summer vegetable lasagna

This recipe I’m sharing today is a fresh and healthy twist on a classic, tried and true favorite – the lasagna.

Now, before all you pasta purists rise up against me, hear me out. Because, don’t think for one second that I don’t love lasagna…I do, I really do! In fact, this is probably one of the classic dishes that as I child I absolutely loathed {ricotta cheese? that was beyond my taste buds then…things have changed now!}. I don’t know what transformed it over the years, but now it’s a total comfort dish, perfect for chilly fall evenings and those blustery winter nights that practically scream “you know you want to make and devour some lasagna!”

But here I go, digressing from the above-mentioned recipe. Getting back on track, y’all; it’s the end of summer, it’s still HOT, and honestly, I’m okay with turning on my oven. But, here’s where it gets a bit tricky – a big, heavy, carb-y pasta dish does not sound that appealing. So I do what I always do….poke around in the kitchen until I find something to make it work. And here enters my plethora of vegetables.

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I know that vegetable lasagna is really nothing new; in fact, if you Google it, so many hits will come up that your head will start to spin. So as I mentioned, I nixed the recipe-searching and came up with my own. We’re basically taking some of the more well-known concepts for building a veggie lasagna, but incorporating a few of my staples into it.

And we’re making it healthy and light! Noodles are replaced with thinly sliced zucchini and eggplant. Canned tomatoes are replaced with hearty slices of garden-ripened fresh tomatoes. And the cheese sauce? We’re using my favorite: my tofu sauce, with some tweaks! Once all baked together, in its bubbly and satisfying glory, it’s divine. So much so that I wish I had doubled the recipe for some freezer meals, because…yeah…we ate the whole pan. In one night.

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Summer Vegetable Lasagna {original recipe, serves 4}

An updated healthy twist on an old favorite! By swapping out noodles for veggies and tofu for cheese {or the majority of it}, we’re basically baking up a vitamin and protein packed entree! Feel free to adjust the seasonings to your taste buds; I think some hot pepper flakes would be wonderful. 

Ingredients {for the “noodles”}:

1 large zucchini

1 large yellow squash

4 large, vine-ripened tomatoes

kosher salt

*special equipment: mandolin {if you don’t have one, simply make thin slices using a sharp chef’s knife}, baker’s sheet lined with paper towels, 9″ x 9″ glass baking dish, food processor 

Ingredients {for the sauce}:

1 block tofu, coarsely chopped

1 large white onion

1 egg, slightly beaten

2-3 cloves garlic

1 tsp. basil

1 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. rosemary

3 to 4 tbsp. nutritional yeast

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

Toppings:

nutritional yeast

fresh grated cheese {optional}

bread crumbs

extra virgin olive oil

Prepare the “Noodles”:

Using a mandolin set on the 1/4″ thickness of the flat blade, slice both the zucchini and the yellow squash, making sure to stop before reaching the center seed pods. Lay all the slices on the paper-towel-lined baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt.

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Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and slice into thin strips. Lay on the paper-towel-lined baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt.

The goal of salting the vegetables while prepping the other ingredients is to draw out the moisture. After about 10 minutes, blot the first side very well with another towel, making sure to remove any additional salt. Flip the vegetables over, salt the other side, and leave to sit for another 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat the process of blotting and removing additional salt. Set aside. 

*because we are being more liberal with salt than usual {not all of it will be removed when blotting}, I opted to omit the salt from the sauce we’ll be making. Feel free to adjust to your taste buds as needed, though! 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and spray a 9″ x 9″ glass baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

Prepare the Sauce:

Add a few teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil into a medium saucepan. Once the oil is hot, coarsely chop the onion and garlic, and add into the pan. Cook until the onions are translucent and they are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add in the herbs and cook for another few minutes, allowing the flavors to marry. Remove from heat.

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In the bowl of your food processor, add in the block of tofu. Top with the cooked vegetables, and puree for 5 minutes, taking care to scrape down the sides to make sure all chunks are eliminated – you’re looking for a consistency similar to ricotta cheese. Add in the nutritional yeast, and blend for another minute. The longer it processes, the smoother it gets; this also helps it cool down quickly!

