Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pasta Broccoli Bake

The three most requested dinners by my children are pizza of any theme, Creamy Potato Soup, and this Cheesy Broccoli and Pasta dish.  I think it's all about the cheese with them.

Cheese is one of life's indispensable pleasures for us.  In our area, there are several small (and large) scale dairies that produce some amazing local cheeses.  We often drive to one that is nearby just to get fresh cheese curds, still warm and squeaky, and end up eating most of them in the car on the way home.  That same dairy also has the most amazing fresh mozzarella sticks - salty and pliable, and they just melt in your mouth.  We also live very near a fromagerie that specializes in artisan cheeses from around the world, and when the children were learning about new countries in our History class, we would always go over to the fromagerie and sample cheeses from that country and then buy some of our favorites to create a dish from whichever country we were studying.  And on Christmas Eve, when all the other children left cookies and milk for Santa, mine left him French goat cheese and crackers (Santa doesn't love goat cheese, by the way, and one year he left a note thanking them for their generosity, but requesting fresh cheese curds and smoked gouda).

This dish is a recipe I found on Allrecipes a few years ago.  Really, the only things I changed in the recipe were the some of the instructions, a couple of the measurements, and I use real garlic instead of garlic salt; the combination of cheeses and few herbs and spices were already such a perfect match for the broccoli.  Here is the link to the original recipe: Pasta Broccoli Bake.  I don't suggest using frozen broccoli though, because it just doesn't pack enough broccoli flavor for some reason.  I have used broccoli that I purchased in the summer, quickly blanched and then froze, and that was fine, but the commercial frozen broccoli just doesn't work well.  Use fresh if you can find it, and keep the florets large so they don't get soggy in the pasta water.

Also, penne pasta works, but not as well as a pasta with ridges to hold the sauce, so try to use a corkscrew shaped pasta such as fusilli or rotini.

Pasta Broccoli Bake
serves 8 - 9

  • 8 oz dry whole grain fusilli or rotini pasta
  • 1 1/2 lbs fresh broccoli florets 
  • 1/3 c butter
  • 1/3 c flour
  • 3 c milk
  • 1 1/2 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 c shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 3/4 c shredded swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 350F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add in the pasta, then the broccoli, and stir.  Return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for about 6-8  minutes, or until the pasta is al dente and the broccoli is just tender. Do not overcook.   Drain.

Place the sharp cheddar, parmesan, garlic, salt, nutmeg, and thyme in a small bowl.  Set aside.

While the pasta and broccoli are cooking, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir in flour with a wire whisk.  Gradually whisk in the milk.  Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking often, until mixture is thick and just beginning to bubble, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.

Immediately whisk in half of  the sharp cheddar and parmesan mixture until melted.  Whisk in the rest until all is melted.

Place the broccoli and pasta back in the empty pot.  Pour the cheese mixture in and mix well.

Transfer to a 9x13 pan (no need to oil the pan).

Top with the shredded swiss cheese.

Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes, or until bubbly.  Allow to stand about 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Smoky Turkey and Vegetable Soup

To make this quick posole-like soup, I raided the last bits of the veggie tray from our Thanksgiving dinner for the carrots and bell pepper.  I only had about one cup of corn left, so I added some frozen corn to it as well. The last of the turkey went in, too.  The leftovers have finally disappeared and I now have a rather empty looking refrigerator.

The spiciness and smoky flavor in this soup comes primarily from the chipotle chilies in adobo sauce.  Those little smoked jalapeno peppers and the spicy tomato sauce in which they are packed contribute some serious flavor, so if you don't love spicy foods, use only one to flavor this soup.  Because so many more come in the container than I generally use in any one recipe, I wrap each individual pepper along with some sauce in plastic wrap and store them all in a ziploc bag in my freezer, and they are always ready for easy grabbing when I need them.

Smoky Turkey and Vegetable Soup 
serves 6-8
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 c carrots, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 c corn (leftovers, or from frozen)
  • 1 - 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 2 c cooked  turkey, diced
  • 4 c turkey broth
  • 24-28 oz diced tomatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
  • juice of half a lime
Heat oil in a soup pot over medium high heat.  Saute carrots, bell pepper, onion, and garlic for about 5 minutes.  Stir in cumin and cook for another minute.

