Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fall Lasagna: Turkey, Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna

This is a recipe that I concocted when thinking of how to use things in my fridge. I had lean ground turkey, organic baby spinach (which I always have), and some sweet butternut squash that I roasted the night before. I held it all together with some cheese and a bechamel (white sauce), and it was a big hit. The kids all raved about it (even my Handsome man who is not a big fan of butternut squash on it's own), and even had seconds. My amazing husband got back late last night from fighting a fire for the last 2 weeks, and he got the last piece. He gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up, and said it was really good. So, needless to say, this recipe is a big hit in our family and I hope it becomes one in yours too.

I started by getting some hot water going to boil my lasagna noodles. I like the no-boil kind too, but I didn't have any of those on hand. If you use whole grain noodles this recipe would be even healthier!
(When the water cam up to a boil, I salted it generously and then added my noodles one at a time. I used about 15 noodles which was 8 less than my 1 lb package had in it. I only cooked the noodles about 1/2 way, since they will finish cooking in the oven.)

While the water heated, I got out my biggest skillet and started browning my ground turkey. I mash it with a potato masher while it cooks, to help break it up into small pieces.
When it was almost done, I added 1/2 of a large onion, diced, 2 tsp of minced garlic, some Italian seasoning, basil, salt and pepper. Then I stirred it all together and let it continue cooking.

When the onions were soft and the was meat cooked completely, I set it aside for later.

In the same pan (because who wants more dishes to wash?), I melted 1/2 stick of butter. I always use salted butter, but use whatever you have.

When the butter was melted, I added 1/2 cup of flour.

I whisked it all together. It should look like wet sand.

I let the butter and flour cook for a minute and then I slowly poured in my milk. I do this part over low heat, so that I have more time to get the lumps out before the sauce thickens. Make sure to constantly whisk, to get all the lumps out before you add more milk. If you add all the milk too quickly, you will have a lumpy sauce; and no one likes that.

When all the milk was added, and the sauce smooth, I grated in a bunch of fresh nutmeg. I would say at least 1/2 tsp. Probably closer to 1 tsp.

I also added some salt and pepper until it tasted good (probably about 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper). Then I continued to cook the sauce, whisking occasionally, over medium heat until the sauce bubbled and began to thicken.

Then I added the finely chopped baby spinach. My kids don't mind me putting spinach in everything, but it needs to be chopped finely. They are not big on trying to chew a whole spinach leaf. Even the baby ones.

I stirred the spinach in and then cooked the sauce for another 5 minutes or so over low to medium low heat (again, stirring occasionally so it didn't lump up or scorch on the bottom), and then turned off the heat. (I also tasted the sauce again, to make sure it didn't need any more salt and pepper.)
This was about the time that my noodles were done cooking, so I drained them and set them aside.

Next, I turned my attention to the butternut squash. The night before I had roasted an entire medium butternut squash. I just cut in in half horizontally, and then each of those halves I cut again, but vertically. I scooped the seeds out, then salt and peppered the squash and put it on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. I roasted it @ 400 for about an hour, flipping each piece half way through. I let it cool, and then used a spoon to scoop the soft flesh of the squash out of the skin. The squash went into a bowl with a little brown sugar, butter and salt and pepper (to taste). Then I just mashed away until it was smooth. This is my husband's favorite way to eat butternut squash, but the texture is not one that my son cares for at all. So, I put it in the fridge and left it for today.
For the lasagna, all I had to do was warm up the squash and it was ready. If you don't have mashed or pureed butternut squash, you can substitute pumpkin or sweet potato. Just make sure it tastes good before you add it to the lasagna. Each layer should taste great by itself.

Oh, assembly time.
I put down a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.

Then I put down some noodles. (I used 4 on the first layer and then 5 on all the other layers. No rhyme or reason, that is just what I did. You can use 4 or 5 noodles per layer. Your choice.)

On top of the noodles, I spooned about 1 cup of the squash. Then I spread it out into an even layer.

Then I sprinkled on 1/3 of the meat mixture, into 1 even layer.

