Lasagna Soup

Lasagna Soup

This has been a favorite of mine for awhile now. I don’t know why I haven’t posted it until now, it’s a mystery.

Lasagna Soup

Lasagna Soup, warm up with a bowl today!

2 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. Italian sausage
3 cups chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock
8 oz. fusilli pasta
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Cheese Yum
8 oz. ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of fresh ground pepper
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until it is shimmering.

Add the Italian sausage, break it up into small pieces, brown for around 5 minutes.

Add the chopped onions, cook until they are softened but not browned, this will take about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute.

Add the tomato paste and stir it in until it is incorporated fully. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tomato paste turns a rusty brown color.

Add the diced tomatoes, bay leaves, and chicken stock. Stir to combine everything together. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

In a separate pan, cook the pasta until al dente. Do not over cook.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the cheese yum. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

Right before serving, stir in the chopped basil and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To serve, spoon the pasta into individual bowls. Place a dollop of the cheese yum in each soup bowl, sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top then ladle the hot soup over the cheese yum.

Ranch Dressing

Ranch Dressing

Creamy, delicious homemade ranch dressing.
(Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Where to begin?

This dressing is near iconic. Yes, most of us only know it from the commercial Hidden Valley Ranch product we’ve known for years.

But let’s go back in time, to when the dressing was made from scratch with no preservatives or anything fake.

Back to the original Hidden Valley Ranch itself, founded in 1954. (Read more at Wikipedia)

Mix some up, let the flavors come together as they chill in the fridge.

Then use it on a salad. Dip some cut vegetables into it. Dip some fries.

Taste the difference, you won’t want the bottled version any more.

1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 medium clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

Makes: 1 1/3 cups

Place all of the ingredients in a jar or other container with a tight fitting lid. Put the lid on tightly and shake to evenly distribute all the ingredients. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as desired. Refrigerate until chilled and the flavors have melded, about 1 hour. The dressing will last about 3 days in the refrigerator.

Try using lime juice in place of the lemon juice.
Squirt a couple shots of Sriracha Sauce into the dressing for an extra zip of flavor.
Make your own mayonnaise to make this a truly homemade dressing.

Oven-baked Rice Pilaf

This recipe is not very different from most rice recipes except that it is baked.

That said, it sure is a tasty one and I think you should give it a try. It’s a great match with chicken or pork.

The Recipe
1 1/2 cups boiling chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup long grain rice
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped carrot

In a 1-quart casserole, combine boiling chicken broth with the butter and stir until the butter is melted.

Stir in rice, green onion, celery, and carrots.

Cover and bake in a 350° oven for about 35 minutes or until tender and all liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork.

Serves 4.

Some variations on this recipe:
Use 1/2 rice and 1/2 barley
Add 1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
Add 1/4 cup of red, green, orange, or yellow pepper for a zing of color

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 6 to 8

1/2 pound elbow macaroni (you can use most any pasta though)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon powdered mustard
3 cups milk
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 large egg
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cook the macaroni according to the instructions on the package, make sure you salt the water.

As the macaroni cooks, take another pan and melt the butter. Use a whisk to combine in the flour and mustard, keep stirring for about 5 minutes. Yes, we’re making a roux here. It should be lump free. Then stir the milk in, add the onion, the bay leaf, and the paprika. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes. Remove the bar leaf at the end of this time.

Quick lesson on roux:
Roux is a base sauce in international cuisines, originally French, composed of varying ratios of flour and fat (usually butter), useful for making sauces, and for thickening soups or gravies. The benefits of using a roux include: it does not have to be cooked very long to remove a floury taste, clumps of flour are removed, and it creates unique flavors. It can be cooked to different degrees:
white roux
blonde roux
brown roux
dark/brick roux
burnt roux
depending upon the intended use, and a darker roux (one that has been cooked longer) will also be thicker and have more flavor, but will have less thickening power.

Temper in the egg. Stir in 9 ounces of the shredded cheese. Salt and pepper the mixture. Slowly add the macaroni into the mix, stirring thoroughly, then pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.

