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Pesto Bechamel Lasagna with Artichokes and Pine Nuts

Pesto Bechamel Lasagna with Artichokes and Pine Nuts

Pesto Bechamel Lasagna with Artichokes and Pine Nuts

I decided to create this lasagna after having seen similar ingredients used in a different dish. I thought,”Ooh, that would make a great lasagna!”. So, I picked up a few ingredients at the grocery store that I didn’t already have on hand and I sat down and wrote the recipe.

Most of the ingredients for the lasagna.

Most of the ingredients for the lasagna.

As I worked my way through the recipe, I tweaked it to follow what I actually found while making the dish. A couple of observations: I had three layers and no problems. I used an 11″x13″ baking dish and I had to break a few noodles to fill in some space where whole noodles would not fit…no problem. You could use a smaller dish and make more layers, but make sure you leave some room at the top, so that the sauce won’t bubble out while cooking. Also, I started with 8oz of mozzarella and upped it to 12oz, because I ran out and opened another bag. On the other hand, I didn’t quite use all of the parmesan cheese. Cheese should be to your liking. Additionally, I used cottage cheese, instead of ricotta, because I don’t care for ricotta. To me, it’s just to dense and pastey. The cottage cheese is lighter and creamy. I bought a one pound container and used a little over half. The toasted pine nuts were a terrific addition. You could skip them…I know that they are expensive, but a few tablespoons really make a big difference!

So good!!!

So good!!!

Toasting pine nuts...carefully!

Toasting pine nuts…carefully!

I also made some fettucine alfredo for my kids and had a little extra alfredo sauce, so I drizzled a little on the top of my serving. It wasn’t really necessary, but it looked nice. I didn’t have any leftover pesto bechamel, but if I had, I would have used it for a little drizzle. Finally, I chopped whole artichoke bottoms into a medium dice.

Chopping canned artichoke bottoms.

Chopping canned artichoke bottoms.

You could use hearts, if you like, but sometimes you get a fibrous leaf or two…no big deal, but maybe not the best idea for guests. And I don’t think you would want to use “marinated” artichokes…just plain, canned. My wife thanked me for leaving out mushrooms…she has lost her taste for them recently, for some reason. But, in my head, I was thinking how good some sautéed mushrooms would have been! I hope you’ll try this recipe! If you do, leave me a comment on what you think of the recipe…and enjoy!

Pesto & Artichoke Béchamel Lasagna

(Using “No Boil” Noodles)

Ingredients:

1 box “No Boil” Lasagna Noodles

1 small jar prepared Pesto

1 12oz bag shredded Mozzarella (or more, if you like)

1 8oz bag shredded Parmesan

1 container small curd Cottage Cheese (or Ricotta)

1 can Artichoke Bottoms, drained and chopped medium

2 T. Pine Nuts, toasted (for garnish)

For the Béchamel:

2 c. Half’n’Half

1 c. 1% Milk

1 small Shallot, chopped fine (or sub. sweet onion and a garlic clove)

3 T. Butter

3 T. all-purpose Flour

2 c. Vegetable Stock

Pinch of Salt

 

Directions:

Make the béchamel. Melt butter over medium-low heat in a sauce pan. Sauté shallot for 2 minutes, whisk in Flour, whisk until the Flour and Butter are well combined. Add Half’n’Half and Milk. Increase heat and bring to a simmer and allow to thicken/reduce for a few minutes. Add vegetable stock and continue to simmer for a couple more minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in jar of Pesto.

Roux

Roux

Bechamel

Bechamel

Pesto Bechamel

Pesto Bechamel

Assemble the Lasagna: Cover the bottom of an 11”x13” baking dish with Béchamel. Cover the béchamel with Lasagna Noodles and cover with Béchamel.

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Start with pesto bechamel.

Dot the surface with small spoonsful of Cottage Cheese (or ricotta). Next, spread a layer of Mozzarella Cheese and follow with a light layer of Parmesan. Evenly sprinkle chopped Artichokes. Repeat with another layer and then finish with Béchamel and Cheeses.

Lasagna noodles and toppings.

Lasagna noodles and toppings.

Ready to bake.

Ready to bake.

Cover tightly with foil and bake at 375F for 50 minutes.

Baked for 50 minutes, covered.

Baked for 50 minutes, covered.

After another 10 minutes, uncovered.

After another 10 minutes, uncovered. Garnished with pine nuts.

