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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Mini Wonton Quiches

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I finally did get to have that finger-food brunch I was trying for. These wonton mini quiches were a big hit.

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I enjoyed cutting up all the vegetables super small to fit in the tiny muffin cup spaces.

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I did scoop the seeds out of the tomatoes to avoid mushiness.

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And I couldn’t decide on cheeses, so I went with both.

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I grabbed some fresh herbs from my very own backyard, because it’s actually spring now.

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In the end I had one set of quiches with mushroom, spinach, chives, and goat cheese, and the other was tomato, onion, cheddar, and cilantro. For amounts I kind of winged it, sorry.

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Anyway, preheat your oven to 350°F and line your muffin tins with two wonton wrappers each. Align them so they are at 45° angles to each other for the largest surface area. I didn’t do this but I would recommend greasing the muffin tins before you do this.

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Then I stuffed the tins with my vegetable-cheese mixtures.

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Then I started cracking some eggs. For 24 mini quiches I used about 14 eggs. I also added in a few tablespoons cream, some salt and pepper, and some grated parmesan. Gave that a good mixing.

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Then I ever so carefully poured the egg goo into the muffin cups.

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It’s hard to get it so it doesn’t go around the seal of the wonton.

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I baked them for about 15 minutes, until they were cooked through.

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Because I didn’t grease the pan it took some persuasion to get them out.

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But they were so good!

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And even great for a cold quick breakfast or lunch the next day!

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Fast-Tip Friday: The Salad Roll

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If you haven’t seen this little trick before then I’m super pleased to be able to be the one to show it to you. One of our issues when we make salads or deal with fresh greens is that we always have way too many and they get all gross after just a few days. So one of the tricks we picked up in Newfoundland (the land of rotten vegetables) is this: the salad roll.

So you take your greens, spinach, lettuce, whatever, and you give it a good wash and a bit of a shake (so that there’s still some water on the leaves).

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Then you lay it out in a thin layer along the length of a clean dish towel.

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And you roll it up. Not too tightly. But tight enough that the leaves aren’t sliding around in there.

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Then you can toss this in the fridge and your greens will last so much longer!

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Wingin’ It Wednesday: Stuffed Ham

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Don’t be too weirded out by that title. I mean, stuffed ham is a little odd, but it’s doable.  The Pie and I were planning a lazy Easter supper and he had hauled a small pre-cooked ham out of the freezer. But I wanted to try something a bit different so I thought, why does no one stuff hams like they do turkeys? So I gave it some thought, and I did some research.

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There are stuffed ham recipes involving complex cutting of grooves and bread crumbs and lots of work – usually for a larger, on-the-bone type of ham. But I wanted to be lazy and innovative all at the same time.

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So first I thawed out about half a package of frozen spinach (ended up being about 150g). I squeezed out the extra water and chucked it in a bowl.

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Then I added 1 package plain cream cheese (250g). It was previously frozen so that’s why it’s all crumbly like that.

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And some salt and pepper.

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Then I realized it was in too small of a bowl so I moved it.

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And gave it a good stirring.

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Now here I have my pre-cooked ham.

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I took a paring knife to it and cut it in a spiral from the cut side (the knife didn’t go all the way through).

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Then. Well, then I stuffed it with my cream cheese mixture. It was not as easy as I thought it would be.

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I plopped the remainder on the cut side top.

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Wrapped it in tin foil, and baked it at 350°F for about an hour, until the internal temperature was about 145°F. I ended up unwrapping the aluminum foil after a while because it was doing too good a job of insulating the ham.

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Then the question was, how do you carve it?

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I went with plain slices.

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Despite it being a total madcap experiment, it was really good!

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Hot and Sour Thai Chicken Noodle Soup

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This comes from The Foodess and it might be THE BEST THING EVER.  I love hot and sour soup, as does Atlas, so I made this with her in mind and everyone who ate it LOVED it.

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Start with with a giant pot and chuck in 2 litres of chicken broth. I like the low-salt stuff. Add 2 cups water to that.

Now slice some stuff up. Take some ginger, a 2″ knob.

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Peel that and slice it up.

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Grab 2 stalks lemongrass, and peel off the outer bits.

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Slice it into 2″ lengths. I also cut mine in half lengthwise, to increase the lemongrass flavour’s exposure to the broth.

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Grab a handful of kaffir lime leaves (about 8-10). You can freeze the other ones for later.

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So you’ve got all this stuff.

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Chuck all that in the pot with the broth and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat, stuff the lid on and leave it for 30 minutes.

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In the meantime, grab yourself some mushrooms. The recipe called for 2 cups whole button mushrooms but I had shiitake on hand, so I cut off the woody stems and sliced them into strips instead.

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Slice up a cup of cherry tomatoes as well.

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Grab 2 oz dried noodles, any kind. I liked the look of this ditali stuff.

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You’re also going to need a cold roasted chicken, like the kind you get at the grocery store. I used to be leery of the fact that they sat out for so long, but then I talked to someone who worked at a grocery store and he said they sold so fast they were always making new ones. And they’re such a time-saver!

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Anyway, take that sucker and pick it apart, shredding the meat with your fingers. You’re going to need 2 cups shredded chicken, so I just did the whole bird and got a little more than that.

