My family is a bit unique. Rather than have a Christmas ham, or a roast, or even a turkey...we have lasagna. Yep. Italian lasagna, made that morning by Freddi and me, as we host this holiday. With meatballs, made the weekend before. And garlic bread, made by yours truly. Oh and we throw some vegetables on the table, although barely anyone eats them because we're too busy chowing down on the lasagna. This is our tradition. Just like many people only have turkey with the works on Thanksgiving, my clan only has lasagna on Christmas Day. I think there would be an uprising if my mum ever tried to change the plan. Most likely a violent uprising. Freddi said she wanted to change the recipe this year, add sausage. My family loves sausage. Want to know what my family loves more than sausage? My mum's classic lasagna. Her suggestion was met with...something significantly less than excitement. More along the lines of anger. Maybe a little less than anger, because my mum gave up the idea pretty quickly once we all voiced our displeasure. But man, if she had tried to keep that going...I shudder to think of what could have happened... All of the homecooks out there? Simple suggestion. Don't mess with tradition. Don't even suggest messing with tradition. It doesn't go over well with the masses.
(yes, this is a picture of the lasagna before it went in the oven. What can I say, once it comes out, we're on it like we haven't eaten in days. I think I would have had my hand bitten off if I tried to stop people from eating so I could take pictures. And I'm pretty partial to my hands...)
Ingredients Lasagna noodles (do NOT get the no-boil kind. They are gross. Seriously. Don't do it) Large container (two lbs) of part-skim ricotta cheese 1/2 c of Parmesan cheese Two eggs, beaten 8 oz. of mozzarella, diced (not the fresh kind) Parsley Premade tomato sauce (we made ours the week before when we made our meatballs, but use jarred if you prefer not to do this step yourself) One bag of grated mozzarella olive oil and tomato sauce on bottom Directions
1. Heat a pot of water to boiling and cook the noodles per the package directions. Once boiled, lay on the counter on wax paper. 2. While the noodles are cooking, create your cheese filling. In a (large) bowl, mix the ricotta, parmesan, beaten eggs and parsley. Using a hand mixer, combine until fluffy. Once mixed, add your diced mozzarella and combine by hand.
3. Preheat your oven to 350F. In your lasagna pan, pour a bit of olive oil in the bottom. Spoon tomato sauce over top. Tilt the pan in all directions to ensure the entire bottom is covered.
4. Begin putting together your lasagna. In order, place the lasagna noodles in the pan, followed by small scoops of your cheese mixture placed about two inches apart and covered with tomato sauce. Repeat. When you finish your final layer, cover it only with tomato sauce.
5. Cover your lasagna with tinfoil and place in the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes, or, if you remove the tin foil and touch the top, it is hot.
6. Sprinkle grated mozzarella across the top. Bake for an addition 10 - 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Allow to rest for about 5 minutes so you can slice easily. Enjoy!
I know I've blogged about my love of the Ardmore's Farmer Market before, but I don't think I have adequately communicated my parents love for the Ultimate Bake Shoppe inside the market. I have to say, the bakery is pretty darn good. But that is not a surprise as it is an Amish bakery and the Amish basically corner the market on deliciousness in Pennsylvania.
The bakery makes yummy cookies (include the accurately named "The Ultimate Chocolate Chip"), biscotti, breads, cupcakes, scones, muffins, pies and cakes. If my family brings you a baked good as a host gift, its a fair assumption that it came from the Ultimate Bake Shoppe.
The number one love of both my parents, my brother and myself is the bakery's cranberry white chocolate chunk scone. It is crispy on top, soft and chewy on the bottom and full of whole cranberries and big piecesof white chocolate. The only problem? I shudder to think of the amount of calories in the bites of heaven.
So on Christmas morning, when calories don't count but it is still a positive to lessen the expected weight gain, I decided to tackle the white chocolate cranberry scone. Which is a big step for me, as I am not a baker, nor will I ever be. I was pleasantly surprised, however, with how easy the scones were to make (minus a little snafu with the butter in which I had to get my mum, who was in the process of getting dressed, to stop immediately and help me fix. I believe numerous curses were uttered, along with a few "baking is stupid" comments). From start to finish, these babies only took about 25 minutes.