Add the corn, chipotle peppers, turkey, broth, and tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer for about 10  minutes, or until carrots are tender.

Stir in the cilantro and lime juice.  Serve.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Post Thanksgiving Turkey Broth

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We had family over for dinner at our house at noon (and for the the football game - Go Pack Go!), and in the evening we had another feast with more family.  It was wonderful to share so much great food with so many cherished family members and friends.

Today, I made broth by tossing a few key ingredients into a big old pot, and then the kids and I went to see a movie with my mother in law.  For dinner, we had leftover veggies and pie, along with an amazing dish my mother in law made last night; squash, peas and egg noodles all wrapped in a decadent cheesy Alfredo sauce and topped with a crunchy cracker topping.  By the time dinner was over, my broth was done and I have exactly 5 quarts of awesome broth from our most generous 14lb turkey.  I love the day after Thanksgiving almost as much as I love Thanksgiving day.

You know, I dislike the actual word for the left over turkey bones a great deal (so much so, in fact, that I'm not even going to type out the word either here or in the recipe itself).  So, in an effort to find a more...palatable...name for this very important part of the post Thanksgiving dinner, I checked the thesaurus for apt synonyms.  "Skeleton", "cadaver", "remains", "ruin", "frame", and "stiff" were definitely not going to work.  Neither were "crow bait", "food for worms", or "the defunct".  I thought about how to use something like "the departed", or "the loved one", but nothing sounded...edible.  "Nervous wreck" was listed, and that could have been fun, but possibly not so tasty in the end.  So, I'm quitting and just calling it "Post Thanksgiving Turkey Broth" because I think that way I might still consider eating it.

I'm planning to come back with a much better picture, but after hearing from several people that they toss the bones without making broth, I wanted to get this post out before that happened, and this was the only picture I could snap before it cooled completely.  So, without further ado, here is a rather simple recipe to a very delicious broth.

Post Thanksgiving Turkey Broth
cook time: 5-8 hours
quantity: depends on the size of the original turkey

5 quarts
  • bones and wings from fully carved turkey
  • 4-5 carrots, chopped into very large pieces
  • 5-6 stalks celery, along with any leaves, chopped into very large pieces
  • 2 large onions, quartered
  • 5-6 cloves garlic (no need to peel)
  • small handful of thyme sprigs (about 12 or a few more)
  • 10-12 sprigs parsley
  • 15-20 peppercorns
  • 1-2 tsp sea salt
  • enough water to cover everything 

Combine everything in a very large stock pot.  Bring to a boil, partially cover, and reduce heat to medium.

Go find something else to do for about 5 hours.

Begin checking for flavor after 5 hours.  The longer it is simmered, the fuller the broth.  Ideal simmering time is between 6-8 hours.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve (lined with a layer of cheesecloth for very clear broth, if desired) into a large bowl; discard bones and vegetables.  Cool.  Skim any fat.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Whipped Sweet Potatoes and Rutabagas

The cornbread has been made and is waiting to be turned into stuffing, the pies are in the oven, the sides are being prepped.  And now I'm taking a small break to share Whipped Sweet Potatoes and Rutabagas with you.  I haven't made them ahead of time before, but there is only so much room in my oven, on my stove top, and in my tiny kitchen on Thanksgiving morning, so I'm giving it a shot.  I guess I'll find out tomorrow!

I like to add the rutabagas and garlic to what would otherwise just be mashed sweet potatoes because the spiciness of the rutabaga and the depth of the garlic work so well to counter the sweetness of the sweet potato.  My children don't usually like sweet potatoes very much, but they gobble these like mad.

Today I am thankful for my family, my friends, my dogs, my cat, my home, and all this wonderful food we will be sharing tomorrow.

I'm also thankful that the farm from which I ordered my turkey drove to town so we didn't have to drive the 30 minutes to them to pick it up.  Wonderful, thoughtful people.

I'm extremely thankful that no dog has stolen any of my prepared food (yet).

I'm thankful that it is cold enough outside to store some the food out there because my fridge is practically bursting (another thing for which I'm thankful).

And I'm thankful for all of my readers - you give me a reason to keep sharing recipes and that makes me very, very happy.  Thank you.

