Teaching myself to cook, one recipe at a time.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hubby’s Birthday Dinner: Lasagna and Red Velvet Cupcakes

Yesterday was hubby’s birthday. He’d rather not tell the world, which is of course what I’m here for. Happy birthday! I was more excited than he was, but he says I’ll understand in a few years when I’m old, too.


I decided to make his favorite lasagna. I’ve made this many different times and I always come back to it because it’s just so yummy. And then for dessert, I wanted to do something I’d never done before. Red velvet cupcakes showed up on an allrecipes.com search a while back, so it was the first thing that came to mind.


To start off with, I double the meat sauce in my lasagna recipe. Made as written, it’s just plain skimpy, and who wants a piece of lasagna with skimpy meat sauce? Not us. I started off with 2 pounds of ground beef and plenty of chopped garlic.


Cook it until it’s no longer pink and then drain it. Yada yada, you know the drill. Anyway, at that point, you can add tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, oregano, sugar, pepper, and dried onion soup mix. I think it’s the onion soup mix that makes this so unique and tasty.


I think I was so distracted by trying to use different settings on my camera that I neglected to get crisp, focused pictures. My bad. Anyway, stir it up, cover, and let simmer for a half hour. You can use that time to cook the lasagna noodles and prep your cheeses.

Cheese #1: The recipe says to use cottage cheese, but I’ve taken to substituting ricotta cheese. I add an egg and a teaspoon of basil to it for texture and taste.


Cheese #2: shredded mozzarella. I didn’t take a picture because it was just a zip-lock bag from the dairy section, nothing too fancy.

Cheese #3: Parmesan cheese and lots of it. Again, I didn’t use the fancy stuff. I think maybe next time, I will.


Mmm, that sauce has gotten tasty and delicious. It’s hard not to sneak tastes of it here and there.


Spread some of it in the bottom of the pan.


Lay in three cooked lasagna noodles, then layer the cheeses and meat sauce. I’d have taken more pictures, but washing my hands so many times seemed like a huge pain in the butt.



My, oh my. That dish got awfully full.


I sprayed a piece of aluminum foil with cooking spray to keep it from sticking to the cheese, covered it, and then stuck it in the oven.

After 40 minutes, I uncovered it, and after another 10 minutes, I took it out.


My presentation wasn’t so hot, but neither of us cared because it was so tasty!


I’m telling you, that dried onion soup mix really makes it amazing. Try it.

So that was the main course. Also needed dessert!

In one bowl, flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.


In another bowl, sugar and butter.


Add eggs. Four of them.


And sour cream.

And a whole bottle of red food coloring.

And some milk and vanilla extract.


Mix it up, then gradually stir in the flour mixture.


Put in paper-lined muffin cups. How pretty is this?


Bake them, and then while they’re cooling, whip up some frosting with butter, cream cheese, vanilla, sour cream, and confectioner’s sugar.


Once the cupcakes are completely cool, top them with the cream cheese frosting. I used a zip-lock baggie with the corner cut off.


Mmmmmm. Delicious.


Then my color-blind husband asked me if the cupcakes were actually red, or if they were just called that. I guess the prettiness of them was lost. But they still tasted pretty good!

Recipe in tastebook soonish.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

I love fall. I love the cooler temperatures, the leaves turning colors, pumpkins, kids going back to school, cider, all of it.

Summer is trying hard to stick around, and I’m sick to death of the hot temperatures. I tried buying a pumpkin scented candle, and I bought soaps that smell like caramel and apples and pumpkins, but so far that hasn’t helped.

So I made pumpkin soup.


I made this recipe once before, back when I lived in my little Pennsylvania apartment. I didn’t have much in the way of kitchen gadgets, money, or experience, but I was feeling adventurous and that’s all you really need, I guess. I didn’t realize until I was mid-way through that the recipe requires a blender or food processor, neither of which I owned, so I have memories of trying to smooth it out with a large knife and a potato masher. It wasn’t too successful, though it was tasty.

Here I am, 5 years later, and I hadn’t tried to make it again yet. It was about time. First, start off by chopping up some onion.


Sauté it in butter until it’s sweet and tender.


While it’s cooking, peel and slice up some potatoes.



And measure out some canned pumpkin.


When the onions are done, add the potatoes and pumpkin, along with chicken broth. Cook it up until the potatoes are soft.


And then puree the mixture. The recipe says to do it half at a time, but my blender’s big and I didn’t see a point.


Once it’s smooth, return it to the pot and add salt, pepper, and nutmeg.


I think I added a sprinkle of ginger, cloves, and a hint of cayenne pepper, as per reviews.

Add some milk, for creaminess.


