roasted vegetable lasagna

Well, we have arrived at the sweet spot.  These few early weeks of September: it’s getting cooler so fall crops are appearing, but it’s still warm enough that the summer goodies haven’t completely disappeared.  It’s the epitome of produce.  There are too many vegetables to choose from! Raspberries are still available! There are apples!lasagna 1

What’s to be done with an excessive farmers’ market hall and a change in season? Dinner parties.  That’s what.

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Lasagna is the perfect food for a crowd, and with this veggie version you don’t even miss the meat.  As with all things, I looked to Ina Garten for guidance on this one.  She has a wonderful roasted vegetable lasagna recipe in her Make it Ahead cookbook, which I followed closely (because I trust her implicitly) but I also made some tweaks to suit my tastes and clean out my fridge.

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Roasting the vegetables takes out some of their water, so as to avoid a soggy bottomed lasagna.  I mean, could anything be worse than that?

So invite your friends over and celebrate summer. Or fall. Whatever your preference.

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roasted vegetable lasagna
(adapted from the incomparable Ina Garten)

3 small to medium sized zucchini (some green and some yellow makes for a real pretty lasagna)
1 large eggplant
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 pound button mushrooms
1 cup ricotta cheese1 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1 jar preferred tomato sauce (you could of course make your own, try this one)
1 package dry lasagna noodles

1. Slice the zucchini and eggplant lengthwise to 1/4 inch thickness.  Arrange on parchment paper covered cookie sheets, brush liberally with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast for 40 minutes in a 375 degree oven.  Set aside.
2. Slice the mushrooms thin and sauteé over medium-high heat until just cooked. Set aside.  Wipe out the pan and cook down the fresh spinach over medium heat until it just begins to stick to the pan.  Remove from heat and run with cold water. Squeeze the spinach (in your hands or with a cheese cloth) to remove as much liquid as humanly possible, then chop it up. Let cool.
3. Mix together cooled spinach with ricotta until combined.
4.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt the water well (like, more than you think is appropriate). Cook the pasta for 7-8 minutes.  It should still be quite al dente, just cooked.  Strain it and run it under cold water.
5. AASSSSEMMBLLEEEEEE.  In a 13 x 9 inch pan, start with a thin layer of tomato sauce.  Add base noodle layer. Dollop 1/3 of the ricotta mixture evenly (it will spread out in the cooking), sprinkle evenly 1/3 of the mushrooms, then do a layer of the roasted squash and eggplant (some of each), cover with sauce, and sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella over it.  Then start again with noodles and build up until you’ve used all the goods.  The top layer should be pasta, spread with a tiny bit of sauce and sprinkled with some saved mozzarella.
6. Bake tented with tinfoil (you don’t want all that gooey top cheese stuck to the tin foil so make sure they aren’t touching!) for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then remove the foil and cook final 10 minutes to let the cheese get good and melty.  When you see sauce bubbling up the side of the pan, you’ve nailed it.

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roasted vegetable lasagna

a sweet finish

Turns out summer is leaving, and I haven’t cooked all that much.  I was too busy eating everything. After 2ish months of countless lobster rolls, ice cream cones, and hot dogs (a strange but totally welcome part of the Summer 2015 diet), I was ready to close out the season with a bang.  And this was certainly that.

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Brian Mercury, the silly talented pastry chef at Harvest in Cambridge of bacon bun fame, teamed up with Tracy Obolsky from NYC’s North End Grill for a night of sweet frivolity in the form of a 6 course desserts only tasting menu.  And these 2 were not fooling around.  And despite being more of a savory girl myself, I would do eat every bite they gave me again in a heartbeat.

