Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I Come Bearing Lasagna

I love to bake.  Cookies, cakes, bread - it's all good.  Cooking is different, though.  I don't hate to cook, but it's not my favorite thing to do.  Cooking is more of a freestyle event.  My mom, God love her, did not like cooking either.  She taught me the basics, so I didn't starve when I went off to live on my own.  I could do grilled cheese, spaghetti, and macaroni and cheese.  Toast with peanut butter saved my life in my single days. 

Also, I am a picky eater.  I'm much better than I was as a kid (think plain everything: spaghetti with no sauce, hamburgers with no ketchup, raw potatoes instead of fried), but there are still quite a few things that I turn my nose up at.  I think that makes it harder to be a good cook.  Truly good cooks improvise and think about trying a little of this with that. They taste as they go along and experiment.   My husband is much better at this than I am.  He actually got me eating and loving scrambled eggs because of the way he prepares them. 

After we got married, I applied myself and became a better cook with help from The Food Network, various cookbooks, and a few years ago, Pinterest.  I actually have a lasagna recipe now that I feel good about bringing to others or serving at gatherings.  I think that's the true test of a dish - your willingness to share it with others.  This is inspired by a Paula Deen recipe, but I've changed it in several ways to suit my particular tastes.  There were two things that drew me to trying this recipe:

1. You don't have to cook the noodles separately, which I consider a major convenience.

 2. It uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta cheese like a lot of lasagna recipes.  Ricotta cheese - eeewww!  See what I mean about still being picky.

Round up your ingredients.  You'll need two pounds of ground beef (not pictured), one diced onion, 2 tsp. of minced garlic, 2 tsp. of  ground oregano, 1 tsp. of basil leaves,  1 can of diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano, two cans of tomato sauce, one can of tomato paste,  1 1/2 cups cottage cheese, 1 5 oz. package of grated Parmesan cheese, 16 oz. of shredded mozzarella, 2 large eggs, and 6 lasagna noodles.

Brown your ground beef and throw in the diced onion and minced garlic.  Drain the meat and add the oregano and basil.  Do this in a large pot so that you can add all the other stuff that comes after easily.

Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer about 30 minutes.

While this meat/tomato mixture is simmering, mix the cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese, and eggs together in a bowl.

Next, get out your large baking dish.  In my house, this is known as the lasagna pan, even though it's used for other things.  It's from Rachael Ray's line of dishes which is only appropriate since she was one of my first Food Network teachers.

Cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of the tomato mixture.

On top of that layer three lasagna noodles, NOT overlapping.  I used Ronzoni's Healthy Harvest lasagna noodles.

Next, cover these with about half of the cheese mixture.

Then add about half of the remaining tomato mixture...

...followed by half of the shredded mozzarella.

Then add 3 more lasagna noodles and the remaining tomato sauce mixture.  You'll have half of your mozzarella cheese left over at this point. 

You can't see the second layer of noodles here, but trust me, I put them in!

  Bake this pan of crazy deliciousness at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes, remove it from the oven and top it with the remaining mozzarella cheese for another 15 minutes.  It will  come out looking like this:

It will be hard, but let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
This is the perfect dish to take to a family if someone is sick or just had a baby.  Do not make the same mistake I did, however, if you make it in one of those disposable aluminum pans.  PUT A BAKING SHEET UNDER IT SO IT DOESN'T COLLAPSE ALL OVER YOUR OVEN DOOR WHEN YOU TAKE IT OUT!  What a mess that was! 
If I'm making this for someone, I usually stick one of those pre-buttered and pre-garlic-ed loaves of French bread they have at the grocery store with this, along with either a Caesar or fruit salad, and a dessert.  If you think of it, it's nice to include paper plates and napkins too.  No one wants to do dishes if they're sick or just had a baby. I put it all together (except for the lasagna- it's way too big and has to be carried on its own) in one of those reusable plastic grocery bags from Dollar Tree. 

This is my blueberry banana bread which is my favorite of all time.  You can find the recipe for it here if you're interested. 

I usually do a fruit salad if there are kids involved!
There you have it!  Once upon a time, lasagna intimidated me, but no more!  This recipe is not difficult at all.  Try it and come bearing lasagna like I do!

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