Experiencing each day, surprises & all

Shared Ingredients: Minestrone & Veggie Lasagna

Meal planning for this past week  started with a recipe for focaccia bread that Nick sent me on Friday. It looked delightful and I couldn’t wait to make it. While I could happily eat nothing but bread for dinner, I had a hunch that that might not be the best idea, so I decided to add some soup and salad into the mix.

I’ve recently been cutting down on my animal protein intake in an effort to 1) combat the ‘Murica pounds we put on this summer and 2) put my mind at ease after reading “The China Study” (ok, reading 1/3 of it), so I wanted something with a more veggie-centric base and just a little meat, if any. I settled on minestrone, and after doing some online recipe perusing, decided to just throw whatever I felt like in a pot and see what happened. The results were delightful. With the addition of bacon, how could they not be? Bacon makes everything better (said the girl trying to eat less meat).

In the minestrone recipe below you’ll see that I only use half of some of the veggies. Don’t worry, they didn’t go to waste! When I meal plan, I try to plan meals that share ingredients so that everything gets used up. I planned around having extra veggies on hand and made a Veggie Lasagna last night!

So without further ado I give you:

Minestrone a la Grenada (’cause it has callaloo, y’all)

Minnestrone a la Grenada

Why yes, that photo is ever-so-elegantly staged on our bed. We eat where the AC is. Don’t judge.

Note: Veggie and other ingredient adjustments can be made according to what you can find at your grocery store. I heart the locally grown produce here, and supplement it by picking up the imported carrots, celery, and the like.

  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb. callaloo, stems and thick ribs removed, chopped (I find this easiest to do by stacking the cleaned leaves, rolling them, slicing once vertically down the center of the roll, and then chopping in the perpendicular direction [much like you would do when chiffonade-ing  basil])
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 2 carrots, cut in half vertically and sliced into thin half moons
  • 2 stalks celery, cut in half vertically and sliced
  • 1 large, or two medium sized, potatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 large, or 1 medium, zucchini, chopped
  • 1/2 christophine (aka chayote), chopped
  • 1 – 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 6 cups stock (I used 4 cups homemade vegetable and 2 cups homemade duck. ‘Cause that’s what we had in the freezer)
  • Water
  • 1 tbsp rosemary
  • 1 – 19 oz can cannellini beans
  • 1 1/2 cups macaroni or other small pasta
  • 3 tbsp basil, chiffonade
  • Grated Parmesan, to taste
  1. In a large stock pot, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and bacon and cook until the onions are translucent and the bacon is cooked, but not crunchy. Add the garlic and cook 30 more seconds, or until fragrant.
  2. Add the callaloo a handful at a time, stirring to wilt down in between additions. If the pan begins to look too dry, add additional olive oil. Salt generously (about 1/2 tbsp) and pepper (1 tsp) and cook down 2-3 minutes. It’s always a great idea to salt as you go, as opposed to all at once at the end. That way the saltiness develops as the flavors develop.
  3. Prep and add the remaining vegetables in the order listed. Continue to stir as you prep and add.
    1. Honestly, I did this the whole way through. So I chopped onions and garlic at the same time, and while the onions cooked chopped the callaloo, then while the callaloo cooked down chopped the remainder of the veggies in the order listed above, adding them as they were chopped and ready.
  4. Season with 1 more tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.
  5. Cook 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the tomatoes, rosemary, stock, and 3 of the diced tomato cans worth of water (a tin can makes a fine measuring device indeed).
  7. Cover, bring to a rolling boil, reduce the heat to low and partially cover. Cook 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a knife. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper.
  8. Return the soup to a boil. Add the beans and pasta. Stir and boil until pasta cooks, 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add additional hot water as needed.
  9. Remove from heat. Add basil and stir.
  10. Ladle into soup bowls and top with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan.

Bonus Recipe: Veggie Lasagna

This recipe is a great way to clean out your veggie drawer. You could really add in almost any veggies you want (eggplant and carrots would be great additions).

