Pumpkin’s biggest booster. November 21, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Alexander McCall Smith, Precious Ramotswe, pumpkin recipes, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
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Silence Dogood here. If you’re a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, you know that the agency’s founder, Precious Ramotswe, loves her pumpkin. Apparently pumpkin is a staple dish in Mma Ramotswe’s native Botswana, and she turns to it as a comfort food, and to preparing it as a way to calm herself when thinking about a perplexing case.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, we might turn to Mma Ramotswe for tips on new ways to serve up pumpkin. And fortunately, we have some clues from Stuart Brown, who wrote Mma Ramostwe’s Cookbook (Polygon, 2009). Problem being, most of us Americans (including yours truly), measure things in numbers and cups and the like—3 large butternut squash, 4 cups vegetable broth, 2 tablespoons olive oil—and Mma Ramotswe’s cookbook is British, which means that everything is measured by weight, and oven temperatures in degrees C rather than F. Ow!
Fortunately, one of the pumpkin recipes the book offers is so straightforward, even I could make it. Apparently, Mma Ramotswe favors pumpkins with greenish rinds; over here, we might consider them to look more grey. Consider this alternative to sweet potatoes as you plan your Thanksgiving menu:
Steamed Pumpkin Slices
To steam, place slices of pumpkin in a pan with a little water, salt (and sugar, if you love your sugar as Mma Ramotswe does). Cover with a lid, ensuring that the water does not all evaporate. Cook for 30-40 minutes until the outer skin is soft (the greenish pumpkin has a thicker skin). Serve with butter.
“It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems in life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That gave you a reason for going on.”
—Precious Ramotswe, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Mellow mushroom-cashew stroganoff. November 6, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: mushroom-cashew stroganoff, stroganoff recipe, vegetarian recipes, vegetarian stroganoff
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Silence Dogood here. One of my favorite go-to recipes for fall and winter is mushroom-cashew stroganoff, which is simple to make but so satisfying on a cold night! You only need five ingredients—a sweet onion, mushrooms, cashews, sour cream, and olive oil—plus fettucine and salt and pepper to taste.
To make my mushroom-cashew stroganoff, heat a large pot of water for the fettucine. While it’s heating, add extra-virgin olive oil to a heavy pot (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this) and toss in a large diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla) and sliced or diced mushrooms, depending on how you like them.
You can add a large carton of button mushrooms, or mix them up (the other night, I added shiitakes and portobellos to the buttons, simply because I had them in the fridge). We like lots of mushroom in our stroganoff, but suit your own tastes. Then add plenty of salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare) and fresh-cracked black pepper. If the onions and mushrooms start to stick, add veggie broth or stock (or water) in splashes to prevent burning.
Once the onion has clarified and the mushrooms have released their juices, add a 16-ounce (2-cup) carton of sour cream and a good half-cup of shoyu (fresh-fermented soy sauce), tamari, or soy sauce. We love Ohsawa Organic Nama Shoyu, which is available from health-food stores and has a deep, rich, almost winey flavor. Your goal is to create a dark-brown, sort of beef-gravy-colored sauce, so add as much shoyu or tamari as you need (making sure you taste as you go).
By now, your pot of water should have come to a boil. But be patient; don’t add the pasta until your stroganoff sauce has really started to thicken up. Your goal is to have a rich sauce that thickly coats each piece of pasta and wouldn’t even dream of dripping, and you don’t want the pasta to be done before the sauce reaches this stage. (You can always turn the sauce off once it’s reached the desired thickness, cover it, and it will be just fine when you add it to the hot al dente pasta.
Now that your sauce and fettucine are done, you might be wondering, hey, what about the cashews? Well, you don’t want them to go soft and gummy, so you stir them in the exact second you’re ready to serve up the pasta. You can toss the fettucine (or spaghetti, if you prefer it, but you need a strong, sturdy pasta to hold up to this sauce, no “thin” or angel-hair spaghetti, please) with the sauce and cashews, or top it with the cashew-laden sauce.
