Eating–Penne “Lasagna”

February 24, 2011 01:13 by ehouston

Okay, so this is not going to be a new recipe that changes your life or anything.  In fact, it’s been done before.  But, I thought I would share one of our latest eating experiments with all of you.  All, three of you. 

After a recent visit to Sam’s Club yielded three enormous bags of pasta I have been racking my brain to come up with different, easy recipes so we don’t eat the same penne bake, mac & cheese and mushroom gravy over egg noodles meal over and over again.  Well, truthfully we have so much pasta that I fear we WILL be eating those and any other recipes I can come up with for a long, long time.  Why I ever thought we needed 50 pounds of uncooked noodles is beyond me.  But, I digress…

This is what I came up with in order to use penne pasta in place of the large flat noodles used in traditional lasagna.  It’s a recipe with pictures, or as I like to call them, my personal CSI documentation (since my shots always resemble those from a crime scene).

First, you have to gather the evidence some ingredients.


The basics include a jar of sauce, 4 cups of uncooked penne and a tub of cheese.  In this instance I used part skim ricotta cheese, but I have used low fat cottage cheese before too.  These three items are the basis for this one dish meal and would be fine on their own.  However, I like to add spices, meats, veggies…you name it…to make things different and exciting!  Yeah, as exciting as a one dish pasta dinner can get.

So, once I poured the uncooked noodles into the big pot of boiling water, I got started on making the other ingredients a bit more interesting and tasty. 


To the ricotta cheese I added the following:

1 1/2 tsps of dried basil

1 tsp of dried oregano

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp black pepper

Really, you can add whatever you prefer and change the amounts accordingly.

After thoroughly mixing these ingredients I then added a leftover 1/2 back of frozen chopped spinach.


I did allow it to thaw and I poured off most of the liquid, but not all.  It was roughly 6 ounces of leftover chopped spinach that I stirred into the cheese.


Next I poured the cheapo, no frills, store brand sauce into a bowl, using my handy-dandy jar squeegee to get every last drop out.  I was also sure to make a mess down the side of the bowl and onto my unforgiving white laminate countertops.  Did I ever tell you all how much I dislike having white laminate countertops?  They never, and I mean NEVER look clean.  And, for all of those people out there that tell me to “just use bleach”, I would like to not-so-politely let you know what you can do with your “bleach”.  That doesn’t work either!  Okay, back to what I was talking about.  Oh yeah, pasta, right?  I have enough of it around here, so I need to be talking about it, if I’m not.

Now is the time to get crazy wid it!  This is the opportunity to sneak in all those things that you want your family to eat, but you don’t dare mention for fear they will run screaming, hands waving in the air, from your kitchen straight to Mickey D’s.  You can also add things like cooked meat to your sauce at this point, but I was going for a cheese and veggie only meal for something different around here. 


Also, I just happened to come across some pureed home made baby food hiding in the back of the freezer.  Yep, right after making a TON of this stuff the Little Guy promptly stopped eating anything mushy and soggy.  In the following months I managed to empty most of what was leftover into other dishes, but these had escaped my sight for some time.  (Don’t try to do any math here, it will probably just gross you out.)  I found two green beans and a carrot.  The latter is something I normally add to my sauce when I make it from scratch, so this was not totally off base for our palates.  I mixed it all up, gave it a taste and decided once this was cooked, no one would be the wiser.


After spraying my lovely disposable tin pan with cooking spray I swirled a healthy spoonful of sauce across the bottom.  BTW- Although this is a disposable pan, my frugal nature will have me carefully cleaning and reusing this thing until it literally falls apart.

Next, I put down a layer of the now fully cooked penne pasta.


See, there it is up there.  In the colander and in the pan.  hee!


So, then I start to alternate the layers of sauce, pasta and then the cheese mixture.  This is where things get tricky for me.  It’s always an extreme one way or the other, with there being either too much leftover ingredients or too little, with it rarely working out in the end.


