swiss chard mushroom sausage lasagna

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I have this weird thing with lasagna, in that I love it, and I love making it, but I have a hard time bringing myself to repeat recipes. I’m always searching for the next new lasagna recipe, but the truth is, my favorite lasagnas involve tomatoes and cheese and probably bechamel and something that tastes meaty (which could be mushrooms and not meat). And there’s only so many ways to combine those ingredients and still call it in a new recipe.

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This one, however, I did make twice, because the first time wasn’t quite right. I was thinking that because I enjoy both bechamel and ricotta in lasagna, that I would enjoy having them both there. It turns out, though, that it was overkill, so I nixed the ricotta. Also, the original recipe didn’t include tomatoes or sausage, but they both mix in so well with béchamel and cheese and greens that I couldn’t resist adding them.

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I can’t call this my favorite lasagna. With my compulsion to keep trying new recipes, I can’t claim any favorite. But this is certainly worth adding to the list of great recipes. It’s almost like a classic lasagna with some extra vegetables, and those vegetables fit in perfectly with the cheese and tomatoes and meat. It’s so good I might even make it again someday. But in the meantime, tell me: what’s your favorite lasagna recipe?

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Swiss Chard Mushroom Sausage Lasagna (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

For instructions on boiling and rinsing the noodles, see step 4 of this recipe.  You’ll only need half of a recipe of fresh pasta.

Béchamel sauce:
3 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ large onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 bay leaf
pinch nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (½ ounce) grated parmesan cheese

Swiss chard and mushroom layer:
8 ounces Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ large onion, diced
1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
salt
4 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 pound Swiss chard, center rib and stem cut from each leaf
pepper

Lasagna:
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles or 12 7-by-3-inch lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed
4 ounces (1 cup) provolone, shredded
4 ounces (1 cup) mozzarella, shredded
2 ounces (1 cup) finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced parsley

1. For the béchamel sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, add the onion and the garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk. Add the bay leaf, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. When the mixture simmers, reduce the heat to medium-low, add the nutmeg and salt, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the parmesan. Cover and set aside.

2. For the swiss chard and mushroom layer: Heat the oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion; sauté until the onion is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their liquid and then brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes; simmer until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Mix in the chard; cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir the sausage back into the sauce; season to taste with salt and ground black pepper.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread a thin layer of the béchamel sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Evenly spread ¾ cup of the sauce over the noodles. Top with one-third of the sausage-mushroom mixture and one-fourth of the cheeses.  Repeat the layers twice more. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining béchamel and cheeses.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil.

4. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the lasagna is bubbling around the edges and golden on top, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Let stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with parsley and serve.

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shitake mushroom and lentil asian tacos

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Vegetarian food, for me, means something quick and easy, healthy, perfect for a weeknight dinner. There’s no fussing with the handwashing of cooking with chicken, no long braising times. Most are one-bowl meals that don’t require side dishes. The exceptions to these rules invariably include lots of cheese, almost certainly pasta, and a long prep time – and are relegated to weekend meals.

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Few and far between are vegetarian meals that are not only healthy and delicious, but also feel special. This is one. First, it’s tacos, and I’m not out of my taco phase. Second, so many fillings and toppings in the tacos satisfy all sorts of flavor and texture desires.

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The mushroom-lentil mixture has plenty of ingredients that kick up the umami sensation that usually comes from meat. The miso and soy sauce in the sauce don’t hurt either, but the sauce is about more than just umami; it’s sweet and herbal and a bit sour from the rice vinegar. There’s crunch from the carrots and the buttery richness of avocados. All of it combines to form a special occasional dish that is perfectly healthy and not just vegetarian, but vegan. It’s a far cry from most of my favorite vegetarian dishes, and I love it.

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Shitake Mushroom and Lentil Asian Tacos (adapted from Sprouted Kitchen)

Serves 4 to 6

I toasted the garlic, while still peeled, in a small not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the papery peel started to brown on a few sides. This softens the bite of raw garlic, making it sweeter and more mellow.

My favorite new way to soften corn tortillas for tacos is to spray both sides of them with oil, then heat them in a 400 degree oven until pliable, about 5 minutes. Even better, add some of the mushroom-lentil mixture to the tortillas at that point and fold the tortilla over the filling; continue baking until the tortilla starts to crisp, another 3-5 minutes.

I grew radish sprouts just for this recipe, but they didn’t sprout in time. Bummer. They made a good garnish for avocado and shrimp-filled tortilla cups the next day though.

