Tag Archives: cooking

Reducing food waste is good for the Earth AND your wallet

Remember how it was when you were a kid sitting at the kitchen table and your mother served up a healthy helping of rutabagas? Gross, right?

You slipped them to the family dog or spooned them into a napkin to get them out of sight. But there was no fooling Mom. Your failed sleight-of-hand resulted in a guilt trip and membership in the Clean Your Plate Club.

Fast-forward to today and you’ll find that wasting food has costly consequences extending well beyond your plate.

“Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The environmental advocacy group says that cutting food waste by just 15 percent would help feed more than 25 million people a year “at a time when 1 in 6 Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.”

Alice Henneman, an extension educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, puts it another way: “Food tossed is money lost.”

Food rots when dumped in a landfill, and produces methane, a greenhouse gas said to contribute to climate change. Food wasted in stores and restaurants cuts into profits.

But incentives have been introduced to reduce food waste, many of them financial.

“Tax benefits are available for restaurants and stores for donating food,” Henneman said. “People are buying ‘ugly food and vegetables,’ or produce that is misshapen in appearance, in stores because stores are offering them at a discount.”

Michigan State University has been aggressive about fighting food waste in its 10 dining halls, where more than 30,000 meals are served daily.

“Food is expensive,” said Carla Iansiti, sustainability projects manager for MSU’s Culinary Services. “We train our staff members to get the most volume out of their product, only cut what you need for a recipe and be creative about using all the products.”

The university remodeled several of its dining halls to be trayless and stocked them with smaller dishes. “It makes a difference with smaller plates and fewer plates, and people always have the option to come back for more,” Iansiti said.

Additional tips for minimizing food waste:

• Think landfill diversion. Compost your leftovers for better crop or garden production, or mix them with animal feed. Freeze or can surplus garden produce or donate it to a food bank.

• There is value in sizing. Buy things that won’t spoil in quantity.

• Check your garbage. Cook dishes that have proven popular and don’t end up being thrown out.

• Buy often and buy fresh, eating as much as you can before it goes bad. Shop your refrigerator before purchasing more.

• Practice portion control. Share rather than discard leftovers. Ask for a sample when dining out if you’re uncertain about ordering something. Don’t rush through meals.

• Plan “cook-it-up” menus. Check expiration dates and move older food products toward the front of your shelves so they can be used first.

On the Web

For more about reducing food waste, see this Natural Resources Defense Council issue paper.

On the menu: Breaded cauliflower cutlets

Let’s say that one of your New Year’s resolutions is to eat healthier and lose some weight. Join the crowd, right?

In practice, what we probably mean — among other things — is that we plan to eat more vegetables and less meat.

It’s a challenge.

But if you try this dish — a wonderful vegetarian version of breaded veal (or pork or chicken) cutlets swimming in a marina sauce — you will see how easy and satisfying it can be to turn a resolution into reality.

You start by slicing a whole head of cauliflower into cutlets.

The idea is to end up with thick slabs of the vegetable. One easy method for doing this is to cut the head in half down the center, then turn each half on its cut side and cut the halves into 1/2-inch-thick slabs. There will always be a few loose bits from the ends, but those also can be breaded and cooked as described below.

You’ll want to take care with the breading, too. It’s a three-step process: dust the steaks lightly with cornstarch, coat them well with an egg mixture, then finish them with a layer of breadcrumbs. This is standard operating procedure among culinary pros. The three layers provide a more substantial crust than any other single coating or combo of coatings.

Now it’s time to brown your vegetable cutlets. You could do it in a skillet — just as you would a breaded meat cutlet — but that would require a ton of oil (those breadcrumbs just soak it up).

And remember, it’s the New Year and you’re on a new path. So we bake them instead, which requires a lot less oil. The key is to place the cutlets fairly close to the heat source. In my electric oven that’s the top of the stove. If they’re not properly browned at the end of the prescribed cooking time, just leave them in the oven a little longer.

Then dig in. The biggest flavor is going to come from the marinara sauce. Your brain likely won’t care at all whether the cutlet is veal or vegetable. But your body will thank you.

