Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Skillet Shepherd's Pie

Happy First Day of Spring! Here in New York, we enjoyed brisk freezing temps today and are counting down to our next nor'easter tomorrow. Such fine times we have on the east coast. My daughter and I celebrated the day with her playgroup playing outside and a short hike. We ended the hike with a trip to Rita's Italian Ice to claim our free Italian ices.

Driving home from our chilly outing, I decided I wanted something comforting and warm for dinner. Shepherd's Pie popped into my head. A few years ago I made a shepherd's pie recipe from Martha Stewart's now-defunct magazine, Everyday Food. The surprise ingredient in that recipe was tomato paste. It really added a delightful depth of flavor to the simple recipe.

I didn't want to waste time looking up the recipe so I decided to make up something using ingredients in my pantry. If I didn't have a specific ingredient, I looked for a good substitute. My measurements are never exact. I make decisions about portions based on instinct and tend to go overboard when it comes to vegetables. I didn't happen to have tomato paste in my pantry today so I substituted a can of tomato sauce instead. The result was quite lovely. I think you can use whatever you have in your pantry and adapt the veggies to your preferences.

While I was sauteing the vegetables in my big cast-iron skillet and trying to decide if they would fit in the casserole dish I had designated for the meal, I realized I could actually finish the pie in the skillet because it is oven-proof, meaning fewer dishes for me to wash. Win!

Sorry for the less appetizing photo. I didn't think to take a picture until my family had already half of the pan. It was quite delicious, so we are all excused for choosing to eat instead of taking time for a perfect photo.

Skillet Shepherd's Pie-
Makes enough for a 12-inch cast iron skillet

5-7 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into big chunks
Olive oil
1 diced yellow onion (or whatever onion you have)
2 gloves garlic, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
6-7 whole carrots, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1 lb. ground beef
dried rosemary
salt and pepper
1 can tomato sauce
1 cup cheddar cheese

In a medium pot, bring potatoes to a boil in salted water. Allow to boil until potatoes are tender. Drain. Mash potatoes with milk, butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cheddar cheese.

In a large cast-iron skillet, brown hamburger until cooked through. Remove from skillet and drain the grease. In the same skillet, saute onion and garlic until fragrant and translucent.  Add celery and carrots and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and cook until zucchini is tender. Stir in tomato sauce. Season with rosemary, salt, and pepper to taste. Evenly spread the meat and vegetable mixture in the pan.

Dollop mashed potatoes on top of meat mixture.

Place skillet in the oven at 400 degrees Fahreinheit. Cook for about 25 minutes until potato topping becomes a lovely golden color.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

Banana Bread is tricky. It's not hard to mix up but baking always seems to go badly for me. Either I end up with a severely underdone loaf, or the loaf is practically burned on the outside. Instead of making banana bread, I now make muffins, which eliminates all the baking problems. These are so easy that even my 2-year old helped me.

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
2 eggs
3 medium mashed ripe bananas
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350 F. Spray muffin cups or place liners in muffin cups.  In large bowl, combine sugar and butter; beat well until light and fluffy. Add eggs, beat well. Add bananas, milk, and vanilla; blend well.

In a small bowl, combine flour, chocolate chips, baking soda, and salt; mix well. Add to banana mixture; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour into muffin cups.

Bake muffins for 20 minutes at 350 F until golden brown. Yields approximately 18 muffins

Monday, July 11, 2016

On a Quest for the Perfect Shakshuka

I accidentally happened upon the most amazing picture of Shakshuka. I had no idea what it was, until I started googling it. Shakshuka is eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce. Apparently, it is a wildly popular dish both in Israel and in Northern Africa. I am deeply disappointed that I never encountered shakshuka when I lived in Israel or during my visit to Egypt.

I have made Shakshuka a couple of times, but really haven't mastered how to poach the eggs perfectly in the sauce. I think that it is a process that requires patience and time, something I often struggle with when cooking breakfast. I haven't found the perfect Shakshuka yet, but I love the process of exploring this delicious dish. Here are some Youtube Tutorials and Recipes I found.

