Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lentil Lasagna

Sometimes I crave a delicious, juicy hamburger, but mostly these cravings are few and far between.  Usually in my meal portions I prefer a high ratio of vegetables, and a tiny piece of meat, if at all.  Lasagna is one dish in particular I would never order out in a restaurant for fear of getting an obscene and mammoth amount of meat on my plate. 

I love making veggie lasagnas, but one day I began dreaming of a lentil lasagna, and decided to create my own recipe to incorporate all the flavors and ingredients I love.  Today I am pleased to share this creation with you.  I hope you will experiment with it, and add your own special touches and share your experiences with me.  Just like the lentil tacos, I think this recipe demonstrates quite well how the lentil can hold its own against ground beef in recipes.  It adds protein and body to the dish, to create a hearty, nutritious meal that won't weigh you down and leave you feeling regretful.

Lentil Mixture

1/2 onion chopped
2 celery sticks chopped in small dice
2 carrots chopped in small dice
2 cups lentils
water to cover

Heat some olive oil, add the chopped veggies and cook until softened.  Add water and lentils, bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until the lentils are soft (about 25 minutes).  Remove half of this lentil mixture and puree using an immersion blender.  Add pureed lentils back to pot and cook mixture uncovered until it is a thicker consistency and not so soupy that it would be ridiculous to attempt to add the mixture to a lasagna. 

I decided to blend part of the lentils to give this mixture a more cohesive structure.  I think this blended part helps it give uniform structure to the lasagna while the remaining whole lentils give it body and texture like ground beef.  If you like the way your lentils look whole, you could also try using them like that.

Tomato "Sauce"

1 28 oz can chopped tomato
oregano, thyme, italian spices
salt pepper
olive oil

Mix ingredients together and let marinate for 1/2 hour before lasagna assembly.  I used this seasoned tomato mixture instead of sauce because I was worried about making a lasagna that was too wet and soupy.

Ricotta mixture

chopped fresh spinach
1 egg
container of ricotta

Mix this up until blended

Also need

grated mozzarella
uncooked lasagna noodles

Directions for assembly

This is a no bake lasagna recipe, so don't even worry about fiddling with the noodles beforehand.  I am always a little scared about this no-bake proposition, but it really works just fine, and it saves a lot of time and trouble.   Also, don't worry about using special no-bake noodles.  I use regular Wegmans lasagna noodles from the box and they are just fine.  I am however intrigued by the fresh lasagna sheets from the refrigerated section.  If anyone has tried these please comment about your experience.

Basically you just need to layer all the ingredients you have prepared.  First put down a little of the "sauce," then add a layer of noodles, spread the noodles with a little more "sauce" and 1/2 of the ricotta mixture, layer over that 1/2 the lentil mixture, then sprinkle with a generous amount of mozzarella.  Repeat with remaining ingredients and end with a layer of noodles covered only in "sauce" and mozzarella.

Here is a picture of the beautiful lentils, and lasagna construction mid-way through assembly.

Bake, covered in foil, in a 375 F oven, for 40 minutes.
Bake an additional 15 minutes uncovered.
remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sweet Potato Chipotle Soup

Tonight's dinner was a cozy sweet potato chipotle soup.  It was creamy, spicy, and truly, truly, truly outrageous.  I love soups and stews for a quick dinner fix that will reheat well during the week when I don't feel like or have time to cook an elaborate dinner.  We have had quite a bit of soupy success with recipes from various Moosewood cookbooks, and more recently with recipes from Martha Stewart's website.  Today's recipe was based on a Martha Stewart creation but with several delicious additions.

Martha Stewart's quick soup recipes
There are lots of recipes here that look good, and we have tried several already, all with good results.

I started with the same base as the soup recipe.
1 grated onion (I said I'd never go back, and I won't)
2 minced garlic cloves
salt, pepper
2 tsp cumin
1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in small dice
6 cups chicken stock

First heat the oil, cook the onion, add salt and pepper.  Add garlic and cumin and cook about one minute.  Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce heat, partially cover and simmer for 25 minutes until potatoes are tender.  Blend the soup using an immersion blender until creamy.  This is a delicious soup base!  It has a thick, rich and creamy consistency, the likes of which you would expect to have a much higher fat content.

However, Martha S' recipe stops here.  I think this soup would be too boring and unsatisfying as a whole dinner, so I took it a couple steps further and added some "chunks" to fill this soup out and add some texture and color. (more sweet potatoes, roasted peppers, green onions).

Soup additions:
While preparing the soup on the stove, put 2 pounds of sweet potatoes cut in small dice in a 400 F oven and roast until tender.  Add these potatoes to above mixture after blended and leave these potatoes as chunks in the soup.

Roast 3 red peppers, chop into bite size pieces and add these chunks to the blended soup mixture.  You can make your roasted peppers however you like.  If you have a preferred method please share it as a comment!  I coat them in oil and put them in the broiler, checking and turning them occasionally until blackened on the outside.  This takes about 15 minutes.  When I remove the peppers from the oven I place them in a paper bag, and fold down the top of the bag to seal in the heat. Once the peppers are cool, I remove them from the bag and peel off and discard the skin, and remove seeds and stems.  Easy!

When the soup is ready to serve chop some fresh green onions to sprinkle atop the soup as garnish.

Add a dollop of sour cream and you're done.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Are you ready for some football?!

Today is Superbowl Sunday, and in keeping with a tradition I began last year, I prepared cocoa crispy chocolate peanut butter rice krispy treat footballs.  This is a fabulous crowd-pleasing recipe that is perfect for this special time of year. 

3 tablespoons butter
1 10 oz. package marshmallows
1/2 cup peanut butter
6 cups cocoa krispies cereal
frosting to decorate

Melt butter over low heat, add marshmallows and stir until completely melted, then remove from heat.  Stir in peanut butter until melted.  Add cereal and stir until well coated.  Using buttered hands shape into 16 3 inch footballs.  Decorate.

I made some additions to the recipe from last year that I think have made a great aesthetic improvement to these footballs.  Because the krispies are coated in marshmallow and peanut butter, the footballs are a light chocolate brown color.  To make these treats even more delicious and a deeper brown color, more like a football, this year I dipped them in chocolate, and then decorated them with frosting.  The chocolate mixture is just a simple ganache, made by melting chocolate chips with a little bit of heavy cream until the mixture is liquid but still firm enough that it will not run down the treats.  Also, I don't know how others feel about melting things in the microwave, but I find it to be a terrible experience and today was no exception.  First I tried to melt the chocolate chips in the microwave and it was an awful, clumpy, unusable mess.  I took the same mixture to the stove to try it again with perfect results. 

Here are the comparison footballs from last year to this year.