sometimes it’s worth it

 

It was during a snow storm two weeks ago, when mom and I went grocery shopping together.

You should know that this is an entirely rare moment.  Something that doesn’t typically happen.  Something that we don’t typically LET happen.

 

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Why, you ask?

Well, for starters, we tend to over discuss certain things.  One hour shopping trips easily turn into three.  Because, as you know, the choice of apples and cereals and coffee is of no simple matter.

And then there’s the thing with looking at the final grocery bill.  It seems to mysteriously tally up just a little bit higher when we’re together (kind of like when my sister and I shop for hair products together at Target, but that’s another story for another day.)  😉

There’s also the issue of neither of us ever really being able to agree on just one thing.  Mr. Indecisiveness always get in the way.  (Come to think of it, this probably explains the grocery bill!!)   

 

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One things for sure.  In my family, nobody will ever disagree with cheese.  Or noodles and sauce, for that matter.

Nobody ever disagrees with lasagna.

 

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Rich, meaty lasagnas are nice.  And yet, I find myself always going back to the vegetarian lasagna.  I find them to be much more simple and laid back—in a classic, purist kind of way.  They don’t feel at all heavy like some of the more meaty lasagnas.  Best of all, they leave all of the bragging rights to the cheese and veggies.  Front.and.center.

I kind of like that about the vegetarian lasagna. 

 

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Over dinner, mom and I both agreed that it was worth buying the magazine. 

Worth making the vegetarian lasagna. 

Worth going grocery shopping together, every now and then. 

Because sometimes, those three hour shopping trips are—you know—totally worth it.

 

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Kale Lasagna Diavolo—as seen in the Vegetarian Times Magazine
(serves 6-8)

We chose not to change much from the original recipe, other then substituting whole wheat noodles, and adding in three extra noodles.  The original recipe calls for pureed tomatoes, but feel free to use crushed.  Or, partially crush a can of diced tomatoes.  Play around with the different textures, to see what you like.  Also, although the recipe calls for kale, you could easily substitute spinach.  Just be sure to increase the portion used, as cooked spinach will greatly reduce once it’s cooked.

This meal is best served with a large side salad.  And, perhaps, if you really want to go all out, serve this meal with some thick slices of warmed garlic bread.  This meal will leave even veggie haters begging for more. Enjoy! 😀

  • 1 tsp. olive oil, plus more for oiling pan
  • 1 8-oz. bunch kale, stems removed
  • 1 15-oz. pkg fat free ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz. soft goat cheese, softened
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups prepared tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes)
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 9 whole wheat lasagna noodles
  • 1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Coat 8-inch square baking pan with oil. 
  2. Cook kale in large pot of boiling salted water 2 minutes.  Drain, and rinse under cold water until cool enough to handle.  Thoroughly wring out kale, then chop.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.  Set aside.
  3. Mash together ricotta and goat in bowl, set aside.
  4. Heat 1 tsp oil in small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add garlic, and cook 15 seconds or until fragrant.  Add tomato puree and red pepper flakes.  Simmer 5 minutes, or until thickened.  Taste, and add extra seasonings and garlic as preferred.
  5. Spread 1/4 c. sauce in prepared baking pan.  Place 3 lasagna noodles on top of sauce.  Top with half of cheese mixture, half of kale and 1/3 c. sauce.  Top with three more noodles, remaining cheese and remaining kale.  Top with remaining lasagna noodles, and cover with remaining sauce.  Sprinkle with Parmesan, and bake 40 minutes, or until cheese has melted and lasagna is bubbly.  ENJOY!

Question: Do you enjoy reading magazines?  What are some of your favorites?  I regularly read Real Simple, Runners World, Bon Appetit, Eating Well, and Self.  There are a few others that catch my eye as well, here and there.  As of right now, I’m seriously considering a subscription to Vegetarian Times. 😀

stuffed to the gills.

Sometimes—when I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed, tired, or downright cranky—it feels good to chop an onion.

