Tag Archives: make ahead

A Make Ahead Dinner Party

When my friends Stefanie and Ari got engaged I knew I wanted to throw them a celebratory dinner party.  Of course coordinating the schedules of 4 busy people meant we had to wait a couple of months and do it on a Friday.  I didn’t want to sacrifice a delicious and special occasion meal just because I didn’t have all day to cook.  I do a lot of make ahead meals (just check out all the tags to that effect) but for this dinner to work EVERYTHING had to be made ahead or make in 3 minutes flat.  I did creep out of work a little early to make sure everything was perfect but it turned out to be unessecary.  If I didn’t have such curious kitties I would have even set the table the night before but no one really wants cat fur in their polenta so I just made sure everything was clean and set aside so it was easy to throw together.

Since the theme was Italian I used this fun olive themed tablecloth and napkins (shhh, they are French!).  I love the graphic nature of these large olive oil containers I get at A Litteri so once they are empty I use a can opener to take off the top, rinse them out and repurpose as a vase.  This also works really well with large cans of tomatoes.  My little mini Chianti bottles as salt and pepper shakers from our trip to Italy made another appearance as well.  We opened a bottle of Brunello we had brought back from that trip to make it extra special.  It turned out to be a wonderful stress free night celebrating great friends with lots of wine and laughter – exactly what I wish for Stef and Ari in their lives together!

A Make Ahead Dinner Party Menu

Antipasti

The easiest and most delicious way to start any meal hands down.  Buy the best ingredients ahead of time and then all you have to do is put them out.  I decided against a typical cheese board and instead took two types of cheeses and jazzed them up myself.  First I took some beautiful ricotta I bought at Righteous Cheese (who now ship nationwide!) and mixed it with meyer lemon zest, salt and pepper.  That was all it took to make store bought cheese a totally delicious spread, served with RC’s awesome rosemary crackers.

Next I drained little bocchini mozzarella (those balls of mozzarella cheese you can find at the supermarket stored in brine) and tossed them with high quality olive oil, salt, fennel seeds and crushed red pepper flakes.  To round everything out I bought some mixed olives, pistachios and sliced some Olli calabrese salamini.  They are little baby salamis made by this amazing place in VA (you can find them lots of places in the DC area but I have also seen them in other areas at Whole Foods and even Costco – check their website for the place closest to you).  Plunk some grapes in the middle and you have a nice selection for your guests to pick on before the big meal – all in less than 10 minutes.

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Osso Bucco

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The star of the night was for sure this osso bucco that I posted last month.  A special occasion dish perfect for this dinner party – I made it several days before and just popped the whole pot into the fridge once it had cooled.  The night of the party I just reheated it over low heat, covered, for about 30 minutes.  Stefanie told me Ari was crazy for bone marrow so of course I also bought some rosemary dinner rolls from Lyon Bakery in Union Market so he had bread to slather the marrow on.  I just tossed them in a 350 degree oven as we ate the antipasto and served them warm.

Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

For some green on the table I opted for the super quick sauteed spinach.  Takes no more than five minutes to wilt the several mountains of spinach you will need and then tossed with raisins and pine nuts they are supremely Italian.  There are many versions of this dish, I used one from an old cookbook but this one by Martha is pretty much the same.

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I make the spinach while the bread was warming but you could also sautee it all in advance and then just warm over low heat right before eating if you cannot spare that 5 minutes!

Make Ahead Polenta

You think you can’t make polenta ahead of time?  You think you need to stand over it and stir and stir while your guests look on???  No longer – I have this great tip gleaned from Cooks Illustrated,  cook the polenta with extra liquid and you can make it ahead.  Basically for every ounce of dried polenta you use, cook it in a cup of water (ie I cooked 4 ounces of polenta in 4 cups of milk and water.  Cook for about 20 minutes just as you would normal polenta until it’s no longer raw and pour it into a baking pan.  It will be pretty soupy but that’s fine.  Chill it overnight, top with parmesan cheese and bake in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes you get a creamy cheesey polenta with zero hassle.

