What Comes First, the Chicken or the Soup?

If my mother would have ever plopped down a bowl of soup in front of my dad for dinner, well, she just wouldn’t have done it. Pork chops, yes; fried chicken, definitely. Cream of broccoli soup? Rethink it, Marg. Rethink it.

I, on the other hand, occasionally plunk down a bowl of soup in front of Bill for dinner, and he doesn’t complain. I’m sure he doesn’t think to himself Wow, in all of my hopes and dreams, I didn’t allow myself to imagine that we would have cream of broccoli soup tonight for dinner. But he doesn’t complain. He simply eats his mandatory one bowl, and then looks longingly at the freezer, hoping there is ice cream. There almost always is, by the way.

I, on the other hand, love soup. I love it for lunch or dinner. I especially love soup if it includes noodles or potatoes. Best yet, both. If my options for a starter at a restaurant are either soup or salad, and if the soup is homemade, I will almost always choose soup. My favorite lunch among all lunch choices is pho – Vietnamese noodle soup. Someday I’m going to get up my nerve and try preparing pho. Someday.

But back to Bill for a minute. There is a restaurant in our Denver neighborhood that is a Jewish deli. In fact, it’s cleverly called New York Deli News. Though their menu is chock full of good, homemade and hearty options such as beef brisket and stuffed cabbage (and a corned beef and tongue sandwich if you are so inclined), we rarely go there except on Fridays. On Fridays they serve a delicious and affordable prime rib, along with boiled potatoes and steamed mixed fresh vegetables. It really is very good. I want it right now.

Their starter options are — predictably — salad or soup, and their soups are homemade. On their busy Fridays, they offer mushroom beef barley and chicken noodle. I always get the beef barley and Bill gets the chicken noodle. And he always raves, nearly weeps with joy, over the chicken noodle soup. He has gone so far as to proclaim it the best he’s ever eaten, and I’m pretty sure he has said these words: IT’S TO DIE FOR.

Well. As a person who prides herself on her soup-making skills, and who is pretty darn sure has never heard IT’S TO DIE FOR as it relates to any of the meals I have prepared for him, I bristled the first time. Really, I said to him, settle down; it’s only chicken noodle soup. Lots of people make chicken noodle soup. I, for example, make chicken noodle soup.

And so I recently decided I would prove to him that I could make chicken noodle soup that is as good as that served at New York Deli News. I immediately chose to use a recipe I’ve had for a long time from Paula Deen.

Why did I choose Paula Deen? Two reasons, really. The first reason is that she is (to put it bluntly if quite inconsiderately) plump. Fat, really. Or at least, she used to be. I can’t say for sure anymore because she was sent packing after she admitted that she had once used the N word. Which brings me to my second reason. I relate to Paula Deen because there have been a number of occasions in which I’ve said something that I wish I could take back almost immediately. I’m pretty sure she wishes she had kept her past mistake to herself. And as for her being overweight being a reason to use her recipe, I go with the philosophy that you should never trust a skinny cook. I’m looking at you, Giada.

Anyway, I made my soup, and I thought it tasted delicious. Bill ate his mandatory bowl, sheepishly asking for some salt, and looked longingly at the freezer. But I’m pretty sure he will show a bit more restraint when praising the chicken noodle soup at New York Deli News.

Look for yourself…..

And here’s my recipe for chicken noodle soup. While I used Paula Deen’s recipe as my guide, I made quite a few changes. She adds cream, which is perhaps why she’s plump. I find cream unnecessary. Deceased Jewish grandmothers world-wide rolled over in their graves at the thought of cream in their chicken noodle soup…..

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients
2-3 bay leaves
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-3 lb. whole chicken, cut up
1-1/2 t. Italian seasoning
3-1/2 quarts water
2 c. carrots, chopped
2 c. celery, chopped
1 c. sliced mushrooms
3 T. chopped fresh parsley
2-3 c. uncooked egg noodles
2 T. dry marsala wine or sherry
Salt and pepper, to taste

Process
To make the chicken stock: Add bay leaves, bouillon, onion, garlic, chicken pieces, Italian seasoning, water, and salt and pepper to a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Cook for about an hour, until the chicken is tender. Remove chicken and bay leaves. You should have about 3 quarts of stock. Allow chicken to cool, and then remove the meat from the chicken, tossing away the bones and the skin, and set aside.

