Saturday, June 12, 2010

Goal Achieved (for now)

 When I first started this blog, I was trying to learn to be more comfortable in the kitchen.  I already loved to cook, but I wasn't so good at improvising.  I had a collection of cookbooks that was constantly growing, and a fear of straying too far from those recipes.  I was a novice.

I wouldn't say that I am now a gourmet chef, but thanks in large part to this blog, I am certainly comfortable in the kitchen.  I have taught myself new techniques and shortcuts.  I have broadened my horizons.  I've done things I always wanted to do, like made home-made pastry and roasted a whole chicken.  I've kept my meals and desserts interesting and shared them with you.  You might have noticed that as this blog progressed, the recipes became more my own and less from other people's pages.

My journey to become a great cook is not over, and will never be, but I certainly have reached a milestone.  And I have to say that I think I have outgrown this blog a bit, at least for now.  While I used to love taking pictures of my creations and posting about them here, "showing off" a bit, admittedly, even if it wasn't always something to show off about, now it is somewhat of a hindrance.  Not to mention that I want to be able to cook favorite things I've made before, and this blog makes me feel like I always have to try something new.

I love to cook, I love to eat, and I love to write, but the blog itself is starting to feel like it is actually holding me back a bit now.  This is a great surprise to me, as it is the blog that helped me to grow so much over the past year and a half.

I will still be on twitter (@edibleventures) posting about my adventures in the kitchen, and I do plan to start a new blog with a different concept before long (stay tuned, I will be sure to post the link here when the time comes).  But for now, this blog is going into hibernation.  Thank you to those of you who supported me along the way.  If you ever want a recipe idea or a tip I am here to help, feel free to e-mail me (laurathelop at hotmail dot com).  I will keep this blog up for quite some time so that the recipes are still available.  And I will still read *your* blog, those of you who have them.

Happy eating, cooking, and blogging!  I still hope to have you all over for dinner some day.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

There were a few beautiful red bell peppers in my refrigerator, and we were about to go away for the weekend.  I had already had them for several days, and the idea that they might be spoiled by the time we got back from our trip was just too depressing.  I had the genius idea of roasting them, figuring it would buy me a few more days.

Now that we're home, I decided to use the roasted red peppers to make a pasta sauce.  But you need not stop at pasta with this one, my friends.  This sauce is spicy and sassy.  Saucy, if you will.  It would do wonderful things on top of meat, chicken, fish, or yes, pasta.  It could jazz up a platter of grilled vegetables.  It could jazz up your life, in fact.

The diced fire roasted tomatoes I used already had spicy chilies in them, but if you have regular fire roasted tomatoes without chilies, you might want to add red pepper flakes or cayenne, or some other source of heat.  This sauce is velvety smooth, and the heat helps to give it an edge that it craves.  And you will crave it too, I promise.


Home made roasted red peppers are a beautiful thing, but of course you can use the jarred ones, too.  Just drain and rinse them first.

Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
makes about 4 cups

INGREDIENTS:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 roasted red bell peppers, chopped
one 14.5 ounce can of diced fire roasted tomatoes with chilies
a pinch of dried oregano
salt
2 teaspoons good quality balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Heat the oil in a large high-sided skillet over medium heat.  When it's hot, add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about one minute, until fragrant and starting to turn golden.  

2.  Add the bell peppers and the diced tomatoes with their juices.  Stir to combine, then season with oregano and salt.  Bring to a bubble, then stir in the balsamic.  Reduce to a bare simmer.  

3.  Let the sauce simmer for a few minutes so the flavors can marry and the sauce heats through, and thickens just slightly.  Turn off the heat and let sit for a minute.

4.  Transfer the sauce (carefully) to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.  Serve hot over pasta, meat, or veggies.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Zucchini and Cilantro Soup with Chile and Mint

Looking for a soup that is transcendentally delicious?  Yep, this is it.   Here we have another example of how well zucchini pairs with fresh herbs, only now we have it in soup form.  You could serve this soup chilled on a hot day, or hot on a chilly day.  It's easy-going like that.

I have to say that when you taste this soup, it's not obvious what it is exactly.  It tastes like a delicious vegetarian tortilla soup.  You know there are herbs, you know there is spiciness, and you know there is a generally Mexican flavor.  But zucchini?  You might not have guessed.  This is a great way to use up zucchinis when you're sick of zucchini, or if you are trying to fool your picky children or husband into eating zucchini.  Or, you can feed it to zucchini-lovers and see if they recognize their favorite squash.  It's up to you.

This soup is rich and refreshing at the same time.  It's pretty amazing.  It's pretty great.  You should try it.

Zucchini and Cilantro Soup with Chile and Mint
adapted from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors
serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 serrano or jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped
2 medium-sized zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped
1 small bunch of cilantro, stems and leaves divided, chopped
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped mint
2 corn tortillas
salt to taste
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
juice of 1 lemon

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a medium soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add the chile, zucchini, cilantro stems, onion, parsley, and mint.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and zucchini is starting to get tender, about 10 minutes.

2.  Tear up one of the tortillas into pieces and add it to the pot.  Add a healthy pinch of salt and stir.  Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover the pot.  Cook for about 15 minutes, or until zucchini is very tender.  Remove from heat.

3.  Stir in the cilantro leaves (save a bit for garnish if you like).  Let the soup cool slightly, then puree in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender, until smooth.  Season to taste with salt and lemon juice.

4.  In a small skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high.  Cut the remaining tortilla into strips and add to the hot oil.  Cook until crisp, then set on paper towels to drain.  Serve the soup garnished with a small mound of tortilla strips and reserved cilantro.

Enjoy!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Blueberry Bran Muffins

I love blueberry muffins, in case you couldn't tell.  These are yet another variation, with plump fresh blueberries and a more rustic muffin base.  Thanks to the use of wheat germ or wheat bran (your choice), these are muffins you can feel pretty good about eating.  They're high in fiber and low in fat.  They also happen to taste great.

