because what is life without good food?

Holidays

Ham & Asparagus Strata with 3 Cheeses

Ham & Asparagus Strata with Havarti, Blue, & Parmesan Cheeses

What do you do when you have a bunch of leftover ham from Easter dinner, some fresh asparagus, and half a loaf of old bread that?

Make Strata. It’s hot, it’s comforting … it’s wonderful. You can make it ahead of time and bake it when you’re ready to eat it, or you can cook it right away. Strata works well for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s a very flexible dish too … toss in more of this and less of that, play with different cheeses or vegetables or meat … pretty much whatever you have on hand that you want to toss in. Strata doesn’t care. Strata will make it all good.

Ham & Asparagus Strata with Havarti, Blue, & Parmesan Cheeses

Ham & Asparagus Strata with Havarti, Blue, and Parmesan Cheeses

  • 5 cups of bread cubes (any kind will do … I used a bit of French bread + some Spinach Peasant Bread)
  • 2 cups of milk (I used 2%, but skim or whole milk works fine too)
  • 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup red onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cups of chopped asparagus
  • Red Robin (or Red Magic) Seasoning (or salt) & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 1/4 cup diced ham
  • 4 eggs (to cut the fat/cholesterol, use Egg Beaters or substitute egg whites in place of some – or all – of the yolks)
  • A small bunch of fresh chives, snipped (about 2 Tablespoons?)
  • Several fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 fresh garlic scape, snipped
  • 1 Tablespoon blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 cup shredded Havarti cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray and put the bread  cubes in the pan. Pour the milk over the crumbs and let sit for 15 minutes or so, gently stirring it up every once in a while to make sure all the bread gets a chance to soak up plenty of milk.
  2. Now, while your bread is soaking, put a bit of extra virgin olive oil in a pan, swirl it around, heat to medium high heat, and sautee the onion, garlic, and asparagus briefly or until the onion just begins to look a little cooked. The asparagus should still be crisp. Season lightly with the seasoning (or salt) and pepper, being careful to go light on the salt because we will be adding ham and cheese later …
  3. Add the wine to the pan with the vegies and sautee for just a couple minutes longer or until most of the liquid has evaporated. The asparagus should still be a little crisp, if possible. If not, don’t worry over it too much. Strata doesn’t care.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs well, then toss in some chopped chives, basil leaves, and garlic scapes, then stir in the ham as well.
  5. Fold the egg/ham mixture into the milk-saturated bread in the casserole dish.
  6. Pour the vegies over the casserole too, and fold those in as well.  While you’re doing that, sprinkle with blue cheese crumbles.
  7. Mix the Havarti & Parmesan cheeses and separate in half. Take one half of the cheese and sprinkle that half over the casserole, then fold it into the mixture, making sure that cheese taste gets permeated into the whole dish.
  8. Use the reserved half of the cheese to sprinkle on top. (You can pre-make the strata to this point and keep it in the fridge till you’re ready to bake it.)
  9. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 60 to 80 minutes or until the strata is set (till it springs back when you touch it and isn’t all runny when you cut into it).  If you are starting from a refrigerated strata, you will have to cook it a while longer.
  10. If you want to serve it in wedges, let it set up for about 10 – 15 minutes, then cut into wedges and serve garnished with fresh basil leaves or fresh chives or pretty little wild purple violets. Or scoop out servings with a spoon while it’s steaming hot and don’t bother with the garnish. Either way, it’s yummy. Strata doesn’t care.

Ham & Asparagus Strata with Havarti, Blue Cheese, and Parmesan

This recipe was shared at  Totally Tasty TuesdaysTalent Show Tuesday and Full Plate Thursdays.


Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa

with a ginger, cumin & cilantro scented yogurt sauce

Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa and a Cumin Cilantro Ginger Yogurt Sauce

One of the most romantic meals of my life was on a Friday night when my date and I cooked this together. We drank wine as we cooked, I chopped the apricots & garlic & ginger and mixed up the sauce, he made the quinoa and broiled the salmon. When the salmon was done, he plated the salmon and quinoa in front of me, drizzled that heavenly sauce over it, and sprinkled on the toasted cashews … then refilled my wine glass before he plated his own. Just the way he did that totally melted my heart. Later I asked him for the recipe … and he gladly gave me the printout. I loved this meal so much I just had to make this again, wanted to share it with all of you here on the blog, and so I decided I would try making it for my children for a special Valentine’s meal. They both love salmon (my daughter moreso than my son, but he will eat salmon). I wasn’t so sure about the quinoa or the yogurt ginger sauce, but I thought I would give it a shot.

