Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Eggplant Parmesan Casserole

I have argued back and forth with myself if I should share this recipe or not.

The flavors of zucchini, eggplant and cheese paired with a homemade marinara sauce and cooked slowly over a few hours have created a casserole that left my tummy very satisfied.

With a satisfied belly and flavors that proved to be wonderfully matched, why would I not want to share this dish?

Quite simply, the dish was difficult to photograph.  I could have spent more time arranging each piece of eggplant, every drop of sauce or place the spinach just right.

There is a bit of chatter among bloggers and photographers about how much is too much when it comes to photographing food.

I admit that I spend more time than some because I want the presentation and the props to create a mood, setting or feel along with the food that is presented.  This is not from a desire to have the perfect dish but more from a sense of working in the business, experience and years of looking at food in magazines, papers and on blogs.

When I first started years ago I did not know all of the tricks of the trade.  My lighting was off, the silverware was placed wrong or my focus was off, too much bokeh usually.  Bokeh is the blur you create in the background of most images.

It took me lots of trying, playing, researching and developing of my own skills before I started taking the pictures I wanted.  Even today I get all jelly-legged and excited when I come across a blog or picture that causes me to stop and stare in awe.  When this happens I reevaluate my own photography skills and try to determine what I need to improve upon.

I believe that we are in a constant state of improving when it comes to mastering our own craft.  My craft happens to be photography and cooking.  Someone else's may be sewing, computer programming or design.

Getting back to this recipe, I felt that the images would not conjure up the desire in my readers to give this dish a try solely on the basis of the image.

When I see the pictures this is how I feel, this is what it invokes in me.  My mind is a dreamer, a drifter and a romantic.   I see a hearty meal prepared by loving hands.  I want to imagine a family that has been hard at work in the fields of the farm, working the soil and creating a deep hunger with in themselves as the hours pass by.  I go back to a time with castles, moors and moats.  I see the tartan plaid worn by the village people, the pottery plate and the silver utensils.  All  ready to hold the feast that is rich in flavor, texture and color. It stirs a warmness in my belly.  I see the sauce being soaked up by a loaf of warm bread.  I see a meal that is fit for a hungry man.

A picture is worth a thousand words.  It tells far more than we may want to believe.  It is the first contact that you have with a recipe.  It stirs your taste buds, reminds you of a memory.

This is why I was worried that you may or may not find this dish appetizing.  If you have made it this far I am grateful that you took the time to dig a bit deeper.  The Eggplant Parmesan Casserole is a keeper in my home.  It may not look like much but I can't wait to prepare it again.

When a recipe does that to a person, then you know it's a winner.

Recipe:  Eggplant Parmesan Casserole

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled
  • oil for pan
  • 2 cups of flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups of fresh spinach, washed
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch
  • 5 slices of provolone cheese
  • 1 package of fresh mozzarella, the log
  • 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 4 cups of marinara or meat sauce, homemade or store bought

NOTE:  To make this dish gluten free, I used an equal combination of almond meal and brown rice flour to dip my eggplant in.  You can also use white rice flour.

Preheat oven 350.  This dish was created to use in dutch oven or deep oven proof stone bowl.  Below is a picture of the dish that I used.

To prepare the eggplant: Peal the eggplant with a potato peeler.  This makes the eggplant less bitter. Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch slices.  Heat oil in a large saute pan.  Place the flour, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Add the milk and one egg to another bowl.  Dip each slice into the milk and then the flour.  Fry on each side until golden brown.  Set aside.

When you have the eggplant fried, zucchini sliced, spinach washed then you are ready to start layering your dish.  I mixed and matched my layers with veggies, using the three cheeses through the dish.

This is an example of how I layered mine.

parmesan cheese
provolone Cheese
mozzarella Cheese
mozzarella cheese

Cover the casserole with a lid or foil.

Bake the casserole for 1 hour and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Pictures below will help you see some of the layers.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Chocolate Brownies #GlutenFree

Chocolate, coffee and almond meal make this brownie rich in flavor and moist in texture.  This brownie is a gluten free treat that will fool your friends.  I have topped it with  caramel and a few toasted nuts.

Recipe: Chocolate Brownies
Serving size: 12-16 brownies depending on size of each one

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 25-30 minutes

1/2 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of light olive oil
4 large eggs
1 cup of almond meal (store bought or made at home)
2 teaspoons of vanilla
1 cup of cocoa powder
2 teaspoons of finely ground coffee
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup of nuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350.

