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.

Advertisements

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.

FAT-FREE BLUEBERRY MUFFINS – Easy As Pie…or Muffins!

blueberry muffin nonfat text2Being the loving husband his is, my friend, George, was whipping up a batch of fat-free blueberry muffins for his wife, Kathy, while we were visiting. I was curious about his recipe and what was used instead of the fat.

Turns out he uses a boxed mix. Sigh!!!  Besides being costly, boxed mixes contain 12-letter ingredients that can only be pronounced by a chemist. I knew I could do better! All I had to do was come up with an easy, tasty, and fat-free muffin. Piece of cake….or muffin!

After several batches, I had a winner. I’m not going to lie and tell you this Fat-Free Blueberry Muffin is the same a the full-fat kind. It’s not. It has a spongy texture – which isn’t a bad thing…just different than the crumbly texture of regular muffins. But if you’re watching your cholesterol and calories, this works great.

NOTE:  The calorie count per muffin is between 125 – 140, depending on how much sugar you sprinkle on top.

ADDITIONAL NOTE:  When I’m making something that only calls for an egg yolk (custards, cookies, etc), I always freeze the unused egg whites.  This is a perfect recipe to use them up. Conversely, I believe you can freeze unused egg yolks, but I’ve never actually tried it.

FAT-FREE BLUEBERRY MUFFINS – makes 12 muffins

  • 2 cups (9 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1¼ nonfat milk
  • 1 T lemon zest, packed into spoon
  • 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup small blueberries (I use frozen)

Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit.

Grease well a 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil.

In medium bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. blueberry muffin nonfat5In a larger bowl combine whites, milk, zest, 1/2 cup sugar, and vanilla.  Beat with an electric mixer on low, a hand-crank egg beater, or whisk until bubbles form on top – it takes about 30 seconds. blueberry muffin nonfat3Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and gently combine, until most of the flour is incorporated. Don’t overmix or you’ll get tough muffins. blueberry muffin nonfat6Add in the blueberries and fold in, just to combine. (Frozen blueberries – which I use – tend to bleed.)blueberry muffin nonfat7 Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tin, dividing batter equally. (An ice cream scooper is perfect for this.) Sprinkle about 1 tsp of sugar onto each. blueberry muffin nonfat9Bake in preheated 400º F oven for about 16 minutes, rotating them halfway through to cook evenly. They should be firm with slightly browned edges.blueberry muffin nonfat8 Remove from oven and let set in tin about 2 minutes. To remove, run a rounded knife around sides, then start pushing in around the bottom with the knife to help release the muffin. blueberry muffin nonfat4 Set muffins on a wire rack to cool a bit before eating.

 

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.

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

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

SUBWAY ROLLS: Homemade Bread Is So Worth It!

subway rolls textI admit that I may be a little obsessive about making things from scratch. I make my own tortillas, pasta, yogurt, desserts, and most breads. The reason? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a firm believer in “you are what you eat”.

Take a look at the ingredients list of any prepared food and you’ll notice all kinds of unpronounceable words that would seem right at home in a chemistry lab. I don’t want that stuff in my or my family’s body. So I cook.

Learning to do anything new takes time. But the more you do it, the faster and easier it becomes, especially if you have the right tools. You also have to plan. Time needs to be allowed for hands-off cooking such as the 12 hours it takes for yogurt to develop, the simmering time for a stew, or the rise-time for yeast doughs.

Preparing a yeast dough only takes a few minutes – which includes the knead time…IF you have a food processor. If you don’t, it takes about 10 minutes (and more work). (New food processors can be expensive. Check out thrift stores – they’re a bargain there!) I know you can buy a package of 6 subway rolls in the supermarket for cheap, but there’s something very satisfying, as well as healthy, about baking your own bread. Give it a try!

SUBWAY ROLLS – makes 6

  • 1½ cups water
  • 2¼ tsp dry yeast (any kind)
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • about 2 T milk (any kind)
  • about 1/4 cup topping blend of your choice (dried minced onion, hard cheese such as Parmesan, garlic powder, poppy seed, sesame seeds)

Heat 1½ cups water between 100º F – 104º F. Stir in the yeast and let proof for 5 minutes.

Into the workbowl of your food processor, put 3 cups flour, the sugar, and the salt. Turn on machine, the slowly drizzle in the proofed water through the pour tube. Add extra flour 1 T at a time, as needed, to get the dough to pull away from the sides but not be a hard ball. When you’re happy with the look of the dough, run the processor another 30-45 seconds more to knead.moo shu10 Empty dough into a greased bowl, flipping dough to grease both sides. subway rolls4Cover and place in a warm area to rise – about 1 hour. subway rolls5Pour dough onto floured board and cut into 6 pieces. Shape into a 2″ x 5″ rectangle and place on a parchment lined (or greased) cookie sheet. Cover with tea towel and let rise while you preheat the oven to 425º Fahrenheit – this will take about 1/2 hour. (If you have a portable oven thermometer, use it! Internal oven thermometers are often wrong.) subway rolls6While dough is rising, mix together your topping blend. (I like to use 2 T Parmesan, 2 T dried minced onion flakes, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and 1/8 tsp salt.) subway rolls7When oven is hot, one by one, gently brush milk onto top of dough then sprinkle on topping. Lightly press down on topping to make it stick. subway rolls1Bake at 425º F about 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. You’ll notice significant rise to the rolls after a few minutes. When golden brown, remove from oven to a wire rack. subway rolls2Let cool before slicing.