Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spaghetti Squash and Veggie Bake

I threw together a casserole-ish meal today before church, so all we had to do to get ready for our weekly Family Meal was throw it in the oven when we got home and wait for guests to bring the breads and dessert!  Quite the life, I tell you.  Plus, after dinner there was only one pan to wash.  (Well, two, because I made a pot of pasta as well.)  This looked alarmingly soupy when it came out of the oven, so much so that I made pasta so I could pretend that the entree was ACTUALLY a really big baked pan of sauce.  It solidified again after 5 or 10 minutes, making the pasta irrelevant for everyone except the kids, and everyone really enjoyed it.  Definitely a make-again!

As always, amounts are up to you, but I'm going to list what I did.  I had an "empty the fridge"type of vibe going on, so play around!  I had a large (Costco-sized) open bottle of sauce to use up too- if you'd rather make your own, that's great!  Diced tomatoes or canned tomatoes would be a really great substitute too, and not so soupy.  Just add them at the end of the saute process to the other vegetables, and skip everything that refers to the sauce.

1 spaghetti squash

1 large jar spaghetti sauce
white vinegar (optional)

1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic,chopped
1 ear of corn, cut off the cob
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrot rounds
a pinch of red pepper flakes
ground black pepper

4 cups grated mozzarella cheese

To prepare the spaghetti squash, cut in half and scoop out seeds. Rub the flesh with olive oil and place cut-side-down on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.  Bake at 350 for 30-60 minutes until a sharp knife easily pierces the skin and flesh.  Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Heat spaghetti sauce (if using) over low heat.  Add white vinegar a tablespoon at a time if sauce is too sweet for your liking, until it tastes the way you want it to.

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet, and saute the onion and carrots until softened, then add the remaining ingredients and finish sauteeing.

In a large casserole pan (I used a dutch oven) spread a bit of sauce, half the spaghetti squash (scrape out of shell with a fork), and half the veggie mixture.  Top generously with shredded mozzarella, then repeat the four layers.  You can refrigerate this until you're ready to cook, which I recommend doing as it helps the flavors meld together.

Bake covered at 350 until hot and bubbly, then remove lid and let it brown a bit.  I let mine bake about an hour, straight from the fridge, and left it uncovered for an additional 20 minutes or so.  But mine was so saucy, there was no danger of it over-browning.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Make Your Own Drinkable Yogurt

Have you seen the drinkable yogurts at the store?  Perhaps in technicolored packaging, meant for kids?  Super simple to make!  They're only thinned-down yogurt, after all.  I hesitated to post this- it's so basic, but such a quick and easy and NUTRITIOUS snack.  (Probiotics, low fat, good's nutritious, right?)

I like to plop some yogurt into one of those plastic tupperware shakers- you know, the kind with a big ol' star insert and a flip top lid?  Pour in milk, and then whatever flavors look good that day.  Today it was honey and a bit of thin jam, I just used the liquid-ish portion of my favorite plum jam and left the fruit chunks behind for another day's sandwich. I make my own yogurt, and it's pretty tart, so that's why the double dose of sweet.  Plus, I'm pregnant.  I just really like sweets, OK?

This makes an easy and quick breakfast, or an afternoon snack.  A spoon and a big cup would probably work just as well, but you'd have to work a little harder to get the lumps out, and I don't like to work that hard!

I actually prefer my yogurt this way, it gets rid of any texture issues left over from my childhood.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pineapple-Sage and Green Onion Cheese Ball

Is there anyone that doesn’t love a good cheese ball? In my family, every New Years Eve found us with a counter full of chips, chocolates, Christmas cookies, pretzels, dips…and a cheese ball. Always a cheese ball. They were those yellow ones, covered in slivered almonds.


Those are tasty, of course, and will always hold a special place in my heart, but now that I have made my own a few times…I don’t think there’s any going back.


I started out in the garden, where I have a rather robust Pineapple Sage plant. I had never heard of Pineapple Sage before this year, but it’s exactly what it sounds like. A sage plant with emerald leaves…that taste like pineapple.


After that, I took a few hints from a recipe I found in a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Some cream cheese, some butter, handfuls of a shredded cheddar and Monterey mix, plus some green onions from my windowsill.


I wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap and left it in a round bowl overnight to cure in the refrigerator.


In the morning, it got a good roll around in chopped toasted pecans and more chopped pineapple sage.


It was quite a hit!


Aunt LoLo’s Pineapple Sage and Green Onion Cheese Ball

Makes one large cheese ball, appropriate for a large party. Recipe can be adapted to your tastes, and the size of your group.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine:


16 oz. cream cheese, softened

4 oz. butter, softened

2 c. mixed shredded cheese

2 T. milk

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. cracked pepper

1/4 cup snipped green onions

1/4 cup chopped pineapple-sage


Mix with the paddle attachment until the ingredients are well combined.  Line a bowl with plastic wrap, letting it hang over the edges of the bowl, and press your cheese mixture in. Wrap your overhanging wrap over the cheese and press. Leave the cheese ball in the refrigerator overnight to cure.


