Mar 28, 2010

Spinach & Blue Cheese Calzones


Get ready to fall in love with vegetables.

Spinach. Mushrooms. Onion. Garlic. Blue cheese. Crust. That’s all you'll find in this amazing melty marvel. No sauce. No sautéing. No seasoning. Yet surprisingly, this savory dish turned out to be one of the tastiest meals I’ve made so far.

I hate to admit it now, but when I first perused the recipe, I had my doubts. I thought for sure all that garlic and onion would be overpowering. That even Popeye couldn't handle all that spinach. And sadly, just the thought of a full serving of veggies without a blanket of sauce to hide under kinda spooked the picky five-year-old kid inside of me.

A few online reviewers shared the same fear. And what did they do? Those untrusting souls freaked out, sautéed everything first and dumped on sauce. Shame on them! All they did was waste time, cook away nutrients and drown these rich, perfect flavors in a bottle of blah!

But not me. I looked those naked vegetables straight in the eye…and fell in love. And not only because they were delicious, but also because this entire meal is such a cinch to whip up. Like throwing a salad into some dough, wrapping it up and baking it. For a measly 12 minutes. Want to fall in love, too?

First, mince the garlic and slice the onion. It's a lot of onion. Don't freak. Then, portion the refrigerated pizza crust into four rectangles and sprinkle with garlic.

Next, pile on those veggies. Lots of leafy spinach, thick slices of sweet Vidalia onion and handfuls of mushrooms. If it begins to majorly look like rabbit food, you're doing good.

And to save even more time, use pre-washed spinach and pre-sliced mushrooms. (I used regular mushrooms instead of button or cremini, but I'm betting those would be even tastier!)

Next, sprinkle on lots of crumbled blue cheese.

Once you've built yourself a mile-high mountain, carefully gather the corners, pinch to seal, throw those babies in the oven and you're done. (Disclaimer: Don’t prepare your calzones on top of your preheating oven or the dough will melt. Learned that last time.)

Twelve minutes later, you'll have dinner at the table. Unbelievable. You can't even have a greasy pizza delivered in that short amount of time, nevertheless something healthy and amazing.

And these SO beat pizza. As the onion and garlic cook, their juices mix with the melted blue cheese and make a sweet-tangy garlicky sauce. And the veggies are delicious and tender...and the crust is soft and crunchy...

And you, my bloggy friends, will be head-over-heels in love.

Spinach & Blue Cheese Calzones
Cooking Light, May 1999
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 calzone)

Cookbook Note: The combination of onions, mushrooms, and fresh spinach packs a serving of veggies into each of these easy, impressive calzones. We found that a pizza cutter works well for dividing the refrigerated dough into 4 equal portions.

1  (10-ounce) can refrigerated pizza crust
Cooking spray
4  garlic cloves, minced
4  cups  spinach leaves
8  (1/8-inch-thick) slices Vidalia or other sweet onion
1 1/3  cups  sliced cremini or button mushrooms (note: I used regular, pre-sliced mushrooms)
3/4  cup  (3 ounces) crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 425°.

Unroll dough onto a baking sheet coated with cooking spray; cut into 4 quarters. Pat each quarter into a 6 x 5-inch rectangle. Sprinkle garlic evenly over rectangles. Top each rectangle with 1 cup spinach, 2 onion slices, 1/3 cup mushrooms, and 3 tablespoons cheese. Bring 2 opposite corners to center, pinching points to seal. Bring remaining 2 corners to center, pinching all points together to seal. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until golden.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 297 (28% from fat), Fat: 9.1g (sat 4g,mono 3.2g,poly 1g), Protein:13.4g, Carbohydrate: 40.7g, Fiber: 5.1g, Cholesterol:16mg, Iron: 3.8mg, Sodium: 818mg, Calcium:180mg.

