Homemade Baked Beans…

Labor Day is around the corner. Time for some of those last of the season summer parties. And what’s a summer party without baked beans?

I have to admit, I never made baked beans from scratch before. It was so easy just to open a can and warm it up. But like anything else, when you make something from scratch you control the ingredients, especially the important ones like sugars and salt. Next time you’re in the grocery store pick up a can of baked beans and read the ingredients. You’ll see things like water, sugar, some sort of thickener, salt, acetic acid, citric acid, natural flavors… (what the heck are natural flavors anyway)? And if you look carefully, chances are the salt content is simply off the charts. So anytime you can make something homemade it’s just so much better.

I have to admit I was surprised at how easy these were to make and I controlled what went in them.

Baked Beans

So let’s talk about homemade baked beans…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use thick cut bacon in this recipe: Since the bacon gets cooked a lot in this recipe (once on the stove and then again in the oven) I recommend a thick cut bacon especially if you want it to be clearly visible in the beans. I found a package of bacon pieces at Trader Joes and it was perfect for this recipe. The pieces were all from thick cuts and slabs and there were some pieces that were almost all pork and no fat. I used probably the equivalent of 3-4 slices of bacon in this recipe and it turned out great.

Lesson Learned 2 – Drain and wash one of the cans of beans: Beans in a can are packed in a lot of salt and your baked beans will wind up too salty if you put the liquid in from both cans. It’s best to drain one of the cans of beans and rinse them with water before you add them to everything else.

Lesson Learned 3 – You can choose from a wide variety of beans: I used navy beans in my recipe but you can use Great Northern, cannelloni or white beans as well. Just remember to drain and rinse one can of them.

Lesson Learned 4 – Don’t be afraid to experiment with ingredients: These days when I make something I study several recipes and more often than not concoct a version of my own that I will like. For example, most recipes I found suggested using dark brown sugar, which is really just light brown sugar with added molasses. I didn’t have dark brown sugar but I had light brown sugar and I had molasses. I used that and I think the flavor was richer because of the purity of the ingredients. I also added some liquid smoke to give the beans that bar-b-que smell and flavor. It worked out beautifully.

After I made this recipe I thought I would probably not post it on this site as I wondered who would get excited about something as mundane as baked beans. Well, I posted a picture of them on Facebook and got so much feedback that I felt an obligation to post the recipe. And that’s so me. Sometimes the recipes I think will get the least attention get the most. I hope you enjoy this one!

HOMEMADE BAKED BEANS...

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Homemade Baked Beans4 slices thick cut bacon in large chunks

1 medium onion, chopped

2 15 ounce cans of navy beans

1/3 cup ketchup

1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

2 Tbs. dark molasses

1 Tbs. dijon mustard

1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar

2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce (can add more to taste)

A couple of dashes of liquid smoke (be careful it is potent)

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the bacon pieces in a large high edged skillet and cook until the bacon is slightly crisped. Add the onions and cooked until slightly caramelized. Add one can of beans with the liquid. Drain and rinse the other can of beans and add to the mixture.

Add the ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, mustard, vinegar, worcesterhsire sauce and liquid smoke. Stir until completely combined and simmer for a couple of minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the mixture to a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Bake uncovered until thick and bubbly, approximately 50 -60 minutes. Serve warm.

Homemade Baked Beans

Homemade Baked Beans

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Grilled Three Cheese, Bacon and Chive Potatoes…

Summer time is grilling time. And I love to grill though I have to admit I’m not a purist. I grill on a gas grill. Some people like fooling around with coals and all that stuff. Not me. I like a grill that heats up on its own and can tell me the grilling temperature I am working with. That’s about how hard I want to work at grilling.

Things just taste better on a grill, don’t you think so? From chicken, to steak, to brats and burgers there’s nothing like it. So the other day I had it in my mind to grill a filet I’d had in my freezer for a while and I also decided to try grilling some potatoes in a foil packet. A few years ago I posted a recipe for a blue cheese, onion, garlic and basil potato packet. This time I tried for something that mimicked a steak house baked potato.

Now let it be known I love grilled steak, but this time I found the grilled potatoes to be the star of the meal. This recipe is so easy and so flavorful I bet it will become your go-to grilled potato recipe.

