A Better Broccoli Rice Casserole

Although this makes a lot, the two of us managed to inhale it with no problem!

Although this makes a lot, the two of us managed to inhale it with no problem!

Well, “better” is a relative term…but this is a very delicious and perhaps better-for-you broccoli rice casserole than the canned soup-based one we grew up with, I think. And one that I believe would appeal to young and old alike.

First off, this one is chocked full of fresh broccoli (in season right now!) and is paired with sweet onion and brown rice bound together with a nutmeg-scented parmesan cream sauce. Add a little Black Forest Ham if you like, or leave it out if you don’t. And while I did use some butter in the sauce, I also used 1% low fat milk instead of cream, which worked just fine and enhanced the natural sweetness of the ingredients.

The resulting dish has a lovely nutty flavor from the brown rice, broccoli and roux-based Parmesan cream sauce combo, with a nice salty-sweet hit from the ham, if you use it. And trust me ham or no, it’s a filling and comforting meal in one pot…my favorite kind in the winter, or anytime!

Now here’s the trick. This was so tasty that I never got a good picture of it before we inhaled it for dinners this week! So with my apologies for the flash picture, and only one view, at least you can see how colorful it is.

Hand Update: I’m almost back to speed in the kitchen. After exams, x-rays and some prescription meds this week, the good news is that it’s just a small tear in the tendon of the hand, and should be much better by next week. The moral of this story: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Broccoli and Brown Rice Casserole with Onions, Ham and Parmesan
Makes 6-8 generous servings

2 cups long grain brown rice
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 lbs. fresh broccoli florets
water

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large sweet onion, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
3 Tablespoons of flour
1 1/2 cups low fat milk
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, or to taste
2 cups cubed (1/4″) Black Forest Ham (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium sized pot with a lid, bring the rice and the 4 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover until the rice is just tender and has absorbed the water, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and fluff the rice with a fork, set aside.

In another medium sized pot, bring some water to a boil and drop the broccoli into the water in batches, allowing each batch to cook for 3-4 minutes. Drain the broccoli in a colander and rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside.

In a large deep sided skillet, heat the butter over medium low heat and add the onions. Cook the onions until they are tender and transparent, then add the flour and stir constantly, allowing the flour to cook and develop a light roux, about 4-5 minutes. Add in the milk while stirring constantly to incorporate the roux into the milk. Bring the mixture just back to a simmer, allowing it to thicken. Turn the heat off, then add 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper and the nutmeg and stir well to combine. Add in the cooked rice, the broccoli florets and the ham (if using) to the prepared parmesan cream sauce, and stir well to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding a pinch more salt, pepper and nutmeg, if needed. Pour the mixture into a large casserole dish that has been buttered, and sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese evenly over the top. Place it in a 350 degree F oven and bake until it is heated through and bubbling, and the top is very lightly browned, about 20-30 minutes. Serve. Keeps well in the fridge and reheats beautifully.

*****

Advertisements

Sharing More Cookies

cookies smI really am a cookie monster. From a food point of view, I consider myself to be much more of a savory person than a sweet one, but where cookies are concerned I become a little scary. This is why I only make them this time of year for the most part, because I plan to share them…you know, (ahem!) give them away as presents.

Brilliant! If only I could sing that well.

And since I only do this once a year, and as if all those cookies and goodies I mentioned in my last post Holiday Roundup weren’t enough, I just had to make a few more goodies this week.

crinkles2First off were these Chocolate Espresso Crinkle Cookies. I knew I had to try them the moment I saw Eva’s original recipe, and then Sawsan’s adaptation of Eva’s recipe that added some warm spices. I ended up making Sawsan’s version this time because I already had my biscotti, which have chocolate chips in them, and also because I was so curious about the addition of cardamom to the chocolate.

crinkles1Result: Amazing! The texture of these cookies isn’t to be missed…very much like a brownie. And the taste, well, let’s just say they didn’t last long enough to be given to very many folks! I’ll make these again. In fact, I’ll be adding them to my cookie line-up, so do check out the recipes on both these blogs for a truly chocolatey wonder of a good cookie.

