August 30, 2010

Ravioli with Tomatoes, Basil & Pine Nuts

Ravioli is one of my favorite foods in the entire world. If I were to be asked what my last meal would be, my answer is always, "big, cheese-filled ravioli smothered in red sauce." There is something incredibly fulfilling about this robust and comforting combination that feels to me like I am eating the equivalent of a big, loving hug. What more could I need?

These ravs may not be big or smothered in red sauce, but they are ravs nonetheless and still receive all my love, too.

They have all my favorite tastes of summer -- fresh basil, juicy tomatoes, and toasty pine nuts -- with all the comforts of savory Italian fare. This dinner is ready in moments. With the onions, tomatoes, basil, and nuts simmering in one pan and the ravioli boiling in another, all it takes is tossing the two together with some salt and pepper, and it's all done.

M and I cooked up this dish then packaged it into a takeout container. We leashed the dog and walked to the Art Museum and sat in the gazebos overlooking Boathouse Row. It was a beautiful night. The sun was setting remarkably fast. As we chewed thoughtfully and looked out over Philadelphia, I felt completely fulfilled: by these light and flavorful ravioli, the company I was in, the scene of the city around us and the calm of the dusky evening. Last meals may be a nice idea, but life with equivalently good meals is much much better...

Ravioli with Tomatoes, Cheese, and Pine Nuts: serves two generously
2 T. olive oil
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 cup or more of freshly torn basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
salt to taste
hot red pepper flakes to taste
Parmesan cheese, optional
1 package of your favorite cheese ravioli, frozen (or fresh)

In a shallow pan, heat the olive oil until it simmers.  Add the onions and tomatoes and cook until beginning to soften. Meanwhile, boil generously salted water in a large pot and add the ravioli. As the ravioli cook, add the garlic, basil, and pine nuts to the onions and tomatoes. Stir together. When the ravioli float to the top of the boiling water and are done, move them to the pan with the vegetables using a slotted spoon. Add a few T. of cooking water from the pasta to create a sauce, season with the salt and hot pepper flakes, toss, and serve.

August 29, 2010

Best Cocoa Brownies: Dense and Intense

These brownies are named "Best Cocoa Brownies."

The very first day I found the recipe for them I smiled: what a confident name for a baked-good. I printed it out. After I made them I was able to say that it is true.
They really are the Best Cocoa Brownies.

There are so many things that I can say about them (lovingly). The first is that there is absolutely, wonderfully, no way that they can be overcooked. I would invite you to try to, but there's just no sense in that. Everything about these brownies is so deliciously and decadently right that there's simply no sense in trying to get them wrong.

They are purely fudgy and deeply chocolatey. Subtle hints of bitter cocoa and fragrant notes of pure vanilla dodge consciousness. The only articulatable sensation is "Mmmmmm...."

A crispy, flaky candy top yeilds to a soft, chewy, fudgy body. Every bite is perfectly sweet and buttery. 

Once you make the Best Cocoa Brownies, the recipe will replace all others. They are the only that I will make, and that's not a limiting statement. They're simply divine.
Since their base is strong and entirely foolproof, there is room to play: Oftentimes chopped pecans and walnuts on top add texture and crunch. Other times, it's just a simple dusting of powdered sugar.

In this case, I swirled fresh raspberry jam through the top with a knife, lacing the fresh, fruity flavors through the rich chocolate batter. Summer berry goodness met the Best Cocoa Brownie. 

I cut a large, still warm piece from the pan. Just as expected, the batter clung thickly to the knife. 
Heaven had been made, my work in the kitchen done.

Best Cocoa Brownies (Ever): Recipe from
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
+ 8-inch square baking pan

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. 

In a large, microwave safe bowl combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt. Microwave on high for one minute, then stir well. Microwave again for one more minute. The mixture should be smooth and hot to the touch. Set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. 

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until it's completely incorporated. Then beat the batter hard for about a minute with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Spread evenly in the lined pan. Top with the chopped nuts or swirl in jam or peanut butter. 

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

August 27, 2010

Roasted Eggplant and Hummus Pita Pocket

Lunch is served:

A whole wheat pita stuffed with goodness: Slices of eggplant roasted with olive oil and sea salt. Layers of tangy basil hummus, thickly spread; soft, smooth, and smooshing out from the corners. Crisp and crunchy green spinach leaves.

