Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Week 12, Dangerous Plastic?

I had bathed the girls and put them to bed. Having survived the bedtime routine fairly unscathed (only two books with my oldest), I was looking forward to a little "me" time before heading to bed myself. I sat down at the computer to check my emails, when it happened. I had received the dreaded "mommy alert" email. For those unfamiliar, this is a new phenomenon since the advent of the internet. The email usually contains a dire warning of some sort and has been passed from mom-to-mom with an "I don't know if it's true, but...." intro of some sort. The purpose of these emails is usually very straightforward: You and your family are at risk, heed this advice or else.

The subject: " Warning on Water Bottles". The content: "From John Hopkins : Bottled Water in your car is very dangerous! On the Ellen Show, Sheryl Crow said this is what caused her breast cancer. It has been identified as the most common cause of the high levels of dioxin in breast cancer tissue.
Sheryl Crow's oncologist told her: women should not drink bottled water that has been left in a car, because the heat reacts with chemicals in the plastics of the bottle which releases dioxin into the water. Dioxin is a toxin increasingly found in breast cancer tissue...........This information is also being circulated at Water Reed Army Medical Center: No plastic containers in the microwave. No plastic wrap in the microwave. Dioxins are highly poisonous to the cells of our bodies. Don't freeze your plastic bottles with water in them as this releases dioxins from the plastic."

Admittedly, my paranoid-mommy radar normally runs on high alert. I had heard about the possible dangers in plastic before, but I had never taken the time to do any research on the topic. I forwarded the email to all of my friends and family, cleared my cupboards of any plastic containers, and threw out all my sippy-cups - then sat down at the computer to do some work. (In all fairness, the email I received was from my very sweet, intelligent, level-headed sister-in-law.)

The concern over harmful chemicals in plastics began in 2008 when a report was issued from the National Toxicology Program (the NTP is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, http://www.hhs.gov) which stated that bisphenol A (BPA, a chemical used to make certain plastics found in various products such as food storage containers, baby bottles, water bottles and the lining of soft drink and food cans) could "possibly" affect human development and reproduction. Studies and tests show that trace amounts of BPA are leaching from polycarbonate containers into the liquids and foods that we consume. The question becomes whether or not these chemicals have any adverse affects on the human body. The NTP's research focused on rat pups. These rodents were exposed to high doses of BPA which was administered either through injection or food. As a result, changes were found in both the mammary and prostate glands suggesting a potential cancer risk. In some tests of female mice, exposure appeared to accelerate puberty.

The NTP report went on to say that, in these high-dose animal tests, administered doses of BPA were "far in excess of the highest estimated daily intakes of BPA in children...adults...or workers". NTP's final report concluded that more research is needed on BPA and that there is some concern that BPA can cause developmental and hormonal problems in infants and kids. Although the report is based on animal studies, the group says that BPA's risks to humans cannot be totally ruled out.

How much BPA are we exposed to? The typical adult ingests an estimated 1 microgram of BPA for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. Babies who use polycarbonate bottles and formula from cans get more, an estimated 10 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. To put this into perspective, consider this: a single M&M is about one gram. If you cut it into 100,000 slices, once slice would equal 10 micrograms. (Source: Parker-Pope, Tara. " A Hard Plastic is Raising Hard Questions": The New York Times, April 22, 2008). According to the Bisphenol-
A website, http://www.bishpenol-a.org: "A person would have to consume more the 1,300 pounds of food and beverages in contact with polycarbonate or more than 500 pounds of canned food and beverages every day for a lifetime to exceed the safe level of BPA set by the US Environmental Protection Agency". Still, there remains concern about the safety to children and pregnant women when exposed to this chemical.

In reaction to this report many authorities did weigh in with claims that BPA is a safe product when used for many household functions, such as storing food, and in baby bottles. According to a fact-sheet created by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), "The use of polycarbonate plastic for food contact application continues to be recognized as safe by regulatory authorities worldwide." The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently issued this statement: "The FDA has confidence that no safety concern exists for BPA in regulated food contact materials. Furthermore, the FDA has determined that the use of polycarbonate-based baby bottles and BPA-based epoxy coated cans used to hold infant formula is safe." (Source: statement from the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety by biologist Julie N. Mayer, M.F.S.). The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis also chimed in: "In the case of BPA, the evidence considered by the panel suggests that the weight of the evidence for low-dose effects is very weak." (Source: Cohen, Joshua and Gray, George. "Weight of Evidence Evaluation of Low-Dose Reproduction and Developmental Effects of Bishphenol-A.")

