Happy Mother’s Day & Cooking for a Junior Girl Scout Cook Badge

Happy Mother’s Day! I wish all of the mom’s out there a beautiful and relaxing day. ‚̧ While Mr. BrookCook and my kids take care of me and the cooking today, I have time to share a special mother-daughter cooking project.

In order to earn a Junior Girl Scout Cook Badge, my daughter (with my help) had to cook a complete breakfast, a healthy dinner, and a delicious dessert. Understandably, she wanted to make meals that she wanted to eat! This was actually a great opportunity for her as she is harder to please when menu planning. It was a lesson in itself to see how much time and work is required to put together an entire meal. ūüôā

We made Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins for breakfast with fruit salad on the side. She loved cutting all of the fruit herself. For the “healthy” dinner, she prepared a No-Boil Macaroni and Cheese (recipe below) with Simple Caesar Salad. Healthy enough, right? She loved it so much we have already made it again.

We made a Lemon Meringue Pie, using a store-bought pie crust, for dessert. Not only did she make the pie, she typed out the recipe to share with her Girl Scout Troop. A big project! She did a great job and I was very proud of her. I hope that she continues to enjoy cooking more and more in the future. ‚̧

No-Boil Macaroni & Cheese (adapted from Bon Appetit)

Yield: 8 Servings

For the Pasta:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1¬†T coarse¬†salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more, to taste
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp white cheddar, divided

For the Topping:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 400¬į, preferably on convection.
  2. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute.
  4. Whisk in milk and 3 cups water.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, whisking often, until a very thin, glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes.
  6. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from heat.
  7. Toss pasta and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a 13x9x2-inch or other shallow 3-quart baking dish. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.
  8. Pour sauce over (pasta should be submerged; do not stir) and cover with foil.
  9. Bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

For the Topping:

  1. Melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic, panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To Finish the Dish:

  1. Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, then panko mixture.
  2. Bake until pasta is tender, edges are bubbling, and top is golden brown, about 10 minutes longer.
  3. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

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Pasta Primavera with Asparagus, Peas, & Cr√®me Fra√ģche

This quick and fresh dinner was truly springtime on a plate. It uses a combination of early spring vegetables- asparagus, peas, and scallions- which, as the author describes, makes it a “true celebration of the season.”

This recipe was adapted from the New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I modified the proportions and omitted the tarragon. I also used reserved pasta water to adjust the consistency of the sauce. Loved it!

Yield: Serves 6

  • 1/2 pound sugar snap peas, stems trimmed
  • 3/4¬†pound asparagus, ends snapped
  • 3¬†tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1¬†cup fresh English peas
  • 1/3¬†cup (5 large) thinly sliced spring onion, white part only (or use shallot)
  • 5¬†garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¬†coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 16¬†ounces pappardelle, fettuccine or tagliatelle, preferably fresh
  • 1¬†cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, at room temperature
  • 6 oz (3/4 cup)¬†cr√®me fra√ģche or whole milk Greek yogurt, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup¬†finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon, optional
  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, slice snap peas in half and asparagus stems into 1/4-inch-thick pieces; leave asparagus tips whole.
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add snap peas, asparagus, English peas and onion. Cook until vegetables are barely tender (but not too soft or mushy), 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
  5. Drop pasta into boiling water and cook until al dente (1 to 3 minutes for fresh pasta, more for dried pasta). Drain well, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
  6. Transfer pasta to the skillet of prepared vegetables or to a large bowl.
  7. Immediately toss pasta with vegetables, Parmigiano-Reggiano, cr√®me fra√ģche and herbs.
  8. Thin sauce to desired consistency with reserved pasta water.
  9. Season generously with salt and pepper, if needed, to taste. Serve.

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Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Skillet

Somehow, we seem to always have a conflict with a having timely Cinco de Mayo feast. This year, my son has his Swim Club Dinner Dance (at an Italian restaurant, by the way), so, we had our feast early. This way, there is also time to have a second feast. Good planning, right?

This quick and easy, crowd-pleasing dish was perfect for our early Cinco de Mayo celebration. It would be perfect for a Mexican-inspired weeknight meal any other day of the year too. We enjoyed it with chips and guacamole, of course. ūüėČ

