Since I graduated college back in December of 2008, I have moved four times. FOUR TIMES!
And since pretty much all these moves have been within our tiny city limits, I’ve definitely abused the good graces and lending hands of my friends in helping me with each of these moves. However, the trade-off is that when people help me move, I feed them. And I don’t just buy a pizza for them and say “thanks.” No, moving me and my junk is such an ordeal, and my friends deserve so much more than that. They were so gracious and generous to us with their time over the past few weeks, that I wanted to give them something great this weekend. I gave them a real home-cooked meal, which is GOLD to them, since otherwise they are required to eat in the school cafeteria (ew). And often, like in the case of last night, I go foodie on them and serve them 10 different cheeses in the same meal. Yes! TEN!
I chose lasagna for several reasons. First of all, it’s quintessential home cooked comfort food. It’s pasta, red meat, tomato sauce, and way too much cheese than any one person needs. It reminds me of going to grandma’s house for Sunday supper. Not that I ever went to my grandmother’s house for Sunday supper, and not that she ever served us lasagna, but it’s one of those things. Secondly, while so many people are familiar with lasagna, very few have eaten a home-cooked made-from-scratch version! Most I know, like myself, grew up on lasagna that came out of a box in my freezer. Burnt pasta and tomato sauce, too much stale ricotta and not much of any other flavor. It’s no wonder I hated it growing up! But then I came to college and had homemade lasagna for the first time. It blew my mind. I had to share this wondrous moment with everyone. So this past February, several months after my 3rd move, I adapted a Paula Deen lasagna recipe and served it to my friends as a belated thank-you meal. And like many food-related memories, this became tradition.
So many of my recipes start off like this. Scribbles all over a notebook, rarely with anything more than the measures of ingredients.
… except when I’m dealing with something as delicate as ladyfingers.
Only the best for my friends, right? Okay, making them was significantly cheaper than buying them, and in the past I’ve learned that it isn’t the expensive Italian sponge cookies that makes the tiramisu. It’s the expensive Italian mascarpone cheese. So I drop five bucks on eight ounces of mascarpone and make my lady fingers from scratch for pennies.
Plus, making them from scratch just screams, “I APPRECIATE YOU THIS MUCH,” right? I thought so. 😉
Tomato sauce. I started this pot at around 2:00 PM before I even had all the ingredients in my house. I still lacked a pound of ground beef, which my rancher/meat supplier still hadn’t delivered to me yet. Dinner as a 6, and at 4:45 I called him to check and see when I might expect my delivery. By 5:30, a pound of 90/10 grass fed ground beef was browned and in the pot.
My brand new oven makes for pretty food photography. Just saying.
Let me just make a point that when hosting a dinner party, casseroles are always a pretty awesome direction to go. Less mess, less fuss, and they’re flexible in the number of mouths a single dish will feed. This came in handy when I had one unexpected person showed up for dinner! We might have had a problem if I’d been serving individual grilled steaks! So yes, casseroles are your friends. Those Southern church ladies really knew what they were doing!
Like I said, that lasagna has eight cheeses: mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, asiago, gruyere, ricotta, cheddar, and neufchatel. Pretty epic, I know.
Since I introduced so many different cheeses that most my friends are unfamiliar with, I created a sampler of the various more obscure cheeses, and added another for good measure. Here I have the cave-aged cheddar, parmigiano, gruyere, and goat cheese. I served them with some Kashi party crackers, several jams, and dried fruit. The goat cheese was a big hit!
Also, since I was making a pretty labor-intensive and time-consuming main dish, I thought it important to go with simple side dishes. Lasagna is a dish that really lends itself to simple sides, so I served French break with garlic oil and Sicilian oil dipping seasoning.
I also served a simple caesar salad for some green.
And since I got a huge head-start on dinner, we actually started serving a lot earlier than most our weekend dinners. People showed up at 6, and we were eating by 6:30 or so!
And since we’re laid back like that, we ate dinner in true home comfort style–in front of the TV while watching Sweeney Todd and playing poker. This brings up another point. Know your crowd. Some people would geek out sitting at a fancy table setting, while others would feel like a fish out of water. My guests got their kicks out of a whoopee cushion last night. I’m saving the fanciness for Thanksgiving.
Speaking of getting a head start, it’s always good to choose a dessert that won’t require much of your time while your cooking dinner or trying to entertain your guests. After all, you want to have fun with your guests, too, right? I actually prepared this tiramisu before I ever started on the tomato sauce, that way I didn’t have to mess with it once I got started on dinner.
So there you have it folks! I hope you vote for me in this challenge, since I’ve got so many ideas for future meals! You won’t want to miss it!