Category Archives: Vegetables

Pork and Summer Squash Casserole over Rice: Family Size or For a Crowd

pork and squash casserole
We could not wait to eat before taking a picture.

Background: The Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Wakefield MA offers a Community Dinner each month from September to June in partnership with Wakefield’s Horizon House Clubhouse. Horizon House provides their kitchen and dining room, and we provide the food, either via cooking or catering.

I love to cook for a crowd, so I try to sign up as lead cook for at least a few dinners a year and always try to find recipes that are on the healthy side, if only “healthyish,” to steal Bon Apetit’s descriptor, and that might be a bit different from the usual fare.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but this casserole is SO easy, and SO tasty, and was such a hit at a recent Community Dinner, that I finally got myself to sit down and get this recipe on line.

This month I totally lucked out in finding this pork and summer squash recipe. Not only is it really tasty, it is really easy to make, whether you are opting for the family size or multiplying out for a crowd. Also, the summer squash and diced tomatoes fill it out so a relatively small amount of pork is needed to satisfy even hard core carnivores.

Here is the original recipe that says it serves four:

Pork and Squash Casserole

6 ounces ground pork (use seitan for vegans and vegetarians)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 ounces cremini* mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (preferably whole-wheat)
1 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup low-fat small-curd cottage cheese
1 1/4 cups shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend (5 ounces)
1 large yellow squash, halved crosswise and thinly sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

* I used shitake mushrooms when I tested it at home on my husband

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, breaking up the pork, until slightly browned, 2 minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, half of the scallions and 2 tablespoons panko; cook 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, half of the parsley and 1/3 cup water. Increase the heat to high; cook until slightly thickened, 3 minutes.
  2. Combine the cottage cheese, 3/4 cup Mexican cheese and the remaining parsley in a bowl. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons panko in a 9-inch-square baking dish. Top with half of the squash, overlapping slightly; season with salt. Top with two-thirds of the pork sauce and the cheese mixture. Add the remaining squash; season with salt. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons panko, pork sauce and 1/2 cup Mexican cheese.
  3. Cover with foil** and bake until the cheese melts and the squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and turn on the broiler;* broil until golden, 2 minutes. Top with the remaining scallions.

** Thinking that covering in foil would be a bother when making the crowd-size version, I opted, in my home test, to leave the casserole uncovered and just cooked it a bit longer so the cheesy top got a bit crusty in texture. It worked just fine. 🙂

NOTE: While the original recipe calls for cutting the squash in half and slicing longwise, as shown here, I found it works way better to slice is VERY thin rounds and layer across the area.

I did not serve my test version over rice and it worked well an an entrée served solo, and is a great choice if you want a low carb meal, However, as you will see below, I opted to serve it over rice when cooking for the crowd.

Here is the recipe to use if you are cooking for 35-40 and serving just the casserole, or, for 50 if you opt to serve it over rice.

Pork and Squash Casserole for a Crowd*

4 pounds ground pork
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 clove garlic, chopped
2 pounds mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
20 scallions, chopped
4 cups panko breadcrumbs (preferably whole-wheat)
116 ounces** of no-salt-added diced tomatoes
2 cups chopped fresh parsley
6 cups low-fat small-curd cottage cheese
3 or more pounds (never too much cheese!) shredded Mexican cheese blend
6 pounds yellow squash, sliced in thin rounds
As many tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil as needed to sauté. ***

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, 2 teaspoons salt and ½ to 1 teaspoon of pepper. Cook, breaking up the pork, until slightly browned, 5-10 minutes as needed.
Add the garlic, mushrooms, half of the scallions and 1cup panko; cook another 5 or so minutes.
Add the tomatoes, half of the parsley and 1 1/2 cups**** water. Increase the heat to high; cook until slightly thickened, 5-10 minutes.
Combine the cottage cheese, two thirds of the Mexican cheese and the remaining parsley in a bowl.
Sprinkle 1 1/2 cup panko in a 9-inch-square baking dish.
Top with half of the squash, overlapping slightly; season with salt.
Top with two-thirds of the pork sauce and the all the cheese mixture. Add the remaining squash; season with salt.
Add the remaining 1 ½ cup panko, pork sauce and remaining Mexican cheese.
Bake until the cheese melts and forms a crust and the squash is tender, about 40 or more minutes. To hold until serving, put oven at 180-200 degrees. Top with the remaining scallions, if desired, before serving.
* My test batch would have made five, not four servings, so I multiplied the original recipe by 8 to make 40 servings. In addition, although using 6 oz of ground pork worked perfectly well in my home test batch, I used 8 oz per 5 servings as my baseline for the crowd size and got 8×8=48/16 oz per pound, so four pounds of pork.
** four 26 oz cans and one 14.5 oz can will do it.
*** We split the pork between to 14 inch pans and went from there.
**** Multiplying the original amount of water by 8 was way too much. Cornstarch came to our rescue. 🙂

