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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spinach and Scallop Casserole

I have a confession to make. I've got some serious casserole woes.

Perhaps it's because about the closest thing to a casserole I had growing up was lasagna. Perhaps it's because when I first moved out on my own and really started cooking, I didn't have a working oven. Who knows why these things happen. But, just ask my husband... casseroles are a challenge for me.

My husband loves casseroles. So, occasionally, I try and go outside my comfort zone and make the guy a dish. Of course, it doesn't help that his favorite casserole, named - if you can believe - Dump Casserole - is a mixture of ingredients I just can't hardly bear to put into one dish.

Yet, I've got to try and help a guy out, and it's been a little bit of a rocky road. Some have turned out OK, some... haven't. But I keep trying. Fortunately, pasta casseroles are a little less daunting to me, I guess because I never really considered them casseroles. But, alas, this little dish I put together for my husband the other night turned out great. It's creamy and cheesy (which is never a bad thing, in my book). I love the combination of the shallot and spinach and how the hint of sherry brings out the best from the scallops.

Yup, this casserole, at least, was a smashing success.

Spinach and Scallop Casserole
Yield: 6-8 servings

3 cups elbow pasta (large elbows if you can find them)
1 tsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb bay scallops
3 TBS olive oil
3 TBS flour
2 cups warm milk (whole, preferably)
2 TBS cream sherry
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1 cup thawed and pressed chopped frozen spinach
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Boil the pasta as instructed on the package until just al dente. Drain and hold until ready to use. If your pasta is ready way before your sauce is, add a little drizzle of oil to the pasta once it's drained to keep it from sticking together too much.

In a skillet, over medium to medium-high heat, saute the shallots and garlic in a teaspoon of olive oil. When the shallot is soft and starting to brown slightly, add the scallops and saute just until they are barely cooked. They cook very quickly, so give them your full attention while cooking them. Turn off the heat and let cool while preparing the sauce.

In a stock pot or Dutch oven, heat 3 TBS of olive oil and then stir in the flour. Cook for a minute or so and then add the warm milk slowly, stirring the whole time. Slow is the key if you do not want a lumpy sauce. Continue stirring over medium heat until the milk thickens and just starts to boil. Turn off the heat and add the sherry, cheeses (reserve a small bit of cheese to sprinkle on top of the casserole), and spinach. Stir to distribute the ingredients and then add the drained pasta and scallop mixture. Mix and then pour into a greased 9x13 (or similar) pan. Sprinkle the remaining bit of cheese on top.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-35 minutes or until the top is nicely browned and bubbly. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Greek Rice

Every now and again I try a recipe that I think looks intriguing but that ends up not being that great. I'd had my eye on a stuffed squid recipe for some time. It ended up looking pretty, just as nice as the picture in the recipe book:

However, there was something about the texture of the squid (fairly rubbery) that was an unappealing contrast to the texture of the rice filling. When cooking squid, the rule is typically cook it really fast or really long; anything in between is a recipe for dining on rubber bands. Unfortunately, to obtain a safe internal temperature on the eggs in the stuffing, I think it ended up crossing the "tender" boundary... if you can ever really call squid tender.

What was a pleasant surprise was how delicious the filling was. There was more filling than was needed to fill the squid I had, so I decided to saute it up with some added scrambled egg. What a delightful combination of flavors! The contrast of the sweet currents, the tangy lemon, and the nutty edge from the pine nuts was fabulous... and beautiful! While I can't recommend the squid application, I can whole-heartedly recommend this rice dish.

You need pre-cooked rice for this dish. Either use left over rice or cook some ahead of time. You need 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice. I advise toasting the pine nuts first. Nuts just have so much better flavor when they're toasted.

Greek Rice
Yield: 4 side servings

2 TBS olive oil
2 scallions, diced
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup currents
2 TBS minced fresh parsley
2 tsp lemon zest
3 eggs, divided

Mix the scallions, rice, pine nuts, currents, parsley, and zest with one of the eggs that has been slightly beaten in a bowl and set aside. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Scramble the two remaining eggs in the skillet. When the eggs are almost cooked through, add the remaining ingredients and saute, stirring regularly, until the rice is heated through.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Brownie Pudding

Who here likes ooey-gooey brownies? If you do, read the following post at your own peril. This recipe may be the simplest rich and decadent dessert around. You can make it less than six minutes. How's that for wonderful... or dangerous?

I'm almost embarrassed to post this recipe. It came about as a result of my uncontrolled and unabashed sweet-tooth. When my husband is out of town and I want to indulge - but only once - this is what I've come up with; making a whole batch of anything is just too dangerous. This gem works great because while it is absolutely sinful and will completely and utterly cure what ails you, there won't be any leftovers.

