The Mess Hall

Rants and ramblings on all things edible, wearable, doable, or usable with a focus on Home and Health. Home is fun, easy on the wallet, and “gool” for the greatest game of tag ever (Life). Welcome to my home, the Mess Hall. Get in the Mess!

15 Apr

Tofu cheesecake fo u

Posted in Makin' Food, Substitutes on 15.04.12 by Octopi

Hello. My name is Melissa and I have a sweet tooth.

Hello. My name is Melissa’s ass and you can tell how Melissa’s willpower has been doing by how large I am.

Yeah, I inherited the dreaded sweet tooth from my Dad. Well, I’ve come to realize that I just don’t have enough in me to deny myself of tasty, sugary goodness. I’ve never subscribed to the idea of eliminating stuff from my diet anyway – I’m more of an everything in moderation kind of gal. Which just leaves the moderating.

So I’m switching stuff out, thinking there have GOT to be some healthier options out there to satisfy the craving….including things, dare I say, healthy/good for you?!

So, tofu. Never baked with it before, so this was a first. This is NOT a vegan recipe, so adjust accordingly if necessary. Inspired by this recipe. It got a thumbs up at a recent gathering of friends, so here goes:

tofu cheesecake


– 8-10 full graham crackers. Stick them in a plastic bag and beat the crap out of them until pulverized. Or if you have a fancy machine for such purposes, have at it.
– 1/4 cup maple syrup
– 1/4 tsp. almond extract (really, just use a little splash or it’ll be overwhelming)
– 1 12-ounce package extra firm silken tofu. Don’t use the refrigerated stuff. Use the stuff in the little boxes or similar. Also, pat the extra water off it with a paper towel or clean absorbent kitchen towel.
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1 tbl. Tahini or almond butter. I used tahini but next time I’d probably try the almond butter.
– 1/4 tsp. salt
– 1 tsp. lemon extract (I’d suggest trying real lemon and some zest instead)
– 1 tbl. Cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbl
– Small container blackberries
– Spreadable fruit (blackberries)

Makin’ it Happen
– Preheat oven to 350 degrees

– Mix syrup and almond extract into graham crackers.
– Pat the graham cracker mix into the bottom of a (sprayed) 9 inch cake, springform, or pie pan.
– Bake for 5 minutes or so, then let cool for 10 min.

– Mix tofu, sugar, tahini/almond butter, salt, lemon extract, and cornstarch mix.
– Mix until very smooth!!
– Pour mix on top of crust.
– Bake for 40 min (give or take) until pretty firm or edges are light brown.
– Cool (ideally let it cool and spend some quality time in the fridge overnight or at least a couple hours).
– Spread a light layer of spreadable fruit over the top. Sprinkle blackberries on top.

Enjoy! I bet this would be great with some lemon curd on top too.

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27 Mar

Get Squash’d

Posted in Makin' Food, Substitutes on 27.03.11 by Octopi

All right, I assume most of you know how to cook pasta, so I’m forcing you to move outside the carb box and get your fill another way….spaghetti squash!  I suspect a part of the reason I’ve kept on extra weight in the past is because I’ve eaten too many carbs.  So I’m trying to shift my diet over a bit with the following general goals:

  • Make carbs a smaller proportion of my overall diet than before.  So if I make pasta with veggies, I’m making sure there are way more veggies than pasta in the dish than there used to be.
  • Try to use some alternatives to carbs.  Using zuchinni instead of lasagna noodles is one example (see previous post on how to go about that).  Spaghetti squash is another such option.  You can use it as a base instead of regular pasta noodles!  Or if you’re not ready to take the full plunge, substitute half the pasta with the spaghetti squash. This is actually what I did because I was trying to eat up some pasta in the house.  There is no set rule on how to go about this….a little change at a time is totally awesome, and probably a more sustainable lifestyle/diet to maintain over the long run.


So here’s a little 411 on how to on how to cook spaghetti squash.

