Friday, September 25, 2009

Mama wants Lasagna! (veggie lasagna)

Mama wants me some lasagna. Avoiding writing another post about this waiting period, I won't go on and on about my daily tasks and passings of time. But I shall say that I finally got some big cooking in and it has felt good! Forget the living room, perhaps the baby was just giving me some time in the new kitchen before he/she joins us for a meal.

But how can we forget the living room? Here it is, in all its cozy-ness (complete with newspaper strewn on the coffee table).

I have found the Italian cravings creeping back in later in pregnancy (this is what I craved the whole first trimester). I think it's the cheese. I have remained a pescotarian (meaning I eat fish, no other meat) throughout the past 9 months, which was easy, though I had to keep up with my protein or I would quickly begin craving grilled chicken sandwiches. This past week I, without shame or apology, ate half a "Thanksgiving Style" turkey sandwich; oh yes, complete with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mayonaise, and roasted turkey. I believe I have written here before about my continous shift in belief around food, and my repeated conclusion is that food, for every person, is a very personal relationship. As we let go of our own judgements around the food we eat, it allows us to let go of the judgement of others, and perhaps that is when the most opportunity to educate arises.

Ah, so enough about that delicious sandwich, and HOW, was it delicious. Italian. When my friend had a baby in February, I made her a giant sloppy delicious lasagna (inspired by my own cravings at the time). I wanted to do the same for us, but perhaps a little less sloppy. Also, I didn't realize till I started to buy the ingredients, if you want to make a yummy cheesy lasagna using organic ingredients, it can get a bit pricey (organic cheeses, you pay for). So I decided to replace the Ricotta with tofu and make my own filling. This lasagna is not vegan, I did put other cheeses in, but cut back on the cost, increased the protein and vitamin B, and made what I believe an equally tantalizing lasagna with less saturated fat.

"Less Sloppy" Vegetable Lasagna

1 28 oz can Crushed Tomato
1 lb Extra Firm Tofu/or a container of Ricotta
2 eggs
1 package shredded cheese of your choice (I used parmesan, asiago, and fontina blend)
1/4 cup Nutritional Yeast
1 package lasagna (no boil) noodles (brown rice for gluten free)
1 eggplant
1 med zuchini
1 small head broccoli
5-10 cherry tomatos
1 large portobella mushroom
2 T olive tapenade (or 3-4 T olives chopped)
2 T Pesto (or 1/2 bunch basil chopped finely)
2 cloves garlic
Optional: artichoke hearts, extra cheese (feta), any vegetable of your choice!

Lets start with the ever allusive tofu. Like anything else you don't want to eat tofu every day, you don't want this to be your staple source of protein. Soy can be very difficult to digest, and too much soy can cause hormonal imbalances. But so can cheese!! But in a healthy rotation it can be a great source of protein which is low in fat, so lets give it a whirl.

You may have heard that it is best to press the water out of it. True. Whether you are grilling it, stir frying, or using as cheese in a lasagna, it will be much more cooperative in retaining flavor if you get the excess water out.

To do this, I put the tofu in a metal baking pan, with another pan that fits inside it, on top. Then added my weights.
Beautiful juicing oranges act as my weights. I learned a "pressing tofu" lesson the hard way once, by using my entire stack of glass mixing bowls as weights and walking away a little to long, well long enough for a big clean up and a mourning of my bowls to be in order.

Leave the tofu, occasionally draining the water, while you start the rest of your prep.

Veggie lasagna has the potential to be very watery, dissolving the flavor. I wanted to use the rest of my BI grown zuchini, despite zuzhini having major water content. So I sweat it, like the eggplant. This draws out the excess water, as well as any bitter flavor in the eggplant-just slice, lay out, and sprinkle with salt (you can rinse any excess salt off before cooking if you'd like). So now you have veggies sweating, tofu sweating, time for you to start to sweat! Preheat the oven to 350*

Chop up your remaining vegetables. I used garlic, broccoli, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes (I cut these and deseeded them by rinsing them in a colander, again to cut out excess water). Saute the veggies with some olive oil, and add any seasonings at this time. I added about 2 Tbl of olive tapenade (you can finely chop olives if you don't have this made) and 2 Tbl of pesto, some salt and pepper (artichoke hearts, olives, basil, oregano, all would add great flavor).

OK, so now its probably been about 1/2 hour- 45 minutes. Take your pressed tofu and crumble it into a bowl.

Now for the cheese trick. Nutritional yeast, found at all/most health food stores in bulk section. Nutritional yeast is known for its deceptively cheesy flavor. An excellent source of protein, gluten free, rich in vitamins, especially the B-complex vitamins, and an excellent source of folic acid. So add away, I used about a 1/4 cup, plus 1 & 1/2 tsp of sea salt to give the tofu the cheese flavor (though I have to admit ricotta always seems a bit flavorless to me anyway). Add 2 eggs and mix well.

Now press or squeeze the excess water out of your sweating veggies and toss on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes in the oven. While those are baking, start to layer your lasagna, starting with the sauce.

I used Muir Glen crushed tomatos with basil as sauce. Then a layer of lasagna noodles (no boil, rice noodles-made this lasagna gluten free) then sauteed veggie layer, more sauce, cheese (parmesan, fontina, asiago blend-buying the container of blended cheese saved money as well), noodles, eggplant and zuchini, tofu, sauce, cheese. You just want to make sure that you start with sauce and end with noodles (sauce and cheese), as you put it together just think how it'll hold together while eating (the noodles being the binders). I underestimated my pan size and ran out of noodles, so I used eggplant slices on the top to act as the book cover.

