Tag Archives: Seasonal & Holiday

Dee Dee’s Broccoli Casserole

8 May

My mom is affectionately known as Aunt Dee Dee or just Dee Dee to all of her nieces and nephews. She is the fun, crazy aunt who not only lets you throw a ball in the house, but is often the one to initiate and participate in said indoors throwing game. I was jealous of my cousins as a teenager because at that age, I thought my mom was a way cooler aunt than mom. But now I have a little more perspective (and a little less attitude), and I more remember all the fun and crazy projects my mom cooked up over the years, which now loom much larger than the fights and arguments we were having when I was in high school. For example, my Double Dare birthday party was the coolest party of the 4th grade, complete with pie-throwing contests, tricycle races, and a relay race that involved massive amounts of butter, popcorn, Jell-o, and a Slip ‘N’ Slide.

My mom is also a pretty amazing chef, and it’s humbling to think back over the years at how she taught herself new skills in the kitchen. When my siblings were very young (before I was around) and our family didn’t have a lot of money, they ate a lot of casseroles, soups, and one-pot meals. They were classic, homey meals that were cheap and easy to put together, perfect for a mom working crazy hours with 2 small kids. But by the time I came along, my parents were a little more settled. My mom left work to stay at home with us, and our meals became more complex, fresh, and nutritious. By the time my little sisters were in the picture, the family was eating ethnic foods like Indian and Japanese, and our meals had a lot more fresh produce and a lot less cream of mushroom soup.

I think this trend is very interesting from a sociological standpoint, but I also think that from a personal view, I became very used to learning about food and trying new things. Now my mom and I swap ideas for new foods, new recipes, and how to use the massive quantities of rosemary she gets from the rosemary bush in her backyard big enough to hide two toddlers in (speaking from experience). I regularly call her for advice (“Mom, 10 people are showing up for dinner in 20 minutes, and I ran out of ___. What should I do!?” or “Mom, this chicken I just cooked is, like, gray… If I eat it, will it kill me?”), and I give her tips I pick up from health food nuts and farmers’ markets in my more liberal small town. My goal one day is to be able to take a quick glance into a pantry or refrigerator and put together a dinner plan, just like I’ve seen her do a million times. I’m not that comfortable or familiar yet with food, ingredients, and recipes, but I think I’m getting there.

When I was staring at the broccoli – this month’s seasonal produce – and trying to figure out what to do with it, I could not stop thinking about broccoli casserole. This is a huge throwback dish, something my mom made relatively regularly when I was a kid. I loved it so much, I think I even requested it as part of my birthday dinner one year. But as I explained above, our family has trended over time toward more nutritious foods, so this is a dish that my mom no longer makes or eats. It’s very unhealthy, especially since I only want it if she agrees to my request for extra cheese. Every year at Thanksgiving she proposes leaving it out, and every year my siblings, cousins, and I demand that we have it. It’s a Thanksgiving staple that I generally only have once a year. So she agrees to its presence at our Thanksgiving table, but one of us has to make it ourselves. It’s a very simple recipe that can be made in 15 minutes or less. So here it is… Dee Dee’s Broccoli Casserole.

Start with 1 bag frozen broccoli. Thaw it completely (on the counter or in the microwave) and chop it into bite-sized pieces. Spread it in the bottom of a glass casserole dish. Top with a layer of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Broccoli and cheeseSpread a layer of cream of mushroom soup over top the cheese.

Cream of Mushroom SoupAnd now spread another layer of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese. Cover with plastic wrap, cut a slit in the center, and cook it in the microwave on high for 5-7 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the broccoli is cooked.

More CheeseI hadn’t made this in a long time, but I knew the cheese was the most important part, so I just kept adding some. I wasn’t sure how much was necessary. When I pulled it out of the microwave, it really just looked like a dish of cheese with a few broccoli bumps. I realized I went a little overboard, but obviously it was good because I tried to take a picture a few minutes later, but people were already digging in!

Broccoli Casserole

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

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Seasonal Ingredient: Broccoli (end of April-May)

2 May

Broccoli is a rather short-lived crop in North Carolina, so when I checked my produce schedule and realized I only had a month to profile these tiny trees, I decided I better get crackin’. I researched broccoli a little bit, and I found out that it is a cruciferous vegetable What does this mean? I have no idea. But I do know that broccoli is super healthy! Check this out:

Broccoli Nutrient Chart

Vitamin C and Vitamin K are off the chart!

I never really thought much about how cooking style affects the nutrients of what you eat. But this is apparently a big deal when it comes to broccoli. Here’s the gist: you shouldn’t boil broccoli because it will lose all its nutrients and basically become pointless. Stir-frying and microwaving are not fantastic options, but aren’t terrible. The best way to prepare broccoli is to steam it. This website gives a lot of information on why this is the case, and why the other methods suck, but that’s the most important part. Read here for basic preparation of broccoli.

a.k.a. Tiny Trees

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand why the standard sitcom punchline for which food kids hate was broccoli. I didn’t think broccoli was so bad. As an adult, I now realize this is because my mom only ever served broccoli completely smothered with cheese. Delicious! I now eat broccoli prepared in more ways than just cheese-drenched, though that is my favorite. Check out there delicious broccoli recipes:

Sorry none of my broccoli recipes are super healthy. But there were just too good to pass up. Okay fine, here’s a healthy recipe for you: Chop up some broccoli, separating the tree part (floret) from the trunk part (stem). Throw the stems into your steamer or steam pot and steam for 2 minutes. Then throw in the florets and steam for 5 more minutes. Serve immediately as is, or garnished with dressing, herbs, or some such. So easy!

