Meatless Monday: Red Gold Tomatoes Lasagna Recipe & Giveaway

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend. After the first week of the new semester (which is always slightly chaotic & nerve-racking, even for those of us in front of the classroom!), I was really looking forward to a weekend of fun. I spent Friday in a cooking/baking frenzy and then spent the rest of the weekend indulging in some much-needed girl time: a fabulous lunch at Fig and Olive with my blogger crew on Saturday and an equally fantastic brunch with Diana at The Southern on Sunday. I ended the weekend next to Mario on the couch with some our favorite TV shows (which is my favorite way to close out Sunday). :-)

Red Gold Tomatoes Lasagna Party Kit: enter to win your own below!
Part of my cooking/baking frenzy on Friday included trying out a new vegetarian lasagna recipe. When the good folks at Red Gold Tomatoes contacted me to see if I would be interested in participating in their Simple Gourmet Lasagna promotion, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to experiment and finally find a vegetarian recipe that I love. I've tried many iterations of veggie lasagna over the years and overall, I tend to hate them. First, most vegetarian lasagna recipes call for eggplant in the starring role; while I don't hate eggplant, I can't say I've ever met one that I've really loved. Also, in my experience, I've found that many veggie lasagnas are ultimately filled with soggy vegetables (usually squash) and little flavor.

For this recipe, I nixed the idea of using squash or eggplant and instead focused on two of my favorite vegetarian staples: spinach and mushrooms. Also, in an attempt to cut calories, but not flavor, I lightened up the amount of cheese, doubled up the amount of spinach, and focused on enhancing the natural flavors of the various mushrooms. The results yielded an unbeatable vegetarian lasagna that even my meat-loving boyfriend highly enjoyed!

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna   

1 pound cremini mushrooms
½ pound shiitake mushrooms
½ pound chopped button mushrooms
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 cloves garlic, chopped (about 4 teaspoons)
1 can (28 ounce) Red Gold Crushed Tomatoes (provided in the lasagna kit)
2 10-ounce boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed of excess moisture
1 (16 ounce) box of lasagna noodles (provided in the lasagna kit)
3 cups of shredded low fat mozzarella cheese
1 (15 ounce) container of low fat ricotta cheese
¼ pound pecorino cheese grated (approximately 1 cup)
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons Herbes de Provence
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (reduce to 1 teaspoon for a less heat)
Olive oil

1. Roughly chop cremini and shiitake mushrooms (I kept the crimini fairly large to simulate a more meaty texture) and place in a large sauté pan on medium high heat. After a few minutes, sprinkle lightly with salt. Once mushrooms begin the release moisture, add in onions. Cook until the mushrooms are no longer releasing moisture and the mushroom water has boiled away (approximately 5 minutes).

2. Lightly coat mushroom and onion mixture in olive oil and sauté for another minute. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Reserve 1 cup of the tomato sauce and add the remaining sauce into the pan. Stir in the Herbes de Provence and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and simmer on low for 15 minutes.

3. Once sauce is simmering, prepare noodles according to the package. Once noodles are al dente, drain and rinse them to cool them with cold water (gently separate them with your fingers as you're rinsing so that they don't stick together).

4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the one cup of reserved tomato sauce over the bottom of a large (preferably 10x15) casserole dish. Place a layer of lasagna noodles down over the tomato sauce, slightly overlapping. Spoon half of the ricotta cheese over the noodles. Sprinkle half of the defrosted, drained spinach over the ricotta (it's very important that the spinach is squeezed of excess moisture!). Sprinkle half of the mozzarella and ¼ of the pecorino cheese over the spinach. Then spoon a layer of your mushroom sauce over the mozzarella. Sprinkle half of the fresh basil over the sauce. Repeat the layering process and sprinkle the top with the remaining pecorino cheese.

5. Lightly brush olive oil over the inside of a piece of foil (the side that will have contact with the lasagna). Place the foil over the casserole dish and crimp the edges. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and bake uncovered for an additional 25 minutes.

Want to win your own Lasagna Party Kit? Enter below! Also, make sure you stop by the Red Gold Tomatoes Facebook page to enter to win a Le Creuset Lasagna Party Kit!

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Monday Foodie Porn: 14 from '14

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a fabulous start to 2015. As per usual, I spent the first two weeks of my winter break pretending as though I don't actually have any work responsibilities (it was all middle of the week brunches, DVR catch-up sessions, day drinking, and pleasure reading); however, the time has come to finish up my plans for the spring semester to officially stop pretending that I don't have a mile-long to-do list (boo!).

Before I dive headfirst into my big plans for the year, I thought I would take a look back at some of the food highlights of 2014; while I'm usually not big on making year-end lists, 2014 really was an epic food year and most definitely deserves a post of its own. It's fair to say that I struggled a bit both personally and professionally during the year (thanks to a series of surprising/challenging events), but the food community was one of those things that kept me sane. I put myself out there and met some fabulous new people who share my love for food writing, took an amazing foodie exploration/girlie trip through southern Wisconsin, said yes to twice as many social events as I did the year before (which led to ever further opportunities and new friends), and had countless restaurant adventures with my best foodie-partner-in-crime.

