Month: April 2014

Shrimp Penne

I’m a huge fan of seafood.  I also live stupidly far inland to get really good, fresh seafood as often as I’d like.   There’s a company that brings fresh seafood up from the coast on the weekends, but I have to drive 80 miles one-way to get to them, and it’s only on the weekends.

So I’ve tried grocery store frozen (and “fresh”) seafood and usually I’m left thinking that is just okay at best.   However, I have finally found a brand of frozen shrimp I can get locally on occcasion that is pretty good.  It actually tastes like shrimp!   (It’s Ocean Gift, and I am not being paid to share that.)

What to do with this tasty shrimp?  I was feeling the need for some pasta and came across an inspiration from a Taste of Home recipe, combined with a little of my own twist.   And of course, it was about half the recipe.   Warning: if you’re on a diet, this isn’t really low-cal, but it is really good!  Again I know the lack of photos is disappointing, but I can assure you the recipe won’t disappoint a bit.

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked penne pasta (or similar size pasta, something that can handle a hefty sauce)
8 – 10 oz uncooked medium shrimp
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 -2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup marinara sauce (make your own or a good store-bought)
6 tbsp butter
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
16 oz heavy cream (you can use half-and-half, or cut the calories by using half skim milk and half cream)
Pinch of salt
Two pinches of fresh pepper (to taste)
Fresh Parsley (optional)

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the heavy cream over low – medium heat in a sauce pan.   Add 4 tbsp of butter and gently whisk as it melts.   Stir in the Parmesan cheese until smooth.   Season with fresh pepper, to taste.   Set aside on very low heat, just to keep it warm.

In a large skillet,  saute the shrimp, garlic, and pepper flakes in oil until the shrimp turn pink.   Add the cream sauce from the sauce pan, the marianra sauce, the remaining two tbsp of butter, salt, and pepper to the shrimp and stir to combine.

Drain the pasta and serve with the shrimp mixture.  Top it with fresh parsley if you’re feeling fancy, just like parsley, or have an herb garden overflow that needs to be used up.

There’s a few really great things about this recipe.   It’s easy to double or triple this recipe to make it work well for serving 6 to 8.    Add a salad and fresh bread and you’ve got a very nice dinner.    Don’t like your dinner coming from the ocean floor?   Replace the shrimp with chicken.   If you’re in a real rush, you can even skip the homemade Alfredo (the cream sauce bit) and swap in about 5 oz of store-bought Alfredo.  Homemade Alfredo is so simple and tastes so much better, I think it’s worth the extra five minutes of prep time.  Also you can adjust the creamy / tomato-y ratio easily on this by simply using more or less of either ingredient.   There is so much room to play with this recipe to make it fit your tastes exactly.  It’s very good as it is too, fresh off the computer screen!

Grilled Sweet Potatoes

It’s that brief time of year where I get to enjoy my grill.   The mosquitoes aren’t out in full force trying to either carry me away or hitch a ride into the house to wake me at 2am.   It’s not so hot that just looking at the grill from indoors makes me sweat, yet.   It’s no longer so cold that I need thick gloves to keep my fingers from going instantly numb.  (These are the same gloves that also render my hands into two nearly useless appendages.)

I take advantage of the three weeks out of the year that we get such blissful weather and spend whatever spare time I can scrounge up outdoors and it’s a good excuse to fire up the grill.    I love the taste of grilled food and the often simple preparations.   Toss whole corn on the cob onto the grill cold, and by the time it’s heated up and you’ve cooked the rest of the meal, the corn is done.   Potatoes are another east choice to pair with whatever else you may be grilling.    Then to finish things off, grill some fresh fruit (try pineapple, or peaches sliced in half.)    Try once making your whole meal on the grill and you’ll see the reason I enjoy my grill so much!

I had to do some research into how to best cook sweet potatoes on the grill.  Because of their longer cooking times, I wasn’t sure of the right approach.   I found quite a few recipes, many of them first saying to boil the potatoes to a certain point, then put them on the grill.   However I wanted to just cut them, slap them on the grill and be done with it!  Forget this boil, peel, then grill shenanigans.   Cut, grill, eat.   That’s my idea of an easy side dish.

