Spinach and Sausage Lasagna

This recipe is not your typical lasagna, but it’s a delicious twist on the classic.  Since the whole thing only uses 1/2 lb. of pasta, it’s really easy to make this very healthy by using extra lean sausage and low-fat cheeses

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Meatballs

I must admit, I had never made meatballs until I tried this Barefoot Contessa recipe.  My mom usually makes them in bulk and gives me some – so I never had the opportunity to make them myself.  But I’m glad I tested this recipe out because it tastes very different from my mom’s meatballs – the meat is very tender and not overpowered by any particular flavor, it’s just perfectly blended and seasoned.    

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 cup fresh white bread crumbs (4 slices, crusts removed – pulse in food processor until they’ve become crumbs)
  • 1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 extra-large egg, beaten
  • Vegetable oil
  • Olive oil

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • Place the ground meats, both bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and 1/2 – 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl
  •  Combine very lightly with a fork
  • Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. (You will have 14 to 16 meatballs, if you make them a bit smaller you can get up to 24)
  • Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) saute pan until the bottom of the pan is liberally coated.  Heat the oil.
  • In batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork
    • This should take about 10 minutes for each batch
    • Don’t crowd the meatballs
    • Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels
    • Alternatively, you could bake the meatballs in the oven at 350°F for 10 minutes
  • Add the meatballs to a pot full of Robust Red Sauce
  • Cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through
    • If you’ve made more meatballs than you need, don’t fret!  These freeze beautifully – I usually freeze them as meals with sauce; perfect for a weeknight dinner!

Chicken Pot Pie

I had actually never tasted this classic comfort food until I made it last night.  I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.  If you have the time to make the dough, I recommend it – the consensus was that it tastes like a biscuit… so good.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1  1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, peas, corn, green beans)
  • 1 large potato, peeled
  • 3/4 cup pearl onions (frozen or fresh)
  • 1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, whole but smashed
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley
  • 4 cups chicken broth (store-bought or homemade)
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Pie crust (you can either use store-bought or homemade*)
  • 1 egg + 1 tbsp water (egg wash for the crust)
*This recipe will yield enough filling for two large pies or 4 individual pies –
if you want to make the large pie, you will need to double the dough recipe*
BAREFOOT CONTESSA’S PIE CRUST
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1  1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening (i.e. Crisco), cubed
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 2/3 – 1/2 cup ice cold water

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • Drizzle olive oil over the chicken breasts and sprinkle with salt and pepper
  • Place them on a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 350°F for 35-40 minutes or until fully cooked
  • While the chicken is cooking, prepare the pie crust if you’re planning on making it yourself
    • Once the chicken is cooked, cut it into bite-size cubes
BAREFOOT CONTESSA’S PIE CRUST
    • Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade
    • Toss in the shortening and butter and coat them with the flour
    • Pulse 10 times or until the shortening and butter are about the size of peas
    • While the food processor is running, pour in the ice cold water
    • Process until the dough is moistened and is beginning to clump together
    • Place the dough onto a floured surface and form it into a ball
    • Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 mins
  • Parboil the potato and then cube it – leave the water in the pot and keep the heat on
  • In the same pot, blanch the mixed veggies and pearl onions (if the onions are fresh, boil them for 2-3 minutes with the skin on; then remove the onions, cut the root and the onion should just pop out of the skin)
    • Put the prepared veggies aside for now
  • In a small saucepan, heat the chicken broth and bouillon cube
  • In a large pot or saute pan with high sides, melt the butter and saute the onions and whole garlic cloves
  • Remove the garlic cloves once they’ve become very fragrant and saute the onions over medium-low heat until they’re translucent
  • And the flour while stirring the mixture constantly over low heat – approximately 2 mins
  • Add the hot chicken broth to the flour mixture and whisk over low heat for another minute or until it thickens
  • Add 2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper and the heavy cream – continue to stir
  • Add in the cubed chicken, mixed vegetables, potatoes, pearl onions, parsley and thyme – stir the mixture well
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
There are two options for the presentation of this dish…
 
