Saturday, January 31, 2009

Quick 'N Easy Cookin' - Spinach and Mushroom Saute

Hello friends! Wow, I missed you guys...

Things have been so busy lately, I haven't had much time to devote to my blog. I have lots of ideas, have snapped some cool pix, even cooked a couple decent meals (FrankenMeatloaf, anyone? Hmmm...somehow I think that will not be a repeat in my house!)

We resorted a few times to take out, when there simply wasn't time at the end of a ten hour workday to create a decent meal. That doesn't cut it - I'm saving my extra calories for Valentine's Day, when I get to go out to a restaurant where they don't hand you a paper placemat and four-pack of crayons when you walk in. Oh, and they serve wine....lots and lots of wine. Someone, please wake me in time for the appetizers...

ANYWAY! In my never-ending quest for quick and easy (and relatively healthy) dishes, I started a mental list of super fast snacks and side dishes...maybe when I get really good at this, I'll even come up with a "15-Minute Meals" category... or better yet, 14-Minute Meals...yeah! I mean if you're looking for a quick meal and you see "15-Minute" and "14-Minutes", which one would YOU choose??? What? THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A 13- MINUTE MEAL!! THAT'S CRAAAZY!
Of all the veggies I like, spinach has got to be the quickest to prepare...unless you're my mother and boil everything to death. A quick steam or stir in a pan, and spinach is served! One Sunday dinner, I added a little something and ended up with a new favorite "fast" food....

1 16-oz bag spinach
Mushrooms - I'm using an 8-oz (I think...I didn't really look...) package of white mushrooms, but portabella, baby bella would do nicely.
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Dash of Red pepper flakes
Clean and chop the mushrooms. I like to quarter them. Remember, they will shrink a lot while cooking, so be generous with our fungi friends.
Mince the garlic.
Heat about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a BIG...really BIG...skillet, pot, Dutch oven. That spinach is going to take up a lot of room went it gets here...
Saute the mushrooms and garlic until the mushrooms are golden, kind of like this...
Add the spinach, and stir to distribute the mushrooms and garlic throughout the spinach.
Add in the salt, pepper and red pepper flakes any time now...and keep stirring until the spinach is wilted.
Serve right away...or let it sit around while you snap a few photos.
I think the mushrooms add a bit of weight to this dish - I love spinach plain and simple, but this is just a teeny bit more sophisticated.
And once the mushrooms and garlic are chopped, this can be ready in about 5 minutes!

Sunday, January 18, 2009


What started out as a friendly game of "Chef For A Day" turned into a strange meatloaf-like experiment...gone very, very, VERY wrong...

There are a couple "Iron Chef" type games going on in the cyber food world, and over on Grouprecipes they started one.  Basically, participants place an ingredient on the counter, so to speak, and when we get ten you can claim the ingredients to concoct a new recipe.  This first round we ended up with the following ingredients:

red peppers
broccoli (my contribution)
cream cheese
cheddar cheese (mmmm cheesie) <- I did not say that
white wine (mmmm wine) <- I did not say that, but I concur...even though I like red better

You can add in spices, herbs, condiments and I'm guessing basic pantry staples, but the goal is to use these to come up with an original recipe.

Problem #1:  My one-track mind.  Already by "broccoli" I had some sort of Asian-spicy peanutty concoction in my head.  Beef? Well, ok, I suppose....  But the cheeses threw me for a loop!   I really wanted to play, though, so I dwelled upon these ingredients, jotted notes, and let them stew for a while.

Problem #2: My husband. He doesn't eat broccoli, mushrooms or red peppers, doesn't like gooey gobs of cheese and doesn't like sauces.  If I was going to pick up the gauntlet, I would do so alone.

Problem #3:  How the heck do you get all those ingredients into one dish???

