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


  • 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.**


How to Store Greens in a Small Living Space

Dear Home Ec 101,

I live in a small apartment and have a refrigerator with a limited amount of space and chest freezer. We have been trying to utilize local produce from our CSA and the Farmer’s Market, but storage is an issue with space at such a premium. What is the best way to store leafy greens without giving up all of my refrigerator space or destroying the cell structure.
Crucifarean in Crumpler

Heather says:

Fall and winter are great for cruciferous vegetables, which are high in nutrition, but they do have a tendency to take up prime storage space. For the most part the best way to store your leafy greens and brussels sprouts is by blanching and then freezing your greens. Now you do need to keep in mind that blanching will keep your greens from becoming a soupy, disgusting mess, but their texture will change a bit.

Dark green vegetables contain an enzyme that breaks down the cell structure, even when the vegetables have been frozen. Freezing also damages the cell structure, but much less significantly. Freezing greens, including cabbage, isn’t a complicated process, but it does require a little bit of choreography. Before getting started you’ll need to gather:

*You’re also going to need a vacuum sealer if you go this route. Yes, sometimes I do have to state the obvious

Clear any young kids out of the kitchen or secure them somewhere safe. There’s too much boiling water and carrying to worry about tripping. You can let them explore all the things when you’re done. Safety first.

Place a large pot on your stove and fill it about 2/3rds of the way with water. Bring the water to a boil. While the water is heating, wash your greens, remove the woody stems and less than pristine leaves, and chop the greens into consumable size. Fill your large bowl with ice water and set it nearby. Set the colander in the sink and get ready.

Blanch your greens.

Blanch? Yep, add them to the boiling water. Yes, but for how long? Check the table below:

Beet2 Minutes
Brussels Sprouts (small)3 Minutes
Brussels Sprouts (medium)4 Minutes
Brussels Sprouts (large)5 Minutes
Chard2 Minutes
Collard3 Minutes
Kale2 Minutes
Mustard2 Minutes
Spinach2 Minutes
Turnip2 Minutes

Immediately drain the greens in the colander and as soon as they have drained place the bowl of ice water in the sink and plunge the colander directly into the ice water. You may want to add more ice at this time. Cool the greens for the same length of time they were blanched.

Once the appropriat time has elapsed, drain the greens. If you have a salad spinner, awesome, use it. If not, use paper towels* or flour sack style towels. just spread the greens across, loosely close the towel and gently shake. DO NOT SQUEEZE YOUR GREENS, you went to all this trouble to preserve the cell structure, don’t squash them now.

As soon as most of the extra moisture has been removed package the greens in freezer storage bags.

Label and freeze promptly. Your greens will remain in peak condition for 12 months in a deep freeze but are edible indefinitely. Remember freezer burn is safe, just unappetizing.

Enjoy! Now or later. Frozen greens are a fantastic addition to soups, stews, and one pot meals. If you have finicky people in your life, start by adding spinach, it’s the least bitter of the greens and slowly work your way up to the more peppery varieties. There will likely be some wailing and gnashing of teeth, but less than if you went all kale smoothie on them from out of nowhere. (I still distrust the kale smoothie, types, sorry, they aren’t that awesome and I actually love greens.)

Submit your questions to

*Lint free, the greens provide enough fiber, thank you very much

Roast Some Turkey Necks for Awesome Stock

Heather says:

Want to take your Thanksgiving recipes up to the next level? You can get started now by buying and roasting turkey necks to make stock. Want to get a jump on your Thanksgiving prep? Go ahead and make your roast turkey neck stock now and freeze it for your Thanksgiving recipes*. Would I go to the effort of roasting turkey necks every time I want stock? No, but for a special meal like Thanksgiving, I find the richness of this stock is well worth the extra time and effort. (I specifically made it to go in a mushroom risotto, but this stock is perfect for adding to dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, whatever calls for stock or broth in your menu.)

Thankfully, I have noticed that turkey necks are becoming much easier to find -I live in a smaller town, if we have it, you probably won’t have to search too hard. Typically the necks are next to the cut up poultry and yes, you can definitely substitute turkey wings for the necks in this recipe.

Cheesecloth really comes in handy when straining your turkey neck stock or you can use it to make  a bouquet garni if you want. I prefer to take the toss it in the pot and then strain approach, what about you?

How to Roast Turkey Necks for Awesome Stock

How to roast turkey necks for amazing stock

: Roast Turkey Neck Stock

: Roast turkey necks make a rich stock for Thanksgiving recipes.

