Amaranth & Squash Casserole

This was sooooooo good.  I took a classic chicken and wild rice casserole recipe of my grandmother’s and tweaked it just a tad to get this new winter classic.  Best part?  It is gluten-free, vegetarian, and dairy-free.  This is what I needed this week – I have the annual crud.  Moving to a new school, in a new state, with new germs finally took its toll on me.  I am hoping for a speedy recovery, until then, enjoy this recipe.

I used 1 cup of amaranth – it is like a finer version of quinoa – in place of the wild rice.  It is so tiny that I was skeptical at first that it would even add anything of substance to this recipe.

One sliced and peeled golden acorn squash was substituted for the chicken.

Then, I threw in some broccoli and onion for good measure.  See what I mean about the amaranth being tiny?

I made a white sauce, in essence, to pour over my veggies.  This makes one very full casserole of food, I promise.  Eric and I both found ourselves going for for seconds and looking forward to leftovers.  It is substantial comfort food without any discomfort from meat, dairy, or wheat the next day.

Amaranth & Squash Casserole

1. Saute 1/2 yellow onion, diced in 2 tablespoons margarine until soft.  Add 2 more tablespoons margarine to onions, cook until melted.  Stir in 1/3 cup rice flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Cook over low heat, stirring until bubbly – remove from heat.  Stir in 2 cups vegetable broth and 1 cup almond or coconut milk.  Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir for one minute.

2.  Pour liquid into a 2 quart casserole dish.  Add to liquid: 1 cut and peeled golden acorn squash, 16 oz of frozen broccoli, and 1 cup dry amaranth.  Stir well.

3. Bake uncovered, 350 degree oven, until bubbly for 40 to 45 minutes.  Serve warm.

Minneapolis Weekend + Walking Dead Food

This is yet another one of those cell phone camera only posts.  I have been dropping the ball on my photography skills here lately.  However, it was our anniversary this past weekend and so we took off for Minneapolis for the weekend for a much needed relaxation time with my sister and her husband and friends.  

 Minneapolis was fully into autumn by the time we arrived.  It was a chilly and slightly rainy weekend.  We started off Friday evening with dinner with my sister.  Then on Saturday made a run to Ikea for Swedish pancakes and household items.  We managed to all nap (!) and then Eric and I took off to explore lock and dam #1 on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

 The mighty Mississippi is quite impressive, as were the fall colors along its bank this weekend.

Eric and I hung around long enough in the chilly weather to see 2 kayaks and 1 houseboat pass through the lock.  It has been years since I was last at Lake Superior watching the huge iron ships pass through its locks – hopefully we will go North again soon.

 Chilled to the bone, we decided to meet up with friends at a few of Minneapolis’ breweries.

Dangerous Man was first on the list.  The brewery is only a brewery, however, patrons are able to bring in their own food.  So we dined on wood fired pizza from Element Pizza whilst sipping Oktoberfest, Chocolate Milk Stouts, and ESBs.

We hopped over to Indeed Brewing next.  This place has a much larger bar area and a patio outside facing the train tracks – it reminded me of the Asheville beer scene so much.  The artwork on the shirts, cans, and 6 packs are all done by a local artist.  
We ended the night with polka music and drinks at Nye’s Polonaise Room.  This is a bar you truly must experience yourself – live polka music, a photo booth, gold glittery upholstered booths, and hearty Polish food.  No photos I can take will ever do it justice.  I do however regret that there are no photos of my sister or our friends from this weekend.  I am sorry, I guess I did not remember to take photos, and when I did, they were horrible with blurriness galore.  I guess it just means we are destined to be in Minneapolis again soon!

We drove back to Des Moines on Sunday to a very excited daughter.  She spent the weekend with grandparents, very willingly, I might add.  This family portrait captures her love of rolling around trying to knock us over (onto the lovely new rug in the living room).

Greta was in bed by 6:30 and then it was time for Walking Dead.  My decor was all ready and lit for the occasion.

