Tag Archives: mozzarella

Mother’s Day and Pillsbury Bake Off Reject

Melissa Iwai © 2014

Melissa Iwai © 2014

First of all — Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms!  🙂  This is a card I recently did for my mom.  I posted my process on my “work” blog on my new website.  I’m loving experimenting with calligraphy.  The fun thing about this card, is that I drew the calligraphy, because I don’t yet have the correct nib.  Anyway, you can check out how I did it here.

My mom is so great.  This is us a couple of years ago after she helped plant flowers in our garden (I am kind of hopeless):

She the only person that makes me feel tall. :)

She is the only person that makes me feel tall. 🙂



So, even though I’ve been crazed with multiple work projects, I had time to completely procrastinate last week and enter some recipes in the 47th Annual Pillsbury Bake Off Contest.  I don’t really know what got into me.  I haven’t entered a contest in years and years.  And I’ve only entered this one once, and didn’t get in.  I never tried again, because it was so hard for me.  There are certain ingredients you must use, and certain ingredients you can use in addition to these.  There are time constraints — your prep time has to be under 30 minutes, and full cooking time has to be within 3 hours (I think!).  This year, there was a seven ingredient limit (not counting water, salt, pepper).  Anyway, for some reason, I became obsessed, but I only had a week to do it all because the deadline was May 7th, and I only learned about it a week and a half beforehand (thank you Laura Stanke!)

I first learned of the world of recipe contesting when I was a finalist for a Cooking Light Reader Recipe contest — the first one I entered.  These people are AMAZING. I was so in awe.  I met my friend, Anna, there of Cookie Madness, who had just won the Pillsbury Bake Off that year.  Everyone there knew about it and most were in the contesting world. There are so many recipes contests going on all the time.  I tried a few after that, but I never devoted the time and energy into it — it is a lot harder than it sounds!

This time, I made about 12 savory fillings and used them in 17 recipes and did two more sweet recipes.  I had such a hard time inputting the recipes — it was ridiculous. I kept making mistakes and had to redo them (probably due to sleep deprivation– ha ha).

Here is a recipe I later realized I couldn’t submit because the prep time exceeded the limit of 30 minutes.  Also you may have extra filling leftover — this isn’t a bad thing, as the tomatoes are good in so many things!

roasted tomato quiche 2

Roasted Tomato and Mozzarella Mini Quiches

1 pint (10oz.) grape tomatoes, washed and sliced vertically in half

¼ teaspoon dried basil

Non-stick spray

kosher salt

1 can of Pillsbury® Grands!® Reduced Fat Crescent Refrigerated dough

2 eggs

2 tablespoons half and half or milk

1/2 cup shredded mozarella cheese


1.  Heat oven to 275° F.  Lightly spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray.  Arrange tomato halves cut side up in one layer.  Season with basil and kosher  salt.  Roast in oven for 40 minutes.  Set aside.

2.  Heat oven to 375 F.  Spray 8 regular-sized muffin cups with non-stick spray.

3.  Remove crescent rolls from package but don’t unroll.  Using a serrated knife, cut roll into 8 rounds.  Carefully separate rounds.  Roll round flat with a rolling pin.  Press 1 round on bottom and completely up side of each muffin cup.  Beat eggs with half and half or milk and set aside.

4.  Top with roasted tomatoes.  Divide egg mixture evenly among cups (about 1 tablespoon each). Top with cheese.

5.  Bake 12-16 minutes or until filling is set and edges of quiches are golden brown.  Cool in pan 5 minutes.  Run knife around edge of each quiche to loosen;  Remove from pan. Serve warm.

roasted tomato quiche 1


Filed under Uncategorized

Sneaky Tofu Lasagne

tofu lasagne 3

Awhile ago, I did a post on our favorite lasagne done several ways.  Well, I found another way to vary it and still keep it vegetarian!

Our dear friends came over for dinner over the weekend, and I needed to make something FAST that would serve eight people, AND be something kids would probably like.  While I was making it, I felt like it needed more substance.  But I didn’t have time to grill vegetables, and I didn’t know if my friend’s kids would like it with vegetables anyway.  I thought of adding more cheese, but there is a lot in it as is.  I remember reading about combining ricotta with tofu on The Kitchn blog, so I thought I would try it.   I doubled my sauce recipe and added onion to it.  Then I made the lasagne with a mixture of fresh mozzarella and smoky mozzarella and parmesan as I always do.

