The proof of the lasagne

lasagne-top-layer

Lasagne was the first dish I was asked for my recipe for. Which is funny as I never followed any recipe when making lasagne. My way of making lasagne may have evolved over the course of time but it always consists in double meat and vegetable-tomato layers with home-made bechamel and cheesy top.

I remember the first lasagne I had. We were invited for a Sunday dinner to my mum’s friend, who used to spend her summer holidays in rustic Italy. Along with some sunny memories she brought home the lasagne recipe to share with us. Once the lasagne was out from the oven and on the table we all got a squarish piece, and, I must admit, I was a bit disappointed with the size and thought it looked more like a starter than the main course. Little did I know how reach and filling each bite is. By the time we finished we were all so full no one was able to have a second helping.

Later on my mother recreated the recipe and lasagne made it into our regular menu, in fact it became one of our signature dishes. It was proven to wow, sure to please and easy to share so no wonder I fed it to my boyfriends, served it at friends get-togethers and made it for family occasions – all with great success and much love and praise.

I cannot think of a more shareable dish. When you bring it to the table, cut it into even-ish pieces, share around and enjoy. But also when you prepare the dish. Because it is quite time consuming and involves many pots and pans the more people are helping the better. Slicing vegetables. Grating cheese. Stirring bechamel. Arranging layers. There’s a task for everyone.

Below is my original lasagne recipe that I gave to a friend many years ago. lasagne-top-layerLASAGNE

Serves 6-8 

Preparation time:  approx. 1 h 15 (depending on the number of helpers)

Baking time: approx. 40 min

Ingredients:

*makes a tin of 27 cm x 18 cm of  5 layers of pasta sheets

1 packet of lasagne sheets (I tend to choose the Italian brands and shake it slightly to see if the sheets aren’t broken. To play it save get an extra packet.)

300 g grated cheese (I prefer grated mozzarella as it’s light and not as greasy but any cheesy leftovers from the fridge could be used as well.)

Vegetable-tomato sauce layer:

2 tins of tomatoes – either pelato or chopped or both

a selection of seasonal vegetables – 300 g – courgette, aubergine, peppers, green beans, mushrooms

2 gloves of garlic

1 tbs of olive oil

salt and pepper to season

Meat layer:

500 g minced meat

1-2  onions roughly chopped

a small bunch of fresh basil leaves or 3 tsp of dried basil

2-3 tsp of dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

Bechamel sauce:

1 and 1/2 cup of milk

75 g butter

3-4 tbs flour

4-5 tbs grated cheese (from the 300 g)

a pinch of grated nutmag

salt and pepper to taste

lasagne-ingredients

Meat layer:

On a large frying pan heat a small lug of olive oil. Add chopped onion and cook until golden and soft. Add the mince meat and break it down with a fork. Cook until brown. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer while you get on with the other sauce. At the end add the herbs, mix, turn off the heat and keep covered and warm.

Vegetable-tomato sauce:

Wash the vegetables and chop into 1-2 cm cubes or stripes. In a medium pot (big enough to add 2 tins of tomatoes) heat a lug of olive oil, add the chopped vegetables and gently saute until they soften. Add tinned tomatoes (pour some water to your empty can, swirl around and add to the sauce as well). Season with crashed garlic, salt and pepper and leave to simmer for about 15 minutes.

Bechamel sauce:

In a small pot get your bechamel sauce ready. On a low heat melt the butter, add the flour and keep stirring until you have a smooth paste. Add warm milk and keep stirring (before I learnt the proper way to make bechamel I used to make it the other way round i.e. adding milk first and then the flour and it worked as well). Keep stirring for about 5 minutes. The roux will eventually thicken- you can add more milk or more flour if you think it’s needed. Season with salt and pepper. Grate some nutmeg. Add 1/3 of the packet of the grated cheese and stir until it melts completely. Turn off the heat.

