Easy Cheesy Toast

The weather is suddenly feeling cooler here and I was hungry for something warm and cheesy. My brother Tom and I used to make cheese toast when we were kids and I always loved it. Since I’d just baked a fresh loaf of bread, I thought Cheese Toast would be fun and fast. I used The Pioneer Woman’s Recipe, with slight variations. Either way – it’s warm, cheesy, crunchy and delicious and when Ali stopped by, he loved it, too!

Ingredients

2 cups grated Sharp Cheddar
2 cups grated Monterey Jack (or quesadilla cheese)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp seasoned salt (Lawry’s)

Slices of a hearty loaf (I used my easy French Bread.) Cut the slices in half if they are large.

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine the Cheddar, Monterey Jack, mayonnaise, Parmesan, pepper and seasoned salt.

Mound the cheese mixture on the slices of bread. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Switch to the broiler and broil for another few minutes, until the cheese is utterly bubbly and starting to get brown in places.

These cheese toasts freeze well. To reheat, just bake them for 5 minutes, then broil another minute of so.

Note: Ree adds 1 tsp of salt and 4 Tbsp of melted butter, but honestly I don’t think you need either. I might also try adding a few drops of hot sauce or Worcestershire Sauce.

This would also be a humdinger served with Tomato Soup!

Chicken and Veggie Greek-style Sheet Pan Wraps

Another great recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe.  I made a few tweaks of my own, but what I love about this recipe is that it uses all the produce that is so good right now.  My garden is bursting with tomatoes, peppers and zucchini and this is a great way to use them.

It’s also crazy quick – you could start marinating the chicken and make the Tzatziki sauce mid-afternoon and then the whole supper can come together in 20 minutes.

We always have frozen naan in the house, so I made it with naan.  But flatbread would be good, too.

This would also be great with shrimp or for a vegetarian version, try using sliced mushrooms instead of chicken. Just be sure to bake the mushrooms long enough so they’re tender, since they take a little longer to cook.

Chicken:
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp garlic powder, or 1 tsp crushed garlic
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into thin slices

Vegetables:
2 bell peppers (any color), cored and sliced thinly
1 medium zucchini, sliced into strips (no need to peel)
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Tzatziki:
1 cup grated cucumber, squeezed and drained
1 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar is fine, too.)
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste

Naan

Toppings:
Thinly sliced red onions
Diced cucumbers
Chopped tomatoes
Romaine lettuce, quartered and cut into thin ribbons

INSTRUCTIONS

Mix the marinade in a medium bowl and add chicken. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Make the tzatziki sauce in another small bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Lightly grease 2 half sheet pans. Remove chicken pieces from the bowl and place on one sheet pan.

Toss bell peppers and zucchini in the marinade for a few minutes and spread in a thin layer on a second sheet pan. Discard leftover marinade.  Lightly salt and pepper veggies.

Bake for 6 minutes, and rotate pans. (Drain excess liquid from the chicken pan, if any.) Bake another 6-8 minutes until chicken is done and peppers are fork tender.

Warm the naan in the oven for a couple of minutes. I removed the chicken to a plate and reused the chicken sheet pan.

Serve the chicken and veggies on naan with the Tzatziki sauce and other toppings. It’s also fun to make these at the table.

So good!!!

Salade Nicoise

salade-nicoiseA really refreshing change from warm (albeit) comforting casseroles, try this lovely French salad, with its elements in heaps, rather than tossed together.

It’s basically an herby vinaigrette on a very hearty salad – with potatoes, tomatoes, tuna and hard-boiled eggs, meant to be served warm or at room temperature. I love it because it’s also a very forgiving recipe. As long as you’ve got some form of potato, tomato, lettuce and green beans it will be delicious!

It was perfect for a summer evening’s meal, after a good brisk walk.

INGREDIENTS

Vinaigrette

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh Thai basil (could use any basil or 2 tsp dried basil)
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
3/4 tsp kosher Salt and
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Salad

1 can albacore tun in olive oil, removed and lightly drained
5 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 lb small young red potatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 container butter lettuce (or any nice lettuce), torn into bite-sized pieces
15 or so grape tomatoes, cut in half, or 3 small ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
1/2 yellow or small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound green beans, stems broken off
1/4 cup olives (I used Castelvetrano but Nicoise olives are also recommended.)
2 Tbsp capers, drained

Make vinaigrette: In a jar, place the oil, vinegar, garlic powder, herbs, mustard and fish sauce if using. Cover with a lid and shake until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Marinate onion slices in a couple spoons of the vinaigrette in a small bowl.

Bring a pot of water to boil, add 1 Tbsp of salt and add the potatoes and eggs. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork soft. Remove the potatoes, immediately cut in half and toss in a bowl with a little more vinaigrette.

Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook 3-5 minutes. Remove and rinse with cold water. Peel and quarter the hard-boiled eggs.

On each plate, lay a bed of lettuce. Heap some of the tuna in the middle. Sprinkle the onions and tomatoes around the tuna.

Arrange the potatoes and green beans in mounds at the edge of the lettuce.
Arrange hard boiled eggs and olives in mounds on the lettuce bed.

Drizzle everything with the remaining vinaigrette and sprinkle with capers if using.

Can also be served without tuna as a vegetarian option.

Borracho (Drunken) Beans

I’d never heard of Borracho (Drunken) Beans until just a few days ago. This recipe is from Kiki810 on Allrecipes – with a few minor changes.

Kiki uses two cans of tomatoes and 1/4 cup of pickled jalapenos. Being as there a quarantine and all, I didn’t have that but thought a can of diced tomatoes and one of Rotel might do. I also added a little cumin and bacon for a more smokiness. The beer cooks out for the most part, but leaves a nice complex flavor.

You honestly don’t need to soak the beans overnight, and there is some consensus that the beans taste better if you don’t.

Ingredients:

1 pound dried pinto beans, washed
2 quarts chicken stock or water
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle dark beer (can also use  light beer)
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (10 oz.)can Rotel tomatoes with jalapeno peppers (regular or mild)
1 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, chopped or 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
3 bay leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 ½ Tbsp dried oregano
1 ½ cups chopped fresh cilantro (I used stems also, roughly chopped.)
1 strip of bacon, chopped or 1 Tbsp bacon drippings

Wash beans and put in a large pot, covered 1″ deep with boiling water. Simmer 2 hours, stirring from time to time to prevent beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot and add water as needed.

Add all other ingredients, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally for another 1 1/2 hours. Liquid should reduce quite a bit – so it’s not soupy, but more stew-y.

Mash a few beans to thicken the sauce. Makes a great side dish, topped with a little cheese, more cilantro and sour cream. It’s also great as a taco with with cheese, sour cream, chopped fresh tomatoes and salad greens.

Leave out the bacon drippings for a great vegan version.

Scruffy Eggplant Lasagna (Thank you, Jamie Oliver!)

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Beautiful eggplant image from Amber Engle, Unsplash

Can I just say that I’ve totally fallen for Jamie Oliver, his son Buddy and their “Keep Cooking and Carry On” videos made at home?

In particular, this recipe is genius.  I love lasagna but it can feel very laborious: start with a layer of this, then a layer of that, then repeat and try to keep them neat.

His “scruffy” version is so much easier! Here is a link to the original recipe:

https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/pasta-recipes/scruffy-aubergine-lasagne/.

I  am including the link, because he has lots of great substitution ideas. (Don’t have this? Try that!)  But since many Americans aren’t used to cooking by weight, I’m also sharing the recipe as I made it, using ingredients from my pantry.  It makes quite a large batch and you may want to halve it for a smaller group. (Or make the whole batch and know that tomorrow’s lunch will be spectacular, too.)

Ingredients:

1 cup water
2 large eggplants, stem removed  and quartered, then cut into 1″ pieces
3 yellow onions, cut into quarters and then cut in half
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp rubbed dry sage
1 tsp dry red pepper flakes (use less if you’re leery of the heat)
zest of one lemon
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can water
10 lasagna strips, cooked, cooled and cut into 4-5″
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cups grated sharp cheddar
1 1/2 cups grated romano or parmesan cheese
1/4 cup ground almonds (Optional – Jamie uses, but I didn’t have and didn’t miss it.)

Cook lasagna for about 8 minutes to al dente, in boiling, well-salted water. Drain and set aside to cool.

In a large, ovenproof skillet bring 1 cup water to the boil.  Add eggplants and onions, cover and simmer for 20 minutes until both are starting to soften.  Uncover and continue cooking until most of the moisture has cooked away.  (It won’t run into the middle when you try to make a well, but will still have some moisture.)

Make a hole/well in the middle of the pan, and add the olive oil.  Let it heat for a few moments, and then add the garlic powder, dry sage, and red pepper flakes.  Stir the spices in the oil and let them cook for half a minute or so, stirring constantly.  Add the lemon zest and stir for another few moments, until the lemon zest takes on a golden color.

Quickly add the two cans of tomatoes and can of water. Stir to combine and simmer on medium/low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid will reduce some, but there will still be quite a bit. That’s okay.

Remove from the heat and dd the cooked lasagna pieces, poking them under so they’re completely covered with the sauce.  Save a few for the top of the lasagna, but make sure they’re coated with sauce, too.   Top with cheeses, and sprinkle on the ground almonds if you are using.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Devour.

