Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Kitchen Creativity

One perk of me not working full-time these days is that I have a plethora of time in which I can cook a wide variety of food, and generally be Betsy Homemaker. I worry a little bit that Thomas and I both will get spoiled by this fact, but we'll cross that bridge whenever we get to it...and enjoy it while it lasts! 

To be fair, cooking is one of my favorite things to do. I was telling Diana the other day that I feel like I am much better at cooking when I have a recipe to reference. I like the comfort of recipes because I often feel like I am not good at conjuring up ideas of my own. I don't always follow them, but they're a nice guide. The only exception is whenever I bake. I always try to follow the recipes to a tee. Baking is a science, and there isn't much room for deviation. (Unless you're okay with your bread not rising, or your cake being too dense, etc.) Maybe that's why baking is so comforting to me, the math lover. Precision makes me happy. 

This has never been the case for my sister Emily. She has always been a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants type of cook. She is wonderful at coming up with amazing recipes that never disappoint. She can look at a few ingredients and conjure up something spectacular. Before she was married and still lived at home, we always joked that Emily cooked by spinning our built-in lazy Susan spice rack and using whatever spices fell out. Almost always, the results were amazing. I've always admired her ability to do this and have, perhaps, been a little jealous of this talent of hers. (My parents always said that that's how my Grandma Hladik cooked, too.) 

Emily and I have always ribbed each other about our respective usage or non-usage of recipes. Once, she made one of my favorite cheesecake recipes, and it was slightly comical for me to see her wade through the multiple steps (and precision in measurement) required in making cheesecake. (She probably laughs when I attempt to be spontaneous, so there.) The older I get, the more I've tried to emulate her cooking style by not using exact measurements. It was tough for me to get to this point, but I've grown to embrace it. Nowadays, I'm the one who (probably) frustrates Thomas with my newfound ability to not use exact measurements, but to instead estimate everything. I've been teaching him more about cooking since the beginning of our relationship, and he's still largely in the phase in which improvisation and estimation don't always come naturally. (Maybe it's all about how comfortable you are with cooking, instead of personal preferences...who knows?) My new favorite recipe terminology is to add ingredients until it looks or tastes right, which is what I always grew up hearing. There is probably nothing more maddening to a new-ish cook than to tell him or her that. The circle of life, maybe?

I digress. Since the wedding, I've been fairly responsible for coming up with what we're having for dinner and getting everything to make said dinner at the grocery store. Oftentimes, this leaves me in a position where I have to be somewhat resourceful so that I can use up random pieces of leftover produce so that none of them go to waste. (I absolutely HATE wasting food.) Most of the time, I find recipes on Pinterest that perfectly accommodate what I have in my refrigerator/pantry, but sometimes I don't. This week, I didn't, so I improvised and attempted to create my own recipe using leftovers from a homemade pizza I made last week! (A story for next time, yes?)

I'm not sure what to call this dish, but you could possibly think of it as a crustless pizza? I like to think it's low carb since there aren't any pasta or bread ingredients, but I'm sure there's something that wouldn't make it so. Oh well. Here goes...

Ingredients:


8 oz. pork sausage, crumbled
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 C. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 medium bell pepper, sliced (I used a yellow pepper.)
1 medium zucchini, diced
1/2 jar pizza sauce (about 8-10 oz.)
8 oz. fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1/2 C. mozzarella cheese

Directions:
Fry sausage in a skillet until browned and crumbly. Drain fat from skillet and place sausage on a paper towel-lined plate. In same skillet, heat olive oil for a few moments before sauteing the onion and mushrooms over medium heat. Season with salt. During last few minutes of sauteing, add the minced garlic and continue sauteing until fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.

Spray a glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Place zucchini pieces in bottom of pan. Pour pizza sauce on top of zucchini. Top with mushrooms, onion, garlic, bell pepper slices, and spinach. Sprinkle sausage over veggies. Cover pan with foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, uncover and sprinkle with cheese. Bake, uncovered, for about 10 more minutes or until cheese is melted.

Serve with crusty bread and/or a tossed salad. Enjoy!

Recipe Notes:
-Substitute with whatever type of meat you prefer, except maybe chicken. I'm not sure that that would be the best fit for this recipe. Then again, it might be, and I'm just being doubtful for no reason.

-If you want to, you could probably add the bell peppers in the mix while sauteing. I didn't this time only because I had already roasted them in the oven from a previous meal and had some left over. It would've been redundant to do so this time, but usually I would because I'm not crazy about crunchy bell peppers.

-Yellow squash or eggplant would substitute pretty well for the zucchini. They're all similar in flavor and texture, so whatever you prefer or have on hand.

-Notice I didn't specify a pan size. I used a baby-sized 8x11 Pyrex (I think those are the dimensions at least) because I was exclusively using leftovers and anything bigger would have been overkill. Also, I'm only cooking for two people, so we don't need a lot of food. Taking a page from my family, use your best judgement as to what size of baking dish to use, since you can obviously expand (or contract) this recipe fairly easily to suit you/your family's needs. Also notice that I didn't season it a lot. (Usually I do.) There were plenty of flavors going on with everything else that I didn't bother. I barely even salted or peppered it, which is something I always do. There's tons of salt in the pizza sauce, sausage, and cheese, so you should be okay here...season to taste. (Another nod to my family...)

-The zucchini doesn't need to be pre-cooked, as the pizza sauce does a nice job of steaming it in, and it produces a ton of water as it cooks down. Also, if you use a bigger pan, you could probably justify using a whole jar (standard size, not the huge jar) of sauce. If you run out, tomato sauce/paste with some oregano, basil, and salt works in a pinch! (Ask me how I know...)
I didn't get a cute artsy photo, so this will have to suffice!
That's it! Like almost every other recipe I share with you, there aren't many conceivable ways to mess it up so long as you at least try to follow my directions. Just a good old-fashioned throw-together meal that ended up being fairly tasty! (Thomas even got seconds on it!) Enjoy!

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