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Friday, April 29, 2011


Cauliflower, cauliflower. What can I say about it? It's just so ... plain. And big. Not big in a needing-to-shop-in-the-husky-department kind of big, but bountiful big.  A head of cauliflower quickly goes from being a side dish, into being a land-grubbing squatter on my dinner plate real estate. There is nothing wrong with it being there, but it isn't bringing much to the party, either.

Regardless of how it tastes and how much my kids will moan and groan about it, the reality is that this week, I got a big huge head of cauliflower in my CSA box. It's quite lovely, as cauliflowers go. Pristine and perfectly round, large and white.

So, cauliflower I will eat.  And then eat some more. And follow that with a cauliflower chaser.

I wanted to try something new... if only so I can tell the kids "You have never had this before. At least try it."

Here is how it went:

Cut the cauliflower into florets and spread out on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle on three cloves of chopped garlic, and about 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Drizzle olive oil over it all, making sure that each piece is oiled, but not drowning in oil. Sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste.

Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes. When it is turning golden brown, remove it from the oven. While it is still hot, sprinkle about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese over it all. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

keeping my nose above water

After my little panic session about our calendar yesterday, and having an unexpected three hours alone this morning, I decided to try to get ahead on some cooking. And catch up on some vegetable consuming. I managed to make a batch of scones, a pan of granola bars, some roast cauliflower, and two lasagnas. I may enter an exhaustion-induced coma and end up missing all of the activities we have coming up, but at least my family will eat.

And I will start to see some space in my refrigerator. Somehow this week we haven't done that great of a job of using up all the vegetables we got in the box. It wasn't the variety itself... there wasn't anything weird or that I don't like. It was partly that the veggies are starting to become summer vegetables that don't take much cooking (lettuces, tomatoes, green onions). The kids are really tough to sell on raw vegetables. It was partly that I have been running on fumes this week. When I am exhausted and trying to play catch up on things like laundry, housecleaning, and the kids' endless piles of papers from school, I am not feeling very creative or very ambitious. I just didn't look at the box as a fun challenge this week. Rather, I unpacked it in a rush (since it came about half an hour before we were due to have 25 family members over for brunch and Easter Egg hunting). It all got shoved wherever it could fit in a refrigerator that was overly full of party foods. Then, we had two days of Easter celebrating. Which meant that we were eating everything except the veggies.  On top of all that, we ended up with tons of extra food left over from the Easter brunch and dinner we hosted.

Regardless, the veggies are here and I need to find ways for us to eat them, or live forever with the guilt of letting them rot.

Somehow, I ended up with two large heads of lettuce, and a huge bag of spinach in my refrigerator.  After eating salads with every lunch and dinner for the past few days, I still have a ton of the greens.

Before the spinach could go bad, I decided to cook it up, and put it into a couple of lasagnas.

Here is how I make my very un-authentically Italian lasagna. I made two small lasagnas (one to freeze), but this recipe works equally well for one larger lasagna.

First, boil 12 lasagna noodles. There are several varieties of no-boil lasagna noodles available, but I haven't had much luck with them. I find that they often leave crunchy patches. If there is one thing lasagna shouldn't be, it's crunchy. When the noodles are done cooking, rinse them in cold water.

While that boils, wash and remove stems from the spinach. Then, steam it until it is wilty but not soggy. I went ahead and did this in the microwave.

Drain the spinach, and mix it together with two cups of ricotta cheese, two cups of shredded mozzarella cheese, and a cup of grated parmesan cheese.

You can make your own sauce, or you can use your favorite jar. Today, uninspired me used a jar. I am hoping that between my garden and my CSA box, I will get enough tomatoes this summer to make some sauce to keep on hand for the rest of the year. For now, though, a jar of Classico did the trick.

Once you have your cooked noodles, your cheese-spinach mixture and your sauce, you are ready to layer.

Begin by spreading a small amount of sauce in the bottom of the pans. This will prevent any of it from sticking.

