Skillet Lasagna

One of the most freeing things about my evolution as a “food person” has been learning my likes and dislikes and adapting recipes accordingly. Sounds simple, right? But when I was first learning how to cook, I felt chained to a recipe. I assumed every dish was quadruple tested, its methods and ingredients absolute truth.

And then I met my college roommate, who insisted that you could cut the amount of sugar in every cookie recipe by half, or even substitute honey. (Heresy!) And then I met Gabriel, who alarmed me with his way of just throwing in salt and pepper as he tasted a dish, rather than measuring it out by the teaspoon.

Guess what? The food cooked up by those recipe-challengers was delicious! As I became more comfortable with my own cooking skills, I emulated Alex and Gabe and learned to approach recipes as starting points, not rigid contracts. And so it was with a big freaking smile on my face that I finally dumped out the jar of dried cilantro in my spice drawer a couple weeks ago. Because it turns out I don’t like cilantro.

I also can’t stand fennel seed, which is unfortunate, because the sausage I chose for this otherwise amazingly delicious recipe was rife with it. But now that I’m 100% sure of my distaste, I’ll be sure to choose the fennel-less sausage next time. Because I can.

Skillet lasagna

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Skillet Lasagna

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 8 oz. dried pasta (I chose pasta that looked like broken-up lasagna pieces)
  • 42.5 oz. canned, crushed tomatoes (I used one 28-oz can and one 14.5-oz can)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 cup ricotta
  • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil

Heat olive oil in a large oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until onion is softened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in  crushed red pepper flakes, italian seasoning, and a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Add sausage to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until broken into pieces and no longer pink (3-5 minutes).

Stir in pasta and tomatoes. Cover and continue to cook on medium heat for about 15-20 minutes, or until pasta is al dente. Be sure to stir fairly frequently, otherwise the pasta will stick to the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, preheat broiler. When pasta is done, remove skillet from heat and stir in half the parmesan and ricotta. Adjust seasoning to taste. Sprinkle the pasta with the remaining parmesan and chunks of mozzarella, and dot with the remaining ricotta.

Place skillet under broiler and cook until the cheese starts to bubble and brown. Remove from oven, sprinkle with fresh basil, and serve.

Source: Slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Pasta Revolution via Pink Parsley

Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream

Last Sunday was my sister’s birthday. I woke up bright and early on Saturday (early because my butter was tragically frozen solid the night before), determined to whip up her favorite birthday combo: yellow cake and chocolate frosting. I don’t know about you, but I can bounce out of bed before sunrise if it means I get to play around with cake batter and frosting.

Yellow cake with chocolate frosting

It was a lovely Saturday morning. Sprinkles and frosting abounded. And then Gabe, his best friend, my sister, and I all drove down to our old college town to frolic in the sunshine.

And then something bigger than yellow cupcakes and chocolate buttercream happened.

Yellow cake with chocolate frosting

This quiet weekend suddenly became a dizzying combo of laughter, tears, champagne, ridiculously good food, balloons, candles, racing hearts, and giddy joy.

And at the end of it all, bleary-eyed and overjoyed, I snuggled up to my guy and enjoyed a leftover cupcake with chocolate frosting. Simply perfect.

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 Yellow Cupcakes

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 Tbs. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs and 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sour cream or greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350° F and line two muffin tins with paper liners. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Using a stand mixer, cream together sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, until well combined. Be sure to stop and scrape the bowl occasionally.

In a small bowl, stir together sour cream and vanilla extract. With mixer on low speed, alternate adding flour mixture and sour cream mixture a little bit at a time, starting and ending with the flour.

When batter is smooth and well combined, pour into prepared muffin tins. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes and place on a rack until cool. Frost as desired.

Makes 24 cupcakes.

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher flake sea salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla or hazelnut extract
  • 2 Tbs. milk or cream

Whip butter on medium speed in a stand mixer for about 2 minutes. Turn off mixer and add powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Slowly stir until the sugar and cocoa are well combined, then add salt, vanilla extract, and milk. Turn the speed up to medium and whip for 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Pipe on cooled cupcakes and serve.

Makes 3 cups frosting.

Source: Cake from Annie’s Eats. Chocolate buttercream very slightly adapted from Savory Sweet Life.

Pesto Barley Salad

I know, I know, the suspense has been killing you. What did I make with those oven-dried tomatoes? I had a fair number of good guesses, but no one got it right on the head. My sweet little sister even suggested, “Whatever you’re making, I don’t want it. Tomatoes are icky.” Thanks for the support. ;)

We did enjoy these tomatoes on a margarita pizza two nights ago, but my real purpose for making them was to use them in lunches this week. If I’m really on top of things, I try to make a big salad during the weekend that I can bring for lunch all week long. This week it was pesto barley salad.

One of my new cooking goals is to branch out a bit with grains. As Gabe was helping me put away groceries this week, he stared at the pile of barley, farro, quinoa, and couscous amassing on the counter and said, “So apparently we live 3000 years ago.”

Not quite. But it’s definitely fun and challenging to introduce new old foods into our diet. And considering I’ve only ever had barley in soup (and beer, of course), this recipe was a great first step.

Pesto barley salad

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Pesto Barley Salad

Cook barley according to package directions. Drain and place in a large bowl. Stir in pesto. Slice mozzarella into bite-size pieces and add to bowl with barley. Stir in tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Source: Adapted from Rachael Ray.

Oven-Dried Grape Tomatoes

Alright, it’s time for another composite recipe challenge! As our temperatures suddenly plummeted from high-90s to low-60s this week, I was reminded of the fleeting nature of summer and its bountiful, sun-sweetened produce.

Oven-Dried Grape Tomatoes

While August may not last forever, there are ways to capture a bit of summer magic and keep it for a little while longer. Slow roasting is an easy way to concentrate the flavor of even mediocre winter tomatoes. And when you start with killer summer fruit? Oh baby, it’s a sweet flavor bomb. At least that’s what Gabe told me as he repeatedly snatched handfuls cooling on the jelly-roll pan.

So what did I do with these chewy, juicy tomatoes? Any guesses? Come back soon to find out!

Oven-Dried Grape Tomatoes

P.S. Here’s a bonus hint: another ingredient in the upcoming composite recipe is fresh basil pesto! Now what are you thinking?

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Oven-Dried Grape Tomatoes

  • 80-90 grape tomatoes (about 1.5 lbs)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for the jars
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt

Preheat oven to its lowest temperature setting (usually 150-170° F). In a glass measuring cup, stir together olive oil, garlic, and oregano. Slice tomatoes lengthwise and place on a foil-lined jelly roll pan, cut side up. Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil mixture and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Bake for 6-8 hours, or until tomatoes reach your desired level of dryness. Let cool completely, then place in glass jars. Cover with additional olive oil and screw on lids. The tomatoes will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month.

Source: Very slightly adapted from Cook Your Dream