While most research has focused on children and pregnant women, a study done by the Journal of the American Medical Association raises safety questions for all adults. The study, released in 2008, was based on a survey of nearly 1,500 adults. It found that those with higher levels of BPA in their urine reported higher risks for heart disease and diabetes. In a separate study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov) found detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of urine samples collected from more than 2,500 adults and children over age 6.

A 2008 study funded by grants from the NIH, the Department of Defense and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation found that when breast cancer cells were subjected to low levels of BPA, similar to those found in the blood of adults, it inhibited the effects of chemotherapy. They found that BPA acts in the same way that estrogen does - by activating proteins that protect the cells from chemotherapy agents. (Source: Parker-Pope, Tara. " Plastic Chemical May Interfere with Chemotherapy": The New York Times, October 9, 2008). Findings in this study may help to explain why chemotherapy appears to be less effective in some cancer patients.

And if you aren't confused enough yet with all of the conflicting data, the NIH website (www.nih.gov) said this: "Unfortunately, it is very difficult to offer advice on how the public should respond to this information. More research is clearly needed to understand exactly how these findings relate to human health and development, but at this point we can't dismiss the possibility that the effects we're seeing in animals may occur in humans. If parents are concerned, they can make the personal choice to reduce exposures of their infants and children to BPA." (Michael Shel, Ph.D., Director of the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction.)

Plastic is one of the more remarkable inventions of the 20th century. Our reliance on plastic not only insures the ease of our daily lives, but also the safety. Think of the last time your plastic ketchup bottle fell out of the fridge. We come in contact with some form of plastic hundreds of times during a normal day. So, how do you know what products contain BPA and how to limit your exposure to them?

Any product made of hard, clear plastic is probably made from polycarbonate unless it specifically states that it is BPA-free. Some polycarbonate plastic bottles have the numeral 7 in a triangle stamped on the bottom of the container. However, 7 is a catchall "other" category for a variety of plastics. If it is a soft and pliable plastic, more than likely it is not a polycarbonate. Refillable water bottles, which are usually hard and shatterproof, are made from polycarbonate unless otherwise specified.

According to the FDA, 17% of the American diet comes out of a can. Virtually every canned product, has a liner with BPA. However one brand, Eden Organic Baked Beans, claims its cans are BPA-free.

Until further research is done, the simplest way to limit your exposure is to switch to frozen or fresh vegetables. Use glass, porcelain and stainless-steel containers, particularly for hot foods and liquids. Try to avoid microwaving foods in plastic containers and substitute a wet paper towel for plastic wrap when re-heating. Several companies sell BPA-free baby bottles and sippy cups, including the popular brand Born Free. Ultimately, make the decision that you are most comfortable with and best suits you and your family's needs.


Recipes for the week: Tex-Mex Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Cumin Spiced Carrots, Pasta with White Clam Sauce, Corn Cakes with Black Bean Soup, Spinach-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Apple-Cranberry Reduction

Items Already in the Pantry or Fridge:
mayo,cumin, cayenne pepper, soy sauce, honey, salt, black pepper, unsalted butter, Parmesan cheese, flour, dry white wine, balsamic vinegar, dried rosemary, baking powder, sugar, cornmeal, milk, 1 egg, cooking oil, ground red pepper, apple juice

Shopping List**
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 limes
1 bulb of garlic
1 bunch of cilantro
6 kaiser rolls
1 medium tomato
1 red onion
Boston or Bibb lettuce
1 bunch of carrots
2-6 1/2 oz cans of minced clams
10 oz of linguine
1 3/4 cups of half and half
1 bottle of clam juice
2 medium onion
1 bunch of fresh parsley
1 cup dry black beans
2 cups chicken broth
1 bunch celery
1/2 cup of frozen whole kernel corn
fresh chives (enough to garnish)
1-8 oz container of sour cream
1 pound pork tenderloin
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup frozen artichoke hearts
1/2 cup of cranberry juice

**Most recipes are for 4-6 servings. If you are making more, or less, you will need to adjust the shopping list accordingly**

Tex-Mex Grilled Chicken Burgers with Cumin Spiced Carrots ( serves 6)

4 large boneless/skinless chicken breasts
3 limes
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp cumin
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup of mayo
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
6 kaiser rolls
1 avocado
1 medium tomato sliced
slices of red onion
Boston or Bibb lettuce

Combine the juice of 2 limes, honey, soy sauce, cumin, garlic and black pepper in small bowl. Place chicken into a shallow baking dish and cover the chicken with the marinade. Cover and marinate in the fridge for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, combine the mayo, juice of 1 lime, cayenne pepper and cilantro in a small bowl. Set aside.

