Friday, October 30, 2015

Lasagna Bolognese

Rich, hearty, cheesy lasagna layered with a delicious tomato meat sauce and a creamy white bechamel - this take on an amazing pasta dish is a must try recipe!  Most recipes for lasagna are commonly made with a ricotta filling but I am not a big ricotta fan. The texture of the cheese just does not appeal to me, so I had pretty much been missing out on the deliciousness that is lasagna for years and years. It was one of those foods that I really wanted to like and so I would keep trying it any time that I had the chance but it just never worked for me.  Eventually somewhere along the way I found the idea of substituting the ricotta filling with a bechamel sauce.  The bechamel sauce is so creamy and smooth and makes the lasagna so rich and delicious.  The tomato sauce in this recipe could be substituted for any tomato sauce that you love - particularly if you wanted to change to a vegetarian option.  However, if you do eat meat I would highly recommend this recipe even though it is a bit time consuming. It is so flavorful and worth every bit of effort!  I really can't say enough about how good this lasagna is.  It is the perfect dinner for a cozy weekend evening or it is a huge crowd pleaser at pot luck parties.  And don't forget since you already have a huge pile of carbs on your plate, you might as well throw two giant pieces of garlic bread on there too.... what?!? there is vegetables in the sauce so it all balances out, ha!

Lasagna Bolognese

Red Sauce
1 lb ground beef
1 lb bulk sausage of your choice
1 small onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 carrot, diced finely
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 29 oz cans tomato sauce
1 29 oz can whole tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp white sugar
dried or fresh basil, oregano, parsley to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large heavy duty pot, brown the ground beef and sausage and break into very small pieces. Add the chopped onion, garlic, carrot, and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Add all of the tomato products and the sugar. Carefully break up the whole tomatoes into chunks using a wooden spoon as the sauce cooks. Season the sauce with herbs and salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered on low for at least one hour. Check the seasoning before assembling the lasagna.

Bechamel/White Sauce
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
3 1/2 cups milk
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Dash of garlic powder
Dash of onion powder
salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium heat and whisk in the flour and spices. Cook this for about a minute and then whisk in the milk about a cup at a time. Whisk constantly bringing the mixture back up to a boil and cook until the sauce is thick.  Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.

1 box lasagna noodles
16 oz mozzarella cheese (grated)

You can either use the noodles that you need to boil before baking the lasagna or the no boil noodles that cook while the lasagna is in the oven.  Just follow the instructions on the box to prepare the noodles.

To assemble the lasagna, make the following layers in a 9x13 greased or disposable cassarole dish: red sauce on the bottom, noodles, red sauce, white sauce, mozzarella cheese, noodles, red sauce, white sauce, mozzarella cheese, noodles, white sauce, red sauce, mozzarella cheese. Cover with tin foil and bake @ 350 for 30 mins. Uncover and bake another 20 minutes. Let the lasagna rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. The whole dish can be frozen before baking or after baking  and reheated in the oven.  Note that you will most likely have extra red sauce that you can save for another dish.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sugar Cut-Out Cookies

Delicious, soft sugar cookies that do not require any chill time before baking!  So many cut out cookies require at least some amount of time chilling in the refrigerator before they can be rolled out, but this recipe doesn't need to and the edges still hold their shape perfectly in the baking process.

These cookies are great to make with your kids, especially right before a holiday.  The dough is very easy to mix together. You can mix it either by hand or with an electric mixer and then you can go straight into rolling it out to cut the shapes.  This is the most fun part for the kiddos.  Even if you have pretty little ones they can still pick out which cookie cutter to use and help you push it into the dough. Both little K (18 months old) and my nephew D (11 years old) helped me with this batch. They both had fun and were able to help me do a lot of the prep work.

