Sunday, May 23, 2010

Shepherd's Pie Lasagna

My Venture into Non-Traditional Lasagna

Today's recipe is a work in progress. Initially, I was trying to make a meat and potato version of pierogi lasagna. I've had pierogi lasagna made with only potatoes, caramelized onions, and cheese. It was tasty but a bit too carby for my taste. After tweaking this recipe several times, it's now to the point that it's more like a shepherd's pie – hence the name "Shepherd's Pie Lasagna." It has all of the key ingredients in a shepherd's pie but is layered like a lasagna.

I'm not ready to say this recipe is exactly to my liking. Don't get me wrong – it's very tasty. This is comfort food at its finest. If you like meat and potatoes, I think you'll like this dish. That said, I think it can stand some improvement. Sometimes when I'm developing a recipe, I have to step back and not make it for a while. Every so often, I like to post in-progress recipes like this one so my blog buddies can offer advice on improvements. What would you do to make this recipe better? If you make it, what did you think? What does it need? What should I tweak. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!

Do any of you watch the television show "Lost" on ABC? The series finale is tonight (Sunday) and I CANNOT WAIT to watch it. Right before it comes on, I'm turning off my cell phone, shutting off my lights, and making some popcorn. For two hours of ecstasy, I will be sitting in my easy chair without blinking or moving. That show is almost as good as Star Trek. Almost. This Shepherd's Pie Lasagna is a perfect send off for the show. Do you know why? Because the main character's name is Jack SHEPHARD. Get it? Huh?! See…see! Yeah, I know. I need to get a life.

I often get emails from people requesting recipes for dishes they don't know how to make – especially recipes for foods from their favorite restaurants. As many of you know, I really enjoy developing recipes so feel free to let me know what you'd like to see on my blog. If you have any requests, just leave a comment at the bottom of this webpage. If I think your request will have public appeal, I'll try to post a recipe sometime. I hope you like today's experimental recipe. Enjoy – and happy getting "Lost"!

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Shepherd's Pie Lasagna
(Printable Version)

For the Potato Layer:
2 egg yolks
2 c leftover thick mashed potatoes
1/2 c freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 c freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 - 3 TBSP flour (depending on how thick your mashed potatoes are)
1 TBSP butter
1/2 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), chopped

For the Meat Layer:
1 TBSP oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c red wine (such as a merlot)
1 cup frozen peas and carrots
1 can (10 3/4 oz) low-sodium cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 tsp beef bouillon
1 TBSP worchestershire sauce
1 1/2 c milk
1 1/2 c freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese

For the Top Layer:
1 1/2 c freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 to 3 TBSP cooked and crumbled bacon pieces (I use "Real Bacon" from the salad aisle)

Other Ingredients Needed:
9 No-cook lasagna noodles
Chopped scallions or parsley for garnish

For the Potato Filling: In a large bowl, add the egg yolks, leftover mashed potatoes (cold or room temperature), the cheeses, and the flour then stir to combine. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chopped scallions and saut̩ until soft Рabout 3 minutes. Add the scallions to the potato mixture and stir to combine. Set aside until needed. Note: It is important to you use somewhat thick, leftover mashed potatoes (or use store-bought). If you normally prepare thin mashed potatoes like my grandmother does, the potato filling will not set up properly and will be a bit messy when you cut into the cooked lasagna. It'll still taste good but it will be a bit messy.

For the Meat Filling: In the same skillet you cooked the scallions in, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the hamburger and a little salt (not too much since you'll be adding salty bouillon later) and some pepper. Brown then drain. Return the browned meat to the skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is really hot and the hamburger is sizzling really well, add the wine and stir until it has mostly evaporated and absorbed into the meat – about 4 minutes. This cooks off most of the alcohol so the meat does not end up tasting "boozy." Add the peas and carrots and stir to combine. Add the soup, bouillon, worchestershire sauce, and milk and stir to combine. When the mixture begins to simmer, reduce to medium heat and cover. Simmer 10 minutes (covered), stirring after 5 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to simmer uncovered for 5 additional minutes or until the mixture is pretty thick. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Set aside until needed. You will add the cheddar cheese during assembly.

