Sunday, November 29, 2009


Choose the word that does not belong in the following sentence.

Adjectives that describe Thanksgiving stuffing include starchy, mushy, meaty.

Meaty? Yes. This stuffing features meat. My Titi Janet has made this stuffing for Thanksgiving for years, and it has always been a family favorite. I have never tasted anything like it. I had to have it this year, and since she was not going to be flying out to California to make it for me, I had to take matters into my own hands. Janet emailed me the recipe, and I attempted to make it just the way she does.

I ran into one problem. I could not find one of the ingredients. This is some intense stuffing, people. It is not for sissies. I am pretty sure the ingredient list is the longest of anything I have ever made. Anyway, I could not find something called "Goya's jamon de cocinar en polvo" (oh yes, my Aunt Janet is from the Puerto Rican side of my family). Aside from being on the the list she sent me, I knew it existed only because I googled it. I went to about 4 different grocery stores (3 of which specialize in Hispanic foods), and no one had it or knew what it was. I know what each of those Spanish words mean in English (thank you Sra. Ajo); the literal translation would be "ham to cook in dust." I went ahead and took it as ham powder so I substituted a food that I thought would add just as much flavor, a food I have never regretted adding to any dish: bacon.

I cut this recipe in half since it was just for two, but I still had enough for about 8 servings. There are usually about 15 to 20 people at our Thanksgiving dinners so I would venture to guess this serves about that with leftovers. I suppose it is not technically stuffing because you do not cook it inside the turkey, but here it goes:

Titi Janet's "Will Leave You Seriously Stuffed" Stuffing:

3 – 4 lbs ground beef
½ to 1 c of cooking wine (I used a red table wine since I always have some on hand)
1 head of Garlic cloves
1 Onion
1 Bell pepper
3 packages of “Goya's jamon de cocinar en polvo” (Goya is the brand)*
3 packages of “Goya's Sazón con Azafrán” (Goya is the brand)
1 slice of cooking ham (with the bone) cut in ½” squares (I just bought some already diced ham)
1 bunch of fresh cilantro (chopped as fine as possible)
1 envelope of dry onion soup
2 cups (or to taste) of raisins (I copped them up really small since Zach hates when they bloat up. This made it so you could still taste them, but you don't get the soft soggy raisin texture when they are cooked)
2 cups (or to taste) of chopped pecans
Black pepper to taste
¼ cup of capers
1 cup of pitted stuffed olives or to taste
1/2 bag of “Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing” (dry stuff)

*The Goya products are usually in the ethnic section of the grocery store"

Pour a bit of olive oil in a pot (so that the meat does not stick to the bottom when you start cooking). Cut the ham in cubes. Place the ground beef in the pot and cook until almost all brown making sure to mix the ground beef so that it does not “clump-up” while it cooks.
In a food processor or blender throw the cooking wine, black pepper, garlic, onion, bell pepper, Goya powders. Blend all together and pour in the meat with the dry onion soup and cilantro. If you do not have a food processor or blender, just chop the produce really fine.
Add the olives and capers, and continue to cook on medium for about 10-15 minutes.
Add the raisins, chopped pecans nd stuffing (mix well).
Continue cooking for another 10 minutes. The stuffing should absorb the “water/oil” from the beef while cooking.

Important note from Titi Janet: You will have to figure out the ratio between stuffing and ground beef. Just make sure it has the meat consistency more than the stuffing (mushy) consistency, but yet it is semi-mushy! And is more meaty than stuffing.

Important note from me: This turned out well for me. The bacon substitute seems to work out. I was nervous about making it and then not recognizing the taste as the same thing because it is indeed an extremely specific taste. I know it when I smell it! The part I struggled with here was since I was doing a bunch of things at one time, I think I let the meat cook too long without adding the rest of the ingredients. I think this caused it to dry out a little bit. It is important that everything stays really moist so that when you add the stuffing mixture, it has a lot of moisture to absorb.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Okay party people... One of the best days of the year is here. I am not gonna lie; it is all about the food.

This year, I spent weeks crafting the perfect menu. It was the first Thanksgiving for which I was in charge, and this is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. I searched for recipes all over the place. I emailed people for ideas and more recipes. I spent hours researching how to roast the perfect turkey. I made a huge menu list and then slashed things like I was making cuts at Gator football tryouts. After all, there was just going to be two of us.

