Lasagna

On October 27, 2015, in Featured, Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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Growing up with an Italian mother, well 3/4 Italian and 1/4 French, made for some pretty amazing meals that a young boy never could truly appreciate. However, there was one dish my mom was famous for: Lasagna. It was a staple of the holidays at our home. She definitely took a lot of pride making it for family and guests and people lavished their praise.

As I grew older and as my own taste matured too, I came to appreciate what a great lasagna takes to perfect. Many restaurants and home cooks try to make this classic dish and fail.  There is too much sauce, they use sub-par ingredients or there are too many extras spinach, mushrooms and meats that it all becomes too complex and loses the perfection of a simple lasagna.

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Mine is different than my mother’s, not because I think less of her’s; rather, I wanted to do my own take on this dish.  For me it is all about using the best ingredients.  Since moving to Los Angeles, that hasn’t been too easy with some failures in finding the key ingredient – fresh ricotta cheese.  Fortunately, I finally found a rich and creamy ricotta that is sold by Laurent Bonjour’s Cheese Corner found Saturdays at the La Canada Farmers’ Market.

I also make a homemade pasta sauce that I lightly blend with a hand mixer. You can use two jars of your favorite pasta sauce. I recommend Mario Batali’s marinara if you do not have time to make your own.

The sauce, ricotta, and a quality Parmigiano-Reggiano have the most impact in my opinion. I haven’t found much difference when it comes to the pasta noodle or even with the mozzarella you choose.

Lasagna
Serves 4-6

1 lb lasagna noodles
4 cups basic red pasta sauce
1 lb fresh ricotta cheese
3/4 lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
2 Spicy Italian sausages, cooked and crumbled
or 1 bunch spinach, washed and rough chopped lightly sauteed)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven at 35o degrees.

Cook the noodles for about 6 minutes in boiling  water. Do not overcook. You want the noodles to be soft but still firm. Drain and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan, parsley and the oregano.

Spread a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 lasagna pan. Add a layer of noodles.  Spread ricotta cheese mixture over noodles. Sprinkle some crumbled cooked sausage (or chopped spinach) over ricotta cheese mixture. Add a thin layer of pasta sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella.  Repeat this process two more times. Finally add one last layer of noodles and then add a layer of pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle top with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Cover the lasagna with foil and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove foil and cook uncovered for 15 minutes more. Finally remove from oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. Cut and serve.

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Strawberry Quinoa Balsamic Salad

On February 18, 2015, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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“That’s the worst!  I will never ever eat that again in my whole life!”

Famous last words from my soon to be 9 year old son.  Oscar, our other child, didn’t like it either.  So this was a complete fail if you are going to try it on kids or at least my kids. Maybe you’ll have better luck than we did at the dinner table. Fortunately, they had some “peace noodles” from Annie’s Organics. Oh well, we tried.

What they rejected my wife and I enjoyed.  This is light, summer dish made for a great tasting main course with some rustic bread we picked up from the South Pasadena Farmers Market. You can use this recipe for lunch, dinner and probably even breakfast. The combination of strawberries, cucumbers and spinach made for a light but filling meal.

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Combine it with some mozzarella cheese and you have an excellent way to enjoy quinoa, that is if you’re older than 10 and don’t think quinoa is the yuckiest thing on the planet.

The adventurous might also want to experiment with the dressing.  The recipe is a simple honey balsamic vinegar dressing.  A citrus based dressing would work will too and is something I will try next time when I make this again.  Considering it’s 80 degrees in Los Angeles in February, I won’t have to wait until summer…

Full Recipe: [Strawberry Quinoa Balsamic Salad]

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Mother’s Day Vegetable Tart

On May 12, 2013, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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It’s been a good month plus since I’ve participated in a Sunday Supper event with my fellow food bloggers. The theme this week is Mother’s Day. I had the perfect recipe picked out after asking my wife what she wanted me to make for her this weekend. She had her eye, or is it stomach, on a vegetable tart she found on Pinterest placed on her aptly named “Cook (or things Chris needs to make because I don’t cook)” board. I gathered the ingredients and was going to make it Saturday so we could enjoy Sunday spending time throughout southern California.

