Not Epic but Pretty Good

Don’t you hate it when a recipe sounds epic and you slave away in the kitchen to prepare it, only to find that it’s just OK?

I suppose OK is better than awful.

I was pretty excited to try out this Pesto Veggie Gratin recipe from “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,” and was even more excited that it called for goat cheese (which I discovered via an appetizer at Mas Tapas in Charlottesville and recreated at home via this Artichoke and Goat Cheese Dip). I think goat cheese is delicious when I’m on the non-vegan bandwagon… sorry, goats. At least I don’t eat you…

The recipe called for couscous, pesto (another obsession of mine… see The Magic of Pesto for my favorite pesto recipe), asparagus, goat cheese, and another vegetable (I chose a yellow squash). Sounds epic, right?

Pesto Veggie Gratin

Pesto Veggie Gratin

Looks pretty epic, right?

I must admit one instance of user error in preparing this recipe: I mistook scallions for shallots (I always get those two mixed up). I should’ve used shallots, but instead, I used green onions. So maybe there was a flavor depth thing missing.

The dish wasn’t bad. It was just a little bland… until I dolloped on more pesto! Next time, I’ll just add more pesto to the sauce and I think it’ll cross over into greatness, if not epicness.

Pesto Veggie Gratin plate

Pesto Veggie Gratin plate

So, chins up, people! They can’t all be epic meals… but one can dream!

Pesto Veggie Lasagna

This might be my favorite lasagna ever – and it’s vegan! I know – I’ve been making a lot of “best ever” claims lately, but I’ve really been on a roll in the kitchen. While this recipe is a little bit labor intensive, it’s easy labor – and the end result is beyond worth it.

I made this dish for my family’s Christmas get together in Chicago last week (though it was just vegetarian for them and not vegan, as I couldn’t find Daiya on short notice Christmas eve). It almost didn’t happen; do you have any idea how hard it is to find lasagna noodles at 4pm on Christmas Eve? We had to go to 2 stores, and I got the very last package on the shelf at store #2 (thank you, Target!) It was well worth the search. This lasagna got thumbs-up reviews from even the meat eaters, and I enjoyed it so much that I made it again at home for New Years.

This recipe makes a 9×13″ dish of lasagna – good for 8 serious servings (which in my case means, a freezer full of lasagna!) For the record, it does freeze and reheat very well. If you plan to go that route, let it cool down a bit then portion it out into freezer-safe containers and freeze. You can also make this a day ahead of time and refrigerate it prior to baking, then toss it in the oven when it’s time to make dinner. Just add 5-10 minutes if you’re starting with cold lasagna.

Without further ado, my favorite lasagna recipe of all times:

Pesto Veggie Lasagna

by Shelly Hokanson

Prep Time: 30

Cook Time: 35

Ingredients (8 servings)

Lasagna

  • 1 pkg lasagna noodles (12+ noodles – no-boil are fine)
  • 1 cup pesto – see recipe below
  • 5 – 6 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
  • 5 cups grilled or sautéed veggies – choose from zucchini, eggplant, red or green bell peppers, portobello mushrooms, broccoli, or your favorites. My favorite mix: 1 red pepper – diced, 1 zucchini – cut into half moons, and 1 head of broccoli florets.
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 lb or 1 – 14oz package herbed tofu, firm or extra firm (Italian herbed tofu works great here), pressed and crumbled
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes, sliced (8 slices)
  • 1 package (8 oz) Daiya mozzarella or other vegan shredded cheese
  • 1 jar of your favorite marinara

Pesto

  • 1/4 cup walnut halves or pieces
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (or, replace with additional 1/4 cup walnuts)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, scant
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Instructions

This first step is optional, but highly recommended. Preheat a large heavy-bottomed skillet (such as a cast iron skillet) over medium-low heat. Add the walnuts to the dry skillet and toast for 5 minutes, tossing often. Then add the pine nuts and toast an additional 5 minutes. (If using all walnuts, add them all at the start and toast for 10 minutes).