Serves 4-6

  • 1/2 lb. lasagna noodles, cooked, drained, and cut in half
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 15 oz container ricotta (I used the part skim ricotta)
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400F.
  2. While preparing the pasta (boiling water, salting water, cooking noodles, etc.), prepare the sauce and filling.

Sauce

(This will make about double what you need. I froze the extra)

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 – 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 onion, medium dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp dried basil (to your preference)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, 4-5 minutes, or until they begin to soften and become translucent. Add the garlic, cook 1 minute more, then add the crushed tomatoes and basil.
  2. Once the sauce begins begins to bubble, reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce is too acidic, add a pinch of sugar and stir. Set aside half of sauce for another use (I froze it to make another lasagna at another time, or to use as pizza sauce).

Veggie Filling

  • 1 + 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, medium dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz button mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 1/2 zucchini, medium dice
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, medium dice
  • 1/2 christophine, medium dice
  • 3 callaloo leaves, stemmed, rolled, sliced and chopped (see instructions above)
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  1. While the sauce is cooking, prepare the veggie filling.
  2. In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat.
  3. Add the onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté one minute more.
    1. Note: When preparing the veggies I did the same thing that I did for the minestrone. Once the onion goes in the pan, cut and add the rest in the order listed as they are prepared. When it comes time to add the callaloo, move the veggies to the outer edge of the pan, add the remaining olive oil to the center of the pan and add the callaloo in in batches to the olive oil, stirring to incorporate in with the other veggies.
  4. Season with salt, pepper, and basil. I seasoned this pretty aggressively. You want it to taste just over salted. I think I used about 1 1/2 – 2 tsp salt, maybe more. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the callaloo is wilted down and the veggies are softened, but not mushy (about 5 more minutes).
  5. Remove veggies from heat and add 3/4 of your prepared sauce (well, 3/4 of the half that you made), stirring to incorporate. Reserve remaining 1/4.

Build the Lasagna

  1. In a 9 x 9 inch (or similar, I used a deep round oven proof dish we have) pan, spread a couple spoonfulls of reserved sauce on the bottom of the pan. Lay down a layer of noodles, overlapping slightly. Depending on the dimensions of your pan, you may have to do 3 or 4 noodles in one direction and another perpendicular to them to close any gap. Spread 1/4 of the ricotta on top of the noodles, spread 1/3 of the veggie mixture over top, and sprinkle with 1/4 of the mozzarella and parmesan (I didn’t measure these, I just eyeballed).
  2. Repeat layering, twice.
  3. Top third layer with a final layer of noodles (you may find yourself with extra noodles). Spread the remaining reserved sauce on top, then dot with the remaining ricotta.
  4. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake 30 minutes.
  5. Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and parmesan. Return to oven and bake ten more minutes.
  6. Turn oven to broil (or, in our case, turn the oven all the way up and put the lasagna in the broiler). Broil 1-2 minutes or until cheese is golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven. If you have the patience to let it sit for about 10 minutes before slicing, that’s cool. I don’t, so I cut and served it immediately.

PS – I highly recommend the focaccia recipe. I topped ours with caramelized onions and garlic, rosemary, marinated artichoke hearts, and kalamata olives.

Tropical Three Bean Quinoa Salad (AKA Lunch)

We had friends over for dinner the other night, and I made a bean salad adapted from a recipe that my friend Katie had shared with me (from here). With the leftovers, I created lunch the next day. The combination of beans and quinoa made for a light, yet satisfying, healthy meal, and the mangos (picked from our own tree!) added a delicious, yet not overpowering, sweetness. I definitely make this again (intentionally, as a complete dish).
Three Bean Tropical Quinoa

Tropical 3 Bean Quinoa Salad

  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • 1 can cannellini beans
  • 2  cups cooked and cooled quinoa
  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • 2-3 mangoes, chopped
  • 2 green onions, chopped

Dressing

  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 2-3 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  1. In a medium bowl, mix salad ingredients.
  2. In a shaker/blender bottle, combine dressing ingredients and shake well to blend. If you don’t have a blender bottle, whisk in a bowl to combine, streaming the oil in to the other ingredients. Taste dressing and adjust ingredients to taste.
  3. Pour over salad and stir to coat. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.

