Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Snack Dinner with Homemade Salsa and Guacamole

Scott and I have developed a new fun and easy weeknight meal: we call it snack dinner.

Snack dinner came about because of a long-standing guilty pleasure of mine. Occasionally when we go out to a pub, I order nachos as my meal. I love nachos, but I never order them as an appetizer because I can't ever finish them and my main dish. So, I eat them as my main dish.

When I make soups and stews, I sometimes end up with more carrots or celery than I can use. We had some extra one night and I was thinking about a way to use them up. Scott suggested we make some guacamole and dip the leftover veggies in it. And snack dinner was born.

Snack dinner has many advantages, not the least of which is its flexibility. Here is basically all you need:
1. Some grouping of cut raw veggies (carrots, celery, green beans, zucchini, bell peppers, broccoli)
2. Some form of dip (salsa, guacamole, hummus, bean dip)
3. Some kind of chips or crackers (baked pita chips, tortilla chips, wheat crackers, regular ol' potato chips)
4. Some kind of fruit (orange slices, apple slices, grapes, a mixed fruit bowl)

Viola! Snack dinner. It's fun, it requires minimal preparation, it's pretty healthy (veggies, fruit, small portions), and it helps you to accommodate all the eaters in your house because it's so customizable.

Best of all you can eat it from the comfort of your couch!

Notes: Both my guacamole and salsa are pepper-free because Scott doesn't like peppers. So I get the heat from hot sauce. You can add whatever peppers you like.

Snack dinner can easily be made in advance. If you're using carrots and celery for another dish earlier in the week, go ahead and cut up the rest for snack dinner later. I think the salsa is better if you let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days so the flavors have time to meld.

For snack dinner, you can use as much store-bought stuff as you want to make things easier.

Homemade Guacamole Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados
2 limes
1 small bunch of cilantro
Hot sauce

Directions: Slice the avocados open and remove the pit. Scoop the innards into a bowl and mash with a fork. Mince the cilantro and add it to the avocado. Cut the limes in half and squeeze the juice over the mixture. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Stir to combine.

Homemade Salsa Ingredients:
4 roma tomatoes
1 small bunch of cilantro
1/2 a shallot
2-3 garlic cloves
Hot sauce

Directions: Cut the tomatoes and the shallot into a small dice. Mince the garlic and cilantro. Mix together. If you have the time, let this mixture sit for 24 hours in the fridge. Before you serve, add in salt and hot sauce to taste.

Enjoy a snacking good time!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cheese-less Broccoli and Mushroom Rice Casserole

Although I am an ardent cheese lover, there are some things with cheese that don't even appeal to me. One of those things is a cheese-heavy casserole. Don't get me wrong: I could eat most of a pan of baked mac 'n cheese by myself if you let me. But there's something about the combination of mixed vegetables and cheese that doesn't sound appealing.

I was thinking about casseroles earlier this week and I decided to make one without cheese. Chicken pot pie was my inspiration: it has a nice creamy texture without any cheese. So I made a pot pie base and combined it with the traditional ingredients for broccoli and rice casserole. Viola! Cheese-less perfection.

Notes: This dish is flexible: add in whatever combination of veggies and ingredients you like. You could easily use brown rice if you prefer it or add some cooked chicken for a meaty version. You could switch out the broccoli for peas or zucchini. Casseroles are all about using what you have.

Feel free to take some help from the store on a busy weeknight. Use pre-sliced mushrooms and steam-in-the-microwave frozen broccoli to minimize your chopping and sauteeing time.

I wrote the recipe so that you make the bechamel in a separate sauce pan, but you can just make it in the same skillet that you cook your veggies in if you want to save dishes. Just push the veggies to the edges of the skillet so that you have an empty circle in the middle for the sauce.

This is a great way to use up leftover rice, but if you don't have any, no worries. Just make 4 servings of minute rice while you're prepping your other ingredients. It only takes 5 minutes!

2 broccoli crowns
1/2 a shallot or small onion
2-3 garlic cloves
1 pint of fresh mushrooms (I used shitake, but use whatever you like)
4 cups of cooked rice
1/3 cup of butter (about 6 tablespoons) plus 2 tablespoons
1/3 cup of all purpose flour
1 can of chicken, veggie, mushroom, or beef stock
3/4 cup of milk
2 tablespoons of soy sauce or worcestershire sauce

Directions: Heat the oven to 350.