Set toasted nuts aside to cool.

Prep the Veggies

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large saute pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for 5 minutes.

As you chop up the rest of your veggies, add them to the pan, stirring often. If the pan dries out, add a tablespoon or two of water to deglaze the pan and keep on saute-ing.

Continue to saute the veggies while preparing the pesto.

Prep the Pesto

Add the toasted nuts to a food processor.

Add the minced garlic, basil, thyme, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast until the basil leaves are well blended, scraping down the sides of the food processor as necessary.

Slowly stream in the olive oil and process until well combined.

Blend in the lemon juice.

Assemble the Lasagna

In a 13×19″ dish, coat the bottom of the dish with a layer of marinara.

Place one layer of lasagna noodles on the bottom of the dish.

Layer more marinara on top of the noodles.

Then, add the baby spinach over the noodles.

Crumble the tofu on top of the spinach.

Sprinkle a layer of shredded Daiya over the tofu, then add a second layer of noodles.

Coat the noodles with another marinara layer.

Add the veggies to the next layer and top with a generous layer of pesto.

Add the last layer of noodles and coat with remaining marinara.

Add the rest of the shredded cheese. Place 8 dollops of pesto across the top, and add a tomato slice onto each dollop of pesto.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes at 350F, until the lasagna is warmed through and the cheese is melted.

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Memories

Though I’m not eating sandwiches on my fruit/veggie reboot plan, that doesn’t mean I can’t drool over sandwiches past:

Pesto Grilled Cheese (Daiya Mozz)

Pesto Grilled Cheese (Daiya Mozz)

Pictured: two slices of homemade bread cradling a generous bit of Post Punk Kitchen’s Bestest Pesto and ooey, gooey melted Daiya mozzarella vegan cheese… lovingly grilled on the Griddler panini press.

It was magnificently wonderful.

Fire Roasted Red Pepper Veggie Burger & Pesto

Pesto Veggie Burger

Another winner from the cookbook, The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet.

My love affair with this cookbook has been enhanced by the acquisition of a cute little burger press. The link is to one similar to mine, though mine was just a random grocery-store-aisle impulse buy.

What I love about the burgers from this book is that they’re so flavorful. They remind me of fancy restaurant veggie burgers – the homemade kind, not the patties-from-the-freezer kind. They’ve all got a great mix of ingredients, and so far, I’ve loved every one.

This was a combination of the Sundried Tomato Pesto burger, and the Fire Roasted Red Pepper burger. Both sounded good to me, so I used the latter as my base recipe, and added sundried tomatoes and pesto!

The result:

Fire Roasted Red Pepper Veggie Burger & Pesto

Fire Roasted Red Pepper Veggie Burger & Pesto

These freeze well, so make a double batch and enjoy for quick lunches or dinners!

Chopped Leeks

Promises, Promises

It’s Vegan MoFo Week 3!

Yes, I know. You missed me yesterday. I’m back this evening for your foodie enjoyment, and a little birdie told me there’s a morning edition on its way, too.

First up: pesto veggie sandwiches! Oh. You mean, you’ve seen those before here? Or here? Hey – I promised I’d try to make 20 posts about food in the month of October. I never promised it’d be different food every day!

What can I say? I eat a lot of pesto veggie sandwiches. To make this instance a tiny bit more palatable, I will show you one of my magic kitchen weapons. This little beast makes chopping veggies super easy:

Pampered Chef Food Chopper

Pampered Chef Food Chopper

It’s the Pampered Chef Food Chopper. I couldn’t really tell you if other choppers work as well. I’ve used this one for years and it still looks and works like the day I bought it. The thing can take a beating (I’m a clutz) – it just keeps chopping away.

Now, I didn’t use it to chop these leeks…

Chopped Leeks

Chopped Leeks

… but I did use it on the baby bellas (got a sweet deal on organics!) and the red peppers:

Leeks, Baby Bellas, and Red Peppers

Leeks, Baby Bellas, and Red Peppers

Sometimes I use onions instead of leeks. It just depends what’s in my fridge. These leeks were on their last legs, for sure. This mix is made of 1 carton of baby bella mushrooms (16 oz), 1 large sweet red pepper, 3 leeks, and 3 cloves of garlic. Saute and salt to taste… voila!

