October 31, 2010

Sweetly Spiced Roast Pumpkin Seeds

Perhaps, like me, you spent this Halloween weekend in search of the perfect pumpkin. In many people's case, the perfect pumpkin is the biggest, tallest pumpkin in the patch (or grocery store), but in my case the perfect pumpkin was one that could fit into my bike basket so that I could pedal home with my prize. Luckily, the pumpkin that did fit into my basket was fairly sizable, somewhat tall, and evenly proportioned. It's amazing sometimes what I'm able to tow on the front of my bike.

When M and I got home we prepared to carve out a spooky face with wide, round eyes and creepy teeth. We started scooping out the flesh from inside and into a bowl, and for me, this is where the fun began, but in the kitchen. M sketched out the face while I took the bowl of pumpkin and seeds to the sink. By filling the bowl with water the pumpkin seeds float to the top, where they can be easily scooped out, rinsed, and dried quickly in a towel.

I then poured them into a bowl and tossed them with 1 T. canola oil, 1 T. natural sugar substitute, 1 t. maple syrup, 1 t. pumpkin pie spice, and 1 t. cinnamon. The pumpkin seeds were then spread on a baking sheet and put in the oven at 300 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Occasionally, I tossed them on the pan to ensure even cooking. When they were ready, the seeds were crispy, crunchy, and absolutely delicious. The combination of sugar and spice lends a wonderful flavor to the savory pumpkin seeds.

When the pumpkin had been carved and the seeds were ready, M and I munched on this festive snack while our spooky, candle-lit face flickered away from its perch on the table. We may be too old for trick-or-treating, but there are still so many ways to enjoy Halloween and every single part of that perfect, prize pumpkin!

On Halloween, Boxed Mix Plays Dress Up

It was a perfect Fall day on Saturday. M and I spent it watching crew races on the river, biking through crunchy fallen leaves, and carving a spooky face into our Jack-o-Lantern. Late in the day we decided that the only thing that would make the day more perfect would be to invite our friends over for hot cider with brown honey rum and whipped cream. 

It was a great idea, but I would need some snacks in a flash. I turned to my best boxed friend, which only appears once a year: Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread Mix. When it does grace the shelves with its wonderful orange boxes stacked high, I know they'll sell out in a flash so I always buy three. You never know when you'll need to be ready with a quick, festive snack during the holiday season. This bread mix, with its rich molasses undertones and deep pumpkin flavor spiked with spices, is absolutely my favorite.  

Instead of a loaf pan, I used a brownie pan to bake the pumpkin bread so that I could cut dessert-style squares. I also used 1/2 cup of unsweetened apple sauce instead of the 1/2 cup of canola oil the mix called for. This cut down a bit on the unhealthy fats. 

When the bread came out of the oven piping hot, I used a toothpick to poke lots of small, deep holes all over. Then I poured  a spiced sugar glaze over the top and sides of the pan while it was still warm, which set on the top but also traveled down the holes and absorbed slightly throughout  the loaf. This little trick is what makes those dark, deliciously moist marbles inside every single bite. After cooling the pan completely, I cut big, tall squares and could barely contain myself from eating the entire pan on the spot... When everyone showed up in their costumes and the festivities started, I could say I had had a day that was all fun and almost no effort!

Pumpkin Sugar Glaze: 1/2 cup powdered sugar mixed in a small bowl with 1 t. pumpkin pie spice and 1 t. pure vanilla extract. Mix with 1 T. of milk at a time until the glaze has reached your desired consistency.

October 30, 2010

Leftover filling is this morning's breakfast

A delicious use for the leftover portion of the homemade ravioli filling is in an omelet.

The ricotta, spinach, and feta mixture melts beautifully inside the folds of soft eggs whisked with a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper. I couldn't figure out which was better, the ravioli or the omelet, but what I did  know was that the filling had gone a long way toward giving me two meals that brought major smiles!

Ricotta, Spinach & Feta Omelet: serves 1, but this recipe would be great multiplied for a brunch crowd.
1/2 cup leftover ricotta, spinach, and feta mixture (or, mix now if you did not make the ravioli)
1 t. butter
2 eggs, beaten with 1 T water
dash of tabasco sauce
dash of salt and pepper

In a non-stick round pan, melt the butter over medium heat, then reduce to medium-low. Beat together the eggs, water, tabasco, salt, and pepper, then pour into the pan. Allow the egg mixture to sit until a firm edge is set, then spoon the ricotta filling evenly across the eggs. When the omelet is fully set and the filling warmed through, flip half of the egg over to form an omelet. Serve immediately.