A lot has been happening these past few weeks.  Nothing really, really bad.  And nothing too crazy either.  Just—a lot.  I’m realizing that the weekends aren’t enough to bring me back to normal, and so I’ve been relying on my sharpest kitchen knives and a few good recipes, as my greatest form of stress management. 😉

Tonight I felt like making stuffed vegetarian peppers.

I’ve been wanting to make stuffed peppers for some time now.  Hesitation is what has held me back for so long.  Thoughts of my mom’s famous hamburg stuffed peppers, lingering in the back of my mind.  Memories of a recipe that was handed down from my mom’s mom’s mom, to my mom’s mom, and then to my mom (and eventually to me.)  That’s kind of a lot of pressure to put on a girl.

But I decided, after all, that I still wanted a vegetarian stuffed pepper to call my own.  And if I found a recipe that was unique enough, it could become a new recipe to add to my collection.  Not a replacement.  Never a replacement.  I’m sure the long line of French Canadian women wouldn’t mind hearing that I experimented in the kitchen (although there may be a few eyebrows raised at the idea of having a meatless meal!)  😉

To find a well deserving recipe, I pulled out my stack of magazines.  That’s when I stumbled across a Vegetarian Times Magazine, which proudly boasted pictures of stuffed peppers, smothered in a rich cheddar cheese.  I had all the ingredients on hand to make such a pepper.  It was obviously meant to be.

Recipe? Found.  Cooking utensils? Ready.  Apron? On.  Stress Management Class may now commence.

By this point in the recipe, you’ll have an onion and two stalks of celery simmering in a bit of olive oil on the stove.  For about 5 minutes or so.  The cumin and garlic are then added for a minute more of cooking (thanks to an informative reader for letting me know that this short duration of heat upon spice really does intensify the flavors…)

Moving on.  Drain the juice from 2 cans of diced tomatoes, but save it for later.  You’ll see why, later on in the recipe.

Add the diced tomatoes and 10-oz. of dethawed & drained frozen spinach to your onion mixture.

(I probably failed to mention this earlier, but you’ll also want to have a pot of brown rice going at this time, unless you’re taking the quinoa route (see recipe below for the details!) 

Meanwhile, grate 3 large carrots.  If you’re like me, you’ll want to peel an extra one for munching. 😉

Mix all ingredients together.

(All Ingredients = Cooked brown rice.  Spinach.  Tomatoes.  Black beans.  Carrots.  Cheese.)

Stir, Stir, Stir.

I’m pretty sure that any leftover filling (because this recipe does make extra filling) will find its way into a tortilla wrap or atop a salad.  The flavor is superb.

But a wrap or a salad was not meant for tonight.  Tonight, I forged ahead and decided to stick completely to the written recipe, halving and coring the freshest bell peppers that I could find, and stuffing them to the gills. 

After the procedure of stuffing the peppers was finished, I covered them with a tight seal of foil, popped them in a 350 degree oven, turned the timer to an hour and then I did something that I never do.

I left my mess behind.

Washing dishes is a little like brushing my teeth.  I can’t not do it immediately after a meal. 

But I came to the conclusion that the dishes could wait.  The sunshine could not.  So with an hours worth of time, I went for a walk.  And I’d recommend you do the same if you have a spare 30 minutes or so before your next meal.  It felt absolutely luxurious. 😀

When I strolled back in, there was a good 15 minutes left on the timer. 

Just enough time to melt a bit of cheddar cheese on top of the peppers.  Just enough time to braise some brussels sprouts.  Just enough time to get those dishes done and out of the way. 😀

The meal was fabulous and earned tablewide compliments.  The flavors were very complex and came together beautifully.  Next time I may try adding some salsa to the mix, or a jalapeno for some x-tra spice. 

Needless to say, I’ll be making these again. 

(Especially since they pack up nicely for next-day-lunches!)

