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Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Trails to You

Do you have a go-to snack for when you travel, whether it be on a plane, in the car, or running errands? Mine consists of fruit and/or nuts. And the ultimate? Trail mix. So simple and good.

Growing up, my father packed our lunches for us to take to school. My siblings and I never bought lunch because it was too expensive and not that tasty anyways. My lunch consisted of either a PBJ or lunchmeat sandwich, a piece of fruit, and either two cookies or trail mix. The trail mix he put together was peanuts, raisins, and chocolate chips. To this day I love the combo of peanuts and raisins. When I lived in Nicaragua for a year, a simple and filling snack was to buy a package of peanuts and a package of raisins when traveling.

I've branched out since then and have created numerous versions of trail mix, versions that I never write down, but then re-create again after forgetting about them.

Before taking the bus home to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, Justin made some trail mix for us to snack on. He raved about how tasty it is and how everyone should bring trail mix on trips, even if they're not hiking trips. My goal with this post is to inspire you rather than dictate a recipe. A good rule of thumb is to have an equal ratio of dried fruit to nuts, with just a little something sweet, like chocolate chips. When stored in an airtight container, it keeps for weeks. Except that it doesn't, because it's usually eaten up before that long. Here are some favorite variations:

Simple Snack


Mix together in equal portions

Simple Snack II

dried cranberries
Mix together in equal portions

The Ultimate

dried cranberries
chopped apricots
dried cherries
cup peanuts
deluxe mixed nuts
walnuts (since they're usually not included in mixed nuts)
sunflower seeds
chocolate chips
Mix together in equal portions

Pepitas Trail Mix

2 cups pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Tropical Trail Mix

dried pineapple
macadamia nuts
dried mango
white chocolate chips
Mix together in equal portions

Do you have a favorite combination? I need new ideas for my travels to Michigan next week!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oatmeal Bars

Finally, a dessert recipe! I might be an anomaly since previously I was only posting healthy recipes during the holidays. This recipe is "healthy" in small doses. I confess, the name of this recipe is not very catchy. "Oatmeal" doesn't always inspire awe, and "bar" is, well, blah. But in this post, ladies and gentlemen, you get not one, but two variations of oatmeal bars! I give you Apricot White Chocolate Bar Cookies and Pumpkin Cranberry Bar Cookies. That has a nice ring, yes?

I was searching for a good bar cookie that uses oats, mainly because I thought it would be a nice alternative to using nuts. What, no nuts? I tend to put nuts in everything. The story behind not using nuts in this recipe is that Justin is a middle school teacher, and one of his tactics for keeping students motivated is by grouping them into teams every week. The team with the best behavior for that week gets a home-baked something from me (sometimes him). I never add nuts in case of allergies.

It's a good thing I was not allowed to use nuts, because I don't think I would have put together these delicious, awe-inspiring oatmeal bars otherwise. First I thought of making white chocolate butterscotch bars, but the grocery store I went to didn't carry butterscotch without high fructose corn syrup in it. I noticed the dried apricots and was inspired. For the pumpkin version, I had been wanting to make a pumpkin-cranberry-chocolate something for awhile, so that was already on my mind.

I adapted Martha Stewart's Chewy Oatmeal Blondie recipe. She creates a baking mix that can be used for this recipe and a couple others. I downsized the baking mix so you can make just one batch of each, but if you think you'll make these on a regular basis, you can find her baking mix recipe here.

Apricot White Chocolate Bar Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe for Chewy Oatmeal Blondies
Serves 16

1 cup whole wheat flour (can substitute half oat flour, or half white flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
Mix together in a large bowl. Set aside.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
Beat together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

1 large egg
Add and beat until combined. Gradually add dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup old-fashioned oats
Fold in 3/4 cup of oats, dried apricots, and white chocolate chips. Pour batter into buttered 8-inch square pan and smooth batter evenly. Sprinkle remaining oats on top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. Let cool in pan. Store in airtight container for up to two days, or freeze for up to two months.

