One thing you may not know about Robert is the man loves his soup! It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold outside, few things make his heart go pitter pat quite like coming home from class to discover I cooked a big ol’ pot of soup for dinner. For me, while I have been known to have a cup of soup in the summer, soup is really more of a cold weather meal. Unfortunately for Robert, this typically means that I only cook soups during the months of October-March when I can comfortably spend lengthy periods of time over the stove top and not melt.

Lately, the weather in Dallas has been perfect for cooking and eating nice, big bowls of soups, chilis and stews. Needless to say, if Robert’s and my New Years resolution was to eat more of these meals we would be well on our way to meeting our goal! In past winters, I’ve stuck to the same tried and true soup recipes that my or Robert’s mothers cooked to warm our stomachs and souls. This year, however, I decided to try something new.

For over a year now, I’ve heard people talk about how great the Pioneer Woman’s blog was, and it wasn’t until recently that I started reading her posts daily. This was the first of her recipes that I tried, and I am sold. I’ve made a few modifications to meet our tastes, mainly reducing the volume as the first batch I made was way more than even my soup-crazed husband could stomach in a given week.

Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
3/4 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 can Rotel tomatoes with green chilis
2 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups hot water
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp cornmeal, mixed with equal amounts of water
Sour cream, diced avocado, monterrey jack cheese and tortilla chips for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix cumin, chili pepper, garlic powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil on chicken breasts, then sprinkle a small amount of spice mix on both sides. Toss to coat. Set aside the rest of the spice mix.

Place chicken breasts on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, or until chicken is done. Use two forks to shred chicken. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot over medium high heat. Add onions, red pepper, green pepper, and minced garlic. Stir and begin cooking, then add the rest of the spice mix. Stir to combine, then add shredded chicken and stir.

Pour in Rotel, chicken stock, tomato paste, water, and black beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered.

Mix cornmeal with a small amount of water. Pour into the soup, then simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Ladle into bowls, then top with sour cream, diced avocado, and grated cheese and serve.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Modified from the Pioneer Woman

Happy Birthday Robert!

January 20, 2011

 

As usual, I’m a little behind on my posting but please bear with me. Yesterday, January 19, my beloved husband turned 28 years of age. Yes, he is now officially in his late-twenties and one year closer to 30, although I’m sure he’d rather not be reminded of that little fact just yet.

There are so many things I love about Robert. I thought I’d take a minute and highlight a few of them.

He’s smart, maybe even smarter than me but you’ll never hear me admit it!

He loves the outdoors including fishing and hiking and I’m sure one day hunting.

He loves to ski and not only can hang in with my dad and me but keeps us on our toes on the slopes!

He’s always willing to lend a hand in the kitchen when I look like I’ve got too many irons in the fire.

He’s not afraid to let loose and be a bit silly from time to time.

He’s my partner in crime.

But most of all, I love the way he shows me his love day in and day out through word and in action.

Happy birthday Robert! Here’s to one more year of life together!

Living In Community

January 13, 2011

I’ve heard it said many times in church and in Christian circles that we humans were created to live in community with one another. Inherent in the very fabric of our souls is a need to share our life with others. That’s why God created Eve for Adam, because He saw that it was not good for man to live alone.

Living in community is a great and glorious thing, yet it can also be messy. Living life with other people means that you are exposed to their faults, sins and trials just as you are also exposed to their successes, joys and strengths. In times of abundance, it’s fun spending time with your community, delighting in one another’s experiences. And it’s in the seasons of trials and despair that the strength of one’s community is tested.

Seeing a member of your community, someone you love, grapple with loss and pain is hard. It’s different from watching a coworker or acquaintance or casual friend go through it. This person is living life with you, and in a sense they are very much apart of who you are and who you will become. As they hurt, you hurt. As the weep and mourn, so do you. If you’re not used to living in such community, such emotions can be jarring. How can the pain of another person feel so real to you? How is it that you find yourself on the verge of tears when you are not the one who lost or is in pain?

The more I think about this occurrence in human interaction, the more beautiful I think it is. It’s a big world out there and I like knowing that when trials come my way I have a community to fall back on.

Right now a member of my community is hurting. I’ve wept and prayed for my dear friend so many times in the past week that I am amazed. You see, I’m not a big crier especially not when it comes to other people’s hurts and pains. But this, I am learning, is different. This isn’t just anybody who’s hurting, this is a member of my community, my sister and brother who are hurting and that cuts deeper in my soul than I ever imagined.

