Thank You

My first post for Something for (almost) Nothing was a recipe for Brown-eyed Susan cookies, which remains one of my favorite recipes. That was in January 2011. My post today will be the last, though the blog will remain open for  use to browse and cook from. My interests have moved on, and I will be focusing on my newest blog, called My Illinois Nature Journal. It features my photos, watercolors, and info about creating nature journals. 

THANK YOU to my all readers, some of whom have been with me from the beginning. I have have been grateful for your loyalty, even as I segued from cookies to low-carb meals! So thank you, again.

Please stop by My Illinois Nature Journal, and sign up to receive posts. Peace be with you. Fran

silver-spotted skipper, July 28, 2019

Italian Sandwich Salad

The road to this Italian Sandwich Salad was short but sweet. Summer is here, and although I have a new oven (my old, and I mean, my really old oven, that was at least sixty years old, finally rusted away), I don’t really want to turn it on. It will probably be 92 degrees today, and I’ll be content with enjoying looking at the new oven, and even enjoying what Jim calls the “new oven smell.” It’s the little things.

And then I was riffling through one of my fav low-carb cookbooks (The Big Book of Low-Carb by Broihier and Mayone), and ran across this Italian Sandwich Salad. In the low-carb world, just because a recipe has the word “sandwich” in its name doesn’t mean there’s any bread in it. As if! But it does have all the ingredients of a so-called Italian muffuletta sandwich, and is loaded with salami, provolone, onion and tasty seasonings.

This particular salad contained something new to me–hamburger chip pickles, and as it turns out, they are the secret ingredient to a really delicious salad. This is so easy to make–just throw the ingredients into the bowl, one after another, toss it, and serve it up!

Italian Sandwich Salad

1/4 pound provolone cheese, chopped
1/4 pound sliced salami or Spanish chorizo, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 medium or one small Vidalia onion, chopped
3/4 cups hamburger chip pickles, drained and chopped
one 2-1/4-ounce can sliced black olives, drained
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
lettuce for lining salad bowl, if desired

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and toss well. It’s ready to serve!

Ingredients. I’ve substituted a Spanish chorizo from Aldi for the salami, and it was so good.
I like to line the salad bowl with a ruffle of lettuce–red lettuce would look pretty, too. Here it is, washed and ready on a towel.
You don’t have to use provolone. The first time I made this, I used the pepper jack cheese, which added a hint of heat to the salad. This time, I used marinated mozzarella. This was good, too!
This is the Spanish chorizo I used. It’s different than Mexican chorizo–more like a salami. It doesn’t have to be cooked, and has a delicious smoky flavor..
You could also use an Italian salami. I found this one at Aldi. They have a large assortment of salamis, and they are fun to try. But the Spanish chorizo did have a wonderful smoky flavor.
These are the marinated mozzarella balls I used. I drained them before adding to the salad.
Use a smallish green pepper. Green pepper has an intense flavor and can dominate a salad if too much is used. Seed it and coarsely chop.
As you prepare each ingredient, toss into the work bowl.
I used a small Vidalia onion, and cut it into thin slices. You could use a regular onion, but if the salad is stored overnight, the onion flavor will dominate.
I used a so-called “gourmet medley” of grape tomatoes to add color to the salad.
Slice each tomato in half and add to the bowl.
These hamburger chip pickles are not sweet. They add a dill note to the salad.
About 3/4 cup chopped pickles. You can estimate.
Keep chopping and tossing!
You can add other ingredients to make this salad your own.
Time to add the dressing ingredients.
Use two big spoons to toss the ingredients.
I almost forgot about the olives! I used these Greek kalamata olives, because that’s what I had on hand. Use your favorite.
Have your salad, lettuce, and serving bowl ready.
Line the serving bowl with a ruffle of lettuce. A shallow serving bowl works best here.
I’m serving this salad with some bing cherries for dessert. Lime slices are on hand to sprinkle juice over the salad. I’ve been using bowls instead of plates for everything lately–they make everything look appetizing.
Just a close peek at the cherries–they are delicious and inexpensive this time of year.

Making notes:  As you can see, you can change up the ingredients to your liking. The olive oil/red wine vinegar measurements here work well, but you always want to taste before serving to make sure the flavor is to your liking. Hope you enjoy! Fran

 

Tuna and Spinach Bake

Yes, another casserole, a kissing cousin to Joe’s Special casserole, featured in my last post, right down to the spinach. But it’s a lighter and more inexpensive dish and it’s perfect for Sunday supper. Maybe it’s the Midwesterner in me, but I don’t think you can have too many useful, delicious casserole recipes for all occasions!