Shakshuka according to the New York Times

Tori Avey's version of Shakshuka  (I love her photos of Israel because they remind me of my time there!)

Food.com's version of Shakshuka

And a beautiful blog post from Smitten Kitchen about Shakshuka

The thing I love about shakshuka is it is so satisfying and delicious. People from all different food regions will enjoy it because you adapt the heat to your tastes. I can easily see people who enjoy Mexican food REALLY enjoying this.

I like to make my own flatbread on the grill to dip into the delicious sauce. This morning, my version more resembled Mexican flavors and my kids scooped up the mouthwatering sauce with tortilla chips. YUM!

Do you have a favorite Shakshuka recipe?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Fruit Muffins

My husband used to make breakfast for our family every morning. We all prefer a "real" breakfast that is substantial as opposed to cereal. When my oldest son started going to early morning seminary last year, he retired as our breakfast chef. I have failed to follow in his footsteps. Usually I try to do too much in the morning, making lunches, helping with homework, getting kids ready... So we have faster breakfasts that aren't as delicious as those my husband made.

This morning I had enough time to make some muffins. These fruit muffins are quite easy and taste delicious. I added butter instead of oil and the flavor is much better. After I mixed the batter, I realized that adding vanilla extract would have been a good call. Oh well. I would recommend trying that if you make this recipe. My kids thought they were delicious and devoured them. In fact, I barely had enough time to sneak this shot of the muffins. The fruit I used was a Del Monte frozen fruit mixture of strawberries, bananas, and peaches. It also makes great smoothies.

Fruit Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1-2 cups chopped frozen fruit (I used strawberries, peaches, and bananas).
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup melted butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix well. Stir in the frozen fruit. 
In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients and mix well. Gently add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just incorporated. 

Spoon into muffin tins. Bake at 400 for 15-18 minutes. Makes 12-18 muffins. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Minestrone/Pasta Fagioli and Breadsticks

It was a drizzly cold kind of day so I thought soup and breadsticks would be the perfect dinner for my family.

I decided to use my mom's old breadstick recipe. It is a very quick yeast dough to mix and use and goes great with chili and soup. Sometimes I mix this dough up and get it all ready to bake before church and then leave it covered in the refrigerator until we come home. It works perfectly.

Fast and Easy Breadsticks

1 3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tsp. yeast
1 TBSP. sugar
1 Cup flour
1 tsp. salt
2 1/4 cups flour
1 stick of butter (or 4 oz.)
toppings of your choice: cheese, garlic salt, herbs, cinnamon sugar, etc.
When I make breadsticks to eat with an italian-flavored meal, I choose parsley, garlic, and parmesan cheese. If I make the breadsticks to go with chili, I opt for cheddar cheese.

Heat oven to 375. Place one stick of butter on a cookie sheet and allow to melt in oven. Remove the butter before it burns or browns. (I forgot yesterday and burned all the butter. I had to start over again.)

In a large bowl, mix the water, yeast, sugar until the yeast is foamy. Whisk in one cup of flour and one tsp. salt. Stir in remaining 2 1/4 cups flour and stir and knead until the dough looks smooth and satiny.

Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Roll out dough on a floured surface to the size of your cookie sheet. Cut the dough into strips and place on buttered baking sheet. Top with desired toppings. Allow to raise for 10 minutes.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.

I opted for an Italian flavored soup but combined the idea of Minestrone and Pasta e fagioli. I'm sure every Italian is rolling in their grave with this mixture, but my family loved it and ate a huge pot, so there you go! I apologize for the imprecise measurements. I used what I had and didn't bother running to the store for missing ingredients.