October 27, 2010

Homemade Ravioli: Worth the Effort!

Homemade ravioli tastes like the love it takes to make them. Supple, fresh sheets of pasta dough envelop a rich, savory filling of ricotta, spinach, and feta. Topped with a simple butter, sage, and toasted walnut sauce, the delightful flavors of the ravioli really shine through on their own.

C and I rolled the pasta dough by hand -- my arms got a serious workout as I worked two sheets of dough across my marble kitchen counter until it was almost transparent. Dollops of filling were dropped across the bottom layer of thin, delicate pasta, then covered with the top sheet and pressed into ravioli rounds. 

The entire process, which was slowed by it being our first time, took less than two hours. I would make these again in a heartbeat. The difference in freshness and quality that came from making the ravioli by hand made every bite worthy of an "Mmmm!"  I'd also imagine that enjoying the outcome with a friend made everything taste even more wonderful, too. Feel free to play with the fillings, using whatever favorite ingredients you choose, from pumpkin to ground beef, but whatever you do, have fun... and make extra. You'll want them!

Traditional Egg Pasta Dough: from Mark Bittman's 'How to Cook Everything'
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 t. salt
3 eggs
a few drops of water if needed

In a food processor, combine the flour and salt in the bowl and pulse once or twice. Add the eggs all at once and turn on the machine. Process until a ball begins to form (30 seconds), adding a few drops of water if the dough is dry or a few t. of flour if it is sticking to the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a dry, lightly floured work surface and knead until it is smooth (1-2 minutes). Add water if too dry, flour iff too sticky. It should be easy to work. Cut the dough into two even pieces, wrapping one in plastic to keep from drying out while you roll the other. Roll the dough out with a pin until it is as thin as possible, then fill as directed below.

Ricotta, Spinach and Feta Filling:
10 oz. spinach, sauteed for a few minutes, then cooled and chopped finely
1 egg
1 cup ricotta, drained for a few minutes in a fine strainer
1 cup fresh feta cheese, crumbled
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg

Directions: Combine the ingredients in a bowl, then place small spoonfuls of filling about 1" apart across the fresh pasta dough sheet. Brush with water between the filling so that the dough layers will stick, then cover with another piece of dough of equal size and press down to seal between the ravioli. Cut each ravioli with a paring knife and ensure that the ends are all sealed tightly. Boil the ravioli in small batches to keep them from sticking to each other in a large pot of salted water for 6 minutes a batch. Keep warm in a 200 degree oven between batches. Toss with butter sauce, below.

Walnut & Butter Sauce: Toast 1 cup of chopped walnuts in a pan, then add 1/2 stick of butter and 1/2 cup of olive oil. Stir in 1 T. dried or fresh sage, then season with salt and pepper. Pour over the ravioli and serve immediately.

October 25, 2010

White Chicken Chili with Wheat Dumplings

What really makes this hearty chicken chili special are the steamed wheat dumplings that are spooned straight into the crock pot during the last 30 minutes of cooking. The simple dumpling recipe, which is ready in minutes, can be easily enhanced by mixing in shredded cheese or herbs.

This chili and dumpling recipe is a favorite in our apartment, and is definitely a keeper as the cold nights become more frequent.

White Chicken Chili with Wheat Dumplings: adapted from America's Test Kitchen
3 cans of Great Northern, Pinto, or Cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
2.5 cups of chopped cooked chicken
1 cup chopped Spanish onion
1.5 cups chopped red. green, and/or yellow peppers
2 Serrano chiles (or jalapenos), chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. dried oregano
3.5 cups chicken broth
3 T. smooth peanut butter
shredded cheese for topping

In a 3.5 or 4 quart slow cooker, stir together the beans, chicken, onions, peppers, chile, garlic, cumin, salt, and oregano. Stir in the chicken broth. Cover and cook on low heat setting for 8-10 hours. With 30 minutes left, stir in the peanut butter and drop in the dumplings and turn to high setting. Cover and cook 30 minutes more.