Sunday supper has a special feeling for me–reminds me of when our family lived above my grandmother, and that on Sunday evening we would troop down a set of steep narrow stairs to file through her kitchen, and then on to sit at the dining room table. She always served cheesey buns, carrot sticks, and jello, not my Dad’s favorite meal, but the warmth of those dinners, of our family being all together, remains with me to this day. So Sunday supper is special. And this casserole is special–delicious, rich but light and fluffy, and infinitely variable. Here is the recipe:

Tuna and Spinach Bake

one or two tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
16 ounce bag of frozen spinach, defrosted
2 6-ounce cans tuna, drained
3 large eggs
3/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese and/or cheese curds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and butter an 8 x 8″ Pyrex casserole (or other small ceramic or cast iron casserole–don’t use metal). Using a dish towel, squeeze the moisture out of the defrosted spinach.

Melt the butter in a frying pan, and add the chopped onion. Cook until translucent. Add the squeezed spinach and cook for a minute or so with the onion. Spread the spinach-onion mixture in the buttered casserole. Top with the tuna, breaking the tuna up with your fingers as you go. In a two-cup measuring cup, measure out the whipping cream. Then add the three eggs and salt, and stir thoroughly. Pour this mixture over the casserole mixture . Then sprinkle on the shredded cheese, or cheese curds (see more on this later). Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.

I served this casserole with a grape tomato and feta salad, and I’ll start my photos with making the salad, and then move on to the casserole.

This grape tomato and feta salad is more a loose suggestion of a recipe than something hard and fast. You could use purchased salad dressing, and pre-crumbled feta, and it would be super quick to make. (Mix this in the bowl you will use to serve the salad.)
To make the vinaigrette, mix one garlic clove (put through a garlic press), 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a sprinkling of black pepper.

 

Whisk together to create a smooth emulsion. Whisks are very useful tools–they bring the whole vinaigrette mixture into motion and emulsify it quickly.
Use about 4 ounces feta. Or use pre-crumbled cheese.
Mix everything together, and it’s ready to go. You could sprinkle it with dried oregano, as I have done here.
We usually have fruit for dessert, so I made a mixture of black raspberries and sliced strawberries, and set it aside in the fridge.
I cleaned off the counter, washed up any misc. dishes, and gathered the casserole ingredients. As you can see, I’m using jalapeño cheese curds instead of just shredded cheese for the topping. Wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but seemed like a good idea!
Place a dishtowel in a colander, and then add in the defrosted spinach. Squeeze out the spinach liquid. I have searched the Internet for an easier way to do this, but, to me, this is the most straightforward method.
This is just a reminder to grease the casserole dish!
The original recipe called for 4 ounces of shredded cheese, but these cheese curds called to me! I found them at Aldi.
Mix the squeezed spinach with the cooked onion. It will take a couple of minutes of stirring. (I forgot to add the picture of finely chopped onion, so I’m hoping you can visualize it!)
Open and drain your cans of tuna. The recipe called for 6-ounce cans, but nowadays, 5-ounces is the norm. These worked fine.

 

Spread the onion/spinach mixture in the buttered casserole.
Break up the tuna flakes and sprinkle over the spinach/onion mixture.
Time to mix the eggs and cream. Do this in a large measuring cup.
Time to pour the egg/cream mixture over the casserole and to sprinkle with cheese curds.
Almost ready for the oven!
I sprinkled about 4 ounces of cheese curds onto the casserole, than sprinkled on a bit of shredded cheese, as well, to fill up the spaces. Wasn’t sure what would happen with the curds!
Right out of the oven after 40 minutes. Beautifully browned. The cheese curds have melted into molten ingots of cheese!
Dinner is ready!
The whipping cream makes this a rich casserole–something special, not for every day. It’s for Sunday dinner!
Time to eat. Jim is pouring the wine, and our kitty Cocoa is lapping up tuna tidbits from one of the tuna cans.
It went fast! We had leftovers for lunch today.
Jim had cream on his fruit. I have mine plain.

Making notes: You could substitute leftover ham for the tuna, or even shredded chicken from a rotisserie chicken. The first time I made this, I only used one box of spinach, and it also turned out fine! (Seems like you could also use a package of frozen broccoli.) The jalapeño cheese curds were my own, over-the-top idea, and you could certainly just use the four ounces of shredded cheese.

At any rate, here’s to Sunday Supper! Hope you enjoy. Fran

Joe’s Special Casserole

I was riffling through an old cookbook called “Casseroles & Salads,” from nitty gritty press, circa 1977, when I came across this recipe for Joe’s Special Casserole. Adding to the list of things I miss a bit on a low carb diet are casseroles, which are for me the ultimate comfort foods. Things like tuna and noodles, and the mystery casseroles at Methodist church potlucks. You may not know what you’re eating, but it’s always delicious!

