Holiday Rush Cooking: Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole

roastedgarliccheesycauliflowerWhen the hustle and bustle of the December holiday season is in full swing, the last thing I want to worry about is making dinner.  This main dish casserole can be made ahead and served with a salad for a great weeknight meal.

If you don’t eat, or don’t like pork products, you can easily substitute shredded chicken (grocery store rotisserie or home prepared) for the ham and either leave the bacon out or substitute turkey bacon.  Another option is to cut leftover steak or prime rib into cubes as a substitute for the ham and leave in the bacon.  If you are vegetarian you can leave the meat out completely and add more bell pepper (red, yellow, orange or green). It’s a recipe that’s easy to get creative with.

Roasted Garlic Cheesy Cauliflower

  • 2 Heads of Cauliflower
  • 2 Cups Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese
  • 8 oz Cream Cheese
  • 2 Cups Shredded Aged Gouda (or Trader Joe’s Gouda/Parmesan Blend) Cheese
  • 4 TBLS Butter
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper Diced
  • 3 Chopped Green Onions
  • 6 Slices Cooked Bacon
  • 2 Cups Diced Cooked Ham
  • 1 Clove Garlic, Roasted
  • 3 Shallots, Roasted
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
  • About 1 TBLS Olive Oil
  • 2 TBLS Almond Flour
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream or 1/2 & 1/2

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13 Pyrex baking dish and set aside.

roastedgarlicPeel away the papery skin and cut off the top of the garlic clove.  Place inside a square of foil, drizzle with olive oil, close up the foil package, and place in a shallow pan in the oven.  Do the same for the shallots.  Bake 30-40 minutes and remove from oven.  Set aside for a few minutes then open up foil pouch to let cool.

Break apart cauliflower heads, discard the stem and steam in a steamer in a large pot until tender but not mushy (about 20 minutes per head – you may have to do it in 2 batches).  Transfer cauliflower to Vitamix Container or Food Processor and pulse until florets break apart but do not pulverize.  Remove the cauliflower and put into a large mixing bowl.  Add diced bell pepper, ham, half of the chopped green onions, and half of the crumbled bacon.  Toss to combine.

In heavy saucepan squeeze the roasted garlic and shallots out of their skins and add 3 TBLS butter.  Cook over medium heat until butter melts.  Using a fork or an immersion blender stir/blend until the garlic and shallots are crushed and well combined.  Add a generous amount of pepper, the cream (or 1/2 & 1/2) and bring just to a boil.  Combine the last 1 TBLS of butter (melted) with 2 TBLS of the Almond flour (all purpose if Keto isn’t a concern for you) and blend or whisk into the mixture in the pan until the mixture begins to thicken.  Add the cream cheese then 1 Cup of the pepper jack and 1 Cup of the gouda, stirring constantly until melted.  It may not be a flowing sauce, but resemble a big melted blob – that’s ok.  Remove from heat and pour into the cauliflower mixture in a large bowl.  Use a large rubber spatula to stir together until well mixed.

Spread into prepared 9 x 13 pan, sprinkle remaining bacon, green onion and cheeses over the top, cover loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes; remove foil and continue to bake until cheese is brown and bubbly.  Remove from oven and let cool 5-10 minutes. I serve with a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot for those who like more spice. #ThisGirlLovesToEat

Buffalo Spinach Artichoke Dip

Tasting Table is one of my favorite Twitter follows.  I love browsing their website for restaurant reviews, recipes, new spins on classic drinks, and guides to cities I am planning to travel to.

I was surfing their website today and came across an appetizer that included 4 of my favorite tastes in a single dish: bacon, Buffalo sauce, spinach and artichoke hearts!  Add to that the ability to make ahead, the reviewers rated it 100% make again, and it didn’t call for any hard to get ingredients and this girl who loves to eat was sold!

