(Mostly) Green Vegetable Lasagna

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The lasagna I was picturing in my head while making this was good ole Stouffer’s frozen vegetable lasagna. A fond childhood memory of creamy, rich, slightly mushy deliciousness that I haven’t had in years. Was it actually good, or is my memory painting a rosier picture than reality? All I know is that it hit the right buttons for my ten-year-old self, so why not try to recreate it.

I bought no-boil noodles and used frozen spinach, which made it a pretty easy recipe. Unlike the Stouffer’s version, I topped it with a layer of sliced tomatoes rather than buttered bread crumbs, which I think was the right move.

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Start by sautéing some onions in butter and a bit of olive oil. While the onions are softening, prepare your veggies: shred a couple of carrots, chop up your broccoli, and grab some frozen spinach (or cook, drain, and chop fresh leaves).

I was afraid the shredded carrots would get mushy if they were overcooked, so I didn’t sauté them this time (just stirred them into the sauce along with the broccoli and spinach), but they were a bit firm in the end so I’d recommend adding cooking them along with the onions at this stage. Don’t forget to season as you go!

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Next, sprinkle in a couple tablespoons of flour and stir (don’t stop stirring!) for two to three minutes to give the flour a chance to cook and get coated by the fat molecules in your butter and oil. Take the pan off the heat and gradually stir in two cups of milk. Put it back on the burner and wait for it to thicken into a rich bechamel sauce, the base of your veggie filling.

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Stir in the spinach and give it a chance to melt into the sauce if it hasn’t fully defrosted already. Then stir in the rest of your vegetables. Turn off the heat and stir in ricotta or cottage cheese.

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Now pat yourself on the back–you’re done with the filling! All that’s left is assembly.

Spread a bit of the vegetable mixture on the bottom of your baking pan, then arrange a layer of noodles on top. I had to break my noodles a bit to fit correctly into the pan–this has absolutely zero effect on the final look or texture so just go ahead and do what you gotta do to lay down your noodles. Continue reading

It’s 4am

Well, it’s actually 6:25 but who’s counting?

What do you do when you wake up at 4:30 in the morning for no apparent reason with a sudden burst of energy and some extreme munchies? Well first, if you’re me, you take care of the hunger part of the equation.

Rummaging through the fridge yielded some slices of nice smoked gouda, some emmenthal, and a frozen pita. Toasty pita stuffed with sliced cheese is surprisingly satisfying in the middle of the night. And then I had the brilliant idea of saving the last 1/4 of my piping hot pocket and stuffing it with a piece of dark chocolate with hazelnuts. Good Call.

So, hunger sated, what next?

Well I tried to go back to sleep for about an hour but no such luck. It’s strange, since lately I’ve been needing 9 hours a night in order to just feel functional. Why am I awake now? And why in such a darned good mood? Who knows, but it’s given me the motivation necessary to finally get back here where I’ve been meaning to update and would obviously have done so much more diligently had pesky things like life not gotten in the way…

So I brewed myself a strong cup of English breakfast tea (with a dash of milk) and fired up the laptop.

There are so many recipes I have been happy with lately. I’ve started to see a trend emerge, where I am most happy cooking from a variations-on-a-theme standpoint. I have never been, and probably never will be, one of those people who has a set routine where “Monday night is spaghetti night,” but it’s been so hectic and I’ve had such a dearth of energy that it’s been very helpful to start from a basic template and think of what to make for dinner from there.

One that I’ve had success with in the past is homemade pizza. My first go-to recipe was a 24-hour slow rise version that required very little active work, but some advance planning. I recently decided to make a quicker dough in order to satisfy our same-night cravings, and was surprised at how nicely it came out. The flavor was perhaps not quite as complex, but I think I liked the texture even better (and it was worlds easier to work with when forming the actual pizza).

Another template that I had tried for the first time only recently, but plan to play with a lot, is the quiche. My husband was skeptical, and with good reason–many quiches served at restaurants (and many recipes made at home) call for a ratio of eggs to dairy that is way too egg-heavy. What you get from that is more like a frittata, not the light and creamy version I love. A true quiche is custard-based, which means a ratio of one egg to half a cup dairy (3% milk in my case, though cream or half and half would be delicious I’m sure). I am also far too lazy to make my own dough (although I’m sure it’s not that hard if you plan ahead and have enough butter on hand), so I happily used store-bought puff pastry. I made a salmon dill quiche this time, and it was delicious beyond expectations. Even the quiche-skeptical husband loved it, and is now more than happy to try more variations. I’m thinking spinach and mushroom for next round. I unfortunately didn’t take photos this time but I promise to do so and post a real recipe next time.

