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Friday, 9 March 2012

FREE Lasagna recipe for all!

Ok, so here's the problem...

There's a million lasagna recipes out there and I'm a little scared to approach the subject of giving away our 'special' one. However, this is the recipe that I have been cooking with for about 10 years.

I'm sure Mamma Italiano would scoff loudly at some of what's below but to me it's a meaty (although veggie), healthy, quick and infallible family lasagna recipe. Oh, and it can be frozen and reheated if you want to make a huge one! (We often freeze into single portions as, after about 3 minutes in a microwave, makes an ideal quick lunch with a green salad.)

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This recipe serves 6 hungry diners. Enjoy!

FANTASTIC LASAGNA

Ingredients

500g Veggie mince (or the real stuff, we like to cater for everyone is all)
1 beef stock cube (or 1 tablespoon of Marmite to keep it vegetarian)
4 large onions
About 20 button mushrooms
8 large tomatoes
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2 red peppers (bell peppers, not spicy ones, they come later!)
Tomato puree (we usually use around half of a tube, your choice)
A full bulb of garlic
Course ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tiny, innocent looking chilli (your choice of variety, but be careful!)
2 packs of dry lasagna sheets
250g grated hard mature cheese (we like an Irish cheddar)
250ml of milk (for the cheese sauce)
6 leaves of basil

Method

Pretty simple method this one. First, familiarise yourselves with the basic construction of a lasagna. We like to make a lasagna with at least 9 layers but this can be tricky. 5 or 6 layers is fine.

The different layers will require 2 sauces, a rich tomato and mince sauce and the cheese (or bechemel) sauce.

To make the cheese sauce, heat the milk until it starts to boil, then remove from the heat and begin sprinkling in the cheese while stirring quickly. At first this will seem like a pointless exercise as the sauce takes a while to thicken but stick with it until all the cheese is melted completely and the sauce begins to thicken.
We find 250g of cheese and 250ml of milk makes the perfect consistency for our lasagna but we do like the cheese sauce a little sloppy so if you want to thicken yours up, simply add more cheese or, if you want to stay a little healthier, add a teaspoon of cornflour to the mix (don't worry, the cornflour will cook off in the oven).

To make the tomato and mince sauce, first finely chop and fry the onions and garlic together until the onion starts to soften and go a little transparent. When this is done, take them out of the pan and place in a bowl for later. (REMEMBER: Save a handful of chopped onion UNCOOKED for later.)
Now fry the mince and either your stock cube or Marmite until it starts to brown. A good little tip at this stage is to add a little splash of water to allow the stock to melt and to be evenly distributed around the mince.
Add the fresh, chopped tomatoes, chopped peppers and the finely diced chilli to your sauce. To make it really thick and juicy, now add the half tube of tomato puree and the tin of chopped tomatoes (a bit of a cheat but we find it gives the best results). Now add the cooked onion/garlic mix from earlier and stir in well.
At this stage, to give your tomato sauce a really Italian flavour, add the finely chopped basil leaves and cayenne pepper. (If you like, you can add a few sprigs of coriander at this stage too.)
Now chop the button mushrooms roughly (no finer than quarters) and add them to the mix.
Finish the sauce with a generous amount of black pepper and a decent pinch of salt.

Ok, your two sauces are done. Take an oven proof dish (we usually use a square one as dry lasagna sheets come in rectangles but you can use a round one if you wish) and begin by placing the handful of chopped onion you saved on the bottom. This helps to remove the cooked portions without them sticking to the bottom.
Now place a layer of pasta sheets to completely cover the bottom (don't worry of they overlap a little and remember, these sheets snap easily so don't be tempted to try and do this with full sheets only, you will end up with a very stodgy lasagna!)

Now comes the fun part;

On top of the layer of sheets you just laid, pour 2 or three large spoonfuls of the tomato sauce and spread evenly with the back of a spoon. Now add another layer of pasta sheets. On top of these, pour enough cheese sauce to cover them completely. Now spoon on another 3 or so spoonfuls of your tomato mixture.

Yes, you guessed it, now you continue with pasta... cheese sauce... tomato sauce... pasta... cheese sauce... tomato sauce...

Be sure to finish the lasagna with a top layer of pasta sheets covered in cheese sauce.

On top of this, grind a generous amount of black pepper then top with more grated cheese (if you want to be very Italian at this stage, use a hard Italian cheese like Parmesan).

Heat your oven to 180 degrees C and place the lasagna in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes (35 minutes for fan ovens)

Place a baking tray beneath your lasagna as, when it starts to bubble, a little sauce and melted cheese tends to escape and run down the edges.