Note:  I did adapt the recipe from the original:

    1. I prefer a bit more bacon (and I buy mine from the butcher case, never pre-packaged because we don’t have great options in my stores);
    2. I made the blue cheese optional (it’s not a favorite of mine) and offered some substitution options; and
    3. I added a bit more hot sauce to mine.

bcartdip

Buffalo Spinach-Artichoke Dip

  • 3 slices (5 ounces) thick-cut bacon (I use 6 slices)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 9 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and finely chopped
  • 6 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4 ounces smoked blue cheese, softened (I don’t care for Blue Cheese, so I substitute Gorgonzola.  You can also use Goat Cheese, Feta, Stilton, or Brie)
  • 1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 6 tablespoons Franks Red Hot Sauce (I like mine spicy so I add a couple TBLS more)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the bacon over medium-high heat.  Cook, turning as needed, until the bacon is golden and the fat has rendered, 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, then finely chop and set aside.
  4. Add the garlic and onions to the pan and cook, stirring often, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. Add the artichoke hearts and spinach and cook until the spinach is lightly wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir the cream cheese, blue cheese (or whatever cheese you’ve substituted), 1 cup of the Parmesan, sour cream, and hot sauce until smooth.
  7. Fold in the spinach and artichoke mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Transfer to a 1½-quart casserole dish and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
  9. In a small bowl, mix the remaining ½ cup of Parmesan with the chopped bacon, panko crumbs and olive oil.
  10. Sprinkle the panko crumb topping over the dip and place the casserole dish on a sheet pan in case any cheese bubbles over.
  11. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes, then serve.

tt_logo_image_1The recipe calls for serving with chips.  I like to eat this dip with really thick, freshly made tortilla chips, Triscuits, carrot chips, thick bell pepper slices or celery.

If you use Facebook and are interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to: things like health articles, my favorite recipes, fun drinks, food facts, nutritional information, restaurant reviews, photos and other things that make my mouth water, I have a very active page on Facebook you can visit too: https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood

Best Thing I’ve Ever Had at Islands!

I ate something great when I met my husband for a rare weekend lunch out at Islands yesterday.

cheddarfriesThey boast, and truly do have, the #ColdestBeerInTown and they’ve got an amazing menu of burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, tacos, and some truly sinful appetizers.  If you can skip the fries covered in melted cheese and crispy bacon you have far more willpower than I do! #ThisGirlLovesToEat

I sat down at the bar, ordered an ice cold Kona Longboard from the tap,KO_LBL_Pour-with-Bottle_web_204X3771 and glanced at the menu, but was drawn to the bar top menu announcing their limited time specials: Moa Kaneohe Crisp Chicken Sandwich and it’s spicy brother  Moa Mauna Loa Crisp the difference between the two being the Moa Kaneohe has bacon, Swiss and a cream cheese ranch spread, while the Moa Mauna Loa has blue cheese crumbles, and Buffalo sauce on it.

What really appealed to me about these chicken sandwiches was that the chicken breasts weren’t just the usual breaded in flour, dropped in oil, & fried, chicken breasts.  These chicken breasts were battered in a lighter tempura batter and then double fried.  I love tempura!

I like blue cheese dressing occasionally, but not on my burgers, and not even with my Buffalo wings.  But a girl can always ask the waitress for some accommodations to her order, right?

So, I ordered the cheddar cheese fries with bacon #IHaveZeroWillPower and then ordered the Moa Kaneohe Crisp Chicken Sandwich with it’s crisp bacon, lettuce, tomato, chopped red onion, Swiss cheese, cream cheese ranch spread and substituted the spicy chicken breast used in the Moa Mauna Loa: battered in a spicy tempura batter and fried, then added to the sandwich without the blue cheese crumbles, but with an added drizzle of the Buffalo sauce.

islandssandwich

It came out and people around me asked what I was eating…it was pretty darn impressive. Trying to figure out how I was going to get my mouth around it, I cut it in half and found that the breast was incredibly tender and juicy. Not only was it impressive to look at, it was cooked perfectly, and it was the right combination of fresh, creamy & spicy!

The manager was serving tables and stopped to ask if I liked my sandwich.  I told him I was loving it and commented it should always be on the menu.  He said they actually fry the breasts twice, which is why the sandwiches stay on the menu for such a limited time, the cooks complain they have to spend more time on them.  Knowing that, I’m even more impressed that they can keep the breasts from overcooking.

