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Friday, February 26, 2010

Romanesco Lasagna

Now THIS is the ultimate comfort food. Who doesn't like lasagna? And who doesn't like it with creamy butternut squash and tangy goat cheese? Not to mention it's namesake, Romanesco sauce. Have you heard of it? Also known as "Romesco" sauce, it originates from Spain and is a thick sauce with roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and almonds. I first had it at Veggie Planet in Boston on a pizza. It has a sweet-spicy flavor that's amazing. Mmmm...I could go on and on about how wonderful this lasagna is, but I better just give you the recipe. I've been perfecting it for weeks (we've had lasagna 3 times in the past month). It's a bit involved, but definitely worth it.

Ingredients for Romanesco Sauce

1 cup bread crumbs
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and seeded*
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, or 4 small vine tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Ingredients for Lasagna

Whole wheat lasagna pasta
1 batch Romanesco sauce (recipe above)
1 bunch collard greens
1 large butternut squash
1 head cauliflower
1 large log goat cheese (about 1 cup, packed -- Trader Joe's has a great price on goat cheese)
1-2 cups plain, low-fat yogurt


1) Roast butternut squash. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds and pulp. Place cut-side-up onto an oiled baking sheet and bake for 45-50 minutes. Cool for a bit and then peel or cut the skin off. Cut the squash into small, flat pieces. (This step can be done a couple days ahead, if necessary.)

2) Roast cauliflower. Rinse and chop cauliflower into small, flat pieces. Place onto an oiled baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring halfway through. Feel free to put in the oven at the same time as the butternut squash, but try not to block the heat if you put it on the bottom rack. (This step can be done a couple days ahead, if necessary.)

3) Make Romanesco sauce. Toast raw slivered almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 300 degree oven for 5-10 minutes (I usually do this step in the toaster oven, since the squash and the cauliflower are in the regular oven. You can also toast them in a dry pan over medium heat). Monitor them closely so they don't burn. You'll know they're done when you start to really smell them. Combine Romanesco ingredients in a blender (with wet ingredients at the bottom), and blend well. Set aside. (This step can be done a couple days ahead, if necessary.)

4) Make pasta. Follow directions for your brand of whole wheat lasagna pasta. Plan this step so that you're ready to build your lasagna soon after the pasta is done cooking; otherwise, the pasta will stick together and make it difficult to assemble.

5) Steam greens. Rinse and pat dry your collard greens. Chop them into ribbons. Boil about 1 inch of water in a pot and place the greens in a steamer basket on top. Greens will wilt in less than 5 minutes. Test them out to make sure they're not too crispy or too mushy. Set aside.

6) Build your lasagna. In a rectangular glass casserole dish, spread just a bit of Romanesco sauce and yogurt on the bottom of the dish. Line pasta on top. Drop small mounds of Romanesco sauce and yogurt onto the pasta and spread out with the back of a spoon. Scatter with squash, cauliflower, and greens. Sprinkle with chunks of goat cheese. Repeat with more pasta, sauce, veggies, and cheese until it's all assembled. Save some sauce and goat cheese to sprinkle on the very top.

7) Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Cover loosely with foil toward the end if the top is getting too brown. (This lasagna can been assembled and frozen. To freeze, assemble lasagna and do not bake. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil. When ready to bake, let thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours. You may need to bake for an extra 15 minutes, since the lasagna will be cold before going into the oven).

*You can also roast your own red peppers. See this previous post to learn how.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Spicy Ginger Tea

This lovely tea recipe was inspired by my childhood friend Rachael. She told me to boil ginger root and cinnamon sticks – it smells amazing and makes a great tea. So I tried it and, over time, perfected the proportions and added some honey. Now, at home, I’ll say to Justin “I’m going to make ginger tea, do you want some?” “Oooh, yeah!” he always says. Enjoy this tea during the last cold days of winter.

Spicy Ginger Tea
Makes 2 servings

4 cups water
Scant quarter cup of roughly chopped ginger root
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons honey

1) Combine ginger root, cinnamon stick, and water in a pot and bring to a boil.

2) Reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes.

3) Add 1 tablespoon of honey to two mugs. Pour the tea through a fine mesh sieve evenly into the two mugs. Stir and enjoy!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kale Salad

Sometimes mistakes in the kitchen turn out wonderfully well. I had bought kale to go in a soup recipe and collard greens to use as a side dish for something else. I got confused, however, and ended up using the collard greens in the soup. It was no big deal for the soup, but I didn’t want to use the kale in the side dish recipe that was meant for collard greens. What to do? Justin suggested we use the kale as a side dish for our lunches that week. Great idea. I had been trying to perfect a kale salad off and on, and I figured this was the opportunity to try again.

Pear and Provolone Panini

This sandwich has only three ingredients (four, if you include the canola oil). When you think about it, I guess, there are quite a few sandwiches that only have three ingredients or less: peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, BLT, tomato and mayo…but rarely does one come across a three-ingredient sandwich that is so pleasing in flavor, so enjoyable, so complete, that it lacks nothing. After those high descriptors, I really hope you like this sandwich.