Friday lunch brought from home may simply not get any better. This sandwich is out of this world when it is gently toasted until the pita turns a wonderful deep brown and crunchy at the edges. The hummus inside warms as its flavors brighten. The eggplant softens, yielding to its earthy undertones of salt and oil. If you can toast it, please do. I promise it will not disappoint. 

A few simple moments of preparation on a Sunday will easily provide all the ingredients necessary for at least five straight days of this delicious hand-held creation. What a happy week!  You're halfway there with a bag of pre-washed fresh spinach leaves and store bought whole wheat pita. Whip up the recipe for basil hummus, which makes enough to last for two weeks worth. Then roast the eggplant: simply wash and peel a whole eggplant, then slice into 1/2 inch rounds. Lay each slice out on a lightly oiled baking sheet, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and drizzle the eggplant with olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Bake until soft and tender, and store in the fridge to use all week.

Layer all your ingredients into the pita and wrap in tin-foil... Later, with each bite, revel in a few moments of earthy, savory bliss in the middle of your busy day.

August 26, 2010

Basil Hummus... Summer in a Single Bite

Basil is bountiful. It's peeping out of pots at the farmer's market. It's smartly positioned next to the tomatoes at the local grocery store, inviting purchase with its sweet, pungent smell. It's growing leafy and tall on those forgotten windowsill troughs that were planted a few months ago.... 

It's one of summer's wonders.

I'd venture to say that basil is summer. 
In this freshly flavored hummus, summer is all whipped up in a single bite.

You'll see a lot of recipes that include basil over the next couple of weeks. I already posted tomato-basil sauce, and I have a few other basil dishes on the table that I'll share here.

I have to say that this basil hummus is my favorite hummus recipe yet. I wanted to make a hummus to eat in pitas for lunch this week, and as I looked into my fridge I noticed that I still had cups and cups of freshly torn basil leaves all wrapped up in bundles of dish towels. There would be no wasting even a single basil leaf, yet I'd never seen a basil hummus before. I decided to make it anyway.

My food processor went to work. As I poured olive oil into the top, the ingredients were transformed into a smooth blend of nutty chickpeas and earthy tahini balanced with tangy basil and tart lemon. A couple dashes of salt made for a perfectly deeply savory and yet brightly fragrant combination.

I haven't stopped eating it since I made it. It's versatile, healthy, and all around delicious. On pita, with chips, crackers, on my sandwich...

The faster that I eat it the sooner I can make more,
And the more that I make the longer that summer lingers on.

Basil Hummus:
2 cloves garlic
1 cup basil
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 t. fresh Tahini paste (toasted sesame seeds blended with olive oil)
1/2 freshly squeezed lemon, or more if desired
Olive oil to desired consistency
Salt to taste
dash of pepper

Blend all the ingredients in the food processor until smooth, adding olive oil through the top of the processor until desired consistency has been reached. Taste and adjust lemon and salt as needed.

August 25, 2010

Sailing Toward Friday: Mai Tai Me

It's Wednesday. This I know.

Mai Tai's on a Wednesday!? Sure, why not. Posting this refreshing and sweet drink takes me straight to the weekend. I hope this little bit of hope in a glass has the same effect for you.

Mai Tai Me: Makes one serving. shake all the ingredients together and garnish with fresh fruit
Ice cubes
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 jigger (3 t.) dark rum
1 jigger (3 t.) orange liqueur
2 t. grenadine syrup (can omit if preferred)
Dash of lime juice and a dash of sugar

August 24, 2010

Eggplant Parmesan: A Healthier Way to Delicious

Last night was cold, dark, and rainy.

The Eggplant Parmesan was warm and comforting. Like a big hug.

It was a tiring Monday made better by this big baked dish of deliciousness. Last Monday I bought something new and exciting: a counter top sized brick oven. Since then I've been giving it as much love as I possibly can. Since I really really love it, that's an easy thing to do. First, I baked the panko-encrusted eggplant slices:

Then I layered everything in the dish: fresh basil-tomato sauce I'd made on Sunday night after returning from New York City, the eggplant slices on top, then the secret cheese filling and slices of mozzarella. Repeat. Top with more sauce and bake.

I couldn't help but peer into the bright little oven door. 

The sauce bubbled up the edges and the melting cheese slowly browned. The entire apartment filled with the savory aroma of tomatoes and cheese, the sweet tang of basil.