So let’s talk grilled three cheese and bacon potatoes…

coxo-v-blade-mandolineLesson Learned 1 – For uniformity in cooking, use a mandolin slicer to slice your potatoes: The mandolin slicer I use is pictured at the left. I like this particular one for a couple of reasons. First, it was reasonably priced. I just can’t see spending close to one hundred dollars on a mandolin slicer. This one is about half that amount. Second, it has a variety of blades and cutting options (slicing, julienne, french fries). It is a powerful tool that can cut your prep time significantly.

For me, the best part about a mandolin slicer is that you get uniform cuts. That’s important in this recipe. Having various thicknesses in your potatoe slices will skew the cooking time. You want all of the potatoes to be cooked through at the same time. I’ve found no better way to do that than with a mandolin slicer.

One other tip: You see that little round thing next to the slicing unit? That is a hand/finger guard. You should ALWAYS use that when cutting with a mandolin. The mandolin blade does’t distinguish between vegetable and human flesh. It will cut both easily and with equal proficiency. So be very careful when using a mandolin slicer if you cherish your fingers and hands.

Lesson Learned 2 – Keep the potatoes on a little longer for great crispiness on the bottom: This is the first time I tried these. When I checked the potatoes at 40 minutes at 400 degrees, they were done. But I still had more time left for finishing my filet. I left the packet on an additional 10 minutes and much to my surprise that created a wonderful crispy crust on the bottom of the pile of potatoes. It was almost like having a bottom layer of potato chips with the wonderfully soft and flavorful potatoes on top. I think I’m always going to do them this way. I loved the distinction between the crunchy bottom and the soft top. It was delightful!

Lesson Learned 3 – Bacon bits work really well with this recipe: Although you can fry and chop up your own bacon, I found that bacon bits work equally as well with this recipe and help save you some time. So don’t be afraid to use prepackaged bacon bits. Just remember to refrigerate what you don’t use

Lesson Learned 4 – The layering process is very simple: Here it is in pictures.

Place the potatoes and onion on a piece of foil sprayed with olive oil cooking spray

Place the potatoes and onions on a piece of foil sprayed with olive oil cooking spray

Top the potatoes and onions with the cheeses: cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan

Top the potatoes and onions with the cheeses: cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan

Top with bacon and chives

Top with bacon and chives

Crimp the top and sides of the foil and place on the grill

Crimp the top and sides of the foil and place the packet on the grill

Doesn’t the uncooked version look simply divine as well. I love the contrast of the colors. And this dish looks phenomenal both uncooked and cooked. And it’s really easy to put together. One potato serves two people so the dish is pretty economical as well. I loved this one so much I made it two nights in a row. I hope you love this too!

GRILLED THREE CHEESE BACON AND CHIVE POTATOES...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced to 1/8 inch thickness

1 medium onion, sliced

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

3/4 cup shredded cheddar

3/4 cup shredded mozzarella (I had unshredded mozzarella that I tore into small pieces)

1/3 cup bacon bits

2 Tbs. chopped chives

2 Tbs. of butter, cubed

Seasoned salt and black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Light your grill to high heat. Divide the potatoes and onions up on two large sheets of foil sprayed with olive oil cooking spray.

Combine the cheeses and top the potatoes and onion with the cheese mixture. Top with bacon bit and chives. Dot the tops with butter. Season with seasoned salt and pepper.

Fold the foil over the top and crimp the edges. Fold the sides up and crimp the edges securely. Grill for 40 minutes (add an additional 10 minutes for a delightful crispy bottom).

Open the foil carefully and serve immediately.

Grilled Three Cheese and Bacon Potatoes

Grilled Three Cheese And Bacon Potatoes

Garlic Butter Roasted Carrots…

This recipe could not be any more basic but it produces a side dish rich in flavor. Whenever you caramelize something it produces a sweetness that is awesomely delicious. And because this blog is dedicated to those beginning to feel their way around the kitchen, this recipe is perfect because it produces spectacular results with very little effort. If you’re looking for something to boost your confidence in the kitchen, this one’s is for you!

So let’s talk garlic butter roasted carrots…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use lots of garlic: I used 4 big cloves of garlic in this recipe and you can even add more if you want. Just be aware that the garlic will turn dark in the oven but that’s ok. It will still infuse the carrots with great garlic flavor.

Saute the cloves in the butter for a good 3-4 minutes and just when you start to see some slight browning on the edges, remove the mixture from the heat and pour it over the carrots. Make sure the carrots are evenly coated with the butter/garlic mixture. Use your hands if you have to to make sure they’re coated all over.

