Mushroom and Vegetable Casserole

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On a busy weeknight a quick casserole is a healthy, easy, and filling dinner.  I made this dish originally by combining fresh vegetables with sliced chicken and a can of cream of chicken soup.  The result was good, but I felt guilty about using a can of processed cream of chicken soup.  The next time I decided to use some of my homemade chicken broth to make my own creamy soup.  After doing some research I found a few recipes that used corn starch and a lot of butter to thicken and flavor a seasoned broth.  Then I found the good stuff, using vegetables to thicken seasoned broth.  Cauliflower was a popular choice, but I turned to mushrooms to add more flavor depth to the casserole.

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Ingredients for cream of mushroom puree:

-1/2 onion, diced
-1 Tbsp of butter or oil of choice
-3 sprigs of thyme, center stem removed
-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
-1 tsp celery powder
-1 clove of garlic, minced
-1 1/2 cups of sliced mushrooms (I used baby portabella, but you can use any fresh mushroom)
-1/4 cup of chicken stock (I used a homemade version)
-1/4 cup of coconut milk (whole fat from a can).  If you eat dairy, you can use heavy cream.

Ingredients for casserole:

-2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, diced
-1/2 onion, diced
-1 red bell pepper, diced
-1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms
-3 cups of diced zucchini
-1 handful of kale, sliced into manageable pieces
-Fresh thyme to taste, center stem removed
-salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

1. To make the mushroom soup/puree start by browning the diced onion in butter or oil over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and cook until softened.

2. Add thyme, red pepper flakes, garlic, and celery powder.  Stir for 1 minute until fragrant.

3. Add chicken stock and coconut milk, heat through but do not boil.2014-04-24 19.05.14

4. Pour mushroom mixture into the vitamix or another high power blender and blend until smooth.

5. In a casserole pan mix together vegetables, diced chicken, and mushroom puree.  Season with salt and pepper lightly.

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6. Place in oven at 375 for 35-45 minutes until chicken is baked through and browned.

2014-04-24 20.23.446. Serve over brown rice or mashed potatoes.

You can use any vegetables of choice in the casserole such as carrots, celery, cauliflower, potatoes, brussel sprouts, or spinach.  To make this vegetarian, skip the chicken and substitute vegetable broth in the puree.  If you aren’t too into mushrooms, try steamed cauliflower in place of the mushrooms in the puree.

 Enjoy!

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Spinach French Toast with Tomato Topping

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This meal started with a delicious loaf of multi-grain bread that was on it’s last leg, only suitable for stuffing or french toast.  I first planned to make french toast, but wasn’t in the mood for anything sweet.  Instead, I decided to make a savory french toast with a spinach and egg soak.  Using the Vitamix to get the spinach completely pulverized to soak into the bread was a huge help.  The color of this would have been great for St. Patrick’s day, or perhaps for Easter.  With the tomato and red pepper topping, this can be eaten as french toast, cut into smaller pieces and served as a bruschetta appetizer, or used as open face sandwich with a juicy burger (like I made the next day).  My husband was pretty suspicious when I told him I wanted to make spinach french toast, but I am pretty sure he ended up enjoying it more than me.

Ingredients:
1 loaf of day old bread, sliced thick
Fresh basil for garnish

Spinach soak:
4 eggs
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp black ground pepper
6 leaves of fresh basil
Large handful of spinach

Topping:
1 cup tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup of roasted red peppers, diced
2 Tbsp shallots, diced
1-2 Tbsp Olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

1. Place ingredients for the spinach soak into the Vitamix in the order listed and blend increasing to high until fully blended, up to 45 seconds.

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2. Pour contents of soak into a large bowl.  Dredge the slices of bread into the spinach soak, allowing bread absorb as able.

3. In a heavy skillet on medium heat spray with cooking oil or coat with butter before cooking the soaked bread.  Each piece takes a few minute per side, until browned and cooked through.

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4. To make the topping place diced tomatoes, red peppers, and shallots into a bowl and mix with olive oil and salt/pepper to taste.

