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.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pulled Barbecue Chicken Burritos

Hello!  I hope that all of you East-Coasters have fared well in the midst of Irene.  My husband and I were very lucky and haven't even lost power.  That meant that I could stay in the kitchen nearly all day!  While it was storming outside, I baked up a storm: Multi-Grain Banana Streusel Muffins, Classic Northern Cornbread, and Soft Pretzels.

This is what I threw together for dinner: warm whole-wheat tortillas with gooey melted sharp cheddar cheese around a sweet, tangy, spicy mixture of red barbecue sauce, pulled chicken breast, and sweet onions and corn.  This is not, by any means, made with authentic barbecued pulled chicken.  But is quick, fairly healthy, and delicious, especially to husbands.

Pulled Barbecue Chicken Burritos
serves 4

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 large breasts)
1 1/2 - 2 cups red barbecue sauce, or other favorite barbecue sauce
1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen
4 whole wheat tortillas, 8-10 inches in diameter
1/3 cup shredded low-fat sharp cheddar cheese

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a non-stick skillet.  
2. Add the onion slices and the chicken.  Turn the heat up to high.
3. Brown the chicken on both sides, cooking for 2-3 minutes on each side.
4. Add the barbecue sauce, and reduce heat to medium low.
5. Simmer the chicken breasts and barbecue sauce.  Turn the chicken after 10-15 minutes, and cook until no longer pink in the center.
6. Remove the chicken to a cutting board.  Using two forks, shred the chicken.  Meanwhile, turn the heat down to low, and add the corn kernels.  Return the shredded chicken to the pan so that it can remain warm.
7. Meanwhile, wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towel.  Microwave for 30 seconds.
8. Place each tortilla on the serving plate, and sprinkle shredded cheese on each.  Microwave each plate for 25 seconds, until cheese is melted.
9. Spoon about 2/3 cup of the chicken and vegetable mixture into the center of each tortilla, and wrap up and serve.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sweet and Tangy Lettuce Wraps with Ginger-Soy Brown Rice

Hello, hello, how are all of you doing with this crazy weather?  In the Boston area, we felt a small earthquake earlier in the week, and are now getting ready for Hurricane Irene.  Or Tropical Storm Irene...whoever she is!

So, remember how we really like to eat appetizers for dinner?  Well, here we go again, more finger food for dinner!  But seriously, these lettuce wraps were a very successful dinner for my family, who, last week, included my sister who does not eat gluten.  They were quick and easy to make, with a sauce that tasted a little like a barbecue sauce but with Asian flavorings.  If you wanted a heartier meal, you could serve the filling in a whole wheat tortilla for extra-yummy wraps.  I served my lettuce wraps with a sweet, spicy, salty ginger-soy brown rice that was so tasty!

Sweet and Tangy Lettuce Wraps
serves 3 as a main dish, 6 as an appetizer
from The Stocked Kitchen, by Sarah Kallio and Stacey Krastins, with minor adaptations

1/4 cup applesauce
2 Tbsp peach or apricot preserves
1 1/2 tsp honey
1/4 cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp soy sauce

12 oz boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped into bite-sized pieces
4-6 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 bell pepper, sliced
3 scallions, sliced
1 cup cabbage and carrot mixture (bagged slaw mix)
Iceberg or Bibb lettuce leaves, for serving

1. Mix together all the glaze ingredients in a medium bowl, and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  When warm, add the chicken, and cook through until done.  Stir in the garlic powder, bell pepper, scallions, and slaw mix.  Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.  Add the glaze and cook until just heated.
3. Spoon the chicken mixture into lettuce leaves for serving.

Ginger-Soy Brown Rice
serves 3
2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 cups water
1 cup brown rice
2 scallions, chopped
1. In a small saucepan, combine the ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, and water.  Cook on high until boiling.
2. Add the brown rice, and lower the heat to a simmer.
3. Cook for 45 - 50 minutes.  Add the scallions about five minutes before the rice is done so that they can cook through.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sneak Peek at Next Week

I made sure to get my plan for next week done ahead of time to get to the grocery stores before there is no food left!  Everyone is going crazy around here with hurricane predictions.  I am hoping that all we get is a good rainy day -- I would not complain about being stuck inside doing a little bit of baking.

