Blueberry-Cheesecake French Toast Casserole

OK, it’s Labor Day weekend… having a nice time with some family and pretty much a laid back weekend. Nice way to end the summer. Kids are heading home this afternoon, so decided to try a new recipe for a hearty breakfast. I subscribe to “Clean Eating” magazine and often find some “winners” for recipes. Today I hit the mark big time. Julia O’Hara had a recipe for Blueberry Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast. As I read through it, I made a few minor modifications and put it on the table to rave reviews.

Blueberry-Cheesecake French Toast for a weekend breakfast

Blueberry French Toast

Ingredients:

  • 10-12 slices of whole-grain bread.
  • 1 cup part-skim Ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup low fat cream cheese (use the real-deal if you wish 🙂
  • 5 eggs, divided
  • 4 Tbsp organic raw cane sugar (regular sugar should work – the original calls for evaporated cane juice so I used what I had)
  • 2 cups (1 pint) fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon (I’m generous with this)
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 cup sliced unsalted almonds

    For the Blueberry Sauce:

  • 2 cups fresh blueberries (more doesn’t hurt)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp. organic raw cane sugar
  • Recipe didn’t call for it, but some lemon zest might be interesting
Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 350 & lightly grease a 13 x 9 inch pan. Place half the bread in the pan, covering the bottom and cutting crusts as necessary to fit.
  • Combine cream cheese, Ricotta cheese, 1 Tbsp. sugar, and 1 egg in food processor. Blend until smooth.
  • Pour the mixture over the bread and then layer a pint off blueberries on top of this. Cover with remaining bread slices, cutting crusts as needed to fit.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together 4 eggs, the milk, 1 Tbsp. sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, & salt. Pour this over the top of the bread.
  • Mix the almonds and 1 Tbsp. sugar and then sprinkle over the bread evenly.
  • Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 10 more minutes. Then turn your broiler on and broil for 2-5 minutes (watch carefully) to get a nice lightly browned crust. Remove from oven and cool a few minutes before serving.
  • While toast is baking, combine the remaining pint of blueberries, 1/2 cup water, and 2 Tbsp. sugar in a small pan. Bring to boil, and then simmer 5-10 minutes until the berries burst and sauce begins to thicken. Add lemon zest if desired.
To serve, divide casserole as you would a cake and place 2-3 Tbsp. blueberry sauce over the top. The way my crew dumped on the blueberry sauce, I’m thinking another cup of blueberries wouldn’t be the worst thing in the sauce – add another 1/4 cup water and adjust as needed. Hope you enjoy this as much as we did and thanks to Ms. O’Hara!

Steel-Cut Oatmeal

I’m a breakfast person. Having some food in the morning makes me think better and generally feel better the rest of the day. Have a few things I rotate through for breakfast depending on my mood. One thing I’ve been into this past winter is steel cut oatmeal. It’s

Uncooked Steel-Cut Oats

different than the rolled oats you get in the store. It is the whole grain groat (inner portion of kernel) that has been cut into 2-3 pieces with steel rather than rolled. It looks a bit like rice, except a golden brown.

There are a lot of minor variations on how to cook steel-cut oats. Here’s what I currently use.

Steel-Cut Oats (serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups 1% milk (I generally use organic milk)
  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Honey & cinnamon to taste

Directions

  1. Combine water, milk, & salt in small cooking pot
  2. Heat until just boiling on medium heat. (NOTE: Watch carefully!! With milk, it will come to a boil quickly).
  3. Add oats and vanilla. Cook on medium-low, until done. Stir frequently (like every minute or two – you don’t want this sticking to the bottom of the pot!)
  4. It takes 20-25 minutes to cook. It has a pearly texture when finished cooking.
  5. Pour into 4 cereal bowls. Top with honey and cinnamon.
  6. You may wish to serve with fruit and/or maple syrup. My husband puts chocolate syrup on his and thinks it tastes like chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. Thin with additional milk or water if needed.

You can make this with only water, but the milk gives it a nice creamy flavor. You can find steel-cut oats in most grocery stores. It’s a bit spendy, but my son has found it for a fraction of the price at a local food coop.

Seafood Corn Chowder

Winter’s almost over and spring “should” be just around the corner. The soups may be put aside for awhile, but want to publish one more that we’ve eaten several times this past winter. I got the original recipe from my “Clean Eating” magazine, and as usual, made a few changes. Here’s our rendition…

Seafood Corn Chowder

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers, minced (amount depends on heat desired)
  • 2 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika (This IS different from the typical Sweet Hungarian Paprika)
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 4 medium sized potatoes, diced
  • 3 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 1 cup milk (1% or 2%)

Directions

  1. Heat oil in soup pot. Add onion, garlic, carrots, celery; season with salt & pepper.  Cook until soft (8-10 minutes)
  2. Add jalapeno, paprika & thyme & cook an additional minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Add broth, bring to boil. Add potatoes, reduce heat to simmer until potatoes are just tender (8-10 minutes)
  4. Add corn & milk. Simmer 3-5 more minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Pour 3-4 cups of soup mixture into a small bowl. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Pour back into soup mixture. This thickens the soup without using a flour mixture and still leave the texture of the veggies.
  6. Add scallops, shrimp, & scallions/parsley. Cook until fish is done (or warmed if using frozen fish).
  7. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with additional parsley or scallions for a finishing touch.