Wheat Dumplings:
2/3 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 t. baking powder
2/3 cup skim milk
2 T. canola oil

Whisk the first 3 ingredients in a bowl. In another bowl, mix the milk and oil, then stir together with the dry ingredients until just combined (add shredded cheese, herbs, etc. for flavor if desired). Switch heat to high setting and drop the 8 dumplings into the hot stew in a single layer. Cover and steam until a toothpick comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Serve the dumplings topped with stew.

October 22, 2010

Celebrating with Strawberry Sangria

Two of M's high school friends are getting married this weekend (to each other), and I feel like starting the celebration early. What a better way to spend an evening than dancing away because two people are in love? It's a contagious, pervasive feeling, and I thought it was worth sharing with you, too.

This strawberry sangria is the perfect way to get the party started. It's the color of love, with abundant, ripe strawberries mulling in a sweet bath of deep red wine and liqueur. I hope it jump starts your weekend celebration, whether you're celebrating love or simply life itself!

Strawberry Sangria
1 bottle red wine
1 cup lemonade
3 T. triple sec
2 T. brandy
2 T. powdered sugar
1 cup sliced ripe strawberries

Directions: Combine all of the above ingredients in a large jug or bowl. Stir well to incorporate sugar and refrigerate overnight so that the strawberries can infuse flavor. The longer it sits, the better it tastes! Then serve.

October 20, 2010

Ravioli with Pesto, Asaparagus & Walnuts


When I was an undergrad in college in Worcester, MA, one of my favorite restaurants was an eclectic place  called The Flying Rhino. I could always count on an element of excitement as I perused its variety of funky dishes -- every item was unique in the combinations of flavor, ingredients, and textures.  My favorite dish there was called "Rainforest Ravioli". It was a huge plate of marscapone cheese filled ravioli in a creamy pesto sauce with crisp asparagus and crunchy toasted walnuts. Every bite was heaven. 

Maybe it's because M and I recently drove by the restaurant on a Homecoming visit to our alma mater, or maybe because we're planning our wedding in Worcester and I have it on the brain, but I had a major craving for this specific ravioli dish last week. I found myself literally salivating at the thought of the hearty, warm ravs coated in bright, creamy sauce. 

The only way to fulfill the craving was to take a walk down memory lane, using taste as a guide. M and I agreed that the resulting dish had an uncanny resemblance to the original, and I'm glad to be able to share a little bite, I mean a little bit, of my college days with you now!

Ravioli with Pesto, Asparagus & Walnuts
1 package frozen whole-wheat, lowfat cheese ravioli
1 T. olive oil
1/2 lb. asparagus, steamed and cut into 2" pieces
1/4 cup walnut pieces
1 recipe basil pesto
4 T. Greek yogurt salt & pepper to taste
fresh crumbled feta for topping

Set a large pot of salted water to boil. When it is rolling add the frozen ravioli. These will cook for 6-8 minutes but be prepared to remove them while they are still al-dente, as they will cook another couple of minutes in a separate pan with the sauce.

Meanwhile, put a skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the walnuts and toast for a couple of minutes, then add the asparagus and cook for another minute. With a slotted spoon, transfer the ravioli from the boiling water into the skillet and stir in the pesto (anywhere from 1/2 to 1 cup) and Greek yogurt. Salt and pepper to taste, serve immediately topped with crumbled feta cheese.

October 17, 2010

October is for Pumpkins!

How can a pumpkin fit inside a cookie? This pumpkin oatmeal raisin cookie somehow holds the secret, with big pumpkin flavor, chewy oats, and sweet bursts of raisins in every soft, yummy bite. The cookie's orange color make them look even more festive and seasonal.

My friend A and I debated the idea of making cookie sandwiches by whipping up a batch of orange zest or cinnamon cream cheese frosting to smother in between them... these cookies are great on their own, but I think cream cheese frosting makes everything better. This would be a perfect way to jazz the cookies up if you're making them for a party or other occasion (see recipe list for cream cheese frosting recipes). She and I decided against it only since we planned to eat a large amount of the cookies straight out of the oven, still hot and fragrant, with big cups of tea.