Remove foil and put under a broiler for a couple of minutes to brown a bit and bubble the cheese on top (or bake additional 10 minutes). Allow to set up for a couple of minutes while toasting the Pine Nuts in a small frying pan over medium heat for a couple of minutes…move frequently and do not burn! Sprinkle Pine Nuts evenly over the lasagna, cut into squares and serve.

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Caribbean Crock Pot Pork with Mango

Crock Pot ready to go!

Crock Pot ready to go!

Inspired by my sister, who is married to a native of Trinidad, I came up with this Crock Pot dish.  The main ingredients  are Country Style Ribs, Badia brand Sazon Tropical seasoning, Matouk’s West Indian Hot Sauce, Chief Green Seasoning and a mango. The seasoning and sauces can be found in some grocery stores in the Latino section or at Mexican or Caribbean specialty stores.

I started by adding some of the Green Seasoning and West Indian Hot Sauce to the bottom of the Crock pot and set the pot on “low” to begin heating. The hot sauce is potent…use sparing! And adjust to your preference.

Sauces in the bottom of the Crock Pot.

Sauces in the bottom of the Crock Pot.

The Sazon seasoning is sprinkled liberally on all sides of the meat. The tumeric in the seasoning will color your hands, if you touch it…you could use tongs or wear food handling gloves, if you like.

Seasoning the meat.

Seasoning the meat.

Brown the meat on all sides in a preheated frying pan with a little hot vegetable oil. Remove the meat and deglaze the pan with water or a little apple cider.

Browning the meat.

Browning the meat.

Begin layering the meat into the Crock Pot and add fresh mango pieces, more hot sauce and green seasoning. It doesn’t require a lot…maybe a teaspoon of hot sauce and a couple of tablespoons of the green seasoning (I just did it freehand).

Layering in the Crock Pot.

Layering in the Crock Pot.

Put the top on the Crock Pot and cook on low setting for about 6-ish hours, until very tender. (see top photo). About halfway through, I moved the meat around to ensure even cooking. When done, take out the meat and strain the juices.

Separating the fat/liquid/sediment.

Separating the fat/liquid/sediment.

Straining the juices.

Straining the juices.

I actually refrigerated mine overnight and let the fat harden, the juices gelatinize, and the sediment drop to the bottom. The next day, I removed and discarded the fat. I took out the gelatinized juices and discarded the sediment. I put the meat into an oven-safe dish, distributed the jellied juices over the top, and covered with a disk of parchment paper (optional) and sealed with foil. I reheated the meat in a 350F oven for about 45 minutes.

When the meat came out of the oven, I separated it from the juices again, broke it up to serve and moistened with the juices, as desired.

Out of the oven.

Out of the oven.

And plated:

Serving suggestions.

Serving suggestions.

Left: with simple rice and corn; Right: with quinoa and a lentil, tofu, tomato curry. This dish is really very adaptable and easy. I have also made it with the meat marinated in sour oranges juice and the hot sauce and green sauce,  and no mango. You could serve right from the crock pot, but I would still remove the meat, strain the juices and skim the fat. Enjoy!

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Sauerkraut is Ready! Let’s Cook Some Brats!

Rinsing and draining homemade sauerkraut.

Rinsing and draining homemade sauerkraut.

I started my batch of homemade sauerkraut on September 18th and today is November 2nd. That’s makes right at about 6 weeks. I opened the fermentation bucket and, with a sanitized spoon, I removed the plate that was keeping everything weighted down and removed a sample. Yes! It tastes like sauerkraut! Here’s the September 18th entry:

https://mmmfoodies.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/oh-come-on-make-and-eat-sauerkraut/

I removed a few cups of the kraut to a colander.  I stirred the sauerkraut around and pushed it below the surface of the liquid again. I sanitized the plate and put it back in place and resealed the bucket. I’ll divide it into quart jars and refrigerate it later. I rinsed the kraut in the colander and placed it in an oven-safe souffle dish.

Sauerkraut, rinsed and drained.

Sauerkraut, rinsed and drained.

I topped the kraut with some fresh brats

Brats on top of t he kraut and home brewed beer sample.

Brats on top of t he kraut and home brewed beer sample.

and I added some uncarbonated beer that I removed as a test sample from a batch I am brewing. Covered it with foil and placed it in a 425F oven.

Covered and in a 425F oven for 30 minutes.

Covered and in a 425F oven for 30 minutes.

Cooked for 30 minutes and uncovered and returned to the oven for another 15 minutes. Lowered the oven to 350F. Baking some potatoes as well and they’re done (And my son just HAD to have a kid’s TV dinner…uck. But he picked it.)

