional” way, with double boiler, etc., this way is much easier, almost foolproof, and takes less prep time. The quantities below will make 6 small ramekins.

  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ C sugar
  • 2 C heavy cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • Light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 300 and heat a tea kettle of water to not quite boiling. Prepare a large baking dish like a 9x13 or lasagna pan with the ramekins in it.

Put cream in a small sauce pan and warm gently on low. You do not want the cream hot, just slightly warm to touch, and bring it up to heat slow so the bottom doesn’t brown and you don’t get a skin.

Separate eggs reserving egg whites for something else, and combine egg yolks with sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl large enough to add the cream later. When cream, water, and oven are all up to heat, add cream to egg yolk mixture and mix well, but don’t beat or whip.

Pour mixture into ramekins up to bottom of lip leaving about ¼”. Add hot water to baking pan and add additional hot tap water if necessary to bring water most of the way up the sides of the ramekin making sure there is enough room in pan so that it won’t slosh over either the sides of the pan or the sides of the ramekins when you move it.

Put pan with hot water and filled ramekins into oven (see note below) and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour until they start to set up and are slightly golden on top.  They will continue to cook in the hot water when removed.

Remove carefully from oven when done and let cool, cover ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Right before serving, sprinkle tops with a 1/16” layer of light brown sugar and put on a baking sheet. Mist with a very fine mist of water and place under broiler in oven. Watch carefully and remove when sugar has that caramelized melted look to it. Let cool and serve. For variations, try adding espresso grounds or cocoa to the tops before the brown sugar.


  • It can be easier to add water to baking dish when already on oven rack. Removing though still takes a steady hand.
  • Misting the sugar with water prevents the tops of the little lumps of sugar from burning.
  • Heating the cream significantly reduces the cooking time. If it is too hot when you add it to the egg mixture you will get sweet scrambled eggs.
  • Heating the water first significantly reduces the cooking time. Don’t use boiling or really hot water since you risk cracking a dish or turning the outside of the custard to scrambled egg.
  • I have found that the cream to sugar to egg ratio in various recipes various sometimes significantly, mostly the amount of sugar. The above ratios I have used and seem to work well but you could probably reduce the sugar some if wanted.

Picture below is a double recipe in oven just before taking them out.

2011-11-05 20.09.23

Hearty Chili with Beer and Coffee

Hearty Baked Chili

This recipe was adapted from allrecipes.com and is my favorite chili recipe to date. And since it only calls for ½ bottle beer, you get to drink the rest of course while cooking.


  • oil
  • 1-1/2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb+ steak cut into ½” cubes (I like using a beefy tasting steak such as flat iron or chuck eye, or you can use sirloin)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes. (I use “fire roasted salsa style”)
  • ½ bottle dark beer (a chocolate porter is the very best for this chili)
  • 1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • beef broth (see directions for quantity)
  • 3 TB brown sugar
  • 3 TB chili powder
  • 1 TB cumin
  • 1 TB dried oregano
  • Cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to taste (start with ¼ tsp)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans kidney beans (or sub 1 can for pinto)
  • 1 (8oz) can chopped green chilies (I use fire roasted)
  • 2 fresh hot chili peppers, seeded and chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put some oil in big dutch oven and heat on stovetop to medium/medium-low. Add chopped onion and chopped peppers. Sauté briefly then add garlic and chopped meat. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Put in oven for 1 hour uncovered. (Note that you aren’t browning the meat on top of the stove but in the oven.)

After 1 hour, remove from oven to a burner on medium heat. Reduce oven temp to 300. Add the rest of the ingredients except for beef broth. The beans can be added either with their liquid or drained and rinsed. Stir chili well and let it come back up to heat slowly. Add beef broth until amount of liquid is appropriate and consistency is how you want it. Cover pot and return to oven for at least 1 hour.

Remove from oven , test seasonings, and place on low burner uncovered for 20 minutes to rest, stirring occasionally. Serve with your favorite accoutrements like grated cheese, chopped green onion and sour cream.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Stuffed Chicken Breasts 2.0

Had a couple chicken breasts I needed to cook and had some leftover mascarpone and ricotta cheese from crostadas.  I wanted something “else” in the stuffing compared to last time, so lacking fine imported Italian prosciutto, I opted for bacon.  (Good bacon mind you, not the packaged stuff.)