BREADED CAULIFLOWER CUTLETS WITH MARINARA

Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (45 minutes active)

Servings: 4

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

I large head cauliflower

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1/2 cup cornstarch

1 3/4 cups panko breadcrumbs

1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese

1 1/2 cups speedy marinara (recipe below) or store-bought marinara, heated

Heat the oven to 400 F.

In a small bowl, combine the oil and the garlic. Set aside.

Pull off any leaves from the stem end of the cauliflower and trim off just enough of the stem so the cauliflower stands flat on the counter. Slice the cauliflower head in half down the center top to bottom. One at a time, set each half onto its cut side. Starting from one end of each half, slice crosswise to create 1/2-inch-thick slices. This will yield 3 to 4 cutlets from the center of each half, with the small ends being chunks. The chunks can be prepared as the cutlets, or reserved for another use.

In a shallow bowl or pie plate, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, 3 tablespoons of water and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt.

On a sheet of kitchen parchment, combine the cornstarch with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stirring the mixture with a fork to combine. On a second sheet of parchment, combine the panko with the cheese, stirring with a fork.

One at a time, coat the cauliflower cutlets (and trimmings, if using) on both sides with the cornstarch, knocking off the excess. Next, dip each in the egg mixture, coating them on both sides and letting the excess drip off. Finally, coat them with the panko mixture, patting the crumbs on well. Set aside.

Strain the garlic oil through a mesh strainer, pressing hard on the garlic to get out all the oil. Discard the garlic (or reserve for another use).

On a rimmed baking sheet, spread half of the oil in an even coating. Set the baking sheet on the oven’s top shelf and heat for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and quickly arrange the prepared cauliflower on it in a single layer. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, drizzle the tops of the cauliflower evenly with the remaining oil, turn them over, then bake for another 15 minutes. Divide the cauliflower among 4 serving plates, then serve topped with marinara.

Nutrition information per serving: 490 calories; 190 calories from fat (39 percent of total calories); 21 g fat (4.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 170 mg cholesterol; 1110 mg sodium; 58 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 17 g protein.

SPEEDY MARINARA

Start to finish: 35 minutes (10 minutes active)

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 large cloves garlic, smashed

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Hefty pinch red pepper flakes

28-ounce can plum tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted), chopped

Kosher salt

In an unheated medium saucepan, combine the garlic and the oil. Turn the heat to medium and cook, turning over the garlic several times, until it is just golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and a hefty pinch of salt, then bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook at a brisk simmer until the sauce is reduced to about 2 1/2 cups, 20 to 25 minutes. Discard the garlic. Season with salt.

Nutrition information per 1/2 cup: 60 calories; 25 calories from fat (42 percent of total calories); 2.5 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 460 mg sodium; 8 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 1 g protein.

Sara Moulton is host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.” She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including “Cooking Live.” Her latest cookbook is “Home Cooking 101.”

Gifts for those who cook and those who just eat

Barbeque and southern foods expert Elizabeth Karmel rounded up her favorite products of the year and suggests these gifts for those who cook — and those who just like to eat:

GIFTS THAT GIVE BACK

  • Williams-Sonoma has teamed up with Share our Strength and celebrity food folks including Ina Garten, Chrissy Teigen and Trisha Yearwood to create artwork for the No Kid Hungry Kitchen Spatula. Proceeds from the silicone spatulas benefit No Kid Hungry in its campaign to end childhood hunger in the U.S. Available in stores and online, 30 percent of the proceeds go to charity. $12.95

STOCKING STUFFERS

  • Sukeno Donut Socks are the perfect (calorie-free) gift for the doughnut lover in your life. Designed to fit both men and women, they come folded up and packaged like a single doughnut, and are available in six different “flavors” such as Oreo Ring, Rainbow Sprinkles and Berry Sprinkles. $15.50.
  • I use Revolo porcelain crumpled cups every single morning for coffee, and I love that they now have cups with a Christmas theme. The cups are perfect for coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate or tea. I’ve also been known to use the porcelain cups for cocktails as well. The crumpled cup feels good in your hand because of the indentation that the crumpled part at the top makes in the round cup. A set of two cups is available exclusively on their website. You can choose between a set of 1 red and 1 Moose design, or 2 other holiday motifs, Gingerbread and Santa. $39.99 for two.

