Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Low-Carb Heavy-Veg Lasagna

My summer cooking hiatus is drawing to a close. I realized a year or two ago that this is my pattern - cook often and eat well during the cooler months and eat quicker (though still more healthy than not) foods that don't require much preparation during the hotter months. Luckily the hotter months are considerably fewer where I live!

With the weather turning a tad cooler (well... it was pouring rain and cool this morning but sweltering and humid this afternoon so it wasn't exactly the perfect time to return to cooking) my desire to start cooking again hit hard last night... especially after having trail mix and popcorn for dinner. (No photos available of that stellar meal.)

Needing to dramatically up the veggie intake after that well-balanced meal last night, I went to my "Sin-less Temptations" board on Pinterest and looked for something appetizing. Recently I pinned "Zucchini Lasagna" - a recipe that replaces lasagna noodles with thinly sliced, baked zucchini. After two trips to the grocery store (thankfully it's very close) I had everything necessary to make this dish.

Here is my slightly adapted version of the recipe:
5-6 medium zucchinis sliced lengthwise as thin as you can
1.5 lbs ground turkey
2 cups 1% cottage cheese (next time I think I'll use fat free - 1% is a little "loose" for my taste)
2 tbs fresh minced garlic (I use a lot - feel free to cut back)
1 large white onion
2 cups fresh spinach (uncooked)
2 cups fresh broccoli
2 cups fresh mushrooms
2 cups shredded mozzarella
2 tbs parmesan cheese
1 large jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (or make your own with diced tomatoes and herbs which is what I'd usually do but I was running behind)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Lay parchment paper on cookie sheet. Spread zucchini slices flat on parchment paper and salt lightly (to help draw out the water in the zucchini). Bake for 5-8 minutes each side. Set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

While the zucchini is cooking, brown the turkey, add onion, and garlic to the turkey and cook those as well.
Roughly chop the broccoli and spinach but no need to cook it - it will cook in the oven.

Spray a large baking dish to prevent sticking. Layer the meat sauce, veggies, cottage cheese, a little mozzarella cheese, and zucchini until the pan is full. Top with a little mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

Be careful not to overfill the dish as it does bubble up a bit.

Bake for 50 minutes at 375 degrees.

And the review is....

Two thumbs up! In reality, this ends up as more of a veggie bake than a lasagna. It gets pretty soupy because of all of the vegetables which I guess could be avoided by cooking and draining all of the veggies first but I actually quite liked the soupy-ness of it - The "soup" was quite flavorful!

I think that my mother would have put something like this in front of us as kids and billed it as "Hungarian Goulash"... which in retrospect I think really was just the night she cleaned out all of the leftover veggies from previous dinners and made something darned tasty (but not very pretty) from them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Eggplant has a bad rep...

Yesterday, after going out for an early birthday lunch with my co-workers, I had some extra time before my next commitment so I stopped in at the Cape Abilities Farm on Route 6A in Dennis. Cape Abilities is a very cool local organization that helps Cape Codders with disabilities take part in activities designed to maintain and improve skills for daily living, communication, personal safety and wellness. They do this in part by employing many of these folks on their farm and various retail stores across the Cape. I support the organization as much as possible because they really do great things and no matter where you go, you are always greeted with a huge smile!

What a haul for $7!
When I stopped in yesterday, my neighbor, who is in charge of the Cape Abilities business development projects, was there. He gave me a great tour of the greenhouses after I had bought some fresh veggies... And then he L-O-A-D-E-D me up with fresh cukes, more tomatoes, and so much eggplant of all varieties that I couldn't possibly eat it all... especially since I am the only one in my family that will eat it at all! My neighbor said that he's not sure if he likes eggplant but doesn't know how to cook it anyway... and his family won't eat it either. So tonight I cooked up about two pounds of eggplant and sent some across the street for him to try. An hour later he came over to return the dish and said, "That was SOOOOO good! I actually really LIKE eggplant now!" (Yay! A convert!) He also promised to load me up with more eggplant for the weekend. Apparently I now need to figure out how to preserve it so it won't go bad before I can eat it. I'm pretty sure I can't peddle my eggplant dish up and down the street since we have the reputation among the neighborhood kids as only having "that gross healthy food". (This reputation doesn't bother me a bit! :-))

Not as pretty cooked...
Anyway... many people tell me that they don't like eggplant because they don't know how to cook it but I think it's really easy! I don't get crazy with the parmigiana or breading it (my mom makes a delicious breaded eggplant though!) or anything outlandish, I just cube it, season it, saute it, and eat it. Perfection!

What you need:
Eggplant - wash it really well and cube it. (I had a reaction to pesticides on an eggplant once so I clean them like crazy - organic or not!)
Sea salt - this time I used smoked sea salt which added a nice dimension
Crushed red pepper - use sparingly or generously. Just put it in as soon as you start cooking so it has time to get infused into the eggplant
Olive oil - the trick to sauteing eggplant is using plenty of olive oil
(For my second batch tonight I also added some nutritional yeast which was tasty too.)

Season to taste, saute until it's soft and a little browned (especially if the inside of the skin is a little green when you cut it - that needs to be cooked well) but not until it's slimy - you'll lose your already teeny audience if it's slimy. And it's important to eat it while it's hot!