I made a three course zombie theme meal – zombie teeth appetizers.  These consisted of apple slices with peanut butter, and corn nuts for teeth.  The original idea (from Pinterest, of course) used almonds for teeth, but I found corn nuts to be a whole lot creepier and tastier.

Zombie pizza was next.  This consisted of two sheets of puff pastry wound around in a 9 x 13″ pan.  It was then smothered in pasta sauce and topped with shredded Parmesan cheese and dried tomatoes.  Bake it in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes at 425 or until slightly browned on the top.  The original idea comes form My Crazy Life.

The final touch to this zombie meal isn’t as zombie-like as the first two ideas, but it was equally as tasty and easy to make.  Dirt Dessert is simply layers of chocolate pudding, crumbled Oreo cookies, whipped topping, and red raspberries.  Top with a gummy worm for a little more Halloween fun.  

Sweet Potato Corn Chowder

This soup is the perfect cure for the end of summer to beginning of fall blues.  Kind of miss the pool with the lingering hot days, but loving the cool sweatshirt nights?  Yeah, me too!

I used some leftover corn on the cob to make this corn and sweet potato chowder – it’s something I have been thinking about for a few days now.  The best part is it used up quite a few of the veggies I had sitting around, fearful of letting go to waste.

The other nice part?  Dairy & animal free.  Sometimes I just need something that is vegan.  I know, some of you are probably scratching your head.  However, sometimes I also just need something animal derived.  I do what my body tells me to do (within reason).  That paint palette cutting board was a gift from my new art teacher colleagues!

Trusty Ninja purees soup with ease.  Just be sure and let it cool a bit, and make sure the lid is on tight, and make sure a fragile toddler isn’t near by to watch it loudly explode in the kitchen.  True story.  I had some double clean-up that night – tears and spilled soup.

She is quite the kitchen helper these days though.  Flipping through the cookbook is a new favorite activity, all the while asking me, “What this?” at every photograph.

Sweet Potato Corn Chowder – makes 6 – 8 servings.  Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, Better Soups & Stews, 2003.

1. In a medium saucepan, in hot oil, over medium heat, cook 1 cup whole kernel corn, 1 small yellow onion, diced, and 2 cloves of garlic, minced.  Cook until the onion is tender.  Add 16 oz of broth.  Bring to boil; reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes, until slightly thickened.  Stir in 1 cup dairy-free (or real) cream and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Allow to cool slightly.

2.  Place cream mixture in blender container or food processor.  Cover and blend until smooth.  Return to pan and keep warm.

3.  In a medium saucepan, cook 1 cup whole kernel corn and 1 large peeled and diced sweet potato until sweet potato is softened.  Drain.  Stir into cream mixture.  Add 1 teaspoon fresh chopped parsley.  Serve warm.

Salmon Cakes w/ Lemon Yogurt Sauce

This right here is one of my favorite types of meals – roasted vegetables and fish, specifically salmon.  I always start to crave this kind of meal when things start to turn towards autumn – even when I just think it is starting to turn.  However, it’s still hovering in the 90s around here this week.  Seriously, is it October yet?

The roasted veggies are simply carrots, red potatoes, a red bell pepper, olive oil, peppers, garlic flakes, and fresh rosemary.

These babies are easy – so easy I had to remember to write down what I did tonight so I could actually publish the recipe!  So much of what I cook is just on a whim and based on what looks right and feels right.  This blog has forced me to be more observant and also created more consistency from each dish to the next.  It’s also nice having my own personal portable cookbook to turn to no matter what home or coast I am on.

Is it October yet?!  Stay tuned for fun Walking Dead ideas for all your Walking Dead party needs!

Salmon Cakes w/ Lemon Yogurt Sauce – makes 4

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray an 8 x 8 inch pan with cooking spray or olive oil, set aside.

