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Monday, July 30, 2012

New Spin on Veggie Lasagna (What's Cookin' - Part Five)

Here is the finished product from tonight's dinner. I got the recipe from Vegetarian Times and it's mighty tasty.

Full disclosure: I'm not sold on calling this lasagna. Nevertheless, it's a great layered dish FULL of flavor, texture, nutrition and color. Best of all, it's fantastically filling and still low in calories. And I am already counting the minutes till Lunch Leftovers tomorrow.

And if you want more of the pasta flavor that lasagna noodles gives, I would just try decreasing the amount of zucchini and add the noodles.

Serves 6

The winner for me in this dish was using high-protein quinoa instead of a meat filling. It gave it good density and just absorbed all the flavors of the sauce and vegetables.

2 large zucchini, cut lengthwise into 12 ¼-inch-thick slices
1 tsp. salt
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
½ cup tomato sauce
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp. dried oregano
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
2 Tbs. cream cheese (non-dairy options such as Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese works, apparently)
1 25-oz. jar marinara sauce* (see my notes below in Directions)
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese (can use non-dairy options here too, such as Daiya Mozzarella)

I made my dish tonight with the roasted tomato sauce that I used this weekend. I used 7 Roma tomatoes, added a can of tomato paste and a cup of water to make it thinner. I think it made the dish even better -- perhaps that was due to the 5 cloves of garlic I roasted with the tomatoes?!

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place zucchini slices on bed of paper towels. Sprinkle with salt, cover with paper towels, and let stand to release moisture while preparing quinoa.

2. Bring broth, quinoa, tomato sauce, onion, and oregano to a boil in saucepan. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 25 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, and stir in basil, parsley, and cream cheese, if using.

3. Spoon 1/3 cup marinara sauce over bottom of 8-inch square baking dish. Blot remaining moisture and salt from zucchini slices, and lay 4 zucchini slices over marinara sauce in pan. Spoon half of quinoa over zucchini, and cover with 1/3 cup marinara. Repeat with 4 more zucchini slices, remaining quinoa, and 1/3 cup marinara. Top with remaining 4 zucchini slices, remaining marinara, and shredded cheese, if using. Bake lasagna 30 minutes, or until zucchini is tender and top is bubbly.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Too Many Tomatoes? (What's Cookin', Part Four)

I first got turned on to cooking seasonally after reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. One of my favorite sections describes what happens to her family as they "drown in tomatoes" during peak tomato season in late summer.

With only two tomato plants in the little condo garden next to my home (planted by my great housemate), I can't say I'm drowning, exactly... but earlier this week I picked a half pound of tomatoes for my dinner (used in the recipe below) and then two days later was able to pick another two pounds to bring with me for a weekend trip with friends to Lake Arrowhead, where I contributed homemade pizza sauce for dinner on Saturday night. That's a lotta tomatoes in my world.

But if I can keep making meals like this newest recipe, I will welcome the bounty. Homegrown tomatoes taste nothing like store-bought ones -- so sweet and flavorful. What I liked best about this recipe was discovering the wonder of making roasted tomatoes. I threw in a couple of my own twists to this recipe from Martha Stewart -- try your own additions. Go crazy!

(adapted from Martha Stewart)


1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes (I used a combo of Romas and cherry tomatoes)
3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, plus more for serving, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound short pasta, such as orecchiette (I used Trader Joe's brown rice fusilli - you want something with a lot of shape so that the sauce can grip on to it)
My additions: 3 whole garlic cloves (peeled); 1 tablespoon cream cheese


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss tomatoes, capers, garlic cloves and oregano with oil and season with salt. Roast until tomatoes burst and begin to brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain.

Return pasta and 1/4 cup pasta water to pot and add tomato mixture. Cook over high until sauce is slightly thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in cream cheese until sauce becomes a light red, almost pinkish color. If necessary, add remaining pasta water to create a light sauce that coats pasta. Serve sprinkled with oregano.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Poetry Plunge ~ July 13, 2012 Update

I just want to confirm that I am sticking with my plan, even though it can be a bit of a rough slog at times. Early poetry in English literature was written in Middle English, so... yeah.

Despite the challenges, I want to report that I loved the portion I read from Beowulf, which I found out was a huge favorite of J.R.R. Tolkein, and my goodness I can see how it influenced LOTR. My favorite line from the portion I read (not in Middle English, I'm sad to confess) was this description of the evil fiend Grendel:

Progenitor he was of the miscreations,
Kobolds and gogmagogs, lemurs and zombies.

Currently I'm working through the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales (and this is in Middle English). I cannot believe I took an entire class on this book in college. Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful. I mean it. But it is mighty hard work to follow. The best part is slowly remembering how to read it out loud. As I learned at the outset of this project, A poem is a composition written for performance by the human voice.

Onward and upward.

What's Cookin'? Part Three

As I said in my first "What's Cookin'?" post, the vegetables are just TOO GOOD right now, so I'm having fun every night making dinner.

