Spinach & Artichoke Dip

Appetizers for dinner, why not? It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with dinner, so sometimes it’s good to break it up with something unexpected. Like breakfast for dinner or dip and chips for dinner or empty the fridge dinner or appetizers for dinner. We don’t do it often, but it shakes things up. In this case, an appetizer in the form of a dip came to the table and made a simple, easy dinner.

Even better, this is a spinach and artichoke dip that’s made in the slow cooker. It takes about 15-20 minutes of prep (depending on how trimmed you want your spinach), but then it’s two hours of throw it in the Crockpot and make sure it doesn’t burn. The recipe says to cook it on high for 2 hours, but I think my slow cooker runs hot. I did it on high for 30 minutes to get the cream cheese melted and the spinach wilted, and then turned it over to low to finish for 90 minutes. At the end of two hours, we had a creamy, cheesy dip that smelled delicious.

And it was delicious. I served it with pita chips and carrots, and then a couple days later, I found water crackers in the pantry that went wonderfully with the dip leftovers. It was a fairly light meal in terms of amount of food eaten, but sometimes that’s just what you need after a warm winter day.

The only catch was that Miss H refused to touch it, likely because of the prominent ribbons of unidentifiable green (spinach, ahem) that ran through the creamy cheese. I don’t think she’s ever had artichoke in her three years of life, and I’m not sure how much she’d like them if she tried them. Also, if you’ve never seen a spinach and artichoke dip before and it suddenly appeared on your plate, you might think twice about eating it too. I know I did the first time around, and I wasn’t even a toddler. No amount of explanation of its cream cheesy goodness would convince her to try it, but that’s okay. Maybe next time.

Rating: 4 out of 5. Nice change from the usual dinner fare, and super easy to make. Also, it was very tasty, and I’d definitely double it up (or even triple it) for a party. It kept as leftovers really well, so that’s a bonus. Will make again. This might end up being my spinach & artichoke dip go-to.

Honey BBQ Meatloaf & Coleslaw

Meatloaf is comfort food. We don’t eat it often in this house, but every once in a while we get a craving for it, or the opportunity presents itself, and I put meatloaf on the menu.

This time, it was because of cabbage. We had half a head of cabbage left over from the pork & udon soup, and I decided that coleslaw would make good use of it. We tossed around a couple of ideas of what to make to go with coleslaw, and eventually we agreed that meatloaf was something we wouldn’t mind having.

I have a few different meatloaf recipes, but this Honey BBQ one is a recent winner, possibly because it is so easy to make. Another of my favorite recipes requires chopping up mushrooms, grating cheese, putting together a lot of herbs and spices, soaking bread in milk. This recipe is much more simplified and still tastes really good. It’s not a show-stopper, but it gets the job done in a satisfying way.

I do double the recipe, because we are a leftover-friendly household, and I often make it the day before a leftover day. It’s extremely tender and tends to fall apart, but I think an egg would help hold it together better. I might try adding one in the next time I make this. (Spoiler: I will totally make this again.)

Best of all, Miss H loves this meal. Roasted diced potatoes? Yes. Sweet, vinegary coleslaw? Yes. Meatloaf doused in BBQ sauce and honey? YES. Kid cleaned her plate in no time at all. On nights when dinner doesn’t meet her fancy, the meal can last an hour. Tonight, she was done in half the time. Comfort food for the win.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. I love the flavor, I love how juicy and tender it is, I love the leftovers. But it does have a tendency to fall apart and be a little liquidy. Still, a keeper in this house. We should eat meatloaf more often. The coleslaw, however, is a go-to recipe and gets made often throughout the year. Such a good way to use up cabbage.

Salmon with Miso Glaze, Roasted Cauliflower, Forbidden Rice

I know what attracted your attention there. Forbidden rice. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

I am not a fan of plain white rice. Even after three years of Japan, I never got used to eating it. I like it but not all by its lonesome. White rice needs a friend, like a sauce or a raw egg or something. The more friends you add, the better it gets (mmm, stir-fry). But even then, white rice doesn’t bring much to the party. I like something a little more exciting.

Forbidden rice is exciting. It’s called forbidden rice because, supposedly, it was so out-of-this-world fabulous that it was reserved for the emperor. You could call it black rice, because that’s what it is, but that’s boring. Forbidden rice is a much more fitting name. While “beautiful, lovely, delicious black rice” fits, that doesn’t slip off the tongue as easily. Still, forbidden rice is all those thing. It has a slight nuttiness to its flavor, subtle but adding just a little more to the plate. Paired with roasted cauliflower and miso salmon? Oh, yeah, that’s the good stuff.

