The Freezer Makes it Easy

We have had a few busy weeks here lately. To be honest, when is a week ever not busy for any of us, but lately we have been burning the candle at both ends more than usual. Most people would probably eat out more than normal or rely on boxed frozen meals, but I’m not most people. I have a few tricks that have saved the day lately.

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Lately, when I make a casserole, pasta dish or soup, I double the amounts and freeze half for another time. Sure, that makes more work initially, but it certainly doesn’t take twice the time for twice the food. And, of course, later I will have a homemade dinner in the freezer, waiting. I do this most often with cheese stuffed shells, but it works with just about any soup, chili or casserole.

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In addition to having some main dishes in the freezer, I am trying to build up a frozen stash of a few things to give me a head start on the cooking. Our grocery store had a meat sale a few weeks ago, and I picked up a bunch of packages of bone-in chicken breasts. I baked them all and then shredded the meat. Then I portioned it out into quart bags, filling each with about two cups of chicken. It makes me feel rich to have those bags in the freezer, ready to make into tacos, sandwiches or to throw in a quick chicken soup.

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I also picked up a pork roast as part of the same sale, and cooked it in the crockpot. I shredded the cooked meat and stashed it in the freezer next to the chicken. It is all ready to mix with barbecue sauce for pulled pork sandwiches, to dice and put in stir-fry or to put into tacos. Can you tell we are on a taco kick lately?

What do you do when you are pressed for time at dinnertime? Do you plan ahead, do you get take-out, or do you stand over the sink and eat a bag of chips and salsa?

Twice Baked Potatoes

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You can’t really go wrong with potatoes and cheese. And if you brown the cheese it’s even better.

Rich and I had a date night a few weeks ago and we were looking for something that was tasty, but not too indulgent. We are still coming off our holiday indulgences and are happy with lighter meals. We decided on spuds and salads, but we wanted to jazz up the potatoes just a bit. Twice baked potatoes to the rescue.

The potatoes are a nice change from regular baked potatoes and are only a little more work. You can cut the work down even further if you use leftover baked potatoes – it is easy to throw a few extra potatoes in the oven for later in the week.

Twice baked potatoes are the epitome of a customizable dish. Make them early in the day, or even the day before, and stash them in the fridge until ready to bake. Or make them right before you want to eat them. Use less cheese, or more. Add bacon, chives, green onions, garlic or bits of whatever you have in the fridge. I kept the recipe pretty basic, but feel free to make it yours.

What’s your favorite way to eat baked potatoes?

Print just the recipe here.

Twice Baked Potatoes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

Use more cheese if you like your potatoes really cheesy.

You can make bake, mash and fill the potato shells ahead of time. Store them in the fridge until ready to bake them the second time.

4 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
1 egg, slightly beaten
2-4 tablespoons milk
Salt
Pepper
1 cup grated cheese (Cheddar, Swiss or a combination of your favorites)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake potatoes for about an hour, or until they are soft when poked with a fork. Cool potatoes until you can handle them comfortably. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the insides of each half, leaving about ¼ inch shell of potato inside the skin. You don’t have to be precise. Set potato shells aside.

Mash the scooped out potato with a fork or potato masher. Try to get most of the lumps out, but don’t get obsessive. Add the egg, about 2 tablespoons of milk and a few sprinkles of salt and pepper and mash again. If the mixture seems too dry, add a bit more milk and mash again. You want a mixture that is a little wetter than mashed potatoes.

Mix in about ½ cup of cheese. Reserve ½ cup of cheese for topping the potatoes later.

Fill the potato shells with the cheese-potato mixture, mounding the tops fairly neatly.

Place the filled potato halves on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet, propping the potatoes against each other if they won’t stand up.

Bake the potatoes at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, or just until the tops are starting to turn golden brown in spots. Remove the potatoes from the oven and sprinkle the tops with the reserved cheese. Return to the oven for 10 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Broil the tops for a couple of minutes if you want the cheese browner.

Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

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The other day I had a craving for chicken noodle soup. Craving might be too strong a word, but I really wanted some soup. In the past few years I have sworn off canned soup. Some of it is philosophic – have you seen the grocery store soup aisle? There are way too many kinds of soup: regular, lite, low sodium, low fat, low carb, bold flavor, extra chunky. It is kind of nuts that we, as a society, have a need for so many kinds of canned salty water with mushy noodles. What does that say about us? Not anything good, I can tell you.

