I was flipping through a cookbook the other day specifically packed with recipes that were good nutritional options for breastfeeding mothers (who knew there were such things?!). One of the foods the book kept talking about was lasagna. Apparently it’s a great balance of protein, carbs and fat that help keep Mom’s body firing on all cylinders. And, as a bonus, it’s an easy covered dish for folks to bring over when they want to visit, and it’s delicious for days and days as leftovers.
Makes sense to me. But I want to offer an alternative to the postpartum lasagna—spaghetti pie.
Now, I’ve made my fair share of lasagnas in my life, and many of them have even been very delicious, but I’ve never, ever been able to make a lasagna that takes less than two hours to put together. There is something about the structure and method to making lasagna that seems to make it the longest dish on the planet to make. It seems easy. Just a few layers of this and that, but by the time I actually pull the lasagna out of the oven (and let it set up for 15 minutes, so it isn’t a sloppy mess when I cut into it), it always seems like it’s 9pm, totally dark outside, and all I want to do is go to bed because I’m exhausted from lasagna-making. That’s where spaghetti pie comes in.
Spaghetti pie is like all the awesomeness of lasagna, without devoting an entire evening to the journey. Spaghetti pie is lasagna for a weeknight. And while it might not be as fancy pants as a perfectly-executed lasagna, it is just as delicious. Just as filling. And, I’d think, just as good of an option for new parents as a lasagna would be. And I say that as a new parent. Feel free to bring me spaghetti pie—I will not be disappointed in the least—in fact, I would feel better knowing you didn’t spend your entire evening working on a lasagna for me. Take the shortcut!
This recipe is tried-and-true—it’s one from my Mama’s recipe box and was my absolute favorite dinner growing up, and makes for some crazy awesome leftovers. Trust me, you want to make this.
Get all the flavor of lasagna without all the work in this pie-shaped Italian casserole. It’s a fun change of pace from the standard Italian fare!
- 6 ounces whole wheat spaghetti, cooked
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/3 cup grated (not shredded) Parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 pound ground beef or turkey
- 1/2 large onion, diced
- 1/2 large green pepper, diced
- 2 cups spaghetti sauce (about one jar—use your favorite)
- 3/4 cup ricotta or cottage cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 10” pie plate (a smaller one will work, but you might have some filling overflow—proceed with caution), set aside.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the spaghetti, butter, Parmesan cheese and eggs until well-combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie plate and form into a crust—the mixture will be a little gloppy, but do your best. Set aside.
- In a medium-sized skillet, brown the ground beef or turkey with the onion and green pepper until cooked through. Remove from heat, and drain on paper towels. Mix with the spaghetti sauce.
- Spread the ricotta or cottage cheese over top of the spaghetti “crust” and then top with the beef mixture.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until bubbly. Then sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese and bake an additional five minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
- Remove from oven and let cool and set up for at least 15 minutes before slicing. Cut into six pie-shaped slices and serve.
What’s your favorite dish to take to new parents?
We’re still in waiting mode here for the little one to make her arrival (Craig really wants it to be today because of the full moon/Friday the 13th thing—that apparently only happens every 50 years or so). I’m honestly doing just fine with playing the waiting game. I’m not the most comfortable I’ve ever been, but I’m definitely enjoying the extra free time. I’ve even had time to do some freezer filling! I know we’ll definitely appreciate some stashed foods in the coming weeks.
When I was thinking about what foods I wanted stashed in the fridge and freezer for post-baby, I knew I definitely wanted some comfort foods. Tuna casserole is one of those foods that I had so often as a kid, that it just screams “comfort!” to me. And when I got my first apartment as a young college kid, my Mama jotted down the recipe on a piece of paper so I could make sure to get some good old-fashioned comfort even though she wasn’t nearby.
The original recipe for this dish uses canned condensed soups to give it its creamy texture and tons of flavor. I’m not a huge fan of those soups because they’re mostly packed with artificial ingredients and tons and tons of sodium (and not a lot of nutrients). There are some all-natural versions out there, but at almost $5 a can, they mean making tuna noodle casserole is no longer an affordable comfort food, but a pricey gourmet dish!
Instead, I use my own versions of those condensed soups that are homemade, all-natural and way tastier. I actually make big batches of cream of chicken, creamy of celery and cream of mushroom soups and freeze them in “can-sized” portions just for dishes like these. Combine that with whole grain egg noodles and this dish is darn near health food.
I tripled this recipe and divided it between three square dishes for freezing and one for immediate eating. To freeze, I just line a square baking dish with overlapping, overhanging foil, and then fill with the mixture and toppings. Then, I just fold over the foil to make a seal, and pop the whole thing in the freezer for a few hours until solid. Then, I pop the casserole brick out of the square baking dish, and slide it into a labeled gallon zip-top bag (I make sure to label the bag with what the casserole is, when I made it and, most importantly, what baking dish it’ll fit back into).
