Broccoli Cheddar Casserole

Everyone’s family has famous dishes – in my husband’s family, it’s Grandma Lila’s Spinach Squares. This recipe is essentially me replacing the frozen spinach with fresh broccoli — but let’s understand something, this *blank* Cheddar Casserole can essentially be made with ANY fresh or frozen vegetable of your choosing.

SHOPPING LIST: 6 broccoli crowns, 2 eggs, 12 oz. whipped cream cheese, shredded cheddar cheese, shredded mozzarella cheese, chopped garlic, coconut oil, garlic salt, salt, pepper, onion powder, parmesan cheese

Because the broccoli is fresh and you don’t want your vegetable to be under-cooked in your casserole, the first step is to par-bake your broccoli. Cut the florets off of your broccoli crowns. Melt 2 tB. of coconut oil and toss the broccoli in coconut oil and then season with garlic salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. When the broccoli is done, give it a quick rough chop and set aside.

*** This is one of my tricks anytime I make casserole or macaroni and cheese. Turn up your oven to 400 degrees. Spray your casserole dish with whatever non-stick spray you prefer and put the empty dish into the oven. When you do this BEFORE you pour in your casserole mixture, it allows the BOTTOM and SIDES of your casserole to get CRISPY too! Oh, I also use this technique when baking brownies!!! ***

In a mixing bowl, crack and beat 2 eggs. Add 1 heaping tB. of chopped garlic and the entire 12 oz. of whipped cream cheese. Mix well with a fork – it will look a bit lumpy, DON’T WORRY. Add 1 1/2 tsp. of salt and 1 tsp. of pepper and 1 tB. of onion powder. Finally, add 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese. Mix well and then pour over your chopped broccoli. Mix well, remove your piping hot casserole dish from the oven – BE CAREFUL – and then pour in your broccoli mixture. Top the entire casserole dish in a layer of shredded mozzarella parmesan cheese and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.

Look back at the photo – DO YOU SEE THE CRISPNESS of those sides! This was so so delicious. And while Grandma Lila’s will always be the original, replacing the frozen spinach for broccoli made the dish seem heartier. Yes, there’s a lot of cheese – but you are making an ENTIRE casserole — and there’s also a ton of broccoli. Let’s focus on the positive people 🙂

Fennel Salad with Lemon Ricotta

Looking to brighten your day? Best way to do that is in the kitchen. This Fennel Salad actually combines TWO recipes – meaning you could serve your whipped ricotta as just a dip, or you could serve your fennel salad without the whipped ricotta – but together, it’s a complex and composed dish bursting with vibrant flavors.

FENNEL SALAD: 2 bulbs fennel, 1 stalk celery, grapefruit, shaved parmesan, dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper

First you want to cut off the ends, remove any brown outer layers. Reserve a bit of the frond, or dill-looking herb for later. Slice each funnel bulb in half and and then make a triangular cut to remove the core of your fennel. Thinly slice your fennel and reserve in a bowl. Cut off the ends of your celery stalk, and then thinly slice the entire stalk on a diagonal and add to your fennel mixture. Top with 3/4 cup of shaved parmesan — make sure you get the SHAVED parmesan, it makes a huge difference because of the flat, sheet-like natural of the parm. OR, if you want be really fancy you could get an aged gouda or manchego and shave it yourself!

Finally, you need to get make grapefruit supremes (soo-prems). This may be the trickiest part. I was going to explain this process but then I thought there is certainly a video to help explain this, so let SAVEUR teach you 🙂 Add all off the supremes of grapefruit to your fennel, celery and parmesan. Over a smaller bowl, squeeze the remaining body of the grapefruit to net about 2 tB. of juices. Add 1 tB. of dijon mustard, 1 tsp. of apple cider vinegar, 1 tB. of olive oil, salt and pepper and mix well with a fork. This will be be your dressing! Pour the grapefruit dressing over your fennel and mix well. Like I said before, you can be DONE at this point – this delicious fennel salad is perfect as is. If you want something crunchy, you could always top it with sunflower seeds or candied pumpkin seeds or even salted pistachios.

