I've mentioned before that I can't cook. Can't is probably too strong a word--it's more don't. And mostly, I don't because Mark is a very good cook, and I, even on my best day, am a very basic cook. I'm very willing to take shortcuts, and I don't make anything fancy. But, if it comes down to it, I am perfectly capable of feeding myself.
And, as it turns out, feeding others. Our neighbors are just about to have a baby. So, I wanted to take them a couple of meals for their freezer, since I know it's hard to cook during the first weeks with a newborn. I was a better person for this particular job than Mark for a couple of reasons. First, my style of cooking is much more suited to freezer meals than is Mark's. Secondly, Mr. Neighbor is quite picky and not too much into eating "weird" stuff. Finally, more than half of our kitchen is already packed, including a lot of Mark's fancy cooking equipment. And he's not so keen on cooking without it.
Given what I know about Mr. Neighbor's food preferences, and my own limited skills, I decided on two easy and easily freezable meals: lasagna and enchiladas. Keep in mind that these are the easy, lazy recipes. I know these things could be made better and cheaper without so many convenience items. However, given time constraint and the half-packed kitchen, convenience is a major factor right now. And, from the neighbors' perspective, it's got to beat McDonald's, right?
First, to the supermarket.
These are the enchilada ingredients. A package of 8 flour burrito-sized tortillas, a package of boneless skinless chicken breasts (a bit over a pound), two cans of enchilada sauce (one medium, one mild), a small can of diced green chilies, and a one pound bag of shredded Mexican blend cheese (a mix of pepper jack or even regular jack and cheddar would work too). If I were making these for myself, I'd use a can of diced olives as well, but I know Mr. Neighbor doesn't like them. The red sauce can be replaced with green sauce, and the medium and mild sauce combination is just my preference--any heat will work. I don't have any preferences regarding brands here, I just bought whatever I saw first.
These are the ingredients for the lasagna. A tub of ricotta, a package of frozen chopped spinach, a box of noodles (the kind you don't pre-cook), a jar of sauce (if I am going to use jarred sauce, I really like Paul Newman's Sockarooni), a package of mild Italian sausages, and a one-pound bag of shredded mozzarella. You also need a couple of eggs, but I forgot to put them in the picture. A pound of ground Italian sausage would be better than the link stuff, but the store I went to didn't have any, so this will work. You could use turkey sausage if you prefer it. Do not, for God's sake, use cottage cheese in place of the ricotta. That's nasty.
The first thing you want to do is get the chicken breasts cooking. Heat the oven up to 400 degrees. Put a little bit of oil on a sheet pan, then plop the breasts down on it. Salt and pepper them liberally, then put them in the oven.
Next, get the sausage ready to cook. Because I used link sausage, I first had to cut it out of the casing and break it up into the pan.
Put it in a pan over medium heat. Keep it moving so that it doesn't stick.
After about five minutes or so, it should be broken up and cooked. Might take a little bit longer. You don't want to mess with undercooked pork, so make sure it's done.
Add the jar of sauce to the sausage.
Mix it up and heat it for a few more minutes until it's heated through, then take it off the burner.
Next, mix up the ricotta layer for the lasagna. You'll need the ricotta, spinach, salt, pepper, and a couple of eggs.
Toss it all in the bowl and mix. If the spinach isn't thawed, make sure to break it up and squeeze out as much extra moisture as possible.
For me, by this time the chicken will be cooked through (takes about 20-25 minutes). You know it's done when you can cut the largest breast in half and it's not pink the middle. You don't have to worry about how these look, so cutting them up to test them is no problem. Pull them out of the oven and set them aside to cool.
With the ricotta mixture and the sauce mixture finished, and the sauce cooled some, you are ready to assemble the lasagna. I am using two 8 X 8 disposable pans, since this is for our neighbors and I don't want them to have to worry about returning pans. If I were making it for us, I'd probably use two Pyrex pans of the same size, so I could freeze one for later and cook one for now. Using one larger pan (like 9 X 13) will also work.
Prep the pans by spreading a thin layer of sauce over the bottom.
Cover the sauce with a layer of noodles. I like using the noodles you don't pre-cook because the finished product ends up a bit firmer, plus it's easier. As a side benefit, they are exactly the right size for the 8 X 8 pans.
Next, spread about half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles.
Follow with about a third of the mozzarella.
Then about a third of the sauce.
From here, repeat the noodles-ricotta-mozzarella-sauce layers. This should use all the ricotta mixture.
Then do another layer, this time just noodles-sauce-mozzarella. You don't want the ricotta mixture close to the top, so you end up with three layers of noodles, sauce, and mozzarella, but only two of the ricotta mixture.
By this time, the chicken should be cool enough to handle. Shred it up into a bowl.
Add one of the cans of enchilada sauce to the shredded chicken. I use the medium sauce in the filling and the mild sauce on top, but it really doesn't make any difference.
Next, add the chili peppers to the filling.
Finally, mix in about half of the cheese.
Prepping the pans works similarly to the lasagna, only use a bit of the other can of enchilada sauce.
Put about an eighth of the filling into one of the tortillas.
Roll it up and stick it in the prepared pan. These big flour tortillas are actually a bit big for these pans--it would work better to use taco-sized tortillas for these pans. You can use corn tortillas too, if you prefer those.
Repeat the rolling until you have two pans of four enchiladas each. Once again, you can do them all in a 9 X 13 pan if you want.
Pour the remainder of the sauce over the enchiladas.
Cover the enchiladas with the remaining cheese.
Now that everything is done, cover each pan with tin foil if they are going into the freezer. Be sure to crimp the edges down so they don't get freezer burn. Then I put the plastic tops that came with the pans on and labeled each one with what they were and cooking instructions. The lasagna should take about an hour at 350 degrees and the enchiladas about 45 minutes at 375. That assumes that they start out thawed, though. If they are frozen, it will take about twice as long.
There you have it. Freezer feeding for the terminally lazy. Each pan is 3-4 servings, depending on how hungry you are. Add a little salad from a bag and you're good to go.