Eggplant Parm Bake

Surprisingly enough, I am still keeping up with cooking my way through the Giada cookbook (I’ll post on that sometime soon … probably). However, when we found beautiful tiny eggplants at our favorite fruit and veg stand, we couldn’t resist picking them up. This is a little strange, because up until recently, I have hated eggplant. I’m coming around to it slowly, and I think Nick was a little shocked when I suggested eggplant parm for dinner. Having never made the dish before, I did some Pinteresting to find a good starting point, but went completely off the script of anything that I found.

Eggplant Parm!

Eggplant Parm Bake! (sorry for the lighting, we’d already turned off the “big” light)

Eggplant Parm Bake

Makes 3-4 servings, depending on the hungriness of the hubby.

Breaded eggplant

  • 2 Grenada-sized eggplants (ours here are smaller and skinny, this would probably be 1 regular eggplant at home), peeled and sliced into 1/2″ thick medallions.
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c cornmeal
  • 1/4 c parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp dried basil

Simple sauce

  • 2 tbsp evoo
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 – 2 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp white balsamic vinegar
  • Pinch brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The bake

  • 1/2 lb linguini, cooked to al dente
  • 1/4 c parmesan
  • 1 c mozzarella
De-slime the eggplant

De-slime the eggplant with a sprinkling of salt.

Ready to go in the oven

Coat eggplant in egg wash, followed by cornmeal breading mixture.

Saucy Time

While the eggplant bakes, prepare the sauce.

Mix in sauce

Toss the cooked pasta with 1/3 of the prepared sauce.

Top with Sauce

Top pasta with another 1/3 of sauce.

Add the layer of eggplant

Add the layer of eggplant and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Top with mozzarella

Top with shredded mozzarella and parmesan.

Instructions

  1. In a colander, toss the eggplant with a teaspoon of salt and let sit for an hour. This will help reduce the slimy mouth feel of the eggplant, and reduce some bitterness. When finished, rinse well under cold running water and pat dry.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 375. Prepare a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk an egg with a tablespoon of cold water. In another medium bowl, mix 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, cornmeal, parmesan, and basil.
  4. Working in batches (of about a handful), toss the eggplant first in the egg mixture, then in the breading mixture, tossing to coat. Spread the breaded medallions out on the baking sheet as you go.
  5. Bake for 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of the eggplant), flipping halfway through. Be careful not to overcook; they go from good to incinerated on the inside in a matter of minutes.
  6. While the eggplant is baking, prepare the pasta and sauce.
  7. In a deep saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
  8. Add the onions and cook until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and cook one minute more.
  9. Add the tomatoes, basil, balsamic, and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and allow to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  10. In a deep baking dish mix the cooked pasta and 1/3 of the prepared sauce (I used a round one that we have. It’s about the size of an 8×8 pan (but round, obvi), but about double the depth).
  11. Top pasta with a layer of sauce (1/3). Sprinkle with parmesan.
  12. Top sauce layer with eggplant. Sprinkle with parmesan. Top with remaining sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan.
  13. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, or until cheese is melty and golden.

Thai-inspired Fried Coconut Rice

I refused to go to the grocery store this week. We have enough food in our fridge, freezer, and pantry to get us through the week, and after a long weekend of grading and I just didn’t have the desire to go shop. We’ve been fine so far, but it has necessitated some creative cooking. Today for lunch I made a Thai-inspired fried rice, which Nick declared to be in his top 3 fried rice dishes ever. I’ll take it.

