Thursday, May 14, 2009

Time to wrap up the blog

After much consideration, I've decided I just don't have time to maintain this blog the way I'd like anymore. With a toddler running around and a baby due in September, I'm just too tired to blog at the end of the day.

Maybe someday I'll return to it, but for now, I have decided to wrap things up. I will leave this blog up, though; I go to it often myself for recipes that I haven't written down elsewhere.

And, just so you don't feel I'm leaving you hanging, I have a few kitchen tips to share.

From my brother-in-law, John: If you just want part of a banana, don't peel the whole thing and wrap the remainders in plastic wrap to put in the freezer. Whoever came up with that solution was dead wrong. Just slice off what you want to eat and leave what you don't eat in the peel. It will form a tough skin on the exposed banana part, and you can cut that right off when you're ready to. Underneath, it's good as new.

Also in today's banana news: If you buy bananas that aren't ripe yet -- don't you hate that? -- keep them covered in a brown paper bag for a couple days, and that should speed up the ripening process.

From my friend Dave: If you find your fresh herbs go bad sitting in the fridge, treat them like you would fresh flowers. Put them in a glass with water and put a paper sack over them, and they will stay fresh for quite a while.

Regarding the luscious avocado: If you aren't eating a whole avocado and want to keep the rest from turning brown, leave the pit lodged in it after cutting it in half and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap.

That's all I have for now. Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Chocolate chip pecan cookies

I've always loved chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, but when I tried a chocolate chip-pecan cookie, I was smitten.

It was the day after Alice was born, and my friend Jean came to see us at the hospital, armed with gifts for little A and a bag of cookies. Dan and I couldn't stop snacking on them until they were gone. I can't remember the brand, but they were delicious, crunchy little devils.

The ones I make are not crunchy -- I have a feeling that attribute only comes with some kind of partially hydrogenated oil, though I can't be sure -- but they are still hard to stop munching. Mine are made with butter, and I try to make them at least a tiny bit healthy by using organic ingredients, whole wheat flour, and unrefined sugar.

Chocolate chip pecan cookies (makes about 3 dozen)

2 sticks salted butter (if you just have unsalted, add a little extra salt to the recipe), room temperature

3/4 cup sucanat or other unrefined, granulated sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup whole wheat flour

1-1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

3/4-1 cup chopped pecans

1.) Mix the butter with the sugars well, until they look pretty creamy. Beat in the eggs and the vanilla.

2.) In a separate bowl, combine the flours, salt, and baking soda, and mix well with a fork or whisk.

3.) Add that dry mixture to the other bowl, beating well.

4.) Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.

5.) Chill dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Roll cookies into balls a little bigger in diameter than a quarter, and place on a grease cookie sheet.

6.) Flatten the cookies a little with the palm of your hand, and bake at 375 degrees for 11-12 minutes. (Make sure not to make them too big, or they will break in half when you eat them.) Cool before removing from cookie sheet.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Curried sweet potato soup

I was trying to recreate the curry soup at Roots. I'm obsessed with it these days! I knew I wouldn't be able to get the exact same thing, but I came pretty close. This is delicious -- and extra-super-duper healthy, too.

Curried sweet potato soup (makes 8 servings)

1 tablespoon canola oil

1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1/2 large red pepper, seeded and diced

1/2 medium red onion, chopped (a yellow onion would be fine, too)

2 shallots, chopped

1-1/2 teaspoons Madras curry powder

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger

4 cups vegetable broth

1 cup diced apple (about 1 apple), something sweet like a Gala

2 cups soy milk

salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons honey

1.) Heat the canola oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and curry powder and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes.

2.) Add the red pepper, garlic, and ginger, and stir. Cook for about 1 minute, then add the broth, scraping up the bits on the bottom of the pot.

3.) Add the sweet potatoes, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly, and simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the apple, and cook 5 minutes more, or until potatoes and apple are tender.

4.) Season with salt and pepper, and puree until smooth in a food processor or with a hand-held blender.

5.) Return soup to pot if you used a food processor, and stir in the soy milk. Reheat.

6.) Turn off the heat, and stir in the honey.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Black bean hummus

Hummus is so good for you; you can pack it full of nutritious ingredients, and legumes are a wonderful vegetarian protein.

But I find that I tire of the taste of regular hummus, which is made with garbanzo beans, but I still enjoy its dip-like consistency to enhance my raw veggies and sandwiches. So, I'm always hoping to find new bean-filled recipes that I can use -- such as this incredible garlic and white bean dip. Someday soon I'm going to try to make some kind of lentil-walnut spread.

Today I made black bean hummus, which is very similar to the regular kind but has lime and cilantro. The addition of carrots is important because my black bean hummus tends to be very thick. The carrots give it a little juice and sweetness and boost its nutritional value.

Black bean hummus (makes 1-1/2 cups)

1 small can black beans, rinsed and drained

1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup tahini

juice of 2 small limes

2 small carrots, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup packed cilantro leaves

1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder

3/4 teaspoon cumin powder

Process all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Serve as a sandwich spread or with fresh vegetables, pita chips, or crackers.

Food fact: Legumes are a type of vegetable that includes beans, lentils, soy nuts, edamame, and peas, among several others,and they are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat, according to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.

"Legumes are typically low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium," reads the clinic's Web site. "They're also a good source of protein and can be a healthy substitute for meat, which has more fat and cholesterol."

According to Nutrition Data, 1 cup of black beans has 227 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 15 grams of protein.

The Mayo Clinic offers a helpful guide to legumes and how to use them in food.

Coming soon: A post with useful kitchen tips.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Peanut butter & Nutella cookies

A facebook friend recently suggested the awesome combo of peanut butter and Nutella to me. I tried it, just spooning each out of a jar, and decided to see what a cookie version would be like.

If you've never had Nutella, you're missing out. It's a delicious spread made with hazelnut and cocoa. And it turns out to bake surprisingly well: I thought it might get runny and burn, but it hardens ever so slightly, so the end result is a little like frosting.

I think these cookies are super yummy, but if you're in the mood for straight-up peanut butter cookies, you can use this recipe, too.

Peanut butter & Nutella cookies (makes 12-15 large cookies)

3/4 cup peanut butter (the all-natural, no-sugar-added kind)

1/2 cup Nutella

1 stick of salted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1-1/2 cups flour

1.) Mix the butter and sugars together in a mixing bowl. Beat in the egg, then beat in the vanilla and peanut butter.

2.) Combine the salt, soda, and flour in a bowl, then add those ingredients to the wet ingredients.

3.) Mix well, then roll into balls with your hands. I made balls about the size of golf balls.

4.) Put the cookie dough on a greased cookie sheet. Flatten a little by hand, then scoop out about 1/2 teaspoon of dough from the center of each cookie. (You might have enough dough from this for 1-2 more cookies.)

5.) Spoon out 1 teaspoon of Nutella per cookie, spreading it into the little dip you made.

