Archive for the ‘Intermediate’ Category

Gingered Collards with Rice Noodles and Vegetables

June 11, 2018

I know what my Southern friends are thinking – Gingered Collards??  I never heard of such a thing!  For, the non-collard eating folks out there, just pretend I said lacinato kale.  It sounds fancier.  But I hope you’re all intrigued enough to read on!

I am frequently on the hunt for something to do with collards (or kale) besides cook them to death with smoked meat.  I do love them that way, but one cannot cook with ham hock alone.  Of course my new chef BFF Vivian Howard worked it out for me.  And then I threw in a bunch of other stuff and made a whole meal out of them.

Let’s start with the collards.  Forget about half of what I’ve told you about chopping collards.  Do remove the stems and stack the leaves on top of each other.  Don’t roll and slice them.  You’re going to cut them into 1-2 inch squares instead.  So we’re already in unfamiliar territory with these greens.  And then you’re going to cook them in oil and butter and ginger until they caramelize.  Now we’re fully in a foreign land.  And it’s a wonderful place!

A few tips before you start.  Mis en place is a good thing.  It’s not huge here since you don’t have to move too fast, but since I was making this up it helped to feel prepared.  So do all your chopping and measuring and putting your noodles in to soak, or your water on to boil, before you start heating any oil or butter.  You’re going to make the collards all the way through and set them aside. That way your large cast iron skillet will be free make the sauce and to do the other vegetables.

Here’s what you need:


For the collards:

  • 1 t canola oil
  • 2 t butter
  • 1 bunch collards chopped into 1-2 inch squares
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh garlic
  • 1/4 t crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 C orange juice
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 T brown sugar

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the oil and butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat until the butter foams
  • Add the ginger
  • Add the collards, spread them into an even layer
  • Add the garlic and red pepper
  • Leave them be for 3 minutes (Seriously, no stirring or shaking the pan)
    • This is a LOT harder than you think.  I had to set the kitchen timer and walk away from the stove to resist the urge to stir!
  • Now you can stir!
  • Spread the collards back into an even layer and them sit another 3 minutes
  • They’ll start to brown and carmelize
  • Add the water, juice and sugar
  • Cook until the liquid cooks away
  • Remove the collards from the pan and set aside


If the collards get as done as you want them before the liquid cooks away just remove them and leave the liquid in the pan.  It will help with the sauce.

For the noodles:

You’ve got a couple of options.  Either fill a pot with HOT tap water and soak the noodles 25-30 minutes.  Or fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil.  Cook the noodles as you would pasta. Drain, rinse, and return to the pot.  Stir in the collards and a little bit a sesame oil to make sure the noodles stay separated.


For the sauce:

  • 2 T finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh garlic
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 3 T orange juice
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1/4 t crushed red pepper

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and then add to the cast iron skillet.  Bring to a boil and stir until it reduced and thickens.  Stay close by.  The sugar will burn if you’re not paying attention!


Pour the finished sauce into a bowl and set aside.

For the vegetables:

  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 1 C matchstick carrots
  • 1-2 spring onions, sliced, whites and greens divided
  • 8 oz sliced shiitake mushrooms

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel.  Heat the oil until it shimmers.  Add the peppers, carrots and onion whites.  Saute 2-3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms.  Cook down 3-5 minutes.


You’re almost done!  Add the vegetables to the noodles.  Stir in the sauce.  Top with the onion greens.  Enjoy!


How’d it turn out?

I had two bowls, so that tells you something.  It’s warm and noodle-y and has a great kick to it.  I’m super pleased to have happened upon these gingered collards.  They’ll be great as a side for a pork roast.  And it’s nice to have a way to serve collards that’s not so winter-y.  This also meets my requirements for flexibility!  You could use this to clean out the vegetable drawer for sure.  Bok choy, cabbage, radishes.  No rice noodles, no problem.  Udon, soba, spaghetti, rice – whatever you want.  Chill everything and serve over lettuce and cucumbers.  Vegetarian not your thing or need some extra protein?  Double the sauce and use it to marinate a flank steak.  Serve thinly sliced beef on top of your vegetables.  Not into spicy?  You can leave out the red pepper.  The fresh ginger will give you a gentler kick in the pants.

I’ve marked this as intermediate only because it’s a fair number of components in a specific order.  Don’t let that scare you!  It’s just noodles and veggies with a yummy sauce!