So I decided to give Joe’s Special Casserole a try, since it contains no carbs at all. And, I was feeling a bit nostalgic for 1977. If I recall, it was the year we got an avocado-colored refrigerator for our kitchen, and I wore bell bottoms, buffalo hide sandals (that smelled like buffalos when it rained), an army surplus t-shirt and granny glasses. The good old days! But, back to the casserole.  As it turned out, the recipe is delicious and a keeper. Here are the particulars:

Joe’s Special Casserole

2 pkg. (10 oz. each) frozen chopped spinach
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon basil
3/4 cup sour cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Thaw spinach and drain well. Press to remove excess moisture. Melt butter in large frying pan, and sauté onion until softened. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Add mushrooms and cook until softened. Season with the salt and herbs. Remove from heat and stir in spinach. Combine sour cream, egg, Gruyere and half of the Parmesan, and stir into meat mixture. Turn into a buttered 2-quart casserole., and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake in 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until browned. Makes about 6 servings.

Ingredients. Oops, I forgot to include the grated Gruyere cheese, which is a type of Swiss cheese. The ground beef was a bit more than 1-1/2 pounds, so I estimated and cut a portion off, wrapped it in foil, and froze for a future hamburger.

 

The most onerous task in this recipe involves the spinach. Frozen spinach will defrost in the refrigerator overnight, but can also be defrosted in the microwave. Here are the two packages of defrosted spinach in a dishtowel-lined colander.
Wrap the towel around the spinach and wring out the excess moisture. Do this in the sink! (I cleaned the towel by rinsing thoroughly and then hanging it out to dry. Then it will be laundered with other towels, both kitchen and bath.)
The recipe called for a large onion, but this average-sized onion worked fine.
Doesn’t have to be chopped finely–this worked.
Sautee the onions briefly until wilted and a bit translucent.
While the meat is cooking, make your sour cream mixture. Here is the Gruyere cheese I mentioned, which they have at Aldi. Gruyere has a delicious nutty flavor, but if they don’t have it at your store, try a mixture of grated Italian cheeses.
Mixing the cheese into the sour cream and egg.
Mixing the sliced mushrooms into the meat mixture. The mushrooms add a nice texture contrast in this casserole.
The spinach mixed thoroughly into the meat/mushroom mixture.
Adding the sour cream mixture to the meat. (The heat is off.)
I turned the mixture into a buttered Le Creuset casserole dish I have, just for the fun of it, but you can use a 2-quart Pyrex (8 X 8″) casserole dish.
This dish can be prepared in advance, and I let it sit for about 20 minutes while I prepared other things for dinner. Meanwhile, I preheated the oven to 375 degrees. I sprinkled the casserole with the remaining cheese and some ground pepper before placing in the oven for baking.
While the casserole was in the oven, I rinsed these “heirloom” tomatoes purchased from Aldi. They were delicious–very full flavored.
I also peeled a chunk of carrot to make a simple garnish.
Cut grooves into the sides.
Slice to make carrot “leaves.”
Set aside for garnish.
Out of the oven, and garnished with some fresh oregano. The oregano adds a nice touch and is easy to grow.
I serve a lot of meals in bowls, lately. Everything looks so appetizing! The pink bottle is an Elderflower and Rose Lemonade from Aldi. So good. Then we had sugar-free chocolate pudding for dessert.

Making notes: This was really tasty, and the leftovers were so good, too! (I could see this for breakfast with an egg.) The herbal flavor was good, but a little timid. Next time, I will use a bit more of both herbs. Hope you enjoy! Fran

The Big Cheese Thing

Jim and I have been on the low-carb route for more than a year now, and it has been smooth going except for the temptations of chocolate bars, and an occasional yearning for something salty and cheesy, like cheese curls. Sometimes you just want something to nosh on while you watch the news, and need comfort. This recipe for The Big Cheese Thing has come to our rescue!

The original recipe was called Keto Cheesy Bread, but, to me, any resemblance to bread is purely in the mind of the beholder. So I have called it The Big Cheese Thing, and that’s what it is. A batter of shredded cheese and egg is mixed, spread on a parchment-covered baking sheet and baked until golden brown. Mulling over the recipe, it occurred to me that if I used so-called taco cheese, sliced the cheesy thing into fingers, and served it with a good salsa, that it would be a reasonable facsimile of chips and salsa. And it is! Here is the recipe:

The Big Cheese Thing

1-1/2 cups finely shredded “taco-style” cheese
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix the cheese with the beaten egg, and spread out onto the parchment paper to a depth of about 1/4″. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cheesy thing is golden brown. Cool before slicing and serving with salsa.