On top of the meat went the cheese. About 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella. Just spoon some sauce over that (sorry no picture), and you can start again.

See, this time I used 5 noodles. I like to change the direction of my noodles for each layer, so that it holds its shape better when cutting.

Repeat all the layers 3 times. On the last layer, instead of adding more noodles on top of the sauce, just cover the top with cheese.

A lot of cheese! This is the best part of any baked pasta dish! I used probably 2 cups of mozzarella and then grated about 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese on top of that. (The Parmesan gets more brown in the oven, so it always goes on top.) FYI: You can totally cover it and freeze it at this point for a make ahead meal at a later date.

Now, do yourself a favor and place about 6 toothpicks in the top of your lasagna. They need to be secure, but not pushed down into the dish. Think "birthday candles."
Why? Because the toothpicks will keep the foil off the top of your lasagna, and save your beautiful cheesy crust you are going to create. If the foil just rested on top, then it would meld with the gooey cheese and when you removed the foil, the cheese would come right off with it. Not good! So, listen to me and use this kitchen hack. Use toothpicks!

Cover the dish with foil, and then place it onto a parchment lined baking sheet. (You'll see why.) It goes into a preheated 375F oven for 30-35 minutes - until the sauce is bubbling around the edges.

This is what mine looked like after 30 minutes. See that lovely saucy/cheesy mess bubbling out of the dish and onto the parchment paper? Now do you understand why it goes on the parchment paper lined baking sheet? Yes, you could just use a baking sheet, but then you would have to scrub it like crazy afterwards and who wants that? Not me! I'm all about easy clean up.
O.K. So, at this point, the lasagna is hot and all, but it's not that pretty. It needs the crusty brown curb appeal that makes people want to dig right in. How do we get that? The broiler, of course. :)

I leave mine on the center rack in the oven and then broil it for 8-10 minutes, until it is nice and brown. Unfortunately, I didn't hear my timer go off, and mine broiled for probably 11 minutes and it got a little too brown. Not burnt, just extra brown. :)

My son says this shot looks like a pizza, and I have to agree. The yummy cheesy crust does make me think of a pizza.
Now, this is where I'm going to ask you to do probably the hardest thing you have done all day . . . . wait. Yes, I said wait. Walk away from the piping hot, heavenly smelling lasagna that you just took out of the oven and occupy yourself with something else. Anything else, but DO NOT cut into it for at least 20 minutes (30 is better), or it will be a gooey runny mess. I chose to make a nice side salad (Cucumber Tomato Salad) to eat along side. It was the perfect accompaniment. A crispy tangy side dish to cut through the richness of this divine casserole.

OK When the waiting is over you can dig in. See how nicely it cuts when you let it set up? It's so pretty, and it tastes even better.
Here's the recipe:

Fall Lasagna
about 15 lasagna noodles cooked (or the no-boil kind is o.k. too)
1.25 pounds lean ground turkey
1/2 large onion, diced
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp dry Italian Seasoning
1/2 tsp dry basil
salt and pepper (to taste)
3 cups smashed butternut squash (Roasted, and smashed with butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste. **Can substitute pumpkin puree or mashed sweet potatoes)
1/2 stick of butter (4 Tbsp)
1/2 cup of flour
4 cups of milk
freshly ground nutmeg (1/2 to 1 tsp)
salt and pepper (to taste)
shredded Mozzarella cheese (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 pound fresh, organic baby spinach, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 375F. If using traditional lasagna noodles, boil them to 3 minutes shy of the package directions (very al-dente; they will continue cooking in the oven). 
Over medium high heat, break up and brown the meat. When it is almost done, add the onions, garlic, Italian Seasoning, basil, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper. When the onions are soft and the meat is browned, taste for seasoning (add more salt and pepper if needed), turn off the heat and set aside. 
Over medium low heat, melt the butter in the pan and add the flour. Whisk together until it looks like wet sand and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly add the milk, as you whisk vigorously to remove any lumps. Grate in the nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste (I added about 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper). Continue to whisk and cook over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Add the spinach and cook about 5 minutes more. Turn off heat and set aside.
In an 9x13 baking dish, spread out a thin layer of the spinach sauce so the noodles don't stick. Then, in a single layer, place 4 or 5 noodles. On top of the noodles, spread out 1 cup of the squash. Then sprinkle on 1/3 of the meat mixture, and then about 1/2 cup of Mozzarella. Top the cheese with a layer of spinach sauce, and then start the layers again. (There will be 3 noodle layers when you are done).
Cover the last layer with the remaining Mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan cheese. (You could cover and freeze it at this point for later use.) Cover with foil, being careful not to let the foil touch the cheese. (I like to use toothpicks to help keep the foil off of the top of the lasagna.) Place the baking dish onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake @ 375F for 30-35 minutes (until the sauce is bubbling around the edges). Remove the foil and broil until browned. (I leave mine on the middle rack, and broil for 8-10 minutes, but keep an eye on it.) Let sit for 30 minutes before cutting so the slices retain their shape. Serve warm.

