Sunday, February 20, 2011

Baked Ziti

I have exciting news - my little munchkin, who for months and months has rejected anything with tomato sauce, has finally started warming up!  This has changed my life, as she will now eat pizza with us, and also opens up more options in terms of pasta dishes I can make since I don't necessarily need to have plain pasta set aside for her.  One of my favorites is baked ziti - it's similar to lasagna, but without all of the effort that goes into layering.  Over the past year I have tried a few versions that were trying to be too healthy (e.g., turkey instead of beef, not enough cheese, adding in veggies that didn't quite work), so I went back to more classic proportions.  I still consider this a wholesome dish, however, when made with whole wheat pasta and lean beef, and can be even more so if you use part-skim or low fat cheeses. 

Below I've described how I made it, but the beauty of ziti is that it's also infinitely flexible depending on your preferences and what you have on hand.  Prefer turkey over beef?  No problem.  Vegetarian?  Leave out the meat altogether.  Don't feel like making sauce?  Open a jar :)  But I did find that these basic proportions seemed to work well - cheesy and moist without being goppy.  And the best part is that ziti freezes and reheats beautifully, so if you find yourself with a bunch of leftovers, you are all set for a meal another night!

Baked Ziti
adapted from my mom

1 pound whole wheat ziti or other tube shaped pasta
1 pound shredded mozzarella, divided
1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
4 cups sauce (with or without meat - I used 2 cups leftover meat sauce + 2 cups crushed tomatoes directly from a can)
1/4 cup grated romano or parmesan

Preheat oven to 375.  Take out a 9x13 baking pan, and lighly grease if not non-stick.

Cook the pasta, draining it while it is still al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, combine the mozzarella (reserving 1/2 cup for the topping), ricotta, and sauce in a large bowl.  (Note that if you have prepared tomato sauce but still want to include meat, you can brown 1 lb of lean ground beef and just mix in with the sauce and cheese at this step).  Add the pasta, mix thoroughly, and pour into prepared pan.  Sprinkle reserved mozzarella and romano over the top and bake for 30 minutes.  Enjoy!

Serves 8-12

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Meat Sauce

As I've mentioned many times, we are a family of pasta eaters.  More often than not, we end up making some whole wheat pasta mixed with frozen veggies, tomato sauce from a jar, and maybe broiled chicken breasts when I remember to take some out of the freezer.  But when I have a little more time to plan, I really enjoy making a more interesting sauce or topping, like pesto or meatballs with home made sauce (check out the pasta section of my recipe index for more ideas!). 

I am also a huge fan of meat sauce.  In college I used to brown a pound of meat and simmer for a few minutes with a jar of sauce, but I thought I should be able to do better than that now.  For some reason, though, I have been struggling to get the consistency and flavors right.  I tried looking up recipes, but most of the ones I found with good ratings also required tons of steps (e.g., first simmer with milk, then wine, then tomatoes, etc) and ingredients (e.g., multiple kinds of meat).  I just wanted a basic sauce I could throw together without too much fanfare!  And then I remembered my Classic Lasagna, which has a delicious, easy meat sauce as part of the filling.  With some very slight modifications, I finally found my recipe!  I made it a little less thick by cutting back on the amount of meat, added carrots for additional veggie power and sweetness, and replaced the fresh basil with dried so that it was easier to always have the ingredients on hand.  The result is is simple, adaptable, and delicious.  I hope you enjoy as much as we do!

Meat Sauce
adapted from me!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
1 cup carrots
2 garlic cloves
1 pound lean ground beef
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet.  Chop the onion, carrots, and garlic by hand or in the food processor.  Add the veggies to the pan and cook for 5-10 minutes over medium-low heat, until onions are translucent.  Add the beef, breaking it up as it cooks, until no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, salt, and pepper.  Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened.  Serve over your favorite whole wheat pasta.