Fall is wonderful for many reasons, but the unique flavors of the season are the main reason that I love it so much. When October rolls around I'll find any excuse to cook with and eat pumpkin -- they may be pretty in the patch, but they're also delicious in a batch.... of cookies!

Pumpkin Oatmeal Raisin Cookies: makes approx. 48 cookies. Adapted from "The Very Best Baking" Ingredients: 
2 cups all-purpose flour 
2 cups quick or old-fashioned oats 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margaine, softened 
1 cup packed brown sugar 
1 cup granulated sugar 
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pie filling) 
1 large egg 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease baking sheets.
Combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl. Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla extract; mix well. Add flour mixture; mix well. Stir in raisins and nuts if desired. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets.
Bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned and set in centers. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

October 14, 2010

Moroccan Lamb Shanks with Gravy & Creamy Couscous

This is a wonderful recipe that was originally created for slow-cookers. I made it on the stove instead in my big, heavy dutch oven, since the thought of shanks occurred to me too late for this meal to spend a day in the crock-pot. I have to say it's the perfect meal for a cold and rainy night like tonight.

The medley of sweet dried fruit get juicy and plump as they simmer away in the savory broth of the meat, which cooks slowly until it is fall-off-the-bone tender. Paired with a simple and fast couscous made creamy by a dab of tangy Greek yogurt, it's a match made in dinner heaven. You'll want to keep this recipe for weekend nights spent at home or to impress dinner guests. It's simple to prepare, but looks and tastes out of this world... or just out of this country, as you're transported to Morocco with every delicious bite.

Moroccan Lamb Shanks: serves 2
2 lamb shanks, approx. 3/4-1 lb. each
black pepper
1/8 cup flour
2 T. cooking oil
1/4 cup dried apricots, cut in half
1/4 cup dried figs, cut into fourths
1/8 cup raisins
1/8 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup beef broth
1 T. sugar
1 T. cider vinegar
1 T. lemon juice
1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice (or allspice)
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 T. flour or cornstarch

Couscous: 1/2 cup couscous, 1 cup water, 3 T. Greek yogurt, salt to taste

Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper then coat with flower. Brown in hot oil in a large dutch oven. Remove from heat and stir together the remaining ingredients in the dutch oven, through the cinnamon. Ad the meat back in, and cover and cook on low heat for about two hours, stirring once. The lamb should be tender.

Meanwhile, bring 1 cup water to a boil, then add couscous, cover, and remove from heat. Let sit five minutes, then stir in the yogurt and salt and fluff with a fork.

For the gravy, transfer the shanks and fruit to a place and keep warm with foil. Stir 1 T. flour into the broth that remains in the dutch oven, then add water up to 1 cup until the gravy is to its desired thickness while it simmers, whisking the whole time. Place shanks and fruit on the plate with a scoop of couscous and top with the broth.

October 13, 2010

Stir Fry with Peanut Sauce

This is one of my favorite weeknight dishes. It's healthy, with a focus on veggies and whole grains, and yet satisfying and warming... it's deliciousness might have something to do with it being smothered in a sauce that uses peanut butter as a main ingredient. Yum.

The stir fry is essentially ready in the time it takes to cook the brown rice (if you use white rice, that works, too, and it can all be done in the 15 minutes it takes to cook!) Simply get your rice going in one pot, pan fry the chicken and vegetables in another, and meanwhile whisk up the sauce. Then pour the sauce over the chicken and veggies and serve over the rice. Fresh and fast, this is another "way better than takeout" meal. I also made this dinner together with the kids I babysit for, and it was simple and fun to stir up all of the sauce ingredients and put dinner on the table together. Enjoy!

Chicken & Vegetable Stir Fry in Peanut Sauce: serves 4 
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
Dash salt
1 T. olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" pieces
1 t. salt
1 T. soy sauce
3-4 cups veggies of choice (broccoli, bell peppers, snow peas, and carrots are favorites)

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup milk
1 T. hot chili paste
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. rice vinegar
1 t. dried basil
1 t. garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste

Set the rice over the stove to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook for 30-35 minutes, covered. Meanwhile, heat 1 T. olive oil in a large skillet or wok. In a bowl, toss the chicken cubes in soy sauce and salt, then cook over medium heat until golden out the outside and just cooked on the inside. Transfer to a plate. Add your veggies to the same pan and cook until tender.