20130501-120416.jpg

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups leftover coconut rice (white rice cooked in coconut milk instead of water)
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, minced
  • 2 hot peppers (I use dried red chilis), minced
  • Optional: 1/4-1/2 lb pork (I used 1 pork chop), sliced thin. Shrimp or chicken would also be good, and it would be great meatless, too
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1/2 ear worth of corn kernels (we had half-ears of frozen corn on the cob, so I just sliced it off)
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tsp + 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp + 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 green onions, thinly chopped

To make

  1. Re-heat the rice in the microwave and set aside. Using cold rice will cool your pan and will not produce as nice of a fried rice.
  2. Heat the oil over high heat in a large frying pan or wok. I’m sure a wok would work best, but I don’t have one here and it worked fine in my large Calphalon pan. You want the oil very hot.
  3. Fry one egg in the oil until the yolk is set (as you can probably tell from the picture above, I kinda didn’t get quite there, but we love yolky eggs on rice, so that was ok for us). Remove from the pan, slice into thin strips, and set aside.
  4. Add the ginger, garlic, and hot peppers to the pan, stirring. Cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
  5. Add the pork to the pan and toss. Cook for 3 minutes or until browned on all sides, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the vegetables to the pan, stirring. Cook 3-5 minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften (again, stir occasionally).
  7. Add 1 tsp fish sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, and 1 tbsp soy sauce to pan, stirring to combine. Cook 3 minutes more to allow flavors to develop (again, stir occasionally).
  8. Push the pork and vegetables to the side of the pan.
  9. Add the remaining fish sauce, sesame oil, and soy sauce the cleared portion of the pan. Top with the rice, and stir to coat.
  10. Once the rice is coated with sauce, stir the veggie and pork mixture into the rice. Cook 2-3 minute more, or until it starts to crisp (stir some, but be careful not to over stir/handle the rice, or it will loose its fluffiness and become dense).
  11. Move the fried rice to serving dish and top with the egg and scallions.
  12. If desired, serve with additional soy sauce (not really necessary, though).

CC: Recipes 4, 5, & 6

I ended up getting a little behind in posting, and in cooking. But …

On Tuesday we had recipe #4: Chicken Adobo. Nick was nervous at first because he doesn’t love adobo sauce (the kind that comes in the can with chipotle peppers), but once I explained that in this case it just means “marinade”, and that this version is a Fillipino style, he warmed up to it. The recipe in the book differs slightly from the one online; in the book version, the chicken isn’t marinated. You simply brown the chicken and then pour the sauce to soak in while it cooks. Once I browned the chicken (about 4 minutes per side) I poured the sauce in the skillet and flipped the chicken in it to coat, then put it in a 400F oven for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through. Once finished, I removed the chicken from the pan, put the pan over medium heat, added about a tablespoon of cornstarch (accidentally directly to the pan rather than mixing with water first, but vigorous whisking kept it from getting lumpy) and stirred until thickened. With the sauce poured over the chicken and accompanying yellow rice, the meal was delicious. Nick named it his favorite from the cookbook so far!

Chicken Adobo

Chicken Adobo: the halved recipe made 2 servings

I forgot when meal planning that Wednesday night we were having McDonalds. This may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but there are no McDonalds on the island, and it was being imported in for us by a friend that had just been home. So instead of having the Spiced Pork Chops, we had cheeseburgers, fries, and nuggets. Don’t judge. We’ll be having the pork chops for dinner on Saturday.

I did manage to make recipe #5 (Peanut Butter Cookies with Blackberry Jam) on Wednesday, though. I made my own butter substitute by refrigerating coconut oil until it hardened. Of course this basically just made coconut oil margarine, so the cookies spread a bit more during baking than I would like. They also went from under-baked to burnt around the edges in 30 seconds, so that was a little weird. Even so, they are pretty good, especially with the homemade mango jelly I substituted in for the blackberry jam. I think next time I may play with substituting honey for sugar and putting mashed banana on top, since a peanut butter, honey, and banana sandwich is my favorite.