Tonight I combined a couple of past recipes (Oven Fried Chicken and the pesto from my Polenta Pizza) and came up with something new.

Serves 2


1 large eggplant

1 large egg
1/4 c non-fat or almond milk
1/3 c finely chopped pecans
1/4 c cornmeal (I used polenta)
1/4 c whole wheat, oat or gluten-free flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp onion or garlic powder... or both
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tb butter, slivered into thin slices
Favorite pasta
(see ingredients and directions below for pesto)

Pre-heat oven to 425 with the rack in the center. Spray a 9 x 13 inch deep baking dish with Pam cooking spray.

Start the water boiling for the pasta.

Slice the eggplant into half-inch thick slices.

In a wide bowl whisk the eggs and milk. In another shallow bowl or pie tin, stir together the pecans, cornmeal, flour, and spices.

Dip the eggplant slices one at a time into the egg wash, then dredge each one in the pecan mixture.

Place the coated eggplant slices in the baking dish. Dot each coated piece with a little butter. Bake until golden brown -- approximately 20-25 minutes. Cook the pasta according to directions.

FRESH PESTO ~ a winner!
2 cups basil packed (can use 1 cup arugula or chard instead -- take some risks. Trust me it tastes great)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tb walnuts or pine nuts
1/4 c grated parmesan
3 cloves minced garlic

Put ingredients in a small food processor, 1/3 of ingredients at a time. Pulse until smooth, add more ingredients.

Pull the eggplant slices out of the oven when done, drain the pasta, stir in some pesto, and put it on your plate for a very satisfying meal.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What's Cookin'? Part Two

Oh MAN, I am barely able to type this up because I am still semi food-comatose. This meal is a delight, and ridiculously easy. It takes advantage of seasonal vegetables, and has some really unique, tangy flavor.

I followed the recipe, which is from Vegetarian Times, so yes, this is a vegetarian meal. STOP! If you don't roll with that, no worries. I think this chimichurri sauce would taste deliciosa with chicken or ground turkey meat.

And honestly, I can't wait to use the leftover chimichurri sauce on scrambled eggs tomorrow. It is GOOD. This is going to become a staple for me.



Tomato Rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, finely chopped
½ tsp sea salt
1 tomato, seeded and diced
½ cup brown or white rice
1 cup vegetable broth

Chimichurri Sauce
1 cup fresh cilantro
½ cup fresh Italian parsley
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup lime juice
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons agave
½ tsp ground cumin
¾ tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Taco Filling
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 oz crimini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1 (15 oz) can of black beans, rinsed and drained

I pkg 8” tortillas (or make your own corn tortillas, like I did!)

optional toppings: chopped tomatoes, sliced onion, diced avocado, lettuce


Rice: In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat and add onions and salt. Sauté onions until soft. Add tomato, rice, and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until all broth is absorbed and rice is cooked. Turn off heat and let sit, covered, 15 minutes.

Chimichurri sauce: Blend ingredients in a food processor until combined, and herbs are finely chopped.

Filling: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat and sauté mushrooms until they have released their juices. Add black beans and half of the chimichurri sauce and cook until heated through. Reserve the remaining half of the chimichurri sauce to spoon over the tacos.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Poetry Plunge - Caedmon's Hymn

Fortunately, we still have one really good bookstore left here in Santa Barbara -- Chaucer's. However, even though it survived the Borders / Barnes & Noble invasion, I'm surprisingly bummed those big box stores didn't make it. Because in my mind, there can never be enough bookstores.

One of my favorite things to do is to aimlessly wander through a bookstore and just browse. I have found many great reads this way over three decades, and there is no way to duplicate that experience online.

So when Borders was closing, I went in one day to scoop up as many deals as I felt I could responsibly afford, and to soak in one last browsing experience there. (And let's be honest, they were offering 70% discounts. I love a bargain.)

As I wandered through the literature section, I landed on an absolute brick of a book: The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Fourth Edition. It's 2 1/4" thick. Immediately, I had a wave of English major memories wash over me... the "Bibles" of English majors are the Norton Anthologies. In fact, I still have my "Nortons" of English Literature, Volumes 1 & 2 from college, tattered, highlighted and full of underlines. 

But funny thing, I never had a Norton Anthology of Poetry. Sure, I took the basic English major survey courses, and did my best to plow through Canterbury Tales, Paradise Lost, and read every play of Shakespeare. I found a poem here and there that I liked -- but really, I think I mostly liked them because I, um, understood them. Sadly, the majority of poems assigned to me went unread.

Because poetry for me is like modern art; I don't really understand what all the fuss is about. I'd much rather read a hearty biography, or something by C.S. Lewis. My favorites in college were novels written by Fitzgerald, Hemingway, James, Dreiser, and of course, Austen. Most poetry leaves me boggled. I'll read a poem now and again and feel quite confidently that a lot of deep, intense things are being said, and that I am not getting any of it. It feels like it's all written in code. But I'm not stupid. The entire process is very humiliating, and I basically avoid it whenever possible.