6.) Bake for about 13 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool completely before removing from cookie sheet.

*If you want plain peanut butter cookies, this is a great recipe. Just roll the dough into balls a little smaller than noted above, put them on a greased cookie sheet, and press an X into them with a fork.

Coming soon: Black bean hummus.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stuffed turnips

Unfortunately, I have to say these turnips look a tiny bit better than they taste. The filling is really tasty -- how can you go wrong with mashed potato and turnip with spinach, parmesan and butter? -- but the turnips themselves tasted a little bitter.

I know for a fact that baked turnips can taste absolutely fantastic, and quite sweet; the turnip dish at Samira is one of my favorites. Maybe mine didn't work out because I forgot to put a little water in the baking dish when I baked them at the end of the recipe (see step 7)...

I think this filling is worth trying in other vegetables to stuff -- specifically mushrooms and onions.

Stuffed turnips (makes 2-3 main dish servings or 4-6 sides)*

4 medium turnips, ends trimmed, peeled

1 potato, peeled

5 ounces fresh spinach

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1 tablespoon butter

salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Cut a deep circle into the tops of the turnips. That will help you scoop out the centers later. Boil the turnips in salted water until tender but still firm. Remove from water and cool.

2.) Using the same water, boil the potato until tender.

3.) Scoop out the centers of the turnips, leaving a shell you can fill. Mash the turnip centers and potato with butter.

4.) Boil the spinach in a small amount of water, cool, and squeeze to remove all liquid. Chop.

5.) Add the spinach and parmesan to the mashed veggies. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

6.) Fill each turnip shell with the mixture, piling the filling high. Place them in a baking pan.

7.) Add a little water to the baking pan, and bake the turnips at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until thoroughly heated.

* From The Tao of Cooking, by Sally Pasley.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spinach & onion quiche

Yesterday afternoon I realized I had no idea what I was going to have for dinner, and I wanted to pick something up at the store that would include greens and protein -- and be something my whole family would eat. My immediate thought: spinach quiche.

I hadn't thought of quiche in ages, really, and I don't know why it popped into my head. I thought I'd go somewhere with a nice deli that would have a pre-made quiche, so I went to O'Malia's (a store I consider mostly over-priced but will frequent for certain things, like fish).

Well, I checked out all the quiche there -- a couple of frozen kinds trying to pass as healthy and a couple of kinds of quiche in the cheese department. None of the crusts were whole grain, and they included mysterious ingredients.

As I perused the goods, I remembered that I used to make a damn fine quiche back in my days as a baker at the now-defunct Encore Cafe, and it was pretty easy. I also remembered I had fresh spinach at home -- for that spinach-stuffed turnip dish I'm still planning to make -- and whole wheat flour, butter, milk, and eggs. I had no reason not to head home and get to work in the kitchen. All I bought was Swiss cheese.

The nice thing about quiche is that you can add whatever vegetables (or sausage, bacon, ham, etc.) you want. It's a great way to use up leftovers. Just make sure the veggies are drained as much as possible of any liquid.

The recipe looks very involved, but after making this once, you'll see how easy it is.

Whole wheat crust (for a 10-inch pie, plus enough for lattice topping*)

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup wheat germ

8-1/2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons cold water (you can add a little more, if you feel the crust is too dry)

1.) Stir together the flour, wheat germ, and salt.

2.) Cut the butter into small pieces and add them to the flour mixture.

3.) Using your hands, work the butter into the flour mixture as well as you can.

4.) Sprinkle the water on top, and mix again by hand. When the crust clumps together nicely in handfuls, pack it into a ball and refrigerate it for an hour.

5.) Press the crust into a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan or round cake pan, making sure there are no holes in the coverage and that it comes up to the top of the pan's sides.*

6.) Bake at 400 degrees for 6-7 minutes.

*You will have some left over if you are using the recipe below.

Spinach and onion quiche (for a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan or cake pan)

1 whole wheat pie crust, partially baked (see #6 above)

2 cups milk, slightly warm

3 eggs, slighly beaten

1/2 medium red onion, sliced into rings

1 teaspoon oil

10 ounces fresh spinach, steamed, cooled, and squeezed of any liquid (you can also use frozen, just thaw it and squeeze out any liquid)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

pinch of nutmeg

3/4 cup grated Swiss cheese

1/8-1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1.) Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Brown the onion rings briefly. Don't let them get too soft.

2.) Spread the Swiss cheese in the bottom of the crust. Top with spinach and onions.

3.) Whisk together the milk, eggs, nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and pour over the spinach and onions. (You could have a little of the milk mixture left if you use more/different veggies than what I've used here.)

4.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then sprinkle the parmesan on top.

5.) Continue to bake for about 15 minutes, or until filling is set. It's OK if the very middle is slightly jiggly; it has to cool for 10 minutes before getting sliced, and it will continue to cook in that time.

6.) After cooling for 10 minutes, put quiche under the broiler very briefly to brown the top.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Seaweed wraps

This is one of my all-time favorite healthy meals. It's so easy to make and so good for you.

My photo here doesn't do it justice; because of my pregnancy, I'm not eating sprouts (I read that I shouldn't - don't ask my why), and I was out of cucumber. Those are two of my favorite things to include in these.

Try them with your favorite ingredients. I will list some options below the recipe.

On a sad note: That lucky morel never made it into our bellies. We just ran out of time to decide what to do with it. When we find more -- though we've scoured our area and haven't come up with any yet! -- I will post recipes, I promise.

Seaweed wraps

sheets of dried seaweed

water-packed, extra firm tofu, drained

red bell peper

broccoli sprouts



wasabi paste (I put mine on the side, in the soy sauce)

cucumber, peeled and seeded

a 2-egg omelet, with a little sugar sprinkled on top while still hot

1.) Make sure all wrap add-ins are cut into long, thin slices.

2.) Arrange any mixture of them in the middle of a seaweed sheet.

3.) Wet your hands a little before rolling the sheet into a handroll. Cut wrap in half.

4.) Serve with soy sauce for dipping.

Other wrap add-ins:

crushed peanuts

steamed and cooled sweet potato slices

yellow bell pepper

cream cheese

smoked salmon

imitation crab meat


green onions

Coming up: Turnips stuffed with spinach and parmesan.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Healthier sloppy joes

Who doesn’t love a sloppy joe?

That’s what I was in the mood for today – a meaty, saucy sandwich that was a little sweet, a little tangy. And while I wanted what I grew up eating – the kind of sloppy joe for which you basically just need ground beef and a seasoning packet – I decided to try the homemade version. It had to be healthier, I figured.

It turned out pretty tasty (but not exactly like the real thing, I must admit). I used a recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, my trusted source for typically American food, and tweaked it just a bit.

