A Study in Meh: Lasagna-Style Baked Pennette with Meat Sauce

I’ve been obsessed with lasagna my entire life. It’s safe to say that I’ve eaten and cooked thousands of variations.

Yes, thousands. I’m dedicated.

I found this recipe for Lasagna-Style Baked Pennette on Food & Wine magazine years ago, back when I was still a subscriber and an omnivore.  Apparently I was less discerning then because all I needed was to see the word “lasagna” and that meant I was going to cook it.

lasagna-baked-pastini-2
A lasagna, it ain’t.

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Spaghetti & Meatballs: Top 25 Vegetarian Weeknight Meals

Spaghetti and meatballs fall into the category of “discomfort” cooking. This one-pot meal itself is comforting and everyone loves to eat it, but the cooking process involves extra steps like shaping meatballs into pleasing sphere shapes and then cooking them in the best way possible–bake, fry, cook them directly in the sauce–hoping that they maintain their spherical shape during the cooking process otherwise the dish will look ridiculous and all that hard work is for naught. Meanwhile, you still have to make a delicious sauce and cook spaghetti and then clean up your kitchen but you have to hurry because the dish still needs to be hot when you serve it–

And then you decide, screw it, I’ll just make goulash.

Here on AwK, we’re no strangers to meatballs (Barefoot Contessa & James Beard = Love 4 Ever, Mini Meatball Heroes, and that time Citizen Chef baked an entire lasagna made of meatballs and forgot to take pictures) so we understand the struggle. Though the end result is a one-pot meal, it takes a bit to get there.

Unless you’re a vegetarian and you can whip up your meatless meatballs in a mere five minutes via a food processor.

Spaghetti & Meatballs
Be-cause that’s the way (uh huh, uh huh) we like it (uh huh, uh huh)!

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dinner plate with a baked chicken breast and some roasted broccoli

Baked Chicken and Broccoli

I like to try at least one new recipe every week.  As an experiment, I decided to try making a post about the experience.  I had fun doing it.

This week, I tried roasted broccoli using a technique I found in The Homestead Kitchen, a cookbook written by my friend Heather Jackson.  I knew the Jacksons for nearly three years before I found out she had written a book.  I ordered it and it’s awesome.  It’s mostly comfort food, and a few that I can’t wait to try for a special occasion. There are also some delicious-looking healthy options like this roasted broccoli, too.  Usually, my house eats light, so I made a roast chicken to pair the broccoli with and I thought I’d throw the recipe for that in, too.

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Top 25 Vegetarian Weeknight Meals: Spicy Quinoa Tacos

AAAAAND we’re back. It’s only been a mere five years since our last update. I’m sure no one noticed.

Anyway, a few things have changed for the AwK contributors, especially me: I’m now vegetarian! Everyone I tell that to usually asks me a lot of questions about becoming vegetarian (How long have you been vegetarian? How did you decide to become vegetarian? Do you miss bacon?) and I’m happy to talk about that at another time.

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Right now, the only thing you need to know for this post is, while my need to cook chicken badly every single night of the week has changed, my need to find weeknight meals has not. The crusade has continued, but more successfully than when I was an omnivore. You’ll probably be surprised to hear that becoming vegetarian has forced me to become ten times as adventurous with my food!

I know. It was a surprise to me too.

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Tortellini & Vegetable Soup

To say that I love soup wouldn’t quite be enough. I heart it. I have a box with all of my soup keepsakes under my bed and at night I practice writing my name with soup’s last name.

Too much information?

Anyway, ATK’s Light & Tasty has a version of soup that elevates a delicious vegetable soup by combining it with a tortellini soup.

A regular tortellini soup is mostly just a garlic broth with cheese tortellini and wilted spinach leaves tossed into it. That’s a very tasty combination, but the texture always leaves me wanting. It’s light, it’s mushy, and I suppose it will do on a cold night when you want pasta and a hot soup and can’t decide which you prefer.

