Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hearty Lasagna


Can we just take a moment and look at the depth of this slice of lasagna?
Meaty layer upon cheesy layer.
Lasagna that isn't just a speck of meat drizzled in a marinara sauce with a slab of mozzarella and a giant noodle suffocating it all can be a real thing.
But guess what?
It does involve some labor in the kitchen to accomplish.
I ensure you though, it is nothing but a labor of love.
Because when you present a beautiful piece of lasagna, paired with freshly toasted garlic bread, the love from the eyes of your family members when they see it will speak volumes.
Okay, so it may not be that dramatic...but you can see where I'm going with this.
It will please the tummies in the house, that's for sure.
Let's take another quick looksie at how wonderful it is:


I made quite a few of lasagnas before I learned a few important things about the classic dish.
It requires a long cooking time for the sauce so that the spices have time to really marry the meat and infuse the sauce so that it isn't bland. 
Ricotta cheese gets a bad rep because typically it is just slathered on without any other seasonings added to it.
Adding an egg, parsley, and surprisingly some nutmeg helps enhance the flavor and doesn't make it a thick, kind-of curdled cheese.
You could go the cottage cheese route, I suppose if you must, but I just wouldn't. Try it with the ricotta just once if you have always been afraid of it. It might surprise you!

Lastly, it takes a lot of meat, seasonings, and cheese to prep a lasagna worthy of photograph.
Seriously. Many times they are just limp noodles smothered in toppings, as I mentioned above.
If you want a satisfying pasta packed full of yumminess, please give this a whirl!
I don't really think you would be let down.
I do recommend making this on cooler days, because with all the simmering it tends to warm up a kitchen quite quickly.

And if you are looking for a good dessert to pair it with, I typically serve Gooey Butter Cake afterwords. I'm not sure why. It just works out wonderfully!

Hearty Lasagna

by Emily Chhouy
Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 2-3 hours
Ingredients (12 servings)
    For the Meat Sauce
    • 1 pound Italian sausage
    • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
    • 3/4 cup onion, minced
    • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
    • 3 tablespoons sugar
    • 2 teaspoons basil
    • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
    • 1 tablespoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
    • 4 tablespoons parsley
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 1 - 6 oz can tomato paste
    • 1 large - 28 oz can diced or crushed tomatoes
    • 2 - 8 oz cans tomato sauce
    For the Filling
    • 16 oz. ricotta cheese
    • 1 tablespoon parsley
    • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1 egg
    • 2 pounds shredded mozzarella cheese
    • 1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese
    • 16 oz package of lasagna noodles
    Instructions
    For the Meat Sauce
    Brown the sausage and ground beef in a large skillet over a medium-high heat.
    Add the minced onions and let cook with the meat.
    Drain excess fat once all meat is cooked thoroughly.
    Return to the stove, over a low heat and add the remaining ingredients for the sauce - sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, fennel seeds, salt, pepper, parsley, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce and water.
    Cover and let simmer for an hour, stirring frequently to make sure it doesn't burn.
    After an hour, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles according to the package directions.
    (I add a bit of olive oil to the water to prevent sticking of the noodles)
    Uncover the meat sauce and continue to simmer, stirring as needed, to allow the sauce to reduce.
    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    For the Filling
    Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl combine the ricotta cheese, egg, nutmeg and parsley.
    Mix well - set aside.
    Spray a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick spray.
    Drain noodles - do not rinse with cold water, return to the pot.
    Remove the sauce from the heat and spread a layer evenly on the bottom of the baking dish.
    Lay down a layer of the noodles.
    Spread the ricotta cheese mixture as evenly as possible over the noddles.
    Spread another layer of the meat sauce over the ricotta cheese.
    Sprinkle with 1/3 of the Parmesan cheese.
    Top with a layer of the mozzarella cheese.
    Repeat with a layer of noodles, ricotta, meat, Parmesan, mozzarella two times.
    Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
    Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 20 minutes.
    Let sit for 5-10 minutes to "set up" before cutting and serving.
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    Saturday, March 14, 2015

    Honey Walnut Shrimp



    My hub's favorite dish whenever we get Panda Express is their Honey Walnut Shrimp.
    Every time he gets, as well as doubles it.
    Not only is there an up-charge because it is shrimp, but we get that twice...since he doubles his entree choice.