OPTION I – Make it into a classic pie 
    • The filling will be enough to make 2 pies – so either half the recipe, or double the dough
    • Cut the dough ball  in half and roll it out into a circle on a lightly floured surface
    • Drape the dough over the pie dish and press it down against the dish with your fingertips
    • Fill the pie with the chicken filling
    • Roll out the other half of the dough into a circle on a lightly floured surface
    • Cover the pie with this dough and make sure the edges are sealed along the edge of the pie dish
    • Brush the dough with the egg wash and make 3 slits on the top
    • Bake at 375°F for 1 hour  or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly – you may want to cover it for part of the time, just check on it while it’s baking to see if it’s getting too brown
OPTION II – Make it into individual pot pies
    • Cut the dough ball  in half and then in half again
    • Roll 1 quarter of the dough out into a circle on a lightly floured surface
    • Place the 1/4 of the chicken filling into an oven-safe bowl or ramekin
    • Brush the edge of the dish with the egg wash – this will prevent the crust from sticking to it
    • Drape the dough over the dish and leave about 1/2 inch hanging over the side – press the dough down against the side of the dish with your fingertips
    • Brush the dough with the egg wash and make 3 slits on the top
    • Repeat this with the remaining filling and dough
    • Bake at 375°F for 1 hour or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly

Chicken and Asparagus Wrap

I’m not gonna lie – I pretty much like anything wrapped in puff pastry.  This tasty wrap hits almost all of the food groups and isn’t too bad for you…  

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. – 1  1/2 lb. chicken breast, cut it into 4 pieces and pound it until it’s at most 1/2″ thick – you’re going to be folding these over in 1/2 so they need to be thin enough to do that
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 cloves of garlic, whole but smashed with the heel of your hand
  • 1 large pinch dried thyme
  • 1 large pinch dried sage
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 12 spears of asparagus
  • 4 slices of ham (I like to use proscuitto)
  • 4 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 sheet Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, defrosted and cut into 4 rectangles
  • 1 egg, beaten + 1 tbsp water (egg wash)
ALTERNATIVE METHOD FOR APPETIZER VERSION 
  • 1 lb. – 1 1/2 lb. chicken breast – cut into approximately 16 pieces, pounded thin
  • Approximately 8 slices of ham, cut in half (I use prosciutto or honey ham)
  • Approximately 8 slices of sharp cheddar cheese, cut in half
  • Approximately spears of 16 asparagus
  • 2 sheets Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, defrosted and cut into 16 pieces
  • Dried thyme and sage for sprinkling
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten + 1 tbsp water (egg wash)

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • Season both sides of the chicken breast with salt and pepper
  • Dredge the chicken in flour and shake off any excess
  • Heat the butter, olive oil, garlic, thyme and sage over medium-low heat in a large frying pan – saute the garlic until it’s very fragrant and begging to brown, then remove
  • Add the chicken breasts and saute for 2 minutes on each side (they will not be cooked through)
  • Set the half-cooked chicken aside in a dish and let it cool
  • Place the asparagus in a bowl of water and put in the microwave for 2 minutes
  •  Lay out your chicken breast and wrap 3 spears of asparagus with ham – place the wrapped asparagus in the middle of the chicken breast and top with the cheese
  • Fold the chicken over so the asparagus, ham and cheese is sandwiched inside and stick a toothpick through it to keep it together
  • Repeat this with the remaining 3 chicken breasts
  • On a lightly floured surface, use your fingertips to spread the puff pastry into the shape you need to wrap it around the chicken breast, while leaving the ends exposed
  • Place the chicken breast on the puff pastry (remove the toothpick) and wrap it with the puff pastry – try to get the seam on the bottom
  • Repeat this with the remaining chicken breasts and then arrange them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or sprayed with a non-stick cooking spray)
  • Brush the puff pastry with the egg wash
  • Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown
ALTERNATIVE METHOD FOR APPETIZER VERSION 
  • Lay out your pieces of pounded raw chicken and sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme and sage
  • Next, put down the ham, then the cheese and lastly the 2 pieces of asparagus
  • Roll each bundle of raw chicken up and stick a toothpick in it to hold it in place while you prepare the puff pastry
  • Remove the toothpick and place the chicken bundle in the center of the puff pastry; fold the dough over the sides and pinch the ends to seal (basically, wrap it up like a package)
  • Place your chicken “packages” on a parchment paper lined (or greased) baking sheet; brush with the egg wash and bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until golden brown

