Monday, July 9, 2018

Moroccan Summer Vegetable Stew


  Whenever my schedule becomes a little bit hectic, I find myself falling into that all too familiar trap of ordering a lot of take out food. Pizza, Chinese food, and of course, Wawa hoagies. Yes, of course, it's very convenient to just stop and pick something up on my way home from whatever show I'm rehearsing, but after a while, I CRAVE something fresh. So, inevitably, I wind up going to the produce market, seeing which veggies look the best, and then making something a little more colorful and a little less fried.
 Since I happen to live in the Garden State, I have access to an entire rainbow of fresh produce, and Summer always brings some of my very favorite veggies. All it took was a quick google search which brought me to the perfect recipe for all of my fabulous faves.
 It's from a blog called Veganosity and it's absolutely delish! One of the things I like about it (just like the website says) is that it just happens to be Vegan. In other words, there aren't a whole lot of Vegan versions of non Vegan ingredients. That always seems to be a better choice, in my book. For instance, if I were choosing a low carb menu, I would prefer to have foods that were naturally low in carbs, instead of, say, a low carb "pasta" or low carb "bread", know what I mean? It just tastes better! So, in this case, you just have vegetables, broth, aromatics, herbs, and spices. I wasn't necessarily looking for something Vegan, but it just so happens that it is! This is DEFINITELY the welcome change I had been craving. It's also really quick to throw together, so you don't have to worry about slaving over a hot stove. Usually, my go to summer veggie recipe is the Avocado Gazpacho recipe that I got from my school pal, Kathleen. I think this recipe needs to be added to the rotation!



1 tbs vegetable oil
1 red onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch coins
1 bell pepper, any color, seeded and diced
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 yellow summer squash, diced
1 tbs ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 can coconut milk
1 tbs (or more to taste) garam masala spice blend
1 tsp coarse salt
2 medium tomatoes, diced

fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish
couscous or rice for serving



 Heat the oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and carrots. Cook until the onion becomes translucent. Add the zucchini and cook until it begins to brown around the edges. Add the yellow squash, ginger, and garlic and cook for two minutes. Add the vegetable broth (if you want a stronger coconut taste, only add three cups of broth instead of four), coconut milk, garam masala, and salt and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer for five minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for another five minutes.
Cook the couscous or rice according to package directions. Fluff with fork. Place on a plate, pour stew over. Top with chopped cilantro.



Tips:
I've often heard that some people find cilantro to have a soapy taste. If you fall into this category, just use fresh parsley!  And btw, instead of sprinkling it just over the top, I added the cilantro right into the stew at the end.
The stew will thicken just slightly as it simmers. If you would like a thicker stew, make a quick slurry of a couple tbs of flour with an equal amount of cold water or broth, then stir it into the stew. Bring it up to a boil until it thickens.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Blueberry BBQ Baked Beans


 Ok, ok, I know you're probably thinking "Wait... baked beans with BLUEBERRIES???"
And the answer is absolutely YES!!! Just hear me out!!
 I've always loved to do something unexpected with your usual classic something, and this time I decided to do a new riff on baked beans. I've already done pineapple baked beans, maple bacon baked beans, and my regular classic baked beans, so why not do something with blueberries?
 At first I just figured I'd start out with your basic cans of pork and beans, and then embellish them with blueberry-ish ingredients, but then I found this recipe from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council and decided to give it a try. I figure, well, blueberries are their thing, they wouldn't post this recipe if it wasn't good, right? And I was right!!!
 The first thing I noticed is that it's not tomato or ketchup based. And it uses regular white beans instead of cans of pork and beans. Also it uses molasses and balsamic vinegar. Sounds good to me! So I went for it. OMG it's so delicious!!! No, it doesn't taste like pie filling, and yes, it tastes like BBQ, even though there's no BBQ sauce in it!
 So you should DEFINITELY give this one a try. Make it for your family and friends or bring it to a potluck. I guarantee it'll be the talk of the party!



2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (15 ounces each) white beans, such as cannellini or navy, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses ­
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1-1/4 teaspoons mustard powder
1 cup blueberries
4 drops liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 to 2 teaspoons minced jalapeno
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1 teaspoon lime zest



 Over medium heat, in a medium saucepan, add olive oil and white onion. Cook until onion is translucent; add garlic. Cook until garlic becomes fragrant; add beans, molasses, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, mustard powder and ginger. Stir and let thicken for 5­-8 minutes. Toss in half of the blueberries and macerate with beans; add liquid smoke. Stir and let cook an additional 5­-8 minutes. Remove from heat and add in the remaining blueberries, jalapeño, lime zest and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with basil.


Tips:
 I must admit that I didn't do it EXACTLY as written. I didn't have mustard powder, so I just added a heaping tsp of Dijon mustard. The original recipe called for frozen blueberries, but I used fresh, and I used twice as many. And I added chopped cherry peppers instead of a jalapeno.
 For me, the key ingredients are the liquid smoke and the fresh basil. Be sure to include them!!
I think maybe the next time I make it, I'm gonna add bacon, because everything is better with bacon!! I would probably just brown the bacon with the onions and omit the oil. Works for me!



Monday, June 18, 2018

Jam Swirled Cheesecake Squares


  Just as I do every year, I was looking for a red white and blue something to make for July 4th. This year's contribution is an easy and perfect time saver because you can do it way ahead!
 I was trying to think of something that would work with my home made strawberry and blueberry jams, and this is what I found! It's a slightly tweaked version of a Nestle recipe and it's just exactly what I was looking for. Just a quick basic crust, basic cheese filling, and then a swirl of jam! Perfect, right? Seriously, its beauty is in its simplicity. It's the perfect starting point recipe for any cheesecake squares, and then you can vary it up however you like.
 I just happened to have some strawberry pineapple jam, and a brand new batch of fresh blueberry rhubarb jam on hand, so that's what I used, but I will DEFINITELY try other flavors the next time I make this. Ooo maybe fresh blackberry jam next! Or maybe fresh pineapple, one of my all time favorites! I promise, your friends and family will absolutely devour these little gems at your July 4th BBQ long before it's time for fireworks! Have fun, be safe, and enjoy!