Monday, August 20, 2012

Taking a page from the teachers

Lately many of my teacher friends have been talking about getting themselves ready for the school year by getting up 15 minutes earlier each day to get ready to go back to school. We are getting ready to bring a new dog into our house and in preparation for getting up early every day for morning walks with the new pooch, I'm thinking that I better start following the lead of the teachers and set my alarm a few minutes earlier each day until she arrives.

Our current dog Brody (see below on the left) is lazy in the morning... He gets up with my husband, takes a 2.3 minute (or less) stroll outside, eats a bit of his breakfast (usually at least his garlic tablets so he can burp in my face), and then comes back to bed with me for another hour until I get up and we repeat the process. He expresses no interest in taking a walk in the morning and is usually back in bed by the time I'm settling my rump into the seat of the car. In the afternoon however, he's ready to romp, play, walk - whatever - he's well-rested.

Our new dog, Glacier (see below - she's on the right), is used to being walked many times per day (the foster family she's been with for the past month has several kids with lots of time in the summer) so I can just imagine those golden brown eyes peering at me when I get out of bed imploring me to click on the leash and hit the trail. And, of course, if I'm up and walking Glacier, Brody will be up for it!

So, in preparation for getting up earlier each day, I guess I better go to bed earlier each night. My husband embarked on a new workout schedule a few weeks ago which includes leaving the house to go to the gym at about 5:30am each morning. He emphatically said that if he's going to pull that off, he needs to be IN bed at 10pm. I'm a night owl. I always have been so I'm usually up until 11:30 or 12 but now is the time to make the shift... The Glacier Shift.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I'm an Olympics junkie

Since returning from our rustic vacation in the 'Dacks, I can't seem to turn the Olympics off. When I realized that we would be missing the entire first week of the Olympics, I frantically set the DVR to record the opening ceremonies... and then stopped selecting programs to record because none of the events were listed on the menu and I didn't want to come home to 142 hours of weightlifting and wrestling (no offense to fans or athletes in these events - they just don't appeal to me).

As soon as we got home from our non-tech week, we turned the TV on to the Olympics channel and it has pretty much been locked there (in high definition, of course) since then. I haven't really found anything that I didn't want to watch or at least listen to while doing other things - equestrian events, soccer, swimming, diving, volleyball of all varieties, tennis, basketball (which I can't change the channel fast enough if it's NBA teams playing), gymnastics, track and field - men, women, mixed, - doesn't matter - I've seen it all. Well... I've at least listened to a smattering of each of those events and more. I can't get enough.

Just the thought of intentionally pointing my skis
down this makes my toes curl.
Having just been in Lake Placid, NY and visiting the high jumping facilities really got my Olympics fever fired up. I just love it!

Recently I ran into the parent of a fellow swim team member from my childhood and he said "Of course I remember you, you were always an amazing athlete! Your swimming was tremendous." I blushed, of course, but realize that I LOVED swimming and wonder if I had stuck with it, would I have ever had a chance at making the Olympic team? I don't know.

I've had enough of the crap TV that clutters the channels and makes me a little dumber every time I watch it. I want something as uplifting and inspiring as the Olympics to air more frequently than the greedy, thoughtless, self-serving reality shows that jam up the air waves and capture me like I'm watching a train wreck.

Given the choice, I'd shut the cable off completely. That's how we lived in VT and it was just fine by me. In fact, it was better because we got more done on our house. Maybe if I accidentally shut off our cable we'd finish our patio and get the back yard done in short order. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

Tradition reborn

The "Farmhouse" (left) with office, housing, and dining hall.
The "Bungalow" (right) our home away from home for a week.
The rest of the cabins are more rustic - we lucked out with a
floor and bathroom to ourselves!
We just returned from a refreshing vacation in the Adirondacks. It was more than a vacation though. It was a visit into my husband's past. In the late 1800's his great grandparents had a hand in starting a rustic hiking camp and for many years, off and on, generations of his family have gone to that camp. We've been talking about going there for years and we finally got is squared away and went for a week.

We were not alone. We were with 16 other family members all returning for the first time in many years. Ever since I first heard about the camp, I've heard about things like "The Stoop", the pancake flag, drak chocolate chunks, recitations, hikes, waterfalls, "The Ladies Pool" and more. It was a delight for all of us to find that many of those things still exist and really haven't changed much!

A typical day at camp goes like this... Breakfast between 7am and 9am - which always includes some freshly baked delight, oatmeal, coffee, and hot milk kept warm on a small wood stove, fresh fruit, yogurt, and eggs cooked to order. Then each person packs their own lunch from the items provided - usually peanut butter and jelly or deli meat, nuts, fruit, and chunks of dark chocolate chipped off of a huge block, and freshly baked cookies.

