Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hello to Fall Weather..... Comfort Foods are Calling!....

I don't know about your "neck of the woods" but for us fall weather (even winter!...) temperatures rolled into the Valley with gusto!.... A twenty percent drop from one day to another is rather drastic yet such is life in the high desert. Almost hurricane strength winds came down from the Pacific Northwest bringing cold & snow to several states yet since we didn't have any rain in the forecast, no snow (although we did get snow on Oct 6th up on Mt. Charleston...), it was cold enough for the white stuff but we'll get some once the rains show up. Bad hair day for all!....

Brought out the goose down comforters for everyone, so warm and toasty- the fluff factor delights Kitty who loves to take a nap at the end of my bed even though her little house has lamb's wool. This kind of weather always makes me thing of comfort foods of all types: baking is first on the list of course, heavier fare that conserves heat and fills you up with solid sustenance. Casseroles and all types of oven delights- plus being pretty practical since some of these are truly one-dish-wonders.

Coming in from the cold, there's nothing better than being welcomed by wonderful aromas from your kitchen recalling fond memories of home and hearth. But then I love the cold, the snow, the red cheeked children coming inside, clothes wet from playing in the snow, looking forward to a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows and a hearty soup. Fond memories of our time in Idyllwild, CA come to mind and make us wish we were still there (right, Karina?....) in that picture postcard perfect little mountain hamlet where we had the only health food store / vegetarian Mexican Cafe in town which became the check-in place for the "townies".....

Anyway, Vegas is definitely not Idyllwild yet it will offer us a chance to create some great times here too. I'm already thinking up some memorable holiday foods and planning on re-visiting some fabulous food stores (one of THE great things about Las Vegas is the availability of almost anything! YAY!).... yet I am firm on keeping it within our budget. Haven't settled on the themes for our holiday celebrations yet, guess we'll have to have a family conference on this and get everyone's suggestions (this could be challenging since my guys are quite spoiled and used to being impressed....) and then go from there.

But for now the plan is much simpler and I've found some comforting yet amazing casseroles to choose from, maybe I can inspire you to try some of these and add them to your repertoire:

Curry and Rice Vegetarian Casserole (Chana aur Sarson ka Saag Biryani).- An exotic and flavorful dish plus being a nutritional powerhouse too! Fabulous....
2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 large red onion, 1/2 coarsely chopped and 1/2 thinly sliced
4 fresh green chiles, such as Thai or Serrano, stemmed
3 tbl oil, divided
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup raw cashews
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 cup white basmati rice, preferably Indian or Pakistani
1 mustard greens, tough ribs removed, leaves finely chopped
8 oz cauliflower, cut into 1/2-inch florets
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
2 cups water, divided
1/2 tsp saffron threads

Puree tomatoes, chopped onion and chiles to taste in a blender, scraping down the sides as needed, to make a smooth sauce. Heat 2 tbl oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add raisins and cashews and cook, stirring, until the raisins are plump and the nuts are lightly brown, 1 to 3 min. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon. Add cumin seeds, cardamom pods, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 sec to 1 min. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring, until light brown, 2 to 3 min. Carefully pour in the pureed tomato mixture (it may spatter) and reduce heat to med. Stir in garam masala, 3/4 tsp salt and turmeric. Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid evaporates, about 15 min. Meanwhile, place rice in a medium bowl. Cover with water. Gently rub the rice through your fingers to wash the grains. (The water will become cloudy.) Drain. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear. Then cover the rice with cold water and let it sit for 20 min. Drain.

Stir mustard greens, cauliflower, chickpeas and 1 cup water into the tomato sauce. Cover and remove from the heat. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Heat the remaining 1 tbl oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the drained rice and saffron, and carefully stir (it may spatter) to coat the rice with the saffron. Add the remaining 1 cup water and 1/4 tsp salt. Stir once to incorporate the ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, uncovered, until the water has evaporated from the surface and craters are starting to appear in the rice, 5 to 8 min. Remove from the heat. Spread half the chickpea curry evenly in the prepared baking dish. Spread the rice mixture on of the curry. Spoon the remaining chickpea mixture over the rice. Scatter the reserved raisins and cashews over the top. Cover with foil. Bake until the rice is tender, 45 to 55 min. Remove the bay leaves, cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks before serving.
Chilaquile Casserole.- This can be made with any sauce you have, green, red, mole or whatever you like best. Great for "cleaning out the fridge" too, using leftovers and can be vegetarian or not.

