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Balancing Out the Cookies

Raise your hand if your calendar is often crammed with activities. I don’t know about you, but our social calendar seems to revolve around food. In December, for example, I had three separate events centered around cookies. From cookie exchanges to cookie Fridays at the office, I was slightly overloaded on the sugar. Earlier this month, we hosted the dessert portion of a progressive dinner, and then, I decided to bake some cupcakes for our small group just because it had been a while since I’d made some.

I firmly believe that life (as far as food goes, anyway) is all about balance, so when our social life became all about dessert, I started looking for something to offset all the sweetness.

I wanted something that would be easy to put together. Bonus points if I can make it with whatever was in my pantry / fridge. I remembered Annie’s white bean dip, and I thought it’d be perfect for the occasion. Plus, it’s healthy, and it takes all of 5 minutes to make. Cutting the veggies for serving takes longer than making the dip!

And, even better, it’s a dip that Andy truly enjoyed, which is saying something.

garlicwhitebeandip

Garlic Rosemary White Bean Dip

2 15 oz. cans of great northern beans, rinsed and drained
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons water
6 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

Place the garlic and rosemary in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is finely minced. Add the beans, salt and water to the bowl and process until the mixture is coarsely pureed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

With the food processor running, pour the olive oil into the bean mixture and process until it is fully combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl, and then process another 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Taste the dip and season with pepper and salt if needed.

Serve with sliced vegetables and crackers. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

From Annie’s Eats, originally from A Couple Cooks

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2017 in Appetizer

 

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Toast: Not Just for Breakfast

I first tried this recipe in an attempt to use up some ricotta cheese before it went south. I had all of the ingredients on hand, and it seemed better than letting the cheese mold in the back of the fridge. I didn’t know how Andy would feel about them, but I went ahead and served them for dinner anyway. (Yep, my kitchen is a dictatorship. I like to think of it as a benevolent dictatorship though…) Turns out, we both loved them.

I can’t decide what takes these things over the top. Maybe it’s the caramelized onions. Or the cheese. Or the bread. Maybe it’s everything put together. Either way, this is our new favorite appetizer. I may never make soup again. (Just kidding, Andy. Mostly.) 

I like to tell myself that, as far as appetizers go, this one is relatively healthy. Yes, there’s cheese and bread, but it’s buried underneath a hearty serving of squash and onions. Which meant that cramming several of these in my face on New Year’s Eve was perfectly acceptable.

It’s best on fresh, homemade bread, but it’s not bad on crusty Italian bread from the grocery store bakery. I’ve garnished it with mint (per the recipe) and with parsley (after my mint was done for the year), and we’ve liked it with both. And, as you can see from the picture, it’s just as good if you forget to buy something green.

I’m not sure how Deb figures that four slices of bread is enough for all of the squash. Maybe her bread is bigger than mine, or she heaps the squash more heavily. I’ve also given up measuring the ricotta for the toasts. Instead, I just take a spoon and smear a generous scoop of cheese on the warm toast before piling the delicious squash-onion mixture on top. (Of course, this means my “instructions” will be more like guidelines. Oh well.)

squashtoasts

Squash Toasts with Caramelized Onions and Ricotta Cheese

olive oil
1 loaf of Italian bread
1 2-1/2 to 3 lb. butternut squash
pinch red pepper flakes
coarse salt
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 – 1 cup ricotta cheese
finely chopped parsley or mint, for garnish

Preheat oven to 450° and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and the cut each half into slices that are about 1″ thick. Toss the squash with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and then sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and the red pepper flakes. Spread the squash in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast until tender (usually 25-40 minutes, depending on how thick your squash slices were). Remove from the oven and let the squash cool until you can handle it (about 20 minutes).

Scrape the squash from its skin and put the roasted squash into a large mixing bowl. Discard the skin.

Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. (I use my 12″ Lodge.) Add three tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and then add the onion slices. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onions begin to soften and turn brown. Reduce the heat and let the onions cook until they are golden brown and delicious. Add the vinegar and maple syrup to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is jam-like.

Remove the onions from the heat and add them to cooked squash. Use a fork to mix the squash and onions together. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

Slice the bread into 1″ thick pieces. Heat a large skillet (again, I use the cast iron skillet) over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Toast the slices of bread in the skillet until they are golden brown on each side. Depending on how many slices of bread you have, you may need to add more olive oil to the pan. Place the bread on paper towels to drain while you finish cooking the bread.

Spread a generous spoonful of ricotta cheese on each piece of bread, and then top with a scoop of the onion-squash mixture. Garnish with the chopped mint or parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers (if you’re lucky enough to have them) in the refrigerator.

Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen, via NYTimes Cooking

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2017 in Appetizer

 

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The Perfect Summer Side

Ah, summer. The season of picnics and cookouts, graduation parties and camping trips. You know what all of those things have in common? Food! Whatever’s happening, people need to eat, right? And most of the time, there will be pasta salad on the table. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s drowning in mayo and isn’t so good. Sometimes, much to Andy’s dismay, it’s the only side dish at the party.

Unless, of course, this pasta salad is available. It’s so good that Andy (who says pasta salad makes him gag), eats more than just a polite serving. He goes back for seconds and thirds. And then he raids the fridge for the leftovers.

The first time I tried it, I was amazed  that something so simple could be so delicious. It’s just orzo, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh basil, feta and dried cherries, with some greens thrown in for good measure. My friend Bethany made it for a get-together, and wow. It was summer loving at first bite for me. Clearly, this was something special.

Like any good summer salad, this one is easy to throw together. It tastes good straight out of the fridge or at room temperature. I can’t decide if it’s the basil, the cherries or the feta that puts this one over the top. Maybe it’s all three together, in a trifecta of awesomeness.

I didn’t have arugula on hand, but I’d gotten a bunch of Swiss chard in our CSA the week beforehand, so I figured that would work out OK. I ended up sauteing the stems and then the chopped leaves, since I think they’re a little tough and chewy raw. It didn’t take that much longer, and it gave me something to do while I waited for the pasta to cool. Good thing too. Otherwise I might have eaten all of the feta before it made its way into the salad. 😉

I almost skipped the pine nuts because they were ridiculously expensive in my grocery store but decided to splurge when I found a slightly cheaper package of them. I used some of my awesome Italian olive oil from Andy’s brother, Dan, and I think it really made a difference in the end result. So if you have the good stuff, this is the time to break it out. And then you may want to keep it out, since you’ll probably need to make a second batch to take to a picnic or something.

OrzoPastaSalad

Tri-Color Pasta Salad

1 lb. uncooked orzo pasta
3 tablespoons plus up to 1/4 cup of olive oil, divided
2 cups chopped greens (arugula, spinach or Swiss chard)
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup dried cherries
12 fresh basil leaves, torn
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (I didn’t measure this.) 
1 teaspoon pepper  (Again, I didn’t measure.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, then drain the pasta and quickly rinse it with cool water.

Spread the cooked pasta in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with three tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside to cool.

While the pasta cools, prepare the rest of the salad.

If you’re using Swiss chard, separate the stems from the leaves and chop the stems into 1/4″ pieces. Add some olive oil to a large skillet and saute the stems until they are crisp tender. Chop the leaves into bite-sized / manageable pieces and then add them to the skillet when the stems are almost done. Take the pan off the heat.

If you’re using spinach or arugula, simply wash the leaves and tear them into bite-sized pieces.

Place the greens in a large bowl and then add the pine nuts, cherries, basil and feta cheese. Scrape the orzo into the bowl and add the lemon juice. Gently mixed until everything is well-distributed. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil (up to 1/4 cup) until the pasta is well-coated and doesn’t appear dry. Mix everything one more time, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve cold or at room temperature. Hide store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

From my friend Bethany

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2016 in Side Dishes

 

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Spontaneous Success!

Let me start by admitting that I did not plan for this one. Aldi had a sale on mangoes last week, so I violated grocery shopping rule #1 (STICK TO THE LIST!) and put one in the cart. I had no idea what I’d do with it, but 69-cent mangoes are not to be passed up.

Not only did I go off-list at the grocery store, but I also slacked off on the meal planning for the week. I put the fun important things down (dinner with friends Monday night and tacos with friends on Friday night), but that left me with three dinner-less days, and man cannot (or should not) live on Christmas cookies alone. (Not that we aren’t giving it our best shot… 😉 )  And then Andy went on a last-minute work trip, which kind of killed the meal-planning motivation. I would just scrounge up something with what was in the house.

Hmm. One mango. Roughly half of a head of Napa cabbage from our last CSA share (Don’t be grossed out by that. I promise it was still good. Those produce saver bags are AMAZING.) Limes. Onions. Hmm.

Smitten Kitchen to the rescue again! This slaw was incredibly addicting. It was sweet (from the mango), sour (from the lime) and spicy (not sure if it was the red pepper flakes or my red onion) all at the same time. I subbed green pepper for the red pepper (because that’s what I had in the fridge). I didn’t have mint or cashews, so I toasted some almonds and chopped up some cilantro instead.

