Friday, October 31, 2008

Southwestern "lasagna"

As I mentioned in my last post, this dish was created for my daughter Alice's first birthday dinner. I was sticking to foods she has eaten, but instead of cutting up little bites of individual ingredients, I wanted to do something more fun -- and more adult-worthy.

You can tell by this blog how much I love food. I also love the whole family culture that surrounds it. What could be more fun than preparing and enjoying a dinner with my husband and little girl? (I know that will change in the teenage years, so I'll take these moments while I can. All of a sudden, I am grateful that my mom can't post comments here; I have a feeling she'd walk us down the memory lane of my difficult teenager days...)

This mild "lasagna" should be served with a couple spicy sides. I'll be serving it with guacamole and salsa.

Southwestern "lasagna" (makes 8 servings)

1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced about 1/8-inch thick

2 medium zucchini, sliced 1/8-inch thick

16 ounces of cottage cheese

1 large can (19.5 ounces) of black beans, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons butter, melted

6 ounces mild cheddar, shredded

about 8 whole wheat tortillas (8-inch ones -- I think El Milagro makes the best kind for this; they are soft and pliable)

1.) Toss the sweet potato and zucchini slices with the melted butter, and bake on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. They should be tender but not brown or crispy. Cool.

2.) Place 2 to 3 tortillas on the bottom of a 9x13-inch non-stick pan. You will have to break them into pieces to cover the bottom of the pan completely. They don't have to remain whole.

3.) Put the black beans and the cottage cheese in a food processor, and puree until smooth.

4.) Spread about a cup of the bean-cottage cheese mixture over the first layer of tortillas. Top with half the vegetable mix.

5.) Repeat the layering until ingredients are gone. Mine has two layers of cheese and veggies. Add a third layer of tortillas on top, and cover with the shredded cheese.

6.) Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Cool for about 20 minutes before cutting.

Coming up: The angel cake I made for Alice. My first ever. Let's hope it's delish!

Today's food fact: Did you know that avocadoes have about 250 calories per fruit, plus 5 grams of protein, and about 23 grams of fat? While that sounds like a lot of calories and fat, avocadoes are actually one of the best foods you can eat. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, which may help prevent chronic diseases. They also contain carotenoid lutein, which may help keep your eyes healthy, and beta-sitosterol, which may help your cholesterol levels. (Source:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Holy guacamole!

I got this recipe from someone I knew in college. He was Mexican-English, and he said the key to great guacamole is two-fold: Keep it chunky, and use creme fraiche or sour cream to make it a little creamy.

I made this today as a zesty side dish to a southwestern "lasagna" I'm making for my daughter's first birthday, which is tomorrow. That recipe will be posted soon. It has whole wheat tortillas layered with black bean-cottage cheese puree; I was sticking to foods she and her 10-month-old friend Maya have eaten already. I'm curious about how it will turn out!

The guacamole is for the adults. To make sure it stays fresh, I save the pits of the avocadoes and leave them in the mixture until serving. It's important that this sits overnight because that really brings the flavors together.

If any readers make this, I'd love to know what you think.

Holy guacamole! (makes scant 4 cups)

4 avocadoes, halved, taken out of skins, pits kept for later

2 small to medium tomatoes, chopped

3 cloves garlic, pressed

3-4 shakes of Tabasco

freshly ground black pepper and salt -- generous portions of both

juice of 1 lime

1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche

1/2 onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and mix by hand to break up the avocado halves. Leave it chunky! Let it sit overnight with the pits in it. Remove them before serving with tortilla chips and salsa.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mango-raspberry salmon

Believe it or not, I am already getting super excited about the holidays. Christmas, especially. We are going to visit my family in Germany -- my sister, her husband and two kids, and my parents!

I've already started thinking about goodies to make them when I am there. The main feature of mine will be a dessert: pear bars with macadamia nut crust that my sister-in-law Kristen made over the weekend. They were UNBELIEVABLE! I ate far too many. The recipe came from her friend Joni, and I'll definitely post it when I make it. ...Until then: Here's something healthy for you, so you can be extra-bad at the holiday gatherings!

Mango-raspberry salmon (serves 2)*

1/8 cup mango chutney (I like Patak's)

1/8 cup raspberry jam

1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 salmon fillets

1.) Whisk together all ingredients (except fillets) in a small bowl.

2.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and place fillets in a small skillet or roasting pan. Pour the mango-raspberry mixture over them, and bake for 30 minutes, covered.

3.) Uncover, and cook for another 10 minutes.

Serve with a salad or roasted lemon broccoli and brown basmati rice or quinoa.

*A note of caution: The sauce in this recipe is very sweet, so spoon some over the salmon while serving, but not too much. It's best to serve the remaining sauce on the side.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Savory zucchini muffins

These are delicious! And they were easy to make, which is always a plus.

My mom created this recipe the other day by replacing the sugar in a sweet zucchini bread recipe with garlic, salt, and pepper. She says it's a great substitute for sandwiches when serving soup.

If you're not a garlic fan, I think this would work really well with a little chopped onion instead. I also think the recipe can easily be adapted to make carrot-rosemary muffins, or others with your favorite vegetables.