The interesting thing about this soup is the use of the smoked paprika to give it a smokey taste. If you wish, you could add or replace this with a few slices of cooked, crumbled bacon. The choice is yours 🙂

Chicken Wild Rice Soup

I love soups of all kinds, and this winter weather makes me want a bowl of soup even more.  Today we are in a “blizzard warning,” so figured some comfort food was in order. There are a lot of variations on Chicken Wild Rice Soup, so I took one a few years ago and made it mine. I believe I picked up the original from my Cooking Light magazine. The ingredient list may seem long, but it really doesn’t take a lot to put this soup together.

Chicken Wild Rice Soup

Chicken Wild Rice Soup

Ingredients

  • 1.5 – 2 cups cooked Wild Rice, cooked according to package instructions & drained – amount depends on thickness desired.
  • 1.5 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 1.5 cups onions, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped, diced, or sliced
  • 1 cup celery, sliced
  • 1 (8 oz.) package mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups chicken broth, low sodium
  • Additional water if needing to thin soup
  • 3 Tbsp. dry sherry (optional or sub a dry white wine at 1/2 cup)
  • 1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk (I’ve substituted 2% milk with good results)
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1.5 tsp. thyme
  • 3/4 tsp tarragon
  • 3 cups roasted chicken, cut into small pieces or shredded
  • 1/3 cup parsley, minced

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in soup pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Sauté the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, mushrooms until tender (6-8 minutes)
  3. Add the thyme and tarragon. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook an additional minute, stirring constantly.
  4. Add the broth, water, sherry, and milk. Bring mixture to a low boil, and cook 2o minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently.
  5. Add chicken and wild rice. Bring to boil and cook an additional 5-10 minutes.
  6. Add parsley and cook and additional minute or two.
  7. Season with salt and pepper as desired.
  8. Serve and enjoy. This feeds 4 of us with rarely any leftovers (we have more than one bowl).

Vanilla Mashed Sweet Potatoes

I really like the fall orange vegetables available this time of year. I particularly like sweet potatoes and will pop one in the toaster oven for a meal. I’ll season it with cinnamon, various curries, nutmeg, or whatever suits me at the moment. Recently, I saw a recipe for Mashed Sweet Potatoes with vanilla. Made a few changes and served it up for Thanksgiving. It was well received.

Vanilla Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 4 large sweet potatoes or 6 medium sized ones
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg, fresh grated is best
  • 1 tsp. grated orange zest

Directions

  1. Cut ends off sweet potatoes and bake in oven at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hr or until done.
  2. Remove potatoes from oven and cool long enough so that you can handle them to peel skins off. Cut in chunks and place in medium sized bowl.
  3. Put milk and orange zest in small cooking pan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrap seeds. Put all in milk mixture, bring to just simmer, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the long vanilla bean. (the aroma of this is just heavenly!)
  4. Add milk mixture, butter, and nutmeg to peeled sweet potatoes. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Add more milk if mixture is too thick for you. Serve with sea salt and white pepper for additional seasoning if desired.

Homemade Chicken Soup

Another comfort food for our family is Homemade Chicken Soup. We make it several times every winter and it has become a

Homemade Chicken Soup

tradition for our Christmas Eve meal. My daughter & husband were home for a week and she asked me to make soup while she was home. Here’s the recipe, but note, that there is a lot of flexibility & measurements are not precise to say the least.

Homemade Chicken Soup

First, make the broth:

  • 1  3-4 lb chicken, thawed if frozen (I put in the whole chicken, but you could cut it up if you wish)
  • 3-4 Bay leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. thyme
  • 1 Tbsp. sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 large onion, cut in half
  • 2-4 whole cloves (put them in the onion halves)
  • 1 bulb garlic, cut in half
  • 1-2 carrots, cut in large chunks
  • 3-4 stalks celery, cut in large chunks
  1. Put all ingredients in a large pressure cooker. Put enough water in it to just cover the chicken.
  2. Put pressure cooker on stove, cover and heat to boiling, cooking for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Put the pressure cooker weight on the steam vent when it has been putting out steam for several minutes. Cook at 12 lbs pressure for 45 minutes. Turn the heat off and let pressure come back to normal.
  4. Remove the cover from the pressure cooker carefully… drain the chicken broth using a colander into a large stock pan. Discard all solids except the chicken. Remove the meat from the chicken bones and refrigerate until you make the soup. Put the broth in the refrigerator overnight. The next day you can remove any fat that rises to the top.
  5. You should now have some lovely chicken broth.
  6. If you don’t have a pressure cooker or choose not to use one, you can simmer all the above ingredients in a stock pot for several hours until the chicken is done and pulling easily from the bones.

