Recipe: Vegetable Marinara Pasta Bake with Popped Amaranth Top Crust

I don’t know that I’ve ever really declared this here on my blog, but I’m pretty much a geek in a lot of ways.

Ready to go in the oven

I’m a running geek who eagerly awaits her issues of Runner’s World and Running Times each month – then immersing myself in training methods, splits, and gear.

I’m a pop culture geek who can spend days philosophizing about the socially important messages and critiques in a single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and who counts the regeneration of The Doctor as a significant stressor in her life.

I’m a HUGE literary geek.  Tired of being around me?  Just shove me in a bookstore or library and I’ll be entirely happy on my own until I realize I haven’t eaten in days.

And, of course, I’m a kitchen geek.  I get excited about kitchen gadgets and culinary ephemera.  An orderly mise en place sets my world on fire and learning a new cooking technique is an exciting adventure.

Noodles and Veggies

So when I learned about how amaranth (a nutritious, tasty, and gluten free grain that I can safely eat!) can be popped like popcorn on the stovetop, I KNEW it was something I had to try.  I got excited about this.  Like REALLY excited.

My excitement only grew throughout the process of popping the amaranth and making this dish.  I ended up with amaranth all over my kitchen because I got a little over excited and didn’t cover it well at first, but it was worth it.  This was fun and totally delighted my inner-culinary geek who marveled at watching this mighty little grain go!

If you’re hesitant to try this technique or just don’t have access to amaranth, you can certainly make this dish with a traditional breadcrumb topping or no topping at all.  But, if you’re feeling adventurous – find some amaranth and get ready to have some fun in your kitchen – just keep a broom handy for the errant traveling seeds you’ll find later!

Plated

**Note: As is the case with so many meals, feel free to customize this dish with your favorite vegetables or what you have on hand.  I like this combination of mushrooms, onion, pepper, and spinach for the complimentary mix of tastes, colors, and nutritional benefits, but you could certainly swap other veggies to suit your needs.

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Vegetable Marinara Bake with Popped Amaranth Top Crust

A Move Eat Create Original Recipe  Olive oil

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz gluten free penne (or pasta of choice)
  • ¼ cup amaranth
  • 3 tblspns vegan Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tblspn chopped fresh basil
  • 1 ½ tblspn olive oil, divided
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 ½ cup chopped cremini mushrooms
  • ¼ tspn ground fennel
  • ½ tspn crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tblspn nutritional yeast
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves, chopped
  • 25-26 oz jar of marinara sauce (or equivalent of homemade)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare an 11 x 7 baking pan by coating with cooking spray.
  2. Cook pasta noodles to just al dente, according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.
  3. Prepare the ingredients that will be the topping for the pasta bake.  To pop the amaranth, warm a dry pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop.  When heated, add 1 tablespoon of amaranth at a time to the pan.  If you have one, cover with a splatter screen.  The amaranth will begin to pop like popcorn.  Agitate the amaranth in the pan until most has popped.  Transfer popped amaranth to a bowl and repeat until all amaranth has been popped.  Be especially careful, as the amaranth can burn if it is not kept almost constantly agitated by shaking the pan or stirring.  The amaranth will pop quickly.  Once all amaranth has been popped, add vegan Parmesan, chopped basil, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to it and mix well to combine and coat ingredients with the olive oil.  Set aside.
  4. Heat remaining ½ tablespoon oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, and pepper, along with a pinch of salt, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are softened.
  5. Add chopped mushrooms and cook another 3-4 minutes.
  6. Add fennel, red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast, and chopped spinach to pan.  Mix well and cook just 1-2 minutes until spinach starts to wilt.  Turn off heat and add cooked pasta noodles to the pan, stirring well to combine all ingredients.
  7. Line bottom of prepared baking pan with a light layer of the marinara sauce.  Pour noodles and vegetables on top of sauce and spread evenly.  Pour remaining marinara sauce onto top of noodle/vegetable mixture evenly.  Finally, sprinkle prepared topping across the entire casserole.
  8. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degree.  Uncover and continue to bake for 10 more minutes.  Serve with additional salt, pepper, and vegan Parmesan to taste.