And you know what, I’m not the only one. The other members of our community are experiencing the same emotions I am as we try to stand together in support of our friends. Together we are stronger and our prayers are louder. As a community we will weather this storm.

And so here we are, learning what living lives together in community is all about. And even though right now it’s messy, it hurts and causes me to mess up my make up due to tears, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Gorgonzola Dates

April 13, 2010

There are many dates in a year that stick out for one reason or another.  Birthdays, anniversaries, days that mark a momentous occasion just to name a few.  One of the most recent of these dates to remember would be Super Bowl Sunday 2010, the day I tasted my first Gorgonzola Date.

Until that fateful day I had not even tasted a date before, let alone consider it crave-worthy.  That all changed with just one bite.  We were at the house of a close friend’s father to watch the big game when he pulled these beauties out of the oven, placed them on a bed of lemon butter sauce and asked me if I wanted one.  They smelled wonderful, and who can resist anything with gourmet cheese and bacon?  Certainly not I!  The minute I placed that date in my mouth I was hooked.  Even more so when I was encouraged to pair this new delectable with a glass of bold red wine.  I think I controlled myself at consuming no more than 3 that night, but the memory would not leave.

I’ve secretly been looking for an occasion, any occasion really, to try my hand at this recipe.  That occasion came Saturday night as we hosted some friends for dinner.  This group was perfect to test my recipe on: they love good cheese, fine wine and adventure.  And it did not disappoint.  It was good to have my new friend back on my plate as I enjoyed good conversation and a glass of bold, red wine. 

This recipe is perfect for any social occasion when you want an impressive hors d’oeuvre that takes minimal effort for maximum results.

 Gorgonzola Dates

Ingredients
Medjool Dates
Applewood Smoked Bacon (1 slice per 3 dates)
Wedge of firm aged gorgonzola cheese
2 medium lemons
White Pepper
Kosher salt
1 stick of butter chilled, cut into 8 pieces
Balsamic Vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  

Cut slices of bacon into three even pieces and set aside.  With a small paring knife cut a slit length wise in each date and remove seed within.  Cut a small piece of gorgonzola from the cheese wedge and fill date with gorgonzola so that date is fully stuffed.    Take a piece of bacon and wrap around the stuffed date, securing with a toothpick.  Place date seam side down on a greased rimmed baking sheet.  Once you have all your dates stuffed and wrapped, bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until bacon is browned and slightly crispy.

While the dates are cooking in the oven squeeze the juice of 2 medium lemons into a small medium-bottomed saucepan.  Add a pinch of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of white pepper to the juice and boil until reduced to 1 tablespoon.  Remove from heat and immediately whisk in 2 pieces of butter until melted.  Place pan over very low heat and whisk in butter one piece at a time until all pieces are incorporated into a creamy sauce.  Remove from heat and set aside until dates are done cooking.

When dates are ready, remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes.  Cover the bottom of your serving plate with lemon butter sauce, it should have thickened some as it cooled and drizzle some balsamic vinegar on top of the sauce.  Place the dates on the sauce and serve.

Adapted from: family friend recipe; Mastering the Art of French Cooking

It’s Easter Sunday, 2010, Robert and  I have just arrived back in town from visiting my grandparents in Texarkana.  We head to Central Market to purchase our groceries for the week only to find that our beloved store is closed for the holiday.  Where can we go?  We remember that a new Whole Foods just opened up just up Greenville Ave, so we head that direction, hoping it is not also closed.

We pull into the parking lot and are excited, it’s new and shiny.  Ooh, they have all sorts of flowers and planting items for sale, how fun!  We are confident this will be a fun and exciting new place.  We walk into the produce section and it’s chaos.  I pick up a tomato, see the organic sticker on it, put it down and can’t find a normal tomato.  Surely they have the organics in one location and the normal in another right?  WRONG!  Everything is mixed up, hodge podge.  It’s ok, we can do this.  I pick up a lemon, see the organic label again, put it down.  Hunt for a new lemon…3 minutes later I find the normal lemons.  They’re HUGE!  Is Whole Foods is intentionally buying GMO lemons to force me to buy organic?  The nerve!  I send Robert on the hunt for fresh basil and I go look for normal, non-organic leafy green vegetables.  I walk up and down the aisle, they only have organic leafy greens!  Are you kidding me??  I give up and bag my organic cilantro and lettuce, defeated.  Robert walks up empty bag in hand, there’s no basil.  What kind of grocery store doesn’t have fresh basil?!?  Even the tiny Tom Thumb by our condo always has fresh basil! Frustration has clearly set in, we finish up in the produce section and move on.

