Meatless Monday - Layered Greek Pasta Bake

>> Monday, March 22, 2010

It's a busy, busy week here, so I am digging into the archives for today's Meatless Monday post.  We had this Layered Pasta Bake again recently, and I was reminded how good it is.  Despite the inclusion of zucchini and feta cheese, my kids are wild about this dish! 

I came across a cookbook by Linda McCartney a few months ago at our local library - Linda McCartney's World of Vegetarian Cooking. For a cookbook with such a cheesy name, it's actually got quite a few good recipes in it, including this one.  In fact, I liked the book so much that I now own it.  

My kids do their best to pick around the zucchini, but they still love this dish - and even manage to get some of the zucchini into their bodies.  I've considered pureeing the sauteed zucchini and hiding it in the sauce, but haven't gone to that effort so far.

Layered Pasta Bake

14 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato puree
1 cup water
1 tsp dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 sun-dried tomatoes, crushed (I used oil packed sun-dried tomatoes)
8 oz crumbled feta
3 cups dried pasta (penne or fusilli or rigatoni)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium zucchini, sliced
1/2 cup cheddar, grated
freshly chopped basil to garnish

In a medium saucepan, simmer the tomatoes, tomato puree, and water with the thyme, garlic, and sun-dried tomatoes. When the sauce has reduced and thickened a little (about 8-10 min), add the feta. Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Drain, and mix thoroughly with the tomato sauce.

Saute the onion and zucchini for about 5 min. (I think that I sauteed a little longer. My onions and zucchini were just starting to brown a bit.)

Spread half of the pasta mixture in a 13x9 baking dish and layer the zucchini mixture on top. Cover with the rest of the pasta mixture. Top with cheese and bake at 350 F for 20 min. Garnish with fresh basil before serving.

Now for a request.  A reader and friend is looking for a tasty breakfast "cookie."  Do you have one to share?  I must admit, I am not having a lot of luck with this challenge!  The couple I've tried so far have been heavy and not very appealing to any of us!


Meatless Monday - Nutty Granola Bars

>> Monday, March 15, 2010

I've posted my Chewy Granola Bars recipe a couple of times before on this blog.  It's a favorite around here and amazingly has remained pretty much unchanged for a couple of years.  Unchanged...until a couple of weeks ago.  Sometimes change just has to happen.  Some added spice, a dollop of almond butter, and voila!  Chewy Granola Bars are transformed into Nutty Granola Bars!

These granola bars are such a tasty and easy alternative to store-bought granola bars.  And while they do have butter and sugar in them, the ingredient list is simple, and I can control what I'm putting in them.  No hidden trans fat.  Only whole grains.  And with the addition of some nut butter, they get a  protein boost.  I feel content serving these as a snack to my kids - or even as a breakfast on special occasion. 

I used MaraNatha No-Stir Almond Butter (free samples were provided by MaraNatha for a previous review and giveaway), but I think that any nut butter would be fine.  I generally have only plain-jane natural peanut or almond butter on hand, and that is what I will probably use in the future.  For the spice, I opted for pumpkin pie spice, which is a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.  Plain cinnamon would be a great substitute.

Give these a try!  Sometimes change is a very, very good thing.

Nutty Granola Bars

3 cups rolled oats (quick oats are fine)
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
1/4 cup and 3 TBSP butter, softened
1/3 cup honey
3 TBSP and 1 and 3/4 tsp packed brown sugar
3 TBSP nut butter of choice
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
3 TBSP flaxseed meal or wheat germ (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Lightly grease a 9"x13" pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well.

Firmly press mixture into the prepared pan. Bake at 325 F for 20 min or until golden brown. Let cool for 10 min and then cut into bars. Let bars cool completely in pan before removing or serving.  (This is so important!  They'll be very crumbly until they are absolutely cool.)  On hot summer days, might want to store in the fridge so that they're not as crumbly and the chocolate doesn't melt.


Meatless Monday - Purple Smoothie

>> Monday, March 8, 2010

My husband is on a smoothie kick around here, and we're all benefiting from it!  The inspiration for his latest smoothie is Alton Brown.  We recently watched Alton Brown's Good Eats show where he talks about his diet changes and his subsequent weight loss.  (Lists, oily fish, and real food are all involved.) 

Fruit packed smoothies are also part of his diet.  The base of his smoothie consists of a purple juice (like acai juice or pomegranate juice), soy milk (because dairy is a food that triggers more eating for him), and enough fruit to make a 24 oz drink.  Why use a purple juice?  Purple fruits - think blueberries, pomegranates, acai berries - are known to be packed full of antioxidants.  The great thing about this smoothie is that it's a fun way to get a lot of fruit into your diet fast.  Kids (and adults too) will often go for a smoothie even when they won't eat a piece of fresh fruit. 

This smoothie makes a wonderful snack.  It could also be a breakfast - and a good one if paired with something protein rich.  (I actually think that my husband's other tofu-based smoothie makes a better breakfast by itself because it has a lot more protein - good for getting you going and keeping you going all morning.)  My husband used almond milk instead of soy milk, and he used POM pomegranate-blueberry juice for his antioxidant packed purple juice.  (Disclaimer:  I have received free samples of POM in the past.  We actually bought the juice used in this smoothie, however.)