Recipe: A French Influenced Cabbage and Kidney Bean Bake

Isn’t it great when something old seems new again?

Maybe it’s an old shirt you find in the back of your closet that you’d forgotten about and re-discover with delight.

Maybe it’s a hobby that had been set aside when life got busy but now feels like the perfect thing to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Maybe it’s a bean.  More precisely, maybe it’s kidney beans.

Plated - edited

It’s no secret that I love beans and I generally find kidney beans to be my go-to favorite.  They’re accessible, adaptable, and appetizing, for sure, but I’ll admit that I often combine them with the same sorts of flavors in the same sorts of ways.  This means that while I always enjoy them, they tend to sort of taste the same each time.

And then this dish happened and my expectation of how kidney beans could be prepared was completely turned upside down.

Filling - edited

Instead of my traditional kidney bean thinking, which generally means pairing them with the flavors of Mexico, the Southwest, or sometimes, India, this dish paired the beans up with flavors more reminiscent of Europe, likely France.

Who knew??

I fell in love with this dish and with kidney beans all over again.  An old friend, feeling like a new discovery.

Note:  I loved this just as is described below and found the flavors of the marjoram, Dijon, and parsley to be flavorful, bright, and absolutely tantalizing.  Mr. Move Eat Create, however, felt the dish really came to life for him when he drizzled a bit of white vinegar over his portion and mixed it in, adding a bit of bite to the overall flavor.  Perhaps you could try a bit both ways and see for yourself.

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A French Influenced Cabbage & Kidney Bean Bake Cooked in skillet 2 - edited

Adapted a bit from Wheat Free Meat Free

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  •  ¾ cup gluten free bread crumbs (about 2 slices of gluten free bread chopped in food processor if making from scratch) OR you can sub  corn meal if bread crumbs aren’t available
  • 1 tblspn nutritional yeast
  • ¼ tspn cayenne pepper
  • ½ tblspn olive oil
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 smallish head of green cabbage, sliced thinly (about 5 cups shredded)
  • 2 small red peppers (I used cherry bomb peppers) plus 1 medium green pepper ( I used Anaheim) OR sub for 1 large bell pepper
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 2 15oz cans of dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tblspn fresh marjoram, diced
  • ½ tspn dried parsley
  • ¼ tspn black pepper
  • 2 tblspns Earth Balance
  • 2 tblspns gluten free flour
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tblspns Dijon mustard
  • white vinegar, optional

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. If making bread crumb from scratch, go ahead and chop those in your food processor.  Combine fresh or store bought bread crumbs (or cornmeal) with nutritional yeast and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.  Mix well and set aside.
  3. Warm a cast iron skillet or other large non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Add oil.  When warm, add onion and celery and sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the onion starts to brown and lightly caramelize.
  4. Next add the cabbage, peppers and salt.  Cook, stirring often, for about 7 minutes, until the cabbage has cooked down and softened.
  5. Add beans, marjoram, parsley, and black pepper and stir well so that all elements are combined.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  6. To make the sauce, melt the Earth Balance in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the flour to the melted butter and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture starts to brown and become smooth.
  7. Add the vegetable broth and mustard to the sauce and cook for 2-3 more minutes, stirring frequently until the sauce is smooth and well combined.
  8. If you were using a cast iron skillet that you can bake your dish in, great!  If not, transfer bean and veggie mixture to an oven-safe dish (coated lightly with cooking spray).  Pour sauce over beans and vegetables and mix in so that everything is coated.  Pat down with the back of your spoon and then sprinkle your bread crumb mixture evenly over the top of the dish.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.  Optional: serve with vinegar over individual portions

