Thursday, November 3, 2011

I'll Be Back Soon...

So, it's been a crazy week.  We lost our power during a snowstorm last weekend and had to stay with my in-laws.  Once we got it back, we ended up having more family staying with us, because their power was still out.  And now we've had a death in the family and have to go out of town for a funeral.

I'll come back soon though, and we can talk about Thanksgiving menu planning.  What are you serving this year?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pasta with Creamy Red Pepper Sauce

This is one of my very favorite pasta dishes.  It is quick (ready in under 30 minutes, with minimal chopping)!  But it is also a little elegant and different, with rich and full Mediterranean flavors  I make this often for a weeknight meal, but, now that I think of it, I wonder why I haven't served it to guests.  Wouldn't it be fabulous in one of those cool Mediterranean style pasta bowls that I always covet from Williams-Sonoma?

This is another Ellie Krieger recipe, but it's from an earlier book, The Food You Crave.  And I definitely crave this dish often!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cranberry Banana Coconut Muffins

These muffins pack so much into your breakfast: bright red tart cranberries, sweet chunks of banana, tender coconut, and ground flax seeds.

I actually adapted this recipe from the base in these apple muffins.  It's a great base for a lot of different fruit combinations.  This one, I'll confess, is sort of the random bits lying around my house: bananas getting too ripe in the fruit basket, some frozen cranberries, half a bag of shredded coconut, and a half-zested orange.  I think that some of my favorite foods come about from cleaning out the fridge.  There is something so joyful in having such a bounty of leftover bits and pieces, and being able to whip up amazing muffins or a great soup or stock with them.

If you want to clean out your own fridge -- keep the wet and dry ingredients the same, and just add in 2 cups of fruit and an optional 1/2 cup of nuts.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Stovetop Baked Beans with Apple Chicken Sausage

This is a humble, but delicious dish for supper.  It's how we turn one of our favorite summer meals (hot dogs with baked beans) into a warm, one pot sausage and beans bowl for the autumn.

The stove-top baked beans recipe comes from Ellie Krieger's Comfort Food Fix.  Yes, I'm still fixed on Comfort Food Fix!  It is filled with so many incredible recipes.  This recipe is great in that you make on the stove in just 30 minutes, but it tastes like it's been in your oven all day.  Plus, by making the baked beans yourself (and not cracking open a can), you can control the sodium, sugar, and preservatives.

I used the apple chicken sausage from Johnsonville here.  Have you tried it yet?  It was delicious!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Well, I didn't exactly get a photo of this before we dug in.  And once we dug in, well, it was hard to stop.
This is a simple cake -- easy to bake and easy to eat.  It's not overly sweet or decadent, and you could easily get away with serving it with tea in the afternoon.  I served it alone after dinner, and then wished I'd gotten a little vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.  It was lovely and everyone loved it; I just thought it needed a little something!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Butternut Squash Pasta Casserole with Parmesan and Pecans

This casserole captures so many of my favorite fall flavors: sweet butternut squash and savory sage with nutty Parmesan cheese and toasty pecans.  Also, there's bacon.  Need I say more?

I've adapted this recipe from a cookbooks I use often when entertaining: Not Your Mother's Casseroles, by Faith Durand.  I love casseroles when I'm entertaining, and this collection of casseroles is elegant and modern.  I try to get them in the oven just before my guests arrive, and then I don't get stuck in the kitchen alone!  What are your tricks for entertaining?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fall Entertaining Part 4: An Autumn Dinner Party

We had friends over for dinner last weekend, and here's what we served:

Hummus and Chips
Green Salad with Sauteed Apples, Cheddar, and a Maple Vinaigrette
Butternut Squash Pasta Casserole with Parmesan and Pecans (recipe coming soon)
Green Beans in a Brown Butter Garlic Sauce
Cranberry Upside Down Cake (recipe coming soon)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sweet and Spicy Grilled Cheese

So this is how you make grilled cheese for dinner and still feel like a proper adult: you pack in spicy pepper jack cheese, sweet caramelized onions, and fresh tomato, and pack in between nutty whole wheat bread.
This is another recipe from Ellie Krieger (from The Food You Crave) that highlights her strategy of using full fat ingredients with a high amount of flavor, allowing you to use a smaller portion.  I have really learned a lot about healthful cooking from following her recipes.  The texture of the cheeses on this sandwich is amazing, and by choosing strongly flavored pepper jack and extra-sharp cheddar, you can get away with using a lot less cheese.  The sandwiches still come out at 350 calories each!  I think that I may be passing up that fat-free cheese a little more often!