Ingredients. The finely shredded cheese has taco seasoning included. I really recommend using the parchment paper–not sure what would happen if you used foil, but it might not be pretty.
Beat the egg before adding it to the measured cheese.
Adding the egg to the cheese.
Mix the egg and cheese thoroughly–it will take at least a minute.
Pat out into a rectangle, about 1/4″ thick.
The Big Cheese Thing in all its glory. Hold yourself back!
While the Big Cheese Thing cools off, bring out your salsa. Commercial salsas vary in quality–this one from the Frontera Grill is excellent and fresh tasting. It can be found at Aldi.
The Cheese Thing tastes best when cooled–the edges are crispier and the cheese flavor is more pronounced. I have sprinkled the slices with Tajin Classic Seasoning, a tart mixture of chili peppers, salt, and dehydrated lime juice. It’s as tongue-tingling as it sounds!
Dip in!

 

Yum.

Making notes: The original recipe called for one cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, garlic powder and a pinch of Italian seasoning. I formed the mixture into a circle, and it did look a bit like a pizza, if you squinted, and was also delicious. So you could go in a number of different directions with the recipe. Hope you enjoy! Fran

Springtime Salad with Sugar Snap Peas

I’ve mentioned that Jim and I eat “low carb,” and have both benefited from it–we’ve lost weight, and Jim is controlling his diabetes. Here’s a low carb meal we had last night–I hope to show that eating low carb isn’t really a “diet,”–certainly not something that requires deprivation and hunger–and is just a delicious, healthy way to eat.

So last night we had a roast chicken and this Springtime Salad. I love sugar snap peas, and when I saw the original recipe in Bon Appetit magazine, I had to try it. This is its second, much altered iteration. Basically it’s a green salad with arugula, sugar snap peas and garden peas tossed in a lemon and Dijon mustard dressing. It was so good and was a perfect foil for the roast chicken. Here it is:

Springtime Salad with Sugar Snap Peas

juice of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup frozen peas
10 ounces sugar snap peas
about 4 ounces arugula or baby spinach/arugula mix
a chunk of Asiago or Parmesan cheese

Measure out the frozen peas into a small bowl, and set aside to thaw. Make the dressing: Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. Wash the sugar snap peas and microwave in a covered dish for three minutes, or until crisp tender. Set aside to cool. Measure out the arugula mix into a large bowl–it’s about four cups of greens, packed down. Using a vegetable peeler, shave thin curls of cheese from the cheese. Add the sugar snap peas and garden peas to the arugula. (Drain the sugar snap peas before doing this, as some liquid may have accumulated in the bowl.) Whisk the dressing and pour over the green. Toss thoroughly. The salad could be served in the bowl it was made in, but it’s nice to serve it on a pretty platter. Then, top with the cheese shavings. Serve!

Ingredients. This salad originally called for prosciutto, but to me, the cheese fulfilled the same function of being salty and rich, and was easier to use and less expensive.

 

Have your platter or bowl ready. I found this at a thrift shop–it’s perfect for this salad.
Measure and set aside the frozen peas to defrost.
Rinse off the sugar snap peas.
Place the sugar snap peas in a bowl, and cover with a piece of paper toweling. The toweling absorbs steam given off by the peas as they cook, and can be dried and used again. I have a flat-bottomed Pyrex bowl–another thrift shop find–that I use for microwaving–it really works well to cook vegetables evenly.
The cooked sugar snap peas are crisp tender and emerald green.
A bit of a detour here to the chicken we will be having. It’s “butterflied,” and is plenty for two to three diners. It also has been pre-seasoned, though rather anemically. I will sprinkle with more salt and pepper. In it goes to the oven preheated to 375 degrees, where it will roast for one hour.
I’ve combined the dressing ingredients in a small jar. Time to make the salad!
Wait! Forgot about making the cheese curls. Just scrape across the top of the cheese chunk with a vegetable peeler. It’s fun, though some of the shavings are curlier than others.
Another detour! These are the sugarless butterscotch puddings we are having for dessert, each with their little square of chocolate. I used a box of instant pudding, and made these with low fat milk.
Combine the greens, the cooked sugar snap peas, the defrosted green peas and the dressing in a bowl–toss.
Have your platter or bowl ready. I like doing this, because we really do eat with our eyes first, and an attractive presentation can make a meal so much more appetizing.
Topped with cheese curls. It’s also good without the cheese–see what your preference is.
Here’s the chicken, straight from the oven. Reality check: Maybe they don’t have butterflied chicken at your grocery store. You could roast some chicken legs and breasts, seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil and fresh garlic.
Dinner is served. This is when I yell to Jim, who is practicing his bass guitar, “time for dinner!” Our kitty Cocoa appears at the same time, and will get some of the roast chicken.. We will have this with some red wine, and the puddings for dessert.
Ready to eat, and garnished with a San Marzano tomato for color.

