MEXICAN RICE – An Easy Twofer Recipe

Mexican Rice textMexican Rice is one of those foods that can be both a side dish and an ingredient in something else. For example, Monday night you might want a side dish with a bit of a kick to perk up a main course, and then on Tuesday it can become part of a burrito or taco. One preparation, two meals! Love it!!!

MEXICAN RICE

  • 2 large tomatoes or 4 Roma, coarsely chopped
  • 1½ cups onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 large onion)
  • about 1 cup vegetable stock or water
  • 2 cups uncooked white rice – medium or long grain
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 jalapeño chilis, remove seeds and mincemexican rice3
  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • about 2 T lime juice

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit. 

In a food processor, purée the chopped tomatoes and onions. mexican rice5Empty into a large measuring cup and add enough stock or water (both work fine) to add up to 4 cups total. Set aside.mexican rice6Put uncooked rice in a sieve and rinse well to remove excess starch. mexican rice9In a saucepan, heat oil. Add rinsed rice and sauté 6 minutes. mexican rice2Stir in the tomato purée, garlic, salt, and tomato paste. Pour into casserole dish. mexican rice7Cover and bake at 350º F 30-40 minutes, stirring halfway through, until rice is fully cooked. (Make sure rice is fully cooked – it won’t continue to soften off-heat.) mexican rice8Add in cilantro and lime juice to taste. If you want more kick, stir in another minced jalapeño.

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GRANDMA PIZZA – La Nonna Lo Adora!

grandma pizza text

It’s amazing how many types of pizzas there are. While the dough is basically the same for all, how they’re baked makes the difference.

A Grandma Pizza is square or rectangular, and baked on an oiled rimmed cookie sheet.  This produces a light, crunchy crust.  It’s a very wet dough so there’s no need to roll it out – you just spread it with your fingers.

Note: It’s easiest to use a food processor, but you can get a nice workout mixing the dough by hand in a bowl.

GRANDMA PIZZA

  • 2 T + 1 T olive oil, divided
  • 7¾ oz (1½ cups) bread flour
  • 2 tsp dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup hard cheese such as Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano
  • about 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • any other topping you may like

Pour 2 T olive oil into the center of a 10″ X 15″ rimmed baking sheet (also called a jelly-roll pan). grandma pizza4Into the workbowl of your food processor (or a large mixing bowl if you’re going to do this by hand), put the flour, 1 T olive oil, yeast, sugar, and salt. Turn the machine on and slowly pour in the water through the pour tube. Once all the water is poured, let the machine run another 30 seconds or so. This is a very sticky, loose dough.grandma pizza10 Empty the dough onto the olive oil in the jelly-roll pan. Dip you finger tips into the oil so the dough won’t stick to them, and flip the dough so it’s now completely covered in oil. grandma pizza6Cover either with plastic film or a large pan (I use a rectangular roasting pan – it fits perfectly.) DON’T use a tea towel – it will just stick to the dough. (Been there, done that!) Let rise about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 500º Fahrenheit. 

Gently nudge dough to cover the entire bottom of pan. grandma pizza1Sprinkle on mozzarella, then drizzle on the marinara, followed by any other topping, and finally sprinkle on the Parmesan. grandma pizza2Bake at 500º F in the lower third of oven for 13-15 minutes. Sprinkle on fresh basil. grandma pizza3

Remove pizza to a wire rack and let set about 5 minutes before slicing.

 

 

CAULIFLOWER PASTA BAKE: A Make-Ahead Casserole…or Not!

cauliflower pasta casserole text

Cauliflower seems to be very popular now. So as a gal who likes to keep up with the trends, I decided to post a cauliflower casserole I’ve been making for years. Like most casseroles, this one can be prepared ahead of time and baked before dinner-time.

Note:  I included the recipe for the optional crumb topping. To be honest, I prefer no topping, but my husband loves it. If you find yourself in this dilemma, a compromise can be reached by serving the topping in a bowl and letting crumb-lovers sprinkle it on their own servings.

CAULIFLOWER PASTA BAKE

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk (any kind – I use nonfat)
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2 cups onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (or 2 tsp dried – but fresh is best!)
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 cups chopped Roma or cherry tomatoes
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1/2 lb pasta (I prefer mini-penne, but it’s hard to fine, so I often use small elbows)
  • 5 oz Mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
  • optional: seasoned bread crumbs (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Turn off heat and add flour, making a smooth paste. (Make sure you smash out any lumps – this is your only chance to do so.) Pour in milk, turn on heat to medium, and stir until sauce thickens – about 5 minutes. Stir in Dijon, nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside. cauliflower pasta casserole5In a 12″ skillet over medium/high, heat oil. Add onions and sauté until translucent, but not browned – about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and add in garlic and basil, stirring to bloom by using residual heat from the hot skillet.cauliflower pasta casserole4 Turn heat to medium/high and add in cauliflower. Sauté for 5 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole2Add in the tomatoes and continue to cook until cauliflower is tender – about 10 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole1In a saucepot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add in 1 T salt and the pasta. Cook until slightly under-done. Drain. cauliflower pasta casserole10In the now-empty saucepot, combine the white sauce, cauliflower mixture, pasta, and lemon juice. cauliflower pasta casserole8Pour half into a casserole dish. Sprinkle on half of Mozzarella and half of Parmesan. cauliflower pasta casserole9Cover with the remaining pasta mixture and top with the remaining cheeses. cauliflower pasta casserole7Cover and bake at 375º Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Remove lid and cook 10 minutes longer, if covering with crumb topping. Evenly sprinkle topping over top. Return to oven, uncovered, and bake another 5 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole12If not covering with topping, bake uncovered for 15 minutes.cauliflower pasta casserole13Let set 15 minutes before serving – it’s super hot! Pass around Seasoned Breadcrumbs, if desired.