Since it is almost Halloween we made some pumpkins, ghosts, bats, and a few other shapes not pictured. As you can see, we went for a very rustic, but delicious, approach to decorating the cookies.  I made the glaze into a few 'Halloween colors' and we just drizzled it all over the place.  Of course you can decorate as simple or as fancy as you want to or even just leave them plain.  The cookies taste amazing no matter what you decide to do. I hope you give this very easy and very yummy recipe a try! Let me know what theme you decide to cut your cookies out into!  

Sugar Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 cup white granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 tsp baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until smooth and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and the extracts until well combined.  Beat in the baking powder and then mix in the flour in several additions until completely combined.  Divide the dough into batches and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick on a smooth work surface dusted with flour.  Cut out your shapes and bake the cookies on trays for approximately 8 minutes.  Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.  Leave the cookies plain or decorate as you desire. I used the glaze recipe, below.

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp corn syrup, optional
3-6 tbsp water, as needed

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, adding just enough water to get the consistency you desire.  Divide the glaze into batches and stir in food coloring.  Transfer the glaze to zipper baggies and cut off a corner to pipe the glaze or just dunk each cookie in the glaze to coat one side.  Allow the glaze to set on the cookies for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Soft Pretzel Bites {No Knead}

Soft, chewy, buttery pretzel bites that are the perfect delicious hot snack! These pretzel bites would be a great addition at any potluck party or football game that you are attending this season!  The secret to getting the chewy exterior with the soft and fluffy interior is the baking soda water bath.  Just a quick dunk in the boiling water completely transforms these pretzels and makes them irresistible!

I made these pretzel bites for a Oktoberfest themed surprise birthday party that my sister-in-law threw for my brother. We had a great time celebrating his birthday and enjoying a yummy selection of German/Oktoberfest themed foods.  I think it is such a fun idea to throw a party with a food theme.  You might get to try a new food that you have never had before or it might just be a great experience to enjoy a lot of foods from one particular culture.  My sister-in-law made some delicious homemade mustard that was a beautiful compliment to these pretzels.  They would also be great with a cheese dipping sauce as well.

The recipe can be made into regular shaped soft pretzels if you prefer or another option for the bites is to stuff them!  You could try different combinations like ham and cheddar or pepperoni and mozzarella in the middle.  Just stuff the dough and make sure to seal the balls really well before you boil them and they will turn out amazing!

Make sure you plan ahead because this no knead dough method needs to be made the day before you want to serve the pretzels.  It is definitely worth the wait though because the flavor of the dough really develops and enhances with the long, slow rise process.  This recipe is especially great if you are new to working with bread dough and aren't too keen on the kneading process yet.  This is a great beginner recipe to try but can definitely be made by annoying looking to enjoy delicious pretzels!

Soft Pretzel Bites {No Knead}

3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp active dried yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/4 cups water (approximately)

In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, and sugar and stir it all together. Add in the yeast and stir again to combine.  The reason you want to do it this way is because if you dump the yeast and salt in together at the same time, the salt can actually deactivate the yeast. If the salt is disbursed throughout the flour when you add the yeast, you won't have any problems.  Add about 1 cup of the water and stir everything together until well combined.  If the dough is still on the dry side continue to add water about 1 tbsp at a time until a firm - not too wet, not too dry - dough forms.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and set it aside at room temperature, overnight.  You must let this dough rise for at least 10 hours or up to 16 hours to allow the gluten to develop.  The long rise process is what makes it so this recipe does not require any kneading.

Additional flour for work surface
6 cups water
6 tsp baking soda
egg wash
sea salt or pretzel salt
2 tbsp melted butter

Once the dough has rested overnight, turn it out on to a well floured work surface.  Give the dough a couple of quick kneads/pats just to bring it together and then cut into about 8 small balls of dough.  Roll each ball of dough into a long snake.  If you want to make regular pretzels, twist the snake into a pretzel shape or cut the snake into bite sized pieces.  Preheat the oven to 450°F and prepare several baking trays by either greasing or lining with parchment paper.  Bring the water to a simmer in a large pot and add the baking soda.  This will cause a bit of a sizzle, but just give it a stir and it will calm down.  Add the pretzels to the water, in batches, and poach them for about 30 seconds.  Remove the pretzels to your prepared baking trays.  It really helps to use some kind of slotted spoon to remove the pretzels from the water so that you don't get any excess water on your baking trays.  Once all of your pretzels are poached, brush them with egg wash and sprinkle with salt.  Bake the pretzels for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Brush the hot pretzels with melted butter and serve immediately for best results.

