’tis the Season(ing)!

Cajun FiddlerAnd no, I’m not talking about Christmas (‘though it is now just a bit less than 6 months away! ;-) ), I’m talking about Cajun Cuisine, peoples. :-)

I’ve written posts about Cajun food before, namely Gumbo, Jambalaya, and King Cake. Last year, when my mom was in the CICU (Cardiac Intensive Care Unit) after her heart attacks, hubby (who was still in his back brace) espied a new (to us!) restaurant in Tyler while we were out driving around town, passing time until we could get back into the CICU.

The restaurant is a Cajun place (a chain) called Razoo’s. Fun atmosphere and tasty food — and as physically and emotionally exhausted as hubby and I were by that point in our year, we were in desperate need of any bit of fun or humor we could find and for any yummy food that we could find, especially if it saved me the time and labor of preparing it (because yes, peoples, I was so worn out and strung out that even I, who loves cooking and baking and can be quite organized about it, did not have the energy or wherewithal to keep us fed regularly after hubby’s accident, what with caring for my beloved in his back brace; the stress of the remodel in Operation Laundry Room; the additional physical chores I had to do, such as mowing, which would take me two days; having to put down our poor Ally; and then Mom’s heart attacks and caring for her…this is why it’s a common social convention and simple, caring kindness to bring meals to people who are ill, have had a death in the family, and/or are otherwise going through a stressful time).

Hubby was so enamored of the place and the food, he asked me why I didn’t cook more Cajun dishes.

Well, why not, indeed?

So, I started studying Razzoo’s menu and also Googling, and I’ve since added a few more Cajun dishes to my repertoire.

Two seasoning bases for Cajun cooking are Cajun Seasoning and Blackened Seasoning. You can, of course, purchase Cajun Seasoning in most stores — myself, I’m partial to Tony Chacere’s Creole Seasoning — but as part of my Googling, I came across recipes for making one’s own Cajun seasoning. Making your own seasoning has the benefits of not only being more affordable, but also of being made to suit your tastes (such as being hotter or milder, lower in sodium, reduced in sugar or sugar-free, and so forth).

Using Emeril Lagasse’s recipe for inspiration, I whipped up my own version of Cajun Seasoning to suit our tastes.  I just mix it up in a Ziploc baggie and keep it in my pantry.

And although I’ve shared my Blackened Seasoning before, I’ll include it here again, as well just for convenience’s sake.

These seasonings smell — and taste! — so yummy, that when you use them in your Cajun dishes (I’ll be sharing a couple more recipes in future posts), you’ll want to put on Zydeco music and dance around your kitchen!

 

Cajun Seasoning (Adjust to suit your own tastes)

Don’t fret over exact measurements; rounded spoonfuls are fine.
Note that 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon.

  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons oregano (dried)
  • 2 teaspoons thyme (dried or powdered)
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt (I used reduced sodium)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  1. Mix all ingredients together. (I like to put them all in a Ziploc bag, close it, and shake it together to mix them.)
  2. Store in a sealed container (I use a Ziploc bag).

 

Blackened Seasoning (Adjust to suit your own tastes)

Don’t fret over exact measurements; rounded spoonfuls are fine.
Note that 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon.

  • 2 tablespoons ground allspice
  • 1 tablespoon ground paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (red pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon thyme (dried leaves or ground)
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt (I use reduced sodium)
  • Garlic powder to taste (I give it a healthy sprinkling, probably 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon)
  1. Mix all ingredients together. (I like to put them all in a Ziploc bag, close it, and shake it together to mix them.)
  2. Store in a sealed container (I use a Ziploc bag).

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Some Enchanted Evening, Part 2 of 2

A very young me with Uncle Bob & Aunt Lois

A very young me with Uncle Bob & Aunt Lois

Losing Aunt Lois was a heart-breaking event that capped off a pretty lousy year. Having to break the news to my ailing mom on Christmas Eve was a challenge which I hoped I handled well (as well as one can, under those circumstances), but it was not a challenge I wanted.