Also on the Christmas morning breakfast menu? Porkroll, egg and cheese. Hey, if calories don't count on holidays, why not go all out?
Ingredients: 1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour 1/4 c. sugar 2 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp salt 5 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into chunks 1/2 c half-and-half 1 large egg, beaten 1/2 c. fresh or frozen cranberries 1/2 c. white chocolate chips Directions: 1. Preheat oven to 400F 2. In a bowl, blend together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter. 3. Add the half-and-half, egg, cranberries (I prefer fresh ones, especially since they're so abundant this time of year!) and the white chocolate chips. Stir until dough holds together. Add more half-and-half, as needed.
4. Remove from bowl and put on lightly floured board. Knead for about two minutes. Form a 1/2 inch thick round on the board. Cut into wedges. If you prefer smaller scones, you can separate into two rounds and cut those.
5. Spray a baking sheet with oil and transfer wedges to sheet, leaving a bit of room between. Bake the scones at 400F for about 16 minutes, or until golden brown and slightly crispy on the top.
Before I get in to the Sunday meal planning, I just want to express my deepest sympathies for the families and the community facing the massive tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. I think it is safe to say that, while hearing about any massacre like that which occurred is horrible, it is even worse to think about a school full of terrified children. I think President Obama stated it best when he said, ""They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own." I cannot begin to imagine what the families affected are feeling, nor could I ever, but I hope that those in Newtown know that the entire country is praying for them. It is especially saddening because of how close this occurred to the holidays, a time of joy and cheer. While the rest of December has been full of holiday celebrations, this week already seems more quiet and subdued as people begin the trek home to see their families. I hope each of my lovely readers hugs those important to them and takes the time to tell everyone in their lives who means something to them that they care. I know I will. Monday: scampi stuffed roasted shrimp Tuesday: this classic recipe Wednesday: mushroom and spinach stuffed chicken Thursday:one of my new fave recipes
Friday I will be heading home right after work to spend the long weekend with my parents. I'll be back in NYC on Monday though, for our traditional christmas eve lunch. My lucky parents will get to schlep some of my stuff home (yay stuff!)
Like, I assume, most of you, I am extremely busy around the holidays. In public relations you are client billable, so we either a) have absolutely no work because we are out of budget or b) have a ton of budget left that we have to bill out and thus work longer-than-normal hours. Take a wild guess which one I've been dealing with the past couple of weeks? But if its not work for me, it's probably your kids parties (something I luckily don't have to deal with anytime soon) or family visits or any number of other time-sucking activities that magically spring up between Thanksgiving and New Years. This is the perfect appetizer if you had the crazy idea to host a party and had little time to prepare, or if you have an unexpected family member drop by "for the holidays!", or if you're like me and sometimes get stressed and forget to eat. Minimal cooking involved (about 2 minutes) and served in less than 10. Yep. Happy holidays to you too.
Ingredients: One can of white beans (cannellini, Great Northern, etc.) Handful of parsley, chopped 3 garlic cloves, minced Salt and pepper Olive oil Directions: 1. Heat a bit of olive oil in pan over medium heat. Saute garlic until golden. 2. Drain beans in sink and rinse off (this will lessen the amount of sodium you get) 3. In a food processor, toss in beans, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper and pour in olive oil. Pulse until smooth. Serve with crackers, crostini or veggies. I think it is really good with baby carrots and raw red peppers.
I was not satisfied with the stuffing I got on Thanksgiving. Wait that came out wrong. I was extremely satisfied by the flavor of the stuffing I got on Thanksgiving. What I was not happy about? The amount! This is the problem with having teenaged cousins living with my aunt. And, you know, having their mom actually cook the Thanksgiving dinner. The leftovers that used to be claimed by a little bit of muscle and a little bit of sneakiness (basically the sole reason I helped with clean-up when I was little during those 40+ people dinners was because I could hide away the best food. and guess what? My immediate family never once complained. Shocking I know. Also, the only reason I ever helped bring food to the table was so I could put the turkey and stuffing immediately in front of me and my brother--our family had a very strict policy to always pass left.) Now though? There's not enough to hide it--everyone would notice. And I just don't get first dibs anymore. So I repeat...I was not satisfied with the amount of stuffing I got on Thanksgiving. And so, after leaving my aunt's and returning to my parent's house for the weekend, I decided I needed to stuff something else. Full disclosure? This is the first time I've ever made stuffing. But I must say, I'm a natural!