Last but not least, to stretch the meal in case we got more guests than we expected, I opted to make a batch of rice to go with the meal. I used converted rice because brown rice can be a tough sell with some crowds, but at least converted rice has more nutrients than white rice. Also, the recipe called for converted rice, although it noted it would work for brown rice – just cook brown rice longer. Since the recipe was for 50 servings, I went with it as is.

Rice for 50

NOTE: Some recipes say to rinse the converted rice first, others say not to so as to not lose nutrients. I went with the latter advice as it said the same on the package of Uncle Ben’s converted rice that I used.

3 1/2 lbs. converted rice
2 tbsp. sea salt
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 qt. boiling water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place rice in a 12x20x2 1/2″ pan.
Boil 4 qt. of water in a large pot and add 2 tbsp. of sea salt. Make sure the salt dissolves fully.
Add 2 tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil to your water and pour the mixture over your converted rice slowly so that the rice remains even throughout the pan.
Cover your pan with aluminum foil. Tighten the foil along the edges of the pan to prevent the water from evaporating too quickly during the cooking process.
Open your oven once it has reached 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place your pan in the center. Set your oven timer to 60 minutes.
Remove the pan from oven after an hour and place it on top of your stove to allow it to cool for five to 10 minutes.
Remove the aluminum foil and use a fork to fluff your rice before serving it.

That’s it! We also served a simple salad of romaine hearts, cherry tomatoes, sliced English cucumber, and grated carrot, tossed with a modest amount of Italian dressing. AND Applesauce Cake with quick and easy cream cheese frosting. Click HERE for the family and crowd size for dessert.

I plan to add more of the recipes I have used when cooking for our community dinners, so always check back!

Miso Soup with Soba Noodles, Nettles, and Daikon Radish

done 1 One of the many paths I’ve traveled is that of the vegan/macrobiotic herbalist, apparently for long enough that this soup is one of my comfort foods. Basically, all you have to do to make it is boil some water, add some soba or other noodles of your choice, along with whatever greens, veggies, and seasonings that you like. Once all is cooked, put a few teaspoons or more of your favorite type of miso paste in a soup bowl, add some of the hot broth to dissolve, and then ladle in a cup or two of the soup.  So easy!


the ingredients

Here is how I made it this time:

8 cups water
1 cup or more chopped daikon radish
3/4 cup or so chopped carrot
3/4 cup chopped zucchini
A handful or two of greens, chopped as needed (I used stinging nettles, parsley, and lambsquarters)
3 oz (when dry) soba noodles
1/2 cup cooked aduki beans*
1 cup chopped tofu
2 tsp miso

*The aduki beans were an after thought – I remembered I has some left over in the fridge. The zucchini was, too, now that I think of it. I had a 3 inch piece in the fridge that needed using.

soba noodle soup ready to cook

Ready to cook

To make: Bring water to a boil. Add everything except the miso and cook at least until the noodles are done, which would be about 6 minutes, and cook longer if desired.

With aduki beans added

After adding the aduki beans

To serve: dissolve the miso in a bowl in some hot broth, then add soup and season to taste or enjoy as is.

Suggestions: fresh garlic, tamari, rice vinegar, or even just some salt would be good, or really, anything that you like!. It’s a perfect venue for leftovers and experimental seasoning.


It was delicious!



Simply the Best Roast Chicken!

Sometimes simple does it just fine.  Take chicken, for example.You can dress it up, cut it up, marinade it, grill it, and use it in innumerable recipes for soups, stir fry dishes, casseroles, pasta dishes, wraps, and more.  One of the most versatile of foods, it is a staple in most, if not every major cuisine and culture.