On the day of the party, unmold your cheese ball and cover with:


Toasted, chopped pecans and extra pineapple sage


Serve with crackers.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cold Marinated Artichoke Heart Dip


I made up this recipe for a baby shower recently. I wanted the flavor of marinated artichoke hearts, but didn’t have a way to conveniently fuss with a hot dip. All of the recipes I could find were for hot dip and, although it is one of my favorite things in the world, I just didn’t have a way to do it for this party.


Enter…the food processor. Enjoy!

Aunt LoLo’s Cold Marinated Artichoke Heart Dip

In the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a blade, combine:

2 cups mayonnaise

16 marinated artichoke heart quarters


Pulse or blend until the artichokes are finely chopped and the mixture looks dip-able. Season with salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste.


Remove the dip to a bowl with a lid (preferably a non-plastic one, so it doesn’t leave its scent behind) and refrigerate overnight for best flavor.


Best served ice cold. (It just tastes better. Go figure!)


Tastes great with veggies or crackers.

Best Sugar Cookies INTHEWORLD!

These are the best sugar cookies in the world, with a big bowl of cream cheese frosting. IMG_7425

The kidlets like them with sprinkles.


Or you can take the more classical approach.



These cookies are soft. They melt in your mouth. They’re delicious. I’m embarrassed to say it, but they taste just like the Lofthouse cookies that you can find in nearly any Pacific Northwest grocery store bakery. (Except, of course, that they aren’t full of preservatives and can’t be kept at room temperature for up to three weeks before they start to suffer.) That, to me, is the highest compliment I can give a sugar cookie. I adore Lofthouse cookies.

When I was in high school, one of my youth leaders at church made incredible cookies. They were so good, in fact, they could even lure my usually shy mother away from her home, and caring for my three younger siblings, and into various church functions.


As one particular function was approaching (Young Women in Excellence), this youth leader and I were given charge of organizing an edible favor for the other young women, and their parents. Since Karen, the leader, made such delicious cookies, my mother suggested (begged?) that I suggest those as favors. And that I ought to help with the prep. And take notes.


With Karen’s permission, I did take notes. Our baking day still stands out vividly in my mind. It was during our Christmas break, and we had quite a snowstorm. At 11 am, there was still a foot of snow on the ground, and a good six inches of slush in the roads. (If you know Seattle, you know that is odd.)  I carefully picked my way through the slippery slush, walking the four blocks to Karen’s house. I can still remember how impressed I was with her efficient kitchen. She had a pantry in the hall, just outside of the kitchen, with pre-cut sheets of parchment paper. It blew my mind, at the time, seeing a kitchen that was so specialized for one branch of the culinary arts. In fact, it might have been her that first gave me the notion that every kitchen should have  a cookie jar, and every week should find the cookie jar replenished.


I recently threw a baby shower for a friend at church, and made the cookies for the first time in nearly 15 years. I had never attempted to make them myself. Even though I had the recipe, I never found a reason to use it. These are not cookie-jar cookies, and most parties around here call for cupcakes, not decorated cookies.


My first attempt (a double batch) was tasty, but my technique was off. Obviously, my note-taking skills were a little off. I didn’t watch the order of the ingredients, or the mixing going on between adding ingredients to the bowl!


I tried again, another double batch, and made nearly perfect cookies. (The original cookies included almond flavoring, instead of vanilla. If I can get my hands on some good quality almond flavor, then I’ll be in business!)


One more note – most sugar cookie doughs are refrigerated before they can be rolled or cut. This dough does not need to be refrigerated. This is a major plus, since these cookies can go from cupboard to oven in about 15 minutes. They can be frosted as soon as the cookies are cool.

Best Sugar Cookies in the World

Adapted from Karen Palmer’s recipe

If rolled out 1/4” thick, this makes 14 large cookies. The recipe can be doubled, or tripled.



3/4 cup Crisco

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla or almond flavoring

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

2 1/2 cups flour, divided


Preheat the oven to 400 and prep two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.


Cream together:

3/4 cup Crisco

1 cup white sugar


With the mixer on medium low, add:

2 eggs, one at a time

1 tsp. vanilla or almond flavoring

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt


When everything is uniformly mixed in, add :

two cups of flour 

Mix just until flour is incorporated evenly.