Miso herb sauce:
3 garlic cloves, peeled (see note)
2 packed cups basil leaves
1 packed cup cilantro
2 tablespoons white or yellow miso
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons orange juice
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

Tacos:
¾ cup brown or green lentils
salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly diced
12 ounces shitake mushrooms, stems discarded, sliced
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
about 16 corn tortillas, warmed (see note)
2 large or 3 small avocados, peeled and sliced
5 small carrots, peeled and grated
micro greens, for garnish (see note)

1. For the sauce: Place the garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the cutting blade; process until minced. Add the herbs and process until pureed. Add the remaining ingredients and process until the sauce is evenly mixed. Transfer to a serving bowl; set aside.

2. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the lentils and ½ teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, partially cover, and cook for about 20 minutes, until tender. Drain.

3. In a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften and release their liquid. Once the liquid evaporates, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and cook until the mushrooms and onions brown. Stir in the cooked lentils and the cider vinegar.

4. Stuff each tortilla with the mushroom-lentil mixture, carrots, avocado, microgreens, and miso-herb sauce. Serve immediately.

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vegetable lasagna

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After spending the better part of a week visiting my parents and celebrating Christmas, Christmas Eve, my dad’s birthday, and a rare opportunity to eat sushi and get takeout from my favorite pizza joint and carne adovada breakfast burritos from my favorite burrito place (twice!), I thought maybe some vegetables were in order when we got home. On the other hand, we were still on break from work and I got a new lasagna pan for Christmas. Vegetable lasagna was clearly the answer, even if it isn’t necessarily healthy.

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I was feeling pretty good when I bought three big eggplants, three zucchini, three yellow squash (not the most seasonal recipe, but let’s face it, the quality of zucchini is pretty constant year-round even if it is a summer vegetable), and two bags of baby spinach. It seemed like an awful lot of vegetables for one pan of lasagna, but I figured they’d cook down a bunch. Besides, this is a Cooks Illustrated recipe, so they must know what they’re doing.

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Maybe they do, but my grocery store apparently doesn’t know what they’re doing when it comes to calibrating their scales in the produce department. Three eggplants resulted in quite an intimidating pile of ½-inch cubes, especially for someone who doesn’t generally love the vegetable. It didn’t lose much volume during its trip to the microwave, and the pan was so crowded when I sautéed the eggplant with the squashes that the vegetables mushed instead of browned.

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Once it became clear that I had far more vegetables than necessary, I adapted my cooking method and ended up with a big bowl of properly cooked vegetables in addition to a big bowl of mushy vegetables, plenty for two generous layers in my lasagna. The browned squash and wilted spinach were a great match for the bright tomato sauce and cheesey white sauce. But…

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That eggplant. It was just a bit rubbery and chewy. It tasted okay, but the texture was disappointing enough that I dreaded the eggplant bites, and with as much of the stuff as this lasagna contains, every bite is an eggplant bite.

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It seems like there’s a simple solution though – mushrooms. Mushrooms would go just as well with the other ingredients in this lasagna, and it’s such an easy fix that there’s no reason not to share this lasagna that has so much else going for it. And even if the eggplant was disappointing, at least I ate some vegetables and used my new pan.

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One year ago: Rice Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing
Two years ago: Pasta Puttanesca
Three years ago: Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup
Four years ago: Pasta with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Peppers
Five years ago: Pad Thai

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Vegetable Lasagna (from Cook’s Illustrated)

I bought three of each of the eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash, but two of each would be plenty. And if you decide to substitute mushrooms for the eggplant, like I will in the future, skip the microwaving step and just sauté them separately from the squashes until they soften, release their water, dry out, and brown.

No-Cook Tomato Sauce:
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

No-Cook Cream Sauce:
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)
1 cup whole-milk cottage cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Vegetable Filling:
1½ pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound zucchini, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 pound yellow squash, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
12 ounces baby spinach (about 12 cups)
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
12 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1. FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

2. FOR THE CREAM SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

3. FOR THE FILLING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Line surface of large plate with double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Spread eggplant in even layer over filters. Wipe out and reserve now-empty bowl. Microwave eggplant, uncovered, until dry to touch and slightly shriveled, about 10 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that eggplant cooks evenly. Let cool slightly. Return eggplant to bowl and toss with zucchini and squash.

4. Combine 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, and thyme in small bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half eggplant mixture, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Push vegetables to sides of skillet; add half of garlic mixture to clearing and cook, mashing with spatula, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir to combine garlic mixture with vegetables and transfer to medium bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant mixture, 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining garlic mixture.