You can find fantastic blueberries right now, so it's a great time to give this recipe a try.  The muffins are sweetened with maple syrup, so they have that extra edge that is hard to identify. They'll make an excellent breakfast before all your barbecue-ing on memorial day.  Muffins make an excellent breakfast any time, in my opinion!

*Note:  the original recipe said it makes 12 muffins, but I got 16.  So have a second muffin tin around just in case.

Blueberry Bran Muffins
adapted from Mad Hungry
makes 12-16* muffins

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups skim milk
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup wheat bran or wheat germ

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Preheat oven to 400.  Grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper or reusable liners.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt.   In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, maple, sugar, oil, and milk together.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just mixed together.  Stir in blueberries and wheat bran or germ.

3.  Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling them about 3/4 of the way (more if you want your muffins to spill over the top).   You may need to use a second muffin tin for the extra batter.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan.

Enjoy!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spiced Chicken Salad

Sometimes those random ingredients in your refrigerator can come to a fortuitously delicious conclusion.  I knew I wanted to make chicken for dinner, but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do with it.  We had arugula, a couple of stray potatoes, lots of carrots and half a cucumber.  We had herbs, and the usual spices, oils, and vinegars.  We also had a chunk of feta.

Voila!  All of these items came together to form a filling and delicious salad.  The chicken breast is marinated for a mere 10-15 minutes in yogurt and spices, then cooked in a cast-iron skillet and placed atop a salad of mixed veggies and boiled potatoes.  It's simple and filled with flavor. 

This is a basic formula that could work with any number of variations.  Cook a piece of marinated chicken breast and you can put it on top of just about anything, and then call it spiced chicken salad.  This particular combination works wonders, but if you have some mixed baby greens and tomatoes, you could use those instead of the arugula and potatoes.  You could ditch the feta and opt for fresh mozzarella, cubes of sharp cheddar, or no cheese at all if you like. 

Once again, I invite you to take my recipe and do whatever you like with it.  That's what playing in the kitchen is all about.

And speaking of which, I am thinking about changing some things up on this blog.  Is there anything you'd like to see more of?  Anything new you'd like to see besides recipes?  I promise to consider any serious suggestions.  Thanks!

Spiced Chicken Salad
serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup plain lowfat yogurt
pinch of ground cinnamon
bigger pinch of ground cumin
salt to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, divided
2 skinless boneless chicken breast cutlets
2 medium red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups baby arugula
1/2 hothouse cucumber, cut lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
cooking spray
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup diced feta cheese

DIRECTIONS:

1.  In a shallow dish, combine yogurt, cinnamon, cumin, a pinch of salt, and about half the parsley.  Place the chicken cutlets in the dish and turn to coat well with the yogurt mixture.  Let marinate for 10-15 minutes. 

2.  While the chicken marinates, place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cool water by about 1 inch.  Place on the stove over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat slightly and cook until potatoes are fork-tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside to cool.

3.  While the potatoes are cooking and the chicken is marinating, put the arugula, cucumber, and carrots in a large salad bowl with the remaining parsley. 

4.  Heat a cast-iron skillet, sprayed well with cooking spray, over medium-high heat.  When it's hot, shake the excess marinade off the chicken and add it to the skillet.  Cook for about 4 minutes on each side, or until browned and cooked through.  

5.  Drizzle the vinegar and oil over the salad and toss.  Add feta and toss again.  Divide the salad among two plates and add the potatoes around the perimeter.  Place a cooked chicken cutlet on each salad and serve.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Penne with Zucchini and Mint

This pasta is perfect for a weeknight.  We had some special impromptu dinner guests tonight, and it was easy to quickly pull this together while visiting at the same time.  Pasta with vegetables are a no-brainer, but pasta with zucchini and mint is a particularly special combination.  This duo is not only healthy, but it is refreshing and unusual enough to make even simple pasta with garlic and olive oil interesting.  The citrus works wonders, too.

Great zucchini is popping up at the farmers markets now, so make this now!  It's easy, delicious, and healthy.  The norm in my kitchen, or so I like to think.

Penne with Zucchini and Mint
adapted from Ellie Krieger's So Easy
serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

12 oz. whole wheat penne pasta
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4 inch half-moons
juice and zest of one medium-sized lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook penne according until al dente.  Drain.

2.  While the pasta water is coming to a boil, put the olive oil and sliced garlic into a deep skillet over medium-low heat.  Stir frequently, and cook until garlic is lightly golden, about 6-8 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the garlic.  Add zucchini, stir, and then put a tight lid on the skillet.  Let cook for 6-8 minutes, or until zucchini is just tender.

3.  Add lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper to the zucchini.  Add the cooked pasta to the pot and stir everything to combine.  Stir in parmesan and mint leaves just before serving.

Enjoy!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Strawberry Challah French Toast

Some dishes need no introduction.  Strawberry challah French toast - I think it speaks for itself.  Think fluffy, slightly sweet and cinnamony French toast kissed with super-ripe, juicy strawberries.   Now you can stop drooling and make it for your breakfast.

Challah is by far the best bread for any French toast, in my opinion, but of course you can use whatever you have on hand and see how it goes.  Cut the slices of bread nice and thick, about half an inch, so that it can soak up the egg mixture without getting soggy too fast. 

French toast is good.  Strawberry challah French toast is better.  Welcome to the weekend!

Strawberry Challah French Toast
makes 2 slices

INGREDIENTS:

5-6 medium sized strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup nonfat milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cinammon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 thick slices Challah or similar bread

DIRECTIONS:

1.  In a medium bowl, sprinkle the sugar over the sliced strawberries and toss gently.  Let sit while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

2.  In another bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon to combine well.  

3.  Place the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat and let it melt.  

4.  Dip the slices of bread in the egg mixture to coat both sides and the edges, and transfer to the skillet after the butter has melted.  Don't be tempted to raise the heat from medium.  Let cook for about 3 minutes on the first side, then flip to cook the other side.  If it resists when you try to lift it with a spatula, wait another minute or so before flipping.  Then you can flip back and forth every minute or so until both sides are golden-brown and the bread no longer looks soggy.