Assembly Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350F. When the meat is in its last 5 minutes of cooking, fill a 9 x 13" dish with very hot tap water. Place the lasagna noodles in the water and allow them to sit for about 5 minutes – swishing them around every so often to make sure they're not sticking together. After 5 minutes, remove the softened noodles one-by-one from the water and place them on a clean kitchen towel to drain.

Spray a 2-quart dish with cooking spray. Place about 1 cup of the meat filling on the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of the noodles – tearing the noodles as needed to get them to fit in the dish. Place half of the meat filling on the noodles followed by 1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese. Add another layer of noodles. Next, add the potato filling and spread the potatoes as evenly as possible – going all of the way to the edge of the dish. Add a final layer of noodles then top with the remaining meat mixture. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese on top. Spray a piece of foil with cooking spray and cover the lasagna. Bake for 30 minutes then remove the foil and bake an additional 30 minutes. Sprinkle the bacon pieces on top and return to the oven for 3 minutes to crisp up the bacon. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped scallions or parsley.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Strawberry-Limeade Sorbet

My Venture into Frozen Desserts

It's been a crazy week so I had to do something simple for this week's post. I am not much of a dessert eater but, when I need something quick and easy to make to satisfy a craving for sweets, this is my go-to recipe.

This recipe has only four ingredients and takes less than 5 minutes to make. You will, of course, have to allow the sorbet to freeze before eating it but you can do your own thing while your dessert is chilling in the freezer. This dessert is not for everyone. It's a bit tart but I like it that way. In my opinion, when your taste buds are really stimulated by the sweet-tart combination, you don't eat as much.

Why am I using frozen strawberries? Before you diss my use of frozen fruits, I have to explain my rationale. Frozen fruits are picked at their peak of ripeness and often retain more nutrients than fresh fruits in the produce section – especially if those fruits were picked days/weeks before they arrived at your store. Second, the frozen texture will not be a problem since everything is pureed anyway. Third, everything needs to be chilled so why not start off with some frozen berries? Fourth, I can make this year round without having to use out-of-season fresh strawberries that are expensive and tasteless.

You'll notice that I'm not using an ice-cream maker to make this sorbet. I have used an ice cream maker before and the texture is better – but not so much better that it's worth the extra effort. You do need to use an ice cream maker for ice cream, sherbet, and gelato but you can get away with using a blender or food processor for sorbets. If you have an ice cream maker and the extra time, go for it!

I hope you enjoy this quick and easy dessert that's guaranteed to make you pucker – especially if you add extra limeade concentrate like I do. It's really refreshing. Let summer begin! Enjoy – and happy eating!

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Strawberry-Limeade Sorbet
(Printable Version)

1 16-oz bag frozen whole strawberries (without sugar), thawed in the refrigerator until partially frozen
1 16-oz container frozen strawberries in sugar, thawed in the refrigerator
2 TBSP limeade concentrate, thawed in the refrigerator
Zest of 1 lime

Add all of the ingredients to a food processor (or blender). The ingredients need to be well chilled. I regularly add 1/4 cup of limeade concentrate (instead of 2 TBSP) because I like it extra tart. I've even added a 1/2 cup of the limeade concentrate and enjoyed every last lick. Feel free to add as much or as little as you want. Puree all of the ingredients for about 1 minute – scraping the bowl after 30 seconds.

Pour the liquefied sorbet into a sealable container. Immediately transfer to the freezer and allow to freeze until firm – about 4 to 6 hours (or overnight). As with ice cream, sorbet is best eaten when it has been sitting out for a few minutes to take some of the chill off.

Wanting to cut carbs and calories? You can use frozen strawberries in sugar-free syrup. You can also buy sugar-free limeade concentrate in some stores. The taste is great but the mixture freezes much harder since there is no sugar in it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Individual Chicken Casseroles

My Venture into Motherhood

To be celebrated properly, Mother's Day needs to be a lot longer than a single day! After all, for many of us, your mom was there to fix you dinner, keep your house clean, hug you when you were sad, teach you right from wrong, be your #1 fan at sporting events, and protect you from the monsters that lived under your bed. Cardinal Mermillod once said "A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take." Truer words have never been spoken.