Of course, I probably could have split up the ingredients into a main dish and a side, but I'm stubborn.  I wanted to incorporate all ingredients in one dish, one item.  Then it hit me.  I'll make some sort of terrine, like a layered meatloaf.   A layer of meatloaf, a layer of cheesy rice, a layer of meatloaf, layer of cheesy broccoli, topped with a third and final layer of meatloaf, and served with a mushroom-wine-cream (as in cheese) gravy.

Have I lost anyone yet?  Cause I thought it actually sounded good! Better than the goulash that was my first thought...

I'll have you know, I am not one to waste food.  And I knew this was not going to be a dish my husband would want to be in the same ROOM with, never mind served! My daughter...well, maybe she might nibble.  She likes rice, broccoli, cheese.  So the whole time I kept asking myself "Are you gonna eat this?  Because if you're not, STOP RIGHT THERE!"  But as it came together, it actually sounded appealing to me.  So I forged on ahead, and created...

(aka FrankenMeatloaf)

*Indicates "pantry" items

Mix together:
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg*
2/3 cup bread crumbs*
2 tbsp. kethcup*
1/3 cup minced onion
Dash Worcestershire sauce*
1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Salt & Pepper*

In a saucepan, saute'

1 tbsp. butter*
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped red pepper
1 clove garlic, minced

Add one cup cooked brown rice (I used Steamfresh - 5 minutes in the microwave)
1 cup shredded cheddar.

Stir until cheese is melted.  Set aside.

Steam 1 cup finely chopped broccoli florets; drain.
Add 2 tbsp cream cheese and 3/4 cup shredded Cheddar; stir until melted.

In a loaf pan, layer 1/3 the beef mixture; the rice mixture; 1/3 beef mixture; the broccoli mixture and top with remaining beef mixture.

Problem #4:  I didn't have enough beef to totally cover the top. this point it doesn't really matter!  I'm just gonna tell them I forgot....unless this actually turns out good!

Problem #5: Did I mention I'm on a diet?

Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until done.  Let sit for at least 10 minutes before even THINKING about removing from the pan, if you want the "terrine" look.

On second thought, you can skip that...because, um, there's fat in ground beef that melts away while you cook it, therefore resulting in something other than that beautiful terrine I had in my head.

While it's resting...

Saute in 1 tbsp butter* 10 oz. (about 2 cups) sliced mushrooms.  When golden, as 1/4 white wine and 1/4 cup chicken stock* (C'mon! Who doesn't have some sort of stock in their pantry?)  Let it reduce, then stir in 2 tbsp cream cheese until melted and combined.

Spoon mushroom gravy in the bottom of serving plates.  Slice Frankenmeatloaf into 1 1/2" slices, carefully remove from pan and place on bed of mushroom gravy.

You saw the picture.  Yet, strangely you are still here... Well, let me tell you, it was freakin' ugly, but actually tasted pretty darn good!  The mushroom/wine/cream cheese concoction was awesome, and the cheesy rice with the red peppers? YUM!  The cheesy broccoli was good too, although in hindsight I should have skipped the cream cheese in that...too rich.  But I had forgotten I was going to use it with the mushrooms and was struggling to fit it in somewhere.  The meatloaf is my standard meatloaf, so that was ok too. 

I'm not so sure I'll be making it again, though.  Nor am I sure I want to actually post this as a recipe on GR!  I'm still thinking about that spicy Asian peanut sauce stir fry.  But all things considered I'm pretty glad I took this challenge upon myself, and resulted in something I could actually eat...  I might....I said MIGHT...someday try this in a Shepherd Pie kind of thing, browning the beef first and using that to layer...

Problem #6:  How the heck am I gonna track this on The Daily Plate???? :)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Something's Missing...

When we first woke up Sunday morning we were happy to see that we only got a few inches of snow during the night, as opposed to the 6 to 8" or snow/freezing rain/rain.  I'd say at best we got 4 inches of light, fluffy pretty snow.  Then, as hubby snow-blowed the driveway, something caught his eye.  Or should I say, the absence of something caught his eye...

I was reminded of a line from "A Christmas Story":

" My father wove a tapestry of obscenity that as far as we know is still hanging over ..."  