LEMON RICOTTA: ricotta cheese, olive oil lemon (juice + zest), garlic powder, salt, pepper, red pepper flake

Onto the ricotta, which honestly just kicks this whole thing up a notch and only takes a second. Take 1 cup of ricotta cheese and put it in your food processor. Zest the entire lemon, and then slice your lemon in half. Add all of the zest to the food processor and the juice of only HALF the lemon. A little drizzle of olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and give it a quick whirl in the food processor. When your ricotta is whipped, add a pinch of red pepper flakes and stir.

Now let’s put it all together. Schmear the lemon ricotta all over the bottom of the serving plate, making sure that it’s copious around the edges so you can SEE the cheesy goodness that waits beneath the fennel. Next, pile your fennel salad high atop the whipped ricotta. I saved a tiny little fennel frond for garnish – as I feel like I never garnish my food because I’m always in a hurry to feed people and, well, now that I’ve got some extra time, I’m going to work on my garnishments a bit more. Here’s to giving it a try!

Simmered Curry Sea Bass

We eat a lot of fish – and sometimes my meat-loving husband isn’t totally satisfied, so I am always trying to think of ways to shake it up. Poaching fish in a vibrant and flavorful sauce is such an EASY and ONE POT way to simply prepare your fish for dinner.

SHOPPING LIST: 2 lbs. chilean sea bass, 1 lb. cherry tomatoes, 12 oz. jar Indian curry sauce, chopped garlic, garam masala, coconut oil, salt, pepper

Cut your fish into cubes and then season your fish with the garam masala and salt. In your saucepan, head 1 tB. of coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add 1 tB. of chopped garlic and the entire container of tomatoes – I chose to use the tri-color variation because it looks pretty 🙂 I should also note that while I only used tomatoes in this dish – this would be a GREAT opportunity to incorporate frozen vegetables (sliced okra and kale come to mind) before you add your fish. Sauté your tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until they are blistered and soft.

Next, add the entire jar of your curry sauce. I used Maya Kaimal Madras Curry Indian Simmer Sauce – I’m a big fan of this particular brand because it has a milder flavor profile (even though it says SPICY on the jar) and clean ingredients. Once your curry sauce comes to a *simmer* add your fish and cover the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 8 minutes. When you remove the lid, your fish should look FLAKY and cooked through (like above).

You could really use any WHITE fleshed fish for this dish, or even MUSSELS, if you want to get creative. The best part is, the whole dish won’t take you more than 20 minutes from start to finish. Dishes like this are best served with rice or orzo or couscous or even roasted cauliflower so that your starch can soak up all the yummy juices. ALSO – this is a GREAT way to prepare fish in apartments. We often don’t have the best ventilation and this poaching method won’t leave any lingering remnant of the amazing fish you had for dinner last night!

Fried Onion + Mushroom Egg Salad

Eggs are one of the few items I can’t find at the stores right now, so when my kids INSISTED on hard-boiled eggs and didn’t eat them there was NO WAY they were going to waste. And since I have fridge full of every grocery I could possible think of – it was time to put my over-shopping to good use and re-create one my favorite appetizing – the Egg, Onion and Mushroom Salad from BAGEL BOSS. I changed the name of mine since there are more veggies than eggs in my rendition simply because — of the times! — but seriously, I have gone out of my way many times to get this Bagel Boss egg salad because I have never seen it anywhere else and it ROCKS.

SHOPPING LIST: 6 eggs, Vidalia onion, 1 lb. sliced mushrooms, chopped garlic, olive oil, mayonnaise, mustard, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper

Obviously we are going to start with hard-boiling and peeling our eggs and have those set aside. Then, slice your entire onion. In a pan over medium heat, add 1 tB. of olive oil and slowly sauté the sliced onions until they are TOTALLY browned and fried – making sure to season your onions with salt and pepper. Frying onions take PATIENCE – so DO NOT go above medium heat because you do not want your onions to BURN and stir frequently. Reserve your fried onions in a bowl and then add another tB. of olive oil to your pan along with 1 tB. of chopped garlic. Increase the heat to medium-high and then add the entire pound of chopped mushrooms. Again, season the mushrooms with salt and pepper and then continue to saute your mushrooms until they are super crisp and caramelized. Once they’re finished (about 10 minutes), combine with the onions and it’s almost game-time!

