Thursday, November 12, 2015

Chicken and Quinoa Hot Dish (Casserole)

I don't know if Minnesotans are famous for hot dishes, but I do know that they are kind of famous for calling casseroles (how pretty much everyone else in America calls them) "hot dishes", which I like because it's more homey and descriptive. But then, I grew up in Minnesota. :-)

Hot dishes are usually full of cheese and creamy goodness (with maybe a can of creamed soup thrown in for good measure), so I thought I'd try to lighten things up a little. True to form, this recipe is a little of this and a little of that, since I needed to use up a few things after we'd been gone for a couple of days and I hadn't gotten to the grocery store before I had to think about dinner. That being said, it's easy enough to switch things up a little. Don't like arugula (which can be too bitter for some)? Substitute kale or spinach. Don't have quinoa? You could substitute pasta, millet, farro or some other grain. I think this would be great with leftover wild rice as well! Just be sure to adjust liquids accordingly (or cook the grain before adding it to the mix).

Also, don't worry about drying the greens before adding them to the bowl. The extra moisture will get absorbed by the quinoa as it cooks. Letting the hot dish "rest" for 10 minutes is also important to help set everything.

But really, this hot dish couldn't be easier to make; just throw everything in a large bowl, stir to combine, then put in the dish and bake.

This is definitely comfort-food worthy, but a little healthier than the typical hot dish. Enjoy!

Chicken and Quinoa Hot Dish

2 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cooked and cut into bite-sized cubes (or cooked, leftover chicken), about 2 cups
1 cup quinoa
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons Pampered Chef Parmesan Garlic seasoning
15 oz ricotta cheese (I used part skim)
about 10 fresh basil leaves
1 bunch arugula, cleaned and chopped (thick stems removed) (you can substitute spinach or kale or chard - any combination of greens, really)
zest and juice from 1 lemon
1/2 c grated Parmesan, plus more for top

Stir everything together and put in an 8x8 in baking dish. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes, stirring everything about halfway through. Remove the foil, grate additional Parm on top, increase the oven temp to 400 and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Note: If you want to cut the baking time in half, pre-cook the quinoa, but I like the slight crunch of the quinoa when it's baked like this.

Makes 4-5 servings

Thursday, October 22, 2015

So. Much. Squash!

It was our first year planting a real vegetable garden (as opposed to just herbs), and to be honest, it's been a mixed bag. For some reason, the beans I planted never came up, but the peas were great. I also was late getting tomatoes in, but our yellow squash produced like crazy. Even at this late date, I'm still getting green peppers, so I kept the plant, even though I've cleared out everything else. I started a late fall/winter crop of collard greens, kale, spinach and brussels sprouts, but I think the rabbits are getting to those, despite our attempts to keep them away. Stupid rabbits.

I know it's kind of late in the season for a "summer" squash recipe, but because this would make a great appetizer, I thought I would post it now. Plus, I know you can still get summer squash in some areas, so it is still useful. :-) We had these for a light dinner, but they would be impressive as an appetizer as well (just make them smaller, more bite-sized).

 Because my squashes had such knobby skin, I peeled them a little before I grated them, but I doubt you'll have that problem. Turns out, I left them on the vine too long. Live and learn, I guess.

Summer Squash Fritters with Herbed Cream and Smoked Trout

For the fritters:

1 lb of summer squash, grated (to get about 3 cups)
3 scallions, chopped fine
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl until fully-incorporated. Heat a skillet over medium heat, add about 1 tbsp of oil to pan and let that heat up for about 30 seconds. Drop about 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake on the skillet and cook about 2 minutes, then flip. Cook another 2 minutes (each side of the pancake should be golden brown).

Herbed Cream:

1 cup sour cream of plain Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Chill until ready to use.

To serve:

8 oz smoked trout
2 radishes, julienned
Herbed cream

On top of each fritter, dollop about 2 teaspoons of the herbed cream, then flake some of the smoked trout on top, followed by a few of the julienned radishes.