Serve these warm with soup or salad.

Savory zucchini muffins (makes about 10 muffins)

2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 squash)
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 egg
1 egg white
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese (I only had grated parm)
1/2 teaspoon salt
generous dash of cracked black pepper
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1.) Mix first 8 ingredients -- through the pepper -- in a mixing bowl.

2.) In a separate bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients.

3.) Combine the two mixtures, and stir with a fork.

4.) Pour (or scoop, if the batter is thick) into muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Cool for about 20 minutes before serving.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Just a quick note...

I am not posting a recipe today. I'm slacking off! Actually, we had company this weekend, and I am just going to relax today, although I usually don't go so long without posting something new.

I can tell you two recipes coming up this week, though. Hopefully they will sound tasty to you.

salmon with mango-balsamic glaze

zucchini muffins -- This I'm particularly excited about. My mom made these by changing a sweet zucchini bread recipe into savory muffins that she says make a great replacement for sandwiches with soup.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wild mushroom soup with sage croutons

A Vegetarian Times magazine I have (from September 2007) says the "wild" mushroom in this soup is really just the porcini; the other mushrooms are cultivated species. I've actually never seen fresh porcini mushrooms. Have you? ... I realized while making this soup that I didn't make the fried sage quite the way it was supposed to be in this pumpkin soup recipe. I fried it a little too long, so it smoked and was quite dark when I ate it. It still tasted fantastic, though, but just frying the sage long enough -- until the oil stopped bubbling, about 1-2 minutes -- was plenty. The leaves were still crispy, and they looked much nicer. A dark green. (I have to say, the sage butter garnish on the pumpkin soup was so good, it's the reason I decided to try this mushroom soup recipe. The sage got my attention.)

I really love the croutons here. The recipe calls for French bread, and the simple mix of sage oil, salt, and pepper. Bake them just long enough, and they are super yummy, and subtle in flavor.

Wild mushroom soup with sage croutons (serves 6)

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, chopped

1.5 pounds fresh mushrooms, such as button, cremini, and shiitake, sliced (I used button and baby bellas, which I think are the same as cremini)

1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in hot water 30 minutes, then drained

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

3 cups low-sodium veggie broth

2 cups water

optional: 1.5 cups whole or soy milk (This is my add-in. I like that somewhat creamy consistency, plus the soy milk adds a little sweetness that I think is needed here.)

12 sage leaves

salt and pepper (I think this needs LOTS of salt!)

6 slices French bread (each about 2-inches thick), cut into 3/4-inch cubes

1.) Heat 1 tablespoon oil in soup pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onion for about 7 minutes, then stir in all the mushrooms. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2.) Add garlic, lemon zest, and thyme, and cook 1 minute.

3.) Stir in vinegar, and simmer about 3 minutes, or until liquid is evaporated.

4.) Add broth and water, and milk if using, as well as plenty of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.

5.) Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

6.) Cool for 20 minutes, then puree in a food processor or with a hand blender.

7.) Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in sauce pan over medium-high heat. Fry sage leaves 1-2 minutes, or until bubbling subsides. Remove leaves from oil and put aside.

8.) Toss the sage oil with the bread cubes and add salt and pepper, to taste. Bake on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 15-17 minutes, or until golden.

9.) Serve soup garnished with croutons and fried sage.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Whole wheat bread

Such excitement! I made whole wheat bread that actually tastes delicious! And it was so simple!

I had a phase several years back when I made lots of homemade bread. My breadmaker kneaded itself right off the table (we lived in a small, crooked apartment in an old house, and it wiggled right over), so I made bread by hand. The loaves always turned out like dense little discs. They tasted good, but they weren't great for sandwiches or toasting.

Over the weekend, I bought a huge bag of Bob's Red Mill Organic Stone Gound Whole Wheat Flour because it was on super-sale, and I figured I'd try the breadmaking again. I used a recipe from Laurel's Kitchen, Dan's favorite vegetarian cookbook. It has a very basic bread recipe, and I followed it but ended up having to use more flour than it called for. I also didn't have bread loaf pans, so I made round loaves on a cookie sheet.

Whole wheat bread (makes 2 loaves)

1 tablespoon active dry yeast (I used the generic brand, NOT rapid rise, and 1 tablespoon is almost 2 packets)

2.5 cups of warm water

1 tablespoon brown sugar (I used sucanat)

1 tablespoon salt

6 cups of whole wheat flour (I used more like 7-7.5)

1.) Put warm water in a large mixing bowl and add sugar. Add yeast and let sit for a few minutes, until it begins bubbling.

2.) Add about 3 cups of flour, and stir until smooth and elastic. (I used a wooden spoon.)

3.) Stir in salt.

4.) Add the rest of the flour, cup by cup, and knead by hand until the dough is no longer super sticky. When it gets hard to stir, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead, turning and folding it over and over.

5.) Return it to the bowl, cover snugly (I used plastic wrap and a rubberband to secure it), and allow it to double in size. This took about 45 minutes.

6.) Punch the dough down, and divide it in half. Put each half in a greased loaf pan, or in rounded mounds on a greased cookie sheet, depending on how you're going to bake them. Cover again snugly (I just used dish towels around the cookie sheet), and let rise until double again.

