Layers and Layers: Spinach Lasagna

It’s cold here. REALLY cold. Like, -20 wind chill cold. Darn Chicago! SO my title is two-fold: Layers as in the amount of clothing necessary to be comfortable, and layers in my lovely lasagna. (And parfaits. Everyone likes parfaits! Name that movie?)

I’ve wanted lasagna for about 2 weeks now. Sometimes, people will talk about making something at home, usually my coworkers, and it will be ALL I can think about until I can get around to making it myself. Sure, I could’ve ordered lasagna at the Olive Garden last night, but I would’ve been sorry because it wasn’t MY lasagna. So, tonight, darn it, I was making lasagna!

This recipe is the result of a LOT of trial and error, and a lot of watery lasagnas. This one though, was perfect.

LOOK at that layering action!

LOOK at that layering action!

Fantastic Spinach Lasagna

Ingredients

1 package whole wheat lasagna noodles

1 jar pasta sauce

2 boxes frozen chopped spinach

1 15 oz. container fat free ricotta cheese

1 c. fat free cottage cheese

2 cups reduced fat mozzarella cheese, divided

1 tbsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. oregano

1 egg

Directions

Preheat oven to 375* and spray an 11″x14″ pan with non-stick spray. Pour about 1/4 c. pasta sauce in the bottom of the pan. Thaw the spinach in the microwave and drain VERY thoroughly. Mix all the ingredients besides the noodles in a large bowl. Layer noodles, 1/3 of the spinach mixture, more noodles, sauce, spinach and so on, finishing with sauce. Top with cheese, cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly.  Let sit about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

This was such comfort food for me, and I’m beyond thrilled that there’s so much leftover! Adam went right back for seconds, and I’m going to dig into a second piece in a minute.

A few announcements!

Happy thoughts are working!!! Thanks for sending them our way!

Make sure you check out the Honest Foods giveaway over at one of my favorite blogs, Oh She Glows!

Be watching for a special guest post tomorrow night… someone else is cooking ME dinner!!


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Sunday Night Barbecue

Well, I finally feel better! I’m not “ship-shape” by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve managed to keep soup, a baked potato, and noodles in my stomach with no ill effects… so I’m “better”! Thanks for all the healing thoughts, I really appreciate them!

Since Adam wasn’t sick at all, I decided to be a nice fiance and make him a decent dinner. We had some frozen chicken drumsticks and loads of Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce, so I decided to make a taste of summer on this 16* day. Really no recipe here… I thawed the drumsticks in the microwave, put them in a glass baking dish, sprinkled with garlic powder, salt, and pepper, then covered them in about 1/2 c. barbecue sauce. I baked them at 400*, covered, for about 35-40 minutes (honestly cant remember!). Adam said it was good!

Not quite as good as on the grill...

Not quite as good as on the grill...

While Adam munched on the chicken, I ate a bowl of my ultimate comfort food: parmesan buttered noodles! (Whole wheat of course, and low-fat “butter”) and thank goodness, I’m still feeling ok!

My feel good red bowl

My feel good red bowl

That’s all for now… hopefully the “feeling better” will continue, and I’ll have REAL dinner posts TOMORROW!!

Chili Blanco

It’s a rare thing when Adam specifically asks for something for dinner, so when, over the weekend, he asked me to make white chili one night, I was happy to oblige. We haven’t had white chili for a while, but I make regular “red” chili fairly often.

I had my first experience with white chicken chili when I was about 14 at the St. Louis Bread Company, now known as Panera Bread. I remember getting it in a sourdough bread bowl, and was so sad when the chili was gone! Since this was before the days of checking an online menu for “soups of the day”, every single time we went there, I would hope they had that spicy chicken chili.

When I joined Weight Watchers almost 3 years ago, I went recipe crazy. I collected hundreds of recipes from dozens of websites! I came across a recipe for crockpot white chili, and made it as soon as I got my first crockpot. It. Was. Amazing.