Our Christmas Eve was bittersweet as we reminisced about Aunt Lois while arranging gifts on the tree, listening to Christmas carols, watching holiday films, and other pleasant, festive holiday distractions. I had planned a lovely, but low key, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for us. On Christmas Day, the kids and grandkids would be joining us later in the afternoon (I’d picked up a rib roast for that occasion), but Christmas Eve would just be hubby, Mom, and me. I wanted something easy, but also something special — I wanted us to have an Enchanted Evening. :-) (And heaven knows we all deserved one.) I happily wiled away time Googling and pondering recipes. Then my menu came together — something new that I’d never tried before (although when has that stopped me? LOL): Pecan Crusted Salmon  and Cheesy Rice with Broccoli.

Back Row, Left to Right: Cousin Bobby, Cousin Peggy, my late Cousin Paul; Front Row: Uncle Bob and Aunt Lois

Back Row, Left to Right: Cousin Bobby, Cousin Peggy, my late Cousin Paul; Front Row: Uncle Bob and Aunt Lois

When it came time for supper, I poured Mom and me both some wine. Mom and hubby both asked what we were having. “It’s a surprise,” I said, “Something we’ve never had before!” Hubby, eyeing the salmon fillets thawing in the sink, said, “Salmon? We’ve had that before!” To which I replied “Not the way we’re having it tonight!”

After our supper, Mom commented that were it not for the sad news we’d gotten casting a pall over things, it would have been absolutely perfect and wonderfully festive.

This menu, although easy, will make any evening enchanted,  making it perfect for a holiday, date night, or other festive or celebratory occasion. :-) The recipe, as written, serve four, but the recipe can be adjusted up or down. You can substitute another medium-textured fish, such as tilapia, for the salmon, if you prefer.

It smells, tastes, and looks yummy!

 

 

Pecan-Crusted Salmon (Serves 4)

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless salmon, cut into 4 serving pieces
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • approximately 1/4 cup bread crumbs (soft or dry will work)
  • Parsley to taste (dried or minced fresh)
  • 1 egg
  • Splash of milk
  • Grated peel from one lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I used a sprinkling of sea salt and coarse ground pepper)
  • Couple tablespoons of oil or mix of oil and butter

NOTE: You can substitute another medium-textured fish, such as tilapia, for the salmon if you wish.

  1. Preheat oven to 425F . About halfway through the preheating time, add oil or butter and oil in a 13″x9″ pan and place in oven to preheat pan and oil or oil/butter combo.
  2. In a shallow dish, mix together pecans, bread crumbs, parsley, and lemon zest.
  3. In another shallow dish, mix together egg and milk.
  4. Season salmon to taste with salt and pepper. Coat salmon in egg mixture, then in pecan/bread crumb mixture, pressing in the pecans as needed.
  5. Place in preheated pan and bake (uncovered) for 15 to 20 minutes, until fillets are done. (If desired, you can GENTLY turn the fillets about halfway through). Let rest in a warm place for 5 or 10 minutes before serving.
  6. Sprinkle with lemon juice before serving, if desired.
  7. Refrigerate leftovers.

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Some Enchanted Evening, Part 1 of 2

L-R: Aunt Lois, Uncle Howard, & Mom

L-R: Aunt Lois, Uncle Howard, & Mom

As any of you who know me know, or who follow my blog know, last year was a pretty rough one that brought an incredible number of…well, if you want to be more positive, you’d refer to them as challenges. If you want to be truthful, you would call them disasters, tragedies, frustrations, stressors,  or, simply, stinkin’ lousy events.

In December, I got a call from my cousin Peggy (in Kentucky) telling me that her mom (my aunt Lois, my mom’s older sister and only remaining sibling) was in the hospital. She was seriously ill and the doctors were baffled as to what was wrong with her. Aunt Lois had told Peggy not to tell Aunt Ruth (my mom) because Mom has her own health problems, but Peggy had decided things were serious enough that she should at least call me and then let me decide what to do. Peggy promised to keep me updated.

Ay yi yi. So after some thought, I told Mom what was going on with Aunt Lois. Mom was very upset, as you can imagine. I did my best to keep us both distracted with happy seasonal events — decorating the Christmas tree, watching holiday films, baking cookies, and so on.

And I also planned a lovely, but low key, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for us. On Christmas Day, the kids and grandkids would be joining us later in the afternoon (I’d picked up a rib roast for that occasion), but Christmas Eve would just be hubby, Mom, and me. I wanted something easy, but also something special — I wanted us to have an Enchanted Evening. :-) (And heaven knows we all deserved one.) I happily wiled away time Googling and pondering recipes. Then my menu came together — something new that I’d never tried before (although when has that stopped me? LOL): Pecan Crusted Salmon  and Cheesy Rice with Broccoli.

