Wednesday, October 03, 2007

With the Best of Intentions

. . . so of course I meant to post while I was out visiting, but you know how those things work. So many people to see, so many things to do! I had a delightful little break from my normal life (the hausfrau life, if you will), and got to visit with people I love dearly.

I began my trip visiting the town we just moved from, and got to see the friends we most recently took for granted. Fun to eat all the various foods for which that town is famous, especially my very favorite lentil wraps at the local lesbian-anarchist diner.

From there, off to Indiana to visit with the BFF Forever (har), where I taught her that PIZZA DOESN'T HAVE TO HAVE MARINARA SAUCE. We enjoyed a very civilized leek-and-goat cheese "tart" and the banter that we somehow slip into every time we get together.

I then settled in for a long visit to my hometown and my parents, which was lovely and relaxing. Visited with friends, enjoyed the most amazing appetizer with Robu (Steak, gorgonzola, red onion, and tomato crostini). Delicious. My folks drove me back to SmallMountainTown, and we had a perfect long weekend together--hiking, food, drinks, a bit of shopping . . . very low-key, which is what we like.

We did take a day trip to the historically preserved miner's village where some of my ancestors emigrated to from Ireland and worked. It was haunting to walk those streets, imagining a thick coat of coal dust covering everything, and contemplating the nearly unthinkable poverty in which they lived. Really a day to remember.

After such a long stretch of traveling and company, I barely mustered the strength to cook dinner last night (especially after doing four loads of laundry). I have a ton of pasta recipes on here, but I strongly believe that a handful of infinitely variable pasta recipes can get anyone through the busiest (and budget-limited) of times.

My Mother-In-Law sent me a recipe for pasta with dried plums and pecans a while ago and I'd had it in the back of my mind. I substituted walnuts for the pecans (though pecans would have been lovely) and added sauteed kale for nutrition's sake and for its very complimentary bitterness.

Pasta with Dried Plums, Kale, Walnuts, and Gorgonzola
1 lb. whole-wheat pasta (short is good)
2 T. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. kale, torn into bite-sized pieces, washed
1/2 cup dried plums (prunes), chopped
4 T. walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/2 to 2/3 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions, scooping out some of the pasta cooking water just before draining. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add kale, cover and steam, tossing occasionally until bright green and partially wilted. Season with salt and pepper, saute without lid to evaporate most of the excess liquid. Add the other ingredients and toss well, using pasta cooking water to moisten if necessary.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


It's amazing to me that no matter if I am working or staying at home, I find a way to fill my days. Since our move, I have been one of the unemployed. Gladly. In fact, it's been a nice vacation (once our stuff was unpacked, anyway). Because I worked these past few years while Our Hero was in school, he's urging me to take it easy and relax a while. For the past month, I've happily obliged.

Perhaps my most highly anticipated "vacation" excitement is a trip I'll be embarking upon this Friday. We'll drive up to our OldHome and stay with dear friends for the weekend. Monday, Our Hero becomes DR. Our Hero, which is such a happy happy occasion (once the committee is through with him). Tuesday I'm off to visit my BFF Forever, and then spending time in HomeTown with my parents.

I know being far from family and friends is a fact of modern life, but I find that fact combined with the reality of full-time jobs' vacation allowances (even the good companies!) makes it difficult to see your family when your family isn't in the area. So with that in mind, I am taking full advantage of this job-free time and hanging out with some of the people I love most.

I fully intend to cook and post as I travel. Drea will be getting some food, and I think I'm up to the challenge to cook salt-free for my Pops. But for now, I'm enjoying chatting about the day with Our Hero over a simple meal made with market-fresh ingredients.

This high-protein recipe comes from Simplicity from a Monastery Kitchen by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette, kindly via M. Thanks, M!

Stuffed Red Peppers Basque Style
3 good-size red peppers
1 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 hard-boiled eggs, crumbled
One 8-oz. can light tuna fish, drained and crumbled
6 sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh bread crumbs, to taste (I used 1 slice whole-wheat bread)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the peppers lengthwise in halves (including the stems). Scoop out the seeds and ribs. Put pepper halves into a greased ovenproof dish.

Pour the oil into a skillet, Add the onion and garlic and saute briefly over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes. Combine the onion-garlic mixtures in a bowl with all of the remaining ingredients except the bread crumbs. Mix well.

Stuff each pepper half with the mixture. Cover each top with bread crumbs, and bake uncovered for about 25 minutes.

Happy to Be Back!

Thank you for your well wishes, your demands (ahem, Drea), and your patience! Here I am! First, a short digest of what's been going on.

A move (we all felt this way):

Beautiful new surroundings (Our Hero and I have climbed that mountain several times now!):

Aaaaand, a high-speed chase ended in our front yard. No better way to meet the neighbors, I say. You can't see it in this (very poor quality) picture, but the truck hit THREE trees in our yard, like a pinball. Amazing. It was all complete with the guy attempting to escape. Very surreal.

Indeed, things are well. Our Hero has started his work nurturing the minds of the young, and I have been puttering, filing, labeling, budgeting, alternately panicking and relaxing, reading, hiking, swimming, and . . . cooking of course!

I'm excited to get the blog rolling here again as we ease into harvest season. Farmers' Markets here are plentiful, and this weekend I spied the first squash of the season! My father made the mistake of calling me and asking what to do with a squash, and I'm afraid I went on and on and on and on, exciting myself as I shared about pasta sauces, soups, pizzas . . . I'm doing it again. Better quit while I'm ahead.

In any event, I will be posting regularly again, and can smell my next post finishing up in the oven as I write. Stay tuned, I'm getting in touch with my roots by making Basque-style stuffed peppers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

. . . Coming Soon!

After a bit of internet-access frustration and the all-around craziness of finding your way around a new town and settling into a new place, we have a date for internet service: August 30th! Barring any unforseen problems, I will be returning to the fold then! Miss you all . . . xxxooo

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Thanks for your well-wishes!

We have arrived safely here in MyTown, Part Two. The house still resembles a disaster area, and my internet access is spotty at best.

Thank you for all your happy thoughts, keep sending 'em our way! Be back to posting (hopefully) in a few weeks!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Movin' on up

I am busy wrapping things up at work, and then we must begin the ardous tasks involved in preparing to move to another state. We move in two-and-a-half weeks, and the stress has already begun.

If I have the time and resources, I will try to post, but it may be a little sparse until August. Be gentle! Come back and check soon!

Thursday, July 05, 2007


I had a freezer bag full of chipotle chiles in adobo leftover from another recipe; I had two cans of chickpeas and a languishing lime. From these meager beginnings, I made perhaps one of the most addictive snacks ever to find its way out of my Cuisinart. This isn't really a hummous, more of a chickpea spread that doubles easily as a dip.

I have a sick love for both chickpeas and spice, which could be easily construed as an addiction, and this stuff really feeds my need.

Of late, I've been struggling with a herniated disc in my lower back, and have recently made a decision to try cutting sugar from my diet, which is an inflammatory and may be making my pain worse. As much as I am not a sweet-craver (I prefer salty on about a four-to-one ratio), having yummy snacks like this around make it a little easier to pass on a bit of frozen yogurt or honey-drizzled banana. I don't know how this whole no-sugar thing will work out, but if I keep getting to eat this stuff, I think I'll be able to cope.

Chipotle-Chickpea Spread
2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2-4 canned chipotle peppers (depending on your preferred level of spice)
1 T. adobo sauce
Juice from 1/2 lime
3 T. olive oil
Low-fat yogurt, as needed

Combine chickpeas, chipotle, adobo, lime juice, and olive oil in a food processor. Process until pureed. Season with salt to taste, add yogurt or olive oil as needed to reach desired consistency. Allow flavors to meld in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Monday, July 02, 2007

In the 'Zone

Our Hero loves pizza. Deeply. So deeply I often wonder if I should be jealous. No matter how recently he's ordered a slice or three for a meal, he's ready for more. A friend of his with whom he traveled talks of great detours in walking trips in order to procure a droopy wedge of the stuff.

Our Hero's favorite pizzas are pretty standard stuff, generally from the pizzaria around the corner (any corner): floppy crust, the barest schmear of marinara, greasy cheese, sausage and/or pepperoni. That's it. Oh, and the bigger, the better.