In a medium size bowl, combine sugar and oil. Using a hand mixer, blend ingredients well. Adds egg and mix on high speed for 2 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine vanilla and coffee powder. Stir and set aside.

Add almond meal, salt and cocoa to sugar/oil mix. Using a spoon or spatula mix together until smooth.

Add coffee/vanilla. Stir well.

Fold in chocolate chips and nuts.

Line a 12 X 8 ,or pan of your choice, with parchment paper.

Pour batter into pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30 minutes or until brownies puff up in the center.

Cool on wire rack. Once cooled, brownies will settle.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies
Makes 3 dozen cookies


1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup of brown sugar
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

 Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Cream together the butter and sugar in a table top mixer;  add pumpkin, eggs and vanilla.  Beat cookie dough for 2 minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients.  Mix well.

Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture.

Fold in the chocolate chips.

Prepare cookie sheet with spray or laying down a piece of parchment paper. Scoop cookie dough two inches apart onto cookie sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Cool on wire racks.

Recipe: Gluten-Free Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies 

½ C butter
1 C brown sugar
1 egg
1 C canned pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla
2 cup of Rice Flour
1 tsp GF baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugar together.

Add egg, pumpkin & vanilla. Combine together well.

Add all dry ingredients. Stir well.

Add chocolate  chips.

Prepare pan with spray or parchment paper. Scoop dough two inches apart.

Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes. (They're best a little underbaked, so they are still really soft.)

Remove to cooling rack and let cool.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Turkey Legs

I know, a post about cooking turkey legs.  Something so simple that it may not warrant a bit of time as a full post.

Except they are so delicious, make a great addition to soup, can be used in enchilada's and are the perfect size for a family of one or two.

I remember being a young couple living in TX at Bergstrom Air Force Base (which is now the airport in Austin) and being overwhelmed with the idea of cooking a huge turkey.  First, I did not think we would eat a whole turkey; secondly, I did not know the first thing about preparing a bird, a whole bird.

So for these two reasons-easy to prepare and can be used in so many things-I decided to go ahead and write a short recipe of how I prepare our turkey legs.

I buy two at a time from Whole Foods and they range in price from $4-$5…very affordable.

I set my oven to start preheating to 425 degrees while I get the legs ready to cook.

I use four basic ingredients:

garlic powder
olive oil

Now if I want to jazz up the flavor I can add any or all of these:

curry powder
dried herbs: thyme, rosemary, basil or oregano
onion powder
Old Bay Seasoning (Maryland  required spice that works on everything…LOL)

I like to use my cast iron pans but you can use any pan the legs fit into.  Try to give them some room, I try to keep them from touching.

Bake for 20 minutes, turn legs, and bake another 20 minutes.  These legs are larger than chicken legs and I like to check the internal temperatures to make sure they are done. Use a thermometer to do this.
Internal temperature should not be below 165 degrees.

Remove from oven and let legs rest for 10 minutes.

I have served them whole, one per guest.  Picked the meat off and used them in a variety of recipes.  Used the leg bones to make broth.

Turkey legs are simply useful in my kitchen when it comes to creating easy or gourmet dishes.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cheddar Cheese Crackers #glutenfree

UPDATE:  2-5-2015  Hi, I had a comment that a reader made the crackers and they spread on the cookie sheet and did not hold their shape.  I have remade them again, using the instructions below, and I didn't have the same issue. I will note that I use a high end sharp cheddar cheese.  I use Cabot to be exact.  My oven temperature holds at 400 degrees so it is very hot.  I will include a few pictures below to show you the batch I just made.  These are white because I used white sharp cheddar cheese and not the orange this time.  I also tried putting the dough in the freezer but it made it very brittle and hard to work with.  I recommend if you do this, letting it warm up a bit before trying to roll it.  My cracker dough is similar to pie crust--its thick.  If your dough, after adding the milk, is not coming together in a ball, then add a drop or two more milk until it forms a ball.   I hope this helps and please leave a comment if you have any questions or comments. The thinner the dough is rolled, the crispier the cracker gets.

  I just ate 10 crackers--LOL  I forgot how good they are!
Before they went into the oven.

After baking for 10 minutes.

My cutting set up and how thin I roll the dough.

