Thursday, January 9, 2014

Need Inspiration to Cook? Visit the Wine Country

If you haven’t had a chance to get to the wine country in Northern California, you must make arrangements to go sometime. This picture was taken a couple of months ago in the town of Yountville. I have had to make weekly visits there to visit my dad since May and I usually try to slip away for a special lunch or dinner while I’m in the area. I’ll treat myself to a nice bowl of soup or fried calamari at Bistro Don Giovanni, or sometimes enjoy a warm dish of mozzarella and
crostinis at Tra Vigne Restaurant

 in St Helena

I feel fortunate that I live only an hour away from “Dadio” as I so fondly call him. It’s nice to be able to see him whenever I’m able to carve out time in my week for a leisurely drive to the wine country. The grape vines off Highway 29 are glorious and there are frequent wineries to stop off at along the way. I especially love the Silverado Trail where you will find my brother’s favorite winery Rombauer, and many more. 

Dad was diagnosed with dementia and has been moved to a higher level care facility at the Veterans Home. The nurses there are warm and caring and they know how to help the families cope with their loved ones and their illnesses. It’s been an ordeal knowing that dad is on the path of possibly deteriorating. I realize that my parents are aging and it can be a bit much, but I try to take it all in and soak up the time that I have with them.
After all, Sonoma County is one of the best destinations in Northern California. I’m so lucky live here and relish in the good food and wine that nature has to offer us.

Having lunch at one of these fine restaurants always gets me inspired to cook. I love to have a hot meal waiting for my husband when he comes home from a long day at work.  Today’s challenge was to make a dinner without going to the store. It was time to clean out the freezer anyway, so I dared to use what I had.
I am guilty of taking leftovers and saving them in Tupperware for another night’s meal. Today, I searched those containers for anything that I could put in a marinara sauce. I found leftover ragu meat sauce, tomato paste, and whole organic heirloom tomatoes that I had picked from my garden in the summer.
I took the frozen tomatoes and roasted them with olive oil, salt and pepper on a sheet pan in a 400 degree oven for @ 30 minutes until they were juicy and caramelized. I then put them into the blender in small batches and pureed them. After that, I strained them through a sieve removing the bitter seeds and skins and added them to my leftover sauces in a large pot. I boiled the sauce adding salt, Madeira, dried herbs, and a tablespoon of brown sugar to cut the acid. Soon enough the sauce was cooked down and thick enough to make my lasagne.
I usually use mozzarella, and Jack or cheddar cheese, but since I only had a slab of Parmesan (shredded in my Cuisinart) and canned Parmesan, I used that instead. I also added an egg, parsley, and a cup of Trader Giotto’s Grated Parmesan and Romano to the ricotta mixture. I assembled the casserole by spraying a 13X9 casserole dish with a cooking spray, Spreading @ a cup of the marinara sauce into the bottom of the dish, and layering with no bake lasagne noodles, ricotta, more noodles, sauce, and repeating. I like to make sure that the noodles are covered in sauce and more cheese is sprinkled on top. I place a piece of parchment on top along with a long piece of aluminum foil and bake covered for 50 minutes at 400 degrees, removing the covering in the last 10 minutes.
The result? A delicious and hearty lasagne that filled my home with the aroma of Italy. My husband Ken was a happy boy knowing I had saved money and time by making dinner without having to go to the store and by cleaning out the freezer.
Try taking your frozen leftovers and elevating them with this easy recipe. You’ll be glad you did.