As a light entree, this recipe served 4, with about 2-3 pancakes per person. To make as an appetizer, just make smaller fritters (say, 1 tbsp of batter versus the 1/4 cup for "full-sized).

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Chocolate Raspberry Ice Box Cake

September has taken this household by storm. Between sports practices, PTA meetings and events, Bible study and school (I was subbing on the first day of school, go figure), it's been a crazy month. This is my way of apologizing for not posting this sooner.

Remember how I was going to experiment with ice box cakes this summer? And remember how I've only posted one so far? Yeah, that's exactly how it goes with my summer plans. I was also going to knock out a couple more chapters in my novel, and that didn't happen, either. And have the kids to a little bit of school work (at least some reading) every day, too. Never happened.

Anyway, I did manage to make another ice box cake. This flavor combination was at my older son's request. He really likes the chocolate-berry flavor combination. The marshmallow topping in the whipped cream may sound a little random, and that's because it is. I'm STILL trying to use that stuff up (FYI, it can be used for fluffernutter sandwiches in a pinch)! Anyway, if you don't happen to have it on hand, you could probably skip it and just add a little powdered sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla to flavor the whipped cream before folding in the raspberries.

But this is what we ended up with, and it tasted really yummy!

Here are the ingredients (most of them, anyway - I just realized that I didn't get the fresh raspberries in there):

I used seedless raspberry jam, because I thought there would be plenty of seeds with the fresh raspberries. The cookie thins were really good, but if you can't find them, you could probably use the Nabisco Chocolate wafers. Also, if you smash a few of the raspberries before folding them into the whipped cream, it makes the cream a little easier to smooth out.

We really enjoyed this cake! We served it with a few extra fresh raspberries scattered over the top and a drizzle of chocolate sauce, just for effect. :-) Let me know what you think!

Chocolate Raspberry Ice Box Cake

2 cups whipping cream
6 Tbsp Marshmallow topping
1/8 cup of seedless raspberry jam
1 pint fresh raspberries, rinsed
2 - 4 oz packages of Mrs. Thinster's Cookie Thins (Brownie Batter)

Make sure the whipping cream is really cold. You can also put your bowl and whisk (or whisk or beaters of your mixer) into the fridge to chill for 30 minutes. Pour cream into bowl and whip with mixer until it holds its shape (about 1-2 minutes). Add marshmallow topping and raspberry jam to whipped cream. Whip again until topping and jam are incorporated, about 30 seconds.

Add 1 cup raspberries to whipped cream, fold the berries to incorporate.

Spread 1/4 cup of cream onto serving platter. Place a single layer of cookies on top of the cream.

Spread about a cup of whipped cream on top of cookies, but leaving a border so you can still see edges of cookies. Top with more cookies. You can put broken cookies in the middle, since you won't see those anyway.

Continue with the layering, ending with whipped cream. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours (and up to 24). Use extra raspberries for garnish and top it off with an extra cookie.

This serves about 6, but you could easily double the ingredients, using more cookies for each layer.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What I did on my summer vacation: Indiana Road Trip!

It's hard to believe that summer is already coming to a close and the kids are back in school! I'm not sure if any of their teachers will assign them a "What I did this summer" essay, but you never know. To commiserate with their going back to school, I am going to share with you our summer trip. Enjoy.