Today's recipe is quick and easy-to-make. It's really tasty and nice to serve in individual gratin dishes. Don't make this for Mother's Day. It's not special enough. Instead, as a surprise, make it for Sunday dinner sometime when she's least expecting it just to remind her that you still care.

I am blessed to have such as great mom who inspired me with her great cooking. I hope you've all been equally blessed and have wonderful memories from your childhood. I know I do! One thing that many of us can agree on is that we love our mothers but they can be a little nutty sometimes – my mother being no exception. I'm sure we all have tales of the crazy, little things our mothers did when we were growing up. For today's post, I came up with a list of things you can do to prove you're a good mother.

You know you're a good mother if you can…
1) Gracefully smooth things over when grandma asks "Now who's that nice young man you brought with you today?" while pointing to your daughter's lesbian girlfriend.
2) Spin your head around like that girl in the Exorcist while driving down the freeway and, in a possessed voice, threaten your son with bodily harm if he doesn't stop bugging his sister.
3) Give your husband the look of death when he asks you to come change the channel since he can't find the remote control for a TV that's 10 feet away.
4) Scream from the bathroom "%$^&#!!! Who left the &@#$% toilet seat up?!" – not realizing a priest is standing in the living room after having just arrived for an unexpected visit.
5) Resist buying something at the store unless it's double-coupon day at the Piggly Wiggly.
6) Guilt your kids into doing something by reminding them that you were almost ripped to shreds after 36 hours of labor that required a 5-stitch episiotomy.
7) Remind your kids on several occasions that, 35 years ago, you ruined her priceless collection of records by using them to skate across the basement floor.
8) Yell loud enough to be heard at a friend's house down the street because somebody ate the last %&#$@ can of fruit cocktail.
9) Smack your husband for allowing your daughter to shave the cat with your leg razor while he calmly watches the nightly news.
10) Maintain your girlish figure while taking care of 4 young kids and subsisting on a diet of entirely Pepsi and cigarettes.

My mother must be a GREAT mother because she's done several of the above things. I love you Ma and Happy Mother's Day!

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Individual Chicken Casseroles
(Printable Version)

2 TBSP softened butter
1 bunch of scallions (white and light green parts), chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (10 3/4 oz) low-sodium cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup
1/2 c milk
1 tsp chicken bouillon granules or Better than Bouillon (or 1 chicken bouillon cube)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 oz softened cream cheese
1 3/4 c sharp cheddar or your favorite cheese, divided use
1 c cooked cubed or hash brown potatoes (I use Simple Potatoes brand in the refrigerated section of my supermarket)
2 c cooked chicken cut into bite-size pieces (I used leftovers from a roasted chicken)
25 butter crackers (such as Ritz or Townhouse), roughly broken into small pieces
2 TBSP butter, melted
1 c french fried onions (optional)
Garnish with chopped scallions and finely diced red bell pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Heat a skillet over medium heat with the butter. After the butter has melted, add the scallions and cook about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the soup, milk, bouillon, paprika, and black pepper and stir to combine. Heat until the mixture is hot then add the cream cheese and 1 cup of cheddar cheese (reserve the remaining cheddar cheese for the top). Stir until the cheeses melt. Fold in the potatoes and chicken. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Spoon the chicken mixture evenly into 3 individual gratin dishes (or an 8x8" baking dish) that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle 1/4 c of cheese on top of the chicken mixture in each dish.

In a medium bowl, break the crackers into small pieces (about 1/2"). Do not pulverize into crumbs. Add two tablespoons of melted butter and stir to combine. Top each gratin dish with 1/3 of the crackers. Place the gratin dishes on a sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is nicely browned and the casseroles are bubbling around the edges. If using french fried onions, add to the top during the last 4 minutes of cooking. Garnish with chopped scallion tops and finely diced red bell pepper.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Homemade Protein Bars

My Venture into Protein Bars

There are times when I am in a hurry and I don't have time to sit down for a proper breakfast or lunch. Meal-replacement bars are a great way to get a bite to eat without resorting to fast food. To me, however, most commercially sold protein bars, cereal bars, and energy bars are little more than glorified candy bars that are loaded with empty carbs, high-fructose corn syrup, and overly processed ingredients.