Whipped Sweet Potatoes and Rutabagas
serves 6

  • 2lbs sweet potatoes (about 3 medium)
  • 1lb rutabagas (about 1 medium/large)
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

Chop vegetables into 1 inch chunks.  Combine potatoes, rutabaga, and garlic in a large pot.

 Add water to cover.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer until vegetables are tender (about 10-12 minutes).

Strain and return to the pot (or a large bowl).  Add butter, broth, thyme, salt and pepper.

For a little texture: whip with a hand held mixer for several minutes or until it has reached your desired consistancy.

For puree:  transfer in batches to a food processor and puree.

Happy Thanksgiving

Friday, November 18, 2011

Decidedly Not Green Bean Casserole

I have a confession to make.

I hate green bean casserole.

My whole family hates green bean casserole.


Are you still here?

Good.  Whew! (Because I know those are fightin' words.)

This year, though, I've been inspired to devise a green bean casserole that my family does like just because, well, everyone eats a green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, and I just want to be cool, too.

The one I came up with is a make-ahead version that I can whip up the day before. It includes both green beans and Brussels sprouts, roasted along with some red onions and fresh seasonings, and topped with mushrooms sauteed in wine and broth.  The next day, simply sprinkle it with bacon and parmesan cheese and reheat in the oven with whatever is already cooking.  The result is a delicious side dish, full of roasted, earthy flavors, without any sog or cream (which, I think, is what throws me off about the traditional green bean casserole - at least, the ones I've tasted).

I tested it out on my sometimes painfully honest family tonight.  Even my mushroom-hating son (who picked the mushrooms off and gave them to me) liked it. We all even went back for seconds, and everyone agreed it would be a fantastic addition to our Thanksgiving table.  Feeling pretty good tonight, ladies and gentlemen, because having everyone simultaneously like something is no small feat in my family.

*Oh, and remember, especially if you are using a glass or ceramic casserole dish, to take the dish out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before putting it in the oven so the casserole dish doesn't explode or crack from the temperature change.

Decidedly Not Green Bean Casserole
serves 8

  • 1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 1/2 lb fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved, loose leaves removed
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 12 wedges
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped, divided
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 strips bacon
  • 12 oz mixed mushrooms such as cremini, shitake, oyster, sliced (I used cremini and shitake)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 c dry white wine (such as Chardonnay)
  • 1/2 c vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425F.

Combine green beans, Brussels sprouts, onions, pressed garlic, olive oil, 1 tsp fresh thyme, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Turn out onto two (2) jelly roll pans.  Roast in preheated oven 20-25 minutes, turning once half way through.

Meanwhile, in a 12" skillet, cook bacon over medium high heat until crispy, turning once.  Remove to a paper towel.

Drain all but 2 Tbs bacon fat from pan.  Add the mushrooms, minced garlic, and remaining 1/2 tsp freshly chopped thyme to the hot pan and bacon drippings.

Saute 8-10 minutes, or until tender and juice has evaporated.

Pour in the wine.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has nearly evaporated - 1-2 minutes.

Pour in the vegetable or chicken stock.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has nearly evaporated - 2-3 minutes.

Place the roasted green beans, Brussels sprouts and onion mixture into a 2 quart baking dish.

Top evenly with mushroom mixture.

To make ahead:  Cool and cover with foil.  Crumble bacon and place in a Ziploc sandwich bag.  Place the Parmesan cheese in a separate Ziploc bag. Tape bags to casserole.

To reheat:  Place, covered, into an oven at least 325 F.  Heat until warm (I tested this at 350F and it took 25 minutes - adjust your time accordingly based on the oven temperature.  Remember, you only need to warm it, not cook it).  Uncover and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and crumbled bacon.  Cook 10 min longer, or until cheese is melted.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blueberry Almond Coffee Cake

Some days I'm so glad I did all that work during the summer months to stash goodies while they were in season so I can eat them when they are not.  Yesterday was one of those days.  With Thanksgiving just around the corner, all I can think about is pumpkin, apples, stuffing, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, and squash, all while wearing my wool socks, slippers, and two sweaters...it's just kind of nice to have a somewhat summery diversion right about now.

So, instead of making an apple cranberry coffee cake, I decided to make a blueberry one.  And it was great because yesterday was one of the few recent days where the sun was shining and 49 degrees (F) felt positively balmy.  Not quite summer, but it tasted like it, and that counts.