Once all blended, add the sauce into a mixing bowl. Fold in the egg, making sure it’s fully incorporated.

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Prepare the Lasagna:

In the baking dish, ladle in a small amount of sauce.

Add in the first layer of squash “noodles”, then top with slices of tomato. Ladle on sauce in an even layer. Repeat until you have done about 2-3 layers…you want to finish with the sauce on top.

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Sprinkle with bread crumbs and nutritional yeast {and cheese, if using}, then drizzle with olive oil.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes, then increase the heat to 400 degrees for the last 15 minutes.  You’ll want the top to be a nice golden brown, and you’ll notice how bubbly the sides of the dish are.

Remove from heat and allow to cool about 5 to 10 minutes before slicing to serve.

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Let’s Discuss: Do you have any funky twists on lasagna, or other classic pasta dishes? If so, please share!

challenge accepted! creating the perfect grilling package

For many, the passing of Labor Day signifies the end of summer and with that – the end of grilling season. In our household, however, we prefer to live on the edge and keep the grill going for as long as we can! Cooler temperatures and slightly crisper breezes, in my opinion, only make the allure of grilling even more fun!

So today, on this wonderful Sunday, we’re talking grilling. And not just any grilling, but our must-haves for outdoor cooking. The super cool company that is Man Crates│Gifts for Men has presented me with the opportunity to put together my box of essentials for grilling, and to that I say – “challenge accepted!”.

Before we dive in, let’s talk for a minute about their manifesto and what they offer, shall we? If you visit their website, you’re first and foremost greeted with their manifesto, which I happen to adore. Stated simply, it reads:

“We say ‘no’ to ugly neckties, cologne samplers and executive trinkets. We don’t save wrapping paper, we don’t do ribbons. We ship bragworthy gifts for guys. Gifts that you can’t wait to arrive because you know the recipient will love opening them. Gifts that people gather round at the office, people following the sounds of wood being torn from wood by the included, laser-engraved crowbar. We are Man Crates, and we deliver awesome gifts for men.”

Talk about awesome, right? It didn’t take too much thought or pondering over here, because this is such a fun challenge! And like I said, we spend a good amount of time outside on the back porch, grilling and chilling, so I decided to go in the direction of what could only further heighten the already epic event that is grilling. So let’s go on ahead and crack open my perfect crate, shall we?

1. Fun Coozies – we collect coozies in our house, so I’d love to be surprised in my crate with funky, offbeat ones. The goofier the saying, the better!

2. Cards Against Humanity – the ultimate crowd pleasing game. And after a cocktail or two, it gets even more fun!

3. Sensational Grillables – local meats and veggies, perhaps some stone fruit to top with soft cheese for after the main course….heavenly.

4. Craft drinks – this is a must. The hubs prefers his craft beers, while I lean more towards the wine and spirits side. So my crate would have both! When everyone is happy, everyone wins!

5. A football and other lawn games – what festivity would be complete without some games? Tossing around a football is pretty classic and never gets old {duh}, but it’s fun to mix it up with a little bocce ball, corn hole, perhaps some redneck golf, and maybe even horseshoe!

6. Assorted magazines – for when us ladies need a break from running around with the guys. We’re entitled to a little gossip every now and then, no?

7. Upbeat tunes – every good grilling sesh needs the appropriate music to set the tone for the day! I am a huge fan of all sorts of music {give me anything with a good beat!}, but I tend to gravitate towards more country music than anything else when working over the grill top.

8. Custom grilling tools – I’d love to have a beautiful set of stainless steel utensils {tongs, flipper, trays in assorted sizes, and pots and pans to use solely outside}. Not only are they functional, but I like to think of them as working art!

9. Mountable TV – a girl can dream, right? Because we’re right at the start of football season, this would make for the ultimate Sunday afternoon game experience.

10. Festive candles/torches/lights – it’s all about ambiance, am I right? I love to have an assortment of outdoor lighting when we’re posting up outside, as I really think it helps to set the vibe of the evening. Being able to choose based on your event would make it even more fun!

