One more one-pot pasta dish

Wine and pasta are such a perfect pairing that it’s worth doing twice.

We’re replacing white with red, sticking with spaghetti, and focusing on red meat. That’s right, it’s time for spaghetti bolognese.

Spaghetti bolognese ingredients (except I really used my own broth instead of bouillon).

I adapted a recipe from “Cook It In Your Dutch Oven,” though — like the scampi — most recipes I found were pretty similar. What I liked about this one is that it added additional vegetables than just tomatoes; what I didn’t like is that it had the vegetable puree mostly replace tomatoes. Call me traditional but it’s not bolognese without an abundance of tomatoes.

So, instead of pureeing, I just diced the vegetables, cooked them longer, and had a chunkier sauce. Because of that, I also decided to use crushed tomatoes instead of tomato sauce so it was all chunky. I kept in the 3 T. of tomato paste too but I’m not sure it’s necessary. I just needed it for another recipe anyway so I kept it in.

I also used all broth instead of a mixture of water and broth, and replaced beef with buffalo.

I think all the changes worked. It made a hearty, heavy meal feel healthier, and all tasted great. My only small complaint is that this supposed weeknight meal took longer with cutting all the vegetables (rather than pureeing), and also isn’t *that* short even without it. Still worth it, though, and made for days of yummy leftovers.

Nom nom nom.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground buffalo, or any ground meat
  • 6 oz. pancetta, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 celery rib, diced
  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 (14 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 T. tomato paste, optional
  • 1 c. dry red wine
  • 5 c. broth (I used homemade chicken vegetable broth but any will do)
  • ½ c. grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving (I used more)
  • 1 lb. spaghetti, uncooked
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat butter and oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and the onion, carrot, and celery. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes until the vegetables have softened.

Add the ground meat and tomato paste, if using, and cook until the meat is just cooked through, about another 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the diced tomatoes and the wine, and cook for about 5 minutes to reduce the liquid total by about half, stirring occasionally. Add broth and Parmesan, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook the sauce mixture for 20 minutes to let the flavors combine.

Increase the heat, and bring the sauce to a boil. Gently add in the pasta, and return to a simmer. Cook covered or partially covered — depending on how thick you like your sauce — for another 10 to 15 minutes until the pasta is cooked to desired tendency. Add more broth if necessary. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Serve and add extra Parmesan, if desired, and enjoy!

Sumptuous shrimp scampi to share with your sweetheart

I have a thing about Valentine’s Day, and well, really, most dates in general: I don’t like them. I don’t like to dress up; I don’t like the fancy-pants restaurants you’re *supposed* to go to for special occasions; and mostly, I don’t like the pressure to have a romantic evening.

If they’re your thing, more power to you; make the reservations, and have a good time.

I was lucky, then, to find a partner who feels the same way I do. A restaurant that requires us to feel like we don’t belong is not a restaurant we’re going to, no matter the rave reviews. Advance planning, likewise, isn’t really our thing.

Instead, I usually try to find something special but simple to make for dinner — and yet, I also don’t feel pressured to do so, if I feel lazy or if take-out beckons. In past years, I’ve celebrated the holiday with peanut stew. This year, I found something even simpler and yet also fancier: shrimp scampi.

Shrimp scampi ingredients. They didn’t all fit but they would have if I didn’t buy large quantities of wine and olive oil.

I’d never made it before, and honestly, hadn’t gotten it in restaurants because it’s usually too pricey to justify what it is. But after tasting it, I can see why it’s a go-to fancy dinner order. It’s damn delicious.

It’s also still too easy to make at home to justify the upcharge for having it made for me. There’s few ingredients, and it’s even a one-pot meal. In all, it’s about a half-hour of work. It’s the perfect stay-at-home dinner date whether you have a special Valentine or not.

SHRAMMPIES!!!!

