Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pasta, Sausage and Bean Ragout

It was rainy and cold the other day and just the kids and I for supper. I was hankering for Butternut Squash Bisque, but didn't really want to make it without Curtis being here and I didn't know how well the kids would eat it. I searched for something more kid friendly and found this. It was a winner. Both kids loved and even wanted to eat the ragout (pronounced ragu) next day for lunch.

I changed up the recipe a little. The original recipe called for 6 oz of spinach. I don't have spinach. I have lots and lots of arugula in my fridge. Curtis ended up making it home for supper and I experimented with the arugula for our ragout. In the bottom of the bowl, I placed some coarsely torn arugula leaves. I topped it with the hot soup and then tossed it to help wilt the arugula. It was wonderful. I am pleased to have found a soup I can use arugula in. It added to the flavor and used a lot (you can use as much or as little arugula as you want).

Pasta, Sausage, and Bean Ragout
adapted from Bon Appetit

2 T olive oil
1 lg onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb mild bulk Italian sausage
1 (28-oz) can diced tomatoes (with juice)
4 c chicken stock
1 (15-oz) can cannellini beans, drained
1 1/2 c fresh basil, chopped
2 t dried oregano
1/4 t dried crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 c elbow macaroni
1/2 - 1 c per serving of coarsely torn arugula
1/3 c Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute 6 minutes. Add sausage and saute until brown, breaking up sausage, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes (with juice), broth, beans, 1 c basil, oregano, and dried crushed red pepper. Simmer 15 minutes to blend flavors, stirring occasionally. Add pasta and cook uncovered until tender, but still firm to bite, about 10 - 15 more minutes. Mix in 1/3 c cheese and remaining 1/2 c basil. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, put torn arugula leaves in bottom of soup bowl. Ladle ragout into bowls and gently toss with arugula. Top with additional cheese if desired.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Olive Oil Salt Bread

With our soup the other night, I thought we needed some bread. However we had no bread in the house and it was too late for me to make my honey whole wheat bread. I remembered seeing a recipe for olive oil and salt bread in my Mark Bittman cookbook so I checked it out.

This is the perfect bread to go with soup recipe! It takes about the same time to bake as it does to make a good soup (45 minutes of baking time). The only thing I don't like about it is that it seems to be taunting me that I can't make biscuits (it is basically a type of biscuit--baking powder helps it rise instead of yeast). We all really liked it. Curtis and I dipped it in a little olive oil (I had some orange infused olive oil that I used). J and M also really liked it. I also liked cooking it in my black (cast-iron) skillet. There's just something about putting a black skillet into the oven to bake in that makes me happy.

Be sure to sprinkle the top with coarse salt at the halfway point. The salt on top was my favorite part about it, I believe. You can change the the add-ins to whatever you want. I also thought about adding some sun-dried tomatoes or rosemary or oregano. You can make it to match your soup! This uses a food processor to make it. I am sure you can also make it by hand. Just mix the ingredients together with a wooden spoon and briefly knead on a lightly floured surface.

Olive Oil Salt Bread
from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

1/3 c olive oil
3 c all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 t salt, preferably coarse or sea salt, plus coarse salt for sprinkling
1 c warm water

1/4 - 1/2" grated Parmesan Cheese
2 T (or more) chopped black olives

Put the flour, baking powder and salt in a food processor fitted with a dough blade (the plastic one that came with the machine) and turn on. While the machine is running pour in the olive oil, then 3/4 c of the warm water through the feed tube. Process for 30 seconds. If the dough is too dry, add remaining water, 1 T at a time. If it is too wet, add a more flour, 1 T at a time. Process again if needed. The dough should be well-defined, not very sticky, and an easy to handle ball. Place the dough in a well oiled 8" oven-proof skillet or square baking pan. Press it until it fits the edges. Flip it over and press again. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes in a preheated 375 degrees oven. Remove foil, sprinkle top with a little coarse salt, and bake another 20 - 25 minutes, until the top is golden and springs back when touched gently. Cool briefly and then cut and serve. This is best warm but will keep for up to a day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Peanut Apple Salad

I love this salad. I know Curtis isn't a fan (which is why I took this to our church's fall festival potluck) but I didn't know what the kids would think. They both liked it. J ate every bit of it, but M stuck to just the apples. It was an easy sell--"It's just apples and peanut butter."

8 apples, diced (they don't need to be peeled)
1/2 c celery, diced
1/2 c raisins
1/2 c pecans or walnuts
1/4 c shredded coconut
1/2 c peanut butter
1/2 c mayonnaise
1/4 c milk
1/4 c sugar

Combine apples, celery, raisins, nuts, and coconut in a very large bowl. Set aside. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the apple mixture. Toss to coat the apples. Serve. Keep leftovers refrigerated.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pork and Tomatillo Stew

The other day I walked into my neighbor's house. It smelled absolutely wonderful. I asked her what she was making and all I caught was pork and tomatillo (I was too distracted by the aroma). When I got home I immediately put tomatillos on my grocery list and set about finding a recipe that had pork and tomatillos in it.

What I made didn't necessarily smell like what her house smelled like, but it was good nonetheless. The recipe reminds me of New Mexico Posole, but without the hominy (which is just fine with me!!). The tomatillos added a wonderful tartness that wasn't overpowering. We all liked and it will definitely be put on my list of repeatable meals.