Kale, Apple, Cabbage, Carrot and Goat Cheese Salad

This is based on a recipe from the Pioneer Woman and Natalie Perry, but features substitutions based on what I had in my pantry. It’s a really substantial and flavorful salad that was very satisfying as a main dish. Lots of bright flavors and colors!

Salad ingredients:
6 oz. baby kale
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 ounces grated cabbage and carrots – about 3 cups? Can also use brussel sprouts
2 medium apples, cored and diced
1 cup candied pecans (see note #1)
4 oz. goat cheese
1 1/2 cup roasted butternut squash or baked sweet potatoes (see note #2)
handful craisins

Dressing:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
4 tsp whole grain mustard
4 tsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

In a large salad bowl, add kale, lemon juice and first Tbsp of Olive Oil. Gently massage the kale for a minute until it has softened a bit and started to turn a little darker green.

Add the shredded veggies, chopped apples and candied pecans.

Make the dressing in a mason jar, shaking vigorously for 30 seconds until well combined. Add to the bowl, and mix gently until everything is coated.

Drop goat cheese, sweet potato (or butternut squash) and craisins on top and serve.

Note #1: To make candied pecans, in a small frying pan add pecans, 1 Tbsp maple syrup and 1 Tbsp whole grain mustard. Cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has dried up. Be careful – it burns easily!

Note #2: peel and dice butternut squash into 1″ squares, toss with 1 Tbsp olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Or, do the same for sweet potatoes. Roast at 425 until browned and soft about 15-20 minutes. Poke with a fork to make sure they’re done. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Vegetable Paella

I’ve had my eye on Caroline’s Vegetable Paella recipe from TasteLoveandNourish.com for a long time, and I finally decided to give it a go.  She has wonderful plant-based recipes with tons of flavor.  Here is a link to her completely vegan original recipe. Caroline adds artichoke hearts to her, but I think it was fine without them.

Fortunately, I had almost all the ingredients in my pantry, and was able to make a few substitutions that worked well.  I don’t know about you, but during this time of social distancing and staying home, I’m learning to be much more creative!  I roughly halved her recipe since I’m only cooking for three right now.

Ingredients

1/2 tsp saffron threads
2 Tbsp hot water
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil or bacon drippings (to add smokiness)
1 large onion, diced
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced (I used half regular button and half baby bellas)
2 big cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 very small zucchini, halved and sliced

1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 1/4 cups short-grain rice (I used Arborio)
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
14.5 ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes (or regular diced tomatoes), drained
1/2 cup frozen green peas
2 Tbsp capers, drained
1/4 cup big green Italian olives with pimentos,halved

handful fresh parsley
drizzle extra virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, pour hot water over the saffron. Set aside for at least fifteen minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Move a rack to the bottom third of your oven.

Keep the onion, mushrooms, zucchini, garlic, spices (see below), rice, white wine, broth and saffron/water in bowls near the stove – you’ll be adding them separately and cooking them fairly quickly.

Heat the olive oil in a large oven safe skillet over medium high heat.
Add the onion and cook for just two minutes.
Add mushrooms and cook without stirring for about two minutes. Stir and cook for two more minutes or until just beginning to brown.
Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
Add the zucchini slices and continue cooking for three minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the spices: paprika, smoked hot paprika, cayenne, thyme and bay leaves, salt and pepper. Add to skillet, stir and cook for a minute or two.

Add the rice and stir to coat.
Add the white wine. Simmer until reduced by about half.
Add the vegetable broth and the saffron with the water. Stir gently and bring the pan to a simmer. Cook for a couple of minutes.
Scatter tomatoes over the top.
Transfer the pan to the bottom third of the oven, and bake for 15 minutes.
Scatter the peas, capers and the olives over the top.
Continue baking the paella for 10 minutes or until the rice is tender.
Remove the bay leaves.
Garnish with fresh parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Warm Cabbage with Apples and Bacon

cabbage-isara-somboon

image by Isara Somboon at Unsplash.

Love this recipe that came from a local grocery store around St. Patrick’s Day!

So much so that I’ve made this beautiful, colorful dish twice in the last three weeks.  It’s delicious but also such great comfort food – which is something we all need right now.  I serve it with a cheddary sausage and they’re really good together.

The lovely thing is that cabbage is so hardy – you can use half the cabbage now, and then make this again in a few weeks.

Ingredients:

6 slices bacon, chopped into 1/2″ pieces (if using turkey bacon, add 2 Tbsp Olive Oil)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 cups chopped green cabbage (1″ pieces are fine) about 1/2 medium cabbage
1 apple, cored and chopped into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 cup dark beer (or the equivalent in cider, plus a Tbsp of cider vinegar)
1/4 cup apple cider (or apple juice)
2 tsp brown sugar or honey
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 Tbsp butter (optional)

In a large cast-iron skillet, cook bacon sprinkled with black pepper until crispy. Remove from pan, but leave drippings. Add onions and cook for a couple of minutes, then add cabbage and apples. Cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a small bowl, mix beer, cider, brown sugar, caraway seeds and salt. Add to cabbage mixture and cook 5 minutes more until everything is soft the liquid has reduced a bit. Drop bits of the butter on and give a final stir.

