31 August 2017

Easy Cheesy Cauliflower

Had ten people over for grilled cheese, cake, and Secret Hitler last weekend, you see, and bought enough cheese for fifteen. Or twenty. Probably, twenty. I clearly am not good at estimating cheese portions. On the other hand, if you enjoy cheese, I'm the woman to party with.

So, I had cheese. And I had cauliflower. Cauliflower cheese, please, said my greedy tummy and who was I to disagree?


If you make this dish, be sure to drain the cauliflower very well before adding the cheese mixture. I did not drain mine very well and the cauliflower cheese came out of the oven rather soupy. However, it did set up quite well as the dish cooled so ymmv.


Easy Cheesy Cauliflower

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 16 oz cauliflower florets
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 4 oz sharp cheddar, shredded or chopped into small pieces
  • 4 Gruyere slices
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning blend
  • ½ Tbsp roasted garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Put the cauliflower and water in a microwave safe bowl. Cover with cling wrap and microwave on high for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Drain well and set aside.
  3. Put the cream cheese, cream, and cheddar in a microwave safe bowl and cover. Microwave on medium about 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Additional time may be needed if sauce remains lumpy.
  4. Stir in the seasonings. Add the drained cauliflower and gently stir until well coated. Top with the Gruyere and bake at 400°F for 15 minutes or until bubbly and golden.

This would also work with mix of cauliflower and broccoli as well as any semi-firm cheese, such as cheddar, Swiss, Fontina, or Jack.

28 August 2017

Special Delivery From Taste of Home: Summer

So. My quarterly subscription box from Taste of Home has arrived and it's been rebranded. No more "Taste the Seasons" -- now it's "Special Delivery From Taste of Home." And, beloveds, it is sooo much better.  So. Much.

The white and red box I saw sitting on my front steps when I pulled in the driveway after work was so visually distinct that I immediately knew it could not be anything as humdrum as an Amazon delivery or medical supply order. It was even nicely shrink-wrapped so the box itself had stayed fresh and clean during shipping. I admit my heart did a pleasant little skip of anticipation when I picked up the box and felt how heavy it was. Unwrapping it and opening it felt like opening a really nice present to myself.


Which is exactly the experience I want when I open a subscription box. I want to feel excitement, happiness, and anticipation -- not the vague miasma of suspicion and disappointment that's carried me through recent Taste the Seasons boxes. And the stuff that was attractively arrange inside this summer box ... wow.

Looking over the contents of the summer Special Delivery box, it felt like Taste of Home had made a sincere effort to collect interesting and unique quality, seasonal items. This box feels curated. I could not be more pleased or excited. So glad I did not cancel my subscription, after all.

Anyway, what's in the box? So. Many. Things.

Taste of Home Backyard Barbecues: 405 Dishes for Sizzling Celebrations -- A 2014 publication. It is, like every other Taste of Home cookbook I own, now larded with sticky notes. I have made precisely two recipes from this cookbook -- "Cilantro Couscous Salad" and "Grilled Veggie Quesadillas" -- but they were both easy and delish.

50% off Simple & Delicious Binder Cookbook offer -- Simple & Delicious magazine is my favorite TOH pub and this is a really good deal on a 2016 publication, but I do not need to be buying more cookbooks. No.

Three Three Pigs Tavolo Pan Scrapers -- Have used one of these several times now to scrape clean my enameled cast iron French oven after burning a little food to the bottom (don't read and cook, kids). Took off most of the cooked-on bits and was fairly comfortable to hold. They do seem a bit thin so I was glad to get a set of three as I don't know how long they'll each last.

Tavolo Strawberry Huller -- Have you seen the food hack that involves hulling strawberries with a straw? The Tavolo strawberry huller is much, much better. It doesn't bend or break like a plastic straw, is more comfortable to hold, and the cut-out makes it much easier to clean. It reminds me of a very smaller, more attractive, version of my favorite OXO apple corer and works just as well. The huller is one of those things I would never have thought to buy for myself, but am glad to have.

Chef'n Twist'n Sprout -- I admit I haven't tried this product yet as summer simply isn't the time for Brussels sprouts. However, we're definitely headed toward roasting weather and I expect to start finding sprouts at the farmers market soon. As far as I can tell, I jab a sprout onto the little simply press Brussels sprouts onto the jabby-sticky-out-part and give it a twist to remove the sprout's stem and core. I presume it will also remove any loose leaves, too. Not sure how much my wrists will love it ...

Skoy Scrub 2 pack -- I was a little leery of this, as I'm a bit snobby about my scouring pads (I'm a Dobie girl), but the one I've used has worked surprisingly well and seems indestructible. I've used it to get baked on gunk off casseroles and dried cheese off serrated knives with no damage to the scouring pad at all. I just throw it in the dishwasher once a week (top rack) and it stays new-looking and fresh smelling.

