Ladies Luv Lasagna (non-ladies do too!)

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Real women eat carbs, ladies. So load up on some ’sagn! This healthified version combines whole wheat noodles, low-fat cheeses and tons of veggies, making it a protein-, fiber– and vitamin-packed meal. It’s also the perfect meal to serve when you’re hostessing (just ask my buddy & fave dinner guest Pete, who asked for the recipe!)

Whole wheat lasagna noodles aren’t always as easy to find as the regular kind. Health food stores are your best bet, and if your supermarket has a natural foods aisle, you may find them there. I won’t lie, they’re more expensive—I generally pay about $4.50—but that’s one item I don’t mind splurging on. Simple carbs make your bod unhappy; they’re basically nutrient-less yuck create a spike in your blood sugar and make you hungry sooner. Whole grains, on the other hand (and I mean WHOLE grains, not products that mix “wheat flour” with “whole wheat flour”) are naturally full of nutrients, including a good deal of protein and fiber, which keep you full longer!

I like to make my lasagna with lots of creamy low-fat ricotta and cottage cheese, and just a sprinklin’ of shredded mozzarella. This way, I don’t feel deprived of the warm, cheesy gooiness I crave, but I can keep the fat content of my meal in check.

Finally, I encourage you to use your favourite veggies to make your lasagna just the way you like it. My faves combos are mushroom & spinach, and zucchini, squash & broccoli (or all of them together!) Eggplant can also be a yummy addition, but I seem to encounter a lot of peeps who don’t care for eggplant in their ’sagn. Omnivores can toss in chicken sausage to satisfy a meat craving.

A word to the wise: though this meal only takes about 15 minutes to prepare, allow plenty of time for baking. The taller you pile your lasagna pan, the longer it will take to cook through. If you’re having company or need to eat by a specific time, allow an hour and a half for to be safe; this should allow for cooling time as well.

Lasagna makes GREAT leftovers! I find that the flavour is even better the next day!

Ingredients (makes at least 8 servings):

1/2 package whole wheat lasagna noodles

1/2 jar tomato sauce, your favourite flavour

1 small container low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese

1 small container low-fat or fat-free ricotta cheese

1 package shredded mozzarella*

2 10-oz packages spinach leaves

1 package sliced baby bella mushrooms

1 zucchini

1 squash

1 head of broccoli

2-3 cloves garlic

3 tsp. olive oil, separated

Italian seasoning or your favourite Italian herbs (like basil, oregano, thyme & marjoram)

Salt & pepper

optional toppings: 1-2 vine-ripe tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, sliced black olives & shredded parmesan cheese

*I recommend using part-skim mozzarella, but NOT reduced-fat; it doesn’t melt well and tastes plasticy when it’s cooked.

1. Begin by pre-heating the oven to 350º and boiling a big pot of water (if your noodles require pre-cooking, that is; not all do).

2. Wash veggies dry them really well to prevent watery lasagna (spinach is the major culprit here.) Mince garlic and slice zucchini, squash and broccoli.

3. In a large frying pan, sautee garlic in 1 tsp. olive oil until lightly browned. Set aside and let the zucchini, squash and broccoli have a turn. Add another tsp. or two of oil if you need too. Add the mushrooms when zucchini and squash have begun to soften just a bit. Careful not to overcook—your veggies should have a bit of crunch to them.

4. While the veggies are cooking, combine cottage cheese & ricotta in a medium mixing bowl and stir well. Add Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste.

5. When your veggies are cooked, and them to the garlic and sautee the spinach alone.

6. Your noodles should be done by now (you want them al dente—not too soft,) so you’re ready to assemble! Start with a thin layer of tomato sauce at the bottom of the pan to prevent stickage. Next comes a layer of noodles; use only enough to cover the pan rather than piling them on. Begin your layer of veggies by spreading the spinach over the noodles, trying to get the layer as even as possible. Add the garlic & veggie mixture. Top with tomato sauce—the amount you use can depend on your taste. Next, add another layer of noodles and top with the creamy cheese mixture. You may not need all of it; this will depend on the size of your lasagna pan. Top with a light sprinkling of shredded mozzarella—you don’t need to use the whole package if you’re concerned about keeping the fat content down.