Here is the rundown:

The Turkey:

The Stuffing

The Potatoes:

The Spinach Casserole:

The Biscuits:

The Pie:

We had the good fortune of being able to stay in a house in Palm Springs this Thanksgiving weekend. In fact, I write to you poolside in the warm desert morning weather.

Events of the day:

8:00 AM: I woke up (by choice). I flipped between some terrible morning shows with their terrible jokes and their irrelevant guests.

9:00 AM: Zach and I went to the Palm Springs Aerial Tram to take a gondola way up high into the desert mountains. We took a lovely 4 1/2 mile hike through Mount San Jacinto State Park. It was delightfully nippy. We saw a huge squirrel, 2 woodpeckers and 2 adorable deer.

One of the woodpeckers..I love the noise the pecking makes.

You can see the pair of deer between the trees on the right third of this picture.

1:00 PM: I started cooking. I put the turkey in the oven by about 2:30 PM after some prep work on the seasoning (and some mishaps with my now-i-don't-love-it-all-that-much food processor).

2:30 PM: I prepped the pie. This was stupid. I had a whole pie to bake (that needed to be cooled for hours before serving) while the turkey was in the oven. So one stupid thing led to another, and I baked the pie with the turkey in the oven at the same time. This threw off all I ever knew of cooking times. The pie took about an extra hour, and the turkey, well...we'll talk about that in a minute.

3:00 PM: I joined Zach to sit by the pool. The food was in the oven, and I could not start on the rest just yet since I wanted it to be warm when served. I started reading the book he just finished called " Radicals for Capitalism." If you know me, you know I read very little. I would like to read more, but it is just not what I choose to do with the little time I have free (or I am the slowest reader of all time). This book has about 700 pages. It will take me years.

4:00 PM: The pie finally came out of the oven. I started on the mashed potatoes, stuffing, and eventually the spinach casserole. I also started drinking some wine.

5:30 PM: I popped the biscuits in the oven and took the turkey out. The meat thermometer read only 160 degrees F at this point so I left the turkey in the oven.

5:35 PM: Zach and I danced around the living room to some oldies we had going on the radio.*

5:45 PM: The biscuits were done, but the turkey took another 20 minutes or so.

6:30 PM: Dinner is served.

*I apologize to Zach as I realize this will most definitely be embarrassing.

I am just going to include the recipe for the turkey here. I will be posting separate short ones for the side dishes and desserts shortly. This is really mostly a recipe for the seasoning which was very tasty. I meant to brine the turkey ahead of time, but it ended up being too high maintenance for me this year since I had to take my turkey to work Wednesday morning (since we were heading out of town from there) and then drive it across the desert in the back of my car with ice packs around it. I thought it best to leave it in its original sealed packaging for the trip. I had also planned on making a delicious gravy, but I scrapped that idea when the turkey too so long to roast. We were too hungry to wait for gravy.

10-12 pound turkey (thawed)
1 onion
8 cloves fresh garlic (separated)
1/4 C lemon zest (keep the rest of the lemon)
1/4 C packed fresh oregano leaves
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp water
salt to taste
butter (for brushing over turkey)

Night before:
Take a thawed turkey out of original packaging, and remove plastic bags from the inside cavity (there may be two so be sure to take a good look in there).
Wash the turkey in cold water inside and out. Then pat dry.
Leave the uncovered turkey in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place 4 cloves of the garlic, oregano, lemon zest, pepper, oil and water in a food processor. If you do not have one, just chop everything as fine as you can get it and then mix it all together.
Rub the paste all over the turkey, under the skin and on top. Sprinkle with salt.
Tuck the tips of the wings underneath the turkey.
Chop the remaining lemon and the onion, and place them along with the remaining 4 garlic cloves into the inside cavity.
Place the turkey breast side down on a rack in a roasting pan and put it in the oven for 1 hour.
After an hour, take the turkey out of the oven to turn in breast side up.
Brush the butter all over the turkey, and pour about 1 cup of water into the pan.
Place back into the oven, and roast turkey for 1 more hour.
Remove from the oven and baste turkey with the drippings in the pan.
Continue roasting for another 45 minutes or so (until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165°F.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Squash the Competition

There was a battle the other night: me vs. butternut squash.