Here is my plan for the week.  My mother-in-law is coming for dinner Wednesday.  Which recipe do you think I should serve?
-- Hearty Minestrone Soup with Mediterranean-Parmesan Bread-sticks
-- Fast Veggie Pizza with Oregano Hummus
-- White Chicken Chili Blanca with Baked Tortilla Chips
-- Stovetop Tex-Mex Mac and Cheese with Toasted Cornbread Crumbs and Orange-Soy Broccoli

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cinnamon Toast French Toast Bake

I have become obsessed with make-ahead breakfasts, and french toast casseroles are among my favorites. They are great for having family or friends for brunch, but I think it's decadent and cozy to make one for just the two of us.  It is a great way to ensure that a weekend morning starts off slowly: one of us gets out of bed to put the casserole in the oven, and then we laze about and have coffee while the french toast bakes.  There are many, many wonderful ways to spend a weekend morning that do not involve standing over a pan frying up some french toast!

This baked french toast is warm and rich with the taste of cinnamon and brown sugar.  It's sort of like the Pioneer Woman's cinnamon rolls hooked up with french toast.  This french toast is a lot less sweet than the creme brulee challah french toast that I made a couple of weeks ago, which frees you up in terms of toppings...hello maple syrup!

Cook's notes: I adapted this recipe from The Stocked Kitchen, by Sara Kallio and Stacey Krastins.  Have you seen this book yet?  If you are interested in menu planning, saving money, and organizing your meal prep, then this is a great volume!  I lightened the recipe up a little.  Also...I didn't have white bread sitting around, but instead some hot cross buns on the verge of becoming stale.  This was a great way to use them up!  I cubed my rolls, so my casserole looks a little more like a bread pudding.  But you can go ahead and use sandwich bread, and put it flat into the dish, which will look more like classic french toast.

Cinnamon Toast French Toast Bake
serves 4
adapted from The Stocked Kitchen, by Sara Kallio and Stacey Krastins
2-4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp cinnamon, divided
1/2 cup brown sugar
8-9 slices bread, crusts removed according to your preference,
      or the equivalent cubed cinnamon bread or cinnamon rolls
3 eggs
4 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Spray an 8 inch square baking pan, or 7 x 11 baking pan, with nonstick spray.
2. Mix together the melted butter, 1 tsp of the cinnamon, and the brown sugar.  Spread one third of the mixture on the bottom on the baking pan.
3. Cover the cinnamon-butter-sugar mixture with 3 slices of bread (or the equivalent cubed bread).  Sprinkle another third of the cinnamon-butter-sugar spread on top.  Repeat, layering bread and cinnamon mixture, until both have been used up.
4. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Add 2 Tbsp of the granulated sugar, the milk, and the vanilla.  Pour over the bread.
5. Mix the remaining 1 tsp cinnamon with the remaining 2 Tbsp sugar.  Sprinkle over the top of the casserole.
6. Cover, and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 2 hours.
7. Preheat the oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit.
8. Bake for 1 hour.  Let sit for 10 minutes, and then serve with maple syrup.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup

This is so's barely a recipe and just slightly more effort than opening up a can of Campbell's soup.  But the resulting soup is full of flavor and feels fresh: the sweet taste of roasted tomatoes combined with sauteed onions and fresh cilantro.  Like all good tomato soups, it begs for a grilled cheese sandwich, preferably dunked right into the soup.

You make this in the microwave, and then you wonder why microwave cooking has begun to seem so retro and not done.  When I was growing up, my mom and grandmother both had large microwave cookbooks and were constantly exchanging tips about how to cook in there.  My mom still makes the world's best macaroni and cheese in her microwave.  But now it seems like all people do in there is heat up a Lean Cuisine or make popcorn in a bag.