My Spice Sage Garlic Pepper Rub -- My Spice Sage products make a regular appearance in Taste of Home boxes and I'm always pleased to see them as they're always good quality. This rub is a blend of garlic, black Pepper, salt, red bell pepper, and parsley. It's very peppery and garlicky, which I enjoy. So far, I've rubbed it into pork tenderloin and split bone-in chicken breasts with equally tasty results.

Amora Coffee Elegante Blend -- Smells fabulous, but we're not coffee drinkers (I enjoy the scent, but the taste ... nopenopenope) so I'll be passing this along to someone who can appreciate it. Or ... maybe I'll save it for winter baking!

Nawrap Handkerchief -- I was very "What the twee hell is this?" when I saw the sea life-themed handkerchief, but then I realized how handy it would be to have in my lunch box as either a placemat or napkin. It's also quite cute as a decorative liner for a muffin basket or whathaveyou. It's very sturdy and handles washing well (it's a cotton-rayon blend, so line dry). Again, nothing I would ever have bought myself, but definitely enjoy having.

Johnny's Selected Seeds Genovese Basil -- Much too late to start basil seeds for this year's garden! Hopefully, they will keep until next spring. (I haven't had a problem keeping extra seeds from one year to the next, but one never knows).

Envelope of recipe cards -- Six tempting recipe cards. I'd argue the Brussels sprouts recipe is not summery, but at least it's in there to give you an idea what to do with all the sprouts you cored using the Twist'n Sprout! To be fair, I am going to make that recipe ... just not now. Of the remaining cards, I have made the "Herbed Lemon Pork Chops" and the "Minty Watermelon-Cucumber Salad." The Spice Sage rub worked well in the pork chop recipe (I also used fresh garden herbs, instead of dried) and they were very tender and flavorful. The salad was extremely refreshing, although I had to halve the recipe as it was just me eating it.

Again, I am really impressed by the summer box and look forward to seeing what Special Delivery From Taste of Home will bring me in autumn. Read about my experiences with Special Delivery's precursor, Taste the Seasons.

23 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Cranesbill & Babbitty Bumble

“Zizz, Wizz, Wizzz!” Babbitty Bumble is busy with the cranesbill today.

17 August 2017

Spicy "Southwestern" Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts

Because I don't go in to work until quite late on Wednesday and Thursdays, but still get up at the crack of ohmygodwhattimeisitnooo to go to the gym I find I have extra time in the mornings to cook and so been making larger, fancier sit down lunches for the two of us. Not only does this make me look like an (even more) awesome, loving wife but it also means I'm not desperately hungry at supper time and have started running errands ... errands like visiting libraries I don't work at, because books.

Anyway, it was approaching lunch time and the fridge was full of odds-and-ends that needed using up before they spoilt. The guacamole and tomatoes were, in particular, edging toward spoilage with a determination that annoyed me until I looked at the calendar and properly calculated out just how long I'd had them on hand. Oops! And I thought, how can I take all these things and turn them into a meal that will please The Husband and empty out my fridge? Et voilà, spicy "Southwestern" oven-fried chicken breasts and roasted potatoes.




Spicy Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp Southwestern-esque seasoning blend
  • ¼ cup plain kefir
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 4 Tbsp shredded sharp cheddar
  • 4 Tbsp guacamole
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 4 Tbsp chopped cilantro

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a half sheet pan with foil and brush with oil or spritz with cooking spray.
  2. Whisk together flour and seasoning in a pie plate or shallow soup bowl. In another pie plate, add kefir.
  3. Dip chicken in kefir. Coat evenly with flour mixture.
  4. Place chicken in single layer on foil-lined baking pan. Drizzle with melted butter.
  5. Bake 20 minutes or until chicken reaches 165°F.
  6. Sprinkle chicken with cheese and broil until melted.
  7. Plate chicken and serve garnished with guacamole, tomato, and cilantro.

I used Penzeys' salt-free "Salsa & Pico" seasoning blend, because I'd not realized I'd run out of the "Arizona Dreaming," but any salt-free taco or fajita seasoning blend you favor would work well.


I served the chicken with spicy roasted potatoes I made by tossing halved baby potatoes with olive oil and pico seasoning then roasting in the 425°F oven for 10 minutes, before adding the chicken, giving the potatoes a stir, and letting them roast until the chicken was done.

16 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Monstrous Beets

Needed a little help harvesting the beets! Left them too long and some are now the size of oranges!

14 August 2017

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware


Once there were four boarding school girls who did something terrible one night and then lied about it. Fifteen years later, the truth is finally coming to light. Will they stand together, united in their lie? Do they even really know what happened that night?

I enjoyed Ware's In A Dark Dark Wood very much and was really looking forward to The Lying Game. Overall ... it was okay. It's possible my expectations were too high, but I felt like The Lying Game started with so much promise and so many hints at a deep, rich story ... and then failed to follow through. The hints were never fleshed out. I never knew enough about Kate, Thea, or Fatima to really care about them and Isa, as narrator, was pretty shallowly etched, too. While I liked that The Lying Game was a slow-burning mystery, neither the characters nor the central mystery were enough to keep me invested in it and I kept putting it aside for other books.

