Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Spinach & Feta Melts, May 9, 2017

Continuing with my sandwiches for dinner theme, last night, I made spinach & feta melts. I have a loaf of 100% rye bread from the farmers' market, bought specifically with this meal in mind. I toasted slices of the dense, fragrant bread. Then, I topped them with fresh spinach leaves, sliced kalamata olives, and slabs of imported feta cheese. I broiled them until the cheese was soft and starting to brown around the edges. I served these open-faced sandwiches with hummus, pita, baby carrots, and mango-based fruit salad from the grocery. I'd intended to make a more complicated dinner, but this was really yummy and gave me extra time to play with my little Bear. That little Bear, by the way, was a big fan of the sandwiches---especially the olives.

Tuna Sandwiches, May 8, 2017

I'd intended to make a real dinner Monday night, but I'd been hungry for tuna salad and had all the ingredients. My wee boy had been asking for tuna a couple days before, so I think that was also in my head. I wasn't sure he'd ever had tuna, but he very clearly asked for it. So, Monday night, I chopped celery, doled out mayonnaise, tipped in a bit of pickle relish, mixed it all with tuna, seasoned with salt and pepper, and we had a nice batch of tuna salad. We'd picked up a beautiful loaf of sourdough at the farmers' market, so we had it on that. Delicious, although I think I got a little overly enthusiastic with the relish. Ah, well. I served it with chips, cucumber slices, and a fruit salad, starring mango, we picked up at the grocery.

Spinach & Gruyère Strata, Weekend Brunch, May 7, 2017

We didn't have fancy dinners on Saturday or Sunday. We always, always end up throwing away entirely too many leftovers, so I decided to institute a weekly Leftoverpalooza. It's going to work out especially nicely the weeks my wife has to travel for work, as they won't even seem like leftovers to her. That was true this week. She was eager to sample the curried turkey pot pie and North Indian style mashed potatoes I made while she was in New Jersey. I heated some for myself, too, but took longer to get the baby to sleep than expected and then fell asleep in the nursery chair. Oops! When I awoke, it was 3 a.m. and my wife was asleep on the couch. My leftovers had long since gotten cold and didn't seem at all appealing. So, I had a bowl of raisin bran and prepped a strata for our breakfast before climbing into bed.

As I was sautéing onions at 3:30 in the morning, I was questioning my sanity and thinking it'd be far better just to go to bed and have fried eggs in the morning. However, when we actually ate the strata, I was congratulating myself for going ahead with my plan, ever how late it may have been when I did. It was truly delicious. I'd wanted to create a wonderful meal for Jeannene before she had to fly out to Montreal that evening and I succeeded quite well. This dish would make for an excellent one to serve guests, as it's impressive and super simple. Plus, you can make it the night before and you just have to pop it in the oven in the morning. The original recipe came from Gourmet Magazine back in 2003 and I've altered it only very slightly.

Spinach and Gruyère Strata
1/4 onion, chopped
1 tbsp. butter or olive oil
Salt & pepper
A grating of fresh nutmeg
5 oz. frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 loaf French bread (4 c.), cubed
3 oz. Gruyère cheese, grated
2 oz. parmesan, grated
1 1/2 c. milk (2% or skim is fine)
5 eggs
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Sauté onion in butter/oil until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add spinach and cook another minute or so. Place 1/3 of the bread into a greased (I use cooking spray) 2-quart casserole dish. Top with 1/3 of the spinach mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheeses. Repeat with another two sets of layers. Whisk everything else together, adding a bit more salt & pepper, if desired. Pour evenly over the layers in the casserole dish. Cover and chill 8 hours or so. Let stand at room temperature half an hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake until puffed golden, and cooked through, 45-55 minutes. Serves 4-6. 

We had early dinner Sunday, too. We found a gorgeous heirloom tomato at the farmers' market that I just had to use in Russian sandwiches, an open-faced concoction beloved in my family for at least 4 generations. Apparently, if you Google "Russian sandwich," you will find a sandwich with salad as the filling. This is not that Russian sandwich---in fact, there's not much Russian about it. My friend, Lisann, says, "Except people will be rushin' to eat it." It's basically toast with a layer of tomato, a layer of crisp bacon, and a layer of extra-sharp cheddar. I made this round on flax & sunflower bread. I served our sandwiches with kale salad ((recipe here) and had angel food cake (from the grocery) topped with macerated strawberries and whipped cream.

