Spoon bread (healthy, easy version)

For those of you who haven’t gotten to experience spoon bread yet, I highly recommend it.  It’s basically corn and sour cream baked into a corn bread.  The fancier versions treat it like a soufflé, with whipped egg whites and everything, but for weeknights, that’s just a little intense for me.  This can be made as complicated or as simply as you want.  For this variant, I’m going with a super easy, pantry friendly version, but feel free to make this as indulgent as you want.  

Ingredients*

  • 1 box (8.5oz) Jiffy corn muffin mix
  • 1 (15oz) can corn kernels (we used the corn off of 3 cooked cobs, and it was just right)
  • 1 (15oz) can creamed corn
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (most recipes call for 1 stick, but we didn’t miss it with only half that)
  • 5 oz plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 oz sour cream (could omit the Greek yogurt and just use 1 cup of sour cream, but the yogurt does save some calories, and gives you a lighter texture without whipping eggs)
  • 3 eggs

 

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix ingredients in a large bowl.  Dump into greased baking dish (I used 8″x8″).  Bake until set, 40-45 minutes.  If desired, brown the top under the broiler. Cool, and serve.

*Note on additions-you can add pretty much any additional flavoring agent you could want to this.  Bacon? Go for it.  Jalapeños? Absolutely.  Cheese? Go nuts. Green onions? Why not?  Think of it as a blank corn-based canvas.

This is a really nice side dish with baked barbecue sauce chicken (as seen here), or anywhere you might otherwise serve corn.  This will probably make it into the rotation for side dishes for those days we’re running the smoker.

 

 

 

Venison Meatballs

Here in Kansas, deer season can result in some pretty tasty venison, if you happen to know someone who hunts.  Luckily, we do.  While Chris grew up eating venison (although mostly in summer sausage or chili form), I came to venison eating later in life and quite enjoy it.  As with any game meat, it can vary in flavor and intensity depending on the specific animal, but the meat we used for this recipe was quite mild.  If you’re sensitive to gamy flavors, you have a couple of options.  You can either try to cover up the meat flavor with spices, at which point you might as well just skip the venison and use beef, or you can use intensely savory flavors for the sauce (as we did here) that actually pair well with a slightly gamy flavor.  The seasoning options presented here are only a guideline-take this any direction that suits you. They would play equally well as a Swedish meatball, or as a standard red-checkered tablecloth spaghetti and meatball.

image

 

Ingredients

2 lbs ground venison

1 lb ground pork (80% lean)

3/4-1 cup breadcrumbs

2 eggs

2/3 cup parmesan (in the can, yes I know. Shameful, but it’s the best for meatballs. I’ve tried putting the good stuff in there instead, but it just doesn’t work as well.  Must be the cellulose).

1 tbsp Italian seasoning (use your favorite-we used a bread dipping mix I grabbed at a local spice shop)

1 tbsp steak seasoning or season salt

1 tsp ground pepper

1 tsp salt

Dash Worcestershire sauce

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients by hand until well mixed.  If the mixture is too sticky, add more breadcrumbs until the meat mixture sticks to itself, not to you.  On an oiled baking sheet, roll out your desired size of meatball.  I like the 2-3 tbsp size range, so I ended up with about 50 meatballs from this mixture.  Bake for 25 minutes. At this point you can either use them in a dish, or cool, then stash in a freezer safe bag until you have a hankering for more venison.

For the red wine mushroom sauce in the picture, I’m afraid I don’t have an exact recipe for it, but I can provide some general guidelines.  We used our standard roux based sauce method, where we make a roux, when it starts to darken, add the veggies (onion and mushrooms here).  Sauté off for a few minutes, then deglaze with some booze (we started with marsala, but ran out.  oops).  2-3 cups of mixed meat broth then goes in, along with garlic, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  We let it simmer covered for a few minutes to let the mushrooms give up their juice, and then added some Shiraz we had open (along with a shot of brandy, because at this point, why not?).  Meatballs went in, and we simmered it for another few minutes to warm the meatballs up again, and to let that flavor mix with the sauce a bit.  I wasn’t really keeping track of the amounts of anything we used, but that’s the joy of cooking for fun.