I enjoyed these tasty cheddar cheese crackers with tuna fish and an extra slice of cheese for lunch the other day with my husband.  My taste buds were pleasantly surprised at the flavor of sharp cheddar.

The crispy cracker was a welcome to my longing for something crunchy.

I was delighted that I made these from scratch.

The cheddar Cheese Crackers are gluten free but you don't have to eat that way to enjoy a delicious alternative to a store bought product.

Some times labels can scare us away from trying something new, especially if you feel that flavor and texture will be sacrificed.  I was satisfied with the results and wanted to share this with my readers.

All of the products can be purchased at a health food store, Whole Foods or most major grocery chains in the baking aisle.

This recipe calls for Potato Starch, not to be confused with Potato Flour.  You will NOT get the same results, please check the packaging carefully.

I used a sharp cheddar but you could easily use a milder cheese or a different variety, like parmesan.

The shape of my cracker was achieved by using a special round cookie cutter that I received as a gift from my kids.  It has a scallop edge and makes the crackers into a cute "RITZ" shape.

Honestly, I was too lazy to make a fish and make Fishy Crackers with this recipe but you could definitely do that if you have the cutter and the time.

Enjoy these simple crackers with your favorite topping or eat them straight from the cooling rack (they may not last any longer than that).

Recipe:  Cheddar Cheese Cracker
Makes roughly, using a 1.5 inch cookie cutter,   35-40 crackers

1 cup of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 tablespoons of butter, soft
3/4 cup of potato starch (Not potato flour)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon flax meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons of milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

I used my table mixer with the paddle blade.  You can use a bowl and hand mixer too.

Combine all of the ingredients.

Mix until a smooth dough is formed.

Add a piece of parchment paper to a cookie sheet.

With a separate piece of parchment paper on your work surface, add the dough.  Add another piece of parchment paper to the top of the dough and push down.

Using a rolling pin, roll the dough between the two parchment paper pieces until you reach your desired thickness. I think 1/4 inch is too thick, I like mine a bit thinner than this.  They do puff when baked and to achieve the crispy texture, they cannot be too thick or they will be soft.

Using a cookie cutter of your choice, I used a 1.5 inch scallop cutter, start cutting out your shapes and moving them to the cookie sheet.

I used a knife and my hand, lifting the bottom piece of parchment paper, to help get under the dough.  Most of the shapes came right up but there were a few that needed help.

Place shapes every inch.

Bake crackers for 10 minutes.  I turned my tray, because of how my oven cooks, every 5 minutes.

If you like your crackers to have a nuttier flavor then add 2 extra minutes to the bake time.   The edges of the crackers will be darker.

Store the crackers in a baggie or sealed container.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Homemade Marinara Sauce

2020 Update:  I am using our recipes during the quarantine and updating notes. This is a family favorite and easy to make with fresh ingredients too.

My family enjoys quick and easy meals on busy nights.  Sometimes we are running from school to home, to soccer, to home and then to band or girl scouts.  

There are days that our schedules feel more like a marathon than a busy family.  I try really hard to not over-commit myself or my kids but it just happens.

On these nights I am looking for fast, healthy meals.  I could open a jar of pre-made spaghetti sauce and call it good, but I would rather plan ahead and have this sauce in the refrigerator for just those moments.

I have several reasons why I don't do this.  Personally, I don't like super sweet marinara sauce and I feel like the pre sauces that you get in the store are overly sweet.  I also don't like paying the higher prices for a good marinara sauce.  Some jars are upwards of $10.00 a bottle.

I find it takes me about 10 minutes to put the ingredients together for a homemade batch of marinara vs. the few minutes to twist the lid of a jar and microwave.

When I have more time, I will let it simmer on the stove so that the flavors can develop into a thick marinara.  I will admit, with time, I sometimes warm it up knowing it will be better the next day but my family is hungry and they need to eat sooner than later.

As the Mom and cook in the family sometimes I have to overlook a few gourmet embellishments for the sake of a simple, healthy dish. 

In the summer, I enjoy julienned zucchini sticks in place of noodles.  I have always found that zucchini and tomatoes pair well together and in this case, the sauce and vegetable take center stage.  We add a bit of freshly grated parmesan too.

This sauce can easily be turned into a yummy and delicious meat variety by adding hamburger, veal or sausage or a combination of all three.  I have also used it in lasagna and with my eggplant parmesan recipe.   