But  just tossing a whole chicken in a high temperature oven with a little butter and some vegetables can result in the most delectable meal you could ask for. And that’s what I did last night.


Before – everything right in the pan with no rack.

I usually butterfly chicken, or turkey, for that matter, when roasting in the oven because it results in more even cooking and browning.  If you have never tried it, get yourself a pair of very sharp cooking shears and click How to Butterfly a Chicken for excellent instructions.

In fact, it was the recipe presented in the post linked above by Deliciously Organic blog author Carrie Vitt that inspired my version of roast chicken, sans squash but with potatoes. But, bottom line, you can do this using any number of vegetables and combinations thereof. Just be sure the quicker cooking veggies are cut in bigger chunks so they don’t get overdone during the roasting process.

All I did was put four small potatoes, a few carrots in big chunks and two medium onions quartered in with my 4.5 lb chicken, brushed everything with melted unsalted butter, seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and put it in the oven at 450 degrees for about an hour or so. I used my convection option, but a preheated hot oven will also do the trick. Just be sure to  cook until it reaches to 165 degrees in the deepest part of the breast.



Cook’s note: if the chicken seems to be getting too browned before it comes to temperature, cover with foil for the last 15 minutes or so.

As you can see, this came out beautifully.  If you click the photo, you will be able to see the resulting juices in the pan – plenty to make a cup or more of delicious gravy to go along with the tender and juicy chicken and the roasted veggies. And that’s what I did.

Like I said, sometime simple does it fine.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
Another note: Using amazingly fresh ingredients helped make this dish even better.  The chicken was pasture-raised by Copicut Farms, butchered just a few days before and purchased at the Winchester Farmers Market, and the potatoes and carrots were purchased on the last day of the Wakefield Farmers Market from Farmer Dave’s.  There is NOTHING like freshly butchered pasture-raised chicken and locally grown and dug potatoes and carrots… The onions were from Market Basket – but at least were organically grown. 🙂

Kale Chips: easy, foolproof, and even the dog likes them!

I have tried making kale chips here and there over the years but was never that impressed with the results. But finally, I have learned a few tricks that guarantee perfect kale chips every time.  It is all in the technique and the proportion of oil and other flavorings to the amount of kale.

By the way, I kid you not in my title; my dog Buster loves kale chips!  You can click HERE to see the proof.  🙂

Here is the recipe I have been using this summer.

Kale Chips with Tamari and Sesame Seeds

  • 1/2 pound bunch of curly kale
  • 1 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoons sesame seeds, hulled or un-hulled
  • 2 teaspoons tamari (soy sauce)

coating the kale

coating the kale

  1. Rinse the kale, shake dry a bit.
  2. Tear leaves off the stem, or remove the stem by folding the leaf in half and slicing the stem off, as shown in this handy video.
  3. Further tear the leaves into pieces approximately 3 or 4” square in size and run through a salad spinner and/or just spread out and let air dry until totally dry.
  4. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and put out two cookie sheets.
  5. Mix together the oil and tamari and, in a big bowl, toss with the now dry kale pieces until the leaves are equally coated.
  6. Next, sprinkle with the sesame seeds and toss to coat evenly.
  7. Spread the seasoned kale pieces out on the two cookie sheets, being sure that there is little or no overlap.

    kale on they tray

    kale on the tray

  8. Once the oven reaches 425 degrees, put the two cookie sheets with the kale in the oven.
  9. After a few minutes (you will hear the oil start to sizzle, but set a timer for 3 minutes so you don’t forget and burn the chips!), turn off the oven and let the kale continue baking as the oven cools for another 20 minutes or until very crispy.

    kale on tray and in bowl

    Here they are!

  10. Remove from oven, use a spatula to gently loosen any chips that are sticking, and then let the chips cool before storing in an airtight container.  Or, put them in a bowl and start eating them!

kale in bowl



  • Type of Kale:  Any type of kale will work, but be aware that different types may result in a lesser or greater amount of leaves, once de-stemmed, and adjust the amounts of other ingredients accordingly.
  • Oil and seasonings: You can use any kind of oil, including olive or canola, but I like the light slightly nutty flavor of the sesame oil with the seeds and soy.  You can also add salt or use a totally different flavor combination.  But a tablespoon or so of oil with a 3 to 2 proportion of oil to any other liquid seasoning per ½ pound is a good guideline.

