Archive | January 2012

Nothing like Lasagna

The other day my good friend, Michelle, and I were talking about how I take favorite comfort foods and remake them so that they are healthier and family members don’t feel so “cheated” when you feed them. Some palettes have a harder time adjusting to healthier foods and I thought that this is one of the easiest dishes to make healthier and most people won’t even notice you’ve changed the ingredients! So get your ingredients together and let’s make lasagna!


There are many ways to make lasagna healthier like adding spinach, using low fat or fat free cheese or replacing some of the cheese with tofu. You can also use gluten-free pasta if that is an issue in your family.

Since I didn’t have any fresh baby spinach left, I pulled out some I had in the freezer and cooked it over medium heat until it was thawed completely and added one small pinch of French Gray Sea Salt. Setting it aside to cool down a little here is the rest of the recipe:

Cyn’s Lasagna

1/2 pkg frozen spinach, warmed in pan until thawedDSC_0001

pinch of French Gray Sea Salt


1 carton Fat Free Cottage Cheese

1 small carton Low Fat Ricotta or substitute with 1-2 blocks firm tofu, mashed with your fingers until it resembles the same texture as ricotta cheese.

1-1/2 jars of Marinara or your favorite spaghetti sauce (I have my own that I’ve made and frozen)

Lasagna noodles

Fresh Mozzarella

Block of Farmer’s Cheese

Block of Parmesan & Romano

I hand grate my cheese ~ about half the round of Farmer’s Cheese and just enough of the other to lightly coat the noodles and I get the fresh mozzarella from my local grocer’s olive bar. I get two of the large buffalo mozzarella balls and slice them.

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh herbs chopped fine or your favorite Italian herbs (I use my own dried herb mix made from my organic garden – German Thyme, Sweet Basil, Greek Oregano)

1 fresh egg

Onion powder, garlic powder

In a large bowl, I combine the tofu/fat free cottage cheese, ricotta and egg. Mix together and pour in about 1/4 cup of the marinara, 1 heaping tsp. onion powder and garlic powder and a large pinch of herbs. This is where you would add finely diced onions, but since my hubby and onions don’t agree with each other, I compensate for the flavor with onion powder.

Add to the cheese mixture the warmed spinach and stir together until well mixed. (Other options would be thawed veggie burger like Morningstar Farms frozen burger crumbles, thawed vegetable mix of broccoli, cauliflower & carrots, ground turkey, etc.)


Once you have the cheese mixture ready, set it aside and get your baking dish ready. I do not pre-cook my noodles. It’s an extra step I have never liked, so all these years, I’ve just skipped it.  The key is to have plenty of sauce and let it bake so that your noodles cook and are just past al dente.

Spray the baking dish with a non-stick spray and coat it well. Then pour some of your marinara sauce in the bottom of the pan, enough to cover the bottom. Layer your noodles and on top of that add your cheese/spinach mixture and spread evenly over the noodles. Top that with freshly ground black pepper and your shredded Farmer’s cheese, Parmesan & Romano cheeses. Pour a little more sauce over the top of that and add another layer of noodles. Repeat until you have used up all your mixture. Top off with a final layer of noodles and pour sauce over the top layer of noodles. DSC_0003

For the final finish, I use my hand shredder and put a fine layer of Parmesan & Romano followed by the sliced buffalo mozzarella. Arrange them in a grid pattern or just lay them whichever way you like. Top it off with freshly ground black pepper and a big pinch of herbs to make it pretty. Pop it into a pre-heated 350F degree oven and bake until bubbly.

Usually I bake mine about 45 minutes to an hour. But I am in the mountains and have found that I have to adjust my baking to compensate for the altitude. Once your dish is bubbly for at least 20 minutes or so, remove from the oven and let set. Serve while still warm and add a wonderful field green salad and fresh garlic bread for a complete and wonderful meal.


Since we couldn’t possibly eat all this at a meal, I usually portion out individual servings, wrap and freeze for use later. I’ve used tofu many times in place of ricotta cheese and my dinner guests never knew the difference. The key is to make sure you add some sauce to your “cheese mixture” and get plenty of onion and garlic flavor in there!  I do not substitute the mozzarella. And always use the very best and freshest ingredients available. You can still enjoy lasagna and eat healthier! So invite your closest friends and family over and have a dinner party! Enjoy!

Just a Spice of Heaven

This year my birthday is on the weekend so to celebrate my husband treated me to a day in Gatlinburg for the first part of the weekend. We love Gatlinburg. It’s about 50 miles from Morristown, easily driven in about an hour unless you get caught up in traffic on the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge end. One way to go is from Newport off of I-40 with a stop off at Wal-Mart to top off that gas tank and pick up any snacks you might need!

