A meal plan experiment: Cook twice, eat all week

As I mentioned a number of times on the blog, Jeff and I have crazy schedules. Trying to put together a meal plan has been somewhat difficult do to all of our meetings and obligations. Making sure we always have leftovers to bring to work for lunch has also been hard.

This week, I decided to try something different. Sunday night, I made a good-sized lasagna; Monday night, I made stew. Since I had meetings Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I wasn’t home to make dinner but Jeff and I were able to eat leftovers all week long. We were also able to take these leftovers to work for lunch. Having two of our favorite dishes made it easier not to get bored with the food. We even had stew tonight for dinner rather than making something.

This may not be something I do every week but for those weeks that are especially busy, this was a great option for us. I even made braided cheese bread which was beautiful and delicious. It’s probably the best bread I ever made. It looks complicated but it’s actually very easy. We ate that with the stew and was good even tonight. I took my slice and put it in the toaster for a few moments on low. It was wonderful.

Sometimes making a few large recipes for the week is a great way to go when you know you are going to be super busy. I think after all the take-out we ate the week before, home-cooking was a welcomed change.

Meal plan and lasagna recipe

We’ll, I’ve already changed the meal plan that I set up this  month. We had some friends over for dinner tonight so things got moved around a bit from the plan I posted last week.

Sunday: Build-your-own-casserole with ground turkey
Monday: Pork chops, stuffing and veggies
Tuesday: Hot dogs, baked beans and veggie sticks
Wednesday: Chicken Parm, pasta, salad
Thursday: Pancakes and sausage
Friday: Mac and Cheese, veggies
Saturday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn

Sunday and Tuesday got switched. I haven’t made it to the grocery store yet, but I don’t need much this week. Just a few veggies and some mac and cheese. Not bad. Not bad at all. I’m hoping to come in way under budget this month.

Saturday, I made lasagna. I have three or four different ways I make lasagna. Sometimes I make sauce from scratch. Sometimes I use ricotta cheese and sometimes I make a bechamel  sauce instead. It really depends on how much time and money I have to spend on the endeavour. This week was quick and cheap lasagna.

What you’ll need:

1 box of lasagna noodles (not the not bake ones but the real ones)
2 jars of your favorite pasta sauce
1 lb of hamburger
minced garlic to taste (I use about 1 – 2 tablespoons)
teaspoon of dried basil
teaspoon of dried oregano
a pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons of butter
a drizzle of olive oil
teaspoon of garlic powder or granulated garlic
teaspoon of onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup of flour
2 – 3 cups of milk
Parmesan cheese (optional)
2 cups of mozzarella cheese

You can boil your lasagna noodles if you want but I think it’s a pain and the noodles tend to get overcooked. Instead, I fill my lasagna pan with hot water (boiling if you got it) and soak the noodles in the water until everything else is ready to go. The noodles start to soften and you don’t have to dirty another pan. You’re already making enough dirty dishes, don’t need any more. Plus the noodles will finish cooking in the oven and they won’t be mushy.

If you have precooked hamburger in the freezer, defrost it. Add a bit of oil to a pan that’s large enough for all this sauce we are going to make. Heat the oil on medium low and add your garlic. Cook the garlic for a minute or two, until you can smell it. Don’t let it burn. Then add your ground beef (cooked or raw). Cook until no longer pink. Add the basil, oregano, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Then add the jars of sauce. Move this to the back burner on medium heat so just make friends for a few minutes.

Time for bechamel. A bechamel is just a white sauce. It’s the foundation for a ton of other awesome sauces, like alfredo and sausage gravy. In a sauce pan, add a bit of olive oil and your butter. Let it melt on medium so it doesn’t burn. Adding the oil will help to prevent the butter from burning. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper and a bit of fresh ground nutmeg. I know it sounds odd, but just a touch makes it so good. Stir into the butter. Now add the flour and stir constantly for a few minutes until the flour takes on a bit of color. Cooking the flour helps to get rid of all the raw flour taste and just leaves the thickening goodness behind. Now slowly add the milk and raise the heat a bit. Start with two cups and bring the sauce to a simmer until thickened. You may need to add more milk if it’s too thick. You can always add more but you can’t fix it if it gets too thin. At this point you can add some Parmesan cheese to your sauce to give it some more kick.

Now we can start layering. Drain your noodles and dry off your lasagna pan. Spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray or grease your pan. Put a layer of noodles on the bottom of the pan, making sure they overlap a bit. Now put a layer of the bechamel. I smooth it out with a spatula or a frosting spreader. Now add a layer of your red sauce on top of that. Repeat your layers until you are out of pasta. I try to finish with a layer of bechamel, then a layer of red sauce. Top with cheese and bake at 350 for 30 to 45 minutes depending on how dark you like the cheese on top.

You can substitute the bechamel for a ricotta mixture. I add an egg, some garlic powder, dried parsley and some Parmesan and mozzarella to the ricotta and chill it until I’m ready to assemble. I’ll make this before the sauce to let the flavors get friendly.