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!

Seize The Day

A few days ago I woke up feeling heavy and sluggish. Gingerly I rolled over in bed, got up, and staggered toward the enticing aroma of fresh coffee brewing. Ahhhh, coffee! I followed it into the kitchen where my husband and 3 dogs greeted me with wagging tails and a cheery “Good Morning!” Easy for them to say.

Eventually the coffee worked its magic well enough for me to give everyone a pat on the head (including my husband) before going down to my girl cave to get some work done. I also had to clean the kitchen, get dinner in the crock pot, get dressed and head out the door for ballet class. I had a lot to get done, and I was in a crappy mood. I made sure I took my bad mood with me as I made my way downstairs.

But something funny happened. All of a sudden my creative juices began to flow. There I was, writing and working, working and writing. My mood began to shift and I felt lighter, and happier as I pounded away at the keys. Here’s one of my many deep, dark secrets–I can’t type. I never learned how. I’m a writer that can’t type and a physical therapist that hates exercise and thinks that chocolate is food. I giggled at the irony.

I glanced at the clock and got a shock. It was so late I would have to scramble to get dressed in time for class. Forget about cleaning the kitchen and making dinner. I was panicked about being late for class and agitated that I would lose momentum with my work. My bad mood returned.

As I ran around like a crazy person, I stopped cold. What was I doing to myself? I was exhausted, and it was obvious that my stress (as well as my bad mood), was purely self-inflicted. I went back into the kitchen, patted everyone on the head again (including my husband), and sat down to have breakfast with him. Surprised, he asked, “No barre today?” “No,” I replied. “I’m going to stay home, relax, and get some work done.” He smiled and patted me on the head.

There are a lot of life’s lessons in this story. First, we have much more control over our mood than we think we do. All it takes is self-awareness and introspection to lower our stress levels and change the course of our day. Next, it’s important to laugh at ourselves and embrace our idiosyncrasies. Also, sometimes we need to pass on the barre, no matter how tempting it is. Finally,  everyone could use a pat on the head. And a belly rub. It’s good for the soul. Besides, it makes us laugh. Most of all, remember to seize the day, and take charge of your life.

When Life Gives You Lemons….

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I was recently reminded of this when I was looking for an old Fannie Farmer recipe. I didn’t even know that Fannie Farmer was a real person. I just thought it was a catchy name for farm fresh recipes. That shows you how much I know! I was fascinated at what I found.

Fannie was the oldest daughter in a family of 4 girls. Huh, interesting. I grew up in a family of 5 girls. She and her sisters were expected to go to college. Another coincidence–my sisters and I were expected to go to college as well. So we could be self sufficient before we got married. We were kind of expected to do that as well.

Anyway, that’s where any parallels ended. Fannie never did pursue higher education. She suffered a paralyzing stroke when she was 16. Sixteen! How does someone have a stroke at 16? As a medical person I know it happens, but it’s pretty rare.

For several years, she was unable to walk. She lived at home so her parents could take care of her. While recuperating, she took up cooking and eventually turned her mother’s home into a boarding house that was renowned for the quality of the meals it served. Go, Fannie!!

The rest, as they say, is history. And Fannie Farmer certainly made history, as well as significant impact on the future of cooking, nutrition, and domestic science. Her life path was dramatically changed by a devastating medical crisis. But instead of giving up, she managed to find a new path which made her name a household word long after she was gone.

Her story inspired me, and made me think of other people who changed the world. Not in spite of their physical challenges, but because of them. Joseph Pilates and Moshe Feldenkrais are just two that come to mind, but there are hundreds more out there.

Maybe you’re one of them. Or will be in the future. Just remember that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I have faith in you, and I’ll give you plenty of sugar along the way if you need it. Because I believe in the resilience of the human spirit. And I certainly believe in you.

A Chicken In Every Pot

In 1928, Herbert Hoover promised the nation that there would be “a chicken in every pot” if he won. I love that idea, especially if it’s in my crock pot.

But I never could manage to cook a whole chicken in my crock pot. It always came out as a big mushy mess. It tasted okay, but the texture was horrible. And then I found a crock pot recipe for a “rotisserie” chicken.

When I read the recipe I did a mental head smack. I was cooking it way too long! No wonder why mine was a mushy mess. So, I tried the recipe and it was fabulous. Of course, true to form, I changed the ingredients around a bit. After all, blind obedience never was my forte.

I love chicken, not only because it is incredibly versatile, the health benefits of chicken is nothing to scratch at. (Sorry, bad chicken humor). I do cook (and eat) a lot of chicken. But I was recently banned from bringing chicken for lunch by a small group of vegans who were offended by my chicken.

How could you possibly be offended by a chicken? That poor bird never did anything to hurt anyone. Besides, it gave its life for me. The least we can do is show it some respect and appreciation. I know I always say a few words of thanksgiving before I eat it. I just make sure I say them silently so I don’t offend anyone.

I love chicken. I have one in my crock pot right now. I’m getting ready to download the 25 new recipes that showed up in my inbox this morning. I will raise a drumstick in salute to that noble bird. I might even break out into a rendition of the chicken dance. Because there really should be a chicken in every pot.

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!

Introducing Cheryl’s Kitchen

I can’t believe that I have had a blog for almost 8 years and I have NEVER added a recipe or two. What’s up with that? I do love to cook, as long as I have the time. Otherwise I am running around my kitchen like a lunatic, totally frazzled with the age old question repeating itself in my head. Which is, “What’s for dinner?”

The reality that dinner was all on me hit me after I graduated college and moved to Denver when I realized that if I wanted to eat, I had to cook. I’ll never forget the first dinner I cooked for myself. Frozen fish sticks, frozen veggies, and pre-packaged rolls. I thought that was cooking. And I wondered why I was getting fat.

I am a totally self-taught cook, and I learned mostly through trial and error. And there was a whole lot of error along the way.Most mothers teach their daughters how to cook. At least they did during the era that I grew up. But, since my mom had 3 little girls in 4 years, things were a little different in our house. My oldest sister was responsible for helping my dad with the yard work and heavy lifting. My next sister got to do the fun stuff like helping my mom with the cooking, baking, and ironing.

And then there was me. I got to clean the kitchen and the bathroom. By myself. Lucky me. So, where my sisters at least got some parental interaction, I was left alone with my thoughts and a can of cleanser. I guess that’s where my fertile imagination came from.

I bought my first cookbook 40 years ago, and I still have it. Although, when I use it I modify the recipes so much that even the author wouldn’t recognize them. After all, I’ve learned a lot about nutrition as well as cutting corners over the years. I’ve also learned how to lighten the calorie count while maximizing flavor and nutritional value. But please don’t let that scare you. Not all of them are light and healthy, but I assure you that they all are tasty.

I hope you love my kitchen as much as I do. Welcome to Cheryl’s Kitchen!