As usual, I just improvised.  After reading a few more recipes (thank you internet) I found that a few recipes suggested slicing the potatoes and simply grilling them.   I opted for this method, then added a glaze after cooking to further the flavor.    Simple, easy to scale for more or less portions, and inexpensive to boot.   That’s a winner in my book!

Ingredients:

1 medium size sweet potato

1-2 tsp oil (canola, vegetable, coconut, something with minimal flavor)

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp light brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon


Directions:

Heat up the grill.   Slice the sweet potato into approximately 1/4″ thick slices.    Drizzle the potato with the oil, enough to lightly coat the slices and toss to coat.  Place potato slices onto the hot grill and cook until tender, about 4-5 minutes per side.   They will develop a few brown or black spots, and that’s good.  It just makes them taste even better.

While they are cooking, melt the butter and mix with the brown sugar and cinnamon.  Set aside.

Once tender, remove the potato slices from the grill.  Drizzle with the butter mixture and serve.

 

One medium potato should be about two servings.   You can also adjust the amount of cinnamon, sugar, and butter to your tastes.   This was enough to give the potatoes a sweet glaze without covering up the taste of the potatoes.   Pair this up with some grilled chicken and a salad and there’s dinner!

Fruity Oatmeal

Clearly I’m on an oat kick.  From the bars I’ve been making to this tasty breakfast, I can’t seem to get enough of oats.   I suppose that’s good, since they are considerably healthier than any number of other cravings I’ve catered to over the years.

So my latest oat fix came from this recipe, which is more of a true breakfast item than a potential snack.    While I found the original recipe here, naturally I couldn’t leave well enough alone.   I also think there’s plenty of room for variation, and its tasty enough I’ll want to do just that.   I also wanted to lighten it up but with more of a natural ingredients approach.    I’m not a big fan of artificial anything in the food I cook.

Do you have one of those smaller slow cookers, the kind really intended to either keep dip warm for a small party, or to cook exactly enough cocktail sausages for the same small gathering of friends?   Mine is a 1 1/2 quart cheap one I bought after the first one I had met an early demise involving a screwdriver, too much curiosity, and way too much free time.  Anyway, this is a real recipe that will make ideal use of that slow cooker!  And here you thought it just worked for dip and cocktail sausages.   Nope, this time you can cook something gasp healthy in it!

So dust off that smaller cooker, or if you’re single or a small family like us, go get one.  It’s the perfect excuse and they’re cheap.  Like $14 on Amazon kind of cheap.   Just a suggestion for other recipes you may try in this cooker – it will overcook or burn foods faster than a regular slow cooker.  At least that’s been my experience with the two I’ve had.

This recipe is also an excellent opportunity for those who don’t do a lot of cooking to impress overnight guests with their culinary skills, or at least they’ll think you can whip up a good breakfast!

On to the recipe…

Fruity Oatmeal

Ingredients:

2 cups milk (skim, 1%, or 2%, I used organic skim and it works well)

1 cup rolled oats (not instant or quick-cook)

1 cup sliced peaches, canned is ok but avoid anything that says “in syrup” on the label

2 tbsp light brown sugar

1 tbsp butter

2 tbsp honey – use the good tasting stuff here, try to get locally sourced if you can

1/4 cup chopped nuts – walnuts or pecans are good

1/2 tsp cinnamon (sweet kind, see my previous No-Bake Bars recipe for a few details about Cinnamon)

Heavy pinch of kosher salt

Directions:

Mix everything in a bowl.   Pour into the slow cooker.  Cook on low for four hours.   Dish up and eat!
Seriously, it’s that simple.   If food tends to stick to the sides of your cooker, spray it with a little cooking spray before pouring in the ingredients.   I didn’t need to in mine.   According to the original recipe this can be cooked for 8 hours on low as well, but I’d use oats with a bit more chew for that, such as steel cut oats.