In no particular order, here are 14 of my favorites from 2014:

Maine Lobster BLT with Nueske’s apple smoked bacon, heirloom tomatoes, and truffle mayo from Coppervine

Spicy Pumpkin Gelato from Mia's Gelateria Focacceria

Fried Chicken, Pimento Mac & Cheese, Roasted Garlic Grits, Corn Muffins & Roasted Sweet Potato Salad from Honey Butter Fried Chicken

Sticky Cinnamon Bun with toasted pecans and vanilla butter cream from Public House

Prosciutto and Grilled Pear Pizza with fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, shaved Parmigiano, and arugula from Mercato by Fabio Viviani

Bacon & Guacamole Sausage with Merkt’s cheddar & chipotle mayo from Haute Sausage 

 Mini Short Rib Italian Beef: provolone, giardiniera, au jus, parmigiano, and garlic bread from Harry Caray's

 Handcrafted Macarons from Bon Macaron

Truffle Bruschetta with thick spread of truffle butter topped with prosciutto and shaved truffles from RPM Italian

Chocolate, Red Velvet, Spiced Eggnog, and Hot Chocolate Snowball donuts from Glazed and Infused

Crab Cake Benedict from Kanela Cafe

Chili Cheese Curds with chorizo chili and beer battered cheese from Antique Taco

ShackBurgers, Cheese Fries, and Concretes (Da S'mores & Salted Caramel L) from Shake Shack

Traditional Lobster Roll from Da Lobsta

Despite its challenges, 2014 was a year filled with love, laughter, and fantastic food. 2015 is already out to a lovely start and I can't wait to see what the rest of the year brings!    



*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Diana

The donut (doughnut?) craze is alive and well here in Chicago, but have they become the new cupcake? Personally, I don’t think so, because I enjoy cupcakes and doughnuts all the same. When I was a kid, doughnuts were from that chain place that starts with a "D." The "D" had so many choices; my go to was the jelly doughnut or a chocolate glazed cake doughnut if the jelly was unavailable. I learned of fancy bakery doughnuts while in high school; a classmate worked at a local bakery and well, she was my doughnut connection for at least a year.

In the last few years specialty/gourmet/pillows of happiness donut shops have been popping up all over the place in Chicago, every one featuring their own spin on the classics, along with some new and innovative flavor/flavor combinations you’ll never find at the “D.” Here’s a peek at some of the deliciousness I’ve experienced over the few months, I know there are many more shops out there that I need to try ASAP!

Firecakes Donuts

2nd pic, the jelly donut? To die for, one of the best I've ever had. The one shown below was raspberry blood orange. Below that is the Maple Glazed Pineapple and Bacon. I tried that one at Baconfest and, well, WOW. Savory and sweet in the same bite rocks the block for me.

And don't forget the food trucks! Peanut Butter & Jelly and S'mores from Beavers Donuts!

Glazed & Infused Donuts

G&I are a favorite at my office, especially the Maple Bacon Long John! Yes!
The third pic is a little deceiving, and it was a delight! It's a donut, so you think it's sweet, but it's actually a savory donut! Savory herb dough, with a ham and cheddar glaze. I wasn't sure what to expect at first, but I really liked it! It was a limited edition donut, I hope they bring it back soon!
The fourth pic displays the Red Velvet donut with cream cheese frosting, another must try if you're a fan of red velvet cake! 


Do-Rite Donuts
Do-Rite is also another favorite in the office; can't go wrong with these beauties! So good!
The first pic is the Candied Maple Bacon cruller, followed by the Pistachio Meyer Lemon. Up next is a classic, the Old Fashioned, but dipped in fabulous Valrhona chocolate! And last, but certainly not least is the chocolate glazed, also coated in Valrhona chocolate.

I hope you enjoy some of the specialty donuts out there; leave a comment with your favorites, even if you're not in Chicago!  I love to travel and would love to someday visit the donut shops in your town!


Nudo Olive Oils Giveaway

I hope everyone had a fabulous Christmas (or Chrismahanukwanzakah, as I like to think of it - I'm a firm advocate of celebrating everything, as more holidays = more friends, food, and fun drinks!). Mario and I had a lovely celebration with friends on Christmas Eve and then spent Christmas morning together. As always, we used the day as an opportunity to spoil one another - I've never been more excited to get mixing! ;-) Of course, as much as I like to receive gifts, I like to give them even more, so I couldn't let the holidays pass without some fab giveaways to my awesome readers (aka you!).

