Mary Helen Leonard, author of The Natural Beauty Solution and professionally trained culinary instructor, shares recipes, projects, tips, and stories about living a more natural, handmade, and creative life with her family in Austin, Texas.
This blog post has been compensated by Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. All opinions are mine alone. #LaVaquitaCheese #CollectiveBias #Ad
All hail the mighty casserole. She comes in many forms - often smothered in cheese and packed with flavorful layers. They are made to please a crowd, feed a small army, and reheat with ease. My personal favorites usually involve vegetables while my husband prefers casseroles that focus on pasta.
Vegetable lasagna puts together the best of both worlds, and like casseroles in general, the concept of vegetable lasagna has been reinvented over and over again. For this recipe, I decided to combine savory roasted eggplant and red bell peppers with crumbled queso fresco in a roasted tomato sauce. Replacing traditional ricotta cheese with queso fresco gives this casserole a firm, hearty texture.
I usedLa VaquitaⓇ Queso Fresco, a local Texas brand in this recipe. La Vaquita® was founded by Maria Castro in 1971. Castro began making the cheese from her Houston home shortly after immigrating from Mexico.
Using a traditional recipe she learned from her grandmother, Castro began making batches of cheese to share with friends and neighbors in Houston. Over 40 years later, La Vaquita® authentic Mexican cheeses and cremas are an important part of Texas' food identity!
Like ricotta or feta cheeses, queso fresco does not melt when heated, but remains firm and crumbly. The mild flavor and delicate crumbly texture of queso fresco is perfect for stuffing casseroles. La Vaquita® Queso Fresco has the classic mellow flavor I expect in a great queso fresco. For a sharper flavor, try using La Vaquita® Queso Fresco Salvadoreno instead.
Included are steps and ingredients for making a fresh tomato sauce using roasted garlic and tomato. To simplify this lasagna recipe, just omit the tomato, onion, and garlic, and skip steps 2 to 4. You are welcome to use a 16-ounce jar of marinara sauce instead.
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna with Queso Fresco
A delicious layered casserole stuffed with crumbled queso fresco, savory roasted vegetables and fresh tomato sauce.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a generous pinch of salt to the water, then cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions. Do not overcook. Al dente noodles work best in lasagna. When the noodles have finished cooking, drain them quickly and rinse with cold water to cease cooking.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Slice the top ⅓ of the garlic bulb off, exposing bulbs. Brush the exposed bulbs with oil and place in small oven-proof bowl or crock. Set aside.
Cut tomatoes into quarters and remove seeds. Peel and chop onion. Combine tomato and onion in a large bowl, season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss together. Spread mixture onto baking sheet. Roast tomatoes, onions, and garlic bulb for 15 minutes. Remove garlic from oven, then set oven to broiler and broil for 10 minutes. Pop garlic cloves from peel when cool enough to handle.
When tomato mixture has cooled enough to be handled safely transfer them to a blender. Add peeled garlic cloves, tomato paste, 1/2 teaspoon salt. 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, and puree until smooth. Stir in 2 tablespoons minced basil.
Set oven back to 450°F. Peel eggplant and cut into ¼ inch slices. Spread slices out on baking sheet lined with parchment. Brush slices with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Line a second baking sheet with parchment. Toss whole peppers with 1 tablespoon olive oil and place on baking sheet. Roast peppers and eggplant for 20 - 30 minutes or until eggplant is tender and peppers have developed brown or black spots.
Fill a large bowl or pot with water and ice. Drop roasted peppers into ice bath and allow them to cool for several minutes. Use your finger to peel the skin, stems, and seeds from the peppers. Reserve the peeled flesh in a small bowl and discard the rest. Chop the roasted flesh into strips.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the bottom of a 3-quart casserole dish with olive oil, then place 3 lasagna noodles into the dish. Top with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Place the eggplant slices down to create the next layer, followed by about ½ of the La Vaquita® Queso Fresco.
Place 3 more noodles down, and another layer of sauce followed by about ½ the shredded mozzarella, and ¾ roasted peppers.
Place 3 more noodles down, and another layer of sauce followed by the second ½ of the La Vaquita® Queso Fresco and the frozen spinach.
