The July/August issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine has an article on “The Best Way to Boil Green Beans.” The author talks about how he stumbled on a tip in the cookbook On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee that describes how heavily salted water speeds up the cooking of vegetables. According to him, the cookbook said the key was to cook your vegetables in water as salty as the sea which roughly translates to about 2 tablespoons of salt per quart of water. In typical Cook’s Illustrated fashion, the author proceeded to experiment, trying out different ratios of salt to water, to finally discover that the book was right and the heavily salted water produced tender, vibrantly green, deeply flavorful beans.
I decided to try the green bean salad recipe included in the article and serve it at Christmas dinner. The salad was a hit. I don’t have a copy of Harold McGee’s book so I don’t know if this secret works for other vegetables as well, but I’m definitely boiling green beans this way from now on.
GREEN BEAN SALAD WITH CHERRY TOMATOES AND FETA CHEESE
1½ lbs. green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
¼ cup salt
12 ozs. cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. each of salt and pepper
2 ozs. (½ cup) feta cheese, crumbled
Bring 2 quarts water to boil in large saucepan over high heat.
Add green beans and 1/4 cup salt, return to boil, and cook until green beans are bright green and tender, 5 to 8 minutes.
While green beans cook, fill a large bowl halfway with ice and water.
Drain green beans in colander and immediately transfer to ice bath.
When green beans are no longer warm to the touch, drain in colander again, then transfer to salad spinner and spin to dry thoroughly.
Place green beans, tomatoes, oil, mint, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a bowl and toss to combine.
Transfer to serving platter, sprinkle with feta, and serve.
If you don’t own a salad spinner, you can lay the drained green beans on a clean kitchen towel after shocking them in the ice water, and pat them dry.
The green beans can be blanched, shocked, and dried, then stored in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator for up to 2 days in advance.
I stumbled across this recipe on justapinch.com. They have some great recipes on their website and this one was no exception. This yummy, vegetarian appetizer is great to serve at a party or take to a potluck. You can substitute lowfat cream cheese if you want to cut down on the fat. These colorful rolls look so pretty arranged on a platter. And the best part is….. they’re super easy to make!
VEGGIE CREAM CHEESE ROLL-UPS
6 eight-inch flour tortillas (can use wheat, spinach, or tomato tortillas)
2 pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 envelope ranch dressing or dip mix
4 green onions, finely chopped
½ small can (4.25 oz.) chopped black olives
1 celery rib, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
Beat cream cheese and ranch mix together until smooth and well-blended.
Stir in chopped vegetables with a rubber spatula.
Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over tortillas.
Roll up tortillas into logs and wrap each log in plastic wrap.
Place tortilla logs in fridge to chill for at least 3 hours to set.
Slice tortillas into ½-inch rounds before serving.
Can be served with salsa as a dip.
I don’t like a lot of olives in these rolls so I only use half a small can. Feel free to use the whole can if you like.
This vegetarian dish is popularly eaten in Peru. Besides being healthy and good for you, it’s also very easy to make. I think you could add other veggies to it if you wanted to, like carrots, mushrooms, kale, or peas, which makes it quite the versatile little dish. Just make sure you keep in the potato and corn which are what make it classically Peruvian. Oh and I forgot to sprinkle the cilantro over it before I took the photo above. Don’t do what I did. The cilantro adds a delicious pop of flavor so you don’t want to leave it out. This recipe serves 2 people, but could very easily be doubled or tripled to feed more.
PERUVIAN QUINOA VEGETABLE STEW [Serves 2]
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
½ red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. paprika
¾ tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ cup water
2 cups vegetable broth
1 red potato (6 ozs.), unpeeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
⅓ cup quinoa, rinsed well
⅓ cup fresh, canned or frozen corn kernels
1 small zucchini, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 avocado, diced
queso fresco, crumbled
1 lime, cut into wedges
Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat.
Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, paprika, coriander and cumin.
Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened and spices are fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Stir in water, scraping up any browned bits.
Stir in broth and potato, bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.
Stir in quinoa and simmer for 8 minutes.
Stir in corn and zucchini and continue to simmer until quinoa and vegetables are just tender, 6-8 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Divide stew into 2 bowls.
Top each with a sprinkling of cilantro, a little avocado, some crumbled queso fresco, and 2 or 3 lime wedges for your guests to squeeze into the stew before eating.
I got this recipe years ago from a package of Jiffy corn muffin mix. It’s really yummy! I’ve altered it a little from the original over the years. Corn Casserole, or Spoonbread as it’s also known, makes a great side dish to serve with your Thanksgiving meal or any time of year actually. It’s wonderful with barbecued meat or chicken. It’s really easy to make and tastes oh-so-delicious! When I take it to potlucks, it gets gobbled up pretty quick. You could also add ½ to ¾ cup of sugar for a sweet corn casserole. The kids sure love it that way!