Beth Hensperger's book, Not Your Mother's Microwave Cookbook, is here to change that.  It presents a wonderful collection of microwave recipes that are fresh and contemporary.  The great thing about the microwave is that you can often cook with less fat, and that it cooks so quickly.  I frequently rely on my microwave for vegetable side dishes -- since I'm not usually quite organized enough to get them done on the stove in time for when the main course is recipe.  This book has a great vegetable chapter, and I have already used it frequently.

Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup
from Not Your Mother's Microwave Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger
serves 4

1 cup chopped onion
1 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 28oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (such as Muir Glen Organic Fire-Roasted Tomatoes) (undrained)
1 14 oz can chicken or vegetable broth
3 Tbsp cilantro leaves, chopped (or try basil or parsley)
1 to 11/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half (fat-free or reduced fat is okay)

1. Combine the olive oil (or butter) and onion in a large microwave-safe casserole dish.   Partially cover with lid or plastic wrap, and cook on HIGH for two minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes and their juices, broth, cilantro, and sugar.  Microwave on HIGH for five to six minutes, until steaming hot.
3. Use a handheld immersion blender to puree the soup.  Add the cream.
4. Microwave on HIGH for one to two minutes, until steaming hot.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Multi-grain Banana Bread

Ladies and gentlemen, please meet my new favorite banana bread.  And my husband's new favorite banana bread.  And everyone else who tries it.

We all know that there are some fancy pants banana breads out there.  Chocolate chips!  Crystallized ginger!  Coconut! I've been there and done that and it's great.  This is not that. this is a humble, simple banana bread.  It tastes sort of like...being at home on a rainy morning with a cup of coffee, a good book, and of something homemade.

This recipe comes from Cooking Light: Way to Cook.  It calls for oatmeal, mixed in with the flour.  I've made it that way before, and it's great.  It's even garnered some genuine kid-approval.  But the last time I made it, I was out of oats.  So I tossed in a hot multi-grain cereal mix.  The result was incredible...a tender loaf loaded with chewy grains and seeds.  We loved it!  Sometimes, I think, good things come from a bare pantry.

Multi-Grain Banana Bread
adapted from Cooking Light: Way to Cook
serves 12

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup multi-grain cereal  (such as this by Bob's Red Mill)
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 large)
1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)
cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit, and lightly coat a 9 x 5 loaf pan with cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the multi-grain cereal (raw), and stir well.
3. In a small bowl, combine the banana, buttermilk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, and eggs.
4. Combine the wet mixture to the dry mixture.  Stir until just moistened and combined, but do not stir until smooth.
5. Pour batter into pan.
6. Bake at 350 for 55 minutes, or until crust is golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Faux Fried Zucchini

So, around here, we love having appetizers for dinner.  What's not to love about appetizers?  They're usually packed with flavor, fun, and who can say anything bad about an entire dinner that you get to eat with your hands?  Sometimes I just put a couple together to make a full meal.  This is exactly what we did last night: we had polenta "fries" and faux-fried zucchini sticks and dipped them into a roasted tomato sauce.

Yes, I said faux-fried zucchini sticks.  In my opinion, few fake things are worth having, and I'd rather just live without.  I forgo in life fake coach purses and cubic zirconia.  Also, hair extensions appall me.

But these zucchini sticks are awesome!  They come from a Hungry Girl recipe.  To be honest, it took me a really long time to try a Hungry Girl recipe.  I've gotten the newsletter forever, but the recipes always reminded me too much of the kinds of concoctions that people talk about at WeightWatchers meetings.  Do you know what I'm talking about?  The kinds of things that women go on and on about at the meetings...often involving a can of pumpkin, cake mix, or a can of diet soda?  Plus, some of HungryGirl's ingredients didn't always do much for me (lots of Splenda, FiberOne, and LaughingCow cheese).  But once they started showing some of the new HungryGirl shows on Food Network, I was intrigued.  Really intrigued.  And I took the plunge.