I'm also (still and ridiculously, I know) grumpy that the girls didn't actually do a murder. As soon as I realized where the story was headed, all my enthusiasm evaporated. I think I wanted a brooding, atmospheric Gothic mystery, but what I got was ... underwhelming. Yes, there were secrets and lies and people died for love (or something) in big fire in a suitably Gothic structure, but I was not emotionally connected enough to any of it to care much. I just felt very ehhhh about the whole thing.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (Scout Press, 2017)

10 August 2017

Pasta With Roasted Leeks & Zucchini

I threw together this simple summer pasta dish one evening after gym when I happened to have a lot of CSA leeks and zucchini on hand and was too darn hungry to do anything fancy. The combination of pasta with sautéed pancetta, leeks, and zucchini is satisfyingly filling, but light, and serves well as either supper or lunch when paired with a peppery arugula salad dressed with balsamic.


Pasta With Roasted Leeks & Zucchini

Ingredients

  • 6 oz mini farfalle pasta
  • 4 oz diced pancetta
  • 2 large leeks, white & light green parts only, chopped
  • 8 oz zucchini, diced small
  • ¾ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt & freshly ground pepper, as needed

Instructions

  1. Cook pasta as directed.
  2. Heat nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until golden.
  3. Add leeks, zucchini, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until softened.
  4. Toss vegetables with pasta, season to taste, and serve.

Yield: 4


Sweet onion and any variety of summer squash can be used instead of the leeks and zucchini. You could also try bacon instead of pancetta for a smokier flavor.

09 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Hydrangea

Hydrangea macrophylla "Everlasting Revolution" blooming in the front garden. Love the combination of soft blue and pale green.

07 August 2017

The Hidden Blade


While The Hidden Blade is a prequel to Thomas's historical romance, My Beautiful Enemy, it is not at all a romance, but is straight up historical fiction set in late 1870s Europe and China. However, even without the romance, The Hidden Blade is a grand, sweeping story packed with lush descriptions, tons of historical detail, and compelling characters ... trust me, you're not going to miss the luv.

Ying-ying and Leighton's live are told in more or less parallel stories which, while linked by love of a mutual friend, come together all too briefly. Their individual coming of age stories are full of breathtaking tragedy and suffering. The small moments of happiness and peace are frequently followed by some new fresh hell. It's a novel to make you weep.

Yet, I loved this book. With determination and desire for a better life, Ying-ying and Leighton survive heartache and adversity to become characters worthy of an epic romance. I cannot wait to see what happens when they finally meet in My Beautiful Enemy.

The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas (NLA Digital LLC, 2014). Kindle edition.

03 August 2017

Zucchini Season: Cheesy Zucchini & Ham Bake

A glut of farmer's market and CSA summer squash has had me looking for new easy ways to use it up. I've noodled around with zoodles, but casseroles have really been my go-to. The original version of this particular casserole, "Ham and Zucchini Italiano," can be found in Taste of Home's Simple, Easy, Fast Kitchen which I received in the spring Taste the Seasons subscription box. While I've bookmarked a fair dozen recipes, this is the only one I've managed to make so far and I didn't even follow the recipe very well, so I doubt it counts!

You say zucchini, I say zucchinis. Zucchini. Zucchinis. Courgette!

I threw this dish together at 10 o'clock one night this week when I realized that, while I had nothing left to take for work meals, the pile of zucchinis on the kitchen side clearly meant I had no excuse to live off bagel sandwiches, either. Because it was late and I was tired, I altered the recipe to avoid sautéing the zucchini and dirtying an extra pot. The texture of the ribboned zucchinis, when combined and baked with the rest of the ingredients, was quite pleasant and the whole thing reminded me of a strata ... although, lacking egg and bread, it clearly wasn't a strata.

Whatever it is, I ate it all and am now eyeballing the remaining of the zucchinis.

Cheesy Zucchini & Ham Bake

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 3 6-inch zucchini
  • 1 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend
  • 8 oz ultra-thin sliced smoked deli ham
  • 14 oz jar pizza sauce
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  1. Using the wide ribbon blade on your spiralizer, spiralize the zucchini into broad ribbons. Place in a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt, and let sit for 20 minutes or so.
  2. Preheat oven to 450°.
  3. Wrap zucchini ribbons in a clean tea towel and mercilessly squeeze until you've gotten out all the liquid or your hands are tired.
  4. Place half of the zucchini ribbons in a greased 9x13 baking dish. Sprinkle with salt-free Italian seasoning blend. Layer with half of the ham, pizza sauce, and cheese. Repeat layers.
  5. Bake, uncovered, 15 minutes or cheese is all melty and golden.