JIFFY CORN CASSEROLE aka SPOONBREAD
1 box (8.5 oz.) Jiffy corn muffin mix
½ cup butter or margarine, melted
2 cans (15 oz. each) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (14 oz.) cream-style corn
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs, beaten
1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 11×7-inch casserole dish.
In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter, corn kernels, creamed corn, sour cream, eggs, and corn muffin mix.
Pour into prepared casserole dish.
Bake for 45 minutes or until center is firm.
Remove from oven and top with shredded cheddar cheese.
Return to oven for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
You can omit the eggs if you like. The eggs make the dish a little lighter but it turns out perfectly fine without them.
This casserole can be made a day ahead. Prepare the recipe up to Step 3, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for up to 24 hours. When ready to bake, take the casserole out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes to bring it closer to room temperature, then continue with Step 4.
You could also make this recipe with a larger box (15 or 16 ozs.) of cornbread mix such as Krusteaz or Marie Callender’s. Follow the same recipe but bake it in a 9×13 inch casserole instead.
I’ve had this recipe for years but hadn’t made it in a long time. One day, my daughter, Tissi, decided she wanted to make herself some quiche. She’s a veggie eater and she loves quiche so I dug up my recipe for her. The problem was when I wrote it out for her, I said it only needed one pie crust. Needless to say, she ended up with a ton of extra filling. It wasn’t until a couple of attempts later that I realized my recipe was actually for TWO pies! Poor Tis. She couldn’t figure out why the recipe wasn’t working for her. LOL! If you want to make just one pie, cut the recipe in half. Otherwise, make sure you have two pie crusts ready.
No, nobody died. So why “funeral potatoes” you ask? Well, you know how people always bring food to a wake or a funeral when someone passes away? Funeral Potatoes are one of those dishes that’s frequently brought to that somber gathering. Hence, the name. It’s basically a simple potato casserole made with frozen hash browns. There are many versions of the recipe floating around out there. This is how I make mine. It’s super easy to prepare and everyone always likes it. The best part is, it’s not just for funerals. You can serve it any time of the year. It makes a great side dish for a busy weeknight dinner with the kids. I’m actually making it for Easter Sunday brunch this year.
1 bag (28-32 oz.) frozen shredded hash brown potatoes
¼ – ½ cup butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 can (10½ oz.) cream of chicken soup
1 can (10½ oz.) cream of potato soup
1 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped (optional)
2 cups French’s crispy fried onions
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Take hash browns out of the freezer and set them on the counter to thaw a little while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. This makes them easier to mix.
Melt ¼ cup butter in a skillet. If you want more buttery potatoes, you can melt up to ½ cup.
Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent but not brown.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sauteed onions, soups, sour cream, cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and parsley, if using.
Stir in the hash browns until well-combined.
Spread mixture into a 9×13 casserole dish.
Sprinkle French’s fried onions on top.
Bake for 40-50 minutes or until sides begin to bubble and top is golden brown.
TOPPING VARIATIONS: Toss 4 tbsp. melted butter with 1½ cups panko bread crumbs, or crushed crackers, or crushed cornflakes, or crushed potato chips.
Did you know that February 2nd is National Tater Tot Day? It’s an easy day for me to remember because it’s also my only brother’s birthday. Tater tots are an iconic American food that was created in the early 1950’s. The founders of Ore-Ida were trying to figure out what to do with all the little leftover pieces of potato that they had tons of everyday. They chopped up the potato pieces, mixed them with flour and seasonings, then forced the mixture through the barrel of an extruder, slicing off little one-inch pieces as the mixture came through. And so the tater tot was born.
Actually, when the little potato nuggets were first created, they didn’t have a name for them so the owners of Ore-Ida decided to have a name-the-product contest among their employees. The name “Tater Tots” was submitted by a young mother named Clora Lay Orton. Everyone loved the name and she won the contest.
It’s hard to believe that when the inexpensive tater tots were first sold in stores in 1956, they didn’t exactly fly off the shelves. Today, Americans consume approximately 70 million pounds of them per year! It’s safe to say the lowly tater tot has finally found its place in society, from school cafeterias to the ever popular food truck. It’s certainly found its way to our dinner table!
CHEESY BACON TATER TOTS
1 bag frozen tater tots
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup ranch dressing
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
6 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
2 stalks green onions, chopped
Bake tater tots according to package directions.
While tots are baking, combine sour cream and ranch dressing in a bowl.
Drizzle sour cream mixture over baked tater tots.
Sprinkle cheeses over the top.
Place under broiler until cheese is completely melted.
Remove from broiler and top with crumbled bacon and green onions.
Return to broiler for 2-5 minutes to warm up the bacon.
