Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Recipe: Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

This was an excellent dish, a bit indulgent with the cheese yet I also felt good about my veggie intake. Next time I'll make it a bit more healthy by using a low or non fat ricotta and I maybe try Parmesan on top instead. This dish was easy, quick and best of all it can be made a head and baked last minute so it was perfect for that unknown dinner time when hubby is working late.  The original recipe came from RealSimple.  I get emails from them, maybe weekly and this made it worth signing up.   The only change I made was to reduce the cheese to 1 C. vs 2 and I used Jack instead of Mozzarella since it was what I had on hand.  My squash may have been a bit smaller than 3 lb. but not much and it was simply because it was what I could find.  Shoot for as close to 3 as you can get.  I served it with Chicken Piccata which also worked out well because once I browned it I kept it warm in the oven till he showed up and since I had to take it out to heat up the squash I placed it back in for about 10 minutes to warm it as I made the piccata sauce.

Chicken breasts are on sale through Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 at Sprouts for $1.99 lb.  Great deal so stock up.  They were huge breasts so I pounded them all flat, one made three cutlets.  Then I wrapped the others individually in plastic wrap, froze them and then put the frozen breasts in a zip top bag.  Now defrosting will be quicker and the messy part is already done making it easier to make a dish next time that requires me to pound them flat.

3 lb. spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise, seeded, roasted
Drizzle EVOO
Kosher salt
Coarse ground black pepper
15 oz. tub ricotta
1 egg
4 C. baby spinach, chopped
1 garlic clove, grated
⅛ t. ground nutmeg
½ t. Kosher salt
¼ t. coarse black pepper
1 C. jack cheese

Heat oven to 400°F.  Cut squash in half, lengthwise.  Drizzle with EVOO and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast, cut side down on a foil lined cookie sheet for 40-50 minutes.  Meanwhile in a large bowl, combine, ricotta, egg, chopped spinach, grated garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Mix.  Let squash cool enough to handle and scrape out squash with a fork, adding to bowl.  Mix gently to combine.  Grease a 8x8" pan, pour mixture into baking dish.  Sprinkle with cheese and bake until browned and bubbling 20 minutes.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Easiest Way to Cook Polenta

Polenta has been on my list for sometime to try and cook.   I have been collecting different recipes so when I found this one on Cooking.com I had to give it a try.  Any recipe where I can use my slow cooker for more than the standard fare of roasts or soups is always something worth trying. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture but when I make this again, which I will, I will add one.

I put this on before we left and although I got home 40 minutes late it was still soft and creamy, not dry however next time I will try and stick to the 1 ½-2 hours as suggested to see if it is even better. I served it topped with about a pound of sautéed baby bella mushrooms, it was what I had on hand so it was plenty for our two servings.  It was not truly enough of a main dish for us but a great side dish. We would have liked it more as a main dish if I would have added another vegetable like roasted broccoli or some sautéed chicken.

I heated some of the leftover polenta in the micorwave for 2 minutes this morning for breakfast and stirred in a ½ T. butter and 1 T. half and half.

The only change I would make to the recipe next time is to use less salt.  Recipe called for 3 t. which I thought was a bit too salty.  Next time I'll try 2 and if still too salty will reduce it once again.  I also used less mushrooms so I reduced the garlic, butter and EVOO quite a bit.

7 ½ C. very hot or boiling water
2 C. polenta or coarse cornmeal
2 T. olive oil
2 t. salt
½ C. fresh Parmesan, grated

Fill kettle or medium pot with water and bring to a boil.  Lightly grease crock pot with EVOO (drizzle and spread with a paper towel).  Add polenta, oil, salt and boiling water.  Cook on high for 1 ½-2 hours until most of water is absorbed (mine cooked for 2 hr. 40 minutes and it was still good just probably not as moist as it would have been).  Add Parmesan and stir to combine.  Set crock pot to warm until ready to serve.  Makes 6-8 servings.