You know what?  That HungryGirl writes an incredible recipe.  We have absolutely loved every single recipe of hers that we've tried.  Sure, I sometimes substitute out some of the Splenda or Laughing Cow Cheese.  But they're quick, easy, healthy, and incredibly, incredibly tasty.

And last night, I served my family zucchini coated in FiberOne.  And it was good.  Great.  But don't tell your family about the FiberOne until they clean their plates!

Cook's notes: You can find the original recipe here.  I made two changes: I cut the zucchini into spears.  I also used a tablespoon of a Mediterranean seasoning blend instead of the dry ranch seasoning mix.

Faux Fried Zucchini
adapted from Hungry Girl: 200 Under 200, by Lisa Lillien
serves 3

2 large zucchini; ends removed
3/4 cup Fiber One bran cereal (original); ground to a breadcrumb-like consistency in a blender or food processor
1/4 cup fat-free liquid egg substitute (like Egg Beaters)
1 tbsp. Mediterranean seasoning blend
1/4 tsp. plus 1 dash garlic powder
1/4 tsp. plus 1 dash onion powder
1/4 tsp. plus 1 dash oregano
2 dashes pepper
2 dashes salt 

Directions: 1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut zucchini into spears. Blot away any excess moisture with a paper towel. 
2. Fill a medium-sized dish with egg substitute, and season with a dash each of garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, salt, and pepper. In a separate medium-sized container, combine cereal breadcrumbs with 1/4 tsp. each of garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano -- add the Mediterranean seasoning blend and a dash each of salt and pepper, and then mix well. 
3. Set out a baking pan, and spray with nonstick spray. Toss zucchini spears in the egg substitute until they are all evenly covered. One by one, coat zucchini with breadcrumbs (giving them a shake first to remove excess egg substitute), and lay them flat on the baking pan. 
4. Place in the oven, and bake for 10 minutes. Flip zucchini circles over, and return to the oven for about 10 more minutes, or until outsides are crispy and zucchini is cooked through. 

Sneak Peek at Next Week

Well, I'm back to work next week, which means back to getting dinner on the table after a long day of work, just like the rest of the world!  I'm making two microwave recipes (so fabulously retro, right?) and one make-ahead recipe so that we can have wholesome meals while I get to relax a bit after work.

Here's our roster:
-- Sweet and Tangy Lettuce Wraps
-- Pasta Fagioli Casserole
-- Apple-Cheddar Quesadillas, with a Fruit, Nut, and Cheese Salad over Greens
-- Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Brown Sugar Meringues

So, first things first: I really love meringues.  This is convenient for me, since, as far as sweets go, they are generally relatively guiltless.  Also, if you happen to have a sister who cannot eat gluten who is coming to stay with you for the weekend, she can eat meringues too.  Double bonus.  (Though, I am concerned that I may not have any of these left by then, ahem.)

These are fabulous.  The brown sugar yields a caramel/butterscotch type flavor.  My husband and I agree that they taste like toasted marshmallows.  They come to the perfect crunchy texture.  And...each meringue (if you get the full 30 out of the recipe) has only 11 calories.  For real, people, for real.  Plus, you need all of four ingredients that are probably sitting in your kitchen right now!

A few cook's notes: I baked these on a humid, rainy day.  I followed the recipe through, baking them in a slow oven for 75 minutes and then propping the door oven while they cooled.  I cheated and touched one, and I could tell...all was not well in meringue world.  They felt mushy and under-baked.  So I put them up for another 20 minutes, and then left the oven door shut while they cooled.  Perfection!