It was as I thought … while I was photographing the meal, my kids got in a fight. My daughter ran into her room. Our cat persistently tried to eat the salmon I was “shooting” and I had to push her out of the picture several times …

Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa and a Cumin Cilantro Ginger Yogurt Sauce and our CAT

We managed to coax my daughter out of her room to join the meal. They both tried the salmon. My son immediately asked for garlic toast, saying “don’t we have some bread?” So I ended up cooking up some quick garlic toast for both of them. My daughter gobbled her salmon up before I could even glance over at her. My son inhaled the garlic toast, ate a few bites of the salmon, and then declared that his sister could have the rest of his. She said, “I can’t eat all of this …”, but she did eat some of his. Neither of them touched the quinoa or would even taste the sauce.

But they were happy that I had Valentine’s chocolates for them. My son said he would have been happier with smaller pieces of chocolate since I got him the BIG Reese’s peanut butter hearts (honestly, I would too … I like my chocolates in little bites!) So he’s trading in his chocolate for some licorice. LOL. My daughter was totally entranced with her heart-shaped Dove truffles in the fancy swirly tin. At least I got one thing right!

All in all, I would say this meal is probably much better suited for a romantic dinner with your sweetheart or for a fancy dinner party than for a Valentine’s lunch with a couple picky eating teenagers. But hey, I have some delicious leftovers. And now I can share the recipe with you … frankly, I think my kids are crazy. The tastes in this meal are phenomenal.

Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa and a Cumin Cilantro Ginger Yogurt Sauce

Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa

Adapted from Eating Well

You could shortcut the prep time by making up the sauce ahead of time, toasting the cashews and pre-chopping the garlic and apricot and things. Salmon cooks in a matter of minutes, so in the time it takes you to cook the quinoa, you could have dinner on the table.

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1 5-oz. container plain greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped fine
  • 2  cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or less … I don’t think it needs quite this much salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon of honey
  • 1 Tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime (or lemon)

Quinoa ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries (or add an extra 1/4 cup of apricots … I only used cranberries because I ran out of apricots! But they did add a pretty splash of red color … and I liked the taste too)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup quinoa

Salmon ingredients:

  • Salmon, cut into portions of 1/4 lb for each person. (You should have plenty of sauce and quinoa for up to 4 people. If you’re serving more, increase the recipe.)
  • Old Bay seasoning (I used this seasoning only because I expected my kids would skip the sauce and thought the fish could use a little flavor on its own … you really don’t need it at all.)
  • Salt & pepper

For garnish:

  • Roasted, salted cashews, toasted and chopped
  • Extra cilantro leaves

To prepare:

  1. First, make the sauce: Stir together all the sauce ingredients in a bowl. Don’t use your handi chopper to whir it all together–it destroys the thickness of the yogurt. You could use all plain yogurt instead of the greek yogurt if you actually STIR the sauce rather than whirring it like I did.
  2.  Next, heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the apricots, garlic, onion, ginger, and salt and sautee until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil, then stir in the quinoa. Cover, lower the heat to low, and cook until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is cooked through.
  3. Meanwhile rub the salmon with salt and pepper, sprinkle with seasoning (if using) and broil or grill until the salmon is lightly brown and just cooked through, about 3 minutes on each side.
  4. Serve the salmon drizzled with sauce, topped with cashews and a sprinkle of cilantro leaves, with the quinoa on the side.

Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa

This recipe was shared at Totally Tasty TuesdaysLove your Heart MonthCast Party WednesdayThese Chicks Cooked Recipe SwapMidweek Fiesta, Newlyweds Recipe Linky, Thursday’s Treasures, Fit and Fabulous Fridays, Katherine Martinelli’s Nut Bloghop and Freaky Friday.


