Simply Spinach Au Gratin

or out of season, but on our plates, a veggie for the winter months

Vegetables are always important regardless of the season, unfortunately they just don't taste the same year round.  So there have to be creative ways to perk up those options and make them appealing when out of season or they just won't make it to the dinner table.  One of my favorite ways to entice less than optimal veggies to join the party to is to bake them them with some of my favorite flavors - mostly a dash or two of cheese and carbs (in the way of seasoned bread crumbs).  This dresses up everything from broccoli to asparagus to brussel sprouts, it really can't go wrong.  But when it came to spinach, those oh so healthy dark green leaves seemed to beckon for a bit more and a richness it so rightly deserves.  It may seem like a lot of food when you toss all this together, but it cooks down to a reasonable amount for a family of two to four.  This is a great side dish for heavier meats such as steak or thick cut grilled or broiled fish, and spinach isn't nearly as scary as it may seem when all dressed up like this.  Check it out:

1 large bunch fresh spinach
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup low fat milk
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp crushed garlic
salt to taste
6+ tbsp Italian seasoned bread crumbs

1. Wash out the spinach and shake dry.  Cut of the stems and roughly chop if desired.

2. In a large bowl combine all of the remaining ingredients except for half of the breadcrumbs and stir well to combine.  Add in the spinach leaves and toss to coat.

3. Pour the mixture into a large baking dish and top with the remaining seasoned bread crumbs.  Bake at 350 F for 20 min or until the spinach is wilted and the "sauce" a bit thickened.  Allow to rest for a couple minutes to set before serving.

Side note: depending on how creamy you like this dish, you may choose to reduce the amount of milk and cream a bit after you make it the first time.  Just keep in mind if you are doing it while cooking that the end result is quite different than how it looks going into the oven.  It is part of the magic of the shrinking spinach syndrome. 


Sober Shrimp Scampi

or a creamy, alcohol free shrimp saute for any day

There are days when a "fancy" meal would really just make everything better, and unfortunately these tend to be the days when you just don't have the energy and initiative to do a lot of cooking.  I have been having more and more of these lately, and as I am currently relying on the hubby to cook when I am too worn out from this whole being pregnant and creating life thing I have been living on more packaged foods than usual and that only makes matters worse.  So what to do when the hubby looks at you like you have three heads when you tell him you are craving a homemade cream sauce or some rich and savory seafood?  Just do what I do - find a shortcut or two and pull it together while he mans the sides.  You may collapse afterward from the added exertion, but the food coma feeling that you get in return will make it all worth it.

This dish was definitely a pick-me-up and is about to become dinner again tonight.  We haven't had a lot of open bottles of wine around the house since I am currently unable to drink them so this went the way of a booze-free approach right off the bat.  I also initially used precooked shrimp to make it go even faster but you do not need to do that to make it work.  It may sound like a lot, but the total time investment is only about 15 min and it makes 2 servings.  Check it out and give it a shot, it's a great way to kick up any weekday meal without a lot of fuss.  (Sorry for the lack of photo, I have a problem with this dish with devouring it before I remember to get photographic evidence.  I will try again though, we'll see if I can remember...)

4 tbsp butter
16 peeled and deveined shrimp, you can even do the precooked frozen ones if you want (just thaw them first)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried parsley
salt to taste
2 tbsp flour
Grated Parmesan Cheese for topping

1. Remove the tails from shrimp if desired, I like to do this if serving over pasta.  And melt the butter in a small to medium pan.

2. Add the minced garlic and lemon juice to the butter and saute for a couple minutes to allow the garlic to season the butter.  Then add in the shrimp and saute until heated all the way through and no longer pink if using raw shrimp.

3. Remove the shrimp and about half of the butter mixture and set aside.  Gradually stir flour into the the remaining butter in the pan until a golden paste like consistency forms (a roux).  Then stir back in the remaining butter to create a creamy sauce.  Season with salt and parsley.

4. Add the shrimp back in and stir to coat.  Simmer for a minute or two.  Remove the mixture from heat to serving dishes and top lightly with shredded Parmesan cheese.  (optional - serve in individual ramekins topped with Italian breadcrumbs and broiled momentarily to crisp the top)


Stir and Go Slow Cooker Shells and Cheese

or so easy it's scary, comfort food made while you wait

So, a couple weeks ago, I was innocently making my own pregnant way through the work week when out of nowhere the migraine I had been fighting all week roared up and took over my life.  As anyone who has had a migraine knows, this took me completely out of commission immediately.  The main problem with this, aside from my hormonal reaction, was that I was home alone and needed to make sure that I was able to eat something without causing myself too much pain in the way of worsening my condition.  So chicken soup was out, I was out of prepped freezer meals, and I was desperately craving comfort food.  Enter the pasta...

Carbs are most definitely comfort food, cover them in cheese and how could you go wrong?  But the process usually involves at least occasional periods of effort, which meant more up and down and activity in general (which my migraine was seriously arguing against).  So what to do?  Use the slow cooker of course!  Now, this is not a recipe that I could set in the morning and have ready after work, since I do not have one of those new fancy slow cookers that are programmable, but on a day when I am home simply incapable of physically manning the kitchen - this was perfect.  The only real effort it took was stirring enough before setting it so that the cheeses were all incorporated.  And the result was delicious, perfectly comforting and ready and waiting when I awoke from my pain induced sleep, I mean nap....  This came to mind again today as my hubby is sitting at home with a head cold trying to nurse it back to health, if only he liked macaroni and cheese in general I wouldn't have to worry about him forgetting to eat.  Oh well, it brought it to my mind and therefor I bring it to yours to share.  Check it out, I hope you enjoy!

2 tbsp. butter, melted
1 ⅔ mini shells or macaroni, uncooked
3 cups low fat milk
10 oz shredded Cheddar & Monterrey Jack cheese
6 oz  ricotta
½ tsp garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese for topping before serving

Hardware: slow cooker, crock pot (3 qt sized preferred)

1. Toss all the ingredients together into the slow cooker and stir until the cheeses are well blended.
2. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours.
3. Serve immediately topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or top with Italian breadcrumbs and broil the top slightly to crisp in an oven safe container.

The leftovers are perfect for fried mac & cheese experiments, I haven't perfected my own variation yet but I will link it here as soon as I do!