As with the mushrooms and onion, our friend Ben and I like lots of cashews in our stroganoff; we’ll typically use almost a whole can or package, but suit yourself. They add a yummy crunch that sets off the creamy sauce perfectly, but I never want to overwhelm the sauce with cashews, so I make sure I add plenty but not so many that it becomes cashew-mushroom stroganoff rather than the other way ’round.
While the fettucine is cooking, I throw together a crunchy salad to serve with our stroganoff. We like a simple Caesar with this, but certainly a mix of any combination of romaine, arugula, radicchio, kale, iceberg, red cabbage, endive, shredded carrot, diced bell pepper, and scallions would be great. The salad just needs plenty of body and a non-creamy dressing, such as a simple extra-virgin and balsamic vinegar, because the stroganoff is so rich. And I never serve bread with this stroganoff! We do find that it goes well with a full-bodied red wine like a cabernet sauvignon or a zinfandel.
So simple, so good. Enjoy! I think this will become one of your cold-weather go-to dishes, too.
‘Til next time,
Baker’s Chocolate vs. Scharffen Berger. October 29, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Baker's Chocolate, baking chocolate, chocolate, Scharffen Berger chocolate
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Silence Dogood here. I grew up with Baker’s Chocolate. My beloved Mama relied on it exclusively in all baked goods and candies, including her famous fudge. She used unsweetened Baker’s Chocolate and their bittersweet bar, and we always had them on hand in the house. While I wasn’t prepared to take a bite of unsweetened chocolate, I very much enjoyed their bittersweet version, with its unique dark but dry or chalky (as opposed to creamy or oily) taste.
Sadly, no Baker’s Chocolate bar has ever entered my own home, except on the very rare occasions when I make Mama’s fudge for the holidays. I’d almost forgotten about it until I saw that our local health food store, of all places, was selling bars of Scharffen Berger Semisweet Fine Artisan Dark Chocolate. For years, I’d been reading about how Scharffen Berger—which, despite its Swiss-sounding name, is actually made in Robinson, Illinois, perhaps an ironic tribute to the Swiss Family Robinson—was considered the best artisanal chocolate in America.
I’d never seen Scharffen Berger for sale before, so of course I snapped up a bar, eager to see what everyone was raving about. When I got home, I broke off a square and tasted it. And guess what? It tasted exactly like the Baker’s bittersweet bar of my memory, dark and dry/chalky. Hmmmm.
Since I wanted to post about this, I decided to do a little research about Baker’s Chocolate, and Wikipedia had a doozy of an article on the subject. First, I learned that Baker’s Chocolate was originated not as a cooking aid for bakers, but as a health food by a Dr. James Baker in 1764. Dr. Baker, not bakers. Yow.
But that wasn’t all I learned. Love that German chocolate cake? Turns out it has nothing to do with Germany, but instead is the result of a Baker’s employee, Samuel German, who invented a sweeter chocolate bar, called German’s Sweet Chocolate. A Dallas newspaper printed a recipe for a cake that used his bar as an ingredient as “German Chocolate Cake,” and so a legend was born. Ironically, the modern Baker’s product lineup includes sweetened coconut flakes, a key ingredient in German chocolate icing.
So, folks, there you have it. Nothing is what it seems, but chocolate is still chocolate, whether it’s Scharffen Berger or Baker’s.
‘Til next time,
National Pasta Day. October 25, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: easy pasta recipes, international pasta recipes, National Pasta Day, pasta, yummy pasta recipes
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Celebrate! Today, October 25th, is National Pasta Day!
Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love pasta, be it my super-intensive homemade spaghetti sauce or our favorite storemade pesto over penne (with, of course, a side of greens like broccoli or sauteed spinach and garlic and a big, crunchy salad). So I thought I’d give you all a few quick, easy ways to celebrate pasta and enjoy its comforting warmth on these unnaturally cold, wintry days.