SEASONED BREADCRUMBS – makes 1/2 cup

  • 1/2 cup panko crumbs
  • 1½ T olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 T Parmesan cheese, grated

In a small skillet combine the panko, olive oil, oregano, basil, onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Stirring constantly, sauté mixture over medium until crumbs are browned. (You can crank up the heat to medium/high, but keep an eye on it.) cauliflower pasta casserole6Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Stir in Parmesan when crumbs are cooled.cauliflower pasta casserole14

“HAM” & CHEESE LOAF – Vegetarian Version Of A Fan Favorite!

ham loaf textSome people become vegetarians because they don’t like meat and/or it upsets their body. Not me. I grew up eating some sort of animal everyday – sometimes three times a day and loved it. So when I decided, for humanitarian reasons, to become a vegetarian, it was quite an adjustment.

I found that the key to not falling off the vegetarian wagon is to eat really good food. This is why I started my blog – to help others find delicious alternatives. Vegetarians don’t have to subsist on rice & beans and salads alone.

I’ve been a vegetarian so long now that I rarely miss meat, but when I do, I have my go-to fake meats. There are lots of them out there – some fabulous…and some not.

Which brings me to my “HAM” & CHEESE LOAF. The original recipe used real ham. I’ve found several good fake ham products out there that I substitute for the real thing. Now, let’s be honest – if I were to merely eat the “ham” (quotation marks denote imitation) on it’s own, it wouldn’t be worth the bother. But when I add it to casseroles or, in this case, the sandwich, it serves to give the illusion of ham (without the quotation marks).

Note:  For those of you opposed to imitation meats, just leave it out – it’s still a good sandwich.

“HAM” & CHEESE LOAF

  • 1 cup water
  • 2¼ tsp yeast
  • 2 T butter, soft
  • 1 cup (4-3/8 oz) rye flour
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • about 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 8 oz fake ham, cut into 3/8″ – 1/2″ pieces
  • 4 oz cheese, cubed – I prefer medium cheddar
  • 1/2 cup dill pickles, cut into 1/4″ pieces
  • egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 T water)

Heat the water to 100º – 104º Fahrenheit. Stir in the yeast and let proof about 5 minutes. ham loaf1Put the rye flour, sugar, salt, caraway seeds, mustard, and 1 cup of the AP flour into the workbowl of a food processor. ham loaf2When the yeast is proofed, turn on the machine and slowly pour in the yeast water. ham loaf4When it’s mixed, add in remaining flour a little at a time, until dough starts to pull away from the sides. You may or may not need all of the remaining cup of flour. ham loaf14Empty dough into greased bowl, flipping dough ball so entire ball is greased. Cover with tea towel or plate and let rise 1 hour.

Place dough on floured parchment paper that lays on top of a tea towel (so the parchment doesn’t slide). Roll dough out into a rectangle, about 14″ wide X 7″ tall (it doesn’t need to be exact).ham loaf6Spread on the “ham”, cheese, then pickles down the center of the dough. Make 1½” cuts along both sides – cut the same number for both sides.ham loaf7Fold in one end, then grab the first dough tabs and twist them together, pinching to make sure they stay. ham loaf9Keep doing this for all the tabs.ham loaf10 Slide the parchment onto a large, rimless cookie sheet. Cover loaf with the tea towel and let rise 30 minutes. At this time, preheat oven to 375º F. 

When dough has risen the 30 minutes, brush with egg wash and bake at 375º F for about 25 minutes, until golden brown. ham loaf12Remove to rack and let set about 15 minutes before serving.

 

POTATO ONION FRITTATA: A Cast Iron Skillet Made All The Difference!

frittata potato onion textI had given up on frittata making. They stuck to the skillet and were rubbery. Although they looked enticing in photos, mine never came out right. I was done! That is, until I discovered the joys of cooking with a cast iron skillet.

So I decided to give frittatas one more try – this time using a cast iron skillet. Eureka! Frittatas are now one of my favorite go-to dinners.