On Kitchen Disasters, Imperfections, and Love

This is a little different from my normal posts … no recipe, just a story of my latest kitchen disaster.

Sunrise over the Lake

Yesterday Laura from Laura’s Best Recipes shared a funny story from Pioneer woman that jogged a train of thought I had started upon, but didn’t quite finish the journey. What Laura said was “Why @thepioneerwoman is now banned from convenience stories across the midwest … hilarious. Just love her.”

You really need to read the story to understand the full humor of the situation. Pioneer woman tells it so well. But here’s the Cliff Notes version: Pioneer woman is on a shopping trip with her husband Marlboro Man. They walk into a convenience store and she goes to get coffee. On her way from the coffee to the front of the store, she passes a glass case and there is a doughnut in there calling her name. So she pulls the knob to get the doughnut and the knob to the case falls off and the case shatters. There is glass everywhere, and she is left standing there, holding the knob to the case, and still wanting that doughnut, which of course she cannot have. The store manager confirms that she is all right, and they leave the store and this is how the story ends (in Pioneer Woman’s words):

When we got in Marlboro Man’s pickup and continued on our trip to the big city, I looked at Marlboro Man, who had a look on his face that I’ll never be able to describe. It was the look of a husband who is married to a complete klutz who complains about her tight jeans then stops at a convenience store and shatters a doughnut case while trying to retrieve an apple fritter. It was the look of a husband who has seen his wife fall down, run into doors, use the wrong remote control to change channels on the TV, and wear her black leggings inside out for an entire day without knowing. It was the look of a husband who had just filed another incident into his vault of similar moments…and who couldn’t wait to remind me of it the next time we’re driving together and I say I want to pull over and get coffee.

“You’re … funny,” he said, reaching over and squeezing my knee, which made me squeal.

The thing is, her husband, and Laura, and I and hundreds of thousands of other people love Pioneer Woman not because she is perfect and polished or famous, but because she is imperfect. She is human. She is real. We can relate to her as a human being because we all make mistakes, we break things, we make messes, we screw up. But if we are able to step back, admit our failure, and laugh at ourselves, it is those very imperfections that make the person so incredibly loveable.

My own personal story: The other day I was at my parents’ house and I was making some of my son’s Muck Ice Cream for them. He is quite proud of this creation. I thought we ought to make it for my family because it was my dad that invented the “Grampa Smoothie” that was later renamed “Muck”. This ice cream was my son’s spin on my dad’s smoothie.

It’s an incredibly simple recipe: you just put the ingredients together in a blender, blend till smooth, then freeze in an ice cream maker. How much simpler can you get? It takes all of 5 minutes “prep time”.

My son let this task fall to me, since it was my idea to share it with the family. I measured out the ingredients, put them in dad’s green blender, put the lid on and pressed the button. Somehow in that moment, the kitchen absolutely exploded into a sea of chocolate and peanut butter. Chunks of banana were flying everywhere. My sister’s sweet little dog and I were completely covered in a chocolate mess. The counter was a sea of brown liquid, the canisters and everything on the countertop were splattered with the sticky brown stuff.

Disaster in the Kitchen

My mom and sister raced to my rescue, and I remember hearing my dad saying “didn’t I screw the bottom on the blender cup?” … I was completely horrified. Shocked. Hurt. Here I was, trying to make something exceedingly simple and delicious for my family and I ended up creating armageddon in the kitchen.

My sister insisted that I need to blog about this … she ran to get the camera to take a picture of me and the mess, but I wasn’t having any of that. She did get a shot of the aftermath.

The countertop and the canisters all got a good cleaning. Mom rushed my clothes off to the washer right away. My sister gave her poor dog a bath. Dad screwed the blender cup together extra tight, and they set it all out for me again. I set to work again. This time, everything went so smoothly. I blended it all up, poured it into the sparkly clean ice cream maker that was set out for me on the now-sparkly clean countertop, and in 20  minutes we had our ice cream.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ice Cream

My ego was a little damaged that night … I had to have a beer to soothe my nerves. It was difficult to sleep. I was so angry and upset with myself.  It was hard to banish the feelings of failure.

