Tag Archives: bell pepper

Meatless Monday: Slow Cooker Veggie Lasagna

Vegetable lasagna is one of my favorite cold weather comfort foods, especially when autumn vegetables like zucchini are abundant. It’s a great meatless main dish, too, because it is filling and pairs perfectly with a quick salad. However, it can be difficult to make lasagna on weeknights since the traditional preparation is so time consuming– up to an hour of hands-on time!

This easy vegetable lasagna recipe avoids many of the pitfalls of traditional preparation by utilizing some useful short-cuts to save time.  Instead of parboiling the noodles and assembling the casserole in a baking dish, we’ll layer sauce, cheese, veggies and raw lasagna noodles right in a slow cooker. Since the slow cooker retains more moisture than traditional oven cooking, there is enough liquid in the casserole to completely cook the noodles right in the dish. There’s no need to use special no-boil noodles, either. Plain raw lasagna noodles are just fine.

Another time saver I like to use for this recipe is my food processor. I use the grater attachment to process my raw veggies for the dish in much less time than it would take to grate or dice them by hand. These veggies blend right into the pasta sauce of the lasagna and give the dish a rich texture and flavor, without adding distinguishable chunks of vegetables. If your family likes chunkier veggie lasagna, by all means cook the recipe as directed with chopped veggies an it will turn out great. Either way, the total prep time for this lasagna should take less than half an hour.

Slow Cooker Vegetable Lasagna (serves 8 )
adapted from “Slow Cooker Lasagna” by BettyCrocker.com

15-ounces ricotta cheeese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups shredded vegetables: your choice of onions, broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, peppers, or greens. One large zucchini and half of a large onion yield about 2 cups.
10 lasagna noodles, about 1/2 of a 1 lb. package
24-ounce jar organic pasta sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

In a large bowl, mix together ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg, oregano, and garlic powder.

Shred or chop the vegetables of your choice. Break the lasagna noodles into approximately 1/3-noodle sized pieces with your hands, so that they will fit easily into the crock pot.

Use a ladle to scoop about 1 cup of sauce into the slow cooker. Place a single layer of noodles on the sauce. Layer 1 cup of shredded vegetables on top of the noodles, followed by half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Repeat the sauce-noodle-vegetable-cheese layers. Cover this with the remaining noodles. Ladle the remaining sauce over the casserole and sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the top. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours, until noodles are tender and most of the liquid in the casserole has been absorbed.

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Local Box Picnic: Allen Park

Unless you live in the Far West neighborhood of Austin, chances are that you’ve never heard of Allen Memorial Park. This hilly little hiking spot is tucked near an office park west of MoPac near Far West. There are no playgrounds or sports fields at Allen Park; its main draw is the well-kept trail, clean picnic areas, and a real sense of seclusion.

Trail at Allen Memorial Park in Austin, Texas
Nearly a mile of gravel trail twists through the park. Some hills are very steep, while other parts of the trail are relatively flat overlooking the city. Although sounds of MoPac traffic hum throughout the park, a thick layer of foliage helps the trails feel set apart from the surrounding city. My husband and I were the only visitors at the park at dinner time on the Fourth of July.

 

The wide, gravelled trail starts at Allen Park’s parking lot and ascends up a rocky scramble to a large picnic area. Besides this larger picnic spot, there are at least six separate picnic tables near the entrance of the park.  Each table is located in its own paved clearing, and some have a charcoal grill nearby. (As of this post, these grills are covered and unusable because Travis County is under a burn ban.) Although it’s not a long walk from one picnic area to the next, each clearing is separated by dense greenery and windy trails. We chose to dine at this picnic table, which overlooks the Northwest Hills neighborhood to the west.

For dinner I made some easy summer salads with Local Box ingredients from Hillside Farm, Massey Farm and Tecolote Farm.  The highlight of the meal was a spicy corn & black bean salad, studded with Juliet tomatoes and topped with Cotija cheese.  The best part of this recipe– besides the tomatoes– is a spicy jalapeno vinaigrette dressing. To get an even level of high heat throughout the salad, I use a blender to liquify a whole jalapeno pepper and a clove of garlic into the dressing. This technique ensures a high level of heat without worrying about whole jalapeno seeds creating “hot spots” throughout the salad. I also don’t have to bother with wearing gloves as I mince the pepper by hand– a huge plus.