Brats, cooked on top of homemade sauerkraut...and some spuds and my son's TV dinner.

Brats, cooked on top of homemade sauerkraut…and some spuds and my son’s TV dinner.

With a few minutes to go, I turned the sausage, just to brown them a little more. The sausage and kraut were delicious! A little brown mustard on the side and served with peas and baked potato. Awesome!

Great meal. with homemade sauerkraut!

Great meal. with homemade sauerkraut!

Update: 11/3/14

Packaging the sauerkraut.

Packaging the sauerkraut.

Packaging the sauerkraut…I sanitized some quart size canning jars and filled them with sauerkraut, then added the brine to cover and put the lids on.

Ready to package the sauerkraut for the refrigerator.

Ready to package the sauerkraut for the refrigerator.

I understand that this kraut will continue to ferment very slowly under refrigeration and will last a very long time, so I’m not going to bother to process the jars for shelf-stable storage (although, I could), I would rather keep it fresh and maintain the macrobiotic properties. If I cook it, that benefit will be compromised, but that decision can be made depending on the recipe.

I was able to pack four 1-quart jars, plus a single pint jar of sauerkraut.

Ready to refrigerate.

Ready to refrigerate.

Additionally, I brined the cabbage cores along with the kraut. Some people evidently like to eat them like pickles…so, I stuffed those into a pint jar and put everything into the refrigerator.

Saurkraut core pickles.

Saurkraut core pickles.

Oh, one more little side treat: I have a few ounces of the brine left over. I’m going to chill that and add an ounce of vodka to it for a little probiotic nightcap later. (No, seriously! There are those who say that drinking sauerkraut juice is really good for you! The vodka…not so much. But I have to make it worth the try!).

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Is That Carton of Eggs Almost Out of Date?

 

Pickled eggs. Cue the banjoes.

Pickled eggs. Seriously.

Do you have a carton of eggs in your refrigerator? What’s the expiration date on them? If you’re within a few days and have no immediate plans to use them, what should you do? Pickle them! That’s right. Pickle them. I know, you’ve been in that little country store…dueling banjos playing in the background…and there’s a big  jar of pickled eggs on the counter. Right next to the jar of pickled pig’s feet. Have you ever seen anybody purchase either? Somebody has to be eating them, right?!  Well, I don’t know about the trotters, but let’s talk  eggs.

Eggs that are closer to their expiration are actually better candidates for boiling than fresh eggs. It’s a food science and chemistry thing. But if you boil a dozen eggs, are you going to use them before they go bad anyway? I don’t know…if you love boiled eggs or have a big party and plan on making deviled eggs, then maybe. If not, consider pickling them. Here’s the deal: a pickled egg practically lasts forever. The amazing thing is that the yolk stays practically pristine. The white eventually gets a different texture…less tender, more springy…and they pick up a little of the flavor from the pickling brine.

If you have several eggs, you can leave a few in the shell and refrigerated for eating or using in recipes in the next week. Whatever you anticipate will not be used that quickly can be shelled and pickled. Yes, you can eat a pickled egg, as is; however, you can use them in just about any recipe calling for hardboiled eggs. My favorites are tuna and chicken salads.

First, boil the eggs. My preferred method is to place the eggs in a single layer in a pan and cover them with cold water. Bring the water just to a boil, remove the pan from the heat, cover, and set a timer for 13 minutes. When the time is up, remove the eggs from the hot water with a slotted spoon or strainer amd submerge them in a bowl of ice water. When thoroughly chilled, refrigerate;  or peel and pickle.

For the pickling, have a clean quart sized canning jar ready with a lid and screw ring. In a pot on the stove, add 1-1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup white vinegar, a couple of garlic cloves, a pinch of red pepper flakes, dry dillweed, and dill seeds. You could use a fresh frond or two of dill, instead of the dry dillweed, if you like.bring everything to a boil and remove from heat and allow to cool.  Pour the brine and herbs/spices into the canning jar.  Drop the hardboiled eggs into the brine…you can fit up to about 10 large eggs in a quart jar. Put the lid in place and screw the threaded ring down to seal. Place jar in the refrigerator and store pretty much indefinitely. If you haven’t used them in, like, a year, you could toss them, if you’re concerned. I doubt that will happen, though. They’re so convenient!