Minestrone/Pasta Fagioli

1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1/2 pound ground sausage, cooked, crumbled, and drained (you could mix and match the meat in any way you like. You can use all sausage, all beef, ground chicken, ground turkey, or whatever floats your boat).
1/2 pound ground beef, cooked, crumbled and drained
10 carrots, peeled and diced
1 can green beans, drained (or use fresh, just make sure that you put them in the water and give them enough time to cook)
2 cups dry macaroni
chicken broth
1 can beans, drained and rinsed 
1 large can of diced or whole tomatoes
parmesan rind (if you have one on hand)
5 oz. bag of fresh spinach
salt and pepper

In a large pot, heat a small amount of olive oil. Saute onion, garlic, and celery until fragrant and soft. Add the ground beef, sausage, and carrots to the pan, along with enough chicken broth to cover all the vegetables and meat. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes, or until carrots are tender. Add more chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente. Add the beans, canned tomatoes and sauce,green beans, and spinach. If you want more of a tomato flavor, you can add tomato paste or tomato sauce. Heat gently to warm the beans, tomatoes, and green beans. You can also add a parmesan rind for more flavor during the cooking process. I didn't have one on hand so I left it out. Flavor the soup to your taste using herbs, both fresh and dried, and salt and pepper. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Blueberry Lemon Cream Cheese Sweet Rolls

Alyssa over at The Recipe Critic posted a delicious recipe for Strawberry Cinnamon Rolls with Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze that we have enjoyed. I cannot leave any recipe alone and have tweaked it enough that we have a nice variation to try.

First off, I changed quite a few things. I opted not to add the cinnamon and sugar, making these sweet rolls instead of cinnamon rolls. We made our own blueberry filling. I tweaked the glaze to resemble frosting instead of a drippy and messy glaze.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Sweet Rolls

Sweet Roll Dough

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur's unbleached All-purpose flour)
1 TBLS Instant Yeast
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup butter

In a saucepan, gently heat the milk and butter until the butter melts. Remove from heat and allow to cool until lukewarm. In a large mixing bowl, (I use my stand mixer) combine 2 1/4 cups flour, yeast, sugar, and salt and mix until combined. Add the egg and water and mix until combined. Then carefully add 1 cup flour and the lukewarm milk and butter mixture. Mix until the dough is smooth and glossy. Add in the additional 1/2 cup of flour if the dough remains too sticky and shaggy. Once the dough looks glossy, smooth, and elastic, cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

After allowing the dough to rest for 10 minutes, roll out on an oiled surface (I spray the counter with spray oil.) to about 1/4 or 1/2 inch thick into a 9x12 inch rectangle. Spread the blueberry filling on the dough and carefully roll along the longest edge. Carefully slice the log into equal pieces and place in a greased 9x13 cake pan. This is a super messy process.

Cover the rolls and allow to rise for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake rolls for 30 minutes until golden brown. Frost the cooled rolls with the lemon cream cheese glaze.

Blueberry Filling

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. citric acid 
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water

In a large saucepan, bring the blueberries, water, citric acid, and sugar to a gentle boil. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and water until smooth. Carefully add the cornstarch-water mixture to the boiling blueberry sauce. Stir quickly and constantly until the mixture is smooth and starts to thicken. You can reduce the heat and continue stirring. After a few minutes, remove the filling from the heat and allow to cool. Note, this makes more than you need. Save about half of this for pancake or waffle topping. 

Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 TBLS. butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. citric acid
1/4 cup whole milk, or heavy whipping cream
2 TBLS. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and citric acid together until well-mixed. Add the milk, lemon juice, and vanilla and beat until the mixture is light, fluffy, and creamy. You could also use lemon zest, but taste it to make sure you get the flavor right. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014


We grew to love Kabsa, which is a Middle Eastern rice and meat dish, while living in Riyadh. In Saudi Arabia, you could always find Kabsa, even at the cheapest food joints. We ate it on more than one occasion sitting on the floor around a woven mat piled high with the food. To eat it Saudi style means that you eat from the mat with your fingers.

My husband requested this meal for his birthday dinner. It is our family tradition that I prepare one's favorite meal on their birthday. This was a challenge and required extra help. I started by studying online recipes and thinking about the flavors, textures, and smells of the kabsa I tasted. I also had to go to a Middle Eastern shop to get the spice mix.