Pork and Tomatillo Stew
adapted from Food and

2 T oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin, cut into 3" (or smaller is fine too) chunks
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 lrg celery stalks, finely diced
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 Anaheim chile (also known as Poblano or any other mild green chile), seeded and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 t mild chile powder (I found a New Mexico chile powder that is mild and has wonderful flavor)
1 T cumin
pinch of dried oregano
2 c chicken or beef stock
1 c carrots, 1/2" diced
12 oz potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" dice
1 (28-oz) can diced tomatoes
1 lb tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into 1" dice

hot sauce
cilantro, chopped
lime wedges

Heat the oil in a medium soup pot. Season the pork with salt and pepper and cook over high heat until browned on 2 sides, about 2 minutes per side. Add the celery and onion and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the diced chile, garlic, chile powder, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring frequently until fragrant about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and tomatillos, cover an simmer over low heat until the pork is cooked through, about 25 minutes. Transfer the pork to a plate and shred with two forks. Meanwhile, simmer the stew over moderate heat until thickened, about 10 minutes. Transfer the shredded pork into the stew and season with salt and pepper. Serve and garnish with hot sauce, cilantro, tortilla chips and limes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pumpkin Torte

I have no idea why this is called a torte. It is not a torte, which is a type of cake that has lots of eggs and nuts, like almonds. While this contains some eggs, it has no nuts and is more like messy bar cookies than a cake. Possibly a better name may be Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars or Layered Pumpkin Bars or Goodness. Or the best name may be the Dessert that Won the Pumpkin Dessert Contest at our church's fall festival.

These are wonderful. They are full of all sorts of goodness and eating just one is close to impossible. The texture is dreamy and it is even a great Thanksgiving dessert (or before meal snack). Eating these are a bit of risk though: it contains raw egg whites (sorry to all those people I've served this to and have never disclosed this information before). You also get to use gelatin in this. Look for plain gelatin (under the brand of Knox) in the baking aisle next to the flavored Jello type gelatin. (Pictured is the graham cracker and cream cheese layer of the dessert).

This recipe is from my maternal Grandmother who claims she never made these. I know she did because she gave me this recipe after she made these for us one Thanksgiving. Make sure you move quickly when you get to the gelatin step--mix it quickly into the cold water and then quickly stir it into the hot pumpkin. If you take too long, it will congeal and get rather funky and inedible.

Best Pumpkin Dessert Bars

2 c graham cracker crumbs
1/3 c sugar
1/2 c butter
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 c sugar
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

2 c pumpkin
1/2 c milk
3 egg yolks
1/4 t salt
1/2 c sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 T plain gelatin (Knox brand is what I've found)
1/4 c cold water
3 egg whites, beaten
1/4 c sugar
whipped topping

In a food processor (or by hand), mix together the graham cracker crumbs, 1/3 c sugar, and butter. Press into a greased 9 x 13" pan (I've found lining the bottom with tin foil makes it easier to dish--you can't lift it out of the pan, but it isn't as apt to stick to the bottom). Mix the eggs, sugar, and cream cheese in a blender until smooth and pour over the graham cracker crust mixture. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Cook the pumpkin, milk, egg yolks, salt, 1/2 c sugar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan until thickened. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, dissolve gelatin in cold water in a small bowl. Stir into hot pumpkin mixture. Set aside and let pumpkin cool to room temperature (if you continue before it is cool enough, the heat will deflate the egg whites).

Beat the egg whites and 1/4 c sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold into cooled pumpkin mixture. Pour pumpkin onto cream cheese/graham cracker crust. Allow to chill in refrigerator for several hours. Just before serving, top with whipped topping. Cut into bars and serve. Refrigerate any leftovers (but there probably won't be many).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Baked Eggplant Marinara

I first made this over a year ago and posted about, but didn't include the recipe, just a faulty link to epicurious. Here's the recipe. It's great. We mostly loved it, especially J. I tried to sell it to M by calling them little pizzas, but she didn't buy it. She told me she knew it was eggplant so she wasn't eating it.

These would make a great appetizer for a party--nice little finger foods that are really tasty. I also think they are pretty darn cute too. This is a good meal to have a child help you with--the coating of the eggplants works well as an assembly line. M had fun coating the eggplants with flour (I did the messy part of the egg and breadcrumbs).

Baked Eggplant Marinara
adapted from Bon Appetit

16 - 20 1/2" thick eggplant rounds (cute width wise) from 2 - 3 small eggplants
all purpose flour
1 - 1 1/2 c breadcrumbs
3/4 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil
1 c ricotta cheese (possibly less)
1 1 /4 c marinara sauce (probably less)
3/4 c mozarella or other Italian cheese, freshly grated (again, possibly less or more)

Place flour and eggs in separate shallow bowls. Mix breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese in another shallow bowl. Coat eggplants in flour, then eggs, then breadcrumb mixture, patting to adhere, if necessary. Fry in batches in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Repeat until all eggplant rounds are used. Put a dab of ricotta on each round, followed by sauce and mozzarella cheese (I put as much on top as I can fit or as I have ingredients for). Bake in preheated 350 degree oven until rounds are heated though and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Grits Gratin with Arugula and Bacon

While this didn't look quite how I had imagined it from the name, it was rather tasty. How can you go wrong with bacon, garlic and cheese in a dish? I estimated the amount of arugula I put in (by the handful). If you aren't using baby arugula, be sure to take the stems off and discard. You only want the leaves. I also think you could use as much as 8 cups of arugula. The balsamic vinegar is essential in this recipe. It gives the dish a nice sweet flavor. You can use either grits or polenta (I used polenta). My dish never got "golden and bubbling" like Bittman said it should and I still haven't figured out why, but it didn't make that much of a difference.

