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A Work of Staggering Genius (Or Idiocy. Only Time Will Tell)


Monday, June 24, 2013

So let's chalk up the last month to a failed experiment, shall we?

As is usual with my life, once things get hectic, the first thing I drop is attention to my health and well being. You'd think, after everything I've been through, I would have learned by now not to do that to myself.

Turns out that my Mensa membership doesn't automatically confer the ability to be smarter about myself. Damn you, Mensa.

What was I doing in this past month, you ask? (Or don't, just keep reading and you're going to find out anyway). Life got hectic, which stressed me out, which aggravated my anxiety, and the return of high anxiety triggered the worse symptoms of my clinical depression, which got worse after a couple of PTSD flashback episodes. Then my grandmother died. And Kirk finally started getting more gigs, but we only have one car to share. I stopped cooking altogether.

If I thought eating was stressful before, it's infinitely worse trying to eat out all the time, but stay vegetarian. I caved in to fish on more than one occasion because I literally could not find *anything* to eat. And it was depressing. Being away from my kitchen, the farmer's markets, my organic grocery stores, and food making gadgetry really bummed me out.

Word of advice: should you find yourself doing something new, really loving it, and that scares you because it's 180 degrees from what you thought you'd be doing, DO NOT RUN AWAY. I can tell you from personal experience, it just adds up to regret and wasted time.

So I'm getting back in the kitchen and letting my day job in Hollywood be just that: a day job. Granted, it can be a pretty cool day job, but I'm finding that being in an office every day (AGAIN) makes me feel suffocated. I can't stand it. I love the flexibility of the business, and I genuinely love storytelling and projects, but it just sucks coming to the same place every day. I've never liked that; I need adventure!

So recipe inventing, here I come. Time to apply the storytelling skills (if I actually have any) to my plate. Plus, it will be a more reliable way to get vegetarian food that is devoid of gluten, butter, and too much creamy sauce.

I haven't done this recipe yet, but here are the ingredients and method I'm thinking of using. The dish is entirely my own and I'm just riffing on flavors here, so apologies if it is difficult to read at the moment.

GARDEN VEGETABLE LASAGNA

Just a little background - I have a thing for Stouffer's vegetable lasagna. It's kind of a mind-blowing carb and cream laden, gluten, processed glory that proves that, given enough effort, vegetables can be even more unhealthy than a Sloppy Joe made with 3 kinds of meat, Manwich, on a buttered roll. With cheese.

Obviously, Stouffer's doesn't really fit into my new world where gluten and most of the chemicals in processed food literally makes me sick.

But I still love vegetable lasagna. So I guess it's time to make my own. So far, here's what I've got:

1 package brown rice lasagna noodles (Have you ever tried brown rice pasta? No? WHY NOT? Stop reading and go get some. Now. I'll wait.)

Back? Ok, moving on...

16 oz part skim ricotta cheese
1 egg, scrambled
1/4 cup sage, chiffonade
1/4 cup oregano leaves
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated and roasted*
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 roma tomato, sliced into medium rounds
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
3 large carrots, sliced
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 tbsp olive oil, divided into 1 tbsp portions
2-3 tbsp Balsamic vinegar (the more aged, the better)
1 jar Classico Spicy Red Pepper Marinara Sauce
3 tbsp salt, + salt to taste
pepper to taste

Still with me? Did you run to the store to buy everything and now want to kill me because you have a ton of vegetables to chop? Oh...you went to the frozen section and bought the ready sliced packages of peppers, onions, broccoli, and carrot so you'd save an assload† of time. Well, look at you go, Smarty-pants.

If you took the shortcut:
1. Let the frozen food thaw in the sink for about 1 hour, or defrost in the microwave on 50% power for approximately 2 minutes.
2. Take 10-12 garlic cloves from your jar of ready peeled garlic and prep your roasting packing for the oven (directions below).
3. Grab a beer and smirk at your friend who has to chop all of his own vegetables.

If you like getting ripped from chopping produce:
1. Thoroughly wash and dry all of your veggies. Except garlic. It comes in its own disposable wrapper.

* ROASTING GARLIC
1. Preheat the oven to 400º
2. Peel off the outer, most papery layers of the garlic.
3. Take out your aggression: cup the bulb in your hand so that the top/pointed part fits into your palm, and the root end is facing down. Now SMACK that sucker as hard as you can on a cutting board. Seriously, do it. All of the cloves will fall apart. Magic!
4. Peel garlic (here's the easiest way: chop off a tiny bit of each end, then crack the skins by pressing down with the flat of your knife, slips right off like a negligee).
5. Place garlic clove in the center of a square of aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1 tbsp of olive oil and dust with fresh cracked pepper. Then seal the foil, creating a garlicky love packet.
6. Place on the center rack and roast for 25 minutes.

Yeah, I suppose you can cut off the top, leave the cloves in the skins and roast it that way too, but my way is less mess, no stress, and easier to use later on.

