Captured by my iPhone: a big bowl of rich homemade chicken stock, lots of chopped spinach, cheese-filled tortellini, and tiny herbed chicken meatballs. A little something to help chase our colds away.
I didn’t leave the apartment once this weekend. While Mike was visiting old friends and new in Boston and Providence, signing copies of his book and doing demos at The Boston Shaker and Stock Culinary Goods, I was home, desperately trying to rid myself of the last dregs of a nasty upper respiratory bug, and playing solo parent to our two sick little ones.
Despite our collective crud, I had high hopes for my weekend at home with the kids, envisioning living room dance parties, the construction of blanket forts, and a few special kid-friendly meals we could prep and eat together, but sadly, those plans fell through as well. Julian and Mira were completely off-schedule in terms of sleep and meals, and they missed their daddy fiercely. I eventually sat down with a mish-mash of leftovers for myself Friday night sometime after 10 pm, and hoped for better luck on Saturday. The kids did well with their breakfast on Saturday morning (their favorite pork sausages and some multigrain toaster waffles – a new item for both of them), but by lunchtime, I had two cranky, needy, desperately-tired-but-refusing-their-naps screamers on my hands.
In the ten minutes or so while they were both quiet, I made myself a plate. I sat down to eat, then Julian started yelling so loudly he woke Mira up – and that was all the naptime that was going to happen that day. I proceeded to graze on this for the next three and a half hours.
I was very grateful that I had had the foresight to order a rotisserie chicken with our Instacart order, so I could quickly and easily feed the kids roast chicken and applesauce for their dinner. But I didn’t have the heart to feed myself. Sunday just had to be a better day, right?
All three of us had a full and restful night of sleep, and were in much better spirits in the morning. I made a big pot of steel cut oats for breakfast (savory for me, with a sunny egg, tamari, and chives), the kids played and napped well, and I was able to get Sunday’s dinner prepped in advance of Mike’s return home.
My favorite lasagna recipe is still Marcella’s, and I love to turn it out for special occasions, but it’s not the most practical dish for our current lifestyle. I’m also usually disappointed in the simpler, ricotta-based lasagna dishes I’ve tried. I wanted to come up with a weeknight-friendly lasagna that would give me the texture I love in a bechamel-based version, with a minimum of fuss and cleanup. I also decided to go for a tomato-free version, just to change things up a bit.
What I ended up with hit all the notes I was aiming for, and was actually even better than I had hoped. You could certainly substitute ground beef or pork or turkey for the sausage, increase the amount of mushrooms and omit the meat entirely, add your favorite fresh (or dried) herbs or some chopped spinach, or switch up the cheeses. I used what we had on hand, and I think I came up with a pretty great template that will certainly lend itself well to adaptation.
Experimental One-Pan Lasagna
1 lb. bulk Italian sausage (hot or sweet – we use a locally-made sweet fennel sausage)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose (“AP”) flour
3 cups whole milk plus 1 cup heavy cream (what we had and used), or 4 cups whole milk
½ lb. crimini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
4 oz. low-moisture whole milk mozzarella, torn or shredded (do not use fresh mozzarella)
2 oz. finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 oz. finely grated Pecorino Romano
2 oz. finely grated Fontina
9-12 no-boil lasagna noodles
½ to 1 cup tap water
Add a drizzle of olive oil to the bottom of a 12-inch oven-proof skillet. Crumble the sausage into the pan, and cook over medium heat, breaking up unto chunks, until the sausage is nicely browned. Remove the sausage to a small plate or bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan. Swirl the butter into the olive oil/pork fat mixture until melted. Sprinkle the flour over and whisk until combined. Cook for just a minute, then slowly whisk in the milk (and cream, if using). Add a big pinch of salt and cook over medium-low heat, until the sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
Remove about 2 cups of the sauce and set aside (I ended up with about 2.5-3 cups of sauce total), leaving a shallow depth of sauce behind in the pan. Arrange one layer of noodles in the bottom of the pan, nestling them into the sauce so they are coated (I used 3 noodles per layer – two in the center of the pan, and a third noodle broken into 4 pieces and arranged around the edges). Scatter ½ of the sausage over, then ½ of the mushrooms. Scatter 1/3 of the mozzarella over the top, then repeat with each of the other cheeses. Add another layer of noodles, then spoon a cup of the sauce over them, spreading it gently. Add the remaining sausage and mushrooms, then another 1/3 of the cheeses. Add your final layer of noodles, the remaining sauce, and the remaining cheeses. Carefully drizzle about ½ cup of water around the edges of the pan.
