Polenta Lasagna with Mushrooms Bechamel

This is totally not a retro recipe, but it is what we had for dinner tonight. This prompted @dtanton to tweet that the Polenta Funky Mushroom Lasagna was awesome. This of course brought requests for more info…which she can’t answer.

Let me preface the recipe by saying, I really didn’t think this would go over well. We are not big lasagna fans. @dtanton doesn’t like Italian food much at all and well, I am not the biggest fan of tomato sauce. She hates creamy sauces. We generally don’t do Italian food. We also are not huge polenta fans. About once a year I will fix something with polenta and it gets a meh response from both of us. For whatever reason, when pitching dinner ideas this week while flipping through the cookbook, we went with this one.

I prepped it Sunday, but we certainly were not rushing to eat it. The tofu apricot kugel went first (also in the Passionate Vegetarian-This is also excellent and totally the noodle kugel for anyone, unless your bubbe/zayde makes the only noodle kugel you can ever imagine enjoying) . Followed by the Pad Thai Wraps (pretty darn good-from Whole Foods frugal recipe gig)

Anyhow, it turned out to be a surprise favorite. Really surprise. BIG. Huge. Surprise. Awesome is not a word that describes many recipes in this house, not even long time favorites.

The original recipe came from the BEST Vegetarian cookbook ever written…Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon (a nifty writer outside of cookbooks and she can teach you to be a fab one too). The Oven Baked Chicken Fried Tofu recipe also comes from there. Even if you are a dedicated omnivore, you should own this cookbook. Huge cookbook. Buy it. We have had tons of successful meals from it, the intros to the recipes and the discussion in general…WONDERFUL!!!!

The recipe originally called for 1/2 shiitake 1/2 lb button mushrooms. I split the difference and went with a pound of baby bellas. It called for a homemade basic Italian tomato sauce, I went with a jar. Freshly grated parmesan…umm yeah, it came in a can. sorry. Yeah, I would change that but shrug. So, below is not actually what happens in the book…but you can figure it out.

Polenta Lasagna with Mushrooms Bechamel

1/2 large onion
1 lb baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons low-fat milk (err I used skim)
2 tablespoons cornstarch (Hey, did you know Argo comes in a little plastic canister now? way cool)
2 oz reduced fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup white wine (Gasp! Wine in the house! Thank you Redwood City Holiday Inn Express Priority Club check-in rewards. How long does a re-corked open bottle of wine last?)
Salt, freshly ground black pepper (err um, not so fresh here, sorry again) and freshly ground nutmeg. (No, we were out of even the not freshly ground sort. May have added dash of apple pie spice? maybe not)
3 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce
1 tube of plain polenta (or you could make your own or use pesto flavored) sliced in 3/8 thick slices (divide this into 4 piles now so you don’t run short like I did)
1/4-3/4 c. Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375. (Skip this if you are prepping ahead like I did) Spray your 9 x13 pan with Pam. Set aside.

Spray a large skillet with cooking oil or dump a smidge of olive oil in it or both. Saute your onion until almost translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute until it they start to get limp. Add the 3/4 cup of milk, bring to simmer.

Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining 2 T. milk. When the mushrooms simmer, add the cornstarch mixture. It gets gummy at this point (or “thick and pasty”). Stir in the cream cheese and then the wine. When well blended, remove from heat, season to taste.

Spread some spaghetti sauce on the bottom of the pan. Then make a sparse layer of polenta slices (about 1/4 of the polenta). It won’t completely cover the bottom of the dish. Then dust it with Parmesan. Throw some mushroom mixture on top. Rinse and repeat. Ok, don’t rinse. Just repeat the sauce/Parmesan/polenta layering. I actually think I ended up with fewer layers because I didn’t remember the instructions very well and didn’t keep walking back and forth between cookbook and dish. (Stop here if prepping ahead)

Place in the preheated oven and bake until bubbly, 35-45 minutes. Allow to rest for 15 min after removing from oven for prettier slices (It smelled good, we didn’t wait.)

