Archive for July, 2010

another vegetable lasagna

This humble-looking vegetable lasagna will your change your life.

Well, maybe I am being hyperbolic, but if you love lasagna but think it takes too long to make, or you think it is too fatty and heavy, I really encourage you try this easy, healthful recipe.

Perfect for the summer, the main ingredient of this lasagna is a mix of zucchini and summer squash. While it isn’t as elaborate as the other vegetarian lasagna I have made, it is far easier, and less time-consuming. It would be easy to put together on a weeknight, and the leftovers tasted great too.

Here is the recipe, adapted from “Vegetable Lasagna”

Makes 6-8 servings

7 oz goat cheese

1/2 T. dried thyme

1/2 T. dried basil

1/2 T. dried oregano

2 cloves minced garlic

4 c. prepared pasta sauce (I used Lotsa Pasta’s marinara sauce with excellent results)

1 lb whole-wheat lasagna (Again,  used Lotsa Pasta’s pre-made, no-boil noodles)

Freshly ground black pepper

Crushed red pepper, to taste

2 small zucchini, diced

2 small summer squash, diced

3/4 c. bottled roasted red pepper, diced

1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan

Heat oven to 357 degrees F.

Mix together goat cheese, thyme, basil, oregano, and garlic in a bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Spray a 9″ x 11″ baking dish with nonstick spray or coat with a very thin layer of oil. Spread 1 c. of marinara on the bottom of the dish. Add one layer of lasagna and season with lots of black pepper and crush red pepper to taste. I found the red pepper brought a nice spicy dimension to the dish, but you can certainly leave it out. Add a layer of zucchini, squash, and red pepper.

Dollop spoonfuls of the goat cheese mixture over vegetables and spread as well as you can – though this will be difficult. Repeat two more times, finishing with one last layer of pasta and sauce. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top.

cover with foil, and bake 40 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5 minutes or so, until the top is browned. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Some of the comments from the original online recipe suggest adding mozzarella, or ricotta, in addition to the goat cheese. Others suggest sauteing the vegetables before putting them in the lasagna. I promise you – if you follow these directions, and start with a flavorful marina and season each layer well with black pepper, you will not be sorry. The original recipe does call for fresh thyme, which I purchased specifically for this dish, but I accidentally used dried thyme, thinking it was oregano. So – I just left the fresh out.

I encourage you to try this. So easy. So delicious – and healthful too.

Please note the main picture above is of the lasagna pre-cooked. So sadly, I did not capture any pictures of the completed dish.

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summer fruit crostata

Readers, please, a moment of silence for my poor food processor. I’m not sure what exactly is going on, but a plastic part that connects the blade to the motor is not working properly. In fact, the plastic is shredding off of it, the motor is getting hot, and it is smelling like a hot motor. Sorry to bore you with the mechanical failings in my kitchen, but without a food processor, I will no longer be able to easily make recipes like this one, for a summer fruit crostata.

My trip to the farmers market that resulted in roasted eggplant salad and delicious, simple summer squash, also yielded blackberries and blueberries, which I turned into a tasty dessert to round out my farmers market meal.

Here’s the recipe, for Summer Fruit Crostata, adapted from Ina Garten’s Recipe

Serves 4 or so

For the pastry:

1  c. all-purpose flour

2 T. sugar

1/4 t. kosher salt

1 stick cold, unsalted butter, diced

3 T. ice water

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and toss quickly with your fingers to coat each cube of butter with the flour. Pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board, roll it into a ball and form  into 1  flat disk. Wrap the disk in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

After you have made the filling, roll the pastry into an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer it to the baking sheet.

Ina Garten’s recipe makes two pastries, so I halved it to make one. This is also all my (now broken) food processor would fit.

For the filling (this is highly adaptable and can be tailored to the fruit you have on hand):

2 firm ripe black plums, unpeeled

1/2 pint fresh blueberries

1/2 pint fresh blackberries

1 T. plus 1/4 c. all-purpose flour, divided

1 T. plus 1/4 c. granulated sugar, divided

1/4 t. grated orange zest

2 T. freshly squeezed orange juice

1/4 t. kosher salt

4 T. (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Cut the plums in wedges and place them in a bowl with the blueberries and blackberries. Toss them with 1 T. of the flour, 1 T. of the sugar, the orange zest, and the orange juice. Place the mixed fruit on the dough circle, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border.

Combine the 1/4 c. flour, the 1/4 c. sugar, and the salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Pour into a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts to hold together. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Gently fold the border of the pastry over the fruit, pleating it to make an edge.