While the veggies are cooking, mix the sauce ingredients in a separate bowl. Adjust seasonings and ratio of ingredients to suit your tastes. When the vegetables are just tender (still slightly crisp) add the chicken back in, the sauce, and stir fry together for 2 minutes. Serve over rice.

October 12, 2010

Apple Pear Crisp... A Different Sort of Homework

A few times a week I get to spend the afternoons hanging out after school with two of my favorite kids -- lucky me! This past week we got home to discover that the day's homework had been left at school. Usually homework is the first thing we tackle when we get in the door (after a big ol' snack, of course), but today it looked like that wasn't an option.

Call in homework #2: baking! We had a couple of apples and a can of pears. It was enough to make a sizable apple crisp for dessert for later. Baking is like having a science lesson -- it's all measuring, following steps, and paying attention to the process. It was a very educational afternoon with the most aromatic and delicious results.

We peeked into the oven regularly because the smells of the sweet baking fruit and  the buttery, cinnamon crumble topping that quickly wafted through the house were too good to ignore. Later, we topped big plates of warm and toasty fruit crisp with scoops of quickly-melting vanilla ice cream. We learned a lot that afternoon about just how yummy and fun creating things with food can be... Sometimes some of the most memorable lessons happen out of the classroom. (And don't worry, the homework was tracked down and completed later... after the crisp came out of the oven!)

Apple & Pear Crisp: adapted from Rachael Ray's recipe for Apple Crisp
2 Gala or Jonagold apples, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 can of pears in juice (drained, juice reserved), or 2 overripe fresh pears, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 T. reserved pear juice
1 t ground cinnamon
1/8 t ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1 T granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1/8 cup flour
1/8 cup finely crushed graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 stick butter
1 pint vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a 5 by 5 baking dish, combine apples, pears, juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, mix flour, graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar and butter together  with your fingers and a fork, working it until small crumbles form. Sprinkle topping evenly over the fruit mixture and bake 15 to 20 minutes until the fruit is tender and the topping is golden brown. Top the dishes of apple crisp with scoops of vanilla ice cream and enjoy with your favorite kids!

October 10, 2010

Chicago Love is Deep

Deep dish, that is. And tonight, Sunday night, we brought Chicago to Philadelphia by baking up a big pan of this Chi-town favorite. You see, M is from Chicago, so his love for this thick-crusted, hunky pie runs very deep. There are many reasons I am thankful to be marrying M, but his hometown roots and the indigenous food they have introduced into my life is certainly a noteworthy one.

No surprise -- the way to my heart is through my stomach. Ever since I took my first bite of real deep dish at Giordano's, the windy city's famous stuffed pizza joint, I, too, was hooked. I was in awe. The cavernous crust was made up of pillowy clouds of biscuit, and the filling had to be pounds worth of mozzarella... never-ending globs of thick, melted cheese lovingly kissed with a topping of sweet sauce. It simply doesn't get any better than that.

Anyway, fast forward to today, when M and I biked over twenty miles from Philadelphia out to Valley Forge and back again. M likes historical landmarks. I like the bike ride, and the land out there is gorgeous. So together we ventured out and took on the road on two wheels. Today's outing was many things: beautiful,  enjoyable, adventurous.... and a  jump-start to our appetites.

When we got home the only thing we could think about was making a big pan of deep dish pizza and loading it with healthy but yummy ingredients like sauteed spinach and peppers. We also roasted a big head of garlic so that we could spread the wonderfully soft, mild cloves over the big crusts of every slice. Thankfully, you don't need to bike 45 miles to enjoy this meal -- it's both nutritious and fun -- a good for anytime meal. And since we can't be in Chicago all of the time, it looks like deep-dish will just have to make regular visits to us instead. 

Homemade Chicago-Style Pizza: makes one 9" pie
1 package store-bought pizza crust (I used whole-wheat, but regular would be wonderful)
Flour for dusting
1 T. olive oil
1/2 lb. fresh or packaged part-skim Mozzarella cheese, shredded
3/4 cup tomato sauce
1 T. hot red pepper flakes
Grated Parmesan cheese
Toppings in any combination of your choice. Make enough to fill the body of the pie: try browning turkey sausage or ground beef, cooking down a bag of fresh spinach, sauteing colorful peppers, and layering on pepperoni, etc.

Lightly flour the dough and shape into a ball. Allow to rest out of the fridge for 30 minutes, then roll into a circle of about 10-11". Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the dough a 9" pie pan or skillet, oiled with 1T. olive oil, and prick the dough with a fork in a few spots. Allow to pre-bake for ten minutes or until lightly golden brown and bubbling. Use this time to prep the other ingredients.

When the dough is cooked in the pan remove it from the oven and poke the air out of any dough-bubbles that have formed. Now layer your shredded mozzarella down over the bottom of the dough. Evenly pile on your toppings to almost completely fill the pie, then top with a layer of sauce to cover the filling, leaving the edge of the crust exposed. Sprinkle the hot pepper flakes and parmesan cheese over the top of the sauce, then brush the exposed pie edges with a bit of olive oil.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Roasted Garlic


The simple act of roasting an entire head of garlic in olive oil and a bit off salt  is wonderful. Every clove holds a soft, spreadable, completely mild scoop of garlic, perfect for slathering onto crusty Italian bread, or, as in our case, the crusts of our deep dish pizza. 

Simply peel a head of garlic to remove the outer layer, keeping it intact. Chop the tip of each clove off, to expose the bulb. Place the head of garlic in a piece of tin foil, then pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil over the garlic head and sprinkle with sea salt. Close the tin foil, wrapping it completely, then bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes until soft. Each clove of garlic will slide right out of its casing when pulled gently with a small spoon.

October 8, 2010

Vegetable Bolognese: A Stovetop Makeover to a Traditional Favorite

Hearty and healthy, this vegetable bolognese was an experiment in using the traditional method of making a bolognese using untraditional ingredients. Bolognese, usually a rich sauce cooked with hearty hunks of ground or shredded meat in cream and wine, could certainly use a lightening up for everyday eating. I craved the flavor, but not the heaviness.

I decided to use mushrooms for their meaty consistency and flavor, along with tender and sweet carrots and fresh diced tomatoes. The result was wonderful: a robust sauce flavored with slow-simmered vegetables in a savory blend of broth and spices, with heavenly undertones of garlic and onion and just a dash of milk and parmesan for a hint of creaminess.

Pair this sauce with your favorite whole-grain or wheat pasta for even more filling nutrition. This vegetable bolognese has all of the teaste of comforting, homemade Italian dinner without any reason to hesitate heading to the pot for seconds.

Vegetable Bolognese: serves 2
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1/2 cup chopped Spanish onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. Sea salt
1 small can mushrooms, drained, rinsed and pressed, then diced into small pieces
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2-3 Roma tomatoes, diced into 1" pieces, juices reserved
2 T. tomato paste
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1/8 cup milk (preferably whole)
4 T. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 T. dried parsley
salt & pepper to taste

1/2 lb. whole wheat pasta, cooking water reserved

In a large pot, set the olive oil and butter to melt together over medium heat. Add the onion and stir 4-5 minutes until tender, then add the garlic and salt and stir another minute. Add the mushrooms and carrots and saute for a few minutes, then stir together with the tomatoes and tomato paste. Deglaze the bottom of the pan with a dash of the vegetable stock, scraping up all of the cooked bits, then pour in the rest of the stock. Simmer until everything is tender and incorporated, and meanwhile cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water.

When the pasta is done cooking and the vegetables are tender, stir in the milk and parmesan cheese, then salt and pepper to taste. Add reserved cooking water one T. at a time if needed. Stir in dried parsley and top the pasta with the sauce. Serve with extra parmesan cheese on the side.

October 7, 2010

Peanut Butter Banana Bread... and life is complete

I love everything peanut butter.  

It's a genetically inherited trait, passed on directly from my father.
Every night without fail, he'd stand in our quiet, dimly lit kitchen with a spoon in one hand, 
jar of peanut butter in front of him. 

The spoon would disappear into the jar
and come up full of sticky peanut butter, 
the huge scoop's swirls cresting dangerously, 
beautifully over the rounded metal edge.

It's one way to eat peanut butter. Simple. Satisfying. Pure in form. 

This peanut butter banana bread is another way:

And yes, I was tempted to spread peanut butter on top of the hot, steaming slice 
I cut straight from the pan, but instead opted for a large dollop of whipped cream
which promptly began to melt. Just as I'd hoped it would. 