  • 3 lbs turkey necks
  • cooking spray or olive oil -unless you like scrubbing a roasting pan
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 1 large carrot, scrubbed and cut into chunks
  • 2 ribs celery, washed, cut into chunks, with the leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 onion peeled, washed, and cut into quarters
  • Approximately 4 quarts COLD water

 Roast Turkey Neck Stock Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  • Spray a roasting pan with cooking spray or olive oil.
  • Place the necks in the roasting pan, if you want, you chop up the necks with a heavy cleaver, this will allow more gelatin to leach into the stock, but I don’t always bother and didn’t this time -obviously. And, do I need to mention you should do this on a cutting board and NOT in your roasting pan?
  • Roast at 450 for about 45 minutes, turning occasionally, until the necks are a rich brown and cooked through.
  • Place the necks and remaining ingredients in a 6 quart stock pot.
  • Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
  • Allow to simmer, skimming occasionally for 4 – 6 hours.
  • Strain through cheesecloth and a strainer into a bowl or pitcher. Use immediately or follow the next steps to store:
    • Set the bowl or pitcher in a cool water bath, changing the water frequently, or just add some ice cubes a handful at a time. Place the stock in the refrigerator overnight and skim off any fat.
    • Pour the stock into freezer safe containers (I use zippered freezer bags) label and freeze.
Helpful equipment:

*Yes, I’m working on this year’s Countdown to Turkey Day and I’m thinking about trying to bundle it all together and having it available as an ebook for those of you who want it in that format. It’s just the time factor kicking my butt, once again. Whee!

Vegetable Beef Soup Recipe – Like Mom Used to Make

Bobbie says:

Have you ever caught a whiff of an unexpected scent that suddenly sent you back in time? Figuratively speaking, of course. The sense of smell is a huge memory trigger, and if there’s a smell that says “home” to me, it’s the comforting aroma of simmering Vegetable Beef Soup the way our mom used to make it. Packed with veggies and beefy bits, it’s a hearty full-meal soup perfect for cold winter days. Serve it alone, or paired with fresh-baked bread, it’s sure to warm the spirits as well as the tummies.

I didn’t get recipes for all the dishes my parents and grandparents used to make, but I’m thankful this is one I made certain to get written down before my chance had passed. When I asked her for the recipe, Mom said she’d give it to me next time she prepared it, because she didn’t think she’d remember everything unless she was doing it. So, she made the soup, telling me everything she did, so I could write it down. Some amounts were approximations, so I’ve had to work at it to get it to taste right. Mom always made it the day after we had a big pot roast, saving the leftover meat and all the meat juices to throw in the soup – which pretty much explains the nearly complete lack of beef gravy in family meals of our childhood. Chicken gravy? Yes. Beef? No. The meat stock always got saved for soup. But that’s okay: this soup is totally worth the trade-off.

To allow for room to stir and also to reduce the chance of boil-overs, I would suggest a 6 to 8 quart pot with a heavy bottom*. Thin bottomed pots will cook unevenly and are more likely to scorch and ruin your soup. (I make the mistakes so you don’t have to – just a public service I provide. Oh, and don’t try to pass off the burned soup as “Smokey Vegetable Beef Soup” – that doesn’t work, either.)  I prepare this in my 8 quart Tramontina stock pot, which I use for practically everything. Crockpot directions are also given, but if your slow cooker won’t hold at least 4 1/2 quarts, you’ll need to make a smaller batch.

When I was working to standardize this recipe, so it could be made as a standalone, rather than as a follow-up meal after pot roast, I decided to use beef shank cross-cuts, because I could obtain them at a fair price, and they’re great at yielding a lot of flavor, if you cook them right. Some stores label these “soup bones.” Feel free to use whatever cut of beef is cheapest – the long, slow cooking of soup-making is a great use for tough cuts of meat.

: Vegetable Beef Soup Recipe

: Traditional Vegetable Beef Soup for the Stove or Slow Cooker

  • 2 to 2.5 pounds beef shank cross-cuts, or any cheap cut of beef, preferably something with marrow bones
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 large can whole, peeled tomatoes (about 4 cups worth)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon whole celery seed
  • 2 tablespoons pearled barley (not quick-cooking barley)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled, cubed potatoes
  • 16 ounce bag frozen mixed vegetables (the one I used had green beans, peas, corn, carrots and lima beans – 4 cups worth. Use fresh veggies, if you prefer.)

 Vegetable Beef Soup Instructions

    • Set your soup pot over medium heat.

    • Once it’s hot, add the meat, turning to brown it really well on all sides.

