Vegetarian Lasagna

This is my mom and dad standing in front of a floral display at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. You may be wondering why I’m starting this post with a picture of them. My dad is one of the best cooks I know and this is his recipe.

 

Ingredients:

12 lasagna noodles

1 1/2 jars pasta sauce (24 oz) of your choice

1 cup water

15 oz ricotta cheese

2 eggs (beaten)

1 carrot, peeled and shredded

1 zucchini, peeled and shredded

4 oz chopped spinach

8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese

6 oz shredded parmesan cheese

Here are all the ingredients. My dad has made this recipe many times and I am surprised by how simple this is.

Step one: Grease the pan and preheat oven at 375.

Step two: Peel and shred the carrot and zucchini.

Combine the shredded carrot and zucchini with the chopped spinach.

Step three: Beat two eggs in a large mixing bowl.

Step four: In the same large mixing bowl, add the 15 oz ricotta cheese, 4 oz shredded mozzarella, 3 oz shredded parmesan and all of the vegetables. Mix until incorporated and smooth.

Set aside when done.

Step five: In a second large mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 jars pasta sauce and 1 cup water.

Step six: Pour 1 1/4 cup sauce mixture in the greased 9 x 13 pan.

 

Step seven: Layer four lasagna noodles, sauce, and half of the cheese and vegetable mixture

Step eight: Repeat layers

Step nine: Put a final layer of lasagna noodles and top with remaining pasta sauce.

Step ten: Cover the pan with foil, and bake at 375 for 50 minutes.

Step eleven: Remove foil, sprinkle remaining mozzarella and parmesan on top and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes.

Step twelve: Remove from oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Slice and enjoy!

Delicious! Thank you, Dad for sharing this, and happy early birthday.

Italian Vegetable Stew

I bought a big pink cookbook by Linda Doeser called “100 Best Vegetarian Recipes” from Bookmans a few years ago.  I have yet to cook anything from it, mostly because the recipes are pretty intimidating.  I usually consult my trusty little green book, not this pink behemoth, but I felt like trying something new, so I thumbed through the main meals section and noticed myself drooling over the full size picture that accompanied the Italian Vegetable Stew recipe. We have a winner.

Doeser’s description is as follows, “In spite of the formidable list of ingredients, this flavorsome stew is very simple to make. It is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.”  There are only 307 calories per serving, which stands out quite a bit against the 600 or so calorie average I have seen elsewhere in this cookbook.  By the way, major kudos to her for listing nutritional information with every recipe, this is definitely not something you see very often.

 

Ingredients:

1 red onion, sliced

2 leeks, sliced

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I substituted 4 tablespoons pre-minced garlic)

1 eggplant, sliced

1 small acorn squash, diced (I only used half)

1 small celery root, diced (I used 2 stalks)

2 turnips sliced (make ’em small!)

2 tomatoes, chopped

1 carrot, sliced

1 zucchini, sliced

2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced

1 fennel bulb, sliced

6 oz/175 g Swiss chard or spinach beet, chopped

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

pinch of dried thyme

pinch of dried oregano

pinch of sugar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup vegetable stock

1 oz/25 g basil leaves, torn

4 tablespoons chopped parsley (I substituted Italian seasoning)

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese to serve (optional)

 

I am so glad I went to Sunflower Market to get these ingredients, I have never cooked with leeks, fennel, chard, or even something as simple as acorn squash or turnips.  The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable and the prices are extremely reasonable. I had to purchase all of these ingredients except for the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, sugar, olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley and Parmesan cheese, and it only cost $21.  They are also the only place in Phoenix I know of that carries Quorn products and I am totally hooked on their chicken nuggets, and you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Chardonnay for under $4 and delicious cookies for $3.50 that I snacked on while cooking.

They offered a variety of chard, all of which were Swiss, and organic. I decided to buy rainbow chard, because it was prettiest of the bunch. They also had red and green chard. Rainbow Chard

I was also very impressed by their selection of bell peppers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a perfect red bell pepper…this picture doesn’t do it much justice, but it was just the right shade of red, and it was nice and thick.

Red bell pepper

I eyeballed a half teaspoon of fennel seed with the assistance of an employee.  It only cost six cents.  The basil cost $1.88.  The chard was $1.50 for that bundle, and I only used half of it.

Here’s a shot of all the ingredients…I really can’t believe that only cost $21:

And a close up on the vegetables. I think I understand why a customer expressed a twinge of shopping cart envy at Sunflower. Do you blame her? Hey, you have an ingredient list, you can make this stew too!

This recipe may look intimidating, but to quote the Jackson 5, it’s as 1, 2, 3…literally. There are only three steps to this recipe.

