Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Brie and Rubbarb Grilled Cheese

Yes, you read that title correctly. It's brie...smooth, earthy and gooey...melted in between 2 thick slices of fresh rosemary bread with rhubarb jam. Raspberry rhubarb jam to be exact. Why? Because it's what we had on hand and also because it is freaking delicious! It will make your mouth water when you catch that first whiff of toasted bread, rosemary and sweet rhubarb.

Eat this with coffee. Eat this with apple herbal tea (and cream). Eat this with chicken noodle soup from Costco (or make it yourself ya lazy bum!).

But please, make this. And then add this to your list of secret weapons. Whip this out when you need to impress a new friend or when your husband is being a pain in the ass. He will LOVE it. Because it is that perfect balance of sweet and savory. He'll ask, is this dinner or dessert and the great thing is you do NOT have to answer that! What it is plain and simple, is AMAZING.

This is one of those recipes that is in fact not a recipe at all. It is a method. Bread, fillings, heat...YAY...grilled cheese. Get it? Good.

With that in mind here's how dinner went last night. I took a loaf of damn good rosemary bread from our favorite bakery. I cut thick thick slices and filled them with brie and a tbsp or 2 of raspberry and rhubarb jam. I warmed up a skillet. I sh-meared butter on one side of the sandwich and toasted it butter side down. The slice facing me then got another sh-mear of butter and then I flipped it. It looked melty and gooey enough for me so then I ATE it. The whole damn thing in practically one giant, jaw unhinging bite. It was divine. I had an out of body experience.

I have to disclose to you that placing something sweet inside a grilled cheese sandwich is not at all an original idea. I've seen it all over the place. Apples and cheddar cheese. Pears and blue cheese. It happens often because it works. It makes so much sense, so please don't be too afraid to try this out. Take me at my word or google some other sweet savory grilled cheese "recipes" that call out to you and try them out.

I went to an amazing restaurant here in town a few months ago that sort of inspired the sandwich we had last night. They served a vegetarian 3 cheese and huckelberry jam sammie that knocked my socks off. If you're ever in Paso Robles do check them out and if that sandwich is still on the menu...order 7 and eat them all week!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Spinach and Pumpkin Lasagna

Yesterday was Thursday, my busiest day of the week. I am in school for over six hours and I still have to get all my studying and cooking and cleaning done somewhere in between all my classes.

So on Thursdays, when it comes to dinner, I am looking for something easy peasy. Something I can throw together and leave in the oven for Mike, and since I wont be eating dinner until after 830, I'd like it to be healthy. Clicking through some fall themed oven meals yesterday morning I found a recipe for Spinach and Pumpkin Lasagna, mmmm. And since I still had half a can of pumpkin puree (from baking some delicious pumpkin cheesecake) I figured why not.

I haven't had this combination before but boy am I ever a fan now! There is a natural richness provided by the pumpkin puree and a subtle earthiness from the spinach and a dash of nutmeg. The recipes I found online mostly included gobs and gobs of cheese which I am normally a fan of, just not today. I opted to leave out a giant layer of cheese in exchange for a lighter bechamel made from skim milk and a 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan that goes into our sauce and on top of the lasagna.

If you have never made a white sauce before here are a few tips:

* Use a heavy bottomed pot, something that will evenly distribute heat
* Add your milk a little at a time at first, paying special care to whipping out lumps
* Your sauce must come to a boil before you're done, this is the only way to tell how thick the end result will be
*Don't season your sauce until after the cheese has been added. Parmesan is salty as is and you don't want to over do it!

We served this lasagna with roasted vegetables and a VERY tall glass of milk. What? Don't look at me like that, milk is good and good for you!

We had carrot cake that I made in my Baking Science class for dessert. It was phenomenal, and I can say that because it was someone else's recipe and it was my first time making it so I am thrilled it came out well.

This lasagna came together so fast! And it doesn't take a ton of ingredients like the ones we found online. You can put it together and leave in the fridge until it's time to eat. It is healthy, rich, delicious and vegetarian! What's not to love??

Spinach and Pumpkin Lasagna

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups skim milk (you may replace 1 cup of milk with low fat, sodium free broth)
pinch of nutmeg
1 clove of garlic
1 bay leaf
3-4 peppercorns

1 cup wilted spinach, drained well
1 cup pumpkin puree (or half of a 15 oz can)
1 egg yolk (optional)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1/2 box lasagna noodles, cooked according to directions

To make the bechamel, on low heat melt butter in a large heavy sided pot. Sprinkle in flour and cook until the mixture has taken on a little color. Switch heat to medium and add the milk a small amount at a time constantly stirring. If you notice any lumps, lower the heat and whisk until they are out.

Add garlic, bay leaf, a few peppercorns and nutmeg.

Once all the milk has been added bring mixture to a slow boil, continuing to whisk out any lumps. Once at a boil, examine mixture for thickness. It should lightly coat the back of a spoon, if it is thick or paste like, add more milk or broth. Let it simmer on low heat, mixing with a spoon occasionally. Remove garlic and bay leaf.

Remove from heat and add 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese, mixing furiously! Taste, then season accordingly. Set aside, stirring frequently to prevent a skin forming on the top of your sauce.
*Note: this sauce is THE balls...remember this sauce. You will use it often, I promise!

For the pumpkin layer, add puree, the remaining parmesan cheese and egg yolk to a small bowl and mix until combined. Season with a little salt and pepper, you can add Italian seasoning if you'd like but only a small pinch. Set aside.