You see, peanut butter loving is a serious thing, and I take it very seriously. 
M knows that he's not allowed to throw out a jar of peanut butter when it is "done."
I can still get a peanut butter feast out of that empty jar, and I'll stop anything just to sit there, 
spatula in hand, scraping out every last morsel. 
Only then does the jar hit the recycling bin.

In college I couldn't fall asleep if I hadn't yet eaten peanut butter that day. 
I'd lie awake, wondering what was missing, and quite often it would occur to me:
I'd hop out of bed and tiptoe through the dark room toward the mini-fridge, 
grabbing a spoon along the way.
Within minutes, I'd be finally able to fall fast asleep, 
comforted by the taste, texture, and ritual.

This bread, I discovered, is equally as comforting. 
My friend A and I baked it together the other night, hopping up from the couch every ten minutes to stare at it, lured toward the oven over and over again by the incredible smells filling the entire apartment: 

sweet, ripe banana.
nutty, salty peanut butter
a hint of cocoa from the chocolate
and hits of warm vanilla and cinnamon.

We washed our huge slices of piping hot loaf down with big mugs of warm apple cider.
Every bite was everything I had hoped that it would be.

That night I slept incredibly well.

Peanut Butter Banana Bread: adapted from Cooking Light magazine. Use the method they suggest for combining the ingredients, which I outline below.
1 1/2 cups ripe banana, mashed
1/3 cup french vanilla fat-free yogurt
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
3 T. butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup flaxseeds (whole or ground)
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/8 t. pumpkin pie spice (or allspice)
1/8 cup chopped peanuts
1/8 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate chips
cooking spray and a 9x5 inch loaf pan

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients until well incorporated. Next, add both the granulated and brown sugars and beat until well blended.
Spoon the flour into measuring cups for accuracy, then in a separate small bowl combine the flour with the next five ingredients. In small batches add the flour mixture to the wet banana mixture, beating only until it's just incorporated. 
Pour the batter into the greased 9x5 inch loaf pan. Top evenly with the peanuts and chocolate chips, then bake at 350 for 1 hour and five minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then remove from the pan to cool completely. Wrap tightly in cling wrap. Allowing the flavors to sit overnight in the wrap makes everything taste better the next day, if you can stand to wait for a slice. I recommend not waiting...

October 6, 2010

Creamy Saffron Risotto with Chicken, Asparagus & Peas

A simple and warming risotto for these first cold days of Fall. It's been rainy, windy, and chilly for over a week straight. Nothing breaks that like a big creamy bowl of rice, deeply flavored with saffron and chicken broth, and hiding big hunks of grilled chicken and crisp veggies among every bite.

This risotto is untraditional because it's made with brown rice instead of arborio, the short and rounded grain that is usually called for to create risotto's creamy texture. The dish sacrifices no discernible amount of richness, all while having all the health benefits of brown rice. It's a one-pot meal that's fit for a weekend or weeknight alike, and is wonderful when filled to the brim of a big bowl as a main course. The chicken can be substituted with sauteed shrimp or scallops stirred in at the very end of the cooking, as well, and the protein can also be omitted altogether if it's being served as a side dish.

However you eat it, it pairs really well with a briskly cool, dark evening and a big glass of your favorite wine. So settle in, pick up your spoon, and prepare to be comforted.

Brown Rice Saffron Risotto: serves 2
For the chicken:
1 large or 2 small boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 T. olive oil
salt & pepper

For the rice:
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1/2 cup chopped Spanish onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 small tubed package of Saffron rice (found in rice aisle of most grocery stores)
1.5 cups warmed chicken or vegetable stock (for vegetarian use veggie stock and omit chicken)
1/2 cup of frozen asparagus stalks, thawed and cut into 1" pieces (heads intact)
1/3 cup frozen peas
1 T. lemon zest
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

First, start the rice. In a large saucepan or skillet heat the olive oil and butter together until melted, then add the onion. Cook 4-5 minutes until tender, then add the garlic and brown rice, stirring for a minute to cook the garlic and gently toast the rice.  Pour in the chicken stock in small amounts, stirring every few minutes and adding more stock as it becomes absorbed by the rice. After 10 minutes, add the saffron rice (the two have different cooking times). You will continue adding the stock over the next 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 1 T. oil. Salt and pepper the chicken breast and add to the pan. Cook until gently browned on the outside and the juices run clear on the inside. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and cut into small pieces for the risotto. Pour a bit of chicken stock into the pan and stir up the flavorful bits (deglaze), and pour this into the rice.

