Saturday, October 30, 2010

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

Growing up, there were few things in the world I loved more than my mother's lasagna. Meaty, cheesy, and hearty, I have fond memories of eating a big ol' slab of that delectable dish and washing it down with a giant glass of 2% milk. I believe there may have also been white bread and pats of butter involved.

Years later, I still love lasagna, but I tend to make a vegetarian version that includes tofu in the ricotta mixture, and I've traded in the 2% for fat free milk. This is still quite the feast, but the focus is on the light and bright flavors of mushrooms and baby spinach instead of heavy ground beef.

My only regret is that Ian the Husband Unit doesn't seem to hold the same reverence I do for lasagna, so I don't make it too often. But when I do, at least I get to eat the leftovers!

Baby Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

For the marinara:
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped finely*
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1/2 tbsp. dried basil
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
2 tsp. sugar
Fresh ground pepper

For the ricotta mixture:
1/2 15 0z. container fat free ricotta
6 oz. firm tofu
1 egg
4 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

For the mushroom mixture:
1 tbsp. olive oil
16 oz. baby bella mushrooms

Other ingredients:
6-7 sheets whole wheat lasagna
2 1/2 cups baby spinach
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1. To make the marinara, heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onions, and cook until onions are soft. At this point, I add the spices so they fill the kitchen up with aroma, and I've noticed that oregano especially benefits from being added first. After basil and oregano are added, pour crushed tomatoes into saucepan, followed by tomato paste. Once tomato paste has smoothed into mixture, add sugar and pepper to taste. Adjust seasonings to taste--I often add a bit more oregano. Let the mixture simmer for around 40 minutes--the flavor will deepen.

*Note: I sometimes chop up 3 or 4 baby carrots very finely and add it along with the onions. It sometimes allows me to cut down on the sugar in the sauce.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together ricotta with crumbled tofu (you can just dump it in and crumble by hand). Add egg, salt and pepper, and parsley and mix together. Set aside.

3. Cook pasta sheets about three minutes less than package directions. I also add a bit of olive oil to the salted pasta water so the sheets won't stick when drained.

4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add mushrooms. Be careful not to overcrowd pan. Cook until soft, darker, and reduced in size. Remove from heat.

5. To assemble lasagna, spread a bit of sauce on the bottom of a 8x8 Pyrex pan (or equivalent). Cover bottom with pasta sheets, tearing or cutting where necessary to fit pan size. Spoon some of ricotta tofu mixture onto pasta sheets, layer with a sprinkling of mozzarella, cover with a couple handfuls of baby spinach and mushrooms (fresh, uncooked spinach first, then mushrooms on top), marinara sauce, and repeat the layers. Once assembled, make sure pasta sheets cover the whole mess, and add a generous layer of mozzarella.

6. Cover and bake for around 40 mins. at 350 degrees. Uncover and bake an additional 5-8 minutes, or until mozzarella is just slightly browned.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

Nothing says fall like this soup, and nothing excites me more than leeks. They look like giant green onions and they always remind me of being a kid. Everything seems big to a kid, and leeks always made me giggle because they looked like gangly, gaunt teenagers. Actually, a lot of things made me giggle (and still do), so suffice to say leeks are my reminder to always be young at heart.

Potato Leek Soup Adapted from SimplyRecipes

2 tbsp. butter
2 large leeks, cleaned thoroughly and diced
2 lbs. potatoes
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/2 tsp. thyme
Dash of hot sauce (I use Louisiana Style brand)
1 tsp. salt
Black pepper to taste

1. Cook leeks in butter with salt and pepper in a medium sized sauce pan. Cover pan, cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Check often. Do not brown leeks! Browning will give leeks a burnt taste.

2. Add water, broth, and potatoes. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Scoop about half of the soup mixture into a blender, puree and return to pan.* Add marjoram, parsley, and thyme. Add a few dashes of chili sauce to taste. Add some freshly ground pepper and salt.

