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Archive for the category “Holiday”

Black Eyed Pea & Corn Salad (New Years!)

In the South, New Years Day has food traditions as strong as Thanksgiving or Christmas. For good fortune in the new year, you have to eat corn bread and greens (both symbolizing the literal fortune we hope to earn/win/be anonymously gifted through paypal) and black eyed peas (just for the good luck part, so they say). Generally you make black eyed peas with some kick, some sugar and a good portion of ham hock (or bacon if you can’t find the ever cheap but off the beaten path ham hock). However, this probably isn’t the beacon of health and purification many of us are aiming for in the new year……… enter this salad.

Alright, so I’ve made a bet with a friend to keep us both on our weight loss/health goals this year. This means traditional southern dinners, complete with honey butter and pork bits, are probably not going to be on the menu for awhile. This is, I assure you, very sad. BUT, with challenges come innovation and this salad seriously was an amazing creation, so enjoy it!

What you need:

  • baby spinach
  • 1 can black eyed peas (any kind will do, try to buy some w/o seasoning, but if you can’t find them, that’s ok)
  • 1/2 green pepper (diced)
  • 1/4 medium yellow onion (diced)
  • 2 stalks of celery (diced)
  • 2/3 cup frozen corn
  • 1 tomato (diced, optional)
  • cilantro (just a little bit, but makes a difference)
  • chili powder, adobo, cayenne pepper, salt, garlic salt, black pepper (adobo is optional, it’s pretty much salt, garlic powder, onion powder etc… but it is nice to just add a dash)
  • maple syrup (just a little bit)
  • white vinegar & olive oil (dressing)

Step 1: Drain black eyed peas

Yup, that’s it. Drain them, put them in a bowl.

Step 2: Roast the corn

Toss the frozen corn in your cast iron skillet on high. This will both defrost, but also char the corn a bit which tastes delicious. When the corn starts to brown, toss it into the bowl on the black eyed peas.

Step 3: Lightly cook peppers/onions (optional)

I dislike raw bell pepper and raw onions… I don’t know why. But when they’re cooked a little? Nom. Who knows. So while you may want to throw these into the salad mix raw, I prefer to toss them into the hot pan once the corn is done, with a spray of pam if sticking is a problem, and cook for 3-4 minutes to soften them up a little. Toss the onions & peppers, along with the raw diced celery, into the bowl when you’re done.

Step 4: Cilantro & Spices & Syrup

Dice up a few springs of cilantro into small bits and toss them into the bowl. Then dash in the spices. Of course, I didn’t measure, but I’ll say you can go heavy on the garlic powder and chili powder, medium on the adobo, and light on cayenne, salt and black pepper. Then drizzle on a teaspoon maple syrup.

Step 5: Pile it all on the spinach

Yup, just stir and scoop. Pile a large amount of this concoction on a big old plate of spinach (and the tomatoes if you went with those… which I’d suggest because they add some bite to the whole deal). When you have it set up, pour a mix of about 2 teaspoons white vinegar to 1 teaspoon olive oil. I didnt’ really even mix the two, just drizzled across the outside with both. It just adds a little bit of extra bite to the greens, and gives a little liquid to get the juices from the bean mix throughout.

While it may not be jalapeño corn bread and honey butter — this was one of the most yummy salads I’ve ever made. And even with about 3/4 of a cup of the black eyed pea stuff on top, this salad is still around 200 calories all totaled. So, needless to say, I was damn proud, and I hope you like it too! Best of luck in 2013! Enjoy!

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A Thanksgiving Cartoon

From one of my favorite internet cartoonists Natalie Dee we have some inspiring Thanksgiving directions.

Her title for this? “Generally speaking you should figure out how much you need and double it”  This is certainly a holiday tradition I abide by.

And also this one from Nov. 2008 because I do (I’m ashamed to admit it) love the jelly cranberry sauce. Don’t judge.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Remember to be appreciative of the food you’re preparing and enjoying, and gracious with family member’s egos, opinions and back handed compliments. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash & Parmigiano Pasta (a healthier mac & cheese)

So I’m a HUGE fan of mac & cheese. It’s a meal, it’s a side, it’s a life style. And my all-time favorite is Ina Garten’s  Mac & Cheese. I generally leave out the tomatoes, but do lots of add ins. Last Easter I made 3 types of this recipe, one plain, one broccoli & bacon, and one spicy chicken, roasted red pepper & tomato. HUGE hits. But sometimes your brain is annoying and says to you “Hey! A plate of mac & cheese is not that healthy, and eating it for leftovers for a week is REALLY artery clogging, please pick something else.” And in those moments, I suggest Butternut Squash & Parmigiano-Reggiano Mac (you can use good old Parmesan too, I just went  fancy when I did mine).

This came to be because I had a butternut squash and no idea what to do with it. I’ve done roasted acorn squash, but wanted to try something different. And then I found a few recipes I could play off of and started getting super excited. Wanna see the end result now? I don’t blame you… TADA!

Ok, now that you’re convinced this looks amazing, I want to insert a small disclaimer. This recipe can take awhile. BUT it’s worth it and reheats really well so it’ll make a great holiday addition, and leftover favorite. But it’s no 30 minute meal with Rachel Ray (I’m less annoying than her though so that has to count for something).

