Tag Archives: dinner

Lasagna Bolognese and Traditions

We hosted our first dinner party before Christmas and it was a success!  We sent out invitations, people came, good conversation was had, the food was tasty and on time, and we did it all ourselves.  Yes, we have hosted the annual Thanksgiving feast for the last five years, but we have always had people helping in the kitchen.  This was our first truly solo run.  I am hooked!

The last eighteen months have been a time of holiday transition with my parents moving further away.  The two hour drive turned into eleven so this year I started our own holiday traditions as a family of two.  The the most daunting was hosting a dinner party for a small group of family and friends the Saturday before Christmas.  Deciding on the menu was the easy part; I went to my favorite recipe of my mother’s, Lasagna Bolognese with a romaine salad.  For appetizers I selected a variety of cheeses, toasted baguette and bruschetta and to round out the meal, a Gingersnap Pumpkin Tart. The most exciting part was dragging out our good dishes and wedding glassware which we do not use as often as we should.


In August, my mom taught me how to make the lasagna but while I had made it for ourselves, I had never made it for a group.  It takes a bit of preparation with the bolognese, a six hour cook time, is best made the day prior.  In contrast the béchamel sauce is best made right before you assemble the lasagna.  To get the timing I put the lasagna in the oven as soon as the last guest arrived.

The recipe for Lasagna Bolognese is below.  Let me know if you have any questions.  Have a safe, happy and great food filled twenty-thirteen!

Lasagna Bolognese
Recipe from my Mom

A few quick notes about this recipe.  If you are going to go ahead and put the time into the bolognese, do yourself a huge favor and double the recipe.  It freezes perfectly and you then have enough to make another lasagna with only half of the work!  The bolognese can be made a day or two in advance.  Just store in the fridge and reheat it gently on the stove when you are ready to use it.  Do not skim any of the fat off of the cooled bolognese, you need it for the lasagna!  The béchamel sauce must be made right before you assemble the lasagna.  Do not allow it to cool or it will not be spreadable.  Have the bolognese sauce warm and the noodles, cheese and pan out and ready to go.  I use no boil noodles for simplicity and less mess.

Makes 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups, for one lasagna

2 Tbs chopped yellow onion
3 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs butter
2 Tbs chopped celery
2 Tbs chopped carrot
1 lb lean ground beef (I used 93%)
1 c dry white wine
1/2 c milk
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 cups diced or petite cut, canned tomatoes with their juice

Choose a large skillet or sauté pan for the bolognese, the heavier the better.  Put the olive oil and butter in the pan over medium heat.  After the butter has melted, add the onion and sauté until just translucent.  Add the celery and carrot and cook for two minutes.

Add the ground beef, crumbling it in the pan as it cooks.  Add one tsp salt and cook until the meat has lost its raw, red color.  Add the wine, turn the heat to high and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the wine as evaporated.

Turn the heat back down to medium, add the milk, nutmeg and cook, stirring frequently, until the milk has evaporated.

After the milk has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stir well.  Once the mixture has started to bubble you have two options: if you have a crock pot, transfer the mix into the crock pot and turn it on high for 4-6 hours leaving the lid cracked or you can turn the heat down to the laziest of simmers for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally.  Taste and correct for salt as needed.  I use the crock pot method so I do not have to watch the stove all day.

Béchamel Sauce

3 c milk
6 Tbs butter
4 1/2 Tbs all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

In a small pan or microwave safe container heat the milk until it comes to the very edge of a boil.

While the milk is heating, melt the butter over low heat in a separate heavy, medium sized saucepan.

When the butter is melted, add all of the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Let the butter and flour bubble for two minutes stirring constantly.  Do not let the flour become colored.  Turn off the heat.

Add the hot milk one small ladle full at a time, into the butter and flour mixture while continuing to stir constantly.  Once the first ladle has been incorporated, add a second, always stirring.  Continue this process making sure every milk addition is fully incorporated before adding another.  Once you have added a cup of milk to the mixture, you can begin adding the milk in larger portions – a half cup at a time, until you have added it all.

When all of the milk has been incorporated, turn the heat back on to low, add the salt, and stir constantly until the sauce is as thick as a thick cream.

