Not Your Nona’s Lasagna

I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting recipes. But when I saw a recipe for pumpkin and kale lasagna, I shuddered and moved on. However, it kept calling my name and I looked at it more closely.

It certainly intrigued me. After all, I love pumpkin, and I love lasagna. I even love kale, with certain reservations. But the recipe was loaded with heavy and calorie-laden ingredients that seemed unnecessary, and kale sauteed in garlic added to pumpkin was too much for me to even think about.

I had a few other misgivings as well, so I incorporated a few of my sneaky ninja moves, as well as substituted almond milk for whole milk to come up with something that might be palatable.

One weekend afternoon, it was time to test it. However, before tying on my apron, I warned my husband that we might be doing take-out at the last minute. We didn’t. The lasagna was delicious, and we ate the entire pan in 3 days. It’s not your typical Italian lasagna, which is why I call it “Not Your Nona’s Lasagna.”

2 15 oz cans 100% pumpkin puree

2 eggs

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp white pepper

10 oz fresh baby spinach, chopped

2 TBSP butter

2 TBSP flour

2 cups unsweetened almond milk

1 tsp ground nutmeg

8 oz mozzarella cheese

1 cup Parmesan cheese

2 1/2 cups sliced almonds

About 8 ready-to-bake lasagna noodles (Or, you could boil traditional noodles, but who’s got the time)?

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, eggs, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper. In a small bowl, combine the mozzarella cheese with the Parmesan and mix well. Lightly spray a large baking pan with non stick spray or olive oil. Spread half of the pumpkin mixture in the bottom of the pan. Top with 1 cup sliced almonds, followed with half of the spinach, and then half of the cheese mixture. Add a layer of ready to bake lasagna noodles.

Spread the remaining pumpkin mixture over the noodles, followed with 1 cup of sliced almonds, the remaining spinach and then the rest of the cheese mixture. Add another layer of noodles.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk well. Slowly add the almond milk, stirring constantly until slightly thickened. Add nutmeg and white pepper, remove from heat, and pour evenly over noodles. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese to taste and remaining sliced almonds. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake in a 350 degree over for 1 hour. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Chicken Dijon

I was going to name this recipe after my favorite mustard, Grey Poupon, but my husband advised me not to. He said that Poupon Chicken didn’t sound very appetizing, and I guess he had a point.

After doing diligent research, I discovered that Grey Poupon is a dijon mustard and has a small amount of white wine in it. No wonder why I like it so much. I also learned that the word poupon means little baby, or baby doll. Who knew cooking could be so educational? 

I used a few of my ninja tricks to combine a few recipes, cut what I didn’t like, kept what I thought would work, used my imagination, and came up with a variation on a theme. So here it is, my Chicken Dijon, and Poupon too!

6 thinly sliced chicken breast fillets (I buy them already sliced thin. No need to pull out my sharp knives, especially if I’m in one of my moods).

1 TBSP light butter

sea salt and pepper to taste

2 TBSP chopped shallots

8 oz sliced fresh mushrooms

1 TBSP Dijon mustard (I use Grey Poupon. Of course I do).

1 cup chicken broth

1 tsp dried parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse the chicken and pat dry, and season with salt and pepper. In a non stick frying pan, melt the butter on low heat, then increase the cooking temperature to medium.

Cook the chicken fillets until slightly browned on each side, careful to not overcook or the chicken will be tough. Place chicken in a baking dish, cover with foil, and put in oven to keep warm.

Add the shallots to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until soft. Add the chicken broth to the shallots and stir in mustard. Add mushrooms, parsley and cook until mushrooms are cooked thoroughly. Pour the sauce over the chicken, cover with the foil, and cook for an additional 15 minutes to blend flavors. Enjoy!

Cranberry Sweet Potato Bread

I’m not much into baking, but I sure do love whipping up a fresh and tasty tea bread. I also love cooking with cranberries. Fresh, not canned. Of course. When fresh cranberries start appearing in the produce section of the grocery store, I buy out the store and stock up my freezer. Yep, you can freeze cranberries for up to six months, although I have been known to keep them in the freezer for up to a year, and they haven’t killed me yet.

I found this recipe with fresh cranberries and sweet potatoes so many years ago that the cookbook is literally falling apart. Although I loved the bread, I was totally bummed out by the amount of sugar in the recipe. Sweet potatoes (or yams) are certainly sweet enough on their own.

So, I took out my handy dandy Ninja knives and started cutting the back on the sugar, added a few other secret ingredients (okay, they won’t be a secret anymore) to make this far more light, healthy, and delicious. The original recipe called for 1 1/3 cups sugar. Since I always doubled the recipe, that would mean a whopping total of 2 2/3 cups sugar!Yikes!