Here we go:

  • (2) boneless skinless chicken breasts trimmed of “goobers” and sliced open on one side to form a pocket
  • Equal parts mascarpone and ricotta cheese (see notes below), about 1/4 cup each or less.
  • Parsley
  • Tarragon, rosemary, or chervil  (see notes below)
  • 1 slice thick good bacon or prosciutto cut into small dice or strips
  • salt and pepper
  • Peeled and sliced apple
  • sliced onion
  • Chicken broth
  • Olive oil

Brown bacon or prosciutto in a little olive oil.  Remove to a paper towel.  Sauté to almost brown the onion in the bacon pan and drippings.  Remove onions to cooking pot and layer apple slices on top.

Meanwhile… mix cheese and spices and bacon together in a bowl with your hands and stuff into chicken breasts.  Salt and pepper both sides of chicken and quickly brown stuffed chicken breasts on both sides carefully in bacon/onion pan after adding some oil.  Remove and place chicken on onions and apples.  Add about 1/3 cup chicken broth, cover and cook in 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.


  1. I used a clay pot which works wonders in these scenarios, leaving the meat moist and tender, since the terra cotta is permeable, it steams instead of boils.  For clay pots you start it in a cold oven and cook at 425.  I cooked for 40 minutes but it was probably 5 minutes too long.
  2. I used a ratio of 1:3 ricotta to mascarpone since that was all the ricotta I had, but it was a bit rich, thus the 1:1 ratio above.  Feel free to experiment.
  3. I used 2 slices of bacon but it was a little bit too much, thus the one slice above.  Once again, feel free…
  4. I used dried parsley flakes and dried tarragon, probably about 1.5 TBs and 2 tsp each.  The tarragon came through a little strong so I would cut that back next time.  Fresh herbs would definitely be preferred.

This turned out rich, tender and flavorful, pretty much what I was hoping for surprisingly enough Winking smile

The carrots you see below I did in the same frying pan as everything else (I like minimizing the number of pans to wash).  I deglazed with some dry vermouth, added about 2 TBs butter, and about 1/3 cup broth and then simmered the carrots covered for about 15 minutes, uncovering the last 5 minutes to reduce the sauce.  (the bacon and the chicken both add salt and pepper to the pan so no additional seasoning was required.)


In the clay pot.  Onions and apples are below.


Plated with carrots.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Crostata, Crostini, Oh My.

This past week Jeannine enjoyed a Crostata from the ex-chef home-ec teacher at CPSC.  Jeannine thinks she called it a Crostini, but we are pretty sure it was really a savory Crostata.  What’s the diff?  Well it appears that a Crostini is basically something built on some sort of toasted bread, and a Crostata is a dough based mini open- faced pastry thingy, usually sweet, but sometimes savory.

We did some googling of recipes and combined some things into what you see below.  This recipe has great potential for variation on the filling side, so feel free to experiment.  We plan to.

Dough (makes 2 individual servings):

  • 1.5 cups bread flour (like King Arthur)
  • 3 Tbs butter (room temp)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese

Pulse dough ingredients in a food processer until dough pulls together .  Make into 2 equal balls and roll out on floured surface.  Place on parchment covered baking sheets.  Put filling in middle, roll/fold up edges about 1/2+ inches and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes until crust is golden brown.  Let rest for about 15 minutes and devour.

Filling (Arne’s version) makes ONE of the two Crostata’s:

  • 1/4 cup ricotta
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan, mozzarella, fotina, romano mix, or similar.
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh spinach
  • 1 oz small diced prosciutto
  • 1 medium leek, white and light green parts thinly sliced
  • 1-2 mushrooms sliced

Mix first three ingredients above and put on rolled out crust.  Sauté last three ingredients until leeks are soft and place on top of prior ingredients before baking.  Variation would be to sauté/caramelize leeks, then add prosciutto.


Monday, February 07, 2011

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

I had some extra ricotta cheese and two boneless skinless chicken breasts in the refrig.   So here we go.  (I apologize in advance for the imprecise measurements.)

  • (2) boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup or so grated parmesan (used for both stuffing and coating)
  • 2 thick pieces of cooked bacon chopped
  • thyme
  • parsley flakes (or fresh)
  • salt and pepper
  • flour
  • panko
  • egg

Trim breasts of tenderloin and any other “weirdness”.  Cut a pocket in each.

Mix ricotta, parmesan (reserve some for coating), bacon, and then thyme, parsley, salt and pepper to taste.   (The parsley adds color so just keep adding until the mixture looks good.)

Stuff chicken breasts.  Coat first with flour, then with beaten egg, and then with a panko/parmesan/pepper mix.

Bake at 350 on a pan with parchment paper for about 30 - 40 minutes until done.

Could have used a little more fat so I think I would add some butter to the stuffing next time.  Could substitute fresh rosemary for thyme.