I used this amazing truffle polenta we still had on hand from our Italy trip but you could flavor it with herbs or garlic or just leave it plain.  Either way it will be delicious and creamy and the perfect accompaniment to the osso bucco with all that delicious sauce.

Tiramisu

This dessert actually MUST be made in advance so all the booze and marscapone can meld with the lady fingers to create a decadent dessert.  Unfortunately, the version that I made for this dinner party was a bit of a bust so I won’t be recommending that recipe but there are only about a zillion out there.  This one from Epicurious has very good reviews and really any decent Italian cookbook should have one.  Or better yet – just buy one!  Serve with some espresso and maybe an after dinner drink and the party will be complete.  By my estimation you will spend about 30 minutes reheating things and 5 minutes with actual hands on cooking which will give you lots of time to enjoy your guests any night of the week.

Osso Bucco

For the holidays I usually like to splurge a little and do a premium piece of meat for my loved ones.  However, I find crown roasts or cuts of that nature pretty intimidating because what if you have everyone over, hungry and ready to sit down but the middle is still totally raw?  Braised meats are totally in my comfort zone because they can be made ahead to avert a crisis and they are really satisfying.  For a special occasion, like say Easter, my answer is osso bucco.  This Italian braised veal shank dish is a classic for a reason – the meat is unbelievably tender and luscious and then you get the benefit of having the bone you can scoop the marrow out of.  Now I know veal is sort of controversial but you know what is more so?  Rabbit – my mother served it once on Easter and I locked myself in my room thinking she was serving the Easter bunny for dinner!  The quality of the meat here is key.  I got mine at Harvey’s in Union Market which is excellent but any good butcher should carry osso bucco shanks.  Make sure to specify osso bucco otherwise you could get a whole shank which is basically the leg (I would call ahead a day in advance and ask them to set them aside for you).  Osso bucco should be cut about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick and ideally the butcher will tie them for you, if not I suggest doing that when you get home.

Having them be tied helps keep them together during the cooking process but you will see once they have braised for several hours they literally fall off the bone.  And that bone!  If there are any marrow fans in your family they will be so excited to see this – make sure to serve a nice crusty bread on the side so people can slater it with the marrow.  Since it’s a long braised dish but I want it to be sort of springy I suggest adding what the Italians call a gremolata to the top.

It’s essentially an herb topping made with lemon zest, garlic and parsley that adds a bright punch to the meat.  If you are having lots of folks over make this several days in advance, let it cool and then pop the whole thing, pan and all in the fridge and then reheat over low heat.  I cannot think of a simpler way to impress the family for a special occasion.

Osso Bucco 

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 veal osso bucco shanks (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick) tied with butchers twine if you have it
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • zest from 1 lemon (optional)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley (optional)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, grated or chopped very finely (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Salt and pepper the veal then dredge in the flour (i.e. dunk it in, get it covered in flour then shake off the excess).

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat.  When hot add the veal and cook for 5 minutes.  Flip and cook for 5 minutes more and then remove the veal to a plate and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add the butter to the pan.  Once the butter is melted add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper and let cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the onions start to soften.  Add the tomato paste, stir to combine and cook for another 2 minutes.  Splash in some of the wine to deglaze the pan (i.e. get up the nice brown bits on the bottom of the pan) then add in all the rest of the wine, the beef stock and the can of tomatoes.

Stir to combine.  Nestle the veal back into the pan – the liquid should come up about halfway up the shank, if not add more stock or wine.  Tie the herbs together with butchers twine and add to the pot or just toss them in separately.  Bring to a simmer then cover and place in the oven.

Cook for 1 hour, then carefully, using tongs, flip the veal and cook for an additional hour.  After 2 hours the meat should be very tender and falling off of the bone.  Fish out the herbs and remove the veal to a plate.  If the shanks were tied, cut off the string.  If you are going rustic serve the shanks with the sauce as is, for a more elevated dish use a fine mesh strainer to remove the vegetables from the sauce (I served it on the side in a gravy boat with some poured over the top for presentation).