On a rainy day (and we've had many in the Boston area), try this with Cream of  Roasted Tomato Soup.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

This smooth, rich soup comes together in just half an hour, making in the perfect way to warm your belly on chilly fall evening after a busy day.  Broccoli Cheddar Soup is one of those things that I always see on the menu at restaurants...especially Panera!  But I never order it, because of it being a little unfriendly to the waistline.

With this recipe, though, you can have your Broccoli Cheddar AND fit into your jeans the next day!  It's loaded with broccoli, and the milk and cheese make it a great source of calcium. This is another recipe that I've loved from Comfort Food Fix by Ellie Krieger.  It is heavy on the broccoli and lighter on the cheese, which yields a great flavor and less fat and calories.  I love that Krieger calls for full fat cheese here and not that fat-free stuff that doesn't actually melt!  By using extra sharp cheddar cheese, you can add less cheese, but still get a lot of flavor.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Little Devil's Food Cupcakes

An alternate title for this post was, ahem: "Homely, homely, homely are the cupcakes."

My husband said they looked home-made.  He is very nice, you know.

Okay, so the truth is: this was my first time decorating cupcakes.  Thank, thank you, for welcoming me to 2005.

They do taste very good.  What they taste like, actually, is a devil dog...homey and delicious and perfect with a glass of milk.

This is another great recipe from my new favorite cookbook, Ellie Krieger's Comfort Food Fix.  I am so enamored with this book, that I have decided to celebrate with a whole month of Ellie Krieger recipes.  I'll have you know, that's an unusual amount of loyalty to me as far as cookbooks are concerned.  I mean, I do sort of have tons.  Tons.

Do try these little cupcakes.  They are the perfect portion size, and deliver a good strong dose of chocolate.  The chocolate glaze is so easy and so, so, so delicious!  Frosting is always the best part, right?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sole in a White Wine Pan Sauce with Hazelnuts

There are two things that you must do.  First, you must run to the store, and get yourself a copy of Ellie Krieger's latest book, Comfort Food Fix.  Second, you must try this recipe.

First things first -- you might recognize Ellie Krieger from the Food Network or the Cooking Channel.  (Here is where I whine about how we don't get the Cooking Channel!)  She's a registered dietitian who offers recipes for food that works as hard for your body as it tastes good.  Her new book (out just this month) is great!  It offers clear instructions, beautiful photos (of most of the recipes), an easy-to-read layout, and nutrition information.  The selection of recipes is very strong.  Krieger goes beyond the dishes you see in most books or articles on comfort food to reflect the diverse foods that are comforting to eaters.  I am looking forward to trying: Kasha Varnishkes, Swedish Meatballs, and Autumn Vegetable Curry, among others.  Each dish is presented in a way that is healthier and fresh, incorporating whole grains, fresh produce, and low-fat dairy when possible.  Krieger is not afraid to use a little butter, and she does so in a way that produces just the right results.

This recipe is a great example of that philosophy.  Krieger calls for much less butter than in your typical white wine sauce, and favors instead mostly olive oil.  You add just a tablespoon of butter at the very end, which allows you to get tons of flavor from it without all of the saturated fat.  The sauce is amazing, and tastes better than many full-fat versions.  I loved this dish, as did my guests!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fall Entertaining Part 3: An Indian Summer Dinner Party for Four

You wouldn't believe how warm it is here!  It was in the 80's today!  We went to an autumn craft fair at a nearby Botanical Gardens.  It was great to be outside.  We returned home to put together a little dinner for my father, who got married this past August, and his new wife.