2. In a medium mixing bowl stir together with a fork, 1 – 14 ¾ oz can salmon, ⅓ cup panko, 1 teaspoon dill, and 2 eggs.

3.  For sauce: mix ½ cup plain yogurt2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice2 teaspoons lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley.  Top cakes with yogurt sauce and serve immediately.

4.  Bake 18 – 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top, setting the oven to broil for the last 2 minutes.  Top cakes with yogurt sauce and serve immediately.

{Better Than} Best Pizza Crust Ever + Drawing App

Sometimes accidents are happy ones in the kitchen.  I was trying to make dinner the other night and Greta was in the process of melting down – I simply waited too long to start dinner for her sake.

I tried to make my favorite pizza crust, from memory.  Usually this isn’t so hard, but when your toddler is screaming, it doesn’t work as well.  This crust appears in the previous post, Best.Pizza.Crust.Ever for dinner and knew as soon as I started to mix, that something was wrong.  I decided to roll with it, modified a few things, and hoped for the best.  I guess there was always the option of a sandwich and a can of soup if this failed.

I realized I had doubled the water, so to compensate, I added more flour and some cornmeal.  It ended up being so sticky that I did not knead it, instead stirring thoroughly.  After rising (it filled the bowl!) I punched it down, coated my hands thoroughly in olive oil and spread it out on the cast iron pizza pan (works great on the grill, too!).  When I baked the pizza, I used the convection setting to ensure it was baked thoroughly.  
This crust turned out to be a fantastic deep pan-like crust that had a crispy exterior and a soft chewy interior.  Eric having not been around for the mess-up, didn’t know the entire story.  When he tried the pizza his first comment was, “Wow, did you make this?!”  He said it was by far the best crust ever made in our house, so I quickly grabbed a pencil and paper and wrote down my error.  

Greta wasn’t all grumps that night, she has been enjoying a new art app I got for my classroom – called Drawing with Carl.  There are tons of neat paintbrush shapes to use – including this interesting pixelated one.  There are roller brush patterns that turn into various patterns once drawn.  Stamps create dots, stars, ink splats, and more.  The icon with the red and green circle creates stickers of creatures, dinosaurs, facial features and more.  The free version is very good – the upgrade offers more stickers plus a watercolor brush and oil pastels.  I highly recommend this app for kids and adults alike.  Eric always muses that I seem to like Drawing with Carl more than Greta does.

Add dinosaurs is by far her favorite part of this app.  The dinosaurs and mammoth roar and make noises when added or moved around the screen.  There is a funny little red guy with a big mouth – he has a neat feature too, but I will let you figure that one out for yourself.

{Better than} Best.Pizza.Crust.Ever. – makes one 14 inch deep dish pizza

2 cups tepid water (105 degree water)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons honey
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt 
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornmeal
1 packet active dry yeast
1. Mix flour and yeast in a bowl.
2. Mix warm water, olive oil, honey, and salt in a bowl or glass measuring cup.  
3.  Make a well in the dry ingredients.  Add liquid ingredients and mix well – 5 minutes.  

4.  Let rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes.  (Turning the oven on at 350 for one minute creates the perfect dough rising environment.)

6.  Punch down dough and let rest for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, preheat oven to 425 degrees, on convection setting and prepare pizza  pan with oil. 
7.  Coat hands in olive oil, remove dough and stretch into size on pizza pan.  
8.  Add tomato sauce to top of dough and bake on bottom shelf of oven at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes before adding other toppings.  This will ensure you do not get the doughy, uncooked center.  

9.  While your crust is baking, prepare toppings.  (For this pizza I used sliced fresh tomatoes, sliced fresh mushrooms, basil, minced garlic, and sliced spicy meatballs real or fake work fine).  
10. Bake pizza in 425 degree oven for about 12 – 15  more minutes or til done, on the lowest oven rack.

