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Baking to Freeze: Classic Italian Lasagna

Classic Italian Lasagna is the second recipe in my “baking to freeze” series (see the introduction post here, if you missed it!)

This recipe could quite literally take you all day to make, but if you’re like me and you love a culinary challenge, go for it! If you’d rather cut out a bit of the labor, you can substitute a jarred spaghetti sauce of your choice for the tomato sauce.

Pay special attention that you season each part of the lasagna well (the pasta, the sauce, the meat, the ricotta mixture).




Cooling off in the fridge before freezing! My first real lasagna!




Baking to Freeze Recipe #2: Classic Lasagna


Recipe by: Adapted from Giada DiLaurentis, with tomato sauce by Tina
Yields: About 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

Quick Tomato Sauce:
olive oil
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon diced shallots
1 large can tomato puree
1-2 teaspoons sugar (to taste)
1-2 teaspoons basil (to taste)
Pinch of oregano
Pinch of thyme
Salt and pepper

Béchamel Sauce:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons for the lasagna
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk at room temperature
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, recipe follows (I would add more for a bolder tomato flavor)
Salt and white pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground chuck beef
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 pound lasagna sheets, cooked al dente
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions:
Make quick tomato sauce: Sautee onion, garlic, and shallots in olive oil for 5-10 minutes. Add a large can of tomato puree and all spices and herbs. Let sauce simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Make béchamel sauce: In a 2-quart pot, melt 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When butter has completely melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps from forming. Continue to simmer and whisk over medium heat until the sauce is thick, smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg and tomato sauce. Stir until well combined and check for seasoning. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

In a saute pan, heat extra-virgin olive oil. When almost smoking, add the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Brown meat, breaking any large lumps, until it is no longer pink. Remove from heat and drain any excess fat. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

In a medium sized bowl, thoroughly mix the ricotta and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Into the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish (disposable oven-proof baking dishes are wonderful for freezing in), spread 1/3 of the béchamel sauce (NOTE: if you’re freezing the lasagna but don’t have a disposable baking dish, line a glass baking dish with foil and leave the ends hanging over the dish. Assemble your lasagna in the dish and bake. Then, after you’ve cooled, you can freeze the casserole, pull it out using the ends of the foil, and store it in a large ziplock bag. When you’re ready to thaw and bake, you can use the original dish). Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the bottom of the baking dish. Evenly spread a layer of all the ricotta mixture and then a layer of all the spinach. Arrange another layer of pasta sheets and spread all the ground beef on top. Sprinkle 1/2 the mozzarella cheese on top of the beef. Spread another 1/3 of the béchamel sauce. Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets and top with remaining béchamel, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into 1/4-inch cubes and top lasagna.

Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place lasagna dish on top, cover and put on the middle rack of the oven and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake for about 15 minutes. (If freezing, bake for 30 minutes covered, remove cover and bake for 5 more minutes. Cool to room temperature and wrap well — double up layers of plastic wrap. Store in freezer for up to 3 months).

Thawing Instructions: Thaw overnight in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook 20-30 minutes or until lasagna is heated through and bubbly.

Pictures of the process:


Béchamel sauce with tomato sauce mixed in.




Lasagna assembling about to begin.




Lasagnas ready for the oven (and an interested Byrd in the background).




Yeah . . . that’s my usually tidy kitchen after a full day of lasagnaing (during which I think I used almost every dish and utensil I own — and most of my roommate’s as well). And I’m a clean-as-you-go person, too, but what can I say?




All packaged and ready!




A nice plate of lasagna and cheesy garlic bread after reheating!

Click here to download thawing/baking instruction labels and recipe card to include with this dish.

Preview:

Baking to Freeze: Mexican Lasagna

Mexican Lasagna is the first recipe in my “baking to freeze” series (see the introduction post here, if you missed it!)