Now on to a recipe from my family that I’d like to share with you today. This is an old fashioned recipe for Drop Sugar Cookies that my mom and her mother (Mamaw) made for years, and they almost always make an appearance around Christmas time.

flatten2flatten1Dropped onto the cookie sheet by the spoonful and then flattened with a glass, these cookies are thin with just the right amount of crisp. They have a lovely, buttery and light texture, and are just perfect for a snack with tea, cocoa, or alongside eggnog. You absolutely must let them brown around the edges a bit to caramelize the sugars, or they just won’t taste as good. And while I normally do not use shortening in baking if I can help it, these really must have the shortening in order to obtain the correct light texture. I know this for a fact, because I’ve tried substituting all butter and ended up with a flattened mess, ruining a lot of good ingredients and ending my efforts with an epic fail. Do not try that at home!

cookies3I seem to remember decorating these with my mom as a child, though I don’t recall if my grandmother ever decorated her sugar cookies. If you’re not in a decorating mood or it’s the wrong time of year, these do have a lovely coating of granulated sugar on them after all, so they can certainly stand alone. I like to use a few sprinkles for fun and sparkle—just to make them pop up and say “Happy Holidays!”

Drop Sugar Cookies
Makes about 5 1/2 dozen

Have all ingredients at room temperature:

2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 Tablespoons milk
Additional granulated sugar for dipping

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Sift the flour, soda and salt together into a small bowl. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, egg, sugar and vanilla until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the dry ingredients until the mixture is smooth. Blend in the milk. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet (I use a slipat). Flatten each teaspoon of dough with the bottom of a glass that has been dipped into the granulated sugar. (Can be decorated with sprinkles at this point if desired.) Bake for about 6-10 minutes, watching closely, until the edges are browned. These will keep for about 1 week stored in an airtight container.

Note: I use cane sugar, which is unbleached, so my cookies are a bit darker than the original. If you desire a more snowy-like appearance, use white granulated sugar in the cookie and for dipping the glass and pressing the cookies flat.

cookies2

Soup’s On! Easy Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Soup

Mmmm, mmm, good! I don’t know about you, but a bowl of soup and some good bread always says “come hither” to me.

Feeling a little pressed for time lately? I know I feel this way a lot, and when I do, it’s hard to face cooking a big meal at night. I try to make some foods on the weekend that will carry us through a few hectic weekdays. But sometimes the weekends are hectic, too, and you find yourself facing that ever challenging dinner question: What to make?

This week, it was veggies to the rescue! Roasting vegetables is truly a wonderful way to enjoy them, and an easy way to cook them. It amplifies their natural flavor and caramelizes all the sugars, which makes them even tastier than most other simple preparations. Once roasted, you can eat them “as is,” add them to eggs to make a frittata, use them as a side dish to your favorite meat, toss them with some pasta or rice for a vegetarian main dish, or put them on top of salad greens with a light vinaigrette.

Or, as I decided to do the other night, you can make them into an easy, delicious and immensely satisfying vegetable soup, which will be all the better because of the depth of flavor from the roasting. Soup is definitely my go-to meal in the cooler months and I never get tired of it. And with a roasted veggie soup, there are so many vegetables to choose from to make this soup your own. You can mix and match as you please, but as a very general starting point, most root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, parsnips, beets, etc. play well together, and the lighter, vine-ripened vegetables like tomatoes, squashes, peppers and eggplant are good partners.