7.) If making round loaves, brush egg on the top of loaves.

8.) Bake bread in a preheated 375-degree oven for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool before slicing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spicy coconut-curry squash

Another way to use up all that squash you've got around!

This has a real kick to it, so if you're not a big fan of spicy food, leave out half or all of the garlic chili sauce.

Spicy coconut-curry squash (serves about 6)

2 butternut squash, or 2 acorn squash, or a mixture of the two, peeled and sliced

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced

1 tablespoon garlic chili sauce

1.5 tablespoons curry powder

1 cup of coconut milk

1 cup of tomato sauce or tomato puree

3 or more cups of yogurt or soy yogurt

1.) Layer the squash and sweet potato slices in a 9-by-13-inch pan.

2.) Whisk together the garlic chili sauce, curry, coconut milk, and tomato sauce, and pour over the veggie layers.

3.) Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Bake uncovered for another 15 minutes. Squash and potatoes should be tender when poked with a fork.

4.) Serve each portion with a 1/2 cup of yogurt on top (or on the bottom, which will warm up the yogurt nicely) of the veggies.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Beef stew

Sometimes the most basic recipes are the best, especially if you're making something for the first time.

I bought about 1 and a quarter pounds of beef stew meat from Fischer Farms, after accepting a stew sample at a stand this weekend, out in the crisp autumn air. It hit the spot. The woman at the stand said all she did was throw the meat into the crock pot with a little salt and pepper and let it cook.

So I bought some meat and threw it in the crock pot with some other ingredients this morning.

It was the first time I had made a beef stew, so I stuck to carrot, onion, garlic, and potato. It was perfect on a chilly day like today. Plus, I love it when the house smells yummy!

By the way, the Fischer Farms name may be familiar to you from this Vietnamese lemongrass beef recipe.

Beef stew (serves 5-6)

2 carrots, sliced

2 medium yellow potatoes, chopped, skins on

2 onions, quartered or in eighths

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1.5 cups or so of water (don't add all at once; add about half to start, then add the rest as you see fit during cooking time)

1.25 pounds of beef stew meat

salt and pepper, to taste

2 teaspoons cornstarch

optional: sprig of dried rosemary, 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence, or 2 teaspoons Simon and Garfunkel

optional: about a quarter pound of button mushrooms, sliced -- I'll be including those next time

1.) Put all ingredients in crock pot, stir, and cover.

2.) Cook for about 6 hours on low. Twenty minutes or so before the cooking time ends, stir the cornstarch into a tiny bit of water, and let it dissolve before adding it slowly into the crock pot. Stir, and allow the stew to finish cooking.

Today's food fact: When you think of Vitamin D, sunshine and milk generally come to mind, right? Well, other foods that contain Vitamin D, including salmon, mackerel, sardines, and eggs.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Homemade" pizza

I put "homemade" in quotes because I cheated on an important part: the crust.

Sure, Daniel and I were hungry shoppers, and shopping for groceries while hungry is a bad idea. But we didn't get too much stuff, and we didn't have dinner plans, so the pizza crust was thoroughly justified.

And while it was an impulse buy, it was also a good decision. I've made "homemade" pizzas with store-bought crust before, and I'd just about given up on them. Until now!

We bought a Rustic Crust Tuscan Six Grain Pizza Crust. (If you click on that and check out their Web site, the answer is YES, I realize their frozen flatbreads cost an arm, a leg, or a first-born child. It's crazy!) But try a Rustic Crust pizza crust out if you get the chance. I can't speak for all the varieties -- and there are several, including Classic Sourdough and Cheesy Herb -- but the Tuscan Six Grain was awesome.

"Homemade" pizza with sausage, onion, and portabello mushrooms (makes 8 slices)

1 Rustic Crust Tuscan Six Grain Pizza Crust

enough olive oil with which to brush crust

1 portabello mushroom cap, chopped

1/2 medium or large red onion, sliced

pizza sauce of your choosing (we used a Muir Glen roasted garlic pasta sauce)

about 12 large, fresh basil leaves

5-6 ounces of sausage of your choosing (we used Lou's Famous Italian chicken sausage -- yum! -- but I do love the fattier, non-chicken Italian sausage, too)

generous sprinkling of garlic granules

shredded mozzarella or shredded Italian cheese blend, such as Organic Valley's mix

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1.) Although the package of the chicken sausage stated it was fully cooked, we browned it in a skillet over medium heat for about 4 minutes a side (no oil required). Slice the sausage thinly after browning.

2.) Spread olive oil on the pizza crust, then spread the tomato sauce on top of that.

3.) Spread the sausage, onion, and mushroom on the pie. Lay out the basil leaves evenly, so each slice will have a leaf. (You can also chop them and spread them around, if you prefer.)

4.) Top with garlic granules, cheese, and black pepper.

5.) Turn the oven down to 425 and bake the pizza directly on the middle oven rack for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese just begins to lightly brown. Serve with red pepper flakes on the side.

