Baked ‘Fried’ Okra

Justin Timberlake came out with a new song. It’s the first thing since 2006 when he brought sexy back.

I have been a fan of JT since his NSYNC days, of which I will proudly and openly admit my JC Chasez crush. Sorry Justin. I switched to a JT fan once his first solo album came out  … and JC struggled as a ‘judge’ on some dance show. (I know Justin’s married now but we obviously had a chance together, especially when he got to his suit wearing years.)

There’s a point to this. Promise.

You see, JT and I are a lot alike. Sometimes we just need a little break to perfect our crafts, or just work overtime. And in the blogging world… 2+ months = roughly 7 years.

Well…I’m back. And it’s time… so let me show you a few things, including this baked ‘fried’ okra.

'Fried' Okra

Being from Texas I know there are only two ways to ever eat okra. 1) Pickled and 2) Deep Fried (surprise!).

Having grown up and lived in the Evergreen state I’ve learned that 1) Okra isn’t nearly as popular and 2) Neither is fried food.

Side note: okra is slimy and a little weird. You’ve got to move past it because it’s so dang good.

Prep Okra

This recipe is simple. No messy goopey battered fingers and easy clean up thanks to freezer ziplock bags. This is a kind of a non-chicken version of shake and bake.
Breaded

Using the bag also helps to get a nice even coating. I’m a fan of thick, crispy coating. (I think it’s a carb thing, like wanting only the cobbler part of fruit cobbler.) The corn meal and egg combo really does the trick. Okra Dipped

So get out there, whip these up and eat the whole batch. I mean, why not? They’re baked!

Baked Fried Okra

12 oz. frozen okra, thawed

3/4 c. corn meal

1/2 tsp. Creole seasoning

1/4 – 1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1 egg

1/4 c. milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the thawed okra into a gallon size freezer bag. Beat together egg and milk and pour into the bag with the okra. Mix around to completely coat the okra.

After the okra is coated, scoop the okra out using a slotted spoon (to drain off excess egg/milk mixture) and put it into a clean freezer bag. Pour over the corn meal and spice mixture. Shake around until completely coated. If you don’t drain off the excess, it can be a little gloopy and won’t have the nice separate pieces. If that happens, adding a little more cornmeal can help. Then pour onto a lightly greased baking sheet, in a single layer.

Bake for 20 minutes, then flip and bake an additional 20 minutes. Eat hot, right out of the oven with a side of ketchup.

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Squash Casserole

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve last posted, almost 2 months!!! I guess I’ve just been too busy living… 🙂

Today it’s a throwback… all the way to the 1960’s when casserole was king.

A fantastic 1966 cookbook that was my nanny’s… I’m sure it would be a top seller these days. And no we aren’t making Poached Salmon in Aspic, but that would be soooo vintage of me. After I figured out was aspic was…

I completely understand why casseroles were such a big deal.

1) It’s easy.

2) It’s relatively inexpensive.

3) It’s a complete meal in one dish… veggies, protein, and delicious.

4) You can feed an army… or myself for a week.

This squash casserole comes from Mrs. Judy, my sunday school and pre-school teacher for many years while we lived in Texas. The amount of love she has for everyone is immeasurable. She is true salt and light. (Matthew 5:13-16) She was a champion in the kitchen and she made the best bread-and-butter pickles ever.

One of the most remarkable women I have ever met and likely will ever meet.

The casserole is so filling, creamy, crunchy, and yet another reason to thank Mrs. Judy.

Start with some fresh veggies, including the obvious and necessary Summer Squash. Zucchini can easily be used as a substitute.

And some other, less obvious vegetables.

Saute the onion, bell pepper, celery, and green onion until just softened. Then add in the squash and saute slightly, making sure it is still crisp.

Sausage or “Sausage” is the protein of the dish. These links easily crumbled for incorporation into the casserole. It just needs a quick saute to brown it up.

Non-vegetarians, Jimmy Dean ground sausage is written in the recipe or to lighten it up, a Turkey sausage would work great.

When Mrs. Judy wrote this recipe I doubt there was a such thing as turkey sausage. It’s that vintage.