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. angel hair pasta or similar (I used spaghetti because I wanted whole wheat and I couldn’t find it in angel hair)
  • 1 ½ lb. peeled and deveined uncooked shrimp
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • ½ c. dry white wine (and, let’s be honest, more to serve in a glass on the side)
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ¼ t. red pepper flakes (I used more but we like a little more kick to our food)
  • 3 T. unsalted butter, cold and cut into smallish cubes
  • ¼ c. coarsely chopped parsley, flat-leaf preferred
  • Juice from ½ lemon

Directions

Bring water to a boil in a large Dutch oven. Add the pasta, cooking to al dente according to package instructions (between 7 and 12 minutes, depending on pasta type). Reserve ½ c. of cooking water, and then drain the pasta and set aside.

Meanwhile, pat the shrimp dry and season both sides with salt and pepper, to taste. In the same large Dutch oven where you cooked your pasta, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook for about 1 minute. Flip, and then add the wine, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the shrimp are just opaque and the wine has reduced by half, about 2 to 3 more minutes.

Remove the Dutch oven from heat, add the butter cubes, and stir until melted. Add the pasta, parsley, and lemon juice. Toss until combined, adding reserved pasta water by the tablespoon, until a sauce forms that coats the pasta. (Don’t worry if you don’t use all the water.) Serve immediately, and enjoy!

Putting the pot in pot pie

When I knew I was doing Dutch ovens, I knew that I needed to buy a Dutch oven cookbook for guidance and ideas throughout the year. But I found it was real easy to come up with the first few things I needed to try so I put it off.

Finally, though, I went ahead and got “Cook It In Your Dutch Oven” from America’s Test Kitchen. I patted myself on the back for how many of their ideas were things that I’m planning to make this year already, but my jaw dropped (not literally) when I came across the pot pie recipe.

This pie lady never thought of making a pot pie as a not-quite-pie, but definitely all pot.

Chicken pot pie ingredients.

The recipe was for spring vegetables, but I damn well know what goes in a pot pie and I know it’s wintery AF.

And bad mistakes, I made a few.

First of all, the lattice top crust that makes up the top (spoiler: there’s no crusty bottom) is with puff pastry and I am so bad at dealing with puff pastry. I muddled through but it was frustrating.

Second of all, the recipe called for chicken thighs. I got a mix — 1 lb. each of chicken breast and chicken thighs — but I didn’t realize that trimming raw chicken thighs is frustrating and nearly impossible. I should have known by now, but I mostly work with breasts, or thighs that are cut after cooked.

Third of all, seasons. The substitutions I made worked real well for a winter pot pie, but it didn’t occur to me until too late that some of the ingredients made more sense in a spring recipe rather than winter, and I should have probably scrapped them. They are the optional ingredients below — tomato paste and lemon zest (the original also calls for some lemon juice from about half a lemon). I think they’d work better in a real spring recipe (with asparagus instead of potatoes, and tarragon instead of parsley)  than this one, though they didn’t manage to ruin the whole thing.

What I’m saying is, despite my mistakes, and despite the modest frustration, it was still good. Because pot pies are good. And errors can be corrected so that pot pies are even better.

I’ll probably never love working with puff pastry, but honestly, a good hearty (or even spring!) pot pie is worth it.

It sure looks pretty, but it also tastes pretty great.

Here’s what I did (with recommendations for what I should have done):

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 6 T. butter
  • 1 lb. (about 4) leeks, white and light green parts, sliced
  • 4 carrots, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 lb. potatoes, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 c. frozen peas
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (I used the jarred stuff)
  • ½ c. flour
  • 1 T. tomato paste (optional)
  • 3 c. chicken broth, more as needed
  • ½ c. heavy cream
  • 1 t. soy sauce (we were out so I used Bragg liquid aminos)
  • 2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (or thighs if you’re a masochist)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 T. dried parsley flakes or chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 T. lemon zest (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Cut a sheet of parchment paper to match the outline of a Dutch oven lid. Set aside. Roll puff pastry sheet into about a 15- by 11-inch rectangle, and then cut (a pizza cutter works great) into 10 1 ½-inch wide strips. Place 5 strips parallel and 5 strips perpendicular on the parchment paper round you created.

