Bake Ahead for the Holidays

Trimming the tree. Holiday parties. Crazy schedules. All of these combine to make the month of December a blur and a challenge to get anything on the table for dinner.

I’ve always been a fan of having lasagna on hand. This is a trick I learned when babysitting for Ted and Denise Padden and their four children. She would have me come over and bake a big lasagna while watching the kids, and that would be dinner for at least two nights.

I don’t tend to make the big heavy meat lasagna anymore. Most of the time there aren’t enough people in my home to consume it. I could make and freeze half, but something about lasagna calls for lots of people around a table, a big salad, and some warm bread.

A few years ago I discovered how the Italians pair squash with pasta, including in lasagna. I enjoy the slightly sweet flavor of the roasted squash against the richness of the ricotta, especially when infused with sage or rosemary. Adding spinach to the basic bechamel sauce, adds color and another vegetable.

I made this recipe first for an early Thanksgiving feast and have made it again to try it with zucchini noodles instead of pasta. While I think the pasta version was better, the zucchini one has the benefit of being gluten free. To make the zucchini noodles, slice a zucchini length-wise in about 1/8-inch strips. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 350-degree oven for about 5-7 minutes to remove the extra moisture and increase the sweetness of the zuke. If it is still a bit slippery (like a wet noodle), roast for another couple of minutes until it is slightly brown in areas. Then use just like the pasta. The number of noodles with depend on the size of your zucchini. If they are small, you might need one zucchini per layer, or six (6) in total.

Feel free to play with the squash. Butternut is slightly dry when roasted and sweet. Acorn squash has less flavor and is a bit damper. Hubbard or any of the slightly sweet and very orange varieties will do well. I tried it with acorn squash, because I have heaps of them in the garage, and can’t say it’s a favorite. It will do in a pinch.  But even better is just a 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree, which eliminates the whole roasting step. Plus it is just the right flavor. Just don’t use the pie filling!

You can freeze this dish and bring it out later in the holidays, either for a planned event or a family emergency.

Enjoy

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna
There are a lot of steps here, but if done ahead, the whole project comes together quickly. Like any lasagna, once you master the recipe, it will be much easier in the future. You are essentially roasting butternut squash and pureeing it for one layer. Making a standard bechamel, but adding spinach, for another. And finally having a ricotta filling. So it's not terribly different than the standard lasagna process. I would make some extra bechamel sauce, or a tomato sauce, to serve alongside. Mine got a little dry.
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To prepare the butternut squash, heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds. Rub inside with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place cut-side down on roasting pan. Roast for about 1 hour, or until soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Scoop out insides into a food processor and puree until smooth. Taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Can be refrigerated for two days.
  2. Caramelize the onions by placing in a hot saute pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the two sprigs of thyme. Stir to coat in oil and cook until onions are soft and slightly brown, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. This can be made two days ahead of time and refrigerated. Remove thyme before adding to the lasagna.
  3. To make the ricotta filling, mix cheese, chopped rosemary, eggs, half the grated Parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste. This can be done 1 day ahead of time.
  4. To prepare the spinach, melt butter in a saucepan, add flour and stir. Cook until flour is no longer raw and the two have come together into a thick paste, about 2 minutes. Add milk or half-and-half and stir until it comes to a boil. Add the rest of the grated Parmesan, nutmeg, and defrosted and drained spinach. Season with salt and pepper. This can be made one day ahead.
  5. To assemble, coat a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Lay down about 1 cup of the spinach cream sauce on the bottom of the pan and spread to coat. Top with noodles.
  6. Spread half of the roasted butternut squash on top of the pasta. Top with another layer of pasta.
  7. Spread ricotta cheese mixture on top of pasta, and top with caramelized onion. Cover with layer of pasta.
  8. Top with remaining butternut squash, and another layer of pasta.
  9. Finish with remaining spinach cream sauce. Cover with foil.
  10. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour (60 minutes). Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
  11. Remove from oven. Allow to rest for 30 minutes before serving.
  12. Can be frozen.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from the New York Times

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Taste-Testing Weekend for Sweetie Pie

One thing has always been a constant in my life through high school, college, new job in a different city, marriage, motherhood, illness, divorce, and the sale of the family-owned business – my passion for baking. No matter how crazy, hectic, bad, good, or in between, I have found peace in the kitchen with flour, water, yeast, sugar, and butter. Sometimes, it was just flour, water, and yeast. Oftentimes, it was more ingredients, such aimg_0029-1s fresh or dried fruits, cinnamon, and nuts.

My earliest memory is of making pies, although I’m sure I learned to make cookies first. My neighbor in Warren, Mrs. Levinson, was my teacher. I’ve carried her lessons through today: measure first, but rely on touch, and be patient. You can’t hurry dough. If you try, it doesn’t taste very good. Now you have wasted both money and time on a poor outcome.

