It’s Moussaka!

A few years ago I went to my friend Amanda’s house for dinner. Amanda is known for being good at just about everything, cooking is no exception, however, when she informed me she had just made Moussaka, the only visual my mind could come up with was poor little Toula Portokalos and her lunch that the bratty blonde girl made fun of in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

The blonde girl behind her “What’s that?”. Toula: “It’s Mousska.” Blonde girl: “Moose kaka?!” I felt so bad for sweet Toula. What was in that green tuperware container anyway, my mind was fearful yet curious . . .

I’d like to report that Toula and Amanda had it right all along, I would trade all the wonder bread sandwiches in the world for one serving of Moussaka! Amanda’s made my mouth water and I wanted more, but it seemed quite the feat for a casserole. Despite many a internet search every recipe I found had about 15 steps and three different sauces and an ingredient list that was over my tolerable limit. Yet, in these times of seemingly unlimited time (I’m still unemployed . . . cue the sad face) I figured I could conquer this incredible casserole.

So, what is moussaka, you might ask? Well, although there are MANY variations GREEK moussaka is a layered casserole made with eggplant, ground meat (traditionally lamb), potatoes topped with Béchamel sauce and parmesan. The meat sauce is tomato based, but instead of Italian seasoning (Parsley, basil, oregano) it has cinnamon and nutmeg in it. Layers of potato, meat sauce and eggplant are common along with other vegetables.

If this sounds very odd, stay with me, it did to me too, I couldn’t really fathom enjoying meat with cinnamon in it, but somehow the cinnamon and the tomato sauce melds together in the most delicious way.

It can easily be made GLUTEN FREE, however I did not prepare my Béchamel sauce without flour. I like the fact that moussaka is a “one pot meal”, complete with veggies, potatoes and meat. It is packed full of flavor, so much so that I actually didn’t add any hot sauce to the recipe (can you believe it?). And it is better the next day! I read that Greek moussaka is traditionally served luke warm, and although this sets off my highly sensative former-dietary-manager-food-safety-alarm, I think they are right. It’s even good cold!

Time to layer it all together

Why on earth did I think this was hard? This was just as easy as lasagna (if not more so), and the Bechamel sauce took 10 minutes flat. Next time I make this and I know exactly what I’m doing, it shouldn’t take more than an hour. I made this in the afternoon and refrigerated it before cooking, it took about 90 minutes to cook in an 350degree oven! And it freezes very well, so I’m using some leftovers as happy hubby meals!

Turkey Moussaka

1.3 lbs ground turkey

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp pepper

2 tsp salt

1 small can (4oz) tomato paste

1 12oz can diced tomatoes

1 onion, halved and sliced

In a large skillet cook ground turkey on medium high heat until no longer pink (4-6 minutes), drain excess oil, add cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, salt, tomato paste, diced tomatoes and onion to skillet, turn to medium heat, stir and cover, allowing onions to soften and flavors to meld. Cook for 10 minutes stiring frequently, so meat sauce doesn’t burn, it will be thick and mostly turkey.

8 medium-small eggplants (the huge ones in the grocery store, you probably do not need more than 2)

2 TB salt

3 TB olive oil

Preheat broiler to high. Thinly slice eggplant, toss with salt in a colander over sink, allow for salt to pull the excess liquid out of the eggplant, let sit for 20 minutes. Once done, rinse the eggplant (yes this seems counter-productive, but this technique really takes the bitter edge off and brings out the natural flavor of the eggplant). Place eggplant on a sprayed, non-stick pan, drizzle with olive oil and broil until edges brown, 5-6 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

10 small red potatoes, sliced thin

In a large casserole dish (sprayed with non-stick coating) place one layer of sliced potatoes in bottom, top potatoes with HALF of  the turkey sauce, follow with a layer of eggplant (I used ALL the eggplant in one layer) follow with the other half of the turkey sauce. Top this with another layer of potatoes, let sit while making the béchamel sauce.

1 12oz can evaporated milk + regular milk to make 2 cups

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup butter (half stick)

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Heat milk in small sauce pan just until boiling, take off heat immediately allow to cool slightly. In small pan mix butter and flour together on medium heat to form a roux, once butter and flour are incorporated add milk slowly while whisking quickly to ensure the sauce does not become lumpy. Add 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1 tsp salt, allow sauce to cool slightly and pour evenly on top of final potato layer.

