The absolute BEST not-macaroni and cheese EVER

Intrigued yet?

So this weekend, seeing as how I was going to the mecca of grocery stores (WEGMAN’s) I embarked upon the mission of cooking ALL the produce left in my fridge. I had two eggplant, which I baked, hollowed out, and then stuffed with a mixture of sausage, onion, and cheese. I had fresh green beans which got blanched, and bundled wrapped in bacon. I popped them into a hot oven to let the bacon crisp up and man were they good. I had Brussels sprouts and broccoli, which got prepped, tossed with olive oil and slivered garlic, and then roasted until caramelized and gorgeous.

Then there was the spaghetti squash.

I wasn’t in the mood for “regular” spaghetti squash, I wanted something different…. something other than pretending that the squash was noodles to carry marinara. I wasn’t in the mood for marinara at all…it’s getting to be winter, it’s cold, and I needed something hearty enough to kind of act as a main dish with all these other veggie side dishes. And then I remembered it… a recipe given to me by my BFFF (Best Foodie Friend Forever) DeeJay for a “not-macaroni-and-cheese” using the squash, cheese, onion, and bacon.

It has always been my belief that damned near ANYTHING can be made to taste better if you add onion, bacon, and cheese. So, I halved the squash and popped it face down in the microwave for 15 minutes to cook. While that was going on I fried up 7 strips of nitrite free bacon until they were crisp but not overly so. Setting the bacon aside on a paper towel, I poured out all the bacon grease except for a tablespoon or so and used that grease to fry up some diced sweet onion until tender and just starting to brown.

I got two other saucepans out and in one I started about 4 cups of milk just to heat up to a scald. To the second saucepan I added some butter and an equal amount of my cup for cup gluten-free flour (about 2 ounces of each). I cooked these two together for a few moments, and then slowly whisked in the hot milk, dissolving all the solids. The sauce thickened up rather quickly. I added salt and pepper and then whisked in an assortment of shredded cheese I had in the fridge. I had sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, three cheese blend, and mozzarella. All of these cheeses were in the bag and were “convenience purchases” for me, so this helped me by emptying out all of these partially opened bags. I also added 2 cloves of garlic I had put through the garlic press. I kept whisking until the sauce was beautifully smooth. I have noticed that when making sauces or gravies with gluten-free flour, I almost NEVER get lumps!

I buttered a shallow casserole dish and as the squash was done, I pulled it out of the microwave. I took half and scraped out the flesh with a fork, causing the “strings” of squash to fill the bottom of the dish. I chopped up the bacon, and added it and the onions over the surface of the squash. I took half of my cheese sauce and poured it over. Next, I scraped out the OTHER half of my squash and layered it into the casserole, finishing it with the rest of the sauce. Smoothing it all over with a spatula, I popped the lid on (Foil would work here too) and put it in a 350 degree oven. I let everything bake until the casserole was hot and bubbling just a bit around the edges. I pulled the lid off, dusted the top with grated Parmesan, and then let it cook another 15 minutes or so so the top could get brown and yummy. I had one piece of bacon left over so I chopped it up and sprinkled it on top just before serving.

HOLY MOLY…I cannot even begin to explain just how good this was. The cheese sauce baked up beautifully, light and creamy and cheesy…the onions were sweet, the bacon salty and smoky. Best of all, this was EVERYTHING mac and cheese could be, minus the heavy pasta and the OUCH from me eating gluten. So, SO good. Yet another reason my BFFF is one of my favorite people. So dinner ended up being the not-macaroni and cheese, the beans and roasted veggies, and I ended up being one very satisfied woman with a full belly and an empty refrigerator.

Hope your weekend was equally savory and delicious.

Advertisements

Fall worked out just FINE

So about that dinner…

YUM.

It took a good part of the morning, but oh it was SO worth it!

