Classic Lasagna

Lasagna is a hearty meal that hits the spot but not necessarily your budget. It’s an easy way to feed a crowd and you can reheat or freeze it and get the same great taste as the original — or better. Make it on the weekend and reheat it throughout the week for easy meal planning.

Basic lasagna is layered with ground meat, creamy tomato sauce and loaded with rich mozzarella cheese. Add a delicate layer of ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan and you have heaven on a plate. Let’s explore the roots of this traditional Italian dish and compare classic and spin-off recipes.

Brief History

It’s a quintessential Italian dish but may have roots that delve as far back as Rome or Ancient Greece. In any case, Italians proudly claim credit for what’s likely to be one of the most delicious foods in the pasta family. Unlike most Italian dishes, traditional lasagna isn’t a fast, simple preparation. Instead, classic lasagna requires step-by-step construction. However, there are modern twists that have achieved great results for chefs in a time crunch.

Interesting Facts About Lasagna

The first recipe book known to feature a lasagna recipe is believed to be of Italian original and entitled the Liber de Coquina, or the book of cookery. It was written in the 1300s.

Unlike other popular Italian noodles, lasagna contains large sheets of rectangular pasta. These sheets are flat or corrugated and provide the textured and foundation of the various layers in the finished dish.

How to Make It

Traditional lasagna is typically made with lasagna noodle, minced meat (usually beef or sausage), cheese and tomato sauce as the primary ingredients. You can find a delicious version here.

Variations

There are many variations for home chefs looking for the goodness of lasagna without the high-carb, meat or time-intensive preparations. For example, vegetarians can enjoy meatless lasagna with extra veggies, such as created by this yummy vegetarian lasagna from Martha Stewart.

Those looking to save time might like this microwavable lasagna recipe. You don’t even have to boil the noodles!

This Mediterranean lasagna adds black olives, artichoke hearts and a spicy sauce for a flavorful variant on this ancient dish.

However you enjoy your lasagna, you may want to put a spin on it that can be passed down to future generations to remember you by.

Beef Chili

Beef chili is a spicy stew that contains beef, chili peppers, tomatoes and beans. It may also include other seasonings like cumin, onions and garlic. You can prepare this dish on its own or use it as a base for other dishes.

Beef chili is a popular dish because it’s tasty and easy to prepare compared to most beef recipes. It serves as a great weeknight meal and you can have it ready in a matter of minutes.

Brief history

The origin of beef chili is what is now southern Texas and northern Mexico. The dish was popular among Mexican women and working class Tejana. In previous decades, the chili queens of San Antonio, Texas, were widely known for their casual “chili joints” where they sold affordable chili-flavored beef stew.

What’s unique

What makes this dish unique is its mixture of beef with tomatoes and beans. While you can still prepare beef chili without the beans, including them gives the dish a wider range of flavor.

Preparation instructions

The following are the steps to preparing beef chili. Alternatively, you can follow the instructions in this video.

  1. Cook ground beef and diced onions in a pot until the onion becomes soft.
  2. Add cumin, chili powder, tomato paste, sugar, salt, garlic powder, pepper, and cayenne (optional).
  3. Let these vegetables and spices cook until the mixture becomes tender.
  4. Add broth, diced tomatoes (including juice), seasoning ingredients and beans. Stir and let it simmer until the beans and vegetables become tender.
  5. Turn off the heat and wait about five to ten minutes before you serve the beef chili.

Keep in mind that if you don’t like diced tomatoes, you can use alternatives such as tomato puree or finely cubed tomatoes.

On its own, beef chili is a savory dish. But if you prefer to add toppings for better taste and presentation, consider the following.

  • Sour cream
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Diced avocado
  • Saltine crackers or oyster crackers
  • Sliced green onions

If you’re having beef chili for dinner, it can go well together with two-ingredient Nutella brownies.

Variations

Variations of beef chili include vegetarian chili, chili verde and white chili. Vegetarian chili has no meat at all or replaces the meat with a meat analog such as tofu or a starchy vegetable. Chili verde is moderately spicy and white chili includes turkey meat and white beans.

Lasagna Bolognese

Lasagna is believed to have been one of the first kinds of pasta to come into existence. In particular, Italian tradition says that it was invented in the Naples of the Middle Ages. However, the sheer passage of time means that lasagna recipes have spread throughout the Italian peninsula and beyond, with Emilia-Romagna and its capital of Bologna being no exception to this rule.

What Stands Out About Bolognese Lasagna?

There are some very broad generalizations that can be made about Bolognese lasagna. First, it should be mentioned that Emilia-Romagna is situated in Northeast Italy. This is relevant because traditional pasta dough in Northern Italy was made using flour and eggs rather than the semolina and water used in the south. Second, Emilia-Romagna has a strong focus on farming, which has resulted in increased availability of meat as well as dairy products. Due to this, it is common for its pastas to be served with a thick, meat and vegetable-based sauce called a ragu. Generally speaking, a ragu can incorporate various ingredients that range from ground beef and ground pork to celery, onions, and tomatoes.