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26 Mar

Veggie Lasagna – and Bechamel Basics

Posted in Makin' Food, Substitutes on 26.03.11 by Octopi

My friend T posted on FB a delic-sounding dinner she had whipped up that included bechamel sauce.  Bechamel is a white sauce that includes the roux (a fat like butter or olive oil combined with flour, stired over medium heat for about five minutes until the mixture has a texture resembling wet sand, according to this NY Times article) and a liquid like milk.  The following bechamel recipe is from the same article – the writer (Martha Rose Shulman) does a great job of explaining….



  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot or onion (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups low-fat (1 percent) milk (I had some cream to use up so I used 1 1/2 cups milk and 1/2 cup cream)
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground white or black pepper
  • Optional:  mushrooms, etc.


Makin it Happen

  • Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the shallot or onion, and cook, stirring, until softened, about three minutes. Stir in flour, and cook, stirring, for about three minutes until smooth and bubbling but not browned.
  • The paste should have the texture of wet sand. Whisk in the milk all at once, and bring to a simmer, whisking all the while, until the mixture begins to thicken.
  • Turn the heat to very low, and simmer, stirring often with a whisk and scraping the bottom and edges of the pan with a rubber spatula, for 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and lost its raw flour taste.
  • Optional: I also added some chopped, cooked canadian bacon (I added just four- five slices that I needed to use up) as well as a couple cups of sliced mushrooms
  • Variation: Substitute vegetable stock for the milk for a vegan version of this sauce


Veggie Lasagna

Well, it’d be veggie-only lasagna if I didn’t put the chopped canadian bacon in the bechamel – it was only a few slices so mainly for flavoring (I’m trying to use meats as more of a flavor enhancer rather than a main ingredient).  Close enough.  Here’s a lasagna that uses strips of zucchini instead of lasagna noodles.


  • 3 small-medium sized zucchini, cut into strips (so they look like small lasagna noodles)
  • 1 can peeled, stewed tomatoes (sliced)
  • 1 bag of spinach
  • cheese, shredded (I used asiago)
  • 8 fingerling or small red potatoes, sliced
  • olive oil
  • bechamel (see above)


Makin it Happen

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut potatoes into slices.  Drizzle olive oil over a cookie pan, place potato slices on the pan, and bake for 30 minutes.
  • While the potatoes are baking, get the bechamel going.  Once that’s been cooked up properly, you can turn your attention to the spinach (or if you’re really got a handle on the bechamel, slice up the zucchini between stirs.  Don’t burn the bechamel on the bottom of the pan though, or you’re screwed). 
  • If you get the spinach that can be steamed in the bag, do so as per directions on the bag.  Otherwise, steam until wilted.
  • Brush the sides of the casserole dish with olive oil.
  • Once the potatoes are out, pour about 1/3 of the bechamel sauce into a casserole dish.  Start layering your veggies, starting with a layer of zucchini, followed by a layer of potatoes, repeat.  Add the can of stewed tomatoes (the whole thing) in the second layer.  Be sure to have enough zucchini slices left for the top.  Pour some more sauce over the dish (get those mushrooms in there!).
  • Keep going until you’ve used everything up.  At the end pour the last of the sauce on top and top with shredded cheese.
  • What I did: Cover and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  Then uncover and bake another 20 minutes.  What I’ll try next time: Because I used zuchinni instead of lasagna noodles, the final product ended up being a bit runny.  I think next time I’ll bake uncovered the whole time (waiting to put the cheese on until after the first half hour of baking) so the oven can dry up some of the juices as the zucchini cooks.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

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19 Oct

Cupcakes. Get in my belly.

Posted in Makin' Food, Substitutes on 19.10.10 by Octopi

Hey all. Back on the blog from a stint of crazy life stuff (marathon…check!) Yesterday was National Chocolate Cupcake Day. There’s a national holiday for everything, I guess. But I can get behind this Hallmark holiday because I love me some cupcakes!

Speaking of, I rushed home last night and had to have cupcakes RIGHT AWAY. I came across a simple recipe using (gasp) cake mix. Yes, I actually don’t make every single thing from scratch.  The genius behind this recipe though is that it doesn’t use oil or eggs. Wha? It uses canned pumpkin as a substitute. Booya! 

