veggie lasagna

I’m always a bit dubious when it comes to veggie lasagna as I’ve been to far too many banquets where that was the default vegetarian choice. Since after several bouts of food poisoning, I have become very picky about meat and fish dishes…banquets and potlucks are notorious places for cutting corners on safe food handling…anyway…I’ve tried many different versions of veggie lasagna and I do like this version. The recipe is on and it’s called Hearty Vegetable Lasagna. ( I made a few changes to the recipe to accomodate what I had on hand. I used tomato sauce which I doctored up by adding more basil and oregano instead of using jarred pasta sauce. I would also recommend adding a tad bit of either sugar or a small can of tomato paste next time and reduce the salt. I thought it was a bit salty. The mushrooms were terrific. I think that roasted eggplant slices would be a good addition for the future. I made it the day before I cooked it. Oh, and I generally use fewer lasagna noodles than the recipe calls for. The recipe calls for 16 oz of noodles. I used 10-12 pieces which is more like 10-12 oz. I just don’t like too much pasta. And, as a couple of reviewers mentioned, all you have to do is soak the lasagna noodles in very hot water. It was very good, one of the best I’ve had. And definitely use real ricotta cheese.

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Talking Tofurky

No, I didn’t misspell the word. Tofurky is a vegan product, a substitute for turkey, made from plant based protein, primarily soy protein. I’ve used the ground “meat” products for a while and they are really good. Today I’m going to try some Tofurky “bacon” slices. To give you an idea of how good they are, recently I used the ground “meat” product in tacos. I think I used vegan “chorizo”. I added a little bit of taco flavoring while I lightly sauteed it. Then, so that my husband wouldn’t get suspicious, I went ahead and filled the tacos before serving them. Often, I just put the ingredients out, and everyone makes their own, but while Tofurky looks alot like ground meat, there’s a slight difference, and I didn’t want anyone getting suspicious. So, I made the tacos and after he stuffed three of them down, and said that they were really good, I explained what the “meat” was. Very happy about it and he was particularly happy because it is so much lower in fat and calories. With him already having had two stents, we try to watch the saturated fat intake, along with calories. These were excellent. I filled the tacos with all the usual things: salsa, lettuce, onions, guacamole, a little cheese, all on top of the tofurky. Excellent. I highly recommend.

I’ve also used the ground “meat” product in soup. There’s a V-8 soup recipe that I make in the winter. We call it Aunt Winn’s soup after my sister, who introduced it to us. Normally it calls for some ground beef or turkey, but now I use tofurky and it’s great. Again, no one can tell the difference. The problem with alot of people I know is that the idea of not eating meat or in substituting tofu or soy based protein in place of meat is seen as being very strange. So, while I don’t want to be deceptive, and I always tell people after they’ve tasted it, and I almost always ask people about any food allergies before they eat at my house, but letting them taste it first and then revealing the true ingredient has convinced a number of folks that these are good products.

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The Most Wonderful Pork Roast

Well. If I do say so myself, the pork roast I made a few days ago was quite remarkable. It was a boneless pork shoulder, which I confess I had not ever cooked before, and, given that we were having friends over for dinner on Saturday evening,including a world class carnivore, I spent quite a bit of time deciding how to cook it. In the end, I think it turned out quite well and judging by the fact that my discerning carnivore guest had five helpings, I’m thinking our guests liked it as well. Essentially, I prepared a wet rub of oil, salt, chili powder, cumin, brown sugar, garlic, and grated ginger. That went on several hours before the roast went into the oven. I think there was a tiny bit of flour in that mix too and also some dry mustard. I retied the meat and let it hang out in the fridge for several hours. It went into a 300 degree oven, and I covered it with foil. It was a four 1/3 pound roast, and cooked about five hours. If I were doing it again, I’d probably give it six hours at 275. Every hour or so, I checked it and after the first hour, I poured some apple cider over the surface (the meat was on a rack). Then I alternated between cider, port wine, and sherry. When the meat was done, I let it rest awhile before slicing thin with an electric knife. AWESOME.