Mar 25, 2010

Double-Caramel Turtle Cake

If you think you're going to read a charming little story about cake, you are now free to exit this blog. This post is about nothing more than a delicious mess.
Ever since my mom over in sunny Florida flooded my phone with rave reviews of this sinfully sweet recipe, I just knew I had to try it. Turtles are one of my favorite candies. Open the door to a Fannie May and you'll see a blurry me making a beeline for those little beauties crammed with pecans, caramel, and chocolate.

And I figured this would be a recipe I was sure to conquer, since cake seems to be the one dessert I never mess up. Now I know why they tell you to never say that.

But I stubbornly blame all my problems all on Father Time. See, there never seems to be enough of him in the day, which had me baking into the wee hours of the morning. Which in turn raised stress levels. Lowered patience. And opened the door for mistakes.

Everything started normal. I mixed up the batter, sprayed and floured my pans and pushed the cakes into the oven.

I checked back about seven minutes early "just in case," and good thing because to my surprise, they were beyond done. I'm talkin' 100% clean toothpick. And even though the cakes looked perfect, I couldn't help but worry that they were in there too long. (Ahem...Father Time.) And that maybe they'd be dry.

Well, my worst fear came crashing out when I popped out nothing more than chocolate cake puzzle pieces. I wish I had photos to share, but in that moment, that defeated, depressing moment, the last thing I thought to do was document my misfortune. So instead, I cropped out my shame, threw a mild tantrum and started dinner while my shattered dreams for perfect cake cooled on the counter.


I eventually cooled down, too. Besides, all that frosting and caramel ought to cover up the cracks and blemishes, right? Especially a frosting made of butter, brown sugar, powdered sugar, vanilla and milk. A few spoon licks and I was already feeling better.

But then I attempted to transport my fragile cake to my cake pedestal, which resulted in more breakage. And more tantrums. I literally stuck out my bottom lip and threw my dishtowel on the ground like a two-year-old. 

So you can imagine that I wasn't exactly in the mood to delicately decorate. Instead, I took my frustration out on the cake, messily slathering on the frosting, speedily squirting on the caramel and dumping on nuts without an ounce of care. Double the nuts, have you, because in my madness I forgot that I had toasted extra nuts that were intended not for cake, but for ice cream. 

There were nuts everywhere. They filled the rim of the cake pedestal. Covered the table. And were scattered about the freshly and lovingly hubby-swept floor. 

My supposed-to-be-beautiful cake that my mom had bragged up for weeks looked more like the masterpiece of a tornado, thanks to me. And so the regret set in. I sat down on my toasted pecan-covered chair and sulked in culinary defeat that I haven't felt in awhile. 

But before tears could set in, I grabbed a spoon, dipped it into the frosting, squirted on a little caramel and sprinkled on a few nuts from the table. And then something entered the equation for the first time that night. A smile. One covered in caramel, have you.

So with nuts stuck to my socks, caramel all over my hands, and pieces of cake in my hair, I made another spoonful of hope and rushed to the bathroom where my husband was hiding out from the insanity in the kitchen. I gave him a taste. Then we both rushed into the kitchen.

Of course, once I knew how good this cake was, I wished that I'd actually taken the time to decorate it with care, instead of cursing its existence. Ah, well.

I cleaned up the nuts, took a few cleverly cropped photos, cut a couple slices, and we ate cake. Darn good cake. The sweet, buttery frosting was super good, and paired with the nuts, caramel and chocolate, it really did taste like a turtle. (For proof, please see the last photo. We're animals.)

Yes, the cake was a touch dry. But I should note that my mom took her cakes out much earlier all three times she made them and they were moist and delicious. (Which she lovingly told me after my disaster.) So, next time, I will take those babies out much much sooner. (OR, update: 30 minutes at 325° should do the trick! Thanks, Scraps!)

And yes, there will be a next time. Because everything deserves a second chance, right? Especially something that's dripping with caramel.