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Light & Healthy Spaghetti Carbonara

Yesterday, I announced that I was doing a cookbook challenge — ATK’s Light & Healthy 2010, cover to cover. And I meant every word.

Let’s dig into the cover recipe, Spaghetti Carbonara!

Carbonara is a rich and heavy dish. No question. The essential players that make up the dish are spaghetti and bacon smothered in a cream and grated Parmesan sauce, then beaten eggs are poured into it for a rich and creamy decadence that leaves you feeling happy but sluggish afterward. On their own and in mass quantities, the ingredients aren’t the best for you, let alone poured together. Typically, Carbonara recipes hover around 600 calories and 28 grams of fat per serving. And don’t even get me started on the cholesterol — around 150mg. Yikes.

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James Beard + Barefoot Contessa = Food Love 4Ever (and Crazy Good Spaghetti & Meatballs)

Long ago, before I was serious about cooking and the only food I liked to cook was dessert or pasta, I picked up a funny looking book from the closeout section of a bookstore. At the time I had no idea who James Beard was, I just wanted to buy another cheap book on pasta. After buying it, the book went into a pile and was forgotten. The book: James Beard’s Beard on Pasta.

James Beard, a very important figure in American cooking, has left behind a culinary legacy. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

[Beard] was an eccentric personality who brought French cooking to the American middle and upper classes in the 1950s. Many consider him the father of American-style gourmet cooking. His legacy lives on in twenty books, numerous writings, his own foundation, and his foundation’s annual Beard awards in various culinary genres.

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out my closets and came across it. And what a find. This book, now out of print, contains many wonderful little recipes created by James Beard. Many of them can now be found in his later books, such as The New James Beard, but this one is entirely pasta. If you can find a copy, it would be well worth your while to pick it up.

As an aside, I would like everyone to know that the reason I don’t underline my book titles is because I don’t have a button for it, and I don’t know html to provide one. Every time I ask the admin for one he just says, “Just type leet-slash-hacker-backslash-hax-omg!” or something and of course I never remember. So that’s why my formatting is weird.

But back to the book! I’ve made a couple of things from the book so far, including a really fantastic dish that is based on a jelly roll. No joke — you bake it like a souffle then roll, slice it and top with a simple, savory tomato sauce… It’s crazy good. I’ll post it next week. The tomato sauce he accompanies a lot of his dishes with is this fantastically simple sauce with such a wonderful flavor — and it’s basic enough that you can do a lot with it.

So, I decided I would pair it up with some meatballs and serve it atop some whole wheat pasta. For our meatballs, I picked something from the Barefoot Contessa and, in the end, I ended up with a delicious meal that was prepared entirely in 30 minutes.

Novice chefs and those afraid of the device we call a “stove”, take note because this dish is for you.

Spaghetti & Meatballs

So we start with James Beard’s simple tomato sauce.

Simple Tomato Sauce
From James Beard’s Beard on Pasta

1 – 28 ounce can Red Pack whole tomatoes in puree
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon dried spice of your choice (oregano, thyme, basil, etc.)
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons butter

Put tomatoes, diced onion, spice, salt & pepper into a pot. Cook on medium for 25 minutes. Stir occasionally, breaking up the tomatoes. Add butter, stir until melted and incorporated into sauce.

Note: For a smoother sauce, puree in a food processor or blender after the sauce has finished cooking.

That’s really all there is to it. Here’s my sauce in action:

Tomato Sauce Montage

Throw it all in a pot, cook, process with 4 one-second pulses to give it the texture you see in the photo.

To organize my time I put the sauce ingredients on the burner first, then threw together my meatballs. When there was only 15 minutes left in the game, I threw a pot of salted water on and cooked the spaghetti noodles.

Baked Meatballs!
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

1 pound meatloaf mix (combination of veal, pork & beef)
1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs (2 slices, crusts removed)
1/8 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, but try to avoid compacting the meat as much as possible. Form 1-inch balls and place in rows on greased cookie sheet. Bake for 25 minutes.