And here's where we part ways . . . Though I can enjoy a neighborhood slice, my favorite pizzas are usually homemade and healthier: white with lots of veggies and a bit of flavorful cheese.

(Note that one of my past recipes is called "Our Hero's Favorite Pizza" - let me qualify that as Our Hero's Favorite Homemade Pizza.)

. . . so it was with love in my heart that I decided to make "supreme" calzone for dinner. I had a couple of fresh italian chicken sausages, 1/2 a red bell pepper, and mushrooms in my fridge - all pleading to be used - calzone was calling. This was my first official try at a calzone (though there was one "rustic Greek calzone" accidental pizza fold-over my brother may remember), and it was as easy as I expected. I have been toying with a new pizza dough recipe, adapted from Mark Bittman's version. I have also (gasp) been taking to making it in the Cuisinart. I refuse to apologize. It's so fast!

Calzone Supreme

1 pkg. rapid-rise yeast
2 t. salt
3 cups white whole-wheat flour
2 T. olive oil
1-1 1/4 cup water

In a food processor: Combine yeast, salt, and flour in the bowl of the processor. Turn the machine on. Slowly pour in the oil and 1 cup of the water. Allow to mix a bit, adding additional water little by little if needed until the dough forms a ball. Process for 30 more seconds. Remove from machine and shape into a ball. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 1-2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

By hand: Combine yeast, salt, and flour in a bowl. Stir in oil and enough water for dough to form a ball. Knead for 5-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 1-2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

1 cup thick marinara or pizza sauce
2 links fresh italian hot chicken sausage, removed from casing
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
10 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 cup part-skim mozzerella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a skillet over medium-high. Add sausage, breaking up into small pieces until fully cooked. Place in a bowl and set aside. Add mushrooms to any accumulated fat from the sausage (it should be a modest amount), stir, cover, and cook 2-3 minutes, until juices begin to release. Add peppers, remove cover and cook until all juices have evaporated, 5 minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper. It's important to cook away the moisture so that the calzone do not get soggy. When veggies have cooked, remove to a plate.

Divide the risen dough into four equal pieces. Flatten and stretch each piece into a circle 7-8 inches in diameter. You may need to let the dough rest a bit between stretches.

Spread 2-3 T. marinara on 1/2 of each dough circle, leaving 3/4-inch border. Sprinkle with 1/4 of the sausage and a good 1/4-cup of the veggies. Sprinkle with 2-3 T. of cheese You want the calzone full, but still able to close. Wet the edge with a bit of water and fold the dough over the filling. Pinch the two sides together with your fingers, and crimp the edges with a fork. Cut three steam vents in the top of the turnover.

Place on an oiled baking sheet and bake 20-30 minutes, until golden. Let cool a bit before serving.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Fried Green Tomatoes

It almost seems silly to post a recipe for fried green tomatoes - they are so simple to make, anyone could probably come up with a reasonable version toying around in the kitchen for a short while. I will, however, post this recipe as a nudge to those who have not yet attempted this delicious snack (and perfect weekend lunch). Additionally, here in MyTown, green tomatoes seem more plentiful than locally-grown red ones (though I did manage to find some beauties) at our farmer's markets, so it's a practical recipe as well.

I have fond memories of my own fried green tomato discovery.

In college, I lived downstairs from a friend who, each Sunday, cooked up a mess of Soul Food. W would make chicken, greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and potatoes as a matter of course each week. I was lucky enough to hang around and peek at the food all day long, before eating at dinnertime.

Having picked up a bunch of green tomatoes at the farmers' market, I decided to try my hand at the Southern treat. I brought the tomatoes up to W's apartment, and she passed along her recipe. Usually, W fried her tomatoes in bacon fat, and though mine are a little lighter, they make me smile and think of her.

Fried Green Tomatoes
2 medium green tomatoes, sliced (about 1/2-inch slices)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup medium-to-fine grind cornmeal
Fresh ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes
Cooking spray or olive oil

Mix cornmeal and seasonings to taste in a large shallow bowl or plate. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray or coat with olive oil. Dip each tomato slice in beaten egg on both sides. Dredge in cornmeal mixture, and place in skillet. Flip tomatoes when cornmeal is slightly browned and crisped.

A plateful of these beauties makes a perfect lunch, with a handful of seasonal fruit and a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mix Up Your Cucumber Salad

Well, we're back from our housing search in SmallMountainTown, and boy is it a small town! I consider myself a city girl to the core, and it seems I'm in for a big change on August 1st. Even so, we will be only 70 miles outside HUGECity, which offers lots of amenities and lovely friend J!

Our housing search was a great success . . . we ended up taking an apartment in a turn-of-the-century Victorian mansion which is still in the process of renovation. The landlords are highly recommended by Our Hero's new colleagues, so we have every reason to believe things will turn out well. One of our landlords is a professional in the dining/hospitality field, and I've seen (and loved) his kitchen, so I am hoping and praying the kitchen will be wonderful. I think people who love to cook would have a hard time building a crappy kitchen. I'll provide pictures when available. The good news: the stove will be gas. Amen.

We've had a bit of a sticky heatwave these past few days in MyTown, and standing over a hot stove sounded absolutely hellish. Instead, I whipped up this cucumber salad from Eating Well, which served me well as a light, hot-weather supper. It's a nice change from my standard (and delicious) yogurt-cuke-red onion-dill combo. The beans and feta give this some protein. Our Hero preferred it as a side dish with a fat roast beef sandwich. Either way you use it, light meal or side, it is fresh-tasting and delicious.

Cucumber-Black-Eyed-Pea Salad
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2 T. olive oil
Pinch dried or t. chopped fresh oregano
Black pepper
4 cups peeled, diced cucumber
14-oz. can black-eyed peas
1 cup diced sweet bell pepper
1/4 cup sliced red onion
1/2 cup crumbled feta (sheep's milk is best)
6-8 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

Whisk together first four ingredients in a large bowl. Add other ingredients and toss well. Taste for seasoning. Chill at least 30 minutes before serving.

Oh yes, a personal note for a friend enduring a language pledge this summer (thank you google translator?):
انا نفتقدكم ، اندريا! لا استطيع الانتظار لاتحدث اليكم في عطلة نهاية هذا الاسبوع ، انه يرغب شخصيا.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Spring Onion Pizza

At our local farmer's market in Mytown, offerings are getting good. I couldn't resist the fat-bulbed sweet spring onions that beckoned to me from the farmstands. I picked up some beautiful local asparagus as well. I thought about a way to showcase both of these flavors and decided a pizza was the best way to go. I wanted this pizza to scream freshness and spring-y goodness, so selected a nice hunk of fresh porcini mushroom, prosciutto di parma, goat cheese, and basil. I served it with a locally-grown romaine salad.

For pizza crust instructions, see my favorite recipe here.

Additionally, dear readers, things are starting to get nutso with our impending relocation to SmallMountainTown. I beg forgiveness for the sparseness of my posts: look forward to a bit of leisure time come August!

Spring Onion Pizza
1 recipe pizza dough (preferably whole-wheat)
Olive oil
3/4 cup spring onions, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch lengths, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup asparagus, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch lengths
1/2 cup chopped fresh porcini mushroom (any variety would work)
3 thin slices prosciutto di parma, sliced crosswise into strips
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
Generous handful fresh basil chiffonade

Prepare pizza dough according to recipe. Preheat oven and pan to 500 degrees. I recommend a pizza stone, but a baking sheet will work too. Heat a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and saute 3 minutes or so. Add asparagus and saute until tender. Stir in spring onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from heat.

Stretch or roll dough into a large round (or rectangle, if using baking sheets). Top pizza round with the sparsest sprinkling of olive oil, the veggies, prosciutto, and goat cheese. Remove hot stone or pan from the oven, sprinkle with cornmeal, and use a peel to transfer the pizza onto the pan/stone. Alternatively, build the pizza directly on the hot pan/stone. Put pizza in oven and lower heat to 450 degrees. Bake until crust is crispy and golden on the edges, 15 minutes or so. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My, What Big Mussels You Have

A couple of weeks ago, after our friend and gourmand R cooked us the most incredible littleneck clams we'd ever eaten, I decided that I'd have to recreate his recipe myself. This is the most wonderful way to eat mussels and clams alike, in my humble opinion.

Even better, it's criminally easy.