Thanks so much to the team over at Man Crates for the challenge!

Let’s Discuss: what would YOU put in your dream Man Crates?! Check  out their spot – I’d love to know! 

summer popsicles

I have lots and lots of frozen fruit in my fridge from earlier this season, just waiting to be blended up and poured into adorable little molds.

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I promise y’all, it doesn’t get much simpler than this! If you’re looking for a way to use up {and healthfully, I might add!} and overload of summer produce, you have come to the right place.

For the past several summers, I’ve been a popsicle-making freak. Odd combinations of fruits and veggies are the least of my worries when it comes to these tasty treats – in fact, the fruit used will often mask any sort of veggie hint. So when you see cucumbers listed in the ingredients below, fear not! You know that I will never steer you wrong.

I promise. I mean, just look at these lovelies…how can you go wrong?!

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Summer Popsicles {makes 6 popsicles}

This is probably one of my favorite combinations to make – I love that the sweet berries are the star of this treat. The bright notes of cucumber simply amplify the taste of the berries, and provide just a teeny bit of flavor to make you question “what is that fresh taste in there as well?” Balanced out with a drizzle of honey, this dessert screams summer. And if you’re feeling a bit adventurous, or in the search of happy hour…place this popsicle in a bowl and let it sit with a shot {or two!} of good gin. It will be our little secret. 

Ingredients:

one 16 ounce bag of fresh strawberries {you can also use frozen}

1/2 of a large cucumber, cut into chunks

1/2 the juice of one fresh lime 2 tablespoons of honey

*special equipment: high powered blender, popsicle molds

To Prepare:

Place all the ingredients, except for the honey, into the barrel of your food processor. Process all ingredients until a very smooth, velvety consistency is reached.

Add in the honey {I used the above-mentioned 2 tablespoons, but depending on how sweet you like them, feel free to use more}, and puree for another minute or two, until all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour into popsicle molds of choice, and freeze until solid. Serve on a hot day with plenty of napkins – no one likes sticky wrists!

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Let’s discuss: did you like popsicles when you were a kid? What about ice cream? Is there one or the other you are partial to?

rise & shine breakfast smoothie

I’m being perfectly honest in saying this, y’all – this is easily my favorite way to start off the workday. A cold smoothie, bursting with fresh fruit flavor provides the perfect wake up and refreshing zing to make your morning just that much better.

I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned this previously; if so, do forgive the rambling. Before we got married {almost two years ago!}, our registry gifts began arriving in boatloads. I was quite the happy bride-to-be, unwrapping kitchen gadgets I had only dreamed of. One of the things that I was most excited about was the prospect of a new blender…ours had seen better days, and had been relocated to the back of the closet because it.just.didn’t.work.

So imagine my happiness on the day when I opened a box containing a top of the line unit – ah!!! I had grandiose plans for this gem; everything from chilled soups to gorgeous purees. But alas – fast forward to this year, and I think we had used it maaaaaybe twice. Fail.

So this summer, when I was on our juicing kick {remember this and this?} I decided that we should be on a smoothie on as well! Being so stocked up on fresh fruit, the hubs and I couldn’t go through them fast enough. I told myself that using said blender for smoothies would be a good test run; after all, what’s the worst that could happen?

If you consider being more or less addicted to smoothies a bad thing, then I am in trouble. We have smoothies at least three times a week, more than making up for that sad time when that beautiful, shiny new blender sat cold and lonely in the cabinet. I’m just making up for lost time, no?

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Rise & Shine Breakfast Smoothie {serves one, can easily be doubled or tripled, depending on the size of your blender}

Use this recipe and quantity simply as a guideline for what flavors and binding agents you like! I’ve outlined the ingredients I use most often in mine; the hubs, on the other hand, prefers slightly different combinations. I’ve outlined below what is good to swap for what – this is truly one recipe where you can’t go wrong! 