Before you dive right in and throw it on the George Foreman, let me warn you: the type of bread you use is EVERYTHING. The first time I made this, it was on When Pigs Fly Harvest Bread (all you New Englanders, use this for the panini). It has just the right amount of chewy-crispy texture. The second time, I used Nature’s Promise Granola Bread from the grocery store. The flavor was not bad, but the texture left much to be desired. It wasn’t chewy enough, and it quickly dried out on the grill. The third time around, I used Cranberry Pecan bread that I bought at the Mill Valley General Store in Baltimore. This was just as good as the first round, so I’m sticking with it. Look for bakery-quality bread that has whole grains and, ideally, dried fruit and nuts. Texture is everything: don’t settle for everyday bread with lots of preservatives on the ingredients list. Use fresh and store it in the refrigerator if you don’t think you can use it before it spoils. Toasted, you won’t even be able to tell it was once refrigerated.

Ok, now, enough about the perfect bread. The good news is you can use normal provolone cheese and normal pears (though I used red, because they look nicer in the sandwich). You can also prepare the Panini in a variety of ways. I used a mini George Foreman Grill to get the nice char marks on the bread. You can also make the sandwich in a grill pan on the stove, toast the bread separate and then zap the whole thing in the microwave, or assemble the sandwich and toast it in a toaster oven.

Pear and Provolone Panini
Makes 2 sandwiches

4 slices high quality whole grain bread that contains dried fruit and nuts
1 ripe, red pear
4 slices provolone cheese
Canola oil

1) Heat a George Foreman Grill and spray or brush lightly with canola oil.

2) Place 1 slice of provolone cheese on 1 slice of bread. Thinly slice half of the pear and arrange on top of the cheese. Place the other slice of cheese on the pears, and cover with a piece of bread. Repeat for the second sandwich.

3) Place sandwiches on the George Foreman Grill and close. Let grill for a couple of minutes and then turn the sandwiches around so that each end gets grilled evenly. Cook for about 1 minute longer.

4) Cut sandwiches in half and serve with Kale Salad, if desired. What a simple meal!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Eggplant Curry

I've been meaning to post this recipe for weeks. This and other delicious recipes that I've created (from my head, not from a cookbook! I'm always thrilled when that happens!). Things have been rather busy for me and Justin, since we just bought a house. The moving and unpacking took up a lot of time, and now I'm very focused on making the house into a home. (The kitchen was the first room to get unpacked, surprise, surprise.) So, while I've still been cooking every week, I haven't had as much time to post the results. Hopefully this will be the start of more regular posts.

Anyways, Happy February everyone. This is the month when it's still cold and snowy (even in Baltimore, we just got about 6 inches of snow) and everyone starts to get really antsy for Spring. This Eggplant Curry recipe is a tribute to the still-cold weather. The not-too-spicy combination of yummy seasonings, chewy eggplant, and crunchy cashews (my only addition to the recipe) makes me feel cozy inside and helps me to enjoy the last remnants of winter. Served over brown rice, it's a complete meal, although some cool yogurt or fruit on the side would complement it very well.

The recipe comes from The New Moosewood Cookbook, by Mollie Katzen. The cookbook was a surprise gift from my dear cousin Stephanie. She received a copy for Christmas, and it reminded her of me, so she sent me one too! I was so touched when I opened the surprise package that I hugged the cookbook and said something along the lines of, "I love vegetables!" Laugh if you will, but this vegetarian Moosewood Cookbook is brimming with delicious ways of cooking with vegetables and starring them as the main dish. There are so many amazing spice combinations, veggie medleys, grains, and soups that it's hard to know where to begin. Even better, The New Moosewood Cookbook is done entirely in Mollie's (legible) hand print complete with whimsical drawings and designs. I feel happy when I open it.

Do you have a favorite cookbook that you just love to browse through? Or do you have a faithful standby that you can always count on? Tell me about it! In the meantime, onto the recipe.

Eggplant Curry
Makes about 6 servings

2 cups dry brown rice
4 cups water

2-3 tablespoons butter or peanut oil
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds (I used regular ground cumin, and it worked fine)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (I used about 1/2 teaspoon, and it was nice and spicy)
2 medium eggplants (8 inches long with 4-inch diameter at roundest point) cut into 1-inch cubes
water, as needed
2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
1/2 - 1 cup roasted cashews
1/2 -1 cup minced cilantro (optional)

1) Cook the rice in a rice cooker, or add water and brown rice to a pot, bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer for about 40 minutes, until all the water is absorbed (try not to check it too early, or it will slow down the process).

2) Heat butter or oil over medium heat in large, deep skillet or Dutch oven. Add seeds and saute for about 5 minutes until they begin to pop.

3) Add onion, salt, turmeric, and cayenne. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent.

4) Add eggplant. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring from the bottom regularly, until the eggplant is soft. Cover the pan between stirrings. (This is where the water comes in - if the mixture is too dry, add a bit of water.)

5) Steam the peas in a separate pot until they are just tender and bright green. Add to the eggplant mixture. Serve the curry over brown rice topped with cilantro and cashews.