Monday, April 27, 2009

4 Brownies

To be very honest with you, the title of this post should probably be "6 Brownies," but because I am a glutton, it is not.

The original-sized recipe came from my mother-in-law and is appropriately entitled "Friendship Brownies." I think it's because you can mix up all the dry ingredients, then gift it with instructions on how to get them baked, thereby securing yourself oodles of friends. Many a happy day found David and I opening a care package from Virginia with some "friendly" mix in it. It's a great recipe and so easy, because its chocolateyness comes from cocoa and the fat is oil, so there's no melting, no stirring, no tempering -- just one bowl and a whisk.

So here's a tip: if you want to make smaller batches of brownies but don't have a tiny pan, cupcake tins work just fine. If you're an edge person (like David), bake them straight in the greased pan. If you're a middle person (like me), use cupcake liners, which will block some of that exterior crusting.

4 (fine, 6) Friendship Brownies
(Total prep/bake time: 30 minutes)

1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup each brown sugar, white sugar, and cocoa
1/3 tsp each salt and baking powder
1 large egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Mix together dry ingredients (flour through powder).
  2. Add egg, oil, and vanilla. Whisk well (dough will be thick). Stir in chips.
  3. Divide between 4 (ok, 6) cupcake tins. Bake 14-20 minutes.
I know 14 - 20 minutes may seem like a pretty big window for baking time, but brownies are a deeply individual thing. If you like yours closer to batter than baked good, take them out when they're still jiggly and let them rest -- they'll continue to cook a bit out of the oven. If you're a cakey type (for some unfathomable reason), air on the lengthier side.

Taco Salad (slightly grown up)

I know at least one other human in this world grew up eating the great, home-grown taco salad that comes smothered in warm taco meat, soaked in Catalina dressing, and sprinkled with tantalizing crumbles of nacho-cheese Doritos. I also know that this meal marked the only time Doritos ever appeared in our house. I'm pretty sure far fewer ended up in the salad than ended up in the chip-crusher's mouth.

Anyway, I get a hankering for this salad periodically, but I've since learned that catalina = ketchup + sugar + vegetable oil, and am no longer crazy about corn chips in my dinner, I started experimenting with going more au natural.

Turns out, it's not so tough to replicate. You can microwave cheese until it's crispy (Doritos, check); you can stir up a dressing out of pantry staples (Catalina, check); and you can even make your own taco seasoning mix (1,460 fewer grams of sodium with your dinner, check).

Taco Salad with Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette
(Serves 2, dinner-size. Total prep/cook time, about 40 minutes.)

For the salad:
1/4 - 1/3 lb ground turkey
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp taco seasoning (see below)
Romaine lettuce (enough for 2 salads)
1 medium carrot, sliced thin
4 radishes, sliced thin
2 scallions, sliced thin
2 thick tomato slices, diced
1/3 cup cheddar cheese, grated

For the dressing:
Zest of 1 lime (about 1 tsp)
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp white wine or rice vinegar
1 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tsp honey
1 tsp cumin
2 Tbsp olive oil (or other salad oil)

For taco seasoning (if you wanna make your own):
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt

  1. In a small skillet, saute onions with a pinch of salt. When about done, throw in garlic. Then add turkey meat and brown, 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle with taco seasoning and add 1/4 cup water. Stir to incorporate and lower heat; simmer until liquid is gone.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk together lime juice and zest, vinegar, cilantro, honey, and spices. Drizzle in olive oil while whisking. Set aside.
  3. Now, sprinkle grated cheese in a thin layer on a microwave safe plate. Microwave on high until cheese is bubbling, brown and spotty. My microwave took 3 minutes. You might start with 2 and see how it goes. You should be able to (just barely) peel sheets of cheese off the hot plate, but it should harden immediately. If it's still flexible, throw it back on the plate and return it to the microwave. [This can also be done in a skillet on the stove under your watchful eye.]
  4. To assemble, divide lettuce between two salad bowls/plates. Also split carrots, radishes, scallions, and tomatoes between plates. Drizzle dressing over. Top with warm meat and crunchy cheese.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Quinoa Chopped Vegetable Salad

By some blessing of the gods, it is 85 degrees in Boston today. EIGHTY-FIVE. Verging on too hot, yes, but only because we've had no time to prepare. Predictably, David is furious and I am in heaven.

Some of my favorite things to eat when it's hot out (besides ice cream, of course) are cold mixed salads that you can throw together one afternoon and leave in the fridge for several days, forking at will. I was recently bewitched by Janet Fletcher's article, "Ancient Grain for Modern Times," in which she extols the virtue of bulgur--a manifestation of the wheat kernel that is cracked, cooked, then dried, and sold in (usually health food) grocery stores. I decided to throw together a version of the kisir salad she talks about in the article, using what I had on hand.

What I did not have was bulgur. Oops. What I did have was quinoa, a fast-cooking grain from South America that you should be eating more of. It's about the size of cous cous and it's a complete protein, so it makes for a well-rounded vegetarian meal. Buy some.

Lastly, let me say nothing tastes like summer the way mint tastes like summer. It's fresh, it's sharp, don't skip it in this recipe.

