Category: Blog

Stale Bread: Is It Magic or Mayhem?

A new addition to my culinary arsenal. Ain’t she purty?

Last Christmas, I decided to revisit an old tradition of serving snacky things on Christmas Eve as opposed to a proper, sit-down-at-the-table meal. I laid in loads of deli meats and cheeses, a vegetable tray, condiment tray, chips/dip platter, fruit and cheese tray, and a bunch of big fat Ciabatta rolls. Yum, right?

As the prep began, I had loads of help getting things arranged and onto the platters, but I got a lot of uncomfortable looks. So I stopped mid-prep and asked, “What?” The only response I could drag out of anyone was “This is a lot of food!” Funny, but it didn’t seem like a lot when I first conceptualized the menu but … it’ll get eaten, right?

Two months later, I admit that they were right and I was wrong. It was a LOT of food. I’ll go one better and concede that it was WAY too much food. Even though the thought that someone might want seconds seemed reasonable at the time, in retrospect it was a tad optimistic given how much food there was for the dinner menu … and the weekend menu … and New Year’s.

But as I’ve said before, I am NOT a quitter! I may have bought too much food but it will not go to waste. I will repurpose every possible morsel into delicious dishes and redeem myself, vowing NOT do it again when the next holiday rolls around.

Today, I am preparing a beautiful and delicious dish that I saw on a TV show last month. I’ve looked for the recipe and I can’t find it. I ran across some similar recipes but nothing captured the concept as I remember it … SO … once again I shall endeavor to come up with something of my own. Wish me luck. I just hope it turns out to be more attractive than the last time I made up my own dish.

Here we go!

Florentine Onion and Gruyere Panade

I recommend an enameled cast iron pan like the one pictured at the top of the post, or at least something that you can take from stovetop to oven to table.

Ingredients:

Butter, onions, sugar, salt, pepper, spinach, stock, cheese and bread.
Melt the butter in the pan.
Slice the onions and add them to pan with the butter. Cook on low/medium til caramelized.
This took about 25 minutes to get here.
This is after about 40 minutes.
Add spinach, salt and pepper. I threw in a few leaves of fresh thyme, too.
Cook til wilted, then remove from the pan. and set aside.
Deglaze the pan with about 1/4 c. stock OR use white wine for extra flavor.
Add a layer of the spinach/onion mixture, then a layer of bread, then a bit of cheese.
Repeat the layering 3 times to get a good distribution of ingredients.
Cover and bake at 325 for 35-40 minutes til bubbly and tender.
Remove the lid
Top with remaining cheese.
Crank up the oven to 400 and bake another 15 minutes.
Crisp and golden brown but … not attractive.
Even on a colorful plate, it’s just not appealing.

Here’s the full recipe as I wish I had made it (having adjusted quantities based on the final outcome), followed by my usual notes about what went right and wrong. I also include some suggestions on how you can improve it if you decide to try it yourself.

Florentine Onion and Gruyere Panade

  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 onions, sliced
  • Fresh baby spinach, 3-4 cups
  • 4 cups stale bread, cubed
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 1 t. sugar

Preheat the oven to 325.

In a large pan, melt the butter. Add the sliced onions and sugar. Stir and cook for about 30-40 minutes or until onions are tender and caramelized.

Add spinach, salt and pepper to the onions, and toss to combine. Cover the pan to allow the spinach to steam and wilt, about 3 minutes.

Remove the spinach mixture from the pan and set aside. Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of the chicken stock. Then layer the bread, spinach/onion mixture, and some of the grated cheese in the pan, just to make about 3-4 layers. This layering gives the dish some even distribution of the ingredients.

Cover and bake at 325 for 35-40 minutes until bubbly. Remove the cover, increase the oven temperature to 400 and bake for another 15-20 minutes until golden brown and crispy on top.

And there you have it. Here’s the commentary. Let’s start with …

What went wrong:

A LOT! From combining recipe ingredients, preparation techniques, and cook times that I found online, I ended up with WAY too much liquid, too much fat, not enough cheese, and I used the wrong kind of bread.

I needed a more dense, tighter structure to the bread. Ciabatta had a much too open structure for this dish so I should have taken that into account. I did consider it, but I thought that the staleness would save me. It didn’t.

I had a fear that the dish would be bland because one similar recipe I found called for Lipton’s Onion Soup mix, which is very salty. Another called for canned onion soup which can also be salty. So in the end before I added my overabundance of chicken stock (I started with 1 1/2 cups as opposed to the 2 cups suggested by other sources), I added a tablespoon of “Better Than Bouillon” which pushed the saltiness over the edge.

Even cutting back the liquid, the dish was too mushy. excess liquid made it mushy. I even cubed another 1/2 of a Ciabatta roll and it still turned out too wet.

And again, all of the recipes that I found online used way too much butter. Many of them called for 1 stick. I cut the butter in half but it was still just too much fat. I accounted for that in the instructions above by lowering the quantity to 3 tbsp., but you could probably get away with even less than that.

What went right:

The onions cooked up nicely. The greens wilted well. The pan did great, as always. The train left the tracks when the bread and broth went in. Everything after that just didn’t work.

What would I do differently?

I’ve accounted for some things in the recipe list, and I’ve mentioned them above, but I’ll put all of this in one section so my thoughts are organized and maybe it will be easier to read. Here’s what I think and why I’d change things.

I would use a different kind of bread, probably the remnants of a loaf of basic white bread I’d made in the bread maker — the kind that doubles as pizza crust. It needs to be something that will stand up, which means no Brioche, definitely not Ciabatta. Something stronger with a tighter structure. And I’d probably toast the cubes ahead just to be on the safe side. This dish is a bit like stuffing; you can add moisture but once you’ve added too much, it’s not easy to correct.

I would use less stock, even with the change in bread, I’d still use less stock. Probably about a cup as designated in the recipe list above. Or even better, I might use another onion (4 rather than 3), 1/2 of a cup of stock, and then deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of white wine.

I’d also add more thyme. I threw in just a few leaves of fresh thyme and it helped the flavor. If I made this again, I’d add more. Probably while I was caramelizing the onions or deglazing the pan.

I wish I’d thought to add mushrooms to the onions. I think that, with the fresh thyme, it would have been even more flavorful. And if I added mushrooms, I’d be very careful about how much stock I added because mushrooms can bring more moisture to the dish, depending on the choice of bread.

And I also think that the onions might be a little better if they weren’t so caramelized. One recipe I saw used the slow cooker method of caramelizing the onions ahead of time, and I can only imagine they’d have easily disappeared into the pan. Maybe that’s the point. But I like different textures, so maybe a tad less cook on the onions — enough to get that flavor but not so much that they disintegrate or cook down altogether.

Basically, this panade, as I’ve interpreted it from what I saw on TV and the recipes I’ve looked at online, is a savory bread pudding without the custard (egg and cream) to bind it. It uses the cheese to bind it but that doesn’t really work if the liquid ratio is off. And the liquid ratio on this concoction, as far as I’m concerned, was way off.

Other options and adaptations:

Make it vegetarian using vegetable stock and olive oil. Actually, I think a flavored or infused olive oil would be WAY better than the butter anyway.

To make it vegan, substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock, and use olive oil instead of butter. In place of the Gruyere, sprinkle the layers with a mixture of cashews pulverized with nutritional yeast to give you a cheesy flavor.

Do I recommend trying this at home? Sure, why not? If you have the time and the ingredients to spare, there’s a lot to be learned here.

What I learned …

I learned to think of the kind of bread when deciding on how much stock to use. Not all bread is created equal and I knew that going in. But I just didn’t think of it when I was compiling the ingredients. Good lesson to learn.

Going forward in a similar situation, I’ll consider just using more onions for moisture and extra flavor, too, rather than adding stock.

I learned to think more about my flavors – I really wish I’d thought of mushrooms! And they could have helped with the liquid problem as I’d have known not to add as much if mushrooms were present.