* Creamy pasta. This is my go-to when true comfort food is needed, and fast. It’s so much simpler than Alfredo and so much better. The trick is to balance it out and enjoy a very moderate portion, so you can delight in every creamy, buttery, decadent forkful. I cook shells to al dente, then drain them and add sour cream and butter and return them to low heat. I add salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare) and cracked black pepper, and stir until the sour cream/butter topping has cooked down and thickly coated the pasta. You can add shredded sharp white Cheddar or grated Parmesan at this point, if you want. I like the pasta as is, served in small portions alongside roasted or baked sweet potatoes and broccoli with butter and lemon and preceded by a crunchy mixed salad. Or enjoy it for lunch with baked beans and coleslaw (we love Bush’s Grillin’ Beans).
* Pesto pasta. My local supermarket’s refrigerated housemade pesto beats every expensive gourmet jarred pesto I’ve tried, so when I’m craving a quick pesto pasta, I get a carton and either pick some fresh basil from my garden or (if it’s out of season) buy a bunch at the produce aisle to brighten the flavor. I’ll cook up some spaghetti al dente, drain it, then stir in the pesto and minced fresh basil. Serve this up with some broccoli raabe roasted with olive oil and garlic and a Caesar salad and you’re good to go anytime!
* Mushrooms and Marsala. Such a simple, rich, luscious pasta dish. All you really need are button mushrooms, though you can add any others you like to deepen the flavors. Saute a diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla) in butter with salt (see above) and fresh-cracked black pepper. When the onion clarifies, add sliced or diced mushrooms (your preference) and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms release their liquids. Add a healthy splash of Marsala (or Madeira) wine, and, if you’d like a more deep, robust flavor, a splash of port or bourbon, and cook the sauce down. Serve over fettucine with a Caesar salad.
This dish is rich enough so that, instead of sides, you could simply add an appetizer, such as my famous endive boats, if you wish. To make endive boats, buy one or two heads of firm, fresh Belgian endive. Separate, wash, and dry each leaf. Fill each leaf with crumbled blue and/or feta and/or gorgonzola cheese, some dried cranberries (“craisins”), crumbled pecans, and fresh-cracked black pepper. Serve them up as a luscious but not too sweet or filling appetizer. Your guests will love them!
* Go Greek. Saute diced sweet onion and crushed minced garlic in extra-virgin olive oil. When the onion clarifies and the garlic is fragrant, add sliced mushrooms, broccoli florets, and/or halved thin slices of summer squash (yellow crookneck, yellow straightneck, and/or yellow and green zucchini) to taste. Saute with oregano, basil, and thyme, along with plenty of salt and pepper. Just before serving over spaghetti or fettucine, add crumbled feta cheese and green or kalamata olives.
*A Mediterranean melange. Our local farmers’ market has one of the best pan-Mediterranean stands going. I can never get enough of their tzatziki, baba ghannouj, fava bean hummus, fresh-made feta, luscious halvah, bean salads, spiral spinach-and-feta pastries in phyllo dough, you name it. But one of their dishes that I love is pasta-centric. It contains macaroni elbows, spaghetti, rice, chickpeas, lentils, and lots of crispy fried onions. Yum! I love this super-comfort food heated up with their, for lack of a better word, juicy and garlicky housemade feta, the best and freshest I’ve ever had. If you have just a little elbow macaroni, spaghetti, and rice in their respective containers, this is a delicious way to go. Otherwise, just pick one and go with it! If you can’t face crisping the onion, you can simply sautee sweet onion dice in olive oil instead. Add some sliced or diced mushrooms and take this dish to a whole new level!