Obolsky's lime mousse with lemon verbena gele, raspberry, graham crumble, and crispy meringues
Obolsky’s lime mousse with lemon verbena gele, raspberry, graham crumble, and crispy meringues
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Mercury’s chamomile sugar dusted fried dough with hibiscus lemon curd, cream cheese mousse, poppy seeds, and berries

The effortlessly dynamic pair went plate for plate, taking turns at each course.  Obolsky kicked things off with an elevated play on key lime pie (dotted with tiny toasty meringues), that led into Mercury’s fried dough rounds with hibiscus lemon curd (that was a lovely shade of pink). There was then a cheese course with unadorned but beautiful tiger stripe figs, and an unexpectedly refreshing mint vinegar sorbet as an intermezzo.

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Obolsky’s Old Chatham Kinderhook Creek sheep’s milk cheese with black pepper gastrique, candied marcona almonds, and tiger stripe figs
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Mercury’s mint vinegar sorbet with mead foam, concord grape gele, and buttermilk

Already deep into a sugar coma, the final dishes gave no respite. Obolsky’s coconut pavlova with dulce de leche and cubes of tropical fruits and Mercury’s “grown-up” root beer float were both elegant feats not only of flavor but of plating.  It was almost too pretty to eat.  Except that it wasn’t, because I cleaned my plate at every course.

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Obolsky’s coconut pavlova with dulce de leche and tropical fruits

Good meals are always worth sharing.  This one was worth showing off so that you might find your way into either of these chef’s restaurants to eat anything they are making.  I would happily take on another sugar rush at either of their hands.

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Mercury’s “grown-up” root beer float: root liquor ice cream, bourbon cake, vanilla foam, root beer gastrique, and mascarpone
a sweet finish

caprese & roasted garlic bruschetta

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The tomatoes are coming.  You can see them popping up here and there, in glorious shades of yellow and orange, and even bits of red. They will continue gain glory as the summer progresses. It’s all terribly exciting.

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Tomatoes tend to pair well with a lot of different flavors since they somehow manage to be sweet and acidic and unique all at once. However one of the simplest, and most pleasurable ways to enjoy them is unadorned with some basil and mozzarella. And bread, obviously. Because bread makes everything better. You add roasted garlic and it just becomes aggressively addictive.

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Sometimes you have to just eat this standing up at the kitchen counter, because to take it all the way to the table is just too long to wait.

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Caprese & Roasted Garlic Bruschetta

The caprese piece of this is as you expect, but the roasted garlic is the secret weapon that sets it apart. It’s such an easy way to add another element to an already delicious situation.

3 medium beefsteak tomatoes (or 2 quarts of cherry tomatoes), diced
2 large balls fresh mozzarella, cubed
fresh basil to taste
1 head of garlic
1 baguette, sliced
fresh basil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper to taste

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the head of garlic horizontally and place on a baking sheet flesh side up and drizzle with olive oil.  Cook until fragrant and slightly browned. Set aside.
2. Dice tomatoes and mozzarella, mix together in a bowl with salt, pepper, chopped fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar.
3. Slice the baguette (or other equally delicious bread) and drizzle with olive oil and toast in oven until just browned on the edges. Dig the roasted garlic cloves out of the husks and spread one or two cloves on each slice of bread (the beauty of roasted garlic is that it becomes creamy and takes on a nutty, dreamy flavor. If you don’t like it though, you can omit it or use butter).
4. Top the slices with the tomato and mozzarella mixture, and eat immediately while the bread is warm and the mix is cool.

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caprese & roasted garlic bruschetta

arugula fennel citrus salad

Salad can be sexy, when it wants to be. I feel akin to salad in this way. It may not be easy, and you definitely have to work for it, but it can happen. Besides it’s what’s on the inside that counts and this salad is overflowing with inherent goodness.

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It’s bright and refreshing, and helped me understand why some cultures eat salad as a palate cleanser course after the main dish. It’s not necessarily an everyday salad. The flavors are bold but not overwhelming, which sounds oxymoronic but it’s true. They are flavors begging to be served alongside some seafood or with just with some bread and cheese. And wine.