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Bulgur with Lentils

Sometimes when Monday rolls around, I think that maybe I can skip “Meatless Monday” or that I’ll make something using only a tiny amount of meat and then I feel guilty about that (because, after all, I did pledge to go meatless on Mondays on the Meatless Monday website). Bulgur with lentils is one of my go-to meals on days like that when I feel uninspired. This meal, however, is excellent, and is one that I often double so that there will be some leftover for lunch or another meal or both. This will be in my new cookbook, Helen’s Turkish Table, which will hopefully be finished this year. This recipe is a preview.

It may not sound all that exciting, but the combination is magical. It’s a Turkish dish, one that you might not find in restaurants, and maybe only in homes in eastern Turkey. Here’s how to make it.

1/2 cup green lentils
1 c. water
1 cup large grained bulgur
1 1/2 c. water or stock
2 T. unsalted butter
3 T. vegetable oil
1 tsp.salt
1 T. tomato paste
1 large onion, cut in half and sliced vertically into thin slices
1-2 T. oil for frying onion
For serving:
plain yogurt
red pepper flakes

Place the lentils in the 1 cup water in a small pan. Bring to boil, then cut down to simmer and cook covered until lentils are tender and have absorbed most of the water. Be sure to watch carefully so that they don’t boil over or scorch. Add more water if necessary. Let cool.

When ready to make the pilav, in a medium saucepan melt the butter and add the oil until butter is melted and the oil and butter are sizzling. Add the bulgur and stir well and cook, stirring for a couple of minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and salt, then add about 2/3 c. of drained and cooked lentils. Stir in the water or stock, bring the whole mixture to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and let simmer on low for about 25 minutes. Remove from heat, place a paper towel or napkin between the lid and the pan and allow to rest in a warm place while you prepare the onions. Being careful to keep the pan away from any stray paper towel from the bulgur pan, heat the 1-2 T. oil in a small frying pan. When hot, add in the sliced onions and cook on medium high heat until onions are browned. Remove to a paper towel lined plate.

Makes about 4-5 servings. Top each serving of pilav with fried onions. Pass plain yogurt and red pepper flakes. Serve with a simple green salad.

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What an amazing dish. I frequently order falafel when eating at a Middle Eastern restaurant but for some reason had never made them at home. Boy, is that going to change. These may move into the rotation. I went on line to look for recipes and found several. Essentially one combines cooked chickpeas, onion, garlic, spices, egg, parsley, cilantro, a little flour and some baking powder and mix into a paste, one which is not completely smooth. Some versions call for bread crumbs, others not. Most call for ground coriander, which I didn’t have, so I added more cumin, and more cilantro. I will buy some ground coriander but it turned out great without it. Chill down the paste, shape into balls, roll in flour, slightly flatten and fry. YUM. Served on top of lettuce and garnished with tomatoes, parsley, and garlic yogurt, that is one great meal.

One thing to note. You can use either canned or dried chickpeas that you press oak and cook yourself. I prefer the dried ones. It is important to cook the chickpeas until they are very tender as this will result in a silken creamy texture. Length of cooking time depends on the age of the beans so just start testing after about 45 minutes.

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Miss J.

There’s an older lady I sometimes encounter who works as a cashier at local chain. She doesn’t work too many hours or too many days because she has severe physical limitations from multiple sclerosis. She really impacted me yesterday and we connected, as one of the other workers went to go find a price for something I wanted to buy. I’ll call her Miss J. She is quite amazing. I’d noticed her before her illness got so bad. She was always friendly and connected with the customers she served. She’s kind of motherly or grandmotherly, depending on how old one is. I’ve never seen her negative or snappy. Given the people I encounter who are negative and critical for virtually no reason whatsoever, here’s a woman one could understand if she complained. But she doesn’t. And, I have to hand it to the store. Some places would find a way to fire an employee who might be a smidgen slower packing things in a bag. No, the other employees all seemed protective of her and willing to do a little extra to help her out. What a delight.