IMG_0198

Lesson Learned 2 – Cut the carrots in one inch chunks on the diagonal: One inch chunks work well for this roasting time. Cutting them on the diagonal makes them look prettier.

Lesson Learned 3 – Make sure you flip the carrots during the roasting process: You want to make sure the carrots caramelize on all sides so check them after 15-20 minutes and flip them over so the other side can caramelize as well.

When I first took these carrots out of the oven I thought perhaps I had browned them too much. I was wrong. These carrots had such a wonderful sweet flavor and the darkened areas were rich and sweet. The main thing to remember is to flip them so they caramelize on both sides.

Image-1

I have to say I could not believe how sweet and delicious these carrots were. This is a great recipe for when you want to impress but also want something insanely easy. Enjoy!

Garlic Butter Roasted Carrots

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

4-6 large carrots, cut in 1 inch lengths on the diagonal

5 Tbs. butter

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Flat leaf parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a saucepan melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook for 3 – 4 minutes being careful not to burn the garlic.

Put the carrots in a large bowl and add the butter/garlic mixture. Toss until all the carrots are completely covered.

Spread the carrots out on a prepared baking sheet (I covered my sheet with aluminum foil and sprayed it lightly with olive oil cooking spray), making sure they are not crowded and that all the butter/garlic mixture is poured onto the sheet.

Roast for 30 – 40 minutes making sure to flip them half way through the roasting process. Remove the carrots from oven and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with flat leaf parsley and serve. Enjoy!

Garlic Butter Carrots

Grilled Marinated Zucchini…

It’s that time of year again when zucchini plants start to produce like gang busters. Last year was an epic year for zucchinis in my garden. I was taking two to three zucchinis off the plant daily. This year my plant is not doing as well, but I anticipate getting at least a few. And even if you don’t grow them yourself, there’s a good chance your neighbors will be ringing your doorbell asking you to take a few off their hands. So whether you grow them, share them or simply get them at a farmer’s market, zucchinis are versatile and can be used in both savory and sweet recipes.

The recipe I am going to share today is simple but produces a very flavorful grilled zucchini.

Zucchini MarinadeLesson Learned 1 – Patience is key: The hardest part about this recipe is making sure you marinate the zucchini for a minimum of 3 hours. You can even marinate the zucchini overnight if you like. Just put the zucchini in a plastic bag, pour the marinade over it, close the bag and refrigerate. I turned the bag over every hour or so just to redistribute the marinade. I grilled my zucchini after it had been marinating for 4 hours and it was delicious. 

Lesson Learned 2 – Don’t eliminate the sugar in the marinade: I know we all are trying to limit our intake of sugar these days, but don’t skip it here. When I tasted the marinade before I put some sugar in it was too tart. The sugar balances out the tartness of the vinegars and lemon and gives you a nice well rounded flavor.

Marinate In A Plastic BagLesson Learned 3 – Shallot verus onion: I recommend using a shallot in this marinade because it’s milder but still gives you that infusion of onion flavor. You’ll appreciate that especially when you finish off the grilled zucchini with a drizzle of the marinade.

Lesson Learned 4 – Grill or grill pan: The beauty of this recipe is that it can be done either on an outdoor grill or on a grill pan on top of the stove. Either way you’ll get those gorgeous grill marks and the same wonderful flavor. This time I cooked them on my gas grill, but I’ve also made these on top of the stove as well. This recipe is quick, easy and a great way to use that summer zucchini bounty!

Zucchini Cooking On The Grill

[recipe: title=”Grilled Marinated Zucchini” servings=”4″ time=”4 1/2 Hours Including Prep” difficulty=”Easy”]

INGREDIENTS:

1 Tbs. red wine vinegar

2 Tbs. white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. lemon zest

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp sugar

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 shallot, minced

1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme leaves (I used a strain called lemony thyme)

1/3 -1/2 cup olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil), taste after using 1/3 cup and add a little more if necessary

2 medium zucchini trimmed and sliced diagonally

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Whisk the vinegars, lemon zest and juice, sugar, garlic, shallot and thyme in a bowl. Gradually mix in the oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the marinade into a small dish, cover and refrigerate.

Slice the zucchini diagonally and put it in a gallon size plastic bag. Add the rest if the marinade and gently squeeze the bag to distribute the marinade evenly over the zucchini. Close the bag and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, turning the bag over occasionally in the refrigerator during the marinating process.

