Mary's Busy Kitchen

Mary's Busy Kitchen

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

How To Pick and Cut A Watermelon

There's nothing quite like a sweet, juicy watermelon. 

With that said…I wasn't very good at picking a sweet, juicy watermelon.

My mom is a pro at this, she thumps on a few of those big round, sometimes oval shaped fruits and comes up with a delicious watermelon every time.  Not me…I could thump on watermelons until my fingers hurt and still not be sure if I was hearing a dense or hollow sound.

After a little research on the subject, I am having much better luck and thought I might share a few things I've learned.

1. Look for a darker colored melon with a symmetrical shape, no funky bulges for example. And look for a dull colored melon, not shiny. Shiny means it's under ripe.

2. Pick it up…is it heavy? It should be heavy. I always compare a few so I get an idea of what heavy should actually feel like.

3. It has to have a creamy, yellowish spot. This is called a field spot. A field spot simply is where it was resting on the ground while ripening up.  The darker the field spot…the longer it was on the vine ripening.

4.  This is an optional tip I will add for the sake of my mother…the expert thumper. Using your knuckles give a firm rap on the melon. The sound should not be deep, it should be higher and less dense. Try this out on a few…you will start to notice they actually do sound different. Just remember which sound is the "ripe" sound! I think that's where I have trouble with this method.

Slicing the melon:
To cut the melon you can always start slicing off either end, but be careful this is tricky…the melon is round…it will roll.  Yes…mom does this method.

I suggest cutting the melon in half first, setting the flat cut side down, and then cutting your slices.  This leaves you with half round slices and the colorful rind to hold while eating. Or cut those half round slices in half again for smaller triangular pieces. Perfect for folks to grab and eat at a barbecue or party.

Cutting  The Melon Into Cubes:

If you want to cut the melon in cubes this is the easiest and most efficient way I've tried.
First cut one side of the melon so there is a safe, flat surface to set it down while cutting.
Then simply cut off the outer rind.

Next cut off the top creating a second flat edge. Slice watermelon in large, thick slices as shown.

Then cut those slab like slices into chunks and place in a serving bowl. This is my favorite way to serve melon.

Enjoy your fruits of the summer!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Don't Raise Your Cholesterol Plant-Based Lasagna - gluten free option

Unbelievable that's what this is!  Another awesome recipe from Rip Esselstyn, he calls it Raise-the-Roof Sweet Potato-Vegetable Lasagna. Wow...that's a mouthful!  But seriously...this is worth the effort it takes to prepare, it is one of the most delicious vegan recipes I have ever had. And yes, my family loves it too.

Check this out! I actually have found another awesome use for the filling of this recipe. See the note at bottom of this post!

* I make this lasagna with gluten free lasagna noodles and found the need to be slightly precooked. Plus I made a few other changes to better serve my needs. Click on the  link above for original recipe.

Don't Raise Your Cholesterol Plant-Based Lasagna                Serves 10-12
1 onion, chopped very fine.
1 heaping tsp minced garlic.
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced.
1 head broccoli, chopped in small pieces.
2 carrots, chopped finely.
2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped (I used yellow and orange).
1 1/2 cups frozen corn.
1 package firm tofu, non GMO.
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper.
1 tsp oregano.
1 tsp basil.
1 tsp rosemary crushed a little.
2 regular size jars or 1 large jar of pasta sauce, any healthy brand you like. I use the big 67 oz size.
2 boxes whole grain lasagna noodles, ( I used gluten free)
16 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained. I squeezed the liquid out with my hands.
2 medium or 1 large sweet potato, cooked and mashed. Wash and dry, wrap in foil and bake at 400 for 1 hour. Or microwave following the instructions from this link, How to Cook Sweet Potatoes Quickly-Simply Daily Recipes.
4-5 roma tomatoes, sliced thin. Other types work fine too.
1- 1 1/4  cup raw cashews, ground. Walnuts could be substituted here.

Preheat Oven to 400.
Sauté  the onion and garlic on medium high heat for 3 minutes or so in a nonstick pan, this will not work in a stainless steel pan. I tried it and had a big mess. Add the mushrooms and cook until onions soften and a watery liquid forms from the mushrooms. Remove mushrooms and onions with a slotted spoon and set aside in a large bowl, reserving the mushroom liquid if possible in the pan. Or dump everything into a strainer and let juices run into a bowl underneath. Sometimes I don't end up with any liquid. Add liquid back to the pan and sauté the broccoli and carrots for 5 minutes. If you need a little more liquid, add a couple tablespoons of water.  Add broccoli and carrots to the bowl with the mushrooms. Sauté the peppers and corn until they just begin to soften. Add them to the vegetables in the bowl. Drain the tofu by wrapping the square form in paper towels. Break it up and mix into the bowl with all the other vegetables. Add spices and combine.