There aren’t too many step by step photos, why you ask? It’s a casserole! You just throw it all together, pop it in the oven and 20 minutes later… “ding!” Ready to eat!

Stand on your chartreuse shag carpet, in your shift dress, listening to the Beatles, take a trip back in time and whip yourself up some squash casserole.

Here’s How to Do It:

1 lb. Sausage

2 tsp. Olive Oil (if using low-fat sausage or sausage substitute)

1 small Onion, diced

1 Bell Pepper, diced

3-5 Celery stalks, diced

3-4 small to medium Yellow Squash, halved and sliced (about 1 to 2 lbs.)

1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 cup Yogurt (plain) or Sour Cream

1 cup Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix

1 cup Grated Cheddar Cheese

1-2 tbsp. butter, melted

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9X13 baking dish.

If using real sausage, cook and break up the sausage until browned. Drain off any excess fat, keeping a small amount in the pan for the vegetables. If using vegetarian sausage, break up and brown slightly in a saute pan. Pour into the 9X13 baking dish.

Cook the onion, bell pepper, and celery in olive oil. Cook until almost softened and then add in the squash. Saute 5-7 minutes to cook the squash but it should still be crisp. Pour the cooked veggies into the dish with the sausage.

While the veggies cook down, combine the mushroom soup and yogurt or sour cream in a medium sized bowl. Pour into the 9X13 baking dish and stir the sausage, vegetables, and soup mixture all together to combine.

Combine the stuffing mix, cheese, and melted butter into a small bowl and sprinkle over the casserole to cover.

Bake in the oven at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

At the beginning of July, I applied for an international rotation at work.

Well at the beginnning of August, I found out I didn’t get the rotation. It’s one of those things where the chances were slim to begin with but you start talking yourself up and then dreaming that the dream comes true.

That dream within a dream thing. And then none of the dreams become reality. Yeah… that kind of thing.

So, then I made the executive decision that I would be going to Ireland and Scotland anyways. Of course, on my own dime.

That’s after my trip to  Denver in September, Puerto Rico in November, Orlando for some work & fun in January and Houston early next year when my cousin has her baby.

Okay, okay… I can’t be too upset, the rest of this year and next is looking to be pretty fantastic.

But sometimes when you’re in the moment, there is nothing that can make it better, no matter how many times you tell yourself “there’s always next year.”

So here’s what usually happens to me when something goes awry 1) I completely shut-down. This include tears (complete sobs) and a phone call to my mother. 2) I decide to challenge myself in another way. And hope that I succeed. 3) I do both in that order.

This time I decided to try a new, somewhat daunting (or so I thought) recipe. Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce.

When this recipe says polenta… it means homemade by me (and you), not the kind from the tube.

Woah, wait, what?!?!  You said make your own polenta? Yeah, that’s right. This is the part I considered completely out of my league.

But don’t fret, dear friends, this was so much easier than I ever thought it could be. And I even cheated a little on the recipe to make it even easier.

Start with frozen corn. (This is where I cheated) Or 6 fresh ears kernels removed, as the recipe recommends. Bring it to a simmer with some water and then strain the kernels with a slotted spoon into the food processor and let her rip.

My food processor is a girl.

Pulse and process until it becomes a fine paste.

After processing, the recipe says to place back into the saucepan with the cooking liquid. I’m not so sure I would keep the cooking liquid. You want a mashed potato like consistency and when I added the cooking liquid, there was no way it was going to thicken up, even after the 10 minutes of simmering.

Thank goodness for my southern roots and always having instant grits on hand. I added 2 packets and voila, it thickened right up to the perfect consistency.

Once you simmer the polenta and get to the right consistency and apply the instant grits band-aid, in my case. Add in 3 tbsp. of butter and 7 oz of Feta. Or 8. Unlike alcohol, an extra ounce of Feta never hurt anybody.
For the sauce, start with Eggplant. Duh. Get her all diced up in about 1/2 inch cubes.

Apparently, my eggplant is also a female.

Then you’ll need some tomato and tomato paste.

This tomato paste was only 99 cents at Trader Joe’s… and it’s easy to keep in the fridge and use a teaspoon here and there. No more wasted, partially used cans!

After letting the eggplant cook up and soften, add tomato paste and a little white wine. Let that all meld and add in the tomato and some oregano with a little water, and cook it down for ten minutes or so.

