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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Fast Tip Friday: Singleton’s Pizza

Singleton's Pizza 11When I was younger, and my dad was away at sea and my brothers had gone out for the evening, my mother and I would sometimes take it easy from dinner preparation for one night and do something quick and dirty with the leftovers we had in the fridge. Now that I’m a grown-up, it’s the perfect thing to cobble together on nights when the Pie is out of town and all I want to do is plant my butt on the couch with a beer and watch the game. You just need three things: leftover spaghetti sauce (the chunkier the better), cheese, and rice cakes (this also works on pita, na’an, and any other form of flat bread). Singleton's Pizza 1

Heat up the sauce a bit and grate some cheese.

Singleton's Pizza 2Gren has realized I have the cheese grater out. Singleton's Pizza 3

Gren is trying to inhale the cheese from where he’s standing. I love it when he wrinkles up his face like that because I know if he could see himself doing it he’d be totally embarrassed.

Singleton's Pizza 4Line a baking sheet with parchment, move your oven rack to the middle, and turn on your broiler (don’t move it to the top or you will simply set all this on fire). Place your rice cakes(or flatbread) on the baking sheet. Top the rice cakes with your warm sauce. Singleton's Pizza 6

Add grated cheese. Give some to your dog or he won’t go away. To make it less sad singleton, I added some fresh basil out of the garden and that made me feel a little less lazy and pathetic.

Singleton's Pizza 7Broil until the cheese is melted to your satisfaction. Singleton's Pizza 10

Eat!

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Spag Bol Redux

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I have so many fun and exciting things to show you guys in the near future, but I thought I’d do a little bit of a retrospective today. My very first entry on this here blog, five-plus years and 900-odd posts ago, was a recipe for spaghetti bolognese. I make this spaghetti sauce all the freaking time, so I thought I’d do another post just to show you how things have changed over the years, but they still remain in essence the same. For one, the Pie and I went vegetarian for a month when I made that post so there’s no meat in that sauce. For another, I was way lazier when it came to chopping things up, so my sauces were much chunkier. I like them a bit more uniform these days.

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Some things stay the same, though: I always load it down with diced onions to start. I made a crapton (a metric measurement of course) of this so that I could freeze it so I can’t give you exact measurements. Just lots.

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I always add diced red pepper (I’m allergic to green) and diced mushrooms. You can add whatever you wish, though. Sometimes I chuck in whatever’s in my fridge that needs to be used: avocadoes (they add a nice thickness the sauce), tomatoes, sometimes even carrots.

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And then of course a variety of tomato-based canned items. I used to use jarred spaghetti sauce as my base but I found they were sneaking green peppers into the mix and it wasn’t doing my digestive system any good so I switched to canned crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and canned diced tomatoes.

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First I start by sautéeing up the onions with olive oil and a little butter. I let them go until they’re smelly and soft. Then I pull apart a large hunk of lean or extra lean ground beef. I like to break it up with my fingers to ensure that there are no big chunks in the pot. You can also use ground turkey or pork or whatever works for you. If you’re going the veggie route and using TVP, add that last.

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After the meat is browned to my satisfaction I tip in my vegetables, as well as some minced garlic, salt, pepper, and various spices.

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I like a mix of italian spice plus extra basil.

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I add in all my tomato things as well and give that a grand old stirring.

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Let that simmer for at least half an hour so the flavours can mingle, and feel free to adjust the spices as you see fit. I like to let it simmer as long as I can, but it’s good either way.

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Cool and freeze or serve hot on top of your favourite fresh pasta, baked into a pasta casserole, or glopped on top of bread as a sloppy joe!

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Chicken in Toronto

In the last week of August I went to Toronto for the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, which was incredibly exciting for me, to be able to rub elbows with all the people I hope to know personally once I’ve finished my doctorate.

I was also able to meet the Pie in town on two nights and catch some Blue Jays games.  This is Jose Bautista.  He’s not much to look at but he got a home run on one night.

I stayed with my best friend Chel and her lovely new husband Invis right downtown.  Talk about making the most out of a small space!  Here is their tiny kitchen, with Invis filling up most of it.  Chel had the clever idea of using one of her favourite coat hangers (because she couldn’t find another place for it) to hang up her pots and pans. I think it’s genius.

One night  they were kind enough to allow me to cook them dinner, and we decided, since it was hot and humid in the Big Smoke, to keep things on the simple side.  We settled on a chicken rosé sauce on pasta followed by vanilla ice cream with strawberry and red currant fruit sauce.