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5. Place cooked bread on a plate and pile on the topping as desired.  Garnish with basil and parmesan cheese.

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Eat well!

Garlic Herb Ribs

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We make pork ribs as a year round dinner option.  There is something so great about knowing your dinner will turn out moist and delicious with minimal effort every time.  Usually I make them as the previously posted “Easy Oven Ribs” with a rib rub and spicy barbecue sauce.  Tonight I wanted to mix it up a little bit, making up a rub of my own that doesn’t have the traditional spicy barbecue flavoring.  With the drippings in the pan I made a gravy, but didn’t need it, so I will save it for some mashed potatoes or biscuits in the future.  The rub is pretty versatile, if you like it I would suggest making a large portion to use on chicken, pork, or even burgers storing in an airtight container at room temperature for quick use.

For a side I made a red cabbage and shaved brussel sprout coleslaw, using the same dressing directions previously posted for the “Summer BBQ Coleslaw”.

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp salt, just shy of full
1 Tbsp ground pepper, heaping
2 tsp onion powder, heaping
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme, heaping
1/2 tsp celery powder
1/4 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp sugar

1-2 racks of meaty pork ribs
1 bottle of beer per pan

Directions:

1. Combine all dry ingredients, stir well.

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2. Arrange ribs on a shallow cooking sheet.  Season with rub, patting into surface of meat on both sides of the rack.  This rub is pretty potent and salty, so you don’t need to season too heavily.  Arrange meaty side up on the cooking sheet.

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3. Pour beer into the pan to completely cover the bottom and seal tightly with foil.  I used Stella, as I wanted a lighter beer flavor to pair nicely with the garlic herb rub.  You can use anything you want, I’d recommend a pilsner or other light lager.

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4. Bake in oven at 225º F for 4 hours; to speed up the cooking time without sacrificing moisture you can up the temperature to 285º F for 3 hours.

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To make the gravy with the drippings in the pan was so simple, and it seems such a waste to dump all that juicy goodness.  I poured the drippings into a small sauce pan and added 1/2 cup of water (adjust based on taste and amount of liquid reserved) to cut some of the saltiness, then thickened with corn starch as directed.  When I got the consistency I was looking for I added a small handful of diced shallots and almost a tablespoon of brown sugar.  Whisking together and simmering on low for about 5 minutes.  Really delicious, but like I said the ribs were so moist they didn’t need the gravy, so I’ll use it for another meal in the next day or two.  Biscuits and gravy for brunch?

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Enjoy!

Garlic Herb Stuffed Chicken


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This dish came together the other night when having my family over for dinner.  I needed to make something easy and hearty after a day of work.  I started by making a homemade red sauce with roasted red peppers to go over some whole wheat angel hair pasta.  While the red peppers were roasting in the oven I threw in a garlic bulb to roast, you never know when you will want roasted garlic.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the chicken, but the breasts were really thick so I started by cutting slits through the center 3/4 of the way through.  Initially I did this planning to butterfly to cut down on cooking time.  Once I made the slit I decided to stuff them with herbs and garlic instead.  I cut a handful of herbs from my window garden and mixed them with the roasted garlic and cracked black pepper to make the stuffing.  Dabbed with butter on top, it baked perfectly staying moist and full of flavor.

I recreated this dish a few days later, to use up the remaining sauce.  This time I served it with spaghetti squash and topped with garlic sauteed mushrooms.  So good and so easy!  You can use any herbs you have on hand, I happened to use a different combination each time I’ve made this.

Ingredients: 

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2-4 cloves of roasted garlic
handful of fresh herbs, chopped (I used thyme, parsley, and chives)
1 tsp black pepper, more for serving
2-4 pads of butter
2 cups of fresh sliced mushrooms
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

Directions: 

1. Start by roasting your garlic:  cut the top few centimeters off the cloves leaving skin intact.  Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then loosely wrap in foil.  Place in oven at 400 F for 45 minutes.  This works well if you are roasting red peppers for sauce or spaghetti squash for serving.  Otherwise I try to roast garlic a few times a week so I have some on hand for use during the week.