There are fancy techniques to do this more efficiently, but weave the 10 strips into a lattice top into whatever is easiest for you. Cut the strips to fit onto the parchment paper round.

Move your lattice top puff pastry using the parchment paper to the up-turned lid of the Dutch oven, and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the pot pie.

Move oven rack to the lower middle position in the oven, and heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, melt the butter on the stove top over medium heat.

Add the leeks, carrots, celery, and potatoes, and cook until the leeks are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another minute. Then, add in the flour, slowly, and stir for another minute. Add the tomato paste, if using.

Then, stir in the broth, scraping up browned bits as necessary. Add the cream, and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook until the mixture thickens, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the chicken pieces, and continue to simmer for a couple minutes before removing from heat.

Put the the up-turned lid with the puff pastry on top of the Dutch oven (still up-turned and do so carefully!), and brush it with the egg mixture (I also added a tablespoon or so of water). Sprinkle with salt, if desired.

Transfer the pot to oven and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until the puff pastry is puffed and golden, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove pot from oven and carefully transfer the parchment and pastry to a wire rack and remove lid. Stir in the peas, and let sit until heated through about 5 minutes. Add more broth if necessary. Add the parsley flakes and lemon zest, if using, and stir in salt and pepper to taste. Plop (carefully!) the puff pastry on top of the filling, and enjoy!

There will be bread

I love me a recipe that offers shortcuts and still tastes amazing. So, even though I don’t mind kneading bread, I still eagerly bookmarked the no-knead recipe from Jim Lahey as soon as I came across it.

No-knead bread ingredients. No, the Sodastream water is not bubbly.

Then, I discovered the caveat. There may not be kneading, but it still takes time and a little bit of getting your hands dirty (with sticky dough).

After going through it the first time, I shrugged and said I wasn’t really saving all that much so I wouldn’t make it again. That is, until I tasted it. Readers, it’s worth the time and effort.

And the more I’ve made it, the less the time and minor effort bothers me. I just plan better.

This is also a quintessentially Dutch oven dish.

Part of why the crust crunches so well is you preheat the Dutch oven for long enough that your dough goes into a nice and hot container. (I will admit, however, that I have used this recipe to make a couple of baguettes and it turns out well, just not as crunchy.)

It’s also pretty hard to mess up, since there are so few ingredients. The key is using bread flour, but I have — and I did this time on a whim — thrown in some amount of wheat flour and it’s worked. It’s not quite as fluffy but fiber does a body good.

Now, you can time things out how you want, but with a 12 to 18 hour rise time on the first go, my planning schedule is this:

*Before bed: Mix together the yeast, salt, water, and flour, and stir until blended.

*The next day/evening: When I get home from work, or the afternoon on a weekend, scrape the edges of the mixture and ensure it’s risen; then, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, shape into a boule, and wrap in a well-floured or cornmeal-coated towel, and let rise another 1 to 2 hours, before preparing to bake.

If you’re an early morning riser or an insomniac, a different schedule may work for you. But I’d rather get it started before bed and then deal with it later in the day. And a few hours extra rise time, if it’s a work day, hasn’t made a difference.

Again, it’s pretty hard to mess this up, even if there is an optimal way to make it that will maximize its awesomeness.

My boule isn’t the prettiest and it didn’t rise as much as I thought it would, but it tastes forking great.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • ¼ t. active dry yeast
  • 1 ⅓ c. cool water
  • 1 ¼ t. salt (I estimate)
  • 3 c. bread flour (OR, 2 c. bread flour, 1 c. wheat flour — which may require slightly more water)
  • Bran, cornmeal, or additional flour, for dusting

Directions

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast, and then add the water. Use a wooden spoon, rubber dough scraper, or your hands to mix together until a wet, sticky dough forms, about 30 seconds. If it’s not wet and sticky, add more water or flour as necessary.