Another reality check:  Roast or baked chicken is easy, but what if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making this salad. I get it. Some days I’m up for these things, some days not. A bagged salad mix with a dressing of your choice also works well. I might sprinkle the salad with some feta cheese crumbles for more interest. Also, the original recipe called for a “knob of fresh horseradish,” to be grated over the salad. If you can find such a thing, give it a try! Hope you enjoy. Peace. Fran

Six Easy Little Ricotta Desserts

Ricotta with Honey and Almonds

I’m always on the lookout for a good low-carb dessert–something easy but good to cap off dinner. Maybe it’s pathetic, but I think having that little sweet treat can often soften the blows of life to a surprising degree!

With that in mind, “The Low-Carb Cookbook” by Fran McCullough had a suggestion for ricotta desserts that sounded good. Just serve a scoop of whole milk ricotta with a variety of add-ons–berries, a dusting of cinnamon or a handful of chocolate mini-chips–that sort of thing. So I went to the store and purchased several varieties of ricotta, some fruit, and went to work. Here is what I came up with. By the way, the portions given here may seem small, but whole milk ricotta is rich, and honey and fruit can be filling. So these small amounts provide the perfect sweet touch at the end of a meal.

Different varieties of ricotta–which was the best?

I tried three different varieties. The whole milk Frigo was moderately priced and was made with milk, and contained so-called “stabilizers” such as food starch and guar gum. They prevent the ricotta from separating and giving off liquid. The BelGioioso ricotta contained whey, cream and milk, and contained no stabilizers. It was significantly more expensive than the other brands.

The part skim milk ricotta on the right was a bit grainy and the flavor was just okay–probably not what you would want for a dessert. The Frigo whole milk tasted better, and I give it a thumbs up. It was economical, but fresh and good tasting. But I was really surprised by the BelGioioso ricotta. It was news to me that ricotta could be so good: very creamy with a fresh tang. For our desserts, though, I found that richer is not always better, and you will see that I sometimes use the plainer Frigo.

The quantities given are for one dessert, but the amounts can be increased.

Seeing the difference between the ricottas. The BelGioioso is on the right–it doesn’t use stabilizers so a little liquid has separated out. But I didn’t find this to be a problem.
Honeybear reporting for duty! For the Ricotta with Honey and Almonds (see photo above), the quantities of ingredients are small and I used a teacup to mix them. I mixed about one tablespoon of sliced almonds with two teaspoons of honey. Microwaved for 20 seconds. Using a 1/4 ice cream scoop, measure out a scoop of ricotta into a small bowl. Pour the warm honey and nuts over the ricotta and serve.

Ricotta with Honey and Almonds is so good–creamy, sweet and crunchy all at the same time. This may be the only ricotta dessert you need or want. I used the Frigo ricotta–the richer ricotta might have been too much of a good thing here.

You can actually serve this dessert right in the teacup! Heat up the honey and nuts, and scoop in the ricotta.
Next up: ricotta served with a strawberry (or two) and grated chocolate.
Scoop a 1/4 cup ricotta onto a small plate. Add a nice juicy strawberry and grate your choice of chocolate over all. I used milk chocolate here, but I think dark chocolate would make more of an impact.
Chocolate Ricotta Pudding: In a small bowl, using a fork, mix 1/4 cup ricotta, 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, a splash of vanilla and a pinch of stevia powder. Stevia is very sweet, so you only need a small amount–barely an 1/8 teaspoon.
It only takes about a minute of mixing to create a creamy chocolate pudding. This has a very light chocolate flavor. I grated a bit more chocolate from my chocolate bar into  it.
Scoop the mixture out onto a plate, and serve. Looks like chocolate chip ice cream, but is way less sweet, and you don’t have that carton of ice cream sitting in the freezer tempting you. And, it tastes so good.
Next: Warm Pear with Ricotta and Honey. I used a medium red pear, but any kind variety would work.
Cut the pear in half, and remove the seeds with a melon baller. Then use a paring knife to remove any fibers from the core of the pear. Takes longer to say than do!
Place the pear halves in a flat-bottomed bowl. Cover with a piece of paper towel. Microwave on high for one minute. Turn the pears around, re-cover, and microwave for one more minute. (Turning the pears prevents any “hot spots,” that could lead to uneven cooking.) The pears should be perfectly cooked.
Place the warm pear half on a small plate, top with a small scoop (1 tablespoon) of ricotta and drizzle with a small amount of honey. This is where I used the richer ricotta. It was perfect–rich but not too much.
It’s fun to use pretty little plates and bowls for these desserts–make them more special.
Now we come to ricotta with plum sauce. I used two plums.
Cook and stir the cut-up plums over medium heat along with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. Wait until the plums are cooked before adding sweetener–they may be sweet enough without it. They will cook down into a thick sauce in about 10 to 15 minutes. If they need more sweetener, add about 1/4 teaspoon of stevia. Taste and add more if necessary.
By the way, if you are concerned about using artificial sweeteners, stevia may work for you. It comes from an herb, not from a chemical company. The little bottle on the right has liquid stevia, which is actually a bit hard to measure out. The granular is easier to use. In the antique sugar container–packets of stevia!
The warm plum sauce, and a small (1 tablespoon) scoop of the rich ricotta.
Ricotta with Warm Plum Sauce and a little sprig of lemon thyme. Sometimes we have the warm plum sauce in little bowls, topped with cream. Again, depending on the plums you use, no additional sweetener may be necessary.
A little scoop (1 tablespoon) of rich ricotta served with red grapes and drizzled with honey.

