The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. ~ Psalm 16:6 nasb

Monday, April 30, 2012

Britalian Lasagna

Yes, that's a weird name for a recipe.  I've meshed several different lasagna recipes together over the years, and since my heritage is British and Italian, that's the name I came up with and it works for me.  :)

It's funny that even though I come from an Italian family (my mom is a full-blooded Italian), I really don't like making lasagna.  It's also funny--or ironic--that my full-blooded Mexican husband loves lasagna, even claiming it as his favorite meal.  Making lasagna is too time-consuming, in my opinion.   So, on those rare occasions when I do make lasagna, I always double everything and make two.  I usually freeze the second pan, for a future meal or for blessing another family.  I use a throw-away aluminum pan for that second pan in case it goes to another family.

Here we go with what I do...

Britalian Lasagna

Meat Sauce
one pound of ground beef, cooked and drained
30-oz. can whole tomatoes
15-oz. can tomato sauce
8-oz. can tomato paste
Italian seasoning to taste (basil, oregano, parsley)
2 cloves garlic, crushed/minced
smidge of cane juice crystals (or sugar--I use maybe a couple of tablespoons,  no measuring)

Empty the whole tomatoes into a large pot.  Stick your hands in there and hand-crush all the tomatoes.  Then, add the cooked ground beef and the rest of the ingredients.  Heat over medium heat until heated through, or simmer for a couple hours on low.  You can use this sauce on its own, for serving over spaghetti or whatever.  You can also omit the meat and make meatballs (add them to the meatless sauce), or add cooked sausage or just serve it marinara-style.  This is also the spaghetti sauce I use in other recipes, such as taco soup.

Ricotta Mixture
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) fresh ricotta cheese (the fresher, the better)
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese (I always end up adding extra--cheese is great!)
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped parsley (I use fresh)
1 egg
dash fresh nutmeg (the secret ingredient; use a microplane grater)
salt and pepper to taste (I don't use these)

If your fresh ricotta is watery (which is typical of fresh ricotta but not always the case), drain it well.  A large metal sieve, or even the large colander I typically use, works well.  Once it is drained, combine it with all the other ingredients in a large bowl, and mix until everything is blended.

Other Ingredients
no-bake lasagna noodles--a couple boxes to be sure you have enough
couple cups grated mozzarella (I use more so I have enough for the top)

Okay, now to put everything together.  On the bottom of a 13x9 baking dish, I spread some meat sauce.  Then I place noodles over that.  Feel free to break the dry noodles to make them fit!  Spread some of the ricotta mixture on top of that, then some mozzarella.  Then I layer:  sauce -- noodles -- ricotta -- mozzarella.  Do this twice so that all the ricotta is used up.  My final layer is noodles, with sauce on top to cover the noodles completely.  Then sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top (I usually grate extra!).

Ready to bake!

To bake, place lasagna (I "tent" some aluminum foil over the top of the pan) in a preheated 350-degree oven, and bake for 45 minutes to one hour.  Check after 45 minutes, and remove the foil at that point.  Bake until it's bubbly and the cheese is slightly golden.

I don't think it's possible to mess up lasagna.  Whether the sauce is a little too thin or thick, or I've layered it incorrectly, it always seems to taste just fine.  And that's the important thing.

Fresh nutmeg--my Italian grandma's secret ingredient!

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Ricotta Cheese Pancakes

What do you do when you buy a huge container of ricotta cheese in order to make two pans of lasagna, and you end up with extra ricotta?  Extra, as in a lot of?

Five pounds of ricotta!

Well, it just so happens that I have this great little recipe for Ricotta Pancakes.  The original recipe is from Weight Watchers, and I've adjusted it to our own healthy eating standards.  This recipe makes a yummy meal for either breakfast or dinner.  We recently enjoyed these for dinner, since the ricotta is a nice portion of protein.

Ricotta Cheese Pancakes

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons cane juice crystals (or to taste)
4 eggs (we use fresh eggs right from our farmer)
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese

In a small bowl, sift together the first three ingredients.  (I simply stir them together using a whisk.)  In another larger bowl, beat egg; add ricotta and sifted flour mixture and stir until smooth.

Heat griddle or frypan on medium heat.  Important:  Once griddle is heated, brush with a little oil or butter.  Because there is no oil in the mix, the pancakes will stick and you'll end up with a mess.  :)

Drop batter by heaping tablespoon (don't make any larger than this) onto griddle; bake until golden on bottom, then flip carefully.  Cook other side until golden, then remove to serving plate.

These little pancakes are so light and fluffy; they melt in your mouth.  They're great served in the traditional way, with a little melted butter and syrup on top.  You may also serve them with berries or seasonal fruit.  Sometimes we eat them hot off the plate!

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tea Talk -- As I Do Today

Welcome to my home for Ruth's Tea Talk!
Click on Ruth's button above to participate with me.
Sit and share a cup of tea with me as we encourage each other in the Lord.

