Category Archives: healthy dining

It’s 2012, The Year of Blogging; The Year of Whole Foods

Whoa…has it really been…THREE MONTHS since my last blog post? Thank goodness Google remembers my password to WordPress for me- it’s been that long, ya’ll. It’s been so long I actually forgot the 6th anniversary- November 11- of this here Tuna Toast blog! I’m a bad blog mom, seriously.

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Recipe: Healthy Lasagna (made with tofu!)

In my last post, I wrote about tweaking recipes in order to make them lighter and/or healthier. In the comments section, fellow Los Angeles food blogger Diana mentioned she often does the same thing, and was recently thinking about trying out tofu as a substitution for ricotta cheese in lasagna (adding that it might be a “crazy” idea!). Not so crazy, Diana (and PS, great minds think alike).  I’ve used tofu as a substitute for ricotta for about two years now, and I’m not sure what prompted me to try it, but I find it works pretty well in place of cheese and other creamy elements in a dish. I happened to make lasagna last night, so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to finally post about it.

Now, I’m sure there are a few Italian grandmothers rolling over in their graves….although, come to think of it, real, authentic lasagna doesn’t even contain ricotta but instead is layered with béchamel, cheese and sauce, so maybe it’s safe to post the tofu idea here.  I never did like the thick, brick-like layers of heavy ricotta in lasagna too much but feel it definitely needs a creamy element, so tofu is a lighter yet still substantial way to achieve that. Don’t get me wrong- I don’t always want a lighter version of lasagna, but if I’m making it at home on a weeknight, I figure it’s a good way to watch the calories. And honestly- it’s really, truly delicious and you won’t miss the ricotta! I do use real, high-quality parmigiano-reggiano in this because a little goes a long way, and to me it’s essential in the flavor of a good lasagna. That said, when combined with whole wheat lasagna sheets and fresh marinara sauce, this lasagna is almost as healthy as a turkey sandwich so you won’t have to feel like you’re overindulging. It’s true!

There are a couple of important things to remember when using tofu instead of cheese. 1) It requires a bit of planning ahead since you have to strain the tofu, preferably overnight and 2) Season, season, season! Tofu doesn’t have much flavor on its own (ok, it’s basically flavorless) so be generous with your salt and other seasonings.

Here’s the list of ingredients, followed by a step-by-step recipe with photos.

1 14 oz package of SILKEN tofu (don’t buy firm, extra firm…make sure you get the silken tofu!)
1 bag baby spinach
¾ cups grated parmigiano-reggiano, divided
1 ½ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper
5-6 leaves fresh basil
1 egg
3 links Italian-style turkey sausage (I used Jennie-O spicy Italian turkey sausage)
5 to 6 cups of your favorite marinara sauce (I used homemade- Mario Batali’s recipe is my go-to sauce- I just make a big batch and freeze it in several containers and pull them out as I need them)
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles (I used whole wheat)

The night before: Scoop the tofu into a fine meshed sieve lined with cheesecloth or a sturdy paper towel (like Viva). Cover it with the overhanging cheesecloth or paper towel; set another smaller bowl on top to weigh it down slightly and leave in the refrigerator to strain overnight.

The next morning, you’ll probably have almost a cup of liquid- all drained from the tofu!  I’m not sure if you can see all of the liquid in the photo above, but it’s a good amount.  If you don’t strain it, all of that liquid will make for a soggy lasagna, and who wants that? 

Preheat the oven to 425.

Bring water to a boil in a pot; add the spinach for just 30 seconds, then put the spinach in an ice-cold water bath. Once the spinach has cooled, squeeze out all of the water.

Put the strained tofu in the food processor along with the spinach, half the parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, basil and egg. Whiz until smooth. Set aside.

Heat up a medium sauté pan. Take the turkey sausage out of the casing.  The easiest way is to just slice the casing open with a sharp knife, then ‘unwrap’ the meat inside directly into the pan. Break up the sausage until it crumbles and is fully cooked; set aside.

Side note: You can use regular no-boil lasagna noodles, but if you want to kick up the fiber, use whole wheat.  I’d never seen whole wheat, no-boil lasagna noodles before (a year ago it was hard to find regular whole wheat lasagna sheets, much less no-boil ones!) but I saw these at Figueroa Produce and snatched them up!  They’re organic AND whole wheat, taste fantastic and have no grainy texture at all.

Set up your work station: Line up your 13 x 9 (I used a slightly smaller one) baking dish, the tofu mixture, the crumbled sausage, marinara and remaining parmesan cheese.