Quinoa Chopped Vegetable Salad
(serves 2, unless you're me, then only 1)

1/2 cup quinoa
2 inches of cucumber, sliced then halved
4 radishes, ends cut off, then sliced and halved
1 medium tomato diced or a handful of cherry tomatoes halved***
1/2 inch slice of red onion, chopped
1 cup beans
2 Tbsp chopped mint
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp grated hard cheese
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
  1. Bring a small pot of water with quinoa to boil. Stir grain around and cook until you see little curly parts separating from the grain (you'll know what I mean when you do it), about 5 minutes. Drain in a fine mesh sieve and run cold water over.
  2. In a bowl, mix together rinsed quinoa and cucumber through cheese. In another small bowl, whisk together vinegar and oil with lots of salt and pepper. Pour over veggie bowl and toss.
  3. Eat all at once or store in the fridge.
Some notes...

You can be creative with the grain, but I like how the small quinoa clings to the other salad bits; also think bulgur (obviously) or cous cous (preferably whole wheat). I had black beans cooked, so I used those, but kidneys, white beans, and many others will do fine. For cheese, I used manchego, which is a Spanish sheep's milk cheese, nice and salty. Parm, asiago, romano, feta, or even farmer's cheese would be good. Just pick something salty. As usual, go with what you've got in the vegetable drawer, just make sure you pick things that are fresh and crunchy, because the beans provide all the mush you need.

***If you're not up for a food-inspired life lecture, stop reading now. Barry Eastbrook published an article in last month's Gourmet on the virtual slavery in which tomato harvesters in Florida live. These people are deceived into traveling to the farms, then kept in involuntary servitude indefinitely. There are chains. There is physical abuse. Yes, most of these workers are illegal. Does this mean they deserve whatever conditions they can get? I really, really hope your mental answer to that is "no." And let me save you the suspense -- conditions in Mexico are not better. You guessed it, they're worse.

The good news is that a coalition has formed for/by the workers and even the governor of Florida is warming up to them. If you want to figure out how to make sure you don't buy slavery tomatoes or support large-scale efforts to change the purchasing practices of food industry giants, go to the website for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Listen, I'm not trying to go all Jane Fonda on you, but we vote with our dollars every time we go to the grocery store. While we have access to an incredible diversity of food and food products (I am certainly not complaining there), our food system is full of real problems. There are more reasons than just health to know where your food comes from.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Double Chocolate Biscotti

Tooth-breakingly dense, mildly sweet, and perfect with coffee, biscotti is yet another Italian innovation that I like to partake of on occasion. I made a full batch of this recipe from a 1994 Gourmet, and it was every bit as good as all 240 reviews (not exaggerating) said it was. BUT, if I were to downsize it, I think it would look a little something like this:

Dark Chocolate Biscotti
(makes 6-7?)

1/2 c flour
1 Tbsp cocoa
1/4 tsp soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp butter, soft
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 beaten egg or 2 Tbsp egg sub
1/4 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds are probably best)
3 Tbsp chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350. In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa, soda and salt. Set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy, 2ish minutes. Add egg and fully incorporate. Now add flower slowly, beating to incorporate each time. It will be really thick. Stir in nuts and chips.

  3. On a parchment-lined cookie sheet, shape dough into a 6-by-2 inch log and pat down to flatten. Wet hands help with this. Bake for 35 minutes.

  4. Take out and immediately but carefully slice into (6ish) 1-inch strips. Turn pieces on their sides and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

M. Y. O. H. (Make Your Own Hummus)

Get ready, people. Here is your chance to buck the system, damn the man, stick it to 'em, and save some dollars. This won't be news to some of you, but many of your pantry/fridge staples CAN BE MADE AT HOME. Ever turned that jar of pasta sauce around to calculate the amount of corn syrup in it? Then put it back down and picked up the all-natural jar and swooned this time at the price? Grab the 28-oz can of tomatoes instead and give yourself the gift of saved pennies and prepared foods for which you can identify (and pronounce) every. last. ingredient.

We'll start with hummus. I NEVER buy hummus anymore. It's expensive and it comes in tiny little containers. For the price of one supermarket hummus, you can get your own can of tahini and probably 10 batches of homemade.

You'll need a processor for this one (sorry!) but a blender might work. Also, cans of chickpeas are great, but a bag of dried chickpeas gives you twice as many beans, often for less. You have to cook them, which takes times, so you'll just have to decide whether time = money for you.

If you do buy dried beans, when you get home, empty them out into a big bowl of water and let them soak overnight (they'll soak up A LOT of the water, so hydrate them generously). The next day, simmer them for about 40 minutes on the stovetop, till they're nice and mushy. Drain, but reserve some of the water. You'll need it.

Homemade Hummus
1 can or about 2 cups cooked chickpeas
3 Tbsp
sesame tahini
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup+ water
Salt to taste

Place chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and spices, (including 1 tsp salt) in processor. Process about 1 minute until well chopped and combined. Add lemon juice and olive oil, then enough water to make consistency you like. Process for another minute. Stop the machine and taste, increase seasoning as needed. If you like your hummus a little runnier, add more lemon juice or chickpea water. Process again for another solid minute.

The secret is to process it a really long time so it's pillowy soft. Everyone likes their hummus a different way, so make it your own. Go Crazy. If you want a little more backbone to your hummus, add tahini. If you want spice, up the cumin. If you like it tangy, increase the lemon. It takes a while to get it right, so stop and taste with frequency.