Now put the soup together:

  • 3/4 cup pearled barley
  • 1 lb. carrots, sliced
  • 5-6 stalks celery, sliced
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • Diced chicken from the broth above – add as much as you wish. Sometimes I put some aside for sandwiches or another dish.
  • 1 large bunch parsley, chopped (either curly parsley or flat Italian parsley)
  • Chicken broth made above
  1. Put chicken broth on stove and heat to boiling.
  2. Rinse pearled barley in warm water and then add to the chicken broth. Cook 30 minutes or until almost done.
  3. Add carrots, celery, & onions. Cook 15-20 minutes or until done.
  4. Add the chicken and heat until simmering.
  5. Add parsley and cook another 5-10 minutes.
  6. Adjust seasoning with salt & pepper.
  7. Serve with fresh bread or crackers.

I will sometimes add diced potatoes in addition to or in place of the barley.

Banana Bread

Today was a lazy day for me…. Saturday and no work. But there were 3 ripe bananas sitting on the counter, so decided to make banana bread. Haven’t made it for awhile, so pulled out my recipe and “doctored” it up a bit. Here’s the result. If I do say so, it was delicious!!

Banana Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Sucanat (you can substitute 1 cup granulated sugar, but the slight molasses flavor of sucanat gives it a good flavor – maybe add 1 Tbsp. molasses to the sugar – just a thought)
  • 1/2 cup Butter, softened,
  • 2 Eggs, large
  • 3 ripe Bananas
  • 1.5 Tbsp. Milk
  • 1/4 cup ground Flax Seed
  • 1 3/4 cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
  • 1 tsp. Sea Salt
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/2 cup Chopped Nuts of your choice (i.e. walnuts, pecans, almonds…)
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F
  2. Cream butter and sucanat. Add eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy.
  3. In separate bowl, mash bananas and milk. I used my immersion blender to make it nice and smooth. Add to butter mixture, combining until well mixed.
  4. In a large bowl, combine flour, flax seed meal, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.
  5. Add dry ingredients to banana-butter mixture, combining until flour just disappears. Do not over-mix. Adjust consistency with flour or milk if needed.
  6. Divide batter into 3 mini loaf pans (approx. size is 3.5 x 5.75 inches) that have been sprayed with a cooking spray. Bake for 40 minutes at 325 F or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let pans cool 5 minutes on a rack. Turn out of pans and enjoy!

I will sometimes put in 1/2 cup of mini-chocolate chips in this and that is awesome. Of course, we are of the opinion that chocolate rarely hurts anything!!

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches remind me of comfort food from my childhood. My Mother would make homemade tomato soup or use the Campbell’s condensed soup that we added milk to. I don’t have my Mother’s recipe and I’ve tried several different variations of tomato soup over the years. This one below is my current favorite. I initially found a similar soup from Sandra Lee, Food Network, and made some changes to suit our family.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2+ cups of diced onion
  • 2+ tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 4 cans (14-16 oz.) of roasted diced tomatoes (have used regular diced tomatoes when roasted diced not available, which does happen in my area of the country).
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry vermouth or dry sherry
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped (I’ve used dried when fresh is not available, but there’s something special about fresh basil)
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 cup 2% milk or cream

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot. Add garlic and onion and saute 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, except for milk/cream.
  3. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10-15 minutes.
  4. Remove pot from heat, and using an immersion blender, puree the soup.
  5. Add the milk and heat soup. Serve with additional basil if desired.

I like to serve this with grilled cheese sandwiches. I use whole grain breads, any cheese you like (provolone, sharp cheddar, smoked cheddar are some variations I’ve used). It’s also fun to make the grilled cheese in a Panini press or my George Foreman grill.

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

I’ve always loved pizza – any way you slice it. When I was younger growing up on a farm, my sister and I made pizza from scratch many Saturday nights. We’d enjoy it for supper and then have leftovers for breakfast on Sunday morning before we went to church. I still like pizza, but now I’m a bit more conscientious on the ingredients. One thing I really like to use is homemade whole wheat pizza dough for the crust. There a lots of variations on the Internet on pizza dough, so thought I’d put my version down….

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

Ingredients:

3 – 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups warm water (I make sure it’s warm to the wrist)

Showing off the homemade pizza & crust

1 Tbsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Directions:
1. Measure out the warm water and add sugar and yeast. Stir and let set 5-10 minutes until foamy. (If it doesn’t get foamy, the water is either too hot and you killed the yeast or too cold and it can’t “grow.”)
2. After the yeast mixture has become foamy, add the salt and olive oil.
3. In a medium sized bowl, add 3 cups flour. Pour in the yeast mixture and stir until combined. Add more flour if needed.
4. Put the flour mixture on a cutting board that has been lightly floured. Knead for 5-10 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour as needed.
5. Lightly oil the dough, put back in bowl, and cover with a dish towel. Let sit 1/2 hr to 1 hr or until dough has doubled in size. Punch dough down and knead a few more minutes. Put back in bowl, cover, and let rise another 30-45 minutes.
6. The dough should now be ready to make some fabulous pizza. I roll it thin and bake the pizza on a cornmeal “floured” pizza baking stone.

Sometime I will put together a recipe for the rest of the pizza. We usually just “throw” things together and then bake, so need to do some measurements.

Fresh Basil Pesto

I absolutely LOVE fresh basil and one of the favorite things I like to do with it is make fresh pesto. There are a lot of recipes out there for pesto.

fresh basil pesto

Fresh Basil Pesto

They basically combine fresh basil, nuts (usually pine nuts), garlic, olive oil, Parmesan, Romano or some similar cheese, and season with salt and pepper. My version varies by the ingredients I have on hand (or usually don’t have on hand). This is the way I made it today and no one is complaining….

Fresh Basil Pesto
Ingredients:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese (fresh grated is always best, but not always in my house)

1/3 cup pine nuts (I’ve seen Walnuts and Brazil nuts substituted, but never tried them as I really like the taste of pine nuts even tho’ they are spendy).
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I usually use 1/2 cup, but was short on olive oil)
6+ medium sized garlic cloves, minced (most recipes seem to call for 2-4 cloves, but we like garlic and have some fresh from the garden)
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (Good quality salt and pepper really brightens the taste, IMHO).

Directions:
1. Combine the basil with the pine nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add garlic and pulse a few more times until evenly chopped.
2. Slowly add the olive oil in a stream while the food processor is on. Stop half ways through to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
3. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Season with salt and pepper.

Pesto can be served in numerous ways, but my favorite way is to cook some fresh whole wheat pasta and put a couple tablespoons on a serving. You can also put it on pizza, pasta with marinara sauce, or even a dollop or two in homemade soup. The possibilities are endless 🙂

Applesauce Muffins

My parents came down to visit today and I usually like to fix a light lunch or dessert for them. My Dad always likes my applesauce muffins, so decided to make them today since it was on the cool side and heating up the kitchen with the oven wouldn’t be unbearable. I got the original recipe from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book. Changes included all whole wheat pastry flour, nuts instead of or in addition to raisins (depending what’s on hand) and the use of butter or coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. I also add a 1/2 tsp. sea salt and upped the cinnamon amount.

Applesauce Muffins
1 1/4 cups unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg
2 Tbsp melted butter or coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3/4 cup raisins, 1/2 cup chopped nuts or any combination that suites you.

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. In large bowl, beat together applesauce, egg, butter/oil, and honey. Set aside
3. In medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add this to the applesauce mixture, stirring just to moisten the dry ingredients. Stir in the raisins/nuts and divide the batter among 12 greased muffin cups.
4. Bake the muffins in a pre-heated oven for 20 minutes.
5. These are great warm, cooled, freeze well. Eat plain, serve with butter or home-made jelly/jam.

Berry-Ginger Summer Drink

Sometimes I want something different for a summer drink – cool, refreshing, not overly sweet and no alcohol. My sister came up with this concoction a couple years ago, and I’ve made it several times every summer since. I’m sure I’ve changed amounts etc., but the general recipe should be about the same. It’s pretty open to your own editing. I get the dried Ginger root and dried red berry from Tea Source.

Berry-Ginger Summer Drink
3 Tbsp. dried Ginger root
3 Tbps. dried red berries
6 cups water
2 cups pomegranate juice (I use POM Wonderful)
32 oz. club soda/sparkling water
1-2 limes, sliced

Directions:
1. Put water in a small pot and bring to boil. Add ginger root and berries. Let simmer 10-15 minutes. Remove from burner and let cool.
2. Strain mixture into large pitcher. Add pomegranate juice and several slices of lime.
3. Refrigerate until cold.
4. Add ice to a glass and fill glass 1/2 to 2/3 full with above mixture. Fill with club soda, garnish with a lime slice.
5. If you wish some additional sweetness, add a drop or two of stevia or some sugar.
6. Enjoy

Yummy Berry Strawberry Shortcake

I really like my strawberry shortcake and so do most folks who taste it. One of my sons particularly likes it, and when he asks for it, I try and oblige. Originally got this recipe from “Great Good Food” which is written by the authors of the Silver Palate Cookbooks. Not sure they have a lot of great recipes in this particular book, but this one qualifies with 4 stars. I made some changes in the recipe… used whole wheat flour in the biscuits and added cinnamon… also use whipped cream and vanilla yogurt. Here’s our rendition.

First the biscuits…..

Buttermilk Dessert Biscuits
4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
6 Tbsp. melted butter
2-3 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly spray a cookie sheet with vegetable oil.
2. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl and mix to combine. Add buttermilk, butter, and vanilla. Mix with a fork until just blended. Do not overmix or biscuits will be tough. Add an additional tablespoon buttermilk if it seems too dry. Dough should be fairly sticky.
3. Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons a couple inches apart. (Note: this recipe says it should make 24 biscuits, but I make larger ones and get about 12-15). You may need two cookie sheets or bake them in shifts.
4. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool.