I give #2BigThumbsUp to the Moa Kaneohe Crisp Chicken Sandwich and Moa Mauna Loa Crisp Chicken Sandwich at Islands Restaurant.  I’m not sure how much longer they will be on the menu, but if you get a chance go to Islands and try them!

If you use Facebook and are interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to: things like health articles, my favorite recipes, fun drinks, food facts, nutritional information, restaurant reviews, photos and other things that make my mouth water, I have a very active page on Facebook you can visit too: https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood

Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings”

Another Twitter video find when I was hungry…best part?  It’s from www.health.com!

buffalocauliflower

My sister Wendi and I fell in love with these when we went to San Diego and found a sports bar to watch USC football at before going to a Blake Shelton concert last year. I’ve finally found a recipe that comes close to what we had there!

Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings”

  • Preheat oven to 400° F.
  • Wash a Large head of fresh cauliflower (About 1 lb).
  • Remove the outer leaves and stem and then cut to separate the individual florets.
  • Dry the florets and spread out on a cookie sheet lined with foil.
  • Sprinkle florets lightly with salt and pepper.
  • Put sheet in oven and roast for 20 – 25 minutes stirring once.

In a medium bowl combine:

  • 1 TBLS Butter melted
  • 3 TBLS Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (or any kind you like)
  • 1 tsp Vinegar
  • Put roasted cauliflower florets into the bowl and stir with rubber spatula until all florets are coated with sauce.
  • Return coated florets to the cookie sheet.
  • Roast at 400° F for 5-10 minutes more or until cauliflower starts to brown.

Make the dipping sauce:

  • In a small pan over medium-low heat put 2 tsp Olive Oil and 1 clove garlic, minced.
  • Heat until garlic starts to brown.
  • Transfer garlic and olive oil into the mixing container of a blender or Vitamix.
  • Add 1/2 Cup Plain Greek Yogurt.
  • 1/2 Avocado
  • 1 TBLS Parsley
  • 1 TBLS Chives
  • 1 tsp Dill
  • 1/4 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp Onion Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Honey
  • Pinch of Salt & Pepper

Blend until well combined.  Transfer to a small serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Serve with the dip and ranch dressing on the side.

If you use Facebook and are interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to: things like health articles, my favorite recipes, fun drinks, food facts, nutritional information, restaurant reviews, photos and other things that make my mouth water, I have a very active page on Facebook you can visit too: https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood

Fired-Up Mac & Cheese

kraft_macaroni__cheese_2011I grew up on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  The blue box with the skinny little noodles that Mom combined with a 1/4 cup of “Oleo” as she called margarine (she NEVER used butter) and 1/4 cup of low-fat milk was a crowd pleaser to my sister, brother and I.  Later she would splurge on the more expensive box of “Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese” with it’s tiny can of cheese sauce in it, but, to my taste, you still can’t beat the skinny blue box.

Thankfully, as I grew so too did my palate.  I rarely pass up a macaroni and cheese on any menu and have developed a couple of favorite styles:  Lobster macaroni and cheese, if it has large claw chunks (and not just minced remnants), is my favorite, followed by a good white cheddar shells and cheese prepared with a hint of truffle oil and just a few exotic mushrooms.

spicyspiralmacncheeseWhen I’m cooking Macaroni and Cheese, I like it to have enough flavor, that if I served nothing else beside it, except maybe a tossed green salad, it could stand alone as a “Meatless Monday” main dish.  You won’t need a fire extinguisher nearby for this spirited macaroni and cheese, but you certainly won’t fall asleep while you’re eating it either.

Lisa’s Fired-Up Mac & Cheese

  • 1 – 16oz Box Cellentani Pasta (I use Barilla)
  • 8 TBLS Butter / Divided
  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 3 1/4 Cups Whole Milk
  • 1 tsp Dry Mustard
  • 3/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp White Pepper
  • 3 Tsp Chili Powder
  • 1/4 Cup Hot Pepper Sauce (I prefer Frank’s Red Hot)
  • 1 1/2 Cups + 1/4 Cup (for sprinkling on top) Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese
  • 2 + 1/4 Cup (for sprinkling on top) Cups Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 3/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2/3 Cup Panko

Before you start, I have a couple of tips.