Things You Need:

Food stuff:

  • A butternut squash
  • Minced garlic
  • Cooking white wine (optional)
  • Onion
  • Butter/Olive oil
  • Mushrooms
  • Sour cream or plain greek yogurt
  • Milk (I used 1% but it doesn’t matter)
  • Chicken stock (optional)
  • Parmesan or Parmigiano-reggiano (fresh, and grated)
  • Sage (fresh, only a few leaves needed)
  • Box of large shell pasta (really any pasta is fine, but we used shells and it seemed to work well)
  • Salt & pepper (sea salt and fresh ground pepper corns are best, but use whatcha got)

Other stuff

  • Handblender & container to blend in (I use a cylinder pitcher for this as narrow containers seem to work better than wide bowls, and this way it’s easy to poor… but trial and error sometimes is the best strategy for finding a good blending container)

Step 1: Roast the Squash

Alright, real step one is cutting the squash, which is no small feat, but then you roast it. So first, cutting it. Get a sharp knife, sharpest you have. Winter squash are notoriously hard and you really can hurt yourself trying to saw through them with a crappy knife, so sharpen that thing up. Now, lay the squash on its side and cut off the bottom and the top (carefully! Like so…. )

THEN stand it on its now flat bottom and cut down through the middle long ways.

Once you’ve split your squash, scoop out the seeds and stringy parts and either keep them to roast or toss them out. In the bottom of a baking dish (big enough for both sides of squash to fit in fleshy side down) add ¼ cup of white wine and 2 tablespoons of minced garlic. Cover the dish lightly in foil and put this in the oven at around 400 degrees for about an hour.

At about 45 minutes in, check the squash to see how soft it is. You want to check a few spots. If a fork doesn’t go in easily, it needs more time. Make sure there is still liquid in the bottom (if not, add 1/8 cup of water or white wine) and return it to the oven. You want the squash to be soft enough to scoop out easily and blend easily.

 

Step 2: Sauté the Onions & Mushrooms

While the squash is cooking, sauté ½ a yellow or white onion in olive oil or butter over medium heat. When the onion is soft and starting to brown just a little, remove from heat and add to the container you’ll use for blending the sauce.

Yes I use mugs as prep bowls, don’t you? They have handles!

When the onions are done, toss 1 package of mushrooms (sliced) into the same pan (adding a bit more oil or butter if needed) with ½ teaspoon of minced garlic. Cook on medium high heat until soft and starting to brown up. Pull the pan from heat when done and set aside.

 

Step 3: Prep the Sauce & Pasta

After cooking the onions (or during if you’re REALLY good at multi-tasking while cooking) grate 1 cup of Parmigiano-reggiano cheese into the sauce blending container. Grate about ½ a cup in a bowl on the side for topping the plates later.

Now add 1/3 teaspoon of sea salt, 5 sage leaves (chopped up into small bits), and 1/2 cup of milk to the blending container too. If you want to use the chicken stock (adds a little salty depth to the sauce) you can use half milk, half broth.

When this is ready to go, put on your water for the pasta. All these moving parts may not be timed perfectly, but that’s ok. If the pasta finishes first, strain it and set it aside. If the sauce is finished first, no big deal, just set the blended stuff aside and wait for the pasta.

 

Step 4: Sauce it up

When the squash is done and soft, take it out of the oven, remove the cover and let it cool a little. You don’t want to burn yourself while scooping out the yummy stuff. When it’s cool enough to handle, use a metal spoon to scoop out the flesh into your blending container on top of the other ingredients.

Now blend this A LOT. Use a spatula or spoon to make sure the stuff on the bottom is getting included and blend again – you really can’t over blend this, so when in doubt, give it another surge. If it’s VERY thick, add milk 1 tablespoon or so at a time. Remember you still have sour cream to add though, so don’t make it too thin.

Bare with the awkward picture, it’s hard to take pictures of this process!

Step 5: Putting it all Together

Drop your pasta back in the pan it cooked in on the stove. Add 1 cup of sour cream/plain yogurt, and pour in the blended squash mixture. You may not need all of the blended squash stuff, so put in ½ or so, stir and add more if needed. This depends a lot on the size of your squash, so it’s hard to get the perfect amount each time. If you have extra, make some more pasta and keep for left overs (or freeze the sauce alone for later to reheat, add sour cream to and eat over pasta at another date).

Doesn’t it look like mac & cheese?

Heat this mixture on low until everything is to your preferred temperature. Add salt and pepper to taste (we liked it a bit saltier to balance out the sweetness of the squash, but it’s definitely a preference thing)

When your creamy deliciousness coats the shells and is hot enough, dish it out. Lay a spoonful of mushrooms on top and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese. You can serve smaller portions with a side caesar salad too which is healthier and delicious.

This is a great fall dish, one great for large groups too if you want to make it for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It reheats well (just add a sprinkle of milk or water before reheating) and is delicious for lunch throughout the week, so I found. We’ll definitely make again.

Enjoy!

