The rest of the shopping was done in my own backyard. So wow, I’m a pretty cheap date! A diva should never say such a thing. So we’ll just say less is more. And it really is!
It is a beautiful and flavorful salad, simple and elegant. There are wild lettuces (that would be a waste to dig up and throw away as a weed), there is lemon basil, lemon balm, a chopped broccoli leaf for a cabbagey hint, volunteer cherry tomatoes, the stalk from that celery core diced, and then garnished with a pretty sprig of chives. You wouldn’t believe how great a nearly free salad tastes!
How about an Accidental Appetizer? This one came out of nowhere. I was having a meeting that required bringing a snack. I hadn’t been to the store in a while but I took a quick ‘fridge inventory and came up with this.
I used 1 avocado diced, ½ cucumber diced small, ½ a small onion. 1 tsp. lemon juice. 1 tsp vinegar, 1tsp sugar a dash each of dill, garlic powder, chili powder, salt and cilantro. I stirred it all together and placed on top of corn tortilla points made by slicing 4 tortillas into 6ths and browning in a skillet quickly in olive oil. I drained and salted them and topped them all with the avocado mixture and garnished each with a slice of grape tomato and a sprig of lemon basil straight from the garden. This made 24 pieces and they were gone in no time! The cucumber and onion really helped stretch the avocado to make more servings without taking anything away from the taste. The cost for being the diva with a hit appetizer at the meeting was under $3. Shhh!
This was an attempt to make my own pasta. I think it was successful because there wasn’t a hint of a noodle left. I did this with a rolling-pin but a pasta machine would be so much better. Just 2 eggs, 2 cups of flour, a teaspoon of salt, and a tiny bit of water to loosen the dough. I rolled it as thin as I could on a well floured board. Using my pastry cutting wheel I sliced it into
ribbons and immediately dropped them into boiling salted water for about 5 minutes, drained and placed back in the pot. The rest was making an alfredo sauce with cream, parmesan, garlic, salt, and pepper right in the same pot as the drained noodles. I sautéed some broccoli, tomatoes, and mushrooms, added them, and cooked everything on medium high until the sauce thickened. Mama Mia! Now if we total the spending for these first three recipes, we have an appetizer, a salad, and an entrée for 6 for about $6. How about that!
A St. Louis Specialty, Toasted Ravioli: For anyone who has lived in St. Louis, this is a dish that cannot be found anywhere else. Why, is a mystery and my friends who have moved away find it frustrating. Suffer no more my peeps!
Here is a good version from scratch you can take with you anywhere.
Stuffing: Process one carrot, 1 celery stalk 2 mushrooms until finely chopped. In skillet heat 1 tbsp olive oil or butter, finely dice 1/2 onion, add and cook until clear and browning. Add carrot mixture and heat until carrot bits are soft, stirring constantly. Now add well drained frozen or canned spinach, Italian herbs. (oregano, basil, thyme, garlic powder) pepper and 1/2 tsp salt, stir this into the vegetable mixture and add either 1/2 cup ricotta cheese or low-fat cottage cheese well drained. (looks gross but tastes great when done) You may also use cooked drained ground Italian sausage. Remove from heat and mix in cheese/meat well. Set aside to cool.
Pasta: 2 eggs 2 cups flour, enough water to bind together, (maybe 3-4 tbsp) and 1tsp salt.
In a clean processor combine eggs, flour and salt. Pulse until incorporated. Slowly add a couple of tbsps water and run processor until a ball of dough forms and cleans the sides well. The dough will be very elastic and sticky but will hold together well. If it is glossy it is too wet and needs a few more rounds in the processor with a tbsp of flour or maybe two until it can be mostly removed. Some will stick to the blade, and a little to the sides, don’t worry. Turn out the dough onto a generously floured surface and knead until less sticky, more manageable, but still elastic and springy. Now cut dough in quarters and roll out, (kids will love to help here) flouring along the way, a quarter at a time into thin sheets…so you can see light through it or 1/16 inch high, and keep the flour going underneath and on top to keep the stickiness at bay as you roll. Cut out small circles with a cookie cutter or a 2 & 1/2 inch lid (I use a Crystal Light container). Put a thumbnail size dot of stuffing in the center of each and paint a half circle of water around edges with you finger tip, fold over and seal. Get 1 inch of vegetable oil hot in a heavy saucepan and fry the little ravs until golden. Remove promptly and drain on a paper towel, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese, salt, serve with marinara sauce for dipping.
Taco Night is our favorite night. In a skillet I cook onions and ground beef together until browned then add cumin, chili powder and garlic to taste, beans and cheese, mix well, then just bake the mix right into the shell for a few minutes in a 350° oven.