Stuffed Zucchini

These pair perfectly with stuffed grape leaves.  When my mom makes a big pot, she usually combines the two together.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • Approximately 10 narrow zucchini (cut in half)
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • First, prepare the pot
    • Place your slices of tomatoes along the bottom of a small pot – this will prevent the zucchini from burning while cooking
  • Soak the rice in very hot water for 1/2 hour – then strain
  • Mix the rice with the raw ground beef with your hands – season with salt and pepper
  • With a small spoon, scoop out the pulp of the zucchini until they’re hollow, but not open all the way through – leave about 1/8″-1/4″ around the interior wall
  • Stuff the zucchini with the rice and meat
  • Line the pot with the zucchini (if you’re also making grape leaves just randomly mix in the zucchini)
  • Place a small dish on top of the zucchini to add some pressure
  • Dissolve 1 tbsp of salt in 1 cup of water (for every cup of rice you need 2 cups of water) then pour the water into the pot
  • Cook it on high heat until it starts to boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low heat for approximately 1 hour
  • Check to see if the zucchini is cooked – once it’s cooked, pour in 1  1/2 oz. of fresh lemon juice
  • If the rice is not quite cooked, add in more water a little bit at a time (2-3 oz. at a time)
  • Once the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and let the pot settle while covered for at least 15 minutes
  • When you’re ready to serve, put a large round platter face down on the pot and tip the pot over
  • Serve with fresh pita bread and plain yogurt
    • If you have extra rice and meat, cook it in a small pot as you would normally cook rice (roughly estimate how much water you need – rule of thumb is 2 cups water to every cup of rice)

Stuffed Grape Leaves

This Middle Eastern classic is my mother’s specialty.  These barely last through dinner when she makes them…

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 jar of grape leaves (or freshly picked grape leaves) – approximately 100-150 leaves
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • Lamb chops (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • First, prepare the pot
    • Place your slices of tomatoes along the bottom of a medium pot – this will prevent the grape leaves from burning while cooking
    • If you want to use lamb chops, brown them 1-2 tbsp of butter first and then place them on the bottom of the pot, too, in between tomato slices
  • Soak the rice in very hot water for 1/2 hour – then strain
  • Mix the rice with the raw ground beef with your hands – season with salt and pepper
  • Boil the grape leaves (jarred or fresh) in water for about 2 minutes – you want them to be tender, but not too tender
  • Place the leaves in the strainer and cut off the stems – if the leaf is too big, cut it in half (ideally, the leaf should be about 3.5 in. wide)
  • Lay out a grape leaf and and place a heaping tbsp of rice and meat in the center of the leaf – form it into the shape of a your index finger up to your knuckle (same size, too)
  • Fold the sides over onto the rice and meat and roll it up like a small cigar
  • As you roll the leaves, line them up in the large pot that you have already prepared
  • Tightly arrange the stuffed grape leaves as you roll them – this can take a bit of time!
  • Place a small dish on top of the leaves to add some pressure
  • Dissolve 1 tbsp of salt in 2 cups of water (for every cup of rice you need 2 cups of water) then pour the water into the pot
  • Cook it on high heat until it starts to boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low heat for approximately 1 hour
  • Check to see if the leaves are cooked – once they’re cooked, pour in 3 oz. of fresh lemon juice
  • If the rice is not quite cooked, add in more water a little bit at a time (2-3 oz. at a time)
  • Once the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and let the pot settle while covered for at least 15 minutes
  • When you’re ready to serve, put a large round platter face down on the pot and tip the pot over
  • Serve with fresh pita bread and plain yogurt