How did this go over? Well, M didn't like the polenta but ate the arugula, which surprised me. She informed me that she, "doesn't like to eat Brits." I guess that's good. :) Curtis thought it was wonderful, which is good because he normally doesn't eat polenta. I think I have succesfully found some ways that he'll eat polenta, which is good because I love it. This also is a different way to use up some of that large bag of arugula we got in our boxes this week.

Grits Gratin with Arugula and Bacon
from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Grits (or Polenta)
1/2 c milk, preferably whole (but I used skim and it was just fine)
2 c water
large pinch of salt
1 c coarse cornmeal

1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
2 slices thick bacon, chopped (if you are using thin bacon, use more)
3 - 4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t sugar
4 - 8 c arugula leaves (stems discarded)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Recipe of grits/polenta
1/2 c Parmesan cheese, grated

To make the grits/polenta, bring milk, water and large pinch of salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking constantly to prevent the lumps from forming. Simmer over low heat until mixture is fairly thick (length of time will depend on type of cornmeal or polenta you are using--I used quick polenta and it only took a couple of minutes), stirring frequently. The polenta should be about as thick as thick oatmeal. Press into a loaf pan and let cool at least 10 minutes (or as long as a day). Slice into 1/2" thick slices.

Put 1 T oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped bacon and garlic and cook until bacon is crispy. Turn off the heat and add the arugula. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss gently in the pan. Spread in bottom of a greased shallow 2 quart casserole dish or a 9 x 13" baking pan. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar. Carefully spread the grits/polenta slices on top of the arugula, overlapping them a little if necessary. Drizzle with 1 - 2 T olive oil (and a little extra balsamic vinegar if you'd like, which I did), sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake in preheated 400 degrees oven until the topping is golden and bubbling (or not), about 20 - 25 minutes. Serve hot.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


This past week, I seemed to have more cooking fiascos than usual. Things just didn't go the way they should, whether it be user error with my pecan sour cream biscuits turning out flat as usual or the help of my children, like the pumpkin chocolate cheesecake. It seems like each cooking experience ended up being a learning experience. Some of the problems I don't know the solution too, others I figured out on my own (thanks wikipedia!). Since we learn from our own and others' mistakes, let me enlighten you to my week.

1. I can't get biscuits to rise. I think I am figuring out problems. This week, I didn't get my proportions of liquid to flour quite right, that could be a problem. I've also found I'm better off using a pastry blender than my fingers to combine the butter. I also suspect my method of using the biscuit cutter is part of the problem because my free form pieces seem to rise better than my pretty scalloped edge round biscuits. Still working on this one, so until I get it right, I will just keep experimenting (and hoping my mom will divulge her secret for biscuit making).

2. Marbling cheesecake is hard when one of the batters has melted chocolate in it. I also thinking using the mixture to combine one make inconsistency in the batter as well. The chocolate just seems to clump together and won't marble in with plain-ish batter. I had this problem with both the pumpkin chocolate cheesecake and espresso cheesecake brownies. I think for awhile, I may just layer things instead of marbling them.

3. Malabar spinach is not the same as regular spinach. (See post on Spinach Feta Focaccia)

4. Add extra baking time if using frozen pumpkin (winter squash) in recipes.

5. Don't leave the pumpkin chocolate cheesecake out in the open to cool to room temperature. Put this behind a locked door. Otherwise, a hungry family member may think they can't until the cheesecake cools to start eating it. The said family member may pull their little 2 1/2 year old fingers through the cheesecake leaving deep canyons. The said family member may use their little 2 1/2 year old hands to scoop out cheesecake by the fistful to eat it. This will make the baker quite upset, almost breaking her will to bake anything else. (Cheesecake carnage is pictured. It's hard to adequately capture the damage since it was somewhat marbled).

Quite a cooking week. I hope to get back in my groove next week. Maybe if I can some good night's sleep thrown in there, that will help too. I've had enough cooking fiascos for a little while. Time to make masterpieces again! :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

What We've Been Eating Lately

I've gotten behind here. Sorry about that my friends! As I sleep less, I seem to post less. Funny how that works. Here's what I've been cooking the past couple of weeks (I'll remember as much as I can--sorry if I can't remember everything!)

Eggplant Parmesan (I had some ricotta I needed to use so I dotted each eggplant layer with some ricotta cheese before adding the other cheeses. Mmmm, more cheese.)
Sweet Potato Burritos
Lamb and Eggplant Shepherd's Pie (my new go-to cold, rainy day comfort food. This time though I made it with stew meat in a 9 x 9" pan and it was fabulous!)
Pecan Crusted Salmon
Vegetarian Chili with Cashews
Penne with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Arugula
Old Bay Seasoned Fish and Vegetables
Spinach and Feta Focaccia
Burgers and Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
Almond Scones
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake (I had a hard time finding chocolate wafer cookies, so I bought a package of oreos, scraped the white filling out, and just used the chocolate cookie part in the crust. It worked great.)
Whole Wheat Bread (I am using honey instead of brown sugar now.)
Eggplant and Arugula Sandwich

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Spinach and Feta Focaccia

(Sorry no picture---the picture was taken but not remembered thanks to no memory card in the camera...)