The chicken can either be cooked on the grill outside, on the stove in a grill pan or in the oven at 400 degree for about 20 minutes, or until the juices run clear.

Serve on Kaiser rolls and garnish with the mayo mixture, slices of avocado, tomato, onion and lettuce.

Cumin Spiced Carrots:
4 medium carrots cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 tbsp of butter (unsalted)
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Place the carrots into a medium pot, cover with water and bring to a bowl. Cook until slightly tender. Drain. In a pan melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, cumin, salt and pepper. Cook until tender. Serve alongside the burgers.

Pasta with White Clam Sauce (serves 4)

10 oz linguine
2-6 1/2 cans minced clams
1 3/4 cups half and half
1 bottle of clam juice
1 medium chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 tbsp of butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
1/4 cup dry white wine*
1/4 cup Parmesean cheese

Melt the butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until tender but not brown. Stir in the flour, salt and pepper. Add the half and half, 1 bottle of the clam juice. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly. Stir in the clams, fresh oregano, parsley and wine. Heat through. Serve over hot pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

*Non alcoholic wine is available in some stores.

Corn Cakes with Black Bean Soup (6 servings)

1 cup of dry black beans
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 tbsp of chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp of salt
1/8 tsp of ground red pepper
4 cloves of garlic minced
8 oz sour cream
chopped chives for garnish

Corn Cakes:
2 tbsp of flour
1 1/2 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
1 cup boiling water
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup frozen whole kernel corn
1/2 red pepper chopped
1/4 cup of sweet onion chopped
1 slightly beaten egg
3 tbsp cooking oil

To make the soup:Rinse the beans. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven combine beans and 6 cups of water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat. Cover; let stand for 1 hour. Or place beans and water in a pan. Cover, and let them soak in a cook place for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse beans.

Return beans to saucepan. Stir in two cups of water, the broth, onion, celery, cilantro, salt, red pepper and garlic. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered for 1-1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender.

Remove approximately 1/3 of soup and transfer to a blender. Holding the lid on the blender down tightly, process the soup until smooth. Add back to the saucepan. Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and garnished with chopped chives.

To prepare the corn cakes: In a small bowl combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine add the boiling water to the corn meal, stir to make a stiff mush. Stir in the milk until smooth. Add the corn, red pepper, onion and egg. Add flour mixture until well combined.

In a large skillet heat the 2 tbsp of cooking oil over medium heat. Drop the batter by rounded tbsp into the hot oil, making 6 cakes. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown, turning once. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with the black bean soup.

Spinach-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Apple-Cranberry Reduction (serves 4)
1 1-pound pork tenderloin
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1/4 apple juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Slice the tenderloin lengthwise, almost all of the way through, making a pocket. Set aside.

In a large skillet cook the spinach in a small amount of water just until wilted; drain well. In a small bowl combine the wilted spinach, artichoke hearts, cheese and rosemary. Spoon spinach mixture into the pocket in the tenderloin (filling will be exposed). Place in a shallow roasting pan, stuffing side up. Roast in a 435 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into meat registers 160 degrees.

Meanwhile in a small saucepan combine the apple and cranberry juices with the balsamic vinegar. Bring to boiling. Boil gently about 15 minutes or until the mixture measure 1/3 cup. Spoon the juice reduction over the tenderloin during the last 10 minutes of roasting. To serve bias-slice the pork. Serve with a garden salad.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Week 11, Organic or Not....

Here is the dilemma; I am standing in the produce section of the local grocery market. In one hand, I hold a conventionally grown apple. It is firm, red and shiny. In the other hand, I hold an organically grown apple. It is also firm, red and shiny. The only outward difference that I can discern is that the organically grown apple has a label that says "USDA Organic", and the price is a little higher. Should I buy the organic apple? Is it a safer, more nutritious apple then the conventionally grown apple?

This quandary has lead me to do some research, in an attempt to become a more informed consumer - and also insure that I am feeding my family the "right" foods.

I start the research with the meaning of the word "organic". According to mayoclinic.com, the word organic "refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution....farmers don't use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease." Specifically, these farmers cannot use herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Organically raised animals must be given organic feed and kept free of growth hormones and antibiotics. These animals must also have access to the outdoors, including pastureland for grazing. (source: http://www.webmd.com).

