A Little Lasagna?

When it comes to all-time hits, lasagna must be one of the world’s most highly rated labors of love.  So many ingredients, so many layers, which goes where?  Every family seems to have their own preferred version. You rarely see a little pan of lasagna. With so much shopping and preparation, popular wisdom says make enough for the masses: “Since we’re at it, we might as well invite the neighbors!”

Well, that’s not necessarily the case in my mighty tiny kitchen. By necessity my lasagna would be smaller. I also had in mind a purely vegetable based lasagna; one made with a marinara sauce of grill-roasted tomatoes and a modest heap of perfectly grilled zucchini and other vegetables like yellow squash, peppers, and onion for layering.

Zucchini Lasagna

Zucchini Lasagna

I was a little concerned about the final condition of the vegetables in the lasagna. I did not want bland or mushy—and overcooking could be a tall order. I believed this could be accomplished by searing the vegetables with only a brief sojourn on the grill: I’d spice it all up, give it a bit of smoke, sear it, and call it good.

Any marinara sauce will work, you will need at least 3 cups.  We are also going with super easy no boil noodles, which hold up very well for layering and later portioning.  Depending on the shape of your baking dish or pan, position the uncooked noodles to abutt one another. For a full layer of pasta, fit any remaining gaps with broken pieces of noodle.  In making the ricotta filling, combine a good quality ricotta, partial skim is fine, with an egg for binder, a little Parmesan cheese, a touch of garlic, salt and pepper.

A lot of these small tasks can be done over a couple of days if necessary, leaving assembly a simple task.  The final bake will take less than an hour.  Let it rest about 10 minutes before cutting.  If you’ve got it, serve a little more marinara sauce on the side and enjoy!

Grilled Zucchini Lasagna

3 cups marinara sauce
1 box Barilla No Boil Lasagna
3 grilled zucchini/squash, 1 onion, 2 poblano peppers
Ricotta filling
12 oz. ricotta
1 egg, beaten
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 cup mozzarella cheese grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated


  1. Spray an 8”x 8”, a 7”x 10” deep baking pan, or 2-1/2 qt. baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. For ricotta filling, combine ricotta through white pepper and set aside.
  3. To slice grilled vegetables, slice zucchini chunks into 1/2″ thick slices with the green outer skin showing on both edges. Slice the onion and peppers in 1/2″ wide long strips.
  4. Spread about 3/4 cup sauce across bottom of baking dish.
  5. Place a layer of flat noodles,if necessary breaking some to cover any open surface. They will swell.
  6. Evenly spread 1/2 of the ricotta over the noodles.
  7. Layer 1/2 of the vegetables and spread lightly with another 3/4 cup sauce.
  8. Repeat with another layer of noodles, ricotta, vegetables and sauce. Finish with a layer of pasta, the rest of the sauce, and top with mozzarella and then the Parmesan cheeses.
  9. To bake, cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake 15 minutes longer, until it is bubbly and begins to brown on top. Serves 4 or more.

Zucchini Management…

We are closing in on the end of zucchini season, but you may still be looking for more ways to prepare them.  Here’s a simple idea that will buy you more time when squash just keeps on coming.

If you happen to be grilling anyway, throw the vegetables on before or after the main event.  The zucchini will benefit from a brief rest in a light marinade of olive oil and herbs:  it will give the vegetables a nice boost of flavor and help them not stick to the grill.

Zucchini is very forgiving when grilled in whole chunks, as long as the coals are hot enough to mark them.   When cooked 6 to 10 minutes over medium-hot heat they will be al dente with plenty of flavor.

Grilled zucchini

Grilled zucchini

Enjoy as is, or set aside and use later:  as a pizza topping, added last minute to a stir fry, in Greek orzo with feta cheese and oregano, or featured in specialty dishes like lasagna.