If you’re lucky enough to live near a source of flavorful artisan pasta, as we are, there’s always the option of simply cooking the pasta and tossing it in butter or olive oil. Cracked pepper and salt, and maybe a few curls of grated Parmesan or aged Asiago, and you’re set! Whether you’re indulging in garlic and basil penne or harissa-infused fettucine, you’ll love the bright, vibrant flavors. Pair them with a bare-bones salad: endive, escarole, radicchio, Iceberg (to tone down the bitterness of the other greens), chopped scallions (green onion) and diced tomato or halved cherry tomatoes and a simple extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.
Yum! Happy Pasta Day!
‘Til next time,
Cold days, warm appetizers. October 23, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
Tags: fall appetizers, hot appetizers, winter appetizers
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Silence Dogood here. We’re still a week away from November, and the weather this week is dipping to 32 and 30 degrees F. at night here in our part of scenic PA. Baby, it’s cold outside!
Yes, we’ve hauled all our plants back inside or into the greenhouse, along with our earthworm composter and water-garden plants. We’ve put up our birdfeeders and cleaned out our raised beds (sob). We still have to plant our garlic and ornamental bulbs, but everything else that needs to be in the ground is there. And we’ve put the “mufflers” on our sole window a/c and our outdoor faucet.
Still, our friend Ben and I aren’t ready for freezing and sub-freezing temperatures. What happened to fall, our most treasured season, when the colors of the leaves and the clear blue of the sky combine to form an incomparable, soul-lifting beauty, when you can sit out on the deck to watch the sunset and enjoy the blaze from the firepit and not even be cold?
Brrr. Cold is certainly the operative word around here. And the last thing I want when it’s cold outside and I’m cold inside is cold food. Suddenly, the thought of gazpacho and guacamole and Caprese salad and yogurt and all those other yummy hot-season dishes give me cold chills. So you can imagine how appalled I was to turn on my computer this morning and see an article devoted to “quick, easy, no-cook” foods! Sure enough, these foods were all cold. Brrrrr!!!
It’s not that I forgo all cold foods when the temperatures drop. I simply change the focus by adding richness. I’ll happily serve cold appetizers like my famous endive boats (Belgian endive leaves stuffed with blue, feta, and/or gorgonzola cheese, craisins (dried cranberries), pecan pieces, and cracked black pepper). An assortment of cheeses, crackers, and olives is a great warm-up to a hot meal; so is cheese and crackers paired with sliced apples or dried apricots, or cheese, nuts, and dried fruit.
A crusty baguette sliced and served with dipping oil (extra-virgin olive oil infused with lots of minced fresh garlic, herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme, Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and Trocomare or RealSalt or sea salt) will warm the coldest night. But there are so many luscious hot appetizers for the cold season as well:
* Popcorn. Simple hot popcorn with melted butter and salt, or with herbs and cheese if you prefer, is a welcome cold-weather treat, especially when served with a stemaing mug of apple cider.
* Baked Brie. Oh, yum!!! Topped with pecans, with brown sugar, with orange marmalade, with pepper jelly, or with the topping of your choosing, and served up molten with a sliced baguette or table water crackers, this melt-in-your-mouth treat is irresistible.
* Fondue. Okay, I’ve never had fondue. I think it skipped my generation. But there’s a fondue restaurant in a city near us, and one day, maybe I’ll finally try it. I haven’t so far because I think of fondue as an appetizer: skewered baguette chunks dipped in melted Swiss cheese, not a meal in itself. Somehow I’d rather have slices of buttered, toasted baguette covered with melted Jarlsberg. Add some orange marmalade or apricot jam between the buttered baguette and the melted Jarlsberg and oh, my!
* Roasted veggies. Okay, here’s the simplest hot appetizer of all, because it can be made ahead. Roast a medley of veggies—thinly sliced or diced sweet onion, mushrooms, red, orange, and/or yellow bell peppers, asparagus, broccoli—with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and some fresh-cracked pepper and salt. Now you can toss them with hot penne pasta and Parmesan, stir them into a frittata, or even use them to top a pizza.
What do you enjoy when it gets cold outside?
I’ll talk about more hot food for cold nights in upcoming posts.