Place a cup with 1/2 cup flour in it next to your workspace, and then sprinkle your workspace liberally. Turn out the dough and carefully roll it out. You want it thick, 1/4-1/2 inch.  Cut out your cookies and carefully remove to a prepared baking sheet. (I used a flat metal spatula for this, and cut out my cookies with a 3” biscuit cutter.)


Bake for 8-9 minutes, but check them often through the glass after 6. As soon as the bottom edges begin to turn golden, you want to take the cookies out of the oven.


While the cookies are baking, gently re-form and re-roll the remaining dough. Make sure you sprinkle your workspace with flour again. Cut out cookies and repeat above process. On your second cookie sheet. (It is important that you use at least two cookie sheets, since the sheets need to be COOL when the cookies are placed on them.)


(The original recipe indicates that dough should ONLY be rolled out twice. I rolled mine out three or four times. The third time was OK. The fourth time, and the cookie I made from patting together the resulting scraps, were perfect warm out of the oven. They didn’t make it further than that, but I imagine they’d be a bit tougher.)


Allow to cool on the baking sheet for one minute, and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.


Icing: (makes enough to ice 4 dozen cookies)

In an electric mixer, combine:

6 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup corn syrup

3 T. butter, softened

1/2 cup water

1 tsp. vanilla


Beat until smooth, and add dye as desired.


This makes a thick icing, suitable for spreading with a spatula but perhaps not still enough for intricate piping. It stays quite soft, and so is not really appropriate for individually wrapped cookies, and the cookies should NOT be stacked without waxed paper between them.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Creamed Tuna with Peas


When I was a little girl, I adored something called Tuna Wiggle. (I think it could also be called Tuna Noodle Casserole, but I had my trusty little Klutz cookbook, and they called it Tuna Wiggle. So…Tuna Wiggle it is.)


Tuna Wiggle was one of the first things I learned to cook. It usually came in the form of Creamed Tuna on Toast. This was even easier to make, and the recipe went something like this: In a medium saucepan, combine one can cream of mushroom soup, one drained can of tuna, one 1 lb. bag of frozen peas. Add a little milk if it’s too thick. Serve it on toast, and eat with a knife and fork.


As tasty as that was, when I was craving something creamy and warm and tuna-ish the other day, I knew I could do better. (Besides, I had not one can of cream of anything in the pantry.)


And I think I’ve done it. It starts with a basic white sauce, using the recipe that my father taught me. He, in turn, learned it from his grandmother. Add to that a can of your favorite tuna, as many frozen peas as you like, and a few generous handfuls of cheese, and you have a delicious and grown-up version of a childhood favorite!


We served this over rice because I’d been craving some creamy, cheesy casserole-type rice, but it would be equally delicious over noodles, toast or quinoa!


(Ok, so nothing’s different from the original recipe except that I used a homemade cheese sauce instead of the canned cream of mushroom soup. Still, it’s something that I don’t keep in the pantry anymore. If you do…well, then, follow the recipe above.)


Creamed Tuna with Peas


2 T. butter

4 T.  flour

2 cup milk

2 cups grated cheese

1 pound frozen peas

1 can tuna, drained

salt and pepper, to taste


In a skillet, melt your butter. When it is good and melted, add your flour and stir it up. Cook this for 2-3 minutes to make sure your finished product doesn’t have a Raw Flour Taste. (Not good, my friends!) Pull out your milk jug and add milk, a little at a time, whisking as you go to make sure you don’t get any lumps. Continue to stir in milk, whisking like mad, until you get the consistency that you want. (2 cups is really an approximation. I usually just pull out the jug, and keep adding milk until it looks right.) As the sauce continues to cook, it will thicken, so this whole process will take a few minutes.


Once your sauce is to the consistency that you like, it’s time to add your peas and tuna. When the peas are cooked through, then it is time to add the cheese. Make sure it doesn’t boil after this point, because the sauce will revolt and leave you with…something not great. (I’m not sure what will happen. This fact was so drilled into me as a child, I’ve never let it boil! I think the cheese will cook and fall apart, leaving chunky, oily sauce.) Season with salt and pepper, and you’re golden!

Serve over rice, noodles, quinoa, boiled wheat or anything else that would benefit from a creamy, lovely sauce!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fresh Tomato Sauce

Made a quick tomato sauce for dinner tonight from our blemished tomatoes- it was done by the time the pasta was pulled out of the pot, and killed a big pile of ugly roma and early girl tomaters. PLUS, it was delicious, if a bit runny. My dried spices are getting a bit low- I would have added basil if it were available, but neither cupboard nor garden is abundant in basil right now!

The amounts are approximate.

2 pounds slicing tomatoes (10-15 small tomatoes)
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried oregano

Heat oil in a skillet, and add minced garlic. Cook until fragrant, and add chopped tomatoes. Add remaining ingredients, cover, and let simmer. Taste for seasoning. Smash a bit if you like.
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