Oven Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms and Thyme

If you’re looking for a little comfort food tonight given the frigid temps we’re experiencing, this recipe is a great one. Polenta is totally under-appreciated in my opinion. Not only does it cook super fast, if seasoned correctly it’s absolutely delicious, and it’s incredibly versatile. You can serve it with stew on top, as a side dish, with eggs for breakfast, as . a replacement for mashed potatoes…so many options.

This recipe from Bon Appetit uses it as a main dish, topped with crispy, crunchy, meaty roasted mushrooms with thyme. Hard to believe, but I had never roasted mushrooms before — I usually just saute on the stovetop. This method gives them such a nice flavor and texture, it’s going to be my new go-to.

The polenta is nice and creamy and cheesy, and the mushrooms are hit with a splash of vinegar at the end for the perfect balance of acid against the umami of the mushrooms.

TW’s Tips

  • The polenta cooks through in the oven versus the stovetop, so make sure you use an oven-safe pot (i.e., no plastic handles, or cover them securely with tin foil).
  • We selected a variety of different mushroom types, including shitake, cremini and lion’s mane, which were delicious! Pick something you’ve never tried before.
  • Sea salt at the end adds a nice crunch.
  • Garnish with Parmesan and thyme.
  • As mentioned in the recipe, don’t crowd the mushrooms in the pan, or else they will steam versus roast. It will give them a totally different texture and taste.

Enjoy!

Oven Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms and Thyme

Ingredients

  • 1½ lb. mixed mushrooms (such as crimini, shiitake, oyster, and/or maitake), torn into 1″ pieces
  • 4 sprigs thyme, plus leaves for serving
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 4 oz. Parmesan, finely grated, plus more for serving
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Flaky sea salt

Directions

Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 325°. Combine mushrooms, thyme sprigs, and garlic on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper; drizzle with oil. Toss to coat mushrooms, then spread out in an even layer. (Make sure not to crowd the mushrooms on the baking sheet; otherwise, they’ll steam instead of getting crispy.) Transfer to upper rack in oven and let mushrooms roast while you prepare polenta.

Bring 4½ cups water to a simmer in a large ovenproof saucepan over medium-high heat. Add butter and a generous pinch of kosher salt and whisk to melt butter. Gradually add polenta, whisking constantly. (Gradually incorporating the polenta into the water is key to preventing clumps.) Return mixture to a boil, immediately cover pot, and transfer to lower rack in oven. Bake polenta, shaking baking sheet with mushrooms occasionally, until polenta is tender, 25–30 minutes.

Remove polenta from oven. Crank up oven temperature as high as it will go (but don’t broil). Continue to cook mushrooms until crisp around the edges, 5–10 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, carefully uncover polenta and whisk vigorously, scraping bottom of pan, until polenta is smooth and thick. Gradually add 4 oz. Parmesan, whisking constantly until melted and incorporated; taste and season with more kosher salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm over low heat while mushrooms finish roasting.

Remove mushrooms from oven; drizzle with vinegar. Toss to coat; let cool slightly.

Divide polenta among bowls and top with mushrooms, thyme leaves, sea salt, and more Parmesan.

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Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese

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This is a sentimental meal for me. Not only because homemade mac and cheese makes me shed a tear of happiness, but because it’s the last meal I made and shared with my best friends before I left San Diego for New York. I really wanted to cook for my favorites on my last night — it’s a tradition for me to host the girls for dinner and usually a bit of horrible reality TV. So I busted this favorite out for my last night before I left for the East Coast.

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I’ve shared this mac and cheese book with you before, but let me just reiterate how great (and dangerous) it is. They get the base béchamel sauce down, and you can’t go wrong from there. This version is a spicy, delicious variation on the classic. Mix some diced up jalapeno peppers into this cheesy cheddar and cream cheese combo — yum. The first time I made it, we were scrambling for the last serving. This time I learned my lesson and made a double batch.