Add-ins? Try a couple of roasted red peppers. I like to add a handful of fresh, chopped cilantro to mine for a nice freshness. Try adding 5 or 6 cloves of roasted garlic (much more mellow and sweet than fresh) or even roasted eggplant! You will not be sorry.

Beets, Baby!

Never liked beets. Never ever. They tasted like ground and, what's worse, they were pink -- which made them look sweet, and thus stung all the more when they tasted like ground.

But one day in April, at a delightful bakery in Somerville, I tasted beet and barley salad. It was flavored with vinegar and parsley and other simple elements that turned this ugly root into an edible and enjoyable side.

Turns out beets are sweet and rich, and yes a little earthy, but in a good way if you manage it well. My boss, Greta the Russian, says the best way to cook them is to roast them whole, then peel the skin and prepare as desired. I shortened the process by cubing the beets and roasting them in a hot oven, then while still warm, tossed them in vinegar and OJ. Sweet and tangy.

Golden-Orange Beets
3 medium beets, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 med-large orange, segmented
1 tsp dried basil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp orange juice
1/4 cup hard cheese like parmesan, asiago, or peccorino, grated
S, P & oil

  1. Toss the cubed beets in 1-2 tsp olive oil, basil, and plenty of S&P. Roast in a 400º oven for about 25 minutes. Prick them with a sharp knife to make sure they're done before taking them out.
  2. Cut orange segments in half, so everything is equally bite sized. Toss cooked beets with oranges and all remaining ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste.

FYI: Because I had them, I used golden beets and blood oranges, which made a beautiful contrast. But it occurs to me that an equal and opposite contrast would be made by regular old red beets and naval oranges. How about that?

Do you have a delicious beet recipe? Share! Share!

Honey-Sweetened Panna Cotta

If you're not already enjoying panna cotta on a regular basis, you need to start STAT. This is a dream of a summer dessert, invented by those sun-drenched Italians, and kicks the pants off the insta-boxes of powdered horse hooves masquerading as pudding. And it is SO easy.

What is it? Well, according to Alan Davidson, panna cotta is "an Italian dessert made with cream and sugar mixed together and brought to a simmer with some added milk and a little gelatin, then moulded and chilled. If a flavouring is used, it should be delicate." Traditionally, it divvied into individual ramekins, then released with a sharp knife and inverted onto your dessert plate. It can be flavored in myriad ways and garnished with fresh berries and compotes, chocolates and caramels, or anything else your sweet tooth is dying to gnaw on.

This recipe uses yogurt (instead of the more traditional milk) which gives it a nice tang, and is made to be eaten straight out of the mold--no inversion necessary. We enjoyed it plain because it was so pure with the natural sweetness of the honey, but would be perfect with some macerated berries or thinly sliced stone fruits.

Honey-Sweetened Panna Cotta
(from Gourmet, July 2008--serves 1-2)

1/3 tsp unflavored gelatin
1 Tbsp water
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup yogurt (low-/no-fat is fine)
1 Tbsp honey
dash vanilla

  1. Put the water into your smallest saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over top and let soften 1 minute. Whisk in cream and turn on medium-low heat, gently warming until gelatin is dissolved (just a couple of minutes -- do not boil). In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, honey, and vanilla.
  2. Off heat, whisk yogurt mixture into cream. Divide between two (very) small ramekins -- or just one for a single serving. Cover and chill at least 3 hours.
Sorry, no pictures. We ate it too fast...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Unnameable Pasta Dish

Somewhere between the enchilada and the manicotti lies last night's dinner: the noodle roll. A debate raged as we ate and continues this very day over what exactly to call these little beauties. I think they're no longer manicotti when they're not in manicotti pasta (the whole point of referring to them as "manicotti" in the first place, duh). David feels quite differently, and he will tell you so, at length.

The point is, those brilliant folks at Cook's Illustrated understood our collective pain at par-boiling, stuffing, splitting, and ultimately wrecking manicotti tubes, and came up with a genius solution. They softened no-boil lasagna noodles in hot water, dried them on kitchen towels for just a minute, then rolled them up with a prepared filling the way you would a jelly roll cake with, well, jelly.

What follows is an adapted-in-strategy but original creation with freshly rolled sheets of pasta (some leftover from spinach-shrimp, some super herby dough thrown together at the last minute, using our basic egg pasta recipe but swapping half the flour for spelt and adding about 2 tbsp of finely chopped parsley and thyme). If the pasta isn't dried, then there's no need to soften it, so we just plopped in some filling, rolled them up, drowned them in tomato sauce, and scarfed down our unnameable dinner.

Noodle Logs (a.k.a. Manicotti, I guess)

8 sheets freshly rolled pasta or 8 no-boil lasagna noodles
1/4 - 1/3 lb ground turkey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup ricotta or cottage cheese
1 egg
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
1 Jar prepared tomato sauce
-OR- about 2 cups homemade sauce
-OR- 1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes in puree/juice
1/4 cup grated parmesan
  1. If you are using fresh noodles, follow the tricks in the links above to shrimp-spinach and basic egg pasta. If you are using no-boil noodles, put a teakettle on the stove. When it boils, pour it into the pan you'll be using to bake the pasta. Slide the noodles in one by one, moving them around with the tip of a sharp knife to make sure they don't stick together. You want them soft, but not cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove to a clean kitchen towel.
  2. Meanwhile, brown the turkey in a small pan with some oil. When turkey is just about done, throw in the garlic and allow to cook 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool just a bit.
  3. In a large bowl, combine cheeses, egg, and spices. Stir in meat. Pour some tomato sauce into the bottom of your small baking pan, just enough to coat the bottom.

