Lasagna and Moose Cookies

Nothing goes better with a fresh pan of lasagna than some moose cookies.

More on those cookies later.

So, I don’t like to toot my own horn very often, but you know what?  Well, I’m toot toot tooting away right now.  Get over it.

Ever since I started cooking (more like…ever since I got married, because as everyone knows marriage = cooking, housework and frazzled hair) my super secret specialty has been lasagna.  I believe that everyone at some point in their life attaches themselves to a specific dish.  The one thing that you just can’t screw up.  Unless of course, you’re my husband, and your culinary abilities halt at right about the open jar of peanut butter container step of PB&J.  That’s not completely true.  He can make a mean PB&J, he just can’t do it in a tidy fashion.  Maybe you find your culinary calling in cookies, salads, sandwiches, chicken marsala…or maybe you can boil and simmer some good rice. Whatever your specialty is, I’m sure you have one.  No?  Alright, well you can at least pour a glass of coke, eh?

I would like to imagine that in any normal persons brain, the specialty chooses them.  Someone is making mac n cheese one day, and realizes…hey!  I just made this awesome mac n cheese, and it totally didn’t screw up!  Mac N Cheese is my NEW specialty, because obviously it’s just meant to be, right?  Well, that would be in a perfect world.  Jaye unfortunately, doesn’t 1) live in a perfect world, 2)wait for things to “happen”, and 3) accept the easy street.  Jaye challenges herself.  So when I said I Do to my husband, I also said I Promise – to myself.  I promise to learn to make the world’s best lasagna ever tasted by mankind.  Because, as everyone knows, lasagna is not easy, but man does it taste great.

I’ve made a lot of awesome lasagna guys, seriously.  Yesterday though, I made the single most perfect, delectable, world record winning pan of lasagna.  I’m sure I can never do it again.

Maybe I should keep it a secret…but you know what?  I’m generous.  So if you bear with me, and follow every.single.step, I promise YOU that your lasagna will be… exactly what I made.  Whether or not you like it…that’s another story.

First, let’s go over the game rules.

1) Under no circumstances must you ever use store bought, dry lasagna noodles.

No offense people who use the packaged ones…but you are never going to have the BEST lasagna without putting in the arm work.  That’s just wishful thinking.  So if you’re okay with sub par noodles…go ahead, buy ’em.  Am I being a little harsh to some recipes?  Sure.  I just happen to be a snob.  A pasta noodle snob.

2) Okay… so I didn’t really think this through.  There is, and only is, one rule of Jaye’s lasagna making.  No noodles that you did not break a sweat to make with your own two hands.

There is a reason for this people.  Part of the reason is that the noodles just taste better.  Seriously.  Instead of just being a noodle, they become part of the flavour, part of the texture.  Man, they just make your heart sing.  The other reason is that noodle making makes you feel cool.  If you think you’ve ever felt accomplished in your life, you know NOTHING until you have taken flour, eggs and water, and made pasta.  Try it, just once.  You’ll screw it up more than likely, but you’ll be proud of yourself none the less.  I’m not saying this as a Martha Stewart wannabe.  Guys, I’m a normal girl.  I definitely do not spend all of my time in the kitchen making everything from scratch.  Okay, maybe I do make a lot of things from scratch, but that doesn’t mean I make them a lot.  When it comes to noodles though…my schedule is miraculously wide open.

On a later date I will make a post designated solely to pasta noodle making.  But here, I’m just going to pretend that you have some beautiful, fresh noodles like mine, ready to go.

So on to the lasagna making!

Lasagna is all about the preparation.  There are 4 real parts to a lasagna.

The meat/veggie sauce

The ricotta cheese mixture

The mozzarella

The noodles

If you put the effort into setting yourself up like I do

you’re lasagna experience will go very smoothly.

Let’s start with the sauce.