Let’s talk about the salmon. We eat salmon three times a month around here, because we all really enjoy it. Even Miss H, though she prefers her on a sandwich. I cook it a couple different ways, but I don’t often do it with a glaze. But this salmon with miso glaze recipe is one I’ve done a couple times, and it’s nice when we want a little variety with our salmon. It also helps to use up miso, which you buy in a one-pound container but you only use a tablespoon or two of it at a time. It lasts a while in the fridge, but not indefinitely, so you can get a lot of use out it. And it’s nice to have several different recipes to try out so you’re not eating the same thing over and over again. (I have plans for the rest of this container. Oh, yes, I do.)

There is no way to talk about miso that makes it sound appetizing to someone who has never tried it before. “Fermented soybean paste” isn’t going to turn anybody on. And once you have tried miso, it’s not that easy to describe it to somebody who has no idea what you’re talking about. Salty? Yeah, it’s salty, but that’s not all it is. There’s really nothing else like it, and it’s not a flavor that everybody enjoys. If you do try it, take it a little at a time. It’s a big flavor, you don’t need much.

Miso-glazed salmon and forbidden rice go really well together, it turns out. The roasted cauliflower really didn’t stand a chance against that combo. It’s a reliable standard in this house, and it’s used to playing back-up to bigger, bolder flavors.

Rating: 4 (will make again). This is already in my recipe book as something I’ve made more than once already. It’s not something we eat once a month, but when I have miso in the fridge, this recipe makes nice work of it.

Also, sorry no pictures, but none of them turned out. My dining area doesn’t have the best lighting for pictures, unfortunately. Eh, I’m a writer, not a photographer.

Pork & Udon Soup

Every Friday or Saturday, usually as we’re nearing the end of dinner, I say to my husband, “So, what do we want to eat next week?”

It’s a habit of ours to talk about food while we’re eating. It seems an appropriate time.

Often during autumn or winter, my husband will say, “Udon!” Sometimes he says it even during summer, when soup doesn’t always make an appearance on the weekly menu. My response is usually, “I’ll check the weather,” because I prefer a cold evening for udon soup, because it’s a meal that will warm you up and keep you warm for a good long while.

This weekend, we’ve had freezing temperatures, a not-so-common occurrence in our area of Texas, even in winter. My go-to Pork & Udon Soup recipe seemed like a perfect meal to end a cold weekend, especially since we’d be getting back up into more reasonable temperatures in the coming week.

What is Udon? Besides fantastic? Udon is a thick wheat noodle of Japanese origin. And by thick, I mean thick. It’s not like an Italian noodle, or even a ramen noodle. Think much thicker. As a result, it’s doughier and heartier, and it’s delicious. There are a dozen ways to make udon soup, depending on how you flavor it and what you add to it. What I use is a simple recipe that’s overflowing with vegetables and pork. It’s probably not an authentic udon soup – it is Food Network, after all, and though the effort is sometimes there, authenticity doesn’t always follow. But, it is a tasty udon soup recipe, and the pork – while not cha siu levels of delicious – still delivers on taste and is really simple to make.

I will note that I don’t follow the recipe 100%. First, no onions, because we are a no onion household. Second, I use whatever stock I happen to have. This time around, I used three cups of seafood stock and five cups of water. Still tasted fine. Third, I don’t use just soy sauce to add flavor to the broth. I also add toasted sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. I just like the depth they add to the flavor. Makes it a little more interesting. Fourth, I don’t usually bother with the cilantro (because I don’t like it) and the bean sprouts (because they only come in large packages and we don’t need that much of them). Fifth, regular cabbage and mushrooms are fine. No need to get fancy.

This recipe makes a ton of soup. It says 4 servings, but those must be huge servings, because we can get almost twice that much out of a batch. Or maybe we’re just eating smaller servings. Either way, for us, there is more than enough for lunch and dinner leftovers. It’ll keep us warm and full for days.

Udon noodles go into the bowl first and then are topped by ladles of hearty, flavorful broth.

Udon noodles go into the bowl first and then are topped by ladles of hearty, flavorful broth.

A nice big bowl of warming udon soup.

A nice big bowl of warming udon soup.

Thanksgiving Feast

Let’s talk about Thanksgiving for a moment, now that everybody is probably sick of talking about Thanksgiving and ready to move on to Christmas.

I like Thanksgiving. I don’t often get the opportunity to make big elaborate meals, and most of the time, I don’t want to. But every once in a while, I like to pull out all the stops and make way too much food and pig out to my heart’s content. While Thanksgiving’s historical background makes me cringe, I enjoy the general message of gratitude and fellowship that it tries to send. I’d much rather have a harvest feast in October, but I’m American and not Canadian, so November it is.

