Making Freezer Meals

A small foil pan of lasagna

A small foil pan of lasagna

So, I’ve been up to quite a bit since my first post. Apparently I’ve already forgotten that I started a blog and want to post things on it, because I didn’t take a single picture of all of the stuff I’ve made. Do not fret, for I will share a recipe and show you pictures of my full-to-the-brim chest freezer.

I made GF (gluten free) Meat Lasagne (cool, old fashioned spelling, huh?), which I will share the recipe for, and pork chops and mushroom sauce. I love having meals in the freezer for when I don’t feel like cooking or guests come over (I’m ready for you, come over people!!!). I made a whole mess of lasagna ingredients and ended up with 8 small foil pans chock full of lasagna. I love the little dollar store foil pans that come in a 3-pack with lids and everything. I use them all the time. Okay, on the the recipe, the looooong recipe:

Large Recipe Freezer Lasagna

2 boxes GF Tinkyada Brown Rice Lasagna (the only GF brand I recommend for this recipe at the moment; or you could use regular no-boil lasagna noodles if you don’t need GF)
5-6 jars/cans of spaghetti sauce (or homemade sauce; I think I used a few cans/jars, some tomato paste and water too, and had about 1 1/2 gallons of sauce total, after I added the ground beef and onions. Just have a LOT of sauce!)
1 sauce jar/can of water
3 pounds ground beef
2-3 large onions (or more if you love onions), diced
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups (24 ounces) ricotta cheese (I used homemade “ricotta” [paneer] cheese)
2-3 pounds mozzarella cheese (I used a little over 2 pounds), shredded and divided
12 ounces shredded (Asiago, Parmesan, Romano, Provolone, etc., or blend your own!)
3-4 tablespoons Italian seasoning, divided (or just add your own parsley, oregano, basic, etc.)
salt and pepper, to taste.

Brown your ground beef (and I mean brown as in cook the chunks of meat until they actually have browned pieces on them, not just until the meat turns brown, ew. We want the Maillard reaction to occur here people!) in a very large pan or stockpot over medium high heat (you could even use a large metal  baking pan over the burner if that’s all you have that will fit 3 pounds of meat…..be sure to use hot pads!). Remove the ground beef from the pan, drain most of the fat (leave 1-2 tablespoons).

Open your jars/cans of spaghetti sauce and combine with the jar of water in a huge bowl, stock pot, or kiddie pool (just kidding). Stir in the ground beef, 2-3 tablespoons of Italian seasoning and a bit of salt and pepper, to taste. Please taste the sauce; if it needs something you can add it now instead of having  a bunch of pans of bland lasagna! I like my sauce on the slightly salty and herb-y side…..the lasagna noodles are bland so I figure I’m just adding seasoning for them!

Cook the onions on medium/medium high (not too hot, don’t let them burn) in the ground beef pan with the fat until translucent and just starting to brown, add garlic and cook for a couple more minutes. Divide onions into 3 parts and add 2 parts to the spaghetti sauce and stir well, and put the other part in a big bowl.

Set aside about 1/2-3/4 pound of the mozzarella cheese for sprinkling on top of the finished lasagnas. In the big bowl with the onions, add the ricotta cheese, the rest of the mozzarella, all of the other cheeses, and the rest of the Italian seasoning. Stir together until everything is distributed evenly; it will kind of be a big blob of cheese that holds together, don’t worry, it’s fine.

Alright, now we’re ready to assemble our lasagna! Get our your pans and line them up. I used 8 small rectangular disposable foil pans, but you can use pretty much any oven safe bake ware you have: those (awesome) paper disposable baking pans, metal or glass 9″x13″ baking pans, etc. (remember, these are going in the freezer). Have your sauce, cheese mix, and lasagna noodles in close proximity as well. We’re going to do this assembly line style, meaning we’ll do step 1 for all of the pans, then move on to step 2, and so on.

Step 1: place some sauce in the bottom of each pan. I used a ladle to spoon it in the pan and to spread it around. It’s hard to say how much you will need but you want the bottom totally covered, not too thick, not too thin (though go too thick if you were going to go one way or the other, the sauce on the bottom is absolutely necessary and helps make sure the noodles soften and don’t burn). My sauce had really big chunks of ground beef (I picked the really huge ones out and put them back in the sauce) in it so it was a bit uneven, just do whatever you have to to make sure the bottom is completely covered by sauce.

Step 2: add a layer of lasagna noodles over the sauce. DO NOT COOK THE NOODLES, please, it will completely ruin the lasagna. I had to break mine into pieces to get them to fit. If you have a few small empty spaces that’s fine.

Step 3: more sauce! You can make this layer of sauce a bit thicker this time, but I’d keep in under an inch (1/2 an inch will probably do it…..I don’t know. Just what you want to hear while reading a recipe, right? It’s hard to measure sauce by the inch!).