Not only did I double the recipe, I managed to cut the sugar down to 1/3 cup, and I get rave reviews from everyone I share this bread with. There is nothing more satisfying than breaking bread with friends, unless it’s the bread itself.

I even tried substituting rice flour as well as other types of flour such as quinoa and coconut. It gives a nice, nutty flavor and texture to the bread, but I would be careful. I typically combine it with whole wheat flour, or else your bread will turn out too dry. I double the recipe, and since I always have fresh cranberries in the freezer, my husband and I enjoy this fabulous Cranberry Sweet Potato Bread all year long.

2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes (baked or boiled works)

4 large eggs, slightly beaten

3 cups flour

2/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract,

2 TBS ground cinnamon

2 TBS allspice

2 tsp baking soda

2 cups chopped cranberries (I put them in the food processor. Even though I do love chopping things to pieces, it’s a lot faster, even though it’s not as gratifying).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan with non-stick spray. In a large bowl combine eggs, sugar, yams, and vanilla. In a separate bowl combine flour, cinnamon, allspice, and baking soda. Pour yam mixture into dry mixture and mix just until moistened. Fold in cranberries. Spoon batter into pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick in center comes out clean.

Magic Mandarin Cranberry Sauce

Since the holidays are right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about preparing our holiday meals. Which, of course, includes the inevitable side dish of cranberry sauce. And I don’t mean the canned gelatinous stuff that some of us grew up with, although that was probably the only way we would eat it. I’m talking about the real deal, homemade cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries.

When my mother stopped serving the canned stuff and started making her own, I thought it was a minor miracle. Whoever thought such magic was possible? But then I discovered how much sugar she used. Well, that explained why it tasted so good.

I pulled out my ninja knives to cut the sugar content, and after much experimentation, I came up with a recipe using those cute little mandarin oranges to sweeten things up along with fresh squeezed orange juice instead of water to cook the cranberries in. It was still a little too tart, so I added one tablespoon of Xylitol, which is my sweetener of choice. You might want to add a little more if you need to. Here’s the recipe for my Magic Mandarin Cranberry Sauce.

 

12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries

3 or 4 mandarin oranges, peeled and chopped into small pieces (See, those ninja knives do come in handy).

1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

Xylitol to taste ( Or, you can use sugar, honey, or whatever you chose. I prefer Xylitol because I love the taste and texture, and it’s the one sweetener that doesn’t make me feel guilty).

Bring the first 3 ingredients to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and slowly add your sweetener to taste. Chill before serving. Not only is this cranberry sauce great with your Thanksgiving or holiday turkey, it is fantastic spread on turkey sandwiches when you’re enjoying your leftovers and watching football. Enjoy!

Perfectly Satisfying Pumpkin Soup

The first time I ever heard of pumpkin soup, my knee jerk reaction was, “Ewe, pumpkin soup???” And then I tasted it. It was delicious. Nothing warms the heart and soul like soup does, and it sure hits the spot on a cold winter day. Especially when it’s snowing outside, which it did for three days straight last week, giving me the perfect opportunity to putter around my kitchen.

I had a can of pumpkin in my pantry that had been staring me in the face for months, and it was time to set it free. I found a recipe for pumpkin soup in an old cookbook, and true to form, I used my ninja skills to cut the bad stuff and include some healthier options, like decreasing the amount of butter and substituting the whole milk (ack!) for unsweetened almond milk. It was delicious! And, here it is, the debut of my Perfect Pumpkin Soup.

1 TBS butter

1 medium-large onion, chopped

1 16 oz can pumpkin puree

1 10 oz can chicken broth

3 cups unsweetened almond milk

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp white pepper

In a large saucepan, heat butter over medium heat. Saute onions until tender. Stir in remaining ingredients, and heat just to boiling, stirring constantly. BOOM, that’s all there is to it. It was fabulous! Just for grins I added a small amount of spicy Italian sausage left over from the night before. All I can say is “yum!” This is now my go to soup for the next few months, or at least until it stops snowing, whichever comes first. Enjoy!

Sunshine Beet Salad

I love beets. My husband, not so much. But I don’t know what to do with them when I buy them. Until recently, when I found myself at a Farmer’s Market looking at a beautiful basket of yellow beets. They seemed to be calling my name, and since my husband wasn’t around to stop me, I bought a small bunch.

When I caught up with my husband, he asked me what I had in the bag. I avoided his eyes. “Beets,” I muttered. He got a very guarded look on his face before he asked the obvious question.