Ingredients 1 pork loin roast, butterflied (about 3 lbs.) 3 tbsp olive oil 2 apples (I used gala) peeled, cored and chopped small 1 large onion, chopped small 8 fresh sage leaves 2 cups thick-cut which bread cubes, crusts removed (about 2 slices) 1 egg, beaten Milk 2 tbsp butter Salt & pepper 1/2 cup chicken broth, plus more if needed Directions 1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, apples and sage. Saute until softened.
3. Remove from heat and gently stir in bread, egg, milk--just pour a tiny bit in, butter, salt and pepper. Add the broth gradually until everything is moistened. Let cool completely.
4. While the stuffing is cooling, lay out your butterflied pork and place a piece of Saran Wrap over it. Using your meat mallet, pound the pork until flattened to about 1/4 inch thick.
5. Once your meat is flattened and your stuffing cooled, spoon the stuffing onto the pork. Roll the pork up from one end to the other, ending with the seam side down.
6. Tie the pork with butcher's twine. Lightly score the flesh and then rub down with a bit of olive oil (this will ensure it becomes a nice brown color). Season with salt and pepper and transfer to pan.
7. Roast pork in preheated oven for about 30 minutes a pound or until a thermometer (testing the pork only, not the stuffing) registers 160F. Remove from oven, let rest for 15 minutes then slice.
This was one of the most successful dinners I've made for my parents in a while. They absolutely loved all of it--I served it with roasted asparagus, which went into the oven in the last 10 minutes of the roast, and broccoli. No starch needed since there is stuffing. Their only complaint? They wanted more stuffing! Next time I make it, I will make a bit more stuffing (about 1/3 more) and put it in the roasting pan with the pork so it gets some of the juices as it roasts. Yum!
Is anyone else counting down until Christmas? I love this time of year. Three day week for Thanksgiving, then three weeks full of holiday parties and fun, Christmas then New Years. Things I'm most looking forward to in the next couple of weeks: my company holiday party, Santacon and a great concert for New Years Eve. It is hard to eat healthy with all of these holiday parties...so I focus on eating healthy every other meal and not stressing out too much about what I have at parties. I also try not to go out to eat unless it is for some sort of holiday event so that I don't have too many fattening meals in a row. Wish me luck! Monday: salmon with avocado chunks Tuesday: broiled halibut with pineapple salsa (similar to this one) Wednesday: roasted vegetable quinoa Thursday: ginger-teriyaki salmon Friday: office holiday party Saturday: mussels in white wine and tomato sauce
I would like to share an important accomplishment this week...I have gone to my gym (the lovely Equinox) every single day this week. Yes! I have finally gotten back into the swing of things and am on track to lose all of the post-Sandy post-Thanksgiving weight I (accidentally) gained. Which is good, because it will free up some space for the weight I will gain over Christmas (kidding! hopefully...)
My freezer mystery meal...which I first thought was stuffed shells...and then thought was baked ziti...was actually LASAGNA!
Spinach & ricotta stuffed chicken...recipe to come!
Bareburger's California bison burger
The best mussels in Manhattan at The Markt, a Belgian restaurant owned by a man who is actually good friends with the Belgian friends we saw on our Eurotrip!
When your last name is O'Brien...people expect you to do wonders with potatoes. And, at least in my case, that stereotype is true--potatoes are one of my favorite things in the world. Fact. When I was younger, I refused to eat hamburgers from fast food restaurants. Instead, I forced my dad to stop at Wendys (he was not a fan of...well, anything at Wendys actually) so that I could get a baked potato with cheese. If you follow me on Twitter (@seasaltnpepa), you'll see from my pictures that a baked potato is a frequent side dish. I make mean roasted red potatoes, rely on a baked potato with some topping when my budget gets to tight, and get inordinately excited to try new recipes like this one. But, lets be honest, you're no good at cooking potatoes if you can't make the perfect mashed potato...if your style of mashed potato is smooth and creamy. Actually, if I'm cooking and a guest's style was chunky, I'd either a) tell them to shove it, I'm the one cooking, b) make a chunky version to be served alongside the smooth one or c) just make a chunky version -- because, let us be honest here, I like pretty much every mashed potato (eOXO SteeL Potato Masher (Google Affiliate Ad)xcept those gummy ones. ICK!) This is my family's recipe, one that is managed every Thanksgiving by my mother with the muscle supplied by my brother. The two of them together make a consistently delicious mashed potato that is a feature on plates that, in most houses, are crammed with turkey and stuffing. Anything that can compete with stuffing is good in my book!