First line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper with an inch or two of overhang on each side.

For the crust:
one entire box of shortbread cookies or vanilla wafers
2 tbs sugar
4 tbs melted butter

Place all ingredients in a food processor and give it a good blitz until it becomes fine crumbs that are evenly coated with butter. Press evenly into prepared pan. Bake crust for 15 minutes at 325ºF.

Remove from oven. Let it cool. Meanwhile make the filling.

For the filling:

3 (8oz) pkgs cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Use a paper towel to wipe out the food procesor of crumbs. No need to completely wash.
Place all filling ingredients in the now crumb free food processor. Process until completely smooth.
Pour filling over baked crust.

For the topping:
Place teaspoonfuls of your favorite jam all over the top. I would say about 1/4 -1/3 cup of jam, total. Yes, it will probably sink in, but that's ok. Use a tooth pick to swirl, making sure not to disturb the underlying crust.
Bake at 325ºF for 40 minutes or until set. Cool completely then refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Cut into squares and serve!



Tips:
For the crust, I used Lorna Doone cookies. Why? Because I LOVE 'em! But use anything you like. Vanilla wafers or graham crackers would be my second choice. You could even do golden or regular Oreos. No need to add the butter and sugar, just process until crumbs and then proceed as directed!
 Don't have a food processor? just crush the cookies in a ziploc bag. And use an electric mixer to mix up the filling! The only reason I used a food processor for the filling was because I didn't feel like washing another dish! heehee
 I used strawberry pineapple and blueberry rhubarb jam. I wanted the red white and blue, but feel free to add just one. Or as many as you like! Don't have any jam? Use teaspoonfuls of pie filling instead!
Definitely be sure to chill the pan for several hours. It makes cutting into squares so much easier!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef



 Several years ago, I went to dinner at P.F. Chang's (which is a Chinese food restaurant chain). OMG it's SO delicious. I had the Mongolian Beef, and it quickly because one of my all time faves. I order it literally every time I go back, which is not often enough, btw. (Anyone wanna go?)
 Ever since then, I've been on the lookout for any recipes or restaurants that could even come close. The tender beef, the sweet/salty sauce, no one else's seemed to compare. Well, until NOW!
OK ok, well maybe it's not EXACTLY as good, but so far this one comes closest to the mark. It's from a blog called The Recipe Critic and I tweaked it ever so slightly. It's super easy too, especially since you make it in the crock pot! So, if you want the BEST Mongolian Beef EVER, then you need to go to P.F. Chang's, but in the meantime this one will definitely satisfy your craving. Now all I need to do is get the recipe for their Orange Peel Chicken...  mmmm.



1 1/2 pounds flank steak
1/4 cups cornstarch
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger root
3/4 cups soy sauce
3/4 cups water
3/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup grated carrots
sliced green onions, for garnish



 Cut steak into thin strips. In a ziploc bag add steak pieces and cornstarch. Shake to coat.
Add olive oil, minced garlic, soy sauce, water, brown sugar and carrots to slow cooker.
Stir ingredients. Add coated and steak and stir again until coated in the sauce.
Cook for high 2-3 hours or on low 4-5 hours until cooked throughout and tender.
Serve over rice and garnish with green onions.



Tips:
I wasn't able to find flank steak, so I used a Top Round (London Broil) steak.
I was also just shy of 3/4 cup of soy sauce, so I added a little Worcestershire Sauce to make up the difference. Worked perfectly well!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Cheesy Barbecue Casserole




Lately I've been in a sort of casserole-ish mood. I know we usually save casseroles for Fall and colder weather, but I just figured what about a summer casserole? So then I got to thinking about different versions of mac n cheese and I remembered doing a crock pot cheeseburger mac that was absolutely delicious. So I held onto that idea for a bit, did some browsing of the interwebs, and this is what I found! It's from Betty Crocker. Well, the original is from Betty Crocker. This one is my tweaked version. Tbh, I didn't really change anything except for the amounts. The original called for 11oz of pasta. Who cooks just 11 oz? So I did the whole pound. I was also a lot more generous with the cheese and the barbecue sauce, but it's still basically the same recipe.
 Yes, yes, I know one or two of you may be saying "barbecue sauce on pasta?" TRUST ME! It's barbecue cheesy goodness and it's the perfect thing for you summer BBQ, especially if you're feeding a crowd. This is definitely the cheeseburger mac vibe I was looking for. I'm pretty sure you were looking for it too. You just didn't know it yet! You're welcome.



1 lb ziti or other shaped cut pasta
1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce, plus more
8 oz shredded Mozzarella cheese
8 oz shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley


Heat oven to 350°F.
Spray a 9x13 casserole dish with cooking spray. Cook and drain pasta as directed on package. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until beef is brown; drain. In a large mixing bowl, stir together pasta, beef mixture and all remaining ingredients. Spoon mixture into casserole dish. Sprinkle with more Cheddar cheese, if desired. Bake uncovered 30 to 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with a little more parsley and drizzle with a little more barbecue sauce.



Tips:
I was very heavy handed with  the barbecue sauce. Like I always say More is more!!! But just taste it and see how much YOU like!
You could go in MANY directions with this. Instead of ground beef, how about shredded chicken? instead of mozzarella and cheddar, add whatwever kind of gooey melty cheese you like!