I win. Maybe I just need a new peeler, but this was a hassle to prep.

This is a meal built for the harsh cold dead of winter. It should be served piping hot over some whole grain rice in a large bowl while snow is falling outside. Well, I got most of it right. It is definitely not winter this November in Southern California; it is barely even fall. I am not complaining as I am fan of nothing having to do with temperatures below 75 degrees F, but this dish would be most appreciated by people actually experiencing some cold weather conditions.

That being said, this is one of the healthiest tasty meals you can make. The squash provides a sort of potato-like consistency to give you the feeling of eating a hearty stew. Like so many slow cooker dishes, it is flavorful and easy (well, easy besides peeling the butternut squash...I will be buying it already peeled from now on). You can make this with chicken or beef, and it can be frozen to store for the future.

Squashed Out Chicken (or Beef) Stew

(recipe adapted from - makes 4 servings)

1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2 inch pieces (can also use 1 pound stewing beef)
1 butternut squash
1 large onion, sliced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced (I omitted, since I didn’t have it on hand)
4 ounces baby carrots left whole
1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano

Peel and halve the butternut squash. Scoop out the seeds, and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes. Quickly brown the meat by searing it in a skillet for about a minute. Place squash, vegetables and meat into a slow cooker.
Pour tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, thyme and oregano over the top.
Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

We have a lot to look forward to together, you and I. I am gearing up for Thanksgiving. Zach and I are not going to Florida for the holiday, and that leaves me with a full menu to plan. It is scary and exciting. This will be my first attempt at making a big bird so please feel free to leave any tips in your comments. I have been piecing together parts of recipes from all over the place to come up with something I think will meet our preferences. I am also up for suggestions for side dishes and desserts! Thanks for your help.

Friday, November 13, 2009

BBQ Country

This is the kind of place that sells great B-B-Q sauce.

We were planning a trip to San Francisco for Sube's wedding last summer. We knew we wanted to spend a day in wine country while we were there so I started investigating places to eat, taste wine and sight-see in Sonoma weeks before the trip. If you know me, you know I like to come up with very specific itineraries for trips...even trips I am not going on. I love to suggest restaurants and places to stay with the authority of a travel agent.

Angelo's Wine Country Deli hit up my radar pretty quickly when I visited my trusty travel companion website, My mouth started watering just reading the reviews posted about "all the beef jerky tasting you could ever want." They had several varieties, and you could taste them all for much as you want: Teriyaki, Pepper, Hot Pepper, BBQ, Cajon, Garlic, Plain and "VIP." You could also order nice thick deli sandwiches which is something I am always in the mood to eat.

I really recommend this place if you are cruising through the area. It will fill you up so that you can feel, all the lovely wine when you make your way through the wineries.

We came away with two bags of beef jerky, two sandwiches and a bottle of Angelo's Famous Italian BBQ sauce. It turns out Sonoma was just as much BBQ Country as it is Wine Country. This little stop prepared us for the wonderful afternoon of wine, champagne, olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting throughout the countryside. And then it was back over the bridge (of course we sang the Full House theme song the whole way over).

The wedding was perfect. It is one of the most satisfying things to go to a wedding for two people who so obviously belong together. That might explain why this next recipe works so well.

BBQ sauce and meat.

Never did two things go so well together, especially when it is Angelo's famous Italian BBQ sauce. This particular recipe combines another great American love with the already happy couple, Coke.

BBQ sauce, meat and Coke. I can see you just nodding your head in complete agreement.

I have been making this recipe for about a year now (ever since Zach's mom gave me a stack of Pillsbury Magazine recipe books during the Holidays last year), but it became especially delicious when I started using this particular barbecue sauce. I think you have to find one that works for you. I am a sweet-sauce person through and through, but I imagine you could use a traditional tangy or even spicy Barbecue sauce for this recipe if that is what you prefer.