I didn’t pull it together this morning to put the chili in the crockpot, so I adapted the recipe to the stovetop, and I don’t think I’ll ever crockpot it again. This was a near-replica of the Panera chili I fell in love with 14 years ago.

...with mozzarella on top...

...with mozzarella on top...

Chili Blanco

Ingredients

1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts

2 small (15 oz) cans (or one box) chicken stock

1 small (15 oz) can sweet white corn, drained

2 small (15 oz) cans white beans (Great Northern or Cannellini), drained and rinsed

1 small (15 oz) can diced tomatoes with green chilis (Like Ro-Tel), drained

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 small onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. olive oil

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and onion, and sautee until transluscent. Add the chicken and broth. Bring to a boil and add remaining ingredients. Cover, and lower heat for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Shred the chicken (it should shred easily), and stir well. Top with sour cream and/or cheese.

Alas, after the tomato-chili-corn-bean goodness, I appear to be developing a bit of heartburn, but its so worth it. This was a fantastic meal, and Adam enjoyed it too.

A quick thanks to all of you who have been reading and commenting on my blog! This experience has been really great, and has even reunited me with an old friend (HI FANCY!!!!!!). Big hugs to all!!!

Insta-childhood

Just like mom used to make

Just like mom used to make

My mom is currently in Laos with her husband and his father and stepmother, staying in a 5-star resort and soaking up the tropical wonderment that is that country. I, on the other hand, am still here in Chicagoland in the unseasonably warm (read: 70+ degree temps) weather. It is November 3, and I swear, the MOMENT it turns officially to Fall, all I want is roasted food. Veggies, chicken, meat, whatever, as long as its slow-cooked with lots of spices!

Yesterday at the grocery store, Adam and I bought a whole chicken for me to roast. It was taunting me in the fridge. “Mara…cook me now! I don’t care that its too warm out! COOK ME!”

All day, all I could think about was how the house was going to smell with that chicken in the oven. The savory, garlicky smell of a roasted chicken immediately throws me back to being very, very young… it never ceases to amaze me how smells can do this. My mom would make a roasted chicken with garlic potatoes as a Friday night Shabbat dinner, and the smell always signified a family dinner and the start of the weekend. I’d pad into the kitchen in my PJs and socks and my mom would hand me bits of chicken as she carved it, and as soon as I could appreciate it, that which she called “The potato chip of the poultry world”… crispy chicken skin. I could not WAIT to get home and cook today.

Mom’s Roast Chicken

1, 3-4 lb. roasting chicken

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 lemon, halved

1 onion, quartered

1 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. seasoned salt

pinch of thyme (dried)

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 400*F. Wash the chicken inside and out. Place onion and lemon inside the cavity, and loosely tie the legs of the chicken together with cotton string. Drizzle the olive oil, garlic powder, seasoned salt, and thyme on the outside of the chicken. (Usually, there would be Kitchen Bouquet in this mix too, but I was out). Place the chicken in a roasting pan (on a rack if you want) and cook on 400* for about 20 minutes. Lower the temp to 350* and cook until done, about 40 minutes. Allow to sit at least 10 minutes before carving

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Comfort in a Crock

It’s officially fall here in Chicagoland, and the cooler weather has me wanting nothing more than beef stew and pot roast. At the grocery store yesterday, I picked up a package (about 1.5 lbs) of very lean stew meat, and made the decision that today would be a beef stew day.

Growing up, I always knew it was fall and winter when, after a day at school, I would come home to the unmistakeable smell of my mom’s beef stew. Her recipe was perfect, and only after I started cooking did I truly understand the time it took to make it. It was an hour on the stove with just the meat, onions, celery, and about 2 cups of wine. Then another hour with the rest of the ingredients, then it only got better as it sat.

