Tag Archives: Spinach

Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

29 Apr

As with take-out pizza versus homemade, there is also a time and a place for boxed mac and cheese and a time for homemade.  Is it bad to admit that I still enjoy the blue box variety?  I feel like that’s ok, since I appreciate the blue box kind for completely different reasons than a gourmet homemade version (namely nostalgia and the freedom to douse it in ketchup – which is probably gross to many people – oops).   Today’s recipe is for a “grown up” mac and cheese (with spinach and crispy fried shallots on top) – but really it’s just for a homemade variety – since the recipe is completely adaptable for all tastes and ages.

Once you know the basic process for making macaroni and cheese, the possibilities are endless.  This is a more classic version of macaroni and cheese, with cheddar and Gruyère (with spinach added to make me feel slightly less guilty about this indulgent dinner – and really, the cheese and pasta mellow out the spinachy taste – amen).  The crispy shallots (which to me are a more gourmet spin on French’s fried onions) add a lovely salty and tangy bite – don’t skip them – they really add that extra something.  But, like I said before, the possibilities are endless – you can use any combination of cheeses and/or veggies and/or meat you want (or use no veggies or meat at all!).  One of my personal favorites is using Pepper Jack cheese and tiny broccoli florets for a so-called “Mac and Jack” spicy macaroni and cheese.  Yum.

This is a quick version of macaroni and cheese, which skips any baking in the oven.  But you can certainly pour the macaroni into a baking dish, top with bread crumbs and/or cheese (and/or crispy shallots!) and bake until golden brown.  I can’t decide which method I like better – without baking, the sauce stays so luxuriously creamy and saucy; but when baked, the crunchy golden brown top is pretty delicious too.  I’m torn.

Mac and Cheese with Spinach and Crispy Shallots

Time: 25 minutes; Yield: 8 servings

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups shredded cheese (I recommend a mix of aged sharp cheddar, Gruyère and/or Jack)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • Few grates of fresh nutmeg
  • 8 ounces fresh spinach, chopped finely (optional)
  • 1 pound cavatappi (hollow corkscrew shaped pasta), or any other noodle you like
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • Flour, to coat shallots
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, or enough to generously coat a saute pan
  • Salt and pepper

Making the Sauce: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour.  Cook for about 2 minutes, then add milk.  Bring to a boil (~8 min), then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes or until thickened, whisking often to prevent burning.  Season with salt and pepper.  Once thickened, add the cheeses, mustard, Old Bay and nutmeg, whisking to combine.

Cooking Pasta and Spinach:  Boil pasta according to package directions.  When the pasta is ready, add the chopped spinach to the boiling water to blanch, then drain both the pasta and spinach (ensuring to get as much water out of the spinach as possible).

Crispy Shallots (aka grown up French’s fried onions):  While sauce and pasta are cooking, toss the thinly sliced shallots with enough flour to coat.  Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat, add shallots, and cook until crispy and golden brown.  Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain excess oil.

Assembly:  When sauce is finished and pasta and spinach are cooked, pour sauce on top of pasta and spinach and toss to coat.  Don’t add all the sauce all at once, in case it’s too much (wait, is that possible?!).  Top with crispy fried shallots and serve immediately.

Isn’t it surprisingly easy to make homemade mac and cheese?  I think so :)  What other flavor combinations do you think would be good?  I’m thinking anything with bacon would be pretty amazing, but maybe that’s just me….

Recipe Review + An Easy Way to Cook Fish

12 Apr

Lately I haven’t had much time to come up with too many original recipes, plus I have been finding so many recipes I want to try in magazines and on Pinterest.  So I was thinking, I’d start a new sort of post here – Recipe Reviews.   I will post the recipe, a brief review of it, plus pictures of my adventures making it.  Then, like today, I’ll try to post suggestions or alterations that are possible from the recipe.