M and I heaped big portions onto our plates. Sitting at our bar-height table in the window, we watched the rain fall from the dark sky and down onto the empty street below. Philadelphia needed the rain. We needed a reason to fill our bellies with something warm and smothery. Between bites of cheese, sauce, and toasty eggplant, M said, "I can't wait for Fall."

I couldn't agree more.

Healthy Eggplant Parmesan: serves 4. Recipe adapted from Sept 2010 Cooking Light's deconstruction of Eggplant Parmesan into a healthier version. In my recipe, I make a few additional swaps for a lighter and delicious dish.

1  large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 T  water
1 cup of breadcrumbs: half whole wheat and half panko
1/8 cup grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
8 - 1/2 inch slices of peeled eggplant
Cooking spray
1/2  cup  torn fresh basil
1/8  cup grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2  teaspoon  crushed red pepper
1 1/2  teaspoons  minced garlic
1/4  teaspoon  salt
8 oz (half a container) Non-fat cottage cheese
1  large egg, lightly beaten
Remaining ingredients:
12 oz. tomato-basil pasta sauce (or your favorite jarred sauce)
1/4  teaspoon  salt
4 ounces thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
1/3  cup light feta cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Whisk egg and water in one dish, and combine breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese in another. Dip the eggplant slices in the egg and allow the excess to drip off. Then dredge in the breadcrumbs, pressing gently to adhere. Place on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray and bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pan after 15. Combine the ingredients for the cheese filling in a bowl. 
In a baking dish coated with cooking spray, spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom. Layer the baked eggplant, a dash of salt, a thin layer of sauce, half of the cottage cheese filling, then half the mozarella slices and feta. Repeat the layers, ending with the remainder of the sauce.
Cover tightly with tin foil sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil layer and bake again for another 10 minutes. Serve with whole wheat pasta if desired.

Tomato-Basil Sauce

Got basil? This fresh and easy tomato basil red sauce adds an incredible depth and brightness to any pasta dish.

2 T. olive oil
1/2 Spanish onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 carrot, diced
2 28 oz. cans of crushed, diced or whole tomatoes
2 cups fresh basil
2 T. fresh cream
2 T. sugar
1 T. hot chile flakes
1 t. cinnamon
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat a large pot over medium heat. Add olive oil and when it shimmers, add the onions and carrots and stir, 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another minute. Add the tomatoes and simmer 20 minutes, then add the rest of the ingredients. Blend well with an immersion blender. Serve or save in jars.

August 23, 2010

Sweet and Crunchy Salad Wraps

Apples and carrots and raisins, oh my!

On a hot summer night sometimes the last thing I want to do is light up the stove. A cool, crunchy, and light supper is just the ticket on evenings like this (which are numbered as the summer winds to an end). All it takes is a big bowl, cutting board and a sharp knife and these salad wraps are on the table in mere minutes with minimal cleanup. More time to enjoy the sunset!

Since I love a sweet salad, I chopped crisp Jonagold apples, shredded bright carrots, and tossed in plump, juicy raisins. Crunchy toasted walnuts were also mixed in to my salad creation:

The dressing was a refreshing and light, yet slightly creamy combination of reduced fat canola mayo, lemon, a drizzle of honey, salt, and pepper. Mix all the fruits and lettuce up well with the dressing then heap generously into big rectangular sheets of Lavash bread (thin wraps) before rolling up tightly. Cut on the diagonal, then microwave each for 30 seconds. I know that microwaving a salad sounds rather strange, but the gentle heat takes an edge off all the ingredients and deepens the flavors. It is wonderful. The juices emerge from the fruit. The dressing "relaxes" to envelop everything else. M's wrap got bolstered with juicy chopped chicken, while I kept mine vegetarian.

Bright, sweet, light and satisfying, this wrap is just as a summer night should be.

Ingredients: (serves 2)
For the salad:
4 cups washed and chopped Romaine lettuce
1 large apple, chopped
1 carrot, grated
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and broken into small pieces
2 pieces of Lavash bread or other wrap

For the dressing: 
4 T. canola mayo
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2 t. honey
1 t. salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper

First, whisk the dressing in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Next, add all of the salad ingredients to the bowl and mix together with the dressing. Evenly portion the salad onto the Lavash bread or wraps, then roll tightly. Cut in half diagonally then microwave each wrap for thirty seconds.