We served:

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus with Lemon Garlic Pita Chip
Greens tossed with Dried Apricots, Feta Cheese, and Mediterranean Croutons
Sole in a White Wine Sauce with Toasted Hazelnuts (recipe coming soon)
Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic
Little Devil's Food Cupcakes (recipe coming soon)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Joanne Chang's Heart-Healthy Dried Fruit Scones

My husband and I live  just about half an hour outside of Boston, but we frequently pass a weekend day wandering around the city.  On such a day, one of our favorite things to do is to stop into one of the locations of Flour, Joanne Chang's bakery.  Well, to be more frank, if we are downtown, than I do require a visit to Flour.  What I love about Flour is that it feels like being at a much better version of a bake sale.  The cookies, bars, cakes, and cupcakes are all better versions of things you ate growing up: homemade oreos, granola bars, cupcakes, etc.

So, it didn't take me long to buy Joanne Chang's cookbook, Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe.  I highly recommend this book.  It is clearly written, and packed with photographs.  The introduction sections are worth the purchase alone -- Chang offers a simple, clear primer on baking, and my baking has improved since reading this!  I think she convinced that it is worth being a little less cavalier about measuring, etc, when baking (which was always one of my bad habits).

I've made these scones a few times.  I followed the recipe without changing it, and therefore cannot share it here.  But you must, must check out this cookbook!  These scones use just a little oil, and no butter, but a combination of yogurt and buttermilk yields a great texture.  They are packed with dried fruit.  Chang makes recommendations about which fruits, but also suggests using your own combinations.  I love being able to customize the recipe for one of my favorite bakery treats.  I enjoy making them over the weekend, and heating them up for breakfasts throughout the week.  When we have them around, I wake up happy each morning, awaiting my warm scone for breakfast!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sunflower Seed and Oregano Hummus

I didn't make my own hummus until just last month.  Can you believe that, what with our incredible fondness for the humble chickpea?  I don't know what stopped me, except that it's so easy to find at the store.

But, let me tell you, I now make my own hummus.  And it's hard to think about going back to the store-bought stuff.  

This recipe is so creamy and packs in an incredible assortment of flavors: sweetness from the sunflower seeds, woody oregano, rich olive oil, and pungent garlic.  And, oh, yes, chickpeas.  I do love chickpeas.

To tell you the truth, I put the sunflower seed butter in more out of economic practicality than culinary ambition.  It worked, and boy did it work!  I use it in place of tahini, which can be expensive and which my husband doesn't eat.  We always have sunflower seed butter on hand because I pack it for lunch for myself now and then, where it pretends to be the peanut butter side of a sandwich.  It's fairly inexpensive, and you can find it in the peanut butter section of your supermarket.

This hummus is great as a dip for carrots or pita.  We've also used it on crispy, whole wheat flat-breads, topped with sauteed seasonal vegetables.  It also really whips your turkey sandwich into place.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Bars

This recipe and I go way back.  It comes from my elementary school cafeteria!  I liked these so much in kindergarten that my mom asked for the recipe so that she could make them at home.  I bet that none of you liked the school cafeteria food that much!

These are very easy to make, and yield a tender, cakey bar.  You can add raisins or walnuts to them, but I like them plain and simple.  A confectioner's sugar glaze or a streusel topping might also be a good addition.  As for me, I am desperate to add in a few chocolate chips.  Everything is better with chocolate, right?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Roasted Pear and Apple Sauce

This dish is so, so, so much more than your regular stove-top applesauce.  I really couldn't get enough of it!  The pears and apples are a wonderful combination, and are so well complemented by a little citrus zest, a little brown sugar, and cinnamon.  The overall flavor tastes rich and incredibly well balanced.  I tasted it, and then I cussed because it was so good!

My husband tasted it, and said that it was "pretty good."  Hmph, what does he know?