My husband had a brownie hankering the other night, but as we've really been trying to not be so co-dependent about our eating, I thought I would introduce him to this treat. He's sold! Cured his hankering without compelling us to consume an entire pan of brownies between the two of us.

Now, I'm not saying this treat is good for you or reduced calorie... it really, really, really isn't. But provided you only make one serving per person, you can only imbibe once.

Brownie Pudding
Yield: 1 generous serving (multiply as many times as necessary)

1/4 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (I prefer the bittersweet, myself)
1 1/2 TBS butter
2 TBS sugar
1 whole egg
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 TBS all purpose flour

In a microwave proof glass bowl, heat the chocolate chips, butter, and sugar over medium-high heat in 30 second increments until the chips are almost melted. Stir until the chips are completely melted and the butter and sugar are incorporated. The texture will be somewhat grainy at this point from the sugar; have no fear.

Be sure the mixture is not too hot (if it is, let it cool down slightly) before adding the remaining ingredients as you do not want to scramble the eggs. Stir the egg, extract, and flour together with the melted chocolate until well mixed. Microwave on medium-high heat for one minute. Stir and then microwave on medium-high heat in 30 second increments, stirring between each, until you start to see the batter turn into a cake-like substance. At this point, go slow, heating just until most of the batter is no longer runny. If you over-do the cooking, it will not be as moist and gooey, so go easy.

Spoon into a serving bowl and top with whipped cream, if desired. I like how the whipped cream helps cut the chocolaty richness of the pudding and melts as it hits the heat. Yum! Yum! Yum!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

So... what have I been up to?

Here's our backyard before. Before sanity was restored to an insane place. The vines! The brush! The over-zealous trees! What's a girl to do?


Sweat and then sweat some more. Dang, but it's been hot. Hot, hot, hot. And humid, too. Drippy, nasty humid. Sheesh!

But it's been worth it. Just doesn't quite look like the same place, does it? And now I have some space to grow a few vegetables. It's not the same as the third of an acre garden I had in Ohio, but it's better than nothing!

It's not 100% done, but it's darn close. I've been laying some stone in an area of the yard that is too shady for lawn, but I ran about ten pavers shy of finishing the job. But I'm so close, I can taste the sweet refreshing scent of air conditioning. The good news is that I have been cooking some... I just need to get around to sharing the recipes with you. Stick around! New posts are just around the corner!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Meatball Soup

Well, today is my last day in beautiful Seattle. The weather has been quite cool the last few days and I am worried about returning to the hellish sauna called "home" tomorrow. I have had a wonderful time on this visit seeing family and friends and traveling around the state looking at cool rocks. After two weeks, though, I am a little ready to get back into my routine of home.

This week we're going to have our lawn re-sod and I am will be installing a small patio of flagstone and finishing some other odd jobs I haven't quite finished outside. Prepare to sweat!

In the meantime, while enjoying my last sweat-free day in a while, I'll share with you a recipe I whipped up before coming out here. This soup has a great, robust flavor that is both hardy and delectable. It's like a French onion soup with meat! A great compromise of flavors between my husband and me.

First, you need to make the meatballs. Forgive the slightly creepy look of the ingredients in this bowl. The roll of sausage just looks weird, I know, but when it's mixed with breadcrumbs, eggs, onion, and seasonings, they're mighty tasty.

Simply mix the meatball ingredients together and form one-inch balls out of the meat. Set aside on a plate or tray until the soup is ready for them.

In the meantime, start caramelizing a bunch of onions. I always start my onions over medium-high to high heat and then turn the heat down to medium-low once I see them starting to brown. It takes a bit of time to properly caramelize onions, so be patient. I think this amount of onions took me about 30 minutes. Once they have a nice color like you see here, proceed with adding the broth. Bring to a boil and add the meatballs. Cook for 10 minutes at a low boil (reduce heat as necessary) and then at the very end add the Madeira (a fortified cooking wine) and chopped spinach. The soup can then be served immediately.

Meatball Soup
Yield: 6 servings

2 onions, halved and sliced
1 TBS butter

1 lb pork sausage
1/3 cup minced onion
1 tsp minced parsley (fresh or dried)
1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1 egg
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt

6 cups chicken broth
2 TBS Madeira
2 cups loosely packed, chopped fresh spinach

Heat a skillet over medium-high to high heat. Melt the butter and add the sliced onions. Toss onions to coat with butter and then cook, stirring occasionally until they just start to brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring from time to time, until the onions are caramelized and show a nice, rich, brown color. It should take about 3o minutes.

While the onions are cooking, mix the meatball ingredients together and form into one-inch balls. Set aside completed meatballs on a tray or plate.

When the onions are done, add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the meatballs gently to the broth and cook for 10 minutes. Reduce heat as necessary to maintain a gentle boil. Once the meatballs are cooked through, add the Madeira and the spinach. Serve immediately.
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