This is my sauce recipe —

1 package hot italian sausage or veggies such as zucchini/artichoke/spinach…

1 onion, minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 can crushed tomatoes

2 cans tomato sauce

2 cans tomato paste

1 tbsp sugar

1 tsp basil

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

The spices, and amounts are really all about preference.  I’ve tried a lot of recipes that call for more sugar and it comes out too sweet.  Some that call for lots of italian seasoning, parsley, garlic powder…lots of variations.  I suggest you do the following.

Cook up your meat in a deep pan, add garlic and onion.  When to onion is starting to brown, add in all of the tomato cans.  Then start by adding your sugar.  Do this in increments and taste as you go.  All the sugar is there for is to cut down on the acidity of canned tomatoes.  You can also sub your favourite jar of pasta sauce – but this really isn’t that much more work, and it’s super worth it.  Once you have found your happy medium of sugar, throw in some salt and then start adding your favourite italian spices, tasting as you go.  The above is my happy place.

Let your sauce simmer while you move on to the cheese mixture.

15-20 ounces ricotta.  I use part skim, you can use whole.  The amount depends on how much ricotta in your lasagna you like.  I don’t like when it squishes out so I use one container – about 15, 16 ounces.

1 egg

1 cup pecorino romano cheese, grated (you can use parm. if you want.  I prefer this stuff.  It is amazing cheese, seriously)

Mix this in a bowl until combined.

Then take few moments to cut up about 2 cups fresh mozzarella.  I usually just buy a small package…so this depends on how big your chunk is.  I think it’s about 2 cups though.

Alrighty, now your sauce should be yummy smelling, and you can start the process of building the lasagna.  Preheat your oven to 400degrees right about now.

Step 1) slather a thin layer of sauce at the bottom of your pan.  This is to give moisture to the bottom noodle.  Then add your first noodle (or noodles if you don’t use big sheets like me)

Step 2) Slather the noodle with ricotta mixture. Try to cover the whole piece (but remember to reserve enough ricotta for each of your layers)

Step 3) Slather the ricotta with sauce

Step 4) Lay down some of your mozzarella chunks

Step 5) repeat until last noodle.  On the last noodle, skip ricotta (hopefully you used it all up) and dump the rest of your sauce on top.  I promise you, it will look soupy.  It will look like WAY too much sauce.  If you made your noodles, this won’t be a problem.  You see, fresh noodles suck up sauce.  In fact, fresh noodles puff up a lot in cooking, it’s one of the reasons why you need to make super thin noodles.  That way they suck up the sauce, but don’t get so thick during cooking that you choke or anything.  If you chose to ignore me and bought those premade, dried out slabs…throw the whole thing out.  You will have a soupy lasagna in the end.  They do not absorb anything, let alone the flavours of your sauce that you just spent time perfecting.

Finish the top off with the rest of your mozzarella, some more pecorino/parm and throw her in the oven.

If you don’t like a crispy top, I suggest covering with tin foil.  I like the crusties, so I don’t do that.  Cooking for fresh noodles actually doesn’t take that long.  Maybe 30-45 minutes.  I usually let it stay in there for 45-60 minutes (check it frequently people) so that the noodles absorb optimum soupiness.

When you slice her up, she should look gross.  That means you did your job.

Serve with some nice homemade garlic bread

Now that my readers, is a yummy lasagna.  Of course I advocate trying it out my way, that’s why I gave you my recipe.  But I’m also a girl of unique taste buds, and I know that often enough, what I think tastes delicious, does not to someone else.  So I say, trust your taste buds, and come up with your OWN lasagna recipe.  Just please…please…make those noodles by hand.  There is absolutely nothing like homemade pasta.

I almost forgot to mention the moose cookies, didn’t I?  Well, in addition to pasta making yesterday, I also used my uber fancy moose cookie cutter to make cookies with my Mum, for my cousin’s son (who we call by his nickname – Moose).

Did you know that the hind legs of a moose are usually crooked?

Seriously folks, the cookie cutter came with some screwed up legs.

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