Pumpkin Cranberry Bar Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe for Chewy Oatmeal Blondies
Serves 16

1 cup whole wheat flour (can substitute half oat flour, or half white flour)
1/4 cup oat flour (blend whole oats in a blender)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon ginger
Mix together in a large bowl. Set aside.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
Beat together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

1 large egg
1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
Add and beat until combined. Gradually add dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

1/2 cup cranberries
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup chocolate chips (can use half or all white chocolate)
1 cup old-fashioned oats
Fold in 3/4 cup of oats and remaining ingredients. Pour batter into buttered 8-inch square pan and smooth batter evenly. Sprinkle remaining oats on top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it. Let cool in pan. Store in airtight container for up to two days, or freeze for up to two months.

Do you have a favorite nut-free dessert, muffin, or baked good recipe? Do tell, I'd love to add it to my middle school recipe lineup.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Healthy Breakfast for the Holidays (Part II)

A couple of weeks ago I bought some spinach from the neighborhood farm that I'm involved in. The spinach was young and sweet. I wanted to do something spectacular with it for dinner but, alas, my meals were already planned. I needed to use it before it went bad so I threw it in a frittata. Have you made one before? They're ridiculously easy.

I hadn't made one in a long time so I needed to find a good template to follow. Alice Waters saved the day with "The Art of Simple Food." I went off of her recipe for chard frittata, but replaced the chard with spinach and added Havarti cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. The Havarti was nice, but next time I make this frittata I think I'll use feta instead, since it's such a winning combination with spinach.

I sauteed the spinach and onion and added the remaining ingredients the night before. The next morning, I heated up an oven-proof skillet, dumped in the frittata mixture, and cooked it for about 7 minutes. Then I finished it off in the oven for another 10 minutes or so. The result was eating a special breakfast with Justin at 6:15 am before we went off to work. That's the beauty of this recipe. If you have a half hour the night before, you can get this all ready to make for your holiday guests. It's a healthy breakfast (with veggies, even!) that doesn't take forever to make.

Spinach Frittata
Adapted from Alice Waters' recipe
Serves 6

1 bunch spinach
Wash spinach and chop into ribbons.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
Heat oil in a heavy pan over medium heat. Add onion, cook for 5 minutes then add spinach. Cook until spinach is tender. Add a splash of water if pan dries out.

6 large eggs
1 teaspoon olive oil
Fresh-ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup feta
Lightly beat eggs. Add remaining ingredients along with spinach and onion mixture. (This is the part where you can store the mixture in the fridge overnight if you'd like to cook the frittata the next morning).

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly heat a 10-inch skillet on the stove. Add the olive oil. After a few seconds, pour in the egg mixture. As the eggs set on the bottom, lift up the edges to let the uncooked egg flow underneath. Continue to cook until mostly set. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake for another 7-10 minutes until the frittata is set on top.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Healthy Breakfast for the Holidays

I can't go too long without posting a pancake recipe. They're just so tasty and versatile!

Will you have family visiting for Christmas, or will you be staying with family? It's always nice to make a special breakfast for them -- one that's unique, but not heavy. And maybe even includes vegetables. Around this time of year, it's hard to avoid indulgent foods. I usually dive right in at other months, but in December, they seem to be everywhere I turn.

These carrot pancakes only feel indulgent thanks to carrot cake spices. I got this recipe from Cooking Light and have had it hanging around for the past year. Finally I found the time to try it out. For the buttermilk, I combined a scant tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with enough buttermilk to make 3/4 cup and let stand for five minutes. I added raisins, switched from all-purpose flour to a whole wheat and oat flour blend, and instead of slathering the pancakes with honey butter as the recipe suggested, I drizzled honey on top instead of syrup. They were delicious and healthy, and special enough to make for guests.