1/2 cup oil
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped in small cubes
2 medium carrots, chopped in small cubes
1 can black beans, rinsed or 1-2 cups cooked beans, drained (whatever kind you have)
1 cup diced tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 cup corn, frozen (thawed) or fresh
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
12 corn tortillas, cut in 2 x 4 in pieces
2-4 cups sauce (Tomatillo / Guajillo / Mole, etc.)
1 1/4 cup shredded cheese (any kind you like)
1 cup sour cream or Mexican Crema
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-baking dish with cooking spray. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tortilla pieces and fry until they become hard and golden. Put in colander or paper towels to drain and reserve. In the same pan, add onion and cook, stirring often, until starting to brown, about 5 min. Stir in garlic, zucchini, carrots, beans, tomatoes, corn, cumin and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are heated through, about 5 min. Scatter half the tortilla pieces in the baking dish. Top with about half the vegetable mixture, about half the sauce and half the cheese. Repeat with one more layer of tortillas, vegetables, sauce and cheese. Cover with foil. Bake the casserole for 30 min. Remove the foil and continue baking until the casserole is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is melted, about 10 min more. Top with a dollop of sour cream or crema and cilantro.
Tamal Casserole.- You like tamales but can't imagine making them (so much work!..), here's a good substitute that will give you the taste without the hours of labor. Plus it's great with almost any filling: vegetables, chicken, leftover turkey, seafood, shredded beef, etc. Sauce can be anything too!

2 cups masa (Maseca dried flour or buy masa ready to use from a Latin market)
3 tbl chopped fresh oregano, preferably Mexican
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 cup water, divided
1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbl butter, softened
2 cups of filling (you get to choose this....)
2 cups Sauce (your choice too..)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put a kettle of water to heat for the water bath. Coat an 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray. (If you're using Maseca flour, put in large bowl and add 1 cup warm water while working with your hands or mixer until it becomes smooth and dough like and not sticky). Then add oregano, baking powder, thyme, salt and pepper in the bowl. Add 2 cups water and beat with mixer until combined. With the mixer on low speed, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is the consistency of thick pancake batter. Add oil and butter. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and continue beating, scraping down the sides, for 4 minutes more. Spread half the batter in the prepared baking dish. Evenly scatter filling on top, then cover with the remaining batter, smoothing it evenly to the sides. Place the baking dish in a larger pan, transfer to the oven and pour boiling water into the larger pan to about halfway up the sides of the baking dish (to make a water bath or Bain Marie). Cover both pans with a piece of foil. Bake until set, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Serve each portion with 2 tablespoons sauce and a dollop of sour cream, or to taste.
NOTE: I like chunky fillings with lots of flavor that can withstand the masa taste, so leftovers work perfectly here. A favorite is Pulled Pork topped with a heavy tomato sauce; leftover turkey, topped with Mole Sauce; Shredded Chicken or Pork with Tomatillo Green Sauce.
If you need sauce recipes let me know and I'll send them along to you.
Baked Cod Casserole.- The combination of flavors in this dish make it ideal even for company! Lovely aroma and the wine and Gruyere cheese reminds me of Swiss fondues....

2 tbl extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 medium onions, very thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 pound cod, cut into 4 pieces
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cup finely chopped whole-wheat bread, (about 2 slices) or any hard old bread you have
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup finely shredded Gruyère, or Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof skillet (or have a baking dish prepared and ready) over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until just starting to soften, 5 to 7 min. Add wine, increase heat to high and cook, stirring often, until the wine is slightly reduced, 2 to 4 min. Put onions in baking dish with liquid if using a baking dish and place cod on the onions and sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper. Cover the pan or if using the baking dish cover with foil; transfer to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Toss the bread with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, paprika and garlic powder in a small bowl. Spread the bread mixture over the fish and top with cheese. Bake, uncovered, until the fish is opaque in the center, about 10 minutes more.
NOTE: You can use store bought bread crumbs if you need to.
Sausage, Apple and Cheese Xmas Casserole.- Here's something new to have on Xmas morning. Have it ready and in the fridge a couple of days before, covered, and put it in the oven first thing when you awake and pretty soon you'll have a great breakfast to have with your coffee.

6 Maple Flavored Veggie or Pork Sausage Patties (1 package)
2 small cooking apples, cored and chopped (about 1 cup)
1 tbl sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 cup cubed, firm-textured multigrain bread (or any firm bread you have)
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
6 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tbl sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup milk

Chop Sausage Patties into bite-size pieces. Set aside. In small bowl toss together apple, 1 tablespoon sugar, and cinnamon. Set aside. Place half bread in baking dish coated with nonstick cooking spray. Top with half veggie patties, half apple mixture, and half cheese. Repeat layers. In medium bowl whisk together eggs and sour cream. Whisk in 2 tablespoons sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add milk, and whisk until combined. Pour over mixture in baking dish. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 24 hours. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Bake, uncovered for about 60 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
How about these for your cold weather menus, should work right? Good thing about these is that they can adapted to whatever your tastes are and what your budget allows.... since they can be made fancy or economy styled. I love the flexibility they give you - I believe most things should do double duty or even more! You can really get creative here, guys... So give them a try and you'll see them become family favorites, don't wait for cold weather either..... Talk soon, best to all!........

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