  1. If you can’t find shredded Pepper Jack or Sharp Cheddar you can always use the packaged slices and tear them up.  Generally the 8 ounce package should equal about 1 1/2 Cups.  Use your own judgement.  I usually err on the side of too much cheese in that type of situation and gauge it based upon the thickness of my sauce.  You can always thin (God Forbid) a bit with milk if you think it’s too thick.
  2. You can use any macaroni type noodle you prefer (elbow, shell, spiral) but I prefer the Cellentani because it combines the features of a slightly larger elbow with a spiral and then throws in some textured grooves so you get as much of the sauce grabbing to it as possible in each bite.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Prepare 2 – 13 x 9 Pyrex baking dishes (I use the deepest ones I have), or 1 deep dish throw away baking pan, by buttering the sides and bottoms – then set aside while you prepare the ingredients.
  • In a large stock pot, boil your pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse and pour into largest mixing bowl you have.  Set aside.
  • In a large sauce pan over medium heat melt 4 TBLS butter.  Whisk in the flour and cook about a minute while constantly whisking then begin stirring in the milk about a 1/2 cup at a time until it’s well combined.
  • Stir in the spices and 1/4 Cup of the hot sauce.  Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat and stir in cheeses (not the cheese reserved for the top) until melted and smooth.
  • In a small pan melt the remaining 4 TBLS butter and stir in the bread crumbs.
  • Combine the remaining cheeses together.
  • Pour the sauce over the macaroni and, using a large rubber spatula, stir until all of the pasta is well coated.
  • Divide the pasta between the 2 prepared pans
  • Sprinkle 1/2 of the remaining cheese mixture over the top of each and put the pans, uncovered into the oven.
  • Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the cheese sauce is bubbling and beginning to brown on top.
  • Slide the baking dishes out of the oven and set the oven temperature to broil
  •  Divide the panko mixture between the two pans and return to the oven
  • Watch the pans carefully and remove from the oven as soon as your crumbs begin browning.

Make sure you’ve got a bottle of hot sauce out for anyone who wants to spice it up even more!  Serve your macaroni and cheese with a salad as a dinner on it’s own, alongside burgers, steaks, or inside a great steak/brisket/tri-tip sandwich!

If you are on Facebook and are interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to, recipes, food facts, nutritional information, photos and other things that make my mouth water, I have a page on Facebook you can visit too:  https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood

 

Poolside Valentine’s Day BBQ

elm-131167-Valentines-Day-1
Happy Valentine’s Day From Sunny Southern California

The threats and warnings of the “Fury” and strength of the approaching El Nino has, so far, failed to materialize in Southern California.  A week and a half ago we were seeing colder than normal temperatures in the mid-50’s followed by last weekend’s mid to high 70’s and then this week’s high 80’s to mid 90’s.  I had barely gotten the dust off of my boots & sweaters and had to dig my spring clothes back out to keep from sweating my ass off while visiting customers this week!

I am neither gloating or complaining, I would just really like the weather to make a decision.  I have a great fireplace in the living room (and another one out by the BBQ island), but it just hasn’t been cold enough to justify lighting them.  In fact, it’s been so warm and sunny that I turned the heater back on in the pool and invited a single girlfriend & her kids over to catch some rays and barbeque by the pool for Valentine’s Day.

Instead of making reservations for brunch we put together a menu that would need minimal prep, have no gluten and be able to be cooked & served in the backyard.

Backyard Bloody Marys:

  • Pour 1 1/2 to 2 ounces Tito’s or Smirnoff 21 Vodka (both are Gluten Free) into a glass (or in this case, red Solo cup) filled with ice
  • Fill the rest of the cup up with a homemade mix comprised of: Low Sodium V-8, a splash or two of juice from a jar of martini olives, a dash of your favorite hot sauce (we used Frank’s Red Hot), a dash or two of Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce, a bit of fresh-full strength horseradish, an a dash of A-1 Steak Sauce.
  • Garnished with a slice of crisp bacon, a stalk of celery, a peeled mini carrot, a thick ring of red bell pepper, and a skewer with sweet peppers, onions, and pepperocini

The BBQ was kept busy with:

Two simple side dishes allowed us to spend a couple of hours absorbing some natural Vitamin D, courtesy of our friend The Sun!

