Cheddar Broccoli Rice Casserole

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I know it’s been a be quiet round these parts recently.  I have been trying to get back into cooking more, and I have actually been cooking dinner much more often.  But sometimes the recipes are only okay, sometimes the photos are not my favorite, and sometimes I just forget. It’s not you, it’s me.  I am hoping to get back into the swing of things more.  Lots has been going on around here though- I have officially gotten my Masters degree (and thus will now only respond to “Master Karen”), went on a vacation to San Antonio with my boyfriend, and am gearing up.  So lots of school but no cooking- something which I hope to fix very soon.

One way I have tried to inspire myself more is by meal planning (also helps me not waste food).  So one week I was planning out my meals and had a huge craving for some kind of warm casserole.  Knowing that I still had my month’s Secret Recipe Club meal to make, I went searching through   Turnips 2 Tangerines, and I found this lovely casserole.  Creamy, warm, and cheesy- just want the doctor ordered. Warm, comforting, and completely inappropriate for this flipping hot summer.  Perfect.

CHEDDAR BROCCOLI RICE CASSEROLE
Adapted from Turnips 2 Tangerines

INGREDIENTS

1 cup dried jasmati rice
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chicken stock
Celery salt
3-4 heads broccoli, chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Cheddar cheese, shredded

DIRECTIONS

Cook rice according to instructions. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place broccoli on baking sheets in a single layer. Sprinkle olive oil on top and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 10-14 minutes, until broccoli is tender and beginning to brown. Set aside

In a saucepan, melt butter and stir in flour. Whisk in milk and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and reduce heat to simmer. Continue to stir until sauce is thickened. Combine rice, broccoli, and sauce. Prepare a pie pan for baking and spread mixture inside. Top with shredded cheddar cheese.

Bake until cheese is bubbly and melted, 5-10 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve.

Make sure to check out what everyone else made this month!

Turkish Red Lentil Balls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Time to go back to real life.  Teaching, working, cleaning, grocery shopping, picking up the mail, showering within a socially appropriate interval, wearing real pants – Yuck.

What isn’t yucky?  These lentil balls.  This recipe comes from the Turkish cooking classes I have been taking (and one thing I am actually looking forward to starting up again now that vacation is over), and I served them at our Around the World New Year’s Dinner.   They also are an excellent way to keep up any health related new years resolutions.

They may look a little strange, but they are little bites of lentil-y, tomato-y, pepper-y heaven.   The taste is not super exotic if you are afraid of trying new foods, but it it just a little bit different than the food we tend to eat, a little special.   And I love ’em.  They serve perfectly as a side dish for dinner or as an appetizer for you vegetarian (they may actually even be vegan too- my first vegan recipe!) friends at parties.

TURKISH RED LENTIL BALLS
From Cinnamon Freud

INGREDIENTS

1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
2 cups extra fine bulgur
1 onion, minced
15 ounces tomato sauce
7 scallions, chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons pepper paste*
1/2 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons red pepper (aloppa pepper)*
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses*
1 bunch parsley, minced

DIRECTIONS

In a saucepan combine lentils and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine uncooked bulgur, onion, tomato sauce, and scallion. Mix lentils and remaining water in bulgur mixture. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, pepper paste, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, red pepper, black pepper, and pomegranate molasses. Let stand until cooled. Mix in parsley. Shape into balls by hand.  Serve with lettuce, tomato slices, pickles, and lemon juice.

Makes approximately 30-40 lentil balls, can serve 8-10 as a side dish.

*These ingredients may be difficult to find but I found most in the specialty aisle of my grocery store. You can always substitute as needed

Spinach in Puff Pastry

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I love food around the holidays since it always involves so many desserts.  And while I will happily provide you all with lots (and lots) of sweets during this month, unfortunately we do have to eat some non-dessert food in order to be socially appropriate. Sigh.

Another great thing about the holidays in the winter season is that you get to eat a lot of rich, warm food.  Casseroles (like my homemade green bean casserole), pastry, and lots of cheese.

This spinach in puff pastry dish is another winner from Ina Garten.  I have yet to eat one of her recipes that wasn’t fabulous.  And how could this dish be bad when it has cheese and puff pastry?  I am happy with just a piece of warm puff pastry so when it’s stuffed with a cheesy spinach, spanikopita-like filling, it gets even better.  Serve this with soup or a salad and you got a great lunch or dinner.

SPINACH IN PUFF PASTRY
Slightly Adapted from Barefoot in Paris

INGREDIENTS

4 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
20 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
6 scallions, chopped
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, for egg wash
Kosher salt, for topping

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add butter and melt. Add onion and toss. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until tender. Add garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into bowl.

Squeeze liquid out of spinach. Add to bowl with onions. Let mixture cool slightly if needed. Stir in scallions, Gruyere, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg and eggs.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one sheet of puff pastry to approximately 12 inches by 17 inches (an additional 2 inches on each side). Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread spinach mixture evenly on top, leaving about a 1/2 inch border. Brush the border with egg wash. On a lightly floured surface, roll out second sheet of puff pastry to approximately 13 by 18 inches (an additional 3 inches of each side). Place second sheet of puff pastry on top and crimp the sides with a form. Brush the top with egg wash. With a sharp knife, cut three slits on top. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes. Cut and serve.

