Surprise a hungry neighbor

A new twist on ding-dong-ditch

Once a naughty childhood prank, "ding-dong-ditch" has taken on new meaning in the era of social distancing. Normally the game involves ringing someone's doorbell and trying to get away before they answer, perhaps leaving something vile on the doorstep. Now, instead of little kids leaving toads on the doormat, it's grown to adults dropping off treat boxes and casseroles before scampering away to their minivans.

Playing ding-dong-ditch is fun, a little dorky, and may be just what we need in these cold, uncertain times. With the holidays just around the corner and so many folks running on empty, finding meaningful connection is as important now as it ever was. Parties are definitely out this season but that doesn't have to mean an end to spreading good cheer. Consider instead making some yummy treats and dropping them off at a friend's house in advance of your next social zoom call, or whipping up a surprise dinner for someone desperately in need of a break.

Aluminum catering pans are an ideal option for giving away goodies. The lids seal well and they can be stacked, making transport a breeze. The 9-inch x 13-inch half-sized pan is perfect both for casseroles or a dozen muffins, and while they are technically disposable they are sturdy enough that I often find myself washing and reusing them. Assembling a surprise treat box is also an excellent opportunity to support local businesses by rounding out your offering with a small bag of freshly roasted coffee, a bottle of wine from a local shop, or some yummy handmade chocolates.

Ding-dong-ditch Lasagna
16 oz cottage cheese
1 egg
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley or basil (optional but nice)
2-3 cloves mixed garlic
¼ teaspoon each dried thyme, oregano and black pepper
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
32 oz marinara sauce
Up to 3 cups of add-ins like crumbled cooked sausage or sautéed peppers, onions and/or mushrooms
16 oz chopped frozen spinach (If it is in a block, thaw it but don't drain. If it's frozen loose in a bag you can use it as is.)
8 oz shredded Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan

Combine the cottage cheese, egg, chopped herbs if using, minced garlic, dried herbs and black pepper in a bowl and mix well.

Spray a deep 9-inch x 13-inch pan with cooking spray. Pour about ½ cup of the marinara sauce into the bottom of the pan and spread at around the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Layer a third of the noodles over the bottom of the pan.

Spread half of the cottage cheese mixture over the noodles in the pan. Sprinkle half of the spinach and half of any add-ins you're using. Layer a third of the shredded cheese over the spinach, then drizzle about a cup and a half of the marinara over the top. Repeat with another layer of noodles, cottage cheese, veggies, shredded cheese and sauce, then top with the final layer of noodles. Spread the remaining sauce over the noodles. Pour about ½ cup of water into the sauce jar, replace the lid and shake the jar, then pour the saucy water over the noodles. Top with the remaining cheese and grated parmesan.

Cover the pan tightly with a piece of foil that's been sprayed with cooking spray to keep the cheese from sticking as it cooks.

At this point the lasagna can be refrigerated for two days or frozen for several weeks.

Bake, covered with foil, in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15-20 minutes more, until bubbly and throughout.

If baking from frozen, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and increase cooking time by 30-40 minutes.

Roasted Apple Breakfast Cake
For the streusel:
1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup flour
½ teaspoon
A pinch of salt
¼ cup soft butter

For the cake:
4 large apples
1 teaspoon neutral oil
2 cups flour (All-purpose, whole wheat or gluten free-flour all work well.)
3/4 cup sugar 2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves
¼ cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
½ cup milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a 9-inch round or square cake pan with cooking spray.

Core and chop the apples into ½-inch chunks and toss them with the oil before spreading them out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast them in the oven for 15-20 minutes until fork-tender, then set aside to cool to room temperature.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a small mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and egg. Mix the flour and milk alternatively into the creamed butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour. Gently fold in the roasted apples before spooning the cake batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the streusel and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes. You can serve it right out of the pan, or turn it out onto a plate and finish with a drizzle of apple icing made from whisking one tablespoon of apple cider into one cup of powdered sugar.

This cake can be prepared the night before you intend to bake it. Spoon the batter into the pan but don't add the streusel topping. Cover and refrigerate overnight, then sprinkle the streusel topping on just before you plan to bake it and increase the cooking time by 10-15 minutes.

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