I actually start off with a full pound of kale and double the amounts of oil, tamari, and sesame seeds because my oven has enough room and shelves to accommodate four cookie sheets at a time, and, due to more bulk going into the oven at once, I preheat to 435 degrees and cook for the full 5 minutes before turning off the oven.

This recipe is foolproof because, as long as you don’t forget to set a timer and thus forget to turn the oven off and let the kale bake to long at full heat, you will not end up with a mass of charred, disintegrated leaves.  And, the sticking to the proportion of oil and liquid per pound of kale ensures that you won’t end up with chewy, versus crispy chips. You may have to experiment a bit because everyone’s oven is a bit different, but with these guidelines, at least you won’t burn your chips!

Another shot of the kale chips

Another shot of the kale chips

These chips really are good, and a great way to use kale that, however tasty in a salad, soup, or stir fry, can end up abandoned in the fridge.  And we don’t want that to happen, do we?


Easy Roots and Greens Saute

Start with beets, carrots, baby turnips, and greens:

root veggies and greens

All from Farmer Dave’s in Darcut!

Heat some olive oil in a pan, add root veggies, and saute:

root veggies in pan

Cook the roots first.

Turn heat to very low, cover, let cook until tender, then stir in greens, cover, and cook for a bit more.

Almost ready!

Almost ready!

Season with ground coriander, to taste, starting with 1/2 teaspoon.

That’s it!  Season further with salt and pepper if desired, and/or with whatever flavors strike your fancy.  🙂

A Ham Like No Other – Locally raised is the best!

Steak – Definitely Not Just for Grilling!

My husband would have never agreed with the title of this post before trying steak prepared via a simple stove-top technique presented by Chef Tiffani Faison on NECN earlier this week.

Although we tune into NECN mostly for the weather (we are big Matt Noyes fans), we caught Chef Tiffani’s Valentine Dinner segment and decided to try it for ourselves, albeit putting our celebratory meal off to Friday night. You can see the video, recipe, and the chef’s extra tips by clicking HERE.

I had hoped to get some locally raised beef for this meal, but was not able to get to the Medford Winter Farmers Market on Thursday, so I opted for two strip steaks from Farmland, our local grocery store. [Note to self: talk to Frank about offering locally raised meats at Farmland!]

seasoned steak

This photo is deceptive – these are 2″ thick – although the one on the right was a bit thinner (1 1/2″) on one end.

For this recipe, all you need is:

  • strip steak(s) or comparable cut
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt
  • high quality olive oil
  • garlic cloves
  • fresh sprigs of thyme
  • butter – REAL butter!

Other than that – you need to have a really good pan.  Chef Tiffani recommends cast iron, but any pan with a thick bottom that spreads and hold heat evenly will work just as well.  How do I know? I’ll tell you.  🙂

I had two steaks, but only one of my well-seasoned cast iron pans is big enough  for one steak, never mind two.  But, I also have an All-Clad saute pan… Time to experiment! Good thing Steve knows his way around the kitchen.

pans ready

Dueling pans set and ready to go. 🙂

The first step was to bring the meat to room temperature by removing it from the fridge an hour or so before cooking. Then we prepped each station with a few crushed garlic cloves, a small bunch of thyme, and partially melted butter, as well as a basting spoon and tongs at each site. We put about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in each pan and were ready to go.

Steve took his place at the cast iron and and I stepped up to the All-Clad saute pan, and we were off!

Here is the technique, edited down to a few simple bullet points:

  • Season steak with pepper and LOTS of salt
  • Add 2 T oil to pan
  • Turn heat under pan to HIGH
  • When oil is HOT, (smoking is good!) put steak in the pan
  • Baste steak with the olive oil and juices for 3.5 – 4 minutes
  • Flip steak and baste for another 2 minutes
  • Turn off heat and add crushed garlic and thyme to pan
  • Add butter, put garlic and thyme on steak, and baste all with butter
  • Remove steak from pan and let rest for at least 10 minutes.