This will make enough for four generous servings, or about 5 to 6 smaller portions.   So technically this is more than just two of us will eat in one sitting, but we can eat it in two or three days, and it reheats exceptionally well.

If you’ve got a busy week ahead, make this on a Sunday afternoon and you’re good for a few days of quick, healthy breakfast, or if you must share with someone, maybe just a couple of days.   If that’s the case, make some No-Bake bars while this is cooking in the slow cooker!

Sorry I don’t have pics for this one.  My brain is not alert enough yet at breakfast to think “Oh yeah, I need a picture of this for my blog.”   Besides, oatmeal isn’t exactly photogenic.

 

No-Bake Bars

I’ve been on a kick recently with making no-bake oat bars.   My husband is a huge fan of Mississippi Mud Cookies, and those spurred me to think that there has to be a good way to make something for breakfast and snacking that is just as easy to assemble and is a bit healthier than his treasured bites of chocolate goodness.   (No doubt they’re good, but a batch of those does not do good things for the waistline. )

So I went on a mission to find something that fit all my requirements.   It had to be :

  • No-bake, though a minimal amount of stove-top time was acceptable
  • Ingredients I likely have in the pantry or refrigerator
  • No obscene amounts of butter or oil
  • No raw almonds (allergy)
  • No shredded coconut (Fresh coconut is one thing, but that shredded abomination in a bag? Well, I’d just as soon avoid it if I can.)
  • And most important, a recipe that makes a portion I can eat within about a week

Thanks to the time-suck vast range of recipes and searching abilities of Pinterest, I found quite a few that fit my list, or could fit with minimal adjustments.  So far I’ve made three, all of which I’ll share, along with any of my alterations.   None were disappointing, and each has enough variety of flavor I’d make them all again.

I started with these gems from Averie Cooks.  I didn’t take any photos of these, but the photos on Averie Cooks are great if you’re a fan of good food pics.  Of course I had to tweak the recipe to my own tastes, but you can view the original recipe here.

Cinnamon Oat No-Bake Bars

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup honey *
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar (white, granulated)
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla  **
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon ***
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3  1/2 cups quick cook oats (also called 1-minute oats or instant oats)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Directions:

Line an 8×8 pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.

Combine the butter, honey, and both sugars and microwave on high for three minutes, stopping to stir after each minute.   During the last minute watch to make sure it doesn’t bubble over.

Add the vanilla, cinnamon, and cream of tartar to the mixture and stir.   Add oats and stir to combine.    Add the flour slowly and stir until the mixture is thick but somewhat moist.  If it’s runny or seems overly thin, add a bit more flour, one tablespoon at a time.

Transfer the mixture to your 8×8 pan and spread it out flat.  Press it down firmly with a spatula, scraper, or your hands.   Refrigerate for about 2 hours (or freeze for 1 hour) until the bars are solid.   Remove them from the dish and cut into bars.   The size and shape are up to you.   I suggest cutting a small one to taste before you cut the rest of the bars as these are somewhat sweet and have a strong cinnamon flavor.

They keep well for a week or so in the refrigerator, sealed up tight or can be frozen for longer storage.

* You can use corn syrup instead of honey, but I’m a big fan of honey for its taste and health benefits.  Corn syrup isn’t “evil”  I suppose, but it doesn’t fit in my “healthy food” list either.  So if I can avoid cooking with it, I do.
** I use STRONG vanilla, so I’d suggest the larger amount if you’re using standard strength, grocery store vanilla.
***  This recipe calls for a lot of cinnamon.   Cinnamon flavors vary from very sweet to moderately hot.   Think of a Cinnamon Twist Pastry vs Big Red gum.  They both use cinnamon, but two very different kinds.   For this recipe you want the sweeter variety.   If you’re not sure what you have, taste it.  Just put a light sprinkle on your finger and taste.    My favorite for this kind of recipe (and pretty much anything that calls for a non-spicy cinnamon) is Penzey’s Cinnamon.   It’s good enough I could probably take a spoon to it and just dig in.  They also have a really good explanation about different kinds of cinnamon here.

