Did you have an Easy Bake Oven when you were a kid? I did, and I loved it. :-) As I recall, I got it for my 8th birthday, or maybe it was the Christmas just before I turned 8. (And no, that’s not me in the pic — it’s from Wikipedia ;-) LOL.)
As much as I enjoy cooking, there are times when I want or need meals to be very simple and involve the least bit of labor possible, such as when I’m busy with other things (work, some sort of project/task/chore, or something fun, like watching a movie, reading a good book, playing a game, visiting with family or friends, or spending time with a four-legged furry family member), overly tired, not feeling well, or whatever. And while hubby and I will sometimes eat out or bring back take-out when I’m feeling that way, I still generally prefer preparing something or other at home, because even a meal prepared with some convenience products is more likely to be far and away healthier and more affordable than restaurant food or TV dinners.
Speaking of furry family members: Those of you who know me and/or have been following on my blog or Facebook page know that 2014 has been a difficult one for my beloved and me in more ways than one. I will never be so glad to see the end of a year as I will this one. One happy note with this year, though — the Wednesday before Labor Day (27-August-14), a stray puppy showed up on our doorstep. She is ADORABLE and she adopted us immediately. After checking around for any “lost” posters for her and waiting over the long weekend to see if anyone came searching for her, we decided she could be ours and took her in to our vet’s (where they also checked her for a microchip — no chip). She is part Jack Russell terrier and other terrier mix. The vet estimated her age to be 4 -5 months old when we brought her in the day after Labor Day. She’s gotten two rounds of her puppy shots, and she has an appointment to be be spayed in mid October. Although hubby and I typically aren’t small dog people, this puppy has a big dog heart, and we both think that our late, beloved Sid and Big Dog conferred on their side of the Rainbow Bridge and sent this pup our way. We have named her Maisie Dobbs in honor of the character in Jacqueline Winspear’s books. No doubt, some uncaring soul dumped a loving, spirited, intelligent, beautiful creature and left her to fend for herself; we are so very grateful that she found us.
Maisie and Scraggles (so named because she was the sorriest, scrawniest, scraggliest looking stray we’d ever seen), a stray cat on whom hubby and I took pity in August 2012, have developed a wonderful “sister-ship” and get along quite well, often playing together and they’ve reached the point that they will curl up together on the recliner or couch with one of us or in the bed at night with both of us. Of course, it helps that Maisie is “cat-sized” now and will only grow to be a bit bigger than Scraggles (Scraggles is typically around 10 to 10 1/2 pounds; Maisie is expected to reach about 15 pounds when she’s grown).
Anyway, yesterday was one of those days I wanted an easy supper — one I didn’t have to futz with — so that I would have more time free to relax, read, watch a Midsomer Murders with my hubby via Netflix, and play with Maisie and Scraggles. I decided on cheese ravioli. In and of itself, this is an easy and quick enough meal when you use frozen ravioli and doctor up your favorite prepared pasta sauce (I’m partial to Hunt’s Garlic and Herb or No Sugar Added sauces, myself): you heat the sauce while you boil water, cook and drain the pasta, then toss together. Add a tossed green salad and a bit of bread, if you like, and you’ve got a meal!
But that was more hands-on than I wanted, because you have to stir the simmering sauce and tend to the boiling water. So, inspired by Betty Crocker’s Easy Ravioli Bake, I decided to bake the ravioli instead. This takes longer than the more traditional boiling method, but it’s all hands-off time once you’re done with the prep. Also, because it bakes at a relatively low 350F, it wouldn’t overheat your kitchen too much if you wanted to make it in the summer.
You can have lots of fun with this recipe and shake it up in different ways:
- The Ravioli: Use the frozen ravioli, which is typically much more affordable — and more convenient — than the fresh. I used cheese ravioli, but you can use whatever kind you like — mushroom ravioli, spinach ravioli, meat-filled ravioli, whatever floats your boat and is available in the freezer section of your store.
- The Sauce: You can make your own sauce, of course, but I’ve found that a tin of Hunt’s Pasta Sauce is the perfect amount of sauce for a package of frozen ravioli. Also, I’m doing this for an easy meal, remember? I always like to dress up the sauce a bit with some additional basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, parsley, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes for a bit of fra diavolo flavor, and a nice splash of Worcestershire sauce and a bit of red wine.
- The Cheese and Vegetables: Betty Crocker’s recipe calls for quite a bit of cheese. Now don’t get me wrong, hubby and I adore cheese, but the cheese was overdone for my taste, especially since I was using cheese ravioli. (Also, no doubt it is the copious amounts of cheese that prompted Betty to divide it into 8 servings instead of the 5 one typically gets from a package of frozen ravioli.) I cut back on the cheese and added in some fresh vegetables — this is another time-saving step in baking it as opposed to the more traditional method, as I didn’t need to sauté the vegetables first. I used fresh mushroom and diced yellow bell pepper, but you can add in some of whatever sounds yummy to you — zucchini, eggplant, whatever makes you happy. Or you can leave the vegetables out — sometimes I like my ravioli with added vegetables; sometimes, not. ;-) If I were making this with other than cheese ravioli, I might use more cheese.
This smells so yummy as it bakes, you’ll find yourself having visions of Italy while you sip a glass of vino. ;-) (Go on, give it a listen — it’s a bouncy song with some glorious pics of Italy in it.)
Easy Baked Ravioli (Serves 5 to 6)
- 26 to 28 ounces of your favorite commercial pasta sauce (I like Hunt’s Garlic and Herb or No Sugar Added sauces)
- Package of frozen ravioli (around 25 to 28 ounces) (I used cheese ravioli)
- Mozzarella cheese to taste (about 3 or 4 ounces)
- Parmesan cheese to taste (couple – three tablespoons — just sprinkle it)
- Sliced vegetables and/or fresh herbs to taste, if desired
1. Lightly spray with cooking spray or oil a 9″x13″ pan. (I used my festive red lasagna pan.) If desired, doctor up the pasta sauce (I always like to dress up the sauce a bit with some additional basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, parsley, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes for a bit of fra diavolo flavor, and a nice splash of Worcestershire sauce and a bit of red wine). Vegetarians: Leave out the Worcestershire sauce or use a vegetarian equivalent.
2. Spread a layer of sauce along the bottom of the pan (about 1/4 of the sauce). Place about half the frozen ravioli in the pan in a single layer. Sprinkle with some sliced fresh vegetables, if desired — I have gobs of fresh basil, so I added in some fresh basil, along with some sliced fresh mushrooms and diced yellow bell pepper. Top with about half or a little less than half of the remaining sauce and sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan and a small bit of mozzarella cheese. Vegetarians: Use a vegetarian Parmesan cheese or another kind of cheese.
3. Layer remaining ravioli and vegetables. Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with some more Parmesan and mozzarella.
4. Lightly spray with cooking spray or oil a sheet of aluminum foil. Tightly cover the casserole. Bake at 350F for 50 minutes; remove foil and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. IMPORTANT NOTE: I did not preheat my oven before baking. If your oven is preheated, then reduce initial baking time to 40 minutes before you remove the foil.
Let rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.
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