Roasted Carrots

This recipe is my version of America’s Test Kitchen’s New Best Recipe roasted carrots.  They actually call for baby carrots in the recipe (yeah, those already-peeled nubs that you buy in a bag), but since we’re using CSA veggies, I just peeled and sliced some of our fresh-from-the-farm carrots instead!

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1″-2″ lengths
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Preparation:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 475°.  Toss the carrots, oil, and salt in the broiler pan bottom.  Spread the carrots in a single layer and roast for 12 minutes.  Shake the pan to toss the carrots.  Continue roasting, shaking the pan twice more, until the carrots are browned and tender, about 8 minutes longer.  Serve immediately.

The Verdict:

You would really think, with a recipe this simple, that I could get my act together and get some side dishes on the table, right?  You’d think.  Maybe it’s because I only have one oven.  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe if I had two ovens, I could cook multiple things for dinner.  Maybe it’s because I have a firm belief that one-dish meals are the only way to go, regardless of whether they have more than one food group in them.  I don’t know.  Maybe you’ll be reading this blog a year from now and I suddenly will have figured out how to do the whole side-dish thing.  Please don’t hold your breath.  I wouldn’t want you to turn blue.

Twice-Baked Potatoes

I found my inspiration in America’s Test Kitchen’s New Best Recipe, and made a few changes, based on what I had on hand.  Here’s the note that they include in the recipe book:

To vary the flavor a bit, try substituting other types of cheese, such as Gruyere, fontina, or feta, for the cheddar.  Yukon Gold potatoes, though slightly more moist than our ideal, gave our twice-baked potatoes a buttery flavor and mouthfeel that everyone liked, so we recommend them as a substitution for the russets.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed, dried, and rubbed lightly with vegetable oil
  • 4 total ounces sharp white cheddar, swiss, and regular medium cheddar cheeses, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 medium scallions, sliced thin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ground black pepper

Preparation:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake the potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet until the skin is crisp and deep brown and a skewer easily pierces the flesh, about 1 hour.  Setting the baking sheet aside, transfer the potatoes to a wire rack and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
  2. Using an oven mitt or a folded kitchen towel to handle the hot potatoes, cut each potato in half so that the long, blunt sides rest on a work surface.  Using a small spoon, scoop the flesh from each half into a medium bowl, leaving 1/8 to 1/4 inch of the flesh in each shell.  Arrange the shells on the lined baking sheet and return them to the oven until dry and slightly crisped, about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, mash the potato flesh with a fork until smooth.  Stir in the remaining ingredients, including pepper to taste, until well combined.
  3. Remove the shells from the oven and increase the oven setting to broil.  Holding the shells steady on the baking sheet with an oven mitt or towel-protected hand, spoon the mixture into the crisped shells, mounding it slightly at the center, and return the potatoes to the oven.  Broil until spotty brown and crisp on top, 10 to 15 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Serve warm.

Hamburgers

Hubby & I have been making hamburgers together for years, so we’ve got it down to a science at this point!

Ingredients:

  • ½ pound lean ground beef
  • 1 slice sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons milk, or more as needed
  • ground black pepper
  • finely chopped onion and garlic (optional)
  • cheese (cheddar, Swiss, pepper jack; whatever you like)
  • Dijon mustard
  • sprouts
  • thinly sliced onion
  • Hamburger buns (our favorites are the onion flavor)
  • Optional: avocado, pickles, tomatoes

Preparation:

  1. Place bread and milk in medium bowl and mash with fork.  Let it sit for a few minutes, and mash again, adding milk as necessary until a paste forms.  Add hamburger, pepper, and onion/garlic (if using) and mix by hand until thoroughly combined
  2. Form hamburger mixture into two to four patties and place on Cuisinart Griddler fitted with grill plates. (If you don’t have this awesome accessory, you can also fry the patties in a large frying pan over medium heat, flipping halfway through cooking.)
  3. Add cheese just before patties finish cooking, and prop top of Griddler up so that it is not touching the cheese (alternate method: add cheese after you’ve flipped the patties, and cover frying pan with lid to melt the cheese).
  4. Meanwhile, spread mustard on the bottom half of each bun.  When patties are finished, place one patty on each bun and top with onion slices, sprouts, and any other toppings you wish.