And finally, I have also learned that there are times that you really can have too much butter. This was one of those times.

So give it a whirl! Really, you’re not wasting anything. It’s stale bread with a little stock, some spinach, onions and cheese. It’s not an expensive dish to mess up. So in terms of the cost of tuition, I’d do it again because, as indicated above, I learned at lot, and what I learned will help me think better on my feet.

As to the actual “wasted” food … well, I have an idea about what I might be able to do with that. I might be able to repurpose the dish. Check back in tomorrow and see if I can pull it off!

That Stuff is HOW OLD?

Behold the miracle of baking.
Hard to believe this came from some old bananas!

I’m ashamed to admit that I’m still dealing with perishable food salvage. In fact, I’m downright silly with it! It’s coming at me from all directions … the refrigerator … the pantry … and now, the freezer.

I’ve been talking a lot about what I’ve done with what’s come out of the fridge and the pantry, but I haven’t even touched on what’s in the freezer. Coming off of a long chain of holidays and family events has left me with more surplus than I thought was possible. And when I found the bananas in the freezer, I nearly threw them out.

But I’m no quitter! So onward and upward. And yes, I’m going to take the easy way out. Banana bread, mainly because it’ll freeze. Even though I’m using previously frozen bananas, the banana bread will still freeze.

Ingredients: Nothing fancy. Pantry staples and some thawed bananas, mashed.
All you need are your basic kitchen tools. But you can use your gadgets if you like.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Do I HAVE to sift it?
Well, no, if you don’t mind these little wheat pellets in your batter.
See? Now, doesn’t that look better?

In another bowl, combine egg, oil, sugar, and milk. Whisk until smooth.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients, folding gently until well combined.

Add mashed bananas.

Consistency will be somewhere between a batter and a loose dough.

Fold in the nuts so that they’re evenly distributed.

Pour into a baking dish or loaf pan.

Bake at 350 F for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle.

Here’s the full recipe:

This takes about 15 minutes to prep and an hour to bake, give or take.

Banana Bread

Quick, easy, and delicious banana bread
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time55 mins
Course: Breakfast, Dessert, Snack
Servings: 16 slices
Author: okhomecookin

Equipment

  • 2 Mixing Bowls
  • Sifter
  • Spatula
  • Loaf pan/dish

Ingredients

  • 4 Bananas, over-ripe, mashed
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp light olive oil
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
    Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray.
    In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
    In a second bowl, lightly beat egg, then add milk, olive oil, and bananas.
    Make a well in the dry ingredients and gradually add the wet ingredients, mixing gently until well combined.
    Fold nuts into the mixture.
    Pour mixture into baking dish.
    Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the loaf.
    Remove from oven and allow to cool before slicing.

This freezes really well without getting super dry, so it’s a good loaf to cut into portions and store away for quick snacks. Seal it up in your Food Saver, store it in your Lock & Lock, put it in some Ziplock bags or wrap it in plastic wrap and use it within a month or so. Then, just take a slice out of the freezer and slide it into the toaster … or the toaster oven, or the air fryer, heat it in the microwave, let it thaw and eat it at room temperature or … I don’t know … do people eat stuff like this frozen?

You can also use these slices as a crumble on some nice warm oatmeal, put it on some ice cream or baked apples for dessert. Or you can also use it as layers for a banana pudding parfait. You’re only limited by your imagination.

Just a few extra notes …

First … TOAST YOUR NUTS! I can’t tell you what a huge difference this makes. It may seem way too fiddly and unnecessary but you’ll be SO glad you took the time. You’ve got to preheat the oven anyway, so just put the nuts on a pan and slide them into the oven for about 3 minutes or so (set a timer, don’t forget them, they burn fast). Let them bake until you can smell the warm nutty goodness of them. Then take them out and they’re much easier to chop when they’re warm. Let them cool while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.

Next – adaptations and options:

You can make this recipe gluten-free by using gluten-free flours instead of the usual all-purpose and whole wheat.

Make it Vegan

You can make this recipe vegan by using an egg replacer. Flax and/or applesauce might also work as a binder for this recipe. I haven’t experimented with that in this recipe, but I have had good success with applesauce and flax in similar applications.

About the milk, you can use whatever kind of milk you like or whatever you have on hand, dairy or nondairy. I used cashew milk because it’s what I had.

Also, if you’re going vegan with it, be sure you stick with the non-dairy milk like cashew milk (my preference) or almond milk. Coconut milk would also work and might add a nice bit of flavor to complement the banana. I understand vegans would know this but if you’re a non-vegan baking for a vegan, you might need the reminder.

Oil options

About the oil, you can use regular vegetable oil if you don’t have olive oil. You can also use butter BUT … I used olive oil in this recipe because it makes for a more moist consistency. My dear, departed Aunt Bernie was the QUEEN of nut breads and she never used butter, but always used oil. She told me that butter makes the loaf more dry and crumbly. I never doubted her but I DID make a nut bread recipe using butter just to see how much of a difference it made to the moisture and texture. No surprise, Aunt Bernie knew what she was talking about. That woman had bona-fide SAND when it came to baking.

I love flavored olive oils so I used a butter-flavored olive oil. I’m a flavor hound. If you’re interested in the flavored oils and don’t have a shop near you, you can find them in online specialty shops. Bertoli makes a nice, lighter-flavored olive oil, and it’s available in most grocery stores. And finally, Geoffrey Zakarian makes a really beautiful olive oil that he sells on QVC. I highly recommend his oils. I love them for pretty much everything I cook or bake that calls for olive oil.

Banana options

Now, about the bananas: if you use bananas that have been previously frozen as I did, set them out for a while. Once they’re thawed and right at room temperature, they’ll be fine to mash into the mixture. If you use bananas that have gotten over-ripe from sitting on the counter, that’s pretty much ideal. BUT, if you have bananas that aren’t yet over-ripe and you want to make this bread, no problem! Just put your fresh bananas, peel and all, on a baking sheet lined with parchment, preheat your oven to 300 and bake for about 15 minutes or until the skins turn black. Once they’ve cooled they’ll be the perfect consistency for the recipe.

Good to know

Oh, and one more thing: If you are on a low-salt diet, and you think you just won’t add the smidge of salt that’s called for, think again. I’ve learned a lot about the laws of kitchen science since I decided to become better than just OK, and those laws apply here. When you use baking powder in a recipe, you need the salt to activate the leavening agents (baking powder and baking soda). So don’t leave it out if you want that nice lift in your baking.

This recipe ticks a lot of boxes for me. It is fast and easy, uses up produce that might otherwise get tossed, easy to adapt to dietary preferences, makes a good-sized batch, can be frozen, has many possible applications beyond the slice, and it’s really super tasty!

I hope you like it as much as I do!

How Much Does It Make and … CAN YOU FREEZE IT?

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I’m an empty-nester … unless you want to count the dogs, of course. But when it comes to consumers of human fare, I have only one offspring who still lives nearby. He’s the sole beneficiary of what’s produced in my quest to become better than just OK in the kitchen. More accurately stated, he’s the only one around who’s constantly in the line of fire when I start pushing food. He’s a good sport about it, for sure, but when push comes to shove, I’m forced to accept the fact that my big-batch cooks were much more appealing when he was in college. Enter the freezer.

I often worry that my freezer is a kind of halfway house for food on its way to the bin. But the sad truth is that I’m still not accustomed to cooking smaller portions. And if I want to try making something new, it’s not uncommon for me to forget that I need to make 1/2 or 1/3 of the recipe. On top of that, sometimes it’s just too much trouble to do the calculations and pare down. This is one of those times.

I saw a coffee cake on TV last week that looked really delicious. It was a riff on those melted ice-cream cake recipes and I’ve been dying to make it. When I went to the store yesterday, I picked up a box of yellow cake mix and some coffee ice-cream, imagining how nice it would be to have a small smackeral with my coffee in the mornings.

