Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Grandpa's Birthday

Last weekend was my dad's birthday and they were nice enough to bring the party to us.  In exchange for them making the trip down the Turnpike (with some of the "Jersey" clan in tow), I decided to make him a nice birthday dinner.  Making something special for dear old Dad is a little difficult as he is not really a fan of most food that I would consider "special."  As in, he's pretty much a meat and potatoes,nothing "weird" type of guy.  But, he does really love a good lasagna (who doesn't?) so that's what I decide to make.  I even threw in dessert.  From a box, of course

On a rare trip down the baking aisle, my ever-helpful 4 year old said with some skepticism "Mom, do you even know how to make brownies?"  Well, my dear, I know how to buy a box and I know how to follow directions, so there!  Just to stack the deck a little bit, I sprang for the "gourmet" brownie mix, no plain ol' Betty Crocker for my dad.  So, here's the line-up:

Lasagna (adapted from my great friend Catherine...10 years later and I still call it "Catherine's Lasagna"):

1 box Barilla lasagna noodles
1 lb lean ground beef (sometimes I thrown in a little breakfast sausage, it gives a nice extra flavor)
2T Extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
4-6 button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced or chopped
1 large (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes with basil (Muir Glen is my favorite)
1 T dried oregano
Black pepper
1 large tub (3 cups) low-fat, small curd cottage cheese, drained slightly (just pour some of the liquid out with the lid slightly loose)
1 egg
1/2 cup grated Parmiggiano Reggiano
Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped (or 1T dried)
8-16 oz good-quality mozzarella cheese

Heat a large pot of water to boiling.  Drop noodles in and stir.  Under-cook noodles by a few minutes, as they will keep cooking in lasagna.  Drain noodles and set aside, tossed with a touch of olive oil to keep from sticking.

While noodles are cooking, brown meat in olive oil.  Avoid stirring meat for the first few minutes so that it develops a nice brown "crust" that will add flavor to the sauce.  Drain fat, if necessary.  Add veggies and cook a few more minutes until veggies get some color on them.  Add remaining sauce ingredients (tomatoes and seasonings).  Turn to low and simmer for 20 minutes or so.

In a large bowl, mix cottage cheese, egg, parm cheese and parsley (with a little extra black pepper).  This is your "ricotta" layer.

Spread a little extra olive oil evenly over a large glass baking dish (or use cooking spray).  Spread a thin layer of red sauce in the bottom of the pan.  Slightly overlap noodles over sauce (my pan takes 4 noodles per layer with a little extra for the ends).  Top noodles with 1/3 of the cottage cheese mixture, 1/3 of the red sauce, and 1/3 of the mozzarella.  Add another layer of noodles and repeat sauce layers.  Repeat again until you have three layers each.  Add a bit more mozzarella and parm and fresh parsley to the top if desired.  Toss that baby in a 350 degree oven and wait 45 minutes for bubbly, cheesy goodness!

 I apologize for the lack of an "after" shot but by that point I was focusing on hostessing and not blogging!  Trust me, it was yummy and beautiful.

I served this with a chopped salad of romaine, red bell pepper, kalamata olives, yellow tomatoes, and more cheese.  And, of course, buttered garlic bread!  Crack a clove of garlic and heat it with 2-3 T butter in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.  Discard garlic and add some olive oil, fresh herbs, and black pepper.  Smear on bread and forget to count the calories while it browns lovingly in the oven with your lasagna.  Gild the lily with some Ghiradelli turtle brownies and a nice glass of red wine.  I chose Jarhead Red for this one in honor of my dad.  Does he drink wine?  No, but he was a Marine and I managed to enjoy a nice glass in his honor anyway!  It was actually quite tasty, and the proceeds go towards the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund.  Bonus!  Semper Fi Dad!  And happy birthday.  I hope this makes up for the fact that I didn't actually buy you a gift.

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