Now for the Strawberry part once the biscuits are done…

Berry Strawberry Shortcake
4 quarts of strawberries, cleaned, and sliced
Juice of 2 oranges
Juice of 3 lemons
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups vanilla yogurt (I like the Oski Greek Yogurt brand)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Buttermilk Biscuits
Cool Whip or real whipped cream

Directions:
1. Place 2 1/2 – 3 cups of strawberries, the orange and lemon juices, and sugar in a blender and process until smooth. (I used my immersion blender for this – lot less messy). Pour all but 1/2 cup of the puree over the rest of the berries. Set aside.
2. In small bowl, place the yogurt, 1/2 cup of reserver berry puree, and vanilla. Blend well. Refrigerate if you won’t be using it soon.
3. To Server – Split biscuits in half horizontally. Generously spoon berries between the layers and over top. Top with a dollop of the strawberry cream and Cool Whip. Serve immediately.

Wish I had a picture of this… maybe next time I make it I will take one. Also have a berry cobbler recipe I should put up that is equally yummy!

Rice and Edamame

Haven’t written for a long time it seems…. work has kept me more busy than I’d like, so haven’t done much cooking. However, thought I’d put this “quick” recipe down that I like to fix when I don’t have to think much. It takes a bit of time to cook the brown rice, but the hands on is totally low.

Edamame are green soybeans and are a good protein source. Historically, edamame come from Asian cultures. I first tasted this dish when my sister prepared it with white rice. Since our family likes brown rice, I used that and added the saffron which gives a nice subtle flavor.

Brown Rice and Edamame

1 cup brown rice
4 cups water, divided
1 tsp. sea salt, divided
pinch of saffron
2/3 cup. frozen edamame, shelled
Soy sauce, to taste

Directions:
1. Boil 2 cups water and add 1/2 tsp. sea salt and a pinch of saffron threads.
2. Add the rice, turn heat to low, cover, and cook for 30-40 minutes or until water is absorbed.
3. In a separate cooking pan, bring another couple cups of salted water to boil. Add edamame and boil 3-5 minutes. Drain.
5. Put rice in bowl, top with edamame and season with soy sauce.
6. Servers 2-3

Spaghetti My Way

I really like to make a huge pot of spaghetti sauce and serve it with whole wheat thin spaghetti. I think it’s a comfort food – at least for me. I used to make the sauce from scratch (many years ago), then went to buying spaghetti, and then with some input from my son, I used a purchased spaghetti sauce that has been “doctored up.” Here’s my version.

Spaghetti Sauce My Way

1 1/2 lbs ground beef, browned well, with lots of fresh ground pepper and some sea salt to season (son says to be sure and brown it well and don’t skimp on the pepper – he knows what he’s talking about!)
1 large onion, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 32 oz. jar spaghetti sauce – I’ve used a variety of brands with good results. Usually get a roasted garlic, or basil seasoned one
2 – 15 oz. cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup. chopped parsley
1 lb. box whole wheat spaghetti (I also like the Barilla Plus)
Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
1. Start browning ground beef, draining any excess fat. When beef is almost done, add the garlic and onions and continue cooking until onions are limp… another 5-7 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, basil, oregano, and crushed red peppers. Add enough water to make sauce desired consistency. I usually add about 1/2 cup.
3. Cook spaghetti another 10 minutes or so until flavors are melded.
4. Add parsley and cook a few more minutes.
5. While spaghetti sauce is cooking, boil water in large stock pot. Add a couple teaspoons of sea salt, and cook spaghetti according to package instructions. Drain.
6. Serve sauce over spaghetti and top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

I like to serve this with stir-fried broccoli or mixed salad greens.

Amaranth – Grain of the Gods

I like to explore the use of some of the more unfamiliar grains in cooking — so this weekend decided it would be amaranth since I’ve had some in my cupboard for a couple weeks. Amaranth is a small, nutty type of grain and is considered a complete protein source. It was a staple in Aztec and Inca cultures and was even used in religious ceremonies.

I will occasionally make a pilaf with the grain for something different. Last weekend, I made the pilaf below which I found in my “Clean Eating” magazine, made a few changes and this is the result. This pilaf has a bit of a kick to it and thought it went well with the roast chicken and roasted asparagus.

Amaranth Pilaf

1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. each chili powder and paprika
2 cups chicken broth, preferably low sodium
2 plum tomatoes, finely diced
1 tsp. thyme
1/8 tsp. saffron threads (original recipe says this is optional – I like the yellow hue and subtle flavor)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
Pinch of fresh ground pepper and cayenne pepper
1 cup amaranth

Instructions:
1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic and sauté until translucent, 3-4 minutes
2. Add chili power and paprika. Stir to coat onion/garlic
3. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, thyme, saffron, salt and peppers. Bring to boil. Stir in amaranth, bringing back to a boil. Reduce head and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
4. Remove from heat and let rest a few minutes before serving.

Will post some recipes for quinoa, bulgur, and barley in the future as time and ambition permits.