To make the soup: Bring the stock back to a boil. Add carrots and celery to the stock. When they are soft (15 to 20 minutes), add the noodles and cook according to package directions. When noodles are done, add the chicken back to the stock, along with the mushrooms and the parsley. Drizzle in the marsala or sherry. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are soft. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

This post linked to Grammy’s Grid.

Black-Eyed Peas: It’s What’s for Dinner and Better Than a Funeral

Sunday afternoon, I was watching an episode of Father Brown on Netflix, once again wondering why anyone would hang out with the good Catholic priest when his friends and parishioners are constantly getting knocked off by one murderer or another despite the fact that there are only 250 people in the quiet English village. The way I figure it, anytime Father Brown calls and asks if you want to hang out, you should say you would love to but you are busy washing your hair that afternoon. And, by the way, I’m leaving your church and becoming Anglican like everyone else in England. Oy vey.  Between Father Brown’s Kembleford, England and Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, Maine, no wonder young people are fleeing from small towns throughout the world!

Suddenly I heard poppity pop pop, the cheerful sound my cell phone makes when I get a text message. I glanced over and saw that it was from my nephew Erik who lives with his family in AZ. Erik rarely texts me, and I immediately began thinking about what I have in my closet that would be appropriate to wear to a funeral in AZ where the temperature remains in the range of 104 to 106 degrees in the shade. My mother would be proud that I went there so quickly.

Anyway, I read the text and it turns out my sister wasn’t dead, nor was anyone else in our family. Instead, Erik was asking me how I made the black-eyed peas I offer every New Year’s Day so that we can all have great luck in the year ahead. Given several cancer scares, a sister-in-law’s broken back, a couple of surgeries, and several hip failures so far in 2017, I am going to go out on a limb and say that relying on legumes for luck isn’t working. I can’t go out on MY limb, however, as my hip is one of them that is failing.

I responded by telling him how I make my black-eyed peas, wondering all the while how he can be planning on making black-eyed peas when 1) It’s 108 degrees outside where he lives; and 2) His wife and his kids can barely be in the same room with a legume, so he would be on his own eating the massive amount of beans the recipe makes. Perhaps he was planning on feeding an entire flatulent village. Who was I to judge?

I called my sister Bec the next day to let her know that Erik had contacted me looking for the recipe. I called her for two reasons (and I must be in a listing mood today): 1) I wanted her to tell me why Erik was seeking to cook something as, well, hearty as beans in unbearably hot weather; and 2) I wanted to tell her that 10 minutes after I communicated with Erik, I lackadaisically logged onto my Pinterest site only to find recipes for black-eyed peas on my feed.  This is the truth, hand to God. Pinterest is reading my text messages.

The answer to (1) is that no matter where you live, sometime in mid-August, your thoughts turn to autumn. And if you like to cook (as does Erik), you begin thinking about cooking things on top of the stove for a very long time. Autumn/winter cooking is all about braising. It turns out that when Erik was in college, his roommate would go home for the weekend, and the boy’s father would always send him back with a big pot of beans. The young men would eat delicious beans for a week. Erik was feeling nostalgic. Our taste buds have more muscle memory than anything else.

The answer to (2), by the way, is that we are fooling ourselves if we think we have even the littlest bit of privacy left in our lives. So really, when people start getting bent out of shape because they fear a loss of privacy, they might as well realize that the horse has already left the barn. No privacy. None.

Anyway,what this all tells me is that since Erik is jonesing  for a pot of beans and the majority of my grandkids are back in school (the Vermonters don’t start until after Labor Day), the deluge of All Things Pumpkin is about to begin. Lord, make me strong.

Here, by the way, are the instructions I gave Erik (and Pinterest) regarding my black-eyed peas…..

Soak the black-eyed peas overnight (or do a quick-soak ). Place beans, some carrots and celery diced small, a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes, some diced garlic, a bay leaf, a couple of ham hocks or a ham bone, and enough water to cover into a slow cooker and cook all night long. Don’t add salt until the end.

Enjoy, but don’t expect good luck. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Fill Up the Tub

I learn a lot when I’m driving my grandkids around. Have you ever noticed that? The same held true when I was rearing my son. He told me things in the car he would have never told me sitting at the kitchen table. I always theorized it was because he was in a closed space from which he couldn’t escape, and because I had to stare straight ahead while I drove, he didn’t have to look me in the eye. It led to honest conversation.