Leftover Greens Twice Baked Potatoes

June 3, 2018

It’s the end of my vacation week and I’m off on a business trip in the morning.  The last dinner before travel is often a very strange assortment of odds and ends from the week.  I didn’t have a lot leftover this week except some greens.  I decided to make myself a nice meal to close out my vacation, and still use up the fridge odds and ends.  I have to say this is a darn good use of greens that were leaning toward the wilty side.


Here’s what I had left:  6-7 leaves of lacinato kale; 1/3 of a large container of baby spinach; 1 spring onion; and part of a bunch of parsley.  I also had the last of a buttermilk parmesan dressing that I served with charred vegetables earlier in the week and a little cheddar.

You can use whatever you have.  Leek tops, chard, beet greens, turnip greens.  You’ll need a little liquid – milk or cream or stock.  And a little cheese or plain yogurt never hurt a stuffed potato!

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 400
  • Bake the potato, unwrapped, on the oven rack
  • Chop all the greens
  • Boil a small pot of water, add salt
  • Add the heaviest greens first, then the more fragile ones
  • Drain the greens into a colander and squeeze out any excess water
  • When a fork goes through easily the potato is done – an hour plus, so plan ahead
  • Slice the potato longways
  • Use a spoon to scoop the potato into a bowl
  • Mash the potato and add the greens
  • Add 3-4 T of liquid
  • Stir the mixture to incorporate ingredients evenly, adding more liquid as needed   (I ended up using about 1/4 C)
  • Stir in the cheese
  • Spoon the potato mixture back into the potato skins
  • Bake another 10-15 minutes

Here’s how it turned out:

Hard to go wrong with a twice baked potato! This is a nice upgrade from the sour cream, bacon and cheese version.  This is a way to get some greens in for folks who aren’t big fans.  If you want to hide them a little further, put the greens and a little liquid into a food processor and chop until smooth before adding them back to the potatoes.  You’ll end up with fun, green potatoes!

This would make a entree easily.  I had mine alongside a little steak and some of the spinach sauteed with garlic.

Farewell vacation!  It has been wonderful to sew and cook and bake and run and hang out with the pups.  Next, we’re back to easy weeknight recipes with leftovers!

Strawberry Shortcake

May 27, 2018

It’s Spring in Virginia!  And that means strawberries!  I can’t resist them at the farmers’ market.  The season is all too short so you have to take advantage when you can.  I’m constantly looking for recipes.  I’ve also had baking on the brain for a couple of days.  I like to bake, but I don’t do it very often.  Trying to protect myself from eating a whole cake or tray of cupcakes!  Alice Waters to the rescue again.

The shortcakes that we have in the grocery store are bright yellow sponge cakes with a divot in the middle for the strawberries.  It’s kind of a strawberry Twinkie.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve eaten my fair share of Twinkies over the years.  But they aren’t shortcakes.  So, I set out to find a good recipe.  Didn’t take long to make my way back to The Art of Simple Food.

As few ingredients as possible.  That’s what we’ve got here.  And totally versatile. I reduced the optional sugar in the dough so I can use half of these for shortcakes, with a little added sugar on top, and half for breakfast, with a little bacon on top!

Here’s the key to shortbreads, biscuits, pie crusts and the like:  cold butter that stays cold.  That means work quickly and handle the dough as little as possible.  Your hands are hot.  They melt the butter.  You want the butter to stay cold in the making so it can melt in the baking.

Just a few ingredients.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 1/2 C flour
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 4 t sugar (less or none if you want)
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 6 T cold butter cut into little pieces
  • 3/4 C heavy cream

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
  • Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl
  • Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a knife and fork


  • When the butter is the size of small peas stir in cream
  • Blend lightly with a form until the dough just starts to form


  • Dump it on a lightly floured board
  • Knead just until you can roll it out
  • When it’s 3/4 inch thick, cut into shapes
  • Put the biscuits on a baking sheet and brush with a little more cream


  • Bake 17 minutes, golden brown

Here’s how it went:

I am not fabulous at shortbreads and biscuits.  I don’t make them often enough to get good at it and I don’t have a very light hand in the kitchen. I tend to work these doughs a little hard.  Don’t do that.  It makes the biscuits tough.