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TW’s Tips

  • Have some extra sliced peppers on hand for people who like it spicy.
  • Eat with people you love, because you’ll be fighting for the last bite.

To my girls — thank you for sharing so many wonderful meals with me. You made them taste 100x better because of the great company. Come visit so I can cook for you here. Miss you beyond words. xoxo

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Jalapeño Popper Mac 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound dried elbow pasta
  • 2 cups mac sauce (recipe below)
  • 2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup stemmed, seeded and chopped jalapeno chiles, plus extra, for garnish
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until a little less than al dente. Drain, rinse the pasta with cold water, and drain again.

Add the sauce (remember only two cups!), cheese and chiles to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium heat until the cheese is barely melted, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cooked pasta. Take a taste to check the potency of the chiles–jalapeños can vary in their heat, depending on the batch and the season, so you may want to add more to increase the fire.

Pour the cheesy noodle mixture into a large baking dish. Top evenly with panko and bake until you see the cheese sauce bubbling up the sides, 10 to 15 minutes.

Spoon into bowls and serve immediately. Sprinkle a few extra jalapeño bits on top for an extra kick.

Mac Sauce

Ingredients

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

Directions

Heat the milk in a pot over medium heat until it just starts to bubble, but is not boiling, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a separate, heavy-bottomed pot. When the butter has just melted, add the four and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Slowly pour the warm milk, about 1 cup at a time, into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly. It will get very thick when you first add the milk, and thinner as you slowly pour in the entire 3 cups. This is normal.

Once all the milk has been added, set the pot back over medium-high heat, and continue to whisk constantly. In the next 2 to 3 minutes, the sauce should come together and become silky and thick. Add the salt.

The mac sauce is ready to use immediately and does not need to cool. Store it in the fridge for a day or two if you want to make it ahead of time. It will get a lot thicker when put in the fridge, so it may need a little milk to thin it out a bit when it comes time to melt in the cheese. Try melting the cheese into the sauce first and if it is too thick then add milk as needed.

 

Goat Cheese Mac & Cheese

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Who’s not a mac and cheese fan, right? Well, I certainly am, and I got the gift of a mac and cheese cookbook for Christmas this year, so I’ve been on a kick. Not healthy, but wow is it delicious. (Gift or curse? I’ve been debating.) This cookbook is by the chefs at Homeroom restaurant in Oakland, California. Their specialty is mac and cheese (obviously). It has all kinds of variations on the original, and they are all amazing. This one features goat cheese, one of my favorites — it’s rich and creamy and tart, and the bread crumbs on top give it a nice crunch.

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The key to this mac and cheese is the béchamel sauce that serves as the base. And the key to the sauce is constant whisking. Add the milk slowly, whisk until incorporated, and add more. This is the perfect meal for a cold night or when you just want some comfort food. It’s amazing!

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TW’s Tips

  • The mac sauce recipe makes three cups, and the mac and cheese recipe only calls for two cups, so remember not to add the whole bunch. I’ve done this several times!
  • Don’t use anything besides whole milk. It won’t work.
  • I use the trusty Le Creuset for this — makes for easy clean-up and really easy to transfer to the oven to crisp the breadcrumbs.

Goat Cheese Mac and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound dried elbow pasta
  • 2 cups mac sauce (recipe below)
  • 6 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup grated Jack cheese
  • 4 green onions (green and light green parts), sliced
  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, for drizzling

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until a little less than al dente. Drain, rinse the pasta with cold water, and drain again.

Add the sauce (remember only two cups!), cheese and green onions to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cook over low heat until the goat cheese is barely melted, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the cooked pasta.

Pour the cheese noodle mixture into a large baking dish. Top evenly with panko and bake until you see the cheese sauce bubbling up the sides, 10 to 15 minutes.

Spoon into bowls, drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.