 

1. Place the onions, leeks, garlic, eggplant, squash, celery root, turnips, tomatoes, carrot, zucchini, bell peppers, fennel, Swiss chart, bay leaves, fennel seeds, chili powder, thyme, oregano, sugar, olive oil, vegetable stock and basil leaves in a large pan.  Mix well and bring to a boil.

Notes:

-Chop the turnips as small as you can since they will take the longest to cook.

-I couldn’t exactly measure the chard, I just chopped up two leaves of it. I had two left over since they were sold in bunches of four.

-I used 12 basil leaves to estimate 1 ounce.

-My “pinches” ended up being three shakes of containers.

-I purchased a 32 ounce container of vegetable broth and used about 3/4ths of it. My stew is fairly soupy because of this.

 

2. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until tender.

30 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time in my case. I let my stew simmer for an hour.

 

3. Sprinkle in the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the Parmesan cheese.

 

Thoughts:

This is one of the best meals I’ve ever made, definitely try it.  As Doeser’s description said, it is formidable at times, but worth it.  I was intimidated when I bought ingredients I never worked with and had to Google how to prepare a leek and acorn squash.  I also held my breath as I initally thought I ruined my perfect meal by adding the full four tablespoons of Italian seasoning (or parsley if you have it), don’t worry, that’s how it’s supposed to go.  The Parmesan cheese helps thicken up the stew a bit.

Every bite tastes different and the stew has a nice sweet aftertaste that comes from the red bell pepper and fennel seed.  This would go great with a baked potato.

Easy red enchiladas

Here’s a recipe for very simple enchiladas.  All you need is a package of tortillas, a large can of enchilada sauce, a bag of shredded cheese, a large saucepan and a 9 x 13 pan.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cover the bottom of the 9 x 13 pan with enchilada sauce.

3. Fill the saucepan about halfway full with enchilada sauce.

4. Coat each side of the tortilla in the saucepan.

5. Fill the tortillas with cheese.

6. Roll the enchiladas.

7. Repeat steps 4-6 until the 9 x 13 pan is filled with rolled enchiladas.

8. Cover the enchiladas with a coating of enchilada sauce.

9. Cover with cheese.

10. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

11. Enjoy!

This goes great with beans, rice, and chips and salsa.

Next time I’m going to try this with chopped onions for a little crunch.

C’est la vie

No one’s perfect and you can’t win ’em all.  As cliched as they are, these statements are very true.  You know what else is true?  Don’t try to take out your frustrations through cooking, or else you  may be left with the ruins of a failed Indian dish.

One of my all time favorite dishes is Aloo Matar, or as I colloquially call it “potato and pea awesomeness.”  You can find this at any Indian restaurant. I usually order it hot and get that look of terror from the waiter with a “…are you sure?” expression “Yes, I’m sure,” mostly because the Indian hot I’ve had has never come close to Thai hot with the exception of one restaurant, unless I’ve generally been going the wrong kinds of Indian restaurants. Note: I’m not that crazy when it comes to hot food, I just like my food to have some quick to it.  “Medium” for most other ethnic food seems to do the trick.

I found this recipe for Aloo Matar. I didn’t make it past step one without it being a disaster.  I had never heard of asafetida, which a quick Google search described as devil’s dung or stinking gum. Truly, the aroma is much worse than the flavor.” Well, now. Apparently, onion and/or garlic suffices as a substitute, so I used 1/4 teaspoon of each.  I stirred the ginger, green chili and what seemed like the entirety of my spice rack into the pan.  Once the vegetables softened, I sampled it and I could only describe it as how I would imagine lightning struck stand to taste.

Tell me, reader, does this look appetitzing to you? This is everything from step one except green chili. The chunks are ginger.  Next time, I’ll save myself the hassle and I’ll just invest $10 to have someone do it right in a restaurant.  That $10 will also get me naan and iced coffee if I get a lunch special. Mmm naan.

Well, that was a bust.  On the bright side, only about $5 of my grocery trip was spent on ingredients, the other $10 was an empty stomach Sprouts shopping spree.  I cooked the bag of frozen peas and mashed the four potatoes I bought.  The only downside is I now have enough Basmati rice to last me at least the next week.  Looks like I’ll be making a tofu dish soon.  I also baked chipotle sweet potato fries.

There you have it, the Melissa Fossum S.O.S. lunch special: mashed potatoes, frozen peas, chipotle sweet potato fries and basmati rice drizzled with teriyaki sauce.  It goes great with the alcoholic beverage of your choice.

Spaghetti and veggie meatballs

This meal is as cheap, simple and quick as it gets.

Ingredients

I was planning on using red sauce, but the container I had expired in April. I made this after a long day and was too tired to go to the store just for marinara sauce, so I used white sauce instead. I’m definitely a fan of wheat pasta. This pasta was purchased in bulk at Costco.  I bought the Quorn “meatballs” at Sunflower Market.