I have been meaning to write a post about easy ways to prepare fish for a while now, so the recipe for today just happened to be good timing.  The original recipe is from Everyday Food magazine  one of my personal favorites.  I always find the recipes in that magazine simple to prepare, yet flavorful and satisfying.  This recipe was no exception – with only 5 real ingredients – yet it was wonderfully flavorful (and super healthy!).  And, cooking fish in parchment paper or foil is one of my favorite techniques.  It steams the fish (and anything else you include in the foil or parchment packet, like vegetables), so it can be a really healthy way to prepare a meal relatively quickly.  I’ve shown below that I used parchment paper and foil and both worked equally as well.  I actually slightly prefer foil because 1) it’s easier to open and reclose to check if the fish is done and 2) it’s cheaper (ha – I really am frugal).

Here is the recipe, along with some additional instructions and pictures.  Below the recipe I’ve listed a few more ideas for different variations on this recipe (there must be an infinite number of combinations of fish and vegetables – so have fun with it!).

Ginger Orange Salmon in Parchment adapted slightly from Everyday Food Magazine (April 2012)

Yield: 2 servings; Time: 20 active + 20 inactive

  • 6 ounces baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 2 medium oranges, peeled and cut into rounds*
  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1″ piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin match sticks
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  On two 16″ long piece of foil or parchment paper, place the spinach, followed by the salmon, orange zest, slices, ginger and shallots.  Season all with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Form packets: fold the long ends of the foil/parchment together and make a seem, then tuck the ends underneath to secure (technique is not as crucial as making sure they are tightly closed so the steam stays contained in the packet).

Place packets on a rimmed baking sheet and bake 15-20 minutes.

Parchment or foil – either one works!

When nearing the end of cooking time, open the packets and check to see if the salmon is cooked through, resealing and returning to the oven for a minute or two if it needs more time.  Serve immediately.

*How to peel and segment or slice oranges:

Slice off both ends of the fruit.

Then, using a sharp knife, progressively cut thin strips of skin off, taking care to remove as little of the fruit as possible:

Then, you can either slice it into rounds, or individually cut each section out from the pith.

 

Variations to Try:

Whether you use parchment paper or aluminum foil, the possibilities are endless for this basic recipe.  You can get by with using very little fat, but the more butter or oil you use, the more delicious the results ;-).  I especially like using compound butters (softened butter mixed with any variety of herbs, garlic and seasoning you want).  Make sure to include enough citrus slices or vegetables to provide moisture to help the fish steam, to ensure a moist result.

The type of fish you use can also be changed easily too.  Depending on the thickness and how delicate the fish is, I would recommend trying out oven temperatures between 375 and 400 degrees, with cook times between 12 and 20 minutes.  This will also depend on how much other “stuff” you include in the packets.

  • Salmon with lemon/dill butter plus julienned yellow squash and finely diced tomatoes
  • Tilapia (or sole or flounder or halibut) with lemon slices, lemon juice, butter, garlic and asparagus
  • Salmon with thinly sliced fennel or leeks, plus a little white wine, herbs and butter
  • Halibut (or other white fish) with sliced baby bok choy and carrots, with ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil

Crepes!

2 Apr

Ah, crepes.  So simple, yet so delicious.  Yes, I said simple! 

Rarely have I ever made pancakes from scratch (i.e. not a box mix), but I’ve made crepes from scratch numerous times.  Surprisingly, the batter could not be simpler or easier to make.  You just throw all the ingredients in a blender and you’re done!  Then, the amount of topping/filling combinations you can make are endless.

Today I want to share with you the basic recipe I use, plus two ideas for savory crepes (Rolled crepes with mushrooms, spinach and Brie and ham-and-egg crepe squares). They make a perfect breakfast, lunch or dinner.  And of course, the amount of sweet variations you could make using this base recipe is also endless – I would recommend Nutella + bananas or strawberries, powdered sugar + any fruit, especially blueberries or raspberries, or even a sweet and savory combo, like Brie with strawberries.  MMM. I LOVE CREPES.

