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Archive for August, 2009

I had fresh mushrooms, cottage cheese, and leftover pasta. I decided to make a mushroom pasta casserole instead of my regular pasta casserole. I also incorporated into it some frozen basil and froze from it 1/2 cup excellent mushroom stock.

The frozen basil:

I love fresh herbs. However, I don’t always use all of them in time. I used to chop basil small with a bit of olive oil and freeze in ice-cube trays, but it’s a lot of work. So I scouted the Internet a bit and tried a different method: freezing the leaves whole. I had a lot of fresh basil and fresh oregano. It’s very easy:

1. Remove the leaves from the stems. With basil, this is the longest step because you have to pick of each leaf individually. However, the leaves grow together so it isn’t a problem to grab a bunch and pick them all off at once. The oregano was easy – simply grasp the top of the stock firmly with one hand and with two fingers from the other hand pull the leaves off from up to down (against the direction of the leaves). They go out easily. If your oregano stalk has lots of branching stalks, this will remove the entire branch, and you can repeat on the sub-branches.

2. Wash well and let dry.

3. Place in freezer-safe boxes with a lid. Do not pack too much or you will crush the herbs.

4. Freeze.

5. When you want to use, take out the amount you want. They do not clump and thaw extremely quickly, so you can chop them up and put them in your cooking. Because they discolor and wilt a bit, they aren’t so good uncooked (in a salad, for example).

I froze oregano and basil using this method.

Mushroom pasta casserole

Ingredients

250 gr. fresh champignon mushrooms
about 150-250 gr cooked pasta
250 gr cottage cheese
1 egg
2 slices yellow cheese
2-3 handfuls frozen basil
handful Parmesan cheese (optional)

Wash and slice mushrooms. Place in microwave save cooking dish with a lid (a Pyrex is great, or I use the Tupperware microwave cooker). Sprinkle a little salt and microwave for 2 minutes on high (there is no need to add water or oil). If not cooked microwave another minute. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid. This is quality mushroom stock. Use in risottos or anything else requiring mushroom stock, or freeze for later.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Cut the yellow cheese into small cubes. Combine all ingredients into a large casserole dish (I use 22 cm by 22 cm). Sprinkle Parmesan on top.

Cover with aluminium foil. Bake for 30 minutes.

Mushroom Casserole

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Since my little one was born, I try to have one afternoon a week when I am completely alone with my older boy. I find some other arrangement for the baby, and me and my three-year-old spend some time doing whatever he wants. Once, we played together with a game that hasn’t been out since the baby started crawling because it has small pieces;  Sometimes we go to the park; but mostly we cook something.

He loves baking. We usually bake muffins because they’re quick to prepare and quick to bake, so he can taste the fruits of his labour quite quickly. Sometimes we make pancakes together. We made chocolate syrup together (aah, the mess that a toddler can make while eating frozen yogurt with chocolate syrup is a sight to behold :D). Many times he made grilled cheese for dinner (in the oven/microwave).

My toddler is convinced that oatmeal is the best thing on earth. To convince him to taste something, I just need to say that it has oatmeal in it. He discovered that oatmeal apple muffins taste great; oatmeal banana muffins taste great; oatmeal chocolate cake tastes great;  and as oatmeal is the common ingredient, it must be the magic ingredient 😉 !

Because of the heat lately, when buying green bananas they’re all over-ripe within two days. So we make a lot of oatmeal banana muffins. We sometimes bake a double batch, half muffins and half cake, and give the  cake to his nursery teacher or grandma. He loves it!

My son hold the glass for me to pour flour and oatmeal etc. into, pours everything from the glass to the mixing bowl, presses the button to start the mixer and move the head up and down, helps me spoon the batter into the tins, and of course – he helps eat!

Ingredients:

3/4 cup brown sugar, unpacked
5 tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 large ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups oatmeal (I use old fashioned)
3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup water (or 1/2 cup milk)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt

Heat oven to 170 degrees. If baking with kids, turn oven on just prior to transferring the batter into muffin tins.
Mix sugar, oil and eggs in a beater.
Add bananas and oatmeal and mix again.
Ideally, you should mix all the dry ingredients (flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt) in a separate bowl, and then add with the water to the banana mixture, but I just dump everything in one bowl. I don’t mix until all the dry ingredients are in, though.
Spoon into muffin tins (makes 12 medium muffins) or small cake pan (I use a heart-shape or bundt pan).
Bake 15 mins for muffins, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; or 20-25 minutes for a cake pan.

Important note: You don’t have to use all your over-ripe bananas immediately. You can peel them, put them in small bag or plastic wrap, and put them in the freezer. They keep quite well for a few months. To defrost, place bag in some warm water for a few minutes. Use immediately after defrosting. Defrosted bananas are great for cooking! If used immediately they can also be mixed in yogurt or other and given to baby. (6 months plus). However, if baby does not finish the banana, throw away the rest.

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