The Gift of Lasagna

white and brown dish on black ceramic plate

I think every home-maker is wise to have a great lasagna recipe in her back pocket. It is a versatile, comfort food that most people absolutely love. 

Lasagna is also a dish that freezes very well. I generally have a lasagna hanging out in my freezer. It is great to pull out on a dreary day. Lasagna is also an great food to gift a friend in need of a meal. And truly, if one has a lasagna in the freezer, it makes inviting friends over super easy since it cooks up easily and simple sides like garlic bread and salad pair so well with it. 

After many mediocre attempts at making lasagna, I tweaked my recipe to perfection. I think my family has been spoiled to all other lasagnas as a result, but in all good grace, lasagna is one of those recipes that can be altered little by little to the content of each family.

In a way, lasagna is kind of like a fingerprint of a home. We each have a slightly different version, that is personal to our taste. Maybe that is taking lasagna to an exaggerated level of importance, but oh my, I do value a good lasagna.

Oh, I should note that I never make just one lasagna. Lasagna is way too much work for only one. I always double my recipe. It is expensive, but it is not something we eat every month, so I don’t make it all the time. I usually add lasagna ingredients to my shopping list when I pull our last lasagna out of the freezer. And sometimes I spread out the ingredient purchase over the course of a month or so.

The Ellis Family Lasagna

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 jar Classico (or home-made) tomato/basil spaghetti sauce
  • 1 pkg. Barilla gluten free, ready-to-bake lasagna noodles
  • 16 oz. small curd whole milk ricotta
  • 16 oz. small curd low fat cottage cheese
  • 2 cups shredded skim or whole milk mozzarella
  • 2 cups shredded parmesan (the real stuff-not the can)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • Extra cheese to top(Parm, mozz, and or Cheddar)
  1. Cook up the meat and add a jar of spaghetti sauce to the meat
  2. Shred all the cheeses
  3. Mix all the shredded cheese with ricotta, cottage, and egg into a gooey mixture
  4. spread a bit of meat sauce on the bottom of the pan
  5. Place one layer of uncooked noodles on the meat mixture
  6. Spread cheese mixture edge to edge on hard noodles (I often use my hands)
  7. Spread more meat mixture on top of 1st cheese layer
  8. Add another layer of noodles
  9. Put more cheese on top of that layer of noodles
  10. Spread meat mixture on the second cheese layer (depending on how thick meat and cheese is spread, this may be about all the ingredients. I like to to eek out three layers)
  11. Layer rest of noodles on the meat mixture
  12. Spread on one more layer of cheese and then meat
  13. I like to sprinkle any extra cheese on the top. A blend of cheddar and mozz. is pretty.
  14. The lasagna can be frozen at this point or baked. DO NOT BAKE AND THEN FREEZE.
  15. Cover lasagna with a lid or with foil for the entire baking time.
  16. Bake at 350 for 1 hour (from fresh) OR Bake 350 2 hours (from frozen)
  17. Uncover and COOL 30-40 minutes-this is very important or the lasagna will fall apart if it is not given time to cool enough to set up. We have dug in too early and it is still good.
  18. Serve with garlic bread and Italian salad. Brownies make a great dessert with this meal.

Meat: I use a pound of organic/grass fed beef, but there is room for cheaper forms of beef in this recipe

Sauce: I have made my own, but lasagna is so much work to make, I am very happy with the Classico brand. It also contains no sugar which is a great bonus.

Pasta: I started using gluten free lasagna noodles seven years ago. The rice noodles are better in flavor and texture than any other noodle I have used. I like that I do not have to pre-cook them which saves me time in the process of making lasagna. Plus, it frees up my lasagna to share with my friends who cannot eat wheat, so that is an added bonus.

Cheese: I buy all my cheese in block form. It saves me a lot of money, and the cheese is creamier than the pre-shredded versions. I have a food processor and shred block after block on lasagna making day. TIP: Aldi has inexpensive triangles of parmesan. I buy several and shred them up myself.

Yes, lasagna making is a time taking, budget killing venture, but oh my is it a wonderful comfort food to have on hand. I have fallen upon lasagna time after time for a hearty meal to share with friends, brighten up a gloomy day, and gift as a meal to someone in need of cheer. Lasagna is really a perfect meal to keep on hand for such a time as this, or that.

