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.

Meals en Masse- Lasagne 1

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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When in doubt, make soup!

Beef and Cabbage Stew 15

My parents are down in Florida and I’m looking after the house while they’re gone. This entailed cleaning out the fridge after they left, and so I arrived home with this oddment of groceries: 1 small zucchini, 4 wilted green onions, 2 baby bok choi, 9 multicoloured carrots, half a large sweet onion, half a large rutabaga, and half a large Savoy cabbage.

Beef and Cabbage Stew 1

Welp, that looks like a soup to me. Fortunately I had some stewing beef in the freezer which I chucked in the sink to defrost. Then I got to chopping.

Beef and Cabbage Stew 3

I also chopped up 1 head of garlic, and sautéed it with the onions in a large stockpot with a drop of olive oil until they were soft and sweet.

Beef and Cabbage Stew 4

Remember when cutting up rutabagas to be very careful. Slice off the top and bottom first so you have a flat surface to work on before you go after the skin, as it will be tough, especially if it’s been waxed.

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I added all the other chopped veg to the pot. I only scrubbed the carrots, didn’t peel them. All that vitamin-y goodness is in the skin and these are such tender carrots it seemed like a waste to remove the skin.

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Make sure to dry your beef before you brown it. It will make browning way quicker.

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I also like to dredge it in flour for a nice crust, and the flour will help thicken the stew as it cooks. You can use rice flour for a gluten-free option.

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Brown the meat until it has a nice seared edge all the way around.

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Then you can chuck that in the pot, too. I added about 8 cups water and two mini cups of concentrated beef bouillon, but go with whatever floats your boat.

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Give it a stir and set it to simmer for about 30-45 minutes, until the rutabagas are soft when you smush them with a spoon.

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I added in a pinch of ground nutmeg and cloves, as well as a few teaspoons of dried oregano. Add salt and pepper as well, if you like.

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To combat the bitterness of the cabbage I also added in a few tablespoons each of maple syrup and rice vinegar (it sounds weird, I know, but it works). You can also use cider vinegar.

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My scrumptious savoury stew!

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I shoved it into large freezer bags that I froze flat for easy storage. I can’t wait to haul one of these babies out in the dead of winter for some comfort food!

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Zucchini Muffin Cakes

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The Pie says believes that the difference between a cupcake and a muffin is the icing, and this is never more true than in this particular recipe from Martha Stewart.

Zucchini Cupcakes 1

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line a muffin tray with cupcake liners.  Take a 10oz zucchini and grate it up.  You want about 1 1/2 cups grated zucchini.

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In a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup packed brown sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

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Stir in 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts.

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In another smaller bowl, crack 2 eggs and beat them up slightly.

Zucchini Cupcakes 2

Add in the zucchini, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/3 cup vegetable oil and mix that all together.

Zucchini Cupcakes 4

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  You don’t want to overmix muffins, or they go flat.

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This will be a very dry batter but don’t fret.

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Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners and shove the tray in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until the centre cupcake/muffin tests clean with a toothpick.

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Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning them out to cool completely.  While that’s going on you can make your frosting.

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Having read the unfavourable reviews for Martha’s cream cheese frosting, I decided to go with our tried-and-true ratio instead.  In a bowl, mix together 1 250g package softened plain cream cheese, 1 cup butter, and 2 teaspoons vanilla until creamy.

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Add in 1 1/2 – 3 cups icing sugar, until the texture and taste are to your liking.  If you find it too thick, thin it a bit with some milk.

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Spread on the cooled cupcakes and eat them all up.  Best if eaten the day you make them.

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Carrot Zucchini Bran Muffins

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

I’ve been craving baked goods recently but with the food-heavy holidays coming up I don’t want to overdo it this early in the season.  The answer to my delicious dilemma?  These hearty food-filled muffins from Sweet Mama.

Preheat your oven to 400°F and spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Grate up 1 small zucchini and 1 medium carrot — you’re trying for 1 cup of each.

Mash up 2 small bananas with a fork — again, you’re looking for 1 cup banana.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

In a medium-sized bowl, beat together 2 eggs, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup canola oil and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Add in the mashed banana and the grated carrot and zucchini.  Add in as well 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut.  Mix it up well.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

In another bowl, mix together 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup bran, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoons each ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir until just combined.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Spoon into the muffin tins.  I sprinkled mine with a wee bit of cinnamon sugar that I had on hand.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the muffins are brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre of the centre muffin comes out clean.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Leave in the pan for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Or eat still hot with butter.  MMMMMMMM!

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

O Canada: Maple-Glazed Salmon

Maple Glazed Salmon

You won’t see too many fish or seafood dishes on here, because the Pie won’t eat them.  You can’t do a feature on Canadian cuisine without talking about Canada’s vast ocean resources, so I’ve kind of snuck this one in under the radar.  I discovered the recipe a few years ago when the Pie and I had two other roommates who were a little more into sea creatures than he is, and I made it often.  The plus is that the marinade works really well on pork chops as well, so when I make this I can make a piece of salmon for me and a piece of pork for the Pie and we’re both happy.

