Rollin' in the Greens (spinach lasagna rolls)

or any day comfort food is a snap

The weather is cooling down here the last couple weeks, by cooling down I mean it has actually dropped below 90 for more than a few days at a time, and that is putting me in the mood for food - comfort food that is.  Fall isn't quite in the air yet, but it will be soon, and then all bets are off - I'll be strapping on my apron for my favorite cooking season.  To get warmed up for this wonderful time of year I started with a quick, no fuss Italian style dinner - spinach lasagna.  To simplify it a bit, both for serving and for leftovers, I changed it up a bit and made it into lasagna rolls.  I love this idea.  It is a small change that makes the meal a bit more fun, a bit more fool proof, and a nice change up for an any day meal.

It may seem like it takes a while to make, approximately 10 min prep-40 min cook-10 min set, but since the active work time for this is only about 10-15 min I still consider this a win.  Bonus - it can be prepped a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator, if you are using a glass baking dish just take it out and let the dish come to room temperature a bit before baking so it doesn't break.  Make ahead meals are such a stress reliever for me, I hope this one will be for you too.  Check it out:

12 lasagna noodles
1 small tub ricotta, 8 oz (I like to use reduced fat)
3 tbsp egg beaters, egg substitute, or 1 egg
½ cup mozzarella or Italian blend cheese, shredded
¼ cup grated
2 tbsp Italian bread crumbs
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp basil
8 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2-3 cups tomato based pasta sauce, homemade or store bought

Hardware: 9x13 baker

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. Cook lasagna noodles to al dente according to package directions.

2. In a mixing bowl dump the following: ricotta, egg substitute (or egg), mozzarella, Parmesan, Italian bread crumbs, and spices. Mix until combined and happily consistent throughout.

3. Drain the thawed spinach and use your hands to squeeze out all the liquid you can, this is great for getting out pent up frustration. Once you have squeezed every last drop of liquid out of it, fluff the spinach up a bit to build up its self esteem again and add it to the cheese mixture. Stir well to combine and ensure that all the ingredients are well acquainted.

4. Spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of the baking dish.

5. Rinse the cooked lasagna noodles and drain. Lay out a series of noodles on a flat surface (like a cutting board). Take a heaping tablespoon of the cheese mixture and spread it over one noodle, add more or take some away as needed. You will want to leave about 2 inches at the end without cheese. Start gently rolling at the end with the cheese, you don't need a lot of pressure just enough to make it stick You will notice the cheese spreads down a little as you roll it but you want to make sure the very end is cheese free. Place the rolls seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with as many rolls as can fit or until you run out of usable noodles.

6. Pour remaining sauce evenly over top. Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 min, until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven and uncover, allow to sit for 5-10 min so the cheese will set.


Mini Loaves of Legumes (Vegetarian Meatloaf Muffins)

or comfort food survives a veggie conversion

I miss meat.  I dream of steaks and ribs and yes - even meatloaf - these days.  For the past year or so I have been converted, against my will, to vegetarian.  Turns out that pregnancy can do weird things to your body, and they don't all resolve postpartum.  But our sweet baby girl is well worth the sacrifice, even if I have visions of meatballs instead of gumdrops dancing through my head at night.  But that is getting a bit off track. The point is, and I do have one, that most of my comfort food loves involve meat of some sort.  I have recently started coming to terms with the fact that I am now "meat free" for the most part and that puts forth the urgent matter of where will I get my comfort food???  You can only eat so much macaroni and cheese...  And since my body was not thrilled with soy substitutes I have moved on to the arena of the legume.  It is a scary world to some I know, it was not all sunshine and lollipops in my mind as I approached it, and even though I have only tested the waters here with lentils - so far they seem like a fair alternative.  And the results of this particular recipe taste test were a definite success, even my husband gave it a good review (and his skepticism of meat alternatives knows no bounds).  Even if you are not veggie inclined I suggest you give these little cuties a try.  Who knows, you might just find something new to crave.

I started with this recipe for "vegetable balls" and modified it to fit my needs: http://www.grouprecipes.com/91887/vegetable-balls-in-barbecue-sauce.html

Here is what I ended up with...

1/2 cup dried brown lentils
1 cup white rice, uncooked
2 tbsp dried minced onion
1/2 tsp house seasoning blend
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 cup egg substitute or 4 eggs 
2 tbsp + 6 tsp BBQ sauce
3 tbsp Vegetable oil

Hardware: medium sized sauce pot, 2 muffin tins (6 muffins each, I use silicone ones)

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. In the medium pot combine the dried lentils with 1 3/4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 8 min.

2. Add in the rice, dried minced onion, and seasoning blend stirring well to combine.  Bring back to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover, cook for 10 min at a simmer.

3. Uncover and allow to rest for 10 min.  Then add in the egg substitute (or eggs, yolks broken up with a fork first), breadcrumbs, salt, and 2 tbsp of the BBQ sauce.  Stir until well combined and consistent throughout, this makes for a happier mix.

4. Use the vegetable oil to lightly grease the muffin pans.  Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, because that was easiest for me, scoop out equal amounts of the mixture into each of the 12 muffin cups.  Bake for 10 min.

5. After 10 min, top each "muffin" with 1/2 tsp BBQ sauce spreading evenly (think frosting style, you want all of the top covered, you will notice that I did not do this in the picture above and I have regretted it ever since).  Return to oven and cook for another 5 min.  Remove and allow to cool for 5 min before removing, this helps them set a bit more.  This goes excellent with some form of potatoes and a nice roasted veggie side dish.