August 13, 2012

How My Husband Definitely Did Not Get Carjacked
(+ Sausage, Cheese and Basil Lasagna)

Mr. Bear totally got carjacked, guys.

Well, except he didn’t.  But you can see how I could get those things confused.

It starts with the neighbors.  In the grand scheme of things, they’re not particularly awful.  I don’t think they’re cooking meth, and I’ve never had to ask them to turn down their stereo.  But they do have a dog.  And I like dogs, so put down your torches and pitchforks and hear me out.  The problem is not that this is a dog.  The problem is that this is a “When the family leaves me alone in the house, I bark without pause for three hours” dog. 

Because our apartment complex has a 20-pound pet weight limit, we’re used to barking.  The kind of dogs that meet that requirement are 60% hair and 40% yap.  But Downstairs Dog has clearly been bred for the purpose of destroying other dogs on the field of battle.  He’s easily three times the weight limit, and his barks have a resonance unlike anything I’ve ever heard.  When Downstairs Dog barks, birds fall out of the sky and plants wither.

This is the part where I’m held hostage by my own ethics.  A rational person would complain to the landlord.  But he’ll insist that the neighbors ditch their oversized beast or face eviction.  And I’m pretty sure that this scenario ends with Downstairs Dog being euthanized at the pound.  I don’t want to be responsible for a dog’s death.  Which leaves me gritting my teeth and ranting to Mr. Bear from eleven to two every Saturday night, as the dog barks.  And barks.  And barks.  I imagine that my complaining isn’t particularly restful for Mr. Bear, but let’s be honest – with all the barking, he wasn’t going to be able to get to sleep anyway.

The other problem with the downstairs neighbors is that they recently bought a used red Explorer, identical to Mr. Bear’s.  I failed to notice this - probably because I’m so sleep-deprived.  So when Mr. Bear left to do errands alone on Sunday morning because I was still recovering from a night of Downstairs Dog Opera, I did not know that there were two cars that looked like my husband’s that might park in front of our building.  I also did not know, as I drifted back to sleep, that the neighbors were finally on their way home from their night of dog-free debauchery.

So when the neighbors pulled into the parking lot 15 minutes later, it set off this chain of events:

 [1]  After exiting the vehicle, Mr. Downstairs Neighbor locked his doors, causing the car to make its very specific 2005 Explorer “I’m definitely locked now” beep.

[2]  I, unaware that I had only been asleep for a few minutes, recognized the sound of my husband's car and started awake.

[3]   Thinking that I had slept through most of the afternoon, I shot upright and, still basically asleep, dashed to the kitchen to open the dishwasher.  This was my ingenious plan to make my husband think that I’d been industrious while he was gone instead of lolling around in bed like a harem girl.

[4]  When the dishwasher was unloaded and Mr. Bear had still not appeared, I became curious.

[5]  From the window, I could see Mr. Bear’s Explorer.  However, no Mr. Bear.  Not at the dumpster, not at the mailbox.  And frankly, there’s nothing else to do outside our apartment.  He was just gone. 

[6]  Vaguely concerned, I exited the apartment and stood on the front balcony, looking down at the car.  Mr. Bear was still nowhere to be seen.  Ten minutes before, he had exited his car, locked it, and disappeared into thin air.

[7] I groggily came to the realization that Mr. Bear had been carjacked.  

For the sake of my dignity, I'd like to emphasize that word "groggily."

I came to terms long ago with my worrying tendencies.  I no longer feel shame about the conclusions I jump to, which generally concern either reconstituted dinosaurs or human violence.  I just trust that my worries will either be correct or will result in an amusing anecdote.  Wholesale acceptance, however, can discourage such effective strategies such as thinking and critiquing.  If I had just gone down to street level, for example (as I later did), I would have seen that the red Explorer in question had some hideous detailing, a back window constructed of plastic wrap and duct tape, and a crucifix hanging from the rearview mirror.  All of which were pretty significant signs that this was not, in fact, Mr. Bear’s vehicle.

Eventually, as I approached actual awakeness, it occurred to me that the typical carjacking results in the car disappearing and the person remaining helplessly in the parking lot.  And that, if in fact anything had happened to Mr. Bear, it would have been a kidnapping, since it was the man who was missing and not the car.  But I try not to let myself get bogged down with details when unnecessarily panicking.  It also never occurred to me to try his cell.  For explanation of this behavior, please see above.