(NOTE: At this point, the lasagna can sit for a while. I left ours on the countertop for about an hour before putting it into the preheated oven to bake, but I did add a little more water before baking since it looked dry around the edges.)
Bake the lasagna uncovered in a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the top is browned and the lasagna is bubbling at the edges. Allow to rest before serving.
We’ve been a little preoccupied over the last several days with the arrival of our new (book) baby. On top of our usual routine of work and preschool and writing and life, we’ve been scheduling travel arrangements and promotional appearances, and discussing exciting new projects. It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind.
We’ve seen the book in person now, displayed on store shelves around NYC, and friends across the miles are sharing photos of their copies as they receive them. Likewise, reviews are starting to come in, and I think I can speak for both of us when I say we are truly surprised and humbled at how well it has been received. THANK YOU.
Mike was a guest on Heritage Radio yesterday, so I stayed home with the kids. I had hoped to put together a simple chicken and sausage gumbo for dinner, but the little ones had other plans. With no time to make a proper roux, I scrapped that idea, and decided instead to do a sort of one-pot creole chicken dish, incorporating the ingredients I had planned to put in my gumbo, plus adding a blend of spices (garlic, paprika, thyme, cayenne, and oregano) and a can of tomatoes, and cooking the rice along with everything else.
I kept the heat on the mild side, thinking Julian and Mira would be eating with us, but they were too worn out from our big day to partake. Instead, Mike and I curled up on the couch after putting them down for the night, and ate with bowls on our laps and wine glasses at our sides while marveling at how very weird and wonderful our lives have become. I never would have dreamed we’d be where we are right now.
Mike has added a couple of new pages to adashofbitters.com, one for the book, and another for events and signings. We’ve also got a Facebook page, and I’ve created a board on Pinterest to keep track of news, reviews, and all things Shrubs. And there are giveaways!
Whew. Again, who’da thunk it?
I usually cook in a more improvisational style, but with Julian starting preschool and the resulting change in our schedules, I’ve been relying more and more on recipes from trusted sources. While I sometimes miss getting creative in the kitchen, I have to admit that it’s nice to have a small rotation of meals that either Mike or I can start or finish, and it’s so nice to know that we can all eat the same dinner, even if we do so in shifts.
Last night’s dinner came to us from Bon Appétit – and while I don’t know if I’d agree that it’s “the Greatest Recipe of All Time,” this one-pot dish of meatballs and string beans was pretty darned inspired, and a great use of the green beans and heirloom sauce tomatoes we got in this week’s CSA box. Mike and I ate ours with the suggested crusty bread, while the kids enjoyed theirs with a little lightly sauced pasta. We all loved it.
On Wednesday night, Mike headed into the city for a swanky booze event, but dinner for me and the kids was ready when I got home from work, thanks to our trusty crock pot. We’ve been collecting slow cooker recipes on Pinterest, and this Slow-Cooker Curried Lentils With Chicken and Potatoes from Real Simple did not disappoint. It was so good, in fact, that the kids ate two bowls apiece.
I’ll be back in the kitchen this weekend, and flexing my long-neglected baking muscles for a certain little guy who is turning THREE this Sunday. I can hardly believe how quickly the time has gone.
The last few weeks have been… something. We’ve got the excitement of Julian’s entry into preschool, plus the countdown to the arrival of our newest “baby”, but also the stress of health concerns and a really difficult sleep regression. There’s a lot on our plates right now, and we are trying to manage it all by creating new schedules and building even more structure into our daily routines. I’ve always been a list-maker and meal planner, but now that I’m packing lunches for Julian, Mike, and myself as well as coming up with our weekly dinners, it’s critical.
