Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day: Spinach and Tomato Lasagna

2012 is a big year. Literally.  February 29th here in Aspen is full of powder snow and great skiing, so we are thankful for this extra day.  After a pathetically slow start to the season, snow is in the forecast for the next week on and off.  The hubby and I love Italian food.  There seem to be endless delightful concoctions focused on starch, cheese and tomato sauce.  Lasagna is a particular house favorite, and a great way to incorporate some healthier aspects into the starch/cheese/sauce combination.  I created this recipe by trial and error.  When i searched online, I found that most spinach lasagna is topped with a very rich cream sauce, so I created a much lighter version with great flavor.  The addition of tofu adds similar texture to ricotta cheese, but if it scares you, leave it out.  The sauce recipe included here can be used with many other pastas.  Buon appetito.

Spinach Lasagna with Tomato Sauce

For the Sauce
2 15oz cans diced tomatoes, preferably not seasoned
1 sprig basil
1 large clove garlic, peeled and smashed
2-3 sprigs parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup red wine
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Lasagna

1 bunch spinach
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium zucchini, grated
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 lb lasagna pasta, prepared according to package
1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, or less if you are being healthy
4 oz chevere or other soft goat cheese
1/2 block firm tofu
2 tablespoons chopped basil

1. Heat all ingredients except wine over medium heat until boiling, then reduce to simmer and cook 15-20 minutes.
2. Remove basil, garlic and parsley.
3. Transfer to blender and puree, or use an immersion blender.
4. Add wine and simmer 5 minutes more, then set aside.

1. Rinse spinach and remove stems, then blanch in boiling water 30 seconds to 1 minute until just wilted. Transfer immediately to a bowl of cold water.
2. Wring spinach in paper towel until much of the water is removed, and chop coarsely.  Set aside.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add onions, and saute until translucent (about 3 minutes).
4.  Add mushrooms and cook 1 minute longer before adding zucchini, garlic and oregano.  Saute until all ingredients are soft.  Set aside.
5.  Press the water out of the tofu with paper towels, then crumble.  Set aside.
6. Crumble goat cheese and slice mozzarella into thin slices.
7. Assemble the lasagna.  Begin with a thin layer of sauce and then your first layer of pasta. Alternate ingredients to form 3-4 layers.  Top with 1/2 cup reserved sauce, mozzarella slices, and basil.
8. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, then uncover and bake 10 minutes more until cheese begins to bubble and brown.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Taste of Spring Links

View from top of Highlands Bowl Saturday 2/25/11
The last full week of February has ended, the sun has been out in Colorado, and I am itching for spring.  The temperature got up to 45 degrees here in Aspen on Saturday, and we had a lovely hike up to the top of Highlands Bowl, followed by a less than optimal ski.  We are expecting another big storm on Tuesday, which I will embrace without complaints.  However, this sunshine and warmth has me dreaming of spring flavors, so here are a few links from around the web of yummy recipes that embrace spring.

Spicy Sriracha and White Bean Dip
Leek and Swiss Chard Tart
Warm Snow Pea and Chicken Salad
Lemon Mint Braised Artichokes
Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Brown Butter

Happy spring dreaming!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sweet Treats for your Valentine

Disclaimer: nothing in this post is healthy.  So pick a treat based on your taste not your waist, and enjoy a lovely indulgence.

After the new year, when many have diet resolutions, I have been baking more.  I recently discovered that one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen, has an extraordinary variety of cakes.  This temptation, along with my recently reading Cakewalk: A Memoir by Kate Moses, has me on a weekly baking spree.  So this post is devoted to all of my dear readers with a sweet tooth like myself, or who want to bake something to spread the love this Valentine's day.  Happy baking!

Toasted Coconut Shortbread Hearts
These are what I made for my valentine.  They are all the good parts about coconut, without that papery texture you get from the raw flakes.  Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
  • 3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt (don’t skimp on this)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread coconut on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until coconut is light golden, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Cool completely, then grind in a coffee grinder, food processor or blender until coarsely ground.
  2. Using electric mixer, cream butter and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Mix in salt and vanilla. Beat in flour in 2 additions. Stir in toasted coconut. Gather dough together, flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)
  3. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out dough disk on lightly floured work surface to scant 1/4-inch thickness. Using 1 3/4- to 2-inch-diameter cookie cutters, cut dough into rounds. Transfer cookies to prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Gather dough scraps and re-roll; cut out additional cookies.
  4. Bake cookies until light golden, about 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool completely. (Can be made ahead. Store airtight at room temperature up to 1 week.)
  5. For chocolate dipped shortbread: melt 1 cup of high quality dark chocolate over a double boiler, or in the microwave.  Dip each cookie as desired, and place on waxed paper.  Allow to cool completely and harden before storing.
Picture from Smitten Kitchen, since I forgot to take one
Red Wine Chocolate Cake
I first made this cake last fall, and recently made it again, instead of watching that silly football game last Sunday. It is decadent, rich, and easy to make.  It also happens to combine my top favorite food groups: the wine group and the chocolate group.  The cake is best after it sits for at least a few hours to cool completely.

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen:
  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (179 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) white granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (177 ml) red wine, any kind you like
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon (133 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (41 grams) Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment, and either butter and lightly flour the parchment and exposed sides of the pan, or spray the interior with a nonstick spray.
  3. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth (1-2 minutes).  Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the egg and yolk and beat well, then the red wine and vanilla. Don’t worry if the batter looks a little uneven.
  5. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients.
  6. Mix until 3/4 combined, then fold the rest together with a rubber spatula. Spread batter in prepared pan.
  7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. The top of the cake should be shiny and smooth, like a puddle of chocolate. Cool in pan on a rack for about 10 minutes, then flip out of pan and cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack. This cake keeps well at room temperature or in the fridge.
  8. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with fresh whipped cream.
Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake
This one is a bit more daunting of a task.  Make sure to read the whole recipe before starting.  This cake is made with browned butter, which is SO good.  We had a hard time not eating the entire cake in a single night.  It is best while still warm from the oven.  I slightly adjusted the baking powder and flour for 7800 ft, but I have given you the original amounts.  If you are baking at altitude: add 2 TB flour, and use 2/3 of the baking powder.

Recipe also from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs, at room-temperature
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 pears, peeled, in a small dice (I used Bartletts) 
  • 3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (I couldn't find bittersweet in Aspen, so I used semi-sweet)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with breadcrumbs (I cheated and used flour), set aside.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.
  3. While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan with a light-colored bottom, and cook it on medium-low heat until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.
  4. Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.
  5. Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.
  6. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out clean.
  7. We served it with unsweetened whipped cream.