Cover the bowl — either a tea towel or plastic wrap or a loose lid will work. Let rise in a cool place, out of direct sunlight, for 12 to 18 hours.

When small bubbles dot the surface of the dough and it’s at least doubled in size, dust a work surface with additional flour. Scrape the dough onto the work surface. Use your hands — lightly floured — to shape the dough into a round.

Dust a (non-terry cloth) tea towel with flour or cornmeal, and then place the dough, seam-side down, in the towel, and then gently wrap together. Let the dough rise for another 1 to 2 hours. (It’s ready when it has almost doubled and/or you can poke it with a finger and it holds the impression.)

About a half-hour before the second rise has finished, heat the oven to 475 degrees with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Place the Dutch oven, covered,  in the center of the rack.

When the dough is ready, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven. Uncover it, and add some cornmeal or wheat bran if desired, to the bottom of the pot. Then, unfold the dough and quickly but gently invert it into the pot with the seam-side up. Cover the pot again.

Bake the dough for 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue to bake until the bread is browned but not burnt, another 15 to 30 minutes.

Once the bread is done, carefully remove the loaf from the Dutch oven, and place it on a rack to cool. Let cool for at least an hour before slicing, and enjoy with soup, butter, or all by itself!

Cassoulet casserole!

This week’s recipe is another that has been on my list for years. I almost made it during my casserole year, but ended up *shrug emoji.*

This year, however, after reading that cassoulet is the ultimate Dutch oven dish, I figured I had to try it, and try it early this year.

Cassoulet ingredients.
Cassoulet ingredients.

Another hold up in my mission was, well, the ingredients in cassoulet. Not only are many of them hard to find, and therefore, not all that cheap, those ingredients are also extremely fatty meats that are not all that appetizing.

To make up for this fact, I mercifully found a vegetarian cassoulet. Only that seemed pretty boring.

So, I did what anybody — well, one other notable foodie at least — would do, I reverse engineered the vegetarian cassoulet to add the amounts and types of meats I wanted. I settled on pancetta and andouille sausage.

For the vegetarians, these can easily be skipped and my assumption that it would be boring was wrong. For the meat eaters, feel free to add duck fat, duck legs, salt pork, pork shoulder, chicken thighs, or any of the variety of meats that appear in the multitude of recipes for this French classic.

I did what tasted best to me, and dear reader, it was amazing.

I won’t lie, it’s time consuming, and the recipe can be tweaked in hundreds of ways to suit one’s tastes, but I can definitely see why cassoulet has the reputation it does, especially in a Dutch oven.

This cassoulet only gets better with the addition of garlicky bread crumbs (not pictured).

Here’s what I did, adapting the Epicurious vegetarian recipe:

Ingredients

For the cassoulet

  • 8 oz. pancetta
  • 3 medium leeks, white and pale green parts, sliced
  • 4 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped (I used more)
  • 1 T. dried thyme
  • 2 parsley sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ⅛ t. ground cloves
  • 12 to 16 oz. andouille sausage, sliced
  • 16 oz. dried cannellini or great northern beans, soaked overnight
  • 1 quart broth, vegetable or chicken

For topping

  • 4 c. fresh bread crumbs from a baguette (about 1 baguette) (I actually did this and it was much better, and the bread can be days old as well; just tear bread into chunks and blend well for about a minute)
  • ⅓ c. olive oil
  • 1 T. chopped garlic (I didn’t measure)
  • ¼ c. chopped parsley (I used about half a bunch)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

For the cassoulet

Fry up the pancetta in a large Dutch oven. Once mostly cooked, add in the leeks, carrots, celery, garlic, and herbs and spices, and cook stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are softened and lightly golden.

Add the beans, and broth, and bring to a boil. Cook partially covered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sausage after about 30 minutes, and continue to cook for another 15 to 30 minutes, until beans are fully cooked through.

