Friday, April 18, 2014

Annie's Homegrown Lasagna Review

Hello, dear readers. I have been a busy mama and trying to make new things at home has been a challenge. You might remember that I joined Influenster a while ago. I was very surprised when I was given something totally awesome to review. Annie's Homegrown frozen lasagna!

OK, you're probably thinking "What's the big deal about frozen lasagna? It's not that great."

Well, that's what I thought too. I've had other brands of frozen lasagna that were fairly bad with thick, pasty pasta, gummy cheese, processed meat, and sometimes it was all I could do to eat it because I was that hungry.

We've eaten other products from Annie's and I'm happy with them. The kids love the bunny gummies and cheddar snack mix. They are so-so with the mac & cheese. I was definitely game to try the new frozen family size entrees.

I picked up my box from Target.  They have other flavors, Mac & Cheese, Butternut Mac & Cheese, Chicken and White Cheddar Shells, and the classic Lasagna.

Here it is right out of the box. So far, so good. Looks like real cheese on top so that's good. I popped it in the oven, let it bake and then we dug in.

The box says it serves 3.5.  Well, the four of us ate the whole thing. The boys took slightly large portions than what we girls got. The ricotta layer was salty and good.  It wasn't swimming in tomato sauce. The texture of the pasta was just right, also the noodles were not too thick. 

We loved it. My husband even said it was almost as good as my homemade lasagna. Now that says something!

I even managed to get Haley, the pickiest 5-year-old, to eat it and she absolutely lit up after she tasted it.

My conclusion was to buy this again! It only took a little over an hour to bake, so the effort was minimal.  The lasagna itself tasted great and not at all like other frozen ones we've had before. Also, knowing that Annie's using organic ingredients and wholesome, responsible sources was a bonus. 

For the sake of total transparency: Please note that I received this product complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.

Hey, if you like Annie's products, you might like my recipe for Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Irish Soda Bread

Hello again! It's March and we're nearing St. Patrick's Day.

We have a few little family traditions. They are pretty easy to adhere to. We like to eat corned beef and cabbage, wear green, and go visit Grandma Rose for her birthday since it falls the week before.  Sometimes, we even go to the St. Paddy's Fair put on by our hometown church, if we are there the right weekend.

One of my newer traditions is making homemade bread to go with dinner. I've tried a few variations on Irish soda bread, and this is by far the easiest. We love quick and easy, especially when it's tasty!

There are many, many different recipes for soda bread. I've tried to keep this true to what Irish people would have made historically. No raisins, no sugar, no fancy stuff. Just plain, hearty bread. This is not light and fluffy white bread. It's dense, chewy, and crusty. You will definitely want to load it up with butter and use it to sop up juices on your plate.

I love that this is baked in a Dutch oven.  I actually have a lidded Calphalon stoneware baker that is perfect for this. Le Creuset enameled cast iron French ovens are also great. You can use glass, stoneware, cast iron, or even two metal cake pans (one on top of the other to create a lid). The covered baking makes the crust really crunchy.  If you like this technique, also check out my Basque Sheepherder Bread.

4 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups buttermilk (or sour milk* see note at bottom)
sea salt or flaky salt, to taste

1. Mix together the dry ingredients. Add the buttermilk and mix with a big wooden spoon until it starts to hold together. You'll probably need to use your hands to finish mixing.

2. Knead a few times on a floured board.  Do this so there isn't too much gas trapped, but don't over do it so the bread gets tough. It should be a bit crumbly looking.  Roll and shape into a neat circle.

3. Slice an X on top of the loaf.  Place in a greased and floured Dutch oven that is about 3 Qt size. Sprinkle salt on top of the dough, if desired.

4.  Bake at 425F with the lid on for 30 minutes.

5. Remove the lid and bake another 15 minutes.  The bread should sound hollow when tapped and be a lovely golden brown.

Wheat: substitute 2 cups whole wheat flour for 2 cups of the AP flour. Keep the other ingredients the same.

Extra smooth white: substitute 2 cups cake flour for 2 cups of the AP flour. Keep the other ingredients the same.

*Sour milk is the same quantity of regular milk with a teaspoon or so of lemon juice or white vinegar added to it. Let it sit on the counter about 5 minutes before using in a recipe so it can thicken and start to look curdled.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Garlic Risotto

Risotto has reputation, a bad reputation. Have you heard?

That reputation put me off for a long time. I imagine others think the same way as I do. Occasionally I concede that I don't have the time or patience to make certain foods at home and resort to eating those things at restaurants. But now, risotto is not one of those things. You can make it at home just fine. Maybe your favorite risotto is a different flavor, but follow the techniques here and get used to them. You'll be whipping up other flavors in no time.

One of my dear hubby's favorite things is his grandma's risotto made with her homemade (secret recipe) spaghetti sauce. Believe me, conquering that recipe was tough! In comparison, this risotto is as easy as boiling your stock and waiting for it to soak into the rice. It just takes a little patience.

about 5 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated real Parmesan cheese  (optional, forget it if you want to go Vegan)

1. Put the stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.

2. Heat the olive oil in a separate large pan or skillet. Add the onion and cook slowly until it softens. Add the garlic and cook until all of it is soft, but not brown. Aim for translucent and tender.

  3. Stir in the rice and cook a minute or two longer. Add the lemon zest. 

 4. Add the wine, bring to a simmer, and cook until the wine has been absorbed completely. 

5. Add the stock, one ladel-full at a time, stirring slowly until it has been absorbed. 


 6. Repeat adding the stock and stirring until the stock has been used and the rice is al dente tender. By the time you use all the stock, it will take a bit longer to absorb that in the beginning. This is normal 


For high-altitude cooks, this will take about 20-25 minutes. If your rice isn't getting very tender, cover it and let it steam about 5 minutes over very low heat. If you've run out of stock, add a splash of hot water. 

If you're a low-altitude chef, your risotto should only take 15-20 minutes. And you probably won't have any trouble with it getting to the right tenderness. Lucky you! (wink wink) 

7. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve it up with a bunch of grated real Parmegiano cheese. For an extra kick of lemon, serve with a lemon wedge for squeezing. 

If you're going Vegan, leave off the Parm. You could use a nut- or soy-based cheese substitute, or just add crunchy fried garlic on top for variety.