Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Muffins For Dinner?! YAY!"

I have so much to share about the goings' on of the last three weeks - but until I gather the pictures and the words to share the new stuff, here's a great idea for a yummy Summer dinner I made for The Gang.

Fair warning, I tweaked this from another recipe so it's not entirely original to me. I had four big zucchinis in the fridge that were graciously shared with me and one of them needed to be used immediately. So I washed it down, cut off the mushy ends, and slice it length-wise into four "spears." Then I de-seeded it and ran each spear through the food processor using the grating blade. A 14" long zucchini yielded about 3 1/2 cups of shredded zucchini.

Ham and Cheese Crust-less Zucchini Quiche

1 large, chopped onion
1/4 c. butter
2 cloves garlic, pressed
4-1/2 c. baking mix (Bisquick)
2 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
6 eggs
1/2 c. milk
3 c. shredded zucchini
1-2 c. chopped ham, to preference
3/4 c. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 c. parmesan, shredded (optional)

In large skillet, saute the onion and garlic in butter till soft and slightly golden. Add shredded zuke and continue to saute on lowered heat till the zuke has softened and is starting to release its juices. Set aside to cool slightly.

In large bowl, combine parsley, baking mix, parsley, basil, and thyme. Beat together the eggs and the milk and pour over dry ingredients. Lightly mix till just moistened. Add the zuke, ham, and cheese and finish mixing gently till all of it is incorporated. Don't over mix!

Pour into 2 generously sprayed deep dish pie plates, or 2 9x13's, or a deep 11x14. Bake at 400 for about 18-22 minutes until they are golden brown and have raised gently. They will be moist and dense inside but a knife inserted in the center should come out clean to be sure they are done.

This time around, I poured it all into 22 sprayed muffin cups. (Yes, I was just shy of the full 2 dozen but I liked that they were nice and high and full when they were done. It's a trade-off, I guess!) I used my Pampered Chef muffin stones and they turned out moist and lightly golden all around. Li'l Empress thought I was kidding when I told her we were having muffins for dinner and Mei Mei shocked me into tomorrow by downing 1 1/2 of them. She - of the great veggie boycott! We let them dip the bites into their choice of mustard and served it all with a side of salad and broccoli.

It's another healthy way to get some good veggies into your kids and they really are delicious.  I've got two really big ones zucchinis left and I'm getting a hankering for my other Summer Favorite. Anyone else have a good zucchini recipe - other than zucchini bread! - that they want to share? Share some of your favorites in the comments!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Field Trip to the Frontier

Last week, we took a few days to drive to the Shenandoah River Valley to see The Boss's parents. The Boss and Baby BlueEyes were planning to help Grandpa clear some brush and cut some trees into firewood. The girls and I had big plans to read, watch movies and do our nails.

However, knowing that those three sedentary activities would NEVER occupy Mei Mei long enough to actually be relaxing for anyone, I reached out to one of my adoption groups to see if any of my on-line friends would be interested in a meet-up. It took a little back and forth but finally, my friend and I settled on the Frontier Culture Museum of VA.  I'm not being paid to say this, but GUYS! If you are ever in the vicinity of Staunton VA (just south of Harrisonburg), get yourselves there for a day. It will take a full day and you should wear good walking shoes and bring a good amount of water. But it is SO worth the admission fee and the effort. What a BEAUTIFULLY maintained and managed piece of living history this place was.

The museum traces the history of the three or four main people groups that left their Old World to make a life in the Americas. Beginning in the 1600's with the enslavement of West Africans and moving through the English, the Irish, and the Germans, each exhibit is a real, working depiction of that slice of history. MANY of the structures across of the huge "campus" (for lack of a better word) are original to the region that they depict, having been disassembled and shipped to the site. There were interpretive historians on site to weave stories and give us a glimpse of daily life at each major exhibit (except the West African site. That kid was a little bit of a dud. :) ). There were animals roaming in the pastures and ducks and geese in the paths squawking for our attention (which BBE happily gave. In spades! Oh my word.) We were all completely captivated.

Here's just a few pictures of our great day. Sadly, I didn't get any pictures of the West African exhibit. It was super dark in the huts. Plus the younger kids were a little unsure of themselves in the new setting with new people. Plus plus, my new friend and I were talking our faces off getting to know each other while the kids explored. Most of the photo credits go to LadyBug.

The 1600's English farmhouse was the second exhibit on the walking path.
The dining room, work room and family room all in this one space.

This beautiful side board is an original piece.
From the 1600's!
Yes, I was drooling. It was full of lovely earthenware dishes
and cookware. More drool.

The kitchen was quite small and off the main living space, behind the stairs.
It was quite drab compared to the adjoining rooms.

The front of the 1700's Northern Irish farmhouse.
It's an original home structure, from Ulster.
The side building attached there on the right is the Weaving Room.
Each family had to produce a regular quota of cloth to pay their rent to the English landlords. 

This sheep was fantastically large.
And sat in the shade of the pasture like a dog.

Here's my gang with our super-fun travel mates!

