The day my life changed, 13 years ago…

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I became the mother of a teenager this week.  Wow, that truly boggles my mind.  I remember waiting for her arrival, just 13 short years ago.  She was late…not surprising, she likes to take her sweet time with most everything!  I remember feeling like she’d never get here and then after waiting what seemed like forever, I didn’t even realize I had gone into labor!  (because by that point, I really didn’t think she was ever coming out!) After a trip to the hospital the night before…being sent home, then to find out, when I was really ready to go back, they were full…we ended up at another hospital…laboring for another 12 hours (I pushed for 2 & a half of those) she was finally here!  I remember her looking up at me, all quiet and beautiful.  What a day that was!

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I never knew that motherhood would feel this way.  You are so much in love with your child, you actually physically ache.  Tears well up almost hourly during those first few days together.  The first time you change her diaper, with your hands shaking you almost needed 10 minutes to get the darn thing on.  And the first time you strap her in the car seat…and then pull out of the parking lot, practically holding your breath all the way home.  And the first terrifying bath…fearing she’d slip right out of your hands.  Seems like just yesterday.  And today, she dresses & bathes herself…made the honor roll twice this year…plays the violin & piano better than I ever could and soon, I expect,  will be coming home to say she’s got a boyfriend and then asking to start taking drivers ed classes.

I feel like just yesterday I was 13.  Sometimes I hear that (obnoxious) 13 year old screaming in my head.  I had just moved to a new city when I turned 13.  I was just starting Junior High when I turned 13. (that alone is crazy traumatic for a kid) I had my first real boyfriend at 13.  I also was blessed with that monthly sign of womanhood at 13.  So many changes that year.  I look at my daughter and hope that life is easier on her, than it was me.  I am thankful for my hardships, as I believe it has made me the wife, mother & woman I am today.  But, if I could prevent it, I would keep some of those “character builders” away from her.  I know I shouldn’t, as it will just make her stronger.  She’s already smarter than I ever was.  Just this morning she said she figured out why adults are always forgetting things.  “It’s because when you were a kid, you were expected to remember so many things that your brain has just worn out from it all.”  Yep, that’s what I am going with.

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So I got the morning of this awesome occasion and made my new teenager an Omelette.  She loves them, and I put it on a heart plate and in her strawberries I put a candle and poured her some juice in a special champagne flute.  I do feel a little bad that we aren’t making more of a big deal of this birthday.  But, she’s somewhat like her father in that she says “it’s just another year Mom”.  My husband’s birthday was last week and I finally made him the pie he’s been asking for; Coconut Custard.  I can’t take credit for the recipe, that one goes to Andrew Zimmern.  You can find it here.  But just look at that pie!  Oh my, how I love pie….. 🙂

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And for dinner I fed her Lasagna, her favorite meal.  And I begrudgingly got her a DQ Ice Cream Cake, that she also requested.  I love/hate those things.  Have you ever made your own?  They are delicious, but we never eat the whole thing right away, so for the next few nights, it will tempt me…taunting me with it’s deliciousness…like that pie still is.  I think it would be fun to make Ice Cream Cupcakes!  Maybe that’s a summer recipe experiment…

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Anyway, I am excited about this Lasagna; it’s a family recipe and I did it a little different this time around, so I thought it would be fun to share it with you!  This would be a good Sunday afternoon thing to make.  You’ll want to be relaxed & have enough time to put it all together.  Here’s what you’ll need…

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Italian Sausage Lasagna:

Sauce ~ let me say a bit about this.  I make my own sauce throughout the year, but you can always use whatever bottled sauce you use for making spaghetti, combined with some extra tomato sauce/paste if you like.  I believe that I used around 48 oz. (or more) of sauce.  We love a little extra to put on once you’ve plated up the Lasagna.

Lasagna noodles ~ 12 oz. box, this time I used a “no-boil” version & it worked great!  (and saved time & mess)  I didn’t follow the box directions though, because I had enough sauce on it.

Italian Sausage ~ sweet, six or so links, (the kind that is the size of Brats) or about a pound-ish of ground sausage/beef.

Ricotta Cheese ~ I like to use whole milk, and usually buy the 16 oz. container (so there’s leftovers for Lemon Ricotta Pancakes of course!)

Mozzarella Cheese ~  don’t be grossed out, but I used almost a pound & a half of Mozzarella…

Parmesan Cheese ~  I would say about 8 oz. +/- grated.

Eggs ~ to add to the ricotta mixture, one or two is all you need.