    It isn't a cheap "fast-Chinese-food" experience for us.
    But, he loves it.
    My choice is always the Orange Chicken...which I have shared my recipe before which you can find here.

    Anyways. He is always raving about how much he loves this shrimp and how he wants it all the time.
    Yadda yadda yadda.

    Well, I was off for a few days earlier this week and decided to try to make it at home.
    I had no clue where to start, expect I knew that if it was successful, I will probably be making it many more time.
    I did a quick search for a suitable recipe to try, nothing seemed to match the battered-fried shrimp with the sweet sauce he craved so much.

    So I worked my tweeking-magic and combined a few recipes to create my own version.
    The tweeking was a success.
    It had enough sauce.
    The candied walnuts were ah-mazing (I maybe, kind of, purposely didn't add them all to the dish so I could just pop them into my mouth)...

    It was a total winner. The hubs loved it and is requesting it again already.
    Plus, it was easy to throw together.
    Just plan a little ahead of time. It seems like a lot of steps, but laying everything out before you get started will make it not so over-whelming.

    Plus, did I mention the candied walnuts are amazing?
    (And way cheaper than buying it at the restaurant)

    Recipes adapted from here and here.

    Honey Walnut Shrimp

    by Emily Chhouy

    Prep Time: 20 min

    Cook Time: 10 min

    Ingredients (2-3 servings)

      For the Candied Walnuts
      • 1/2 cup water
      • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
      For the Sauce
      • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
      • 2 tablespoons honey
      • 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
      For the Shrimp
      • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
      • 3 egg whites
      • 1/2 cup bread flour
      • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
      • Oil, for frying

      Instructions

      For the Candied Walnuts

      Bring the 1/2 cup water to a boil.

      Add the sugar and stir constantly until it becomes a golden color.

      Add the chopped walnuts into the light caramel, stirring.

      Reduce the heat and let simmer for 2-3 minutes.

      Remove from the heat and spread the walnuts out onto waxed or parchment paper to let dry.

      Separate so they aren't sticking together.

      For the Sauce

      Combine the mayonnaise, honey and sweetened condensed milk together in a medium-sized bowl.

      Stir until well combined.

      Set aside.

      For the Shrimp

      Heat the oil in a shallow skillet.

      Meanwhile, in a bowl beat the egg whites until they are foamy.

      Add in the lemon juice.

      Stir in the flour until it reaches the consistency of paste.

      Dip the dip into the batter and then place into the hot oil.

      Let one side cook before flipping to the other.

      Drain on paper towels.

      Add the fried shrimp to the bowl with the sauce and toss to coat evenly.

      Either add the candied walnuts at this time as well, or wait to top after plating the shrimp.

      Pour the coated shrimp onto a serving plate or bowl.

      Serve with rice, if desired.

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      Thursday, March 12, 2015

      Lemon Bars


      Girl Scout cookie sale season is almost over. 
      I can't say that I'm sad about it.
      This has been my daughter's first experience in the cookie-selling business (she's in Kindergarten, so she is a Daisy scout).
      Here she is trying to sell the cookies with her super cuteness powers:


      She set a goal of 500 boxes of cookies to sell, based solely on wanting to win the nail polish art kit, and we have been working hard to reach that goal.
      I don't think we will reach it. 
      We're close though, like within 20 or so!
      But, she doesn't need to reach her goal every time. It has taught her great people skills and I have been able to watch her blossom over the past month and gain confidence in her ability to talk to people about the cookies, making the sale, and thanking them afterwords. 
      I am a proud mama!
      Which means that I have bought a large amount of Girl Scout cookies for our own consumption at home.
      I have a weakness for Shortbread cookies. Nobody else in the house enjoys them as much as I do, so the two boxes that I set aside for myself I knew I needed to do something with, or I would just eat the entire box. 
      By myself.

      That's when I decided to crush up the cookies and use them as the crust for lemon bars!
      Yum!
      Spring has sprung around here with the afternoon temps reaching the mid 60's, so naturally I am craving delicious treats that aren't so chocolately, or peanut buttery...even though they are delicious.
      Just something...fruitier. 
      I stuck with the most basic, simple recipe that I know from my childhood - no need for recipe cards with this one!
      The best part of this simple lemon bar recipe is that kids can help whip it together.
      Crushing the cookies, whisking the eggs and squeezing the lemons...c'mon now! Pretty much nothing is as much fun as those things!