Despite the heat, I find that I’ve been turning more and more to comfort food, to old, reliable dishes that I know I can get together with a minimum of fuss or mess, in a short amount of time on work/school nights. One-pot/one-pan meals are also key, and that’s where this savory bread pudding comes in. While there were multiple steps in the assembly (cooking the sausage, sauteing the chard), I cooked everything in the same iron skillet, which simplified cleanup. Here’s what I did:
I took about a pound of sweet Italian sausage out of its casing, and browned the crumbled sausage in the iron skillet with a pinch of red chile flakes. While that cooked, I mixed up a custard of half a dozen eggs, a cup each of whole milk and buttermilk, salt, pepper, and a pinch of Colman’s mustard powder. I added about 4 cups of cubed semolina bread to the custard and let it sit. When my sausage was done, I removed it with a slotted spoon and added it to the bowl with the soaking bread. My stemmed and torn chard leaves went into the iron skillet with a pinch of salt, and I cooked them in the rendered sausage fat until soft and wilted. While they cooked, I grated cheese – about a cup each of cheddar and a random hunk of an Alpine-style wheel that had been lurking in the cheese drawer. When the chard was ready, I squeezed out as much of the liquid as possible before transferring the leaves to the bread/sausage/custard bowl. I discarded the liquid left in the pan. I mixed the grated cheeses into the bread mixture, then tipped everything back into the iron skillet, grating a little extra cheese on top. It baked in a 400 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes. And it was so good.
We had a box of wonderful spinach and cheese ravioli (from United Meat Market) in our freezer, and I thought they would work well with a sauce of barely cooked market vegetables.
I tipped some olive oil into a pan, added a bunch of sliced scallions, some sweet corn stripped off the cob, and some thin half-moons of zucchini. That all got a pinch of salt, and once the zucchini and scallions had softened a bit, a hit of Sherry vinegar. I wanted to add just a tiny bit of richness to the sauce, so I swirled in a spoonful of Marcella’s Sauce. Off the heat, I added some halved Sungolds and chunked Black Krims, stirring them gently through, then tossed in a big handful of small whole basil leaves.
I drained the ravioli and tossed it into the sauce, stirring it gently, then finished it with a generous amount of grated Pecorino Romano. A little red chile flake, or thinly sliced fresh chile, would have been a nice addition, too.
Long before LND was a blog, it was a photo chronology of what Mike and I were cooking and eating in the earliest days of our relationship. My photography skills were even worse than they are now, but I didn’t care – I wasn’t taking pictures to share them, just to catalog our meals. It was casual and fun, totally low-pressure. I’ve missed those days.
In the years since I started taking pictures of my food, Mike and I shacked up, got married, moved from Brooklyn to Providence and back again, said goodbye to two beloved kitties, got published, ate high-end truck food on camera, welcomed two beloved children into the world, and worked on a book that is going to be out in a little over a month. That’s a whole lot of living, and a whole lot of meals that may or may not have made their way to these pages.
There have been plenty of fallow periods here as we went through various life adjustments, and I’ve often wondered if I should just let this space fade away. It has felt like too much of a burden, a drain on my (increasingly limited) time, and frankly, the blogging world is very different now than it was when I started. I don’t know squat about SEO (nor do I care), I don’t have the time or money to go to conferences, and so many of my favorite food bloggers stopped posting ages ago… but something has kept me from walking away.
I was reminded last week, amid all of the ugly news in our country and the world, of this essay. Amanda Hesser begins with these words:
We eat for many reasons other than hunger. But there is only one reason we gather at the table. To be with one another.
This virtual table is important to me. The sense of community and connection I have felt with the people I’ve interacted with via this space has sustained me through so many ups and downs over the last seven years, and I’m not ready to give that up. So instead of feeling some totally internal pressure to post more frequently, or to keep up with what others are doing, or to conform to someone else’s idea about the “right way” to write a food blog, I’m just gonna do me. There may be a recipe from time to time, if I’ve got the time and the space to create one, but mostly I want to go back to my roots, to post a crappy photo of a meal that we cooked in our tiny Brooklyn kitchen, and shared at our table.
Speaking of gathering together, in the coming months we’ll be traveling to Boston and Providence, to Central PA, and more to promote SHRUBS. We’d love to get a chance to meet some of you. We’ll be posting updates and tour information over on the SHRUBS Facebook page.
When life hands you leftover brioche, make French Toast.