Next, layer on the noodles.

On top of the noodles, spread about 1/3 of the cheese/spinach mixture.
Spread sauce on top of this, and continue layering in the same order two more times (for a total of 3 layers): sauce, noodles, cheese. Top it all with one last layer of sauce, and sprinkle on some more parmesan cheese.

That's it! Now you are ready to bake it, freeze it (this really long post has my tips for freezing dinners), or give it to a friend.

To bake it, preheat the oven to 350. Bake it, covered, for 20 minutes. Then uncover it and bake another 10 minutes.

I put one in my freezer, and the other is a little gift for a friend of mine. I hope she enjoys a night off of cooking dinner!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Leave a message and I'll call you back. someday.

I get a little panicky about this time every year. May is looming on the very near horizon, and from May until mid-June, I don't think I sit down.

My three kids go to two different schools... so we have two different end-of-year schedules.

We have a preschool picnic and ceremony, two baseball end-of-season parties, the first grade production of The Wizard of Oz, testing for the orange belt in Kung Fu, and end-of-the-year cub scouts ceremony where a Tiger Cub becomes a Wolf Cub, two science fair projects to begin finish, a science fair to attend, an orchestra concert, a district-wide math competition, a book review that will be aired on the local radio station, an out-of-town surprise birthday party, a girl scout end-of-year dinner, a daddy-daughter girl scout dance, open house at the elementary school, a thank-you breakfast for volunteers at each school, a daddy-child ice cream social, two different teacher appreciation weeks, a weekend in Las Vegas, an enormous garage sale to raise money for breast cancer research, and a four days in Palm Springs at my little brother's wedding. All in the next seven weeks.

My husband, who works at a high school will also attend a dinner put on by the restaurant management class, the baseball team banquet, prom, graduation, grad night, and an awards ceremony.

Did I mention that my husband, myself, and my daughter have our birthdays three days in a row... all during the last week of school?

Although all of these things (or other things just like them) happen every year, I get through it all. Most of it is fun and adorable. It just means a lot of running around, leaving one thing early and arriving at the next one late.

I am already slipping into survival mode. I know I can't do all of these things and do them all well. I often wonder if I do any of them well... or even decently.

Dinner tonight, with only a few minutes to prepare it, was (leftover) ham sandwiches. It is probably a good thing that there was some asparagus in the fridge that needed to be eaten or thrown out in the next couple of days. At least that forced me to cook a vegetable.

I got this recipe from one of the other mothers while picking up our kids at school. I was mentioning that I needed something new to do with asparagus or the kids might tie me up and force it all up my nose. She came through with a recipe that was quick and simple, but really delicious.

Roasted asparagus with parmesan and garlic:

Wash and trim asparagus. Toss with olive oil. Lay it on a baking sheet, and sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of sugar. (I thought this was really weird, but now that I have tried it, I will never again do asparagus without the sugar. YUM!). Roast it in a 400 degree oven for about 6-8 minutes, until it is tender. Sprinkle on a pinch of garlic salt, and a couple of tablespoons of parmesan cheese.

Every. single. one. of my family members thought it was delicious!  I may just make it to July after all.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

comfort food... twice over

Some days you want to cook something that is fresh, flavorful, and nutritious.

Other days you want to cook something that uses up some of the wilting and lonely Easter Supper leftovers. Or that the kids will eat with out complaining. Or that is just plain old creamy cheesy comfort food.

Guess which day today is?

When I was a kid, I pretty much understood the universal truth that if it is named "casserole" it just ain't gonna be good.

There were a few casseroles that my mother made, with varying degrees of success. And there was one that kept coming back time after time, I suppose for the same reasons that I made a casserole today. It used up easy ingredients, no one complained about it, and it was familiar.