Time to start cooking! …do I need to explain how to cook noodles? It’s very simple, and the bag gives you directions if you have any doubts.

Put noodles into a big pot o’ boiling water. Stir the noodles occasionally for 11 minutes while you simmer the meatballs and sauce at medium heat. If the sauce is spitting at you, it’s too hot. Stir the meatballs/sauce and separate any meatballs that were frozen together once they start to soften up.

The Quorn package recommends a 15-18 minute cook time for the meatballs.  They should be ready shortly after you drain the noodles.

Drain the pasta. Put the pasta back in the big o’ pot and top with sauce/meatballs. Add Tony Cachere’s if you’d like.

Although I had my heart set on red sauce, this came out better than expected. This was my first time trying Quorn’s meatballs and they were great!

This made about five days of leftovers. I thought it was good, but not great. It’s about what you would expect from quick spaghetti.

Veggie Casserole a la Scott Pilgrim

What do I have in common with the Scott Pilgrim universe? I have brightly colored hair, love the Rolling Stones, play bass in an awesome band and have dated Jason Schwartzman. Okay, that’s not true, I’m not in an awesome band.

Ever since I read Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Vol. 2, I’ve been interested in trying the veggie casserole Stephen Stills makes in order to “impress your vegan relatives.”  Here is a scan of the pages containing the recipe:

Stephen Stills' casserole, pt. 1

Stephen Stills' recipe, pt. 2

I thought about making it vegan, but realized I rarely use plain soy milk for anything but cooking.  Fear not, I won’t have vegan powers any time soon. Plus, I’ve been on the wait-list for Vegan Academy for years now.

Ingredient list:

  • 2 medium carrots
  • 4 potatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 stick celery with leaves
  • Fake meat stuff- I used Quorn crumbles
  • Vegan gravy stuff- Hain makes instant vegetarian gravy
  • 1 onion
  • Soy milk (I used 2% milk)
  • Soy margarine (*gasp* I used butter)
  • Red wine (optional)
  • The finest olive oil
  • Corn, spinach or tomatoes to go on top (I picked corn)

This was a very cheap grocery run. The two packages of Quorn cost $8 total and the veggies cost a few bucks. I bought two packages of gravy for maybe $2 total.

Here are Stephen Stills’ instructions with my modifications:

1. Cut the potatoes up into smallish pieces, leave the skins on if they look okay.

2. Boil the potatoes 15-20 minutes. While the potatoes are boiling…

3. Cut up the onion, carrot, celery and garlic as small as possible. Use a food processor or invite your friends and make them do all the work.

Holy cow, the food processor made this go so much faster!  It’s also a lot easier to use minced garlic than cutting it yourself.

4. Mash the potatoes with 1 cup milk and half a stick of butter. I added a handful of shredded cheese and a dash of Tony Cachere’s. Fact: Tony Cachere’s makes everything better.

5. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the veggies and cook for 15-20 minutes until they’re very soft, especially the carrots, which are probably the hardest.

Once again, the food processor really facilitated this.

6. Add the red wine (or drink it). I skipped this step because I didn’t have any. I’m curious to see how it makes it different.

7. Add the fake meat stuff and gravy stuff to the veggies. I used 2 packages of Quorn and one gravy packet.

8. Add milk and stir so everything’s a bit saucy. No exact measurements necessary, eyeballing is fine.

9. Get a 9 x 13 baking dish or a casserole or something and glop the fake meat/veggie mixture in.

10. Make a layer of potatoes on top or in between or you can optionally add a layer of sliced tomatoes, cooked spinach or corn.

The layering idea sounds great, except the potatoes vastly outnumbered the veggie mix. If I make this again, I’ll double the veggie parts. I topped mine with a can of corn.

11. Can serve it as is or bake it in the oven for a few minutes to crisp it up on top.

Ahh yes, now we come to my oven issues. I baked it for about 15 minutes on 450 degrees and nothing happened. I broiled it for a few minutes and did nothing but dry out the corn a little bit. Next time I make this recipe, I’ll bake first then the add veggies.

12. Grab a spatula and dish up.

The stock recipe is definitely plain. It’s a lot better with some more veggie gravy and Tony Cachere’s. At first I was tremendously underwhelmed by this recipe, but a 9 x 13 pan makes a lot of food, so I was snacking on this for about 5 days. I think this is one of those recipes that’s better on the 2nd day, it really started to grow on me and I looked forward to having it for dinner. It reminds me of an entire vegetarian Thanksgiving meal in one bite.

I would recommend trying this and doctoring it up a bit. It is easy and cheap!

Tofu Lettuce Wraps

My friend, Stephanie Albares, recommended that I try P.F. Changs Chicken Lettuce Wraps with tofu in lieu of chicken.

