Friday, May 22, 2009

What to Serve When Your Life is in Chaos..... Some Comfort Food, of course!....

My car went on the fritz so I needed to run around and make arrangements (again...) and had to make do with whatever I had on hand.... (always pays to have a well stocked pantry....) and while reading and old Better Homes and Garden magazine I've kept for years because it has great cookie ideas, I noticed an article about vegetarian lasagna which gave me the idea for today's dinner menu.... Of course I changed everything, but considering this was a "whatever you find in the fridge" project, no one could find fault with any of the offerings....

CHICKEN, MUSHROOM AND ALFREDO SAUCE LASAGNA.- You can use leftover baked chicken or one of those supermarket ready chickens (or whatever else you want to use too)- I've used smoked tuna, turkey and fish fillets too. You can also add more vegetables.
  • 8 tbl (1 stick) butter
  • 1 lb button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 3 tbl minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 7 cups milk
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 lb spinach, stemmed, washed, blanched and roughly chopped
  • 3 cups grated Parmesan
  • 2 tbl olive oil, plus more for coating casserole dish
  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast (or your choice), shredded
  • 1/8 tsp of each (so it makes 1 tbl) paprika, salt, garlic powder, black pepper, dried oregano, dried thyme
  • 1 lb lasagna sheets, cooked and drained (cover with plastic film until ready to use)
  • 1 tbl butter, cut into 8 pieces

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often until the mushrooms are browned and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 to 7 min. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and saute until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 min. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, to make a light roux, about 2 min. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until thickened, 5 min. Add 1 1/2 tsp of the salt, pepper, nutmeg, spinach and 1 1/2 cups of the Parmesan and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 min. Remove from the heat. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the bechamel sauce until ready to assemble the lasagna.

Set a large, 12" saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Season the chicken with the dried spice mix and remaining 1/2 tsp of salt.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.Coat a 9 x 13 x 3" casserole with olive oil, and spread about 1/2 cup of the bechamel sauce on the bottom of the dish. Lay 3 sheets of pasta across the bottom of the dish and spread 3/4 cup of the bechamel sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle 1/4 of the chicken over the bechamel sauce, then sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the remaining Parmesan. Lay another 3 sheets of pasta over the chicken. Repeat 2 additional times with the remaining bechamel sauce, chicken, Parmesan, and pasta, ending with a layer of pasta covered with bechamel sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan over the bechamel sauce and scatter the butter pieces over the top. Place the casserole on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake, uncovered, until bubbly and well browned, about 45 min. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 min before serving.

FRESH FRUIT SALAD WITH VANILLA DRESSING.- A nice and fresh addition to a meal....

  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, cored and diced
  • 1 cup seedless grapes, halved
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored and diced
  • 10 to 12 med size strawberries, halved
  • 1 mango, peeled and diced
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

In a small mixing bowl whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, lemon juice, honey, vanilla extract and salt. Season with pepper, to taste. Set aside. Place all of the fruit and the nuts into a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Add the dressing, toss and serve.

6 eggs
1 cup cold unsalted butter, (8 oz), cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1 8-oz pkg. cold cream cheese, cut in 1- inch pieces
2 3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2½ cups plus 2 tbl all-purpose flour

Let eggs stand at room temperature about 30 min or until they are room temperature (no more than two hours). Generously butter and lightly flour two 8×4×2" loaf pans or one 10" tube pan. Mix cold butter about 2 min on low speed, occasionally raising to moderately high speed for 5 seconds to dislodge butter from paddle on your mixer.

Add cream cheese. Beat on low speed 3 min with occasional short bursts on high speed to dislodge mixture from paddle. Beat butter and cream cheese mixture until waxy and well-blended. Still mixing on low, add the sugar in a slow continuous stream. (This should take 1½ to 2 minutes). Add salt. Continue creaming butter and cream cheese mixture for 5 min, scraping sides and bottom of bowl once halfway through. Increase speed to medium; continue mixing 2 min more, scraping once.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating 20 to 30 seconds after each addition or just until each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next egg. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl after first three eggs. Beat in vanilla with the last egg.

Gradually add about 2½ cups of the flour on low speed, mixing until just blended (This should take about 1 to 1½ min). Turn off mixer. Fold in remaining flour by hand with a rubber spatula, just until combined.

Turn batter into prepared pans. Shake pans gently to distribute batter. Run a spatula in zigzag pattern through batter. Drop filled pans from a height of about 6 " onto kitchen counter to dislodge any large air pockets.

Place on center rack of cold oven. Turn oven setting to 300° F. Bake for 1 hour 15 min to 1 1/2 hours without opening oven door for the first 1 hour and 15 min. (Bake 1 hour 45 min for tube pan.) Test for doneness by carefully inserting a cake tester in center of cake.

Transfer to cooling rack. Cool for 10 min before removing from pans. Cool completely before serving.

Note: I use this cake as a base and then add my special touches: Once cooled you can:

Slice the cake lengthwise twice (so you have 3 cake sections) and you can make some Pastry Cream, Whipped Cream, Vanilla (or other flavor) pudding, Lemon Curd, Cake Icing or use your favorite fresh fruits, put in a pan with a little water and 1 cup of sugar and boil until thick and makes a syrup (you can use blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, pears, apples, etc.) and put some cream (see above) and lay some of the fruit on top of the cream. Put a slice of cake on top of this, repeat the cream and fruit additions, lay another piece of cake and finish of the same with some whipped cream topping the whole thing off and some slivered, toasted almonds. Great!

You can also make a couple of these and keep them frozen just in case..... it's also great lightly toasted with some cream cheese or plain is pretty great too.

You can also take a slice, cut in two and put it in a cup or glass and top off with ice cream and fruit compote, top with whipped cream. Maybe put some Amaretto, Kahlua or ?


There you have it, a pretty nice meal for a whole family.... most of these are "do ahead's" too as you can save time by having some of the items done before and then just throw everything together when you need it or freeze and then use..... Hope your family enjoys these dishes like mine has.... Talk soon......

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