If you don’t know what tempering is, here are the basics. Tempering is the process that cooks use to raise the temperature of something instead of just dumping it in. It is used for raising the temperature of such ingredients as milk, cream, eggs, etc.. To start the process, take a spoon or some other small measuring device and fill it with whatever hot liquid you are working with. Take it and stir it into your ingredient such as our milk, flour, and mustard mixture from above. Then get another spoonful and stir it in, Repeat the process until the target ingredient is brought up to temperature. In our case, until the egg is hot, but not cooked like a scrambled egg.

Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

I have been known to stir in crumbled bacon into this dish. How much? Well, until it looks like there’s enough. muah

I’ve also grown to like more cheese on top of it. Use your own judgement. Don’t add too much as it can get a bit greasy. But some extra is a good thing.

Enjoy this one, it’s a keeper.

Hamburger Wild Rice Casserole

A trip down memory lane

Who remembers this when they were growing up? It sure is good, make some, eat, reminisce.

1 cup wild rice, washed
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can mushrooms, drained
1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained (optional)
2 beef bouillon cubes in 1 cup boiling water

Put wild rice in kettle, cover with 4 cups boiling water. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, let stand 15 minutes before draining.

Brown onion and ground beef. Drain the fat. Combine all ingredients. Season to taste with salt, onion salt, paprika, celery salt, seasoned salt, etc..

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, covering for first half of baking, then uncovering. You can put some bread crumbs on for a bit of a crunch.

Serves 12.

This holds well in the oven. It also freezes well. Reheat in microwave. Can be refrigerated or frozen before baking.

This also scales remarkably well for a crowd.

Quick Chicken Fricassee

Here’s something new I made today. It’s a very flexible recipe in my mind. Feel free to substitute pork (like I did) or beef in for the chicken.

Here’s the original recipe from America’s Test Kitchen (sign in required)

Quick Chicken Fricassee

Serves 4 to 6
Two tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley leaves may be substituted for the tarragon in this recipe.

What you’ll need

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, thighs, or a combination
table salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound cremini mushrooms , stems trimmed, caps wiped clean and cut into 1/4-inch slices ( I used plain white mushrooms)
1 medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic (about 1 clove minced)
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup sour cream
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon or most any freshly chopped herb

Cooking Steps
First, pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Heat butter and oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter stops foaming, place the pieces of chicken in skillet and cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Turn each piece of chicken and cook until browned on second side, another 4 minutes pr so. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a large plate.

Add the mushrooms, onion, and wine to now-empty skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the flour and the garlic; cook, stirring constantly, for a minute. Add the broth and bring the mixture to boil. Make sure you are scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen those delicious browned bits of flavor the chicken left behind. Put the chicken back into the pan, pour any juices that drained from the meat while resting to the skillet. Reduce the burner heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until your meat thermometer reads 160 degrees when inserted in breasts and 175 degrees when inserted in thighs. This will take roughly 5 to 10 minutes.

After the chicken is cooked, remove it and place on a clean platter and tent loosely with foil to keep it warm. Whisk the sour cream and egg yolk together in a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly stir 1/2 cup of the sauce from the pan into the sour cream mixture. Stirring constantly, slowly pour sour cream mixture into the remaining simmering sauce. Stir in nutmeg, lemon juice, and tarragon. Return to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Plate chicken, sauce over it and serve.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to follow me on FaceBook.

d a v e

The browned pork cutlets.

Mushrooms, red & yellow diced peppers and onion.

Mushrooms, red & yellow diced peppers and onion.

Sauteed vegetables.

Sauteed mushrooms, peppers, and onions.

The finished dish all plated. It looks really dark, but the flavor was really quite light.

Stuffed Mozzarella Burgers

Similar to the meatloaf recipe, but with a little more pizazz.
This is for my pal YGFGF, hope you enjoy. (I promise pictures next time I make these.)

Serves 4
1 lb lean ground beef or turkey
1 lb Italian sausage
2 eggs
Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
Fresh basil
Fresh flat leaf parsley
2-3 or more cloves of chopped garlic
1/2 a medium onion, chopped fine
Oregano to taste
Salt & Pepper to taste
7-8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese (you can use slices but why oh why when you can make fresh yourself? Wha? You’re not making your own? Tsk tsk tsk.

Easy to Make

Put the meat in a bowl, add the eggs, cheese, basil, parsley, garlic, onion, oregano, salt & pepper.

