Tuesday, November 6, 2018

You Cannot Beat a Great Lasagna

Lasagna, for all of my cooking skills, has been my Waterloo. For some inexplicable reason, it would come out too dry or too runny, lacking flavor or just ho-hum. We have eaten my attempts, but they were nothing to write about. The only ones that came out somewhat nicely (and which I did write about), were a Short Rib Lasagna and a Lamb and Mushroom Lasagna, but these are not your typical recipe. I have even had a Zucchini Lasagna come out well various times, where I used zucchini instead of lasagna noodles.
Lasagna with Homemade Pasta
Lasagna with Homemade Pasta

A couple of weekends ago, we had our friends Heidi and Rich visiting, and Heidi makes lasagna that Rich approves of, and he is Italian. I know she made it for us once a few years ago, but I cannot recall precisely how that one was. I just do not recall. This time, I asked Heidi if she would make her lasagna, and I would watch to see what she did. How did she manage the mixture not being too wet? Or too dry? The one thing I stipulated, as my contribution, was that I would make the lasagna noodles in my pasta machine.

Heidi had never used fresh pasta before, and was very impressed with how easy they were to make (the machine does the work) and how easy to use (they don't need to be cooked beforehand). Aside from that, she said she just made the pasta and meat sauce with both hamburger and Italian sausage, and not too much liquid-y ingredients. 

It came out crazy delicious. However, my husband and I both tend to retain water when we eat something processed with too much salt. She had used three 8-ounce packages of mozzarella slices. She used the better part of a pint of cottage cheese. We added no salt to the sauce (or anything else), which used a 24 ounce sized jar of  Prego brand spaghetti sauce and some tomato sauce and tomato paste. The Prego is something I use often with no particular water retention problem, so I figured it wasn't that. But the cheese? Oh, yes.
Lasagna with Homemade Pasta just out of oven
Lasagna with Homemade Pasta just out of oven

So, her lasagna was fantastic in the sense that it cut well and held together, was neither too wet or too dry. I wanted to repeat the effort on my own. I went looking at the cheeses, comparing sodium levels. I wanted to use ricotta instead of cottage cheese. The ricotta had nearly half the sodium per same-size serving of cottage cheese. I used only two 8-ounce packages of mozzarella, but I used shredded mozzarella instead of the slices, which had much more sodium than the shredded kind. I chose to add spinach to my lasagna, just because I love how pretty it looks. I have nothing at all against spinach, but you truly do not taste it in lasagna, so it is more for esthetics, to me. 

Sadly, my husband and I both retained water after eating this lasagna, even with more careful eye on the sodium - though not quite as dramatically.

As for the pasta, again I made my own. I used half whole grain Kamut flour, freshly ground, and half semolina flour, with egg and water. I love the great al dente "tooth" of this pasta, which cooks just perfectly in the sauce once all assembled and baked. If making the pasta by hand, you can use all-purpose, 500 grams worth, by weight.

So without further ado, here is my recipe:

Lasagna with Homemade Pasta
Lasagna with Homemade Pasta
Lasagna with Homemade Pasta

Makes one very full 9 x 13-inch casserole

1 pound very lean hamburger meat
1 pound Italian sausage meat
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, minced
1 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 (24-ounce) jar Prego traditional spaghetti sauce
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
280 grams Kamut Khorasan whole grain flour
220 grams semolina flour
2 large eggs + enough water to make 190 grams
12 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 (8-ounce) packages shredded mozzarella
2 cups / 1 pint ricotta cheese
Parmesan, for sprinkling

MEAT SAUCE: Heat a large pot or Dutch oven and add in the olive oil. Add the hamburger and sausage meat and cook, breaking up into very small pieces, until no longer pink. Add in the onion, garlic, bell pepper & fresh herbs, stirring until vegetables are softened. Add and stir in the spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce and tomato paste and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, cover and allow to cook gently for at least a half hour, more if there is time. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Layering Lasagna

PASTA: Mix the ingredients until they come together into a mass, turn out and knead for 5 to 7 minutes, then pass through a pasta roller to the thickness desired for the lasagna. Cut to the proper size needed and use just as they are.

ASSEMBLY: Have all the ingredients at hand, ready to use. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use a large, full-sized 9 x 13-inch pan. Mine is a Wilton pan, with absolutely squared sides. If your pan is sloped, or smaller, all the ingredients will not fit. The picture at right shows the order of the layers as they go in the pan.