We all really liked this smoothie when it was first made and full of ground bits of frozen fruit.  I hate to say it, but I'm the only one that still liked it once all of the fruit had thawed.  While my husband thought that it was refreshing while icy, he found it too gelatinous once it had thawed overnight.  Something to consider if you make this.  You might want to drink it straight away while it's still icy!

Alton Brown's Purple Smoothie

(Use a mix of your choice of frozen fruits.  These are just suggestions.)
1 banana
4 oz vanilla almond milk, soy milk, or regular milk
4 oz purple juice (such as POM pomegranate-blueberry juice)
4 oz strawberries, frozen
4 oz blueberries, frozen
4 oz mixed berries, frozen
2 oz mango, frozen

Put liquids in the blender first, and then add the frozen fruits a little at a time.  Start the blender on low speed and work up to high speed for best results.  Enjoy!

Good news if you're a fan of Ayala's Herbal Water!  Use the coupon code HWmarch2010 on your order and get $5 off!  This coupon code is good through 3/31/10.  Happy drinking!


Meatless Monday - West African Peanut Soup (and other great nut butter uses)

>> Monday, March 1, 2010

Today's Meatless Monday post is all about nut butters.  Why?  Well, I have a few recipes that use nut butters that I want to share with you, and I have a nut butter giveaway going on at my other blog!  Jump over to A Life Less Sweet Reviews for a chance to  be one of 4 winners of a $5 coupon toward any MaraNatha Nut Butter product!  

West African Peanut Soup
Sometime in the last couple of months, I saw a couple of African soup recipes with peanut butter in them.  I don't know why, but the idea really resonated with me, and I just had to make a soup with peanut butter in it.  My husband thought that I was slightly crazy (what else is new?), but he's also always game to try something different.

Google West African Peanut Soup, and you'll get tons of different recipes.  The common denominator in these soup recipes tends to be sweet potatoes, peanut butter, and tomatoes (either in juice or whole form).  Some are quite simple with few spices, and some are very complex.  I pulled what appealed to me from several different recipes to make my soup.

I like this soup a lot.  I loved the complex taste that all of the different spices added to the soup.  The peanut butter helped to thicken the soup and also added to the complexity of the flavor without being an overpowering flavor.

I liked it, but what about everyone else?  Do I even need to mention the kids?  I knew going into this that they weren't going to like this soup, so I made them a pizza instead.  They did dutifully try the soup, and they dutifully told me that they didn't like it.  Surprisingly, my husband was only so-so on this soup.  He did like it, but not as much as I thought he would.  We both thought that all of the spices gave it a very Indian flavor.  (Is that typical of West African food?  Or did I gravitate toward the soup recipes with lots of spices because I like Indian food?)  He said that he would like the soup better served over rice and with a little chicken or sauteed tofu in it.  I'll give those ideas a try next time around.

(Soup recipe at the bottom of the post!)

Almond Butter Snacks
My son's school went peanut free last year.  Because of that, we've started using almond butter a lot.  Anything we might want to make with peanut butter to take to school, I just substitute almond butter, and because both nuts are packed with protein and good fats, I feel good sending him with some almond butter snacks.

One of my favorite almond butter snacks couldn't be easier.  Take two crackers of your choice, spread a smear of almond butter on one and a smear of Nutella (a chocolate-hazelnut spread) on the other, and put them together.  Voila!  A very tasty and easy snack for his lunch box that can double as a dessert!  This is good using regular crackers or you can play up the dessert aspect and use graham crackers.

My other favorite almond butter snack comes compliments of Fix Me A Snack - Almond Butter Balls.  These little balls are filled with good stuff and absolutely addictive.  I make a double batches of Almond Butter Balls at a time and freeze them.  I pull them out as a high-protein morning snack and have even been known to serve a couple along with breakfast.  Seriously, give these a try.  SO good!

Last, a simple breakfast using whatever nut butter tickles your fancy.  I'm not a big breakfast fan.  If it isn't quick and easy, then I'll probably just go without.  Not the best eating strategy, but there you go.  One of my quick and easy breakfasts is simply to quarter a banana, top with a smear of peanut or almond butter, a smattering of raisins, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Simple.  Fast.  Delicious.  And nothing but good stuff with some protein to boot. 

On to the soup recipe, as promised...

West African Peanut Soup
2 cups chopped onions
1 tsp grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped carrot
2 cups chopped sweet potatoes
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 can coconut milk
2 bay leaves
1 TBSP sugar (optional)
1 cup peanut butter
chopped green onions and chopped cilantro for garnish

  • Saute the onion in oil until translucent.
  • Add the carrots, ginger, and garlic.  Stir in the spices (cloves through cinnamon).  Saute a couple of more minutes.
  • Mix in the sweet potatoes, broth, tomatoes, coconut milk, sugar, and bay leaves.  Bring the soup to a boil and simmer for 15 min or until the vegetables are tender.
  • Leave chunky if preferred or use an immersion blender or a regular blender to puree the vegetables as much as desired.
  • Return soup to pot.  Stir in the peanut butter until smooth.
  • Serve topped with chopped green onions and cilantro.

Can't get enough of nut butters?  Jump to A Life Less Sweet Reviews to read why we switched to natural peanut butter and to enter to win a MaraNatha coupon worth $5!


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