Lasagna Odyssey 2020

By Michael Elmore

I love lasagna. By far, it is my favorite Italian dish with its rows of hearty pasta, pools of tomato and bechamel sauces, with bursts of meaty goodness. Growing up, it was the one dish I would demand not be altered in any way, shape or form because, to me, it was the perfect dish as imagined. It required no modernizing or changes.

This is all to say that sometimes we all must eat our words, and this time deliciously so. Lasagna is not exactly a diabetic friendly recipe, so we found a way to lighten up the dish and make it slightly more healthy at least. Extra perk? It would be easy to turn this into a vegan dish – just omit the first steps featuring the meat. There’s so many vegetables in this hearty dish that you won’t miss it if you do.

So while traditions are good, moving forward into the future of better awareness of our health, and with no further adieu, we give you or vegetable boosted lasagna! Buon appetito!

Ingredients:

  1. 6 lasagna noodles, cooked per box directions to al dente
  2. 1 pound of ground beef (choose leaner if you want to lighten this up even further)
  3. 1 onion, diced
  4. 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  5. 2 celery stalks, diced
  6. 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  7. Salt
  8. 1 cup diced bell peppers
  9. 2 pints mushrooms, cleaned and cut into slices (we used white button mushrooms)
  10. 28 oz favorite marinara sauce (use homemade if you can but it’s perfectly okay to use your favorite jarred sauce).
  11. 1/2 bunch of kale, stems removed (discard), and leaves chopped
  12. 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  13. 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  14. 1 cup shredded Parmesan
  15. 1 cup shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat up approximately 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat.
  2. Add the ground beef, and cook most of the way through, approximately 8 minutes depending on stove top and stirring frequently. With a slotted spoon, remove the beef to a bowl and set aside. Drain some of the liquid on top of the beef but leave enough in the pan to begin the vegetables.
  3. Add the onions, carrots, and celery with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes until the onions begin to soften. Add the bell peppers. Cook down another 3-4 minutes. During this time, add the Italian seasoning and cayenne pepper.
  4. Add the mushrooms. Continuing to stir occasionally, cook them down until they are approximately half in size from when you started.
  5. Add the sauce along with the meat and juices. Incorporate everything thoroughly. Bring to boil then reduce to a simmer. We are going to stay here the rest of the way.
  6. After about 10 minutes, add the kale, once again incorporating it well and stirring frequently. This will cook down significantly. Cook another 10 minutes on simmer.
  7. Adjust seasonings then allow to cool before assembling the lasagna.

For Assembly:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, put some of the tomato liquid on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan and spread along the bottom.
  2. Add 2 lasagna noodles. Spoon some of the filling onto the noodles, flattening it with a spatula. Sprinkle Parmesan and mozzarella.
  3. Add the next 2 noodles and repeat step 2.
  4. For the top layer, once again, spoon some of the liquid from the sauce mixture onto the noodles. Top with more Parmesan and mozzarella.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, covered with foil that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking oil. At 40 minutes, remove foil, boost temperature to 400, and cook another 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes so that it will not fall apart when you cut the lasagna into slices. Serve and enjoy!

Hashing a Plot: Southwest Sweet Potato Hash

Looking for ideas for Sunday brunch? A hash can be a great way to use up some leftovers from the week and a great way to experiment in the kitchen!

By Michael Elmore

Few things remind me of my childhood more than a Sunday brunch. Growing up, it became a weekly tradition to have a large brunch after mass on Sunday morning. While my brunches all these years later do not always consist of hummus, falafel, and a glorious over abundance of cheeses, meats, and olives, it is a tradition I continue to try to maintain.

Being diabetic certainly led to some of my favorites having to be modified, however. Gone are the days of the buttermilk biscuit (though keep an eye out for a lighter version coming soon!) smothered in sausage gravy, but some things never changed. This hash is one of them. Have some leftover vegetables from the week? They may go well in a hash. We had some leftover sweet potatoes that we did not get around to finishing earlier this week, an onion and some potatoes on the cusp of their final days. Enter: the hash.

