Butternut Squash Lasagna

This lasagna is a real crowd pleaser: creamy without being oily with a good punch of squashiness. It lacks the often painfully long lasagna prep and is very easy to throw together. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on this pan o’ noodles, and we all know how much I love to be flattered.

You will need:
1 medium-sized Kabocha squash (or a medium Butternut)
*Kabocha squash is commonly used in Asian cooking; you often see it in tempura and think it’s sweet potato. It has a very distinctive green rind and is often referred to as pumpkin on the menus.
2 large shallots
2 leeks
2 T olive oil
2 T white wine
1/4 c butter
1/4 c flour
S & P
pinch nutmeg
1 quart milk
2 c shredded mozzerella
1 lb cottage cheese
3/4 c grated parmesan cheese
1 package ready-bake lasagna noodles

Heat your oven to 400 degrees and bake the squash, cut in half with cut side up, until a fork goes through easily.

Dice the shallots and leek, making sure to rinse the leek thoroughly! Saute over medium-high heat with the olive oil until soft.

Meanwhile, warm the milk over low heat, stirring occasionally. There’s nothing quite like a pan of burnt, disgusting milk, so make sure you remember to give it a shimmy and a shake every now and then. Otherwise, you’ll be making all the mama cows out there cry!

When the leeks and shallots are soft, reduce with a shot of white wine:

add the butter:

(mmm fat) with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. When the butter has melted, add the flour and mix until incorporated.

Cook for a minute or two. When the roux is nice and thick, slowly add one cup of the warm milk.

And stir until smooth. It’s important not to add all of the milk at once; if you do, it will be a lot harder to have a smooth mixture and your hand will get tired from whisking so much. Slowly add the rest of the milk and cook until thickened, stirring constantly.

Turn off the heat.

Mash up the squash in a separate bowl

and add it to the milk mixture:

Stir it until somewhat homogenous and then go at it with an immersion blender:

And, voila! You will have a beautiful, smooth, bright orange mixture to behold:

Mix together the shredded mozzarella and cottage cheese

And you’re ready to assemble! BOOM!

Grease a 13″x9″ pan thoroughly. Spread a thin layer of squash-sauce on the bottom:

Layer noodles, more squash-sauce, the cottage-mozz mixture, and a generous sprinkling of parm until you run out of ingredients. It should be about 3 chunky layers:

The top of the lasagna should be parm and cheese-mixture, but not a lot of it. Just a dabble.

Let this sit for about 20 minutes to let the noodles absorb some liquid before they go into the oven.

Preheat your oven to 375 and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.

Personally, I think this is best served the next day; however, I have much higher standards than the average minion and don’t expect all of you to live up to my superior taste buds.

Now go get your nom on!

Pork Shoulder Ragu

I am fairly intimidated by sauces of almost any variety. So when my friend David made a delicious pork shoulder sauce with what seemed to be minimal trouble and intelligence (just kidding, David. You can untwist your panties now), I got inspired. I got excited. I got…

…Slabs of meat! These piglets became a hearty Pork and wine sauce, stew, type thing. This has to simmer for several hours, so make sure you allot an appropriate amount of time for it or else it won’t meld properly.

You will need:

1 medium onion
Olive oil
1 large leek
2+ lbs pork shoulder
3/4 c flour
S+P
1+cup red table wine (and yes, that is the cheapest Italian table wine I could possibly find. Thank you for asking)
3 T tomato paste
1/3 c tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 c chx stock
chili flakes
1 Bay leaf
3 fresh basil leaves
Polenta or pasta, for serving
Parmigiano cheese, for serving

Finely chop your onion and add to a hot (medium heat) dutch oven or cast-iron pan with enough oil to thoroughly coat the bottom.

I must say I did a smashing job chopping this onion. Usually I’m a total spaz when I have to chop things into small, uniform shapes. I must have been channeling someone on Adderall.

Cut the green parts of the leek off and discard:

Finely chop and rinse very, very thoroughly. Leeks are pretty filthy when you shed the layers, so make sure you’re not too focused on the Tyra Show whilst performing this chore.

Stir up the onions, and when they look like this:

ie, soft and translucent, add the leeks.

Turn the heat to medium low, but stir frequently while you’re preparing the pork.

Oink!

Prepare these puppies by trimming the fat and cubing them into whatever “bite-size” is to you.

This takes awhile, since fat is a real SOB to get off the meat. I found that I fared better sometimes when I scraped with my knife instead of cut. When you’ve got a nice pile of porky goodness, prepare a separate pan with some oil and place over medium high heat.

Place flour in a wide, shallow bowl with a bunch of salt and pepper (approx 1 t each). Coat your meat chunks thoroughly and shake any excess flour off before adding it in batches to the hot pan.

Brown it on both sides, then add to the onion/leek mixture (which you should be stirring periodically and keeping over low heat!).