But back to conversations with my grandkids. I don’t have conversations in which I expect them to tell me deep, dark secrets. That’s up to their parents, and I’m just the nana. But they tell me very funny things.

For example, the other day I was driving Kaiya and Mylee to my house to spend the day. Now, almost-9-year-old Kaiya is the worst eater of my nine grandkids. She proclaims a dislike of meat, but isn’t particularly fond of vegetables either. That leaves carbs. Mostly she likes pasta with butter and parmesan cheese and Domino’s cheese pizza. So it was kind of a surprise when she informed me – out of the blue, by the way — that she loved the macaroni and cheese from Noodles & Co. Restaurant.

Don’t get me wrong. The mac-and-cheese at Noodles is amazing. I was just surprised that she liked something other than pasta with butter and cheese and Domino’s cheese pizza.

“Really,” I said, showing my surprise.

“Really, Nana,” she answered. “In fact, I like it so much that I wish I could eat a bathtub full of Noodles mac-and-cheese.”

That led to a conversation about how we would like to design a bathtub that had a closed-in section in which we could sit with a spoon or fork so that we could eat everything that was in the bathtub without having to actually sit in what we are eating.

I asked Mylee if she would fill her bathtub with Noodles mac-and-cheese as well.

“No, Nana,” she said. “I don’t really like mac-and-cheese that much. But I know what I would fill my bathtub with.”

She went on to describe a total rebuild of the bathtub. It would be sectioned into two halves, with the closed-in section in the middle. One half of the bathtub would be filled with sushi and the other half would be filled with soy sauce.

“That way I could take the sushi from one side and dip it into the soy sauce on the other,” she noted happily.

I loved that conversation with Kaiya and Mylee. I think we pondered a fun question. It’s a bit different than the age-old question about what you would take to a desert island if you could only take one food (the answer which, for me, is always chicken-and-bean burritos smothered with hot green chili from Santiago’s  — a Mexican restaurant in the Denver area). It’s different because the question isn’t what is your favorite food; instead, it’s what is the food that, once you start eating, you can’t stop.

For me, it would have to be tortilla chips and salsa and/or guacamole. I guess I would need a modified version of Mylee’s modified version – chips on one side, and the other side divided in half with guacamole on one side and my nephew Christopher’s spicy homemade salsa on the other side. It’s true, my friends; once I dip a chip into salsa, I can’t stop until the chips are gone. And then I’m liable to ask for more.

When I relayed the conversation to their father, I asked him what food he would choose. He thought for a few moments, and then said chicken wings. I’m distrustful of that answer. Chicken wings would fill you up too quickly. I believe that’s what he would take to a desert island. But maybe I’m overthinking.

And Court’s thought on what food would fill up Cole’s bathtub? Chef Boyardee ABCs with meatballs.

I insist that anyone who comments on my blog today must include what they would have in their bathtub. And here is Christopher’s salsa recipe….

Christopher’s Salsa

Ingredients
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 can Rotel tomatoes, drained
1 green onion
1/4 c. cilantro
1-2 jalapenos, seeds and membrane removed (unless you want it hot)
1 serrano pepper
1/4 t. garlic salt
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice from one lime

Process
Place all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until it’s the consistency you like. The serrano pepper adds lots of heat, so use accordingly.

This post linked to Grand Social.

Shoppingless Spree

In my past few blog posts, I have made vague allusions to being in Boulder with my sister Jen last Saturday. In fact, I think in yesterday’s post, I mentioned lunch and shopping in Boulder. I think it’s important to clarify something. I don’t shop.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say that any combination of my sisters and me would never go shopping the way most women go shopping. There would never, for example, be a time when either Jen or Bec would call me and say, “Would you like to go wander around XYZ Mall and try on clothes?” I think it’s safe to say that shopping for clothes is, for us, kind of like going to the dentist. It ain’t fun, but you have to do it once in a while. And you have to do it alone.

So, while Jen and I shopped, we didn’t come even thiiiiiis close to clothes shopping. Our idea of shopping is spending an hour or so at McGuckin’s Hardware Store – an amazing hardware-store-on-steroids in Boulder at which you can buy almost anything. After looking at garden supplies and various household items for an hour, I purchased a colorful rug for my kitchen…..

…..and a couple of plastic containers that I have a hard time finding, and in which I love to keep leftover soups or stews. They’re also good to take food to shut-ins. While it’s true that I don’t know a lot of shut-ins (mostly because I’m mostly a shut-in myself), I did have occasion to take food to my sister-in-law following her accident this winter. And I took it in one of those containers.