We decided to feature basil in the recipe because Chel has been keeping a lush little plant going for some time.Chop up a few boneless skinless chicken breasts, as well as a small onion, some mushrooms, and a red pepper or two.  And don’t forget lots and lots of fresh basil.

Chuck the onion in a pot with some olive oil and sauté until translucent.Season your chicken breasts and plop them in as well.  Stir it around until the chicken is cooked through.Add in your basil and let that aroma fill the space as it heats up.Then drop in your vegetables and let them cook for a wee spell.Now you can pour in a jar of your favourite pasta or other tomato sauce.Add in some whipping cream as well, about 250mL.  Let the whole thing simmer.If you find it’s too watery you can add in a can of tomato paste to thicken it up.Serve over your pasta of choice and you’ve got a lovely meal.Now while that is simmering you can whip up your dessert fruit sauce.  We found some lovely fresh red currants in the grocery store so I added them, some cut up strawberries, a bit of sugar, and some juice to the pot and set it to boil.Once you have simmered it for a while, remove it from the heat and let it cool while you eat your dinner.  Pour it over ice cream and you’re all set.

“Mexican” Rice

I’m not sure how truly “authentic” this particular recipe is, but it makes for a good side for our enchiladas.  The Pie found this recipe on the internet in preparation for a potluck, I think.  It’s very easy, and it makes you look like you know what you’re doing.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Mince a small onion and chuck it in a pan with about two tablespoons vegetable oil and two teaspoons minced garlic and sauté them until translucent.

Toss in one teaspoon chili powder and one tablespoon ground cumin and stir it around.

Pour in one cup uncooked rice.  Pour in two cups chicken stock.  Then add about 1/4 cup of spaghetti or other tomato sauce.

Bring it to a boil.

Pour the whole thing into a casserole dish and stir it to evenly distribute the rice. 

Cover it with aluminum foil and bake it for about 35-40 minutes, until the stock is all absorbed and the rice is tender.

Let it rest for about five minutes before serving.  It’s best to transfer it to a nice bowl so you can stir everything up again.

We had it with enchiladas.  Mmm.

Italian Pot Pies

Because the weather outside refuses to cooperate, I wholeheartedly reject the idea that it is actually spring out there.  Accordingly, I’m still making the steamy comfort food characteristic of the winter months.  These little pies come out of the oven molten hot, and the tart flavours of the sauce really accent the classy biscuit topping.

This is a Martha Stewart recipe, and it’s quick and easy and a great way to use up leftover spaghetti sauce.  Normally the Pie and I use stuff we make ourselves, but tonight I was lazy and so I followed the recipe (shocking, I know).  I apologize in advance for the lighting in the photographs.  It was late in the day and it’s been a rainy week.

Preheat your oven to 450°F and position your rack on the lowest or second-lowest possible level.

In a saucepan or large skillet over medium heat, warm up about 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Add in 1 medium onion and 2 carrots, finely chopped.  Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until tender (about 8 minutes).

Add in 1 pound or so of lean ground beef.  Break up the meat with a utensil and cook until no longer pink (about 5 minutes).  You could also definitely do a vegetarian version of this, just omit the meat and ‘beef’ up your sauce a bit.  I suggest cheese.

Pour in 2 cups tomato or spaghetti sauce and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer until slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary, and a pinch of salt.  As an aside, I got the above mortar and pestle for about 2 bucks at IKEA.  It’s a very handy thing to have around.

Make a well in the centre and pour in 1/2 cup milk and 4 tablespoons melted butter.  Stir just until dough comes together.

Set 4 8-ounce ramekins on a baking sheet.  Spoon in the meat mixture.

Mound spoonfuls of dough on top.

Bake until the topping is golden and you can stick a toothpick in it and have it come out clean (about 12 minutes).

Be careful, it’s hot!

Not Huevos Rancheros

In my mind, these are huevos rancheros, even though I know they’re really not. But it’s easy comfort food and I believe you should be able to call comfort food whatever the heck you want to.

Start with your prep.  Chop about four medium-sized mushrooms and half a large onion.  While you’re at it, preheat the oven to 400°F.

Add whatever vegetables you feel like chopping.

In a cast iron skillet or other pan that can go in the oven, saute the mushrooms and onion with some olive oil until tender.

Sautee until tender.

Dump in 1 to 2 cups of baby spinach or chopped regular spinach and allow to wilt.

I estimate that this is about a cup and a half.