First one out!

First one out!

Note the lovely crust!  We also did as the chef suggested and used the tongs to hold the steak fat band in the oil to crisp that up, also. Holding the steak so that just the fat is in the oil is also a great way to test whether the pan is hot enough – if it gives a good strong sizzle, it is ready for the steak.


Resting for just a bit.

While the steak rested, I steamed some asparagus and finished up the potatoes…Oh, I forgot to mention the potatoes!  To accompany, I cut up five or so small red potatoes and half a big Vidalia onion, added around 10 little cremini mushrooms, and tossed them with freshly ground black pepper, kosher salt, and a tablespoon or two olive oil in a corning ware casserole. I  also had some thyme to spare…

Roasted potato, crimini mushrooms, and Vidalia onion.

Roasted potato, cremini mushrooms, and Vidalia onion.

I then covered with foil and cooked for about an hour at 400 degrees, obviously starting them well before the steak. Once the steak was done and resting, I removed the foil and kept cooking to crisp up just a bit.

And then, a lovely dinner.  This picture does not do it credit. At all.


Plated – with photo taken after the start of the meal!

We could have done fine with just one steak rather than two, but we did have plenty leftover!  But, in general, one steak weighing a pound or a bit under is more than enough for two.

LOTs of leftovers.  :)

Lots of leftovers!

Bottom line, this is a really tasty way to prepare steak, as well as quick and easy.  And, here is a cleanup tip: Let the pan sit overnight and use some paper towels to wipe out the congealed fat. Then, simply wash as usual if using a stainless steel pan, or, if using cast iron, just soak for a bit in very hot water and then wipe clean.

And, which pan did the best job?  After trying some of the second steak the next day, I can say that they both produced an equally crusty and delicious steak.  So, while cast iron is the classic choice, feel free to use a stainless steel pan providing it has a heavy bottom and can handle high heat.

But, especially if preparing a special meal to share with your honey, I recommend the pan contest, or a least work together to create the entire meal. That will add the best seasoning of all.  <3

So Simple Broccoli Soup

Why broccoli soup? Well, one reason is the two full bunches of broccoli (read: over three pounds) that Steve brought home instead of the 2-3 broccoli crowns I requested…They say necessity is the mother of invention but, in this case, too much of a good thing ended up inspiring a wonderful new favorite way to get our vegetables.

Soup was the logical way to use up that much fresh broccoli when the household is comprised of just two people, even two who love their veggies.  I have recently been making a lovely roasted cauliflower soup (I’ll post the recipe soon, I promise!) that is basically just roasted cauliflower and onion with stock and seasoning, so I was wondering if I could do something similar with the broccoli.  So…off to the Internet went I.

The short story is that, at least during my hasty search, I did not find any broccoli soup recipes that did not use something to thicken it, whether it be a flour roux, dairy, nuts, or soy or rice milk. I did, however, find one that added carrot and another that included apples.  Well….since I had plenty of broccoli to spare, I decided to just go with no thickener as see how it would turn out.  Of course, I knew I had the option of adding a roux or cream at the end if the texture was to0 thin for the taste.


The final product. Yum!

Here is what I used:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1/2 or a bit more dried thyme
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 smallish apple, peeled and chopped
  • about one pound or 8 cups  of broccoli florets
  • 4 cups  stock – I used chicken*

broccoil florets

The 8 cups florets

First, I melted the butter and olive oil and added just the onions, cooking on low  until starting to soften, and then added the diced carrot and the dried thyme and ground pepper and continued cooking, now over medium, for a few more minutes.

Starting with the onions, carrot, and seasonings.

Starting with the onions, carrot, and seasonings.

I then added the chopped apple, stirring for a bit to coat it in the oil and seasoning, then stirred the broccoli to coat as well. Next, I added the 4 cups of stock, brought it all to just a boil and then simmered for about 15 minutes or so, until the broccoli was fork-soft.

*A Note about stock:  I used chicken stock, but if you want a totally vegetarian version, I am sure veggie stock, or even plain water will work, albeit you might want to add some tamari or better yet,  miso, and/or other seasonings to give a bit more depth to the flavor.  OR, keep it light and punch up the brightness with a dash of rice vinegar or lemon juice.