Zucchini Cakes + Iowa City

Ok, so not cakes that are sweet, but nice little baked goods that are somewhere between a frittata and tater tot and oh so good.
These babies were so good I made them two nights in a row at our house!  I still have loads of zucchini to use up – so of course the zucchini recipes are still coming!  I have quite a bit of zucchini in the freezer right now, just taunting me.  

The first part takes planning and is crucial – allowing the zucchini shreds to dry out between layers of paper towels in the fridge, at least overnight.  This way your finished zucchini cake isn’t a soggy mess.

Mix the ingredients together in a bowl.  I used cheddar chunks one time and cheddar shreds the second, both were equally tasty.

 Fill 12 sprayed muffin cups.

Bake until golden – 15 – 20 minutes at 400 degrees.  You should end up with a dozen ½ full muffins or cakes.

Part of our Labor Day weekend was spent in Iowa City – both Eric and I are Hawkeyes, so it was fun to get back to that town for a day.

We met my parents there and started off with a hearty and delicious breakfast at the Hamburg Inn No. 2.    It is a well known spot for college students, locals, and travelers alike – also a common presidential stop.  Their pie milkshakes are world-famous.

Greta loved the bridge over the river to the art building.  So many treks were made across there in all kinds of weather.

We made a stop in the Macbride Hall Museum of Natural History.  This museum is free and rivals the best museums in the biggest cities.  The dioramas are superb, the giant sloth is frighteningly large, the mammal hall impressive, and the bird hall chock full of a dizzying array of all things feathered.

We made a trip to the Macbride Raptor Project, which is about 25 minutes outside of Iowa City near the reservoir and Sugar Bottom.  Again, free, and completely worth the trip – the birds housed here are either unable to live in the wild due to injuries or human imprinting.  

We ended the holiday weekend by drying more tomatoes.  Greta is my helper with removing stems and washing.  

 An afternoon fishing trip at my parents’ pond was the best end to a near-perfect weekend.

This photo sums up my love of a perfect summer, almost fall day.  Does it get any more gorgeous than this?

Zucchini Cakes – makes 1 dozen

1. Shred 2 cups of zucchini.  Spread in a plate, between layers of paper towels and refrigerate overnight.

2. In a mixing bowl, mix together 2 cups zucchini, 1 cup panko, ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese, ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, 2 cloves minced garlic, ground pepper, and 2 eggs.

3. Grease 12 standard muffin cups.  Fill 12 cups with zucchini mixture – should be about ½ full. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15- 20 minutes or until golden on top.  

Zucchini & Meatballs w/ Spaghetti + DIY Gift Bows

I’m getting worse at this blogging thing, I fear.  I spend less and less time on this, as I have more time for family, friends in the Des Moines area, and house projects like its my job.  Let’s take a quick peek at what has been going on around here this week.  

Cooking and baking.  I have had an aha-duh moment this week.  If Greta helps me prepare the food, she eats much more willingly.  We have made cookies, corn on the cob, green beans, mac and cheese, and finally this lovely zucchini dish.

This dish is great because you can easily swap out or in various ingredients.  It can be made meat-free if you omit meatballs or use vegetarian meatballs.  The brand Qorn has a really good ‘meatball’ made from fungi.

Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the recipe.  So good, I feel like licking the screen.  Another bonus – it feeds a lot for just a little.  I will warn you though – this recipe is far from exact, I change it every time I make it.

We also figured out that toddlers do not need toys – just everyday items.  Take for example Scotch tape – the girl is much more dexterous with tape than I ever realized.  These donut tape dispensers are excellent fun.

We had a fun time spending a rainy morning wrapping Aunt Caroline’s birthday gift.  She added all the pieces of paper to the card and taped down the hearts to the wrapping paper.  Next time I have to wrap a gift, it is all Greta.  I truly am not a fan of wrapping gifts – so this job may be outsourced to Greta sooner rather than later.  

I did, however, have fun making a bow from magazine strips.  This is one of those things I pinned off of Pinterest ages ago and am just now making use of it.  Some things I just hate buying and would rather make or reuse – bows, wrapping paper, and cards are in that category.  See this link for the how-to on making this bow. 