Recipe: Lemony Lentil, Orzo, and Broccoli Bake (Plus, New Beginnings in Old Territory)

I’m starting a new journey today.  Or maybe it’s more apt to say I’m returning to an old one?  I work in human services and for the last year and a half I’ve worked to provide services for seniors and people living with disabilities.  Prior to this role, though, I worked for about 7 years in domestic violence advocacy.  I loved doing anti-violence work.  I have a tremendous amount of passion for it and, frankly, I thought I was pretty good at it.  Plus, the women (and men, but mostly women, if we’re honest) that I got to know in my years doing that work are incredible, both co-workers and program participants.  You see some amazing spirit and humanity in that work.  When I left it a year and a half ago, it was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make.

I left for a combination of reasons.  As much as it pains me to admit it, one of the biggest ones was money.  I don’t work for money the way some people might, but I was flailing with debts racking up, student loan bills growing, and my weekly paychecks stagnantly low (I could write a tirade on the pay rates for people who do that and similar work, let me tell you).  It wasn’t sustainable and I needed to make a move to keep from drowning.

So I did.

Finished in dish 5 - edited

I looked outside of the field, at other focuses within human service work that might allow me to create a more stable economical platform with which to build my life on.  I ended up landing the job with seniors and people living with disabilities.  The financial change was significant and I’ve learned a great deal of valuable information about systems I didn’t know much at all about before, but the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t ignite the same fire in me that my old work did.

But sometimes careers take interesting turns.

The job I’ve been in is part of a larger entity (a government entity, to be precise) and one very small part of that entity is a unit that does domestic violence work.  When I saw a rare opening posted in that unit, I didn’t have much expectation it would pan out, but it has.  So, today, I return to familiar work, in a new environment.

My work will be less direct service than I did before and will involve more time spent supporting others who are doing direct service work.  I’m pretty excited about it, really.  I get to return to a field that really matters to me, maintain a sustainable income, and put a new spin on work that I feel really comfortable doing.  I hope it’s not too good to be true!

On plated with bread 3 - edited

Now, let’s get on to the recipe.  For me, this recipe has some of the same qualities as what I am experiencing with this job change.  This dish is warm, comforting, and something about feels familiar despite this having been the first time I’ve made it.  Yet, it’s also kind of new and exciting.  The brightness from the lemon adds a zing that contrasts (but harmonizes with) the hearty comfort of the dish.  I loved eating this fresh from the oven and for leftovers throughout the week.

I hope you will too.

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Lemony Lentil, Orzo, and Broccoli Bake

Adapted from Vegetarian Times Finished in dish 4 - edited

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 tblspns olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium head of broccoli, stem discarded (or saved for veggie stock!), chopped
  • 1 tspn red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry brown lentils, picked through and rinsed
  • 1 tblspn chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tblspn chopped fresh basil
  • 3 cups low-sodium or homemade vegetable stock
  • 6 oz (1 cup) dry orzo
  • 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • Juice of one medium lemon
  • 1 tspn lemon zest
  • ½ tspn kosher salt
  • ¼ tspn black pepper
  • 1 – 1 ¼ cups hot water
  • 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tblspns chopped fresh Italian parsley

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 3-quart casserole dish by coating lightly with cooking spray.
  2. In a Dutch oven or other large pot, heat ½ tblspn olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and carrots to pot and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes (stir often).
  3. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring almost constantly, for 1 minute.
  4. Add lentils, thyme, and basil to the pot and stir to distribute.  Add broth and lemon juice.  Bring mixture to a simmer.  Then, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. After 20 minutes, add in the chopped broccoli and stir.  Re-cover and let broccoli soften 2-3 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat.  Add to pot the lemon zest, the drained tomatoes, orzo, salt, and pepper and stir until everything is well combined.  Pour all contents into the prepared casserole dish.  If needed, pour just enough hot water over mixture to ensure orzo is covered with liquid.  Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile combine the breadcrumbs, 1 tblspn olive oil, and parsley in a small bowl.  Mix well.
  8. After the first 20 minutes of baking, remove foil and sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top.  Return to oven and bake, uncovered, for 20 more minutes.  Let sit 5 minutes or so before serving.