2. Cut through the chicken longways nearly the entire way through, keeping it as one piece to stuff.

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3. Mix together your chopped fresh herbs, minced roasted garlic, and black pepper in a small dish.  Rub this mixture generously in the center of the chicken, then line the breasts in a small baking dish.

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4. Rub any remaining herb mixture on top of the chicken and dab with butter, be generous.

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5. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until cooked through.

2014-03-07 20.16.016. For serving I sauteed the mushrooms with 2 cloves of minced fresh garlic, 1-2 pads of butter, and red pepper flakes on medium/low for 10 minutes.

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Enjoy!

 

Easy Coq Au Vin

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This past Tuesday, February 18th, was National Drink Wine day.  I didn’t even know it at the time and made Coq Au Vin  for dinner while drinking half a bottle of wine, call it intuition.  This was my first time attempting to make the classic French dish, which immediately makes one think of Julia Child.  I know better than to claim my cooking skills are anywhere close to those of Julia Child, but they get me rave reviews in this house.  Coq Au Vin is a braised chicken dish made traditionally with Burgundy wine and bone-in chicken.  To make an easier weeknight version I used boneless and skinless chicken breasts and cut a few corners along the way.  For base instructions and ingredients I followed a recipe posted by the barefoot contessa, Ina Garten.  As with most braised dishes, the final product did not disappoint.  We ate this solo like a stew, but it would be amazing served over mashed potatoes.

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Ingredients: 

5 slices of thick cut applewood smoked bacon, diced (regular bacon or pancetta if you don’t want a smoky flavor)
4 large boneless/skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1/2 pound of carrots cut into thick diagonal pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of brandy
1/2 bottle of Burgundy red wine (something you want to drink the other half of)
1 cup of chicken stock
10 sprigs of fresh thyme, center stem removed
2 Tbsp of butter
2 Tbsp of flour
1/2 pound of fresh mushrooms, sliced or button mushrooms.

Directions: 

1. In a large dutch oven brown the diced bacon over medium heat.  While this is cooking slice the chicken breasts into 4-5 large strips and season generously with salt and pepper to prepare for cooking.  When the bacon is fully cooked remove from pan with a slotted spoon to reserve the rendered fat in the pan.

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2. Add a small amount of olive oil to the bacon grease if you need more to fully cover the bottom of the pan.  Brown the slices of chicken for a few minutes on each side, do not fully cook.  Brown in batch if necessary to not crowd and set on a plate for later.

3.  Add the onions, carrots, 2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper to the oil in the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes until onions are lightly browned and soft.  Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute to release a nice garlic aroma without burning.

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4. Pour in the brandy, bacon, chicken ( with the juices on the plate), stir in gently and allow to cook for a few minutes before adding the wine, chicken stock, and thyme.  Bring to a simmer.

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5.  Once simmering cover with a lid and place in the oven at 250 degrees F for 35-40 minutes.

6.  While the chicken is in the oven slice your mushrooms and place in a heavy skillet with 2 tbsp of butter and 1-2 cloves of minced garlic.  Heat over medium heat until mushrooms are lightly browned and softened stirring frequently.  There should be a bit of liquid with the mushrooms, if there isn’t add more butter.  Add 2 tbsp of flour slowly to the mushrooms and butter to thicken.

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7. When chicken is ready to remove from the oven (make sure it’s not pink in the center of the largest piece) return to stove top on medium/low heat and stir in the thickened mushrooms.  Simmer for 10 minutes before serving.  If you want an even thicker sauce add a little more flour to the stew (a little goes a long way).

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Cheers!

Healthy Pasta-Free Carbonara

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While on our honeymoon to Italy a few years ago my husband fell in love with spaghetti alla carbonara.  A delicious and surprisingly simple concoction of pancetta, eggs, black pepper, and parmesan cheese.  After making the champagne cupcakes the other day I had a lot of egg yolks sitting around and needed a plan to use them up.  I also had a half of a spaghetti squash that I couldn’t let go to waste.  To make it a little healthier and add some color, I threw in the spinach.  These proportions and directions are just what I came up with based on what I have after looking at a few basic recipes online.  It couldn’t have turned out better, truly amazing.  My only mistake was not making more than two servings.