 

Pumpkin Seeds (3 Ways)

Ok, so I know Halloween was like 2 weeks ago. But between a hurricane, travel and other distractions we didn’t even carve our pumpkins until the day of anyway so there was no way to get up the pumpkin seed making ‘in time’ to be super useful to you. LUCKILY, pumpkins are still in season and perhaps you have some pumpkin pies or soups coming up in your recipe book yet that you can use fresh (instead of canned… though it’s pretty good too) pumpkin for and get some seeds. Alternatively, you can buy raw pumpkin seeds (called ‘pepitas’ for some reason) a lot of places, including Trader Joes.

Anyway, all that aside, I made 3 types of seeds this year:

  • Mexican cocoa (aka spicy chocolate)
  • Traditional (which for us is salty, slightly garlicy, paprika’d deliciousness)
  • Rosemary apple (totally because we had these items… but they turned out pretty damn good)

So first a few things about pumpkin seed making:

  1. They burn easily, so using slightly lower heat for longer helps prevent you from doing this. I like to go with 300 degrees Fahrenheit. I leave them in for 10 minutes, and then test them every 2 after that. It can take awhile, especially if they’re super fresh (right out of the pumpkin) or for things like cocoa that hold moisture rather than salt that wicks out moisture. You want to get the seeds to a point where they are crunchy, not chewy.
  2. You can either leave some pumpkin goop residue on the seeds to get flavors to stick OR wash and dry your seeds to get the goop off and then toss them in a teeny bit of egg white before adding spices etc. Either way is fine. This year I went with egg white, previously I’ve gone with goop. I don’t think it makes one bit of difference.
  3. Seeds don’t keep super long. Even in plastic bags they tend to get a little chewy after a day or so. You can re-roast them for a few minutes at 300 to recrisp them.

Ok, now to the flavors!!! First, the seeds came out of these two awesome pumpkins (kitty didn’t help, she’s just looking fierce here)

The first, and my favorite:

Mexican Cocoa

What you need:

  • Cocoa powder
  • Cayenne pepper (the ground powdery kind)
  • Cinnamon
  • Sugar (the really fine stuff if you have it)
  • Salt

In a bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, 1/3 tsp of cayenne, 1/2 tsp of cinnamon (or more, if you’re pro-cinnamon), 1 tablespoon of sugar and  1/3 tsp of salt. Stir these together.Then toss 1 cup of seeds (either with the pumpkin goop intact or tossed in 1 tablespoon of whisked egg whites) into the mix.

Here comes the fun part. Grease a cookie sheet. Now try to spread these out in a single layer on the cookie sheet. Most likely you’ll end up coated in fudgy goo while doing this (the egg white and the sugar and the cocoa make a delicious enemy). If you’re feeling like a risk taker, lick your fingers when you’re done though, it’s yummy!

At 325 these will take around 20 minutes, but start testing after 15 or so just in case. Mine took a good bit longer b/c I put in too much egg white… it’s a delicate thing. But it’s worth it – these were AMAZING. As a note, they will probably need to be re-crisped after 24 hours or so in a baggy, but at 300 degrees for a few minutes they re-crisp pretty well.


Traditional (Salty)

What you need:

  • Paprika
  • Garlic Powder
  • Black pepper
  • Salt

Ok, so same idea here. 1 1/2 tablespoons of paprika, 1/2 tsp of garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon of salt (if you don’t want them garlicy, but just salty, just use no garlic salt and 1/4 teaspoon of salt) and 1/4 tsp (a dash or two really) of black pepper. These are really salty, so if you’re not keen on that, cut back the salty items and up the paprika or pepper. Just a preference.
Toss a cup of seeds (with goop or egg whites) in this mixture and spread in a single layer on a greased cookie sheet. This should be easier than with the chocolate ones, no worries.

Check these after 12 minutes. They cook up fast with all the salt, and are yummy fresh out of the oven! And they stay crispy crunchy longer than the other 2 flavors, so great for taking to work the next day or giving as a gift (within a few days)


Rosemary Apple

Ok, the invented flavor. What you need:

  • 1/2 an apple (any type, I used gala I think) diced into small pieces
  • Fresh rosemary (the leaves off one good sprig) chopped to the smallest bits you can muster
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt

You know the drill. Mix the spices (fresh rosemary chopped, 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1/8 teaspoon of salt) and the apples in a bowl. Then drop in the seeds. These actually probably need less egg white to them because of the moisture from the apple bits. I didn’t reduce the egg white and they took quite awhile, but really were tasty.

Put them on a greased baking sheet and toss them in. At 325 these take at least 20 minutes if not more. Depends on how juicy the apple was, really. Also, there will be some sticky browned apple juice on the pan this time, not much you can do about that. But these taste pretty yummy and look super festive and holiday-ish. Could be a great appetizer for Thanksgiving or Christmas for sure.

As a note, they will probably need to be re-crisped after a day in a ziplock, but at 300 degrees for a few minutes they re-crisp well.

Let me know what flavors of pumpkin seeds you made this year. Any plans to make more? I think I may buy some raw pepitas tonight to make up for a snack. Hmmm… which to make… ENJOY!

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