5.  Serve the French toast topped with the strawberries.

Enjoy!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Snap Pea and Carrot Salad with Ginger-Cucumber Dressing

The other night with our burgers, we ate this incredibly refreshing salad.  You might think all salads are refreshing, but this one really takes it to another level.  Not only are the veggies in the salad crisp and rejuvenating, but the dressing itself will wake up your taste buds in the best kind of way. 

Sugar snap peas and carrots are magical vegetables, in my opinion.  They are sweet and crunchy and juicy.  They also happen to smell and taste delicious.  Toss them with some lettuce and a cucumber-ginger dressing, and you have a bordering on transcendental salad.  This is seriously good salad, folks.  Seriously. 

Cucumber and ginger go together so well - one is mild and the other is hot, but together they are a powerful duo.  This is the kind of salad I imagine you'd be served at a fancy spa in the desert somewhere.  Or you could just make it at home, like I did.  I'm thinking the latter is a lot less expensive.

Snap Pea and Carrot Salad with Ginger-Cucumber Dressing
adapted from Simple Fresh Southern
serves 3

INGREDIENTS:

1 large handful sugar snap peas, stems trimmed, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely shredded on a box grater
1 small head romaine, sliced into 1/4 inch thick ribbons
salt to taste
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 English hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into chunks
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Toss snap peas, carrots, and lettuce with a pinch of salt in a large bowl to combine.  Set aside.

2.  Put the ginger, cucumber, oil, and vinegar in a food processor with another pinch of salt.  Process until the dressing is smooth and thoroughly combined.

3.  Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until evenly coated.  Season to taste with salt, and serve.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Grass-Fed Beef Burgers

It has been a really long time since I made a hamburger.  Turkey and chicken burgers, sure, but not beef.  I limit my beef consumption to once a month, and a contributing reason for that is the difficulty in finding grass-fed beef (which is healthier and more environmentally friendly) in grocery stores.  Well I have good news, people.  It is becoming more common.  I happened upon a 1-pound package of organic, grass-fed ground beef at Trader Joe's this weekend!  Miracle of miracles.

The beauty of grass-fed beef, among other things, is that it has a unique flavor of its own that doesn't require a lot of doctoring.  This burger recipe seemed like the best way to use it, since it is so uncomplicated.  A simple combo of Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce, some salt and pepper, and voila.  Sure you can top it with ketchup, mustard, whatever you like after you're done.  Some good quality aged white cheddar is a nice addition (as pictured above).  But the burger itself has a fantastic depth of flavor that is hard to compete with.

Now that I've found grass-fed ground beef I'm not going to start eating it every week, but it definitely makes me feel good about my monthly beef consumption.  Eco-conscious meat eaters (no that is not a paradox), rejoice.

Grass-Fed Beef Burgers
serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound organic, grass-fed lean ground sirloin or chuck (85:25)
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
cooking spray
2 thin slices of aged white cheddar (or other cheese)
2 whole wheat hamburger buns, toasted if desired

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Heat a grill pan over high heat.  While it preheats, use a fork to gently combine the ground beef, mustard, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper (to taste) in a bowl until well combined.  Divide into two patties no thicker than an inch each, and create a slight indentation in the middle of each patty so they don't puff up too much in the middle.

2.  Spray the preheated grill pan with cooking spray and add the patties to the pan.  Sear for about one minute on each side, then reduce heat to medium-high and cook for about 5-8 minutes per side, to desired doneness.  

3.  When burgers are just about done, place a slice of cheese on each patty and tent with foil.  Turn off the heat and let sit for a couple of minutes.   Place the patties onto the buns and serve.

Enjoy!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Spicy Corn Chowder

Holy lord is this soup spicy.  Granted, I made the bold choice of leaving the seeds in our serrano peppers.  I think we each drank two glasses of water along with our soup (great dieting strategy - you get full faster! Okay I'm only kidding, but it's sort of true). 

I love the flavors of this soup - only I drowned them out a bit with spice.  I'd recommend you de-seed your serrano chiles and then put them in the soup.   The result is a sweet yet spicy corn chowder with delicious salty bacon on top.  It's a little creamy and a little crazy.  It's lovely. 

This post might seem out of the blue, but believe it or not, sweet corn is popping up already in the farmers market!  I got some in my CSA bag last week, much to my shock.  So it seemed perfect to make full use of the corn as this soup does - cob and all!  You are literally milking the corn for everything it's worth.  It's a labor of love, but the corn rewards you.  It really does.

Spicy Corn Chowder
adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Healthful Cooking
serves 3

INGREDIENTS:

2 ears corn, husks removed
1/2 cup half and half
1 small yellow onion, cut into a large dice
1 medium-sized red skinned potato, cut into a large dice
2 serrano peppers, seeds and ribs removed, and diced
2 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
salt to taste
2 slices uncured, nitrate-free bacon

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Cut the corn kernels from the cob over a large bowl to catch them.  (It's easiest if you invert a small bowl inside the large bowl and rest the cob on the small bowl as you slice off the kernels - the large bowl will catch them.)  

2.  Use the blunt side of the knife to scrape the cobs afterwards to get all the "milk" out.  Place the corn, cobs, and milk in a medium Dutch oven or soup pot.  Add 3 cups of water and turn on the heat to high.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle boil and cook for about 10 minutes.

3.  Pour the mixture into a sieve over a large bowl, so the bowl catches the broth and the corn gets caught in the sieve.  Discard the cobs  (try to squeeze the juices out if you can, but don't burn your hand).  Set aside half the corn.  Pour half the corn broth back into the empty Dutch oven.

4.  Place the other half of the broth and corn into a food processor or blender, and add the half and half.  Puree until smooth and creamy.  Set aside.

5.  Add the onion, potato, and serrano peppers to the broth in the Dutch oven and turn the heat to high.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.  Pour the creamy corn broth mixture into the pot, add the green onions, and season the soup to taste with salt. 

6.  While the soup cooks, cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat, flipping often, until crispy.   Ladle the soup into bowls and top with crumbled bacon.  (Leave off the bacon if you want this to be vegetarian).

