Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Five-Veggie, Four-Cheese Lasagna

Whenever I hear someone complaining that they have a work potluck coming up, I am so confused. Sure, you've got to contend with the people who don't bring anything and eat everything. You've also got the people who bring whatever store-bought item was on the front table. But who cares? If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it. And there is always so much great stuff to try. Plus, when you find something you love, you know exactly where to find the person who has the recipe!

We have a couple of vegetarians on our staff, so I always try to accommodate them. Meat eaters can always enjoy a dish; vegetarians are often extremely limited. So here you go, my favorite herbivores, a vegetarian lasagna made from the new cookbook my mom bought me.

Five-Veggie, Four-Cheese Lasagna
The Deen Brothers, Y'all Come Eat


8 oz. uncooked lasagna noodles (I use nine noodles)
3 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
6 oz. portobello mushrooms, sliced into 1/4 in. thick pieces
1 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 in. strips
1 red onion, sliced into 1/4 in. thick rings
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 14-oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, all excess water squeezed out
1 26-oz. jar spaghetti sauce (I use homemade marinara sauce)
8 oz. ricotta cheese (I use part skim)
4 oz. provolone cheese, shredded (about 1 c.)
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (about 1 c.)
8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced (about 2 c.)


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lasagna noodles and cook, according to package directions, until al dente. Drain well.

3. Arrange noodles in a single layer on a dish towel-lined baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and set aside.

4. Spread the mushrooms on a baking sheet. Spread the zucchini and onions in a single layer on a separate baking sheet. Drizzle each with 1 1/2 TBSP olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Roast the mushrooms for 25 minutes and the zucchini and onions for 35 minutes.

5. In a bowl, combine the artichokes and spinach.

6. Heat the marinara sauce in a small saucepan for five minutes.

7. Spread 1/4 of the sauce over the bottom of a 13x9 pan. Top with a single layer of noodles (three noodles for me), 1/3 of the ricotta, then another 1/4 of the sauce.

8. Spread half of the vegetable mixtures over the pan.

9. Layer 1/3 of the provolone, mozzerella, and Parmesan on top of the vegetables.

10. Layer another 1/3 of the noodles, 1/4 of the sauce, remaining half of the vegetables, and another 1/3 of all the cheeses, including ricotta.

11. Top with the last of the pasta, sauce and cheeses.

12. Cover the lasagna loosely with foil and bake for 40--45 minutes, until golden and bubbling.

13. Remove the foil and increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees.

14. Bake the lasagna for another ten minutes, or until the cheese is brown around the edges. Let stand for at least ten minutes before serving.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Summer Orzo Salad

This is one of my most favorite dishes to make when the weather begins to warm up. It's fresh and full of nutritious ingredients. Best of all, it's super easy to make and actually gets better the longer it sits. It's great at room temperature, but my favorite way to eat it is the next day, cold and with a couple extra splashes of red wine vinegar.

summer orzo salad
Orzo Salad
Giada De Laurentiis, Giada's Family Dinners


4 c. chicken broth
1 1/2 c. orzo
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 c. red and yellow teardrop tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 c. finely chopped red onion
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 c. chopped fresh mint leaves
3/4 c. Red Wine Vinaigrette, recipe follows (I use closer to 1 1/4 c.)
salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Pour the broth into a heavy large saucepan. Cover the pan and bring the broth to a boil over high heat. Stir in the orzo. Cover partially and cook until the orzo is tender but still firm to the bite, stirring frequently, about 7--9 minutes.

2. Drain the orzo through a strainer. Transfer the orzo to a large wide bowl and toss until the orzo cools slightly. Set aside to cool completely.

3. Toss the orzo with the beans, tomatoes, onion, basil, mint, and enough vinaigrette to coat.

4. Season the salad, to taste, with salt and pepper, and serve at room temperature.
Red Wine Vinaigrette


1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp honey
2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 c. extra-virgin olive oil

1. Mix the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a blender.

2. With the machine running, gradually blend in the oil.

3. Season the vinaigrette, to taste, with more salt and pepper, if desired.
Yield: 1 3/4 cups

Grown-Up Strawberry Shortcake

Mmmmm...Strawberries. Mmmmm...homemade biscuits. Mmmmm...real whipped cream. Mmmmm...Grand Marnier. get the idea.

strawberry shortcake
Strawberry Shortcake with Grand Marnier Strawberry Compote and Chantilly Cream
Chef Michael Mina, found on

For the biscuits:
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. cake flour
1/2 c. sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 TBSP baking powder
Pinch (1/16 tsp) kosher salt
1/2 c. cold butter (1 stick), cut into chunks
1 c. well-shaken buttermilk
1/2 c. cream, plus more for brushing
Finely grated zest from one lemon

For the Grand Marnier strawberry compote:
4 pints strawberries, stems removed and quartered
1/4 c. Grand Mariner
1/4 to 1/2 c. sugar
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
Pinch (1/16 tsp) kosher salt

For the Chantilly cream:
1 c. cold heavy cream
2 TBSP confectioners' sugar


Biscuits:1. In large bowl, sift together all-purpose and cake flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Use a pastry cutter or fork to blend in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.