Sausage, Kale and Potato Soup

One of the soups we regularly make is this sausage, kale and potato soup.  It’s pretty similar to the Zuppa Toscana at a certain major chain restaurant, but now that we can make it at home, we have no really incentive to go to said chain. I have found many variations of this recipe all over the internet, and after several repetitions and fine tuning, this is the version that we prefer.  It’s a very easy soup to season, as most of the seasonings come from the sausage itself.  We have made this with both fresh and frozen kale, and it’s good with either.  Also, I typically make this with russet potatoes, but we had some red skinned potatoes I needed to get rid of, so that’s what I used for the photo.  The recipe is pretty flexible.

Soup!

Soup!

Ingredients

1 lb bulk Italian sauce (I use hot, if you don’t want it spicy, stick with mild)

1 large white onion, chopped

2 bunches kale (or one 10oz bag of the pre-cleaned kale in the produce section, OR one similarly sized bag of frozen kale)

8 cups chicken broth (low sodium, or homemade)

2 cloves garlic

3-4 russet potatoes, halved, sliced and split, or 6-7 red skinned potatoes

1/4 cup heavy cream

Salt, pepper and red pepper flake, to taste

Method

Heat a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat, and brown the sausage.  Once the sausage is brown, add the onions and let them cook for about 5 minutes, or until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, another 30 seconds or so.  Pour in the stock or broth.  If you have bunches of kale, clean, stem and rip the kale into bite-sized pieces.  Kale can be a gritty, sandy veggie, so be sure you wash it well.  Add your kale to the broth and stir it in.  It may seem like your kale is exploding out of our cooking pot, but don’t worry.  It wilts quickly, and you will suddenly have a lot more room for more kale.  Once the kale is in and wilted, add your potatoes and a good pinch of salt.  If you are using mild sausage and want a little bit of heat, or are using spicy and want a lot of heat, add in a pinch of red pepper flake at this point.  Lid the soup and allow it to come to a simmer.  Once your potatoes are cooked, add the cream and adjust your seasonings.  Serve with crusty bread.

Edit January 2016:  I find that this soup is improved by cooking the potatoes about 90% of the way before adding the kale the soup.  Then, add kale, wilt and allow to soften, 15-25 minutes, depending on your kale.  Finish with cream, adjust seasoning and serve with bread.

Poblano peppers with shrimp and cheese

As the next addition to our continuing repertoire of Mexican dishes, I would like to present poblanos with shrimp and cheese. This is another one of those quick weeknight meals that gives you fantastic bang for your buck (both in terms of time and money).  It can be scaled easily, and is a great lower carb options for anyone who would like some Mexican without a zillion tortillas.

Poblano with shrimp, avocado and rice

A (slightly overfilled) poblano with shrimp, avocado and rice

 

Ingredients (makes 4 peppers)

4 poblano peppers, grilled, peeled and seeded

1 lb shrimp, raw, peeled and de-veined

1/2 jumbo onion, chopped

1 tbsp butter

1/2 cup crema

2/3 cup shredded cheese (we use the queso quesedilla from Kroger)

1 lime

Salt, pepper, garlic powder

Method

Grill your poblanos, then place them in a plastic bag to steam.  Peel off the skins, and pull out the seeds and any light or white seed membrane that remains, but leave the stem intact if possible.  Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Saute onion until translucent and starting to turn slightly golden, and add the shrimp.  Continue to cook, several minutes until shrimp are almost done (when they are nearly entirely opaque). While the shrimp are cooking, add some salt and pepper, and 1/2 tsp garlic powder, or more to taste (oregano could be nice here too).  Add the juice of half to one lime (depending on how juicy your lime is), and stir in the crema and cheese.  Let cheese melt, and it should pull together into a lovely thick sauce within a few minutes.  Fill your poblanos with the shrimp mixture, and serve immediately.  This is really nice with rice and avocado (as you can see in the image).  If you’re nervous about pepper heat, by the times the poblanos are grilled and seeded, there is very little spicy zip is left, but it certainly could be made with a more mild type of pepper.  I would just recommend you try it once with poblano first.  It’s really hard to beat that smokey pepper flavor poblanos can get.

