Lasagna makes everything better!

It’s not too often I have a less-than-successful project to post about, but I feel like tonight’s venture is worth mention.  The final results may not have been optimal, but like any good scientific experiment, I learned more from my failure than I would have from a success.  In the spirit of scientific discovery, I’ll give this a (moderately) proper scientific method treatment.

QUESTION:  Can I make a lasagna that is both healthy and delicious?

HYPOTHESIS:  A lasagna made with healthier-than-average materials will taste as good as or better than a standard lasagna.

EXPERIMENT:
Materials:

  • oven-ready lasagna noodles

Sauce ingredients:

  • 56 oz petite diced tomatoes
  • 12 oz tomato paste
  • 1 zucchini, finely grated (yes, grated, as in get out your cheese grater and use the side with the smallest holes – the mushier the better)
  • generous dash (each) of dried onion, paprika, roasted garlic and red pepper blend, marjoram, oregano, basil, whatever the hell other Italian herbs strike your fancy, pepper (red, white and black if you got ’em!)
  • splash (each) of Marsala cooking wine and Worcestershire sauce
  • as much garlic as you can stand

Stuffing ingredients:

  • 1-2 oz fresh baby spinach, diced
  • 15 oz part skim ricotta cheese
  • ~5 oz grated mozzarella cheese
  • ~2 oz grated parmesan cheese
  • ~1 oz grated ricotta
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • splash of beef broth (to make the turkey taste like beef… riiiiight)
  • another splash (each) of Marsala cookign wine and Worcestershire sauce
  • dash of caraway seed
  • more peppers (again, red, white, and black)
  • garlic
  • more garlic

Topping:

  • ~1 oz grated mozzarella cheese
  • ~1 oz grated parmesan cheese

Hardware:

  • 1 giant sauce pot
  • 1 giant skillet
  • 1 medium-sized mixing bowl
  • 1 oven-safe baking dish (whatever you have that’s roughly rectangular and at least 2 inches deep)
  • lots of heat-resistant spatulas/turners/things with which you can shove meat and/or stir sauce
  • 1 basting brush

Procedure:

  1. In giant sauce pot, mix all sauce ingredients except dry herbs and simmer over low heat for no less than 1 hour.  Add dry herbs at the last possible minute.
  2. In skillet, brown ground turkey then simmer in garlic, peppers, caraway seed, beef broth, Worcestershire, and Marsala until all the liquid has boiled off.
  3. In mixing bowl, combine Ricotta with the other cheeses and garlic.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F).
  5. Using basting brush, spread just enough sauce in the baking dish to cover the bottom.  Lay out noodles so they cover the bottom but don’t overlap.
  6. Again using basting brush, spread just enough sauce to cover the noodles.
  7. Dot a layer of cheese mixture to cover the saucy noodles.
  8. Sprinkle spinach over cheese.
  9. Sprinkle meat over spinach.
  10. Brush sauce over meat.
  11. Lay out noodles perpendicular to the previous layer of noodles, again covering everything, but not overlapping.
  12. Repeat the sauce-cheese-spinach-meat-noodle layering business until the dish is full.
  13. Spread more sauce over the top layer of noodles.
  14. Sprinkle topping mozzarella and parmesan cheeses to cover everything.
  15. Put baking dish in some other oven-safe container (cookie sheet with edges, another baking dish) to catch the inevitable overflow (you just filled a baking dish to maximum capacity, dum-dum!).
  16. Bake until the topping cheeses are thoroughly browned but not burned.
  17. Let cool for 10-20 minutes.
  18. Cut into reasonably-sized cubes.
  19. Eat.

DATA:

Noodles:  Bottom and middle layers of noodles were adequately done.  Top layer was chewy but edible.

Tomato-zucchini sauce:  Sauce was delicious.

Cheese:  Cheese was good but overpowered by turkey.

Spinach:  Spinach neither enhanced nor diminished flavor or texture of the lasagna.

Meat:  Turkey did not taste like beef.  Turkey was also not greasy like beef.

CONCLUSIONS:

The oven-ready noodles that were adequately buried in sauce cooked through before the cheese burned.  In future testing, top layer of noodles should be more thoroughly covered.

Tomato sauce tasted great, especially with the shredded zucchini, which acts as an extra seasoning in addition to being the kind of healthy green vegetable my mother toiled all those many years to convince me to eat.  In other words, I still pwn tomato sauces.  Thanks and Gig ‘Em.

The spinach served its purpose perfectly.  I did not have to suffer the slimy texture of cooked spinach, and the flavor was not strong enough to overpower anything else.  Because it was fresh to start with, it stayed relatively crisp through the baking process and should even have retained most of its nutritional value.