Top with shredded parmesan cheese

Bake in a 350degree oven for about 90 minutes, béchamel sauce should have a nice brown color to it. Your kitchen should smell so awesome your mouth is watering.

Next time I’ll incorporate green peppers, mushrooms and zucchini into the layers. This was truly incredible. And although the béchamel sauce is far from healthy it is actually lower in calories than cheese, next time I’ll try one of the yogurt based béchamel sauces that are so popular on pinterest, I’m sure it’ll be AMAZING!

This recipe is loosely based on about.com’s recipe and lavender & Lime’s béchamel sauce

Enjoy!


Nectarine Sorbet

They are finally here! Really delicious fresh Washington nectarines! They aren’t the most beautiful nectarines I’ve ever seen, actually this particular crop on this first variety is lacking in size and appearance, but taste is first rate! They are incredible!

I took a few home from the market on Saturday for fresh eating, but most that I took were soft and bruised (the rejects!) So I sliced off the bad parts, cooked them up with some sugar and lemon juice and made nectarine sorbet!

Absolutely delicious!

And as usual I made a horrible mess (overflowing both the food processor and spilling all over the ice cream maker.

I poured the nectarine puree straight into the ice cream maker, let it take a turn in it for about 40 minutes (longer than I planned). And it was perfect!

Not only was the taste nectarine perfect but the color was beautiful as well! From reading other blogs, I found that leaving the peel on makes a pretty color.

Nectarine Sorbet

About 15 small Nectarines

3/4 cup of sugar

1.5 cups of water

Juice of 2 lemons

Chop up nectarines, leaving skin on. Place chopped up nectarines, sugar, water and lemon in medium saucepan, allow to boil, stiring occasionally. Allow to cook down, but be careful that nectarine mixture does not scald on bottom of the saucepan. Allow to cook for 10-20 minutes, depending on ripeness of fruit. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Puree nectarine mixture in food processor (probably in stages, because I really overflowed mine). Pour into ice cream maker and allow to turn for about 40 minutes. You do want nectarine mixture to be as cool as possible so it doesn’t melt ice cream container.

We have a 1 quart ice cream maker, this amount filled it perfectly.


Happy Hubby Meals: Peach Chicken with Broccoli

This is the second recipe in my “Happy Hubby Meals” series. Great, easy freezable meals for Matt for lunch.

I still have a half a box of peaches despite eating them all week long. So, naturally I had to figure out a way to incorporate them into Matt’s lunch meals. This recipe turned out to be incredible! I didn’t want it to be too sweet, but despite the peaches the flavors of the teriyaki sauce and chicken were in the savory, pleasantly sweet range without tasting sugary.

I knew I wanted to slow-cook it, and yet again Betty Crocker to the rescue. The inspiration recipe, had ginger and canned peaches neither of which I wanted.

After the chicken cooked I ladled out about 2/3 cup of the incredible spicy/savory/peachy sauce onto about 1 cup of basmati rice, already portioned into the pyrex bowls. I then topped that with chopped broccoli florets and a sprinkle of sliced almonds and there you go!

Peach Chicken with Broccoli

12 peaches, sliced

1 onion, sautéed until translucent

4 chicken breasts

2 TB fish sauce

1/2 cup teriyaki marinade (like Soy Vay or whatever you have)

1 cup water

1 TB teriyaki Sauce

2 TB Sriracha

1/2 jar cranberry sauce

1/4 cup cornstarch

8 cups cooked basmati rice (about 3 cups dry made this)

3 large broccoli crowns, chopped

Layer chicken breasts into slow cooker, top with onion and peaches. In small bowl mix teriyaki marinade, water, sriracha, cranberry sauce and cornstarch together, pour on top of chicken, onion and peaches. Cook on high for 4 hours. Pull chicken breasts out and divide sauce onto 8 4-cup pyrex bowls. Shred chicken and divide into bowls. Top with broccoli and sprinkle with almonds.


Roasted Corn Pasta Salad

We live in Spokane.

Spokane lives in the shadow of comparison to Seattle and Portland. Which isn’t very fair. Spokane is neat in it’s own right, but the diamonds in the rough are a little fewer and farther between than in Seattle, they require a little more digging to discover. But when you do, you can truly claim them as your own. One of the little diamonds we’ve discovered is The Elk, in Browne’s Addition.

