Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Weekly Recipe: Fran’s French Lasagna

It’s no secret that I love pasta dishes.  This likely goes hand-in-hand with how much I love sauces – creamy, rich white sauces, flavorful, zesty red sauces, the truly spectacular “Zax Sauce” from the fast food chain Zaxby’s (tragically impossible to find in the Northeast)…  and I could go on.  But today our focus is pasta.  While Nick periodically needs to remind me that he might like something other than pasta multiple nights each week, he does love lasagna.  When I originally came across this recipe more than a year ago, it seemed like an appealing alternative to traditional lasagna.  And it is!

This recipe feeds 10-12 hungry skiers, and that’s no joke.  I halved it for our purposes, and it was still a big lasagna.

LOTS of ingredients...

LOTS of ingredients…

You’ll need:

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  •  2 packages frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 lb. grated / shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 lb. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1 package lasagna noodles
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 bottle cheap white wine
  • 2 eggs

Poach chicken for 45-60 minutes in white wine.  Cool and tear into bite-size pieces.  Cook spinach and drain well.  Saute onions, mushrooms, and garlic in the butter, then combine with the spinach.  Grate or mix mozzarella and Parmesan cheese together.  Blend ricotta and eggs.  Blend soup and sour cream together over low heat.  Cook lasagna noodles and drain (or use oven-ready noodles,  as I did).

Layer away!

Layer away!

Layer in a large rectangular baking pan in the following order: soup mixture, noodles, chicken, spinach mixture, ricotta mixture and grated cheeses.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour, 30 minutes covered, 30 minutes uncovered.

A few candid notes: while I loved the results of this recipe and they are worth the work, I’d clearly forgotten how labor-intensive this meal is.  First: it takes a long time.  About two to two and a half hours between poaching the chicken, assembling the lasagna, and baking it.  Second: it creates a ton of dishes.  As you may have noted in reading the recipe, many of the ingredients are layered separately, which means you end up with multiple dirty bowls and pots.  I confess, I finished assembling, popped the lasagna in the oven, and turned to the sink with despair to begin washing the mountain that had accumulated.

I will absolutely make this dish again, but here are my tips to cut back on time and mess: buy a rotisserie chicken and pull your bite size pieces from that.  It will save time by eliminating the poaching process, and the meat will be tender, juicy, and flavorful.  The next thing I’d do is combine more of the ingredients so there are fewer layers and fewer dishes.  It’s a lasagna anyway – when you’re cutting it apart and eating it, the pretty, painstaking layers are no longer recognizable.  Specifically: add the ricotta and eggs to the soup and sour cream.  You could even take it a step further and combine the ricotta, eggs, soup, sour cream, and spinach and mushroom mixture.  This would eliminate multiple pots and dishes, and leave you with three main layers: the mixture, the noodles, and the chicken, to be topped with the grated cheese.

One closing tip: if you’re using oven-ready lasagna noodles, as I did, I’d suggest adding a 1/2 cup of either water or white wine or a combination of both over the top of the lasagna before baking for moisture.

This recipe produces delicious and filling results.  Please don’t let the steps and recommendations intimidate you – modify as I suggest, open a bottle of white wine (for drinking!), and enjoy!

Not pretty, but delish!

Not pretty, but delish!

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Weekly(ish) Recipe: Liz’s White Chicken Chili

It hit the 30s in Macon, Georgia this past weekend.  It snowed in parts of South Carolina and northern Georgia.  And, quite simply, cold and snow makes me crave chili – spicy and hot, so it warms inside to out.  And thus I began the chili recipe search.

I enjoy chili, and so does Nick, so I make it fairly often.  It’s my favorite use of leftovers when we smoke a beef brisket, for example.  I refer time and again to the recipe for Leslie’s Chili, which is still my go-to beef chili recipe.  Chili is a double-win as a cost-effective, two-night plus meal for the two of us.  This early cold snap presented the perfect opportunity to try some type of white chili, using either chicken or ground turkey.  I found Liz’s White Chicken Chili on page 61 of Recipes from the Maine Kitchen.

Setting up!

Setting up!

You’ll need:

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 can (4 oz.) diced green chiles
  • 1/2 can low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 2 cans (13 oz.) of cannelini beans, undrained

Heat oil in large skillet and cook chicken approximately 5 minutes.  Remove with slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl.  Cook the onion and garlic in the pan juices for about two minutes, then stir in the chicken broth, chiles, and spices.

Nearly done!

Nearly done!

 

Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.  Stir in chicken and beans and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

This recipe really is as easy and (relatively) quick as it sounds.  If you want to punch up the spice, which I did, simply add more of the cumin and other spices.  I also threw in some fresh, diced jalapenos from our garden, and a bit of cayenne pepper.