The osso bucco can be served right away, stored in the fridge for several days and then reheated on the stove top or frozen for 3 months (make sure to freeze the shanks in the sauce).  If you would like to serve the osso bucco with gremolata on top, combine the lemon zest, parsley and garlic in a small bowl then sprinkle on top.

Patrick’s Irish Stew

Growing up in an Irish family in Boston, you pretty much take it for granted that everyone celebrates St. Patrick’s day.  I didn’t realize until I left the nest that EVERYONE celebrates St. Patrick’s day.  And who could blame them?  The Irish are the friendliest people you will ever meet, love to drink, eat, dance and have a good time.  No wonder everyone wants to be Irish!  St. Patrick’s day is a terrific excuse to have a party or at the very least a nice tall Guinness.  However, I had to take my celebrations to a whole new level when I met my husband, Patrick.

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In Adare, Ireland

Every March 17th I make this incredible soda bread made with brown butter and rosemary and have plenty of Irish whiskey and beer on hand to share with our friends.  This year I thought my man should have his very own stew with all of his favorite things included.  Jameson, Guinness and coffee pretty much fuel Patrick so I added those to a hearty beef stew and came up with the perfect way to celebrate this year.  Sláinte!

Patrick’s Irish Stew

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds of beef chuck cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 3 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, cleaned and sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups of beef broth
  • 1 1/2 cups of Guinness
  • 1/2 cup coffee
  • 2 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup frozen pearl onions
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Make sure all of the pieces of beef are around the same size, if not cut them until they are.  Sometimes I am lazy and buy the precut stuff (or it is on sale) but often they are all weirdly shaped.  It’s worth taking the time to cut them all the same so they cook at the same time.  Salt and pepper the beef cubes.  In a large dutch oven heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium high heat.  When hot add half of the beef cubes, making sure not to crowd them.  Let them cook about 5 minutes and don’t mess with them much or they won’t get brown.  Flip and cook the other side for 5 minutes and then remove them to a plate.  Add another tablespoon of oil (if necessary) and add the remaining beef cubes, repeating the 5 minutes then flip and 5 minutes more routine.  Add the second batch to the plate and toss in the bacon.  Let the bacon cook until starting to crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes and then add in the chopped onion, leek, carrots, garlic and butter.

Salt and pepper everything.  Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes until the onion and leek have softened.  Sprinkle on the flour and stir to combine.  Cook for another minute until all the flour is absorbed.  Add the Jameson and let cook for 1 minute.  If you have butchers twine tie the herbs together and add, otherwise just toss them in.  Add the beef broth, Guinness and coffee and stir to combine.

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Bring to a simmer then cover and put it in the oven.  Cook for an hour and a half, stirring once.  At the very end fish out the herbs then stir in the frozen pearl onions and frozen peas and cook for a minute or two more either in the oven or on the stovetop until they are heated through. The stew can be served right away, kept in the fridge for a couple of days or frozen for several months.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

Yikes it is cold out there!  Lucky you if you are reading this from somewhere warm but DC is freeeezing, like Boston style cold.  I moved 400 miles south for a reason!  Anyway the best way to fight of the cold is nice warm comfort food, bonus points if it’s a little spicy too.  Pop this baby in the slow cooker and you will have meals for several nights or freeze some and you will happily discover it in your freezer during the next snow storm.  Cooking Indian food can be a bit intimidating especially when you see a list of like 6 different required spices.  However, after you make the $10 investment up front pretty much the same spices are used over and over again so you can make awesome dishes like Turkey Biryani or Spinach and Chickpea Saute.

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I use chicken breasts here because I prefer the flavor and texture over thighs.  Most slow cooker recipes will have you use thigh meat because the extra fat helps keep the chicken from dying out in the long cooking process.  However, this dish is super saucy and the tomato helps tenderize the chicken so the result is, as my friend Lainie calls it, “falling apart chicken goodness.”  If you like thigh meat use it by all means and report back.  Obvious pairings for this dish are nice fluffy basmati rice and naan to dip in it – stay tuned for a Indian Dinner Party post which this dish is the star.  Stay warm!