It’s a fine line, really.  In your head you are saying, “is there gonna be enough?  Oh God, what if there’s too much cheese on one layer?  What if I don’t have enough sauce?”, but you just have to take a deep breath and keep working through each layer, eyeballing it as you go.  Okay, so now that I have pep-talked you through this step…ah-hem…just know it’s pretty common to have about three layers.  So, if you have four it’s totally wrong and you should probably throw it out.  Joking!  The main thing I want to stress during the layering process is to push the sauce to the edges and over the noodles.  Otherwise, they may dry out during baking and you could end up deciding you have to throw the whole thing out anyway.  Joking again!  Eat the middle, dummy!

Okay, so after all the layers are in place this is what it should look like.


If I am going to eat this right away, I would sprinkle the top with parmesan or mozzarella cheese and bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes.  But, I am going to freeze this for a night when I am wiped out and don’t want food prep involving anything more than unwrapping and turning on an oven.


I always lay down a piece of wax paper before covering the pan with aluminum foil.  It just seems to help keep it fresh and prevent sticking.


And, don’t forget your label.  I use a Sharpie on an old post-it pad and a little tape for extra measure.


Not only do you want to list the contents of an otherwise mysterious package, you should also add the baking info; taking into consideration that this will be a frozen brick, so adjust the time accordingly.  (All you FISI Madison Alumni can insert your giggle here.  Yes, those are post-its from beyond!)

So, there you have it.  A fast, but semi-homemade meal in about 20 minutes prep time to eat right away, or to freeze.  I hope you all enjoy your faux lasagna.

Kitsch Krafts

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It Started With A List

November 25, 2010 09:48 by ehouston

It always does.  About a month ago I started the “what will we have for Turkey Day” list. 


After many, many revisions that list finally morphed into the “here’s what we need to buy” list.  Last night it became the “what time and order do we start the cooking” list.


This morning, while eating blueberry pancakes and bacon, and watching the Little Guy pick all the blueberries out of the pancakes first, it occurred to me that I had our “eat time” is at the start of nap time.  Where was my brain this week?

After careful consideration I decided we would eat at roughly our regular dinner time of 6:00 to 6:30ish and I would complete the bulk of the cooking during nap time.  DUH!!

So, the turkey is roasting and filling the house with the most delectable scent.  I just popped the dressing in and I am getting ready to put together the mac & cheese, mashed potatoes and the green bean casserole.  In the meantime we have been munching on pigs in the blanket.  Gawd, what is it about this day that makes us eat all the bad things we love at once?  It’s as though we are trying to provoke our body into some kind of shock or heart attack!  At least Thanksgiving would be a great last meal.

Oops, I just realized the sweet potatoes were not named above.

Oh man, I better get back to my list.


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Eating: Chicken Empanadas

January 22, 2010 00:20 by ehouston

As per usual, I cooked my way through the holidays this past year.  From Thanksgiving through Christmas we had company at our home every weekend lasting about four days at at time.  So, this meant lots of meals, snacks and… well, lots of cooking.  Luckily I enjoy making food for a small crowd and I was also blessed with visits from several family members that are great in the kitchen and willing to jump right in to lend a hand.  In between said visits, I also baked a bunch of treats and sent those across the country to land on the doorsteps of distant relatives reminding them that they were in our hearts and minds all year long.  Let’s face it, no matter what is going on during the rush of the holidays, there is nothing like opening a small package bursting with cookies, brownies, slices of fruited breads, cheesy crackers and a few chocolates.  Unfortunately, by the time Christmas actually rolled around I was pretty burnt out on baking any more sweets.  I had planned to whip up some more cookies, breads and crackers to send off with our visiting family, but then I heard their tales of junk food consumption leading up to the big day and I realized we would just be overdoing it.  I even purchased a couple of boxes of that Pillsbury pie crust that comes rolled up and ready to go.  You know the one, it’s in the canned biscuit section of every grocery store and you could wrap it around mud, bake it and end up with a delicacy.  I am serious…I LOVE this stuff. 

So, after all the turkey and pot roast was gone and my pie apples had been roasted in my new crock pot with the pork loin I decided I needed to do something with this crust before it had to be tossed.  The first thing I made is my old standby, the chicken pot pie.  And, as per the norm, it was delish!  I was getting ready to make a second CPP to freeze when I thought, hhhmmmm…what other yummy meal could I make with these ingredients?  That’s when I remembered briefly watching a cooking show where they made chicken empanadas and I thought I would try to pull it off. 