Think I’ve hit my limit here! The bottom line is that ricotta works so well for desserts whether you eat low carb or not. Served with fruit, honey or whatever your imagination can conjure up, it makes a nice ending to a meal. Hope you enjoy! Peace. Fran

Quick Crustless Spinach Quiche

Quick Crustless Spinach Quiche

The road to this recipe had some hairpin turns and at one point, I thought I had driven right off a cliff, but in the end, the recipe turned out to be a deliciously creamy spinach/custard melange with a bit of raffish charm!

In this case, the recipe directed to stir 4-1/2 ounces of fresh spinach into the custard mixture and then bake. I felt uneasy. Spinach contains a lot of moisture, and usually you would cook it down first. And the photograph with the recipe showed gentle little wisps of spinach veining the custard. I always believe in making a recipe exactly as it stands, though, because sometimes miracles occur. But as I tossed the raw spinach in the egg mixture, a miracle seemed less and less possible. Would the spinach give off its moisture as it baked, resulting in a horrible gooey mess? It seemed possible.

Turns out–no! Somehow the spinach baked deliciously into the custard, with a few crispy bits above the surface. It told me that (1) the makers of the recipe had cooked their spinach first, and had neglected to mention it, but that (2) it still turned out! I made a few other changes, including added some dill weed. Spinach and dill have a strange affinity, and it works well here, but it’s optional. Here is the recipe.

Quick Crustless Spinach Quiche

4 eggs
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) sour cream
1/2 cup grated cheese
2 spring onions, chopped
4-1/2 oz. (6 cups lightly packed) fresh spinach
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed (optional)
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
black pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 11″ ceramic pie plate (or a 9×9″ Pyrex baking dish). With a whisk, mix together the eggs and the sour cream, and then whisk in the seasonings. Then stir in the cheese, chopped spring onions and fresh spinach, tossing the spinach thoroughly so that all the leaves are coated. Scrape the mixture into the pie plate, strew on a bit more grated cheese, if you like, and bake for about 25 minutes. In the last five minutes, the mixture will puff up a bit. Can be served warm from the oven, or cooled off.

Ingredients. The original recipe called for creme fraiche, which is quite expensive–sour cream is a good substitute.

 

The recipe called for 4-1/2 ounces fresh spinach, so I weighed it on my scale. Turns out, it’s about 6 cups lightly packed spinach.
If you buy a six-ounce bag of spinach, you can also estimate the amount. This is what was left after taking out the 4-1/2 ounces of spinach.
The four eggs. Actually, I’m showing off the pretty little Japanese plate I purchased at a thrift store. Little things like this can make cooking more pleasant!
Generously butter your pie plate.
I almost forgot to show the cheese! I used a finely shredded Italian cheese mixture, but Swiss would be good. The original recipe called for grated Cheddar, so that would be good, too!
Two trimmed green onions. You could also used chives. Mine are barely up.
The coarsely chopped green onions.
A whisk is so useful for stirring the sour cream and eggs together. It will take a good minute to whisk everything together thoroughly.
Whisk in your seasonings. The dill is optional, but tasty.
Using two big spoons, toss the raw spinach leaves with the egg mixture.
Thoroughly tossed spinach. This is when I started to have qualms about this recipe!
Spinach scraped into pie plate. You could also use a 9 x 9″ Pyrex baking dish. It has a few more square inches of space than the pie plate, so the finished dish might be a little thinner.
Puffed up fresh from the oven.
I served the quiche with sautéed pork chops. Here’s a spice mixture I made for the chops–salt, pepper, garlic granules and Aleppo pepper.
The pork chop and a serving of quiche, a bit fuzzy, as usual when I take a photo right before dinner!