Enjoy!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Chocolate Chip Banana Snack Cake

This is one of those great in-between treats that isn't quite desserty enough to rule it out for breakfast.  It's a bit more cakey than banana bread, but not as sweet as your typical cake.  You can have a slice with a cup of coffee and feel good that you're starting your day right.

There is no refined sugar or flour in this cake.  There is, however, chocolate.  And banana.  And honey.  It's like a big healthy muffin in the form of a cake.

As you might be able to tell, I'm having a hard time classifying this cake.  Hence the term "snack cake."  I think snack cake is a nebulous category of food, not quite pigeonholing itself in the realm of dessert, breakfast, or after-school snack, so that it can work for any of these three.  The bottom line is, you'll like it.  Your kids will like it.  And the world will be a better place if you make it.

(Okay, I made that last one up.)

Chocolate Chip Banana Snack Cake
makes one 8 x 8 cake

INGREDIENTS:

cooking spray
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup nonfat milk
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
3 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Preheat oven to 400.  Lightly spray an 8 x 8 cake pan with cooking spray.

2.  Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl.

3.  In a separate bowl, mix the banana, milk, honey,  egg, and oil together.

4.  Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet.  Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just combined.  The mixture should be thick but wet - if it's too dry, add a splash more milk.

5.  Stir in chocolate chips and then transfer batter to the prepared pan.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until browned on top and a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool 5 minutes, then serve warm.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cauliflower Gratin

There aren't many vegetables that I don't like, but there are those I tend not to choose (to put it nicely).  Cauliflower is one of those vegetables.  Still, I belong to a CSA, and the dutiful thing is to use all the produce I can, even the items I'm not so crazy about.  When I saw a recipe for Cauliflower Gratin, I thought perhaps I'd found that dish that would win me over.  (I've tried before, but it didn't quite do the job).  After all, it's cheesy and crunchy and creamy - what's not to love?

Well, it is really tasty, I have to say....for cauliflower.  If you like cauliflower already, you are going to *love* this.  If you don't, well, it will make cauliflower a bit more tolerable.  (I'm really selling this, aren't I?)

The crunchy bread crumbs, the melted cheese, and the creamy finish serve as a tasty backdrop to the still-slightly-crunchy cauliflower, the way the major cast members of a gratin are prone to do.  Serve it along with some of your favorite things, and it becomes a nice well-rounded dish.  We had ours with grilled chicken and roasted brussels sprouts.  Yum.

Cauliflower Gratin
adapted from Food Network Magazine
serves 4 as a side dish

INGREDIENTS:

1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 cup half & half
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
pinch of salt
1/2 cup shredded cheese (gruyere or mozzarella works)
1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Place the cauliflower florets in a shallow baking dish or casserole.  

2.  Whisk together the half & half, mustard, and salt in a small bowl.  Pour over the cauliflower.  Top with shredded cheese and bread crumbs.

3.  Bake for 45 minutes, or until the cauliflower is easily pierced with a fork but still has a bit of crunch, and the topping is brown and crunchy.  Serve hot.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Potato, Spinach and Bread Soup

Soup doesn't need to be fancy or complicated to be completely delicious.  This recipe is for an extremely humble soup; the kind of thing you'd imagine would have been considered "peasant" fare in a less enlightened time.

Well, peasant fare or not, it's incredibly tasty, easy to prepare, and comforting as any good soup should be.  There are shockingly few ingredients - most of them are already in the name.  This is definitely a meal in a bowl - you don't even need bread for dunking, as it is already in the soup! 

The flavor profile is simple and familiar, but these elements all together are not entirely obvious.  Give it a try and see.

Potato, Spinach and Bread Soup
adapted from Jack Bishop's Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook
serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 pounds baby Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock
4 cups packed spinach leaves, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups cubed (1/2 inch) day-old whole grain baguette
extra virgin olive oil for serving

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Place the potatoes and vegetable stock in a medium soup pot or Dutch oven.  Turn the heat to high and bring to a rapid boil.  Cook for 15 minutes, uncovered.  

2.  Reduce heat slightly (but keep a bubble going) and add the spinach, pressing it down into the liquid gently.  Salt and pepper to taste, then place a lid on the pot and cook for 10 minutes, or until potatoes are falling apart and spinach is tender.

3.  Turn off the heat and stir in the bread cubes.  Cover the pot and let sit for 5 minutes, allowing the bread to soak up some broth.  The soup will be quite thick.

4.  Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil.

Enjoy!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mocha Cake with Mocha Nutella Frosting

For mother's day, I wanted to make a dessert that felt mother-ish.  Particularly, one that my mother would like.  We also were going to have a group of 18 people, so it had to be something that could stretch for a large group.  First, I thought to do a sheet cake.  Second, I thought chocolate.  Third, coffee.  Voila - Ellie Krieger's mocha cake!

I changed the frosting to a different one I found on Tasty Kitchen because the original recipe called for a cream cheese frosting, and my mother is not a fan.  Instead, I made a Mocha Nutella frosting that was out of this world.  The combination of the moist mocha cake and the sweet nutty frosting was absolutely fantastic.

This one is a crowd pleaser, for sure.  It's tasty, it's pretty, and it's different than your typical chocolate cake.  Make it for your next family gathering!

Mocha Cake with Mocha Nutella Frosting
adapted from The Food You Crave and Tasty Kitchen
makes one 9 x 13 cake

INGREDIENTS:

for the cake:
Cooking spray
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups plain lowfat yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
2 ounces good quality dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa)

for the frosting:
1 tablespoon nonfat milk, plus more for texture
1 teaspoon instant coffee
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray.  Preheat oven to 350.

2.  Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

3.  Whisk together melted butter, canola oil, eggs, and egg whites until well combined.  Fold in the yogurt, vanilla, granulataed sugar, and dissolved instant coffee.  Mel the chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl in the microve for 90 seconds on high (careful not to burn it!)  and stir it into the batter.

4.  Gradually add dry ingredients to the wet, and stir until just incorporated - do not overbeat.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake until cake has risen nicely and a toothpick comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.  Let cool completely on a rack.

5.  Make the frosting:  dissolve the instant coffee in a tablespoon of milk and set aside.  Beat the butter, Nutella, powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla in a bowl with a handheld electric mixer on high.  Add the dissolved coffee and milk and beat well.  Add additional milk as needed to achieve a smooth frosting consistency.  Frost the cake when it has cooled completely.

6.  As a nice added touch, grate a little chocolate on the top for decoration.  Cut into squares and serve.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Shaved Asparagus with Parmigiano-Reggiano

Did you know you can eat asparagus raw?  I don't know if that necessarily means you'll want to grab a stalk and start gnawing on it, but when you shave it thinly with a vegetable peeler and toss it with a simple lemon vinaigrette, it's pretty divine.  Add parmigiano to the mix, and a bit of sea salt, and you're in business.

This recipe comes from Mario Batali's latest book, and it is a great example of the beauty of simplicity.  When you have excellent produce, you shouldn't mess with it too much.  If you can find a way to eat it raw, all the better. 

Mario includes this in the antipasti section of Molto Gusto, but I think it works great as a salad or a side dish, too.  Try it out and see what you think.  I'll bet you've never had anything quite like it.

Shaved Asparagus with Parmigiano-Reggiano
adapted from Mario Batali's Multo Gusto
serves 2-3

INGREDIENTS:

1 bunch medium asparagus, tough ends snapped off
1/4 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon warm water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into long diagonal shavings.  It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be thin.

2.  Put the cheese in a large bowl and whisk in the lemon juice and warm water.  Whisking constantly, drizzle in the oil slowly to create a loose emulsion.  Add the asparagus and toss everything together.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Shepherds Pie

With mother's day around the corner, I am extra inspired to make dishes that remind me of my mother's cooking.  This is the epitome - shepherds pie made lighter, healthier, and more delicious than you've ever had before.  Most people think of shepherds pie as beef stew topped with mashed potatoes, or something along those lines.  Well it's about to get much more interesting.

This recipe is an adaptation of my mother's.  She always makes it with turkey instead of beef, and adds loads of flavor from a couple of secret ingredients (which, of course, will not be secret for long).  The base is almost like a bolognese with an extra hit of seasoning that you don't quite expect.  The topping is glorious mashed potatoes with the skins left on, and the finishing touch is just a delicate sprinkling of cheese to add that something special.

The primary secret ingredient in this shepherds pie is somewhat controversial.  It's Marmite.  If you're not familiar with Marmite, it is a much-loved and yet much-hated ingredient for the children of British families.  I happen to fall in the love camp, but if you fall into the less-enlightened (in my opinion) hate camp, or you simply don't want to try it, you can use a bit of Worcestershire sauce, or just increase the tomato paste.  Marmite is a vegetarian yeast-based spread, but it lends a beefiness to this shepherds pie that would definitely be missed if you skip it.  You can also use Vegemite, which is the Australian equivalent. 

Shepherds pie, in my family anyway, is the ultimate comfort food.  And it only seems to get better the next day, so definitely make enough to have leftovers.

Shepherds Pie
serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. baby Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and halved
salt
2/3 cup skim milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 lb. ground white meat turkey
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons Marmite or Vegemite
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes, mostly drained
2 tablespoons grated mozzarella or white cheddar

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Place the potatoes in a pot and fill with cold water to about one inch above the potatoes.  Salt it.  Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork.  Drain, return to the pot, and add the milk and butter.  Mash the potatoes until smooth.  Salt to taste.

2.  While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high.  Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are starting to soften, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and red pepper flakes. 

3.  Add the turkey to the pot and break it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks.  Cook, stirring often, until the turkey is no longer pink, about 3 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and Marmite and stir to distribute fairly evenly.  Add the diced tomatoes and a little bit of their juices and stir everything together.  Let cook about 5 more minutes to evaporate some of the moisture.

4.  Preheat the oven to 375.  Transfer the turkey mixture to a 8 x 8 baking dish and top with the mashed potatoes.  Smooth them out to create an even layer.  Sprinkle with the cheese and bake in the preheated oven for 15  minutes, or until the potatoes are starting to get crusty and golden on top.  Serve hot.

Enjoy!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Raspberry Scones

Berry season is well underway.  When I saw that this month's issue of Everyday Food had a whole feature on raspberries, I had to get in on the action. 

These scones are easy.  These scones are flaky and buttery.  These scones are studded with fresh raspberries.  I think that should get you up out of your seat and high-tailing it to the nearest market for fresh berries. 

As with any scone, these make an excellent breakfast pastry, or a nice accompaniment to an afternoon cup of tea.  Or you could just have them for dessert.  Or lunch.  Or a midnight snack.  No one has to know.

And a note:  any time you see buttermilk in a recipe and don't feel like buying it, you can substitute the same amount of milk, and add a squirt of lemon juice or a teaspoon of vinegar, let it sit for about five minutes, and then use it.

Raspberry Scones
adapted from Everyday Food
makes 16

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg yolk
6 oz. fresh raspberries, washed and gently dried

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Preheat oven to 400.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.

2.  In a food processor, pulse the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt to combine.  Add butter and pulse until pea-size pieces form.  

3.  In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and egg yolk.  Slowly stream in through the feed tube of the food processor and pulse until the dough just comes together.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.

4.  Form the dough into a cohesive piece and flatten into a 1 inch thick square.  Sprinkle the raspberries over the top.  Knead gently, just a few times, to get the raspberries into the dough.  Warning: it will be squishy and messy, and that is okay.

5.  Cut the dough into relatively even pieces - you should easily get 16 fairly small scones.  Place on the prepared baking sheet 2 inches apart and bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until golden brown.  Let cool a few minutes.

Enjoy!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Lemon Tarragon Pasta

Sometimes you need something genuinely quick and easy to pull together for dinner.  For instance, when you've just returned from a way-too-long business trip to Dallas, Texas, and you are starving, but have next to nothing left in the fridge because your husband lived off cereal and take-out during your absence. 