Cucumber Tomato Salad

This is such an easy side dish, but it always is a hit and brings back good memories. It's tangy, cool and satisfying. The tomatoes are soft while the cucumbers are still crisp. It's a great balance.
    My dad used to make this for us when I was younger. He, of course, never measured anything. He just chopped the veggies and added in a splash of this and a splash of that. He also usually used Balsamic vinegar, so the final dish had a darker hue than mine, but I like the brightness of the veggies so I opted for Apple Cider vinegar instead. You really don't need a "recipe" for this, since it's all pretty much "to taste" but I measured out everything that I did anyway, in case you need guidelines. The typical ratio for a vinegrete is 2:1 oil to vinegar. But I like this salad on the acidic side, so I do more of a 2:1 vinegar to oil ratio (even less oil actually). I encourage you to make it how you would like it. :)

Here's the recipe: (serves 4 adults as a side)

Cucumber Tomato Salad

1 medium organic cucumber, chopped (I quartered mine, to be easier for the little ones to eat, but just slices work well too) 
1 medium organic, vine ripe tomato, chopped (I also seeded mine, but it's optional)
2 Tbsp vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar - this is to taste, if you don't like it so sour use less)
2 tsp oil (I use extra-virgin olive oil - again to taste, if you like it more oily then add more)
salt and pepper to taste
Stir all the ingredients together in a bowl and serve cold or at room temp. The longer it sits, the softer and more pickled the veggies will become.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Raspberry Ice Cream

 A little while back my friend Ramona posted a raspberry ice-cream recipe that she uses all the time, when making any fruit ice-cream. I tried it first with my peaches, but I found it too creamy (if that's possible) so I tweaked it just a tad and tried it again with some raspberries. Now, I'm in love. I don't use any other recipe when I want a fruit ice-cream.
  Is in low calorie? No. Is it low fat? No. But good ice-cream shouldn't be either one of those things. You can convince yourself that it's a little healthy. I mean, there is quite a bit of fruit in there, but it's ice-cream people. It's meant to be an indulgence. A wonderful summer-time treat that celebrates all the wonderful produce that is so delicious and abundant right now.
   You can use this recipe for any fruit. Also, if you are adverse to the seeds in your berries you can always strain them out before adding it to your ice-cream base. I just leave them in. I like the texture it gives.

The creamy ice-cream will take on whichever hue of fruit your put into it. Since I used seductively red raspberries, then this ice-cream came out perfectly pink. No food coloring here people, just fruit. The way it should be.

I love making my own ice-cream, not only because I can create any flavor that pops into my head, but also because I can control the ingredients. There are only real ingredients. No preservatives or crazy ingredients that you can't pronounce. Just pure goodness. Experiment on your own, and let me know which fruit flavor ice-cream is your favorite. My kids prefer the peach ice-cream, but I think I like the raspberry better. My next one to try is blueberry.
Here's the recipe:
adapted from 5 Minutes for Mom

***The amount of fruit in the recipe can vary depending on your taste. You should use at least 3 cups, but I have used 4 cups without any textural difference to the final product. 

