Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Mac & Cheese

For several years I have recorded the meals I prepare in my planner/organizer/journal. I am certainly not 100% with my journal entries and I'm not sure why I even started this practice. And I am surely much less diligent since I starting photographing my food and blogging.

Sometimes, when I can't decide what I want to cook, much less eat, and Pritchard Parker says, "I don't care, anything you make will be fine", I refer back to the same time last year or the year before. Spring can be extra tricky for meal planning (not to mention deciding what to wear). This morning it was 31 degrees, yet it is supposed to get up to 80 this afternoon.

I first saw this recipe by Chef Martha Beakes of Mountain Magnolia Inn in Hot Springs, North Carolina in the April 2008 issue of a local news magazine. I made it a few times then promptly forgot about it. I was reminded by looking back in my journal. The Chef recommends serving it with Heinz Ketchup but I don't know about that!

Roasted Vegetable Mac & Cheese
1 lb. penne, rigatoni, or spiral pasta
1 red onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 small eggplant, diced
1 zucchini, diced
4 cups shredded cheese (any combination)
1/4 cup butter
4 cups milk
3 Tbsp. flour
Bread crumbs
Olive oil
Fresh thyme
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, to taste

Toss vegetables in olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper. Roast, on a sheet pan, at 400 degrees, until lightly brown, about 35 to 40 minutes.

While veggies are roasting, cook pasta until al dente, drain and set aside.

Melt butter in a large pan, add flour and stir until smooth, but not brown. Slowly whisk in milk and bring to just under a boil. Reserve about 1/2 cup of cheese for topping, and add the remainder to the milk mixture. Stir until cheese is melted. Stir in roasted vegetables, then the pasta, mix well but gently. Season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste.

Pour into greased casserole dish, top with bread crumbs and reserved cheese, and bake at 400 degrees, until bubbly and golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Roasted Asparagus Almondine

My husband I can I easily polish off a pound of asparagus in one setting. We've been through a few pounds of it so far this spring, raw, steamed, marinated, in pizza, in chicken salad, to name a few. This time I decided to roast it and further, to include almonds. The taste of this dish was scrumptious and the texture of the toasted almonds with the asparagus was extremely satisfying.

Roasted Asparagus Almondine
1 pound asparagus, rinsed, tough stem ends snapped off
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 - 2 cloves garlic, pressed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Sliced almonds

Marinate asparagus in the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper for about 30 minutes. Arrange the asparagus, in a single layer, on a foil lined baking tray and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until just tender and beginning to brown.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffins

This is one of Nigella Lawson's seriously delicious yet perfectly uncomplicated recipes. They were a breeze to make and a huge hit with the sweets eaters of my family.

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffins
1 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, plus more for sprinkling later
1 cup milk
1/3 cup plus 2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and fill muffin pan with paper liners. Mix all dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Combine all liquid ingredients in a small bowl. Mix both together, keeping in mind that a lumpy batter makes the best muffins. Spoon batter into muffin cups and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until the muffins are dark, risen and springy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Asparagus and Chicken Salad

I often dream about food. Do you?

Last night, I dreamed someone had given me some deer meat, which needed additional butchering. As I was prissily cutting on this meat, with a small and pointy knife, I was thinking about how I should cook it. I was thinking of people soaking it in vinegar water to help alleviate the gamey taste, so I prepared a marinade, which included apple cider vinegar.

I decided I would put the meat in the oven and roast it. Later, when I took it out of the oven, it looked like a perfectly browned, succulent, roasted chicken! As I brought it out of the oven, I felt such pride in my butchering skills. I'd heard the expression, "tastes like chicken", but never "looks like chicken".

In reality, I have no butchering skills, nor do I want to acquire them. I prefer leaving that task to the experts. Also, I only ate venison one time, which was many years ago, and I don't care to repeat the experience.

All in all, I thought the dream was very funny and I laughed as I recalled it this morning.

Asparagus and Chicken Salad
1 rotisserie chicken, torn into bite-size pieces
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces, and lightly steamed
1 medium red onion, diced
4 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, diced
1/2 cup mayo
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. honey
1 -2 cloves garlic, finely minced
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the dressing, whisk together the mayo, vinegar, and honey. Stir in garlic. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, longer if possible, for best flavor. Combine all other ingredients in a large bowl, pour dressing over, toss to lightly coat the salad. Add pepper to taste.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Amazing Waffle Stack

I do not wake up hungry, never have, don't want to eat right away, and don't even want to think about food. My husband, with his turbo metabolism, gallops straight from bed to the kitchen and starts eating the first thing in sight. I can manage preparing a pot of tea, otherwise I'm afraid he is on his own.

A weekend favorite is a stack of toaster waffles--preferably Eggo Nutrigrain, loaded with butter, peanut butter, and jam, applesauce, or apple butter. I've seen this concoction, in my sleepy, morning indifference, so many times I never really paid attention to it.

Then one Saturday morning, Alice saw Pritchard Parker's breakfast. She didn't say anything, of course. But later, and on several subsequent occasions, she spoke to me about that amazing stack of waffles, and about how her eyes practically bugged out by the quantities of his toppings. One day she said I should take a picture of it and post it on my blog.