And since you know how much I love combined words:

BarbeCoke Chicken:

(a Pillsbury recipe - makes 12 servings)

1 1/2 C barbecue sauce
2 tbsp dried minced onion
12 oz (1 can) Coke (or Pepsi)
12 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Pour barbecue sauce, coke and dried minced onion in a large plastic ziploc bag (I only used one small one because I cut the recipe down for 2 instead of 12, but you should use as many bags as your need depending on how many servings you make). Shake the ingredients in the bag until combined thoroughly. Add thawed out chicken breasts to the bag and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours (mine were in there for 24 hours). Turn the bag ever once in a while so that all sides are marinated evenly.
Heat up a gas (or charcoal grill). Remove chicken from marinating bags, and pour the leftover sauce from the bag into a sauce pan. Grill the chicken breasts over medium heat until cooked all the way through (about 12 minutes).
While the meat is cooking, bring the sauce in the pan to a boil and then continue to simmer (stirring occasionally).
When chicken is cooked all the way through (no longer any pink inside of the thickest part), plate them and pour the sauce right over the top to coat.

*I cut this recipe wayyyyyy down for 2 people.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bread Belly

I don't remember the first time I took a sip of beer.

It was likely one of those, "Dad, let me taste that" kind of situations. The only thing I am sure of is I did not like it. Beer is disgusting the first time you taste it (I don't care what you say). Only in the past couple years have I started to actually enjoy drinking the occasional ice cold beverage. I am pretty sure I started liking beer around the same time I really learned the meaning of the phrase "I need a drink." I don't mean to sound like a lush. It is just that in an industry where a single day can run you through a marathon of stress straight into the ground, it is nice to get your relax on at the end of a long one. I don't usually turn to beer (I prefer wine, red), but when I do, it is light. There is just something about a frosted bottle or glass with a juicy burger or some other meaty man food that really settles me down.

I realize there are still many of you that do not like the taste of beer (others of you need no convincing). I usually cannot even finish a whole glass before the relaxing, "ah"-factor wears off. However, whatever you may have against the beverage will undoubtedly disappear when you taste beer bread. I am willing to bet this is the easiest bread you will ever make, and it is the perfect pair for this chili recipe which just so happens to include beer as well.

Some people have asked me what beer is best to use. I used Heineken because, well, Zach said he would drink the rest of the bottle when I was finished with it. It was great and provided a nice subtle flavor with almost a hint of sweetness. However, I would suggest trying something with a little more flavor. A nice pumpkin ale might work well for this time of year. You can use whatever sounds delicious to you. let me know how it goes.

How Do Ya Like Me Now Beer Bread

(Recipe from Ezra Pound Cake, makes 1 loaf)

3 C all-purpose flour
3 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
12 oz of beer (any kind...I would avoid "light" versions)
1/2 C unsalted melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-x-5-x-3-inch loaf pan.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until mixed well.
Stir the beer into the dry ingredients until just mixed.
Pour half the melted butter into the loaf pan. Then spoon the batter into the pan, and pour the rest of the butter on top of the batter. Slide a baking sheet onto a lower rack to catch any butter that might overflow from the loaf pan.
Bake for about 60 minutes, until golden brown.
Serve hot!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Fruit of Labor

This is not what it looks like.

Last night I watched the season premiere of Dexter, Season 4. For those of you who do not follow, 'Dexter' (played by Michael C. Hall) is a blood spatter expert for the Miami Metro Police Department by day and a serial killer by night. He essentially figures out who committed murders though his blood spatter analysis and gets to them before the police even get a shot. He only kills people who kill innocent people...a serial killer with a code.

According to my knowledge of blood spatter analysts (which is almost completely based on television and movies), so much can be determined based on a single drop of blood.

It can help an investigator determine the height of the assailant, the direction in which he or she fled, the type of weapon...almost a story of the events leading to a murder. The blood speaks for the victim who no longer can.

In honor of my love for the show and my appetite for pomegranates, I extracted seeds from 5 of them while I watched. Unlike most fruit, the seeds of the pomegranate (also called "arils") are the part you eat. If you have ever tried to get the seeds out of a pomegranate, you understand why the juice is so expensive at the grocery store. It takes a long time and is a tedious task. However, once you manage to extract all the seeds, the payoff is not only bursting with flavor, it is loaded with all sorts of good-for-you things. This article tells of all sorts of benefits such as:

*rich in antioxidants
*keeps blood from clotting
*keeps bad cholesterol from oxidizing

Long-term consumption can result in:
*more oxygen reaching the heart
*combating erectile dysfunction
*preventing prostate cancer and tumor growth
*lower risk of breast cancer
*reduction in inflammation of joints (relieving effects of arthritis)

To extract seeds from a pomegranate:

Cut the fruit into quarters. The juice will spatter so be careful, and do not wear white.