One can, of course, purchase rice and broccoli mixes at the store, and I was tempted to do that simply for convenience, but I wanted to be sure to include plenty of broccoli (as opposed to just broccoli bits or broccoli flavoring! LOL) so that it would actually be nutritious. I also wanted more control over the quality of the ingredients. And so I devised a way to make it (similar to how I make my homemade stove top macaroni and cheese) that I thought would be yummy but would be almost as easy, if not as easy, as the packaged kind — and it would certainly be more nutritious and, I hoped, yummier!

On the evening of 23-December-2014 (Christmas Eve Eve, as it were), I got the call from my cousin Peggy that I’d been sadly expecting: Aunt Lois had passed away. (For those who are curious, her final diagnosis was a very rare disease: Amyloidosis.) Peggy, exhausted from the whole ordeal, started to cry a bit and said, “I can’t bring myself to tell Aunt Ruth. Will you tell her?”

Aunt Lois and her second husband, Uncle Verlon

Aunt Lois and her second husband, Uncle Verlon

After some pondering upon it, I decided the best way to break this awful  news to Mom would be the next day, when she came over for Christmas Eve — that way, she wouldn’t be alone with the news, and also, given that she often has so much trouble sleeping, I didn’t want to risk ruining any chances of her possibly getting a good night’s sleep by telling her that evening.

The next day, Mom came over, and I told her. It was hard. She was upset, although we’d been expecting it, sadly. In an effort to distract ourselves, we spent the day doing pleasant holiday things, often reminiscing about Aunt Lois.

When it came time for supper, I poured Mom and me both some wine. Mom and hubby both asked what we were having. “It’s a surprise,” I said, “Something we’ve never had before!” Hubby, eyeing the salmon fillets thawing in the sink, said, “Salmon? We’ve had that before!” To which I replied “Not the way we’re having it tonight!”

After our supper, Mom commented that were it not for the sad news we’d gotten casting a pall over things, it would have been absolutely perfect and wonderfully festive. I’m addressing the Cheesy Rice with Broccoli in this post; the next post will have the recipe for the salmon.

As you will see, this menu, although easy, will make any evening enchanted,  making it perfect for a holiday, date night, or other festive or celebratory occasion. :-) The recipes, as written, serve four, but the recipes can be adjusted up or down.

It smells, tastes, and looks yummy!

 

 

Cheesy Rice with Broccoli (Serves 4)

  • 3/4 cup brown rice (or another rice of your choice)
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water (or more or less liquid, depending upon type of rice and corresponding instructions on the rice package)
  • 12 ounce package of fresh broccoli florets (or equivalent from a fresh head of broccoli)
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons butter
  • Couple splashes of milk (I used 1%) (2 tablespoons to maybe a 1/4 or 1/3 cup — eyeball it!)
  • Squirt of yellow mustard
  • 3 or 4 ounces of cheese(s) of choice (or more or less, depending upon how cheesy you want it), grated, crumbled, or thinly sliced/diced (use a combo of whatever you like and have on hand — Swiss, cheddar (yellow or white), feta, bleu cheese, American, Monterrey Jack, Asiago, Parmesan — it all will come together and be yummy!)
  1. Bring stock or water to a boil. (If using water, add a wee bit of salt to taste, if desired.) Add rice and simmer until done (45 to 50 minutes for brown rice, less for other types of rice.)
  2. Meanwhile, crumble, shred, and/or thinly slice desired kinds of cheese.
  3. Steam fresh broccoli. (I steamed it in my microwave in its package as per the package directions, easy peasy.)
  4. Once rice is done, add in a tablespoon of butter (remember, you can add in a bit more if you need to), a splash or two of milk (you can add in more if you need to!), the cheeses, and a squirt of mustard. Simmer over medium to medium low heat, stirring gently to prevent scorching or clumping,  until it reaches desired consistency (you may need to add in a bit more butter, cheese(s), and/or milk as you go along).
  5. Gently stir in steamed broccoli.
  6. Refrigerate leftovers.

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Set it and Forget It!

And no, I’m not talking about Ron Popeil’s Rotisserie oven, but mashed potatoes — in the slow cooker!

