Monday, March 30, 2009

Layered Leftovers Casserole - Italian Style

In the commotion of my mother's illness, I neglected to post this entry from about a month ago. Today, it is still seems worthy of publishing...hope you find something in it interesting.

On Sundays, I clean out the fridge because Monday is our trash and recycling day. But about once a month, I end up with enough good leftovers to create something new with them. Usually a layered casserole. The basic idea is to layer your big ingredients, make sure you have something in it for body, add some frozen or other vegetables, add a flavorful liquid, then bake it. The overall theme depends on what I have --- this time it was Italian.

Started with some red sauce I had in the freezer. But I could have popped open a jar of spaghetti sauce to make this casserole work. In fact, I wish I had had a little more sauce.

Then I put a layer of the leftover pasta - and a layer of spinach.Frozen spinach is a good, healthy thing to have on hand. I let it defrost then squeeze it dry -- this is an important step -- add salt, nutmeg and pepper and mix it together before layering.

Then I added a layer of defrosted mushroom ravioli stuffing that I had leftover from my pasta experiment. It had been in the freezer for too long, but was still usable in something like this.

Another layer of pasta and then I sliced up the Italian sausage that was leftover,too.

And then chopped up the mozzarella that was drying up and spread it around.

Then I layered on the rest of my red sauce --- again I wish I had just a bit more -- and put shredded cheese on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes until the top is browned and the center is baked through.
Here's how it looked inside. Nice layers of all the major food groups. So, you can eat a square of this as a satisfying meal, and it is easily reheated. New, improved leftovers.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Healthy Snack

Love this combination of fresh raspberries and vanilla bean yogurt topped with wheat germ.Wheat germ is always in our fridge. I think I learned about it being good for you back in the 70's when my grandfather went on a health kick. It's a good source of folic acid. And it is fun to sprinkle it on top for some texture.
Raspberries are my favorite berry, and I buy them to eat on their own as a snack.
But somehow taking the time to put this snack into a favorite bowl (in this case I used my big cafe au lait cup that Mary gave me) makes this treat seem like so much more than the 200-250 calories it is.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Curried Carrot Soup with Mussels

I struggle when Tom is out of town to come up with healthy single serving dishes, but this time I think I was successful. I made a soup as I usually would, but I added mussels as a treat. This is definitely a keeper of a recipe.

The ingredients were simple. Onions, carrots, butter, curry powder, chicken broth, dry white wine, mussels, and fresh basil. Melt the butter over medium low heat, add thinly sliced onions. Meanwhile scrape and slice the carrots and toss them in. Continue to cook until the onions become transparent, about 5 minutes.

Add a generous amount of sweet curry powder. I used Penzey's, but McCormick makes a decent Madras curry, too. Probably about 1.5 - 2 Tablespoons. At this point, the fragrance is enough to make me swoon. Cook for another minute.

The mussels will require a dry white wine for cooking, so I used it as a good excuse to open a bottle of LMR Sauvignon Blanc and pour a glass for myself.

Add a large can of chicken stock, bring to a boil, cook until the carrots are soft, about 10 minutes.

Take it off the heat and then puree about half to add body (with a hand blender or by putting half in a blender). Season with salt. Chiffonade the basil leafs and add them.

In a separate pot, add a cup of white wine and the mussels and lots of fresh basil. I bought a pound for $2.49 at a fish market. They were farm raised, from Maine.
Cover and boil. Fish them out as soon as they open into a separate bowl.
In your serving bowl, place the mussels--- be sure to capture all of the juices, then spoon over the curried carrot soup. Yummy!

Curried Carrot Soup with Mussels
2 T. butter
2 onions, sliced thinly
1 lb. carrots, 1/4 inch slices
1 -2 T. sweet curry powder
1 large can low sodium, good quality chicken broth
salt to taste
lots of fresh basil
1 cup dry white wine
1 1b. of mussels per person, scrubbed and beards removed

This makes a nice carrot soup on its own. Probably 6 servings. 8 servings if used with the mussels. I reserved the liquids from cooking the mussels for future use.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Things Dinner

Last week when we got back from Pittsburgh, it was warm enough to grill for the first time this year. We were tired of restaurant food, and wanted to cook, but wanted it to be simple, too.