Grilled Zucchini and Other Vegetables

2   1-1/2″ thick zucchini, rinse, dry and trim
1 yellow squash, rinse, dry and trim
1 onion, peel and halve
2 poblano peppers
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh basil and savory combination, chopped; or 1/2 each teaspoon dried oregano and thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp pepper


  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.  Cut the zucchini and yellow squash into 2″ lengths and toss with the marinade.  Cover and let stand 30 minutes or longer.
  2. Meanwhile prepare grill.  When coals are medium-hot, stand the lengths upright on the grill surface and cook 2-3 minutes or until well seared.  Rotate and mark the other end of each length.  Place them on their sides and sear around the exteriors.  Cook a total of 6-10 minutes, until tender firm.  Cool and cut into long 1/4″ thick vertical slices.
  3. Brush a bit of the marinade left in bowl over the cut side of onion halves.  Roast the peppers and onion in the same fashion as above: char to mark and lightly roast.  The peppers should be heavily charred for skin removal; place in plastic bag to cool.  Peel off the seared skin, remove stems, seeds, and any heavy interior membrane.  Slice the peppers and onion into 1/2″ wide strips and set aside.



Date Delirium

datesNow that the weather is beginning to cool off and school is in session, it is time to get back to some serious cookie baking!  I jumped right in with an easy, unassuming cookie made with dates and a dash of oats for nuttiness and fiber.

What a surprise!  Be prepared for an unexpected cookie rush:  the dates manage to melt into distinct bites of light, perfumed sweetness, perfectly balanced with a mild coriander-spice blend.cookes-and-coffee

I know, they are so good for you, too.  You can  justify having another.

Since the dates are the star here, look for a premium variety, like Medjool; not desiccated nubs devoid of both flavor and moisture.  I found excellent well-priced Deglet Noor dates at Trader Joe’s.

The batter will be thick, I dropped rounds onto a cookie sheet, then flattened them slightly with a fork. dates-cookie-sheet This makes a small batch just over 2 dozen cookies, you may want consider doubling these if you have cookies monsters on premises.

Date-Spiced Cookies

Concept inspired by Well-Fed, Flat Broke, Emily Wight

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup quick oats
3/4 cup pitted dates, dice
1 egg
2 tablespoon oil
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheet with silpat or parchment.
  2. On waxed paper, sift flour through salt; mix in the oats, add the dates and toss to coat.
  3. In mixing bowl, whisk egg and oil together, whisk in the brown sugar and milk, then the vanilla. Stir in dry with large spoon only to combine, it will be thick.
  4. Form rounded teaspoonful’s of dough, roll into balls; place 2″ apart on baking sheet. Flatten with a moistened fork while rounding the edges.
  5. Bake 9-11 minutes, until barely set and tops begin to brown. They should be soft; they will firm up as they cool. Cool on rack and repeat.  Yield: 27 cookies

Quick Strawberry Preserves: A Matter of Taste

strawberriesWhen I spotted fresh strawberries at the market recently, I had a hunch the glory of this season’s berry days is just about behind us, so I grabbed some.  While out, I also tracked down powdered pectin.  Now, I was ready to tackle my first batch of strawberry jam.

I’m back living it up in another tiny space, playing with my appliances and challenging their capabilities, rather than relying solely on a stove top and oven.  Since this would be a small batch, I opted to give the microwave a try.

First, I did a bit more research on the pectin issue. Much of the information I had on hand was either confusing or did not apply; some was philosophical: making preserves is all trial and error and you will learn by doing.  Odd,  after 100’s of years of making strawberry preserves, we are still at that stage.

What made sense:  the fruit’s pectin plus the available acid will balance each other in a time driven equation resulting in thickened preserves. How much you need, and how long you cook it, is pretty much shades of gray.  Of course, there was also the microwave issue: how would that affect all of this?   Whatever.

I gathered up my collection of recipes and my ingredients and I simply began. I had my strawberries.  Since they are low on pectin, I would add a little pectin for good measure.  I had sugar, and I would also include a little lemon juice to help with the acid issue.

I used a wide glass microwaveable mixing bowl, approximately 2 quart in size. I read that mixing the pectin with the berries and cooking them together first would help the pectin setting process.