The federal government allowed food to be labeled "organic" starting in October of 2002 - approximately 6 1/2 years ago. (http://sciencenews.org, Federal Government Launches Organic Standards. John Pickrell). If a food bears the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic label, it means it meets strict government standards that regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed. USDA organic foods are at least 95 percent organically produced. Using an "organic" label on your product is voluntary, however most organic producers use them.

Products that are completely organic - such as fruits and vegetables or other single-ingredient foods - are labeled 100% organic and can carry a small USDA seal. Foods that have more then one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal, either use the USDA seal or the following wording on their labels, depending on the number of organic ingredients:
  • 100 percent organic. Products that are completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
  • Organic. Products that are at least 95 percent organic.
  • Made with organic ingredients. These are products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The organic seal can't be used on these packages.
(source: http://www.mayoclinic.com)

In 2006, sales of organic foods and beverages totaled $16.7 billion. Although this is a major increase from when the organic seal was first introduced, it is still slightly less then 3 percent of overall food and beverage sales. (source: http://www.nytimes.com. Eating Food That's Better for You, Organic or Not. Mark Bittman)

New York University professor Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH recommends "If you can afford them, buy them...how can anyone think substances, such as pesticides, capable of killing insects, can be good for you?" But many experts say there is not enough evidence to prove any real advantage to eating organic foods. According to the chairman of the department of Nutrition and Food Science at Wayne State University in Detroit, David Klurfeld, PhD: "There's really very limited information in people on actual health outcomes with consumption of these products...We don't know enough to say that one is better then the other".

To date, there is no conclusive evidence that suggests that organic food is more nutritious than conventional food. A few studies have shown that organic foods do have higher levels of vitamin C, certain minerals, and antioxidants. However, the differences are so small that they probably have no impact on overall nutrition. When you take into account that nutrients like vitamin C do oxidize over time, even though the organic food may have more vitamin C to begin with, if it sits in your refrigerator for any amount of time, it could lose that benefit. (source: http://webmd.com).

While it is debatable whether organic food is more nutritious then conventional food, it is clear that organic food may be safer. "If you're talking about pesticides, the evidence is pretty conclusive. Your chances of getting pesticide residues are much less with organic food," says John Reganold, professor of soil science at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.

Even so, the amount of man-made pesticide residues found in conventional foods is still well below the level that the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed unsafe. Therefore, the issue becomes whether these small doses overtime add up in our bodies and lead to increased health risks down the road.

Nutrition and safety aside, advocates for organic food claim that the health of the environment and society alone are enough of a reason to "go organic". Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil. However, if you buy an organic mango that has been flown in from Chile, and then placed on a truck that ships it to your grocery store - you really haven't done much to reduce your "carbon footprint".

Back in the produce aisle, my head still spinning, I've decided that while the big picture is important - I need to make a decision that is best for my family. The most important piece of information I have taken from my research is the best thing I can do for myself and family is to eat more whole foods: lots of fruits, vegetables and grains. According to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., there are certain foods that are more susceptible to pesticide residues then others. They refer to these foods as "the dirty dozen". If you are like me, interested in feeding your family healthy food while not breaking the bank, focus on buying the organic version of these particular foods:
  • peaches
  • apples
  • sweet bell peppers
  • celery
  • nectarines
  • strawberries
  • cherries
  • pears
  • grapes
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • potatoes
Whether or not you chose to buy organic, you can keep the amount of pesticide residues down on the foods you consume by washing produce under streaming water to remove dirt, bacteria and surface pesticide residues. Remove the peel from fruits and vegetables. (Of course, you will lose a substantial amount of nutrients by doing this). Trim visible fat and skin from meat and poultry because pesticide residues can collect in fat. If you are stuck making the decision whether or not to buy the organic "Oreos" or the original version; don't buy either - they are both junk food.

Items already in pantry or fridge:
7 eggs, milk, salt and pepper, olive oil, flour, sugar, olive oil, dried basil, red pepper flakes

Shopping List:

2 cups of sliced baby portabello mushrooms

1/2 pound of thinly sliced prosciutto
3 large vine ripened tomato sliced
1/2 pound of sliced provolone cheese

1 pkg dry yeast

3 lb boneless pork tenderloin
1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 small oragne
1 tbsp honey
3 scallions
3 tbsp of rice vinegar
2 cups shredded carrots

1 cup of sliced almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1-2 cups bean sprouts
1 large ripe pear or apple; sliced into thin slices
whole wheat wraps - in any variety, spinach, carrot etc.

