So my godmother Teresa is an amazing person to visit, but was an ESPECIALLY amazing person to visit on this last trip to Spokane (my hometown, for those of you just tuning in, which I just returned from visiting) because she is a registered dietitian. A career path I am considering. You know, like everyone else on earth with a food blog.
Basically, every time I got one on one time with her (or, you know, was sitting in a car with her and her husband and my boyfriend were a captive audience with no choice but to listen) we’d start gabbing about protein needs after surgery, tube feedings, dietetics internships, high fructose corn syrup, and any number of fascinating (at least to me) subjects.
We’ll see what happens since I got some disheartening news about that, due to the North Carolina state legislature’s decision to discontinue in-state tuition for Virginia residents for programs Virginia doesn’t have (there used to be a three-state agreement, that if you lived in one state in VA, MD or NC didn’t offer a specific program, you could pay in-state tuition in one of the other states that did have it. UNC’s didactic program in nutrition with a master’s in public health sounded pretty great. Too bad it’d now be 26 grand a year)
My godparents have always been pretty healthy eaters (while balancing in some good stuff- this post has a part 2 that’s a little more indulgent!) but have been particularly so lately due to Engine 2. Which provided the recipe for this beautiful thing:
That would be Raise the Roof lasagna, a recipe you can and should access by clicking that link. Holy yum!
As my godmother introduced Engine 2, it’s a slightly gimmicky diet book (can we say hunky firefighter on the cover?) but their friend, a triathlete, introduced it to them and said it had helped him lose a lot of weight while eating delicious food, and they appreciated the plant based aspect since they’re both big fans of the environment (living in an especially beautiful environment, I’m not surprised).
Let’s talk about the recipe, and introduce you to the chef.
Based on my godmother, I think a lot of the key to working in dietetics (particularly in a food service environment, as she does at the children’s hospital where she manages the cafeteria and patient meals) is having good tools for easy and healthy meal preparation.
For example, her awesome cookbook stand.
The recipe instructs you to chop everything by hand, but she did that the first time and she said it took EONS and it tasted just as good when she used her preferred, easier method of the food processor.
The secret, she said, to the recipe’s deliciousness was sauteeing a few vegetables at a time, in the groupings specified by the recipe, rather than crowding them all into a pan together (as I have been known to do).
One combo was that above food processor chopped fresh red bell pepper along with some corn (the recipe called for canned but she used frozen. I kind of can’t imagine using canned corn ever).
Then mushrooms and garlic. Only mushrooms and garlic. This surprised me- she followed the recipe’s directions to use a nonstick skillet to saute oil-free.
I tend to use oil because it’s supposed to make it easier for your body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, but she said that the cookbook makes the argument that registered dietitians have been making for years- use the whole food, not the oil made from it. Eating olives will give you more volume than a teeny amount of olive oil, eating nuts will give you more satisfaction than having a teeny bit of nut oil.
That being said, she said of course use oils in moderation. This recipe had a good healthy fat already (as you’ll see in the topping!) so she omitted it.
More veggie mix- carrots and broccoli (food processed).
All those veggies went into the filling bowl, along with crumbled tofu and herbs, a mix of dried and some fresh from her garden. She added extra. There cannot be too many fresh herbs, in my opinion.
And so the layering began. Sauce, then whole wheat lasagna noodles. Just dry- the tomato sauce and veggie mixtures provide enough moisture to cook them in the oven.
A layer of filling, more noodles, more sauce.
Spinach, which was kind of sparse in the amount the recipe called for. I might add more, but it could throw off the moisture balance… its main contribution was color.
More filling- so pretty, right?!
Then myyyyyyyyyyyy favorite ingredient- sweet potato! She steamed them in just a little bit of water (rather than boiling! She is an R.D. who knows that boiling leaches out nutrients! Gosh it’s so wonderful spending time with someone who cooks like me! Better yet, she used that teensy bit of nutrient-rich leftover steaming water to moisten the other vegetables while they sauteed!). Then mashed and shmeared on top of filling.
