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Eating Well: Serving up the perfect, well-rounded meal

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I truly love cooking, but I enjoy it even more so when I have an idea of what the people I'm preparing the meals for would like to eat. Wouldn't it be great to have each day's menus laid out for you a week in advance so all you had to do was shop for the ingredients and then prepare, no questions asked? I could cook on a regular basis like that very easily.

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This week the recipes I'm featuring are those for one of those evening meals with all the courses complementing each other, some of which can be prepared handily ahead of time. I would describe these four recipes as almost the perfect meal - well-rounded, appealing to a variety of tastes and most of all, relatively quick and easy to prepare.

Pasta dishes have mass appeal and it doesn't get any easier than this Hearty Lasagna you prepare with raw noodles, eliminating that tedious cooking step that requires working with noodles so hot you can't touch, and that also have a tendency to fall apart in the process. Layered with beef, homemade sauce and creamy mozzarella, this traditional favorite will satisfy the biggest appetite.

The Classic Caesar Salad, with dressing prepared from scratch, and the crusty garlic bread are the perfect accents - the salad fresh and crunchy and the garlic bread crisp and golden and loaded with garlic and butter for a truly delicious combination. And if you want to make the garlic bread even more scrumptious, remove the bread from the oven five minutes before it's done, add a few slices of mozzarella and finish baking.

I chose the Chocolate Chunk Cookies to top off the meal, chewy, rich and so melt-in-your-mouth good, packed with tempting chocolate chunks. The nice thing about the cookies is they can be prepared in advance, frozen and pulled out of the freezer at a moment's notice, for the ideal dessert. Team them up with a little vanilla ice cream, if you have it on hand, and it only gets better.

Until next time, from my kitchen to yours, happy cooking!

Hearty Lasagna

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic

2 cans (28 oz. each) diced tomatoes

1 can (14 oz.) tomato paste

1 Tbsp. dried oregano

1/2 cup fresh basil

1 1/4 lb. ground beef

2 eggs, beaten

1 container (15 oz.) ricotta

1 box (8 oz.) uncooked lasagna noodles

8 oz. mozzarella

Heat 1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add half of onions to pot and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Mince garlic; add to pot and cook 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, paste and oregano. Chop basil and add half to mixture; simmer 30 minutes.

Heat remaining oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add remaining onions and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add beef and cook until browned, about 7 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13x9 inch baking pan. Place eggs in a medium bowl. Stir in ricotta and remaining basil; add salt and pepper, as desired.

Add a thin layer of tomato mixture to baking pan. Cover with a layer of noodles, half of beef, third of tomato mixture, second layer of noodles, ricotta mixture, remaining beef, a third of tomato mixture, top layer of noodles and remaining tomato mixture. Bake 1 hour. Slice mozzarella and place on top. Bake just until cheese is golden and bubbly, about 10 minutes.

Classic Caesar Salad

3 Tbsp. canola oil

2 cloves garlic, halved

2 thick slices white bread, crusts removed, cubed

1 head romaine lettuce

3 oz. Parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 cup olive oil

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

Heat canola oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sauté 1 clove garlic and bread cubes until golden, 2-3 minutes. Discard garlic and reserve croutons.

Rub inside of a large salad bowl with remaining garlic. Discard garlic. Tear romaine into bite-sized pieces, place in salad bowl and set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler, make Parmesan shavings from half of cheese. Set aside.

Grate remaining Parmesan and place in work bowl of a food processor. Add mustard, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Process until smooth. With machine running, slowly add olive oil and process until mixture is creamy.

Drizzle dressing over lettuce in salad bowl. Add salt, pepper, croutons and Parmesan shavings, and toss. Serve immediately.

Crusty Garlic Bread

1/2 cup plus 3 Tbsp. butter, softened

6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

4 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

1 large loaf French bread

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, blend butter, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Using a bread knife, slice French bread lengthwise. (If bread is too long to fit in oven, slice loaf in half, too).

Open up bread and spread butter mixture evenly over each cut side. Wrap bread in foil and bake for 15-20 minutes. Cut bread into slices and serve hot.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2 tsp. vanilla

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 1/4 cups chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two large baking sheets.

Combine butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar in a large bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer set at medium speed until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla; set aside.

Sift flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda into a small bowl. Add dry mixture to butter mixture, beating continuously. Stir in rolled oats and chocolate chunks.

Spoon tablespoonfuls of dough, about 2 inches apart, onto baking sheets. Bake until lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Let cool for 1 minute before transferring to wire racks. Repeat with any remaining dough. Makes about 16.

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