This has been a difficult and challenging year (last year was no picnic, either), so desire and time for this blog has been short. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t still be making some yummy things!

This Thanksgiving, I spent the holiday with my mom. (Her health, never very strong, has taken a most definite dive for the worse this year.) We actually had two Thanksgivings — one on the day, with ham, green bean casserole, spaghetti squash, and cornbread (which we used the next day for dressing). I did ham on Thanksgiving for a few reasons: 1) it was easy, 2) it gave the kids and grandkids a different meal to eat after the turkey meal eaten at my in-law’s, 3) it added some ham leftovers for ham sandwiches into the leftover mix, and 4) it gave us a delicious ham bone to freeze later for beans.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, we hosted what we informally call “Thanksgiving II,” which we also shared with two dear friends of ours. This was the more traditional Thanksgiving meal and included Mashed Potatoes.

Potatoes have gotten a bad rap, bless their little eyes. ;-) Chris Voigt, head of the Washington State Potato Commission, got so fed up with all the trash talk about potatoes that he went on a potato-only diet for two months — and lost 21 pounds eating 20 potatoes a day!

As Wikipedia tells us:

The potato contains vitamins and minerals, as well as an assortment of phytochemicals, such as carotenoids and natural phenols. Chlorogenic acid constitutes up to 90% of the potato tuber natural phenols. Others found in potatoes are 4-O-caffeoylquinic (crypto-chlorogenic acid), 5-O-caffeoylquinic (neo-chlorogenic acid), 3,4-dicaffeoylquinic and 3,5-dicaffeoylquinic acids. A medium-size 150 g (5.3 oz) potato with the skin provides 27 mg of vitamin C (45% of the Daily Value (DV)), 620 mg of potassium (18% of DV), 0.2 mg vitamin B6 (10% of DV) and trace amounts of thiaminriboflavinfolateniacinmagnesium,phosphorusiron, and zinc. The fiber content of a potato with skin (2 g) is equivalent to that of many whole grain breadspastas, and cereals.

In terms of nutrition, the potato is best known for its carbohydrate content (approximately 26 grams in a medium potato). The predominant form of this carbohydrate is starch. A small but significant portion of this starch is resistant to digestion by enzymes in the stomach and small intestine, and so reaches the large intestine essentially intact. This resistant starch is considered to have similar physiological effects and health benefits as fiber: It provides bulk, offers protection against colon cancer, improves glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, lowers plasma cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, increases satiety, and possibly even reduces fat storage. The amount of resistant starch in potatoes depends much on preparation methods. Cooking and then cooling potatoes significantly increases resistant starch. For example, cooked potato starch contains about 7% resistant starch, which increases to about 13% upon cooling.

Wanting to simplify the meal as much as possible, I was struck by an idea — why not make mashed potatoes in the slow cooker? I Googled and, after reviewing several recipes, inspired by this recipe:

http://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/ultimate-slow-cooker-mashed-potatoes/17bd54d5-2647-4144-8579-0cb1b26bc0ba

I decided to give Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes a try.

While I will sometimes peel potatoes when I make mashed potatoes, I usually just scrub them really well and leave the skins on — not only is it faster and easier than peeling them, but it leaves in the nutrition and fiber from the skin. I first had mashed potatoes with the skins at Calico County Restaurant in Lawton, Oklahoma and I found them to be quite tasty.

I’m not too picky about what potatoes I use — I tend to go with whatever I have on hand or what looks good at the store. Red potatoes are a favorite, but I’ve also used Idaho and white potatoes. Last night, I did a mix of red and white potatoes.

I use 1% milk (skim is fine, too) and just a dollop of butter. The amounts depend upon the quantity of potatoes I’m making; I just add it in slowly, bit by bit — remember, you can always add in more, but you can’t take it back out!

These potatoes cook up to be sooo tender that they mash incredibly easily with a potato masher. My mom was shocked at how delicious these potatoes turned out (apparently, she’d had doubts about them but hadn’t said anything beforehand). From now on, if I’m making mashed potatoes for more than just a few folks, I’ll be doing them in the slow cooker! And if you have a slow cooker liner, clean-up will be a breeze, too!

These taste so yummy, you’ll be dancing the mashed potato! (Go on, give it a watch! The first link shows you how to do the dance; the video has the song. You know that watching them and singing and dancing along will do your heart and soul good!)