We make our way to the butcher section.  We only have two items on our list in this section, should be in and out in no time, right?  Ha!  First, I go to select my package of chicken breasts only to discover there is not an option for chicken breast halves, only whole breasts.  This really isn’t a problem, but given all the change that’s been foisted upon me, I’m annoyed anyways.  I walk up to the butcher counter looking for the “Take a Number” dispenser.  There is none.  I wonder how they manage crowds at the counter on busy days.  I wait for a while before I’m helped; I get my pork tenderloin and move on.

Time for the dry goods and miscellaneous sections on the list.  We’re encouraged to be almost done, until we realize we have no idea where anything is.  Confusion begins to set in again as we think about our game plan.  We take a break for a wine sample and a deep breath.  We can do this.  We can conquer the beast.  We’re on the hunt for some spices, we finally find the right aisle, only to find four salesman restocking the spices completely in the way.  I stand there for a minute, looking the spices over, thinking that surely they will notice me and step aside.  They do not.  I find the cumin seeds and move on.  Where is the commitment to customer service that I’ve come to expect??

It’s time to find the deli.  We wander aimlessly, pass several salesmen, none of which ask us if we need help.  We finally find the deli, again no take a number option.  We wait and are helped by a rather grumpy lady.  I miss the jovial deli counter employees at Central Market.  They’re always entertaining; this lady makes her work look like laborious work.  We get all we need and are finally ready to check out and get out.

We make our way to the check out area only to find that there are only 2 non express lanes open.  Are you kidding me?? It’s a Sunday for crying out loud, the busiest day for grocery stores!  Why wouldn’t you have at least 5 lanes open.  We finally get to the head of the line and the process takes forever.  It’s amazing how Central Market’s expectation on the customer to weigh and label produce with PLU codes really saves time.  We have a perky teenager as our checkout girl; it’s obvious she’s still learning the process.  She asks about our experience, we try to explain some frustrations only to be met with an empty gaze.  We’re finally done, exhausted and ready to be home.  We think our Whole Foods frustrations are over, that is until I open my bags and find the eggs haphazardly tossed into the bag and no separation between the chicken and fresh produce.

At this point it is clear to us that we will no longer shop at Whole Foods for any reason.  And so I make this my solemn vow: I, Staci Thetford, promise on this leafy green vegetable, never to allow impatience or inconvenience deter me from my grocery store home, Central Market, ever again.  Furthermore, I swear to remain loyal to Central Market and all that it stands for, shunning competing so-called grocery stores and other “pretenders” to the CM throne.  Finally and specifically, I solemnly swear to evangelize and proselytize to those poor, wretched souls who have come under the misguided belief that Whole Foods provides them an experience better than or equal to that of Kroger.

Central Market, I’m sorry.  Will you take me back?

In November, the House passed health care by a vote of 220-215.  If she thought the first vote was a nail-bitter, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s cuticles are about to get even shorter.  Death (Murtha), resignation (Wexler and Abercrombie) and defection (Cao) has made the vote even tighter.  If a roll call occurred today and all other votes remained the same, health care would squeak breathlessly by 216-214.

Of course, the assumption that the yeses of November will remain the ayes of March is a perilous prediction.  The possibility of defections runs in both directions as this article makes clear, but the most important voting bloc and the most probable defectors are Bart Stupak and his anti-abortion apostles.  The pro-life Michigan Democrat revealed this morning that he and as many as twelve other House Democrats will not vote for health care legislation largely because of the bill’s more lenient treatment of abortion coverage.

Within the confines of the House chamber, Pelosi holds the advantage.  Through her office pass all of the pearls enjoyed by Democratic House members, including committee assignments, campaign contributions and election year political support.  However, when a House member turns his cell phone to the “off” position for the plane ride back to the district, the advantage shifts decidedly away from Pelosi.  Virulent town hall protests, notable anti-Washington election wins and polls chronicling voter disgust with Congress clearly demonstrate that health care legislation is a poison pill and that only Democrats from navy blue districts can easily support it.

