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!

 

 

 

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!

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!

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!!

Major Mac and Cheese Makeover

I love comfort food. Who doesn’t? My favorite has got to be macaroni and cheese. Good old-fashioned, rich, creamy, gooey, stick-to-your-ribs (and to your hips) macaroni and cheese. It sure does hit the spot on a cold winter evening or when you feel you need some home-style cooking. But seriously, who needs all that extra fat and calories?

I spent years trying out recipes of “lightened up” mac and cheese. They sure did save on fat and calories, because they were so awful I couldn’t eat them. Maybe that was the intention all along. But I still wanted my mac and cheese. So, I used my stealthy ninja skills along with my sharp objects to cut down on the bad stuff and to sneak in some healthy additions as well.

By using high protein pasta, decreasing the amount of butter (but not eliminating it completely), using unsweetened almond milk instead of whole milk, substituting butternut squash for 1 cup of cheese, and tossing in baby spinach for good measure, I believe I finally nailed it. After many tried and true attempts, here is my Major Mac and Cheese Makeover.

16 ounces  Barilla Protein Plus penne pasta

2 TBSP butter

1/4 cup flour

1 tsp dry mustard

1 tsp white pepper

dash hot pepper sauce

2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk

1 cup cooked butternut squash

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

3 cups chopped baby spinach

Spray a casserole dish with no-stick cooking spray. Cook the penne pasta according to directions, drain and place in the casserole dish. Add the chopped spinach and toss gently. In a medium saucepan,  melt butter. Stir in flour, mustard, pepper, and hot pepper sauce and blend until smooth. Mix the cooked butternut squash in a food processor with 1 cup of the almond milk and blend until completely smooth.

(Note: I buy the butternut squash already cubed in the produce section of the grocery store. I got tired of wrestling those bad boys and losing the fight. Guess my ninja knives aren’t as sharp as I think. Or my ninja skills).

Add the squash and almond milk mixture to the pan, and slowly add the remainder of the almond milk. Cook until the mixture boils, stirring constantly. Add the cheese and cook just until cheese is melted, stirring constantly. Pour mixture on top of pasta/spinach mix, cover and cook on 350 degrees for 1 hour. The results are a smooth, creamy, mild flavored, and oh-so-satisfying macaroni and cheese. Without the fat, calories, and the guilt.

Hallelujah Kale Salad

I have a love-hate relationship with kale. On the one hand, I love the incredible health benefits in this beautifully colorful but pungent vegetable. On the flip side, I don’t like to eat it. Period. End of discussion.

A few years ago, I used my stealthy ninja tricks to sneak more kale into my diet. I had started juicing, because I heard about the almost magical benefits of this latest dietary fad. One of my friends even assured me that her green juices gave her “super powers.” Hmmmmm….I thought to myself, who wouldn’t want that? And I started adding kale to my juices.

Since my martial arts class started at noon, it was always a challenge to figure out when to eat lunch. Eat too close to noon and you feel like you’re going to throw up. Which would certainly defeat your opponent, but there are better ways of doing that. Eat too early and you’re defeated by your own plummeting blood sugar. Having a freshly rendered juice before leaving for the dojo seemed to be the perfect solution.

Until the day when I was feeling exceptionally adventurous and put an entire bunch of kale in my juice before I ran out of the house to go to class. Class always began with a vigorous acrobatic warm up including a complex series of rolls, falls, cartwheels, etc.  After my first 2 rolls I realized I had made a serious error in judgment. I managed to keep it together (if you catch my drift) for the rest of the class, but I assure you, I never did that again!

Recently, a friend of mine shared her kale salad recipe with me. It involves “massaging” the kale to make it soft and tender. Always skeptical, I tried it in spite of my misgivings, figuring I could always put it in the composting if it was inedible. It was delicious! So good that I ate the entire bowl in one sitting, without the dire side effects I experienced from the kale juice. Halleluja! Kale really can be irresistible! So….here it is. My Hallelujah Kale Salad.