Inspired by Bigger Bolder Baking

Friday, October 9, 2015

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip & Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Mash-up Cookies

There are three prerequisites to making these cookies - 1. you must love peanut butter, 2. you must love chocolate, and 3. you must love giant bakery style cookies that are pretty much the size of your face. If those three things sound good to you, then this recipe will be perfect! I love the idea of combining two different but similar cookie doughs together to form one amazing, monster cookie.  I went with the peanut butter-chocolate combo because I happen to know a lot of 'PBC' lovers but you could mash-up any two of your favorite cookies.  Chocolate chip on one side and a brownie cookie on the other or snickerdoodles mashed-up with soft vanilla sugar cookies.  The possibilities are only limited to your imagination!

I have to warn you - don't be surprised by the reactions you get from the people you serve these to because they will most likely be as outrageous as the cookies themselves are.  I think at least two people asked me if I was trying to kill them ;-).  In all seriousness though, these cookies are absolutely delicious.  They are so soft, chewy, and bursting with peanut butter and chocolate flavors.  Either of these two cookie recipes made individually would satisfy any cookie lover's sweet tooth, but mashed together, they take yummy to a whole new level.  Next time you are in the mood for a cookie big enough to be a meal on it's own, or are really looking to impress your guests, give these cookies a try. You won't be disappointed!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip & Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
Mash-up Cookies

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup  (4 oz) creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup (4 oz) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
2 cups chocolate chips of your choice

Cream the butter, peanut butter, and cream cheese together until light and fluffy and then beat in the sugars followed by the eggs and vanilla.  Mix all of the wet ingredients together until very well combined. Add the baking soda and pinch of salt and then stir in the flour and cornstarch in small batches so that everything mixes together nice and neatly.  Stir in the chocolate chips and chill, covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark (or light) brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
Approx. 25 mini peanut butter cups, chopped

Cream the butter until light and fluff and then beat in the sugar followed by the eggs and vanilla extract.  Sift the flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt together into a separate bowl and then slowly add that to the wet ingredients. Don't skip the sifting in this recipe; cocoa powder tends to be very lumpy) Mix everything until just combined and then stir in the chopped peanut butter cups.  Chill, covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.  


When you are ready to make the cookies, bring the cookie doughs out of the refrigerator and let them set at room temperature for five to ten minutes, especially if they have been in there for more than just an hour or so.  Use a large scoop (about 2 tbsp) to scoop out as many of each cookie dough as possible.  Lightly form each scoop into a ball - they do not need to be perfect here and we don't want to over work the dough.  Press one ball of each cookie dough together until they adhere. The lightly shape the dough into a fat disk and place on a parchment lined or greased baking tray.  Make sure you leave at least two inches between each cookie.  Bake at 350°F for 12 to 15 minutes or until the outside is turning golden brown and the center still looks just a little soft.  Place the cookies on a wire rack to cool until you can't stand it any more and just need to try one!

-You might have more of one dough left over than the other so you can just make a few cookies that are not combinations.
-These recipes can easily be cut in half to make a regular size batch of cookies or each cookie could be made individually and not as a mash-up.  If you make the recipes listed above, it really is two full batches of cookies combined together, so you will get at least 24 huge cookies.
-The cookies can be frozen once they are assembled but not yet baked for three plus months.  Just blind freeze the dough balls on a cookie sheet and once they are solid, transfer them to an air tight container for storage in the freezer.