My soup angst aside, I just haven’t enjoyed canned soup in the last few years. Maybe it is my changing tastes, but they all taste too salty, too much of the can and just not right.

I have tried making my own chicken noodle soup many times, but I just wasn’t happy with it. Sure, I have favorite recipes for vegetable soup, chili and bacon turkey chowder, but I didn’t have a chicken noodle soup I was happy with. Until now.

The secret, at least to us, was finding a commercial broth that we liked. I have made my own chicken stock, and it was sublime. But I don’t have the time or the inclination to make my own broth very often. Nor do I have the freezer space to store a ready supply.

I don’t usually tout specific brands on the blog, but I do have to call out Kitchen Basics. I have only tried their unsalted chicken stock, but it was the most flavorful, most chicken-y broth I have found. No weird ingredients either. And it has no added salt, so I can salt my dishes to my own tastes. Gold stars all around. And this is a totally unbiased opinion – I received no compensation from Kitchen Basics for this post. I just like their product.

Once I found a good broth, it was just a matter of including the vegetables I like the best in chicken soup. I started with shallots – every soup needs either shallots or onions. Next, I added a lot of celery because I love celery in soup, and because I love the aroma of sautéing celery. I added carrots, of course. They belong in chicken soup. I finished with a little garlic to round things out.

The noodles are kind of a no-brainer. Pick the shape you like the best. We have discovered (we have eaten a lot of chicken soup lately) that we prefer small noodles that are less likely to flop off our spoons or send hot soup dribbles down our chins.

Now to the chicken. I like to make extra chicken any time we are having roast chicken for dinner. Then I dice it up and freeze it in one or two cup portions. It is perfect to pull out and add to chicken soup, stir fries, fried rice, pasta or pizza. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can buy a rotisserie chicken, or have chicken one night and chicken soup the next, with the leftover chicken.

Our soup was everything I wanted in a soup – flavorful broth that tasted of chicken and vegetables instead of salt, exactly the vegetables we wanted, perfectly shaped noodles and real white meat chicken.

Throw the cans to the curb (in the recycling bin, of course) and whip up your own chicken noodle soup. You won’t be sorry.

Download or print the recipe here.

Easy Chicken Noodle Soup
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

Your broth determines if your soup is just good or excellent. Make sure you use a tasty broth, either homemade or commercial. I like Kitchen Basics unsalted chicken stock. I like a lot of vegetables – if you like more broth, use the smaller amount of celery and carrot.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large shallot or 1 small onion, minced
3-4 ribs celery, diced
3-4 carrots, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 cups low salt or unsalted chicken broth (see headnote)
¾ teaspoon salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup small noodles, I used radiatori
1-2 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces

Heat the olive oil in a 3-quart pot over medium heat until shimmering.

Add shallot or onion, celery and carrots. Sauté until slightly browned and tender, lower heat if they are browning too much.

Add garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes.

Add chicken broth. Cover pot and bring it to a boil over high heat.

Once broth boils, lower the heat so the soup is boiling gently and cook for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Taste broth and add salt and pepper to taste.

Add noodles and boil, covered, until they are al dente.

Lower heat to low and add chicken. Heat just until chicken is hot. Serve hot.

Leftovers keep well, though you may need to add a little water – the soup thickens and the noodles tend to absorb the broth.

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

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Fall weather changes my thinking when I plan dinner, even side dishes. I turn from things like light, citrusy rice to rich, cheesy potatoes. Or at least I did today. I wanted to make a cheesy potato dish to go with the breaded, baked fish I was planning. And I wanted to make it as simple as possible, with as few dirty dishes as possible.

I decided to make scalloped potatoes like my mother used to when I was growing up. I sliced potatoes and layered them with cheese and sprinkles of flour. I poured milk over the top and baked them until they were browned and bubbly and the milk and flour had thickened into a sauce.

The only hard part about this recipe is waiting for them to bake. No cheese sauce to make, no potatoes to parboil before baking. Just cheesy, warm potatoes with a minimum of fuss and bother. My idea of a perfect side dish.

Download or print recipe here.

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 6-8

You can make this with your favorite cheeses. Stronger cheeses are better than mild ones, in my opinion. Use any milk you have on hand – the richer the milk, the richer your sauce.

4-6 potatoes (1½ pounds)
1½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
¼ cup flour, divided
½ teaspoon salt, divided
black pepper, to taste
2 cups milk (I used 2%)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heavily grease a 9 by 13 inch casserole dish.