 

 

Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes (Serves 8 – 12, depending upon serving size; I’ve written this up for 3 pounds of potatoes, which is how I made it in my 3 1/2 quart slow cooker; you can increase or decrease based on your needs)

  • Approximately 3 pounds of potatoes, scrubbed well
  • Margarine or butter (amount depends upon quantity of potatoes, I used about 4 tablespoons or so, DIVIDED)
  • Approximately 1 cup chicken stock OR vegetable stock/broth (NOTE: I’ve found that stock has less sodium than reduced sodium broth)
  • Milk (1% or skim is fine; amount depends upon quantity of potatoes and how thick — or thin – -you want them)
  • Salt and pepper to taste (because I cooked with stock, I didn’t add any salt)
  1. Scrub the potatoes. Peel them, if desired — I leave the peel on and just cut away any unsavory-looking spots. Cut into good-sized chunks.
  2. Place a slow cooker liner in your slow cooker, if desired (this will make clean up easier).
  3. Place prepared potatoes in slow cooker. Pour in approximately 1 cup of stock or broth. Add a tablespoon or two of butter.
  4. Cover. Cook on high for 4 hours or so.
  5. Add in more butter (start with another tablespoon or two), some milk (start with just a splash or two), and season with salt and/or pepper as desired. Mash potatoes with a potato masher.  (NOTE: If you’re wanting to be fancier with your potatoes, you could also try adding in some light sour cream or fat-free Greek yogurt, some reduced-fat cream cheese, some garlic powder, maybe buttermilk in lieu of milk.)
  6. Keep warm in slow cooker until ready to serve. Remove to serving dish or serve from slow cooker.
  7. Refrigerate leftovers.

 

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It’s the Most Spook-tacular Time of Year!

The_nightmare_before_christmas_posterI love holidays and special occasions. I love almost any reason to build a celebration around. Life is often difficult (believe me, I know that this year more than ever before!); it’s important to find reasons for joy and celebration whenever one can.

I’ve always thought Halloween was fun, and often wished it were longer than just one night.

When I was n my mid 20s, I came across a book in the library by Anne Rice titled The Feast of All Saints. That was the first I’d heard of All Saints’ Day,” which is a religious holiday that Wikipedia tells us …”begins at Vespers on the evening of 31 October and ends at the close of 1 November. It is thus the day before All Souls’ Day.” I was intrigued by this holiday, but I also learned I was not an Anne Rice fan (I could not make it through that book; nor could I make it through Interview with a Vampire years later, so I’ve pretty much given up on her as an author for me).

Later on, I also learned of the Day of the Dead, or Dia de Muertos in Spanish. It, too, is celebrated on 01-November. As Wikiepedia tells us:

Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday observed throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico where the day is a bank holiday.

So for several years, I maintained a low-key observance of Day of the Dead, typically with some “spooky” leftovers and attitude from our Halloween festivities.

After all of the frustrations and chaos that this year has brought thus far, I have been especially looking forward to reasons to celebrate and be festive. Already happy that Halloween falls on a Friday this year, I decided to do a bit more research into both Halloween and Day of the Dead, and you cannot imagine how thrilled I was to discover a heretofore unknown holiday to me of Hallowtide, which can also be referred to as Hallowmas!

Yes, that’s right — it’s like the Nightmare Before Christmas!! :-)

As handy, dandy Wikipedia tells us:

AllhallowtideHallowtideAllsaintstide, or the Hallowmas season, is the triduum encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Hallows’ Eve (Hallowe’en), All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’) and All Souls’ Day, which last from October 31 to November 2 annually. Allhallowtide is a time to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians. The present date of Hallowmas (All Saints’ Day) and thus also of its vigil (Hallowe’en) was established for Rome perhaps by Pope Gregory III (731-741) and was made of obligation throughout the Frankish Empire by Louis the Pious in 835. Elsewhere, other dates were observed even later, with the date in Ireland being 20 April. It was only in the early 11th century that the modern date of All Souls’ Day was popularized, after Abbot Odilo established it as a day for the monks of Cluny and associated monasteries to pray for the dead.

So this year, I’m looking forward to three days of spook-tacular celebrations — which will also include some somber contemplation of loved ones who have passed on.