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 °C.
  2. In a wide shallow pan boil some water and pre-cook your lasagne sheets. Depending on the pot you should do 3-5 at once. After a minute or so remove them – they should get slightly softer, lighter and bigger.
  3. Grease you ovenproof dish (square or rectangular) with a bit of olive oil and arrange the first layer of the pasta sheets. Cut them as needed to fit the baking tray (mine takes 4 full sheets and 1.5 broken into pieces).
  4. On the first layer spread 1/2 of the minced meat.
  5. Pour 1/3 of the bechamel sauce over the meat.
  6. Add another layer of the pasta sheets. Press the pasta so that it soaks the sauce underneath.
  7. On the second layer spread 1/2 of the vegetable-tomato sauce.
  8. Repeat and arrange the third layer with meat and the fourth layer with the vegetables.
  9. Cover with the last layer of the pasta sheets. Pour the remaining 1/3 of bechamel and sprinkle the grated cheese. Decorate with a few slices of tomato if you like.

Place in the oven and bake on the middle shelf for approx. 30-40 minutes. You want to cheesy top layer turn into golden-brownish crust. Once out of the oven leave to rest for 10-15 minutes and they proudly take to the table. lasagne-sliceShare and enjoy.

x

Sonia

What Lucky did

sheepdog-puppy-growing-up

Lucky arrived in our lives 6 months ago quite unexpectedly and brought the whole range of unplanned events and new challenges. But it’s good he stayed for good. As it’s been a while since the last pupdate it’s high time Lucky got some well deserved attention on the blog. Actually, I will let him tell the story through the pictures.sheepdog-puppy-growing-up

 

This is the story of Lucky. The puppy with an attitude.

On the chase

A bird, a butterfly, a ball, a bauble – Lucky runs after. He used to chase cars and cyclists too but, what we are very proud of, we managed to train him out of it.

doggy-running-in-high-grass
“Run Lucky, run”
dog-running-through-hills
“Over the moors and through the hills, here I come”
dog and baubles
“I’ll get you, you bubble”
Wet and happy

If there’s water nearby, Lucky will find it. Will jump into it. And will get you wet.

wet-dog
“Who let the dog out of water?”
doggy-on-the-beach
“Is it really home time already?”
dog-shaking-dry
“brrrrr”
dog-swimming
“Just keep swimming.”
Inside out?

Indoors, Lucky enjoys simple dog’s life pleasures of chewing, rummaging bedroom bins, and hunting shadows. In return for his cosy home he guards the neighbourhood and wholeheartedly barks at all strangers.

dog-looking-through-window
“Hello. It’s me.”
dog-in-basket
“What you mean it’s not MY basket?”
doggy-on-the-floor
“Oh, come on. You pull, I pull, we all have fun.”
doggy-and-balloon
“A ball and a stick. Now, that’s a real deal.”
Out and about

Lucky loves his walks. Lucky loves days out even more. He went camping, he climbed mountains, he walked around the lakes and ran at the beach. And if you think he would be tired at the end of the day, well, he isn’t.

dog-camping
“I will guard this tent till I fall asleep.”
dog-on-walk
“I did mud, I did puddles, I did high grass – how else can I get dirty?”
dog-on-mountain-edge
“Three dogs accompanied by two humans on eleven.”
dog-in-woods
“I think I saw a squirrel.”
dog-looking-at-horizon
“Sometimes even a puppy feels so small looking at the sea.”
Puppy’s eyes

Lucky’s perfected the “it wasn’t me” look. Who ate from cat’s bowl? Who dag a 1 foot deep hole in the garden? Who upcycled a blanket into a poncho?

snuggly-dog
“It wasn’t me.”
dog-with-bone
“It  wasn’t me.”
puppys eyes
“It  wasn’t me.”

From 2 to 14 kg and from 2 to 8 months. Our puppy is now a teenager. I am sure there are more adventures and more challenges in store.