Top with sauce and cheese, cover, and bake for 45 minutes or until done. You can take the cover off and brown the top at the end if you'd like that toasted yummy cheese, and who doesn't?

I threw some feta on there too. mmmmm.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stuffed peppahs!

Perhaps we left the island a little prematurely, or perhaps it is better to be safe than sorry. I have been feeling very "safe" lately, the physical limitations of pregnancy have caused me to slow a bit, and the waiting for baby has slowed time. Fortunately we have friends and family that are all willing to drive Miss Daisy so to speak, this allows me to keep busy and occupied. Today I am going to Newport with my friend Becky, she will shop and I will watch her, as I am trying not to spend money. Though it will be great getting out, grabbing a bite, and walking around. Maybe the cobblestone streets will get things moving!

This weekend was great, having Chopper around (he has been commuting to the island, those are some long hours). We got lots done and now even have a living room! I was convinced after last week that the baby was waiting till we had a place where we could all sit and snuggle together. On Sunday, we had a nice visit with friends Paul and Tonia who had there baby 3 weeks ago. We watched intently as the baby slept, as they fed her, and as they changed her diaper. During the diaper change I realized Chopper and I were both staring, mouths agape, in silence...I know I had never watched a changing so intently. Towards the end of the visit my parents stopped by, and then Chop's parents (I think people are getting excited), they were each bringing us things that we need and being ever so helpful as we scramble to make a house a home in the anticipation of baby.

After those nice visits we headed to Chop's brother Jeremy's for a nice quiet dinner. Jeremy and his wife Kristen have a fantastic garden and many fruit trees on their small plot in Providence. It is such a nice oasis in the middle of an urban area. They are both champion canners and each year we get delicious jams (many flavors), canned pears in mint, apple sauce, tomato sauce, etc etc. It is a nice treat, although I have to admit I have garden/fruit tree envy (they even have a bing cherry tree!) So for this lovely dinner we ate one of their favorite vegetarian dishes, quinoa stuffed peppers. It really is a yummy dish, and as Jeremy pointed out, it isn't missing anything except for maybe some meat (though he admitted the first time he had it, he forgot there wasn't any meat in the meal). There really is lots of flavor for such a simple dish, and each person gets their own nice little package.

I asked them if they would be so kind to share the recipe and maybe take some pictures for me, since I didn't have my camera. I am still so excited to share new recipes and uses for those grains(!!), even though my cooking has been waining in these last weeks of gestation.

Chop and I had brought some roasted root vegetables. We had also made a nice salad, but forgot it at home, so this was a very nice fall flavored meal.

Stuffed Red Peppers With Parmesan, Quinoa & Walnuts
(I believe this is a Martha Stewart recipe)
4 red bell peppers (choose squatty ones that will easily stand upright when you bake them)
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. ground coriander
Coarse salt and Pepper
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
½ cup fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese (or grated aged provolone)

1. Preheat the oven to 450◦, with rack in upper third. Slice a very thin layer from the base of your pepper so it sits upright. Slice off the top, just below the stem and remove the ribs and seeds. “Rinse and Repeat” with the other peppers. Discard the stems, chop the tops and set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onion, garlic, coriander and chopped pepper tops; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Add quinoa and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until quinoa is tender, 11 to 13 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in parsley, walnuts and ¾ cup of cheese; season with salt and pepper.
4. Divide evenly, stuff peppers with quinoa mixture; place in a 2-quart baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until peppers are tender, about 45 to 55 minutes . Uncover; top with remaining cheese and bake until cheese melts, 10 minutes more.

I told Jeremy, I normally like to include a picture of Chopper eating whatever it is I am sharing, and so he happily obliged.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kitchen warm up (sunflower seed pesto/ olive tapenade)

Have you seen my new kitchen lately? I am awfully excited to start using this space. Going back and forth between the island and here has not been condusive to creating amazing (or many for that matter) meals. I may get here and realize that the tahini I just bought is on the island or I'll be on the island and realize that you can't get dried dates out there, and my stash is on the mainland. So today I started small. I want to get the kitchen ready and Chopper friendly for after I have the baby, and flavoring is the best way to do that. He can make pasta, but making a sauce may be a different story. He can grill a piece of fish, but what about salad dressing to accompany? So today I stuck with some simple, but awesome ways to spice up a meal, dressing, or sauce. Sunflower seed- Basil Pesto and Olive Tapenade.

I loved the green on green on green in this picture, until I went to take it, I hadn't noticed the trees out the window.

Sunflower Seed-Basil Pesto
1 big bunch basil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
2 inch piece of parmesan
1/2 tsp sea salt
ground pepper to taste

In food processor, process garlic and olive oil, then cheese and sunflower seeds, making a paste. Add basil, salt and pepper and blend till smooth. This time of year pesto tends to be in abundance, it is how we use it that gets creative and sparks deliciousness. Spread on bruschetta, add to pasta, use on pizza, add a touch of olive oil to make it a salad dressing, use as a marinade for fish or shrimp, use it a flavor wherever flavor is needed.

Olive Tapenade
(as adapted from Once Upon a Tart cookbook)

1 cup kalamata or black olives
2 cloves garlic
1/2-1 cup fresh basil
2 Tbl lemon juice
4 Tbl capers, drained
1/2 cup olive oil

In food processor, process everything but olive oil, till pureed. Slowly add olive oil while processor is running (this will ensure that it emulsifies).

The olive oil in both of these recipes will keep the basil and the olives from turning, giving you a much longer shelf life for both of these spreads.