As happens many times, I looked up the recipe online and felt overcome with disappointment. This was supposed to be a COFFEE coffee cake. But the only coffee ingredient was the ice-cream. Now, maybe it’s just me but when someone promises me coffee, I expect a pretty big flavor. I’ve made one of those ice-cream/cake-mix recipes before and found that the flavor of the ice cream alone just wasn’t enough to convince me that I was having anything other than a yellow cake. So I decided to come up with my own recipe, and I’m really glad I did. Here it is … my Triple Coffee Coffee Cake (aka Coffee CUBED).

This is a two-part recipe – part 1 is the cake, part 2 is the streusel.

TRIPLE COFFEE COFFEE CAKE

For the cake:

  • 1 box of yellow cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups melted coffee ice-cream
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp. Kahlua coffee liqueur
  • 1 tsp. espresso powder
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
Ingredients for the cake.

For the streusel:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 stick cold butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. espresso powder

Here’s what you do:

Preheat the oven to 350. Coat a 9″ square baking dish with cooking spray. I decided to do something a little more festive in recognition of the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday so I used silicone cake molds. Those didn’t need to be coated. Next …

Cut the butter into cubes.

Make the streusel in a medium mixing bowl by adding the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and espresso powder. Mix together, then add the butter and salt. Combine until the butter is well incorporated into the dry mixture and it looks like fine pebbles. I used my Ninja food processor. You can use a fork, a pastry cutter, or your fingers, but I’m a gadget gal who’s sometimes impatient, so I took the short route to the finish line.

Ready to layer with the cake batter.

Next combine the wet ingredients (eggs, ice cream, Kahlua) in one bowl, and the dry ingredients (cake mix, espresso powder, salt) in another bowl.

If you have a mixer, feel free to use it. I have one but I always just use my Spurtles. It’s just as fast and hand mixing eliminates the possibility that I’ll overmix and my cake will be tough.

Next pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined. You’ll see a few small lumps but don’t worry. It’s OK.

Then it’s time to layer the batter with the streusel.

PLEASE NOTE:

IF you are making just a regular coffee cake, in a baking dish, you’ll start with batter and end with streusel on top. BUT … if you are using a cake mold that will be turned upside down after the cake is baked like I did, then your first layer will be streusel and your last layer will be batter. You’re going to make 2 layers of each of streusel and batter either way you go.

I’m making smaller cakes in silicone molds.
I started with 1/4 c. streusel in the bottom of the mold.
Then I put a layer of batter over the streusel, about 2/3 cup. Then another layer of streusel. And I ended with a layer of batter. Streusel, batter, streusel, batter.

I thought this recipe would make 2 molds of cake. It made 4.

Put the cake/cakes in the oven and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Mine took about 33 minutes. And the baking instructions are the same if you only do one cake in a larger pan/dish. But be careful about that, and remember that if you’re baking a single cake in a 9×9 (brownie-sized) dish, you’ll probably be OK. But if you’re baking in an 8×8 dish that is deeper, you may need more bake time. The deeper the dish, the longer it takes to bake.

Golden brown, light, fluffy, BEAUTIFUL!
If you’re using molds, turn them over on a cooling rack. And don’t jump the gun. Wait until they’re good and cool before you try to unmold.

As you can see from the photo at the top of the page, the recipe turned out pretty well. At least I think it did. The coffee flavor is definitely there. The streusel is nice and light with a good texture and not overly crunchy. I was a little worried about putting the streusel down as the first layer because I was afraid it might make the top of the cake either too oily from the butter in the mixture OR it might be too crunchy from the streusel being closest to the oven coil where it could get too much heat. But it really did turn out nicely.

The original recipe called for less coffee flavor, and more butter and flour in the streusel. I like my recipe better! Less flour, less butter, and a hit of espresso powder in the streusel mixture. I could probably have taken a whole teaspoon rather than 1/2. But it’s still good. It’s a fluffy cake, nice crumb, and it’s got a much richer coffee flavor than it would have if I’d gone with what I found online.

I’m calling this a success! Just keep your fingers crossed it’ll freeze!

NOTE:

  • If you don’t like using boxed mixes, you can certainly use the “dry” portion of a basic scratch cake recipe instead.
  • Want to make the recipe gluten-free? Use a gluten-free flour or cake mix.
  • If you want to make it dairy-free, use coconut yogurt instead of sour cream and coconut milk instead of the ice cream. You’ll also want to use an egg replacer.
  • For dairy-free streusel, try plant-based “butter.” Miyoko has a vegan “butter” on the market that actually tastes like butter.

This is a pretty adaptable recipe that I believe can work for most dietary preferences. Don’t be afraid to be creative and think outside the box!

Sometimes, Ugly Food Can Still Taste Good

The Scarlet Plate … like the scarlet letter but for food that just didn’t do the right thing.

Since I had to run errands today, I thought I might take a day off from cooking. But when I was putting some fresh produce in the fridge, I was shocked to find more ingredients that need to be used. You’d think I’d have cleaned out everything by now but nooooooo. I ran across things that got pushed to the back of the crisper OR that migrated to parts unknown only to be discovered on the threshold of expiration. I SERIOUSLY over-bought for the Christmas and New Year’s and, yes, some of this stuff is really THAT old! Thankfully, between an extra “garage” refrigerator that doesn’t get opened and closed much, as well as an overabundance of Lock & Lock containers, I lose far less to the trash than I might otherwise. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Today’s find … broccoli. Still looks good, still tastes good. It’s a miracle! I also found a block of tofu that’s ready to expire. Those things made me think of long ago and far away when a friend of mine introduced me to some amazing vegetarian recipes. Back in the late 80s and early 90s Broccoli Tofu Casserole was one of my favorites.

Unfortunately, no one remembers that recipe. I remember the flavors but have no idea about the quantities of ingredients or the cook times. I’ve searched the internet far and wide and can’t find any recipe that ticks all the boxes. It’s hard to think that a dish that was so memorable to me didn’t stand the test of time and turn up on someone’s website. So I have no choice but to throw caution to the wind, try to rely on my recollection and experience, and just take my chances that I can pull together something edible from these sad, forgotten foods.

One of the advantages of being just an OK home cook is that I’ve got nothing to lose by trying. I don’t have much of an ego in the kitchen so reputation and standing aren’t considerations. When I was younger, I admit that I was sometimes reluctant to cook anything that wasn’t a guarantee. Those days are long gone. What’s the worst that can happen, right?

So I’m flying by the seat of my pants today. Working without a net (i.e., a recipe). Armed with a general idea about ingredients and techniques, I’m going to face the uncertainty and just go for it. The only thing I know for sure is that one way or another, I’m bound to learn something.

Here goes nuthin’ …

Ingredients

Olive oil, milk (dairy or non), brown rice, tofu, broccoli, onion, garlic, Worchestershire sauce, cornstarch, salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, & additional salt/pepper.

The casserole that I made with my friend was pretty straightforward. Basically just throw everything into a baking dish, add the liquid, cover and bake. Today, I’m going to add a couple of steps to that to give it a boost.

Drain the tofu and slice in half lengthwise.
Dice 1/2 at a time into cubes.
I like the bigger cubes but you can go smaller if you prefer.
Combine the cornstarch, paprika, onion powder, salt, and pepper.
Sprinkle over the tofu cubes, toss gently to coat.
Put the cubes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 400.
After 15 minutes, remove from the oven, turn them over, and bake for another 15 minutes.

If you haven’t already done it, while the tofu is baking you can prep the rest of the ingredients.

Break the broccoli up into florets.
Rinse the rice.
Mince the garlic.
Dice the onions. This takes about 2 seconds in the Genius Dicer. I LOVE this thing!
By this time the tofu should be ready to come out of the oven.
Heat a pan, add 2 tbsp. olive oil and saute’ the onions and garlic til tender.
Add the broccoli florets, salt and pepper.
Cook about 3-4 minutes until the broccoli is bright green.
Add the rice to a 3 qt. baking dish.
Spoon the broccoli, onions, and garlic over the rice.