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala 

  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into large chunks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped or grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with their juice
  • 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup cream

In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil over medium high heat.  Add the chicken (in batches if you need to) and cook for about 5 minutes or until browned on all sides – don’t worry if they are still raw inside, in fact they should be.

Place the chicken in the slow cooker.  In the same skillet (adding the other tablespoon of oil if you need it) sauté the onion, garlic and ginger with a pinch or two of salt for about 5 minutes.  This should help pick up any brown chicken bits from the pan.  Add in the tomato paste and all of the spices and cook for another minute or two until the spices are fragrant and the tomato paste is deepening in color.  Add in the diced tomatoes and stir, picking up anything stuck to the pan.  Dump everything in the slow cooker with the chicken then add the crushed tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper and stir so everything is combined.

Set the slow cooker to high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours (I prefer the low setting if you have the time).  After 4 or 8 hours the chicken should be very tender/almost falling apart – stir in the cream and taste for seasonings.

Cornish Game Hens with Herb Butter

Little chickens!  My husband just loves these and I must admit I am sort of a sucker for cornish game hens myself.  I love to serve these for dinner parties – they are no more difficult than a regular roast chicken and there is something so fun about everyone getting their own little hen.  As with chicken there are about a million ways to prepare cornish game hens.  The meat tends to be a bit more tender so I try to not overwhelm it but this herb butter subtly infuses herb flavor while basting the hen for you.  The result is a nicely browned, aromatic little chicky that took all of 2 minutes to prepare.  This would be perfect for Christmas Eve dinner – the smell of roasting chicken will permeate the house and make your whole family smile.

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Cornish Game Hens with Herb Butter 

  • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons chopped herbs (I used thyme, sage and rosemary but any mix would work)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 heads of garlic, cut in half lengthwise
  • 4 cornish game hens

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  In a small bowl mix the butter with the herbs and then season with salt and pepper.  Stuff the hens with a half a head of garlic each.  Use your fingers to separate the skin from the breast meat at the top of the hen, being careful not to break the skin.  About a tablespoon of butter under the skin of each hen and then use the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter to rub all over the top of the hens, making sure to cover the legs, wings and breasts.  If you have kitchen twine, tie the legs together.

At this point you can put the hens back in the fridge and roast them the next day.  If you are ready to cook them place them in a roasting pan or on a cookie sheet- they should each have some room on either side of them for the heat to circulate.  Use two pans if they don’t have enough room.  Cook the hens for 50 minutes (a meat thermometer should read 180 degrees at the leg).

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Using a spatula lift out the hens and let them rest on a cutting board covered in tin foil for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile pour all the juices from the roasting pan off into a sieve over a small sauce pan and cook the juices over high for 3 minutes or so until slightly reduced to a sauce like consistency.  Serve alongside the hens.

Holiday Bark

Every year I try and find new things to gift that are edible.  At some point no one really needs more stuff and food gifts are a great way to tell people you care.  Second only to my spiced nuts, this bark always gets top ratings from my friends and family.  Bark is by far the easiest thing to make and you can mix up what kind based on the person you are giving it to or what is in your pantry.  This method makes bark even easier as it entails almost zero clean up.  Most recipes will have you “temper” the chocolate, which means slowly melting it over a double boiler while adding more chocolate as it melts to keep a steady temperature.  This keeps the chocolate from getting a gritty texture and a grey color (no good!) but is kind of a pain.

Years ago I saw a tip in Southern Living magazine about just putting the chocolate on a cookie sheet in a low oven.  The heat just barely melts the chocolate so you don’t run the risk of grey bark and it’s already spread out on the sheet so all you have to do is spread it out a bit more and sprinkle on the toppings.  Once the bark is hard you throw away the parchment paper which means only 1 spatula to clean.  Here I give you 2 different variations but use whatever kind of chocolate you like – other good bark toppings are crushed candies like peppermint, chopped dried fruit such as apricot or cranberries, you could even throw on mini marshmallows and graham cracker cookie shards and make smores bark.  The options are limitless so next time you get invited to a last minute holiday party, within an hour you can have the perfect hostess gift.

