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Meaty Lasagna

A few days after Thanksgiving, we had some people over for dinner. We had a still untouched pumpkin pie, so we served it for dessert. They commented they had never eaten homemade pumpkin pie before. I was astonished! Imagine my surprise when I told this story to someone else who admitted the same thing.

It reminded me of a time in college when one of my roommates was making lasagna for dinner. Another roommate walked in and said, “You can make lasagna? I didn’t know that. I thought you only bought it frozen.” Upon questioning her, her mom had never made lasagna which she attributed to picky eaters.

All of these experiences plus the holidays (when I know many people seem to eat lasagna) inspired me to make my lasagna recipe and share it with you. Everyone (including myself) thinks lasagna is hard. It’s really quite easy. It is a “little” time consuming. Only in that you need to plan ahead. But it is pretty hands off for most of that time. And it can easily be made ahead of time. Enjoy!

Meaty Lasagna (Serves 8-10)

Meaty Lasagna

1 lb Italian sausage
½ large onion, diced
½ cup diced carrots
2 cloves minced garlic
2 (15.5 ounce) cans no salt added diced tomatoes
2 (8 ounce) cans no salt added tomato sauce
1 tablespoons brown sugar
1 bay leaves
½ tablespoon dried basil leaves
½ tablespoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
10 (or so) lasagna noodles (not the no boil)
1 (10 ounce or so) package frozen spinach
1 (approximately 24 oz) container ricotta or low fat cottage cheese
1 egg
⅔ cup Parmesan cheese
¾ cup mozzarella cheese

1. Brown sausage. Add onion and carrots. Sauté until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook for 1 minute.

2. Add tomatoes through black pepper. Stir to distribute seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; cook for 20-30 minutes, until thickened to desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Remove bay leaves before serving or blending.

3. While sauce cooks, cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. Before cooking, see how many noodles fit in your 9×13 pan (or lasagna pan). You will have 3 layers, so cook that many noodles.

4. Thaw spinach and squeeze out water. Mix spinach, ricotta/cottage cheese, egg, ⅓ cup Parmesan, and ¼ cup mozzarella. Set aside.

5. Preheat oven to 350.

6. Spread a very thin layer of red sauce in the bottom of your pan (9×13 or lasagna). Top with a layer of noodles. Top with a layer of red sauce. Another layer of noodles. Now a layer of the ricotta/cottage cheese mixture. Another layer of noodles. Top with a layer of red sauce. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan and mozzarella cheese evenly over the top.

7. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until heated through and beginning to brown slightly.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 355
Protein: 16 gm
Fat: 19 gm
Saturated Fat: 2 gm
Cholesterol: 29 mg
Carbohydrates: 30 gm
Fiber: 3 gm
Sodium: 264 mg

Recipe notes: You could use lean ground beef or turkey instead of sausage. I prefer the flavor of sausage. You could easily leave out the meat too for a vegetarian lasagna. You could also throw in a bell pepper to the sauce. This sauce is my basic marinara sauce recipe halved. I usually make the full recipe and just have leftover marinara to freeze. I think I slightly prefer cottage cheese, but that is because that is what I was raised on. Ricotta is yummy too.

If you want to make this ahead, assemble the lasagna. It can be covered and refrigerated for 1 day before baking. I’d increase the baking time to 45 minutes-1 hour then. Or, you could assemble it and freeze it. Then you’d bake it covered for about 1 hour, then uncovered for 30 minutes-1 hour, or until it is cooked through.

This might be a bit full for a standard 9×13 pan. Just keep your layers thin. I have a lasagna pan, which is a bit bigger. I love it. If you have a bigger casserole dish than a 9×13, use it.

Source: adapted from a family recipe

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Easy Meatballs

Sometimes, certain food really speaks to you. Maybe you had a craving and when you eat that food, it hits that spot just right. Or maybe you just make a meal that tastes extra delicious that day. It doesn’t have to be something special or fancy.

