Monday Menu and Recipe Review

June is the new Rainy Season, it seems. Our backyard is so marshy that we can’t mow it, which of course only makes it marshier. A pair of ducks visits regularly. We ate all of our radishes and I’m going to have to pull on my wellies to wade out and plant some more, along with the mint and lemon balm I bought at the local garden club plant sale on Saturday.

Although it’s too cold for the pool, I did blend up a batch of strawberry watermelon ice pops this morning. The watermelon was so sweet, I skipped the sugar. Tomorrow I have big plans to take the kids for free lunch at Ikea, where I might pick up another popsicle mold. Miss Seven and Little Five have tired of smoothies, but are happy to slurp them down in ice pop form. It’s a good start to the day if I can say, “Popsicles for breakfast!”

This week I also tried my hand at homemade yogurt. I always thought making yogurt would be a little fussy, but boy, was I wrong. Last night I heated the milk while making dinner, and then left the jar–swaddled in a dish towel and stuffed into a tea cozy–to ferment overnight in the oven, which held some residual warmth from when I had roasted some beets. I’m going to get Mr. Ten to make the next batch–he ought to enjoy monitoring the candy thermometer. I used organic whole milk, and the resulting yogurt is creamy and gorgeous. I want to drizzle it on everything. Even Miss Seven liked it with her granola, and she usually turns up her nose at plain yogurt.

This week

Monday: Salad Nicoise

Tuesday: Thai-style ground pork, coconut rice, edamame

Wednesday: Waldorf Chicken wraps, fruit salad

Thursday: Creamy Roasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Pasta (swap with Jen)

Friday: Italian Turkey Meatball Soup (from Jen)

Last week

Tuesday: Ceylonese Cashew Coconut Chicken, basmati rice (doubled to swap with Jen)

This chicken was delicious, but needed to be spicier (though the kids liked it as is). I’m looking forward to making it again and adjusting the heat.

Wednesday: Tomato Soup, grilled cheese (with roasted garlic Amish cheese from Shipshewana, Indiana), green salad (from the garden)

Miles better than canned soup and American cheese on white bread, and it doesn’t take much longer too make. I used a loaf of crusty whole wheat bread for the sandwiches.

Thursday: Spontaneous night out at Wok’n Fire to celebrate some excellent report cards. Sushi, pad thai, basil beef, wrinkled green beans. Happy eaters all around.

Friday: Chicken Basil Sausage, Kale and Caramelized Onion Lasagna (from Jen)

I especially liked the caramelized onions in this lasagna, and Jen substituted a white sauce for the ricotta, which made it lush and creamy. The kids picked out most of the kale, but were otherwise much more polite because they knew Jen made dinner!

Saturday: Ramp Pizza and Meatball Pizza

For the first time, I tried some ready-made pizza dough because I got so busy I forgot to make the dough ahead of time. It was fine, but I missed the flavor of homemade dough that has aged a few days in the refrigerator. The ramps were excellent, though next time I’d add even more to the pizza. I found a small container of two meatballs plus their sauce in the freezer–just enough for topping a single pizza for the kids.

Sunday:  Wheat berry salad with roasted beets and feta, grilled Italian sausages, broccoli

I dressed the cooked wheat berries with red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and stirred in a big pile of chopped scallions–it’s my new favorite way to eat grains, warm or cold.

Monday Menu

It’s 11 degrees outside right now (-7 windchill), and I have no desire to set foot outside the door today until I absolutely have to. The kids are home from school today on this Martin Luther King Jr./Inauguration Day. My big plans for the day include a little laundry and swabbing down the kitchen while I watch the inauguration festivities on tv. So my meal plan for the week is based completely on what food we already have in the house. We have enough milk to get us through the week, and if I get crazy and make a big batch of banana bread, maybe the kids won’t notice that we’re nearly out of cereal.

Monday: Potato soup (best soup on a cold day EVER)

Tuesday: Lasagna (that one I put in the freezer a few weeks ago); Brussels sprout slaw (the one I didn’t make last week)

Wednesday: Herb-rubbed top sirloin steak (maybe broiled instead of grilled) with roasted tomato and garlic relish; oven fries; asparagus

Thursday: Egg salad on Seven-grain bread

Friday: Beef ragu (made from a portion of pot roast in the freezer) with spätzle; green salad

Saturday: Roast turkey dinner


What meals can you make this week without a run to the store for ingredients?


If you’re looking for a 30-minute meal, this isn’t it. Frankly, this recipe is a lot of work, and I wouldn’t waste my time making it for just anyone. There are some things you only make for someone you love (or maybe someone you want to impress). It’s the first meal I ever cooked for the Hub, and nearly 15 years later, he’s still remembers it. If I had an Italian grandma, this is the dish I could imagine her making. I’m not trying to scare you away, exactly. I just want you to understand the seriousness of this lasagna. You make it for an Occasion. Company, a birthday, Sunday dinner. Do it right.