Recipe:  Homemade Marinara Sauce

2 cans of diced tomatoes (I often use fresh tomatoes too)
1 can of tomato sauce (15 oz or close to it)
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
1/4 cup of onion, diced small
2 tablespoons of olive oil, for sautéing + 2 tablespoons for sauce
1 tablespoon of fresh basil
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/2 -1 teaspoon of kosher salt ( start with less and add more as needed) 

BONUS FLAVORS TO ADD: I will add carrots, celery, or bell pepper to add small nuances to the flavor. We love this for pizza toast, lasagna, or zucchini roll-ups.

In a small saute pan add 2 T. of oil and saute onion and garlic together until onion is clear.

In a medium-size pot, on medium heat, add the remaining ingredients.  Add the sauteed onion and garlic.

Let simmer, with small bubbles popping on the surface of the sauce, for 15 minutes.  The sauce will get thicker the longer you simmer it.  I usually shoot for an hour if I have the time.

Taste your sauce to see if more salt is needed.  This is an important step because the right amount of salt makes this really shine.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

What is not to love about BBQ pork sandwiches?

I always find room in our summer schedule to make this at least once.  


Two reasons.

First, it is a great way to use up my extra BBQ sauce that I had made for something else like BBQ chicken legs or ribs.

Secondly, it feeds a crowd.  Our summers are busy and we find ourselves with friends and family over on the weekends.

The last thing I want to do is spend my time in the kitchen when I have my family in town.  I would rather be shopping, talking, laughing and playing games.

I add the pork and the BBQ sauce to the crockpot, set the temperature and I am set for the day or a few hours. 

Easy, simple and always a crowd pleaser.

Along with making the pork and coleslaw, I made some gluten free flat bread for those of us that are trying to stay wheat free.

I used a cookie cutter to cut them into the shape of a bun.  The bread held up remarkably well despite the juices from both the coleslaw and pulled pork. I was impressed.


Wether you use gluten free bread or regular buns, coleslaw or no slaw, eat one or two, serve for dinner or lunch…this meal is easy, simple and always makes great left overs.

Recipe:  BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich
makes 6-8 very full sandwiches

2 pound pork roast
1 cup of BBQ sauce, I use my homemade version (recipe below)
8 buns
coleslaw, optional

BBQ Sauce:

Makes 3 cups of sauce, after simmering for an hour

1.5 cups of ketchup
1/2 cup of tomato sauce
1 cup of red wine vinegar
1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup of soy sauce
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons mustard powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons hot sauce
1/8-1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke (start with less and add more based on your taste)

Combine all of the above ingredients into a medium size pot.  Turn heat to medium high and bring sauce to almost a boil, bubbles around edges.  Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. 

You will start to notice your sauce getting deeper in color, thicker and reducing.  This is what you want.

NOTE:  I use two cups for BBQ chicken legs or ribs and save 1 cup aside to make this recipe a few weeks down the road.  

In a crockpot, add your 1 cup of sauce and pork roast.

Set temperature to high and let cook for 3-4 hours. If you wish to cook this on low you can, it will take 8-10 hours.

When  the meat is done, meat will PULL apart easily.  Continue to pull pork apart into bite size pieces and mix into the sauce so that every piece is covered.

Serve pork immediately or refrigerate for later use.

We add coleslaw to our sandwiches and the recipe can be found here.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Crockpot Refried Beans

Dried beans come in a  variety of sizes, colors and the flavors are countless.

The dishes that can be created by adding beans are also numerous, they can include soups, salads, side dishes, salsa's, puree's, etc...

Sometimes I just don't have time to rehydrate them though.  I buy the packages and when I want to use them I have not given myself enough time to prepare the red bean, black bean or pinto bean.

White lima beans, kidney beans and navy bean sit at the bottom of my pantry anxiously awaiting the day that I remember to soak them overnight or boil them in hot water for a few hours.

Like many, if I need some beans right now, I run to the store and buy them in a can.

We love refried beans and I will often serve them as a side dish when we have enchilada's, on our nacho's or in the bottom of a corn tortilla before we add the cheese, lettuce and ripe tomatoes.

Refried Beans is a simple dish.

I also learned it is an easy dish.

I found inspiration to try this recipe when I woke up one morning and my beans fell out onto the kitchen floor.  I felt that they had flung themselves at me.  THUD, landing at my feet.

My crockpot was sitting on the counter, and together, the beans and the crockpot, were telling me I needed to give my crazy thought a try.

