Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Making a Mess of Lasagne

Lasagne can be problematic. There was a time when a potluck supper was invariably a fugue on layered noodles. I remember a quintessentially Canadian experience, when I planned an elaborate dinner starting with a vegetable lasagne appetizer, which I prepared in advance – including homemade noodles – and froze. Having baked and served it up to my six guests, I sat down to join them and discovered it was STILL frozen in the middle, none of my hyper polite guests had said a word.

I have also made a wonderful chicken lasagne from a Lidia Bastianich recipe from an ancient Food & Wine magazine. It was great and as my Italian ex-mother-in-law would have said, "lotsa work."

And yet, what is more satisfying than lasagne? I’ll tell you, skillet lasagne. Why bother with all that careful layering when it’s all going to end up, jumbled up, in the same place? I have Cook’s Illustrated to thank for this one, and I recommend their The Best 30-Minute Recipe cookbook heartily. I have given it to several people and heard only good things about the results.

Because I had a hard time getting vegetables into my houseguest, my mother, I had to get a little sneaky. I scaled back the meat and stirred in a bag of baby spinach, which wilted down to discrete perfection. An excellent dinner, full stop – should I say colon?

Ghostly parallels

Susan Hill’s novella The Woman in Black is for many the gold standard in contemporary ghost stories. It is a thoroughly convincing period piece set in a remote house with a secret and terrible past. If I were a minor character within it I’d tell you it’s a “ripping good yarn.”

Hill, who also writes detective novels, which I haven’t yet sampled, has a second haunting novella The Man in the Picture, but I’m not sure I can judge it fairly. This one is set in Cambridge and like its companion it has an interesting, amiable and intelligent narrator, and the parallels continue to the point where I felt I was reading a variation on a theme. Now if I’d never laid eyes on The Woman in Black, something tells me I would have thoroughly enjoyed it.

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