      These bars are full of citrus flavor and the natural yellow color is bright and beautiful. 
      They are fragrant and taste amazing.

      Obviously.

      If you don't have shortbread cookies from the Girl Scouts (I used one entire box to make the cookie crust), any other shortbread cookie would do just fine! Even Nila Wafers would work in their place.


      Lemon Bars

      by Emily Chhouy
      Prep Time: 15 min
      Cook Time: 25-30 min
      Ingredients (9 bars)
        For the Crust
        • 2 cups finely crushed Shortbread cookies
        • 1/4 cup sugar
        • 1/2 cup melted butter
        For the Filling
        • 4 eggs
        • 1 cup squeezed lemon juice, strained
        • 1 1/3 cup sugar
        Instructions
        Preheat oven to 350 degrees

        For the Crust
        Mix together the crushed cookie crumbs, sugar and melted butter.
        Press into the bottom of an 8X8 baking dish.
        Bake for 7-9 minutes, until lightly browned.
        For the Filling
        In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, strained lemon juice and sugar.
        Don't whisk it too much, it will get frothy if you do.
        Pour into the warm pie crust.
        Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the center is set and no longer jiggles when moved.
        Let cool completely.
        Sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar.
        Chill in the refrigerator, if desired (and store here also)
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        Monday, March 9, 2015

        Chilled Berry Soup



        I remember the first time I had strawberry soup. I thought my grandma had no clue what she was doing.
        Who makes a cold soup?
        Well apparently every cruise line and Walt Disney World do...
        It had been years since I last had a bowl of creamy strawberry soup, but that ended when we were on a cruise a few years ago.

        And then, it didn't cross my mind again since then.

        Until last week when I created a recipe using Chobani Greek Yogurt as an ingredient for their #MadeWithChobani project.
        My favorite way of eating Chobani yogurt (I'm a plain or a vanilla type of gal myself) is to make a parfait.
        You know, with thawed berries and granola layered in. Or, in my case - typically all mixed together in a cereal bowl. Let's be real. I don't make it fancy every time just so I can devour eat it.

        I was stumped.
        I mix in the creamy yogurt when I make my cheesecake fillings.
        I have added it to my scones.
        To cakes.
        As a dip.
        Nothing seemed fun and exciting.

        Until the beautiful image of the rosy pink strawberry soup popped into my head.



        I got right to work and came up with my own berry soup recipe.
        I was unhappy with just the use of strawberries, so I tossed in some red raspberries.
        Just a few really enhanced the flavor of the soup overall and created something totally new to me.
        The best thing about using Chobani yogurt in this recipe, is you could get a little crazy. There are many flavors to choose from.
        You could totally get away from my plain ol' recipe and add a berry yogurt, or get real wild and try Key Lime or Pineapple Coconut in it.
        The combinations are virtually endless!
        You can check out all the flavors offered on the Chobani website.

        I recommend blending everything together and letting it chill at least 3 or 4 hours before serving.
        I dotted a bit of heavy cream on the top and swirled a knife through it to get the waves on the top. You could get fancy with it and make quite the impression with this as an appetizer, dessert, or just a side dish.

        Chilled Berry Soup

        by Emily Chhouy
        Prep Time: 15 min
        Cook Time: Chill 3-4 hours

        Ingredients (4 servings)
        • 1 lb. fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced in half
        • 1/4 cup fresh red raspberries
        • 1/4 cup heavy cream
        • 1/4 cup sugar
        • 5.3 oz. plain or vanilla Chobani Greek Yogurt
        Instructions
        Combine the berries, cream, sugar and yogurt together in a blender or food processor.
        Blend until mixture is smooth and creamy.
        Pour into either a large bowl or individual serving bowls, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours.
        Before serving, dot with heavy cream on top and swirl, if desired.
        Add sliced fresh fruit to garnish.
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        Monday, March 2, 2015

        It Was Me All Along {book review}

        I recently read a wonderful memoir by Andie Mitchell. The book describes her life of fighting food addiction and binge-eating, then overcoming the battle and living a healthy life.