Saturday came and went pretty quickly. We spent the day at the Long Beach Queen Mary Barbecue Festival and ended a long day enjoying some taco truck tacos in Pasadena.  The vegetable tart had to wait until Sunday lunch.  Fortunately this is a fairly quick recipe, helped by my already having a finished pie crust in the freeze that was thawed out for this weekend.

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I added some asparagus to the recipe and the pie crust is Martha Stewart’s Pate Brisee recipe. The pie crust makes for buttery, flaky “tart.”  It’s good, but I think I prefer a basic tart recipe or perhaps some filo dough. That said, this is still a great recipe with the pie crust and makes for a great way to use some leftover pie dough.

Full Recipe: […Spring Vegetable Tart]

While I didn’t get to do Sunday Supper this weekend, I definitely will make my return next weekend with the group’s Slow Cooking theme. For now, be sure to checkout all of the excellent Mother’s Day recipes from the other food bloggers.

Mother’s Day Brunch:

Mother’s Day Entrees:

Mother’s Day Sides:

Mother’s Day Desserts and Drinks:

Don’t forget to join the #SundaySupper chat on Twitter today to celebrate Mother’s Day! We’ll tweet throughout the day and share our delicious recipes. Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm EST. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag, and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. Check out our #SundaySupper Pinterest board for more delicious recipes and food photos.

Do you have your ticket to the Food and Wine Conference yet? If not, there will be a special $100 discount available tonight only on the full conference pass if you participate in the #SundaySupper twitter chat from 7 to 8pm Eastern Time, and purchase your ticket during the chat. The discount code is: SundaySupper.  We hope to see you there!

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#SundaySupper Spooky Kid Pizzas

On October 28, 2012, in Featured, Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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So when I originally imagined doing some Halloween inspired pizzas for our twin boys Oscar & Theo I was thinking something a bit more spooky than a pumpkin.  Of course, the spooky factor kind of suffered since my “spider legs” were to be built form slices of green peppers. Sadly I failed to double-check we still had a bell pepper in the fridge.  We did not when it came time to make this week’s Sunday Supper.

Instead of spooky, we have a bit more of a ridiculous look. Fortunately, the boys didn’t mind and loved their jack o’ lantern pizzas. I just simply took some slices of carrot and triangle cut a tomato slice for eyes and noses.

 

Tomato Pizza Sauce

28 oz. can crushed plum tomatoes
2 Tbsp. tomato paste (avoid canned)
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 small or 1/2 med. onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, or 1 tsp. dried 1/4 tsp. each: salt, black pepper, sugar, dried oregano,
red pepper flakes

Mix together. Sometimes I sauté the garlic and onions in a little olive oil first. It depends upon what else I’m putting on the pizza. I sauté them if the toppings are more mild, and I don’t if the toppings are more aggressive. Basically, whatever you like.

 

Pizza Dough
(makes 2 — 12” rounds)

2 packets “rapid-rise” active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105 – 110 degrees)
2 teaspoons sugar 6 cups all-purpose flour*
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons olive oil

In a bowl, proof the yeast by mixing yeast, warm water and sugar. Let stand until it becomes foamy. This will take about 5 minutes.

In a mixer or large food processor, mix the flour and salt. Add the proofed yeast mixture and combine. Add olive oil and combine until the moisture is well-mixed into the flour. Add as much additional warm water to produce a dough which is smooth and not sticky. When dough is smooth and can be formed into a ball, it has been sufficiently kneaded.

Place the ball of dough into an oiled bowl; turn to coat all over with oil; cover with a towel, or plastic-wrap, and set in a warm place. Allow it to double in size, which will take about 10-15 minutes, or 1 hour with regular yeast.

