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Monday, May 18, 2015

Best Lasagna Ever + Garlic Bread of The Gods

For any holiday where my family celebrates with gifts, it's part of my standard M.O. to make a special dinner. This year for Mother's Day I had a lot of ideas: crepes, sushi, gourmet taco bar, seafood extravaganza, etc. But Mom wanted lasagna. Lasagna is something I have probably made one to two million times. My Dad nearly always requests it for Father's Day and his birthday, so when he told me my Mom was looking for lasagna, I thought maybe he was asserting his own wishes. Turns out... no, everyone just wants lasagna. 

Lasagna is one of those things I don't use a recipe to make anymore, so I won't have a list of quantities for you. However, you should be able to follow along because I basically just measure by using the whole container of each ingredient. This is a good recipe for meatless lasagna too, because it is very flavorful with or without the sausage.

Let's get started... I began by chopping up an entire package of mini/baby portabella mushrooms to the size you see below. You can use white mushrooms if you like, but the color of the portabellas contrasts nicely against the ricotta cheese in this recipe. You will also want to chop up one large yellow onion to a similar size and saute separately. Let the onions brown to a nice caramelized color and let the mushrooms cook down a bit too. My rule of thumb with sauteing is to "mess with it" as little as possible. Spread out the bits and let them sit. If you keep them moving they won't caramelize and won't be as delicious.


Once both the onions and mushrooms are cooked to your liking, you will want to mix both the onions and mushrooms in a large bowl with the entire container of ricotta you see below. I prefer this brand, because I have never tried another. I'm sure any brand will do though. Mixing the ricotta into the mushrooms and onions saves time because it cools them down considerably. You don't want to crack eggs onto very hot veggies, or they might cook a little bit.

 
 Next you add three eggs and a bunch of this kind of parmesan cheese:


The brand doesn't matter, but the texture does. I think this kind of parmesan is so much more flavorful than the crumbled/powdery kind at restaurants. The amount is up to you, but I added about a cup here. You will also want to add about a cup of regular shredded mozzarella. Remember we are mixing a huge bowl of cheese here. These are two more close ups of the cheese mixture. I'm getting very hungry writing this post. Also, it is important to note that I bought a giant bag of mozzarella for this because there will also be cheese on top of the garlic bread. Surprise!


Next we need to talk about the meat. I always get the giant eagle sweet sausage. I like store brands, and I like this sausage. I don't stray often. I believe this is about 2 lbs of sausage. I used all of it.


The next part is interesting, but it must be done if you are buying link sausage. You have to squeeze the meat out of the casing. I know you can purchase sausage outside of the casing at the meat counter, but I never do, because I don't feel like it. If you buy the sausage out of the casing, ignore the next steps, as I am about to graphically explain to you how to remove the sausage from the casing.

Start by putting your pan on medium heat so it can warm up while you're squeezing the meat. Grasp each end of the link in both hands and using your forefinger and thumb of each hand, twist the middle of the sausage link like you are a clown making a balloon animal. Continue to twist each end of the sausage in opposite directions until both ends begin to... squeeze out. Once this has happened, you can now pull both ends at the same pressure to remove all of the meat. It takes a little bit of practice to pull out both ends evenly at the same time. If the meat squeezes out of one end before the other, it is a lot harder to get a grip on the wormy casing than it is to pull them both out at the same rate.

Here's what you end up with: wormy casings. Sorry. I usually throw these away, but if you want to like... put them in your compost pile or something, go for it, and then also tell me what you know about compost piles.


Your meat will be in little turds at this point. I know that is not a great way to describe food, but we got this far without making a poop reference. I couldn't help it. Here's where you chop the meat with a metal spatula into relatively small pieces while it cooks. You don't have to cook the meat all the way through here because it is about to go in the oven for 45 minutes. When it is somewhat browned, drain out the grease and put the meat into a bowl with a LARGE plastic jar of pre-made pasta sauce.

Before you get weird on me about home made sauce, just know that I am 1/4 Polish, 1/4 Czech, 1/8 German, 1/8 Danish, and 1/4 West Virginian Hill People. I am not genetically obligated to make my own sauce from scratch. Use the biggest dang jar of pasta sauce you can find, unless you're at Sam's Club, or Costco. Then just use an average size jar of sauce from there. In my case I ended up using a whole big jar and an entire standard size jar.


It's time to layer your lasagna. Start with a layer of mostly just sauce. Avoid any meat at this step.


Next you can pile your NO-BOIL NOODLES into one layer. You can see I get pretty creative with my noodle coverage here.


Next, spoon on some meaty sauce and spread it around.


Of course, I was so excited at this point that I forgot to take a picture after this step. After the meaty sauce, you will plop dollops of the cheese mixture all over the sauce and spread it around.


You will now use another layer of noodles.


And another layer of sauce. Normally at this point I will repeat the steps one more time, but as you can see, one more layer probably wouldn't have fit.


Lastly, add a layer of mozzarella cheese and cook, tented in foil, for about 45 minute at 400 degrees.


I still had a ton of the cheese mixture left over and a bit of saucy meat, so I ended up making a second lasagna here. I did need to open that second, standard-sized jar of sauce to accommodate another lasagna.

After the lasagna has cooked for about 45 minutes, it should be bubbling at the sides. Take off the tin foil tent and put the oven on broil for about 4 or 5 minutes. You want your cheese to get a few brown spots. I am still very hungry.



Surprise, I also made garlic bread. 

This is the easiest and tastiest garlic bread recipe I know. I have not made another kind since learning to make this.

It helps if you do the first step a few hours ahead of time, but it is not necessary. You'll want to get the giant jar of minced garlic from the grocery store. Don't go for the little glass jar, unless you plan on buying three of them. Get the big jar. You will make this bread again. Take about a cup of minced garlic, put it into a bowl, and cover it with something like 1/2 cup of EVOO. Shake a bunch of dried basil or Italian seasonings in there too; about two to three tablespoons Feel free to pour some of the garlic water from the jar into the mixture as well. If this can sit and incorporate for a few hours, maybe while you're making lasagna, that's great.

After thoroughly mixing the garlic, oil, and seasonings, spread it onto each half of a loaf of fresh Italian bread. You can see how to cut the bread below. If you can get them to cut it for you at the store, that's even better. It can get messy cutting a whole loaf in half like this.



The last step isn't pictured, but here you cover each slice with a healthy layer of mozzarella cheese. Bake in the oven at 350, 400 if cooking alongside the lasagna, for about 10 minutes. Then move the bread up to the highest rack to broil for 2 minutes - tops. I almost burned the bread on Mother's Day because I thought it would take longer to brown. After the bread cools a bit, cut it into slices and serve while it's still warm.



Here's a photo of my family enjoying our Mother's Day dinner. Excuse my Dad's wiggly arm here, he was moving while I was taking a panorama. You can also see my sister on the right on Skype. She joined us for dinner from Washington, DC. Welcome to the future.

As always, feel free to let me know if you try any of these recipes, or tutorials in the comments. I am also open to suggestions on recipes, projects, or tutorials you'd like to see me get into.

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