Spinach & bufala mozzarella lasagna

Spinach_Bufala_Lasagne_IMG_9428The dinner forethought continues, for another week at least.

Tonight’s make-ahead meal was Spinach & Bufala Mozzarella Lasagna. This is one of our crazy schedule nights, so I made the lasagna yesterday while Shane and Rose were at Costco.

I did it in two pans, one for today, and one for some time in the future. The today lasagna I cooked, the future lasagna I wrapped and put in the freezer, uncooked.

Tonight’s lasagna sat out on the counter all day to come to room temperature. When Shane arrived home at 7:45, he put it in a 200 degree oven. By the time we were ready to eat, at 8:15, it was warm enough.

It was a great lasagna, which we promptly devoured. It would probably be even better straight from the oven (instead of reheated) but nobody complained, not even the kid.

• Spinach & Bufala Mozzarella Lasagna •
adapted from this recipe from Martha Stewart

 Notes: I thought that the original recipe was going to be a bit too green for my peeps. And, I wanted to use bufala mozzarella because I love it so much. My version reduces the spinach by half , swaps out and increases the quantity of cheese and eliminates the zucchini.

If you are going to do this as a make-ahead dish, assemble the whole thing but don’t cook it. Cover it with greased foil and store it in the fridge or freezer until the day you plan to serve it. Then, bring it to room temperature and put it in the preheated oven about an hour and twenty minutes to an hour and a half before serving.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 pounds fresh spinach, tough stems removed if not using baby spinach
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 quart milk
1 packed cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
9 ounce package no-boil lasagna noodles, I like Barilla
1lb Bufala mozzarella, torn into bite-size chunks
1/3 packed cup grated Pecorino Romano

Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in middle position (unless you’re making it for another day – see notes above).

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3 minutes. Add spinach, a few handfuls at a time, and cook, stirring frequently, until all spinach is wilted, but not brownish, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a mesh strainer and press spinach against the side with a wooden spoon, to remove as much liquid as possible.

In a medium saucepan, make the bechamel. Melt butter over high heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly for about a minute. Add milk and continue whisking frequently, until milk begins to boil and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon (ie: thick gravy or melted ice cream consistency). The thickening might take a while, up to 20-25 minutes.

Remove bechamel sauce from heat, and stir in 1 cup Pecorino, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Cover the pan with a lid and stir from time to time to keep a skin from forming while you get ready for the next step.

Spread 1 cup bechamel along the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Place one-third of noodles over bechamel in a single, overlapping layer. Top with 1 cup bechamel, half of spinach and half the mozzarella. Repeat with a second layer of noodles, bechamel, remaining spinach and remaining mozzarella. Top with a final layer of noodles, remaining bechamel and 1/3 cup Pecorino. Cover with greased foil and bake 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until cheese is golden in places and lasagna is bubbling along the edges, about 15 minutes.

Remove lasagna from oven and let stand 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

 

Best bok choy

Shrimp_Rice_BokChoy_IMG_9425If, like me, you have a surplus of CSA bok choy taking up valuable space in your fridge, and in your mind, look no further than this recipe from Mark Bittman.

I will never again lament the presence of this lovely green in my CSA box. In fact, I might go so far as to purchase bok choy in the off-season.

We had Boy Choy with Shiitakes and Oyster Sauce, with simple broiled shrimp—loosely based on this recipe—and plain old white rice. The bok choy dish is pretty salty and very flavorful. I used minimal seasoning on the shrimp, and could have used even less.

This would also work well with a simple chicken or pan-fried tofu, instead of shrimp.

• Boy Choy with Shiitakes and Oyster Sauce •
from Mark Bittman

Notes: I couldn’t find dried shiitakes today, so I doubled the quantity of fresh. I also didn’t know exactly what was meant by “commercial oyster sauce.” Does it mean store bought (not homemade)? Or does it mean an industrial brand like what I imagine is used in restaurants? I don’t know. I just used the kind they sell at my grocery store. Lastly, the oyster sauce is a bitch to get out of the bottle, I recommend decanting to a measuring cup before you start cooking.

1/4 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
1 1/2 pounds bok choy, trimmed
1/4 cup peanut oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic (optional)
1 cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced (double, or more than double this if you aren’t using dried shiitake)
1/2 to 3/4 cup commercial oyster sauce (or whatever they have at your local store)*

1. Soak dried shiitakes in one cup of very hot water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid. Trim mushrooms and chop. Separate leaves and stems of bok choy; cut stems into 2-inch lengths and slice leaves into ribbons. You can also leave the leaves whole, particularly if using baby bok choy.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. When oil is hot, add bok choy stems, garlic if you are using it, reconstituted mushrooms, and about 1/4 cup reserved mushroom water. Cook, stirring frequently, until stems are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small skillet heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil; sauté fresh shiitake mushrooms over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until they begin to brown and crisp on edges.

4. Into the large skillet or wok, add bok choy leaves and oyster sauce and toss vegetables gently to combine; continue cooking until greens wilt, about 2 more minutes. Serve immediately, topped with crisp mushrooms.

*The oyster sauce is very salty, you may want to start with 1/3 cup and taste, adding more if necessary.

