La Bella Lasagna (part 2)

My Grandmother calls Lasagna "the Poor Man's Italian" as in it's easy to make and hard to screw up.  However, I have met many a person who is incredibly intimidated by this actually very simple dish.  And this post will show you how actually its not as tough as it seems

The Lasagna!
So now that you have your awesome homemade sauce simmering on the stove top beside you, its time to break out the basics for your awesome lasagna.

1.  The Meat: In a pan take your ground beef and brown it up.  No need to use any olive oil or anything - the natural grease of the beef will help lubricate things.  Also a non-stick pan will help with clean-up (also, it helped alleviate me of the trauma from a week earlier where i burned meat so badly on our beauti-mus copper core all-clad saute pan that it took almost 4 days to just get it all off the pan.  Lesson learned: do not burn your beef.  That is bad.)

brown baby, brown.
 Keep in mind another gem of wisdom from my awesome Grandma (that she got from her mother in law): "Use the best ingredients you can find, or else don't bother cooking it all."  Don't use chuck, mediocre ground beef, use the best you can find - that goes for all of the ingredients you use for your lasagna.  The best part is that most ingredients for Italian food are ridiculously cheap to begin with and the recipes are simple, so you don't have to worry about busting your wallet just to cook a really good meal.  So many times people end up using sub-par ingredients and wonder why the lasagna tastes only okay or doesn't hold well over time.  It's the ingredients.

Next up - your sausage.  After the beef is browned, remove it from the heat and put in in a large mixing bowl.  Then add your sausage to the same pan -Sweet Italian sausage is the best.  I've used turkey sausage in the past, and while it wasn't bad, it just didn't taste as good in the end (and over time).
kinda gross, I know, but that's cooking for ya.
This might be the grossest part of the entire process, but alas, it is necessary.  You need to take the sausage and squeeze it out of its casing.  Yup - that means hands on!  I was grossed out by this the first time I helped my mom make this back in high school, but its not a problem any more.  Its amazing how well you adjust to gross stuff over time.
sausage chopped up to look like ground beef
You want almost the reverse of the ground beef - go from white-ish color to a pink-brown.  Once the sausage is browned, combine it in the bowl with the ground beef and then set to the side.

2. The Cheese: Now onto the non-meat part of the recipe.  In another mixing bowl, combine some more basic ingredients:  Ricotta, beaten eggs, pepper, garlic salt and some more parsley. 

Mix til combined and then set aside.
3. Play Architect!  A few months ago Mr. Bama bought me two awesome Lasagna pans to a - encourage me to cook him some lasagna, and b- alleviate my other lasagna trauma (last year my stupid aluminum pans kind of imploded, with the lasagna still inside.  so bad...).  These pans are amazing, heavy duty, and best of all, were on sale at Home Goods (yippee!!).  Temporary ones are still fine, but i don't suggest the Wal-mart kind......
nothing says "I'm a serious Italian" like a heavy duty Lasagna pan
Any who, break out your pasta.  This is tricky, because when you think of lasagna noodle, the 9x3x3 box  from the super market containing the flat noodles with wavy trim comes to mind.  These are fine, but if you can manage to snag a few large sheets of flat noodles that you do not need to boil in water, then even better.   While I do have a pasta maker that can make lasagna sheets, I was slightly overwhelmed with the rest of the lasagna project, so I caved and bought some flat sheets from WFM.  I have to admit, this was the most expensive part of the entire recipe, but very worth it in the end.
Spread some of your sauce out on the bottom of your pan, then lay out your lasagna. 
Next up, sprinkle handfuls of your meat over the pasta and drop spoonfuls of your ricotta mix evenly over the meat. 
Fill the empty spaces with slices of mozzarella and then sprinkle with Parmesan (note: DO NOT skimp on the quality of your parmesan-regianno.  Nothing is worse then bad cheese.)
 Then cover your cheese/meat mix with sauce and continue the process three more times, ending with just a bare layer of lasagna (save the best pieces of your pasta for this layer.)  Complete by adding only sauce, and the cheeses. 

Do not worry if you run out of ingredients or have too much of something.  No matter how much you "plan" out your ratios, you will ALWAYS (yes, always) have too much sauce, not enough meat or too many noodles and not enough ricotta.  Its just the way it is.

Pop your lasagna in the oven (450 degrees) for about 40 mins, which just allows the cheeses to melt and combine everything together.  When done, let sit a few minutes, then slice up, serve on plates, spoon some of your leftover sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan.  Then enjoy your truly Bell'Alimento (beautiful food)!
nom nom sooooo goood
The best part is that your Lasagna can be frozen -- and believe it or not, this makes it taste better.  Cut up your lasagna into serving sized pieces and wrap with freezer paper.  Then pop in the freezer and take out, thaw and reheat when ready to enjoy in the future.  It sounds bizarre, but 6 month old lasagna is SOOOOO tastey (it sounds gross, but trust me).