  4. Now, put about 1/4 cup of the filling onto the bottom 3/4 of each noodle. Starting from the bottom, roll all the way up and place seam-side down in the pan. Repeat until filling and noodles are gone. Cover with lots and lots of tomato sauce--even add some water to your prepared sauce if you need to. Especially if you are using the no-boil noodles, which will soak up a lot of the moisture during baking.
  5. Cover with foil and bake at 375º for 25 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle with parmesan. Return to heat 5 minutes, or until bubbly and melted. Yum.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Angel Food Cake

Well, after about three years of being a committed runner, yesterday I finally experienced a rite of passage that, I believe, makes me authentic. Are you aware that it is Marathon weekend here in Boston? Do you think my experience has something to do with this? No, no. It was this: I bit it. Pretty hard. Twice.

The first time was a solid, Marlee-style high school trip [the kind we used to practice in the back yard where we'd intentionally--intentionally--trip over our own feet. For the life of me I cannot now recall why we did this. I think it was our intention to perfect the trip in private, then pull it out in public where it would fulfill its most awkward and hilarious potential]. So I caught my own shoelace in a crosswalk. Note: crosswalks are in streets made of asphalt. Later, I failed to scale a stray root on the Esplanade and successfully frightened a tourist family who rushed to my aid.

Why am I telling you this? For two reasons: one, because my hands (among other parts) are scraped and damaged to high heaven, which makes cooking tricky; and two, because despite (because of?) this condition I felt I deserved cake. What better confection than one for which the mixer does all the work?!

Inspired by the buckets of cast-off egg whites I periodically slog home from my new job, I've been mentally planning Angel Food for about a week. Turns out, it takes very little effort, but lots and lots of patience. When you're beating egg whites, you have to be sure to add the sugar very slowly, then it bakes for an hour and cools another two. BUT, when it's done, you have a heavenly cloud of cake that is certainly not healthy (read: 1 1/2 cups sugar), but tastes light as air.

Angel Food Cake
(from Cook's Illustrated)
12 egg whites (about 1 3/4 cups), room temperature
1 cup sifted cake flour (this means sift first, then measure)
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 tsp cream of tartar
pinch salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 350º. If your tube pan doesn't have a removable bottom (like mine), cut a parchment or wax paper ring and set it down inside. Put egg whites in bowl of mixer and turn on low to get frothy.
  2. Meanwhile, measure out 3/4 cup of the sugar for the whites. Mix the other 3/4 cup with the cake flour. Have a sieve on hand.
  3. When the eggs are frothy, add tartar and salt and pump up to medium speed. Mix until "billowy" the recipe says. Still on medium speed, slowly add the 3/4 cup of sugar 1 Tbsp at a time, until all the sugar is added and the whites are at soft peaks.
  4. Remove bowl from mixer and sift flour/sugar mixture over the beaten whites 4-5 shakes at a time, gently folding to combine before adding more. Be patient and fold slowly but thoroughly. Pour into prepared pan and tap against counter 3 times to eliminate any large, lurking air bubbles. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until cake springs back when pressed.

  5. When done, immediately invert pan onto a wine bottle or, in my case, two overturned bowls. You want air circulating all around the cake. Let cool completely, up to 2 hours.
  6. To extract, run a knife around the sides and center, and dump out onto a platter. Slice, or rather saw, with a serrated knife. Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream or chocolate sauce, or berry compote, or jam, or whatever you can dream up.

As you can see, my cake got a little saggy. I can think of two reasons for this: (1) I did not have the requisite 1 tsp of cream of tartar and used only a fraction of what the recipe called for. Oops. (2) I did not have my act together when it was time to take the cake out and invert it, so it had a few moments to sink while I was scrambling around looking for something to flip it on to. Plan better than I did, ok?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The New Cauliflower

This is my absolutely new favorite way to eat cauliflower. I don't really know the influences, but it is such a surprising and refreshing combination of flavors and textures. Try it (even if you don't think you like cauli). It's kind of salad-like, and it's good warm, at room temp, and even the next day.

The New Cauliflower
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
[Olive oil, salt and pepper]
6-8 cloves garlic
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp wine vinegar
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 Tbsp drained capers
8 almonds, chopped and toasted
1/4 cup toasted bread crumbs

Toss florets and garlic cloves in about 1 Tbsp olive oil and spread on a sheet pan. Salt and pepper them. Roast in a 400º oven for 20-25 minutes, adding more oil if it looks dry.

Remove from oven and toss with vinegar, raisins, parsley, capers, and almonds. Sprinkle bread crumbs over top.