After cooking, we like to leave the lasagna for about 10 minutes uncovered. This seems to help it bind together and we have less slipping layer catastrophes as a result. Maybe you'll have steadier hands and can serve it straight from the oven!

Anyway, we hope you enjoy this recipe and look forward to hearing about your cooking exploits.

Please remember; Lasagna is a very evocative dish for many families and all we're doing is sharing our version. I'm sure your version is just as nice if not nicer so hold the hate mail!

Fantastic Tip: Strange one this as it applies to after the lasagna is cooked but a really good tip is to leave it overnight in the fridge. The garlic infuses the layers and gives a much more intense flavour than the fresh-out-of-the-oven lasagna. The strong tomato and pepper flavours also infuse the sheets of pasta themselves.

Until next time, enjoy your kitchens and we wish you all Fantastic Cooking!

The Fantastic Team

Monday, 5 March 2012

FREE RECIPE Fantastic Bolognese... NOT the boring alternative!

Hi guys,

So another week's flown by and we find ourselves stuck for a Monday night treat. Fish and chips? Pizza? Chinese maybe? No.

With the pantry full, nothing hurts more than collapsing under the pressure of hunger and coming home with a variety of un-recyclable boxes of somebody else's food (and usually greasy trousers/shoes from the trip).

So, tonight we decided to use up some of last years frozen tomatoes (cooked down, skins and all, mixed with a few slices of pepper and frozen into 2 person portions for occasion such as this) and create a modern day family staple, Bolognese.

Now we like meat as much as the next carnivore but we have got a problem with minced beef.

Mainly, the problem lies with the possibility of spending a couple of hours tweaking and refining the perfect Bolognese, only to find it spoilt on the first mouthful by a horrible chewy bit.

Sure, you can pay through the nose and buy the leanest, best mince but who can really afford to do that nowadays? Especially as we're talking about a meal that could be served twice a week some months.

So we use Quorn (other vegetarian brands are available) mince as an alternative.

It browns like the real stuff, soaks up flavour better than the real stuff and can be easily 'beefed' up by adding a stock cube at the appropriate time.

TODAYS FREE RECIPE

Fantastic Bolognese

Ingredients

500g Vegetarian Mince
2 large onions
5 cloves of garlic (seems excessive, but the cooking process evens things out)
1 litre of cooked down tomatoes (we use 1Kg tomatoes and 250g sliced pepper)
2 medium carrots
Handful of frozen peas
2 beef stock cubes (or to keep it veggie, 2 teaspoons of Marmite)
1 Kg pasta of your choice (don't just use spaghetti, experiment a little)


Method

Brown the mince in a medium hot pan with a little olive oil.
Dice the onions somewhere between chunky and fine and fry them seperately until they start to go transparent.
Mix the onions into the mince and crumble in the stock cubes.
Finely chop the garlic and throw straight into the mince and onion mix, we find this lessens the impact and keeps the garlic tasting sweet, not bitter.
Add the tomato and pepper mix to the mince and stir thoroughly.
Finely dice the carrots and add to the mix.
Add the peas to the mix also.
If you like a little heat, why not add a couple of teaspoons of cayenne pepper here? If you don't like spice, leave it out.
Turn down the heat, put a lid on the bolognese and leave to gently bubble and blip in the pan for a good hour.

Many Bolognese recipes are quicker than this and as an easy fix meal we cannot fault these methods. However, by using this method, there is plenty of scope for you to taste and change the recipe as you see fit throughout the cooking process.

Why not try adding some fresh herbs like basil or coriander?

Oh, and our best method for pasta?

Place a small amount of water in an empty pan and put on the cooker.
Boil a full kettle.
Pile the pasta into the pan when the small amount of water begins to boil.
Pour the full kettle over the pasta in the pan.
Stir once.
Leave to boil for 12 minutes (pastas vary, 12-14 minutes is usual).
Test (most important part, if it doesn't feel ready in your mouth, it's not!).
Drain through a colander, then pour cold water over it to stop it cooking further.
Drain again and serve.


This recipe serves 8 hungry diners.

This recipe is really quite healthy, that's why we left out the salt. If you prefer it with salt, put it in yourself.

Also, many people drown their Bolognese with grated cheese, usually a hard, cholesterol filled variety like Cheddar.

We don't. We add a large dollop of creme fraiche to the bolognese sauce on the plate, then hide it with more sauce.

The coldness of the creme fraiche against the warmth of the sauce? Mama Mia!

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Happy cooking adventures everybody.

The Fantastic Team