Being Mrs. Pierce

Life as a wife, hiker, wanna-be chef, book-lover, traveler, and now, mom

Skinny Broccoli Mac and Cheese March 22, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 8:40 PM
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On the same day that I made the Crustless Swiss Chard Pie for lunch, I made a second vegetarian recipe from The Skinnytaste Cookbook for dinner: Skinny Broccoli Mac and Cheese. John comments from time to time about loving broccoli-and-cheese or mac-and-cheese. Since I rarely cook either one, I thought I’d treat him to both in one go while also getting in another recipe for my vegetarian cooking challenge.

This dish is designed to be a vegetarian main, but I have to admit that I pulled out some leftover steak from the fridge to serve alongside it. I know, I know. That seems especially like cheating to me now, 10 days later, when I am on the eve of launching Mark Bittman’s VB6 (Vegan Before 6) diet plan.

At any rate, the broccoli mac and cheese was delicious, and it would make for a tasty main. It was very filling thanks to the pasta (I used 100% whole wheat rotini) and cheese (2% cheddar). The leftovers were surprisingly good, as well. Milk-based dishes often don’t hold up to refrigeration and reheating, but this one did fairly well. John, especially, loved this recipe all three nights we had it. It earned a solid 4 stars, putting it at the top of my March Cooking Challenge list.

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Crustless Swiss Chard Pie

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 1:54 PM
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The focus of my March cooking challenge is vegetarian dishes, so while on spring break earlier this month I cooked up the Crustless Swiss Chard Pie from The Skinnytaste Cookbook. I have grown to love Swiss chard, and it is now my go-to leafy green. Typically I sauté the chard in a little olive oil (and unsalted butter, if I’m feeling indulgent) with minced garlic, salt, and pepper, so I was curious to try this alternate way of preparing the vegetable.

I found the pie slightly tedious to prepare. There were vegetables to chop, two cheeses to grate, and eggs to beat. The onion and chard had to be sautéed on the stove before being added to the pie filling. While none of this was difficult, it did take time and dirtied up a lot of dishes. And then when the pie was all assembled, it still had to bake for half an hour before being eaten.

I served the pie for lunch alongside some leftover French onion soup. It was tasty, no doubt, but not so delicious that I found the effort of its preparation truly worthwhile. Skinnytaste author Gina Homolka admits that this pie is her way of getting picky eaters in her family to eat Swiss chard. Since both John and I happily eat sautéed Swiss chard, I will likely stick with that in the future. The pie did hold up well as leftovers, however, and we rated the recipe at a very respectable 3.5 stars.

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Crustless Swiss Chard Pie

Cooking spray
1 small bunch Swiss chard, washed well (I used red Swiss chard)
1 TB unsalted butter
1 large white onion, cut into thin half moons
salt
black pepper
1/2 cup grated light Swiss cheese (2.5 oz)
2 TB grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup fat-free milk
1 tsp olive oil
2 large eggs, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly spray a 9-inch pie plate with oil.

2. Separate the stems from the leaves of the chard. Finely chop the stems; roll up the leaves and slice them into thin ribbons.

3. In a large skillet, melt 1/2 TB of the butter over low heat. Add the onion and a pinch each of salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the onions caramelize, 8 to 10 more minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

4. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the remaining 1/2 TB butter and the chard stems. Cook, stirring, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chard leaves and cook until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with 1/4 tsp salt and black pepper to taste and add them to the bowl of onions. Add the cheeses and toss well.

5. Sift the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk, olive oil, eggs, and 1/4 tsp salt. Pour into the bowl of Swiss chard and mix well. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie plate.

6. Bake until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean, 27 to 30 minutes. Let it stand at least 5 minutes before serving. Slice into 6 wedges.

Yield: 6 servings. Per serving, 4 PointsPlus.

