Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Lil' Phantom

When we were kids, we lived next door to my gram but otherwise pretty far from civilization. I'm serious. Not a pizza shop within delivering distance. To "run down the street" for a few groceries literally meant a 20 minute drive. And we also lived pretty far from the school where we attended, and were often out late due to school activities.

Needless to say, my mom found it hard to keep up with cooking etc. Did I mention we lived next to my gram? Well, time after time, we'd come home from school to a beautiful meal, sparkling kitchen and a reorganized fridge full of sustaining goodies. And this was often accompanied by a note "the Phantom struck again."

So I've been playing Phantom tonight. Decided to shop and do a few make ahead meals for my sister who's expecting baby #5. Due to my "where's the beef" episode and the resulting need to chill out with Monk and a bowl of ice cream, I didn't get started until after 10:00 pm, but shortly after 12:30 am, the kitchen was clean again and the fridge full of stuff to take up and stash in her freezer tomorrow. I couldn't believe it only took me that long so I decided to share my plan here, knowing some of you struggle to keep ahead of things with a houseful of kids. So here you go:

20# extra lean ground beef (I bought 3 - 6# packs at Costco's)
4 - large jars of spaghetti sauce (2lb 13 oz ea.) I usually make my own but come on!
2 - 4 cup bags shredded mozzarella cheese.
2 cups grated parmesan cheese
2 - large containers ricotta cheese
3 packs frozen chopped spinach
2 - boxes no-boil lasagna noodles (i prefer the ones with ridges)
1 dz. eggs
1 pk. deep dish foil lasagna pans
1 pk. 9x13 foil pans

The plan:
1. If using spinach, thaw in colander while you take in an episode of Monk!
2. Using your two largest skillets, brown 3 lbs. ground meat in each.
3. Drain each in colander in sink. Optional: rinse cooked meat with hot water (takes a lot of the grease off. run a bit of dish detergent down the drain afterwards).
4. In two large bowls, mix cooked beef with 1 jar spaghetti sauce. Add a bit of water to jar to get all the sauce out (the extra liquid helps cook the noodles).
5. Clean skillets and immediately begin cooking appr. 3 lbs meat in each again.
6. In each of 2 large bowls, mix 1 container ricotta cheese, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 3/4 cup parmesan cheese and 3 eggs (I also add basil and parsley).
7. Finish cooking ground meat, rinse and return to large skillet to cool. Set in fridge eventually.
8. Open 3rd jar of spaghetti sauce and spread 1 cup or so of sauce in each of 2 deep dish foil pans. (I suggest setting the pans on cookie sheets for stability while you assemble the lasagna. Don't ask me how I know this!)
9. Layer in the following order: noodles, cheese mixture, meat sauce mixture - noodles, cheese mixture, meat sauce, spinach and noodles. Finish with plain sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
10. Cover with plastic wrap (you want to tuck it around the edges) and 2 layers of foil. On 2nd foil piece, I write these cooking instructions: "REMOVE PLASTIC WRAP. Bake at 350 for 1-1/2 hours. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving. Stick in fridge or freezer.
11. Wash your dishes now. You will have some cheese mixture left over which can be frozen or used to make stuffed shells. You'll also have meat sauce left over which can be frozen for another meal.
12. In each of two large bowls or pots, mix appr. 2-3# of uncooked ground meat with breadcrumbs, eggs, and whatever it is you like in your meatloaf. NOTE: I do not touch the meat! I use a potato masher to fold the meat over and mix it. If you like picking ground beef out of your fingernails, be my guest and mix it by hand!
13. Place in each of two foil pans. NOTE: I prefer to use baking dishes instead of loaf pans, as the meat cooks more quickly and evenly.
14. Cover with plastic wrap and foil as noted above. Be sure to include baking instructions, usually an hour at 350. Don't forget to a note to remove the plastic wrap!!!
15. Place remaining cooked ground meat in resealable freezer bags. Lay these flat in your freezer, they will thaw very quickly and be handy for chili, tacos or your favorite beef recipe.
16. Do your dishes and empty your trash! You'll be glad you hung in there for this final step!

If you're the kind of person who likes to have meals on hand for others when the need arises, these come in handy. Less than 3 hours and less than $100 gets you at least 8 meals, not including leftovers!