These meatballs were that meal for me. I felt like a complete master chef. For some reason, my last several attempts at meatballs have failed. These were easy and delicious, which is a huge win. Make these soon and have a great dinner soon.

Easy Meatballs (Serves 6-8)

Easy Meatballs

1 pound ground lean turkey (93/7)
½ cup panko bread crumbs
⅓ cup water
½ cup packed shredded spinach leaves or 1 cup loose
2 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
2 ounces finely chopped provolone cheese
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 large eggs
2 garlic cloves, minced

Sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 (14 ounce) cans no salt added diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon salt

1. Place meat, breadcrumbs, water, spinach, parsley, provolone, pepper, eggs, and garlic in a large bowl. Mix together with a fork, spoon, or your fingers.

2. Using a scoop or spoons, form into 1 ½ – 2 tablespoon meatballs. Set in the fridge or freezer while you make the sauce to help set the shape.

3. In a large pot or pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic; saute 3-5 minutes until onion is tender and golden. Stir frequently so garlic doesn’t burn. Add red pepper; saute 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add tomatoes, Italian seasoning, and salt. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low (or as low as you can to maintain a simmer) and cook for 15-20 minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir occasionally while cooking.

4. Gently add meatballs one by one to the sauce. Cover with a lid. Cook for another 20-25 minutes at a simmer. Do not stir. After about 20 minute, you can flip the meatballs if you want. Serve.

Optional: (requires additional provolone cheese)

Place meatballs and sauce in oven safe dish (if not already in one). Turn on broiler. Place slices of provolone cheese over the top. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 248
Protein: 21 g
Fat: 13 g
Saturated Fat: 4 g
Cholesterol: 124 mg
Carbohydrates: 12 g
Fiber: 2 g
Sodium: 333 mg

Recipe notes: You could use any ground meat, just go for lean. I mostly changed up the sauce recipe. I can’t leave a sauce alone. I like lots of seasoning. I also usually put in diced or shredded carrot in the sauce, because I like to sneak vegetables into my daughter’s diet whenever possible. These are great with spaghetti, though I prefer slightly smaller meatballs with spaghetti. With the optional step, I like to serve this with crusty garlic bread. So yummy. For scooping, I use my cookie scoop to keep the meatballs all the same size.

Source: adapted from Smitten Kitchen

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Slow Cooker Ratatouille and Polenta

December is such a busy time of year for most of us. Lots of gatherings, shopping, school functions, sporting events, etc. I usually have a pretty open schedule and found myself booked 3 of the 5 work days this week. What?! However, busyness doesn’t mean you have to get take out. You are spending enough money everywhere else this month, you don’t need to eat out a ton too.

Enter your slow cooker. This awesome piece of kitchen equipment is the busy cook’s best friend. Throw some food in early in the day, cook some sort of starch to go with it, and you are good to go.

This ratatouille is perfect for a cold December night. Super hearty and filling, you won’t even miss meat. The goat cheese in the polenta adds the perfect tang. It’s just all around delicious. Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Ratatouille and Polenta (Serves 6-8)

Slow Cooker Ratatouille and Polenta

Ratatouille:
2 large eggplants, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
3 medium zucchini, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 tablespoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons canola oil
2 small red or yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-­inch pieces
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
¼ cup all-­purpose flour
¼ cup tomato paste
2 (14.5 ounce) cans no salt added diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves or 1 tablespoon dried basil leaves

Polenta:
6 cups low-­sodium vegetable or chicken stock
1 ½ cups polenta or cornmeal (not instant)
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces fresh goat cheese

1. Place the eggplant and zucchini in a large colander and toss well with the salt; let sit for about 45 minutes. Rinse well to remove the salt, then dry well, gently squeezing out excess water with a kitchen towel. Add to the slow cooker that has been lightly greased with cooking spray.

2. Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-­high heat. When warm, add the onions, bell peppers, and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the flour and tomato paste. Cook until the mixture is thickened
and the flour disappears, about 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium high and add the tomatoes with their juices, thyme, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Cook, crushing the tomatoes a bit with a wooden spoon, until thickened and smooth, about 6 minutes.

3. Mix with the vegetables in the slow cooker. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low 4-6 hours or high 2-3 hours, until the vegetables are tender. Turn off slow cooker and stir in Parmesan cheese and basil.

4. About 30 minutes before vegetables are done, add the stock, cornmeal, and ½ teaspoon pepper to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-­high heat, whisking frequently to prevent lumps. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring frequently, until creamy and thickened, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and goat cheese.

5. To serve, ladle polenta into individual bowls, spoon ratatouille on top, and serve immediately. Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese if desired.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 330
Protein: 12 g
Fat: 12 g
Saturated Fat: 6 g
Cholesterol: 18 mg
Carbohydrates: 46 g
Fiber: 8 g
Sodium: 579 mg

Recipe Notes: The eggplant is less bitter if you peel it and if you let it sit a bit with the salt. If you are pressed for time, it will still work if you don’t do either step. It might be a bit more watery, but not enough to kill it. I don’t love the taste of cooked red onions generally, so I prefer to mix and match here. I’m sure fresh herbs would be delicious here, but I don’t remember to buy them or the store doesn’t have the one I want. If you can’t find or don’t eat goat cheese, I would probably sub in more Parmesan. Or maybe cream cheese. I tried blue cheese once and didn’t love the combination personally, but it is an option as well.

Source: Slightly adapted from Epicurious.com

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Rice Stuffed Tomatoes

One of my husband’s sisters is currently serving a mission for our church in Italy. She’s been gone for almost a year and half and comes home soon. Periodically, while she has been gone, we have tried to make at home or to eat at restaurants more authentic Italian dishes. We’ve tried some pizzas that are pretty far from anything you’ll find at Pizza Hut. We had arancini, which is basically deep fried risotto balls. And recently, we tried this dish. I only include it in the authentic category since the food blogger I adapted this from ate it originally in Rome.

I was very skeptical about this dish going into it. I wasn’t sure about the whole tomatoes. The potatoes seemed like carb overkill since we already had rice. And there just wasn’t enough sauce to seem like this would be good. But it blew my expectations out of the water. It was so incredibly delicious. And despite needing to be baked in the oven, it tasted like summer. I can only imagine how good this will be in a few weeks when tomatoes are really in season. Enjoy!

Rice Stuffed Tomatoes (Serves 4)

Rice Stuffed Tomatoes

8 medium-to-large tomatoes
¾ teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
½ cup arborio rice
6 medium yukon gold potatoes
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning or 2 tablespoons fresh basil or parsley, chopped
½ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly coat a baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Cut the tops off the tomatoes. Scoop out the seeds and flesh over a non-aluminum bowl, making sure you get the juices. Do not cut through the bottom of the tomato. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon of salt over the inside of the tomatoes. Place them upside down on a plate to drain for 15 or so minutes. Add any drained juices to rest of tomato juice/flesh.

3. Pulse scooped out tomato juice/flesh in a blender until coarsely pureed.

4. Heat a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion for 2 minutes, or until it begins to soften. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, cooking one minute more. Add rice. Cook together for 2-3 minutes, until rice begins to toast. Add tomato puree. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover with a lid and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Rice should not be fully cooked. Stir in herbs.

5. Clean potatoes. Cube into small-medium pieces. Toss with remaining tablespoon of oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper.

6. Spoon rice mixture into tomatoes, but don’t fill it all the way up. Place tomatoes in the baking pan. Arrange potatoes around tomatoes in pan to help keep tomatoes upright. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the tops of the tomatoes.