To be continued …

x

Sonia (with a bit of help from Natasha and a bite of help from Lucky)

Keep walking

walk-on-the-beach

I am a walker. I have always enjoyed walks in the open air, just looking around, noticing things and sharing the reflections with your companion. Since I was a little girl I walked a lot. First, with my grandfather who taught me to take time and see the beauty of the little things. Then with my dog, that wagged his tail ever so excitedly to go for a walk and came back completely mucky but as content as could be. As a teenager, I ditched buses and decided to walk to school in the morning. Rather than waiting at the bus stop and squeezing on a crowded bus I marched rain, shine or snow. And the best part is it didn’t take any longer to walk and I arrived there on time and with a fresh mind. Fast forward a few, or more, years, and I discovered the joy of lunch walks. A few office girls slipping off high heels and swapping for trainers under the desk at 1pm. We walked along the seaside, getting the salty breeze, catching up on gossips, chatting about girlie stuff and somehow making real friends on the way.

Sunday walks

I do not remember exactly how and when the Sunday walks started but they became a regular feature each weekend. We would go places near and far. As we lived near the mountains we hiked a lot but also depending on the weather and season went to the lakes or into the woods or sightseeing. We never stopped Sunday walks. They are still a regular feature and to me they are one of the most binding family moments. Living in Ireland gives us places and landscapes galore. We climb the mountains overlooking the sea. We walk on steep cliffs and sandy beaches. We wander through the parks that are the size of a nature reserve. And while we walk we talk.

walk-with-the-dog-at-the-lake

Walking and talking

Apparently when you want to talk to a man you should take him for a walk. Is it the fact that they are physically involved or is it the fact they are not confined in one place in front of one person, I do not know. What I do know though is that the best conversations I have with my husband happen when we walk. We talk about plans and ideas, we tell stories, we have discussions, we laugh.

An excuse to go out

I must admit I do not like to walk alone. I need a companion. I feel better walking side by side. I think if there are two or more heading off in the same direction that gives a certain purpose and sense of achievement. Or, do I simply want an excuse to motivate myself? Anyway, I wouldn’t have walked miles and miles if I didn’t have a friend by my side. A grandfather who held my hand. A baby daughter who slept sweetly in her buggy. A husband who leads the way. A dog who wanders off yet always stays close.

Getting there and getting dirty

I must admit that now that we have a dog again we go out for walks much more often. We discover new places – like a car cemetery or secret garden. Sometimes we take shortcuts and sometimes we do not get where we planned. And always our dog, Lucky, gets dirty. And often, the children get dirty. But then, isn’t it true that

a dirty dog is a happy dog.

And similarly a dirty child is a happy child. So don’t look down on them, look around and keep walking.

walk-on-the-beach
Seaside walk reflections

x

Sonia

This post was inspired by the reflection photo challenge on Daily Post WordPress. What are your reflections on walking?

Of pears

pears-falling-from-basket

When I was a little girl I spent most of my summer days at my grandparents’ house. It was an old house painted pink with lots of space for playing. It had a stone stair hall connecting the two floors and leading from the basement entrance all the way up to the attic. The huge basement was used for storing coal, potatoes and a whole array of homemade preserves – gooseberry jam, damson jam, raspberry syrup, apple juice, green tomatoes salad, sauerkraut, pickled pears, blackcurrant wine … It was also a great hide-and-seek place with plenty of dark corners under the shelves and behind the cupboards. The specious attic was home to all forgotten and unneeded things – a pair of old wooden skis, a real size straw yule goat and my old pram. The garden was huge or so it seemed for a small girl. It had beautifully arranged flower beds to the front of the house, fruit and vegetable patches to the side and an orchard to the back. There were all sorts of trees in the orchard – plum trees, cherry trees, apple trees, a pear tree and a gracious walnut tree. I spent many tasty moments just picking the fruit from the trees. The truth was there was always enough to snack on as well as gather and make jars and jars of preserves for later.

