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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Mmmore Meatloaf!

Happy Birthday to Papa John!

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One of the weirder, yet endearing things about my husband is the fact that if he goes to a fancy restaurant and they have meatloaf on the menu, he will order it. Every. Single. Time. Like a total weirdo. I’m carving my way through a juicy perfectly cooked steak. And he’s eating meatloaf. So we make quite a bit of meatloaf at home, too. Here’s another version of my classic: feel free to double it as I did and freeze one (or both) for later!

First ye grab yer meat. A lot of it. Enough for two loaves. I prefer the lean stuff – the extra lean is wayyyy more expensive and is harder to stick together.

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Then ye take yer onions.

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And yer mushrooms.

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And ye put them in a bowl.

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With a lot of other stuff: panko bread crumbs, Newfoundland savoury, oregano, salt, pepper. The works, really.

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Then you chuck the meat in a bowl and add some eggs. Like, four or five.

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Dump in the rest of the stuff too and give it a good stirring. Feel free to use your hands. Tip in some Worcestershire sauce as well for flavour.

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When you’re ready, whisk up a concoction that’s a mix of barbecue sauce, Dijon mustard, and honey.

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Spread that in the bottom of your two loaf pans.

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Cram the meat on top and smooth it down. See how that sauce comes up the sides? That’ll keep it from drying out.

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When you’re done, you can either cover it up and shove it in the freezer …

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Or you can bake it at 350°F until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F.

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Then you eat it. Unfortunately cooked meatloaf does not photograph well. But you get the picture.

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Deadly Mashed Potatoes

Last Friday was Mrs. Nice’s birthday, and so yesterday, once Mags and the Dutchman had returned from their honeymoon, we had a little lunch party to celebrate. I have tons of great recipes to show you from that lunch, but I’m going to start with the basics here. Now, you KNOW how to make mashed potatoes. And I KNOW that you know now to make mashed potatoes.

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Bu there are a million ways to add a little bit of extra WOW to your mashed potatoes. And here’s one of them. Once you’ve got your potatoes peeled (optional), cut, and boiled, start your mashing. Tip in a bit of milk and some plain yogurt (or cream cheese, or sour cream), and give it a whaz with the hand mixer to make them extra smooth.

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For presentation, smooth them into a large bowl and form a depression in the middle. Add a generous hunk of butter and a dash of pepper and let that butter melt absolutely everywhere. If you put it in the oven to keep warm at this point the butter will ooze all down the sides (best seen in a glass dish like this one) and everyone will be clamouring for seconds. I rarely end up with leftovers. Today was no exception.

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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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Fancy Pants Sammiches

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For my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary party I made a large number of cocktail sandwiches – those are the ones where you cut all the crusts off the bread, or you buy the long, already crustless tramezzini (which is what I did). I’m going to give you all my sandwich filling recipes in one post, and I’ll leave it up to you to do with them what you will!

Fancy Sammiches 181: Smokey Egg Salad Fancy Sammiches 6 Start with about a dozen hard-boiled eggs. Smush them up good. Fancy Sammiches 2 Mince up some chives and tip that into the eggs, together with some salt and pepper, a scoop of Hungarian smoked paprika, and a dollop of mayonnaise. Stir to combine. Fancy Sammiches 52: Lemon-Dill Tuna

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Mince up some celery.

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Grab some herbs as well, like sage, and of course dill. Mince those too.

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Add them in a bowl with your canned flaked tuna, and the juice and zest of 1 lemon.

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Add in just a wee bit of yogurt or mayonnaise for cohesion.

3: Classic Cucumber and Herb

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Grab a small handful each of fresh mint and chives. Mince those up.

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Beat those into softened plain cream cheese and season with salt and pepper. Serve with sliced cucumbers.

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4: Curried “Coronation” Chicken

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Dismantle and shred a small roasted chicken from the grocery store. Mix in a large amount of fresh chopped pineapple sage, as well as a little bit of onion powder, cumin, yellow curry, and a pinch of cardamom. Tip in plain yogurt or mayonnaise for cohesion.

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5: Peanut Butter & Jelly “Sushi”

Fancy Sammiches 24Smear your bread with the peanut butter of your choice (the all-natural stuff is a mite runny, be warned).

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Top with jelly.

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Roll the whole thing up and slice into discs.

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Corn and Tomato Dip

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Another Martha Stewart dip, and I loooooooove this one. The way I made it is totally unhealthy but that’s kind of the point and it’s amazing. I can totally see myself just sitting down on a late summer afternoon with a bag of tortilla chips and just eating the whole thing for a meal. And then having to roll myself away from the table. Or dying. But what a good way to go. I doubled the amounts I found in the original recipe to fit the food I had and used cream cheese instead of silken tofu because silken tofu is gross and hard to find around here. You can use whatever you prefer.

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Start with some ears of fresh corn. I used five here, bought from the grocery store as our corn season has only just begun in Ontario. Use a knife or a special corn-kernel-scraping tool (whatever they’re called) to get all the kernels off the corn and into a pot.

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Pour in 1 cup 2% milk and heat over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until the corn is nice and tender. Let that cool for a bit.

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Meanwhile, grab a giant bunch of basil (any colour) out of your garden and start slicing that up.

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Grab as well some cherry tomatoes, about 16, and quarter those.

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Plop those in a bowl until you’re ready for them.

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In the bowl of a food processor, plop 1 250g package plain cream cheese, 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, a few pinches of salt, some pepper, and about 2/3 of your corn-milk mix. Buzz that until it’s mostly smooth and uniform.

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Transfer the contents of the food processor to a bowl and mix in the rest of the milk-corn stuff, together with the sliced basil and quartered tomatoes. Serve with chips and enjoy!

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Guacamole Hummus

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I made this Martha Stewart dip for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary party and it was a lovely and cool addition to the nibblies section. It’s also got all the best parts of guacamole and of hummus without the extra effort of the hummus and the non-storability of the guacamole as separate entities. I made quite a few Martha Stewart recipes for this party, as Ms. Martha sure knows how to throw a shindig. It goes well with tortilla chips or any flatbread and lasts a couple days wrapped up in the fridge.

Start by thoroughly washing a large bunch of cilantro. And by washing I mean fill your sink with a few inches of water, plop the bunch in, and swish the stalks around with more water pounding down on top.

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Because cilantro is filthy. This is the sink after I pulled it out, shook it off, and towel dried it. Chop the leaves off and shove them into the bowl of your food processor.

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Halve as well two to three ripe avocados (the original recipe called for only one but that didn’t seem like enough). Chuck those in the food processor as well.

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Then drain a 15oz can of chick peas and rinse them well. Pour those into the food processor too. I also added in one of my pucks of roasted garlic purée.

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Start the machine running and chopping all your dippy goodness up. While it’s going, drizzle in some olive oil and some water until it’s the smooth consistency that you like. A couple tablespoons of each should suffice. Tip in a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice too.

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Season it to taste with salt and pepper and serve with lemon wedges and all sorts of scoopable tortilla chips and flatbreads.

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