In this case, my driveway!  Someone had rubbed the number off my husband's license plate....No, that's not it.  Actually, some LOSER SCUMBAG stole the tailgate off my husband's pick up truck Saturday night!  And the man was none too pleased about it.  Police were called, report filled out, neighbors popped over to offer their sympathy and possible leads (yes, leads.  These morons apparently forgot to don their invisibility cloaks) and little by little, my dear husband's blood pressure began to descend into something vaguely resembling normalcy.  He later recalled hearing a conversation that occurred that very day, where someone commented "Hey! There's a black F-350!" as if they were scouting around, looking for parts.  Cops know about it, and if per chance you are lost and found your way here, your boss knows about it, too.  You can run, but you cannot hide....

Well, it's really hubby that you should be worried about, because to cheer myself up (and to celebrate the fact that we had recently removed the $3,000 worth of firefighting gear that had been in the bed of the truck, and stowed it in a safe, secure, secret location) I treated myself to a couple of these yummy treats...

Espresso Biscotti, from my friend JM over on Grouprecipes.

Yummy, espresso-flavored biscotti, dipped in chocolate.  Just what I needed as a little pick-me-up!   I told myself I would bring these into the office Monday...oops. I forgot.  Maybe Tuesday...ok, Wednesday.  If there are any left.

To further comfort myself, I channeled that calm, soothing, foodie soul, Ina Garten and made this yummy fruit crumble, not crisp. Ina calls them crumbles...but they're the same thing as crisps.  I needed to channel Ina because after the theft of a beloved tailgate and a dose of espresso with a third cup of coffee, my only other alternative was to channel that Billy Mays dude who does the OxyClean commercials....I like Ina better.

So this is what I was working on...Blueberry-Pear Crumble

 Pear, blueberries topped with an oat and almond brown sugar crust.  All good, except I used steel cut oats, and I'm not sure if it's because I'm just not used to them or maybe they need more cooking time, but they are a little too hard for this.  Maybe I just need to acquire a taste for them.  And even though I used a minimal amount of sugar, this is still quite sweet.  Maybe I can get away with using even less.

So, I'm tweaking this one and hopefully by the time we have a new tailgate, I'll have a new recipe to share!  Meanwhile, go make those biscotti and be on the lookout for a black Ford F-350 tailgate! :)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Tale of Two Cauliflowers

So there I was, minding my own business, catching up on some of my favorite foodie websites, when I found myself at Pioneer Woman's place.   If you haven't seen her website, you MUST!  I just adore her stories, her photography, her cooking, her life - calf nuts and all.  In fact, go ahead, check it out, and in an hour or so come back to my marvelously mundane world....I need a nap anyway.

What?! Back so soon?  Oh well, isn't she cool?  Everything she says or does turns to gold in my mind.  And you know what I've noticed about her recipes? She can take something I've never really been interested in, never really been tempted by and when SHE posts about it, suddenly I feel like I have to have it.  Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Thingys?  I'm not crazy about bacon, nor was I into jalapeno popper thingys, yet I see her photos, read her commentary and I HAVE TO MAKE THEM!  Same thing with Creamed Spinach.  There's got to be something subliminal going on here.  Because THIS time it was PW's Mom's Cauliflower Soup that lured me in.  

I don't even LIKE creamed soups, except for my Mom's New England Clam Chowder, which is actually rather on the thin side as far as clam chowders go, as she uses milk, not cream.  I don't even really like soups unless the mood strikes me, and then they are usually veggie, bean and/or pasta in a tomato or clear broth.  But as I scrolled through the steps to making this soup, something came over me...I'm not sure, but I think she may have subliminally photoshopped Benicio Del Toro pics in her photos, because suddenly this was the most wonderful recipe I had come across in a while!  I was craving something I had never had before, never wanted before, but something I was inexplicably attracted to...the Benicio Del Toro of soups!   

(Just kidding, dear.)  <-- I said that to my HUSBAND, not Benicio, by the way....