Pecanburgers

We are broke. Really, really, really broke. Moving is expensive and so is setting up house. (and kids in college, and kids who aren’t in college) I know we aren’t the only ones and I know there are folks out there much worse off. It will get better for us (and hopefully for everyone else). Just right now, the bills are flying in and there is no money to fly them out. I hate that. It has hit the point where I am rummaging my brain for the filling, thrifty meals that I do know how to make. Unfortunately, bills just cause the specter of Spam and Macaroni and Cheese to rise up in my brain…my mother’s special version. (substitute mayo for the margarine, add a tablespoon or so of yellow mustard)

Now, this is not the reality in our house. A good friend sent us a 50 buck Trader Joe’s gift card as a thank you and housewarming present, so we are eating pretty fancy bits and pieces. The farmer’s market has some good deals.

I am working on a plan though. Really. I am going to sit down and work out a menu and get back in my pre-move habits. Tomorrow! Really. Hold me to it.

In the meantime, I rummaged through my grandmother’s recipe box for ideas on what to post here tonight. This recipe won’t fly with my tight budget now that I live in the north. However, down south, where pecans are cheap (or free!) this makes a good substitute for hamburgers, veggie burgers or crab/fish cakes. I tend to add some Old Bay (1/2 the salt, 1/2 Old Bay) if I am pretending they are crabcakes.

Pecanburgers

1 1/2 cups ground pecans
1 egg, well-beaten
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
1 cup milk
1 cup soft bread crumbs
1 teaspoon onion, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Mix together pecans, soft bread crumbs, well beaten egg, minced onion, minced parsley, salt and milk. Chill for two hours. Drop spoonfuls into hot fat in skillet. Brown about 5 minutes on each side. (You can broil if you prefer) Serve with hot mushroom sauce (my grandmother generally did a diluted, then thickened cream of mushroom for this…I skip this and serve them ala crabcakes or veggie burgers)

Curried Fake Chicken Salad

This recipe is for Mochamomma. You see, she expressed a certain fondness on Twitter the other day for Curried Chicken Salad. I had to point out that I make a great curried chicken salad…without the chicken.

I in the beginning used the Yves unbreaded chickn patties for this vegetarian variation on my mother’s curried chicken salad. Then I moved to using tofu…experimented a bit with chicken flavored seitan. Denise loves any version and tofu is easier to get. I am particularly fond of using the Marjon brand of firm tofu but I haven’t found it here since we moved.

The recipe is rough because, well, I do it out of my head. It is based on the Bird of Paradise salad in Joy of Cooking.

Take one block of well-drained tofu or chicken substitute of your choice (or chicken…about 2-3 cups). Dice it up. Add one chopped apple. I use granny smith usually. You can also halve 1/2 to 1 cup of grapes to add in. (a mixture of green and red is nice). If you are into some crunch, chop a stalk of celery and throw in.  Stir it together. Throw some curry powder and salt on top. 1-2 teaspoons curry powder. 1 tsp salt or salt to taste. Add JUST enough mayo for it all to stick together. At this point, it is best to throw it in the fridge for a couple hours, overnight or however long you can wait.  Just before serving, stir in about a cup of cashews.

This is way easy. Fabulous served with French bread or the bread of your choice.

Retro Jell-o Remake for Vegetarians

This is not actually a retro Jell-o mold but a remake of a classic from The Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon. I LOVE this cookbook. You simply must buy this cookbook whether you are a vegetarian or not. Lots of yummy recipes. Lots of great stories. This is a go-to cookbook for me and has been for a number of years.

Carrot Orange Crown Salad

2 lemons
4 oranges
About 3 cups carrot juice
1 tablespoon agar powder (not flakes or bars)
3 tablespoons honey or sugar
3 carrots, grated
Orange twists, carrot curls, fresh mint (optional)

Lightly spray a mold with cooking spray, set aside. Grate the rind of 1 lemon and 1/2 of 1 orange. Set aside. Juice both lemons, as well as the orange whose rind you just grated. Pour the juices into a 1-qt measuring cup, and add sufficient carrot juice to = 3  cups + 2 tablespoons liquid. Whisk in agar powder and let stand 5 minutes.
Peel section and dice the three remaining oranges in pieces small enough to hit with a fork but large enough to be distinct. Set aside.
Combine the agar juice mixture with honey or sugar in medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil for a few seconds. Remove from heat and let cool until the mixture starts to thicken, 15-20 min. Then stir in reserved rinds, orange sections, and grated carrots. Immediately turn into prepared mold. Refrigerate, covered, until set, 1 to 2 hours. Serve garnished if desired with an orange twist, curl of carrot and a sprig of fresh mint.