Use an egg slicer or slice your eggs manually and add the sliced eggs to the mixture of fried onions and mushrooms. In a separate cup, combine 1 tB. of mayonnaise with 1 tsp. of dijon mustard and a dash of apple cider vinegar. The vinegar will brighten your egg salad with all of the rich, caramelized flavors. Mix your dressing, combine with the eggs and caramelized veggies and toss until completely incorporated. I didn’t add seasoning to the dressing since both the onions and mushrooms are heavily seasoned so I didn’t want to overpower the egg salad. Once you have over-seasoned you are F*ed, so if this isn’t salty enough for you, you can always salt later.

This is a really hearty dish. You could make a delicious sandwich out of it (the addition of bacon on your sandwich would be AMAZING!), stuff it into a lettuce wrap or do the absurdly weird thing I did at 11p.m. last night when I was making egg salad tacos using Vegan cheddar cheese because that’s just what I do sometimes. It would also be so yummy enjoyed with my Dill-icious Cucumber Salad because the briny, crunchy cucumbers would be a beautiful counterpart to this rich egg salad. Whatever you do, DON’T GO TO BAGEL BOSS – just make it at home and enjoy with your family 🙂

Cacio e Pepe Cabbage

I have been cooking cabbage consistently for years – my ODE TO CABBAGE was my first foray into sharing my love for this veggie with you all, but holy moly, I think this was/is my favorite cabbage dish YET. Coincidentally, a traditional Cacio e Pepe is one of my go-to pasta dishes (especially when it’s served at Via Carota) and it’s SO DARN EASY to make! However, this cabbage was variation was just as satisfying and had the exact same flavor profile.

Shopping List: green cabbage, olive oil, butter, parmesan cheese (grated and shaved), freshly ground black pepper, garlic salt

THE KEY here is to slice your cabbage in half, lengthwise, through the core, and then VERY THINLY slice your cabbage along the grain. VERY THINLY. This is key because it’s going to give your cabbage a thinner, noodle-like consistency. Once you get your cabbage sliced very thinly, the rest is easy peasy. In your large saucepan, add 2 tB. of olive oil and 1 heaping tB. of butter (or plant-based butter, which I’m a big fan of these days). Keep your pan over medium-high heat, add your cabbage, and sauté for about 5 minutes.

I don’t like to mix the cabbage TOO much or else you won’t get any browned bits — BROWNED BITS=FLAVOR in my opinion so let your heat do its job and caramelize the cabbage. Season your cabbage with garlic salt and a ton of FRESHLY grated pepper. Start with 1 tsp. and maybe add a second. The dish has the word “Pepe” in it for a reason, so you want the pepper flavor to shine. Once your cabbage is wilted and browned, add 2/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese. OH YEA!!!!! You could even go crazy and add 3/4 cup – who’s going to judge you!? The cheese, the pepper and the drop of butter are what MAKE this cabbage so insanely yummy.

Give the cabbage and cheese a quick mix so the parmesan gets all incorporated and melty and mm mm delish. After you plate your cabbage, finish with a sprinkle of SHAVED parmesan because it looks pretty and the textural difference between the grated and shaved parmesan actually makes a difference. And then become addicted because honestly, if you don’t like THIS cabbage, you basically really really really dislike cabbage — and that’s OK too — you can always re-make the entire recipe with your favorite par-cooked noodle.

“Sausage” and Peppers

BIG big fan of hot Italian sausage over here so your basic Sausage + Peppers has been an easy go-to in our household for years. I always like using the mini tri-colored peppers when making this dish because they are so sweet and they get SO juicy when you roast them. However, from watching Jersey Shore, because my husband has insisted on re-watching this trash from Episode ONE *kill me* I saw “The Situation” makes traditional Sausage + Peppers in one casserole dish by topping a bed of sliced onions and full-sized peppers with WHOLE Italian sausages and just popping that right into the oven. So aside from being emotionally disturbed from the relationship that was Sammy + Ronny, I learned that my version of sausage + peppers isn’t what you’d find on Staten Island.

