NUTTY FRUIT PILAF – All Dressed Up & Ready To Party!

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NUTTY FRUIT PILAF

In Armenian homes, pilaf (rice) is one of those side dishes that’s always present but rarely noticed. It’s good, it’s filling, it’s cheap, it rounds out the meal – but it’s nothing to write home about.

However, on special occasions we take the time to brown the rice before boiling, and add in some almonds, raisins, meat (NOT vegetarians, of course), noodles, etc. – making it a memorable side dish.

For pilaf to be at it’s best, it really needs to be completed just before serving. While it’s still tasty heated up as a leftover the next day or two, it lacks the freshness it once had. (I know the feeling. Sigh!)

To help reduce the stress of one-more-thing-to-do during the last half hour before meal time, measure out the ingredients ahead and have them at the ready. The most time consuming part of Nutty Fruit Pilaf is sautéing the rice in butter. This takes about 8 minutes and needs almost constant stirring. I suggest you delegate this mindless task – guests, older kids, spouse. You just need someone to keep the rice moving so it doesn’t burn.

NUTTY FRUIT PILAF – makes about 2½ half cups pilaf

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • 2 cups vegetable stock (purchased or homemade – recipe at Vegetable Stock)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup peas, cooked
  • 1 T fresh parsley, finely chopped (I use scissors)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Melt butter in a saucepan over a medium/low flame and add rice. Stirring frequently, cook rice until browned – about 8 minutes. Turn off flame.

Add in allspice and pepper, stirring another minute to enhance the herb’s flavor.

Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to boil over medium flame. Lower heat to retain a simmer, cover with lid slightly askew to release steam, and let cook 10 minutes. Add in raisins and peas, cover, and continue cooking until liquid is absorbed – probably another 10 minutes.

Stir in parsley, lemon juice, salt, and almonds. Adjust seasoning, as needed.

 

 

 

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MUSHROOM & SPINACH TOPPED POLENTA – Easy Peazy!!!

 

Polenta topped with mushrooms and spinach

Polenta topped with mushrooms and spinach

I realize there are people that have neither the time nor the inclination to do a lot of cooking from scratch. But there are certain costly foods that are so easy to make, I feel it my duty to encourage (some might say “nag”) you to give it a try.

One such food is polenta. With such an exotic name, you might assume it’s a time-consuming process made from a variety of expensive ingredients. Uh, no. It’s merely cornmeal mush. If you want to be fancy, you can add some spices and maybe throw in a few dried tomatoes. But, basically, it’s boiled cornmeal and salted water. So, before you fork out big money for a tube of polenta (which you’re going to have to heat up) you may as well buy some cornmeal and try cooking it yourself.

I topped my polenta with a quick stir-fry of mushrooms, scallions, and spinach, then spooned on some brown sauce for a delicious, easy meal.

TIME SAVING TIP:  As the Queen of Freeze, I suggest you double or even triple the brown sauce recipe and freeze the extra in portion sized containers. One less thing to do in future! (Make sure you like the recipe before you load up your freezer with brown sauce, though.)

POLENTA TOPPED WITH MUSHROOMS & SPINACH

Polenta – serves 2 or 3

  • 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • optional: 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (for a little kick!)

In a saucepan, bring the cornmeal, water, salt, and cayenne to a boil – stirring often. Reduce heat slightly to keep the water at a simmer. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens (about 10 minutes). Add in any extras, such as dried tomatoes, herbs, cheese, etc.

If you want the polenta mushy, serve immediately. But if you want it firm, pour the hot mixture in a container such as a loaf pan lined with waxed paper, smooth top, and refrigerate for several hours. To serve, remove from pan and cut into serving sizes. To heat, you can either fry or broil polenta in butter or oil.

Mushrooms & Spinach Stir-fry – serves 2 or 3

  • 9 oz mushrooms, chopped
  • 1½ cups spinach, chopped & packed
  • 1/2 T butter
  • 1/3 cup scallions, sliced

In a skillet, melt butter and add in mushrooms, spinach, and scallions. Sauté for several minutes – until spinach is just wilted.

Brown Sauce – makes 1 cup

  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 5 T soy sauce
  • 1 cup water

In a small saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce. Smash any lumps. Turn on heat to medium and add the water. It will be the color of coffee with cream. Stir often (constant is best) and bring to a boil. The color will now be coffee WITHOUT cream, and the sauce will be thickened slightly. Remove from heat.

To Assemble:

Place Polenta on plate. Top with Mushrooms & Spinach and ladle on Brown Sauce.

 

 

 

ALMOND COOKIES: Chocoholics Approved!

