Chef AJ's Disappearing Spinach & Mushroom Lasagna
The Last Piece of Lasagna
"Why am I picking on cashews?
They're loaded with calories--some saturated fat & lots of monunsaturated fat (MUFA)--and according to Dr. Lawrence Rudel of Wake Forest University--their high monounsaturated fat "appears not to provide cardioprotection" and may be atherogenic. Rudel is an olive-oil & monounsaturated fat myth-buster. The conventional wisdom is that monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy. Not according to Dr. Rudel!"
-The Healthy Librarian-
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I offered to host the mid-week gal pal Maj Jongg game last Wednesday evening because I had the day off--my perk for working on Saturday. I figured I would make an easy soup or chili for everyone--my hungry friends were stopping by after work--around 6:30. Something quick. No big deal.
But then I saw the Healthy Girl's Kitchen post last Monday with a mouth-watering photo of Chef AJ's Disappearing Lasagna. Forget about soup or chili--I wanted some of that lasagna! But I just didn't feel like making it on my day off.
Lucky me--my husband said he'd be glad to make the lasagna--provided I made sure we had all the ingredients on hand. Right--that meant I had to make the trip to the grocery store. But, fair is fair. Just so you know--the reason he was being so generous, was because I'd already done a lot of the week's cooking and shopping!
Hey, It Was Getting Late--and Still No Lasagna!
My friends were due to arrive at 6:30 pm. At 4:00 my husband hadn't even begun to think about making that lasagna. I started wondering what I could now whip up at the last minute for dinner. Uggh!
Me: "Are you sure you're going to have time to make this?" I asked him, as he was heading out the door to run 5 miles. Men!
Him: "I said I'd make it. I'll start as soon as I get back from my run."
I immediately emailed Healthy Girl, aka Wendy to find out if I should just abandon this lasagna plan. I was wondering how long it was really going to take to put this lasagna together.
Me: "Got company coming for dinner--my husband promised to make Chef AJ's lasagna, but he won't get started on it until at least 4:30. Realistically, how long will it take?
Company's coming at 6:30--but we don't have to eat until 7:00."
She emailed me right back.
Wendy: "you should just make it on time. it goes in the oven for one hour! it's amazing, and even better the next day . . ."
And true to his word, he got started on that lasagna around 5:15. We both got waylaid by an impromptu Skype/iChat with our favorite grandson. And the Gorgeous Grandson trumps lasagna-making hands down!
I pre-cooked the brown rice gluten-free noodles (this lasagna had to be gluten-free)--which took about 12 minutes to boil. I washed & drained the 2 pounds of mushrooms the recipe called for--thawed, drained, and squeezed the excess liquid out of the frozen spinach--and my husband did the rest..
He had it in the oven by 6:00--ready to eat at 7:00. Perfect timing. We'd just finished our wine & our salads & were ready for the main course.
Mahj Player Number 2
So, How Was Chef AJ's Lasagna?
Loved it! Loved it! Loved it! We all did. I brought some to work the next day for dinner--and got my taste-testers to try it out. Everyone love it--even the omnivores of the group!
This recipe is a surefire winner--and 100% company fare. Hop on over to Healthy Girl's Kitchen to see Wendy's gorgeous how-make-the-lasagna photos. To get a copy of the recipe with my notes & modifications, click here.
But think of this recipe as strictly once-in-awhile company fare. And, in my amateur opinion, it's a "don't eat this" for anyone with heart disease who is following Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn's "plant-perfect" prevent & reverse heart disease diet.
Here's my lecture--stay tuned for more about the monounsaturated fat & atherosclerosis story in a couple weeks.
Cashews are not "health food". Plant-based chefs love to cook with them because they are mild-tasting & provide FAT--and they give food a velvety creamy delicious texture & taste. All true. But it's probably wise to use sparingly--and occasionally. If you're choosing nuts--choose walnuts. Stay tuned for the hot-off-the-press news in the walnut department later today!
Why am I picking on cashews? They're loaded with calories--some saturated fat & lots of monunsaturated fat (MUFA)--and according to Dr. Lawrence Rudel of Wake Forest University--their high monounsaturated fat "appears not to provide cardioprotection" and may be atherogenic. Rudel is an olive-oil & monounsaturated fat myth-buster. The conventional wisdom is that monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy. Not according to Dr. Rudel! Read more about him here.
- 1 ounce (a handful) of raw cashews has 6.7 grams of monounsaturated fat
- 1 ounce (a handful) of raw almonds has 9.4 grams of monounsaturated fat
- 1 TBS of olive oil has 9.8 grams of monounsaturated fat
- 1 ounce (a handful) of raw English walnuts has 2.5 grams of monounsaturated fat
Degirolamo, C. & Rudel, L.L. "Dietary Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Appear Not to Provide Cardioprotection" 2010. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 12:391-396.
Degirolamo, C. & Rudel, L.L. "LDL Cholesteryl Oleate as a Predictor for Atherosclerosis: evidence from Human and Animal Studies on Dietary Fat" Journal of Lipid Research. 2009 Apr;50 Suppl:S434-9. Epub 2008 Nov 22. "...dietary monounsatured fatty acids (found in olive oil & some nuts) appear to alter hepatic lipoprotein metabolism, promote cholesteryl oleate accumulation, and confer atherogenic properties to lipoproteins..." Not good news.