Place zucchini on the grill over medium high heat. Turn after 4 minutes. Keep the zucchini on the grill for an additional 4 minutes. Transfer the zucchini to a serving dish. Drizzle with the remaining marinade and serve hot.

[/recipe]

Check out two of my other favorite zucchini recipes on this site: Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread and Zucchini Mushroom Gratin. Enjoy those zucchinis!

Grilled Marinated Zucchini

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake…

I guess at this point you can probably tell that I’ve been a little fixated on zucchini recipes and with good reason. The zucchinis just keep coming and coming. Every day it seems I’m harvesting two to three new zucchinis. Last year my zucchini plant (I only have one as I have limited space in my garden) hardly produced anything. This year my plant is producing prolifically. Go figure. Mind you, I am not complaining. The challenge is to determine ways to use all this zucchini as I won’t let any go to waste. I know I can give them away if I need to, but most of my neighbors are looking to give their zucchini away as well. Some have even gone to the lengths of just leaving them on neighbor’s door steps. The whole neighborhood must be over run. So my challenge – how can I not only use my zucchini but also make it exciting when having it several times a week.

IMG_9540The latest recipe I tried was a side dish.  Those are probably the easiest recipes to find. This recipe came off of a website that featured 35 different zucchini recipes and I always like to one stop shop. This one seemed relatively easy and so I thought I’d try it. The original recipe called for paring zucchini with yellow squash and I think that would have been perfectly fine, but I had so much zucchini that I wanted to use and so I just skipped the yellow squash. I did add some mushrooms that I had and that worked very well (I always seem to have mushrooms in my refrigerator). My point is that this recipe is adaptable and I am all for adaptable. Bottom line, this is an easy recipe to prepare and it’s actually quite good. I had some issues with how the recipe was written and I will share those in my lessons learned.

Recipe rating: B+ – most of my issues came from how the recipe was written as I am a stickler for detail and how to achieve success the first time you make something. In my experience even the best of recipes are seldom tried again if they can’t be done well the very first time. These days everyone is so busy that recipe success the first time around is just about a given for making a recipe again. This one had one critical piece of information missing that, in my estimation, made the dish look great as well as taste great.

IMG_9550Lesson Learned 1 – prepping ahead: The beauty of this recipe is that it can be prepped ahead and put into the oven when needed. I prepped all of the ingredients about an hour ahead of time and simply covered them in plastic wrap and put them into the refrigerator. The only other thing I did was to take it out of the fridge about 15 minutes before putting it into the oven to take the chill off. Right before putting it in the oven I topped it with some additional cheese. I am thinking this is something that can be prepped in the morning and then finished off when you get home from work – a nice little advantage especially for a busy day.

Lesson Learned 2 – use fresh herbs whenever possible: The original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme. I have thyme growing in my garden and I used that. You always need to add more of an herb if it is fresh, so I substituted 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme and I felt it gave the side dish a great flavor boost.

Ready to go into the oven

Ready to go into the oven

Lesson Learned 3 – you eat with your eyes first: How often have you heard someone say, “Oh that looks delicious!” When you think about it, it’s really a sort of oxymoron since something can only taste and not look delicious. But the truth of the matter is we eat with our eyes first. If something looks great, we automatically assume it will taste great. And this is probably my biggest bug-a-boo with the original recipe. That recipe called for baking the ingredients uncovered for 25-30 minutes then adding the remaining cheese and baking it for an additional 10-15 minutes. I would never have gotten the rich color on the cheese by doing that. What I wound up doing is putting the dish under the broiler for the last 5 minutes thereby getting those nice brown bits of color on the cheese. If I had not done that, the top would’ve just looked gooey white. Getting the browning from the broiler, in my estimation, makes the dish look much more inviting. Believe me, it did not look nearly as inviting when I followed the directions in the original version of the recipe. At 350 degrees you would have to cook the cheese much longer to get it to brown on top.

I realize that my rant about using the broiler may be very picky, and it probably is. Don’t let that deter you from trying this recipe. It’s a great way to use up some of that extra zucchini and I’m pretty sure it will be a family pleaser as well.

