Hudson Highlands: Three-Cheese Lasagna & Vegan Tahini Oat Puffs

29 Jan

Trail dog

Living up in the Hudson Highlands in the core of the Appalachian Mountains has put me in touch with the world at my feet in a physical and tangible way. That I expected. What’s surprised me is the odd touches of metaphysical mysticism thrown into the mix.

Until now, I lived in teeming cities as an adult, quite close to my human neighbors, but far from anything wild, untamable and furry, and I lost touch with that side of life: the mystery, the excitement, the inherent strangeness of woods and non-domesticated animals.

Here, there’s wildness at my doorstep; often, I suspect it wants to come inside with me. Sometimes, I suspect it has even more ominous plans.

For example, the 16-foot tall and 30-foot wide Rhododendron outside of our sun porch is clearly trying to eat our house. I beat it back with holy water, prayers and my sharpest shears every once in a while, but it’s like a Chia Pet Rhodo that has spent too much time in the Pet Sematary, fed by some evil subterranean source of Rhodo protein, bulging with buds even when the mercury dips below 0, quaking with supersonic leaves the size of my head even after Nor’Easters shave the green off of every other bush in our yard; it’s bad, possibly malevolent.

Luckily, there are plenty of auspicious natural delights to combat the Rhodo jujitsu.

When I get up in the morning to cook my breakfast, sparkling, pristine, diamond shards of frost coat the windows overlooking the yard in our kitchen. I scan the backyard, searching for the herd of deer that leaves trails of pellets near my compost pile, or the rabbit that Penelope almost caught on our first week here, the groundhog that lives under the big boulder halfway to the beginning of the woods, the shrews and field mice that like to jump and scamper when the sun peeks out, and most of all, the family of coyotes that welcomes me home every night with a bone-shattering series of shrieks and howls. When they howl, there isn’t room for anything else in the world. I sit in the dark in my car, and their compact, small fierceness fills the night around me. It’s beautiful, bold, otherworldly, here, at my feet.

I always thought these piles of rocks on the Appalachian Trail were some sort of hippie altar to the wood gods, but apparently, hikers just add one when they pass, for luck. I added one too: the littlest one on the top right pile.

Every time, I curse myself for forgetting to leave the porch light on. I poke my head out of my car, grab my iPhone, massive purse and run for the door, terrified I’ll run into a coyote and yearning for just a glimpse. I saw one once when I took out the garbage, but I screamed, puffed up and it ran away before I could really get a good gawk in, a patch of wildness mooning me in the Hudson Highlands night. I went inside, hugged my dog, quaked in my double-wool socks, lit a fire and waited for Stephen to get home.

Maybe it’s the closeness to the land and creatures out here, maybe it’s the winter – but my food cravings have changed drastically since living here. Instead of froofy, pretty salads, rich cheeses, flash-fried fish and sky-high chocolate mousse, I crave root vegetables braised in buttery stocks, simple farmer’s cheese, funky meat stews and cookies with a decidedly Eastern flavor.

This week, I made a super simple, but uber yummy cheese and sausage lasagna. It only takes about an hour to make, making me feel vaguely Sandra Lee-ish and lame, until we tasted it. We both love the lasagna – and the fact that there was plenty of extra free time for frolicking in the Hudson Highlands. The cookie? That was just for me. To Stephen it tasted like a digestive biscuit born in the health food aisle at the co-op – his worst granola nightmare, realized, on a plate. To me? Like a carefree run in the fields with coyotes; earthy, deep, strange, rich. Click on for recipes!

Three-Cheese and Sausage Lasagna

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients for Sauce:

  • 3 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 big links of pork sausage, casing removed (about 2/3 of a lb; sub in more or less, to taste)
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried thyme, basil, rosemary, red pepper flakes (each)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 oz Parmesan (sub in more or less to taste; using the rind is fine here)
  • Salt, to taste

Method:

  • Heat olive oil in large pan or Dutch oven. When hot, add sausage and cook until browned but not cooked through. Remove with spoon and set aside.
  • Add onion to the fat and cook over medium heat until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic, herbs, cook until fragrant. Add vodka to deglaze and cook down. Add cooked meat, bay leaf, tomatoes, Parmesan and salt to taste. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cook until thickened, about 30 minutes.

Ingredients for Cheese Filling:

  • 12 oz ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 4 oz mozzarella, grated or cubed (reserve a handful or so for later)
  • 2-3 TBSP heavy cream or milk
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

  • Mix all ingredients in stand mixer or blender. Set aside.

Additional Ingredients:

  • 12 no-boil noodles
  • Vegetable oil spray

You can cover it, uncooked, and leave it in the fridge for up to a day before baking it

To assemble:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a glass casserole dish with olive oil or vegetable spray. Spoon thin layer of sauce in bottom of casserole dish. Layer no boil noodles on top. Spoon about 1/3 of the sauce on the noodles, add ½ of the cheese filling. Layer with noodles, repeat. Add final layer of noodles, the last bit of sauce and the reserved mozzarella. Cover with foil and cook for 30 minutes, remove foil and cook until slightly sauce bubbles vigorously, another 5-10. Let sit for about 15 minutes and serve!

Nutritional Breakdown for Three-Cheese and Sausage Lasagna: About 400 calories and 22 grams of fat.

Cost Breakdown for Three-Cheese and Sausage Lasagna: About $2.50 a serving.

Verdict / In the Future: Yum! I may leave out the sausage next time and just try an all-cheese version, possibly with some blue thrown in. Perfect for a big, warm family supper, and an easy option for brown-bagging it to work.

The hardest thing about making this lasagna is letting it sit for 15 minutes before digging in; it has to "set"

Vegan Tahini Oat Bites

Adapted from Whole Foods (I found it on their website while trolling for coupons)

Indredients:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ¼ tsp sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1/3 cup sesame oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • ½ cup + 1 TBSP male syrup
  • Sesame seeds, for sprinkling
  • Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grind oats in food processor. Pour into bowl and add flour, salt, baking powder; mix.
  • Put tahini, oil, vanilla, cornstarch and maple syrup into blender and blend until smooth. Stir into oat mixture. If mixture is too dry, add a TBSP or so of oil until it comes together.
  • Form into golf-size balls and place on greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with seeds, sugar and salt. Bake for 10 minutes until golden and puffy.

Nutritional Breakdown of Tahini Oat Puffs: About 200 calories and 9 grams of fat per serving. Lots of protein for a cookie, plus low in sugar with zero cholesterol.

Cost Breakdown of Tahini Oat Puffs: About $0.40 a puff.

Verdict / In the Future: Stephen has not joined me in my la-la-cartoon-land of vegan delicacies. He would rather use a Tahini Oat Puff for target practice than put it in his mouth. For my part, I love the savory-sweet interplay of flavors and the substantial, but flaky texture.

Stephen ain't havin' it

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