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.