Asparagus Lasagna with Pancetta, Goat Cheese, and Lemon

Asparagus Lasagna Slice

Lasagna terrifies me.

Asparagus Lasagna Slice2

For years, I dreamed of re-creating the Italian comfort classic in my kitchen, but I was always scared off by the many potential pitfalls. It’s too dry. It’s too soupy. The noodles are undercooked. The noodles are mush. The noodles are stuck together in a giant starch-bomb. Who are these kitchen acrobats willing to walk the cheesy Cirque du Soleil tight-rope of perfectly baked lasagna?

Asparagus Lasagna Baked

Well, I know of one lasagna superhero, and she’s been the greatest deterrent of all to my taking on lasagna. It’s my mom. She makes lasagna once a year for Christmas dinner, and it’s outstanding. Her take on the classic lasagna is hearty and packed with flavor, and it comes out perfectly every time.

Asparagus Lasagna Layers

I just can’t compete with that. It seemed pointless to attempt a classic lasagna knowing it would never measure up to Mom’s. So I decided the only way I could bake a lasagna that didn’t leave me feeling dead inside would be to take it in an entirely different direction.

Asparagus

I knew I wanted to nix the traditional red meat sauce and use a béchamel punched up with tangy goat cheese instead. Then I held a series of vigorous auditions in the produce department, and after much deliberation, ultimately cast asparagus, lemon, and thyme as the leads. Diced, sautéed pancetta plays a salty, supporting role. (Sorry, I’m watching the Oscars.)

Pancetta

The resulting lasagna is almost as delicious as Mom’s, but could not be more different. It’s really the perfect dinner for a late February evening, when I’m still craving winter’s creamy comfort foods, but I’m ready for bright, fresh flavors. The tender asparagus and sunshiny lemon zest reach out from under a velvet blanket of cheese and pasta to invite springtime to stay for dinner.

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Scallops with Pineapple and Cucumber Salsa

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

The good news is my little theater company won a spot in the Minnesota Fringe Festival again this year! We’ve got a great show in the works – a musical revue of songs about growing up.

The bad news is we may not be able to do the show at all. Normally I fund the show myself out of my sorry-ass checking account. Times being the way they are, that’s not a possibility this year. My theatrical co-conspirators and I are planning to put up a fund-raising page on Kickstarter.com, and hopefully we’ll be able to raise the money we need by the Fringe withdrawal deadline in mid-March.

And so, in the coming months you might find cheap and easy casseroles and sandwiches in my galley kitchen as I prepare and scrimp and save for the festival. Hopefully this beautiful and elegant appetizer recipe will tide you over until I can get back to cooking hard-core.

Cucumber Pineapple Salsa

This scallop dish started off the final schmancy-town dinner I made for Mom and Handsome Greg before I threw myself into Fringe last year. Wonton skins are fried and shaped into crispy bowls to carry the seared scallops and spicy-sweet pineapple and cucumber salsa.

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Chocolate Cherry Napoleons

Last night I made a special Valentine’s Day dinner for Handsome Greg.

Valentine's Day Napoleons
He arrived at 7:30 sharp, looking handsome as ever, with a bottle of wine, the sweetest Valentine ever, and a box of heart-shaped chocolate truffles. I, on the other hand, was still wearing my bathrobe and slippers, having only just emerged from the shower. Dinner was a good 45 minutes behind schedule, but I managed to buy a little time by convincing Greg to drop the gifts and take out the garbage. (Yeah, he is pretty much the nicest guy in the universe.)

Valentine's Day Napoleons3

I knew Saturday would be a mad rush — preparing a special dinner is an all-day affair for me, and I lost a big chunk of time earlier in the day at my web programming class. So, I planned to simplify preparations by following a complicated dinner menu with a mostly store-bought dessert.

