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, jalapeños, 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.

APPLE-SWEET POTATO HASH: Don’t Wait For Dessert To Enjoy Apples!

apple yam hash textApple season is upon us. While there are a plethora of pie, tart, and bread recipes made from these red beauties, I decided to try something a little different:  APPLE-SWEET POTATO HASH. The combination of apples, sweet potatoes, and onions works surprisingly well.

Besides being tasty, it’s extremely easy and fast to make. Just chop and fry!

Note:  Choose an apple variety that’s crisp and tangy such as Gala, Fuji, or Honey Crisp.

APPLE-SWEET POTATO HASH – makes about 4 cups

  • 1/2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 large sweet potato, unpeeled and cubed into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 apples (I use Gala), unpeeled and cubed into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp dried dill
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

In a 12″ nonstick skillet (you can probably use cast iron, although I haven’t tried that since my cast iron skillet is only 10″), heat oil over medium/high. Add in onions and sweet potato. Sauté 3 minutes, uncovered, stirring now and then. apple yam hash2Cover, decrease heat to low, and cook for 8 minutes. Check to see if sweet potato is easily pierced by a sharp knife. If not, cover and let cook a little longer.apple yam hash3 When cooked, add in apples, cinnamon, salt, and dill. apple yam hash4Increase heat to medium/high and sauté until browned, stirring now and then. Add in lemon juice. apple yam hash5Adjust seasoning, if needed.

 

Cream-Free CAULIFLOWER GRATIN – Rich & Luscious!

cauliflower gratin textAs so often happens, I got the idea for CAULIFLOWER GRATIN from America’s Test Kitchen. Rather than using cream or milk for the sauce, they pureed some of the cauliflower with water to get the liquid. Brilliant!

However, I felt the overall flavor to be lacking. Cauliflower is a very bland vegetable and needs flavor to come from elsewhere. So I exchanged Pecorino-Romano (which has more of a bite) for the Parmesan ATK used, and added a little Gorgonzola, for good measure. Also, I bumped up the cayenne and added in a couple of scallions. Finally, since my husband complained there wasn’t enough topping, I doubled the panko (but not the butter). Perfect!

Note: If you’re not familiar with panko, they’re puffed bread crumbs.  You can find them                        in the bread crumb section or the Asian section of the market.

CAULIFLOWER GRATIN

  • 2 heads cauliflower (about 4 lbs total)
  • 3 cups + 2 tsp water, divided
  • 6 T + 2 T butter, divided
  • 1 cup panko
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly – white and green part
  • 2½ oz Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 cup + 1/2 cup (1½ + 3 oz) Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated, divided
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper (or black pepper)
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit. 

Remove and discard all green leaves from cauliflowers. Place heads upside down and, with a sharp knife, cut out cores. cauliflower gratin3Slice off and discard the discolored end of core. Then slice remainder into 1/8″ thick slices. cauliflower gratin2Place cauliflower right side up and slice into 3/4″ slabs. Remove florets from stalks. Cut the stalks into 1/8″ slices and place them with the core pieces. (The stalk and core pieces will become the basis for the sauce.)cauliflower gratin1Into a Dutch oven, place 3 cups of water, 6 T butter (cut into pieces so it melts faster), all the sliced stalks and core pieces, and 2 cups of the florets.  Bring to a boil.cauliflower gratin8Place the remaining florets on a large steamer basket. (It’s a bit of a balancing act!)cauliflower gratin9 When water/core slices comes to a boil, carefully place steamer basket in Dutch oven.   (You may need to remove some of the florets before placing the basket in the Dutch oven – they tend to roll – then replace them once the basket is set in place.) You’re going to steam the florets and boil the core/stalks at the same time.cauliflower gratin7Cover and let cook until florets are easily pierced with a sharp knife (about 15 minutes). Don’t undercook the cauliflower in the hopes it will continue to cook in the oven – it won’t.

While cauliflower is cooking, melt 2 T butter in a skillet. Add in the panko, and brown over medium heat, stirring constantly. Don’t walk away – the panko will brown in 1-2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let cool.cauliflower gratin4 When florets are tender, remove steamer basket from Dutch oven and pour cooked florets into a large bowl. Add in the scallions.cauliflower gratin5 Check to see if the stalks in the water are tender (mine always are). If not, cover and continue to cook until they are tender. Remove lid and let cool about 10 minutes.

Into a blender place the Gorgonzola, 1/2 cup (1½ oz) Pecorino-Romano, salt, pepper, mustard, nutmeg, and cayenne. Pour in the cooking water & core slices. (If you have a small blender, you may need to do this 2 batches.) Blend 1 minute, until creamy.