Yes, the reason I haven't posted all week is for the above-stated reasons.  And I got home ready to eat just about anything, but not just anything.  I still wanted something wholesome and tasty, something that would say, "Yes, you are home, and you get to eat home-cooked meals again."  So I whipped together the perpetual comfort food: pasta. 

This is based on a pasta dish my mother used to make a lot when I was in high school.  It's simple, flavorful, and definitely hits the spot when you need something quick and filling.  You can make it a side dish alongside chicken and/or veggies, or fish, or you can just make a salad to go with it.  I sauteed some chicken sausage and mushrooms to have with it, and my belly is very happy now.  No more Tex-Mex for me.  (Not that there's anything wrong with that).

You probably already have all the ingredients for this - if you don't have tarragon, you can easily substitute basil (even dried basil if you're really desperate). 

Lemon Tarragon Pasta
serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

salt
4 ounces whole grain spaghetti or angel hair
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
juice of 1/2 lemon

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Add the pasta and cook until just al dente, probably about 5-7 minutes depending on the thickness of your pasta.

2.  At the same time that you add the pasta to the water, heat one tablespoon of oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  As soon as it's hot, reduce heat to low and add the garlic.  Cook, stirring, for less than one minute, until fragrant.  Be careful not to burn it.  Add the tarragon and lemon zest, and season lightly with salt.  Cook, stirring, for another minute.  Add lemon juice and stir.

3.  Before draining the pasta, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.  Drain pasta and return to the pot.  Add the lemon and tarragon mixture and the reserved cooking liquid, and stir well.  Stir in remaining oil and salt to taste.  Serve.

Enjoy!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Roast Turkey Breast with Kale, Sweet Potatoes, and Beets

It smells so good in our house right now - like Thanksgiving!  And it was a lot easier to achieve than a Thanksgiving dinner, believe you me.

The other day I picked up a turkey breast half from the grocery store, prepared to create a delicious and hearty meal.  I finally got around to making it tonight.  I took the veggies I had leftover from last week's CSA (the ones that would roast well, anyway), and tossed them with some oil and salt in the roasting pan.  I prepared the turkey breast with some improvised seasoning and put it on top on a rack.  I roasted it.  The end.

Well, almost the end.  Add in a simple pan gravy and a very happy tummy.  This is an easy way to evoke the flavors of everyone's favorite annual meal any time of year.  The kale, beets, and sweet potatoes roast beautifully in the turkey drippings and take on an incredible depth of flavor they never knew they had in them.

This could be a special occasion meal, or even a simple Friday night with the family meal.  You make the choice.

A note:  get the turkey breast out of the fridge at least half an hour (but no longer than two hours) before you are going to cook it.

Roast Turkey Breast with Kale, Sweet Potatoes, and Beets
serves 3-4

INGREDIENTS:

1 bunch of kale, tough stems and ribs removed, coarsely chopped
2 large beets, trimmed, peeled, and quartered
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt
1 skin-on, bone-in turkey breast half, about 2.5 pounds
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
zest of one lemon
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon flour

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Preheat the oven to 450.  Take a small roasting pan with a rack, remove the rack, and place the kale, beets, sweet potato, and garlic in the pan.  Toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Push the veggies to the perimeter of the pan to make room for the rack, and place the rack back in the pan.

2.  Rinse and pat dry the turkey breast.  Season both sides fairly generously with salt, tucking some under the skin with your fingers.  Place the turkey breast on the roasting rack over the vegetables and drizzle it with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Rub the oil over the breast with your hands, and tuck some under the skin.  Season the turkey with the poultry seasoning and lemon zest, tucking some under the skin.

3.  Place the roasting rack in the oven and cook for 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to 400, then cook for another 20-30 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165.  Remove from the oven, and transfer the rack with the turkey on it to a cutting board to rest for about 10 minutes.  

4.  Transfer the vegetables to a casserole or serving dish while the turkey breast rests.  Place the roasting pan with the turkey drippings on the stove over medium heat.  Add the broth, and whisk the flour in, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Cook for about 5 minutes, until a nice brown gravy forms.  

5.  Carve the turkey breast and serve sliced and drizzled with gravy, with the veggies alongside.

Enjoy!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Broccoli Polenta

It's pretty clear, if you browse this site, that I love polenta.  I don't often make it the two-step way; that is, cooking it, cooling it, then cooking it again.  This method of making polenta results in a more solid base that can be topped with any number of things and possibly even treated as a finger food.  It's kind of fun, really.

This variation not only involves the two-step cooking process, but it mixes good old broccoli into the polenta itself, making it hearty and chunky and more like a meal than an appetizer.  I chose to drizzle marinara sauce over the top, but you could eat it plain, with meat, or with other veggies on top.  It's basic and good.

Broccoli Polenta
adapted from Veganomicon
serves 2-3

INGREDIENTS:

1 3/4 cups vegetable broth
pinch of salt
1/2 cup polenta (the grain, not the pre-prepared stuff)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups very finely diced broccoli, florets and stems

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Bring the broth and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add the polenta in a slow, steady stream, whisking as you add it.  Add the broccoli and olive oil, stir well, and reduce heat to low.  Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often.

2.  Turn off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  By the end it should be very thick.  Transfer the polenta to a small greased baking dish or casserole, and refrigerate for one hour.

3.  Preheat the broiler (preferably in your toaster oven, if you have one).  Grease a baking sheet with olive oil.  Cut the set polenta into squares and transfer to the baking sheet.  Cook under the broiler for 7-10 minutes, or until golden-brown.  Serve.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Mmm, yum.

Okay I guess I should say more than just that.  Sweet potatoes are a delightful blend of sweet and savory, starch and veggie, angelic and naughty.  Mash them up and bake them into a biscuit, and suddenly you open up all kinds of possibilities.  Have them with a little butter and jam, or some honey, and you've got a sweet treat.  Have them with some prosciutto or ham, and you have a savory snack.