To Assemble:
Cover the bottom of a 9"x13" pan with a good layer of sauce. Add a layer of noodles. Cover the noodles with more sauce. This way the noodles will cook in the oven. Spread the vegetable mixture over the noodles. Cover with another layer of noodles and more sauce. Add the spinach carefully over the sauce, placing it as evenly as possible. Cover the spinach layer with the mashed sweet potatoes. Add more sauce and one last layer of noodles. Finish with a last layer of sauce. It will seem like too much…but trust me, it will be fine. Cover the lasagna with thinly sliced roma tomatoes.

Cover lasagna with foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle with the ground cashews, and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Let sit a few minutes before serving.

Leftovers? If there are any freeze them, this makes a wonderful reheated meal on a busy night.Leftovers? 

Prepare all the vegetables.



                  Chop...with a little help from a food processor.

Saute onions and garlic.

Add mushrooms.

Remove onions and mushrooms leaving any liquid.

Sauté  broccoli and carrots.  Then add to mushroom bowl.

Sauté  peppers and corn. Then add all other sautéed vegetables together. I used my large skillet for this step.

Wrap tofu in paper towel to absorb liquid.

Add tofu to sautéed vegetables. Mix.

Stir in the spices.

I often make a double batch of this mix…see note at end of post.

Mash cooked sweet potatoes.

Begin layering process...

 and more layers....

Until you arrive at the final layer.

Top with sliced tomatoes, cover with foil and bake.

Sprinkle raw cashews last 15 minutes of cooking, uncovered.

And the masterpiece is finished and ready to devour!

*Note- Here is another way we like to use the vegetable and tofu filling at our house. Fill flour or corn tortillas with filling, heat up in the microwave 30-60 seconds, (depending microwave and on size of your wrap) roll up like a burrito and enjoy a delicious, protein rich, vegetable burrito. These are perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I will make a double batch of this filling and freeze smaller amounts in containers. This can be defrosted for a quick meal on a busy night.

 I hope you enjoy this recipe both ways!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Rhubarb & Peach Crisp

Rhubarb doesn't always have to be with strawberries...

Rhubarb is a fun plant to grow! It's hearty and colorful.  You can use it fresh or freeze it. To freeze I just cut into 1" pieces and place in a good quality freezer bag.

Rhubarb & Peach Crisp              Serves 8-10
3 cups fresh or frozen peaches, cut into medium size chunks. (Defrost if using frozen peaches.)
3 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb, cut into small pieces. (Defrost if frozen.)
1/2 cup granulated sugar.
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup flour, gluten free if needed.
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats, gluten free if needed.
1/4 cup brown sugar.
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup cold butter, or non-dairy substitute such as Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks.
2 Tbsp walnuts, chopped finely.

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare an 11"x7" oblong pan with a non-stick spray. (Or similar size.)
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Stir in peaches and rhubarb, blending all ingredients. Bring to a boil and cook for 1-2 minutes stirring gently. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour mixture into prepared baking pan.

In a small bowl  combine flour, oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Cut in butter until mixture becomes crumbly. Sprinkle flour mixture evenly over fruit.  Bake for 30-40 minutes. Filling should be bubbly and topping a nice golden brown.

We served ours with a frozen peach sorbet.
To make sorbet add:
 2 frozen bananas, cut up.
 1 peach (not frozen)
 1 tsp vanilla extract.
 Mix in a sturdy food processor, stirring occasionally until  creamy and smooth.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Chocolate Chip, Candy Cluster Cookies

 I have one word for these cookies....YUM!  My son created these knock out cookies, and used to make them for his friends when he was still in high school.  You get a special treat in every bite. These cookies have milk chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, Twix candy bars and mini peanut butter cups. You can see the melted caramel in the picture.

Just look at the treats that are mixed up in this dough!

These cookies are going to make all your cookie monsters smile.

* Try this - Freeze and make amazing ice cream sandwiches with vanilla or chocolate & peanut butter ice cream.

Note:  See Gluten free option below.

Chocolate Chip, Candy Cluster Cookies
1 cup butter, softened (using shortening will change the flavor of these cookies)
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups minus 2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 Twix candy bar, cut in small pieces (see picture above)
3/4 cup mini peanut butter cups,  cut in small pieces  (see picture above)
(I tried some cut up Snickers in a couple instead of the Twix, and that was yummy too)

Preheat oven to 375
In a large mixing bowl cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well.
In a smaller bowl, combine flour, salt and soda. Mix together.
Combine dry ingredients with moist ingredients. Mix on low or by hand. Do not over mix, this will make cookies tough. Stir in flavored chips and candy pieces. It is important to use a wooden spoon not an electric mixer when adding flavored chips and candy pieces. Again, too much mixing will result in a tough cookie.   I know I say this a lot, but it is one of the most common mistakes in making cookies. We want a delicious tender cookie.

Place dough on ungreased cookie sheets, and flatten slightly.
I use a cookie scoop to measure out my cookies, so they are a little larger than most. But perfect for ice cream sandwiches!

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Depending on size. Smaller may take 8-10 minutes.

Cool on wire rack.

Please enjoy these cookies. I know we do!