Healthier sloppy joes (serves 5-6)

1 pound lean ground beef (I recommend the Fischer Farms brand)

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped green pepper

8 ounces peeled, whole tomatoes from a can, juice included

2 tablespoons quick oats

1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1-1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon granulated garlic

½ teaspoon salt

a few shakes of hot sauce

a couple drizzles of ketchup

5-6 whole grain hamburger buns, toasted

1.) Brown the beef with the green pepper and onions in a large skillet until beef is no longer pink. Drain the fat.

2.) Stir in the tomatoes, oats, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt, and hot sauce. When it’s bubbling, reduce the heat and cook about 10 minutes.
3.) Serve on buns.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Our lucky morel

What a thrilling find! Dan and I were walking in our neighborhood with Alice today, and this lovely morel was just standing at the side of our road, waiting for us to pluck it out of the ground.

As I said in this post for chicken in morel cream sauce, I've never cooked with fresh morels before; nor have I ever gone morel hunting. But it was so exciting to see this one towering over the wet grass around it that Dan and I will be scouring our property in the coming days for more.

The question now is: What to do with the lone morel? We can't let it go to waste. (By the way, it measures about 5 inches tall, top to botttom.)

Check my blog this week to see what we did with it. I'll also be writing about how I plan to use those awesome salts I got from my sister- and brother-in-law.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Banana-berry bread

Another toddler-friendly bread -- and one that adults will like, too. I made this because I had to use up some strawberries and bananas, and I love the combination of flavors. It turned out so deliciously moist, thanks to the fruit and the yogurt.

You could use regular white or brown sugar instead of sucanat, but sucanat is better for you because it's unrefined (see food fact, below).

Banana-berry bread (makes 1 loaf)

1 cup sucanat

1/2 cup canola oil

3 small or 2 large mashed bananas

1/4 cup blueberries

1/4 cup chopped strawberries

1/2 cup yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

2 cups whole wheat flour, or 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup wheat bran, wheat germ, or oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

optional: 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips (I'm going to try this next time!)

1.) Combine the sugar and oil in a mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer.

2.) Add bananas, yogurt, vanilla, and eggs, and mix until well blended.

3.) Add the rest of the dry ingredients, and mix briefly.

4.) Stir in the berries and optional chocolate chips.

5.) Spread into a greased loaf pan.

6.) Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Cool slightly before turning out of pan.

Food fact: Why choose unrefined sugar? Well, according to this article, research "suggests that substituting refined sweeteners with unrefined equivalents in food formulations could raise disease-fighting antioxidants in consumer diets." I think that's a pretty good reason.

The article, at, a Web site devoted to breaking news on food and beverage development in Europe, goes on to cite research by scientists at Virginia Tech that found that substituting alternative sugars -- raw cane sugar, plant saps, maple syrup, and honey, among others -- for a daily consumption of 130g of refined sugar could boost a person's antioxidant intake by an amount similar to eating a serving of berries or nuts. The contrast between refined and unrefined sugars was likened to the difference between refined grains and whole grains.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dark chocolate truffles

Who knew chocolate truffles could be so easy to make? Sadly, this photo is what happens when you wait too long to photograph your food, and most of it gets eaten...

My original plan was to make vegan truffles, and I found this easy and healthy recipe at one of my favorite food blogs, Enlightened Cooking. But wouldn't you know, I am a scatterbrain and was more focused on finding good quality chocolate for the truffles -- I opted for Ghirardelli's semi-sweet chips -- than on reading the ingredients to make sure the chocolate itself was vegan, too.

Well, good thing I'm not vegan! These truffles turned out delicious. I followed the recipe in the link above with my milk fattened chocolate chips being the only change. I was so impressed with how the cashews and water really turn into a cream when processed. (I wish I'd taken a picture of that, too! Next time...) They are the vegan substitute for heavy cream in this. And, while I love the taste of cashews, they blended right into the truffle, making it taste rich and nothing like nuts (except of course for the ones I rolled in toasted almonds).

Next time I make this, I'm going to find vegan chocolate chips and try different flavors in the truffles. What a great gift for someone!

How annoying!

For some strange reason, the computer I usually use to do my blog is no longer recognizing my camera. That's why I haven't posted since Monday.

Please check back tonight or tomorrow for an update. I have two great recipes to share -- banana-berry bread and easy dark chocolate truffles!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Thai chicken thighs with coconut rice

I created this recipe as an experiment, and I'm always nervous about those because I hate the idea that so many ingredients could go to waste.

Luckily, I guess it's hard to go wrong with common Thai ingredients such as peanuts, sweet potatoes, and curry. It turned out SOOOOO delicious, if I may say so myself!

I made this in a crock pot, but I'm guessing you could also layer everything the same way and cook it in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or at a lower temp for a little longer to really let the flavors blend. (Just make sure the chicken is done; its juices should run clear. But I highly recommend investing a little money in a crock pot. They are totally underrated!)

The dish is shown in the photo above with Thai cucumber salad. (If you're a cucumber person, you should also try this Scandinavian cucumber salad and Michelle's gazpacho.)

Thai chicken thighs (serves 4)

2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter (the all-natural, unsweetened kind)

2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari (look for a post on tamari in the near future!)

1 tablespoon honey

1-1/2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce

1-1/2 tablespoons Madras curry powder (I used this because I didn't have curry paste; you could whisk in a little of that instead)

1-1/2 tablespoons canola oil

pinch of red pepper flakes

1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (I used canned)

10-12 mini sweet potatoes (are these called fingerlings?), peeled

1/2 large red onion, sliced

1 ounce fresh basil leaves

1-1/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/2 cup cooking rice wine (you can get this at an Asian supermarket)

salt and pepper, to taste

fresh cilantro to garnish generously when serving

1.) Whisk together peanut butter, soy sauce or tamari, honey, fish sauce, curry powder, red pepper flakes, and canola oil in bottom of crock pot.

2.) Pour tomatoes on top; stir. Put the sweet potatoes on top of that.

3.) Spread the onion slices over the potatoes. Top with the chicken thighs.

4.) Pour the rice wine over the chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

5.) Cook on low for about 5 hours, sprinkling in the basil leaves and stirring the whole dish about a half hour before cooking time is up. Serve over coconut rice (recipe follows).

Coconut rice (makes about 3 cups)

1 cup brown basmati rice, rinsed

14 ounces coconut milk (shake the can before opening)

as much water as needed

Using a fork, smooth the coconut milk that has separated in its can. Mix with the amount of water required for cooking the rice and cook until done.

Note: I use a rice cooker, so I fill mine to whatever level is indicated; it was tricky with the coconut milk. The bottom of the rice browned a little, and the rice was a little crunchy. A stovetop pot is recommended, and make rice however you normally would as far as liquid content goes. (The coconut milk thins out as it heats, by the way.)

Coming soon: Vegan chocolate truffles from Enlightened Cooking!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thai cucumber salad

I successfully recreated one of my favorite salads from Bloomingfoods; I adapted it slightly by leaving out the hot green pepper and making a dressing that I guessed would taste similar using sweet and spicy chile sauce. It's really good! A great spring/summer side.