Everyone gets to garnish their own with lettuce, tomato, hot sauce, and some like a dollop of sour cream. This my favorite night because I can get dinner on the table in less than a half an hour. With a little Spanish rice on the side and some pico de gallo (finely diced onion, tomato, jalepeno, cilantro, salt. and a tbsp vinegar), everybody’s happy, especially the Diva!
Since the cold weather is coming try this recipe to warm the whole house as well as your tummies. Yankee’s sure know what they’re doing. When the Nor-Easter winds blow this show is the one to put on… Yankee Pot Roast. This diva pulls it off the easy way.
To get started, gather your ingredients and crank the oven to 350. You will need: 6 or 7 medium potatoes peeled (Yukon Gold are outstanding) and cut into 1 inch chunks. 6 medium carrots peeled and cut into 2-3 inch lengths, (Cut the top lengths in half if they are very wide) 1 envelope French Onion Soup mix, 1 envelope brown gravy mix, and 3lbs beef chuck steak about 2″ thick.
In a large roasting pan 15″x 11″ , Pour 2 quarts water. Empty both envelopes of mixes into water and stir until dissolved. Place chuck steak in center of pan, and arrange carrots and potatoes around the steak. Liquid should not cover the top of the meat or vegetables, only about a fourth of everything should be above the liquid level. Spray cooking spray on surface of meat and vegetables, then cover very tightly with foil so that steam does not escape. Bake for 3½ to 4 hours. When finished remove foil add a sprinkle of parsley flakes and let the meat rest for about 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t under cook or the meat will be tough. As long as there is liquid in the pan it is difficult to over cook a chuck roast. A forgiving recipe with less than half a dozen ingredients is sweet! This recipe will serve six or so and have a beautiful gravy also.
For Pizza you can make at home, here is a great recipe that’s quick, inexpensive and DELICIOUS! You’ll need these simple ingredients and a 425° oven to make two 12” pizzas in less than 30 minutes: You will need: 2 pkgs. active dry yeast, 3/4 cup hot tap water (1o5°) 1 tbsp honey or sugar, 2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus 1/2 cup flour (for dusting as you knead, roll, and bake), 1 tsp salt. 1 tbsp. salad oil or olive oil.
In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in hot water with honey/sugar. Allow to rest 5-10 minutes until foam appears on top of liquid (proofing yeast). Add flour and salt and stir until all flour is incorporated into liquid. Dust counter well with some of the remaining flour in a circle and turn out dough in the middle of it. Sprinkle additional flour over top of dough to prevent excess sticking to your hands and knead with the heel of your hand pushing back, folding dough toward you, and pushing back again. Do this for about 3 minutes adding touches of flour to the counter and hands as you go to prevent excessive sticking. Do not add much more flour than called for, and dust sparingly enough to get you through two crusts. When the dough is smooth and elastic cut in half and make two balls. Put one ball into a bowl with 1 tbsp salad oil or olive oil and coat the surface completely. Cover until ready to roll out. Roll out the first ball on a counter with a flour dusted rolling-pin until it makes about a 12” circle. Dust a cookie sheet or baking stone lightly with flour and transfer dough circle by folding in fourths and unfolding onto the sheet. (This transfer method prevents tearing and uneven stretching of the dough)
Here are some topping possibilities: Add a thin layer of marinara sauce and shredded jack and parmesan cheeses with your favorite toppings thinly sliced to make a traditional pizza. For a white variation, add a thin layer of alfredo sauce to edges, jack and parmesan cheeses plus toppings like sliced grilled chicken and broccoli, or spinach and artichoke hearts along with herbs like oregano, basil and garlic powder. Bake 12 to 15 minutes on top rack or until crust is slightly browned and cheese is melted and bubbly. While one pizza is baking prepare the other ball as the first, again turning out onto a flour dusted counter, (kneading only about 30 seconds this time), and rolling into a 12” crust as before. Top with your favorite sauces and toppings, bake, and enjoy another delicious pizza. No delivery charges or tips required!
Have kids that won’t eat? Try doing up that lunch Diva style! Even the toughest little critic will become a fan of the four food groups when it’s dressed up like this.
Worth the extra time, promise! Just cut up a stalk of celery, spread a little peanut butter in the groove, slice 3 cherry tomatoes in half. Put one in the center and tuck the rest between the celery. Cut a mini bagel spread with cream cheese in tenths (5 pieces on the top and five pieces on the bottom), and arrange them around the outer edge. Voila! No cooking, and I bet no leftovers.
Here is a delicious dish from the Diva to make a Winter day warm and yummy: Traditional Lentil Soup.