The recipe originally came from a cookbook my parents bought on a trip to Italy, and the instructions are deceptively brief. Turns out, there’s a good bit of prep work, and you have to coordinate the cooking of two different sauces. There are no shortcuts (except for the wonder that is no-boil lasagna noodles), no grainy store-bought ricotta, no sauce from a jar. I’ve made that lasagna, and eaten it happily, but this isn’t it. This is a northern Italian version of lasagna, light on the tomato, with a silky white sauce that melds with the deep flavors of soffritto, sausage and wine. It’s rich, but not heavy. As they say, it’s a labor of love. Set aside an hour or two, put on some music, and maybe pour a glass of wine (but save some for the sauce).

A couple of months ago, my mother offered to bring the lasagna when they came for dinner one day. I had made it the weekend before, but would never say no to the good fortune of eating lasagna twice in one week, especially one made by someone else. But tasting her version and my version so close together, I discovered that they weren’t the same. She has adapted the recipe over the years and never told me. All this time, I had been making perfectly good lasagna from the original recipe (really good, in fact), when I could have been making lasagna that was sublime.

Well. Now that I have the secret to sublime, I’m going to share it with you.

A few notes: Doubling the recipe is a good idea. Not because there isn’t enough to feed a good-sized family, but because if you’re going to the trouble, you should get an extra meal or two out of the deal. Bake it, cool it, wrap it and freeze it for another day. Thaw it overnight in the refrigerator before reheating it in a warm oven (or even a slice at a time in the microwave). If you don’t have celery root, you can substitute parsnip, or skip it and just add an extra carrot and rib of celery.

Lasagna with Italian sausage and béchamel sauce

1 large onion

2 medium carrots

2 ribs of celery

small chunk of celery root, peeled

2-3 large cloves of garlic

2-3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 pound Italian sausage (mild or hot–up to you)

2 cups white wine (dry sherry is fine)

1 28-oz. can of tomatoes, diced or crushed

1 bay leaf

4 Tbsp. butter

4 Tbsp. flour

4 cups milk (at least 2%)

2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese

1 package no-boil flat lasagna noodles (Barilla seems to be easiest to find around here)

Dice the onion, celery, carrots and celery root in a very small dice (1/4-inch or smaller). Mince or press the garlic. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, and then add vegetables and sauté until soft, 8-10 minutes. Don’t let them burn. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a bowl and set aside. Split the sausages (if still in their casings) with a sharp knife, peel off and discard the casings. Brown the sausage in the same skillet over medium-high heat, breaking the meat into small pieces as you stir. When it has browned and the fat has rendered, drain off the fat and add the vegetables back to the pan. Pour the wine over the sausage and vegetables and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the tomatoes with their juices, the bay leaf, and salt and pepper. Let simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until the mixture reduces and thickens slightly. Taste and add salt if necessary.

While the sauce is simmering, start the béchamel sauce. Heat the milk (I use my glass batter bowl and heat it in the microwave for 3-4 minutes). In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour until there are no lumps, and continue whisking the mixture for 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the hot milk and whisk until smooth. Turn up the heat to medium-high and whisk continuously, until the sauce comes to a simmer and thickens noticeably. Turn off the heat and stir in one cup of grated Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble the lasagna, grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Spread a couple ladles-full of béchamel in the bottom of the pan. Then add a layer of uncooked noodles, breaking them in pieces to fit the pan, if necessary. Spread a layer of meat sauce, then a layer of béchamel, and then a little grated mozzarella. Repeat (3-4 layers of noodles usually fit in my pan), and end with a layer of béchamel. Make sure to cover all the edges and corners of noodles with sauce. Sprinkle on the remaining cup of grated Parmesan on top, and cover with foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven, covered, for about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake about 15 minutes more, or until the top is bubbly and the noodles are tender when a thin knife is inserted into the lasagna.

Let the lasagna rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. It works fine if you bake it early in the day (or the day before) and reheat it gently, covered, in a 300 degree oven.

Monday Menu

After a summer with empty cupboards in the basement (our overflow pantry) and a mostly empty extra freezer, we have finally restocked some staples. Staples that we stockpile a little include cereal, pasta, frozen vegetables, canned goods (like beans and artichoke hearts), juice, flour, shredded cheese and condiments. Oh, and bacon. You know, things that have a high turnover.

I’ve saved a significant amount of money by coupon shopping in the past year, but it does take a little more preparation and concentration, difficult to achieve with three kids in tow during the summer months. But yesterday while Mr. Nine was at a birthday party, I had a couple hours to leisurely cruise Dominick’s and Walgreens with my coupon file. So when I made this week’s menu, I consulted the pantry and freezer first.

Monday: Pasta with artichoke hearts and oven-dried tomatoes

Tuesday: Mexican beef and tortilla casserole (Oh 1980s, we have not forgotten thee!)

Wednesday: Veal schnitzel, arugula and tomato salad, spaghetti squash

Thursday: Chicken noodle soup

Friday: Spinach and cheese lasagna (though for a weeknight, I’ll be making this with jarred sauce and no-boil noodles)


What staples do you stock up on?