For the topping

Meanwhile, while the cassoulet cooks, make the garlicky bread crumbs. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, toss the bread crumbs with oil, garlic, and salt and pepper, until the crumbs are coated. Spread on a sheet pan and cook for about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the mixture is crisp and golden. Cool the crumbs in the pan, and then return the bread crumb mixture to the medium bowl and stir in the parsley.

To finish

Mash some of the beans in the pot with a potato masher to thicken the broth. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Just before serving, sprinkle the cassoulet with the bread crumbs, and enjoy!

That’s a spicy meatball!

My family knows me well as among Christmas gifts were cooking equipment and utensils. My brother gifted me brand new sheet pans, for which he felt bad that it came at the end of my sheet pan year.

However, I plan to keep making sheet pan recipes even if I’m not blogging about them. And anyway, it turns out I can keep blogging about them as this week’s recipe utilizes both a sheet pan and a Dutch oven and both are vital to the meal coming together.

I have had this curried meatball recipe from Epicurious on my to-make list for a couple years but just hadn’t gotten around to it. As I was looking for recipes for this year, I was delighted to note that I finally had an excuse to get around to it.

Curried meatballs ingredients.

And now I’m kicking myself for waiting so long. It was a bit of a pain in the ass with all the steps, but honestly, worth it. The spicy meatballs complement the smoky curried sauce and make for a wonderful mix of flavors.

It also makes quite a bit so you can impress friends by sharing or sacrifice one night for several days of yummy leftovers.

That’s so spicy and saucy, and noms.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

For meatballs

  • Olive oil
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 jalapenos, halved and seeds removed if desired
  • 6 garlic cloves (I used more)
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped (I used a heaping T from a jar of minced ginger)
  • 1 T. lime juice (we were out of lemon)
  • 1 T. garam masala
  • 1 t. ground coriander
  • ½ t. ground cumin
  • ½ t. cayenne pepper
  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 3 T. plain yogurt
  • 2 t. salt

For sauce

  • ¼ c. olive oil
  • 4 medium onions, chopped
  • 10 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 ½-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped (I used 1 ½ heaping T from my jar of ginger)
  • 3 dried chiles de arbol
  • 3 t. curry powder
  • 4 t. ground cumin
  • 4 t. ground turmeric
  • 3 t. ground coriander
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 1 (14.5 oz. can) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T. lime juice
  • ½ t. Cayenne pepper
  • Cilantro for serving (optional) (I forgot it, sadly)
  • ¼ c. yogurt (optional) (I added just to get rid of the remaining amount in my small container)

Directions

For meatballs

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray rimmed sheet pan with oil, and set aside.

Puree the scallions, jalapenos, garlic, ginger, juice, and spices in a blender until smooth. Blend egg in a large bowl, and add the puree mix. Add the yogurt, beef, and salt. Mix with your hands until well blended. Roll into 24 balls, of about golf ball size, and place them on the oiled sheet pan about 1 inch apart. Spray with a little more oil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until cooked through.

For the sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and cook, stirring often, until the onions are starting to brown. Stir in the chiles, spices (except cayenne), and continue to cook for about another 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaf and 2 c. water, and return to a boil. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

Let cool slightly, and then transfer the sauce to a blender, blending until smooth. Transfer the sauce mixture back into the pot. Stir in the remaining yogurt, lime juice, and cayenne, and taste, adding more seasoning if needed.

To finish

Add the meatballs into the sauce, and bring to a simmer. Cook the mixture until the meatballs are heated through, and flavors meld a little, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with rice and cilantro, if desired, and enjoy!

Smokin’ soup to start off the new year

My sweetie and I had a tradition of smoking meats at Thanksgiving and Christmas until our smoker got stolen a couple years ago. Mercifully, we were able to get another one this year and pick up right where we left off.

The best part for me is, of course, the food. But a nice secondary benefit is I have one less thing taking up space and time in my kitchen. My sweetie handles the meat. I handle the sides and dessert.