Mix well, use your hands. Don’t be afraid, you did wash your hands thoroughly before starting, right? Of course you did!

If the mixture seems wet, add more cheese or breadcrumbs or both. The texture should be moist, but not wet.

Once mixed, you want to form the mixture into patties. And by patties, I mean really fat ones, like 1/2 pound burgers. After all, we’re going to stuff these with mozzarella cheese.

Form the patties, setting each aside on a plate.

Once they are all done, take a patty and stick your thumb deep into the center of the patty to form a nice place for cheese. Put about an ounce or so of fresh mozzarella into the thumb hole, and seal the cheese in.

Again, set each patty aside when done. I will typically make these ahead of time and store in the fridge until about 30 minutes before grilling time.

Grill until they are done to your liking. I recommend cooking them a little more than you normally would.

Why? Why Dave, why?

Ok, here’s why. First, you want to make sure the cheese is melted. No explanation needed on why that is important, not to this crowd at least.

Second, there is something, primal about the texture of a crunchy, fire grilled, mozzarella burger. You bite into it and get to the cheese?

I’d love to hear what you think, give this a try. I think you’ll find it to be a crowd favorite.

d a v e

Kheema: Indian Ground Beef with Peas

OK, this isn’t close to an original. I’ve only cooked it once twice.

So why is it here? Because it’s good, easy, quick, and different.

Here’s the base recipe from Food Network:
Kheema: Indian Ground Beef with Peas (open in new window/tab)
Recipe courtesy Aarti Sequeira

Prep Time:5 min Cook Time:20 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 4 servings

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (1-inch thumb) fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon store-bought or homemade garam masala, recipe follows
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, optional
1 pound ground beef
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shucked fresh English peas or 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 teaspoons malt vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus a few extra leaves for garnish
4 chapatis or pitas, warmed

In a large skillet, warm the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until golden. Add the garlic and ginger, and saute for another minute. Stir in the coriander, paprika, garam masala, cumin and cayenne, if using and cook for 1 minute.

Add the beef, breaking up lumps with a spoon, and saute until the meat is no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, 1 cup of water and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle in the fresh English peas. Stir well and simmer, partially covered, about 10 minutes or if using frozen peas, add them now, and cook another 5 minutes, partially covered.

Stir in the vinegar and chopped cilantro. Garnish with torn cilantro leaves and serve with warm chapatis or pita bread.

Aarti’s Hot (not heavy!) Homemade Garam Masala:
3 large cinnamon sticks (if you have the kind you get at Indian stores, it’s about 3 tablespoons of cinnamon bark bits)
3 tablespoons whole cloves
1/4 cup green cardamom pods, shelled, husks discarded (about 2 tablespoons of seeds)
4 large black cardamom pods, shelled, husks discarded (about 1 tablespoon of seeds), optional
Combine the cinnamon sticks, cloves, green cardamom seeds, black cardamom seeds, if using, in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and grind until fine. Store the spice mix in an airtight container away from direct sunlight. Yield: about 1/2 cup.


What I did was to prepare the garam masala first. Although I had most of the items on hand for it, there’s always something I don’t have. So I improvised a tad. I will be looking for green cardamom seeds in the near future. I didn’t have cinnamon sticks either so I used ground cinnamon. But taste-wise this substitution worked. And since I now have gram masala made up, I can get this dish together even faster. Score!

I followed the recipe to the letter. And I think it’s a great dish. Like my opening said, good, easy, quick, and different. It is all of these.

Some things I will try the next time I make this. And given the quick prep time, this won’t be long.
1) Use chicken stock instead of water – mostly about flavor here
2) Reduce the amount of water. A full cup seems to be too much, especially if your tomatoes are juicy. Trying 1/3 cup next time.
3) Using different meat. Many posters on Food Network said they’d used ground turkey, lamb, etc.. And these would definitely work. I also think tofu would be just great in this. If you do use ground beef, try browning it separately so you can drain unwanted fat.
4) One poster said they’d used corn instead of peas. I think it would be great with both.
5) Use more spice. Dave likes his kheema spicy.

I can’t think of any other things to try, and I’m not sure there really are many more out there. This is a great dish, almost perfect as written. So, how about some pictures of the process?