August 21, 2010

New Jersey Blueberry Pie

Guest blogger Camille here with a post about a blueberry pie that I think Lauren wants the secret to, although there is no big secret, just a good recipe worth sharing. With all the fresh blueberries available to us in Philadelphia from the Garden State, I have spent the latter half of this summer figuring out what to do with those two pound boxes of blueberries that I clearly cannot resist buying. This pie has been my most successful blueberry endeavor.

Image caption: In retrospect, I should have snapped a picture of a slice of the pie but eating sometimes takes precedence.

1/4 cup firm butter (1 cube)
1/4 cup margarine
2 1/2 cups all purpose or pastry flour plus 3 tablespoons for berry filling
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
2-4 tsp lemon juice
scant 4 tbs cold water
5 cups fresh blueberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbs turbinado sugar

I use a food processor to make the crust because the recipe comes from a cookbook (that my grandmother wrote) for food processor recipes. The berry section of this recipe is adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

To make the pastry, start by cutting butter and margarine into 5 or 6 slices each. With the steel blade in the processor, add 2 1/2 cups flour, salt, and slices of butter and margarine. Process until butter is in small pieces resembling corn meal. Break egg into a measuring cup. Add lemon juice and enough cold water to make contents equal to 1/2 cup. Beat with a fork to blend. With processor running, add liquid mixture in a steady stream through the feed tube. Stop as soon as dough gathers into a ball, over-processing will affect the texture of the crust. Turn onto a floured surface. Shape into two smooth balls without cracks at the edges. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 week.

To make the filling, start with fresh blueberries. I haven't tried this recipe with frozen blueberries but I would recommend thawing them first if you're going to follow the cooking times here. Rinse and pick over blueberries removing stems and moldy berries. Drain well. Combine berries, 3 tbs flour as a thickening agent, 2/3 cup sugar, and 1-2 tsp lemon juice. Separate about half of the berry mixture and cook over medium to low heat until the berries break down into a syrupy texture, about 15 minutes. Recombine the cooked blueberries with the raw ones and chill back to room temperature, I put the mix in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

While the berry mixture is cooling, remove well-chilled dough from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature to soften slightly. Roll one half of the dough a 12 inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. To transfer pastry, wrap it around the rolling pin (note here, I do not have a rolling pin so I use a tall aluminum thermos or a washed empty wine bottle) and unroll onto the 9 inch pie plate without stretching it. Trim the crust to the edge of the pie plate. Chill again before baking to reduce shrinking. While the bottom crust is chilling, roll out the second half of the pastry dough to a 12 inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Cut openings in the top crust to allow for steam release during baking.

Transfer room-temperature berry mixture to the chilled bottom crust. Transfer the top crust following the same wrapping-around-the-rolling-pin method taking care not to stretch it. Fold the top crust over the bottom crust making a thicker crust around the edge. Shape the edge with your fingers as desired. For a glossy sugar texture, brush the top crust with milk (another note, I do not have a baking brush because I find that my fingers work well for this and are easier to clean). Sprinkle on about 2 tbs turbinado sugar.

Carefully cover the pie with aluminum foil with a hole cut out of the center. This prevents the edges from over-browning. Bake in a 375 F oven for 25 minutes. I always rotate baked goods two or three times during baking to ensure even heating despite the uneven-ness of my little old oven. Remove the foil after 25 minutes and bake 25 to 30 minutes more. Pie will be finished when berry filling is bubbling out the edges or through slits in the top and crust is golden.

Cool the pie on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before serving so that it does not fall apart when you serve it up.

I served this pie with homemade whipped cream. To make whipped cream, wisk a half pint of heavy cream with a hand or electric mixer. It takes me less than 10 minutes to whip by hand. Be careful of over-whipping (it will not look like the canned whipped cream because that is made by injecting carbon dioxide gas instead of being manually whipped), finished whipped cream should barely hold its shape. When cream is about halfway done add 1-2 tsp sugar and scant vanilla extract if desired. Chill until serving.


August 19, 2010

Savory White Bean "Stew"

White beans are so versatile. Perfect for every season, white beans are fresh and light when incorporated into dinner on a summer's night, and then hearty and comforting when cooked up in a warm winter dish. I always keep both dried and canned white beans on hand in the pantry to toss into soups and pastas as a filling, fiber and protein rich addition. But sometimes, as in this savory white bean stew, these beans get to be the main event.