Happy Hallowmas! :-) May your spooky treats be yummy and may no mean tricks come your way.

 

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I’ll share my Hallowmas tricks and treats on my Facebook page as time permits :-)

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Easy Bake Oven

Easy Bake OvenDid you have an Easy Bake Oven when you were a kid? I did, and I loved it. :-) As I recall, I got it for my 8th birthday, or maybe it was the Christmas just before I turned 8. (And no, that’s not me in the pic — it’s from Wikipedia ;-) LOL.)

As much as I enjoy cooking, there are times when I want or need meals to be very simple and involve the least bit of labor possible, such as when I’m busy with other things (work, some sort of project/task/chore, or something fun, like watching a movie, reading a good book, playing a game, visiting with family or friends, or spending time with a four-legged furry family member), overly tired, not feeling well, or whatever. And while hubby and I will sometimes eat out or bring back take-out when I’m feeling that way, I still generally prefer preparing something or other at home, because even a meal prepared with some convenience products is more likely to be far and away healthier and more affordable than restaurant food or TV dinners.

Meet Maisie Dobbs! :-)

Meet Maisie Dobbs! :-)

Speaking of furry family members: Those of you who know me and/or have been following on my blog or Facebook page know that 2014 has been a difficult one for my beloved and me in more ways than one.  I will never be so glad to see the end of a year as I will this one. One happy note with this year, though — the Wednesday before Labor Day (27-August-14), a stray puppy showed up on our doorstep. She is ADORABLE and she adopted us immediately. After checking around for any “lost” posters for her and waiting over the long weekend to see if anyone came searching for her, we decided she could be ours and took her in to our vet’s (where they also checked her for a microchip — no chip). She is part Jack Russell terrier and other terrier mix. The vet estimated her age to be 4 -5 months old when we brought her in the day after Labor Day. She’s gotten two rounds of her puppy shots, and she has an appointment to be be spayed in mid October. Although hubby and I typically aren’t small dog people, this puppy has a big dog heart, and we both think that our late, beloved Sid and Big Dog conferred on their side of the Rainbow Bridge and sent this pup our way. We have named her Maisie Dobbs in honor of the character in Jacqueline Winspear’s books. No doubt, some uncaring soul dumped a loving, spirited, intelligent, beautiful creature and left her to fend for herself; we are so very grateful that she found us.

Maisie, ever vigilant in her search for gophers and moles. (She likes chasing after birds, too!)

Maisie, ever vigilant in her search for gophers and moles. (She likes chasing after birds, too!)

Maisie and Scraggles (so named because she was the sorriest, scrawniest, scraggliest looking stray we’d ever seen), a stray cat on whom hubby and I took pity in August 2012, have developed a wonderful “sister-ship” and get along quite well, often playing together and they’ve reached the point that they will curl up together on the recliner or couch with one of us or in the bed at night with both of us. Of course, it helps that Maisie is “cat-sized” now and will only grow to be a bit bigger than Scraggles (Scraggles is typically around 10 to 10 1/2 pounds; Maisie is expected to reach about 15 pounds when she’s grown).

Our Scraggles -- she's put on a couple more pounds since this photo in 2012 and now typically weighs 10 to 10.5 pounds.

Our Scraggles — she’s put on a couple more pounds since this photo in 2012 and now typically weighs 10 to 10.5 pounds.

Anyway, yesterday was one of those days I wanted an easy supper — one I didn’t have to futz with  — so that I would have more time free to relax, read, watch a Midsomer Murders with my hubby via Netflix, and play with Maisie and Scraggles. I decided on cheese ravioli. In and of itself, this is an easy and quick enough meal when you use frozen ravioli and doctor up your favorite prepared pasta sauce (I’m partial to Hunt’s Garlic and Herb or No Sugar Added sauces, myself): you heat the sauce while you boil water, cook and drain the pasta, then toss together. Add a tossed green salad and a bit of bread, if you like, and you’ve got a meal!

But that was more hands-on than I wanted, because you have to stir the simmering sauce and tend to the boiling water. So, inspired by Betty Crocker’s Easy Ravioli Bake, I decided to bake the ravioli instead. This takes longer than the more traditional boiling method, but it’s all hands-off time once you’re done with the prep. Also, because it bakes at a relatively low 350F, it wouldn’t overheat your kitchen too much if you wanted to make it in the summer.