These came out fairly small, more like a soft little cookie than a biscuit, so if you want a heartier biscuit that you can do a bit more with, you might want to double the size (thereby cutting the number of biscuits in half - yes, I can do basic math!)

As with most baked goods, if not all, these biscuits are best straight out of the oven.  But you can eat them cool, too.  They're versatile like that.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
adapted from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea
makes 12-16, depending on size

INGREDIENTS:

2 medium sized sweet potatoes
2/3 cup milk (I used skim)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Preheat toaster oven (or oven) to 375.  Place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife.  Let cool, then peel and coarsely chop.  Mash the sweet potatoes.  You will have a little over a cup of mashed sweet potato.

2.  After the sweet potatoes are cooled and mashed, preheat the oven to 450.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat liner.

3.  In a medium bowl, mix sweet potato, milk, and butter.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet and stir gently to combine to a soft dough.

4.  Drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheet (or make them bigger if you like).  You don't need to space them out too much because they won't really spread.  Bake 12-15 minutes, or until golden.

Enjoy!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Honey-Lime Salmon Salad

This is seriously one of the most delicious things I think I have ever made.  And it was one of those impromptu, what's-in-the-fridge-and-how-can-I-make-it-yummy meals.  I'm glad I paid attention to what I was doing, so you can benefit from my top secret lab experiments, i.e. improvisation in the kitchen.

When I know in advance that my husband is going to be elsewhere for dinner, I often take the excuse to cook fish.  I so rarely get to make it, that it becomes a special occasion of sorts in my kitchen.  Invariably, I turn to wild Alaskan salmon, my favorite seafood of all.  Tonight I dug up a bunch of vegetables from my CSA that needed using, and made a lettuce-free salad to serve as a bed for the star of the show.

This is simple and incredibly quick to pull together.  It's remarkably healthy.  The salad "dressing" doesn't need any oil because of the fat from the avocado and the salmon, which balances everything out.  This is company-worthy, but easy enough to make on a weeknight. 

The cats were sniffing the air in appreciation as I cooked this.  I think that's pretty high praise.

Honey-Lime Salmon Salad
serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

2 medium-large carrots, peeled and grated
3 baby zucchini, grated
2 kirby or persian cucumbers, diced
1 large avocado, diced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 lime, cut in half
12 oz. wild Alaskan salmon fillet (or two 6-oz. salmon fillets)
salt
2 tablespoons honey
cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Combine the grated carrots, zucchini, cucumber, avocado, and scallion in a bowl.  Drizzle the juice of 1/2 the lime over them and toss to combine.  Set aside.

2.  Season the salmon on both sides with a pinch of salt and the honey.  Drizzle with the juice of the other 1/2 lime. (Note, you might want to season one side of the salmon, and then season the other side after you put the seasoned side down in the skillet, so you don't get honey everywhere).

3.  Heat a medium-large nonstick skillet, sprayed lightly with cooking spray.  When it's hot, add the salmon and cook, about 2-3 minutes per side (less if you just want to sear it).  

4.  Season the veggies with salt just before serving.  Serve each 6 oz. fillet (or cut the 12 oz. fillet in half) on a bed of the vegetables. 

Enjoy!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Pasta with Turkey Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

This recipe marks my 300th post!  Who knew?  Anyone who wondered if I'd keep it up this long, well, there's your answer.  And what better way to celebrate than with a plate filled with comfort food?

We're not looking at any ordinary spaghetti and meatballs here, folks.  These are moist, flavorful turkey meatballs doused with super spicy, rich tomato sauce.  And better yet, they're healthy, too!  We were all out of spaghetti in our house, so I used whole wheat elbows instead.  Feel free to use whatever whole wheat pasta you like.

Also, the sauce is spicy, folks.  I boldly assumed that Ellie's recipe wasn't going to be spicy enough for me, so I amped up the spice.  This led to a dish that had me reaching for my water glass after every other bite.  Don't get me wrong, it was fabulous, but it was a bit hotter than intended.  So take my word for it, don't increase the chipotle pepper quantity unless you want to be sweating while you eat your pasta. 

The meatballs are definitely the best turkey meatballs I've ever made.  The carrot and onion provide a sweetness and texture that is really tasty.  I highly recommend them! 

This recipe makes a lot, so you will have leftovers for days.  If you're prefer not to have meatballs for days, then cut the recipe in half.  Also, I know it's a longer recipe ingredient-wise than I normally make, but just read it through and you'll see it's pretty easy.

Pasta with Turkey Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce
adapted from Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave
serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

for the sauce:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
one 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon finely minced canned chipotle in adobo sauce (or more to taste)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or a sprig of fresh)
salt to taste

for the meatballs:
cooking spray
1 pound lean ground turkey meat
1 slice whole wheat bread, pulsed into crumbs in a food processor
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
1/2 cup finely grated carrot
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (about 1/2 small onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 large egg
pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper

for the pasta:
one 14.5 ounce box whole wheat pasta of your choice
parmesan and parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

1.  In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute.  Add the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, chipotle, oregano, and rosemary, and stir everything together.  Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, make the meatballs.  Preheat the broiler.  Spray the broiler pan or other baking pan with cooking spray.  Combine all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix well (preferably with your hands).  Form approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inch balls and place them on the broiler pan.  You will have somewhere between 12 and 20 meatballs, depending on the size.  Put in the broiler for about 10 minutes, until browned and mostly cooked.

3.  While the meatballs are under the broiler, start a pot of water to boil for the pasta.

4.  Put the meatballs in the pot of sauce and cover to let them finish cooking and the sauce thicken a bit, about 10 minutes.  Cook the pasta while this is happening.  Drain the pasta and toss it with the sauce and meatballs.  

5.  Serve the pasta and meatballs garnished with a little parmesan and parsley.

Enjoy!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Steamed Baby Artichokes

I love artichokes.  They have such an indescribably magical flavor - a combination of earthiness, sweetness, and springiness.  The big globe artichokes can sometimes seem like an awful lot of effort for not a lot of food, and that is when it's a great idea to pick up a bunch of baby artichokes.