I won’t bore you dear readers with all that we made at the two holidays even though I’m still drooling over them. But after Thanksgiving, I told my sweetie we were doing an extra bird at Christmas because I had plans for using it to kick off the new year right.

And ringing in my new If It Fits I Cooks project for 2019: the Dutch oven.

The wild rice and smoked chicken soup is an Amy Thielen recipe, though I varied it slightly because I already had a favorite creamy wild rice and chicken soup.

Chicken and wild rice soup ingredients.

My most important contribution is the addition of slivered almonds for added texture that blends with the wild rice well. Oh, and I used leftover (frozen) carcasses from the Thanksgiving chicken to make a smoky broth that added a little something.

Like most soups, this is difficult to mess up but it is time consuming. Wild rice always takes forever. Chopping veggies — something I weirdly enjoy but many don’t — is also a chore. And then of course simmering long enough for all the flavors to meld.

But it’s January and there’s not much else to do. This is the part where I’d usually say there’s the added benefit of keeping the stove going and warming up, but if you live in central Iowa, that has uh not been much of an issue so far this winter.

Happy New Year lovely readers and I hope you’ll follow me on this foodie adventure again in 2019!

Nom Nom Noms.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 2 c. chopped smoked chicken (I didn’t measure but it was roughly the breast meat)
  • ¾ c. natural wild rice (uncooked)
  • 6 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ c. white wine (preferably Chardonnay)
  • ¼ c. all-purpose flour
  • 8 c. chicken stock (homemade is best!)
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • ½ to 1 c. slivered almonds, to taste
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Add the rice (cleaned, if necessary) to 1 ½ c. water and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook for 25 to 45 minutes. (The wide time range is because mine never seems done at 25 minutes, but it’s good practice to start checking around then and taste testing — it goes in at the end of the soup-making so it needs to be done by the time it’s added.) Strain off any excess liquid.

Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks, celery, carrots, and a little salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, adding the garlic near the end of the saute time. Add the flour slowly and stir until combined, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil (this happens quick in a Dutch oven).

Add the stock, the cream, and the bay leaves. Bring to a simmer. Add the chicken, and cook at a bare simmer for 30 minutes uncovered to meld the flavors together. Add the cooked wild rice and almonds and simmer the soup for another 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves, serve, and enjoy!

So long, see ya, 2018 sheet pan scalloped potatoes

I’ll be honest, there’s not much I’m going to miss about 2018. It was a long slog of a year. But I am a bit disappointed to be leaving sheet pan recipes behind. It turned out to be more challenging and have more variety than I even imagined going in.

And that was delightfully true with my final sheet pan recipe of the year.

Mostly I was just looking for something that would be versatile for the many smoked meats my sweetie made over the Christmas holiday, but I was delighted at how tasty my scalloped potatoes were. Especially for my first time and really fudging the recipe.

Sheet pan scalloped potatoes ingredients.

They also might have the distinction of being one of the fattiest things I’ve made this year. Helped by the fact that I added more cheese and more cream because that’s what I do.

My fudges — I chose to do a bechamel sauce instead of just heating cream because I also wanted to add leeks. Then, because it was thicker, I added more cream than the recipe called for. And as usual, I added more cheese.

But despite all that, it worked. It was — much like my lasagna — quite crusty but in the most delightful way.

My only note: Don’t be lazy like me, and instead, put it in Tupperware or storage containers while it’s still warm/room temperature; otherwise, you’ll be scraping at the pan to get all the potatoes and solidified fat off your sheet pan.

So much fatty goodness. Just look at it.

Here’s what I did, tweaking another Food Network recipe:

Ingredients

  • 4 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 T. flour
  • 2 ½ c. heavy cream
  • 1 large leek, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used more)
  • 1 T. dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 ½ lbs. Yukon gold potatoes (or similar), scrubbed and thinly sliced (a mandoline works best)
  • ½ c. grated Parmesan
  • 2 c. shredded Gruyere (about 6 oz.)