 

Bracketed takeout

Bracketed_Sushi_IMG_9422It was a long day. Shane wanted to order sushi. I was okay with sushi, but wanted a homemade salad. Rose didn’t want sushi at all.

The solution? Shane made Rose penne with olive oil, grated pecorino and bacon. I made an arugula and honeycrisp apple salad, and Spicy Shallot brought sushi.

It seemed like more work than necessary, but everyone was happy and fed.

Weekly meal plan: Day 5!

Steak_SweetPotatoes_Peppers_IMG_9409We concluded our first-ever week of planned dinners with indoor-grilled ribeye steak, roasted peppers, and roasted sweet potatoes with goat cheese & fresh thyme.

I think it was a successful week, and I’m going to really try keep up with this meal planning thing, if I can.*

Here are some of the recipes I’m thinking about for next week. Until then, it’s back to last-minute and improvisation:

*Look for a new, Weekly Meal Plan section on the site, coming real soon. Happy weekend!

Thursday is the new Wednesday

LazyThursday_IMG_2011Thursday really is the new Wednesday, Lazy Wednesday that is. It just makes more sense for us.

Tonight, Rose and I did our volunteer duty at Farm Spot, and then hopped over to Espresso 77 for our favorite “Ladies night out” dinner.

Rose grabbed half her grilled cheese and disappeared underneath the table when I got my camera out. Thus the dramatically underpopulated image above.

Weekly meal plan: Day 3

Burritos_IMG_9405(above left to right: Rose and her burrito, my burrito, Shane’s burrito – oops! too late!)

Well, we made it through another crazy gymnastics night. Same deal, home at 7:55, shower, family dinner, Rose in bed by 8:30. Hooray!

My friend Rachel and I have been talking a lot (okay, nonstop) about dinner ideas for these Mondays and Wednesdays when Rose has class until 7:30. The way the conversation goes, is that Rachel gives me really great suggestions, and I tell her why they won’t work.

Here are some of the challenges we are facing on Mondays and Wednesdays:
1. Dinner needs to be a meal that I can heat up and have on the table in 5-10 minutes (without owning a microwave or crock pot).
2. Ideally, whatever I make should be able to feed all three of us. It needs to be either vegetarian, pescetarian, or not take much effort to make both a veg and a meat version.
3. The meal needs to be something I’m pretty sure Rose will like. After 3 hours of gymnastics, I feel like I shouldn’t really do the tough-love thing if she doesn’t like what we’re having.

Tonight’s dinner was a roaring success. DIY burritos are a perfect prep-ahead meal. There’s no recipe per se, it’s really a use what you’ve got kind of situation. Click here and here for more inspiration.

At lunch time today, I made beans from this recipe, but using pinto beans instead of black, and scallions instead of leek. I also made a quick batch of guacamole (recipe below), grated the cheese, washed some salad greens, took the tortillas out of the fridge and put leftover rice in a pot on the stove. I made sure we had salsa and sour cream on hand, and set the table.

When we got home, all I had to do was warm the rice and the beans, put everything on the table, and smile when Rose said “Yay! free night!” before overstuffing and devouring her burrito.

So far this week we’ve had:

Monday (Make Ahead: 1 hour to prep, 5 minutes to reheat):
Spicy (or not-Spicy) Vegetarian (and Turkey) Chili and nothing else! This is a one-dish meal, baby.

Tuesday (Quick: 30-45 min start to finish, if you have leftover rice on hand):
Weekday Grilled Chicken, Brown Rice Fritters (make Rice Pancakes next time, instead), a simple salad.

Wednesday (Make Ahead: 30-40 min to prep, 5 minutes to reheat):
DIY Burritos: Quick & Easy Beans, whole wheat tortillas, leftover rice, salad greens, guacamole (recipe below), grated cheddar, sour cream, store-bought salsa.

• Quick and Easy Guacamole •
inspired by Ronni

1 ripe avocado
the juice of 1/2 to 1 lime
3 tablespoons chopped green chiles from a can
1/4 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
chopped, fresh cilantro

Peel and pit the avocado, setting the pit aside. Mash avocado with juice of 1/2 a lime, chiles and salt. Taste for seasoning, add more salt and lime if you like. Stir in as much cilantro as you like (I use about 1 tablespoon chopped). Put guacamole in a bowl and poke the pit into the center of it. Cover until ready to serve. The pit will keep the guacamole from browning for several hours.

Weekly meal plan: day 2

Chicken_Salad_RiceFrittters_IMG_9400Tonight was a relatively easy night. We had Brown Rice Fritters, Weekday Grilled Chicken and a CSA salad of arugula and red peppers with mustard vinaigrette.

The rice fritters were disappointing. I’d had the recipe on  my Pinterest Recipes to Try board for a long time and was so excited to finally make it. I thought it would be fun to make the rice patties with Rose, but that was disappointing too.

I probably should have read the reviews before getting excited about this one. But I’m a visual person, I like to look at the pictures and think later.

The rice, egg and cheese mixture for the fritters was very dry and crumbly, it was a major challenge for Rose and I to form the patties. Frying them was difficult too, half of them fell apart and had to be discarded.

