Budget Lasagna Recipe

I love lasagna.

No, that sounds too trite.

I adore lasagna.

My earliest memories of this comfort food are from my grandma making it. Even though she was something of a health nut and always prepared nutritious meals, lasagna was something she did well. Her method was simple. She'd layer the pre-cooked noodles in a casserole dish with her savory meat spaghetti sauce, cottage cheese, and shredded mozzarella. Knowing her, I'm sure the cottage cheese and mozzarella were low-fat varieties, but the result was always delicious.

Once I moved overseas and set up housekeeping on my own, it wasn't long before I wanted to try my hand at making my own lasagna. But I couldn't find lasagna noodles. Or cottage cheese. Or a decent mozzarella that didn't cost an arm and a leg. So I set about experimenting and substituting. Thankfully, my husband is a good sport about such things and offered me valuable feedback. (Usually some form of, "This tastes great, Sweetie!") I discovered several delicious combinations that, while not strictly lasagna, satisfied my craving for my favorite food. I found that I could toss cooked pasta with my own savory tomato and meat sauce, curds, and a shredded hard cheese and bake it all in a casserole dish for something that had the taste (if not the texture) of lasagna. I also experimented with replacing the lasagna noodles with cooked brown rice and layering the rice and other ingredients for something that was more reminiscent of true lasagna. At the height of the summer produce bounty, I also discovered that I could use sliced zucchini and eggplant in place of lasagna noodles for a surprisingly delicious and satisfying meal.

And then the economic crisis hit Ukraine.  Continue reading

A New Hobby

I have recently discovered the joys of baking bread. Ever since I was old enough to contemplate bread baking, I've regarded it as an arduous task requiring the better part of a day to complete. My grandmother taught me to bake when I was in junior high school, and anytime I needed a break from studying, I'd go to the kitchen, where I happily turned out cookies, pies, and brownies. But bread intimidated me.

Since I got married, I've frequently told myself that I should start baking bread, but somehow I never managed to find the time. That's not surprising, given that keeping house, my editing job, and church commitments kept me busy enough that I never had the six or so hours free that I thought were necessary for baking bread. But recent changes in my job have lightened my work load, and last week I found myself with a whole day free of pressing obligations.
 
In my opinion, the French make the best bread in the world. It's been difficult for me to find comparable bread in Ukraine (although the bread here is far superior to the American Wonder Bread variety). So, I decided to make French bread. Contrary to my expectations, the process was not at all arduous. It only took about three hours (not the six I had imagined), and it only required about thirty minutes of labor on my part. The rest of the time the dough was rising on its own or baking in the oven. Halfway through the baking time, the apartment filled with a wonderful aroma. The loaves turned out picture perfect with beautiful golden crusts, and the taste of fresh-baked bread hot from the oven was enough to get me hooked!
 
This afternoon I made onion-herb bread, and it was even better than last week's French bread. Of course, for those experienced bread bakers reading this, my former misconceptions about the process are probably humorous. You already knew that the effort was minimal compared to the rewards, and that the rewards included far more than a delicious treat. For the rest of you: there is something intensely satisfying in working with the dough, shaping it, and seeing the amazing metamorphosis of yeast, flour, and water (plus a few other ingredients, depending on the recipe) into wholesome loaves of bread. It gives one a tremendous sense of satisfaction and delight. If you enjoy doing things in the kitchen but have never baked bread, do yourself a favor and give it a try!


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