Directions

Grease a large rimmed sheet pan (the recipe calls for 18 by 13 inch, but mine is 15 by 12, and it was fine) with 1 T. of butter. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Melt the remaining butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sliced leek and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until the leeks are softened. Meanwhile, mix the flour with the thyme and salt and pepper. Slowly add the flour mixture to the leek mixture.

Stir for 2 to 3 minutes until lightly browned.

Add the cream slowly and stir in. Thicken slightly but not too much. Set aside.

Arrange half the potato slices in a single overlapping layer on the prepared sheet pan. Add half the grated Parmesan (and some of the Gruyere if desired). Arrange another layer of potatoes using the remaining slices. Spread the sauce mixture on top.

Cover the sheet pan with foil and bake the potatoes for about 20 minutes.

Carefully remove the sheet pan from the oven and remove the foil. Top the warmed potato mixture with the remaining Parmesan and Gruyere. Cook uncovered for another 15 to 20 minutes until the top is brown and crusty on top, the potatoes are cooked through, and enjoy!

Happy New Year, dear readers, and I’ll be back with in 2019 with a new plan for a new year.

You’ll love a Yule log for Christmas

Long before I called a sheet pan a sheet pan, it was a jelly roll pan. I think it almost certainly stems from my mom making a Yule log regularly throughout my childhood.

Yule log ingredients.

I had no idea why my mom made the Christmas cake annually or what a log has to do with Christmas, and a quick perusal of Wikipedia doesn’t offer any clear answers to the latter.

Mom tells me she started making it for her dad, my Papa, and he liked it so much, she kept doing it. Wikipedia also says the cake originated in the region that includes his ancestral home of Belgium, but apparently that’s a coincidence.

Which is fair, it’s just a damn good cake.

The Yule log, also called a buche de Noel, has few ingredients but they’re used to make three separate parts that make it time-consuming if not difficult. There’s the eggy chocolate cake. There’s the vanilla cream filling. There’s the mocha buttercream frosting. And then, there’s the assembly.

Despite the difficulty, though, my sweetie rightly describes it as similar but easier tiramisu.

And besides, it’s a Christmas cake, so you make it just once a year. That makes it totally worth it.

A cake so good I’m disappointed Christmas comes once a year.

Here’s what I did following Mom’s recipe:

Ingredients

Cake

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 3 T. unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 T. flour, plus more for sheet pan

Filling

  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 T. confectioner’s sugar

Mocha buttercream frosting

  • 1 c. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing sheet pan
  • 1/2 confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 T. unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 T. instant coffee
  • 1 t. warm water

To finish

  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 T. finely-chopped pistachio nuts

Directions

Cake

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 15 x 10 x 1 inch jelly roll (sheet) pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Grease and lightly flour paper, tapping off excess flour.

Beat egg whites in a small bowl until soft peaks form.

Separately, beat egg yolks in a large bowl at high speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until mixture is thick and pale in color. Beat in cocoa and flour at low speed.

Fold beaten egg whites into yolk mixture until no streaks of white remain.

Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven when cake springs back to a light touch

Let cool completely on a wire rack before removing from the pan.

Mocha buttercream frosting

While cake bakes, prepare the frosting. Beat the softened butter until fluffy in a small bowl. Beat in sugar and cocoa.

Dissolve coffee in water, and beat into butter mixture.

Store in cool (but not cold) place as you don’t want the butter to melt, but you don’t want the frosting to get too solid to spread.

Filling

When cake is cool, remove it from the pan by inverting onto a towel or *carefully* lifting using parchment paper.

Cut off 1/2 to 1 inch from the edges of all four sides of the cake (to remove the crunchier bits) and reserve for later use.

Beat heavy cream until thickened. Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Continue beating until stiff enough to spread.

Spread mixture evenly across the cake. Roll up the cake, starting with one of the shorter sides. Place cake roll seam-side down on a serving tray.

