Monte Cristo Spinach Sandwiches

Divide mustard, cheese, ham/turkey, and spinach evenly between each of two bread slices; cover each with a bread slice. Whisk together eggs and milk in a medium bowl.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium. Dip sandwiches in milk mixture; transfer to skillet, and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and serve with raspberry jam or cranberry conserve.

*NOTE: I’ve added spinach to the Real Simple recipe. Again, always trying to up my veggie intake in my meals…

Asparagus and Pea Spring Salad

It doesn’t get any fresher than this springy salad featuring asparagus, peas, and spinach. I first tried the Asparagus Ribbon Salad (from Better Homes & Gardens April 2017 issue) for Easter, and our guests all thought it was dee-licious. I made it per instructions the first time, except for the requested arugula, as it’s expensive and I think it has a bitter bite. So I subbed in Bibb lettuce (aka: butter lettuce) and added some spinach—just because I like to add spinach to dishes whenever possible! Good call on the Bibb lettuce, as it was the perfect compliment to the tender asparagus. It was a nice side salad with ham and cheesy scalloped potatoes potatoes (need to post that one), and a refreshing way to serve the green spears, rather than just microwaving and squirting with lemon.

But I thought the long ribbons of asparagus were kind of awkward to eat, and were a total pain in the keister (yet worth it for Easter…) to prepare. Chopping them into 1-2 inch pieces is easier to do, and easier to eat. I also found the vinegar in the BH&G asparagus-pea pesto recipe to be too sharp—asparagus is such a subtle veggie, and I thought lemon might be a better choice for an acid in the pesto. Then because I CANNOT turn my foodie brain off, I thought I’d boil up some eggs and chop some leftover Easter ham on top to make it a whole meal deal. Loved it!!! It was so tantalizing, my co-worker Ben even asked me for the recipe when I brought a salad to work. Or rather, he said, “Hey Kaaren (his wife), you should get that recipe from Cheryl…”

Here you go, Ben (ahem, I mean Kaaren…).

Serves 6-8

For Side Salad
2 bunches asparagus
3 cups frozen peas, divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
½-1 lemon, juiced (¼-½ cup)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ of an English cucumber, sliced into quartered
2 heads Bibb lettuce, cored and chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

For Main Meal Salad
2 cups chopped ham
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 cup grated white sharp cheddar cheese

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add ice. Set aside to us in blanching asparagus. Trim or snap touch ends off asparagus, then chop into 1 or 2-inch pieces. Fill a medium saucepan with water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a full rolling boil. Add fresh asparagus, and cook 2-3 minutes, or until bright green. Using slotted spoon, gradually transfer all the asparagus to the bowl of ice water. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then drain. Rinse the frozen peas under cold water then drain in separate strainer. Dab both asparagus and peas with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Toss asparagus, peas, and cucumber together in a bowl. Set aside.

To make asparagus-pea pesto, combine 1 cup of blanched asparagus, 2 cups of peas, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in food processor and pulse to form paste. Add Parmesan and pulse to combine. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Toss pesto with asparagus, peas, and cucumber until all ingredients are combined.

To assemble salad, spread Bibb lettuce and spinach on large platter, or 6-8 individual salad plates. Top with asparagus mixture for side salad. If making a main meal salad, sprinkle with chopped ham, chopped egg, and grated cheese.

Smoky Chipotle Corn Chowder

FullSizeRenderSince it’s soup season, you’ll want to tag this smoky potato and corn chowder for a quick, light meal. Aside from the chipotle chili peppers, most of the ingredients may be kitchen staples for you, as they were for me. My friend Terri shared this with me a couple years ago, and I just got around to trying it for the first time. As I’ve gotten a lot of my soup recipes from restaurants (when I wrote for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and was requesting recipes for readers), they tend to yield mammoth portions, and you gotta be committed to eating said soup for an eternity! This one is a smaller scale recipe, perfect for about 6 tasty bowls.

My only recipe suggestion would be to add more cheese, so I upped the amount to ½ cup below. And you would think the peppers in this would give it quite a burn, but even my mild-mannered palette was not offended by the heat. It was barely noticeable, in fact! I am curious to see if the heat cranks up a notch as the soup sits in the frig—sometimes that happens with chili peppers. I’ll be sure to let you know.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons butter
1 bunch scallions (green onions), sliced
4 cups chopped red potatoes, with skin on
2 cups chicken broth
4 cups frozen corn (16 ounces) *
2 tablespoons dried cilantro (or use ¼ cup fresh, but then add with milk and cheese towards end of process)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
½-1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 cups milk
½ cup shredded sharp white cheddar (or Monterey Jack cheese)
1/3 cup diced cooked ham **

Fresh chopped cilantro
Chopped scallions

Melt butter in Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté scallions for 1-2 minutes, then add potatoes and cook for additional 5 minutes, or until green onions and potatoes begin to brown. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, then add corn, cilantro, smoked paprika, salt, and chipotle peppers. Stir well, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add the milk and cheese, and turn off heat. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Puree about 2 cups of the soup in a blender, and return to the pot. Heat to medium-low, and stir in ham. Serve with chopped fresh cilantro and green onions as garnishes, if desired.

*NOTE: I used a bag of frozen roasted corn from Trader Joe’s, and I would highly recommend it! I’ve seen the same thing at Cub foods, too, so look for the pre-roasted corn at your grocery store.

** Skip the ham for a vegetarian option. It really didn’t enhance the soup that much, so I don’t think it’s a completely necessary ingredient.

Black Bean Soup

Black Bean Rice Bowl IMG_0601You’ll yield a wonderful, slow-cooked flavor when you simmer this black bean soup on the stove top. This is a Saturday soup as it needs a few hours of simmering to soften the beans, but it’s totally worth the wait. Serve this over some über-healthy brown rice and it’s a whole meal. 

It makes a hearty batch—about a gallon—so you’ll have plenty leftover for lunch at the office, or dinner some night when you’re in a rush. I usually package up a quart to give to my son Justin who lives on his own, and he’s always thrilled to get this in his “mom” bag. Another plus to this recipe? It’s a budget buster. I think I figured this costs about a buck a bowl to make. As for the origins of this recipe, I got it from my girlfriend’s mother several years ago, and it’s scribbled on the back of a hockey practice schedule. I can’t tell you any more than that!

(My husband thinks I should have captioned this photo: “Husband starves to death while wife does photo shoot of his dinner for blog.” He’s fine, people, really, he’s just fine.)

Serves 8

1 pound dry black beans
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 ham shank or meaty ham bone
1 yellow onion, chopped
¾ cup celery, chopped
½ to 1 green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can (15 ounce) tomato sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon oregano
1 cup brown rice, cooked according to package directions
Sour cream (optional)

Cover the black beans with cold water in large Dutch oven, and soak overnight. Drain and rinse beans, then add fresh water to 1-inch above beans. Bring beans to a boil, then add vinegar and ham shank or bone. Reduce to simmer and cook for 2 hours.

Remove ham shank or bone from soup and set on plate to cool. In sauté pan on medium heat, cook onions until translucent. Add celery and green pepper, and cook until tender. Add garlic and cook a minute more. Add tomato sauce, salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano and stir to combine. Stir vegetable mixture into cooked beans. Return heat to high and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook another hour with cover cracked open to allow steam to escape. Soup should reduce down and thicken as it cooks.

Remove as much meat as possible from the ham bone and shred. Add meat to soup and stir to combine. Serve over cooked brown rice. If desired, top with sour cream.