Not to brag or anything, but our big family trip this summer was a road trip to Indiana. Yep. I know you are all super jealous. I have to admit, though, I love taking road trips with the kids. They are awesome travelers, and no one really gets car sick anymore (we hedge our bets with Dramamine for E). Plus, I love road food. Seriously. Planning the snacks, mapping out (literally) food places to stop at along the way, those are the things that I like when it comes to road-tripping. I am all about the journey. Unfortunately, my husband is more about the "let's just get there as quickly as possible" kind of road-tripper. We manage to peacefully coexist, as long as we plan the route ahead of time. :-)

So, "Why Indiana?" you might be asking yourself. And that is a great question, since Indiana, unless you have friends/family there, seems like an unlikely destination state.  Here's how it went down:
my son has a good friend, with whom he plays soccer. This friend's dad used to play soccer for Indiana University and still has connections to the IU soccer staff. So, he asked us if our son would like to go to the IU soccer camp this summer, and he (our son) said "Heck yeah!" That is not exactly what he said, but he was excited. The camp was 5 days, so one of us could take him, but it's a long enough drive that it wouldn't be worth it to go out and back then out and back again to pick him up, so as long as one person was driving him out and staying, we figured all of us could go. And that, my friends, is how we ended up going to Indiana for our summer trip.

This is M, on the day we dropped him off at camp.

Now, my husband also went to Indiana University, but at a different time than our friend, but he was excited to take a look at the campus and see how things have changed. A lot, apparently, because my main task when we actually got to Bloomington was to make sure we didn't get into a wreck, since Jonathan kept looking this way and that, saying, "Wow! I can't believe how much everything has changed!" and "See that [bar/restaurant/store]? When I was in school, it was half that size [or in a different location, or in the basement]." It was fun to see him get excited about being back, though.

Of course, we spent some time hanging around the IU campus and shopping in the book store. Hence, this photo:

 The kid has never met a hat he didn't like. I think it should be used on their next catalog cover, personally. :-)

Also, as a middle-aged woman trying to buy a t-shirt in a college book store, let me just tell you how depressing it was. Most designs were cut for young, thin girls who don't have boobs or hips, or a waist. I ended up in the "unisex" section hoping to find something that worked. I never did find anything but a sweatshirt. You can hardly go wrong with that, I guess.

A lot of my friends teased me that my Facebook posts all centered around food, but I was really just posting our meals, of which we eat three each day, but apparently it was a lot. :-)

 Anyway, we dropped our oldest son off on campus, got his room organized, then took off, because he was going to start a training session almost right away. It was a pretty serious camp.

The night before, we went to a place called Nick's, which is as divey a place as you can get, and I've been to dives. Again, we went more for nostalgia than actual decent food, but their fries were really good. :-)

Because my husband went to IU, there was a lot of nostalgia eating (see above photo). Our next stop on the nostalgia tour was Mother Bear's, a pizza place. Apparently, they moved their location, but the pizza was as good as Jonathan remembered. For some reason, I didn't get a picture of the pizza (we probably ate it too fast), but I did get a pic of my youngest goofing off (imagine that).

Our next full day was spent hiking over in Brown County, adjacent to Bloomington.  It is a beautiful area, and I could just imagine how gorgeous it is in the fall, with all the leaves changing colors. We did an easy hike though Brown County State Park, which was about a 45 minute drive from Bloomington. They have a number of different trails, but we took one of the easier ones, since it was quite hot out.

I wanted to keep going to the end of the trail, but when part of the trail crossed over the road that led back to our car, the boys decided they had had enough. Babies.

 After our hike, though, we were all pretty hungry and hot, so we drove a little further over to Columbus, IN, a pretty little town with a lot of cute shops and restaurants along its main street. We had lunch at Zaharakos, an authentic soda fountain that's been in operation since 1909. They make their own ice cream right there in the basement, as well as their own syrups for fresh-made sodas. This place was really cool!

There are the counter servers, making our sodas that we had with lunch. The main event, though, is the ice cream. I had a chocolate malt, Elliot just got ice cream in a waffle cone (that they made fresh while we were watching, NBD), and Jonathan had a sundae. All of the ice creams were outstanding, although I had a taste of the butter pecan, which was amazing!! We also really liked the dreamsicle and the cookies and cream.

We liked it so much, we stopped there a second time on our way home so that M would have a chance to experience it.