To Instant Pot or Not: That is the Question

I had read so many good things about instant pots that I was more than anxious to try one. When my Mother-in-Law gave me an instant pot, I enthusiastically jumped into the world of instant potting.

I used the instant pot daily for weeks. Most of what I cooked in my new instant pot was purely experimental. After almost two years, the instant pot has settled into it’s place in my kitchen. I am uncertain if I will have a long term relationship with the instant pot, but do rely on it for certain things.

What do I use my instant pot for the most?

  1. Thawing. I do not own a microwave and have come to rely on my instant pot to thaw a block of meat quickly. My favorite thaw and cook is taco meat which I can warm up from frozen and  keep in the pot to sauté once thawed. I like the “one stop shop” for cooking.
  2. Sautéing. If I am not wanting a large splatter, I am able to sauté safely within the walls of my instant pot without making a large mess all over the oven. The size pot I own is a 6qt. which I have found it a bit too small to meet most of my needs, but it does sauté a pound of meet or an onion well if I am making a small batch of something.
  3. Bone Broth. I rely heavily on my instant pot to make my bone broth. It is a great place to dump my chicken bones and water in, set it for eight hours and walk away. It is a bit less messy than the stovetop.
  4. Mashed Potatoes. Mashed potatoes can take time to cook up. I like that I can peel , but not chop a dozen potatoes. Then I can add salt water to cover them. (Salt water prevents browning while they wait to be cooked). Then I can set the timer, head out to church and come home to soft potatoes, ready to drain off water and mash up with seasonings.
  5. Rice. The instant pot does a satisfactory job of steaming both sticky rice and long grain rice. I was able to pass my rice steamer on as a result of having the multitasking instant pot.
  6. Holiday Cooking. During busy cooking times, it is nice to have a tool in my kitchen that can be used as a burner, food warmer, or even cook a small ham or chicken.

Now all I have learned about my Instant Pot is not all bright and rosy. I quickly realized a couple things about the pot that were a disappointment.

  1. Instant pot’s are not instant. An instant pot has to warm up before the cooking process begins. So, although my rice might take ten minutes to cook, it takes about ten minutes to warm up the pot before cooking begins. 
  2. The pot is not a chef. I cannot put a whole chicken in the pot and check on it toward the end of its cooking cycle to see if it is ready. Due to the pressure inside the pot, I have to wait for the pressure to release before I can look in on a large cut of meat. It is too risky for me. I like to keep closer tabs on my food while it cooks and I don’t like being locked out of the process.
  3. The Pot Quickly Overcooks. Because steam is used in such pressure to cook for in an instant pot, I have found that food is easily overdone. Chicken falls off the bone, yes, but it also bland and much more dry than any other cooking method I have used. Such cooking can work to cook meat that will be used in casseroles and soups, but I do not like to use it for our main course.
  4. Crock Pot feature is very poor. I have an instant pot with a slow cook feature. It is more like a “keep it warm” feature and does heat up enough to actually cook the food. It is not worth using. After a few major disappointments, I will never use the crock pot feature on my instant pot again.
  5. Quality is simply not the standard traditional cooking. I am not trying to ruffle feathers in the instant pot community, but the instant pot simply is not as incredible as slower cooking methods. I believe this is scientific for two reasons. The first reason is that the faster steam cooking does not give adequate time for flavors to infused into the food like slower cooking methods. Roasting and slow cooking in a crock pot or stovetop allow much more time for flavor to seep and blend together. It makes complete sense. The second reason is the instant pot uses wet heat to cook, so meat like chicken is cooked without browning. The texture and flavor of meat cooked in the instant pot is very different than what is roasted in an oven. It is very much poached meat. Which has its uses in soups and casseroles, but is not the best in flavor compared to methods that allow browning.

So that is my current evaluation of Instant Pot cooking. It is certainly an unique kitchen tool and I look forward to working with it more in the future.

Power of Affection in the Home

happy affectionate family

I stopped her as she crossed my path in the hallway, gave her a big hug, and “mommy loves you.” She stated “I love you too Mommy.” And then she skipped off on her way.