Tacos, May 5, 2017

This post will prove to some of my readers who think we always have fancy dinners and might, perhaps, be food snobs, that neither is the case. With it being Cinco de Mayo and our son's 18-month birthday, my wife, whose turn it was to pick dinner, decided to make tacos and refried beans for our supper. Simple and sustaining. For the tacos, she used an Old El Paso kit, which she, as always, doctored up a bit. We were concerned that the meat would be too spicy for our wee boy, but he was happy to eat it with soft tortillas. He always loves beans.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Shepherd's Pie, Of Sorts, May 4, 2017

In one of those old church cookbooks---you know, the ones where the recipes are never tested---I found a recipe for shepherd's pie that included ingredients (which I updated a bit, believe it or not) and what to do with them up to the baking point (largely, opening cans). Then, nada. Well, it was pretty easy to decide what to do after that, so I jumped in, thinking it sounded homey. It was pretty good, to me. To my wife, it was fabulous! She said it reminded her of the hamburger gravy they used to serve at her school. We had just been talking about school lunches the other day and she had told me how very much she loved hamburger gravy day. So, I was very happy I made it. Thanks, Punxsutawney UCC folks! I'd planned to serve this with salad and fruit, but I got lazy.

Shepherd's Pie, Of Sorts
1 lb. ground beef, browned (I use the 96% lean)
Salt & pepper
1 can cream of mushroom soup (low-fat & low sodium)
1 can green beans, drained well
1 package Bob Evans prepared mashed potatoes (or whatever brand you like)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place ground beef in a 2-qt. casserole dish. Top with green beans and mushroom soup. Spread mashed potatoes evenly over the top. Bake 30-40 minutes. Serves 4-6. 

Warm Lentil Salad, May 3, 2017

My wife truly despises lentils, so I try to take advantage of her work trips as opportunities to have lentils for supper. That and sloppy joes, which I could probably eat every night for a week. Tonight, Wee Boy and I enjoyed a warm lentil salad with some cheddar, blue cheese, and rosemary gougères and fresh mandarin oranges. He is a big fan of legumes of any sort, so he was completely down with the lentil plan. Normally, I use sherry or red wine vinegar in lentils. Normally, I would never put honey in a savory dish like this. However, it seemed like it would be fun to fancy up the lentils this time. Next time, I'll go with my old standbys. This was good, don't get me wrong. It was just a tad more sweet than I would have liked.

Warm Lentil Salad
2 c. French green lentils
1/2 onion, chopped
14 baby carrots, diced (or 2 regular ones---I just had the minis on hand)
2 celery stalks, diced
3 c. water
4 strips bacon (optional)
2 tbsp. olive oil (if not using bacon)
Salt and pepper
A splash of balsamic vinegar
A small squeeze of lemon juice (fresh is highly recommended here)
A dollop of honey
Salad greens (I used spring mix)

Put lentils, onion, carrots, celery, and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook about 40 minutes. Drain, if necessary, and place in large bowl. Fry bacon until crisp. Drain, leaving a bit of the fat in the pan. Return lentils to pan and toss with bacon grease. If not using bacon, toss with warmed olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add balsamic, lemon, and honey. Mix well. Serve over greens. Serves 4-6. 

I never made or ate gougères before tonight, although I had long wanted to try them. Frankly, they are a bit too eggy for my taste, rather reminiscent of Yorkshire puddings. These were fine, but not something I would seek in the future. If you like eggy, though, you will love these. They're super simple, too. You can sub whatever cheeses you have on hand or love best. I jumped off from a Giant Eagle grocery chain free recipe, but switched both the cheese and the herbs. 