Finishing

Frost the cake roll all over (including ends) with the mocha buttercream frosting. Roll up some or all of the reserved cake ends and set onto the frosted cake (these are supposed to look like cut-off branches). Frost these well.

Run a fork across the frosted cake to mimic bark lines. Use the fork to create the same lines along the sides of the “branches” to create “age rings” in the center of these “branches.”

Press some of the chopped pistachios into the “cut” ends of the log (ends and the circular “branches) to mimic some moss/lichens.

Dust with confectioner’s sugar (to mimic dusting of snow). Enjoy and Merry Christmas/happy holidays to all who celebrate the season.

Oops! All crusts lasagna

This week I was craving more sheet pan pasta since I’ve loved both of the dishes I’ve made this year. I started Googling, and soon noticed that — unsurprisingly — most of the recipes were not too different from what I’d already made.

Then, I happened on a sheet pan lasagna. I would have been pretty skeptical that the famous, familiar casserole dish would work on a sheet pan, but it came from the Food Network, and I figured they couldn’t be all wrong.

Sheet pan lasagna ingredients (minus extra herbs and spices for the sauce).

I stuck fairly close to the original recipe, except I’m particular about my sausage and lazy about removing it from its casing. So, instead of de-cased Italian sausage, I bought Beeler’s ground hot sausage (a family favorite), and altered my tomato sauce to include onion powder and oregano.

It went over so well with friends that we had few leftovers, and I loved it so much, that I have already bought the ingredients to make the recipe again, only this time using my very favorite vegetarian lasagna recipe.

The recipe calls it “all-crusts” lasagna, which is fair, but I just think of it as the bits of traditional lasagna that are a little crunchier, and therefore the best.

Also, even better, it uses the same amounts as the regular casserole version so you’re not feeding fewer people (or having less leftovers), you’re just making a different kind of tasty lasagna.

So good I’m already making it again this weekend. *drool*

Here’s what I did (BUT feel free to adapt to your regular recipe as I plan to do this weekend):

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. ground hot sausage
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (I used more, like 4 cloves)
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 15 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ c. milk
  • ½ c. packed basil leaves (I didn’t measure. I used some in the sauce and then in the cheese mix, and I’m sure it was more than ½ c., so do this to taste as well)
  • ¾ to 1 c. grated Parmesan
  • 1 lb. shredded mozzarella
  • 1 package no-boil noodles (It calls for “flat” noodles and 12 of ‘em, but I buy whatever, and use the whole package because who needs 3 leftover lasagna noodles crowding pantry space?)
  • 3 T. olive oil, plus more for coating foil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 T. dried oregano (optional)
  • 1 t. onion powder (optional)

Directions

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat 1 T. olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, and cook the sausage until it is browned and cooked through. Transfer the sausage to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon.

Reduce the stovetop heat to medium and add to the same skillet (with any drippings left in the pan) the remaining 2 T. of olive oil and garlic. Cook for about 1 minute until the garlic browns at the edges.

Add the crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper, and optional spices/herbs (I also added additional basil here). Cook for 10 minutes, at least, until the sauce smells more like a pasta sauce and not just tomatoes.

Separately, in a medium bowl, add the ricotta, egg, milk, basil, ½ c. of the Parmesan, and any more salt and pepper (to taste).

On a large rimmed sheet pan (estimated 18 x 13 inch), spread ⅔ c. of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Space out half the noodles (remembering that they expand when they cook). Top the noodles with all of the ricotta mixture, all of the sausage, another ⅔ c. of the sauce, and half the mozzarella. Add another layer with the remaining noodles and top with the remaining sauce. Then, top the noodles with the remaining sauce, remaining mozzarella, and another ¼ to ½ c. grated Parmesan.

Lightly oil one side of a piece of foil big enough to cover the sheet pan (I just used the spray stuff for this part).

Bake the covered lasagna for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until the pasta is cooked through and the top is crusty and browned, and enjoy!