‘Til next time,
Upping the lasagna ante. October 17, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: healthy lasagna, homemade lasagna, lasagna, the best spaghetti sauce
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Silence Dogood here. Lasagna isn’t typically the first thing that springs to mind when you’re thinking about healthy eating. But it’s actually easy to make a lasagna that’s as good for you as it is good (without sacrificing cheese or olive oil). And the results are so delicious, you may find that lasagna is your go-to healthy meal!
It all starts with a rich, luscious spaghetti sauce. My go-to sauce includes lots of sweet onion, garlic, mushrooms, green peppers and diced zucchini sauteed in olive oil, with crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and diced fresh tomatoes (any I have on hand, including cherry tomatoes), tons of herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, etc.), salt (we like RealSalt or sea salt), and chipotle hot sauce, plus dry red wine to finish, cooked over low heat for a long, long time until it’s rich, thick, and practically caramelized.
This sauce is packed with veggies, nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories. And it’s the richest, most delicious spaghetti sauce I’ve ever eaten. (Type “spaghetti sauce” in our search bar at upper right for the full recipe.) It also makes the perfect base sauce for lasagna and pizza, so when I make it, I make sure to make plenty so I’ll have lots left over.
So you’re already starting with a super-healthy sauce for your lasagna. How else can you up the health ante? One way is to use plain Greek yogurt instead of ricotta cheese. I discovered this when I’d promised our friend Ben I’d make lasagna for supper, then discovered when I was ready to put it together that I didn’t have any ricotta, but I did have plain Greek yogurt. I decided to take a chance, and it really paid off. The yogurt was thick and creamy, not grainy like ricotta, you don’t need to add an egg, and of course the yogurt has all those good-for-you live cultures. I’ve never looked back.
I’ve also found that you can add an additional layer of veggies for an even healthier lasagna. I’ve added sauteed eggplant or blanched kale or spinach with fantastically flavorful results. Even kale-haters like OFB wolf down their servings and ask for more.
I still use plenty of shredded mozzarella and some grated Parmesan in my lasagna, and yes—I’ll admit it—”oven-ready” lasagna noodles. We don’t have a dishwasher here, and saving a big pot really makes a difference when it comes to cleanup. After a number of very disappointing tries with “quick” lasagna noodles, I’ve found that San Giorgio’s “oven-ready” lasagna pasta really holds up well. It has body, stretchiness, and some chew, just like real lasagna noodles, rather than disintegrating into the sauce during baking. (Eeeew. That’s not lasagna!)
No doubt you could make this lasagna even healthier by using multigrain or whole-wheat pasta. But frankly, my version’s healthy enough for us, and I love that the flavor and texture are so authentic and delicious. We love our lasagna with a big, crunchy salad. If OFB is craving bread with the meal, I’ll thinly slice a fresh multigrain baguette and serve it with a bowl of dipping oil made from extra-virgin olive oil, lots of fresh minced garlic, and an Italian herb mix. Yum!
‘Til next time,
Egg salad sandwiches hit the spot. October 15, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: egg salad, egg salad sandwich
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Silence Dogood here. If you’re like me, you tend to think of egg salad as summer picnic fare, something you make maybe twice a year. But everything I thought I knew about egg salad changed a couple of weeks ago when I went to a local sandwich shop.
We’re talking early October, but this shop had homemade egg salad on the menu. It looked so good, a simple mix of shredded hardboiled eggs and mayo, that I ordered an egg salad sandwich with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato and onion in a hot ciabatta roll.
Yum! What an inspired combination. The hot, crusty roll leant just the right heartiness to the luscious fillings, all of which balanced each other perfectly. Suddenly, summer’s salad had become autumn’s sandwich.
The question was, could I do this at home? Absolutely, and it was so easy. I made our friend Ben and myself a simple lunch of egg salad sandwiches with sweet potato chips and pickles this past weekend. I warmed split sections of baguette, then spread them with mayo (we like Vegenaise) and a robust mustard.