If You Still Want to Make This Lasagna - Here's What You'll Need
Here are the key ingredients/equipment that you'll need--but check the recipe for the details:
You must have a food processor--can't imagine doing it without one. (DPS--I know you don't have one!)
1 pound of low-fat firm tofu. I like NaSoya Brand
2 pounds of sliced mushrooms
2 pounds of thawed frozen spinach
1 large onion
fresh basil, lemon juice, tamari, red pepper flakes, garlic
2 cups of raw cashews--for lighter version use 1 cup. (I know, I know--why am I using them after what I just wrote?-- If your diet will allows it (see above)--let me tell you--it greatly enhances the taste of this lasagna. Half of the cashews go into the filling--and the other half are used to make a faux parmesan that is outstanding! We followed the recipe to the letter--but next time I'm cutting the nuts in half)
2 jars of low sodium-fat-free marinara sauce (6 cups worth)--my all-time fave is Walnut Acres Low Sodium Fat Free Tomato & Basil sauce
1 box of regular lasagna noodles (or 2 boxes of no-boil noodles--which I couldn't find in a gluten-free or whole grain variety) I was making a gluten-free version & used Tikyada Brown Rice Lasagna noodles--9 noodles to the package & I cooked them according to the directions--4 minutes less. Great taste!
1. As crazy is it sounds, you really follow the directions exactly--pouring 3 cups of the sauce on the bottom of the lasagna pan & the rest of the sauce gets poured on top.
2. The mushrooms will release a lot of liquid and you really need to cook them until all the liquid evaporates.
3. I did not use olives in my recipe, nor did I add Wendy's zucchini variation.
4. Don't try this without a food processor!
5. If you cut the cashews down to 1 cup--make this change for the Faux Parmesan topping: 1/2 cup cashews, 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, 1 1/2 tsp. salt-free seasoning.
Nutritional Information based on 12 Servings
Yes, this recipe is high in fat--mostly from the cashews--28% of calories--Limit this one to company special occasion fare & consider cutting the cashews in half!
Disappearing Spinach Mushroom Lasagna
Serving Size: 1 serving
|Amount Per Serving|
Nutritional Info for Chef AJ's Lighter Version of Lasagna--made with 1 cup of cashews
Based on 12 servings
Disappearing Spinach Mushroom Lasagna
Serving Size: 1 serving
|Amount Per Serving|
Next week we're taking Chef AJs lasagna on the road when we visit our kids in St. Louis. They're even going out to purchase their long-needed food processor just for the occasion! It will be the "Light Version" with half the cashews.
Chef AJ's Disappearing lasagna recipe comes from her new cookbook, Unprocessed. I haven't seen it yet--but I'm anxious to check it out!
Meet Chef AJ
I met Chef AJ last November at the Wellness Forum Fall Workshop in Columbus, Ohio. She's vegan chef who spent much of her career as a pastry chef at the LA's best restaurants.
Watching her in action is a hoot--she's half stand-up comedian, half master chef--and she instantly wins you over with her candor, warmth, humor, and her mile-a-minute banter.
Her story in a nutshell: As she tells it--she's been a vegan for 33 years--but for 27 of those years, her version of vegan meant that she ate no vegetables or fruits. She was a white flour & sugar sort of vegan. In her words, "99 % crap." That is, until she developed colorectal cancer & then she did a 180 degree diet turnaround--and is now cancer-free.
"White Ain't Right"
- Since July 6, 2003 she hasn't eaten a speck of sugar. She sweetens her recipes only with whole foods--like dates.
- Chef AJ says you know you're addicted to sugar if you can't go a day without it. And if you aren't hungry enough to eat an apple--you aren't hungry.
- Until she was 43 years old, she never knew there was a connection between how you feel and what you eat.
- Her advice on agave? Stay away!--It's mostly fructose--and fructose removed from fruit should be avoided. But we all knew that already--thanks to Dr. Lustig, right? Don't know who Dr. Lustig is? Click here.
- Chef AJ's Popcorn Experiment--Sugar, Salt, & Fat are the Evil Trifecta:
- Make yourself a big bowl of air-popped popcorn. Notice how you can't keep eating it after you're full.
- Now add salt to the bowl & notice how you'll eat more than if it were just air-popped
- Now add butter & salt to the bowl & notice how you'll eat even more of it.
- Now make some Kettle Corn--with popcorn, salt, butter, & sugar, and notice how it's impossible to stop. Sugar, Salt & Fat--the deadly Trifecta.
Chef AJ Sings! - "Whole Foods Will Bring Us Together"
If you aren't able to view the video on your screen, click here.
Mah Jongg Rules!
Mahj ranks high up there in ways to lead a happy healthy long life. Don't knock it until you've tried it.
- It's a great excuse to regularly get together with friends
- You have to concentrate & use your brain in order to play - but it's easy enough to learn
- It's a chance to laugh, learn, connect, & commiserate
- It's just plain fun!