But after I gave myself a little time to recover from the embarrassment of the situation, I thought, well hey at least now I can say I’ve been dipped in chocolate. And my sister’s sweet little dog and I have formed a new bond. After all, we got dipped in chocolate together …  and lived to tell about it.

Me and my sister's little dog: we got dipped in chocolate together

I hope I will never ever press a blender button again without first checking if the bottom is screwed on tight. But next time I have an explosion in the kitchen, I hope I will be a little quicker to laugh at myself, less critical of my clumsiness and stupidity, and maybe I’ll even let my sister take a picture.

My kids and my family think I am funny because I have so many mishaps in the kitchen. I cut myself and spill things, I break dishes and make horrific messes.

They love me anyway. And I love them.

And no matter how many crazy kitchen mishaps I have, I’m not gonna let it stop me.


Cranberry Raspberry Vinegar

Make your own Cranberry Raspberry Vinegar

This is almost not even a recipe it’s so simple, but it makes such a beautiful color and flavor of vinegar that you would probably have to pay ginormous amounts of money for it … if you could even ever find such a beautiful vinegar at a store.

Making it is so so so much simpler and so much more impressive. You can use this same method to make almost any fruit or herb-flavored vinegar that you want.

Take some fresh cranberries. Cut them in half. Put them in a quart jar. Add some fresh or frozen raspberries (whatever you have). I used more cranberries and just a few raspberries, but if you want more raspberry flavor, use more raspberries. Fill the jar most of the way (like 90% full) with the berries.

Pour in plain white vinegar so that it completely covers the fruit. Let sit in a dark place for a week or so, shaking gently every couple days to mix up the flavors.

After the resting period, strain the fruit out by pouring into a cheesecloth covered strainer over a bowl and squeezing all the juices out of the fruit.

If you are giving it as a gift, package it up in a pretty bottle and add a ribbon. Or make a fantastic vinaigrette salad dressing. The gourmet cranberry raspberry salad dressing makes a great gift too … recipe coming very soon to a blog near you … ;)

Make your own Cranberry Raspberry Vinegar

This recipe was shared at Midnight Maniac Meatless MondaysTuesday Talent Show, and Totally Tasty Tuesdays.


Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel Munch

Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel Munch

One of our favorite treats at Christmas is to dip pretzels. I like mine with white chocolate and peppermint. My daughter likes just white chocolate, or sometimes we will drizzle the white chocolate pretzels with milk chocolate or sprinkles.

I meant to make lots of treats to bring on my trip for my friends at the office, but I was running out of time. So I had to simplify.

This is so much faster than dipping all the pretzels individually. You just spread them in a pan, drizzle them with melted white almond bark, and then sprinkle with crushed candy canes. I threw in some chocolate graham cracker pieces. Result: the same sweet and salty, chocolate minty taste, but without all the work–and it’s a great way to use up broken graham crackers and pretzels.

Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel Munch

Peppermint Pretzel Munch

  • Chocolate Graham Crackers, broken into pieces
  • Pretzels
  • Almond Bark (I used 6 squares for my batch)
  • Peppermint Candy Canes, crushed

Directions:

  1. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray and lay out broken chocolate graham crackers randomly across the pan.
  2. Add the pretzels, interspersing amongst the crackers to create a blanket of crackers and pretzels.
  3. Melt the almond bark or white chocolate chips. I used a plastic spoon to stir them so I could make a peppermint spoon.
  4. Drizzle across the cracker/pretzel blanket.
  5. Immediately sprinkle with crushed candy canes.
  6. Allow the mixture to cool, then break into pieces.
  7. Dip the spoon you used to stir the almond bark into the crushed candy canes and allow to sit until the chocolate has hardened. The spoon is great to include in a gift basket with some hot chocolate mix or coffee and a nice mug. I think it would be REALLY cool to do this with some funky antique real spoons.

White Chocolate Peppermint Spoon

This recipe was shared on Favorite Holiday RecipesTotally Tasty Tuesdays, Wonka WednesdaysHoliday Treats Week, Katherine Martinelli’s Mint Blog Hop and EveryDay Mom’s Meals.