Carrot Cake Pancakes
From Cooking Light January/February 2010
Serves 2-4
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oat flour (take whole oats and grind them in a blender)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
dash of ground cloves
dash of ground ginger

Combine dry ingredients together in large bowl.

1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups finely grated carrot

Combine sugar and wet ingredients and add to flour mixture. Stir just until moist.

1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Fold into pancake batter. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Coat with butter or oil. Spoon 1/4 cup-fulls of batter onto hot griddle. Cook until tops are bubbly or until edges look lightly browned, flip and cook 1-2 minutes longer.

Optional toppings: honey, maple syrup, extra walnuts, yogurt

Do you have a favorite holiday breakfast? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter Comfort

What is comforting about winter, you ask? It's cold, dark, and windy. Snowy. Icy. I shudder at the cold. I think I have a condition where my extremities don't get enough circulation, so anytime it falls below 70 degrees, my hands get like ice. One of the many reasons to keep moving, and keep cooking! The most comforting thing to me about winter is FOOD!

When most people think of comfort food, they think of heavy, creamy, full dishes. I think of a few of those myself, but comfort food (especially winter comfort food) does not have to be really heavy. It can be tasty and warm and spicy, but not leave you feeling like you ate a rock. Which is why I like this cassoulet dish. I got the recipe from my dear sister a couple years ago, and I'm not sure where she got it from. I did some research on the origins of cassoulet and this version wanders a bit from the original but is still delicious.

Cassoulet was born in the south of France. It consists of white beans and meat and is cooked in a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides called a cassole. (I saw something similar recently at Wild Yam Pottery -- now it's on my mind to get it just to make cassoulet!) It was traditional to deglaze the pot from the previous cassoulet to give it a deep, earthy flavor, which has led to stories of an original cassoulet extending for years.

For my cassoulet, I used bison sausage. Bison meat is lower in fat and calories than other meats such as beef, pork, and even chicken. It is a good source of iron and vitamin B-12. If you like red meat, you'll like bison, as long as you view it not as a replacement for beef but as a delicious meat on its own. I don't eat a lot of red meat but in certain dishes it just shines. The bison sausage was flavored with maple and ginger and had a bit of a kick to it. If you're in the Baltimore area, I used local GBT bison meat.

Add to the meat thyme, potatoes, beans, tomato sauce, and red wine, cook for an hour and a half, and the dish you pull out of your oven turns into a wondrous thing. And your house has a wondrous smell. And your spouse/friend/roommate/dog thinks you're a wondrous creature for making such delicious food. I like to eat this dish with a glass of red wine and a Christmas movie with my husband and cat on either side of me. Winter comfort at its best.

Serves 4, unless you have a very hungry husband, in which case it serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large links (about 2 cups) local, sustainable sausage (I used maple-ginger bison sausage)
2 large baking potatoes
1 cup dry white beans
1 cup dry black beans
1 cup dry kidney beans
1 can (or 1 cup) tomato sauce
1 cup wine
2 tablespoons dried thyme (or 1/4 cup fresh thyme)
1 teaspoon salt

1) The night before, soak 1 cup each black beans, white beans, and kidney beans in a pot with enough water to cover it well. After soaking, drain water and cover well with fresh water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 1 hour, adding 1 teaspoon salt during the last 15 minutes of cooking

2) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the casings from the sausage. Heat oil in large skillet. Brown the sausage over medium heat, turning to brown each side evenly. Let cool a bit and chop into 1 inch pieces. Add to rectangular glass casserole dish.

2) Scrub and peel the potatoes. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Add to dish, along with remaining ingredients. Stir to coat everything with tomato sauce and wine. Bake for 1.5 hours in a 375 degree oven.

You can make this dish ahead and freeze it without cooking it. Let thaw in refrigerator before cooking. You can also cook it and then freeze it.

What is your favorite winter comfort food?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Simplicity at its Healthiest

Need a break from heavy holiday foods? I have a great recipe for you with collard greens. Now, maybe you all don't love collard greens. That's because you haven't tried them this way.