Spray the pan with non-stick spray. Place one ladle full of meat sauce into the pan (#1) and spread to somewhat cover the bottom. Layer on three lasagna noodles (#2). Cover the noodles with a layer of meat sauce and then half the spinach over top (#3). Dot on about ⅓ of the ricotta, in small dollops (#4). Sprinkle all over with ⅓ the total amount of mozzarella shreds, and top with another layer of lasagna noodles (#5). Cover this layer with meat sauce (#6), then the remaining spinach (#7). Top with the remaining third of ricotta, in small dollops, and part of the remaining mozzarella shreds. Reserve the rest of the mozzarella aside for the top, later. If there are any remaining noodles, place them on top and coat with a scant layer of meat sauce so the pasta on top will not dry out in the oven.
Sequence of assembly
Sequence of assembly

Once that last bit of meat sauce is on, spritz a piece of foil or a silicone, oven-proof cover with a little non-stick spray and cover the lasagna. Bake it covered for about 40 minutes, until very bubbly. Remove the covering and sprinkle on the remaining mozzarella and a generous grating of Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 minutes more. Remove and let set for about 15 minutes to firm up before slicing and serving.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Something Simpler for a Change

After a series of blogs that have mostly been real sticklers for detail work, I want to change pace here, and assure that while I love testing out these detail oriented dishes, I also love simple ones.

I feel truly bad when I have a friend say that they wouldn't want me to come to their house for a meal because my expectations are likely too high!


Smoked Sausage & Rice One Pot Meal
Smoked Sausage & Rice One Pot Meal
Yes, I do a lot of things many people would never try. I understand that. It's just what I do. I get a bee in my bonnet about a new thing and just have to give it a try. But, my decision to go the route of finickiness in a recipe does not in any way mean I cannot appreciate something other, even if simpler. 

When I go to a restaurant, I have had friends say the same, that I must be less than satisfied with the meal. That couldn't be farther from the truth. When I am at someone's house, or at a restaurant, I am able to sit down. I am being served by someone else. That I do not have to do the work, the cleanup, the timing of a meal and all the detail that goes into it, means I am exceedingly pleased and grateful, and patient (including at a restaurant), because I know the amount of work it takes. Even for something much less complicated than a puff pastry dough or pan de campagne.

Smoked Sausage & Rice One Pot Meal
Smoked Sausage & Rice One Pot Meal
I am of an age that I do not have little ones running around the house or a busy schedule (most of the time). I don't work outside of maintaining a large house and a husband with some health issues. I have the time, now and again, to indulge my curiosity about a recipe. And my interests in food are far reaching. 

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting a woman at the local Farmers' Market, selling pork (pork in many forms, including smoked sausage and pork fat for rendering) and chickens and some turkeys for Thanksgiving. Her name is Amy, and her meats are from Bumpy Road Ranch. While all her meats are home farm raised and delicious, the items that really struck me were her smoked ring sausage and smoked brats. I have never been fond of sausage, though if I was going to eat it, it would be smoked. But this woman's sausage is so delicious I went back multiple times to get more and more. I have looked for more ways to use it, it's just that delicious. 

When I tested the recipe for this "Smoked Sausage & Rice One Pot Meal," I used store bought smoked brats. I did this because if it didn't come out tasting as good as I wanted, I didn't want to have used up a package of Bumpy Road Ranch Smoked Brats! I will make it again, now that I know how good this is,  with the good brats! But whether you have access to wonderful local smoked brats, or whether you buy them at the grocery, this recipe doesn't take very long, and it is so wonderfully tasty. 

Also, continuing with my determination to get something healthy into the mix, I added grated cauliflower (in addition to my usual onion, garlic, celery, carrot and green pepper) and used a brown rice mix instead of white rice. It takes an extra step when using brown rice, as it needs to be half-cooked before adding to the pot (meaning, technically, that it's not a "one"-pot meal). Plain white rice could be added instead, at the point where the half-cooked rice is added. 

