It’s Moussaka!

A few years ago I went to my friend Amanda’s house for dinner. Amanda is known for being good at just about everything, cooking is no exception, however, when she informed me she had just made Moussaka, the only visual my mind could come up with was poor little Toula Portokalos and her lunch that the bratty blonde girl made fun of in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

The blonde girl behind her “What’s that?”. Toula: “It’s Mousska.” Blonde girl: “Moose kaka?!” I felt so bad for sweet Toula. What was in that green tuperware container anyway, my mind was fearful yet curious . . .

I’d like to report that Toula and Amanda had it right all along, I would trade all the wonder bread sandwiches in the world for one serving of Moussaka! Amanda’s made my mouth water and I wanted more, but it seemed quite the feat for a casserole. Despite many a internet search every recipe I found had about 15 steps and three different sauces and an ingredient list that was over my tolerable limit. Yet, in these times of seemingly unlimited time (I’m still unemployed . . . cue the sad face) I figured I could conquer this incredible casserole.

So, what is moussaka, you might ask? Well, although there are MANY variations GREEK moussaka is a layered casserole made with eggplant, ground meat (traditionally lamb), potatoes topped with Béchamel sauce and parmesan. The meat sauce is tomato based, but instead of Italian seasoning (Parsley, basil, oregano) it has cinnamon and nutmeg in it. Layers of potato, meat sauce and eggplant are common along with other vegetables.

If this sounds very odd, stay with me, it did to me too, I couldn’t really fathom enjoying meat with cinnamon in it, but somehow the cinnamon and the tomato sauce melds together in the most delicious way.

It can easily be made GLUTEN FREE, however I did not prepare my Béchamel sauce without flour. I like the fact that moussaka is a “one pot meal”, complete with veggies, potatoes and meat. It is packed full of flavor, so much so that I actually didn’t add any hot sauce to the recipe (can you believe it?). And it is better the next day! I read that Greek moussaka is traditionally served luke warm, and although this sets off my highly sensative former-dietary-manager-food-safety-alarm, I think they are right. It’s even good cold!

Time to layer it all together

Why on earth did I think this was hard? This was just as easy as lasagna (if not more so), and the Bechamel sauce took 10 minutes flat. Next time I make this and I know exactly what I’m doing, it shouldn’t take more than an hour. I made this in the afternoon and refrigerated it before cooking, it took about 90 minutes to cook in an 350degree oven! And it freezes very well, so I’m using some leftovers as happy hubby meals!

Turkey Moussaka

1.3 lbs ground turkey

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp pepper

2 tsp salt

1 small can (4oz) tomato paste

1 12oz can diced tomatoes

1 onion, halved and sliced

In a large skillet cook ground turkey on medium high heat until no longer pink (4-6 minutes), drain excess oil, add cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, salt, tomato paste, diced tomatoes and onion to skillet, turn to medium heat, stir and cover, allowing onions to soften and flavors to meld. Cook for 10 minutes stiring frequently, so meat sauce doesn’t burn, it will be thick and mostly turkey.

8 medium-small eggplants (the huge ones in the grocery store, you probably do not need more than 2)

2 TB salt

3 TB olive oil

Preheat broiler to high. Thinly slice eggplant, toss with salt in a colander over sink, allow for salt to pull the excess liquid out of the eggplant, let sit for 20 minutes. Once done, rinse the eggplant (yes this seems counter-productive, but this technique really takes the bitter edge off and brings out the natural flavor of the eggplant). Place eggplant on a sprayed, non-stick pan, drizzle with olive oil and broil until edges brown, 5-6 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

10 small red potatoes, sliced thin

In a large casserole dish (sprayed with non-stick coating) place one layer of sliced potatoes in bottom, top potatoes with HALF of  the turkey sauce, follow with a layer of eggplant (I used ALL the eggplant in one layer) follow with the other half of the turkey sauce. Top this with another layer of potatoes, let sit while making the béchamel sauce.

1 12oz can evaporated milk + regular milk to make 2 cups

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup butter (half stick)

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Heat milk in small sauce pan just until boiling, take off heat immediately allow to cool slightly. In small pan mix butter and flour together on medium heat to form a roux, once butter and flour are incorporated add milk slowly while whisking quickly to ensure the sauce does not become lumpy. Add 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1 tsp salt, allow sauce to cool slightly and pour evenly on top of final potato layer.

Top with shredded parmesan cheese

Bake in a 350degree oven for about 90 minutes, béchamel sauce should have a nice brown color to it. Your kitchen should smell so awesome your mouth is watering.

Next time I’ll incorporate green peppers, mushrooms and zucchini into the layers. This was truly incredible. And although the béchamel sauce is far from healthy it is actually lower in calories than cheese, next time I’ll try one of the yogurt based béchamel sauces that are so popular on pinterest, I’m sure it’ll be AMAZING!

This recipe is loosely based on about.com’s recipe and lavender & Lime’s béchamel sauce

Enjoy!