Cranberry Nut Crunch Popcorn

Cranberry Nut Crunch Popcorn

I love making food gifts for the holidays and since popcorn, nuts and berries are three of my favorite foods, it just seems natural to combine them into something gift-able.

I think I might keep this one for myself, though. It’s so yummy.

Cranberry Nut Crunch Popcorn

Cranberry Nut Crunch Popcorn

  • 10 – 12 cups of popped plain popcorn
  • 2 cups of nuts (I used 1 cup of almonds, 1 cup of walnuts)
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. cranberry-apple juice concentrate
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 T. ginger sugar (This is from my candied ginger recipe … if you don’t have any ginger sugar, just use 1/4 t. ginger in its place)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (Craisins … I found some that are sweetened with pomegranate juice! Isn’t that cool?)

Directions:

  1. Pop the popcorn and mix it with the nuts. Lay the popcorn/nut mixture on a large flat pan and set aside.
  2. Mix the spices, sugar, juice concentrate and oil in a small bowl till the brown sugar is dissolved and everything is well mixed.
  3. With a spoon, drizzle the spice/juice mixture over the popcorn and nuts.
  4. Bake at 300 degrees F. for 45 minutes to an hour or so, stirring every 15 minutes, until the popcorn and nuts are crunchy, not soggy.
  5. Stir in 1 cup of dried cranberries. I am thinking some chunks of candied ginger or pretzels would also be good in the mix.
  6. Store in an airtight container, like a jar or a pretty tin.

Cranberry Nut Crunch Popcorn

This recipe was shared at Totally Tasty Tuesdays, Midnight Maniac Meatless Mondays, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, the Newlyweds Recipe LinkyWonka Wednesdays, and EveryDay Mom’s Meals.


Michael’s Maple Walnut Cranberry Sauce

Michael's Maple Walnut Cranberry Sauce

I remember those awful jellied cans of cranberry sauce would find their way to our Thanksgiving table sometimes in my childhood, and I remember loving the sweet tart taste of the cranberries, but the jellied stuff was just so ugly and weird. I think we all eventually decided we just don’t like cranberry sauce because we don’t usually have cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving anymore.

But this year will be different. I remembered this cranberry sauce that Michael, an old boyfriend of mine, made one year when I lived far from my family. We were having Thanksgiving dinner in his apartment with his roommate. Michael worked at a French restaurant and was a total foodie. I told him I didn’t like cranberry sauce, but he said you will like THIS cranberry sauce. And I loved it.

So this year, I am making Michael’s maple cranberry sauce. He didn’t give me his recipe, but I think this is pretty close. I think my family will like THIS cranberry sauce.

Actually I hope they don’t like it TOO much because I saw a gorgeous and super simple appetizer idea made with cranberry sauce that I want to try: Just take a block of (light) cream cheese, put it on a fancy dish, and pour cranberry sauce over it. Serve with crackers. I have decided I will stir in a few chopped jalapenos into the sauce before I pour it over the cream cheese to give it a little kick. I have big plans for this cranberry sauce.

Michael's Maple Walnut Cranberry Sauce

Michael’s Maple Cranberry Sauce with Toasted Walnuts

Adapted from About.com

Ingredients:

  • 1 (12 ounces) package fresh cranberries, washed and picked over
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 cup red Zinfandel or other dry red wine (I used some of my dad’s California Trinity Red wine.)
  • 2 teaspoons ginger sugar (the reserved sugar from making candied ginger) or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped

Directions:

  1. Place cranberries, maple syrup, juice, wine, and ginger sugar in a heavy saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes, until cranberries begin to pop.
  3. Skim off any foam that rises to the top.
  4. Remove from heat and gently smash a bit to open the cranberries, but do not mash.
  5. Toast the walnuts by spreading them in a single layer on a baking sheet and baking for about 5 minutes at 300 F. or until they are just lightly browned and you can smell the scent of the walnuts.
  6. Stir in walnuts and vanilla. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to serve.

Maple Walnut Cranberry Sauce

Look at that gorgeous color! (And yes, in case you were wondering, that IS snow on the table. We had our first snow last night.)

This recipe was shared at Melt in your Mouth Mondays.


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