I did well with this dough.  Almost.  I read the recipe wrong so I rolled it to a little thicker than 1/4 inch.  Oops.  You can’t mush it all back together and rework it because you’ll get tough biscuits.  So, I cut them all out and then mushed two biscuits together.  To avoid handling them too much I scored the top of one and the bottom of another to help the two pieces stick together.  It worked!


Of course they would be better if I’d done it right the first time, but this was a very good save.  And since I’m pulling them apart to serve them it works pretty well.


I will say that my new oven is a dream come true.  The biscuits have a crisp on the bottom and are fluffy in the middle.  They baked evenly and for exactly 17 minutes.  I couldn’t be happier with it!

I sliced some strawberries earlier today and mixed them with a little sugar.  Then I whipped some heavy cream with vanilla and sugar.  Voila!  Cream biscuits become strawberry shortcake.  Beautiful!


Linguine with Greens and Sausage

May 27, 2018

It’s Memorial Day Weekend!  For me, it’s the start to a whole week of staycation.  A time  for me to catch up on things, get the house in order, and exercise my creative brain – cooking, baking, gardening, sewing – heaven.  Often that means spending my evenings reading cookbooks.  Fortunately for me, more and more cookbooks these days have lovely stories as well as wonderful recipes.

I did a lot a running today:  running with dogs, running to the farmer’s market, running errands, making a grocery run.  So, I was pretty tired come dinner time.  I needed easy food.  Enter The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.  What I love about this cookbook is that it’s an introduction to ways of cooking, basic sauces, kitchen equipment, and how to put foods and flavors together.  Not fancy, but hasn’t failed me yet.

I had some lacinato kale left in the fridge that was holding up really well for being in the drawer for a week.  I had half an onion in the fridge.  I had sausage in the freezer.  (I always have sausage in the freezer).  Simple food.  Good food.  Really good food.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1/2 bunch of lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped (or whatever hardy green you have leftover)
  • 4 oz sausage cut into rounds, or crumbled (I used Della Nonna by Sausage Craft – it has cheese in it – yum!)
  • 1/2 onion sliced thin
  • 3-4 oz linguine (or whatever pasta you like; the recipe calls for fusili)
  • crushed red pepper

Here’s what you do:

  • Boil some water in a pasta pot; salt the water
  • Add the chopped kale, cook 6-8 minutes until the greens are tender
  • Drain into a bowl, reserving the water to cook the pasta in


  • In a heavy bottomed pan, cook the sausage, set aside
  • Drain all but 1 t of the fat


  • Add the onions and red pepper, cook until caramelized


  • Deglaze the pan with a little white wine or water


  • Simmer until slightly reduced
  • Cook the pasta in the greens water until al dente
  • Toss everything together


Here’s how it turned out:

Food, more or less just heated up. I gave it an Intermediate rating just because it’s a bunch of cooking and setting aside and some pot swapping so not as straightforward as a lot of pasta dishes.  Tastes better than a lot of pasta dishes too!

All the pieces taste like themselves.  And together – magical.  It looks nice too.  Nothing fancy, but absolutely fit for guests, or not.  I’m looking forward to leftovers!



Greens and Gruyere Tart

May 6, 2018

It’s been a heck of a busy weekend here.  It’s the first full weekend I’ve been at home since March!  So, yesterday I put in most of the garden.  Not quite warm enough yet for beans and cowpeas.  You’ll be hearing plenty about the garden in the coming months.  Yesterday was outside, so today had to be inside.  Many hours of cleaning. SO tired.  I might have punted and had wine with cheese and crackers for dinner, but I’ve been planning for this tart for a while.

I had odds and ends of greens from last week – chard, leeks, green onions.  And for some time now I’ve been in a quest to find a use for the green tops of leeks.  It just kills me that most recipes only call for the whites.  I’ve been throwing away 2/3 of the leeks for years.  I hate that!  No more.  Now I know I can saute and eat them like other greens.  Win!  I also had some leek whites leftover so that was my starting place.

Honestly, when you search recipe sites for leeks, this is about the first thing that comes up on most of them.  Let me warn you.  It takes a long time from the time you start to the time you eat, even with a store bought crust, so plan accordingly.  Fortunately it’s not difficult and since it sits for 30 minutes after it’s cooked, it’s perfect for having people over.

