Creamed Spinach

I love spinach.  Spinach of all kinds — fresh spinach for salads and sandwhiches, sauteed spinach (maybe with some garlic and cherry tomatoes) spinach dips and my favorite, creamed spinach.

Maybe it’s my dual love of cream cheese as well, but creamed spinach is one of my favorite things.  It’s kind of a luxury item, though, due to the butter and cream cheese, but you can tone it down with reduced fat cream cheese and substituting some of the butter with olive oil.  Still, I’m not going to lie, it’s an indulgence.  But so creamy and good.  Try it next time you’re grilling out; goes great with a juicy steak!

Creamed Spinach

  • 2 packages of frozen spinach
  • 1/2 block of cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • splash lemon juice
  • salt (reglar and seasoned salt)
  • grated parmesan (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.  In a small saucepan over very low heat, melt the cream cheese and butter together until softened and smooth.  Meanwhile, thaw the spinach in the microwave and drain it well.  Put the spinach in a baking dish and salt it.  Pour the cream cheese mixture over the spinach and stir together with a spatula, coating the spinach well.  Add a splash of lemon juice (maybe 2 teaspoons) and seasoned salt to the spinach and stir again.  Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese (optional).  Cover the dish and bake for about 25 minutes.

before baking

Don’t Crowd the Mushrooms!

If you have seen Julie and Julia or ever attempted coq au vin, you know there is an art to browning mushrooms.  But once mastered, the pay-off is huge.  Juicy, browned mushrooms can add so much flavor to a stew, cassoulet or just as a side by itself with a steak or hamburger.  They are simple to prepare, you just need to follow these few tips below.  Be prepared to seriously impress your dinner guests with a sophisticated, fancy-looking, uber-French dish.

Sauteed mushrooms

  • any type of preferred mushrooms (these are whole white mushrooms)
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • heavy skillet

The first thing to do is get the butter very hot over medium heat.  You know when butter is hot enough when it has stopped sizzling and bubbling up and is frothy, but resting.  Then, add the mushrooms.  Make sure they are washed, but dried very well.  The second key thing is to NOT CROWD THEM.  Give them space, even if this means having to cook several batches to complete your dish. 

Mushrooms will quickly absorb the fat, but as they cook, they will release the butter or oil back out and you’ll see the shiny fat on the surface.  So resist the urge to add more butter or oil; there is plenty there and the mushrooms will release it back as they continue to cook. 

If you crowd them, all you do is steam them and not fry or brown them; they release their juices and don’t brown up.  Allowing them space in the pan reduces this steam effect.  Also resist the urge to stir them a bunch or turn them several times.  Just turn them every so often to get them equally brown on all sides, but let them do their thing in the pan.

They really only need about 5-7 minutes total.  Remove from heat as soon as they are ready and season with just a bit of S&P.

Okra with Corn and Tomatoes

Admittedly, this is not the time of year to be making this dish.  There is actually snow on the ground in Birmingham and I’m posting about fresh veggies.  But this was great, just making do with what Publix had to offer right now, so I can only imagine how fresh and flavorful it will be this summer with produce straight from our farmers’ market.  This takes no time and is a healthy, colorful side dish for grilled chicken or burgers. 

Okra with Corn and Tomatoes

  • 1 lb okra, sliced lengthwise
  • 3-4 ears of corn, kernals sliced off into a bowl
  • handful of grape tomatoes, sliced in half or left whole
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • 1 tbsp bacon fat or olive oil (spring for the bacon fat)
  • 3 cups cold water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • S&P to taste

In a large bowl, soak the okra in the cold water and lemon juice for 30 minutes. BEGINNERS TIP:  Soaking the okra in water and lemon juice helps cut down on the slime associated with okra that some people don’t like.   In a large heavy skillet, heat the bacon fat or oil and saute the onion and garlic about 5 minutes or until tender.  Add okra, cooking another 5 minutes.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in corn and tomatoes, seasoning with S&P to taste and cook for another 10-15 minutes.  Add a little water if the veggies start to stick.  Cover and reduce heat to low, letting simmer for another 5 minutes.

