Make Ahead Pesto Polenta Lasagna


pesto polenta lasagna photo by vsimon

This recipe is from, submitted by Fiffen. It is a super simple do ahead dish. All it requires is layering purchased ingredients, packaging, and baking.

Sometimes you just need a plop and drop dinner. This one is rich and satisfying, a small serving is filling.  Serve with a green salad and vinaigrette on a meatless Monday.

Simplify your life with make ahead meals

Prep the lasagna and freeze some for later. Layer in small ceramic or glass containers with tight fitting lids. Package just one or two portions per container. This is what personal chefs do for clients everyday.

Proper containers are one of the secrets to successful make ahead meals.

Reusable, stackable containers

We use mostly small Pyrex rectangles that hold 3 1/2 cups. They hold 1-2 portions, have tight fitting lids, and stack well. There is an example of these containers on Amazon.

If you have a Wal-Mart nearby, you can buy these small rectangles individually, no need to buy an assortment. Wal-Mart is not my favorite store, but we have not found this size in singles anywhere else.

The lasagna in the photo is made in a CorningWare container. This style makes a nice presentation, oven to plate. Make sure to get ones with tight fitting lids, not the loose glass lids.

Small containers make thawing and heating quicker. Pull your dish from the freezer and thaw overnight in the fridge. Meals can be refrigerated for several days. So it isn’t critical if you need to change your dinner plans.

Gluten free ingredients

I use Frieda’s prepared polenta. It comes in many flavors, and several work here. I like  mushroom and onion, basil and garlic, even dried tomato and garlic. I get whatever the store has. Look for it in the refrigerated produce section.

Classico marinara is the brand I by. All flavors are gluten free. I usually buy the roasted garlic flavor because it is lower in calories and sodium than the other flavors. But choose what you like.

Roland Pesto is my purchased pesto of choice. It is smooth, flavorful, and deep green. Classico pesto is leafy and unappealingly brownish. 🙁

Shredded cheese makes prepping this recipe quick. I like Sargento brand 6 Cheese Italian for the flavor. It is a handy mix of mozzarella, smoked provolone, asiago, romano, parmesan and fontina cheeses. Simple shredded mozzarella works too.

Sometimes you will see warnings on the internet that shredded cheese may be dusted with wheat flour to prevent clumping. Most often, it is not. And if it is, wheat must be printed on the label.

Pesto Polenta Lasagna submitted by fiffen

serves 8 metric measures
2 -8 oz tubes of prepared polenta total 500 gm
3 cups of marinara sauce 720 gm
1/2 cup pesto 120 ml
1/2 cup pine nuts 70 gm
2 cups shredded cheese (8 oz) 225 gm

Cut polenta into 1/2” slices.

Put a tablespoon or two of marinara on the bottom of an oven safe baking dish, or several small dishes.

Layer half of the polenta slices, marinara sauce, pesto, pine nuts and cheese.

Repeat layers.

Bake right away, refrigerate or freeze for later.

Bake it

Thaw overnight if previously frozen.

Remove any plastic lids.

If it is in one or two portion containers, bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes.

In a 9×13” pan? Cover with foil and bake for about an hour. 

Microwave it

Remove any plastic lids. The manufacturers say the lids are microwave safe, but it makes me uneasy. I don’t like cooked plastic, so I take the lids off.

Microwave one or two portions for 10 to 15 minutes.

I don’t even try to microwave a big pan of lasagna. The pan would keep hitting the sides of my microwave. And the turntable scrapes against the bottom of the pan. That is really annoying.

Enticing Embellishments

Sauté 8-16 ounces of slice mushrooms and add to the layers.

Sauté 16 ounces of fresh spinach and add to the layers.

Do both. 🙂

What would you like to make ahead?

Enter timtana flour giveaway

Don’t miss out on a chance to win whole-grain gluten free timtana flour. Simply leave a comment by January 6, 2009. Three winners will be announced January 7, 2009.