This recipe was adapted from Epicurious.com, contributed by Anna Stockwell. I reduced the oven temperature, and increased the proportions as well as the pan size. Great.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total Time: 30 minutes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola¬†oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 ¬†teaspoons kosher salt
  • 24 oz (1 1/2 jars) medium red salsa (I used Trader Joe’s Garlic Chipotle Salsa)
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 6 corn tortillas, torn into quarters
  • 6 cups shredded cooked chicken (from 1 rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 to 2 cans (15.5-ounce each) black beans, drained, rinsed (I used 1 1/2 cans)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • cilantro, for garnish, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 425¬įF, preferably on convection.
  2. Combine salsa, sour cream, and 6 T water in a large bowl; stir to combine. Fold in tortillas, chicken, and beans until thoroughly coated.
  3. Heat oil in a 12″ ovenproof skillet over medium. (I used cast iron.)
  4. Add onion, garlic, cumin, and salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer onion mixture to the chicken and bean mixture; reserve hot skillet. Fold to incorporate evenly.
  6. Return mixture to reserved skillet and transfer to preheated oven until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Mixture should be bubbling on the edges.
  7. Remove skillet from the oven. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the top.
  8. Return skillet to oven and bake until cheese is lightly browned, melted and bubbling, about 7 to 10 minutes.
  9. Top with cilantro, if desired.

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Roasted Chicken Thighs over Herbed Pea & Spinach Puree

Another green sauce! The last one, for now… ūüôā

This is a wonderful, quick and healthy dish. As a sauce fan, I loved the idea of serving the roasted chicken over a colorful and tasty vegetable purée.

This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of bone-in, and reduced the oven temperature to accommodate roasting potatoes and asparagus simultaneously. I also incorporated pan drippings into the vegetable puree. Great.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas
  • coarse¬†salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, divided, and 1 T¬†fresh lemon juice, plus wedges for serving, optional
  • 3 T freshly grated Pecorino Romano, divided
  • 3 T¬† extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup (packed)¬†baby spinach
  • 10 boneless, skinless¬†chicken thighs
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, on convection roast.

  2. Cook peas in a small pot of boiling salted water 1 minute. Drain; transfer to a food processor.

  3. Add 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon juice, 1 tablespoon cheese, and 2 tablespoons oil. Season with salt and pepper; process until texture is similar to hummus. Add cilantro and 1 packed cup spinach; puree.

  4. Pat chicken dry; season with salt and pepper.

  5. Stir together remaining 2 tablespoons cheese and 1/2 teaspoon zest.

  6. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add chicken; cook until browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Spoon off fat and incorporate into puree, to taste. Discard excess fat left in the pan.

  7. Flip chicken and sprinkle with cheese mixture. Transfer to oven; roast until cooked through, about 15 minutes.

  8. Serve chicken over puree, with lemon wedges, if desired.

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Green Curry Pork Tenderloin

While I’m sharing delicious green sauces, I have another one to share… Thai green curry this time. ūüôā Using prepared curry paste is a wonderful shortcut, making this dish an elegant weeknight meal.

This dish comes from my favorite column, R.S.V.P., in Bon Appetit magazine. Subscribers write in to request recipes for dishes that stayed in their minds after dining out. This recipe was adapted from Root Down in Denver, Colorado. I doubled the meat and marinade, and increased the amount of garlic and the cooking time (internal meat temperature).

We ate it with steamed spinach over brown Basmati rice. I served the tenderloin over the spinach and rice so that every component was smothered in the wonderful sauce.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

For the Tenderloin:

  • ¬†1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup (4 T)¬†fresh orange juice
  • 2 T¬†pure maple syrup
  • 2 T¬†toasted sesame oil
  • 2 pork tenderloins (about 1 to 1¬Ĺ pounds each)
  • coarse¬†salt
  • 1 T¬†grapeseed or vegetable oil

For the Sauce & Assembly:

  • 1 T plus ¬Ĺ cup grapeseed or vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 medium shallot, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ¬ľ cup prepared green curry paste
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest (from 1 lime)
  • 1 14.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 T¬†agave nectar
  • 1 T fresh lime juice
  • ¬ľ cup cilantro leaves, plus more for serving
  • Unsalted, roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas; for serving)
  • 1 to 2 pounds spinach, steamed until wilted, for serving
  • brown Basmati rice, for serving
  1. ¬†Combine soy sauce, orange juice, maple syrup, and sesame oil in a large resealable plastic bag. Add tenderloin meat; close bag, pressing out air. Chill, turning once, 4‚Äď12 hours.
  2. Remove tenderloin from marinade and pat dry; discard marinade. Season lightly with salt.
  3. Preheat oven to 250¬į.
  4. Heat grapeseed oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high.
  5. Cook tenderloin, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 2 minutes per side, 5 minutes total.
  6. Transfer pan to the oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of tenderloin registers 135¬į, 20‚Äď25 minutes.
  7. Transfer to a cutting board; let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.
  8. While meat is cooking, heat 1 T oil in a large saucepan over medium.
  9. Cook shallot and garlic, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes.
  10. Add curry paste and lime zest and cook, stirring constantly, until paste is slightly darkened in color and very fragrant, about 4 minutes.
  11. Add coconut milk, bring to a simmer, and cook until reduced by half, 20‚Äď25 minutes. Let curry mixture cool.
  12. Transfer curry mixture to a blender and add agave, lime juice, ¬ľ cup cilantro, and 2 T water; blend until very smooth.
  13. With motor running, add remaining ¬Ĺ cup oil in a steady stream; blend until sauce is thick and emulsified. Transfer to a small saucepan and heat over medium just until warmed through.
  14. Serve pork over prepared rice and steamed spinach, topped with sauce, cilantro, and pumpkin seeds.