Peel the potatoes and slice them into thin, round slices. Mix the cheeses together in a bowl.

Cover the bottom of the casserole with a thin layer of potato slices – use about a quarter of the potatoes. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of flour, ⅛ teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste. Repeat with another layer of potatoes, flour, salt and pepper.

Spread 1 cup of cheese over the second layer of potatoes. Repeat the layering twice more with the remaining potatoes, flour, salt and pepper.

Pour milk gently over the entire casserole. Cover casserole tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 60 minutes.

Remove foil and sprinkle top of potatoes with remaining 1 cup of cheese. Return to the oven, uncovered, for another 20-30 minutes, until top is golden brown, edges are browned and sauce is bubbly and thick. Let potatoes rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. Leftovers reheat well.

Caramelized Acorn Squash

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I alluded to this recipe a couple of weeks ago, when I was talking about the date night meal Rich and I enjoyed on a Friday night. We had Cornish hens, a whole grain medley and this squash. I’m not sure which was our favorite, but together they made a wonderful fall meal.

I had two beautiful acorn squash that my dad grew in his garden and I wanted to do them justice. I also wanted to do something different than my usual method – roasting the squash halves and serving them with butter and brown sugar. I envisioned slices of squash browned in butter, but I wanted to do it with the least amount of work and without flirting with stitches.

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As you may know, winter squash can be nigh on impossible to peel when they are raw. You can do it, but you risk losing a digit or two in the process. If you are particularly unlucky, you will get one with a thick rind that leaves you wondering if your knife will ever make it through the darn thing so you can get the seeds out.

I figured I would need to cook the squash a little before I tried peel it. I was able to cut mine into wedges while they were raw, since they were small and had relatively thin rinds. After a short time in the oven, the wedges were easy to peel and only needed a few minutes in a skillet to get toasty brown. The flesh was tender and sweet, contrasting with the buttery, slightly salty caramelized sides of the slices. Just exactly how I had imagined they would be.

Download or print the recipe here.

Caramelized Acorn Squash
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

You can bake the squash wedges ahead of time. Store in the fridge for a day or two, until you are ready to caramelize and serve them.

2 small to medium acorn squash
¼ cup water
½-1 tablespoon butter
salt, optional
pepper, optional
brown sugar or maple syrup, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut squash in half and remove the seeds and strings. Cut squash into wedges, about 1½ inches wide at the widest portion.*

Arrange squash wedges in a single layer in a casserole dish. Add water and cover with the lid or foil. Bake for 15 minutes, or until they are crisp tender. A fork will go in the flesh, but not easily.

Remove squash wedges from oven and let cool until you can handle them. Peel squash. At this point you can refrigerate the squash wedges for up to a couple of days.

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add squash wedges, laying them on their sides in a single layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, if desired. Let cook, undisturbed, for 5-10 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottoms. Carefully turn over and brown the other side for 5-7 minutes more.

Serve hot. Sprinkle with brown sugar or drizzle with maple syrup, if desired.

*If your squash has a particularly hard-to-cut rind, you can cut it into wedges after it bakes.  You will probably need to bake the halves longer than the wedges to get them crisp tender.

Back to Basics – White Rice

DSC_0024Plain boiled rice might seem too basic for a recipe. However, I can’t tell you how many people have asked me how to cook rice. It isn’t hard to make rice, but there are several things that can trip you up.

First, since you are working with only two ingredients – rice and water – you need to have good rice. I don’t like to use the run-of-the-mill rice from the grocery store that is labeled “long-grain rice” or just “rice.” The quality can be inconsistent, which means your cooked rice can be inconsistent.

I prefer to use jasmine or basmati rice. They have more flavor than un-named, generic varieties and cook up more consistently. The jasmine has a subtle flowery, spicy flavor that perfumes the whole house when you are cooking it. Basmati smells and tastes slightly nutty, sometimes slightly reminiscent of popcorn. Both are long grain rices, sometimes extremely long. The grains are fluffy and separate easily – no gumminess.

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Be sure to buy your rice from a store that has reasonable turnover. Even white rice can get old and rancid. Give it a sniff and you will know if your rice is over the hill or not. Old rice smells sour, musty and not good. And those aromas will only intensify when you cook it. Rice is cheap. If in doubt, toss it and buy a fresh supply. If you don’t cook rice that often, toss the raw rice in a ziplock bag and store it in the freezer. You can cook it directly from the freezer.

