As I write this, there are a couple of inches of new snow and a real winter chill in the wind. If that doesn’t make one think about the holidays, guests for dinner, making lists and shopping, I don’t know what would. There are so many things to do and not enough time to do them all, especially if you like to get things done ahead of time.About 15 years ago, when planning our daughter’s wedding — which we were planning to do ourselves (without caterers, florists, or a rented hall) — a friend, who was then a caterer in the Bay Area, said to me: “Muffy, I know you, and I need to tell you, you can do everything, but you don’t have to make everything.” That advice has stuck with me, standing me in good stead a number of times.I’m one of those people who thinks she has to make everything from scratch — from salad dressings to cakes to canaps — and I often do. But sometimes, when the more rational side of my brain says something like “There is an easier, quicker, just-as-good-and-sometimes-better way,” I try to pay attention and realize that my time and energy are indeed finite.So, if you’re like me, get rid of the “guilt trip,” take the shortcut, and enjoy the extra time you’ve created for yourself.If you are facing the prospect of making a holiday meal for family members who are vegetarians, and you’d like everyone else to enjoy it too, the following recipe and some suggested variations might be just what you’re looking for.You can make as much of this from scratch as you want, or you can assemble it almost entirely from prepared store-bought ingredients. And best of all, it can be made ahead of time, baked, and frozen for a month or so.Defrost completely before reheating in a 300 degree oven for about 35-45 minutes.EASY RED, WHITE AND GREEN VEGETARIAN HOLIDAY LASAGNAThis recipe will serve 10 to 12 people. Can be made ahead and frozen. Defrost before baking. (This is vegetarian, but not vegan or for lactose- or gluten-intolerant diets.) Recipe may be halved or doubled. For recipe as shown, you will need a 9-by-13-by-3-inch bake/serve dish, and enough aluminum foil to put underneath it for baking spill-overs.2-3 pounds pre-made large cheese-spinach ravioli (such as Monterey Pasta Co. from Costco), cooked al dente according to package directions. Drain and set aside.1 large container (32 oz.) part skim ricotta cheese2 cups grated mozzarella cheese1 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese1 quart homemade or store bought red pasta sauce without meat (you can use more or less if you want)4 to 5 cups homemade white sauce (recipe follows) or store bought Alfredo sauce, thinned with milk, and omit the parmesan cheese.Easy white sauce: For each 2 cups cold milk, mix in 1⁄4 cup gravy flour (such as Wondra). Bring mixture just to boil, stirring constantly, but don’t let it boil. Set aside. I like this because I can make a white sauce without butter or messing around with lumps. Add salt, pepper to taste, and some herbs too if you like — chives, parsley, basil, etc.To assemble:Spray baking dish with non-stick spray (such as Pam). Pour 1 cup of the red sauce in bottom of bake dish, and shake it a bit so that bottom is entirely covered. Layer half of the ravioli over the red sauce. Then spread a layer of ricotta over them. (You may not need all the ricotta.)Then pour on 2 cups white sauce, covering everything. Then another 1-2 cups red sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella and 1⁄2 cup parmesan over everything.Last layer is ravioli, then white sauce, then two stripes (it’s prettier that way) of red sauceAnd finally the rest of the cheeses.To bake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare an aluminum foil “pan” to put under your baking dish to catch drips. If you are going to freeze your lasagna, bake just until barely brown on top and not yet bubbling around the edges, about 45 to 55 minutes.If you are going to serve right away, bake until bubbly and browned, about 55-65 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest a few minutes before serving. It should be quite juicy, and smell fabulous.Variations: Use all red or all white sauces, or different kinds of ravioli, or different cheeses.• David and Muffy Vhay are the owners of Deer Run Ranch Bed and Breakfast. Contact the ranch at 775-882-3643.
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