Following McGuckins, we spent the next hour at the Peppercorn, an astoundingly awesome cooking/kitchen store. We meandered through the store, touching things, reminiscing about things Mom owned, chatting about things we own but shouldn’t, talking about cooking. At Peppercorn, I bought a portable electric can opener, and came mighty darn close to buying a couple of smallish rocks glasses for martinis on the rocks, but remembered that I have a dining room table full of glasses we took out of our family room cabinets when we removed them and which we plan to take to Goodwill. I’m pretty sure if I had walked in with new glasses, Bill would have immediately called a recovery therapist.

For any combination of the three sisters, so-called “shopping” would really mean walking through a few stores and then having lunch. So we had lunch. Hapa Sushi, right down the street from the Peppercorn. We ordered what we considered to be an obscene amount of food that included a large bowl of poke for each of us, an order of shishito peppers (which are the newest Thing in appetizers and which I thought sort of ordinary, though Jen assured me that she has eaten some that were scrumptious),…..

…..pork gyozas, and a spicy tuna roll. We warned the server that we were ordering a lot of food. When we finished ordering, he looked puzzled and said, “Ladies, I hate to disappoint you, but that really isn’t that much food.”

Well, we didn’t eat it all, Mister Smartypants. Apparently he must wait on sumo wrestlers.

But, Boulder being Boulder, we were entertained by a man (who I would guess lives in Colorado NOT because of the mountain scenery but because of its herbal offerings) create “art” by putting a variety of leaves onto the side of a water feature…..

We were further able to observe a 10- or 12-year-old boy grab a bunch of the leaves and run away, while his parents looked on. While I perhaps shared the boy’s sentiment, I think I would have whooped his bottom (oops, I mean given him a time out) nevertheless. But I’m not the mom.

All-in-all, we had a very pleasant day in Boulder….

By the way, the closest we came to clothes shopping was when we talked briefly about stopping into Fresh Produce.Yeah, it didn’t happen.

And, for your consideration, here is a link to a recipe for shishito peppers.

Baking Angels

My dad was a professional baker, as was his dad before him. My brother baked with Dad from the time he was old enough to hold a rolling pin in his chubby little toddler hands. He has worked in the baking industry his entire life, and still does. My sister Jen says she can’t bake a lick, though I’m not entirely sure that is true. My sister Bec is the one in our family who we count on when we want baked items at our family gatherings. Bundt cakes and brownies are her specialties. Ask Bill, who enjoys the fruits of her labors.

As for me, I absolutely LOVE to bake. However, for the most part, I stink at it. There you have it. My name’s Kris, and I’m a Horrible-Baker-Who-Should-Be-Better-Because-My-Dad-Owned-A-Bakery. Maybe there’s a support group.

So, now that I’ve given you background, let me tell you a story.

The other day I got a hankering for biscotti. You know, those hard cookies that you dunk in coffee or tea, or if you’re in Italy, maybe Vino Santo after a wonderful dinner al fresco. My favorite biscotti recipe comes from Giada di Laurentis, but they contain pistachios (yum) and dried cherries or cranberries. Though I shouldn’t eat the dried fruit, I could possibly let that slide; however, the pistachios are a firm no-go on my low fiber diet, no matter how delicious they are.

So I got the notion to bake chocolate biscotti. I knew Bill would be happy, and I was confident I could find a recipe for chocolate biscotti without nuts. And so I did, Double Chocolate Biscotti from Once Upon a Chef blog.

Biscotti are not terribly hard to make. The trick is that you mix the dough, form it into a log, and bake it for a half hour or so. You then remove the baked dough from the oven and slice them into the familiar biscotti shape. Then, bake them again for 10 minutes or so, until they sort of dry out and become hard.

The reason I’m a sort of hit-or-miss baker is because I’m sloppy and apparently quite forgetful. I’ve always been sloppy; I grow more and more forgetful as I grow older.

So, using my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer, I mixed the ingredients, all of which, surprisingly, were in my pantry. I took the sticky dough and formed it into two carefully shaped logs. I was about to put them in the preheated oven when the guardian angel in charge of food preparation landed on my shoulder and said, “You forgot to put in the chocolate chips, Stupid.” Who knew angels used such hurtful language?