IMG_6158So really, this is a sexy salad. Splashy colors…aggressive flavors…but approachable. What else could you ask for?

arugula fennel citrus salad

orange (or grapefruit)
fennel bulb, sliced uber thin
radishes, sliced uber thin
avocado, sliced
baby arugula
toasted pistachios
shaved parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
olive oil

The amount of any ingredient used is to your specific taste, and for how much salad you intend to make.  There are no rules with this–everyone’s sexy…er, salad…is different.

Per the photos above, build up your salad starting with the arugula. Supreme the citrus (instructions here), and then squeeze the juice from the remaining pith over everything. Drizzle some olive oil, add salt and pepper, then toss all together.  Serve it up immediately.

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arugula fennel citrus salad

“gluten is not the devil” – Jenn Louis

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I realize I keep talking about pasta.  But it’s because not only do I believe it deserves constant love and praise, but also because I recently went to a dinner completely dedicated to it with things that looked like this:

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So how could I not talk about it? Chef Jenn Louis of Portland, Oregon was in Boston promoting her new cookbook Pasta By Hand, which is beautiful and drool inducing.  She showcased some of the book’s goodies in a collaborative dinner at Alden & Harlow in Harvard Square with some of Boston’s finest chefs. Swoon.

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Each chef took one of the pastas from her book and created a dish around it, and what came out of the kitchen was incredible. Silly delicious. And beautiful to boot.

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The pièce de résistance for me was Louis’ own dish. Strozzapretti (a Florentine dumpling whose name Louis explains translates to “priest strangler” – just so you know) are made with seasonal greens and ricotta.  Louis served them simply with butter and Parmagiano-Reggiano. I could eat them every day. I may even move to Florence so I can. Or attempt to make the recipe from Louis’ book. Either way.

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All of this eye candy is merely to remind us of some really important mantras: everything in moderation, treat yo self, and carbs are lifeblood.

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“gluten is not the devil” – Jenn Louis

farfalle with zucchini greek yogurt and lemon

It’s true, there is yogurt in this pasta. Your first inclination might be to think that is not quite right, but think again my friends. Everyone secretly loves a creamy, cheesy pasta dish, but it inevitably makes you feel super bloated and full for about 2.37 days. Greek yogurt is the solution.IMG_6082Tangy is Greek yogurt’s most widely recognized characteristic, and it definitely brings that to the table here. But paired with a tiny bit of cream cheese, a healthy dose of salt, and the brightness of lemon zest–it really works.  And it’s just creamy enough to give that element of comfort minus the food hangover.
IMG_6074Rainy spring nights are the perfect setting for a heaping bowl of pasta, and thankfully (albeit slowly) vegetable isles across the northeast are once again showing signs of life. Grated zucchini is a pop of color and a subtle flavor that melts right into the mix and doesn’t event require additional cooking.  Frozen peas add a sweetness that offsets the zing of the yogurt and lemon. Someday I will swap them out for fresh peas…someday.
IMG_6083Important note to leave you with: feel free to get heavy handed with that parmesan cheese. It’s for your own good.

farfalle with zucchini, greek yogurt, and lemon
…slightly tweaked from Al Forno in Providence, RI via Food & Wine
serves 4-6

1 pound dried farfalle pasta
1 cup frozen peas
2 large zucchini, grated
3/4 cup plain greek yogurt
2 tbs plain cream cheese
2 tbs unsalted butter
zest and juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnishing
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt the water, and cook pasta for 10 minutes or until just cooked.  In the last minute throw in the frozen peas to flash cook. Drain (reserving a cup of pasta cooking water) and set aside.
2. In a pan over medium heat, melt the butter and then turn off the flame. Add in the yogurt, cream cheese, lemon zest and juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
3. Incorporate the zucchini, peas, and pasta.  Stir together, incorporating reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce if desired.  Add the parmesan cheese and taste for seasoning, add additional salt and pepper if needed.
4. Serve hot with extra cheese (see note above).
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farfalle with zucchini greek yogurt and lemon

thai lettuce wraps

Sometimes it seems like I only eat well on weekends. Weekdays can be draining with the whole working, commuting, waking up thing. It shouldn’t be like this. We should eat well always.