Once the sauce has simmered, it is ready to pile on top of your polenta and enjoy.

This is so so good. And the homemade polenta blows the store bought polenta out. of. the. water. I would greatly appreciate you trying this out for yourself. K, thanks.

Here’s how to do it:

Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and the WSJ.

Serves 4-6 depending on meal size.

Polenta: 

4.5 cups frozen corn kernels (6 ears fresh corn kernels)

2 1/4 cups water

7-8 oz. Feta, crumbled

3 tbsp. butter

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Place corn kernels in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer. Start eggplant sauce below. Using a slotted spoon, remove the kernels to the bowl of a food processor. Reserving the cooking liquid, to adjust consistency, if necessary.

Return the corn paste to the pan and cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes to get a mashed potato like consistency. Fold in the  butter and feta, salt and pepper, and cook for 2 more minutes.

Eggplant Sauce:

1 medium eggplant, 1/2 inch diced

1/4 c. vegetable oil

2 tsp. tomato paste

1/4 c. white wine

1 tomato, diced

1/2 c. water

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. sugar

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped (1 tsp. dried)

Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan at medium heat and cook the eggplant until softened and browned. Add 2 teaspoons tomato paste, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Add white wine, stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato, water, salt, sugar, and oregano and cook for 5 minutes.

To serve, divide the polenta among bowls and top with eggplant sauce.

Ally 2.0 and Bell Pepper Pots

This past week, I’ve been in Denver having a fantastic time with old and new friends. I was there to celebrate one of my best friends weddings. You saw her bachelorette party here.

Rebecca and I met in college. We were always the “mature” ones. We were both in very different stages of our lives than we are now. We’ve both grown and matured even more than we already had up to the point of our meeting at Gonzaga.

During all of our reminiscing, laughter and tears (happy), we kept referring to our “old” selves, which brought me to a revelation of sorts…

This “old Ally” was still me with just a little (maybe a lot) more beer, late nights, and possibly irrational decisions (even with my “maturity”). Not necessarily bad, just different and younger…

The “new Ally” has a head more squarely on her shoulders. While I still might be uncertain about what the future holds (and still drink a few beers here and there, the wedding included 🙂 ), I am so much more certain than ever before that I have the faith and strength through Christ that he will take my hand and lead me where He has planned me to be. That doesn’t mean it’s any easier, I still struggle daily with being aware of His work and direction in my life (my self guidance and doubt often takes over).

But one thing I do know is that I don’t think I could have gotten to this new and improved (in my humble opinion) Ally, without the “old Ally.”

Really, what I’m trying to say is… we all go through seasons in our lives. Some of us (me especially) are lucky enough to be able to transition through the changes with the same wonderful, loving, and endlessly supportive people.

Woah… That was deep. And I was writing in the third person.

Now let’s eat.

This recipe is adapted from a cookbook my sister got me for my birthday. Cooking with Trader Joes. It’s a brilliant idea, recipes with most of the ingredients from Trader Joes. That being said, I don’t think I bought any of this from Trader Joes… it’s just a bunch of really good recipes.

I tweaked this a little and added some spiced crumbled sauteed tofu for a little extra protein.

When planning to crumble tofu, it’s always best to lightly compress and let it drain for 20 minutes or so. Wrap it with a clean dish towl and the weight of the fruit bowl will do the magic!

Then place in a hot pan to brown on both sides and start to break apart.

After its completely crumbled, add the taco seasoning.

Next add in the drained black beans, salsa, and rice to meld the flavors and heat through.

I think I need to start making prettier food.

While the tofu cooks and the mixture sits on the back burner, slice the peppers in half and clean out the seeds. I like using the variety pack of peppers, the colors are so vibrant and fun!

Scoop the tofu/rice/bean mixture into the pepper halves and place in the oven for 30 minutes.

Top with a little extra salsa and crumbled cotija (Mexican) cheese. And eat with your eyes, your tummy, and your fork!

It’s such an easy, filling, simple recipe and the other good news?!?! Two halves only has 420 calories. The original, no tofu, version only has 320 calories! Serve with a nice side salad and you’ve got a fantastic meal for less than 500 calories! Tastes even better now, right?!?