The cheese-to-meat ratio was not optimal.  Especially given the distinctive turkey flavor, I probably needed double the cheese and maybe even half the meat to achieve the overwhelming cheesiness that I have come to expect from ricotta-based pasta dishes.

Though the turkey-for-beef substitution did not result in a perfect taste match, I considered the trade off worthwhile to avoid the thick layer of grease that inevitably appears when cooking with beef.  Any meat-and-pasta dish is significantly more enjoyable when the fat is not visibly pooling on top.

Overall, the lack of cheesy flavor put a damper on the eating experience (and also probably put a damper on the fat content, but really… priorities!).  However, I am satisfied, feeling full but not fat, and knowing that I managed to sneak not one but two green vegetables into the dish.

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On the twelfth day of Christmas…

I have saved the crown jewel(s) of my Christmas crafting blitz for last!

For the last several years I have made ornaments for the extended family.  I’m not entirely sure how it got started, but I think it started with kiddie crafts (jingle bell wreaths and the like), then morphed into very serious jewelry projects, then the (now infamous) Year of the Scarves.  Then I put my head back on straight and went back to relatively simple ornaments that could be mass-produced and shipped to the various corners of the country where my family now resides.

My original plan for this year involved lots and lots of tiny cross-stitched patterns, but when I backed myself into a month-long window in which I had to finish all of them, I decided to shelve that particular idea until next year, and go for something simpler.

My new project ultimately led me to this:

What is this mess of colors?

Why, units for origami trisoctahedrons, of course!

Despite the terrifying number of pieces made through very repetitive folding, I had a lot of fun making these.  I had to work out my color-matching muscles again, and I long ago discovered that, despite the ridiculous ease of folding paper just the way the instructions say, origami is a very good means of impressing people.

So that’s all my Christmas crafting for you, friends.  I have lots of new projects to work on in the new year, but I’m done with my daily posts for a little while.

Once more for good measure –

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

On the eleventh day of Christmas…

A couple of years ago I made a messenger bag from No. 18 nylon thread.  I’ve carried it to work every day since, and it hasn’t shown a bit of wear or stretch.  When the apocalypse comes, it will just be the cockroaches and my bag left wandering the earth.

Sadly, working with the stuff probably took a year off my hands.  The hardiness of the thread also means it won’t stretch the way most yarn does, so it took a lot of force to work every stitch.  By the time I finished the bag, I was having trouble typing.

I swore I’d never work with the stuff again.

Recently, for reasons I can’t quite explain, I decided to give it one more shot.  I bought up three spools and made myself a satchel.

I shall call it… the Crazy Bag.

I needed a good carry-around bag that is slightly less massive than the messenger bag.  Since I was already ad-libbing, I took the opportunity to finally work out the zig-zag pattern that had eluded me for the last two years.

The best part is, I can still move all my fingers!

Merry Christmas to me!

On the tenth day of Christmas…

We interrupt this crafting blitz for a musical interlude.

I mentioned the oboe that had to make it through airport security.  The reason it had to come with me at all was the potential trouble I would likely be in had I not.  You see, I am named for each of my parents’ younger sisters.  One is The Crafter, and the other is The Musician.  Aunt Musician came to visit while I was up the mountain.

Aunt Musician was the child prodigy, picking out the tunes my mother and her older sister were learning in piano lessons before she was tall enough to actually see the keys on the piano.  She is, needless to say, an accomplished pianist, and really likes making music with the various and sundry musicians in our family.  I’m sure she would have understood if I didn’t want to cart the thing all the way up there, but I’ve been looking for a good excuse opportunity to play, and we always have a good time together.

I was very silly and neglected to bring along any of my sheet music with accompaniments, so we made due with Mom’s collection of old church hymnals and a quick lesson in playing Beatles tunes by ear.  The latter was moderately successful, as she was kind enough to transpose into playable keys and largely picked out the songs with easier melodies.  (As a side note, “Because” is not nearly as easy to pick out on instruments as voice.)

We did not make it very far into the usual Christmas carols before she started trolling the hymnal index for interesting composers.  I have to admit, I had somehow missed that a few of the hymns that had become staples in my church growing up were composed by Gustav “y’know… The Planets guy” Holst.

Then she got all excited finding the Ralph Vaughan Williams hymns.  For the most part, they weren’t the most familiar songs.  While I was impressed by their musicality, and had little trouble sight reading the music on the oboe, I couldn’t help but notice that some were rather difficult to sing.  Then a nagging sense of familiarity finally floated to the surface, and I realized where I’d heard these before.  The minister at my old home church is also a classically trained musician.  I’d always assumed that he wasn’t intentionally picking out the hardest hymns for us to sing each week, but I figured they must be old standards from the churches he grew up in.