This is very easy to make, especially if you're going to be in the kitchen or around the house doing other things.  It can be served hot, at room temperature, or cold.  I served it as a side to a vegetarian entree, but it would also be a great complement to roasted chicken or to some sausage.  It would also be lovely as dessert, topped with a little whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

And it makes a delicious snack...which I would know about, because it's gone already!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad

This is a very simple dish, and a little bit retro.  It's the kind of thing I've only every seen in Jewish style delis or in diner salad bars, sitting next to the carrot raisin salad.  Really, this dish is closer to a quick refrigerator pickle.  My husband, who hates cucumbers, admitting to kind of liking this.  It's quick and easy -- just be sure to make it ahead so that the cucumbers and onions absorb the maximum amount of flavor.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Fall Entertaining Part 2: A Vegetarian Rosh Hashanah Feast

L'Shana Tova!  Here's the menu we picked and served for a vegetarian meal for four, mid-afternoon, post synagogue attendance.

Nibbles and Noshes:  Dried cranberries, dried apples, and Tam Tam crackers
Main Dish: Chickpeas and Rice with Spinach, served with plain yogurt and feta cheese for garnish
Accompaniments: Round challah bread
                                 Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad (recipe coming soon)
                                 Roasted Pear and Apple Sauce (recipe coming soon)
                                 Warm Whole Wheat Pita
                                 Chickpea, Sunflower Seed, and Oregano Hummus (recipe coming soon)
Dessert: Honey Cake and Pomegranate Trifles

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Apple Muffins

These are simple, wholesome muffins, packed with chunks of fresh apples.  I am a huge fan of muffins, but usually I end up eating them alone.  My husband liked these so much though that I actually had to share the leftovers!  They are good and filling to eat for breakfast with a piece of fruit.  My usual complaint about muffins is that after I eat one, I'm hungry an hour later.  So I consider these quite a success!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rosh Hashanah

I haven't settled yet on my menu for Rosh Hashanah, but I wanted to share with you some of the things that I'm considering.  We're serving a late lunch/early dinner after services on Thursday, and I might even go vegetarian (which, in our family, rarely garners a complaint).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

White Bean and Bacon Soup with Mediterranean Croutons

Here is the perfect meal for a chilly, rainy autumn night.  This slow-cooker soup is warm and creamy, with a delicious smokiness from the bacon.  You can get it into your slow cooker in 10 minutes before you leave for work in the morning, and come home to a delicious, home made belly warming soup with very little further effort.

I've adapted this (a little) from another great slow cooker cookbook from Beth Hensperger.  I love her contemporary slow cooker recipes!  This one is from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Recipes for Two, but we got a good four servings out of it.  I decided to puree it, because I love creamy bean soups.  With an immersion blender, it takes only 5 minutes.  If you don't have an immersion blender already, you have to get one!  You will love it!  I added the croutons for a little crunchy topping, and they were a wonderful addition.

I used my smaller slow cooker here -- not my large, new fancy one.  Slow cookers function better when they are 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full, and as this is a smaller recipe, it is best suited to a smaller slow cooker.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Molasses Ginger Cookies

There are so many delicious fall flavors out there, and boy are they out there.  Everywhere I turn, I see pumpkin and apple flavored treats, and I've been sure to indulge.  Sweet apple topping on my frozen yogurt at my favorite ice cream shop, an apple cider donut at the donut shop, pumpkin coffee at the coffee shop...there is no shortage.

But it's a little too easy to focus on pumpkins and apples, and to forget about some of their important sidekicks: ginger and molasses.  In these soft, chewy cookies, molasses and ginger take center stage, with the warm, intense flavor of molasses and a double dose of ginger, from ginger powder and chopped crystallized ginger.
Some people around here claimed the flavor in these cookies was a little too strong, but some people also have been nevertheless seen with their hands poking back into the cookie jar.  (Only then did I confess to having accidentally been a little heavy handed with the ginger powder.)  I think they are perfect.  And they are so deliciously chewy, which is my favorite cookie texture.  Leave yours in the oven a little longer if you like a crisp cookie.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall Entertaining Part 1: A Family Sunday Brunch

We have lots of entertaining plans this fall.  I love entertaining.  What can I say?  I had a subscription for Martha Stewart Living when I was 15, and I loved every issue.

I thought it would be fun to keep track of some of my menus, and it's helpful for me to have them to plan for future events.

