Lasagna (with love)

She feeds the hungry as a Lasagna Love volunteer
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Lori Fraser McAllister of Port Washington has donated to local food pantries, but she wanted to find a different way to help those in need through her kitchen.

She found it in Lasagna Love, an international initiative that has people cooking lasagna for anyone who signs up for the program.

“It’s not vetted at all, which is nice,” Fraser McAllister said. “Need comes in many forms.”

The premise is rather simple. Volunteer chefs sign up, determine how often they want to cook and their radius for delivery. 

For Fraser McAllister, it was right up her alley.

“I love to cook, and my psychological home is kind of in my kitchen,” she said.

But these donated dishes transcend feeding families.

“I think one reason I do this is because it makes me feel more connected to my neighbors and my community,” she said, “and makes people’s needs feel like my own needs.”

Fraser McAllister’s cooking range runs the gamut. She makes her own corned beef, has done a dry aged prime rib, beef Wellington, salmon Wellington and an Israeli rice, lentil and red onion dish.

She got into cooking after college when she hosted dinner parties and got a kick out of trying challenging, lengthy recipes.

When it came to lasagna, however, “I didn’t consider it one of my specialties,” she said.

Fraser McAllister uses an old four-page recipe from Bon Appetit magazine that she has since tweaked.

She remembers making her first Lasagna Love lasagna in February. She didn’t tell the recipient she was a rookie.“That was my secret,” Fraser McAllister said.

She compared it to making pizza, which she does, including a sourdough crust from scratch, on Sunday nights.

Lots of practice has made preparing traditional lasagnas easier and more efficient for her because “I’m not studying the recipe so much,” she said.

Making special lasagnas for those with dietary restrictions is another story.

For a gluten-free version, she uses zucchini noodles.

Once, she cooked low-carbohydrate lasagna for a mother of a teen recently diagnosed with diabetes. She was asked to include the carb count with each serving.

“That was a project and a learning curve, and that was rewarding,” she said.

Fraser McAllister included a letter with diabetes resources with the meal. The mother was “extremely grateful,” she said.

Fraser McAllister sometimes receives feedback from her recipients. One family wrote, “This will help our household of seven a lot. We struggle to make ends meet with so many people.”

Lasagna Love has volunteer chefs exchange text messages with the recipients to determine the type of lasagna and a contactless delivery window. Fraser McAllister set a 15-mile radius. Her longest trip so far has been to West Bend.

“It has been very rewarding for me to help out a local family,” she said. “The need is there. Sometimes we don’t see it in our own bubbles.”

All of her recipients receive a list of ingredients and a notice of when they can request another lasagna. The organization allows one per household per month.

Fraser McAllister’s traditional recipe calls for fresh ingredients. Her homemade red sauce includes ground beef, sometimes Italian sausage, crushed tomatoes from her garden, tomato paste, basil, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, oregano, salt and pepper. She thins it out with chicken broth.

She also makes her own bechamel sauce — a white sauce of flour, butter and milk.

She starts with some sauce on the bottom of the pan, then alternates layers of noodles frosted with a ricotta/mozzarella mixture. The lasagna totals four layers of noodles and three layers of the cheese mix. About one cup of sauce gets poured over the top.

Her 13-year-old great Dane/boxer mix Emma gets scraps while Fraser McAllister cooks.

She puts foil over the top of the lasagna and cooks it for 60 to 75 minutes. The foil gets taken off 20 to 30 minutes before it’s done.

Fraser McAllister has learned a couple of tricks since joining Lasagna Love. She posted a question in the Wisconsin Facebook group about how to keep cheese from sticking to the foil. Two ways include lining the foil with parchment paper or spraying the foil with baking spray.

Each meal costs $15 to $20. Fraser McAllister said she tries to keep it delicious and economical, and hopes to add more fresh ingredients. She wants to make her own ricotta cheese and pasta.

Regardless of the ingredients, Lasagna Love’s requirement is a home-cooked meal.

“They don’t want you to go to Costco and buy a lasagna,” she said.

Volunteer chefs may sign up for the type of lasagnas they want to make.

“They’re not going to make a vegan make a meat lasagna,” Fraser McAllister said.

She fits cooking around her job as a wound care and hyperbaric physician at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee.

A native of Kalamazoo, Mich., Fraser McAllister is the daughter of a traditional 1970s mother who made casseroles that included cans of cream of mushroom soup, she said. Her mother worked at a church and taught piano, and her father did medical research in the pharmaceutical industry.

A mission trip to South Africa after high school sealed her interest in a career to help people. She earned an undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis and her doctorate from Michigan State.

It was during a two-year stint as a surgeon in Kenya that she met her husband Michael via the internet.

Michael, the pastor at Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, met his future wife in person during a trip to Tanzania.

After marriage, the couple moved to Port Washington just less than a decade ago.

When she isn’t working or cooking, Fraster McAllister likes to run, tend her garden and sew. She has made bedskirts and curtains, and has a plan to make a kilt for Michael. “I asked him if I  made it, will he wear it?” she said.

“On certain occasions,” Michael answered.

Fraser McAllister encourages others to join the lasagna movement.

The organization was founded in 2020 by Rhiannon Menn of Hawaii after seeing families in her community struggle through the pandemic, as she fought feelings of helplessness. Volunteer chefs have made more than 200,000 lasagnas that have fed nearly 900,000 people, according to its website.

Chefs may make as many dishes as they are comfortable with.

“Remember, it’s very flexible as far as your time commitment,” Fraser McAllister said.

For more information, visit www.lasagnalove.org.

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