Here’s how to do it….

Festive Spicy Pepper Pots

Serves 4-8. (8 is the perfect side dish and 4 is a nice hearty meal)

3 C. cooked brown rice

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (16 oz.) block of extra firm tofu

2 tsp. olive oil

1 small (4 oz.) can green chiles

1/2 sweet onion diced

3/4 to 1 tbsp. taco seasoning

4 bell peppers, sliced in half length-wise, stems and seeds removed

1 (16 oz.) jar of Salsa (mild to medium works best)

Cilantro, optional (for garnish)

Cotija Cheese, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Start by opening the tofu and drain the liquid. Wrap in paper towels or a dish towel and compress for 20 minutes to remove any excess water.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and saute the diced onion until translucent. Place the block of tofu in the pan, allowing each side to brown before beginning to crumble.

Using your spoon, begin to break the block into bite size pieces, alot like crumbling ground beef. Let the pieces lightly brown and then add in the taco seasoning. Cook the tofu with the seasoning for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, allowing the taco seasoning to flavor the tofu.

Add in the cooked rice, salsa, black beans and green chiles and stir to combine.

Stuff the mixture in the pepper halves and place in one or two baking dishes. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the peppers are tender, about 30 minutes.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days (I made it just fine to 6-7) or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Pizza Partay!

The other day, May 26th to be exact was my birthday.

It’s a holiday weekend. Coincidentally, my birthday falls on or around Memorial Day every year… that’s the OTHER holiday of the weekend. It makes it a very convenient weekend for a quick trek home.

The first night there… I got quite the surprise when my cousin and her husband surprised me from Texas!

The morning of my birthday, I got my hair cut for the first time 9 months! The afternoon of my birthday, we went for a nice hike around Liberty Lake. Nothing like an 8.5 mile hike to make you feel 25. AND I did the whole thing without a hair-tie!

The night of my birthday, we had CAKE and other delicious food, insignificant in comparison. My request to my mother was very specific, a Rosauers (local grocery store with scratch bakery) white cake, white buttercream icing, with white and blue flowers ALL over. Rosauers homemade buttercream is a game changer. Your life will be forever changed and you’ll just want more buttercream. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure you can make a great cake from scratch on your own but it ain’t no Rosauers cake.

I have come to terms that I get a little obsessive about my sweets, it’s genetic…blame my mother.

Besides the cake… all weekend we ate real good, including personal sized pizzas from the grill.

At the Turner household, we spare no expense (calorie). The pizza toppings including some of my favorites: Mushrooms, Zucchini, Olives (Green, Kalamata, and Black), Jalepenos, Artichokes, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Pesto and CHEESE.

The dough recipe is simple. Find yourself a Trader Joe’s and pick up a couple bags of whole wheat pizza dough. That’s it!

The hardest part is dividing it up evenly into 4-6 pieces (depending on how big you want your pizza) and then letting it rise at room temp. for 20 minutes. Why is waiting always the hardest part?!?

Once it has risen, start to work it into the shape you desire. It’s likely it won’t come out perfectly round… don’t stress, it all adds to the “rustic” effect.

After adding all the toppings… transfer it to the grill (I spaced getting a picture). This part can be tricky, at least that is what my dad said. I’m too afraid of making someones perfect circle a giant blob, so I “passed the buck” and just watched.  Tip: Make sure to flour the bottom of the dough to transfer from plate to grill more easily. Using a paper plate will help it slide off easier too!

15-20 minutes later on the grill-turned-pizza-oven (see details below) and the wait is finally over!

Easy, delicious, fun for a group, and perfect for a summer night on the patio.

Here’s how to do it…

Grilled Personal Pizzas

Servings: Makes 8 large personal sized or 12 small/medium sized.

Ingredients:

2 packages prepared whole wheat pizza dough (Trader Joe’s is fantastic)

Toppings of your choice. See list above and/or add the following:

  • Marinara/Pizza Sauce if Pesto isn’t your thing.
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Mini Turkey Pepperoni and Canadian Bacon are great additions if you are a meat lover.

8 bricks

Foil

Directions:

Prepare the pizza dough according to package cutting into the desired number of pieces, up to the point of baking.