To use in a tuna or chicken salad, I cut an egg in half and remove the yolk. I crumble the yolk with the tuna or chicken. I then chop the white and throw it in. Add a tablespoon each of dill pickle relish or salad cubes and finely diced celery. Add a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise (I like Duke’s!) and a pinch of salt and pepper. From there, you can be creative and add a little curry powder, some halved, seedless grapes, some toasted or candied pecans…whatever. Or, you could just cut an egg in half..salt, pepper, and eat! Enjoy!

 

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North Carolina State Fair 2014…First Place!

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My 2014 batch of Crab Apple Jelly is officially a Blue Ribbon award winner! I got first place in the category this year! I entered three items this year: the crab apple jelly, muscadine grape jelly and a peach salsa. Three entries and one blue ribbon…not bad, not bad at all!

Here’s the blog entry with the process: https://mmmfoodies.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/2014-crab-apple-jelly/

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Boursin Cheese Rangoon Packets…I know, right!?

 

Ingredients. Simple.

Ingredients. Simple.

My wife loves Boursin cheese and she loves the rangoon, like you get at Chinese restaurants. Unfortunately for her, she has allergies to shrimp, shellfish and sesame, so that pretty much forces her to steer clear of Chinese restaurants for the last 25 years or more. So, in response, I have learned to make a few Chinese style dishes “my way” and most turn out pretty well…stir fry, fried rice, kung pao with peanuts, etc. And then there’s the rangoon. I ain’t kiddin’ man…this stuff is crack-a-licious.

Set-up. Easy.

Set-up. Easy.

All you need is a stack of won ton wrappers and some Boursin cheese, water, oil and a little time.

Here’s what you do:

Lay a won ton wrapper on a flat surface. Take a small amount of the cheese…maybe a teaspoon…and put it in the center of the wrapper.

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Went a finger and use it to moisten two adjacent side of the wrapper.

Fold the two dry sides over to meet the moistened sides, making a triangle. Press as much air out as possible and then press the edges to seal, leaving the cheese in a little mound, inside the wrapper.

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Dab a touch of water on the lower,  right corner of the triangle, fold the lower, left corner across the cheese, from left to right. Fold the moistened corner in the opposite direction and press carefully to make it stick.

You should have what looks like an open envelope.

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Moisten the flap and fold it over to “close the envelope”, tucking it slightly under the other folds. Now you have a nice little package that will fry quickly and evenly.

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Once you get the hang of it, you can pick up the pace a bit. I put together a tray of 20 in about 20 or 25 minutes. If not frying immediately, cover with a wrung out, damp paper towel and store in the refrigerator until ready to cook. I imagine these can be made ahead and frozen as well. I haven’t tried it, but I imagine they could go directly from the freezer to the frying pan.

Twenty rangoon ready, with just enough cheese left to make a sample to try.

Twenty rangoon ready, with just enough cheese left to make a sample to try.

To cook: Bring a frying pan with about an inch of oil up to about 350F. Fry the rangoon in batches. Do not crowd the pan. Watch them carefully, because the cooking goes very quickly. Don’t let the oil overheat. The cooking time isn’t an exact science, but about a minute on either side…watch for them to turn golden brown on one side, turn over and repeat.

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(By the way, a deep fat fryer would be a great option for cooking these, but I’m doing a small quantity and it didn’t seem worth the trouble.  I also didn’t want to have to deal with all that oil.)

Side #2

Side #2

Frying the rangoon.

Frying the rangoon.

 

Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with a little salt,  if you like,  when they are removed from the oil.

Drain. And I like a little sprinkle of Kosher salt.

Drain. And I like a little sprinkle of Kosher salt.

Serve with duck sauce or plum sauce…or Chinese hot mustard…or, as I like to do, mix a little mustard into the duck sauce. Allow the rangoon to cool for a couple minutes before serving. The cheese filling will be very hot!

Gooey and hot on the inside, GBD (golden- browned  and delicious) on the outside.

Gooey and hot on the inside, GBD (golden- browned and delicious) on the outside.

I cooked a sample for testing purposes. Being the cook has a *few* benefits. My wife will get a nice surprise at dinner tomorrow! Give these a try and enjoy!

 

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aroma, funk, gut health, health benefits, healthy, scent, update

Oh, Come On! Make and Eat Sauerkraut!

 

Sauerkraut is in this 2 gallon fermentation bucket, in a nice out-of-the-way corner.

Sauerkraut is in this 2 gallon fermentation bucket, in a nice out-of-the-way corner.