    • Add the water, bay leaves, salt & pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for about 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Be sure you’re just simmering, not boiling. Long cooking at a slow simmer helps to break down the collagen and tenderize the meat, while boiling can make the meat tough.
    • Remove the meat to a plate. When it’s cool enough to handle, cut it off the bones and either chop it up or pull it apart into bits. Discard gristle. Skim fat from the liquid, if desired. (I don’t usually, unless the meat was particularly fatty.)
    • Return meat to the pot. (I usually put any large bones back in as well, so that more of the minerals in the bones – calcium, postassium, phosphorus – can end up in the stock. Adding an acid, such as the tomatoes, helps this happen. Hmm. Maybe next time I’ll add the tomatoes before simmering the meat & bones. Never occurred to me until just now…Small bones are too hard to find again, amongst all the meat and veggies, so toss those out. )
    • Do not drain the tomatoes – add the whole can. Use a large fork or wooden spoon to smash up the tomatoes against the side of the pot.
    • Now, add everything else. If needed, add water to bring the volume up to 4 quarts. Stir to mix well, then turn the heat to medium-high to bring to a boil quickly. Reduce the heat to low and put the lid on. I always tilt the lid slightly. (Because I’m paranoid about boil-overs, even on very low heat. Don’t mind me. Move along.)

Vegetable Beef Soup - This is gonna be gooooooood

    • Simmer for at least one hour. Two is better, in my opinion, so the veggies are quite tender, and the flavors can mingle and have a chance to get to know each other. Remember to remove bay leaves and bones before serving. This recipe makes 4 quarts of soup: enough for dinner with some left for the freezer. Make plenty and freeze a bunch for easy meals later on.
    • To prepare in a slow cooker, brown the meat as described, then put everything in the slow cooker and cook on low 8 to 10 hours. The meat and vegetables should be tender. Remove meat to a plate. (Put the lid back on the slow cooker keep the heat in.) When cool enough to handle, cut meat from bones. Discard bones and gristle. Chop up the meat and return it to the slow cooker. Cover and cook at least one more hour. Remove bay leaves and serve.

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

  Bobbie Laughman is a leaf on the wind. Watch how she soars. Or, just send her an email at

Cooking Homemade Frozen Foods

Dear Home Ec 101,

I’d like to make some thing to keep in our freezer to help us avoid the convenience foods at the hectic dinner hour.  Do you have a rule of thumb for what freezes well without losing much quality/texture?  What’s the best way to thaw and bake things that have been frozen?

Chilled in Chi-Town

Heather says:

In the past here on Home-Ec 101 we have talked about how to freeze food. We have also talked about how to thaw food safely, ad nauseum I’m sure, but here we go.

Thaw food in the refrigerator or a water bath. If you are absolutely in a time crunch, use your microwave. Do not thaw food on your kitchen counter. Bacteria multiplies quickly at “room temperature” in fact the entire range from 41°F to 140°F (4°C – 60°C) is known as the danger zone. (Who else now has images of Top Gun zipping through their imagination, raise your hand)

So now that we have safety covered, let’s talk about preserving the quality or frozen foods.

It all comes down to texture, surface area, and water content.

The prepared food companies have amazing freezers that can flash freeze much faster than we can at home. Unless you’re my friend Aliza who lives in Tok, AK. All she has to do is put it on her back porch (Aliza, I’m not suggesting you actually do this, just noting it’s possible). The faster a food goes from cool to frozen the better the quality of the final product, it has to do with how much damage the expanding water molecules can wreak.

If food is supposed to be mushy, do what you want as long as it follows the safety guidelines we have discussed. If it’s soupy, stirring gently during the cooking process will speed things up.

If you have a giant pan of lasagna thawing overnight will speed up the cooking process.

Do not cook roasts or turkeys from frozen *unless it has been specifically created for that purpose, I know Butterball has a pre-stuffed turkey that can be cooked from the frozen state* In general, the outside will be overcooked long before the heat can be transferred to the center of the food.

With individual frozen things like homemade chicken fingers / nuggets, egg rolls, lentil patties, calzones, pizza etc go ahead and cook from the frozen state. These items are all small enough that the surface area to volume ratio doesn’t matter. In fact most of these may become soggy and unappetizing if allowed to thaw prior to cooking.

Here’s the easiest way to decide whether to thaw or cook from frozen:

Take a quick trip to the grocery store and walk down the frozen food aisle. Look for the food you want to make and read the package directions. Whatever they recommend will work for your homemade version.

In general with baked goods (these are doughy products not meaty foods with a coating) I tend to prefer a par-baked product, especially with calzones. I want the dough set but not all the way browned, I let the final run through the oven do the last browning. With pizzas, I find par-baking the crust helps prevent sogginess.

What about you Home-Eccers, how do you handle cooking homemade foods?

Submit your questions to