Today's fun food fact: Have you heard about the "I Want NY Pizza" site, where you can order New York pies that get delivered to your door? It's true; that's what they do. I haven't tried it out yet, but I plan to. I LOVE pizza, and I've eaten pizza in so many countries, it's either impressive or repulsive... The best pizza, hands-down, is in New Jersey and New York City. You just can't get the same thing anywhere else. I'll let you know what I think of this place after I try it (which will be at a time my husband and I can splurge, so it may be a while).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tofu teriyaki with vegetables

Money-wise, it's worth buying a bottle of your favorite teriyaki sauce if you don't plan on cooking much else that's Japanese.

But why not spring for the four ingredients and impress all your friends when you tell them your sauce is homemade?

All you need is soy sauce, mirin, sake, and extra-fine sugar. I'm sure regular sugar will work, too, because you heat it to make it melt, but you can easily find extra-fine sugar in Asian supermarkets.

Another nice thing about making this sauce is that you can control how sweet it is. I like things sweet, but even I know there's nothing worse than something that's too sweet -- all desserts aside, of course.

I loved the way this turned out with tofu, although my tofu didn't get quite as browned as I expected under the broiler. You can also use this sauce for chicken, beef, or salmon.

Follow the directions from this post about how to prepare a block of water-packed tofu, but don't cut it lengthwise. Cut it into cubes. One block of tofu will serve 4.

My teriyaki sauce recipe comes from Emi Kazuko.

Teriyaki sauce (serves 4)

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons mirin

3 tablespoons sake

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-fine sugar

1.) Heat all ingredients -- except the 2 teaspoons of sugar -- in a sauce pan over medium heat. When the sugar is melted, let the sauce cool for an hour. (I let it cool on the stove for a half hour, then about 15 minutes in the fridge.)

2.) Marinate cubes of tofu in the sauce in the refrigerator for a half-hour, at least.

3.) Remove from fridge. Take the tofu out of the sauce and put it on broiler pan. Reserve the sauce. If you plan to use bamboo skewers, soak the skewers for 20 minutes in warm water first.

4.) Prepare and cook your side veggies (recipe follows). Keep warm as your broil the tofu.

5.) Preheat the broiler. Place the tofu under the broiler, and cook, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook on other side for another 4 minutes.

6.) While the tofu is cooking, reheat the sauce with the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar.

7.) Arrange the veggies and tofu on a serving platter and drizzle the sauce on top. Serve with a side of short-grain brown rice.

Roasted veggies for tofu teriyaki (serves 4)

1 red pepper, seeded and chopped

1 yellow onion, sliced

1 sweet potato, sliced

1/2 zucchini, sliced

about 1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Toss vegetables with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and spread on roasting pan. Roast at 450 degrees for about 12 minutes. Stir/flip once, halfway through cooking.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Coming up soon

I realized I haven't talked about what's coming up in a while... I hope these tempt you to return soon:

Tofu teriyaki -- I'm trying to make teriyaki sauce from scratch

Wild mushroom soup with sage -- I told you I'd be posting more soup recipes!

Broiled salmon with a balsamic-mango glaze

Acorn squash soup

When the weather starts getting cold, I can't get enough soup. Besides the fact that it's warming and healthful, I also find it fun to make.

You're probably going to see plenty more soup recipes here in the coming weeks. As you can see from my recipe posts for tilapia chowder with fresh tarragon, white chicken chili, chickpea soup with porcini mushrooms, vichyssoise, trout gumbo, and oh so many more: I'm serious about my soups!

I hope you like this new one. Roasting the veggies really brings out a nice flavor from the garlic and shallots, and I find they complement the squash nicely.

Acorn squash soup (serves 4)

2 acorn squash, or 1 acorn squash and 1 butternut, halved lengthwise

4 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled

extra-virgin olive oil, just enough to brush on veggies

salt and pepper, to taste

3-4 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)

1/2 cup soy milk (use this to keep it low fat/vegan), whole milk, or light cream

fresh chives, thyme, oregano, parsely, or tarragon, chopped, to garnish

1.) Preheat oven to 375, and scoop out the seeds from the squash. Brush cut side of vegetables with olive oil; rub the garlic cloves with a little oil, too. Salt and pepper liberally.

2.) Roast, cut side down, for about 45 minutes, or until tender.

3.) Scoop out the flesh from the squash, and put that in a soup pot with the shallots and peeled garlic cloves. Cover the vegetables with the stock.

4.) Simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.

5.) Puree with a hand blender or food processor, then reheat gently with the soy milk, whole milk, or light cream.

6.) Serve with your fresh herb of choice as a garnish.

Today's question: What do you like to make with squash this time of year?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spiced spinach

It's hard for me to find new and interesting things to do with spinach, or with any greens, for that matter. I don't care for raw spinach in salads very much -- except for in the wild beet spinach salad at Lennie's. It's fantastic!

But I've started sauteeing spinach and other greens with various ingredients, and that's opened a world of possibilities.

My favorite spinach recipe has been mentioned before on this blog -- it's a Turkish spinach recipe from Dr. Zorba's Web site. It's got a little tomato paste and some rice with it, and I like to make a big portion to eat as a main dish. I use quite a bit less salt and oil than the recipe demands, though, and I use brown rice, which takes a little longer to cook.