I loved this dish because it played to both sides of the white bean's versatility: the bright spinach and fresh tomatoes felt just right for summer, yet the savory hint of applewood smoked bacon added a depth of flavor that would be just as wonderful on a cold winter's day. Perfect.

Feel free to use canned beans for a quick dinner (it would be ready in minutes), but if you're looking for the comfort of something simmering on the stove for hours, dried are your best bet. Gently mashing some of the white beans in the pot as they cook releases their starchy quality, and as the liquid cooks down the ingredients come together in a hearty, thick consistency that resembles a stew. Serve over polenta wedges, as shown above, or over hot pasta that has been tossed with sea salt and olive oil. 

Savory White Bean Stew: (serves 2)
1.5 cups dried white beans, rinsed and picked over, simmered until just soft. (Or use canned white beans)
1 slice of thick cut applewood smoked bacon
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
8 oz. fresh spinach leaves
1 t. dried basil
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 T. salt
freshly ground black pepper

Cut the slice of bacon in half lengthwise, then into 1/2 inch pieces. Brown over medium heat in a medium sized pan. Remove the bacon and drain the grease. Do not wipe out the pan. Add the tomatoes and stir for a few minutes until fragrant, then add in the white beans with their cooking liquid. Add the bacon back in and allow to simmer until it has cooked down. Mash some of the white beans to release starch and thicken the dish. Toss in the spinach, basil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve once spinach has wilted and desired consistency is reached.

*Omit the bacon to make this dish vegetarian. If you're looking to have meat as a main, this would also be wonderful as a side to a Tuscan lamb shank or cut of chicken.

Baked Polenta

Unfortunately, it was dark out last night so the photos do not look as lovely as this polenta actually tasted. I baked the polenta to serve as a base for the white beans and spinach, but will post the recipe separately here. Polenta is easy, healthy, fat free, and delicious. I baked and served it in wedges here, but it can also be served in its creamy, unsolidified form immediately after its cooked (and in half the time).

Polenta is a great vehicle to play up or down depending on what it's being served alongside. Stir in generous hunks of mozzarella and fresh basil and you've got a decadent Tuscan side dish. Bake it topped with mozarella cheese and red sauce and you have an Italian casserole, or with refried beans and Pepper Jack for a Mexican dish. It's also wonderful as a side to any meat (chicken or shanks would be delicious choices). 

Regardless of how it's served, I like to mix dried basil into my polenta, as you can see above as the little flecks in the photo. It adds depth, flavor, and a bit of interest to this simple staple.

Baked Polenta: (serves 4-6 as a side)
1 cup polenta (not quick cooking)
4 cups water
1 T. salt
1 T. dried basil

Bring the water and salt to a boil. Slowly add the polenta as you stir. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often, for approximately 20 minutes. Stir in the basil, (stop here if you want to serve creamy) then pour into a baking dish and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top.

August 18, 2010

Hearty & Toasty Lentil Tostadas


Warm, toasty, and satisfying, these lentil tostadas are yet another simple and quick weeknight supper for the regular rotation. Since they are also low in fat and high in fiber and nutrition, there are even more reasons to keep this recipe close! M and I topped ours with broccoli and tomatoes and used less cheese to keep the fat and sodium content down (we'd had a big day of unhealthy eating), but the tostadas would be even more delicious with more cheese, and you can certainly play around with the type. Feta and goat cheese would be a wonderful low-fat cheese option. The tostadas can also be topped with whatever vegetables are in season or that you have on hand. Zuccini, yellow squash, and peppers would all be very delicious!

Take care not to leave these under the broiler for too long, or they could easily burn. I loved this dinner, and even though it would be perfect for a cold winter's night, it tasted just as good on a rather cloudy and gray summer night. There is something about lentils that are simply delicious and warming, with barely any additional spices or ingredients. I'll certainly be making these fragrant, toasty tostadas again when the cold days ahead draw closer... not that I am willing them to come any faster!

Lentil Tostadas: (Makes 4 Tostadas for 2 Main Servings)
4 Tostada shells or round tortillas
3/4 cup brown lentils, rinsed and drained
1 T. cumin
1/2 t. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
4 T. hot sauce
Vegetables of your choice
1/4 cup Monterey Jack or other cheese of choice

Add lentils and 2 cups of water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook until the lentils are soft and have absorbed the water (add water as necessary if it absorbs too fast), approx 20-25 minutes. Add in the cumin, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and mash the lentils with a fork. 
Spread 1 T of hot sauce on each tostada and top with the lentils. Add the vegetables and cheese on top and broil 6 inches from the broiler for two minutes.