I made a few changes to the recipe as R prepared it, substituting mussles for the clams (the grocery had just sold out), and substituting farmer's-market-fresh swiss chard for R's escarole. I served it with fresh bread to soak up every glorious drop of the broth and some simply sauteed (and local) asparagus spears, dressed in lemon.

The flavor combinations here are exquisite: briny seafood; onion, garlic, and bell pepper; chorizo sausage; bitter greens; and beer. I don't know what else to say other than MAKE THIS IMMEDIATELY. Invite your friends over and argue and laugh over steaming bowls of this stuff.

Special thanks to (as Our Hero puts it) my "BFF forever," for brightening my month with her visit and providing excellent kitchen help to boot. Of course, thanks to R as well (without whom, none of this would have been possible).

The Best Damn Mussels You've Ever Had
1 lb. mussels, scrubbed and debearded (discard any with broken shells and any that do not close when shells are gently tapped)
Tiniest t. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 large sweet onion, halved again through its pole and cut into crescent-slices
1 sweet bell pepper (any color but green), cut into long 1/2-inch strips and then halved crosswise
1/2 t. crushed red pepper
3 links chorizo sausage, quartered lengthwise and chopped
3-4 cups cooking greens, washed and roughly chopped
12 oz. (one bottle) good beer (R and I used Anchor Steam Ale)
Black pepper

Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven with a cover over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, and bell pepper and saute until just beginning to soften, 3 minutes. Stir in crushed red pepper. Add chorizo and stir, 2-3 minutes. Pour in beer and bring to a boil. Season to taste with black pepper. Add greens and cover until just wilted. Stir and then add mussels. Cover and steam until mussels open, about 5-8 minutes. Discard any that do not open. Serve with plenty of crusty bread.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Blueberry Muffins

Our Hero loves blueberry muffins. Actually, he loves anything blueberry. This being said, as blueberries appeared in earnest at the grocery store this Saturday, I couldn't resist buying him some of his favorite fruit.

In the same way that Our Hero loves blueberries, I love making muffins. They are so simple and last for days and can even be frozen and defrosted for a delicious weekday breakfast. There must be a million ways to make blueberry muffins. I've tried lots of ways (adapted from low-fat cookbooks to those of fancy celebrity chefs), and this particular recipe is my new favorite. I have very particular considerations about the kinds of muffins I favor:
1. 100% whole wheat without being heavy
2. Not overly sweet
3. Not packed with fat
4. Not soggy
5. Not rubbery

These muffins, adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything do the trick, perfectly. These muffins have a biscuit-like texture, with only the slightest hint of sweetness. The lemon zest gives them a subtle fragrance. Very important in the success of this recipe is the use of white whole-wheat flour. Traditional whole-wheat flour will be too heavy. Next time, I may replace the milk with buttermilk, for kicks.

100% Whole-Wheat Blueberry Muffins
3 T. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 t. salt
2 t. baking powder
2 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 t. fresh lemon zest
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries (frozen will work too)

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Mix together dry ingredients and lemon zest. In another small bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Make a well in the dry and add the wet. Stir until just combined. The batter should be thick but still wet. Add a little more milk if it seems too dry. Stir in blueberries, and divide among muffin cups. Serve warm with butter and/or raw unfiltered honey.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Pearl Barley Risotto

I've wanted to make risotto with pearl barley ever since I read about the technique. I can't quite remember where I stumbled onto this suggestion, maybe Sally Schneider's A New Way to Cook? In any event, it had been on my short list of must-try dishes.

Since I've largely abandoned refined grains (aside from the occasional slice of pizza or wedge of yummy cake), I've missed risotto. Yes, I've made it more than a few times with short-grain brown rice, but the reason I haven't put it together more often is one in the same as the thing that kills me about whole-grain risotto. It takes SO frickin' long! With arborio rice, you're stirring, tops, 25 minutes. With short-grain brown rice or pearl barley, you're stuck by the stove for (perhaps over) 60 minutes!

The recipe I used from Eating Well lied and said it would only take me 35-45 minutes. HA! Thanks to another epiphany/kitchen hint from Mark Bittman, I knew constant stirring is not necessary for risotto. He recommends the heat at a rather high temperature and not to leave the risotto unstirred more than a minute. In this manner, I was able to take lots of mini-breaks from stirring. Thank you, Mr. Bittman.

Though it took more than an hour to reach al dente (mis en place plus one hour cooking time), it was a success, taste-wise. The mushrooms, red wine, and arugula gave this a very rich and woodsy flavor. I would recommend this recipe, but make sure to do it on a night with lots of time to spend in the kitchen. Even better, make it with a friend and chat away while you take turns stirring.

Pearl Barley Risotto with Wild Mushrooms and Arugula
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
2 t. olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups mixed wild mushrooms, chopped or sliced
1/2 cup red wine
6 cups baby arugula
1 T. butter
1/3 cup parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated
2 t. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat stock and water to a simmer on the stovetop.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, 3-5 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook until they begin to give up their liquid, about 5 minutes. Stir in pearl barley and stir constantly, 1 minute, to coat with oil. Add wine and stir until liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring very frequently until liquid has mostly been absorbed. Be sure that you stir often enough that the risotto will not scorch on the bottom of the pan. Keep heat at medium to medium-high. Cook barley until al dente (you may not use all the liquid, but I did). Stir in arugula until wilted. Add butter, cheese, and vinegar. Season to taste.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Pretty Things

Following Orangette's inimitable, exquisite, and beautifully-photographed lead, I put together her composed salad for last night's rainy and humid dinner hour. My photo is not as pretty, but does show that we put together a reasonable facsimile.

Yes, you heard me right, it did rain and I did enjoy reading my book on the back porch. Thankyouverymuch.

Back to dinner - it was so tasty and simple, the flavors so bright and summery, Our Hero and I cleaned our plates (and he had a Hero-sized serving). We had little juice-glasses of a nice semi-dry white wine as accompaniment, and spooned a bit of the wine over the melon, which was lovely.

I entreat you all to throw your own together and celebrate the season of juicy melons and herby greens!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Ah, nothing like a lazy Sunday morning . . . Today, I slept until 8:30! Those of you who know me know this is highly unusual, as I am generally up by 7:00am on the weekends. It was relaxing and luxurious, and I allowed myself to enjoy it. Yay me!

The weather's been calling for "spotty showers," and since I've returned from a long walk around the park and the neighborhood, I am secretly wishing for an afternoon shower/thunderstorm so that I can sit on our covered back porch and read my book. Don't tell anyone, I have friends who would never forgive me.

Whole-Grain Pancakes with Yogurt
From Everyday Food
1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour or traditional whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup corn meal (medium to fine grind)
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 T. flax meal (ground flaxseed--optional)
2 t. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2/3 cup yogurt
1/3 cup milk
2 T. canola oil
1 large egg
Canola oil for griddle
Toppings of choice (fruit, preserves, yogurt, syrup, butter)

Mix the dry ingredients together using a whisk. Whisk up the wet ingredients in a bigger bowl, add dry to wet, don't overmix (small lumps are ok). This batter is a bit thicker than other pancake batters. Heat a skillet to medium heat, spread canola oil on surface with paper towel. Use about 3 T. batter for each pancake, spreading with the back of the spoon. Wait until bubbles form in the center to turn, 1-3 minutes per side.

Our Hero likes his with real maple syrup, I like mine with just a touch of butter.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Leftovers Extraordinaire

The leftover odds and ends in my refrigerator near the end of the week are dear to me. These are tools for improvisation! This week, I had some chorizo sausages and escarole left over from a meal dear R cooked for us (more on that later). By adding some spice and pantry-staples, we had a spicy, satisfying one-dish meal.

And I love the colors. So pretty! I think that the flavors did balance nicely, though I might use kale instead of escarole next time around.

I find I often turn leftovers into pasta dishes - dear reader, how do you use up the remains of your crisper drawers?

I am approximating on many of the amounts in this recipe. Taste, taste and adjust as necessary.