Well here's another way to use spinach, and it calls for less dicing and less time than the Turkish spinach. It's also versatile; you can change the ingredients to suit your tastes. If you don't like spinach, just substitute your favorite greens. (They may require a little more cooking time, though.)

Spiced spinach (makes 1 main dish, or about 3 sides)

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 shallots, chopped (you can substitute onion)

1 bunch of fresh spinach, or 10 ounces of any of your favorite greens, stems removed

1/8 cup golden raisins (or chopped sun-dried tomatoes or dried apricots)

1 tablespoon sliced almonds (or any nut you prefer)

1/2 teaspoon ground curry (or cumin, rubbed thyme, rubbed sage, etc.)

optional: 1/8 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

optional: handful of chickpeas

splash of sherry vinegar

salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Heat oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and shallots and cook over medium heat, until golden brown. (If adding ginger, cook it here.)

2.) Add the spinach, stir, and cook, covered, for 5-6 minutes.

3.) Uncover, and stir in raisins, almonds, and spice or herb. Splash with vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and stir.

Q: How do you make a cream puff?

A: Chase it around the block. (from the Scholastic's "ROFL" book)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A better brownie

When I was growing up, my mom and my grandmother made the best sweets -- Mississippi mud pie, homemade fudge, pecan pie with homemade crust, chocolate chip cookies.

The secret to the pie crust and the cookies was Crisco shortening. Yikes! I couldn't bring myself to bake with that heart attack-inducing stuff now, but I have to say, I've never had as good a chocolate chip cookie without it. (I like mine crunchy, with a tall glass of cold milk.)

I stay away from making pie crusts altogether, as I explained here.

I have started making a dessert that doesn't quite make up for the Crisco, but knowing that it's a little better for me puts it in a class all its own. I use a recipe for brownie pie, which I got from a former editor of mine. It was her husband's grandmother's recipe. I use almond extract instead of the traditional vanilla extract, and that makes this treat taste like you've gone to a lot of trouble for it. (It looks a little flat in the photo, but trust me, that's only because it's so rich and fudge-like.)

The recipe is really easy, too. You just literally throw all the ingredients together, mix them well, and pour into a pie crust (not a deep-dish one). I leave out the crust, opting instead to oil or butter a small pyrex dish, and pour the batter right in. It takes just about as long to bake, maybe 5 minutes less.

I serve the almond brownies warm with vanilla Rice Dream "ice cream," a vegan version of vanilla ice cream that is made with brown rice and -- really, I would not lie to you about this -- is super tasty. The thing about using such substitutions is not believing that it's really going to taste like ice cream. It's a frozen treat of sorts, but c'mon, let's face it, it will never be Breyers. I also love Stonyfield Farms frozen vanilla yogurt, which has even fewer calories than the Rice Dream. Both aren't cheap, though, unfortunately.

So here's the recipe for the brownie pie without the pie part. The reason I call it "better" is that I use the best ingredients for this -- organic cocoa powder, sucanat, etc.

A better brownie (makes about 9 brownies)

1/4 cup organic cocoa powder (I like Equal Exchange)

1 stick of organic melted butter (unsalted)

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup sucanat, which is non-refined cane sugar (Wholesome Sweeteners is my brand)

1/4 cup flour

2 local, organic eggs

1.) Toss all ingredients into a mixing bowl, and whisk well.

2.) Pour into a greased glass dish.

3.) Bake for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a toothpick or knife inserted into it comes out clean.

4.) Cool for 30 minutes on a wire rack, then serve with Rice Dream "ice cream" or your favorite frozen yogurt.

Today's question: Do you try to upgrade any of your favorite desserts?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Scandinavian cucumber salad

I guess there used to be a vegetarian restaurant in Bloomington called Tao. I would have loved to eat there! I don't know how long it was in business, but a book of recipes from the restaurant -- The Tao of Cooking by Sally Pasley -- was given to me when I was a 15-year-old vegetarian. My vegetarianism didn't last too long, but the book has been so loved, I finally had to replace my tattered original with a new one a couple years ago.

Several of the recipes in the book are favorites of mine, including the cream of mushroom soup, apple beignets, and the salad I made this weekend, Scandinavian cucumber salad.

It would probably taste good using a whole-milk yogurt in place of the sour cream, too, but I haven't tried that yet. This salad went great with barbecue chicken and grilled potatoes.

Scandinavian cucumber salad (serves 4 as a side dish)

2-3 cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

pinches of salt, black pepper, and sugar

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)

2 teaspoons finely minced red onion

1/8 teaspoon garlic, finely minced

1/4 teaspoon dill weed

1.) Salt the cucumber cubes and let them drain in a colander for 20 minutes.

2.) Whisk together all other ingredients.

3.) Add the cucumber to the dressing; toss.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pumpkin obsession: Pumpkin soup

It all started with the Jamaican cookbook I borrowed from my public library -- from which I got a delicious recipe for pumpkin stew -- and now it's turning into a full-blown obsession.
Maybe that's a bit dramatic. But really, I never knew how much I loved pumpkin flavors until this year. Sure, I'd been seeing them everywhere every fall of my life, but who knew? Who knew what could become of those heavy orange squash?