Step 4: okay, moving on to the cheese mixture now. This is going to be the most difficult and messiest step, but still not that bad. Take a handful of the cheese and sprinkle/spread over the sauce. You will probably need 2 handfuls. Or more. And yes, I recommend using your hands…..spoons take too long and aren’t as precise. You want a fairly thick and even layer of the cheese, I’d say about a 1/2 -1 inch layer  (don’t obsess over it though, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just do your best and move on). I went a bit thick on this layer, because by now I had realized that I was only going to get one full round of layers into my short foil pans.

Step 5: add another layer of noodles. Keep breaking and mosaic-ing (not a word) those pieces to make sure you get as solid of a layer as possible. Use all of the noodles up if you can. Also, I recommend trying to press down the lasagna at this point, the noodles on top should keep your hands fairly clean and it helps so you can fit more into the pans.

Step 6: more sauce.

step 7: another layer of cheese! Use it all up if you can  Now, at this point if you have a bunch of leftover cheese mix and sauce (and another box of lasagna) and pans big enough to fit another layer, you could add one. I didn’t. I used up every drop of every ingredient making my 8 pans (I was very impressed with myself!)

Step 8: more sauce. Use it all up if you can.

Step 9: the last step! Sprinkle the reserved mozzarella cheese evenly over all of your pans. You know the drill, use it all up!

Step 10: I lied. This is the last step. Now you have to put the lids (or plastic wrap and foil) on your pans and freeze them! Be sure to label them with “LASAGNA” and the date (and, as you can see from my picture, you will have to do that I say and not what I do here people). You have no idea how many times I’ve pulled out a pan from the freezer and had to fully cook it before I could figure out what it was! Well, at the time I’m like “I’ll remember what’s in this pan for sure!” No, I will not remember. And you probably won’t either, so just get out your sharpie and scribe!

To bake: DO NOT defrost your lasagna (***UPDATE: defrosting your lasagna does NOT ruin it! In fact, I think it may even make it better. YAY!***). So you can defrost it overnight in the fridge if you want to. Now you can get to baking your covered lasagna (with the lid that came with the foil pans, or just foil, or the top to your baking dish, whatever) at 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on your oven, either will be fine though) for at least an hour. I really can’t tell you how long it’s going to take, especially since I have no idea what size pans you used or whether you defrosted it. It took mine about an hour and 10 minutes to bake….I think. You will be looking for lasagna that doesn’t look watery and registers at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit on a thermometer. No thermometer? Go get one, silly. Until you do, just test it somewhere near the middle with a fork to make sure the noodles are soft and that it’s nice and piping hot (not warm, ew) and doesn’t look watery. No one likes watery lasagna. The real test is the temperature though, so go by that if you can (keep it about 160-180 though, 200 degrees and you’ve got dried out lasagna). Once you bake one or two of them you’ll get a feel for it and will just be able to tell it’s done by looking at it. Don’t worry, you’ll have enough to practice on! Anyway, if you want the top cheese browned a bit you can remove the foil/lid the last 10-15 minutes of baking. Warning: some of the cheese will come off with the lid….it’s sad, I know, but just do your best to scrape it off and either eat it now or put it back on the lasagna. Eat it now. Let your lasagna rest on the counter for 10 minutes or so (do it) and then dig in!

Recipe Notes: please feel free to halve/quarter (or double!) this recipe to suit your needs and to add or subtract ingredients as you see fit. The basic lasagna noodles/sauce/cheese ratio should stay the same but you can change up pretty much everything else! I am a HUGE fan of substituting. Have fresh herbs? By all means use those. No fresh garlic or onions? Use dried onion flakes and garlic powder. Hate ricotta cheese? Use cottage cheese, or sour cream, or more mozzarella! Don’t have lasagna noodles? Use shells, or mix it all together with elbow mac or whatever (wait, why are you making lasagna without lasagna noodles?)! Anyway, there’s not much you can do to mess this lasagna up!

Sooooooo, that sums up this incredibly long post and if you are still with me I’d like to thank you for reading this post and visiting my new blog. I hope I’ve inspired you to go make some freezer lasagna. You’ll be glad you did when you come home from a long day at work or from running the kids all over town, or are just lazy and don’t want to cook, because you will have scrumptious, healthy, homemade lasagna in the freezer that you can be shoving in your face in about an hour. You’re welcome. If you have any questions please let me know!

I want to dedicate this recipe to an old friend that showed me how to make the best lasagna in the world. Without her, I would have banned lasagna from my house a long time ago. Sadly, we are no longer friends. However, my memories will be with me forever and I can have this lasagna and think of her often. I miss you B.

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