This year’s menu:

Turkey and gravy (Alton Brown’s Roasted Turkey)
Hands down, my favorite turkey recipe. I don’t bother with the brining – perhaps if I had a second fridge to store the bird during brining – but everything else makes for a perfect turkey anyway. I prefer a simple bird to more exotic flavors. To be honest, roasted turkey is not my favorite; I prefer chicken or duck. But I do like turkey in other things like soup, enchiladas, and pot pies. It also makes for a killer homemade stock/broth. So I don’t usually eat a lot of turkey on Thanksgiving, but I’ve got plenty of other uses for it.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
I don’t do the overly-sweet casserole of potatoes, marshmallows, and pecans. I just can’t. But I still want sweet potatoes, and I still want mashed potatoes. So I just mash my sweet potatoes. This year, I roasted the sweet potatoes first, and that made for some very tasty potatoes. After peeling them, I put them in a pot on the stove, heated them up with some butter and heavy cream and gave them a good mash. Very tasty.

Cranberry Sauce
Not from a can. Never from a can. I did not like cranberry sauce until I started making it myself (which can be said for a good number of things I’ve learned to make over the years). Cranberry sauce is very easy to make if you’re going the classic route: pour cranberries in saucepan and add water, sugar, orange juice, and orange peel. I also do a bit of allspice and a pinch of salt. Simmer until the berries soften and burst, about 30 minutes. Chill for a couple of hours. Done. This went terrifically with the sweet potatoes and turkey.

Mushroom Dressing
I’m not a big fan of stuffing turkeys (I’m not a big fan of extra work, really), so it’s dressing on my table. I’m picky about dressing: no onions, no celery, no meat, and mushrooms are a must. Not much room for variation, but I know what I like. This was a very successful dish. I’ve tried a couple different mushroom dressings, but this one has definitely been the best. Rich and creamy, with excellent flavor. I’ll probably keep this as my go-to recipe now.

Roasted Vegetables
Getting veggies onto the plate during Thanksgiving isn’t always easy. It’s like the best Thanksgiving foods are starches or meats. Green bean casserole is traditional, but neither my husband nor I like it. Instead, I roast Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and carrots. It’s a very simple addition, but it’s freshness is welcome and really helps to add some balance to the meal.

Bread Rolls
A necessary addition to the Thanksgiving table. I like to make my own rolls on Thanksgiving – I like to make as much as possible, really. This year’s rolls had good flavor, but they were harder than I liked. While they were a nice complement to the meal, they definitely needed butter and have only gotten harder in the days since being baked. This was another Food Network Magazine recipe, and I’m not sure I’d use it again.

 

I’ll admit, it’s a very traditional menu, and I don’t vary it much from year to year. But it’s a meal that I find appropriate for the season, with components that I might use in other meals but not so often all together. I like the simplicity of these dishes, and how they all come together to make a delicious autumn feast. And though I’m not usually a fan of leftovers, I make an exception for Thanksgiving.

Happy harvest, folks. May the bounty of the season be ever-present for you.

 

Pear-Apple Crumble Pie

Source: Food Network Magazine (Pear-Apple Crumble Pie)

I made this for a pre-Thanksgiving playdate potluck. I had already decided that I was going to make the Sweet Serenity Apple Pie (which I posted about already) for Thanksgiving, but I thought it would be nice to give something else a try.

I don’t often make pies, even though I do like them. I don’t mind working with pie crust dough now that I’ve had more experience with it and feel much more comfortable with it. I make big batches of four at a time and always have some hanging out in the freezer. It’s doing all the rolling and the pre-baking and the cooling that adds time to even simple pie recipes and puts me off a bit. Mostly, there’s just something holiday-ish about pies. I bake cakes and cupcakes and cookies quite often, but pies are truly special occasion desserts. I like them for holidays, they just seem to fit.

I chose this pie because I had everything I needed on hand, and it didn’t require too much effort. I usually make treats for playdates in the morning, so I wanted something that wouldn’t take too long or be too difficult. This still took quite a bit of time, mostly in the cooking time and the prep work. It baked for an hour and a half.

Three pounds of fruit went into this pie in the form of three apples and four pears. It was too much. When the pie came out of the oven, it was mounded like a little fruit-crumble hill. It deflated as it cooled, but it was still quite large. It was difficult to manage, in both cutting and eating. There wasn’t a lot of distinction in the flavors, which might have had more to do with my fruit than the recipe itself. With the amount of filling I had, I felt like I should have made two pies instead of just one. Also, there was too much lemon juice for my taste.

