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One of the great things about living in a vacation destination is that people tend to visit you during their vacations.  Last week it was my sister, Rebecca, and her boyfriend, Casey, for their spring break.  My aunt, cousin and cousin’s friend also visited us since they live about 3 hours away and wanted to see my sister.  This was great for me, since I not only got to see everyone, but also got to make those dishes that are really not reasonable for only 2 people.  I decided to make it an “Italian weekend” since my family is Italian, as is Casey, and one of his favorite dishes is lasagne.  I’ve been wanting to try the Pioneer Woman’s The Best Lasagna. Ever. and this was a perfect opportunity.  I was somewhat skeptical, since the ingredients were so… basic?  But, after reading all of the rave reviews, I had to at least give it a try:

The Best Lasagna Ever

Servings:
 12
Ingredients
  • 1-1/2 pound Ground Beef
  • 1 pound Hot Breakfast Sausage
  • 2 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 2 cans (14.5 Ounce) Whole Tomatoes
  • 2 cans (6 Ounce) Tomato Paste
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Parsley (I happened to have fresh so I used it, and doubled the amount, as I understand that’s a good rule-of-thumb for using fresh herbs)
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Basil (I happened to have fresh so I used it, and doubled the amount, as I understand that’s a good rule-of-thumb for using fresh herbs)
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 3 cups Lowfat Cottage Cheese (I would normally use ricotta, but Ree assured that her husband, who would not touch cottage cheese with a 10-ft pole, loves this dish, cottage cheese and all, so I went for it)
  • 2 whole Beaten Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Grated (not Shredded) Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Parsley (I happened to have fresh so I used it, and doubled the amount, as I understand that’s a good rule-of-thumb for using fresh herbs)
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 pound Sliced Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1 package (10 Ounce) Lasagna Noodles (I did not need quite this many noodles)
  •  (add 1/2 Teaspoon Salt And 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil To Pasta Water)

Instructions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet or saucepan, combine ground beef, sausage, and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until browned. Drain half the fat; less if you’re feeling naughty. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons parsley, basil and salt. After adding the tomatoes, the sauce mixture should simmer for 45 minutes while you are working on the other steps. (I added the basil and parsley at the end, which I understand is preferable if you’re using fresh herbs.)

In a medium bowl, mix cottage cheese, beaten eggs, grated Parmesan, 2 more tablespoons parsley, and 1 more teaspoon salt. Stir together well. Set aside. Cook lasagna until “al dente” (not overly cooked).

To assemble:
Arrange 4 cooked lasagna noodles in the bottom of a baking pan, overlapping if necessary. Spoon half the cottage cheese mixture over the noodles. Spread evenly. Cover cottage cheese with a layer of mozzarella cheese. Spoon a little less than half the meat/sauce mixture over the top.

Repeat, ending with meat/sauce mixture. Sprinkle top generously with extra Parmesan.

Either freeze, refrigerate for up to two days, or bake immediately: 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until top is hot and bubbly.

I put this dish together the day before, then let it warm up a bit to room temp before baking.  It was AMAZING.  I think that using the sliced mozzarella made a big difference – when you bit into it, you really tasted the cheese.  Like, really.  It was a big hit.

See all that gooey cheese?  Mmmm...

See all that gooey cheese? Mmmm…

For breakfast, I turned to one of my all-time favorites: Sausage, Artichoke & Goat Cheese Egg Bake.  If you have goat cheese and roasted red peppers in a recipe, it’s pretty much one of my all-time favorites.  Heck, if you have goat cheese in a recipe, I’m probably there.  This recipe actually did not originally have roasted red peppers in it, but I subbed them in for sun-dried tomatoes, as I am not a fan of the texture of sun-dried tomatoes.  It was such a big hit that even my cousin’s friend, a 20-year-old male, (who happened to be very quiet around us) gave it enthusiastic compliments.  I’ll take it!  (Also, I considered this part of the Italian theme due to the artichoke, red peppers, garlic, etc.)

Sausage, Artichoke & Goat Cheese Egg Bake

makes at least 8 servings

1/4 pound spicy Italian sausage (about 1 large sausage) (I use one of those tubes of hot breakfast sausage, which is usually closer to a full pound.  I add however much of it seems reasonable and save the rest to mix with scrambled eggs later)
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped (or a jar of roasted red peppers)
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and roughly chopped (I can never find frozen so I use canned, drained)
8 large eggs
1 cup whole milk (I use 2%)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (or a little more, if you’re a big of fan as I am of the cheese de la goat)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 3-quart or 9×13-inch baking dish with baking spray or olive oil.

Heat a deep sauté pan over medium-high heat. Chop the sausage into 1/2-inch pieces and cook until well-browned. Add the onion and garlic and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and cook for an additional 3 minutes or until the onion begins to brown just a bit. Add the artichoke hearts and cook just until they are warmed through. Turn off the heat.  (If you do roasted red peppers, you can just add them in with the artichoke hearts.)

Whisk the eggs thoroughly then whisk in the milk, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir in the crumbled goat cheese and Parmesan cheese, then fold in the cooked sausage and vegetables from the skillet.  (I break up big chunks of goat cheese and plop in, but don’t stir too much, so when you bite in you get bursts of delicious goat cheese flava!)

Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean and the top is lightly golden brown. Serve warm or cold, with a fresh salad.

Leftovers keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days.

I sprinkle shredded Parmesan over the top, along with fresh parsley and some grinds of fresh-ground pepper, to make it fancy

I also made this ahead of time, which is why I love casseroles for company – more visiting time!  A huge hit, as usual.

Sausage, Artichoke and Goat Cheese Egg Bake

 

For desert, I decided to try something new.  A neighbor of ours growing up, Sue, who was pretty much like an aunt to me, gave me a book of recipes at our wedding:

I’d yet to try any of these recipes, so I scanned the book and decided on Italian Coconut Sesame Seed Crisps.  I love coconut, and I love sesame seeds, so these seemed like a winner:

Italian Coconut Sesame Seed Crisps

Ingredients

  • 1 C sesame seeds
  • ½ C coconut
  • 2 C all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ sticks butter
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla

*I learned a trick recently for quickening the process of getting butter to room temp.  You simply cut it up and let it sit on a plate, like so:

DirectionsPreheat oven to 350.  Toast sesame seeds and coconut in skillet, stirring often, until lightly brown (over medium heat).  (I got impatient and turned the heat up, thus nearly burning everything.  Don’t be like me – exercise patience 🙂)  Stir together dry ingredients.  In mixer bowl, add butter and sugar till creamy.  Add egg and vanilla.  Add sesame seeds and coconut.  Using low speed, add dry ingredients (slowly).  Beat until smooth.  Dough will be stiff.  Drop dough by teaspoon onto an ungreased baking sheet.  Flatten with bottom of a glass dipped in sugar.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned (I did 10).  Makes 4 dozen.

Italian Coconut Sesame Seed Crisps

Like I said, I love coconut and sesame seeds, so I liked these.  The coconut flavor wasn’t very strong, so I might add more in the future, but it turns out that Casey does not like coconut (gasp! right?!) so that was OK.

For folks who really like a cake-like cookie, or something very sweet, this is not the desert for you.  It is lightly sweet and very much a crisp, not really a cookie.  I served it with vanilla ice cream, sprinkles, whipped cream and chocolate/caramel syrups.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend of food (both homemade and local fare), beach, beer tasting and general good times with our family.

My sister and her BF.  Is this not an Italian-looking couple?

My sister and her BF. Is this not an Italian-looking couple?

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