Holiday Bark 

  • 4 four ounce bars of good chocolate – I used 3 dark chocolate and 1 white chocolate bars
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 a pomegranate, seeded
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and line with chocolate pieces.  If you are going to use two chocolates like I did with the dark and white break up the pieces and mix them together so you can swirl them when they are melted.  Otherwise you can just unwrap the bars and lie them next to each other like I did with the 2 other dark chocolate bars.

Bake for 5 minutes – the chocolate should still be holding its shape but when you press it with a spatula its melted inside.  Using a spatula swirl the two chocolates together and spread them out so the layer is even (if you use one kind of chocolate just use the spatula to spread it out and make sure no logos remain).

Sprinkle with toppings evenly (I did one tray of dark and white chocolate with pecans and sea salt and one dark chocolate with pomegranate seeds and sea salt).

Place in the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour.  Break up the bark into smaller pieces and serve or gift.  If you use a fresh ingredient like the pomegranate seeds you should serve them right away or store at room temp for no longer than a day.  Any other topping stored in the fridge will last at least a week.

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Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini

Want people to think you are fancy?  Go ahead and call toast crostini.  Somehow by using the Italian word you can make slapping goat cheese on a piece of bread sound totally difficult and high end.  Because that’s basically what this is and it’s delicious!  Perfect for a Thanksgiving ap this crostini has soft goat cheese, sweet caramelized onions and a sprinkle of fresh thyme – and it all comes together super quickly.  If you followed my post last week on caramelized onions then you are ahead of the game because you have some sitting in your freezer already.  If not, no worries, just whip up a batch this weekend and then take out 1 mound from the freezer Wednesday night and put it in the fridge to defrost.  I would serve these and maybe one other bite like nuts or a nice hummus.  Don’t load people up with a ton of food, otherwise you are going to end up with more leftovers than you know what to do with (though if you do make sure to log in on Friday the 27th for an amazing idea for your leftover turkey).  These would also be a great addition to a holiday party buffet or a potluck, as they are served room temperature and can hang around for hours with no ill affect.  I love these paper leaves to dress up a simple appetizer, and they are on sale right now at Williams Sonoma.  A really easy and cheap way to make something this simple look even better – cause you’re so fancy.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini 

  • 12 slices of a white or whole wheat baguette, sliced on a diagonal about 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup of caramelized onions, defrosted over night in the fridge (about 1 mound from the recipe, or a 1/6 of the total)
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Lay out the baguette slices on a cookie sheet and drizzle both sides of the bread with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Bake for 5 minutes, then flip and bake for 5 minutes more (if you want to make the crostini in advance go ahead, just let them cool and store in an airtight container up to 24 hours in advance).

While the bread is toasting, place the caramelized onions in a small saute pan over medium low heat to warm through.  Once warm (a couple of minutes) splash in some balsamic vinegar and stir it around.  You can leave the onions on low while you work on the rest of the dish.  Take the leaves off of the thyme sprigs (best way is to hold the top of the stem and run your fingers down to the bottom, ripping the leaves off as you do).  Once the toast is ready and cool enough to handle, spread the goat cheese on each slice.  Then remove the onions from the heat and using a fork (found this was easiest) cover the cheese with the onions.  Sprinkle with thyme leaves and serve.

Pumpkin Lasagna

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The great thing about getting comfortable with a lasagna recipe is that you can change it up pretty easily depending on your mood, what’s in the fridge, or in season.  Remember the Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Lasagna from June?  I made that with tons of fresh basil and a light tomato sauce.  Now that it’s fall I took the same recipe and method and just swapped out basil for sage and tomato sauce for pumpkin sauce.  The rest, the 3 cheeses and prosciutto, stay the same.