Raspberry Ice-Cream

*16 oz fresh raspberries (about 3 1/2 cups), washed (or any fruit you like)
1 3/4 cups sugar

2 cups cold milk
2 cups cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a bowl, combine the fruit and sugar and mash VERY well with a potato masher and set aside for about 20 minutes. Alternately, you can pulse the mixture in a food processor just enough to puree the fruit but not the seeds, and then set aside. After the sugar dissolves, you can strain out the seeds or leave them in (I leave them in.) Stir in the cold milk, cream and vanilla making sure everything is well combined. Refrigerate mix for at least 30 minutes (the colder it is when it goes into your machine, the faster it will be done).
Pour the cold mixture into your prepared ice-cream maker, and churn the ice-cream according to the manufacturers instructions. (Mine took about 25 minutes to be done.) This recipe makes 2 quarts of ice-cream, so I have to make mine in two batches (since my machine only takes 1 quart at a time). Just cover and refrigerate any leftover ice-cream mix to churn at a later time.

Blueberry Cobbler Bread

If you still have some blueberries you want to use up (that you didn't already use in an Easy Blueberry Pie, or a Blueberry Crumble Pie) I recommend this Blueberry Cobbler Bread. While my husband would vehemently disagree, because he believes the blueberry is best in it's raw unadulterated form, this bread is really tasty. And a great change up from your traditional summer breads (like zucchini bread, chocolate zucchini bread, strawberry bread, banana bread, or even pumpkin bread -which is not really a "summer" bread, but is often made year-round). This cobbler bread can be used with any fruit, but the blueberry is something unexpected and quite beautiful. It is extremely easy and satisfying.

This is how it starts:
In one large mixing bowl, combine all your dry ingredients (flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.) Whisk together and set aside.
In a second, smaller bowl, combine the cobbler topping (butter, flour, brown sugar). You can do this with a pastry cutter, a fork or your fingers (which is what I did). Set this aside also.

Next come the blueberries. You need about 1 cup of pureed blueberries. I decided to make it in my smoothie cup attachment for my blender, so I only had that to wash instead of my big blender, but anyway you want to pulverize your blueberries will work. (It takes roughly 3 cups of blueberries to get 1 cup of puree.) To the puree, whisk (or blend as I did) in the vanilla, eggs and butter and/or oil. (I couldn't fit the butter/oil into my blender cup, so I added that separately.)

Pour the blueberry mixture into the dry ingredients. (See, I also added my butter/oil at the same time.)

Stir to combine.

Prepare a regular sized (9x5) loaf pan. You can just pray it with no-stick cooking/baking spray, but if you also line it with parchment paper it will guarantee a clean cake/bread later.

Pour in the batter, and even it out.

Now comes the cobbler topping. It may seem like a lot, but use it all! Top it all off with a few more blueberries to make it pretty and it's ready for the oven!

Bake it @ 350F for 55-60 minutes (covering with foil if the top gets too brown). It's done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean (just a crumb or two, but not wet). Let it cool completely before cutting.

This is what it looks like when it's all done. Isn't it pretty?

The top is a little crunchy and crumbly with a few pops of soft blueberries, while the rest of the bread is soft and moist with just the right amount of sweetness.

I like to just slice it and eat it. I mean, why mess with perfection, right?