2. In medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk and cream, then whisk in lemon zest.

3. Add liquid mixture to dry mixture, stirring with fork just until dough forms.

4. Turn dough out onto floured work surface and knead gently just until dough holds together, about 10 turns.  Place dough on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 30 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 400°F.

6. On floured work surface, pat out dough to 1/2-inch-thick round. Using 3-inch cutter, cut out biscuits.

7. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet, brush lightly with cream, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool.


1. In large mixing bowl, combine strawberries, Grand Mariner, 1/4 cup sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Mix gently, taste, and add more sugar if needed. Let stand at room temperature until juices form, at least 30 minutes.

Chantilly Cream:

1. Chill medium mixing bowl and whisk (I used the whisk attachment on my KA mixer) in freezer for 10 minutes before beginning.

2. In chilled bowl, whisk cream until it begins to foam and thicken. Add sugar and continue to whisk just until soft peaks form. Do not over-whip.

yield: 12 servings

Friday, April 25, 2008

Competition Chocolate Chip Cookies

Growing up, I was a competitive dancer. Ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, musical theatre, you name it, I did it. By the time I was in high school, I had a show or competition at least one, if not four, weekends a month. During the summer, my mom and I would travel with the other dancers from my studio to competitions across the country. I loved every minute of it, learned invaluable life lessons, and made so many wonderful memories.

One of the clearest memories for me was when Mr. Bob, who had two daughters at the studio, would bring his famous chocolate chip cookies to each competition. They were magical. You might not know this, but dancers are unbelievably superstitious. These cookies were good luck in concrete form.

A few *ahem* years later, I am now a teacher at the same dance studio where I grew up. My sassy little dancer girls have one of their first competitions tomorrow. Mr. Bob's daughters have, of course, grown up and moved on. How can I let my little ones go on stage without some chocolaty good luck? I can't.

Isn't it funny the things that make you feel so nostalgic and so old?

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
found on Good Things Catered
adapted from America's Test Kitchen


2 c. plus 2 TBSP all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
12 TBSP (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted & cooled until warm
1 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips


1. Adjust oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions. Heat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

3. Whisk dry ingredients together; set aside.

4. With electric mixer or by hand, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly combined.

5. Beat in egg, yolk and vanilla until combined.

6. Add dry ingredients & beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in chips.

7. Roll scant 1/2 c. dough into ball. Holding dough ball in fingertips of both hands, pull into two equal halves. Rotate halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, place formed dough onto cookie sheet, leaving ample room between each ball. (I used a standard scoop instead.)

8. Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets halfway through, until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy, approximately 17 minutes.

9. Cool cookies on sheets until able to lift without breaking and place on wire rack to cool.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tasty Tools--Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

This month, Joelen from Joelen's Culinary Adventures chose to highlight the many uses of the scooper in her monthly blog event "Tasty Tools". Hmmmm...I must just be ahead of the curve on this one. Last month, when she chose the Microplane grater, I made Meyer lemon ice cream.

I contemplated doing ice cream again this month--I've got a couple of great recipes to try out--but one episode of "Barefoot Contessa" changed that. As soon as I heard Ina say "peanut butter frosting," it was all over. I'd found my "Tasty Tools" entry recipe.

Yum, yum, yummmmmm. These were awesome. I like chocolate and peanut butter (who doesn't?) but I wouldn't say it's my absolute favorite dessert combination. But my friends who love their chocolate and PB were nuts about this recipe. For some reason, I think I'll be making it again soon. What can I say...I like making people happy!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
Ina Garten


For the cupcakes:
12 TBSP (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 c. granulated sugar
2/3 c. light brown sugar, packed (I always use dark brown)
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1/2 c. sour cream, at room temperature
2 TBSP brewed coffee
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. good cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Chopped salted peanuts, to decorate

Kathleen's Peanut Butter Frosting: 
1 c. confectioners' sugar
1 c. creamy peanut butter
5 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 c. heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes.  Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee.

4. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

5. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it's completely blended.

6. Divide the batter among the cupcake pans (1 rounded standard ice cream scoop per cup is the right amount). Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

7. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting. 