The original recipe from Averie Cooks calls for a white chocolate drizzle on the top.  I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate, so I left that off mine.   Plus chocolate for breakfast has never appealed to me.   I’m strange, I know.

These taste great with vanilla yogurt for a quick and satisfying breakfast or snack.

These make an 8×8 pan, which is more than two people should probably eat in one sitting.   My intention with this recipe is to have a quick breakfast and snack food that is healthier than many packaged granola bars, cereals, or snack bars.   It is a moderate enough amount of bars that shared among a family of two or three it will last for the majority of a week.   They taste so good I didn’t get tired of eating them.  I was actually disappointed when they were gone!

I’m sure I’ll be sharing more of my no-bake bar adventures soon…  Stay tuned!

Calling all cooks!  I’d like to find some bars that do not require refrigeration, so any suggestions there are highly welcomed!   I’d like to be able to pack them for travel snacks and I carry a small, non-refrigerated purse.

Rice & Veggie Creamy Baked Casserole

 

I love seafood.  I mean LOVE seafood.   However living this far inland, getting fresh seafood can be a challenge.   I do live not terribly far from the self-proclaimed Trout Capital of the USA (Cotter, Arkansas.)   I can’t seem to bring myself to drive to Cotter, sit either in a boat or on the banks of the river with a fishing pole in hand, waiting  seemingly endless hours for the fish to fall prey to whatever sort of bait I’ve offered up to them.   The mere idea nearly puts me to zzzzzzzzzzz.  Oh I’m sorry, I must have dozed off.

Anyway, I wanted a good side dish for some baked trout, and my go-to with fish is rice.  However plain rice after a while can get boring.  So I opted for a dish that is a rice and veggie blend, to give it a bit of variety.    This is a dish perfectly sized to fit two hearty appetites for a meal or two plus enough for a bit of leftovers for lunch the next day.

I started with a basic recipe from Kraft, and of course couldn’t leave it as- is.   It’s first designed as usual to feed a family of sixteen kids and three cats. (Maybe not that many.)  Also it contains only one veggie – corn.   And I had some sour cream I wanted to use the last of before it disappeared into the back of the fridge to be discovered later as a flourishing science experiment.  So with a few adjustments to make better use of what I had languishing in the fridge & give it a boost of color, you have my version of the recipe.    It would be easy to swap out some or all of the corn and/or carrots for other vegetables you prefer, such as peas or  diced peppers.  Just make sure it will cook sufficiently within about 20 to 25 minutes.

On to the recipe…

Rice & Veggie Casserole
Two or three servings

Ingredients

2 tbsp  cream cheese
2 tbsp sour cream
1 egg white
1 cup cooked white rice 
3 oz frozen corn, thawed
3 oz frozen carrots, thawed and diced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt &  Pepper to tasteDirections

Heat oven to 375°F.

Mix cream cheese, sour cream, & egg white until combined and well blended. Stir in rice, corn, carrots, about half the shredded cheese, and thyme.  Add salt & pepper to taste (or none at all, if you prefer.)

Pour into a lightly greased 1qt baking dish and top with remaining cheese.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until it’s bubbling around the edges and the cheese is melted.

Adapted pretty substantially from Kraft Cheesy Rice & Corn Casserole.

Cheesy rice & veggies

Not exactly a stellar photo, but very tasty stuff!

This recipe reminds me to share a good tip about cooking for two.   Those smaller sized casserole dishes are ideal for recipes like this one.   I use an 8×8 glass brownie pan frequently.   Look for dishes that are about 6″ diameter and 1 1/2″ to 2″ deep, they are great for smaller portions.   A good source for these size dishes is local pottery makers or smaller manufacturers.  They make more of the unique size that goes well with small side-dishes.  One of my favorites I used for this dish and it fits perfectly.  When shopping for dishes suitable for smaller portions, remember that casseroles need a little extra room on the sides as they may bubble up around the edges.   That slightly deeper dish will save you hours in oven-cleaning time!