So first, the most essential thing you need for Kabsa is that spice mix. Of course you can make it from a collection of spices, but honestly it is easier to purchase the spice mix.

I went to a small Middle Eastern shop about 10 minutes from my house. The shopkeeper was very helpful finding the things I needed.

You will also need to buy saffron. Saffron is incredibly expensive because it is mostly produced in Iran. It comes from a saffron orchid, and is hand-harvested and produced. I usually buy the Badia version, which is less expensive. Saffron is an essential ingredient for Paella and for the Swedish Lucia buns that are so delicious. Other brands are more expensive, but are probably a little better quality. For my budget though, the Badia brand works fine.

Another thing you need to buy is Basmati Rice. You should be able to buy that anywhere.

So now, let's start.

1) Prepare and marinate the chicken

7-8 Chicken Thighs, legs, or a mixture of cut chicken pieces.
Olive Oil
Kabsah spice mix
Salt and Pepper

In a large pan you can cover--I used my glass Pyrex 10 in x 13 in casserole pan, place the chicken parts evenly in the pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the chicken and then add some water. You don't want to cover the chicken, just add a little liquid. Then generously cover the chicken with the spice mix and salt and pepper. Marinate 2-3 hours in the refrigerator and then turn the chicken over and add more of the spice mix. Allow to marinate another 2-3 hours. Pour off most of the marinating liquid and leave the chicken in the same pan to cook.

Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour or until the juices run clear. You can put it under the broiler for a minute or two to crisp up the chicken. Do NOT discard the juice from the cooked chicken. You will want to pour it over the cooked rice before serving.

2) Prepare the Rice

I used my rice cooker to make the rice. If you don't have a rice cooker, follow the directions on the package to prepare the rice on the stove.

Basmati Rice
Olive Oil
Chicken broth
Kabsah Spice Mix

Crush a few strands of saffron using a mortar or pestle. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, you can put the strands of saffron in a small bowl and use the back of a spoon to crush the saffron. Stir in the salt, oil, 1-2 tablespoons spice mix, and the saffron in with the rice in your cooking implement. Using the directions from your rice cooker or the stove top mix--add your chicken broth. Cook according to the rice cooker directions or package directions.

3) Sauces

Red Sauce
4-5 ripe plum tomatoes-chopped into 4ths
1 long hot green pepper (top and tail removed and chopped into 2-3 pieces)
1/2 onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
fresh cilantro
1 small can of tomato sauce

Dump all the ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Just taste and adjust seasonings until it tastes yummy. It should definitely have a kick to it. Add or subtract hot peppers to your liking.

Cucumber Raita Recipe

I used this recipe for the cucumber Raita.

4) Garlic Naan

I used this recipe from All Recipes for the Garlic Naan. I will use this recipe again, but with the following modifications.

1-2 Tablespoons sugar (instead of 1/4 cup)
4 cloves of garlic (instead of 2)
1 Tablespoon salt (instead of 2 teaspoons)
 3 1/2 cups of flour (instead of 4 1/2 cups of flour)

We grill the bread on our indoor grill.

5) Assemble the meal.

On a large serving platter, spoon out the rice. Pour the chicken juice over the rice. Place the cooked chicken on top of the rice. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and/or parsley. Put the sauces in small serving bowls for dipping. You can either have guests eat from the platter, or eat from plates. To eat with your fingers, just scoop up the rice with your hands. Make sure you have LOTS of napkins and wet wipes available.  I assembled the food on an authentic woven Saudi food mat that we purchased at the Janadriyah festival.

I think it would be nice to serve dates as an appetizer or dessert.

My family was so happy with this meal. I really managed to capture the flavors very well. My kids beamed and scooped up the rice with their fingers--digging in and savoring everything. My husband was thrilled with the end results. (He did help grill the bread. If it hadn't been his birthday, he would have helped with everything, but I wanted/needed to give him a break.)

Now tell me this doesn't make you want to explore other cultures!