I feel like my cooking has been rather hit or miss lately. I guess that's because I've been trying a lot of new things--either ingredients or recipes. Some how, I managed to mess up a tried and true recipe, thanks to using a new ingredient. Let me tell you about it.

Since we didn't get a box this week, I shopped more at the Farmers' Market last weekend. I was drawn in by a stand with a sign that said SPINACH. Spinach in October? Delightful!! I asked for a pound and was taken aback when I saw them filling a white kitchen garbage back with leaves that looked like spinach, but not spinach looking stalks. I asked them about it and they said it was spinach--Malabar spinach. I took their word for it and bought it, despite having reservations.

Let me just say, malabar spinach is NOT the same thing as regular spinach. I looked up on wikipedia and sure enough they aren't even in the same family. I was sad because dinner did not end up tasting like it should of. The malabar spinach tasted like cow manure (in my humble opinion). I will not be buying that again at the farmer's market. Nonetheless, J and M loved the spinach and feta foccacia. This is one my favorite quick, easy dishes, so I am including the recipe even though this time around, it was a complete flop. You can use either a store bought pizza crust or make your own. I do both with equal frequency depending on how much time I have and my energy.

Spinach and Feta Focaccia
adapted from Cooking Light magazine
Serves 4 - 6

1 T olive oil
1/2 c onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
3/4 c feta cheese, crumbled
3 T pine nuts
2 T lemon juice
1 1/2 t fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 t salt
1 (13.8-oz) tube pizza crust dough (or a recipe of homemade pie crust dough)
1 T milk
1 T water
1/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat oil in lg skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute one minute. Add half of spinach and cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Add remaining spinach, and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until spinach wilts. Remove from heat and stir in feta, pine nuts, lemon juice, oregano, and salt. Place pizza dough on a greased baking sheet and pat to cover pan. Spread the spinach mixture lengthwise over half the dough, leaving a 1/2" border. Fold other half of the dough over top and press together edges. Cut 5 1-inch diagonal slits in top of dough. Combine milk and water and brush evenly over dough. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake in a preheated 450 degrees oven for 15 minutes or until golden.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Old Bay Seasoned Fish and Vegetables

I don't have much to say about this recipe for a change. We love it. I was able to use some of my sweet (mild) mystery peppers in this as well since I was out of bell peppers. Yep, a hit. M ate a whole fillet (6 oz of fish) and J even ate well. Plus, you can never go wrong with roasted sweet potatoes. I did use the lesser amount of Old Bay Seasoning because Old Bay occasionally gets too spicy from my kids. Enough said. Here's the recipe.

Old Bay Roasted Fish and Vegetables
from Moosewood Restaurant's Simple Suppers

2 large sweet potatoes, cut in half lengthwise and cut into 1/3" thick slices
1 lg onion, cut in half and then into 1/2" slices
1 large sweet pepper, cut into 1 1/2" chunks
3 T olive oil
1 t dried thyme
1/2 - 1 T Old Bay Seasoning

4 (6-oz) white fish fillets (such as tilapia, cod or halibut)
1 T olive oil
2 T lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t - 1 T Old Bay Seasoning

In a mixing bowl, toss the vegetables with 3 T olive oil, dried thyme, and up to 1 T Old Bay Seasoning. Spread on lightly oiled baking sheet. Roast in a preheated 425 degrees oven for 25 - 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and browned. Meanwhile, place the fish fillets in a single layer in a lightly oiled baking pan. Whisk the 1 T olive oil with the lemon juice, garlic, and remaining Old Bay and drizzle over the fish. When the vegetables have roasted about 15 minutes, stir them with a spatula to prevent sticking. Put the pan of fish in the oven and bake until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 10 minutes per inch of thickness.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

I finally got around to making the whoopie pies I've been talking about for a while. I decided on pumpkin instead of zucchini because is October and we were in a midst of a nice rainy day. I was also trying to decide on the appropriate recipe for our church's pumpkin dessert competition in a couple of Sundays and wanted to test this one out.

Whoopie Pies, for those of you not from Amish country or the Northeast, are basically two little cakes held together by icing in the middle. Typically, these are no larger in diameter than a baseball. I grew up eating chocolate whoopie pies, with uncooked egg white icing in the middle. I didn't like the feel of the egg white frosting in my mouth, so I switched to boiled white icing for my chocolate whoopie pies. However, for the pumpkin whoopie pies, I thought cream cheese frosting (with a hint of nutmeg) would work best.

Making these are a little time consuming because of multiple steps. They are totally worth it though. These tend to be wrapped individually in Saran Wrap. I generally freeze my chocolate whoopie pies and pull them out of the freezer to eat when I want some. They last a little longer this way and I don't need to worry about the moist cake spoiling quickly. I used some of my frozen winter squash for these. If you opt for canned pumpkin instead of frozen winter squash, you will need to shorten the baking time considerably. I baked mine for 20 minutes a pan. The original recipe (using canned pumpkin) thought you would only need to bake them for 10 minutes.