For the kale, I took half a HUGE yellow onion and diced it up, and added four huge cloves of garlic which I smashed slightly. I had my dutch oven on the stove, and put the onions and garlic in some bacon grease, a good teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and let them sweat out a bit. I then added the ham hocks and a good bit of organic chicken stock. I popped the whole thing in a 300 degree oven and let it all work together until the ham hocks were tender and the meat fell off the bone. I washed the kale in cold water, removed the tough stems and chopped it all into bite sized pieces. I am not a huge fan of my kale all going dark and yucky looking, so I took the time to saute it in batches, getting it bright green before adding it to the ham hock meat and flavored broth. Once it was all combined, I put it back in the oven (covered) along with a healthy (and I do mean healthy) slug of apple cider vinegar. It hung out there until the kale was tender (about an hour or so), and then I added one more bit of vinegar at the end. The kale really needed the acid and once it was all done, WOW. I could have made a meal of just kale alone … and I probably WILL for a lunchtime this week.

I rounded out the menu with those sugar dumpling squash, ham with cabbage, apple, and carrot, and some white beans. That is what fall eating is all about.

The squash couldn’t be easier. Whack them in half, scoop out the seeds and put them in a baking pan, cut sides up. Add about an inch of water in the pan, and into a 350 degree oven until tender. While still warm, I put a pat of butter in the cavity and then drizzled the whole thing with maple syrup. I finished it off with freshly grated nutmeg. Simply beautiful! Not as sweet as a sweet potato, but not at all starchy or bland…. especially with some freshly ground sea salt. I had four whole ones, and we ate only half of them, so I am sure these sweet darlings will see time in my lunch box this week too.

I’ll give you my cabbage and beans recipes tomorrow, but for tonight, it’s time to hit the hay… Hope your weekend was full of fall flavor.

Back to life…back to cooking!

20121009-232718.jpg

Whew! The show has closed and it was a success. Thankfully. Now it’s back to work. Tonight I put fresh broccoli into the freezer and cooked a delicious one dish dinner – stuffed zucchini!

I had two semi-large zucchini from the farmer’s market as well as some onions, bell peppers, garlic, sweet Italian sausage, and fresh Parmesan cheese. Mads had a soccer match, so I needed something easy and fairly quick. Therefore I put EVERY heat implement I had to the test. I preheat my oven to 350 degrees F. I cut the tops off the zucchini, washed them well, halved them, and then put them in a microwave dish with a glass lid and nuked for 7 to 8 minutes until they were tender. While they were going, I diced onion and garlic, and grabbed some frozen bell pepper strips from my stash in the freezer and put them in a cast iron skillet along with a bit of olive oil. I let them begin to sweat a bit while I removed 4 links of sweet Italian sausage from their casings. I popped the sausage into the skillet and let it all start to brown, adding some cracked black pepper, and a healthy couple tablespoons of Italian seasoning. The zucchini was then tender and I used a spoon to scoop out the centers of the squash, leaving a shell with about 1/4 of an inch of zucchini in it. I added the scooped out centers to the pan, letting it all cook thoroughly until fairly dry.

I put the zucchini boats face down on a kitchen towel, letting the extra liquid drain out of them. I used the same baking dish from the microwave, drying it out thoroughly, and then I brushed a bit of olive oil on the skin of the drained zucchini shells before returning them, face up, to the dish. Using a slotted spoon, I then scooped the sausage and veggie mixture into the zucchini boats. I sprinkled each with the Parmesan cheese, and then realized there wasn’t NEARLY enough melty goodness going on there so I added some shredded mozzarella.

The dish went into the oven while I washed up the dishes I had used… (Try not to faint!) and had Mads make some iced tea. Fifteen minutes later, I had warm, savory stuffed zucchini shells, topped with melted cheese. The secret here is to make sure the meat mixture is highly seasoned. The squash has a very mild flavor, and the mixture ends up being perfectly flavorful, not too spicy and not too bland.

Best yet it was quick! Thirty minutes from start to eating… and it was a great antidote to today’s weather which turned out to be wet and chilly. PLUS, those leftovers are going to be super delicious for lunch tomorrow.

It is SO good to be home!

A night off…

Means I actually MADE DINNER tonight. Man it felt GOOD to cook something again. I know that sounds weird, but I had really missed getting creative in the kitchen.