Brown (Lake) Rice

I have no idea why my family calls this dish ‘lake rice’ (I think maybe it’s because it’s so simple and requires so little ingredients or prep, we can make it at the lake cabin), but it’s delicious.  It turns out looking a lot fancier than it really is and makes a great side dish for weeknight suppers.  The only trick is to not overcook it, so it doesn’t dry out.  Oh, and don’t use instant rice, make sure it’s regular rice.

Brown Lake Rice

 

  • 1 cup of long-grain rice
  • 1 can of french onion soup*
  • 1 can beef broth*

Preheat oven to 350.  In a covered baking dish, dump in the rice.  Then, stir in the two soups.  Cover and cook 30-40 minutes or until the liquid on top is absorbed.

*We use Campbells Soup.

Sweet Potato Casserole

 Our supper club had a pot luck Thanksgiving last night.  Each couple brought a dish and it turned into quite a feast.  We did this last year and it was so much, we decided to do it again.  There was ham, turkey, gravy, dressing, squash casserole, sweet and sour green beans, rolls and homemade pumpkin pie.

My assignment was sweet potato casserole.  I found a recipe in Cooking Light (November 2008) for a lightened up version of this Thanksgiving staple and thought this would be the perfect time to try it.  This makes a mess, but is pretty easy and fast!  Serve this next week and you’ll be the new family hero.  It’s kind of a stretch to categorize these as ‘veggies’, but whatever. 

Sweet Potato Casserole

Potatoes

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup evaporated low-fat milk
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • cooking spray

Topping:

  • 1/5 ounces of all-purpose flour (about 1/3 cup)
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/8 teapsoon salt
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350.  To prepare potatoes, place chopped potatoes in a Dutch oven; cover with water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender and drain.  Let cool 5 minutes.

Place potatoes in a large mixing bowl, add granulated sugar, evaporated milk, 3 tbsp melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed until smooth.  Add eggs, one at a time, beat well.  Coat a 13 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray, then pour the potato mixture into the dish and use a spatula to even out through the dish.

To prepare topping, lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup and level with a knife.  Combine flour, brown sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt; stir with a whisk.  Stir in 2 tbsp melted butter.  Whisk together until evenly wet and the mixture has made a crumble of sorts.  Using your hands sprinkle the topping evenly over the potatoes; arrange pecans evenly on top.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until bubbly. 

Take casserole out of oven and then turn on broiler.   Put casserole back in on the top rack and broil for 45 seconds.  This will toast the pecans a bit and let them release their nutty flavor.  This is important — don’t broil past a minute.  The nuts will burn.

Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Simple Fruit Salad

There is nothing special to this at all, but it really looks pretty & colorful, especially for summertime cookouts. 

Simple Fruit Salad

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  • 2 peaches, peeled and chopped up
  • 1 carton blueberries
  • 1 carton stawberries, chopped up into bite size pieces
  • 1 bag of white grapes, quartered into bite size pieces
  • any other fruit you have handy (honeydew  and pineapple and kiwi work nicely)
  • 2 fresh mint leaves, chopped

Chop up all the fruit and put in mixing bowl.  Add mint leaves and mix together.  Serve immediately.

Chop

Deviled Eggs

This might sound weird, but I love deviled eggs for breakfast.  They are full of protein and you can pop one in your mouth on the way out the door.  Of course, they are also great for their more traditional roles at picnics and BBQs.  I made this up, based on trying to recall how my aunt makes them and they’re pretty dang tasty. 

Deviled Eggs

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  • 6 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon mayo
  • paprika
  • S&P

Fill up a pot of water and carefully place eggs in the pot.  Bring the water to a boil and let the eggs boil for 15 minutes.  Drain them and run cool water over them to cool them down.

Once cool enough to handle, peel the shells and discard.  BEGINNERS TIP:  gently tap the egg on the side of the sink to loosen the shell away from the egg; this will make it easier to peel without puncturing the egg.

Slice the eggs vertically.  In a small mixing bowl, use a spoon and scoop out the egg yolks.  Using a fork, mash them up with the mustard and mayo and a dash of S&P.

Using a spoon, scoop a small amount of the mixture back into the egg whites until all the eggs are complete.  Sprinkle the top of each egg with paprika for a hint of spice and nice presentation.