My go-to crepe recipe is Alton Brown’s.  It’s worked flawlessly every time I’ve made crepes.  This time, I made a few slight changes, which I mention below.   After you make the batter, the recipe calls for a “resting” time, where you chill the batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour (or up to 48).  This may seem unimportant, but it really does make a difference in how easily the crepes tear.  So make sure to plan ahead and refrigerate (I speak from experience).  I like that you can really make this batter way ahead of time – up to 48 hours – and then have it on hand any time you want some fresh crepes.

Basic Crepe Recipe, slightly modified from Alton Brown’s original recipe

Time: 5 min prep, 1 hour chill, 20 min cooking; Yield: 17-22 crepes

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (optional modification – you can use all white flour if preferred)
  • 1 large pinch sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for coating pan

Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse for 10 seconds. 

Chill in the refrigerator at least 1 hour, or up to 48 hours.

*If making sweet crepes, add 2 more tablespoons sugar to batter.

How To Make Crepes:

You don’t need a fancy crepe pan to make crepes, but you can use one if you want to.  I have one from a long, long time ago, just like this crepe pan.  It’s really just a simple pan with low sides, which makes it easier to get your crepe spatula underneath the crepe to flip it.  A normal ~8″ fry pan and spatula will work just fine though.  Last time I made them, I made them double time – using one crepe pan and one normal pan, and they came out equally well.  But if you want to be fancy, invest in the pan and the spatula.  If you’re going to pick one, pick the spatula – it’s wooden, so it won’t scratch your non-stick pans, plus it’s the perfect shape for gently sliding under the crepe and flipping it.

Anyway, to make a crepe, heat your pan over medium-low heat, and add a small amount of butter to coat the pan. 

Pour in 1/8 to 1/4 cup batter into the pan, lifting and swirling the pan to help the batter form a thin layer which covers the whole pan. 

Cook for 30 seconds, then carefully slip spatula under the crepe and flip. 

Cook for another 1o-20 seconds, then remove from the pan.  Serve immediately, or allow to cool separately, then stack and refrigerate for later use.

Fill with one of the following suggestions, or your own creation!

Spinach, Mushroom and Brie Rolled Crepes

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (or any other variety you like)
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons cooking Sherry (or white wine), optional
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 ounces Brie, rind removed, cut into pieces
  • 6 crepes

Melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and onions and cook until tender.  Add in thyme and season with salt and pepper. 

Add the Sherry and cook until mostly evaporated.  Add the spinach in the pan and wilt. 

Meanwhile, place pieces of Brie down the center of 6 crepes.  Once spinach is wilted, spoon hot spinach and mushroom mixture over top of Brie. 

Roll up crepes and serve.

 

Ham and Egg Crepe Squares

  • 4 slices ham
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 crepes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shredded cheddar cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lay crepes flat on baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray.  Place one piece of ham on each crepe, then crack an egg over top.

Fold up sides of crepe to form a square.

Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with cheese.  Bake 10-14 minutes until white of egg is set and yolk is your desired doneness. 

Enjoy!

Tilapia with Avocado-Pineapple Salsa and Quinoa

6 Jan

Today I am sharing a recipe for tilapia with avocado-pineapple salsa and my adventures cooking quinoa.  Actually, it wasn’t much of an adventure, just followed the package directions, but it was my first time cooking it at home (and I will definitely be making it again!).  Trying new whole grains was one of my New Year’s resolutions  so I’m glad to have already checked one thing off my list.  

I want to share this recipe with you because it also demonstrates a very easy way to cook fish, which has been a requested topic on the blog.  Sometimes cooking fish can be intimidating, but it shouldn’t be.  Eating more fish was another one of my resolutions, and finding simple and flavorful ways to prepare it helps a lot. 