The Verdict:

Hubby has put up reasonably well with the mostly vegetarian diet we’ve been on recently.  He does see how much cheaper it is to not buy meat, but he is not sold on the concept of vegetarianism.  (For that matter, I’m not actually sold on it; I just would rather have our food budget last for an entire week than only make 2 meals with it).  We’re splurging a bit this week (and last), to reward ourselves for not getting drive-through when we’ve craved it.  We’re trying to adjust our lifestyle even more towards the “eat at home” model, and making sure that we’re still addressing our cravings and serving our favorite foods goes a long way towards that goal!

We love these burgers.  They’re always moist (from the panade) and flavorful (from the onion & garlic inside the patties).  They have a juiciness that you just don’t find with most fast-food options, and they end up being cheaper for all the ingredients than it is to go to the drive-through once.  Not to mention the fact that we have some idea what goes into the burgers we make at home!

Spaghetti and Meatballs and Squash (oh, my!)

Although this is where I usually list my “inspiration,” this meal was one of our traditional meals from America’s Test Kitchen, adapted to the ingredients we had on hand (mostly including leftovers).  I really enjoyed it, so I hope you give it a try!

Ingredients:

  • 1 acorn squash
  • olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled & put through a garlic press (divided)
  • 3 shallots, minced (divided)
  • approximately 4 cups whole peeled tomatoes canned in their own juice (see notes)
  • chopped fresh basil to taste
  • approximately 4 ounces lean ground beef
  • 1 slice sandwich bread, crusts removed (we used whole wheat and flax because it’s what we had on hand, but I usually use a high-quality sandwich bread or a couple of slices from a french loaf if I’m making garlic bread with the meal).
  • milk
  • shredded parmesan cheese
  • dried spaghetti

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Slice squash in half and remove seeds.  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil into each half of the squash and spread oil over the entire squash (both skin and flesh sides) with your hands.  Bake squash on parchment-lined cookie sheet until tender.  The squash is done when a fork or skewer slides into the flesh with minimal resistance. (Can be baked up to two days ahead and stored, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator).
  2. Meanwhile, rip bread into approximately 4 pieces and place in small mixing bowl with a splash of milk.  With a dinner fork, mash the bread until it forms a paste with the milk.  You can add more milk as needed until you get a smushy consistency.  Add half the garlic and shallots along with all of the beef to the bread mixture and mix with hands to combine.
  3. Form smallish (1″ diameter) meatballs and place on an additional cookie sheet.  Bake meatballs in the same oven as the squash until browned and sizzling.  Since these are made with a panade (the bread/milk combo), it’s really hard to overcook them, so don’t be afraid to give them a little longer than you normally would.  They’ll also be reheated in the sauce, so it’s pretty difficult to under-cook them.
  4. Puree the canned tomatoes in a food processor until smooth.
  5. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large fry pan over medium heat.  Add shallots and sauté until soft, approximately 2 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, 30 seconds or so.  Add pureed tomatoes and heat through.
  6. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
  7. Add basil to the tomato mixture and continue to cook for a few more minutes.  Once the squash has finished cooking, scoop the flesh directly into the tomato sauce.  If you are cooking the entire recipe in one night, use caution while handling the hot squash.  Add Parmesan cheese to taste.
  8. Add meatballs to the sauce and heat through.
  9. Cook spaghetti according to package directions and serve topped with sauce.  You can top with additional Parmesan if you desire.

Note:

  • We only used whole canned tomatoes and pureed them because we had leftovers from another recipe.  I would normally make this recipe with either canned diced or crushed tomatoes, and skip step 4.

The Verdict:

We love spaghetti and meatballs, and we got our original meatball recipe from America’s Test Kitchen New Best Recipe.  These meatballs are not quite as tasty as theirs, but since we had so many parts going on with this meal already, we skipped the step where you brown the meatballs in oil.  I can only handle so many dirty pots & pans from one meal!

The sauce ended up really flavorful and thick because of the squash.  Although there was not any specifically squash flavor that I could tell (which sort of disappointed me, because I do like my squash), there was a heartiness and an oranginess that I liked.  I think this would be a really good recipe for someone to try that has squash to use but is either sick of the flavor or isn’t sure they like squash.  I had originally baked the squash a few days before, to use in a different recipe that I never got around to, so using the one we had this way seemed like a good idea.

All-in-all, this was a delicious rendition of one of our standbys and we’d likely try it again under similar circumstances.  In the future, I do however want to experiment with other pasta & squash recipes that really highlight the squash flavor.

Decadent Hot Chocolate

Hubby & I went to our friends’ house Christmas Evening and brought the makings for the decadent hot chocolate recipe I found in the The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.  Since the cookbook is 3-ring binder style, I took the hot chocolate page out in preparation to bring it with me, but I apparently set it down as I picked up the grocery bag.  So I knew the ingredients, and I’d glanced at the recipe.  Rather than walking 4 blocks back home to retrieve the recipe, I just went for it.  Here’s what I did:

Ingredients:

  •  3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoons Hershey’s Dutch-processed/dark chocolate powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • more cream, sugar & vanilla for whipped cream
  • Irish Cream

Directions:

  1. Combine milk, cream, chocolate powder, sugar, & vanilla in a saucepan and heat to boiling on the stove top
  2. After the milk mixture is hot, remove from heat & stir in chocolate chips.  Whisk until melted.
  3. Meanwhile, have one of your friends that you’re hanging out with whip some of the cream for topping.  After the cream forms soft peaks, add sugar and vanilla to taste.
  4. Spoon the hot chocolate into individual mugs and add Irish Cream to your hearts’ content.  Stir and top with whipped cream.  Enjoy!

In the original recipe, the vanilla was added off heat along with the chocolate chips and there was more chocolate powder (2 tablespoons instead of 1).  I’m not sure how much difference it might have made, but I will say that our cocoa was delicious.  It’s definitely a special treat (whole milk and heavy cream = rich cocoa!).  I think I’ll be adding this hot chocolate recipe to my traditional holiday list.  Now I just need to get some Sweet Demitasse Cups and Saucers to serve this in so we don’t all get coronaries!

Broccoli, Red Pepper, and Cheddar Chowder

So far, I make this recipe exactly as I found it at Epicurious, but I’ll update here if I come up with any significant changes.  For me, it just tastes exactly like Broccoli Cheddar soup should, but made with decent ingredients I have in my home.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small head broccoli (½ pound)
  • 1 large boiling potato (½ pound)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 6 oz sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated (1½ cups)

Preparation:

  1. Discard tough lower third of broccoli stem. Peel remaining stem and finely chop. Cut remaining broccoli into very small (1-inch) florets. Cook florets in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking, then drain. Reserve 3 cups cooking water for chowder.
  2. Peel potato and cut into ½-inch cubes. Cook potato, onion, bell pepper, broccoli stems, and garlic in butter in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add cumin, salt, pepper, and mustard and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add reserved cooking water and simmer (partially covered), stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream and cheese and cook, stirring, until cheese is melted, then season with salt and pepper.
  3. Purée about 2 cups of chowder in a food processor or blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids) and return to pot. Add florets and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 2 minutes.

The Verdict:

Delightful.  Hubby said that it was good broccoli cheddar soup, we didn’t have a lump of cheese in the bottom of the pot (like we found in some recipes I could mention), and it was everything I like in a winter soup: filling, thick, and full of fattening things like butter and cheese and cream!  For the dairy, I used an Australian cheese that I found at the local discount grocery store (where I was looking for inexpensive, interesting Christmas presents).  It was a lovely meal, and I’m adding it to our list of recipes to repeat.  Shockingly, I didn’t change a thing from the recipe as written.  I may try to add a bit of spice next time, but I thoroughly enjoyed it this way.

Winter Squash Mash

I found the original Winter Squash Mash Recipe at Epicurious, and made a few tweaks as I was cooking.  I love winter squash, and I’m always happy to have another preparation for it!

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • One  2¾- to 3-pound kabocha squash, halved crosswise, seeded
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil inside each kabocha squash half and brush to coat. Place squash halves, cut side down, on prepared baking sheet. Roast until squash is very tender when pierced with knife, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool slightly. Scoop out squash flesh into bowl and mash until almost smooth.
  2. Melt butter in skillet over medium-high heat until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and stir 5 minutes or until the garlic begins to caramelize. Smoosh the garlic cloves with your spatula and break it up into relatively small pieces.  Add butter mixture to squash and mash until smooth. Season generously with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Add more broth if desired and rewarm in microwave before continuing.)