Up to this point, everything was going pretty well. But this is where I needed the recipe. Even though I know more about food science than I used to, I made a pretty catastrophic mistake which I forgot to photograph because I panicked. But I’ll add a section about “what went wrong” at the end, just in case anyone actually wants to try this at home.

Add the tofu and pour the milk (heated) over the top.
Drizzle with the Worchestershire sauce.
Cover and bake for 45 minutes at 350. Then remove the lid and top with shredded cheese or bread crumbs if desired. Then bake another 15-20 minutes.

So there you have it. There is no picture of the finished dish still in the baker because it turned out really super ugly (see photo at the top of the page). No curb appeal (or plate appeal) whatsoever.

Here’s what went right …

Right #1: The flavor was pretty close.

Right #2: Cutting the tofu into large cubes was definitely the thing to do because it held up to the size of the broccoli florets.

Right #3: Seasoning the tofu ahead of putting it into the baker was definitely a good idea, and baking it separately ahead of time helped the tofu add some texture to the dish. It’s not something we did back in the day, and the tofu was always pretty mushy. But doing it this way made for a better dish.

And here’s where the train went off the tracks …

What went wrong …

WRONG #1: I should have known that milk and Worchestershire sauce would NOT mix. The recipe back in the day called for a lot of Worchestershire. That was the main flavor bomb for the whole dish and it was delicious. HOWEVER, nut milks weren’t in the mainstream then and I THINK I remember that the recipe called for nonfat milk. I used 2% today because (big surprise) … it was due to expire shortly and I needed to use it up. And what do we get, boys and girls, when we add acid to hot milk? That’s right!

We get CURDS!

When I made this recipe years ago I remember that I used to combine the Worchestershire and the milk and the salt and pepper and cayenne (which I forgot about until right now). Just dump it all in one vessel, mix it all together, and pour it into the dish. That way, all of the flavors were distributed evenly throughout. And there were no curds.

Back then, I had no knowledge of kitchen science so I didn’t know that curds were even a consideration. It just so happened we always drank nonfat milk so the ingredient on hand was always the right one. But in my quest to bring my skills up from just “OK,” I have learned how to make ricotta and farmer’s cheese. Today, that knowledge just didn’t immediately come to me as I wasn’t in a cheese-making context. Actually, I WAS in a cheese-making context. I just didn’t know it! And I imagine that the original recipe maintained a lower ratio of acid to milk so even the small curds that can form in skim milk wouldn’t have shown up.

So I had to start over with the milk and at that point, I really should have moved over to nut milk (which was probably WRONG #2) but I thought I could get away with just pouring a fresh batch of heated milk over the dish and drizzling the Worchestershire. I kinda didn’t. Which is one reason that it’s a really ugly dish.

Wrong #3: I used too much rice. I did look up some tips on how to bake brown rice in the oven, because I remember the original recipe called for uncooked rice. But looking back, I’m pretty sure that the original recipe just called for plain old white rice so that would be …

Wrong #4: I second-guessed myself and used 2 cups of brown rice instead of 1 1/2 cups. I just used too much brown rice and …

Wrong #5: The rice needed to cook longer. Rather than bake it any longer (because the broccoli was looking pretty sad), I took it out of the oven and left it in the dish, covered, thinking that the residual heat would help the rice.

Wrong #6: I sprinkled some grated cheese over the top … to try to make it look better. It didn’t. And it didn’t add much to the flavor. If I was going to do it, I should have used better, sharper cheddar cheese (or a Gruyere) OR I should have used pulverized cashews with nutritional yeast because that would have given it a nice topping, a cheesy goodness AND a better texture without making it gummy.

The original recipe did call for cheese on top. Possibly to help hold everything together, but I’m not sure.

So there you have it. In case anyone wants to try this, here’s the recipe, revised to (hopefully) take care of today’s mistakes:

Broccoli Tofu Casserole

Part 1

  • 1 block extra-firm tofu, cubed
  • olive oil cooking spray (or olive oil in an EVO sprayer)
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Drain excess moisture from the tofu. Combine seasonings with cornstarch and toss tofu cubes in the mixture. Spread the cubes on the baking sheet, spray lightly with oil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, turn the cubes over, spray lightly with oil and bake another 15 minutes.

Part 2

Reduce oven temperature to 350.

  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 c. broccoli florets
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 1/2 c. brown rice
  • 1 3/4 c. almond milk, heated
  • 3 Tbsp. Worchestershire sauce

Add oil to hot pan on stove, and saute onion and garlic until tender. Add broccoli, salt and pepper, and saute for 3-4 minutes until broccoli is bright green.

Rinse rice and drain well. Put rice into a 3 qt. baking dish. Spoon broccoli mixture on top. Add tofu on top.

Combine milk with Worchestershire, salt, pepper, and cayenne and stir well. Pour over rice, broccoli, and tofu.

Cover and bake for 45-50 minutes. Then remove cover, add topping of choice (seasoned bread crumbs, grated cheese, nut/nutritional yeast “cheesy topping”) and bake another 15 minutes til rice is tender.

While my effort today didn’t turn out as planned, it still tastes pretty good. Very close to the original recipe but I think the omission of the cayenne made a big difference. I knew the dish was missing something but didn’t remember until I started writing this up. And I think that the Worchestershire sauce would work much better with an almond or cashew milk because you’d get the flavor and not have to worry about the curds. That would, however, mean that there was nothing (not even tiny curds from nonfat milk) to hold everything together so that’s something to think about. A binder of some kind might be needed … not sure flax would do it. If I think of something, and I have a chance to test it out, I’ll let you know!

As with some of my other recipes, this is vegetarian. Given the curd situation, it’s better to use nut milk of some kind but remember if you use soy milk, soy milk still makes curds. You’ve been warned!

Also, like some of my other recipes, converting this to a vegan recipe is super simple – nut milk instead of dairy, leave out the cheese and use the cashew/nutritional yeast suggestion if you want something to sprinkle on top.

Good luck! I’ll keep you posted if I discover how to make additional improvements over time.

Love For Leftovers

Initially, this post was going to bear the title “No Love for Leftovers,” because I have NO love for them at all. Fore me, leftovers for maybe one meal and then I’m SO done. I don’t like to think of myself as a food pusher but that doesn’t mean I’m not one. I feel great shame in admitting that when faced with having to eat my own leftovers, I do push food. My victims probably don’t like it any better than I do.

When my kids were in college, they were all about the leftovers. But now that they’re grown and enjoy cooking for themselves, the needle on the enjoyment meter points to “Not So Much” when they’re met with a teetering tower of plastic containers.

And so, dear readers, you may ask: “Then why not make smaller batches?” The short answer to that question is: I’m trying. The long answer consists of a walk through my personal history starting with my parents and grandparents who passed along well-established survivalist habits from WWI, WWII, The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl. It could be my genetics but I suspect that “nurture” trumps DNA all over the place. That makes the better question: “What ON EARTH are you going to do with all those leftovers?” Today, I have what I think is a pretty darned good answer!

Cauliflower Gratin!

This is so simple and fast you are going to drop your teeth! Using 4 ingredients (that’s right FOUR), I intend to whip up something glorious!

Remember the Potato Leek soup from day-before-yesterday? It was delicious. And I’ve had two meals of it which is my max. So today I’ll be using that, plus a small head of yellow cauliflower (another refugee from the fridge), PLUS some pita chips that have haunted my pantry for a couple of months (HOW LONG??? … yes, that’s right, but if you put them in a Lock & Lock container, they’d probably make it through the rest of the year), AND 1/2 cup of grated Gruyere (my favorite cheese).

Again, this is NOT vegan, but it IS vegetarian, and if you make that soup recipe with the suggested alterations, this CAN BE vegan (I have a substitute option for the cheese later on). So … here we go!

