Yesterday I shared coworker Elly’s recipe for salsa with you. Well, she also shared this recipe and column with me. She says she wrote it a while ago (I edited it a bit from it’s original form), while in a different stage of life. But it’s still great. Enjoy it, and her recipe for “Daredevil Unemployment Lasagna.”

Daredevil Unemployment Lasagna, by Elly Leitz

I’m not a good cook. I’m an exceptional cook.

Being a good cook isn’t that big of a deal. It requires the ability to read and patiently follow directions. I can do the reading thing. I can’t do the patient thing.

Exceptional cooks, like me, are really mad scientists. Recipes irritate us, just like a placid hike up a gentle slope irritates freestyle rock climbers. We’re not here to follow directions, baby. We’re here to trailblaze.

When I moved to Washington State, I learned the word “hotdish.” Hotdish is essentially what my Midwestern mother always called “casserole,” and combines anything from four different types of leftovers and garden produce, all thrown together in a cake pan. And keeping with the plainspoken Washingtonian tradition, I was also introduced to the concept of “slum,” which I grew up calling “goulash” (a base of hamburger, macaroni, tomato sauce, kidney beans, and whatever else is on hand).

I decided a slum hotdish cook was what I wanted to be, and I’ve never wavered from that goal.

Now that I’m unemployed, my days revolve around food a lot more than they used to. Feeding three large teenage boys has always been a challenge, but it’s even more of a challenge if the boys are performing physical work every day and your budget doesn’t have much room for the pounds of expensive protein linebacker-sized kids need each week.

Some of the little strategies I’ve learned including lowering my standards. It’s a big mind game to get teenagers to eat anything in the morning, and it’s even worse if the kids have to get up at 5 a.m. for work. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed I’d be the kind of mom who’d allow Captain Crunch to vilify my cupboard, but matey, he’s yo-ho-hoing in there now.

I also buy industrial-sized tubs of cream cheese and skillfully avert my attention (so I don’t gag) as the twins employ their special spackling method that allows them to put about ½ cup of the stuff on their bagels.

It’s been years since I’ve filled the Support Staff role around here, and it’s been difficult to get used to. My guilt over being the only one here that’s not employed full-time has translated into me doing actual mom things again, like baking cookies and cleaning/refilling/freezing the milk jugs they take for their water supply every day. And, I’ve actually been planning meals, even though every fiber in my Exceptional Cook being rebels at the idea of going to a store with a list and shopping for a recipe.

But our tight budget fortunately requires me to wing it quite often. I leave you with a recipe that this Exceptional Cook came up last night.

Daredevil Cheeseburger Lasagna

2 lbs frozen hamburger, thawed unintentionally most of the day on a workbench in the garage (and yes, I know you’re not supposed to do this, but I forgot it out there, and forgetfulness is a vital part of being an Exceptional Cook).

1 onion

Lots of garlic

Cottage cheese

4 or 5 eggs (Here I’m following the I-have-sixteen-chickens rule: put eggs in EVERYTHING)

1 lb. or more grated cheddar

Sliced dill pickles and black olives. The pickles have to be sliced, but the olives don’t.

Ketchup & mustard

1 package out-of-date lasagna noodles found in the back of the cupboard

Cook the hamburger, garlic, and onion in a big pot while your noodles are cooking. Exceptional cooks try hard not to use extra utensils or dishes, so cut up the onion over the pot the hamburger’s cooking in. After the meat’s cooked, turn off the heat and add the cottage cheese and eggs. (And yes, use the same spatula you’ve been stirring meat with to whip the eggs and cottage cheese in, remembering the all-important EC rule of Don’t Make More Dishes to Do.)

Spray a 9x11 cake pan with Pam or something. Using the traditional why-don’t-these-noodles-ever-fit-these-pans method, start with a layer of noodles on the bottom. Spread the hamburger/egg/cottage cheese mix. Stud with pickles (part of being an Exceptional Cook is using real-chef verbs like “stud”) and olives and cover all with a layer of cheddar. Then add swirls of mustard and ketchup before the next noodle layer, just like you’d put on a giant hamburger. Repeat with remaining materials.

Bake until the noodles hanging over the edge of the pan curl up and turn brown.

Modestly accept the faint praise that is always heaped on the Exceptional Cook: “Wow, mom, this is a lot better than I thought it was going to be.” “The mustard was a stroke of genius.”

I remember my mom once telling me when our kids were little that she believed it was especially satisfying for a woman to feed her sons, and I believe my response was something about how that was a nuttily sexist thing for her to say. But now when I see my three guys hunched, swilling and grunting, over the kitchen table ... well, I have to admit that feeding them does have a sort of glamour, in a livestock sort of way.

And no, I didn’t take pictures of the lasagna, although the pickles were quite the avant-garde sight peeking out from between the frilly-edged noodles. Bon apetit.