My game plan was grilled steak, sauteed mushrooms, roasted onions and a crisp salad.

I went to the store to buy Buffalo steaks, but saw that Wegman's had Grass Fed Beef for the first, too, and from Uruguay. Thought it would be interesting to compare them to my brother's Long Meadow Ranch grass fed steaks. And they were cheaper than the Buffalo steaks.

Plus I had a bag of Cipolline onions --- I had never cooked them before -- so I looked up how to prepare them. They are small-ish, not as small as pearl onions, but still a pain to peel.

My research suggested that you boil them in water briefly, then peel them.

It was easy to do, but they are very hot to handle when peeling.

I found an interesting recipe for the onions consisting of red wine, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, honey and olive oil.

Then, I got lazy and threw the mushrooms in with the onions and decided to roast them together. Bad idea.

What was perfect for the onions was too intense for the mushrooms which soaked it up like little sponges. I would have been much better off sauteeing the mushrooms as I usually do in olive oil, thyme and sherry.

I boiled down the juices leftover from roasting into a delicious syrupy sauce. Fantastic with the onions.

Meanwhile, Tom prepared the steaks for grilling. They were lean, but flavorful. I would buy them again. (No offense, Ted.)

For the salad, I bought Romaine -- it looked the best ---and thought I'd try the Caesar salad dressing that we had in the pantry. Bad idea. This stuff is supposed to be good because it is the original, but it was just awful.

But the Romaine was great. I can't wait until it is warm enough here to buy local lettuces.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My New Toy

Favorite tools and gadgets make cooking everyday more fun -- at least for me --- so I was thrilled to finally find a replacement for one of my favs that died, but I sorely missed--- My new toy is shown here on the right.

Yes, Jeanne, I found an electric pepper grinder -- with a light, too! She used to tease me mercilessly about my original electric pepper grinder.

This one is even better---It comes with a snap-on bottom cap to collect stray pepper dust. Very nifty. And a see-through section so you know how many peppercorns are left. It has a stainless steel grinder to boot.

And it was a bargain! I was in B,B&B buying a ironing board because Tom had destroyed ours while "repairing" it --- and had one of their coupons that they are endlessly sending out -- so I checked out the gadget section and there it was. Not a big seller, obviously, it was on the bottom shelf. But I knew it was mine.

We use lots and lots of fresh pepper plus my hand is worn out from years of twisting while making jewelry, so it was easy to rationalize buying it.

I am curious whether other people are attached to any of their gadgets in their kitchens, and what they are.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mexican Quiche

Today I started out to make a mushroom-onion quiche, but realized that the cheese we had was a Mexican mix, so I switched gears.Preheated the oven to 450 degrees. Using a store-bought pie crust, I pre-baked the crust for 5 minutes, using my cranberry beans and foil, as I usually would for a quiche.

Meanwhile, I sliced a large onion very thinly, and then cross-chopped it. Sauteed lightly with a pinch of sugar and salt.

Since I was going Mexican, I used the Penzey's 9000 chili mix -- has almost a sweet curry flavor, but it is still earthy and pungent. I sprinkled this over the onions.

Continue to saute until they were soft, but not too droopy. I wanted texture in the quiche.

Wasn't sure what to do next, but I decided to make a custardy mix with two eggs...

And a can of hot chili with beans that I found in the pantry.

I layered a little cheese and the onion mix in the pastry shell.

Then added the chili "custard".

I added another layer of cheese and onions.

Then, half a jar of well-drained jalapeno peppers.

Felt it needed a little crunch, but didn't have any Frito's. Instead, I found some crushed potato chips in the pantry left over from some crab cakes. They did the trick.

Then, just a little more Mexican cheese mix on top.

Baked it at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then turned the oven down to 350 degrees and continued baking until it did not jiggle, about 20 minutes. I let it rest before slicing.