ina’s lasagna with sausage and goat cheese.

Y’all, I’ve been in a rut. An everything-I-make-is-awful kind of rut. The pizza’s underbaked, or the chicken’s under-seasoned, the recipe is just blah, or I burn the veggies. This has been going on for weeks, and it’s definitely shown on the blog – when I screw up nearly everything I attempt to make, it becomes very hard to put anything here for you to try. So anyway, enough “woe is me” — the good news is that I figured out how to fix it!

Ina Garten.

I borrowed all of my mom’s Ina cookbooks Thursday, and went through them all, making notes of recipes that looked good. I tried to look for things that were a little different than what I usually make, along with the recipes that hit me upside the head as Duh Recipes.  And then, I decided to just dive in head first and start making some of them.

Of course, I started with a Made For Us recipe; I was not ready to jump off the deep end quite yet. Not only has Matt been requesting lasagna for awhile now, but this recipe came highly recommended from Christina and Kerri —  I knew I was starting out with a good one. With my fingers crossed, I got to work. And, y’all, I’M BACK. Thank goodness that I not only have my confidence back, but that I didn’t have to throw yet another meal in the trash.

Ina’s Lasagna with Italian Sausage.
adapted minimally via Barefoot Contessa: Family Style

2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 pounds sweet italian sausage, casings removed
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/4 c. chopped italian parsley, divided
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil
kosher salt
1/2 pound lasagna noodles
16 oz. ricotta cheese
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup Parmesan, grated + 1/4 cup for sprinkling on top
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat, until soft. Add sausage, breaking up with the back of a wooden spoon, cooking 10-12 minutes or until no longer pink. Add garlic and cook another minute, until fragrant. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tbsp. of parsley, basil, 1.5 tsp of salt, and 1/2 tsp. of pepper. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until thickened.

Meanwhile, fill a large casserole dish with the hottest water from the tap. Lay lasagna noodles in the water, and allow to soak for 20 minutes. Drain.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg and the remaining 2 tbsp. of parsley. Set aside.

In the bottom of a 9×13 dish, ladle 1/3 of the sauce. Add the layers: half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta, 1/3 of the sauce. Repeat layers, finishing with remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan (or more, I won’t judge). Bake lasagna for 30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling.

This makes 8 servings, and reheats so well. You will love it.



Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese

This past weekend, I had myself a bit of a cooking marathon on Saturday. We weren’t home much last week, which resulted in a lot of no-cook, thrown together dinners, and I felt the need to do some serious cooking, to make up for it. One of the things I made was this pulled pork (except I used a 2 pound pork tenderloin). We each had a serving of it over the course of the weekend, but 2 pounds of pulled pork is kind of a lot for two people – so I wanted to come up with a way to use some of the pork in a totally different way, so we wouldn’t get sick of it. I’ve been thinking for MONTHS that I wanted to make some kind of macaroni and cheese that had meat in it, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity!

Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese
Serves 6

1 pound penne pasta
4 T salted butter
4 T all-purpose flour
2 cloves garlic, grated
4 cups milk (2% or whole)
6 ounces smoked cheddar, grated
6 ounces monterey jack, grated
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups pulled pork or other leftover meat
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
olive oil

1.) Cook pasta until just shy of al dente. Preheat oven to 350°.

2.) Heat butter in a large pot over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the grated garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

3.) Add the flour, whisking it with the butter to form a roux (it should have a paste-like texture). Keep whisking and cooking for a couple minutes, to cook out the raw flour taste, until the roux turns light brown.

4.) Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly, until the roux is fully incorporated with the milk, and there are no lumps. Continue to stir frequently until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5 to 10 minutes (do not let the mixture boil!).

5.) Once the milk mixture has thickened, reduce the heat to low, then stir in the salt and pepper, and the two cheeses. Slowly stir until all the cheese has melted, and you have a smooth sauce. Turn off the heat.

6.) Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce. Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray (I used a 9×9 pan), and pour half the macaroni and cheese mixture into the bottom of the pan. Top with the pulled pork, spreading it out as best you can, and then top that with the rest of the macaroni. Spread the breadcrumbs evenly over the top of the macaroni, and lightly mist with oil (you can also dot a tablespoon or so of butter around the top of the breadcrumbs – this just helps the breadcrumbs brown).

7.) Bake for 30 minutes, until the breadcrumbs have turned golden brown, and the cheese is bubbling.

Well, I must say, this was an excellent way to use up some leftover pulled pork! The sweetness of the sauce on the pork paired so well with the smokiness of the smoked cheddar – and who can refuse the crunchy breadcrumb topping on a pan of mac and cheese?! No one, that’s who.

Why NOT put the main dish inside the side dish?

king ranch chicken casserole.

Did y’all know that today is Christina’s 30th birthday? Good gracious is she old! I am looking forward to celebrating her when she visits in a couple weeks – I see copious amounts of champagne and baked goods (and maybe a Chick-Fil-A spicy chicken biscuit) in our future.

Anyway, this past weekend I decided I wanted to make a casserole to have in the fridge for easy leftovers. Our schedule is a little crazy and we are not sitting down together for supper as much, so it’s nice to have a ready-made option ready to go. We are big fans of the King Ranch casserole – in fact, for many years this has been my go-to recipe. It’s fine and easy, but it relies heavily on canned, condensed soups and it tastes pretty… processed. When I came across Kevin’s recipe, I knew it was going to become a staple in our household. And it did not disappoint.

This is, in no way, a one-dish recipe. You can use rotisserie chicken in lieu of cooking your own, and frozen corn rather than cutting it off the cob, to take a few steps out of the way. But there’s nothing complicated about this casserole and you should not be intimidated by its long list of ingredients. Once you get all the veggies chopped, it’s smooth sailing.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole
Closet Cooking via Green Grocer

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 poblano pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 jalapenos, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups chicken, cooked and shredded
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 4 oz. can chopped green chilies, drained
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon oregano
1 cup corn
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup sour cream (I used light)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
10 corn tortillas, torn (I used flour tortillas)
2 cups cheese, grated (I used a mixture of cheddar and pepperjack)

Preheat oven to 350 and prepare an 8 inch square baking dish with non-stick spray.

Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add onions, red pepper and poblano and saute until tender. Add in garlic, jalapeno, chili powder and cumin, and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Mix in flour and cook 1-2 minutes. Add chicken broth and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick (5-7 minutes).

Add chicken, tomatoes, green chilies, milk and oregano and simmer for 15 minutes. (note: I used skim, which I would not do again.)

Remove from heat and stir in corn, lime juice, sour cream and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place a thin layer of the chicken mixture in the bottom of the baking dish and top with half of the tortillas. Top tortillas with half the remaining chicken mixture and half of the cheese. Repeat the layers once more, ending with the cheese.

Place carefully in the oven (you might want to put it on a baking sheet if you’re close to overflowing) and bake 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is golden and the casserole is bubbling. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting into.

Now, let me get back to planning the agenda for Tina’s visit,