Maralee’s Spaghetti Lasagna

My sister Maralee’s dinner tonight sounded so wonderful that I asked her to take a picture of it and write about it for my blog. This is from Maralee.

Last week I was having the Crystal Lake Interfaith Clergy Group over to the synagogue for lunch, and I bought all the ingredients for lasagna.  Then it turned out we had some lasagna in the synagogue freezer, made by the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade boys in their social action group, and we had to use up before Passover.  So there I was—stuck with the ingredients, which I brought home.  Tonight I decided to use those ingredients to make lasagna at home, but there was one problem—we try to only use whole wheat pasta, and the leftover noodles were white!  This is how I came to invent a new dish:  Spaghetti Lasagna.  It’s a quick dish to make, and here is how I did it:

Spaghetti Lasagna

  • Barilla Italian Bake Pasta Sauce, 2 jars (or use your favorite)
  • Ricotta cheese, 32 oz.
  • Shredded Mozzarella, 16 oz.
  • Shredded parmesan, ½ cup
  • frozen chopped spinach, ten oz. package, thawed
  • sliced baby portabella mushrooms, half a pound, uncooked
  • spaghetti noodles, 1 lb., uncooked

In a 9×13 Pyrex dish pour a little of the sauce from each of the jars to cover the bottom.

Lay half the spaghetti length-wise to cover the entire dish—you might want to break some in half to fill in the ends.

Pour the rest of one jar of sauce over the spaghetti and place sliced mushrooms over the sauce to cover (some slices were too thick and I sliced them thinner).

Spread half the ricotta over the mushroomed sauce (I spread it by hand).

Sprinkle half the mozzarella over the ricotta, and ¼ cup of the Parmesan,

Lay the other half of the spaghetti over the cheese,

Mix the spinach with the rest of the sauce and spread over the spaghetti,

Finish off with the rest of the ricotta followed by the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan.

Bake for 50 minutes.

Here we are, happy together in my kitchen, last year at Pesach.

Real food for real teens: Cupcakes

For more tasty bakes, see my collection of family specialties:

You Can’t Have Dry Coffee: Papa’s Excuse to Have a Nosh And Nana’s Perfect Pastries

These have purple frosing with a light dusting of purple sparkly sugar. What’s not to love?

Cupcakes really aren’t in my cooking vocabulary, unless you consider Black Bottom Cupcakes, which are in a class by themselves. My 16 year-old son can’t ever remember me making regular cupcakes. Unlike me, my mother used to make cupcakes every other year to send to school for my birthday. (On the off year Karen Baskin’s mother would send in the cupcakes since Karen and I shared a birthday.) However, Molly was assigned purple cupcakes for a club meeting tomorrow, where a rainbow of sugary cakes will be displayed and sold to eager highschoolers. Molly suggested that using a baking mix would be okay because she heard that mixes made exactly 12 which is what she would need. “Mix?” Not in my kitchen, and not a surprise that making them from scratch was a) quick, and b) really, really, surprisingly GOOD! I liked them better before we glopped on the purple butter-cream frosting. They were light in texture and chocolaty in flavor, with a delicate crust.

Chocolate Cupcakes (makes 12 medium or 10 larger)

  • 3 Tbs. butter, softened
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/2 c. flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 c. cocoa
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Cream butter and sugar, then add egg and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, then add the milk and vanilla, then the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix until evenly blended. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin trays, and bake at  375 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick tests clean. Frost, if you must, with a butter-cream frosting.

No recipe Butter Cream Frosting

  • 1/2 a stick or so of really soft butter
  • confectioner’s sugar
  • vanilla
  • milk

Cream together the butter with some sugar until it starts to get thick and creamy. Then thin with milk, just a trickle at a time, then add more sugar, and repeat until you have the quantity that you like. Whip it up really well until it’s very fluffy. At some point pour in a little vanilla. If you’re going to use food coloring then leave the frosting very thick before adding, since the liquid coloring will also thin the frosting.


Serve this piping hot over rice.

My boys love curry, and since they’ve been pretty nice to me this week I decided to make it for them—from scratch. The last time I made curry, however,  was from a bar of curry which came in a small green box, purchased from the Japanese grocery store.  The bar came segmented into squares, and resembled a large, yellow bar of chocolate; the instructions were to melt a quantity of segments into a pan to instantly create a curry sauce. Since I have recently become morally opposed to instant anything, I decided to plunge ahead and recreate the dish that I’ve eaten countless times. My boys are very happy to report that I got it exactly right—rich, thick and spicy.


