Weeknight Mexican rice

Taco nights are a wonderful weekday staple in our household, as I suspect they are in many. It’s so simple to whip up, especially when so much already comes pre-packaged and ready.

Our taco nights have become slightly less simple once we reduced our salt intake and therefore actually realized how much salt is contained in those pre-packaged items.

The low sodium beans are easy enough to come by, and a homemade taco seasoning mix can be made in bulk. Skipping out on my salty Spanish or Mexican rice, however, has been a source of frustration.

Mexican rice ingredients.

My sweetie has mostly taken up the duties of making Mexican rice so it’s still a no-fuss process for me. And if I’m being totally honest, the work that goes into homemade, healthier Mexican rice is only slightly more than dumping box contents into boiling water. After all, the rice part takes equally long to cook and is equally easy to ignore.

The worst part of the homemade rice is cutting a carrot and an onion; in other words, not all that much work.

My sweetie has kept the rice flavorful, without the salt, by adding a homemade broth. He has also started cutting out the addition of tomato and tomato paste. Since I was on duty this time, I made it my way.

So tasty, and less salty.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped, optional
  • 1 c. medium grain rice
  • 2 c. homemade vegetable or chicken broth (or water)
  • 1 c. frozen peas
  • 2 to 3 T. tomato paste

Directions

Add the oil to a Dutch oven on medium heat. Saute the onion and carrot for 3 to 5 minutes until just starting to soften. Add the garlic, tomato, if using, and the rice. Saute for another 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the broth and bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low heat for 12 to 15 minutes, until the rice is nearly done and the broth is absorbed. Add the peas and tomato paste, stir to combine, re-cover and cook until the peas are cooked through and rice is ready, about another 3 to 5 minutes.

Fluff the rice and enjoy with tacos … or next week’s recipe.

How green was my shakshuka

I was looking for another savory breakfast food when I was reminded that for years I’ve thought about making the Middle Eastern egg and sauce dish called shakshuka.

There were no hard-to-find ingredients; it just never quite made the cut when I was looking for something new to try. Until this week.

Green shakshuka ingredients.

My now-beloved Cook It In Your Dutch Oven cookbook even had a recipe all ready for me. Sure, it’s a different take than the traditional — it has a green sauce rather than a red tomato-based one. But that sounded even better. I can always use more greens in my diet.

The recipe turned out fine, if not my favorite. It calls for adding herbs in at the end, though I think adding them to the base sauce and then again at the end would be better — so that more of their flavor seeps into the sauce but also has the fresh zip that their late addition adds. (I should add that my sweetie quite liked the dish so maybe I just don’t appreciate greens as much as I should.)

Other than that, be prepared to buy a lot of Swiss chard, and preferably the kind without red stems if you want it to look vibrant green rather than my brownish-green.

Look at all those beautiful herbs. Noms.

Here’s what I did, roughly following the recipe (though changing some proportions):

Ingredients 

  • 3 bunches Swiss chard, stems removed and reserved and leaves chopped
  • 12 oz. baby spinach
  • ¼ c. olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 t. ground coriander
  • ½ c. vegetable broth
  • 1 c. frozen peas
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 T. chopped dill (I recommend more for sauce)
  • 2 T. fresh mint (I recommend a little more for sauce)
  • 1 t. dried Aleppo pepper, optional (I had on hand but it’s a mild crushed pepper so regular crushed pepper isn’t a good substitute unless you want to add a little spice)

Directions

Chop chard stems to yield 1 cup. Discard the rest or save for another use.

Heat Dutch oven on medium heat. Add 2 T. olive oil. Add the chard stems, onion, and a pinch of salt. Cook until softened and lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and coriander, and cook for about another minute.

Add the chard leaves and spinach (I had to do it in batches so they would wilt down), and cook until wilted but still green, about 3 to 5 minutes. Here I’d recommend adding some herbs for more flavor, to taste. Remove the mixture from heat and add 1 to 1 ½ c. of the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth, about a minute. Stir the blended mix back into the Dutch oven.

Add lemon juice and peas, and stir.

Place back on heat, medium to medium-low. Make 4 indentations in the mix and crack 2 eggs into each indentation. Sprinkle with Aleppo pepper, if using, and more salt as desired. Cover the pot and cook until egg whites are just set, 5 to 10 minutes (You have to keep a close eye on it). Remove from heat and let sit, covered, until the whites are fully set, another 2 to 4 minutes.

Add the herbs, feta, and drizzle with more olive oil.

Serve with crusty bread and enjoy!

Ratatouille any which way

I’ve talked about my love of Ratatouille before, both the movie and the food item. The movie has the message of “Anyone can cook,” which is to say not everyone can do it but that one’s station in life — even as a rat — can’t dictate whether one is a great chef.