When I told my husband I wanted to do it, he felt a little shy about it. But he was a good sport this morning, and held his plate out for me to photograph, before eating. Here is his recipe.

Amazing Waffle Stack
4 toaster waffles
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup jam, applesauce, or apple butter

Toast waffles. Place first waffle on serving plate and top with 1/4 cup peanut butter. Top with second waffle and coat with butter. Top with third waffle and add another 1/4 cup peanut butter. Finally, top with fourth waffle and spread with 1/2 cup jam, applesauce, or apple butter.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Corned Beef & Cabbage Sandwich

I don't believe I have a drop of Irish blood, but my husband does--he has a lot! Corned Beef and Cabbage for St. Patrick's day is his favorite meal of the year. I had never cooked a corned beef until I started hanging around with him; now it is an annual ritual.

This year I cooked my corned beef a little differently and I don't think I'll ever make it any other way. It was perfectly moist and tender and it was so easy! Get ready for this. I took it out of the package, rinsed off that reddish goo, plopped it into the crockpot, sprinkled the contents of the little spice packet over the top, covered and turned it on high for 1 hour, then reduced the heat to low, and cooked it for about 7 more hours. That's it. Nothing else. No liquid of any kind was needed. Pritchard Parker was very happy when he came home from work and smelled it. I sauteed our cabbage as a side dish and served it with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes.

For lunch today, I made this really tasty sandwich: One slice whole grain toast, spread with Honeycup mustard, some leftover sauteed (tender crisp) cabbage, a nice slice of swiss cheese, a slice of corned beef, microwaved for 30 seconds to melt the cheese. Yum!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Not Hamburger Helper

I suppose every cook has a version of the ground beef, tomato sauce, macaroni skillet dinner my Mother called Goulash, so I do too. A while back, as a co-worker and I were having lunch in our break room, I was enjoying leftover Goulash and she was having a good looking sandwich. A second co-worker came in, remarked about how good it smelled in the room, came over to check out what we were eating, and remarked, "Oh. Hamburger Helper". So there is even that version!

This is a great dish for using up bits of cheese and vegetables in your refrigerator. This is what I found and used this time and the method is always the same. There is no need to cook the pasta in a separate pan, just make sure you include enough liquid for it to be able to cook, whether is is water, broth, or as I often use, tomato juice.

Family Goulash
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground sirloin
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, sliced
Tender light green stalks, with leaves, from celery
1/2 package button mushrooms, chopped
3 - 4 hands full baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 quart tomatoes
1/2 tsp. each oregano, basil, thyme
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 oz. ziti
tomato juice
5 oz. (approx.) mixed cheeses, grated

Heat olive oil in large skillet, add ground beef and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook the ground beef until no longer pink then start adding the vegetables, as you chop them, stirring often. Cook until vegetables begin to get tender, then add tomatoes, herbs, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a few minutes. Add uncooked ziti and enough liquid, in this case tomato juice, so that all pasta is submerged. Cover and cook until pasta is tender. Top with cheese and cover once again until the cheese melts.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Savory Sweet Potato Pi(e)

I am one of the people who find it unnecessary (and undesirable) to add a lot of sugar, cinnamon, marshmallows, etc. to sweet potatoes. Although I do love them enough to eat them prepared any way. My favorite way to eat a sweet potato is baked, and topped with butter, salt and pepper. When I bake sweet potatoes, I go ahead and bake several at a time because my husband loves them too. One of my standard lunches is a baked sweet potato topped with black beans and grated cheddar cheese. Delicious. Satisfying. Nutrition Extraordinaire.

Here, I have made a fancier version of that lunch using some black beans I had leftover from another meal, to top a not too sweet and slightly spicy sweet potato pie.

Not-so-Sweet Potato Pie
1 unbaked pie crust
3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Combine mashed sweet potatoes, eggs, milk, butter, and sugar. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually stir into the sweet potato mixture. Add freshly grated black pepper and stir well. Pour into pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 40 minutes, until a knife comes out clean.

Top with seasoned black beans and cheddar cheese or sour cream.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Scrambled Egg Tuna Melt

There were leftover scrambled eggs with cheese after a big family breakfast. As my mother and I were cleaning up, she told me that if my grandmother (her mother-in-law) had leftover eggs she would use them to make tuna salad. I loved that idea so much that I immediately made a tuna salad, which the two of us later enjoyed for lunch as the rest of the family engaged in various activities.

I used to boil eggs for tuna salad. Now I scramble them. I love the taste, the texture, and the look of tuna salad made this way. And it makes me think of my beautiful grandmother working in her kitchen. It makes me think of the sunny yellow pitcher she used for serving milk, and the copper pans she cleaned, shined, and hung on display after every use.

Scrambled Egg Tuna Melt
3 soft scrambled eggs with cheese
1 large pouch tuna
1 plump shallot, thinly sliced
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
2 - 3 Tbsp. mayo, enough to bind salad together
slices of hearty whole grain bread
tomato slices
avocado slices
deli sliced provolone cheese

Mix together the scrambled eggs, tuna, shallot, jalapeno pepper, and mayo. Add a scoop of tuna salad on bread slices, top with tomato, avocado, then a slice of cheese. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I Can Smell Again!

