Sunday, January 5, 2014

Back To Work Blues

Dear Readers,

Happy New Year!

I was going to do the first article of the New Year on onions, but since a lot of us are going back to work after Non-Denominational Holidays, I decided to break the mold. After a vacation of a week or more, when you have to face the dreaded reality of going back to work, the LAST thing you want to do is slave away in the kitchen. It's therefore awfully tempting to go out in the freezing cold to a restaurant, or get fast food or take out, when you should be eating something a little healthier.

This article is going to be about dinner and lunch solutions that are not only a little healthier, but quick to prepare. Perfect for your busy lifestyle and post holiday blues.

Sammy's Cheater's Lasagna

Lasagna is a great winter and fall dish. It's hearty, cheesy, and while it can be very fattening, there are ways to do it that are more healthful, quicker, and easier.  I'm no nutritionist, but I DO know that dairy products like cheese can be found in low fat varieties, and that dairy products, fruits (like the almighty tomato), and veg (like spinach) are all good for you. This recipe contains all three. While you can eat it with a salad or garlic bread, a slice of lasagna is just fine on its own, be it fresh or reheated. I call this "Cheater's Lasagna" because there's no boiling of noodles or sauce making involved, and as a result, the total prep time before it goes in the oven is only about 10 or 15 minutes.

Here's How You Do It:

From the Store

2 Containers of Low Fat Cottage cheese OR if you have the funds, Low fat ricotta cheese

1 Package Italian Blend shredded cheese

1 to 2 Cans or Jars of your favorite tomato or meat sauce OR from the fridge or thawed from the freezer, 1 batch of homemade sauce


1 Baking Pan

Measuring spoons

1 Measuring Cup or Measuring cups

1 Fork

1 Mixing Bowl

2 Regular Spoons

1 Fork

Oven Mitts

1 Strainer

Aluminum foil

From the Fridge

IF you're using ricotta cheese, you'll need 2 Eggs, as it's quite thick - the eggs will thin it out


From the Freezer

1 Package or 5 cubes of frozen chopped spinach - this can be thawed in a bowl by pouring some hot water over it and leaving it for a few minutes, leaving it overnight in the fridge, or in the microwave for about two minutes in some water - either way, you will need to drain the spinach after thawing, using the strainer

From the Pantry

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 Box OVEN READY Lasagna Noodles - These are great time savers. The noodles hydrate all by themselves using the moisture from the cheese and sauce, no there's no boiling required. Simply layer them dry with your cheese and sauce and they will come out of the oven with the exact same texture and tenderness as the kind you boil!

Olive Oil

Start preheating your oven at the temperature recommended on the box of oven ready lasagna noodles. I say this because different brands will require different oven temperatures, so stick to them.

In a bowl dump in your cottage cheese, or ricotta cheese and eggs, if using the ricotta. Add 1/2 a cup of the pre-packaged grated cheese, your thawed, drained spinach, 1 tablespoon of pesto, and some salt and pepper. Mix it with a fork until all the ingredients are combined, and the spinach looks like it's more or less evenly distributed among the cheese. See the image below.

Believe it or not, you are now ready to assemble your lasagna.

Put a tablespoon of Olive Oil in your baking pan and add a few tablespoons of sauce, enough to coat the bottom. If you're using meat sauce, you probably won't need the oil - see the image below.

Add 1 layer of uncooked oven ready lasagna noodles.

Using a regular spoon, add 1 layer of the spinach and cheese mixture.

Add 1 layer of oven ready lasagna noodles, and another layer of the cheese mix. Top with 1 more layer of lasagna noodles, and then cover the top noodles with your sauce. Cover with cheese, and add about 6 of 1/8 of a teaspoons pesto in different areas on top of the lasagna. Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for 45 minutes. When the time is up, remove the foil and if you like your cheese a bit brown around the edges, bake for another 15 minutes, otherwise, you can take it out.

Let the lasagna rest on your counter for another 10 to 15 minutes so that individual slices don't fall apart when you serve it.   

Serves 4 very hungry people, or 6 normally hungry people.

Spinach, Egg and Orange Salad

I should say right off the bat that this isn't MY recipe. It's my mother's. I consider her a culinary genius because she helped me develop a taste for spinach at a young age with this salad. This is simple, easy, fast, and it has protein and veg, perfect for anyone on one of those ludicrous low carb fad diets (and yes, they ARE ludicrous).

Here's How You Do It

From the Store

1 Orange, preferably seedless

1  Box Fresh Washed Spinach (5 oz)


1 Knife

1 Cutting Board

1 Small Pot

1 Large Bowl

1 Measuring Cup OR a clean, clear glass Jar

1 Set of Tongs or 2 Forks

From the Fridge

2 Eggs

1/2 of a small Onion

From the Pantry

Salt and Pepper

Olive Oil

Acid of Choice - This can be any vinegar you wish, or you can use orange or lemon juice or a mixture of them

Sweetener of choice - optional -  some people like sweet salad dressings, some like sour, so the addition of this is up to you. If you decide to use orange juice, don't bother with the sugar, as it's sweet enough.

Hard boil the eggs according to my directions in Lowered Eggspectations Part 1.

While the eggs are boiling, peel the oranges and slice them. Do the same with the onion, and set both aside.

When the eggs are ready, peel and slice them lengthwise.