Eggplant Stacks

Dear Eggplant,

I can't believe it's taken me so long to say this, but, I love you. I do. Your shiny purple skin is so alluring in the produce section. Your mushy flesh is so weird and filling. Your ridiculous amounts of fiber, potassium, and vitamin B will ensure that I live a long, fulfilling, successful life. Thick-cut slabs, grilled or roasted, have slipped in and displaced meat in so many of my meals, without a complaint from my tastebuds. If I sprinkle a little salt on you, my coy mistress, and let you drain for an hour before cooking, you transform from malicious and bitter to tangy and melty. I am sorry that it has been so long coming, but accept now my utter devotion and lifelong commitment to you.


Eggplant stack
1 medium eggplant
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
6 oz fresh spinach
4-5 slices fresh mozzarella
Tomato sauce
Parmesan cheese
Toasted bread (optional)

Slice the eggplant crosswise into 1 1/2 inch slabs (you want at least 4--if it makes more, go ahead and cook it and eat it the next day or two). Sprinkle both sides with table salt and let drain on paper towels or a cooling rack for an hour, flipping halfway through. Wipe and squeeze before cooking.

[Note: the picture here is NOT sliced cross-wise, but long ways--it was for another use. I included the photo just to illustrate how to drain, and can you see how much water seeps out?? So don't slice them like this, but do drain them like this.]

Drizzle eggplant with olive oil, then salt, pepper, and sprinkle basil on both sides. Arrange in a single layer on a pan and roast in a 400º oven for 25 minutes. You want it cooked through, so leave it in if you still see thick green flesh. When it looks done, top the eggplant with mozzarella and return to the oven for 5 minutes, until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, film a skillet with olive oil and saute onions with a little salt until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add spinach and stir. Cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Make sure your tomato sauce is warmed.

To serve: place a small pile of spinach on the plate. Top with mozzarella eggplant. Spoon ample tomato sauce. Repeat. Top the whole thing with ample grated parm. Serve with extra tomato sauce and good bread.

[Alternately, you could do a big, thick piece of toast with the mozz melted on it. Top with eggplant and tomato sauce and parm. Also delicious]

Garlicky Shrimp and Fresh Spinach Pasta

I just about flipped my lid when I saw
this lasagna recipe from Lynne Rosetto Kasper, via Zoe Bakes. If you are a normal human, you now want to dive into a swimming-pool sized vat of this and eat your way out. Not quite ready to commit to a full pan of lasagna, but (as you well know) still a big fan of fresh noodles, I took to scaling this spinach pasta recipe down for a regular, weeknight meal. I may have mangled it (sorry Lynne!) but it tasted just fine to me and my pasta-loving laborer, who always graciously and tirelessly does the rolling.

I don't know if it's the spinach or the whole wheat flour that I subbed in, but letting the dough sit for an hour or so before rolling helps with the consistency, so build that into your planning. You want the spinach really finely chopped, so a food processor is ideal, but some patient knife work will do just fine. Half of this recipe served us both well; I'm really excited about the other half that's still waiting in my fridge...

Secondly, the shrimp. This is a really simple, classic way of preparing shrimp that takes no time at all. Garlicky, lemony, and delicious, the only was we stretched this was by adding some additional chicken broth and lemon juice at the end to make enough sauce to toss the pasta in. It would be great with just a piece of crusty bread, no pasta necessary.

Fresh Spinach Pasta
3 oz frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeeeeeezed dry
1 1/2 cups flour (we used half all-purpose and half barley)
1 tsp salt
1 egg

If you're processing, toss spinach, flour, salt, and egg in the machine and turn on. Slowly stream in water just until a shaggy dough starts to come together. Turn dough out and knead it a couple of times to form a ball. Wrap in plastic and let rest at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

If you're not processing, make sure your spinach is finely, finely chopped. Place flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Add egg and spinach and stir to combine. Gradually add water 1 Tbsp at a time until you get a shaggy dough. Turn dough out and knead to form a ball. Wrap in plastic and let rest at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

*The ball will moisten as it sits, ok, so don't add too much water during the mixing process. If you do, no problem, you'll just use lots and lots of flour as you're rolling to offset.

Roll out the pasta and if you have the time, let it sit to dry out for a little while. [We did not do this.] Cut into noodles and boil 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Garlicky Lemon Shrimp
8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 cloves garlic, minced and divided
1 small onion, minced
1/2 cup white wine, plus 2 Tbsp
1/2-3/4 cup broth
1/4 cup lemon juice, divided
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 Tbsp butter
Parmesan or Asiago cheese to grate over

Film a medium skillet with oil. Saute onion with a little salt, 2-3 minutes. Add half of garlic and cook 1 minute more. Stir in 1/2 cup wine and let reduce until almost gone.

Salt and pepper both sides of shrimp and place in a single layer in the pan; let cook about 2 minutes, until pink about halfway through. Flip and cook 1 minute more. Remove to a plate and cover with foil.

To the now-empty skillet, add remaining minced garlic. Cook 1 minute. Introduce 1/2 cup broth, lemon juice, and remaining 2 Tbsp wine . Bring to a boil then reduce heat and let simmer until reduced by about 1/2. [Keep extra broth on hand in case you need to add more liquid.] Taste and season with salt and pepper.

When you're happy with the sauce, return shrimp to pan and toss. Turn off heat and add parsley and butter. Layer shrimp and scrape sauce out over pasta. Cover with a healthy coating of cheese.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Loaded Oatmeal Cookies

Alright, fair warning, these are cookies, but they also taste healthy. So if you are like me and you like to pretend like your desserts sometimes boost your nutritional morality, make these cookies. But don't try to pass them off as "oatmeal chocolate chip" to your friends, neighbors, or children.