When ready to proceed, preheat oven to 450.

Punch dough down; cut into halves; form each half into a ball; roll-out each ball into about a 12” round. Oil pizza pans lightly, and place dough onto pans. Push the dough up slightly around edges to make a border to hold the fillings.

Top pizzas with desired fillings, and moisten top by drizzling on some olive oil. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until dough is golden-brown and fillings are slightly bubbling.

Spooky Kid Pizzas

Pizza dough, homemade or store-bought
Pizza sauce, homemade or store-bought
Mozzarella cheese
Toppings: Tomato triangles and carrot sticks for the mouth and teeth

Assemble pizzas with a layer of sauce and plenty of shredded mozzarella.  Then make your “spooky” or Halloween inspired masterpiece using toppings.

Heat in a toaster oven or oven at 400 degrees cooking for 15 minutes.

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For more Halloween cooking ideas checkout this week’s #SundaySupper recipes

Bewitching Brews

Ghoulish Gruel: 

Haunted Snacks: 

Spooky Sweets: 

Please be sure you join us on Twitter throughout the day, this Sunday (October 28th) during #SundaySupper.  We’ll be meeting up at 7:00 pm (Eastern) for our weekly #SundaySupper live chat where we’ll talk about all things Halloween.  All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag, or you can follow us through TweetChat.

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Squash Casserole

On November 2, 2011, in Featured, Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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I have to admit before moving to a more vegetarian diet, I really didn’t find many uses for squash (or zucchini.) It’s kind of a dull, often mushy vegetable. Fortunately, vegetarian cooking has caused me to rediscover how great squash can be and dishes like this one put the vegetable to good use with minimal effort.

Of course, the big secret here is a nice thick crust of mozzarella cheese. You can use soy mozzarella cheese if you are vegan. That’s the only change to the recipe below necessary to go from vegetarian to vegan.

Squash Casserole
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
3-4 yellow squash or zucchini, chopped into 1-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can of cooked lentils, drained
1/2 cup cooked brown rice

Preheat oven to 350. In a casserole dish, combine all of the ingredients but only 1/2 a cup of the cheese. Stir it together and pat it flat. Now add the other cup of shredded cheese to cover mixture. Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, watching to get a good brown coloring on the cheese.

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Pizza Rustica Insane-ica

On January 30, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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In a world of $5 Hot ‘n Ready pizzas, why would anyone ever make a pizza from scratch at home? First of all it costs a small fortune with the San Marzano tomatoes, organic shredded mozzarella, and “sustainably raised” pepperoni. Secondly, it takes 30 minutes to cook the sauce, you have to roll the dough, and then you have to watch it incessantly in the oven to make sure it doesn’t burn yet the crust gets crispy.

Homemade pizza is for the insane.

There I said it. It really is, but sometimes it comes out perfect and puts the $5 pizza to shame. Tonight was one of those nights.

We had made what looked like a foolish decision last weekend at the local Italian market here in Dallas, Jimmy’s Food Store, when we purchased some frozen store-made pizza dough. The one great thing about pizza is how fun it is for our twin 4 year old boys to put on the toppings of their personal pizza. Kids love making pizza and it really is ideal for getting kids involved in cooking.

With easily $20 spent on ingredients we were ready to make some home-made pizzas.

Pizza Rustica
Makes 2 Pizzas

Make 1 recipe of Pizza Sauce (see below)

Pizza Dough (preferably from a local Italian Market)
1 Green Pepper
1/2 Red Onion, sliced in half-moons
Small can of sliced black olives
1 package of Applegate Farms Pepperoni
1 lb of shredded mozzarella cheese

Thaw the dough if frozen. I put it in the refrigerator the night before using and by dinner time the next day it is ready for use. It’s best to also place it on the counter a hour before using to let it come to room temperature, but this step is not necessary. It just makes the dough a little easier to work with.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Move the oven rack to the lowest position if your heating element is on the bottom of the oven. This works best to help the dough cook. If your oven has the heating element at the top, move the oven rack near the top, but you will have to gently cover the pizza with foil on top after 6-7 minutes of cooking and continue cooking 5 more minutes so as not to burn the top of the pizza.