Basil or Pesto ~ every summer I make Pesto and then freeze it in 2-3 tablespoon sized portions, you don’t have to include this, but it’s incredible when you do!  I used two portions.

Oregano ~ fresh is always best, but this time of year dried is better than nothing!  You can use 2 + tablespoons, chopped.

Mushrooms ~ I used a whole pint of white button mushrooms, but you can omit or use as much or little as you want!  Slice them up to the size you’d like best.

Onion ~  I used a medium sized sweet onion & chopped it as small as possible. (unless you like it chunky)

Carrots ~  this seems like a strange thing to put in Lasagna, but just do it.  Chop as small as possible.  It helps to add a little sweetness to the dish you can’t get from anything else!

Garlic ~ chopped or whole crushed, your choice!

~salt, pepper, olive oil~

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Start by adding a bit of olive oil to a large stock/soup pan on medium-high heat (this pan needs to be big enough to simmer the sausage & sauce in, so something you might make soup in).  Throw in the whole sausage links (or ground sausage). Turning every so often to caramelize each side of the link.  Cook almost completely through.

IMG_6034Pull out the sausage and set aside.  Keeping the pan at a medium heat, and if needed, add a bit more olive oil to the pan and sauté the onions & carrots together for a couple of minutes.  Add the mushrooms & chopped garlic.  Season a bit with salt & pepper.  Once they have started to get a nice caramelized color going (being very careful not to burn the garlic) add in all of your sauce.

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This will deglaze the pan and help pick up all those amazing bits from browning the sausage.  Now taste your sauce.  If you feel it need something, add more salt, or pepper, or garlic, or even some of the Basil and/or Oregano.  It’s gonna simmer a bit, so the flavors will intensify eventually.

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Next, take the sausage links that have been resting and slice them lengthwise about 3-4 times each link.  Carefully place them back into the simmering sauce.  The thing about making Lasagna, is you really want it to be saucy.  The Lasagna while it’s baking, absorbs lots of the moisture, especially if you are using a no-boil noodle.  The worst thing to have is a dry Lasagna after almost an hour & a half of baking.  So it’s always best to have more sauce than you think you’ll need.  You can always freeze it off if you have a bunch leftover.

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Okay, so let’s talk filling next.  Grab a medium-ish sized bowl and add the ricotta, basil/oregano, and I like to add about half of the Parmesan cheese.  Mix these all together.  Now, in the past, I have added an egg to this mixture.  This is totally up to you.  It will help give a bit more body to this mixture and hold it together inside of the Lasagna.  It’s not a make or break, so don’t sweat over it.

Remove the sausage from the sauce mixture so that when you handle it, it’s not super hot.

So at this point, you are ready to start putting it all together.  You can either use a large rectangular baking pan or split it between two pans, so you can bake one and freeze one.  I love to give this Lasagna to friends who’ve just had a baby, or a family healing from sickness or loss of a loved one.

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Begin by putting a swath of sauce in the bottom of your pan(s).  Grab one of your noodles and using a spoon, spread a layer of the ricotta cheese mixture.  This is very easy if you are using the no-boil noodles.  Another bonus of using those!  Continue until you have your first layer of noodles in the bottom of the pan.  It’s also best to slightly overlap the noodles, to help hold in the filling on each level.

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Next, add a layer of sausage, I like to follow the direction of the noodles with the sausage.  After the sausage, carefully spread a layer of sauce over that layer and then a layer of Mozzarella cheese.  Continue this process until you’ve either gotten it as tall as you want, or you’ve run out of something.  (leave the leftover sauce on the stove and re-heat a bit just before serving to top each piece)  Another little thing I do, is once I’ve finished layering it all, I take a piece of wax paper (so I don’t pull up anything onto my hands) and lay it over the Lasagna and gently push down, helping to condense it and remove any air bubbles in between the layers.

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Pop this in your oven, around 350 degrees +/- for an hour.  At that time, pull it out and look at it.  Is the cheese layer on the top starting to get too brown?  Either cover it or lower your oven temp a bit. We like the crunchy brown bits around the outside of the Lasagna, so some of that is good!  It should need another half hour or so, but you can judge for yourself if it’s done but sliding a butter knife into the middle and checking to see how hot it is once you remove it.

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Once it’s done cooking, I like to sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan cheese over the Lasagna and let it rest a bit because it’s gonna be really hot.  Top with sauce & you’ve done it!  I hope you enjoy this amazing Lasagna.  It’s perfect cozy food, to get us Minnesotan’s through the longest months of the year…

Until next time ~ Cheers!

Shawn

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