For this soup—a great way to use up vegetables by the way—I chose some vine-ripened veggies which are still available locally grown, and added some Mediterranean flavors. I already had two slicing tomatoes left over from a CSA box, and some cherry tomatoes and lots of fresh herbs from my garden. I found yellow summer squash, zucchini and sweet bell peppers in the market, and I always have garlic and onions on hand. All I had to do was a tiny bit of prep and then throw the lot into a roasting pan, sprinkle on some olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary, and roast the veg in the oven. When the veggies were ready, I transferred the contents of my pan into a stock pot, added some chicken broth, water, fresh herbs and seasoning, and cooked that for a little while until the flavors infused the broth. Then out came the stick blender and I pureed the whole thing in the pot to blend all that goodness together, and hurrah! I had an amazing, delicious soup, filled with roasted flavor and savory goodness. A soup I think even a kid could love, especially because they need never know what veggies are actually in it!

Easy, yes? And it made enough to have for several nights, to boot. Perfection.

In fact this simple, healthy and quite low calorie soup was so good, it’s got me thinking about making more easy roasted veggie soups and dishes to share with you this fall, so stay tuned…this may quickly become a series!

If you like the idea of roasting vegetables and soup, I hope you’ll give this one a try, or maybe a version with your own favorite veggie mix. After all, I haven’t even mentioned roasted broccoli or cauliflower, but that may be next up! For yet another easy roasted soup, check out my Asian-Inspired Butternut Squash Soup, too. Add some crusty bread or corn muffins and a little salad, and dinner is…on!

I’d like to take a moment to give a little shout out to blog friend Tanya of Chica Andaluza, whose last two posts provided some inspiration for this post (I love when that happens), turning my thoughts to roasting the veggies to make this soup. And on another note, my Facebook page is soooo lonely out there…it’s kind of sad. If you haven’t yet, please join me there for more shared food, photos, tidbits and good links by clicking this link or the one on the home page of this blog and “like” me!

Easy Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Soup
Makes 8 servings

2 medium tomatoes, core removed and cut into large chunks
2 cups cherry tomatoes, or 1 pint
3 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 medium to large zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 large sweet onions, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large red bell pepper and 1 large orange bell pepper (or two sweet bell peppers)
10 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and left whole
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil, preferable extra virgin
2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 Tablespoon dried, crumbled)
6 cups low sodium chicken broth (or homemade)
2 1/2 cups water
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried and crumbled)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon, dried and crumbled)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and more to taste if needed when the soup is finished.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place all of the prepared vegetables (tomatoes, through peppers) and the garlic into either a deep non-stick roasting pan or a cookie sheet with sides that has been covered in aluminum foil. Pour the olive oil over the vegetables and toss to coat. Add 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the rosemary to the vegetables and toss again. Roast the vegetables in the oven for about 40-45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until the cherry tomatoes have burst and the veggies are tender and just beginning to color. Remove from the oven.

Pour the vegetables and their juices into a large stock or soup pot. Add the chicken broth, water, basil, oregano, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and bring to a simmer over medium high heat, then reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and puree the soup carefully in the pot with a stick blender, or in batches in a regular blender, returning the soup to the pot once pureed. Place the soup back on the heat just long enough to heat it through, and taste for seasonings. Serve with crusty bread.

The soup is such a beautiful color from all the veggies and I love the little flecks of herbs and pepper.

Julia’s Vichyssoise

This creamy, easy soup tastes like a dream. So elegant…so Julia.

Today would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday! In her honor and as part of the many celebrations going on today, I made another of her fabulous and easy dishes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This is perhaps one of the easiest soups of all to make…Vichyssoise, or cold leek and potato soup.

According to Julia, this is an American invention, made by taking a base Master recipe for leek and potato soup, making it with stock instead of water and adding cream, then chilling. It couldn’t be simpler to make and it is stunningly delicious. Here’s how I made it based on her recipe. Continue reading

Blackberry Lemon Almond “Snackin’ Cake”

Just lightly place the berries on top of the uncooked batter, and the cake will rise to the occasion!