Right Out Of The Oven

Right Out Of The Oven

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

4 medium zucchini

4-6 ounces of baby portobella mushrooms sliced

3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil (this can be adjusted depending upon personal taste)

2 green onion spears thinly sliced (white and green parts)

1 tsp. fresh thyme chopped (1/2 tsp. dried thyme)

3/4 tsp. garlic powder

1 cup cheese, divided (I used a combination of mozzarella and pizza cheese – you can use more cheese if you like, I think I actually used 1 1/2 cups of these cheeses all total)

1/2 cup parmesan, divided

salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash and cut the zucchini into half moons. Slice the mushrooms into thick slices. Finely chop the basil. Thinly slice the green onions. Chop the fresh thyme.

Combine the sliced squash, mushrooms, basil, onion, thyme garlic powder and half of each of the cheeses. Stir carefully to combine all of the ingredients making sure that the cheese and herbs are well distributed. Season with salt and pepper. Put the mixture in an 8 x 8 baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. (At this point I added a little more cheese on the top). Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.

Take the dish out of the oven and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Let bake for an additional 5 – 10 minutes then place casserole under the broiler for the last 5 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes and serve.

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

Serving Suggestion: With Grilled Chicken Breast and Oven Baked Potato Chips

Serving Suggestion: With Grilled Chicken Breast and Oven Baked Potato Chips

Zucchini Mushroom Gratin…

It’s that time of year again. I’ve already harvested five zucchinis from my one zucchini plant and by the looks of things there are plenty more to come. This is the time of year that I start scrambling to locate as many zucchini recipes as I can find so that I don’t waste one precious home-grown squash. And although I am always on the lookout for new recipes, I also have some tried and true ones that I look forward to making every year at this time as well.

A zucchini from my garden...

A zucchini from my garden…

One of my all time favorites is a version of a recipe from Ina Garten. I’ve mentioned Ina several times in this blog. She is a cook that inspired me not only to make new and different things but to believe that I can and be successful at it.

I’d never heard the term gratin before I made this recipe and it’s a term that I found is not in most fledgling cooks’ vocabularies. A gratin originated in French cuisine and it simply means a dish that is topped with a browned crust achieved either through a baking or broiling process. You can make a gratin out of just about anything, potatoes, artichokes, cauliflower – you name it. I especially like to make a zucchini gratin since it is not only delicious but also another recipe in my arsenal to deal with the onslaught of zucchini I get at this time of year.

My very happy zucchini plant...

My very happy zucchini plant…

I saw Ina make her recipe on a Food Network episode and I’ve been making it ever since. I have amended it to appeal to my personal tastes but the basis of the recipe is Ina’s (if you want to see her recipe it is on the Food Network site). So I will rate her recipe and then include my version of it for you to try.

Recipe Rating: A++++++++ This is definitely one of the best recipes ever. It is easy to make and a great accompaniment to any meal. A hint of nutmeg gives wonderful flavor to this recipe. I highly recommend trying this one!

Saute the zucchini and mushrooms gently...

Saute the zucchini and mushrooms gently…

Lesson Learned 1- Sautee the zucchini and mushrooms gently: Ina’s recipe calls for cooking the zucchini covered for about 10 minutes before making the white sauce. In my experience, cooking the zucchini for that amount of time made it limp before you even put it in the oven. I cook my zucchini and mushrooms for five minutes just to take the “edge” off of them and let the oven do the rest. That way when you serve the gratin the vegetables still have some body.

Lesson Learned 2- Making a white sauce: This recipe includes making a simple white sauce for the zucchini and mushrooms to simmer in. The first step is to add flour to the zucchini/mushroom mixture. Make sure you cook that flour for at least a minute before you add the milk. It will create a whitish looking goo on the vegetables but don’t worry about that. Just keep stirring until it’s time to add the milk. The reason you cook it for a minute is to get rid of any floury taste. You certainly don’t want your white sauce to taste like flour. Once you add the milk the whitish goo will begin to disappear right before your eyes and you will wind up with a rich, thick white sauce.

Cook until the sauce becomes rich and thick...

Cook until the sauce becomes rich and thick…

Lesson Learned 3 – Bread crumbs versus croutons: Last week I made a hash brown casserole that called for a crushed crouton topping. I loved it so much on that recipe that I tried it on this one and it turned out perfectly. The original recipe stipulates to cover the top with bread crumbs mixed with grated Gruyere cheese. Maybe if you made home made bread crumbs the end result would be similar to that of using croutons, but I thought the croutons added a greater crunch and more flavor. You can try topping it either way but at this point I prefer the crushed croutons.