Over the years, I've gone through phases when I've purchased protein bars by the bag full. They are SO outrageously expensive. On top of that, some protein bars are so hard to chew that I practically pull out my teeth trying to take a bite out of one. Finally, I said enough is enough and I set out to formulate my own protein bar.

I wanted a bar that was high in protein, had a good amount of fiber, was not overly sweet nor carby, and had heart-healthy fats. I wanted to make a bar made with wholesome ingredients that I could pronounce that would not leave me feeling guilty about eating later on. I also wanted a bar that would keep me full and not leave me feeling deprived like many store-bought bars do. Most of all, I wanted the bar to TASTE GOOD and not taste like I've just taken a bite out of the business section of the telephone book. Is this too much to ask for a meal-replacement bar?

These bars are very high in protein and will keep you full for hours. The fiber will keep your blood sugar from spiking too fast. Every ingredient in these bars have health value – even the cinnamon and salt. Yes, salt. Salt, after all, is a nutrient and is only bad when it is over-consumed. I actually feel like I'm being HEALTHY when I eat one of these great-tasting bars. I never miss fast food when I make these babies. They also make great snacks when you're in the mood for something a little sweet.

These bars are not baked and can be thrown together in less than 10 minutes. You can prepare them the night before so the family can grab them as they're heading out the door in the morning. You could eat one on the way to work while listening to a CD of Cher's greatest hits or while riding the bus next to some guy with a mohawk, pierced lips, and tattooed eyeliner. They are so easy to make, ask your kids to help you make them. I store them in the fridge for those times I need a quick meal or a healthy snack. Do you have teenagers who never have time for breakfast or a husband who thinks a Pop Tart is part of a well-balanced meal? If so, these bars are perfect! You can even throw some in your kids' book bags if they get a little hungry at school. Give these bars a try and see how you like them. I hope you like them as much as I do. Trust me – healthy eating never tasted so good! Enjoy – and happy barring!

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Homemade Protein Bars
(Printable Version)

3/4 c old-fashioned oats
½ c oat flour
1/2 tsp table salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 scoops vanilla protein powder
1/2 c non-fat dry milk
2 TBSP flaxseeds, finely ground
2 TBSP sunflower seeds
1/3 c peanut butter (natural peanut butter works great!)
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 c water
1/4 c honey or to taste
1/2 c nuts (as pictured, I used almonds, pistachios, and cashews)
1/2 c dried fruit (as pictured, I used dried cherries, dried cranberries, and dried apricots)

Line an 8x8" dish with foil leaving a few inches of extra foil extending over edges of the dish. You will use this extra foil to grab onto when you remove the bars from the dish later on. Very lightly spray the foil with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the oats, oat flour, salt, cinnamon, protein powder, dry milk powder, and seeds. In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, vanilla, water, and honey. Microwave for about 45 seconds. Whisk then combine the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients and stir to combine. The mixture will be quite thick. Add the nuts and dried fruit and stir to combine. Roughly spread the mixture into the foil-lined dish. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the "dough" and compress the mixture evenly in the dish. Leave the plastic wrap on and place in the fridge for an hour or until firm. After an hour, remove and discard the plastic wrap. Use the foil to lift the mixture out of the dish. Slide the mixture off of the foil and cut the block into 8 bars. Place the bars in a sealable container. Since this mixture contains no preservatives, I recommend keeping them refrigerated.

1) I have never used instant oats with this recipe so I do not know if they will work as well.
2) Whole flaxseeds are not readily digestible so it is best to grind them in a spice grinder or a mini food processor. If you do not have a way to grind them, just make sure you chew the bars well to better ensure the flaxseeds will be absorbed and release their healthy goodness.
3) These bars can be made gluten-free if you buy the right brand of oats and protein powder.
4) Do you have teenage sons participating in sports? Consider increasing the protein powder by another scoop.
5) On a low-salt diet? Reduce or eliminate the salt.
6) Watching your blood sugar or carbs? Reduce the amount of honey (or substitute sugar-free maple syrup for the honey) and reduce the amount of dried fruit.
7) Watching your fat intake? Reduce the amount of peanut butter and/or nuts.
7.5) Watching your salt, carbs, AND fat intake? Skip this recipe and eat the wrapper off of a ding dong.
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