Monday, February 23, 2009

Meatless Monday: Baked Ziti

I think, by now, you're all well aware of my love for dishes that can be thrown together in a baking pan and popped in the oven (see here, here, here, aaaand here). A lazy cook? Sure, probably most of the time. BUT, not always. Sometimes the "throwing together" component of cooking some of these dishes is pretty time-consuming and/or labor-intensive.

The ultimate criteria I use in choosing any of the baked (or other types of) dishes I promote here is simply - "Is it delicious?" This next recipe passed that test with flying colors, . . . which, frankly, I found surprising. In fact, I didn't think this was going to be a recipe I would end up sharing with you. "Why?" you ask. The ingredient list. It calls for substituting cottage cheese for ricotta cheese (!). As I contemplated making it, I could just hear a long line of my Italian ancestors threatening to roll over in their graves. But, Cooks Illustrated has not steered me wrong yet, and my husband was quick to explain the cooking science behind the recipe that made the cheese swap make sense (it translates to better moisture levels).

Baked Ziti

1 pound ziti or other short, tubular pasta
1 pound whole milk cottage cheese
8 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese , cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

5 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 5 teaspoons)

1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil salt ground black pepper

Because of U.S. copyright laws, I can reproduce the ingredients list for you but not CI's version of the cooking instructions. So, I will paraphrase here for you:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook pasta 1/2 normal time. Drain pasta and and leave in colander or set aside in a bowl.
3. As pasta cooks, heat garlic in a pan with oil for a couple of minutes. Then add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano. Simmer until thick. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup basil, sugar, salt, and pepper.
4. Also, as pasta cooks, combine cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in a bowl.
5. Combine cornstarch and heavy cream. Cook 3-4 minutes in pasta pot. Remove from heat, add cottage cheese mixture, 3/4 cup mozzarella, and 1 cup tomato sauce, and stir. Add pasta back in and mix.
6. Pour pasta mixture into 9 x 13 baking dish. Pour remaining tomato sauce over the top. Sprinkle what's left of the mozzarella and Parmesan evenly over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
7. Remove foil and bake for another 30 minutes.
8. Remove from oven, let set and cool a bit, sprinkle with remaining basil, and serve.

CI advises against using shredded mozzarella because they think it can result in a rubbery crust. I still think I would prefer it to the mini cubes deposited randomly throughout the dish. I prefer my cheese more evenly distributed and in every bite, so I'm going to buck their system and try it my way next time.

CI also claims they use cottage cheese because the pasta wicks away the moisture in the dish, leaving the ricotta "grainy and broken." Personally, I think that can be avoided by using enough sauce in the dish in the first place. BUT, I will acknowledge that the cottage cheese substitution is a good solution too, especially if you don't like saucy dishes (but who doesn't like a saucy dish?!).

Anyway, long-story-short, I thought the dish turned out really yummy, and I didn't miss the ricotta one bit; probably wouldn't have noticed it wasn't ricotta if someone else had made it for me. So, go ahead - see if you can fool someone yourself!

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

Other Meatless Monday posts

Monday, February 16, 2009

Meatless Monday: Carrot Cake

I'd been wanting to make a carrot cake for long while, but I'd kept putting it off because there are just the two of us at home and consuming a whole cake by ourselves is just a recipe for health and fitness disaster. Luckily, we had Matt's dad visiting this past week, leading up to Valentine's Day, so I used the excuse of the 'holiday' and our guest to make the cake. (Matt's dad has a major sweet tooth, so I figured I could count on him to put a sizable dent in any dessert I might make.)

I'd seen a couple of recipes that looked good but required more than one round pan and slicing the cake with a large pastry knife into multiple layers. Um, a little more complicated than I wanted to get to satisfy my - I mean, Matt's dad's - sweet tooth this time. Maybe next time. The recipe I chose could be made in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Easy.

Carrot Cake

Matt and I both commented that the frosting seemed a bit more than was necessary . . . . Then again, neither of us exactly left any extra frosting on our plates after having a slice, . . . so you be the judge when you're frosting your own.

In addition to frosting, I toyed with the idea of garnishing the cake with thinly sliced pieces of heart-shaped carrot but ditched that notion after deciding that it sounded like even more work than slicing round pieces of cake into multiple layers. Grating a little bit of carrot on top as the recipe suggests turned out to be a pretty enough touch.

This recipe may be high in calories, but it also has many good-for-you ingredients - carrot, pineapple, coconut, Neufch√Ętel instead of cream cheese. If you're going to be bad and have dessert, this certainly isn't the worst you could do. And, remember, the beta-carotene in carrots is great for your eyesight . . .

. . . eyesight you'll be grateful for unless, of course, you find this is what you're looking at:

The sight of a nice piece of carrot cake may entice your sweet tooth, but there's just nothing like the vision of Carrot Top pubes to positively kill your appetite.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

Other Meatless Monday posts

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cheap Date: Waiting for Godello

Last month, Matt and I had another fun night out in Glendale. We enjoyed another nice wine tasting and took in a really great play. As for our Tiny Vaudeville night, we found the tickets through the discount ticket site, proving yet again that being frugal during this recession doesn't mean you can't have the occasional fun night out.

