How are you enjoying food week? I hope, if anything, it’s given you a window into our lives and maybe some new ideas.
I know that for some, cooking seems intimidating. Because I come from a family of people that generally like to cook, or have good results when they do, it was something I was interested in from an early age. I think I ventured into baking first. You know, simple things like boxed cake mixes and the like. Then I started learning how to use the cook book and it’s all history from there.
There are things about cooking that can be challenging. For example, before I moved to Haiti I had never cooked with gas before. I’ve had to learn about regulating my head and had to buy an oven thermometer because my oven doesn’t have a temperature regulator. It’s been a few years of burned brownies and the like. But, if I went back to North America, I think I would choose a gas range over an electric one now for various reasons.
I tend to be one of those cooks that uses a recipe as a guideline. If I’m wanting to challenge myself I force myself to follow it exactly. The exception to this is baking because you can end up with disasters if you don’t follow a baking recipe. With other fare I’ve realized there really is a lot of leeway for appeasing your personal taste. If I could encourage a beginner cook with anything it would be to not stress out and relax. Throw a little extra pepper in if you like pepper, or another dash of lemon juice if you like citrus. Often those things make it taste better, not worse.
That experimenting has led to many new dishes in our house and often they’re just a play off of something familiar and tried and true. The one I’m sharing with you today is just that. I sort of have a basic meat sauce recipe that I use on spaghetti and in lasagna. I don’t have it written down anywhere so count yourselves lucky that you get to be the first. I basically just use the same ingredients whenever I make it. You can play around with it to make it what your family likes. This recipe was birthed (hows that for imagery?) a few weeks ago because Chris tried for two visits to the grocery store to get lasagna noodles and they had none, so I got creative and we really like the result. So much that I think I might just start making lasagna this way because it’s so much more healthy for you than with the noodles.
Makes a 9×13 pan
2 lb of ground beef (you could use turkey or pork if you prefer)
1 medium onion, halved then sliced
1 can of sliced mushrooms*
1 1/2 cans/jars of your favorite pasta sauce**
3-4 cloves of crushed garlic
2-3 tbsp. italian seasoning
1-2 tsp. oregano
1 tbsp. tarragon
1+ tsp. salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. shake on meat tenderizer (the non MSG stuff)
3-4 small eggplants, or 2-3 big ones
3-4 c. grated mozzarella cheese***
1/2 c. graded parmesan cheese
Substitutions, add-ins and notes:
*you can use fresh if you want
**you can also use a large can of tomato paste and 2-3 cups of water and you will probably need more seasonings – just adjust to taste.
***use as much cheese as you like, this is just a guideline.
If I was in North America I would use cottage cheese or ricotta in this as week, and I would mix that with the parmesan cheese and some parsley before layering it into the lasagna. I miss that part of the dish :)
1. Heat your oven to 400F.
2. In a big pot over medium to high heat fry your ground beef. I always break mine up really well so I don’t have any big chunks, especially if I’m using the sauce for lasagna.
3. When your ground been is about half done – still parts that are a bit pink, throw in your onions and mushrooms. Cook until ground beef is completely done. You can drain off any fat that you want to at this point.
4. Add your sauce or tomato paste and water and stir until everything is combined. Bring to a light boil. Add your garlic, italian seasoning, oregano, tarragon and meat tenderizer. Stir well and let simmer for a few minutes. Taste. Add your salt and pepper. Stir and simmer again. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes so the flavors can really combine.
5. While your sauce is simmering prepare your eggplant. Cut off the green tops and slice lengthwise to make flat slices. The eggplant replaces the noodle layer. Set them aside. Grate your cheese and set aside. Turn off your sauce and get out your pan (9×13)
6. Start by ladling two ladles of sauce into the bottom of your pan and spread it around to coat the entire bottom. Now put down a layer of eggplant so that as much of the pan is covered as possible. Now more sauce to completely cover the eggplant. A layer of mozzarella and about half of the parmesan sprinkled on the mozzarella and you’ve done your first layer. If you are using cottage cheese or ricotta put it under the first layer of mozzarella and go easier on the mozzarella. Now another layer of eggplant and sauce and you should be close to the top of your pan. Finish off with a final layer of mozzarella and parmesan.
7. Put it in the oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes. You basically just need to cook the eggplant and melt the cheese. When it starts bubbling out the sides and the cheese starts to go golden brown on top it’s time to take it out.
8. Remove from oven and let stand for about 15 minutes before cutting and serving. Serve with a nice salad and you have a delicious meal :)