Tag Archives: cheese

Pumpkin Lasagna with Kale and Mushrooms

24 Oct

This pumpkin kick I’ve been on is showing no signs of slowing down.

I recently hosted an autumn bake fest with a few friends (mostly jabbering amongst some baking), where we made pumpkin spice cut-out cookies. The dough called for pumpkin purée— an unexpected addition to a fairly standard spiced sugar cookie recipe— which made it soft and easy to roll without sticking to every imaginable surface. It may not have been the pumpkin, but there was something about this dough that made for THE most perfect cookie. Sadly, it’s not healthy enough for More Spinach Please so you will have to visit Glorious Treats for the recipe.


While I was pretty VERY proud of how well my cookies turned out, my big accomplishment of the weekend was the pumpkin lasagna that I tackled last Sunday night. Lasagna is intimidating. Even the simplest recipe can seem daunting. You have to juggle various ingredients, never sure if you’re estimating accurately when they tell you to put “one third of the mixture” on top of the noodles, only to realize that you ended up using half of the mixture and now you don’t have enough for the last layer. Luckily, taste is rarely affected by these nuances.

Once the idea of pumpkin lasagna popped into my head, I ruthlessly searched the web for the perfect recipe. The ones that sounded healthy didn’t seem quite right based on my prior lasagna-making experiences (improper ratios, not enough egg to bind), and the ones that sounded delicious were loaded with calories. I don’t usually like to mess around with lasagna recipes because if you’re not careful you will end up with a sloppy pile of noodles from too much liquid. But… I took a chance. And it paid off.


Starting with a Rachael Ray recipe, I swapped in sautéed mushrooms, kale, and onion for the boiled escarole and cut down on the amount of cheese. I wanted to use whole wheat noodles but I couldn’t find a no-cook version (a key ingredient for a cohesive lasagna that will not fall apart on your plate). Oh well. I also managed to make a roux using a small amount of olive oil instead of equal parts butter and flour, although this ended up requiring a bit of extra flour at the end for thickening. The culinary gods were certainly frowning down on me for butchering a classic technique.

The layering process can be a pain when trying to follow written directions, so I created a quick drawing for myself that I could refer to.


The final product come out of the oven looking like a perfect lasagna should: oozing with cheese and golden brown on top. When I cut into it, I was delighted to find nicely defined layers that did not fall apart on my plate. Success!


If you never make this lasagna, promise me one thing: you MUST make the garlic béchamel sauce. Throw it on pasta, eat it with a spoon— whatever you wish. It’s simple yet superb. And a good source of calcium.

Pumpkin Lasagna with Kale and Mushrooms
(adapted from Rachael Ray’s Pumpkin Lovers Lasagna)

1 head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
2 cups (227g) sliced mushrooms
5 cups chopped kale, ribs removed (approximately 5 leaves)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk (skim or 1%)
Pinch of nutmeg
1 can (796mL) pure pumpkin purée
3 eggs
2 cups ricotta (ideally 6% M.F. or less)
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1-1/2 cup grated partly-skimmed mozzarella cheese
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cover the garlic cloves with water in a small saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain and let cool. Squish the garlic pulp from the jackets into a bowl and mash with a fork.
  3. Meanwhile, melt 1/2 tablespoon oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Add the kale, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale has wilted and all liquid from the mixture has evaporated. Remove from the heat.
  4. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and mashed garlic until no lumps remain and season with salt and pepper to taste, and a little nutmeg. Cook until slightly thickened (the sauce should just coat the back of the spoon evenly without breaking up on the spoon’s surface). If your mixture doesn’t thicken properly, add another 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of flour.
  5. Whisk together the pumpkin puree, 2 eggs and some salt and pepper in a medium bowl. DO NOT FORGET THE SALT! I made this mistake and the pumpkin layer was a bit bland.
  6. In another bowl, whisk together the ricotta, 1/4 cup of parmesan, and the remaining egg.
  7. In a large dish, soak the lasagna sheets in water for 5 minutes.
  8. Pour about half the garlic sauce into the bottom of a 9 by 11-inch baking dish. Add a layer of lasagna sheets (4 sheets per layer, breaking them up as needed to fit into the dish, keeping in mind that they will expand) and then half the pumpkin mixture. Make another layer of lasagna sheets and spread with all of the ricotta mixture, followed by the kale and mushroom mixture. Top with another layer of lasagna sheets, the remaining pumpkin and another layer of lasagna sheets. Finish with the remaining garlic sauce and sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese and the remaining 1/2 cup of parmesan.
  9. Bake the lasagna, covered with foil, for 45 minutes. Try to tent the foil slightly, as part of my top layer of lasagna was pulled up when the foil was removed. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes more. Let rest for 15 minutes, then cut and serve. Tastes even better the next day!