You can have lots of fun with this recipe and shake it up in different ways:

  • The Ravioli: Use the frozen ravioli, which is typically much more affordable — and more convenient — than the fresh. I used cheese ravioli, but you can use whatever kind you like — mushroom ravioli, spinach ravioli, meat-filled ravioli, whatever floats your boat and is available in the freezer section of your store. 
  • The Sauce: You can make your own sauce, of course, but I’ve found that a tin of Hunt’s Pasta Sauce is the perfect amount of sauce for a package of frozen ravioli. Also, I’m doing this for an easy meal, remember? I always like to dress up the sauce a bit with some additional basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, parsley, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes for a bit of fra diavolo flavor, and a nice splash of Worcestershire sauce and a bit of red wine.
  • The Cheese and Vegetables: Betty Crocker’s recipe calls for quite a bit of cheese. Now don’t get me wrong, hubby and I adore cheese, but the cheese was overdone for my taste, especially since I was using cheese ravioli. (Also, no doubt it is the copious amounts of cheese that prompted Betty to divide it into 8 servings instead of the 5 one typically gets from a package of frozen ravioli.) I cut back on the cheese and added in some fresh vegetables — this is another time-saving step in baking it as opposed to the more traditional method, as I didn’t need to sauté the vegetables first. I used fresh mushroom and diced yellow bell pepper, but you can add in some of whatever sounds yummy to you — zucchini, eggplant, whatever makes you happy. Or you can leave the vegetables out — sometimes I like my ravioli with added vegetables; sometimes, not. ;-) If I were making this with other than cheese ravioli, I might use more cheese.

This smells so yummy as it bakes, you’ll find yourself having visions of Italy while you sip a glass of vino. ;-) (Go on, give it a listen — it’s a bouncy song with some glorious pics of Italy in it.)

 

Easy Baked Ravioli (Serves 5 to 6)

  •  26 to 28 ounces of your favorite commercial pasta sauce (I like Hunt’s Garlic and Herb or No Sugar Added sauces)
  • Package of frozen ravioli (around 25 to 28 ounces) (I used cheese ravioli)
  • Mozzarella cheese to taste (about 3 or 4 ounces)
  • Parmesan cheese to taste (couple – three tablespoons — just sprinkle it)
  • Sliced vegetables and/or fresh herbs to taste, if desired

1. Lightly spray with cooking spray or oil a 9″x13″ pan. (I used my festive red lasagna pan.) If desired, doctor up the pasta sauce (I always like to dress up the sauce a bit with some additional basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, parsley, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes for a bit of fra diavolo flavor, and a nice splash of Worcestershire sauce and a bit of red wine). Vegetarians: Leave out the Worcestershire sauce or use a vegetarian equivalent.

2. Spread a layer of sauce along the bottom of the pan (about 1/4 of the sauce). Place about half the frozen ravioli in the pan in a single layer. Sprinkle with some sliced fresh vegetables, if desired — I have gobs of fresh basil, so I added in some fresh basil, along with some sliced fresh mushrooms and diced yellow bell pepper. Top with about half or a little less than half of the remaining sauce and sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan and a small bit of mozzarella cheese. Vegetarians: Use a vegetarian Parmesan cheese or another kind of cheese.

Layer the 1st. ;-)

Layer the 1st. ;-)

3. Layer remaining ravioli and vegetables. Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with some more Parmesan and mozzarella.

Layer the 2nd ;-)

Layer the 2nd ;-)

4. Lightly spray with cooking spray or oil a sheet of aluminum foil. Tightly cover the casserole. Bake at 350F for 50 minutes; remove foil and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. IMPORTANT NOTE: I did not preheat my oven before baking. If your oven is preheated, then reduce initial baking time to 40 minutes before you remove the foil.

Let rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.

Let's Eat!

Let’s Eat!

Buon Appetito!

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Posted in Main Dish, Pasta, Uncategorized, Vegetarian/Meatless | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Purple People Eater?

eggplantNah, it’s something purple that people can eat. ;-)

Perusing the Kraft Food website one day, I felt inspired by one of their recipes for Eggplant Parmesan. Unlike most recipes for this meatless dish, this recipe doesn’t require breading and frying the eggplant. Chock-a-block with mushrooms and fresh eggplant, it has a rich taste, but isn’t heavy at all.