In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and 1 tsp water together. (This will help thicken the sauce a little.)cauliflower gratin14 Pour this into the blender, then blend another minute. Pour sauce into the bowl with the florets and gently mix (you don’t want to break the florets).cauliflower gratin13 Empty mixture into a 9″ x 13″ casserole dish.cauliflower gratin12 Into the cooled panko stir remaining Parmesan (1 cup) and chopped parsley. cauliflower gratin6Sprinkle evenly on top of cauliflower. cauliflower gratin11Bake, uncovered, at 400º F for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let set 20-25 minutes before serving.

PEA & CORN SALAD – A Refreshing Summer Salad!

pea & corn salad textWhen the weather is hot and you don’t feel like cooking a vegetable, try this non-cook vegetable salad. BONUS:  it’s fat free!

Add or subtract ingredients as you please. I’m still not sure about the dried cranberries – my husband and I both liked them, but the salad is very good without them.

NOTE:  This salad needs to chill at least 2 hours, so plan ahead.

PEA & CORN SALAD – makes 8 cups

  • 16 oz package frozen petite peas, thawed
  • 16 oz package frozen white corn, thawed
  • 1 cup jicama, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2/3 cup (about 2 stalks) celery, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup scallions, thinly sliced (white & green parts)
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1  8-oz can pineapple rings in pineapple juice, drained and cut into 1/4″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 T dark brown sugar
  • 2 T fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 2 T mint, chopped

In a large bowl, combine peas, corn, jicama, celery, scallions, bell pepper, pineapple, and cranberries.pea & corn salad4 In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, brown sugar, parsley, salt, and pepper.pea & corn salad3 Pour on veggies and blend. pea & corn salad2Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Stir in mint and serve.

MASHED SWEET POTATOES WITH PISTACHIOS – A Tasty Combination!

mashed sweet potato text

The popularity of sweet potato fries has reminded people that this root vegetable is not just a Thanksgiving side dish. They can be eaten and enjoyed year-round.

The last time I made this quick and easy dish, it occurred to me that pistachio nuts would be an excellent addition. It was! Just make sure you sprinkle them on each serving rather than blending them into the mash – you want the nuts to retain their crispness.

MASHED SWEET POTATOES – makes about 3 cups

  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 2 T heavy cream
  • 4 T butter
  • 1 tsp sugar
  •  1/2 tsp salt
  • optional topping: chives, chopped toasted pistachio nuts

Peel sweet potatoes, then cut into 3/4″ cubes. mashed sweet potato2In a saucepan over low heat, melt together the cream, butter, sugar, and salt. mashed sweet potato3Add in the sweet potatoes and stir to coat cubes. mashed sweet potato4Cover pot and cook over low heat until easily pierced with a fork, stirring now and then. This should take about 17-25 minutes, depending on the type of sweet potato. If the liquid is almost absorbed but the sweet potatoes are still not completely cooked, turn off flame and leave covered to complete cooking.

Mash sweet potatoes until they’re the consistency you like.mashed sweet potato5 Adjust for seasoning – I usually add another 1/8 tsp salt. If desired (and I do desire!), top with chives and toasted pistachio nuts.

MACARONI SALAD: A Summer Side!

mac salad textPicnics and potlucks nearly always have a macaroni salad or two. Often it’s store-bought and kind of a watery mush. People eat it because it’s there.

But I believe if you’re going to eat something, you should really enjoy it. Here’s a flavorful macaroni salad that’s easy to prepare.

MACARONI SALAD – makes about 6½ cups

  • 1 lb small elbow macaroni with ridges (the ridges hold the dressing)mac salad5
  • 1/2 cup shallots, minced
  • 2/3 cup celery (1 good-sized stalk), chopped
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1½ cups mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to full boil. Add in 1 T salt and the pasta. Cook for about 5 minutes – until al dente. Drain and cool by running cold water over it.mac salad3 Pour into a large bowl.

Stir in the shallots, celery, parsley, lemon juice, Dijon, garlic powder, and cayenne. Let sit for 3 minutes to absorb flavors.

Mix in the mayonnaise, cover, and refrigerate until mayo is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper, adjusting as necessary.mac salad1

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.

 

 

 

SPINACH & FETA: A Yummy Way To Eat Your Spinach!

spinach feta textCooked spinach is not a looker.  It wilts down from a giant amount to a small, dark green mound.  On its own it tastes…okay. But doctor it up with some flavor, crunch, and color and now you’ve got something.

If you’ve never cooked fresh spinach, prepare for a surprise.  You’ll bring home a mass of leaves and think, “this is way too much”. It’s not, believe me.

Note: I like to buy bundled spinach and wash it myself. But that can be time-consuming and is often hard to find.  Stores seem to prefer to carry pre-washed spinach in plastic tubs. If you do buy the bundles, make sure you weigh them – some are larger than others.

