Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve Dinner 2012 (Re-posted)

Tonight is Christmas eve and I am making my traditional Christmas eve dinner of lasagna along with fresh green beans w/ toasted almonds and diced red bell peppers to make sure we get our annual dose of red & green.  I prepared my lasagna last night because the homemade meat sauce I make takes a couple of hours to cook.  I used both hot Italian chicken sausage and ground sirloin in my meat sauce.  I made 2 casseroles of lasagna; one with traditional noodles as well as one using zucchini noodles instead of wheat for me and anyone else that wants it.  The only difference between the two lasagnas is the noodles (one with wheat and one with zucchini) -- everything else is exactly the same.  I also baked some cookie bars and picked up some chocolate cheesecake for the rest of the family.  For myself, I made some small individual no-bake cheesecakes using Swerve Sweetener (instead of sugar) and put them in lightly baked hazelnut cinnamon crusts that I made.  I bought some beautiful fresh raspberries that I sweetened with a little Truvia to top the little cheesecakes with.   Unfortunately, I lost about 8 days of holiday preparation while being down sick with the flu this past week, but I worked extra hard these last couple of days trying to make up for lost time.  This is the first real meal that I have prepared and will eat since the flu struck over a week ago.  Christmas is one of my absolute favorite holidays.  I love the decorations, the cooking, the gift giving...but most of all I love having my family around and being able to just sit back and relax and enjoy each other.  I am happy to be back here posting again too!  I want to wish all of you the Merriest Christmas and most joyous holiday season.  I am truly blessed...sometimes more than I probably deserve to have health, happiness and my family and friends.  May there be peace, love and joy throughout the world.  I've posted the lasagna recipe as well as a few photos.  Enjoy!

World’s So Much Better than Best Lasagna


1 pound Italian sausage (use sweet, mild or hot depending on preference)
1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup finely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-oz can) crushed tomatoes
1 (12-oz can) tomato paste
1 (15-oz can) tomato sauce
1/2 cup water (or dry red wine)
1 tablespoon sugar or Truvia, optional
1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced (or substitute 1-1/2 teaspoons dried basil)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 boxes Barilla no boil lasagna noodles (extra to accommodate your pan size)
   OR 6-8 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4” slices, baked until done
1 16-oz bag fresh spinach, wilted and coarsely chopped (can use frozen)
2 pounds ricotta cheese (2 16-oz containers)
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
1 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced in 1/4-inch slices
1 cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (or Parmesan cheese)
Extra fresh parsley and fresh basil for garnishing, optional


1.    In a Dutch oven, remove sausage casings and brown sausage and ground beef; add onion, and garlic and continue to cook over medium heat until meat is well browned and onion and garlic are tender. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water (or optional red wine).   Add: optional sugar or Truvia, basil (fresh or dried), fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and 2 tablespoons fresh parsley.  Bring to a slow boil, and simmer on low, covered, for approximately 1-1/2 hours to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  (If preferred, sauce can also be cooked in crockpot on low for 4-8 hours).

2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with eggs, remaining 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, and optional 1/2 teaspoon salt.

3.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly spray baking dish or pan with cooking spray or oil.  While you can use a 9x13 inch baking dish, it is likely to bubble over because it isn’t quite deep enough to hold all the ingredients.  I actually use a 3-inch deep lasagna baking dish that I bought just for making lasagna.  You could also use a stainless steel roasting pan that is approximately 9x13, but much deeper than a traditional 9x13 glass casserole dish.  (Either of these might work better and spare you extra time cleaning out your oven)!
4.  To assemble the lasagna, see the easy to follow layering order below:

§      Spread 1-1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of your baking dish or pan;
§      Arrange 1 layer of noodles lengthwise over the meat sauce (approximately  
     6-8 noodles or zucchini noodles), slightly overlapping depending on the size  
     of pan/dish);
§      Layer with half of the ricotta cheese mixture;
§     Top with a third of the shredded mozzarella cheese;
§     Spread half of the fresh mozzarella slices next, breaking them up
     with your fingers as you spread them out and scatter;
§      Scatter all of the squeezed and well drained spinach next (make sure   
                     excess liquid is squeezed out so it doesn’t make the lasagna soggy);
§   Spoon another 1-1/2 cups meat sauce on top of the ricotta, mozzarella and spinach and spread out;

§      Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.   