Smoked Sausage & Rice One Pot Meal

Serves 4 to 6
Smoked Sausage & Rice One Pot Meal
Smoked Sausage & Rice One Pot Meal

1½ cups brown rice
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups water
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 - 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced thinly
2 cups grated cauliflower
1 carrot, grated
4 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, stems discarded
1 bay leaf
1 package smoked brats or other smoked sausage, sliced
1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans, well rinsed

Set the rice, salt and water in a saucepan, bring to boil, lower temperature to a simmer and time for 30 minutes.
Left all ingredients added and Right all cooked through
Left all ingredients added and Right all cooked through

In a large skillet, heat the oil and add in the chopped onion, saute until softened, then add in the garlic and the remaining vegetables as they are prepared, stirring occasionally to soften. Add in the thyme leaves and the bay leaf, smoked sausage, kidney beans and tomato sauce. Pour in the partially cooked rice, along with its remaining water and cook for at least another 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked through. Mixture may be slightly saucy.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Please Enjoy My November Newsletter

Thanksgiving, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy
Bounty and Gratitude, Friend

These two things go hand in hand. November is the time to celebrate gratitude for the bounty that exists in our lives. Whether you live in the U.S and celebrate Thanksgiving or not, celebrating in gratitude for all that we have is an important thing. No matter how rich or how poor, there are always things to be grateful for. I am personally grateful for the friend who pointed out in my last newsletter bonus recipe for Bairin Breac, that I had an egg in the recipe, but did not say when or where to add it in when mixing! Thank you, Jackie!

UPDATE on the Bairin Breac Recipe: Add the egg along with the other wet ingredients!

Up in our northern climes, it is getting very nippy these mornings. It makes me grateful for central heating and a snug warm house, sweaters and blankets. I am grateful to be blessed with all these, and also for my cooking ability and being able to set a lovely table of food for friends and family.

And most of all, I am grateful for my readers.

Please check "
A Harmony of Flavors" website and "A Harmony of Flavors" blog site, continually being updated with new recipes. There is a lot to choose from!
November, Thanksgiving, Bounty
relishes and compotes
Alternates to Cranberry Sauce

When this time of year comes around, sometimes we just want something new to pair with the turkey (or pork roast or beef roast or chicken, or pheasant or duck or goose or even seafood). Cranberries are quite traditional, and there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with a good cranberry sauce, particularly a homemade relish like my Cranberry Orange Relish.

However, despite how great my Cranberry Orange Relish is, there are alternatives to pair with your dinner, and here are some of my top picks this year.

Some of my favorite recipes are shown clockwise from top left:
  • Fall Fruit Compote. I made this originally to pair with pheasant for dinner, and it paired beautifully. With lots of different fruits, both dried and fresh, like dried apples and fresh quince, along with fresh cranberries and dried figs and apricots (or mix and match), and cooked with Port wine and dry red wine, this makes a beautiful as well as flavorful pairing for your feast.
  • Beet and Apple Relish. Lightly sweetened, this relish is a mix of two great Fall produce items: apples and beets. It makes a wonderful pairing for a Thanksgiving dinner as well as an addition to a relish tray for any occasion. Since apples and beets are available all year 'round, it can be made any time, but fresh is always best!
  • Cran-Cherry Relish with Ruby Port. While including the same things that go into my regular Cranberry Orange Relish, this recipe also uses dried cherries. The use of Ruby Port enriches the mixture and lends a great flavor. Just a variation on a theme.
  • Balsamic Pearl Onions. These onions can be made days ahead if your schedule is very busy. They are nicely savory, with only the balsamic vinegar lending a touch of sweetness. Serve them at room temperature for best flavor. If you want a more festive looking dish, try instead the Balsamic Onions with Dried Cherries, where the use of two colors of onions with the dried cherries gives the dish more color.
Below is a button to connect with a really great Bonus Recipe for this month.
CLICK HERE for a Bonus Recipe
November, Thanksgiving, Bounty
festive meal, alternate meal
An Alternate Thanksgiving Menu

If you are one of the people who prefer something other than the traditional turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and/or sweet potatoes for your Thanksgiving meal, then here are a few ideas for a delicious menu that includes none of those traditions. Many of my family members go for things other than the traditional. One of my daughters favors making individual Cornish hens rather than turkey. Another has gone the gamut of possibilities, including things like Creamed Crab Meat over pasta. Personally, I have tried Cornish hens and didn't really feel they were worth the effort. I am allergic to shellfish. But these selections below would, in my estimation, make a most festive holiday meal.