Serves 4 as a main dish, serves 12-14 as an appetizer.

Pear and Fig Stuffing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here we are again with our old pal stuffing.  I love stuffing so much, I just wish it was a little prettier to look at.

Are you all ready for the big day this week? I am literally counting down the minutes- nay seconds- until I am on my plane back to Houston.  Back to my family, a big kitchen with lots of counter space, and lots of good food.  My stretchy pants are poised and ready to go into action this Thursday.

If you are still planning your Thanksgiving meal (or if you love to eat stuffing any time of the year), this is a unique but delicious recipe for stuffing.  Not your traditional stuffing fare that typically has mushrooms, celery, or sausage.  Instead, you get sweet pears, chewy figs, and salty cheese.  And it was divine.  I made this late at night for dinner the next day, and I physically could not stop myself from eating little pieces at midnight.

By the way, using Hawaiian rolls for stuffing is an idea that I wish I had thought of years ago.  Especially in this recipe, you will love it.  It tastes even better at in the hours from 12 AM – 1 AM.  Thanksgiving late night snack anyone?

PEAR AND FIG STUFFING
Adapted from Fake Food Free

INGREDIENTS

2-3 tablespoons butter
1 red onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 pears, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons dried sage
8 cups torn bread (like Hawaiian rolls)
3/4 cup dried figs, chopped
1 1/2-2 cups chicken broth
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup cubed Asadero cheese

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Grease a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan.

In a large skillet, melt better.  Cook red onion until tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.  Add pear, salt, pepper, and sage.  Cook until pear is tender, about 5-7 minutes.

In a bowl, stir together bread, pear mixture, and figs.  Stir in chicken broth until you reach your desired stuffing consistency.  Stir in egg.  Spread in prepared baking pan.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle cheese on top.  Cook until cheese is melted, about 5-10 minutes.

Turkey Gravy & Mom’s Stuffing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yep, here we go again with some more stuffing. And I got one more coming for you before T-Day.  But today you get a bonus with your stuffing: some gravy.

This stuffing is mom’s traditional Thanksgiving stuffing- we have had it every Thanksgiving I can remember.  Mom always makes two versionS: dry stuffing and wet stuffing.  You see, our family is firmly divided between stuffing texture.  We have some who prefer stuffing to be pretty “wet” or “moist” (such appetizing words right there), and we have others who want it dry as the dessert and crunchy.

I am an intermediary, as I like both types.  So in my role as a diplomat, I always help myself to both kinds.  However, I tend to lean a little more toward the wet side.  <- What a wonderful sentence there.

My new favorite take on Mom’s stuffing is to make my own turkey stock, using Alton Brown’s method.  So, today we are going to talk about getting all up in our turkey bird’s business and use his giblets and other body parts to make us a good turkey stock.

Wetness, giblets, and turkey parts. Yum.  This post if filled with such delicious ways of discussing food.

TURKEY STOCK
Slightly Adapted from Alton Brown

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 turkey neck (and backbone if available)
1 set of giblets
1 red onion, quartered
1 medium carrot, quartered (optional)
2-3 celery stalk tops
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

DIRECTIONS

Heat canola oil in a stockpot over medium heat until shimmering. Add neck (and backbone if available) and sauté 5-6 minutes, until browned. Add giblets, onion, carrot, celery, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 4-5 minutes. Add water, bay leaf, and black peppercorns.

Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Uncover, reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 1-1 ½ hours until stock has reduced.

Strain stock and discard solids. Reserve giblets if desired.

For Stuffing: Use this turkey stock instead of normal chicken stock to make your stuffing.  My mom’s recipe can be found here.  And it is delcious

For Gravy: Use in place of normal stock.  Here is Alton Brown’s recipe.

Apple Stuffing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last Thanksgiving, we went a little stuffing crazy. According to official psychologist-in-training expertise.  Which, to me, is a perfectly acceptable form of going crazy along with pie crazy, cheese crazy, Diet Coke crazy, and cranberry crazy.

So last Thanksgiving we had a lot of stuffing: 3 types (And I tried lobbying for a fourth).  First, we had our traditional stuffing both “dry” and “wet” due to differing personal preferences, and we tried out this new apple stuffing. This apple stuffing turned out well: rich tasting due to adding an egg, and the apples added a little bite and sweetness.

This year’s Thanksgiving menu is still in it’s draft phase, and I have had dreams of so many different types of stuffing to try.  Oyster, sausage, fig, pear, sourdough, naan- there are some many possibilities with this bread dish.  I think we definitely need a full week long Thanksgiving celebration with at least one full day dedicated to only eating stuffing.

I highly recommend making lots of stuffing this Thanksgiving- that way you have plenty leftover.  There is nothing better than stuffing on a sandwich.  Bread on bread is always the way to go.

Yeah, if you couldn’t tell, I really love stuffing.

APPLE STUFFING
Slightly Adapted from Martha Stewart

INGREDIENTS

3-4 tablespoon butter
2 leeks, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 apples, chopped (peeled if desired)
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
8 cups bread cubes
1 1/2-2 cups chicken broth
1 egg

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan.

In a large skillet, melt butter. Add leeks and cook until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add apple and season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 6-9 minutes. Season with sage and rosemary. In a large bowl, stir bread cubes and apple leek mixture together. Pour in chicken broth until desired stuffing consistency is reached. Stir in egg.

Spread mixture into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Fig and Almond Rice Pilaf

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am in love.  Jasmati rice has been a revelation.

I have recently been having huge rice problems.  The main culprit? Brown rice.  I would cook it using many different methods, but every time it turned out real al dente AKA crunchy.  Frustration galore. But thsi jasmati rice pilaf turned out perfectly.  I have reached a new rice chapter in my life, and there is no looking back now.

I got the inspiration from this dish from a Turkish cooking class I have been going to here in Lubbock.  It is so much fun to find little cultural niches in this otherwise small, mainstream town.  There is lots of talking and lots of delicious Turkish food (hello baklava).  For our first class one dish they showed us was rice.

Just rice.  Simple, buttery perfection.  Rice is such a difficult dish, but after eating their rice inspired me to give rice another go in the kitchen.  So off to the grocery store I went, and Jasmati rice found a new home in my pantry.

In this rice pilaf I added a simple base of red onion and garlic topped with some figs, inspired by Middle Eastern usage of dried fruit.  A little sweet with my savory. Yum.  A great side dish to go with any type of meat.

There may be some more Turkish foods around these parts in the upcoming months, so brace yourself.  If you have never had Turkish food before, I high recommend it.  It’s delicious!

RICE PILAF WITH FIGS
From Cinnamon Freud

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon butter, divided
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dried Jasmati rice (or any other long grain rice)
4 cups boiling water
1 1/2 cup dried figs
Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS

Soak figs in warm water for at least 10 minutes.  Chop up figs.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon oil.  Add red onion and cook until tender, 5-7 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.  Pour into bowl.

In the same pan over medium high heat add remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon oil.  Add rice and saute until toasted and golden brown, about 2-4 minutes.  Pour in boiling water.  Cover pan with lid and reduce heat to medium/medium-low.  Cook until all water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Fluff with a fork.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in onions, garlic, and figs.

Serves 5-7 as a side dish.

Fried Sweet Potato Fries

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am ready for fall.

I know lots of people love summertime, but it’s really not my favorite.  Sure, summer is great when you are in high school and get a solid 3 months off to sleep in, goof off, and hit the beach.  Even though summer is sometimes a little less busy for me, I am slowly losing my ability to sleep in now that I’ve gotten older (saddest fact of my life right now), I still have to work, and the closest body of water is a real sketchy artificial lake outside our mall.

Summer is slowly losing its fun, and I am becoming a ball of sweat.  The heat here is getting real ridiculous.  Oh the heat! I cannot take this constant sweating.  Throughout the night I even wake up sweating a little bit.  I go to work, and I sweat.  I come home, quickly strip off my work clothes, change into shorts and a t-shirt, and sweat.  I make dinner and sweat.  And then I shower.  And then I go to bed, and get ready to sweat.  Basically, I sweat a lot this summer, and I am ready for it to stop.

So I am ready for fall.  Bring on the cool weather, sweaters & scarves, and most importantly the fall food.  Apples, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and cranberries come on down! So while I am outside doing a dance to the fall Gods to bring on cooler temperatures, you all can start taking advantage of fall produce with these fried sweet potato fries.

I know people often eat sweet potatoes as a healthy alternative to normal potatoes and thus prefer baking then rather than frying them, but let’s face it: baking is not the same as frying.  Nothing can rival the crispiness of something being deep fried- sweet potatoes included.  Sweet potatoes are a little tough to fry- they just don’t want to crisp up as much as other food.  I have eaten a lot of sub-par sweet potato fries, but I have found a good recipe for crispy sweet potato fries.

And if you want to bake, check out my method for baking sweet potato fries here.

I promise I eat more than deep fried foods even though my last three posts are all about the oil.

FRIED SWEET POTATO FRIES
Slightly Adapted from Jeff Mauro

INGREDIENTS

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup club soda
Oil, for frying

DIRECTIONS

Heat oil to 375°F. Cut sweet potatoes into 1/2-1/4 inch sticks.

In a small bowl, mix together kosher salt, sugar, smoked paprika, and garlic powder together.  In a large bowl whisk the cornstarch and club soda together.  Dip sweet potato pieces into cornstarch batter.  Let excess drip on and let sweet potatoes drain on a wire rack.

Working in batches, fry the sweet potatoes for 6-8 minutes. Stir constantly while frying, or the sweet potatoes will stick together. Drain on paper towel.  Season with salt mixture.  Eat while warm.

If needed, keep sweet potato fries warm in an oven preheated to 200°F.