        From the description of licking the gritty brown sugar from chocolate chip cookie dough off of the beater, Andie Mitchell had me addicted to her story. The story of love. Loss. Family. And most importantly food and all that it does for a person. I, much like Andie and countless others had a rocky start to life and found comfort in the wrapped packages of Little Debbie snack cakes, cupcakes with inch-thick fluffy frosting mounded on it's moist tops...yep food and I love each other. 
        The journey that Michell takes us on is enjoyable, heartbreaking, and relate-able. I root for her and hope that finds the will to resist that late-night binge every time stress comes around. 
        Andie Mitchell's memoir is written beautifully and with such grace that I could visualize myself there beside her in each and every moment she talks us through. Through every morsel of cake or last bite of pasta. I was there. I am happy with the life she was able to turn around for herself and found myself smiling at the end. Happy for her and the journey she took, because without it she wouldn't be who she is and be able to write a story that opens my eyes to my own food demons. The demons of food addiction and being able to over come those and rise above healthy and vibrant. I recommend this book to anyone who has one too many cupcakes, chips, or soda pop to fill a void that needs to be filled. 

        *I received this book from bloggingforbooks in exchange for an honest review.

        You can purchase the book here.

        Saturday, February 7, 2015

        The Kitchn Cookbook {cookbook review}


        I wasn't sure what I was expecting when I received The Kitchn Cookbook. But, the cover photographs drew me in (my favorite food, PHO, is featured) and I knew I must have this cookbook. When I received it and browsed through the pages, the bold sections and beautiful photographs took me by surprise. This is more than just a cookbook, that's for sure!
        I finally sat down and ended up reading this cookbook as though it were a novel. And I am so glad that I read it that way!
        Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand have created a masterpiece of a guide that takes the reader on a journey through their kitchen that will not leave any nook and cranie untouched. The Kitchn is a cookbook that I could foresee taking over the classic Better Homes and Gardens cookbook as the staple in the kitchen. Let me just say, that this may be the new gift that I add to wedding presents or housewarming gifts. 
        This book leaves no area of the kitchen out. Tips for stocking your pantry with staple items and then how to create menus from what you have are very helpful. This along with the tools section are perfect for anyone venturing out on their own for the first time and need to get tips on how to run a kitchen in their own home. Even people like me, who have been on their own for a number of years and are comfortable cooking, can learn a thing or two from this book. 
        Caring for Your Kitchen was probably one of my favorites because my kitchen is very lived in and this cookbook helps me see how I can minimize the stress of cleaning and maintenance work required to keep it a well-oiled machine. There are so many wonderful things in this cookbook, such as the 50 Essential Skills that any home cook should know, but don't necessarily. Sauteing and knowing the difference between boiling and simmering water, for example are great refreshers!
        Needless to say the tips are great, but the recipes are wonderful!
        The pictures are beautiful, the directions are clear and concise, and by following this cookbook you will have wonderful results each and every time. I'm sure of it.
        If you are looking for the first-time cook, or just need some new tips to spruce up your kitchen, The Kitchn Cookbook needs to be on your cookbook shelf!

        **I received this book from bloggingforbooks in exchange for an honest review**

        Sophia is 6! {interview}

        A few years ago I decided to ask my daughter a list of questions, just to remember her "favorites" at that age. I then repeated it last year when she turned five and since she just turned six, I had to do it again.
        My little girl is growing up so quickly, and having these interviews just show how much she changes (and how much she stays the same) over a year's time.


        • How old are you?
          • You mean today? I'm six!
        • What is your favorite color?
          • Pink
        • Why pink?
          • Because it is really, really pretty.
        • What is your favorite food?
          • Sticky rice
        • What is your favorite drink?
          • Water!
        • Where is your favorite place to go?
          • Yay's house in Seattle.
        • Why?
          • Because it fun!
        • What is your favorite animal?
          • Giraffes
        • Who is the better driver? Mommy or papa?
          • You! (Points to me, her mama!)
        • What do you want to be when you grow up?
          • A scientist.
        • Why?
          • It looks fun and I want to try to make Flubber.
        • What do you do that is naughty?
          • Nothing.
        • Really? 
          • (blank stare...no answer)
        • Who is your best friend?
          • Payton
        • What is your favorite thing to play?
          • My new Barbie house
        • What is your favorite show?
          • Jessie
        • What is your favorite movie?
          • Frozen
        • Where do you sleep at night?
          • Mama's room.
        • Why?
          • Because it's scary in my room without a person.
        • Where does Papa work?
          • Rock.
        • Where does Mommy work?
          • At the school.
        • What is your favorite song?
          • Let it Go
        • What is your favorite toy?
          • Elsa and Anna dolls.
        • Why do I kiss your cheeks all the time?
          • That's really a question on this interview? Mom!! It's because you love me!
        • What is your favorite book?
          • Pete the Cat Saves Christmas
        • What is your favorite food to cook?
          • Pizza.
        • What is your favorite word?
          • "see".
        • Why?
          • Because it's fun to say, actually. And plus it is a sight word.
        • Where do babies come from?
          • Tummies. Wait - nuts, actually. What did you write, mom?
        I cant believe she is another year older! 
        She is loving kindergarten (finally, after a rough start), and her hip hop class!
        Making new friends is high on her priority list, as well as reading. Time is going to fast and I need it to slow down!