How Can You Prepare Bolognese Lasagna?

Making a lasagna sounds simple enough. After all, a lasagna is just layers of cooked pasta alternating with layers of other ingredients such as meats, vegetables, and cheeses. In practice, well, suffice to say that the excellence of a lasagna corresponds with the amount of effort that has been put into it.

Due to this, interested individuals can find a wide range of recipes for making Bolognese lasagna. For example, if they want something that is relatively simple and straightforward while still offering that homemade taste, they might want to check out this recipe for baked Bolognese lasagna that comes with a white sauce as well as a slow-cooked meat sauce. In contrast, if they are interested in a Bolognese lasagna that incorporates veal as well as ground sirloin, they might want to check out this Martha Stewart recipe instead.

Are There Variations on Bolognese Lasagna?

There is incredible variation that can be found in Bolognese lasagna. After all, interested individuals can make theirs using a wide range of cooking methods as well as cooking ingredients, thus making for what can seem like infinite variation. For that matter, it is worth remembering that Bolognese lasagna is very similar to other kinds of lasagna as well as other kinds of Bolognese pasta, meaning that there are those possibilities as well.

Sannakji

Nakji is the Korean name for the Octopus minor, which has been called either the long arm octopus or the Korean common octopus. Based on its name, it should come as no surprise to learn that the nakji is much smaller than the giant octopus, so much so that its Korean name is sometimes translated as the “baby octopus.” In any case, Koreans are very fond of nakji, which is why there are a number of Korean dishes to make use of this particular ingredient. One excellent example is san-nakji, meaning “sliced raw octopus.”

What Stands Out About San-nakji?

Generally speaking, the nakji is killed before it is cut up into small pieces that are sprinkled with sesame oil as well as toasted sesame seeds. However, there are cases in which the nakji is consumed whole while it is still living.

It is important to note that san-nakji is a potential choking hazard in both cases. In the first case, this is because the tentacles can continue to exhibit a number of reflex actions even without the central brain’s input. As a result, the suction cups on the tentacles are still active, meaning that it is possible for the tentacles to stick to the mouth as well as the throat. Meanwhile, the second case is a potential choking hazard because the octopus is still alive, meaning that it is moving about even more.

How Can You Prepare San-nakji?

On the whole, san-nakji isn’t the most complicated dish that can be found out there. There is nothing more complicated to it than killing an octopus of the right species before cutting it up into manageable pieces. After which, it is a matter of sprinkling it with sesame oil as well as toasted sesame seeds. However, san-nakji isn’t something that interested individuals should be attempting to make on their own, not least because there is a very real danger of diners choking on the tentacles if they are not careful. In any case, those who are curious about how the Koreans eat san-nakji might want to check out this National Geographic video to get a better look at the process.

Are There Variations on San-nakji?

There are similar dishes to san-nakji that can be found in other East Asian cuisines. For example, Japanese cuisine has an entire culinary custom that involves making sashimi from still living animals, which can involve everything from fish to lobster, shrimp, and octopus. Likewise, there is a Chinese dish called drunken shrimp that involves living shrimp immersed in liquor, which has a direct counterpart in Japanese cuisine called odori ebi or “dancing shrimp.”

Casu Marzu

Casu marzu is a Sardinian cheese made using sheep’s milk. However, that isn’t what has earned it its infamy. Instead, that would be the fact that casu marzu contains live insect larvae. Granted, casu marzu isn’t the sole cheese containing live insect larvae that can be found out there, but it is one of the best-known, meaning that it receives the bulk of the popular interest.

What Stands Out About Casu Marzu?

The live insect larvae are critical because they are responsible for turning the hard cheese called pecorino into the soft cheese called casu marzu. In short, people remove a part of the rind from pecorino cheeses before leaving them out so that cheese flies can lay their eggs in them. Eventually, the larvae will hatch before proceeding to feast on the cheese that surrounds them, thus causing it to turn very soft thanks to the larvae’s digestive acid at work. As such, by the time that people actually get around to eating casu marzu, they can expect to find thousands and thousands of these larvae in a single cheese.

How Is Casu Marzu Prepared?

Currently, casu marzu is banned under the European Union’s food hygiene regulations. This is wholly unsurprising because in case this needs to be stressed once more, casu marzu is extra-fermented cheese made using live insect larvae. On top of that, it should be mentioned that careless eaters can swallow the larvae whole, which is a serious problem because it is possible for larvae to survive in the human intestines. In fact, there have been cases of pseudomyiasis involving the larvae of the cheese fly. Something that should serve as a serious warning sign for interested individuals.

With that said, this hasn’t stopped some Sardinians from attempting to declare casu marzu a traditional food. Furthermore, the ban hasn’t stopped some Sardinians from making it anyways, with the result that it can be found on Sardinian black markets. As for the people who choose to eat casu marzu, they tend to take various precautions when doing so. For example, some choose to put their hands over what they are eating, which sounds strange but is important because the larvae can jump out with remarkable speed when disturbed. Likewise, there are others who choose to put casu marzu in a sealed bag before consumption so that the lack of oxygen will kill off the larvae.