I was going to cook some shrimp to go with it, but, as I said before, my motivation was dwindling. Plus, I was kind of going to town on the slaw, so I decided to make a meal out of just that. And then I ate the rest for lunch the next day. Like I said, addicting. Good thing Andy was gone so I didn’t have to share. 😉

MangoSlaw

Cabbage & Mango Slaw

1 pound of Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1-2 mangoes, thinly sliced (Deb’s recipe calls for 2 mangoes. I only had one on hand, but I would definitely go for 2. More mango is never a bad thing.) 
1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced
1/3 of a large red onion, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Combine the cabbage, mangoes, green pepper and red onion in a large bowl.

Whisk the lime juice, rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt and oil together in a small bowl. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and add the cilantro to the bowl. Toss the salad a few times to make sure the dressing is well-distributed.

Just before serving, sprinkle with the toasted almonds.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2015 in Side Dishes

 

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Great Garlic Soup!

Let’s get something out of the way, shall we? This soup is not going to win you any points at the office. You’ll be that person. The one smelling up the entire lunchroom/kitchen with your leftovers. And depending on how your coworkers feel, they’ll either hate you for stinking up the place, or they’ll hate you for not bringing enough to share.

I mean, 44 cloves of garlic? There’s no way anyone’s going to be ambivalent about this one.

We picked up a cold bug somewhere over the holidays, so soup sounded especially good. And since I’d made chicken noodle soup a few days earlier, I was looking for something different. This soup seemed to fit the bill: easy enough for a weeknight, soothing for a sore throat and fairly healthy. (After all, isn’t garlic supposed to be good for just about everything?) 

I was striking out when it came to a vegetable side to serve alongside the soup though. I didn’t feel like making a salad, and, let’s be honest: the few jalapenos in those biscuits don’t come anywhere close to the recommended daily amount of vegetables. Then I realized that I could wilt some spinach down into the soup and call it a one-pot meal. Ta-da!

To give us a head-start on dinner, Andy started roasting the garlic when he got home. It was done before I walked in the door, which meant that all I had to do was chop some onions and get things simmering away. I pulled some biscuits out of the freezer, and we were set.

Andy gave this one a five, and since my Grandma sent us home with LOADS of home-grown garlic, I think it’s safe to say that this will be making another appearance in our kitchen. I’m sure my coworkers will be thrilled. 😉

GarlicSoup

44-Clove Garlic Soup 

26 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 tablespoons of olive oil
18 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 1/4 cups of diced onion
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 heavy cream
2 handfuls (about 4 cups) fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the 26 unpeeled garlic cloves in a small glass baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then stir to combine. Tightly cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes, or until the garlic cloves are soft. Remove from the oven.

When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves from their skins and discard the skins. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a stockpot or large saucepan. When the butter has melted, add the onions and thyme to the pan. Saute until the onions are tender and mostly translucent, with a little bit of brown on their edges. Add the roasted garlic cloves and the 18 cloves of peeled, fresh garlic. Saute for about 3 more minutes.

Add the chicken stock to the pan, scrapping up all of the browned pieces from the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan and bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat. Allow the mixture to simmer until garlic is tender, about 20 minutes.

When the fresh garlic is very tender, puree the soup with an immersion blender. When the soup is smooth, stir in the cream and then add the spinach. Cook over medium-low heat for a few more minutes, until the spinach wilts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve the soup, sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese in the bottom of the soup bowl and ladle the soup on top of the cheese. Squeeze a lemon wedge over the top of the soup. Serve immediately.

Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally from the February 1999 issue of Bon Appetit

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Posted by on December 2, 2015 in Soups & Stews

 

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Our Kind of Coleslaw

As a kid, I was staunchly opposed to mayo. I knew it had its place in tuna salad, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would want it on a sandwich or a burger. And those people who dip their french fries in mayonnaise? Ugh. Not for me, thank you very much.

Of course, this meant that I avoided coleslaw like the plague. Soggy, shredded cabbage and carrots drowning in a mayonnaise bath? Umm, no thanks. When I finally grew up matured, I realized that mayo isn’t nearly as terrible as my 10-year-old taste buds had feared. (Not that it’s my favorite condiment – that spot is reserved for mustards of all types.) But I didn’t hate it anymore, and I could appreciate a traditional coleslaw for what it was.

Andy on the hand? Not so much. He still hasn’t outgrown his distaste for mayonnaise (and at his age, I’m guessing that it may never happen), which meant that for the first few years of our marriage, I didn’t make coleslaw. Not that this was an issue – after all, neither of us had a burning desire for the stuff. Then we joined a CSA, which meant that all kinds of vegetables ended up in our kitchen. And when your CSA cabbages regularly come in weighing more than some newborns, you realize that you’d better come up with something to do with ALL.THAT.CABBAGE. (Besides the ever-popular cabbage and noodles, that is.)