After 5 disconcerting days of not being able to smell a thing, I started getting breakthrough hints of scents yesterday. Last night, while making guacamole, I halved a lime. As I was squeezing it over the avocado, I noticed the aroma. I brought the lime half to my nose and sniffed. Ah-h-h, the fragrance of a lime. It was like music to my nose!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Brunch - Spinach Salad

For spinach salad as a meal, which I was serving, I like to allow 4 to 6 cups of washed and dried spinach per person, 1 boiled egg each, and 2 or 3 slices of bacon. Unless you are feeding someone like my husband, then it is about 3 boiled eggs and 12 slices of bacon. Top all that with several slices of red onion and raw chopped mushrooms. Drizzle (or "kill" if you prefer) with warm bacon dressing.

Warm Bacon Dressing
3 Tbsp. warm bacon fat
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Over medium low heat, add garlic to bacon fat and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in sugar and mustard. Add the vinegar and stir well. loosening brown bits from pan. Continue stirring until the dressing comes together and thickens. Pour over composed salad.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

To Wash or Not To Wash?

Do you wash bagged lettuces? Perhaps I should step back and ask, do you purchase bagged salads? The only thing I buy in a bag is spinach and that is because that's the only way it comes in my grocery store--and gads! it's expensive.

I don't buy bagged salad for a few reasons. It is not a good value--you can have a lot more lettuce, for less money, if you chop it up yourself. Aesthetically, I want to see and experience what I cook and eat, as close to the way it was grown as possible. I enjoy washing and cutting vegetables. And I always figure that the more people and machines handle my food, the less nutrition it will have and the greater the chance of contamination.

I recently read a couple of articles about bagged salads and how clean they really are, with all their claims of "prewashed" and "triple-washed". The March issue of Consumer Reports, gives results from recent tests, using a sample of 206 packages and 16 brands. While they found no actual pathogens, they did find bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination, sometimes at rather high levels.

Then I saw an article in The Packer, which is a trade magazine for the produce industry, trying to counter CR's findings. I'm not sure what Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for the United Fresh Produce Association, meant when he said the advice to rinse already washed salad is misguided "because it can increase the risk of cross-contamination."

Meanwhile, I will continue buying lettuce in heads, as long as I can. And I will continue washing all my vegetables, no matter how they are marketed.

Here's my spiffy new salad spinner which replaces an old first generation spinner that was just about worn out and very rickety. This new one makes washing salad fun!

Lettuce + Salad Spinner = True Love

Friday, March 5, 2010

Things I Cannot Smell

Parmesan Cheese, Anchovies, Vanilla, Lemon, Shallot, Garlic, Coffee, Cinnamon, Cloves, Essential Oil of Patchouli

I was under the weather for a few days with what I diagnosed as the basic, old-fashioned "Common Cold". I had all the classic symptoms. Once the sore throat left, the earache had subsided, and I no longer had fever, I was left with no sense of taste or smell! Not a good thing for a serious cook. Add to that, the fact that I had no appetite or energy, and my husband wound up with Subway for supper two nights in a row, and other lame excuses for meals for a few days. Even when I tried to cook, things didn't go so well.

My taste started coming back, first with sweet. (Which supports my Mother's theory that old people like sweets so much because as tastebuds dull with age, the sweet taste remains the strongest.) The next taste restored was hot. Then along came salty. Yesterday, I tasted sour again. Finally today, I started realizing savory. Dull but getting there.

But I still can't smell a thing. Not even Patchouli!! Not even the loud perfume I got for Christmas last year. Nor the bacon I cooked.

Aarrghhh, I want my olfactory back.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Belle's Lasagna

Lasagna, wide flat noodles, often with curly edges, can be layered with anything. Various cheeses are used and the cook's choice of sauce can vary greatly, the most common being a tomato sauce, meat sauce, and/or bechamel.

While visiting friends in Florida, we were treated to a delicious fresh seafood lasagna. At a Southern family farm, I was once served lasagna with creamed corn, crowder peas (both picked from the fields that day) and a cornbread muffin. I have cooked and eaten many varieties of lasagna, vegetarian and otherwise, but this is the recipe I always go back to. In our small town, back in the day, ricotta cheese was not available, so we always used whole milk cottage cheese. I still love it prepared this way.

Belle's Lasagna
1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 qt. canned tomatoes
2 cups tomato sauce
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. basil
24 oz. whole milk cottage cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. oregano
8 oz. lasagna noodles, cooked al dente, and well drained
3/4 lb. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Cook and stir meat, onions and garlic, until meat is brown and onion is tender. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, 1/4 cup parsley, sugar, 1 tsp. salt, and the basil. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

Mix together the cottage cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, 2 Tbsp. parsley, 1/2 tsp. salt, and the oregano.

Reserve 1/2 cup of the meat sauce for a thin top layer. In an ungreased baking pan, layer 1/4 each of the noodles, meat sauce, mozzarella, then cottage cheese mixture. Repeat 3 times. Spread the reserved meat sauce over the top and sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.