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Ingredients:

1/2 large Spaghetti Squash, roasted
5 strips of thick cut Bacon, diced
2 cloves of Garlic, minced
2 handfuls of Baby Spinach
2 egg yolks
1 egg
1/4 cup of Parmesan Cheese
1 Tbsp black pepper

Directions:

(I had a spaghetti squash that was already roasted, if you have to roast the squash still you need to do this first.  Half the squash and scrape out seeds.  Lightly spray with olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper. Roast at 400 for 45-60 minutes.)

1. In a heavy skillet on medium heat cook the diced bacon.  I used an apple-wood smoked bacon, so flavorful!  When fully cooked turn heat to low and add the minced garlic, stir to avoid burning about 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat and toss in spinach until wilted.  Set aside in a large mixing bowl.

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2. Whisk together egg yolks, egg, parmesan cheese, and black pepper in a small bowl.

3. Here is where it gets a little tricky.  I warmed up the spaghetti squash in the skillet for a few minutes to get it really hot.  The heat from the “pasta” is going to thicken and cook the eggs.  When the squash is hot put it in the large mixing bowl with the bacon and spinach mixture then quickly toss/whisk together with the eggs until creamy.

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4. In my case the spaghetti squash was apparently not quite as warm as a freshly cooked pasta would be, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t serving raw eggs.  I warmed up the skillet on low heat and browned 1/2 Tbsp of butter, then added everything back into the warm skillet for just a few tosses.  Cook the eggs until creamy then remove from heat into mixing bowl.  You want to avoid scrambling the eggs, which is why you typically mix the eggs with everything in a bowl instead of in the skillet over heat.

This extra toss in brown butter not only enhanced the flavor and consistency of the dish, it made it safer to consume ;).  Top with a little parmesan cheese and black pepper before serving.

Enjoy and Eat Well!

Easy Oven Ribs

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Making a full slab of ribs is a hearty and simple meal to make any night of the week, depending on how late you want to eat.  I usually make ribs on a weekend since they do take a long time to cook.  You can speed up the process and cook on a higher temperature or grill them, but if you want moist ribs that fall off the bone, slow and low is the way to go.  This is perfect for the winter time, the oven is on to add a little extra heat to the house and the smell is amazing.  I have been experimenting with making my own rubs and sauces, but they easiest way to go is obviously pre-made when you don’t have the time.  My go-to rubs and sauces are Famous Dave’s, I just find the flavor to be so rich and perfect for the taste I’m going for.

Ingredients:

1 –2 full slabs of Pork Ribs
Rib Rub of your choice (I used Famous Dave’s, Rib Rub)
1/2 Onion, sliced thin into rings
1 Bottle of Beer (I used 1/2 guiness and 1/2 harp, why not)
BBQ sauce (I used Famous Dave’s, Devil’s Spit)

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Directions:

1. Remove ribs from fridge about 20-30 minutes before cooking and rinse with water, pat dry.
2. Sprinkle heavily with rib rub of your choice on both sides, pat into meat.  Place on a cookie sheet bone side down so the ribs are flat and not crowded if you have more than 1 slab.
3. Let sit for the remainder of the 20-30 minutes since removing from the fridge while the oven preheats to 285° F.
4. Slice onion and lay on top of rubbed ribs.
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5. Add beer to pan, cover with foil, and cook for 3 hours.
6. After cooking time has elapsed and meat is fully cooked, remove foil and set onions to side.  Brush ribs with BBQ sauce and broil for 4-5 minutes or until bubbling and lightly browned.

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You can serve with a simple side salad, or go all out with coleslaw and cornbread (check out previous posts).  I keep the onions to serve with the ribs, they make a nice little garnish.

Enjoy and Eat Well!