Makes 8 servings. Per serving: 405 kcal, 15 g fat (6 g saturated), 44 g carbohydrate, 6 g fibre, 24 g protein, 465 mg sodium

Make-ahead Breakfast Strata

28 Dec

Happy holidays!  It’s been a busy yet relaxing week filled with many Fs: family, friends, fun, and fabulous food.  I feel particularly thankful around this time of the year as I know there are many less fortunate than myself.  Despite living in different cities, my immediate family was able to connect again this year.  As we get older and life gets busier, work may not always allow us to travel to spend the holidays together.

Sand-sculpted nativity scene spotted on the beach on Christmas Day

Sand-sculpted nativity scene spotted on the beach on Christmas Day

Christmas morning is the perfect time for a wholesome, make-ahead breakfast to balance the feast that follows later in the day.  This year my mom suggested a strata and I had the perfect recipe in mind.  If you’re not familiar with the term, a strata is essentially just a savory bread pudding.  This strata uses whole grain bread, an equal ratio of egg to egg whites, and is brimming with veggies.  Outside of the holidays, this recipe is perfect for cottage weekends– a bit of quick prep the night before and the dish is ready to go into the oven the following morning. No fuss, no dishes to wash.

I wasn't able to sneak a photo before we dug in-- everyone was too hungry!

I wasn’t able to sneak a photo before we dug in– everyone was too hungry!

I recently bought myself a new camera (Merry Christmas to me!) so you’ll have to bear with me and my many photos as I learn to navigate its settings.  Stay tuned for a few more recipes over the next week or two.  It’s been a treat having the time to cook proper meals!

Layers of goodness

Layers of goodness

You may want to keep an eye on the strata at the 45 minute mark to prevent charring on top!

Keep an eye on the strata at the 45 minute mark to prevent charring on top!


Broccoli, Mushroom, and Cheese Breakfast Strata
(adapted from Foodnetwork.com)

4 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups), and preferably a sweet onion, e.g. Vidalia
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups (8 oz) sliced mushrooms
5 cups cubed, whole grain bread
8 eggs and 8 egg whites
2 cups low-fat milk
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1o oz frozen broccoli, thawed (or you can steam fresh broccoli, then cool)
1/3 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) grated extra-old cheddar cheese
1/2 cup thinly sliced sundried tomatoes, reconstituted
2 tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp salt  (the original recipe calls for 1/2 tsp but some reviewers said it was too bland)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 1 minute. Transfer the onion mixture to a medium bowl and allow to cool.
  2. Heat remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in the skillet and saute the mushrooms until they release all of their water, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.
  3. Spray a large rectangular glass dish (9″x13″ or larger) with cooking spray. Arrange the bread cubes in the dish.
  4. To the onion mixture, add mushrooms, broccoli, and sundried tomato.  Pour over bread cubes, ensuring vegetables are evenly distributed.
  5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, egg whites, milk and mustard until incorporated.  Add Parmesan and cheddar cheeses, thyme, and salt and pepper and stir to incorporate.
  6. Pour mixture over vegetables and bread, making sure liquid saturates bread.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or at least 8 hours.
  7. The next day: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the plastic wrap from strata and bake for 60 minutes, or until top forms a light brown crust and no liquid remains when knife is inserted into centre. You may want to place a baking sheet under the dish to prevent any spillage. An extra 15-20 minutes may need to be added to the baking time depending on the size/depth of your dish – cover dish with foil during this period to prevent the top from burning.

Makes 9 servings. Per serving: 297 kcal, 22 g CHO, 4 g fibre, 15 g fat (5.1 g saturated), 21 g protein, 710 mg sodium.