Pesto Veggie Sandwich and Green Bean Fries

Pesto Veggie Sandwich and Green Bean Fries

With my buddies the Green Bean Fries on the side (baked, not fried… 18 mins at 400F… salt and pepper… nom).

Classic Pesto a la Vegan With A Vengeance

The Magic of Pesto

I’ve gone on and on about pesto here on this blog. Ever since I discovered it earlier this year, I’ve been obsessed. It is the star of one of my favorite all-time sandwiches (the veggie pesto panini), and I’ve been known to blob it onto pasta and salads as well. I have even used it as pizza sauce. So good!

In honor of Vegan MoFo, I’ve decided to give my love – pesto – its due diligence. The recipe I use is from the world’s vegan punk rock sweetheart, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, in her cook book Vegan With A Vengeance. You can view the recipe on Google Books, page 132 – Classic Pesto.

Look at that gorgeous basil!

Look at that gorgeous basil!

I make a couple modifications to the recipe. First, I only use 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil instead of 1/2 cup; I use 1/4 cup water for the other part. Next, I mix up the nuts. Sometimes I use walnuts as recommended, but often, I’ll use cashews instead, or mix the two. I’ve also been known to throw some pepitas (pumpkin seeds) in there. Lastly, I always use the nutritional yeast (marked as optional in Isa’s recipe). Note that there aren’t any pine nuts in the recipe. It’s nice and easy on the wallet! I don’t miss them one bit.

Pesto in the Food Processor

Pesto in the Food Processor

I’ve never made a batch of this pesto that I didn’t love. It comes together super-quickly and the flavor is out of this world.

Classic Pesto a la Vegan With A Vengeance

Classic Pesto a la Vegan With A Vengeance

Pesto Pasta, Broccoli and Chickpeas with Mmm Sauce, & Asparagus

Let the Freezer Eats Begin

I told you it was about to get all crazy up in this hizzouse!

Pesto Pasta, Broccoli and Chickpeas with Mmm Sauce, & Asparagus

Pesto Pasta, Broccoli and Chickpeas with Mmm Sauce, & Asparagus

Ha!

You’re like, what the heck is that?!

Eatin’ good in the freezer-hood, my friends!

Gotta. Empty. Freezer. Can’t. Waste. Food.

(No worries – what I don’t eat or take with me will be bequeathed upon family members’ freezers).

It all started with a bag of frozen asparagus spears. I don’t even remember buying them, but when I saw the bag, I thought, “Genius! Frozen asparagus spears! Like, in spear form!” Too bad I didn’t realize they existed sooner. I could’ve eaten them when my fresh asparagus went limp way too soon last week.

So, I steamed that frozen asparagus (5 minutes in the micro – will probably go 5:30 next time), and coated it in my current obsession, Perfect Pinch veggie seasoning.

Then, I decided to make another batch of pesto. (I’m obsessed. What can I say?). Made the pesto, then realized I did not have the ingredients on hand to make my favorite Pesto Veggie sandwich.

Heavens, no! What would I do?!

OK. Change of plans. What’s in the fridge? I went for a big ol’ salad to use up the rest of my leftover spicy roasted chickpeas, and then realized I was out of salad greens. Well, heck. I need more greens!

I’ve got pesto. I’ve got asparagus. What can I do with pesto and asparagus?

I hobbled together an idea: in honor of the release of Mama Pea’s new cookbook (Peas and Thank You, which had just arrived at my door), I would try a recipe from her web site that I’d been meaning to make forever: Mmm Sauce. I’d mix that with the rest of my spicy roasted chickpeas, mix in some pasta and pesto, and throw some steamed broccoli in there. (I was too lazy to roast or grill anything – my preferred veggie cooking methods).

