Wednesday, 14 February 2007

My Funny Valentine

Posted by Bonita

Valentine’s Day – a day of love, red roses, and chocolate. Not so much for me, being the single gal that I am. Sadly, I didn’t even have a box of chocolate or ice cream in which to wallow in and contemplate over my nonexistent love life. What’s the next best thing to chocolate and ice cream as therapy? Keeping myself busy in the kitchen, of course!

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While we may live in the same house, my roommates and I rarely see each other due to our hectic schedules: school, work, extra-curricular and various other events in our lives. Having recently resolved some minor domestic issues that had been building up over the last couple of weeks, I thought it was a perfect time, on Valentine’s Day, to sit down and have a meal together. Dave and Nicole are my family away from home, and what better way to show them my appreciation and love for them than cooking them dinner?

Having a craving for pasta after having endless amounts of salad for lunch and dinner these past few days (mmm…carbs!), it was hard to narrow my choices. Initially, I was just going to be lazy, buy some fresh tortellini from the store and bake them. School was keeping me busy, I had tons of readings to catch up on, and I thought, “Who am I kidding? I don’t have time to make something from scratch!” A few days later, as I was bouncing off ideas with Nicole, she told me she had tons of lasagna noodles sitting on the top shelf of her cupboard. Perfect! The solution to my problem: lasagna.

I had made lasagna only once before, last summer when I had the house all to myself and was having a serious craving for the stuff. I had tried Giada’s recipe, which, while good, wasn’t great, and it was just too much effort to make for something that wasn’t outstanding. Thus, it was back to the drawing boards for me (or more precisely, back to internet searching). This time, I decided to try Martha’s recipe, as a starting point. What I love about this recipe is that it’s simple, it’s easy and you can put everything together in about 15 minutes. The recipe also calls for oven-ready lasagna sheets, something I’ve never used before, but makes the process much easier and faster. Another plus side to using oven-ready lasagna sheets is that you’ll be guaranteed that the pasta won’t be overcooked, and it holds the lasagna together nicely. I was thrilled when I cut the lasagna and served it, and saw that my lasagna slices did not fall apart!

There is something very comforting about food baking in the oven. The smell slowly wafts out and fills the whole house, so that wherever you go, you can smell chocolate, or something sugary, or bananas, butter, bread, or garlic, tomato sauce and cheese. "I love coming home! Every time I walk into the door, it smells like heaven in here," Nicole once said to me. Especially on a cold, winter’s night like tonight, it’s nice to hang out in a warm kitchen, waiting for that lasagna to come out of the oven and catching up with your friends.

All in all, family dinner tonight was a complete success! Both Nicole and Dave thoroughly enjoyed the lasagna, along with garlic bread and Caesar salad. Dave even went for seconds, even though he later confessed to me that he’s actually not a big fan of lasagna. Nothing brings people together like food does!

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Dessert was a lazy affair: chocolate cupcakes that I had prepared the night before. I must confess, however, that I cannot take credit for these cupcakes; I made cupcakes from a mix! I know! It’s like some sacrilege or something, but I was just too busy yesterday and feeling really lazy after a long day at school. However, as lazy as I may feel next time around, I will never go back to the cake mix. I had a mini cupcake made from some of the leftover batter last night, and it just tasted so wrong to me! You know you’ve become a food snob when…

Vegetarian Lasagna
adapted from marthastewart.com
Serves 4

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  • 2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove
    excess moisture
  • About 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cups store-bought or homemade tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Handful fresh basil, chopped
  • About 4 ounces no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 2 cups fontina cheese, shredded
  1. Sauté the garlic and mushrooms with a little olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and the dried oregano; allow for sauce to heat through. Turn off heat and stir in chopped basil. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a medium bowl, whisk together ricotta cheese, egg, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add spinach, and stir well to combine.
  3. Spread a small bit of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Arrange a layer of lasagna noodles on top. Spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of the remaining sauce; sprinkle with 1/3 of the grated cheese. Repeat to make two more layers, ending with cheese.
  4. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil; continue baking until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

(N.B. I used portabello mushrooms in my version, but feel free to use button, cremini or a combination of different mushrooms. I also used a mixture of four cheeses that had been pre-shredded for me, rather than the fontina; mozzarella mixed with some parmesan would also work very nicely! If you find your tomato sauce to be a little on the thick side, add some water, which I did with mine.)

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

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