Gatlinburg TN

While it is the quintessential tourist-trap, there are some neat little nooks to check out. Whether you want to shop, eat, see the sights or just people watch, there is plenty to do!

For one, I think that Gatlinburg is a place chockfull of delightful places. There are so many great little mom and pop places to shop and dine at as well as many of the easily recognized chain restaurants, if that is what you’re looking for.

One of our most favorite places to eat is Best Italian. We usually go to the original location near the National Park entrance because you can get patio seating there. There is nothing like sitting down next to a bubbly creek and having your dinner in the shade. Our favorite is the spinach pizza and they have the most sinful garlic rolls that are just to die for! If you’ve Best Italian rollsnot eaten there before, it’s a great place to stop! You can see more of their menu at Best Italian – Gatlinburg. They have an extensive menu of the usual pasta favorites, entrees and a wide range of appetizers and salads. But don’t forget dessert! Don’t be surprised if you have to wait a little for this wonderful food, because once you’ve been there, you’ll understand exactly why it’s such a popular place! And for those who enjoy a glass of wine or other drink with their meal, Best Italian offers teas, sodas and drinks from the bar.

But if you like pancakes and enjoy a great pancake breakfast then you have to stop at Pancake Pantry. Serving Gatlinburg since 1960, they have a wide assortment of choices from buttermilk pancakes to whole wheat and buckwheat pancake meals that are available all day! If pancakes are not your thing, then lunch is also available after 11:30. I was particularly delighted to see that in the middle of all their PancakePantryFrontlunch choices there was a veggie burger! For all you vegetarians out there, you can have a sandwich with that salad! So the next time we are back in town, I’m going to be sure and try their black bean burger! This time is was the Morningstar! Shredded potatoes, green and red peppers, onions, scrambled eggs and buttermilk pancakes. (I did not eat anything from the day before to be sure I had room for these scrumptious pancakes!)

Their claim to fame? Everything is made from scratch and they use real butter and fresh whipped cream. Since I make most of my dishes from scratch at home, this is what I really look for. The taste is so different and so wonderful that you’ll want to return again and again! Once inside, the warm atmosphere of days gone by welcomes you. Surrounded by rich oak, rustic copper and century-old brick, you’ll immediately feel at home. Cozy table settings and friendly staff make this a great place to bring the family as well. And the best part of all, it’s easy on the wallet! Check out this great place the next time you’re there!

We love going to this section of the Strip, because it’s where The Village sits. There are several little shops and eateries tucked into the mountain side creating a look much like the one found in story books. There are shops for The Villagesouvenirs and gifts, a Thomas Kinkade gallery shop, the Cheese Cupboard & it’s restaurant, a toy shop, a coffee shop and one that I’m particularly delighted with, The Spice & Tea Exchange of Gatlinburg.

Their invitation to come in and “smell the spices” is an invitation that this home-grown cook could not resist! This shop is tucked into a little corner on the back side of The Village and walking into it was like walking through a dream. Jars lined the walls filled with hand-blended spices, teas and salts! It was spice heaven for me! These are gourmet rubs, salts, sugars and herb blends to create dishes like never before! I couldn’t leave without trying something, so I spent some time debating which of the sea salts I wanted to try or should I get a tea or seasoning rub? In the end my love of teas won and I chose a delightful tin of International Breakfast Tea. It is a loose leaf black tea with chocolate undertones to it. And after smelling and letting my mind go wild with what I could create in the kitchen, I chose the French Grey Sea Salt. This is one that you’ve heard chefs, cooks and other culinary experts talk about! I cannot wait to try it!Spice & Tea

Like I said earlier this weekend is my birthday weekend. This little day trip was a gift from my husband to celebrate my special day!

Since we did not do any birthday cake and had decided we didn’t want to buy one then have so much of it sitting around enticing us to eat it the rest of the week, we went to another one of our favorite stops in The Village: The Donut Friar. Freshly made and in smaller quantities, these wonderful donuts have that melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Now since we’ve been cutting back on our sugar intake it was a bit of a sugar shock but let there be no doubt, every bit of it was enjoyed! They have cake donuts, éclairs, filled pastries, and several other types of yeast, glazed and filled donuts. As you can imagine, this donut shop is quite busy no matter when you stop by! But the great news is that you can just buy one, enjoy it and not worry about having more around to tempt you! Then next time you’re in Gatlinburg, stop by and get another!

Despite the rainy day, we had a load of fun and can’t wait to spend more time over there again. And we have a couple more places to take some very special friends the next time they are here visiting us!

Happy New Year Week! May the rest of your year be as wonderful as the first day of my “new year” was!