On the plus side, it wasn’t an overly sweet pie, so a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream would have helped it out a lot without ruining the balance by adding both a little flavor and sweetness. Overall, though, I wasn’t impressed. It went over well at the playdate, but sometimes I wonder if they just tell me they like it so they don’t hurt my feelings.

(For the record, it doesn’t. Nobody can be more critical of what I make than I am. Also, food is totally subjective. What I like is what I like.)

Rating2 of 5 stars. This just didn’t work for me. I didn’t really like the flavor, I didn’t like the bulkiness, I didn’t like the texture much. Almost everybody else liked it, so maybe it’s just me. I just feel like it could have been better – or I could have made it better. I don’t know.

Would I make it again? Nope. It’s nice to try something new every once in a while, but sometimes, it just doesn’t pan out. I’d rather stick with a classic old favorite.

Sweet Serenity Apple Pie

Source: Oh, how I wish I knew.

You see, many years ago (perhaps not too many, but enough), there was a show named Firefly, and it was a woefully short-lived show. Only 13 episodes. It was a tragedy.

The funny thing is, I didn’t know about Firefly until the follow-up movie Serenity was released and a sushi chef at a fusion restaurant that I frequented suggested that I go and see it. I did. And then I devoured every Firefly scrap I could find. One such scrap was a small collection of recipes inspired by the TV series. And by small, I mean small, maybe 5-6 recipes. All of the recipes came from brief mentions in the show itself. This particular recipe references an episode in which one character uses his windfall to buy a crate of apples to share with his fellow crewmates, a rare and expensive treat for a space-going group of people. What else would you do with an overabundance of apples but make some apple pie?

This was a time period in which I was just discovering that cooking could be enjoyable. I was still a novice in the kitchen, still hesitant to try new and unusual things. I doubt any of those recipes were truly too strange to try, but I can’t say for sure because I don’t remember any of them. Except for this one.

Well, to be completely honest, I only remember the recipe because I wrote it down and shared it in a family cookbook. I’m not even sure if I have the name of the recipe right. I think I do, because it’s what I’ve always called it, but it’s possible that I’ve misremembered it over the years. I first made this pie in 2005/2006. I have the recipe, but I don’t have the original page that I found it on. I’ve looked for it, because the internet never forgets, but I still haven’t found it. Now that I’m not a novice cook anymore, I wonder about those other recipes.

Because I LOVE Firefly/Serenity. I don’t tend to geek out too much, but there are two things that bring out the rabid geek in me: Firefly and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Combining them with my love of cooking isn’t easy to do, so I cherish this one recipe.

It helps that this pie is absolutely delicious.

I was not a big fan of apple pies before I found this recipe. I didn’t realize that apple pies did not have to be double-crusted. I didn’t know about crumble toppings. Making a double-crust apple pie seemed like far more work than I was capable of at the time. I was a newbie, and making an apple pie – a pie of any sort, really – seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. But this is a simple recipe, and I thought I could do it.

And I did do it. And it was delicious. I love it. I still don’t make apple pies very often, but this is my go-to apple pie recipe. Nothing beats it, for me anyway.

Apple slices piled up on apple slices. A thickened simple syrup turned deep brown by ground cinnamon. A soft crumble topping with just enough sweetness. It’s a simple pie that satisfies any apple pie craving I’ve ever had. It’s also very simple to make, especially if you use a storebought pie crust.

I don’t often share recipes on my blog because I don’t develop my own. I take other people’s genius and see what I can do with it. But because I legitimately cannot find a link for this recipe, I’m going to post it here, because I don’t think it’s fair to talk about how awesome something is and then not provide a way to make it happen for people who might be interested in it.

So, here you go.

 

Sweet Serenity Apple Pie

for the pie:
1 9″ pie shell, pre-cooked
2-3 apples of your choice (I usually use Gala because that’s what I have)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons cornstarch

for the topping:
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup flour
4 tablespoons butter, softened

Peel, core, and slice the apples thinly. Place in the pie shell, layering until all slices are used and the shell is full.

Combine sugar, water, cinnamon, and cornstarch in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and allow to cook down until thick, between 5-10 minutes. Pour evenly over the apples.

For the topping, combine the sugar, flour, and butter until crumbly. I just use my fingers to rub in the butter and get the consistency I want. It should be clumpy and not too sticky. Cover the pie with pieces of the crumb mixture. It will be a bit patchy, but that’s okay. It looks really nice with glimpses of the reddish filling peeking through the browned topping.

Bake at 350º for 35-40 minutes, until the topping is just lightly browned. Set aside to cool completely. The pie is just fine on its own, but it would also be terrific with some vanilla ice cream or slightly sweetened whipped cream.