Do I need to tell you that everyone in my family loves these? J isn't sure whether to call them a cookie or a cupcake. Technically, they are considered a cookie. They didn't last long and I think I may need to make another batch before too long. I think this recipe makes between 2 and 3 dozen (we ate them too fast to be able to count them) finished whoopie pies.

Pumpkin Whoopies with Cream Cheese Icing
adapted from Mennonite Country-Style Recipes and Martha Stewart

1/2 c vegetable oil
1 c sugar
2 c brown sugar
2 egg yolks
1 t vanilla
4 1/2 c flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
a dash of freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 c pureed pumpkin

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 c butter, at room temperature
3 c powdered sugar
a dash of freshly grated nutmeg
1 t vanilla

For the cakes: Beat together the well the oil and sugars. Add egg yolks and vanilla, beating until fluffy. In a separate bowl, mix together remaining ingredients, except pumpkin. Add dry ingredients alternately with the pumpkin to the egg mixture, ending with the dry. Drop by teaspoonfuls (to tablespoonfuls---from the cutlery drawer, not measuring spoons) onto greased baking sheets. Bake in preheated 350 degrees oven for 10 - 20 minutes (or until cakes are baked through--test with a toothpick or by eating). Remove from pan to rack. Let cool.

Meanwhile, make the icing. Beat together cream cheese and butter. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add the nutmeg and vanilla and stir to combine.

To Assemble the Whoopie Pies: Once the cakes are cooled, pair them together, looking for two cakes that are similar in size. Top one flat side of the cake with icing. Top with other cookie, flat side down, against the icing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Spicy Lentil Crispy Tacos

I've been having a hard time lately following directions. It seems like every recipe I've made lately there has been at least one incidence of me not doing what the recipe calls for. Sometimes, this significantly changes the end product, making me sad, like the Fluff Filled Chocolate Madeleines I made last week that ended up dry, dry, dry because I didn't lower the oven temp like I needed to. Other times, I don't mind the mistakes because what is made comes out quite tasty. Such was the case with my spicy lentil crispy tacos.

Unfortunately, these were too spicy for my kids to eat. I bought bulk taco seasoning and ended up using 1/3rd the amount the recipe called for. The lentils still had more "kick" than M could handle. Curtis and I really liked them (as you can tell from Curtis's thumbs up). I topped the lentils with some grated cheddar, arugula, and store bought pico de gallo.

My cooking mishap? This recipe originally called for the sour cream/chipotles to be mixed together and served on the side. I somehow missed that and stirred the sour cream and chipotles right into the lentils. It turned out just fine, just a little runnier than I had hoped. I'll probably make it the same way next time, so I am including my way in the recipe. The arugula was great green to use because the flavor didn't get lost in the spiciness of the lentils.

Spicy Lentil Crispy Tacos
adapted from SELF magazine

1 T olive oil
1 c onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 t salt
1 c dried brown lentils, rinsed
1 pkg (2.25 oz) taco seasoning
2 1/2 c vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 c sour cream
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped
2 t adobo sauce
8 taco shells

pico de gallo
cheddar, grated
arugula or lettuce

Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Cook onion, garlic and salt until onion begins to soften, about 3- 4 minutes. Add lentils and taco seasoning. Cook until spices are fragrant and lentils are dry, about 1 minute. Add broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender 25 - 30 minutes. (You can make this ahead and stop here. To finish, just heat up and continue with recipe). Stir in sour cream chipotle, and adobo sauce. Uncover lentil mixture and cook until mixture thickens slightly, 6-8 minutes. Mash with a rubber spatula or pastry blender, if desired (I didn't do this. I left the lentils whole). Spoon some lentil mixture into each taco shell, followed by cheddar, arugula, and pico de gallo.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Eggplant and Arugula Open Faced Sandwich

The hummus I posted about yesterday was made as a base for my sandwich. I got so much eggplant in my box this week and eggplant just doesn't keep well so I looked for lots of different ways to cook it. I discovered this recipe on Epicurious and it looked like a great way to change things up a bit.

I loved this sandwich. Curtis wasn't home when we had it and the kids don't like eggplant or arugula well enough to have wanted to try it. That was ok with me. It's a great lunch sandwich because you can make as much or as little as you want, just change the amounts proportionally.

Eggplant and Arugula Open Faced Sandwich
adapted from Epicurious

1 small eggplant, cut into 1/2" slices lengthwise
olive oil
1 c baby arugula
1 - 2 oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
a thick bread (I used sourdough, any good bread would work)

Brush both sides of eggplant slices with oil. (I didn't use the ends with lots of skin on them because I've found the skins too tough to eat). Broil or grill until very tender and golden, about 8 minutes, checking periodically so they don't burn. Meanwhile, mix one cup of arugula with the sun-dried tomatoes.

To assemble the sandwich, spread hummus over piece of bread. Follow with generous layer of arugula/tomato mixture. Top with grilled eggplant (remove skin, if desired before putting on sandwich).

Yields: two open faced sandwiches (which was just enough for me at lunch).

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I've made hummus for years, but have never quite been satisfied with it. Either the texture was wrong, usually on the very thick side, or the taste wasn't quite right. I think I've finally found my recipe.