I had a ham steak in the freezer from one of our local pork producers. I also had those cute baby sweet potatoes and fresh green beans that I bought on Friday. The spouse had gotten some pearl onions for beef stew, and I had two Roma tomatoes that I needed to use. There’s that cheapskate gene again! I scrubbed up a bunch of those little taters and popped them in a 400 degree oven. I peeled and halved the onions, dropping them in a skillet with some olive oil. While they browned, I diced up the two tomatoes, and then added them to the skillet. Finally, my green beans went in along with a splash of chicken stock and sea salt. I let them steam a bit, then uncovered to cook off some of the juice from the tomatoes. I ended up with a nice medley there, and the tomato pulp added to the caramelized onion made a nice coating on those crisp-tender green beans. The ham steak went into a grill pan just to get warmed up and get a few grill marks. With good protein, all I want to apply is simple seasonings and HEAT.

I ended up with ham that had crispy skin and charred grill marks, potatoes that were perfectly creamy and sweet without any kind of seasoning, and savory green beans seasoned with tomato and those pearl onions. Completely satisfying. It was so satisfying in fact, that I concentrated more on eating than in remembering to take a photo for the blog tonight.

I wanted dessert, and I had four pears in the fridge. I also had two half bottles of Moscato wine. I’d never poached pears before, but I was in the mood to be adventurous. So, I poured the wine into a saucepan, added some organic raw honey, candied ginger, lemon peel, a vanilla bean, and a teeny bit of simple syrup. I let that mixture come to a boil, and then a simmer while I peeled the pears. I left the stems on and cored them from the bottom and then dropped them into the simmering poaching liquid. It took 30 minutes or so before the pears were soft (but not mushy) and I pulled them from the liquid, standing them in a bowl. I then turned the heat up slightly and let the poaching liquid reduce to a syrup. Into the fridge it went until cool and thick. I drizzled that syrup all over one of those pears and OH MY HEAVEN was it good. The pear was sweet, the reduced wine syrup still had a nice light acidic bite to it and the ginger came singing through clearly while not overpowering.

Some nights it’s so so GOOD to just have a night off to play with my food.

On another note, one of my Facebook friends suggested a mini feature within the blog called “Hey Stacy, look what I made!” He sent me a photo of his dinner tonight, and MAN did it look good. So I think I’d LOVE that. Since sometimes I end up eating instead of taking pictures, you all can send me photos of what YOU make for dinner.

Here’s what Ernie made:

Doesn’t that look good? Now he needs to give me the recipe!

So what have YOU made lately? Post here, or hit me up on Facebook. I’d love to know what’s cooking in YOUR kitchen!

When I’m sick, I want soup

Image

And the verdict is in… I’ve apparently kicked whatever started this mess, however I am now dealing with the aftermath.  This hurricane of germs has left me with two wrecked and infected ears.  

No wonder I can’t hear so good!  Also explains my balance being worse than normal…and normal wasn’t so hot to start with.

I needed to eat to take the medicine prescribed to me, and I wanted comforting, so I decided to whip up some soup.  I took a look at what I had in the pantry, and decided on a chowder.  It rained like the dickens here today, and I was being all pitiful, so I wanted comforting. 

I had potato, and celery, and a few fresh ears of corn.  I had bacon, onion, and garlic.  I needed half and half, so that meant a call to the spouse to pick up a quart on the way home.  He did, and forever became my hero.

So here’s the recipe that became dinner:

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 pound bacon, diced

1/2 large onion, diced

3/4 cup celery, diced

3/4 cup carrot, diced

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

Kosher salt and black pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons corn starch 

4 cups chicken broth or stock

4 cups cubed potato

2 cups corn kernels

2 cups half and half

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

pinch of cayenne pepper if desired

fresh parsley

 Melt the butter in a dutch oven and add the bacon, cooking until crisp.  Spoon the bacon bits out and drain on a towel.  My bacon was SUPER lean, but if yours isn’t, dump out all the bacon fat except about 1/4 of a cup.  Add the onion, celery, carrots, and peppers with a little salt and pepper and cook until the veggies start to soften.  The carrots will take a while, so don’t sweat it if they aren’t as soft as the rest.  Throw in the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.. don’t burn the garlic!  Add the corn starch (Or flour for those of you OK with the gluten) and stir around to cook out the raw starch flavor.  Now add the chicken broth and potatoes and give a stir.  Raise the heat slightly, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.  Add the corn and cook another 5-6 minutes to allow flavors to meld.  Remove from heat and stir in the half and half.  Season with thyme, a pinch of cayenne, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.  Just before serving, top with the parsley and reserved bacon bits, stir once more, and ladle into bowls.  