So here was my conundrum. The logs were beautiful, glistening with chocolaty goodness. As I saw it, these were my two choices: 1) Dismantle the logs and put the dough back in the Kitchen Aid mixer, add the chocolate chips, and re-form into new logs; or 2) Change the name from Double Chocolate Biscotti to simply Chocolate Biscotti and don’t do a damn thing…..

As you will see from the photo, I chose the former solution. I just could picture Bill’s face when he bit into a soft chocolate chip in his cookie. These are doubly chocolaty delicious, he was bound to say…..

Double Chocolate Biscotti

Ingredients
1-3/4 c. plus 2 T flour, measured carefully
¼ c. plus 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
¾ t. salt
1 stick butter, at room temperature
¾ c. plus 2 T granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Process
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg and scraping bowl with a spatula. Add the vanilla. Then add the dry ingredients and chocolate chips and mix on low speed until just combined.

Dust a work surface with flour. Scrape the sticky dough out onto the work surface and dust the top of the dough to make it workable. Shape the dough into a ball and cut in half. Form each half into a log, and place on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Shape into longer logs about ¾ in. high and 2 in. wide. Allow enough space for the logs to spread a bit while they bake.

Bake for about 35 minutes, until firm to the touch. Let the biscotti logs cool on the pan for about 5 minutes. Carefully remove logs onto a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, slice the logs on the diagonal into ¾ in. slices. Don’t worry if they crumble a bit.  Put the cookies back onto the cookie sheet on their sides (cut sides down), and place back in the oven for 10 minutes to dry and harden. Cool on the pan for a few minutes; then transfer to a cooling rack until completely cool.

Little House on the Prairie

I’m an early riser. It’s unheard of for me to sleep until 7; it’s not uncommon for me to get up around 5:30. However, yesterday morning, I awoke bright and early at 4:45, and talked myself into staying in bed until 5, when I finally heard the birds awakening.

I posted my blog and then went downstairs to fix coffee and open the windows to let in the cool morning air. I was settling down for my first cup of coffee when I suddenly had a hankering for a crumb-topped muffin. I started trying to figure out where I could buy one, and then reminded myself that I have all of the necessary ingredients to make them myself.

Which is what I proceeded to do. I preheated the oven to the necessary temperature, and was just putting the crumbly topping onto my muffins when suddenly there was a click and the sound of electronic equipment sighing, and the house went dark and silent.

The electricity had gone off.

Since Bill has been doing demolition and rebuilding in the family room, it certainly wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities that he might have done something that resulted in our house losing electricity. But since he was upstairs (I had just heard the sound of him walking around and getting ready to come downstairs) I gave him a pass, figuring that the entire neighborhood was probably without power.

Thankfully, it was almost 6 by this time, and the rooms were sufficiently light, if really, really quiet.  Nevertheless, I suddenly felt like Ma Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie. Except I wasn’t worried about angry Indians or rabid wolves attacking me.

I called my next-door neighbor to confirm that it was the entire neighborhood that was part of the powerless prairie. Doesn’t it just feel weird, she asked me. And it did. She had called the power company and was told that the power would be back on by 9:30 at the latest.

The first thing I did upon hanging up was to save the coffee by putting it in a thermos pot. (That’s kind of Little House on the Prairie-ish, don’t you think?) But if you have coffee, you can handle almost everything. This theory was born out when I heard a knock on my door a bit later and our neighbor from across the street had awakened to no electricity. And I don’t even have a cup of coffee, she whined. Our coffee was gone by that time, so I commiserated and she returned to her powerless house empty-handed.

You don’t really understand just how much we rely upon electricity. Bill was forced to read the junk notices we had put into our recycling bin the night before for entertainment since he reads all his news from the internet on his iPad. I kept promising things I couldn’t actually produce. How about a piece of toast with peanut butter, I asked. Except then I realized my toaster won’t work. Maybe I could drive over and get some bagels for breakfast, I said. Except then I remembered that our garage door is electric.

Actually, Bill was able to release some sort of lever or other and get our garage door to open manually, which was good because he had someplace he had to be at 8 o’clock. Pa Ingalls would have just taken the donkey cart. Even though I had no place to go, it made me feel better. At least I could go get some toilet paper if necessary. One always feels the need to buy toilet paper in an emergency. That’s why it’s the first thing to go when blizzard-shopping.

The electricity finally popped back on around 9:15. The first thing I did was to preheat my oven once again and bake some crumb muffins. They were even better for having to wait. And I again appreciated my 21st century conveniences.

