Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Grandma's Summer Vegetable Rice Casserole

I love my paternal grandmother.  Love her.  But to be perfectly honest, from what I remember she wasn't much of a cook.  For Thanksgiving we got Publix pumpkin pies.  A dinner at her house generally involved just putting a steak on the grill.  Cooking did not happen.  So imagine my surprise when my mother told me that when my grandmother was young, she would give lavish dinner parties.  She even had some recipes printed as part of a feature in the local paper.  Shock is not a strong enough word for my reaction.  And imagine my reaction when I actually try one of these recipes, and it's good.  Not sure what alternate universe this all came from, but I'm certainly happy it did.

Grandma's Summer Vegetable Rice Casserole

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3 teaspoons salt, divided
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried basil
1 cup uncooked long grain white rice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 celery ribs, finely chopped
1 small eggplant (about 1 pound), several strips peeled from the skin and flesh cubed
½ cup chopped yellow onion
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large green pepper, cored and chopped
1 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stem removed, and sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large zucchini (about ¾ pound), thinly sliced
4 ripe tomatoes (about 1¼ pounds), chopped
8 ounces Emmentaler cheese, shredded
12 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium saucepan, heat the broth to boiling, then add 1 teaspoon salt, and the thyme, basil, and rice. Turn the heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until the rice is tender and the broth has been absorbed.

In a large sauté pan, melt three tablespoons of the butter. Sauté the celery, eggplant, onions, garlic, and green pepper until tender.  Set aside in a large bowl.  In the same pan, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and sauté the mushrooms until they release their juices and the liquid cooks off. Add the mushrooms to the vegetables in the bowl.  Mix the rice with the sautéed vegetables in the bowl.  Add the remaining salt and some pepper and mix well.

Grease a large casserole dish. Scoop half of the vegetable-rice mixture into the bottom of the dish and smooth slightly. Sprinkle with half of the chopped tomatoes and half of the sliced zucchini.  Top with half of the Emmentaler and Monterey Jack cheeses. Scoop the remainder of the vegetable-rice mixture on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with the remaining tomatoes and zucchini slices.  Top with the remaining cheeses.

Cover the casserole with foil and bake for 1 hour, then remove the foil and bake for another ½ hour so that the cheese browns.

Makes 10 servings

Monday, May 25, 2015

Parmesan Panko Fish Sticks

Maybe I lucked out as a kid.  I don't remember ever having to eat frozen fish sticks.  I think my mom probably knew better than to try it.  So that means I don't have the aversion to them that other people seem to develop.  Breaded fish actually sounds good to me.  Now, that doesn't mean I want to buy a package of processed fish sticks from the freezer section.  I'm all about making things from scratch.  And honestly, these are not that difficult to make.  And you know exactly what you're putting in your mouth.

Parmesan Panko Fish Sticks
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis and Cooking Light magazine, October 2012

1 pound halibut, cod, or salmon, cut into 20 strips
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup panko
1 cup Progresso Italian breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Non-stick cooking spray or canola oil spray

Tartar Sauce
¼ cup sour cream
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles
2 teaspoons minced capers
Dash Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon parsley flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450°F.  Place a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet, then place a rack on top of the foil.  Spray the rack with non-stick cooking spray.

Combine the flour, salt, and lemon pepper; place on a flat plate or breading tray.  Combine the panko, breadcrumbs, and cheese; place on another flat plate or breading tray.

Coat each fish strip with the flour mixture, then dip in the beaten egg, then coat with the panko crumbs.  Lay each strip on the rack with a little room between each strip.  Spray with non-stick cooking spray or canola oil.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the fish sticks halfway through baking.  While fish is baking, combine tartar sauce ingredients.  Keep cold until ready to serve.  Serve fish sticks hot from the oven with tartar sauce.

Makes 4 servings

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Pioneer Woman: Pig Pickin' Cake

What do you make for dessert when you have 50 hungry people coming to your sister's house for a crawfish boil?  Well, in addition to brownies and banana pudding, you make a cake that was traditionally brought to a pig pickin'.  Because after all that rich food, you need something refreshing.  And there's nothing more refreshing than citrus.  Plus, my nephew loves whipped cream.  And I try not to say no to my nephew.

Pig Pickin' Cake
Adapted from Pioneer Woman

1 (16½-ounce) box Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe butter recipe golden cake mix
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 (14-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained, ½ cup juice reserved
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (5.1-ounce) package vanilla instant pudding mix
1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained, juice reserved
½ cup powdered sugar
1 (8-ounce) container Cool Whip or equivalent amount sweetened whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9x13-inch baking pan.

For the cake, combine the cake mix, butter, ½ cup of reserved juice from the mandarin oranges, eggs, and vanilla extract in a mixer bowl. Using the paddle attachment, beat for four minutes on medium-high speed. Add the drained oranges and beat again until the orange pieces are broken up and small. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool completely. If desired, turn out cake onto a large platter.

Once the cake is cool, blend the juice from the drained pineapple with the vanilla pudding mix. Add the powdered sugar and drained pineapple and mix, then fold in the Cool Whip. Spread on the cooled cake and refrigerate, covered, for several hours before serving.

Makes 24 servings

Friday, May 15, 2015

Paula Deen: Better Than Paula's Banana Pudding

I once had a coworker bring banana pudding to a function.  I happily dug in.  I mean, who doesn't love banana pudding?  Disappointed that there were no bananas in my serving, I went back to see if I could find one in the serving dish.  Nope.  I mentioned the lack of bananas, thinking everyone else had nabbed them, and my coworker said that she didn't like bananas, so she didn't put any in.  Note: If you don't put any bananas in and only use vanilla pudding, it's not banana pudding.  My biggest pet peeve about banana pudding is the vanilla pudding thing.  I want my pudding to TASTE like bananas.  That's the point, right?  So I doctored up a Paula Deen pudding recipe to both make it more traditional (Chessmen cookies??  Nilla wafers or go home) and to make it more banana, less vanilla.  Nailed it.

Better Than Paula's Banana Pudding
Adapted from Paula Deen

2 cups whole milk
1 (4.6-ounce) box banana cream "cook and serve" pudding mix
1 (11-ounce) box Nilla wafers
5 to 6 bananas, sliced
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 (8-ounce) containers Cool Whip, thawed, or equal amount sweetened whipped cream, divided use
1½ teaspoons vanilla bean paste

Prepare pudding with only 2 cups of milk according to package directions (the package will call for 3 cups of milk - just use 2). Cover the hot pudding with a piece of plastic wrap, pushing the wrap down onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.  Refrigerate until cold.

Line the bottom of a 9x13-inch dish with enough cookies to cover and layer bananas on top. In a bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended. Fold 8 ounces (1 container) of the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture along with the vanilla bean paste. Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas. Spread the remaining 8 ounces (1 container) whipped topping over the pudding and cover with the remaining cookies or cookie crumbs. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

Makes 12 servings

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Cheddar Green Chile Cornbread Muffins

I'm normally not a big fan of using a mix for baked goods, but these are doctored up so well, you can't really tell there was anything packaged involved.  And they're incredibly quick to throw together, so another bonus.  They're also really portable, so you can take them in the closet with you when the annual tornado sirens go off.  Gotta love spring in Texas.

Cheddar Green Chile Cornbread Muffins

1 (8½-ounce) box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 large egg
¼ cup whole milk
1 (8¼-ounce) can cream style corn
1 (4-ounce) can mild diced green chiles
2 ounces finely shredded Cheddar cheese
¼ teaspoon chili powder

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Combine all ingredients thoroughly. Spoon into a muffin pan sprayed with cooking spray, each cup about ⅔ full. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffin comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins