Lasagna Mia!

This past Saturday at 12:01 a.m. I sat staring at these letters during a tight Scrabble match at the Weary Traveler:

Yijuxy?

On their own those letters have a lot of scoring potential- but having them all at once, not so much. I came in last. But that’s okay, I was too busy enjoying my Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, the banter with Dan and Dr. Hotbody and eavesdropping on the guy behind us who had a completely backwards and twisted definition for karma (No, I don’t think you acquire good karma by getting drunk before asking your co-workers to cover your shift for ‘personal reasons’ so that you can continue drinking.) After the tavern Dan and I listened to his Rick Danko record and then it was off to bed.

The next morning unable to sleep I grabbed the closest book to me which happened to be Eat, Pray, Love. I read this book a few summers ago and found the India praying section to be a bit long-winded, but I love reading about food so I opened up to Italy. I read about gelato, olives, asparagus, pasta, pastries and pizza and repressed Americans and before long I had to wake up Dan for a walk down to Batch Bakehouse where we purchased 12 dollars worth of baked goods, including a gruyre-filled croissant and one of the best scones that I have ever had in my life (it had walnuts, raisins and cinnamon glaze). From there we walked to the Willy Street Co-op to pick up ingredients for dinner- I had a hankering for lasagna. We bought whole milk ricotta! And 2% milk! And Nutella (still unopened and sitting on the shelf)! No repressed American here!

After a run, (do Italians believe in exercise?) I started dinner. I had intended to follow a recipe from my January issue of Bon Appetit. When I glanced at it I noticed that it was vegetarian and had swiss chard and mushrooms. When I sat down to read the actual entire recipe it lost me at ‘Turkish bay leaf.’ It might be time for me to admit that I don’t have a lot of patience for following recipes- this is always true for baking and sometimes true for cooking. I also realized that the recipe didn’t call for tomato sauce. What?! And they wanted me to blanch the swiss chard before sauteing it. I’m out. Let the creative process begin.

This is my adaptation of a recipe for lasagna loosely based on a recipe from Bon Appetit that wanted me to travel to Turkey in order to obtain a bay leaf. I call  it, ‘Lasagna Pile,’ in honor of the fact that I have no clue how to evenly spread ricotta over the rough terrain that is all of the other ingredients (why don’t they keep lasagna noodles in 9′ by 13′ sheets?) and as an homage to the great song, ‘Dutch Pile’ by the Happy Schnapps Combo.

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Lasagna Pile

serves 1-6, depending on if you plan on entertaining Clay Matthews

Béchamel sauce:

 2 cups 2% milk

4 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Swiss chard, spinach and mushroom layers:

 1 bunch Swiss chard

handful spinach

4 Tablespoons olive oil

1 1/3 cups chopped onion

1 large garlic clove, chopped, divided

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Coarse kosher salt

1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced

Lasagna:

8-10 whole wheat lasagna noodles

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese (preferably organic),

8 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

tomato sauce (I like Muir Glen)

For béchamel sauce:
Bring milk to simmer in medium saucepan; remove from heat. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk to blend. Cook 2 minutes, whisking almost constantly (do not let roux brown). Gradually whisk milk with bay leaf into roux. Add 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and nutmeg and bring to simmer. Cook until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, whisking often, about 3 minutes.

For swiss chard and mushroom layers:
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, half of garlic, and crushed red pepper. Sauté until onion is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Mix in chard and spinach and season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium- high heat. Add mushrooms and remaining garlic. Sauté until mushrooms are brown and tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Season with coarse salt and pepper.

For lasagna:
Cook noodles in medium pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Brush 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish with oil to coat. Spread 3 tablespoons béchamel sauce thinly over bottom of dish. Arrange 3 noodles in dish to cover bottom. Spoon some tomato sauce over the noodles. Spread half of chard mixture over pasta and sauce, then half of mushrooms. Drop half of ricotta over in dollops and spread in even layer (good luck with this). Sprinkle with half of Parmesan cheese; spread 3/4 cup béchamel over. Repeat layering with 3 noodles, sauce, remaining chard, mushrooms, ricotta, Parmesan, and 3/4 cup béchamel. Cover with 3 noodles and remaining béchamel. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover with foil. Let stand at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake lasagna covered 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until heated through and top is golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

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For photos of this recipe, please see Wordless Wednesday: Lasagna pile. I served the lasagna with a baguette from Batch Bakehouse, steamed  kale, and red wine.

Bon appetit! And don’t forget to do something unrepressed this weekend!

You know it’s the Packers

Somewhere in the middle of all of this I realized that I have fallen in love with you, Green Bay Packers.