7. Toppings can really jazz up your ’sagn! I like to add thinly sliced tomato, black olives and fresh basil leaves.

8. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for an hour. When time is up, slice into the middle to check for doneness. This can be difficult, because your lasagna will inevitably be a little runny, but some of that will set as it cools. If you’re using a larger or deeper pan, it may require another 10-15 minutes. If you like your cheese nice and brown, remove the foil before you return the pan to the oven.

9. Allow about 10 minutes for cooling. Approach with caution—tomato sauce is evil when it’s hot.

Serving suggestions: mixed greens with bell pepper and black olives; a slice of crusty whole grain bread (you don’t really need bread to go with your pasta, but I LOVE to mop up tomato & cheese with crusty bread!)

Chilled Melon Soup for Summer


I’m proud to bring you another recipe from my mom–radical babe, inventress, and maker of fantastic eats (like Scrambled Tofu with Portabellas.) This refreshing summer soup is perfect for a leisurely outdoor brunch or as a quick meal on a hot day. I love the simplicity of the dish–it’s a breeze to make and to transport, but can also make an elegant addition to a dinner party or luncheon. Mama says:

“This soup can only be as good as the melons–they must be very ripe! Tap on the melon with your fingertips; it should sound like a hollow thump. Honeydew should be very pale green with hints of yellow.”

Ingredients
Yield: about 5 1/2 cups; 5 (or 6 small) servings.

1 large honeydew or cantaloupe melon, peeled & cut into small chunks*

Grated rind of 1 lime

Juice of 1 lime

1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt

1 Tblsp finely chopped mint leaves

*My preference is to use 1 ½ recipe, using a whole honeydew & ½ cantaloupe.

1. For optimal presentation, choose individual serving bowls that can be chilled in the freezer, & store them there for a couple hours before serving.

2. In a food processor or blender, process melon chunks until smooth; use a low setting to avoid building up froth.

3. Add remaining ingredients and blend until well mixed.

4. Chill thoroughly and scoop into frozen bowls, garnished with sliced blueberries and mint sprigs if desired; serve immediately while bowls are frozen. Best served within 24 hours.

Spinach-Artichoke Dip


What in life is better than warm, creamy spinach-artichoke dip? Not much, that’s for damn sure. Gooey, cheesy, mayonnaisey–yes, you heard me; I, President of the Mayonnaise-Haters club, can get over my burning revulsion for this treat! I’m all for indulging in the traditional version of this dip now and then, but I had a powerful craving the other day that I knew couldn’t be satisfied by a 2-tablespoon serving size (!) From this craving, a healthified (albeit less cheesy) version of spinach-artichoke dip was born, and I ate a whole bowlful without feeling yucky afterwards! Not only is this dip super low-fat, it’s packed with vitamins A and C from the abundance of veggies and protein and calcium from the greek yogurt, so you can actually feel good about eating it!

This dip don’t quit, so don’t limit its serving power to hors d’oeuvres hour. Spread it on a warm whole wheat roll and add grilled chicken breast, a slice of provolone and some vine-ripened tomato for an ecstatic sandwich experience. Add a dollop to scrambled eggs and serve with whole grain toast. Toss it with whole wheat pasta, leftover chicken and olives for a super quick dinner. If you’re enjoying it in dip form, make your own healthy and delish dipping devices using my recipes for Pita Chips or Mami Nature’s Corn Chips!

Ingredients (makes a big ol’ batch for multiple serving purposes):
2 16-oz. bags frozen spinach, thawed
2 cans artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped
1 cup fat-free greek yogurt (you can alter the quantity to obtain the consistency you want)
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup shredded parmesan, plus a little extra to sprinkle on top
1/2 white onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
additions: chopped tomatoes, crushed red pepper and paprika to garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Thaw spinach in the microwave or by running water over the bag. Drain & chop artichoke hearts.
2. Throw minced garlic & chopped onions into a big pot with the olive oil and cook sautee over medium heat until the onions become translucent. Turn off heat.
3. Add the rest of your ingredients to the pot and stir well. Taste-test for flavor, and add more yogurt if you want a creamier (and proteinier!) dip.
4. Spread dip into a pie pan and bake. I used a glass pan, which requires a longer baking period, so it took about 45 minutes for mine to warm through. I recommend testing the center after about 30 minutes; if it’s nice and warm, it’s ready to eat!