Next cooking project: vegetable lasagna. I’m thinking a bechamel and spinach-based version, not sure if I want it to include tomatoes or not. Recipes? Suggestions?

I would love to hear about other “template” dishes you have that make dinner planning a little easier.

For now, I think I’ll go sip my tea and ponder what it is that people do before 7am on a Saturday anyhow…

Tuna Melt

P1090312This classic American open-faced sandwich brings me back to the summer camp days of my childhood. It’s so simple—your favorite tuna salad, spread on slices of good bread and topped with cheese. Broil it to a bubbly crisp and you’ve got yourself a scrumptious meal.

I like my tuna salads to have lots of crunchy vegetables in them. Here I used bell peppers, celery, onion, and capers along with a bit of mustard and mayonaise.

P1090283P1090286P1090292Once your tuna salad is ready, all you’ve got to do is heat up the broiler and assemble your sandwiches. Top with your favorite cheese and broil away.

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Tuna Melt

2 cans tuna
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp capers
1 tbsp mustard
1–2 tbsp mayonaise (to your desired consistency)
6 slices cheese (I used swiss, but cheddar also works great)
6 slices bread (I used rye, any kind will do)

Mix the tuna with chopped vegetables, capers, mustard, and mayonaise to make the tuna salad. Arrange the bread slices on an oven-safe tray (if you prefer a crunchier base, you can toast the bread first). Evenly distribute the tuna salad across all six slices, then top with cheese. Put tray under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Feel like a kid again as you bite into your tuna melt!

Eggplant-Tahini Salad (Baba Ghanouj)

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I’ve never really cooked much with eggplant. I certainly like it in Chinese stir-fry dishes or Thai curries, and I think it tastes nice in the Eggplant “caviar” my mother-in-law makes (similar to the Zucchini “caviar” I told you about here). And I like it in baba ghanouj.

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Here in Israel, they just call it eggplant salad (sometimes made with tahini, sometimes with mayonaise). The idea is so simple: roast the eggplant, then when it’s cooled down, scoop out the insides and mix with tahini, lemon, garlic, and salt. And yet I’ve always been a bit intimidated. I finally worked up the guts to try making this delicious spread at home, and what do you know? It actually is amazingly easy! You can char the skin like I did here to get a smoky flavor, or even skip that step and go straight to the oven for a milder (and slightly less messy) version.

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Twist on Israeli Salad

P1090228Salad: we’re both using the same word, but I’m not entirely sure we’re talking about the same thing.

In America, a salad means some sort of leafy green as a base topped with large slices of various other vegetables, possibly some sort of meat/egg/cheese, and a creamy dressing or emulsified vinaigrette of some sort. The American salad requires a knife and fork to eat, since the lettuce is ripped in large pieces by hand (cutting with a knife is considered bad form, as it can damage the delicate leaves), and the other ingredients are too large to be eaten without cutting with a fork and knife.

In Israel, as in other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries, salads are often based on the triad of cucumber, tomato, and onion, chopped finely and tossed with olive oil and lemon juice. No lettuce required (and no lettuce desired—many people look down on salad served with leafy greens as mostly “filler”, with no real substance). The vegetables should be cut into small enough pieces so that you get a variety of flavors and textures on your fork with each bite. There is definitely no cutting at the table.

P1090223P1090225I have to say, I’m firmly on the Israeli side of this issue. The basic cucumber/tomato/onion trio can be modified or embellished in an infinite number of ways—here is one that we recently had, adding shredded cabbage and corn to the mix, along with a yummy pre-made salad seasoning mix (“Green Blend for Salad and Cheese”) that was gifted to us by a good friend. The seasonings included lots of dried herbs, plus dried onion, sesame, and sunflower seeds. All was tossed just before serving with olive oil and lemon juice, plus a sprinkling of salt. Perfection!

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Beef, Leek, and Potato Stew

P1090199I know, I’ve been away for awhile. I said three times a week and here I am, six days between posts! I’m sorry.

But I have had so much going on this week, it’s fantastic. I’ve gone to three amazing networking events that have expanded my job searching mindset and given me the confidence to potentially go into uncharted entrepreneurial waters (eek! not quite yet though). I’ve also had four interviews, one of which was some place I might actually like to work. Plus I’m learning to code. As in, computer programming. As in, my deepest darkest nemesis that I have always been terribly afraid of, finally being tackled. More on this in the future.

And on top off all that, I made beef stew. Beef, leek, and potato stew to be more precise. It was delicious.

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