Making notes: This only serves two, believe it or not, as the spinach is light textured, and there are only four eggs. Okay, maybe it should serve three or four, but not in our household! Hope you enjoy. Peace to you. Fran

By the way, you are invited to stop by my blog “My Illinois Nature Journal,” for photos of birds, butterflies and more! Hope you can stop by and sign up. Below, a photo  of a red admiral butterfly from my most recent post.  A group of these beautiful butterflies flew into our garden a few days ago, and I was amazed and delighted to see them.

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Baked Blue Cheese Roma Tomatoes

I made these Baked Blue Cheese Roma Tomatoes last night, and they were so good. Actually, they were delicious! Roma tomatoes are sliced in half and shoehorned into a baking dish. Then they are drizzled with garlic vinaigrette and strewn with basil and blue cheese. Bake for twenty minutes and, voila, whether you eat low carb or medium carb or whatever carb, you have a nice side dish.

Why use Roma tomatoes? They are a type of plum tomato that can stand up to baking or roasting, and have a consistent quality throughout the year. The original recipe called for broiling the tomatoes, but I found that baking them was easy and less nerve wracking than broiling. They can be in the oven burbling away while you attend to the main course, and if they burble a bit longer than called for, they are still fine. Or, you can bake something like chicken breasts or salmon filets along with the tomatoes, and dinner is ready! Here is the recipe:

Baked Blue Cheese Roma Tomatoes

6 Roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup vinaigrette–plain, Italian or garlic
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/4 to 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan (optional)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 7 x 11 baking dish with extra virgin olive oil. Arrange the halved tomatoes in the baking dish, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, the dried basil, and then strew with the blue cheese, plus the Parmesan, if desired. Bake for twenty minutes. If you want them browner, turn the oven temperature up to 425 degrees, and bake for ten minutes longer.

Ingredients. The original recipe called for an Italian vinaigrette, but this a garlic vinaigrette from Aldi worked perfectly, and was easy.
Washing the tomatoes. Never quite sure how long to do this, but I do rinse them thoroughly.
Beautiful!
Cut out the stems with a sharp paring knife.
Slice each tomato in half.
Fit the tomatoes into the baking dish as tightly as possible, because they will shrink a bit while they bake. You could use an 8 x 8″ Pyrex baking dish, and use five tomatoes.
Sprinkled with salt, pepper and basil, drizzled with vinaigrette and topped with cheese. Ready for the oven!
After twenty minutes they are baked and nice and browned, but you can turn up the heat and brown them a bit more.
Browned a bit more. At this point, I drizzled them with a bit of hot pepper oil–just for fun!
While the tomatoes were baking, I turned my attention to a bowlful of strawberries we were having for dessert. I just removed the stems, and sliced them in half. Usually, no sugar is necessary.
Also had time to go outside and notice that the scilla are blooming!
Served the tomatoes with sliced top round that had been marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, fresh garlic, and chili oil, one of my fallbacks. Not fancy, but good for a weeknight meal.
On their way to being totally devoured!

Making notes: The grated fresh Parmesan is optional, but the taste of the two cheeses is good. Also, to be honest, the first time I made these, with just the blue cheese, the dish looked blobby, for lack of a better word. The entire surface browns with the addition of the Parmesan. How good is this? At a certain point, you may be tempted to slurp the juices right from your plate. I’m not saying we did this, but . . . yes we did! It just occurred to me that if you are a garlic lover, you could throw in some peeled garlic cloves to bake along with the tomatoes. I will try this next time!

These little irises are already up in my garden. Love them! They are called Iris reticulata.

Peace to you. Fran

 

Brussels Sprouts, Three Ways

Sriracha Garlic Brussels Sprouts

I really struggled to have a more exciting title for this post, but there is something inherently not exciting about Brussels sprouts, I have to say. Way easier to blog about brownies! And if you’ve ever boiled or steamed Brussels sprouts and they became limp and gray and your kitchen smelled like cabbage for days, you may take a dim view of them. I’m hoping this recipe for Sriracha Garlic Brussels Sprouts will change your mind. Sprouts are roasted in the oven, sprinkled with coarse salt, given a shake in chile-flavored oil and then, drizzled with a  Sriracha sauce. Flavor-wise, they will jump right off your plate!

There are a number of versions of this recipe on the web, but I liked this version from “Red Hot Kitchen,” by Diana Kuan. This is the book to look at if you are in a rut, cooking-wise, as it’s all about homemade Asian chili sauces and the dishes you can make with them.