Recipe: Cajun Kidney Bean Casserole with Jalapeno Cornbread Topping

For a long while, I associated Cajun food with the sea.  Fish, crustaceans, and other sea creatures always seemed to be involved in any Cajun meal.  Even before I was a vegetarian, I didn’t care for seafood, so Cajun cuisine was something I long avoided.  Something else I shyed away from was cornbread.  Despite my affinity for carbs and bread products in general, most cornbreads I had sampled were sweet – the kind with lots of added sugar or honey and that wasn’t for me.  For these reasons, when I came across a recipe for a Cajun casserole with a cornbread topping in my Everyday Happy Herbivore cookbook,  I was excited at the prospect of trying a Cajun dish and I figured I could tweak the cornbread topping to ensure it was a slightly spicy, not sweet, rendition that would suit my tastes.

cornbread casserole ind piece 4 - edited

I did make a few changes to the original recipe and was more than pleased with the results.  First, let’s take a look at the main part of this dish which is comprised of fairly traditional Cajun flavors.  You’ve got your feature players: beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, and carrots.  All good stuff.  All good stuff that is then brought together happily with a flavorful seasoning blend and  lots of garlic.  This on its own would make for a delicious meal, but it gets even better.

Because then, you see, comes the cornbread topping.

cornbread casserole 2 polaroid edit

As someone who dismissed cornbread for years, it’s funny now how I’ve come to crave it.  I will at times make or request a whole meal solely because it is something that would be served nicely alongside cornbread.  The thing that really excites me about this cornbread is that I wasn’t sure if a quality cornbread topping could be made that was tasty, satisfying, still relatively nutritious, and low in fat, but it was!  I’m sure that you can imagine how pleased I was to discover that this is indeed possible.

Here is the final product.  I present to you a truly hearty dish that oozes the flavors of the south and, served alongside a nice salad, provides a well-balanced, complete meal.

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Cajun Casserole with Jalapeno Cornbread Topping

Adapted from The Everyday Happy Herbivore Cookbook

Serves 6

 

Ingredients: cornbread casserole ind piece 3  - edited

For the Base

* ½ tblspn olive oil

* 1 small onion, diced

* 1 medium carrot, diced

* 2 celery stalks, diced

* 4 cloves of garlic, minced

* 1 bell pepper, diced (I used red)

* 15 oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, drained

* 1 ½ tblspn Cajun seasoning blend

* 15 oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

For the Cornbread Topping

  •  1 ½ cup cornmeal
  • 2 ¼ tspn baking powder
  • ¼ tspn salt
  • 1 tspn sugar (more if you like a sweet cornbread – I don’t)
  • 1 ½ tspn dried oregano
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup + 2 tblspns unsweetened almond milk (or the type of milk of your choosing)
  • 6 tblspns unsweetened applesauce

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Coat a 3 quart casserole dish with cooking spray.
  2. Heat oil in a skilled over medium-high heat.  Add onion, celery, carrot, and bell pepper and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté about 1-2 minutes longer.
  3. Mix in drained tomatoes, Cajun seasoning blend, and drained kidney beans.  Stir to combine well.  Pour base into the casserole dish.  Using a spatula or spoon, spread evenly and pat it down, so it is even and compact.  Set aside while you prepare the cornbread topping mixture.
  4. Whisk together cornmeal, baking powder, salt, oregano, and sugar.
  5. Add almond milk and applesauce.  Stir to combine.  Then, toss in the diced jalapeno pieces and gently stir to distribute throughout the batter.
  6. Pour cornbread batter on top of the base layer and spread evenly.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the cornbread topping is golden and beginning to crack.  Remove from oven and let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving.  Serve with hot sauce, if desired.