1 bunch green kale

1 ripe avocado

1 lemon

sea salt

Mash the avocado in a large bowl. Strip the leaves from the stem, tear into smaller pieces, and toss them into the bowl. Add the juice of half a freshly squeezed lemon and “massage” the ingredients together with your hand. Not only does it soften and tenderize the leaves as you work the avocado into the kale, it’s an awesome way to work out some anger issues. Not that I would know anything about that. (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes right now). Sprinkle sea salt to taste and mix together.

You might want to add a bit more lemon juice. I like things that are tart (like myself), so I actually use an entire lemon. During a creative streak, I tried adding ingredients like garbanzo beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, etc., but it didn’t quite work out. In this salad, the kale stands alone. Enjoy!

Bavarian Pork With Sauerkraut

I grew up in a home and with an ethnicity that relied heavily on sauerkraut for cooking. I even remember my dad drinking the juice directly from the jar, saying it was good for your health. Blech! Even though I did like sauerkraut as a kid, I really learned to love it as I got older. And luckily, I married a guy who loves it, too. Even if he is from the South. However, neither one of us will drink the juice. But I will cook with it.

I found this little gem of a recipe so long ago I can’t even remember where it came from. The original recipe calls for baking it in the oven, but I prefer cooking it in the crock pot, with a thin layer of the sauerkraut over the pork chops. I apologize in advance to my vegetarian and vegan friends. Having included that disclaimer, here ya go:

1# pork cops 1/4-1/2″ thick

salt and pepper to taste

2 C drained sauerkraut (Feel free to drink the juice and toast to my father’s memory).

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large apple, sliced thin

2 tsp brown sugar

2 TBSP chopped parsley

1 tsp allspice

Brown pork chops and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.  Toss the sauerkraut with the chopped onion, 1/2 of the apple slices, parsley,and  brown sugar. Place in a baking dish (or bottom of crock pot). Lay the pork chops on top with the remaining apple slices. Cover and bake at 350 for 1 hour, or cook on low for 8 hours in the crock pot.

This dish really hits the spot on a cold winter’s night. And my ancestor’s would be proud!

Baked Lasagna With Red Wine

Welcome back to Cheryl’s kitchen, where the food is always good and the kitchen is always a mess. Since this is the first recipe I’m sharing with you, I wanted it to be special. This is a recipe that my mom found in our local newspaper over 35 years ago. Since there were a lot of Italian families in our area, I knew it had to be good. I was right…for once!

Baked Lasagna

3 cloves chopped garlic

1# ground round steak

1 28 oz can tomato puree

1 6 oz can tomato paste and 1 can water

½ tsp oregano

½ tsp basil

¼ cup red wine, plus one full glass for the cook

2 tsp salt

½ cup fresh Romano cheese

1# ricotta cheese

8 oz mozzarella cheese

1# box oven ready lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 13x9x2 baking pan or spray with cooking spray or olive oil. Brown the meat with the garlic in a large pot. Combine the onion and tomato puree in a blender and blend until smooth. Add to the meat mixture along with the tomato paste, water, oregano, basil salt, and wine. (You might want to refresh the cook’s glass while you’re at it). Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Cover the bottom of the pan with 1/3 of the meat sauce. Grate Romano cheese evenly over it. (Ahhh, who am I kidding? I use the pre-grated stuff  from the deli, but please don’t tell anyone. It’s one of my ninja secrets). Place a layer of noodles over it the meat and Romano. Spread ½ of the ricotta over noodles. Grate 4 oz of mozzarella over the ricotta. (If you really feel the need to grate your own mozzarella, go right ahead. I prefer taking advantage of the modern conveniences of cutting corners and buy a package of grated cheese. No, it’s not cheating. Besides, in my martial arts training we had a saying that if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. I believe the same applies to cooking). Repeat, ending with meat sauce and Romano.

Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour at 350. This gives you enough time to kick back, put your feet up, and enjoy one more glass of wine, just in case it is calling your name. When it’s done, remove the foil and let it stand 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy, because you certainly deserve it!