Simple and Quick Wild Rice Chicken Soup


wild rice chicken soup photo by vsimon

A client requested Wild Rice Soup, please. I responded “sure”. Then I searched some of my favorite online recipe sites. had a likely candidate, Wild Rice Soup III, submitted by Diane.

It is quick

I adapted it for a pressure cooker, as I often do. Why take an hour to cook something delicious and healthful, when it can be done in 15 minutes?

That is all the time it takes to produce tender wild rice, and really tender chicken breast. To finish the soup, cube the chicken and add more liquid.

It is inexpensive

Bone-in chicken is very budget friendly, as is cooking quickly in a pressure cooker. This is a very useful skill to know. For other recipes, you can shred it (enchiladas), or dice it (salad or casseroles). I am sure you have many other ideas for cooked chicken.

I remove the skin before cooking so the finished dish is less oily. And I still enjoy a few yellow globules of rich chicken fat, just enough for my tastes.

It is simple

Cooking a whole grain and veggies with the chicken streamlines your efforts.

And I often use a frozen blend of onion, celery, and pepper. It goes straight into the pot frozen, no dicing required. You still have to dice the carrots though.

Or you can use any combo of these veggies fresh, to total 4 cups.

Dairy free if need be

This can make a fine broth based soup. Omit the milk and add more water and gluten free flavoring base, or packaged broth. Be sure to read the labels.

Un-pressured soup

Of course, this soup is successful from scratch on the stove top. Those notes are below.

And it is also a good way to use up leftover chicken or wild rice. *chuckle* Most people probably do not have extra cooked wild rice in the fridge. But if you do, you are half way to a steaming bowl of soup.

Cook it once, serve twice, or more

This soup freezes well. So make a big batch, to enjoy now and later.

Wild Rice Chicken Soup in a Pressure Cooker

serves 6 metric measures
1 1/4 pound bone in chicken about .5 kg
10 ounces frozen onion, celery, and pepper blend 280 gm
3/4 cup raw wild rice 135 gm
1 cup diced carrots 130 gm
3 cups water 720 ml
3 cups milk, or more water 720 ml
chicken base, such as Better than Bouillon, optional  

salt and pepper to taste

Remove skin from chicken and discard. Place chicken in the pressure cooker. Add onion blend, raw wild rice, carrots, and 3 cups water.

Lock the top on the pressure cooker and bring to pressure. Cook for 15 minutes.

Cool the cooker by slow release, or under running water to quickly release the pressure if you are in a hurry to eat.

Remove chicken from the cooker. Allow to cool enough to handle. Remove bones and dice chicken.

Add diced chicken back into the cooker. Add milk or water to desired consistency.

Add some chicken base if you want more chicken flavor. I usually add about a tablespoon.

Serve. 🙂

Stovetop directions

Simply put all the ingredients, except the milk in a stock-pot and simmer for about an hour. You will have to babysit it a bit, and add more water. When the chicken and rice are tender, proceed as above.

Please help me choose a pressure cooker

See Make Friends with a Pressure Cooker. Don’t you want a pressure cooker now?

1-5-10 This recipe was submitted to Amy Green’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays. This recipe roundup celebrates fabulous healthy food with many tempting entry’s.

Cocoa Melt Away Cookies

cocoa meltaways plated

Cocoa Melt Away Cookies photo by vsimon

clockwise: powdered sugar, cocoa and cinnamon, granulated sugar

These were a happy accident last year. It started out as a trial run of a recipe called Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies from Bon Appétit. The ingredients were cocoa, dark chocolate, eggs, a bit of cornstarch, salt and a lot of powdered sugar. No flour, no dairy. I could give it a go.

This is an easy recipe. And I inadvertently made it easier. Well, I got distracted and forgot to add the melted chocolate. It was melted. And still in the microwave, out of sight. I didn’t even notice my mistake until I was making a cup of tea, many hours later.

Not to worry, the chocolate did not go to waste. I can’t say for sure, but it is likely I just spooned it out of the container and into my mouth. I have been known to do that. Hopefully I shared.

According to the recipe, the dough would be very stiff.  Mine was very soft and sticky, more like thick batter. Even then, I didn’t think about forgetting something.