I had to do three batches to get all of the pork browned and added to the pot. When it was done, the leek/onion mixture was very soft and fragrant, but not brown. It’s very important to stir this periodically and to add enough oil initially, or else it will burn.

Push everything to the side and slowly add the wine, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan as it deglazes.

Add the tomato paste

And give it a good stir:

It’s going to be very thick because of the paste and flour, so add the chicken stock and tomato sauce to ensure it doesn’t burn:

I had some stock frozen, which is why it is in a solid state….

You should also throw in some extra salt, pepper, the chili flakes, and bay leaf.

Now comes the magical part. Turn this down to low and cover, letting it simmer for a few hours. You will need to stir it frequently, or else it will stick and burn on the bottom. It will start to smell absolutely fantastic and look better and better.

Feel free to add more wine, tomato sauce, stock, whatever suites your fancy. I found myself adding dashes of things here and there, depending on how the flavor was moving along. And let me tell you….it turned out simply magical!

I cooked up some polenta to go with this pile o’pork.

I love this stuff and feel that it was a creamy, more comforting alternative than pasta. Polenta is also a great way to “hide” healthy bits of nom without your guests being any the wiser. Pureed spinach, some flax meal, or fresh arugula stirred in would be magnificent additions.

We enjoyed this with a nice salad and a fabulous carrot cake, baked up by my friend Adriana (she’s the real deal, peeps. Culinary school grad, woot woot!). It was all amazing, so dive in!

NOM…..nom….

Sausage, Bean, and Kale Soup

I am totally kidding, of course you can have some soup. But sadly the internet has not come far enough to have me send it via the world wide web, so you’ll have to get off your couch and make it yourself. Tear yourself away from “Dancing with the Stars” and get crackin’ on our latest endeavor:

Sausage, Bean, and Kale Soup with a side of Beer Bread. Ta-Da!!

Lauren and I frantically threw this masterpiece after a long, hard day at the office and it took us a mere 30 minutes! So if you’re ready to belt out another excuse about how you’re just too darn tired to make dinner for your starving children, then you are talking to the wrong lady.

Soup is the perfect dinner for many reasons. It is a fast and easy way to get yourself a lot of nutrients with not that many calories, which is important for those of us who plan on being on the cover of Victoria’s Secret. You can make soup with almost anything, as long as you have an iota of creativity inside your thick skull.

Here are the ingredients we settled on in the car on the way to the grocery store:
1 lb spicy Italian sausage
2 T minced garlic
1/2 onion, diced
1 small head cauliflower, cut into smaller florets
1/3 c your favorite beer (drink the rest)
4-6 c chicken stock (enough to cover the ingredients by 1 inch)
1 small bunch kale
1 can garbanzo beans
1 can cannellini beans
S + P to taste
Parmesan cheese

Heat a large pot over medium high heat and add the sausage in little bits. We got ours in a “log” instead of links, but if you have the latter just remove the casing and crumble it into the pan.

Once it is browned and mostly cooked, about 5 minutes, remove from pan with slotted spoon onto paper towels to drain.

You should leave the delicious fat in the pan on medium heat.

Add your onion and saute for a few minutes, until translucent.

Add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the cauliflower.

Saute for about 5 minutes. While that is cooking, rip the kale off the ribs and into bite-size pieces; rinse thoroughly.

Once the cauliflower starts to “sweat” add the beer to deglaze the pan. Scrape the bottom to loosen any tasty bits off the pan.

Once the beer cooks off a bit, add the stock so you cover the cauliflower by about 1 inch.

Bring to a simmer and let cook until the cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes. While I was soup-ing away, Lauren was hard at work on the beer breads:

She made three different kinds (what a trooper!): Pyramid Apricot Ale, some weird alcoholic “Cola” from the South (don’t ask, we felt inspired while standing in the beer aisle at Safeway), and Modelo. All were amazing and divine, but I particularly liked the Modelo. It went very well with the soup!

Speaking of soup…

Once the cauliflower is tender you’re ready to rock out. Rinse the beans and add about half of each can to the pot.

Grab your immersion blender and go to town:

Depending on your preference you can go smooth as honey or chunky like cottage cheese thighs. Ew.

Turn the heat back on, add the kale and rest of the beans, and let it cook for a few more minutes. Once the kale has softened a bit and the beans are heated through you can add the sausage and turn off the heat.

Grab your warm bread and slather with some butter while your associate dusts some grated Parmesan on top of your soup. Voila!

Easy, breezy, beautiful… soup!

Original combination:
Sausage, kale, cauliflower, white/garbanzo beans

Variations:
Pancetta, spinach, sweet potato, white beans
Sweet sausage, collard greens, butternut squash/carrot, orzo

Talk to your stomach and find out what it wants!
Nomminess.