Lasagna: The Company Dinner

The hearty sauce for this lasagna recipe is made from scratch and provides enough for a very large pan of lasagna. However, if you’re going to go the trouble of preparing a pan of lasagna, double the recipe and freeze one to bake at a later date. Also, don’t get overwhelmed looking at the ingredient list. The only things that get chopped are onions, garlic, and parsley. Everything else is a simple shake, stir, or squash in.

This is one of those meals, where you could sneak a book into the kitchen and rattle pans once in a while and people will assume you’ve been hard at work the whole time, even though there is a significant down time while the sauce simmers.

If you don’t want to go to all the trouble of lasagna, serve the hearty meat sauce over spaghetti noodles or toss with ziti and mozzarella. Add some fresh spinach or sauteed mushrooms, bell pepper or zucchini and skip the immersion blender for some variety. It’s not rocket science, as long as you don’t stray too far from the bones of this recipe, you’ll have a fantastic meal.

Company’s Coming Lasagna

Sauce:

  • 1 lb hot or mild bulk Italian sausage
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 onion diced
  • 3 cloves garlic – minced
  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste
  • 2 6.5oz can tomato sauce (or just use one 15oz one, it’s not critical)
  • 2 TBSP white sugar (cuts the acidity of the sauce, omit if you use seasoned tomatoes as they frequently already contain sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried basil (or use 2 – 3x as much fresh
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 4 TBSP chopped fresh parsley – divided

In a large, heavy pot brown the beef and sausage over medium heat, drain and set aside. I set the meat on paper towels to soak up any remaining grease. Do not wash the pot, all of the browned bits from the beef and sausage add flavor to the final sauce. If you’d like, give the pan a quick wipe to remove any excess grease.

Onion garlic seasoningPlace the pot back on the burner over medium heat and add the diced onion, dried basil (wait if you are using fresh), Italian seasoning, fennel, salt, and pepper. Once the onion begins to soften, add the minced garlic.

To the onions, garlic, and seasoning add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar and if you choose, fresh basil. Return the meat to the pot, stir until well combined and lower the heat to low.

Cover and simmer for 1 – 1.5 hours. Alternately, place all the ingredients in a large crockpot and cook on low all day.

While the sauce simmers, boil 8oz of lasagna noodles according to the package directions.

Also, assemble the ricotta filling.

Add 2 TBSP of parsley at the very end of cooking, unless you skip the blender step. In this case, add all the parsley.

Immersion Blender

I don’t like big chunks of meat in spaghetti or lasagna sauce, except for meatballs. I never said it was rational, it’s just one of my quirks. So, I give the whole sauce a good whir with an immersion blender. I use this thing for everything from soups to smoothies; stick blenders can be found for as little as $25. I’m sure high-end ones are great, but I’ve been happy with my el cheap-o for several years. Add the rest of the parsley and stir.

Now it’s time to assemble the lasagna.

Ricotta filling:

  • 16oz ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 lb pkg frozen spinach, drained completely, squeeze the ever loving life out of it! I mean it

Mix all ingredients well.
That was rough, eh?

Other ingredients for lasagna assembly:

  • 1 lb mozzarella – grated
  • 1 generous cup grated Parmesan (use a Parmesan Romano mix if you’d like)
  • boiled lasagna noodles (the number depends on the size of your pan, use your judgement)

To assemble:

Preheat the oven 375F.

sauce layer Spoon just enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan.

noodle layer Add a single layer of noodles.

CHEESE Spread with 1/2 the ricotta mixture, sprinkle with 1/3 the mozzarella and parmesan. Repeat layers and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.

**optional tip** add a layer of thinly sliced zucchini, mushrooms, and summer squash.

Cover tightly, but do NOT let the foil touch the cheese or you’ll yank off all the yummy goodness when it is removed. Alternately, add a layer of parchment paper between the lasagna and foil, this works very well.

Bake for 25 minutes, remove the foil and bake for an additional 25 minutes. If the cheese isn’t nicely browned, broil just long enough to add some color.

**Warning, all the cheese makes this dish nuclear hot, allow it to cool some before serving.**

Enjoy.

Albondigas Soup, Simplified for Weeknight Ease

Heather says:

I absolutely love albondigas soup, it’s a family favorite, but sometimes I just don’t have the energy to mess with rolling the meatballs. Sometimes I just can’t bring myself to care that much.

So on a whim one evening, when I had planned on making the original albondigas, I looked at it and said Fuhgeddaboudit, we’re doing a deconstructed or simplified version of the recipe. Deconstructed is a fancy term for breaking a complicated dish down into its elements or ingredients and changing the presentation.

This has all of the same ingredients, but without the work of the meatballs. Score.

If you were intimidated by the original soup recipe, give this version  a try. I wouldn’t dissuade you from trying it with a margarita, either.