  • 4 T. olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 cups chicken stock*
  • 1-1/2 c. cubed chicken
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 3 carrots, chunked
  • 3 potatoes, chunked
  • 4 T. curry powder, or to taste
  • 2 T. ground cumin seed, or to taste (click here to see how to grind your own)
  • salt
  • 1 c. frozen peas

– other optional ingredients could include: cauliflower florets, pineapple chunks, peppers cut into 1/2″ squares

– to make this a vegetarian curry, simply omit the chicken, boost the quantity of vegies, and use a vegetable stock

In a large saucepan (one with a lid), saute the onion in the oil. Stir in 2 tablespoons curry powder, 1 tablespoon of the ground cumin seed, the garlic and the bay leaf. Stir until well mixed, then add the chicken and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through. Add the carrots and potatoes and 1 cup of the chicken stock. Cover and simmer over a low heat for about 45 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through. Add more stock as needed, to maintain a sauce-like consistency. Taste and add more curry powder and cumin, and salt to taste.

*To make your own stock:

  • 6 chicken legs
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • salt

Before you begin the curry, trim off meat from the chicken legs, leaving a little meat on the bones. Place the 6 bones in a small sauce pan and cover with about 4 cups of water. Add the bay leaf and about a teaspoon of salt. Cover, bring to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. By the time you have cut up the vegetables and meat for the curry, and sauteed the onions and chicken, your stock will be ready to use.

Donna’s Black Bottom Cupcakes

For more tasty bakes, see my collection of family specialties:

You Can’t Have Dry Coffee: Papa’s Excuse to Have a Nosh And Nana’s Perfect Pastries

My daughter told me that I see the world with my stomach, and I think she has a point. I connect food with people and experiences. That’s the case with these unusual cupcakes. Whenever I eat these I think about my exceptional friend, Donna, who first made them for me and Doug, in her kitchen in Alaska.

Doug and I had been married for six months when we moved from Chicago to Colorado. Doug had lived there before and with his long connection to wilderness adventures he was anxious to show me the sites he had loved. Once in Ft. Collins, we quickly unpacked our boxes and then got on a plane to Alaska. This would be our last grand vacation before the arduous years of Doug’s PhD work. We chose Alaska, where I had lived and worked for two summers, so I could show Doug the places I had loved.

Donna and I had both graduated together on June 6, 1980, and the day after graduation we were both on a plane for Anchorage. I spent two summers living and working there and then returned to my familiar world in Chicago. Donna never left Alaska. She and her family had a home just outside of Denali Park, and that’s where Doug and I headed for our vacation. We stayed in their friend’s cabin down the road, and joined Donna’s family each night for dinner. It was there that she made us these cupcakes. After growing up eating all of my mother’s delicious baked goods, it was unusual for me to be surprised by a dessert, but after the first amazing taste I wondered why in the world no one had told me about these before! I’d never tasted a cupcake that used two different batters—one like a chocolate cake, and the other like chocolate chip cheesecake. I seem to remember that Donna whipped up two more batches of these during the week.

Now when I make these, I am transported to Donna’s kitchen, her drawer filled with large bags of baking supplies, the snow in the woods, and I remember what an exceptional person she is and what a wonderful friend she has been.

Black Bottom Cupcakes

For the chocolate batter:

Mix together:

  • 1-1/2 c. flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 c. cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Mix together:

  • 3/4 c. water
  • 1/3 c. oil
  • 1 Tsp. vinegar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Add the liquid mixture to the dry, stir until blended. Using a 1/3 c. measure, spoon this batter into cupcake pans lined with paper cups.

For the cheese filling:

Beat together:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

Stir in:

  • 1 c. chocolate chips

Top the chocolate batter with a generous spoonful of the cheese mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 mins., or until the tops are just touched with a tiny bit of golden brown.

This is what they look like before baking.

Cautionary note: this is one recipe where you really must use paper liners.

Hamantaschen Dough II — cookie dough

Rae Spooner and I, along with our kitchen sisters and teens, had our annual hamantaschen baking at temple this morning. We were assigned the task of making enough hamantaschen to feed the kids and parents at the Purim carnival, with no specific instructions as to the quantity needed. So Rae and I arrived at the temple kitchen with nine batches of dough pre-made and ready to do some production baking.  Lisa and Pat joined us, then Molly and little Helen, and then the teens in the baking class. We rolled, cut, filled, shaped and baked. We filled an industrial-sized tray with hamantaschen and every once in a while we’d wonder if we had enough. How many did we make? Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore. Something my mother passed down to me kicked in—my mother who would count each piece of gefilte fish as they plopped into the yuch, every matzo ball as it hit the soup, every cabbage roll… you get the idea. I had to know the numbers. So Rae and I transferred all of the hamantaschen to a new pan, taking turns counting off by tens, scribbling numbers on a pad. I even opened the oven to count how many were baking. Our grand total: 555 pieces, and a very good morning.

This dough is something like a sugar cookie, but easier to handle and not quite as sweet. These are filled with canned Solo Cake and Pastry Filling, but you can also use a thick jam dusted with a little flour.