Moreover, time isn’t on the side of Speaker Pelosi.  March 26 marks the last day that the House and Senate are open for business prior to a two week Easter recess.  With November elections fast approaching, that recess is sure to be dominated by electoral considerations, including visits with irate constituents and uncomfortable Q-and-A sessions with local media.  If the House hasn’t voted by March 26, it seems unlikely that Pelosi will be able to schedule a successful vote after House members return.

Despite long-holding center stage, the Senate story is quietly taking shape.  Comments from Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Senate Majority whip Dick Durbin have made clear that Democratic leaders are willing to use reconciliation to pass health care.  (A description of reconciliation, a controversial parliamentary procedure, may be found here.)  While a pro-reconciliation Senate whip count hasn’t been released, statements by centrist Senate Democrats suggest that reconciliation likely enjoys support sufficient to pass the final components of health care legislation, assuming the House can move the bill to the Senate.

At the moment, Congressional Democrats and Administration officials are huddled in behind-closed-doors sessions, hammering out legislative language which the President is expected to release later this week.  With the announcement of the President’s version of health care all eyes will turn to the U.S. House of Representatives and the curtain will rise on the final, climatic scene of the health care epic: can Pelosi twist enough arms to secure 216 ayes or will rank-and-file Democratic dissenters twist enough knives into the President’s health care bill to kill it on the floor of the House?

Best. Birthday. EVER.

February 12, 2010

Last Friday was my 27th birthday.  As February 5th approached this year I mentioned to Robert that I had never been given a surprise party for my birthday, or for any occasion for that matter.  I later realized that wasn’t exactly true.  In highschool my mom picked me up from a theatre trip, told my friends all to head to my house while she took me to Baskin Robins to pick up a cake.  She told me that she just felt like getting me a cake, but seeing as my mom has never been good at lying or at keeping secrets I knew something was up.  When we got home 5 of my friends were hiding behind our kitchen island yelling happy birthday.  So Mom, I’m sorry I didn’t immediately give you credit for throwing me my first surprise party.

Anyways, in college, my birthday either included an exam, or later Impact counselor selections which, naturally, overshadowed my big day.  I’ve never been a big self-promoter so if someone didn’t offer to organize a party or dinner for my birthday, I didn’t initiate one.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of good birthday events, but this year Robert really went over the top.

Despite the fact that he was laid up on the couch all week with a nasty cold, Robert managed to arrange a day of birthday surprises to occur on Saturday, the day after my birthday.  The surprises began at 11 on Friday night when our friend Jim showed up at our front door to spend the weekend.  Although Robert did manage to let it slip that Jim was our surprise guest, it still was a great surpise.

Before heading to bed Robert told me that I was to be ready to leave the house by 11:00am on Saturday.  He knows how much I cherish being able to sleep in on the weekend and took that into consideration as he set the schedule of events.  Isn’t he a sweetie?  So at 11:30 we pulled out of our driveway and headed west.  I was pretty sure I knew where we were headed until we pulled into the parking lot of the Irving Mall.  The surprise there was that our friend John was joining us for the days festivities, John pulled in behind us on the road and we continued our trek westward.

Surprise #2 of the day was lunch at Joe T. Garcia’s in Ft. Worth where the four of us were joined by my best friend Jalah and her fiance Chad.  Lunch was delicious and the conversation was lively, which should not be a surprise if you’ve ever been to lunch with Robert.  We touched on missions, the death penalty and future career paths seamlessly all in under 2 hours.  So pretty much your typical lunch convo.

We paid our bill and got in the cars to head toward surprise #3, which I later discovered was a trip to the Kimball Art Museum to see the Texas Private Collections exhibit.  I had been wanting to see this exhibit for weeks and my anticipation was not disappointed.  I was amazed to see how many great works of European art both classic and modern are housed in homes in Texas.  There’s even a Monet Waterlillies painting in the Park Cities! Crazy.

After we finished drooling over the beautiful artwork, all but John headed back to Dallas to hang out and play Bananagrams at our house before moving on to surprise #4, dinner at Breadwinners where we were joined by Luke and Maci.  Breadwinners is one of my favorite non-Mexican eating establishments in Dallas and it did not disappoint.  Dinner was a blast and while I can’t remember exactly what we talked about, I certainly remember there being a lot of laughter and storytelling.