As with all my desserts, there is no processed sugar in this coffee cake (or is it a buckle?  I'm not really sure, to be honest).  I used raw honey to sweeten both the cake and the topping.  The thing to remember when using natural sweeteners, especially honey, is that after it is baked into something, that something needs to rest so the honey can do its sweetening thing.  That means this: don't eat this cake warm right out of the oven because it won't be very sweet just then.  Wait at least 30 minutes or until it has cooled completely.  Or better yet, make it in the evening and wait to eat it until breakfast the next day. It's even better topped with vanilla spiked Greek yogurt or whipped cream.

For those of you just beginning to cook, or are just learning how to manipulate recipes, this coffee cake is a basic alteration of a classic coffee cake recipe.  Feel free to use it as a base, but alter the fruits and flavorings.  For instance, for an apple coffee cake, simply replace the blueberries with the same amount of finely diced apples, swap the raw honey for pure maple syrup, replace the almonds with pecans or walnuts, use vanilla extract instead of almond, and add a little cinnamon to the batter.  Or, you could also use cranberries or raspberries instead of blueberries, and orange zest instead of lemon. It's pretty much fool proof; you'd have to try really hard to mess it up.  For as much as I love trying new recipes, I often come back to this one (with variations) when I'm looking for an easy, healthy coffee cake to just whip up without having to think too terribly hard about it, and I know it'll always turn out just right.

Blueberry Almond Coffee Cake
serves 9

Almond Topping:
  • 1/2 c sliced or chopped raw almonds
  • 2 Tbs raw honey
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 c unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp grated lemon peel (preferably from an organic lemon)
  • 2 tsp aluminum free baking powder (such as Rumford)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c raw honey
  • 1/4 c butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp pure almond extract (such as Simply Organic Almond Extract)
  • 2 c fresh or frozen blueberries
    Preheat oven to 375F.  Oil and flour a 9 inch baking pan.

    In a small bowl, mix together the topping ingredients.  Set aside.

    In a medium bowl, combine the flours, lemon peel, baking powder, and salt.

    In a large bowl, cream together the butter and honey until smooth.  

    Blend in the egg, buttermilk, and almond extract until just mixed.

    Pour the honey and buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture.  Mix well.

    Gently fold in the blueberries.

    Spread the batter into the prepared pan. 

    Sprinkle the almond topping evenly over the batter.

    Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

    Cool.  Serve topped with whipped cream or vanilla yogurt.

    Hearth & Soul Hop

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Chicken Booyah

    Booyah is a regional chicken soup, likely brought over from Belgium with the numerous immigrants who settled in this area over a century ago.  There is much lore about how this hearty soup obtained its name, including theories that it stems from some poor soul having misunderstood the French word "bouillon", which would make sense to me because the broth is what makes it so intensely flavorful.  Traditionally, the soup is made in enormous batches in a giant barrel, and simmered for several hours (days, in many cases) over an open outdoor fire.  Usually, there are many people tending to the soup, tossing this and that into it, because every respectable individual (and some not so respectable individuals) has their own much loved family version of what Booyah should be, which is just one of the many things that makes it special - usually, too many cooks ruin the pot, but  in the case of Booyah, it only gets better.  I can just imagine the immigrants of years ago bringing what they had to offer along with them to some sort of festival; some farmers brought beef, a few brought chickens, some brought pork, others brought various vegetables, and yet others brought the herbs.  Together, they added what they had to offer to the pot, enjoyed the delicious results with one another, and this soup has been a regional favorite at church picnics, fundraisers, family reunions, festivals and parties of all kinds ever since.

    There is no real science or one specific recipe to Booyah making, but there are a few rules to which we must adhere to maintain the authentic flavor.  First, there must be at least one other meat in addition to the chicken and stock; beef, oxen, pork, or a combination of any of those will suffice (I've even had it with turtle, but I'm not talking about that).  Second, it needs to simmer for a very long time. Third, there must be tomatoes.  Fourth, it needs salt (not a pinch or a few sprinkles, but salt).