Homemade Tortillas

There were great tortillerias in the small towns around where I grew up, they’ve all but disappeared. It’s quite unfortunate since a freshly made tortilla and a packaged store-bought tortilla are practically two different foods.

It’s quite a shame since homemade tortillas are really easy to make. Way easier than pizza dough even.  I don’t really know why I don’t make them more often. Since we started making them from scratch I haven’t purchased flour tortillas from the store (although I rarely did anyway).

I could eat homemade tortillas with homemade refried beans for dinner and probably not feel that bad about it.

One cringe moment with this recipe . . .  it contains lard, which kind of makes my stomach turn. If you’ve read my rants and ravings on this blog long enough, especially my tamale post, you know I have a complicated relationship with lard. It’s yucky animal fat, right?

HOWEVER. I think I would like to recant my statements against lard.

I dusted off the old nutrition books, and did some mild research.

The current thought process on eating healthy is to eat UN-saturated fats and limit saturated fats. Unsaturated fats include olive oil, which is what we hear about all day long, (unsaturated fats have been found to lower “bad” cholesterol levels)

Butter and lard have both unsaturated and saturated fats in them. But lard has MORE unsaturated fats than saturated fats in it even though it is higher in calories than butter. Butter has more saturated fats than unsaturated fats but fewer calories.

And in all of this please bear in mind that you commonly don’t use lard in excess like Paula Deen uses butter. This tortilla recipe makes 20 tortillas with 2 TABLESPOONS of lard.

And besides all of this, I think we should be WAY MORE CONCERNED about filling our guts full of sugar and processed grains rather than quibble over a little fat.

And yet again I digress. . .

Back to the recipe

Matt and I whip up a batch of tortillas in 10 minutes flat. The first time took longer because we had to figure out how to roll them, cook them, etc. We usually just make up the ones we want for the meal and store the dough in the fridge. We’ve stored the dough for up to 5 days and it’s still worked fine.

I like tortillas because they are carb-y without overloading you with carbs, not like mashed potatoes or noodles. That statement made sense in my head.

We are out of a lot of vegetables today, we did have zucchini tho! So, sautéed that up with a lonely chicken breast and defrosted some fantastic black beans. Topped with sour cream and salsa and it was FANTASTIC.

(Never underestimate the deliciousness of zucchini)

Homemade Tortillas

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons lard
1 1/2 cups water

Whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Mix in the lard with your fingers until the flour resembles cornmeal. Add the water and mix until the dough comes together; place on a lightly floured surface and knead a few minutes until smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Use a well-floured rolling pin to roll a dough ball into a thin, round tortilla. Place into the medium-hot skillet, and cook until bubbly; flip and continue cooking until golden on the other side. Place the cooked tortilla in a tortilla warmer; continue rolling and cooking the remaining dough or store in the fridge for up to 5 days.


Vegan Mac and Cheese

Mmmmm, I don’t know why I was drawn to this recipe initially, other than I FREAKIN LOVE MACARONIC AND CHEESE.

I love the 800 calorie a serving Stoffers frozen mac and cheese. I love the fluorescent orange Kraft mac and cheese (however I prefer the “shapes” version the most, dinosaurs, spongebob, etc). A treat is Annie’s brand Whole Wheat Shells and White Cheddar boxed macaroni, mmmm. Absolutely loved that stuff.

But, as stated, mac and cheese is usually chock full of fat and cholesterol.

This recipe is low on saturated fat, “meh” on protein, and has ZERO cholesterol.

Okay, mild rant on cholesterol . . . it’s not as bad as everyone says it is, so take a chill pill. Breast milk for goodness sake has copious amounts of cholesterol in it. . . actually on second thought I’ll tackle cholesterol another day.

Back to the recipe.

First of all, this is far from original for me. I’ve tried other vegan mac and cheese recipes with nutritional yeast, cashews etc, but my favorite HANDS down is Hannah Kaminsky’s from her blog BitterSweet. I won’t use her pictures (which are GORGEOUS by the way) and I won’t post her recipe either. But you can access it from here.

My changes: Double the tumeric, use 1 cup instant mashed potatoes rather than the 1 cup yukons. I also omit the oil, it’s a texture/consistency thing, add it in if you want the consistency, but I don’t miss it or the caloires.

You really do need a food processor for this recipe. Yum. Seriously my favorite comfort food ever.

And nutritional yeast? It’s a dream. Love that stuff, anytime I’m making something and I want it “cheesy” I just add a few TB of it, does the trick everytime. Kind of challenging to find. I purchase it in the bulk sections of health food stores, Co-Ops, Whole Foods, Main Market . . . how I wish Trader Joe’s would carry it, but it is a little obscure, even for TJs.

When I buy it, I buy a lot, so I don’t have to hunt it down another day. 