Now's the time to prep your dressing. Some people like a well dressed salad, others only like a little bit, so the amount depends on you. To prep the dressing, put a little salt and pepper in the measuring cup or jar, and then add your acid of choice, and if, using, your sweetener. Add twice as much oil as you added acid, and mix it with a fork or by screwing the top of the jar on tightly (please get your minds out the gutter), and shake it well. Taste your dressing. If you find it too oily, add more acid. If you find it too sour, add some sweetener, OR if you want it keep it savory, add some more oil.  Add more salt and pepper to taste if you wish.

Now you can assemble the salad.

Dump the spinach in the salad bowl and add the dressing. Toss the salad with a pair of tongs, or two forks, and then lay the egg, orange, and onion slices over the top in the salad bowl, or on individual plates.

You can now take it to the table await the oohs and ahs.

Serves 6 as a side dish, OR 2 as a meal.

Soy Orange Salmon with Orange Cranberry Couscous

I know it sounds weird, but this dish turns out surprisingly well. Buy salmon when it's on sale, but don't buy unless it's fresh. How you do you tell? Your filet should look good for one, the flesh should be firm, and there should be no overly fishy smell.  If you're really lost, look at the date it was packaged on (if it's already packaged). It should have been packaged same day if possible. I chose couscous as an accompaniment because it's extremely quick to prepare, and you can add healthy things to it that will also add loads of flavor and texture. Don't like craisins (dried cranberries), or sunflower seeds ? No problem! Try using your favorite nuts, and your favorite dried fruit. Total prep time for this? 25 minutes, and that includes baking time.

Here's How You Make It:

From the store

1 Small Pack of Sunflower Seeds

1 Small Pack of Dried Cranberries or Craisins

1 Filet of Salmon - 430 grams will feed 2 people, if you're really not sure how much to get, ask the fish guy at the grocery store or fish market - he or she will be able to tell you

1 Bunch Fresh Flat Leaf aka Italian Parsley

1 Orange


Aluminum Foil

Plastic wrap

1 Baking Sheet

1 Mixing Bowl

1 Fork

1 Measuring cup

1 Coffee Mug

1 Box Grater

1 Small Bowl

1 Knife and Cutting Board

Measuring spoons

1 Kitchen Timer

From the Fridge

Mayonnaise  or Jarred Salad Dressing (i.e. Miracle Whip)

From the Pantry

1 Cup Instant Couscous



Soy Sauce
Preheat your oven t0 350 F (180 C) and in a pot or kettle, put some water on to boil (about 2 cups).

Put a thick layer of foil on your baking sheet. Rinse your fish under the tap, and then dry with a clean tea towel or a piece of paper towel. Put the fish on top of the foil on the baking sheet.

Take your orange and carefully grate the very outer skin or zest into a bowl. See the image below. You'll be using half for the fish, and half for your couscous. Put half into the coffee mug and add about 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper, and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. Mix it well with a fork and add 2 1/2 tablespoons of mayonnaise (this will make the fish extra moist), and 1 Teaspoon of soy sauce. Mix it well with a fork and spread it over the fish. Put it in the oven and set your kitchen timer for 12 to 20 minutes depending on how you like your fish done, or until the juices of the fish have turned a milky colour. 12 minutes will make the fish medium rare, 20 will make it well done.

While the fish is baking, prep your couscous. Put 1 cup of couscous in a heat safe mixing bowl or decent sized regular bowl and carefully, without burning yourself,  measure out 1 cup of the boiling hot water. Pour it on the couscous. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it alone for about 5 minutes.
In the meantime, rinse your parsley, dry it with a clean tea towel or paper towel (or just shake it to get rid of excess water) and chop up the leaves using your carving knife. Discard the stems. Set it aside.

Take the same orange whose zest you used for the fish, cut it in half, and squeeze the juice from the whole orange into the bowl with the remaining zest. Add 5 Tablespoons of Olive Oil, and some salt and pepper to your taste, and mix with a fork.

Remove the plastic wrap from the couscous, and using the same fork, separate the grains by running the tines through it. See the image below.

Dump in your parsley, your 1 cup of craisins, and 1/2 a cup of sunflower seeds, and then pour in the olive oil juice mixture. Mix it with a fork until it looks like the image below.

Put the salmon on the plate and put the couscous on the side. The citrus flavors in both will make for a good match. Enjoy!

Serves 2 to 4 people, depending on the size of your filet, and the hunger level of your guest. This recipe can easily be doubled as needed. Have leftover couscous? No problem! You can always put what's left in a tupperware and take it to work for lunch.

Sammy's Laziest dessert

This is the quickest dessert I know, and the best part is: it looks fancy and everything you need is in the fridge and freezer!

Here's How You Do It


1 Mixing Bowl

1 Spoon

1 Regular Bowl

From the Pantry


Vinegar (optional)

From the Fridge


From the Freezer

Frozen Berries

In a mixing bowl, mix 2 spoonfuls of jam with a cup of berries, and add 2 spoonfuls of vinegar if you wish. Let it sit for 15 minutes to allow the berries to thaw a bit. Put into a small amount into a bowl and top with a bit of yogurt and one extra berry and you're ready to go!

Serves 3.

Stay tuned for next week's edition!

-Samantha R. Gold

Questions? Comments? Requests?

Bring it on!

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