Assembling the Lasagna Bolognese

1 box no boil noodles
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or more as needed)
2 Tbs butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and pull out a 9×13 baking dish.

Smear the bottom of the baking dish with a little of the bolognese sauce, skim the sauce from the top where there is more fat and juice.  Place a single layer of pasta, overlapping the pasta no more than 1/4 of an inch.  Spread a thin layer of bolognese sauce over the pasta, just enough to dot it with meat.  Spoon béchamel over the meat, being sure to cover the edges of the pasta.  At this point, be sure that all of the pasta has been coated in either meat or béchamel sauce.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Repeat the steps, beginning with another pasta layer.  Do not layer higher than 1/2 inch from the top of the baking dish.  The last layer is a pasta layer covered with béchamel, sprinkled with cheese and dotted lightly with the butter.

Place baking dish on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake on the uppermost rack of your oven for 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes to let the layers set up for cutting.  Serve and enjoy!

Photograph by Kassena Hillman.  Thank you!


Shepard’s Pie and a Roundup

Happy belated Thanksgiving!  Last week was a whirlwind of traveling, visiting, cooking, baking, candy making and sewing.  We logged 23 hours on the road, threw countless tennis balls for the dog and visited my dad’s favorite brewery while we were in Kentucky visiting my parents.  Because of their proximity to the edge of the Eastern Time Zone, the morning light was breathtaking without having to get up super early.  At 8AM their front yard looked like this:

My mom always makes her fresh, pumpkin pie and a sweet potato pie (for my husband) at Thanksgiving.  This year, I added a Gingersnap Pumpkin Tart to the dessert mix.  The recipe was from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and was so good.  It went over so well that my mother kept my tart pan to make one for Christmas and I am planning on making another after I replace my tart pan.  Who would have thought that the combination of gingersnaps, pumpkin, spices and cream cheese would be so tasty?

Since we were guests, we offered to cook some while we were there.  We made cheddar Shepard’s pie (our recipe is below) and potato leek pizza.  For Thanksgiving, we handled the turkey, the apple, cranberry & pecan stuffing and some green beans with a bacon vinaigrette.  Needless to say we ate well and had plenty of leftovers!  Mom helped me make apple cider caramels from Smitten Kitchen and taught me how to make her awesome peanut brittle.

While we cooked, baked and ate we managed to find time to get in some sewing and some fabric shopping.  I’ll show you some of my stash, which includes beautiful chicken feed sacks, next time.

I have so many things crafted and ready to be gifted for the holidays that I cannot wait to show you.  Sadly, that will have to wait until after Christmas so I do not spoil anyone’s surprises!


As promised here is our Shepard’s Pie recipe:

Shepard’s Pie with Cheddar Mashed Potatoes

(recipe adapted from Martha Stewart & Rachael Ray)

2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 lbs ground beef

Salt & fresh ground pepper

Olive Oil (for the pan)

1 large yellow onion, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

2 tsp Worcestershire

1 tsp paprika

1/2 – 3/4 tsp thyme

1 small can tomato paste

2 tbsp water

1 cup frozen peas, thawed slightly under hot water

1 – 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Milk (eyeball it for a thick mashed potato consistency)

– In a large saucepan, place potatoes covered with an inch of salted water and bring to a boil.  Simmer until potatoes fall off a fork with pierced, about 15 – 20 minutes.

– Meanwhile, heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet.  Add ground beef, season with salt & pepper and cook until most of the pink is out of the meat.

– Add the onions, carrots and celery and saute until the vegetables are tender, about 6-8 minutes.

– Add the Worcestershire, thyme, paprika, tomato paste and water.  Stir to distribute tomato paste evenly and simmer for 2 minutes.  Add peas.  Sprinkle flour as needed a 1/2 tbsp at a time to thicken mixture cooking for 1 minute before adding more.

– Preheat oven to 400 degrees and transfer meat and vegetable mixture to a 9×13″ baking dish.

– Drain potatoes and return to pan.  Mash potatoes with milk and 1 cup of the cheddar cheese and mash until smooth.  Salt and pepper to taste.

– Spoon mashed potatoes on top of meat and vegetables and spread to cover.  Top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.

– Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes.  Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

(This recipe served five adults with some leftovers, you may want to halve it if you have a smaller crowd.)

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