Ratatouille ingredients.

A great chef I am not but I take comfort in that, and many other, life lessons offered by the Pixar classic.

As I’ve come to love the French dish almost as much as the move, I’ve also come to realize it’s an appropriate recipe to highlight the movie’s message and theme. The dish is a humble stew that also can be made to be served at the top restaurant in Paris.

If anyone can can cook, ratatouille shows that simple ingredients can make for an impressive meal no matter which way you make it.

I found last year that I loved making this traditional stew-like dish as a tian on a sheet pan. But in making it in my Dutch oven this year, I was reminded that it also works really well in its stew-ish form. While it mirrors a hearty stew, it is still exclusively vegetables and herbs and spices, with a little bit of (OK, a lot of) olive oil, which makes it light even on a summer night. Also, it doesn’t need to cook for hours upon hours. It’s a half hour or so in front of a stove top, not bad in the air-conditioned house.

It’s practically perfect, especially for the upcoming Bastille Day!

So healthy and yet so scrumptious.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 5+ T. olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 7 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large eggplant (1 1/2 to 2 medium), chopped
  • 2 medium zucchinis, chopped
  • 2 medium summer squash, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 T. thyme (the recipes often recommended whole sprigs to be removed; I just used dried)
  • 2 T. dried basil  (I’d prefer fresh but I had some dried on hand)
  • 1 T. dried oregano
  • ½ T. red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 4 to 5 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 T. tomato paste

Directions

Add about 2 T. of oil to a large Dutch oven on medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until beginning to turn translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Add another about 2 T. of oil and the eggplant. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 to 10 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add another about 2 T. of oil, the zucchini, summer squash, and bell pepper. Cook, continuing to stir occasionally, for another 5 to 10 minutes until the zucchini and squash are mostly cooked through. Add the tomatoes, herbs and spices, and tomato paste, and cook for another 5 minutes, covered, until all the vegetables are cooked through and the mixture looks stew-ish.

Let cool slightly (it stays hot for awhile), and enjoy with some fancy bread!

It’s summer, time for fruit cobbler

As soon as summer hits, it’s only a matter of time before I start buying up berries (and also often peaches). As much as I love vegetables, I’m not overly fond of fruit. Sure, I like it OK, but most fruit items in my cupboard or refrigerator are as likely to go bad as I am to eat them before they rot.

But I have my favorites.

I love on-sale cherries, too-hard white peaches, and berries in the summertime.

So, I couldn’t help but buy up blackberries when they were on sale and make it into a Dutch oven cobbler.

Blackberry cobbler ingredients.

I consulted no fewer than three recipes to come up with my perfect summer dessert, but none of them were exactly what I was looking for. My sweetie suggested blackberries among the berries, and none of the recipes quite worked. Most were, of course, for peach cobblers, which called for cinnamon and often nutmeg. Betty Crocker wisely suggested skipping that step (hers only called for cinnamon) if one were making blueberry cobbler. I felt the same should be true of blackberries.

But I also thought it needed a little something more. Maybe true, maybe not, but I have to say I quite liked my ultimate addition: a small sprinkling of ground ginger.

I admit this cobbler won’t be for everyone. I skimped on the sweet, leaned into the tartness, and added the spice. But my sweetie and I devoured the whole thing with glee and in record time for us two savory-food lovers. It was a real treat.

*drool*

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 8 T. (1 stick) butter, divided
  • 4 pints (about 5 c.) blackberries
  • 6 T. sugar, divided
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 2 t. cornstarch
  • 1 t. salt, divided
  • 1 t. ground ginger
  • 1 c. flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • ½ to ¾ c. buttermilk

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

On the stovetop, melt 4 T. butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the blackberries, 2 T. sugar, ½ t. salt, and the ginger, and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 to 6 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl or large measuring cup. Once the blackberries have started to break down, add the cornstarch mixture and stir to combine. Turn off or remove from heat.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, 2 T. sugar, and remaining ½ t. salt. Cut in the remaining 4 T. of butter using a pastry blender or 2 knives or your fingers, until small chickpea-sized chunks form. Add ½ c. buttermilk and stir with a fork until combined to form a wet shaggy dough, adding more buttermilk as necessary.

Drop spoonfuls of the dough on top of the blackberry mixture (it’s OK if some open spots show through). Sprinkle the remaining 2 T. on top of the mixture, and carefully place the Dutch oven, uncovered, in the oven. Bake for about 20 to 22 minutes, until the cobbler on top is lightly golden brown. Remove from oven, let mostly cool, and enjoy (a la mode, if desired)!