I'm's time for a cup of Trader Joe's sipping chocolate!  So rich and creamy and chocolatey.  Mmm...

I'm feeling...fine and dandy.   I resist the urge to share all my aches and pains with you.  It's a simple fact of aging, and I won't dwell on it.  My heart is happy, and that's all that matters for Tea Time.  :)

On my helping my parents get ready to move!  They've listed their house on the market and there's still lots to do helping them pack things up.  I love logistics, and I love helping my parents!

I leave you with...a passage of Scripture I literally just came across as I was reading.

It is the living who give thanks to You,
as I do today;
A father tells his sons about Your faithfulness.
The LORD will surely save me;
So we will play my songs  on stringed instruments
All the days of our life at the house of the LORD.
Isaiah 38:29-20 NASB

Spring flowers in the woods

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

On the Way to the Voting Booth...

March 20, Illinois primary elections.  Our polling place was a new location, the elementary school at the end of our street.  Since it was in the 80s that day, we decided to walk down and cast our votes.

It was so nice to see all the flowers and budding/blooming trees this early in spring!

Your typical polling place...

I carried my camera in to the polling place with me.  Ellie is a large camera, and she was hanging around my neck.  It's kind of hard to miss seeing her!  So here's the story...

We walked inside the school gymnasium and up to the tables.  The polling judges took our names and handed us our ballots.  I announced to them, "We have a first-time voter (Danny) with us today; I'm going to take his picture.  I will stand over there (way out of the way)."  One of the judges (a woman) said, "Okay."  Joseph, Danny, and Jacob each chose a booth and began to mark their ballots.  There were two other voters there, and they were almost finished with their ballots.

I walked over to my "spot" and held the camera up.  I even said, "Hey, Danny, vote slowly!"  (I had to adjust the camera settings.)  Then I pressed the shutter--snap, snap.

Immediately, an election judge (a man) got up and started walking toward me.  He said, "You can't take pictures in here!"  I told him I had announced that I was going to do so, and that another election judge said it was okay.  (At that point she interjected weakly, "I didn't know.")  The man told me, "Well, you can't.  Only press is allowed.  You can shoot from outside the building, if you want."

I told him, "Fine," while trying to be cooperative with him, and just took my ballot and voted.  I had already gotten the below shot.

The crazy thing is, is that there is no ordinance or statute against photography in the polling place in the state of Illinois.  The only thing mentioned in the statutes is that the election judges can take control of the polling place to avoid disruption.  But, we were pretty much the only voters there at the time, and I stood out of the way of any potential voters or anywhere people could have walked--it was a gymnasium!  And, if I had stood in the doorway like the one judge suggested, I would have been obstructing other potential voters from voting--which is in the statutes regarding polling places!

So goes another voting experience.  At least it was legal to shoot outside on the way home, so we stopped by the neighborhood pond and spotted a couple of turtles on some rocks.

The geese were pretty bold, paddling right up to the shoreline and even "posing" for me.

And to further calm my spirit, the Lord provided flowers along the way home for me to photograph.  That made me happy.

To top off the day, Danny and Thomas completed the upgrades to their computer so that my photography software could run more quickly.  Aren't they great?

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cookie? Cake? Both!

I recently posted my recipe for my chocolate cake (and its companion frosting recipe).  Today I'm going to share how to make a special cake that uses those cake layers (but not the frosting).  It's so nice to be able to pull cake layers out of the freezer and quickly whip up something amazing--especially when it involves chocolate.  :)

Made with Trader Joe's Candy Cane JoJo's (super yummy during the holidays!).

I took this recipe from an old Kraft Food & Family magazine, and completely modified it with healthier (organic) ingredients; sorry, Kraft!  Also, since I usually make things from scratch, be warned--there are a few more steps involved!

Giant Cookie Cake

Two prepared 9" chocolate cakes (get the recipe here)

1 8-oz. package cream cheese
1/2 cup cane juice crystals (or sugar)
2 cups prepared whipped cream*
12 (or more) cream-filled sandwich cookies (I use Trader Joe's Jo-Jo's, or their Peppermint Jo-Jo's available at Christmas; yum!) -- chop these into chunks

*To whip cream, pour about 1 cup of heavy whipping cream into a small mixing bowl.  Add two tablespoons cane juice crystals (or sugar).  Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form.  I sometimes double this to have extra whipping cream to decorate the top of the cake.

4 squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/4 cup butter, cut up

To prepare the filling, beat cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.  Gently fold in whipped topping and chopped cookies (I mix them both in at the same time).

Place one of the cake layers on a service plate, top side down.  Spread top of cake layer evenly with cream cheese/cookie mixture.  Use all of the mixture--it will be a thick layer!  Place remaining cake layer, top side up, on top of the filling.

With a frosting spreader, smooth the filling around the edge.