Two dishes of Mexican Lasagna with thawing/baking instructions and green onions on the side

Baking to Freeze Recipe #1: Mexican Lasagna


Recipe by: Adapted from Rachael Ray
Yields: About 6-8 servings

2 pounds ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning, such as McCormick’s
Cheesy Taco Seasoning
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
1 14-oz can fire roasted tomatoes
1 cup frozen corn kernels
Salt
8 8-inch flour tortillas
2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar
2 scallions, chopped

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. Brown ground beef and drain the fat. Return beef to pan and add taco seasoning (and water, if the seasoning packet calls for such) chili powder, cumin, and red onion. Mix and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add fire roasted tomatoes, black beans, and corn. Heat the mixture through, 2 to 3 minutes, then season with salt to your taste.

Spray a shallow baking dish (disposable oven-proof baking dishes are wonderful for freezing in) with nonstick spray. Cut the tortillas in half or quarters to make them easy to layer with. Build lasagna in layers of meat and beans, then tortillas, then cheese. Repeat: meat, tortilla, cheese again. If freezing, wrap tightly and freeze, keeping bag of scallions and side of salsa in the fridge ready to serve on the side. Lasagna will keep for up to 3 months. If not freezing, simply bake lasagna 12 to 15 minutes until cheese is brown and bubbly. Top with the scallions and serve.

NOTE: if you’re freezing the lasagna but don’t have a disposable baking dish, you can also line a glass baking dish with foil and leave the ends hanging over the dish. Assemble your lasagna in the dish and bake only about 10 minutes. Then, after it’s cooled, you can freeze the casserole, pull it out using the ends of the foil, and store it in a large ziplock bag. When you’re ready to thaw and bake, you can use the original dish.

Thawing Instructions: Thaw overnight in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook 30 minutes or until casserole is heated through and cheese is brown and bubbly. Top with scallions (to taste) and serve.


Mexican Lasagna filling: browned ground beef, red onions, taco seasoning, extra chili powder and cumin, corn, black beans, and fire-roasted tomatoes.

Click here to download thawing/baking instruction labels and recipe card to include with this dish.

Preview:

Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese

After reliving the lovely memories associated with fresh yeast rolls, I want to share another special family recipe with you: Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese. My love of macaroni and cheese runs deep. After all of the amazing things I’ve eaten, I still feel like I can say it’s my favorite food.

In fact, I can remember many of the macaroni and cheeses I’ve enjoyed throughout the years. Apart from raiding the macaroni on the buffet at Quincy’s, I remember getting double helpings when my family visited K&W, a cafeteria style restaurant. I also fondly remember when I finally endeavored to make the blue box macaroni on my own as a child, and proceeded to eat most of it on my own as well. The delicious soul food macaroni and cheese at Charlotte’s historic restaurant, the Coffee Cup. The gourmet lobster macaroni and cheese at a restaurant in south Charlotte. The decadent, bready macaroni and cheese Mike’s mom makes. Perhaps I should write a poem on the subject: my life in macaroni.

Over the years, one recipe tops the list as my favorite macaroni and cheese. I guess you’d expect it to be a labor intensive recipe with numerous cheeses and a mile-long list of ingredients. But you know what’s funny? Sometimes the simplest things really are the best. This Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese (with optional sausages) takes all of 5 minutes to throw together, bakes for 45 minutes, and is truly outstanding. I’ve had people ask if I put ricotta in it because it’s so creamy, and I’ve had people request that I bring two pans of it to a party instead of just one. You’re going to love this recipe, just like my family has for years.


Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese

I often serve this as a main course with the optional breakfast sausages on top. You can serve it with big spinach salads. In one particularly fabulous meal, I just made a big pan of this macaroni and a big pan of homemade yeast rolls and Mike and I loaded up on carbs! It also goes wonderfully as a side dish, of course. Here are my serving suggestions in photograph form (can you tell we eat this a lot?):


One serving suggestion: big spinach salads with Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese (and some goodies in the background as a teaser — that post is coming soon!)


Another delicious way to eat Oven Baked Macaroni: with a big bowl of yeast rolls!



Last but not least, another carb indulgence: Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese acting as a side dish to our Taco Stuffed Crescent Rolls (another great and easy recipe I’ll have to post soon!)