What do you mean, you don’t eat sauerkraut?! I know, I know. You eat your hot dogs with different toppings. That’s a New York thing. Yeah, well, me too. I do the Southern thing with mustard, chili, onions and, if I want cabbage, then slaw. I would admit to using ketchup, but that would blow my credibility with the “Foodies” crowd. Anyway, try searching “sauerkraut recipes” online and you’ll find that sauerkraut is NOT just for hot dogs. Also, if you think it’s too salty or too sour, you can give it a rinse in a colander and tone that way down. Personally, I like it pretty much full strength. Either way, you are really missing out on something, if you don’t give sauerkraut a try!

Now, this is my first attempt at fermenting sauerkraut at home. I’ve had it canned (many years ago…yuck! If this was your last experience, you definitely need to try again!), from a jar, and refrigerated from a jar or bag. Of those options, I like the “fresher” stuff from the refrigerated bag. I have been fermenting ciders and beer over the last year and have gotten more comfortable with the concept, so I decided to try making some kraut at home. The added benefit here is the lactobacillus in freshly fermented sauerkraut. It’s good for your gastro-health and immunity…like yogurt. Of course, if you home can the kraut or heat it too much, you take away that benefit, but should still be delicious.

I basically followed the process outlined here: http://www.food-skills-for-self-sufficiency.com/making-sauerkraut.html . I like to give due credit to my sources! The main things I changed concerned the cloth and rubber band cover for the container and the wooden “tamping” board.  Since I’ve been fermenting cider, I have a couple of 2 gallon fermentation buckets and airlocks. These can be purchased very inexpensively at a local home brew shop or ordered online. The benefit is not risking exposure to contamination. I also have a spray bottle of “Star-san” that I use on all my containers and utensils. It is a sanitizer that does not have to be rinsed off. Very convenient.  I don’t have a tamping board, so I sanitized my hands and pounded that cabbage with my bare fist! I feel so macho.

One other thing, I sliced the cabbage by hand, using a chef’s knife. I didn’t feel like preparing and cleaning up after my electric slicer and the mandoline slicer just seemed like it would be too slow. Yeah, mine’s a little coarser than some, but now I know anyone can do it without special equipment. Your welcome!

I didn’t get pictures up to this point, because my camera’s battery was recharging, but I’ll add some to a follow-up post. I think we can all imagine finely sliced cabbage in a bucket. ( And the link has photos.) I started with two fairly large heads of cabbage that weighed a total of about 8 lbs. After processing, I had about 7 lbs. I did need some extra brine to make sure that the cabbage was covered by liquid. I added a sanitized plate and a small canning jar (1/2 pint) on top of that, to weight down the cabbage and keep it submerged. Then I sealed the lid and added the airlock. I have read that the fresh kraut can be kept in a sealed container, in the refrigerator, for a few weeks.  Fermentation is supposed to take 4 to 6 weeks. I’ll check it regularly for mold, to keep it clean. The airlock should tell me when it’s done fermenting. Looking forward to seeing how this goes. I love roasting pork on top of a bed of kraut and letting the juices flavor it! Enjoy!

Okay, update 9/20/14 After a couple of days, there’s not too much to see, but when you lift the lid…ooo-weeee! That’s some funk! There’s no foam or any activity obvious, but the aroma tells a different story. Here’s a look inside the fermentation bucket:

Making Sauerkraut...all the cabbabe is unfer a plate, weighed down with a little canning jar and water.

Making Sauerkraut…all the cabbage is under a plate, weighed down with a little canning jar and water.

Update 10/10/14: So, there hasn’t been any airlock activity to speak of.  I guess the process for sauerkraut just doesn’t really happen fast enough to really see that kind of activity. Anyway, I sanitized around the lid and opened the bucket today to do a progress check. It’s been about 3 weeks and the liquid seems noticeably darker and the smell is pretty strong.

Inside the bucket after 3 weeks.

Inside the bucket after 3 weeks.

I went ahead and sanitized a spoon, removed the jar, and raised the plate to peek inside. The cabbage is a bit paler, but still not the color I associate with kraut. I removed a couple of shreds and resealed the bucket. The sample still has a little crunch to it, but is definitely moving from the very salty cabbage flavor towards the fermented flavor of kraut. The directions said it would take 4-6 weeks. It’s headed in the right direction, but I think this is going to take the full six weeks…and maybe more. This is probably being affected by the fact that I hand-cut the cabbage, instead of using a mandoline or slaw shredding tool. That’s okay, I’m in no rush and I kind of like the rustic look and texture.

Peeking under the weighted plate...coarse sauerkraut at 3 weeks.

Peeking under the weighted plate…coarse sauerkraut at 3 weeks.

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