This was a cozy brunch for four, very impromptu.  We served:

-- Apple Cider
-- Sliced Watermelon
-- Apple Muffins (recipe coming soon)
-- Buckwheat Pancakes (from a mix), with apple butter, maple syrup, and honey
-- French-style Scrambled Eggs with Mediterranean Herbs
-- Molasses Ginger Cookies (recipe coming soon)
-- Caramel Apples (store-bought)

I think that the biggest hit was actually the eggs, and I am sorry to say there was not much of a recipe involved.  I make them the way the Barefoot Contessa does in Barefoot in Paris, and I've done so often enough that I don't use a recipe.  It's scrambled eggs, after all -- just a bit of this and a bit of that.  This is pretty much the technique ... low and slow, and I cook them until they resemble risotto.   I tossed in a piece of Laughing Cow cheese in Garlic & Herb, but didn't tell my husband because he would not have loved the eggs so much if he knew there was creamy cheese in them!  I also threw in some of one of my favorite products in the world: McCormick's Perfect Pinch.  I love, love, love those herb and spice blends, and now am crushing on the Mediterranean blend.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thai Chicken Pizza

This is one of our favorite twists on pizza night -- Thai Chicken Pizza!  It's like a combination of thai take-out and pizza delivery...but it's cheaper, fresher, healthier, and doesn't take all that long to get on the table.

I've adapted this recipe (slightly) from a great book: EatingWell On a Budget.  I love Eating Well magazine and especially love their cookbooks, but I think that this one might be my favorite.  It offers healthy, budget friendly, quick meal solutions.  Really, what more can you ask from a cookbook?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Coconut Chicken Fingers

Here is another great recipe from Liz Weiss and Janice Newell Bissex's book, No Whine With Dinner.  These chicken fingers are so much better than anything you'd pick up at a fast food restaurant.  They're moist with a crispy, coconut coating, and fresh.  What beats relatively guiltless comfort food?

For kids or for a game-watching crowd, these would be great on their own or with a dipping sauce -- try this one.  For a nice grown-up dinner, they're great served over greens with orange segments and pineapple cubes with a little apricot-soy vinaigrette.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"S'mores" Fudge

Here's a fun way to take a favorite summer flavor with you into fall.  What's more -- this is so quick to make!  The generous addition of marshmallows and graham cracker really lightens things up a bit, and keeps this fudge from being as cloying as some of the others out there.  This is great to share!  I brought some in to school today for the teachers for the first day of school, and brought home an extra container.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sneak Peek at Next Week

Here's what we have planned for next week:

-- Grilled Apple Salad with Cheese and Bacon Crumbles
-- Quinoa and Cranberry Protein Plate
-- Thai Chicken Pizza
-- Chickpeas with Rice

Have I ever shared this with you?  It's from Real Simple Magazine, and is my favorite tool for organizing my trips to the grocery store.  I downloaded it and printed off a bunch of copies.  I plug in my weekly meal plan, and then write down the ingredients that I need by category.  It makes trips through the grocery store so much quicker, because I don't have to backtrack five times to the produce section because I forgot something!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Luau Chicken

Here's a great little recipe to get you back into the swing of things, now that September is in full swing, packed with long days and hectic schedules.  You can put it up in your slow cooker in the morning with very little effort.  When you come home, there are just few odds and ends to take care of while you put up some brown rice or noodles, and then, ta da, you have dinner.  Not just dinner, but dinner with Hawaiian flavors.  I'd like to think that Hawaii has very little to do with long days and hectic schedules.  Please don't tell me otherwise.