Thai cucumber salad (makes 4 side servings)

2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

optional: a little sliced onion (I decided not to include that today)

a splash of lime juice

2 teaspoons honey

2 teaspoons sweet chile sauce

generous splash of rice wine vinegar

Whisk together the lime juice, honey, chile sauce, and vinegar. Put the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and drizzle with dressing. You might have a little left over.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hawaiian ginger-chicken stew

Well, all this talk of cheese has made me realize I should up my intake of leafy greens. And I do love a warm dish rich with collards, mustard greens, or chard. (Check out this awesome spicy white bean stew recipe; it's a favorite!)

Thanks again, Eating Well. I stumbled upon this easy and super-healthy recipe the other day, and I adapted it by adding a mixture of brown and wild rice.

Hawaiian ginger-chicken stew (serves 4)

1 tablespoon canola or sesame oil (I mixed them)

4 cloves garlic, thinly slices

a 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into matchsticks

1/2 cup dry sherry

1-3/4 cups chicken broth

1-1/2 cups water

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce

1 bunch greens (I used red chard)

2 cups brown rice, or a mixture of brown and wild rice

1.) Heat the oil over medium heat in a pot. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate with tongs.

2.) Add ginger and garlic to the pot and cook about 10 seconds. Add sherry and cook, craping up any brown bits, for 3 minutes. Add broth and water, and increase heat. Bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes.

3.) Add soy sauce, chile sauce, and greens. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until greens are tender. Return the chicken to the pot, add the rice, and cook another 2 minutes.

Today's question: Do you have a favorite recipe for greens, or a favorite kind of greens? I need ideas!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Ricotta cheese

As I've previously mentioned, I've been craving all things cheese. And all kinds of cheese, as you can tell by the difference between this cheese dish and the one I made today.

As it turns out, ricotta is very easy to make, and it seems pretty hard to screw up, too. The only drawback is that it takes so much milk to make the cheese. I used a half gallon for this 1-1/2 cups of ricotta!

I decided to try it drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, to really be able to taste the flavor of the cheese the first time I made it. Next time, I'll use it in a recipe, such as for lasagna or gnocchi.

Ricotta cheese (makes 1-1/2 cups)

8 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1.) Bring milk and salt to a simmer over medium heat.

2.) Add the lemon juice, stir, and continue cooking 2 minutes. The mixture will curdle.

3.) Take off heat. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the curds and put them in a cheesecloth-lined (four layers) colander. Drain for 1 minute.

4.) Transfer cheese to a bowl, cover, and chill about 3 hours.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Baked beans

To go with our barbecue chicken tonight -- and I must add here that if you like barbecue, try Stubb's sauces! -- I decided cornbread and baked beans were in order.

Homemade cornbread is a cinch, but I'd never made homemade baked beans until today. Suprise! Also a cinch! It's one of those things that I now will probably never buy again. The add-ins are minimal, so even if you're having a cookout for lots of people, you can make this dish for very little money.

I browsed through several recipes for baked beans and found there's a wide range of possibilities. You can use different kinds of beans and choose from ingredients such as brown sugar, maple syrup, or even corn syrup; molasses, barbecue sauce, or ketchup; soy sauce or worcestershire; you name the condiment, it can fit in there.

Lots of the recipes had bacon as an ingredient, but I wanted to keep this vegetarian, so I left it out. Here's what I came up with, and I think it tastes delicious. (The color is not typical of baked beans, though, so if that bothers you, add a little B&B Kitchen Bouquet or something to darken it.)

Baked beans (serves 6-8)

3 small cans (15 ounces) navy beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 large onion)

1 teaspoon dry mustard

2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce

1-1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 cup light brown sugar

a splash of lime juice -- I added this in the middle of baking because the beans tasted so sweet to me; you could just cut down a little on the sugar

1.) Combine all ingredients in a baking dish. Stir to mix well.

2.) Bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, for 1 hour, stirring once while cooking.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cheese fondue

I have been craving all things cheese. I haven't mentioned on the blog yet that I am pregnant -- due in late September! -- and that is the true explanation for missing six weeks of blogging a while back. The early pregnancy nausea kept me as far from the kitchen as I could get.

Well, what's better than cheese fondue if you're craving something cheesy? Unfortunately, I won't be making this for myself today because I'm not sure the alcohol in it cooks off. That's why there's no photo. I'll post one the next time I make this, though! I just wanted to share the recipe with all you cheese lovers out there.

This is my dad's special recipe, which he's been making for as long as I can remember. It comes from a 1965 book by the editors of Holiday magazine (which I'm pretty sure no longer exists), called "Wines of the World." I'm pretty sure that's the title. It has a chapter on cooking with wine.

My dad says he adheres to the recipe strictly and doesn't let anyone rush him while he's slowly melting the cheese. He also says to splurge on the cheese; get the nice, imported kind.

My sisters- and brother-in-law made cheese and other fondues at Christmastime, and their cheese one tasted the same as this one. I would bet their ingredients were exactly the same. (It's thanks to them that Dan and I now own our own fondue pot. Thanks, Kara, John, and Kristen!)

Cheese fondue (serves 4)

1 French baguette, cut into small cubes and toasted (you can also just cut up a day-old baguette and not toast it)

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1-3/4 cup dry white wine

3 cups, or about 3/4 pound, grated, imported Swiss cheese, such as Gruyere or Compte (sorry, I don't know how to do accents with this computer!)

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 tablespoons heavy cream, maybe even a little more if your fondue is turning out too thick

salt and fresh ground black pepper

3 tablespoons imported Kirsch (a French or German cherry liquor, also known as eau de vie)

1.) In a small saucepan, bring the white wine and garlic to a rapid boil. Let it boil until the wine reduces to 1-1/3 cup. This could take a while.

2.) Strain the garlic out of the wine, pouring the wine into your fondue pot.

3.) Mix the grated cheese with the flour. Bring the reduced wine to a boil, then immediately turn it down to a simmer, and toss the cheese/flour into it one handful at a time, allowing it to get smooth each time.

4.) When all the cheese is smooth, swirl in the butter. Swirl in the heavy cream (adding more if you think it's too thick), and seasoning with salt and pepper.

5.) Just before serving, stir in the Kirsch.

6.) Serve in a fondue pot, over a small flame, with cubes of French bread and fondue sticks. A green salad goes well with this.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Creamy onion dressing

If I had seen this family recipe written out before trying this, I never could have imagined how tasty it is. I encourage you to make this before deciding you won't like it. It's simple enough, so why not?

Someday I'm going to try pureeing the ingredients to make it a smooth dressing. I wonder how that would turn out. I'll add a comment onto this post when I do.

Creamy onion dressing (makes 4 servings)

1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup evaporated milk

2 tablespoons canola oil

generous sprinkling of salt

Whisk ingredients together and toss with salad.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chicken in morel cream sauce

I think this is one of the most delicious recipes ever. I can't believe it has taken me so long to get it posted, but now is a great time because morel season is getting into swing.