Slice dough into 2 pieces and dust a board lightly with flour and work dough either by hand or by hand and rolling pin. What you want to do is make the dough really thin, almost where you can start seeing through it. Don’t worry about it being perfectly round or square, shape isn’t important.

Once the dough is ready move it on to parchment paper (or aluminum foil though the pizza will stick a little if using foil.) Spread some of the pizza sauce on the dough then sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Add toppings to desired taste. Then move the pizza leaving it on the parchment paper to the oven rack. Place on oven rack and cook pizza for 6-7 minutes watching closely after 5 minutes to get to desired brownness on top. Gently place a piece of foil on top of the pizza when the top looks done, then cook for another 5 minutes. The final 5 minutes of cooking helps cook the pizza crust which can be doughy if taken out too soon.

Slide the parchment paper on to a cookie sheet to remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool for 2 minutes before slicing. Slice and serve.

Pizza Sauce
Makes enough for 2-3 pizzas

2 Tbls olive oil
1 Tbl butter
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
16 ounces of tomato puree
2 Tbls grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp basil, dried
1 tsp oregano, dried
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp pepper
1 bay leaf

Heat butter and olive oil in a small pot. Add the onion, celery and garlic to the pot and heat until translucent, about 3-4 minutes on medium heat. Do not burn. Add tomato puree and remaining ingredients and stir and heat to a boil. Once at boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and set aside to cool for 10 minutes and use on fresh pizza dough.

 

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Gnocchi with Red Sauce

On September 7, 2009, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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You can make this recipe without the Italian sausage for a vegetarian version. Also, you can skip the whole oven process and just serve the pasta with the red sauce and pasta finished in a saute pan. If you make it without the oven steps, skip the bread crumbs but still use the mozzarella and parmesan cheese just cook them in the pan with the pasta and sauce until they mozzarella partially, but not fully, melts.

Gnocchi with Red Sauce
Serves 4

1 lb ricotta gnocchi
14 ounces of red sauce*
1/4 lb. italian sausage
1/3 lb. fresh mozzarella balls
1/2 cup of cooked spinach
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat water for gnocchi to boil, reduce heat to a gentle boil. Add a sprinkle of salt to the water and add gnocchi. Cook according to package directions. For fresh gnocchi, cook for about 2 minutes.

In a pan on medium-high heat, add italian sausage, sprinkle dried basil and oregano over sausage, and break it into smaller chunks with spoon. Cook until done, about 4 mintues. Mix often and set aside once cooked.

Heat olive oil in saucepan on medium heat. Add sliced garlic to pan and let it cook for 1 minute. Add spinach and cook spinach until done. You want to make a 1/2 cup of cook spinach. Set aside once done.

Heat red sauce in pan on medium heat. Reduce heat once it boils to remove boil. Add spinach with garlic and add cooked sausage. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook for 1 minute.

In a dutch oven or oven safe ceramic pan, add cooked gnocchi and red sauce mixture together. Tear mozzarella balls into pieces and mix in with gnocchi and sauce. Mix in parmesan cheese. Sprinkle top of pasta with bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil to help brown bread crumbs in oven.

Place dutch oven in oven and cook for 15 minutes. Sauce should be bubbling and bread crumbs should be golden brown when finished. Plate with garlic bread or salad. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over pasta.

* For the red sauce , I use Mario Batali’s Basic Red Sauce recipe. The most important thing about this recipe is using the right canned whole peeled tomatoes. I highly recommend using ONLY Carmelina ‘e San Marzano. I make it according the recipe and freeze about 4 containers with enough sauce for making a pound of pasta. For this recipe you just need 1 container, approximately 14 ounces.

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