Stuffed Peppers
Vegetarian Times, February 2009—plus some minor tweaking

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 celery stalks, finely choped
  • 1 T. cround cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1, 10-oz. package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2-15 oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
  • 1-15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 c. quinoa (OR, cook 1 c. dry rice as directed on package)
  • 3 large carrots, grated
  • 1-1/2 c. grated, reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 4 large red, green or yellow bell peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs removed

1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and celery, cook 5 minutes or until soft.  Add cumin and garlic, saute 1 minute.  Stir in spinach and drained tomatoes.  Cook 5 minutes, or until most of liquid has evaporated.

2. If using quinoa: Stir in black beans, quinoa, carrots, and 2 c. water.  Cover, bring to a boil for 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes or until quinoa is tender.  Stir in 1 c. cheese.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
If using rice: Stir in black beans, cooked rice, and carrots.  Stir, reduce heat to low and stir in cheese.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

3. Preheat oven to 350F.  Pour liquid from tomatoes in bottom of baking dish.

4. Fill each bell pepper half with heaping 3/4-cup quinoa or rice mixture, and place in baking dish.  Cover with foil, and bake 1 hour.  Uncover, and sprinkle each pepper with 1 T. remaining cheese.  Bake 15 minutes more, or until tops of stuffed peppers are browned.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Transfer stuffed peppers to serving plates, and drizzle each with pan juices before serving.

Today’s Challenge: Do something that you really love and enjoy, as a form of “stress management.”  Go for a walk.  Brush your cat.  Paint your nails.  Bake some muffins.  Look through old pictures.  Make a cup of tea and do absolutely nothing for 15 minutes…(what is your favorite stress buster?)

getting back on the horse

I still remember my first experience with cooking chicken.  The recipe revolved around coconut milk, jarred bell peppers, hot red pepper flakes, and—of course—chicken.  There were other ingredients too, but these were the key components.

I thought the dish sounded divine.  I thought the dish smelled divine.  I thought the dish was the most heavenly thing on earth.  Until I took my first bite.

Somewhere along the line, I had forgotten the salt and added in sugar.  It was intensely sweet, and not in any sort of good way.  Think of what cotton candy would taste like with your favorite chicken dish, and you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.  I quickly dumped the contents of my frying pan, vowing that never again would I make chicken. 

But really, who was I fooling?  My parents raised me to get back on that horse, and so I did. 

My second experience with chicken resulted in a masterpiece.  I’m convinced that stuffing a chicken warrants you an instant gourmet status, whether or not you spent hours (or +dollars) on the dish.  Despite being one of the simplest chicken recipes I’ve made, this chicken has the persona of being all fancy schmancy.  It does not, however, come along with a hefty price tag of ingredients, nor does it demand that you spend hours upon hours in the kitchen. 

This dish will always hold a special spot in my file of recipes, both for being irresistibly delicious and for being my first successful attempt with chicken  The family loves it too, which is just another added bonus. 

I bet you will too. 😀

Spinach-Stuffed Chicken Breasts
As seen in “Health” magazine (with minor tweaking 😉 )

  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • black pepper
  • 1 (10-oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
  • 4 medium skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 3 oz. bottled roasted red bell peppers, divided
  • 1 T. butter, melted
  • 1/4 c. Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs (I made my own with whole wheat bread, toasted until dry in oven, processed, and mixed with Italian seasoning)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, oregano, salt, crushed red pepper, and black pepper; cook and stir until onion is soft (about 5 minutes.)  Remove from heat and add spinach, stirring to combine; set aside.
  3. Cut chicken breasts in half horizontally, using a sharp knife.  Place bottom halves of breasts in a 9×9-inch baking dish, setting top halves aside.  Divide spinach filling evenly among breasts; top each portion with one-fourth of roasted red peppers and replace top halves of breasts.
  4. Brush top half of each chicken breast with melted butter; sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Add 1/4 c. water (avoiding breadcrumbs) to baking dish and bake for 40 minutes or until chicken is completely cooked.
  5. ENJOY! 😀

Question: Have you ever made a big mistake in following a recipe?  Did it still come out *good* or did it taste horribly wrong?  I’m pretty sure mistaking sugar for salt or vice versa will never result in a good thing. 😉