In the end, I was so excited that I did because this dish came together nicely.  I made it in the early morning and it was done by dinner time.

When you make your own refried beans you have so much control in how the flavors will be paired and the end result.

I will be making these from scratch for now on because I learned several things.

Great flavor.

Easy preparating.


Yep, they were simply good.

Good taste, texture and flavor.

Recipe:  Crockpot Refried Beans

6 cups of water
6 chicken bouillon cubes
3 cups of dried pinto beans
1 tablespoon of granulated garlic
2 teaspoons of onion powder

2 teaspoons of cumin
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup of jalapeno (optional)
Cheese (optional)

Add all of the above ingredients to a crockpot.

Set temperature to high and cook for 4-5 hours.  If you choose to cook it on low the time will be much longer, 8-10 hours.

I checked the beans after 3 hours to make sure they were doing okay and every hour after that.

You will have to remove some water when the beans return to their desired doneness.  I removed almost one full cup.

I used a potato masher to mash the refried beans together.  They will get thicker as they sit for a few minutes or even the next day.

I liked having a variety of beans in the dish that ranged from whole to mash.

Sifting Through Life: First Day of Kindergarten

Here we go!

School has started and so has the buzzing of this time of year.  I think I signed my life away for my son who is a sophomore in high school.  Every teacher has sent home a consent form, some teachers sent a safety form and others, a supply list.

Sign, print, date…REPEAT..over and over.

College has not yet started for my oldest daughter. She is home with me during the day.  Soon enough she will be back with a full load, preparing for mid terms and anxiously counting the days until she is finally done with school.

With Rye we sign one thing…the check. We are fortunate that we can pay for some of her schooling.

Kindergarten was a bit more laid back for Isabella, we met the teacher on Tuesday and she attended a staggered schedule on Thursday.  A few papers were filled out: birthday, name and locker tag.

The moment we left the classroom Isabella professed her love for her teacher.

"I just love my teacher," she says.

I was curious how a quick meeting with a woman that she just met could cause such a reaction in her small heart.

"Why is that?" I asked.

She sweetly replied, "Because she is beautiful Mom and she is my teacher".


Is she not the sweetest little five year old?  This morning as we left for school, she needed a gift for her new teacher.  We went out side to our back yard and looked around.  What could we quickly throw together?

The only thing we have blooming in our yard at the moment is a pretty bush with a cluster of pink blossoms at the very end of each branch.  We grabbed the kitchen shears and headed to the back of the yard.  We fought our way through spider webs and dead leaves.  Reaching up, we discovered that the pretty pink blossoms were wilting and slowly losing their beauty.

We picked them anyway.  I had taken three different types of ribbons in three colors to create a pretty bow to secure the small bouquet.

Our walk to school is short and sweet, it takes us about 5 minutes to weave around the cars parked in the street and cross the busy road to finally arrive at the new school.

I was impressed that Isabella was not nervous or scared.  She was so excited to deliver her gift that it helped to keep her mind off of the fact that she would be going to a new school.

Ms. (kindergarten teacher) did not disappoint.

There, in line, standing behind 4 or 5 little kids, Isabella patiently waited with her orange and pink back pack and Hello Kitty lunch box.  She was wearing the tennis shoes that she picked out with a cute floral shirt and jean capris.

With every opening and closing of the door she waited to see her teacher.  Her head would turn to me and then the door wondering when it would be her turn to go inside to see her new room.

Finally Ms. KT arrived.  Holding her short list of kids for the day, she spotted Isabella immediately and hugged her.  She saw the flowers, or what was left of the few blossoms that had made the trek from the back yard, down the street and to the front door of the school.  All the while being swung back and forth rubbing against her capris.

She smiled down at Isabella and I could see the admiration that Isabella had as she looked up into the eyes of the lady that would be responsible for my little girl, five days a week for 6.5 hours a day.

Isabella trusted her new teacher and was eager to stay.

There were no tears from her or from me.  We hugged and parted ways for a few hours as she adjusted to her new schedule, new friends and a new teacher.

I had planned on homeschooling Isabella as I had done with my older two.  She had other plans.  If we had another child closer to her age, I would have kept her with me, but we don't.  I have a college student and a high school student who are gone all day.  She longs for someone to play dolls, dress up and kitchen with her.  We play and play but it is never enough.

I don't have the stamina I had when my older two were this age and I don't want her to be bored.  I want her to be challenged and happy.