To top it all off, they didn’t even taste that good. They were okay, edible, but certainly nothing to email my dad about.

In case you’re keeping track. Here’s how the weekly meal plan is going so far:

Monday (Make Ahead: 1 hour to prep, 5 minutes to reheat):
Spicy (or not-Spicy) Vegetarian (and Turkey) Chili and nothing else! This is a one-dish meal, baby.

Tuesday (Quick: 30-45 min start to finish, if you have leftover rice on hand):
Weekday Grilled Chicken, Brown Rice Fritters (make Rice Pancakes next time, instead), a simple salad.

More tomorrow, as always.

We did it!

Veggie_Turkey_Chili_IMG_9396Well, we did it. We survived our first night of pre-team gymnastics without forsaking the family meal. Somehow we managed a sit-down dinner, and also got Rose showered and in bed by 8:30. And we did it all in 35 minutes flat!

Here’s how, in 15 easy steps:
1. Lose several night’s worth of sleep over how you’re going to manage dinner with your family’s challenging new schedule.
2. Plan a menu for the week. Order all of the necessary ingredients for delivery on Sunday night.
3. Change your mind on Monday morning, and go out to the store, for all of the ingredients you’re actually going to need.
4. Call your oldest friend in the world to discuss ground turkey, because it would be waaay too easy to just follow a damn recipe.
5. Spend all of Monday morning making Monday night’s dinner, when you should really be working (because you’re a freelancer and get paid by the hour to work, not to make dinner).
6. Prep condiments and have them ready to go.
7. Set table.
8. Leave completed meal on the stove top, ready to reheat the moment you walk in the door in the evening.
9. Spend 3 hours at your daughter’s gym, catching up on the work you didn’t do earlier because you were making dinner (good thing you’re a freelancer and can work from a gym).
10. Sneak a peek (or twenty) at your happy kid, after all, she’s the reason you’re making yourself crazy trying to learn how to be a planner-aheader.
11. Drive home with your now exhausted kid, meet husband at front door, hand him the car keys and head upstairs while he looks for a parking space.
12. Pop chalk-covered gymnast in the shower and turn on stove to warm dinner.
13. Remove tiny gymnast from shower, put her in her pajamas (because she’s too tired to do it herself) and start plating dinner.
14. If the stars are aligned, your husband will walk in just as you’re setting the last dish down on the table.
15. Enjoy dinner with your family! You earned it.

• Spicy (or not-Spicy) Vegetarian (and Turkey) Chili •
modified from this recipe from Joy the Baker

For the Vegetarian Version:
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 jalapeno, diced (optional – skip if you don’t want it spicy)
1 cup corn kernels, frozen
3 small cloves of garlic, diced
3 heaping tablespoons steak seasoning* 
1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon coriander
1 cup vegetable stock (or 1 cup water mixed with 1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon)
1/3 cup barbecue sauce (I used Jack Daniels No. 7)
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable stock (or 1 cup water mixed with 1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon)
1 cup water

For the Turkey Version, you will also need:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1lb ground turkey

For topping:
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed
chopped, fresh cilantro
grated cheddar cheese

* I used this kind of steak seasoning, which is very salty. I recommend you start with 1 tablespoon and once the whole pot of chili is simmering, taste and then add more steak seasoning if you want more spice and/or salt.

In a large pan over medium flame, heat olive oil.  Add onion and saute until translucent.  Add the bell peppers and zucchini and cook for four or five minutes, until they begin to soften.  Add garlic, jalapeno, corn and all of the spices into the cooking vegetables. Cook for two minutes.

Adding one cup of broth to the hot pan and scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan.  Then, add the barbecue sauce, beans, diced tomatoes, vegetable stock and water.  Bring to a low boil and cook for about 20 minutes.  

While the chili is cooking, in another medium to large saucepan, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the ground turkey and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently and breaking apart until cooked through.

When the chili is done, add half of it (about 5 cups) to the turkey meat. The remaining half of the chili will be your vegetarian version. Season the turkey version with additional salt and pepper if needed.

When ready to eat, reheat chili and serve topped with grated cheddar, avocado pieces and chopped, fresh cilantro.

 

Simplest

Super_Simple_IMG_9390I don’t usually get away with a dinner quite so simple and minimal as this, but we had a big lunch.

About an hour into our trip home from Boston, I realized I needed lunch. Not a snack, not a handful of nuts and some dried apricots, but a proper lunch. Ah pregnancy.

Shane remembered that he had read about a good barbecue place near Sturbridge Mass, and so we went there. The lunch at BT smokehouse was great, and left us almost not-hungry for dinner.

At least, not-hungry enough that I could serve pasta with butter, olive oil and cheese, and a salad, without a whole bunch of sad faces from Rose and Shane.

Happy 1st Birthday Cal!

Our little guy Cal turned one last week. One! Can you believe it? Remember when he first arrived? And then a few days later when we first ate dinner with him?

His mom, dad and papa hosted a lovely birthday party for him up in Boston. There was lunch, there was dinner, there was beauty and there was fun. All documented in the photos above.

Happy Birthday Cal! We love you.