Now we start assembling. This is how I put the lasagna together, use it as a guideline or be a rebel and mix it up. I can guarantee you no one will ever know. It's not as if someone is going to cut into their lasagna and say..."Is that a layer of spinach, THEN a layer of pumpkin? UNACCEPTABLE!" Not going to happen....I promise.

So here's how it went down:

Have your cooked lasagna sheets, pumpkin mixture, bechamel and wilted spinach all close by. Grease your favorite baking dish, I used a 9x9 I think, and put down a spoonful of bechamel. Onto the bechamel you'll layer a few sheets of lasagna noodles. If you find your lasagna sheets too long or short, do not fret. Simply cut some sheets into long or short strips to fit or fill in the gaps, it isn't an exact science...your finished product will look stunning anyway.

After the first layer is down spread all of the pumpkin mixture and top with more lasagna sheets. Put bechamel on the second layer, just thick enough that we will see it when we cut into the lasagna. You can add shredded mozzarella if you absolutely cannot do without that super cheesy layer. I didn't miss it, honestly but my gut says that some of you will NEED this layer...so go for it. This gets another layer of pasta then you sprinkle the wilted spinach all around, top with a little bechamel and lasagna sheets. Now spread the very last of the sauce onto the top of your lasagna, shred some extra Parmesan all over the top and you're done. Throw that sucker in an oven set to 350 and cook until the edges are slightly browned and your sauce is bubbling.

You're not going to want to (because your house will smell SO amazing) but you MUST let this rest. The different layers need time to chill out and relax a little before you dig in. If you are a good little boy or girl and wait 10 minutes, when you cut in the layers of orange and white and green will be perfectly distinct and stunning when you go to plate.

I hope you all are enjoying the holiday season so far. There has been a lot of snuggling and hot cocoa going on around here, not looking forward to finals week next week but here's hoping they fly by for all of us! Cheers!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Slow Cooker BBQ Beef Dinner

I love summer. I do, it's just that....well summer is hot and balmy here in Paso Robles. It get's well into the triple digits and you're not getting ME into a bathing suit so I just sweat and complain for three whole months. I don't like the heat. It's not for me at all. You know what IS for me though? The foods of summer. BBQ in particular is my very favorite thing to eat during the summer. And ice cream sundaes!

I know there are no rules saying I can't have bbq during the winter months, but it's just less convenient. I mean who's going to fire up that grill when it's 38 degrees outside and hailing? Not I....Not I.

Me, Diana and her daughter Kimberly
So here I am, it's November. It is freezing out, but my stomach doesn't know that. My stomach wants bbq...and an ice cream sundae. We have some friends in town visiting us from SoCal and I wanted to treat them to a nice home cooked meal after a day of site seeing. We got to show them around the down town area all day and then my stomach started growling...oh did it ever...

Hanging downtown, working up our appetites
I am a slave to that stomach. Look at these love handles. These love handles, clearly, are not told NO often. So, instead of firing up a grill I plugged in my slow cooker and came up with this delicious and accidentally frugal meal that has all the flavors of summer, with a few twists to suit the colder months. Instead of my go to pulled pork, I mixed it up a little and used beef. I also added a spicy element, chipotle pepper, to keep us nice and warmed through. The entire bbq beef dinner cost us under $10 for four servings.

The recipe's here are just as easy as it gets. Minimal ingredients and minimal effort. You throw the beef in a slow cooker for 4 hours, you make and refrigerate the coleslaw (optional) and the dessert is so incredibly easy it's dangerous.

Let's talk about dessert for a second...what do you think of when you think of fall? Apples! Yes, and apple pie should come right to mind if you are at all a normal red blooded American (Ah-Murica Hell YAH). I didn't feel up to making a whole apple pie, but I did yearn desperately for that warm apple pie a la mode flavor. I think I found the next best thing. It is faster than making apple pie but just as delicious, possibly...maybe....perhaps even.....better?

You may place your wonderfully tender bbqed beef atop a sesame seed bun as we did, but be prepared it is a messy messy feast. We rounded out the meal with our favorite eh-hem....canned chili beans and cherry coke. I suggest you do the same because I said so and because it is delicious and because I me and my love handles clearly know what we are talking about here!

Slow Cooker BBQ Beef

1 pound stew beef or fajita beef (whatever is on sale)
1 c BBQ Sauce
1/4 c water
1 tbsp chipotle peppers

Mix all the ingredients in your slow cooker, set to high for 1 hour and then to low for about 2 more hours or until the beef flakes easily with a fork.

Quick Cole Slaw

(make ahead)
1/2 head of cabbage, shredded
1 carrot, grated
1/2 cup of mayo (or so, I fake measured it)
2 tbsp agave nectar or 1tbsp sugar
1 tbsp bbq sauce
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar


Mix well in large bowl. Fridge...NOW.

Caramel Apple Pie Syrup (To serve over ice cream)

1 apple, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1tbsp french vanilla/caramel coffee creamer

In a small sauce pan add butter and sugar. Heat over a low flame until they are melted together. Add apples, vanilla, cinnamon and raise heat to medium. The sugar mixture will bubble slightly if it looks like it will boil over, lower the heat. Let it simmer like this for about 1-2 minutes or until the apples are fork tender. Remove from heat and stir in the creamer. Serve over a big scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream -OR- you can do what my husband did and spoon it over some left over pumpkin pie!