I’ll do a separate post about cleaning leeks.  And you do have to clean them.  They’re filthy.  I mean actual mud in between the layers.  So be diligent about the cleaning.  No one likes a gritty meal.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 pie crust – store bought or make your own
  • Assortment of chopped greens – shard, leek tops – about 4 cups
  • 1 leek and 2 green onions, whites and light greens only, chopped
  • 3 T fat/oil (bacon grease, olive oil, butter – or a combination)
  • 1 T flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 C half and half
  • 1 C grated gruyere, divided
  • 1/4 t grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper

Here’s what you do:

For the crust:

  • Preheat oven to 450
  • Place crust in pie pan
  • Prick crust with a fork
  • Line the bottom with parchment
  • Top with pie weights or dried beans
  • Bake 10 minutes
  • Remove weights and parchment
  • Prick crust again, bake another 5-7 minutes, until crust is done

For the filling (while the crust bakes)

  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Grate gruyere, set aside
  • In a large, heavy pan, heat 2 T fat
  • Add leek tops and saute 7-8 minutes, until fairly soft
  • Add chard (or other soft greens) and saute another 3 minutes
  • Remove the greens from the pan and set aside to cool
  • Add 1 T fat and heat to a shimmer
  • Add leeks and green onions, saute 8-10 minutes


  • Add 1 T flour, stir 1-2 minutes


  • Remove from heat and set aside, mixing with greens
  • In a large bowl, beat 2 eggs
  • Add half and half, nutmeg, salt, and pepper
  • Whisk together


  • Stir in greens and leeks


  • Layer 1/2 the gruyere on the bottom of the crust


  • Pour in filling, spread evenly


  • Top with remaining cheese


  • Bake at 375 30-35 minutes until center is set


  • Remove from the oven and let sit another 20-30 minutes before serving


Here’s how it turned out:

So good I ate two pieces!  Granted, this looks a lot more like brunch than a dinner after a weekend of killing yourself around the house and yard.  I’m shocked at how filling it is.  Only 2 eggs in the whole thing!  I threw together a little salad to have on the side.  A perfect brunch for guests to be sure, but I’ll be eating this for breakfast, lunch or dinner this week!

Try it with different greens or bacon or another hard, sharp cheese.  Serve it with grits or potatoes or fruit, in addition to a small salad.  Good warm and at room temperature.  Enjoy!

Umamen! Ramen Take 2

April 29, 2018

I spent my morning standing out in the cold and wind waiting to start an 8K.  Just one part of a very busy weekend.  Comfort food needed.  If possible, comfort food not full of fat.  I know, you’re thinking, um, ramen?  Ramen noodles have plenty of fat.  Thus, the Umamen.  These are udon noodles!  And rich miso and mushroom broth.  And lots of vegetables.  Comfort food.

This is kind of a combination of two recipes, with my own twists thrown in.  Check out the originals here and here.  The first is a vegetarian ramen recipe from and the second is a buckwheat bowl from Cooking Light.  My version is partly “what I had left in the vegetable drawer” and partly “what looked good at the grocery store.”  I wanted to use bok choy, but it looked awful.  This may be the first ramen with swiss chard in it.  No idea why I picked up the leeks, but here they are.  I had a box of shiitake mushrooms and some carrots left from last week.  I had some udon noodles left from God knows when.  Throw in some green onions and soft boiled eggs and there you have it.  Vegetarian comfort food.  (A little Hardywood Gingerbread Stout added some comfort too).

Honestly, this isn’t easy.  It has a lot of parts and needs a fair amount of tending.  There’s a lot of “bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.”  The eggs are a little fragile so peeling them takes some care.  You have to pay pretty careful attention to the order in which you add things or you’ll have mushy things or under-cooked things.  Not something to make while you’re doing laundry or packing lunches or talking on the phone.  So, pour yourself a beverage and settle in when you start this.  Of course you can do your chopping ahead of time.

Here’s what you need for the broth: 


  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1 C diced onion
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 2 T red miso paste
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 C vegetable stock (stock, not broth – if you use broth use 8 C broth and no water)
  • 4 C water
  • 1/2 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 C soy sauce
  • 2-4 eggs

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the sesame oil in a soup pot
  • Saute the onions, ginger and miso until the onions are soft
  • Add the ginger.  Saute 1-2 minutes,
  • Add stock, water dried mushrooms and soy sauce to taste
  • Bring to a boil
  • Add eggs in shell
  • Reduce broth to a simmer.  Cook 7 minutes.