The Quest for Healthy Cheese

12 Aug

I’ve never made cheese before but it’s something I’ve always wanted to try.  To me, homemade cheese has always been something for the pros… certainly not for your basic home cook like myself, I thought.  But after seeing a simple recipe for paneer (Indian cheese) in a recent issue of Chatelaine magazine, I finally had the confidence to try it out.

According to the oh-so-wise Wikipedia, paneer is a fresh cheese common in South Asian cuisine.  It is made by curdling heated milk with an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar.  The result is an unsalted, unaged, non-melting, farmer’s cheese.

Almost all recipes that I stumbled across called for 2 litres of whole milk (3.3% milk fat) and 1/4 cup of lemon juice.  That’s it.  Determined to make a healthier version, I decided to try making paneer with skim milk.  Several websites indicated that it could be done but that the result would be a more rubbery and grainy cheese.  Sounds yummy, right?!?  I figured the texture might actually be palatable since paneer is usually sauteed in oil first and then added to dishes containing TONS of wonderful Indian spices.  Plus, I couldn’t justify making paneer with whole milk knowing how much healthier it could be if skim milk were used.  (My estimates indicate that paneer made with skim milk contains half as many calories as full-fat paneer and virtually no fat, compared to 16 grams of mostly saturated fat per half cup serving of whole milk paneer)

The basic steps in making paneer are as follows:

  1. Bring 2 litres of milk to a boil over medium heat
  2. Add 1/4 cup of lemon juice and stir while curds separate from the whey
  3. Pour mixture into a cheesecloth-lined colander and gently rinse with cold water to remove lemon flavour
  4. Gather ends of cheesecloth and twist ball of cheese to squeeze out any remaining whey.  Tie cheesecloth to sink faucet and let hang for 5 minutes.
  5. Place on a plate, set another plate on top, and weigh down with cans or a heavy pot.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  6. Unwrap cheese and voila!

If you want to try this at home, follow this recipe from Aarti Sequiera which gives much more detailed instructions.  As a heads up, don’t be disappointed when you are left with a seemingly teeny tiny bundle of cheese.  Typically, 8 cups of milk yields 2 cups (12 ounces) of paneer.  I was only left with 7.5 ounces, a mere 63% yield.  I would have failed if this were a chemistry lab!  Perhaps it was because I didn’t allow the milk to completely curdle, or maybe it was because I used skim milk?  Who knows…

Ball O' Cheese in the making

Voila! Homemade Healthy Cheese

There are a ton of Indian dishes that use paneer, my favourite being Saag Paneer (also known as Palak Paneer, or Spinach with Paneer).  This recipe (also from Aarti) uses plain low-fat yogurt instead of cream… my kind of cooking!  It’s a bit time consuming but the final product was WELL worth the effort.  Spicy spinach-y goodness… yum yum.  Make sure you have naan bread on hand– it’s the perfect accompaniment to this dish!

Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer:  Spinach with Indian Cheese   (adapted from Aarti Sequiera)

1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 tbsp canola oil, divided
8 to 12 ounces (1.5 to 2 cups) of paneer or firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 package (300 g) frozen spinach, thawed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 (1 inch thumb) ginger, peeled and minced (approx 1 tbsp)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together turmeric, cayenne pepper, salt, and 1 tbsp canola oil.  Add paneer cubes and toss gently, taking care not to break up paneer.  Set aside.
  2. Puree spinach in a food processor until smooth.  Alternatively, spinach can be chopped very finely.
  3. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, spray with non-stick spray, and cook paneer for 5 or so minutes, until lightly browned.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  4. Heat remaining 1/2 tbsp oil.  Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and saute over medium heat for 15 minutes, or until the mixture is evenly toffee-coloured.  Add a couple of tablespoons of water as the mixture cooks if it looks like it is drying out or burning.
  5. Add the garam masala, coriander, and cumin.  Sprinkle a bit of water to prevent the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often, for 3 to 5 minutes.
  6. Add the spinach and mix well.  Add a bit of salt and stir in 1/2 cup of water. Cook for 5 minutes.
  7. Turn off the heat and slowly add the yogurt, stirring continuously.  Add the paneer.  Turn heat back on to medium and cook, covered, for 5 minutes.  Serve warm.

Makes 3 servings.  Per serving (approximate): 220 kcal, 8 g fat, 350 mg sodium, 3 g fibre