Spicy Sausage-Rice Bowl
(makes 4-6 servings)
1 cup long-grain brown rice
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, juice drained and reserved
About 1 cup water or chicken broth (I used *gasp* boullion)
Olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. smoked paprika
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/4-1/2 t. crushed red pepper
2 links chorizo sausage, cut into quarters lengthwise, then chopped
1 cup red wine (actually any dry wine or good beer you've got lying around would work)
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
3-4 cups escarole or other bitter green, roughly chopped

Heat about 1 t. olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add rice to the pan and stir constantly until well-coated and shiny, about 1 minute. Pour tomato juice into a measuring cup and add broth or water to equal about 2 1/4 cups. Add to rice in saucepan, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook until done, 45-60 minutes.

Heat 1 T. olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, paprika, cumin, and red pepper to taste. Stir and cook 1 minute. Add chorizo chunks and saute 3-4 minutes. Add wine to pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands, and beans. Simmer until saucy and much of the liquid has evaporated, about 10-20 minutes. Add escarole, cover and cook until wilted, a couple minutes.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Sorry it's been a while. I've been attempting to be more spontaneous and less fascist about my evening plans. We're moving in (ohmydearlord) about eight weeks, and I want to spend as much time as possible with our terrific friends here. Being more spontaneous means dinner isn't as formally plotted out, which means often it's not so much fun to post. (I mean, a spinach salad with strawberries, pine nuts, Israeli feta, and balsamic dressing is delicous, but I pretty much just gave you the recipe in this sentence.)

You'll have to be patient with me over these next couple of months, with the crush of relocation fast approaching and a battery of "I want to do this before we leave MyTown" activity. Trust me, I am sure the computer and I will be attached at the hip come our move. YOU will be my social life. Sigh.

Still, I am very excited for lots of reasons about our move, though the closer it gets the more anxiety I feel about finding a place to live, deciding on activities to fill my time . . . But I am sure it will all work out. And I will (at least for the first couple of months) have more time to play in the kitchen! Very much looking forward to that.

In the meantime, we are enjoying my tabletop tinkering as often as possible. I found this recipe in Eating Well magazine. It was delicious, satisfying, and good enough to make again soon! I want to shout it from the rooftops: Our Hero likes tempeh!! For those of you who have yet to try this soyish delight, tempeh is a fermented soybean loaf that sometimes includes grains. It is chewy and hearty and very high in protein.

Smothered Tempeh Sandwiches
1 8-oz. block of tempeh, cut in half longways into two thin slices, then halved again (you will have four thin sandwich-sized slices)
10 oz. mushrooms, sliced (I used cremini)
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup red wine
4-8 slices of whole wheat bread, toasted (you could make this openfaced or "traditional")
4 thinnish slices provolone cheese
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Saute the mushrooms, onion, salt, and pepper in olive oil (just enough) over medium-high heat until golden (about 10 minutes). Stir in wine and reduce heat to medium. Add tempeh slices to the pan, spooning the wine-y mushroom mixture on top of each piece. Simmer until the wine has evaporated, 5-15 minutes. (You can fix a salad and cut up some fruit while you're waiting.) Remove from heat. Scoop mushrooms and onions equally onto each tempeh slice. Top with provolone slices, cover pan, and wait about a minute and a half until cheese has melted. Remove each "smothered" tempeh slice and place on toast to enjoy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Exhausted Evening at Home

After a looong day at work yesterday, I schlepped over to the gym to complete my battery of physical-therapist-recommended exercises. Sweet friend LS called, wanting to know if I was in the mood for a walk in the park, an offer which I unhesitatingly accepted. The weather was gorgeous, and I headed straight to LS' house after the gym.

LS brought her three adorable daughters, and I pushed little C in her stroller. One lap around the park and a stop at the playground, plus the walk there and back, and I was knackered.

And can I just mention just one thing? I am amazed daily by the love, energy, humor, and patience of all the mothers in my life. (You too, Ma!)

I dragged my arse home to a hungry Hero, and flipped through my mental rolodex of super-easy recipes. Picking pasta was a no-brainer. Then I recalled a simple "base" recipe from Sally Schneider's The Improvisational Cook for pasta with anchovy, garlic, and red pepper. I tossed in some fresh parsley and toasty walnuts to make this an approximation of a meal. Of course, this pasta would serve just as well as a side dish, but we ate our simple dinner happily with some juicy wedges of watermelon.

A word about anchovies: have no fear! If you "don't like" anchovies because they look/smell funny or you had them on pizza once and didn't like them, please, give them another chance! I'd be willing to bet that most people wouldn't be able to identify the flavor in these noodles as fish-based at all! I buy the small jars of oil-packed anchovy fillets in the italian foods section. this way, I can reclose the jar and use the rest later.

Spaghetti with Anchovy and Garlic
1 lb. whole-wheat spaghetti
2 large cloves garlic, peeled
7-8 anchovy fillets packed in oil, patted dry
Coarse salt
Black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Crushed red pepper
Handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Handful toasted walnuts

Set a pot to boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Grate garlic with a microplane or rasp grater onto cutting board. Sprinkle with coarse salt and mash into a paste with a knife. Add anchovy fillets and cut these into the garlic mixture with a knife. It should form a thick paste. Add anchovy-garlic mixture to a mortar (you could use a bowl and the back of a spoon) and mix in a generous grinding of black pepper. Add about 1/4-1/3 cup olive oil, a little bit at a time, working in with the pestle.

Drain pasta. In hot pan, add oil mixture and cook over medium about 30 seconds with crushed red pepper to taste (I was generous). Turn off the heat, and add pasta back to the pot. Toss until well-coated. Serve sprinkled with parsley and a scattering of walnuts.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Roasted Chicken Thighs Provençal

This low-effort recipe is from April's Cooking Light. Basically, all you have to do is cut up the veggies, toss it all together, and wait 35-40 minutes while an increasingly intoxicating aroma wafts from your oven.

Our Hero is a big fan of meat-and-potatoes dinners, and I indulge him every once in a while. I found the instructions provided with the recipe rather confusing, so I will give directions detailing what I did to make this dinner. This recipe is particularly well-suited to up- and down-sizing to suit the number of people you need to feed. I imagine it would make a fragrant sit-down dinner for one. Add a green salad and you're set . . . Our Hero and I both had plentiful lunch leftovers.

Roasted Chicken Thighs Provençal
6 (6-oz) bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed (or, if your partner begs you to leave his on, 3 skin-on, 3 skinned)
Olive oil
Dried or fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 1/2 lbs red potatoes, cut into eighths if larger, quarters if smaller
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into eighths.
30 niçoise olives

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment, spray with cooking spray. Line another baking sheet or baking dish big enough to fit all the chicken thighs with foil or parchment. Place cut vegetables onto the rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with about 3/4 t. dried thyme, salt, and pepper and toss.

Arrange chicken thighs on other baking sheet or dish. Sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper. Scatter olives throughout.

Place both trays in hot oven and roast 35-40 minutes, until chicken is done and potatoes are tender.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Spicy Chickpea Curry

Recently, friend R shared with me the magic of mole. He described that to make a mole, he mashed up various ingredients to pastes, then browned those pastes over heat to deepen the flavors. This process immediately made me think of an Indian curry recipe I make every once in a while from Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes. I make the spicy curry sauce and simmer any variety of veggies and meats in it. In this case, cooked chickpeas and onion. The recipe does take a bit of time to cook, but I think it's absolutely worth it. Additionally, though this recipe makes a lot, this is one of those dishes which tastes even better as leftovers, so it's good to have it kicking around the fridge for a while.

You can use 3 cans of drained chickpeas for this recipe or cook your own from dried, which offer superior texture and flavor. To cook your own, soak chickpeas for at least 8 hours with water 2 inches above beans. Cook until creamy, about 30 minutes at a low boil/simmer with 1/4 t. baking soda and 1/2 t. salt.

Classic Spicy Curry Sauce
3 large cloves fresh garlic, peeled
4-6 quarter-sized slices peeled fresh ginger
1-3 fresh green chile peppers (like serrano or jalapeno), stemmed
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
3 T. neutral oil, like peanut or canola
1 T. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. dried fenugreek
1/2 t. paprika
1/4 t. turmeric
1 t. salt, or to taste
1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt, whisked until smooth
4 cups water
1/4 t. garam masala
3 T. chopped fresh cilantro

In a food processor, puree garlic, ginger, chiles, and onion to make a paste. Put in a bowl and set aside. Separately, puree the tomato.

Heat the oil in a large wok or deep skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onion mixutre, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until browned, 8-10 minutes (small beads of oil will appear on the top and sides).