Add the sauce and toppings, putting the cheese last to seal it all in once it bakes.

Prepare the grill. Wrap the bricks completely in foil and place on the grill rack. (My family just has a stack of bricks that stay wrapped). Fire up the grill and close the lid to heat the brick and make an oven-like atmosphere. You’re looking for a temperature of 350 degrees or so. If its hotter, it will just take less time to cook.

Gently and quickly transfer the prepared pizza to the grill bricks. Close the grill quickly after the transfer to limit the amount of heat lost.  Cook for 15-20 minutes or until pizza is crisp but not burnt.

Remove from the grill, slice, and enjoy!

Costa Rican Style Beans and Rice

Long long ago… well, 2010… mi madre and I went to Costa Rica. I had just completed my Master’s in Accounting and it was time to celebrate.

Here were are in the rainforest in Arenal. Shockingly… it was raining.

From the rainforest we headed down to Manuel Antonio for some sun, sand, and not rain.

I loved everything about Costa Rica. The volcano, the hiking, the beaches, the wildlife, and of course the comida tipico (authentic food).

Beans and rice are big time down there. As a vegetarian/pescetarian… it’s big time for me too. It was a match made in veggie heaven.

Probably my favorite souvenir from the trip. Salsa Lizano. It’s a vegetable based salsa. It’s tangy and flavorful, not spicy. It can take any beans and rice dish from “Oh, this is great” to “OH, this IS GREAT!” You see the difference?? It’s talking in CAPS good.

Don’t worry, this isn’t the same bottle since 2010. I found a great spot in Pike’s Place Market that sells this among other tasty Mexican, Spanish imported items.

While we were down there, another traveller told us the other secret to Costa Rican cooking. It’s Sazon Goya and it’s what gives the rice and beans this rich orangy-red color. It has achiote which provides the coloring and flavor along with coriander, garlic, and cumin. Mmm…

What I love about beans and rice is that it’s so simple. While it can takes some time to cook, it’s minimal ingredients and doesn’t require much babysitting.

Comerse! (Eat up!)

Here’s how to do it:

Costa Rican Beans and Rice

Serves a small army.

Ingredients

1 lb. black beans (rinsed and soaked over night)

2 c. brown rice (the slow cooking kind)

1 onion, diced

2-4 garlic cloves, minced

1 can diced tomatoes (Rotel also works great with the green chiles)

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 small can V8 Tomato juice

1/2 tsp. cayenne

Salt, to taste

2 Packets Sazon Goya (If you can’t find that use some chili powder, cumin, and make your own spicy mix.)

Queso Fresco for topping (salty, crumbly Mexican ‘feta’)

Directions

After the beans have soaked overnight, rinse and cook the beans according to the package. Make sure they are thoroughly cooked, this may take some time but you really want to make sure the beans are softened but not overdone. I recommend taking a couple out throughout the process and tasting for ‘doneness’.

Once the beans have cooked, set aside and begin on the rice.

For the rice, in a large pan (cast iron like Le Crueset works great) begin by sautéing the onion and garlic in the olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes or so. Add in the rice and toast for 2 minutes with the onion and garlic. Add in about 4c. of water with the V8 juice and the juice drained from the can of tomatoes. Also add in the Sazon Goya packets, cayenne, and salt. Stir all together and let it simmer away to cook the rice. Stir the rice occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

After the rice is cooked, add in the tomatoes and beans, mix and heat through.

To serve, simply fill up your bowl, drizzle with Salsa Lizano, and a little crumble of queso fresco.

Seattle = Soup

The Winters in Seattle tend to be a little dreary. It rains/drizzles/mists/sometimes snows and the sky is generally a shade of grey.  It’s the weather that makes you want to stay in bed a little longer, watch movies, drink cocoa and make soup.

It’s also the weather that tends to bring people into a winter funk. Sometimes we just need to be more carefree like pets… No matter the weather, Ollie still wants to hang out on my patio bannister and chill. Dogs still want to run, you get my point.

And during the Spring that can look a lot like the Winter… take today for example, it rained then hailed then rained again… there are quite a few ‘soup days’ too.