Place 3 more noodles down, and add one last layer of sauce followed by the remaining mozzarella cheese and red peppers. Sprinkle remaining basil over the top.
Bake finished casserole for 45 minutes. Switch oven to broiler and broil for 5 minutes to brown cheese. Let lasagna stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.
I shopped for this recipe at my local Fiesta. Fiesta carries a great selection of La Vaquita® products including quesos and cremas. You can check them out on Facebook as well. Make sure to look for Ibotta offers for a good deal.
This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #thetalkofthetable #CollectiveBias The following content is intended for readers who are 21 or older.
There is a time and a place for excess. Having someone special over for dinner or celebrating holidays with family and friends. These are not the times for quinoa or superfoods. These are the times for cream, parmesan and pasta. These are the evenings when you set aside the spring water and crack open a bottle of wine instead.
The recipes I reach for on special occasions are meant to delight and indulge the people I love. I don't just want to feed the crowd around my table. I want to hear them say "mmmmm". I want them to clean their plates and dream about that amazing meal for weeks to come. There is nothing more rewarding to someone who loves to cook and to feed people than being asked for a repeat on the next holiday.
This recipe is one of those meals that brings my loved ones back again and again. At home, we simply refer to this dish as Lemon Spaghetti. It's something I tend to whip up when I want to dote on people. You can top it with almost any kind of meat or seafood, but my favorite thing to use, by far, is a big fat pile of gulf shrimp.
I've never tried using lobster or scallops, but I have a strong suspicion that either of those things would be out of this world. Grilled chicken is also delicious on this pasta, and is a great option for more casual dinners or for a crowd that isn't as fond of seafood. If you are feeding vegetarians, just top the dish with any kind of hearty roasted vegetable. Peppers, eggplants, or zucchini would all be perfect.
Creamy pasta and seafood go very well with a chilled glass of chardonnay. Clos du Bois Chardonnay is a favorite at our house, so I was delighted to pair it with this dish. This bright and refreshing white wine has a low-medium oak flavor with a mildly sweet and fruit-forward flavor. It's oak flavor is well balanced and not at all overwhelming. The flavor and value of Clos du Bois Chardonnay makes it a super approachable wine that you can enjoy at special occasions or as an everyday house wine.
When it comes to making pasta-focused dishes it stands to figure that your choice in brands of pasta is an important one. Barilla, who I have partnered with for this post, happens to be the #1 choice for packaged pasta in Italy! If it's good enough for Italy, it's good enough for us. Barilla is a brand I reach for often. Simple ingredients, consistent quality, and a reasonable price point are all big wins when it comes to pasta. Barilla is a good fit for all three.
Lemon Scampi with Gulf Shrimp and Roasted Broccoli
A quick and easy breakfast bowl made with sweet potato, spinach, avocado, and egg.
3 cups fresh broccoli florets,
1 pound fresh gulf shrimp
½ teaspoon garlic powder
salt, as needed
black pepper, as needed
1 pound Barilla Angel Hair Pasta
4 tablespoons butter, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ white onion, minced
1 cup heavy cream, divided
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) cream cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
4 lemon wedges
Preheat oven to 450F. Toss broccoli with 2 tablespoons oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon black or crushed red pepper. Roast on baking sheet for 20 minutes.
Add a hefty pinch of salt to a large pot of water. Heat on stovetop over high heat, covered, until it comes to a rolling boil. Add pasta. Stir. Boil for 5 minutes before draining and rinsing with cold water. Set aside.
Meanwhile, peel and devein shrimp. (Instructions here.) Toss with ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon black pepper.
Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil. When the pan is sizzling hot, place shrimp in pan. Cook shrimp 2 minutes, flip over, cook 2 more minutes. Remove shrimp to dish and set aside.
Add 2 more tablespoons butter to pan along with garlic and onion. Cover, and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes, or until onions clear.
Remove cover. Add heavy cream and bring to simmer over medium heat. Whisk in cream cheese, then add remaining ½ cup heavy cream. Bring back to simmer and slowly whisk in grated parmesan. Whisk until cheese melts completely (about 2 minutes).
Turn off heat. Whisk in lemon juice. Toss pasta into sauce.