“And what are you going to do with them?” “Darned if I know,” I replied. But I knew I’d think of something, or these lovely golden beauties would end up like all of the other beets I buy. Shriveled up in the compost.

I didn’t want that to happen, so I did some research when I got home, collected a few ideas, made my own special changes, (of course), and viola! A fresh salad with beets that even my husband loves. I call it my Sunshine Beet Salad, because I swear, when my husband ate it, I saw the light!

 

Sunshine Beet Salad

2 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP red wine vinegar

2 TBSP lemon juice

Sea salt and ground pepper to taste

3 small golden beets

1 16 oz bag fresh baby spinach

1/4 cup diced red onions

1/2 cups toasted slivered almonds

Whisk together the first 4 ingredients. Peel and thinly slice the beets. You can use a mandoline, but the little ninja in me really loves holding sharp objects like a knife. Besides, I had a bad experience once with a mandoline, but I digress. Toss the beets with the dressing and refrigerate for an hour or two. The vinaigrette will tenderize the beets. Toss with the baby spinach and red onion. Sprinkle with almonds just before serving. For an interesting twist, try adding a small amount of feta cheese on top. In Cheryl’s Kitchen, the rules are there are no rules. Especially when it comes to beets. Enjoy!

Peachy Keen

Ahhhh, it’s late summer and in Colorado its Palisade peach harvest time. If you’ve never had a Palisade peach you just don’t know what you’re missing. The hot days and cool nights of Colorado make it a perfect growing environment for these delectable delights, making them sweet, juicy, and delicious.

However, the harvest season is short, so I have a tendency to over-purchase. As a result, a lot of my peaches are sacrificed. What a waste! A few days ago I looked at my huge box of peaches, some of which were already starting to over-ripen, and I decided to try my hand at freezing some of them.

Looking online, I found several different methods for freezing peaches, some including adding (ack!) sugar and/or artificial preservatives. Nuh-uh. Not for my peaches! They should be treated with the dignity and purity in which they were grown.

So, true to form, I used my ninja skills to choose steps from several different recipes, cut out what I didn’t like and kept what made sense to me. And I came up with one that I could live with. It was actually less work and much easier than I thought it would be, which is why I have a freezer full of peaches to help me get through the long, cold winter. And why I’m going out to buy more.

Here’s my ninja secret freezing technique. However, if you are not using Palisades, you might want to add sugar according to taste. Just saying. Nothing is more disappointing than a sour (or mealy) peach.

Boil water in a large pot. Place ice water in a large bowl, including ice cubes to keep it cold. Make a small cut at the bottom of each peach in the shape of an x. Boil the peaches a small batch at a time for 30 seconds, them remove and cool in the ice water. Gently rub the skin to peel the peaches. I save the skins and put them in the compost bin.

Slice the peaches over a large, shallow bowl to capture the juice as you slice them. Add about 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and toss the peach slices to coat with the lemon juice. Save the juice to use later for syrups, cooking, ice cream, yogurt, etc.

Put the peach slices on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. To remove the frozen slices, lift the parchment paper off of the baking sheet. Then it’s easy to peel them off without taking the paper with them. Place them in freezer bags or other appropriate containers, store them in the freezer, and VIOLA! Peaches all year round!

Which does beg the question….why did it take me so long to try this?

Fabulous Frozen Dessert

I’m not a huge fan of desserts, but lately I have been craving a frozen dessert that my mother used to make when my sisters and I were a lot younger, and before we worried about silly things like our weight. I didn’t have the recipe, but fortunately one of my sisters did. Yay! Frozen dessert time!

Then I looked at the ingredients. Sour cream, maraschino cherries, canned pineapple, and Cool Whip, just to name a few. YIKES! So, I used my ninja knives and a few ninja skills to cut out the bad stuff and see if I could make this delicious dessert more palatable to my health-conscious mind.

Substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream, whipped coconut cream for Cool Whip, and using fresh cherries and pineapple worked like a ninja hiding in plain sight. Oh, and I completely eliminated the sugar to complete this fabulous frozen dessert.

Ingredients:

1 14 oz can coconut cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pint Fage Fat-Free Greek yogurt

4 diced bananas

1 cup fresh pitted cherries (yes, it makes a heck of a mess, but it’s well worth it)

1 cup diced fresh pineapple

1 cup fresh blueberries

1 cup chopped walnuts

Start with making the coconut whipped cream:

Refrigerate the can of coconut cream. You can also use coconut milk, but I prefer the cream. Leave it in the refrigerator overnight so the cream rises to the top.

An hour before making the whipped cream, chill a metal mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer. Carefully open the can of coconut cream, making sure you don’t shake the contents. Scoop the solids and place in chilled bowl.