Feel free to be creative with the add-ins (i.e. dried cranberries, dark chocolate, and toasted walnuts). I think almost any dried fruit -- chopped appropriately -- would be great in these. Switch out your chocolates, toast up different nuts, whatever you're feeling.

Loaded Oatmeal Cookies
(scaled down from BH&G -- makes 6-7 cookies)

1 Tbsp butter, soft
2 Tbsp brown sugar
4 tsp white sugar
pinch each of cinnamon and salt
1/8 tsp soda
1 Tbsp egg substitute
1/4 tsp vanilla
4 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp rolled oats
1 Tbsp flax seeds
1 Tbsp wheat germ
1/2 oz chopped dark chocolate (or choc chips)
1 Tbsp dried cranberries
1 Tbsp chopped walnuts

  1. Heat oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine butter, sugars, cinnamon, salt, and soda. Beat until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined, then flour. Stir in oats, flax, wheat germ, chocolate, cranberries, and walnuts (dough will be crumbly).
  2. Drop dough by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased or parchment-lined cookies sheets. Bake 9-11 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned. Don't overbake: part of the trick to healthy cookies is supplementing them with that less healthy-tasting gooey cookieness.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Berry Bowl

Don't mean to be a downer, but if you're looking for summer fruits, just click on through.

This meal rests upon a substantial base of one of my favorite berries: wheat. I won't bore you with the wheat berry sermon again, but this is one serious grain that packs a chewy punch--right in the stomach, where it makes and keeps you full for a good long while.

As usual, this meal was kind of a fridge-sweeper, meaning it can be replicated exactly, or modified to fit your own grocery list.

Wheat Berry Bowl
(serves 2-3)

1/2 cup wheat berries
1/4 cup millet (optional)
1 bunch chard (or other green)
1/2 small onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic
4 verrrrrrrry thin slices of lemon, chopped (peel and all)
1 small tomato, diced
1/2 avocado, diced
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
Splash vinegar or pre-made salad dressing

  1. Put a small pot of water (or broth) on to boil. When rolling, drop in the wheat berries and millet. Lower heat and simmer about 30 minutes, or until you can actually chew and swallow the berries rather than chipping a tooth or just giving up out of weariness and spitting them out. Stir occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, wash and chop the chard (or spinach or kale or turnip greens or whatever). In a large skillet, heat some oil and sweat the onions with salt about 4 minutes. Add garlic and lemon and saute one minute more. Add chard and turn, getting the greens on the bottom and the garlic off (so it doesn't burn). Stir and let wilt until super tender, 7-10 minutes.
  3. When the berries-millet are ready, drain in a fine mesh sieve and divide between two bowls. Drizzle with a touch of oil and a teaspoon or two of vinegar, or just a splash of ready made salad dressing. Top with greens, tomato, avocado, parsley, and walnuts.
  4. Chow down.
Some notes.....

If you don't have all the pieces, don't worry. Avocado is kind of optional, but it adds a real depth to the whole experience. Definitely toast the walnuts (pecans or pine nuts would be good too). If you don't have a lemon, but maybe you have bottled lemon juice, just toss a few teaspoons in the skillet when you add your greens. Don't forget salt and pepper.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Caponata is an Italian relish made with eggplant, tomatoes, red peppers, and a couple other standard ingredients. I get the feeling that caponata is to Italian households like chicken salad is to American ones: you maybe have grammie's special recipe, you likely have several different variations, and you most definitely make it when it's time to clean out the fridge.

Because of the sweet-sour combination of vinegar and raisins, it's similar to a chutney in its tanginess, but with traditional italian flavors like earthy eggplant, rich tomatoes, and grassy parsley. I guess we would think of it as a dip for bread or crackers, but it also makes an excellent accompaniment to poached/broiled/grilled/baked chicken or fish, just spooned right over. It would also be great (you guessed it) sprinkled over a salad, maybe with some chunky cheese--no dressing necessary.

I happened to have A LOT of freshly baked bread (see previous post) on hand, so we just sliced it thin and used it as spoons to scoop up the goods.

Also, this stuff just gets better and better the longer it sits, so make a full batch and just let it hang out in the fridge for the next week or so, scooping at will. It makes a great appetizer to snack on if/when you're creating that night's main course.

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 small red pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 large (or 2 small-medium) ribs celery, diced
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes (undrained!)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup raisins, preferably golden
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 scant Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp capers, drained
4 kalamata olives, finely chopped

1. Take a microwave safe plate and line it with 2 paper towels. Toss eggplant with 1 tsp salt, then arrange in a single layer on the plate. Microwave for 8 minutes, taking it out and tossing it around halfway. When done, turn out onto another 3 layers of paper towels and press lightly to extract liquid.


...and after

2.While eggplant is in the micro, heat some oil over medium heat in a large skillet and saute pepper, onions, and celery with a sprinkle of salt to sweat them, about 4-5 minutes. When eggplant is ready, add to skillet and cook another 2 minutes, adding oil as necessary to prevent sticking.