Most of the group hiked Mt. Jo
in Lake Placid - my first "23er"
After those two meals are all set, it's time to head out for the adventure of the day. We had a large group that varied in age from 8 to almost 80 so we sometimes did things as a whole group and sometimes we broke up into smaller groups and did a variety of activities. The list of things done includes: Hiking three "23ers" (mountains with elevations around 2,300 feet) and one 46er (... around 4,600 feet), swimming in waterfalls or sliding on the river rock slides, canoeing/kayaking at a nearby pond, visiting Lake Placid including a few of the Olympic venues or visiting the Museum of the Adirondacks. Even though we had 18 people to get moving in the right direction every day, it went surprisingly well most days!

"Swishing the Swash" - a term used for sliding down
the river rocks into the pools below.
After returning from the adventure of the day, many people choose to visit one of the three "pools" at camp. There is a mountain brook that comes right through camp and traditionally there have always been three pools - a "Ladies Pool", a "Men's Pool" and a "Family/Alternate Pool". Unfortunately Hurricane Irene did some major rearranging of the brook last August so the pools lack much of the traditional privacy and most folks no longer opt to skinny dip in their respective pool. The pools are lovely though... if a bit chilly. The warmest the water ever was while we were there was 62 degrees. That's cold. But for someone like me who is still recovering from hip surgery, it was perfect as it was like sitting in an ice bath that soothed my aches away. It was the best that my hip has felt since surgery and I had pushed it a bit by hiking more than I should have. (Don't scold me Mom. I said "no" when it was too much. :-)) There is biodegradable soap at each pool so if you wanted to, you could just bathe there all week and skip the hot showers. I did a little of both.

Then folks gather for cocktails and snacks as dinner isn't served until 7pm. This is a great time to share stories of the day, whittle your new hiking stick, play some whiffle ball or croquet, and begin discussions about the follow day's activities. It's also a great time to have a glass of wine and some Advil for those that might have overdone it during the day.

Dinner is served promptly at 7pm. There is a dress code for dinner and if you are late, there is a silly song that everyone sings to you. Dinner is served family style and the food is fantastic! I haven't had such good roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in a long time! Each meal has three courses - salad, entree, and delectable dessert.

Campfire - we developed a reputation for singing a lot.
According to the old journals, it's not a new reputation for this family!
After dinner most folks head up to "The Stoop" for coffee and tea, games, songs and recitations, and planning of the next day. The Stoop is an open air building with logs dating back to the 1800's, photo albums, maps, books, games, a fireplace, and rustic furniture. It was much fun to listen to various family members sing songs or perform recitations done by their grandparents many years ago and to find log entries from when my husband was a child. One of my favorite evenings was when my husband read the book out loud to the family that had been read to them as children complete with the intonations and word play done by the original reader - the kids loved it and soon we had other people's kids sitting on The Stoop listening to him read. Another favorite evening was sitting by the campfire singing and listening to more recitations.

Because the days are so packed, things wrap up pretty early at The Stoop and most folks head to bed around 10pm. There is no TV, no internet, no cell service etc at the camp and many nights we fell asleep listening to the brook, the owls, and the peepers.

The whole experience was like stepping back in time and it was wonderful! I'm not sure if we will be able to go every year but it certainly won't be 25 years until we go back!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Garden delights

*See below
Well... they're not from MY garden but I do find them delightful. I gave up on my garden this year. With the patio, the surgery, the graduation, traveling etc going on, it was just too much to commit to a veggie garden this year.

But... I love fresh veggies so I've been enjoying the fruits of other people's gardens. Twice this week I've made a refreshing salad for dinner. I think I could eat it nearly every day of the summer - or at least as long as the tasty tomatoes hold out.

This is a variation on a few different recipes but it's filling, good for me, and satisfying as a meal by itself.

Fresh mozzarella cheese (I use a ball that I cut up into chunks)
Fresh tomatoes (I use whatever looks best at the market regardless of type)
Fresh basil (mmmm)
Fresh cucumber
Balsamic vinaigrette dressing (sometimes I make it, sometimes I use a bottled brand - depends on availability of ingredients)

(Tomorrow I might add some Kalamata olives - mmmm.)

Chunk all of the ingredients up into bite sizes. Decide on the ratio you like best depending on your taste buds or availability. Mix them in a bowl and add the dressing. If possible, cover it and chill it for an hour or more. It's absolutely BEST when it's chilled and you eat it in your underwear in front of a fan. (Be sure to close the shades...)

*I am back to my diet (too long of sitting around after surgery) and am starving by the time I sit down to eat... therefore there are no pictures of food that I've actually prepared. By the time I think of it, it's long past the time when a photo would be appropriate. I'll try harder to take a picture before I start eating - but don't hold your breath. The photo above is as close to the recipe I mentioned as Google could rustle up for me... except that it's missing the cucumber and olives.

No Nonsense

(These are not actually my size 11 gun boats.
These are too tiny for me to claim.)
Never have I been more aware of the mantra that I wear on my feet every day until I entered physical therapy and spend about two hours per day three times per week staring at the toes of my socks. "No Nonsense" - it's the brand but it's also become my personal mantra as of late. I've spent too much time dealing with nonsense from people and it's draining and exhausting... and not really adding any value to my life... so I am trying to enforce a "No Nonsense" policy.

It's hard but it's worth the effort. I feel more relaxed already. Who knew that the answer to many of my stresses was inside my shoes dancing atop my toes every day?!?