If you partake in your own lasagna (or any other food) adventure, please share.  I'd love to hear your own twists on and stories behind your own family recipes!


La Bella Lasagna (part 1)

Mr. Bama, being the super simple, no fuss guy that he is, actually only asked for one thing for his birthday: Lasagna. 

Not just any old, Stoffers-stick -in-the-micro-and-voila you have some "Italian" looking food, but my Great-Grandmother's Lasagna.  I may not have learned much in my Ancestry.com venture, but I did know that my Great-grandmother, Anjulina (Julia), came to America in the late 1800s from Italy and at one point owned an Italian restaurant in New York City.  Pretty cool stuff.  My grandmother (who learned all of the recipes when she married my grandfather) has all of their recipes, which much to my dismay I have still failed to obtain.  I attempted to make the Lasagna last year for the first time by myself for New Years Eve, and it proved to be an "interesting" experience.  But this year I got to make it for Christmas dinner alongside my Grandmother, who helped me tweak my techniques and so I had complete confidence going into the endeavor this year.

Anywho, so here's the breakdown (even though the actual recipe I'm keeping to myself, family secrets and such)

The Sauce -- (You make it from scratch- no canned Ragu here)

Start with the basics:
Tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, basil and Italian parsley
and then the difficult part:


Finding a beef bone.  Sounds easy, but not so much.  I had to wait a whole week before WFM got in a new shipment of bones.  Who knew they were in such demand!?  The bone has to be broiled for a few mins, and then it looks not quite as gross

Then you put the Bone in the bottom of a Stock Pot, drizzle with olive oil and then crush your garlic and throw those into the pot to be sauted with the bone. Key - don't let the garlic burn (ewww....)  When they're fragrant (but once again, not burned) take out the cloves of garlic and discard them.  We're looking for a hint of garlic, not a choke hold.
After the garlic is done being sauted and is removed, then this is where the fun begins -- Just put all of the rest of your ingredients in your pot!  Not a lot of measurements, just taste and go.  In addition to the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley and basil, you can add about a 1/4 cup of red wine and sugar (or grated carrots) each to the sauce.  Then you simmer and stir every 30 mins or so until you're ready to make your lasagna or pasta.  If I'm planning on starting to make the lasagna around 5:30pm, then I start the sauce around 11am, giving it at least 6 good hours to percolate.
Next post we'll get into the good ol' fundamentals of building a perfect Lasagna!  Til then, just enjoy the authentic sauce that you made from scratch!


Our Other Weekend

While it seems as if Bear-drama consumed our weekend (only kinda sorta), it was also Mr. Bama's Birthday.  We decided to go low key, unlike last year, and just have a nice dinner at our local fave Italian restaurant.  Mr. Bama was showered with gifts (a basket Louisiana fave food stuffs from my rents, a 6 pack of beer of Mr. Bama's choice from Bear, just to name a few)
the happy birthday boy w/ his Louisiana bounty.
My gift to Mr. Bama was 6 months to Ancestry.com.  He's always had an idea where his family came from (Arkansas), but nothing too deep past maybe the late 1800s.  I also thought that I'd be able to mooch off of his subscription and find my family on my mom's dad's side of the tree - the one no one ever talks about because of a big family blow up in the 40s, name changes, etc.  Some really touchy stuff apparently.

So off we went finding our families.  Turns out when you talk about American, you mean my husband.  He traces 3 of the 4 main branches of his family ALL the way back to Colonial America (theres a relative from the1630's in there!).  Pretty amazing.  Even more amazing is that at least 2 of them were from Virginia - so no more comments from him about Virginia not being a southern state, since that would mean he's not a southern boy (and for him thats the equivalent of  telling a child there is no Santa).  The one branch that doesn't go back to the 1700 only goes back to the 1830s.  Darn.

So then I start trying to find my family.... and that quickly ended in the late 1890s.  In all. four. branches.  Apparently I'm so much of a mutt that no one I'm related to lived in America pre the 1870s.  Whats even worse, is that the names were soo butchered when they came over that its impossible to tell who is who.  So while my husband can trace his entire family back to the infanthood of our country, mine is just one giant dead-end.  Guess I should have purchased the "Global' ancestry package, at least I know 100% for sure that I'm an Italian, German, English, Scottish mutt whose families came over from the old country at sometime in the late 19th century, which I knew before my Ancestry.com adventure.  Awesome.