Thankfully, friends of ours introduced us to fish tacos, and with them, a vinegar-based slaw. I don’t know why I never thought of it before, but that’s when I realized that coleslaw could be more than just mayo and soggy veggies. And Andy liked it! So, I asked Josiah for his recipe, and I started making slaw whenever we had fish tacos. Pretty soon, I was making slaw just because we had a cabbage in the house. No problems, right?

Well… I kind of get bored if I make the same thing over and over again. Not that you’d ever guess that, right? 😉 I needed a new slaw in the rotation, and thankfully, my favorite cookbook came through for me. Again.

It’s like coleslaw and my favorite “quick pickles” got together for a party.There’s the tang from the vinegar and the crunch of the fresh cucumbers and cabbage.  I made it for a work picnic earlier this summer, and then I made it again just because we had all of the ingredients in the fridge. It’s crisp and refreshing, and it goes well with brats and burgers, making it the perfect summer side. It’s easy to put together, which means that I can make it in the morning before work and have one less thing to do at the end of the day when I’m making dinner. It keeps well in the fridge, and I also think it would travel well in the cooler, which means I need to buy some more vinegar before our camping adventures at the end of the month.

CucumberVinegarSlaw

This is all that was left 24 hours after I’d made the coleslaw, thanks to Andy sitting down and eating it straight from the serving bowl while I prepped the rest of dinner. 😉

 

Vinegar Slaw with Cucumbers and Dill

1 medium head of cabbage, about 2 pounds, thinly sliced or shredded (I used about 2/3rds of a CSA cabbage clocked in at 3+ pounds.)
2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced (Deb says to use English cucumbers; I used the regular seeded ones that came in our CSA.) 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (I used half fresh and half dried, since my dill plant isn’t as prolific as I’d like.) 
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1-2 tablespoons kosher salt*
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup cold water

In a large bowl, toss the cucumbers,dill and shredded cabbage together.

In a 2-cup measuring cup, whisk the vinegar, salt and sugar together. When the sugar and salt have dissolved, add the cold water to the mix. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss the salad with a pair of tongs.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour, tossing occasionally to distribute the dressing. Serve cold.

*Deb recommends the Diamond brand kosher salt and says that other brands are going to be “more densely salty.” I used a heaping tablespoon of my Morton brand kosher salt, so I’d recommend starting with a tablespoon and seeing how it tastes from there. 

From the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2015 in Side Dishes

 

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Putting My Spin On Things

Like dips, pasta salads aren’t something I make very often. Since only 50% of our household enjoys it, I usually opt for other pasta dishes. I don’t even make it for potlucks because, “what if EVERYONE makes pasta salad and that’s the ONLY thing at the party?!” (In Andy’s defense, this did happen once… seven years ago. He still hasn’t let me forget it.)

But when I started looking for a different way to prepare asparagus (because variety is the spice of my life), I stumbled on the idea of an asparagus salad. And then I realized that if I bulked it up with some pasta, I could get away with only making one dish for dinner. Plus, if I served it warm and called it “pasta with asparagus and feta,” Andy probably wouldn’t associate it with the chilled, mayo-slicked salads that give him flashbacks to that fateful day in 2008. It’s all in how you spin things. 😉

I made a couple changes to the original recipe. I added pasta (obviously). I roasted the asparagus since our grill is on the fritz, and I upped the lemon, adding the zest and juice from an entire lemon. I used my “good” Italian olive oil from my brother-in-law to finish off the dish, since its flavor would come through. We enjoyed it warm the first night, and I liked the leftovers at room temperature as well.

LemonAsparagusFetaPasta

 

Lemon Asparagus Pasta Salad with Feta 

1 lb. of asparagus spears
8 ounces uncooked short pasta
zest and juice of one lemon
olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup feta cheese
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil. Wash the asparagus and trim off the tough, woody ends. Cut the asparagus spears into 3″ long pieces. Place the asparagus pieces in a large bowl and drizzle them with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Place the minced garlic in the bowl and toss to combine.

Spread the asparagus in an even layer on the baking sheet and roast until golden brown in spots, about 12 minutes. Hang on to the bowl – you’ll use it to mix everything together at the end.

While the asparagus is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and place it in the bowl you tossed the asparagus in earlier. Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice over the cooked pasta. When the asparagus is done, remove it from the oven and add the asparagus to the pasta. Scrape any garlicky oil from the pan into the bowl with the pasta.

Mix the feta cheese in with the pasta. If the mixture seems too dry, add another tablespoon or so of olive oil to the  bowl. Toss to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Adapted from Once Upon a Chef

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2015 in Main Dishes, Pasta, Side Dishes

 

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