summer-of-1941-and-1983
Zosia in summer of 1941 and 1983

One day I was picking the pears with my grandmother, Zosia. As the pears were quite high up on the tree we were using a fruit picker – a long pole with spikes and a handy bag on the top. It was great fun picking pears like that and to me it felt like an upside down fishing. We would get two or three in the bag, put the pole down, empty the bag and pull it up again. Suddenly, one of the pear missed the bag and, as Newton’s law has it, went straight down to hit my grandmother in the eye. Somehow I did not loose it and rather than crying or screaming I ran home and called for help. I picked up the phone, dialed the number for my mother’s work and as she answered I resolutely said: “Granny’s got a pear in her eye.” “What?” my mum cried in disbelief and repeated loudly so that her all office could hear, “Granny’s got a pear in the eye!” And as she heard a more-or-less full report of the events, as closely as a seven-year-old myself could tell, she decided grandma needed to go to hospital. “Granny, mummy will take you to hospital now,” I said to my grandmother. “Good,” my grandmother noted and added, “I will get ready and wash my feet.”pears-in-basket

It  all ended up well. For both granny and the pear. Granny got an eye-patch for a few days and the pear got preserved in a jar with the vinegar syrup.

Pears in vinegar syrup

1 kg of firm pears

1/2 kg sugar

1/4 l white or clear vinegar

1/4 l water

a few sticks of cinamom

a few clovespears-in-vinegar-recipe

In  a pot bring the water, vinegar, sugar and spices to boil. Peel, halve and core the pears (I left the stems on as it looks nice in a jar) and add them to the boiling syrup.  On a very low heat simmer until the pears have softened but do not overcook. Once they are soft enough, arrange them in a steamed jar with cinnamon sticks and cloves. Allow the syrup to cool down and pour it into a jar as well. pears in a jar

The pears are a perfect combination of sweet and sour and are an amazing accompaniment for a roast turkey. To me they are the taste of summer locked in a jar. Hope you enjoy that as well.

x

Sonia

Phooy Sio

There are meals that we remember till the rest of our lives.  Is it the taste, the people we share them with, the circumstances or indeed the combination of these, I am not sure, but there must be a certain sparkle that seasons the food and makes it special. One of my keepsake food is the cauliflower salad I had at the summer film festival. A few simple fresh ingredients, the smell of the nearby BBQ, the garden-party atmosphere all made it a memorable food discovery.

The recipe below tries to recreate this taste. It is one of our regular BBQ salads and not to mention one of my favourite tastes of summer.

While I absolutely adore the salad, my husband was clearly unimpressed and refused to eat it as he found the two main ingredients – cauliflower and dill simply inedible. It is also for this reason that he called the salad Phooy Sio (Polish Fuj Sio stands for Yuck Blech), the name we loved so much that we have been using it ever since. And, for the records, after all these years Maciek will now enjoy the salad too.

cauliflower BBQ salad

Cauliflower salad aka Phooy Sio

1 cauliflower

1 bunch of dill

1 cup of natural yogurt

1/2 cup of mayonnaise

1 tbs lemon juice

1 clove of garlic

salt and pepper

Rinse the cauliflower and separate into little florets cutting the stems off. Boil a pot of water and blanch the cauliflower for 3 minutes. Remove the florets onto a sieve and leave to cool down while you prepare the dressing. Mix the mayonnaise and yogurt, add the finely chopped dill, lemon juice and some crashed garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Once the cauliflower has cooled down, place in a salad bowl and mix with the dressing. Cover the bowl and put it in the fridge for at least an hour.

Enjoy as a side at your BBQ party.

x

Sonia

 

Queues, tents and all that jazz at summer festivals

I don’t know if I would ever have been to a summer film festival if it wasn’t for my friend – Magda. One day she just rang to say to pack my bags – backpack and a sleeping bag to be exact – and get on a train to Kazimierz Dolny, a picturesque town in the eastern part of Poland, now famous for its summer film festival. We were first year students craving art and adventure. As it was a spontaneous trip we have nothing prearranged and, in fairness, it did not bother us in the least. We got the train tickets at the station. We jumped off the train on this one of in-the-middle-of-nowhere stations and took the connecting bus. We got a map of the town at the tourist office and with backpacks on briskly walked to the adjacent camp site. It was full at this stage, as the festival started the day before, yet we still managed to pitch our tiny borrowed tent on a little slope just 2 meters from the Vistula river.

