Meals en Masse: Beef Lasagna

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In preparation for the fact that in two months my life is about to get turned upside down and I won’t have any time or energy to do much, I’m trying to make it a little easier on myself. At least once a week I’m trying to prepare a meal that I can do in triplicate, where we eat one version and store the other two in the freezer. This week I made up a hearty lasagna to feed Papa John and Mrs. Nice, and the other two went into the freezer for some night this summer when we’re willing to brave the heat to get our pasta fix.

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Of course I never measure anything when I make lasagna, but I’ll try to give you some approximations here for a triplicate recipe if you’re interested in trying it for yourself (and feeling very smug later when you realize you have two giant lasagnas sitting in your freezer).

First I mixed up the cheese layer, which was 2 750g tubs of cottage cheese (you can use ricotta if you prefer, but if you’re buying in this amount the cottage cheese is way cheaper), 3 rectangular packages of chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained, the equivalent of 2 heads minced garlic (or however much you prefer), and a smattering of freshly ground salt and pepper.

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Creamy cheesy goodness.

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Then you can chop up your veg. I like to choose vegetables that add substance to the lasagna without competing with individual flavours, so mushrooms (8-10), eggplant (1), and zucchini (2 small) are favourites of mine, together with sweet red peppers (2) to boost the colour.

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Next, a giant sweet onion gets chopped up and added to a large stock pot with a few tablespoons olive oil and a knob of butter.

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Once those are soft and fragrant, break up your ground meat with your fingers and tip it in. This is about 2kg extra lean ground beef. If you use medium ground you’ll probably want to drain the fat off once it’s cooked.

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When it IS cooked, tip in your veg and let those soften. Add in some of your favourite spices, like oregano and basil.

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Next, about 3 jars tomato sauce.

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Let that simmer down for a little bit.

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Grate up about 2 large bricks mozzarella. When in doubt, err on the side of too much cheese. Always.

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Now get your stuff organized for assembly. you’ll also need 2-3 boxes uncooked oven-ready lasagna noodles. Be smart and spray your pasta dishes before you use them. The glass one is the one I’m making right away, but the disposable aluminum pans are for the freezer – I don’t own enough Pyrex to put them all in the freezer at the same time. Plus the aluminum ones make great frozen tasty gifts for those of your friends who are in a similar situation to myself. HINT, HINT.

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Layer on some noodles, flat in the bottom, then a generous helping of tomato sauce. You’re aiming for about 1/6th of your sauce for each pan.

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More noodles, and then divide your cheese evenly between your three pans.

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More noodles. I ran out of noodles at this point because I only had two boxes, so I had to run out and get more. And it was cold. Hooray for expectant mother parking spots.

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Finally add in the rest of your sauce and smother it lovingly in cheese.

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The ready-made version can be cooked in about 45-60 minutes at 350°F.

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I’m putting in this same photo again so you can see how saucy and liquidy the sauce is, despite its thickness – that extra liquid means the noodles will cook through properly without drying out the dish.

The others need to be wrapped well and frozen. I recommend thawing them before cooking, and they’ll probably take about twice as long to cook through because they won’t already be nice and warm. Enjoy!

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Starting Seeds!

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If you live in a northern climate you’re probably starting to hope that spring is just around the corner. In Canada, it’ll fool you. This past weekend I sat outside on our back step in just a tshirt and absorbed the sun into my pasty, pasty skin. But there’s still the threat of frost and so planting season around here begins quite late.

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You can, however, start your seeds inside 6-8 weeks before you plant them outside, and so you start with sturdy little seedlings that are more likely to survive some of the colder spring days.

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Use a potting soil that suits your needs – there are all different kinds.

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Just remember to keep the pots moist (but not dripping) and in a place that gets some decent sun – I’m trying to keep mine all on the same side of the house as where they’ll be planted, in case that helps.

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This mint I bought from the grocery store when I was making the Brazilian Lemonade – it will just root itself in a glass of water after about a week. Mint grows everywhere, and is really hard to kill.

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And when they get bigger I’m putting them in these fancy little holders – the height means that I don’t have to negotiate with my giant belly in order to weed them and I’m hoping it will help to deter the bunnies … WE SHALL SEE!

Wingin’ It Wednesday: Just a Pinch

Happy birthday to Grenadier, the star of Ali Does It and the furry love of my life. He’s FIVE today!

Tired snow dolphin. #corgisofinstagram #corgistagram

A post shared by Alison Bell (@alidoesit.herself) on

For a very long time, I’ve had a certain fascination with the giant and colossal squid. Next to polar bears, they’re my favourite animal. I’m not sure why mega-predators of the Arctic and sub-Arctic are my thing, but that’s just who I am I guess. Knowing this, friends and family members often purchase me trinkets related to my love of those horrible tentacled things; however, because squid are WAY less cute and cuddly than other sea creatures, they’re hard to find. So more often than not, I end up with octopus-related items. Don’t get me wrong: the octopus is a great and noble creature. But it ain’t no squid. And I have a large amount of octopus-related paraphernalia these days. So NOW people think that I have a love for the octopus. So I get MORE. It’s a good thing that the octopus is still pretty cool. And that I have a decent collection of other marine-related fauna. Anyway. I got these for Christmas. Aren’t they adorable?