 Gluten free option replace flour with a home made flour mix: 1 cup rice flour, 1 cup garbanzo bean flour, and 1 cup minus 2 Tbsp. gluten free oat flour. Or Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Mix, or Pamela's Gluten Free Pancake & Baking Mix. If you use Bob's Red Mill brand you will also need to add 2 tsp. Xanthan Gum to the recipe. And note that Pamela's contains dairy, but does not need Xanthan Gum added.  Also be aware that Twix has gluten and Snickers and some brands of peanut butter cups have shown reactions to some gluten sensitive individuals due to factory cross contamination. I would increase chocolate and peanut butter chips to 1 1/2 cup each to replace the candy in the recipe. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Chicken Tortellini Soup

Ready to make a super easy and delicious soup your whole family is going to love? 

It's pretty much your standard chicken noodle soup...but I added some tortelini instead of egg noodles.

This is my gluten free version of this chicken soup.

Tortelini are available gluten free, but since I can't have dairy I tossed in some gluten free brown rice penne in mine. Delicious.

Before we continue, I want to give you a tip when making soup with tortellini. After cooking the pasta, offer it on the side for your guests and family members to add to their own bowls. This prevents the pasta from soaking up all the delicious broth…not to mention it also prevents your tortellini from becoming larger than life.  I store left-overs separately as well. 

Chicken Tortellini Soup
3 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed or shredded.
3 carrots, peeled and sliced or diced.
3 celery stalks, sliced or diced.
1 bay leaf
8-12 cups chicken broth, we like lots of broth. I feel like the amount of broth, (liquid) is a personal choice. 
1 cube chicken bouillon.
1 tsp thyme, crushed.
Salt and pepper to taste. 
1 pkg frozen tortellini, gluten free if needed.
Fresh parsley for garnish.  (optional)

In a large kettle saute chopped vegetables in a small amount of broth for about 3-5 minutes. Add bay leaf and thyme, cook 1 minute more. Add cubed or shredded chicken, 8 cups of broth, and bouillon cube. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add up to 12 cups of broth if preferred.

During the last 10 minutes or so, cook the tortellini in a separate kettle. 
Do not over cook. Drain and set aside to add individually to each bowl. 
Of course you can add all the tortellini to the kettle with the soup the last few minutes of cooking, but know that overnight…any leftovers in the soup will become enormous, and broth will magically disappear by a large amount. 

If you decide to add the tortellini to the soup instead of serving it on the side, just add more broth to the leftovers the next day before heating.

Serve with these super easy homemade dinner rolls.


Low-Sugar, Gluten Free Cheesecake

Here is my best attempt yet at a low-sugar cheesecake. This was a crowd pleaser for sure. 

Texture, flavor, and appearance all surpassed my expectations.  The sweetener I used in this recipe was Truvia Baking Blend.  It contains erythritol, so use in moderation. In recipes use half the amount of Truvia for the sugar.  For example, if your recipe calls for 1 cup of granulated sugar, you would use 1/2 cup of Truvia Baking Blend instead.

By using Truvia Baking Blend in this recipe, you can reduce the sugar for the entire cheesecake by as much as 126 grams, and the total calories by 360.

Low Sugar, Gluten Free Cheesecake                Serves 8
2 8 oz pkgs.  cream cheese, softened. A non-dairy type is fine too.

1/4 cup Truvia Baking Blend
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 prepared graham cracker shell or use the recipe below.

Graham Cracker Crust:
Measure 1 1/2 cups gluten free graham cracker crumbs, and place in a small bowl.
Add 2 Tbsp Truvia, and mix together.
Melt 6 Tbsp butter or non-dairy substitute. Stir into crumb mixture.
Press mixture into a 8" or 9" pie plate. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.
In a medium mixing bowl add softened cream cheese. Beat to a creamy consistency. Add Truvia and mix well. Add vanilla and eggs, mix well. Mixture should be nice and creamy smooth.
Pour into prepared crumb crust. Bake for 50 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched.
Cool on a wire rack to room temperature before refrigerating. Chill about 3 hours or more before serving.

Top with some fresh fruit and enjoy!

Go to this link, Answers about Truvia if you would like a little more information  on this product.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Perfect Steak On The Grill

To grill a perfect steak two things are important... a great cut of range fed beef and  a great seasoning. I love McCormick Grill Mates. There is no MSG, and you don't have to remember to marinate all day and still have incredible flavor. Good choices for a tender barbecued steak are, tenderloin, rib, T-bone, porterhouse,  and top sirloin. Sirloin being my last choice. I usually keep these for fajitas. 

About an hour or two before grilling I place the steaks on a baking sheet.  This gives me lots of space and a nice flat surface.  Sprinkle one side of all steaks.

Then pound gently into steaks with a meat pounder or tenderizer. These are already tender cuts so I just use the tenderizer to add some flavor.  Flip steaks and repeat to other side, with seasonings.

Heat the BBQ.  If gas, turn all sections on high.  When BBQ is ready sear steaks on each side for about 3 minutes. Then turn BBQ to MOM, meaning two outside sections on medium and inside off.  Continue to cook steaks until desired doneness.

Steaks are perfect and ready to serve. Simple and delicious.  Remember start with a great cut of steak and good quality range fed beef.