After dinner we said goodbye to Luke and Maci and the five of us headed to the destination of my 5th and final surprise of the night, birthday cake from Panini and champagne at Felix and Sandra’s house. 

Check out that cake!! Triple layer chocolate with cappucino filling. Oh my!

Panini was the bakery that did our wedding cakes and I can safely say that I have never tasted cake so delicious in my life.  After a little bit our friends Jon and Alyssa came by to share in the cake and fun.  All in all it was a great day with friends, good food and fun.  I think it’s safe to say that this was by far the best birthday ever.  Thanks Robert!!

Jalah and I before cake.

Celebrating the Advent

December 15, 2009

I don’t remember a whole lot about Advent growing up.

I remember that the weekend after Thanksgiving I would be responsible for putting out all three of our nativity scenes, a task I took much joy in and prided myself in making the figurines look authentic in their positioning on the table.

I remember having advent calendars where we would through some form or fashion tick off the days until Christmas, although in my childish mind it was less about the anticipation of Christ’s birth and more about one less day to wait until presents.

And I remember the Advent wreath ceremony at church where each Sunday of Advent one family would read a scripture verse and light a candle on the wreath.  I even got to read the verse for our family one year.

But other than that, I don’t remember paying too much attention to Advent as a child, and certainly not as a college student.  Advent always fell in the midst of exams and so, much like my childhood, the celebration of Advent was largely contained within the confines of Sunday morning worship.

That’s all changed this year.

Last year some friends of mine wrote a blog about the Christmas album by Andrew Peterson entitled Behold the Lamb of God that caught my attention.  I downloaded the album and listened to it a few times, enjoyed it and then tucked it away once Christmas had passed not to be touched for a year.  November 30 came along and I grabbed the CD, the only Christmas music I had with me in my car, and pressed play.  Immediately I was enthralled by the storytelling involved in the music and joyfully worshipped along with it during my commute to work.

To me, this CD is what Advent is all about!  Peterson starts in the Old Testament with the Israelites in Egypt during the Passover and moves from there to their whining to God for a King, to Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah and even through the captivity of Israel all before we even begin to touch on the New Testament.

I’m sure your thinking, what kind of Christmas music waits until halfway through the CD to even talk about Christmas??  An Advent CD that’s what.  Think about it.  At the advent candle lighting ceremony at church, the first one always begins with the prophecies of Christ’s coming.  So it’s only natural for Peterson to start in the Old Testament, in fact, I like that he starts with the Passover because it shows the build up in the history of the Israelites before the prophets fortold the coming of the Messiah.  Like any good story teller he’s merely setting the stage.

Once you get through the Old Testament songs, then we’re on to the Christmas story.  My favorite song in the whole album falls here, although I really do love the whole thing, it’s called “Labor of Love”.  It’s the telling of Christ’s birth like I’ve never heard it before.  It makes it real, raw, powerful.  Somehow, in all my 26 years when I’ve thought about the nativity, I’ve pictured Mary as this perfect, angelic woman who gladly gave birth in a manger.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying she was a complainer or anything, but it was a manger for crying out loud.  Animals live, eat and defecate there!  I know I would certainly be looking up at the sky and saying something along the lines of “Really God, you want me to birth YOUR SON, the Saviour of THE WHOLE WORLD here?? HERE!?!”  But then again that’s just me.

This song starts with the following verses. “It was not a silent night, there was blood on the ground.  You could here a woman cry in the alleyway that night on the streets of David’s town.  And the stable was not clean, and the cobblestones were cold, but little Mary full of grace, with the tears upon her face and no mother’s hand to hold”  Wow.  That is definately not the picture I think of when I sing “Silent Night” or assemble my Willow Tree Nativity scene!

Rather then simply typing out the words and why I think they are great, I’ve posted the video from the 2007 concert for you to enjoy yourself.

In addition to my continuous play of this amazing CD, Robert and I purchased an Advent devotional to read together at night during dinner.  It’s nothing fancy, and we’ve certainly missed a few nights due to exams, but it’s really been a sweet time that we’ve both enjoyed.  I think it’s safe to say, that we may have just begun our first Christmas tradition for our family.

I’ve really enjoyed celebrating and meditating on Advent this year and I’d encourage you to start now if you haven’t already, now’s as good a time as any!  And if I’ve peaked your interest on the Behold the Lamb of God album, go here and listen to this free player of the album with lyrics posted alongside.