There really isn’t a lot to cooking rice, as long as you start with a good product. You cook it in twice as much water, by volume, as rice. So one cup of rice cooks in two cups of water. Cover it while it cooks and don’t stir. That is it. Yes, it is that easy. And yes, I am including a recipe. Follow the directions and you should end up with perfect rice, every time.

Download or print the recipe here.

White Rice
From the Cook’s Life
Serves 4, easy to double

2 cups water
1 cup rice

Bring water to boil in a 2- or 3-quart pot over high heat, covered. When water boils, immediately turn the heat as low as your stove will go. Add rice, stir once and put the lid on the pot. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

Watch the pot for a minute or two to make sure the starch in the rice won’t make bubbles that creep to the top and run down the outside. If this happens, lift the lid, stir once, and re-cover the pot.

Now, leave the rice alone. Don’t stir it. Don’t uncover it.

After 15 minutes, check on the rice. Lift the lid and use a spoon to pull back a small section of the rice from the edge of the pan. If there is unabsorbed water in the bottom, replace the lid and cook for another 5-7 minutes.

When rice is done, all the water will be absorbed and the grains of rice will be tender and slightly sticky, but not gummy. If rice still seems too wet, give it a few more minutes to cook.

Fluff the rice and serve hot. Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave, though the rice will never be as fluffy and moist as it is the first day.

Lemon Pasta with Zucchini Ribbons

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The end of lemon week is here. I am on such a lemon kick – I think I have a few more recipes in me, but they will have to wait for another time. I’m sure I have enough to have another lemon week, but two in a row would be a bit much.

I have been making a variation of this pasta for several years now. It was originally inspired by a cooking show, though I have long forgotten which one. I used to make it by juicing a lemon into a serving bowl and adding chopped garlic and olive oil. Hot pasta on top, a quick toss and it was ready to serve, with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Of course it has evolved over the years.

Now I prefer cooked garlic to raw, so I sauté the garlic while the pasta is cooking. I also started adding the zest from the lemon, because it adds such a punch of lemon flavor that highlights the garlic and olive oil somehow.

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The last time we had it I tried adding zucchini, cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. We had some leftover cooked chicken in the fridge, so I tossed that in too, though Rich and Calvin preferred theirs without. The zucchini added color and texture and the cherry tomatoes were nice pops of color and sweetness. The fresh mozzarella added its milky creaminess that contrasted nicely with the nuttiness of the Parmesan. Note: I added a ton more Parmesan on top after I took the pictures. White drifts of Parmesan aren’t great when you want to show off the pasta, but they are essential at the table.

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I cooked a whole pound of pasta when I made it this last time, as we were fighting each other for the leftovers the time before that. This time we must not have been as hungry – we had a lot left over, which made for nice lunches. It all depends how many veggies you add and how many other dishes you have along with it. You could also leave out the chicken and serve this as a side dish with fish or roast chicken. We like it best hot, but room temperature isn’t bad either, if you want to go the pasta salad route.

I used to have a beautiful cobalt blue glass bowl that I liked to serve this in. Well, to be honest, I liked to serve everything in it. But the lemon pasta, with its flecks of yellow zest was pretty against the blue. I miss that bowl – it didn’t survive me dropping a plate on it while I was emptying the dishwasher a few years ago. Maybe someone will get me another one for my birthday or Christmas (hint, hint to Calvin and Rich).

Blue bowl or not, the pasta is just the thing to use up the zucchini and tomatoes that are going to start ripening soon. Or for the middle of winter when we are stuck with grocery store zucchini and tomatoes. Or in the fall when we are tired of the same old tomato sauces and zucchini bread. Or…well, you get the picture.

Download or print the recipe here.

Lemon Pasta with Zucchini Ribbons
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 6, with leftovers

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, sliced into long thin slices
2 tablespoons white wine or water
salt
pepper
1 pound medium pasta shells, or any shape you prefer
1 lemon
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup cooked, diced chicken, optional
1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
Grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to boil to cook the pasta. While the water comes to a boil, heat the oil over medium low heat in a skillet and add the garlic. Cook until garlic is fragrant. Add zucchini and spread it out in the pan in a mostly even layer, trying to keep most of the zucchini slices intact. Add wine or water, salt and pepper and cover the pan.

When the water boils, cook the pasta according to package directions. While pasta and zucchini cook, zest and juice the lemon into a large serving bowl. Add the cherry tomatoes and chicken, if using.

Check the zucchini and remove the lid if there is too much liquid in the pan. Continue cooking until zucchini is tender.

