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Sneaky vegetable lasagna

October 25, 2011
By Wendy Monro - Simply Food , The Journal

Wednesday, my kids stayed home from school sick. They both convinced me in the morning that their stomachs hurt. By noon, they were up, playing on the computers, and looking healthy. I decided to find a good documentary for us all to watch together. I figured, at the very least, they could learn something while they lounged around the house in their pajamas, feigning illness.

I browsed different documentaries and discovered one called, "Earthlings." The description read, "This multi-award winning documentary by Nation Earth is a must see for anyone who cares about animals or wishes to make the world a better place." It is narrated by Joaquin Phoenix and includes a soundtrack by Moby.

How can you argue with wanting to make the world a better place? I decided to play the trailer first. It begins by showing animals caged in crowded horrible conditions. Then, it goes on to reveal the most heinous treatment of animals I had ever seen. I cannot even recap it here for fear that it would gross all of you out and ruin your entire day. Daphne went running out of the room and said, "I will never watch that!" I agreed and shouted out to her, "Don't worry, I don't want to watch that either!" Then, I looked over at Jack who stood next to me in complete silence. "Are you okay? We won't watch that," I assured him. All he could manage to say was, "why would anyone treat animals that way?"

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You have to understand Jack's love for animals. As a young child, he insisted on wrapping his arms around any dog he met to give them a big hug. Dogs weren't always open to this sort of affection. He was bitten by a couple of dogs and I worried every time a new dog came near him. He still kept doing it because he loved them this much.

It's not just dogs either. Jack literally wants every pet he sees. Right now we have the two dogs, a parrot, and a bearded dragon. We have had hermit crabs, fish, parakeets, and a ferret (to name a few).

Jack sits in front of the television for hours watching Animal Planet. He has watched every bearded dragon video in existence on You Tube. Last month, he had to have a "Big Cats" t-shirt. The proceeds of these shirts contribute to saving the big cats in Africa. He performed several tasks to earn enough money to get one.

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Sneaky Vegetable Lasagna

Serves: 12

Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 leeks

1 zucchini

3 carrots

1 large head of broccoli

1 yellow squash

1/2 onion

1 green pepper

2 stalks celery

1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes

4 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 12 oz can stewed tomatoes

1/2 cup red wine

2 tablespoons oregano

3 cups low fat ricotta cheese

1 cup shredded low fat mozzarella cheese

1 cup Parmesan cheese

1 package no boil lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop all of the vegetables into large chunks. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Saut the vegetables for about 15 minutes. Add the stewed tomatoes and the sun dried tomatoes and the seasonings. Heat for another 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender a bit at a time. Blend and pour into a bowl. Once it is all blended, return to the skillet. Add wine and oregano. Heat through, about 10 minutes. In a casserole dish, layer the lasagna with sauce, noodles, and the three cheeses. Repeat until you get to the top of the casserole dish. Bake for one hour.

In spite of all of this, Jack loves to eat meat. Whatever I make for dinner, Jack picks the meat out of it and eats only that. He rarely eats anything other than meat. He has had several favorites over the years: chicken strips (not nuggets!), cheeseburgers, and hot dogs. I always have these items on hand in the freezer so that he will eat something.

Imagine my surprise when Jack looked away from the horrifying documentary trailer and said, "I am never eating meat again!" He wasn't just standing there in shock. He was putting it all together in his mind. Animals are killed so he can eat meat. I swear, this was not my intention when I showed him this trailer. I had no idea what I was getting into. Immediately, I told him that I could buy only meat that was raised humanely. I had already researched this. I told him about several farms I know that would deliver this meat to our door. He shook his head and said, "No, mom, I am a vegetarian." I knew that look in his eyes. He meant it.

That evening I started making dinner and tried to think of something vegetarian that Jack would like. Jack doesn't eat rice or potatoes. He does not like most fruits or vegetables. I began to worry. What would he eat? I imagined Jack's life of eating only sugary cereal and white bread with Nutella. He wouldn't grow properly and would probably become diabetic. Panic set in. I called Jack into the kitchen and asked him what he thought he would be eating now that he is a vegetarian. He answered, "cheese pizza and fries," like I was an idiot for asking. Uhhh, I don't think so!

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That weekend, we went to my mom's for a visit. She reminded me of the lasagna she made for my daughter Ella, another vegetarian who doesn't like vegetables, while she was out visiting last summer. My mom, a genius, sauted tons of vegetables and then blended them into the sauce. She layered the lasagna as usual with noodles, sauce and cheeses. We made this for Jack. He loved it and never even knew he was eating so many vegetables. Now, I just have to come up with many more of these clever sneaky ideas. I believe I have my work cut out for me. Bring it on!



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