I swore I would never subject my kids to this tired, plain ground beef and canned corn casserole... until I realized how crowd-pleasing and easy it really is. I am not saying that I eat it, but I do cook it once every blue moon. Someday if you're unlucky, I'll let you have the secret recipe. But that day is not today. Today, I need a way to use up some extra potatoes, and some leftover holiday ham.

What better to do with all that, than to chop it all up, add creamy sauce, and cheese, and bake?

Here is how it goes:

Dice three or four potatoes. You don't even need to peel them. How great is that? You need about 4 cups or so.

Next, to give them a little flavor (and to add some more veggies that you need to get out of the fridge), slice a few green onions.

Throw the onions and the potatoes into a pot of water and boil for about 12-15 minutes, until they are soft but not falling apart. When they are done, drain them.

While the potatoes and onions cook, begin cooking a white sauce. A white sauce, for those who don't know, is basically butter, milk, and flour (to thicken it up). I went ahead and added some extra flavor to mine.

Melt 5 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan.

Once it is melted, gradually add in 5 tablespoons of flour.

Keep stirring as this thickens and bubbles.

Then, gradually pour in about 2 1/2 cups of milk.

Now you have white sauce! Easy peasy lemon squeezy. But since this particular white sauce is just going to accompany boring old potatoes and ham, let's give it a little oomph.

I added in 2 tablespoons of worcestershire sauce, and about a teaspoon of prepared brown mustard.

Then I put in some salt and pepper, and a wee bit (about a quarter teaspoon -- keeping it mild for the kids) of paprika.

Hokay. Now we have some cooked potatoes, some seasoned white sauce, and some diced leftover ham. Let's build a casserole. Actually, I built two casseroles. The last thing I wanted was to have leftovers of the dish of leftovers. So, I made two smaller casseroles... one is just enough for tonight, and the other to freeze and eat another night.

If you want to make two casseroles, just divide everything between two pans. At the end, I'll give you my hints on freezing prepared dinners. If you want it all for tonight, just do it all in one larger pan.

Layer half of the potatoes, and then about a cup of shredded cheddar. Then all of your ham. Layer the rest of the potatoes on top of that, and then pour the white sauce over all of it. Top it all with another cup of shredded cheddar cheese. If you are going to freeze a casserole, stop here. If you are going to eat it tonight, sprinkle on some bread crumbs. Then dot on about 2-3 tablespoons of butter.
If you are eating it immediately, pop it into a 350 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes... just long enough for it all to get melty and gooey. What could be more comforting than that?

If you are freezing it, here is what I do:

First, cover the casserole with tin foil. Put it in the freezer overnight. In the morning, set the casserole pan into about an inch of warm water in the bottom of your sink, being careful not to get any of the contents wet. After a couple of minutes, you will be able to release the casserole, and pop it into a freezer ziploc bag. This will free up your pan for use meanwhile, and give you a frozen casserole that fits exactly into your pan when you are ready to defrost and bake it!

When you want to eat this casserole, move it from the freezer, out of the bag and back into your pan, and let it defrost in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Sprinkle on some breadcrumbs and dot with butter, and them bake for about 35 minutes at 350. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

You be the judge

I can't decide if the appetizer I made the other day is a white trash food or not. One could argue that the fact that I am questioning this is proof enough, but I want to take a poll before deciding.

On the one hand, it does contain fresh, seasonal produce (Not white trash)

Is your head tilting to the side? I didn't realize I take all my pictures at the same angle!

On the other hand, it also contains white bread. With the crusts cut off. (SO white trash)

Back on the first hand, it also involves making an herb-infused butter (not white trash).

But, back on the other hand, it also contains big chunks of cheddar cheese (pretty trashy)

This recipe came from Sunset Magazine (not trashy) and was clipped out by my mother (also not trashy). In March of 1978. Oh yes, 37 years ago. While 1978 was a fabulous year for new things (like little baby girls), it wasn't a good year for recipes that take into account cholesterol, fat, processed sugars, or carbohydrates. (Does that make it trashy or not? I can't decide. On the one hand, great year. On the other hand, not so healthy. But on the other, other hand, they didn't know any better. It's not their fault).