First, I cooked up the rest of the thawed chicken I had gathered initially for the second chicken pot pie and I did so with a few tablespoons of minced sweet onion.  I coated it with lots of black pepper, chili powder, cumin, salt, some thyme and a little sprinkle of red pepper flakes.  After all six of the chicken tenderloins had cooked through I put them on the cutting board and used two forks to shred them.  This is what the filling meat looked like when it was ready to be stuffed into the crusts:


Next I rolled out the Pillsbury pastry to a very thin layer making sure not to roll back and forth to much.  (For the non-regular bakers out there, rolling vigorously back and forth across pie pastry will compact the ingredients to the point that they do not rise up and puff at all.  Thus creating a dense, hard lifeless pie crust.)  I think the finished roll-out was about 1/8th inch thick.  Then I took the largest circle cookie cutter that I have, which is about 3.5 to 4 inches across, and I cut out the empanada rounds.  I managed to get 13 total rounds from just one of the two Pillsbury pastries.  I did have to re-roll the extra pastry one time to cut out four more rounds and then I used the last little bit to make one round that was just a tiny bit bigger than the others. 


Once the rounds were all cut and ready to be stuffed I gathered up some Monterey Jack cheese that I had shredded and a little bowl of water.  I took a round in one hand and stuffed a little bit (literally about a teaspoon) of cheese in the middle.  Then I scooped up some (about 1 to 1.5 tablespoons) of the seasoned chicken and onion mixture and placed it on top of the cheese.  The next step was the tough one….wedging the filling into the pastry crust without tearing it.  I learned that pressing the filling down a bit to compact it helped to fold the pastry around the filling with ease.  In order to keep the crusts sealed I dabbed a finger into the bowl of water and ran a line of that around the circumference of the pastry round before folding it over onto itself.


Just to be sure that the edges were completely sealed I crimped them by pressing down with the tines of a fork after laying them out on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  The pie crust instructions actually do not say to use any grease, but I have learned in the past that a light coating of cooking spray never hurt anyone! 


Plus, my baking sheets are old a funky (from years of cooking spray-ha!) and they need a little lube up in order for the baked goods to come up with ease.


You can see the one in the bottom right corner is the “little bit bigger” empanada, which I made from the last of the pastry.

Once the pastry rounds were stuffed and the edges were sealed, I put them in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.  They puffed, crisped and browned up nicely during that time.  A couple lost some of their cheese filling, but that just made for a nice addition of crunchy oven burned cheese- YUM!  I served these with some black beans that I dressed up with cucumber and onion “salad” (I will have to tell you all about that combo in another post) and a dollop of sour cream. 


They ended up being really, really good and hard to stop eating.  In fact, The Mister had a late meeting that night and I had to put everything away as soon as I was done because I kept hearing them call to me from the counter top.  If it weren’t for the refrigerator door between us The Mister might not have had his chance at a bite!

Give these super easy, Tex-Mex inspired pastry pockets of goodness a try.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Happy Eating!

Kitsch Krafts

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The New Year is Still A Baby, But I Feel Like an Old Lady....Slow and Way Behind!

January 6, 2009 07:14 by ehouston


As this new year began I had such high aspirations to be on top of this blog with new and exciting (well, at least to me) topics.  It seems that so far I have spent all of my time trying to think up how I want to approach posting here going forward, as well as, how to handle all of my other responsibilities.  If only I did not have a regular 9 to 5.  It just really gets in the way of my fun time.  ;0)

So, I decided to stop over analyzing everything and just get moving (I keep saying that about the diet and exercise program I plan to begin.  Let's hope this action rubs off on other areas of my life too!).  I plan to start some regular features, but I am not ready to designate specific days of the week to each.  Just like in grade school, I don't want to be caught on Friday wearing my Monday undies.

I am cooking up lot's of new things, so please check back soon!



Kitsch Krafts

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