Ingredients:

1 large banana, about as ripe as you can handle it

5 large strawberries

1/2 to 1 cup plain, low-fat kefir*

*I am a HUGE fan of kefir; loaded with live-active cultures and a great digestive agent, it provides a protein punch for few calories and added sugar. I love the way it blends into a creamy consistency, and adds just the right amount of tang into my morning smoothie. The hubs, on the other hand, is more partial to using a flavored Greek yogurt – you’ll still reap the benefits of protein power, but the live-active cultures will not be as present as the kefir. 

To Prepare:

Place all ingredients in the pitcher of your mixer. Puree until nice and smooth, then enjoy!

If you like {and I do this regularly} – prep your smoothies the night before, and stash in the fridge for an easy breakfast to grab and go! I often put mine in the freezer when I wake up in the morning, because I like having it as thick and cold as I can.

Let’s Discuss: are there any breakfast smoothie combinations you’re fond of? 

lately: annapolis!

Labor Day weekend was a weekend full of fun, adventure, and ANNAPOLIS! We were lucky enough to spend time with one of my closest friends – and in true form, it far exceeded any sort of expectations we could have set. From crab cakes to cocktails, water taxis to rickshaws, explorations to excitement, it was a trip for the books.

Friday night was a drive through of the city, touring gorgeous homes and of course…starting the weekend with some seafood!

Saturday saw an early morning exercise session, followed by brunch and exploring. A boat tour {on the  yacht from Wedding Crashers!} was a fabulous 2 hours spent. ‘Twisted History’ was the majority of the evening – think scandalous history lessons told table side at historic bars – it was so neat!

Sunday led us to bottomless mimosas at brunch, followed by a bar hop of some of the coolest spots we could have hoped to experience.

Here’s a peak at some of the shenanigans…enjoy!

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crab dip baked into a brioche roll started us off at dinner Friday night

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gazpacho topped with crab and drizzled with finishing oil and fresh herbs…with a side of amazing blue cheese coleslaw

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a power breakfast omelet after an early Saturday morning workout

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signs at the Boatyard Saturday morning…and $2 mimosas before 10am!

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the hubs and Rick, tour guide and party planner extraordinaire

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sharing a smooch on the yacht Saturday afternoon

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future magazine cover, am i right?

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some of the brunch spread at Blackwall Hitch on Sunday morning

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could not get enough of the decor at Blackwall

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nautical details abound

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specialty cocktails at Level – one of our Sunday bar hop stops

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stopping in for some whisky and bourbon at Dry 85…another Sunday stop

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Dry 85

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Red Red Wine {bar}

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painkillers at PUSSER’S!

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the hubs is making the best face. ever.

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keeping the fun rolling on the yacht!

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1/2 lb. crabcake at Chick & Ruth’s on Sunday morning…so amazingly tasty

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champagne, yacht style!

 

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a view into the kitchen at Chick & Ruth’s…talk about a well-oiled machine!

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how amazing is this view!?

perfectly perfect hard-boiled eggs

These have been a summer snack time staple – say that three times fast!

I don’t know about y’all, but I tend to get in a groove of sorts when it comes to my daily routine. For weeks at a time, I’ll hardly deviate from a certain breakfast {steel cut oats loaded with fresh fruit and granola is a particular favorite}, a mid-afternoon snack {fruit and cheese plate makes for a wonderful workday treat} or an after-dinner treat. There’s something quietly comforting, knowing exactly what to expect out of your lunchbox, when there are so many variables that can affect how you day goes.

That’s where this gorgeous little gem comes into play. I don’t know what took me so long to remind myself of these treats, but I tell you, I don’t know how the hubs and I have made it through so long without these! Formally reintroduced to us from my wonderful mother-in-law on our earlier summer trip to Tahoe, I was smacking my head because I hadn’t made these in so long. These were a daily staple in our hiking packs – perfectly contained in their “natural” tupperware {egg shell for the win!}, they make the perfect snack on the go. A perfect balance of protein and vitamins, these will keep you going without holding you back.

Ever since that wonderful trip, said eggs have become commonplace in our refrigerator. It’s safe to say that, come our weekly grocery trip, a dozen eggs will be bought solely for the purpose of hard-boiling. They’re just perfect; I don’t foresee us tiring of them anytime soon!

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Perfectly Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs {adapted, minimally, from Martha Stewart}

Ingredients:

12 large eggs, room temperature

9 cups of water, room temperature

1/4 cup distilled white vinegar

*special ingredients – large sauce pan, slotted spoon and colander, large bowl full of ice 

To Prepare:

Place eggs in a large sauce pan. Cover them with water by 1 inch, and add in the vinegar, stirring to combine. Be careful and stir gently; you don’t want to crack the eggs.

Slowly bring water/vinegar mixture to a boil over medium heat. When the liquid has reached a boil, cover and remove from heat. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Transfer eggs to a colander; place under cool running water to stop the cooking. Eggs can be peeled and served immediately, or stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

beer can chicken

I’ve found that, in my years of cooking, the simplest dishes are oftentimes the most show stopping.

Take for instance, a roasting chicken. Such a simple and humble dish, but when served with the right accompaniments, it becomes transformed into a meal more that ideal for serving to guests. The aromatics will transport imbibers to previous memories, perhaps of their childhood, or other fun times associated with said dish.

I’ve taken a summertime twist on this classic roasting chicken – because, let’s be real, who wants to turn on the oven for anything in the middle of the summer? Take a look at this beauty:

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What we’re marveling at is a classic “beer can chicken”….or “beer butt bird”, depending on your preference. I cannot claim credit for this exquisite dish, however much I’d love to. It’s a dish that screams summer to me, so much so that I make it a handful of times each season. The beer does an amazing job of keeping the chicken moist and tender – so much so, you’ll hardly find yourself needing a fork, for both shredding and eating. A few ears of fresh corn and a big salad make this the super dish of summer.

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Beer Can Chicken {recipe adapted from All Recipes}

This is one dish where you simply can’t go wrong. A few minutes of prep work – rinsing and drying the bird, and giving it a spice rub massage – is all that’s needed. I’ve outlined a simple spice rub below that the hubs and I have enjoyed as of late, but feel free to get creative with your own! And don’t be intimidated by the size of the bird; in fact, I may even go a bit bigger the next time, as the leftovers here are glorious! Shredded up for chicken salad, or tossed in creamy alfredo, you cannot and will not be disappointed. 

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken {I used a 5 lb. bone-in, skin-on bird}, with innards removed

1/2 can beer, preferably one more mild in flavor {a pilsner worked great}

cooking spray or olive oil

spice mixture of your choice*

special tools: large roasting dish with handles, heavy duty aluminum foil 

To Prepare:

Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat; between 400 and 425 degrees is ideal. Line your baking dish with aluminum foil, making sure to cover all surfaces {this aids in clean-up later on!}. Spray the bottom with cooking spray or drizzle with olive oil. Place the half-full can of beer in the center.

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*Prepare your spice mixture, or feel free to use a pre-packaged one. I mix a combination of salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and chili powder in a bowl to rub the bird down with.

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Rinse chicken under cold, running water. Pat dry very thoroughly; any residual moisture will prevent the skin from crisping up. Place on a plate and rub down with spice mixture, making sure to get into all the crevices and inner cavity. I also like to rub it on the breast meat, underneath the skin, for additional flavor.

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Fit whole chicken over the can of beer with the legs on the bottom of the pan; make sure it stands upright on its own. Sprinkle any remaining spice mixture into the cavity {this may cause the beer to foam slightly}.

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Place the baking dish with standing chicken onto the preheated grill, making sure it’s not directly over any burners {in this case, indirect heat is best for cooking}. Close the lid and cook until the chicken is no longer pink and the bone and juices run clear, about 75 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, near the bone, should read 180 degrees.

Remove the pan from the grill and cover entirely with foil. Let it rest for 10 minutes, allowing the juices to redistribute.

Using tongs, carefully lift the bird off the beer can {discard this}. Break down the bird and serve with your choice of sides!

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Let’s discuss: Have you every tried making beer can chicken? If you cook this regularly, or any other sort of roasted bird, what is your favorite thing to do with the leftovers!