Enjoy!
Ground Beef Soup

: Simplified Albondigas

: This is a weeknight version of the classic Albondigas or Mexican Meatball Soup

  • 2lbs lean ground beef
  • 2 small cans diced green chilies
  • 2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes or use an equivalent amount of fresh, diced tomatoes about 2.5 cups
  • 1 bunch green onions – chopped, include the bulb, but set aside and chop that separately
  • 3 cloves garlic – minced or pressed -divided use half in the beef half in the broth
  • 1 bunch cilantro – chopped
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 2 qts beef broth or stock (low sodium if possible, if not, I recommend using Better Than Bouillon
  • salt, pepper, and Tabasco or Chalula to taste

Directions:

  • In a large, heavy pot brown the ground beef with the bulb portion of the green onions and about half of the garlic.
  • Drain any fat.
  • Add the 2 qts of stock or broth and increase the heat of the burner.
  • Add the green chilies, diced tomatoes, the rest of the garlic, 1/2 cup of rice, and about half of cilantro and green onions.
  • Bring to a simmer and cook until the rice is done. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning as desired.
  • Add the last of the cilantro and green onions just before serving -this adds a bright, fresh taste.
  • Serve with warm, flour tortillas

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 20 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 8

Thai Inspired Beef and Cabbage Skillet

Heather says:

I’d like to thank Bobbie for helping out with the name of this quick beef skillet, I was staring at it last night and drawing a blank. This ground beef cabbage skillet recipe will feed six, more if you serve over cooked rice or noodles. Feel free to play with the ingredients as that would be exactly how I came up with this recipe. I found Cooking Light’s Thai Beef Cups. I used it as a framework to build this recipe for the cooking basics series I’ve been slowly building. If you’re looking for a more traditional beef and cabbage skillet, Bobbie and I both have versions: Bobbie’s Beef and Cabbage Skillet and Heather’s Beef and Cabbage Skillet. All three are great, quick meals, that are handy to have in your kitchen arsenal, cabbage stores for-freaking-ever in the bottom drawer of the fridge and if you’re not vegetarian I ask you why you don’t have at least one emergency pound of ground beef in the freezer. That’s pretty much required to stave off an emergency drive-through run.

As far as the cooking basics series goes, I know so far there are a lot of ground beef recipes, but don’t worry, we’ll start adding chicken, pork, and fish soon enough. I’m still sorting out the whole work life balance thing and not doing so hot at either, if you must know.

So, back to the skillet. Feel free to use red or green cabbage, heck you could use broccoli slaw or any cruciferous greens, as long as they are shredded pretty finely. Just remember the goal isn’t to cook this dish until it’s dead, but rather to keep a little crunch in there for texture. AND if you don’t want to use peanut butter, don’t, just use 1/4 cup of salted peanuts like the original recipe described. Someone swiped my peanuts, that’s the only reason I experimented with -and rather liked- the peanut butter in the first place. Skillets are experiments, give yourself permission to try something different once in a while, who knows you may have a new family favorite. (FYI the minions call any version of beef and cabbage skillet, Kung Fu Skillet as I got tired of them asking what’s for dinner and they were on a Kung Fu Panda kick at the time)

Thai Inspired Beef Cabbage Skillet Recipe

: Thai Inspired Beef and Cabbage Skillet

: A simple one dish meal with a ginger, peanut, twist

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ginger, peeled and minced – substitute 1 tsp ground ginger if you need to
  • 2 TBSP lime juice -I didn’t measure, just a couple of GOOD squeezes, yes I used the store bought kind, this was a clean out the fridge kind of meal, if you have fresh… awesome.
  • 1 1/2 tbsp hoisin sauce -you can use fish sauce if you have it
  • 1 small head of red or green cabbage, sliced thinly or shredded
  • 1/2 cup or 1/2 a bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 TBSP peanut butter or 1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts
  • Soy Sauce to taste – when served

  • Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, onion, garlic, and ginger -fresh or ground. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions begin to soften. Reduce the heat if the garlic starts to turn golden. You don’t want to over cook this.
  • Add the ground beef to the skillet and cook until no longer pink. Drain well.
  • Return the skillet to the burner and completely stir in the lime juice and hoisin sauce.
  • Add the cabbage to the skillet and cook until crisp tender.
  • Add the peanut butter -if desired- and cilantro (yes, you can omit this, if you’re one of those).
  • Stir until thoroughly combined.
  • Serve immediately as is or over rice or noodles.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

Enjoy!

Simple Philly Skillet

Heather says:

This simple Philly skillet is another in my impromptu, unorganized, and johnny-come-lately decision to really dive into cooking basics here on Home-Ec 101.

I try my best to stay out of the center aisles of the grocery store. Yes, there are some pantry basics on some aisles that I must have, but for the most part, if you want to have a healthy diet, stick to the perimeter, that’s where you’ll find largely, fresh ingredients. Shelf-stable items, in general, are the less healthy choice.

Still, there’s that one aisle and we’ve all walked down it. There used to be that this large, cheerful glove with eyeballs large eyeballs that would stare at customers as they figured out what they’d serve for dinner. Over the years the glove has gotten smaller, but the options have grown. I agree on the premise,  everyone needs a handful of meals that come together as quickly as those options, so I thought it might be fun to do a make-it yourself series based on these skillet meals. You see, trademark is a very big thing, so I’m purposely being vague. These skillets in no way represent an actual skillet living or dead any resemblance to a skillet living or dead is purely -ahem- coincidental?