Being from New England, I didn't eat a lot of collards. In fact, I didn't eat any until I signed up for a food co-op last year and found myself getting collards on a regular basis. (Side note -- don't you like the word "collard"? Something about it sounds very distinguished and good.) So, I found myself scrambling to find recipes for new things like kale, collards, and kohlrabi. For this collard greens recipe with sun-dried tomatoes, onions, and brown rice, I don't even remember how I came across it. I think I pulled it together from a few different sources. This 5 ingredient recipe is so simple and healthy that it's refreshing to make after Thanksgiving.

Some of you may be wondering, "but what about protein?" Well, let me tell you about protein. According to Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe (and other scientific studies as well), there is protein in a lot more than just meat, dairy, eggs, and tofu. Most of the plant foods we eat contain protein. It is true that we need to get complete protein, meaning that unless we get all 16 amino acids at some point in the day, our protein is incomplete. As long as you eat a variety of foods, there's a good chance that you're getting enough protein. Brown rice and collard greens are good sources of protein and they're complementary (meaning they supplement missing amino acids that the other does not have). Additionally, although meat has high protein in its make up, the amount of protein our body is able to use from meat is actually on the same level (or lower) as eggs, dairy, and even some grains.

In conclusion (as I write this research paper for you all), meat protein has its place in our diet (hopefully you choose local and sustainable), but it is not the holy grail of protein. It is a protein among many proteins. Frances Moore Lappe's overall message in her book Diet for a Small Planet is that the earth has enough resources to feed hungry people. The problem is that a lot of those resources go toward feeding livestock instead of directly feeding people. In poorer countries, only the wealthy can afford meat, while the poor starve because the grain is not made available to them. This is a simplified version of a worldwide hunger problem, but hopefully you see my point.

I encourage you to eat less meat. Not just that, but choose local, humanely raised meat that has quality in both taste and life. An animal that lived a quality life before being slaughtered is better for our earth, our palates, and our peace of mind. With that, I give you...collards.

Collard Greens
Serves 2-3 main dishes, or 4-6 sides

1 bunch collard greens
1 cup dry brown rice
1 large onion
8 sun-dried tomato halves in oil
2 tablespoons oil from sun-dried tomato jar, or olive oil

1) Combine rice and 2 cups water in rice cooker, or combine in pot on the stove. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer about 40 minutes.

2) Chop onion. Heat oil in large saucepan and add onions until slightly carmelized, about 10 minutes.

3) Chop sun-dried tomatoes and add to onions. Stir around for a minute.

4) Stem collard greens. Fold leaves over and chop into "ribbons." Chop again the other way, so you end up with roughly square pieces of collard greens. Add to onion mixture and stir around to coat lightly with oil. Cover and let soften for about 5 minutes. Collards are done when they're slightly tender but not mushy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sweet Potatoes...Again!

Somehow November got away from me. I've made more than just sweet potatoes for the past month, I promise. But nothing that was very blog worthy. So, I bring you yet another recipe for sweet potatoes. Hey, at least it's appropriate! Last year around this time I posted a recipe for a delicious soup/stew that had nothing to do with Thanksgiving.

This recipe is so versatile that you can have it as a decadent side, a light dessert, or even as part of a brunch. I love it. It's so easy, and you can adapt it as you wish without messing it up. I found the original version somewhere on Epicurious and made some changes. I took out a bunch of the sugar, the eggs, and the heavy cream. You can experiment with adding all those things, especially if you're having it as a dessert, but I think sweet potatoes are sweet enough. I really wanted to enjoy the essence of them with the added bonus of a crunchy streusel topping. Are you salivating yet? Add it to your Thanksgiving line-up. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Streusel
Adapted from Bon Apetit July 1995
Serves 4-6

2 lbs sweet potatoes
3 tablespoon crystallized ginger, minced and divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut

1) Peel sweet potatoes and dice them into 2 inch cubes. Combine with enough water to cover them in a large pot and boil until tender. Drain water and mash. Stir in 2 tablespoons of crystallized ginger. Spread in a 2 quart square baking dish.

