Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Dinner, a New Tradition is Born!

I cannot get over how awesome yesterday was.  Sophia sitting on the little pink stool, looking into the mirror, painting her nails (pretend), at her "Disney Cinderella Princess Enchanted Carriage Vanity"!  So cute!  She is perfect!

Okay, okay, the dinner.

As I posted on facebook, on Xmas Eve I happily slaved away following a recipe of Ann Burrells' Butternut Squash and Pork Ragu Lasagna (thanks to Hanneke for trying it first and leading the way!)

This lasagna uses thin slices of butternut squash instead of pasta noodles.  It's not why I chose it, but when I was contemplating also making a seafood lasagna I thought it would be a nice trade off. One main dish using a tomato based sauce with pork and squash, spinach, mushrooms and cheese, and another main dish with seafood, a white cheese sauce and pasta.  A simple green salad, a loaf of crusty bread (overkill I know), a purchased gourmet dessert and we'll call it a day...a Holi-"day"!

After doing so much work (many components) of the first lasagna I really was not looking forward to assembling yet another layered casserole.  Mostly because it involved seafood, and seafood is one thing you do not want to, nor can you, do ahead.  As I lay in bed that night it came to me...I'll put together a much simpler Mac n Cheese!  Isn't that what lasagna is anyway?  Here is the basic recipe I followed, Emeril's version as posted on Martha's site:

After looking at this one:

The main difference was the amount of cheese sauce.  Ina Garten's recipe called for 20 oz or more (total) of cheese to 4 c. milk....that's a lot of cheese, and really I just didn't have that much cheese in the fridge!  Her recipe also suggested lobster, although I already knew I was going to use a combination of shellfish (lobster is expensive! lol)  I liked the freedom of Emeril's recipe and used it like I use most recipes, as a guideline.  I used some ingredients I already had, and the rest I purchased.

I had:

Gruyere cheese (3-4 oz)
Parmesan (grated about 1 c.)
Panko bread crumbs
frozen sweet corn
frozen Jumbo shrimp (TJ's...yes I admit it.....I cut the large shrimp into 1/2 in pieces)

I had to buy

sharp, white cheddar cheese (at least 8 oz, $6)
crab (4 oz, $10)
bay scallops (4 oz, $5)
pasta shells

I liked that Emeril's recipe gave you the option of what kind of seafood you wanted to use, and what kind of cheeses too.  His recipe used 3 c. milk/about 12 oz cheese, which is what I had on hand.  I added corn (from looking at yet another different recipe), but I think the suggestion of using his Creole seasoning would be fab also!

This was a breeze to put together, as I mise en placed everything beforehand (grated the cheese and measured out all ingredients, warmed milk, toasted the breadcrumbs, etc).  I first sauteed the corn and seafood together in butter (leaving it slightly undercooked, just about 3-5 minutes), meanwhile the water was boiling for the pasta (14 min), I made the sauce.  It took about 20 minutes to get all of the components together,  top off with toasted, buttered Panko, and then into the oven for only 15-20 minutes more.  I decided to finish it in the oven in the same pot I boiled the pasta in (why dirty another dish?).

It turned out so yummy my youngest son's fiance, Lilly, who doesn't even like Mac n Cheese, helped herself to a second, bigger serving!  Seriously good.

I know this is a long blog post but let me also give a little advice about the Butternut squash and Pork Ragu....

I made quite a few adjustments, again, based on what I had on hand, and what I know about cooking.

I only keep 1 can of tomato paste in my pantry.  When was the last time any recipe called for more than 2 tbl of tomato paste?  I also only keep two cans of diced tomatoes at one time because I rarely make any tomato based dishes if it's not tomato season.  Needless to say that Anne's recipe calls for 1 whole cup of tomato paste!  WHAT?  I used what I had, a 6 oz. can!