The Verdict:

This meal was actually scheduled for Friday night.  I arrived home Friday to find a take-and-bake pizza sitting on the counter, and roasted squash sitting on the stove top.  Hubby had followed the directions faithfully until it was time to take the squash out of the oven.  Then he thought that he’d messed something up, because the squash was collapsed on the cookie sheet.  He’d only seen the photos of ½ squashes still firmly keeping their shapes, so he was sure it was ruined.  Since the pizza was ready to go, we went ahead and ate that for dinner on Friday.  But the squash was fine, so we scraped it into a storage container to wait for another day, which ended up being Sunday.

After the trauma on Saturday, I wasn’t up to cleaning the kitchen this weekend.  What with the busy schedule we had this week, everything was pretty much dirty, which is why I didn’t mince or press the garlic cloves.  Yes, I am admitting on the internets that my kitchen was dirty enough that I didn’t have any clean utensils capable of mincing garlic. And I still cooked in it.  That’s how I am (sometimes).  So I figured the mincing was really just to get the garlic into edible pieces, and cooking it to the smashing point and spreading it out would probably work fine.

I really liked the taste of the kabocha even before the butter and garlic were added – it is probably my favorite of all the winter squashes we’ve tried.  The CSA folks are planning a bulk sale, and here’s hoping there’s a kabocha option!  At any rate, I enjoyed my modified version of this recipe, and I can see how it might need the broth if you started with a less-moist squash, but I would recommend adding it slowly, bit by bit, and testing for texture along the way.  You wouldn’t want to end up with a winter squash puddle instead of a winter squash mash, after all!

Creamed Spinach

I never ate cooked greens when I was growing up.  My mother didn’t like them, so I never got exposed to them.  Until I was a vegetarian, visiting a boyfriend who was attending law school at NYU.  I dated him for two years of his law school career, and visited every chance I got.  He made it a point to take me to each of the 4-star restaurants that were then housed in New York, and I presented my vegetarian requirements at each. I found a new love for sautéed mushrooms, creamed spinach, and even some forms of polenta during this time, and will always be glad that 4-star chefs are willing to create a meal for picky 20-somethings!

Anyway, I was looking at the bag of mixed greens that came in this week’s share and thought, I wonder what it would be like to make creamed spinach-and-mustard-greens-and-whatever-else-might-be-in-there?  So I thought we’d give it a try tonight, based roughly on this recipe at Epicurious.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb baby spinach and other braising greens
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • dash freshly grated nutmeg

 Preparation:

  1. Cook spinach/greens in 2 batches in 1 inch of boiling salted water in a large soup pot, stirring constantly, until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water until cool. Squeeze small handfuls of spinach greens to remove as much moisture as possible, then coarsely chop.
  2. Heat milk and cream in a small saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until warm. Meanwhile, cook onion in butter in a 2½-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add warm milk mixture in a fast stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, and simmer, whisking, until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in nutmeg, spinach greens, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until heated through.

Notes:

Cook’s note: Creamed spinach can be made 1 day ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Reheat over moderately low heat until hot.

The Verdict:

Creamed greens are delicious.  My father commented that he probably would have put about 3 cloves of garlic in them, and my friend let him know that there were like 6 cloves in there.  I didn’t adjust my measurements quite accurately, so the cream mixture was pretty thick, but I love it that way, so I wasn’t worried, and it got good reviews from all my tasters. 

Rice Casserole Stuffed Acorn Squash

I have several acorn squashes at this point, and I was intrigued by A Good Appetite’s mac & cheese stuffed acorn squash.  However, I’m desperately avoiding grocery shopping this week – partially because I’m trying to make up for all the days of eating out in our budget and partially because I have visions of crazed turkey-day shoppers running me over with their carts if I were to venture out into the grocery realm.  I do have some Creamy Rice Casserole in the freezer that has just been waiting for a use, so I used that and some bacon to create rice casserole stuffed acorn squash.  Who says you need a grocery store to be a good cook?