Chow Mein – Sort of

Well, it’s a cold, rainy, breezy day. Am at work and thinking, ” Haven’t made chow mein for awhile, and it would taste pretty good tonight.” So off I go to the grocery store after work. Pick up the ingredients, pause at the celery and think that I have plenty at home, so don’t get it. There’s no bok choy, so I substitute, napa cabbage figuring that will work.

I get home and have to finish cleaning the kitchen before I cook (not a good start). And then there’s no celery. My husband ate it earlier! That set me off a bit. So I get in the car and head to town. (We live in a rural area, and town is a 5 mile drive). At the store the celery is in such poor shape, I wouldn’t take it if they paid me let alone being asked to pay for it. So I go home and finish the chow mein sans celery. Added another half onion and more cabbage, but it’s not quite the same. But in the end, it tasted pretty good.

Anyway, here’s my chow mein recipe. I got it from a blend of what my mother makes and what my husband’s sister made once when she was out here. I call it chow mein… not sure the Chinese would accept it, but we like it and that’s what we call it.

Chow Mein
1 1/2 lbs chicken breast cut up (I’ve used pork loin and round steak also)
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 inch fresh ginger, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, sliced
4-5 carrots, sliced
1 head bok choy, chopped (I’ve used napa cabbage, broccoli, or snow peas)
2 cans bean sprouts
1 can water chestnuts
8 oz. carton mushrooms, sliced
4 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp. cornstarch, heaping
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water (may need more)
2 cups brown rice, cooked in 4 cups water
Dried chow mein noodles, if desired

Directions:
1. Cut chicken into bite size pieces.
2. Heat 1 Tbsp. Olive oil in large pan on medium high. Add garlic, red pepper, ginger and sesame oil. Sauté 30 seconds or so.
3. Add chicken. Cook until chicken is done and lightly browned. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
4. Add 2nd tablespoon olive oil. Add onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms and sauté 3-5 minutes.
5. Add broth and heat mixture until it is simmering. Add bean sprouts and water chestnuts. Heat until simmering.
6. Add bok choy and cook until bok choy is almost done.
7. Add chicken back.
8. Combine cornstarch, soy sauce and 1/2 cup cold water. Add to chow mein and cook until thickened. Add more water if you feel the mixture is too thick.
9. Serve over rice and top with chow mein noodles if desired.

Arugula with Chick-Pea Salad

arugula-chickpea-saladMy oldest son is into eating less meat in general, so we like to try vegetarian, fish or “light on the meat” dishes. This Arugula Salad was originally given to him by my sister who got it from Jack Bishop’s “Pasta and Verdura” book (which we also purchased). I think this dish is one of those love-it or hate-it dishes. And, obviously, we love it! Here’s the recipe with my comments and changes to accommodate our tastes.

Arugula with Chick-pea Salad

2 cans of chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed. (original recipe recommends 1 cup dried chick-peas that have been re-hydrated, but never seem to have the time.)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
40 Kalamata black olives, pitted and sliced (original recipe calls for 15 – not enough for us)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. sea salt
6 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large bunch arugula (about 1/3 lb). (We can never find arugula in our grocery store, so if it isn’t in the garden, I buy a sassy/bold mix of greens that is predominantly arugula).
1 lb whole wheat pasta, cooked and drained. Use rotini, shells, or whatever I can find

Directions:
1. Rinse and drain chick-peas and put in large bowl.
2. Bring salted water to boil in a large pot for cooking pasta.
3. Coarsely chop the pitted olives. Add them to the bowl with the chick-peas.
4. Combine the garlic, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, pepper flakes and salt. Slowly whisk in 4 Tbsp. olive oil. Drizzle over the chick-peas and olives, tossing gently. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.
5. Clean and dry the arugula. Coarsely chop the leaves and set aside.
6. Cook and drain pasta. Toss the hot pasta with the chick-pea mixture. Add the salad greens and remaining olive oil. Mix well until arugula wilts. Serve immediately. (This is also good cold the next day).

My Birthday Meal – Featuring Spinach-Beef Lasagna

Was invited out for an evening meal on my birthday, but both Alan and I felt we’d rather cook a meal at home instead, so had the inviters become the invitees.  Hadn’t made lasagna in a long time, so decided this would be the main dish. Served with roasted asparagus and mixed salad greens with a balsamic vinaigrette to complete the meal. One of the guests brought brownies for dessert (heavenly) and another a nice red Spanish wine.