Drain the cooked pasta and add to the serving bowl, along with the zucchini mixture. Add the mozzarella. Toss gently. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. Leftovers reheat well.

Crispy Mashed Potato Cakes

DSC_0011I’m not sure what I was thinking the other night when I made dinner. I made enough mashed potatoes for an army, or at least for another family, or two. While I was mashing them, before we had even sat down to eat them, I was already trying to figure out what I would do with the leftovers. Not sure what that says about me, but I’ll go with frugal.

My mom sometimes made mashed potato cakes when we had enough potatoes left over. She didn’t do it often, but they were always good. We didn’t usually have enough to make many, usually enough to have one or two each, with other leftovers for lunch, or with eggs for breakfast. Mom liked hers with maple syrup, which I always thought was a little weird. Her mother made mashed potato cakes for breakfast when she was a girl and served them with syrup. Who am I to argue with Mom’s tastes of childhood?

We had so many mashed potatoes that I decided to make potato cakes as a side dish to go with fish for dinner the next night. Cheese goes well with potatoes, so I threw some of that in, along with an egg to hold it all together. You can certainly leave the cheese out, or use more than I did. And you will have to adjust the seasonings to your tastes. Our potatoes weren’t very salty to begin with, so I added a little salt. If I had had some on hand, I would have mixed in roasted garlic. I used just a touch of garlic powder instead, since the short cooking time wouldn’t have worked well with chopped raw garlic. Fresh herbs would have been marvelous, but I didn’t have any, so we did without.

Just a little butter on the griddle and our potato cakes fried up golden brown and crispy, with soft, cheesy centers. Calvin couldn’t stop talking about how much he liked them. And it was a good thing, since we had enough left over for several lunches, even after having them for dinner. Did I mention I had made a lot of potatoes?

Note: I had enough potatoes to make a double batch of the potato cakes, which made almost twenty. I am giving you a recipe for half that, since most normal people don’t have four cups of mashed potatoes left over – except maybe at Thanksgiving. If you do find yourself with lots of mashed potatoes, just double all the ingredients in the recipe and start frying.

Download or print the recipe here.

Crispy Mashed Potato Cakes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6 (8-12 potato cakes, depending on size)

1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten
2 cups cold mashed potatoes
½-¾ cup grated cheddar cheese (I used white cheddar, any cheese will work)
⅛-¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
⅛ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease a large baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper. This is to keep the first batch of potato cakes hot while you cook the second batch. If you have a griddle large enough, you can cook them all at once and skip the oven.

Melt butter in a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. While pan is heating, mix egg, mashed potatoes, cheese, salt, garlic powder and black pepper together until thoroughly combined.

Spoon small amounts of mashed potato mixture into the hot pan, flattening them with your fingers or the back of a spoon. Use a little less than a quarter cup of the mixture per cake. Or make them smaller. Don’t make them bigger or they will be too hard to turn.

Cook 3-4 minutes, or until first side is golden brown. Carefully turn mashed potato cakes over and brown the other side, another 3-4 minutes. The cakes are fragile – use care when turning them.

Remove the potato cakes to the prepared baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven while you cook the second batch.

Serve the mashed potato cakes hot. Leftovers reheat well in a lightly greased skillet.

Corn and Browned Butter

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Most of the time I keep vegetable side dishes very plain, either steaming them or roasting them with just a little olive oil. Occasionally I like to spice things up a bit with a more involved dish – corn and browned butter is one of our favorites. It is sublime with in-season fresh corn, cut off the cob just before cooking. It also works with leftover corn on the cob, again in season. Outside of the summer months, the recipe is perfectly fine with frozen corn. Of course, when browned butter is involved, just about anything tastes pretty good.

My dad’s family used to make fried corn whenever we had a big family dinner. It was always delicious – warm golden corn flecked with brown toasty spots. Mine was never as good. A few years ago I read a recipe for fish with corn sauce by Melissa Clark in her book, “In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite.” She used browned butter to make the corn for the sauce and it was a true “aha moment.”

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I had only ever used browned butter to make desserts, and not often. I decided to try frying my corn in browned butter. There was no way combining corn and butter was going to be bad, so I had nothing to lose. I did learn that you don’t need a lot of butter at all, or the corn is greasy. And I learned that I needed to be more daring when browning the butter. It truly needs a few minutes to get really brown and develop the toasted flavors.