So today is the fourth Tuesday in a row that I’ve tried to write this entry.  It’s budget season in the City of Dallas and that means I’ve had Budget Town Hall meetings to attend the past three Tuesdays  that have kept me busy and away from Tasty Tuesdays.  S0 without further adieu, this week’s Tasty Tuesday is Turkey and Spinach Lasagna, a Staci Thetford original!

As a kid my only interaction with lasagna was at church functions and was of the frozen variety generally found at Sam’s.  Needless to say I was not a big fan.  So much in fact that I was convinced that all lasagna must be like this and therefore I did not like lasagna.  How tragic.  Fortunately for me, sometime in college a good friend of mine took me to dinner at one of the local Italian establishments and gave me a taste of their non-frozen, made from scratch lasagna.  I was amazed at how different, and wonderful it tasted.  It would take another 3 years before I would start making it myself, but I was no longer afraid.

I’ve mentioned in a previous Tasty Tuesday that my friend Rachel and I used to cook together weekly.  One of the first cooking adventures we had was a version of this turkey and spinach lasagna.  It was delightful!  I don’t remember the exact recipe we used, but here is the one that I use every time I make homemade lasagna.

Ingredients
1 lb ground turkey (or Italian style turkey sausage)
2 garlic cloves
1 lb package of lasagna noodles
2 jars of marinara sauce (I prefer to use sweet ones for this recipe)
1 lb of mozzarella cheese
15 oz ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 pkg frozen spinach thawed

Back when I first started making homemade lasagna, I used to make the marinara sauce from scratch.  That process made this already time intensive dish impossible for a weeknight meal so I quickly switched to using store bought sauce.  Initially I used Ragu’s sweet onion and garlic but just recently switched to a more natural brand, Cucina Antica where the ingredient list on the bottle contains only the items I would use if I were making it myself and no additives or preservatives!!  I can’t talk up this sauce company enough.  For this recipe I used their Italian Spinach Marinara as I knew it would compliment the spinach perfectly.

To begin set a large pot of water on the stove top to boil.  When ready add lasagna noodles (about 15 if long style and 20 if short) and boil for as long as the package suggests.  Remember not to over cook the pasta since it will cook longer while in the oven to bake.  Once the pasta is done place immediately in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.  Set aside.

In the meantime brown your ground turkey in a large skillet along with the two garlic cloves minced. (Note: if using Italian style turkey sausage be sure to remove the sausage from its casings prior to browning.  Also, the garlic would not be necessary in this instance as there is already a lot of flavor in the sausage.)  Cook until cooked through and no pink exists and drain off fat if necessary.  Pour into the skillet 1 and a half bottles of marinara sauce.  Turn off burner and set aside.

Completed Sauce

Completed Sauce

Take the thawed frozen spinach and drain of most liquid being sure not to drain off too much leaving the leaves too dry which will make mixing difficult.  In a medium sized bowl mix together the spinach and ricotta cheese and set aside.

Spinach/Ricotta mixture

Spinach/Ricotta mixture

If you purchased fresh mozzarella you have the option of shredding or slicing the cheese.  While shredding is more difficult given the softness of the cheese than slicing, it does result in a more even dispersion of the cheese throughout the dish and is recommended. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Now for the assembly of the dish.  First, line the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish (or lasagna pan if you have one, which I don’t) with a little bit of the sauce left over in the jar, just enough to make a thin layer on the bottom of the pan.  This will prevent the lasagna pasta from sticking to the pan. 

 

Sauce lined pan

Sauce lined pan

 

 

Now cover the sauce with 3-4 lasagna noodles slightly overlapping, drying off the pasta with a paper towel before placing in the pan.  The number will depend on the length of the noodles and how many it will take to cover the pan.

On top of the pasta spoon about 1/3 of the spinach ricotta mixture and spread over the pasta.  Note, the pasta will be a little wet/sticky even with drying it which might make spreading the ricotta a little challenging, don’t get frustrated, it doesn’t have to look pretty since it’ll be covered up by the other layers.