  • Remove eggs to an ice water bath.
  • Peel eggs and set aside.

Here’s what you need for the umamen: (use whatever you have or like)


TIP:  Add vegetables in decreasing order of cooking time.  Hardest vegetables first and soft ones at the end.

  • 1 C sliced carrots
  • 1 large leek, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 cups chopped swiss chard
  • 8 oz sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/2 C sliced green onions
  • 2 bundles udon noodles

Here’s what you do next:

  • Bring the broth to a boil.  Add leeks and carrots.


  • Reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer 10-12 minutes.
  • Bring the broth to a boil.  Add chard, mushroom and noodles.


  • Reduce heat slightly.  Cook until the noodles are done.
  • Serve with a soft boiled egg and top with green onions.  Add more soy sauce to taste.


Here’s how it turned out:

Rich and comforting.  I honestly wouldn’t have said that a vegetable stock could be this rich and creamy, but it absolutely is. The starch from the udon noodles thickens the broth just enough that this dish feels hearty and a little light all at the same time.  The miso and mushroom broth has lots of depth and complexity.  You could use a variety of vegetables here.  Bok choy or napa cabbage instead of chard.  Red bell pepper instead of, or in addition to, carrots.  Maybe a drizzle of sesame oil on the top.  Definitely more ginger.  Maybe some rice wine vinegar.

Take out the egg to make it vegan.  Add some beef or tofu or edamame to bring up the protein.  The options are endless. Umamen!

Ooh-la-la! Crepes!

April 3, 2018

I have no idea what possessed me to make crepes tonight.  I had some roast chicken, half a red onion, and half a box of sliced mushrooms to use.  I  could have made a dozen different things.  The new stove has given me confidence, so crepes it is!

Turns out these are not nearly as hard as I thought.  But they take forever to do one at a time.  At about 4 minutes each cooking time and then another minute or so in the transfer to the warming plate, it took me every bit of 45 minutes to make 9.  And I made the filling first so now we’re up to an hour of total cooking time for dinner.  Not something I’d normally recommend for a Tuesday night.

We’ve got two things going tonight.  The white sauce for the filling and then the crepes.  We’ll start with the filling.  I decided it would work better to make that and keep it warm since I wasn’t sure how the whole crepe thing was going to go.

No pictures of the set up tonight, but here’s what you need:

For the filling:

  • olive oil
  • 4-6 ounces sliced mushrooms – cremini, baby bella or white button
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 T butter
  • 1/4 C flour
  • 1/2 C chicken stock
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1/2 C grated parmesan
  • 2 C chopped, cooked chicken
  • salt

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the olive oil in a medium sized sauce pan
  • Saute the onions until they’re begin to soften
  • Add the mushrooms
  • Saute until they’re browned and softened
  • Transfer to a bowl
  • Use a little of the chicken stock to deglaze the pan
  • Pour the liquid over the mushrooms
  • Melt the butter in the pan
  • Whisk in the flour.  A soft sort of dough will form.
  • Add a small amount of the stock.  Continue to whisk.
  • Add the milk a little at a time.  Continue to whisk.  You’ll start to see a sauce.
  • Add the rest of the stock as needed to get the consistency you want
  • Once you have the sauce, whisk in the cheese.
  • Return the vegetables and liquid to the pot.
  • Stir in the chicken
  • Keep warm until the crepes are done


For the crepes:

This is a Martha Stewart recipe.  I’m not usually a fan, but she steered me right this time.  Check it out!

Add these ingredients to a blender:

  • 1 C flour
  • 1 1/2 C whole milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 T butter, melted
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 T sugar
  • Blend about 30 seconds.  You should see bubbles on the top.
  • Let it sit a few minutes.  I waited 7-8 minutes, not the recommended 15.

Making the crepes:

  • Butter a non-stick pan and heat over medium heat.
  • Pour 1/3 C of the batter into the pan and swirl the pan until the batter reaches all the edges
  • Let it cook 2-3 minutes.  You’ll see that the edges begin to brown.
  • Use a silicone spatula and your fingers to flip the crepe
  • Cook one more minute
  • Keep warm
  • Repeat until the batter is gone
  • Separate the crepes with wax paper


  • Spoon some of the filling onto a crepe.

Tip I used a slotted spoon so the filling would be a little drier, and leave some sauce for the top.


  • Fold the crepe over
  • Top with some sauce and chopped parsley
  • ENJOY!


