Sunday, September 26, 2010

Casserole Queen

I don’t ever remember my mother making a casserole in my entire life. It probably had to do with the fact that she’d have to make ten of them to feed our entire family. Maybe more if my brothers were home from college. Anyway, I always just thought that casseroles were just a bunch of stuff you’d find on a regular dinner plate all mashed together and sprinkled with cheese. I guess half of that is kind of true, but now that I’ve broken the casserole barrier in my house I’ve found that I can make a damn good casserole. I’ve learned that casseroles may not be a gourmet meal fit for a queen, but you know what? It’s the fellowship, not the food sometimes. My sisters are my best critics. They shoot me straight, and you know what? They love this casserole! Well…at least a few of them :) I have to say, the last time that I made this, last Monday actually, I didn’t have any milk so I added a cup of sour cream instead of a cup of milk and it was BETTER THAN EVER! Make it with love people.

Chicken and Rice Casserole

2 tablespoons butter
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 small onion, minced
1 cup milk (substitute a cup of sour cream for a creamy switch up!)
2 eggs
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar, plus extra for top
4 cups of brown rice
4 large chicken breasts diced
1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley leaves
1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
1 teaspoon chopped basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a large casserole dish.
In a large pan over medium-high heat, saute onions with 2 tablespoons of butter and cayenne until translucent add diced chicken and cook thoroughly. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together milk and eggs.
Add the cheese, rice, parsley, thyme, basil and chicken and combine well. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into prepared casserole dish and top with extra shredded cheese. Bake for 30 minutes and serve piping hot.

Monday, September 20, 2010

In A Purple Kind of Mood

I’ve always kind of battled with eggplant. It’s no enemy like bananas are, but they’re just weird to me. Is it a fruit? Is it a vegetable? Why does it soak up all of my EVOO like a sponge and get all brown like my stupid bananas? I dunno, it sounds like a cool vegetable to like and maybe order at a restaurant to impress people. *mmm..yes, I’ll be having the eggplant*. It’s beautifully purple and has a cool little green stem thingy on top. Plus, if you froze it you could probably use it to roll out your pastry dough. So I’ve really tried to enjoy eggplant over the years. My best friend’s mother is Sicilian and she can make anything taste good just by looking at it so her eggplant is always amazing. (Rosalie is her name and I’ll have to do another separate post about her. She’s the most amazing cook I’ve ever met.)

Well, I regularly read “Organic Soul” which is a blog about all things organic, mainly recipes and what not, but last week there was an eggplant recipe. It sparked my interest because it was a “stuffed” eggplant that had beef in it along with spinach, mushrooms, onions and fresh herbs. Thought it sounded pretty yummy. My husband and I don’t cook with ground beef, so I switched that out with ground turkey and it worked out perfectly. How’d they turn out you might ask? Well, they looked gorgeous. I sprinkled them with a little Pecorino Romano cheese since I had a fresh brick of it in the cheese drawer but that wasn’t in the recipe either. I have to say they’re quite tasty! The recipe is a bit labor intensive but I prepared my veggies and meat ahead of time so that cut some of the time. I hope you try these “Eggplant Boats”. I served them with some organic, whole wheat pasta and a nice glass of red wine. Enjoy!

Stuffed Eggplant
1 large eggplant
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped (optional, I used extra spinach)
1 cup spinach, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
2 Tablespoons parsley, chopped
salt/ pepper
1 pound of ground organic turkey
¼ cup tomato paste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise. Remove pulp leaving ½ inch of the outer shell. Dice the pulp.
3. Sauté the onions, garlic and meat until almost done, add the mushrooms, diced eggplant pulp, spinach, fresh herbs, salt and pepper and continue to sauté an additional 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and remove from stove.
4. Brush the inside of the eggplant shell with olive oil
5. Spoon mixture into eggplant shell and drizzle olive oil on top. Cover and bake for 45 minutes.
6. Top with grated Pecorino Romano cheese and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bananas Were The Enemy

I've never been a fan of bananas. They bruise, they get mushy and brown, and they have those weird stringy things that are attached to them when you pull off the peel. To be perfectly honest, they really gross me out. So when I had my first sone Lucas, I never bought bananas. It was stupid now that I think of it because it's the easiest snack in the world to give them but I can't peel bananas with out gagging...literally. Just ask my husband. So one day someone offered Lucas a banana when he was probably 18 mo's old. He, of course, LOVED the banana. This began my struggle with the long yellow fruit.

Lucas is 5 now and he has 2 younger brothers so we always have bananas around. I thought by this time they wouldn't me grossed out anymore, but they do. If my husband Chris is around I make him peel them. Unfortunately, my kids taste buds go in and out of banana phases and you never know if they'll love them or hate them. So, sometimes we have yucky brown bananas sitting on the top of my nice, clean granite countertops. Eyesores! I had to come up with a disposal plan. I can't just throw them away, I'd feel extremely guilty about wasting the food. Ain't no way I'm eating yellow banana much less a brown mushy one. Then, I remembered my granny. She'd always make banana bread. This may seem like an easy idea for most of you but to me I hated bananas so much that I couldn't even imagine putting them into anything I'd actually eat. Since I love baking I figured "what the hell" and try it. Just once.

I built up the nerve to make banana bread. My husband LOVES it and his mother would always send us home with a loaf, so I knew that I'd get some major brownies points. The first instruction was to mush up 3-4 mushy bananas. It was gross but I accomplished it. I was proud of myself. I'd conquered the bananas and turned them into this lovely smelling loaf of yummy goodness that I actually loved. The smell filled my house and even my kids mentioned that something was smelling REALLY good in the kitchen! I was so proud of myself and I dare say that my banana bread now tops my mother in laws. Sounds like a challenge is the cards! :)

Here's the recipe for all of you that need a good one. I can't remember for the life of me where I got it but it's really good and REALLY easy! Happy baking everyone!

Banana Bread Recipe: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place oven rack to middle position. Butter and flour (or spray with a non stick vegetable/flour spray) the bottom and sides of a 9 x 5 x 3 inch (23 x 13 x 8 cm) loaf pan. Set aside.
Place the nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Let cool and then chop coarsely.
In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nuts. Set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, lightly fold the wet ingredients (banana mixture) into the dry ingredients just until combined and the batter is thick and chunky. (The important thing is not to over mix the batter. You do not want it smooth. Over mixing the batter will yield tough, rubbery bread.) Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake until bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 to 60 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool and then remove the bread from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. This bread can be frozen.
Makes 1 - 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf.

Banana Bread Recipe:
1 cup (115 grams) walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
1 3/4 cups (230 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 ripe large bananas (approximately 1 pound or 454 grams), mashed well (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract