Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Bend in the Road: A Lasagna Dilemma

Background: Miles Ryan is a widowed father still grieving the loss of his wife Missy in an hit-and-run accident. He is doing his best to raise his son, Jonah, without her. A sheriff's deputy in New Bern, North Carolina, he spends much of his free time obsessed with finding the driver of the car that killed his wife. He meets Sarah Andrews, Jonah's second grade teacher, when she offers to tutor Jonah after school. I'm sure you can guess where this is heading--pretty soon Miles and Sarah start spending time together outside of the school setting. What makes their relationship dramatic is the fact that Miles still misses his wife, and he's so intent on finding her killer that sometimes it's all he can think about. Meanwhile Sarah is recovering from a painful divorce, and she's recently moved to New Bern from Baltimore to start a new life. Despite all of their baggage and Miles' bouts of moodiness (she's a saint, that Sarah, and a great mother figure for Jonah, too) they fall head over heels in love.

One October evening when Jonah is sleeping over at a friend's house, Miles and Sarah take a ghost tour of New Bern (several of Nick's books take place there--fitting since that's where he lives. I've never been there in person, but I hear it's a fabulous little town), and afterward they head over to her place. Sarah prepares a warm, romantic meal--lasagna, a favorite in my house; with French bread, salad, and (most importantly) a bottle of wine. They enjoy their dinner by the light of a blazing fire.

So what kind of dilemma would I possibly have about lasagna? My mother-in-law, Grandma B, gave me her special pasta sauce recipe (or "gravy" as the Italians call it) years ago on the condition that I would never share it with anyone. It's one of her secret family recipes that's been handed down through many generations. It's been a while since I've made her sauce, and I was tempted to make it last weekend for my "Nicholas Sparks Thing," as my family calls it. I knew I couldn't share the recipe with you, though, and I thought it would be a little bit cruel to tell you all about the delicious lasagna I made with this amazing sauce, post pictures, and then say, "Oh, sorry, I can't tell you how I made it. You're on your own for this one." Another choice might have been to make her sauce, and find a different recipe to post. I scrapped that idea as well, though, because I want to post what I actually prepare. My final solution was to find a totally different recipe and save Grandma's for another time when I'm not blogging about it. (My fourth option could have been to go with my usual sauce-making method: pop open a jar of Ragu'. Not this time.)

UPDATE: Guess what? Grandma's recipe is NOT secret. I'll get to share it with you after all.

When I did a Google search on lasagna, the first one that popped up came from (That site might soon be my favorite one for recipes, since I've found so many great ones there.) After browsing through several other recipes, I decided to go with the first one:

World's Best Lasagna

1 pound sweet Italian sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese


1.In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
2.Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
3.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
4.To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.
5.Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Sure does smell good...

I cheated just a little bit by using those oven-ready noodles that you don't have to boil, and pre-grated cheese instead of slicing up a hunk of mozzarella. That one was because I didn't read the ingredients carefully before going to the grocery store.

I wanted to make my own French bread in my bread machine. I consulted my Bread Machine Cookbook but didn't find a recipe that I liked, so I went online and found a good one at--where else?

French Baguettes

1 cup water
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water


1.Place 1 cup water, bread flour, sugar, salt and yeast into bread machine pan in the order recommended by manufacturer. Select Dough cycle, and press Start.
2.When the cycle has completed, place dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched. 3.Punch down dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 16x12 inch rectangle. Cut dough in half, creating two 8x12 inch rectangles. Roll up each half of dough tightly, beginning at 12 inch side, pounding out any air bubbles as you go. Roll gently back and forth to taper end. Place 3 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Make deep diagonal slashes across loaves every 2 inches, or make one lengthwise slash on each loaf. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.
4.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Mix egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water; brush over tops of loaves. (I skipped the egg wash since Moe is allergic to them.)
5.Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown. (source)

My family was lurking behind me as I took the bread out of the oven, waiting impatiently for me to hurry up and take a photo so they could all have a sample. Most of the larger loaf was gone by dinnertime.

Our favorite Virginia wine: Cabernet Franc from Horton Vineyards.

The lasagna was a little bit runny. Seems I always end up using twice as much ricotta and egg as the recipe calls for. It was delicious, nonetheless, and almost as good as Grandma B's. I even made a little one for Moe, with dairy-free "cheese" and of course, no egg.

We didn't have a fire, but we ate by the warm glow of this

and this.
When I started this blog, I planned to cook Nick's books more or less in the order they were published. While that's still my plan, I find I'm having to skip around just a bit. I'm planning one more project from A Bend in the Road, but I'm saving that one until after New Year's--possibly even until Valentine's Day. There are two more from The Rescue as well (lots of cooking and eating happening in that one), but I'm saving one for warmer weather, and one for when I'm feeling a little braver.

Meanwhile I'm thinking about what to prepare for a New Year's Eve party, inspired by A Walk to Remember. (By the way, did you know December 31 also happens to be Nick's birthday?) I might even ask a friend or two to help me out with that one (you know who you are, Mwah Ha Ha!!) I might even give you a little preview beforehand if I can get my act together once Christmas is over.

I hope you all have a safe and blessed Christmas (Grandma B says she's making her pasta sauce to bring to Christmas dinner!), and I'll meet you back here to ring in 2011!

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