Mexican Lasagna

Feel sorry for Smark. The poor boy had two root canals yesterday. I made him some “Cream” of Asparagus Soup for dinner last night, and I thought maybe I’d have to change the name of this blog to I Eat Soup (which would be fine with me, I love soup), but today he said he was feeling up for something more substantial. I still didn’t think it would be a good idea to make, say, ddukbokki, so I peered into the cupboards and tried to think of things that are fairly soft to eat but don’t make you feel like an invalid. Pasta seemed like a good bet, but I’m inexplicably out of any shapes and didn’t feel like straight up spaghetti. I did, however, have lasagna noodles. I’m not sure what possessed me to make a Mexican lasagna, but that’s what I did.

This lasagna can be as easy or difficult to make as you’d like. You can either use pre-packaged foods for most of the layers or make everything from scratch. I was looking for a pretty easy meal tonight, but I did have to make what I didn’t have on hand from scratch, so mine was a hybrid. By the way, Trader Joe’s No-Boil lasagna noodles have transformed my life! Years ago, when I was first learning to cook, I hosted a dinner party. Even before I learned to cook, I had the terrible habit of trying new dishes for dinner parties, although I used far more actual recipes back then. For this particular party, I was making some sort of vegan lasagna thing and the recipe said I could use no-boil noodles, which I thought would be a real time-saver. Well, the dish was very tasty and was a big hit with my guests, but the noodle were a bit underdone and sort of ruined it. Since then I have hated no-boil noodles and stayed far, far away from them. Consequently, making lasagna always seemed a bit arduous. I’d do it – it’s one of Mark’s favorite foods and I’m quite fond of it myself – but cooking the noodles is sort of a pain; you never end up with a pan full of perfect noodles – half of them are always broken, and they stick together before you’re ready for them. Then a few months ago I saw no-boil noodles at Trader Joe’s and decided to take a chance on them. They worked perfectly! And they are a fun size: just right for an 8×8″ pan, which makes a great size lasagna for 2 to 4 people. In retrospect, I wonder if my failed dish so long ago simply didn’t have enough liquid in it to fully reconstitute the noodles, but I’ll never know because I’ve long since lost the recipe; all I remember is it involved pine nuts. So if you aren’t close to a Trader Joe’s, feel free to try different no-boil noodles, but just make sure your lasagna is brimming with liquid-y sauce. I can’t vouch for any other no-boil noodles, though.

The first thing you need to make for the Mexican lasagna is nacho sauce.

Nacho Sauce
This uses the Yeast Cheeze recipe from the New Farm Cookbook/Simply Heavenly!. This has been a staple at my parties for years, and is gobbled up even by non-vegans. An ex-boyfriend once told me to bottle and sell it.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups water
1 Tbsp soy margarine
1 tsp prepared mustard (I usually use Dijon)
2 cups salsa – use a thick, chunky, tomato-y kind

Whisk together the flour, nutritional yeast, salt, and garlic powder in a medium pot. Whisk in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking often, until it thickens. Remove from heat and whisk in the margarine and mustard.

Then whisk in the salsa.

I didn’t have any pre-made salsa so I did this:

I put 3 cloves of pressed garlic, 3 Tbsp minced onion, 1 minced jalapeno, two frozen cubes of cilantro (from Trader Joe’s), some salt, and 3 Tbsp tomato paste into a bowl:

I mixed that all together, then added a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes and mixed well.

And now the lasagna:

Mexican Lasagna

no-boil lasagna noodles (or cooked lasagna noodles)
1 batch Nacho Sauce, recipe above
1 can refried beans (or make your own from dried pintos)
1 1/2 cup veggie crumbles/mince, ground seitan, “beefy” TVP crumbles, or other “beef” substitute (I used 3 crumbled veggie burgers)
veggies of your choice, about 1 or 2 cups (I used corn, onions, and spinach)
taco or enchilada sauce
vegan cheddar “cheese”, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Smear a thin layer of nacho sauce on the bottom of an 8×8″ pan.

Place a layer of noodles on top of it:

Smear the refried beans on the noodles:

Top with some nacho sauce:

Add a layer of noodles, then the “beef”.

