Category Archives: How To

How to Make Vegetable Lasagna

When I think “vegetable lasagna”, I imagine a rich, hearty noodle dish bursting with the flavor of fresh vegetables. When I search for recipes for “vegetable lasagna”, I most often find thin, watery-sounding meals that substitute thin layers of squash for noodles and skimp out on the chunky fillings that make lasagna such a stand-out meal.

For our Easter celebration this year, I created a mash-up of lasagna and pasta primavera that was a beautiful, fresh, spring-flavor-filled dish, and it works equally as well for our summer CSA veggies.

Since Clay and I cook for only two, I generally make lasagna in a small loaf pan; it provides 6 average-sized portions, so there’s plenty for a second helping, or to share with friends, or to pack for work-day lunches.

Recipe for Vegetable Lasagna

Start with the Bechamel sauce.

  • 3 TBSP butter
  • 3 TBSP flour
  • 2 cups Whole Milk (the more flavorful your milk, the more flavorful your sauce. This is a dish where organic milk from grass-fed cows really shines)
  • Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg – to taste

Melt and brown the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, until it is aromatic and a rich golden brown color. Whisk in the flour to make a roux; then continue cooking for three to four minutes until the roux takes on additional color. Whisk continuously while slowly streaming in the milk, to avoid lumps.

Turn the heat to medium-low and continue cooking while stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens. Once thickened, season to taste with salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg, then pour into a small glass container and set aside.

Once the sauce is made, prepare your other ingredients.

  • Half of a package of lasagna noodles, prepared according to package instructions (or fresh, if you’re fancy like that!)
  • One-and-a-half cups of fresh mozzarella cheese, diced and divided into three equal portions
  • One cup of freshly grated pecorino-romano cheese, divided into three equal portions
  • One-and-a-half cups of pesto, divided into three equal portions
    This week we used two parts roasted tomato and one part traditional basil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • An 8-ounce bunch of leafy greens (think chard, kale, or spinach), torn into bite-sized pieces, washed, blanched, and drained
    This week we used kale.
  • Approximately one-and-a-half cups of vegetables (think artichoke, asparagus, beets, green or wax beans, snap or snow peas, or summer squashes), diced and well seasoned with salt and pepper
    This week we used peas in their pods and zucchini.
  • Approximately half of one cup of alliums (think beyond onions to leeks, scallions, chives, or garlic), chopped very finely
    This week we used green onions, scallions, and garlic scapes.

Once your ingredients are assembled, pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, grab a loaf pan, and begin assembly.

  1. Spread a spoonful of bechamel sauce into the bottom of the pan.
  2. Arrange the first layer of noodles over the bechamel, with the edges overlapping slightly. Spread the noodles with one-third of the pesto then one-third of the mozzarella, then a drizzle of bechamel.
  3. Arrange a second layer of noodles over the first, and top them with your greens. Don’t be afraid to really pack the greens into your pan, since they will cook down significantly in the oven. Top with one-third of the pecorino-romano cheese and a generous spoonful of bechamel.
  4. Arrange a third layer of noodles, spread with a second third of pesto and a second third of mozzarella. Scatter your alliums here, and then add a drizzle of bechamel over the top.
  5. Arrange a fourth layer of noodles, spread with the last third of pesto. Scatter your chopped vegetables over the pesto with the second third of pecorino-romano, then drizzle with bechamel.
  6. Arrange your fifth and final layer of noodles, and spread the remaining bechamel sauce over the top. Scatter your remaining cheeses over the top, and grind fresh black pepper generously over the whole.

Cover your pan with aluminum foil, and place on a tray in the center of the oven; bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the lasagna is browned and bubbling; remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

This dish is absolutely satisfying as a one-dish meal, though at Easter we served it alongside kefta and pickled root vegetables. If you make it, I’d love to know what vegetables you choose, and how you present it!

How a CSA Serves Us

 

radishes

Simpaug Farms radishes – June 17, 2018

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about how we’ve evolved in our cooking and shopping habits since combining our kitchens, and how we save money at the supermarket in order to have more to spend on delicious little splurges. But there’s one other major way that we both save money on food and splurge for the very best: our membership in a CSA.

CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a brilliant business model for small farms to support the communities that exist in the areas surrounding the farmland. There’s been risk involved with farming since the first farmer planted the first seed, but CSA removes some of the risks from farming by allowing the people who eat the food to purchase it before it’s grown. (I did say it was brilliant!)

Our local farm is Simpaug Farms in Suffield, Connecticut. Nestled on 250 acres – that’s a bit less than half of a square mile – the folks who run the farm use sustainable practices that preserve the land the generations to come, they produce fruits and vegetables free from synthetic pesticides, and they raise animals without hormones or antibiotics. They plant a broad array of fruits and vegetables that come into peak ripeness throughout the season, ensuring both variety and abundance for members.