Add the tomato, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until juices evaporate and drops of oil appear on the top and sides, 8-10 minutes.

Add the spices (except for the garam masala and cilantro) and the salt. Cook, stirring 2-3 minutes. Mix the yogurt in a little bit at a time, stirring constantly to keep it from curdling.

Add the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer until sauce is reduced to desired consistency 15-30 minutes. Chickpeas and sliced onion can be added when there's about 10 minutes left of cooking. Serve garnished with garam masala and cilantro.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I am a European Peasant

Um, obviously not really. It's just what I imagined as I cooked up this dinner. This is basic, country food at its best. Last Sunday I bought a whole mess of mushrooms to make quesadillas during the week, however I forgot to buy tortillas. Oops. Wanting to capitalize as much as possible on what was already in my refrigerator, I picked up a loaf of "French-Italian" bread at the Italian bakery a couple of blocks from my gym and decided to serve sauteed mushrooms on cheese toasts.

I cut up the mushrooms I'd bought, about two pounds' worth of shiitake, baby bella, and portobella, tossing them in a hot skillet with garlic and olive oil until their juices released and then mostly evaporated. I debated between using rosemary and thyme, choosing the latter for its less strident flavor, and added salt and freshly ground pepper for good measure.

After a taste, I knew something was missing. I dug in the pantry, brushing past balsamic (the old standby) to my rarely-used bottle of sherry vinegar. This did the trick, though of course any vinegar would work.

This is a nice casual supper with the addition of sliced fruit and a green salad, but would also work as an appetizer.

Wild Mushroom Toasts
1 loaf Italian or French bread (long and thin is best)
Extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
About 2 lbs. mixed wild mushrooms
3/4 t. dried thyme, crushed between fingers
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1-2 T. sherry vinegar
1 cup grated fontina cheese

Cut bread into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Top rounds with grated fontina. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms to the pan, cook until they release their liquid, then let liquid mostly evaporate. Add thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat. Stir in sherry vinegar to taste.

Meanwhile, toast bread rounds in the oven until crisp and cheese has melted, 8-10 minutes. Serve cheese rounds with a bowl of mushrooms and spoon.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Angry Pasta

I know, I know, it doesn't look so angry in the picture. This is a classic Italian pasta dish, penne arrabiata, "angry" because of its spicy, assertive flavors.

This is a busy-day dinner; while the ingredients simmer away there's plenty of time to pop in a load of laundry, pack tomorrow's gym bag, and make up a grocery list.

Penne Arrabiata
1 lb. whole-wheat penne or other short pasta
Extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/2 t. crushed red pepper
1 28-oz. can whole peeled italian-style (plum) tomatoes in juice
Pecorino romano cheese

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Heat 3 T. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and red pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7-8 minutes. Garlic should brown well, but not blacken at all. Add tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands, and their juice. Simmer 10-15 minutes, until saucy. Toss with pasta, and sprinkle with pecorino cheese. (Use pecorino if you can, its assertive saltiness will hold up well to the spicy sauce.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Understood's Saturday Dinner

My lovely, amazing, and wonderful parents came for a visit this weekend! I was inordinately excited and really, really, REALLY had a great time. My beloved Pops is on a no-salt, extremely low-sodium diet, so it presents an interesting challenge for meal plans. I think we all did quite well this weekend. Our Hero, though he was awfully busy working on his dissertation most of the time, was sure to join us for meals. Ahem.

I'm including this recipe on the site because of the crazy-easy perfection to which it cooks salmon fillet. I discovered this technique somewhere (perhaps Everyday Food?), and have been using it for several years. On the side, we tossed together whole-wheat pasta, dill, grape tomatoes, red onion, toasted pine nuts, and a bit of Parmiggiano.

Salmon Broiled with Zucchini, Lemon, and Dill
1 lb. salmon fillet
4-5 small zucchini, cut into 1-inch slices on the diagonal
1 lemon, cut into eight wedges
4-6 thin lemon round slices from a second lemon
Handful fresh dill
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt (if desired) and black pepper

Preheat broiler. Cut the salmon fillet into 4-6 pieces, as desired. Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with foil. Toss zucchini and lemon wedges with olive oil to lightly coat. Nestle salmon in with zucchini. Scatter with dill and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top each salmon piece with a slice of lemon. Broil 10 minutes, until fish is desired level of done. I find this cooks salmon to the most perfect melt-in-your-mouth consistency. Squeeze the juicy broiled lemon wedges over your fish.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Not Your Typical Tuna Salad

This tuna salad was nice this week when I felt I barely had the energy to pull together dinner. I found it in the "Superfast" section of last month's Cooking Light and it certainly was. I just served it up with some toast and sweet potato fries. Yum!

I apologize for the lack of posts the last several days - the Understood parents came up to MyTown for a visit, so blogging was not priority #1. More soon!

Italian-Style Tuna Salad
From Cooking Light
2 6-oz cans solid white tuna
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1/2 medium fennel bulb, chopped
Handful fresh basil, chopped
Lemon juice
Extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 T. capers, drained
Black pepper

Mix all the ingredients to taste and serve! Made a great work lunch the next day.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

My Thai

I've had an open jar of green curry paste knocking about in my refrigerator for a while, so I was motivated to use it this week. This is basically a veggie stir-fry without the fry (for the most part), served over whole-wheat fettucine. Rice noodles would have been more authentic, but I had to get in my whole grains.

Anyone could throw this together with whatever was begging to be used up in their crisper bins. Cabbage would have been lovely. As this was an improvisation, I'll point out where I could have improved:

Sauce was too thin! I added a whole can of chicken broth so I could be sure the veggies would have enough simmering liquid. Next time, I'll scale back on the broth (alterations made in this recipe). Also, might not hurt to stir in a bit of corn starch to thicken it up. "Lite" coconut milk does not have the body of the full-fat variety.

In spite of this, the flavor was nice, spicy and a bit creamy, with crisp peas and juicy peppers and onions. Maybe I've got warm-weather fever, but this seems like a great summer night dinner!

Green Curry Thai Stir-Fry
1 T. vegetable oil
1 block firm tofu, patted dry and cubed
1 lb. whole-wheat fettucine
2-3 T. Thai green curry paste
1/2 can "lite" coconut milk
1/2 can chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 large onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, halved
1/2-1 cup sugar snap peas
Generous handful cilantro, chopped
Fish sauce or soy sauce, for serving (optional)

Cook fettucine according to package instructions. Try to time it so the pasta is finished at approximately the same time as the sauce.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the tofu, stirring, until golden (7-10 minutes or so). Remove tofu to a plate, set aside. Add curry paste to skillet, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Stir in coconut milk and broth. Bring to a simmer. Add onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Cook, uncovered, until veggies are tender (5-7 minutes). Stir in peas, cook 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Serve over pasta, sprinkled with fish sauce (preferred) or soy sauce (for you vegetarians), if desired.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Much Nicer in Nice

This is my first crack at the Niçoise take on pizza, pissaladière. It's basically an onion tart, which can be topped with a variety of items. Traditionally, these include anchovies, little wine-y Niçoise olives, and tomato. The French never include cheese on these tarts (so says Mark Bittman), but I could not resist and scattered on a very restrained handful of chèvre. (You can take the American out of the cheese, but you can't take the cheese out of an American's pizza.)

I prepared my customary pizza dough in the food processor and let it rise slowly in the refrigerator all day, taking it out several hours before I intended to bake it. Bittman's tip about letting the dough rest every few minutes was an epiphany to me, and resulted in both uniform thickness and shape. Cooking the onions does take a good deal of time, so be sure to leave 60-90 minutes to get this done. It's a perfect weekend dinner, and authentic pissaladière is often served at room temperature, so this would be a lovely appetizer for a summer cocktail gathering, with all the work done ahead of time.

With a few changes, from Mark Bittman's How to Make Everything
1 recipe whole-wheat pizza dough
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 lbs. onions, chopped
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme (one could use dried)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
2 oz. anchovies, packed in oil
2-3 plum tomatoes, sliced
20-30 tiny Niçoise olives, pitted
Palmful fresh goat cheese, crumbled (optional)

Heat 2 T. olive oil over low heat. Add onions, thyme, and bay leaf. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally until onions have given up liquid and begin to turn golden (one to two hours). Do NOT brown onions. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

20-30 minutes before onions are finished, grease a rimmed baking sheet 1 T. olive oil. Stretch pizza dough to fit into sheet, at about a 1/4-inch thickness all the way around. The best way to do this is to stretch and press it a little at a time, then leaving it to rest for a few minutes and so on. It should cover the entire pan, into the corners.