Cauliflower Gratin

  • 1 1/2 cups Potato Leek Soup (see 2/5 blog post)
  • 1 1# head of cauliflower (any color)
  • 1/4 c. bread crumbs (I’m using the aforementioned pita chips)
  • 1/2 c. grated gruyere

Preheat your oven to 375. This makes a smaller portion (surprise!), so I’m going to use my countertop oven to save energy.

This saved my bacon over Christmas when my oven went out!
Break the cauliflower into florets
Bring 4 cups water to boil, add florets, cook for 3 minutes til not quite tender.
Assemble the FOUR, count ’em FOUR, ingredients and baking dish.
Florets, soup, gruyere, “bread” (aka PITA) crumbs.

Again, this is the leftover Potato Leek Soup from Wednesday’s blog. I used my Ninja “Bowl” food processor to make the crumbs with the pita chips and I also used the Ninja for the cheese to save having to grate it by hand.

A small handful of chips yields about 1/4 cup crumbs, and 2.5 oz. of gruyere, blitzed in the Ninja, yields about the 1/2 cup suggested. You can always add more cheese, or use more crumbs, depending on your taste.

As I mentioned, this is a vegetarian recipe; however, to make it vegan, start with the soup recipe. Be sure to follow the conversion suggestions on that blog: Coconut milk/cream instead of heavy cream, vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, and plant-based butter/marg or olive oil instead of real butter. Alternatively, you can leave the fat out altogether and saute’ the veg in broth instead.

From there, continuing with the vegan alterations to the soup, to make the cheesy crumb topping, use your food processor to crumble up toasted cashews with nutritional yeast and there you have it … “cheesy” goodness. You won’t get the melt but the texture is still good. I also recommend making your own plant-based Gruyere to crumble over the top if you have the time. Miyoko’s Artisan Cheese book has a super simple process for doing it and it is fantastic!

Now, getting back to our cauliflower recipe …

Use 1/2 of the soup in the bottom of the dish.
If you don’t like the odd lump of potato, you can blitz while you have your food processor out.
Arrange cauliflower in dish.
Cover with the remaining soup.
Combine crumbs and cheese
Sprinkle crumbs and cheese over the top of the cauliflower.
Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.
BeeYOOteeful … GBD all over!

If you want a nice, neat slice, let it sit for about 15 minutes out of the oven. Otherwise, dig in.

For ONCE I didn’t make a huge batch and I am so proud of myself! Just shows to go ya (as my daddy woulda said) that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! Just need to stay learned, is all.

This recipe serves 2-4, and if you want it as a side dish, it should make for about 4-6 reasonable portions.

I hope this inspires you to take a look at your leftovers and use your imagination. Get in there and think outside that box!

If you’re like me and you really dislike having the same thing 4 or 5 days in a row, this is a great way to save money, save time, use what you have in your fridge that might otherwise get thrown out (you can also use broccoli instead of cauliflower), practice your cooking skills, and discover some delicious food in the bargain.

Snow Day Salvage Soup

Snow Day Salvage Soup

The snow is still on the ground today and I’m still looking for ways to utilize my refrigerator salvage. I made a delightfully creamy Potato Leek Soup yesterday in honor of a rare snow day that just happened to come along during a planned refrigerator purge. And while that batch of soup will last me a while, I still have expiring ingredients to dispatch. So, to quote Shakespeare, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, …”

Today’s soup is my version of “stone soup” without the stone. It combines another collection from yesterday’s clear-out, along with a few things from my overstocked pantry. Like the Potato Leek Soup, this one can be adapted very easily to be vegan. Just substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth and voila! 100% plant-based! I’d have gone vegan with it myself, but I still have chicken “jelly” so … it’s got to be used!

The cast of characters – not your usual suspects. Some of these, I have to wonder what I was thinking when I brought them home from the store, which probably explains why they were still in the refrigerator!

From the fridge – the produce:

Carrots, turnip, fennel, celery, and mini sweet peppers

From the fridge – leftovers:

Homemade chicken stock (aka jelly), red bell peppers, onions

Excess from the pantry that needs to be used:

Onion, garlic, Canellini beans

I also used some extra water and a cup of dehydrated vegetables that I bought from Amazon, just to see what they were.

FYI, they’re small bits of dehydrated vegetables with no seasonings whatsoever.

These vegetables brought on another “what was I thinking” moment. I don’t remember why I thought I had any use for them apart from just wondering what they were and how they’d cook up. My pantry is overflowing with “Gee, I wonder what this is/does/tastes like” items. Fortunately, I have since discovered several uses for them. I’ll share those observations in a blog post some time soon.

The process on compiling this soup is super simple.

Dice peppers, celery, fennel.
Mince the garlic.

I was determined to use my Valentine Le Creuset cocotte yesterday, and it got a bit crowded. It was worth the inconvenience, though. That pot is just so darned cute. Today, I’ll use the BIG PURPLE POT.

Use an appropriately-sized pot to avoid overflow!

Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to the pot or, if you prefer not to use oil, broth will tenderize the foundation vegetables just fine.

Heat the oil until it begins shimmering in the pan. Add the vegetables.

Toss the vegetables into the pot with the garlic and add a little salt and pepper.
Cook til tender.

Dice the carrots and turnips.

Can’t live without this gadget! I’m not a fan of prepping.
My Genius Dicer and my Vidalia Chop Wizard are like having a sous chef!

Add the vegetables to the pot. Stir in the broth.

If you’re adding chicken jelly as I am, you’ll need some extra water.

Add your herbs – whatever you’re in the mood for – and season to taste. I used a blend of Herbs de Provence, which is one of my favorites for this type of vegetable soup. Bring to boil (BTB), reduce to simmer (RTS), and wait for the carrots and turnip to tenderize, and for the flavor to develop, about 20 minutes.

Add the beans near the end of the cook time, and give it another 10 minutes.

If you need more flavor, try a tablespoon of this:

A great cure-all if your soup needs extra flavor.
It’s in the same part of the store as the bouillon cubes.

For this recipe, here’s the full list and quantity of the ingredients I used. You can add whatever you have in your fridge. If you have stock, vegetables, and seasonings, it will come out just fine.

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 carrots, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 medium turnip, diced
  • 1 small bulb fennel, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 large onion, diced (I used a medium onion and some leftover onion bits)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced (I used 2 mini sweet red peppers and about 1/2 of a leftover red bell pepper)
  • 2-3 stalks of celery (about 2/3 cup) ( I used small stalks)
  • 4 cups chicken stock (I used 2 c. chicken jelly and 2 c. water)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup dehydrated vegetables (this is not essential – if you don’t have any, leave it out but if you do add it, you’ll need another 1-2 cups water)
  • Canellini beans – 1 can
  • 1 Tbsp. Better than Bouillon (veg or chicken flavor)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp. herbs de Provence

Heat oil in pan. Saute’ onion, garlic, pepper, celery and fennel til tender. Add carrots and turnip and saute’ for 5 minutes. Add broth, water, salt, pepper, herbs, and dehydrated vegetables. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes. Add beans and check the seasoning. Add more seasonings/herbs if needed. Give it another 10 minutes or so. Serve. Makes 8-10 servings.

This is a great soup for lunch or snack. Pair it with some crusty bread, a sandwich on the side, it’s pretty well suited to just about anything you’re in the mood for.

But wait … THERE’S MORE!

This soup, as well as the Potato Leek soup from yesterday, multi-purpose. What??? Both of these soups are easily repurposed to create sauces you can use in other recipes! Stop in tomorrow to learn more!

Snow Day in OK Today: Potato Leek Soup

Warm creamy deliciousness!

We don’t get many snow days around where I live in Oklahoma. About once every 5 or 10 years we might get more than one or two. Some years, we get none at all. Oklahoma’s weather is nothing if not unpredictable, so it’s always a nice surprise when the forecast is on point and that first, perfect snowfall arrives to coat the ground with several inches of white.

Lucky for me, today’s the day! It also happens to be the day before trash day and that means cleaning out the fridge. Once a week, my kitchen becomes the poster child for “Chopped.”