We joined the Simpaug Farms CSA back in April, by filling out a form online and making a payment of $800. In return, starting on June 19 and running for the next 20 weeks, we will collect a crate of 10 to 14 different fruits and vegetables, and a carton of a dozen eggs. That works to roughly $35 per week for produce and $5 per week for eggs – all of it local, natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free, and chosen just for us at the peak of fresh deliciousness. (For comparison, at the grocery store yesterday we spent $26 for half that volume of fruits and vegetables from at least several hundred miles away, and $5.99 for a dozen similarly raised eggs.)

This is clearly a wonderful partnership for me and Clay, but it’s just as wonderful for the farm. I met Megan and Max, who run the business-side of Simpaug Farms, at the Fairfield Farmer’s Market this morning. Max’s answer to my question “So how does having the CSA help the farm?“ is excerpted below.

The biggest form of help from the CSA is being able to plan better. Today, which is just a day at the Farmer’s Market, started at 5am. We drove from the office in Ridgefield to the farm in Suffield, collected all of the produce from yesterday’s harvest, drove to Fairfield and set up the market, are working here to sell everything we can (and hoping we guessed right on what to bring), and later we’ll drive back to the farm to drop off anything we don’t sell so it can be put to use.

With the CSA, we know in advance how many people will collect their shares from each location, so know just how much to pack and deliver. But when CSA members purchase shares early in the season, we can plan just how much of a crop to plant because we can adjust for our market. Since the biggest costs in farming come early in the season with seeds and equipment, it’s really helpful to have the capital for that up front, too.

There are still shares available for the Simpaug Farms CSA, and the first pickups for the season start on June 19. Join us in supporting a fabulous small farm, and in eating well all season!

P.S. If you want to get to know a little more about the farm and the CSA, their pinterest boards are full of recipes and tips for preparing fresh summer vegetables, and their YouTube channel has some good videos, too.

How We Shop for (and Save Money on) Groceries

Back in January, he referenced the various rebate and shopping list apps I use to save us money on groceries in a post about cheesecake, with a request that I write up the list. Five months later, here we are.

First of all, a note on how we cook and shop. We don’t “meal plan” in the way that most budget- and time-conscious publications suggest. Instead, we keep our kitchen/larder/pantry well-stocked with dry goods that have naturally lengthy shelf lives and use them along with fresh produce, meats, and dairy to compile meals. When consuming the food we’ve brought into the house, we use the ripest (and likeliest to spoil) ingredients first, much like farmers harvesting their most delicate crops.

Since most of our dry goods have a long shelf-life, and since we aren’t so picky that failing to have a beloved treat on hand is a catastrophe, we rarely “run out” of an item we like to have on hand without warning. As a result, we have the luxury of buying groceries when we want to – meaning when we can get the best value for our money. My process is designed around that premise.

First, make note of what we need.

Running low on olive oil? Looking to try a recipe requiring a new ingredient? Add it to the list.

We share a login for the Buy Me A Pie shopping list app, so that we can both see the list of what we need at home when we’re on the go. It syncs in real time, which is a huge plus.

Second, review what’s available on sale.

We receive grocery stores circulars for our favorite shops in the mail on Thursday, so page through them to look for sale prices for anything on our “need” list, and also to look for what’s fresh and available this week. Is the best fish counter offering wild-caught salmon filets? Add them to the list for Saturday’s supper. Is his favorite pastrami on special at the deli? We could use a pound for sandwiches during the work week. We add items we like from the circulars into the grocery list app.

Third, review what’s available for rebate.

We use four different apps that offer rebates for purchasing specific items from specific stores. Just like with the circulars, I flip through the offers in each app to find…

  1. Is something on our need/wish list available for rebate? If so, claim the rebate in-app.
  2. Is something we would ordinarily buy and have room to stock available for a rebate? If so, claim the rebate in-app and add the item to the grocery list.
  3. If we are in need of rounding out fresh food supplies for the week (produce, meat, dairy) are there items in those departments that are appealing? If so, claim the rebates in-app and add the items to the grocery list.

Fourth, shop.

We head to the market(s), collecting the items on the list as we go, using apps to verify product selections as necessary. We check out as per usual, but take extra care to ensure receipts are legible and tucking them safely away.

Fifth, claim rebates and rewards.

After unloading groceries the from the car, it’s time to claim the rebates.

Each app works a little differently, but in general I open each app and use it to take a photo of the receipt, and then scan barcodes on the items I’m claiming to verify the products purchased.

In each case, unless otherwise explicitly stated, a rebate available in multiple apps can be claimed in each app and rebates apply even when paired with an in-store sale or manufacturer’s coupon – provided that the receipt shows some amount paid for the item in question.

List of Rebate Apps

These are the apps that I use.