Hummus recipes have all the same, basic ingredients: chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, and garlic. The secret to good hummus is the balance of it all. The key to this recipe is not draining and rinsing the chickpeas (if you popped open a can like I did). When you put the chickpeas in the food processor, dump the juices in with it. Perfect consistency.

M and J love hummus. I made mine a little too garlicky (next time I'll just put in one clove), but in between telling me it was "hot" the licked their plates clean. It made a great lunch paired with cucumbers from our CSA, grapes, and bread.

slightly adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

2 c canned chickpeas (with cooking liquid)
1/2 c tahini
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
juice of 1 lemon
salt, to taste
1 t ground paprika, or to taste

Put all ingredients but salt and paprika in a food processor. Process until smooth. Taste and add salt and paprika as desired. Serve.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Penne with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Arugula

Mmm....bacon, cream, sun-dried tomatoes, and arugula. Do I really need to say more? I don't think so.

I loved this and Curtis thought it was pretty good. J ate his without complaint. M had to be convinced, but she ate around the green stuff when pushed.

I did tweak this recipe a little. I used half as much pasta as the recipe called for, but the same amount of sauce. I liked it like that. If you want a less rich meal, either also half the sauce or use a whole pound of pasta. The recipe is for my version.

Penne with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Arugula
adapted from Gourmet

2 slices of thick bacon (or 1/4 lb thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2/3 c heavy cream
1/2 c drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
4 oz baby arugula, coarsely chopped
1/2 lb penne pasta (or other chunky pasta)
1/2 c grated parmesan
2 T fresh basil, chopped

Cook bacon in a 12" heavy skillet over medium-high heat, turning as needed, until browned and crisped. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Crumble into small pieces when cool enough to handle. Pour off all but 2 T of fat from the skillet. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until onion is softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in cream, sun-dried tomatoes, and bacon and simmer until slightly thickened, 2 - 3 minutes. Remove from heat, then add arugula and stir until just wilted, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, cook penne in a pot of salted, boiling water until al dente. Reserve 1 c cooking water and drain pasta.

To serve, combine pasta, arugula mixture, and parmesan in a large pasta bowl. Thin with remaining pasta water, if necessary. Stir in basil.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sweet Potato Biscuits

As you may remember me saying before I am not a true Southerner. I know, I have lived my whole life South of the Mason/Dixon line, but I am still not a true Southerner. I was raised by a Northerner and a Midwestern. I know Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, jello salads, and casseroles. Southern food still beguiles me. Frying food---can be done only on occasion, okra--no thanks, black-eyed peas and the likes--you can have them, biscuits--as flat as flat can be.

I knew these wouldn't rise from the moment I made them. I had to cook sweet potatoes and mash them for the recipe and I didn't start far enough in advance. As I looked at my steaming mass of mashed sweet potatoes, I knew that if that mound of orange didn't cool off quickly my biscuits were in big trouble. I put the sweet potatoes in the fridge, but wasn't able to cool them off fast enough. All my butter melted into the potatoes as I stirred and I knew. Flat biscuits once again.

The positive side--the biscuits still tasted good and the texture wasn't terrible. They weren't tough like some biscuits I've made or overwhelmingly dry. I liked them. So did my kids and husband so they weren't a total bomb. They just didn't have that nice rise and flakiness that good biscuits are supposed to have.

Learn from my the sweet potatoes thoroughly before starting the recipe. This will recipe will make 15 - 18 biscuits depending on the size of your biscuit cutter (which if you don't have, a drinking glass--upside down--works great).

Sweet Potato Biscuits
adapted From Baking, From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

2 c flour
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (totally worth it!! buy whole nutmeg in the bulk spice section and grate using a fine microplaner like you would for orange zest)
2 T packed light brown sugar
6 T butter, cold, cut into small pieces
3/4 - 1 c mashed sweet potatoes

Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add the brown sugar and stir to be sure there are no lumps. Drop in the flour, and using your fingers, combine the butter into the flour. Work quickly so the butter doesn't get too warm. Don't worry if the texture isn't consistent. Don't over stir, you should have lumps the size of oatmeal or peas. Stir in the sweet potatoes briefly with a fork until you have a nice soft dough. Give the dough a quick, gentle kneading, about 3-4 turns just to bring the dough into a round mass. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat until it is 1/2" thick. Using a biscuit cutter or the rim of glass, cut the dough into circles and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, or well oiled. Work the scraps as little as possible and cut more biscuits until all the dough is used.

Bake in a preheated 425 degrees oven for 14 - 18 minutes. Let cool 10 - 15 minutes before serving. These supposedly are better after they cool. We wouldn't know. They went quickly.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In the CSA Box this Week

I thought I'd show a picture of my bounty because this is it for the next three weeks. (Please allow me a brief rant and whine session...). I went to renew my CSA subscription today and learned that there are no openings for Wednesday pick-ups until the end October. I've been forced into a CSA hiatus---basically wait-listed!! Alas, I must go the longest I've ever gone since starting with this CSA 2 1/2 years ago. Such sadness. How will I plan meals starting next week? I will need to make choices instead of just dealing with what I've gotten.