I modified food.com’s ingredient list by doubling the servings and replacing the four boneless skinless chicken breasts with two packages of extra firm tofu.

No, I was not cleaning out the fridge, these are my ingredients. Don’t worry, you’re not alone, I was scratching my head over the ketchup and mustard as well.

Base Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons Sesame oil
  • 2 packages extra firm tofu
  • 16 oz water chestnuts
  • 1 1/2 containers baby bella mushrooms
  • 6 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • Head of iceberg lettuce

Special Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

Optional additions to sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons hot mustard
  • 4 teaspoons water
  • 2-4 teaspoons garlic and red chili paste

Stir Fry Sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

I bought most of my ingredients at Sprouts because I knew items like sesame oil and rice wine vinegar would be hard to find. The grocery clerk said rice wine vinegar and rice vinegar are the same thing. They had everything I needed except chili paste, which I made by combining 2 tablespoons of chili powder and a little bit of water to make it pasty.

As you may now, I’m somewhat of a cooking n00b. I didn’t realize there was a difference between dry and fluid ounces, so I bought twice as much water chestnuts. You need two 8 oz containers for this recipe, not four! I also bought 3 packages of mushrooms and only needed half of them. I’m sure this recipe would be great with any type of mushroom, I bought baby bellas because I thought they’d cut down on my chopping time, and boy was I wrong.

I spent $20 on ingredients. With the excess and items I already had, I believe this figure is accurate for the overall cost.

And now, the part you’ve been waiting for, the cooking! You start by making the special sauce.

Combine 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl. Stir until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Add the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice and sesame oil. It initially will look strange with the ketchup.

ooo, pretty! This is how it looked before I stirred the ketchup. I stirred the mixture until the ketchup ribbons turned into small splotches and stuck the bowl in the ‘fridge.

If you’re making hot mustard, combine 4 teaspoons water and 2 teaspoons hot water in a small container and set it aside. Do the same for the garlic/red chili paste combo if you’d like. Make 2-4 teaspoons of the garlic and red chili paste depending on how much you want and how spicy you’d like it to be. I ended up adding my 4 teaspoon garlic chili concoction to the stir fry sauce, but more on this later.

Onto the stir fry sauce. Combine 4 tablespoons soy sauce, 4 tablespoons brown sugar and 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar in a small bowl (I used a cereal bowl). Set it near the stove, you will use this very soon.

Here’s the fun part- chopping! (blatant sarcasm.) This was the most time consuming portion of this recipe. Cut the tofu, mushrooms, onion, and water chestnuts into pea-sized pieces. This was simple enough with the tofu because you work with nice rectangular blocks. Cutting the mushrooms and water crests turned into rhythmic random cutting in tune to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs tunes. Note: “Pin” is for experts only. I am not responsible for any resulting Karen O injuries.

Could it be? I’m finally done with chopping? Really? All I was thinking at this point was, “These lettuce wraps better be awesome.” And awesome, they were.

Put the tofu chunks and 6 tablespoons sesame oil in a medium pot at high heat. I used sesame oil instead of olive oil because I know the tofu absorbs lots of flavor while cooking. Stir the tofu in the sizzling hot oil for a few minutes until the tofu starts to brown. It will get a little brown from the sauce, so make sure it’s actually getting brown from the pan.

Once the tofu’s done, add the water chestnuts, mushrooms, onion and stir fry sauce. I added my red chili/garlic mix to the stir fry sauce because I like my food to have a little kick. I generally take my food at a medium heat and can say my 4 tablespoon concoction was not spicy at all.

Keep the filling at a high temperature and stir often. Add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and garlic as needed if the mixture looks dry.

Your fillings should look like this once they’re done. I’d suggest sampling it to see if it’s cooked, but be careful, it’s very hot. The tip of my tongue still throbs at the thought of this…ouch.

I wish I had better advice on how to prepare the lettuce. By this point, my parents were wondering what I was up to and why the house smelt so delicious. My mom volunteered to help by whacking the head of lettuce on the counter multiple times. What can I say…it worked. She removed the core and, voila, the lettuce was ready.

I knew there was no way I could replicate P.F. Chang’s nifty lettuce scoops, so I put a few pieces of lettuce on the plate and scooped on the filling. Top the lettuce wraps with as much special sauce as you’d like.

My dad graciously volunteered to help assemble the lettuce wraps while I took pictures.

And that’s it! Your very own vegetarian friendly P.F. Chang’s lettuce wraps. I served mine with a side of rice.

Total cost: $20

Time: ~1 hour

Rating: AMAZING. This is not something I’d make often simply because it took so long to prepare. Also note that each lettuce wrap has nearly 600 calories. I was a little surprised at first until I realized how much sugar and sodium went into making them.