7. Bake 30-45 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and potates are tender.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 475
Protein: 11 g
Fat: 8 g
Saturated Fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Carbohydrates: 91 g
Fiber: 12 g
Sodium: 599 mg

Recipe Notes: I would stay away from roma tomatoes. Choose more of a slicing type tomato, like beef steak or one the vine. They need to have a flat bottom so they at least kind of say up on their own. If you have a medium or short grain brown rice, that would also work here. You would just need to par-cook it first, as in this recipe. I would cut the potatoes a little smaller than shown in my picture. These took a very long time to cook.

Recipe Source: slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

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Rosemary Bread

What’s your favorite part of going out to eat? The ambience? Being served? Not having to cook or to do dishes? The variety? The free bread? I’ll admit, I like all of those things, but all the yummy different breads you can get at restaurants is pretty high up there. Sometimes I’m as extreme as this Jim Gaffigan clip. Most of us can remember what the bread was like at many restaurants – Olive Garden’s breadsticks, Outback Steakhouse’s brown bread. You can even find dozens of copy cat recipes for these online.

Macaroni Grill’s bread? Honestly, it didn’t stick out in my mind. But I found this copy cat recipe on a cooking blog I follow, and I was intrigued. It has become one of our family’s favorites over the last year or so. And the great thing is, even if it looks funky, it tastes delicious. Enjoy!

Rosemary Bread (Makes 2 loaves that serve at least 4 each)

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1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
2 ¾ – 4 cups white whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons dried rosemary, divided, optional
1 tablespoon olive oil, optional
Coarse salt for sprinkling, optional

1. Combine yeast, sugar, water, 2 cups of flour, salt, and 1 tablespoon of rosemary in a large bowl. Use a dough hook if using a stand mixer. Mix well. Continue adding flour, gradually while mixing, until a soft dough is formed (dough should hold it’s shape but be slightly sticky to the touch). Knead dough for about 7 minutes, adding additional flour if dough is not clearing the sides of the bowl anymore.

2. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, usually about 1 hour.

3. Gently deflate dough and divide in half. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or lightly coat with cooking spray. Shape the dough into 2 oval shaped loaves. Place on baking sheet with room between them to rise without touching each other. Use a pastry brush to coat the top of each loaf with the olive oil (½ tablespoon per loaf). Sprinkle the remaining rosemary and a light sprinkling of salt over the top of each loaf. Cover lightly and let rise in a warm place until puffy and nearly doubled, usually 30 minutes to 1 hour.

4. Preheat oven to 425. Bake loaves for 18-20 minutes, until nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 232
Protein: 9 g
Fat: 3 g
Saturated Fat: 0.5 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Carbohydrates: 45 g
Fiber: 7 g
Sodium: 293 mg

Recipe Notes: If you make this and the loaves rise out more than up on the second rise, DO NOT PANIC. Please cook it anyway, and eat it. This picture is a rare exception of this bread turning out nice and rounded. Even when it is flatter, this bread is very delicious. If it is flattish, I recommend kneading it for a bit longer. As I have increased the kneading time (original recipe said 4-5 minutes), I have had better results. If mixing in all-purpose flour, you won’t need to knead for as long. I have left out the rosemary, olive oil, and salt (or any combination of leaving one or all of those out), and the bread is still super tasty.

Source: slightly adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

Low-iodine adjustment – use a non-iodized salt.

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Italian Braised Beef over Polenta

At my house, it is beginning to warm up and feel like spring and summer might actually happen. I spent so much time at the park yesterday that I got my first “tan” line of the year. But Mother Nature is tricky. Every year this happens, and then every year there is a random snow storm or cold streak that makes us all depressed again.

In anticipation of that cold streak, I bring you this hearty, Italian dish. It is warm, sticks to your ribs, and tastes amazing. Even better, it cooks in the crockpot, so you could make it on a spring or summer day without heating up your house.

Enjoy!