Brown Sugar Meringues
adapted from Cook Yourself Thin Faster, by Lauren Deen
yields 24-30 meringues

3 egg whites
1/2 cup light brown sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 225 Fahrenheit.
2. Line two or three baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking sheets.  (Aluminum foil will work in a pinch, but is not ideal.)
3. Use a large stand mixer (with the whisk attachment) or a hand-held mixer to beat the eat whites and salt on high speed until soft peaks form.  Begin to add the brown sugar, adding a few spoonfuls at a time, until the mixture is shiny and holds stiff beaks (about 3-5 minutes).  Add the vanilla extract, and beat to combine.
4. Using two tablespoons, drop the meringue onto the baking sheets, about two inches apart.  Alternatively, to make a pretty "kiss" shape, you can use a large ziploc bag with a corner cut off to pipe the meringue.
5. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
6. Turn the oven off, but leave the cookies in the oven for an additional hour.
7. To store, wrap in aluminum foil or store in a tin.  Storage in a plastic or glass container with make the meringues soggy or mushy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Oatmeal Apple Fig Crisp

So I love the fall.  Everyone loves fall, right?  Well, me, I'm extending the love to August, which promises the anticipation of fall.  No one loves August, I don't think.  But I do.  I love the slow quiet days, the bright colors, back-to-school shopping, and early apples.
We picked some early apples last weekend.  And it was clear to me, when I noticed that my fruit basket was about to overflow, that something had to to be done.

And so, I did it.  I surprised my husband with a warm, apple fig crisp for dessert following our meatloaf the other night.  I felt like a very good and proper wife, serving meatloaf and apple crisp on a Sunday night.

(I watched a lot of the Donna Reed Show on Nick at Nite during my formative years.  It apparently had a big impact.  Really big.  I wear aprons.)

And now, a few notes for the chef...this crisp recipe is adapted from You've Got It Made, by Diane Phillips.  This is a great little volume about make ahead meals, with many that can be frozen, including this one.  It can be frozen, unbaked, for up to two months, before serving.  I think that Donna Reed would have thought this quite clever.  I didn't have quite enough apples for Phillips' recipe (um, we ate a bunch), so I added in the dried figs.  They are great in a crisp!  The filling here uses a combination of brown and white sugar, which creates a lovely caramel syrup among the fruit.   I would recommend serving this with unsweetened whipped cream, greek yogurt, or creme fraiche.

Oatmeal Apple Fig Crisp
adapted from You've Got It Made, by Diane Phillips
serves 6-8

3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
2/3 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold sweet butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (or substitute 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup SmartBalance, as I did)

3 large tart apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (about 4 or 5 cups)
1/2 cup quartered dried figs (about 12)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 TBSP cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp lemon juice

1. First prepare the topping.  I use my miniature food processor for this, and it fits perfectly, but go ahead and use your large one if you haven't got a small one.  Combine the oats, flour, both sugars, and salt in the bowl of the food processor.  Pulse on and off to blend.  Add the butter (or butter and SmartBalance combination) by sprinkling the small bits on top of the combined topping.  Pulse on and off about 10 times, until the mixture just comes together.
2. Now prepare the filling.  I do this right in my baking pan -- it makes fewer dishes.  You can use a 9 inch round pie dish or a 9 inch square pan.  Combine the apples, figs, both sugars, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice.  Stir until the apples are well coated.
3. Sprinkle and press the crumble over the fruit mixture.
4. At this point, you may cover and freeze for up to two months.
5. Or you may just bake the crumble for 45 to 55 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.  It should be bubble and the topping should be golden brown.  Allow it to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Giada DeLaurentiis's Fresh Pasta

Well, I've done it.  I've made my own pasta.  And it turns out that it's not that hard.  It always sounded really impossible.  Compared to picking up a box of Barilla and throwing it into boiling water, this is considerably more difficult.  But, all in all, it just takes a bit of time and a lot of muscle power.  A lot.  My biceps are sore, and it's not really socially acceptable to say, "Uh, I'm so sore, I made bucatini last night."  Though I do like to think that there was some real neturalization of the caloric intake generally involved when eating pasta.  Tell me you agree.

I used Giada DiLaurentiis's recipe from Everyday Pasta.  It's not otherwise online, and I didn't make any changes, so I don't feel comfortable sharing it, but do pick up this lovely little book! 