Do check out this recipe, and furthermore, check out the cookbook that it comes from, No Whine With Dinner, by Liz Weiss and Janice Newell Bissex.  So, you can see from the title that this a book meant for people with kids.  And there is still a cook here, a dishwasher, way too many cookbooks, and entirely no kids.  But there are people with little time and people who are picky eaters and people who like kid food.  And that makes this book perfect for us.  Furthermore, all of the recipes in this book are healthful and include nutrition information.  It's definitely a keeper!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Soupe au Pistou (Provencal Vegetable Soup)

Here is the perfect soup for September: warm, and yet packed with the flavors of summer.  It is a vivid yellow in color, thanks to a healthy dose of saffron.  Saffron and chicken broth were just made for each other, and the taste is warm and sunny and just slightly sweet.  It is a delicious vehicle for late summer vegetables, and besides the fresh green beans, you would be wise to toss in zucchini or summer squash.  The pistou is a French pesto -- no pine nuts, just some good olive oil, basil, and garlic with a little tomato to deepen the flavor.  I could really eat that pistou up all by myself, but it is heavenly enough swirled into the soup, and then dolloped on top before serving to warrant some self-restraint.  Also, my jeans have been getting tight recently.

In college, I was a French major, and spent a wonderful six months studying in Provence.  And when I say studying, I mean shopping in open-air markets for the world's freshest produce, drinking kir royale, and train-hopping around Europe when possible.  It was warm and sunny every day and the mangoes were always so ripe that they dripped down my hand when I bit greedily into them.  I had this soup twice, that I remember.  The first time, I confess, was from a box, and was by far the best soup that I've ever had from a box.  The second time I had it was in the most wonderful little seaside town, Cassis, where I had gone to study for my  French poetry class on the beach.  You should only ever study French poetry on the beach.  My friends and had a long lunch in the sun, started with a bottle of white wine and soupe au pistou.  What is it about the feeling of being in the sun all day and then the cool and warming sensation of a fabulous bottle of white wine?  In yoga classes, when they tell me to imagine a relaxing, joyful place, I always think of that moment, on the beach in Cassis, with the sun and the white wine.

And the soup.  Oh the soup.  This recipe is strikingly close, though in Cassis I had it served with topped with croutes and spoonfuls of rouille (which is traditionally the way bouillabaisse is served).  It makes a lovely light supper.  I served it tonight with melon slices, whole grain bread and butter, tiny ice cream sandwiches and a table full of family.  It was a new lovely moment.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Multigrain Banana Streusel Muffins

If there is one thing you don't know about me, it's that, in spite of the wonderful variety of recipes I've shared here...I am a total creature of habit.  Throughout the four years that I was in high school, I ate a peanut butter banana sandwich for lunch every single day, without fail.  When my mom got sick of making the same sandwich every single day, I took over.  And now...well, I eat some form of a peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast about 8 days out of 10.  Sure, I've grown a little -- now I wrap up in a whole grain tortilla or put it on left over pita.  But I am very, very loyal to this sandwich.  (I have not yet tried it fried, though I hear this was Elvis's favorite.)

So when I saw that this muffin recipe(from the special Fall Baking issue of Better Homes and Gardens), I knew that it wouldn't be long before I tried it.  And it wasn't!  These are great muffins, with a great combination of flavors: a very subtle hint of banana, the tang of the buttermilk, the sweet and salty taste of the peanut butter, and finally, the crunchy warm cinnamon streusel topping.  But, the best thing about them, in my opinion, is how filling they are.  It is a rare muffin that holds me over until lunch (in spite of some of the jumbo muffins out there in the world), but these really do the trick.  I have to imagine that the whole wheat flour, ground flax seed, and healthy fat and protein from the peanut butter help.  

All I have to say, really, is that these muffins have me cheating on my regular breakfast big time.  Please don't tell the bananas!  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sneak Peek at Next Week

I've already got my meals planned for next week!  Here is what we're looking forward to:

-- Soup au Pistou
-- Coconut Chicken Fingers
-- Luau Chicken with Pineapple and Carrots
-- Fried Eggs and "Refried" Beans Burritos

Meanwhile, I have tomorrow off and am looking forward to doing a little baking, but I haven't decided yet what to bake!  Any good ideas or inspiration?  Then we are going to upstate NY on Saturday for a little overnight getaway.  Aren't holiday weekends the best?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pasta Fagioli Casserole

Hello, September!  Hello Pasta Fagioli Casserole!  I have to confess, this year, I have no nostalgia for summer. I am so ready for the fall, and this a perfect dish to warm your belly on a chilly night.  Though, to tell you the truth, my chilly nights still come from the air conditioner.  Don't judge me people.  I like fall.

