Spinach Gratin

Spinach Gratin

Inspiration: As you may be able to tell from some of our previous posts (zucchini, spaghetti squashGuaranteed Car Loans, butternut squash and poblano), we love a good vegetable gratin. Our suppers are always vegetable-heavy in the side dish department, and it’s always nice to mix it up sometimes and make a side that’s a little more interesting (and a little more cheesy, of course) than simply sauteed vegetables, which is what we normally tend to do. 

What we Loved: This is a lovely gratin with a nice Italian flair and plenty of spinach flavor. All of the different cheeses add their own great flavors, with a subtle freshness and creaminess from the ricotta; a nutty sharpness from the Parmesan; and a gooey, slightly browned richness from the havarti. Even with all of these cheeses, though, the vegetable goodness of the spinach really shines through and is the dominant flavor. And we really loved the hint of nutmeg in every bite, too. For whatever reason, nutmeg is just such an awesome complement to gratins and always provides that extra little something that really makes the dish shine.

Tips: Make sure to squeeze out all of the excess water from your spinach before adding it to the mix. There’s a lot of water in there, and leaving it in might cause the gratin to be watery. I dumped the bag into a colander and squeezed the water out with my hands.

Zucchini Gratin
Source: Adapted from Linden Tea

1 small onion, diced
1 16 oz bag frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess water
2 eggs
About 2/3 cup fresh ricotta cheese
About 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Ground nutmeg
About 1/2 cup grated cheese for topping (I used Havarti, but I think additional Parmesan or Gruyere would be great)

1. Heat a pat of butter in a small saute pan. Add the onions, and saute until softened and beginning to brown.

2. Place the sauteed onions, spinach, eggs, ricotta, and Parmesan in a bowl. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg. Stir well to combine.

3. Place the spinach mixture in a baking dish, and top with the additional grated cheese. Cook at 400 degrees until heated through, about 20 minutes. Turn on the broiler for about 5 minutes at the end to brown the cheese to your liking.

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Smoked Salmon Mousse

Smoked Salmon Mousse

Inspiration: I made this dish with Brandon in mind. He still talks about a smoked salmon spread that we had a few years ago as an appetizer one time at a fancy restaurant, so I thought I’d try to recreate something similar at home. It sure took me long enough, but I guess that’s what happens when I have more recipes on my to-try list than I’ll ever have the time to make. There is just too much good food in the world, isn’t there?

What We Loved: I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of salmon spreads (something about pureed fish just doesn’t do it for me), so I wasn’t entirely looking forward to this recipe. I knew that I’d think it was all right, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed this spread a lot. It’s creamy and cheesy, yet it has a nice, fresh salmon flavor that’s certainly the main component of the recipe (though not overpowering in the slightest). I rarely use dill because I don’t enjoy the flavor very much, but I do always find that it pairs so excellently with salmon. The fresh herbal bite really adds a nice pop of flavor in this recipe. We enjoyed this spread with cucumber slices alongside some fantastic steamed crab legs (another of Brandon’s favorite foods) for a lovely and light seafood supper.

Tips: Make sure to bring your cream cheese to room temperature before trying to puree everything in your food processor. Cold cream cheese really doesn’t allow for pureeing.

Smoked Salmon Mousse
Source: The Way the Cookie Crumbles

4 oz smoked salmon
4 oz cream cheese, brought to room temperature
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor, and process until smooth.

2. Serve with cucumber slices.

Zucchini Gratin

Zucchini Gratin

Inspiration: What’s your favorite vegetable? I don’t know why, but for some reason, it gives me satisfaction in my head to think of my favorite things. My favorite book is Wuthering Heights. My favorite wines are Cabernet Franc (for red) and chardonnay (for white). My favorite band is Dave Matthews Band. Even though these things may change tomorrow – for right now, at this minute – they make me me. So my favorite vegetable? Today, it’s zucchini. It’s so wonderful when it’s cooked very simply – just sauteed up with some butter and Kosher salt until nice and browned – but it also lends itself well to much more complex dishes. At our place, zucchini is usually on the plate several times a week in one form or another.

What we Loved: I’m always up for a good gratin (who isn’t?), and this gratin doesn’t disappoint. It combines the light and fresh vegetable flavor of zucchini with some lovely ingredients with much stronger flavors – namely, rich sauteed onions and nutty gruyere cheese. How can you go wrong with that combination? What I love about this dish is that it’s a nice and cheesy gratin, yet the cheese and cream in the dish aren’t so extravagant and overpowering that you can’t taste the zucchini. That vegetable flavor that I love is still prominent alongside the other stronger flavors. I served this up alongside our favorite roasted chicken with some sauvignon blanc for a perfect, comforting meal.

Tips: I’m thinking that a pinch of nutmeg would go well in this dish. I always think that nutmeg works really well in gratins, and I think that it just might add that nice little extra something here, too.

Zucchini Gratin

Source: Adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Jamie Samford

2 lbs small zucchini, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

1. Put the shredded zucchini in a colander, and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let stand for at least 5 minutes, then squeeze as much of the liquid out of the zucchini as possible using your hands.

2. Melt the butter in a saute pan. Add the onions, and cook until softened. Add the zucchini, stir, and cook for a few more minutes until the zucchini is just softened. Add the cream, and simmer until thickened.

3. Remove the mixture from the heat, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a baking dish, and top with the shredded Gruyere.

4. Bake in a 350 degree  oven until the cheese is melted and the everything is heated through.

Parmesan Crisps with Avocado and Cilantro

Inspiration: I would like to eat avocados three meals per day. A really great batch of guacamole, actually, might be my single favorite food in life.  And aside from guac, avocados are perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, either on their own or mixed into a recipe. Nearly every single time that I serve Mexican or Southwestern food, avocados are on our plates in some form. They complement nearly any grilled or sauteed meat or fish. They’re a great topping for soups and a great ingredient in salads, salsas, and omelets. And, they’re packed full of nutrients. Needless to say, I don’t need much of a push to throw anything with avocados onto the menu.

What We Loved: Nutty Parmesan cheese with creamy avocado is really just a fabulous pairing. Those two ingredients each have rich, intense flavors that complement each other so well, and the touch of fresh cilantro and sprinkle of salt and pepper on top add just the right amount of garnish and spice. These little bites are rich and decadent, yet at the same time, they’re still light and sophisticated.

Tips: We served these as a side dish to some lobster and crab cakes, but they would really be fabulous as an appetizer. One avocado will go a long way when it’s sliced so thinly, so you could make a whole tray of them to serve up. Since avocado browns so quickly, though, I would suggest making these immediately prior to serving and maybe sprinkling some lime juice on the avocado slices to help prevent browning.

Parmesan Crisps with Avocado and Cilantro
Source: Original Recipe

1 batch Parmesan crisps
1 avocado, thinly sliced
Handful fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1. Carefully top each Parmesan crisp with a few slices of avocado and a sprig of cilantro. Season to taste with Kosher salt and black pepper.

Lima Beans with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Onion

Inspiration: I end up making some of the best dishes when I have no idea what to make (and unfortunately, that’s where some of my very worst dishes come from, too). Some random bacon, a couple of mushrooms that never got used, half of a bag of lima beans in the freezer? Sounds good to me. Plus, I could live off of lima beans. I know that they’re one of the most hated foods (why??), but Brandon and I could both probably eat them three times a day and never tire of them. Lima bean omelet, anyone?

What We Loved: To be honest, when it comes to lima beans, you really can’t beat simply cooking them and then mixing them with butter, Kosher salt, and pepper. To both of us, that’s the perfect preparation. But, this recipe takes a very close second. Rich bacon, sweet onions, and earthy mushrooms just add huge amounts of flavor to the creamy beans, and a healthy dose of salt really takes those flavors over the edge. All of the ingredients are mixed in a pan with the fat from the bacon, so everything is also just coated in that rich flavor. We both give this side dish an A+.

Tips: One of the things that we both love so much about lima beans is their fabulous creamy texture, which works really well in this dish. However, I’m sure that this combination of ingredients would be good with other vegetables substituted for the lima beans, too. Thin slices of sauteed and browned zucchini come to mind as a great option.

Lima Beans with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Onion
Source: Original Recipe

4 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 onion, diced
8-10 cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cups frozen lima beans
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. Place the lima beans in a sauce pan with water, and cook according to package directions.

2. While the lima beans are cooking, add the bacon to a saute pan over medium heat. Cook until the bacon is beginning to crisp and has rendered some of its fat, about 4-5 mintues.

3. Add the onion and mushrooms to the bacon, and stir to combine. Cook until the bacon is crispy, the water released from the mushrooms has evaporated, and the mushrooms and onions are softened and beginning to brown.

4. Drain the cooked lima beans, and add them to the pan. Season to taste with Kosher salt and black pepper.

Spicy Black-Eyed Peas with Bacon

Inspiration: My single favorite summer food? Hands down, it’s Brandon’s slow cooked pulled pork on the charcoal grill. Heck, I’m tempted to say that it’s even my favorite meal. And the process is fun, too – there’s just something great about sitting outside in the sunshine all day (playing Scrabble and drinking caipirinhas and beer, as we did this last time) while your dinner cooks away on the grill. And I always like to stick to a Southern theme when we have pulled pork, so this time around the sides were deviled eggs and black-eyed peas.

What We Loved: These had a great kick! I added both Cajun seasoning and sliced jalapenos, so there was definitely plenty of spice. With a little earthy oregano, some smoky bacon, and sweet onions cooked in the bacon grease, these beans really had a nice flavor profile. And as always with beans, I just loved the creamy texture.

Tips: While we really enjoyed this dish, we found that the spice level made it hard to taste the other components of the meal. As a result, I actually ended up saving these and eating them all last. So, I might recommend either toning down the spice level if you will be eating these alongside milder foods or just eating them as a meal in their own right. I could definitely just dig right into a whole bowl of them!

Spicy Black-Eyed Peas with Bacon
Source: Inspired from Caviar and Codfish, serves 4-6 as a side dish

6 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
Dried oregano
Cajun seasoning
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 jalapeno, sliced

1. Heat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and saute until starting to crisp. Drain any extraneous fat.

2. Add the onions to the pan, and saute for a few more minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, and stir to combine.

3. Add the black-eyed peas. Season to taste with oregano, just a dash of Cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper. Mix together and cook over low heat for 5-10 mintues.

4. Add the jalapenos and serve.

Cherry Caprese

Cherry Caprese

Inspiration: Last August Brandon and I took an awesome week-long trip around Michigan visiting all of our local breweries, since we’re so lucky to live in a state with some of the best craft breweries in the nation. In between drinking beer (I think we hit 13 breweries/craft beer bars total), we hung out around all of the cities, did some random shopping and sightseeing, visited some parks, checked out a concert, and bought a great painting to hang above our sofa. One of the other little items that we ended up bringing home with us was a nice little bottle of cherry balsamic vinegar that we picked up in an olive oil and vinegar shop. It sat in the pantry all winter long until cherry season hit, and since then we’ve been enjoying it on all kinds of salads.

What We Loved: Both of us consider caprese to be the definition of a summer salad, and we enjoy it in its standard form quite often as a side dish or at restaurants. I didn’t think that it could be improved upon until I tried it this way. The subtle sweetness added to the dish (both in the form of the fresh cherries and the cherry balsamic vinegar) was really delightful. That sweet touch meshed perfectly with the juicy tomatoes, earthy basil, and creamy mozzarella. I used mozzarella that had been marinated in olive oil and Italian spices, so there were also some rich and herbal flavors added to the mix. With a touch of salt and pepper, the end result was a refreshing summer side dish and a great Michigan-inspired spin on traditional caprese.

Tips: After trying this salad, I think that other fruits would also be good in place of the cherries. Strawberry caprese or blueberry caprese both sound great for this time of year.

Cherry Caprese
Source: Original Recipe

Grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Basil, sliced chiffonade style
Fresh mozzarella, sliced
Cherries, pitted and sliced
Kosher salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Cherry balsamic vinegar

1. Place the tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, and cherries in a bowl.

2. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and cherry balsamic vinegar.