You can see the ricotta and tofu mixture here.

You can see the ricotta and tofu mixture here.

Roasted zucchini and eggplant were served on the side, so people could have the veggies if they wanted it.  The lasagne was really delicious!  I’m happy to say, adults and kids had seconds, and no one was the wiser! 🙂

tofu lassagne 2

Sneaky Lasagne

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, pressed through a garlic press or smashed

2 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (or whole pureed)

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

kosher salt

2 teaspoons sugar (optional)

1 box of lasagne noodles (1 lb.)

1 container of ricotta cheese (16 oz.)

1/2 block of tofu (I used firm, but any would do)

8 oz. smoky mozzarella, grated

8 oz. plain mozzarella, grated

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Mix grated mozzarella cheeses together in a bowl and set aside.  Mix ricotta and tofu together with hands in another bowl.  Set aside

3.  Saute onions in oil until soft.  Add garlic and saute for about a minute — do not burn!

4.  Add tomatoes, herbs, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and sugar if desired.  Simmer 20 minutes uncovered over medium low heat.

5.  Meanwhile soak noodles in boiling water in 2  9-inch by 13-inch baking dishes, covering by about 1/2-inch.  Stir occasionally to keep pasta from sticking.

6.  Assemble lasagne in each pan in this general order:

1 cup sauce, pasta, 1/6 of the ricotta mixture spread on top, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella mixture, a spoonful or so of the parmesan.  Then pasta, 1/6 ricotta mixture spread on top, some sauce, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella mixture, and a spoonful of parmesan.  The last layer is pasta, 1/6 ricotta mixture, some sauce.  Leave about 1 cup of mozzarella mixture to cover both pans later.  You will have extra sauce leftover.  Heat and serve later with meal.

7.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover and top with remaining mozzarella and spoonful of so of parmesan and bake for another 5- 10 minutes.  Serve with extra sauce at the table.


Filed under Children, Dinner, Pasta, Vegetarian

Easy Weeknight Baked Pasta with Meat and Veggies

Trying to get some vegetables into your diet?  (Sneaking in more vegetables in your kids’ diet also counts!)

Here is an easy weeknight dish that accomplishes that, and even meat eaters will approve.
I think it was in Mark Bittman’s Food Matters that I first read about the benefits of stretching meat centric dishes with vegetables and/or grains.  It’s a nice compromise, because you are not cutting out meat completely–if you are an omnivore–but just reducing the amount and bulking up on vegetables and grains.  This accomplishes a lot of great things at once:

From a health standpoint, eating less saturated fats and more healthy fats from plants is always a good thing.

From an environmental standpoint, eating less meat and more plants is also a good thing.

From your pocket book’s standpoint, it is a lot cheaper to maintain a diet heavier on plants (especially if you grow a lot of them–something I, unfortunately, haven’t had to luck of doing) rather than on meats.

My husband is a meat person — I’ve mentioned before he only used to eat brown food (think bacon, beef, chicken, potatoes, peanut butter, bread, etc.) for a lot of his life before we got together!  I’m not going to force him to become a vegetarian — it would never work anyway.  And I eat meat also — just not so much red meat.

This is a simple, fast weeknight dish that you can adapt to suit your preference.  If you like more meat, add more.  No meat, omit it.  You can swap ground turkey or chicken for the beef.  Use whatever vegetable you like.  Since zucchini is a family favorite, I use it.  But I think this dish would also be great with eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, even fall friendly vegetables like butternut or acorn squash.  The more variety of colors, the better!  Just be sure to cut the pieces into similar sizes.

Fiori pasta is so cute.


I used Fiori pasta because I had a package in the pantry, but any bite sized pasta would work well.

Make a meat and vegetable sauce.

Béchamel sauce cooking.

Make a Béchamel sauce if you’d like an extra layer of flavor and richness.

Pasta topped with Béchamel sauce,


Topped with grated mozzarella.

Top with mozzarella — note:  Freeze the mozzarella about 30-60 minutes before grating, so it is easier to grate!