Lesson Learned 4 – A little nutmeg goes a long way: I’d never cooked with nutmeg before I made this recipe and I can tell you it adds a great depth to the gratin but you need to be careful when you use it. A little bit of nutmeg goes a long way and it can easily overpower a dish if you use too much. My advice is to use exactly what the recipe recommends. Then in subsequent bakings try to vary the proportion. My guess is that if you choose to vary it, it will be for a lesser rather than a greater amount.

Lesson Learned 5 – Oven times vary: This seems to be a regular “lesson learned” in my recent posts but rarely does a dish come out of my oven the way it is supposed to in the time written in a recipe. I assume that part of the issue is living in high altitude and the other is how my oven is calibrated. The original recipe says to bake the gratin in the oven for 20 minutes. In order for me to get a nice bubbly casserole I have to bake mine for 40-45 minutes. This is where it can get somewhat frustrating for the fledgling cook. But never fear, in time you will learn the ins and outs of your oven and be able to plan accordingly.

Place the croutons in a bag and crush with a rolling pin...

Place the croutons in a bag and crush with a rolling pin…

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s not difficult to make but tastes like you slaved all day in the kitchen. Over time, because the directions are so true to form, I’ve not gleaned a lot of lessons learned making it and I view that as the beauty of the recipe. It is the kind where you can be successful making it the first time and every time. If you’re like me at this time of year, desperately searching for various ways to cook my zucchini crop, this recipe is a must. Try it – I know you’ll like it as much as I do.

Zucchini Mushroom Gratin

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Brown and bubbly out of the oven...

Brown and bubbly out of the oven…

INGREDIENTS:

3 Tbs. butter (plus some for on top of the crushed croutons)

1 medium size onion, diced

2-3 medium zucchini cut in to 1/4 inch rounds

4-6 ounces of portobella mushrooms cut in thick slices

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

2 Tbs. flour

1 cup warm milk

3/4 cup crushed croutons or bread crumbs

1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

Flat leaf parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the milk into a saucepan and warm under a very low heat (you don’t want the milk to boil, you just want to get the chill out of it). Grate the Gruyere, dice the onions and slice the zucchini and mushrooms and set aside. Put the croutons in a plastic bag, seal the bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Set the bag aside.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add the onions and cook under low to medium heat until translucent (about 5-7 minutes). Add the zucchini and mushrooms, cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes (you do not want the zucchini to be limp). Uncover, salt and pepper to taste and add the nutmeg.

Stir in the flour. Cook for at least one minute. Add the warm milk and 1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese and cook over a low heat until the sauce thickens. Pour the mixture into a 1 1/2 – 2 quart baking dish.

Combine the croutons (or bread crumbs) with the remaining Gruyere and sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture. Dot with small amounts of butter and bake until bubbly and browned. (the original recipe called for the casserole to bake for 20 minutes, I had to bake mine for 40-45 minutes).

Let sit for 5 minutes, garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley and serve.

 

Ready to go into the oven...

Ready to go into the oven…

 

Brown and bubbly out of the oven...

Brown and bubbly out of the oven…

Serving Suggestion: garnish with flat leaf parsley...

Serving Suggestion: garnish with flat leaf parsley…

Hashbrown Casserole…

Pasta is ok, rice really does nothing for me but give me potatoes and I’m all over it. There is no way that you can cook a potato that I won’t like. Potatoes were a staple at just about every meal I had growing up and my so my love affair with this root (yes it is neither a fruit nor a vegetable but a root) has spanned my entire life. So when I find a potato recipe that intrigues me, I have to try it.

The original recipe from which I’ve based my version in this blog comes from a website called thefrugalgirls.com. I liked the recipe concept because it appeared easy to prepare and was a different way of making potatoes than the traditional ways of baking them, mashing them or grilling them. Coupled with the fact that I already had most of the ingredients plus I needed to fulfill my goal of one new recipe a week, this became no brainer – I had to make this casserole and blog about it. So without further adieu, here is my recipe rating, lessons learned and my version of the recipe.

Hash Brown Casserole Ingredients...

Hash Brown Casserole Ingredients…

Rating A+ – not only is this very easy to make but it smells heavenly when it’s baking in the oven. Anything that combines flavorful potatoes and good kitchen smells is always a hit with me. You really have to try this one.

