It’s brilliant when an idea works, when someone tries something and it comes together so well.
For the sake of my ego, I’d like to label myself as an “Ideas Man”. Someone who thinks up fresh takes on products, tools, lifestyles and writing.
I’m also someone with a bad habit of not following these through. Ideas for iPhone apps, fictional writing, thoughts which had potential but never got worked on. It’s a sort of counter-action within myself. A need to think up solutions to issues, but never knowing how or trying to put them into action. An element of Sisyphus, permanently rolling the idea up the hill, only for it to fall back down that moment of productive action.
So, when an idea works. There is a joy to be held. A satisfaction. When it is an idea for someone else, when they pick up on it and turn it into something beautiful, it feels simply wonderful.
This happened recently.
One of my oldest and dearest friends is a food obsessive. The last time I saw her, I pushed and pushed for her to write her ideas down. I wanted her to write a blog and to tell the world about her adventures with food.
She wasn’t convinced, and she didn’t seem keen. Since that point though, things have changed. We no longer communicate due to forces outside our control. I miss her constantly, but I understand and approve of her reason for saying goodbye. There were reasons, and these were accepted for a greater good.
Since we stopped talking though, something magnificent has happened. That blog has developed, and in ways I never could’ve expected. She’s bought an actual web address, she’s set up a Facebook page, she’s written some wonderful receipes and stories which leave you drooling and desperate to try them yourself.
She’s written something she should be proud of, and I hope she continues to work on it.
When ideas pay off, they pay off big time.
Here then, is my favourite piece she’s created so far. I hope you enjoy Meals with Mel. I know I do.
As the French would say, Bon appetit!
This past week I have been on an adventure making homemade pasta dough. One of the first pasta dishes I made this week was my take on Northern Italian Lasagna. This is a béchamel base lasagna is packed full of sautéed spinach, chicken, pesto, and all topped off with a nice cheesy crust.
The lasagna filling is a beautiful pale green color because of the spinach and the pesto. Since my sister was coming over for dinner and she attended the University Of North Texas, “The Mean Green” I decided to name this lasagna for her. This lasagna was not complicated to make, but there are several steps and if you decided to make your own pasta noodles you can add 3 more steps to that, but the dried Barilla No Boil Lasagna noodles work great. This lasagna is also a great way to use up any leftover grilled chicken you might have from a previous meal, just add the grilled chicken in place of the rotisserie chicken, you will need about 3½ cups of chicken.
Making lasagna can be a process sometimes but at the end of the day the aroma that fills your house makes it worth every step. The best part about making lasagna is not only does it feed a crowd, but lasagna can be assembled 1-2 days in advance and sit in the refrigerator then baked right before people arrive. Hope you enjoy! Go Mean Green!
Mel’s “Mean Green” Chicken Florentine Lasagna
2 boxes Barilla no boil Lasagna noodles or fresh pasta noodles
1 rotisserie chicken shredded; or 3½ cups leftover grilled chicken chopped.
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups warm whole milk
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cups fresh pesto** recipe follows
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 small red onion finely diced
2 cloves of garlic
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 cups baby spinach roughly chopped
1½ cups fresh grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 cups fresh grated mozzarella
Step 1: Make the Pesto
3 cups fresh sweet Italian Basil leaves
1 cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
3 cloves of garlic
1 cup fresh grated parmigiano reggiano
½ cup toasted pine nuts
1 lemon (the zest and juice)
2 pinches of red pepper flakes
½ of good quality extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a food processor fitted with a steel blade add the garlic cloves and pulse 4 times. Then add in your basil, parsley, red pepper flakes, lemon zest and juice and pulse another 5 times. Next add in the parmigiano reggiano cheese and the toasted pine nuts and pulse another 5 times. Last with the machine running slowly stream in the olive oil until well incorporated. Salt and pepper to taste.
Put the pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Step 2: Make the Béchamel Sauce
Warm the 3 cups of milk in the microwave for 2 minutes.
In a large heavy bottom pot melt the 4 tablespoons of butter on medium heat. Add one whole clove of garlic (smashed with the back of your knife) to the melting butter. When the butter has completely melted take out the garlic clove and add the 4 tablespoons of flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is lightly browned (about 2 minutes). Slowly add in the warmed milk, whisking constantly, and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on low.
Step 3: The Filling
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and add in the finely diced onion, red pepper flakes, one clove of chopped garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Once the onion has softened, about 5 minutes, add in the roughly chopped spinach and cook down for another 5 minutes. Then add the spinach and onion mixture to the béchamel sauce along with the shredded chickenand 1/3 cup of the fresh made pesto and give it a good stir to make sure everything is well combined. Take off the heat.
Step 4: Assembly
If you are going to bake this immediately then pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Butter a 9×13-baking pan. Add 2 large ladles full of the béchamel mixture to the bottom of the 9×13 pan then cover with the lasagna noodles. Add another layer of the béchamel mixture, a little of the grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, and cover with another layer of noodles. Repeat this step until you are out of noodles, ending the final layer with the béchamel sauce and the remaining parmigiano reggiano cheese. Then top with the fresh grated mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes until bubbly, then take the foil off and bake another 15 minutes, finally bake under the broiler for 5 minutes to get a nice crust on top. Let the lasagna rest for about 5 minutes after you take it out of the oven.
Serve with a Green salad, a nice crisp Pinot Grigio, and Good Friends.