Double-Caramel Turtle Cake
Cooking Light, May 2002
Yield: 16 servings


Cooking spray
1  tablespoon  all-purpose flour
1 1/2  cups  boiling water
3/4  cup  unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2  cups  granulated sugar
6  tablespoons  butter, softened
1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
2  large eggs
1 2/3  cups  all-purpose flour (7 1/2 ounces)
1  teaspoon  baking soda
3/4  teaspoon  baking powder
1/4  teaspoon  salt
2  tablespoons  butter
1/4  cup  packed dark brown sugar
2  to 3 tablespoons fat-free milk
2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
2  cups  sifted powdered sugar

2/3  cup  fat-free caramel apple dip (such as T. Marzetti's)
1/4  cup  finely chopped pecans, toasted

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare cake, coat bottoms of 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray (do not coat sides of pans); line bottoms with wax paper. Coat wax paper with cooking spray; dust with 1 tablespoon flour.

Combine boiling water and cocoa, stirring well with a whisk. Cool completely.

Place granulated sugar, 6 tablespoons butter, and vanilla in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Lightly spoon 1 2/3 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1 2/3 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture and cocoa mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Pour batter into prepared pans; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° (NOTE: 325° may work better) for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

To prepare frosting, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and 2 tablespoons milk; cook 1 minute or until sugar melts. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Combine butter mixture and 2 teaspoons vanilla in a large bowl. Gradually add powdered sugar; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, beating until spreading consistency.

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread top with half of frosting. Place caramel dip in a small zip-top plastic bag. Snip a small hole in 1 corner of bag; drizzle half of caramel dip over frosting. Top with other cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top of cake; drizzle with remaining caramel dip. Sprinkle with pecans.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 309 (24% from fat). Fat: 8.4g (sat 4.3g,mono 2.9g,poly 0.8g), Protein: 3.7g, Carbohydrate: 56.7g, Fiber: 1.9g, Cholesterol: 42mg, Iron: 1.5mg, Sodium: 249mg, Calcium: 41mg.

Mar 21, 2010

Tilapia with Cilantro-Curry Sauce, Toasted Coconut & Sautéed Carrots

Is it possible for un-fried, tarter sauce-void fish to be devoured faster than a bag of Long John Silver's greasy goodness? Can carrots taste as delectable as buttery French fries? Read on, curious cats.

In appreciation for all the hard work the hubby does to help me around the house, I decided to pamper his taste buds. He absolutely loves fish, coconut, curry and carrots, so when I came across a recipe that combined them all in one quick, healthy, beautiful meal, I knew he'd simply love it. And me? Well, let's just say this dish had me at cilantro.

I started by prepping the carrots, and with each slice, my skepticism grew. See, I'm not a fan of carrots unless they're buried in a cream cheese frosting-covered cake, submerged in ranch dressing or...well, that's pretty much it. And I especially don't drool over the idea of mushy cooked carrots. Nope. These were totally just for the hubby. Or so I thought...

They were ridiculously simple, as was this entire meal. They cooked in the pan with a little olive oil, butter and water for about ten minutes, then I added salt and pepper and let them cook until they were browned and crunchy. And at that point, I was warming up to the whole idea.

The original recipe called for fresh sage to be stirred in, but I left this out because I wasn't sure if it would compliment the cilantro sauce. But the sage version got rave reviews online, so I'll be sure to give that a try sometime soon, as should you.

On to the sauce! It's the best part, after all, bringing together the flavors of cilantro, lemon, garlic, curry powder, olive oil and jalapeño. Now that's a tasty combination if you ask me. I removed the pepper's seeds like the recipe instructed, which is where all the heat lives. But we like it hot, so next time I'll throw in those spicy seeds, too.

Next, I threw the coconut under the broiler and after about ten compulsive oven checks on totally untoasted coconut, I left it alone and started on the fish. Which of course, meant that while I was salting and peppering the tilapia fillets, I forgot about the coconut.