Problem:  Half and half?  Whole milk?  Real butter?  A heaping blob of sour cream? No can do.  I would have a butt the size of Oklahoma if I were to start making THAT a habit!  But it got me thinking, how can I achieve something similar, shave off some of the fat and calories, yet keep the same level of flavor? 

Solution:  Garlic Roasted Cauliflower (from Allrecipes...of course); skim milk; just a dab of low fat sour cream at the end.

Step One:  Make Garlic Roasted Cauliflower - except I omitted the parmesan, herbs...just cauliflower, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Cut the cauliflower into small florets, and mince about two cloves of garlic.  Place in a baking dish like so....
...drizzle with olive oil.  I know olive oil is fat, but you have to be a little generous here - I'm guessing two tablespoons - enough to coat so the cauliflower and garlic do not burn.
Place in a 350 degree oven, and bake for about a half hour, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, use PW's Mom's recipe as a guideline, and chop up some onion, carrots and celery...
...and saute' in a bit more olive oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent.
When it comes out of the oven, add the Roasted Garlic Cauliflower...
Let it cook for about 10 minutes, then add about 2 cups of chicken stock.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer another 10 minutes.  I forgot to add bay leaves - I'd do it here next time.  I like to mash up the cauliflower a bit...I toyed with running this through the food processor, but laziness prevailed.  I'm glad it did!  This worked just fine and resulted in a much better texture than the gruel that would have resulted from the processor....
I tried to lighten up the white sauce a bit by using 2 tbsp of Smart Balance 50/50 spread - if I had regular Smart Balance on hand, I would have used that.
I used a heaping tbsp. of flour whisked into two cups of skim milk, added it slowly and whisked it until it boiled and thickened up like so....
I'm used to making a roux with butter, flour, and THEN whisking in milk, but this worked too.
Add that to the cauliflower mixture, and let it simmer another 10 minutes or so.   When it looks done, it is.  I tasted to adjust seasonings and it needed NOTHING!  
When serving, I measured out (seriously, I measured out...) one tbsp of light sour cream per serving, and stirred it in.  It really gave the skim milk base a little extra oomph!
And here's my lunch....

A lot of times when I try to lighten up dishes, they just don't hold up.  This was not one of those times!  There's no Benicio Del Toro paddling around in here...yet it still calls my name.  Go figure!  Sure there's some fat, but the dairy fat and calories have been greatly reduced, AND there's also a pretty good sized serving of veggies in here - at least a cup - to put a dent into today's "5-A-Day" servings of fruits and vegetables.

Now if I can just come up with a way to make Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno thingy's fat- and calorie-free....

A Taste of Montana Giveaway!

Huckleberry Jam, Huckleberry Taffy and Huckleberry Gummy Bears!!!  (I just love saying "Huckleberry", don't you?)  

My friend, Lissaloo, has kindly offered the chance for a taste of Montana over on her blog, OneStepAtATime!  

Click here to check out her giveaway!  (And of course, check out her blog!)

...Huckleberry Hound, Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in "Tombstone".... "...I'm your huckleberry..."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Resolutions - Part 43

resolution |ˌrezəˈloō sh ən|noun
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Latin resolutio(n-), from resolvere‘loosen, release’ (see resolve )

A firm decision to do or not to do something she kept her resolution not to see Anne any more a New Year's resolution.• a formal expression of opinion or intention agreed on by a legislative body, committee, or other formal meeting, typically after taking a vote :the conference passed two resolutions.• the quality of being determined or resolute he handled the last French actions of the war with resolution.

Ok, where was I? Oh yes! It's that time of year! Time to say I'm going to lose weight, try really really hard to stick to it, then soon notice on the calendar that it's Groundhog Day....woohoo! Let's celebrate with cake and chocolate and wine.... Yeah, I tend to fall of the wagon by February.