Serves 4-6

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spinach Mashed Potatoes

I don't know about you, but I am always looking for ways to eat more vegetables.  Despite my passion for wholesome cooking, my friends are often shocked to find out that integrating veggies into my family's diet does not come naturally at all!  So I'm sure the munchkin's aversion to most veggies is directly related to lack of exposure, but one thing I have been lucky with is that she happens to like spinach.  Go figure, right?  Fortunately, frozen chopped spinach is a great thing to keep in the freezer - if you buy it in a bag (instead of a box), you can use a little bit at a time, which works great for us - we often mix some frozen chopped spinach into eggs (either scrambled or omlets). I have also used frozen spinach to make pesto and these cute little dumplings

Recently I had the thought that spinach might make a nice addition to mashed potatoes, too.  I started experimenting, and after 2 tries I think I found a formula that works pretty well.  This is not the most gourmet recipe, and you can certainly adjust to your taste, but I think it's a great way to take an easy every day side dish and make it that much more nutritious!

Apologies for no picture...I promise to update next time I make this!

Spinach Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds yukon gold potatoes
2 cups frozen chopped spinach (measured while still frozen)
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk

Cut unpeeled potatoes into approximately 1 inch chunks.  Place in a pot and cover with cold water by about 1 inch.  Place on the stove top, bring to a boil (watching for overflow!), and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. 

In the mean time, defrost the spinach and drain well (I do this by squeezing in a clean kitchen towel).  You want as little moisture left in the spinach as possible; otherwise the mashed potatoes might have a weird consistency. 

Drain cooked potatoes and place back in hot pot over very low heat.  Add spinach, salt, and butter and start to mash to combine.  Add milk a little at a time, starting with about half, mashing with each addition until you have the consistency that you like.  Try not to overmash; a little lumpiness is ok and too much mashing can make the potatoes gummy.

Serves 4

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quinoa Muffins

Yes, another muffin recipe.  I fully admit that I have a crazy obsession with muffins, but I just love that it is so easy to make a snack suitable for kids and grown-ups with wholesome ingredients that keeps beautifully in the freezer.  Really, what could be better?

I've been wanting to try these for a while...quinoa keeps showing up on lists of super-foods due to the high quality protein, fiber, and vitamins it contains.  It's one of those foods I always say I'm going to eat more often, but when it comes down to it, it's just not my favorite grain (with this notable exception).  But I was intrigued by the idea of putting it in a muffin, and besides, I'm trying to squeeze in as much cooking as possible before the little peanut growing in my belly makes her entrance into the world (due date is only 4 weeks away!).  I am hoping to have a few more recipes to share in the coming weeks before I fall off the grid for a little while...

I am glad I decided to give these a try, because they are really tasty!  They bake up to be nice and rounded, are incredibly moist, and just sweet enough.  You can definitely taste the quinoa, but despite my general aversion, I think it adds a nice flavor to the muffin.  Hubby said he couldn't detect it, but was a huge fan of these muffins, too (the munchkin, not so much - oh, well - can't win them all!).  For those of you who like mix-ins, these would probably taste great with dried fruit or nuts as well - let me know if you find a winning combination :)

If you look carefully, you can actually see the little grains of quinoa!

Quinoa Muffins
adapted from Enlightened Cooking

1 cup quinoa, rinsed in a mesh sieve
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup dried fruit or nuts (optional; I omitted)
3/4 cup milk (I used 1%, whole would be fine too)
2/3 cup agave (or honey or maple syrup)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray muffin tins with oil.

Bring quinoa and 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer; cover, and cook 15-20 minutes until water has been absorbed and quinoa is tender.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and optional add-ins.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk, agave, oil, egg, vanilla, and cooked quinoa (it's probably a good idea to let the quinoa cool a few minutes, but mine was definitely still warm when I mixed it in).  Add milk mixture to flour mixture, and stir just until combined. Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups.

Bake approximately 15 minutes for minis and 20 minutes for standard muffins or until muffins feel cooked through and are lightly brown on the outsides. Cool muffins in pan for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 32 mini muffins, 16 standard muffins, or a combination of the 2 :)