Yes, it takes a few more minutes to make than microwaving a bowl of frozen corn, or boiling corn on the cob, but those few minutes elevate corn from an everyday side dish to a vegetable worth savoring – until you fight your family members for the last kernel in the bowl. Yes, it is that good.

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Download or print the recipe here.

Corn and Browned Butter
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

1-2 tablespoons butter
2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen (no need to thaw frozen)
salt
pepper

Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Continue to cook butter, stirring occasionally, until it starts to darken and smell toasty. Keep an eye on it and continue to cook until the butter is medium brown. Don’t let it get too dark or it will taste burned (I have never had this happen, but it is possible). The whole process should take 5-10 minutes, depending on your stove. Add corn and stir to coat with butter. Cook corn over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until hot and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, with salt and pepper to taste. Leftovers reheat well.

Eggplant Parmesan

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Friday was another day for the files. I was booked in the morning to help get ready for the annual rummage sale to benefit the youth programs at our church. Rich and I were planning on a date night that evening, while Calvin attended a lock-in at church to get ready for the sale. I had it all planned out in my head – volunteer at church in the morning, clean house and cook in the afternoon. By the end of the day I would be ready for a relaxing evening at home with Rich – eating eggplant Parmesan and homemade bread.

Plans so quickly went awry. The morning started later than I expected, and with one thing and another I didn’t get home until 3:30. And I was exhausted from sorting rummage sale items all day. All plans for cleaning house flew out the window without much protest from me.

After a short break to chill with Calvin and hear about his day at school, I started on the dough for Middle Eastern flatbread. It was 4:30 by now, and Calvin had to be at church by 6:00 (yes the bread comes together that quickly, it is a marvelous recipe). While the bread was rising I prepped the eggplant for the oven. I bake my eggplant instead of frying it, both to make the dish a little healthier and to streamline preparation. The eggplant went in the oven and I shaped the bread into loaves. The eggplant came out of the oven and the bread went in. A quick minute to assemble the casserole and dinner was virtually ready. The bread came out of the oven, the eggplant went in and I was ready to run Calvin to church for his lock-in.

The drop off portion of the day took just about 30 minutes and I was back in time to whip the eggplant out of the oven before it got too brown. If Rich and I had a different kind of marriage (that no one has had since “I Love Lucy” days, if even then), I would have pretended to be cool, calm and collected as I put dinner on the table, in my heels and pretty dress. Those of you who know me personally can stop laughing now. In the real world that we all live in, I sat down in my old jeans and shared a laugh with my husband about my crazy day. He said all the right things about my herculean efforts to get it all done and never once asked why I didn’t buy a loaf of bread or order take-out for dinner. He is a smart man, as I often say.

If you are smarter than me, you will plan eggplant Parmesan for a slightly less hectic day, but know that it is a dish that you can easily make, even when you are short on time. Trust me.

Download or print recipe here.

Eggplant Parmesan
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

I don’t like to use the seediest middle portion of the eggplant. This is wasteful, I know, but I really don’t like all those seeds. If you don’t mind them, use all of the eggplant. You may only need one large eggplant if you use the whole thing.

2 cups tomato sauce (use your favorite pasta sauce, homemade or purchased)
1 cup breadcrumbs (I used panko, but you can use any breadcrumbs)
salt
pepper
dried basil
garlic powder
cayenne
paprika
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
2 large eggplants (see head note)
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ pound mozzarella cheese, grated
additional Parmesan cheese for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease one or two large baking sheets. Set aside. Lightly grease a large (9 by 13) casserole dish. Add tomato sauce to dish and set aside.

Place breadcrumbs on a plate or large shallow bowl and add spices to taste. Mix in Parmesan cheese and set aside. In a large shallow bowl or plate, beat eggs until well combined. Set aside.

Peel eggplant, if desired (it’s not necessary, unless the skins are extremely thick or tough) and slice crosswise into ¼-inch slices.

Dip each eggplant slice into egg and then into breadcrumbs, pressing crumbs into eggplant with your fingers. Arrange coated eggplant in a single layer on greased baking sheets. Drizzle eggplant with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown and tender when pierced with a fork. If you are using two baking sheets, switch them top to bottom halfway through the baking time.

Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees. Layer baked eggplant in the casserole dish on top of the tomato sauce, overlapping edges slightly. Sprinkle top with grated mozzarella.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and cheese is golden brown. If cheese browns too fast, lay a piece of foil loosely over the top of the casserole dish.

Serve eggplant with extra Parmesan cheese. Leftovers reheat well in the microwave.