Parmesan Crusted Chicken

These chicken tenders are the perfect accompaniment to a dish like the veggie lasagna or a great appetizer when entertaining. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. – 1  1/2 lb. chicken tenderloins
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs (you can also use seasoned panko breadcrumbs for extra crunch)
  • 1 cup powdered parmesan cheese (if you have grated parmesan, just pop it in the food processor and process until it’s powdery)
  • Olive Oil

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • If you want to make chicken nuggets, cut each tenderloin in half – otherwise, just use the whole tenderloin as it is
  • Pour the flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs into three separate containers (I use these breading pans – they’re great)
  • Dredge your chicken it the flour (shake off any excess), then dip it in the egg, and finally coat it in breadcrumbs and parmesan
  • Continue this process with all of the chicken tenderloins
  • Brush a baking tray with olive oil and place the breaded tenders onto the tray
  • Generously brush the breaded chicken breasts with olive oil
  • Bake for 20 minutes (10 minutes on each side) at 350°F
  • Remove the chicken from the oven and layer the cutlets on a dish in between paper towels (to blot excess oil)
  • If you’re making nuggets, they’re great served with honey mustard, ketchup and BBQ sauce



Chicken Parmesan

I’m always in the mood for anything followed by … Parmesan.  Plus, baking the chicken cutlets instead of frying them makes this dish a healthier choice (bonus).

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. chicken breasts (or veal), pounded fairly thin (about 1/3″ thick)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups Italian breadcrumbs
  • Olive Oil
  • Robust Red Sauce (approximately 1-2 cups, depending on preference)
  • Mozzarella cheese, grated
  • Parmesan cheese (or Pecorino Romano), grated

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • Prepare your chicken breast by pounding it out and cutting into pieces of desired size (I typically get 7-8 cutlets per pound)
  • Pour the flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs into three separate containers (I use these breading pans – they’re great)
  • Dredge your chicken it the flour (shake off any excess), then dip it in the egg, and finally coat it in breadcrumbs
  • Continue this process with all of the chicken breasts
  • Brush a baking tray with olive oil and place the cutlets onto the tray
  • Generously brush the breaded chicken breasts with olive oil
  • Bake for 20 minutes (10 minutes on each side) at 350°F
  • Remove the chicken from the oven and layer the cutlets on a dish in between paper towels (to blot excess oil)
  • On a clean baking tray, spoon a bit of sauce where you plan on placing each cutlet.  Place the baked cutlets on top of the sauce, cover with desired amount of sauce and top off with equal parts mozzarella and parmesan (or pecorino romano) cheese
  • Put the cutlets back in the oven at 350°F for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese has melted



Mediterranean Meatloaf


This is another one of my mother’s recipes that was a staple in our household growing up.  It’s a Middle Eastern version of good old ‘meat and potatoes.’ 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • Handful of fresh parsley (approximately 10 stems), finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 lb. (or more if desired) baby potatoes, peeled
  • 1 small can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes

HOW TO MAKE IT

  • Combine the ground beef, onion, parsley salt and pepper and mix well with your hands
  • Pour in the juice from the canned diced tomatoes, and mix well
  • Boil the potatoes and slice them into 1/3″ slices
  • Place the meat into the center of a baking pan with high edges (you don’t want the juice to leak)
  • Press down with your hands until the meat is about 1″ thick
  • With your index finger, divide the flattened meat into four by making a shallow indention and then make random shallow indentations with your index finger in each section (this will help keep the juices in the meat while it’s cooking)
  • Top the meat with the sliced potatoes and sprinkle with salt
  • Evenly place the diced tomatoes on top of the potatoes
  • Bake at 375°F for approximately 45 minutes
*Try serving this dish with fresh pita bread – makes a tasty sandwich!