Monthly Archives: March 2016

Stealing Inspiration and Artichoke Lasagna

Inspiration. It’s what motivates us to do something. We can be inspired by someone’s actions or words, which in turn allows us to try something new. Cooking is made up of many things, but first and most important is inspiration. Whether it’s a beautiful vegetable at its peak of deliciousness, an upcoming event that screams for a special dish, or a recipe that sparks the creative juices of the mind and palate. That’s what this is all about…taking inspiration from a recipe.

Those of us who love to cook often come up with ideas that arrive like lightning bolts that must be harnessed into wonderful food. We take to the kitchen and experiment until we create the perfect storm, a dish that is fabulous. There are also times when we see someone else’s “perfect storm” and are inspired to create our own version of that perfection. Let’s face it, most of us do not follow a recipe to the letter (with the exception of baking where creative license can mess with the kitchen chemistry). We add a little more of something or maybe a little less.

There are times when I see a recipe in a magazine or on-line that gives me an idea. I take the basic idea and run with it. That’s how the Artichoke Lasagna came to be. The recipe I came across used artichokes, mushrooms, and red bell peppers to create the filling that included a huge amount of cream cheese. I kept the veggies and lost the cream cheese to create a lasagna that was all my own with a more traditional filling using ricotta, cheese, and eggs, along with a bit of pesto.IMG_1510I combined the vegetables with this and the result was a creamy filling ready to hold its own in my lasagna.IMG_1519I decided to try whole grain lasagna and I can highly recommend it. The nutty flavor and sturdy texture added to the lasagna’s taste.IMG_1524The lasagna went together in the usual way; layers of noodles, filling and cheese.IMG_1527 I topped it off with a Bechamel Sauce that I made with fat-free half & half and Cracked Pepper Toscano Cheese. This is one of my favorite Trader Joe’s items. It’s a creamy Parmesan type cheese that is coated in black pepper. Wonderful in cooking  and a delicious addition to a cheese plate. IMG_1532The lasagna emerged from the oven bubbly and golden as every lasagna should. After a waiting period that seemed endless, but was really about 15 minutes, it was ready to cut and serve.IMG_1537This was a win win for stolen inspiration and conscious en”light”enment. The filling was creamy and filled with veggie goodness. The six generous servings had plenty of cheesy goodness from modest amounts of  ricotta and Italian Cheese Blend and of course, that killer Bechamel.

A Disclaimer: This is not a quick weeknight meal, but it can be assembled ahead of time (even the day before) and hang out in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it. Just let it come to room temperature before baking. The recipe may look daunting at first glance. There are lots of steps which is typical of most lasagna recipes, but they are pretty easy to execute and are definitely worth the effort. Make this when you have time on a Sunday and you’ll have a delicious Meatless Monday supper with no more effort than turning on the oven and tossing a salad.

Artichoke Lasagna
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Artichoke Lasagna
Print Recipe
Servings
6
Servings
6
Ingredients
Bechamel Sauce
Lasagna
Servings:
Instructions
Bechamel sauce
  1. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Add the flour and cook, stirring frequently for 2 minutes or so. Add the milk slowly whisking constantly to keep things smooth.
  2. Bring the mixture just to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Set aside in a warm place. If sauce gets too thick add a little more half & half.
Lasagna
  1. Cook the lasagna according to the package directions. Drain well and lay out on wax or parchment paper. Prepare the filling while the pasta cooks.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add the bell peppers and mushrooms and cook another 3 minutes. Stir often during this step to insure everything is softening.
  3. Add the garlic and artichoke hearts and cook 3 minutes more or until everything is soft, fragrant, and lightly browned. Allow to cool before adding to the other filling ingredients.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, pesto, and 1/3 cup of the Italian Cheese Blend. Mix everything together. Add the cooled vegetables and stir it all together.
  5. Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray. Place 2 lasagna noodles in the bottom of the dish. Spread half of the filling evenly over the noodles. Sprinkle with a little of the remaining cheese blend and drizzle a tablespoon or two of the Bechamel over the layer.
  6. Repeat the process with two more noodles and the other half of the filling. Sprinkle with cheese and drizzle with sauce as for the first layer.
  7. Top with the remaining two noodles. Spread the rest of the Bechamel sauce on top and sprinkle with the last of the cheese blend.
  8. Cover loosely with foil and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Check to see if things are beginning to bubble. If not cover and bake another 5 minutes or so.
  9. When the lasagna is bubbly, remove the foil and raise the oven to broil. Broil the lasagna for 3 - 4 minutes or until it is lightly golden brown and even more bubbly.
  10. Allow to rest 10 -15 minutes before cutting and serving.
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Dinner in a Box, or Not and Italian Sausage and Cannellini Bean Stew