I grew up a sports fan, but I was more concerned with baseball and soccer. I distinctly remember listening at a young age to Robin Yount batting while Uecker called the game on the radio on a Easter Sunday as I sat eating pastel-colored candy corn. I remember the Brewers no-hitter in ’87 and my dad taking me for walks in ’84 while the beloved Chicago Cubs tried to make it to the World Series (he believed he was a jinx if he watched the games). But I don’t remember anything about the Packers. Growing up in Madison you can feel isolated from the rest of the state… Needless to say my first vivid memory of the Packers was when I was studying for an Algebra test in high school with my friend Adam, a giant Packer fan. I’m not sure of the circumstances (regular or post-season) but the Packers lost and Adam proceeced to jump up and run outside and moan defeatedly while rolling around in a snowbank. At that point I realized that this team must be worth caring about. Two years later came a Super Bowl victory and more rolling around in the snow by boys- but this time it was the thrill of victory that led them to the drifts. I watched the next year as the Packers lost the Super Bowl, and I’m pretty sure I was bummed. The next few years are hazy… Fast forward to 2003. The Packers were making a run for the playoffs but it was a longshot and depended on a number or factors. In the last game of the season the Packers had to win and the Vikings had to lose. It wasn’t looking good. I remember sitting on the couch unable to breath. The Packers won their game, but the Vikings were rolling against the Cardinals. My dad was on the computer with a slow internet connection trying to get the latest on the Vikings game- suddenly the t.v. came back from commercials and in some miraculous turn of events, the Cardinals had come back to win. The Packers were going to the playoffs. The phone rang. I knew it was going to be Dan (we were still just friends at the time) and all I could do was scream into the phone. No hello. No hi. No doubt. Just screaming. I knew it was over- there was no turning back- I had become as crazy as the rest of them. I was also moving to Wyoming in a few days.

The next few years I celebrated the victories and felt sorrow at the losses. I bragged about the loyalty of Packer fans to all of my new Patriot fans that I met while living in Wyoming. I sat in my loft on New Year’s Eve 2006 crying when Favre cried at the end of what I thought would be his last game. Back living in Wisconsin I cried my eyes out again when Favre retired the first time. You know what happened next. And now here we are. The Packers are in the Super Bowl in less than two hours. Rational or not, I will sit captivated on my couch watching the game. I will scream. I will pull my shirt over eyes, unable to watch. I will trip myself running around the house like a maniac. I might cry. My neighbor might think again that Dan and I are domestically abusing each other until he realizes that we are actually yelling about a Tramon Williams interception. It’s all fair game. And no matter what happens, you know it’s the Packers. And Packer fans, you know it’s us.

Danger in his favorite Packer outfit
Laramie Peak, Wyoming- where Meagan, Dan and I screamed 'Go Pack Go' at the top of our lungs and wondered if Bengal fans would ever climb a mountain and yell 'Go Bengals'
Meagan and Derek's dogs with their Packer-colored casts
A magical evening at Lambeau Field when the Packers beat the Seahawks in the playoffs in a snowstorm
Dan and Clay Packer-Owl doing the Packer March, invented by Derek, a Packer owner, after a Packer victory at Bronco Stadium
Go Pack Go

Three words that became hard to say: road and trip and February

wan·der·lust

[won-der-luhst]
 
–noun
a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.
 
Origin:
1850–55; < German, equivalent to wander ( n ) to wander + Lust  desire; see lust
 
(from dictionary.com) 

 

Friday mornings mean coffee and the Avett Brothers. Friday mornings in February mean listening to this song over and over and thinking about my own urge to ‘jump the tracks.’ I ain’t mad at ya, Wisconsin, I just get antsy. And spring break is a long way away….

Snow Day Eve Pizza Par-tay

I was prepared to do a snow dance.

It worked in 1991 when my best friend, Meagan, and I took a break from listening to our Vanilla Ice cassette tape to run outside and chant to the snow gods. Back then we had to wait it out until the morning to find out if school was cancelled… Watching the banner across the bottom of the television we scoffed at the A’s (when does Adams-Friendship ever have school), waited painfully through the B’s, C’s and D’s and felt a rush of adrenaline as they approached the M’s. Usually we were disappointed as Madison was skipped over and we quickly found out that kids in Mineral Point, Monona and Monroe (yay Berghoff) got to stay home for the day. But in ’91 our snow dance did the trick and we had two whole days off of school to play Scattergories at Meagan’s house.

This time around a snow dance wasn’t necessary. These days they take all the fun out of it and announce snow days the evening before- in fact, as I was leaving school at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday I was informed over the loudspeaker that schools would be closed on Wednesday. It was a little snowy and windy as I drove home from school, but when I drove home from the gym around 7 p.m. we were in the midst of a full-blown blizzard. Luckily Dan had obtained provisions at Star Liquor and Willy Street Co-op and we were prepared for a snowed-in pizza party.

Onions, olives, Muir Glen sauce, chili paste and cheese

 

Rustic crust
Olive-y pie
Roasted broccoli on the side

While we waited for the pizza to bake we played a game of cribbage, enjoyed an Ale Asylum Ambergeddon and listened to the wind howl. When the pizza was ready we served it up with some roasted broccoli (toss broccoli and olive oil on a baking sheet and roast in a 375 degree-oven for about 10-12 minutes, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and squeeze on some fresh lemon juice)… Yum. Dessert was a cup of tea and a three chocolate cookie cookies (recipe coming soon).

It's hard to leave when you can't find the door

After a breakfast the next morning of transcendent eggs and french press coffee, I was ready to face what the blizzard had to show for itself. The first challenge was getting out the front door. While it may not have had the same mystique as snow days past,  it was a snow day nonetheless. An occasion to be celebrated; a day to remember. Happy Snow Day.