Delicious and cozy comfort foods are customizable for busy evenings
Homemade food is great, but take shortcuts when you need to
Homemade lasagna always sounds like a great idea until it comes time to make it. So when my family gets the craving for lasagna, I’m usually guilty of just popping a frozen one in the oven because, let’s face it, it’s just easier.
Consequently, my kids now prefer the frozen version over any homemade recipes I’ve tried or tweaked, which is a little hard to admit to myself as a chef. I pick my battles carefully, and this has been an easy one to give up. Thankfully, after a few years of experimenting, my sister had an excellent recipe for lasagna that I’ve adapted to a stovetop version. Although Dutch Oven lasagna doesn’t cook any faster, it uses fewer dishes, and that’s a win in my book!
You can adapt this recipe to meet your family’s dietary needs by using gluten-free lasagna sheets or by using sautéed mushrooms or roasted chopped seasonal veggies in place of the meat. Many times, I replace half of my meat with finely chopped sautéed mushrooms because it blends in perfectly, and gets some incognito veggies into the dish.
While this sauce is on the quick and easy side, we all run out of prep time during the week occasionally. For those times, feel free to swap the homemade sauce for your favorite jarred pasta sauce. Truth be told, I use each version equally. Sometimes life is just busy! There have been days I made it as far as the sauce, but lost energy to finish because I’m putting out “child-fires”, so I order takeout instead. Rather than dwelling on what I didn’t accomplish today, I try to look at it as meal prep for tomorrow!
Another winter staple in our house is a good creamy winter soup. This recipe for Creamy Vegetable Gnocchi Soup is seriously good, and it can easily be made gluten-free and even dairy-free, so everyone can enjoy it.
Gluten-free gnocchi is easy to find, whether online by the case or in the pasta aisle of certain local grocers. To make the soup dairy-free, I substitute unsweetened almond milk for the dairy milk and use almond whipping cream in place of the heavy cream. You will not sacrifice the creaminess, I promise you. The soup only calls for onions, celery and carrots, but feel free to add in any vegetables you like.
To go alongside the soup or the lasagna, my youngest son likes to help me make garlic knots. Admittedly, garlic knots are what I use to bribe him to the table 90% of the time. You can’t really make them wrong, so it’s a fun way to get your kids cooking with you to teach them their way around the kitchen. My recipe is simple, starting with frozen bread dough that is thawed. Each loaf is cut into 10 pieces, rolled out, and then tied into a knot. Tuck the ends underneath then leave them to rise for 30 minutes.
While the dough is rising, make stove top melted garlic butter to use to baste the rolls before and after baking. Basting the rolls twice will ensure that they soak up all of that deliciousness and stay nice and tender. They are sure to be a crowd-pleaser!
Dutch Oven Lasagna
(Note: This recipe calls for a 7-quart dutch oven.)
- 1 ½ 9-ounce packages of oven-ready lasagna noodles
- 1 pound Italian sausage
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 medium yellow onions, diced small
- 6 cloves garlic, fresh minced
- ½ cup dry red wine or water
- 28 ounces of crushed tomatoes
- 1 15-can tomato sauce
- 2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
- ¼ cup white sugar
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- 8 ounces cottage cheese
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
- ¼ cup fresh chopped basil leaves
- 1 pound mozzarella cheese, fresh sliced
- 3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1.5 cups grated parmesan cheese
In a 7-quart dutch oven, brown the beef and sausage until cooked through. Add onions and garlic and cook until translucent. Add wine, tomatoes, sugar, Italian seasoning, dried basil, fennel seed, salt, and pepper. Stir until evenly combined, reduce heat to low. Let simmer, covered, for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. Remove from the dutch oven and place in a large heat-proof mixing bowl.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, fresh parsley, and fresh basil. Set aside. Dice the fresh mozzarella into ½ inch pieces. Set aside.
With the Dutch oven over medium-low heat, place 2 cups of sauce in the bottom of the dutch oven. Cover with lasagna noodles, breaking noodles as needed to fit the shape of your dutch oven. Cover with an additional 1 ½ cups of meat sauce. Spread ⅓ of the ricotta mixture over the top of the sauce. Top with ¼ cup of the mozzarella cheeses and parmesan. Repeat the layers 3 more times.
The layers will go as follows: Meat sauce, noodles, meat sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, noodles, meat sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, noodles, meat sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, noodles, meat sauce, mozzarella, parmesan.
Place the lid on the top of the dutch oven, reduce heat to low, and let simmer on your stovetop for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the noodles are cooked through. If you want to brown the cheese on the top, you can place the uncovered dutch oven under the broiler of your oven for a few minutes. Let rest for 20-30 minutes before serving.
Creamy Vegetable Gnocchi Soup
(Note: This recipe calls for a 4-quart dutch oven.)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 ½ cups shredded carrots
- 1 ½ cups diced celery
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- ½ cup flour
- 32 ounces vegetable broth
- 2 cups milk
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
- ½ teaspoons dried thyme
- ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 pound gnocchi
- 2 cup chopped fresh kale (deribbed) or fresh spinach, chopped
In a dutch oven over medium heat, melt butter and olive oil. Add vegetables and cook until tender. Sprinkle with flour, stir and let cook for an additional 5 minutes or until the raw flour smell turns to a slightly nutty, more cooked smell. Slowly whisk in the vegetable broth, milk, and cream. Season the soup with rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. Add gnocchi. Bring to a near boil and reduce heat to low. Let simmer until the gnocchi is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally during the cooking. Add the kale/spinach and let cook for an additional 2-3 minutes before serving.
- 1 loaf (1 pound) frozen bread dough, thawed
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 5 cloves garlic, fresh minced
Spray a baking sheet with pan spray. Place the dough onto a cutting board and cut the loaf in half. Then cut each half into 5 equal slices. To form the knots, roll each piece into a 10-inch rope. Tie the rope into a knot and place the knot onto the prepared baking sheet, tucking the ends of the knot underneath. Place the rolls 2 inches apart to allow for rising. Cover with sprayed plastic film, and place in a warm place. Let the rolls rise for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a small saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and let cook for 2 minutes. Turn the heat off and set aside.
After the rolls have risen, brush them heavily with garlic butter. Bake the rolls for 20-24 minutes or just until the tops have started to turn golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and brush with remaining garlic butter.
Makes 10 garlic knots