Ingredients 5 lbs. of yukon gold potatoes Full stick of butter 1.5 cups of half-and-half (to be healthier, use 2% milk. We switch back and forth depending on who did the shopping) Salt Directions
1. Cut the potatoes into quarters. Load into a large pot and add water, making sure the potatoes are completely covered. Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat. Cook for about 30 minutes--potatoes should be soft when pierced with a knife and are obviously done if they start falling apart. 2. While the potatoes are cooking, remove the butter from the fridge to allow it to come to room temperature. Immediately before the potatoes are cooked and drained, warm 1.5 cups of half-and-half to room temperature. 3. Drain the potatoes in a colander and return to pan. Using a hand masher, begin mashing the potatoes.
4. In the course of mashing with the hand masher, add about 2/3 of the stick of butter, a cup or so of cream and 1 tsp salt.
5. Once the potatoes are pretty mashed, stop if you like them chunky. If you like them creamy, use an electric mixer and continue to mash to the consistency you prefer. Make sure to scrape the sides of the pot! Continue to taste and add more salt, half-and-half or butter, to your taste.
Enjoy! Also, that my darlings, in the second to last picture, is a 20+ year old hand mixer...pea green! Can you believe it? And it still works great. If only thing were made the same...
This year, my family had a lot to give thanks for. I'm thankful that, although this is all that remains of the beach in Spring Lake, originally was built in 1937
(which, in case you can't figure out from the picture, is supposed to have wood planks on top of the structures that are left), and although my aunt only lives a block from the beach and my cousin and her family are practically surrounded by bodies of water, no one in my family was hurt or severely impacted by Superstorm Sandy, something that is sadly not the case for many people in the region.
Anyway, on to the food. This year, my aunt, who spends a from November to March in Florida, gave up the cooking duties to her daughter-in-law (my cousin who also lives near the shore). And WHOA! Although my aunt is an absolutely fabulous cook, my cousin made a couple of minor tweaks to our traditional dinner and made it even that much better. For example, she added bacon to our turkey so that she did not have to baste it periodically...with the delicious side effect of having BACON on Thanksgiving. I mean, come on. BACON. On top of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc. And people wonder why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday... As always, i was in charge of appetizers this year. I learned many years ago (thanks to being yelled at by my aunt...HI!) that the absolute number one error of handling hor d'oeuvres for Thanksgiving is needing to put something in the oven. Christmas? Go for it. Ham doesn't take that long (or, in my family's case, lasagna), so sticking something in the oven won't be blasphemous. But Thanksgiving? GIVE THAT TURKEY ITS SPACE. Thus, Italian antipasti. It's healthy, fairly light (depending on your willpower, of course) and won't destroy your appetite. Plus, it won't compete with the actual dinner for dominance.
from top clockwise: proscuitto, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, red wine salumi, papadew peppers, provolone and salami stuffed peppers)
the trick to a good cheese plate? options. I always use mozzarella cause, I mean, HELLO, its mozzarella and who doesn't like it, then a soft cheese (brie or, in my case, camembert), a goat cheese, a hard cheese and a semi-hard cheese. BOOM.
Here are a selection of pics from the main course. More recipes (including a famous Irish family recipe for mashed potatoes...ok, i'm pretty sure its from my mum's italian side, but WHATEVER, my last name is O'Brien. I basically corner the market on potatoes)
the reason we're all here
straining the gravy
cranberry sauce. yep, from a can. Even food bloggers take shortcuts (and lets be honest, the canned stuff is GOOD!)
my brother's mashed potatoes
recipe to come!
white meat, stuffing, and the poor bird
mixing the stuffings
hint--to make the extra that you have in the oven as good as the kind in the bird, mix them together prior to serving