Cut the broccoli into small florets and slice the mushrooms. Dice the shallot (or onion) and mince the garlic.

Using a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter on medium-high and sautee the garlic, onion, and mushroom for about a minute. Add in the broccoli and sautee until just fork tender. Season the veggies with salt and pepper.

In a small sauce pan (see note), melt the rest of the butter on medium-high. Whisk in the flour until a smooth paste forms. Whisk in the stock and then whisk in the milk. Add the soy sauce or worcestershire sauce. Let the sauce thicken (about 5 minutes).

Add the cooked rice and sauce to the skillet of veggies. Stir to combine. Add everything to a buttered baking dish and bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes until bubbly and just a little dry on top. Serve as is or with a sprinkle of parmesan if you just have to have some cheese! Enjoy!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Q.E.D.: Vegetable Curry with Couscous

Spring produce is appearing in our local grocery store, which makes me so happy. Spring and summer are the best seasons for cooking because you have such an amazing selection of produce to choose from. It might also be the case that because winter was so hard this year, any sign of spring brings me joy!

Notes: I used to make vegetable curry a lot and for some reason it's fallen out of the rotation. I'm not really sure why.

This one is on the cusp of Q.E.D. because it's right at 30 minutes. But you can do it!

I bought a box of couscous that was on sale a few weeks ago. When I planned to make curry, I thought: why not use couscous instead of rice? Better yet, since couscous absorbs liquid so easily, this dish can become a one-pot wonder.

1 box of couscous
1/2 a medium-sized zucchini
1 small broccoli crown
1 small yam or sweet potato, peeled
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 13-15 oz. can of unsweetened coconut milk
2-3 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
1 small bunch of fresh basil
3 tablespoons butter or coconut oil


Dice the zucchini and the yam, and cut the broccoli into florets. Mince the garlic and ginger and slice the basil.

Heat the butter or oil on medium-high until it melts. Add the basil, garlic, ginger, salt, and curry powder and stir until fragrant. Add in the yam and cook for about a minute. Add in the coconut milk. Let the mixture cook for about 3 minutes.

Add in the broccoli florets and cook for about 5 more minutes. Then add the zucchini and cook for about 3 more minutes.

Bring the mixture to a boil and stir in the couscous. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand for 5 minutes. When 5 minutes is up, stir to make sure the couscous is cooked. If it's not, let it sit for another 2 minutes. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Zucchini Pesto Pizza

Well, spring is starting to show up here in Philly, so it's time for me to come out of hibernation!

Some friends of ours were in town last weekend, so I decided to do some cooking. Pizza makes for great casual entertaining food, so I made two: one traditional pepperoni (Scott's favorite) and a vegetarian option. It was delicious, if I do say so myself!

Notes: I neglected to take a photo of this one since we had guests!

The crust for the zucchini pizza was a mostly whole wheat crust because I happened to have some white/wheat flour to use up. I don't really prefer it for pizza crust because I think it comes out too dry, but the flavor paired nicely with the homemade pesto.

I used havarti instead of the traditional mozzarella for this pizza. Havarti melts beautifully and you don't get the excess liquid that you can occasionally get with fresh mozzarella.

If you have a mandolin, you can make quick work of the zucchini. I have one, but mine is such a pain to clean and store, I just used a knife.

You can slice the zucchini and make the pesto ahead of time if you're using this recipe to entertain.

1 ball of homemade pizza dough
Some homemade pesto
1/2 a medium-sized zucchini
Approximately 5 oz of havarti cheese

Directions: Position the oven racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven. Heat the oven to 500. While you're waiting for the oven to heat, shred the cheese and thinly slice the zucchini.

Roll out your pizza dough to your desired size and shape (I used a regular round pizza pan).

Spread the pesto on the pizza (reserve some for garnish). Cover the pizza evenly with a layer of cheese. Lay the zucchini slices on top of the pizza.

Bake the pizza on the bottom rack for 8-9 minutes and then move the pizza to the top rack for 8-9 more minutes until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown just slightly. Top the pizza with the reserved pesto. Slice and enjoy!