Nudo began back in 2005 when a pair of successful television producers decided to leave their careers, move to the Italian countryside and restore an abandoned olive grove. Not only did the pair take on the restoration and management of the 21-acre grove, but also they started a wonderful Adopt-an-Olive-Tree program that offers olive oil lovers the chance to adopt their own tree and receive the oil from that tree on a quarterly basis (you can even visit your tree in Italy!). Local family farmers are responsible for the care of their own trees, so not only do you reap the delicious rewards of your investment, but also, your purchase goes toward supporting smaller artisan olive farmers committed to keeping traditional farming methods alive.

Along with the adoption program, Nudo also offers a range of beautifully packaged infused olive oils, as well as a selection of artisanal Italian products. Luckily for me, the fine folks at Nudo offered up the opportunity to sample three of their most popular oils: garlic, basil, and lemon. As Diana and I are both huge fans of infused olive oil (seriously, I'm guessing there are at least 20 bottles between the two of us!), I immediately turned to her to set up a night of tastings. We set up a lovely spread of breads, olives, and other goodies, but shortly after we started tasting the oils, we soon abandoned anything that couldn't be dipped! The first thing we both noticed about each of the oils was the aroma; immediately after opening each container, we could smell the sweet fruitiness of each of the varieties. We were both blown away by the intense flavors - each variety was buttery and tasted like it had been freshly pressed/infused. I have to admit that I am normally picky about olive oils used for dipping, as I am loyal to a to a lovely Turkish brand I found while traveling; the Nudo oils were just as delicious as my favorite (and in the case of the garlic variety, actually surpassed my favorite!).

Nudo has graciously offered the chance for one of my readers to win a sample pack of these wonderful oils (basil, lemon, and garlic). Want to try out these versatile and flavorful olive oils for yourself? Simply enter via the Rafflecopter contest below by Friday, December 31 for your chance to win.

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2014 World of Chocolate Gala

Earlier this month, I was invited to attend the World of Chocolate gala held at Chicago's Union Station in recognition of Worlds AIDS Day. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago hosts the annual fundraising event as part of a worldwide effort to increase public awareness about the epidemic. The Foundation offers programming to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as support to those living with HIV/AIDS; they also work to celebrate the progress of the HIV/AIDS community. Obviously, this one-of-a-kind event is for an extremely important cause and I was thrilled to join them for the evening.

The event pits culinarians (including some of Chicago's favorite restaurants and businesses) against each other in head-to-head chocolate showdown. For this year's competition, twenty-two participants were challenged to create and serve their best chocolate-themed dish in order to vie for one of six awards: Best Sweet, Best Savory, Best Libation, People's Choice, Best Large Business, and Best Small Business. Needless to say, the evening was filled with so much deliciousness... from the more traditional desserts (brownies, cakes) to some surprising savory delicacies (cocoa nibs shrimp & grits), there was enough to satisfy everyone's deepest chocolate cravings.

The Great Hall at Union Station

Rum Laced Brownies from RL Restaurant 
Of course as soon as we walked in, we gravitated straight to the boozy chocolates ;-)

Hats made of chocolate from The Peninsula

Ocoa Verrine from The Peninsula (one of my favorites of the night and winner of the Best Large Business award)

Ocoa Tarte from The Peninsula

Chocolate Hazelnut Mouse Praline Bar from the InterContinental Chicago (another one of my favorites of the night!)

Mini Old Fashioned with Candied Bacon and Chocolate Flocage from the InterContinental Chicago

Cocoa Nib Shrimp & Grits with Cranberry and Brown Butter from the InterContinental Chicago (my favorite savory dish of the night!)

Assorted Bao (chocolate, teriyaki chicken, spicy Mongolia beef, whole wheat edamame) from Wao Bao

Assorted French Caramels from Das Foods

Chorizo Stuffed Roulade of Turkey with Guajillo Spiced Squash Puree and Dark Chocolate Mole from Sophie's

White Chocolate Mint Martinis from Dove Chocolate Discoveries

 Foret Noir from Vanille Patisserie

Singing messenger cupcake from Life's Sweeter Side (winner of the Best Small Business award for their cupcakes, truffles, mousse cups)
 Riques Choco-Flan from Riques Cocina Mexicana

 Chocolate Mint Latte from Argo Tea

Chocolate Truffle Brownies from Uptown Brownie

 Strawberry Rosemary Swedish Brownies from Uptown Brownie

Joyous Almond (coconut paste, chocolate ganache, toasted almonds) from Uptown Brownie (winner of the Best Sweet award)

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Shots with Housemade Irish Cream from Prasino

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Coriander Praline Marshmallows from Chocolat Uzma Sharif

 The guys from mEAT mixing up Alexander Everythings

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels from Walgreens

Chocolate Mascarpone Roulade from Zed451 (winner of the People's Choice award)

Assorted Caramels from Kendall College Culinary Students

The event raised more than $134,000 to support the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Interested in getting involved with the organization? You can find more information here