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

Chronicles of a crazy 20 days!

Wow, it’s been a CRAZY month so far and it’s only the 20th of June!  I constantly complain about the months of May & June, as every year, they completely derail me with field trips, the end of school, parties etc.  This year, I threw in a couple extra new events, just to challenge my strength…or because I am crazy.  I know the days have been ticking by, still no post since last month….and now that I’ve had the chance to catch my breath, I thought it would be fun to, instead of the usual post, do a little recap of my activities!  Yea!  Hope you enjoy the ride…….

June 2, 2012#TECHmunch, an event I had been anxiously waiting to attend.  It is a one-day conference for food bloggers, sponsored by BakeSpace.com and was held at Studio 514 in Minneapolis.  You can read more about it here.  Because I have never learned the art of “sitting on my hands” (like they used to say in Girl Scouts so you wouldn’t volunteer for everything!) I decided to volunteer to help with set-up the day before and during the event!  All kidding aside, let me just share one piece of advise I have learned over the years…if you really want to make the most of an event you plan to attend, volunteer to help.  It exposes you to (work, which oddly enough, I actually enjoy-so be prepared if signing on in this capacity) many more people than if you just came as an attendee.  I met & got to know better, some really great people (Babette, Tammy, Lisa, Brenda, Meghan, Emily, Joy, Cathy, Stephanie, Scott, Molly & anyone I forgot (so sorry!) and all the food-famous speakers & panelists!) that hopefully over time, I will become better friends with!  I helped with the manual labor part of set-up the day before, something of which after my years of banquet management/service I am very familiar with.  The next day, I was assigned to help with AV.  That stands for Audio-Visual….yeah, for those of you who know me, not exactly my forte. Ha!  I managed through and the only real glitch of the day ended up not even being my fault!

The day consisted of seven different topics:  Eating your way to the top; a Fireside chat with Andrew Zimmern & Jason DeRusha, Mastering your Story, with Daniel Klein of the Perennial Plate.  SEO for food writing; with experts in the field of SEO Lee Odden, Joshua Unseth & Erik Deutsch.  A panel discussion on creating, distributing and syndicating mouth-watering content with Shaina Olmanson, Zoe Francois, Amanda Rettke & Brenda Score.  Design & Page Optimization with the Geek Girls, Meghan Wilker & Nancy Lyons.  Lessons in partnerships & monetization with Babette Pepaj and Erik Deustch. And finally, a session titled, How to get on a Food Editor’s Radar, with Stephanie March, Lee Dean, Rachel Hutton & Joy Summers.   It was a GREAT event and I was thrilled to have been able to attend.

Of course a food blogger conference isn’t complete without amazing food, which you see a bit of above.  We had beautiful pastries donated by Patisserie 46 and gorgeous berries from Driscoll’s Berries.  Fresh squeezed juices  were provided by Whole Foods, Joia Life donated some of their amazing natural sodas, Bull Run coffee helped us all stay fueled up and I cannot forget that Sangria…made by Scott Pampugh.  A backyard picnic lunch was catered by Tastebud Catering and included Chicken & fresh Corn off the grill (with a couple of amazing butters to spread), two awesome salads (a carrot slaw I NEED the recipe for!) and a refreshing Basil Lemonade that I am totally recreating at home!  Dessert, decadent chocolate brownie like confections was sponsored by (and eaten early by many of us standing in line for lunch!) Bogart Loves.  An afternoon nosh, consisting of pita breads, hummus, olives, cheese and roasted veggies was provided by Whole Foods and served along with more of that magical Sangria.  We had swag bags donated by and filled with nourishing snack bars, natural produce bags and awesome coupons from Land O’ Lakes &. others.  (sorry I didn’t link any of those….& hopefully I am not missing anyone but holy crap we had a lot of great sponsors that day!!!)

A geeky moment of the day, pictured below, is where I asked the legendary Scott Pampugh (who was also volunteering that day) to take a picture with me.  We are both from Winona, MN (that automatically makes us kindred spirits right? Although he was a Cotter boy…I won’t hold that against him!) and if you don’t know much about Scott, he’s out to change the landscape of food as we know it.  Read more about him here.  The day finished off at Fulton Brewery, where attendees got to tour the facility, dine on Hola Arepa & Anchor Fish & Chips food trucks, conveniently parking outside and of course drink beer!!  There’s gonna be a #TECHmunch in Philadelphia in October…hmmm maybe I need to plan a trip out to see the Pennsylvania relative contingency!

   

I got a day to rest up, (although I spent most of it standing in my kitchen prepping for dinner the next night!) after being on my feet at that event for 13 hours, before my Dad and his family, packed into their new RV, rolled into town.  We got him for one night, and he requested his Mother’s Rhubarb Pie.