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Food and community

It’s interesting  how community is so often built around food. Breaking bread together is the way we form relationships and bond. The people I know the best are the people with whom I’ve eaten, whether that’s lunch, breakfast, dinner, or just a coffee and some cookies. I’d venture to say that all cultures have strong traditions surrounding food and friendship, and I’m wondering if having others around with whom to share food in some way contributes to the nourishment we receive. When we eat alone, day after day after day…or if we eat on the run…as so many do…gulping down food on the way to a meeting, or racing to work…is that food absorbed differently from that which is savored and enjoyed while conversing with a companion? In our increasingly technology-dependent society, are we trading in-person relationships for on-line ones and, in the process, losing something very important? Is it possible that the obesity epidemic relates not just to what we eat but also how we eat, i.e., on auto-pilot and alone? 

Friendships require personal interaction and sharing to grow. It takes time, trust, a willingness to share and take risks in order to grow a meaningful friendship. This happens easily over a meal or shared snack. Over time as this is repeated and grows, expands, and includes others in a developing network, it becomes the basis of community. 

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new ideas in the new year

back to writing in the new year. realizing that writing is important for me. key vehicle of expression. and so many new ideas. Had lunch with a friend on Saturday and she voiced something using exactly the same words that I would have used had I spoken first. We were talking about being non-vegetarians but enjoying vegetarian food. She said that when she eats vegetarian she feels lighter. Not as in body weight, but just lighter. Exactly the way I feel. I don’t know why this is. It may be that it is easier for our bodies to digest vegetarian food and that meat is more difficult. I’ve really noticed how much different I feel when I go meatless. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the sensation of fullness. Yesterday I made falafel for the first time. OMG, what a wonderful food that is. and definitely filling. Made me wish I had more room so I could eat more. I felt full but not heavy.


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Oktoberfest, Helen Style

Yes, who knew the little gem in Georgia? I stumbled upon this quite by accident, when I saw something about cabins and hiking at the Unicoi State Park in Northern, Ga. We like to go on weekend hiking trips with our friends Jane and Gary. We try to find places that have great hiking and then fun places to visit in the evenings. Well. We found that Unicoi is located just outside Helen, Ga (and who could resist a town with such a great name?). Jane discovered that Helen is the home of one of the longest Oktoberfests in the Southeast. So off we went and what fun we had. To save money, we take things for breakfast and lunch or buy sandwich makings while there. In Helen we bought some absolutely delicious Westphalian ham from Hofer’s of Helen Bakery & Cafe. We stayed in a lovely home rented through VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) ( that was located close to downtown. We could have walked downtown but after all the hiking we took a car and had a designated driver. The town is very quaint- it looks like a Bavarian village and has a Festhalle complete with a German oompah band and beer, of course. We checked out the Troll Tavern (located conveniently under the bridge by the river) and liked it so much we went back the next night. We also went to a couple of restaurants. The restaurants were fine, but the addition of a couple of really outstanding restaurants could be a good thing. There were lots of shops.

The hiking was excellent. Friday afternoon we hiked Dukes Creek Trail which was beautiful. Saturday we did Anna Ruby Falls, doing the short hike up to the falls and then taking half of the longer trail up the mountain. Given the 1000 ft elevation change, you can’t really walk that fast and so we just got to the summit, had a picnic, turned around and returned. Of course, coming down is as difficult as going up. Some of the members of our group are veritable mountain goats, others (ahem) not so much, but it was alot of fun.

After getting back to the house and cleaning up, Jane and I went downtown and checked out a bunch of shops. There are all sorts of places and by no means did we visit as many as we would have wanted. One place we liked quite a bit was the olive oil store…the Alpine Olive Tree ( Dozens of types of olive oils and balsamic vinegars are sold there, along with misters. They pack gift packs and are most helpful.

All in all, this was a great trip.

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The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley

I finished reading this book a few days ago. It is one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while. It is a memoir, but one which provides much food for thought, observations re life, and an illumination into the world of expat living and adapting. Perhaps most meaningful for me was Ms. Conley’s reflections on how a serious illness separated her from others. Her descriptions of the food she encountered in Beijing and surrounding areas as well as the word portraits of the Chinese countryside will have you salivating and booking a ticket. Anyone who is contemplating moving a family for an overseas stint would do well to read this book. I lived overseas for nearly five years and have travelled back and forth since. Have also taught courses to help college students prepare for study abroad. This book does a good job depicting the vicissitudes of emotion that accompany living in a different culture for a significant length of time. 

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