You will need 2 tbsp olive oil, a large onion, 2 medium carrots, 2 stalks celery (including the greens on top if healthy looking), 1 clove garlic or ¼ tsp garlic powder, 2 32 oz. cartons chicken broth, 1 cup dry lentils, ¼ tsp paprika, salt and pepper to taste, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional).
Heat oil in a Dutch Oven type pot, dice vegetables and add. On high heat stir frequently until onions are clear and browning on edges. Add broth and spices, add lentils and stir. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Continue to simmer 1½ hours until lentils are soft stirring occasionally. Simple to make, elegant to serve, and delicious to taste. Serves about 6, 10 oz servings.
Another good Wintertime project…Make some bread! Grinding your own wheat makes this a fun recipe if you have a grain grinder and an energetic kid or two.
It’s good to be a part of the most ancient, even sacred form of cooking like making bread from scratch. From kernels of wheat, to grinding it into flour, to baking it into highly nutritious food, you’ll get addicted to the satisfaction of self-sufficiency. Knowing a skill like this can be a life saver if times get really tough. You will be hard pressed to run out of bread when a 30 lb sack of wheat is only $25. That will make a lot of dough for your dough. Stored properly, your wheat can last three times longer than all-purpose flour in a paper bag. In the recent economy it’s good to be prepared for the worst.
For this recipe you will need to grind out 2 cups whole wheat flour. I find that one cup of wheat makes about 2¼ cup flour (it’s OK to buy it pre-made from a store too), plus ½ cup all-purpose flour for kneading and preventing excessive stickiness, 1 tbsp honey or sugar, 2 pkgs. active dry yeast, 1 tsp. salt, ¾ cup hot water (105°).
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in hot water with honey. Allow yeast to make a foamy froth on top to confirm it is active. (proofing yeast) add whole wheat flour and stir until flour is incorporated into dough. Turn out onto a nicely floured surface and knead dough with flour dusted hands, adding a dusting now and then to prevent sticking, until it becomes elastic and easy to manage. Put the dough back into a bowl and coat with a little oil then cover and let it rise to double its bulk. Punch down this now puffy mass of dough and place on a baking sheet or baking stone, shape dough into a log and cut three equal oblong slices through it lengthwise, leaving the top end of the log still attached. Braid the now, three legs of the log and tuck the finished braid under at the bottom end of the loaf. Brush with olive oil or melted butter and allow the loaf to rise again to double its bulk again, away from any draft. Use a sheet of plastic film sprayed with oil or use a foil tent to insure against too much air movement. You don’t want your dough to form a crust before it is baked or it won’t expand properly. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until bread is slightly brown. Bread that is done should sound hollow when tapped with your fingernail or more accurately be between 200° and 210°.
An entrée to serve a nice little crowd, this dish frees you up to enjoy time with the guests. By doing ahead either the night before or the morning of, you will have plenty of time to look your best and serve your best Italian style. About an hour ahead, as guests arrive and have hors’d’oevres and cocktails, pop this baby in the oven. Then right on time, its lasagna everyone!
What you will need: 9 Lasagna noodles cooked al dente’, 1 jar traditional spaghetti sauce (like Prego), 1-15oz can diced tomatoes, 1, 6 oz can tomato paste. 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 large onion, 1 clove garlic or tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp dried basil or approx. 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil, 1 lb ground beef (or turkey). 2, 8 0z block pkgs. Monterey Jack cheese shredded, (Pre-shredded cheese doesn’t taste as good plus has added starches) ½ cup parmesan cheese, ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Pre heat oven to 350°.
In a large pot, boil noodles for 7 minutes in hot salted water, drain and rinse, to keep them from sticking together. Set aside. In the pot used to cook pasta, heat oil and add onions. Cook 1 minute while stirring. Add ground beef, basil, garlic and brown meat. Drain off excess fat leaving about 2 tbsp. Add Spaghetti sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a 13”x 9” pan, ladle enough tomato and meat sauce to coat the bottom of the pan. Running water over the noodles, separate carefully and place 3 noodles lengthwise in pan covering the sauce. Ladle more sauce over noodles until noodles are just covered. Dot with cottage cheese (ricotta is traditional but I almost never have it on hand and cottage cheese tastes and looks just as good plus it’s about ¼ the price) using ¼ cup in this layer and ¼ cup in the next, Shred 4 oz of the Monterey Jack cheese or more if desired and sprinkle in an even layer. Divide your parmesan cheese in thirds and sprinkle one-third over the Jack cheese. In the next layer repeat as the previous layer For the top layer add sauce, remaining Jack cheese and remaining third of parmesan cheese being careful to spread cheese evenly to edges (no cottage cheese on the top layer). At this point you can either refrigerate until an hour before needed and bake for 50 minutes or go ahead and bake right away for 40 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown. To prevent any sauce bubbling over in the oven place pan on a cookie sheet or on a sheet of foil. After baking let stand 10 minutes before serving. yields approx. 10, 3”x 5” servings.