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Juice 3 limes and set that aside for a minute.

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Gather together as well a giant bunch of baby spinach leaves, and chop them coarsely. It’s harder than it looks.

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Chop up as well a giant handful of cilantro. I had a brainfart in the grocery store and bought Italian parsley by mistake and had to go back. But they are very similar in appearance. So I chucked in some Italian parsley too.

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While you’re gathering your stuff together, grab some fish sauce and sriracha, and some sea salt.

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Use a slotted spoon to remove the ginger, lemongrass, and lime leaves from the broth. You can chuck those bits in the compost now.

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Add in the mushrooms, tomatoes, and noodles. Bring those puppies back to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes, until the noodles are tender.

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Stir in the chicken, 4-6 tablespoons sriracha (I used 2 tablespoons because of the nursing mum, and it was spicy enough), the lime juice, and a few teaspoons fish sauce. Add some salt to taste.

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Add in your spinach and cilantro and cook that for a minute or so until everything is bright green. Serve hot, with additional cilantro on top, if desired. Fantastic the next day.

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Baked Spinach and Artichoke Dip

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I have another recipe for an artichoke dip here, but for Krystopf and Atlas’ baby shower this past weekend, I decided on a lighter version that I got from The Best of Clean Eating 2and it was such a hit that despite it making more dip than I ever thought possible, it was completely gone after just three hours.  Cait liked it so much that she insisted I push forward all other blog posts so that she could get this recipe as soon as possible.  So here you go.  I made this dip the day before the shower and chucked it in the fridge, saving the last step of baking and sprinkling of cheese for right before the party.

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Start by defrosting a 10oz package of frozen chopped spinach.

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Drain it well (you can see my handprint from pressing on it) and set it aside.

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Chop up 4 or 5 green onions and set those aside for now as well.

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Chop up about 1 1/2 cups cauliflower (this is the low-calorie filler in this dip) and pop that in a pot.  You could use frozen cauliflower as well, if you’d prefer.  Cook it until it’s tender and drain it.

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Huck the cauliflower into the bowl of a food processor and add 1 250g/8oz package cream cheese, as well as 3 tablespoons milk.  Purée that sucker to a fine liquid, then transfer it to a bowl for now.

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Chop up a large white onion and several cloves of garlic.  Don’t worry about getting them too fine.  Whip those into a large frying pan with a few drops of olive oil.  Sauté those for about 8-10 minutes, until the onion is all soft and see-through.  Chuck those in the food processor you were using before.

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Crack open and drain a 14oz can artichoke hearts.  Chop those suckers up smallish and throw them in the processor.

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Take your spinach and chuck that in as well, together with about 1/4 cup fresh dill sprigs, a few pinches salt, and a half teaspoon ground cayenne pepper.

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Give that a go in the processor until it’s a texture you like.

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Dump it out into the bowl with the cauliflower/cream cheese mixture and add in the chopped green onions.  Give it a good stirring and add more salt or cayenne as required.

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To bake the dip, preheat your oven to 350°F and smooth the dip into a largish-sized casserole dish.

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Bake this, covered, for 20 minutes.

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Uncover it and sprinkle it with grated cheese (this is a mix of mozzarella and cheddar).

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Bake again for 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and dip is hot all the way through.  Serve it hot with pita and chips!

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Petite Piglet Patties

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I was going to call these things “savoury sausage sliders,” or even “summer savoury sausage sliders,” but then the Pie suggested the above title and for some reason I started to laugh so hard I needed a tissue and had to sit down.  And then he suggested that, since we used hot italian sausage meat, we call them “picante petite piglet patties” and I may have told him to shut up at that point.

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Anyway.  These are sliders, if you hadn’t gathered that by now.  I picked up a package of ground sausage meat the other day and this is what we did with it.  Basic ingredients are about 1lb ground pork, 1 egg, half a white onion, and some fresh summer savoury.

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Mince up the savoury and the onion and chuck them in a bowl with the sausage meat and the egg.  Season with salt and pepper.

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Give that a good stir with a spoon and then mix in about 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (or whatever kind of bread crumbs you have on hand).

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Form the goo into balls slightly larger than a golf ball but smaller than a cricket ball and flatten them into patties (I ended up with eleven patties).

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Fry those suckers up.  For some reason the light was such in my kitchen on this particular afternoon that it took us twelve tries (the Pie tried to help) of blurry patty photos before I gave up and used flash.

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While that’s on the go, why don’t you have yourself a salad, too?  Here we have a mixture of baby spinach, a small hunk of plain goat’s cheese (chevre), a handful of sliced almonds, another handful of dried cranberries, and a diced ripe pear.

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Then the dressing is 3 equal parts vegetable oil (I used almond, because we’re trying to use it up), rice vinegar, and orange juice).

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Toss it up!

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Top your sliders with whatever floats your boat.  I used mayo, tomatoes, avocado, and spinach.  The Pie voted for barbecue sauce and cheese.  We had them on some picnic buns I grabbed in the bakery section.

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All in all, a good summer meal. Don’t forget to eat your veggies! You see them peeking at you in the background? Don’t forget them!

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