POTATO ONION FRITTATA

  • 4 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1½ cups (about 1 large) onions
  • 1 lb Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 tsp + 1/2 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 8 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt)
  • 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 oz medium cheddar, shredded
  • 1/2 cups peas

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Slice onions into 1″ strips. frittata3Cut potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut each of those halves in half lengthwise. Slice each quarter widthwise into 1/8″ thin pieces.frittata2 In a mixing bowl combine onions, potatoes, olive oil, 1 tsp salt, and pepper.frittata4 Heat 10″ cast iron skillet over medium/high heat. Pour in potato/onion mixture and pat down with a spatula. Cover and cook for a total of 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. (Set a timer for the 15 minutes, and another for the 5 minutes!)frittata5 Into the now-empty mixing bowl (no need to clean it), beat the eggs with a whisk or fork. Beat in the sour cream, feta, cheddar, peas, and the remaining 1/2 tsp salt. frittata7When potato/onions are cooked, pour into the egg mixture and stir together.frittata8 Then pour this immediately back into the skillet. Turn heat to medium/high and heat for 15 seconds, running a spatula around edges. frittata6Cover and cook undisturbed at medium/high heat for 5 minutes. Remove lid and place skillet, uncovered, in the 350º F preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes. (Don’t overcook or it will yield a tough frittata.) Remove from oven and let set for 20 minutes before slicing.frittata9

EASY ONE-POT MACARONI & CHEESE: Hack The Mac!!!

mac & cheese hack textSadly, when we think Mac & Cheese, we often think of Kraft Mac & Cheese. While children seem to love it, one wonders what exactly is that suspicious orange “cheese” and multitude of ingredients that hearken one back to high school chemistry.

Macaroni and cheese is a kid favorite, but I refused to buy the boxed-kind, laden with excess salt and orange stuff that’s supposed to be cheese. Instead, I only served them homemade MAC & CHEESE.  Of course, the best laid plans went by the wayside when they started eating at their friends’ houses and noticed the difference. They still ate mine, but wouldn’t hesitate to inhale the other, given a chance.

Well, we moms have to be sneaky sometimes (it’s for their own good…they’ll thank us later). I found a Macaroni & Cheese recipe from America’s Test Kitchen that is very similar to the boxed kind. If you leave off the bread crumb topping, you may be able to pass it off – just keep an empty box around as a decoy to sit on the counter when you’re serving it.

NOTE:  Don’t buy pre-sliced American cheese unless you absolutely have to. Many stores have a working deli section where they make sandwiches. They’ll probably have a large block of American cheese – both the orange and yellow kind taste fine. Don’t let them slice it, since you’ll want to shred it – tell them to cut about a 3/4 ” block (3¼ oz).

ONE-POT MAC & CHEESE

  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 lb small elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup (3¼ oz) deli cut American cheese (either yellow or orange), shredded
  • 1 cup (2½ oz) extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • optional topping: 1/3 cup panko crumbs
  •                                 1 T olive oil
  •                                 1/8 tsp salt
  •                                 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  •                                 2 T Parmesan cheese, grated

In a saucepot, bring water and milk to the boil. mac & cheese hack2Add in pasta and bring to a simmer. mac & cheese hack3Maintaining the simmer, cook uncovered until pasta is just past the al dente stage – about 6 minutes. mac & cheese hack4While pot is still on low heat, stir in American cheese, Dijon and cayenne. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar. Cover pot and let melt together. Taste for seasoning.mac & cheese hack5 If you want to make the bread crumb topping, toast the panko, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a small skillet until browned. (Keep an eye on it – it only takes a couple of minutes.) Remove from heat and mix in the Parmesan.

 

CHEESY GRITS: Creamy Goodness! Who Knew?!

Grits9Grits. Just the word has always made me want to rinse out my mouth. I could never understand why anyone would want to eat them…and like them! Until now.

Of course, the key is to cook the cornmeal so it’s not actually gritty.  Add in some cheese and seasoning and YUMMMM! I couldn’t stop eating it!

Note:  I made this recipe using both coarse-grind cornmeal and polenta (the degerminated enriched kind) to compare. It’s really a toss-up – they both worked well.

Additional note: A flat whisk works really well with this dish – it allows you to get into the corners easily. (Photo below)

CHEESY GRITS – makes 6 cups

  • 2 T butter
  • 4 T scallions, white part only (about 4 stalks), sliced thin
  • 3¼ cups + 1/4 cup water, divided
  • 1 cup milk (any kind – I used nonfat)
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce (I used Tabasco)
  • 1/2 tsp black ground pepper
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup degerminated polenta or yellow coarse-grind cornmeal (I’ve used both)
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen, fresh, or canned)
  • 4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 oz jack cheese, shredded

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add in scallions and sauté to soften – about 4 minutes. grits5Add in the 3¼ cups water, milk, hot sauce, pepper, and salt. Bring to boil.grits6 Whisking continuously, very slowly pour in the polenta (or cornmeal). grits7Decrease heat to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, until thickened – about 15 minutes. Stir often, taking care to get into the edges.grits2 In a blender, pureé the corn with the remaining 1/4 cup water for about 5 seconds. grits4Pour into the thickened grits, also adding the cheeses, stirring to blend. Cook another 5 minutes or so to thicken. grits8Top servings with scallion green slices, more shredded cheese, and paprika, if desired.