Hold one quarter around the edges, and push firmly on the middle (from the outside in) to expose the seeds embedded in the white membrane.

Gently scrape out the seeds, being careful not to burst them.

Collect them in a bowl, and keep a wet cloth close by to wipe your hands.

Be sure to clean up after yourself really well because the juice is so messy it will make your kitchen resemble a crime scene.

I like to eat the seeds from a bowl with a spoon. There is a hard little pit in each aril. Some prefer to spit the center of the seeds out, but they are perfectly fine to eat (also it is much easier to just eat the whole thing).

A recipe for you...a pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette:

Darkly Dreaming Dexter's Dressing:

1/4 C pure pomegranate juice
1/4 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 C Balsamic vinaigrette
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp finely crushed pistachios

Mix it all up by shaking in a tightly sealed jar or whisking in a medium-sized bowl, and pour over a salad.

Friday, November 6, 2009


June 15th, 1992 was officially the worst day of former Vice President Dan Quayle's life. In a single day, he destroyed whatever he had managed to build of a political career. I don't think I can tell of the events of the day better than the following excerpt from this article:

In [his] book, Quayle said he knew little about his next stop, in Trenton, other than it was to help spotlight the city’s Weed and Seed program, which still provides anti-drug education to grade schoolers while they also are being watched by adults until their parents get home from work.

When he got the Munoz Rivera School, Quayle spoke with some women involved in the program, saw a drill team perform and looked in on some self-esteem classes before his aides started hustling him off to another classroom for a staged spelling bee.

"What are we supposed to do?’’ I asked Keith Nahigian, the advance man who had prepared this little photo op,’’ Quayle wrote.

"Just sit there and read these words off some flash cards, and the kids will go up and spell them at the blackboard,’’ the handler told the VP.

"Has anyone checked the card?’’ another aide asked.

"Oh, yeah,’’ responded Nahigian. "We looked at them and they’re just very simple words. No big deal.’’

Enter William Figueroa, 12, a sixth-grader from the Mott School in the South Ward who had been bused to Munoz Rivera to take part in the vice presidential event.

Figueroa knew how to spell potato, and he wrote it in a legible script on the blackboard when Quayle announced his word for the spelling bee.

Quayle looked at the blackboard, then at his contest card, and gently and quietly told the boy, "You’re close, but you left a little something off. The e on the end.

"So William, against his better judgment and trying to be polite, added an e’’ and won applause for it from those assembled in the classroom, including Mayor Doug Palmer, Quayle wrote.

The misspelling wasn’t mentioned until the end of the press conference afterward, when one reporter asked Quayle, "How do you spell potato?’’

"I gave him a puzzled look, and then the press started laughing. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized anything was wrong,’’ Quayle wrote.

"None of the staff people had told me. Caught off guard, I just rattled on a little to fill the air — something about how I wasn’t going to get into spelling matters — but I knew something was really amiss.’’

Imagine. IMAGINE. Something so seemly small exposed this man in such a big way. This story is sad on many levels:

Level #1: The VP of the United States could not spell the word potato.

Level #2: I am pretty sure I learned the "no E at the end of the word potato" rule because of this incident (even though I was only recently reminded of it).

Level #3: According to the rest of that article, the boy who did know how to spell "potato" ended up as a high school dropout and fathered a child by age 17.

Level #4: Dan Quayle took the rap for everyone really. Although he should have known better, the word was misspelled on a card the school had provided him. It doesn't really seem all that fair. Someone prone to explain stories like this by way of conspiracy may wonder if someone misspelled the word on the card on purpose to see if they could cause the blunder.

Level #5: If it were not for spell check, this blog post may suffer from several more misspelled words (because I know there are some that fall through the cracks). Then again, one could argue it is in fact spell check itself that leads to students not learning how to spell properly in the first place. Some simple words I will bashfully admit to consistently spelling incorrectly include: sandwHich and refriDgerator.