Bake the crostata for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender. Let the crostata cool for 5 minutes, then use 2 large spatulas to transfer it to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Ina Garten balances flavors exceptionally well and her desserts always turn out well. She uses fresh, generally simple ingredients and turns them into stunning and delicious desserts. If you follow her directions, it unlikely you will be disappointed.

It was really hot in my kitchen when I made this crostata, and the dough was warmer than it probably should have been, making the crust less flakey and not as tender as its potential. It still tasted good and the texture wasn’t too off.  This is a great way to use up some fruit before it goes bad.

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I think I love the idea of eggplant more than I actually love the vegetable. Eggplant parmesan always sounds delicious, but sometimes the eggplant can have an odd texture or bitter flavor. Undercooked eggplant can be… well… gross, and stir-fried eggplant can be overly mushy and oily. Eggplant really soaks up flavors well, however, which is why it can be wonderful.

The problem I have encountered in the past is purchasing the right eggplant in the first place – smaller is often better. And, like many, I used to veer toward the larger ones in the store. These tend to have more seeds and a more bitter flavor than their smaller counterparts.

Wanting an accompaniment for the summer squash, I also wanted something simple that would showcase the fresh eggplant I chose from the farmers market more expertly than before. Again, I turned to vegetable expert, Mollie Katzen.

Here is the recipe for “Roasted Eggplant Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette,” in Vegetable Heaven, by Mollie Katzen

Serves 4

You will need a little olive oil for brushing on the eggplant

2 medium eggplant

mustard vinaigrette (recipe below)

salt and pepper

1/2 lb. or so of small cherry tomatoes, cut in half or quartered, depending on original size

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch slices. Place on baking sheet. Brush top side with a bit of olive oil. Turn slices over so the oiled side is touching the foil. Roast until tender, about 30 or 40 minutes.

While the eggplant is roasting, you could make the vinaigrette. After the eggplant slices are ready, remove from the oven, turn over, and spoon some vinaigrette over the oiled surfaces. Set aside to cool to room temperature. You can chill them at this time if you want to serve the salad cold.

Serve with the tomatoes. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and drizzle on more dressing. Enjoy your healthy, fresh, farmers market (or grocery store) bounty.

The eggplant did its job – soaking up the really zingy and flavorful vinaigrette. The tomatoes also offered a fresh, acidic addition to the smooth, roasted eggplant. Combined with the squash and a bit of my new go-to side dish (whole grain flatbread), it turned into a nice, complete, summer meal.

Mustard Vinaigrette

2 medium garlic gloves, finely minced

2 T. grainy mustard

3 T. minced fresh parsley

3 T. minced fresh dill

3 T. balsamic vinegar

1 T. fresh lemon juice

1/2 c. apple juice

1 t. salt

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

Put all of the ingredients in a jar with a lid, cover, and shake. Shake well again before each use. You can use this as you would use any other drsesing. It keeps in the refrigerator of several weeks, at least.

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Embarrassingly, my first trip to the farmers market for the season was two Saturdays ago. Walking around the small, crowded space, I was ashamed that I had not been making regular visits to support local farmers and buy fresh produce. But, I finally made it and brought home summer squash, cucumbers, blueberries, blackberries, and eggplant.

For ideas about how to cook the squash, I turned to Molly Katzen’s The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without. This book, much like her others, is simple, straight-forward, and the results from the recipes I have tried were all delicious.

I found this recipe for “Simplest Summer Squash”:

Serves 3- 4

1 T. olive oil

2 small onions

1 1/2 lbs. summer squash – cut into 1/2 in. thick slices

2 cloves minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste

Place a large skillet over medium heat. After a minute, add 1/2 T. of the oil and swirl around the pan. Add the onions and a small pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often for about 10 minutes or until the onions are tender and lightly browned. Transfer the onions t a bowl and set aside.

Do not clean the pan and return it to medium heat. Add another 1/2 T. or so of olive oil. Add the squash in a single layer and cook until golden brown. Leave them alone (or don’t stir them around) — allowing them to get golden brown. This will take a minute or two, depending on how crowded the pan is.

Scrape the squash loose and flip over (I used tongs). Continue cooking, again without stirring, another 1 to 2 minutes until browned on the other side.

Toss in the garlic and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the onions to the pan. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

Add some crumbled feta cheese, if you like, and serve.

This dish was easy  and surprisingly flavorful for the simple list of ingredients. I served it with an eggplant dish also from Ms. Katzen.

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giant chocolate chip cookie

Some people enjoy cake on their birthdays, and some enjoy giant chocolate chip cookies. Instead of buying a giant chocolate chip cookie-cake from the store, I did a little searching to find a recipe for one to make.