Do Ahead: Sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

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Shrimp in Green Mole

I am a HUGE fan of a flavorful green sauce. This one did not disappoint. I would have just gobbled up the sauce with rice, but I served it with shrimp for the rest of the family. ūüėČ The shrimp is cooked in the wonderful sauce, so it was also delicious!

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Martha Rose Shulman. I loved the contrasting texture from the crunchy, pan-toasted pumpkin seed garnish. Excellent.

Yield: Serves 4

  • ¬Ĺ cup hulled untoasted pumpkin seeds
  • ¬Ĺ pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 serrano chile or 1/2 jalape√Īo (more to taste), stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 3 large romaine lettuce leaves, preferably the outer leaves, torn into pieces
  • ¬ľ cup chopped white onion, soaked for 5 minutes in cold water, drained and rinsed, plus more for garnish
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ¬ľ cup tightly packed chopped cilantro, plus cilantro leaves and sprigs for garnish
  • 1 ¬Ĺ cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon canola or extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¬Ĺ teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound medium-large tail-on shrimp, shelled and deveined (I used 21-25 count per pound)
  • brown Basmati rice, for serving
  1. Heat a heavy straight-sided skillet or a saucepan over medium heat and add pumpkin seeds. Wait until you hear one seed pop, then stir constantly until they have puffed and popped and smell toasty, about 3 to 5 minutes. Do not let them darken beyond golden or they will taste bitter. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. Remove 2 tablespoons to use as garnish and set aside.
  2. Place remaining cooled pumpkin seeds in a blender or Vitamix, and add tomatillos, chile, lettuce, onion, garlic, cilantro and 1/2 cup chicken stock. Cover and blend mixture until smooth, stopping the blender to stir if necessary.
  3. Heat oil in the skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cumin and let it sizzle for a couple of seconds, then add puréed tomatillo mixture.
  4. Cook, stirring often, until sauce darkens and thickens, 8 to 10 minutes. It will splutter, so be careful. You can hold the lid above the pot to shield yourself and the stove, or set the lid on the pot to partly cover it.
  5. Add remaining cup of chicken stock, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring often, until sauce is thick and creamy, 10 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
  6. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Shortly before serving, bring mole sauce to a simmer and add shrimp. Simmer 5 to 8 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through but still moist.
  7. Serve over rice, garnishing each serving with toasted pumpkin seeds, diced onion, and cilantro.

Note: The sauce can be made up to three days ahead and kept refrigerated until ready to use it. Alternatively, it can be frozen, just whisk or blend to restore its consistency after thawing.

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Seared Scallops & Cauliflower Grits

With the sunshine and warmer weather, an Easter weekend tradition in our house is to celebrate our love (and the food!) of the beautiful South Carolina Low Country. I usually serve a version of the classic Low Country dish, Shrimp and Grits, but, this year tried this scallop and cauliflower grits adaptation. We absolutely loved it!

This recipe was adapted from Joel Gamoran, Sur La Table National Chef, via Sur la Table.com. I puréed the vegetables instead of juicing them for the sauce, used riced cauliflower, and doubled the garlic. Amazing.

Yield: Makes 4 Servings

For the Cauliflower Grits:

  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds riced cauliflower
  • 1 to 2 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

For the Scallops:

  • 2 medium whole tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil
  • 16 sea scallops, patted dry
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Prepare the Cauliflower Grits: In the microwave, steam the riced cauliflower for 4 minutes, or until very tender.
  2. Combine the steamed cauliflower with Parmesan, garlic, and enough cream cheese to achieve desired consistency.
  3. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
  4. Prepare the Scallops: Combine the tomatoes, pepper and carrot in a Vitamix, food processor, or blender. Puree.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  6. Season scallops with salt and pepper and add to pan in one layer. Sear the scallops for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden. Remove scallops to a platter.
  7. Reduce heat to medium-low and add remaining oil to skillet.
  8. Add shallot and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.
  9. Add garlic and smoked paprika and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.
  10. Slowly whisk in puréed vegetables and bring to a boil.
  11. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  12. To serve: Serve scallops on top of cauliflower grits with sauce spooned on top. Garnish with scallions and extra black pepper, as desired.

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