I piled on Romaine, radicchio, and shredded carrots and radishes from a bag of salad mix, added a fat slice of orange tomato, topped that with a slice of sweet onion, and then spread a thick layer of egg salad over the mustard on the other half of the baguette section. Then I slapped the halves together and served the sandwiches, chips, and pickles with fresh-pressed cider from a local orchard.
Yummmmm!!! So easy, so good, so satisfying. While those vine-ripened tomatoes are still available, I suggest that you give this a try. Picture it with a cup of hot cream of tomato soup!
‘Til next time,
Mac’n'cheese: The good, the bad, and the ugly. September 29, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: Crock-Pot macaroni and cheese, homemade macaroni and cheese, mac'n'cheese, macaroni and cheese, macaroni and cheese recipes, slow cooker macaroni and cheese, the best macaroni and cheese
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Fans of that orange-coated chemical gunk from the box (the ugly), you can stop reading now.
Silence Dogood here. It appears that those of us who love homemade macaroni and cheese fall into two very distinct categories. I realized this just this morning while reading an article on how to make “the greatest” mac’n'cheese. It involved milk, flour, and bread, and its goal was to create a milky sauce in which the macaroni swam while the breadcrumbs gave it some crunchy oomph on top.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like mixing carbs. If I’m having pasta, I don’t want breadcrumbs on top of it, much less flour in it or milk thickened with flour subbing for real cream. Yecchhh!!! And I simply hate soupy macaroni. To me, this is like making green bean casserole with a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. Eeeewww!!! There are so many great ways to make green beans, why would anyone drown them in a vat of yucky, flavor-destroying gunk?! This version of mac’n'cheese qualifies as the bad.
So let’s move on to the good, which for me involves rich, cheesy sauce enrobing the pasta, clinging to its every side, with nothing dripping off. No fillers like flour, milk, and bread. But don’t I love the crunchy topping? Of course I do! But for me, the perfect crunch comes from the buttery, cheesy topping crisped to a perfect brown.
There are plenty of casserole versions of mac’n'cheese that qualify for either version. But I owe my mac’n'cheese chops to my friend, Delilah, whose version of Crock-Pot mac’n'cheese I adapted. Crispy, crunchy, succulent, non-soupy mac’n'cheese from a slow cooker? You betcha. And it goes so well with fall dishes, it’s ridiculous. Chili or baked beans (we love Bush’s Grillin’ Beans), coleslaw or kale salad, broccoli or broccoflower, roasted or baked sweet potatoes or curried carrots, sauteed green beans (no casserole, please), oh yum. Not to mention barbecue and fried chicken, for all you meat-eaters out there.
But before we get to the recipe, I have to give you the Four Slow-Cooker Mac’n'Cheese Commandments: 1. Thou shalt not cook this dish on high or the cheese will burn. 2. Thou shalt not use sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk. 3. Thou shalt not use fresh milk, because it curdles in the Crock-Pot. 4. Thou shalt not cook this dish for more than 4 hours or the pasta will disintegrate. Okay, let’s do it!
The Best Crock-Pot Macaroni and Cheese
1-pound package of elbow macaroni, cooked al dente (I have to admit that I find that regular macaroni holds its texture better in this recipe than any of the “healthier” versions, and I keep trying different ones in the hope of proving myself wrong.)
2 12-ounce cans evaporated milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups (2 packages) shredded sharp white Cheddar (use extra-sharp if you want more flavor)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Set aside 1 cup of the Cheddar, the Parmesan, and the paprika. Stir all other ingredients together in the Crock-Pot. Top with reserved Cheddar, Parmesan, and a hearty sprinkling of paprika to give the top a lovely warm color. Cook on low 3 to 4 hours. I like to cook it for the full 4 hours for a crunchier crust.