  • 3 c. flour
  • 2½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 c. butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 Tbs. orange juice


  1. In a medium bowl, combine flour and baking powder.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time.
  4. Stir in half of the orange juice, then half of the flour; remainder of orange juice and remainder of flour.
  5. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
  6. On a liberally floured board, roll out dough to about 1/8˝ thickness. Cut into approx. 2½” circles. Fill with jam or pie filling, form and bake at 350° for 10–12 minutes.

We made about a dozen sheets like this.

Dry Coffee promo

For more tasty bakes, see my collection of family specialties:

You Can’t Have Dry Coffee: Papa’s Excuse to Have a Nosh And Nana’s Perfect Pastries



10-minute Chunky Apple Sauce

Make this while your dinner is cooking and serve it warm, or with some vanilla ice cream for dessert.

I’ve had some heirloom apples in my fruit drawer since mid-December (that’s 3 months taking up prime real estate in the fruit drawer). They were a gorgeous deep purplish-red and tasted like something just this side of cardboard. But what a waste to throw them away! Today I peeled and cored them, put them in a pot with just a little water, sprinkled on some cinnamon, and for about 10 minutes of effort I have a bowl of fresh apple sauce. Surprisingly, the apple sauce tastes good as is—I didn’t add any sugar.

Chunky Apple Sauce

  • 8 apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters or eighths
  • 1/2-1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3/4 c. water

Put everything in a pot, cover and let simmer until the apples are very soft, about 45 minutes. Mash the apples using a potato masher. That’s all.

Poppy Seed Filling for Hamantaschen (mohn)

Hamantaschen sitting on my Grandmother’s Civil War era plate.

I saw the can of poppy seed filling in the baking aisle last week, and wondered, “how horrible must that be?” Yes, I am a snob. I won’t go near a jar of gefilte fish either, for I was blessed to have a mother who made all of the Jewish delicacies from scratch. So every year she would send someone down to Devon Avenue, to the Jewish neighborhood in Chicago, to get a bag of ground poppy seeds for the Purim hamantaschen. She cooked up this magical concoction with honey, raspberry jam, ground almonds… once a year we got to taste this creation. If you enjoy cooking, then you know that the act of creating the dish is as good as enjoying the taste. What a pleasure to grate in the fresh lemon zest (I’ve been enjoying the lingering aroma on my fingers), and to stir in the dollop of jam, and watch as the pats of butter melt and the mixture thickens. Of course the best part will be rolling out the hamantaschen with the kids later today, and watching their pleasure as they taste one hot from the oven.

My mom would make about as many hamantaschen as she could stand, and then would roll out the rest of the filling into an elegant coffee cake, with tender layers of pastry and thin layers of filling, this was her little secret: the coffee cake is better than the hamantaschen.

Yeast Dough


  • 1 c. milk, warmed
  • 1 Tbs. yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • ½ c. sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 c. flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon rind


  1. In a small bowl, stir together the warm milk, the yeast and the pinch of sugar. Set aside to proof.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, mix together (it will be lumpy), then add the salt and lemon rind.
  4. Stir in half the flour, then the milk/yeast mixture, then the rest of the flour. Mix well.
  5. Refrigerate the dough for one hour or overnight.
  6. On a liberally floured board, roll out dough to about 1/8˝ thickness. Cut into approx. 2½” circles. Fill with poppy seed filling (next page) or jam, form and bake at 350° for 12–15 minutes.


Poppy Seed Filling (Mohn)


  • 1 c. poppy seed (plus a little extra to clean out your coffee grinder)
  • 1 c. milk
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • ½ c. chopped almonds
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • ¼ c. golden raisins
  • ¼ c. sugar
  • 1 tart apple, peeled and grated
  • ¼ c. raspberry jam


  1. Wipe out your coffee grinder, grind about a tablespoon of poppy seeds, then throw that away.
  2. Grind the cup of poppy seeds, and put them in a saucepan with all of the ingredients except for the apple and jam. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly.
  3. Let it cool, then stir in the apple and jam.

This coffee cake baked up a little flat (very sticky dough today). I made the side on the left with the swirls turned to face in to each other; the side on the right with them all turned the same direction. It is sitting on my mother’s monogrammed cake plate.

This one baked the way I like it, and held its shape beautifully. The dough had a little more flour and wasn’t so sticky to work with.

Here’s a detail showing the pretty layers.

Roll out the dough, cut into circles, put on a dollop of filling, then pinch up and around the filling to form a triangular shape.

Roll out a large rectangle of dough and spread on a thin layer of filling, being careful not to tear the dough, then roll it all up.

Form the roll into a U-shape and cut slices all the way through.

Slip a knife under each section, gently lift it up and twist it 90 degrees.