My goodness but time flies…we are into the double digits of March! There’s been a good amount of stuff going on in the kitchen, but there’s been a lot going on in life so time to sit right down and write has been limited. so here I am to share the highlights of the last few weeks.

Another generous birthday gift from my kids was a three dinner box from Blue Apron. This is one of the increasing number of sites that will send you all the ingredients needed to create home cooked meals. This is totally outside my wheelhouse, but it was a lot of fun to give it a whirl. It was fun to have a virtual mise en place, in place.IMG_1383The Spicy Shrimp Pasta that was the result was pretty tasty, too. IMG_1391

IMG_1415We also enjoyed a Pub Burger on a Pretzel Roll that featured an IMG_1487awesome Cheddar Cheese Sauce and Oven Fried Sweet Potatoes. I added some Honey Mustard Cole Slaw to balance things out.                                       The final dinner was a Trinidadian Curried Chicken with Coconut Grits and Sautéed Collard Greens. By this time, I was I was ready to take a few liberties. I left the chicken thighs whole and cooked them on the grill. I only used a little of the herb mix that was included because I didn’t care for the taste. The grits were heavenly and the collard greens were the perfect side dish. Services like this have a place in many kitchens; great for busy couples that still want to have a home cooked meal.  Being Mama D, I don’t always enjoy being told what to do,but in spite of that, I’m glad I got to try out this way of cooking. In between my Blue Apron Adventures, I was creating some dishes of my own. Here’s one that was particularly enjoyable….

IMG_1420We’re slowly creeping into spring, but cold snaps are still popping up, so something hearty and warm is often a welcome supper. IMG_1417That’s how this Italian Sausage and Cannellini Stew came to the table. The cast of characters predominately came from cleaning out the refrigerator. Small amounts of veggies that couldn’t stand alone were combined with Turkey Italian IMG_1439Sausage and Cannellini Beans. I sliced what seemed to be a ridiculous amount of garlic, which turned out to be just the right amount. Chicken stock IMG_1435and fire roasted tomatoes created the liquid that was fortified with the wine left from the previous night’s dinner (yes, once in a while we don’t finish the bottle). I dubbed this a “stew” mainly because the liquid was less than what I would use in a soup. While stews usually simmer for an hour or more, this pot of goodness only took about 30 minutes Things came together quite nicely resulting in a stew that tasted like it simmered all day.

IMG_1459As with any of my recipes this is just a suggestion of the direction the dish can go. Use what you have on hand or love. Change the ingredients as much as you want. This is not a dish that comes in a box ready for you to prepare (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Here’s what I did…now make it your own.

Italian Sausage and Cannellini Stew
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Italian Sausage and Cannellini Stew
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Slice the sausage links into 1 inch chunks (this is easier if they are slightly frozen) and brown in a soup pot over medium heat. Remove the sausage and set aside. Drain off most of the fat in the pot.
  2. Add the olive oil to the pot and allow it to get hot. Add the onions and the carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 - 4 minutes until the onions begin to soften.
  3. Add the bell pepper, mushrooms, jalapeno, garlic, and squash. Cook for 5 minutes or as long as it takes for things to get soft and fragrant.
  4. Add the wine to the pot and stir to loosen all the brown goodies on the bottom of the pot. Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes or so.
  5. Return the cooked sausage chunks to the pot along with the cannellini beans and season with the Italian Herbs.
  6. Let everything simmer for another 10 minutes or so to heat things through. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add more herbs or salt and pepper as you like.
  7. Ladle into soup bowls, garnish with the grated Romano, and serve.
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