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First Time Auntie Chef Duties

16 Jul
On July 12, 2013 at 15:41 on a humid and stormy afternoon, Baby Chase Ronald came into the world. He’s my first blood nephew, my parent’s first grand child and it’s such an honor that they chose to give him our father’s first name as his middle. 
 
From the moment I held him, I was in love. Hopelessly and completely. Unfortunately the little buddy and his momma had a rough landing and he ended up being transported to the Children’s National Medical Center NICU later that night. 
 
Holding my baby nephew

Ok so not my first time holding him, but man this kid has good genes! Way to go Mom and Dad 😉

 
Fortunately he has been in the best of care and is doing extremely well. To keep spirits high and bellies full (and healthy- mostly), I hit the kitchen hard Sunday morning. It’s super important to keep Mom and Dad well fed and healthy so they can continue to be there and care for Chase.
 
Ingredients for zucchini carrot muffins and lasagna
 
On the delivery menu: Lasagna packed with spicy sausage and lots of veggies, and a side of cucumber (from our garden!) and tomato salad for Mom and Dad’s dinner. Of course I couldn’t resist treats and snacks, so I made a batch of these amazing Zucchini Carrot Muffins for breakfast or snacks, and Banana Pudding Cookies (with White Chocolate Chips) that are to die for. 
 
I tried to squeeze in extra nutrition to everything I made when the convenience of a bag of chips happens.
 
I added a 1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut and about 1/2 a cup or so golden raisins to the muffins which gave them a little more richness and sweetness. The muffins have no butter or oil, by the way. Score! I intended to make a double batch of muffins and grated extra zucchini from this monster my cousin gave me last weekend, and carrots but ended up not having enough yogurt. You’ll see how I dealt with those later…
 
Zucchini Carrot Coconut Raisin Muffins

I couldn’t resist a taste test. It was tough to just eat one…

For the Banana Pudding Cookies I had a single container of unsweetened apple sauce which was a bit more than the recipe called for, and a single serving container of nonfat greek yogurt which was a tad under the recipe requirements, so I called it a wash and charged forward. Also, I was fresh outta Nilla Wafers, so went without instead of trekking to the grocery story. They came out perfect. 
 
It’s equally important for Chase’s NICU nurses to be happy and not hungry, so I packed up extra muffins and most of the cookies for their break room. 
 
Chase’s Sunday NICU RN said “These might be the best cookies I’ve ever had”. Thank you, Two Peas in Their Pod!
 
On to dinner. Nothing says comfort and home cooking like a big pan of cheesy, rich and savory lasagna. I have fond memories of lasagna growing up and knew my brother and SIL would, too. So here’s my “recipe”.
 

Hot Sausage and Veggie Lasagna

Adjust these ingredients based on the number of servings you want and how big of a pan you have. Usually I make a single Pampered Chef stoneware casserole thing, but for this occasion I broke out the monster 9″ x 13″  glass casserole. 
 
1 package Lasagna noodles (I prefer the Barilla no bake)
2 jars marinara sauce (your favorite brand or homemade!)
1 bag mozzarella or Italian blend cheese
1 large container part skim Ricotta cheese
2 eggs
Parmesan Cheese
1 – 2 lbs hot Italian sausage
Spinach
Sliced mushrooms
Zucchini
Carrots
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
Italian Seasoning (or separate herbs – Oregano, Basil, Bay, etc)
Salt and Pepper
 
To start, brown the sausage. If you have it in casings, cut them open first. Cook thoroughly and set aside. 
 
Mix your marinara sauce with a tablespoon or so Italian Seasoning and Red Pepper Flakes to taste. Mince 4 – 5 cloves fresh garlic and stir well to mix. 
 
Make up the Ricotta mixture to bind the lasagna. I used 3/4 of the larger container and added 2 eggs, 3 cloves fresh minced garlic, 2 tsp salt and a little pepper. 
 
I always start by spreading just a little sauce on the bottom of the pan to keep the first layer of pasta noodles from sticking. 
 
Now you assemble, like so: 
 
Lasagna side view

Layers and layers of love.

A little sauce
Noodles
Spinach and Mushrooms
Sauce
Noodles
Ricotta mixture and a thin layer of cheese
Sauce
Noodles
Grated Zucchini and Carrots
Cooked Hot Italian Sausage
Sauce
Noodles
Sauce
The rest of the cheese.
 
Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Uncover and finish baking for another 10 minutes or so to get the golden crust. I don’t actually time it, I just stick my head in the oven and look for bubbles on the side as my gauge. 
 
I mean, really. This is amazing and it probably weighs more than the baby. 
 
Cooked lasagna
 
The hardest part was waiting for this bad boy to cool and pack up individual servings for the family. I should note, there is a special serving in here for my pal Jaime who is also supporting her brother who had an accident the other week.  {{prayers, positive vibes and healthy lasagna being sent up north}}
 
So fortunately everyone is doing better, but there’s still a little way to go. 
 
In the meantime, I’ll keep feeding people as best I can and devising plans to spoil my nephew rotten, once we remind him what a diva he was upon arrival 😉
 
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