Monday, March 11, 2013

Freezer Cooking - Lasagna

My youngest daughter is on Spring Break, so I don't have to drive her to the college this week! I decided to take this opportunity to restock my freezer meals as we are completely out.

There is just nothing like being able to pull a healthy, home-cooked meal from your freezer, pop it in the oven and walk away. I'd like to think this would let me relax for a couple of minutes, but really, it frees me up to go work on something else. I'll take what I can get, though. My schedule is maxed out right now, so any break I can get is worth it.

In case I haven't mentioned it before, I have become a huge fan of disposable steamer trays. These half trays are just the right size for when the whole family is visiting, or when it's our smaller group (with a couple of lunch servings left over.) The foil lids let them stack beautifully in the freezer. When dinner's over, throw them out. ;o) I get mine in bulk at Sam's Club.

Leni's Notes:
~Adjust the recipe to include your family's favorite ingredients.
~Cooking has to be flexible with this one, as there are a lot of determining factors. Was it completely thawed before baking? Partially frozen? Did you have other things in the oven? When did you uncover it? Always check with a thermometer or by poking a metal butter knife in the middle and feeling the temp on the end of the knife. (Very scientific, don't you know!)
~Always put a cookie sheet under these pans. Not only will this save your oven should there be any boil-over, but these pans can be very flexible, and you do not want hot cheese and sauce spilling down your legs. Safety first!
~I know you can buy no-boil lasagna noodles. I personally don't like the result. It leaves all that starch in the finished product and everything tastes gummy. Not a fan.
~When I cook the lasagna noodles, I only partially cook them. (about 3/4 of the amount of time instructed.) When they come out of the water, I rinse them and then layer them between sheets of aluminum foil until I'm ready to use them. This works really well!
~I'm using some convenience items here, but I have found that if you do small things like buy block cheese and shred it yourself, you can make lasagna pretty economically. Everything costs time or money, so it depends on what you have available to spend!
~I am not a fan of chunks in my sauce, so I tend to buy smooth marinara. Feel free to buy your favorite sauce, or to throw in some crushed tomatoes with your marinara.

2 packages whole wheat lasagna noodles, cooked, layered on foil
3 lbs browned ground beef (give or take) cooked with onions, salt and pepper
6 Italian sausages, cooked, cooled and chopped (optional)
1 (3 lb) container ricotta cheese
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3 eggs
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon each: oregano, basil, parsley
2 ( 24 oz) jars of your favorite marinara
1 (24 oz) jar of water
1 (20 oz) can of tomato puree
2 cloves of garlic
Extra mozzarella for topping

~Combine beef and sausage in one bowl.
~Combine ricotta, mozzarella, eggs, parmesan, oregano, basil and parsley in another bowl.
~Combine marinara, water, tomato puree and garlic in a third bowl.
~Prepare three 13x9 pans with cooking spray or a little olive oil and a pastry brush.
~Start with a thin layer of sauce.
~Follow with layers of: noodles (3 will fit perfectly,) cheese, sauce, noodles, meat, sauce.
~Repeat until all ingredients have been used up.
~Top with extra mozzarella.
~Top each pan with it's lid, seal tightly.
~Label with item name and cooking instructions (including thawing times.)
~Stack neatly in the freezer. (Don't let them tip at all until they are solid frozen or you will have a MESS!)

~When ready to cook, my suggestion is to thaw completely first, then bake at 375 for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
~I usually bake for one hour with the lid on, then take it off, check for doneness and decide if it needs more actual cooking time, or just a little time to brown the top a smidge.
~Remove from oven when done, and let it cool for 15-20 min. This gives the fluids time to settle a bit before serving.

Blessings from my busy kitchen to yours,

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