We started out at Rosso Wine Shop where they were serving three French wines at the tasting bar (tasting three great wines for the low price of $10 - you just can't go wrong). As before, we really enjoyed our conversation with the owner, who was pouring, and we liked each of the wines he was showcasing. We liked the Castell-Reynoard Bandol the best, though, so we took a bottle of that to go, along with two others. We had loved the Godello we had gotten there before and have been dying to try a scallop recipe by Jose Andres (of the cooking show Made in Spain) that calls for it, but we hadn't been able to find it anywhere else . . . and, sadly, didn't see any on the Rosso racks. Sure, we could have settled for another Albarino wine, but this particular one (Abad Dom Bueno) was just so good. Thankfully, our disappointment didn't last long because the owner ferreted out his very last bottle from behind the counter and was gracious enough to let us take it. We were so thrilled! The third bottle we took home was another we'd looked everywhere for but weren't able to find - Sharecropper's Cabernet Sauvignon. Friends of ours had brought it to a wine tasting party we'd hosted last year and it was by far the hit of the night. It was great to get our hands on another bottle of it.

Next, we drove down to the plaza at Brand Blvd. - a new outdoor mall fashioned after The Grove in Hollywood, with lots of great trendy stores, restaurants, a water fountain, and a trolley. Since we'd eaten a rather large lunch, neither of us were hungry for dinner, but I'd never had a Wetzel's Pretzel (I know, I must live under a rock), so we grabbed a couple of those. It was no NY street vendor pretzel (god, it's been too long), but it was still satisfying. And, while we were there, I popped into the Kiehl's store to stock up on a couple of my favorites - lip balm and eye cream.

Then we headed across the street where we took in a performance of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, produced by A Noise Within. It was performed in a small theatre located up on the third floor of this very neat old building - an historic mason temple. When the performance is good, I love intimate little settings like this to see a play. And it was good. It had been a while since I'd been to a play, so I was really pleased. For me, there's always something so magical and life-affirming about seeing a live performance. And, of course, this particular play makes you think a lot about the big questions in life (man, there are SO many layers to Beckett's writing!), so it was a great experience.

After the play, as a healthy treat, we grabbed some Pinkberry on the way back to our car. I'd never had Pinkberry (see previous statement about the rock I live under) and had to see what all the fuss was about. I quickly determined it was indeed worth some fuss. Yum! Puts places like TCBY to shame. The quality of the yogurt is just so good; you really taste it. I got plain with raspberries and absolutely devoured it. I'm not a huge fan of pomegranate, but I really liked the sample I tried of that too and might try a full serving of it next time.

So, all in all, a very fun night on a frugal budget - well, if you discount the cost of the gas we burned up to get there and back. Someday we'll move a little closer to civilization! Some day . . .

Monday, February 9, 2009

Meatless Monday: Tofu Steaks with Red Pepper-Walnut Sauce

I know, I know, steak makes you think of beef, and the typical dictionary definition of steak does involve meat. For this recipe, you'll just have to think of 'steak' as just a kind of cut of food.

I had never been a big fan of tofu. My husband really likes it though, so we've been having it pretty regularly the past couple of years and it's really grown on me. Like a fungus. Hahaha. . . . No no no. (Although I do like me some fungus.) Actually, what I discovered was that my aversion had to do with the texture. You tend to find tofu in soft, firm, and extra firm. The soft I'm not too crazy about. The extra firm, though, I quite like. And tofu is just so versatile. We've had it in various types of dishes, including some great stir-fry recipes, but it was this recipe that I wanted to share because we had it just recently and it was soo good.

Tofu Steaks with Red Pepper-Walnut Sauce

This picture here doesn't do the end product justice. The red pepper sauce really makes this a pretty (and flavorful) dish. One alteration I would recommend though would be going a little easier on the garlic than they suggest (and this from a woman who LOVES garlic). Eight cloves is just a bit much.

Also, I found the heat (spice) level to be just right, but I'm probably on the wimpier side of the heat tolerance continuum. If you like your food to make you sweat a little, you might consider upping the 1/2 teaspoon to a whole teaspoon.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

Other Meatless Monday posts

Friday, February 6, 2009

Darwin Day

Next Thursday is Darwin Day, the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. People around the world will be celebrating in various ways all month. For instance, at Caltech, the editor-in-chief and founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine Michael Shermer will be giving a lecture on the 22nd. If you're interested in finding an event near you, check out What will I be doing? Mmm, I'll probably start the day by updating myself on who did a service to humanity by removing themselves from the gene pool in 2008 (a.k.a. the recent Darwin Award recipients).

A bit more evolution humor for you:

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Go Red for Women

I was surprised to find out that heart disease is the number 1 killer of women. Kills more women than all kinds of cancer combined. (Wow.) In an effort to raise public awareness of this, The American Heart Association encourages you to wear red this Friday (2/6) to show your support for Go Red for Women.

I don't know anyone who doesn't look good in red, so there's really no excuse to do something so simple! In addition, you might also consider visiting to make a donation to support vital research and education efforts. Every little bit helps.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Meatless Monday: Vegetable-and-Cheese Strata

Strata (or stratta) is a casserole with egg, cheese, and bread as its main ingredients. It's a great dish to make for brunch, but you can also make it for any meal of the day; I made this particular strata recipe for dinner earlier this week.

Vegetable-and-Cheese Strata

As with most casseroles, this a convenient dish to make because you can construct your layers in the pan earlier in the day and then keep it in the refrigerator until you're ready to put it in the oven (just like another dish I wrote about a few months ago). Makes good leftovers too.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

Other Meatless Monday posts