So again, it’s a little bit of work for a good turnout. Here’s the before and after:

Meatballs

As I’ve said before, I prefer baking meatballs over frying because it’s healthier, it’s easier to cook and clean up, and also because I never have to wonder if the meat is cooked all the way through. Put them in the oven for 25 minutes and “call it good”.

This was a delicious meal, easily prepared and easily tidied up afterward. Plus, there’s just something mentally satisfying about spaghetti and meatballs. Maybe it’s the kid in me, I don’t know, but this made me very happy. Serve with garlic bread and/or salad and feel like a kid again.

Spaghetti & Meatballs 2

MM’s Favorite Stir Fry: Chicken & Choose Your Own Veggies with Coconut-Curry Sauce

I make a lot of stir fry. It’s easy, delicious, there’s vegetables in it, it contains rice (my fave) and it’s a one-pot meal. There’s also another personal reason, and that’s because my spouse has to “prepare” his food before he begins to eat it, so if I put something in front of him that’s not scoopable and needs to be cut up into a million pieces (like a steak or a chicken breast), then we’re going to be waiting a while because he cuts everything on his plate first before he eats it. By the time he’s done preparing, I’m finished with my food. So the stir fry is the nice compromise. There’s no cutting, just shoveling delicious mouthfuls of food into one’s mouth.

Coconut Curry Stir Fry 2

This is my current favorite out of my large stir fry repertoire and it comes to us by way of that book I haven’t stopped yammering on about: The Cook’s Illustrated “Best 30 Minute Recipe“. What I like about this is that there’s a generic stir fry recipe that’s accompanied by a table that tells you how long specific vegetables need to be steamed for. This allows for mixing and matching your favorite vegetables. On the next page, five very different sauces are listed that are added to the stir fry. Technically, you could have stir fry all week with basically the same protein and leftover vegetables, all you have to do is mix up the sauces for a totally different result. It’s that pair of pants you wear a couple of days a week, but the different shirts make it seem like a completely different outfit.

If you want to get the vegetable chart and the varied sauces, you’ll have to pick up the book. Here’s my favorite concoction with chicken, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini and snow peas.

Chicken Stir Fry with Coconut-Curry Sauce
Adapted from The Best 30 Minute Recipe

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, separated
1 pounds prepared vegetables: cauliflower, snow peas, julienned zucchini and slivered carrots
1/2 cup water
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated, fresh ginger
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Toss chicken with soy sauce. Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add protein and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned (3 – 5 minutes). Transfer chicken to a clean bowl.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the stir-fry sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together coconut milk, fish sauce, curry paste, brown sugar and cornstarch until combined.

Add 1 more tablespoon of oil and 1/2 cup water to pan and return to medium high heat until oil is shimmering. Add cauliflower florets to pan, cover and steam for 3 minutes (set your timer — it helps). Carefully remove lid. Add carrots and cover, steaming for 2 minutes. Carefully remove lid. Add snow peas and zucchini and cover, steaming for 30 seconds. Vegetables will be crisp-tender.

Clear center of pan and add remaining 1 teaspoon of oil, garlic and ginger. Cook and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken and juices back into pan. Whisk coconut milk mixture to recombine, add to pan and bring to simmer. Cook sauce until thickened 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Words can’t describe how happy this meal makes me. It’s fast and simple, and a delicious way of getting vegetables into your diet. If you’re worried about spice, don’t be, this is pretty mild. Still, if you’re nervous, the red curry paste can be cut back to 1/2 tablespoon and still have a pleasing effect.

Coconut Curry Stir Fry

MoM Sept‘09 Bon Appetit: Grilled Turkey Burgers with Monterey Jack & Smoky Aioli

You may have noticed that our September Magazine of the Month is, in fact, no longer available on the shelves, as it is the August edition of Bon Appetit. Fear not fellow food lovers, Bon Appetit gives it up for free on their website!

Bon Appetit September 2009 Table of Contents

And, as they say, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

BA Turkey Burger with Cheddar and Smoky Aioli
Photo courtesy of Nigel Cox, Bon Appetit

My first jump into the magazine was their turkey burger and I’m shamelessly starting with the Bon Appetit photo. Reason being, this burger was absolutely rockin’. My own photos, not so much.

