Lasagna approved by young chef

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Sora Batts follows the recipe to assemble lickety-split lasagna. Lisa Boykin Batts | Times
Sora Batts follows the recipe to assemble lickety-split lasagna. Lisa Boykin Batts | Times

It’s a lot of fun to make cupcakes, cookies and even Popsicles. But you also need to learn how to make main courses — the “stick-to-your-ribs” kind of food.

My 9-year-old granddaughter, Sora, has been helping me in the kitchen for several years now. She’s always enjoyed making pizzas with me — adding sauce, cheese and other ingredients — and frosting and decorating cakes and cupcakes.

I challenged her to make a main course for one of our joint effort food columns this summer and figured she’d choose something easy, maybe steak and gravy in the slow cooker or spaghetti, two of her favorites. But no, she chose something with more steps and ingredients and something she never wants to eat when I make it — lasagna.

So during my dinner break on a recent Sunday night, Sora, my husband and I made lickety-split lasagna from “Better Homes and Gardens New Children’s Cookbook.” (This book was a Christmas gift to Sora’s dad in 2001.)

The first step in the recipe was cooking the ground beef. I was late getting home for my dinner break that night, so Grandpa Reggie taught Sora how to brown the beef. They assured me she was careful around the burner and that she learned how to properly handle raw meat and then wash up afterwards. Reggie showed her how to break up the beef and cook it until it was all brown. He also explained to her how we rinse the meat one it is cooked to eliminate any excess grease.

The recipe calls for 12 ounces of ground beef, but we bought a pound. I took about a little bit (between 1/3 and a 1/2 cup) and put it in a freezer bag and told Sora that I could use that ground beef another night for a pizza topping.

Next, Sora and I went through all the recipe directions and made the lasagna. As we worked, we talked about the process and I gave her a few tips and suggestions. For instance, after she mixed the spaghetti sauce into the cooked ground beef, we added a little water (less than 1/4 cup) into the jar and swirled it around to loosen the sauce that was still in the jar. Then I had her pour the water and remaining sauce into the beef.

I explained to her that this was a good way to use all the sauce. I also figured the extra liquid would work well in a lasagna recipe that calls for uncooked lasagna noodles.

With the cookbook in front of her, Sora followed the directions for layering her lasagna. She was much more precise than I would have been, carefully measuring out each ingredient and making her layers picture-perfect. I was impressed. By the time she had finished, she had a lovely pan of lasagna ready for the oven.

The recipe says to cover the lasagna and cook for an hour. I suggested to Sora that we change the recipe at bit, telling her cooks do that all the time. We let it cook covered for 50 to 55 minutes, then uncovered it and let it cook an additional 5 to 10 minutes to let the top brown a little. It was a good move on our part!

I will tell you, it was a long hour of cooking time as the three of us waited for that lasagna to cook. It smelled so good as we were preparing it, and it smelled even better as it cooked. Lasagna has been a favorite food of mine since I was a young girl, and I couldn’t wait.

But the wait was worth it for my serving of that delicious lasagna. I had been afraid the noodles wouldn’t be cooked, but they were. They were not as tender as when they are boiled first, but they were a very good texture, truly al dente. The sauce was very good, and the cheese was the perfect complement.

Sora loved it too. In fact, she ate three servings that night. Three.

After dinner, we talked about how good the lasagna was, and I asked Sora if she would have tried it if I had made it. The answer was what I expected, “No.”

I can’t tell you how glad I am that I have helped the next generation learn how to make one of my very favorite dishes. I plan to request it often.

Lickety-Split Lasagna

This delicious lasagna is quick and easy to make and is so good!

12 ounces ground beef

2 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce*

6 lasagna noodles, uncooked

1 1/2 cups cottage cheese

1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (6 ounces)

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Cook meat in a large skillet over medium-high heat until brown, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon and breaking up the meat. Remove skillet from heat. Place colander over bowl. Spoon meat into colander and let fat drain into bowl. Return meat to skillet. Discard fat.

Spoon 1 cup of the spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 2-quart rectangular baking dish (this is the 7X11-inch size, not the larger size I have normally used for lasagna.) Stir remaining spaghetti sauce into meat in skillet. Cook over medium heat until hot, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Remove meat mixture from heat.

Place 2 uncooked noodles on sauce in bottom of dish. Spread one-third of the meat mixture on top of noodles. Spread 3/4 cup of the cottage cheese over meat. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese over cottage cheese. Add another layer of 2 uncooked noodles, one-third of the meat mixture, the rest of the cottage cheese, and 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Layer remaining uncooked noodles, meat mixture, and mozzarella cheese. Finally, sprinkle Parmesan cheese over top, if you like.

Cover baking dish with foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let stand on a cooling rack with foil cover in place for 15 minutes. Carefully remove foil from dish so steam escapes away from you. Makes 6 servings.

* I used a Whole Foods sauce that had a few extra ounces. After emptying the sauce into the ground beef, we added about 1/4 cup of water to the jar and swirled it around to loosen the remaining sauce. Then we emptied the jar into the ground beef mixture.

“Better Homes and Gardens New Children’s Cookbook.”