When the rice is almost cooked to a tender but al-dente bite, stir in the asparagus, peas, chicken, lemon zest, and salt and pepper. Add more stock and water as needed, then stir in the parmesan cheese, salt & pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

October 3, 2010

Last week's bagels, this week's snacks

I really don't like wasting food. Something about it feels terribly wrong to me. I'm not sure where this outlook came from, but most people who know me know that I'll do anything possible to avoid wasting food. Perhaps this tendency for rescuing rejected food is the same one that has caused me to rescue every homeless animal I've encountered throughout my life (guinea pigs, cats, dogs, even chickens)... Both food and animals can't control whether they're about to get dumped. What a helpless state to be in! I'm always certain that these about-to-be abandoned things, whether a furry mammal or a bowl of pasta leftovers, has more ahead of it than its impending end. 

Sure, sometimes I get made fun of for it, but I have to say that my dislike for wasting food has led me to find many ways to reinvent a variety of food items into something new and appealing rather than relegate it to the garbage. It always ends up well, just like all those animal adoptions.

Take these bagel chips, for example. Last week's surplus of bagels led to this week's crunchy and abundant snacks.

As my bagel chip treats baked away in the oven I couldn't help but feel, as I always do when I use something instead of throwing it out, like I had done my little part to stop just a small bit of the crazy amount of wasting that goes on. Upon first bite there was no memory that these had ever been last week's bagels -- they had been given new life with just a brush of butter and sprinkles of seasoning.

Thinly slice your stale (or fresh!) bagels, then brush them lightly on one side with melted butter and the spices of your choice. In the above pictures, sesame seed bagels got tossed with garlic powder and a dash of salt, and cinnamon raisin bagels were sprinkled with Splenda and a bit of pumpkin pie spice. Preheat the oven to 350 and bake the bagel slices on baking sheets for about 15 minutes until lightly browned and crispy, turning to the other side halfway through and brushing with a bit more butter. 

Eat plain as a snack, or serve the savory chips for dipping with guacamole or hummus, and the sweet chips dipped in Nutella or peanut butter. Being un-wasteful never tasted so yummy... After all, why should the garbage get all the good stuff?

October 1, 2010

Pasta & Vegetables in Garlicky Walnut Sauce

It's my heaven: walnut spread tossed with pasta and vegetables for dinner.

How simple, fast, and uniquely satisfying. The crunchy and garlicky walnut spread, which can be whipped up fast for this meal and the rest saved for a number of other uses, was fantastic when warmed together with the chewy pasta and crisp asparagus.The creamy hunks of  feta crumbled on top started to warm through, becoming perfectly soft and goey -- the perfect finishing touch to this nutritious and comforting dinner.

What's great is that the nutty and garlicky sauce would be delicious with a wide variety of vegetables, such as gently sauteed zucchini or squash, diced sweet potatoes, or tender onions. And since the consistency of this toasty sauce is somewhat thick,  it hugs the pasta best when a wide noodle gives it room to stick (linguine, taliatelle) or a tubular pasta (penne, conchiglie) gives it places to hide inside. However you mix it all up, it's delicious and perfect for Fall. Enjoy!

Pasta & Vegetables in Garlicky Walnut Sauce: serves 2
1 recipe Walnut Pate
1/2 lb. regular or whole-wheat pasta of choice
Vegetables of choice that keep their shape well, such as squash, asparagus, broccoli, and onions
Olive oil
2 T. cream or milk
Crumbled feta or other soft cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

Reserved cooking liquid from the pasta.

Directions: Put a large pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, saute the vegetables in a few T. of olive oil until tender. When the pasta is slightly more chewy than al-dente (it will continue cooking for a couple of minutes in the pan with the sauce), transfer it directly in with the vegetables, reserving the cooking water. Stir together with 1/4 cup walnut pate, the cream, and thin as desired with the cooking water. Season to taste with salt & pepper, then top with feta.


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