Here’s where I have to be honest: while I liked this meal, and I would make it again, I wasn’t wild about it.  The flavor was good, but it was missing something for me.  Here’s what I’ll do differently the next time around:

1) poach and shred the chicken.  I think having shredded chicken throughout would have enhanced the flavor and the texture.  You also may be able to enhance the flavor by poaching the chicken in a mix of water and white wine, with seasonings.

2) add other veggies.  I’ve made beef chili before that calls for diced carrots and other unique vegetable additions.  I think that would work well in this dish, too, and add more interesting flavors.

Ready to dig in!

Ready to dig in!

If you like white chili (and let’s face it, chicken is better for us than red meat), I’m sure you will like this recipe.  I’ll keep you all posted on round 2 and if my revisions work well!

Happy cooking!

 


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Weekly Recipe: Chocolate Krinkles

Last weekend, we spent a laughter-filled Saturday evening with friends, and I was charged with bringing dessert (practicing those baking skills!).  This was both challenging and enjoyable for me.  Now that I’ve become more comfortable with baking, I see more recipes I want to try, and the challenge in this case was narrowing it down.  After much debate (raspberry brownies, lemon squares, pie?  Decisions, decisions!), I selected the Chocolate Krinkles from Recipes from the Maine Kitchen because the recipe met what you all likely now recognize as crucial criteria for me: a (relatively) brief ingredient list which includes primarily items I already have, the use of ingredients that are nearing their expiration dates, and (at least for baked goods) a pretty straightforward process.

Prepping!

Prepping!

You’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Powdered sugar

Mix oil, chocolate, and sugar.  This was my first time melting chocolate, so I did a bit of googling and found instructions online.  They recommended cutting the chocolate into small pieces (a step I actually forgot in my haste, oops!) and heating in a pan over very low heat, stirring almost constantly.  I was intimidated initially, but it turned out to be much simpler than I anticipated.

Mmm, melting chocolate.

Mmm, melting chocolate.

Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix dry ingredients and add to batter.  Chill several hours or overnight.  Roll a heaping teaspoonful of batter into a ball, then roll in powdered sugar.

Sugared and ready to bake!

Sugared and ready to bake!

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, being careful not to overbake.

Pretty, nicely shaped cookies were the result!  I will be adding this recipe to my holiday baked goods list.

Pretty, nicely shaped cookies were the result! I will be adding this recipe to my holiday baked goods list.

These cookies, or Krinkles, earned rave reviews from our friends and from Nick, who kept snagging them off the cookie sheet when I wasn’t looking.  They were simple and speedy, with the exception of the time needed for chilling the batter, and they were delicious – just the right balance of sweetness and chocolate flavor.

On an upcoming recipe note, one of my good friends from college now eats a gluten-free diet – and checks out my blog from time to time – so I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for gluten-free recipes for both meals and baked goods.  It seems that Mainers must have an affinity for gluten, as so many recipes contain flour.  My patience has paid off, however, as I recently came across a blog post on The Gluten Exchange that is all about a gluten-free recipe for doughnuts that uses none other than Stonewall Kitchen’s gluten-free Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut Mix.  Talk about a match made in gluten-free heaven – Stonewall Kitchen is based in York, Maine.  So stay tuned for a series of upcoming posts – a weekly recipe featuring gluten-free doughnuts (and using my pretty new doughnut pan, pictured below) and one highlighting Stonewall Kitchen and their exceptional products.

Cooking goodies from Sur la Table!

Cooking goodies from Sur la Table!


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Weekly Recipe: Raspberry Slump

I must preface this post by expressing that I am not a pastry chef (no wonder I chose a dessert recipe defined as a ‘slump’ – it sounded like a perfect match!).  However, my dear friends, Emily and Elisabeth, who are in fact pastry chefs at their bakery in northern California (as well as organic farmers, artists, dog whisperers, and raging beauties), requested a dessert be featured in an upcoming Weekly Recipe post.  Being the gracious blogger I am, I chose to grant their request.

This was an eye-opening experience for me.  I really enjoyed the process of baking, which I didn’t expect, as well as the end results (which I did expect).  As mentioned, the raspberry slump seemed to be the most appropriate recipe for me to attempt as a novice baker.  It was very simple, with a total of three sentences of instructions.  First, I’ll provide the recipe as it is listed in Good Maine Food, and second, I’ll elaborate on my personal journey through it.

You’ll need:

  • 1 quart raspberries
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 cup milk

Serves 6

Wash berries and put in a buttered baking dish; sprinkle with sugar.

Sugared raspberries and batter

Sugared raspberries and batter

Make a smooth batter of remaining ingredients and pour it over the berries.

Batter, drizzled over the berries

Batter, drizzled over the berries

Bake in a moderately hot oven, 375 degrees, 45 minutes.