Lesson Learned 1 – This recipe adapts easily: The original recipe filled a 13 x 9 baking dish. Cutting it in half allowed me to put it in an 8 inch square dish which was just enough for me and my husband with leftovers for an additional meal. But if you have a large family to feed just double everything in the recipe and use the larger pan.

Lesson Learned 2 – Topping a casserole with crushed croutons: Recipes like this are quite often topped with bread crumbs. This recipe called for topping the casserole with crushed croutons. I LOVED IT! The croutons gave a perfect crispiness to the top of the hash browns, just as if the potatoes had been browned in a frying pan. I found the crushed croutons had a much crispier texture than bread crumbs. I am definitely going to try topping other casseroles with crushed croutons instead of bread crumbs. I think it made a big difference.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use fresh garlic: The original recipe called for 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon of garlic salt. I didn’t like the idea of adding that much salt so I substituted one minced garlic clove for the garlic salt. It was fabulous. I figured if the potatoes needed more salt you can always salt them at the table while you’re eating versus adding a lot in the recipe itself.

Lesson Learned 4 – Shred the cheese by hand: The recipe called for shredded cheddar cheese. I’ve recently learned that the shredded cheese bags you buy at the grocery store have an additive in them that is designed to prevent the cheese from clumping together. But that additive also prevents the cheese from melting smoothly. Plus it is an additive and the more you can eliminate additives from your life the better. So take the few extra minutes buy a hunk of good cheddar cheese and use a grater to shred it yourself. The result is so much better in the recipe and better for you as well.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Lesson Learned 5 – Make caloric adjustments where you can: This is a very rich recipe so any places where you can make adjustments to lessen the fat or salt will still produce a great casserole that is full of flavor while also having less calories. I used light sour cream, fat free milk, low sodium soup and substituted fresh garlic for garlic salt. The recipe turned out perfectly.

Lesson Learned 6 – Use butter and not a butter substitute or margarine: I know this may seem to go against what I just said in the previous lesson learned, but just take a minute to look at the ingredients in butter and then compare them to the ingredients in margarine or any butter substitute. Tell me if you can pronounce some of the ingredients in the substitutes. It’s scary to think about what you might be eating. If you have to use a fat, use the one that has the purist of ingredients which in this case is none other than good old fashioned butter.

Lesson Learned 7 – Not all baking times are created equal: The original recipe called for baking the casserole at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes. My long standing experience with high altitude made me leery of not only the timeframe but also the temperature. I will include in the recipe below the original cooking instructions but will tell you that I had to crank my oven up to 375 and cook this for an hour and it turned out perfectly. What I’m basically saying here is you may have to adjust your cooking time based on your oven and where you live. Just be aware of that.

Lesson Learned 8 – The leftovers are fabulous: The leftovers are equally as good if not better than when it was fresh out of the oven. Just reheat them covered in foil in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. The flavors have had some time to meld and the top and ends get even crispier. Can’t beat that!

Right Out Of The Oven

Right Out Of The Oven

Once again, the real work in this recipe is preparing it. Once you get the mixture together, all you have to do is pop it in the oven and let it do the rest of the work for you. This is a great accompaniment to almost any meal so try it. I know you’ll like it!

Hasbrown Casserole

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1/2 pkg. frozen shredded hasbrowns (package size usually 1 lb. 14 oz.)

8 oz. light sour cream

1/2 can cream of mushroom soup (low sodium preferred)

4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese (freshly grated not packaged preferred)

1/8 cup milk (fat free or low fat preferred)

1/2 small onion, chopped

1/2 stick of butter, melted

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup seasoned croutons crushed

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. (*The original recipe called for the oven to be set at 350 and to cook the casserole for 35-45 minutes. I live in high altitude so everything takes a little longer to cook and at a higher temperatures. Use what you think will fit your needs but I think keeping it in the oven a little longer gives it an even crispier crust). Thaw hashbrowns slightly for easier mixing. Crush the croutons (the easiest way to do this is to put them in a plastic bag and mash with a rolling pin or meat mallet). Set the croutons aside.

Combine the hashbrowns, soup, cheese, milk, onion, garlic, salt and half the melted butter. Grease a 8 x 8 pan with a very light coating of butter. Place the hashbrown mixture in the prepared dish. Spread croutons evenly over the top and drizzle them with the remaining butter.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour (*see notes at beginning of recipe). The casserole should be bubbly and the top should be golden and crisp. Let stand for a few minutes and serve.

