Monday, November 22, 2010

Broccoli Casserole

This dish has replaced the much beloved green bean casserole on my family's holiday table.  It is super easy to prepare, cheesy and gooey to eat, and versatile, in that you can cook it in the oven or the crockpot.  Since the oven at my house is BEYOND tiny, that's an added bonus.  My mom got this recipe from a coworker.  All I can say is: God bless that coworker!

No, it's not very healthy.  But hey, it's the holidays.  I won't apologize for this dish, and neither should you.  It's not something you eat all the time.  But every once in a while, it's a real treat.

This recipe feeds many.  It makes a 13 x 9 pan FULL of goodness, and a little bit goes a long way.  If you feel this is too much, feel free to halve the recipe and make it in an 8 x 8 pan. But in my house, there has to be enough to feed the family, and then supply two households with leftovers.  So we always go with the big pan. 

Enough chit chat, though.  On to the recipe.  It's almost Thanksgiving, and we've got cooking to do!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving Plan (and bonus Sweet Potato Puff recipe)

FYI: This is NOT my table. 
Before I had my son, holidays were a fun time to plan a daring meal and enjoy lots of time in the kitchen with family members.  Now that kids are in the picture, holidays have changed a bit.  I prefer to be in the kitchen less, and spending more time with the kids.  So that means that my menus have had to adapt and change as well. 

This year for Thanksgiving I am focusing on getting as much cooking and prep done ahead of time. Since I have the day before Thanksgiving off from work, I will probably use that day to leisurely do my prepping.  The meal will be simple (for me, that is) but full of the flavors that myself and my family enjoy. 

I'm going to provide links to some recipes (and one actual recipe courtesy of my sister Trish), but I am writing this post more to give you an idea of my plan of attack, rather than my specific recipes.  Every family has their own traditional recipes, and I'm not about to mess with yours! But here's the plan for mine:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nigella's Pasta with Spinach and Feta

Confession #1: I have a culinary crush.  Her name is Nigella Lawson. I discovered her cooking shows on the Style network almost a decade ago and I was hooked.  What I love about her is how she unapologetically enjoys food--all aspects of food: the cooking AND the eating.  In fact, she was one of the people who helped me get over my fear of failing in the kitchen...[Insert scratching record noise here.] 

Confession #2:  That's right.  I said it.  I haven't always liked cooking.  In fact, for a long, long time I preferred watching cooking shows instead of actually cooking.  The reason for the disconnect was that I was able to enjoy the cooking process when watching someone else cook, but once I got into the kitchen, I felt paralyzed by the fear that I would mess things up. 

Nigella to the rescue! Through her cooking shows and cookbooks, I discovered the secret:  JUST RELAX.  If I relax in the kitchen and focus on enjoying the food, rather than impending doom and failure, I can be a happy and contented cook.  I learned to focus on what I love about cooking: the textures, the sounds, and the aromas.  Now I allow myself to enjoy every step of the process.  Nigella helped me to figure that out. 

Ten years later, I own every single one of her cookbooks, and read them like bedtime stories.  There's something about the way she writes about food that brings it alive on the page.  I also watch every new cooking show she comes out with. Thanks, Nigella, for helping me to RELAX AND ENJOY THE FOOD!

In honor of her, I'm posting a recipe from her latest book, Kitchen: Recipes From the Heart of the Home, all 487 pages of it.  I got it a couple weeks ago and have already read it cover to cover. One chapter, entitled "Off The Cuff," is dedicated to recipes that can be made with kitchen staples (or Nigella's kitchen staples.)  Since she's British, some of her staples aren't as easily available in the U.S, but I was excited when I saw a recipe for Curly Pasta with Feta, Spinach, and Pine Nuts.  Except for the pine nuts, this recipe was full of things I regularly keep on hand.  I did fiddle with the recipe a bit, but not too much.  This is still a very Nigella recipe.