I’ll tell you one thing, we may not get many of them but a sunny day in this city CANNOT be beat. And that my friends is not an exaggeration.

Enough Cat Lady and Weather Chit-Chat … let’s get back to this soup business.

This is Asian Noodle Vegetable Soup.

I really don’t cook a lot of Asian food, I think because I’m afraid I won’t get the flavors right or there are too many ingredients I don’t have. This recipe was the opposite. It’s very easy and equally delicious.

Except I did have to Google the noodle because nothing in the grocery store had Vermicelli blasted on the label. I found that Vermicelli is also commonly called Rice Sticks in Asian Cuisine.

Sometimes I wonder where I would be without Google, probably still in the ethnic food aisle at QFC.

To transition soup from Winter to Spring, let’s take out all the cream and add in some brightly colored vegetables, like edamame…

Step into Spring, Rain or Shine, and try this soup for yourself!

Asian Noodle Vegetable Soup

Slightly Adapted From Weight Watchers.com

Ingredients

1 tbsp. Olive Oil

3 1/2 oz fresh mushrooms sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 Tbsp ginger root, fresh, grated

1 Tbsp minced garlic

2 cup(s) water 6 oz reduced-sodium chicken broth (I used vegetable stock.)

6 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce

6oz uncooked vermicelli/rice sticks, broken in half   (I couldn’t break the rice sticks in half so I went through with a knife once they cooked)

1 pound(s) frozen mixed vegetables, Asian stir-fry variety

1 cup(s) edamame (shelled), frozen

Sriracha Sauce, to taste

1/2 cup(s) uncooked scallion(s), sliced, for garnish

2 tsp. sesame oil, divided. (I didn’t use this because I forgot, but it was still delicious.)

Instructions

Coat a large saucepan with a thin layer of olive oil; heat over medium heat. Add mushrooms; stir-fry until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add ginger and garlic; stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add broth, water and soy sauce; bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in vermicelli, reduce heat to medium-high and boil, 2 minutes. Add frozen vegetables and edamame; bring to a simmer. Simmer until vegetables and vermicelli are tender, about 5 minutes; remove from heat and stir in scallions.

Spoon soup into bowls; drizzle each serving with 1/4 teaspoon oil. Yields about 1 1/2 cups per serving.

It’s Madness! (And Mushroom Salmon Risotto)

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks… you know that the first two weekends of the NCAA basketball tournament have come to a close.

It’s the most fascinating month of the year. A 12 seed beats a 2 seed. Loyalties are formed and broken in an instant. Being a traitor is somewhat acceptable, for the sake of your bracket. So many life concepts are just turned upside down. And it’s all for college basketball. Oh how I love it!

College basketball, college football, cars and handyman projects. These are my ‘man’ things. My poor dad had to have someone to tell about the wonders of horsepower … and in our family, that was me.

Whether you like basketball or not, it doesn’t matter …that’s the great thing about risotto it’s non-discriminatory. It’s dainty yet stick to your ribs delicious. Granted, it’s probably not the dish to make during an intense game. It takes some minor babysitting. Stirring, adding broth, stirring and repeat…. but you can neglect it a little more than the pros say and it still comes out fantastic.

Here’s how it goes:

Not shown here: Garlic (minced), Oil, Arborio Rice, Salmon, Tarragon, Basil, S&P, Cheese, and Broth

After sauteing the garlic and onion in oil. Add in the rice and cook for a few minutes with the onion. Then add the mushrooms and start adding broth one or two cups at a time until fully absorbed before adding some more broth. (See full instructions below.)

My biggest tip for making risotto? It’s the pot. A nice cast iron french oven bit. A Le Creuset type but there are so many less expensive / just as good options out there. Head to Macy’s or TJ Maxx and you can find a good 7 qt. pot for $40-70. It’s money well spent. I promise you.

It’s the perfect balance of carbs, protein, and veggies. Top it with curly cues of cheese, a little zest for color, put it on a pretty plate and you’re set. In the tournament of delicious, I would have advanced this dish all the way to the championship. (Sorry – I just couldn’t leave you without a super nerdy tournament reference.)

Mushroom Salmon Risotto

Serves 6-8 or More depending on serving size.

