Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cheesy shells with fire roasted tomatoes and a surprise ingredient

One cold winter night, I had dinner with the world's top chef at a very exclusive restaurant.  Otherwise known as dinner with my parents.  The menu featured creamy baked shells with tomatoes and feta.  There was something about this pasta that was like no other.  After I raced my dad to get seconds, I asked my mom about the magic behind this simple mac n' cheese dish.

The secret ingredient was...

I know there are a lot of tofu haters out there.  Well, sit back with an open mind and let's see if we can't convert you.  In addition to being a great meal right out of the oven, this recipe freezes well and is a staple offering in the Birchwood Lunchbox.

Yield: 6 servings

  • 12 oz small pasta shells
  • 14.5 oz canned fire roasted tomatoes, drained.
  • 12 oz soft silken tofu
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Ground nutmeg
  • 1 ⅓ cup cheddar cheese, divided
  • ¼ cup feta cheese 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Turn off heat and add pasta.  Let sit for about 10 minutes.  The shells should be al dente - with a little bite left to them.  While you wait, congratulate yourself for learning Italian and drain the can of fire roasted tomatoes.

Drain the shells in a colander.

The only thing that I hate about tofu is getting it out of the box, which can be a messy job.  Cut the top off, and drain out the liquid.

Combine the tofu, yogurt, milk, 1 cup of the cheddar, and a dash of salt and pepper in a blender.

Grate a little nutmeg on top.

Blend it all together.  At this point, start pre-heating your oven to 350°.

Lightly grease an 8" x 8" pan and add the pasta and fire roasted tomatoes.  Let's take a quick detour to discuss fire roasted tomatoes, which come from the long list of "Great foods featured on the Biggest Loser".  Let's see that list:
  1. Wholly Guacamole 100 calorie snack packs.
  2. Fire roasted tomatoes
Got it memorized?   Good.  Let's continue with our regularly scheduled recipe.

Pour the tofu-cheese mixture onto the pasta and mix in.

Top with the feta and remaining cheddar.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and bake uncovered for 5 more minutes.

Remove from oven and gloat.

 Add to plate and eat.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Veggie Lasagna

I'm not big into cooking shows, but "Cook Yourself Thin" is an exception.  The food always looks good, and less calories in meals = more calories available for dessert.  And for something with just 337 calories per serving, it sure has a lot of cheese.

Yield: 12 servings
(Recipe from Cook Yourself Thin)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ pounds mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Kosher salt
  • 15 ounces part-skim ricotta
  • ¾  cup skim milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups shredded, part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach
  • ⅓ cup  fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 32 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 12 sheets no-cook lasagna noodles


I love mushrooms, but I don't think I've ever seen 1 ½ pounds at one time before!

Cook on medium high in the olive oil and season with thyme and salt.  Cook 10 minutes until soft.

Thaw and drain the spinach.

Mix the eggs, milk, ricotta.  Stir in one cup of mozzie and ¼ cup Parmesan. 

Add the beautiful spinach and basil.

Stir it all together.

Drain the mushrooms.

Turn the oven on to 375° and set up the lasagna assembly line.

Spread a cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9" x 13" pan and place four lasagna sheets on top.  This was my first time using no-cook lasagna because I've always been curious about it.  What can I say?  It's a little more expensive so I'm not sure I'd use it again to "save" the 10 minutes it takes to cook regular pasta, but it was good.

Spread half the cheese mixture on top.

Add half the mushrooms.  Layer one is complete.

Repeat starting with 1 ½ cups of tomato sauce, another layer of four pasta sheets, the remaining cheese mixture, and the remaining mushrooms.

Top it off with four more pasta sheets and the remaining tomato sauce.

And the cheese!  This recipe doesn't skimp on cheese.

Cover it up with foil and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for an additional 12 minutes @ 450° until the cheese gets brown n' bubbly.

Oogle it.

And then eat it!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Spinach Feta Omelet

Several of the luscious little treats that I made over the holiday season called for egg yolks, leaving a surplus of egg whites.  At the same time, I kept hearing about the Starbucks feta spinach wrap.  Since I find it more convenient to cook at home than to drive to Starbucks, I immediately looked up a bunch of dup recipes and whipped up my own facsimile.  How close it is to the Starbucks original, I don't know, but it was really good.

And then one morning I woke up craving my new favorite breakfast only to discover that I was fresh out of tortillas.  Rather than to do without, or delay breakfast to make a trip to the store, I just made up the filling without the wrap, ending up with an omelet.  And since then I haven't bothered to stock up on tortillas again.

  • ½ cup frozen spinach
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes
  • ¼ clove garlic
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons feta

Thaw the frozen spinach in the microwave.  Dice the garlic and sun dried tomatoes.

 Spray a skillet lightly with oil and heat on medium high.

Mix everything together and add a generous amount of crushed red pepper.

And some eggs.  Use egg whites only if you want; unless I have leftovers from a scrumptious dessert project, I go for the whole egg.

 Mix everything together.

Pour everything into the skillet.

Add the feta.

Flip it.

Serve it.

Eat it.