Ingredients:

  • 1 acorn squash, cut in half, seeds & pulp cleaned out
  • 5-6 slices bacon, chopped
  • ½ recipe Creamy Rice Casserole from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  • a few ounces feta cheese

Accompaniment: Creamed Spinach

Preparation:

  1. Scrape additional pulp out of the squash to create a bowl, leaving about 3/4-inch squashy goodness on all sides. Save the scrapings for mixing with the rice casserole. Place the squash cut side down in a baking dish & add about 1-inch of water. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, mix about ¼ cup of your reserved squash, 3 cups of the rice casserole, and the feta together in a small bowl.  You can freeze any remaining squash for a future use.
  3. Cook the bacon until just beginning to crisp.  Remove ½ the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.  Continue cooking the remaining bacon until extremely crispy. After the reserved bacon has drained, mix it into the rice mixture.
  4. Take the squash out of the oven. Pour off the water & flip over. Fill with the rice mixture. Bake for 30 minutes until the rice mixture is cooked through and the top is bubbling.  Sprinkle with reserved bacon bits and cook for another minute or so to warm them through.

 

The Verdict:

This was actually one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had cooking recently.  My sister and brother-in-law were due to arrive in Tacoma Wednesday evening, and several friends & I headed over to my parents’ house to spend some time with them.  I brought the ingredients and several of my cooking utensils over & prepared this meal while we waited for them to show up.  One of my favorite activities ever is cooking with friends, and I really love that my parents’ kitchen remodel specifically created a kitchen that makes it easy to hang out with the cook.  I do have to admit though: it’s difficult to cook in the kitchen you grew up in when all of the cupboards and appliances are completely different.  My parents had their kitchen completely gutted and re-built two summers ago, and although I’ve cooked there a few times since then, all of the dishes, pots & pans, canned goods, etc. have moved.  I’ll find myself trying to open a cupboard that used to have canned goods, only to realize the pots & pans now live there.  Even worse, I try to grab pots and pans from the overhead rack that was in the kitchen my entire childhood, and then just stand there, confused, until I figure out why I can’t even find the place for what I’m looking for, let alone the item.  Not to complain – their new kitchen is beautiful and functional and really great to cook in.  I just get easily confused, because I spent all of my formative cooking years finding things in exactly the same place, and now they’re nowhere near!

My friends and family hung out with me in the kitchen while I cooked, and then tasted as items finished.  No one else was actually there for dinner, specifically, but I made a double-batch so that everyone could have some if they wanted.

Anyway, back to the food: creamed greens are delicious.  The squash was pretty good.  The rice stuffing worked well for all of us but Hubby (he said it was “kinda bland”).  However, the squash still wasn’t cooked all the way through when the filling was done & turning crispy, so I think it needed more cooking time on its own.  I also recommend scooping the squash out, mixing it up with the rice mixture, and eating the whole thing as one big pile of goodness.  I think that one of the reasons Hubby didn’t like it that much was that he didn’t blend any of the flavors.  Also, he probably thought it could use more bacon.

All in all, I thought this was an amazing meal for having been planned around avoiding the grocery store!

Corn & Potato Chowder

I found the original version of this potato chowder recipe at Epicurious, and made a few changes to it.

Ingredients:

  • 4 bacon slices, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups (or more) whole milk
  • 1 15-ounce can creamed corn
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

Preparation:

  1. Cook bacon in large saucepan over medium heat until fat is rendered, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add onion and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add potato and bell pepper and sauté 1 minute.
  4. Add 2 cups milk and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender and soup thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
  5. Add creamed corn, corn kernels and 1 tablespoon thyme to soup and simmer until heated through.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. If preparing ahead, cover and refrigerate at this point. Rewarm over low heat, stirring frequently and thinning with more milk if too thick.) Sprinkle with thyme and serve.

The Verdict:

Hubby: “We could make this soup again.  More bacon though.”

Housewife: “I already doubled the bacon.”

Hubby: “Oh.  More bacon anyway.”

The fact that he actually took the time to say that he likes the soup enough to have it again makes me think that he really enjoyed it.  Of course, what’s not to love about bacon, potatoes, and corn in chowder?  I mean, what’s not to love aside from fat & cholesterol…

I did also love how quickly it came together, since this was done with virtually no prep work (we chopped the bacon & onion before leaving for ballet, and the rest I did while he cooked the bacon). This is something that I’ll keep in the rotation for busy days, since there’s no excuse not to make something this easy, this pantry/freezer friendly, and this tasty. This is one more recipe that’s going to keep us away from pizza and fast food when we’re tired & starving at night! And yes, next time we’ll try it with more bacon. Maybe as crumbles for a garnish?