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!

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!!

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.

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!