5. Return skillet to medium-high heat, add remaining teaspoon oil, and heat until shimmering. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer spinach to paper towel–lined plate and drain 2 minutes. Stir into eggplant mixture.

6. TO ASSEMBLE: Spray 13 by 9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of baking dish; shingle 4 noodles on top of sauce. Spread half of vegetable mixture over noodles, half of cream sauce, and 1 cup of mozzarella. Repeat layering with 4 noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetables, remaining cream sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella. Place remaining 4 noodles on top layer of cheese. Spread remaining 1 cup tomato sauce over noodles and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Lightly spray large sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray and cover lasagna. Bake until bubbling, about 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack 25 minutes. Cut into pieces, sprinkle with basil, and serve.

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meatier meatloaf

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The first time I made meatloaf, Dave swore up and down that he didn’t like meatloaf – and then, of course, he was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. The second time I made it (years later), he was still pretty sure he didn’t like meatloaf, but then, of course, enjoyed it. This time when I asked him beforehand whether he liked meatloaf, he said he wasn’t sure. We’re making progress.

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I understand that the idea of meatloaf can be unappetizing. “Meat” and “loaf” are words that shouldn’t necessarily be used together unless you’re getting out a loaf of bread to make sandwiches. But, really, meatloaf is little more than seasoned ground meat, with some sort of starch added to help the mixture hold on to moisture while it cooks.

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Generally, adding bread (or oatmeal, etc.) to meat, while improving the texture, will dilute the flavor. In this case, meaty flavor is added back in with nearly every trick in the book – mushrooms, soy sauce, tomato paste.  The result is a sliceable loaf of meat that tastes plenty beefy without being tough.  Hopefully the third time is a charm, and Dave will remember how good this was next time I make meatloaf.

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One year ago: Lentil Marinara
Two years ago: Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pine Nuts
Three years ago: Brioche Raisin Snails
Four years ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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Meatier Meatloaf (from Cooks Illustrated)

I only made a half recipe.

There’s no salt in this recipe, and I think it would be better with about ½ teaspoon (for a whole recipe).

Meatloaf:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped fine
6 ounces white mushrooms sliced and trimmed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons plus ½ cup chicken broth
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
½ slice hearty white bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
⅓ cup minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¾ teaspoon peppers
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound ground pork
1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef

Glaze:
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon hot sauce
½ teaspoon ground coriander

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Fold heavy-duty aluminum foil to form 9 by 5 inch rectangle. Center foil on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Poke holes in foil with skewer (about ½ inch apart). Spray foil with vegetable oil spray.

2. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onion and mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until browned, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low; add 3 tablespoons broth and garlic; cook, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, until thickened, about 1 minute. Transfer mushroom mixture to a large bowl to cool.

3. Whisk eggs, remaining ½ cup broth, and soy sauce together in bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over egg mixture and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes.

4. Pulse bread in food processor until finely ground, 5 to 10 pulses. Add gelatin mixture, cooled mushroom mixture, parsley, mustard, pepper, and thyme to bread crumbs and pulse until mushrooms are finely ground, about 10 pulses, scraping down bowl as needed. Transfer bread-crumb mixture to large bowl. Add pork and beef and mix with hands to thoroughly combine.

5. Transfer meat mixture to foil rectangle and shape into 9 by 5-inch loaf using wet hands. Bake meatloaf until it registers 155 to 160 degrees, 75 to 90 minutes. Remove from oven and turn on broiler.

6. While meatloaf cooks, bring all the ingredients for the glaze to simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes.

7. Spread half of glaze evenly over cooked meatloaf; place under broiler and cook until glaze bubbles and begins to brown at edges, about 2 minutes. Remove meatloaf from oven and spread evenly with remaining glaze; return to broiler and cook until glaze is again bubbling and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes longer. Let meatloaf cool for 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

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mushroom prosciutto lasagna

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So much lies in a name. If you offer me mushroom lasagna, I’ll gladly take a square of earthy dairy-rich pasta. But if you instead are giving away mushroom prosciutto lasagna, I’ll snatch it out of your hand. Roasted portobello prosciutto lasagna? Even better, and I don’t even love portobellos – but something about that more precise label makes it sound even more appetizing.

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That’s how I ended up making a lasagna recipe that isn’t, once you get down to it, all that original. It’s sautéed mushrooms with béchamel, swiss cheese, and pasta, which certainly sounds delicious but, except for possibly the Gruyère, is a fairly standard lasagna filling. The prosciutto, however, is a key factor, because I love that salty, meaty, spiced ham.

