Friday, November 12, 2010

Big Game Food: Homemade Lasagna

Day 124

Sundays in the fall mean cool, crisp and gorgeous weather; a day free of commitments, all to yourself; and husbands everywhere on the couch, first updating their fantasy picks on the laptop, then screaming at the TV all day. You know what I'm talking about. But Sundays don't have to be just for the boys. I find them an excellent excuse to make hearty, comfort food under the premise of "Oh, just a little something I thought you'd enjoy for the big game, honey!"

One of my favorite go-tos? Lasagna. Now, I don't know anyone that follows a recipe when they make lasagna. However, I tend to have a little consistency in mine, because that's what makes it "My Lasagna." And I happen to get a little swelling of pride churn up when Hubby asks for some of "My Famous Lasagna."

For example, I always use ground beef as my base. I mean, if I'm going to go for it with cheese and the rest of the yumminess, I'm going to throw some beef in there. But, you can really choose based on what you're feeling that day - ground beef, turkey, or pork sausage, or even vegetables like eggplant and zucchini. Isn't that what makes preparing it so fun? I find that properly flavoring the base is what makes or breaks the lasagna. You have to slow cook it with fresh vegetables and herbs, like garlic, onions and oregano. Only after the flavor is cooked into the meat can you add the tomato or vegetable sauce of your choice. Otherwise you end up with a sad version of goulash (or as you East Coasters call it, American chop suey) and all you're missing is the elbow macaroni.

When it comes to the cheese, I never leave out cottage cheese. When I was younger, it was because I wasn't a fan of ricotta, but now it's because I like the creaminess it adds to the dish. Two layers of cottage cheese are all you need, but feel free to add more. Sometimes I even use a low fat or fat free version, and the flavor is still spot on. The other cheeses vary each time I make it. Sometimes I use more parmesan than mozzarella; sometimes more mozz than parm. But what never changes is that the Parmigiano Reggiano needs to be fresh grated, and I always top my dish with some fresh grated Pecorino Romano for an extra bite.

Speaking of toppings, I find that a little garnish goes a long way. Slice up some Roma tomatoes, sprinkle on some fresh herbs or chopped garlic, whatever you feel like. It will go a long way in taking your dish from just another casserole to "My Famous Lasagna."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kid Lunch! English Muffin Pizza

Day 121

I'm not cooking for any kiddos, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy a simple lunch that brings me back to the old days. In full disclosure, I got this term (Kid Lunch!) from a friend, who used to frequently show up to work with her peanut butter sandwich in a baggie and some chips on the side, maybe even a few carrot sticks to complete the meal. All she was missing was a note from her mom wishing her luck on the new business pitch.

Lately, I've been so focused on stocking the pantry for my first go at hosting Thanksgiving, I've been neglecting to pick up lunch items at the store. That, and I've never been a huge deli meat sandwich kind of gal. So, I've been making do with what's in the fridge.

If you have English muffins (or bagels), sauce (optional, or you can sub in chopped tomatoes) and cheese, you are on your way to a simple, easy treat. I happened to have some turkey pepperoni leftover from homemade pizza night, but you can really use anything to top your muffins - chicken, onions, tomatoes, garlic - just start digging through the crisper drawer and veggie bowl. Top it off by sprinkling on some spices like oregano, thyme and crushed rep pepper flakes, and you've taken Kid Lunch to a grown-up place!