At any rate, let's take this Sunset recipe, these herbs and vegetables, and this white bread, and make a delicious appetizer. As long as you don't think about what exactly you are consuming, you will thoroughly enjoy it.

First, we need herbed butter. Dice enough cilantro to make 1 tablespoon. Slice thinly enough green onion (or in my case, spring red onion) to make 3 tablespoons. Also, measure out 1/2 teaspoon dill. Mix these herbs, along with salt and pepper to taste, into 1/2 cup softened butter.

Next, we will assemble the rest of the ingredients:

Trim and blanch a bunch of asparagus stalks. Count out a slice of bread for each stalk of asparagus (I did 18). Trim the crusts off of the bread. Cut sharp cheddar cheese into sticks that are about 3 inches long, and 1/4 inch in diameter.

Now, we'll begin to build our roll-ups. 

Take a slice of bread, and flatten it with a rolling pin. Spread evenly with butter mixture.

Place a spear of asparagus and a stick of cheese onto the bread.

Roll it up, and secure with a toothpick. Once you have finished all of the rolls, melt a1/4 cup of butter, and brush over all of the rolls.

Place them in the oven broiler, about 5 inches from the heat source. Let them toast for about 5 minutes, and enjoy!

Here is the recipe in a more concise manner:
about 18 asparagus spears
6-8 ounces of sharp cheddar
1 loaf of white bread
3/4 cup soft butter
1 T. chopped cilantro
1/2 t. dill
3 T. sliced green onion or spring onion

Clean, cook, and drain asparagus spears. Cut cheese into sticks that are 3 inches long and 1/4 inch diameter. Trim crusts from 18 slices of bread and flatten each with a rolling pin. Combine 1/2 cup of the butter with the cilantro, dill, onion, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread evenly over one side of the bread slices, and top each with an asparagus spear and cheese stick. Roll each slice, secure with a toothpick, and place on a baking sheet. Melt remaining 1/4 cup of butter and brush evenly over rolls. Broil 5 inches from the heat source, for about 5 minutes, until golden.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

the beet. is neat. and sweet. such a treat.

I don't know if you remember, but last time I got beets in my box, I avoided them like the plague. They sat in my fridge and called out to me every time I opened the door, until I finally made a beet salad.

Having gotten over my fear of beets, I went ahead and confronted the beets yesterday... only two days after the four of them came home to roost. And boy am I happy I did! Not only did I cook them, I ate them all up... single-handedly.  Sorry to those other people who live with me. I didn't share.

The beet is really not such a beautiful vegetable on the outside.

It does have a beautiful ruby red inside, though, as my fingers can testify.

Last time I cooked beets, I felt bad about all the vitamins that got thrown out with the bathwater...

So this time I went for a recipe that didn't involve boiling these guys. As a matter of fact, I didn't even peel them, so they didn't lose any nutrients that way, either. And all you add to the beets is salt, so there isn't any added calories or fats, either. Win-win-win!

I present to you.... Beet chips!

First, slice the beets as thinly as you can. If you have a mandolin, use it. I don't, so I went ahead and did the best I could with a knife. Lay the slices out on a baking sheet, on top of a sheet of parchment paper. With parchment paper, you don't even need add oil. Shake a little salt onto each beet slice, and pop them in an oven that has been heated to 325 degrees.

These take a little longer to cook than other veggie chips. Start checking them after about half an hour.
You will know when they are done when they turn a lighter pink color.

Not done beet chip                            done beet chip 

Take out any chips that have turned pink, and let the rest keep cooking. Lay the done chips on a cutting board so they can cool and crisp up. As for the rest, check them every five minutes or so. After they turn pink, they can burn and turn back to a darker color, so you want to make sure you get them out while they are pink. Keep pulling out the done chips when you check, and let the rest cook. The thinner they are, the faster they will cook, of course, and the less likely they are going to turn tough and stale over time.