That’s all there is to it, and boy, is it delicious! Of course, you’re free to try your own variations once you’ve enjoyed the basic recipe. And if you have a favorite mac’n'cheese of your own, please share it with us. Maybe some day we’ll do a Great Mac’n'Cheese Cookoff!
‘Til next time,
The best meatless lasagna and pizza. September 23, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: spaghetti sauce, the best vegetarian lasagna, the best vegetarian pizza, uses for spaghetti sauce, vegetarian lasagna, vegetarian pizza, vegetarian spaghetti sauce, veggie pizza
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Silence Dogood here. I make an absolutely primo vegetarian spaghetti sauce, jam-packed with veggies (sweet onions, mushrooms, garlic, bell peppers, diced zucchinis) and slowly cooked to rich, caramelized greatness with extra-virgin olive oil, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, a splash of hot sauce, plenty of herbs (basil, thyme, oregano) and salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare) and fresh-cracked pepper. Not to mention the two “secret ingredients,” a red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon poured in a circle around the top of the sauce, then stirred in, and a generous dash of sugar to deepen the flavor. (Search “spaghetti sauce” on our search bar at upper right to find the recipe, or just wing it.)
Yum! But, being me, I always make a big Dutch oven of sauce. Even if our friend Ben and I share it with our Friday Night Supper Club, we inevitably come home with a vat of leftover sauce. We love this luscious, warming spaghetti sauce, but, er, we don’t want to eat it day after day. I’ve found two answers to this problem: pizza and lasagna.
You might not immediately think of putting spaghetti sauce on a pizza, but it works perfectly. You already have an incredibly rich, flavorful, veggie-filled sauce. You’ve already done all the work. Now it’s time to take it easy and enjoy! I buy a ready-made crust and a jar or container of pesto, plus shredded mozzarella. When it’s pizza time, I spread the pesto over the crust, top it with my spaghetti sauce, top that with the mozzarella, sprinkle on more dried basil, oregano, and thyme (and crushed red pepper flakes if our heat-loving friends are coming for supper), and pop it into the oven.
Boy, talk about a great, easy meal. Throw a crunchy salad together, pass out the goblets of Cabernet (or iced tea or “fizzy water”), and you’re done!
But let’s talk about lasagna, the other great way to use up extra spaghetti sauce so you’re not faced with “What, spaghetti again?”
I’ve ranted before about how much I hate the so-called “vegetarian lasagna” you’re invariably faced with in restaurants, which is veggies in a white sauce with lasagna noodles. What on earth does this have to do with lasagna? Marinara sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella is both vegetarian and authentic, so why don’t they ever offer that?
Fortunately, if you make your own spaghetti sauce, you can have luscious lasagna that tastes like lasagna, not pasta primavera. And I’ve discovered three tricks to make it even more delicious.
First, make it easy. Use San Giorgio “oven-ready” lasagna noodles so you don’t have to boil the pasta before assembling the lasagna.
Next, replace the ricotta with plain Greek yogurt. I discovered this when I wanted to make lasagna and realized that I didn’t have any ricotta, but had a big carton of plain Greek yogurt. Gulp, I thought, I guess I’ll just try this and see what happens. It was the best lasagna I ever ate! The creamy Greek yogurt was perfect, with all those good probiotics and none of the graininess of ricotta. (Eeeww, sorry, texture-sensitive.)
My final trick was to add eggplant. It happened because I had some slim oriental eggplants on hand and needed to use them. I’d planned to roast them and add them to the lasagna, but was short on time, so I thinly sliced them and sauteed them in olive oil instead, then layered them on top of the spaghetti sauce layer in the lasagna.
Oh, boy! They added meaty richness to the lasagna and made it so incredible I’ve never looked back. Rich, chunky, veggie-filled spaghetti sauce, cooked slowly and given plenty of time to develop its flavors. Sauteed eggplant. Greek yogurt. Mozzarella. Try this and see, it’s so amazing. Go for it!
‘Til next time,