Oven Baked Macaroni and Cheese


Recipe By: unknown
Yields: a large casserole dish; serves about 4.

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups dry macaroni
4 cups milk
1 block sharp cheddar cheese, grated (or about 4 cups)
1 package breakfast sausage links or bulk sausage, cooked (optional)
salt and pepper
a sprinkle of fresh chopped chives (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray large, rectangular pyrex dish with nonstick cooking spray. Put butter into dish and set it in the oven as it preheats. When butter is melted, take the dish out and add macaroni. Stir until macaroni is coated. Add milk, cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir and make sure ingredients are evenly distributed. Bake at 400 for 45 minutes, stirring twice during baking. Place cooked breakfast sausages on top (and sprinkle a little extra cheese if desired) and heat in oven until hot. Sprinkle on fresh chopped chives if desired.


Ready for the oven!


Ready to eat!


As a bonus, will you just LOOK at my adorable cooking buddy’s sleeping position as I type this? I had to capture it with my grainy Photobooth since my camera is nowhere in sight. Isn’t she the cutest?!


Sleepy little Byrd helping Mom post recipes and dreaming of belly rubs!

Overnight Yeast Rolls

When I was little, my family enjoyed packing into the car and driving to Quincy’s Buffet. I don’t even know if Quincy’s exists anymore. Even if it does, it’s probably not the magical wonderland of food my childhood brain made it out to be. At any rate, I so loved making the pilgrimage to it back then. My memories from the all-you-can-eat buffet include ravaging the macaroni and cheese and visiting the soft-serve ice cream dispenser. I’d get a chocolate vanilla swirl cone with lots of random candy, sprinkles, nuts, and goo for good measure. But the most memorable part of Quincy’s — the part we all raved about before and after our visit — were the warm, fluffy yeasts rolls with honey butter smeared all over them.

Those are fond memories, but even Quincy’s yeast rolls were just a pale imitation of the light, soft, and buttery rolls my mother would make from scratch a few times a year. In the middle of the nights following Thanksgiving, I would creep out of my downstairs bedroom and warm up some leftover rolls with butter, turkey, and gravy tucked in each one. It might be easier to head to a restaurant, but you won’t regret spending a bit of time in the kitchen to make these homemade rolls. As a bonus, this same dough can be used to make phenomenal cinnamon rolls, as my mother does each Christmas morning.


Overnight Yeast Rolls

My rolls in the pictures below are a bit darker than normal because, for this batch, I used part wheat flour in an attempt to make these healthier. While they’re good either way, I’ll stick with all-purpose flour all the way next time around. No reason to mess with a good thing!

Overnight Yeast Rolls


Recipe By: Clyta Lundsford
Yields: Makes a big, rectangular pan and a half

Ingredients:

2 packages yeast
2 1/2 cups water
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup shortening
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
8 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

Soften yeast in water. Add sugar, salt, eggs, shortening and 4 cups of flour and mix until smooth. Let sit 1 minute, then add rest of flour and mix well. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, pinch off dough and form into rolls and cover with a towel. Let rise for 1 hour (or until doubled in size) in a warm place, such as on top of the preheating oven. Then bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Let the tops get a little browner than you think they should to ensure the rolls aren’t doughy in the middle. Brush the tops butter when the rolls are done to soften. Can use 5 cups white flour and 3 cups wheat flour for a slightly healthier, slightly less delicious version.


Dough rising in the refrigerator.


Rolls rising on top of the oven.

Chocolate Chickie Cake Balls

Bakerella always has something beautiful, creative, or adorable up on her blog. I was hunting around in April for something to make Mike for his birthday. I knew Bakerella would have a fantastic idea, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, these are my absolute favorite baking achievement to date. Have I piqued your interest? Okay, okay! See this perfect little parcel? Want to see what’s inside?





Peekaboo! Chocolate chickie cake balls!