An entrée needs a side dish so get a skillet and stir up some of these tasty vegetables.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet. Toss in thinly sliced carrots. Add sliced mushrooms next. Any kind will do. slice the bulb of a fennel stalk into ¼” pieces, then add ¼” slices of zucchini cut into half moons. Now, add some seasoning. Garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper work well. Stir on high heat until all zucchini is tender but not mushy. Keep it moving or the sweeter vegetables will burn. Turn out immediately to a serving bowl. Grate on some parmesan or cheddar cheese while hot, (you may omit cheese if your entrée contains it) garnish with a sprig of fennel leaves, and serve about 5 guests.
There might still be some picnic weather left and this classic is an easy do ahead side dish that travels easily and tastes magnificent!
To Make this dish in the easiest way, cook your potatoes in the microwave. Select 6 nice size Russet potatoes and arrange them in the microwave in a star pattern. Cook on high for about 12 minutes or until a knife inserted gives little resistance. Allow the potatoes to cool completely or leave in the refrigerator over night. Cooked potatoes are easy to peel, so slip off the skins, dice into ½ inch or smaller pieces and put them into a large mixing bowl. Next you will need to dice finely 1 large stalk of celery, 1 red pepper, ½ of an onion (optional for kids who don’t like them), 12 hamburger dill pickle slices plus 1 tbsp juice, and add to potatoes. Dress all of the mixture with ¼ cup yellow mustard, ¾ cup real mayonnaise, 2 tbsp. melted bacon grease, then sprinkle over dressing ½ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp salt, and ½ tsp black pepper. Stir everything until potatoes and vegetables are well coated. If you need to adjust, add mayonnaise by the tablespoon until desired coating. Refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Makes approx. 12, 6 oz servings
The perfect pie crust advice from none other than the ultimate Diva of Delicious, Julia Child
One day years ago, I was watching Julia talk about pie crust on her show “Baking With Julia. She and a guest in this episode offered a great bit of advice…There isn’t really a recipe but more like a guideline to perfectly tender flaky pie crust. It’s how the dough looks and feels that makes your crust successful. That’s what my Grandma Mary said too. She showed me how to make pie crust when I was a little girl and Julia showed me how to perfect it. The guidelines are as follows:
Measure 2½ cups all-purpose flour and a teaspoon of salt. Cut in 3/4 cup shortening. This is the most important stage. When you cut in, leave a variety of sizes of shortening and flour clumps in the mixture. Smaller pea size bits insure tenderness, and larger clumps the size of your thumbnail insure flakiness. Add cold water by the tablespoon and stir until the dough just comes together (start with 3 and go up to 6 depending on the flour’s ability to absorb). You mustn’t work with the dough too much. Once it comes together, push the dough into the contour of the bowl to help you shape it into a ball. It should not stick but just clean the inside of the bowl. Cut the dough in halves and without handling them too much flatten them slightly, wrap with Saran wrap, and chill them for about an hour in the refrigerator. Roll them out on a flour dusted surface with a flour dusted rolling-pin to the desired size, Transfer to the pie plate by folding the dough into fourths and unfolding into the pie plate. You can also try rolling it loosely onto the rolling-pin and unrolling onto the plate. I prefer the former. Then you simply fill them with your favorite filling, and either make two pies like a custard pie, or one pie with a top crust. To make a lattice top, just cut the top crust into wide strips and lay them criss-cross on top of the pie. Clean up and press-seal the edges then bake at 350° for the recipe’s recommended time (lower the heat to 325° if bake time is over 1 hour).
I have tried these guidelines and can honestly say that Julia and her guest knew what they were talking about. There is never ever even a crumb of pie left over in this house. All I need do is collect the kisses. I owe them all to Grandma Mary and to Julia!
Here is a cute edible center piece that’s fun to make and helps you hone your construction and cake decorating skills at the same time. Using 6 graham cracker squares, fluffy white frosting and candies that wont melt or decay with time, you can put together these charming little gingerbread houses and use them as a centerpiece or give them away as gifts. Fill a plastic sandwich bag with a dollop of frosting, snip 1/8th of and inch off the corner and pipe out the glue for the joints and the candy decorations, then make little frosting icicles to hang from the eaves.