Spray the baking dish and start by putting about ½ cup of marinara at the bottom of the dish. Top with 3-4 no-boil noodles, making sure not to overlap, then top that with about ¾ to 1 cup of the tofu mixture, 1/3 of the crumbled sausage, a light sprinkling of parmesan and repeat until you have three layers.

Of course you can make as many layers as you wish; just make sure to finish off the top layer of lasagna noodles with marinara sauce and a nice handful of grated parmesan. I like to leave the corner edges exposed without sauce- even with no-boil noodles, you get nice, crispy edges so I highly recommend you try it that way!

Cover the baking dish with foil (or use a bigger baking dish, like I did, since my lasagna was layered right to the very top of the dish!) and bake for 40 minutes.

Uncover the lasagna and bake for another 15 minutes until the edges are crisp and the top is golden brown.

Let the lasagna sit for about 15 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

If you wanted to leave the spinach out and add in more basil to make a more herbaceous tofu mixture, you could do that as well.  It’s really up to you- if you wanted it to be garlicky toss in a few cloves before processing, or even squeeze in some roasted garlic for a rounder, milder flavor.  You can also make it vegetarian by leaving out the turkey sausage, or use pork sausage instead of you have a love affair with The Pig.  The only rules you need to stick to are to strain the tofu, squeeze out any excess liquid from whatever vegetables you add and make sure to use the egg (it firms up the tofu layers nicely). 

If you try this, let me know what you think!  Personally, I love this version, and I hope you enjoy it too.

Recipe: Farro, Black Bean & Corn Salad

Lately, I look at the bookshelf in the kitchen just heaving with cookbooks and I feel a bit, well, guilty. After all, up until a few short months ago I was a bona fide cookbook addict. When I wasn’t reading one of the 100 or so that I have, I’d be surfing through Amazon looking for the next fix or printing out recipes from Epicurious and stuffing it into my “homemade” cookbook – AKA The Overstuffed Folder. There was never a Sunday morning spent without one cookbook in hand while three others were piled in front of me on the coffee table, waiting for me to take a look. It was a good relationship we had, the cookbooks and I, although I might have been a little dependent.

It’s odd now- I cook a lot but haven’t used a recipe in months. If I have thumbed through a cookbook recently it was merely to gain inspiration, not to follow any recipe word for word. The deciding factor in terms of what I will cook is one question- “What do I want to eat?” Seems simple, but for those of you who are recipe lovers like me, you’ll understand that sometimes the challenge and technique of a new recipe is the biggest motivator in what you make. I did that for so long and believe me- it resulted in plenty of delicious and beautiful meals- but I’m in this phase of just listening to my senses, collecting all of the knowledge that is floating around in my brain and then combining it all into a dish that is exactly what I want to consume at that particular moment.

Last week, after a tequila-and-wine-fueled trip to Mexico- I wanted to have a big batch of something hearty but healthy to take for lunch each day. So I decided to whip up a batch farro, black bean and corn salad. Farro (type of wheat, also called emmer) has become one of my favorite grains over the last year and is great in so many dishes. It’s becoming more readily available in supermarkets but can almost always be found at any Italian market. I love the toothsome bite it retains after cooking and its slightly nutty but generally neutral flavor is very versatile. In the cooler months I like to toss it with sautéed mushrooms, thyme and baked butternut squash, but now that it’s warmer it’s the base of many great cold salads. This farro, black bean and corn salad is the perfect example of a recipe borne from what my body and taste buds were craving at the moment it was conceived, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Farro, Black Bean & Corn Salad

(The key to flavoring any salad using farro is to bathe the still-hot farro with whatever dressing you’re using so it really soaks up the flavors. In this instance I made a cilantro vinaigrette but you can use whatever dressing you prefer (creamy dressings probably won’t be as good) as long as you make sure you coat the farro grains while they are still warm).


1 ½ cups farro, rinsed
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock (I used Wolfgang Puck Vegetable Stock because it was on sale!)
2 ears sweet corn
1 can black beans, rinsed clean
2 red bell peppers
4 green onions

Cilantro vinaigrette

1 large handful of cilantro (about 1 cup packed). Stems and all are fine.
1 medium jalapeno pepper
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
3 TBS red wine vinegar
3- 4 TBS good extra virgin olive oil

Make the vinaigrette first: With tongs, hold the jalapeno directly over the flame on your stovetop or gas grill to blacken it all over. Cut the stem off, cut in a few pieces and pop into a food processor or blender. Add all of the other vinaigrette ingredients except for olive oil and pulse until relatively smooth. While the food processor or blender is running, slowly add the olive oil in a stream until it reaches a slightly-thicker-than-salad-dressing consistency. Season with salt & pepper to taste and set aside.