Peanut Butter and Mango Jelly Cookies

Peanut Butter and Mango Jelly Cookies: the halved recipe made 9 cookies

Last night I got to recipe #6: Caramelized Onion, Chicken, and Grapefruit Salad. It was amazing; there were so many strong, unique flavors that worked well together. For a milder flavor in the dressing I did a 50/50 split of grapeseed oil to olive oil (instead of straight olive oil), and used lime juice instead of lemon. I’m not sure where to find a rotisserie chicken, so I roasted two chicken breasts in the oven (coated in EVOO, salt, and pepper) at 350F for about 30 minutes, flipping halfway through. To quote Nick, “With most meals you have a very artful way of blending and mixing flavors in a way to make me the most culinarily satisfied husbands in the world. Tonight you transcended that with your masterful meal. There was no blending, no mixing of flavors. Every bite brought new layers of intrigue that accented each previous bite in a new way. Brava, my dear. You are and forever will be unsurpassed.” Big ups to Giada for making my husband think I’m a genius, yo.

Caramelized Onion, Chicken, and Grapefruit Salad

Caramelized Onion, Chicken, and Grapefruit Salad: the halved recipe made 2 large salads (but I did use a full recipe of dressing)

CC: Recipe 3

The Whole-Grain Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms was a major hit last night, instantly earning “make this now!” status. The recipe was easy to tailor to our tastes and available ingredients. I had planned on making my own crème fraiche, but I’ll be honest: I completely forgot. Instead, I used a half-cup of cream and it turned out great. Rather than toasting the nuts separately, I just chopped them up and toasted them in the pan while the mushrooms, onions, garlic and Brussels sprouts were sautéing. I also salted the Brussels sprouts when I added them to the pan. I didn’t use whole-grain spaghetti; I used “normal” penne rigate. Finally, balsamic vinegar (about 1/8 – 1/4cup) was substituted in for lemon juice.

Penne Rigate with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms

Penne Rigate with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms: made 5 servings

After we have a meal, I’ve started marking the pages in the cookbook so that I can have an at-a-glance reminder of what my favorites were. Pink=new favorite. Make again soon. Yellow=good, and repeatable. Can be made again. Orange=eh. Probably will not make again. So far the cookbook is orange-free.

CC: Recipes 1 & 2

Last night marked the first meal of many from Weeknights with Giada. With the soup and the cornbread I managed to knock out two recipes; so, boom.

First, the cornbread. Make. This. Now. I’ll probably start using this as a regular side dish when I make soup; it’s easy and quick, with a great, unique flavor. As I halved the recipe, it only needed to cook for fifteen minutes. In addition to the alterations I already planned on making, I chose to substitute coconut oil in for the melted butter. With the current butter shortage the island is experiencing, I’ve decided to conserve my butter and substitute whenever possible. I can happily report that, at least for cornbread, coconut oil is a fine 1-for-1 swap-out for melted butter. Another tip: chop and use “real”/ball mozzarella as opposed to bagged. The ball melts really nicely and holds the cornbread together, and I read that people who used bagged mozzarella ended up with crumbly cornbread.

Scallion and Mozzarella Cornbread

Scallion and Mozzarella Cornbread: made 6 servings

The soup was really nice as well. On the nights that I do yoga or run I like to have dinner prepped before I go. That way I can either just reheat it when I get home, or Nick can stick it in the oven at the right time as he studies. Soup works really great for that purpose. The soup came together really quickly, in about 30 minutes, so I just shut it off as I was heading out the door and Nick turned it back on about ten minutes before I got home (at which point he also put the cornbread in the oven. He’s a good helper). It was just coming to a boil as I walked through the door, so I was able to throw in the pasta and let it cook in the broth for ten minutes. When I tasted the soup it was a little bit sweet and one-note for me, so I added in a good couple glugs of balsamic to the broth as it was finishing.

Minestrone

Beef & Cannellini Bean Minestrone: made 5 servings


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