So, I threw the black coconut into the garbage, a new batch into the oven, and the broiler on my hit list right under plastic wrap. The second time around I ended up with this half-white, half-brown, totally-good-enough-for-me toasted coconut.

And after a few minutes on each side, the fish was done, too. I topped each filet with sauce, sprinkled with coconut and served it up with the carrots and basmati rice.

It was delicious. The fish was tender and flaky, and the sauce was bursting with spicy cilantro-curry-lemon flavor that paired perfectly with the sweet toasty coconut. I'm already thinking of all the other wonderful dishes I can create with this sauce. I'm sure it would be equally as yummy on grilled chicken or steak.

And the carrots? Nothing short of amazing. Crunchy and seasoned on the outside, soft on the inside. I gobbled them up quicker than the fish. And when I was clearing the table – totally stuffed and satisfied, have you – I still couldn't resist sneaking more and more of those buttery little morsels. They're sinfully addictive, even to a carrot-hater.

So does this meal beat a greasy platter of Long John Silver's fried crunchies and a carton of McDonald's fries? Yes and yes. This quick, fresh, delicious summery meal is going to stick around our house for years to come.

But more importantly, was it the perfect compliment for the hubby's hard work? Well, he said it climbed the ranks to become his #1 seafood meal. And since fish is his favorite food, I think I can take that as a compliment of my own.

Tilapia with Cilantro-Curry Sauce & Toasted Coconut
Cooking Light, November 2008
Yield: 4 servings

Cookbook Note: You can substitute the tilapia for snapper or flounder. Serve this fish with brown basmati rice and sautéed sliced carrots.

1/2  teaspoon  salt, divided
4  (6-ounce) flounder fillets
Cooking spray
2  tablespoons  flaked sweetened coconut
1  cup  cilantro sprigs
2  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
2  tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil
1  teaspoon  curry powder
3  garlic cloves, peeled
1  jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded
Lemon wedges (optional)

Preheat broiler.

Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt over fish. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fish to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness.

Place the coconut on a baking sheet; broil for 2 minutes or until toasted, stirring occasionally.

Combine remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, cilantro, and next 5 ingredients (through jalapeño) in a food processor; process until finely chopped. Spoon 2 tablespoons cilantro mixture over each fillet; sprinkle each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut. Garnish with lemon wedges, if desired.

Nutritional Information:
Calories: 234 (37% from fat), Fat: 9.5g (sat 2g,mono 5.4g,poly 1.3g), Protein: 32.5g, Carbohydrate: 3.3g, Fiber: 0.7g, Cholesterol: 82mg, Iron: 1mg, Sodium: 442mg, Calcium: 41mg.

Sautéed Carrots (with or without Sage)
Cooking Light, November 2009
Yield: 2 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup)

Cookbook Note: You can easily double, triple, or quadruple this small-yield recipe to feed more.

1  teaspoon  butter
1  teaspoon  olive oil
1 1/2  cups  diagonally sliced carrot
2  tablespoons  water
1/8  teaspoon  salt
1/8  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
2  teaspoons  fresh small sage leaves (if making the sage version)

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add carrot and 2 tablespoons water. Partially cover pan and cook 10 minutes or until carrots are almost tender. Add salt and pepper to pan; increase to medium-high heat. Cook 4 minutes or until carrots are tender and lightly browned, stirring frequently. (Sprinkle with sage.)

Nutritional Information:
Calories: 75, Fat: 4.4g (sat 1.5g,mono 2.2g,poly 0.4g), Protein: 0.9g, Carbohydrate: 9g, Fiber: 2.6g, Cholesterol: 5mg, Iron: 0.3mg, Sodium: 224mg, Calcium: 35mg.