Cutting, and then sanding, sanding, sanding has been my other past time this week.  We are working on a new computer desk so we can wrap up the office in our new house.  I am excited about this furniture project and cannot wait to show off the finished project!  I hope to give you a tour soon, as many of our projects are winding down.

In other news, I am itching to change the name of this blog – I just feel it has evolved and the name is a tad on the cutesy side.  If you have any suggestions, I am all ears.  Please leave a comment in the comment section below.

Zucchini & Meatballs with Spaghetti

1. Slice and quarter 2 medium zucchini.  Saute zucchini in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until both sides are slightly browned.  Add 8 – 10 oz of marinara sauce and meatballs of your choice.  Simmer on low until thickened.

2.  Cook 2 – 3 servings of spaghetti according to package.  Reserve ¼ cup pasta water and then drain.  Add water to marinara, stir well.  Add chopped fresh herbs of choice such as, basil, oregano, and thyme.

3. Combine sauce and pasta.  Serve immediately. 

Zucchini Curry Soup + New Floor Reveal

This post brings you more ideas on how to use the zucchini from the gardens at this time of year, plus another peek at how our house is coming along.  I have been on a long hiatus here lately, due to an overwhelming number of home projects.  

A few more of the monstrous zucchinis coming out of my mother’s garden!  As I pondered what to eat after my ride on RAGBRAI, Eric suggested soup, which was actually quite brilliant.  It was a great way to hydrate and use up a large amount of my zucchini in one recipe.

First, I created a vegetable broth as my base.  I am enjoying using my new gas burner range immensely.    It is almost freaky fast in heat up time – must get used to that still.

Then, I sliced my zucchini and quartered them.  I ended up using 6 cups, which was just about 2 of my medium-large zucchini shown in the photograph.

After simmering broth and veggies about 20 minutes, blend together. 

We have been loving our Ninja Professional blender – there is nothing it can’t blend, chop, puree, or smoothie!  Plus, it has as much power at a fraction of the cost of some the the fancier blenders.  OK, I admit, I was cheering when I read the consumer reports that put some of the cheaper blenders ahead of the uber fancy Vitamix.

We found that this soup is equally good cold or hot – a perfect summer soup.  Greta enjoyed eating her soup and making a mess of it.  Be warned – the curry in this soup will stain!

Now, onto the floors.  When we bought the house, the entryway, downstairs hallway, and kitchen were all covered in laminate flooring.  Honestly, it looked nice, but we realized that tile was what we wanted.

We opted for a slate look-alike and decided to put this down in the entryway, inside the coat closet, the downstairs bathroom, in the broom closet, and to the top of the basement stairs.  This way, snowy boots could go straight to the closet or basement without depositing dirt and salt onto the wood floors. 
One of the most beautiful aspects of the house are its new hickory floors.  Eric picked out the hickory due to its beautiful variation in grain, coloring, and character.  I am thrilled that the carpeting is now gone and we can now gaze at these boards instead.  

Curried Zucchini Soup – serves 6 – 8

1. In a large stock pot, boil 6 cups vegetable broth (or water plus bouillon) with 1 teaspoon salt.

2. In a large skillet, heat 2 – 3  tablespoons olive oil.  Saute 1 diced yellow onion until soft.  Add 3 cloves of diced garlic and cook about 5 more minutes.  
3.  Add to the boiling broth, 6 cups sliced and quartered zucchini.  Add onion and garlic mixture and 2 tablespoons curry to broth.  Bring to boil and then reduce and simmer on low for 15 to 20 minutes or until zucchinis are softened.
4.  Blend entire mixture with immersion blender or upright blender, taking care not to burn oneself!  Use a towel over the top of your blender if it is not a tight, locking lid.  
5. Return to stockpot and add in 1-½ cups small pasta shells.  Cook according to package.  Serve hot or cold. 

