creamy vegetable pasta bake

Creamy vegetable pasta bake

creamy vegetable pasta bake

Lately I’ve become rather hooked on maximizing grocery store savings. It’s like a game, seeing how I can get the most for my money, and it helps that I focus on stocking my pantry with staples that help me cook from scratch. When the grocery store had 1-lb bags of pasta on sale for $.49 each, I stocked up on a variety of shapes and have been brainstorming all the fun ways I can use them.

BudgetBytes.com has loads of doable, healthy, and frugal recipes (my Mealtime board is now loaded with pins from this site). It was really hard to choose which to make first! I started with one that aligned best with my freezer and pantry items and adapted it with my ingredients.

Recipe

Vegetable Alfredo Pasta Bake from BudgetBytes.com

Process notes

Formula

Vegetables:

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 6 oz frozen peas, cooked and drained
  • 12 oz frozen broccoli, cooked and drained
  • 6 oz frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained
  • salt and pepper

Sauce:

  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c hard white wheat flour
  • 4 c whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • 3 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Pasta and topping:

  • 1 lb shell pasta
  • 3 oz shredded gouda

I don’t like adding frozen vegetables to a hot, oily pan because of the sizzle and splatter, so I opted to cook my veggies first in a small Micro-Cooker vegetable steamer that goes in the microwave. Except for the carrots, which I sauteed in the oil.

Results

Oh, yum. This is a great balance of flavor and textures. Not too cheesy, not too saucy, plenty of vegetables. The gouda on top is really special. And after a few years of only eating homemade pasta at home, it’s a treat to have the convenience of dried pasta on hand.

I actually think I could skip adding the cheese to the sauce next time, and just go with the cheese on top. Increasing the spices and seasonings in the sauce would be good, perhaps adding dried minced onion and garlic (or fresh, if I have some).

I love the way this casserole turned out — and perhaps even more I love that there are seven more servings of it in the freezer, ready to be pulled out for an easy meal here and there.

slice of veggie-packed breakfast casserole

Veggie-packed Breakfast Casserole

My goal with creating this recipe was to have a hearty breakfast that requires no work to prepare in the morning — just a quick reheating in the microwave and it’s ready to go. I wanted it to be an easy, healthy choice for when time is short in the morning before heading out to work.

I started drafting the recipe by listing all of the veggies that I know my husband and I both like and would be especially tasty for a morning meal. And I knew it would include eggs and cheese to tie it all together. I approached it sort of like making a quiche, except with a shredded-potato base instead of a pastry crust.

This recipe is definitely a labor of love! It took a few hours to make, primarily because of all of the prep and pre-cooking of the vegetables. And then I accidentally turned the oven off in the middle of baking it, which stretched the cooking time out considerably.

But the time and energy definitely paid off and now there are 8 big, delicious slices of this casserole (really it’s more like a vegetable torte, with well-defined layers as opposed to stirred-together casserole ingredients), making a whole week of quick and easy breakfasts.

veggie-packed breakfast casserole

 

Veggie-packed Breakfast Casserole

Makes one 9×12-inch dish, cut into 8 generous slices

Ingredients

  • 2 large Russet potatoes, left whole with skins cleaned
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbls oil
  • large pack of white mushrooms, cleaned
  • 4 tbls butter, divided
  • bunch of spinach, cleaned and stemmed
  • 6 oz cheese, shredded
  • 6 large eggs
  • milk (to fill to the 4 ½ cup line when mixed with the eggs)
  • 2 large tomatoes, thickly sliced
  • 1 to 1 ½ c bread crumbs (I used crumbs from whole wheat loaves I’d previously made)
  • 1 tbls olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Place the whole potatoes in a pan of water and cover with cool water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until a knife can be inserted into them fairly easily. Drain potatoes and place in an ice bath for 15 minutes, then peel the skins off and refrigerate while the rest of the ingredients are prepared.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. Rub 3 tbls of the butter in the bottom of a 9×13 pan.
  3. Heat 1 tbls of oil in a pan and saute the onion until soft and translucent. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add bell pepper and garlic and saute for a few more minutes until the peppers are slightly softened. Set aside.
  4. Pull the stems from the mushrooms. Slice the caps and wring the moisture from them using a thin towel (such as a flour sack dish towel). Finely chop the mushroom stems and wring them out as well. Saute over medium-low heat with 1 tbls of butter until cooked through and the liquid has evaporated (about 15 minutes), seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, stir together the onion and pepper mixture, the mushrooms, and the spinach. The heat from the onions and mushrooms will wilt the spinach.
  6. Shred the potatoes. Set aside.
  7. In large measuring cup, add the eggs and fill up to the 4 ½ c mark with milk. Whisk together until smooth.
  8. In a small bowl, mix the bread crumbs with the olive oil.
  9. Assemble casserole: distribute the shredded potatoes in the bottom on top of the butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper; sprinkle ⅓ of the cheese over the potatoes; spread the onion/pepper/mushroom/spinach mixture over the potatoes evenly; pour the egg/milk mixture on top; sprinkle on the remaining cheese; lay the tomato slices on top; sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the tomato slices.
  10. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake an additional 15-30 minutes, or until the egg is cooked and the dish is bubbly.
  11. Let rest for a bit, then slice. If storing for eating over several days, it’s easier to get the slices into storage containers once it’s been chilled.

Whole wheat sourdough pita with hummus, spicy carrots, and fried eggplant

Middle Eastern Mini Feast

After finishing Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, I was craving Middle Eastern food. Specifically, I was craving the Middle Eastern food from my favorite restaurant for that sort of thing. They make this fried eggplant dish that is like candy, and these spicy cooked carrots that burn the tastebuds but are soooo tasty. But instead of running over there for takeout, I wanted to try cooking my typical order at home.

Recipes

Whole Wheat Sourdough Pita adapted from Skillet Baked Whole Wheat Pita (Using Sourdough)

Hummus adapted from Lebanese Hummus Recipe From Scratch – Hummus b Tahini

Fried Eggplant adapted from Fried Eggplant with Garlic and Parsley Dressing

Spicy Carrots adapted from Spicy Carrots for Clear Skin

Process notes

Whole Wheat Sourdough Pita

  • 4 oz sourdough starter (fed)
  • 4 1/2 oz hard white wheat flour (unsifted)
  • 3-4 oz water (filtered)
  • 1 tbls honey
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbls vegetable oil

1:50 p.m.: Mix starter, flour, water, and honey together for a couple of min. (added quite a bit of extra water at this stage), then let sit for 15 min. Then add salt and vegetable oil. Mix for 2 min. on med-low. Do 4 stretch & folds with 5-min. intervals.

2:25 p.m.: Rest dough, covered.

4:00 p.m.: Dough isn’t rising enough, so move to slightly warmed oven until time to make pitas.

5:30 p.m.: Divide dough into 4 pieces and flatten out, using flour. Rest for about 15 min. then cook in hot, unoiled cast iron skillet for a few minutes on each side.

Hummus

  • 1/2 lb dried chickpeas*
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tbls tahini paste
  • 1/3 c fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 to 1 c warm water

Process chickpeas with 1/2 cup warm water for 3 to 5 min. Add garlic, salt, and paprika, and slowly add tahini while processor is running. Slowly add lemon juice while processor is running, then mix for 2 min. Adjust seasoning and add more water if needed.

Serve at room temperature with olive oil drizzled over top.

*I put 1 lb of dried chickpeas in the pressure cooker with some salt and cooked for 40 min., using natural pressure release when done. It yielded 2 1/4 lb (940 gm) cooked chickpeas.

Fried Eggplant

  • 2 Philippine eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Oil for frying

Sprinkle eggplant slices with salt and set in colander for 30 min. Then rinse under cold water and wring out water using a thin towel.

Heat oil in skillet and fry for several minutes on each side until golden. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Spicy Carrots

  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced 1/8″ thick
  • 1 tbls olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp chili paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Dash of caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/4 lemon, juiced

Saute carrots in hot oil in nonstick skillet for 5 min. Cover and cook for 3 to 5 min., stirring occasionally. Add cumin, paprika, turmeric, and salt. Saute until fragrant and pasty. Stirn in chili paste, garlic, caraway, honey, and lemon juice. Cook briefly, then serve. This is good at room temperature.

Results

Overall, I’m happy with how things turned out. I’m most excited about the hummus recipe. I had come to the conclusion that I didn’t really like tahini in my hummus, but it turns out that my last container of tahini paste was just really stale. The new one I picked up for this recipe was smooth and has a wonderful flavor. This hummus recipe is the best I’ve ever made and I’ll definitely make it again.

I had some problems with the pita dough sticking to my hands when I placed it in the pan to cook, so some of the pitas are wildly misshapen. They taste good though. Next time I’d try an overnight proofing to help strengthen the gluten (or more kneading), and less water.

The spicy carrots turned out really well. Next time I could up the chili paste a tad bit.

And the fried eggplant was OK, but rather bland — definitely not the magical eggplant I have at the restaurant. I wonder how they do it there…

Tomato bread soup

Tomato Bread Soup (Pappa al Pomodoro)

With all of the bread baking I did last week, I wanted to find interesting ways to use some of it. Both loaves were too tough for me to eat as regular sandwiches (but the 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Hearth Bread made wonderful tartine-style sandwiches grilled in the skillet with pesto and sharp white cheddar on top).

I ran across this Tomato Bread Soup recipe, and since it’s gotten chilly here over the last few days, it’s perfect timing for some warm soup that’s somehow both hearty and light at the same time.

I’ve made tomato bread soup before but it was quite bland compared to this batch. Using fresh basil basil made it delicious. And sauteeing the bread cubes (made from my 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Hearth Bread and 2.5-lb Miche) in olive oil with some of the fresh basil and a bit of pepper was a key step to the process. I’m tempted to make a bunch of croutons from the rest of the Miche — I could not get over how good they tasted.

For such a basic-sounding soup, this was surprisingly full of flavor. I had read not to use sourdough bread in a soup like this, but I’m glad I didn’t listen to that advice — this was so good. I just wish I had made twice as much!

Tomato Bread Soup (Pappa al Pomodoro)

Adapted from Mary Ann Esposito’s Tomato Bread Soup (Pappa al Pomodoro)

Makes 2 generous bowls.

Ingredients

  • 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 6-8 tbls olive oil, divided
  • 1 white/brown onion, diced
  • 6-8 basil leaves, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (I used 1 1/2 tsp of this mix + 1 1/2 cups water)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups cubed bread (I used homemade whole wheat sourdough bread)

Instructions

  1. Puree the diced tomatoes (include the liquid in the can) until smooth. Strain out the seeds and pulp using a spoon or spatula and mesh strainer. Discard the seeds and pulp and set the liquid aside to add to the soup.
  2. In a medium sauce pan or Dutch oven, saute the onion in half of the olive oil over medium heat until softened.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the rest of the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and half of basil to the skillet and toss around to coat. Cook until the bread starts to get lightly browned, stirring often. Add some black pepper to taste.
  4. Add the rest of the basil to the onion and stir, continuing to cook (5-10 minutes total).
  5. Once the bread cubes are done, remove them from the pan and set on paper-towel lined tray to drain any excess oil off.
  6. Stir in the broth, tomato juice, and salt and pepper to taste. My vegetable broth mix already has salt in it, so I didn’t need additional salt. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove soup from heat and stir in bread cubes. Cover pan and let sit for about 5 minutes. Serve, topped with some shredded Parmesan if desired.

Ginger spice apple cake

6-inch ginger spice apple cake

When I read Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe, the recipe for Apple Snacking Spice Cake jumped out at me as a must-make. I made an apple cake once before that was delicious, but didn’t include the ginger and cloves.

I cut the recipe in half in order to use my smaller 6-inch cake pan, which I bought so we wouldn’t have so much cake sitting around the house. It came together really well at this size. It’s not too rich or sweet, and is a really pleasant little cake, somewhat similar to an unfrosted carrot cake. It would also be good with some vanilla ice cream, or perhaps a caramel sauce.

This recipe calls for some cake flour, but in the future I may try it with all soft white wheat flour and avoid the processed white flour.

Ginger spice apple cake

6-inch Ginger Spice Apple Cake

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Makes one 6-inch round cake. Adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang.

Ingredients

  • 70 grams soft white wheat flour
  • 45 grams cake flour
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/16 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 150 grams granulated sugar
  • 85 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 2 medium peeled, cored and chopped Granny Smith apples
  • 40 grams raisins
  • 50 grams pecan halves, toasted and chopped
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and put a rack in the middle. Prepare 6×3-inch cake pan by buttering and flouring the inside.
  2. Whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment (or beater blade), beat the granulated sugar and butter into the flour for about a minute or until it’s well mixed. Scrape down the sides as necessary.
  3. Add the egg, and mix on low for 10-15 seconds or until well mixed. Then beat on medium-high until the batter is light and fluffy (about a minute).
  4. Fold in the apples, raisins, and pecans. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like enough batter for the apples — once it bakes things balance out.
  5. Spread into cake pan and bake for 45 minutes or until it’s firm in the middle and a toothpick comes out clean. The top should be a medium to dark brown, and the center shouldn’t jiggle.
  6. Cool on a rack, in the pan, for about 15 minutes. As it cools, the cake will come away from the pan edges a bit and make it easy to overturn onto the rack. After removing it from the pan, turn it back over so it’s right-side up and dust with some confectioners’ sugar.
  7. Cover the cake well and store at room temp, eating within a few days, or wrap it well and freeze it for up to 2 weeks.