Spotted from some broiler action.

Throw in the broiler for a quick melt and you’re done!

Easy Weeknight Baked Pasta with Meat and Veggies (based on Rachel Ray’s Baked Ziti)

Lb. pasta of your choice (I used Fiori)

Kosher salt

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion (one whole small onion)

½ lb. ground meat (I used lean beef)

3 cups chopped vegetable (I used one large zucchini)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 28 oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes

pepper to taste

For Béchamel Sauce (optional):

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup milk

grated nutmeg to taste

nonstick spray

¼ cup grated parmesan

4 oz. grated mozzarella

  1. Bring large pot of water to boil.  Season with salt.
  2. While waiting for water to boil, put mozzarella in freezer to firm up.  Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat.
  3. Sauté onions and beef until beef is no longer pink.  Add garlic and let cook until fragrant.  Add zucchini or other vegetable.  Sauté until softened slightly.  Add canned tomatoes.  Turn heat down to low, cover, and let simmer, stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.
  4. If using, make béchamel sauce.  Melt butter in a small saucepan.  Add flour and quickly whisk with butter to prevent from clumping.  Sauté for a minute.  Gradually add a little bit of milk while whisking.  Don’t add it too fast, or the sauce will become lumpy.  Add just enough at a time to smooth it out.  When it is the consistency of a smooth, liquid paste, add the rest of milk, while whisking.  Season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg to taste.  Let simmer and thicken about five minutes.
  5. Meanwhile cook pasta al dente according to package instructions.  Set aside.
  6. Preheat broiler.  Coat the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with spray or olive oil.  Set aside.
  7. Assemble baked pasta. Combine cooked pasta and cooked sauce in the large pot you used to cook the pasta in.  Add grated parmesan. Stir to combine.  Transfer to baking dish.  Top with a layer of béchamel sauce.  Cover with grated mozzarella.  Broil in oven until cheese is melted and is starting to brown, about 2-3 minutes.


Filed under Beef, Dinner, Pasta, Vegetables

Smoky Mozzarella Lasagne Three Ways

I had two “fails” yesterday. One was the lasagne recipe I was planning on posting. It was a partial experiment (I added grilled vegetables), and it didn’t go as expected! The “fail” part was that it was a little too saucy and watery due to the vegetables — even though I had grilled them. My sweetie pie son kept saying “Mommy, this is SO not a fail! It’s SO good!” while eating it though, so the flavor wasn’t affected. He actually literally licked his plate clean.  Kind of gross but sweet at the  same time.  🙂  Then when we had it the next night as a leftover, it was perfect — so unlike dry leftover lasagne that needs a good dose of extra sauce. So I think if I were to make this again, I would let it set awhile after coming out of the oven to let the juices redistribute and thicken more instead of cutting and serving right away. If anyone else has any other suggestions, please share! Otherwise, this is a great spin on a classic and it is a little lighter and more nutritious with the addition of the extra vegetables.

My other” fail” involved work.  Let’s just say I was screaming and cursing at 10:30 pm after working about six hours on an illustration only to lose ALL of the work I had done on the computer. In technical terms, I accidentally saved my file after collapsing all of my layers and reducing the dpi to 72 from 300 dpi instead of doing a “save as” and renaming it. The work was done after my automatic backup to my external hard drive, so I had no other copy.

Suffice it to say, it was a LONG day. I started redoing everything I had lost this morning at 6:45 am and completed everything before lunch.  I’ve just begun creating the final illustrations for the book , and I’m so excited about this project — can’t talk much about it, but it does involve food, so I’ve been making a lot of little paper collage treats. 🙂  It will be published by Viking next year!

Juicy oranges

Plate o' donuts from the diner

On to that lasagne “fail” recipe…

I’ve been making this lasagne for years ever since I first saw a version of it in a 2000 issue of Gourmet. That’s how long it’s been! It’s a vegetarian lasagne that doesn’t have the ricotta and egg filling that traditional lasagne has, so it’s a bit lighter. I’ve changed the recipe over the years. I use a combination of smoky and regular mozzarella because I think using only smoky makes it too salty. I decided to take it a step further in my quest to increase veggies into our meals and layer the pasta with grilled eggplant and zucchini. I made three versions in one pan — 1/3 all pasta, 1/3 half pasta half veggie, and 1/3 no pasta all veggie. (Easy to guess who eats which portions!)

