Thursday, July 8, 2010

Making "Fancy" Meals with Kids Around + Roasted Vegetable Polenta Lasagna

06 - June1

Don't let the length of this recipe scare you. It's quite easy. I made this lasagna on a weeknight.

I get asked a lot, "how do you make such 'fancy' things with two toddlers at home?" Well, this is the perfect opportunity to tell you some of my secrets.

Secret #1: I don't make things like this every night. Most weeknights (especially if my husband comes home late) I either reheat leftovers or pull something together from whatever is in the fridge -- in 30 minutes tops. A couple days a week I plan for something nicer.

Secret #2: Most of the time I don't spend a huge block of time in the kitchen. Unless my husband is home, I can't. My kids would destroy the living room, then they'd be whining on my legs or making each other cry. And I would lose my mind.

Most recipes can be broken down into steps that don't necessarily have to be done right after each other. Especially special condiments, sauces, or chopping vegetables, which seems to take the longest during meal preparation. If I've planned ahead (huge help), then I can find 10 minutes lulls here and there during the day (and sometimes the night before) to chop vegetables and do whatever prep that doesn't rely too much on timing.

Secret #3: Cooking healthy meals takes time. No matter how fast a healthy meal can be made, it's awfully hard to compete (timewise) with throwing something-or-other from the freezer directly into the oven or microwave. Or hitting the drive-thru. We do have an occasional In-N-Out burger run, but we've made that the exception and not the rule. I don't use every spare minute of every day chopping vegetables either-- hey, I want some "me" time, too. Nap times are a precious, precious thing, which is why, again, I don't do this every day.

That being said, I'll use this recipe as an example for what I'm talking about.

10AM: Kids are mellow and playing well together, so I go into the kitchen for 10 minutes or so and chop the zucchini, mushrooms, and onion. I also peel the garlic cloves and put everything on a rimmed sheet pan. Yes, I left it on the counter. Most vegetables are OK left on the counter for a few hours after they've been chopped (chill them if it scares you). The only ones I can think of right now that I wouldn't do ahead of time are white potatoes, avocados, and whole artichokes.

2PM: Kids are napping, so I go back into the kitchen. I add the oil and herbs to the veggies, throw them into the oven, then start on the polenta. When the polenta is in the fridge, I clean up a bit and then take the veggies out of the oven and into a bowl.

5:30PM: Kids are getting antsy and my husband is on his way home. I start the sauce and let it simmer while I top the polenta with cheese and throw it in the oven. When the polenta comes out, I assemble the lasagnas and...

6:00PM: We eat.

I only spent about 30 minutes in the kitchen immediately before dinner, which is probably the most hectic time of day. We were able to eat something a little more "fancy" because the work was divided up in small amounts during the day. Nice, eh?

Oh, yes, the recipe. I love polenta, and when I saw this I thought it was a great way to make a gluten-free lasagna (that still tasted good). It also isn't overflowing with cheese. The polenta "noodles" obviously don't have the same texture as pasta, but adds fun, interesting flavors. Plus my kids liked it. Can't go wrong there.


Roasted Vegetable Polenta Lasagnas
adapted from My Recession Kitchen via Tasty Kitchen

Roasted Vegetables:
2 small zucchini, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes (2 1/2 - 3 cups)
4-5 large button mushrooms, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 small onion, chopped (1 - 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespon herbs de provence or Italian seasoning
8 whole, peeled garlic cloves
1/4 cup preferred oil (I like grapeseed or coconut)
generous sprinkle of salt and pepper

Polenta "noodles":
3 cups low-sodium chicken vegetable broth
1 cup uncooked coarse polenta or cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 T butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, plus more for garnish, if desired
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (or 2 15-oz cans)
3 tablespoons of butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc.) or 1 tablespoon dried
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

For the vegetables:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place oven rack in the upper position.

Place chopped zucchini, mushrooms, onions and garlic in a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with seasonings and salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix everything around until all of the vegetables are coated with oil (adding more oil if necessary). Spread vegetables out evenly on the pan, in a single layer. Roast for 30-40 minutes until vegetables are cooked through and golden brown. Pull garlic cloves from the mixture, place in a small bowl and mash them with a fork. Place remaining vegetables in another bowl. Set both aside. TIP: You can do this up to 2 days ahead.

For the polenta:
Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add salt, then add polenta in a small, steady stream while whisking. Continue whisking, reducing the heat to medium-low, until the polenta is lump-free and simmering. Cook for about 10 minutes, whisking often, until the polenta is thick cooked through. Remove from heat and add butter and Parmesan cheese; stir until they melt. Spread polenta evenly in a large rimmed baking sheet and chill for about an hour. TIP: This can also be done up to a day or two in advance.

For the sauce:
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic; cook for 2 minutes. Add tomato paste (and dried herbs, if using). Stir and cook another minute or so, then add crush tomatoes and reserved smashed garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and fresh herbs (if using) to taste. Add reserved roasted vegetables to sauce and heat through. TIP: Yep, you guessed it. This can be made a day or two ahead, just be sure to reheat when you're ready to assemble lasagna.

To assemble:
Preheat oven broiler on low and place oven rack in the upper third position.

Remove the polenta from the fridge and cut into 12 squares. Sprinkle some mozzarella over each square, then broil for 4-5 minutes until polenta is heated through and cheese is melted and bubbly.

Place one polenta square on a plate and top with a spoonful of the vegetable-sauce mixture. Place another polenta square on top, followed by another spoonful of the sauce. Top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Repeat with remaining squares and sauce.

Makes 6 individual lasagnas.

Print Recipe Text Only

Originally posted HERE.


  1. I love how you prep when you can through the day. I NEVER do, and always end up crazy at dinner time.

    Looks delicious!! My kids would DEFINITELY eat that... and I'd love to make it :)

  2. Buy slotted angles racks for fruits and vegetables; we are one of the most fruits and vegetable slotted angles racks manufacturer deal in all kinds of fruits and vegetable racks like Fruits & Vegetables Baskets, Fruit & vegetable Rack and supplier in Delhi (India).

  3. Hello, I love reading through your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation. Wish you best of luck for all your best efforts. slotted angles manufacturers , plastic baskets manufacturers Delhi .


We love comments! Please let us know you stopped by.