8.  While the cupcakes cool, make the frosting by placing the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work.  Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

9.  Frost each cupcake with Peanut Butter Icing and sprinkle with chopped peanuts, if desired.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Tarts

I actually found Meyer lemons in my grocery store! When I saw them, I was so excited I let out a little yelp...right there in the produce section of the store. I'm pretty sure I scared the guy and his son standing next to me. But I didn't care. At long last, I would be able to make a Meyer lemon recipe with actual Meyer lemons!

I was surprised by their feel, though. I knew the skin would be thinner, but I didn't expect this to make the whole fruit feel a little softer and squishier in my hand.
The juice was slightly darker than that of regular lemons, but I suppose that would be due to the fact that Meyers are a cross between lemons and mandarin oranges. The smell was much milder, as was the flavor.

So what was the verdict? Do Meyer lemons really make that much of a difference? They do. The subtle lemon flavor really complimented the tangy buttermilk in this recipe. That being said, I think it would've still been fine using the old part lemon, part orange trick. Are they worth the cost? At 80 cents a piece, not for everyday use. I will definitely use Meyer lemons for special occasions or if I can only find them every once in a while and want a special treat, like this tart. It was, in a word, divine.

meyer lemon buttermilk tart
Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Tarts

Emeril Lagasse

**Note--I've included the original recipe, which makes one 10 in. tart. I chose to make tartlets and got five from this recipe. I've included my modifications in the directions.

Prepared sweet pie dough, recipe follows
3/4 c. buttermillk
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 large eggs
6 TBSP Meyer lemon juice
2 TBSP all-purpose flour
2 tsp. finely grated Meyer lemon peel
1 c. heavy cream
2 TBSP confectioners' sugar, plus extra for garnish
Thinly sliced Meyer lemons, garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie dough to an 11-inch circle. (I rolled out the dough, then cut it to fit my tartlet pans.

3. Transfer to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and press the dough against the sides. Refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes. Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and weights, and bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack before filling.

4. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

5. To prepare the filling, whisk the buttermilk, sugar, eggs, Meyer lemon juice, flour, lemon peel in a medium bowl. Pour into the cooled crust and bake until the filling is set, 25 to 30 minutes. **Note--I reccomend placing a pan of water on the lower rack to prevent cracking. Mine cracked fairly badly.**

6. Cool completely then cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours.
7. Add cream to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat to soft peaks. Add confectioners' sugar and beat to stiff peaks.

8. To serve, slice tart and place on dessert plates. Place a dollop of sweetened whipped cream on the side and garnish with powdered sugar and lemon slices.

Sweet Pie Dough:
8 oz. all-purpose flour, about 1 1/2 c. plus 2 TBSP
1 TBSP sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 TBSP solid vegetable shortening (I replaced with more butter)
3 TBSP ice water (I used closer to four, most likely due to the desert climate where I live)

1. Sift the flour, sugar, and salt into a large bowl.

2. Using your fingers, work in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

3. Add 2 TBSP of ice water and work with your fingers until the water is incorporated and the dough comes together. Add more water as needed to make a smooth dough, being careful not to over mix.

4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Beef and Cheese Manicotti

I was having a difficult time deciding what to make for dinner, so I asked my girls over at the "What's Cooking?" board. I got a split decision between this dinner and chicken with prosciutto, fontina, and mushroom sauce. In an attempt to please everybody, I decided to make the manicotti tonight and the chicken sometime soon. Wow! This dinner did not disappoint!

Many people seem to have trouble stuffing the manicotti noodles, for some reason. My tips (not that I'm an expert) would be to make sure you leave the pasta a little underdone so it holds its shape well, and to use a small spoon so you're not trying to stuff too much filling in at one time.

My sister commented that this would be even better with spicy Italian sausage instead of ground beef. I'd have to agree. Great suggestion, Tay! I think I'll do that next time!

Beef and Cheese Manicotti
adapted from Giada de Laurentiis (of course!)


4 tsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 lb. ground beef
salt and freshly ground black pepper
14 (8 oz. package) manicotti
1 (15 oz.) container whole-milk ricotta (I used part skim and it worked beautifully)
2 c. shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 TBSP chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 c. marinara sauce
2 TBSP butter, cut into pieces


1. Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tsp. of the olive oil, onion and ground beef. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until the meat browns and the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and cool.

2. Brush 1 tsp. of oil over a large baking sheet. Cook the manicotti in a large pot of boiling salted water until slightly softened, but still very firm to the bite, about 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the manicotti from the pot to the oiled baking sheet and cool.

3. Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, 1 c. mozzarella cheese, 1/4 c. Parmesan, and parsley. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper to taste, and mix. Stir the cooled meat mixture into the cheese mixture.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
5. Brush the remaining 2 tsp. of oil over a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spoon 1 1/2 cups of the marinara sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish.