Cooked and reeady to blend!

Cooked and ready to blend!

The last step was to blend.  I used an immersion blender, but a regular blender would work, as well, as would just using a potato masher or food mill – whatever you have available.



It sure looked tasty, although it was not as thick as the typical “Cream of whatever” soup. But the taste was superb and Steve and I both agreed that the texture was perfect as is – no additional thickening needed.  In fact, I think any thickener would reduce the brightness of the flavor…hmmm, I bet a squeeze of lemon would be a nice touch, albeit perhaps not on a cold winter day…

I will add that I don’t think using a thickener would hurt the recipe – but the change in texture would probably inspire, and possibly necessitate, some additional seasoning.  But, it is all a matter of taste.  Adding a  1/2 cup of cream at the end, or adding a few tablespoons flour and cooking with the veggies before adding the stock are two options, as is adding a roux at the end.

But honestly this is great as is – and note that I added no salt.  AND, Steve didn’t even add any!  THAT’S saying something.  🙂

And that’s that!  I suspect Steve and I will eat this batch of soup in a day or so, but I’ll make another batch with my OTHER big bunch of broccoli and see how it freezes.  I’ll report back when I do.   In the meantime – take this recipe out for a spin and make it your own.  I will again say: YUM!

I froze some of the first batch and defrosted it the next day.  Still fabulous!  Make a big batch when you find nice fresh broccoli on sale. 🙂

No-Fuss Alfredo Sauce, Brussels Sprouts, and Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts – Who would have thought?

First let me thank Fior D’Italia (The Pasta Man) for the most wonderful ravioli that inspired an amazing meal!

For a change, I’ll start off with a picture of the plated meal, albeit taken after one ravioli had already been had eaten.

plated meal

The Meal. 🙂

And here is the wonderful ravioli that I had purchased at the Wakefield Farmers Market in October.

Gorgonzola and Walnut Ravioli from Fior D'Italia (The Pasta Man)

Gorgonzola and Walnut Ravioli from Fior D’Italia (The Pasta Man)

Let me go on the record as saying that this is good stuff – really good stuff!

Okay, on with the hows and whys of this meal coming together on a Friday night after a REALLY Loooooong week….

The actual inspirations were:

1) It was 5:30 p.m and I had not yet planned a meal

2) Even though I freeze meats in single serving sizes and use the cold water method to speed up defrosting, it was late in the day to get all that going,

3) I didn’t have any potatoes and we had already had a lot of grains during the week, so we were feeling fussy about the choice of carbohydrate side dishes and the Brussels sprouts were looking…tired, and there didn’t look to be all that many, so a “meat and potatoes” sort of meal was out of the running, and

4) The final nail in the coffin (apologies for the dramatic analogy) was that neither Steve or I wanted to go to Farmland to something prepared or quick and easy to prepare.  SO…

Into the freezer I went and found the ravioli and remembered that Deb (The Pasta Man vendor at the market) had given me a handout (that I had actually not lost) with recipes for sauces for different pastas.

Unfortunately, their recommendation for a sauce to pair with this ravioli was based on creme fraiche and I had none, nor have I ever cooked with it.  And, upon researching online (I would be one lost cook without the Internet!) I could not find what looked like an easy or satisfactory substitute for creme fraiche for which I had the ingredients.  However, I figured some sort of white sauce would work and found the perfect recipe for a quick Friday night dinner on a site that also featured a recipe for making your own Gorgonzola and walnut ravioli – NOT so good for a quick Friday night dinner. Thank goodness for The Pasta Man.  🙂

You can see the recipe from which I worked via the ravioli link, above, but here is my  version:

No-Fuss Alfredo Sauce

  • 2 tablespoon of un-salted butter
  •  clove of finely chopped garlic
  • 2-3 Tbsp minced shallot
  • About ½ cup or so of half & half
  • About ¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
  • 1 scant tsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp cold water (optional)*

In a medium sauté pan melt the butter, add the shallot and garlic, and cook until until fragrant and getting soft. Then, stirring constantly, add the half & half, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Set aside and prepare the ravioli as directed. When the ravioli’s are ready, using a slotted spoon or a spider, add directly to cream sauce and toss, gently, on low heat until sauce is warm again and serve. If you want a bit thicker sauce, add the cornstarch mix and heat until desired consistancy is reached.