So when a vegan girlfriend of mine told me she was obsessed with this plant-based Italian sausage I knew I wanted to trick my husband to see if he could tell the difference. WARNING: When trying to trick your husband, don’t ask him to RECYCLE the craft paper wrapper for your vegan sausage. Whoops! I’ve actually never tried any other sausage substitutes so the No Evil Foods The Stallion Sausage was my first foray into plant-based alternatives. Look how exciting this is!

SHOPPING LIST: 2 bags mini peppers, 1 jalapeño, No Evil Foods The Stallion Sausage, chopped garlic, onion powder, salt, pepper

Chop the stems off of your mini peppers and slice your entire jalapeño into rounds. Jalapeño, as always, is completely optional but I love throwing this spicy little pepper into the mix. Toss your peppers with olive oil, salt, pepper and onion powder and BROIL for 5 minutes. Your peppers should get black and blistered. Flip the peppers over and give them another 3-5 minutes under the broiler.

While your peppers are finishing up under the broiler, remove the casing from your sausages and slice all four sausages into 1/3″ thick rounds. In a large saucepan, add 1 tB. of coconut and sauté 1 tB. of chopped garlic. (I would actually add an entire sliced red onion at this point but my husband is one of those grown ups who still picks onions out of his food so I omitted for his sake). Because the vegan sausage has lots of sodium, I do not add any additional seasoning at this point. Once the garlic is lightly toasted (or your onions are translucent), add your sliced “sausage.” Continue to sauté until both sides of your sausage rounds are browned on each side and then you’re ready to go. Grab your mini peppers out of the broiler and add them to your sausage on the stovetop – JUICES INCLUDED. Give a quick mix and FINITO!!!!

While the dish is vegan AS IS, I like to put 1 tB. of pesto sauce on the bottom of my serving dish. After I pour the sausage (vegan or otherwise) and peppers into my serving bowl, I give the mixture a quick toss and the pesto just adds the final OOMPH of flavor – a little herbs, a little nuttiness, a little cheese – a little bit goes a long way. OH, and as for my “ruined” experiment, my quite opinionated husband said he definitely wouldn’t have been able to tell that his sausage was actually a vegan substitute. While the The Stallion maybe wasn’t as juicy as a pork or turkey-based sausage, it certainly had that delicious hot Italian flavor and a really nice, firm consistency that seared well on the stovetop for textural differentiation. Success! See No Evil. Hear No Evil. Taste No Evil. Love No Evil.

Eggplant Caponata

Just look at this beauty. I’m a frequent customer at my local Eataly for their caponata. It’s just one of those prepared foods that’s delicious cold, full of flavor!!! and is yummy alone or paired with food (I like to eat it with the Eataly chicken salad which I know sounds weird but don’t knock it). Making my own caponata is something I had been toying with for ages, so this weekend I finally put myself up to the task. Actually, I picked up a JAR of caponata at the grocery store, looked at the ingredient list, which included, SUGAR and thought — I can definitely make this better myself — and with my own spin, of course:)

SHOPPING LIST: 2 eggplants, red onion, jalapeño, kalamata olives, capers, pine nuts (toasted), parsley, tomato paste, olive oil, salt, pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Slice your eggplants in half vertically, rub them with olive oil, salt and pepper on all sides and place them on a baking dish flesh-side-up. Bake the halved eggplants for 40 minutes or until they are soft to the touch.

While the eggplants are baking, slice your entire red onion and jalapeño into thin rings. (Remove the seeds if you don’t want your caponata spicy. I purposely chose to include jalapeños as at the “pepper” in my caponata for the spice factor. If you want it extra spicy you can always add a dash of red pepper flakes as well). In a saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tB. of olive oil and 1 tB + 1 tsp. of chopped garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add your sliced onions and jalapeños and continue cooking over medium heat until your onions are translucent. Add 2 tB. of tomato paste to your onion and jalapeños and mix well.

Remove your eggplants from the oven and give the four halves a rough chop. Add the chopped eggplants to your saucepan of sautéed onions INCLUDING THE JUICES. This is important as A. the juices are seasoned from the seasoning of the eggplants and B. the tomato paste needs a bit of moisture to get “saucy.” Once your eggplant is mixed in, continue cooking the mixture over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup of halved kalamata olives and 2 tB. of capers and 1 tsp. of the caper JUICE as well. Mix well. In a smaller pan, toast your pine nuts for 5 minutes until nutty and golden brown and then add them to the mix. TASTE your caponata. At this time you will determine if you need any more salt and pepper to perfectly season your dish (or the aforementioned pepper flakes).

The finishing touch: 1/4 cup of freshly chopped parsley. Nothing like a generous sprinkle of fresh herbs to add a pop of color and vibrant herbaciousness before serving.

Personally, I PREFER the caponata room temperature (or even COLD from the refrigerator). It really gives a chance for the flavors to settle and come together. If you’re looking for a little extra BANG, top your caponata with a sprinkle of briny feta cheese. Or keep it vegan and just pair with a beautiful Barolo, as seen above! Barolo is always a good idea.

Lemon Ravioli (a la Misi)

When I went to Misi in Brooklyn we ordered the “sheep’s milk ricotta filled occhi, bottarga, lemon,” cleaned the plate in about 5 seconds, and then proceeded to do the same thing 2 more times. It was, and remains, one of my favorite pasta dishes ever. Simple but BRIGHT!!! It was like these little “occhis” were exploding in my mouth and I couldn’t get enough. When I spotted a mini ravioli in the freezer aisle of my local Best Market, lightbulbs went off like little lemons dancing around my mind.

SHOPPING LIST: 1 lb. mini cheese ravioli (fresh or frozen), lemon, butter, olive oil, salt, white pepper (optional)

The first step is going to be zesting the entire lemon. When the lemon is zested, it is time to cook your pasta. Honestly, mini ravioli, regular-sized ravioli, tortellini – go crazy! – this dish is about the vibrancy of the lemon, so for the sake of recreating the Misi dish I used mini cheese raviolis but regardless of what you use, you want to PAR-COOK your cheese-filled pasta. If you have frozen ravioli, drop them in your boiling and SALTED water for about 3 minutes. If you have fresh ravioli, you will only need about 30 seconds. Reserve 1 tsp. of your cooking liquid, strain your ravioli, and set aside.

In a sauce pan over medium-low heat, add 1 heaping tB. of butter, 1 tB. of olive oil and the tsp. of reserved cooking liquid. Let the butter fully melt and taste with the back of the spoon. Season with salt and white pepper IF NECESSARY. *** The use of white pepper is necessary in this dish because you want a hint of peppery flavor without interfering with the simple yellow beauty of the plate *** Add 3/4 of the zested lemon, stir into your sauce, increase to medium heat, and re-add your raviolis to finish cooking in the lemon butter sauce. You do not want to heat the lemon butter sauce TOO HIGH because your butter will start to brown. After about 3 minutes cooking on the stovetop, your raviolis will be ready to be plated. Finish the dish with a sprinkle of the remaining 1/4 of the zested lemon.

If you want to be extra fancy and go there extra mile to re-create this dish, find yourself some bottarga to grate on top as well — they DO NOT carry bottarga at Best Market 🙂 Also, if you think you DON’T like bottarga, like my friend who said “she hates bottarga” but loved this dish and ate it 3 times with me in one night, give it another chance. HOWEVER, if you don’t love lemon, this dish is probably not for you. If you hadn’t noticed.

Head of the Class

We eat A LOT of cauliflower in my house. It’s a vegetable my husband and my daughters actually enjoy so it’s often on repeat, and often just roasted florets with coconut oil, salt and pepper. So it was time to tackle the WHOLE ROASTED CAULIFLOWER trend. My concern? Getting the flavor to permeate throughout the entire cauliflower since it’s such a large and dense vegetable.

To combat this problem I went to the trusty international aisle at my local Whole Foods and found the succinctly named Mother in Law’s Gochujang Bibimbap Chile Sauce – Sesame – ha! FYI this sauce is peanut-free and vegan and comes it a variety of sub-flavors. Having found our marinade for the evening, here was the gameplan:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. The first step is to trim all of the leaves off the cauliflower and cut the stem a little bit without interfering with the structure of the cauliflower head. Then, in a glass dish, I melted 3/4 cup of coconut oil in the microwave. I mixed the entire jar of gochujang sauce in with the coconut oil and then added a giant heaping tablespoon of chopped garlic. ***Adding the coconut oil was a necessary step for me because the oil allows the cauliflower to get the perfect crisp exterior. Without the oil, the marinade would just absorb into the cauliflower and it would get soft without getting that beautiful charred exterior you see above.

Once the marinade was well-incorporated, I flipped the cauliflower heads UPSIDE DOWN on my baking dish and drizzled the marinade into the underbelly of the cauliflower. THIS IS KEY!!! If you skip this step, your cauliflower head will only have flavor on the outer perimeter and be completely bland on the inside. Once the marinade has been administered, give an even sprinkle of garlic salt and pepper to the undersides of the cauliflowers before turning over.

Once your cauliflower heads are upright it’s time to get DIRTY. Split the remaining marinade over the tops of the 3 cauliflowers and use your hands to massage it evenly into all surfaces. Again, once the marinade is covering the tops of the cauliflower, season with garlic salt and pepper and its ready for the oven. I roasted my cauliflower in the 425 degree oven for 75 minutes, and then reduced the temperature to 350 for the remaining 15 minutes so this took 1 1/2 hours total. Because of the density of cooking cauliflower this way, it is SO important to take the time to cook it longer or use you will end up with cauliflower that is raw, cold and hard in the center.

Thankfully, this BEAUTIFUL (if I don’t say so myself) cauliflower was so tender you could cut through the entire head, including the stem, with the side of your fork. ALSO – the marinade was bursting with umami flavors! It actually reminded me of a much healthier version of one of my absolute favorite cauliflower dishes ever – the Cantonese Cauliflower at TAO Downtown, which is deep-fried and immensely satisfying. I served this cauliflower with a very simple soy-marinated, sesame-crusted salmon and while there was Zombies 2 in the background instead of French Montana, this Asian-inspired meal had our dining room popping!

Ginger-Spiced Cod with Grilled Pineapple Guacamole

At this point we might as well call me Sandra Lee because more and more my cooking techniques are drawing inspo from her old show, “Semi-Homemade.” I should also be sponsored by Whole Foods but alas, I’ll just share last night’s dinner.

Pacific Cod. Wild. On sale! Done! At this point I always buy 2 lbs. of fish for these recipes. It typically feeds the 3 adults at my table and renders some leftovers. By the seafood section at my Whole Foods they have their own selection of store-made spice rubs. To up the flavor for my cod, I selected the Organic Orange Ginger Spice Rub because I just love citrus undertones with seafood. With this spiced cod as my newly formed plan, I wanted to add an accoutrement that would double down on the fruit undertones without overpowering.

I was going to make my own mango salsa but time was of the essence. Instead, I bought the Whole Foods guacamole and a pineapple. When I got home, I sliced the pineapple into cubes, tossed about 1 cup of pineapple cubes in olive oil, salt and pepper and grilled them on a grill pan until they had grill marks on every side. When the pineapple cubes were grilled on all sides, I cut the pineapple into smaller cubes and added them to 1 cup of the guacamole with a dash of paprika to spice it up a bunch.

I cut the cod into individual (about 6 oz.) servings and then rubbed the entirety of each slice of fish in the orange ginger spice. With my grill pan already hot, I gave it another spray of Coconut Oil and grilled the fish on both sides until it was flaking and almost falling apart (about 3 minutes per side).

Once the fish was plated, I added a large spoonful of the grilled pineapple guacamole on top of each filet of cod and garnished with a little sprinkle of red pepper flake for color. I wish I had herbs, because they would have made a perfect garniture as well, and I just love fresh herbs with fresh fish, but that’s what happens when you use up all your herbs for your new favorite herb salad — which seriously, if you haven’t tried yet, you are really missing out. This is the jam, and would go perfect with this fish.