Mushroom Topping:  
1-2 lb. cremini mushrooms
Drizzle EVOO
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
½ C. chicken broth or white wine
Fresh thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 T. butter

Saute crimini mushrooms in a drizzle of EVOO on medium heat for 5 minutes or until mushrooms release their juices and start to brown.  Add minced cloves garlic, saute another minute.  Add thyme, salt, pepper and dry white wine or chicken broth to deglaze pan.  Scrape up any bits on the bottom of pan and cook for 2 minutes.  Add butter, stir to melt.  Serve over polenta.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Spicy Shrimp Posole with Tomatillos

First new recipe of 2015 was Posole.  I found the recipe in the newspaper and it turned out to be a winner.  It was only my second time trying hominy and I still liked it.  Here hominy tasted like tiny diced soft potato.  Hominy is 119 calories for one cup and a potato is 120 for the same cup so it isn't a lighter choice and it has less carbs but a lot more sodium.  The good thing is that I didn't need to peal or dice a potato, simply drain and rinse the hominy.
I was going to have this for dinner yesterday before looking over the ingredients but since it was a broth soup, similar to what you get with a chicken noodle soup I thought it would be better served for lunch or as a side dish to something else.  My other issue with it was that the spices in the broth needed to mellow.  The flavors needed to combine so I stopped before adding the shrimp and waited till today to finish it off.  It was a great lunch, quick, easy and fresh.  Since I used frozen shrimp all I had to do was rinse them, pull off the tail and place in the soup to simmer.

The only change I may try next time is to reduce the lime to 1/2 T and to boil the tomatillos in the chicken broth without the salt and if necessary add more salt at the end.  The only reason I would boil the tomatillos in the broth is to save a step.  It was limey but less may not be as good so I'll add it back if it truly needs the 1T.  I will also be looking up more Posole recipes since usually they are made with pork or chicken.

Drizzle of EVOO
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried marjoram
1 t. salt
¼ t. pepper
¼ t. cinnamon
1 lb. tomatillos, husked, rinsed
2 t. Kosher salt
4 C. chicken stock
2 canned chipotle chilies in adobo, stemmed
1 t. adobo sauce from can
28 oz. can white hominy, drained and rinsed
1 C. frozen corn
1 lb. shrimp
½ C. picked cilantro, scissor cut
1 T. lime juice
½ avocado, cubed
-Cilantro leaves
1 green onion, thinly sliced

Chop onion and mince garlic.  In a separate pan add the olive oil and saute the onion until soft.  Add the lid to speed the process.  Add garlic, spices and saute another minute.  Meanwhile in a medium saucepan boil tomatillos in water with Kosher salt.  Lower heat and simmer until the tomatillos soften, about 10 minutes.  Drain and add back to pot along with half the chicken stock and the chipotle chilies and blend with an emulsion blender until smooth.  Add remaining chicken stock, hominy, sauteed onion mixture and simmer for 15 minutes.  Let soup rest overnight for flavors to blend.
Reheat soup.  Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper.  Add shrimp and frozen corn, simmer another 5 minutes until shrimp is pink.  Just before serving, scissor cut the cilantro in the cup and toss that along with the lime juice into the soup.  Stir.  Serve.  Top with a few leafs of cilantro, avocado and green onions.

Note:  This can be made and eaten the same day however I found it tasted better the following day. The spices were more mellow, didn't taste as raw.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Well this was an adventure that lasted three days and in the end we had Peppermint Patties but not without trial and error and finally a new recipe.  Awhile back two of us took a candy making class at Rachael Dunn Chocolates in Concord, CA.  It was a fun class but it was really an experience, that let us dip different candies and then take home a goodie plate.  We really didn't learn how to make chocolates.  Our centers were already made, our chocolate already melted and all we did was dip.  Not to knock it, we had fun and got the recipes so I would recommend it.
So today we decided to give the Vintage Peppermint Creams a try, then we tried again and finally the next day my friend tried it yet one more time.  And well, none of them worked.  It was a total bust, sticky mess that didn't give us the results we expected.  Unfortunately we couldn't determine what went wrong, was our thermometer working, did it heat up enough or too much, did we let it rest long enough, did we not kneed it correctly, what was our problem.  Some of it was so sticky you couldn't kneed it.  By the third day it was hard as a rock and on the yellow side but after sitting out for a few hours it began to soften and we though maybe it was OK but as it rested it started to loose its shape and some of it was so stuck to the plastic wrap it had to be tossed.  Fortunately on day two I tried a new recipe, the one listed below.  It was quick, no cooking and oh so easy.  The only thing I would do next time is add a few more drops of peppermint to equal a possible teaspoon.  The first batch I used 12 drops, and the second I used 15 but it still could have used a tad more I think.  The recipe I used suggested 2 t. but since I used oil there is no way this is correct.