Quite the departure from a previous post about making a small batch of chocolate chip cookies, this involved making one normal batch, and baking it all in a large round pan (which also happens to be perfect for baking whole grain flatbread). It actually turned out to be easier than making normal-sized cookies because there was no individual scooping required.

Here is the recipe:

Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake, by Emeril Lagasse

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 c. packed light brown sugar

1/2 c. granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour

1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate chips

3/4 c. white chocolate chips

1/2 c. chopped macadamia nuts

1/2 c. chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 14-inch round pizza pan with parchment paper and grease the paper.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars. Add the eggs, beating well after the addition of each.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt and mix with a whisk. Add to the butter mixture, mixing to incorporate, and add the vanilla extract. Fold in the all the chips and the nuts. Spread across the bottom of the prepared pan.

Bake until the edges are golden and the cookie is set but the center is still slightly soft, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack (which I now own!!!)  to cool completely.

I served this with frozen vanilla yogurt. It was Haagan-Dazs frozen yogurt, and it was amazing, by the way.

This doesn’t look pretty, but it went over well with the birthday recipient. I thought it was really good, but also really rich. If I were to make it again, I might decrease the amount of both the white and dark chocolate chips, or serve it with more frozen yogurt. The yogurt helped to cut the richness of all the chocolate.

Despite this grandiose baked good, I think my favorite cookie remains oatmeal chocolate chip.

It certainly beat its slightly stale,  store-bought counterpart.

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thai vegetable curry

After returning from the food fest that was my trip to Vancouver, I wanted to make a dish full of vegetables to atone for everything I consumed while away. Thai vegetable curry seemed like a good way to do this, while also fulfilling the craving I had for Thai food – besides, I had lots of the ingredients and spices on hand already.

This stew is flexible, so feel free to use whatever vegetables you happen to have.

Here is the recipe, adapted from “Thai Vegetable Curry,” Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites

Serves about 5

1 c. chopped onions

2 garlic cloves chopped

1 T. peanut oil


1 large sweet potato – diced

2 T. Thai red curry paste

1 T. brown sugar

1 T. or so of fish sauce

14 – oz can light coconut milk (the recipe calls for pineapple juice – but I love using light coconut milk in curries)

1/2 c. water

3 c. cauliflower florets

1 c. thinly sliced shitake mushrooms

1 c. cut green beans

1 red pepper, chopped

1 tomato, diced

juice from one lime

chopped fresh cilantro – to taste

cooked brown rice for serving

In a covered pot, saute onions in the oil for about five minutes. Stir in the sweet potatoes, garlic, ginger, and curry paste. Add the coconut milk, water, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about five minutes.

Add the cauliflower, green beans, and shitake mushrooms. Cook for another five minutes. Stir in the peppers, tomatoes, lime juice, and cilantro. Simmer until everything is tender, about ten minutes.

Serve over brown rice.

This dish turned out well – spicy, sweet, and complex. I added shitake mushrooms, an ingredient I am growing to love.

If you are feeling the need to up your veggie intake, this is a good recipe to use.

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My sister was visiting this last week and we ate out – a lot. I cooked a couple of times, and we had lots of leftovers, but we still ate out.  So after she left I was faced with a refrigerator full of food past its prime and food almost past its prime. I was determined to make a meal out of what I had on hand without going out again.

I love bbq chicken pizza and thought it sounded like something I could make with at least some of my leftovers. I had some store-bought tortilla-like flatbread from some wraps I made a few weeks ago, I had the chicken from the 4th of July dinner, blue cheese from the potato salad from the 4th of July dinner, 1/2 of a red onion, and some cheddar cheese and bbq sauce I keep around. I put all of the “stuff” on the flatbread and baked it in the oven at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes. It came out browned, crispy, bubbly, and pretty good for a last minute dinner.

Normally I would not dedicate a post to such a lazy meal consisting of many store-bought ingredients. However, I saw this post in Slate about wasting less food, and thought I could combine the two. I don’t always cook new meals every night. Sometimes I do what I did tonight, and sometimes I just make a grilled cheese or buy bagged salad greens.

Living alone and usually only cooking for myself and sometimes another, I find it challenging, but certainly doable, to not waste too much food. I plan ahead, make shopping lists and stick to them, and eat lots of leftovers. Slate’s list contained some of these things, which made me happy as I usually am when a publication agrees with me. There are a few things I could be doing differently, like buying food with cash to keep a better budget and using my freezing more frequently.

My question for you is: how do you waste less food?