THEN, I found a great “healthy” or “healthier” option for frosting. Double Booya!

Chocolate Cupcakes


  • 1 package devil’s food cake mix
  • 15 oz canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Yeah. That’s it.


Makin’ it Happen

  • Pre-heat oven at 350 degrees.
  • Mix cake mix, canned pumpkin, and water together.
  • Drop in muffin tins (with cupcake foils)
  • Bake for a good 18+ minutes.  Keep an eye on the cupcakes, just keep inserting a toothpick every 3-5 minutes to test if it’s done. If it comes out clean (no goo on the toothpick) it’s ready!


Chocolate Frosting


  • 16 oz light whipped cream
  • 4 oz chocolate pudding mix (I used instant for this go-round)
  • 1 cup milk (I used soy milk) 
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar


Makin’ it Happen

  • Mix well the pudding mix, soy milk, and powdered sugar.
  • Fold in the whipped cream.

This frosting won’t keep well just sitting on the counter. I keep the frosting separate in the fridge and then put it on the cupcake as I eat them (of course you can frost them all at once if you’re serving them all at once!)

Nutrition stats here for the cupcakes, and here for the frosting.

I may try to use regular pudding in the frosting in a next iteration.  I may also try to make my own devil’s food cake mix with Mess Hall staples to keep on hand for those “emergency” cupcake occasions.  Will keep you posted as those experiments play out!


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07 Sep

Beam Me up Some Biscuits

Posted in Garbage Recipes, Makin' Food, Substitutes on 07.09.10 by Octopi

I found a good blog that tried out Mark Bittman’s recipe for (yogurt or buttermilk) biscuits from his book, How to Cook Everything. This is a recipe using only “Top 25” ingredients!  This is also a Garbage Recipe; meaning, a recipe for which you can easily take a gander around your kitchen and jazz the recipe up with some additional optional ingredients.

“Wait a minute!” you say.  Buttermilk is NOT in the Top 25 Must Haves!!  OK, it’s not.  But ingredients to make buttermilk substitute is, so there!  There are multiple ways to use substitutes for buttermilk, which is summarized well at this site.  Today we’re using Option #1, milk with lemon juice.

Buttermilk Substitute

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Alrighty, armed with a substitute for buttermilk: on to the recipe!!

Yogurt or Buttermilk Biscuits Recipe
From How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman


Base Ingredients (All from the Top 25 Must Haves!)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 scant teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 to 5 tablespoons cold butter (I used about 2.5)
  • 7/8 cups plain yogurt or buttermilk (buttermilk substitute used here was 1 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. I only used about 7/8 of the combined mixture, as per the recipe)


Garbage Ingredients

  • 6 oz. grated cheddar cheese
  • 1-2 tablespoons of rosemary 


Making it Happen

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  • In the bowl of a food processor (if you’ve got one), add dry ingredients and pulse until combined. Add butter and pulse until butter resembles coarse meal.  I used a hand mixer to mix ‘er up and it was fine.
  • Stir in yogurt or buttermilk (substitute) until dough comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and add cheese, if desired. Dough will be sticky. Knead dough 10 times and shape into a rectangle, 3/4-inch thick.
  • Drop dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. You could use biscuit cutters, but I personally think they look cool as drop biscuits.  Some things don’t look good homemade.  Like a couch.  Biscuits do, so dare to drop!  Dough should yield about 10 to 14 biscuits.
  • Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until golden brown. 



  • Most people eat home-made biscuits as a stand-alone item.  How about using some of the extra biscuits for breakfast in the morning?  Scramble up an egg, heat up a biscuit, and voila: egg biscuit!!  Kudos if you eliminate a Fat Layer by not including cheese on it or cutting down on the amount of cheese you put on it (instead of putting a whole slice of cheese on it, try putting just a bit of shredded cheese on top for flavor).


Nutritional content information is here.

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