Monday, May 30, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash

Butternut squash, where have you been my whole life???

I know it's a winter vegetable, but I just couldn't pass up the butternut squash display at the Asian market yesterday.  I was a little worried about trying a new veggie after Luffa Disaster 2K11, but the butternut squash was anything but disastrous.  I was impressed with its smooth texture and pumpkin-like flavor.  My only regret is that I didn't buy two of them.  I am dying to try this butternut squash risotto

Inspired by Whole Foods
Serves 4


1 butternut squash
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste


1.  Preheat oven to 400.  Wash squash thoroughly.  Poke several holes in the squash with a fork.  Microwave on high for 2 minutes.

2.  Cut off the top and bottom of the squash.  Peel (carefully!) with a sharp knife, and cut flesh into one-inch pieces.

3.  Place squash pieces in a medium bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Add brown sugar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Stir to combine.  Pour onto a nonstick baking sheet with sides and spread so that squash pieces are in a single layer.

4.  Roast for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why no new posts?

Work has been eating my lunch lately.  There's so much that goes into wrapping up a school year- report cards, paperwork to be filed, finding a way to fit all of my belongings like a jigsaw puzzle into the classroom cabinets- it never ends.  I've been paperworking it until at least 9 every night.  I've even been keeping a notepad next to my bed so that, when I wake up at 3AM thinking "DEAR HEAVENS, WHAT ABOUT THE INTERVENTION FORMS FOR THE CUMULATIVE FILES"  (which happens, honey, believe me), I can just jot it down and get back to sleep.

Let me sum up the last three weeks of my life for you.

Scene 1
My living room, talking to my husband
May 25, 2011

"I don't feel good.  I've got a tummy ache."


..."OH MY GOSH I just said 'tummy'!!!!  I need a vacation."

Luckily, I have only two and a half days of work left before I get two months to sleep in, sew, and try out new recipes.

And two precious months to delete the word 'tummy' from my vocabulary.
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Open-Faced Avocado Sandwich

It's a rare occasion to find perfectly ripe avocados at my local grocery store, but I hit the jackpot yesterday.  As I pondered the destiny of my delightful green fruit, I stumbled upon recipe for an avocado sandwich that I just *had* to try. 

This sandwich was perfect for an avocado fiend like me- simple and delicious.  Next time, I'm going to save the calories and omit the olive oil.  (It didn't add anything extra to the flavor or texture.)

And, just a disclaimer, this meal is not husband-approved.  He'd probably look at me like I had three heads if I plopped a plate of avocado-on-toast in front of him.  (He doesn't know what he's missing out on, does he?)

Adapted from The Hungry Mouse
Serves 2

2 slices of bread, toasted
1 avocado, pitted and peeled
Juice of half a lime
1 tsp olive oil (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Place the avocado in a medium bowl.  Add lime juice.  Mash the avocado with a fork, stirring to incorporate lime juice.  Spread half the avocado mixture on each slice of bread.  Drizzle with olive oil if desired, and season to taste.
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Monday, May 16, 2011

Stuffed Pepper Soup

I love stuffed bell peppers, but I never make them.  I don't like having to go through the trouble of blanching and stuffing the peppers, and I can never seem to get them quite tender enough in the oven.  This soup has all the flavor of stuffed bell peppers, but none of the hassle. 

I adjusted the preparation of this recipe to suit my "I really didn't mean to be standing over the copy machine until 5:00" day.  I had two pots going at the same time, and I cooked the peppers and onion along with the ground beef.  This cut down on the cooking time quite a bit.  Next time, I'd like to top each serving with some shredded cheddar!

Adapted from Cooking with Chrissy


1 tbsp oil
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 large green bell peppers, finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
28 oz can tomato sauce
28 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups long grain rice
32 oz low-sodium beef broth
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground chipotle pepper

1.  Place oil in a large skillet and swirl to coat bottom.  Heat over medium high until shimmering.  Add ground beef, bell pepper, and onion.  Saute until peppers are tender and beef is cooked through, about 15 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, pour tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and beef broth into a large pot.  Bring to a boil.  Add rice, brown sugar, and garlic.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Add beef mixture to rice mixture.  Add salt, pepper, cayenne, and ground chipotle pepper.  Stir well.  Adjust seasonings to taste.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Scallion and Garlic Shrimp

My husband and I are big fans of Asian cuisine.  But let me tell you what I am NOT a big fan of- ginger.  As a kid, my family frequented a local restaurant that served the most delicious Cantonese chow mein.  It was chock full of meats, veggies, and crunchy pan-fried noodles, doused in a rich brown sauce.  Mmm!  Unfortunately, the cooks at this restaurant were very fond of ginger.  And I'm not talking about finely diced ginger, either.  The dish was riddled with chunks of ginger root the size of your thumb.  Shudder.

The lovely brown sauce did a bang-up job of disguising the offending spice as, say, an innocent mushroom.  So eating the dish was kind of like playing a game of Minesweeper with your food- you had to clear the good stuff off your plate without accidentally chomping a ginger-bomb.  (Guess who always managed to find the bomb?  Yep- yours truly.) 