And it was a good thing I did. Once we finally ate dinner, dessert came together quickly and easily. I’d cut out the pastry hearts earlier and they were waiting on a parchment-lined baking sheet in the fridge. After dinner I popped them in the oven, heated the cherry pie filling, made the ganache, and dessert was warm and flaky and squishy in no time.

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Winter-Spiced Molten Chocolate Cakes with Rum-Ginger Ice Cream

This is a guest post and recipe from my dear friend, Jenny Karstad. Jenny is a phenomenal cook and baker, and a truly lovely person.

Happy Valentine’s! Or Christmas! Or Presidents’ Day! Really, there is no bad time of year (in the winter anyway) for these amazing, wonderful, tasty, and above all, impressive lava cakes. I read somewhere a few years ago someone complaining that “every restaurant in New York has a lava cake offering” or some such, said in a derisive way; a dessert that may have been impressive once but had gone the way of the Baked Alaska or the Floating Island.

For these people I say balderdash! Poppycock! I have served these several times now, and despite the fact that they are just about the easiest thing to make, people are still impressed, and don’t seem to mind they are now ‘out of fashion’. By now, of course, you have probably realized that most people who don’t cook or bake much are impressed by anything homemade. I do hope that in the future, people will be doing more home baking and cooking so that bakers and chefs will have to try that much harder to impress their friends and families. Having said that, let’s just go forward on the assumption that people are going to be impressed by anything that is a) chocolate, b) made at home, and c) full of ingredients that you’ll need to make them guess at. This recipe has all these things, all wrapped up in a delicious 3/4-cup ramekin. One could even have a little contest to see if everyone can guess all the spices.

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Chicken Pot Pie Soup with Pie Crust Crackers

Welcome to the obligatory Valentine’s Day post!

pie crust crackers
This soup recipe is not fancy or expensive. It doesn’t have lobster or truffles or oysters or chocolate. And other than the adorable heart-shaped pie crust crackers, it’s entirely unsuitable for an elegant, romantic Valentine’s Day dinner.

Chicken Pot Pie Soup
I made it for Handsome Greg’s lunch, so that he could be embarrassed/warm and fuzzy when he nuked it in front of the dude-bros at the office.

Honestly, I think the dude-bros likely had a serious case of lunch envy when Handsome Greg brought in these lovely leftovers. The comfort casserole-turned-soup is rich and creamy, with tender, flaky pie crust crackers. I just want to give it a hug. With my teeth.

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Green Rice

Last weekend I made a special dinner for Handsome Greg’s birthday. The meal began with his favorite pepperoni-stuffed chicken, and ended, sadly, with a boxed yellow cake mix and canned chocolate frosting.

I’d planned to make individual Boston cream pies, and in my birthday dinner dream, I would emerge from the kitchen looking like Donna Reed, carrying rounds of moist, airy sponge cake, layered with silky pastry cream and topped with glossy chocolate ganache.

By noon on Saturday, I had to face the fact that my Donna Reed fantasy was not to be realized that day. I was already behind schedule on the cooking and cleaning, when my very first attempt at making pastry cream ended with a gloopy bowl of disaster Play Doh. D’oh!

Dessert was ruined. I called Mom, had a bit of a temper tantrum, and asked her to drop everything and run to the store for a can of chocolate frosting to top the back-up boxed cake mix in the pantry. And because my mom rules, she humored me and my ridiculous meltdown, and she saved dessert.

I really think this time (yes, THIS TIME) I have learned my lesson about trying new recipes on special occasions. The truth is, I hate testing recipes, because I don’t want to have to make the same recipe twice. I’m always eager to try new recipes, so going back to old ones, even to make corrections, seems a terrible bore.

Green Rice

But I can change. And I’m starting with this recipe for spicy herbed green rice. I made it last summer for Mom and Handsome Greg to accompany a pineapple braised pork roast, and it’s so good, and so cheap, and so simple, that I promise to make it, as is, again and again!

Scallions

Or maybe next time I’ll change it up and add roasted poblano peppers…

cilantro

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