     Next, repeat layers as follows
a)    Noodle layer (6-8 noodles or zucchini noodles, overlapped slightly);
b)    Layer with remaining half of the ricotta cheese mixture;
c)    Top with another third of the shredded mozzarella cheese;
d)    Spread/scatter remaining half of the fresh mozzarella slices (breaking up
with your fingers as you spread);
e)    Spoon another 1-1/2 cups of meat sauce over the ricotta/mozzarella layer;
f)     Add final noodle layer (6-8 noodles or zucchini noodles, overlapped slightly);
g)    Spoon 1 cup of sauce on top of noodles; spread to cover noodles;
h) Top with the remaining third of the shredded mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

5.  Cover lasagna with parchment paper and foil to prevent sticking (either spray foil with cooking spray, or use Reynolds non-stick foil).

6.  Bake covered in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35 minutes. Remove foil and parchment paper, and bake an additional 25-30 minutes or until heated through and lightly golden brown and bubbly.  Cool for at least 20-30 minutes before serving to allow cheeses to set before cutting.

*Optional: Sprinkle with fresh parsley and fresh basil to garnish before serving.


Loretta said...

do you have the nutrition info posted somewhere? as in carb counts. Thanks and Merry Christmas.


Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Hi Loretta! I actually don't have the carb counts posted. I may try to do that in my upcoming posts. I do follow the Wheat Belly list of acceptable foods in all of my recipes though. In the beginning I counted my carbs to make sure I was keeping them at 50 or less per day. Here are links to a couple of free online carb counters: http://www.carbohydrate-counter.org/
I hope these help! Merry Christmas to you too! :-)

Christina said...

No meat sauce should have sugar in it. To cut the bitterness of the tomatoes simply cook it longer (it should go from bright red to more of a burgundy color). We usually cook our sauce on low for 24+ hours.

Also, it tastes better if you make meat balls (seared on outside, not cooked on inside, then cooked in the sauce) this brings in the flavor better. So they layers become sauce | noodles | sauce, meat, mozzarella, dabs of ricotta (no egg...put eggs in the meat balls), repeat. We usually get 3-4 layers of noodles in.

Spices should be onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, basil, salt and pepper (mom uses white). Of course, we don't use sausage either, just meat balls. Oh and cheese - you need parmesan cheese in the sauce and meatballs...because there isn't enough cheese in a lasagna :-)

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Hi Christina -- your lasagna sounds delicious too! :-)

Heidi said...

The recipe sounds delicious! I just started a wheat-free cooking and I have a quick question about this recipe. Do you cook the zucchini slices before assembling the lasagna? Any tips? Thanks!

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Hi Heidi! Sorry, I just saw your message. Yes, you do cook the zucchini slices ahead of time -- either grilled or baked (after brushing with olive oil and seasoning with salt & pepper). Let me link another zucchini lasagna recipe that I have made where it gives a little more detail about the zucchini prep and it's a quicker recipe too. If you bake the sliced zucchini instead of grill it, bake it at about 375-400 degrees just until tender. http://www.gourmetgirlcooks.com/2012/08/grilled-zucchini-lasagnaquick-and-easy.html

Gourmet Girl Cooks said...

Heidi -- here is another zucchini lasagna link as well where you can see what it looks like cut (this blog post has a link where I give you a step by step pictorial at putting it together at the bottom of the post under the last picture). http://www.gourmetgirlcooks.com/2012/07/wednesday-nights-awesome-leftover.html