It was all I could do to wait long enough to take a picture of these before I ate them. I was eating them as they came out of the oven in little batches!  They are great by themselves, or dipped (I had some leftover yogurt-dill dip), and if I had any left, I would crumble them on top of a salad. I can always hope for more beets next week!

While I was at it, I used the green leaves to make some green chips. Here is how you do it, if you are interested. They are also a delicious and nutritious snack.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Kate and William: I have a suggestion for your wedding dinner

As promised... the exciting culmination of the fava bean story.

As I showed you yesterday, it takes a whole lot of fava beans to make a whole lot of almost nothing. Yummy almost nothing, that is to say, but still.

Each bean pod produces 3 or 4 beans... and those can vary widely in size, I found. Some of the fava beans are tiny cute little guys. Meaning that it takes about 10-12 beans of various sizes to make a forkful... or 4-5 whole pods! For one fork! And if you plan to eat ... oh say, 8-10 bites of fava bean, for each person at your table, you had better be buying ...wait, let me do the math here... 10 billion gajillion infinity trillion and seventy fava pods. And another refrigerator to keep them.

At any rate, after I took my beans from the pod and the casings from the beans, I had enough vegetable matter left for a decent portion for two people. (And a family of five.)

Oh well, no matter. The beans are here, they're boiled, and de-cased. 

In my readings about fava beans, I had learned that they are much more commonly eaten in England. As soon as I heard that, I was inspired to allow them to accompany a typically Bristish meal. Bangers and mash it is!

The best part about making bangers and mash is that you get to say bangers and mash all day long. When you run to Costco with a friend you can explain that you are buying sausages for your bangers and mash. When the kids ask what's for dinner, you get to say bangers and mash. When you call your husband at work, you can tell him that the bangers and mash will be ready at 5:30. When your mom calls to ask what you're doing, you can tell her you're cooking bangers and mash. It's awesome. 

Bangers and mash is basically sausages and mashed potatoes and a kind of thin gravy-ish stuff.

We all enjoyed our bangers and mash quite thoroughly. Pip pip and tally-ho. 

The kids actually raved about it. They say they want bangers and mash for dinner much more often. They emptied their plates and asked for seconds of bangers and mash. My husband actually sent a text message (because, of course, by the time he ate dinner I was already gone at a baseball practice) just to rave about how great the bangers and mash was.

Wait... who knows what I'm forgetting about here? THE FAVA BEANS!

All I did was to take the prepared fava beans, and saute them for about 10 minutes in some butter and garlic. They were good. Really mild, buttery, yummy. All the things they were promised to be.  But not a huge impact as you can see:

Bangers and Mash

And fava beans.

Really, they are there. Over there in the corner. 

And so, how to make bangers and mash:

4-5 potatoes
8-10 sausages
1 onion
2 Tbsp. flour
1 quart chicken stock
4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. milk
2 Tbsp. sour cream
2 Tbsp. brown mustard

Peel and dice a four or five potatoes. Place them in a pot, cover them in cold water, and let it come to a boil. This will boil gently for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and yield to a fork.

While the potatoes cook, begin to cook the sausages. Place a little bit of oil in a skillet, and brown the sausages on all sides, turning occasionally.

Once the sausages are browned, remove them from the skillet. Slice the onion and add it to the skillet. Stir this often, and cook until it is all soft. Add the flour, and stir and cook for a minute or two, until the flour is distributed and starting to toast. Add the chicken stock, put the sausages back in the pan, and let it all simmer for 20 minutes, or until the sausages are cooked through.

Meanwhile, the potatoes should have finished boiling. Drain them, and add butter, milk, sour cream, and mustard.  Mash it all together. If the potatoes are too dry, add some of the gravy that the sausages are cooking in. 

Serve the potatoes with the sausages, and all of it swimming in gravy.