It’s soup day, naturally. What’s better than hot soup on a cold day? It’s also a “two-fer.” I’ll use ingredients that probably won’t make it another week and save money in the bargain.

The items up for consideration: potatoes, one leek, heavy cream, homemade chicken stock (jelly), and a clamshell of fresh thyme that is on the brink of being not-so-fresh. Add in a few staples (butter, garlic, bay leaves, salt, pepper) and, according to my Magic 8 Ball, the outlook is good for a lunch of Potato Leek Soup!

The Magic 8 Ball knows all!

I don’t usually follow a strict recipe for soups that I make on the fly, but I did write down what I used. Here’s the recipe:

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (if you want to make this vegan, use oil or marg)

1 large leek, white & light green parts, well rinsed, chopped (about 2 cups)

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds peeled potatoes, diced about 1″

3 cups chicken broth (vegetable for vegan/vegetarians)

1 or 2 springs of fresh thyme (if you like more, use more; if you don’t have fresh, then use 1 tsp. dried)

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1 cup heavy cream

Fresh parsley or chopped chives for garnish

So that’s what I used, and here’s what I did:

Melt the butter in a 3 qt. soup pot
Add the leeks and the garlic
Saute’ over medium heat until tender
Add broth, or in my case, chicken “jelly”
Add potatoes, thyme, bay leaves, salt & pepper
Bring to boil (BTB), reduce to simmer (RTS)
Cover and cook til potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes
Tender taters
Remove thyme and bay leaves
Put at least half in a blender with extra liquid if needed
If you use a Vitamix, be safe and use variable speed 1 and bring the speed up gradually.
You can also use an immersion blender (stick blender) right in the cook pot.
BE CAREFUL … IT’S HOT!
Blend until smooth, add cream if desired, and stir into the remaining soup in the pot.

This is a very quick recipe to create and it makes about 8 large servings. If you want to make it vegan, it’s super simple to convert. Just leave out the cream, use plant-based “butter,” a butter-flavored olive oil, or just regular olive oil. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken, and substitute coconut milk or coconut cream for the heavy cream.

Feel free to add more of your favorite herbs and seasonings. If you like more thyme (like I do), then add a couple more sprigs. Oregano is a good substitute for the thyme if you’re in the mood for something with a bit more of an Italian flair. Or just leave it as-is, add a rosemary focaccia on the side and imagine you’re at a quaint little bistro in France.

ENJOY!

Southwestern Sweet Potato Black Bean Lasagna

Flavorful, healthy and delicious!

Wow … is that a NAME for a recipe, or what? Makes me think of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon where he’s cooking “Louisiana Back Bay Bayou Bunny Bordelais!” Hopefully, the recipe will be memorable as the cartoon!

In the beginning, this was supposed to be a vegan enchilada recipe using sweet potatoes that were sliced into sheets using my KitchenAid Sheet Cutter attachment. I’m usually OK with that attachment. I might even be edging toward being pretty good with it. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really handy. But in keeping with my theme of learning to be better than just OK, when I started to make this recipe, I learned something. I learned that this particular attachment doesn’t like slender sweet potatoes. I’d originally bought sweet potatoes that would fit easily into my Ninja spiralizer but I really wanted a casserole of some kind so I changed horses in midstream. I thought I could use these same sweet potatoes on the Sheet Cutter attachment but boy, howdy was I wrong!

I’d already laid out all of the ingredients before I started trying to use the sheet cutter so rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, I adapted the recipe to fit the configuration of the ingredients. I do that a lot in the kitchen. Daily, in fact. Because this recipe is all about FLAVORS and textures, so just because the recipe doesn’t LOOK like it was supposed to in the beginning, that doesn’t mean it can’t still be attractive and yummy, filling and nutritious.

So here it goes …

TOOLS I USED:

  • Vegetable peeler
  • Knife
  • Corn “zipper”
  • Mandolin
  • Cutting Board
  • Baking Dish (6″ x 8″ or similar size)

INGREDIENTS:

  • Cooking Spray
  • 1.5 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick
  • 1 T olive oil
  • A medium onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper (any color), diced
  • Fresno chili or jalapeno, diced (remove membranes & seeds for less heat). If you like more heat, use 2.
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder or smoked paprika for milder flavor
  • 2/3 c. corn (fresh, canned or frozen)
  • 2 c. cooked or canned black beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1/2 c. red enchilada sauce
  • 1/2 c. green enchilada sauce
  • 1 lime
  • 1 c. Monterrey Jack (or pepper jack) grated
  • fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
  • optional – leftover bits from trimmed sweet potatoes to add to mixture

DIRECTIONS:

  • Heat oven to 375 degrees
  • Spray baking dish with nonstick spray or olive oil
  • Prep ingredients
Fresh corn cut from the cob
Thick-sliced sweet potatoes

Heat oil in a pan until it begins to shimmer. Add to pan the onion, garlic, peppers, and any bits left over from trimming the sweet potatoes and saute’ until onions are transparent.

Add black beans and corn. Stir until heated through.

Add seasonings and squeeze in the juice of 1/2 lime. Stir until well combined then remove from heat and set aside.

Coat the baking dish with red enchilada sauce and arrange a layer of sweet potatoes. Then layer the mixture on top and continue alternating layers of sweet potatoes and filling.

Place s1st layer of sweet potatoes on top of sauce
Layer with filling
Another layer of sweet potatoes
Another layer of filling, drizzle with green sauce

Drizzle 1/2 of the green enchilada sauce on the final layer, then top with the grated cheese.

Top with grated cheese

Set the baking dish on baking sheet in case it bubbles over in the oven. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes until the sweet potatoes feel tender when a knife is inserted.

Remove the foil.

When the foil comes off, test the sweet potatoes for tenderness with the point of a knife.

Then bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown on top.

Bubbly and GBD!

Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing.

Garnish options:
  • crumbled corn chips
  • chopped green onions
  • diced tomatoes
  • sour cream
  • guacamole
  • black olves
  • diced red onion
  • diced jalapenos/Fresnos
  • pico de gallo
  • fresh cilantro
  • extra grated cheese
  • anything else that takes your fancy!
Substitutions:
  • You can substitute butternut squash for sweet potatoes, or just use flour or corn tortillas and it still tastes great.
  • Using flavor-infused olive oils is a great way to add an extra punch. Onion/cilantro flavored olive oil is one of my favorites
  • For a milder flavor, you can use jalapeños instead of Fresnos, or for even less heat, you can use Poblanos.

This is such a tasty recipe and so quick and easy to put together. I know it looks like it has a billion ingredients and a thousand steps, but it really does go quickly and the result is absolutely delicious!

I serve it in a bowl over a bed of rice. It’s a great alternative to a meat-based dish!

Southwestern Sweet Potato Black Bean Lasagna

Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Servings: 4
Author: okhomecookin

Equipment

  • Vegetable peeler
  • Knife
  • Corn "zipper"
  • Mandolin
  • Cutting Board
  • Baking Dish (6 x 8 or similar size)

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray
  • 1.5 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled & sliced to 1/8-1/4" thick
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, any color, diced
  • 1 Fresno or jalapeno pepper, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup corn (fresh, canned or frozen)
  • 2 cups cooked or canned black beans (rinsed & drained)
  • 1/2 cup red enchilada sauce
  • 1/2 cup green enchilada sauce
  • 1 lime
  • 1 cup Monterrey Jack (or pepper jack) grated
  • fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
  • optional – leftover bits from trimmed sweet potatoes

Seasonings

  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground corriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder or smoked paprika for milder flavor