With all the basics sorted, we could just focus on the festival. Aw well, we still needed to get the tickets. And the key to the tickets was the queue. But for a few shows on pre-sale, most of the film tickets were on a first-come-first-serve basis. The sheer beauty of it was that we only needed to choose the show a few hours in advance and make sure to be on the queue for the right spot.

Lato Filmow Kazimierz Dolny 1999
The official poster of the 5th Summer Film Festival. Author: Krzysztof Kokoryn. http://www.kazimierzdolny.pl

So each morning started in the same way … Get up and get out of the tent. Stretch your arms, breathe in the river breeze and feel the sun on your face. Get into the queue for the shower. Now, that took a while. An hour and a half to be exact. Still, you would not miss on your daily hygiene, even if you are a student on a summer festival. So we queued.

Then, one day we had a brightest and most brilliant idea and decided to outsmart everyone and beat the morning queues. We set the alarm clocks (and I do mean the real ticking clock) for 5am – just after the sun rise, half asleep crawled out of the tent and meandered through the camp site to the wooden cabin where the showers were. On the bright side the queue was reasonably smaller and with only three other sleepy heads in front of us we got into the showers in less than a quarter. On the not so bright side the water was freezing cold and it took a lot of mental strength to talk myself into washing my hair. No need to say how very quick this early morning shower was and how great it felt to snuggle up in the sleeping bag again.

Kazimierz Famous Bakery
Image from Sarzynski Bakery – http://www.sarzynski.com.pl

And each morning continued in the same way. We went to the town centre, got some fresh artisan buns from the local and renowned bakery and sat down at the sun-splashed  town square for a coffee and a daily read of the newspaper.

LatoFilmowKazimierzDolny
In front of the cinema

The cinematic experience was extraordinary. The evening shows in the open air, the close-up meetings with the directors, producers and actors and finally the unforgettable cinema itself – small yet grand, furnished in the old wooden and stone Jewish synagogue it was the place to be. It was a place to queue for.

The festival life experience was equally exceptional. Joining in the eloquent and critical conversations. Celebrity spotting. Interacting. Defining ourselves. Celebrating tasty food in tranquil surroundings. Living a week devoted to film watching. That was the Big Life as we knew it.

KazimierzDolnyLatoFilmow1999 x

Sonia

PS: The summer festival inspired theme will continue in the next post but for now a very happy Friday.

Tour de street

Ready. Steady. Go. And they are off. The bottle caps. Rushing through the pavements of the estate. France is overtaking Greece. Ireland couldn’t make the bend and is off the track. Germany and Poland going side to side. The others not far behind. Who will get the final push to cross the finishing line?

That’s what we – Generation X – played in the summer months of the 90s. First you needed to get a bottle cap – as flat and undamaged as could be. We filled it with some plasticine (nowadays bluetac would do just fine) and decorated with some cut-out country flags.  The trick was to get this perfectly balanced cap that was neither too heavy nor too light, easy to move forward but not too jumpy. Once your cap was ready, tried and tested all you needed was a bit of chalk to draw the route. Pavements were easy. Kerbs were tricky. Puddles were challenging. So were tunnels, if you could find any.

bottle caps at the start

The rules are simple. Each racer gets their own cap and places it on the start. Then one by one each takes their turn to move their cap by flicking the fingers. There are 3 attempts in each turn. If you master the game you can really move forward quickly. If you are off the track you need to go back to your previous spot. The first cap to cross the finishing line gets all the glory.

bottle caps at the finish

The game does not get old, even though we might, and we still play it with the kids in the street outside the house every summer. Having great time. So get your caps. On your marks. Time for tour de street.caps street gamecaps street game

x

Sonia

Princess Courgette

Courgette sounds to me like a name of a princess. A princess, that would be a perfect heroine of a Five-A-Day story like this one.