    It is tricky to reproduce the same results at home, and while it's literally impossible without the gear and the time, we can come pretty close.  I think so much of the flavor comes from the long simmering time over an open fire.  Who has days to simmer a soup at home?  I sure don't.  But, that is where the crock pot fits into the home equation.  Traditionally, the stock is never cooled, the bones never removed, and the fat is only skimmed from the top as it cooks.  At my house, I use my own homemade, usually frozen, chicken stock (which I do skim) and deboned meat.  Instead of making the stock specifically for Booyah by adding beef and/or pork bones to  the chicken stock, I often use the leftover juice and meat from a pot roast (which has already been stewed long enough to have substantial flavor). By doing this, I still get the flavor I need without having to specifically buy anything extra, and I get to use leftovers in a most delicious manner.  Or, if I've got homemade beef stock on hand (along with some of the meat), I will use that instead.  In this recipe, you would just need about 1 cup of beef juices/broth with about 1/2 cup of meat.  However, if you want to make your own Booyah stock, use the recipe for Chicken Stock, but add 1 1/2 lbs meaty beef bones plus a little more water to cover in with the chicken; you will use all the liquid and meat from that stock for this soup. 

    To aid in achieving the earthy, smoky flavor obtained by cooking the soup over an open fire, I use fire roasted tomatoes.  It's easy enough to roast your own tomatoes on the grill for several minutes in the same manner as you would roast bell peppers, but if you don't want to, you can use a jar of fire roasted tomatoes.

    This soup is quite hearty, and it really only needs some nice, warm homemade bread (or just some oyster crackers, which is how it is usually served) and maybe a piece of pie to round out the meal.  As far as beverages, an ice cold beer is the best.

    Out of sheer curiosity, I posted a question on The Art of Cooking Real Food's Facebook page about how many of my readers had ever heard of Booyah before.  If you've got the time, and feel so inclined, please bounce over there to answer the question.  Thanks!

    Chicken Booyah
    serves 8-10

    • 2 quarts chicken stock
    • 3 c cooked chicken (from stock)
    • 1 cup beef stock
    • 1/2 c cooked beef (either from the stock, or left over pot roast)

    **Or, see note about Booyah Stock**

    • 1 c onions, diced
    • 1 c peas (fresh or frozen)
    • 1 c corn (fresh or frozen)
    • 1 c green beans (fresh, cut into 1" pieces, or frozen)
    • 1 c carrots, diced
    • 1 c potato, diced
    • 1/2 c celery, diced
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 1 lb fire roasted tomatoes (homemade or use a 15 oz jar), diced
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 2 tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 tsp dried rosemary
    • 1 tsp dried thyme
    • 1 tsp dried sage
    • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

    Combine stocks, chicken, beef,  vegetables through the tomatoes, bay leaves, salt and pepper in a 6 quart slow cooker.

    Place the rosemary, thyme, sage, and crushed red pepper on a piece of cheesecloth.

    Tie it well, and toss it into the slow cooker.

    Cook on low for at least 8 hours, or on high at least 5 hours.

    **Note - to make your own Booyah stock specific to this soup, use the recipe for Chicken Stock, but add 1 1/2 lbs meaty beef bones plus a little more water to cover in with the chicken; you will use all the liquid and meat from that stock for this soup. 

    Thursday, November 10, 2011


    Here is a meal that is all at once ridiculously economical, easy, vegetarian, tasty, filling comfort food.  It doesn't look like much, I'll give it that, but the flavor it packs is amazing. The earthiness of the lentils work so nicely with the sweetness of the onions, and then to top it off with the tang of the yogurt...it's just crazy that from such meager ingredients can come such brilliant flavor.  And it's literally impossible to mess up; if you burn the onions a bit, well that's just extra flavor, or if you boil the water out of the lentils and rice mixture, just add some more (ask me how I know these things).  Oh, and it tastes good cold, too.  Nice.

    Along with a chunk of pita bread, this humble dish pairs well with sides such as baked sweet potatoes or squash in the cooler months, and peasant-type salads in the spring and summer.

    It's kind of hard to beat, isn't it?  I guess that's why it's been around and much loved since the Medieval times.

    serves 5-6

    • 1 1/2 c green or brown lentils
    • 1 c long grain brown rice
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • 1 tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 1/2 c water
    • 1/4 c olive oil
    • 2 1/2 c roughly chopped onion
    • Lemon wedges
    • Greek yogurt or sour cream

    Combine lentils, rice, cumin, salt, pepper, and water.
    Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 40-45 minutes, or until rice and lentils are cooked.

    Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add onions.

    Cook onions about 15 minutes or until golden and tender, stirring occasionally.  Turn the heat off.

    Stir half of the onions into the lentil and rice mixture.

    Top each serving with a portion of the remaining onions, a squeeze of lemon, and a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    Spinach Dip

    This spinach dip is the cold version - similar to the one notoriously made with a packet of dry vegetable soup mix.  Gosh, I loved that stuff.  Ate the whole bowl myself every time I made it.  That is, until I actually read the ingredients on the vegetable soup mix labels of various brands; along with a few dehydrated vegetables, the mixes are riddled with ingredients such as monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, hydrolyzed corn protein, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, partially hydrogenated soybean oil...you get the picture.  While googling, I saw that some even came with warnings not to feed their mix to children under 1 year old.

    Good grief, people.  This food thing - it's not really so hard.  Just use food.

    I suppose this entry is a good time to apologize to any of you who interpreted the name of my blog to mean that the "Art" is my photography (something my husband pointed out to me after I had already named my blog) - by now you surely know it is not.  The "Art" refers to something apparently lost over the many years - how to use real, readily available ingredients to produce edible and delicious results.  How many times have we grabbed mixes and packets and and stirred a few other premixed items into it and called it food?  It's easy, and it sure does taste great, so what's the harm?

    The harm is that cooking and preparing meals for our families, friends, and others whom we love, has now become an "art" rather than the common knowledge that simply feeding ourselves should be.  The harm is that by using anything other than real, edible ingredients, what we are preparing and serving in the name of love is actually not all that great for our bodies (or our minds, as studies are showing).  The harm is that by introducing our bodies to all manner of chemical concoctions from the beginning of life ensures that we will be treating a plethora of ailments (many of which were not afflicting any living creature just one century ago) with more chemical concoctions at the end of that life.  Without food, there is no life; that's a fact.  Where does "Without chemical flavor enhancers and petri dish grown flavors and preservatives, there is no life" fit in?

    Can you tell how passionately I feel about this subject?  I'll be stepping down from my soapbox now, since I expect you came here looking for a recipe, not a sermon.  I did, however, want to clarify that my blog has absolutely nothing to do with the art of photography (although, I must say, I've gotten a tiny bit better at it, and I'm enjoying it enough to possibly consider something other than my daughter's point and shoot camera - but I'm not sure I would know how it worked or have the time to figure it out).

    So, back to Spinach Dip.  Real, easy, yummy Spinach Dip.  I use a combination of cream cheese and Greek yogurt.  If you can't find unadulterated cream cheese, or you are opposed to the locust or carob bean gum (which isn't really so awful, comparatively speaking) that almost inevitably shows up in even the organic commercial brands, go ahead and substitute a good mayonnaise (or home made mayonnaise) for the cream cheese.  Sour cream works in place of the Greek yogurt.  For the crunch; if you don't have radishes, use equal amounts of finely chopped celery.  If you don't have red onions, use 3-4 chopped green onions.

    While it is not necessary to serve it in a bread bowl and use the excess bread cubes to dip, it's kind of cool looking and the dip is absolutely addictive when smeared on the bread.  If you use the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method, making the bread bowl is very, very easy.  Too easy, in fact.  The picture is using the European Peasant Loaf recipe because that is what I had premade in my fridge, but the rye bread recipes are beautiful with this dip.  Of course most any cut veggies work very nicely as well.

    One last thing - this recipe does not necessarily make enough for a party.  If you are serving it to a lot of people, double it (easily done).  I purposely make this amount because I am an appetizer junkie and much like the Taco Dip, my daughter and I will immediately consume whatever I make almost as soon as it is ready, so this amount is simply a safety precaution.

    Spinach Dip
    makes about 1 1/2 cups
    • 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
    • 1/2 c plain Greek yogurt
    • 1 10 oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
    • 2 Tbs radishes, finely chopped
    • 2 Tbs red onion, finely chopped
    • 2 Tbs red bell pepper, finely chopped
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1/4 tsp dried tarragon
    • 1/4  tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp ground mustard
    • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
    Combine cream cheese and yogurt in a medium bowl.  With a hand held electric mixer, mix on low speed until smooth.

    Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well.

    Cover and chill at least one hour before serving.

    Serve with rye bread, crackers, and/or cut fresh vegetables such as carrots, celery, bell pepper strips, green onions, etc.

    Saturday, November 5, 2011

    Braised Chicken and Cabbage

    A few weeks ago, my mother in law brought over the largest head of cabbage I have ever seen.  This monster was at least a foot in diameter, and even when I cut it into pieces, it took up nearly one entire shelf in my refrigerator.

    In my household, I'm the only one that likes cabbage.  My family won't touch anything cabbage related.  Even coleslaw is not considered a side dish to them, but something that gets scraped off the plate immediately (usually onto mine because I quite like it) and the place where it had been gets wiped clean from contamination.  So, what to do with all this crisp cabbage taking up so much room in my fridge?

    Douse it in beer and hide it beneath something they do like.  Duh.

    I served the chicken, which was so moist and tender it fell off the bone, on top of a bed of slightly sweet cabbage, and they raved about it.  I did not tell them it was cabbage, and they did not ask.  Score!

    Honestly, I think the dark meat benefited most from the braising liquid, soaking up more flavor than the white meat, even though the white meat was quite tasty, tender, and moist.  If you have no preference for light or dark meat, go ahead and use 4 lbs of thighs and legs in this dish.

    This chicken and cabbage was served with Roasted Squash and Cauliflower and it was a comforting, hearty dish on a cold, rainy late fall evening.

    Braised Chicken and Cabbage
    serves 6
    • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
    • 4 lbs chicken parts
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 5-6 cups green cabbage, roughly chopped
    • 1 large red onion, halved and sliced
    • 4-5 cloves garlic, sliced
    • 1 apple, peeled and diced
    • 2 tsp caraway seeds
    • salt and freshly ground pepper
    • 1/3 c pure maple syrup
    • 1/3 c good quality cider vinegar
    • 1 c beer (I used a regular old mid-grade lager)
    • 1 Tbs stone ground mustard
    • 1 tsp dried thyme
    Preheat oven to 400F.

    Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat.  Sprinkle chicken generously with salt and pepper.  In batches of a few at a time, sear the chicken parts for a few minutes on each side, or until golden.  Remove and set aside.

    In the same dutch oven, add cabbage, onion, garlic, and apple.  Occasionally giving it a stir, cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until the cabbage mixture shrinks in proportion by about 1/3.  Stir in caraway seeds and season with salt and pepper.

    Meanwhile, in a bowl or large measuring cup, mix together the maple syrup, cider vinegar, beer, mustard, and thyme.

    Nestle the chicken parts into the cabbage mixture.  Pour the syrup/beer mixture over all.

    I had extra peeled garlic so I tossed that into the pot, too
    Cover and bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Roasted Squash and Cauliflower

    November, when did you get here?  Cold, windy, rainy, shorter days...thanks a bunch, November.  East Coasters - you have my sympathy.  I hope you've all dug yourselves out and the sun is beginning to melt your cold, white blanket.

    This mildly sweet and somewhat savory dish is an easy side that comes together easily and compliments just about any main course; we had it with a chicken/cabbage/beer concoction, and it was perfect.  I baked the chicken/cabbage/beer concoction (which will be posted just as soon as I come up a decent name) at 400 degrees, so this roasted squash and cauliflower went into my oven at a lower temperature than what I recommend in the recipe, but it didn't affect the final outcome at all.

    Roasted Squash and Cauliflower
    serves 6

    • 1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 - 2 lbs), broken into florets
    • 1 small butternut squash (about 2 - 2 1/2 lbs) , peeled, seeded, and diced into 1 chunks
    • 1 medium red onion, cut into 8 wedges
    • 5-6 whole cloves garlic, peeled
    • 1 Tbs olive oil
    • 2 Tbs butter, cut into small chunks
    • 1 tsp sea salt
    • few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
    • several sprigs fresh thyme (about 10 - 12)

    Preheat oven to 425.

    Combine cauliflower, squash, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in a 13x9 baking pan.  Arrange butter pieces over the top.  Tuck the thyme into the vegetables.

    Bake 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, stirring once about half way through the baking time.

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