But if you are one that likes to add something to your quick breads . . . then my only response to you is:

Butter! As much or as little as you like. I like the salted variety, but of course that is up to you. Enjoy!
Here's the recipe:
adapted from Cookies and Cups

Blueberry Cobbler Bread

2 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup blueberry puree (about 3 cups blueberries blended) + 1/2 cup whole blueberries reserved
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted (you could use all coconut oil, or all butter if you prefer)
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Crumble Topping

1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Line the pan with a strip of parchment the width of the pan long enough to hang over the sides a bit. Spray parchment with cooking spray. Set aside. 
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In another bowl, combine the blueberry puree, melted butter/oil, eggs and vanilla. Whisk together until smooth.
Pour the blueberry mixture into the dry mixture, and mix until thoroughly combined (scraping down the sides as necessary). Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, and top with the Crumble Topping.
To make the Crumble Topping: combine all the crumble ingredients together with a pastry cutter, fork or you fingers. Large chunks should still remain. Sprinkle this all on top of the batter in the loaf pan. 
Top with the additional blueberries and bake @ 350F for 50-65 minutes (until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out mostly clean, but to wet at all). Mine took 65 minutes. Keep an eye on your bread. If it looks like it's getting too brown before it's fully cooked, cover it with foil.
When done, you can cool completely in the pan OR let it cool for at least 20 minutes in the pan and then use the parchment paper to help you lift the bread out and cool completely on a wire rack. Either is fine, and I usually leave mine in the pan so I don't have to worry about little hands picking at it before it's completely cool. :)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Easy Blueberry Pie

Our family looks forward to summer more than any other season. Not for the water sports and the warm weather, but for the fruit! We are a fruit loving family. Our counters are always covered with bowls of summer fruits like peaches, plums, nectarines, pineapples, melons of every kind, bananas, and our fridge is always stocked with every kind of berry available to us. Our favorite berry? Blueberries! (Mine is actually huckleberries, but I can't get those where we live.) Our family loves blueberries so much that it was the first word of our third child. We would take a bowl of fresh blueberries to munch on over a bowl of popcorn or chips any day. My husband actually thinks that it's sacrilege to cook blueberries into anything because it ruins their perfectness that they have all on their own, fresh, raw and pure. However, when I made this blueberry pie he changed his tune a bit. He actually said that the pie was "awesome" and probably "the best blueberry pie he's ever had!" Needless to say, that made my day, and I new I had to share it with you. :)
   Now, I have made blueberry pies in the past (Blueberry Crumble Pie), which were delightful, but my hubby is a fan of the lattice top so I think that made this one his favorite. I do have to say that there is something beautiful about enjoying the simplicity of just fruit and pie crust. This pie also uses flour instead of cornstarch, so it's a slightly different outcome of texture and taste.
   I made this really easy on myself and used store-bought pie crusts, but by all means, if you have the time and motivation make it from scratch! I like to use Marie Callender's 9 inch pie shells for the bottom and Pillsbury roll out pie dough for the lattice top. It comes out perfect every time without all the work and clean up of making the dough from scratch.
   There's not much to this pie. In a bowl, combine the blueberries, lemon juice, vanilla, flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Dump the mixture into the frozen (uncooked) bottom pie shell, and dot the top of the berry mixture with 2 Tbsp of butter. (Tip: You can mash half of the berries before mixing if you want the flour/sugar mixture to dissolve quicker into the berries, but it bakes up just fine if you don't do this step. I left all my berries whole.)

Now for the lattice top. Roll out the refrigerated top crust and cut into about 1 inch strips. Lay 4 strips down vertically over the pie and then weave 4 more strips in between, horizontally. Like this: (I give a step by step tutorial in my Peach Pie post.)

The only thing left to do is brush the top with a little egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Before I forget: don't neglect the scraps from the top crust! Brush them with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake them along side the pie for just a few minutes (5 or so depending on temperature), just until slightly browned and then take out to cool. They are one of my favorite childhood treats. My dad always called them Lady Fingers, and they are amazingly delicious! (Tip: if you have tiny scraps of dough, press them together and make a larger Lady Finger. Just cut it down to size before baking, so they all bake at the same time. That's what I did with the more round shapes on the bottom right of this pic.)