I always have cinnamon sticks in my spice cabinet...well, almost always!  For some reason I must have thrown them all out the last time I cleaned out "old" spices!  No cinnamon stick.  After tasting the finished product I can see how this would, in fact, add an slightly sweet element as a compliment the Butternut squash.  That being said, what I did do was add 1 tbl of brown sugar to the finished Pork Ragu.  I will also add that I followed the recipe, pretty much, word for word, minute by hour (!) for the meat sauce.  It was worth it!  And I can see doing it again, maybe days if not weeks in advance and freezing....just sayin'.

Okay...what else?  Oh yes....another big, big time saver.  I halved and roasted two large butternut squash (cut side down) until soft (but not too soft), then peeled and refrigerated them, and sliced them right before assembling.  I did lightly sprinkle kosher salt on each layer of squash, because the squash was not seasoned as it was originally suggested by roasting it in individual slices...make sense?  There was no way I was going to cut raw hard winter squash, and then roast individual 1/4 inch thick slices in, who knows how many, way!  It turned out fine.

Good-ness!  I'm tired all over again!

Bottom line?  It really wasn't that big of a deal, and it was all worth it!  Goodness knows I've spent plenty of time trying out other recipes that never delivered!  What was so great about it all was that I really enjoyed the variety, yet compatibility of all the ingredients of the two main dishes.  Much of it was done ahead of time leaving an organized and clean kitchen come serving time!  And the most important....everybody raved!

I hope your dinner was as fabulous, whether you made it, or it was served to you!  No matter how good the food is/was, it's no comparison to that of a little 3 year old granddaughter primping and preening while sitting at her "Disney Princess Cinderella Enchanted Carriage Vanity"!  (Sophia below with her Giraffe, and her Monkey "Stuffie"!)

One more things(s)....apparently I also got rid of the only large casserole dish I owned years ago in a massive kitchen purge!  That left me with only a 9 x 13 barely large enough for 75% of the recipe....I'm now in the market for a large casserole dish!  I'm also wanting at least one 6 qt. pan/pot without a long handle to use from stovetop to oven...any suggestions?  (I'd love a copper one!)

Do you want to remember the difference between large and small scallops?  Sea scallops are large, like the sea...large!  Bay scallops are a bay compared to the Sea!  Small!


Anne said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Le Crueset enameled dutch oven for big casseroles, cassoulets and stews!! :)

Tracy Reifkind said...


Ah, Le Crueset! I often give the dutch ovens as wedding gifts, but never one for myself! It may be time! Perfect! Thanks you!

Hanneke said...

Nice review!
I forgot that I only used one can of tomato paste too, like you said, who uses a cup?

I ate a serving ofmy second smaller casserole a few times the week following the weekend I made it and it only got better. It really needs time to develop flavors. It would be a shame to eat it the day you make it, but that's just me.

I am for sure going your way with the squash next time.

I am going to try out the mac and cheese too. It's not something I usually eat so I will wait for the right time. Probably after a real long run or a race, always such a wonderful motivator if I think of my treat when I'm done :))

Tracy Reifkind said...


The mac and cheese would be great with no protein, or using leftover shredded roasted chicken. Tuna would be good too.

I made the ragu again last night using the full cup of tomato paste (now I know and I froze the remainder of the 2nd can), and I added the cinnamon stick. I still added a tbl of brown sugar though.

Knowing I wouldn't put it together until today, or tomorrow the order I did the components:

Sauteed the mushrooms in two batches first.
Spinach in two batches second (strained it while moving on).
Started Ragu.
Roasted two lg butternut (halved) in 375 oven for about 30 min., then turn oven off and left them in for another 10 min or so until soft. I didn't want them "cooked", I wanted them soft!
Chopped parsley and added to ricotta while ragu and squash were cooking.
I purchased shredded parmesan so I didn't have that job to do.

In this order it took about 2 hours, but I still have to assemble it and bake it, which will add in the remaining 1 1/2 hours.

I'm going to make two. A small one for the freezer, not baked, just assembled, and a large one I'll finish and eat all week long!

Thank you for doing it first! I know for a fact I would not have done it after reading the recipe with all the steps and time involved! But I really really love this recipe and so did my family!