Cheddar, Blue Cheese, and Rosemary Gougères
1 c. water
5 tbsp. butter
3/4 c. flour
3 eggs
3 oz. grated sharp cheddar
A sprinkle of crumbled blue cheese
A sprinkle of rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring the water and butter to a boil. Over low heat, add flour and mix until batter is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly. Add cheeses and rosemary. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. Bake half an hour. Makes 3 dozen. You can also make them a bit bigger and bake just a smidge longer. 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Curried Turkey Pot Pie, May 2, 2017

Tonight's dinner was perfect for a cool, rainy evening. Wee boy gobbled everything up with gusto and I quite enjoyed it, as well. I did a simple curried turkey "pot pie" (in a casserole dish, with a Bisquick topping as the "crust"), with roasted cauliflower, as well as mashed potatoes inspired by a Madhur Jaffrey recipe for North Indian style mashed potatoes. The last was sent to me by my mom and I've been meaning to try it, as well as feeling skeptical about it, for ages. The dish sounded pretty odd to me, but ended up being quite tasty and definitely different. My baby, who usually is not a big fan of mashed potatoes, couldn't get enough of them. I just made regular mashed potatoes and added sprinkles of cayenne (not terribly much), cumin (more), chopped parsley (plenty), and lime juice (just a splash). As for the cauliflower, just toss florets with some olive oil, salt, and pepper before roasting 20-25 minutes in a preheated 425 degree oven.

Curried Turkey Pot Pie
1 c. chicken broth (I always use reduced sodium)
2 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 large can Veg-All Homestyle or other large-cut veggies, well-drained
About half a pound of turkey, cubed (I just get the deli to slice me a nice, thick slab)
Salt & pepper
1 c. Bisquick
1/2 c. milk
1 egg, beaten
A handful of chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk broth and flour until smooth. Heat the spices, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and whisk in broth. Cook, stirring, until bubbling and thickened, 5-7 minutes. Add veggies, turkey, salt, and pepper. Mix well and turn into a casserole that has been coated with cooking spray. Mix the other ingredients. Spread evenly over the top of the casserole. Bake 1/2 hour. Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

Burgers in Pitas with Lemon-Mint Mayonnaise, May 1, 2017

Last night's dinner was so excellent, I did something I rarely do. I had the exact same thing for lunch today. I made burgers tucked into pita halves, with a lemon-mint mayonnaise and some spring mix for extra flavor. They were stellar, but not as wonderful as the salad I threw together, which tasted of spring and freshness and light-heartedness. My 17-month-old was crazy about the salad, too. He got a little confused about the cucumbers and kept asking for, "More pickle?" He was also sorry I wouldn't let him have more and more and more of the kalamata olives.

For the salad, I threw some chopped up green pepper, cucumber sliced in demi-lunes, pepperoncini rings, sliced red onion, halved kalamatas, red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper together in a salad bowl. Then, I sprinkled it with a little crumbled feta and tossed it all. I like this kind of salad, absent of any lettuces or other delicate greens, because it's still terrific the next day.

Burgers in Pitas with Lemon-Mint Mayonnaise
1 lb. ground meat (to make it very Mediterranean, you'd use lamb. If you are not a lamb eater, 96% lean ground beef is excellent)
1/4 onion, chopped
1 tsp. oregano
Salt & pepper
1/4 c. mayonnaise (I used olive oil mayo)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 squirt lemon juice
A handful of chopped mint
Pita halves
Salad greens

Lightly, but thoroughly, mix meat, onion, oregano, salt, and pepper. Shape into 4 patties. Coat a large skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium-high. Cook burgers until browned on both sides and cooked through. Mix mayonnaise with garlic, lemon zest and juice, mint. Spread on the insides of the pita halves. Adorn with salad greens, then add burgers. Serves 4. You could easily adapt this to be vegetarian or vegan by sautéing veggie burgers in onions, sprinkling them with the oregano, and then using a vegan mayo. 

For dessert, we had raspberry shortcake, using some biscuit-style shortcakes I found at Whole Foods. I macerated the raspberries with a smidge of sugar while dinner cooked and we ate. Then, I served them over the shortcake with a dollop of whipped cream. I could cheerfully have just eaten the berries, while my son eschewed the berries and went right for the shortcake.