So when Mr. Bear finally did walk in the door, I greeted him with somewhat more enthusiasm than usual and the cry that I was thrilled he hadn’t been carjacked.  I can’t quite decide if his complete lack of reaction to this statement is a sign of his unflappable character or that my endless nonsense has worn him down to the point where nothing surprises him anymore.  I’m not even sure which of those answers I’m rooting for.

I was so relieved that Mr. Bear was returned to me unharmed that I made the lasagna that he’s been begging for since last summer.  From now on I will think of it as my “Thank you for not being carjacked” lasagna.  (Thank god I don’t intend to open a restaurant, because that menu item would require daily explanation.)  And even though it made an enormous pan, I didn’t take a single slab of it to the neighbors.  Because they’ve put us through enough this week.  Especially Mr. Bear, who was held hostage.  Except, of course, for how he wasn’t.  But don’t let that spoil the story for you.

Sausage, Cheese and Basil Lasagna
adapted from Bon Appetit

I’ve always preferred spinach lasagna to the ground beef variety; this version improves upon both types.  Ground beef, which I’ve always found bland, is replaced with highly-spiced Italian sausage.  As for the spinach…well, you know what’s green and a thousand times better than spinach?  Basil.  The ricotta mixture is packed with an enormous amount of it, flecked with gorgeous green, and its addition takes a dish whose flavor can be weighed down by all that cheese and meat and makes it bright, fresh, and balanced.

Olive Oil  [ 3 tablespoons ]
Spicy Italian Sausages  [ 1 ½ pounds, casings removed ]
Onion  [ chopped, 1 ½ cups ]
Garlic Cloves  [ 5, chopped ]
Dried Oregano  [ 1 tablespoon ]
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes  [ ¼ teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon ]
Canned Crushed Tomatoes in Puree  [ 42 ounces, undrained ]
Canned Diced Tomatoes with Green Pepper and Onion  [ 21 ounces, undrained ]

Fresh Basil  [ packed, 1 ½ cups ]
Ricotta Cheese  [ 15 ounces + 1 cup ]
Mozzarella Cheese  [ grated, packed, 1 ½ cups – about 6 ounces ]
Parmesan Cheese  [ grated, ¾ cup – about 2 ounces ]
Egg  [ 1 ]
Salt  [ ½ teaspoon ]
Ground Black Pepper  [ ¼ teaspoon ]

Lasagna Noodles  [ 8-ounce package ]
Mozzarella Cheese  [ grated, packed, 3 cups – about 12 ounces ]
Parmesan Cheese  [ grated, 1 cup – about 3 ounces ]

Make the Sauce:
1.   In a large pot, heat Oil over Medium-High heat.

2.   Mix in Italian Sausage, Onion, Garlic, Oregano, and Crushed Red Pepper.

3.    Cook, breaking up Sausage with the back of a spoon, until sausage is cooked through [about 10 minutes].

4.   Stir in Crushed Tomatoes and Diced Tomatoes.

5.   Bring to a boil.  Lower heat to Medium and simmer 5 minutes.

6.   Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Make the Filling:
1.  Put Basil in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

2.   Add Ricotta, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Egg, Salt and Pepper.  Pulse until ingredients are blended but mixture is still chunky.

Assemble the Lasagna:
1.     Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2.   In the bottom of a 13x9 baking dish, evenly spread 1 ¾ cups Sauce.  

3.   Lay uncooked Lasagna Noodles on top of Sauce, arranging to create a full layer.  This should take 3-5 noodles, depending on the dimensions of the ones you bought.  You may have to break a few to fill in empty spaces.

4.   Over Noodles, drop 1 ½ cups of Filling in dollops.  As best you can, spread filling to cover noodles.

5.   Sprinkle ¾ cup Mozzarella and ¼ cup Parmesan over Filling.

6.   Repeat the process [Sauce-Noodle-Filling-Cheese]  two more times.

7.   Top lasagna with one last layer of Noodles, then the remaining Sauce, and finally the remaining Cheese.  Pan will be extremely full.

8.   Cut a piece of aluminum foil to cover the pan.  Spray with nonstick cooking spray and cover the pan, sprayed side facing the lasagna.

9.   Bake lasagna for 40 minutes.  

10.  Uncover lasagna and raise oven temperature to 400 degrees.

11.  Bake for another 20 minutes.  Cheese should be golden-brown, sauce should bubble around the edges, and noodles should be cooked through.

12.   Let cool 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

[Notes:  (1) The sauce can be made ahead of time or even frozen, which makes 
having lasagna for dinner a much less time-consuming proposition;  (2) I used 
mild Italian sausages, since I hate heat.   Things were still delicious, I promise.]

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