About the feta: Feta cheese is a greek cheese that is wonderfully sharp and salty.  A little bit goes a long way, and it keeps forever in your refrigerator.  Seriously.  I've never seen feta go bad yet.  I'm sure it does at some point, but in my fridge it keeps fresh for months.  I buy a LARGE tub of it at Costco because it's MUCH more economical to buy it in bulk.  I highly recommend it.  The beauty of feta is that it adds the perfect punch of taste for just a point or two.  I love it.  I add a bit to a salad, in a frittata, on top of pasta.  Anywhere and everywhere.

Enough chat.  On with the recipe! 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Busy Mom's Arsenal: Jambalaya

I was making this "recipe" this summer, and wondered out loud to my Dad if this was a post-worthy dish.  After all, I said, it's pretty much a boxed rice mix that I just jazz up to suit my taste.  Is this really good enough to be posted? I asked.  He reminded me about the purpose of my blog in the first place:  A BUSY MOM COOKS.  He said that this sort of "recipe" is exactly what people are looking for-a way to jazz up quick items to make them seem homemade and delicious. 

As usual, Dad was right.  I want you to have a glimpse of what I cook on a busy night, when I'm in a pinch, and seriously can't fathom another salad for dinner.  What do I do? I reach for a boxed jambalaya mix and jazz it up.  I usually use the brand that's on sale.  Sometimes it's Zatarain's, sometimes it's Aldi's brand.  It just depends.  I usually stock up on 3 or 4 boxes at a time, so that the makings of an easy dinner is always in my cupboard. 

About the veggies: As with all of my recipes, the veggies that I have listed are ones that I had in my fridge at the time I made the dish and photographed it.  Please don't let my list of veggies stop you from using what you have in your fridge.  That's the whole point of easy cooking: use what you have on hand.  I've made this with onions and peppers only.  Sometimes I add zucchini or summer squash.  If I'm in a super pinch for time, I might just roughly chop an onion and then add a bag of frozen veggies.  Or canned.  It's so easy.  What you're looking for is a way to bulk up the recipe, stretch it so that it goes further, and simultaneously add to the nutritional value of the dish for you and your family's sakes. 

About the sausage: I used a chicken andouille sausage called Sausage by Amy.  I get it in a 3-pack at Costco.  I keep the packages in the freezer, pull a package out right before I need it, and pop the sausages (still in the wrappers) in a bowl of cold water, with more cold water running over it.  They defrost in about the time it takes for me to chop the veggies.  If for some reason the sausages are still solid inside, I'll pop them in the microwave quickly to finish the thaw. 

About the picture:  This recipe keeps well for a while and also freezes well.  Do what I did in the picture and store your leftovers in small, one-serving containers.  Keep them in the fridge for a few days and reheat for lunches.  Freeze what you don't eat in a few days. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

2 Recipes in One: Hoisin Burgers and Korean-style Lettuce Cups

I've made this recipe twice now.  It's a hit each time.  The burgers are full of flavor.  Gingery and garlicky and yummilicious.  (Yes, it's a word.  My own special word.)  But the clincher is the "special" ketchup.  It's simply a mixture of hoisin sauce and ketchup.  However, when you combine those two ingredients, you suddenly get an out-of-this-world combination that you can't resist dipping anything in.  Veggies.  Fries.  Your fingers. 

So, let's talk about the star ingredient:  hoisin sauce.  Never heard of it?  That's OK.  Just look in the Asian section of your grocery store.  I guarantee it will be there.  It's basically an Asian barbecue sauce.  A little bit packs a savory yet sweet punch, so you don't need much.  Add it to your stir fry and you'll want to kiss my feet.  Seriously.  In the words of my son's favorite show, Yo Gabba Gabba:  "Try it.  You'll like it." 

I adapted this recipe from a Weight Watcher's cookbook called Now & Later.  I love the concept of cooking something once and eating it twice, in different ways.  Let's face it, I really enjoy cooking in large batches.  But having leftovers that are exactly the same all week gets BORING! These two recipes are anything but boring.  In fact, the burgers themselves are so good, you may have to discipline yourself to save a few to make the next recipe.  But trust me.  Do it.  Save a few.  Make the next recipe.  It's like going to P.F. Chang's and getting the lettuce wraps.  Without the tip. 

So here goes.  Two recipes in one post.  Let me know if you love them as much as my family did.  In fact, I think I might make them again this week.  Hmmmm.