This version is a “bit” richer so you definitely want to pair it with a light salad and have a nice warming red wine on the side.  This sauce would also be lovely just over regular pasta, maybe with some cubes of roasted butternut squash tossed in as well.  I won’t bore you all to tears with step by step pictures in this post, if you need a reminder of what it should look like during assembly just refer back to the original post and follow along.  I will definitely be coming up with a winter and spring version of this lasagna – it’s just that good.

Pumpkin Lasagna 

Pumpkin sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small onions, or one large, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • 16 ounces pumpkin puree (make sure its plain pumpkin not pie filling)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon piment de espellete (if you don’t have that, well let’s assume you don’t, use 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper)
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup cream

Rest of the Lasagna

  • 16 ounces ricotta cheese (either homemade or good quality)
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped sage
  • 4 ounces prosciutto, chopped
  • 8 sheets of no boil pasta
  • 16 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

First make the pumpkin sauce – in a saucepan over medium heat add the olive oil and cook the onions and garlic for 7 minutes until soft and translucent.  Add the pumpkin, nutmeg and red pepper and turn up the heat to medium high.  Cook on this higher temperature for 3 minutes, stirring frequently so the bottom doesn’t burn.  Add the broth and cream and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  This makes 2 1/2 cups of sauce.

If baking right away preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl mix the ricotta, goat cheese, egg, sage and prosciutto together then season with salt and pepper.  Put a 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of the large pan or distribute equally among the 2 smaller pans, using the spoon to spread out the sauce.  Then add 4 sheets of the no boil pasta on top (4 laid in the bottom of the large pan or 2 in each small pan).  Then add half of the mozzarella on top of the pasta.  Next you add half of the ricotta mixture – don’t worry if your layers of sauce or cheese don’t cover the whole surface, once these get in the oven everything pretty much melts together.  Then comes another 1/3 of the sauce, 4 sheets of pasta, the remainder of the mozzarella and the remainder of the ricotta mixture.  Finish it all off with the rest of the sauce and then top with the grated parmesan cheese.

If you are going to freeze them cover with a layer of saran wrap then a layer of tin foil.  They should freeze well for 6 months – take it out of the freezer the night before you want to bake it and let it defrost in the fridge.  You could also just assemble these and leave them in the fridge for a couple of days (3 max) and then bake.

Once you are ready to bake put the lasagna in a 400 degree oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes, maybe 40 if it’s coming from the fridge.  It should be brown and bubbly on the top.  Let cool for 5 minutes or so before cutting into slices.

Glorious Carnitas

I have said it before and I will say it again – my next door neighbor Ben, is by far and away one of my best customers.  He always likes what I cook, has a huge appetite and likes a wide range of food.  Having him over always gives me an ego boost and usually means I don’t have to find tupperware to hold any leftovers!  However, when I made these carnitas and tested them out on him, I knew they were on a whole other level.  The recipe serves 8 but at the end of the night there was nothing left in the plate…and there were only 3 other people eating besides Ben!  They are indeed the perfect carnitas.  Tender, crispy and juicy, flavorful and not greasy – carnitas nirvana.  I got the methodology from Cook’s Illustrated – braise the meat for a long time, cook down the cooking liquid to a glaze, then toss the meat with the glaze and crisp it up under the broiler.  This method makes these carnitas perfect for making ahead.  Yes, pretty time-consuming but not at all labor intensive and absolutely worth it.  The recipe calls for a 4 pound pork butt (often Boston butt – why people why???) roast.  Unfortunately my local super market has only been selling gargantuan 9 to 10 pound roasts so I had the pleasure of hacking one in half early in the AM so I could get it braising.  Just another joy of cooking!

You can serve these delicious carnitas on their own or as part of a taco filling.  I paired them with rice and beans and as many hot sauces that can fit on our table.  Happy fiesta Friday!

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Carnitas

  • 3 1/2 to 4 pound boneless boston pork butt roast, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 orange, halved

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  In a large dutch oven place the pork, water, onion, lime juice, oregano, cumin, bay leaves and salt and pepper.  Using a strainer, juice the orange over the mix in the dutch oven, catching the seeds.  Throw in the juiced orange halves for good measure.