How was it?

Y’all, I was tired when this was done. I deserved a fancy crepe dinner!  I’m super proud of these.  I was fully prepared to screw these up and have soup out of the freezer for dinner.  The next test will be how well they re-heat.  Martha (we’re on a first name basis now) says you can keep them in the fridge 3 days.  I’ve got stuff going on so I’m going to see how they do when you freeze and thaw them.  I’ll let you know!



Lidl + Travel = Pasta Friday!

February 16, 2018

An impending trip always prompts some interesting meals as I try to use up vegetable odds and ends and other perishables.  Tonight’s fridge exploration resulted in a few broccoli crowns; some medium cheddar; the last of some Iberico ham; and a quart of milk that needed a purpose.

So what does Lidl have to do with it?  Last weekend I went to Lidl for the first time.  This is a dangerous, and somewhat frustrating, place for me.  Frustrating because I can’t possibly do the entirety of my grocery shopping there.  I have too many brand loyalties.  Some things Lidl sells only in larger quantities than I need. (I’m looking at you ramen noodles and green onions).  Some things I need, Lidl doesn’t carry at all.  (Um, decaf coffee, please)!

For me Lidl is an expensive place.  That’s the dangerous part. I bought all kinds of stuff I didn’t need.  It’s an amazing place to shop for European meats and cheeses.  Thus the Iberico ham.  I also picked up some lovely feta and Irish butter at a very good price!  Lidl also has lots of “special” items that are advertised at a special price with a sign that says something like “get it before it’s gone!”  I’m a sucker for that stuff.  So I also came home with some frozen scallops.  (What?!  I’ve never bought such a thing in my life).  I bought some truffle oil.  Now, that was a good deal and I do really like it.  I bought a package of orecchiette pasta with a seasoning packet attached.  Ridiculous.  I never buy seasoning packets except for taco seasoning!  So, I went in to look around and pick up eggs and milk.  I came out $42 later with my eggs and milk and a lot of other stuff.  Which brings us to tonight’s dinner.


It’s Pasta Friday!  I didn’t want to do anything too complicated.  I did want to use the broccoli and the ham rather than toss them before I leave town.  I had milk and cheese.  You see where I’m going with this.  Macaroni and cheese with some extras!  Alas, no macaroni.  Searching the cabinet – ditalini? Nope, too small to have with the broccoli.  Farfalle?  Nope, the cheese sauce kind of falls off.  Spaghetti?  Um, no.  Wait!  I have a bag of fancy orecchiette – little ears perfect for holding cheese sauce!  The seasoning packet is in the cabinet and likely to make an appearance mixed in olive oil and served with bread.

I thought we’d discussed cheese sauces in the last few weeks so I didn’t take any pictures, but I was wrong!  I’ll have to do another cheese sauce soon and do a better job.  There’s a lot of satisfaction in being able to make a good cheese sauce.  Here’s the basic idea.

Make a roux:  melt butter; whisk in flour; whisk in a small amount of milk;  whisk in a little more milk; whisk in a little more milk.  Getting it?  A little milk at a time, whisking constantly.  The whisking will make sure you don’t have lumps.  Bring the heat up enough to make the sauce bubble. This is how it thickens.  If it gets too thick, whisk in a little milk.  If it gets too thin, let it bubble until it thickens.

Tip If you put in too much milk and it won’t thicken enough by bubbling, make a slurry and add it in.  A slurry is a little flour mixed with a little milk or water.  That’s how you can add more flour and not end up with lumps.

Salt and pepper to taste.  That’s a white sauce.  To your white sauce add grated cheese.  I used medium cheddar tonight.  I like sharper cheddar so I have no idea why I even have it.  To add a little more tang I added some dijon mustard.  YUM!

Tip Grate your own cheese.  The pre-grated cheese is fine for topping tacos, but not for melting.  Manufacturers have to use an additive to keep the shredded cheese from sticking together in the package.  The coating keeps the cheese from melting smoothly.  You’ll have little uneven dots in your sauce where the cheese didn’t quite melt.  That might be a trade you’re willing to make to avoid having to grate your own cheese.  Fair enough.

For the pasta and broccoli save yourself the trouble of dirtying two pans.  Just make sure you have a large enough pot and enough water to accommodate both.  Bring the water to a boil and add the pasta.  When the pasta is about half done add the broccoli.  Drain them together and return them to the cooking pot.