6. Fill the manicotti with the cheese-meat mixture. Arrange the stuffed pasta in a single layer in the prepared dish and spoon the remaining sauce over.
7. Sprinkle the remaining 1 c. of mozzarella cheese, then the remaining 1/4 c. of Parmesan over the stuffed pasta. Dot entire dish with the butter pieces. Bake the manicotti uncovered until heated through and the sauce bubbles on the sides of the dish, about 35 minutes. Let the manicotti stand 5 minutes and serve.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Classic Marinara

Just like Mom makes. Well, just like Mom would make if my mom was Italian. She's a great cook, don't get me wrong. But if had a picture in your head of a little Italian mama slaving away over the stove, that's not my mom. Oh, my mom slaves over the stove and makes amazing meals. She's just not Italian.

I've been using this recipe for about four years, which is as long as I've really been cooking well. The first time I made it, I was amazed. It was so easy and so different than the jarred pasta sauces I'd gotten used to eating in college. After that first batch, I swore I'd never go back to sauce in a jar again. And I haven't. This is just too simple and too good. There's also an added bonus. This is a double recipe, so you can use half the day you make it and freeze the other half for another day!

classic marinara
Classic Marinara Sauce
Giada deLaurentiis


1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 (32-oz.) cans crushed tomatoes (I like to use fire-roasted)
2 dried bay leaves


1. In a large casserole pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

2. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.

4. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste. (The sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat before using.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Chicken with Lemon and Oregano

Yummy, yummy, yummy! This Greek-inspired recipe from Williams-Sonoma was soooo good and, even better, soooo easy. Since most Williams-Sonoma recipes are wonderful as is, I hardly made any adjustments at all. I didn't even make enough changes to put "adapted from" in my source. All I changed was using chicken breasts instead of chicken pieces. This of course changed the oven time, which I've noted in the recipe. I served this chicken with an olive oil whole wheat couscous. Delicious!

Chicken with Lemon and Oregano


2 TBSP olive oil
1 chicken, about 3 1/2 lb., cut into 8 serving pieces (I used boneless, skinless breasts)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 TBSP chopped fresh oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1 c. pitted black olives, such as Kalamata, slivered
1 c. unsalted chicken broth


1. Preheat an oven to 400°F.

2. In a 3-quart deep sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil until nearly smoking.

3. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper and sprinkle 1 TBSP of the oregano evenly over the pieces.

4. Working in batches, arrange the chicken skin side down in the pan and cook, turning once, until crispy and golden, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken pieces to a platter as they are browned.

5. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the garlic and half of the lemon zest to the pan. Sauté, stirring often, until the garlic is tender and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.  Stir in the lemon juice, return the chicken to the pan and transfer to the oven.

6. Roast the chicken, turning occasionally to coat with the pan juices, until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. (It took about 20--30 minutes for chicken breasts.)

7. About 15 minutes before the chicken is done (I did it ten minutes before because of reduced cooking time), add the olives, sprinkle the remaining 1 Tbs. oregano over the top and continue roasting.

8. When the chicken is done, transfer the pieces to a warmed platter and set the pan over medium heat. Add the broth and bring to a simmer, stirring to scrape up any browned bits. Cook until the juices are reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

9. Pour juices over chicken, garnish with the remaining zest and serve immediately.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Heavenly Lemon Angel Food Cake

So the title of this post is a bit misleading. I'll be honest, the actual cake itself was just alright. It wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just wasn't great. If you have an outstanding angel food cake recipe, use it instead. (And don't forget to pass it on to me!)

What makes this dessert so incredible is the topping. Who knew simply combining lemon curd and sour cream would have such a heavenly result? As an added bonus, I had some topping left over. It was a-MAH-zing on vanilla ice cream with fresh berries. Don't wait to make this. It is too easy and too delicious!

Lemon Angel Food Cake

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
6 egg whites
Pinch of salt
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar

For the frosting:
1/2 cup lemon curd
1/2 cup sour cream

1. Preheat an oven to 375°F.

2. Sift the flour onto a plate, then stir in the lemon zest and set aside.

3. Put the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar into a large bowl and whisk until stiff but moist-looking peaks form. Gradually whisk in the superfine sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue whisking for 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Gently fold in the flour mixture using a metal spoon and a swirling figure-of-eight motion. Pour into an 8-inch deep or 9-inch shallow nonstick angel food cake pan (there is no need to grease it first). Bake until the cake is well risen and golden and the top springs back when pressed with a fingertip, 25 to 30 minutes.

5. Turn the cake, still in its pan, upside down onto a cooling rack and let cool. As it cools, it will fall out of the pan.

6. To make the frosting, in a bowl, stir together the lemon curd and sour cream and spread over the top of the cooled cake.