Maple syrup forms the basis of this marinade, but the lemon juice, ginger, and soy sauce give the sweetness a bit of a snap.  Quick and easy, too.  I pulled it from an issue of Canadian House & Home a million years ago.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

In a bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 cup genuine maple syrup, 4 tablespoons light soy sauce (I used organic tamari), 1/4 cup Dijon mustard, and 1 teaspoon minced ginger.  This is enough marinade for 4 pieces of fish.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

You’ll notice here that I butterflied the porkchop I had, just to make it the same thickness as the salmon. That way I could cook them at the same time.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Place your salmon* (or your pork) in a shallow dish and, saving about 1/4 cup of the marinade for later, pour the sauce over the fish.  Refrigerate that for an hour.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Preheat your oven to 450°F.

While that’s heating up (mine takes forever), peel 2 very large carrots and wash 3 very small zucchini.  Or whatever ratio you prefer.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Use a mandolin to slice the vegetables thinly lengthwise.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Plop them in a pot with a few inches of water.  Add a generous pat of butter and some fragrant herbs, like herbes de provence.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Cover and steam for 8-10 minutes, until the carrots are all bendy.

Thinly slice up about 3 tablespoons scallions or green onions.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

Spray a glass dish and set your fish in it with a bit of marinade to coat.

Maple Glazed Salmon

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, basting halfway through with some leftover marinade.

Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with some of that 1/4 cup of marinade you saved earlier.  Sprinkle with the sliced onions. Drain the vegetables and serve as well.  Mmmmm … This makes up a little bit for the poutine we had last week, but won’t stand up in the face of what I’ve got planned for you on Friday.  Stay tuned!

Maple Glazed Salmon

*** THE END ***

*If you’re reading this asterisk-ed caveat, you got me: that is actually trout, not salmon.  It was in a big jumbled pile at the seafood counter and I picked it up by mistake, okay?  Sheesh.

Tofu Feature Month: Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Tofu Lasagna

Today we are going to use tofu to replace ricotta cheese in a healthy and hearty lasagna.  This recipe makes for 2 dishes of pasta, so you can freeze one and then thaw it for cooking at a later date.

Start with your roasting vegetables.  Preheat your oven to 450°F.

Slice up 2 Italian eggplants (or one small regular one), 1 zucchini, and 2 red peppers.

Tofu Lasagna

Make the pieces relatively small so you don’t have to cut them up too much when you eat them.

Tofu Lasagna

Plop those in a roasting pan and drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Toss thoroughly and roast for about 20-30 minutes, stirring about halfway through, until everything is tender and fragrant.  Reduce the heat of the oven to 350°F if you are planning on cooking your lasagna right away.

Tofu Lasagna

Next, chop up about half a large yellow onion, and about a dozen mushrooms.  Sauté those suckers in a large saucepan with a wee bit of olive oil until they are tender as well.

Tofu Lasagna

Add the roasted vegetables and stir them around.

Tofu Lasagna

Pour in 2 jars tomato-based pasta sauce and mix that around to warm everything up.  I only used one jar of sauce in this recipe and didn’t have quite enough sauce to cover everything, so I definitely recommend two jars.  Add in a bit of fresh basil, too,  if you’ve got it.

Tofu Lasagna

Thaw 1 500g package of frozen spinach.

Tofu Lasagna

Add to that 2 packages soft tofu (or firm silken tofu) and squish it around.

Tofu Lasagna

I puréed about half of it in a blender for a creamier texture.

Tofu Lasagna

Season with salt and pepper. Shoulda used a bigger bowl …

Tofu Lasagna

Now, line the bottom of your oblong casserole dishes with noodles.  I use the no-cook lasagna because it’s less of a pain in the butt, and with the size of my dishes, each casserole will take 9 noodles.  Spread on a generous layer of the roasted vegetables in tomato sauce (I had to be sparing, because I only used the one jar of sauce).

Tofu Lasagna

Add another layer of noodles, then a heaping of the tofu/spinach mixture. Use half the stuff for each casserole.

Tofu Lasagna

More noodles.  The rest of your tomato sauce.  Try to cover all the noodles so they don’t dry out while baking.  Obviously, that’s not what happened here.  But what can you do?  I learned from my mistakes.

Tofu Lasagna

For a little extra flavour, feel free to top the lasagna with a handful of crumbled feta cheese.

Tofu Lasagna

Bake at 350°F for about 30-40 minutes, or until the top of the lasagna is all nice and bubbly.  Some lasagna advocates recommend covering the casserole and then uncovering it in the last ten minutes to crispen it up, but I’ve found that’s only helpful if you are working from a frozen casserole.  If you plan to freeze this lasagna and eat it later, I suggest you let it thaw completely before cooking.

Tofu Lasagna

Now you can eat it.  Comfort food that won’t kill you.  Genius. Though it probably would have been a better choice NOT to eat it with garlic bread.

Tofu Lasagna

Steamed Veg with Basil

This is my first blog post from my parents’ kitchen.  It also marks the first in what I hope to be a series of posts I make while cooking in kitchens other than my own (also known as “invite me over and I will FEED YOU”).

To accompany a luscious pork tenderloin (where I learned a nifty trick about the membrane and taught my dad one of my own, post to follow), I made a carrot and spinach butter mash and some steamed vegetables.

It was another case of cleaning out what’s left in the fridge, and in this instance we had some nice broccoli, cauliflower, and a few home-grown zucchini, courtesy of our friendly but incredibly weird neighbour.I cut up the vegetables standing next to a glorious basil plant, one of several my mother has throughout her garden.Needless to say, basil was a no-brainer to add to my dish.So I simply plopped the vegetables in a pot with some water and gently steamed them, not too long, about seven minutes.Then I just drained the pot and dropped in the basil to let it wilt a little in the heat.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.