*Note: I used an immersion hand blender and pureed until slightly chunky.

nom nom nom nom

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Scallop Pasta

I love scallops. I can't afford to eat them all of the time, but every now and then--budget be damned--I sneak them onto the weekly menu. I think my love for scallops stems from an early (albeit brief) repulsion in high school. I wasn't a fan of the fishy smell and at first bite I remember not being impressed by the soft texture. Then again, the only time I encountered them were in Greek diners where little pencil eraser-sized scallops made strange, rubbery squeak noises when bitten.

But then something miraculous happened. Seared scallops. They saved me from the terrible pit of repulsion, introducing me to a world where crispy meets a soft tongue massage, and I've been hooked ever since.

This recipe combines two of my favorite things in the world: scallops and peas.

Cream Scallop and Pea Fettucine From Eating Well

8 ounces whole-wheat fettuccine
1 pound large dry sea scallops
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
1 cup low-fat milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
3 cups frozen peas, thawed
3/4 cup finely shredded Romano cheese, divided
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook fettuccine until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, pat scallops dry and sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallops and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
3. Add clam juice to the pan. Whisk milk, flour, white pepper and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk the milk mixture into the clam juice. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Return the scallops and any accumulated juices to the pan along with peas and return to a simmer. Stir in the fettuccine, 1/2 cup Romano cheese, chives, lemon zest and juice until combined. Serve with the remaining cheese sprinkled on top.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shrimp n' beans with couscous

This is one of my absolute favorite meals, aside from the fact that I completely forgot the tomatoes. You see, I usually cut up a whole mess o' cherry tomatoes to throw in right before I throw in the baby spinach in this shrimp n' beans dish. Let's just say there was grading involved in that kerfuffle.

No matter. This is still a light but filling meal that I end up craving even after eating it. Cannellini beans are my favorite beans, and their creaminess lends itself to the soft texture of the couscous. I love a citrus salad on the side; it's the perfect complement.

Shrimp n' Beans with Couscous

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cups baby spinach (I chiffonade it)
1 cup couscous
1 1/4 c. chicken stock
1 tsp. butter

1. Bring chicken stock and butter to a boil in a saucepan. Add couscous, stir, and cover until ready to serve.
2. Melt olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic to pan and saute until fragrant. Add shrimp and cook on each side until pink (don't overcook; I just barely cook them through).
3. Add cannellini beans and lemon juice to skillet and stir one minute. Add baby spinach and combine until spinach just barely starts to wilt. Salt and pepper (more pepper than salt, please!).
4. Scoop a generous serving of couscous onto a plate and cover with shrimp n' bean mixture.

Note: if you use cherry tomatoes, halve about 14-16 of them and toss them in the skillet along with the cannellini beans.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cream of carrot soup for savory fall appetites

Yes, it's fall. YES. Let me say that a bit more emphatically.


Ahem. Sorry about that. It's my favorite season of the year, hence the enthusiasm. Not only do most of my allergies subside because rain starts to fall, but I also get to make great things like soups, stews and briskets. I mean, come on! What could you not love about fall? Snow will soon fall and the days become shorter, meaning cuddles with animals on the couch become obligatory rather than suggested.

This is one of my favorite "Hey it's fall, can you believe it?" recipes along with savory muffins that will make you swoon.

Cream of Carrot Soup
Adapted from Evan's Kitchen Ramblings

2 tbsp. butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 lbs. carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 potato, peeled and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock (can use veggie stock)
Lots of fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup whipping cream
Salt to taste

1. Melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, potato, and carrots; cook through for 5 minutes. Add stock and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.
2. Remove from heat, add whipping cream, salt, and a bit more pepper. Blend mixture in a blender or with an immersion hand blender. Serve immediately.

Bacon Cheddar Chive Muffins
From AllRecipes

6 thick slices bacon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
4 teaspoons dried chives
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup vegetable oil

1. Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease muffin pan.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, chives, parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese and crumbled bacon. Combine the egg, milk, cream of mushroom soup and vegetable oil. Mix into the dry ingredients and stir together just to moisten.

4. Spoon the batter into prepared muffin pans and bake at 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.