The Dinner Party

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been intrigued by the question, “If you could invite anyone over to dinner, who would you invite?” I’ve always limited myself to living people because I’ve always thought that the shock of being raised from the dead would make any potential dinner guest less interested in being at the table. They’d probably want to be with their loved ones and not eating dinner with me.

When I was ten, I wanted to invite Cassandra Peterson (“Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.” What can I say? I liked horror films) and Robin Williams.

When I was in high school, Leslie Nielsen was high on my list.

In college, Gloria Steinem was on there.

Now in my mid-30’s, I’ve decided that I would love to invite “Weird Al” Yankovic and His Holiness the Dalai Lama over for dinner.

This might seem an odd combination, but I think they’d actually get along quite well.

They’re both quite eloquent and have unique perspectives on the world, which would make for very interesting conversation. They’re both very tolerant and soft-spoken. They both embrace the joy in their lives and seek to share it with others. I think they would both find my children entertaining and would interact with them compassionately.

I would, of course, also invite Al’s wife and child, if they wanted to come. Hopefully the three kids would get along well, too, since they’re relatively close in age.

The menu would be easy. They’re both vegetarians, so I could make my signature dishes, my vegetarian and vegan lasagnas, without further modification. I’m pretty sure neither of them drinks alcohol, though, so I’d have to decide if it was poor manners for me to drink wine with dinner (I’d probably err on the side of caution and abstain for the evening). But I do have a very yummy non-alcoholic punch recipe that I could mix up for the occasion so we could have something a little fancy to drink.

I think autumn would be a nice time to have them over. It wouldn’t be too hot in the house (no air conditioning + lasagna baking = sweltering in the summer), but it would still be warm enough to eat out on the sun porch where the only table big enough for a dinner party is located. I hear fall is a gorgeous season in New England, anyway, and it would be nice to provide a draw for them in addition to my lasagna.

I don’t know what questions I would ask them, but I’d kind of rather just chat rather than make it like an interview. Afterwards, if things went well, maybe they’d like to play Trivial Pursuit. It’s unlikely either of them plays euchre, but perhaps my husband and I could teach them, and we could all play that while we ate homemade vegan strawberry ice cream.

Super-Secret Vegetarian Lasagna. Part Two: Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free

This one has the approval of vegans and dairy-eaters alike, but if you eat gluten and dairy (and love lots of cheese), also check out my Super-Secret Vegetarian Lasagna!

I have been trying since 2004 to make a yummy vegan lasagna. Back when I could still eat dairy, I would top the ones that weren’t yummy with a thick layer of melted cheese and that would make them palatable. Now that I can tolerate neither gluten nor dairy, the stakes are higher.

This weekend, however, I seem to have broken the code. This lasagna had me going back for seconds (and thirds, if truth be told). For the first time ever I didn’t spend my meal wishing I was eating the gooey cheesy lasagna on my husband’s plate rather than my own.

It was a red-letter day. And I got to serve yummy lasagna to the vegan friend who was over, which made me quite proud!

CJ’s Kick-Butt GF Vegan Lasagna

Ingredients:

1 batch of sauce (see Saturday’s post for the sauce recipe)

1 pound gluten-free lasagna noodles (uncooked)

1 package extra-firm tofu

1 bunch spinach (washed very well)

1 bunch basil (washed well as well)

1 T olive oil

1 yellow summer squash, sliced into half-moons

1/2-pound cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 generous dash each, oregano and garlic powder

1 package mozzarella-style vegan cheese (Daiya is gluten-free and not awful, but it seems like everyone’s got their favorite brand. Use what you like.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the basil and spinach into thin ribbons and combine in a large bowl. In a food processor, process the tofu until it’s smooth and creamy, like ricotta cheese, about 30 seconds. Spoon tofu into the basil and spinach mixture and stir until incorporated evenly.

Spinach/basil/tofu mixture

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced squash and mushrooms along with the oregano and garlic and saute until the mushrooms have released their juices and the squash is just softened.

mushroom/squash/garlic/oregano mixture

Now you’re ready to assemble your lasagna.

Put a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan.

Layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan.
Getting artsy with my layering.

Put a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles on top, using broken pieces to fill in the space at the end of the pan, if necessary. Spread half of the spinach/tofu mixture on top of the noodles and top that with half of the mushroom/squash mixture. Add another layer of noodles and cover the noodles with a generous layer of sauce. Add remaining spinach mixture and then mushroom mixture, and then cover with another layer of noodles. Cover the top layer of noodles with a generous portion of sauce and sprinkle with vegan cheese.

Cover the lot with a layer of foil and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and vegan cheese is melted.

