Brunch with B-Crox: White Cheese & Chicken Lasagna

About a year ago, two of my friends and I started a monthly get-together for a nice dinner. I think the idea was to pass it around and change the location each time, but it always ended up being at my place. I was happy about this – I didn’t really want to share the burden. Around then, I started realizing that I enjoyed cooking almost as much as I enjoyed baking. There’s something incredibly depressing about preparing a really wonderful meal and having no one to share it with.

Over the summer, I was able to share some really nice food with them: maple-glazed pork chops with gnocchi and parmesan cheese; East Indian curry (served on jasmine rice, topped with choices of fruit, peppers, and nuts); Dutch babies for a Christmas-style brunch in the middle of October; slowcooker turkey and cranberry dressing, pizza with carmelized onions, halved grapes & balsamic glaze….all usually paired with wine or beer brought by Nicole or Andrea, and then ending with dessert (french silk pie eaten directly from the pan, frozen yogurt with canteloupe…) we ate while sprawled on the couch, complaining that we felt enormous. Somewhere along the line, they gave me the nickname B-Crocks – an ironic abbreviation of Betty Crocker that made me feel simultaneously adorable and badass. I solidified the badassery by temporarily tagging my kitchen wall.

I thought about leaving it, but I couldn't find a decent place for the fridge AND display my tag.

I thought about leaving it, but I couldn’t find a decent place for the fridge AND display my tag.

When I had my housewarming party a few weeks ago, Andrea and Nicole presented me with a gift of a hula hoop (which I used once and has been leaning against a wall after it fell around my ankles) and a handmade installment of miniature frames that spell out B-Crox. It looks pretty awesome in my kitchen.

I'm real good at hanging things in straight lines.

I’m real good at hanging things in straight lines.

Nicole was actually the one who gave me the idea for a weekly B-Crox post, and in a picturesque turn of events, Andrea joined me for my first meal of Brunch with B-Crox: White Cheese & Chicken Lasagna.

This is a recipe I found on Pinterest (where else do people get recipes?) and modified for a smaller sized pan (I think a giant pan of lasagna is about as depressing as just eating cookie dough for dinner). If you’re cooking for a large group, a family, have room in the freezer, or want to see fancy pictures and well-written directions, you can use the original recipe. The only real difference between this recipe and the one below is that I used fresh mozzarella that was marinated in olive oil and italian seasoning instead of plain shredded mozzarella – mainly because it was on sale and I really wanted fresh mozzarella.

White Cheese & Chicken Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 lasagna noodles, cooked (because duh)
  • 1/4 cup butter (that’s half a stick, Einstein)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (avoid cutting off finger tips)
  • a few shakes of salt
  • 1 cup Chicken broth (the cheapest, because ain’t nobody got cash for that, Swanson)
  • 3/4 cup milk (not melk, you mouth-breather)
  • 8oz. fresh mozzerella cheese (Oh, you think you all fancy, don’t you?)
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (get the stuff that is cheaper that Kraft and has a more attractive label)
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese (good luck finding something to do with the leftovers)
  • 2 disturbingly large chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
  • 1/2 package (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed & drained
  • 1/2 tablespoon of fresh parsley you don’t actually need because it tastes like nothing, so don’t waste your time
Are you ready for this cheesy goodness that is the opposite of heart healthy?

Are you ready for this cheesy goodness that is the opposite of heart healthy?

Directions:

  1. Invite your friend over for dinner via text/call/direct tweet. Inform her you’re making something awesome and she’s going to want to eat it. Turn on some good music (I chose Dead Horses after seeing them a few nights earlier) and cook your noodles. Let your friend in the front door.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the onion and garlic, cooking till tender. Stir it too. You don’t want to scrub that crap. Shake the salt over the mixture a bit, and then add the flour. Simmer till it’s bubbly and looks weird.
  3. Tell your friend to mix in the broth and milk and boil because you just realized you have to cube and cook the chicken. Make sure she stirs it constantly, then throw half of the fresh mozzarella and a bunch of the parmesan in her pan while you cook the chicken in olive oil & oregano.
  4. Season the sauce with basil, oregano and that freshly ground pepper. Grind that pepper, baby!
  5. Using a 9×9 cake pan you might have taken from your mother, layer your lasagna in the following order: 1/3 sauce on bottom, 1/3 of the noodles, ALL of the ricotta & chicken, 1/3 of the noodles, 1/4 of the sauce, the spinach (lookit that green stuff! You so fancy!), the remaining mozzarella cheese (if it’s in the little balls like mine was, cut these into thirds and distribute evenly) and a bunch of parmesan cheese.
  6. Top with the last of the noodles and remaining sauce. If you were stupid and bought parsley, I guess you can sprinkle it now. Otherwise, just put a little more basil, ground pepper, and parmesan cheese over the sauce.
  7. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving with pink lemonade and eating on your front porch while groaning and saying “Omigod. This is so good.”
  8. Go back inside because there are too many spiders and weird bugs.
Awesome friend enjoying awesome food

Awesome friend enjoying awesome food

Unlike most lasagnas, I don't recommend storing leftovers on the sidewalk. This keeps best if in tupperware in the fridge.

Unlike most lasagnas, I don’t recommend storing leftovers on the sidewalk. This keeps best if in tupperware in the fridge.

Enjoy your food! There are starving kids in Ethiopia that won’t benefit from your gluttony.

