Photo by Ken Williams for The Concord Monitor
The team dinner is a terrific idea; get the entire squad together for a pep talk, some carbo-loading and a little bonding the night before a big game. We’re talking about the Moms here—though we’re pretty sure the athletes enjoy it too. Is it the good manners that we’ve tried to pound into their skulls that compel our children to raise their hands and offer us up as hostesses at least once a season? Or is something darker at play—perhaps payback for all the times we’ve dragged them on marathon quests to find wallpaper and window treatments? Let’s go with good manners, shall we?
We like to grumble, but we honestly feel the same way about the team dinner as we do about driving the carpool—the inconvenience is far outweighed by the priceless opportunity to observe the group dynamics—it’s like John Hughes’ entire opus come to life. At every team dinner you’ve got the seniors who are as cool as Ferris Bueller and just as ready to jump on a float and grab the microphone. Next come the underclassmen, solid and loyal, and about as unappreciated as Ducky in Pretty in Pink. And then there are the freshmen. Oh how we love them, full of unearned swagger and confidence; a whole tribe of Farmer Teds looking to make a name for themselves even if it means convincing one of the good girls to lend an undergarment to the cause. Never mind the fact that we are older than the Griswolds were when they finally made it to Wally World; in our mind we’ve got just as few candles in our cake as Molly Ringwald had in 1985.
The goal of the team dinner is to get everyone in, fed, and out again with a minimum amount of collateral damage to your budget, your house and your last good nerve. An easy menu of pasta, salad and bread is clearly the way to go here. Most of the other parents are so grateful it isn’t their turn they are happy to supply desserts and drinks, so with a little work in advance the team dinner is a snap, even on a weeknight.
While there is nothing wrong with a crock pot full of meatballs and five pounds of spaghetti, we like to make two or three big lasagnas for team dinners. They can be made in advance and popped into the oven, leaving plenty of time for a sensible glass of wine to fortify you for the onslaught. We’ve run our favorite tomato sauce based lasagnas before; you’ll find a link to them on our facebook page.
Today we are featuring mushroom lasagna. Yes it does involve making a white sauce, but the results are heavenly—perfect for those dinners when you’re expecting other parents to attend—or if you’d like to butter up the coaches. And if you really cannot bear the thought of making the sauce, crack open a couple jars of Alfredo sauce and use that instead. The bread recipe is a keeper—it’s from our new favorite cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks—we’ll be featuring more recipes from this book, and a giveaway in our next column. The cupcakes speak for themselves.
Makes one 13X15 inch pan, or about 20 small but rich servings
2 1-pound boxes lasagna noodles
For the white sauce:
1 stick butter
½ cup flour
1 quart whole milk, warmed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
For the mushroom layer:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds sliced mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack
2 1 pound boxes lasagna noodles
Chopped fresh parsley, for a garnish (optional)
Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain and lay flat on clean, damp kitchen towels; cover with a layer of plastic wrap or a couple damp kitchen towels to keep moist while you work on the rest of the dish.
Make the white sauce: Melt the butter in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute to cook the flour, reduce heat as necessary to keep flour from browning. Add the warm milk and whisk until the sauce is smooth. Keep whisking until the sauce bubbles and thickens, about 3 minutes. Add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and set aside, whisking occasionally to keep a film from forming on the top.
Prepare the mushrooms: Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and turn the heat down to medium low. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have browned. Add the garlic and sauté for one additional minute. Reserve about ¼ cup of the best looking mushroom slices to use as a garnish. Add the cream cheese to the rest of the mushrooms, turn the heat down as low as it will go and stir until the cream cheese melts and makes a smooth sauce for the mushrooms. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To assemble the lasagna:
Ladle about ½ cup of white sauce into the bottom of an oiled 13X 15 inch lasagna pan. Cover with a layer of noodles, overlapping slightly, and cutting as necessary to fill the pan. Spread with half the white sauce and half of the shredded cheese. Top with another layer of noodles. Spoon all of the mushroom sauce over the noodles and spread out into an even layer. Top with another layer of noodles. Ladle the rest of the white sauce over, spreading to cover the whole top. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese. Cover with oiled aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for an hour if the lasagna is at room temperature; 1 ½ hours if it is right out of the refrigerator. Remove from the oven and let sit, covered, for another 20 minutes to firm up. Garnish with the reserved mushrooms and serve.
Cheesy Olive Bread
A new favorite adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Makes 1 loaf of deliciousness
1 14 ounce jar pimento stuffed olives
1 15 ounce can black olives
2 cups Shredded cheese – Monterrey Jack and/or Cheddar
½ cup mayonnaise
½ stick butter at soft room temperature
1 teaspoon hot sauce, more or less to taste
1 large loaf soft Italian bread
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Drain and roughly chop the green and black olives and place in a large bowl. Add the cheese, mayo and butter and stir well to combine. Add the hot sauce and stir again.
Slice the bread open along one long side, making sure not to cut all the way through. Lay the open loaf on a double layer of foil that is about 6 inches longer than the loaf of bread and slather with the olive mixture. Grasp the foil and gently slide the loaf into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes until the cheese is bubbly. Carefully remove from the oven and cut into one inch wide slices—a pizza cutter is perfect for this.
Photo by Ken Williams for The Concord Monitor
Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcakes
Ridiculously easy—from the awesome book Hello Cupcake—and the perfect dessert to send along to a team dinner that you dodged hosting!
Please check our facebook page for step by step instructions
24 vanilla cupcakes baked in white wrappers
2 cans vanilla butter cream frosting, NOT whipped frosting
12 Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates
½ cup seedless raspberry jam
1 quart size Ziploc bag
Spread each of the cupcakes with a very thin layer of frosting—about a teaspoon each. Group the cupcakes together on a serving platter or in a large, shallow pasta bowl so they are bunched tightly together.
Stir the frosting well—it should be very creamy and soft—if it seems a little hard, nuke for 5 seconds to soften up. Fill the Ziploc bag with the frosting and snip a very small hole in one corner—take off less than a quarter inch of the bag. Squeeze the bag for a second or two over a plate to make sure the hole you’ve cut allows a spaghetti-sized squiggle of frosting to come out. If the squiggles are too skinny snip off another tiny bit of the bag. If the hole is too big, get another bag—having the frosting look like pasta is the key here. Using a very free flowing motion, squeeze long draping squiggles of frosting all over the cupcakes. As the frosting piles up you should be able to easily bridge the gaps between the cupcakes. Continue until it looks like a typically messy bowl of pasta, making sure to allow some of the frosting to go over the edge of the cupcakes.
Scoop the raspberry jam into a small bowl. Thin with a teaspoon or two of hot water and stir until smooth. Add the candies and stir to coat well. Use a spoon to artfully place the jam and the candies on top of the pasta. Place one of the candies on the side to make it look like it rolled off.