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. Olive Oil

1 tbsp. Butter

1 Sweet Onion Chopped

2-3 Garlic Cloves Minced

1 tsp. basil (dried)

1/2 to 3/4 tsp. tarragon (dried)

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 small carton of Mushrooms – Sliced (probably like a cup and a half)

1 Lemon (Zest and Juice)

2 C. arborio rice

6-8 C. broth

6 Oz. Salmon, cooked and flaked. (I must admit, I used 2 cans… but fresh would be even better!)

About 1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded/shaved Cheese (Mixture of Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, etc.)

Instructions:

Heat oil and melt butter in a heavy bottomed pot. Add chopped onions and cook until just translucent, add garlic. After about a minute, add in mushroom and saute for a few minutes. Don’t cook all the way because the broth will help to finish them off. Add in both the basil and tarragon.

Then add in the arborio rice and stir. Let the rice toast and soak up the onion/mushroom flavors for 2-3 minutes. Start adding broth, one cup at a time. Stir occasionally. (My tip here is to add maybe 2 cups of broth or more so there’s is longer between additions and not quite as much babysitting. You will still want to make sure to stir every so often or it will stick to the bottom of the pan.)

Continue adding broth until the rice is softened. You’ll want to taste it… to make sure. Adding salt and pepper as needed. Add in the cheese and lemon zest with the risotto and squeeze in the lemon juice. Finally, add in the salmon and fold/stir in gently.

This can easily be a main dish but could also go as a side… just top with a little more zest and little extra cheese, of course!

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

It was a very productive Sunday. I checked quite a few things off of my to do list.

Take out the garbage – Check.

Work-out – Check.

Shave legs – A much needed Check.

Clean and change the cat litter – A much despised Check. Ps. WHY on earth is it that every time I change Ollie’s litter, he just has to use it literally the next minute?!?! We can’t just have a clean litter box for even an hour, please?!?

Phone calls to the family – Check.

My conversation with my Nanny was a real pick-me-up. It went a little something like this…

Ally: “What have you been up to lately?”

Nanny: “Oh I have been pretty busy as of late, I’ve got a new trainer at the gym (she’s 87, and she’ll probably kill me for revealing her age), I’m going to learn how to play Mahjong with a few friends this week, I’ve got a couple doctor’s appointments coming up, and my Bible study luncheon this Tuesday.”

Ally: “Geez, Nanny, it sounds like you’re going to be pretty busy for the next few weeks.”

Nanny: “But you know me, Ally… I thrive on this stuff.”

I laughed….When I’m 87, I hope I still have something I thrive on…. or even when I’m 25…. she is quite the inspiration.

Right now, I thrive on cooking and sharing with all of you… like these butternut squash enchiladas.

My parents came in town for a visit a few weeks ago, right after my mom’s birthday. I decided to take them out to dinner since I didn’t have enough time or forethought to get her a real gift. We went to this great modern Mexican restaurant Cactus. I ordered the butternut squash enchiladas and man oh man were they good. So good that I decided to try and replicate the thing at home and if I do say so myself… it worked out pretty well…. except for the enchilada part…

I made one mini-batch that was kind of in enchilada form (see above) but when I went to my larger dish, all the tortillas were breaking apart, along with my dreams of perfection…. so  my enchiladas turned into more of an enchilada lasagna….

Start with caramelizing a sweet onion in some oil (vegetable or olive) with all the spices. I went with canola because it has a higher smoking point or at least I think I heard that on some Food Network show.

Add the squash and get your cheese together and you’re now ready to assemble.

Oh yeah… did I mention there are two kinds of cheese in here. Goat cheese and Jack cheese and it all gets so melty and delicious.

You’ve got to try this.

Here’s how to do it.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Servings: 8

Ingredients:

2 c. Butternut Squash, Cubed

5 oz. Goat Cheese

1/3 c. Sour Cream

12 oz. Jack Cheese, Grated

15 oz. bag of chopped frozen Spinach

1 Sweet Onion

2 Cloves Garlic

1/4 c. Oil + more for drizzle on the Squash

8-10 Corn Tortillas

2 c. Prepared Enchilada Sauce (I used Rosarita)

A little of each of the following spices: Cumin, Chili Powder, Cumin, Salt, and Pepper. (I forgot to measure… oops.)

Instructions:

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees to roast the squash. Drizzle olive oil over the squash, add salt, pepper, a few sprinkles of cumin, a small pinch of cayenne and chili powder. Cook the squash until just softened, about 15 minutes.

While the oven heats up add the oil to a saute pan to heat up. Cut the onion in half once and slice. Mince garlic. Add onion to hot oil and cook until translucent. Then add garlic and some more of the same spices from above. You’ll want the onion to have a nice color after adding the spices. But don’t get too heavy handed.

As that softens away, grate the jack cheese. Also combine the goat cheese and sour cream. It will still be a little chunky but an easier consistency to spread.

Thaw the frozen spinach and then press out all of the liquid. There will be a lot of this and will stop everything from getting too runny.

Add the thawed spinach and cooked squash to the onions and garlic.

Assembly:

Put a little enchilada sauce on the bottom of the dish. Spread the goat cheese mixture on to the corn tortillas and lay tortillas, cheese side up, to cover the bottom of the dish. Add a little bit more sauce on top of the tortillas. Then add the spinach, onion, and squash mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and top with a little extra drizzle of the enchilada sauce. Cover with another layer of corn tortillas with the goat cheese spread, a little more sauce, veggies, cheese, etc. Top with a final layer of tortillas with the goat cheese spread face down, cover with sauce and sprinkle with cheese.

I got about 2 layers out of it and my dish was about a 8X11 oval. If you want to make a larger batch or a few more layers, it would be real easy to just prep more of everything.

Bake in the oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes. It really just needs to be heated through.

Cajun Lentil Stew For You!

I told you I liked lentils….

As a vegetarian (pescatarian), people are frequently asking me for good recipes and also giving me recipes. So 98% of the time they’re good, the other 2%, well…. let’s just say you won’t see them here.

Anyways, this one from my parent’s neighbors definitely goes in the 98% and I’m going to venture to say that 100% of you will like it if you try it.

Enough with the numbers, let’s get down to business.

1 of the 3 main ingredients is Zucchini. The other two being lentils and cajun/creole seasoning (see below).

The recipe calls for Cajun seasoning. I didn’t actually know what that was…. I thought it meant Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. I googled it and they aren’t the same but I’m trying to be more adventurous so I went with Tony’s.

However, creole seasoning has a high salt content so I think it was a bit too salty… which I rarely do since I was born with a natural aversion to adding salt due to my need to compensate for my father’s and grandfather’s obscene use of it. Oh and I might be a little paranoid about high blood pressure….

No this isn’t going to a toddler…. I don’t have kids. It’s just a spoon from when I was a kid that happens to be perfect for soup!

I’ll be scraping the pot and warming up the rest for dinner tonight… Yum!

This is also a big moment in my blogging history, as it’s my first with my DSLR (Nikon D5100). My apologies for any excessive bokeh.

Also, I’ve got an arsenal of blogs starting to pile up…. and some real good ones I can’t wait to share, (include some featuring real live people). It’s gonna be good.

Cajun Lentil Soup

Serves 8

Ingredients:

– 7 c. Vegetable Broth

– 1/4 c. Olive Oil

– 1 c. chopped onion

– 2 Tbl. Fresh Minced Garlic (or I used 2 cubes from the frozen pack at Trader Joes)

– 4 oz. Tomato Paste

– 12 oz. Dry Lentils

– 2 lbs. Fresh Diced Tomatoes (or I used 2 cans diced tomatoes, drain 1 and pour in the other as is)

– 2/3 c. Marsala Wine

– 2 Tbl. Brown Sugar

– 1 tsp. Basil

– 1 tsp. Oregano

– 2 Tbl. Cajun Seasoning (1 1/4 Tbl. Tony Chachere’s)

– 1/2 tsp. Salt

– 1/4 tsp. Pepper

– 1 3/4 lb. Diced Zucchini

Directions:

In a soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, tomato paste and lentils. Saute 2-3 minutes. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add tomatoes, wine, sugar, basil, oregano, thyme, cajun spice, salt and pepper. Simmer 10 minutes more. Add zucchini and simmer 10 more minutes and you’re ready to serve.