But back to veggies…
2. While the garlic is roasting, slice the onion and bell peppers into thin 2 inch strips.
3. If you have a mandolin, slice the broccoli and carrots (carrots on a bias, or “angle” or “diagonal” or “look it up on Google if this is still confusing”) using a thick slice setting. If you need to do this by hand, cut carrots on a bias about ¼” thick, chop broccoli into florets, then slice vertically to create “cross sections.”
4. Slice the tomato into thin rounds (as thin as you can – think of how it looks on a margherita pizza. Mmmm…pizza…)

THE PRACTICAL GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR SAUTE ON:
1. Get out a nonstick pan (I am a staunch supporter of Calphalon)
2. Place on the stove, add 1 tbsp of oil§
3. Heat over MEDIUM (higher than a simmer, lower than full blast)
4. When the oil runs like water around the pan, toss in the onions, turn the heat down to simmer and dust with salt to draw out some of the moisture.
5. Resist stirring for 3 minutes. RESIST IT! I know you can do it. Go prepare your ricotta or drink a glass of wine.
6. 3 minutes gone? Ok, NOW you can stir. See how it’s starting to get translucent but not burnt? HOORAY – that’s the window to deliciousness forming. Go ahead and add your peppers, stir and let cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so nothing burns.
7. Remove from heat and repeat the same process for the carrots and broccoli (add carrots before broccoli, use the same timing as the onions/peppers above).
8. After turning off the heat on the carrots and broccoli, toss with your chopped fresh oregano (or sprinkle and toss with dried, but use a lighter touch…dried is stronger).

MAKING RICOTTA MIND BLOWINGLY DELICIOUS
1. Scramble 1 raw egg in a medium mixing bowl (this helps hold the ricotta together and prevents it from becoming a runny mess)
2. Add 8 oz part skim ricotta cheese
3. Slice roasted garlic and toss in
4. Add finely minced fresh sage & pepper to taste
5. Stir until thoroughly combined

DELICIOUS FLAVOR LAYER BY LAYER
1. Spread about ¼ cup of marinara on the bottom of a 13x9 casserole dish. You can use canned sauce, like Classico (I prefer this because it has the least amount of processing and sugar for any store bought brand), or make your own (I’ll post my marinara recipe another time).
2. Cover with 1 layer of rice pasta lasagna noodles (if it says they need no prep and are oven ready, the package is LYING to you! Soften the noodles up in hot water (NOT boiling) for about 5-6 minutes.
3. Add broccoli and carrots
4. Noodles
5. Spread ricotta mixture, cover with the pepper and onion mixture
6. Noodles
7. Sauce to cover the top
8. Sprinkle with a thin layer of shredded part skim mozzarella, then add rounds of roma tomato to the top.

Bake, uncovered, 35-40 minutes in a 350º oven. When you remove this mouth watering mountain of vegetable sensation, sprinkle with shreds of fresh basil. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

VARIATIONS ON THE FLAVOR EXPLOSION
Here are some other vegetable combinations that make this awesome:
1. Marinated mushrooms (sauté 8 oz of baby bella or cremini mushrooms in 1 tbsp of olive oil, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, cook over medium high heat until the liquid from the shrooms is released and balsamic is absorbed).
2. Yellow squash and green zucchini (minimally pre-cook, no more than 2-3 minutes before adding, otherwise they’ll be too mushy)
3. Chopped asparagus, haricot verts, and spring peas

Here’s to your action packed evening of cooking!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post:
SQUIRRELLYONE 6/26/2013 8:18AM

    Best thing I ever learned about lasagna: you can make it in the slow cooker without baking and boiling. Or even watching it:

Do not buy "no-bake" noodles.

Layer as usual all ingredients (including unsoftened noodles) into slow cooker bowl. Turn on low for 3 to 3.5 hours (do not cook longer or your noodles end up soggy and messy). OH EM GEE LASAGNA GOT EASY!

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KONRAD695 6/26/2013 1:23AM

    Well done my friend. You're on to something here!! Really!- Keep it going!

Comment edited on: 6/26/2013 1:24:17 AM

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CHANTENAY 6/25/2013 9:03PM

    I know how it is, it doesn't matter how smart you are, when emotions are involved and/or we get busy, our good intentions can crumble. My dad's mother and father are both 1st cousins of Sir Isaac Newton and I stopped tracking my food for a few weeks with the crazy life of a caregiver to a mother with Alzheimer's and a dad with vascular dementia. Sure, I know it won't help to let it go, but sometimes there isn't much choice. We're not machines.

Some day they will be in a nursing home. I'm counting it a privilege to care for them as best I can for now.

The recipe sounds great - isn't it amazing what garlic can do for things like ricotta!

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MEMEQ2 6/25/2013 12:16PM

    Sounds like it would be very good. I'm glad to see you are back to doing what you love. Someday I will have to try this recipe. emoticon

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LEANNAW4 6/24/2013 6:58PM

    P.S. It occurs to me that with all the beer and wine the cook is supposed to be drinking (assuming she bought the frozen veggies, that is), this lasagna could turn out to be very interesting indeed. First thing I do when drinking is double the amount of cheese...then maybe splash a little wine in the sautee... then, well, add more cheese. I can turn any dish into a cheese extravaganza if you give me enough wine. :-)

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LEANNAW4 6/24/2013 6:52PM

    YUMMMMMMMM! Sounds so very good! Glad you're back in the kitchen, lady! If I say, "Sounds like that's where you belong," I mean it not in a pre-women's lib chauvinistic way (of course!) but because you seem so happy there, and you create such wonderful goodness there! YAY!

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