For the glaze, melt chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently.  Before chocolate is completely melted, turn off burner and continue stirring until it completely melts.  Set aside to cool for at least five minutes.

Gently pour glaze over top of finished cake, and spread to edges with a frosting spreader.

Sometimes I chop some extra cream-filled cookies to decorate the top of the cake.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Jump, Grill, Jump!

I've taken so many pictures of my boys jumping--trying to figure out camera settings to get good action shots for a photography class assignment--that I need to go ahead today and feature them in this blog post.  So, in honor of Daylight Savings Time (a little late!), jump ahead!!

While they were jumping, Fernando grilled for dinner.

Danny and Thomas decided that one sawhorse wasn't challenging enough, so they tried two.  They're very athletic.  :)

Fernando is the ultimate Grill Master.  I don't even know how to light his grill.  I like it that way.

Thomas is very flexible.  I don't know how he achieves these positions!

A beautiful sunset with an incoming storm ended our day of jumping and grilling.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

This not-too-sweet chocolate frosting recipe is an excellent combination with my chocolate cake (find the recipe here).  Creamy and rich--but not too rich--chocolate with just the right amount of sweetness complements the moist and delicious chocolate cake to create an incredible chocolate sensation.

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
Makes about 4 1/2 cups

one 12-ounce package (2 cups) semisweet chocolate pieces
1/2 cup butter
8-oz. carton sour cream
4 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar

In a large sauce pan, melt the chocolate pieces and butter over low heat, stirring frequently.  Cool for five minutes.  Stir in sour cream.  Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until smooth.  This will frost tops and sides of two two three 8- or 9-inch cake layers.

Pair this with:  My Very Best Chocolate Cake

My Very Best Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Very Best Chocolate Cake

I have tried different recipes for chocolate cake, but many years ago I found one to beat out all others.  I use this recipe for any other recipe that calls for a chocolate cake.  Today, I will share (and show) you how I make my very best chocolate cake.  I'll blog separately for the different cakes I make with this recipe.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting.

There are a lot of steps in the preparation of this yummy recipe.  However, this is the world of baking--ingredients need to be measured more carefully, and steps need to be followed for a beautiful and delicious result.  And spending the time is sooo worth it for this particular recipe!

The below recipe is for the plain cake only; there's also a link to an awesome frosting recipe that goes perfectly with this cake (pictured above).  Also, as you look at my pictures, please note that I have doubled the recipe.  I bake two 9" rounds and three 8" rounds to make five layers for two different cakes.  I usually make one kind of cake with one set of layers, and freeze the other set of layers for making the other kind of cake (I'll post that recipe, too!).

I apologize for the directions coming mingled with photos--I know I personally like to have the recipe all in one spot, and photos in another.  But this way worked out to better show you step by step how I put this recipe together.  So, here goes...

My Very Best Chocolate Cake

3/4 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour (I use organic white-wheat pastry flour)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups milk

Frosting recipe:  Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Then prepare two 9" round cake pans, or three 8" round cake pans.

First, cut out rounds of waxed paper to fit in the bottoms of the pans.  Rip off two (or three) sheets of waxed paper from the roll, then stack them together.  Then, turn the cake pan upside down on the stack of waxed paper.

I press my kitchen shears along the edge of the cake pan and drag the point all the way around the stacked sheets.  This leaves a line which I use as a guide for cutting.  When I do this, the sheets of waxed paper stick together a bit, and I can pick them up and cut out the three-ply circles all at once.

I then place the waxed paper rounds in the bottoms of the pans to make sure they fit.  I trim them if needed.

Once the waxed paper rounds are cut for the pans, grease the bottoms of the pans with coconut oil (or use your own method of greasing).

Then, place a round of waxed paper on the bottom of each pan, pressing to make it stick.

Once the waxed paper is placed in the pans, grease and flour the bottoms and sides of the pans.

Prep all the ingredients:  crack the eggs into a bowl or measuring cup, and measure the vanilla into a prep bowl.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.  Measure out the sugar into another bowl, and measure out the milk into another bowl with a spout, or into a large measuring cup.

In a mixing bowl (I use my Bosch Universal Mixer), beat butter on medium to high speed for about 30 seconds.  Gradually add sugar (I pour it in a slow stream), beating on medium speed until well combined (3-4 minutes).  Scrape sides of bowl; continue beating on medium speed for two minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition (about one minute total).  Beat in vanilla.

Add flour mixture and milk alternately to beaten mixture, beating on low speed just until combined after each addition.  Then, beat on medium to high speed for about 20 more seconds.

Spread batter evenly into prepared pans.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool cake layers in pans for ten minutes; remove cakes from pans onto cooling racks.

Carefully peel off waxed paper.  I make sure I don't pull the paper up; I gently peel it back.  Allow cakes to cool thoroughly on a wire rack, then frost with your favorite frosting.

My cake is ready to frost!

Pair this with:  Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
Use this cake for:  Giant Cookie Cake

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