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Of course, it was good. How could it not be, with such a track record? It’s not just a name either – roasting the mushrooms (I used cremini instead of portobellos) concentrates their flavor, and the prosciutto adds a great dimension to a lasagna that could have easily ended up bland or overly earthy without it. This lasagna certainly lived up to its enticing title.

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One year ago: Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins
Two years ago: Yogurt-Marinated Lamb Kebabs
Three years ago: Tortellini Soup with Carrots, Peas, and Leeks
Four years ago: Summer Rolls

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Roasted Cremini and Prosciutto Lasagna (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

Serves 6

While I sautéed the prosciutto with some shallots, I think you could save a dish and roast them with the mushrooms instead.

To boil and rinse the pasta, follow the instructions in step 4 of this recipe.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
Salt
Ground black pepper
6 ounces prosciutto, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 large shallots, diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces (about 2 cups) Gruyère cheese, shredded
½ cup (1 ounces) grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; heat to 400 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, combine the oil, mushrooms, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Roast, stirring twice, until browned, 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven; set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

2. In a small skillet over medium heat, sauté the prosciutto, stirring occasionally, until fat begins to render, 4-5 minutes. Add two of the shallots and the herbs; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes.

3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, add the remaining shallots, the garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the shallots are softened and translucent. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk. Add the bay leaf, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the nutmeg and ½ teaspoon salt, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in ¼ cup parmesan.

4. Spread ½ cup of the sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Evenly spread 1 cup of the sauce over the noodles. Top with half of the mushrooms, then half of the prosciutto mixture and half of the Gruyère cheese. Cover with another layer of noodles, then repeat the layering of 1 cup sauce, the remaining mushrooms, and the remaining Gruyère. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining sauce and the remaining ¼ cup parmesan.

5. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned and bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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bacon mushroom breakfast skillet

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I’m pretty sure there was a time, not even that long ago, when I would make complicated breakfasts every weekend morning. (Well, every weekend morning that I wasn’t baking scones straight from the freezer.) I vaguely remember asking myself, while surrounded by dirty dishes, why I did this to myself. But the next weekend I’d be back in the same place, always unable to resist a shiny new recipe.

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Probably I’ll swing around to that phase again, but for now, I’m loving simple breakfasts – things that only briefly keep me away from drinking coffee while mindlessly surfing the internet. Even these quick meals are a lot more complicated than the yogurt and frozen berries I spend five minutes blending together every morning before work, so they’re still a treat.

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In this case, it’s a simple matter of cooking bacon and mushrooms, topping them with eggs (poached, fried, your choice; I chose fried because it’s easier), mixing in some spinach just until it softens, and if you want to get fancy, you can add a slice of toast.  I love the earthiness of the mushrooms and spinach combined with bacon, and getting in a serving of vegetables for breakfast is a great way to start the day.  But what makes me the happiest is that I get all that in well under half an hour, so I can get on with the rest of my weekend, whether than means working out, relaxing in the backyard, or spending all day messing up the kitchen with other projects.

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

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Bacon Mushroom Breakfast Skillet (adapted from Tyler Florence Family Meal via Joy the Baker)

I did not wilt the spinach for the pictures, but I should have.

Serves 4

4 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
2 cup (8 ounces) cremini or button mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
1 cup oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped
6 to 8 eggs
salt
ground black pepper
2 cups spinach leaves

1. In a medium skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate.

2. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet.  Add the mushrooms, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown, 8-10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat about 1 tablespoon of bacon fat to a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the eggs (I crack them into small dishes first), season with salt and pepper, cover the pan, and cook until the whites are set and the yolks are soft (or however you like your eggs), about 5-7 minutes.

4. When the eggs are ready, add the spinach and the cooked bacon to the mushrooms. Cook, stirring constantly, until the bacon is warm and the spinach just wilts, about a minute.  Serve, with the eggs, immediately.

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asian lettuce wraps

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I try not to order dishes in restaurants that I can easily make at home, but PF Chang’s lettuce wraps had so many raving reviews that I had to get them the first time I ate there. They were just as good as I was hoping, but were also simple – too simple to pay someone else to make them for me. I made a mental note to try these at home.

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That was years ago, but I still hadn’t gotten around to making this easy dish that promised to be just as tasty as it was healthy. That is why this recipe, which requires no great skill or time-investment, no new ingredients or techniques, made the list. Sometimes I just need a little extra push, even if it’s from myself.

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I don’t think I’ll need that extra push to make these again. It will be hard to forget how well the savory filling compliments the crisp mild lettuce and sweet hoisin sauce. I can’t compare them to the restaurant’s version, since it’s been years since I’ve had theirs. I won’t wait so long before I eat lettuce wraps again, not after this reminder of how good they are, and how easy they are to make myself.