8 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 large container of sliced baby portabello
8 small basil leaves

1 box of no-boil lasagna pasta
1 jar of favorite marinara sauce
1 16 oz container of ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 - 10 oz bag of frozen chopped broccoli
8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 small zucchini

1 orange bell pepper

Recipes for this week: Pizza Margherita, Asian Style Shredded Pork Wraps (made in the crock-pot), Crust less Quiche, Vegetable Lasagna

I did take pictures this week, but the camera was dropped before I downloaded them and it is now broken. I didn't have tim
e to get it fixed before I published this post. So, I only have one picture of the lasagna and I took that with my phone's camera!!

Vegetable Lasagna

Pizza Margherita, with Mushrooms: (Serves 4)

To make this recipe I use my "Lodge" cast-iron pizza pan. You can use any circular or rectangular cookie sheet, or if you have a pizza stone that works well too!

**This dough recipe is for a bread machine, and very easy to make. I advise to make first thing in the morning and punch the dough down to allow to rise at least twice before you use the dough. If you don't have a bread machine or the time to make the dough ahead of time you can buy it at the grocery market, usually in the deli section or buy the canned tubes of refrigerated pizza dough. If you do have the time double the recipe for the dough and freeze one portion for later use!!


1 1/8 cup warm water
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
3 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp dry yeast

This will make one 15" circle.

2 large vine ripened tomatoes, sliced
8 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4 inch slices
About 6 thin slices of provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups of sliced baby portabello
8 small basil leaves

Saute the mushrooms in olive oil until slightly tender; set aside. Drizzle your pizza pan with about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Place the dough onto the oiled pan. Sprinkle the top of the dough with about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Cover the pizza with the mozzarella slices, spread the top
with the mushrooms. Add the provolone cheese, add the tomato slices and sprinkle with the basil leaves. Drizzle the top with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and ground black pepper.

Cook the pizza in a 425 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Serve with a garden salad.

Asian Style Shredded Pork Wraps ( Serves 6)
**cook in a crock-pot**

3 lb boneless pork tenderloin
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp orange zest
1 tbsp honey
1/4 cup water
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 scallions; chopped
3 tbsp of rice vinegar
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup of sliced almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1-2 cups bean sprouts
1 large ripe pear or apple; sliced into thin slices
whole wheat wraps - in any variety, spinach, carrot etc.

Place the tenderloin into the crock-pot and add all the ingredient up to the carrots. Cook on low for about 10-12 hours, or until the pork shreds very easily.

Add the carrots, almonds and bean sprouts to the pork mixture. You can refrigerate this mixture and serve it cold, or serve immediately.

Place some of the mixture into the center of the wrap, place 2-3 slices of the pear or apple on top and roll up into a wrap.

I serve with a cucumber, endamame, tomato salad.

Crust less Quiche(serves 4-6)

6 eggs
2 cups of sliced baby portabello mushrooms
1/4 pound of thinly sliced prosciutto; chopped up
1/4 of milk (your choice, can be any fat content, or even heavy cream if you so desire)
1 large vine ripened tomato sliced
salt and pepper to taste
6 slices of provolone cheese

Saute the mushrooms until slightly tender, then add the prosciutto and saute until slightly crispy.

Whisk the eggs together with the milk, add salt and pepper. Add the egg mixture to an already greased 9 inch pie-plate. Add the mushroom and prosciutto mixture. Top with the cheese and then the sliced tomatoes.

Cook in a 425 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, until the cheese on top is bubbly and slightly golden and the center of the quiche is not "jiggly".

Serve with a salad or steamed vegetables.

Vegetable Lasagna (serves 6)

1 box of no-boil lasagna pasta
1 jar of favorite marinara sauce
1 16 oz container of ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 - 10 oz bag of frozen chopped broccoli (I like to use the "steamer" bags) - cook according to directions on pkg.
8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 small zucchini sliced lengthwise very thin slices
1/2 large orange bell pepper, sliced very thinly

Combine the ricotta cheese, egg, Parmesan cheese, sugar, basil, salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl - combine well. In a 13 x 9 casserole place about 1/4 cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of the casserole, add about 4 lasagna sheets, cover with 1/4 ricotta mixture. Lay the zucchini on top. Cover with marinara sauce, add 4 lasagna sheets, cover with ricotta, place the broccoli on top, cover with sauce, 4 sheets of lasagna, ricotta mixture, cover with remaining broccoli and slices of bell pepper. Cover with remaining sauce and the shredded cheese. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and cook in a 350 degree oven for 60 minutes. Uncover and cook until the cheese is bubbly at the center of the lasagna and golden brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes before serving.