 


 

Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad (serves 6)

Salad:
3 ears of fresh corn on the cob
1, 15-ounce can black beans
1 medium red onion
1 medium bell pepper
1 pint Juliet tomatoes
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1/4 cup crumbled Cotija cheese
lime wedges to garnish

Dressing:
1 garlic clove
1 large jalapeno pepper
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and bring water to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, remove the shucks and silks from the ears of corn. Wash and dry the corn, then cut the kernels off of the cob. Cook the kernels of corn for about three minutes in boiling water, until they are tender-firm. Drain the corn and set aside to cool.

Peel and dice the onion. Remove the ribs and seeds from the bell pepper, and dice the remaining flesh. Slice Juliet tomatoes in half.  Place them in a large salad bowl along with the minced onion, bell pepper and sliced tomatoes. Chop off the tough stems from the bunch of cilantro. Chop the remaining leaves and add to the salad, stirring to combine.

To make the dressing, peel the garlic and slice the top stem off of the jalapeno pepper. Put the whole garlic clove and decapitated pepper– seeds, ribs and all– into the blender along with the remaining ingredients. Pulse on “liquify,” or your blender’s highest speed, for about three minutes, until all the pepper seeds have been obliterated and the dressing is emulsified. No blender? Peel and crush the garlic with a garlic press. Remove the stem, ribs and seeds from the jalapeno and mince it by hand. Whisk the crushed garlic and minced pepper together with the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.

Pour the prepared dressing over the salad and mix well. Top with crumbled Cotija cheese and garnish with lime wedges before serving. This salad keeps well in the refrigerator and tastes better the second day, although the tomatoes will not be as vibrant red by then.

Cowpea Salad

I love cooking with cowpeas. They’re versatile and easy to work with, and undeniably pretty. I seek them out at summer farmer’s markets, and I rejoice when they arrive in our Local Box. Lucky for me, cowpeas are a heat loving crop that flourishes in Austin’s hottest months.

There are several varieties of cowpeas growing in Central Texas:  black eyed, lady cream, and purple hull peas are some of the most common. Cowpeas are usually removed from their hulls before they are sold at market, packed in snack-sized plastic baggies with about 1.5 cups of loose peas per package. All the varieties of cowpeas in Austin are recognizable by their pale color, kidney shape and the signature darkened “eye” at their center.


In my experience, each variety of cowpea can be used interchangeably in recipes. Lightly-steamed cowpeas can also substitute for cooked English peas or white beans in many preparations. My friend Megan at Stetted likes to eat them raw as a snack, and they are stewed with tomatoes and jalapenos in traditional Southern dishes.

The inspiration for this cowpea recipe came from Blue Star Cafeteria, a little restaurant in the Rosedale neighborhood of Austin. Among other things, they serve a terrific shrimp cocktail with homemade pea salad and saltines on the side. Pure comfort food. I order that dish every time we visit, and while I’ll happily share the shrimp, I save all that creamy pea salad for myself.

I recreated Blue Star’s pea salad at home substituting purple hull peas from Pleasant Hill Farm in Leander, Texas, for the green English peas they use at the restaurant. Like most good comfort food, this dish is straightforward to make and relies on good ingredients for its success. The most important thing to get right is obviously the peas– very fresh cowpeas are tender and have a creamy texture when they’re cooked. Minced red onion and red bell pepper give the salad sweetness and bite, and a simple mayonnaise dressing and cheddar cheese add richness.This salad is what I imagine eating at the church potluck of my dreams.

I usually find serving salads in vegetable cups to be a little extravagant for our weeknight suppers. However, I plated this salad in a hollowed out red pepper on a whim and I’m glad I did. After an hour of chilling in the refrigerator, the pepper added extra heat and sweetness to the salad, welcome flavors on a hot evening.

Purple Hull Pea Salad

 

Cowpea Salad (yields four side-dish servings)
1 1/2 cups fresh black-eyed peas, purple hull peas or lady cream peas
1/2  red onion
1/2  red bell pepper
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon peppper
1/3 cup finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Whole red bell peppers for serving, if desired

Bring to a boil three cups of water in a medium saucepan. Prepare the cowpeas by rinsing them and picking out any leaves or darkened, soft peas from the rest. Once the water is boiling, add the cowpeas to the pot and cook uncovered for six minutes. Drain the peas and set them aside to cool.

