Monday, June 20, 2011

Quick and Easy Lasagna!

You guys know how much I love to cook and bake... but sometimes, after a long day of work, I'm in the mood to do anything but. Sometimes we go out to dinner on nights like those, but on nights like tonight where we're craving real food, I cheat a little. I must confess... sometimes I use pre-made things to make a homemade meal. I know, you gasped, but sometimes pre-made foods can actually be really good! 

Have you ever wanted to make a lasagna and serve it in an hour? That would be impossible if you had to make your own sauce and let it simmer for 2 hours as well as shred pounds and pounds of cheese... So if you or your family is craving lasagna and you don't feel much like cooking, and you don't feel like serving dinner at 10pm either, this is the recipe for you. 


First a note about buy pre-made foods:
They are certainly not created equally. That jar of Ragu on the shelf that says "contains real meat!" will not do your body good. Don't buy a jar that has meat already in it, that's a sure sign of a crazy amount of preservatives, including salt. Instead look for a plain and simple canned version. Try and find one with fewer ingredients as you have fingers on one hand. Really, it should just be tomato puree (paste), water, diced tomatoes, spices. That's it. Anything else and it's not going to be as healthy, or as tasty. The same goes for pre-shredded cheeses, there should only be cheese in the ingredient list. If there's a word you can't pronounce, you probably shouldn't eat it. Sometimes, especially in the case of shredded cheeses, buying a quality one may mean spending an extra couple of dollars. You're paying for the time you would have spent doing it yourself... isn't that worth the extra $2.50?

Now to the actual recipe. 

Quick and Easy Lasagna:
Ingredients:
-3 packages of shredded cheese, any assortment of your choosing, though I went with mexican and mozzarella. 
-1- 28oz can tomato sauce
-1- 28oz can italian style diced tomatoes (diced tomatoes and spices)
-2 lbs ground beef
-2 red bell peppers
-1 egg
-2 small cartons of cottage or ricotta cheese
-1 box +3 extra lasagna noodles (the three extra are for the edge, if you're not too picky about how it looks or if you're using a smaller dish, 1 regular sized box is fine)
-spices of your choosing

Preheat your oven to 350*F.

Fill a pot of water and bring to a boil. Gently drop in your lasagna noodles and cook for about 10 minutes or until al dente. (Usually you only soak noodles before baking, but this will cut your bake time down by half!) While you are waiting for the water to boil, and while they're cooking, wash and chop your red bell pepper. 

Mix together both the pasta sauce and the diced tomatoes. Taste and correct with whatever spices you choose. I used garlic, pepper, salt, red pepper flakes and basil. Browning your ground beef and season as you wish. 

Carefully drain your noodles, they will be quite soft and prone to breaking if you're not cautious. By now it's been about 20 minutes and already you have your veggie chopped, your noodles cooked, your sauce made and you meat browned. Crazy, no?

Not much left to do anymore, just mix your ricotta/cottage cheese with your egg (I also added a dash of nutmeg, a pinch of cayenne and a sprinkle of parsley). Now all you have to do is assemble and bake!

Layer sauce (to prevent your noodles from sticking to the dish) then noodles, sauce again, veggies, ricotta/cottage, then shredded cheese, then another layer of noodles. Continue on until you're out of noodles. 

Bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes, just until heated through and cheese has melted. Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes to set. 

All in all, including baking and resting time, this took me an hour and 5 minutes! And the last 35 minutes are pretty much just wait time- enough time to wash the dishes... or put your feet up and relax while your family does the dishes!

Enjoy!
And don't forget to follow!

Comment Questions:
1. What's your favourite week night dish?
2. What do you think about pre-made packaged foods?

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