Instructions

  • Heat oven to 375 degrees
  • Coat baking dish with nonstick spray or olive oil
  • Prep all ingredients
  • Heat oil in a pan until it begins to shimmer. Add onion, garlic peppers, and any leftover bits from trimming sweet potatoes. Saute until onions are transparent.
  • Add black beans and corn. Stir until heated through.
  • Add seasonings and squeeze in the juice of 1/2 lime. Stir until well combined then remove from heat and set aside.
  • Coat the baking dish with red enchilada sauce and arrange a layer of sweet potatoes. Then layer the mixture on top and continue alternating layers of sweet potatoes and filling.
  • Drizzle 1/2 of the green enchilada sauce on the final layer, then top with grated cheese.
  • Set the baking dish on a baking sheet in case it bubbles over in the oven. Cover the dish loosely with foil and bake for 25 minutes until the sweet potatoes feel tender when a knife is inserted.
  • After 25 minutes, remove the foil and bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown on top.
  • Remove from oven and let sit for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Video

Notes

Garnish options:
  • crumbled corn chips
  • chopped green onions
  • diced tomatoes
  • sour cream
  • guacamole
  • black olves
  • diced red onion
  • diced jalapenos/Fresnos
  • pico de gallo
  • fresh cilantro
  • extra grated cheese
  • anything else that takes your fancy!
Substitutions
  • You can substitute butternut squash for sweet potatoes, or just use flour or corn tortillas and it still tastes great.
  • Using flavor-infused olive oils is a great way to add an extra punch. Onion/cilantro flavored olive oil is one of my favorites
  • For a milder flavor, you can use jalapeños instead of Fresnos, or for even less heat, you can use Poblanos.
This is such a tasty recipe and surprisingly quick and easy to put together. I know it looks like it has a billion ingredients and a thousand steps, but it really does go quickly and the result is absolutely delicious!

She Sure Is PRETTY! (but can she COOK?)

Inspired by the whole “new year, new you” thing (and an incoming Le Creuset purchase from QVC that’s going to need cabinet space), I’m in the process of reorganizing my cabinets and fine-tuning my cookware choices in the kitchen. I wish I had a nickel for every pan, dish, gadget and gizmo that turned my head or took my breath away just because it was pretty. Since starting my journey toward becoming better than just OK, I’ve bought a LOTTA stuff. My cabinets are full to bursting with pretty things that, at least at first, pretended to do something I needed done. And every last purchase was super easy to justify because it gave the impression of being a useful tool in the kitchen, promising to make me a better cook.

So I’m having a proper clear-out, sifting through my culinary arsenal, and I’ll be writing a few informational blog posts as I go — what do I use, for what, and why, and if I don’t use it, then why not? Take these, for example:

Cute, but won’t go all the way.

They’re enameled cast iron so, yes, of course, they cook. They’re bright and sparkly and pretty and colorful, and they fit in my countertop oven. I got them in anticipation of paying more attention to my portions, and maybe doing individual baked apples, small desserts, single-serve pot pies. It didn’t dawn on me at the time of purchase that (a) the portions were REAL small and (b) they’re really tedious to clean. Besides that, the knobs don’t stay screwed on well and unless they’re hand-washed, the screws can get lost in the dishwasher making the lids a whole nuther problem.

My dad was a mechanic. He always had to have the right tool for the job. I learned how important that is from watching him fix things. Sure, there are unlimited work-arounds if you don’t have what you need when you need it (and you’re good at thinking outside the box). Many times it’s possible to hobble along and see a task to completion on a wing and a prayer. But for the most part, if you want to do something well, and you think you’ll have to do it more than once, you’re going to want to have the right tools on hand.

This one does it ALL!

I’m all about tools in the kitchen. When I was about 6 years old, my mother went back to work and one day, after school, a man came to the door selling “waterless cookware,” aka stainless steel (for the record all waterless cookware is stainless steel but not all stainless steel is waterless cookware – a conversation for another blog).

Those were the days when leaving children home alone wasn’t illegal. And in my small community, it was also long before “stranger danger” was a public concern. Door-to-door salesmen were commonplace, so when the man asked if my mother was home, I told him she was at work wouldn’t be home until 5:30. I know, right? It’s like a horror movie where you cover your eyes thinking, “How stupid can she BE?” But I was 6, and why else would the salesman choose to knock on my door in the middle of the afternoon? The feminist movement in my town only existed for a couple of years in the 1940s — somewhere between Rosie the Riveter and VE Day. Women were usually home with their kids at that time of day, thinking about what to cook for supper. The timing for selling a set of cookware would have been perfect back then.

I’m pretty sure the salesman saw the stars in my eyes when he flashed that brochure in front of me. Right there on the cover was the most stunning display of cookware I’d ever seen in my life. Clean, polished, unpitted. Bright shiny silver exterior with matching LIDS! Photographed in living color and arranged in a progression that looked like the stairway to Heaven. He let me keep the brochure and said he’d come back when my mom got home. I couldn’t wait!

While it goes without saying that she wouldn’t buy the cookware Mom did (grudgingly) sit through the presentation. I was so star struck (and terrified of my mother’s glare) that I don’t remember much of what was said. I do remember learning that a stiff upper lip in the face of deep disappointment can really save your bacon (she was so angry, begging was out of the question and crying was not an option). But I sure did love that sparkly cookware. I just knew it was my destiny.

Can she cook? OH YES she CAN!

Most of my cooking life has been spent in the company of the same kind of rag-tag, mismatched, lid-less pots, pans, and Pyrex that squatted in the kitchen of my childhood … cheap aluminum, scarred nonstick, and a ruined set of hard anodized from the late 1980s. No wonder when it comes to cooking, I’m just OK. Well, that and the fact that my mother hated to cook.

Thankfully, it’s never too late to improve. And thankfully again, I did eventually acquire a set of shiny, sparkly, stainless steel cookware of my very own. But I didn’t stop there. I wanted to improve my understanding of how things work in the kitchen, and I think it’s important to experiment with other options. Over the past three years, I’ve made it a point to try everything I could get my hands on and as a result, my cabinets are overflowing with cookware of every kind. I’ve cooked in all of them and through trial and error, I’ve learned that each medium has at least something it’s good at … or if not good, at least decent.

Mighty small, MIGHTY CUTE and MIGHTY MIGHTY GOOD cookers!

That goes for bakeware, too, where the question of form over function is just as important. In fact, I’ve found that bakeware has led me down the primrose path far more often than cookware ever has. Take these, for example:

Pretty, bakes well, but not very robust
Attractive, fancy price tag, bakes like a pro, they’ll fight over it when I’m dead!

The red dish is pretty, no doubt. Not nearly as weighty as the gray one. Bakes nicely, too. But it doesn’t go on the stovetop, and it only took a small fumble with a sugar spoon to leave that sizable divot right on the front! Not so pretty any more, is she?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a brand snob. I love that brand but the quality has suffered staggering inconsistencies in the last couple of years, making it not nearly as economical as it used to be. When you have to replace broken or crazed dishes every year or so, or you have to send back pieces that leak or arrive cracked/chipped, it gets to the point where it ends up costing less to go for the big price tag to begin with than to make multiple (seemingly lower cost) purchases again and again. And the bonus in this instance is that the gray one does a lot more than the red one. Better bang for the buck all around.

And how about these?

Saucier (aka Pro XL Wok)
Super SAUCIER! (aka Cassadou)

Both about the same size. Both do the same types of cooking … stovetop, oven, grill. I bought the inexpensive one because I needed a pan like that. I bought the pretty one because … well, it was pretty and I’ve come to love that brand (and I got a SUPER deal on eBay). So … pretty? Yes. Robust? YES! Cooks well? YOU BETCHA! Durable? That’s where the pretty one takes the prize. While the coating on the first pan is better than most nonsticks, it still doesn’t held up over the long haul. This isn’t my nonstick pan of this type.

Again, it’s not always an issue of brand. I’ve just gained a lot of intel over a lifetime of buying and replacing cookware. Sadly, I was late learning. I’m also a skeptic so even if someone told me that brand A was better than brand B, I probably wouldn’t have believed them anyway until I’d bought the less expensive one first to at least TRY to prove them wrong.

Cookware and bakeware can be very personal. That’s one thing I hadn’t considered when I started this adventure. With so many options available, it’s easy to make impulsive and uniformed choices. It’s hard to know what questions to ask. And in the end, it can be next to impossible to let go of the hope that fueled the acquisition in the first place. “So pretty!”