August 17, 2010

Simple Supper: Spicy Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Spinach

It's my birthday today! Woohoo, I'm finally 25! 

I should be posting a picture of a layer cake topped with candles, or some decadent cupcakes I baked as a birthday treat to myself, but alas, instead this post is about spaghetti. The carrot and pineapple cupcakes with cream cheese frosting I baked last week did not turn out as pretty as a picture (serves me right for trying to make them in 20 minutes and not following a recipe), so I've been eating them in hiding all week and plan to do so again later today (maybe with a candle in one). They will sadly not be posted or eaten anywhere they can be seen.

This simple spaghetti dinner, however, will be my birthday post. It's easy, quick, and satisfying. 

It's a perfect weeknight supper that is ready in minutes. I made it for M and myself before we headed out  the door this weekend to see Maroon 5 and Owl City in concert (my birthday present from M!). The Barilla Plus pasta made it filling enough to hold us through the show, but the dish as a whole was light  (perfect for a summer night). After the concert, our tummies guided us to Franklin Fountain. Luckily, we got there ten minutes before it closed at midnight: perfect timing to score a giant cone of my favorite peanut butter ice cream to enjoy all the way back home.

So, as a main dish this spaghetti is a nice option for a light supper or when you want to save room for dessert... which is always in my case. It would also be delicious tossed with some shrimp and olive oil or as a side dish. Enjoy!

Spaghetti tossed with Spinach and Tomatoes: (serves 2)
1/2 box Barilla Plus spaghetti*
2 T olive oil
1 or 2 Roma tomatoes, diced into 1" pieces
8 oz. fresh spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. chile flakes
1 t. salt
1 t. ground black pepper
1/4 cup reserved cooking water
*(Barilla Plus is made with Lentils, and packs extra protein and fiber. I always use it in pasta dishes that do not contain meat or another protein so that the dish is still both filling and nutritious).

Prepare the pasta al-dente and reserve the cooking water.
While the water is heating and the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a medium pan. Add the tomatoes and stir to cook until fragrant and soft, then add the garlic, stir 30 seconds. Add the spaghetti straight into the pan and reduce the heat to low. Add a few T of cooking water and the spinach and toss with the salt, chile flakes, and pepper until the spinach wilted. Turn off the heat and add more cooking water to moisten the dish as needed. Adjust spices to your taste, and serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

August 16, 2010

Aunt Mary's Yeast Waffles

Light as air, but rich with deep, buttery flavors....

What a vacation thrill to wake up to a plate of my Aunt Mary's yeast waffles, loaded with fresh berries and topped with maple syrup and whipped cream. The toasty, sweet smell of the batter escaped in bursts of steam from the waffle maker, filling the air, making just sitting in the kitchen feel like an act of indulgence.

These waffles are curiously light, the yeast creating lovely nooks that fill with hidden syrup. Each bite yields a wondrous flavor and texture of buttery, lightly crisped dough followed by bursts of sweet maple. Balanced by the tartness of fresh berries, it was breakfast perfection on a plate. Since they feel like eating the most delicious air you'll ever breathe, my only warning is that you won't be able to eat just one.

If you're actually able to hold off (doubtful, but good luck), my Aunt Mary pointed out (as I questioned her every culinary move that morning) that since the waffles are more savory than sweet, they can be used as the base for dinner, as well. Perhaps topped with melted Swiss and ham, or a juicy cut of chicken. Just a couple of ideas... Regardless, you'll want to keep this recipe close. Although my Aunt Mary lives in California, we'll be connected coast to coast as long as this recipe is in my box... And since I plan for it to stay there, it looks like we'll be permanently connected, just like family should be.

Yeast Waffles:
2 cups milk
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
3 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1.Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
2.In a large bowl, combine milk, yeast mixture, butter, salt, sugar and flour. Mix thoroughly with rotary or electric mixer until batter is smooth. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.
3.The next morning, stir beaten eggs and baking soda into the batter; beat well.
4.Spray preheated waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray. Pour mix onto hot waffle iron. Cook until golden brown.
Aunt Mary's recipe originates from Allrecipes(dot)com

August 13, 2010

Spice Cookie Sandwiches

with Honey Pecan Cream Cheese Frosting

I had a semi-homemade moment with these cookie sandwiches, and I'm okay with that. I'll admit, I struggle with the idea that they are only partially from scratch, but I think they were every bit delicious and unique. After traveling last week and having lots of commitments this week, I was pressed for time. I decided to use a favorite cookie shortcut: using boxed cake mix. In this case, I used a box of spice cake and altered it as follows to produce cookies instead of cake:

1 box spice cake mix
1/4 cup butter, softened (1/2 stick)
1/3 cup milk
1 egg

Mix it all together, spoon out onto greased cookie sheets, and bake until lightly golden, about 12 minutes. Cool on the sheets for a few minutes before moving them to a cooling rack.