Hashbrown Casserole

Hashbrown Casserole

Sauteed Spinach With Almonds, Tomatoes and Onions…

Our neighbors across the street were going out of town. Before they left they gave my husband of bag of lettuce from their garden so it wouldn’t go to waste. A little while later my husband said he also found a bag of spinach on his workbench in the garage. He came into the house with it and said, “What are we going to do with all this. I think you should just throw the spinach out.”

Ingredients

Ingredients

The spinach look gorgeous and I just couldn’t rationalize throwing out home-grown spinach. I put the bag in the refrigerator and began to think about how I could use it. Then it dawned on me, I could sauté  it! I’d never sautéed spinach before, only having eaten it in salads, and so I thought this would be a great thing to blog about.

I found a recipe on the Food and Wine website for sautéed spinach with almonds and grapes. Although I did have red grapes on hand, I decided to use up the cherry tomatoes I had in the refrigerator instead. So here’s my rating of the original recipe, my lessons learned and my final version of the recipe.

Rating: A for flavor – C for how the recipe was written. The almonds definitely provided depth of flavor in this recipe but the directions were poor and I totally disagreed with the amount of oil the recipe recommended.

Lesson Learned 1 – AMOUNT OF OIL: Before I made the recipe I happened to mention to my husband what I was planning to do. He said he’d had a conversation with our neighbor about sautéing spinach and they discussed the fact of being very careful with the amount of oil you use as sautéed spinach can become too oily very quickly. The original recipe called for a quarter of a cup of olive oil. Now granted you are also sautéing the onions, almonds and garlic in the oil, but I still think a quarter of a cup is way too much. I started out by eyeballing it and put in just enough to put a very thin coat on the bottom of the pan. Then once the onions, almonds and garlic were sautéed it looked like I might need just a little more and so i added a couple of additional tablespoons. My advice is to be very careful with the amount of oil you use and err on the side of less versus more. You can always add more if you need it. All in all, I’d say I used about 4 tablespoons of oil total (a little more than 1/8 cup) and the spinach turned out beautifully.

Add Spinach By Handfulls

Add Spinach By Handfulls

Lesson Learned 2 – COOKING ORDER: sauté the onions and almonds first. They take much more time. It takes about 4-5 minutes on medium heat for the onions to become translucent and the almonds to brown. I used shaved almonds and chopped them into smaller pieces. Slivered almonds would work as well. After the onions and almonds are done add the garlic and cook only until it becomes fragrant. I’ve found that normally takes a little more than 30 seconds. Once the garlic has become fragrant then add the spinach. At the very end add the tomatoes as you simply want to warm them and don’t want them to break down.

Lesson Learned 3 – COOKING SPINACH: spinach cooks fast, even faster than I thought. I planned for the spinach to cook down in about 5 minutes and it happened in about 3 minutes. So be prepared for how quick it goes once you add the spinach. I used a whole 10 ounce bag of spinach and it was just enough for two people. It was a great way to use up all of that home-grown spinach.

Add Tomatoes At The Very End

Add Tomatoes At The Very End

Lesson Learned 4 – ALMONDS: My advice is don’t eliminate the almonds. They provided a great contrast to the spinach and added a wonderful nutty flavor to the dish. As I was eating it I kept saying to myself what is that fabulous hint of flavor and then recognized it was the almonds.

My husband not only loved the recipe but was pleased I figured out a way to use the spinach. I will definitely make this recipe again. Most of the work entails chopping the onions, almonds and garlic. The rest is pretty straightforward and takes about 7 minutes to cook.

Sauteed Spinach With Almonds, Tomatoes and Onions…

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

4 TBS Olive Oil (eyeball the olive oil making sure not to use too much, just lightly coat the pan)

1/4 cup almonds, chopped

1/4 finely chopped onion

1/4 cup cherry tomatoes diced

2 cloves of garlic minced

1 10 ounce package of spinach, large stems discarded

2 TBS dry white wine

Salt and Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Chop onion, garlic, tomatoes, almonds and set aside. In a large skillet (preferably with high sides) heat 3 TBS of olive oil. Add the almonds and onions and cook over medium heat until onions become translucent and almonds become slightly golden. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant.

Add the spinach in handfuls and stir adding more spinach as the leaves begin to wilt. Add tomatoes when spinach is just about completely wilted and cook until warmed (less than a minute). Add the wine and toss altogether. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

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Sauteed Spinach With Almonds, Tomatoes and Onions