On another note: Today yours truly did a guest post over on the brank spankin' new Trashy Diva Blog.  I'll be posting about every other week, so take a peek and tell me what you think!



Our eventful weekend-

Step Backward: on Saturday during the day Bear developed a nasty, gross hacking cough.  Not the ex-smoker type from before, but rather "hey I don't need a lung, let me cough it up" cough, partnered with the occasional upchucking of clear liquid and foam (hey, no one said this blog is free from occasional gross-ness).  The poor baby sounded awful and looked even more pitiful.  To add insult to injury, out vet was closed for the weekend and the emergency vet in the area has a horrible reputation (plus outrageous fees).  The most we could offer to our sad pup was a quiet, stress-free environment and a constant source of cleaning up his icky mess every 10 mins.  Pet MD and every other source says "congrats, your pup has an upper respiratory infection!"  Nothing serious, but still something to be concerned about
"I sorry I sick.  I sorry I upchuck clear gunk
on uz new house shuz"
Step Backward: Pup and I get no sleep do to his upchucck-age every 3 hours.  Mr. Bama sleeps right through it all, lucky duck.

Step Forward:  Bear gets enough sleep so that the next day (sunday), hes not moping, hes not upchucking, he's just coughing.  Yippee!!  I'm still taking him to the vet tomorrow, but at least he's acting like his ol' amazingly chipper self.  Bonus- i dont have to clean up everything every 10 mins!

Hope you'r weekend was much less eventful (in a good way) than ours.  Hopefully the trip to the vet tomorrow will start the process of kicking this dumb sickness in the butt once & for all!


One Very (K)nawty Puppy

Only a few weeks into 2011 and it's already been one of many "steps" with Bear
I'm an little angel..... or am I?
  • Step Forward: Bear is freed of his crate while Mom & Dad go to work.  Access limited to two front rooms.
  • Step Backward: forget to turn off heat in front room where he is cordoned off.  Come home to a sauna, puppy panting a little more than normal (thank heavens he had access to water!).  Also time to analyze air circulation in house.
  • Step Forward:  remember to turn off heat next time the pup is left alone.
  • Step Backward: come home to find tree skirt from Christmas tree in heap in middle of living room floor. 
  • Step Forward:- After inspection, tree skirt is chew free. 
  • Step Backward: next day, while taking down tree, find that the surge protector that tree was plugged into wasn't as lucky as the tree skirt --- whole end chewed.
We're figuring that Bear is bored.  Lucky for him that next weekend we were off to a wedding in Charlotte, so puppy got boarded -- which includes playtime!  Yay for exhausted dog!
  • Step Forward: Bear comes home from being boarded and is exhausted.  Bamas enjoy quiet.
  • Step Forward: exhaustion morphs from hours into days
  • Step Backward: exhaustion is also coupled with a nasty hacking cough.  Either Bear acquired a bad habit of chain smoking while being boarded or he has Kennel cough
  • Step Backward: Confirmed- Bear has Kennel cough. Vet's suggestion - 2tsp of Robitussin DM every 6 hours.
  • Step Backward: Bear will have none of this nasty sugary sweet pink liquid.  Throws hissy fit while Mr. Bama tries to restrain all 75lbs of him and I try to use a turkey baster to put nasty liquid down his throat.  Result- More Robitussin ended up on Mr. Bama and myself than in Bears mouth.  Bear runs away, afraid to come near us for next hour.
  • Step Forward: Call Vet while covered in Robitussin - he writes prescription for pill that can be picked up that morning (sidenote: why can my dog get prescriptions faster than I can?)
  • Step Backward:  Almost pass out as I pay for prescription.  $50 for ten pills!?  Come to conclusion that Bear needs to find a job or this needs to be the best medicine ever.  The jury is still out.
  • Step Forward:  Bear eats pills - Hacking stops.  
  • Step Backward: Other Vet recommendation - "no interaction with other dogs for up to a week after the pills are complete."  The last thing I want is the dog that gives everyone else's dog "the cough"
  • Step Backward: every time we go out we either see his best friend or his girlfriend.  Bear is having none of this "no play time" mandate. Throws self to ground and pouts as friends walk away and then whines constantly inside house.
  • Step Backward: boredom = destruction.  Come home to find decorative sofa pillow given as gift from mom on floor, the edge slightly shredded.  Mr. Bama reads Bear the riot act.  Pillow is salvageable
  • Step Backward: the next day, we come home to find the Pillow finished off.  Bear is yelled at again and pillow is thrown out.  Also find iPhone charger cord in Bear's bed.  Do once over and find nothing wrong with cord. 
  • Step Backward: When going to plug in my phone before I crawl into bed, I discover that my iPhone cord has been chewed on to a point where it is no longer able to plug into the phone.  So tired that I mutter something like "bad dog" before crawling into bed.  Today phone is dead.
my poor iPod charger....
The final count:
Step Forwards - 6
Step backwards - 12

I guess there really is truth is in the idea of progress being the process of taking one step forward and two steps back.

