Recipe: Meritage Mock Lasagna

I was craving something Italian last night for dinner, but needed to come up with something that would be do-able in our current apartment situation.  Going to the store and purchasing all the individual ingredients for a delicious lasagna sounded wonderful, but the reality is that I brought tons of spaghetti noodles with us in the move (they didn’t fit as well into Ziploc storage bags).  I also didn’t want to have extra foods around that might spoil, so I came up with a simpler plan.  I utilized the salad bar at the local Fresh Market next to our apartment building.

After an extended afternoon (which included another trip to the leasing office to replace the “new” garage gate remote), I didn’t want to waste a lot of time trying to make a full-on lasagna.  Instead, I used quicker cooking spaghetti noodles (broken into thirds) and some delectable James River Cellars Meritage to create our dinner for last night.  Here’s how things came together.MeritageMockLasagna

I diced the peppers (from the salad bar) and added half an onion into a stock pot with touch of olive oil to saute everything together.  I added one package of ground turkey and browned everything well before adding a healthy dose of James River Cellars Meritage red table wine.  NOTE: By using the words “red table wine”, a winery doesn’t have to post the exact percentage of alcohol in the wine… if the words “red wine” are used, the wine must by law share the exact percentage of alcohol.  Interesting, huh?

Once the base of the sauce was well cooked, I added one large can of crushed tomatoes and a spoonful of tomato paste.  After combining everything (and adding another pour of wine), I added a handful of dry spaghetti noodles, carefully breaking the strands into thirds, and allowed it to cook until the spaghetti was al dente (“to the tooth”).  At this point, I could have served dinner as a version of mazetti, but I was craving more of a lasagna-style flavor, so I kept cooking.

To turn this yummy pot of food into something that resembled lasagna, I simply added three spoonfuls of ricotta cheese and a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese.  Once mixed together, the cheese added a creaminess to the sauce and bumped up the flavor to a “lasagna-esque” taste that made me happy.  I added some garlic toasts to complete a wonderful, meal.

This is definitely something that it pretty simple to personalize to suit each family’s particular taste preferences.  Feel free to try it on your own… we loved it!

Recipe: Chicken Chardonel Cassoulet

I truly love having an afternoon when I have time to make a hearty, warming, delicious dinner.  I love to start with a few ingredients and turn them into something that just screams “Fall” to me and my family.  This was just such a meal. I make a lot of cassoulets, but this one turned out really well… so well that I wish I had doubled the recipe so I could have it for another few meals.

Tradition dictates that a “Cassoulet” is a French dish made with meat and beans.  It’s actually named after the slanted-side earthenware bowl (called a Cassolein which it is to be cooked.  I don’t own such a cooking vessel, so I use a large heavy stockpot that will stand up to some good old-fashioned cooking.  I don’t subscribe to the notion that you have to purchase a ton of different individual utensils to make a good meal.  It’s not necessarily about the final presentation… it’s about the care and love that goes into anything you make.  I realize that this can sound pretty hokey, but it’s honestly how I approach cooking in general.

This recipe was fairly simple and came together extremely well.  I used the following ingredients:  olive oil, one package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, one thin slice of ham steak (thinly diced),  2 cans of cannellini beans (I used one can of pinto beans and one can of cannellini beans, because that’s what I had on hand), well-chopped Mirepoix (a mixture of carrots, celery, and onion…. don’t let the “big word” bother you), 2 bay leaves, salt/pepper, a can of chicken broth, a can of James River Cellars’ Chardonel, 2 Tablespoons of pumpkin puree, and 1/4 cup of non-fat plain Greek yogurt.

NOTE:  As you may know (if you read this blog at all), I cook using “The Force”.  I look at my fridge and pantry when cooking and adjust my ingredients based on what I have available or what might look good to me at any given moment.  This was one of those recipes.  If you’re starting with a recipe (especially one of *my* recipes), feel free to add or subtract ingredients to tailor the meal to your family’s taste preference or pantry contents.ChickenChardonelCassoulet

I started with a heavy, rounded stockpot.  I added some olive oil and sauteed the diced ham until it was fairly crispy and the fat had rendered out of the ham.  Using a slotted spoon, I removed the ham and added the mirepoix to saute and soften for a few minutes before popping in the chicken thighs and allowing them to brown a bit.  The meat is going to cook for an hour or two, so don’t worry about whether it’s browned long enough… you simply want the color on the meat before adding in the rest of the ingredients.  Once the chicken and veggies were sauteed (see top left hand photo), I replaced the ham into this mixture and started layering everything into the pot.

The middle photo on the left shows the cassoulet after I added the can of pinto beans (WITH liquid), can of cannellini beans (WITH liquid), can of white wine (James River Cellars’ Chardonel), can of broth, and seasonings.  I put the lid on the pot and allowed everything to cook together for an hour before starting to adjust seasonings.

The bottom photos show the cassoulet after I added a bit of pumpkin puree.  I realize that this is a strange ingredient to add to a cassoulet, but (as I keep saying) it was in my fridge and I knew that this small amount would thicken the sauce a bit without changing the flavor significantly.  I could have made a roux (butter and flour) and slowly added it to thicken the sauce, but I really felt that would have thickened the cassoulet too much.  It’s really up to you as to how you thicken (or not thicken) your meal… that’s the glory that *is* cooking… make it your own!  My final addition was a huge spoonful (about 1/4 cup) of non-fat plain Greek yogurt.  I could easily have used sour cream, but I try to always have Greek yogurt on hand for just such an occasion.   I absolutely could have left the yogurt out at this point, but adding that light touch really finished the cassoulet and made it special.

That’s a cassoulet, in a nutshell.  Not too hard, right?  This recipe is something that can provide you and your family with a filling, one-pot meal that only needs some crusty bread on the side to complete your dinner.  I hope you’ll try your hand at making this recipe… and making it your own… you may even find a new family favorite!