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The issue is that we prefer our pepper and salt to be freshly ground, so we have these overly expensive grinders that we adore.

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But those are too cute to put away, so what can I do? Why not put in some other spices that I should use more of in my daily seasonings? It’s a good alternative to salt, if you’re one of those people who uses a bit more than you should. Just give your favourite herb/spice combo a good whaz in your grinder to make sure it doesn’t clog up the holes in the shaker.

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I used a funnel to pour in my newly ground spice – just a small amount so it doesn’t go stale.

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And now it’s ready to add some extra zest to my life!

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Quick Hostess Gift: Rosemary Candle

Happy birthday Dad!

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I just spent the weekend hanging around in Chel’s living room, eating her food and lolling about on her couch. So before I did that, I whipped up a cute little beauty of a wee giftie for her and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.

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Start with a clean (and cute) jar. Glue a nice long candle wick to the bottom of it and stuff fresh woody herbs like rosemary around the sides.

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Grab a decent amount of soy wax, enough to fit your jar, and melt that sucker up.

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Add some essential oils. I added lemon along with the rosemary oil because it works well with rosemary and I love it.

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Pour your wax into your jar and poke the herbs down so they don’t float.

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Let solidify and garnish with a pretty ribbon. Gift away!

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Fast-Tip Friday: Drying Herbs

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If you’re lucky, you still have time to run out and grab the rest of your late-summer herbs from the garden and do something with them before it’s too late. If you’re me, then while you were out of the country for work the temperatures dropped below zero and now all your basil is a disgusting black mess.

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HOWEVER, there’s still hope for a good number of your other hardier herbs.

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Since the summer, I’ve been hauling baskets of herbs inside to process. Some end up in butter (because mmmm, butter), and some, like the lemongrass stalks you see in this basket, go in the freezer. But most of them, I dry. It takes almost zero effort on my part and then the herbs are there for me to mix and package as gifts: spice rubs and herbal teas are quick and easy to make.

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What makes it easiest is this handy-dandy herb dryer that I picked up from Lee Valley. Hang it somewhere out of the way with good air circulation (for us, that’s over the side of our main staircase), and then just shove it full of fresh herbs.

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The mesh will allow air to circulate on all sides, meaning nothing gets mouldy or soggy, and some of your herbs, like lemon balm, will dry in a matter of days. And you didn’t have to do ANYTHING!

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Added bonus: for the few days it takes these herbs to start to dry up, the hallway smells like pizza or lemons or whatever we’ve got in the shelves.

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SideBar: Mint Julep, Modified

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This year, Ottawa marked one of the hottest summers on record. I’m sure that wherever you are, the super el Niño occurring this year really messed with your summer. Here in Ottawa, summer is very reluctant to let go, and the temperatures here in September are only now just starting to cool down to what they should be.

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As it still feels like summer, why not enjoy a summer beverage on this lovely Friday? Yes, it’s yet another bourbon drink, but bourbon is such a very adaptable alcohol – there’s so much you can do with it (and Trav drinks a heckuva lot of it). This is a twist on the traditional mint julep, which is made with bourbon and mint and sugar – that’s it.

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Trav and I decided to take advantage of the massive amounts of lemon balm taking over my garden (so I can make more lemon balm tea) and do a wee varietal (lemon balm is also mint, after all). We also used honey syrup instead of regular sugar syrup (which is 1 cup honey dissolved in 1 cup hot water).

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Grab yourself a glass of some sort. I didn’t have any silver julep cups on hand because I’m not that fancy, so this is just a tumbler that used to be filled with weird Italian effervescents for digestion. Shove about 8 or 9 lemon balm leaves into the bottom of the glass.

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Tip in 3/4 oz honey syrup, and using a muddler (or a spurtle, because I’m not fancy enough to own a muddler), proceed to squish the crap out of your honeyed leaves.

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Squish, squish, squish.

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Now pour in some decent booze, about 2oz bourbon to be exact. I like this Evan Williams kind for this drink because it’s a little fruity.

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Top with some ice cubes. Or one giant one. The ice will hold the leaves down so you don’t sip them up accidentally.

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Sip it whilst calmly admiring your bumper crop of lemon balm.

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Fast Tip Friday: Fancy Dip, Freaking Fast!

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You want the best dip ever, and you want to make it fast? Well have I got a solution for you! Granted, its speed is based on the fact that you have a herb garden handy, as well as some frozen pucks of puréed garlic. But if you have been visiting Ali Does It for a while then I expect that you would have both of those things already.

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So go out and grab a bunch of your herbs. Like, a BUNCH. I have some basil, parsley, lemon thyme, sage, and a million chives and garlic chives. Mince those into a bowl with your thawed garlic puck, and add a little salt and pepper to taste. Tip in a 500mL container of plain Greek Yogurt. Stir. That’s it!

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