That brings me to tonight's entree.  Try as I might, I couldn't bring myself to buy the ingredient that caused me so much dinnertime strife as a kid.  But with an ingredient list so simple, I didn't want to leave the ginger out without replacing it with another flavor.  A splash of soy sauce fit the bill.  The resulting dish was light and really hit the spot.  The best part was that it only took 25 minutes from start to finish.  It would make a great after-work entree, although I would probably prepare the scallions the night before.

Adapted from Rachael Ray


1 large egg white
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined

4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
Vegetable oil to coat pan
4 scallions, thinly sliced lengthwise, cut into 1 inch pieces, dark green parts set aside
Steamed rice


1.  In a medium bowl, whisk egg white, cornstarch, sugar, salt, and black pepper until a paste forms.  Add shrimp and toss to coat.  Set aside to marinate for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine garlic, red pepper flakes, and soy sauce in a small bowl; set aside.

2.  Drain marinade from shrimp.  Coat bottom of a large skillet with oil.  Heat over medium-high until shimmering.  Add shrimp, along with the light green and white scallion pieces, and stir to coat with oil.  Cook, stirring and scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet, until the shrimp are almost cooked through, about 2 minutes.  Add garlic mixture and dark green scallion pieces.  Continue to cook until shrimp are cooked through, about one minute.

3.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve over steamed rice.
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Overnight Steel-Cut Oats

I consider myself a pretty healthy eater.  I use my fryer about once a year, and I almost always decrease the amount of butter or oil in a dish before I make it.  I sub milk or half and half for cream.  (Most of the time.)  I don't gorge myself on chocolate, cakes, and other treats.  Except during Teacher Appreciation Week, when delicious goodies are at every turn and calories don't count.
As I was saying, I'm a pretty healthy eater.  I have limits though.  I don't eat celery, I start most days with a bowl of knock-off Lucky Charms, and I have never bought a jug of skim milk in my life.  (I figure, if I ever get a hankering for it, I'll find a way to dye water white.) 

So that brings me to oatmeal.  Ah, oatmeal.  Whenever I'm reading Charlotte's Web to my students, I always imagine that the slop in the pigs' trough is probably leftover oatmeal that the children refused to eat.  I'll choke down one of those packets of Super Sugar Maple Brown Sugar Here's Some More Sugar For Good Measure oatmeal, but the real stuff?  No way.  And I've seen steel cut oats in the health food aisle before, but I thought that they probably tasted even worse than regular oatmeal.

Oh, but I was wrong.

Steel cut oats have a delicious chew instead of that glop-in-the-mouth feel that standard oatmeal has.  They have more flavor and go great with a smattering of banana slices and pecans on top.  I've seen the light! 

Seen on Cooking With Chrissy
Originally from Good Life Eats, adapted by The Novice Chef


1 cup steel cut oats
1 3/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 ounces applesauce
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt


In a nonmetal bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, applesauce, cinnamon and salt and stir to combine. Stir in milk; cover and chill for 8 to 24 hours.

To serve, transfer oatmeal mixture to a medium saucepan. Heat the oats just until it begins to boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until oatmeal is done, adding additional milk if desired and stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Add your favorite mix-ins, and serve with additional milk, if desired.
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Monday, May 9, 2011

Pasta e Fagioli

I'll admit it- eating at the Olive Garden is one of my guilty pleasures.  And the only thing that's better than Olive Garden's Chicken Scampi is their endless soup, salad, and breadsticks special.

I've tried most of the soups, but I always go back to the pasta e fagioli.  It's hearty and satisfying, with just the right amount of spice.  So when this recipe came across my Google Reader last month, I knew I had to try it.  It was quick and easy to throw together after work and was just as satisfying as its restaurant counterpart.

Two quick notes:  I will tell you that "large pot" means LARGE pot.  I had to break out the biggest, deepest pot I own when I realized I wouldn't be able to fit it all in my 3 quart.

I didn't have a cheese rind, so I just sprinkled a good bit of shredded parmesan into the soup along with the beans.  No harm, no foul.

Adapted from Stephanie Cooks, originally from Cook's Illustrated


1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 ounces of pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 parmesan cheese rind
2 (15 1/2 oz) cans cannellini beans
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
8 ounces small pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded parmesan to top


1.  Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the pancetta or bacon, and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the onion and garlic, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5-7 minutes.

2.  Add the garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, tomatoes (and the juices from the can), scrapping up the brown bits on the bottom. Add cheese rind and beans, reduce heat to low, and cook 10 minutes.

3.  Add chicken broth.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until pasta is cooked, about 8-10 minutes.

4.  Turn off the heat and discard the cheese rind. Season with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowls- top with additional shredded parmesan cheese.
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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cake Batter Pancakes

I'm not really a breakfast food type of gal.  I'll eat things like bacon, eggs, and biscuits, but I'd just as soon have a PB&J.  The stars must have aligned, though, because I woke up early this morning at noon with breakfast on the brain.  But not just any breakfast- cake batter pancakes!  How could I resist a pancake recipe that includes a heapin' helpin' of Betty Crocker Super Moist?

