February 25, 2010

Three Cheese Lasagna

So once again it looks like I've been slacking off. I'm not sure how some bloggers out there find the time to make such elaborate food items, take stunning photographs, and then post an entry about it week after week, and sometimes several times a week, and not only that! I've seen some bloggers post a drool worthy recipe daily! Daily. D-A-I-L-Y. I mean, seriously, where do these people find the time to have a job, be with family, take care of day to day chores, and then whip up something spectacular and share it for all the world to see. I envy those types for their time management skills. Kudos to you. But back to me and my lacking of time management prowess. This time around I would like to blame it on the weather. It has been too cold for too long. I live in Texas for pete's sake! Where are you spring weather!?! The cold and snow has made me lazy and unmotivated. All I want to do is stay wrapped up in a blanket, by the fire, all day long. But this weather can also be blamed for my latest culinary obsession: lasagna.

While I consider myself a lover of carbs, it's not often that I crave a large bowl of pasta. My carb cravings usually stem from something of the likes of cake... or cookies... or anything that's got a good serving of butter and sugar really. (Come to think of it, maybe it's not carbs that I'm craving after all...) But this past weekend, I went to a popular restaurant here in Dallas, Avanti, and while I ordered their filet mignon sandwich, the menu item that was most alluring to me at that moment was their lasagna. I wiped away the drool dripping from my bottom lip and went with the sandwich instead. However, the next morning, which just so happened to be bone chillingly cold, I woke up with a massive craving for cheesy, warm, gooey lasagna. Like I said, it's the weather. What's better on a cold day than something warm, comforting, and soul satisfying? Not much. And what's more comforting than melted cheese, spicy beef, and tangy tomato sauce layered between tender sheets of pasta? Come to think of it, nothing.

Three Cheese Lasagna
Recipe adapted from Epicurious.com

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup finely chopped peeled carrots
2 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
12 ounces lean ground beef (I used 96% lean)
10 ounces spicy Italian sausages, casings removed (I used lean Italian hot turkey sausage)
42 ounces crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 tablespoons golden brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
salt and pepper to taste

12-15 lasagna noodles (about 12 ounces)
30 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3.5 ounces)
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, squeezed dry
2 large eggs
4 3/4 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 1 1/4 pounds)
*(I think fresh mozzarella would be a great addition! I'll try this next time!)

1. Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and garlic; sauté until softened, about 12 minutes. Add beef and sausages to pan; sauté until cooked through, breaking up meat with back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until flavors blend and sauce measures about 7 cups, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook noodles in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 7 minutes. Drain; cover with cold water.

3. Combine ricotta and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese in medium bowl. Mix in spinach. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in eggs.

4. Drain pasta and pat dry. Spread 3/4 cup sauce over bottom of 13x9-inch glass baking dish. Place 4 or 5 noodles over sauce, overlapping to fit (I used a more narrow baking dish, thus only needing 4 noodles per layer). Spread half of ricotta-spinach mixture evenly over noodles. Sprinkle 2 cups mozzarella cheese evenly over ricotta-spinach mixture. Spoon 2 cups sauce over cheese, spreading with spatula to cover (sauce will be thick). Repeat layering with 4-5 noodles, remaining ricotta-spinach mixture, 2 cups mozzarella and 2 cups sauce. Arrange remaining 4-5 noodles over sauce. Spread remaining sauce over noodles. Sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese evenly over lasagna. (Can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)

5. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake lasagna 40 minutes; uncover and bake until hot and bubbly, about 40 minutes more. Let lasagna stand 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 10-12

February 10, 2010


After catering the food for a Mardi Gras party this past weekend, the cajun spices that were left lingering in my kitchen gave me a hankering for some New Orleans style grub. However, cajun food is not only loaded with flavor, it is also loaded with calories. For instance: shrimp etouffée, catfish tchoupitoulas (chop-i-TOO-lus), and beignets. All severely high in fat. And as I mentioned last week, I am currently on a get-ready-for-bathing-suit-season diet. So I had to find something that would a) satisfy my craving for cajun and b) adhere to my strict dieting guidelines.

Cooking Light revamped their magazine a couple of months ago, providing a picture for every single recipe (a feature that I absolutely love!) as well as doing an article on one specific city every issue, featuring recipes that pertain to that particular city. I thought I had remembered a feature on New Orleans a while back so I set off to dig through my old stacks (upon stacks) of food magazines, and low and behold I was right! A whole section dedicated to the city of New Orleans.

The recipe that caught my eye was the one for Muffuletta, a meaty sandwich with a spicy and tangy olive salad. The olive salad in Cooking Light's version was, well, a little too basic for me. So I took the liberty of making a few changes to the recipe, and although it might be slightly higher in calories than Cooking Light's, I think the end result was well worth those few measly calories. I'll just do some extra sit-ups later...

Recipe Adapted from Cooking Light

16 oz jar Italian Mix Giardiniera, drained and chopped
1 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives (manzanilla or Spanish) chopped
1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped
½ cup chopped pepperoncini
1/3 cup chopped Peppadew (or sweet piquanté peppers)
¼ cup chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic minced
2 T chopped celery
2 T chopped carrot
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T canola oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ tsp celery seed
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
¾ tsp fresh ground pepper
1 loaf country Italian bread (other option: whole wheat pita bread)
4 slices reduced-fat provolone cheese (Sargento)
4 slices part-skim mozzarella cheese
4 oz skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast, thinly sliced
4 oz thinly sliced ham 2 oz Genoa salami

1. Combine first 16 ingredients (giardiniera through ground pepper) in a large bowl, mix well, and transfer to a glass jar. Chill overnight as to allow the flavors to combine.

2. Cut the Italian loaf in half horizontally. Hollow out both the top and bottom halves so that you are left with approximately 10 oz of bread.

3. Layer the bottom loaf half with 4 slices provolone, 4 slices mozzarella, 4 oz sliced chicken breast, 4 oz ham, and 2 oz Genoa salami. Top with approximately 6 oz olive salad (about 1 1/3 cups) then top half of loaf. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour or overnight. (This will allow the olive salad to soak into the bread.)

4. Remove plastic wrap and cut sandwich into quarters.

Serves 4

* This recipe allows for plenty of leftover olive salad. Use leftovers on other sandwiches, salads, or even on top of grilled fish. It will last for up to one week.

Calories: 494
Fat: 18.8g
Carbs: 44g
Protein: 35.3
Fiber: 3.5

Want to cut even more calories? Layer one slice of provolone, one slice mozzarella, 1 oz sliced chicken, 1 oz ham, ½ oz salami, and 1.5 oz (about 1/3 cup) of olive salad in half of a whole wheat pita.

Calories: 386
Fat: 18. 8g
Carbs: 20g
Protein: 30.8g
Fiber: 3.2g

February 3, 2010

Oven-Fried Chicken Parmesan

Every new year's brings about new resolutions; the goals and aspirations I've set for myself, with or without deadlines, some aimed at the betterment of myself and others for the mere accomplishment of a purpose. Every year I have some new goals and projects in mind, (whether I keep to them... that's an entirely different story), but every year I do have one perpetually returning resolution, and I'm sure it's the one the majority of you set for yourselves, as well: To lose some weight and get in shape. I always succeed in this mission, reaching my goal weight around mid summer, working hard to maintain, then losing all will power and strength come holiday season. Thus, restarting the perennial resolution, yet again. 

This year however, things feel a little bit more urgent. I have a deadline. I need to get back in shape by May. This looming deadline is the result of a bachelorette weekend scheduled for Memorial Day. In Vegas. In a bikini. I cringe at the mere mention of the word. So to help me overcome my fear, and attain my goal in record timing, I've decided that I'm going to have to sacrifice all the sinful things I've been dying to make and share with all of you. Instead, all of my weekly dinner selections are being pulled from my Cooking Light archives. I feel like low-calorie, low-fat foods have a bad rap for being dull and flavorless. However, I think eating healthy doesn't necessarily mean having to eat boring food. I've found that many of Cooking Light's recipes can taste just as indulgent as their higher calorie counterparts, less all the guilt. Take for instance the Oven-Fried Chicken Parmesan that I selected to make for dinner a few nights ago. The crispy panko coating made a perfect substitute for the traditional breaded and fried exterior most commonly seen on chicken parm. Top it with a good quality store-bought marinara (I prefer Rao's, but when I don't feel like shelling out $10 for one measly jar, I go with Bertolli Garlic & Olive Oil), and some tasty skim-milk mozzarella, serve it along side some polenta and a crisp romaine salad and you've got yourself a gourmet Italian meal for under 500 calories!

Oven-Fried Chicken Parmesan
Recipe Courtesy of Cooking Light, September 2009

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Cooking spray
1/2 cup jarred marinara sauce
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450°.

2. Combine first 3 ingredients in a shallow dish; place egg whites in a bowl. Place panko in a shallow dish. Dredge 1 breast half in flour mixture. Dip in egg whites; dredge in panko. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken, flour mixture, egg whites, and panko.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 2 minutes. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Turn chicken over; cook 2 minutes. Coat chicken with cooking spray; place pan in oven. Bake at 450° for 5 minutes. Turn chicken over; top each breast half with 2 tablespoons sauce, 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, and 3 tablespoons mozzarella. Bake 6 minutes or until chicken is done.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information
Calories: 401
Fat: 17g
Protein: 44.4g
Carbohydrate: 16g
Fiber: 0.6g
Cholesterol: 95mg
Sodium: 719mg