In this recipe the fish is roasted under the broiler – in and out in less than 10 minutes.  And it doesn’t even need to be flipped, so it couldn’t be easier.  I used tilapia and roasted it for about 7 minutes, which was the perfect amount of time to cook it through and get a bit of caramelization on top.  Then, I topped it with an avocado-pineapple salsa.  This is one of my go-to ways to prepare fish, and you can make endless variations.  You can use pineapple, mango, peach, nectarine, avocado, tomato or any combination of those.  Then, add lime juice, cilantro, red onion, jalapeno and some salt and pepper.  Pineapple-avocado was delicious, but tomato-nectarine is another one of my favorites. 

Tilapia with Avocado-Pineapple Salsa   adapted from Everyday Food Magazine

Time: 20 min, Yield: 2 servings

  • 1 avocado, diced (**see below for how to select, store and easily dice avocados!)
  • 1 cup pineapple , finely diced (I used canned pineapple chunks, since I didn’t want to buy a whole fresh one and it turned out great still)
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tilapia fillets (original recipe calls for halibut, but frozen tilapia was on sale – what can I say!?)
  • 1 cup quinoa, optional side
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach, optional side

Preheat broiler with rack in upper third of oven.  In a medium bowl, combine the avocado, pineapple, jalapeno, onion, cilantro, lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Coat a rimmed baking sheet with foil (optional, but it makes clean up easy!) and coat with cooking spray (try to spray only the portion of the baking sheet which will be covered with the fish – otherwise it may burn or smoke).  Season fish on both sides with salt and pepper and place on the baking sheet.

Broil the fish until opaque throughout, about 6-7 minutes, depending on thickness.  It will flake easily with a fork when ready – don’t over cook it!

Meanwhile, cook the quinoa according to the package directions.  Make sure to season with salt and optionally, stir in a small pat of butter at the end ;-).  Towards the end of the cooking, stir in the baby spinach to wilt.

Top the fish with the salsa and serve with a side of spinachy quinoa for a healthy, yet super satisfying, dinner!

** How to Buy, Store and Dice Avocados **

Buying & Storing: A ripe avocado gives when gently pressed, but is not mushy (mushy=on its way to rotten).  Buy them ripe if you plan to use them right away, because unripe avocados will take a few days to ripen (to speed it up you can place them in a closed brown paper bag with a banana or apple – the fruits give off ethylene gas which helps speed ripening).  Once ripe, store in the fridge until using.

Dicing: First, slice the avocado lengthwise, all the way around, then twist the halves and pull apart.  To remove the pit, give it a good whack with the blade of a knife, and twist it out.

Then, slice or dice the avocado while still in the skin:

Then scoop out the slices or dices with a spoon:

Quick and Easy Creamed Spinach

12 Dec

Creamed spinach to me is a special steakhouse treat.  I’ve always kind of assumed its difficult to make or something, but as it turns out, it’s ridiculously simple!  I think this will be my new go-to way of preparing spinach for a quick, weeknight side dish.   It’s obviously not as healthy as simply sautéed or steamed spinach, but compared to how creamy and cheesy I imagined creamed spinach has to be, it is actually not bad at all! 

I made this for my husband’s birthday, as an accompaniment to meatloaf and a potato gratin.   The three together were a perfect combination.  Oh and yes, he requested meatloaf for his birthday dinner, of all things.  And he happens to love spinach, even as a kid!  Spinach even makes it in his top 3 favorite vegetables (yes, these are the things we talk about).  After making this easy creamed spinach, it might be moving up on my list too.  Here’s the recipe (adapted from one found in Food Network Magazine):

Quick and Easy Creamed Spinach 

Serves: 2, Time: <10 minutes

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed very dry
  • scant 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup stock or broth (I used turkey stock since I had it in the freezer, but any type works)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream (or up to 1/2 cup – eyeball it)
  • Salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat.

Add the minced garlic and saute for a minute or two (taking care not to burn it).

Add the thawed and drained spinach and toss to warm through.

Stir in flour, Worcestershire sauce, broth, sour cream, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper (just a dash) and nutmeg (just a small sprinkle).  Simmer for about 5 minutes until its slightly thickened and creamy.  Enjoy!