Topped with beautiful fresh sliced roma tomatoes and put into the oven, covered, for the first round of cooking.
Now for the topping, may I present… cashews! In the adorable mini food processor.
Midway through the cooking time, she took the lasagna out of the oven and put it on her AWESOME extendable cutting board
And sprinkled it with the processed raw cashews which look EXACTLY like Parmesan cheese. Such a cool trick, right?!
You cook it uncovered for the remainder of the time and pull it all roasty and browned out of the oven, absolutely delicious and indulgent and lasagna-y looking!
To accompany dinner, we had a salad made from the tomatoes and lettuce that are still growing in their garden! Crazy right- fresh lettuce in August?! It’d usually be gone by now, but they had a realllllll late spring. After Teresa spun the lettuce, her adorable grandson Ari became obsessed- OBSESSED- with the salad spinner. He was “cooking.”
Like, he would not let it go. He took it out to his seat with him at dinner and played with it for the remainder of the evening. He was super into how the pieces fit together and making it start and stop. Little engineer.
With those greens, I made a lovely balsamic vinaigrette with cinnamon (my dad had a girlfriend who always put cinnamon in salad dressing and I have to remember to do it more- it’s delicious!). Dinner al fresco. Lovely!
Dinner concluded with homemade fudge sauce! A brief hint of the treats I enjoyed with the virtuous foods. My godmother’s fudge sauce could NOT be easier- fill a measuring cup with chocolate chips (she likes bittersweet, which as I pointed out are lower in fat than regular, along with being highly delicious. Plus, yknow, chocolate has antioxidants). Cover the chocolate chips with evaporated milk, and add a splash of vanilla. Microwave for one minute intervals, stirring with a wooden spoon til fudgy!
On ice cream. More where that came from :D
For rather obvious reasons, I now associate registered dietitians with Great Harvest bakeries (Kath’s post about becoming an R.D. was also super helpful to me) and wouldn’t you know it, my godparents are walking distance from one!
After strolling to this one, I was immediately greeted with a MASSIVE sample of honey wheat with butter.
I spent easily ten minutes agonizing over what to order but decided on coffee (coffee is uniformly delicious in WA- hurray for being close to Seattle, its utopia) and a peach-cranberry bran muffin.
The muffin was AMAZING- with that wonderful rich-sticky branniness, not to sweet, and positively PACKED with dried cranberries and fresh peaches. I have to start buying bran. I think it could really liven up my baking.
Steve got a coupla things, including an exemplary piece of quiche.
And finally, our final meal in Spokane was meant to be a dinner out but my godparent’s daughter and son-in-law had just returned from a family camping trip and Ari (two year old grandson) was in a bit of a meltdown from lengthy car trips and Ted (son-in-law) had pinkeye from a hot spring (! Bad news, man!) so we just had a cookout.
A refreshingly healthy one!
My godfatheris as fond of sandwich thins as I am, so that was our vehicle of choice for our burgers (there were also regular buns!). Choice of beef or those awesome Morningstar Farms black bean burgers (I had bean, Steve had one of each). Topped with mustard and fresh avocado mmm!
Plus the ultimate summer cookout side dish, watermelon!
Teresa has a produce box program at work where people who work at the hospital who are crunched for time to go grocery shopping can buy a big box of fresh seasonal produce through work (isn’t that a great idea?! Shouldn’t all workplaces offer something like that?!). She had a bunch of it to use up so the combo of peppers, zucchini, and eggplant seemed like an obvious way to make ratatouille. She also added green beans (which she always adds and went great!) and mushrooms (which she hadn’t added before but were my FAVORITE!).
With herbs. Ratatouille is one of the many things I miss after August. Oh, sweet summer.
So remember all this virtuous plant-based food when you see my indulgent next post!