The Elk has all the charm of your favorite greasy spoon but with excellent food, it’s a great place to take out of town friends or to grab a brew on a Friday night. Matt and I enjoy splitting their Reuben sandwich with a side of their INCREDIBLE roasted corn pasta salad.

I made this for the 4th, it was a hit, however it was pretty spicy.

I almost followed their recipe exactly, I used 1/3 cup cracked black pepper mayonaise and I only used a half a bunch of cilantro. It was about 3 times spicier than the salad the Elk serves, but everything else was just about right.

To roast the corn I pre-heated my oven to 350F and put the un-husked cobs right on the oven grates, they roasted for about 40 minutes, they were more flavorful than frozen or boiled corn and had a better crunch. Yum!

Roasted Corn Pasta Salad

1/2 onion, chopped and sautéed until translucent

3 corn cobs, roasted in oven and the kernels chopped off, about 2 1/2 cups

4 ½ cups uncooked fusilli

2/3 cups mayo

1/2 cup black pepper mayo

1/2 bunch cilantro roughly stemmed

2 Tablespoons chipotle puree (canned chipotle peppers with adobo sauce pureed in food processor)

Salt to taste

Cook fusilli in salt seasoned water, rinse with cold water, set aside. Mix mayonaise, corn, onions cilantro and chipotle puree together. Toss fusilli together with mayonnaise mixture. Salt to taste and chill overnight.


Happy Hubby Meals: Chicken Curry

I’ve been freezing Matt work lunches since last fall, I started with Tamales, freezing 2-3 of them in their husks wrapped in foil. I then made Burritos. He has a microwave at his work (doesn’t just about everybody?) It’s easy for him to reheat them.

However, his favorite meals have been soups, stews or rice based meals in bowls. I froze a few in the plastic lidded tupperware items I had around, but I hated it. This leads me to my confession: I absolutely loathe plastic dining ware, of every sort. It gets easily stained, smelly and lost. I’m sure when we have kids we’ll have to do SOME plastic, I just don’t like it. I don’t like drinking out of plastic, I’m convinced that it taints the taste of the water.

Wow, when did I become this deserving little prude, can I say developed world problems or what. Good grief. Geez, I should be thankful for bowls and cups, no matter what the type.

Anyway, all this to say that I was hesitant to freeze lunches for Matt in plastic, just for him to reheat it again, it kind of grossed me out.  So after some sticker shock at the local walmart I finally gave in and invested in some glass pyrex 4 cup containers with lids (the lids are plastic, I know, but they are removed before microwaving). I’ve been slowly collecting them on sale, $7.99 is the going rate usually but I’ve purchased most of mine from $5-6, by watching for sales and looking for coupons.

I’ve been perfecting “Happy Hubby Meals” at Matt affectionately calls them, and I’ll start sharing the successes here (there have been many unsuccessful ones as well that I’ll keep to myself)

My latest one was a spin on a recipe I got from the Betty Crocker site, Chicken Curry. 4 chicken breasts made 6 good meals, I had some snap peas and cashews that I topped each meal with.

Chicken Curry (slow cooker version)

4 Chicken breasts

2 cups water

1 jar Trader Joe’s Mango Chutney

2 TB cornstarch

1 TB yellow curry powder

2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground black pepper

1 TB Sriracha Sauce or Rooster Sauce (optional if you like spicy)

2 cans drained, rinsed garbanzo beans

2 onions chopped and sautéed until translucent

2 cups basmati rice, uncooked

2 cups snap peas, sharp ends chopped off

3/4 cup chopped cashews

Lay chicken breasts in slow cooker. In small bowl mix water, mango chutney, cornstarch, curry powder, salt, pepper and sriracha until blended, pour on top of chicken. layer onions on top. Cover and allow to cook on high for 3 hours, add drained rinsed garbanzo beans for last hour of cooking. Fork chicken apart gently. Do a quick taste test, add more spice or salt if desired.

Cook 2 cups of white basmati rice in rice cooker or on stove according to manufactures directions.

Divide rice into 6 bowls, top with chicken curry mixture, spoon chicken garbanzo mixture and sauce on top of rice. Top with cashews, dried red pepper flake (for more spice) and snap peas. Allow everything to cool a little before lidding up and freezing.