Then, when it’s time to cook, I can just plop the frozen brick into the baking dish (foil and all) and either let it defrost completely in the fridge if I’m on top of things, or cook it from frozen for about an hour longer than the original cooking time. Whip up a fresh green side salad and dinner is served!
Makeover this classic casserole to be more health-friendly by using whole grain noodles and a healthy homemade version of the cream of celery soup—you’ll never go back to the canned stuff!
- 2 tablespoons buter
- 4 stalks celery, diced
- 1/2 large onion, diced
- 1/2 large green pepper, diced
- 8 ounces whole wheat egg noodles, cooked al dente
- 2-5 ounce cans tuna, drained
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 can (about 1-1/2 cups) cream of celery soup
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 425°. Grease a two quart casserole dish, set aside.
- Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until melted. Add in the celery, onion and green pepper and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the sautéed veggies, egg noodles, tuna, mayo, and salt. Set, aside.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the cream of celery soup and milk and heat over medium-high heat until heated through, about five minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese until melted. Add the mixture to the noodle mixture, tossing to coat.
- Pour mixture into the prepared casserole dish, top with breadcrumbs and bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and crunchy.
What’s your favorite comfort food?
I’m not sure if garlic scapes are a “thing” to anyone who doesn’t grow garlic (are they?) but, if you do grow garlic, you definitely know the joy of scapes. Scapes are the little curly cue shoots that come off of hardneck garlic plants in early summer. If you let them hang out on the plant, they’d eventually produce seed pods which could eventually turn into bulbs. But since the entire goal of growing garlic is to create a big ole plump garlic head below the ground, most garlic growers snip off these scapes when they show up to divert all that extra energy down to the root.
Some garlic growers just toss the scapes in the compost, but that’s a shame, because they’re definitely edible and totally delicious. They have a mild garlic flavor, but with a bit of brightness that you don’t normally find in just your regular clove of garlic. They definitely have a flavor all their own.
If you aren’t growing garlic (and why the heck aren’t you, it’s literally one of the easiest vegetables to grow), you can sometimes find scapes at your local farmer’s market. But the season is extremely limited. You might be able to go to the market one week and see dozens of vendors with scapes and no one will have them the next. Stock up while you can!
Scapes are also awesome because scape season means that the garlic harvest is right around the corner (it’s about a month after you snip off the scapes that the garlic is ready). And I love, love, love digging into the garlic bed and pulling up beautiful bunches of garlic. It’s definitely one of my favorite veggies to harvest. With each bulb, I just imagine all the delicious meals I’m going to make over the next year.
The “traditional” way to use garlic scapes is to turn them into a pesto. And it’s awesome. You just follow the normal way of making basil pesto, but sub in fresh scapes for the basil. It freezes well, and makes for a really delicious pasta dish come January when the possibility of fresh food from the garden has long been covered by snow and ice.
We snipped off the scapes from our garlic patch this week, and I did reserve some of the bunch for pesto-making, but I also wanted to try using the scapes in another way—biscuits. I’ve talked about it before here, but learning the proper method for making big, fluffy biscuits is a rite of passage in our family. And while it’s hard to beat the anything-but-standard buttermilk biscuits my Dad makes, I have to say, this scape and cheddar version is pretty high up on the yum-o-meter. It’s like Cheddar Bay Biscuits from Red Lobster (yup, I’m pulling out that reference) but 3000% more delicious.
I’m sure you could try to make these biscuits with whole wheat flour, but, gosh, I believe life is just too short to eat whole grain biscuits. There are a lot (most!) times in my kitchen where I’m fine with subbing in whole grains, but during biscuit-making isn’t one of them.
I served these biscuits for Sunday dinner with Ham ’n’ Beans and a big ole Mason jar full of sweet tea. Because that’s how we roll here in the Midwest.
These fluffy, tender biscuits are the perfect accompaniment to your favorite Sunday dinner. If you don’t have scapes around, subbing in fresh chives would work, as well.
- 3 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (the sharper, the better!)
- 1/3 cup chopped garlic scapes
- 1-1/2 sticks chilled butter, cut into chunks
- 1-2/3 cup buttermilk
- Additional flour for kneading
- Preheat oven to 400°. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt until well-mixed. Stir in the cheddar cheese and scapes.
- Using a pastry blender, two forks or your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter pieces are a touch smaller than a pea.
- Gently stir in the buttermilk, being careful not to over mix. The mixture will (and should!) be very sticky and liquidy.