Meanwhile, when the onions are done, remove the lid and turn up the heat a bit to cook off most of the accumulated liquid. Fish out bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper. Spread onion mixture evenly onto prepared dough. Top with anchovies, tomato, olives, and cheese (if desired). Put into oven and lower heat to 350 degrees. Cook until crust is golden and toppings begin to brown, 30-45 minutes.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Quick Bread

Just before we moved, on a trip to a discount-book warehouse, I picked this up for a mere $6! Though I find Bittman's Wednesday features often less interesting than many of the others, I do find his recipes simple (duh), well-balanced, and perfect for the home cook. (As I blog this, the perfume of Bittman's pissaladiere - authenticity violated with goat cheese - fills my nostrils and, happily, my house.)

The book is fun to read and really does have a ton of uncomplicated and tempting recipes, many with great potential for improvisation.

In my humble opinion, nothing smells like home more than baking bread. I capitalized on both my new cookbook and our newly-unpacked kitchen to whip up some tasty bread and fill the house with homemade bread's warm scent. (So many nice smells today!)

This bread is aromatic, not very sweet, and perfect for breakfast spread with jam, yogurt cheese, or peanut butter.

Quick Whole Wheat and Molasses Bread
From How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Butter or oil to grease the pan
1 2/3 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1/2 cup molasses

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease your loaf pan. Mix together the dry ingredients. Separately, mix together the wet ingredients. Pour wet into dry, and mix only until just combined. Spoon/pour into the loaf pan and bake until firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about one hour. Cool on a rack 15 minutes before removing from the pan.


So, the cake seemed a hit, though I wasn't as excited with it as others purported to be. I think people were being honest, not just nice, so let's call it a success.

R, something of an expert in Mexican Cuisine, made an absolutely exquisite molé, served with chicken and shown on duffpower's stovetop, left. The recipe, he has promised, is forthcoming when I manage to guess the ingredients of the sauce. I'll keep you posted.

R also prepared a trio of delicious salsas, chipotle-marinated flank steak tacos, and lovely little stuffed zucchini-halves (both on view below with the chef extraordinaire). duffpower's enchanting margaritas made everyone super-friendly, and the evening was a bit hit!

Topping off a fantastic weekend, Mytown's home team had a wonderful win, Our Hero and I finished unpacking and situating, and I got to spend a good deal of time in the kitchen! The weather was lovely to boot.

Happy Spring!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Sneak Peek

Here's the finished "Mexican Chocolate" cake . . . recipe found on epicurious.

Didn't rise as much as I would have liked (maybe add more baking soda next time?), and it sunk a bit in the middle. Looking like a brownie-texture. Hopefully, the cinnamon (I doubled the amount), the cayenne (I added a healthy pinch), and the cinnamon-sugar topping (rather than a super-sweet glaze) will make it fun and adult-ish. We'll see . . .

The fiesta's chef is making chicken molé this evening, a "sampling" of salsas, and our host is preparing a bevvy of margaritas! Aiyaiyai!

Busy Week

This week, I've been whipping up quick meals and old standbys, things that are easy to throw together. It can't get much easier than this well-balanced meal, which I spiced up with a bit of braised fennel, recipe to follow. I purchased some fresh chicken sausages from an Italian market a few blocks away, and whipped up some polenta very similar to the grits recipe here, substituting olive oil for the butter and parm for the cheddar.

Presently, I have a "Mexican Chocolate Cake" baking in the oven for a fiesta this evening. Recipe forthcoming.

Braised Fennel
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bulb fennel, cut into thin strips
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground pepper
1/4 cup white wine, water, or stock
Pinch dried thyme

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and fennel and cook about 5 minutes, until softened. Season with salt and pepper, and add liquid to the pan. Cover, lower heat, and simmer 5-10 minutes - until tender. Stir in thyme and serve.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Settling In

Well, both Our Hero and I have healed up nicely from our bout(s) with the flu, and we survived the move to our new flat with the help of lots of our great MyTown friends, whom we will miss terribly. We are loving our new place, though I realize a little more acutely each day how crappy a nice apartment makes our furniture look. (Really crappy.) Still, we are making the best of it and enjoying the change.

As you can see on the left, the view from our bedroom window reveals that a bit of green is just beginning to peek from tangles of branches, and I couldn't be more excited. Just before I took this picture, I noticed a fat little chickadee perched in the branches, nest-building material clamped in his beak. At the old apartment, he would have been a pigeon. On the roof of the house next door. Probably defecating.

The new kitchen is clean and lovely, and though I've begun cooking (very simple) meals in it, I hope to be mainly unpacked and settled by this weekend. I've got a turkey defrosting in the oven that I must cook (thanks for the encouragement, JoMo, in the form of "suck it up and baste that bitch"). I'm hoping that involved Sunday dinner will break in the new digs. As you all can probably imagine, we are very busy unpacking, working, and doing all the things we normally do. I promise I will post some recipes soon; currently, I'm making a lot of old standbys that are easy and quick. Stay tuned for more soon!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Flu and Move

April indeed seems the cruellest month; after our bout with the flu over Easter weekend, the Understood-Hero household was again hit by some kind of evil bug beginning last week. VERY early last Tuesday morning (1am), Our Hero became violently ill. Thursday evening, just as he was beginning to feel better, I got the bug. I'm still getting over it now. It means business.

Complicating matters is the fact that we are moving to a new apartment in MyTown on Saturday. I have doubts that I'll have time to post until May. Please come back then! Stay healthy!

Monday, April 16, 2007


Like everyone else, I was horrified and shaken by the news coming out of Virginia Tech today. I had spent the morning complaining to various people (basically, anyone who would listen) about the seemingly interminable cold, gray, and rainy weather we've been having. It's hackneyed, I suppose, but even listening to the news on a "slow day" really puts these gripes in context.

It felt good to come home and go on "autopilot" with busywork for a bit - chopping, stirring. Still, I listened all the while to NPR's coverage of today's tragedy, becoming more and more sick over the chilling events.

I feel almost irreverent posting a recipe on a day like today, when such horrific events occupy all our minds and make us feel guilty for our mundane complaints - make us feel lucky or anxious or scared - make us stop and ask, for the trillionth time: why must these things happen in our world?

Still, one of the wonderful things about a homecooked meal is the ability to comfort, like mom's backrub or clean sheets. For that reason, I'll post the recipe that brought a little bit of warmth to our apartment this evening.

Cooking Light's Barbecue-Rubbed Pork Chops
1 T. brown sugar
1 t. salt
1 t. paprika
1 t. chili powder
3/4 t. garlic powder
3/4 t. ground cumin
1/4 t. dry mustard
1/8 t. allspice
1/8-1/4 t. cayenne pepper
4 (6-0z) bone-in center-cut loin pork chops, trimmed

Combine all spices in a small bowl. Rub onto pork chops. Heat a grill pan over medium-high. Cook chops 2-3 minutes per side. Reduce heat to medium. Cook 8 more minutes, or until done, turning occasionally.

Cheddar Grits
Adapted from Cooking Light
2 cups skim milk
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup polenta meal, coarse-grind
1 cup low-fat sharp cheddar cheese (I like Cabot's 50% Light)
1 T. unsalted butter
Salt and ground pepper

Bring milk and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk in polenta, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until cooked through, stirring occasionally with whisk. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar, butter, and salt and pepper. Add more milk or water if needed to reach desired consistency.

I served this meal with roasted cauliflower.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Something New

Speaking of old favorites (as I've been writing about oft-repeated meals in the Understood-Hero household), I had the pleasure today to prepare a dinner that I am sure will become a regular feature on our supper table. This was particularly enjoyable, as I am recovering from a banana-bread catastrophe (the dreaded sticking in the pan). The bread still tasted delicious, but wasn't in any shape to be shared with friends as planned.