I put the batter in the fridge for a while to see if it firmed up. It did, a little. So I proceeded with the recipe, dropping blobs of batter into powdered sugar, more or less as directed. And baked them as directed.

They are crispy outside, melty and chewy on the inside. And very sweet. You can drop them into a mix of cocoa powder and cinnamon to cut the sweetness. A bit of cayenne would be fun too.

My mistake was worth repeating. But we wondered what we missed with the original recipe. So we made that too. That cookie is rated 4 stars on the Bon Appétit site. Lots of folks like it. But is a different cookie, heavy and dense. And there is a place for that.

This one is thin, crispy, airy, chewy. We like this version so much better.

cocoa meltaways with mug

cocoa melt away cookies photo by vsimon

Cocoa Melt Away Cookies

makes 18 three inch cookies metric measures
3 large egg whites, room temp 150 gm
2 ½ cups powdered sugar, divided use 270
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, not cocoa drink mix 50 gm
1 tablespoon cornstarch 8 gm
¼ tsp salt 2 gm

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Layer two or three cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick foil.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in a large bowl to soft peaks. Gradually beat in 1 cup powdered sugar. Continue beating until mixture resembles soft marshmallow cream.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup powdered sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt.

On low speed, add the dry mixture to the egg white mixture. Continue until well blended.

Refrigerate mixture for 20-30 minutes to firm up a bit.

Place remaining powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Drop cookie mixture by tablespoon into sugar, coating generously. This will be messy.

I use two spoons to plop the batter into the sugar. And two more spoons to cover it in sugar. Then I gently pick up the coated batter, and place it on cookie sheets. Give them room, they spread.

You will have some powered sugar leftover. But you need the extra to cover the bottom of the bowl. Otherwise the batter will stick to it. And I don’t mind wasting a bit of sugar.

Bake about 10 minutes. Cool on sheets about 10 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool completely.


For a darker and less sweet cookie, roll batter in cocoa powder instead of powdered sugar. Sub 1/4 cocoa powder for the last 1/2 cup of powdered sugar. I don’t like wasting cocoa powder. So I am just  more careful, making sure there is cocoa covering the bottom of the bowl before I drop in the batter. And the cocoa doesn’t coat the batter as thickly as powdered sugar does. So less goes further.

Add some spice. A teaspoon of cinnamon can go into the batter or the coating.

Add some heat. Cayenne or chili powders can also go in the batter or the coating. Add as much, or as little as you like. Sweet and heat is a great combo.

Add some cool. Just a few drops of mint extract added to the batter adds a lot of flavor and scent.

Make it mocha. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder to the batter. Or grind it fine and add to the coating.

What is your favorite flavor? And do you like it in, or out of your cookie?

Other easy holiday treats you may like are:

Sorghum Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blondie’s

Lemon Bars Scroll to the bottom of the post.

Cocoa Bean Brownies

And there is so much more to share!

Custom Choice cereal giveaway

The lucky winner of her own Custom Choice cereal blend is Michelle.

Thank you Custom Choice for a tasty, fun, gluten free product!

Bon Appetite Blogger Holiday Bake-Off

It is still ongoing. Categories include cakes, cookies, custard, pie, and more. Vote for your favorites until December 13.

Your vote enters you to win a Kitchen Technology Center. You can vote in every category. I have already entered Pumpkin Custard, Hold the Dairy. And I will enter Cocoa Melt Aways in the cookie category.

If you are a blogger, be sure to enter a recipe. Elana, of Elana’s Pantry has entered Tart and Tangy Cranberry Bars.

The competition is stiff, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a gluten free winner! Especially in a popular mainstream cooking magazine.

Healthy Eats guest post

Healthy Eats is a blog associated with the Food Network. Last week they published my post of Sorghum Almond Drops, a whole grain, gluten free, dairy free, and egg free holiday cookie.

If you would like to see more gluten free recipes at this very popular healthy cooking blog, please visit the post and comment. I know some of you already have commented there, thank you very much!