Mac Sauce

Ingredients

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

Directions

Heat the milk in a pot over medium heat until it just starts to bubble, but is not boiling, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a separate, heavy-bottomed pot. When the butter has just melted, add the four and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Slowly pour the warm milk, about 1 cup at a time, into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly. It will get very thick when you first add the milk, and thinner as you slowly pour in the entire 3 cups. This is normal.

Once all the milk has been added, set the pot back over medium-high heat, and continue to whisk constantly. In the next 2 to 3 minutes, the sauce should come together and become silky and thick. Add the salt.

The mac sauce is ready to use immediately and does not need to cool. Store it in the fridge for a day or two if you want to make it ahead of time. It will get a lot thicker when put in the fridge, so it may need a little milk to thin it out a bit when it comes time to melt in the cheese. Try melting the cheese into the sauce first and if it is too thick then add milk as needed.

Spanish-Style Chicken & Dumplings

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This is a delicious spin on chicken and dumplings, a classic comfort food, that I made for my friend Kim. It takes a Spanish angle — with chorizo, saffron and sherry — and instead of a traditional dumpling, uses my favorite Jiffy cornbread for a topping, which made this almost like a pot pie. The chicken dish itself is thick and hearty, with lots of yummy mushrooms, onion, garlic and thyme, and it was great reheated for leftovers. Credit goes to Rachael Ray for the recipe.

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TW’s Tips

  • I’m a mushroom lover, so I threw in more than the recipe called for
  • I actually used vegetable stock (homemade of course) instead of chicken for this — still delish
  • Careful when choosing the chorizo, especially on the West Coast — you want Spanish chorizo, not Mexican, which is uncooked. If you can’t find Spanish chorizo, use linguica or a chicken sausage (spicy is best). The key is that it isn’t crumbly. You should be able to slice through it and keep it intact.

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Spanish-Style Chicken & Dumplings

Ingredients

  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 2 pinches saffron
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 pound chorizo, casings remove and chopped or crumbled
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breast tenders, diced
  • 3/4 pound medium to large white mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 to 3 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 rounded tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1 small box biscuit mix or mix to prepare 8 drop biscuits, prepared to package directions, (recommended: Jiffy)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon paprika

Directions

In a small sauce pot combine the stock and saffron, bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer to allow the saffron to steep.

In a large deep skillet with a lid or a Dutch oven heat extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and render and brown for 2 minutes, then add the chicken and lightly brown. Stir in the mushrooms, onions and garlic as you chop them and add the bay leaves, salt and pepper, to taste, and thyme. Put a lid on the pot and increase the heat to high for 5 minutes to soften the vegetables. Stir in the flour, add the sherry and stir a minute more, then add the saffron broth.

While vegetables soften, put the biscuit mix in a bowl and stir in the parsley and paprika. Add the liquids to package directions for the biscuits.

Drop 8 small mounds of biscuit dough onto the surface of the chicken and sauce. Cover with tight fitting lid and cook for 5 to 6 minutes.

Ladle into shallow serving bowls and serve.

Vegetable Lentil Soup

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This weekend I celebrated Christmas with some of my closest girlfriends at my house around my (if-I-don’t-say-so-myself) beautiful Christmas tree, and I needed the perfect homey, warm, comforting meal to go along with it. I settled on a soup — there’s not much better than gathering in a warm house with people you love and a warm bowl of soup.

I picked this vegetable lentil soup from Barefoot Contessa because it sounded like the perfect comfort meal. It’s packed with veggies — carrots, celery, onion, leeks — plus delicious green lentils that make you not miss the meat at all, and cooking it low and slow really brings out the rich flavor. Finish it with a hit of olive oil and grated Parmesan, and you’ve got a bowlful of happiness. I served this with a salad and bread. Super simple and easy.

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The girls loved it! We drank wine, ate our weight in amazing Humboldt Fog cheese, opened our “secret Santa” gifts and did a lot of laughing. The perfect holiday celebration if you ask me!