As I was typing the above, I realized I went very, very wrong with one step in the instructions.  Rather than sprinkling the 1 1/2 cups of sugar on the berries, I sprinkled the 1/4 cup on the berries and mixed the 1 1/2 cups into the batter.  As a result, ‘pouring’ the batter over the berries was not possible.  I spooned it over them, at times violently shaking and banging the spoon to get it to fall onto the berries.  At the time, I was thinking, ‘anyone who thinks you can pour this batter has never made this recipe!’  Now, I realize, the error was all mine.  I will say, though, the batter was DELICIOUS.

Other than that mishap, the recipe was all I anticipated – quick, easy, and in the end, very tasty.  The crust was really crunchy due to the large amount of sugar I mistakenly included, but the flavor was excellent – both tart and sweet.  It also isn’t as pretty as some pastries or desserts, but then, I didn’t expect that of a ‘slump.’  Looks aside, I certainly recommend it to others!

Fresh out of the oven!

Fresh out of the oven!


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Weekly Recipe: Oven Beef Stew

You may have noticed this is my second weekly recipe post within days – I’m making up for lost time, you see.  I owe you one weekly recipe, and here it is.

This Oven Beef Stew recipe from Recipes from the Maine Kitchen is one of my all-time favorites. Just ask my husband – I make it at least once a month in the fall and winter, always on a Sunday, and the smell fills the house.  As a result, your mouth is watering long before it’s ready, and in my case, that means I have to have a bit of cheese and wine on hand to keep me patient.

I have modified this recipe, which can be found on page 64.  The list below are the ingredients and quantities I use, and in parantheses beside them, I’ve included what the original recipe called for.

1 onion, chopped

1 14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes

1 10.5 oz can mushroom soup

2 cups beef broth (1 cup water)

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon flour (1/3 cup tapioca)

3 or 4 peppercorns

1 bay leaf (I’ve made this recipe with it and without it – it’s nice to have, but doesn’t have a significant impact on flavor)

1.5 lbs stew beef, cut into 1 inch cubes

1 lb. carrots, cut into 1 inch cubes

2 large potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes

1/4 lb. mushrooms, sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

(I also like to add a bit of seasoning salt)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place all the ingredients into a Dutch oven or covered pan and cook for 3 hours.  This recipe serves 4-6.

Turns out pictures of beef stew don't look so yummy.  You'll have to trust me that it's delicious.

Turns out pictures of beef stew don’t look so yummy. You’ll have to trust me that it’s delicious.

This recipe in particular is a stellar example of why I love this cookbook – it’s simple, easy, hearty, and healthy.  Most of the ingredients I already have in my house, so if I get an urge to make it, my grocery list is minimal.  In this case, I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of Cayenne pepper, for several reasons – the first, I like to incorporate some sort of seasoning that isn’t salt and pepper, and my preference is a nice, spicy punch; the second is more health-based – using hot spices, like Cayenne actually revs your metabolism a bit.

What could be better on a cold winter day in Maine than beef stew?


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Weekly Recipe: Homemade Tomato Soup

This tomato soup recipe is one that I first learned from my cousin’s wife’s blog – which you can check out at http://www.piercewholenutrition.blogspot.com/.  Ann is a Master Nutrition Therapist, and this is originally one of her family’s recipes.  My mom and I modified it a bit when we made it on Christmas Day, but it’s great just as it is.

I like it because it’s homemade, healthy, and easy.  It was also a good lunch option for a busy Christmas in Maine – warm and tasty without being labor-intensive.  You’ll need:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup dry vermouth

2 lbs. heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (I have used regular tomatoes, and I also skip the peeling – the skins make it healthier)

3 tablespoons tomato paste

4 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth

2 tablespoons of mixed herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon)

Tomatoes!

In a large pot, warm the olive oil.  Add the onion, fennel, and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender.  Add vermouth and cook until evaporated (in this case, we didn’t have any vermouth – although dear old Dad swore that we did until the moment of truth – we supplemented by adding roughly a 1/2 cup of sherry at the very end of cooking, and it truly made the soup something special).  Add tomatoes and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to break down (8-10 minutes).  I didn’t cut the tomatoes into small enough pieces this time around – I usually cut them in eighths, and quarters isn’t quite enough.

Tomatoes, breaking down

Tomatoes, breaking down

Add broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes.  Wait until the soup has cooled, and, using an immersion blender (also known as a stick  blender), puree the soup, leaving some chunks for texture.  If you don’t have one, you can use a regular blender or food processor (you should wait to do this until the soup has cooled, but when I’ve been in a rush, I have done it while the soup is still quite hot, and it didn’t cause any problems).  Season with salt and pepper, and stir in the herbs when ready to serve.

In this case, as I mentioned, we substituted a 1/2 cup of sherry for the vermouth, and we also added about 3 tablespoons of butter, which smoothed out the flavors nicely.

When I make this at home, I usually make grilled cheese sandwiches as well – the perfect complement to this soup on a chilly day.

The end result:

Truly - good enough to eat!

Truly – good enough to eat!

Try and enjoy!  Happy Holidays to all.