It is an important question considering the economy is only slowly recovering at best and many people are more concerned with the food they are consuming than ever before. Cooking your own food is also more healthful and more economical than going out all the time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until then, I promise I will be back next week with more creative fare.

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chicken not pie

July fourth has come and gone – and I don’t even have a new post to show for it. I did some cooking, but I made two dishes I already made for “Picnic Week,” at the request of my visiting sister. [I learned a lesson too – overcooked potatoes are better than undercooked ones. I was so worried about overcooking the potatoes for this potato salad, that I undercooked them instead (sorry dinner guests).]

So today’s post isn’t incredibly summer-y – but it is delicious and flexible enough to add seasonal vegetables too it. It is, admittedly, more appropriate for spring.

Chicken Not Pie, from Food Matters, by Mark Bittman

serves 4

2 T. olive oil

2 leeks, washed well and diced, include some light green parts

salt and pepper

1 c. dry white wine

1 c. vegetable stock

1 pinch of thyme

2 boneless chicken breasts

2 or 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into one inch cubes

2 medium carrots cut into coins

1/2 lb snow peas, strings removed if necessary

1/2 lb. asparagus

juice from one lemon (about 2 T.)

Put half of the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When hot, add the leeks, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook. Stir occasionally until softened, about five minutes.

Add the wine, stock, and herb; bring to a boil. Let bubble for a minute or two.

Add the chicken, turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and simmer until meat is barely cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside.

Add the potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so the liquid bubbles and cook until potatoes are almost tender, about five minutes. Add the carrots, stir and cook for a few more minutes. The liquid should be thickening by now. Otherwise, turn the heat up and cook a few more minutes – stir to prevent sticking. Add remaining oil and stir quickly with a spoon as you add the oil.

Add the peas and asparagus to the pot. Cook, stirring every so often until vegetables are bright and just tender, about three minutes. Cut up the chicken and return it to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Add lemon juice as well and warm through. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Serve in shallow bowls. I did so with whole grain flatbread.

With little more than chicken and vegetables – this dish was simple, and so flavorful. Adding plenty of salt and pepper is important, and the lemon juice at the end brightens everything. It was delicious and the flatbread went well with the dish.

Maybe someday I will tackle the recipe I originally wanted (Ina Garten’s chicken pot pie), but did not feel like using 2 1/2 sticks of butter and vegetable shortening. This crust-less version retains so much flavor from the chicken and the vegetables that the richer version wasn’t missed too much.

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red beans and rice

Making this dish was a high pressure experience. Sure, I’ve made red beans and rice before. Sure, I love the dish and like the recipes I’ve used in the past. This time, however, I was making them for my boyfriend. For his birthday. He is also from New Orleans — so I wanted it to turn out well.

I blame the high pressure for not taking more pictures. The few I did take ended up foggy from steam, or just plain blurry. So there are no pictures of the final product, I will just have to make it again.

I also took several liberties with this recipe, combining Emeril Lagasse’s recipe, a recipe from my good friend from Houma, LA,  and none other than my boyfriend’s mother — so I had lots of good guidance for this endeavor.

Here’s what I did:

Red Beans and Rice

Serves 8

1 pound dried red beans, rinsed and sorted over

2 tablespoons bacon grease

1 large yellow onion, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 c. chopped green onions

1/2 t. salt

1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 t. dried thyme

1/2 t. dried oregano

Pinch cayenne

3 bay leaves

3 T. chopped fresh parsley

1/2 pound smoked sausage,  cut into 1-inch pieces

1 pound smoked ham hocks (2 large)

4 cloves garlic, chopped

10 cups, or so, chicken stock, or water

cooked white rice, for serving

Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, heat the bacon grease over medium-high heat.  Add the onions, celery, green onions, and bell peppers to the grease in the pot. Season with the salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes.

Add the bay leaves, parsley, thyme, oregano, and ham hocks, and cook, stirring, to brown the  ham hocks, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans and stock, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and starting to thicken, about 2 hours. (Should the beans become too thick and dry, add more water, about 1/4 cup at a time.) Add the sausage for the last bit of cooking to heat through. I brown the sausage in a separate pan prior to adding it to the beans.

Continue to cook until the beans are tender and creamy. Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaves.

Serve over rice.

These turned out mostly well. The flavor was outstanding – and I am officially a convert to using bacon grease more in cooking. They were a bit thick though. I had read in some of the comments from Emeril’s recipe that 10 c. of liquid was way too much, so I only used about 7, and I definitely should have added more toward the end. I would make this recipe again, using more liquid next time.

Pressure be damned, I think I succeeded in making this dish for a southerner for the first time.

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