3. Now add full can of tomatoes, juice and all, vinegar, raisins, parsley, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let simmer 8-10 minutes. Stir in capers and olives. Season with salt, pepper, and extra vinegar to taste--keeping in mind that vinegar flavor will become more astringent the longer it sits.

4. Let cool to room temperature to allow flavors to meld (about 30 minutes). Store in the refrigerator and consume for days to come.

*Disclaimer: I made this about a week ago and am doing the post from memory. I'm 99% sure It's right, but if you make it and something's missing, do us all a favor and post a comment suggesting what you think it needs....

Sunday, April 5, 2009

School of Bread

Today, as David and I were doing some casual shopping in Harvard Square, I started to complain. "Can we go soon? I have too much dough in my purse."

Before I even had time to catch my own pun, David gleefully pointed out the irony (no one loves puns the way this man loves puns), and made me promise I would blog about this when I got home. And so I am.

The poignancy of this particular wordplay comes from the fact that I did not have money in my purse, but actual bread dough. Of course, why wouldn't I have a purse full of bread dough? Dough that had been painstakingly kneaded and, subsequently was in the process of proofing, which required me to periodically remove the plastic bag-0-dough, punch it down, and return it to the safety of my purse. It seems like the most logical and, frankly, one of the smarter things to be stocking if some catastrophe should strike -- at least we'll be fed.

In actuality, I had spent the morning one of the best ways I could imagine: learning how to make bread at a local culinary school (thanks mom!!!). They let each of us in the class make-and-bake a loaf during class time and also knead up another batch of dough to take-and-bake at home. I had some things to do before making it that far, hence the mobile dough situation.

Pretty soon I'll be working out some of these recipes on the blog, but until then, I'll let you drool over the sampler of breads I brought home from class, all freshly baked by a kitchen full of eager novices. Between cinnamon swirl, beer-molasses, sun-dried tomato, herb-batter, braided challah, and freshly puffed pitas, I don't think I'll ever buy a loaf again...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Quiche: It's What's for Dinner

I am only minorly embarrassed to admit that David and I run through almost 2 dozen eggs every week. We love eggs. We eat them for breakfast every day (and I usually bake something with them almost every night). They are a great, lean protein and -- Get ready for another life lesson -- can be really good for you...if you buy organic, cage free, and/or free range (which basically means you can be comfortable both with what the chickens eat and how they are raised).

Alright, you've seen Napoleon Dynamite. Most chickens whose meat and eggs we have been prone to consuming are raised in high-rise, immobilizing chicken barns (where their potentially "large talons" hang out in their own scat). They make cheap eggs, yes, but those eggs are created by genetically modified birds, which are fed hormones and other foods their little chicken bodies were not designed to digest well, and sequestered into tiny pens, just begging for a chicken virus to take everyone out. I'm not talking about having happy chickens, I'm talking about us humans ingesting the best quality (or even just the least bad) foods we can--for lifelong health.

You've heard of Omega-3 fatty acids? Then you probably know that they're very good for you. Did you know that Americans have a startling deficit of Omega-3s in our diet, and therefore in our bodies? Did you know that we should have a 3-to-1 ratio of Omega-6s (a different kind of fatty acid) to Omega-3s and that the average American diet has more of a 10-to-1 or 20-to-1 ratio? Did you know that hens fed a healthy diet can have 300% the Omega-3s that a standard-issue supermarket egg has?! That's THREE TIMES as much. Not to mention improved stats on cholesterol, certain vitamins, and a much better outlook on saturated fat. If you balk at the price of organic eggs, think of it as a small health insurance contribution. And if you don't believe me, talk to the researchers at Penn State.

(Sidenote: don't overcompensate by going for the Omega-3 enhanced eggs either. It certainly gets points for health, but these "enriched" foods are our food system's way of cutting corners on production, then applying a quick-fix enhancement at the last minute. Work on reaching back as close to the land or the animal as you can.)
I'm glad we've had this talk.

Now! On to quiche. The difference between quiche you have at a regular ole meal and quiche you have at a special calorie-unconscious ladies' brunch is the crust. Take out the lining, and you've got a super healthful meal (or two or three) that saves beautifully.
This is a basic, crustless quiche recipe for which I'll give you the proportions and let you go crazy. We used asparagus, leeks, and cheddar cheese, and it was great, but endless variations are possible here--based on what's in your fridge or on your mind.

Crustless Vegetable Quiche
(Fills one 9-in pie plate)
1 heaping cup chopped vegetables of your choice
5 eggs
1/2 cup cheese (I used cheddar)
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (meaning, tear up a slice of bread: not the stuff from the can at the store)
Plenty of S+P
  1. Preheat oven to 350º. In a pan over medium-high heat, heat about 1 tsp olive oil. Add vegetables and 1 tsp salt, and saute until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
  2. Whisk eggs until well beaten and uniform color. Stir in cheese and bread crumbs, and plenty of salt and pepper. Fold in vegetables and pour into greased pie plate.
  3. Bake about 30 minutes. It's ok if the center is a little wobbly. It will continue to cook as it cools.
  4. Slice into wedges and enjoy with a nice dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of paprika.

If you have leftovers, just keep in the fridge and slice off wedges at will. It's equally satisfying cold or warm, and could serve as breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Strawberry Short(cup)cake

The title of this post comes partially from the recipe's main ingredient and partially from the lumpy shape of my failed icing, which sort of resembles that sweet-smelling cartoon field worker of my past. Really, what is with her enormous head? Which requires a tarp-sized bonnet to cover? Presumably for when she is out, defying gravity, bending over to pick strawberries and somehow returning to a standing position? Is she stashing the berries up there? Get a basket.