FOR COOKS

  • The Wustfhof classic 8-inch Uber Cook’s Knife can be used to chop, slice, dice and mince everything. This essential, multi-purpose knife is a workhorse in the kitchen. The knife takes the traditional features of an 8-inch chef’s knife and adds a bigger “belly” to create a smoother motion for all chopping, mincing and dicing tasks. I like to think of the knife as a mash-up of the popular Santoku knife and a classic chef’s knife. $139.99.
  • I had heard that the Breville Toaster oven was so good that it could rival my wall oven, but I didn’t believe it until I tested the new Smart Oven Pro. I made a roast, a chicken, banana bread, and cookies as well as toast and they all came out as good if not better than in my oven. It also re-heated pizza to perfection. If you don’t have the counter space for the PRO, get the Smart Oven mini which puts other small models to shame. $269.99.

EDIBLE GIFTS

  • Ice Cider (think dessert wine) made from heirloom apples … can you think of anything more appropriate or delicious to serve with a warm apple crisp, apple cake or a nice wedge of cheddar cheese? Eleanor and Albert Leger, founders of Eden Ice Cider, produce a rich full-bodied ice cider from their apple orchards where they grow both sweet and sour heirloom varietals. A 375 ml bottle is made from more than 8 pounds of apples. They offer eight ice cider options including honeycrisp, as well as a smaller 187 ml limited release Brandy Barrel Heirloom Blend Ice Cider. $25.00 for a 375 ml bottle.
  • I met Brenda “Blondie” Coffman at last year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival. One bite of her buttercream-iced cookies and her s’mores bars transported me to cookie nirvana. I gave my sweet-toothed father a gift of the Blondie’s Cookies cookie-of-the-month club and it quickly became his favorite gift. The beauty of this gift is that you choose how many months — from 1 to 12— and the cookies are different each month so you never get tired of the assortment. Each from-scratch cookie is individually wrapped and can be frozen. $29.99 per box.

KITCHEN ESSENTIALS

  • The Cuisinart egg cooker changed my egg- eating life. Sure I can boil a soft-boiled egg but sometimes it’s more cooked than I like it, especially if I get busy doing something else while I’m boiling the eggs. But this Egg Central uses steam to cook the eggs which also makes them easy to peel as the steam prevents the shell from sticking to the white — just make sure to load them with the smaller point of the egg facing down. All I have to do is crack it under cold running water and the shell literally slips off. The Egg Central also comes with attachments for poached eggs and omelets. $39.
  • The brainchild of John Pittner who owns a kitchen shop in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, this acacia-wood cutting board is made with a slight concave center that holds exactly 1 cup of liquid. It also has heavy-duty silicone treads on each corner so that the board won’t slip on your counter — especially helpful when carving. $49.99.

Gourmet ganja? Marijuana dining is growing up, slowly

How to set a tone of woodsy chic at a four-course candlelight dinner served under the stars in the Colorado foothills:

Live musicians and flowers, check.

Award-winning cuisine, check.

Beer and wine pairings with each course, check.

Marijuana pairings? Oh, yes.

The 100 diners at this $200-a-plate dinner smoked a citrus-smelling marijuana strain to go with a fall salad with apples, dates and bacon, followed by a darker, sweeter strain of pot to accompany a main course of slow-roasted pork shoulder in a mole sauce with charred root vegetables and rice.

And with dessert? Marijuana-infused chocolate, of course, grated over salted caramel ice cream and paired with coffee infused with non-intoxicating hemp oil.

The diners received small glass pieces and lighters to smoke the pairings, or they could have their marijuana rolled into joints by professional rollers set up next to a bartender pouring wine.

Welcome to fine dining in Weed Country.

The marijuana industry is trying to move away from its pizza-and-Doritos roots as folks explore how to safely serve marijuana and food. Chefs are working with marijuana growers to chart the still-very-unscientific world of pairing food and weed. And a proliferation of mass-market cheap pot is driving professional growers to develop distinctive flavors and aromas to distinguish themselves in a crowded market.