In college, I baked bread, pies, and lasagna for co-workers at the student newspaper. When roommates took me home for the Jewish holidays, I learned to bake challah and make kugel. Later, baking cakes for the birthdays of co-workers was one of my ways to give back to a new work family I had in Illinois for five years. I think I enjoyed the joy the cakes brought as much as the recipient. As I traveled in the U.S. and Canada, I used restaurants as inspiration for new dishes. If I didn’t like a dish, I’d try to figure out how to make it better. It’s how I learned the importance of seasoning meats before cooking them, why not to skimp on the quality of goat cheese or feta for a salad (or any ingredient that will be the star of a dish), the importance of real butter in baking. There’s plenty more, but I’ll save those for another time.

I’ve baked my way through breakups, bosses, therapists, and rehab. The boyfriends, bosses, therapists and booze are long gone. My baking pans – dented, blackened, and otherwise loved – are still with me.

I’ve been looking for signs to tell me what to do now that I’m not in the newspaper business anymore. It took conversations with Tammy Lyn Fox (Taste of Zion), Lisa Heidelberg (Dinner is Served by Lisa), Anthony Perino (formerly of Frankie & May), and Heidi Lutz (Juice Jar), to help me to open the door to what my future might be.

Conversations led me to the Erie County Department of Health to sign up for the food safety food management certification. Classes start next week.

By Saturday morning, I had a name: Sweetie Pie, a food truck business to open in 2017. The specialties? Pies, homemade granola parfaits, and cheesecakes served in half-pint mason jars. Also on the menu? Sticky buns, scones, cookies, coffee, and teas. At least that’s the current thought, because next up was to begin an outline of a business plan. A guiding principle will be a focus on local ingredients and a minimal impact on the planet, so compostable cups, napkins, serving ware and, of course, the reusable mason jars.

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Three hours later, I needed a creative break. I opened the cupboards and pulled out the baking pans. Then I pulled my favorite recipes out of the folders (both online and paper).

This  will be a long, and sweet, journey.

Happy baking.

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia

 

Print Recipe
Sticky Buns
Course breakfast
Cuisine American
Servings
sticky buns
Ingredients
Course breakfast
Cuisine American
Servings
sticky buns
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. You will need 3 (three) 9-inch square pans or 4 round cake pans for this recipe, which makes about 3 dozen rolls.
  2. Dough: Sprinkle yeast over water and whisk to blend. Let sit until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes. Whisk in beaten eggs.
  3. Heat milk and butter in a saucepan over medium heat on the stove or in a glass bowl in the microwave until butter is melted. Remove from heat.
  4. Combine remaining sugar, flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add milk mixture and incorporate. With mixer running, add proofed yeast. Keep mixer running on medium-high speed, kneading until dough is soft and silky, about 5 minutes.
  5. Grease a medium bowl with some butter (from the wrapper); place dough in bowl. Brush top of dough with melted butter; cover with plastic wrap. If you don't have time to make sticky buns, you can refrigerate the dough overnight and then remove from the refrigerator and continue.
  6. Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours (or 2 to 2 1/2 hours if dough has been refrigerated).
  7. In the meantime, make the filling and topping.
  8. Filling: In an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and kosher salt until light and fluffy. Set filling aside.
  9. Topping: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread out nuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast until fragrant, 10-12 minutes. Let cool completely.
  10. Melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, salt, and orange zest, if using. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer until glaze is golden brown and glossy, 3-4 minutes. Pour into bottoms of prepared pans. Divide nuts evenly among the pans.
  11. When dough has doubled, punch it down and divide into two. Place on floured work surface. Lightly dust top with flour.
  12. Roll out one dough ball on a lightly floured surface into a 10-by-12-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Place dough so one long side faces you. Spread 1/2 of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over dough, leaving a 1-inch plain border on the side farthest from you.
  13. Beginning with the long edge closest to you, roll dough into a log, tightening as you roll, and patting in ends if they begin to taper. Pinch together the seam where the long side meets the roll to seal. Arrange the log seam side down on the work surface.
  14. Using a large knife, cut the log crosswise into 12 to 15 equal pieces. Lightly flour the knife between slices if the dough is too sticky. Turn the buns cut side up and gently pat the top to flatten slightly. If needed, reshape to form round edges by cupping lightly floured hands around each bun and gently pushing and turning them in a circular motion. Place the buns in prepared pans; space them evenly apart (buns should not touch each other).
  15. Repeat with second ball of dough and filling.
  16. Loosely cover pan with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel.
  17. Let buns rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  18. Arrange a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350 degrees.
  19. Bake, rotating pan halfway through and tenting with foil if browning too quickly, until buns are golden brown, filling is bubbling, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of buns registers 185 degrees, about 50 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack.
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