Then some more sauce:

Another layer of noodles, then the veggies:

And the rest of the sauce:

Add the last layer of noodles and top with the taco or enchilada sauce, as well as the cheddar “cheese” if using. I used some taco sauce leftover from the other night, which I made simply by blending together a clove or two of garlic, a can of tomato sauce, some onion powder, and some pickled jalapenos and pickled jalapeno juice. I wish I’d had more of the taco sauce; it provided a nice tang but I only had maybe 1/4 cup left. I’d use more like 1/2-3/4 cup next time.

Unless you love cleaning your oven, put the lasagna pan on a cookie sheet. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake 15 minutes more. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before eating. This was good, although I think Mark overestimated his chewing ability because when I asked him after his first bite how it tasted he replied, “painful”. Apparently he hadn’t eaten all day and had forgotten how to chew. He did manage to eat an entire piece, though, and I assure you, it’s not much a workout for your mouth. I think it worked well as a progression food.

This has been a photo-heavy post, so just one picture of my “helpers”:

I hope to be back soon; I haven’t been as busy as I have been the last few months, but I also haven’t been cooking much that’s new or interesting; I’ve been doing a lot of old favorites lately. But that will get boring soon!

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Shepherd’s Pie

Once again finding myself with leftover mashed potatoes, I was trying to find a use for them. Shepherd’s Pie fit the bill!

Shepherd’s Pie

1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 cups vegan “beef” broth
8 oz tomato sauce
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 14.5 oz can your choice of beans (I used pinto)
1 cup frozen peas
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
TVP, optional
3-4 cups mashed potatoes
vegan cheddar “cheese”, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the carrots, onions, celery, broth, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and thyme in a Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are just tender, about 5-8 minutes. Add the beans and frozen peas.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan then whisk in the flour, forming a roux.

Cook for a couple of minutes, then transfer to the Dutch oven and whisk until it thickens to a gravy. I seemed to have a higher gravy-to-veggie ratio than I wanted, so I added in some TVP to soak up some of the liquid, which ended up being good because pinto beans are so creamy, the TVP gave the final dish some needed texture.

Spread the mashed potatoes on top.

I had an open package of Daiya cheddar, so I sprinkled that on top. That’s totally optional, though.

Bake for half an hour. The gravy bubbled up around my mashed potatoes. It’s definitely not the prettiest dish.

Although it’s impossible to make this shepherd’s pie look attractive in photographs, it was really tasty. I don’t think food gets more comforting than this. Mark literally licked his bowl clean. I will be making this again.

In craft news, after a particularly mighty battle with my sewing machine while making my fabric gift bags this year, I finally broke down and bought a new one. I’d resisted for a while because I didn’t want to spend money on a sewing machine when I hate sewing. Nonetheless, I do actually sew from time to time and I decided my sanity when doing so was worth $159 (which was the price I paid a few weeks ago). So far I’m really liking the new machine, although I haven’t done much more than make the gift bags so far. My dream sewing machine has long been an antique Singer, converted for electricity (honestly, I wasn’t even sure about the electricity) – I just assume they don’t make them like they used to – but I must say, this one seems pretty good and although I always thought it was silly for sewing machines to do all kinds of crazy stitches I’ll never need, some of these ARE pretty neat:

Anyway, does anyone have any favorite sewing projects for relative beginners? Since I’ve forked over the money for the machine, I might as well put it to use. I’ve already decided to make a rag quilt, but my ultimate goal is to be able to make my own clothes. If there are any sewers out there with suggestions for things to keep my interest without frustrating me too much right off the bat, let’s hear them!

And speaking of sewing, although I suck at it, my mother does not. She recently made the kittens a kitty bed. It contains a heating element, and with all this blustery, cold weather we’ve been having, the warm kitten bed is getting a lot of use. Often both kittens are snuggled up on it together. You can’t see much of Mom’s handiwork in this picture (just the blue edges sticking up from the cat tree I’ve set it in), but here is how you’ll usually find the kittens these days:

And with that, I wish everyone a very happy Hogmanay. (I just finished reading a Scottish book that takes place during this time of year, so New Year’s Eve is Hogmanay to me right now. Bring on the vegan haggis!) (The Crow Road, Zoa – don’t want you burning with curiosity!)

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