I adapted this burger to my own needs quite a bit because it calls for things I didn’t have, wouldn’t purchase, or wouldn’t eat. First, it called for seeds that are first smoked then finely ground. I had the ground spices already (cumin and coriander) and didn’t want to spend additional money just so I could toast a teaspoon of seeds, so I just used what I had and it came out fine. Cumin was definitely the more prominent, but not overbearing, spice. Funnily enough, this burger also calls for smoked paprika, which my spouse hates, but mixed with the rest of the spices, the lemon juice and olive oil, he didn’t notice. You could also toss the paprika in for some toasting if you wanted to. I was worried about bringing out too much of the paprika and turning my spouse off of the meal, so I didn’t. I snuck it into the aioli like a ninja… albeit, a ninja holding a container of bright red spice, but whatever. It worked and he loved it.

BA Turkey Burgers 2

Per usual, I fixed these bad boys on a George Foreman set to high heat. After it was warmed up enough, I gave the bottom plate a decent brushing of olive oil (about a tablespoon or two) and then set the patties on top. As I’ve said previously, compacting a burger is a really bad idea so I did not close the top. I also doubled the burger size. I used a pound of turkey for two burgers and, as you would imagine, at the end of the burger I experienced a waistband emergency as my midsection reached full capacity and was ready to burst.

But they were good. So very good.

Here’s my very busy sideview photo, with the second burger in the background and some onion rings poking into the picture. After I assembled the burgers and took the photos, it occurred to me that I should have put the tomatoes and spinach leaves on the bottom bun, put the patty and cheese on top, and photographed a lovely, open-faced burger. But by that time I was starving and smell of burgers was prevalent throughout the house, so I said to hell with the pretty photos and started eating. I’m sure you understand.

BA Turkey Burgers 3

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Monterey Jack and Smoky Aioli
Adapted from Bon Appetit

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for brushing
3 – 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground turkey
4 1/3-inch-thick red onion slices
4 slices white cheddar cheese or Monterey Jack cheese
4 sesame-seed hamburger buns (or something that tastes fun – not plain)
Arugula or baby spinach
Tomato slices

Toast cumin and coriander in small pot over medium-high heat until aromatic, shaking skillet often, about 1 1/2 minutes. Cool. Whisk mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, smoked paprika, garlic, and ground spices in small bowl. Season aioli to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD Aioli can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Place turkey in medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons aioli; mix gently. Using damp hands, divide turkey mixture into 4 equal portions, then form each into scant 3/4-inch-thick patty, about 3 1/2 inches in diameter. (Or go the MM route and split that sucker into two patties — wear tight, nonstretch pants at your own risk!) DO AHEAD Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat) or Foreman (high heat, just the way Georgie likes it — yeah, that’s a little weird, I know). Sprinkle burgers with salt and pepper.

Toast buns. Grill turkey burgers 5 minutes (or 7 – 8 minutes) for the MM-sized gigantic burgers). Turn over; grill until almost cooked through, about 4 minutes. Top each burger with 1 cheese slice and grill until meat is cooked through and cheese melts, about 1 minute longer. Place 1 turkey burger on each of 4 bun bottoms. Top each with dollop of aioli and some arugula/spinach and tomato slices. Cover burgers with bun tops and serve.

I liked these a lot and will probably make them again. I was, at first, concerned with the turkey drying out because I’ve had bad experiences with cooking ground turkey in the past — typically I choose ground chicken over turkey for that very reason. But it wasn’t a problem. The burgers came out moist and very flavorful, and the scent of the toasted spices was a really nice touch. The turkey makes them very hearty, so I could see myself serving this for a weeknight meal in the middle of winter.

Overall, the time it took to make these was very short — I’d say 30 minutes? Prep time was about 7 minutes to make the aioli and spices, and the rest of the time went to toasting the buns and cooking the beef. By the time my oven was preheated and my onion rings were baked, the burgers were done.