If you've never tried a morel, you're really missing out. They are such great mushrooms, and pretty easy to find in this part of Indiana, whether you're a picker or just a buyer.

I actually prefer to get them dried, as dried mushrooms -- in my opinion, and I'm sure this point could be argued -- are more flavorful. Unfortunately, morels are really expensive mushrooms, but you don't need many for a four-person meal.

Dieters, beware!

Chicken breast in morel cream sauce (serves 4)

about 20 medium dried morels (1 ounce)

4 chicken breasts

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup Port (the cheapest kind you can find, for cooking)

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon beef bouillon

1/2 pint heavy cream

juice of 1/2 large lemon

salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1.) Fry the chicken in butter in a large pan over medium heat until almost cooked through, about 4 minutes a side. Transfer the chicken to a large skillet or pot.

2.) Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for about 10 minutes to make them workable, then cut the larger ones in half, and rinse them to make sure there's no dirt in the stems. Put the shrooms in a small saucepan and cover with water and about 1 teaspoon butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.

2.) In the pan and butter you used to cook the chicken, put the port, water, and bouillon. Whisk it, then add half of the squeezed lemon. Sprinkle the rest of the lemon over the chicken.

3.) Whisk the heavy cream into the port/broth mixture.

4.) In a small cup, stir the cornstarch with a couple tablespoons of water. Pour that in with the mushrooms. Let it boil and thicken for a while.

5.) Add the mushroom mixture to the port/broth mixture, and let it all thicken some more together. You want this to get extra thick because it will thin out a little bit with the chicken.

6.) Return the chicken to the sauce and boil gently about 3 minutes, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

7.) Serve with a vegetable, salad, and rice or crusty bread to soak up the sauce. You will want to!

Coming up soon: Creamy onion salad dressing, a family favorite.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spaetzle (German noodles)

This recipe sounds more complicated than it is. It's actually super simple, and it was my first experience making homemade noodles. (It's also a simple carb, but we won't dwell on that right now.)

These taste so much better than any noodles you can buy, although they are by nature very plain. Have them with meat and salad -- I recommend Schnitzel or venison Goulasch-- or try them with mushroom gravy.

You will need a noodle maker for this. Mine is one that looks a lot like a cheese grater, but the holes don't have sharp edges, and the smaller the holes on the gadget, the thinner your batter has to be (i.e. add a little more milk). Here's one just like mine for a great price. My mom paid triple that amount for mine in Germany, strangely! German engineering? For this, I don't think so...

Someday I'll try to make these noodles with whole wheat flour, and I'll add a comment to this post about how it turned out.

Spaetzle (German noodles) (serves 6)

1 pound all-purpose flour

1/8 gallon (minus a 1/4 cup or so) lowfat milk

4 small eggs

some butter for frying

1.) Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl, and whisk until it's the consistency of thick pancake batter.

2.) Bring 10-12 cups of water to a rapid boil in a large soup pot.

3.) Wet your noodle maker so the batter won't stick to it. Place it across the top of the pot in which the water is boiling. Using a large spoon, spoon batter out into the noodle maker.

4.) Push the batter through the noodle maker until the batter is gone. Bring it to a boil again. Boil uncovered for 3 minutes.

5.) Strain the noodles, and rinse them with cold water so they don't stick together.

6.) Cool briefly, then reheat just before serving in a skillet with a bit of butter, allowing some of the noodles to turn a semi-crisp golden-brown.

Need an idea for leftovers? Reheat the leftover noodles the next day in a little butter with some pressed garlic or a sprinkling of garlic salt. You can't go wrong.

Today's question: What's your favorite kind of noodle, and have you ever tried to make it at home?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mushroom gravy

You can use this gravy on meats or vegetables, or even side dishes of rice or noodles. (If you're not making this for a pretty big group, I'd cut the recipe in half.)

Mushroom gravy (makes about 4 cups)

3/4 pound mushrooms, quartered (I like cremini; they make the sauce a nice color because they're dark. Baby bella shrooms would probably work really well, too.)

1/4 cup finely diced onion

1/3 stick unsalted butter

a pinch of dried thyme

white pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules or vegetable broth powder

3/4 cup water

1/8 cup cornstarch

2 tablespoons Marsala cooking wine or cheap white wine

1.) Saute the mushrooms and onion in the butter over medium heat until semi-soft.

2.) Sprinkle with thyme and add white pepper and beef bouillon.

3.) Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add cornstarch and cook until the sauce clings to a metal spoon.

4.) Add wine, stir and cook briefly, then remove from heat.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beef in oyster sauce

I'm picking my mom up from the airport today, so I wanted to make something easy that I could just heat up in the oven for dinner. My answer came in the form of this beef dish, from the cookbook "The Essential Thai Cookbook."

I had never cooked anything with oyster sauce, and I wasn't sure if I would like it, but I figured it probably was used in dishes the same was fish sauce is, and that always just lends a subtle flavor to the meal.

Dan and I tried bites of this before cooling it and putting it away until the evening. We were both impressed and are now looking forward to a yummy dinner.

Need an idea for a side dish? Try this ultra-easy (but totally party-worthy) recipe: Kara's Asian slaw.

Beef in oyster sauce (serves 4)

4 tablespoons oyster sauce

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound prime steak, sliced into thin strips

3-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced

12 green onions, sliced diagonally

1 cup chicken stock

1.) Whisk together the oyster sauce, cornstarch, and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the steak strips and stir, making sure they get coated in sauce. Set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.

2.) Heat oil in a wok or large skillet. Add garlic, and stir-fry until golden.

3.) Add the beef and stir-fry about 3 minutes more, until beef is medium-cooked.

4.) Add the mushrooms, green onions, and chicken stock, and cook gently for about 2 more minutes. Don't overcook, especially if you have to reheat it later!

5.) Serve with rice or noodles.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Zesty egg salad

This is yet another recipe from my mom. Please note: This is very oniony! If you don't like onions, you can replace them with the same amount of finely chopped celery.

Zesty egg salad (makes enough for 2 sandwiches)

1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 small Roma tomato, finely chopped

2 finely chopped green onions

2 hard-boiled eggs, chilled and chopped

about 1/8 cup mayo

salt and pepper, to taste

optional: 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

Mix ingredients together gently.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pumpkin-pecan crumble

Here's another delicious dessert recipe from my sister-in-law Kristen. I tried it at her house over the holidays and have been wanting to make it since.

Kristen has a way with desserts; try her pear custard bars and famous sugar cookies! (Some day, I'll also post her sour cream apple pie.)

This recipe came from Kristen's mother-in-law, who got it from her sister. It calls for a box of yellow cake mix, but I decided to try a vanilla cake mix from Namaste Foods. It's got just a few ingredients -- including sweet brown rice flour and evaporated cane juice -- so that was more appealing to me than a box of cake that has tons of hard-to-pronounce ingredients and food coloring that clearly can't be good for you.