Level #6: Dan Quayle cannot use the spell-check-leads-to-students-not-learning-to-spell-properly excuse.

You know what goes better with a potato than the letter "E"? Mustard.

I know it sounds strange, but my trusty friend over at the Smitten Kitchen food blog said it would be great, and it is. When I made these potatoes, Zach actually commented on them before I asked him how they were. They are easy, flavorful and go well with steak and red wine.

Dan Quayle Roasted Mustard Potatoes

(adapted from Smitten Kitchen - serves 4)

Cooking spray
1/2 C whole grain Dijon Mustard
1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
3/4 tbsp kosher salt
1 1/2 lbs small potatoes, quartered or halved (depending on the size) into about 3/4 inch wedges (use any variety you like or mix a few different types)
Fresh ground black pepper

Preheat to 425°F. Spray cooking spray onto a large baking sheet. Whisk mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano and salt in a large bowl until blended. Add potatoes; black pepper and toss until the potatoes are completely coated. Spread potatoes in single layer on the baking sheet.
Roast potatoes 20 minutes. Remove from oven to flip them. Roast them for another 20 to 25 minutes until the potatoes are crusty on the outside and soft on the inside (about 40 to 45 minutes in all).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Murder Mystery Dinner

I have never been one to go all out for Halloween. However, lately I feel like any excuse to dress up or throw a party needs to be taken full advantage of. This year, Zach and I hosted a murder mystery dinner party entitled "Pasta, Passion & Pistols". We bought a box set that included everything from the invitations to character descriptions and booklets to follow with a CD. The box even provided menu suggestions (which I opted not to take).

There were eight sketchy dinner guests in all, and each (with the exception of two) were suspected of MURDER:









I will not give anything away, but I will say I was impressed with some of the character performances. I would suggest a murder mystery dinner party to anyone. It was a really great time. The setting was an Italian family gathering in 'Mama Rosa's' restaurant after the murder of her husband, "Pepe Roni".

The menu consisted of:
Pumpkin Lasagna
Lemony Garlic Green Beans
Balsamic Salad
3-Tomato Bruschetta
Store-bought Halloween Cupcakes

I literally had no time to cook on Saturday so the responsibility fell on Zach. He prepared the pumpkin lasagna which is the recipe i am posting. There are a few things I would change about the recipe, but overall, it was a really interesting dish.

In Loving Memory Pumpkin Lasagna:

(recipe from Food Network Magazine)

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 to 6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 lb spicy Italian sausage, casings removed*
1/2 cup red wine
1 28-ounce can tomato sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 16-ounce box lasagna noodles
1 large egg
2 1/2 cups ricotta cheese (this was way too much ricotta...I would probably use about 1 1/2 C next time)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded Romano cheese
1 large zucchini, very thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pumpkin puree in a fine sieve over a bowl; set aside to drain while you make the sauce.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 more minutes. Add the sausage and cook until brown, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Pour in the wine and cook until reduced by half. Stir in the tomato sauce and herbs and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Season with salt and pepper, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lasagna noodles and cook as the label directs. Drain and toss with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil.
Mix the strained pumpkin puree with the egg in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella and the romano.
Build your lasagna in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish: Start with a layer of sauce, then top with a layer of noodles. Evenly spread half of the pumpkin filling over the noodles.

Then spread half of the sliced zucchini, over the noodles.

Top with half of the cheese mixture and cover with some of the sauce.

Repeat the layers, finishing with noodles and sauce; sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella.

Bake, uncovered, 35 to 40 minutes, or until bubbly. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing.

Serve with a nice big Italian-style salad. This one was made with tomatoes, green olives, onion, pine nuts, feta cheese, shaved Parmesan, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

*Zach made a separate lasagna without the sausage by just following the exact recipe and leaving it out. I tasted it later, and it was fine. However, the dish is better with the strong flavor of the sausage so if you leave it out, you may want to use more strong-flavored cheese like the Romano along with more herbs and spices to make up for it.

I wish the pictures were better, but my camera only does so well when lit by candlelight. Using the flash just didn't capture the mood.