It was a nice weekend, all in all. Time to catch up with a number of our great Mytown friends, and I'm treasuring the ease of our visits all the more now that I know come August we'll be moving. Even though we are moving to SmallMountainTown in 3 1/2 months, we still must move from our current apartment. Our new landlord was nice enough to agree to rent to us for three months, for a slightly higher fee. It's really nice of him. Still, we move in two weeks only to move 12 weeks later. So it goes, as a wise man once said.

The meal I made tonight was after a bit of an indulgent weekend - lots of edible "treats." This very healthy meal was a welcome, light change. The textures are lovely. The fish recipe's from Everyday Food, but I've changed a few things . . . The cucumber salad recipe is my own.

Sole with Bulgur Pilaf
1 cup whole bulgur wheat
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
2 T. butter, cut into small pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and ground pepper
6-8 fillets skinless sole (or flounder)
Lemon wedges, to serve

Combine bulgur with 1 1/2 cups hot water. Soak for at least 30 minutes, preferably for 1 hour. Add a bit of salt, if you like. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine soaked bulgur, 1/2 cup additional water, red onion, and garlic in a large baking dish. Sprinkle butter over the mixture (see picture). Season with salt and pepper.

Season each fillet with salt and pepper, roll up and place on top of bulgur. Season again with salt and pepper. Bake until bulgur is tender and fish is opaque, about 25-30 minutes. Garnish with lemon wedges.

Basic Cucumber Salad
1 kirby cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
Handful fresh dill, chopped
Dash ground cumin
1 T. white wine or rice vinegar
Salt and ground pepper
1/2 cup yogurt cheese (strained yogurt) or light sour cream (regular yogurt could be used, but results will be wetter and less a creamy texture)

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Refrigerate and let flavors meld for at least 30 minutes (if not one hour) before serving.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Go-to Recipes, Part II (plus a bonus recipe!)

Here’s another of our favorite dinners, out of the first adult cookbook I ever owned (the title is very 1999): 1,001 Low-Fat Vegetarian Recipes. This is a snap to put together, and good enough to make as an appetizer for company. (Actually, I think I recall having one of my favorite blondes over for dinner with this dish as the main course. Hi, duffpower!) Add a salad and some fresh fruit, and dinner is served. Whenever Our Hero finds out we’re having this for dinner, it’s sure to elicit an “Oh Boy!”

The fava spread is delicious on a sandwich or as a veggie dip, possibly with some lowfat yogurt stirred in to make a more dip-like consistency. This is great in the summer when light suppers that barely heat up the kitchen are ideal. I’m guiltily using these awful off-season plum tomatoes (still much better than other off-season fresh varieties). When incorporated as a part of a much bigger whole, it ends up working out quite well.

Fava Bean Bruschetta
One bakery loaf crusty whole-grain bread
Cooking spray or olive oil
1 clove garlic, halved
1/2 red onion, sliced into thin half-moons
2 plum tomatoes, sliced
1/4-1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/2-1 cup part-skim shredded mozzerella
2 T. grated parmigiano

Fava Spread:
One can fava beans, rinsed and drained
Generous handful parsley, cilantro, or basil (or a combo thereof - I've used all with success)
1-2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 T. lemon juice

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cut bread in half lengthwise, spray with cooking spray or brush with olive oil, then rub with cut sides of the garlic clove. Toast bread in hot oven until crusty, about 8 minutes. Make fava spread by combining all ingredints in a food processor or mashing by hand. Divide fava mixture evenly between toasted bread halves, spreading into an even layer. Top with tomatoes, onion, cheeses, and olives. Bake another 10-15 minutes, until melty and delicious.

Good friend and good cook J sent me this recipe in response to my last post, and I thought it sounded tasty enough to share - enjoy!

Hi [Wellunderstood},
Since you are on the topic of easy regular dishes, here is a super easy soup that you can make for these last remaining days of damp cold winter weather that we can't seem to shake. This is one of those recipes for when you're feeling lazy or where you'll have all the ingredients around even if you are out of everything. It is quite delicious for how simple the ingredients are. (Although it could be easily jazzed up.) Don't feel obligated to make this - just keep it up your sleeve! I was looking for a soup recipe to make and realized I had neglected this one all winter when it used to be a cold-weather staple.

Creamy Dilled Potato Soup
1 diced onion
1 T butter
1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp dill weed
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1.5 cups milk

Saute onion in butter (or oil) until golden. Add 2 cups water, potatoes, salt, dill weed, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender. Puree, return to saucepan, add milk and heat until hot.
*Forgot to mention - go ahead and double this to get a worthwhile amount!

Thanks, J . . . Keep the recipes coming!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Go-to Recipes

This month’s Cooking Light did a feature on the recipes people make again and again – go-to recipes on weeknights that are not fussy and please everyone. I’m always so tempted to try new recipes I find or dream up, so the ones that become “regulars” are really something special (and usually super-busy-weeknight-easy). I’ve already shared one of my favorites – Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce. From talking to friends, it seems I've made some fans of this recipe through the blog. I make this quite often, and I always have the ingredients on hand. Spinach Brown Rice Bowl (last night’s dinner) is fast becoming a favorite.

I’d like to share a couple more of my “standards” with you, dear blog readers. You folks know how I feel about pasta. It’s near and dear to my heart and helps me put together rather composed dinners even on the most time-constrained evenings. I have to say, I have become a connoisseur of whole-wheat pasta, and have found the very best—hands-down—it’s called Bionaturae and it cooks up perfectly every time. It’s not gritty, it doesn’t get soggy, and it cooks in as much time as conventional pasta. Sure, it’s a bit more expensive than a box of refined-flour pasta, but when I cook pasta, I almost never cook meat—the pasta’s the star! It best be tasty and nutritious!

I found this pasta recipe a couple of late winters ago in Mark Bittman’s New York Times “Minimalist” column, and it makes regular appearances on our dinner table. The column attempted to satisfy winter-weary readers’ spring harvest cravings before the harvest could comply, focusing mainly on using frozen veggies. It’s one of those on-hand ingredient recipes that make it exponentially easier than pie to have a composed, healthy dinner in less than 30 minutes. I’ve made it with fresh peas instead of frozen, pecorino instead of parmigiano, added lemon zest, mint, dill, basil . . . it’s all great, but it’s just as good as written.

Our Hero loves it.

Penne with Ricotta and Peas
1 lb. whole-wheat penne pasta
8 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 1 ½ cups frozen green peas (not baby peas)

Put a large pot of water to boil. Salt water well, and cook pasta according to package directions. In a medium bowl, whisk together ricotta, grated cheese, salt, and pepper. When pasta has about 3 minutes left to cook, stir and scoop out about a cup of the cooking liquid. Whisk enough liquid into ricotta mixture to make a sauce consistency. When pasta is about a minute away from being done, toss in the frozen peas. Drain pasta and peas, then toss with ricotta mixture. Serve up with more parm, if desired.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Birthday Dinner, Part II (Belated Posting) and NEWS!

Here is the long-awaited picture (excuse the laundry baskets) of Our Hero's second birthday dinner: pizza, wings, red wine . . . what more could a birthday guy want?

It seems I am on the mend from the awful flu or "flugh" that began to surface Friday evening. Our Hero and I went out to celebrate his BIG NEWS, and ate a tasty dinner. We came home and opened a sweet (but not too sweet) buttery bottle of asti (*POP* = celebration), and lived it up! Well, except for that nagging stomachache . . . I couldn't sleep at all that night, and lay on the living room floor all day Saturday (okay, on a futon matress) begging for relief of some kind. This being a "food blog," I will refrain from conveying any further detail about the episode. I vaguely remember sending Our Hero a text (while he was working at school) that said "Gd hlp me." Worst part: I had to miss a fun party with friends Saturday night and Easter dinner with the cutest little girls EVER on Sunday. Boo. By Sunday evening, Our Hero had joined me on the floor. We were sick.

The flu might have put a temporary damper on Our Hero's big news, but we are getting back to excitement here in the Understood-Hero household. Just this morning, Our Hero accepted a tenure-track job at SmallMountainTown U! And though we will be very sad to leave our friends that have become very much like family here in Mytown, we are looking forward to our next chapter.

Great news about SmallMountainTown? Farmers markets galore! CSAs? Yesplease! Raw dairy? Youbetcha! Humane and range-fed meat? Mmmmhmm. Can't wait to share the bounty with y'all.