Along with the dirth of a long list of ingredients and processes, I was instantly enamored by the fact that this sauce can be set aside and then gently reheated once the pasta is added.  There is no room for a fussy sauce in a “quick and easy” meal!

Note: the original recipe called for heavy cream. Substitution suggestions say to add butter to half & half, so I added a tablespoon of butter to the recipe.  I am thinking I should have reduced the half & half a bit to compensate for extra liquid since the sauce did seen quite thin, hence my adding the bit of cornstarch.  But, FYI, I did not notice any ill effects on the taste or texture from using the corn starch. In fact, there was no separation or graininess after the leftovers spent the night in the fridge, so I’d say that, if you “cheat” with cornstarch, providing you keep it to a modest amount, there will be no harm done. Unless you are a purest.  <grin>

Okay – on to the Brussels sprouts.  I was originally going to use a recipe that was a big hit at Armory Street on Easter 2012, Honey Dijon Brussels Sprouts.  But, as I began to mix the sauce ingredients, I started doubting the virtue of the mustard flavor in the scope of this meal and also just happened to think of the wonderful lemon-flavored dressing I had in the fridge:

This is great!

Not only is this delicious, it is made with much heart and soul.

Close up on the details.

Close up on the details.

The sales of this dressing benefits The DAVID A. DEMARIA FOUNDATION, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, mission is to further assist children of Malden and the surrounding areas with their educational and athletic needs. The foundation was created in the memory of David A. DeMaria of Malden MA, March 19, 1985 – May 30, 2007.

Like I said in the caption, this dressing is made with much heart and soul.  And, flavor – did I say bold, bright, yet not overstated flavor?  I picked up my bottle of this dressing at Farmland.  To learn more about this dressing, see or click HERE to see the list of stores offering this handy and tasty product.

Now, back to the Brussels sprouts. Click the recipe name for the original Honey Dijon recipe – which is splendid, by the way.

As I mentioned above, they looked a bit tired so I perked them up by putting them in a bowl of cold water and sticking it to chill in the fridge for about 1/2 hour while I was preparing the bacon wrapped water chestnuts described later in this blog post.

refreshing the sprouts

Refreshing the sprouts – and there were more than I thought. 🙂

Honey Lemon Dill Brussels Sprouts
Note: measurements approximate. Season to taste.

  • 12 Brussels sprouts, halved
  • 1  teaspoons butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp lemon dressing
  • 1 pinch dried dill weed
  • 1 pinch onion powder

Place Brussels sprouts into a saucepan filled with lightly salted water. Boil over medium high heat until Brussels sprouts are just tender, 8 to 10 minutes; drain. Mix butter, honey, lemon dressing, dill weed, and onion powder in a large bowl.
Toss Brussels sprouts in the mixture to coat.

Note: If you don’t have lemon dressing you can improvise. But, I recomend trying to get some of this dressing. It is REALLY tasty and nice to have on hand for any recipe.

NOW for the moment you have been waiting for:

Orsini thought it was scallops in that bacon.  :)

Orsini thought it was scallops in that bacon. 🙂

Well, perhaps not. 🙂

Okay – I followed the next recipe as written. I had never heard of bacon wrapped water chestnuts until a week or so ago via a Facebook post by Budget Bytes (I think – can’t find it right now) but I thought it would be a fun to try.  And, since I had a can of water chestnuts on hand and a 8 oz pack of bacon in the fridge, this Friday night seemed a good night to try it out. A quick online search that included the words “quick” and “easy” resulted in a really easy recipe that was also very tasty.  Here it is:

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

  • 1 (8 ounce) cans water chestnuts, drained
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 8 slices bacon, cut in half crosswise

Marinate the water chestnuts in soy sauce for 1 hour.

marinating the water chestnuts

marinating the water chestnuts

Drain. Roll each chestnut in the brown sugar. Wrap each chestnut with a piece of bacon. Secure with a toothpick. ready to wrapwrapping

Arrange on a cake rack in a shallow baking pan.