“We talk with the (marijuana) grower to understand what traits they saw in the marijuana … whether it’s earthy notes, citrus notes, herbal notes, things that we could play off,” said Corey Buck, head of catering for Blackbelly Restaurant, a top-rated farm-to-table restaurant that provided the meal.

The grower of one of the pot strains served at the dinner, Alex Perry, said it won’t be long until marijuana’s flavors and effects are parsed as intently as wine profiles. But that’s in the future, he conceded.

“It’s still looked down upon as a not-very-sophisticated thing,” said Perry, who grew a strain called Black Cherry Soda for his company, Headquarters Cannabis.

Holding his nose to a small jar of marijuana, Perry said, “If I asked my mom or my dad what they smell, they’re going to say, ‘skunk,’ or, ‘It smells like marijuana.’ But it’s like wine or anything else. There’s more flavor profile there.”

But chefs and pot growers trying to explore fine dining with weed face a legal gauntlet to make pot dinners a reality, even where the drug is as legal as beer.

Colorado’s marijuana retailers can’t also sell food, so guests at this dinner had to buy a separate $25 “goodie bag” from a dispensary for the pot pairings.

The bags came with tiny graters for diners to shave the pot chocolate onto their ice cream themselves; the wait staff could not legally serve a dish containing pot, even though the event was private and limited to people over 21. Diners were shuttled to and from the event by private bus, to avoid potentially stoned drivers leaving the dinner.

Marijuana dining may become more accessible in coming months, though.

Denver voters this fall will consider a proposal to allow marijuana use at some bars and restaurants as long as the drug isn’t smoked, with the potential for new outdoor marijuana smoking areas.

And two of the five states considering recreational marijuana in November _ California and Maine _ would allow some “social use” of the drug, leaving the potential for pot clubs or cafes.

Currently, Alaska is the only legal weed state that allows on-site marijuana use, with “tasting rooms” possible in commercial dispensaries. But that state is still working on rules for how those consumption areas would work.

For now, marijuana dining is limited to folks who hire private chefs to craft infused foods for meals served in their homes, or to special events like this one, limited to adults and set outside to avoid violating smoke-free air laws.

Guests at the Colorado dinner were admittedly experimenting with pairing weed and food, many giggling as they toked between bites. It became apparent late in the evening that a rich meal doesn’t counteract marijuana’s effects.

“What was I just saying?” one diner wondered aloud before dessert. “Oh, yeah. About my dog. No, your dog. Somebody’s dog.”

The man trailed off, not finishing his thought. His neighbor patted him on the back and handed him a fresh spoon for the ice cream.

Diners seemed genuinely curious about how to properly pair marijuana and food without getting too intoxicated.

“I am not a savant with this,” said Tamara Haddad of Lyons, who was waiting to have one of her pot samples professionally rolled into a joint. “I enjoy (marijuana) occasionally. I enjoy it with friends. I’m learning more about it.”

She laughed when asked whether marijuana can really move beyond its association with junk-food cravings.

“I have also munched out after being at the bar and drinking martinis and thinking, ‘Taco Bell sounds great,”” she said.

Kitchenwise: Tomatoes are the stars of Chilled BLT Soup

Everyone knows Joyce Kilmer’s love song to trees — “I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree.” That’s the way I feel about tomatoes. Accordingly, Chilled BLT Soup puts the “T” in BLT.

Yes, there’s bacon and lettuce, and some toast, too, in the form of croutons. But the star of this show is the tomato in its season.

How do you know whether you’re buying a good tomato? To start, pick it up. It should feel heavy, which lets you know it’s ripe and juicy. Then take a whiff of the stem end. It should smell strongly like … a tomato. Once you get it home, store it on the counter, out of the sun. If it’s not fully red, just leave it alone. It will continue to ripen at room temperature. Don’t put a whole uncut tomato in the refrigerator. Chilling it will kill the flavor and the texture.