Why do I say this is a three-way recipe? Because at several points in the recipe you can stop cooking and serve as is, and I’ll note when during the following instructions.

Sriracha Garlic Brussels Sprouts

2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
2 tablespoons rice or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, for wok or frying pan
3-5 dried red chiles
6 cloves garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a 15 x 11″ pan with foil.

In a small bowl, combine the Sriracha sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and honey.

In a large bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with the 3 tablespoons olive oil. Spread the sprouts on the foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with the salt. Roast until the sprouts are softened and browned, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Add the one tablespoon oil to your wok or frying pan and heat. Add the chilis and stir-fry until a bit darkened–about 1 minute. Remove the chilis and set aside. Add the minced garlic and cook until golden, stirring constantly (about one minute). Add the roasted Brussels sprouts and toss in the hot oil and garlic (about one minute). At this point, you can either serve the sprouts or transfer to a serving platter. Either way, this is where you drizzle with the Sriracha sauce.

The ingredients ready to go. You can use other vinegars in place of the rice vinegar, keeping in mind that it’s quite mild.
You can probably tell that we use Sriracha chili sauce a lot in our household! It’s hot without being blistering.
Just stir the sauce ingredients together until blended. This is a useful recipe–could be drizzled over baked or roasted meats, poultry or fish.
Rinsing the sprouts. This is a flexible recipe–you can use anywhere from 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of sprouts.
The star of the show. Don’t even think about brownies!
Using a sharp paring knife, cut off the stem ends of the sprouts and slice in half. I’m showing this closeup because a month ago I got some sprouts with brownish interiors. They were bad and I returned them. Doesn’t happen often, but it’s possible. This is what a healthy sprout looks like–fresh and green.
Have your bowl with 3 tablespoons oil ready and at hand. Toss in the sliced sprouts as you work.
Toss the sliced sprouts in the olive oil.
Spread the sprouts in the lined baking sheet and sprinkle with the salt.
While the sprouts are in the oven, process the garlic and chili peppers. I used arbol chiles, which are available at many grocery stores. (My sister gave me this beautiful canister for storing oatmeal, but times have changed, and I’m using it for the dried chiles!)
You will use most of a head of garlic. Seems like a lot, but the flavor is tamed when the minced cloves are sautéed.
Use six, full-size cloves.
Use a sharp cleaver or chef’s knife to cut off the stem ends.
Smash each clove under the side of the cleaver–this makes the skins easy to remove.
Chop the garlic with the cleaver.
Heat the tablespoon of oil in your wok or frying pan. A wok is handy to have and I use mine all the time. It concentrates the heat and makes stir frying easy.
Toss the chile peppers in the hot oil for about 30 seconds to one minute. They will darken. Then remove the chiles and set aside. (This keeps the hot pepper aroma in the kitchen to a minimum–seriously, it could make you, and all the members of your family, including the cat and dog, cough as if they had been pepper-sprayed. Good to keep this to a minimum!)
Toss the minced garlic in the chile infused oil. Stir constantly as it browns–about one minute.
The browned, crispy garlic. Again, this happens fast, so keep an eye on it.
Meanwhile, remember the sprouts! You can roast these according to your taste–less for soft sprouts tinged with gold, or more for almost-charred sprouts, which some people like.
Add the roasted sprouts to the sautéed garlic in the pan and toss until thoroughly mixed.
These can be served from the stove, or transferred to a platter. Either way, this is when you drizzle with the Sriracha sauce.
The sprouts drizzled with the Sriracha and topped with the chiles. The chiles are like an early warning system for diners, telling them that the sprouts are spicy!

 

A closeup. I served them with sautéed pork chops.

Making notes: How is this three-way? You can entirely forgo making the Sriracha sauce, and serve the plain roasted Brussels sprouts. Roasted and with the sprinkling of salt, they are delicious. Or, you can again forgo the Sriracha sauce and simply toss the sprouts in the hot oil and sautéed garlic. Also good, and less hot than when served with the sauce.. But, you can go all the way, and use the sauce. Even with the sauce, the sprouts are what I would call somewhat hot, but not blazing. Jim barely noticed the heat, but he’s used to super hot.

By the way, I know that this is a fair amount of chopping and stirring, but from my perspective it’s fun and what would I be doing otherwise? Probably watching the antics of Max the cockatoo on YouTube. Or looking at the sale items on Uniqlo. Or walking around in the garden wishing that the ground wasn’t frozen. And, the sprouts are delicious and we will be having leftovers today. Brownies? Who’s thinking about brownies? Peace to you. Fran