YUM.

I had been fortunate enough to roast some cauliflower today too.  Fresh florets tossed with olive oil, kosher salt, cumin, and turmeric, and then roasted in a 400 degree oven until crisp-tender.  I took a few of those florets and floated them on the top of my chowder.  Delicious, and completely comforting.

Exactly what a sick girl needs to feel better.

Ratatouille – NOT the Disney rodent

One of the things I have made with eggplant is ratatouille. Part of it is probably just the magic of being able to say that word… ratatouille. It’s musical isn’t it? Or maybe it’s just me…

Anyhoo – Always on the lookout for vegetable side dishes, preferably ones my son will eat, I capitalized on the movie when it came out and made this dish for my family. It’s easy, I mean SERIOUSLY easy. Tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini (or yellow squash), bell peppers, onions, and garlic. However, I also found the traditional recipe to be a little bit boring. Never one to turn down the opportunity to fire up the oven, or to dirty another dish, I found that roasting the vegetables and adding more seasoning made this dish much less pedestrian. So with apologies to Martha Stewart, whose original recipe I used, here’s my Roasted Ratatouille

Ingredients:
Olive oil (you’ll want enough to coat the veggies, the onion, and a little more to cook the garlic)
2 medium onions, chopped – but not too small, about 1/2 inch or so
4 or 5 cloves garlic, diced
2 large eggplants, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 to 5 medium squash (I use a mix of zucchini and yellow), cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 bell peppers, (yellow, orange, or red) with ribs and seeds removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried thyme, or 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the cubed eggplant, squash, and bell pepper. Add a bit of olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Pour vegetables out onto a foil lined sheet pan, arranging in a single layer.

In the same bowl add onion. There may be enough oil in the bowl left to coat the onions, if not, add as needed. Season with salt and pepper, and turn out onto a separate foil lined sheet pan or small baking dish. Place BOTH pans into oven. Roast until the vegetables start to get tender and a bit brown. Keep an eye on them! You don’t want them to burn, and the onions WILL finish first. If you find that the peppers are browning too much before the eggplant and squash, pull them off the pan as they become done.

Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven (or other heavy 5-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid), heat a little olive oil over medium heat, and add the garlic; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and thyme and bring to a boil. By this point your onions are probably done, so as they finish in the oven, pour them into the pot with the tomatoes and garlic and stir well. The rest of the vegetables will be nearly finished by now, so add them to the pot once they are ready. Bring the vegetables to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low. Partially cover; simmer, stirring often, until vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in basil if serving immediately.

This recipe freezes well, just leave out the fresh basil. When reheating, add the basil right before serving; the heat from the dish works its magic to draw that basil flavor into the mix.

For convenience, you can also roast all your vegetables to completion before starting the tomato base. That way you can pay strict attention to your veggies without worrying that they will burn. Remember when you add all the roasted components to dump the whole pan in, you want the oil and any juices in the bottom of the pan. Eat this as a side dish, toss with pasta, you can even rest a little grilled chicken on top for an all in one dinner. Roasting gives the vegetables much more flavor, adding them and their juices along with more seasoning to the tomato base really helps round things out and mute that very “in your face” flavor that tomatoes can sometimes have. Delicious!

Oh, and for what it’s worth… my son didn’t like it. Go figure.

Stress Eating

20120801-215500.jpg

This is my dinner. Yes, it’s ice cream. A Turtle Sundae to be exact. Vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, caramel, pecans, whipped cream, and a cherry.

I am having ice cream because I got a call this afternoon for a job interview tomorrow morning. This is an interview for a job that would forward my career. This is a job that I want very much. This is an interview process unlike any I have ever experienced. This is me – nervous.

I am stressed. Do not judge me.

So I ask you all, do you eat when you are stressed? What do you eat? Does it help?

If you could spare some good luck vibes, it would be VERY much appreciated.

And if tomorrow’s dinner photo is of vodka, you’ll know it didn’t go well.