BUT!  That's ok... and you know why?  Because falling off the wagon does not signal the end, and there's no rule that says you have to discard your resolutions just because you ate a piece of cake.  2009 will mark a special anniversary for me - April 1st will mark twenty years of being a non-smoker.  Sure, I tried to make it January 1st 1989...lasted 3 days.  My mom, dad & I all tried quitting at the same time, but by January 3rd Dad went out and bought us each a pack...his way of saying "Not sure what's worse - smoking or bitching!"  Tried again Feb 1st... March 1st.... pretty much the same result.  Somehow April 1st worked for me.  Twenty years later I don't remember those initial failures, but I do know that I am a non-smoker. It worked!  What's the old proverb? "Life's a journey, Not a destination..."  Well, maybe that was Aerosmith, but my point is the only failure is when you stop trying.

So with that in mind, here are some of my New Year's Resolutions for 2009.....

  • Lose weight:  Sheesh, this one's been done to death!  But I am happy to report that I am, in fact, down ten pounds from January 1, 2008.   Let's see if I can tack on another ten pound loss this year, and I'm guessing that by the end of 2010 I'll be wearing my old high school jeans again...well, actually college.  I was fat in high school... ;)
  • Visit my parents at least once a week:  That should be a no-brainer - I mean, they are maybe 20 miles away, but still the procrastinator in me keeps putting off the trip, substituting it with a phone call.  I DO see them, just not as often as I should.  My sister, who lives closer to them, gets delegated to give them rides, take them shopping, etc.  They are not only wonderful parents and grandparents, but intensely interesting people, like most Depression-Era people are to me.  Oh, the stories they tell....
  • Clean house:  No, really. I'm calling The Salvation Army today to see if they can come pick up that old bedroom set, a couple old tables...what they don't take, our friend Jeff The Rubbish Guy will take off our hands.  I've also started reorganizing my daughter's room - moving her toys upstairs so my living room, kitchen and family room don't look like a daycare center.  I started on my closet a few weeks ago, and now I have room to store the clothes I actually wear! Kitchen cabinets will be rearranged, small appliances will find permanent (yet accessible) homes, and my shredder will be going non-stop for the next few weeks.  I will hang pictures. I will donate clothing. I will have a guest bedroom that could actually accommodate a guest or two.  I will not use that ever-evasive "yard sale" as an excuse to hang onto things.
  • Visit Ten New Places:  In my old age, I think I've become somewhat of a recluse.  Like I felt before our trip to NYC, going somewhere with a little kid seems like such a hassle...until you actually get in the car and pull out of the driveway.  So thank you, New York!  This year I will visit ten places I've never been before.  And no, driving through does not count.  In fact one of the places is Northampton, MA, which we've passed through many, many times, but I've never actually GOTTEN OUT OF THE CAR AND WALKED AROUND!  I also like to look at maps and either pick out an interesting name for a town, or perhaps a weird shape or bump in a border and I wonder, What is it like there?  There's this strange little square of Massachusetts that protrudes into Connecticut...I want to see what it looks like!  Anyway, to make things even more interesting, I hereby proclaim that THREE of these trips must be overnighters.  Let's challenge me, shall we?? ;)
  • Read:  And by read, I mean books - novels, biographies, history, classics... I love reading and just never seem to do it any more, and when I do I usually have three books going at one time - one in my bag, one in the living room and one in the bedroom.  It can get confusing.  And the shame of it is I'm something of a book collector - I buy them off the discount tables, or at library books sales or book swaps and never actually dig into them.  So the first ones I'm going to knock off this year are four Sir Athur Conan Doyle books (Sherlock Holmes adventures) that have looked lovely on my shelf for the past 15 years or so, but have never been opened.  And I'm sure as I clean I'll come across a few more
Well, I think that's a good start!  I also plan on looking at my life list over on Superviva.  I think I forgot to check off "Write My Own Blog" and as of yesterday I can now offically say I've made homemade bagels.  If you're looking for ideas or inspiration, go on over to Superviva and maybe start your own list. Big or little, an accomplishment is an accomplishment.  P.S. Don't forget to add things you've already done!