Are There Any Variations of Casu Marzu?

Casu marza is made using pecorino, which encompasses multiple kinds of hard sheep’s milk cheeses. Besides them, it is interesting to note that there are similar cheese made in Corsica as well as various Italian regions as well.

Century Eggs

The widespread use of refrigeration is a very recent phenomenon. As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that there are recipes for a wide range of preserved foods that happen to include eggs. Century eggs are a Chinese version of preserved eggs, which are sometimes called either hundred-year eggs, thousand-year eggs, or pine-pattern eggs.

What Makes Century Eggs Stand Out?

One of the most striking characteristics of the century egg is its appearance. In short, the preservation process produces significant changes in the egg, with the result that the yolk turns dark green with a creamy consistency while the white turns into an amber gelatin. As a result, it isn’t uncommon for people who are unfamiliar with century eggs to make comments about their perceived grossness, though in truth, they are perfectly safe to consume so long as they have been made using non-hazardous ingredients in a non-hazardous manner.

Taste-wise, century eggs have a slight resemblance to hard-boiled eggs. However, their flavor has more complexities to it, with an excellent example being what some people have called a mild mineral or even metallic aftertaste. As such, century eggs aren’t eaten on their own by most people but are instead served up along with either congee or something else that can complement their taste.

How Can You Prepare Century Eggs?

Century eggs have been in existence for multiple centuries, so it should come as no surprise to learn that there are numerous recipes for making them. Generally speaking, the process involves putting the eggs in a preservation solution that contains sodium hydroxide as its most important ingredient. After the eggs have been soaked in the preservation solution for two weeks or more until the egg whites have solidified, it is time to encase them for the purpose of cutting them off from oxygen while they cure. The traditional material is a mixture of mud and rice husks, but it is perfectly possible to use other materials such as clay instead. Be warned that sodium hydroxide is a strong base, meaning that interested individuals should be wearing some kind of protection for their hands throughout the whole process.

For people who want to make century eggs using tools and materials that they can find with maximum ease, they can check out this simple home-made recipe. Meanwhile, if they are more interested in seeing the finished century eggs as soon as possible, they should try preserving quail eggs with this recipe instead.

Are There Any Variations on Century Eggs?

There are different recipes for making century eggs, which can produce different tastes. For example, it is possible to make century eggs by soaking the eggs in a solution that contains sodium hydroxide. However, it is also possible to make them by coating the eggs in a sodium hydroxide-containing paste instead. Besides this, it is worth noting that century eggs can be made from either chicken eggs, duck eggs, or quail eggs.

Beat the Heat with These Quick Summer Recipes

Prepare a refreshing drink and cold salad early so you can enjoy your summer evenings.

A beautiful summer evening, with the night sky awash with a billion stars, is meant to be enjoyed. The sounds of crickets and night birds and the soft light and beauty of fireflies surround us… What a wonderful time to enjoy the freedom and glory of the great outdoors. Summer is not the time to be slaving over that proverbial hot stove.

We are often concerned that easy to prepare meals are not nutritious, and that by opting for quick and easy recipes we deprive our bodies of needed nutrients. However, with proper consideration and planning, it can be simple to maintain a healthy diet in the summer and still have time for fun.

Plan Ahead, Cook Ahead

Summer salads and other light dishes can be prepared in advance and either kept refrigerated or frozen until needed. Precooked chicken, salmon, ham, and beef are all wonderful ingredients to be added into vegetable and pasta dishes. Also, canned vegetables are a good and nutritious alternative to fresh varieties, and precooked portions of pasta are easily refrigerated. Your favorite fruits are now available in abundance and ready for use in your summer recipes. So prep these meals early for easier evenings:

Cold Pasta and Vegetable Salad

For this recipe, combine cold cooked chicken, salmon, ham, or beef with cooked penne pasta. Then add your favorite vegetables: diced tomato, onion, celery, snow peas, red and green peppers. You can use kidney beans or chickpeas for added protein, as well as feta cheese and avocado for decadence. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic, and toss lightly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Refrigerate and enjoy when needed.

All-Time Favorite Apple Salad

Wash, peel, and core your favorite variety of apple. Cut them into chunks and combine them with crushed walnuts or pecans, raisins, sliced white grapes, and red cherries. Then lightly toss with mayonnaise or yogurt. Serve this dish ice cold.

Long, Tall, and Cool Summer Drinks

There’s nothing as refreshing as a fruity drink after a hot day. Squeeze the juice from fresh lemons or limes and stir in sweetened concentrate made by boiling water and sugar. Add your favorite summer berries, either whole or crushed, and serve from an iced pitcher.

Take time to relax this summer and enjoy the beauty around you. Cooking light is a healthy step in the right direction, and it can be simple with these summer recipes.