CHEESE LASAGNA – So Good, It’s Hard To Stop!!!

lasagna1 textLasagna is one of those dishes that’s good on many levels: it’s easy to put together, it’s a potluck favorite, it can be made ahead of time, and it’s fabulous leftover.

Queen Of Freeze Tip #1 – I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the marinara sauce can be doubled, tripled, or more, then frozen in portions for future use. I was recently able to extra-quickly make Cheese Lasagna because I already had some marinara in the freezer. However, try the sauce first before increasing the amount – to be sure you like it.

Queen Of Freeze Tip #2 – Save the extra tomato paste in mounds of 1 tablespoons on waxed paper, and place in freezer.  When frozen, store in freezer container for future use.

CHEESE LASAGNA – makes one 9″x13″ casserole

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1½ tsp sugar
  • 1 onion (about 1½ cups), chopped
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 42 oz canned whole tomatoes (1 28 oz can, & 1  14 oz can)
  • 6 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, shredded, divided
  • 8 oz whole milk cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/8 tsp cornstarch, divided
  • 14 curly edged dried lasagna noodles
  • 2 cups Italian Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

To make the marinara, put the olive oil, sugar, onion, red pepper flakes, oregano, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large saucepan (so it doesn’t splatter).  Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.lasagna prep8Remove and discard the stem ends, peels, and any imperfections from canned tomatoes. Pulse in food processor or chop by hand. Add to onion mixture along with tomato paste, and 1/2 cup Pecorino (1 1/4 oz). Bring to boil, then lower flame to keep a simmer for 20 minutes UNcovered.lasagna prep15Boil at least 4 cups of water. Place dried noodles in 9″x13″ casserole dish. When water is boiling, pour over noodles so they’re immersed. Gyrate them so they don’t stick. Let set 15 minutes to parcook.lasagna prep10While the noodles are softening and the sauce is cooking, mix together cottage cheese, 4 oz (1½ cups) Pecorino, cream, garlic, remaining 1/4 tsp salt, pepper, and 1 tsp cornstarch. Set aside.lasagna prep16When 15 minutes for the noodles is up, place them on tea towels in a single layer. Pat tops to dry. Cut 2 of them in half widthwise (so they’re each about 5″ long).  Empty and dry casserole dish.lasagna prep11Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

To assemble lasagna:

LAYER ONE: Spread 1½ cups marinara sauce on bottom. lasagna prep4Lay 3 long noodles, all touching the same short side of casserole. Take one of the short noodles and lay it along the opposite short side. (This will fill in the gap.) lasagna prep5Carefully spread half of the cottage cheese mixture over noodles. Sprinkle on 1/2 cup Fontina.lasagna prep6LAYER TWO: Place 3 long noodles on top, this time touching the opposite short side. Take 1 short noodle and place it along the other short side of casserole. lasagna prep3Pour and spread 1½ cups sauce. Sprinkle on 1/2 cup Fontina.lasagna prep13LAYER THREE: Place 3 long noodles on top, touching the same side as layer one, followed by (you guessed it) 1 short noodle on the opposite side. lasagna prep14Spread on the remaining cottage cheese mixture and sprinkle with 1/2 cup Fontina.lasagna prep2TOP LAYER: Place 3 long noodles touching the same side as layer two, and the remaining short piece on opposite side. lasagna prep7Pour on remaining marinara sauce. With your fingers, mix together the remaining 1/2 cup Fontina with 1/8 tsp cornstarch. Sprinkle on top of sauce. Finally, sprinkle on remaining Pecorino.lasagna prep17Cover with foil and bake at 375ºF for 35 minutes. Increase oven to 500ºF and remove foil. Bake 10 minutes more. Remove from oven and let lasagna rest on stovetop at least 20 minutes to set. Sprinkle on basil.lasagna prep1

 

TOFU VEGETABLE CURRY: Filling, Flavorful, & Low In Calories!!!

tofu veg curry1 text

I love vegetarian curry dishes! The warm spices wake up your mouth, it fills you up, and – best of all – they’re low in calories! Without the rice, TOFU VEGETABLE CURRY is about 200 calories per cup. Yay!

TOFU VEGETABLE CURRY also has the benefit of being easy and fairly quick to prepare – about 40 minutes total (and the last 15 minutes are hands off simmering).

If you’ve already glanced at the recipe below, you may be leery of making it due to the long list of ingredients. Fear not! Notice that most of them are spices. If you’ve been cooking for awhile then you may already have many, if not all – they’re very common in cooking.

Note:  If you prefer, you can substitute 2 T garam masala spice blend for the first 10 ingredients.  Then start with the chili powder.