The 1700's German farmhouse had many pieces of lovely furniture
with hand painted finishes. Quite familiar to this PA history buff :)
 This trunk was huge and very intricately painted with
a faux wood grain finish, very typical of that era.

This is the 1820's farm that is mostly still the original structure.
It's typical of the farms in the post-Revolutionary era in this
part of Virginia and surrounding colonies.

Just a few of the HUUUUGE sunflowers
in the garden of the first farm house.
The gardens of this log cabin were fantastic!

This is a farm typical of Virginia in the 1850's .
It was a massive home, with several outbuildings
and barns to support the family. 

The two little peanuts that are responsible for
this field trip so the Mommas could take the friendship
from on-line support to real-life relationship.
I love what the adoption community has added to our lives!

A great day was had by all and we came away with a lot of great memories and some wonderful insight into the rich history of Virginia spanning several hundred years. Really, if you are in the vicinity, you MUST go! And take lots of pictures. I'll bet it is simply breathtaking in the fall with all the colors changing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recipe for Comfort

Last week turkey kielbasa was on a GREAT sale at my local grocery store. So I threw some cabbage in my cart and let my mouth water over the plans to make one of my all-time favorite comfort foods: Polish Haluski (pronounced ha-loosh-kee). When I was growing up in North-East PA, this dish was on every single buffet line of all our church dinners and special events. There's a large Polish community in that part of Pennsylvania and lots of yummy recipes have made their way into this Irish-Italian cook's kitchen!

Traditional Haluski doesn't have kielbasa in it (or really any meat for that matter) but I love me a one-dish meal so I take liberties. It's been unseasonably cool here in our neck of the woods, and this dish was just perfect for Saturday's family dinner.

Here's the link to the recipe I used as a reference (Haluski - Cabbage and Noodles), but really, it's a "cook by touch" meal for me. The recipe was just a refresher as it had been so long since I'd made a huge batch like I did on Saturday.

First, boil and drain a 16 oz. bag of extra-wide egg noodles. Toss them with a light sprinkling of olive oil to keep them from sticking. Pour the noodles into a deep casserole dish that has been generously sprayed to prevent sticking.

Thinly slice all the kielbasa (or even smoked sausage) that you are using for your meal and brown it up gently in a lightly sprayed, deep skillet. If you are using light kielbasa or turkey kielbasa, it's wise to add a bit of olive oil to the pan to prevent sticking or scorching. It also helps to generate some drippings and thus some depth of flavor. You can also use a touch of chicken broth if you prefer. When the meat is nicely browned and the bottom of the pan is darkened up, pour the slices and the drippings over the noodles and let them sit together for a while longer.

Then, add equal amounts of olive oil and butter back into to your deep skillet. Saute an onion that has been roughly chopped until the pieces are soft and translucent. Add several cloves of freshly pressed garlic. I tend to have a heavy hand with the garlic for this meal, but you do what tastes right for you. Generously salt and pepper the mixture as the garlic softens. While you are cooking the onions, be sure to get up all the dark bits of flavor that are clinging to the bottom of the pan from cooking the meat.

Add a head of cabbage that has been roughly chopped. My sister-in-law recently used bags of pre-shredded coleslaw mix and I think that is just BRILLIANT! A time-saver for sure if you don't mind the slight addition of expense.

Once all the cabbage is softened and beginning to turn a lovely golden color, it's time to put it all together. Pour the cabbage and onion mixture over the noodles and kielbasa. Be sure to get all the good flavor that is sticking to the pan, even if you have to go back to the stove and add a touch of new butter or olive oil to the empty pan to deglaze it a bit. That flavor and the added moisture is crucial to a great haluski!

Mix the whole kit and kaboodle together very well. If you are prepping it right at dinner time, then you can go ahead and serve it as soon as you mix it all up if you wish. Or, sprinkle it generously with black pepper and cover the whole casserole tightly. I sprayed the inside of my foil to prevent sticking. Bake the casserole for 30 minutes at 325, so that the flavors can all blend and absorb into the noodles.

I particularly like to make this meal early and utilize the "delay start" feature on my oven. The flavors and ingredients get to hang out all day together since nothing in it will spoil if left in the waiting oven. I set it and then forget it till dinner time!

I typically serve this meal with a big green salad and some hearty bread. Though, certainly the bread is not necessary with all those noodles.

One of the reasons I love this dish so much is that it is really easy to prepare and is made from very simple ingredients but it packs a major delish-factor-punch for everyone. Another reason, if I chop the cabbage small enough and take extra time to pull out the "ribs" of the outer leaves of the cabbage that tend to taste too strong for my littles, is that they are also getting some awesome nutrients that they don't normally choose on their own to take in. See, they all THINK they don't like cabbage. But this meal goes a long way toward proving their little theory wrong. {grin}

An added bonus to this particular Saturday night dinner is that my son's sweet girlfriend looooves ethnic dishes like this one. She's Latvian and grew up eating haluski and she really enjoyed sharing this dish with our family.

So tell me, what ethnic dishes or comfort food dishes are you looking forward to the most, as the summer winds down and your style of cooking changes with the weather? Leave me a comment or even a link and I'll come by to say hi!