It tasted just as good as the recipe with yellow cake.

Pumpkin-pecan crumble (makes one 13-by-9-inch pan)

3/4 cup sugar (1/2 cup would also do; this is a very sweet treat)

1-1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (I used a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg)

2 eggs

1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin

1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk

1 bag of gluten-free vanilla cake mix (the size that makes two 9-inch cake layers) OR 1 box yellow cake mix

1/2 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup chopped pecans

1.) Combine sugar, spices, egg,s pumpkin, and evaporated milk. Stir together.

2.) Pour into ungreased 13-by-9-inch pan.

3.) Sprinkle dry cake mix over pumpkin mixture.

4.) Drizzle butter on top, and sprinkle with chopped pecans.

5.) Cook 40-50 minutes, until golden brown on top, at 350 degrees. (Mine took the whole 50 minutes.)

6.) Chill, cut, and serve with whipped cream.

Food fact: The health benefits of eating walnuts is pretty commonly known, but did you know that pecans also offer plenty of good stuff?

According to the National Pecan Shellers Association, pecans are high in anti-oxidants.

"New research, published in the August 2006 issue of Nutrition Research, shows that adding just a handful of pecans to your diet each day may help inhibit unwanted oxidation of blood lipids, thus helping prevent coronary heart disease," reads the association's Web site.

The sweet nuts also are dense with nutrients and can help lower cholesterol.

So bring on that pecan pie!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hot and sour soup

This soup is very low-calorie, low fat, high in protein, and packed with vegetables.

Another perk? The ginger and the shiitake are said to be a boost to the immune system.

Hot and sour soup (makes 4-6 servings)

1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked for 20 minutes in hot water and drained

4 ounces seitan, cut into thin strips

a 6-ounce can of bamboo shoots, drained, rinsed, and cut into thin strips

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon peeled and minced ginger

4 cups vegetable stock

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon hot chili paste

salt and pepper, to taste

2 eggs, beaten (vegans can just leave these out; they are not even in the original recipe)

1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed

2 tablespoons chopped scallions

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1.) Place all ingredients except the eggs (if using), peas, scallions, and sesame oil into a slow cooker.

2.) Cook on low for 6 hours. At the end of that, stir in the remaining ingredients.
Note: The original recipe for this comes from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Honey-tahini dressing

Eating Well magazine never fails me. Every time a new issue arrives in the mail, I look forward to having some quiet time in the evening to pore over the informative articles, beautiful photographs, and countless recipes. I always see several I can't wait to try.

Last night I made a salad dressing from the current issue: Honey-tahini dressing. It is so delicious, when Daniel and I finished our salads, we devoured more of the dressing by dipping bread into it.

For those unfamiliar with tahini, it's a thick paste made of ground sesame seeds. It's an important ingredient in hummus, and it's the basis for the sauce on falafel sandwiches.

Honey-tahini dressing (makes about 1-1/4 cups)

1/2 cup lemon juice (I used 1 large lemon)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup tahini

2 tablespoons honey

2 cloves garlic, minced (Mom, if you make this, you'll want to use an extra clove!)

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients except salt and pepper in a blender, a jar with a tight-fitting lid, or a bowl. Blend, shake, or whisk to mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper.

Food fact: Did you know honey is good for helping to heal minor cuts and burns? Really. Just smear a little bit on the affected spot.

According to Malcolm T. Sanford, a professor in the department of entomology and nematology at the University of Florida, "The sweet actively absorbs water from bacteria and fungi, retarding their growth and reproduction. Honey has been used successfully as a wound dressing because of its bactericidal properties, the result of hydrogen peroxide produced by the enzyme, glucose oxidase. It is also superior first aid for burns; the honey seals off the injured area to air currents, reducing pain and possible infection." (Read more from Sanford here.)

Honey also soothes a cough. Although children younger than 1 year old should not be given honey (infant botulism is a risk), children ages 1 and older can be given 1/2 teaspoon to soothe a cough or sore throat. Adults should double that dose.

I am a big fan of Hunter's Honey, located just about 25 miles from Bloomington, in Martinsville. This family business produces honey that is consistently good. If you ever get a chance to visit a honey farm, do it! The production process is a fascinating one.

Unfortunately, honey bees are dying off because of unknown causes; that essentially puts the growing of all fruits, vegetables, and nuts at risk. Scientists are busy trying to figure out why. Check out this "60 Minutes" segment to learn more.

Hey, you know what else honey is good for? Turning a piece of bland buttered toast into a little slice of Heaven.

Coming soon: Hot and sour soup.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pecan-crusted chicken breasts

What can I say? I'm just nuts about nuts.

I've lately been on a roasted-and-salted nuts kick, but that's really the worst way to eat them. This chicken recipe will give you that nut fix without making you feel like you've nixed all their good properties by eating too many of them.

This is the second recipe I've made from The Wine and Food Lover's Diet, by Phillip Tirman. I previously posted an adapted version of his tasty and interesting tofu pockets with tahini sauce. Unlike that recipe, this one was a snap to prepare. And all you really need, equipment-wise, is a food processor or a chef's knife capable of finely chopping the nuts.

Pecan-crusted chicken breasts (serves 4)

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, totaling about 1-1/2 pounds

1/2 cup pecans

1 tablespoon heavy cream

3 tablespoons chickpea flour, soy flour, or a nut flour

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

coarse sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1.) While the oven preheats to 375 degrees, pulse the pecans in a food processor until finely ground. (You can also chop them finely with a sharp knife.)

2.) Add the heavy cream, flour, cayenne, cumin, and cinnamon. Stir or pulse briefly to mix. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3.) Lightly salt and pepper both sides of the chicken, and place the breasts in a small baking dish. Spread the pecan mixture over the top.

4.) Bake until golden-brown, and the chicken is cooked but still juicy, about 30 minutes.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Michelle's gazpacho

Greetings, everyone! I am back and ready to cook. I hope I haven't lost any of my faithful readers over the past 6 weeks. I had a much-needed break from the kitchen and got some freelance articles done.

Well now, I realize tomatoes aren't in season, but when you have a craving for something -- especially something healthy -- I say go for it!

Enter Michelle's gazpacho, which I've been thinking about for a few days now.

As some of you know, Michelle is my sister. She lived in Madrid for several years, and I shared her awesome tortilla recipe in a previous post.

Her gazpacho is also delish. She keeps it very simple and leaves out any garlic and onions, both of which are optional. Ordinarily, I say the more garlic and onions, the better, but not here. With this recipe, simplicity is what makes it so good. It's so fresh and tasty, and I am always amazed at how flavorful a few ingredients thrown together can be. A very important ingredient is the bread, which thickens the soup ever so slightly.

Please note that these ingredient amounts are just estimates, and you can change them depending on your personal tastes.