To cope, I've decided to start going to the Farmer's Market and buying significantly there instead of using it as my fruit and meat outlet. I am taking the money I would have spent (but have already spent because in order to make sure I get veggies the end of October I had to pay now--it will all even out in the end though) on my CSA and pick vegetables at the farmer's market. This could be a very good thing---I won't get foods I have a hard time using, like spaghetti squash and jalapenos and I can control the amount of food I get (like maybe eggplant in moderation). I am worried I'll have a hard time finding my arugula and basil though.

All right already. The rant is over. Thanks for bearing with me. If my posts seem to wander off even more than usual in the next three weeks, you know why now. We are living off of brioche, pizza, and that quarter cow in our freezer. (That actually doesn't sound too bad!). Maybe I'll just need to bake more to offset all my casseroles.

Here's what our box looked like. I gave the okra to some neighbors (yippee!). Other than that, you should recognize everything. The large squash thing is a spaghetti squash. Looks like I'll get another attempt on that this year. I think I am making baba ganoush tomorrow! I hope there are still sweet potatoes by the end of October (but maybe the okra and hot peppers will be gone?)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Split Level Puddings

As those of you who have been following the blog for a while know, I love homemade chocolate pudding. The only thing I don't love is all the standing at the stove stirring. This past week I decided to try a vanilla pudding recipe (don't be too shocked, the vanilla pudding sits on top of chocolate ganache) that you don't stand over the stove and stir (nor do you use a microwave or a box). I now love vanilla pudding as well and see no reason not to make pudding a lot more often.

Needless to say, these were a hit with my family. Curtis liked to heat his up for 15 - 20 seconds in the microwave before eating it. I liked to allow mine to warm just to room temperature. However you like them, they are good! The chocolate ganache (which is chocolate melted in hot cream) is wonderful on the bottom--a little surprise (unless you use glass ramekins like I did and can see it lurking on the bottom). I used semisweet chocolate instead of bittersweet. I also have both pulsed the vanilla and butter in the food processor and stirred it in on the stove (and not putting back into the food processor). I almost liked just stirring it on the stove better, but you can experiment and see what way you like best (because you will want to experiment with this recipe just so you can make it more than once!). Like all pudding, you can also use skim, it just won't be quite as rich.

Split Level Pudding
slightly adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

2 oz (1/3 c) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 c heavy cream

2 1/4 c whole milk
6 T sugar
3 T cornstarch
1/4 t salt
3 large egg yolks
2 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces,
1 T vanilla

Put the chocolate in a glass measuring cup. Heat the heavy cream to boiling and pour over the chocolate. Allow to stand for almost a minute and then gently stir to melt chocolate. Divide chocolate into 6 ramekins or pudding cups (each cup should hold 1/2 - 3/4 c). Set aside

Bring 2 cups of milk and 3 T sugar to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Meanwhile, pulse the cornstarch and salt in the food processor. Remove from bowl (pouring onto a small piece of parchment paper works well). Put egg yolks and 3 T sugar in bowl and blend for 1 minute. Add the remaining cup of milk and pulse to mix. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the cornstarch and salt, and pulse a few times to blend. With the machine running, very slowly pour in the hot milk (doing it slowly will prevent the eggs from scrambling for the sudden heat). Pulse a few seconds and pour back into a saucepan. Bring the mixture to close to a boil (large quarter size bubbles should barely break the surface---kinda like the stinky swamp place in the Princess Bride), stirring constantly. Once it begins to boil and thicken, cook for one more minute, lowering heat if necessary to prevent a fast boil from occurring (and scorching the pudding). Remove from heat. Either 1) stir in butter and vanilla or 2) scrape pudding back into the food processor and pulse a couple of times. Add the butter and vanilla and pulse until everything is blended.

Pour the pudding into the cups. Allow to cool (however cool you like your pudding. I personally love warm pudding). If saving for later, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. To serve cold, refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Lamb and Eggplant Shepherd's Pie

Sometimes, as I am cooking a meal, I am cursing under my breath. I must admit, stages of this dish, I was at least complaining, if not quite cursing. I kept thinking, "This dish better be good. It better be worth all the time."

Thankfully, it measured up. The flavor was incredible. It wasn't overly seasoned, but it was rich in flavor. Curtis and I both loved it. M wouldn't try much of the stew--she immediately recognized the eggplant. She loved the mashed potatoes though. When we told her she had to eat some of the stew (eggplants included) to get dessert, she ate it without complaint or drama and didn't seem to mind it at all. J didn't eat much, we ate too late and he had snacked that afternoon. I couldn't seem to stop eating it and am looking forward to eating it as leftovers today.

This is basically a lamb and eggplant stew covered with mashed potatoes. The recipe called for boneless lamb shoulder. I couldn't find boneless lamb shoulder (just bone-in), so I spent some time removing the lamb from the bone and trimming off the fat (which tends to give lamb it's very distinct, sometimes overpowering flavor). As I tasted the stew part, I realized I cut down on some of the time and a lot of the cost by substituting beef stew meat instead. I think may do just that next time because I am not in love with the taste of lamb. A lot of the time involved with this is hands-off, simmering time or standing time. This is not a meal to make in a hurry. This is a meal to make on a cool, lazy day at home. I made this over 2 days. The first day I made the stew, the second day I made the mashed potatoes and baked it.