TW’s Tips

  • When you clean the leeks, chop off the upper 2/3 of tough green and just keep the lower white/light green part. Cut in half and then across making half-moons. Leeks can get sandy and it’s hard to wash out the sand, so throw the half-moons in a medium bowl of water and swish them around to get the sand out. It will settle to the bottom of the bowl and you’ll be spared any gritty bites.
  • Don’t obsess about the size of your vegetable “dice.” Not worth it.
  • I love the finish with red wine vinegar — in fact, I put a tiny splash in each bowl when I serve it, in addition to the two tablespoons you add at the end.
  • When I was eating up the leftovers, I ran out of Parmesan and substituted Pecorino Romano — just as delish.
  • This makes a LOT — I served four of us for dinner, ate it for several nights for leftovers and still had so much that I froze a couple of quart bags of it. They’re the perfect two-serving size, so I can thaw them in the morning and have a great bowl of soup that night.

I love this time of year. And I wish you a warm, family- and friend-filled Christmas!

Vegetable Lentil Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 pound French green lentils
  • 4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large onions)
  • 4 cups chopped leeks, white part only (2 leeks)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil, plus additional for drizzling on top
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 cups medium-diced celery (8 stalks)
  • 3 cups medium-diced carrots (4 to 6 carrots)
  • 3 quarts chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine or red wine vinegar
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through. Check the seasonings. Add the red wine and serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan.

Smoked Gouda and Basil Pesto Grilled Cheese and Creamy Tomato Soup

It’s been a rainy — dare I say stormy? — weekend in San Diego, and this soup/sandwich combo was the perfect curl-up-on-the-couch comfort meal.

I love me a grilled cheese, and this version by Tyler Florence, from his “Stirring the Pot” cookbook, is pretty amazing. He calls for smoked mozzarella, which I substituted with smoked gouda, layered with a delicious traditional pesto, sandwiched between bread toasted up with butter in a pan. The nice, crispy crust on the bread, plus the smoky, oozy cheese with the contrast from the fresh pesto — it’s basically my perfect sandwich.

And what better than to dip this delicious sandwich in creamy tomato soup?

I’ve never been a fan of the canned tomato soup. In fact, I didn’t even think I liked tomato soup until I tried a real, homemade one. What a discovery! This one by Rachael Ray is possibly the easiest one I’ve ever made. Big winner. It’s simple but has great flavor.

TW’s Tips

  • I used a yummy gourmet bread (I think it was sundried tomato/spinach or something) instead of plain white bread
  • Make extra pesto and use it later in the week for ravioli or put it on top of some salmon. Yum.
  • Dip the sandwich in the soup as you eat it. Obviously.

Smoked Gouda and Basil Pesto Grilled Cheese

Ingredients

  • 4 slices white sandwich bread
  • 4 slices smoked mozzarella (I used gouda)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Pesto:

  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 1 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

To make pesto combine pesto ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined but still has a rough texture.

Assemble sandwich by smearing insides of bread slices with pesto.  Arrange a layer of mozzarella and season with a few turns of fresh pepper.  Layer the mozzarella slices over the top and then place the bread over to make the sandwich.  Set a large sauté pan over medium heat and add butter.  Add sandwich and cook 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown and crispy.  Remove from pan and rub toasted bread with garlic.

Creamy Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 (15-ounce) containers, chicken or vegetable stock/broth (preferred brand: Kitchen Basics)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can concentrated crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Coarse salt and black pepper
  • 20 leaves fresh basil, cut into chiffonade, for garnish

Directions

Combine broth and tomatoes in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. When soup bubbles, stir in heavy cream and reduce heat to low. Season with a little salt and pepper and simmer gently 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. With an immersion blender, puree soup. Serve bowls of soup with basil chiffonade.