While I’ve managed to pare down quite a bit of cookware in the last couple of days, it hasn’t been a straightforward process. Luckily, my kids like to cook so many of the pieces I’m “donating” already have a home. That helped me let go of more than I might have otherwise. I’ve still got a few things to sort, many of them pretty, so I’ll be putting them to the test to answer the question that gave rise to this post. And when I’ve successfully completed this purge and I’m faced with temptation, my greatest hope is that before I buy one more thing, I’ll ask: “… but can she cook?”

The Best Things in Life Always Include Butter … or DO THEY?

Well, today’s the day I find out if that’s true. Or should I say that I’m going to find out if that’s true of pie crust. I’ll tackle more “best things” in subsequent posts. But first, a little background.

I have a longstanding relationship with butter.

It started when I was still a baby. See? That’s me in the picture, and the semi-soft clump stuck to my face is 100% butter, fresh from the dairy.

Buttered Baby … mmm mmm GOOD!

I was only four months old and already, I had a deep and absolute understanding that butter was nothing short of magical. Evidently, I wanted to be smeared with it from head to toe. And who could blame me? I wasn’t old enough to ask to be coated in butter, so I just did it myself. I wish I could remember how it felt but I’d be hard pressed to think that it was anything short of magnificent. Well worth the scolding that (I’m told) came next.

When I decided to become more than just OK in the kitchen, I channeled my inner baby and kept it simple: Grab what I could reach and practice full immersion. I cooked more often, used different cookware. I tried different tools and techniques, and I used ingredients I had no experience with. Turns out that’s the best way to do it and that’s what I’m still doing today. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with more plant-based options.

It’s a trend, sure, but it’s something I’ve fiddled around with off and on since the late 70s … when the information superhighway was still a one-lane road paved with punch cards and people spreading the word were pretty hard to come by around these parts. Thankfully, times have changed A LOT!

While I’m not exclusively vegan or vegetarian, I do get a huge kick out of learning how to use nontraditional ingredients in traditional recipes. And I get pretty excited when I run across something new and different at the grocery store. I like to see how I might be able to work it into one of my go-to concoctions.

I recently discovered Country Crock Plant Butter — sticks of “butter” made from almond oil, avocado oil, or olive oil.

Too good to be true?

I’m curious to see if the claims on the outside of the box (“Great For Cooking and Baking”) are the real deal. Not that I think they’d lie about something like that. I’m sure they’re being completely truthful, but when people get excited about a new product, it’s easy to be overly optimistic. Plus, we all have varying preferences when it comes to the finished results. It could turn out to be the case that, like many plant-based ingredients, the product is limited in its baking applications. In other words, just because you CAN use it in baking, doesn’t mean you should. And more specifically, it might work better in some recipes than others.

Having said that, if you do decide to take the plunge, be sure to read the label. I saw it at the store and grabbed a box of each variety without reading the fine print. It is true, this is plant-based, but nowhere on the box does it claim to be vegan. It does say right on the box that it’s 79% plant-based oil spread. Admittedly, I’m not the best at seeing those details when I’m in shopping mode, armed with a list and a pen, maneuvering a cart and navigating grocery store traffic on a tight schedule. I tend to ride the wave of my initial enthusiasm at the time I discover something and then neglect to think of details when I’m in the moment. I imagine a lot of other people are the same way.

Nevertheless, I gave it a go, just because I’d already made up my mind to see how it worked in real baking where fat is critical to the success of the recipe. So what better recipe to try than a pie crust?

Pie Crust

A basic pie crust constructed with alternative nut butters.
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 stick of butter I'm substituting the plant-based alternative, almond oil "butter"
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar I leave this out if I'm making the crust for a savory pie
  • 2 Tbsp. ice water with an additional 2 Tbsp. on the side just in case it's been really dry here.

Instructions

  • Add flour to the food processor, add cubed/grated butter, sprinkle with salt (and sugar if you want a sweeter crust), and pulse 5 or 6 times until the butter is cut into the flour and the ingredients look like loose crumbs.
  • Add the water 1 Tbsp. at a time and pulse about another 5-7 times until the ingredients come together very loosely. It should still look look crumbly inside the bowl of the processor, but when you pulse, you should see the ingredients slowly climb the sides of the bowl and fall back on top of themselves. The mixture should not look like a dough. It should look crumbly.
  • Spread a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and tip the food processor out onto the plastic. Pick up the plastic from the corners and keeping your hands on the outside of the plastic, squeeze the ingredients into a ball. Flatten into a disc and refrigerate for an hour before attempting to roll out. *It should feel fairly firm (not soft, but not hard as a rock) before you try to roll it out.
  • Once the crust is chilled sufficiently, lay one sheet of parchment on a solid surface. Remove the plastic wrap from the chilled pie dough. Place another sheet of parchment on top of the disc and roll out to 1/4" thick. Then continue with the recipe for the pie you've chosen to make.

Notes

Tools:
– I use a Ninja food processor for my crusts, but if you want to do it by hand you'll need a bowl.
– Plastic Wrap
– Parchment
– Rolling pin
– Pie plate
Make sure the butter is very cold. I usually put mine in the freezer for about 1/2 hour before I assemble the ingredients. You can either cube the stick of butter - about 1/2" cubes - or you can take a box grater to it.

Nutrition


Per Serving: 580 calories; 33 g fat; 50.6 g carbohydrates; 20.3 g
protein; 50 mg cholesterol; 760 mg sodium.

I made a blueberry pie. I made a small one, and used 1/2 of the crust for the bottom and 1/2 for the top.

B for blueberry, not B for beautiful!
The good news …

using the plant-based butter, I did manage a crust, as evidenced in the photo. It rolled out OK and didn’t split, although there are a couple of tiny holes I didn’t notice when I took the picture. In the finish, it was tasty enough. I eventually got a decent bake out of it, no soggy bottom.

No soggy bottom
The bad news …

the dough took longer to chill. It always felt soft when I checked, so I left it until I finally decided to take a chance rolling it out. Given the softer texture, I lacked the courage I needed to roll it thinly. I think I left it a bit too thick. It took longer to bake than usual. Pie recipes usually take about an hour (425 for 20 minutes and 350 for 40), but this one took forever and I lost track of how long I left it in. It easily took an additional 30 minutes over the prescribed time, and I may have given it another 15-20 minutes on top of that which puts it at a whopping 1 hour and 45/50 minutes. I covered the crimp in foil, but it still browned more than I preferred. And the top center looked very pale compared to my usual pies.

As to flavor, the crust was too salty. I forgot to check the sodium content of the almond oil variety in the nutritional information on the box. I’m not sure how or whether it’s even possible to clear that hurdle. There has to be salt in the flour/fat mixture in order for salt to cut the fat into the flour. That alone might make it a less than suitable choice for pie crusts.

The verdict

Using Country Crock Plant Butter to make a pie crust is not worth the bother. Not for me, anyway.

The crust wasn’t awful but it wasn’t brilliant, either. And nutritionally, Plant Butter sort of lands somewhere in the middle. It only has 2g less saturated fat than dairy butter. Calorie count is the same, fat grams are the same. However, Plant Butter is cholesterol-free, so it wins in that category.

If it weren’t for flavor, vegetable shortening would be the better option – a tried and true fat for making crusts. Nutritionally shortening only has 1 additional gram of fat than Plant Butter BUT it’s got less saturated fat. Shortening is also available in a butter flavored option.

I’ve heard that coconut oil makes a tasty crust. And I’ve seen some really stellar results on other blogs and recipe sites so I’ll probably try that option next. I may try the other 2 varieties of Plant Butter since I already have them on hand. However, I’m not convinced I’d get a substantially different result. They all have the same added ingredients to make up the 21% that’s not plant-based.

For now, in the context of butter being part of the best things in life, I’m going to declare that to be true when it comes to pie crusts.