You want to salt your tomatoes ahead of time, before you cook them, a step that helps to concentrate their flavor. First salt the large tomatoes, which form the base of the soup. Then salt the quartered tomatoes, which provide crunch.

The tomatoes in this recipe don’t need to be seeded or peeled. That’s because you’re going to puree them in a blender until smooth. (Use a blender, not a food processor, which doesn’t produce a smooth texture.) Also, if you seed the tomatoes, you lose a lot of the jelly surrounding the seeds — and that jelly is where the tomato essence lives.

On the chance that you’ve somehow underrated tomatoes before, this deeply flavorful and refreshing soup will show you what you’ve been missing.

 

CHILLED BLT SatoesatoesOUP

Start to finish: 1 hour 30 minutes (30 active), plus chilling time

Servings: 4

3 pounds large tomatoes

Kosher salt

2 cups 1/2-inch bread cubes

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

4 slices bacon

1 pound cherry tomatoes, quartered

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Black pepper

1 cup shredded romaine

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Core and cut the large tomatoes into 1/2-inch thick wedges. In a large bowl toss the wedges with 1 teaspoon salt and set them aside for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, on a large rimmed sheet pan toss the bread cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil until they are well coated. Sprinkle them very lightly with salt and toss again. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven until they are golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Set them aside to cool.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook the bacon until it is crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. When the bacon is cool, crumble it and set it aside.

In a strainer set over a bowl toss the cherry tomatoes with 1/2 teaspoon salt and let them drain for 15 minutes.

In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise with the garlic, the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the tomato juice from the drained cherry tomatoes and stir well.

Working in batches, transfer the tomato wedges and their liquid to a blender and blend until very smooth. Transfer to a bowl, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the sherry vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the cherry tomatoes and chill the soup until it is cold.

To serve: Spoon one-fourth of the soup into each of the four soup bowls. Drizzle each portion with some of the mayonnaise and top with the bacon, the romaine and the croutons.

 

Nutrition information per serving: 380 calories; 250 calories from fat; 28 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 13 mg cholesterol; 573 mg sodium; 27 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 13 g sugar; 8 g protein.

 

Sara Moulton is host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.” She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including “Cooking Live.” Her latest cookbook is “Home Cooking 101.”

Ready to break the rules on salade nicoise? Grab a tomato

Salade nicoise was the first recipe I made when I lived in France, a country that later would become my second home as an adult.

But at the time I was 19, spending a semester abroad. A week after my arrival, my French was barely sufficient to order a coffee, let alone get me through my first French cookbook. Despite the language barrier, one thing that that book made clear was that a true salade nicoise never would include tomatoes because of the acid.

I stood at a turning point: Would I follow the cookbook’s stern direction (even I understood the author’s tone — the tomato thing was not an “optional” point), or would I include my personal favorite part of every salade nicoise I had ever eaten (dare I even call them that anymore?)? I left out the tomatoes.

Nearly 30 years later, I make salade nicoise on a regular basis for my family. It’s what I call a “tray salad,” or a huge salad I make by layering ingredients on a large tray, perfect for serving a crowd. We have a lot of family nearby, so if we have unexpected extra folks to feed, tray salads are easy to stretch. Just bulk up the tray with whatever extra ingredients are available. Toss on a couple extra hard-boiled eggs, for instance, and the salad can accommodate a few more guests no problem.

With several family members being vegetarian, I have created a tuna-free version that gets the salty-fishy-brininess from capers and nori seaweed, and the protein from creamy white navy beans. Of course, there is no harm in opening a can of tuna on the side for fish-eaters, but honestly, I don’t even miss it with this filling recipe.

By the way, years after studying abroad, I moved back to Paris and married a man whose mom was born and raised in Nice. Guess what? She had never heard of a no-tomato rule, which just goes to show you that recipes, even if written with an authoritative tone, are mere suggestions.

WHITE AND GREEN BEAN VEGETARIAN SALADE NICOISE

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Servings: 4

For the dressing:

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon herbes de Provence

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

For the salad:

15 1/2-ounce can white navy beans, rinsed and blotted dry

2 tablespoons small capers

1/4 cup briny olives, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill

5 ounces baby spinach or mixed greens

4 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and quartered lengthwise

8 ounces thin green beans, steamed until crisp-tender, cooled

8 small red potatoes, cooked and halved

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

2 scallions, finely chopped

1 sheet nori, toasted, cooled and crushed

Lemon wedges, to garnish

In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, lemon juice, vinegar and herbs until smooth. Whisk in the olive oil, slowly, creating an emulsion. Add a tablespoon of water if too thick. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

In another small bowl, mix together the beans with the capers, olives, dill and 1 to 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Set aside.

On a platter, spread out the greens. Layer on the eggs, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and white beans. Sprinkle with the scallions, drizzle on the dressing and top with the crushed toasted nori. Serve with lemon wedges as garnish.

Nutrition information per serving: 530 calories; 200 calories from fat (38 percent of total calories); 22 g fat (3.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 185 mg cholesterol; 780 mg sodium; 63 g carbohydrate; 12 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 21 g protein.

Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, “Supermarket Healthy.” 

Matzo lasagna — a vegetarian Passover entry anyone can love

Let’s say that most of the folks coming to your place for the Passover feast are vegetarians. And let’s say that you want to cater to them without breaking the hearts of the die-hard carnivores whose mouths water at the very thought of pot roast. Is there a centerpiece dish that will make everyone happy?

Yes. As long as your vegetarians can tolerate dairy, this “lasagna” is a winner.

Passover forbids the eating of most foods made with flour, which is why this recipe calls for whole matzos (an exception to that rule) in place of lasagna noodles.

Matzo turns out to be a perfect stand-in. Thin and square, a whole sheet of matzo is a tailor-made bed on which to layer other ingredients. It also absorbs flavors beautifully, holds its shape when baked and browns nicely in the oven.

I’ve paired the matzo with zucchini, which loses its watery blandness and gains a spring-like assertiveness once it’s been shredded, salted, squeezed and sauteed briefly with onions and garlic. The zucchini then is combined with my cheating version of a cream sauce.

Typically, that would be a bechamel — milk or cream thickened with a roux. That’s too much work. It’s much easier simply to use a food processor to whiz together cottage cheese, milk, eggs and cream cheese. The result is a sauce as creamy and delicious as a bechamel without any of the gummy flour taste that can mar the classic sauce.

The matzos need to be soaked in some of the cheese mixture to soften them slightly before baking. To do so, stack them in a deep container that isn’t much wider than the matzo. I used a square brownie pan and rotated each matzo’s place in the stack every so often to make sure they all were evenly soaked. This is a way to counteract the fact that the liquid sinks to the bottom half of the container.

Once you set the matzos in a rectangular baking pan, it’ll take two of them side-by-side to form a single layer. If your matzos are 7 inches square, they’ll overlap a bit lengthwise, even as they fall slightly short of the pan’s width. Not to worry. The filling will indeed ooze out slightly beyond the edges of the matzos, but as the dish bakes all the parts come together beautifully, allowing you to cut it into individual servings with no problem.

I dreamed up this dish as a Passover entree, but it would work equally well as the centerpiece for a brunch any time of the year. As for your Passover guests, here’s a prediction from someone who married into the tribe: As soon as they realize they can’t argue about the food, they’ll happily move on to politics.

___

ZUCCHINI MATZO LASAGNA

Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (1 hour active)

Servings: 8

Ingredients:

2 pounds medium zucchini

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/3 cup packed fresh dill, chopped, plus extra chopped dill to garnish

16-ounce container cottage cheese

2 cups whole milk

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon lemon zest

8 ounces cream cheese

6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled, divided

6 matzos (6- to 7-inch squares)

Directions:

Heat the oven to 400 F. Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Trim off and discard the ends of the zucchini. In a food processor fitted with the grating disk, coarsely grate the zucchini. Transfer the zucchini to a strainer and toss with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Let drain over the sink or a bowl for 15 minutes. Set the food processor, unwashed, aside to puree the sauce in. After the zucchini has drained, using your hands and working with small handfuls, squeeze out as much moisture from it as possible.

In a large skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the 1/3 cup dill. Season with black pepper.

Fit the food processor with the regular cutting blade. In it, combine the cottage cheese, milk, eggs and lemon zest. Process until smooth. Set aside 2 cups of the mixture, then add the cream cheese to the mixture remaining in the processor. Process until smooth, then pour the mixture into the zucchini mixture along with 1 cup of the feta. Stir well, then set aside.

Stack the matzos in a deep dish (such as a square baking pan) and pour the reserved cottage cheese mixture over them. Let stand for 15 minutes, rotating the crackers every so often so they get evenly soaked.

Arrange 2 of the soaked matzos in a single layer in the prepared baking dish. Top with half of the zucchini filling, spreading it evenly. Cover with 2 more matzos, then the remaining filling. Top with a final layer of matzo. Scoop any remaining filling from the bowl that the matzos were soaked in and spread it over the final matzo layer. Sprinkle with the remaining feta.

Bake on the oven’s middle shelf until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Doing the impossible: Make a vegan Caesar worth celebrating

I’ve heard that many restaurant chefs despise making Caesar salads, but I don’t understand why. Who wouldn’t love making lemony-cheesy-black-pepper-salad dreams come true?

So my resourceful little self has always had a solid Caesar salad game going at home. My original recipe was rooted in the classic for years: raw egg yolk, umami-laden anchovies, nutty Parmesan cheese, tart lemon juice. I then top that basic Caesar salad with almost any protein to turn it into a truly satisfying meal. Steak, shrimp or chicken work well, but so do turkey meatballs, roasted pork tenderloin and — my secret weapon —  just about every kind of canned fish available.

Over time, I’ve adapted and adjusted my beloved Caesar salad recipe to account for changes in my family. When I was pregnant, I avoided raw eggs. My daughter’s gluten intolerance kicked the sourdough croutons to the curb. And my vegetarian niece and nephew had me searching for a worthy umami substitute for anchovies.

Recently, I faced my greatest challenge: a completely vegan Caesar salad for some dinner guests. No Parmesan cheese? I thought it would be impossible. But you guys, here is the impossible: a totally tasty vegan Caesar salad.

This salad gets its rich umami flavor from a cool combination of miso paste and nutritional yeast (not to be confused with brewer’s yeast). The croutons are back in for this recipe, but I just leave them out for my gluten-free daughter. To turn this salad into a fully vegan meal, top with nuts, seeds, lentils, white beans or tofu. And a note to my carnivore friends: Don’t let the word vegan scare you off this recipe. It’s also great topped with a few ounces of meat.

 

VEGAN CAESAR SALAD

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 6

1/3 cup raw unsalted cashews

Boiling water

1/4 cup toasted walnuts

1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes

1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons white miso paste

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 tablespoons cool water

3 hearts romaine lettuce, roughly chopped

2 cups bread cubes, brushed with olive oil and toasted

In a small bowl, combine the cashews and enough boiling water to cover them. Let sit for several minutes.

Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the walnuts, nutritional yeast and granulated garlic. Pulse until the mixture has the texture of sand. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

Drain the cashews and transfer them to the blender. Add the lemon juice, fresh garlic, mustard, olive oil, miso, pepper and cool water. Blend until the mixture is mostly smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.

In a large bowl, toss the lettuce with the dressing, then top with the bread cubes and the ground walnut mixture.

Nutrition information per serving: 220 calories; 140 calories from fat (64 percent of total calories); 16 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 330 mg sodium; 16 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 7 g protein.

 

About the author

Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, “Supermarket Healthy.”

Easy comfort dinner? Chicken paprikash

Chicken paprikash is the kind of dish that reveals itself immediately and inarguably as comfort food, even if you’ve never eaten it before in your life.

It’s a classic Hungarian dish which features chicken, onions, broth, tomatoes (sometimes, not always) and of course copious amounts of paprika. I have been playing around with my tin of smoked paprika for quite a while now, and while I love the flavor, it can come on strong. So here I relied primarily on the typical sweet Hungarian paprika, then added a little bit of smoked to give it another level of flavor. You also could add a bit of hot paprika to give the dish a different kind of kick.