Beat the coconut cream with an electric mixer (I’m thinking your arm would fall off if you tried to do it by hand, unless you have some serious anger issues you want to work through). Start on medium speed and then turn to high. Beat until peaks form, about 8 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat 1 minute longer. You can also add sugar if you want to, but trust me on this. The fruit adds enough sweetness.

Mix together.

Mix the coconut whipped cream and the yogurt until smooth and well blended. Gently fold in the fruit and nuts. After folding ingredients, place in a container and freeze. You can use a freezer safe baking dish, individual custard cups, or foil cupcake liners. Let them set at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!!

Summertime…..and The Grilling Is Easy

Ahhhh….summertime, and the living is easy. And so is the grilling. I don’t know about you, but I do get a little bored with burgers and steaks on the grill. Sometimes I want (and need) something that’s lighter, but still tasty and satisfying.

Fish on the grill is always an option, but let’s face it–living in Denver makes us a bit land-locked, and finding fresh fish choices is a challenge. And, since my husband and I don’t grill it very often, we never get it right. Which leaves me cooking it in the oven, and NOT something I want to do in the heat of the summer. Presuming, of course, that summer will eventually get here. A significant concern, since we got over 2 feet of snow in the high country on the first day of summer.

However, a few weeks ago I hit a home run. And here it is….grilled rock fish and asparagus. Light, tasty, and oh, so satisfying! It is now one of our go-to recipes. Even if my husband is still grilling in the snow.

1 pound rock fish filets

2 TBSP fresh lemon juice

2 TBSP butter

2 TBSP capers

1 tsp fresh dill

salt and pepper to taste

1 bunch asparagus (Use the bigger spears. The slender ones do not grill well, and that is the understatement of the century.)

2 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP fresh lemon juice

sea salt to taste

Lightly salt and pepper the rock fish and place on aluminum foil to grill. Be careful not to overcook. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Add lemon juice, capers, and dill. Stir well. Dribble over the cooked fish.

Cut the asparagus spears in halves or thirds and place in a large bowl. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, ans sea salt to taste. Place on aluminum foil to grill.

Ta-Da! That’s it. Fast, simple, easy, light, healthy, delicious, and a perfect summertime dinner. Enjoy!

Real Men DO Eat Quiche

Real men do eat quiche. Or, at least mine does. He absolutely loves it, and so do I. My ex-BFF always made asparagus quiche every time she had us over for brunch, because my husband loved it so much. It was good, but the rich crust and heavy cream in the filling sat in my stomach like a brick for days, not to mention what it did to my hips.

A long time ago a friend introduced me to a “crustless quiche” recipe she found in a Fannie Farmer cookbook. It included cottage cheese, frozen spinach (yuk!), and just a few other mundane ingredients. However, melted butter formed a lovely crust as it baked. Mmmmmm, butter. Now you’re talking!

For years it was my go-to quiche recipe. But, it just didn’t seem very healthy or nutritious. Go figure. So, I used my stealthy ninja skills to cut, draw, and re-arrange a few things. I added fresh vegetables and the results were short of miraculous.

Then, for good measure (and because it is quiche, after all), I added the coup de gras—bacon! If you’re not a fan of bacon, you can use turkey bacon or just leave it out entirely so it is a vegetarian dish. You may want to even play with a few variations of your own. Just in case you like to play with your food. So, here it is, my Best Quiche Ever!

 

10 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp sea salt (I like the Himalayan sea salt, because it’s pretty.)

1/2 cup butter (melted)

1/2 cup flour

4 cups coarsely chopped fresh baby spinach

3 cups cooked butternut squash, mashed (Mashing things really helps with anger issues. Not that I would know).

2 cups shredded cheese of your choice (I use either cheddar or a blend of mild cheeses. Depends on my mood).

10 strips chopped cooked bacon (I buy the precooked kind. My late father would be horrified. Frying bacon was his forte in the kitchen).

10-12 spears fresh baby asparagus

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt the butter in a 9x13x2 baking dish, but I would prepare the batter first so the butter doesn’t burn. I learned that one the hard way. Beat the eggs (I do it by hand using a whisk, once again releasing any pent up aggression), mix in the flour, sea salt, and baking powder.

Add the spinach, squash, bacon, and cheese. Mix well. Melt the butter in the oven. Remove pan from oven, gently and carefully (another harsh lesson learned the hard way), add the batter to the pan. Evenly distribute the asparagus spears on top, gently pressing into the batter.

Return to the oven and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 and cook for another 35-40 minutes. Stand 5 minutes to set before serving. This is great paired with French Bread, my Hallelujah Kale Salad, and a light white wine. Enjoy!!