This hodgepodge dish delights the senses with its sweetness from the sweet potatoes being balanced with some heat from cayenne and chili powder reminiscent of flavors well known to Southwestern cuisine.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 cup diced bell peppers (feel free to use frozen if that’s what you’ve got!)
  • 1 Sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 3 small russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 3 tbsp cheddar, shredded
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Directions:

  1. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. This recipe works well in a cast-iron pan as well but be prepared for more sticking (though crispier potatoes).
  2. Add the onions and peppers with a pinch of salt. Cook down until the onions are nearly translucent, approximately 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are crisp tender, approximately 15-20 minutes depending on stove top. Add the chili powder and smoked paprika while the potatoes are cooking.
  4. Once the potatoes are cooked, add the eggs, stirring frequently until the eggs are cooked. Add the cayenne pepper, another pinch of salt, and the black pepper to this step.
  5. Add the spinach, stirring frequently until it cooks down and is wilted. This will not take long. Turn off heat and add the cheddar cheese, mixing it in well so that it melts. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy. Optional: Serve some lime with it to brighten up the dish and have some acidity to play off the heat from the peppers and sweetness of the vegetables.

Getting Curried Away: Thai Lobster Curry

By Michael Araj

When we made our Lobster Boil, we had Loki the Lobster Queen leftover who was simply too big to fit into the pots with the remaining lobsters. As a result, we experimented with making a Thai inspired curry. Fragrant aromas of garlic, chili and coconut will make your kitchen transform into the coast of Thailand. Sweet, spicy and acidic, the sauce compliments the subtle sweetness of the lobster without overwhelming it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 Thai chili peppers, stems cut off
  • 1 can coconut cream
  • 3-5 mussels
  • 1 lobster, approximately 2 lbs
  • 1 cup water
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Lime wedges for garnish

Directions:

  1. In a mortar and pestle, ground the garlic and peppers to make a paste. To help with friction, add a pinch of salt.
  2. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pot over medium high heat. Add the shallots. After they soften, add the paste. Once fragrant after approximately 30-60 seconds, add the coconut cream and stir.
  3. Once simmering, add the lobster and cover. Steam the lobster for approximately 15 minutes.
  4. Add the water to the mortar and stir to get the excess oils.
  5. Uncover the pot and add the mortar water. Flip the lobster, cover again for approximately another 10-15 minutes until the lobster is red and mostly cooked. Add the mussels, and baste the lobster with the sauce from the bottom of the pan, approximately another 5 minutes.
  6. Remove the lobsters and mussels to another plate. Put the sauce into your serving platter, then put the lobster and mussels on the platter.
  7. Garnish with chopped cilantro and lime wedges.

Falling into Autumn: Butternut Squash Stew

By Michael Araj

Despite the hot heat, fall has arrived with its abundance of autumn squashes and warm flavors, not to mention the colors. This warming stew keeps quite a while and increases in flavor the longer it melds. While it’s not a quick meal to cook during the week, it’s a great Sunday prep meal, freezes well, and can be eaten throughout the week.

As always, the first step is to get all your ingredients in place, or mise en place. This helps prevent me from looking like a chicken with its head cut off in the middle of my cooking since everything is ready to use.

Now it’s time to start cooking! Let’s heat up some oil and start cooking down the jalepenos, garlic and peppers!

Now time for the squash – the ultimate feel of fall. When you add the spices, after a few minutes, your kitchen should smell like a combination of all the flavors.

Time for the tomatoes and to cook down the squash since it will take less time than the beans to cook.

After the squash is mostly cooked, we add the beans, finish cooking the squash and then reduce the liquid.

Now we can enjoy our finished stew and celebrate the colors outside with those inside our bowls!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH STEW

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp jalapenos, minced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 4 bell peppers, diced into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat two tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add jalapenos. Cook until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds. Add garlic. Cook until fragrant, approximately another 30 seconds.
  2. Add bell peppers and stir well – this will prevent the garlic and jalapenos from burning. Cook approximately 4-5 minutes until peppers are softened slightly.
  3. Add the squash and stir gently to incorporate. Add the spices and stir again. Cook for approximately 10-15 minutes on medium heat to bloom the spices.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir gently to incorporate well – there should be a fair amount of liquid from the can which should also be incorporated. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook covered for approximately 25 minutes.
  5. Check on the squash – it should be softened but still not fully cooked with some resistance. Once at this point, add the beans. Cook another 15-20 minutes, covered.
  6. Check the stew and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed and desired. Cook another 10-15 minutes, uncovered, so that the stew thickens.
  7. Serve immediately or let cool then store – the flavors will meld the longer they are together. Serve heated, garnished with chopped cilantro and a lime wedge if desired. In the alternative, top with chopped parsley and finishing salt.