I always think of my daughter, Tissi, when I make this salad. Tissi and a friend of hers were discussing vegetarianism one day and he made her a bet that she couldn’t go without eating meat for more than 2 days. Tissi decided to take him up on it and she won the bet! The funny thing is, while she was trying to be all vegetarian in order to win, she realized she didn’t miss meat at all! So after her 2 days were up, she decided to just go on eating the way she was and she became a vegetarian for real! Has been for a couple of years now. Isn’t that funny? Anyway, when I make this salad and see all the colorful rows of veggies, I always think of my Tissi. You wouldn’t miss meat either when faced with a healthy, delicious salad like this one!
That being said, the “Tex-Mex” flavor of this salad makes it a great accompaniment to barbecued meat or chicken. It’s delicious alongside a pulled pork sandwich or some tender slices of smoked beef brisket. Sometimes I add crumbled bacon to it which makes it extra yummy in my book. After all, everything is better with bacon, right? (As you might have guessed, I’m not a vegetarian.) If you’re looking for a heartier, more filling salad that could stand alone as a light lunch or brunch dish, you could toss in some chopped grilled chicken.
The dressing for this salad has very little oil which makes it less fattening than other dressings, albeit rather thin. If you want a thicker, creamier dressing, try whisking in a half cup of plain greek yogurt.
SANTA FE CHOPPED SALAD
1 large head romaine lettuce or 2 romaine hearts, washed and roughly chopped
2 small (2.25 oz.) cans sliced black olives, drained
Today was a scary day at work. I arrived at the office to be greeted with the news that our Vice President had called an impromptu “Organizational Announcement” meeting. Everyone was to report to the meeting at 9 a.m. sharp. The VP’s announcement was that they were going to be outsourcing some of our jobs and some people would be laid off at the end of this year. So sad. It’s hard to understand the business decision to cut costs by sending our work abroad, but it’s harder to accept when good, hardworking employees of long standing are laid off without a qualm. I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to keep her job but my heart breaks for my friends who don’t.
I think comfort food is called for tonight. And what could be more comforting than a yummy bowl of tomato soup? Add a grilled cheese sandwich and you’re instantly transported back to those carefree childhood days when it seemed like nothing could go wrong. This soup is delicious and very easy to make. Instead of grilled cheese sandwiches, I gave it a different touch by making Crispy Mozzarella Cubes to serve with it. Yum! Now if only the job situation at work were as easy to fix. Sigh…..
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree
1½ cups chicken broth
3 tbsp. honey
⅓ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste (optional)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (optional)
In a medium pot, heat the oil.
Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until translucent.
Add the garlic and thyme, stirring until fragrant.
Add the tomatoes, broth, and honey, and stir together well.
Season with salt and pepper if desired, and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
Remove and discard thyme sprigs.
Puree soup with an immersion blender. If you want it chunky, puree only half the soup.
Stir in the cream, adjust the seasonings, and continue to cook for another minute or two.
Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with parsley, if desired.
CRISPY MOZZARELLA CUBES
1 block of mozzarella cheese (size depends on how many cubes you want to make)
panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat 2 inches of canola oil in a deep frying pan on the stove.
Cut mozzarella cheese into cubes as small or large as you like. I like a good-sized cube so I cut them about 1½ inches big.
Place about 1 cup flour in a pie plate and season lightly with a little salt and pepper.
Beat 1 egg in a shallow bowl and season lightly with a little more salt and pepper.
Place about 1 cup panko bread crumbs in another pie plate.
Take a mozzarella cube and coat it first in flour, then egg, and finally bread crumbs. Repeat with remaining cubes. If you run out of flour or bread crumbs, just add more, and beat another egg if you need to.
Carefully drop each coated mozzarella cube into hot oil.
Deep fry until golden brown.
Transfer briefly to paper towel lined plate to drain.
I make these bars a lot during zucchini season. The zucchini is like a “surprise ingredient” that fools everybody. They all think it’s apple and don’t believe me when I tell them it’s zucchini. These bars are delicious, and best of all, are so easy to make. My family loves to eat them warm with a scoop of ice cream. Give them a try and see if they don’t surprise you, too.
ZUCCHINI CRUMBLE BARS
For the Filling:
8-10 cups zucchini, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 4-5 lbs.)
½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
2 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 2-3 tbsp. cold water (this is called a slurry)
In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook zucchini, lemon juice, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg, stirring occasionally until zucchini is crisp-tender, about 15-20 minutes.
While stirring constantly, pour in slurry (cornstarch water mixture). It is important to keep stirring as the slurry will thicken the mixture very quickly.
Continue to cook and stir, 1-2 minutes more, until mixture is thick and glossy.
Remove from heat and set aside.
For the Crust:
4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
2 cups cold butter, cut in cubes
Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.
Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.
Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Set aside about 3 cups of the crust mixture for topping.
Press remaining crust mixture into bottom of prepared baking pan.
Pour zucchini mixture over crust, spreading evenly to edges.
Crumble remaining crust mixture over zucchini mixture.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until top crust is golden brown.