 The next day we spent walking around Bloomington, which has a really lovely town square. We discovered WonderLab, a really neat science museum for kids. They had a bubble room (yes, dedicated to all types of bubble creation), including this big contraption that made huge bubbles!

They also had a bed of nails and cool climbing structure that E loved.

While we were walking around downtown, we also discovered Square Donuts, just a block away from the hotel.  Holy cow! Were they good! Even though there was breakfast included in our hotel price, it was totally worth going to Square Donuts for breakfast one of those days!

Also near our hotel in the downtown area of Bloomington was Bub's Burgers. Our first time there we had ice cream, but we eventually ate there.They have this thing called the Big Ugly, a burger challenge. We did not get that. Instead, we got the sweet potato waffle fries (with marshmallow creme, natch), which were really good!

I also got the portobello mushroom burger. So good! I was so excited to eat it, I forgot to take a picture until it was half gone! So, this really doesn't do it justice. The mushroom cap was so flavorful and juicy, though. I highly recommend it if you go to Bub's.

Sweet Grass Restaurant  was another place we tried out. We were really happy with the salads. At this point, our bodies were rebelling against all things fried, grilled and fatty, so we stuck with salads. Really delish!

We also spent a full day in Indianapolis, about an hour from Bloomington. Personally, I thought at trip to the Indianapolis Speedway would be waste (I am not a race car gal), but I found it really interesting. We didn't spring for the full tour, opting to just walk around the museum part, but it was still fun.

Next, we spent some time at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Can we say Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Hot Wheels? Mommy totally wins an award for this one!

There was also this really cool exhibit sponsored by National Geographic about ancient cultures and archaeology. They had actual artifacts from 1200 B.C. Egypt (and older) on display! Really amazing for a kids' museum, if you ask me. Here's E pretending to dive into submerged ruins to discover pirate's booty.

Back in Bloomington, we spent another day wandering around the town. We discovered that near the Chocolate Moose, food trucks set up shop every Friday. Although it was pretty hot outside, we still enjoyed the arepas from Juancho's Munchies, and the BBQ from Great White Smoke. Of course, E got ice cream (at this point, we have given up all parental guidelines for what constitutes "healthy" and "meals").

I have to admit, I didn't have huge hopes for our road trip, but was pleasantly surprised by Bloomington, Indiana. Nice people, really good food, and fun things to do. If you find yourself going through there (or making a special trip) you will find yourself well fed and definitely not bored!  Hope you had a fun summer, too!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Summer's Bounty: No recipe recipes

I am totally digging our garden (ha! look at that pun!). But honestly, it's been great, with kale, fresh basil and summer squash. We had peas earlier, and we're still waiting on tomatoes and watermelon to ripen.

So tonight, I am going to let you loose without a recipe. You can do this. I know you can.

First, get some summer squash or zucchini, tomatoes and onion. Slice them all really thin. The amounts depend on how much you want to make. I made this vegetable gratin (that's the fancy word for baked vegetables) for dinner for three of us, so I had two tomatoes, one onion and about 3 squash (I actually cut up 4, but didn't use some of it, so I'm estimating here).
Then, you pour some olive oil in the bottom of the baking pan you are using. I suggest one that is fairly shallow (wider with narrow-ish sides) and thinly slice garlic over the oil:

 Then, layer the veggies thusly and sprinkle salt and pepper over everything. I also sprinkled dried thyme. Feel free to add whatever herbs you like. Fresh rosemary would be good. Or basil.


Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes, then take the pan out and grate fresh parmesan over all of it. Return to the oven for another 5-6 minutes, until all of the veggies are softened. Pull it out and you will have something that looks like this:

Sorry for the poor photo quality. I was using my phone instead of my camera, because the camera's battery needed to be recharged. But you get the idea.

It was really good! I served it with flatbread and a watermelon salad (watermelon, diced red onion, basil, crumbled feta cheese, salt, pepper, olive oil):

It's summer, so take advantage of all the fresh veggies that are available! Enjoy!