rice noodle salad with peanut dressing

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I was going through a protein rut recently, where I seemed to be cooking with beans more weeknights than not. We try not to eat meat on weekdays, we take hard-boiled eggs to work everyday as snacks, and cheese has too much fat. So what does that leave me? I’d completely forgotten about soy.

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Think of tofu as a sponge that soaks up flavor. True, on its own, it tastes like water and has a jello-like squishiness, but when you sauté it and soak it in sauce, it’s hardly discernible from chicken, except cheaper and easier to work with. Plus, it won’t dry out like boneless skinless chicken breasts.

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This sauce has plenty of flavor for the tofu to absorb. Ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and sesame oil, all mixed into creamy peanut butter, make for one heck of a combination. There are plenty of vegetables to provide brightness and crunch.  This was so good we had it two weeks in a row – alternating with dinners involving beans, of course.

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One year ago: Pasta Puttanesca
Two years ago: Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup
Three years ago: Pasta with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Red Peppers

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Rice Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing (adapted from Cate’s World Kitchen)

My noodles stuck together in one big clump, so I chopped them up after cooking. I know that’s against standard noodle procedure, but in the end, it worked perfectly.

Serves 4-6

Having made this a bunch more times, I’ve found that it’s even better with the juice of a lime squeezed into the sauce.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound tofu
salt
8 ounces rice noodles (linguine shape)
½ inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
¼ cup warm water
chili garlic sauce to taste (optional)
1 medium cucumber, sliced into half moons
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
2 green onions (green parts only), sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the tofu lengthwise into ½-inch thick slabs; pat dry on a dishtowel. Transfer the tofu to the oil and cook, without moving, for 4-6 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Flip the tofu and brown the second side. Remove the tofu from the skillet and cut into bite-sized cubes.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt and the rice noodles; cook until tender. (Check the package instructions for exact cooking times.) Drain and rinse the pasta.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, water, and chili garlic sauce until smooth. Fold the tofu into the sauce, then add the remaining ingredients, reserving some of the green onions and cilantro for a garnish.

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mushroom farro soup

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What a difference a few drops of vinegar make. I sat down to eat my soup and couldn’t shake the thought that it was missing something. It seemed like enough salt, but I thought maybe if I dribbled in some umami-y soy sauce, that would do the trick. On the way to the cabinet, I saw the bottle of sherry vinegar that I’d put on the counter to add to the soup and forgotten about it. It turns out, that’s exactly what the soup needed.

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It isn’t that the soup is so bad without it, not by any means. With a flavor base of browned onions and carrots, then garlic and tomato paste, and finally a pile of sliced fresh mushrooms, there’s plenty of sweet and meat flavors (although no actual meat). A pinch of truffle salt didn’t hurt matters either, and porcini mushrooms along with their rehydrating broth take the mushroominess up another notch.

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Farro gives the soup substance, and altogether it adds up to a dark, deeply flavored soup that is, nonetheless, missing something. A spoonful of sherry (or red wine) vinegar adds a touch of brightness that balances the rich flavors of the mushrooms. And then the soup is just right.

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One year ago: Red Pepper Risotto
Two years ago: Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream
Three years ago: Sausage Apple Hash

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Mushroom Farro Soup (adapted from The New York Times via Smitten Kitchen)

4 servings

I added a stalk of celery too, because I had some in the fridge. I wouldn’t buy it just for this recipe though.

Feel free to substitute barley or wheat berries for the farro, but you’ll need to adjust the cooking time for different grains.

The photos of the final soup are of leftovers. Overnight, the farro soaks up some of the broth, making a thicker soup with softer grains. The soup is wonderful fresh, but I might even prefer it leftover.

¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onions, diced fine
1 medium carrot, diced fine (or 1 carrot and 1 stalk of celery)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 pounds cremini mushrooms, sliced ⅛-inch thick
¼ cup sherry
2 cups broth (I prefer chicken)
½ cup farro, rinsed
Salt and black pepper
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl with ½ cup water; cover the bowl with plastic wrap, use a paring knife to make about 5 holes in the plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Set aside for 10 minutes to let the mushrooms soften. Use a fork to lift the softened mushrooms out of the liquid. Mince the mushrooms and strain the liquid through a coffee filter to remove grit, reserving the strained liquid. (This is the official method; I never do it this way, I just let the grit settle to the bottom of the liquid and leave the bit of gritty liquid behind when I use the liquid later in the recipe.)

2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions just start to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Add the fresh mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until they release their liquid, 3-5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms just begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the sherry; scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the broth, farro, minced porcini, the liquid leftover from soaking the mushrooms, 2 teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 40 minutes, until the farro is tender. (The soup can be stored at this point for up to 5 days. Heat on the stove over medium heat just before serving.) Stir in the sherry vinegar. Add more salt and pepper if necessary; serve.

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spelt crackers

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I’ve had one of those weekends that make people say goofy things about how they need another weekend to recover from their weekend. I’m blaming the holidays, although not all of my extra projects are holiday-related. In particular, the dinner party I’m co-hosting on Thursday is dominating a lot of my kitchen time this week, since it’s on a weekday so everything I’m in charge of needs to be done in advance.

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But I still managed to squeeze in time to make these crackers – twice. Not only do they only have three ingredients – water, salt, and fancy flour – those ingredients don’t require any complicated steps. There’s no kneading and no resting, just a quick stir before the dough is ready to be rolled out.

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Twenty minutes in the oven and just like that, you have crackers. Crackers so good that Dave said, “These are homemade? But they’re just like real crackers!” Fresh crisp crackers, baked brie topped with roasted red peppers and garlic, and a glass of wine make the perfect break from weekend chores.

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One year ago: Comparison of 3 Bolognese Sauce recipes
Two years ago: Bourbon Pound Cake

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Spelt Crackers (barely adapted from The New York Times Magazine via Smitten Kitchen)

4-6 servings

The original recipe calls for white spelt flour, but I don’t know what I used. In fact, I bought my spelt flour in the bulk section at the same time I bought barley flour, and I mixed them up and don’t know which I used. The crackers turned out great regardless.

I didn’t flour the pan generously enough the first time and had some issues with the dough and then the baked crackers sticking. I tried spraying the pan with oil the second time instead of flouring, which made rolling a lot easier, but the crackers weren’t as crisp. From now on, I’ll stick with flour but be sure to use plenty of it.

¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup water
1½ cups spelt flour, plus more for flouring surface
Coarse sea salt, dried onion bits, poppy seeds and sesame seeds, or a seed combination of your choice

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Dissolve the salt in the water. Stir in the spelt flour until a ball forms.

3. Generously flour an overturned 12-by-17-inch cookie sheet and roll out the dough on top of it, using as much flour as needed to prevent sticking, until the dough covers the sheet from edge to edge. Using a spray bottle filled with water, spray the dough to give it a glossy finish. Prick the dough all over with a fork. If you choose, sprinkle with sea salt or seeds. For neat crackers, score the dough into grids.

4. Bake until the dough is crisp and golden, 15 to 25 minutes. Break into pieces and serve.

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lentil marinara

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When my coworker came back to work after spending weeks in the hospital (and in my small town, that means a hospital over two hours away from home) with his sick newborn baby, I figured they could use a home-cooked meal. I thought tomato soup, homemade bread, and some nice cheese to make grilled sandwiches would be the perfect comfort food. Unfortunately, it would require a trip to the store and a couple free hours to cook, and when I saw how exhausted my friend was, I figured getting something to him soon was more important than getting the perfect meal to him.

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So I made extras of what I was having for dinner that night. Spaghetti is warm and familiar, so fits the comfort food bill, and who doesn’t like the pasta and tomato sauce combination? The lentils, though, might seem strange to some people.

It makes perfect sense to me, because lentils are a great protein source, and while I can’t claim that they taste like beef, there is something meaty-like about them. Besides, what’s more comforting than knowing that your dinner is not only delicious, it’s healthy?