Michelle's gazpacho (makes about 3 cups)

4 large Roma tomatoes

1 large cucumber

1 green pepper (I use a mild poblano, but just regular bell pepper will also do)

1 chunk of stale bread, soaked in water (I used a 3-inch-long piece of day-old French bread)

a couple splashes of vinegar -- balsamic or sherry vinegar

salt and pepper, to taste

Chop ingredients coarsely, and process until smooth in a food processor or blender. Strain. Serve chilled and topped with toasted croutons.

P.S. It's 72 degrees today! Hooray!

Monday, February 2, 2009

A break from the blog

I am sorry I've been away from the blog lately, and I hate to tell you this, but it's going to be quite a while longer until I post some recipes.
I have to abandon this hobby for a few weeks. Check back in mid-March for new posts!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The snow stole my motivation!

I realize this is the longest I've gone without posting since starting the blog in August. I disappeared for a little while for a couple of reasons -- the main one being the fact that we got 14 inches of snow dumped on us the other night!
I felt stranded, didn't get out for a couple of days, and survived on leftovers and recipes you've already seen here. Nothing great for the blog.
So, expect a couple new recipes in the coming days. Sorry for the delay!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Eggplant parmesan

Eggplant parmesan usually requires a very short shopping list, which is one reason I like to make it. All you really need to get is the eggplant and breadcrumbs; the rest of the stuff you probably already have in the house -- noodles, eggs, tomato sauce, oil. Even the dried herbs are optional. This will taste just as good with breadcrumbs seasoned only with salt and pepper.

Eggplant parmesan (serves 4)

1 medium eggplant, sliced in 1/4-inch-thick slices

8 ounces spelt noodles (or your favorite pasta), cooked

2 egg whites, beaten with a fork

1/4 teaspoon garlic granules

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried parsley

salt and black pepper, to taste

a 25-ounce jar of marinara sauce

1 cup of whole wheat breadcrumbs

enough olive oil to fill a pan 1/8-inch deep with oil a few times

1/2 cup shredded parmesan (ground parm will also do)

1.) Sprinkle salt over the eggplant slices and let them drain on paper towels for 20 minutes or so.

2.) Put the egg whites in one small bowl, and toss the breadcrumbs with pepper, garlic, oregano, and parsley in another wide bowl.

3.) Heat some oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick pan. Dip one eggplant slice at a time into the egg whites, then into the breadcrumb mixture, coating completely.

4.) Fry the eggplant in the oil, about 2 minutes a side, until golden brown on each side. Drain on paper towels after sprinkling with a little more salt.

5.) Put the cooked noodles on the bottom of a baking dish. Spread marinara over them. Top with eggplant slices. Sprinkle the parmesan over the eggplant evenly.

6.) Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until heated through.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Love garlic? This dressing is for you!

This salad dressing is for big-time garlic lovers. I'm a serious garlic lover, for sure.

I found the recipe in a cookbook called "Barbecued," by Peter Howard. He says you can grill or roast the garlic, and because it's about 20 degrees today, I chose to use the oven.

I love love LOVE this dressing! And it will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator.

Garlic dressing (makes about 1-1/2 cups)

30 cloves roasted garlic (I tossed them, unpeeled, with olive oil and roasted them for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees)

1 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon white sugar

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1.) Put all ingredients except vinegar into a food process and process until smooth.

2.) Slowly add the vinegar through the feed chute while the motor is running.

Today's food fact: An October 2007 New York Times article says researchers are looking into the benefits of eating garlic.

"In the latest study, performed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers extracted juice from supermarket garlic and added small amounts to human red blood cells. The cells immediately began emitting hydrogen sulfide, the scientists found," the article reads.

"The power to boost hydrogen sulfide production may help explain why a garlic-rich diet appears to protect against various cancers, including breast, prostate and colon cancer, say the study authors. Higher hydrogen sulfide might also protect the heart, according to other experts. Although garlic has not consistently been shown to lower cholesterol levels, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine earlier this year found that injecting hydrogen sulfide into mice almost completely prevented the damage to heart muscle caused by a heart attack."

Coming up: I have a delicious eggplant parmesan recipe I'll be posting, as well as that chestnut puree I mentioned a couple weeks ago.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quinoa salad

This salad is a little spicy -- though you can make it super spicy, of course -- and it's packed full of healthful ingredients. You can enjoy it as a side dish, but it also makes a very satisfying meatless main dish.

Lots of people wonder what quinoa is. It has a slightly nutty flavor, it's got more protein than other grains (although it's technically a seed), and it can be used as a substitute for rice in most dishes. Check out this NPR link for a thorough explanation.

Spicy quinoa salad (makes about 8 side servings)

3 cups cooked quinoa, chilled

3/4 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained

3/4 cup cooked edamame, chilled

1 medium zucchini, steamed, diced, and chilled

1 cup cooked corn, chilled

1/4 red onion, minced

1/4 sweet potato, steamed, diced, and chilled

chipotle sauce, to taste (I use about 12-15 shakes of chipotle-flavored Tabasco)

salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl.

2.) Refrigerate at least 4 hours, then taste for seasonings, adjust seasoning if necessary, and toss again.

Food fact: According to a 2005 article in the UK's Daily Mail's Mail Online, eating certain spicy foods has its benefits. One major one? It can fight cancer.

"Vegetables such as broccoli and spices like red chilli pepper could be used to combat cancer, researchers have said," reads the article.

"Scientists believe the foods may have a cancer-fighting benefit by slowing or preventing the growth of cancerous tumour cells." To read the whole article, click here.

Today's question: What's your favorite spicy food?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Easy beef & bean tortillas

My Mexican dishes really don't photograph well. But they taste good, I promise!

This is another staple in our house, although usually we leave out the beef. We were in the mood for extra protein today, and ground beef sounded good.

I used two different salsas on this: On one half of the casserole dish, I used medium plain salsa, and on the other side, I used pineapple salsa. You can also pass the hot sauce and sliced jalapenos on the side, too.

Beef and bean tortillas (makes 4-6 servings)

1 pound ground beef

1 cup salsa

1-1/2 cups dried refried beans

4 ounces shredded cheddar or chihuahua cheese

salt and pepper, to taste

12 small corn tortillas (6-inchers)

boiling water, about 2 cups

1 tablespoon olive oil

store-bought mole sauce

fresh chopped cilantro and sliced avocado to garnish

1.) Put dried beans in a bowl, and slowly add enough boiling water to cover them. Stir, and let them sit about 10 minutes. Stir again, and let them sit while you prepare the beef.

2.) In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook until browned, stirring frequently. You might have to lower the heat to medium as it gets hotter.

3.) Drain the beef (I use a strainer), sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set aside.

4.) One by one, put about 2 tablespoons beans, 2 tablespoons meat, and a little cheese in the center of each tortilla. Roll them up and line them up in a casserole dish or other pan. Mine tend to break as I roll them, but that's OK for this dish.