  • A salad of sliced English cucumber, halved plum tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, 2 TBLS light sour cream, a dash or two red wine vinegar, freshly ground pepper and some garlic salt
  • Chunks of cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and pineapple, thinly sliced Kiwi, fresh blueberries and a few whole strawberries

All in all a great day!

Weather forecasters promise that we will still be seeing the long promised “Godzilla” rain storms of El Nino, the storms are just taking their sweet time.  Weather experts are “expecting a conveyor belt of squalls to enter stage left in late February and continue through March, possibly into April. This is a month or so later than original predictions for heavy rains.”  In the meantime I will enjoy a few more days with the top down on my car and the ability to tan myself back from the brink of pale-dom before I have to hunker down in sweaters and rain boots.

Are you on Facebook?  You might be interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to: recipes, food facts, nutritional information, photos and other things that make my mouth water. I may not write a blog post every day, but there are daily updates to my This Girl Loves To Eat community at: https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood

Meatless Monday

IMG_4404[1]I love to shop at Trader Joe’s!

Their produce is always fresh, they have great weekly specials and have a really unique, well priced wine and liquor department without having to fight with a giant grocery store atmosphere.

While browsing the aisles today I was inspired to create something quick and healthy for dinner tonight and didn’t want to ruin the workout I had just suffered through by making something that would make me feel bloated and bad about myself.

There were so many bright orange pumpkins displayed around the store that I thought something based on the same fall flavor would be great.  A few more minutes in the produce department and I came up with an idea that didn’t seem very hard at all.

 No Fuss Spinach Butternut Squash Lasagna

  • 1 – 12 oz package Trader Joe’s Cut Butternut Squash (In the fresh produce department)
  • 3/4 – 12 oz package Trader Joe’s Fresh Leaf Spinach
  • 9 – Sheets Trader Joe’s No Boil Lasagna Noodles
  • 1 – 16 oz container Trader Joe’s Part Skim Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 – 16 oz pkg Trader Joe’s Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1/4 – Wedge Trader Joe’s Parmesan Gouda Cheese
  • 1/4 Cup Skim Milk
  • 2 Cloves Garlic finely chopped
  • Fresh Basil (About 6 large leaves)
  • Nutmeg, Oregano, Salt, Pepper and Paprika to taste

Cook the butternut squash, in it’s package with a corner cut off, in the microwave for 6 minutes.

Shred the mozzarella cheese and grate 1/4 to 1/3 of the wedge of the gouda-parmesan wedge into two separate bowls and set aside.

In Food Processor (I used my Vitamix) combine the squash, milk, garlic, nutmeg, salt and 1/2 the container of ricotta cheese.  Process until just smooth.  Do not over process.  If too thick add a little more milk.  Taste and adjust the spices then set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl combine the spinach, the other half container of ricotta cheese, 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese, the chopped garlic, and some salt and pepper.  Stir until the spinach is well coated.

In a lasagna pan (or 9 x 12 Pyrex pan) drizzle some olive oil then layer as follows:

  1.  1/3 of the squash mixture, a single layer of the unboiled lasagna noodles (I used 2 whole and 1 split to fill the layer), then a layer of the spinach mixture;
  2. 1/3 of the squash mixture, a single layer of the no boil lasagna noodles, then a layer of the spinach mixture;
  3. Final 1/3 of the squash mixture, a single layer of the no boil lasagna noodles, then the rest of the spinach mixture;
  4. Top the lasagna with the rest of the mozzarella cheese, the grated parmesan-gouda cheese, and then sprinkle with oregano, paprika and the chopped fresh basil.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is just browned.  Remove from the oven and let stand 5-10 minutes so the cheese sets.  Cut into 8 pieces and serve with a green salad for a healthy meal.  My husband also added some Frank’s Red Hot to spice his up.  It was a great change of pace and there was enough left over for a couple of lunches this week!

If you are on Facebook and are interested in the things I may not devote an entire blog post to, recipes, food facts, nutritional information, photos and other things that make my mouth water, I have a page on Facebook you can visit too:  https://www.facebook.com/ThisGirlLovesHerFood

Tomorrow’s post:  Slow Cooked Red Bean Chicken Chipotle Chili