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And now I have another friend who needs comfort food after the death of her father on Thanksgiving day. Unfortunately, I can’t just bring her my leftovers, because she lives a thousand miles away. I don’t think virtual comfort food is quite the same, but at least she’ll know I’m thinking about her and her family and wishing them the best during a difficult time.

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One year ago: Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pine Nuts
Two years ago: Thai-Style Chicken Soup
Three years ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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Lentil Marinara (adapted from Branny Boils Over)

6-8 servings

I simmered this for 30-45 minutes, but, if you have the time, I suspect that a longer simmering time while covered would really help the lentils absorb the tomato flavor.

I like canned whole tomatoes for sauce because they break down better, but if you don’t mind larger tomato chunks in your sauce, diced tomatoes will work fine. I chop canned whole tomatoes by sticking kitchen shears into the can and snipping away.

Update 4/23/12 – I’ve made this a couple more times, and I’ve decided that it’s probably too heavy on the lentils.  Using up a whole bag at once is nice, but 8 ounces of lentils for 2 cans of tomatoes will make a tastier sauce.

2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ cup white or red wine
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 (1-pound) bag brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion just starts to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the wine, scraping any browned residue on the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender and the sauce is thickened.

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roasted root vegetable stuffing

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When I was creating my Thanksgiving menu last year, it occurred to me that most of the traditional Thanksgiving courses are based on carbs – stuffing, potatoes, rolls. The only traditional non-carb sides are the green bean casserole that nobody likes and the sugar-laden cranberries. I have nothing against carbs, and I know all about splurging for a holiday, but I actually like vegetables. Plus, if you include lower calorie food in the menu, you can eat more before filling up!

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I would go so far as to almost call this healthy, although it depends on the cornbread you use. It’s mostly vegetables – vegetables whose natural sugars are intensified through roasting. The sweet earthy root vegetables meld perfectly with similarly flavored cornbread.

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Beyond the parsnips and rutabaga, it’s a typical dressing recipe with eggs and broth binding the ingredients together before the mixture is baked until it’s crisp on top (but maybe not dry and burned like mine). The result is a dressing that’s almost too good to be topped with white wine gravy.

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Two years ago: Glazed Lemon Cookies
Three years ago: Wheatmeal Shortbread Cookies

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Cornbread Dressing with Roasted Root Vegetables (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

Serves 6

6 ounces shallots, peeled, halved if small, quartered if large
8 ounces carrots, sliced ¼-inch thick on the diagonal
8 ounces parsnips, sliced ¼-inch thick on diagonal
8 ounces rutabaga, cut into ½-inch cubes
salt and pepper
olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
2 cups ½-inch cubes of cornbread
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup low-salt chicken broth (or Golden Turkey Stock)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the shallots, carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper and drizzle with just enough olive oil to coat. Roast for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and browned around the edges. Add the garlic during last 15 minutes. Set the roasted garlic aside; transfer the other vegetables to a large bowl.

2. Spread the cornbread cubes over the now-empty baking sheet. Bake until dry, 10-15 minutes, stirring about halfway through the cooking time.

3. Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray. Mince the garlic; add it to the vegetables along with the herbs and cornbread cubes. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, then whisk in the broth and butter; pour the egg mixture over the vegetable mixture and gently fold to combine.

4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Cover the pan with foil; bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until browned and crisp, about 15 minutes longer.

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fried eggs with garlic yogurt sauce

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I had no idea what I was in for when I planted mint in my backyard this spring. Not only did I not realize that it would encroach on the basil and oregano to either side of it, not to mention the jalapeno on the other side of the raised bed, but I’m not a big mint eater anyway. Mostly I figured it would make a pretty garnish for desserts.

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When I started to see what I was in for as a mint-grower, I thought I might get into mojitos, but as refreshing as they are, my loyalty still lies with margaritas. Eventually I gave up and let the mint have its way with my raised bed. It went to flower, which happily drew pollinators to my garden for the acorn squash, cucumber, and pea and/or green bean seeds I planted on a whim after all of my tomato plants died.