I knew that when I got home from work today, I was not going to want to cook a 2 hour dinner. So I decided, I’m going to crockpot mom’s recipe! Alas, I had forgotten to get wine at the grocery store, so I substituted extra beef broth. Here is the full recipe:

Perfect Beef Stew

Ingredients

1.5 lbs. lean stew meat (I used bottom round)

2 cups beef broth (or 1 cup wine, 1 cup broth)

10 small red potatoes, washed and halved

2 medium yellow onions, cut into small chunks

1 small bag baby carrots

2 ribs celery, cut into a few pieces

1 Tbsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. oregano

1/2 c. ketchup (or tomato paste)

Directions

In a large crockpot (mine is 5.5 quarts), place all ingredients and mix well. Cook on low for at least 6 hours, but the longer, the better. Stir well before serving. Enjoy!

Simple. Perfect. And so satisfying. This hit the “exhausted teacher” button, in that I came home to dinner being done. It also hit the “my mom’s going on a 2-week vacation to southeast Asia and I’ll miss her” button in that it was so nostalgic, and I feel very accomplished that my stew tasted so much like hers.

One other thing I’m realizing as I’m cooking more family recipes, is that both my mother and grandmother were not only outstanding cooks, but they were healthy cooks too! I never thought it was odd that my mom would’ve rather served us “Egg McMimis” instead of Egg McMuffins…hers were real eggs, real cheese, and a whole wheat english muffin with a slice of smoked turkey. Grandma always measured her oil, kept her chocolate in the freezer out of reach, and saved baked goods for special occasions. Grandma’s “special occasions though, included “The grandkids are here, break out the banana-chocolate cake!”

I’m quite mellow and nostalgic today… *sigh* …

Oh Chipotle, How Do I Love Thee…

The dinner of champions

The dinner of champions

Let me count the ways… You give me a lovely break from cooking without having to settle for bad fast food. You provide me with a relatively healthy meal without sacrificing flavor. Your guacamole is 2nd to none (well, except mine), and your beans…oh your beans! Spicy and savory, just enough sauce… sigh…

Adam and I had an early Chipotle dinner tonight, as Friday is our “dinner out” night. I’m full, satisfied, and just about ready for bed! I didn’t overat, but managed to get myself full!

After a long week at work, it was nice to come home and NOT have to cook! I’m already planning a couple meals for next week, and the true challenge will be cooking on a budget. We still have a bunch of frozen chicken, so be looking for a plethora of chicken dinners. I may branch out into some ground meat, if there’s any on sale, and hopefully, it will be! I desperately want a good burger…

Happy weekend all!

Italian chicken nuggets with pasta

Tonight’s plan was to just have pasta with some bottled pasta sauce, but when I got home from work, I remembered that we had an entire bag of frozen chicken breasts! Since I was needing something more substantial than just pasta, I decided to break out an old recipe to have with the pasta and sauce.

A bit of background: I’ve always cooked. I remember being a small girl, sitting in the kitchen, and feeling downright honored when my mom would let me peel the onions, peel potatoes, or, when I was older, chop ingredients. One of the first things I remember actually cooking with my mom was what we called “porcupine chicken”; a simple recipe involving dipping chicken breasts in ranch dressing and then coating with crushed up shredded wheat. We would either bake it or sautee it, and then I was so proud to say I cooked dinner!

The whole process of dipping chicken in a liquid and then a crumb-type mixture is something that I’m quite a fan of! Tonight, I cut some thawed chicken into small, bite-sized pieces. Then, I made an egg and milk mixture (1 egg, 1/4 c. milk) and dipped the chicken into it. Then I mixed about a tsp. of garlic powder with some simple breadcrumbs, and transferred the chicken. I flipped them around until all sides were evenly coated, and then cooked them in 2 tsp. olive oil.

I still made pasta and sauce. I had Smart Taste rotini with some Barilla Four Cheese sauce. Surprisingly, this sauce wasn’t much higher calorie than any other average bottled pasta sauce.

A bowl of the pasta and sauce topped with half the chicken I made was an incredibly satisfying dinner! There are some leftovers that I might just need to bring for lunch tomorrow…