Clockwise from top left:

Coconut Sweet Potatoes with Mustard Greens. This mixture has a little sweetness from the coconut milk, without going the route of heavily sweetened sweet potato casseroles. The addition of mustard greens, which really add no special flavor, but do give a little bit of good greens to a sometimes carb-overloaded dinner are just an added bonus. The flavors are absolutely spectacular.

Creamed Green Beans with Bacon. These green beans require a little bit of work if you choose to cut them French style, as I have, here. You could also use frozen green beans and proceed with the recipe that way. The light gravy, made with bacon grease, flour and water, is ultimately flavored with thyme and bacon and when I serve these, they are gone in an instant. The perfect and decadent-tasting accompaniment.

Creamy Corn Casserole. If you want carbs added to your festive meal, this corn casserole is not the traditional custard-based corn casserole. This one has a slightly cake-like texture due to the use of a box of Corn Muffin Mix, making a kind of substitution for the traditional dressing. The flavors are dreamy, and pair with pork to perfection.

Sweet Cocoa Rubbed Pork Loin Roast. This pork loin roast is full of flavors, with abundant garlic and fresh thyme, and also due to the Sweet Smoky Cocoa Rub, which I use on all sorts of meats and other things, to amazing result. Making a beautiful presentation, this roast is a true centerpiece.
parsnips, pears, leeks, soup
Soup as a First Course

I love creamed soups. Ingredients cook quickly and are pureed to perfection. This Parsnip, Pear & Leek Soup is one of those soups whose looks are deceiving. Making a pureed soup is quite simple; saute the leeks and celery, add in the pears and liquids and cook, then puree. Serve this quick soup on any night, because the flavors are stellar. If the photo of my everyday weeknight soup are less than appetizing, simply serve in a beautiful bowl, drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with some fresh thyme leaves for a Cinderella-like transformation.
mincemeat, pie, cheesecake
An Alternate to Pumpkin Pie

While Pumpkin Pie is on many menus for Thanksgiving, not everyone loves pumpkin. In that case, while a Pecan Pie will be a strong contender, why not try this Cheesecake Mincemeat Pie instead? If mincemeat is too strong a spiced flavor for your taste, the addition of the cheesecake layer tones down the spices with that cooling cheesecake layer. This is a match made in heaven!
November, Thanksgiving, Bounty
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & . . . Thyme!

Thyme is used so widely that sometimes it is taken for granted. Native to the Mediterranean, it is grown widely and as a perennial, it will, in most areas, come back year after year. Unfortunately, I live far enough north that I must replant each year, but regardless, give it a nice sunny spot and well-drained soil and you are all set. Thymus vulgaris is the most commonly found variety for cooking, though Lemon Thyme is close behind, with the added benefit of a lemony scent and flavor.

Using fresh thyme is very simple. Simply strip the leaves from the stems and use the leaves as is, or lightly chop them. Add thyme to just about any meat when cooking, use it along with basil and oregano for spaghetti sauce. Add a whole sprig to soups while cooking, since the leaves will all come off into the soup and the stem adds flavor yet is easily found and removed before serving. Note the photo above for the Parsnip, Pear & Leek Soup, with the Thyme cooking in the pot.
Chris Rawstern, A Harmony of Flavors
November is here already, my readers. I hope you will visit my web- and blog-sites and try some new (or old) recipes, learn something new about an herb or spice or other subject, or maybe just daydream. However it is accomplished, I endeavor to provide articles of interest. Not everyone cooks these days, due to time constraints, though I did cook meals for my family back when I had 4 youngsters and worked 2 jobs, so I know it can be done. It does require advanced planning. Many of my newer, more complex recipes have been created now that I am retired and have extra time on my hands, yet many are easy and quick. Take a look through my suggestions here in this newsletter, as well as looking through past newsletters here, for more ideas. Both my website and blog site have indexes of my recipes, for many more options.
November, Thanksgiving, Gratitude
Please forward this newsletter to any friends who may find my stories, articles and recipes of interest. Subscribe to this Newsletter by hitting the Subscribe Button below. Follow me on Facebook, check out my A Harmony of Flavors website, and A Harmony of Flavors blog. Find all my food (and lots of other) photos on Pinterest at AHOFpin.
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