When I was a kid, the United States had already been in the convenience phase of its existence for more than a decade, and it seemed like every day some new and different “space age” food or drink product was on the grocery store shelves. Just “mix and stir,” add the “flavor pouch,” “just add water,” or “just open the pouch and stick in a straw” was the name of the food game. The space-friendly powdered beverage “Tang” was wildly popular, as was any food item in a pouch that was similar to what the astronauts would eat or drink.

Have a blast…from the past!

And let’s not forget the T.V. Dinner. (Though some of us in Atlanta will remember a nightclub by the same name…or will we?) We all grew up with those ubiquitous aluminum sectioned trays that were popped into the oven, and when they came out a few minutes later, you peeled off the foil to reveal a wonderful, tasty (or not) meal of salsbury steak, apple cobbler, corn and string beans. Later on, they made more kid-oriented T.V. Dinners geared around favorite cartoons and T.V. shows, with fish sticks or chicken fingers and chocolate pudding. (I’ll confess, I did like those kid ones at the time.) But I digress…

One of these quick wonders was called a “Snackin’ Cake.” Honestly, I don’t remember exactly how easy it was to make a Snackin’ Cake or what they tasted like, but I think most of them were made by just adding water, an egg, and the mix into the supplied square pan, bake it, then top with the supplied package of frosting. Kind of like an adult-sized version of the “Easy Bake Oven” mixes. They had a cult following. But what I remember most is that they were square, and you were to cut them into square pieces, and have them as an after school snack or a dessert.

Fast forward to today, and we still rely a bit too heavily on convenience. But I hope we’re starting to realize that just because something is made “from scratch” doesn’t have to mean it’s hard to make. Au contraire. And, even though I don’t bake very often…mainly because I’ll eat it if I make it…I do like to bake quick and easy things now and then.

About a week ago, I saw a sale on blackberries in the market, and of course, I had to jump and buy some. First, I made the original peach and berry crumble that you can see here, which was easy and delicious. However, I still had some of these fine blackberries left. Sure. I could just EAT them, but where’s the fun in that? So I decided to try my hand at creating a cake by just putting things together and seeing if it would work. Yikes! Not the best way to approach the science of baking, I’ll admit.

But much to my surprise, it worked out really, really well, and it came out moist, flavorful and delicious. And better yet, I’ve made another one since then and it did, too! This cake combines the flavors of blackberry and lemon—which are just made for each other in my opinion—with the underlying tang (no pun intended) of yogurt and the mellow richness of almonds. It has a lovely texture from the almond meal…somewhat of a cross between a cake and a quick bread. It really needs no adornment, but you could certainly serve it with creme fraiche or ice cream. I baked it in a square pan, so once it came out of the oven, I started looking at it and you know what it reminded me of? A Snackin’ Cake! And hence the intro of this post. But this is not one of those somewhat prefab wonders of yesteryear. No sirree, this is a new, modern, bona fide, healthier and delicious, real homemade snackin’ cake…one for the 21st Century!

Now I think I may be on a roll with this snackin’ cake idea. I’m envisioning this very cake with strawberries, or cherries, or peaches…and that’s before adding any chocolate or booze! I’m starting to really like this baking thing again.

I think I’m in trouble now.

Blackberry, Lemon and Almond Snack Cake

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole, raw, skin-on almonds, ground to a fine meal in the processor
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons cane sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1/2 cup milk (1 or 2% milk is fine)
1/2 cup low fat plain yogurt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square or circular cake pan.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest, stirring with a spoon to combine well. Cut in the cold butter in small pieces, then use your hands to combine it with the dry ingredients until only very small pea-sized pieces of butter remain, and it is well integrated with the dry mix. In a small bowl, combine the milk, yogurt and lemon juice with a whisk until well mixed. Add the egg to the wet ingredients and whisk just to incorporate. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until everything is moistened well, but don’t over stir. Add the vanilla extract and stir to incorporate. The batter will be thick.

Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared cake pan. Smooth the top of the batter, then set the berries on top of the batter (no need to press them) in a decorative pattern. Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 22-24 minutes, watching closely. The cake is done when it is golden brown on top, firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool on a rack in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and finish cooling on the rack. To serve, sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into 9 equal pieces. This is great by itself, but you could also serve it with a dollop of creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream.

Did I mention this is great for breakfast, too?

 

A Star Spangled Cherry Berry Peach Crumble

The 4th of July all wrapped up in a dessert. Happy Independence Day!

As Independence Day in the U.S. rolls rapidly towards us in the form of our annual July 4th celebration, it only seems appropriate to share a festive recipe to go along with all the fireworks! This traditional and delightful dessert is a rift on one that I make all the time and in many forms, because it’s a favorite of mine and it has universal adult and kid appeal.

I am, of course, speaking of the fruit concoction known by many names…cobbler, crisp or crumble. By definition, this version can be called either a crisp or a crumble, and it’s quite versatile in terms of the fruits you can use. For the patriotic colors and for the mix of sweet-tart flavors, I chose a combination of peaches, cherries and blueberries, but any mixture of fruits you enjoy together will work. You can feel free to substitute blackberries or raspberries for cherries (as you’ll see in my baking dish version), omit blueberries or use all of one fruit. In the winter months, for those of you in winter right now, I make a variation of this with apples using orange zest and adding a bit of lemon juice, and sometimes I throw in some walnuts or pecans into the crumbled topping. Continue reading

Two Taco Tango: How One Thing Leads to Another

A two taco tango. These lively and loaded vegetarian tacos tick off all the flavor boxes! The cool plate is by the talented local clay artist, Gwen Fryer.

During last weekend’s holiday cookout involving the peach ice cream for dessert, our friends brought over some fantastic homemade pico de gallo that featured heirloom tomatoes, mango and mint. It was so delicious and such a nice blend of flavors that a desire for more haunted me into this week. And of course, I had peaches on hand and needed to use them. Continue reading

Just Peachy: A Holiday Weekend and Possibly the Best Peach Ice Cream Ever!

Luscious homemade peach ice cream. I mean really, can there be anything better than this? (A daylight picture perhaps?)

For those of us in the United States, we are celebrating Memorial Day today and, whether you are here or abroad, I hope you all have had a lovely and safe weekend. Memorial Day is a day set aside in our country to honor those in the United States Armed Forces who have given their lives and their service in defense of our country and our allies, and I bow my head to those brave men and women. Today many memorials are taking place around the country in the form of parades, the laying of wreathes and tributes. Continue reading

A Very Short Little Peach Cake

Peaches! We have them…the first of the season from south Georgia, and boy are they a welcome sight. It seems like forever since peaches were in season, and now at last they’ve arrived, even a bit early, like everything this year.

After the first week of eating them in a few juicy bites, or with some Greek yogurt and granola, I began to calm down once I realized that these were early peaches and we should have peaches for a while to come. And that’s when I started thinking about baking. Now, I don’t bake a lot…mainly because there are just two of us and, well, if I make it, we will eat it…rapidly and until no crumbs remain. But peaches do inspire me to start trying some new ideas.

My first thought was something cake-y. More so than a crisp or a cobbler, but maybe more versatile than a muffin. I love shortcakes…why not combine the idea of fruit and shortcake into one…besides the fact that I’ve never seen it done? And hence the result: a very short little peach cake! Continue reading

Picnic Perfection: Couscous Salad

Ready for the picnic, cookout or pot luck, this salad has outdoor fun written all over it!

As a complement to my last post, I’d like to share one of my favorite salads that is just great for picnics, a cookout or a weeknight vegetarian dish. I first saw this couscous salad by chance on an episode of Paula Deen’s cooking show on the Food Network, and intrigued, I adapted it a bit to my taste…then a bit more. It’s one that comes together very quickly and lends itself to adaptation, so you may wish to try your own versions as well. Couscous is so versatile, which is one of the things I really love about it! Continue reading