Layers without lasagna

I’ve mentioned my struggles with meal planning. (Karen kindly directed me to the other day; I haven’t looked there this week but I have in the past, when someone at worldmagblog – probably Kim – also suggested that website.) After years of frustration dealing with this issue,  last month I finally came up with a workable (though not ideal) solution.

My husband told me that he lets me pick meals so I can express my creativity in that way (not the way I particularly want to express myself – that’s what I have a blog for), but that he doesn’t care if we eat the same few things week after week. I was tired of my younger son asking me every day, as soon as I got home from work, what was for dinner. We tried to teach him to greet me with something more appropriate, such as “How was your day, Mom?” But I also decided to make the question unnecessary by having the same menu (more or less) every Monday through Friday.

I thought of the meals I serve most often, those which are easy and which we all like. Then I figured out which to serve each day, trying to make them easy to remember so we don’t even have to look at a calendar. So now we have:

  • Mexican Monday: Burritos or chimichangas, and rice. (Salad and/or frozen veggies get added regardless of the menu; I don’t bother to plan them.) I buy Monterey frozen burritos and chimichangas – can’t beat the price, and we all like them (spicy for Jon, non-spicy for Al and me).
  • Italian Tuesday: Ravioli or tortellini. The only choice I have to make (other than picking out a package of frozen filled pasta) is which jar of sauce to use, garlic parmesan or spicy spaghetti sauce. The best seems to be a mix of both.
  • Hamburger “Hump” Day: Ground beef mixed with something – Hamburger Helper, macaroni and cheese, beef flavored ramen noodles and shredded cheese, or whatever. But if I don’t think of a whatever, the other options are always in my cupboard.
  • Tater Tot Thursday: No, tater tots aren’t the main course, but I needed something that started with T. They get served with breaded fish.
  • Fast Food Friday: Depending on my mood and what’s in the freezer or on sale, this could be hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, pizza, chicken nuggets or fried chicken. Even that gives me too many choices, so sometimes I let Al pick.

Al loves it. He knows what we’ll have for dinner and is looking forward to it each day. I like it because I have few choices to make, but there is room for a little variety if I feel like it.

So what does all that have to do with layers without lasagna? Relieved of the burden of picking a meal every day, I feel more inclined to try some new stuff in the kitchen on weekends, or on Wednesdays when I don’t feel like just opening a box of macaroni and cheese.

When we were in Michigan visiting Jon’s aunt, we had some Cheddar Sourdough Twists purchased at Target. Jon just loved them and we had to buy more for the trip home. I’m not sure whether I’m sorry or not that they don’t seem to be available in our area, as I think we’d end up spending too much money on them. Instead I spent a couple of hours online trying to find a recipe to make snacks similar to those.

No luck. There are lots of recipes for cheese snacks, but none sounded like they would have the same crunch and consistency. (I found lots of recipes for cheese straws. We bought some of those too, and they’re not the same.) However, I did find one idea that has been a hit. Not the same as the Archer Farms snacks, but they are easy to make and nice and crunchy. Just take wonton wrappers, lay them in a single layer (with a little space in between pieces) on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with shredded cheese, then bake until they get crispy.

A week after I bought my first package of wonton wrappers, I read in the Wall Street Journal about “lasagna cupcakes.” These aren’t cupcakes, they’re individual servings of lasagna made in muffin tins, with wonton wrappers as the pasta instead of lasagna noodles. I have to admit that my first attempt didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped – I think maybe I used too much sauce. (I rarely end up using exactly the same ingredients as the recipe calls for, except when baking bread or cake, so I tend not to worry about using the exact same amounts either.) My husband thinks I should try it next time using a loaf pan, but still using wonton wrappers instead of lasagna noodles.

Tonight I wanted to use the Philadelphia Cooking Creme I had bought recently on sale and with a coupon. It being Wednesday, I wanted to use the leftover ground beef (from making mac & cheese pizza on Sunday, using a recipe I read in a magazine while waiting in line at the grocery store). When I looked at the recipes on Kraft’s website, the only one that used ground beef and the Santa Fe flavor of the Cooking Creme was Tex Mex Beef & Rice Casserole. The problem was that I didn’t have any leftover rice and didn’t feel like having to cook it first.

No problem. I decided to buy a package of flour tortillas, and made layers of tortillas, the ground beef mixed with corn, salsa, and Cooking Creme, and shredded cheese, about five layers high (then topped with tortilla chips, which conveniently had been on sale also). It was quick, and it was delicious. I found myself marvelling how easy it was to enjoy being creative in the kitchen when I don’t have to do it every night.

And how handy wonton wrappers and tortillas are.


4 Responses to Layers without lasagna

  1. Margaret says:

    You’ve given me some good ideas, Pauline. Now everything is fine until some day when Al gets married to a woman who doesn’t like being tied down to a weekly menu!

  2. Karen O says:

    What is Cooking Creme? By it being called Philadelphia Cooking Creme, I’m guessing it’s a fake but easy-to-use cream cheese? Or am I way off?

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