  • iBotta (that’s my referral link; if you use it to sign up and collect your first rebate within 7 days of doing so, we both earn bonus rewards). Ibotta has the broadest selection of items at the broadest selection of stores, and not just for groceries. The company pays all rebates in a cash transfer via PayPal or Venmo. 
  • Checkout 51. The rebates available are for items and brands found in most large supermarkets. There is a small selection of rebates available, but it changes every week on Thursday. The company pays all rebates by check mailed to the address on file with your account. 
  • SavingStar – Like Checkout51, SavingStar offers a small selection of rebates on items found in most supermarkets, but from a wide selection of stores. If a store offers a loyalty program, you link the app to your loyalty account, activate rebates within the app, and then swipe your loyalty card as normal at the check-out – rebates are then automatically applied to your Saving Star account. The company pays all rebates in a cash transfer via PayPal. 
  • Fetch (My referral code is D5BPU , and using it gives us both a 2,000 point bonus after you submit your first receipt.) Unlike the other apps, Fetch only accepts receipts from supermarkets and grocery stores, but there is a “scanning bonus” – you earn 25 points for every receipt you scan from a major chain retailer even if there are no rebates earned. While the other apps are product specific in their rebates, Fetch is brand specific – you earn a percentage of the purchase price for every item tied to a participating brand. Fetch rewards are accrued in points rather than cash, and are paid out in electronic gift cards. 

So, how do you save money on groceries? I’d love to know your methods – and please let me know if you try any of mine!

P.S. Apart from apps that offer specific rebates for specific items, there are also apps that pay you for snapping photos of your receipts. ReceiptHog pays out in cash via PayPal, and ReceiptPal pays out via electronic gift card.

How We Share a Kitchen

We first started this blog almost four years ago, when we combined kitchens into a single household and began our life together. Since we both loved to cook and eat, with pretty divergent styles, our thought was to document* our culinary adventures and see how we changed and grew. In the intervening years, we’ve fallen into a steady rhythm of habit and circumstance for how we stock our pantry, how we shop for ingredients, and how we cook – and it isn’t at all what we imagined when we began!

Once upon a time, I was a rigidly predictable home cook. Meals were planned in accordance with recipes from cookbooks and blogs, based on a relatively consistent and small list of staple ingredients and fresh produce. Shopping was done on the same day each week with a visit to the farmer’s market and the nearby grocery store, holding to a modest budget with enough room for the occasional splurge like a beautiful cut of steak. Wasting food was a cardinal sin, so cooking well was a duty as well as a pleasure.

By contrast, he was an “anything goes” sort of cook. Whatever ingredients were on hand were turned into meals, and if that occasionally meant cold cereal with sliced fruit for dinner, then so be it. Shopping was a haphazard thing, with trips to the market made whenever an item was needed, to purchase whatever looked appetizing – particularly if it was on sale. He’s more playful and adventurous than I, firmly believing that “if it’s awful, we’ll just order a pizza.”

As you can imagine, marrying those styles took some concerted effort, so we let circumstance give us a little push toward what seemed easy. Given that I have a longer commute and more rigid schedule during the week, he does most of the cooking – which means it’s generally improvisational in nature. I take responsibility for keeping the kitchen well stocked and generally tidy, which means the freezer is full and the larder is overflowing.

Since he has driven me to be more adventurous while retaining cost consciousness, we make a lot of our food from scratch – it’s less expensive to buy incredible ingredients and turn them into sauces and garnishes than it is to buy tiny jars of dreamy extravagance, so this allows us to eat better quality food than we could otherwise afford to. For us, cooking “from scratch” includes:

  • Making our own specialty dairy items like yogurt, sour cream, clotted cream, and ice cream from milk, cream, and butter sourced locally
  • Baking our own yeast breads using whey, a by-product of making yogurt, to give our loaves added flavor
  • Baking quick breads, muffins, cakes, and pies at home
  • Keeping whole spices on hand and grating or grinding them to create our own blends
  • Allotting freezer space for gallon-sized bags of shrimp shells, poultry carcasses, beef/lamb/pork bones, and vegetable peelings – to make broth from whole ingredients rather than bouillon
  • Creating sauces as part of meal prep from those spices and stocks and a whole new set of must-have pantry staples
  • Saving overripe fruit by pureeing it for yogurt stir-ins, smoothies, sauces, or home-made ice cream/sorbet

…and a whole lot of other things I’m likely forgetting.

I’m not the only one who’s changed, though. While still an improvisational cook, he will share ideas for specific meals a day or two in advance, so I have time to think them through and suggest additions or alterations. While he prefers not to eat the same meal several days running like I will, we save leftovers in the fridge as “pre-cooked ingredients for the next meal”, such that rice, chicken, vegetables, and peanut sauce from last night’s stir-fry might be used in rice pudding, chicken pot pie, pasta primavera, and hummus (respectively) – and he focuses on using leftovers first, so as not to waste things.

Speaking of waste, we also subscribe to a local composting service; they collect our kitchen scraps and leave us a fresh locking pail each week, and we can purchase finished compost from them when needed.

Although we’ve ordered plenty of pizzas—especially since discovering a favorite place has opened a new location between our train station and home—it’s never been because of a disaster in the kitchen.

 

*We had to document something. Since our first meeting was over livejournal in 2003, and since we fell in love so gradually over email and iMessage that we didn’t even notice it, a failure to continue our epistolary adventures might be the undoing of us!