This is my pasta maker -- it was super on sale at Williams-Sonoma last weekend.  The pasta was incredible.  I tasted a bit before I sauced it, and it had so much flavor!  I used it for a cinnamon-scented carbonara, and my husband has since had to bar me from entering the kitchen because the leftovers are calling me.  Loudly.  Next time, though, I'm saving my homemade pasta for a light little garlic, olive oil treatment so that I can really taste the pasta. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf with Roasted Vegetables

This is a lovely little meatloaf -- plump, round, shaped like an egg, and carefully wrapped in bacon.  It's served with rosemary and sage roasted potatoes, zucchini, peppers, and carrots and the whole bit gets topped with a white wine gravy. It's a bit of a step-up from a regular old homey little meatloaf, and definitely worthy of a casual supper with friends or family.  It's an efficient process: you roast the vegetables right in the pan with the meatloaf, and they absorb much of the flavor from the drippings.  The remaining drippings are turned into a gravy that is both sharp and gentle, thanks to a bit of white wine, and again, cooked right in the same pan.  Thus, this is easy on your palate and on your kitchen sink.

You know how I am a total cookbook hoarder, right?  Well, I'm fairly good and methodical about getting to use all of the books, which means I rarely repeat a recipe.  But I do make this meatloaf quite a bit.  And it's from one of my top five favorite cookbooks: Tessa Kiros's Apples for Jam.  I craved this book for a good year before finally getting it as a birthday gift from my in-laws.  It was worth the wait.  Have you seen it?  It's a gorgeous book, packed with amazing photographs memories of Kiros's childhood.  It's an excellent collection of home cooking: the kinds of things that you remember eating, and that you serve to your family because you want them to have the same memories.  Out of all of my cookbooks, it is one that I have used with great frequency, and one in which I have made many, many of the recipes (and loved them).  If you don't have this, you really should.

Just a few notes for the cook: I've made this before with ground turkey with some good success, though, to tell you the truth, lean ground beef tastes better (I use 90% lean).  I use much less olive oil than Kiros calls for, and can't imagine using more, but if that's your preference, up the olive oil to 6 Tbsp.  Also, we don't eat pork products at home and so we use turkey bacon.  I love it that way, but again, don't shy away from the real thing on my part.  Also, while I love the white wine gravy, my husband would be upset if I didn't suggest slathering your meatloaf with red barbecue sauce.

Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf with Roasted Vegetables
serves 4-6
adapted slightly from Apples for Jam, by Tessa Kiros

4 slices white or wheat sandwich bread, crusts removed
1/2 cup milk
2 large zucchini
1 cup baby carrots (or 1-2 carrots, peeled and cut into sticks)
1 bell pepper (any color you choose)
1 potato
3 Tbsp parsley, chopped
3 cloves garlic, 1 minced, 2 left unpeeled
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp grated Parmesan
1 1/4 lbs lean ground beef
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 sprigs sage
2 sprigs rosemary
bacon or turkey bacon -- about 6-8 slices
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
up to 1 cup hot water

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Soak the crustless bread in a bowl full of the half a cup of milk.  Push it down with your hand from time to time, allowing the bread to fully absorb the milk and turn to mush.  This process takes about 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, chop the vegetables into spears, in equal sizes.  Each should be about the size and shape of a baby carrot. 
4. Mush up the bread a bit with your hand.  Add in the parsley, one clove minced garlic, the beaten egg, the 1/2 tsp salt, the crushed red pepper, the Parmesan cheese, and the ground beef.  Mix well with your hand to combine, but don't over mix.
5. In a small stove-top safe roasting pan, add 1 Tbsp of the oil, then swirl the pan around a bit to coat.  Shape the meat mixture in the pan, into an egg shape.  Add the rosemary, sage, and two unpeeled garlic cloves to the pan.
6. Wrap the bacon around the meatloaf, tucking the ends underneath the loaf and overlapping the edges slightly.
7. Arrange the vegetables around the meatloaf, spreading them out so that they do not steam.
8. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the vegetables.
9. Cook for 75 minutes, turning the vegetables midway through.
10. Remove from the oven.  Remove the meatloaf and the vegetables to a large plate.  Cover with foil, and place in the oven to keep warm.
11. Put the roasting pan on the stove, over high heat.  Scrape up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle the flour across the top.  Whisk the mixture well and cook through, to make a roux.
12. Add the white wine.  Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the alcohol has evaporated.
13. Add the hot water.  I like a thick gravy, and add less water.
14. Serve the meatloaf and vegetables with the gravy across the top.  But do feel free to just skip making the gravy, and to serve with barbecue sauce or ketchup.