Happily, we have several months to say goodbye to Mytown and to our loved ones here. We'll be making the big move the first of August.

As I said earlier, we haven't been eating much of anything of late, but I promise to update with some recipes asap.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Sorry for the lack of posts; Our Hero got big news last week which will be official shortly, and then I promptly fell ill with an awful case of the stomach flu. I'm still very much under the weather, and unfortunately, Our Hero has joined me here. We're not eating much more than crackers and ginger ale. Don't go away! I'll be updating as soon as we're up to it.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Birthday Dinner, Part I

I realized that I had recently mentioned to a few friends how seldom it is that we eat meat. Honestly, we usually only have meat once a week. Additionally, we sometimes have one meal with fish as the main course. I use a combination of dairy, nuts, legumes, soy, and whole grains for protein. Of course immediately after I say how seldom we eat meat, I am posting and posting meat-centric meals.

In any event, my physical therapist is really trying to build muscle around my injury, so the animal-protein-heavy diet (though mostly low-fat, organic meat) of the past week has probably done my body “good.” Our Hero’s birthday is April 2nd, which fell on a Monday this year (thanks to friends and family for the birthday wishes and great gifts!), so I took Sunday night as an opportunity for the proper homemade birthday dinner by request. For Birthday Dinner, Part I (Part II would follow on the actual day-of), Our Hero requested steak with my own interpretation of chimichurri, an Argentinian sauce for roasted meat. It’s wonderful on all sorts of grilled meats and fish, vegetables, and stirred into yogurt or sour cream as a veggie dip.

The amounts aren’t exact; I taste as I go along to make sure things are as they should be. This time, I used my Cuisinart to combine all the ingredients, but in the past I’ve chopped the herbs very finely and used a microplane for the garlic and lemon zest.

Chimichurri Sauce
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice and zest from 1 lemon (if using a food processor, zest can be removed in long strips, if combining by hand, use a microplane)
2-3 cloves garlic
3/4 cup flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup cilantro
Salt and black pepper to taste

Combine all in a food processor until well-blended. Ta-da!

I let the sauce sit on the steak for about 30 minutes before broiling. I served it with steamed asparagus and cauliflower puree, which is also very simple. I scattered some fresh chimichurri around the plate before serving.

Cauliflower Puree
1 head cauliflower
1/2 cup milk (I used skim, but anything would work)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4-1/3 cup parmigiano

Cut the cauliflower into chunky florets. Place in a medium saucepan with water just to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until cauliflower is very tender. Remove cauliflower from water and let cool. Combine with the rest of the ingredients in a food processor or by hand (this will be more difficult) puree or mash until desired texture is reached.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Bahn mi? No, bahn you!

Ahhh the humble sandwich . . . a simple supper, a perfect and portable lunch . . . from the a fancy goat cheese-roasted veggie panini to the humble PB&J, sandwiches can be divine. Here's a great one adapted from Food and Wine magazine. It's an approximation of Vietnamese street sandwich bahn mi, which is often eaten for breakfast. It's spicy, easy, and tasty. I look forward to more of these come summertime.

Bahn Mi
3/4 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. light mayo
3 T. yogurt cheese, yogurt, or sour cream (I used lowfat homemade yogurt cheese)
1 large shallot, minced
2 carrots, halved crosswise and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup pickled cocktail onions and 1/4 cup pickling liquid
1 10-oz. baguette (I used whole-wheat), split lengthwise and toasted
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for spreading
1 kirby cucumber, thinly sliced lengthwise
Cilantro sprigs

In a bowl, toss chicken with 1 T. soy sauce. Cover and refrigerate one hour. In another bowl, mix remaining soy sauce, mayo, yogurt cheese, and shallot. In yet another bowl, mix the carrots with the pickled onions and their liquid; refrigerate one hour.

Heat a grill pan or broiler. Grill chicken over high heat until just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side.

Spread mayo mixture on cut sides of baguette, then spread with sriracha. Layer carrots, onions, and cucumber with the chicken. Lay cilantro sprigs over top and close sandwich.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Table for One

One of my most favorite food items is the fat little sea scallop. Sweet and mild, but still flavorful and delicious - perfect just as they are - scallops are a treat in our house. Scallops are also pretty expensive . . . Or they can be expensive. I picked up a bit less than a third of a pound for lil' ol' me and paid just over three dollars!

But the rub . . . the rub is that the little-over three-dollar pricetag increases greatly when Our Hero's appetite is factored into the equation. Maybe one day scallops can be a more frequent meal, for now it's an affordable treat for me when Our Hero's out of town. Like yesterday night.

All alone in the apartment, I drowned my sorrows (okay, not really) in a plate of scallops, a phone call to A, a glass of wine, and classic Robert Redford. (Sidenote: If only senators actually looked like him . . . I can imagine what it'd do to C-SPAN's ratings.)

A was saying she wasn't sure how to cook scallops, so I'll offer a brief guide. They are quite simple. Make sure you pat them dry with paper towels before cooking them. This ensures you'll get a nice brown sear. Heat a bit of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, and add scallops. They only need to cook about 2-3 minutes per side. It's important not to overcook them - scallops lose their delicate charm when they're chewy. And that's it. Done.

In this case, I set the cooked scallops to the side and added about a third of a chopped red onion to the pan. I then deglazed the pan with a bit of water, which released all of the crusty bits in the bottom of my pan (you'll get more crusty bits if you forsake nonstick, but either will work fine). I sauteed the onion for a short while, added about a cup or so of broccoli cut into small florets. I let that cook a few minutes, and added a handful of halved grape tomatoes. Once these softened, I removed the pan from the heat and squeezed a half of a lemon onto the veggies. I topped the mixture with a couple of tablespoons of crumbled feta. I must say, I enjoyed it immensely.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Jawohl, I am German!

My heritage is both Irish and German, but my Irish parent is a bit more - how shall I say - out about it (love you, Dad!). I love cabbage, colcannon, lamb stew, corned beef, boiled dinners, whiskey cake, whiskey (minus the cake) . . . This meal got me in touch with the other half of my family tree.

After Our Hero had a party for his Department at school, there was a two-pound bag of sauerkraut left in my fridge. I couldn't very well throw it away! I hate wasting food. I found a recipe for sausages with sauerkraut in Gourmet, and tailored it a bit to meet my health preferences, reducing the butter by two-thirds and using chicken sausages in place of those fattier varieties called for in the recipe. The result: a very simple, pleasant meal ideal for these times when we're waiting impatiently for a bounty of spring produce. It's not quite here yet - an exercise in patience.

Sausages with Sauerkraut
1 lb. cooked chicken sausages
1 T. unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
2 lb. sauerkraut, rinsed well and drained
1/2 t. caraway seed
Freshly ground pepper
1 bay leaf
1 3/4 cups apple cider

Prick sausages with the tip of a sharp knife. Melt butter in a skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Brown sausages briefly, remove from pan, and set aside. Add onion to skillet. Saute until softened and beginning to brown. Add caraway, pepper and bayleaf, cook 1 minute. Add sauerkraut and cider. Nestle sausages in mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Quite a Spread

Saturday night I went to JoMo's for snackies and wine. Her sister EMo joined us, as did new friend A2 (I have to distinguish from A somehow, perhaps I will come up with something better as I write). We share a love for all things edible, and really, I must say, outdid ourselves. JoMo's contribution (along with the vino) was an amazing bruschetta creation which I unfortunately did not capture on film. It was beautiful italian bread topped with pesto, roasted mushrooms and peppers, and cheese.

A2 brought impressive shrimp rolls stuffed with all kinds of good things and dipped in a spicy soy sauce. She also brought some delicious chicken-cucumber-mint skewers with dill dipping sauce. I love to dip. I was in heaven.

My contribution was the oft-requested Fig-Rosemary Spread (seen with both A2's finger and the very seasonal candy-cane spreader) and a bit of tapenade (see Tannenbaum at left), along with some crusty bread.

I love all things olive, and tapenade is definitely included. It was very easy to make. I used Alice Waters' recipe but made a significant change by adding parsley.

1 cup nicoise olives
1/3 cup loosely packed parsley
Fresh ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Splash of extra-virgin olive oil

Blitz all in a food processor or blender. Enjoy.

We called in Our Hero (or the Leftover Eliminator) to perform clean-up. He did good work.