Mar 18, 2010

Orange-Pecan French Toast Casserole

When it comes to cooking, some husbands are only good for grilling. But mine is the king of French toast. On the rare occasion when he’s up at bat in the kitchen (for, um, my birthday and... my birthday), that's his go-to meal, and he proudly makes his double-dipped, powdered sugar-covered, syrup smiley face specialty better than anyone I know. Until last week, that is, when the French toast fairy visited our home and forced me to outdo him with this little wonder.

French toast casserole? Never heard of such a thing. But let me tell you, it takes plain old egg-soaked bread to a whole new level. Think thick slices of chewy-crunchy French bread marinated in an orange-vanilla sauce and topped with a sinfully sweet pecan glaze. Um, yeah.

And aside from the upgraded flavor, there's more to make you drool. You don’t have to dip bread into a messy bowl off egg. Or stand over a frying pan, patiently flipping one piece at a time. Or bite into that gross fried egg film that just doesn't belong in a sweet breakfast treat. And most importantly, you can prepare the whole thing the night before, which makes it the perfect make-ahead breakfast for company and holidays.

So here's how I whipped this baby up. The topping, which is a mix of corn syrup, brown sugar and melted butter, goes down first. I spread that in the bottom of the pan and sprinkled on chopped pecans.

Next I sliced the French bread, forced myself not to butter and eat it on the spot, and layered the pieces on top of the glaze. It was a little tricky fitting all twelve into the pan, but with a little finagling, I made sure no man was left behind.

Then I poured on the sauce, a mix of orange juice, zest, vanilla, cinnamon, milk, sugar and eggs. I attempted to use fresh squeezed juice like the recipe called for, but after practically squeezing the veins out of my forehead and still only yielding an eighth of a cup, I gave up and turned to the bottle.

Into the fridge it went. In the morning I flipped each piece over to soak up the extra sauce. Note: When the recipe says to do this carefully, they mean it. You don't want to disturb that yummy pecan glaze underneath, or tear those fragile pieces of bread that will be soaked like sponges with orange-vanilla goodness.

After 20 minutes at room temperature and 35 minutes in the oven, these babies were golden, toasty and hot. Extremely hot. I think the glaze at the bottom must have been boiling because I went for taste test dip and nearly removed three layers of skin.

When I stopped screaming, I got my spatula under all that sauce, flipped a piece over and I had this: pure breakfast bliss.

Luke loved it. I loved it. Luke had seconds. I contemplated skipping church to have seconds. And for the rest of the week, we started our mornings with a sweet reminder that my French toast is just plain better than his.

So the king has been dethroned. Beating him at the one food he makes best may have caused a brief blow to his ego. For maybe like, half a second. But even that was muted by the French toast love affair taking place in his belly. And to that, I say only three words. Long live the queen.

Orange-Pecan French Toast Casserole
Cooking Light, June 2004
Yield: 12 servings

Cookbook Notes: Assemble the dish the night before your gathering, and pop it in the oven the next morning. Be sure to serve each slice bottom-side up so the pecan mixture is on top.

1  cup  packed brown sugar
1/3  cup  butter, melted
2  tablespoons  light-colored corn syrup
Cooking spray
1/3  cup  chopped pecans
1  teaspoon  grated orange rind
1  cup  fresh orange juice
1/2  cup  fat-free milk
3  tablespoons  granulated sugar
1  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
3  large egg whites
2  large eggs
12  (1-inch-thick) slices French bread (about 1 pound)

Combine brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup; pour into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle chopped pecans evenly over sugar mixture.

Combine rind and next 7 ingredients (rind through eggs); stir with a whisk. Arrange bread slices over pecans in dish; pour egg mixture over bread. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Carefully turn bread slices over to absorb excess egg mixture. Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until lightly browned.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 293 (29% from fat), Fat: 9.5g (sat 3.9g,mono 3.6g,poly 1.3g), Protein: 6.1g, Carbohydrate: 43.6g, Fiber: 1.6g, Cholesterol: 49mg, Iron: 1.6mg, Sodium: 323mg, Calcium: 69mg.
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