At any rate, these cupcakes were part win and part loss. Though the frosting never set up for me, the cakes themselves were delightful. They came from Martha's February cupcake-a-thon, and came out pretty well when divided.

Strawberry Cupcakes
(c/o Martha Stewart Living -- Makes 4-5 cupcakes)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp cake flour*
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter, soft
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp egg substitute (or about half an egg)
2 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup finely chopped strawberries

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Stir together dry ingredients and set aside.
  2. Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add half the flour mixture, then the milk, then the other half of the flour, mixing after each addition. Stir in strawberries.
  3. Divide between 4 or 5 (depending on how big you like your cakes) liners in a cupcake pan. Bake about 20 minutes total, but start checking at 15 for doneness.
*If you don't have cake flour, that's ok. Just use 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch and the other 1/2 regular flour. Or all regular flour. Whatever.

The Frosting Question
I totally flopped on the strawberry buttercream martha says to put on this. For an easier and slightly more fool proof frosting, I'd do a basic vanilla buttercream, either stirring more chopped berries in or using pureed strawberry as the liquid instead of milk. It'll go something like this:

4 Tbsp soft butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1-2 tsp milk (or strawberry puree?)

First, beat butter till creamy, just about 30 seconds. Then, on low speed (so you don't end up white-faced), mix in powdered sugar and vanilla. Pump up the jams to a higher speed and beat until incorporated, another 30 seconds. Add liquid and mix till combined. Then just let 'er rip for 2-3 minutes, until super fluffy.

For me, frosting is not an exact science. Sometimes it's really dry and I'll add more milk (a TEENSY bit at a time). Sometimes it's really soupy and needs more powdered sugar (same caveat). Don't be afraid to tweak a little, but do it judiciously. It's hard to un-do.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

Can I get an "Ole!"? We are total suckers for stuffed peppers because they are so easy, so filling, and such a cinch to quadruple or divide. Plus they basically use one dish: our cast iron skillet. The classy container you see in the above photo is the tupperware David took for lunch, because I threw this together real quick-like in the morning to send with him before he left for the day. No. Time. At. All. The only caveat is precooking your grains...see my soliloquy on wheat berries, below.

Here are some tricks to good (and speedy) stuffed peppers: First, microwave your peppers so they're soft and compliment the rest of the dish. Second, grains + beans + cheese = a complete meal; riff at will. Third, don't even think about doing this without sauteed onions. Just don't do it. Fourth, saucing. See soliloquy number two on sauces, also below.

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers
(serves 2)

2 red, yellow, or orange peppers
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup broth, divided
1 1/2 tsp each of salt, cumin, and chili powder
1/2 cup salsa
2 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves (1/4 cup frozen spinach, thawed, will do fine)
1/4 cup shredded monterey jack cheese (plus extra for sprinkling)
1/2 cup wheat berries (or other whole grain), cooked
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
Fresh lime juice

  1. Cut out an inch-wide wedge the full length of your pepper (or cut in half long-ways and eat both halves for your dinner, or just slice off an inch of the top, stem and all). Reach your hand in and carefully fish out the ribs and seeds. Wrap in plastic and microwave 4 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, saute the onions in some olive oil (with a little salt) over medium heat until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add garlic, cook one minute more. Toss in the broth and beans and using a flat wooden spatula or a potato masher, roughly mash the beans so you have some mush and some whole beans. Add seasonings and cook until broth is absorbed.
  3. Now, add salsa and spinach, allowing the moisture from the salsa to wilt the spinach. When the salsa is sufficiently wilted, turn off heat and stir in cheese, wheat berries, and cilantro. Season with salt, pepper, and lime juice to taste
  4. CAREFULLY remove plastic wrap from peppers and stuff generously with your bean/grain mixture; top with sprinkled cheese. If you have the time, place peppers on a pan and roast in a 375º oven for about 20 minutes, until cheese is melty and pepper is nice and warm.

Do you share my gnawing conviction that a dish is not a dish without some kind of sauce? I think probably the annual income of the Heinz corporation alone will corroborate my theory. So for Mexican-type foods, I love to combine sour cream, cilantro, and lime in some way and drizzle it over whatever we're having--from tacos to peppers to quesadillas. So get about 1/4 cup sour cream and thin it out with some milk until it's pourable. Add 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro, salt, pepper, and 2-3 wedges of squeezed lime juice. Whisk and pour.

Now, for a word on eating more whole grains. Do it. Wheat berries are a new favorite of mine. They're basically the entire kernel of wheat before it's been refined into different types of wheat flours. Along with other winners like pearled barley, whole spelt, kamut, and wild rice blends, they are a much more satisfying choice than plain white or brown rice and do more for you in the long run. So buy a bunch of wheat berries and cook a big pot one day. (Treat it like pasta: boil it for about 30 minutes or until tender, then drain.) Keep the cooked berries in a tupperware in the fridge and eat them for breakfast with yogurt and honey, or stir fry them with diced vegetables, or put them in soup, or basically use them wherever you would use rice. The end.