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So it was Tuesday. I was craving take out. Mostly because the idea of being off the couch for long enough to put something vaguely resembling a meal together in the kitchen seemed daunting. But I knew I had gone a little buck wild at Whole Foods and needed to eat some of the lovely produce I had purchased, so the only solution was to turn them into a take-out-esque meal to satisfy the take out cravings.

Behold Thai chicken lettuce wraps. They are sneakily convenient, most of what I needed I had in the house. With more vegetables these could have easily been vegetarian. They would happily take some shrimp in place of chicken, and if I could handle spicy foods I would definitely have added some chili flakes to the sauce. Alas, my taste buds are wimpier than my stomach for those sorts of things.

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And poof, the cry for take out was silenced.

thai lettuce wraps
serves 4

For the wraps
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, diced
1 cup broccoli, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 leeks, diced
1 cup dry roasted unsalted peanuts, finely chopped
1 head of iceberg or butter lettuce

For the slaw
1 cup pre-shredded slaw mix (or just red or green cabbage)
1 tbs red wine vinegar
½ tsp sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce
1 ½ tbs creamy peanut butter
2 tbs terryaki sauce
1 tsp seasame seeds
1 tsp brown sugar

  1. Whisk together all the sauce ingredients. Set aside. Combine all slaw ingredients and toss to combine. Set aside.
  2. Trim excess fat off the chicken thighs and dice into small pieces. Cut the vegetables into similar sized pieces.
  3. Heat two tablespoons of canola oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, stirring occasionally to brown on all sides (about 7 minutes).
  4. Turn heat down slightly and add in the vegetables stirring occasionally, cook until softened. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sauce coating everything. Chop peanuts and stir them in as the final touch.
  5. Carefully remove leaves from the head of lettuce to form little cups for the filling. (Some will rip, it’s inevitable. Don’t panic, that’s why they are wraps.) Add filling and slaw to each individual cup for eating.

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thai lettuce wraps

snacks! (cheese & zucchini sticks)

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Snacks are a part of life. They get a lot of press around the holidays, the Super Bowl, and Oscars viewing parties, but in reality the time for snacks, is always.

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Behold two variations on one concept: sticks. zucchini and mozzarella.  One baked, one fried, and both tasty.  Everyone loves finger foods.

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The mozzarella recipe is a riff on Giada De Laurentiis’, and the zucchini evolved out of a google search that lead to the YummyHealthyEasy blog‘s recipe. They were both a huge hit dipped in marinara sauce, but I wouldn’t hesitate to try the zucchini in a ranch dip either.

There is something to be said for making your own snacks.  It’s so satisfying to snack on something that has no mystery ingredients and was not pre-packaged in plastic.

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zucchini & mozzarella sticks

2 large zucchini
1 ball fresh mozzarella
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cups italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs
salt and pepper to taste
marinara sauce and/or ranch dip for eating

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1. Cut the zucchini and mozzarella in thin sticks (1/4 inch thickish).
2. In one bowl, beat the eggs and add a dash of salt and pepper.  In another, have the milk. Mix together the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, and then divide evenly between two separate plates.
3. For the mozzarella sticks: Dip sticks in the egg, then the breadcrumb mixture, then repeat the process a second time so each is double breaded.  Place on a baking sheet, cover, and freeze.  (Freeze for at least 1 hour, or up to 24 hours.  I froze them for 6 hours and that worked like a charm.)
4. For the zucchini: dip each stick in the milk, then in the other plate of breadcrumbs.  Be careful to really press the mixture into the zucchini so they are well coated.  Place on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. (These need to get baked immediately, so if you are making both variations you may want to do this prep after the mozzarella sticks have been freezing for a while.)
5. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Spray the tops of the zucchini with cooking spray to help them brown, and cook for 25 minutes.  If they brown too quickly, cover the top with foil. Serve immediately with either aforementioned dip.
6. In a heavy bottom skillet, heat some vegetable or canola oil over medium high heat.  Working in batches, pan fry the frozen mozzarella sticks for about 30 seconds on each side (or until browned), rotating so each side has time in the oil.  Serve immediately with marinara sauce.