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One year ago: Stromboli
Two years ago: Maple Oatmeal Scones
Three years ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar and, Scallions
Four years ago: Mandarin Pancakes

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Asian Lettuce Wraps (adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

Serves 4

I used a combination of ground pork and lean ground beef, but many recipes call for ground chicken. Use whatever lean ground meat you want; I particularly recommend chicken or pork.

Marinade:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 green onion, finely chopped
chile-garlic sauce (optional)

Filling:
1 pound lean ground meat
1 tablespoon oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly sliced
1 (5-ounce) can water chestnuts, chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 small head of Boston or Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, rinsed, and dried

Dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon sriracha (optional)

1. In a large bowl, combine all of the marinade ingredients. Add the ground meat; use a fork or your hands to coat the meat with the marinade, breaking up large chunks. Set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the shallot, garlic, and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about one minute. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften. Add the chicken with its marinade and the water chestnuts; cook, breaking the meat into small pieces, until no pink remains, about 6 minutes. Stir in the green onions.

3. Combine all of the dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with the meat and lettuce leaves, filling the lettuce just before serving to prevent wilting.

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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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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

Printer Friendly Recipe
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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toasted vegetable subs

I wouldn’t say that I get tired of pizza, but with nothing to break our Friday night pizza routine lately, I thought a break might be in order. I considered some of my other favorite take-out options that I could make at home and decided, mm, big cheesy toasted sandwiches.

As much as I love a bunch of different spicy meats (my god, I cannot avoid the innuendos around here lately) on a sandwich, Dave and I had a lot of meat plans (ack) for the weekend already. Plus, I was pretty sure I could make a vegetarian sandwich every bit as good as my favorite carnivorous version.

Maybe you don’t need a recipe for a veggie sandwich – just put your favorite vegetables on bread, right – but I looked around for one anyway and found several. Most were based on eggplant and zucchini, which…eh. I don’t know. Maybe that’s a little too earnest for a Friday night. I wanted a meatier vegetarian sandwich.

So mushrooms were in, of course, as well as caramelized shallots and roasted red peppers. I added the out-of-season mealy tomatoes simply because it seems traditional on a toasted sub, but I think chopped sun-dried tomatoes mixed with the other vegetables would be more flavorful.

Bread topped with melted cheese, tomatoes, and vegetables is the perfect way to take a break from pizza, isn’t it? But with a sandwich this good, I didn’t miss my normal Friday night pizza at all.

One year ago: Crispy Bagel Sushi Roll
Two years ago: Queso, Sun-Dried Tomato Dip

Printer Friendly Recipe
Toasted Vegetable Subs

Serves 4

2 red bell peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 large shallots, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
salt
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced 1/8-inch thick
ground black pepper
4 large sub/hoagie rolls, halved lengthwise
mayonnaise
mustard
1 roma tomato, sliced then or 8 sun-dried tomatoes, diced small
4 ounces sliced provolone

1. Adjust a rack to the upper-middle position and heat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil. Cut a ½-inch slice from the top and bottom of the red peppers. Remove the seeds; cut the middle section of the pepper in half from top to bottom; cut out the veins. Place the pepper skin-side up on the prepared baking sheet and broil until the skin is blistered and black, about 15 minutes. Remove the peppers from the oven and place them in a medium bowl. Cover the bowl and let the peppers steam for at least 10 minutes to loosen the skin. Leave the broiler on.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and ½ teaspoon salt; sauté, stirring constantly, until the shallots just start to brown. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are golden to dark brown, about 15 minutes. Scrape them from the skillet to a medium bowl.

3. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet (there’s no need to wash it) over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and ½ teaspoon salt and sauté, stirring constantly, until browned, about 3 minutes. Scrape them into the bowl with the shallots. Season the mixture with ground black pepper.

4. Peel the skin from the red pepper’s flesh and cut the flesh into 1/8-inch slices. Add it to the bowl with the mushrooms and shallots. If you’re using sun-dried tomatoes, add those to the bowl as well.

5. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise, then mustard, over both sides of the rolls. Divide the vegetable mixture evenly between the bottom pieces of the rolls; top with the cheese. Arrange the slices of fresh tomato, if using, on the top piece of the sandwich bread. Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet, with the tomato and cheese facing up.

6. Broil until the cheese is melted and the bread is slightly toasted, 3-5 minutes. Let the sandwiches cool for a few minutes before serving.