I love the taste and texture of cake-mix cookies. Without fail, they are both soft and chewy. I find the texture completely comforting and addicting. In this case, I made them more addicting by smooshing sweet, nutty honey pecan cream cheese frosting in between two cookies to make a sandwich. 

Our book club was gathering last night for a picnic in an adorable, quaint little park on the East side of Philadelphia, so I thought that these little hand-held sandwiches would be a perfect portable dessert. Sure enough, they traveled well, both to the park and into our smiling mouths.

Cookie Recipe Above

Honey Pecan Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese (1/3 less fat, optional) room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup plus 3 T powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 to 1/4 cup honey (start with 1/8 cup, adjust to desired flavor & consistency)
2 t. cinnamon
1/8 cup toasted pecans, processed in a food processor

Beat cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, in large bowl until fluffy. Add honey and pecans beat until smooth. If frosting is very soft, chill until firm enough to spread.

August 12, 2010

Chicken Roll Ups with Spinach and Mozzarella

M and I had a couple of special visitors last night. M's mom and dad came to spend the evening with us in Philadelphia! I decided to whip up a simple but yummy weeknight dinner for my future in-laws. 

Neat little packages of juicy chicken breast rolled up to hide a center stuffed with fresh mozzarella and spinach.

The theme of the dinner was clearly spinach, as the chicken was served with a side of spinach gnocchi and a fresh spinach salad. The four of us  had a lovely visit and it was great to have them with us before they headed on to Chicago. Since these roll ups can be prepared in advance, I had put them together the night before..This allowed us more time for talking and catching up! The only effort this took last night was a quick browning in the pan and placing them in the oven to bake for 15 minutes -- perfect for simply spending time with loved ones without fussing too much over the stove. 

Chicken Roll Ups with Spinach and Mozzarella: serves 4
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Approx 12 small balls of marinated fresh mozzarella
1 cup fresh spinach leaves
2 T. olive oil
1 T each garlic powder, dried basil, salt & pepper
1 T. butter

Place each chicken breast between two sheets of wax paper. Starting from the inside of the breast and working outward, gently pound each to 1/4 inch thin. Remove the top sheet of wax paper and place 3 mozzarella balls and a few fresh spinach leaves inside the flattened breast. Tuck the outer sides of the breast just over the filling, then roll tightly from one end over the sides and filling. Tuck the breasts fold side down and tie with a piece of cooking string. Top each breast with the olive oil, then evenly season with the garlic powder, basil, salt, and pepper. Place in the fridge for 1-24 hours. 

When you're ready to cook the breasts, heat 1 T. butter in a skillet and brown the breasts on the back and front side. Then place in a baking dish in a 400 degree oven or 15-18 minutes (drizzle with extra olive oil for extra juicy chicken), until it is no longer pink. Serve immediately.

August 10, 2010

....and we're back!

It's been over two weeks since I last posted! This would be a sad thing if I hadn't just spent the last two weeks eating many many delicious things. So, I am sorry for the hiatus, and hello again. 

Last week was spent in Martha's Vineyard with my family, where vacation was essentially spent killing time between meals, such as this delicious dinner plate of grilled swordfish topped with herb butter:

Hot off the poolside grill, it was charred to perfection and fabulously flavorful, prepared by Michael, who is a wonderful chef at my dad's cousin's compound (which is where we were lucky enough to spend our days on the island).

A number of the meals that were prepared over our vacation week were family specialties, and though I wasn't able to capture them all, I am excited to post  some of the recipes and photos here on Pumpkin Prose as soon as I am able to. These include delightfully light and buttery yeast waffles, fluffy grilled pizzas, and a refreshing red sangria.... So stay posted! I can't wait to share these family favorites.

A couple other photos: Fresh crepes filled with berries and whipped cream:

And a crepe cake!



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