Pour in a jar of spaghetti sauce.  My mother uses salsa.  Both are good, though perhaps her version is closer to the original.  At this point I would also add some extra herbs for spice, but tonight I forgot.

Use spaghetti sauce or salsa.

Bring to a rapid simmer, stirring frequently, until thoroughly hot all the way through.

Carefully crack the eggs into separate areas of the skillet.

Carefully crack four eggs into separate places on the skillet.  Cook on the stovetop until the whites become milky, then sprinkle with 1 1/2 cups of grated cheddar or mozzerella cheese and bung it in the oven for about ten minutes until the eggs are cooked all the way through and the sauce is all bubbly.

Bake until the eggs are completely cooked.

Serve over rice.  There’s enough for four, or just two if you’re really hungry, which we were.

Serve with rice and eat hot!

Quick and Classic Spaghetti Sauce

It really hurts my brain when people invite me over for dinner and they serve spaghetti with sauce straight out of a can.  Why would you do that when it is so easy to make something a little more special?

My mother has been making spaghetti sauce from scratch for as long as I can remember, and it always, always tastes ten times better than anything I’ve ever gotten at a restaurant – or anywhere else, for that matter.  I learned how to make it myself and have been modifying it ever since.  I’m not a huge measurer when it comes to sauces, so it’s different every time. Feel free to use your own judgment in this.

So now, for the first time ever in print, a classic and easy spaghetti sauce I learned from my mother, who learned it from her mother.  I’ll give you the quick and the slow versions, as well as the non-vegetarian option.

First, you need to prep your vegetables.  Chop, into small chunks:

 

1 large onion (white or yellow work best)

2 bell peppers (we use red because I’m allergic to the green, but I’ve always thought the green added better colour)

10 average-sized mushrooms (whichever kind suit your fancy)

2 jalapeño peppers (optional, but I like a bit of the spice – make sure you’re careful when cutting these, as pepper juice in the eye is excruciating)

My favourite spices
Can you smell that?
This one reminded me of baby food.

In a large pot, sauté the onions in a few teaspoons of olive oil until tender.  Sprinkle in a healthy pinch each (I’m talking three fingers and your thumb, here) of basil and oregano, as well as two or three crushed cloves of garlic.  I’m a pretty lazy cook, and a handy shortcut I discovered is garlic in a jar.  I’m experimenting with brands at the moment, because I can’t get my beloved Mr. Goudas brand here in Newfoundland, but I figure a teaspoonful of minced garlic is a good-sized clove’s worth.

Carnivorous Option: If you were adding meat to your recipe, now would be the time to do it.  I usually add a brick-sized amount of ground beef, turkey, sausage or pork.  Chorizo or other cooked sausage works just as well.  Brown the meat carefully and thoroughly, and then drain any excess fat.  If you use a lean or extra lean ground you won’t have to drain it.

Now add the rest of your vegetables to the pot and allow to soften for a few minutes until their colour is heightened.

When the vegetables’ colour turns bright, they’re ready.

In this next step you have a bunch of options.

Take your pick of available sauces.

For the slow and steady cook, add one large can of diced tomatoes and one of crushed tomatoes.

Pour some water into the empty jar and shake it to get all the saucy goodness.

Instead of a can of crushed tomatoes you can use a jar of commercial spaghetti sauce, which has the benefit of a few extra spices added in.  If the Pie is around I usually don’t put in the diced tomatoes, either, just two jars of spaghetti sauce.  For the particular recipe illustrated here, I used a carton of Trader Joe’s Starter Sauce, and it was a nice balance of tomato for both of us.  I find a little extra liquid is always helpful with this sauce, as it tends to reduce over time, so what I do is pour a splash or two into the empty spaghetti sauce jar, close the lid, and shake it, to get all the saucy goodness out of it and into my pot.

If you are taking the vegetarian option, now you would add your TVP.  The Pie is more of a measurer than I am, and he says he put about a cup of the stuff into this particular sauce.  I like the action shot of it pouring into the pot.  You will find that because TVP absorbs water, you will need a bit more liquid than you would if you used meat, so keep that in mind.

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
TVP Action Shot

Get the sauce to a low simmer, and leave it, stirring occasionally, for about an hour.  The longer you simmer it, the longer the flavours have to mix.  You can also make this recipe in a slow-cooker, moving everything to the crock pot after the meat stage and going from there.

Serve with your choice of pasta and lots of parmesan cheese.  There is enough sauce here for about 8 people.