My husband and I both enjoyed the pancakes quite a lot.  We were not a fan of the glaze though.  (I have a sweet tooth the size of Jupiter, but pure powdered sugar + a splash of milk was just too much for me.  I tossed the glaze and went for my standard Aunt Jemima Lite.

From How Sweet It Is
Makes about 12 pancakes


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup yellow cake mix
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 cups milk (see directions)
assorted sprinkles


1.  Combine flour, cake mix, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix.

2.  Add 1 cup of milk, egg and vanilla extract and stir until smooth. You want the batter to look like regular pancake batter- not too thin, not too thick. This will vary greatly on the brand of cake mix you use. Start with 1 cup of milk and add more if needed.

2.  Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Fold desired amount of sprinkles into batter. Pour batter in 1/4 cup measurements onto skillet and let cook until bubbles form on top, about 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook for 1 minute more.
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Monday, May 2, 2011

Blackberry-Banana Smoothies

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve going blackberry pickin' with my grandma.  The satisfaction of eating the plumpest, juiciest berries right off the vine made all the battle wounds worth it to me.

"One for the bucket, one for me, one for the bucket, two for me..."

I spent Easter weekend with my Dad and my husband in rural East Texas- a place where cows roam, wildflowers grow unrestrained, and the nights are black and free.

I was delighted to discover the wild blackberry bushes dotting the pastures of my family's acreage.  One morning, we woke up and decided to have ourselves a berry pickin' expedition.  Even twenty years later, most of my berries never make it to the bucket.  Even still, we managed to fill two huge bags with the fruit.

Until yesterday, I'd had but two kinds of blackberries in my life- blackberries off a vine and blackberries in a cobbler.  One can only make so many blackberry cobblers without having to spring for a Weight Watchers membership, so I concocted these delicious smoothies as an alternative.  The only thing better than a strawberry-banana smoothie is a blackberry-banana one.  Try it, and I think you'll agree.

An Ommy Noms Original
Serves 2


1 1/2 cups frozen blackberries (or 1 1/2 cups fresh berries plus 3 ice cubes)
1 ripe banana, cut into chunks
1 single-serving container Greek yogurt
1 cup milk


1.  Add all ingredients to a blender and pulse until smooth and well-incorporated.  Strain to remove seeds and pour into glasses.
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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure Pinto Beans

Do you remember those "Choose Your Adventure" novels from childhood?  You know, "Bob opens the door, turn to page 34.  Bob runs away screaming with his tail tucked between his legs, turn to page 39."  I used to love those things.  It was always fun to have a say in what happened to the main character, and to be able to read more than one version of the same story.

These beans remind me of those novels because they are so versatile.  You can change them up each time you make them- kind of like a Choose Your Own Beany Adventure.  (Yes, I know I'm a dork!)  Add a splash of salsa, cook on the stovetop, or break out your slow cooker.  Garnish with sour cream, sprinkle with cheddar, diced onions, and cilantro- or don't.  It's all up to you- the possibilities are endless!  And, unlike poor Bob, none of your choices will lead to an unfortunate encounter with, say, the talons of a 50-foot hawk-tiger.

An Ommy Noms original

Serves 8


1 lb bag of pintos, sorted, rinsed, and soaked overnight
1 can medium-heat rotel, drained
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 jalepeno with seeds and membranes removed, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
32 oz carton chicken broth
1 pkg sausage, cut into sections -OR- 1 smoked ham hock
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste


*** First, start by soaking the beans for at least 8-12 hours.  I usually soak them overnight. Once you're ready to cook, drain the beans, sort them to remove rocks and dirt clods, then re-rinse them a time or two.

1. Combine all ingredients, except the Rotel, in a large pot. Add water until all ingredients are covered.

2. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and cook over a low boil for 2 1/2 hrs or until tender.  Add Rotel and cook an additional 15 minutes. 

3.  Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.  Serve over rice.

Slow Cooker:
1.  Combine all ingredients, except the Rotel, in a medium to large crock pot.  Cook on low for 10 hours or high for about 6 hours.  Add Rotel in the last 30 minutes of cooking.

2.  Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.  Serve over rice.
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Chicken Salad, My Way


I loooooooves me some chicken salad. The problem with ordering it out, though, is that you never know what you're going to get. It might be like that from the Gristmill in good ole Gruene, Texas- lightly seasoned with fresh crumbled bacon and the perfect amount of green (gruene, ha!) onions. Realistically, though, most restaurant chicken salad either has 15935987987 ginormous chunks of celery or it takes like you're consuming a Mayonnaise cocktail with a side of atherosclerosis. Hence, I prefer to make my own so that I can control what goes in it.

2 diced chicken breasts, poached and cubed
1 tsp Dijon mustard (trust me here, I don't even like Dijon mustard)
5 green onions, finely sliced
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
Mayonnaise to suit your preference (about 1/2 cup is what I use)
Seasoned salt to taste
1 tsp dill weed
Splash of lemon juice

1. Mix everything in a medium bowl.

Easy, huh? You can either refrigerate this and serve it cold or you can just serve it warm right after you poach the chicken. Either way is good. We like to eat this atop Hawaiian bread buns. It's also good on croissants or plain ole bread.
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