I am not copying their recipes, first of all because I don’t have access to fun things like stabilizers and I’m helping reduce your sodium intake while I’m at it. Additionally, these items are designed to hit the middle of the palate bell curve. If you make it yourself, you can always increase or reduce the spices and have something much more tailored to your own palate. I look at the title and figure out what *I* think it should taste like and get to work.

Last week’s Taco Skillet was the first and this week we’ve got today’s Philly Skillet and guess what? This version does not have cream of something soup, so it’s super easy to make it gluten free, if that fits your family’s dietary needs. Don’t eat beef? No problem, swap in ground turkey, pork, or chicken. HECK, live on the wild side and use seitan if that’s what you prefer. (When substituting out the beef, you’ll probably want to add the optional Worcestershire sauce, which does have some glutamates in it, but you’re in control of how much goes into your food)

Ready? Oh and for what’s it’s worth, this project does not involve photogenic foods, so yay. (Sigh)

Simple Philly Skillet: Simple Philly Skillet

: One dish, Philly skillet, use ground beef, turkey, pork or chicken

  • 1 lb ground beef, turkey, chicken, or pork
  • 3 onions, sliced
  • 4 bell peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 rounded tsp garlic powder
  • 1 optional tsp salt* only use this if you use homemade beef or chicken stock, otherwise you’ll lose the benefit of reducing your sodium intake
  • 1 optional tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups dried pasta -we used elbows just because.
  • 2 cups beef stock -hot- divided (1/4 cup and 1 & 3/4 cup)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 oz provolone cheese**
  • 4 oz American cheese**

    • Brown the ground meat over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Drain off the fat.
    • Add the sliced onions to the pan and 1/4 cup of the beef stock. Use your spatula or wooden spoon to scrape up any bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the onions just start to look translucent -more clear than raw onions, add the garlic powder and optional salt to the pan. Stir.

Add bell peppers

  • Add the bell peppers and beef stock and slowly add the milk, while stirring. Add the pasta and stir often until bubbles appear. Reduce the heat until you have a gentle simmer happening -bubbles coming to the surface but not breaking the surface tension. Any hotter and your sauce will look a little grainy, it’ll work just fine, but it won’t be pretty.
  • Cover. Cook for 10 – 12 minutes until the pasta is done.
  • Add the cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted.

 

Add the cheese

  • Serve

 

**use 8oz of any cheese that you’d like, you’ll have better results with provolone and American because they melt well. Anything like cheddar *real* cheddar and it’ll “break” and you’ll get a grainy sauce. It’ll taste good, it just won’t be pretty, not that this is a pretty dish to start with.

**If you choose ground turkey or chicken, you may want to substitute chicken stock for the beef.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

Turkey or Beef Taco Skillet

Heather says:

Taco Skillet?

Yep. We’re Home-Ec 101 here and one of my goals for 2013 is to go back and share those simple recipes that we assume everyone already knows how to make. This is as close to Hamburger Helper™ as you can get without opening a HH box. Sometimes dinner is just thrown together with what’s on hand. This Taco Skillet uses very basic pantry ingredients (including cheese and milk) and is great for those, oh crap, I don’t want to think and I don’t feel like leaving the house, but these people expect to be fed, kind of nights. Steam some vegetables on the side and you’re good to go.

Use ground turkey or beef, it’s up to you, just be sure to drain off the grease. Increase the cheese if you’d like and once you have the concept down, try variations like adding diced onion or bell pepper. Throw in a few handfuls of fresh spinach, a can of black or pinto beans, diced tomatoes. The choice is yours, just remember if you use a packet of taco seasoning to NOT add the salt.

It’s not a pretty dish, but sometimes pretty isn’t needed.
Easy Taco Skillet

: Taco Skillet

: Simple one-dish, weeknight meal

  • 1 lb ground turkey or beef
  • 2.5 TBSP Taco Seasoning or 1 Packet Taco Seasoning
  • 1 tsp salt*
  • 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1.5 cups hot water OR chicken stock** OR Beef Stock**
  • 2.5 cups milk***
  • 1 – 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese****

  • Heat your skillet over medium-high heat until it passes the water test.
  • Cook the ground beef or turkey in the skillet, stirring frequently until no longer pink.
  • DRAIN off the fat -not into your sink, into a container.
  • Stir in the taco seasoning.
  • Add the water or stock and milk and pasta. Stir frequently, being sure that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the mixture starts to bubble turn the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook until the pasta is done, about 10 – 12 minutes. Stir every couple of minutes. -If you use a gas stove and have thin pans, you’ll have to stir almost constantly.
  • Add the cheese and serve.

Preparation time: 1 minute(s)

Cooking time: 20 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

*Do not add salt if you use a taco seasoning packet
**Do not add salt if you use commercial chicken or beef stock
***Use a total of 4 cups of liquid, feel free to play with the ratios until you find what you like
****I don’t measure the cheese, I just grate about 4oz of cheddar directly into the pan, stir and call it good. Do whatever you’d like

Enjoy.