If using eggplant, salt slices and drain in colander for 30 minutes. I do this to season it and to reduce moisture.

Meanwhile make sauce. I buy whole tomatoes which I puree in my Vitamix, but crushed canned tomatoes works well too. Slow saute crushed garlic in olive oil to infuse the oil with flavor. Add tomatoes, dried basil, oregano, kosher salt, and sugar if you like, and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes.

Cover lasagne noodles with boiling water in dish while sauce cooks for 20 minutes. This reduces the baking time. Determine how many noodles you need depending on how much vegetables you will be using. In my version I used six.

Move them around from time to time so they don't stick.

If using veggies, grill; otherwise skip this step.

Pat rinsed and drained eggplant slices with paper towels. Brush zucchini and eggplant with olive oil and grill on each side for about 2 minutes. I cover mine with a lid so they steam and grill at the same time.

Look at those grill marks!

Now you’re ready to assemble lasagne. Drain pasta if using. Start with about a cup of sauce on the bottom of the pan.

Then layer with noodles, veggies, 1 cup of mozzarella mixture, a spoonful of parmesan, another cup of sauce, and repeat two more times except on the last layer, end with sauce and reserve the cheeses.

Second layer

Last layer

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, top with rest of cheeses and bake another 10 minutes or so until cheese is melted.

You may have leftover grilled veggies, depending on how much you use.  This isn’t a bad thing.   They can easily be used in frittatas, pizzas, quesadillas, salads…

All pasta, no veg

Half pasta and veg

All veg

Smoky Mozzarella Lasagne Three Ways
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch slices crosswise

kosher salt
1 medium zucchini, cut into 3/8-inch slices lengthwise

olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, pressed through a garlic press or smashed

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (or whole pureed)

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)

Lasagne noodles (figure on 3 sheets per “stack” — amount depends on how much vegetable you use)

8 oz. smoky mozzarella, grated

8 oz. plain mozzarella, grated

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Mix grated mozzarella cheeses together in a bowl and set aside.

3.  Salt and drain eggplant if using.

4.  Saute garlic in about 1-2 teaspoons olive oil until soft on low heat — do not burn!

5.  Add tomatoes, herbs, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and sugar if desired.  Simmer 20 minutes uncovered over medium low heat.

6. Meanwhile soak noodles in boiling water in a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish, covering by about 1/2-inch.  Stir occasionally to keep pasta from sticking.

7.  Rinse and drain eggplant if using. Pat dry with paper towels.  Brush eggplant and zucchini slices with oil and grill about 2 minutes per side, covering with a large lid.

7.  Assemble lasagne using pasta or veggies or both in this general order:

1 cup sauce, pasta, vegetable, or both, 1 cup of the mozzarella mixture, a spoonful or so of the parmesan.  Repeat twice, reserving the last layer of cheese for later.

8.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover and top with remaining cheese and bake for another 5- 10 minutes.

9.  Let rest for an hour if possible if using vegetables!  I think this would prevent runny sauce as mentioned at the beginning of the post.  This lasagne is great the next day!


Filed under Dinner, Pasta

Passover Pizza

Passover ends Friday at sundown, but this dish is so good, you can serve it all year round (which I plan to do)!  It’s also a great way to incorporate more veggies into your diet.  Even my son loves it.

I’d seen similar versions in the blogsphere and liked this one by Mollie Katzen.  I adapted it for Passover, substituting matzo meal for the flour.  I also omitted the 2 tablespoons of olive oil (admittedly by accident!) and did not miss it.   Instead of a greased pizza pan, I used a piece of parchment on a hot pizza stone which I heated in the oven while said oven was preheating.  Our toppings were homemade tomato sauce (sautéed garlic in olive oil simmered with a can of puréed tomatoes, dried basil, oregano, salt and a pinch of sugar), leftover grilled eggplant, chopped artichoke hearts, smoky and plain mozzarella, and turkey sausage.  Obviously you can top with anything you want!