Ready for the oven! (once I put the foil on)

Super-Secret Vegetarian Lasagna. Part One: The One I Can’t Eat

For you gluten-free and/or dairy-free types, check out my Super-Secret Gluten-Free Vegan Lasagna!

I always loved my mom’s lasagna when I was a kid. Then I grew up and became vegetarian and had to modify the recipe so it didn’t include beef. Then I started eating meat again, but by that time, I loved my lasagna so much without meat, I never bothered to add it back. Plus, with darned near four pounds of cheese, who needs meat?

Then I stopped being able to tolerate gluten and dairy. I’ve not eaten this lasagna in more than three years. I’ve only recently started making it for my family again. I would make it to drop off to friends, but I didn’t want the yummy smell of bubbling cheese, slightly browned on the edges, to tempt me into eating something that would make me feel awful for days.

This story has a happy ending, though, which I will reveal in Monday’s post.

For those of you who can eat gluten and dairy without pain, this one’s for you. For those who can’t, patience, my friends. Monday’s post will bring you wonderful news!

Because of its awesomeness, I’ve been keeping this recipe a secret thinking that sharing it would cause everyone to make lasagna as awesome as mine and then mine wouldn’t be special anymore. But then I realized that not only is it selfish to deny people kick-A lasagna simply because they don’t live near enough for me to make them one, but that even with a “recipe,” this lasagna is likely not reproducible exactly anyway. I’ve done my best to write down just how I make it, but really, I just toss things in without measuring. Maybe one day I’ll post a video of myself cooking lasagna, and you can copy my technique precisely, down to the Skip James songs I sing while cooking (tonight it was “Be Ready When He Comes,” because I was thinking that I wanted to make sure the lasagna was ready when our guests arrived). Until I get the video made and get over my phobia of posting images of myself online, hopefully this recipe gets you close-to-awesome lasagna.

Oh, and you could certainly use a meat sauce with this, if you’re so inclined. I just, as I’ve mentioned, don’t see much need for it.

CJ’s Kick-Butt Vegetarian Lasagna

If you wait a little longer to cut it than I do, the molten cheese won’t goo together this much.

Ingredients:

Sauce:

1-2 T olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 15-oz cans of tomato sauce OR 1 jar spaghetti sauce (any variety; I usually use 365 or Muir Glen marinara).

1 28-oz can diced tomatoes

1 can tomato paste

generous amounts dried oregano, rosemary, basil, garlic powder, dill, crushed red pepper (I use a LOT…like ~2 T of each (except the red pepper…that’s more like 1 teaspoon). If you use jar sauce, you likely won’t need this much. Adjust to your taste. I also grind the dried rosemary leaves with a mortar and pestle so they don’t poke me in the gums. If I use fresh garlic, I press about 1 bulb (yes, bulb) into the sauce.)

 Other ingredients:

1 lb lasagna noodles (uncooked)

1 lb ricotta cheese (lowfat is okay)

1 bunch fresh basil leaves, washed

1 bunch fresh spinach leaves, washed

1 12-oz package provolone slices, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch squares

1 pound shredded mozzarella

1 pound parmesan, shredded

Sauce

Heat a couple tablespoons olive oil in a large pot. Add chopped onions and saute for a few minutes until translucent. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients. Bring nearly to a boil then simmer gently for, I don’t know, 30-60 minutes? Longer if you’ve got the time. Add up to 1 cup additional water during simmering. It’s OK if the sauce is a little thin because the lasagna noodles will soak up some of the liquid.

Preheat oven to 375. Unless you like cleaning your oven, you may want to place a sheet of aluminum foil or a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any spills while the lasagna is cooking. While the sauce simmers, gather the basil and spinach leaves together and slice into thin ribbons. Make sure the spinach is very well rinsed before slicing. There is nothing worse than gritty lasagna.

Ricotta not yet incorporated into the spinach and basil.

Combine the basil, spinach, and ricotta in a large bowl, and mix well. The ricotta will need a fair amount of working in to incorporate it evenly through the greens.

Spread a layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 pan (a relatively thin layer…this is just to keep the noodles from sticking to the bottom). Place a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles on top of the sauce, leaving a little space between the noodles to allow for expansion. Break a noodle or two if necessary to fill space at the end of the pan.

Spoon 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over noodles and spread as best you can. Cover with a layer of about 1/3 of the mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan.

Ready for the oven.

Add another layer of noodles as before and cover liberally with sauce. Add the rest of the ricotta mixture and another 1/3 of the cheese. Top with another layer of noodles, a final layer of sauce, then the remaining cheeses. I like ending with parmesan because I like the way the shreds look, but that’s a matter of personal taste. Bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes, or until sauce at sides of pan is bubbly and cheese on top is browned to your taste. (If you don’t like browned cheese, start checking it around the 40-minute mark.)