So, here's what I'm loving about pumpkin right now: My friend Courtney made some pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies that I couldn't stop eating; my friend Stefanie, with her newborn Sidney snoozing nearby, made a moist, sweet pumpkin bread that used a zucchini recipe but simply replaced the zucchini with pumpkin; and now, my friend Kate has e-mailed me her favorite pumpkin soup recipe. And, holy cow, it is amazing!

She said it came from from Mark Sullivan, of the Woodside Village Pub in California, and she added that he likes to use French red pumpkin (again, who knew?), but that any kind of pumpkin or winter squash will do.

The recipe she sent left a little direction to the imagination, so I've put my interpretation next to hers.

Pumpkin soup (serves 8)

4 yellow onions (I quartered them)

chicken stock -- homemade is recommended, enough to cover soup (I used 5 cups)

1 bunch sage, tightly tied (I used sage from my garden, about 24 leaves)

1/4 nutmeg, grated

2/3 cup maple syrup

4 ounces butter

pumpkin (mine was about 2 pounds), quartered

extra-virgin olive oil

salt and white pepper

1.) Rub the pumpkin quarters with olive oil -- I used about a half teaspoon per quarter -- and salt and pepper liberally.

2.) Roast in oven with fan on until tender. I didn't have a fan, so I roasted it, turning the quarters once, for almost an hour at 350 degrees.

3.) Scoop out the flesh and put aside.

4.) Sweat onions, covered, in the butter with the sage until translucent and tender.

5.) Add pumpkin flesh into sweating onions and cover with chicken stock.

6.) Add nutmeg and maple syrup and bring to a simmer. (I let it simmer for about 10 minutes.)

7.) Remove the sage. Season with salt and pepper to taste and blend for several minutes with a high-speed blender until smooth.

8.) Pass through a strainer and warm in a soup pot before serving. Straining takes out all the chunks, but leaves thickness.

9.) Top with brown butter and sage garnish.

Brown butter and sage garnish (serves 8)

4 ounces butter

16 sage leaves

1.) Heat butter in sauce pan and turn on heat (to medium).

2.) When the butter foams and begins to turn light brown, add the sage leaves and cook on medium heat until sage is crispy.

3.) Liberally drizzle sage butter over soup and top with sage. As you can tell by my photo, I think I was a little too liberal with the butter... It was awesome, though.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pesto fish with spelt noodles

Ah, easy and successful. There's nothing better.

1.) To serve two people, I took four cubes -- the equivalent of 4 tablespoons -- of frozen pesto out to thaw. You could use ready-made pesto.

2.) I baked it, covered, over a half-pound fish at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. I bought a kebab at Bloomingfoods because it was cheaper than the other fish they had out. It was a mix of mahi-mahi, cod, and tuna, I think.

3.) I served it on top of spelt egg noodles, with a basic side salad.


A note: Pesto works well with mild meats and fish; its flavor is so intense it will overpower or conflict with a fish like salmon.

A gross post

I said I would blog about it, so here it is. This meal was really gross.

We were so hungry when we started eating it, and it seemed OK at first, then about halfway through, it was like, "Oh. This is pretty gross all of a sudden."

I thought I'd create something Japanese-inspired. I love Japanese food -- and this salmon and veggies meal turned out great, so I thought I'd be clever and just kind of do the same sauce with whatever ingredients I wanted to use.

So, I put a little fine sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, dashi-no-moto, and rice wine in the crock pot. Then I threw in green beans, a dried stir-fry mushroom mix that I had soaked, a red pepper, carrots, a little sweet potato, seaweed, chard... I can't remember what else; maybe it can all be seen in the photo. I let it cook for several hours on low, then added some cooked brown rice. The green beans turned out super mushy. The flavors also just didn't go together quite so well.

This photo shows the leftovers, looking even grosser in tupperware. I kept them for a couple days because Dan said he'd take them to work for lunch, but I think he just couldn't bring himself to face the dish again. I tossed it out today.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Stuffed tomatoes

You'd be hard-pressed to find a dish that's as healthy for you as this one, and it uses up tomatoes at a time of year when the last of the them need to be eaten.

We didn't have any luck with our tomatoes in the garden this year, but we've been buying them up at the local market. These were on their last legs, and this recipe works pretty well for such tomatoes.

Stuffed tomatoes (serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side)

4 medium tomatoes, tops sliced off and reserved, inside flesh chopped (liquid and seeds discarded) -- I like a mix of yellow and red

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley

6-8 tablespoons cooked wild rice

2 tablespoons shredded parmesan

1/2 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs, divided

1 teaspoon olive oil, plus enough to brush the bottom of a pan or crock pot

salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Mix the chopped tomato flesh with the garlic, parsley, rice, parmesan, salt, pepper, and 1/4 cup of the breadcrumbs.

2.) Fill the tomatoes with that mixture, and cook in a crock pot on low for 3 hours or so. If using the oven, bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes. (Don't forget to lightly oil the crock pot or pan, so you can get the tomatoes out afterward.)

3.) In a separate bowl, mix the remaining breadcrumbs with the teaspoon of oil by hand.