Add your cheese sauce and fold it in.  Folding instead of stirring will help keep the broccoli whole.  Unless you’ve overcooked it, which is what happened to me.

You’ll see below that the broccoli does have plenty of whole pieces, but there’s also an awful lot of teeny tiny floret pieces spread throughout.  I underestimated the time it would take for the pasta to cook and I added the broccoli too early.  In a cheese sauce, where you’re going for something pretty smooth anyway, it’s not a big deal.  In a pasta primavera or something light like that it would be a bigger problem.

I just heated the ham in a pan until it started to crisp and chopped it.  Add the ham at end.  Save some for the top.  It just looks nice.  Or leave it out if you want a vegetarian meal.

So that’s how Lidl + travel produced my pasta Friday this week!  Hard to beat macaroni and cheese no matter how you make it!


Malai Palak (Indian Creamed Spinach)

February 11, 2018

Another recipe from my Rasika cookbook, it’s been on my list for a couple of weeks. I had just a little of the chicken curry left and this was nice to have alongside.  It’s nothing like the creamed spinach you may be used to, served with steak and filled with cheese and cream and butter.  I’m not knocking that, but this is definitely not that.  No cheese and with much less cream.  It turned out slightly more like spinach sauce or soup than I expected.  It tastes good and the onions give it some texture, but it still might be nice for it to be a little bit toothier.

I did make a couple of substitutions.  I used part of a jalapeno instead of a Thai green chili, less heat and a pepper slightly easier to come by.  I looked for fenugreek leaves and fenugreek leaf powder, but no luck.  Of course I combed the interwebs looking for a suitable substitute.  Here’s what’s weird. Some sites listed maple syrup and some sites listed fennel and others celery leaves.  Odd.  Maple syrup seemed kind of out there.  You have to buy a whole fennel bulb or a jar of fennel seeds.  I’m not a huge fan of fennel so I wouldn’t have a lot of use for the leftovers.  That left me with celery leaves.

For the spinach:

  • 1 large clamshell of spinach (10oz)
  • handful celery leaves
  • 3/4 C water

Blanche the spinach in boiling water and transfer immediately into a bowl of iced water.  That’s how you keep the bright green color.  Drain.  Add spinach, celery leaves, and water to a blender.  Process until smooth.


Here’s the spice/aromatic part of the ingredients list: (my photo disappeared!)

  • 1/4 C canola oil
  • 1/2 t cumin seeds
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 2 1/2 C diced onion
  • 1 T minced ginger
  • 1 t diced jalapeno
  • 1/2 t turmeric
  • 1/4 C cream
  • salt to taste

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the oil in a large pan.  When it shimmers add the cumin seeds and garlic. Brown the garlic.  30 seconds.
  • Add the onions.  Cook until the onions are brown. 5 minnutes
  • Add the ginger, jalapeno, and turmeric.  Stir 30 seconds.  Add the spinach.
  • Stir constantly for 5 minutes.  Be careful of the splatter.
  • Reduce the heat.  Add cream and salt.  Bring to a boil  Cook another 5 minutes.

Here’s how it went:

Other than the fenugreek, this recipe is pretty easy and pretty good.  It’s beautifully bright green.  It has a toasty flavor with just a little heat.  I did end up with a green polka dotted kitchen.  There’s a LOT of splatter when you add the spinach.  It’s a great side dish.  I imagine it will be good served over rice.  The cookbook offers adding cubed paneer  or potatoes as good variations.  Palak paneer makes a good entree and adding some potatoes would give some weight to the spinach as a side.  All in all, two thumbs up!  My array of Indian food at home is increasing!


UPDATE:  This is absolutely a multi-use vegetable side.  It makes a fantastic topping for scrambled eggs and an amazing sauce for pasta!

Super Bowl Sunday Shrimp: Etouffee

February 4, 2018

I’m in a disagreement with the NFL (I think Roger Goodell is a complete tool) and I have the hot hates for both of these teams so it’s unlikely I’ll watch much of the game tonight. Still, that shouldn’t preclude me from participating in the food extravaganza that is  Super Bowl Sunday.  I braved the grocery store yesterday and came home with shrimp etouffee and BBQ shrimp, or at least the components.

