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.

 

 

 

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TOFU & DUMPLINGS: Comfort Food At Its Finest!

tofu & dumpling textChicken & Dumplings is one of those classic, stick-to-your-ribs meals that’s considered a comfort food by many.  Of course, being a vegetarian, chicken was not an option. That pretty much left a watery broth and a few carrots, onions, and celery.

So I set out to make a hearty vegetarian dumpling soup with flavor and heft. It took a number of tries with a variety of ingredients, but I finally created what I was looking for.

I, also, experimented with the dumpling size. While the larger ones were appealing to look at and faster to spoon out, I found it was messy business to cut into them while eating. I kept reducing the size until I got to less than 1″ in diameter raw – they plump up during the boiling process. Making them bite sized is perfect so you can eat them whole.

TOFU & DUMPLINGS – makes about 18 cups

  • 4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 3 cups (about 2) onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 10½ oz carrots, sliced
  • 1 lb white common mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tsp dried dill
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3½ tsp salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup dry Sherry
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 block extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup parsley, chopped
  • 3 T arrowroot
  • 1 egg white
  • 4 T butter
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 8¾ oz (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp sugar

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium/high heat.  Add in onions, celery, and carrots. Sauté 7 minutes, stirring often.tofu & dumpling5 Add in mushrooms and continue to cook another 4 minutes, scraping fond on bottom of pan (the browned bits). tofu & dumpling6Add dill, tomato paste, garlic, and 2½ tsp of the salt – cook 3 more minutes. tofu & dumpling7Pour in the Sherry and continue to cook until evaporated, scraping any fond formed. tofu & dumpling8Add the water, tofu, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, and parsley.  Bring almost to a simmer. In a small bowl, make a slurry by combining the arrowroot with 1/4 cup of the soup. Stir slurry into soup until it thickens a bit – should take a few minutes. Taste for seasoning – adjust, if needed. Keep heating the soup to bring to full boil.tofu & dumpling13As soup is heating up, make the dumplings. Heat the butter and let cool a bit. Then combine melted butter with the buttermilk – it will get clumpy. Whisk the egg white a little, then whisk it into the buttermilk mixture. tofu & dumpling10In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and 1 tsp remaining salt. Pour in the buttermilk mixture and combine.tofu & dumpling11 Form small dough lumps – 1″ or less.  There will probably be about 62. (These will plump up with cooking.) Make sure you form all these balls before you begin dropping them in the soup so they cook at the same rate.tofu & dumpling12When soup has come to a full boil, one by one drop in the dough balls. Wrap a towel around the pot lid and cover. (MAKE SURE THE TOWEL DOESN’T DROP ANYWHERE NEAR THE BURNER!  YOU DON’T WANT A FIRE!!!) The towel will absorb steam moisture so the dumplings don’t get soggy. tofu & dumpling9Decrease flame to medium and cook 11 minutes. Remove lid and allow steam to escape a few minutes before serving.

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

MANICOTTI: An Easy Way To Make This Favorite!

manicotti textAnyone’s who made manicotti knows the challenge of trying to stuff cooked tubular pasta without tearing it. If you fill uncooked tubes, then you face the problem of cooking them enough so they’re edible.

Not to worry! Once again America’s Test Kitchen came up with a better idea: use quick-cook lasagna noodles and roll them up. Brilliant!

Note:  As Queen of Freeze, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t remind you to double or triple the marinara sauce and freeze it for future use. But try it first to be sure you like it.

MANICOTTI – makes 8

  • 1  28-oz can whole tomatoes
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 8 no-boil lasagna noodles (this is the brand I use)manicotti1
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ cups whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup (2 oz) Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 T basil, chopped, divided
  • 1 T Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 T ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

First make a quick marinara sauce:  Remove the stem end and any skin or imperfections from the tomatoes. Either chop them in a food processor or by hand. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add in the garlic and red pepper flakes – sauté for 30 seconds to bloom. manicotti9Add in the tomatoes and 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to boil, then decrease heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Off-heat, stir in 1 T basil. Set aside.pizza8 Place the uncooked noodles in a 8″ x 11″ (or there-abouts) casserole dish. Cover noodles with boiling water, separating them with a fork to make sure they don’t stick together. Let them soak for 5 minutes, moving them around now and then.manicotti11 Place noodles on a tea towel to dry. Discard water and dry pan.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg. Stir in the ricotta, mozzarella, 1/2 cup (1 oz) of the Parmesan, the remaining 1 T basil, parsley1/2 tsp salt, and pepper. manicotti10Divide the filling evenly amongst the noodles (about 1/4 cup each). Spread filling, leaving a 1/2″ border at one of the short ends. manicotti12Roll up, starting at end where the filling went all the way to the end. (The border is to allow room for the filling to spread as you roll them up.)manicotti5Spread 3/4 cup of the marinara into the pan. manicotti6Lay the manicotti, seam side down. manicotti7Pour on remaining marinara, covering all exposed pasta with the sauce. manicotti8Cover with lid or foil. Bake at 375º F for 40 minutes. Increase oven to 500º F. Sprinkle on remaining 1/2 cup (1 oz) Parmesan. manicotti2Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Sprinkle on more basil, if desired.manicotti3

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.