Serve as is on a baked potato, or with a lovely cheddar-ry sausage! (If you start pan-frying the sausage at the same time, the sausage should be done when the cabbage is.)

For a vegan version, leave out the bacon, and add a bit of chipotle pepper for that smoky flavor and a bit more salt to make up for the saltiness of bacon.

Sweet Potato Stuffed BBQ Chicken

sweet-potato-bbq-chickenI am always a little leery about fusion recipes (mixing flavors of one style of cooking with another.) I’ve had a few of those that just didn’t mesh well. This recipe isn’t one of them!

Yes, you’re mixing some very Southern flavors with Mexican flavors, but in this case they are amazing. After one bite, I couldn’t stop smiling. This recipe is based on one from MelsKitchenCafe.com. Mel is an amazing cook and her food is always delicious.

The Lime Cilantro dressing in this recipe seems (even to me) to have a million ingredients, but it is totally worth it!

(The photo shows mostly the corn and  black bean salad, with the Lime Cilantro dressing, but you’ll have to trust me, underneath it all are sweet potatoes, chicken and BBQ sauce!)

INGREDIENTS

4-6 sweet potatoes, washed and halved
3 cups cooked, shredded chicken (I used meat from a Costco roast chicken)
1 to 2 cups BBQ sauce (I used Ray’s original)

CORN AND BLACK BEAN SALAD

1 can (15-ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup corn kernels, frozen
1/2 cup rough chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

TOPPINGS:

Shredded cheese (I used mozzarella)
Tortilla chips (optional – I didn’t use)
Chopped tomatoes (optional – I didn’t use)
Cilantro Lime Dressing – recipe follows

Poke sweet potatoes with a fork several times. Then put cut side down on a baking sheet, and bake for 35-40 minutes at 425 degrees, or until super soft when poked with a fork. The sugars in the sweet potato will start to caramelize. Check and bake a little longer if they aren’t completely soft.

Warm up the chicken and BBQ sauce in a sauce pan until warmed through.

Mix the corn and bean salad ingredients in a bowl, and let sit for several minutes, to let the corn thaw.

Make Cilantro Lime Dressing. (recipe below)

Eat several spoonsful of the Cilantro Lime dressing until you remind yourself that you need some for supper.

To serve, scoop out sweet potato flesh, and place in a bowl. Top with BBQ chicken, corn and black bean salad. Drizzle generously with the Cilantro Lime Dressing and top with a little cheese and the other optional ingredients. (I didn’t use the chips or tomatoes and didn’t miss them at all.)

Delicious!! For a vegetarian version, skip the chicken and just use a little BBQ sauce on the sweet potato.

Cilantro Lime Dressing Ingredients

1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup salsa verde (I used a mild green chili sauce that was great, too.)
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice (from about 1 medium lime)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp onion powder
Pinch of dried dill weed (about 1/8 teaspoon)
Pinch of kosher salt
Pinch of black pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1 green onion, white and green parts coarsely chopped

Combine all ingredients in a medium pitcher (One that will hold 4-5 cups) and buzz well with an immersion blender. Or you can use a blender. Will keep for several days and is soooo good!

Shakshuka with Feta Cheese 

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I love a dish that uses pantry ingredients, and Shakshuka is a great breakfast dish that does so. It serves 4-6 people, and with hot naan and hot tea, this was so good!

Ingredients

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
⅛ teaspoon ground cayenne, or to taste
1 large or two small cans fire roasted diced tomatoes, with juices (can sub out 1 smaller can for Ro-tel if you like things spicy)
1 tsp kosher salt, to taste
¼ tsp black pepper, to taste
5 ounces feta, crumbled (about 1 1/4 cups)
4-6 large eggs

Chopped cilantro, for serving  (use more than shown in the photo – I was almost out!)
Hot sauce, for serving

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook gently until very soft, about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Add garlic and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes; stir in cumin, paprika and cayenne, and cook 1 minute.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Pour in tomatoes and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; simmer until tomatoes have thickened, about 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Stir in crumbled feta. Using a larger spoon, create one little “crater” for each egg, and gently crack the eggs into them. Season eggs with a little more salt and pepper.

Transfer skillet to oven and bake until eggs are just set, 7 to 10 minutes. Check the whites to be sure they are cooked. (Unless you like uncooked egg whites, but ugh – not me!) IF you really like your yolks cooked, let it cook a little longer.

Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with hot sauce and warm naan, pita bread or whole wheat tortillas.