The baby artichoke is almost entirely edible.  There are a few tough outer leaves that need to be stripped away, but otherwise they are ready to get in your belly.  There is no choke to avoid, so you can treat it basically as one big artichoke heart.  And the heart is what it's all about, after all.

This dish would be great as an appetizer, or as part of a tapas ensemble.  It also works as a side dish.  You could cut up the artichokes smaller and put them in a pasta dish, if you like.  But I think they are best alone, drizzled with the simple chive vinaigrette, and savored.

For prep purposes, just trim the stem and pull off the toughest outer leaves.  Then your baby artichokes are ready for their steam bath.

Steamed Baby Artichokes
serves 2-3 as a side dish or small plate

INGREDIENTS:

8 or 9 baby artichokes, trimmed
kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 small lemon
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Bring a couple of inches of water to a boil in a pot.  Place a steamer insert into the pot (the bottom of the insert should not be touching water) and place the artichokes in the insert.  Sprinkle lightly with salt.  Cover and steam for 15-20 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.  You should easily be able to insert a fork into the artichokes and pull it out again.  Remove from heat.

2.  Cut the baby artichokes in half and lay them on a platter, cut side up.  In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon, chives, and a pinch of salt.  Drizzle the vinaigrette over the baby artichokes.  Serve.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Buttered Fresh Peas & Green Beans

Can we just take a moment to step back and appreciate the fact that spring is well underway?  When you go to the farmers market (at least on this side of the country), you see a whole lot of green.  It is a beautiful thing.

Last weekend I picked up a magnificent batch of skinny green beans and fresh English peas.  I was super excited about the peas.  You see, I grew up hating peas.  I mean really, really hating them.  And I still don't really like frozen peas unless they are tucked into a paella or pureed to some unrecognizable form.  But fresh English peas are a whole other ball game - crisp and plump and wonderful.

When you have produce this good, it's a shame to mess with it too much.  So I simply blanched the veggies just enough to take the raw edge off them, then immediately drained them and tossed them with butter, parsley, and salt.  The end.  Fin.  Let's eat.

The result is this magnificent side dish that would be superb alongside some fresh fish, or even just tossed with some butter lettuce and served as a salad.  I ate a plate of it all by itself, and it was a beautiful thing.

Buttered Fresh Peas & Green Beans
serves 3 as a side dish

INGREDIENTS:

salt
1/2 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and then cut into 2 inch lengths
1/2 lb. fresh English peas (shells removed)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or mint

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Add the green beans and blanch for about one minute.  Add the peas and blanch for an additional 30 seconds.  Drain immediately.

2.  Return the blanched veggies to the pot and toss with the butter, parsley or mint, and a healthy pinch of salt.  Serve.

Easy peasy! Enjoy.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Red Bell Pepper Soup

My husband and I are both coming down with nasty colds right now, so soup was the obvious choice for dinner tonight.  This soup is packed with Vitamin C, which will hopefully help us kick this illness to the curb.  It also happens to taste fantastic. 

Bell peppers are remarkably underrated.  They come in most of the colors of the rainbow, and they house an incredible depth of flavor.  Red bell peppers in particular are sweet and slightly sharp at the same time.  There's a lot more to them than their beautiful color.

This soup really showcases the glory of the red bell pepper.  Thanks to a little bit of rice, it has a nice creamy starchiness when it's pureed.  It's incredibly comforting and somehow refreshing at the same time.  It's exciting to find such a great red pepper soup that doesn't involve roasted red peppers, but the bell pepper in its unadulterated form.

Red Bell Pepper Soup
adapted from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple food
serves 3-4

INGREDIENTS:

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, halved, seeded and thinly sliced
salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme
2 cups low sodium veggie or chicken broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons short grain brown rice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
pinch red pepper flakes

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and bell pepper and season with salt.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the veggies are softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.

2.  Add the garlic and thyme and cook for an additional 4 minutes, stirring often.

3.  Add the broth, water, rice, and vinegar.  Raise the heat to bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and partially cover the pot.  Let simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender.  

4.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender or food processor, until completely smooth.  Season to taste with salt and red pepper flakes.  Serve hot.

Enjoy!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tangelo Broccoli Beef

The season for tangelos is drawing to a close, but the ones that are still available are extremely juicy.  It seemed criminal not to attempt to use that excessive juice in a savory meal.  I just had to try it.

If you're not familiar with tangelos, they are the tart cousin of the orange - in fact, they are a cross between tangerines and pommelos.  They can be fairly sharp, almost unpleasantly so, in my opinion.  But they are so incredibly juicy that they definitely beat their citrus cousins in that category. 

Instead of a more traditional Broccoli Beef recipe, I thought I would combine that concept with a citrus sauce featuring our friend the tangelo.  The result is a slightly sweet, beautifully juicy (how many times can I use that word in one blog post?) and subtly unusual meal.  I threw in otherwise common ingredients for an Asian dish, to let the tangelo truly stand out.  The result was a quick and easy stir fry that is anything but pedestrian.

Use any cut of beef you like - I tend to go for leaner cuts, but anything would work here.

Tangelo Broccoli Beef
serves 3

INGREDIENTS:

1 tablespoon canola oil
florets of 1 head of broccoli, cut into uniform pieces
3/4 lb. to 1 lb. top sirloin, visible fat removed, cut into 1/4" strips
pinch of salt
juice of 1 large tangelo (about 1/3 cup of juice)
2 teaspoons Sriracha or other hot chile sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 scallion, thinly slice
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat.  Add the broccoli and cook, stirring constantly and shaking the pan on occasion, for about 1 minute, until broccoli is bright green.   Add steak and season with salt.  Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until most of the pink is gone from the beef.

2.  Whisk the tangelo juice, hot sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, cornstarch, and ginger together in a small bowl until well combined.  Pour over the beef and broccoli and reduce heat to medium.  Stir in the scallions. Continue to stir and cook until the beef and broccoli are coated in a tangelo glaze.  

3.  Serve with toasted sesame seeds if you like.  This is great over brown rice, but soba noodles would work nicely too.

Enjoy!