Mince the onion and red bell pepper. Grate the cheese, if necessary. In a large bowl, mix together the minced vegetables, mayonnaise, mustard and shredded cheese. Once the cowpeas are cooled completely, add them in too. (Remember, warm cowpeas will melt the grated cheese, so be patient and let them cool completely!) Season the salad with salt and pepper and refrigerate it for at least an hour before serving.

To make red pepper cups: shop for wide, regularly shape bell peppers with flat bottoms. Cut the top off each bell pepper and pull out the ribs and seeds. Fill the pepper cup it with salad. That’s it! Simplest fancy pants garnish ever.

Kathryn

Local Box Picnic: Montopolis Sports Complex

The second weekend in our picnic adventure took my husband and me to far east Austin. We stumbled upon the Montopolis Youth Sports Complex when we were looking for Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park on Saturday night.

After a jaunt east on Airport Boulevard from I-35 and a winding drive through the Montopolis neighborhood, Rami and I found ourselves at 400 Grove Boulevard, the address registered with Google Maps for Guerrero Park.There is a parking lot and some trailheads that lead into Guerrero Park at that address, but the more obvious landmark there is this lovely sports area. Montopolis Youth Sports Complex has a few baseball fields with concession stands and bleachers, a batting cage and a small playground. We counted six picnic tables at the park, situated near trash cans at the edges of each playing field.

There are lots of tall trees at the park, and most of the recreation areas around the baseball fields are in full or partial shade. It’s obvious from the manicured lawns and clean trails that the Montopolis Sports Complex is well cared for, and it’s probably very busy during baseball, softball and tee-ball seasons. However, we were the only souls there at dinner time on Saturday night.

The menu for this week’s picnic featured tons of local veggies in various salad preparations. We were gluten free except for some pita bread and vegan, since I forgot my bacon-laden potato salad at home:

These salads were a really easy picnic menu since I was able to make most of them ahead of time during the week. I don’t know what I was thinking packing pickled beets on a picnic. They taste awesome, but the magenta beet juice threatened to stain our orange picnic blanket with every bite!

The wax beans and green beans from Acadian and Tecolote Farms were the standout ingredients in this week’s picnic. I used these fresh treasures in place of canned green beans in my favorite four bean salad recipe.

Four Bean Salad (serves 6)
One bunch fresh green beans
One bunch fresh wax (yellow) beans
15 oz. can garbanzo beans
15 oz. can kidney beans
Two green bell peppers, seeded and ribbed
Red or purple onion
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup red wine or cider vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation: trim ends off of green and yellow beans, then snap beans into bite-sized pieces.Bring a scant inch of salted water to a boil in a large saute pan. Add fresh beans, cover and cook for about five minutes, until beans are tender. Drain the beans and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, open and drain canned beans. Chop the bell peppers and onion into small pieces.  In a small bowl, whisk together oils, vinegars, sugar, salt and pepper. Put all the beans, onion and pepper into a large salad bowl and pour dressing over the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.

Scrambled Tofu

This right here is the breakfast of champions. Seriously. It’s a great mixture of protein and vegetables, perfect for starting your day off right. As you can imagine, it’s easily customizable with any combo of veggies and herbs you want to try, and it reheats surprisingly well. I make a big batch on Sunday nights and eat it for breakfast during the week.

You might be a bit skeptical about scrambling tofu, and I don’t blame you. But if you like tofu at all, you need to give this a shot because, as famous vegan chef Isa Moskovitz says, tofu really is made to be scrambled. It has a great texture that’s similar to scrambled eggs, and a little bright-yellow turmeric even makes it look a little eggy. I thawed some frozen tofu for this batch, which is why it looks a little breadlike in the pictures above. This is a particularly good way to use frozen tofu, as you don’t notice its altered texture very much (frozen tofu is much more chewy and spongy than fresh tofu).

Let me know what you think, and if you try any other veggie/herb combos.