Bring vegetable or chicken stock to a boil, add the farro. Boil on medium heat for about 15-20 minutes- just check the consistency of a farro grain- you want it to be “al dente” so to speak. The farro probably won’t soak up all of the stock so if it doesn’t, simply drain it in a colander. Put drained farro in a large bowl and immediately toss with about ¾ of the vinaigrette. Mix well and set aside.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add corn. Boil for about 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water until corn is cold. Cut the kernels off by standing one ear of corn up at a slight angle and cutting down each side of the corn. A lot of it will come of in chunks but you can crumble it up into kernels with your fingers. I like to leave a few of them chunky so it looks more homemade. Add to the bowl of farro.

Rinse the beans in a colander under cold running water until clean, add to farro bowl.

Chop the red pepper into fine dice and the green pepper crosswise into thin circles, add both to farro bowl.

Toss in remaining vinaigrette and mix all ingredients together. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Love Me Tender, Love Me Greens……………

Tender Greens. Don’t you just love that name? It conjures up all kinds of images in my head. Cuddly romaine, compassionate asparagus, soft-spoken spinach…… just sounds nice and fuzzy. Wait, fuzzy greens would be gross actually, but you get what I mean. Tender Greens just makes me think of good stuff….natural, salt-of-the-earth, ecologically sound, tender……er, greens. The moment I heard the name, I knew I wanted to check it out.

Tender asparagus………..

Unfortunately for me, Tender Greens is on the Westside, and I’m an Eastsider. Not only do I live on the Eastside, but I love the Eastside and rarely go West for meals. Sure, J and I will head out to the beach on a nice day, or drive out to Surfas if we’re in need of any kitchen stuff (and to grab a Canelé, the Best Food on Earth), but we don’t make the drive for meals….especially meals that involve wine because we don’t want any po po’s on our tails for having a glass and driving that far. If we do eat out West, it’s usually because we’re there for another reason and we get hungry.

Tender cauliflower……..

A couple of weeks ago we were out by Venice for…uh, I can’t remember. But when hunger struck, I squawked “Tender Greens Tender Greens!!! Must try!!! Culver City!!!” at J. Although he brought up other suggestions, I knew I had to take advantage of being on the Westside and try this much-lauded place. I tried not to yack as I googled it on my cell phone (I cannot read and be in a car or I get utterly nauseated) and pointed J in the right direction. I stuck my head out of the car window and chirped, “Tender Greens, Here We Come!” Well, not really but I did stick my head out of the window to get some air after all that cell phone googling.

Tender tomatoes……..

Tender strip steak…….

We parked in the adjacent lot and got in line. Tender Greens was a nice, well-lit space with an open kitchen where all of the fresh ingredients were displayed. There is a large menu on the wall at the entrance, and upon studying it carefully, I decided on the Chipotle Barbeque Chicken Salad (romaine hearts, avocado, jack cheese, crispy tortilla strips, creamy lime dressing) while J opted for the Happy Vegan (tabbouleh, hummus, pasta pearls, farro wheat, young kale, tender greens). I had slight remorse since J’s sounded SO yummy, but I was quickly distracted by all of the cooks piling fresh ingredients onto the plates in the open kitchen. Or I guess I should say I was distracted by the fresh ingredients that the cooks were piling onto the plates- after all, it wasn’t like Adrien Brody was one of the cooks, ya know? Anyway, the line to the register is right along this open kitchen so you can see EVERYTHING…..and man, it all looked so good. Plates piled high with freshly grilled eggplant, thick slabs of ahi tuna being seared with perfect grill marks……I spent the entire 5 minutes in line going back and forth in my head about what to order, even though I had thought I knew what I wanted. Eventually I did stick to my initial choice and picked up our food. J also decided on a small cup of tomato basil soup.

Chipotle barbeque chicken salad…half eaten!

Happy half-eaten vegan!

We sat down and dug in. My salad was good- the romaine hearts were so sweet and, yes, tender. The chicken was moist and there was a nice, light distribution of dressing. J’s Happy Vegan, however, was the real winner. A scoop of green hummus sat next to scoops of farro, barley and greens…it was an explosion of tastes and textures. The soup was a bit too acidic and needed something to mellow it out, but the salads were killer. Next time I go, I already know I’m getting the Happy Vegan (although that ahi tuna did look insanely good). Maybe I’ll get the Happy Vegan with some ahi on the side….although I guess that would make that the Unhappy Vegan. Hmmm………..

Tender ahi………

I’d highly recommend Tender Greens for their fresh produce, good flavor combinations and, of course, tenderness.

Tender Greens
9523 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
310 842 8300