Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner

Honesty is the best policy. Why write only about the successes in life? Why not write about the failures too? Sometimes they are just as interesting.

Yesterday, for Thanksgiving dinner we decided to have lasagna. It had been a long time and I was having cravings for it. Now, right off, before you read any farther, I want to say that the main course of lasagna turned out wonderfully. You’ve got to read to the end of this before you get to the stuff that didn’t turn out so well.

So, I took off for the store, got 2 packages of lasagna noodles and began to read the recipe on the back of the box while I was in the store. This was a package of Ronzoni. I wanted to spend some effort so, instead of a jar of spaghetti sauce I decided to make my own. I have to say, as I did my shopping at Farmer Joe’s in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, I picked up a couple of large cans of crushed tomatoes. This was a brand I was unfamiliar with. They are absolutely fantastic. I will only, from now on, get the DiNapoli brand of crushed tomatoes.

I bought hamburger, Italian lamb and pork sausage (I wanted to get sweet, but they didn’t have any), cottage cheese, mozzarella and the usual vegetables of onions, red and green pepper, garlic, mushrooms and, wait for it, carrots. My co-worker told me in their family (she is Italian) they used to dice up the sweet, skinny, long carrots for their pasta sauce. I didn’t find skinny and long, but I did dice tiny.

I began the sauce the day before Thanksgiving. I know from experience that these sauces are always better the next day. It simmered on the back of the stove for about 2 hours. Tasty? Ahhhhhh. Thick? Ohhhhhh. Good? Yes. Very, very good sauce. And, I think it was the canned tomatoes that did the trick on this one.

On Thanksgiving I assembled the lasagna. Little bit of sauce on the bottom of a buttered pan. Big old pan. Layered in some noodles, overlapping the edges. Then, I spooned in some cottage cheese and layered that with mozzarella. Then, more sauce and began again with the noodles. The pan I use is super deep. It was a really thick lasagna. Ended with a mozzarella. The directions said to cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. Then, uncover and continue baking for another 5 minutes. At 25 minutes I uncovered the lasagna only to determine that it needed a heck of a lot more baking than just 5 minutes. I let it go another 25 instead.

There was another smaller pan of lasagna on the rack underneath the big pan. For some reason the bits of mozzarella on top of that one never melted. They baked and looked like weenie marshmallows. Very strange. I put that one into the fridge thinking I could pick off the marshmallow-mozzarella before anybody eats it.

So, now I continue on to the part of the dinner where I got some help from Spirit. There were a bunch of noodles left over after I’d filled up the big pan and the little pan with lasagna. At that point I’d run out of sauce. What I had left over was a big baggie full of noodles and a half a carton of cottage cheese. I’d originally purchased 2 big containers of it. Over-kill, I know. I’d only boiled up 1 ½ boxes of the lasagna noodles, but even so, there was a lot left over.

There’s a part of me that hates to throw things away. That’s when the guides stepped in. As I was puzzling over a cottage cheese and mozzarella rolled up in a lasagna noodle concoction one of the Guides said to me, “Sweeten the cottage cheese and use that big jar of homemade strawberry jam. Make a sweet lasagna.”

Ah, that sounded really good. So, I did that. A few teaspoons of sugar into the cottage cheese, which, by the way tasted really, really good. I’ll have to remember that for future snacks. I’ve made barley-dukes with cottage cheese, but I’ve never simply sweetened it with sugar. By the way a barley-duke is cottage cheese with some jam or jelly mixed in. My great grandmother Neddie always favored grape jelly, which is also my favorite way to make a barley-duke, but other jams or jellies are just as good.

Anyway, I buttered up a loaf pan, sprinkled it with a little sugar and began layering in noodles, cottage cheese and the strawberry jam. I baked it alongside the lasagnas.

In theory, this sounded like it was going to be good. It actually tasted pretty terrible. Well, what was terrible about it was that the cottage cheese bits were hard and they sort of reminded me of eating bits of hamburger with strawberry jam. I had a few bites and then tossed the whole thing. Lessons everywhere. Does anybody out there have a family recipe for sweet lasagna? Where did I go wrong?

We did enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner. I hope you had a memorable one too.