Crumb Cake Muffins

Ingredients
1-1/2 c. flour
½ c. brown sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
¼ t. salt
¾ c. milk
1/3 c. canola oil
2 eggs

Crumb Topping
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 t. cinnamon
¼ t. salt
½ c. butter, melted
1-1/2 c. flour

Process
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners, or spray with cooking spray.

Make crumb topping: Combine sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Slowly pour in melted butter and mix. Add flour and stir until moist. Spread on plate or parchment paper to dry.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. In another large bowl or measuring cup, mix milk, canola oil, and egg. Pour wet mixture over dry ingredients and stir until moist.

Fill muffin tins and top with crumb topping. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Noodles

A couple of weeks ago when our family was visiting us in AZ, we were eating at our favorite pizza restaurant here in the Valley of the Sun. As we ate, I asked a variation of the age-old question: If you were eating your very last meal, what would you have?

I learned several interesting things from that question. The first thing I learned is that if you’re going to try to ascertain the answer to that question from an 11-year-old boy, you’d better phrase the question carefully. I unfortunately worded it as such: Hey Alastair, if you were on death row and they were bringing in your last meal, what would you have ordered? Okay, okay; I admit that perhaps you shouldn’t ask a child any questions that relate to Death Row. Lesson learned. Because Alastair – who loves good food – couldn’t be pinned down to the food part and instead concentrated fully on the Death Row part. Despite my pressing him further and further, his answers continued to be along the lines of a cake with a file in it, or a piece of sausage in the shape of a key.

But the other interesting piece of information I learned, particularly once I rephrased the question to be if you were on a desert island and could only eat one thing, what would it be?, was that my daughter-in-law Jll chose lasagna.

I thought about that conversation the other night when I cooked dinner for my sister Jen – who had arrived that day for a week’s visit – and her daughter Maggie and the family. I had texted the dinner invitation to Maggie earlier in the day, and didn’t know technology could work that fast when her response of YES! came almost before I set down my phone. Such is the life of a mother of two, including a very busy 3-year-old, as she prepares for the arrival of her own mother.  I had some of my red sauce in the freezer, so making lasagna was going to be simple. Or at least as simple as making lasagna can be.

As we sat and ate our lasagna, Caesar salad, and French bread, we learned that Maggie’s husband Mark would also choose lasagna as his last meal. Funny, that. I like lasagna, but who would choose lasagna when you could choose a wonderfully dry and ice-cold Tanqueray martini, a perfectly-cooked bone-in ribeye steak with a dollop of herb and garlic butter, a crisp salad with a mixture of homemade Roquefort cheese dressing and the homemade Italian dressing made by my favorite childhood restaurant Husker House, and crème brulee with that crackly burnt-sugar topping?

As a result of Mark’s proclamation, much of our conversation at dinner that night revolved around making lasagna. I created a bit of a controversy when I admitted that while I liked lasagna, I found it a pain in the booty to make.

Maggie was astounded. She doesn’t share my sentiment. But let me be clear. The most troublesome thing for me when it comes to lasagna is the noodles. Cooking lasagna noodles is flat-out messy. Dripping water, noodles splashing back into the cooking water as you try to retrieve them, noodles sticking together. All-around messiness.

Maggie, however, uses the lasagna noodles that cook as your lasagna bakes. I’m all for convenience, but I fear that any kind of pasta that you put uncooked into a dish soaks up too much of the liquid as it cooks. So despite the ease, I continue to cook my noodles before I begin the layering process.

I will admit that I like my lasagna very much. I use a meat sauce from my favorite Italian chef, Lidia Bastianich. It involves using pork neck bones, which result in the most flavorful sauce imaginable. Of course, no matter how careful I am, a few little bones will make it into the sauce. But the best part of using neck bones is that after a couple of hours, you remove them to cool. I, however, begin nibbling on them almost immediately, always burning my fingers in the process. Lidia’s sauce also involves ground pork and ground beef, so the flavor is delightful. Don’t tell Lidia, but sometimes I substitute Italian sausage for the ground pork. The sauce cooks for a couple of hours, making the house smell like an Italian home on Sunday. It’s pure heaven.

Here is a link to Lidia’s sauce, though it doesn’t come from her website. As for the lasagna, just like dressing for Colorado springtime weather, it’s all about layering.

Include as many layers as your pan will hold, and then eventually this happens…..

And maybe that is worth a last meal.