Who knows what I'll come home to today.  Bear's sanity (and Mine) cannot wait for this week to be over.  I think this weekend will be devoted to Bear playing at the park, all day, everyday.

PS - i dislike kennel cough.


Fun with Geography

I'm a girl who loves the idea of Place and Home.  However, it's tough to be able to call one or the other your very own when you haven't lived in either since you were 18.  Usually the nomadic life ends when you "settle down" and get married, yet due to Mr. Bama's job, that doesn't seem to be the case.  His job requires him (and all dependents, aka-me) to move every 2-3 years.  Sadly this means that our NOLA time is almost up.  Rather than mope and lament the many moves to come, I've decided to celebrate our travels and a company I found back during my Grad school years helps me do just that.

Catstudio is a husband and wife design team using the crazy concept of designing items around a fabulous state, country or resort location (think the Hamptons....).

What started out as simply one cute screen printed tea towel my mom picked up for me after i came back from Italy, blossomed into at least six towels - from the original Italy to the most recent addition Christmas decoration (the North Pole).  Since you can only have so many tea towels, I decided to use the towels as a sort of art and thus started a framed homage to where we've lived.
Italy, Alabama, Louisiana & Virginia adorning the Bama walls
Virginia & Alabama represent our home states, and Louisiana for the first state we lived in as a married couple.  Italy's still up there, but that could be replaced by wherever we move next (who knows).

It doesn't just stop with tea towels - my last year of Grad school I used  their AMAZING hand-embroidered tote bag of Virginia as a book bag - durable and cute.
I beat the crud out of it though in school - I'm REALLY rough on my totes (examp:  my Vineyard Vines canvas tote i had in college was threadbare within months) and the Virginia tote is slightly worn in places, but it took the beating like a champ.

My mom's kind of been lusting over their gorgeous hand-embroidered Virginia Pillow (looks just like the tote, but in pillow form) but instead picked up their satin fringed, vintage travel art inspired Virginia pillow instead -
This past Christmas season my mom was at our local Virginia boutique that sell Catstudio and was approached by the owner -- who knows I live in New Orleans.  She had been able to snag a "Seconds Bag" featuring Louisiana and wanted to offer it to my mom to give to me for Christmas.  The bags aren't advertised for sale on Catstudio's website, but what they have done is taken the pillow/tote woven images that have small "defects" that they can't use on their full-sale products and turn them into AWESOME canvas tote bags.  Talk about reusable!

I'm simply in love w/ my Louisiana bag -- it's my second favorite Christmas gift behind my new Le Creuset Dutch Oven (more about that in a later post).

Catstudio's amazing designs don't stop with pillows and totes - They have everything from glassware, to t-shirts, to aprons and exquisite wooden trays - ranging in price from $12 (glassware) to $150 (embroidered pillows).  So whether you're suffering from a case of home state-sickness or just want to celebrate your favorite locale, check out Catstudio -- I promise you will be pleasantly surprised!


A Happy White Christmas and a NOLA New Year

A few pictoral tidbits from our recent travels to VA for Christmas and then back to NOLA to ring in 2011!

One of the highlights was being able to experience a VERY rare white Christmas in eastern VA.  when all was said and done, we had 14.2 inches !
Starting to snow Christmas night.
what we woke up to the next morning. - GORGEOUS!
Bear's first time experiencing the snow.  To say
he loved it would be an understatement
resting after an awesome time in the snow.
the rents house under 12+ inches
One of the small trees in the yard next to our house that
was lit up for christmas and is carrying the
beautiful burden of 12+ inches of snow
The unprecedented snowfall delayed our return to New Orleans, but after driving 18 hours straight through (no one said we werent crazy) we made it and were ready to ring in the new year.  My little sis even endured the crazy drive to spend the holiday with us.

Mr. Bama and I in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel

with the little sis.  Can you tell she's in a sorority?
 (love you sis!)
View of Jackson Square (St. Louis Cathedral is to the
left of this pic) while everyone waits for the gigantic
fleur de lis to drop above Jax brewery

Hubs and little sis!
Little sis is thrilled to ring in 2011

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