Delicious.

BA Turkey Burgers 4

If you’re anything like my spouse, you will see the above photo and hone in on the bun. Your words will be, “OH MY GOD, WHAT IS THAT WHITE STUFF ON TOP? IS IT FUNGUS? MOLD? DROOL FROM THE EVER-ELUSIVE SASQUATCH?”

It’s flour and the buns were fresh and delicious. Relax and enjoy.

MoM Aug ‘09 ATK American Classics: Stuffed Tomatoes

I’m not a vegetarian, but it’s food like this that might actually sway me to become one: Stuffed Tomatoes with Parmesan, Garlic and Basil.

Stuffed Tomatoes

We’re on the final days of our August 2009 Magazine of the Month, American Classics, and I’m rounding it off with a delicious vegetarian dish that can be served as a side or main: Stuffed Tomatoes.

The recipe calls for 6 “large, ripe” tomatoes. I generally prefer tomatoes on the vine, but given only the description of “large” and nothing more, I automatically think “beefsteak” because they’re the largest that I can commonly find in my grocery store. Because I was serving only two people I halved the number of tomatoes, thinking I wouldn’t eat a whopping 6 stuffed tomatoes. Who would do that, right?

Oh, my. If only I knew then what I know now: I would have eaten a truckload!

This reminded me of my dad’s tomato plants. When I was a kid, my dad used to grow tomatoes in the backyard. As they’d ripen, he’d pick them right off the vine, quarter and sprinkle them with a little salt on top. We’d eat ’em just like that.

Similarly, our Stuffed Tomatoes are hollowed out, sprinkled with kosher salt and allowed to sit, upside down, for 30 minutes. Not only does the salt eliminate the excess moisture, but it adds a flavor that reminded me of my dad and those delicious, salted tomatoes he’d serve up as summertime snacks.

As it turns out, three beefsteak tomatoes requires the full recipe of filling — not halved. Even with the full recipe of filling I wasn’t able to fill up my tomatoes all the way. They were loosely packed to the top and, after cooking, sunk into the tomatoes a bit.

Here’s an “after baking” pic, and you can see how the filling sunk into the tomatoes:

Stuffed Tomatoes: Baked

If you like the gigantic beefsteak tomatoes, make more filling. It’s not that hard or time consuming, anyway.

Here’s another little trick: Place your tomatoes into a nonstick muffin tray to bake. The muffin tin will enable the tomatoes to retain their shape — after they come out of the oven, they will need to be eaten right away because they’ll spread and start to fall apart.

Stuffed Tomatoes 4

This above shot was taken after the tomatoes had been resting for 4 or so minutes. The tomato starts to spread a bit — which is fine, because they get cut up and inhaled pretty quickly anyway.

If you have extra fresh bread, tomatoes and basil to get rid of, you’ve gotta make these. No kidding around, these tomatoes were delicious.

Stuffed Tomatoes with Parmesan, Garlic and Basil
Adapted from American Classics

6 large firm, ripe tomatoes, 1/8 inch sliced off steam end, cored and seeded
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large slice white bread, torn into quarters
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan (note: I used Romano)
1/3 chopped fresh basil leaves
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
Ground black pepper

Sprinkle inside of each tomato with salt, and then place each tomato upside down on several layers of paper towels; let stand to remove excess moisture, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pulse bread in food processor until coarsely ground, about ten 1-second pulses (you should have about 3/4 cup). Toss bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon olive oil, Parmesan or Romano, basil, garlic, and pepper to taste in a small bowl; set aside.

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees; line bottom of 13×9 inch baking dish with foil or coat bottoms of muffin cups with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil.

Roll up several sheets of paper towels and pat inside of each tomato dry. Arrange tomatoes in single layer in baking dish/muffin tin. Mound stuffing into tomatoes (about 1/4 cup per tomato); drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Bake until tops are golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes.

A+. If you end up with extra tomatoes that you aren’t sure what to do with, give these stuffed tomatoes a try; they are delectable.