It was hard for me to decide to send her to school but I saw the joy that she radiated, the love she had for her teacher and the friends she was eager to play with on her first day of school.

I will take each year as it comes and if she is happy and doing well we won't change a thing.

I am grateful for teachers.  We feel lucky to live in an area with small class sizes, friendly families and great support from the school board.

I can't believe that we are already here: the first day of kindergarten.

I don't know how the time went by so fast, but it did.

I told my son the other day that I did not want him to grow up anymore.  I hugged him and realized I was not hugging the little boy anymore but a young man.  He looked down at me and smiled and said, "I know Mom".

He shaved for the first time this week.

Rye is moving on with her life too.  Establishing new friends, looking for a job, trying to figure out her future.

Oh, it's hard watching them grow up; yet it is exhilarating at the same time.

My kids will always be my most treasured possession.  I can't keep them in a fancy jewelry box or protect them from being stolen.

They have their whole lives ahead of them, just as we did.

The first day of kindergarten is the beginning of a whole new world for them, then high school and finally college.  It all goes by too fast.

I will watch them go and wait for them to return with arms wide open.

…there she goes!  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cauliflower and Zucchini Crust for Pizza

I took a huge risk trying this recipe on my family.  Only a few us should not eat wheat and so most of our bread that I make is not wheat free and this would include our pizza dough.

I feared that if I tried this my family would boycott the pizza party.

I had a few odd looks from my kids when I told them what the crust was made out of but the overall response was positive.

It helped that I made a homemade red sauce to accompany the cauliflower, bell pepper and zucchini crust.

Yep, I went there.  To that special place reserved for those of us trying to push the envelope with recipe development.  Could the crust handle two more added ingredients or would it change the dynamics of the crust and create a gooey glob of vegetables.

I guess it was a chance I was willing to take.  My gut told me it would work and it did.

The key to making this crust turn out is "less is best".  You must squeeze out every last drop of water from the vegetables that you can.  I used a towel and wrung it until my hands could not wring any more.  LOL  Next time I may recruit my hubby for this.

Does the crust replace a traditional pizza crust from NYC…heck no, but to those of us that are trying to eat less wheat, less carbs and eat a bit healthier, this is a great alternative to try once in a while.

Recipe:  Cauliflower and Zucchini Pizza Crust

6 cups of raw cauliflower, chopped finely, I use my food processor
1 cup of zucchini, chopped finely, I use my food processor
1/2 cup of yellow bell pepper, chopped finely
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, grated fine
4 oz or 1/2 cup of cream cheese, soft
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon of dried italian herbs
pinch of salt

Pizza Sauce, your choice
Pizza Toppings, your choice

I used my food processor to finely chop (rice) all of my vegetables.

Boil one inch of water in a large pot and add veggies.  Cook for 5 minutes.

Line a large colander or strainer with a thin dish cloth and pour vegetables into strainer.  BE VERY CAREFUL if you decide to squeeze the veggies at this point without letting them cool first, you will burn your hands, trust me, I already did the first time.

Two things can be done: let the vegetables cool for 15 minutes or rinse them with cold water.  You decide.

Gather up the edges of the towel and start wringing out the water.  Even when you think you have done all you can do, try again.  It should be as dry as possible.

Take a large bowl and add cheese, cream cheese, egg, herbs and salt.  Mix well.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and dump the "dough" in the middle of the pan.

Using your hands, push the crust until you have the desired thickness.  I went for a 1/4 inch. Your hands will get messy and sticky.

Your crust should look like this before it is baked.

Bake for 40 minutes at 400 degrees.  The crust will have a golden appearance.

Add your sauce, cheese and toppings and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Cut your pizza like any other crusted pizza with a pizza wheel. The crust will be easier to pick up and eat if cooled for a few minutes.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Steak Spring Roll with Red Wine Reduction

Thinking outside of the box is something I seem to do pretty well in my everyday life and now it seems to be trickling over into my kitchen.

I have made the traditional spring rolls with shrimp and have found that my family is not a fan of the shrimp but they love the concept of using the round rice disk as a way of holding delicious veggies.

Recently I found some beef that had been cut into thin wide strips at Whole Foods.  I figured this could be used for any number of dishes so I included it in my shopping cart.  I will often buy unique things in the store without having any idea of what dish I may include it in.