Yet when I stood in the literature section of the dying Borders that day, something in me drew me toward the honkingly huge poetry book. It might sound crazy, but I feel like I heard this teeny weeny little voice say, Kelly, it's time. Get over it. You're missing out, BIG TIME.

So here I am. I bought that book a year and a half ago, and it's practically been a doorstop, shaming me as it sits, shiny and new and unread. This weekend, I finally cracked open the cover and tiptoed in.

So far, so good. I think this will take me a VERY long time to work through it. But I'm not trying to get a grade, right? I have nothing to prove. I simply want to learn.

After reading through a rather dense introduction on "versification" (nope, not intimidating... OK, I'm lying) I read the first poem: Caedmon's Hymn, which is described as "probably the earliest extant Old English poem, composed sometime between 668 and 680."

After the first perusal, I had that familiar oh-no-what-was-I-thinking feeling. But I pushed through it, and read those handy little notes that are part of the Norton Anthologies. These were SUPER helpful. I read the poem again and... I was blown away. It was gorgeous. But it was so lovely for the same reason I love all good writing -- when I learn about the author and the backstory, I am won over. In other words, when I get some of the context, I see how the art emerged, and it becomes real to me. The story of Caedmon is utterly winsome: a lowly, illiterate herdsman employed by a monastery has a miraculous religious vision and receives the gift of song. (Follow the links I've given -- it's a good story.)

I'd give anything to know the melody that went with this early worship song. And repeating any of the lines from it won't do the poem justice. But there are a couple of phrases that are enchanting:
We must praise the heaven-kingdom's Guardian... and his mind-plans
He first created for men's sons, heaven as a roof...
I love these somewhat clunky but awe-inspiring images. And as I read the notes I see that the "poetry" is more obvious in the original Middle English, where lines start with the same sounds, creating an alliterative rhythm, thus fulfilling the opening lines of the Norton introduction:
A poem is a composition written for performance by the human voice... What a poem says or means is the result of how it is said, a fact that poets are often at pains to emphasize.
Whew. I still have a LOT to learn. But I am very intrigued.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's Cookin'? Part One

Though I'm a little bummed that my summer vacation is already over, I definitely cannot complain. After all, I live in Santa Barbara. Nuff said.

PLUS, when I get back in the routines of my daily life, that also means that I am back to cooking, and summer seasonal eating is wonderful. I have already got so many recipes tagged and marked and dog-eared that I am ready to either bring back or try for the first time. Stopping by the local produce stands requires major self-discipline; if I'm not careful, I overload my bags with zucchini, berries, corn, peaches, spinach, leeks, beets, watermelon and my TOP FAVORITE, red bell peppers...

My goal is to blog much more regularly for the next few days or weeks and share some of what's cookin' this summer...

I'll start off by sharing something I have for breakfast at least twice a week. As I said to a couple of girlfriends last week over coffee, I just "need" to have hot food for breakfast. So believe it or not, I cook myself an actual meal for breakfast just about every day -- no cold cereal for this girl, or a little yogurt container on the run.

Let's start by saying I l-o-v-e pancakes for breakfast, and being gluten-free has put a little cramp in my pancake style. Sure, there are a bunch of gluten-free pancakes mixes out there, but my heavens, they are made from really sweet flours and kick up my glycemic index. Which means after I eat these I am hungry in about 45 minutes. Not good.

I want fiber in my pancakes, and something that fills me up. So pictured here is a good approximation of a dependable, low-maintenance gluten-free recipe for oatmeal pancakes that I have come up with after a few false starts. I'm almost embarrassed to call this a recipe because it's so basic. But you can't enjoy it unless you plan ahead, because you have to do a tiny bit of prep the night before.

Kelly's Oatmeal Pancakes
Serves 1 (or 2, if you're really nice or a lighter eater than me, I guess)

1/2 Trader Joe's Rolled Oats (gluten-free)
1/2 cup almond milk (P.S. I have become totally hooked on almond milk)
1/2 egg (or 1/8c egg white or egg substitute)
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp agave
Cinnamon to taste

Possible add-in's
Peanut butter
Diced almonds, walnuts, almonds
Flax seed
Protein powder
Dried fruit: apple, apricots, raisins, etc.

Before I go to bed, I will mix together the oats, milk and egg in a mug or small bowl, covering them with a plastic bag. In the morning, the oats have absorbed the milk and egg, so the liquid has basically soaked in.

I add the oil, baking powder and cinnamon. If you're feeling more creative, try some add-ins.

Heat up a skillet to medium heat. I spray mine with Pam Spray, but obviously you can use a little butter or cooking oil. When the skillet sizzles after you sprinkle a few drops of water on it, spoon some batter onto the skillet. I recommend keeping the pancakes no larger than 3-4" across. Flip over when you see the cooked side is turning brown.

Best part: when I'm done cooking them, I top each pancake with Greek yogurt and fresh berries (when in season -- otherwise, I defrost some frozen berries the night before when I mix the oatmeal and almond milk). This combination provides plenty of protein and fiber, and is quite tasty, I must say. Enjoy!