 Oh that pie.  What did I ever do before that pie… Want to make this pie?  Check out my previous post with recipe here.  And this time I made it with homemade pie crust, another first for me.  He said “his Mother never made it better” which I guess means he liked it.  🙂

This is my almost 7th grader, just after finding out she tied for first place in overall books read for the year with her class.  When I look at this picture I just want to wail…she is growing TOO damn fast.  It truly takes my breath away.  The kids last day of school was June 7th and took the day off to hang out with them.  They both had carnivals, and my daughter had a 6th grade graduation picnic that I helped with.  It was bittersweet watching her with her classmates.  I know that next year I won’t be able to volunteer like I had this past year, going on field trips etc.  I also know that Junior High is tough, not like grade school.  At the beginning of this year I felt like there was no way she would be ready to take on the challenges of 7th grade, but now, I feel differently.  My baby, growing up so fast

   

On Sunday June 10th, we went to our first ever Minnesota Twins game.  Yeah, I know, lame.  Lame that we hadn’t gone in the last two years!  I had bought tickets through the kids school and as luck would have it, ended up sitting right next to our close friends and their kids!  It was a HOT day and I worried about us actually making it through the whole game (at one point I looked over at my daughter, and if you have kids, you’ll know the look she gave me…something between “I am about to puke or I am about to pass out”)  It was a bit terrifying, but we persevered and made it through the game!  The pictures above are of my first ever Big Ginger a delicious drink made with 2 Gingers Whiskey & Ginger Ale (again lame, that I work at the hotel, connected to The Liffey and haven’t had one yet!) and the Nacho Helmet helped!  (seriously $14 well spent!)
  

June 12th brought another day I had been looking forward to for a long time, my #OinkOutings trip!  I had been so looking forward to my Oink Outing, not only because I love pigs…(loved them since Wilbur & love to eat them, in any form), but also because I had never been on a pig farm. I had no idea how pigs were birthed, raised etc. I’m happy to tell you that my expectations were met! I was well-educated that day & although it wasn’t the life I pictured, (Wilbur) I was happy to see the care taken by the Bode family both towards their pigs and staff that tends to them, 365 days a year. They are meticulous about the safety of those pigs, so that the end result, that bacon or pork loin you are cooking for your family is the best quality & safest it can be. Technology has changed pig farming; helping farmers raise pigs that are lean & delicious. Something dictated by consumer desire for leaner meat while still preserving the flavor.

It was a great day, getting to know everyone involved that advocates daily for the Pork producers of Minnesota. We started at Brackett’s Crossing where I met Chef Bryan who had cooked us delicious Pork Carnitas which we then had in that gorgeous taco shell pictured above.  From there we set out to Rebco Pork, the Bode family farm. Stay tuned for a post later this month, where I share more pictures of our adventure along with some great recipes using my favorite meat, pork!  We made a pit stop on our way down at Schmidt’s Meat Market were we toured their smoking facilities, sampled their delicious summer sausage & were treated to their award-winning Raspberry-Chipotle Bacon as a take home gift!  Stay tuned for a post later this month, where I share more pictures of our adventure along with some great recipes using my favorite meat, pork!

June 15th brought yet another birthday for me…sigh.  I am thirty-six this year.  LOL!  Really though, birthday’s aren’t a big deal for me.  I don’t expect to be lavished with gifts, but I do like to spend the day doing something I enjoy.  And, if you know me, that’s eating, drinking & shopping!  I decided We haven’t been to Stillwater in quite some time, so I thought, because it worked out that the hubby was on vacation that day, we were free!  I knew for quite some time that I wanted to check out a place called Swirl Wine Bar.  It is located in the sleepy and gorgeous little town of Afton, MN  So, that was stop number one.  There I purchased my first birthday present, a Redneck Wine Glass.  Yea, I know….don’t judge me.  I LOVE using jam jars to drink out of.  We were doing that before it was cool.  We also ordered a couple of glasses of wine, and three delicious appetizers which were devoured by the four of us.  I HIGHLY recommend making the trip and be sure to order the Grape & Brie Flatbread & the Truffle Fries…DELISH!
We then moved on to Stillwater, ducking into a few shops after strolling along the river.  One store we visited for another birthday treat was the Stillwater Olive Oil Co.  I love how these little shops have popped up all over and hadn’t actually been in one until that day!  They had many different varieties of Olive Oils, some infused and Vinegars-rich, syrupy aged Balsamic’s and a great variety of flavored white Balsamic’s.  We chose a bottle of Persian Lime infused Olive Oil and Sicilian Lemon white Balsamic vinegar.  The vinegar just exploded the second it hit my tongue… I thought it would be fun to start a hashtag to chronicle my day; you can find my posts by searching for #BirthdayNosh and the picture collage above was some of the deliciousness of the day!

Gorgeous Strawberries!  Ever since I was young, I wanted to learn to can.  It’s been one of those things on my food bucket list, that I have been scared to try.  All it really takes is patience and organization.  The Strawberry Jam I made this weekend was SO good!  Stay tuned for a future post on canning.  I plan to do a Rhubarb Beer Jam for my next ‘Beer for a Year‘ post, and just last week, we signed up for a CSA share from Natura Farms and they have Currents and Elderberries, so hopefully I will get the opportunity to use those in future canning endeavors.  I also plan this summer to make Chow-Chow; a pickled vegetable deliciousness I had back in Pennsylvania Amish country.  Again posts to follow…..

And finally, June 17th, Father’s Day…..

The hubby loves ribs, so I decided that I would break out the smoker and attempt to make a scrumptious dinner for him.  The weather forecasters said “a gorgeous day is on tap for Sunday” and guess what?  It rained on and off ALL day!  The picture above was taken by my daughter, as she came out laughing at me standing there with the umbrella.  Yes, I could have let it go, but seriously at one point it rained for over an hour.  I know this because I stood there that long…and for the first time ever, I was maintaining a consistent temp on the smoker and didn’t want to ruin that!  The things we do for love…..

Oh yeah, his present?  The gorgeous cookbookVolt Ink” written by brothers Michael & Bryan Voltaggio of Top Chef fame.  It was really a win-win gift. 🙂

So, there it is people.  The last crazy 20 days of my life.…hope you enjoyed following along.  I promise to get back on my regular schedule of posts, none of which hopefully will be this long!

Until then,

Shawn