Although the crust gets crispy but we found it easiest to eat with a fork and knife.

Passover Pizza adapted from Mollie Katzen

2 medium zucchini, shredded (about 2-3 cups, packed)

1 egg and 1 egg white (or 2 eggs), beaten

1/4 cup matzo meal (or flour if it’s not for Passover)

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

dash of dried basil and dried oregano

kosher salt

non-stick spray

1.  Place pizza stone in oven.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Alternatively, if you’re using a pan, generously grease it with olive oil and set aside until oven is ready.

2.  Remove as much moisture out of grated zucchini as possible by wrapping with a clean towel or several paper towels and squeezing.

3.  Mix zucchini, beaten eggs, matzo meal, parmesan, mozzarella, and herbs in a large bowl until zucchini is completely coated.

4.  When oven is 400 degrees, lay parchment on heated pizza stone and spread mixture into a large round.  Alternatively, make a large round on a greased pizza pan and place in oven.  Spray top with non-stick spray.

5.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Spray top again and bake for another 15 minutes.

6.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.  Loosen crust from parchment with a spatula.

7.  Top with your favorite toppings.  Return to oven and bake for about 8-10 minutes until heated through.

8.  Cut into slices and serve.

9.  Eat!!


Filed under Dinner, Vegetables

Low Carb Zucchini Pasta and Creamy Ricotta, Smoked Bacon, and Artichoke Sauce

After our week of eating while traveling — that is, many In-n-Out burgers, diner food, and other processed and greasy vittles, it feels good to be back at home, cooking healthy whole foods again!

I had to make a quick weeknight meal last night, so I made some pasta for the boys, and sauteed zucchini “pasta” for me.  I saw this recipe on the NY Times site, and it sounded intriguing.  It’s just zucchini slices made with a vegetable peeler sauteed in olive oil until al dente and seasoned with salt.  It really makes a wonderful foil for a creamy rich sauce, and I think it’s more flavorful than regular pasta.  I saved the cores of the two zucchini and will steam them and throw them in a soup later in the week.

Cooking the zucchini al dente makes a wonderful alternative to pasta.

I knew I wanted a rich, creamy sauce (I had extra ricotta  on hand), so I made up one inspired by this Cooking Light Alfredo with Bacon recipe.  I altered it by adding the ricotta, nutmeg, a mix of part skim plain mozzarella and whole milk smoky mozzarella to bring out the smokiness of the bacon, and some leftover artichoke hearts I had that needed to be used!

It was a perfect marriage of flavors and my boys loved it (always a good indicator for a recipe I can use in the future!)

Ricotta Artichoke Sauce with Spaghetti -- fettucine would be great too, but none to be found in our pantry at the time!

Pasta with Ricotta Cream Sauce and Bacon

½ lb. pasta (spaghetti or fettucine works well) and 1/2 recipe of zucchini pasta

or 1 lb. pasta or one full recipe of zucchini pasta

kosher salt

2 slices of hickory smoked bacon, chopped

2 teaspoons  olive oil

½ small onion, chopped

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon flour

1 ½ cup milk (whole or 2% would probably be best, but I used skim!)

¾ cup ricotta (5 oz.)

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

¼ cup grated mozzarella (I used a combination of regular and smoky)

2 canned artichoke hearts, chopped (could probably use more, but that’s all I had)

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Freshly crushed black pepper

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Season water with salt and cook pasta according to package instructions. Reserve about ¼ cup cooking water and drain pasta.  Or make zucchini pasta.
  2. While pasta is cooking make sauce.  Cook bacon in a large skillet until browned.  Remove to a paper lined plate to drain.
  3. Add a teaspoon or two of olive oil to pan depending on how much bacon grease is left.  I hardly had any so I had to add oil.  Saute chopped onion and garlic until softened.  Sprinkle flour on top and brown quickly in pan.  Then whisk in milk gradually to create a sauce.  Add ricotta and whisk until smooth.  Then add parmesan and mozzarella and artichoke hearts.  Stir to combine.  Season with kosher salt, nutmeg, and pepper to taste.  Simmer over low heat until thickened, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add cooked pasta to skillet and toss to coat.  Add bacon and stir.  Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.


Filed under Dinner, Pasta, Vegetables