        Check out her past question and answers here:

        Sunday, January 25, 2015

        Peanut Butter Cookies & PB-Chocolate Swirl

        2015 has started and I haven't even blogged yet! What is my deal?!
        So far this year has been exciting for me!
        I GRADUATED college!
        Yep, it is true! I finished my bachelor's degree with Southern New Hampshire University in Creative Writing.
        So...I am officially in debt and waiting for my piece of paper diploma that proves the $40k was worth it :)
        I also kicked off this year with a job change!
        A big change for me. I have been home the past few years with my daughter and running a daycare in my home, so working outside of the house is a big change!
        Even though it is only a few blocks away from my house, 4 days a week, and only during school hours, it is a big change!
        But, the best part of it is that I really enjoy it! (I'm working a pre-school as a para)
        The hours are great for a mommy and I still get to work on all my other stuff easily with the hours.
        The thing is...I just haven't had time to do much else (like blogging, baking, writing) because I'm trying to get everything in order for my daughter's big birthday party next weekend.
        She will be six. Seriously. {hear my heart break?}
        And oh yeah - a little thing called GILMORE GIRLS is on NETFLIX is occupying all my spare time.
        Yes. That is the honest truth. I'm lame, but I finally have the time to binge-watch shows and I am doing it!!
        No schoolwork eating up all my Sunday and evenings is just AMAZING!

        Enough about me.
        What's new?
        Well this recipe is for me!
        I received a delicious jar of the new spread from Reese's. You may have heard about it?
        It is a peanut butter chocolate spread, rivaling Nutella's spread...
        Well I received a jar from influenster.com in exchange for an honest review.
        So here it is.


        Reese's Spreads Peanut Butter Chocolate is scrumptious!
        My daughter eats it by the spoonful.
        Really, she does.
        And I may have dipped in a time or two also.
        But, of course that was after we made these cookies!
        We made traditional peanut butter cookies (if you follow my blog at all, you'd know they are my daughter's aboslute favorite cookie) but we kicked it up a notch and mixed in the spread to make a chocolatey swirl in the cookie.
        The chocolate is just enough to make it taste like a little something wonderful.

        The spread itself is a wonderful combination. Not too much chocolate, not too much peanut butter.
        Reese's really created a wonderful combination with this. They blend together really well!
        If you haven't tried it yet, pick some up when you go to the store next. You will not be disappointed!

        We also eat it on toast, with some banana slices, on vanilla wafers, graham crackers, and we even melted it down a bit and swirled it in with our vanilla ice cream. YUM!

        Peanut Butter Cookies & PB-Chocolate Swirl

        by Emily Chhouy
        Prep Time: 15 min
        Cook Time: 8 min
        Ingredients (48 cookies)
        • 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
        • 1/2 cup butter, room tempterature
        • 1/2 cup sugar
        • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
        • 1 egg
        • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
        • 1 3/4 cups flour
        • 1/3 cup Reese's Spreads (peanut butter chocolate)
        • 1/4 cup sugar (for rolling)
        Instructions
        Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
        Cream together the peanut butter and butter.
        Add the sugars, egg and vanilla.
        Beat well.
        Mix in the flour until combined.
        Warm the peanut butter chocolate spread in the microwave for 30 seconds, drizzle half of the spread over the cookie dough.
        Gently fold into the dough.
        Repeat with the other half of the spread.
        Roll into 1-inch sized balls, roll in sugar (if desired) and place on ungreased baking sheet.
        Press with fork design and bake for 8 minutes, until puffed in the center and slightly browned on the edges.
        Let sit on the baking sheet for a few minutes before removing and letting cool on a rack.
        Store in an airtight container.
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