SPINACH & FETA – makes about 1 cup

  • 8½ oz fresh spinach leaves (about 2 bunches)
  • 1 T + 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 T shallots, chopped (about 1 large)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 T water chestnuts, chopped (I get them canned, in the Asian section)
  • 1 oz Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • 2 T pistachio nuts, salted, toasted
  • 1 Roma tomato, chopped

Steam spinach over boiling water for 1 minute – set a timer! spinach feta4Place spinach in a towel to absorb excess water. spinach feta5Roughly chop. spinach feta6Heat 1 T oil in a skillet over medium/high. Add in shallots and sauté a few minutes, until browned. spinach feta7Stir in the spinach and salt – sauté over medium/high about 2 minutes to evaporate excess moisture. spinach feta1Reduce heat to low and add in the water chestnuts, feta, 1 tsp olive oil, vinegar, and pistachios. spinach feta2Stir over low heat, just to warm everything. Add in tomatoes and serve.spinach feta8

MAPLE/NUT GRANOLA – Super Easy!!!

granola textWhy spend a lot of money on store-bought granola when you can make it yourself? You won’t believe how easy it is! Plus you can fine-tune it to suit yourself.

Paired with plain yogurt (homemade, of course!), it’s a great way to start the day or subdue those mid-afternoon hunger pangs.

Note: This recipe makes 11 cups. If you don’t want to make this much, use a smaller rimmed cookie sheet – the granola should be a certain thickness when baked or it tends to burn around the edges.

Additional Note: This recipe calls for a total of 2 cups nuts. I prefer half almonds, half pecans. Substitute, if you prefer.

MAPLE/NUT GRANOLA – makes about 11 cups

  • 1 cup slivered almonds chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup (the real thing, NOT Log Cabin, etc.)
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4½ cups (13½ oz) old-fashioned oats (NOT the quick cooking kind)
  • optional: 2 cups dried fruit, such raisins, cranberries, apricots

Preheat oven to 325º Fahrenheit. 

Lightly toast the almonds and pecans to bring out their flavor. I do this in my toasteroven. If you don’t have one, use your regular oven. Make sure to keep an eye on them wherever they are so they don’t burn!!!granola7 In a very large bowl, mix together the maple syrup, brown sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla, and salt.granola6 Blend in the oats and toasted nuts. granola5Pour onto a parchment paper lined rimmed 16½” x 12″ (inside measure) baking sheet. Spread out and, using a flat implement (such as a potato masher or measuring cup), firmly press down granola evenly. I like to start in the center and work my way to the sides so that the edges aren’t too thin, or they’ll over-bake. granola4Bake in the upper third of the 325º F oven until medium browned – about 32-45 minutes. (Mine take 32 minutes.) granola3Remove from oven and let cool 1 hour on baking sheet. Break apart and add in dried fruit, if using (I never do).granola2 Store in airtight container.

Roasted Butternut Squash With Hazelnuts – So Easy, So Yummy!

roasted butternut textI love roasted vegetables! Their flavor comes to life, enhanced by the sweet caramelization process. Add to that the slight crispiness. Yum!!!

This ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH recipe is very easy to prepare…but does take about an hour in the oven. So plan ahead. That time is hands off, so you can use it to prepare the rest of your meal…or, decompress from the day with a glass of wine.

Note: If you don’t like hazelnuts, try another nut such as almonds or pecans.

ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH HAZELNUTS

  • 2½ – 3 lbs butternut squash
  • 4 T butter, divided
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts, skinned
  • 1 T water
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 T chives, chopped

Preheat oven to 425º Fahrenheit.

Wash and dry whole squash. Place in microwave for 3 minutes. (Don’t worry, it won’t explode – this is just to soften it enough to make peeling easier and safer.) Flip and zap it for 30 more seconds. Place squash on a cutting board, taking care not to burn yourself. Cut off both ends and discard. Dissect the neck from the body (I know, this sounds ghoulish!) Standing these halves on end, remove the peel down to the deep orange color with a sharp knife. butternut risotto3Slice the body and neck in half lengthwise (yikes!) and remove seeds and fibres. Cut the four halves into 1/2″ pieces.roasted butternut2 Place pieces in a mixing bowl. Melt 2 T butter and pour over squash. Stir in the salt and pepper.roasted butternut3 Lay butternut squash pieces in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until bottoms are browned. Flip pieces and bake another 10-15 minutes, until well browned on both sides. roasted butternut6While squash is baking, coarsely chop hazelnuts. In a small skillet or saucepan, melt remaining 2 T butter. Add in chopped nuts and sauté over medium/high heat. Stirring constantly, cook until nuts are browned – about 2 minutes. (The butter will be bubbly at first.)roasted butternut4Remove from heat and stir in the 1 T water. Let cool a little, then add in the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. roasted butternut5When squash is cooked, place slices into a mixing bowl (I use the same one from before). Gently stir in the hazelnuts and butter. Sprinkle on chives. Serve while hot.