Divide pasta between 4 dishes. Top with broccoli, shrimp, and wedge of lemon. Lemon should be squeezed over pasta right before eating.
What are your favorite recipes to feed friends and family? Do you have a special dish that keeps them coming back for more? I'd love to hear what you are cooking up.
Need some inspiration for your next big meal? Visit The Talk of the Table to discover even more delicious ways to pair Barilla Pasta and Clos du Bois wines. For even more ideas, check out Barilla and Clos du Bois on Pinterest!
If you're looking to kick sugary or gluten-heavy breakfasts to the curb I encourage you to consider the sweet potato bowl. Slightly starchy root veggies provide a deeply satisfying base for a morning meal that is both hearty and delicious - especially with the help of few flavorful accoutrements.
For me, breakfast has long been a challenging meal. I grew up reaching for bagels or bowls of cereal, and even after spending my adulthood surrounded by brilliant food people I still struggle with finding ways to get away from that morning carb habit. It wasn't until I started leaning on sweet potatoes that I really got into a healthier breakfast groove.
It isn't always easy to set aside the time to make (or even eat!) a hot breakfast, but I almost always feel better when I do. I've managed to streamline the process a bit by cheating with frozen veggies, but you can make this even better by throwing some fresh kale into the steamer or roasting your own sweet potatoes ahead of time. Try swapping out kale for any other green vegetable. Chard, spinach, or asparagus would be great.
The sweet potatoes could also be replaced with another root veggie. Beets, turnips, or red potatoes would all be delicious ways to mix this recipe up. If frying an egg in the morning turns out to be too big a hassle, try using hard-boiled eggs instead or swapping the egg for a quicker pre-cooked protein like tofu, black beans, or grilled chicken.
Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl Makes one big serving
1 cup sweet potato, peeled, diced, and roasted (recipe here)
1/2 cup spinach, steamed
1/2 cup avocado, diced
1 egg, fried
Optional garnish: lime juice, sriracha sauce, soy sauce, or Japanese mayo
Prepare the sweet potato and spinach ahead of time in large batches. You can roast your own sweet potatoes at 350F for about an hour and steam your own spinach over simmering water for about 2 minutes. If available, you can use frozen pre-cooked sweet potato and spinach instead.
When you are ready to eat, quickly heat the sweet potato and spinach in a microwave or toaster oven.
Meanwhile, fry up a fresh egg (directions here) and dice up half an avocado.
Throw it all together in a bowl and top with whatever garnishes you like. My personal favorite combination is lime, soy sauce, and a splash of hot sauce.
This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SamsClubMag #CollectiveBias
I woke up this morning, stuck my head out of the front door and actually shivered. I even thought for a moment about the possibility that my child could need a sweatshirt for his ride to school.
People, it's really happening. Fall is here!
I am so ready. I've long been a summer person, but this year I spent most of the dog days here in Texas hunkered down inside my house with the air conditioning on. Maybe I was depressed - or just burnt out on sunshine or 100+ degree temperatures. Either way, I feel the fog lifting with every dropping degree and I couldn't be happier. There is nothing like that first cool, crispy breath of autumn. Every year in Texas it seems to look the same - painted with a bright blue sky and enjoyed by rolling down the car windows for the first time in forever.
Speaking of cool crispy things, how about apples? They are pretty much the quintessential autumn food as far as I'm concerned. I've been going a little crazy with them lately and I'm not even close to letting it go. This afternoon I put together a little something savory by pairing sweet apples with earthy mushrooms and savory miso. I don't want to make any promises, but these pork chops might just blow your mind.
They are moist and juicy, dripping with pan sauce, and stuffed with a blend of tasty autumn ingredients that couldn't be more seasonally appropriate.
This is one of those recipes that may sound a little more complicated than it actually is. The marinade, which is made simply by whisking together some key ingredients, doubles as a pan sauce when cooked along with the pork chops. Finishing the pork chops in the oven helps to keep the meat tender and juicy. Try serving this delicious main dish with hearty brown rice and a roasted vegetable like acorn squash or sweet potato.