 

Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie March 1, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:42 PM
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It is well established among my family and friends that I am a planner. I like to know, well in advance, what I am doing and when. The word “spontaneous” is rarely used to describe me.

 

So when the most recent round of winter weather got in the way of long-ago-made plans to drive to DFW on Friday night and go to The Avett Brothers concert in Dallas on Saturday night, I was not happy. Sure, John and I could have made a last-minute drive up Saturday afternoon once the ice had melted, but that would have been rushed and not according to plan.

 

So we didn’t go. Some lucky soul snagged our tickets for cheap on StubHub. I worked on grad school assignments. John wrote lesson plans.

 

In other words, we had the exact same weekend that we’ve had nearly every weekend this school year. Can I say how much I am ready to finish my counseling certification program?

 

Our change of plans at least allowed me to make one last chocolate dessert for my February cooking challenge. While both the Chocolate Pain Perdu and the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Brownies were huge hits, they also were decidedly guilty pleasures. Butter, eggs, whole milk, chocolate…they were delicious for good reason. With no one but John and me to eat this weekend’s dessert, though, I decided I had better go with something light. I picked the Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie recipe that I had recently seen on the Skinnytaste blog. Instead of flour, the recipe calls for white beans. I’ve had middling success with using beans in place of flour in desserts. These Flourless Chocolate Chip Chickpea Blondies were quite yummy, but these Black Bean Brownies were rather disappointing.

 

I used my 7-cup KitchenAid food processor to make the batter. When I pressed the “on” button to blend the dates and milk, I had quite a surprise. The machine gave a great lurch and the lid popped off, sending almond milk everywhere. Hmm. That was new. I resecured the lid, held it tight with one hand, and pressed “on” once again. It shook. It grumbled. My food processor made its displeasure at having to puree dates obvious. Frankly, I was a little scared of my machine. I hoped that adding the additional ingredients would soothe it, but no. It jiggled and gurgled for as long as I dared to keep it running. Hmm again.

 

For the beans, I used great northern. For the oil, pecan. And for the chocolate chips, milk. I only have a 9-inch springform pan, so that’s what I used instead of the 10-inch. For this reason, I should have baked my cookie pie for at least 40 minutes, but I baked it only 35. It seemed “firm” enough after 35 minutes, but when I cut into it 20 minutes later, it was still rather gooey. With the recipe being egg-less, though, I wasn’t too worried about it being slightly under-done.

 

I served the cookie pie warm with Blue Bell light vanilla ice cream, and it was fine. The melted chocolate chips tasted great with the cold ice cream. But it had the consistency and taste of a dessert made with beans. I gave it 3 stars. We will eat the rest of it, but I doubt I make it again.

 

Epilogue:
While eating a piece of the cookie pie today, John discovered a date pit. Was this the source of my food processor’s discomfort? Or was it just mad at facing 2 cups of sticky dates?  Or is my machine on the fritz?  Hmm.

 

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Brownies February 22, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:32 PM
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Typically I am not a joiner, especially when it comes to work-related social events. I enjoy sharing lunch with my teammates, chatting with colleagues at professional development meetings, and exchanging rants over the error-prone copier in the workroom. But I usually avoid work parties and Secret Santa and the like. They’re just not for me and my introverted self. So I surprised myself by signing up for the Secret Valentine exchange at work earlier this month. Graduate school has me rather stressed, so perhaps it was a moment of sleep-deprived whimsy. When I drew my secret valentine, though, I was rather excited because I would get to surprise Jenny, our school receptionist. She beautifully handles a job I could never have. She is the one person standing between irate parents and the rest of us. She is kind but firm. I would cry.

 

On her secret valentine profile, Jenny wrote in the food section that she likes dark chocolate, peppermints, peanuts, and coffee. Immediately I thought of the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Brownies that I had seen on the Girl versus Dough blog around Christmastime. These brownies would incorporate three of Jenny’s four favorites in one go. Plus, they would count towards my February chocolate cooking challenge. I picked up the ingredients for the brownies that very day.