2 ¼ C. powdered sugar
2 T. unsalted butter, softened
2 T. heavy cream
¼ t. peppermint oil (not extract)
lb. Belgium bittersweet chocolate (64%)

In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, at medium speed (4 or so) beat all ingredients till they come together and form a ball, or you are able to push it together like play dough.  At first it will be dry and crumbly but don't worry, it will come together.  Scrape up any powered sugar that is stuck to the bowl and mix it in.  Once together remove from bowl and place on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll it into a 1" log or the size you want your mints to be.  Wrap in plastic wrap, twisting ends and place in a paper towel tube to maintain round shape and wrap that in more plastic wrap.  Place in refrigerator overnight.  When ready, unwrap mint and slice into ¼" coins and lay on a piece of parchment paper.  In a large pot that you can place a glass bowl on top, add about an inch of water, heat to a simmer.  Water should not touch the bottom of the bowl and water should not boil.  Place glass bowl on top of pan.  Place ¾ pound of chocolate into glass bowl and let simmer.  When you start to see it melting, stir.  When all is melted remove from heat and add remaining ¼ lb. of chocolate and stir till melted.

Dipping:  Remove bowl from pan and place on a hot pad and begin dipping.  Drop your mint coin into the chocolate, flip it over, then scoop it out.  I use a candy fork, which has only two tines and they are longer but you can use a candy loop or even a regular fork if you don't have one of these.  What I found is that less tines touching the candy makes for a smoother finish.  Let excess chocolate drip off over the bowl, even tapping the fork on the bowl to help it drip off.  Move over to the parchment paper, place end of fork onto paper and wiggle off the candy.  Do  not flip it over because the bottom won't be as smooth.

Decorate:  If you like before the chocolate dries sprinkle mints with candy sprinkles or crushed candy canes.  Shown here with white non perils or colored sprinkles.

Notes:  Peppermint oil is different than what you will find in the grocery store called peppermint extract.  Peppermint oil is much stronger so less is needed.  I found mine at Rachel Dunn Chocolates, a candy store in Concord or you can find it online at your local craft or candy store.  Chocolate chips don't melt as well, we tried that doo, too thick.  If you can't find good chocolate use the candy coating chocolate that you use for bark.  You can find this at Walmart or craft stores.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Last nights Walnut Maple Pie was a winner.  It is very similar to pecan pie but it uses maple syrup instead of corn syrup and this recipe had less egg, butter, sugar and nuts but more vanilla and flour than the pecan pie I made last year.  I felt better about using pure maple syrup instead of corn syrup but it does bump up the cost quite a bit.  It said you could use maple flavored syrup, although I wouldn't recommend it. I gave that up years ago when I started trying to eat less processed foods and although maple syrup is more expensive you don't eat it often and once you get use to the real stuff there is no turning back.  Since this pie had quite a bit less nuts it wasn't as thick which wasn't bad but next time I make it I'll make it more similar to my pecan pie by adding more nuts 2-2 1/2 cups, an 1/8 t. Kosher salt and 1 t. vanilla.  Original recipe came from Reader's Digest "Like Grandma Used to Make".

3 eggs (but use only 2 egg whites and 1 whole egg)
1 C. real maple syrup
1 T. butter, melted
2 T. flour
½ C. firmly packed brown sugar
1 ½ t. vanilla
½ C. walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Place crust in pan, line with foil, shinny side down, add beans or pie beads. Bake 15 minutes, remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes.  Lower oven to 350°F.  Mix filling ingredients and pour into pie shell.  Bake 40-45 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean.

Note:  After 45 minutes the crust was browned, the knife came out clean but it looked like something was alive in the pie.  The center was jiggly and it moved/bubbled.  You didn't see the bubbles but it was moving.  I let is sit and it did gel so don't worry.  If I would have put it in the oven longer I the crust would have been too dark even if I covered it with foil.