IMPORTANT UPDATE:  Be sure to line the pan with foil!  I learned the hard way and just now, as I add this disclaimer five days later, finally got the pan clean after much soaking and scrubbing!
…carry on:

Bake at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. NOTE: This can be prepared ahead of time and stored in refrigerator until ready to bake.


Disclaimer: I used my countertop toaster/convection oven and they were done in 18 minutes.  Note to self: Next time, put foil on the pan so you don’t have to soak it for days to get the burned on fat and sugar off of it….

And, that’s it. And there’s more!  Steve got involved in the repair of his Martin guitar, so, while dinner could have been ready  in well under two hours, both the  bacon/chestnuts and Brussels sprouts held nicely at a warming temperature of 170 and the alfredo sauce was fine at room temperature until we were ready for dinner. Once we were ready to eat, I just cooked the ravioli and finished off the sauce.

And that’s it. Definitely a meal that works for an easy meal for two but can also be made for company and even a crowd. It’s a keeper at our house, that’s for sure!

Rice Pilaf – Small Effort for Something Special

Rice is good.  You can dress it up as little or as much as you would like.  And, dressing it up is an excellent way to get more flavor and a few more veggies into your meal, or even create a one-pot meal, albeit the latter is not the focus of this post.

I am planning a simple meal of sauteed salmon fillets, steamed broccoli, and rice.  I might create a post about the salmon in the future, but in the meantime, I am simply sauteing two 5 oz skinless fillets in olive oil (enough oil  so that the fish has a chance to get hot before hitting the pan directly and sticking to it!) for a few minutes per side and then brushing with a balsamic glaze, most likely using some store-bought balsamic cream (Pastene) that I have on hand, dressed up with a bit of  lemon juice and olive oil.

As to the broccoli – Steve and I like it well-steamed rather than the “healthier” more crisp style.  Actually, there are arguments for both sides: the more cooked, the more accessible many of the nutrients, albeit more cooking will reduce the amount of the heat-sensitive Vitamin C,  for example. But, in any case, here is a great way to keep broccoli crisp in your fridge, as well as perk up broccoli that was not quite as firm as one would like when purchased.

Just pop the broccoli in water and then pop into the fridge.

Just pop the broccoli in water and then pop into the fridge.

But, back to the rice.  I like using brown/whole grain rice for the added fiber.  I know there are issues these days with arsenic in rice and the whole grain version having more, but from my research, it looks like this is an issue with rice grown on former cotton fields on which arsenic-containing pesticides were used.  My solution is to buy my rice from the California-based Lundberg Family Farms.

ANYWAY – since the rest of the meal is quite simple, I thought I would make the rice more interesting.  And, truthfully, it does not take that much effort. Here is what I did:

Start with sauting onion until soft, and then add diced carrot and chopped fresh parsley.

Start with sauteing in olive oil to build a flavor base.

I started with sauteing a half a small onion until soft, and then added diced carrot, chopped fresh parsley, and freshly ground black pepper. I also tossed in a few dried red pepper flakes for fun.

Add rice and saute some more!

Add rice and saute some more!

Next, I added the rice (I used 1 cup) and sauteed until just a bit toasty – a few minutes while stirring.

I then added 2 cups liquid. I recommend using chicken broth or bouillon or other savory-flavored liquid, if available.  I make chicken stock and keep it in one-cup containers in the freezer.  Today I defrosted a cup of chicken stock and added water to make two cups liquid to the one cup of rice.

Add water and simmer on low for 45 minutes or more as needed.

Add water and simmer on low for 45 minutes or more as needed.

I am blessed to have a stovetop with a “simmer”  burner, so keeping the rice on a low simmer is easy for me.  When I have to use another burner, I watch the rice carefully and/or use a heat diffuser.  But, even at a more active simmer, rice comes out nicely after about 45 minutes. Just keep an eye out so it doesn’t dry out too much.  Although, if you get a bit of burning on the bottom, it can add to the complexity of the flavor and texture once you stir the rice up and serve.  🙂

All done and has passed the "quality control" tasting.  Yum!

All done – and  it has passed the “quality control” tasting. Yum!

And, there you have it.  For a one-pot meal, you can add shredded meat, tofu, tempeh, fish… ooo, salmon would be good!…or whatever strikes your fancy.  BUT, do remember that you can always make rice more interesting with just a little effort.