I got to work making Mmm sauce, only to realize I didn’t have the right spices on hand. Instead, I used oregano and basil and parsley. Italian Mmm sauce? I guess so!

So that, my friends, is what you’re looking at in the photo above. Frozen asparagus, steamed, with veggie seasoning. Whole wheat pasta topped with pesto. Steamed broccoli with chickpeas and Mmm sauce.

A weird plate – yes. But it was pretty darn tasty! So much so that I just had it again for lunch….

Stay tuned for more adventures in freezer eats!

Pesto Veggie Sandwich with Grilled Asparagus

Another holdout

Yes, I’ve been keeping something from you… again. But instead of waiting a couple days to tell you, I’ve waited a couple weeks.

Terrible. I know.

So, I’ve been eating this one sandwich…

(OK, that could probably start every food-blog post this summer).

Rewind. A couple weeks ago, I was at a restaurant called Olivers in Oak Forest, IL. It’s really more of a martini bar & grill. Or a sports bar. Whatever. At any rate, I was having an early dinner at Oliver’s, and ordered their Pesto Veggie sandwich.

It was heavenly.

Pesto, where have you been all my life?

(Full disclosure: I often relax my vegan ways to vegetarian at restaurants. I don’t eat out often, but still, the ethical battle that rages between my non-confrontational nature and my love of the cows is exhausting… but I have to remember that I eat this way to reduce suffering, and I accomplish a lot to that goal!)

Anyway. Where was I? PESTO!

Wow. Pesto. Self, meet basil! I never really knew basil was basil. I’ve had it before but never had a name for it. Now, I know what basil looks like and smells like and tastes like, and I know that basil is in pesto! How do I know this?

Because after eating at Oliver’s, I went out and bought a basil plant and made my own (vegan) pesto. I’ve made 3 batches so far, and almost have it perfected (at which point, I’ll likely post it here). I’m currently digging a mix of half-almonds, half-cashews. (Haven’t tried actual pine nuts, but going for a less calorie-dense version anyway).

So this homemade pesto frenzy has been feeding my new sandwich obsession – a clone of the Oliver’s Pesto Veggie sandwich.

For 4 servings:

  • 1/2 sweet or red onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup or so of mushrooms, diced (I’m liking portobello the best)
  • 1/2 of a red bell pepper, diced

Saute that all up in a little bit of olive oil until the onions are soft. Stack that between a couple slices of bread with a generous smear of pesto and some Daiya mozzarella, and press for 4 minutes in the panini press… oh my word. It tastes great on a crusty Italian sourdough, but also delish on regular ol’ Italian bread (or what I call, junk food bread).

Pesto Veggie Sandwich with Grilled Asparagus

Pesto Veggie Sandwich with Grilled Asparagus

I’ve literally eaten this sandwich 10 times in the past couple weeks. The only reason I didn’t eat it yesterday was that I ran out of pesto (and I seem to have already killed my basil plant… it’s outside now working on its resurrection). I thought I pruned it correctly. YouTube says I did, anyway. Still, it doesn’t seem to be growing new leaves. It just seems to be dying. Sigh.

In other news, I’m still obsessed with grilling veggies on my Griddler. That gadget is one of the best kitchen investments I’ve ever made (and it was really too cheap to call an “investment” – but I use the thing multiple times per week. Love it).

Unfortunately, my kitchen adventures are likely to be boring for the next 2 weeks. I’m 12 days from The Big Move, and have to eat through my freezer by then. I’ve been dreading this time. I don’t know why I stock my freezer full of frozen veggies. I know they’re supposed to be convenient, but I just prefer fresh. Maybe I just haven’t learned how to properly cook using frozen veggies.

My plan is to check the web sites of the frozen veggie manufacturers and find some recipes specifically written for those veggies. Maybe with some techniques under my belt, I’ll find a reason to fill my new freezer with them. (I’d much rather fill it up with jam!)

Do you have any favorite recipes that make use of frozen veggies? Please share! 🙂