Italian Braised Beef over Polenta (Serves 4-6)

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½ tablespoon olive oil
2 cups diced onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced bell pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds boneless chuck roast (or about that much)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
½ – 1 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 ¼ cups cold water
1 cup polenta/corn meal
¼ cup parmesan cheese

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion, carrots, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Transfer mixture to slow cooker.

2. Add chuck roast, pepper, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, and basil. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 7 ½ hours, until meat is falling apart and shreds easily with a fork.

3. Add vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes, while preparing polenta.

4. Combine broth, water, and polenta in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently until polenta begins to pull away from sides of pan, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in parmesan cheese.

5. Shred meat with 2 forks. Serve meat with sauce over polenta.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 391
Protein:  37 g
Fat:  12 g
Saturated Fat:  3.5 g
Cholesterol:  116 mg
Carbohydrates:  34 g
Fiber:  4 g
Sodium:  275 mg

Recipe Notes: The original recipe called for pork. I’m sure that would be delicious as well. The original recipe had you sear the meat on all sides in oil before sautéing the vegetables. My meat was frozen, so searing wasn’t an option for me. I still think it tasted fine. I generally skip that step in lots of slow cooker recipes. My meat usually is frozen, but I also just don’t find that big of a flavor difference worth the mess or time it takes to sear it. I think it is a personal preference.

Source: adapted from Cooking Light

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Quick, Chewy Breadsticks

I have a cookbook of recipes my mom collected over the years, which includes a recipe for “chewy breadsticks”.  I was hosting a spaghetti dinner party once, and my mom suggested I make those.  I don’t know if I did something wrong, but the end result was definitely chewy, borderline like eating cardboard. They didn’t have any of the fluffy, bready goodness we associate with breadsticks, most likely thanks to pizza delivery places and Olive Garden.  It was a disaster

These breadsticks are a much better balance.  They are not the airy, fluffy breadsticks many of us are accustomed to eating.  They definitely are slightly crispy and chewy, but they still are soft enough to soak up any delicious saucy remains on your plate after a pasta meal.  And even better, they are really quick to make.  You can make these in the same amount of time it takes to whip up a quick pizza or pasta dinner at home.  No planning ahead for hours of rising time.  Hooray!

Enjoy!

Quick, Chewy Breadsticks (Makes about 16 breadsticks)

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1 ½ cups warm water (about 110 degrees F)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
3 ½ – 4 cups white whole wheat flour
¼ cup olive oil
½ – 1 teaspoon garlic powder, per taste preference
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, sugar, yeast, olive oil, and salt. Gradually mix in flour until a soft dough forms. Let dough rest and raise for 10 minutes.

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a large rectangle/square, about 16×16 inches. (See note below). Lightly brush dough with olive oil. You may not need all of it. Sprinkle with garlic powder and parmesan cheese.

3. Cut dough into 1 inch strips. Fold each strip in half (making the strip shorter, not skinnier). Gently twist each strip a few times to make it look pretty. Place on a baking sheet lightly coated with cooking spray. Let raise for 15-20 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 400. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Nutritional Information (Amount per breadstick):

Calories: 155
Protein: 5 g
Fat: 5 g
Saturated Fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 1 mg
Carbohydrates: 24 g
Fiber: 3 g
Sodium: 102 mg

Recipe notes: I frequently cut this recipe in half with great results. You can use as much whole wheat flour as you want. I’ve done all whole wheat and half. Both taste good. I definitely let this be a softer dough than if I’m making loaves of bread. You can always knead in a little extra flour when you are rolling it out. My dough is usually a little more of a rectangle shape.  I like to get as many breadsticks as I can out of this.  To compensate, I kind of stretch the breadsticks as I twist to make them a little longer.  Go easy on the olive oil. A little really can go a long way. At most you will use ¼ cup, but you could probably get away with only 2 tablespoons. We like garlicky bread, so I generously sprinkle the garlic powder. It can be a little strong, so be warned.

Source: adapted from Let’s Dish Recipes

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