This recipe is half of a recipe (the original served 8 - 10, this yields only 4 -5 servings which is plenty for our family, especially for a new recipe). The original also said to make it in a 9 x 13" pan. I think it would just be a lot thicker layers for the original proportions. If you want it thicker, just bake in a 9 x 9 pan or a casserole dish and increase the bake time a little.

Lamb and Eggplant Shepherd's Pie
slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

Lamb and Eggplant Stew
3/4 - 1 lb eggplants, unpeeled, cut into 3/4 - 1" cubes
coarse kosher salt
extra virgin olive oil
1 lb well-trimmed boneless lamb shoulder or beef stew meat, cut into 1" cubes
all purpose flour
1 1/2 c onions, chopped
1/2 c dry white wine
1 (14-oz) can diced tomatoes (with juice)
1 1/2 c beef or chicken broth
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 T dried oregano

Mashed Potatoes
1 1/2 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 T butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
scant 1/2 c whole milk
3/4 c (packed) kasseri or Pecorino Romano cheese, coarsely grated

Scatter the eggplant on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt and let stand for an hour (or longer), tossing occasionally. Rinse and gently squeeze out extra liquid with a dish towel. Heat 3 T oil in a large stock/soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and saute until tender, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside for awhile.

Sprinkle the lamb generously with coarse salt and pepper. Dust with flour to coast. Heat 2 T oil in same pot used for eggplant and brown the lamb in batches--being careful not to overcrowd. Saute for about 8 minutes a batch or until lamb is browned. Transfer to a bowl as finished. Once all the lamb is browned, add additional T of oil to pot if needed. Add onions, cover, and cook over medium low heat until onions are very tender, about 10 minutes. Add wine to pot to deglaze. Increase the heat and boil until wine evaporates, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice, broth, garlic, and oregano and bring to a boil. Add browned lamb and any accumulated juices. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Uncover and simmer another 45 minutes or longer, until lamb is very tender and gravy thickens a bit. Stir in eggplant. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a 9 x 13" baking pan. (If doing this ahead of time, stop here and refrigerate until you are ready to finish the recipe).

Cook the potatoes in a pot of boiling salted water until very tender. Meanwhile melt butter with oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, only about a minute. Add milk and simmer. Drain potatoes and transfer to a mixing bowl (I like to use my electric mixer, but you can do this by hand). Add milk mixture and mash potatoes until smooth. Stir in cheese. Taste and season with coarse salt and pepper if necessary. Spread over top filling, covering completely. Bake in preheated 375 degrees oven for 45 minutes or until topping is golden and the filling is heated through.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sweet Potato Burritos

I strayed from the menu I planned earlier in the week. I decided to let my kabocha squash age a couple of weeks before cutting into it, so I rearranged my menu to include the wonderful sweet potatoes I got in the CSA box. Sweet potatoes, how I love thee! I hope we have many, many, many weeks of sweet potatoes. I have lots of plans for you (and for winter squash as well-- I hope they continue on for a while as well).

I actually posted this recipe about a year ago, but looking back on it, I noticed it was in the old format of writing a recipe as a narrative. I decided to re-post it in recipe form. I served these with on a bed of arugula, topped with sour cream and salsa and side of rice. Mmmm....

Sweet Potato Burritos
adapted from Simply in Season

3 c sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (uncooked)
1/2 onion, chopped
up to 1/2 c water
1 (15-oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 t cumin
3/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 c cheddar cheese, grated
8 flour (regular or whole wheat or whatever other kind you fancy) tortillas

Saute the sweet potatoes and onions in 1 T oil. Cover and cook on medium low heat for 15 minutes or until tender, adding the water as needed to prevent sticking. Add black beans, cumin, cinnamon, and salt. Cook until heated through. Divide bean mixture and cheese among the tortillas (you can briefly--15 seconds or less--microwave the tortillas to soften them so they are easier to roll) and roll up. To roll, fold in the top and bottom and then roll the unfolded sides. Place in a lightly oiled 9 x 13" baking pan. Put a damp towel on the burritos and cover pan with foil. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 25 minutes. Garnish with sour cream, salsa, and arugula (or other green) if desired.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Potato Gratin

In my search for a vegetable for supper, I remembered my large basket of potatoes. We had the potato gratin with the pulled chicken sandwiches. Curtis and I both liked it--I thought it was improved with a few sprinkles of chipotle Tabasco sauce over top. M decided she didn't like potatoes and cheese together, so she didn't try it. A mandoline made slicing the potatoes easy---you can find them for $30 or less at stores (no need for anything fancy--basic will do for the likes of potatoes, onions, zucchini, mushrooms, etc). (The Potato Gratin is pictured with Pulled Chicken Sandwiches)

Potato Gratin
adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

1 1/2- 2 c cream, half and half, milk or a combination
1 1/2 lb potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 c grated cheese (I used a Fontina and Swiss mixture, because that's what I had--the recipe recommended Gruyere. I think cheddar would be mighty tasty too!)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T fresh thyme leaves (optional)

Put the cream in a pot and heat until it's hot. Layer the potatoes and cheese, ending with the cheese, in a lg gratin or small casserole dish (I used a 1 1/2 qt oval). Sprinkle every potato layer with a bit of salt, pepper, and thyme leaves. Pour in enough hot cream to come about 3/4 of the way up the potato layers. Bake in a preheated 375 degrees oven for 45 - 50 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and the potatoes are tender. Serve immediately or keep warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes.