Tuesday, May 06, 2008

3 Moms ~ 3 Kitchens ~ 31 Days: Using Up My Produce

I decided to put my baking on hold for today so that I could take care of some of the fresh vegetables in my refrigerator before they went bad. I have found that cooking and freezing some of the fresh vegetables I purchase at the beginning of the month really helps me continue feeding my family healthy food throughout the month without a lot of extra trips to the store, hence helping me stay on budget.
I have three trusty, stand-by recipes that freeze well, and that use many of the same vegetables. I decided today that I would make them all so that I could stretch my produce, stock up my freezer, and just spend one day doing all of the slicing, dicing, and sauteing. From the above ingredients, I made a vegetable side dish (x2), a veggie-based tomato sauce (x2), and a vegetable filling for vegetarian lasagna (x2). After all of the chopping and sauteing, I was left with this:
The pot on the back left is the filling for the lasagna, the bowl in the middle is for the tomato sauce, and the back right is the side dish. (I had not cooked the vegetables in the bowl yet because I only use the back burners on my stove.) I usually refer to the side dish as onion, zucchini, and garlic saute in my menu plans. It is actually onion, green pepper, zucchini, mushrooms, garlic, olive oil, Italian seasoning, rosemary, and salt & pepper. It freezes really well and is versatile enough to be a stand-alone side dish, or to be mixed in with pasta or rice. I was able to get 2 batches frozen from this amount.

The tomato sauce I make is also very versatile. I do not season the original batch too heavily so that I can adjust the flavor to suit whatever meal I am using it in, from chili to spaghetti to lentil stew. The vegetables I add to this are onion, green pepper, zucchini, celery, mushrooms, and garlic. I also usually add at least 4 or 5 shredded carrots, but since I forgot them during my big shopping trip, I just made do without. After the vegetables cook down a bit, I can add as much or as little tomato-based products as I like, depending on how many vegetables I use. Today, I used three cans of tomato sauce, a can of diced tomatoes, and 1/2 can of tomato paste. I also added some Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper flakes, allspice, and salt and pepper. I then let it all simmer for a few hours on the stove before I cooled it to bag and freeze. When I use it later in the month, I can add some beef stock or an extra can of tomato sauce if I need to stretch the sauce a bit. I froze two batches of this today, and I also had two batches still in the freezer from last month.

The next thing I made was the vegetarian lasagna. I made two pans, one for dinner and one for the freezer. Tonight's lasagna had a white sauce and the freezer lasagna had a tomato sauce. I like varying the sauces when I can for freezer meals because it gives us two dishes that are basically the same, but they each have a unique taste. You could also alternate rows of each sauce in one pan and have a red and white lasagna. (And with the green vegetable filling, it would look very festive for Christmas. I'll have to remember that!)

Red & White Lasagna Recipe (for 2 lasagnas)
18-21 lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
Vegetable filling
Ricotta filling
Red sauce
White sauce
1 lb. mozzarella cheese, shredded

Vegetable Filling
1/2 large onion, finely diced
1/2 large green pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 pound mushrooms, diced
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
5 - 6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bag frozen spinach, thawed
1/2 bag frozen broccoli cuts, thawed
1/2 t. nutmeg
Salt & pepper, to taste

Warm 2 T. of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, green pepper, and celery. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, zucchini, and garlic, and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the thawed spinach and broccoli. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook for yet another 5 minutes.

Red Sauce
1 16 oz. can tomato sauce
2 oz. tomato paste
2 t. red wine vinegar
1 T. Italian seasoning
1 t. garlic salt
1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes

Mix all of the above together and set aside.

White Sauce
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
1 c. milk
1/2 c. chicken stock or white wine
3 oz. cream cheese
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper, to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and let cook 1-2 minutes. Whisk in milk and chicken stock. Cook until sauce just begins to thicken. Add cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, and salt & pepper. Cook until all cheese is melted.

Ricotta Filling
30 oz. ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Combine and set aside.

To make 2 Lasagnas:
1. Line up all ingredients and casserole dishes assembly-line style.

2. Spread a thin layer of white sauce on the bottom of one casserole and a thin layer of red sauce on the other casserole.

3. Layer the ingredients in each pan. Start with the lasagna noodles (about 3/dish, depending on size), followed by the ricotta filling, the vegetable filling, then the respective sauce.

4. For the top layer, add some more vegetable filling and drizzle with the respective sauce. Cover the dish with 8 oz. of shredded mozzarella each.

5. For the red sauce lasagna, wrap securely in at least a double layer of aluminum foil. To eat: bake from frozen at 350 for 2 - 2 1/2 hours, making sure to uncover for the last 15-20 minutes.
6. Bake the white sauce lasagna for 1 hour at 350 degrees, covered with aluminum foil. Uncover for the last ten minutes.

7. Let cooked lasagna sit for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

To recap, here is all the food I made today:Our meals for the day were:

  • French toast and bananas for breakfast. (I was able to freeze 8 extra slices of French toast)
  • Taco roll-ups, yogurt, and celery "sticks" for lunch
  • Dry Oat-cluster Cheerios for a snack
  • Lasagna and tossed salad for dinner
  • Jello-O for the kids for dessert; Eric and I, probably ice cream & coffee

Now that you've seen my kitchen adventures for the day, please don't forget to follow along with Joy and Toni on their 3 Moms, 3 Kitchens, 31 Days adventures also!


Nancy 9:33 AM  

White sauce pasta dishes are the favorite at our house. It's been quite a long time since I made a pan of lasagna. I may have to put that on my list of upcoming menus. My family would love it.

Candace 8:49 PM  

Hi Kate,
I was just wondering if any of your little people are picky eaters?

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