I have seen children skipping many times in my life. But the significance of a skipping child has recently riddled my thoughts. A skipping child is a happy child. A skipping child is a loved child. A skipping child has peace within.

How often a tender word, a simple hug, has brought on skipping feet. As my children have grown, the skipping has become less and less common, but I know the inner warmth felt by a moment of being seen and shown love lingers, because it is the same feeling I understand when my husband stops me in my path for a moment of affection.

Although most of us adults have completely outgrown the inspiration to skip in expression of our feelings, the feelings do not slip us by. When given consistent and faithful affirmation of being loved and noticed in our busy day, it balances our step in a very good way.

All that said to point out the value of taking a pause to show a moments affection to those in our lives throughout each day.

Consistent affection builds stability of the long term love we know others have for us. It confirms to me that , “yes” I am loved. “Yes” I am seen. We adults need it. Children need it. And children need to see it in their parent’s relationship as well. Relationship security and trust is built brick by brick through our faithful, daily treatment of each other.

How often I have been told to seize the moment as my children’s childhood slips through my fingers. Seizing the moment is a classic and admirable phrase, but backing up a bit more, moments cannot be seized without purpose and planning. We purpose to maintain health by building healthy eating habits over a period of time. We purpose to have a great harvest by spending a little time every day in the garden, watering, pruning, and pulling weeds. We cannot seize anything without a purpose to do so. Habits and plans must be formed for us to accomplish any goal.

  1. Build habits of affection into your life. Do not pass a loved one in the hall, especially a spouse, and let him by without a kiss. Greet each child in the morning with a snuggle, hug, or kiss. Take a moment longer on a busy morning to snuggle with your spouse in bed. Take a nap with a child on occasion. Read books to children while holding them, not while they are beside or across from you. Always kiss your children goodnight. Plenty more tips could be added and catered to each family, but I will stop at that.
  2. Prioritize the giving of affection. Do not ever withhold affection. If a child asks for a hug or leans into me in the middle of my work. I always pause (unless it is dangerous that they cannot be near me), and give that child a moment of my time. I do not ever push a child away or ever tell them I cannot hold them. If I must keep the child at a distance from me for safety reasons, I quickly snatch them up as soon as the dangerous work is done. I have had a little one sit and wait a good ten minutes for a hug from mommy. That shows you how valuable affection is for the soul.
  3. Keep the channels of affection open. So often little children do naughty things that make mommy or daddy cross. It is crucial that after a just punishment has been served that the child be embraced, forgiven, told he or she is loved, and the relationship restored completely. I feel very strongly about quick punishment and quick reconciliation. God does not withhold himself from us once punishment and forgiveness are given. I feel it is very wrong for me as a parent to withhold an affectionate relationship with my child as well.
  4. Learn to accept affection. I am a busy person, sometimes it is difficult for me to  value the importance of receiving affection from others when it is given to me. I might have my arms full of folded laundry and on a mission to deposit the load in the closet when my husband stops me for a bit of a snuggle. I want to finish my work before fully accepting the moment, but have learned that it is not only very important to give my husband the moment, but also that it is important for my own heart as well. I need to take in the love being offered to me and treasure it, far more than I need to be putting laundry on the shelf.
  5. Make plans for the sharing of time with others. I am currently taking my oldest daughter out every Saturday for a Bible study and coffee. She loves this time with her mommy. My husband will often plan take one of the chidlren out alone to go shopping, get lunch, or watch a movie. Even when my husband and I will get a sitter and go out alone together, that moment cannot be seized if it isn’t planned. We put affection on our calendar. We set aside time for it. We make arrangements for special times with those we love.

I understand that everyone is not inclined to show affection and love in the same ways, but as we each know what shows love to someone in our God given circle, we should certainly figure out ways that would show another person how loved they are to us. The outpouring of affection would be sporadic at best if we relied upon our emotions or given time. If affection is to truly portray the depth of love we feel for someone, then it must b purposed, planned, and given room to exist on a consistent basis. Affection is truly a beautiful way that we can show our deep love for each other on a daily basis and we are wise to lean into it as a sweet tool of showing love to those in our home.