As much as I would love to continue making posts every Wednesday, I do believe Friday is going to have to be my day. Between school, children, subbing, church, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and life in general, Wednesday comes and goes faster than I would have ever imagined.
Recently, I was challenged by a couple of my long-time girlfriends to create meals that were freezable, easy for my husband to prepare or simply available for those crazy days when I needed an easy fix that meets the nutritional needs of my family. This challenge was actually perfect for me, not only to have a couple of extra meals on hand, but also to have something that I can simply throw in the oven after a long day of work, or ask my husband to make when I am away.
I find that with most prep-ahead meals, it is easiest to make twice as much of what I need for that nights dinner. For example, if I am making shepherd’s pie, which my family loves and is also a great meal to freeze, I will make twice as much meat, use twice the number of veggies and make twice as many potatoes, put together one half for tonight’s dinner and the second into a single-use cooking platter for dinner at a later time, though I have never done this for anything that would be frozen, much less anything that could sit in the freezer for longer than a week. This certainly was a challenge I needed to plan my response to.
My first attempt for a frozen dinner? Lasagna. First, lasagna freezes well. Lasagna is one of those meals that typically tastes better as a leftover, and is something that we really enjoy as a family. But the best part of doing this meal myself? I know exactly what is in it.
For this lasagna, I included a layer of lightly cooked eggplant from my garden. Zucchini works very well for this or simply add a third layer of lasagna noodles, making sure to cook 5 extra noodles in the prep stage. Using a veggie or squash in place of the middle layer of noodles not only adds nutrition though, it adds flavor and lowers the overall calorie count. Melting the goats milk cheese into the beef sauce ensures a creamy dish without the extra layering (or dairy) required in traditional (dairy heavy) lasagna. Served with a side of green beans or fresh salad, this is a wonderfully nutritious and superiorly delicious meal you will want to serve time and time again.
On to the recipe…
Frozen Lasagna (Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Soy Free)
2- 26 oz Jars of Gluten Free-Dairy Free Marinara Sauce
1lb Cooked Ground Meat [I like to use ½ lean beef (93/7) and ½ lean turkey]
½ c Goats Milk Cheese-Plain
2 c Sliced Eggplant (or veggie/squash of your choice)
2 c Shredded Monchego Cheese
Dried Basil or Italian Seasoning (Optional)
1 Foil Lasagna Pan w/lid or 1-13x9x2 Cake Pan with Lid
Cook lasagna noodles according to package direction, stopping the process while noodles are slightly firm (not quite al dente), they will become al dente in the final cooking process.
Soak sliced eggplant in saltwater for approximately 20 min.
Heat ground meat and 1 jar marinara sauce in large sauce pan. Add plain goats milk, continuing to heat and stir until cheese is completely melted. Set aside.
Lightly sauté eggplant using 1 tbs olive oil and 2 tbs basil. Do not completely cook eggplant, like the noodles, these will complete the cooking process in the final cooking stage, and keeping them slightly firm helps to use them as a viable layer in the lasagna.
Use ½ remaining jar of marinara sauce to create thin layer at the bottom of the foil pan. Over sauce, layer 5 lasagna noodles side by side, touching but not necessarily overlapping. Layer ½ creamy meat sauce over lasagna, then eggplant over meat sauce. Layer remaining ½ meat sauce over eggplant and remaining noodles over meat sauce. Finally, top noodles with a thin layer of marinara sauce using the remaining ½ jar. Top with 2c shredded monchego cheese and sprinkle with dried basil or Italian seasoning.
Important! Allow lasagna to cool to room temperature before sealing with foil/lid. This will help to keep moisture from the top of the lid, and thereby help to prevent freezer burn/soggy final product.
Once lasagna is cooled, cover with foil and use a sharpie to write the date and the following directions on the lid:
Preheat oven to 375f. Remove plastic lid (this is to help ‘silly proof’ the dish) and cook for 45 min. Remove aluminum foil and cook for another 15 min or until heated thru (15 min worked perfectly for us).
Freeze lasagna laying flat and enjoy within three months.
Again, serve with green beans or side salad, yum!
Now that I have shared my recipe, I must take a moment to share with you a bit about my little garden. Growing my own food has always been a priority. Even in apartment settings, I have managed to keep potted gardens throughout the year. Tomatoes, peppers, herbs and even dwarf citrus trees are all excellent options for this. This year though, I was granted the opportunity to till up a small portion of our backyard and plant to my heart’s content.
While my husband and I spent much time preparing a fence and investing in organic ways to keep rodents/pests out of the garden, there was one, giant, white fluffy rodent who I struggled with on a regular basis. If it were not for this rodent, I would have had at least twice as many watermelons, beans, lettuce, peppers, and corn! Heck, I didn’t even get to eat my corn. Before they were completely ready for harvest, this rodent decided my beautiful corn stalks would make for great pull toys and managed to eat/destroy any corn my family could have enjoyed. My watermelons were often pulled from the vine before completely ripe, but at just the right size to play with…oh, and my peppers. All I can figure there is that the leaves smelled different than other plants and this rodent wanted to give them a try. Sigh.
No matter how hard I tried, how many ways I patched the fence or closed the gate, this rodent continued to wreak havoc on my garden!
Alright…maybe we don’t suffer from R.O.U.S. (rodents of unusual size), but at times it certainly felt that way. Want to see for yourself?
Here she is:
Oh, don’t let the cute little nose fool you! This 18 month old Golden Pyrenees has given me many headaches and caused, especially in regard to my garden, much heartache and stress.
Somehow, through all of this I did manage to harvest a plethora of zucchini and squash, quite a few beans and a lot of lettuce. Now, my eggplant is coming in beautifully and the tomatoes are finally producing well (after much struggle with those too!).
Alright, so I love our dog, but next year, we will have a more solid fence ready to defend against our own personal R.O.U.S.
Have a great night!