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snacks! (cheese & zucchini sticks)

simplest french toast

Recently I went to Canada. In the winter. It was…chilly.

But the beacon of warmth came from the incredible food we found there — specifically at a bread shop called Hof Kelsten. (I found comfort in carbs.  No one is surprised).

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Though most of the bread didn’t make it back over the border due to hungry travelers and the fact that it was just too good not to eat immediately, some of it did, and that some got put to good use.

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Jeffrey Finkelstein, the bread whisperer responsible for Hof Kelsten, makes challahs on Fridays that are the size of a small child. Luckily their monstrousness meant I still had some upon arriving back in the States which immediately became some of the best french toast of all time.

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It is such a simple luxury, and easier than you think to pull off well.  And while you don’t need Hof Kelsten challah to make this version of the breakfast classic, good eggy breads like challah and brioche are the best for french toasting. And a little Canadian maple syrup doesn’t hurt either.

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Simplest French Toast
serves 4

4 thick slices of challah, cut in half (or other white bread, if it’s thin count 2 slices per person)
8 eggs
¾ cup of milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt

1. Heat a pan over medium heat.
2. Whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon.
3. Soak each piece of bread through just before you put in the pan, making sure both sides are well coated.
4. Butter the pan (liberally) and cook each slice for 4 minutes on each side or until the slices are evenly browned, and no liquid is released when you press on the center of the bread.
5. Serve HOT with maple syrup. And if you’re feeling dangerous, a dusting of powdered sugar.

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simplest french toast

kitchen sink blueberry banana bran muffins

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As a huge fan of pastries and breakfast in general, I realized that recently I have been straight up neglecting a former favorite morning food companion of mine: the humble muffin.  As soon as I came upon this realization, I began immediately craving muffins.

However, due to the aforementioned need to reel it in diet-wise post 2014, I decided to try my hand at making them myself to monitor their contents.  I dreamed up these muffins using buzzword healthy ingredients like “oat bran” and “whole wheat flour”. Though admittedly I am not a baker by nature I think these are pretty great.  They have ripe mashed banana that keeps them moist, nuts and coconut for a crunchy and chewy texture situation, and blueberries because all muffins should have blueberries.

These are an all the time dream treat.  They are perfect as a grab and go breakfast, a midday snack, or even as dessert with a cup of tea.  They have minimal sugar and though the ingredient list looks long (hence the kitchen sink moniker) it is likely that most of this stuff is hiding somewhere in your house already. If not, it’s worth investing. You’re going to want more than one batch of these.

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kitchen sink blueberry banana bran muffins
Yield: 18 muffins

1cup whole-wheat flour, plus 1 tablespoon set aside
½ cup oat bran
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut shreds
½ cup rolled oats, plus extra for sprinkling over tops
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 cup mashed ripe banana
¼ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
½ tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups blueberries
½ cup chopped pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl combine 1 cup of the flour, the oat bran, coconut, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar and oil.  Add in the banana, milk, eggs, and vanilla, and combine until smooth.  Add the dry ingredients into the wet mixture slowly and mix together until just combined (it’s fine to have a few lumps).
  3. Wash and thoroughly dry the blueberries.  Toss them and the pecans in the extra tablespoon of flour until coated (this helps them not sink in the batter).  Fold them into the batter without over mixing.
  4. Fill a cupcake tin with liners and using an icecream scoop fill each tin.  Sprinkle the additional oats atop each muffin and press them in gently.
  5. Bake for 22 minutes.  If a toothpick comes out clean, remove them. Otherwise, let them cook an additional 3 minutes. Let cool completely, and serve.
kitchen sink blueberry banana bran muffins