Once that came to a boil, I added the sugar and lemon juice.  Quantities here seem negotiable, but my berries were surprisingly sweet—an important factor in this balancing act.  Some recipes opt for huge amounts of sugar, and that interested me not; I settled on 2/3 of a cup.  On the lemon juice:  I decided lemon is good, so went with 3 teaspoons worth.  If my berries were bland or sour, I’d would back off on the lemon juice to 2 teaspoons.

Finally, in small batch strawberry preserves, many recipes agree that in the final stage, 5 minutes is a realistic duration—more or less. This will also depend on the wattage of the microwave, mine is mid-range, and not super-powerful.  Most important, the berry mixture must fully boil for 1 minute.

Strawberry Preserves, ala Microwave

Strawberry Preserves, ala Microwave

In Review:  My little unofficial science project worked out just fine.  The preserves set up very well, and were plenty sweet.  Mostly though, I was surprised by the pure strawberry freshness and fruitiness that is revealed.  In the end, that is what matters.

Quick Strawberry Preserves from the Microwave 

1 lb fresh ripe strawberries, trim and halve
1 tablespoon powdered fruit pectin
2/3 cup sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice


  1. In a large microwaveable bowl, combine berries with pectin and mash berries leaving some shape. Microwave uncovered on high about 4 minutes, until it comes to a boil.
  2. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Microwave uncovered about 5 minutes.  Check every 2 minutes and stir well.  When it reaches a full boil, boil 1 minute, until slightly thickened.  Cool and store covered in refrigerator, will hold 2 weeks or longer.  Makes 2 generous cups.



Too Many Tomatoes?

Late summer heat in the Willamette Valley has brought on a glut of huge, sweet, juicy tomatoes along with the eternal question, “What do you do with so many tomatoes?”Too many tomatoes (2)

Fresh salsa is my initial response, but this time my thoughts shifted to another favorite, marinara sauce. Such a bright, easy tomato sauce to make, it only requires a quick simmer to bring flavors together for pasta or a stellar pizza sauce.

With that in mind, I decided to begin with another challenge: grill-roasting tomatoes.  I like the idea of oven roasting tomatoes, but in the summer heat, taking the process outdoors makes far more sense.  Beyond the extra sweetness grilling imparts, I’m thinking the addition of a few apple wood chips would introduce a subtle smokiness.

I wasn’t quite sure how this idea would float but I proceeded, placing halved tomatoes lightly coated with olive oil cut side down on a moderately hot grill over a bed of hot coals laced with soaked wood chips.  These juicy beauties did not fall apart, instead the tomato’s sugar served to sear and caramelize their cut surface.  Once nicely browned, they were turned right side up, allowing the skin to ultimately crack and begin to separate.  When the centers were bubbly, they were removed to cool.

There were other unanticipated advantages worth noting. The sometimes tedious peeling of tomato skins was hassle-free; they literally curled off by themselves.  Just as simple, removing bitter seeds was only a matter of giving each half a light squeeze along with a quick turn of a teaspoon into obvious seed pockets.

I didn’t bother to mill or breakdown the tomatoes into a smooth sauce or puree, I liked the limited bits of soft chunkiness.  I was also surprised at the incredibly small return after tomato surgery.  From an initial 8 or 9 large tomatoes, I was rewarded with a mere 3-4 cups of pulp. There was also a fair amount of tomato liquid included which I opted to leave alone.

When it came time to whip up the marinara sauce I was in and out of the kitchen in under 30 minutes.  marinara sauce (360x640)Since it’s only a matter of sautéing a bit of onion and garlic in olive oil, it’s the reduction of liquid that takes the most time, but it is loaded with flavor, and well worth it.

Marinara Sauce with Smoky Grilled Tomatoes

3 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8-10 large ripe tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
6-8 leaves fresh basil, torn


  1. Brush halved tomatoes lightly with olive oil and set cut side down on medium hot grill. Grill for 5 -10 minutes, until seared, and turn.  Continue to cook until skins begin to crack and surface is bubbly; let cool.  Remove skins, cores, and seeds, squeezing with hand to breakdown.
  2. Heat remaining olive oil in saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion, sauté 2-3 minutes, until it begins to soften; add the garlic and oregano and sauté 1-2 minutes, until aromatic.  Add the red pepper flakes and stir to soften.
  3. Stir in the tomato pulp, tomato puree, salt, and pepper and bring to a simmer.  Partially cover and allow to reduce until thick, 15 to 20 minutes.  Adjust seasoning; remove from heat and add the fresh basil.  Let cool or serve.  Makes about 2 cups.

Lost in the Clouds

I dropped by one of my favorite stores today to pick up a few specialty items. It’s always fun to plan a weekend visit, because the folks at Roth’s Market in Silverton go out of their way to feature tastings and innovative offerings.

Out front, they had their usual grill area set up cooking off their notoriously fantastic burgers—the smell is enough to draw you in and seal the deal.  As I skirted past the crowd to make my way into the store entry, I caught a whiff of another oddly familiar smell that jerked me around and took me back outside again.  It made no sense, but clearly, I was downwind from an unmistakeable cloud of roasting hatch chile peppers!

Yes, indeed, behind the tent of barbecuing burgers, a roaster was gyrating about searing and tumbling the elusive, elegant, elongated hatch chile peppers.Hatch roaster  A team of three was busy removing and bagging them as fast as they could for waiting shoppers.Roasted hatch Shades of New Mexico and Austin! How could this happen? The lady ahead of me carried off 10 pounds of peppers; she clearly knew what she was doing.

Hatch box resizedApparently the word is out: that small window of opportunity called hatch chile pepper season is upon us, right here in Silverton, Oregon. fresh hatch resized If you have not experienced these amazing peppers now is the time, and it will not last.  That is why people in the know, freeze enough of the freshly roasted peppers to last them an entire year.

Of course hatch chiles are amazing on burgers, for more information and ideas on these marvels, check out earlier posts:

The Land of Enchantment

Yup, Hatch Pepper Manicotti


Heat Wave?  Just Add Ice

Here in the Pacific Northwest we are known for our extreme coffee consumption.   At any time of the day or night, drive down a busy street and you will likely find multiple drive up coffee stands positioned to service the staggering number of customers queued in line for their next quick fix.

And when it comes to heat waves, rather than sweet tea, iced coffee is often our drink of choice. With temperatures soaring over 100 degrees for multiple days recently, my friend Chuck’s house specialty is a refreshing Thai iced coffee.

Thai Iced Coffee

Thai Iced Coffee

He suggests sugar muddled in a glass with a spiced coffee base, filled with ice cubes, and finished with half and half to taste.

Of course this took me right back to my coffee days in the Bahamas and Caribbean.  Since fresh milk was considered a luxury that required refrigeration, condensed milk was often favored due to its greater shelf life.  So popular, it was also served in most cafes and restaurants; after a while its taste just became part of the experience.

Since I’m not a big fan of sugar in my coffee anyway, I opted to stay with tradition and go with my old standby, sweetened condensed milk.  If you are a blog follower, then you are likely familiar with other recipes here praising its virtues, like Key Lime Pie and Dulce de Leche.  Its light caramelized flavor adds a richness, it rounds out, and enhances the cardamom and cinnamon flavoring brewed into the coffee base – it’s that simple.   Just add ice!

Thai Iced Coffee

4 tablespoons coffee, freshly ground
1/3 teaspoon cardamom, ground
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups water
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup milk
Garnish:  Cinnamon or cinnamon sticks


  1. In basket of a coffee brewer, place ground coffee, cardamom and cinnamon. Brew with water and allow to cool.
  2. In individual glasses add 1-2 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk and thin with 1-2  tablespoons milk.
  3. Add ice and pour in cool or chilled coffee; top off with additional milk as desired. Garnish with a sprinkling of cinnamon or a cinnamon stick. Serves 4.