Ok, back to the pie. It get's placed on a parchment lined baking sheet and put into a preheated oven. (Trust me, if you don't use the parchment paper lined baking sheet you are going to be cursing your lovely pie when it bubbles and oozes all over your oven!) I like to bake my pie on the bottom shelf (so the bottom crust stays crunchy and not soggy). I also like to start it off at a higher temperature, to set the bottom crust. So, I typically bake it @ 425F for the first 20 minutes, and then turn the oven down to 400F. I also keep an eye on the pie and cover it with foil when the crust starts to brown, so that it doesn't get too dark.
   This pic was taken about 30 minutes into baking. See, it's already starting to bubble and ooze around the edges? But you can see that the berries in the middle still aren't done yet, and the crust is not fully baked. So back in the oven it goes for about another 20 minutes.

When the pie is bubbly all over and all of the crust is brown and crisp (about 50 minutes total baking time), the pie is done. Isn't it beautiful? I like to turn the oven off and open the door. I let the pie cool and set in the oven before taking it out.

When it cools it will deflate some in the center. That's o.k. Now comes the hard part. . . . Are you ready?. . . You have to WAIT! I know. It's torture. You have this amazing pie right in front of you, filling the house with it's intoxicating aroma and it is calling your name. You think it looks set up enough, but it's NOT! Unfortunately, this is the part where you have to muster up all your will power and walk away. Read a book, go to a movie, clean the house. Whatever will help you keep your mind off this mouth watering pie for the next 4 hours at least (It's best if you leave it overnight even.).

Needless to say, 4 hours later, when I could wait no more I cut into my pie. It was well after the kids had gone to bed and I was preparing myself to wait until the morning to have a piece (because pie for breakfast is perfectly acceptable in my book), but then it kept beckoning me to it and I gave in. I mean, I have to make sure it tastes good, right? (I apologize for the odd coloring of the next two pictures. They were alluminated by my overhead stove light. It was late after all.)

It cut really nicely. See, no fruit trying to run out of the crust? I warmed up a piece and topped it with just a little sweetened whipped cream on top. (Yes, even though it's the middle of the night I still took the time to whip up some fresh whipped cream because I'm just that serious about my desserts.) Let me tell you, it passed the taste test!

The next morning, I cut another piece and you can see how beautiful it is. Perfectly set, glistening berries that still retain some of their whole fruit integrity. I could look at this picture all day. (But only because the pie is actually gone now, because I proceeded to enjoy it morning noon and night until it had vanished. Oh, and I shared with the family too.)

You can have it with or without the whipped cream. It tastes heavenly either way.

This piece was warmed in the microwave for about 20 seconds and it still held it's integrity, while eating. No messy pie here. Just pure goodness!
And, I should mention that you can make this recipe with any fruit. It's such an easy pie and so delicious!

Here's the recipe:
adapeted from Blueberry Pie

Easy Blueberry Pie 

5 cups fresh blueberries
Tbsp lemon juice 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 9 inch pie crusts, unbaked
1 cup sugar (plus more for sprinkling on top)
1/2 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten 
splash of water (about 1 Tbsp)

Peheat oven to 425F. Combine berries with lemon juice and vanilla. Add the sugar, flour, salt and cinnamon and stir well. Pour mixture into 9 inch pie shell, and dot the top with the butter. Cut the 1 remaining pie crust into about 1 inch strips. Lay 4 strips over the top of the pie, leaving about 1 inch in between each, and then weave 4 more strips in between horizontally. (See Peach Pie tutorial for help).  Beat together the egg and water and brush some of the mixture lightly over the top crust of the pie. Sprinkle with some sugar and bake on a parchment lined baking sheet, in the bottom third of the oven @ 425F for 20 minutes. Cover the pie with aluminum foil, and turn down heat to 400F. Continue baking for 20-25 minutes more. Remove foil and finish baking for about 5 minutes, until all the fruit is bubbly and the crust is brown. Turn the oven off and open the door. Let the pie cool to room temperature and then place on the counter to finish setting. Let set for at least 4 hours, preferably over night. Serve plain or warmed with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream.
**When you put on/take off the foil will depend on your oven and how fast your pie is browning. If it is browning too much before the first 20 minutes is up, then cover it sooner. Keep an eye on your pie.