Additional Note: Don’t skip the cream – it truly makes all the difference in the world. (There’s only 1/4 cup in the whole batch anyway.)

TOFU VEGETABLE CURRY – makes about 8 cups

  • 1 T coriander
  • 1¼ tsp cumin
  • 3/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1/2 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 4 T vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 cups  onions, chopped
  • 1 cup red potatoes (or Yukon gold), unpeeled and cubed into 1/2″ pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 serrano chili, minced
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 14 oz canned whole tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 15 oz can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • 6 oz extra firm tofu, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1½ tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1½ cup green peas
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Have all ingredients prepped, in order to speed things up.

Place a small bowl near the stove. Into a dry Dutch oven add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, mustard, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cayenne, and chili powder. Turn flame on to medium/high. Stir constantly for 1 minute – you’re toasting the spices. You’ll notice a puff of smoke at about the 1 minute mark. Immediately empty the spices into the bowl and set aside.

Into the now empty Dutch oven add 3 T oil, onions, and potatoes. Sauté over medium/high until browned – about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.

Shove the onions and potatoes to the edge of the pot. Into the center place the remaining 1 T oil, garlic, serrano, and tomato paste. Over medium flame stir just the tomato paste mixture for 1 minute to bloom them. Then stir the onions/potatoes and tomato paste mixture together, cooking an additional 2 minutes.

Add in the cauliflower and cook 2 more minutes, stirring often.

Pour in the canned tomatoes, water, chickpeas, sugar, and salt. Bring to boil, cover, then turn down heat to keep a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.

Stir in the peas and cream. Serve as is, or over rice with NAAN BREAD (which I prefer!).

CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES: They’re Delicious All Day Long!

cheesy brunch potatoes textI’m a fan of potatoes – dressed up or dressed down, they’re pretty much always good. I’m, also, a fan of brunch….only for dinner. So CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES is an Antonini family favorite evening meal.

Served with a vegetable, salad, and a yogurt shake, you’ve got yourself a fast, filling, and kid-friendly meal.

CHEESY BRUNCH POTATOES – serves about 6 (unless you have teenagers – then it’s 2)

  • 1½ lbs red potatoes (Yukon gold potatoes are fine, too – just not russet)
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1¼ cup jalapeño jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup medium cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2-3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup avocado, cubed

Get a pot of salted water boiling. Cut unpeeled potatoes into 3/4″ cubes. potatoes choppedWhen water reaches boil, drop in potatoes and cook about 5 minutes – just to par-cook them. potatoes boiled(You don’t want them completely cooked or they’ll start to mash when fried.) Pour into sieve to drain.

In a large nonstick skillet (at least 12″), melt butter over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, flipping them with non-metal spatula every few minutes. After about 5 minutes add in the onions (they cook faster than the potatoes – you don’t want to burn them). potatoes onions friedContinue flipping until the potatoes are browned. potatoes onions fried2Turn off flame.

Stir in salt and cheeses to blend. Gently fold in tomatoes and avocado. Add salt and pepper, if desired.brunch potatoes beauty

CRISPY EGGPLANT PARMESAN: New And Improved!!!

eggplant parm textPreviously, I posted an Eggplant Parmesan recipe made in the traditional manner:  coated fried eggplant, slathered with marinara sauce, and topped with mozzarella. This was baked to fully cook the eggplant and melt the cheese. What I ended up with was mushy eggplant, soggy crust, bland marinara, and rubbery mozzarella. I knew no different.

Until I watched an America’s Test Kitchen episode where they made Chicken Parmesan. Significant changes were made, thus producing a crispy crust, fresh-tasting marinara, and melty cheese. Of course, I substituted eggplant for the chicken.

What changes, you ask? They used panko crumbs in lieu of bread crumbs for a crunchy coat. They cut the mozzarella with Italian Fontina to achieve a nice melt without being rubbery.  They added the marinara sauce at the end to retain the fresh tomato taste and crispy crust. And, finally, they didn’t bake the heck out of it – in fact, they merely broiled it enough to melt the cheese. Brilliant!!!

NOTE:  A Queen Of Freeze time-saving tip is to double or triple the marinara recipe. Then freeze it in portions for future use. Don’t add the basil before freezing, though – it will lose it’s potency.

