Saturday, May 23, 2015

Two For One - Tabouleh Salad

So much for spring! In the south it gets hot quickly and seems to get hotter everyday. I understand why in old houses, often the kitchen was in a separate building. In addition to preventing a good many house fires, too much cooking heats up the house and will exhaust the cook (namely, me!).
We do a good bit of grilling in the summer, and the challenge is finding side dishes that don't require heating up the kitchen, or the cook. Summer salads are a great solution that make for healthy side dishes and light meals that can keep for days in the fridge and as the flavors meld, get better and better.
Often, we keep cut up vegetables around for many reasons. They are a healthy snack, and it is nice to have them to add to other recipes. The holiday weekend brought about a good reason to make a big jar of homemade Ranch Dressing (see earlier blog post - it is truly amazing) and cut up vegetables for a few parties. Dining out a few weeks ago, my husband had a really great Tabouleh Salad as a side dish. I had completely forgotten how great it was. I first had it on a girls weekend at the lake where a friend made it look effortless, and it truly is.
Hubs and I were truly made for each other. We both enjoy time together in the kitchen and find the task of chopping to be pretty zen. So after I cut up the vegetables for the tray, I finely chopped about 2 cups of them for the Tabouleh salad and after that, there's not much more to it.
So, here's one for your holiday weekend, from me to you - stay cool!

1 package Tabouleh with Seasoning 
1 Cup boiling water
All of the Minced Raw Vegetables You Can Gather (About 2 Cups)
Good ones to use - Tomato, Cucumber, Scallion, Red Onion, Bell Pepper, Celery, Carrot, etc.
1/2 Cup Crumbled Feta (More if you love it)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons White Wine Vinegar or Lemon Juice

Empty the Package of Tabouleh and Seasoning Mix into a good sized bowl
Prepare Tabouleh according to package directions
(The brand I used requires 1 cup boiling water poured over Tabouleh/Seasoning, stir, cover, and let sit in refrigerator for 30 minutes)
Add Minced Vegetables, Olive Oil, and Vinegar or Lemon Juice and Stir
You can add the crumbled Feta now, but it may meld into the salad - to keep it in crumbles, refrigerate the salad until cool and add the crumbled Feta. 
This salad gets better with time, and will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for several days.
Serve it chilled or room temp, garnish with fresh herbs, lemon wedges, or extra minced veggies.

PS - If you want the link to the Ranch Dressing for a great addition to any salad or veggie tray, click here -  Spoon of Hearts Ranch Dressing

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lasagna For Your Mama - Traditional Lasagna

Mother's Day always comes at the most beautiful time of year when the weather is gorgeous, and it is the perfect time for dining outdoors. A cool evening allowed us to celebrate with a big crowd and they were easily fed with 2 simple lasagnas, with leftovers for the next week.  
If you are going to make one, you may as well make 2 - they are the greatest to feed a crowd and can be made ahead, or even frozen. Plus, its very much a "one dish" kind of meal, and is easily complete with a simple green salad and loaf of crusty bread.  

This focus is the traditional lasagna, and even though I made a vegetable one as well, there will be a separate entry for it. Trust me, if you are making one, just go ahead and make the second one - you can bake them and then put them in freezer containers cut into the right size servings which makes a great option if you are cooking for just one or two.  

Let's get the noodles on the move...

13x9 pan with high sides
Olive Oil
Large Container of Ricotta Cheese
1 Egg, beaten
Italian seasoning blend
2 jars "spaghetti sauce"
1# Italian Sausage (Without casing if available)
1# Ground Turkey
12 Lasagna Noodles (Dry Pasta)
3 Cups (more or less) Shredded Mozzerella
Shredded Parmesan (Not the powdered kind)

SAUCE PREP - Cut the Italian sausage out of the casing, or you can skip this step if you are able to get ground Italian Sausage without the casing.
In a large pot over medium high heat, add a drizzle of olive oil and brown the Italian Sausage and Ground Turkey together, breaking it up as it browns.
(FAT CUTTER TIP - when the sausage and turkey is browned, put them in a colander and run hot water over for about 5-10 seconds)
(MODERATION TIP - Drain the sausage and turkey mixture on paper towels)
(DECADENT TIP  - Don't drain anything, just leave it in the pot)
Now that you've made your health wise decision, drop the heat to medium low and add the 2 jars of sauce, let simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. After you empty the jar of sauce into the pot, add about 2 Tablespoons of hot tap water to the jar, replace the cap and shake. This allows you to get all of the usable sauce out of the jar. Pour the last little bit into the pot.  
RICOTTA PREP - Put the Ricotta Cheese in a large bowl, add the beaten egg, and about 1 T of Italian Seasoning.  If you don't have blended Italian Seasoning, be creative, add a little oregano, basil, garlic powder, etc.  Mix together with a spoon until well blended.  (Hint, if you are making two lasagnas, go ahead and double this part, or if you don't like ricotta as much, this can be spread thin with just one large container divided between the two)
PASTA PREP - In a large pot of boiling salted water, add a drizzle of olive oil. This will keep the pasta from sticking together. (Don't do this with other pasta dishes as it will keep the sauce from "melding" with the pasta, but for lasagna noodles, it's perfect).  Add 12 lasagna noodles, one at a time, and stir gently as they soften.  Boil for about 8 minutes, or follow the time on the package for aldente - remember they will cook more when the lasagna bakes.  When they are done, remove from the heat and let cool until they are able to be handled without burning yourself. I use kitchen tongs to transfer the pasta to the pan.  
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER - Grease a 13x9 pan with high sides. If you don't have one with high sides, have a small square pan for a second lasagna to avoid overflow.
Start by smearing a small amount of the sauce in the bottom of the pan.
Place 3 lasagna noodles lengthwise, side by side, in the bottom of the pan.
Spread a generous layer of  the meat sauce onto the pasta layer
Dollop the ricotta mixture onto the sauce layer
Now, sprinkle the mozzarella onto the ricotta layer
How easy was that? Now, just repeat until you come to just below the top of the pan.  In the last layer reverse the ricotta and sauce order so that the ricotta is under the sauce and wait to put the final layer of mozzerella/Parmesan on top until after it has baked (this keeps your cheese from getting tough and rubbery)
HAVE LOTS OF STUFF LEFTOVER? Make a small lasagna in a baking dish, it doesn't have to be pretty, just layer it and bake. We usually call this one the "chef's taste test privilege"! Because you should always taste it before you feed others, right?
If you have ricotta mixure leftover, it is delicious spread on slices of crusty bread and toasted - drizzle it with a little leftover sauce and/or pesto, chopped tomatoes, olives, etc.
MAKING AHEAD? If you are making this ahead of time, it will keep covered in the fridge for up to 24 hours.  Or, go ahead and bake it and warm it gently in the oven when you are ready to serve.  
LOW CARB VARIATION - Instead of the pasta, thinly slice zucchini (lengthwise) and place on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for about 30 minutes. This is called "sweating" and will pull water out of the zucchini allowing it to have a firmer consistency.  Use the zucchini strips in place of the cooked pasta. It is delicious and you will hardly miss the pasta!

Place in a 375 oven for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly.  Top with the remaining cheese and return to the oven until melted.  
Let it cool for at least 10 minutes to allow it to set