Turkey Meatloaf, Parmesan Smashed Potatoes and Chili-Garlic Roasted Broccoli

Christmas is the perfect time for some comfort food, so I just had to share this amazing turkey meatloaf recipe from Barefoot Contessa. I paired it with Parmesan smashed potatoes and my absolute favorite broccoli recipe ever — chili-garlic roasted broccoli — from Rachael Ray. It was home-cooked heaven on a plate.

Let’s start with the meatloaf. I was never a meatloaf eater until recently. My parents never made it — maybe because it had a bit of a 70s TV dinner bad rap. But this version is moist, full of flavor and so tender it practically falls apart. Who would think that could be possible with ground turkey?

Barefoot Contessa’s recipe below makes a massive meatloaf. Five pounds of turkey? Umm, yeah. I cut it in half, and it was still a ton of food. I still had to cook it for about an hour and a quarter to cook it all the way through. It’s also important to note that this is one of the few recipes including ketchup that I am willing to eat. I *hate* ketchup — but I think cooking it for so long must tone it down, because it’s actually quite good on top of this meatloaf!

On to the potatoes. First things first — they’re not low fat. We’re talking heavy cream, sour cream, butter, cheese…but all of that makes these some pretty incredible potatoes. When you start mixing in the warmed up cream mixture, you’re going to think you’re making the potatoes too watery, but don’t worry — the potatoes soak up all that goodness in no time, making some of the fluffiest, creamiest potatoes I’ve ever had.

And finally — my favorite broccoli.

Roasting the broccoli in the oven adds so much flavor — it’s nutty and sweet, and the garlic and chili powder add some zip. I could literally eat this as a main course, it’s so good. I will never again boil or steam broccoli! The only problem I encountered was that cooking it to go with the meatloaf was tough because it needs a much higher temp than the meatloaf, so you can’t put them in the oven at the same time. I’d recommend cooking the meatloaf first, then letting it rest under foil while you do the broccoli. You really need the high heat to make the broccoli work, otherwise, I’d just say put it in for a little longer. But the high heat crisps up the florets and caramelizes the broccoli — yum!

I hope you enjoy this meal… and Merry Christmas!

Turkey Meatloaf

Ingredients

  • 3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 large onions)
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 5 pounds ground turkey breast
  • 1 1/2 cups plain dry bread crumbs
  • 3 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup ketchup

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a medium saute pan, over medium-low heat, cook the onions, olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme until translucent, but not browned, approximately 15 minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, and tomato paste and mix well. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine the ground turkey, bread crumbs, eggs, and onion mixture in a large bowl. Mix well and shape into a rectangular loaf on an ungreased sheet pan. Spread the ketchup evenly on top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours until the internal temperature is 160 degrees F. and the meatloaf is cooked through. (A pan of hot water in the oven under the meatloaf will keep the top from cracking.) Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold in a sandwich.

Parmesan Smashed Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds red new potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus 2 teaspoons
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/4 pound unsalted unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Place the potatoes and 1 tablespoon of salt in a 4-quart saucepan and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer covered for 25 to 35 minutes, until completely tender. Drain.

In a small saucepan, heat the half-and-half and butter. Put the potatoes into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix the potatoes for a few seconds on low speed, to break them up. Slowly add the hot cream and butter to the potatoes, mixing on the lowest speed (the last quarter of the cream should be folded in by hand). Fold in the sour cream, Parmesan cheese, the remaining salt, and pepper; taste for seasoning and serve immediately. If the potatoes are too thick, add more hot cream and butter.

Chili-Garlic Roasted Broccoli

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, eyeball it
  • 5 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon grill seasoning blend (recommended:Montreal Steak Seasoning by McCormick Grill Mates)
  • 1 large head broccoli, cut into thin, long spears

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, chili powder and grill seasoning in the bottom of a large bowl and add the broccoli spears. Toss to coat broccoli evenly then transfer to a large nonstick baking sheet. Roast the broccoli until ends are crisp and brown and stalks are tender, 17 to 20 minutes.