- Heavily flour a work surface, and dump the dough onto the flour. Flour the top of the dough well, and then pat out until 1/2-inch thick. Fold the dough in half horizontally, then pat down again until 1/2-inch thick, adding more flour to cover sticky parts if necessary. Fold the dough in half vertically, then pat down again until 1/2-inch thick. Repeat this process 5-6 more times (this is creating the delicious, delectable layers that make the final biscuit so awesome).
- Flour a circle biscuit cutter or a drinking glass, and press straight down to cut the biscuit. Do not twist the cutter! Twisting “seals” the sides of the biscuit and stops it from rising. Just push straight down and bring the cutter straight up. Try to get as many biscuits out of this first cutting as possible, because when you regather the scraps, those won’t rise as nicely as the first go ‘round.
- Transfer the biscuit rounds to an ungreased baking sheet, and bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
Have you ever cooked with garlic scapes before?
Without going into too much detail that isn’t mine to share, let me just say that it’s been a rough week in our family. No worries, Craig, Baby J and myself (plus Puppyface and Kittyface) are all fine, but we have some loved ones who are going through some really rough times, and it’s just been a difficult week all around. In fact, Craig just got back yesterday from an emergency trip up to Canada. I’m so glad he was able to step away from home and get up there when his family needed him, but, selfishly, I am so glad he is back. Being nine months pregnant and having your husband in another country is not the most pleasant thing, but he was needed much more up north than I needed him at home.
We’re all doing a lot of healing over the events of this past week, and, as much as the diet books and talk show hosts will try to tell you otherwise, I actually think finding comfort in food isn’t a bad thing. The fact of the matter is, food is inherently comforting. Just physiologically, the senses that go along with eating something pleasant (taste, smell, even feel) can help bring up your serotonin levels and help you feel happier. Food can literally make you feel better. And I’m not above exploiting that fact when some comforting needs to be done.
I agree, that when you use food as a crutch too often (or in too big of quantities) it can become a problem—and is a problem for a lot of folks that struggle to control it. But just like everything in my life, I believe that moderation is key here. I’ve always said that I hate that emotional eating gets villainized. Emotional eating isn’t the problem. I believe there is nothing wrong with wanting some cozy mac and cheese after a tough day at work. Or heck, even wanting to celebrate a big occasion with a piece of decadent cake. The issue starts to come in when that emotional eating turns into emotional overeating (whether that be in literal quantity of food, or in the frequency with which you use eating to tame your emotions). Quite honestly, I don’t want to live in a world where my food isn’t tied up with my emotions—the emotions are what make food so incredible to me.
Anywho, these simple peanut butter cookies are pretty much the epitome of comfort food for me. There isn’t any one particular moment that made them into a comfort food, but a collection of happy memories. Growing up, we almost never had any “junk” foods in the house. No chips. No soda. No desserts. But quite often, when Mama and I would get the hankering to bake something, we’d whip up these peanut butter cookies. Why these cookies? Well, we always had the ingredients to make them on hand, and when you live far out in the middle of nowhere, you aren’t going to run to the store just to grab some speciality ingredients because you’re in the mood to bake. So peanut butter cookies became our go-to cookie recipe. The peanut butter cookie page in Mama’s Better Homes & Gardens cookbook became so worn out and stained that it eventually just fell out of the cookbook—which was okay, because we had the recipe pretty much memorized anyway.
I’m not much of a baker, but I would say there is something incredibly therapeutic about firing up the oven, mixing together some good ole butter and sugar with a wooden spoon, and popping a sheet of cookies in to bake. A lot of life’s problems can be solved with a batch of homemade cookies. And the ones that can’t, well, at least the ritual of baking can take your mind to another place for a while, which is sometimes all you can do.
These cookies are for anyone who needs a little bit of comforting today. May they bring you a little bit of joy and light during an otherwise dark time.
When it comes to comfort food, these peanut butter cookies are high up on my list. They come together quickly, taste amazing and use ingredients you probably already have on hand in your pantry.
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- Sugar and shelled peanuts for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375°. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar using either a wooden spoon, a hand mixer or a stand mixture until well-combined.
- Add in the baking soda, baking powder, egg, and vanilla. And mix together until well-combined. Then, add in the flour, working in three batches, until mixed well. It'll get hard to stir at the end!
- Using damp hands, roll the dough into 1-1/2" balls, then roll in sugar and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Using a damp fork, flatten the cookies using a crosshatch pattern, and then push in peanut halves. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Bake in preheated oven for about 7 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies just begin to darken—do not overbake! Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, and then transfer using a spatula onto paper towels or a cooling rack to cool completely. The cookies will still feel very soft when transfer them, but will solidify as they cool (this way you know they are chewy and yum!).