My mom made a great, quick pasta fagioli when I was growing up, and we had it sometimes before dinner and often as a meal.  It was a frequent request among my sister and me.  I've shared my love for that dish with my husband, and so we were both excited to try this warm, baked pasta fagioli.  It's closer to a baked pasta dish than a soup...the broth turns into a thin, but flavor-packed sauce.  The flavor of the red wine, celery, carrots, and rosemary are an incredible complement to the Parmesan cheese.

This can be made ahead and either refrigerated or frozen, which makes it a great dish for entertaining...or for a late work-night.  We made ours vegetarian (or almost vegetarian...I still used chicken broth).  But you could also add some Italian sausage or chicken or turkey sausage, sauteed before the aromatics are added to the Dutch oven.  I am really curious about trying it with a little turkey bacon...I'd cook it before sauteing the vegetables, remove it from the pan, crumble it, and sprinkle it on top with the Parmesan cheese before baking.

Do check out the cookbook this recipe comes from ...You've Got It Made, by Diane Phillips.  It's a great collection of elegant make-ahead appetizers, main-dishes, braises, casseroles, and desserts.  Make-ahead dishes are often my preference for entertaining, so that I can spend time with my guests.  I really love that this cookbook offers dishes that are worthy as guests!

Pasta Fagioli Casserole
serves 6-8
adapted very slightly from You've Got It Made, by Diane Phillips

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic
4 rips celery, chopped
2 cups chopped carrots
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup red wine
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes in their liquid
1 14.5 oz can vegetable or chicken broth
1 small square Parmesan or Pecorino rind, cut into small pieces
3 14.5oz cans of beans (I used two can of chickpeas and one can of small white beans), drained and rinsed
1/2 lb elbow macaroni
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Chop the vegetables and set aside.  Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrots, and rosemary.  Saute for 5 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.
2. Add the wine, salt, and pepper, and boil until the wine is reduced by half.  This will happen quickly, in about 2-3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, and return the mixture to a boil.
3.  Add in the broth, cheese rind, and beans.  Simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 25 minutes.  Add the pasta, and cook for an addition 8 - 10 minutes, until the liquid has thickened and the noodles are al dente.
4. At this point, you may let the dish cool, and then cover and put in the fridge for up to 2 days, or the freezer for up to 2 months.
5. If baking ahead, defrost the casserole in the refrigerator overnight before baking.  Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit, and allow the casserole to come to room temperature (around 40 minutes) before baking.
6. Cover the top of the casserole with the 1/2 cup grated Parmesan.
7. Bake for 25 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is beginning to brown.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Soft Pretzels

So this recipe comes from my other life, my 9-5 life (err, 8-3 life)...the one in which I can rattle off the names of a good 15 dinosaur species, make play-dough snakes, dance to a song about rocket ships, and wipe away countless tears, all in the name of making a living.  In my Pre-K classroom, we do a lot of cooking.  I love sharing my joy in cooking with my students, and it's also a great, authentic way for them to learn about math, literacy, and taking turns.  Out of all of the recipes we make, this is the one recipe that a good 98% of the children will actually eat very, very happily.

That's probably because the pretzels are really white.  And if I've learned one thing about feeding small people, it's that they have a natural inclination towards white foods.

This is really quick, easy, and fun to make, no matter how old you are.  My husband and I had a great time shaping pretzels while Irene cooped us up in the house for the day.  For kids, you can give them the dough to play with and shape however they'd like -- like play-dough.  Alphabet letter pretzels are always fun!

I've always made these with all purpose flour, but it would be fun and healthy to mix in a little whole wheat flour.  I think my husband and I would be happy with 100% whole wheat, but for my students, I'd try half whole wheat flour and half all purpose.  You can top these with salt -- coarse or kosher salts are best.  Little and big people also really like cinnamon-sugar blends.  I'm really curious to try them with a little Parmesan cheese or garlic or other herbs.