LIME BARS – Bursting With Flavor!

lime bars textEvery now and then, even a die-hard chocoholic such as myself craves a little tang.

These Limes Bars are bursting with delectable lime flavor, which is nicely offset by the graham cracker crust. I prefer the original Nabisco graham crackers to the Nabisco Honey Maid grahams – they have a richer graham flavor which pairs well with the lime.

Keep in mind that while this is a very easy, quick to prepare recipe, it needs to be made several hours before serving so it sets and chills properly.

NOTE:  As self-proclaimed Queen of Freeze, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t suggest freezing the unused egg white for future use.

LIME BARS – makes about 9-12, depending on how big they’re sliced

  • 5 oz (1¼ cups) original Nabisco graham crackers (or Honey Maid, if you prefer)
  • 3 T dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 4 T butter
  • 1/2 cup lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • 1 T lime zest, packed
  • 2 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1  14-oz can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk!)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • optional raspberry drizzle (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 325º Fahrenheit.

Finely crush graham crackers either in a food processor or with a rolling pin. Pour into a bowl. Mix in sugar and 1/8 tsp salt. Melt butter and, using a fork, stir into crumbs.lime bars8 Grease an 8″ x 8″ pan (I use Pyrex) and pour in the crumbs. Pat firmly down on pan bottom only, as evenly as possible. To make the edges nice and compact, use a spoon to press down along sides. lime bars9Bake in 325º F oven until lightly browned – 18-20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow crust to cool about 15 minutes.

Keep oven on at 325º F.

In a bowl, mix the lime juice, zest, remaining 1/8 tsp salt, and cream cheese by hand. lime bars10Whisk in the condensed milk and yolk. lime bars4Pour mixture into cooled crust and bake in 325º oven for 15 minutes. lime bars5Remove from oven and let cool on stovetop at least an hour. Then place in refrigerator a minimum of 2 hours before serving.

Pour on Raspberry Drizzle, if desired.

RASPBERRY DRIZZLE

  • 10 oz raspberries (frozen or fresh)
  • 3 T granulated sugar
  • 2¼ tsp cornstarch

Combine raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a small saucepan. lime bars6Over medium heat, bring to simmer. Cook until raspberries break down – about 10-15 minutes, stirring often. lime bars7Strain out the solids by placing a sieve over a bowl and pouring in the raspberry mixture. Use a spoon to press out all of the juice. lime bars11Chill the juice in the refrigerator to thicken. (You can use the remaining solids in yogurt or cereal.) Place the thickened sauce in a piping bag and drizzle onto the chilled Lime Bars.

 

IRISH BROWN SODA BREAD – Slainte!!!

irish brown soda bread text2Saints be praised, St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, sure.

Of course, traditional corned beef and cabbage is off the table for vegetarians – although, I do have an imitation version of a Reuben Sandwich. Not to worry, there are still plenty of good eats to be enjoyed!

Irish Brown Soda Bread is one of them. We generally see recipes for white Irish Soda Bread, but I find the brown soda bread is a more hearty, flavorful choice. Out of necessity at the time of the Irish famine, soda bread was widely made since it was cheap, filling, and easy.

My Irish mammy always made sure we wore green for St. Patrick’s Day. So, of course, that’s what I’ll be wearing when I bake my next loaf of IRISH BROWN SODA BREAD.

Note:  I’ve given the amounts for the flours in both ounces and cups. Weighing flour is much more accurate, but if you don’t have a scale, use measuring cups.

Additional Note:  The wheat bran and wheat germ in this recipe are making up for the lack of them in American (and perhaps other countries, as well) whole wheat flour. The Irish wheatmeal flour has more bits in it, making for a more flavorful loaf. If you have access to the Irish wheatmeal flour, then use 14-1/2 oz (3-1/4 cups) wheatmeal and skip the wheat bran and germ. The other ingredients should stay the same.

IRISH BROWN SODA BREAD – makes 1 loaf

  • 9 oz (2 cups) whole wheat flour
  • 4½ oz (1 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1¾ 1 oz (1 cup) wheat bran
  • 3/4 oz (1/4 cup) wheat germ
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1½ tsp baking soda
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

You can use an 8″ cast iron skillet (which I use) or 8″ cake pan. If you’re using a cast iron skillet, place it in the preheating oven to get it really hot. (Don’t do this with the cake pan.)

Into a large mixing bowl combine all of the dry ingredients. irish brown soda bread4When the oven is preheated, remove skillet from oven and oil it. (Oil the cake pan, if you’re using that.)

Working quickly, stir  the buttermilk into the dry ingredients, mixing until flour is incorporated. irish brown soda bread5Pile the batter into the hot skillet, pushing it all the way into the corners but mounding the batter into a dome. (Only the bottom portion of the batter should touch the sides of the pan – this will create a higher loaf.)irish brown soda bread1 Slash top to make an ‘X’, 1/2″ deep and 5″ long.irish brown soda bread3 Bake in the preheated 375º F oven until interior temperature of the bread is 185º F – about 35-45 minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer, look for a golden brown top after 35 minutes.irish brown soda bread2 Remove hot loaf from skillet and cool at least an hour on a wire rack. Delicious with butter or jam.