A tempting, quick weeknight meal and a mojito or three

Mojito in the tropicsFebruary is such a difficult month for me to plan menus for.  The skies are dark, gloomy and the air is still chilled.  My body craves the warm robust foods of the cold winter months, however, my mind is rebelling and thinking spring or summer and my taste buds want to follow that warming trend.

Filling the home with the aroma of citrus, coconut, melon or crisp green apple candles does assist in the mental transportation to a sandy beach and oceans of azure.  However when my mind returns to reality, I have three faces looking at me with impatience, because my wild imaginings didn’t get up and whip up any dinner for them while I was out.

LimesObviously a compromise is in order.  While my sweet three run around blowing out candles with their eyes rolling up in to the back of their heads, I will first, concoct a  tropical flavored cocktail to get the creativity bubbling brewing.  As I sip and savor, I will think of a dish to appease the masses.

But first, let’s muddle some mint.  Rum is always my choice for a real or imaginary trip to the tropics so a Mojito is what’s in the cocktail shaker.

  • Limes II2 mint sprigs, divided
  • 1/4 cup white rum
  • 2 tablespoons simple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon plus 3/4 tsp. lime juice
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Using a muddler or handle of a wooden spoon, muddle 1 mint sprig in a cocktail shaker. Add rum, simple syrup, lime juice, and bitters. Fill with ice, cover, and shake vigorously 20 times. Strain into the glass of your choice. Garnish with remaining mint sprig.

Now that the inspiration is flowing, a starter is necessary to quell the hunger pangs while the meal is being prepared.

Photograph:  Martha Stewart
Photograph: Martha Stewart

Blue Cheese and Walnut Spread ~ Martha Stewart  I love this appetizer.  It’s quick, I always have these items in my refrigerator and pantry and most importantly, it’s something any one of my sweet three can whip up on their own while I am prepping dinner.  It tastes divine and stores well.

  • 4-ounce bar of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) cold crumbled blue cheese, such as Stilton
  • Crackers or crostini, for serving

Add softened cream cheese to a medium bowl and poke it with a wooden spoon until creamy.  Stir in walnuts, season with salt and pepper.  Gently fold in the blue cheese.  It doesn’t get any easier than that.   To store, cover with plastic and chill for up to a week.

Now that they are satisfied munching and I am happy sipping, it’s time to gather ingredients and pretend like I know what I’m doing.  Generally a lazy day at home means I won’t be making a trip to the market, so whatever is in the freezer, pantry and fridge will have to do.

Lasagna ~ TomatoesFollowing with the theme of robust foods, lasagna is what’s for dinner.  Earlier this year, I purchased the oven ready lasagna noodles at the market for the first time for a quick meal when time was a huge issue.  While I found the pasta to be a bit different in texture, I now keep at least two boxes in the pantry for emergency meals.  Because I don’t feel the texture is at an optimum level,  I don’t use them every time I make this dish, but for those occasions where something needs to be whipped up quick, it cuts the prep time in half.

When I make a tomato sauce, I make 2 large pots, fill gallon size zippy bags and throw them in the freezer.  So for a quick weeknight family meal like this, I thaw out two bags, cook up the ground beef and sausage, drain and throw in the sauce.

Lasagna GarlicTomato Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 2 28-ounce cans Italian-style tomatoes
  • 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes with added purée
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine

Sweet Italian SausageHeat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, oregano, basil, marjoram and crushed red pepper. Cover and cook until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients; simmer gently, uncovered, until sauce thickens and measures 8 cups total, breaking up tomatoes with spoon and stirring occasionally, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper

  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound Italian sweet sausages, casings removed

Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat; add sausage and ground beef, saute until browned, breaking up with fork, about 6 minutes.  Add sauce.

  • 15-ounces ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg slightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheese of your choice for topping

In small bowl, stir together, ricotta cheese, egg, basil and oregano.

Assembly and Baking ~ Heat oven to 350

  1. In 13x9x2 dish, spread approx 3/4 cup of meat sauce.
  2. Using 3 pieces of uncooked pasta, place them crosswise over the sauce.  They will expand as they bake, so they should not overlap or touch the sides of the pan.
  3. Spread about 2/3 cup ricotta mixture evenly over pasta.  Spread 3/4 cup meat sauce evenly over ricotta and sprinkle with a cup of mozzarella cheese.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 two more times.  Top with remaining 3 pasta pieces and spread meat sauce completely covering pasta.  Sprinkle with mozzarella and cheese of your choice.
  5. Cover with foil, bake 30 minutes.  Remove foil and bake an additional 10 – 15 mins.

I want to make two notes here; One, that I do not measure out anything.  There are times this lasagna is more cheese than anything else and we love it that way.  I suggest when you follow a recipe, follow it fairly exact the first time.  As you taste what you have created, make note of what you would add more of or what you would take away and give it a twist and tweak to make it your own the next time you prepare the dish. Two, this is a quick lasagna, check back in next week, for a delectable creation that will knock your socks off.  And yes, we will boil the pasta for that recipe.

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