Over high heat bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and place it in the oven.  Bake it in the oven for 1 hour, carefully stir the pork around and then bake it for another hour.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork and set it aside in a bowl to cool.  Use that same spoon to scoop out the onion, orange halves and bay leaves and trash them.  Place the dutch oven over high heat and cook the liquid over high heat.  Stir it pretty frequently – you want it to reach a glaze like consistency so cook for about 10-12 minutes.  If you over cook it just rehydrate with a little water.

When it’s done turn off the heat and start shredding the meat.  Use two forks, or just your fingers, and break each piece in two or three large pieces.  You don’t want it super shredded, you want bite size chunks.  Stir in the glaze and season it with salt and pepper.  At this point you can let the mixture cool, cover and put it in the fridge for a couple of days (if you do make it in advance take the meat out of the fridge an hour before you want to serve it so it can come to room temperature).  When you are ready to finish the carnitas, heat your broiler.  Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and then place a baking rack over the foil.  Place the glaze covered carnitas on the baking rack and put it in the broiler.  Broil for 5 to 7 minutes, flip the pieces and then broil for 5 to 7 minutes more.

Chicken and Rice Summer Salad

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Sometimes I can really over romanticize meals and entertaining.  I blame it on years of Martha Stewart magazine spreads of perfectly coordinated but yet spontaneous gatherings.  Then Pinterest came along and just about ruined me.  The never-ending stream of precious parties (thrown by actual event planners I might add) makes me ache to be that pulled together and cool.  Picnics in particular have a certain allure – everyone gathered around a giant blanket eating individually portioned food, drinking champagne and always an adorable dog or kid thrown into the mix.  So every summer I am desperate to create a picnic but usually it’s deemed too hot or too buggy (why is no one in those magazine spreads shown dousing themselves in Off??).  Last year I finally got my chance with a fall trip to a Virgina vineyard – I made a lovely spread for Patrick and our friends Dave and Ashley, right down to the monogrammed bags.  People at the vineyard kept asking at what gourmet shop we had bought such awesome  lunches – I was beyond proud of myself.

Just a couple of weeks ago opportunity struck again – we were staying in our friend’s house on the Eastern Shore and didn’t feel like shleping a ton of food up with us to cook.  They have a great picnic table by the water so I created a greek themed picnic dinner complete with this Chicken and Rice Summer Salad.  I wanted everything to be served room temp and easy so I rounded out the menu with olives, pepadew peppers, the greek caprese salad I posted in the Caprese Twists post, store-bought hummus and pita.  The salad really was the star with carmelized shallots, tender zucchini and the punchy dressing.  This salad is perfect for picnics or for bringing into work for lunch, as it gets better with a little time.  I was nervous to dress it too soon so I packed the dressing separately and dressed it before eating but we had leftovers the next day and they were delicious so if you want to go ahead and dress it by all means.  Hope you all can squeeze in some more picnics before the end of the summer!

Chicken and Rice Summer Salad 

  • 2 large shallots, chopped
  • 2 small zucchini or 1 large, grated
  • 2 chopped fresno chilis (or 1 jalapeno seeded), chopped
  • 2 cups of cooked white or brown rice
  • 2 cooked chicken breasts (poached or from a rotisserie chicken), shredded
  • 4-6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
  • the juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey

In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the shallots and cook for approximately 5 minutes until nicely browned and carmelized.  Remove with a slotted spoon and reduce the heat to medium.  Add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper – add more olive oil if needed.  Grating zucchini is a “grate” trick – it makes them really quick cooking and easy to incorporate into pasta sauces, salads like this one, or soups.

Cook for 5 minutes more until the zucchini are no longer raw, have softened and most of the liquid has cooked off.  In a small bowl whisk 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice and zest, dijon mustard, garlic and honey together with salt and pepper.  In a larger bowl combine the shallots, zucchini, rice, chicken, and fresnos.  If you are serving right away toss with the dressing.  If it seems a little dry you can drizzle it with a bit more olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.  If you are making it ahead you can keep the dressing separate and store for up to 3 days in the fridge, then toss before serving.

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