Everyone absolutely loved the lasagna. And here is the recipe:

Spinach Beef Lasagna

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
26-32 oz. jar sphagetti sauce (I used a Basil Tomato flavor)
1 15 oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 cup water, about (substitute a dry red wine for half the water – awesome)
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
15 oz. carton ricotta cheese
10 oz. pkg of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 egg, lightly beaten
8 whole wheat lasagna noodles, uncooked
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Brown hamburger, draining fat as needed. When almost done, add onions and garlic. Cook until onions are almost done – another 5-7 minutes. Add about a tsp of sea salt and about 1/2 tsp. black pepper. I grind my black pepper, so it’s hard to give an amount, but like putting a lot of black pepper on ground beef as it adds a nice flavor.
2. Add spaghetti sauce, diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, pepper flakes. Cook another 5-10 minutes to blend flavors. Adjust the seasonings as desired. The herb amounts are guesstimates as I just grabbed some out of the spice bag.
3. Add enough water to make the mixture a bit on the soupy side. The uncooked noodles will absorb this liquid during the baking phase. If it looks too soupy, cook it down a bit.
4. In another bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg, and spinach.
5. In a 9 x 13 inch pan, put 2 cups of the tomato/beef mixture. Layer 3 noodles lengthwise, and then a 4th noodle across the top. You may have to break a part of the 4th noodle off to fit.
6. Spread the ricotta cheese mixture over the noodles, followed by 1 cup of mozzarella cheese.
7. Top with 1 1/2 cups tomato/beef tomato mixture.
8. Add 4 more lasagna noodles in same fashion as noted above and then top with the remaining tomato beef mixture.
9. Bake in a 375 degree oven until noodles are done – 45-60 minutes (the whole wheat noodles will take closer to an hour).
10. Top with remaining cup of mozzarella cheese along with some more Parmesan if desired. Put back in oven another 5 minutes to melt cheese.
11. Remove from oven and let stand 15-20 minutes before serving.

My Lentil Soup

I absolutely LOVE this lentil soup. The inspiration came many years ago from Jane Brody and it has evolved into the recipe below. It is basically a vegetarian recipe if you use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, but I go for the chicken broth. My husband likes to add some cooked ham to his portion.

My sister changed the white wine to lemon juice and I have to say I like this better than the wine. Without further ado….

My Lentil Soup

2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 large onions, chopped
5 carrots, chopped (this is really an “about” as I buy a 1 lb bag of organic carrots and use the whole bag, minus what I munch on)
1 tsp dry oregano (original recipe called for marjoram, but never seem to have it)
1 tsp dry thyme
2 15 oz cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes (I’ve used regular when I can’t find these)
8 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (this originally called for 6 oz dry white wine which is also good… I like a Chardonnay or Chablis)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (am always generous with parsley — it adds some green)
Grated cheese for topping – Parmesan, Cheddar, or whatever suits you.

1. Heat oil in soup pot and saute the garlic, onions, carrots, oregano and thyme, stirring for about 5 – 7 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes, broth, and lentils. Bring soup to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about an hour or until lentils are done.
3. Add salt, pepper, lemon juice, and parsley. Simmer for a few minutes. Serve with cheese sprinkled on top.

Whoo-Hoo! “Dead” Server Revived

No matter how many times I’ve restored a client server, it’s always a tense time until it comes back and I’ve verified all is right. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened very often.

Last week had a client whose Hyper-V virtual server would not boot. It gave an error of “corrupt directory or file,” which didn’t sound promising. In addition, the backups had quit working a week ago. Restored the virtual machine from a week ago and that worked well, but there was a week’s worth of sales, inventory, etc. that did not have a paper trail to go back to.

Needless to say, the pressure was on to retrieve the data. After some “Googling,” found some references that said compacting the disk in Virtual PC, opening it there, and then moving back to the Hyper-V would work.

Server was a Windows 2008 R2 DC which is a 64-bit operating system.

So here’s what I did:
1.  Installed 64-bit Virtual PC on my 64-bit Windows 7 laptop.
2.  Copied VHD file over to laptop.
3.  Compacted VHD disk in Virtual PC. This took about half hour and was a 23 GB VHD file.
4. Tried opening in Virtual PC, but it wouldn’t open.
5. Copied VHD back to the Hyper-V server.
6. Created a new Virtual Machine in Hyper-V manager and attached to the copied disk.
7. Was able to boot up the server, had to reset the IP numbers and reactivate the Windows license, but all data was there.

In anticipation of a failure of the above process, I also converted the VHD to a WMDK file using WinImage and was able to open this up in VMware Workstation 7. I would’ve been able to export the database and reports out and put in the restored VM from a week ago if the compacted disk did not work.

Getting this all working, really made my day, but it also reinforces my belief that server monitoring and checking backups is never something that should be ignored.

White Bean-Pancetta Soup

Not sure where this recipe came from originally, but have been making it for a few years and never make it quite the same way. I know I’ve changed at least 3 of the ingredients/quantities, and don’t even recall the name of the original recipe, so maybe I can call it mine.

When you read the ingredient list, you can tell it’s pretty open to adjusting to your tastes. I love pancetta, but my husband thinks that regular bacon or ham (and more of it) would be better in this soup. Well, since I’m the cook….. :-). I put lemon juice in here, but often think a splash of Chardonnay would be an interesting substitute — just haven’t done it yet… maybe someday when the planets align and  there is Chardonnay on hand plus the desire to make the soup all on the same day.

Anyway, here’s the recipe to use as you wish.