4.) Take the tomatoes out of the oven or crock pot, top equally with the breadcrumb-oil mix and brown under a broiler. Replace the tops before serving, if you'd like.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Leftovers: Salad with pork and apples

Oh, boy... It's time to save money. I've been in denial, but with food prices the way they are, I can't be running to the store every time I get a hankering for something I want to cook.

So, with that in mind, I will attempt to use up what I have in the house, shopping only at our co-op on member day (when we get a 5% discount).

I have so much to use up this week, both in the fridge and in the pantry:

roasted, marinated pork loin

Farmers' Market tomatoes

celery (who doesn't have celery left over after using just a stalk or two?)

spaghetti squash


cooked wild rice mixture

canned beans, black and garbanzo

spelt egg noodles that I got ages ago (they can't really get old, can they?)

frozen, ice cube-sized pesto chunks

I'm thinking of making spaghetti squash with marinara sauce and fresh fish with pesto -- maybe in the crock pot with garbanzo beans? -- as well as stuffed tomatoes, to use up some of that rice. I will have to go the store for the fish, and I still am planning to make my friend Kate's pumpkin soup, which I've decided will be a good dish to serve my in-laws on Saturday.

I used some of the pork and lettuce today: The pork loin I made a couple nights ago is delicious cold, so I put some small, thin slices on top of the greens. I didn't think it would be anything to blog about, but it turned out to be so much better than expected. I should have taken a photo.

I wanted to call this post "pork salad," but that just doesn't sound too good. Does "salad with pork and apples" sound any better? I hope so.

You can just arrange the following ingredients and top this with your favorite salad dressing. I drizzled on some extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and the flavors worked really well together.

Salad with pork and apples (for 1 large salad)

red-leaf lettuce, as much as you'd like

1/2 carrot, shredded

a few rings of thinly sliced red onion

about 2 ounces of pork loin, thinly sliced and cut into pieces about two inches long

1/4 sweet apple, whatever kind you like, cut into about 6 slices

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup garbanzo beans

optional: a sprinkle of toasted walnuts or pecans would go well in this, I think

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The ultimate pork marinade

Don't you just hate it when people give things they love titles like "perfect," "ultimate," or "best ever"? Me, too. But I guess it's because I'm running out of words for delicious, tasty, scrumptious, amazing... I suppose I could use "fabulous" or "wonderful," but they're just not my style.

Well, because this is a blog about food and not semantics, I'll move on. Let's just say, this is a doggone good pork marinade.

I got the ingredient list from a former Herald-Times colleague of mine, the much loved and much hated Mike Leonard. (Does that pique your interest about him? His columns are often political.) I am saying "ingredient list" because, as is the fate of so many recipes, this one was transferred over a plate of food, drinks in hand, via a simple conversation. Just a list, no pens or paper in sight that night.

So here's the scoop, with the approximate amounts I used for 4.1 pounds of pork loin* in parenthesis. I had to cut the loin in two to marinate it in gallon-sized plastic bags.

Mike's ultimate pork marinade

red wine (I used one of those airplane-sized bottles, which I think is 5 ounces)

garlic (3 cloves, crushed)

soy sauce (1/4 cup)

dried onion (I used flakes, about 2 tablespoons)

cinnamon (1 teaspoon)

brown sugar (2 tablespoons -- I like things sweet, in case you hadn't noticed)

Whisk together all above ingredients.

1.) Trim roast of fat. Marinate for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator. Overnight is best, I think.

2.) Rinse and pat dry before starting cooking process.

3.) Brown the roast on all sides in a pan in hot oil, briefly, before putting in a 325-degree oven on a rack, fat side up.
Cooking time will vary according to how much meat there is. Let the roast rest for 10 minutes on a cutting board before carving.

*A 4.1-pound single boneless pork loin took about 1 hour and 45 minutes to roast.

A last note: I've had not-so-great luck cooking pork in slow cookers, in terms of how dry it gets, regardless of whether I add water or not. I think roasting is the way to go. Although browning the meat in hot oil in a skillet made me reconsider how much I need a splatter guard -- I vowed to get one, soon -- it really sealed in the juices meat during cooking time. This turned out moist and delicious.

It also would be excellent served cold and thinly sliced for sandwiches. It would actually be beyond excellent, but I can't think of a word for that.

A few side dishes I recommend:

Need an idea for leftovers? Try this salad with pork and apples.

Scalloped potatoes

My husband Dan high-fived me when I gave him a bite of this, just slightly cooled, fresh out of the oven.

I said, "It's from Amy Sedaris," and he said, "She likes people." Then he had another bite.

As a general rule, when things that have terrible ingredients and come straight out of a box but still taste great, the chances are pretty good they will taste excellent if they are homemade. Like macaroni and cheese or falafel. So I figured scalloped potatoes would be another of these.

Now I know I said in my last post that an upcoming recipe was for potatoes au gratin, but I'm pretty sure scalloped falls under the au gratin umbrella because the dish is browned in the oven and includes cheese.

I pulled one of my favorite cookbooks off the shelf for this. Amy Sedaris' I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence is a really fun read, recipes aside. There aren't many cookbooks you can say that about. This book not only has lots of recipes -- for things like "pot roast for Jack Black," cheese balls, and the like -- but it also has crafts you'll probably never make (scented sachets made out of pantyhose, for instance) and sagely advice about partying from Amy herself.