As for presentation, the recipe said to mix up some sour cream with fresh parsley, drop a dollop into each bowl, and then top with crumbled bacon. I didn’t bother mixing the parsley with sour cream beforehand, nor did I use fresh parsley. And I skipped the bacon.


Still looked pretty good to me. The pumpkin flavor is mediated by the potatoes and onions, so it’s both hearty and creamy.


Hubby wasn’t real interested, but it ain’t man food. I thought it was yummy and didn’t mind having plenty of leftovers.

Here’s the recipe, if you’re interested. Won’t go in my TasteBook because I’ve already had this one printed up. Enjoy!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bad Day Minestrone Soup

I don’t dislike rainy days. In fact, I normally like their coziness. But that only applies when I’m inside. This whole week has been nonstop rain, and that doesn’t go well with my job. One day this week, I was constantly in and out of the car, meeting with clients, driving all over town. Because of the rain, I was running late to everything, I kept getting soaked, and I felt like I didn’t accomplish anything. I even got hit on by a food pantry volunteer: “Hey baby, why hasn’t your boyfriend put a ring on your finger yet?” I replied with a chilly, “I’m MARRIED” and showed him my left hand, which he had apparently mixed up with my un-ringed right hand, to which he countered, “I’m sorry, baby, I’m not used to working with such beautiful women!” Of course, this interaction took place while I was trying to take care of a diabetic client whose blood sugar had plummeted. And then I worked an extra hour because a client’s quick follow-up visit at the doctor turned into an ER visit. Long story short, I was tired and very cranky by the time I got home.


Perfect day for soup, and perfect day to spend some time in the kitchen angrily chopping things up. This minestrone (which is pronounced min-es-trone-ee, by the way) recipe was found on my hometown’s online newspaper some time back. They have a silly little food section where 5 new recipes along a theme are posted every week, and I’ve always found the section useless when there are so many good recipe websites, but this recipe find was solid gold. I’ve looked for a similar one on other sites and have never found one, so isledegrande gets credit for this one. I’ve made it many times before and it is definitely worth making again.

But first things first: a glass of delicious cheap red wine. This is very important.


Next, take a pound of sweet Italian sausage, remove the casings, crumble, and brown in a big pot. I almost skipped this, since I didn’t have any sausage, but I’m a good wife and knew that vegetarian soup wouldn’t cut it for hubby. Anyway, I was afraid that omitting this would have a bad effect on the overall quality of the soup, so I made a special trip for it. Yes, I know that technically minestrone is supposed to be meatless, but hey, this version of it isn’t. Go with it.

When I tried to crumble it on the cutting board, I just ended up with a gooey mess. I should have known better.


Here it is after it’s been browned in a big gumbo pot and then set aside.


Next, the recipe calls for 2 onions, chopped. I decided not to follow this to the letter, as my onions were huge. That knife in the picture is a giant chef’s knife, the biggest one I own, so you can see how big the onion is by comparison.


So, only some onion. I cheated and used my food processor to chop it finely. But didn’t take pictures of that, apparently.

Here it is in the pan with some chopped garlic. Browned bits from the sausage were still in the pot, but they came up with the onions and added extra flavor as they cooked.


Next, add a can each of red kidney beans and cannellini beans (drained and rinsed), plus 6 cups of water and a bay leaf. I forgot to photograph the beans looking all pretty and colorful in the colander, so you’ll just have to believe me.


Bring the mixture to a boil, and then return the sausage to the pan and add chopped carrots and celery,


a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes,


salt, pepper, nutmeg, and oregano.


Stir it all up, and then let it simmer (covered) for about 20 minutes.


In the meantime, chop up some zucchini



And half a head of cauliflower.



Also, measure out a cup of uncooked pasta. I have tried a bunch of shapes, but anything small is good. Don’t overdo the pasta, though, no matter how tempting it is when you’re looking at that tiny cup, since it swells up and absorbs so much soup when you cook it.


Add the zucchini, cauliflower, and pasta, and cook for another 15 minutes or so. Then it’s ready to serve! You’re supposed to remove the bay leaf at this point, but I never find it until later.


I like to top with a bit of parmesan cheese. Yum!


I think this is my first time actually including the cauliflower, and to be honest, I think it’s a bit much. It tipped the balance from chunky to too-chunky soup (I spooned extra broth into the bowls when serving). But I think that’d due more to the amount that the recipe called for than the actual ingredient, so scale back a little if you make this. Regardless, the taste is satisfying and wonderful. It’s a beautiful rainy day meal, and it freezes very well.

Recipe is in the unshared tastebook (unshared since I liberally borrowed pictures, not realizing that I’d ultimately be sharing the recipes). Here's the original.(Jan 7, 2010). Email or comment if you have trouble finding it.