 

 

 

Chilaquiles

Recently, we have been making more Mexican food at home (rajas con crema, for example).  A side effect of this has been that we have more corn tortillas than we can reasonably eat before they start to go stale.  In an attempt to get some more life out of them, I sprayed some with oil and baked them into chips (instructions at end of post).  They turned out to be a bit, well, robust to enjoy as chips, but they were fantastic for chilaquiles.

Chilaquiles is one of those dishes that we will occasionally get out at restaurants, but it is often somewhat disappointing.  Either the sauce used was the restaurant’s watery, nearly flavorless salsa, or, in one memorable incident, Chris about melted from the spicy heat of the sauce.  To remedy this, we decided to try it at home.  I found a few recipes that suggested similar ingredients, so here is my version of chilaquiles.

Chilaquiles. I love cooking in cast iron so much.

Chilaquiles. I love cooking in cast iron so much.

Ingredients (per 4 servings)

1 tbsp butter

4 eggs

1 tsp canola oil

2 handfulls of chips-homemade* or store bought (enough to cover a 12″ skillet with a couple of layers of chips)

1 10oz can enchilada sauce (more on this later)

1 cup shredded cheese

1 bunch green onion, chopped

Crema and avocado for garnish

Method

Melt butter over medium heat in a large cast iron, or other oven safe skillet.  Fry your eggs over medium, or over well, depending on how you like your eggs.  Remove eggs from skillet and add canola oil.  Dump your chips in and warm them in the oil.  After a couple of minutes, add about 2/3s of your chopped onion and let sauté.  After the onions start to soften, add in your enchilada sauce.  A note on your enchilada sauce: you could make this from scratch if you want, but if you’re just looking for a simple weeknight meal, just grab a can of your favorite brand of enchilada sauce (we like Las Palmas and Herdez).  If you don’t like enchilada sauce, feel free to use your favorite salsa.   Mix your chips in the sauce until well coated.  We usually add about 1/4 cup of water to help the sauce spread enough to really coat the chips.  If your skillet is hot, it will cook off pretty quickly.  Once most of the liquid has cooked off, add 1/2 cup of cheese and mix in to your chips.  Top the chips with your cooked eggs, and top with the rest of the cheese.  Pop the entire skillet under the broiler for a few minutes to help reheat the eggs and get the cheese toasted.  Once it looks good, pull it out, top with 1/2 of a an avocado (chopped or sliced), the rest of the onion, and a good drizzle of crema.

This recipe would scale really easily, and we plan on getting a smaller cast iron skillet for a smaller batch for just the two of us.  The bright side is, this actually makes pretty fantastic leftovers, so you may have just made yourself some dinner and breakfast in one meal, and that’s never a bad thing.

*Ok, if you want to make some homemade baked tortilla chips, it’s really easy.  Just preheat your oven to 400, cut your corn tortillas into wedges (I make 6 wedges out of a tortilla).  Spread your tortillas on a greased foil-lined baking sheet.  Spritz them with some more oil, and top with seasonings and some salt.  Bake for 12 minutes, or until golden brown and delicious.  Let cool and pour into a ziptop bag for snacking and cooking purposes.  The thinner the tortilla, the crispier the chip.  Thick tortillas work great for making into chilaquiles, but if you want to just have tortilla chips for munching, look for a thinner corn tortilla.

Chocolate banana oatmeal cookies

I have a rule for myself when it comes to sweets: if I don’t want it badly enough to make it, I really don’t want it.  Because of this rule, I don’t make desserts very often (unless we’re having company).  That said, I was trying to find a use for a very large bag of quick cook oatmeal, so I decided to make these chewy oatmeal cookies.  I added peanut butter and chocolate chips, and they are delicious, but they are definitely an occasional treat sort of cookies.

With that in mind, I decided to try this again with some modifications. I traded a stick of butter for 2 bananas, and left out the white sugar entirely.  Because I am also a mad scientist, I also swapped out 1/3 of a cup of flour for cocoa powder.  I would like to point out that these cookies are NOT healthy. Nope, still cookies, still full o’fat and sugar and tastiness.  They are much fluffier than the original cookie, with a nice chocolate and banana flavor and little bursts of peanut butter from the chips.

Ingredients

1 stick butter (room temperature)

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 small/medium bananas, very ripe

1 tsp (or more) vanilla extract

1 cup +2 tbsp AP flour

1/3 cup natural cocoa powder (if you only have Dutch-processed, use baking powder instead of baking soda)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3 cups quick-cook oats

1 1/2 cup chunks (I used 1 cup pb chips and 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together in the bowl of stand mixer until smooth and a little fluffy.  Add the bananas, and continue mixing until the mixture has come together.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and beat on low until combined.  Stir in the oats until mixed through, and add your chunks.

Mmm...cookie dough. (Warning: Never eat raw cookie dough that has eggs in it.  Unless you're willing to take that risk, and you have some cookie dough on your fingers. Yum...)

Mmm…cookie dough. (Warning: Never eat raw cookie dough that has eggs in it. Unless you’re willing to take that risk, and you have some cookie dough on your fingers. Yum…)

Spoon dough onto a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet, smooshing (technical term) the cookies down slightly.

See, smushed.

See, smooshed.

Bake at 350 for about 14 minutes (your oven may vary).

Cookies!

Cookies!

These turned out surprising well, considering I was diverging pretty far from the original recipe.  With the size of cookies I made, I came out with 32 cookies, but you can definitely make them smaller for a larger yield.

Turkey and artichoke stuffed shells

20130803-185745.jpg

We tend to not make many baked pasta dishes, but this is one that we keep coming back to.  It was originally based on Giada’s baked shell recipe, but we have made some modifications, so we’ll repost it below.

Ingredients

1 box jumbo shells
2  (12 oz) bags frozen artichoke hearts
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 onion, chopped very fine
1 tbsp olive oil
1 15 oz container ricotta
2 eggs
1 cup shredded cooked spinach (optional)
1 cup shredded or grated Italian cheese.
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Dried thyme, parsley, basil, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper
Tomato sauce (5+ cups is preferable)

Method

Prepare tomato sauce according to your preferred recipe.   Any time we bake shells or manicotti, we like an arrabbiata type sauce, so we spike our usual tomato sauce with a teaspoon or two of red pepper flakes.

While that is simmering, saute onion and turkey.  Add seasonings to taste.  Our preferences for which herb to bring forward on any given day changes, so I omitted amounts.   Meanwhile, thaw the artichokes  and give them a rough chop, so they’re roughly the same size as the onions.  Mix those with the ricotta, egg and spinach (if you’re using it).  If you want to add more herbs, now is a good time. Once the saute is done, allow it to cool, then add to the filling.  Add the parmesan and half of the other cheese.  Cook the shells according to the instructions on the box.  Drain, and I usually dump them in a bowl of cold water to cool them down quickly so I can handle them.   In a 9×13″ baking dish, ladle 1/4 of the sauce and spread it evenly.  Fill the shells and line them up in the pan.  Ladle another 1/4 of the sauce over them, and sprinkle with half of the remaining cheese.  Repeat with a second pan.  Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 20-25 minutes, until bubbling.