The potatoes are called "Hugh's scalloped potatoes," and fans of the amazing writer David Sedaris (Amy's brother) know Hugh is his longtime love.

My photo shows the following recipe doubled.

Hugh's scalloped potatoes

1 tablespoon minced parsley (I used fresh)

1 cup thinly sliced onion

2.5 cups thinly sliced potatoes (I used new potatoes and left the skin on)

1 teaspoon salt

1.5 tablespoons butter

pepper, to taste

3.5 tablespoons flour

1 cup milk (I used whole milk)

paprika, to taste

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1.) Boil the potatoes and onion in enough water to cover them for about 5 minutes. Drain.

2.) Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and milk, and whisk. Add the paprika, salt, and pepper, and stir.

3.) Stir in the cheese.

4.) Oil the bottom of a 9x12-inch baking dish. Put a layer of potatoes and onion down (I used half of it), then a layer of sauce, then the parsley, and repeat until all ingredients are gone.

5.) Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A few of my favorite things (part 2)

How much do you love my salt grinder, pictured above? Isn't she great? She's a present from my sister, and can be used for salt or pepper, obviously.

That's the first item of this installation of "a few of my favorite things." Part 1 can be found in this post from August. The first part focused on recipes; this post is about things.

The salt grinder is new and looks just perfect on my dining table (though she makes the pepper grinder look just a little bit boring). I have other various items that I just love, items that simply make the kitchen a better place to be.

Our butter dish, a food-and-cooking-themed Christmas gift from my sister- and brother-in-law, is one. It's a simple, clear, glass design, and there's nothing better than soft butter on a warm piece of toast. Or, I should say, there's nothing worse than having a warm piece of toast and nothing but tough, cold butter!

Then there's my cat apron, a present to me from my parents, modeled here by my husband.

Our salad spinner (also a wedding gift) was an absolutely brilliant invention. I use mine all the time, for herbs, too.

And, my special Alsatian quiche plate, a hand-me-down from my mom, who used it for homemade quiche as well as a nice serving/cooking platter for plenty of au gratin sides. It has plenty of history for my family -- it's at least 30 years old -- and it came from a little store in Alsace.

Now on to appliances... I'm a huge fan of the show "Mad Men," and one of the things that always strikes me is how much time the women spend in their kitchens (kitchens that are a little too tidy, if you ask me.) It's just incredible how the convenience of various small appliances has changed the lives of people who like to cook, and if you imagine that you really hated to cook but are a housewife in the 1950s, well, too bad for you! Your family just wouldn't eat. And the neighbors would talk about you.

I have a few appliances that I can't live without, and they all belong in the kitchen. While I enjoy the monotony and repetition of slicing and dicing at times -- it's actually one of the things I love about doing kitchen "work" -- at other times, it's overwhelming. Some recipes require way too much slicing and dicing for it to remain fun throughout the prep process. For those, I appreciate my Cuisinart basic food processor. It was a wedding gift, but it's something I would spend the money on to get another, for sure, if it ever broke or needed any replacement parts (those are available separately). It's also indispensible for pureeing large amounts of food.

Small amounts of food can be pureed with my immersion blender, which also is great for just sticking into a pot of soup and allowing it to do its magic. Mess-free, at that!

I can't close this post without mentioning something Dan and I are big fans of, especially recently, when we've both been really busy. These Indian food packets, called Micro Curry from Raja Foods, are really yummy and have natural ingredients. Plus, they're cheap, and they cook in about three minutes. You just put the food bag in boiling water for about that long. I didn't like that idea of a food bag initially, then I tried it, and we often have them as "fast food." They are wonderful, especially because we can't afford to eat at our favorite Indian place, Cumin in Cincinnati. (Shanti Indian Cuisine in Bloomington is yummy, too!)

Coming up: A recipe for the best pork marinade I've tasted, a recipe I got from my pal Mike Leonard, a columnist at Bloomington's Herald-Times; a passion-for-pumpkin post; and (possibly) my first attempt at potatoes au gratin. Also, very unfortunately, I made something gross that I will tell you all about. It was a sad, sad night.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Maple-mustard vinaigrette

This will be a quick post... I just got so excited about it, I had to write it down for you!

I so rarely find salad dressing recipes that I am willing to eat more than once, so I stick to my mom's Dijon vinaigrette or my own adapted version of that with dark balsamic and honey.

Believe me, I've tried tons of dressing recipes -- roasted tomato vinaigrette, cilantro-lime-yogurt, fruit-based concoctions that always seemed to be turn out too sweet for me. The list could go on and on. None of them became staples, but this one will.

I was flipping through old magazines, and I found this recipe for maple-mustard vinaigrette in the February/March 2006 issue of Eating Well. I thought it went deliciously well on top of our strawberry-rich salads the other night.

Maple-mustard vinaigrette (makes 1.25 cups)

1/2 cup canola oil

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup cider vinegar (I'm partial to the Tree of Life brand of apple cider vinegar)

2 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard (I used Maille Old Style Whole Grain Mustard)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Whisk ingredients together.