I have afternoon plans so I did all my prep when I got home from my volunteer gig at the SPCA.  Chopping done.  Shrimp peeled.  (Imagine my delight when I realized that they were already deveined!)  Shrimp stock on the stove.

Here’s what you need:


1 Tbsp Creole seasoning (like Tony Chachere)
2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Onion, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Celery, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Bell Pepper, Finely Chopped
1/8 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup fresh Tomatoes, diced
2 Cups Shrimp Stock
2 Tbsp Minced Garlic
2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp Hot Sauce (I like Frank’s)
3 Tbsp minced Italian Parsley
1 lb Good Quality Shrimp, Peeled and Deveined, Save shells for the stock
1 Tbsp Unsalted Butter

The stock almost makes itself here.  You’re already chopping celery, onion, pepper and garlic.  Put the ends and leftovers in a small pot as you go.  Add a couple of lemon slices, some salt and water.  Let it simmer, partially covered, for an hour or more.  Keep an eye on it so you don’t lose too much liquid.  Add water if you need to.  Easy peasy.  Drain it into a bowl or measuring cup.  You’ll need about 2 cups.


Here’s what you do:

  • Melt the butter in a pan.  Add the onion, celery, pepper and garlic.  Saute until they begin to soften.
  • Add the flour.  Whisk the flour into the vegetables and stir constantly for 3-5 minutes, or longer to taste.

The key to etouffee is the roux.  The roux makes the gravy.  Etouffee means “smothered” so the gravy is everything. The longer you cook the roux, the darker it gets in color and in flavor.  This recipe calls for a blond roux, 3-5 minutes.  I cook mine 5-7 minutes for just a little extra brown.


  • Whisk in a little stock, forming a paste
  • Add the stock a little at a time and keep whisking
  • Let the etouffee thicken as you add stock.  Use the stock to loosen and the heat to thicken as needed

When you add the first bit of stock the roux will form a paste.  It will ball up almost like a dough as you stir. See above. A whisk will help smooth this out.  You really do have to whisk the whole time.  If you walk away it will stick to the pan and likely seize up.  That’s how you end up with glumpy gravy.   It’s the bubbling temperature that makes the liquid thicken so once you’ve got the stock all in and the texture that you want, turn it way down.  You still need to stir as it simmers or you’ll get a skin on top, but not constantly.


  • Simmer 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently

If the sauce gets too thick add a little stock to loosen it up.  If you run out of stock you can use water just as well.  Stir occasionally, but you can do other things at this point.   This simmers 20-30 minutes so this is your opportunity to put the rice on or make a salad or find yourself a beer.  Tonight, I cheated.  I used leftover rice.  Not even my rice.  Chinese takeout rice.  No joke.

Tip If you know you have a week with a couple of rice dishes in a given week stop by your local Chinese takeout place and buy a quart of rice.  It reheats just fine in the microwave if you add a little water and cover it.

At the end up the simmering time you’ll have a beautiful caramel colored etouffee.


  • Add the shrimp and parsley.  Simmer 7-8 minutes until shrimp is cooked through
  • Add butter
  • Serve with rice

If you’ve cut the temperature back for the simmer, turn it back up some when you add the shrimp.  You need a pretty decent simmer to cook the shrimp quickly enough that they don’t get rubbery.  Be sure to give large shrimp 7-8 minutes.  Don’t go by color.  When you cook them this way they’ll turn pink on the outside before they’re cooked all the way through.

Adding the butter at the end gives the sauce a nice shine.  Doesn’t hurt the flavor any either.  If you’ve added a lot of stock or water to make the consistency right, you may need to add extra Creole seasoning and/or hot sauce.  You can always make that available for each person to add to taste as well.


Tip  If you’re making this for guests do everything up through simmering the etouffee before folks arrive.  You can let that sit until you’re ready for it.  You may have to skim it, but probably you can just bring it back to a simmer and add a little water to get it ready for the shrimp.

Here’s what I thought:

It’s shrimp in spicy gravy.  Of course it’s good!  I actually prefer the roux a little darker.  I just got impatient tonight.  The recipe I started with called for homemade Worcestershire sauce and homemade Creole seasoning.  I’m all about doing things from scratch, but this seemed like overkill to me.  And I left out the thyme because I don’t have any.  I didn’t miss it.

This is darn good Super Bowl food.  Easy to make for a crowd.  Good with beer.  Eat with a spoon.  A very nice step up from chili.  Enjoy!