Spinach and Salmon Salad

24 Apr

On Friday, the BF and I had the day off, and we took a little time to try to throw together a nice lunch. We wanted something light and healthy because we were anticipating a weekend’s worth of delicious, fatty food, what with Betsy Bundt‘s wedding on Saturday (don’t fret… I’ll have more cupcake and decorating gossip on that later) and Sunday supper with the family. So we hopped on our bikes and rode to Trader Joe’s to pick up some veggies.

Upon our return, the BF fired up the George Foreman and seasoned the salmon with a dusting of chili powder while I assembled the salad. Actually, the truth is, he pretty much did all of it while I moped around the kitchen in a post-exercise, hunger-induced daze. I did, however, manage to make us each a fruit and yogurt parfait for dessert, and then consume every last bit of mine while he made lunch.

In our salad, we had a bed of organic spinach (a seasonal ingredient available in North Carolina March through December!), carrots, walnuts, goat cheese, and croutons. I found that if you scrape the goat cheese with a fork instead of try to cut it with a knife, then nice little crumbs will fall evenly all over the salad, instead of clumping together.

After the BF finished mastering the electric grill (he suggests medium-low heat, about 4-5 minutes on each side), we added a salmon fillet right on top. Carrots + salmon… weird!? But hey, there are no rules in this kitchen. I drizzled mine with some Italian dressing and the BF chose a light cucumber ranch dressing. It was super delicioso!

"Parfaits got layers! Everybody loves parfaits!" Too old? Too lame? Yes.

As I said, for dessert we had a yogurt and fruit parfait, though I had already eaten mine by this point. I mixed 1 part nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt and 1 part store-bought cream cheese fruit dip (to sweeten it a bit — this is dessert, after all) in a small bowl. I filled the bottom of these cute little glasses with grapes, then a spoonful of my yogurt mixture, then blueberries, then yogurt, then mandarin oranges. A small dollop of yogurt on top made it camera-ready.

Healthy Lunch!

How Sue Sees It:

  • I know this recipe is a bit of a scam, since most salad recipes are lame. I mean, does anyone really need a recipe to make a salad? Put vegetables on a plate and top it with salmon. There, you’re done.
  • If you don’t want to buy the fruit dip, you can easily mix your own — my mom, Susie Senior, makes a great one with one part marshmallow creme/fluff and one part strawberry cream cheese. So your overall mixture would be one part marshmallow fluff, one part cream cheese (choose your flavor), and two parts yogurt.

Mostly Organic Spinach Cupcakes

6 Apr

When I first started trying to figure out how to make leafy greens into a dessert, I thought of spinach. If you can make a carrot cake that doesn’t take like vegetables, why not a spinach cake? Thank goodness for the internet, because the only sweet spinach cake I could find was on this great blog about Turkish food. So I found Binnur’s original Spinach Cake (Ispanakli kek) recipe, adjusted it a little, and got to work.

I started with the spinach, which I bought organic since spinach is one of the Dirty Dozen vegetables. I bought 2 5-oz packages organic spinach, snapped the roots off, and pureed it all in the food processor. Side note: this was the first time I ever used a food processor, and it was amazing. I can’t wait to find other things to process.

BeforeAfter
I set the spinach aside so I could start the batter. First I preheated the oven to 375 F. In a large mixing bowl, I blended 3 organic eggs and 2 cups sugar with a hand mixer on low for about a minute. Then I added 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon organic vanilla, and all the spinach and blended until it all incorporated.

IngredientsThen I slowly added 2 1/2 cups flour and 1 tsp baking powder. I blended that for about two minutes longer.

Batter

Cupcake Batter
Then I scooped the batter into paper-lined muffin cups. I popped them into the oven and baked for about 18 minutes, until it passed the toothpick test.

Muffin or Cupcake? Muffcake!

Spinach Cakes

I tasted one and it was actually pretty good! It smelled like spinach but tasted like cake. Though I will say, I kept some plain ones in a sealed plastic container for a couple days, and when I took the lid off, that was some strong spinach smell. I decided it could use some frosting, so I whipped up some vanilla buttercream.

I dropped 1 stick softened organic butter (1/2 cup) into a mixing bowl and blended it with a hand mixer for just 30 seconds or so till it was smooth. Then I added 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar and blended on low until incorporated. Then I added 1 tablespoon organic vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons organic heavy cream. I blended on medium for about 2 minutes. Once it was the perfect texture, I frosted the cupcakes.

Spinach Cupcake!The vanilla buttercream balanced the spinach cake perfectly and made for a pretty light but sweet cake. And unusual too!

How Sue Sees It:
– You could probably serve these without the frosting and call them muffins, but they’re still pretty sweet. And they’re better with the frosting anyway.
– This is a great option for people who need to hide vegetables in food in order to get kids or spouses to eat them, a la Jessica Seinfeld.
– This would also be great to serve for a St. Patrick’s Day party!
– I took them to a party and was very hesitant and almost apologetic about serving spinach cupcakes. I explained what they were, and then went back outside to move my car to a more legal parking spot. By the time I got back 10 minutes later, there were only 3 left! I guess they were good.

Like hotcakes!