 

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I generally live by the rule, “If it isn’t chocolate, it isn’t dessert.” However, sometimes rules are meant to be broken. There are actually times when I crave a little something to go with my morning tea or after a filling meal that ISN’T chocolate. Honestly!

When I was a child, my favorite thing about eating at a Chinese restaurant was the almond cookie for dessert. For a girl who, even as a child, lived by the chocolate credo, that’s saying a lot!

Because Almond Cookies are rolled into a ball, then brushed with an egg yolk wash, they’re a little more work than an average drop cookie. But after one bite, you’ll know they are worth the effort. An extra bonus is these Almond Cookies come out looking very professional – pop them in a pink box and people will think you spent a fortune at top bakery.

Note: Bigger is not always better.  If these cookies are too large, they become a bit chewy. Stick with the recommended 1″ size dough ball.

Additional Note: You may notice there’s no salt in this recipe. It’s not an oversight.

ALMOND COOKIES – makes 45 cookies

  • 45 whole almonds
  • 1/2 cup butter, soft
  • 1/2 cup shortening (I use Crisco)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp water

Lightly toast the almonds. Let cool.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, shortening, and egg. Beat in the sugars and almond extract.

Gently add in flour, soda, and powder in 3 increments.  You can use the mixer on low speed – just don’t over mix.

Roll dough into 45  1″ balls, placing them on an ungreased cookie sheets – a dozen per sheet works well. Flatten slightly with fingers.

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Beat egg yolk and water together, then lightly brush on cookies. Press an almond in center of each. Dip your finger in egg yolk wash and run it over almonds. (If you use the pastry brush, cookie dough gets on it and almonds don’t look as nice.)

Bake at 350ºF for 15 minutes if using a dark nonstick cookie sheet, and 19 minutes if using a silver one. (I prefer the dark sheet.) Cookies should be lightly browned. Let rest 2 minutes on sheet before removing to a wire rack to cool.

 

 

 

VEGGIE-CHEESE WAFFLE: It’s What’s For Dinner!

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I’m a gal who’s cooool (notice the extra “o’s”? – oh, yeah!). So when there’s a new food trend, I’m right there with fork in hand.

The pop-food that caught my eye recently was waffles. No longer just for breakfast, dripping in maple syrup, today’s waffles are topped with ice cream for a hot fudge sundae, made into a Monte Cristo sandwich, baked into a 7-layer cookie bar, ice cream wedged between 2 waffles for an ice cream sandwich. I’ve gained 5 pounds just thinking about those luscious delights.

Since I like to think outside the box, I wondered what if I added veggies to the batter and topped it with caramelized onions, thus creating a dinner (or lunch) waffle? Epic win! (See – I’m SOOOO with it!) They were delicious, filling, and the calories were quite reasonable since I left out the oil in the batter and the syrup on top.

So grab that waffle maker you have hidden in the back of the cupboard and go make dinner!

DINNER WAFFLES – makes 2½ large waffles

  • 2 T cider vinegar plus enough milk (I use nonfat) to equal 1 cup
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2 T butter
  • 1/8 tsp salt (this is separate from salt below)
  • 1 zucchini, shredded, chopped, or cut into half moons
  • 4 mushrooms, chopped
  • 2/3 cup fresh spinach, chopped & packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 T Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 tsp dried dill
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
  • optional: 3 strips imitation bacon (I use Morningstar), cooked crispy, then crumbled
  • oil to grease waffle iron, if needed

Combine cider vinegar and milk – we’re making buttermilk. Let sit as you prepare the rest of the recipe. If you already have buttermilk, then just use 1 cup of it instead.

Caramelize onions by melting butter in a skillet at medium heat and frying onions for about 20 minutes – until they’re golden brown. (Don’t worry about the skillet – an SOS pan takes care of that in no time) Stir often. Sprinkle in 1/8 tsp salt.

In a saucepan, sauté the zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach in a drop of oil until cooked.

In a mixing bowl (preferably one with a spout for easy pouring), beat egg and Dijon. Beat in buttermilk. Gently stir in by hand the dill, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/4 tsp salt. Don’t over mix – there can still be streaks of flour. Add in cooked veggies and cheese, and stir just enough to mix everything.

Preheat waffle iron. Brush with oil, if needed. Pour on batter. If using “bacon”, sprinkle on. Close lid and cook.

NOTE: The secret to prevent waffles from sticking to the iron is not to lift up the lid too early.  If you do that, you’ll have a big mess on your hands. I set my timer for 4 minutes before I check – by then, the waffle has baked enough to hold together. I usually have to cook it another couple of minutes.

Top with onions and serve hot.