Daring Bakers- Traditional Northern Italian Lasagna

Whew! It has been a crazy week for me! My part time job has turned out to be more than a full time job! On the one hand it is nice because I am super busy and I am getting paid a decent hourly wage. In this economy we are all happy about every penny we make right? On the other hand it leaves me with little to no time to focus on the things that I love, mainly this blog! Last year I was posting 20 posts a month or more! This year I can barely get 10 posts done in a month! I am so disappointed in myself. I keep saying next month will be different, I will get better, and each month I just cannot seem to find the time!

To all you bloggers out there with full time jobs and families: HOW THE HECK DO YOU DO IT???

The other change in my life that seems to be taking up all my time is that I have tried to start a regular workout routine again. I have been an avid exerciser for most of my life. In high school I played sports, in college I started going to the gym and taking fitness classes, after college I started running half marathons and doing triathlons. I love exercising, it makes me feel good. But in college, as my eating disorder developed into full blown bulimia, I became obsessive, and exercise became a necessity, a way to keep losing weight and all of a sudden it was not fun anymore. It was not a release of daily stresses, but something I HAD to do. As part of my recovery last year, I decided to stop exercising, a sacrifice that was very hard for me but definitely what I needed. The best part about taking the year off from exercise was that I found cooking to be just as much of a stress release and I had more time for other things, such as creating and contributing to my new blog! I am now at a place where think I can start enjoying exercise again. I am taking it slow, and not pushing myself too hard but I am trying to get in about 30-40 minutes of exercise everyday. As you can imagine, working all day then coming home and exercising for 40 minutes does not leave much time (or energy!) for cooking or blogging.

I did find the time to complete this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge though! It took me a full week to make the lasagna and, unfortunately, I did not document the process with pictures but I finished it! I made two lasagnas, each with a different ragout sauce and took them both up to my grandparents cabin in Twain Harte, CA to my  with some friends this past weekend. P1050253_2

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

For some reason I had a hard time getting motivated to complete this challenge. Do not get me wrong, I LOVE lasagna, I was just completely intimidated! I tried making fresh pasta once in my life and it turned out horrible and when I decided to make this for a group of friends it became just that much more intimidating because now it has to be good! The last thing I want to do is serve my friends some horrible tasting homemade concoction! I am just not that confident of my baking skills yet, so I pretty much followed the recipe as it was given to us for the spinach lasagna noodles and the béchamel sauce. For the ragout, I decided to do something different and made two different kinds: a chicken ragout and a mushroom ragout, they both turned out really yummy and I have included the recipes for both below. For the original daring bakers recipe, go here.

The chicken ragout was kind of an accident. I had some raw chicken breast in the fridge that needed to be cooked and about 5 minutes to do something with it. I frantically threw the chicken breasts in my slow cooker, dumped some tomato sauce, tomato paste, onion, whole garlic cloves, a ton of Italian seasoning, and some salt and pepper and let it cook for 9 hours. I was not sure how good it would turn out but to my amazement it was delicious. The chicken just melted and all the spices and tomato sauces melded together nicely. It made the entire kitchen smell like heaven and it was so easy and fast to make!

The mushroom ragout is a vegetarian version of the country style ragout recipe featured in the daring bakers challenge. I pretty much followed the directions for the meat ragout but instead of meat I substituted mushrooms. This one is also really good but I can see how the addition of the fat from the meat would make it  taste much better. I do love me some mushrooms though so I was excited to try my vegetarian version.

I struggled with the béchamel sauce. Not that it was hard to make, it is actually so incredibly easy! I struggled because I have officially realized that I weigh more than I ever have in my life and I am completely struggling with this issue right now. I am trying to figure out how to lose some weight, but do it in a healthy manner without diverting back to my old bulimic habits. I thought about how I could make the béchamel sauce healthier without losing the taste for the entire month. In the end, I decided the heck with it! It really is not that bad for you, the main ingredient is milk! So I followed the daring baker recipe and am glad I did. Who knew such a simple sauce could taste so yummy!

The pasta was the most fun to make. Although I was completely intimidated and have no pasta makers or rollers to help me out, I was pleasantly surprised with how my pasta turned out. I followed the recipe exactly although I did have to add an extra egg to get the dough to bind. I kneaded it for hours (okay more like 10-15 minutes, but it seemed like hours!). I did not have time to make the dough, roll it out, and assemble the lasagnas all in the same night so I made the lasagna dough, wrapped it in saran wrap and left it in the fridge overnight. It was much easier to handle the next day and rolled out nicely. To roll it out I took chunks of the dough and rolled it into a nice long, thin rope, then used a rolling pin to roll the rope flat. I divided the pieces and placed them straight into the lasagna. I decided not to boil the noodles and to my surprise they tasted just fine in the lasagna. They were a bit too thick but very creamy and still very very yummy.

Baking the lasagnas made my whole apartment smell like heaven and it was very hard to not be able to try a piece straight out of the oven, but the wait was worth it. Both lasagnas were very good and it was a perfect dish to serve the first night we arrived at the cabin. We were all very tired and hungry and all I had to do to get dinner ready was reheat the lasagnas in the oven 30 minutes, whip up a quick salad and warm up some bread. It was definitely a hit!

chicken and mushroom ragu recipe


Lynnylu said...

Nice job with the two different fillings. Both the chicken(which looks really easy and tasty) and the mushroom sound great.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

What a great choice of fillings! Your lasagne look wonderful! Very well done



Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella said...

Your lasagne looks amazing and I agree bechamel is mostly milk with a bit of flour and butter so it's not so bad :) What a gorgeous view you have too!

MaryMary said...

Despite being so busy--you nailed this challenge. Looks scrumptious!

Anonymous said...

Your version looks wonderful, and yay you for going for it with the chicken ragout. Hold onto that idea for easy pasta sauce whenever you want it!

jillian said...

Your mushroom ragu sounds great! I wish I had wine to add to mine.

JMom said...

Both the lasagna and the setting are beautiful! Love that shot :)

Kat said...

The chicken ragu sounds very good. Such a pretty view!!