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This is one of the few recipes I’ve used mint in regularly this summer, and one of the only savory dishes I like it in. It’s a perfect weekend breakfast, in that it’s easy, healthy, filling but not too filling, and of course, it tastes good. It’s a classic favorite combination of breakfast foods, with eggs on toast covered in sauce, but instead of a rich sauce of egg yolks and butter, it’s a garlicky minty yogurt sauce

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One year ago: Raspberry Lemon Petits Fours
Two years ago: Pumpkin Cupcakes (comparison of 3 recipes)
Three years ago: Lavash Crackers

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Fried Eggs with Garlic Yogurt Sauce (original recipe from Linda and Fred Griffith’s Garlic Garlic Garlic via my brother)

Serves 2-4

I’ve simplified the recipe even more than the original, which called for poached eggs plus a butter sauce; I only wanted to use one pan, not two, so I fry the eggs in the seasoned butter and then drizzle any liquid remaining in the skillet over the cooked eggs.

¾ cup Greek yogurt
2 garlic gloves, pressed through a garlic press or minced and mashed
2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced
salt
1 tablespoon butter
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
4 large eggs
4 small pitas or slices of toast or 2 English muffins

1. In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, garlic, mint, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

2. In a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with the cayenne and a pinch of salt. Crack each egg into a small dish; tip them into the prepared pan and sprinkle with salt. Cover the pan, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook for 5-7 minutes for over-medium eggs.

3. Place the pita or toast on plates. Top each with a fried egg and a spoonful of the yogurt sauce, then drizzle any remaining seasoned butter from the skillet over the tops of the eggs. Serve immediately.

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farro and pine nut salad

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It’s a good thing I really like farro, because I accidentally bought 26 dollars worth of it. Apparently I need to pay more attention to the prices on the bulk bins. I should also start enjoying barley or wheat berries or some other equally healthy grain that doesn’t cost $12 per pound. (I actually looked at the prices the next time I was at the store, and farro cost about five times as much as the other grains.)

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I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about farro that I like so much. I don’t think the flavor of the different grains are so different that I notice a big difference once dressing and other ingredients are mixed in, so it must be more textural. It’s all about a balance of the tender and the chewy. Rice is soft and tender. Barley is very chewy. Farro is just right.

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Usually I mix it with caramelized onions and feta, which, with a squirt of hot sauce, becomes one of my favorite meals that also happens to be incredibly healthy. But having two pounds of farro is good incentive to branch out. There are few things that aren’t improved with the addition of summer vegetables, pine nuts, chickpeas, and a squirt of lemon juice, farro included. It looks like I have another delicious farro meal that also happens to be healthy.

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One year ago: Grilled Potato and Vegetable Salad
Two years ago: Casatiello
Three years ago: Soba Salad with Feta and Peas

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Farro and Pine Nut Salad (adapted from Self magazine via epicurious)

If you choose a grain other than farro, your cooking time will probably be different.

The original recipe included jalapenos, which is why they’re shown in the photo above, but I decided not to use them.

1 cup farro (or another whole grain, such as wheat berries, barley, or brown rice)
salt
1 clove garlic, unpeeled
¼ cup pine nuts
Juice from 1 lemon
½ small red onion, very thinly sliced
2 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped, or 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 small cucumber, quartered and sliced ⅛-inch thick
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup feta, crumbled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a roiling boil; add the farro and 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook for 20 minutes, until the farro is tender but slightly chewy. Drain.

2. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into a large bowl; add the onions and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

3. Heat a small not-nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and toast it, turning once, until browned, about 2 minutes. Remove the garlic from the pan. Add the pine nuts to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and slightly browned, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the pan. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, peel and mince it.