CRISPY EGGPLANT PARMESAN

  • 2 eggplants (about 1½ pounds total)
  • kosher salt
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano, divided
  • 1/8 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped (discard stem ends & peels)
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 2 T  fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 c panko crumbs
  • 3/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 T flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup Italian Fontina cheese

Remove ends of unpeeled eggplants and discard. Cut into 3/4″ pieces. Lay rounds on a wire rack and sprinkle 1/8 tsp of kosher salt on each side of slices. Set aside for 20 minutes to allow the salt to draw out water from the eggplant. eggplant salt sprinklePrepare the marinara:  In a saucepan, heat 1 T olive oil. Add in the garlic, 1/4 tsp table salt, 1/4 tsp oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 30 seconds to bloom. Add the canned tomatoes and sugar. Bring to simmer and cook 20 minutes, uncovered. Stir now and then. After 20 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the basil and remaining 1 T olive oil. Set aside.marinaraIn a bowl, mix together panko, Parmesan, garlic powder, 1/4 tsp oregano, and pepper. Pour onto a large plate.

Using a spoon, mix together the flour and egg, smashing out the flour lumps as best you can. Pour onto a large plate.

Wipe down both sides of eggplant slices with paper towel to remove excess salt. Heat several tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium/high heat. Dredge eggplant slices first into egg (both sides),eggplant dipped in eggand then into panko mix (both sides)eggplant dipped in pankoPlace into skillet, frying both sides to golden brown.eggplant friedPlace eggplant on a broiler pan and preheat broiler with rack in upper third of oven.

Combine Fontina and mozzarella. Sprinkle cheese on eggplant. Broil about 3 minutes, until cheese is melted.eggplant melted cheeseTo serve, top with marinara. Sprinkle on additional basil, if desired.eggplant parm cropped

GIAMBOTTA – Low Cal Doesn’t Have To Mean Low Flavor!

giabotta2-textIt’s that time of year again when spring is just beyond the horizon. Soon we’ll be able to leave the house without bulky sweaters and coats. This means, of course, we won’t be able to hide those holiday pounds anymore.

Soooo, let’s do something about it NOW!

Just because I’m slimming down doesn’t mean I’m about to sacrifice taste. There are plenty of delicious meals one can prepare to keep the calories at bay. Giambotta is one such recipe. It’s a delicious stew that’s quick to put together and makes enough to last for several days.

GIAMBOTTA – makes about 9 cups (I forgot to measure)

  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 lb russet potatoes, chopped into 1/2″ cubes (don’t peel)
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 zucchinis
  • 6 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1  1/3 cup fresh basil, divided (USE FRESH!)
  • 1 T dried oregano (or 1/3 cup fresh)
  • 6 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • optional:  hard cheese such as Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan, grated

TIP: Don’t leave out the tomato paste – it adds flavor.  You may be reluctant to open a can for just 1 tablespoon.  As Queen Of Freeze, my advice is to spoon out 1 tablespoon mounds of the remaining tomato paste onto a piece of waxed paper and freeze.  Once frozen, roll the waxed paper around the paste blobs and place in a freezer bag.  That way you’ll have tomato paste for future recipes.

Cut unpeeled eggplant into 1/2″ cubes. Place in a sieve and sprinkle on 1½ tsp of the salt. Toss cubes and salt together with your hands. The salt will draw out some of the water from the eggplant. Let drain for about 1/2 hour.

While eggplant is draining, chop the tomatoes, discarding the stem ends and any peels or imperfections. Also, chop the onion and potato.

Into a Dutch oven, heat 2 T of the olive oil over medium/high heat. Add in the drained eggplant, onion, and potatoes. Sauté until potatoes just start to brown – about 7 minutes. Lower flame to medium and shove the veggies to the sides of the pot, leaving the center empty. Place the tomato paste in empty center and pour 1 T olive oil over it. Cook this mixture 2 minutes in the center, stirring often. This will bring out the flavor the tomato.

After cooking the paste, stir it into the veggies. Pour in 2 cups of water, scraping up the fond (the burnt bits stuck to the bottom of the pot). Add in the tomatoes (including the juice) and bring to boil. Cover pot and lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cook 20-25 minutes, just until potatoes are done (test by poking with fork).

While this is cooking, chop the zucchinis and bell peppers. Set aside.

Chop the basil and make a paste by mixing 1/3 cup basil (save the remaining 1 cup for later) with the oregano, 2 T olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes.

In a skillet, heat 1 T olive oil over medium/high flame. Add in the zucchini, bell peppers, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook 10-12 minutes, until browned. Shove the zucchini and peppers to sides (like with the eggplant), leaving the center clear. Place the basil paste in center and cook 1 minute. Mix the paste and zucchini/pepper mix together. Pour into a bowl until ready to use.

Add 1/4 cup water into the now empty skillet and, over high heat, scrap fond off bottom. Save.

When eggplant mixture is done, add in the zucchini/red peppers and fond water from skillet. Cover pot and let sit off-heat for 20 minutes to combine flavors.

When ready to serve, stir in remaining 1 cup chopped basil. Top servings with grated cheese, if desired.