Every time I make this dish, I marvel at how I could have forgotten how good it tastes.

Much to my surprise, it turns out that eggplant is 1) technically a berry and 2) is a member of the deadly nightshade family! :-o

Eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a species of nightshade commonly known in British English as aubergine and also known as melongene, garden egg, or guinea squash. It is known in South Asia, Southeast Asia and South Africa as brinjal. It bears a fruit of the same name (commonly either “eggplant” in American, Australian English and sometimes Canadian English, or “aubergine” in British English and Canadian English) that is widely used in cooking, most notably as an important ingredient in dishes such as moussaka and ratatouille. As a member of the genus Solanum, it is related to both the tomato and the potato. It was originally domesticated in India and Bangladesh from the wild nightshade, the thorn or bitter apple, S. incanum.

The fruit is botanically classified as a berry and contains numerous small, soft seeds which are edible, but have a bitter taste because they contain nicotinoid alkaloids(being a relative of tobacco).

The most time-consuming part of this delicious dish is slicing and “sweating” the eggplant and cleaning and slicing the mushrooms. For ease, I purchase pasta sauce (I’m partial to Hunt’s Garlic and Herb or Hunt’s No-Sugar Added sauces, as neither has the abundance of sugars and fats typically added to commercially available sauces) and doctor it up a bit more with herbs to boost the flavor, but you can use 2 1/2 to 3 cups of your favorite homemade pasta sauce if you prefer.

You can peel the eggplant if you prefer, but I like to leave the skin on. Lightly sprinkling it with salt and letting it rest in a colander, then rinsing or wiping it down before using it in the recipe will help keep your sauce from being runny.

This yummy dish is comforting enough for a family meal but elegant enough to serve to company.

Add a tossed salad, bread, and a glass (or two! ;-) ) of red wine (Smoking Loon Old Vine Zinfandel is absolutely divine with this dish!), and you’ll be so happy to be a person eating purple that you might break out into song! ;-)


Easy and Light Eggplant Parmesan (Serves 4 to 6 as main dish)

  • 1 large eggplant (approximately 1 1/4 pounds), sliced
  • 8 ounces (1/2 pound) fresh mushrooms
  • 6 to 8 ounces (1 1/2 to 2 cups) mozzarella (do yourself a favor and shred your own!)
  • Approximately 1/3 cup grated Parmesan (Vegetarians: Use a vegetarian Parm or substitute a different cheese)
  • Can or jar (24 to 28 ounces) of your favorite pasta sauce (I like to add some additional seasonings to boost the flavor)

1. Slice eggplant. Lightly salt and layer in colander to drain.

2. Gently clean and slice mushrooms.

3. If desired, boost the flavor of your pasta sauce with some additional (I like to add in some basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, sprinkling of red pepper flakes, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce — vegetarians, leave out the Worcestershire).

4. Lightly oil or spray 13″x9″ pan with cooking spray. Wipe and/or rinse and wipe dry the eggplant slices. Layer approximately half or just over half of the eggplant slices and about half of the sliced mushrooms in the dish. I like to try and cover the bottom of the pan as well as I can with the eggplant slices, so you may use a bit more than half of the eggplant.

First Yummy Layer of the Eggplant and Mushrooms

First Yummy Layer of the Eggplant and Mushrooms

5.  Sprinkle with approximately 1/3 of the mozzarella and Parmesan. Top with remaining eggplant and mushrooms. Sprinkle with about half of the remaining cheeses.

Things are looking kinda cheesy! ;-)

Things are looking kinda cheesy! ;-)

6. Pour pasta sauce over all.

Pour on the sauce!

Pour on the sauce!

 

Looking and feeling saucy! ;-)

Looking and feeling saucy! ;-)

7. Lightly oil or spray with cooking spray a sheet of aluminum foil and tightly cover dish. Bake at 400F for 35 to 45 minutes, until bubbly and eggplant is softened. (I typically don’t preheat my oven for this dish and just bake it for 45 minutes instead of 35.)

8. Remove from oven and remove foil. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Return to oven until cheese is melted, about 5 or 10 minutes (I usually just turn the oven off and let the residual heat do the job). Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.

This smells -- and tastes -- so yummy!

This smells — and tastes — so yummy!

Buon Appetito!

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