4. Stir the drained farro into the onion vinegar mixture, then add the remaining ingredients. Let the salad stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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cocoa almond meringues

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Sometimes I ignore the rules of baking, and other times I over-follow them. For example, when I see DO NOT OVERMIX in big bold capital letters, I will overcompensate, undermix, and bake clumps of raw flour into my genoise cake. On the other hand, if it’s raining and I decide I want to make meringues, I will make meringues, despite knowing that you’re not supposed to make meringues when it’s humid.

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That first meringue cookies I made, years ago, while it was raining, were sticky and heavy and not good at all. Now I live in the desert in the middle of a drought. Humidity isn’t so much an issue.

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Because this was only my second attempt at meringue cookies and the first was a bust, I’m not sure how they’re supposed to be. The outside of the cookies is crisp and light and shatters into tiny pieces when you bite into it. The inside was chewy. Is this because I didn’t follow the rules and opened the oven halfway through baking? Or did I, heaven forbid, OVERMIX? Or is this how they’re supposed to be?

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Either way, it turns out that I like meringue cookies, especially meringue cookies that have cocoa and chocolate chips in them. And other than cracking open the oven door to sneak in the crème brulee I made with the egg yolk leftover after making meringues, I made the exact recipe – which can be found on Mike’s blog, as he chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie.

One year ago: Gingered Carrot Cookies
Two years ago: Banana Bundt Cake
Three years ago: Black and White Banana Loaf

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slow cooker spinach mushroom lasagna

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Lasagna cooked in the slow cooker is not that different from lasagna cooked in the oven. It has the same ingredients, the same layers, the same browned cheesy top – and the same amount of effort required to make it. Really the only thing that’s different is the amount of time it takes to cook.

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This was good news in a way. I was surprised that the lasagna wasn’t watery and that the top looked almost exactly the same as a baked lasagna. The problem, of course, was that it wasn’t any easier to put together.

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Another problem is apparently that béchamel sauces curdle in the slow cooker. This recipe was originally based on a cream sauce instead of tomato sauce. Since béchamel didn’t work, the recipe called for a jar of Alfredo sauce.

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I’m not usually one for dumping jars of prepared foods into my recipes, but after a scan of the jar label revealed no unrecognizable ingredients, I had just about acquiesced to buying it – until I looked at the fat content. Jarred Alfredo sauce (like homemade Alfredo sauce) is almost pure cream, and I just couldn’t stomach the idea of adding all that fat to what I intended to be a weeknight meal.

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Replacing the cream sauce with tomatoes made this recipe very similar to my favorite vegetarian lasagna, but that’s okay, because they’re flavors I like. In fact, the lasagna had a lot of qualities I love, with its meaty flavor without any meat, plenty of cheese, and plenty of vegetables to even out the cheese.  While it wasn’t any better than oven-baked lasagna, it wasn’t any worse, and it can’t hurt to have the option for a longer cooking time.

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One year ago: Basic Pancakes
Two years ago: Brioche
Three years ago: Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese

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Slow Cooker Spinach Mushroom Lasagna (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Slow Cooker Revolution)

Serves 6 to 8

I have a 4-quart slow cooker, but I don’t see any reason this wouldn’t work in a 5- or even 6-quart cooker.  The lasagna just won’t be as tall.

I did not line the slow cooker with foil, because it seems so wasteful. Individual slices of lasagna were still surprisingly easy to serve intact, although the first one was messy.

I used half this amount of cheese. I’m sure the full amount is great, but I was trying to lighten it up a bit.

nonstick spray
8 curly-edged lasagna noodles (7 ounces), broken in half
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1½ pounds white mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
16 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1¼ cups (2½ ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup minced fresh basil
1 large egg
4 cups (1 pound) shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Line the slow cooker with an aluminum foil collar: Layer and fold sheets of heavy-duty foil until you have a six-layered rectangle that measures 16 by 4 inches. Press the collar into the back side of the slow cooker insert. Fit two more large sheets of foil into the slow cooker, perpendicular to each other, with the extra hanging over the edges of the cooker for a sling to help remove the lasagna later.

2. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add the broken lasagna noodles and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until the noodles are al dente. Drain the noodles, rinse them under cold water until cool, then spread them out in single layer over clean kitchen towels and let dry. (Do not use paper towels; they will stick to the noodles.)

3. Heat the oil in the same pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt, cover, and cook until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover, add the onions, and continue to cook until the mushrooms are dry and browned, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Stir in the spinach, cover, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt.

4. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, 1 cup (2 ounces) Parmesan, basil, egg, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper together. Spread ½ cup of the mushroom-spinach sauce into the prepared slow cooker.

5. Arrange 4 lasagna noodle pieces in the slow cooker, overlapping if necessary, then dollop 9 rounded tablespoons of ricotta mixture over noodles. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella, then spoon 1 cup more mushroom-spinach sauce over top. Repeat the layering of lasagna noodles, ricotta mixture, mozzarella and mushroom-spinach sauce twice more. For the final layer, arrange the remaining 4 noodles in the slow cooker, then top with the remaining mushroom-spinach sauce and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and remaining Parmesan.

6. Cover and cook until the lasagna is heated through, about 4 hours on low. Let the lasagna cool for 20 minutes. Using the sling, transfer lasagna to serving platter and serve.

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thai grilled-beef salad

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My habit is that on weekdays, I eat vegetarian and am healthy, and on weekends, I eat meat and am not healthy. I save alcohol and lately even dessert for weekends. It all evens out in the end so that I’m relatively fit and trim, but I’m starting to wonder – would it be so bad to eat meat and be healthy, all at the same time?

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Steak doesn’t have to mean huge T-bones and potatoes. It can mean slivers of beef mixed with herbs and served with cucumbers. This flank steak is seasoned with salt and (white) pepper, grilled and sliced, then dressed with a mixture of lime juice and fish sauce. Toasted white rice powder deepens the flavors while fresh herbs lighten them.

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I wonder how many other great meat-topped salads are out there that I’ve been overlooking. Although even if there aren’t any others worth trying, I’d be perfectly happy making this one over and over again. Eating healthy on weekends doesn’t feel like a sacrifice when it tastes so good – and besides, I still get to have a glass of wine on the side.

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One year ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Two years ago: Seafood Lasagna
Three years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

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Thai Grilled-Beef Salad (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 to 6

1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon white rice
3 tablespoons lime juice (from 2 limes)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon sugar
1½ pound flank steak, trimmed
Salt and white pepper, coarsely ground
4 shallots, sliced thin
1½ cups fresh mint leaves, torn
1½ cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 Thai chile, stemmed and sliced thin into rounds
1 seedless English cucumber, sliced ¼ inch thick on bias

1. Heat the paprika and cayenne in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat; cook, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl. Return the now-empty skillet to medium-high heat, add the rice, and toast, stirring frequently, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a second small bowl and cool for 5 minutes. Grind the rice with a spice grinder, mini food processor, or mortar and pestle until it resembles fine meal, 10 to 30 seconds (you should have about 1 tablespoon rice powder).

2. Whisk the lime juice, fish sauce, water, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon toasted paprika mixture in a large bowl and set aside.

3. For a Charcoal Grill: Open the bottom vent completely. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When the top coals are partially covered with ash, pour the coals evenly over half of the grill. Set the cooking grate in place, cover, and open the lid vent completely. Heat the grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

For a Gas Grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave the primary burner on high and turn off the other burner(s).

4. Clean and oil the cooking grate. Season the steak with salt and white pepper. Place the steak over the hot part of the grill and cook until it’s beginning to char and beads of moisture appear on the outer edges of the meat, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip the steak and continue to cook on the second side until charred and the center registers 125 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes (or allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour).

5. Slice the meat, against the grain and on the bias, into ¼-inch-thick slices. Transfer the sliced steak to the bowl with the fish sauce mixture. Add the shallots, mint, cilantro, chile, and half of the rice powder; toss to combine. Transfer to a platter lined with cucumber slices. Serve, passing the remaining rice powder and toasted paprika mixture separately.

thai steak salad 6