What to make for an 80s food challenge when I wasn’t eating food for the majority of the 80s…that was the question! Thankfully Google has come to the rescue again by providing all sorts of lists of popular 80s cuisines. After ruling out a number of dishes that would be beyond my skill set to convert to vegetarian living (meatloaf I’m looking at you), I decided to convert something that I had adjusted during my early vegetarian days. While I know that Hamburger Helper, and its friends Tuna and Chicken Helper, are far from healthy – they were easy to make and by switching the beef for mushrooms they were easy to vegetarianize. This time I decided to make one of my favorite helpers from those good ole days totally from scratch: Cheesy Pasta Helper. I debated making the pasta in one pot and mixing in to the sauce after the fact but after my one-pot pasta success last month I decided to do it again! This also made it much more authentic since one of the best things about Hamburger Helper is the ease of making it all in one pot.
1 cup "meat" crumble (I used Wegman's brand where's the beef crumbl)
2 14.5 oz cans no salt added diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
spring fresh thyme
4 basil leaves, diced
2 cups small shell pasta (or similar)
1/2 cup water
1 cup baby spinach, coarsely torn
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1/2 cup Mozzarella Cheese, coarsely grated
Heat the olive oil in a 14 inch saute pan that's at least 3 inches deep. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until lightly golden. Add the dried spices and continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring well before adding the mushrooms and "meat". Cook for 7 minutes, or until the "meat" has started to brown - different substitutes will have different cook times!
Add the tomatoes along with the fresh spices and bring to a boil. Stir in the dried pasta along with the water and return to a boil.
Boil for 2 minutes, then turn heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Stir in the spinach and cheese and allow to sit for a minute
This is totally not 1980s Hamburger Helper but it’s got all the ease of that one-box wonder without all the sodium and fat! Plus it can easily be veganized by switching in Diaya meltables, or cashew cheese, for the “real” stuff. Always an important thing to note, most cheeses are not vegetarian due to various enzymes so make sure to double check to avoid a less than pleasant surprise! Another quick note – when using GF pasta you might need to add up to a 1/4 cup of extra water in order to insure the pasta cooks all the way just be sure to only add 1 tbsp at a time to avoid watering down the sauce.
I’m finally back in the kitchen, and hoping to stay upright and cooking for at least the next week or so…but we shall see how that plan goes! I’ve been spending some of my down time going thru old cookbooks and recipe notes, keeping track of all the new things I want to try. That’s one of the best parts of spring, all the new produce showing up at the markets – and being in a new city that also means checking out new to me markets! The spinach in today’s recipe is one of those finds, as are some carrots that wound up going straight in to my belly via dip instead of soup – but that’s okay! The spinach turned the stuffing a fantastic spring green color, and it worked perfectly with the Italian sausage and the simple sauce – perfection
Cook the jumbo shells per box instructions - rinse with cold water and set aside.
Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a large skillet and cook the onion, garlic, and tofurkey sausage until brown. Place in blender along with the ricotta cheese, spinach, and herbs and puree well.
Preheat oven to 425. Lightly coat a 9x13 baking dish with 1/4 cup of your red sauce.
Use a teaspoon to gently stuff the shells and place them in a single layer in the baking dish, placing them as close together as possible to prevent them from tipping over. Cover with the remaining sauce, and top with the shredded cheese
Bake for 35 minutes, or until cheese has slightly browned and sauce is bubbling.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving - Enjoy!
Normally I try to take a picture of the finished dish, but in this case the finished dish doesn’t look different from any other picture of stuffed shells. The stuffing would also work great inside of ravioli, or as part of a vegetable lasagna! This is a dish all about the filling, which is why I focused on that for my picture. I’m also sending this over to /52weeksofcooking for their soy challenge, and this will probably be the last soy dish on here for a bit since we are still on a low soy diet. However there’s nothing wrong with an occasional treat!
Ignoring the random snow we had yesterday (none of which stuck), I think it might be safe to say that spring is finally here! I am ready for the ground to thaw so that I can start clearing out all the old beds and start figuring out my plan for this year. As far as gardening goes this year is going to be a pot garden, since there is no established garden at our new place and I have no idea what areas of the yard will get the right amount sun – with the exception of the patio. The few flower beds in the front of the house are home to a few types of ivy, both poisonous and non, so odds are nothing new will get planted there until I know the nasty stuff is gone. However the first step is going at least a week without frozen precipitation. Today’s recipe is wishful thinking in that it features all the vegetables that I’m hoping to grow in my garden. From tomatoes to spinach to red onion – this cheesy treat is packing with the good stuff!