If you are the kind of person to make your own dumplings or noodles, this is a great moment to whip out that skill set. For the rest of us, and for a weeknight dinner, a bag of egg noodles fits the bill perfectly. You don’t want to heat the sour cream in the sauce over the stove, or it might curdle. Just stir it into the pot at the very end and it will add a tangy-creamy note to the warm sauce.

 

CHICKEN PAPRIKASH

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 8

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 large yellow onions, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon smoked or hot paprika (optional)

2 bay leaves

14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

3/4 cup sour cream

16-ounce bag egg noodles

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a very large, deep heavy saute pan (such as cast-iron) over medium-high, heat the oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook for about 4 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook for another 4 minutes; it will not be cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a plate. It’s fine if there are bits stuck to the pan.

Return the pan to medium heat and add the onions. Saute for 5 minutes, or until softened and moderately browned. Stir in the garlic and saute for another minute. Stir in the flour and both varieties of paprika, stirring for 1 minute, or until well mixed. Add the bay leaves, tomatoes and broth. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom to loosen any stuck bits.

Return the chicken to the pan, along with any juices on the plate. Cook for another 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot salted water to a boil and cook the egg noodles according to package directions. Drain and divide between serving plates. When the chicken is cooked, remove the pan from the heat. Remove the bay leaves from the sauce and discard, then stir in the sour cream. Top each portion of noodles with chicken and sauce.

Nutrition information per serving: 520 calories; 140 calories from fat (27 percent of total calories); 15 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 245 mg cholesterol; 410 mg sodium; 49 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 44 g protein.

 

Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.”

Embrace the baked dinner as your weeknight meal solution

People often ask me what my most-used kitchen tool is (a high-speed blender). But if you were to ask my mom that same question 30 years ago, I am sure she would have answered her Pyrex baking dish.

When I was growing up, probably 75 percent of my meals were made in that thing. Baked fish. Baked chicken. Baked pasta. Baked rice casserole.

Baked dinner figured big in my childhood. As I got older and moved into my own apartment, I wondered why my mom didn’t explore other techniques a little more. She could have been searing that fish! And why not saute that chicken for some delicious crusty browning that results in so much flavor?

Now that I’m a mom, I understand the appeal of the litany of baked dishes my mom had on her (admittedly limited) menu. Baked stuff is easy! And as a mom of four busy girls, I need something easy to make on a Tuesday night, because between dance class and lacrosse practice, I only have a short window during which to make dinner happen. And since the healthiest dinners are the ones we make ourselves, baked chicken is on frequent repeat in my family meal repertoire.

But I’ve learned a few lessons during the past forty years, improving significantly upon Mom’s version.

First, I use dark meat chicken with the bone-in. This significantly widens the window of cooking time forgiveness, so if someone is running late, dinner is still juicy. Plus, dark meat chicken has more flavor, and the little extra fat means it’s more filling. Second, I go heavy with the aromatics — herbs, onion and garlic almost can’t be overused in baked chicken.

Upgrading from white wine to vermouth also is a great flavor-booster. Lastly, I start the chicken with just enough of a saute to get a tasty, golden crust. But if you really can’t make that happen, don’t be shy about just loading up that glass baking dish and popping it into the oven.

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BEST BAKED WEEKNIGHT CHICKEN

Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes

Servings: 4

8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 tbsp. olive oil, divided

2 tsp. herbes de Provence (or dried thyme and oregano mixed)

20 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed

3 shallots, thinly sliced

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup dry vermouth

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350 F.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a large, Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Working in batches, briefly brown the chicken thighs on both sides, 6 to 7 minutes, transferring them to a plate as you work.

In a small bowl, toss together the herbes de Provence, garlic, shallots and remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper.

Once all the chicken has browned, return it to the pot off the heat. Arrange the chicken in a single, but tight layer. Spoon the shallot and garlic mixture around the chicken. Pour the lemon juice and vermouth evenly around the chicken. Cover the pot and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken reaches 175 F.