The next day I noticed I had a few vegetables that needed to be used up that day.  This idea came to my mind.  A steak spring roll.  Would it taste okay?  Sure, steak is kind of like bacon in our family, added to most things, it will taste fantastic.

Reaching for a baggie, I started adding a bit of this and a little of that to season and marinate the beef.  I had a feeling this would be amazing and so I wrote everything down as I went.  I don't always do this when I first try a recipe because it usually requires some tweaking over the next few months.

When you use certain ingredients a lot you learn their qualities and attributes to a recipe and when marrying the ingredients together you are able to create an explosion of flavor.  This happened. 

I wanted the meat to be somewhat strong in flavor, I was okay if it tasted a bit saltier than normal.  With the pairing of the fresh veggies and rice wrapper, this combination would allow the meat to shine in every bite.


Rye, my oldest daughter, is usually my taste tester when she is not in college and I knew this was a hit for the mere fact that she was pacing the halls back and forth from her room to the stove, asking me on more than one occasion, "are they done yet?" and telling me, "that smells so good".

The longest part of this dish?  Julienne vegetables.  I love the look and I wanted those thin matchstick pieces to shine in the pictures of the spring roll.  My hand and mind needed to work together to create these narrow sticks of beauty.

As I started to line up the veggies next to each and could see the rainbow of flavor that would be featured in each spring roll,  I was motivated to continue on to the next ingredient.  I do have a OXO mandolin that has a julienne blade but I wanted the challenge of doing it by hand.  

I love my kitchen gadgets that help me to save time but on this day I wanted the experience of doing this simple, yet taxing task, the old fashion way…me and steel.

Working with the rice wrappers is a new experience for some.  You have this hard disk and you are expected to create a spring roll of deliciousness how?  LOL

I have given you step by step instructions below to help you work with and use this ingredient.  

I love these steak spring rolls and cannot wait to make them again for myself, my family or friends. 

Recipe:  Steak Spring Rolls with a Red Wine Reduction 
makes 8, 16 halves

6 slices of thin strips of beef, cut 1/4 in thick
1/4 teaspoon of onion powder
2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worceshershire Sauce
dash of pepper
oil, for searing meat
3/4 cup of red wine
salt to taste
toasted sesame seeds
assortment of veggies for filling: cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, onion,  bell pepper, etc…
8 rice spring roll wrapper disc

Marinate meat in a baggie along with onion powder, soy sauce, worceshershire sauce and pepper for one hour.

In a large skillet, heat oil and add meat.  Dispose of left over marinade.  

Cook meat for about 2 minutes on each side.  The thin strips will cook quickly and you don't need them well done and chewy.  Sprinkle each side with toasted sesame seeds. 

The meat marinade and juices, when combined with the oil in the pan, will create a small amount of liquid.  Remove your meat to a plate.  Set the pan aside with the juice for creating the sauce later.  Any juice that is left on the plate from the meat sitting should be added to the pan too. 

After the meat has cooled a bit, cut each piece into thin strips to match those of the veggies.  Try to cut across the grain so the meat will be easier to bite into.  

Prepare you veggies.  To help stack the veggies and meat, they will work better if everything is cut into thin strips.  The lettuce can be shredded.

The picture below will show you what a single rice disk will look like.  They are sold in packages at most grocery stores in the Asian sections.

I use a shallow pie dish filled half way with warm water to soften my rice disk in.  This process is quick.  You will place the disk in the warm water and wait about 30 seconds.  The disk will slowly go from hard to super soft in about 3 minutes.

Remove the disk to your work surface and start stacking your veggies and meat.

Try to work quickly.  Take the left side and the right side and fold into the middle.   Starting at the bottom, flip that over the filling, tighten a bit to secure all of the ingredients and proceed to roll into a spring roll form.

Your spring roll is complete.  I lay my rolls on a plate in a single roll.  The skin of the roll becomes tacky to the touch and if you lay them on top of each other they could tear apart.

Serving the spring rolls is easy.  I have an assortment of dipping sauces available and cut them in half.

Recipe: Red Wine Reduction

Drippings from pan and plate (around 1/4 cup)
3/4 cup of red wine

Heat pan and let the juices and wine simmer (gently rolling) until it reduces to 1/3 of a cup.  Stir occasionally. Taste the reduction to see if salt is needed.  The time for this step will depend on how thick you want the sauce.  It took me about 10 minutes.

Donut Breakfast Casserole

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