Friday, March 1, 2013

1, 2, 3, Lasagna!

Hey Crushers,

Although I was always a very good student and probably would have made a great math teacher, I never really liked math. Long division? No thanks. Dividing fractions? Ah... no. I don't care what equals x or how long the side of that isosceles triangle is. No one does. No one.

It wasn't until junior year of high school that I started realizing that math can be fun. In my advanced physics class, we learned how to figure out the specific heat of macaroni and cheese. That's cool! You can use math to figure out the velocity of a roller coaster? Lead me to the nearest amusement park. Still, those aren't terribly useful things in every day life unless you are a foods scientist or designing coasters (both of which would be awesome careers).

However, if you ask me how to figure out the final price for a dress that was originally $80 that is now on yellow dot clearance for 60% off  and you can take an additional 50% off with a coupon, I can do that in my head faster than you can find the nearest fitting room. (FYI - That's a $16 dress, and I saw it first.) Sale is my favorite four letter word.

Fractions, percentages and even geometry (hello, crafting) are useful everyday mathematics. However, there is no better way to use math than in cooking. You need it to figure out how many people you're going to feed, how to double, triple or halve a recipe, and how long to cook it for (specific heat not necessary).

When I have a group to serve, I like to go with easy, "big" recipes like a roast, family-style pasta or barbecue. This weekend is the 9th Annual Girls' Weekend for a group of friends from college. We've graduated from cramming a bunch of girls in two plain hotel rooms with delivery pizza and lots of indoor waterpark time to renting a large-ish condo, cooking our own meals and doing some outlet mall shopping. I'm in charge of the main dish for dinner, so I'm going to share a recipe that is so easy, you can do if you can count to three and still make a delicious meal for a crowd.

1, 2, 3 Lasagna!
Serves 8-12 (depending on how big the servings are)
1 pound of ground beef or turkey (thawed)
1 cup of diced onion (about one medium to large onion)
1 jar of marinara sauce
1 16 oz tub of ricotta cheese (small curd cottage cheese works too)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (if you can, buy a wedge and grate it yourself - great nutty richness!)
1 egg, beaten
1-2 tsp Italian seasoning (I like to use Penzey's pasta sprinkle)
3 cloves of garlic, minced (2-3 tsps of minced garlic in a jar works too) 
4 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
10 lasagna noodles (3 layers of 3 noodles, plus a "fixer" noodle)
Optional: as many other diced veggies as you want! I included zucchini and peppers. I would have included mushrooms if I had them. You can also add in some red wine, but since two of the ladies are soon-to-be-mommies, I am leaving the alcohol out.

You are going to need four containers ready: 1 big bowl for mixing, 1 large skillet, 1 large pot, 1 13 x 9 inch baking dish (lightly greased).

In the large pot, get water boiling and cook the pasta according to the directions. After you have that started, start browning the meat in the skillet and break it up in small bits. It's easier to spread later. I had ground turkey on hand, so that's what I made this time. When it is about half-way done, toss in your veggies and garlic to cook with the meat so they get a bit soft. (This is where you could throw some wine in if you choose.)
Brightly colored veggies = lots of vitamins and nutrients!
If you add zucchini or spinach, make sure and let it cook out some of the moisture.

In the big bowl, mix the ricotta (or cottage) cheese, egg, Parmesan cheese and the Italian seasoning together while the meat is browning and water is boiling. This will be the glue that holds it all together.

When the meat is done browning, pour in the jar of marinara. Yes, I will learn how to make my own at some point. Until then, I like to be a good consumer! That should heat through by the time the pasta is done boiling. Please be careful when you drain the pasta. This was the first time EVER that I didn't rip a noodle or two. If you are going to be baking this right away, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

It's time to start counting to three!

Step 1, put 1/3 of the meat sauce in the bottom of your baking dish and spread it out evenly.

Usually I save that last noodle to patch up where I ripped other noodles.
Instead, I just layered it in since I didn't rip any other noodles. Miracle!
Step 2, put three lasagna noodles on top of the meat side by side to cover the sauce. Step 3: put 1/3 of the cheese on top of the noodles and spread out.

Tip: Put a spoonful of the cheese mixture on each noodle and spread across length-wise.
It's much easier to spread that way than the short way.
Put about a cup of the mozzarella cheese on top of this cheese. Repeat the meat, noodle, cheese layers 2 more times (total of three layers). Make sure you have plenty of mozzarella cheese for the top.

If you are going to be baking this now, cover the top of the dish with aluminum foil, but tent it up a bit so it doesn't stick to the cheese. Bake for 40 minutes. Take the foil off for the last 10 minutes (total cook time 50 minutes) so the cheese gets a little golden brown. If you're going to be baking this later like I will, cover and put in your fridge or freezer.


My friend Rachel is a wonderful baker and cook. She makes the best flourless chocolate cake in the world. She is also a whiz with a sewing machine. For a Christmas present this year, she made me a baking dish carrier complete with matching pot holders to keep your hot foods hot and cold foods cold. So cute!

I'll be using this adorable dish carrier to take my lasagna to Girls' Weekend. If you would like one of you own, please visit Rachel's facebook page: