Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ranch Oyster Crackers

My last two posts have mentioned that evil chemical product otherwise known as ranch dressing. I can't bring myself to read the entire ingredient list on the back of the Hidden Valley Ranch bottle, that's how bad it is. But now and then it comes in handy to add some zip to a salad or sandwich. Happily, Mama Pea has come up with an all-natural way to enjoy those tangy ranch flavors with this recipe for Ranch Oyster Crackers. Thank you, Mama Pea.

In a happy side note, I developed a ranch dressing for a dairy-free/egg-free client yesterday using this same spice mix. I combined it with some Vegenaise, soy yogurt and red wine vinegar and voila - a ranch you can feel good about.

Ranch Oyster Crackers - by Mama Pea (my notes in parentheses)

2 t. garlic powder
2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. dry mustard
1/2 t. dry dill
2 t. dried parsley
1 t. dried chives (my addition)
1 t. kosher salt
3 T. canola oil
One 8-ounce package of oyster crackers

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all the dry seasonings and mix well.

Add oil and stir to combine.

Pour the oyster crackers into the bowl and toss with a spatula to coat.
(at this point I started to taste them, and they were good even before cooking - always a good sign)

Transfer the crackers to a baking sheet (lined with parchment if you hate washing dishes like I do).

Bake for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

Let cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Slow-Cooked Honey Barbecue Ribs and Bacon-Ranch Slaw

If you have a rib-lover in your house, you've got to put this recipe in your rotation. It practically cooks itself in the crock pot, leaving you hours to do other things - like put a CPK Barbecue Chicken Pizza in the oven for the family members who don't like ribs. I also managed to wrap all the Christmas gifts, finish writing out the holiday cards (if yours doesn't arrive soon, you're not getting one), walk the dog and do some paperwork while dinner was cooking.

I created the side dish knowing that slaw is a natural partner for barbecue spare ribs; however, my mayonnaise-hating crew won't touch it. So I substituted Ranch dressing for the mayo (brilliant, I know) and added another known entity, bacon, to make the side dish something they'd eat. And you know what? It worked. P.S. - The slaw was mighty tasty with the Barbecue Chicken Pizza, too.

Slow-Cooked Honey Barbecue Ribs and Bacon-Ranch Slaw
Serves 4

2 racks baby back pork ribs (about 2# each)
1 26-ounce carton reduced-sodium beef broth
2 - 3 T. honey mustard
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup maple syrup
extra barbecue sauce for later

1 12-ounce bag Mann's Broccoli Slaw
reduced-fat Ranch dressing (whatever brand you like)
crumbled real bacon bits

1. Remove the silverskin from the ribs and cut them into 4-rib sections. Place in a greased crock pot.

2. Combine all the remaining rib ingredients in a large bowl (except for the "extra barbecue sauce for later") and stir to combine. Pour over the ribs in the crock pot. The ribs should be pretty much submerged.

3. Cover and cook on HIGH for 5 hours. After 4 hours, if you feel like it, open the lid a crack and use a fork or tongs to push down on the ribs that are sticking up out of the liquid.

4. Before serving, preheat your broiler and line a sheet pan with aluminum foil (for easier clean-up). Use tongs to remove the ribs from the crock pot. Lay them, meaty side up, on the baking sheet and pour some of the extra barbecue sauce over them. Broil for 4 minutes or so, just long enough to get the sauce sticking to the meat. Serve with more barbecue sauce if desired.


Pour the bag of broccoli slaw into a large bowl. Add a couple of glugs of Ranch dressing. Stir. If you'd like more Ranch, continue adding it until the slaw looks good to you. Use tongs to put on plates. Top servings with crumbled bacon bits.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winter Salad with Sesame-Ginger Dressing

It's so easy to throw together a salad in the summer; in the winter, salads can get ho-hum. This bright salad can be made any time of year, but its colors and flavors are especially welcome in winter.

These vegetables will be quite happy with any sort of dressing, so please use anything you like - a simple vinaigrette, olive oil and lemon juice, or even (gasp) Ranch dressing would be just fine. I was in an Asian frame of mind, so I created the Sesame-Ginger dressing.

I enjoyed this as a side dish with an entree of Orange-Maple Glazed Scallops last night. Today, I had it for lunch on top of brown rice, with a bit of goat cheese crumbled on top. Who knows what I'll do with it tomorrow.

Winter Salad with Sesame-Ginger Dressing
Serves 4

1 head organic broccoli
1 bunch organic carrots, peeled and grated
1 cup of cooked chick peas
1 - 2 beets, peeled and grated
Optional: Sunflower seeds or sesame seeds


1 T. minced shallot
1 t. tahini
2 T. rice vinegar
1 t. Dijon mustard
2 T. canola oil
salt and pepper
squeeze of ginger

1. Cut florets from broccoli. Place in a glass bowl. Cover with a damp paper towel and microwave for 3 minutes, or until crisp-tender.

2. Combine steamed broccoli with shredded carrots and chick peas. DON'T ADD THE BEETS until you are ready to serve - otherwise they will turn the whole salad purple.

3. Make the dressing by combining all ingredients in the bowl of an immersion blender and blending until combined. Taste and tweak ingredients to you taste.

4. If preparing ahead, store the vegetables, beets and dressing separately. When ready to serve, add the beets to the salad and drizzle the dressing over the top.

5. Add sunflower seeds or sesame seeds if desired and serve cold or at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash, Baby Greens and Prosciutto

When I met my husband, he was amazed at so many of my qualities, foremost possibly being the enormous amount of pasta I could eat in one sitting. For my birthday, he decided to make me dinner - spaghetti. Twenty-five years later, he still cooks me spaghetti on my birthday. It's the only day of the year that he cooks, and he's much more streamlined than the first year, when he had to take half a day off of work to make the meal.

Pasta seems to fit the bill at any time of the day for me. In fact, I invented a Breakfast Pasta recently, but I couldn't find the camera (and I was starving), so that one never got posted. But it was good!

The Butternut Squash/Greens idea came to me because I've been seeing those boxes of Olivia's Organic Cooking Greens at the store, and my healthy side really wanted to do something with them. "Add pasta," said the devil on my right shoulder. "What else?" I wondered. "How about some of that good-looking butternut squash?" whispered the angel on my left shoulder. "Now I need something meaty or salty," I thought. "How about prosciutto?" offered the devil. "And some Parmesan, too!"

And so a new pasta dish was born. I enjoyed a bowl for dinner last night and another for lunch today, and I've gotta tell you, it's even better the second day. I am hoping that when I get up from the computer and go to the fridge, there's still more left so I can have it again tonight. And it's not even my birthday!

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash, Baby Greens and Prosciutto
Serves 4

The essentials:

1 package diced butternut squash
1 - 2 shallots, chopped very large
1 - 2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
8 ounces pasta
1 box Olivia's Organics Cooking Greens

The other stuff - pick and choose what you like:

Wegman's Basting Oil
low-sodium chicken broth
prosciutto (or crumbled cooked sausage)
grated Parmesan Cheese
dried crushed red pepper flakes
a pat of butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick spray. Toss the cut up squash and shallots with the olive oil, salt and pepper on the sheet and roast for 30 - 45 minutes, or until the squash is tender but not mushy. Remove from oven.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a good pinch of salt and the pasta. Cook until done. Drain, saving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Time to multitask: At the same time you're roasting the squash and boiling the water, get out a skillet, heat over medium, and add a drizzle of olive oil. Add the greens and stir around until they start to wilt. Add a splash of stock if you want, and some salt and pepper, and cover the pan and let the greens wilt for a few minutes.

After you drain the pasta, place it in the skillet with the greens. Add the roasted squash and shallots. Toss it all together. Drizzle it with the Basting oil if you'd like. Add some salt, pepper and crushed red pepper if you'd like. Add some cooking water or more broth if you'd like. Add a pat of butter (that was the devilish side speaking). Stir until it tastes good to you.

Place the pasta/vegetable mixture in a serving bowl. Add bite-size strips of prosciutto and a good sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Grind a little black pepper over the bowl and serve.