 

I followed the recipe directions exactly, and soon I was rewarded with a beautiful pan of brownies that smelled ridiculously good.

 

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I made the brownies on a work night, so I hurried along the final stages of brownie making in which the chocolate mocha brownies are transformed into peppermint-topped ones. I did not take as much care as I could have when drizzling on the dark chocolate at the end, so my brownies often had globs rather than decorative streaks of chocolate running across their tops. I wasn’t too worried; I just knew they were going to be delicious no matter what the topping looked like.  The only deviation I made from the recipe was that I used soft peppermint candies rather than hard peppermints, mainly because I knew the leftover soft candies would happily be eaten by my husband.

 

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While the dark chocolate topping was still slightly soft, my husband and I ate a brownie apiece. They truly were as amazing as promised on Stephanie’s blog. She and I apparently share not only a first name but also the exact same taste in brownies–fudgy and chewy, if you please. I gave them 5 stars. John was slightly less enthusiastic, as neither dark chocolate nor chocolate-and-mint are his favorite flavors, but he still gave them 4 stars.  I wrapped up a plate of the brownies and couldn’t wait to surreptitiously deliver them to Jenny the next day.  I knew the brownies were a hit when she oohed and aahed about them on Facebook that night.  Maybe I can be a joiner after all.

 

Chocolate Pain Perdu February 15, 2015

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While growing up we teasingly called my sister “Sweet Tooth,” but really, I have always been just as addicted to sweets. So it’s safe to say that I have been most excited about this month of my 2015 Cooking Challenge. February is chocolate dessert month!

 

I kicked off the chocolate dessert challenge last Saturday night when we had my mother-in-law, Loveta, over for dinner. I had been dying to try Chocolate Pain Perdu from Melissa d’Arabian’s Ten Dollar Dinners cookbook. As a lover of both French toast and bread pudding (not to mention chocolate), this sweet treat had my name written all over it.

 

I never buy white bread, but I made an exception for this dish. My husband was rather thrilled to have a loaf of Mrs. Baird’s white bread on hand, as he’s mostly subjected to the loaves of light whole wheat bread that I typically buy for my work lunch sandwiches.

 

I was slightly unsure about how to arrange the bread triangles in the loaf pan. I ended up laying them flat and layering them atop one another, which worked fine. You can see the top layer of triangles in the baked pain perdu pictured below:

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The recipe instructs you to whip 1/4 cup heavy cream for the topping, but I opted for light vanilla ice cream instead. I’m unable to resist serving cold ice cream on top of warm desserts. (This is why I have to limit myself to only having light ice cream in the freezer.)

 

With or without the ice cream, however, this is a stellar dessert. We gave it 4.5 stars that night, but it’s really a 5-star recipe. Need proof? I made it again last night to end our Valentine’s dinner at home. It’s that good.

 

Slow Cooker Beef Marsala Stew with Fluffy Mashed Potatoes February 5, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 8:00 PM
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On the last day of January, I made the final slow cooker recipe for my January 2015 Cooking Challenge: Beef Marsala Stew. The recipe came from the December 2014 edition of Cooking Light, which had granted the stew front-cover status:
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My mom gifted me a subscription to Cooking Light last year, and I’ve loved getting my monthly delivery in the mail. Browsing online for new recipes is fun and convenient, but I still find turning the pages of paper-based magazines and cookbooks preferable.  What can I say?  I’m wired for the last century, not this one.

 

I normally would have bypassed this recipe, as it requires additional cooking on the stove both before and after the stew simmers in the slow cooker. But I suspected that my husband would love it, and frankly, it looked darn delicious in that cover shot.

 

The recipe calls for cipollini onions, which were not to be found in any of my nearby grocery stores, so I subbed a 14-oz bag of frozen peeled pearl onions instead. The only other change I made to the recipe was at the end when it says to boil the cooking liquid for 6 minutes until it reduces to 2 cups. I only had about 1.5 cups of cooking liquid left after I strained the stew, so I just brought it to a boil and immediately added the wine-flour “slurry.” I am not sure why I ended up with so little cooking liquid; perhaps I let the wine-broth mixture cook down too far in the beginning stages of the recipe. At any rate, the paucity of liquid did not affect the final result of the stew, which was fantastic. Here is the final, thick-and-hearty result in the Dutch oven just prior to serving:

 

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Cooking Light suggested serving the stew atop Fluffy Mashed Potatoes, so I whisked up a batch to serve as the “bed” for the stew. This was the only weak part of the meal. The potatoes were fine–but nothing spectacular–on their own. I liked how they let the stew shine when eaten together, but I will try another mashed potato recipe next time I make this stew. And make it again I shall. This beef stew was worth the time and hassle of its preparation, earning 4.5 stars from my husband and me. It was a last-minute entry, but it won the race. Beef Marsala Stew beat out the slow cooker competition to be my highest-rated slow cooker recipe for the month of January!

 

Slow Cooker Herbed Apricot Pork Tenderloin January 28, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:05 PM
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Last weekend I spent my Saturday supporting John and his high school students at a UIL Academics invitational meet, so that left me with just Sunday in which to whip up a slow cooker recipe for my January cooking challenge. After the success of the Balsamic Pork Tenderloin earlier this month, I was eager to try a different twist on a slow cooker pork recipe. I selected Herbed Apricot Pork Loin Roast from my mother-in-law’s Diabetic Living: Favorite Slow Cooker Recipes cookbook. My husband makes delicious Apricot-Glazed Pork Chops, so I’d been eager to try this particular slow cooker recipe for a while.

 

At the store, I did not have any luck finding a 3-pound pork loin roast, but there was a 3-pound pork tenderloin available that I snagged instead. According to this guide, the two cuts should not be interchangeable, but I’ve done it in the past to no ill effect (as long as the tenderloin isn’t overcooked). To that end, I cooked the tenderloin on low for 5.5 hours rather than the 6-8 hour time frame called for in the original recipe. After 5.5 hours, the tenderloin easily came apart into large pieces on my platter.

 

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I thickened the apricot sauce on the stove and poured it on top of the pork. To complete the meal, I served roasted cauliflower and sautéed Brussels sprouts on the side. The original recipe calls for sliced fresh apricots to be served alongside the pork, but with it being January, I omitted the out-of-season fruit and went heavy on the vegetables.

 

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The pork was very delicious – moist and slightly sweet thanks to the apricot spread in the sauce. I granted it an immediate 4 stars, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed eating the leftovers, which have made for easy, tasty sandwiches over the past few days. John also liked the apricot pork, but the Balsamic Pork Tenderloin remains his favorite recipe of the month. As for me, I am undecided which of the two recipes would be my top choice!  They were both winners.

 

Herbed Apricot Pork Tenderloin

[adapted from Diabetic Living: Favorite Slow Cooker Recipes]

1 3-lb pork tenderloin
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, divided
1 10-oz jar apricot spreadable fruit
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
2 TB Dijon mustard
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp snipped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 TB water
4 tsp cornstarch

1. Season pork with salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. In a medium bowl, combine spreadable fruit, onion, mustard, lemon zest, rosemary, sage, thyme, and remaining 1/4 tsp black pepper.

2. Place pork in a 5- or 6-quart capacity slow cooker. Pour fruit mixture on top of pork.

3. Cover and cook on low for 5.5 hours.

4. Remove pork from slow cooker, reserving liquid. Cover pork loosely with foil while preparing sauce.

5. In a medium saucepan, combine water and cornstarch. Carefully pour in liquid from slow cooker. Cook and stir until sauce has become thick and bubbly; cook and stir for an additional 2 minutes. Pour sauce over pork and serve.

Yield: 8 servings