VEGETARIAN CHILI For Those Chili Nights!

vegetarian-chili-textI recently watched an America’s Test Kitchen episode which featured a vegetarian chili recipe. Years ago, I developed my own Vegetarian Chili recipe, using imitation ground beef. There are many excellent fake meat products (and some really bad ones), and I use them from time to time. However, they are a processed food, so I limit my usage of them.

I decided to try ATK’s version – tweaking it, of course – to see if I could replace it for my imitation beef recipe. It was absolutely delicious!

The hands-on preparation is easy and fairly quick, but the overall cooking time is about 4½ hours, so plan accordingly.

Note: It’s best to use fresh shiitake mushrooms, if you can find them. If you can only find dried, place them in a bowl, cover with 1/2 cup water, and soak them for 20 minutes to soften, so they can be ground in a food processor. Dried shiitakes will NOT be ground in a food processor – they’re that tough!

VEGETARIAN CHILI – makes about 9 cups

  • 1 lb dry pinto beans
  • 3 T + 1¼ tsp salt, divided
  • 2 ancho chilies
  • 2 Anaheim chilies
  • 3 shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded (they’re too tough)
  • 1½ tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped and toasted
  • 15 oz canned whole tomatoes
  • 3 T tomato paste
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 T pressed garlic
  • 1 large jalapeño chili, stem and seeds removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 T cumin
  • 2/3 cup dry bulgur
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Thoroughly wash pinto beans, discarding any small stones (I’ve never found any, but recipes always say this). Place beans in a stockpot with about 12 cups of water and 3 T salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn off heat. Let sit for 1 hour. Drain beans in a sieve, rinsing well.

While beans are cooking, put the ancho and Anaheim chilies on a cooking sheet and bake at 300º Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, then discard stems and seeds. Coarsely chop by hand, then put in food processor and pulse until ground. Remove to a bowl.

Coarsely chop mushrooms, then grind in food processor. If using dried shiitakes, process with the soaking water. Add ground mushrooms to the chilis.

In the empty food processor put the canned tomatoes (I always discard the stem end and any skin or imperfections), tomato paste, soy sauce, garlic, and jalapeño. Pulse 5 or 6 times to chop.

Grind walnuts in food processor and set aside in separate bowl.

Once the beans are out of the stockpot, heat the vegetable oil in it and sauté the onions and 1¼ tsp salt until browned – about 9 minutes. Add in the mushroom/chili mixture. Add in the cumin and cook for 30 seconds more in order to bloom the spice. Add in the beans, plus 7 cups water (if using dried shiitakes, then only add 6½ cups water – you already added the 1/2 cup soaking water). Bring to boil on stove, cover, then place in oven and bake at 300º F for 45 minutes.

Note:  Make sure your stockpot is oven-proof.

After 45 minutes, stir in the tomato mixture, walnuts, and bulgur. Cover and bake 2 hours. Remove from oven and let set 20 minutes uncovered. Stir in cilantro.

 

GREEN BEAN-POTATO PASTA: Fast & Filling!

green-bean-potato-pasta-textThe hectic holidays are done. Time to relax, but there’s dinner to make. No problem!

GREEN BEAN-POTATO PASTA is a quick and easy recipe that can feed an army. Perfect for potlucks. Of course, you can half the recipe, if you can’t eat it all – unfortunately, this is NOT a recipe that can be frozen. (big frown from the Queen Of Freeze!)

GREEN BEAN-POTATO PASTA – makes about 15 cups

  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 7 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 T lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
  • 1 lb white potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1/2″ pieces
  • 12 oz fresh green beans, cut into 1½”-ish size for easy eating
  • 1 lb gemelli pasta (or a skinny tubular pasta, such as penne)
  • 2 T butter
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Toast the pine nuts and garlic cloves (unpeeled) either in a toaster oven (which is what I do), a regular oven, or a dry skillet. Whichever you choose, keep an eye on it – the pine nuts go from perfectly golden brown to black in an instant. Remove peels from garlic.

Into a food processor or blender, make a pesto by combining the pine nuts, garlic, basil, olive oil, Parmesan, salt, and lemon juice. Purée. Set aside.

Steam green beans.

Boil potato cubes in a large pot of salted water. When they can be pierced by a knife (about 5 minutes), remove to a bowl, leaving water in pot. Bring water back to a boil and cook pasta.

When pasta is done, drain over a container to save 2 cups of the pasta/potato water. Return pasta to the now-empty pot. Vigorously stir in 1¼ cups pasta/potato water, potatoes, pesto, butter, and pepper. You want to kind of break up the potatoes to thicken the sauce. Gently stir in the greens beans.