The raw spices in the grinder, ready to be crushed into Indian cuisine goodness!

The spices, ground and ready to use.

Onions, chopped but not overly fine. I like having some chunkiness to my dishes.

Into the pan they go, I like to start foods like onions on high heat to get them going quickly.

The onions starting to develop a nice brown color, and this was a sweet onion to start so think how this would taste.

I add the ginger and the minced garlic. I love the color of fresh ginger!

I put the meat in to brown, break it it up but again I like chunkiness so I left some pieces a little larger. Sprinkle the gram masala and other spices in with the meat as it is browning.

The meat browning nicely. If it hasn't already hit you, the aroma of this dish is gonna get you.

Add a cup of frozen green peas and stir in, love these colors.

Add 2 chopped fresh tomatoes and stir in with the other ingredients. Don't lie, this is starting to really smell good!

See the steam forming? Oh yeah... Stir the mixture to ensure the peas cook evenly.

When everything else is ready, stir in the chopped cilantro leaves. They'll be perfect with a scant minute of time on the stove.

Horrid lighting. DO NOT LET THIS PICTURE DETRACT YOU! Honest, it was great. Problem was, I couldn't wait to dig in so no time for a reshoot. I served the kheema over white rice with warmed pita bread.

Hot and Spicy Pickles

OK, so this isn’t really a recipe. But it is something I am known to enjoy.

Hot and spicy pickles are incredibly easy to make and wonderfully delicious.

Most recipes presume you have or want to make a full gallon of these. While they are good, you don’t have to make that many. Up size the recipe as needed.

1 quart jar of your favorite store-bought sliced dill pickles
2 tablespoons of Tabasco Pepper Sauce
2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup pickle juice

Open the jar of pickles and drain them well into a bowl or pan using a colander. With all the hub bub about pickle juice lately, you may want to keep the rest of this for other uses.

While they are draining, measure the sugar, pickle juice, and Tabasco sauce into a bowl and combine well. I use a fork for this. Ensure there are no unmixed patches of sugar in the bowl.

Once the pickle slices are thoroughly drained, put them into the sugar/Tabasco mixture. With clean hands, carefully mix the ingredients together. You should see a syrup start to form almost immediately. Keep mixing until there is no discernible sugar left.

Update, 24 November 2012
The last time I made these, I used a Tupperware bowl with a lid on it. I mixed the sugar, etc. in that, then put the pickle slices into the bowl, put the cover on, and shook it until it was mixed well.

Carefully place the pickle slices back into the jar. Then pour the syrup mixture into the jar with the pickles. Replace the lid and refrigerate.

The pickles will be good after a couple of days, downright delicious after a week, and to die for after 2 weeks.

Place some raw garlic cloves into the jar as you are filling it with pickle slices.
Measure a tablespoon of red pepper flakes in with the sugar and Tabasco.
Measure a tablespoon of dry onion flakes in with the sugar and Tabasco.
Try using Tabasco’s Worcestershire or Garlic pepper sauces.
Put a dry pepper or two in the jar.
Add a tablespoon or two of minced garlic so the taste is more uniform.

Instant Mashed Potatoes (how to make them taste like they aren’t)

More of my musings on how to make convenience foods like instant mashed potatoes into a more elegant, tasty dish.
A short entry today, being Thanksgiving and all.

Instant Mashed Potatoes (serves 8 )

Start with the things you need to bring to a boil:

2 2/3 cups half and half
1 Tsp salt
4 Tbsp butter
1 1/3 cups milk

Bring this to a boil slowly, you do not want to scald the dairy products! Once they are boiling, you can remove your pan from the heat. Give everything a good stir, then add the instant potato flakes slowly stirring them in with a fork, ensuring the mixture does not become too dry. Once all of the flakes are in, whip them up until they are smooth. Add water sparingly if they are too dry. If they are too wet, add more flask about 1 tablespoon at a time.

So now you’ve got all these potatoes, what’s going to make them special?

Well, how about some garlic powder and minced garlic to taste?

Maybe some sour cream.

How about garlic powder, sour cram, and cheddar cheese mixed in, then baked?

A little more butter.

Fresh ground pepper.

Smoked paprika.

Fresh chopped parsley on top or mixed in.

Getting the idea? Try something different, you might be surprised by what you discover.