 

Spinach Ricotta layer

Spinach Ricotta layer

Now cover the ricotta cheese with 1/4 of the mozzarella.  If you’re using sliced mozzarella, unless you have a fantastic cheese slicer, it is likely that the slices will be of slightly varying thickness.  The important thing to remember in this layer, is to keep an even distribution of the cheese.  In order to do so, you need to take into consideration how the cheese will melt.  This go-round, I chose to use shredded mozzarella and found that it was so much easier to work with and its next to impossible to not get an even melt.  Once the mozzarella is complete, top with 1/4 of the parmesan.

 

Mozzarella and Parmesan layer

Mozzarella and Parmesan layer

Now top the cheese with the marinara sauce using about 1/4 of the remaining sauce, or just enough to cover the cheese.

 

First complete layer of lasagna

First complete layer of lasagna

Repeat this layering process, starting with pasta, two more times until you have three layers of pasta and three layers of filling.  After completing the third filling layer (spinach ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and sauce) top with a layer of pasta and the remaining sauce (I usually have to dip into the sauce left in the second jar at this point) and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Your completed lasagna should look like this:

 

Completed lasagna pre-cooking

Completed lasagna pre-cooking

Bake the lasagna until the cheese is browned and bubbly, about 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit for at least 15 minutes.  This step is important to allow the layers to set and keep you from burning yourself with hot cheese when dishing out the portions.  Cut into single servings and enjoy.  Serves 6-9

 

The finished product

The finished product

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Making lasagna from scratch is definitely time-consuming, it usually takes me 2-2.5 hours from start to finish, but it is also worth the effort.  If you are pressed for time, or are planning to serve this for a dinner party and you don’t want to risk running behind schedule, this can be assembled the night before, covered tightly and refrigerated and put into the oven 1 hour prior to serving.  I’ve had to do that a few times when I didn’t get started early enough with assembly and it’s turned out just fine.  Enjoy.

My Husband, My Sous Chef

September 8, 2009

This Labor Day weekend, Robert and I decided to take advantage of the “free” day of no work and no class and cook two large meals and an order of salsa (recipe to come) to last us the rest of the week.  The idea here was that taking care of the cooking in one fell swoop would provide me with more time during the week to take care of some other chores around the house, to go to the gym and work out and simply to enjoy our evenings at home with limited dishes to clean.

I got started at around 5:45pm Monday evening beginning with my Cilantro Lime Chicken Tacos (a double order) while Robert worked on cleaning some dishes that our dishwasher refused to clean.  When the tacos were done, we sat down and enjoyed the first fruits of our evening labor before getting back up to continue the cooking and cleaning parade.  The second recipe of the evening was Rachel Ray’s Ancho Chicken Tortilla Soup.  Everything started out smoothly, in the beginning, I had soaked my dried ancho chilis during dinner so they were ready for pureeing, the corn was cut off the cob and was ready for sauteeing, I was in business.

However, just as soon as I put the corn into the pot to saute, I realized that I still needed to chop the onion and jalapeno for the saute and the corn was not easily left alone while I accomplished this task.  It was then that I called upon my trusted sous chef husband.  Robert took over saute duty while I finished chopping and pureeing the upcoming ingredients to be added to the pot.  I was soon prepared to relieve Robert of his station when I realized that I still had not skinned and shredded the rotisserie chicken purchased at the store previously.  

No problem, I pulled the chicken from the fridge and grabbed a knife before realizing that I didn’t know a thing about pulling a whole chicken apart.  I’m sure some of you will be surprised to read that with all my fancy cooking, I do not know how to carve a chicken.  My family, I’m sure, is the least surprised knowing that I do not enjoy eating meat off the bone and always steer clear from cooking recipes that require me to deal with bones.  I guess today marks a new day, but I digress.  I now turn to Robert wielding a large Santoku knife and ask him how to go about dealing with the bird.

It was about this time that Robert, turning to address my question, realized the reason why I try to always wear an apron while cooking.  (The collateral damage to his clothes can be seen in the photo below.)  We determined that the soup was in a good place to be left alone to simmer and Robert came to my rescue to show me how dismembering a rotisserie chicken is done.

Sous Chef Robert hard at work

Sous Chef Robert hard at work

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Problem solved!  The chicken was shredded and added to the soup along with the final touches of honey and lime.  I can’t wait to try it for lunch today, it looks fantastic.  All in all, it was a successful cooking evening, so much so that we’ve decided to make “tag team cooking” a new addition to our Save Sunday activities.
Obviously I do not know what I'm doing..

Obviously I do not know what I'm doing..