Zoe & Zane’s Spinach Brownies


This recipe comes from Carol, the mother of two fabulous kids I used to babysit. Carol’s delicious invention was a hit with Zane when he was a toddler (I think he gets his adventurous streak from his big sister Zoe!) This yummy snack’s spinach base provides a healthy dose of vitamins A & C, and the combination of spinach and cheese makes for a calcium-rific treat.

Pesto is fun and easy to make, so if you have a little extra time, I suggest making a big batch to use in this recipe and save for future culinary endeavors. Take a tip from my girl Amy Sedaris and freeze pre-portioned servings of pesto in an ice cube tray; for a quick weeknight meal, boil some whole wheat spaghetti, add one cube of melted pesto for each serving of pasta, and throw in whatever veggies you have in your fridge.

Pesto usually involves pine nuts, but you can use whatever nuts you have in your pantry for a slight twist on the classic. Walnuts are my favourite pesto base; they’re full of omega-3‘s and they make for a strong, delicious flavour!

Walnut Pesto (makes a little over 1/2 cup):

1-1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1/4 shredded parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Throw everything in your blender or food processor and give it a whirl!

Brownies:
1 bag of frozen chopped spinach
1/4 cup pesto (buy pre-made or use my recipe)
1/2 cup good parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella
2 eggs
2 TBSP whole wheat flour
Pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 325º. Cook and drain your spinach. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add pesto, cheese, egg, flour, and pepper.
2. Spray a bread pan with a little non-stick spray, or rub with a teaspoon of butter to prevent brownies from sticking. Pour batter into pan.
3. Bake your brownies for about 30 minutes. Cut into squares. These brownies are fantastic warm or cool. Bring a plate to your next event–you’ll be the toast of the PTA!

Mami Nature’s Corn Chips


I love savory dipping devices, but I cringe when I read the labels of my favourite crunchy snacks. Health-minded brands may omit most of the yucky preservatives and trans fats, but even when you’re browsing the natural foods section, it’s difficult to find a low-fat treat that’s worth eating.

When I decided to substitute corn chips for pita bread for a new spin on my Pita Chip recipe, I was surprised by how difficult it is to find healthy corn tortillas. I was on my third grocery store before I found tortillas that contained–hallelujah!–nothing but corn, water and lime (thank you, Trader Joe’s.) This recipe takes less than 5 minutes to prepare (plus about 20 minutes to bake) and you can make a big batch to eat all week. Try them with Dilly Cottage Cheese Dip or your favourite salsa. I can’t wait for avocados to be in season again so that I can try them with homemade guacamole!

Ingredients (serves 4):
8 natural corn tortillas (with about a 5-1/2″ diameter)
1 TBSP olive oil
a sprinklin’ of garlic powder, salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Slice tortillas into quarters and lay them on a baking sheet. Brush each side with just a smidge of olive oil–you can really make 1 Tablespoon go a long way! Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder (you can try different spice variations if you wish.)
3. Bake chips for about 20 minutes, taste-testing them for crunchiness (don’t burn your tongue!) You may want to check on them after 10 minutes or so, flipping them over if they’re getting too dark on top.

Betta Bruschetta


Having people over and feeding them is fun. It’s also a good social activity for lazy people who don’t like to leave their house, like me. You can make this bruschetta pretty quickly while you’re hanging out in the kitchen with your guests, and you only need to buy a couple of ingredients. Best of all, it creates feelings of warmth and makes people like you.

Ingredients:
1 loaf whole grain bread, sliced thin
1 pint cherry tomatoes, or 4-5 roma tomatoes, diced
1 bunch basil, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
optional: grated parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sautee minced garlic in a few drops of olive oil until it’s barely brown (you can use raw garlic, but it will be POTENT.)
2. Place bread slices on a baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil (I like to pour a tablespoon or two into a dish and dip my brush into it. That way, I don’t end up accidently soaking the bread.) Top with garlic.
3. Heat the bread in the oven until it’s nice and toasty. Meanwhile, chop up your tomatoes and basil and flavour them to your liking with salt & pepper.
4. When the bread’s ready, top them with a pinch of grated parmesan (if your crowd doesn’t include any vegans,) add a spoonful of the tomato-basil mixture, and drizzle about 1/8 tsp. of balsamic vinegar over each. Let your guests toast you and take a bow.