I've linked this post with Melt in Your Mouth Mondays at Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Farmer's Market, Bakey Cafe, Peach Picking, and Fresh Whole Wheat Rigatoni with Spinach Sauce Topped with a Poached Egg and Pecorino Romano

We had a great, action-packed Saturday today.  I woke up to pancakes and maple syrup, courtesy of the Dishwasher.  We then headed out to our local farmers' market, where I bought some fresh whole wheat rigatoni and a new melon that I've never seen before: a Sugar Cube melon.  It is a small melon -- about the size of a large grapefruit, and I can't wait to taste it. Doesn't it look cute sitting in my fruit basket?

We always go to the Bakery on the Common after our trip to the Farmers's Market.  Today we had an early lunch.  I had an iced coffee, with a half smoked turkey sandwich and a cup of gazpacho.  The Dishwasher had a cup of chicken-rice soup with a half of a basil, mozzarella, tomato sandwich.

Then we went fruit picking.  We picked nectarines, peaches, and some early apples.  We went to Lookout Farm in Natick.  It was amazing to see such a variety of stone fruit, apples, pears, and grapes growing.  The smell of the fresh peaches was incredible, and made me greedy.

We ran a few more errands, and then came home to relax and to put dinner up.  We made a great use of that fresh pasta.  I made a spinach sauce recipe that I adapted from The Silver Spoon, and then topped the whole bit with a poached egg and some freshly grated pecorino romano.  It was a feast for the eyes and the plate, with the bright green spinach sauce and the gooey egg and melting cheese.  I am never going to be done with this whole "top it all with an egg" phase.  Ever.
Fresh Whole Wheat Rigatoni with Spinach Sauce Topped with a Poached Egg and Pecorino Romano
serves 3
sauce adapted slightly from The Silver Spoon

10 oz fresh spinach (or subsitute frozen)
1 1/2 Tbsp butter (SmartBalance or other light, trans-fat free butter substitute will work fine)
1/2 cup milk
1 pinch nutmeg
1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
ground pepper to taste
12 oz fresh whole wheat rigatoni, or other fresh whole wheat pasta
3 eggs, poached
1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano

1. To begin with, make the sauce.  First rinse the spinach.  Then cook it in a large covered pot over medium heat for five minutes, with just the water that clings to the leaves.  You may have to add the spinach in batches so that it will all fit.  Using tongs to move the spinach around after 2 or 3 minutes.
2. Use a food processor (my small chopper worked fine) to puree the spinach.
3. Meanwhile, melt the butter or butter substitute over medium heat in a small saute pan.  Then add in the spinach puree and the milk.  Add in the nutmeg and salt to taste -- these are both crucial to good flavor.  If the sauce appears, runny, add in the flour and stir through to thicken.
4. Simmer for 10 minutes or so.  Add ground pepper to taste.
5. Meanwhile, cook the fresh pasta in plenty of salted boiling water according to package directions (fresh pasta takes only a very few minutes to cook).
6. To serve, place a mound of pasta in each bowl, topped with a generous spoonful or two of sauce.  Top with a poached egg, piercing the yolk so that it oozes over the pasta.  Cover with a generous 1/3 cup pecorino romano.