At the end of the day is this REALLY all that better for you? Well, I did the calculations following the recipe WITH my changes (omit the oil etc) and this is what I found. Here is one “unit” of Kraft Easy Mac

And here is one LARGE serving of the Vegan Mac and cheese (this is calculated on my own using FDA data for nutrition facts)

Pretty much better all the way around. Of course, bear in mind this is macaroni and cheese, it has tons of sodium and carbs in it. So, still probably not an every day food. But pretty darn reasonable. And not bad on the tummy either. Oh, I forgot to mention it has tons of vitamins in it, since you actually use the water you cook the carrots and onions in, and nutritional yeast has lots of vitamins in it. Here is the rest of the nutrition data.

Dang! Look at that! Pretty great I think.


Quinoa & Sprouted Rice Chicken Burritos

Oh yea. So much better than just boring old rice. Quinoa: the grain of the Incas!

Actually, upon further investigation, quinoa technically isn’t a grain, it’s a psuedocereal. Much like buckwheat (which is gluten-free, I was horribly misled recently and was correct by a fellow blogger and favorite sister, thanks Jill). Quinoa is related to beets and spinach which is even more cool, since I love both of those.

I found this terrific mix at Costco, sprouted rice and quinoa. It’s nutty and delicious.

I think it’s best cooked with chicken or vegetable stock rather than water. I decided to make it spicy this time with tomato sauce, Valentina Sauce, jarred salsa and red pepper flake. It was terrific!

It’s really great to have hubby meals ready to go. And there is nothing easier than homemade frozen burritos. I slow cooked chicken breast in canned enchilada sauce over night shredded it.

Matt likes his burritos “saucy” so I puree-d our favorite brand of jarred sauce and cooked it for 20 minutes till it cooked down to a thick sauce.

Pretty simple, just shredded chicken, the spicy sprouted rice quinoa, a couple of cans of black beans (yes, sadly I haven’t been slow cooking my dried black beans . . . and no, the canned ones do not taste as good) and the sauce. I always overfill them and my tortilla rips, save yourself some effort and heat your tortilla up before wrapping, like they do at Taco Del Mar, seriously saves some annoyance later.

 I am by no means a good burrito wrapper, especially with a cold tortilla, so do it however you deem easiest! My recipe made 9 large burritos, although if I was paying a little more attention, I’m sure it could have easily made 10.

Quinoa & Sprouted Rice Chicken Burritos

  • 2 Cups Trū Roots Sprouted Rice & Quinoa Mix (this should work for rice too, if using pure quinoa follow package directions, substituting 1/2 of the water for tomato sauce)
  • 1 can (1 3/4 cup) of Tomato Sauce
  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • 2 TB Valentina Hot Sauce (to taste)
  • 2 tsp red pepper flake
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Cook the following ingredients according to directions. The Trū Roots instructions said to boil the water in a saucepan (so I boiled the tomato sauce, spices and water, then add rice mix to boiling “liquid”, top saucepan with lid, turn down heat to low and allow to cook for 25 minutes, mine needed about 30. I then allowed it to cool for 20 minutes in the pan.

  • Chicken, slow cooked, shredded
  • 2 cans black beans
  • 10 large burrito size tortillas
  • 2 20 oz jars of your favorite jarred sauce (Pour salsa into saucepan, heat till rolling boil, allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until sauce is thickened like thick spaghetti sauce)

Assemble burrito (see above photos)!  I layered it a few ways, but I found spreading some of the puree-ed salsa down first was easiest. Wrap up and bake for 30 minutes in a 350°F oven. Allow to cool before wrapping up to freeze OR enjoy immediately with sour cream and guacamole or whatever!


Kale Garbanzo Peanut Stew

Garbanzo Beans are so great. Matt and I eat them with hummus often, or toss them into salads. But I don’t cooked with them as often as I should. This was a “throw” together meal. But it turned out so tasty, I know I will do it again. I even froze leftovers for Matt’s lunches this week.

I used dry garbanzos. I need to get into the habit of soaking them overnight. For this recipe I used the Speed Soaking Method which worked magic on these guys.

I used the remainder of my carrots

And one lonely little zucchini

I used a full bag of chopped Kale. It was overkill, but we love kale and the terrific flavor and crunch it gives a meal, so couldn’t pass it up.

I used leftover kielbasa, it was the only part of this meal I didn’t love. Really didn’t need the meat with all those beans. If you choose to add meat to this recipe I think chicken, (or tofu chunks?)

Kale Garbanzo Peanut Stew

8 cups chicken broth

1 onion, chopped

1/2 Kielbasa, sliced into coin

2 cups dry garbanzo, soaked

15 small carrots, peeled, chopped

1 small zucchini, chopped

1 tsp black pepper

2/3 cup peanut butter

1 bag of chopped Kale

Chopped peanuts for garnish

Sriracha Sauce to taste

Heat chicken stock on medium heat in a large pot, add garbanzos, allow to gently cook while sauteing the onions, carrots and the kielbasa, stir in onions and kielbasa into chicken stock. Cook on medium heat for 45 minutes, checking tenderness of garbanzos. Add peanutbutter stir till incorporated, toss in zuchinni and kale stir gently till kale is slightly softened. Serve with naan possibly?

6 servings