White Bean-Pancetta Soup

3 oz package of pancetta, chopped (that’s how it’s available in local grocery, so that’s what is used – it could be any amount you wish)
4-6 cloves garlic, minced (if you’re not a garlic fan, tone this down)
1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup chopped carrots
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1-2 tsp. thyme ( I use dried, but sometime want to use fresh when have fresh thyme and the ingredients)
2 Bay leaves
2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed. (Have used Cannellini or Great Northern)
4 cups chicken broth (or a 32 oz. box)
zest of 1 lemon
1-2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
Salt & pepper to taste

To put it all together….
1. Heat olive oil in small soup pot and heat
2. Add garlic and pancetta, saute 2-3 minutes
3. Add carrots, onions, celery, thyme and saute another 5-7 minutes or until veggies are just starting to get tender
4. Add broth and bay leaves. Bring to boil, turn down heat, and let simmer 15-20 minutes or until veggies are done.
5. Add parsley, lemon juice and zest. Heat a few more minutes.
6. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with crusty bread and/or salad and enjoy!

I like to make this soup for Sunday dinner after church as it comes together fast and we’ve usually had a later breakfast, so it isn’t a heavy meal.

Roasted Asparagus Soup

Had a long day at work (on a Saturday, no less), so on my way home, was thinking about something light and comforting for supper. Had seen a recipe for Asparagus Soup in my Prevention magazine, so stopped at the grocery store to pickup some fresh asparagus.

Of course, instead of measuring, I just guesstimated the chicken broth and put in way too much. So what’s a person to do… I pureed a can of Cannellini beans to thicken the soup and it turned out great. So here’s my twist on the recipe.

Roasted Asparagus Soup

2 lb. fresh asparagus, ends trimmed
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 1/2 cups chicken broth (or whatever you happen to dump in the pot, as was my case)
1 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
8 oz. baby portebella mushrooms, sliced (original recipe called for shiitake mushrooms, but didn’t have any)
1 can Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Preheat oven to 425.
Take 9 x 13 inch pan, lay asparagus in. Mix together with salt, olive oil, and garlic. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until starting to brown.
Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in pan and saute mushrooms until golden (5-6 minutes). Remove and place in a separate bowl/plate.
Melt rest of butter in pan and saute onion until starting to carmelize… 10-12 minutes.
When asparagus is done, remove tips from half of them and set aside.
Mix asparagus, beans, broth in small pot and puree using an immersion blender.
Add mushr0oms and pepper.
Bring to boil. Season w/ additional salt and pepper as desired.
Garnish with reserved asparagus tips.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I did. Could’ve eaten the whole pot, but figured I should share. I’m sure you can come up with your own twist also

500 GB External Hard Drive

OK, I admit it, I’m a gadget person. Can’t have enough of them, but my pocketbook does put limits on it, so am not out of control.

A couple years ago, bought a 160 GB HD for my daughter, a year later, a 320 GB HD for my son, and last year a 500 GB HD for myself. They all cost the same. Funny how the price of these things goes down so fast.

I use that 500 GB Hard Drive for work related things. Put all sorts of utilities, isos, backups, etc. that I may need while going to a client site.. especially helpful when the Internet connection is not the best to download these things. I think it’s really cool to have all this “stuff” in such a small container. Even bought a case for it, so if I drop it (which I have), it doesn’t break. This is one of the most useful items I’ve had in the tech arena and it’s really not a complicated item….my husband thinks I love it more than him and told him that sometimes it might be true :-).

Not sure why I’m so enthralled with this, but I am….. those little netbooks are running a close second at the moment. And if I were an Apple person, I might consider the iPad, but not till next generation.

Women in IT

I’ve worked in the IT field exclusively for a little over 10 years. Prior to that I worked as a medical technologist/microbiologist in a hospital lab. I made the change to IT due to hours at a small hospital lab… too many rotating shifts in short time spans really gets to you healthwise as you age :-). A hospital lab is a pretty computerized environment, so the transition wasn’t that bad, tho’ I did spend most of the first year studying almost day and night.

One thing interesting about the transition was the “battle of the sexes.” I went from a work environment that was predominantly female where I was in the majority to one that was predominantly male where I was a definite minority. Interesting to go to workshops/events where you are either the lone female or one of two in a roomful of testosterone.

There are some striking differences in how males and females approach problems. I think women definitely multi-task better, but guys generally appear to be better at focusing on one problem until it gets completed and then move on. Guess there’s something to be said about each approach. Most of the women I’ve worked with in the lab are much more detail/documentation orientated than the men in the IT field, but that may be more due to training and fear of lawsuits in a medical field than gender based.  That trait has served me well in the IT field also.

I think women will work harder to make sure we’re “good” at what we do than a guy will. I remember taking a lot of cr– from the guys where I work when I first started. Hence my studying day and night to make the cut. I think I do pretty well now (based on my billing and customer feedback), but I still always worry about it. Maybe I’m just insecure by fault :-).

I could go on and on about this topic, but I might offend too many folks (including hubby and three sons), so will leave it at that!