Scrambled Tofu (adapted from The Post-Punk Kitchen)

1 lb. extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium chopped onion (about a cup)
2 portabella mushroom caps, diced (or 2 cups cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced)
1 bell pepper, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional)*
juice of 1/2 a lime (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Spice Blend
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (regular is fine, but I love the smokiness this adds)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in skillet over medium-high. Saute onions 3 minutes, until softened. Add mushrooms, saute 5 minutes more. Add garlic, saute 2 minutes more. Add spice blend and mix it up for 15 seconds or so. Add 1/4 cup water and deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom to get all the garlic and spices.

Crumble in tofu and mix well, but don’t stir it to death. You want it to remain chunky. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding splashes of water if necessary to keep it from sticking too much. Add lime juice. Add nutritional yeast, if using, and mix it up. If it seems too dry add splashes of water. Stir in cilantro.

*Nutritional yeast adds a pleasant, nutty flavor. Vegans often use it as a substitute for hard cheeses like Parmesan. It is NOT the same as the yeast you use for baking. You can find it in the bulk bins at bigger grocery stores or Whole Foods.

Summer Squash Tacos

Veggie tacos are a great way to use up lots of produce because you can put almost anything spicy in a tortilla and- voila!- tacos!  These tacos combine traditional harvest vegetables- sweet corn, summer squash, onions- with spicy peppers, tart lime, and salty Cotija cheese.  The squash and peppers in these are straight out of this week’s Greenling Local Box.  I had onions and limes on hand from previous deliveries, and the corn was a surprise!

Let me explain.  The “surprise me!” is an under-publicized item on the Greenling website, and one of my favorite ways to stretch my grocery budget. When you add a $2 “surprise me” item to your shopping cart, Greenling will include a portion of whatever they have extra of that day.  Sometimes it’s produce, sometimes eggs, sometimes cheese or other artisan treats. The “surprise me” item is listed in the fruit and vegetable areas of the website, or you can just search for “surprise” and find it that way. Last week I added two “surprise me” items to our Local Box order and I got 2 ears of sweet corn and a few beets.  Even though I didn’t plan for those items, it has been easy to fit them into my meal plan and I saved several dollars over the regular price of the produce.  Okay, public service announcement over– I hope you enjoy these delicious tacos!

Summer Squash Tacos (serves 2, doubles or triples easily)
Adapted from “Veggie Tacos” by Elise Bauer on SimplyRecipes.com

Filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 ear sweet corn, cut off the cob
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 Serrano pepper, seeded and minced
1 summer squash, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder or 1/2 clove fresh garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Tortillas and toppings:
4 tortillas
4 very thin slices jack cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 lime, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons crumbled Cotija cheese (Feta or Chevre works well, too)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and peppers; cook until onions are translucent and peppers are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add corn, squash and dried seasonings, and cook for about 3 minutes, until corn starts to get tender and squash is heated through. (I like the corn to be crunchy!) When veggies have reached desired tenderness, add chopped cilantro to the skillet and stir to distribute. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

For toppings, chop fresh cilantro and jack cheese into chunks.  Heat tortillas individually with a little oil in a skillet, or by wrapping the stack of  tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwaving for about 10 seconds.  Spoon vegetable filling into warm tortillas and top with jack cheese and cilantro.  Crumble a little Cotija cheese over the top, and garnish with a squirt of fresh lime juice.  I like to serve these by stacking the tortillas on top of each other and putting the whole mound of toppings on top.

Chicken-Orzo Soup

I have a sick toddler at home right now, so this weekend I took a stab at creating my own version of chicken noodle soup. I used whole-wheat orzo pasta for easy scooping (I hate it when the noodles are so long they fall off of the spoon), and added several vegetables I had in the fridge, including a big bunch of Greenling arugula – an unusual choice, but it blended right in, and it never hurts to work in extra veggies.

I like a high stuff-to-broth ratio in my soup, so this one is pretty thick. Feel free to add more liquid if you like your soup more brothy.

Chicken-Orzo Soup

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (about half a large onion)
1 carrot, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 bunch arugula leaves, chopped
1 bunch mustard greens, stems removed, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (or 2-3 smaller sweet peppers, like banana)
1 tsp dried sage
1 cup whole-wheat orzo
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil over medium-high heat in large Dutch oven. Add chicken and season with salt and pepper. Cook for several minutes, until the pieces start to brown. Add veggies and sage and cook another 10 minutes or so, until the veggies start to tenderize.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Stir in orzo, return to a boil, and cook 8-10 minutes, until orzo is tender.