Baking Bonanza!

As promised by the weatherman, the temperature dipped enormously last night. There was a helluva storm bringing it in too. Even though the sliver of sky I can see from our bed is small, when there’s lightening it flashes white even through my eyelids. I love to lay there with my eyes closed and “see” the lightning, and count till the thunder. Last night though, there was so much of both, you could hardly tell which thunder belonged to which lightning. Impressive storm.

And oh the cool it brought! When Hubby first opened the door this morning, cold air sucked through! I was gleeful. I almost immediately started planning my baking day.

Bread for sure, and granola. I am tired of paying $5 a loaf for decent bread, and you can’t even buy very good granola, it’s always too sweet. Then, since the oven would be on anyway, I’d been wanting to make blondies forever, and I had a thing of cottage cheese in the freezer needing used, and some leftover spaghetti sauce– lasagna! Also a few yams I might as well throw in.

I haven’t even turned on the oven since we got here. Can’t bear to when it’s so hot, and besides it would be absurd when we’re running the AC to cool our house. But in Cordova I baked all the time. Like at least every other day. All our bread, muffins, pies, granola, etc, etc. I haven’t exactly missed the baking, I’ve had a real lazy energy since we got here, but I miss the homemade, wholesome baked goods like crazy.

So right off I started a batch of bread. Should have known better how things go.

I thought we’d walk to the store while the dough rose, because of course, I wasn’t prepared for my baking day. I needed oats, honey and lasagna noodles. But the Toddler was not keen on a walk, for some reason. Just for the sake of contrary-ness I figure. We puttered around the house until Husband came home, then I shot out on my own to the store (on my own of course means with Baby strapped on front). I tried to be quick, was quick really. But the bread was ready to go into the oven by the time I got back. Which made the rest of my cooking somewhat of a frenzy.

crash kitchen
crash kitchen: this is basically all of the counter space in my New Orleans kitchen

If I had any sense I would have taken the not-walking-to-the-store time to clean the kitchen and prep a few things. I mean the whole point of this was to get everything in the oven at roughly the same time, right? Instead I madly dashed around the kitchen, making flour clouds and tomato sauce spills, and quite a pile of dishes. Finally got the lasagna and blondies in a little after one, about halfway through the bread’s hour.

Now all the 350s are done, the oven’s down to 250, and the granola’s cookin. Fun, fun, fun. Still dirty dishes in the sink, but hell– Husband took Toddler to the zoo, Baby’s sleeping delightfully, what’s a Mama to do but steal a few minutes to herself, with a cup of coffee she doesn’t need (oooh, I can feel the headache coming on already. I’m too hot, nursing, and always bordering on dehydration here to have a second, afternoon cup) and try to make her morning feel valid and productive…

Here’s a link to my Grrr-Nola:  Make Your Own Breakfast Cereal and Stick it to the Kellog Corp. recipe from my old blog.

My No-Nonsense Every Day Bread recipe will have to wait for another post.

In the meantime, here’s my favorite “Perfect” lasagna recipe, roughly following the Cook’s Illustrated one

**No boil lasagna noodles took me years to come around to, but, I finally discovered that they really are pretty good. And wow does it make lasagna more actually do-able, on a real day, in real life. If you use leftover spaghetti sauce like I did today (I stretched it out by mixing it with a can each of chopped tomatoes and paste, whizzed up in the blender, don’t forget salt and a little basil or something) it comes together super quick. Mostly just a matter of thawing frozen stuff.

1- 15oz carton ricotta or cottage cheese (cheaper, and almost as good)

1 egg

1/2 to 1 lb frozen spinach, thawed, all the liquid squeezed out

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup grated parmesan

15 no-boil lasagna noodles, CI recommends Barilla brand

about 3/4 lb (3 cups) grated mozzarella

at least 2 quarts of sauce, slightly on the thin side, so the noodles can suck some up

Mix the first 5 ingredients. Don’t forget to squeeze the spinach out, you can save the juice if you want for bread, soup, or even to thin your tomato sauce if need be.

Layer as usual (sauce first, then noodles, ricotta/spinach mixture, cheese, sauce, noodles, etc, finishing with noodles, then sauce, then cheese) being careful to make your layers super thin. That’s what I think makes it “Perfect,” and what took me years (and the CI recipe) to make myself do. Oh, yeah, 3 noodles per layer, in a 9 x 13 in pan. There will be a good inch between noodles, and around edges. That’s ok, they expand as they cook and fill those gaps. Also, when you lay down the ricotta mixture, spread as thin as you can over each noodle, don’t put any in those gaps.

Cover with aluminum foil (that’s the bummer about this recipe. You can use a baking sheet as a lid if you’ve got a big enough one that’s not warped. The no-boil noodles need all the moisture though, so don’t leave it uncovered, or poorly covered) and put in a 375 oven. After 15 mins, remove the foil. Bake 25 mins more, or until golden and bubbly-icious. Cool 10 mins (don’t skip the cooling, or it will be way too soupy, not to mention burn your tongue right out of your mouth!)