1/2 cup shredded cheese (for non-dairy be sure to use a "meltable" variety)
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 10 inch tortillas
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
1/2 red onion, diced
1 cup pre-soaked black beans, well rinsed
1 jalapeno, sliced and deseeded (optional)
1 cup spinach, shredded (make sure it's super dry)
1 cup kale, shredded (make sure it's super dry)
In a medium bowl mix the shredded cheese/"cheese" with the cayenne powder, ground cumin, chili powder, and minced garlic. Set aside
Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Place a tortilla on the skillet and cook for 2 minutes before flipping. Place 2 tbsp of cheese on the tortilla, then layer with half of the tomatoes, spinach, kale, onions, and black beans. Place another 2 tbsp of cheese then top with another tortilla. Use a panini press or smaller skillet to weigh down the top of the quesadilla.
Cook for 5-7 minutes, until lightly brown, and then gently (carefully!) flip to the other side. Repress the quesadilla and cook for a final 5-7 minutes.
Remove to a plate and allow to cool for 2 minutes before cutting up with a pizza slicer. Serve as is or with sour cream, salsa, and/or quacamole.
Avoid place two quasadillas in the same skillet as uneven cooking can result. For those of you with multi-tasking skills use two front burners to prepare two at a time!
I’ll always be a fan of dishes that allow for easy seasonal switches. Garden overflowing with zucchini? Toss them in! Growing three types of tomatoes? Add them all! I decided to stick with the spring greens but look forward to trying a summer variety in the coming months. With that in mind I’m sending this over to the amazing Ren and her Simple and in Season April blog challenge, which is being hosted by Michelle who blogs over at Utterly Scrumptious I can’t wait to see all the early Spring treats everyone will be sending in!!!
I’ll admit it, I was a strange child. From a rather young age I greatly enjoyed vegetables (especially greens) and was known to trade away my lunch time sweets for carrot sticks – which I’m sure my classmates enjoyed. That’s not to say I would always pick a healthy treat over something sweet, but it made the challenge for this week a bit more challenging than normal. For /52weeksofcooking this week we are to cook with an ingredient we didn’t enjoy as a child, and that doesn’t leave me with much. Many commonly avoided vegetables weren’t served in my house and the few things I remember avoiding as a kid I still don’t eat: cottage cheese, tapioca pudding, porridge, and meat. Luckily my hubby was more of a “normal” child and gave me a rather large list of foods: broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage, and anything spicy. So essentially anything green, which gave me lots to work with. I decided to pick a variety of greens, toss in some chickpeas, and serve everything over some baked polenta.
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (So Delicious or dairy), at room temperature
1/4 cup milk (coconut or dairy)
3 cups spinach, chopped
3 cups kale, chopped
2 cups swiss chard, chopped
2 cups chickpeas, presoaked and well rinsed (or 1 15.5 oz can)
Pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large dish saute pan over medium heat, then add in the onion and garlic. Cook for 7-10 minutes, then add the herbs and stir for one minute.
In a small bowl mix together the milk and yogurt, then stir in to the herb and garlic mixture. Slowly begin adding in the greens, being careful to not crowd the pan. Once the greens have slightly wilted, add the chickpeas then turn heat to low and cook for 10 minutes.
Last week I mentioned how my awesome SRC partner had a blue cheese orzo recipe on her blog. FINALLY my garden cooperated and I had all the ingredients needed for this delectably cheesy dish. It’s probably a good thing this wasn’t my SRC pick for July as I made more than a few changes to this dish in order to make it work better for my family. I kept with the basic roux but added some additional spice and complexity to the dish, mostly for fear of the cheese being too overpowering (not that my better half with take issue with that). I also upped the veggies in an attempt to resolve some of the guilt that comes with eating that much amazingly delicious but oh so not healthy blue cheese.
Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook until a light caramel color, then slowly whisk in the milk. Bring to a low simmer then begin adding the cheese. Season with the two types of pepper, then cover and set aside on low heat.
Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 7-10 minutes, the garlic should be golden and the onion translucent. Add the fresh herbs, cook for an additional 2 minutes and then add to the cheese sauce.
Cook the orzo according to directions on the pot, drain and return to the hot pot. Stir in the cheese, then mix in the spinach. Season to taste with additional pepper (if needed)
I can easily see this dish converting a non-blue cheese person to the light side as the hint of blue cheese is there but it’s not overpowering. Instead everything happily blends together in cheesy harmony! We enjoyed the orzo as our main dish but would also be a great dish for a potluck as it carries well, simple to double (or triple!) and could easily be converted for a slow cooker.