These little chickies are actually delicious chocolate cake and frosting rolled into a perfectly sized morsel, coated with chocolate, and decorated. Now the chocolate cake I used to make these isn’t just any old cake. It’s my favorite cake ever, and has been since I was a little girl. The ingredients come together to form something more spectacular than the sum of their parts. The cake is supremely moist, gooey, chocolatey, and fantastic. The really wondrous part is that it’s quite easy — so easy that I made it myself as a child. Even if you don’t want to go to the trouble of creating the chicks, definitely do try the cake and frosting.

But oh, the chicks are fun! Mike loved them, and a friend said she didn’t know whether to eat them or photograph them! I warn you that with the chocolate cake and coating, they are quite rich, so if you’re not into that sort of thing, consider using a white cake. Also, if you want the same cute effect with less trouble, these cake balls work just fine with box cake mixes and store bought frosting. Enjoy!




Yikes! (All kinds of fun can be had with edible markers)

Chocolate Chickie Cake Balls


Recipe By:

Bakerella (cake balls)
-Linda Houts (cake and frosting)

Yields: about 50 cake balls

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
dash salt
1 stick butter
1/2 cup wesson oil
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Frosting Ingredients:
1 stick butter
4 tablespoons cocoa
6-8 tablespoons sweet milk
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 lb. confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Extra items needed to make cake balls:
Yellow Candy Melts
Black Edible Ink Pen
Paramount Crystals / Shortening (to thin candy melts if needed)
Rainbow Candy Coated Chips
Pastel Wild Flower Sprinkles

Directions:

Make the cake: Mix first 4 ingredients together and set aside. Mix next 4 ingredients in pan and bring to boil, then pour over first mixture. Stir well, then add remaining ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees in a greased sheet cake pan, for 15-25 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). NOTE: If you’re not planning to make the cake balls, but just want a frosted sheet cake, make the frosting immediately and pour over warm cake.

Make the frosting: Mix butter, cocoa, sweet milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat add confectioner’s sugar, nuts, and vanilla. Spread over warm cake OR, to use for cake balls, see below.

Make the cake balls:
1. After cake is cooked still slightly warm, crumble into large bowl.
2. Mix thoroughly with 2-2.5 cups of warm frosting. (It may be easier to use fingers to mix together, but be warned it will get messy.)
3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet. (Should make 45-50. You can get even more if you use a mini ice cream scooper, but I like to hand roll them.)
4. Chill for several hours / overnight.
5. Melt chocolate (or candy coating) in microwave per directions on package.
6. Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper until firm.


Little soldiers, ready to be dipped!



Dipping in progress!

Decorate the chickies:
1. Once the round yellow candy covered cake pops are dry, use a toothpick to dip into the melted candy coating. Dab a little dot of the coating where you want the beak to go. Then, just take one of the orange rainbow chips and attach it to the pop. It works like glue.
2. For the feet and wings, use the same technique to glue on the other sprinkle shapes.
3. Use the edible ink pen to draw the eyes.


Waiting for eyes.



We can see!

NOTES: I refrigerated my cake balls a bit too long before dipping, I think. I made them one morning and refrigerated them until the next. They cracked and seeped a bit when dipped, indicating that EITHER they were too cold OR this cake/frosting combo has too much butter, perhaps? I’ve had better luck making the cake balls at night, refrigerating, and dipping the next morning.

I used Wilton’s yellow candy coating and didn’t love it. I had to thin it with shortening several times. Next time I’m going to use Candyquik (I really liked it last time) and buy some oil-based food coloring to tint it (note that you cannot use water or water-based food coloring, because it will cause the candy coating to seize!)

I had to double-dip my chickies for full coverage. I held each cake ball on a bamboo skewer and dipped/spooned the candy coating over it. To prevent the cake ball from having a huge “foot” from puddling coating, you have to let the excess drip off for quite awhile before wiggling it off the skewer onto the wax paper. Happy Dipping!

By the way, these are one of the many baked goods that I think taste LOADS better after being refrigerated in an airtight container! They were delicious the day we made them, but something about sticking them in the fridge made them extra wonderful!


All together now, with some star-shaped birthday candles!

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