The cornstarch gave a great consistency to the curry that covered the rice well.

Often I freeze leftovers, but this meal fit so perfectly into the pyrex, I just froze the whole lot. I received a text from Matt today

“Curry lunch was awesome!!!!! I win!”

I consider that a success.


Mini Corn Muffins

There isn’t much to say about these sweet little things. Hardly worth a post, but I enjoyed them so much, I thought, why not!

I picked up my mini-muffin tins from my mom recently, they are so useful and cute, albeit annoying to wash. And pinterest as so many fun ideas with mini muff pans,  I wanted to do something creative and fun, I ended up with boring corn muffins, but they are delicious, and so much cuter than regular muffins.

The hierarchy of corn based baked goods cuteness goes something like this

1. Mini Corn Muffins (cute)

2. Regular Corn Muffins (neither lacking nor comprising of cuteness)

3. Corn Bread (not cute)

I just followed the recipe on the side of the corn meal box.

I made two batches of these, so 96 mini muffs, I used fresh corn in them as well, even though the corn is cooked it adds an incredible CRUNCH. Mmmm. I froze two huge bags of them for later use!

My only additional note about muffins, is that you hardly want to mix them, undermix them even, you should be able to see streaks of flour throughout still. Also melt the 3 tablespoons butter before mixing in. I baked these for about 12 minutes at 250 degrees. I added 1 ear of corn, chopped off the cob. And I did spray the muff tins with some non-stick coating.

Pretty simple! Enjoy!


Homemade Tortillas

There were great tortillerias in the small towns around where I grew up, they’ve all but disappeared. It’s quite unfortunate since a freshly made tortilla and a packaged store-bought tortilla are practically two different foods.

It’s quite a shame since homemade tortillas are really easy to make. Way easier than pizza dough even.  I don’t really know why I don’t make them more often. Since we started making them from scratch I haven’t purchased flour tortillas from the store (although I rarely did anyway).

I could eat homemade tortillas with homemade refried beans for dinner and probably not feel that bad about it.

One cringe moment with this recipe . . .  it contains lard, which kind of makes my stomach turn. If you’ve read my rants and ravings on this blog long enough, especially my tamale post, you know I have a complicated relationship with lard. It’s yucky animal fat, right?

HOWEVER. I think I would like to recant my statements against lard.

I dusted off the old nutrition books, and did some mild research.

The current thought process on eating healthy is to eat UN-saturated fats and limit saturated fats. Unsaturated fats include olive oil, which is what we hear about all day long, (unsaturated fats have been found to lower “bad” cholesterol levels)

Butter and lard have both unsaturated and saturated fats in them. But lard has MORE unsaturated fats than saturated fats in it even though it is higher in calories than butter. Butter has more saturated fats than unsaturated fats but fewer calories.

And in all of this please bear in mind that you commonly don’t use lard in excess like Paula Deen uses butter. This tortilla recipe makes 20 tortillas with 2 TABLESPOONS of lard.

And besides all of this, I think we should be WAY MORE CONCERNED about filling our guts full of sugar and processed grains rather than quibble over a little fat.

And yet again I digress. . .

Back to the recipe

Matt and I whip up a batch of tortillas in 10 minutes flat. The first time took longer because we had to figure out how to roll them, cook them, etc. We usually just make up the ones we want for the meal and store the dough in the fridge. We’ve stored the dough for up to 5 days and it’s still worked fine.

I like tortillas because they are carb-y without overloading you with carbs, not like mashed potatoes or noodles. That statement made sense in my head.

We are out of a lot of vegetables today, we did have zucchini tho! So, sautéed that up with a lonely chicken breast and defrosted some fantastic black beans. Topped with sour cream and salsa and it was FANTASTIC.

(Never underestimate the deliciousness of zucchini)

Homemade Tortillas

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons lard
1 1/2 cups water

Whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Mix in the lard with your fingers until the flour resembles cornmeal. Add the water and mix until the dough comes together; place on a lightly floured surface and knead a few minutes until smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Use a well-floured rolling pin to roll a dough ball into a thin, round tortilla. Place into the medium-hot skillet, and cook until bubbly; flip and continue cooking until golden on the other side. Place the cooked tortilla in a tortilla warmer; continue rolling and cooking the remaining dough or store in the fridge for up to 5 days.