WND – Look Ma, no chicken!

April 10, 2008

When I find myself merrily crafting extended metaphors to the effect that beets are my roommate’s Mr. Tilney while spinach is my Mr. Darcy*, I have to contemplate the idea that there is such a thing as too much Jane Austen.

The Jane Austen whimsy may be explained by the Masterpiece Theater’s current season of all Jane Austen all the time. There is, however, no rational explanation for why the realization that tonight’s dinner contains no chicken should lead me to wonder what kinds of stories poultry tell each other at bedtime. The Tale of the Golden Goose is clearly a trickster tale. But, does Chicken Little feature as a cautionary tale against foolishness, or as a French farce (or perhaps just a farci)? Is the golden goose in Jack & the Beanstalk enslaved to the giant, or is that her happily ever after (in which case Jack is even more of a grubby urchin than the story makes him out to be)?

I sometimes think this blog should be renamed 1001 Things to do with Chicken. Of the 28 main dish recipes we have listed so far, 12 of them are poultry based. I’d protest that we don’t really eat that much chicken, but we really do.

I cook with a lot of chicken partially because it’s cost effective, and partially it’s because it lends itself to a wide variety of preparations and nobody is allergic to it. But sometimes, I get enormously tired of chicken in all its iterations and just have to break free and find some other kind of protein, in this case the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for Lasagna with a Hearty Meat Sauce. That being said, if you wanted to you could make the sauce with ground turkey or chicken. I have made it vegetarian by substituting mushrooms for the ground meat, but it does make the sauce a little watery which affects the consistency of the finished lasagna.

For all the myriad ways in which America’s Test Kitchen recipes are a wonderful resource, they do fall down a little in the area of easy substitutions. Their recipes are idiot proof, and you can be reasonably sure that if you follow their recipe your dish will be 99.9% similar to their dish because they’ve tested them and clarified them to just that end. However, their recipes are frequently so precise that altering a part of them makes them not really work in a way that’s out of proportion to whatever it was you changed. Most recipes you can eyeball and make a change here or a change there and it doesn’t really matter because the recipe is a guideline and not set in stone. I find you either need to follow ATK recipes to the letter, or find another recipe for the same thing and mess with it. There doesn’t seem to be much in between.

* My roommate, in the first flush of love with beets, is much like Catherine smitten with the dashing Mr. Tilney. On the other hand I, like poor Lizzie with her Mr. Darcy, only came to a tardy appreciation for the subtle charms of spinach.

Garlic Bread

Ahem, a moment before we move on to the recipe. In the entry on Apricot & Prune Stuffed Chicken I referred to my father’s actions as regards the cleaning of the fridge as admirable. He takes umbrage with this characterization, saying that it is damning with faint praise. Allow me to clarify. While my family frequently communicates in shades of irony, I wasn’t actually trying to be facetious in this instance. The admiration was untainted by sarcasm. The point still stands, however, that the apricot jam was not going to waste and he was just perpetuating a vicious cycle by eating it.

Okay, onwards.

Lasagna with Hearty Tomato-Meat Sauce (courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen)
(serves 6-8)

Tomato Sauce
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped fine
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/3 lb each of ground beef, ground veal, ground pork
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¼ cup heavy cream
1 28oz can pureed tomatoes
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, well drained

Saute the onion in the olive oil until the onion is soft, but not brown. Add the garlic and sauté for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the meat and cook, breaking into small pieces, until the meat loses its raw color but has not browned. Add the cream and simmer, stirring occasionally until the liquid has evaporated and only the fat remains (about 4 minutes). Add the tomatoes. Reduce the heat and simmer until the flavors are blended (10-15 minutes).

The sauce can be made in advance. Reheat before assembling the lasagna.

Mix together:
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

16 oz whole milk mozzarella (4 cups)

Preheat oven to 375°.

Set out 12 lasagna noodles (no-boil). Onto each noodle place three 1-Tbsp dollops of the cheese mixture and push it down lightly with your finger.

Smear the bottom of a 13×9” baking dish with 1/4 cup of the sauce (making sure to avoid any large chunks).

Place 3 noodles (cheese side up) in the baking dish to create the first layer. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella. Top with 1.5 cups of sauce.

Repeat layering of noodles – cheese mixture – mozzarella – sauce. For the last layer place the noodles cheese side down then cover with sauce and mozzarella as normal.

Lightly spray a sheet of foil with oil or butter and cover the lasagna. Bake for 15 minutes then remove foil and continue to cook for 25 minutes. Allow lasagna to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Notes: It won’t look like there are enough noodles in your pan. There are. The lasagna expands to fill the space available and you don’t need more noodles. I do cross hatch my noodles as I build the lasagna to give it a little more structure (i.e. noodles in one direction for one layer, and in a different direction for the next layer). Letting the lasagna rest after you take it out of the oven is important. It lets it all stabilize. If you try and serve it right out of the oven it will fall apart all over your tablecloth.



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