5.) Sprinkle the remaining beef over the top of the tortillas. Spread the salsa over that. Cover with a lid or foil.

6.) Bake at 350 for a half-hour, or until heated through. While this cools slightly, prepare your mole sauce according to directions.

7.) Serve these with the mole sauce on the side, as well as chopped cilantro and sliced avocado.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting

I found several recipes on the Web for red velvet cake -- which I made for my friend Courtney, in celebration of her master's degree completion (hooray!). It was a little confusing because some of them used yellow cake mix, while others used cocoa, both of course with red food coloring for the rich color.

I wanted to make this completely homemade, so I opted for the cocoa version. It seemed like the most authentic to me, as well, based on this history of the cake's southern origins.

It turned out great, and it was fun to watch the batter turn blood-red. The recipe came from

The frosting was HEAVENLY! Not so sickly sweet like the store-bought kind. It's a recipe I'm sure I'll use again. It's from Joy of Baking.

Next time I make this, I'll get a better photo. This was taken at The Irish Lion, and I had to use the flash, so it looks bright red. It's actually a medium red, not bright at all.

Red velvet cake (makes 1 double-layer 9-inch cake)
1/2 cup shortening
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons cocoa
1-1/2 ounces red food coloring (I used 1 ounce because that was the bottle size)
1 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon soda
1 tablespoon white vinegar

1.) Cream shortening, then slowly add sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well with each addition.

2.) Make a paste using the cocoa and food coloring. Add this to the batter.

3.) Add salt, flour, and vanilla alternately with the buttermilk. (i.e. Add a little of the salt, then a little buttermilk, then a little flour, then a little buttermilk, then a little vanilla, a little buttermilk, etc.; that's how I interpreted those directions.)

4.) In a small separate bowl, sprinkle the soda over the vinegar. It will bubble. Sprinkle on top of the batter, and stir until combined.

5.) Spread the batter into two 9-inch cake pans, and bake at 350 degrees for a half-hour.

6.) Cool completely before icing with your favorite cream-cheese frosting; try the one below if you're feeling adventurous. It's got mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, and cream cheese -- wow! I recommend putting the cakes, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the freezer for a couple hours before frosting. This will allow the cake to be sliced later without crumbling apart, because it will seal in moisture.

Cream cheese frosting
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces mascarpone (Italian cream cheese), at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

1.) Cream together the mascarpone and cream cheese until smooth.

2.) Add powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat until well combined.

3.) Beat heavy cream in a separate bowl until stiff. First fold just a little into the cheese mixture with a spatula, then fold the rest into it in two phases.

4.) Cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour, until firm enough to frost cake.

Friday, January 16, 2009

My favorite hummus

This recipe has a little of everything: It's sweet and spicy and has so many healthy ingredients -- healthy fats, garlic, legumes, citrus, and veggies. Yum!

My favorite hummus

1 can of garbanzo beans (15 ounces), rinsed and drained

2-1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons tahini

2 small carrots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, quartered

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon (about 1 large lemon's worth)

1/2 cup fire-roasted red pepper from a jar (in water, not oil)

liberal pinch of cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

1.) Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and process until smooth.

2.) Serve with pita chips, chopped tomatoes, black olives, and carrot sticks. Or spread onto a sandwich with a slice of red onion, sliced cucumber, and sprouts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Vegetable chowder

I decided to make a veggie version of the tilapia chowder I love so much. It's a great day for soup today.

Serve this with warm whole wheat bread.

Vegetable chowder (serves 8)

3 carrots, chopped

1 sweet potato, diced

3 medium yellow potatoes, unpeeled and diced

1 cup green beans, chopped

6 cups vegetable broth

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cups frozen corn

1 cup frozen edamame

1 cup soy milk

salt and white pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons dried tarragon

1.) Combine first 5 ingredients in a soup pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer about 20 minutes, partially covered.

2.) While that is simmering, heat olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft and golden brown. Add onion to the soup pot. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

3.) Add the tarragon, corn, and edamame toward the end of the cooking time, allowing them to cook for 5-7 minutes. Turn off heat.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Salmon-noodle casserole

I based this on a tuna casserole recipe to create this. I think it turned out really good.
Salmon-noodle casserole (makes 4 large servings)
3 cups uncooked whole-grain rotini noodles
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
3/4 cup fat-free milk
6 ounces cooked salmon
1 cup steamed green beans, chopped (or you could use chopped bell pepper or shrooms)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper, to taste
optional: 3-4 tablespoons shredded parmesan

1.) Heat the butter in a large pan and cook the celery and onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the soup and whisk.

2.) Add the pasta, salmon, and beans, and stir gently. Take off heat.

3.) Spread into a casserole dish. Sprinkle with parmesan.

4.) Cook at 350 for 30 minutes.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Easy tortellini bake

Tortellini is currently one of my toddler's favorite foods, so we kicked up its health factor a notch tonight by cooking it with spinach and zucchini.

I realize this isn't very original, but it's so easy to make I wanted to share it. It's great for any busy weeknight, or when you don't feel like cooking. It's also a good way to use up vegetables.

Easy tortellini bake (serves 4)

about 5 cups of cooked tortellini

a large (25-1/2-ounce) jar of pasta sauce

10 ounces of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to get rid of the water

1/2 zucchini, steamed and diced (you can also use carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms)

1/2 cup shredded mozarella

shaved parmesan, to garnish

1/8 teaspoon garlic granules

1.) Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well using your hands.

2.) Spread into a casserole dish. Sprinkle with garlic granules.

3.) Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or until heated through. Garnish with parmesan shavings.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How cool is this?

Kara and John, my sister- and brother-in-law, gave me this awesome gift: a variety pack of salts from Herbs & Spice and Everything Nice. I'm excited to do some research on how to use them. (Googling qualifies as "research," doesn't it?)

Upcoming recipe posts will include these, for sure.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Zucchini pancakes

Here is one of my favorite recipes from when I was little. I don't know exactly where it comes from, but I saw a Korean dish in a magazine once that was similar but had scallions.

You can serve these warm or cold, and they're even good as a sandwich with two pieces of crunchy whole-grain bread.

Zucchini pancakes (makes 10 small cakes)

2 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 a small yellow onion, shredded

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons canola oil, divided

salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Combine zucchini, onion, egg, yolk, and flour in a mixing bowl, and stir well with a fork.

2.) Heat half the oil in a medium nonstick skillet on high.

3.) Drop heaping spoonfuls -- about 1/8 cup each, I'd say -- of the batter into the oil. (Make about 5 pancakes at a time, if you can.)

4.) Cook cakes for about 3 minutes a side, or until they are a medium golden brown. As the oil gets hotter with each skilletful of cakes, this time may decrease.

5.) Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel, and drain briefly before sprinkling with salt and pepper and keeping pancakes warm in the oven.

6.) Repeat with another round of cakes.