Apple Miso Pork Chops with Mushroom Stuffing
A sweet and savory stuffed pork chop recipe made with fresh apples and mushrooms.Serves 2
Whisk together miso paste, onion powder, soy sauce, vinegar, and mirin until smooth. Add the almond oil and whisk until well-blended. Add the apple cider last, and mix once more. This is the marinade.
Place the pork chops flat on a cutting board and slice them parralel to the board to butterfly the meat. Cut into the meat all the way to the far edge, stopping just before cutting through. This will make a sort of pocket in the pork chop. Repeat with the second chop, then pound both pork chops with a mallet to tenderize them.
Coat each pork chop in marinade, then pack them into a close-fitting container or plastic bag along with the remaining marinade. Let the chops sit, refrigerated, for at least one hour.
Prep the stuffing by slicing your ingredients as thinly as possible, and setting each aside in its own separate bowl. When you pork chop has finished marinating, preheat the oven to 350F, and set a large skillet over the stove. Turn the burner on to medium-high heat. When the pan is sizzling hot, add a few teaspoons of cooking oil to coat the pan.
Fry the shallots first, cooking them for 3-5 minutes, or until the soften and clear just a little. Remove them from the pan, add a little more oil, if needed, and begin frying the mushrooms. It's important not to crowd the mushrooms during this step, so if you are working with a smaller pan, try frying just half of the mushrooms at a time. Cook the mushrooms for about 2-3 minutes, just long enough to brown them a little.
When all of the mushrooms are cooked, add them back to the pan along with the shallots and the apples. Cook everything for about 1 minute, just long enough to warm the apples. Turn the heat off, then add the scallions and season with a dash of salt and pepper. Toss everything together, then transfer to a bowl and wipe out the skillet.
Remove the pork chops from the refrigerator. Pull them from the marinade, letting the excess drip off, and reserve the remainder of marinade for later. Stuff each pork chop with prepared stuffing as full as possible. You may have more stuffing than you need. the remainder can be served as a side. Just be careful not to cross-contaminate the stuffing while filling the raw chops. That means don't use any utensil to touch the stuffing that you also use to fill the pork chops. In other words, no double dipping!
Turn the skillet back on to medium heat. When hot, add a few more teaspoons of oil to coat the skillet, then carefully place the stuffed chops into the pan. Cook on each side for about 2-3 minutes, then pour the remaining marinade over the top of the chops, flooding the pan with sauce.
Turn off the stove burner and cover the skillet with a lid or with aluminum foil. Place the covered skillet into the oven and roast for 8 - 10 minutes, or until a thermometer shows the internal temperature of the stuffed chops as 165F.
Transfer the pork chops to plates and spoon the cooked marinade from the bottom of the pan over the top of each pork chop. Serve immediately.
I shopped for the main ingredients for my recipe at Sam's Club. The shelves were bursting with fresh ingredients like crispy salad fixings and seasonal fruits and veggies. I was especially impressed with their prices on apples and pumpkins. I may have to make another trip soon to work on more autumn goodies.
Sam's Club can be a wonderful resource for whole ingredients and natural cooking. The food selection includes a great range of produce, meats, and even seafood. Buying main ingredients like these in bulk is actually a really practical way to make cooking at home easier.
I like to stock my freezer with bulk ingredients so that I always have the basics I need to throw together an easy dinner. Not having to run to the store for ingredients before every meal can help save you time, money, and precious mental energy.
Sam's Club also offers in-club health screenings for members on the second Saturday of EVERY month. The next screening will take place on October 8. (Check with your local Sam's Club for more details on this program.) Sam's Club offers hearing and vision services, a pharmacy, over the counter medications, and a great selection of basic ingredients for healthy cooking - all great resources for your healthy lifestyle.
Do you shop in bulk for fresh foods or natural pantry ingredients? Do you have any tricks to share for using up fresh produce quickly or keeping large purchases fresh longer? Shower us with your wisdom in the comments below.
I shared a recipe over on Sofab Food that makes breakfasts super-duper easy. Stuffed Breakfast Biscuits with Sausage and Egg are simple to make and re-heat in just a few minutes using a toaster oven. These little nuggets are hungry-hubby approved - though he thinks they would benefit from "dipping gravy".