Israeli Couscous & Creamy Mushroom Bake

I love to modify old favorites to make a familiar meal feel new and refreshed.  That’s exactly where this next recipe’s origins are – a childhood recipe that has already been featured on here once before in the form of Curried Oat Cakes.  I swapped out a few items and added in some others for another update.  
I prefer to make my own sauces for my recipes, but let’s face it, everyone needs to cut corners from time to time.  However, I cannot bring myself to cut corners and buy the condensed soups full of preservatives.  So, I find myself always turning to Amy’s canned soups when I am in a pinch.  They make quite the line of soups, chili, and stews.  

In a bowl, mix 2 eggs with 1 cup oats and 1 cup Israeli couscous, which is actually a pasta.  Add ⅛ to ¼ cup chopped green onions for extra flavor.

It really does work, putting your green onions in water and regrowing out the green stems!  Just be sure to change out the water and peel back any areas that get a little brown.  I personally would prefer to plant these in dirt in a pot in my kitchen, if only I had the room…

 Stir mixture until well combined.

Using a spoon, form mixture into patties on a preheated skillet with 1 tablespoon oil.  Pan fry 1-2 minutes per side.  Place patties into casserole dish with 1 can of cream of mushroom soup.  Use a spoon to cover patties in soup mixture.  Add 1 – 2 tablespoons of milk or water to the soup mixture if it is too thick to cover all the patties.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes.

Enjoy warm.  This meal is satisfyingly filling for being vegetarian, I promise.  The Israeli couscous adds texture and meatiness, for lack of a better word.  The soup can be swapped out for other flavors and other chopped vegetables could easily be added before pan frying.

Israeli Couscous & Creamy Mushroom Bake 

1. In a bowl, mix 2 eggs with 1 cup oats and 1 cup Israeli couscous, which is actually a pasta.  Add ⅛ to ¼ cup chopped green onions for extra flavor.  Stir mixture until well combined.

2.  Using a spoon, form mixture into patties on a preheated skillet with 1 tablespoon oil.  Pan fry 1-2 minutes per side.  Place patties into casserole dish with 1 can of cream of mushroom soup.  Use a spoon to cover patties in soup mixture.  Add 1 – 2 tablespoons of milk or water to the soup mixture if it is too thick to cover all the patties.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes.

Pinto & Corn Quesadilla Bake

This is a perfect weeknight meal and you can easily substitute the beans and corn for other pantry staples.  It was a crowd-pleaser, it is filling, quick & simple, and can be made for meat-lovers, vegetarians, vegans, and foodies alike. 

Start with salsa or enchilada sauce of your choice – I used salsa verde.  Layer the sauce, then the bean/onion mixture, then cord, cheese and top with a tortilla.  Repeat until your heart’s desire or ingredients run out, whichever comes first.

On the last layer, add a sprinkling of cheese.  In a small bowl, whisk 2 – 3 eggs together.  Pour egg mixture over the top. 

Look at those delicious layers!

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes or til whites are solid.

Slice and enjoy.  We ate our bake with watermelon and Greta gobbled this meal down. 

Pinto & Corn Quesadilla Bake – serves 4 – 5

1. In a small saucepan, saute 1 small yellow onion until soft.  Add 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 15 oz of cooked, rinsed pinto beans.  Stir well.  Set aside.  Defrost or open can of 15 oz corn.  Have 4 – 5 soft taco sized tortillas ready for layering.

2.  In an 8 x 8 glass baking dish, spread a layer of salsa verde.  Add bean mixture (see top photo) and corn on top of salsa.  Top with tortilla and sprinkling of cheese.  Repeat this step until bean mixture and corn are used up. 

3.  After last layer of beans and corn, place quesadilla on top and covered in sprinkled cheese.  Whisk together 2-3 eggs and pour mixture over the top.

4.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes or until bubbly and hot and egg whites are cooked solid.