Serendipity

After a boring and unnecessarily long day at work, I came home with the intention of getting some good work done. By good work, I mean get through a few chapters of The Marriage Plot. I’ve been reading that book since November. Every time I pick it up, it flies by. It’s the sort of book I want to savor. I’ve restarted the book three times now, just to make sure I remember everything that happened previously.  I did the same thing with The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. I know it’s redudant, but I’ll say it anyway: I really like Jeffrey Eugenides novels. Anyway, before reading, I wanted to get something written in my journal.

I did what I used to – I flung off my shoes and cardigan and lay stomach-down across my bed with my journal and pen. My bed used to be a creative hotspot. When I was growing up, that was what I did: I just came home and wrote for hours on my bed, taking breaks for dinner and violin practice. It was a sanctuary. When I got to college, that all changed. My bed was used for sleeping and the occasional makeout session. The few times I did write there, it felt like a novelty – a sort of quaint encore performance.

Today, after twenty minutes of writing, I got melancholic and nostalgic for better days. I got all teary eyed and felt incredibly lonely. I was about to curl up into a ball for maximum sobbing potential when I heard a key in the door and Carissa walk in.

“Ashley, did you put this package outside our door?” She called.

I pulled myself up and wiped my face. I met her in the living room. “What?”

“Oh – to Miss Ashley E. Otto!” She said, handing me the package. “Oooh, are you okay? What’s going on?”

“I’m just feeling lonely and sorry for myself,” I said.

I sat on the couch to open it up. There were about four layers of tape and I decided to not use a knife. I was in one of those modes that made everything more difficult. I could be more sullen and exasperated if everything was cumbersome.

It was from Joelle, a girl I had met my freshman year. She was my mentor for a single credit one-on -one writing seminar. She was the first person to give me valuable feedback and ideas for revising my writing. We sort of fell out of touch over the years, but I followed her blog when she traveled to Poland and she followed my life via facebook pictures. Every once in a while we would exchange a few messages, but nothing very intimate.

A few months ago, when Bill and I broke up, she asked if she could send me a care package – one without wine or chocolate even though that was probably all I wanted, it wasn’t what I needed. Of course I accepted. Her life must have gotten busy because she wasn’t able to send it until now. But it was the absolute perfect thing for me to see tonight.

It contained Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, a small box of truffles (chocolates ftw!), a journal, novelty gum, and flower pin. I read through the Silverstein book and promptly had a very cathartic cry. It was fantastic.

You know. I’ve said before that I don’t believe in a god, but beautiful coincidences like this make me think twice. Sometimes it’s comforting to believe that there’s some big orchestration I don’t understand yet. My logic overcomes my whimsical side. Circumstances on Joelle’s end prevented her from sending it till now (according to her card, the package saw three living rooms before reaching mine). I created my own perfect storm by recovering from last week’s bout of extroversion (I was occupied every night other than Thursday) by working overtime and spending the last five evenings with books and a box of old journals, but it all culminated to a single moment in which I was reminded I was not alone and people still do wonderful things for each other.

[also, these are the cutest truffles ever]

The End Product of Crocheting on a Friday Night

Texts sent to Andrea at 9:18pm:

Me: So. I tried to crochet tonight.

Me: Disaster. I’m now drinking a beer.

At 9:20, my phone rang. Andrea showers me with encouragement about crocheting: I’ll get it. It’s a process. Be patient. It’s all about the tension. Just practice.

We proceeded to talk for two hours. We have this great way of talking about everything and nothing at the same time. We can easily go from the creative process to the haircut I had yesterday afternoon to why I need to stop listening to Kanye West to how Andrea was almost roped into a pyramid scheme (The guy drew circles for her, not triangles, so I don’t know what her problem was).  I love talking with Andrea. I’m not obligated to provide a segue to my next thought. It’s essentially having responses to my stream of consciousness. Everybody needs a friend like Andrea. It’s fantastic.

Me: Andrea, I think I’m ready to start dating.

Andrea: Yeah? That’s good!

Me: Yeah, but not like seriously dating. I’m in my 20s. I should be having fun, right?

Andrea: For sure.

Me: I mean, I’m no longer mooning over Bill. But like, I want to date different types of men. Like a distinguished older man. Or maybe a hipster. Or a hip hop guy.

Andrea: *laughs for twenty seconds* That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever  visualized.

Me: What? Me and a hip hop guy? I know. I think Kanye West is starting to affect me in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

Andrea: I definitely think that’s true. One time at hip hop night at this coffee shop in Milwaukee, I  — WHAT IS HAPPENING?

Me: Sorry. I put you on speakerphone by accident, but then I just went with it. Does it sound terrible?

Andrea: It sounds like I want to die. It’s like when we used to videochat and the fan in your computer was terrible.

Me: I just have terrible technology.

Andrea: I kept hearing myself talk.

Me: Echo echo echo…

Me: Ok, you’re off speakerphone now. better.

Andrea: Omigod, yes. So much better.

Me: Anyway, what happened at hip hop night at a coffee shop in Milwaukee?

Andrea: I got hit on and had my ass grabbed.

Me: Well, to be fair, you do have quite the hip hop ass.

Andrea: *laughs for twenty seconds* Fuck you.

Other topics covered tonight? How my life has turned into me simply visualizing events of my day as potential blogging material (“But that just means you’re turning into a true artist, being inspired by everything!” “Or it means I’m exploiting my friends and family for blogging material.”), sadness battles (“I just spent two hours on a Friday night attempting to crochet.” “I’ve been eating peanut butter all damn night.”), and envying anorexics (“I wish I had the self-control to be anorexic.” “Do the ana boot camp – 500 calories a day, then 400, then 300.” “Sounds both healthy and legit.”)

I can’t speak for other girls, but this is pretty typical of my conversations with my friends.