Princess Courgette collage

Once upon a time there lived a princess of a slightly-pear-yet-slender shape and deepest green shade of skin. She was called Courgette. She was a very delicate and tender young lady. She cared for the others and was always kind to them. Other vegetables admired her beauty but while they might get green with envy,  Brussels sprouts were still a bland green, French beans were too slim and the broccoli could not contain himself. And the cucumber? The cucumber just could not take his eyes off her. He silently adored Princess Courgette longing that some day he could be near her. What a great combination of greens that would be.

Sadly enough, the princess never really noticed any of his feelings as her heart was already full of love for the reddest of them all – the tomato. His juiciness and plumpiness completely captivated her and all she could do was to dream they will be joined in the most romantic dance of the last Ratatouille. So the tomato grew bigger and bigger and fuller of himself basting in Princess Courgette’s love, while the poor cucumber got thinner and leaner and lost all his gleam.

And so the Ratatouille day came and Courgette and Tomato got picked. But it was nothing like the princess had imagined. There was no dance and no passion.The pompous tomato stood there in his red glory. “Green looks nice next to me,” he said “it complements well my carmine colour.” It was only then that Princess Courgette saw the miserable green shape and desperate look and realized that Cucumber was in love with her. Courgette thought of all the time they wasted and what a great pair they would make. But now it was only time left to say goodbye and so Courgette blew him a farewell kiss and Cucumber grinned with bitter-sweet joy.

Princess Courgette collage 2

 

For a long time I was blissfully unaware of what courgette was. As a child I would not pay any attention to the unappealing green vegetable that in fairness very rarely appeared on the menu. Indeed, I only discovered its potential when I got my first cookbook by a Polish-French cook, Pascal Brodnicki. Half out of curiosity and half out of boredom I decided to give courgette fritters a try. And it was a hit from the very start. The little fritters are perfect for sharing and are sure to be all gone off the table. I would usually make them when expecting a bunch of children to come by around dinner time  and like to serve them with a generous bowl of tzatziki to give it an even more summery flavour. And because I do believe courgette and cucumber make a great pair.

Courgette fritters with Tzatziki

For the fritters:

2-3 medium courgettes – unpeeled

3 spring onions – finely chopped

4 eggs – bitten

250g flour

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

1 tbs walnut oil

1/2 cup sunflower oil for frying

 

For the Tzatziki:

2 cucumbers – peeled

2-4 garlic cloves

1 cup natural yogurt (ideally Greek yogurt)

a mix of favourite herbs – basil, mint, dill, chives

salt and pepper to taste

courgette

First – prepare your courgettes. Wash, dry  and cut the ends off  but do not peel them. Coarsely grate them in a big mixing bowl and leave them for a while as you make Tzatziki.

In a medium bowl coarsely grate the cucumbers. Season with salt. Add yogurt with as much pressed garlic as you wish (we like it quite garlicky) and finely chopped herbs. Mix together and set aside.

Go back to your courgettes. Add the bitten eggs, and the flour mixed with baking power and a pinch of salt. Mix together – your little helpers can use their hands for that – and stir in the walnut oil and finely chopped spring onion. Add salt and pepper to taste.

On the frying pan heat enough sunflower oil to fully cover the bottom. Use a tablespoon and carefully drop the mixture into the hot oil. Make sure the oil is just right. Too hot – and the fritters will burn. Not hot enough – and the fritters will soak up too much oil. If the oil is just the right temperature the fritters will get golden brown after a minute on each side. Once nicely browned remove from the pan, dry the excess oil on a kitchen towel and pile them up on  a serving plate or bowl.

courgette fritters

Make on a nice sunny day, share and see them gone in minutes.

x

Sonia (with some help of Natasha)