As I sat there listening to my family – many of them seasoned church choir members – stumbling over these melodies, I realized that our dear pastor must have used the very same method of choosing hymns that Aunt Musician was demonstrating.  The old band nerd probably flipped back to the index and picked out his favorite composers, too.

Besides my moment of revelation, the evening was well spent.  The eclectic music selection and familial revelry made for great entertainment, and I really can’t emphasize enough what a special treat it is to play with my aunt, since we live so far apart, but collaborate so easily.

I was even pleased to see that my poor unpracticed embouchure was able to hold up for more than thirty seconds, and my fingers could still find all the right keys.  Now I just need to find more time to practice, and remember to take the bloody sheet music with me next time.

On the ninth day of Christmas…

My niece has a wiggle.  I suspect it will soon morph into more nefarious actions like a crawl and then a walk, but for now, she is only able to use it to terrorize explore the area directly around her and to rid herself of unwanted garments.  If you put a hat on her head, she will pull it off.  If you put socks on her feet, she will kick her tiny legs with such verve that the footwear just flies right off.  Then, of course, her head and feet are cold.

Last year for Christmas, I made a set of slippers for my brother and his wife, then used the leftover yarn from both to make a tiny pair of slippers for their as-yet unborn child.  They were adorable in their smallness, but ultimately turned out to be too small by this winter, so I decided this year to make something a little more versatile – slipper socks.  While I was at it, I figured I’d make a matching hat.  Not that she needs another one, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

My brief visit with them just before Christmas inspired me to make some adjustments to my original plan.  I wouldn’t just make cute things.  I’d make cute practical things.

Thus, I created wiggle-resistant infant wear:

I took a good deal of crap from some of my family for taking so long to finish such tiny garments, but I finally completed the set a few days after Christmas, and delivered them tonight in my brief stop between the airport and I-10.

Blessedly, everything fit (at least for the time being), and I even got my niece’s seal of approval – the hat was not on her head for a full minute before one of the ties was in her mouth.

On the eighth day of Christmas…

This one isn’t technically done yet, but I am so thrilled with it, I just have to post it early.

Many moons ago, Dear Roommie spotted this crochet magazine on a rack at Joann’s.

She bought it and begged me to make her the “Windmill Bag” on the cover.  I said I would.

While I was at the craft fair over the summer, I stopped into the local yarn-vana and picked up two balls of a really stunning hand-spun and dyed wool blend, and a cashmere merino silk aran blend in a complementary color.  My plan was to make a smaller version of the bag as her Christmas present.

Naturally, I had to show her the yarn immediately upon my return in August, but I didn’t get the bag (sans handles) finished until tonight.

Because I was working with such a small amount of yarn, I obviously had to scale down the pattern.  It’s actually very easy – just four long rectangular pieces joined together at their ends with the sides sewn up.  To scale down, I just made the panels with fewer stitches across and fewer rows long.

The only part left is the handles.  When carried, it should look most like this:

I do not have a reaction yet, since Dear Roommie will not be able to see this in person until I get back to Texas late tomorrow.  I promise updates when the bag is actually completed.

On the seventh day of Christmas…

Tonight, I give you repair No. 2. My sister-in-law commissioned a repair many moons ago, which unfortunately sat untouched for too long while the chaos in the craft room stubbornly refused to be tamed.  When I finally dug out the supplies for Dear Roommie’s Dear Mother’s necklace, I warmed up with this repair. It seems sister-in-law’s sister had a necklace made with these large, heavy turquoise beads that were so large and tightly strung that they stubbornly refused to lay flat.  Then the nylon string on which they were strung finally gave up altogether, and the necklace broke. The request was very simple: Can you fix the necklace, and maybe add some beads in between so the thing will lay flat and not break? Having played with some turquoise for a previous project, I knew exactly what the necklace needed. I have poppy jasper chip beads in my collection, and they are some of my very favorites because of their rich color and the variety of shades of red and brown.  The giant turquoise beads also happened to have similar shades of brown in them, so it seemed a natural fit to pair my tiny poppy jasper chips with the turquoise monsters.

The color match is bold, but works because the red is so small.  I briefly considered silver spacers as well, but that just seemed unnecessary.

The final product was yet another success.  Not only did I score another victory in my new adventures in color coordination, but I also secured the mechanical fix needed to prevent the necklace from self-destructing.  The beads are strung on not one but two strands of nylon-coated wire.  In addition to the spacer beads, I left a little slack on the string so the beads will freely move when the necklace is pulled into a ring.  Most of the hardware was still functional, so I just reused it, but I used fresh bead tips.

Once again, the necklace was delivered to a very satisfied customer.  Sister-in-law’s sister immediately put it on and wore it all night when I saw her on December 23.  It even survived a little tugging by our darling niece.