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens
What’s your go-to comfort food?
Okay, why did no one tell me that the end of pregnancy is crazy exhausting (okay, I’m sure someone did, I just didn’t listen)? I turned in my manuscript to my editor earlier this week (YAY!), and it’s like the second I pressed “send” on that email, my body said, “Cool, now that that’s done, we sleep.” I had this awesome plan that as soon as I finished my manuscript, I was going to do all the nesting in the world. I was going to sew. And fold baby clothes. And clean. And make tons of freezer recipes. As evidenced by my lack of posting, none of that has happened. I have been napping like a rockstar, though. You guys probably don’t want to see a post about napping, do you?
Anywho, while I haven’t really been checking things off my to-do list with the vigor I had hoped, I have been trying to keep up with making us good, yummy, nourishing meals. I figure that it’s going to be a while before I get back into the swing of cooking post-birth, so I should probably take advantage of cooking sans-baby while I can. And I’ve been all about the grill lately!
This is one of those recipes that I’m not sure it’s possible to convey its deliciousness through any amount of words or photographs. It tastes like everything that is good and right about summer in one big bowl.
I’m not kidding when I say I think I could alternate this with Grilled Herb and Tomato Flatbread every night between now and the end of September and be a completely happy girl. I like variety as much as the next person, but when you land on insane, simple yumminess, why mess with perfection?
I think the key to this pasta dish is using the freshest ingredients you can get your hands on. I wouldn’t try this with dried herbs or bottled lemon juice. The elements or so simple, that they really need to be the best they can be. We actually managed to get our hands on some (very early) tomatoes around here, and while they aren’t quite July-worthy tomatoes, they are still pretty darn good and add tons of flavor to this. And our fresh herbs are taking off like crazy just outside our kitchen door! I can’t wait to make this again in late summer with the freshest, most flavorful veggies I can grab from our garden.
Enjoy. I’m going to go take a nap. Yawn.
This veggie-packed pasta gets all it's flavor from fresh herbs, grilled veggies and a hefty dose of lemon and parmesan—it doesn't need any sauce!
- 1 large eggplant, sliced into planks
- 1 large zucchini, sliced into bite-sized chunks
- 1 large red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 large red onion, sliced
- 4 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 2 Portabella mushroom caps, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/3 cup each fresh minced basil, oregano and parsley
- Zest and juice of one lemon
- 1 pound whole grain penne, cooked and drained according to directions
- 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat grill to medium-high.
- Spread the eggplant planks onto a clean kitchen towel, and sprinkle liberally with coarse salt (don’t worry, this doesn’t make it taste salty, it just brings out any bitterness the eggplant may have). Let sit for 15 minutes, then rinse under cold water. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
- Toss together the eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, onion, tomatoes, mushrooms, and one tablespoon olive oil in a grill basket. Place on grill, and cook, stirring every 5 minutes, for about 15 minutes, or until veggies are all very tender.
- Remove from the grill, and in a large bowl, toss together the veggies with all remaining ingredients (including the remaining two tablespoons olive oil). Salt and pepper to taste.
What’s your favorite pasta dish?
Before I got pregnant, I didn’t think I’d really miss drinking—after all, I wasn’t a heavy or frequent drinker. But what I’ve realized is that I really enjoy the romantic ritual a good pint of craft beer or a perfectly crafted cocktail (and well, the taste rocks, too), and that ritual is something I’ve been missing, especially with warmer weather here.
So, I’ve been living in the world of mocktails! The mocktails give me the same romanticism of sipping on a regular cocktail, without any fear of harming the little human growing in my belly. It’s not quite the same, but it’s still fun to explore. And while I’ve yet to stumble onto a good virgin beer (yeah, right), I have stumbled onto some seriously delicious mocktail recipes. And this cucumber mojito is high up on the list.
I first tried a virgin cucumber mojito during our anniversary dinner, and it was such a fun and delicious combination of flavors, I knew I had to recreate it at home. I’ve been alternating this drink with virgin margaritas (I’ve just been blending organic margarita mix with ice) for a nice cocktail hour treat while sitting on the front porch. Of course, if you aren’t growing a baby, you can add rum to yours. I’m sure it’s even better that way!
This refreshing twist on the classic cocktail tastes great with or without the booze!
- Juice of one lime
- 2 sprigs mint, leaves removed from stem
- 1/4 cucumber, peeled and deseeded
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 ounces white rum, optional
- Club soda
- Cucumber slices, lime wedges or mint leaves for garnish
- Blend together the lime juice, mint, cucumber and honey in a blender until smooth. Fill a high ball glass with ice, pour cucumber mixture over top, add in rum if using, and fill glass with club soda. Garnish with cucumber slices, lime wedges or mint leaves.