2) Combine remaining ingredients together in large bowl. Mix until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over the sweet potatoes.

3) Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Introducing the tuber of the season! That's right, folks, it's not actually a potato (and it's not a yam, either) but it's a tuber. And I love it. It's available every week through my community supported agriculture, and Justin has insisted we get it every week. Fine with me. This tuber is so versatile and tasty that I could probably get it every week for a year and still find new recipes to use it in.

Some favorite recipes I've come across include Sweet Potato and Apple Fritters, Sweet Potato Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Icing, Sweet Potato Ice Cream, Fusion-Spiced Sweet Potato Soup, and Sweet Potato Bison Chili (I know this link brings you to a recipe for turkey chili with pumpkin, but I've used sweet potatoes and bison instead with delicious results. Actually, you can find my version here). Yum!

This recipe is simple as can be: roasted sweet potato, good yogurt, a drizzle of maple syrup, and toasted pecans. Wondrous. Try it - it's so easy that it seems it can't possibly be as delicious as it is!

Roasted Sweet Potato
Serves 4

4 medium sweet potatoes
1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
4 tablespoons real maple syrup
1 cup pecans, chopped and toasted

1) Heat oven to 400 degrees (use the toaster oven if you're making just one or two).
2) Scrub and assess your sweet potatoes. Pick out any eyes or weird spots.
3) Wrap each potato in foil and into the oven it goes, straight on the rack.
4) Bake for 45-60 minutes until tender.
5) Remove from foil and mash a bit. Top each potato with 1/4 cup yogurt, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, and 1/4 cup of pecans.

Do you have a favorite sweet potato recipe?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Kale Potato Soup

I love soup. Especially in Autumn and Winter. It seems as though soup season is finally (really) here. Baltimore weather is so weird -- yesterday it was high 70's and muggy, and today it's low 60's and crisp and windy. I love it. I think there's even a frost warning this weekend. Hearty soup recipes are great to make into meals with the addition of crusty bread, a good salad, or a sandwich. So many options and combinations.

This Kale Potato Soup is so hearty and creamy that, if I hadn't made it myself, I would have guessed it had lots of cream and butter in it. Not so, my friends! Only 1 tablespoon of butter in it. (Side note -- I am not against butter or cream. They both have their places. But sometimes I want to lighten up on dairy. Other times I want to pair a soup with a heavier side and it's nice to balance things out.)

I used sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes, and I loved it. It gave it a nice sweetness that was not over the top. I'd like to try with regular potatoes too and maybe add some bacon as a garnish. This little recipe will be my last highlight of Simply In Season, a) because it's time to move on to other gems in my cooking library and b) because I probably shouldn't reproduce the entire cookbook for you.

Kale Potato Soup
By Marie Harnish, published in Simply In Season
Serves 4

1 large bunch of kale, chopped
Steam and set aside. Don't cook it with the potatoes or the flavor will be too strong.

1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Melt butter in large stock pot. Add garlic and onion and saute until golden.

2 large potatoes or sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
5 cups vegetable broth (or 5 cups water with vegetable bouillon)*
Add and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until potatoes are soft. Let cool a bit and puree in batches in a blender until smooth.

Salt and pepper to taste.

*If you like a creamier soup, you can substitute some of the water out for milk. I believe I used one cup of milk instead of water.

What is your favorite Autumn/Winter meal?

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Perfect Comfort Food

This is one of the most satisfying dishes I've ever come across. Perfect comfort food for Autumn and Winter. Simply in Season did again (I'm telling you, it's an awesome cookbook).

I used butternut squash in this recipe, but you can experiment with acorn, kuri, pumpkin, or any winter squash you come across (however, I don't recommend spaghetti squash). You could also get away with using sweet potatoes. It calls for Parmesan cheese. I used Parmigianno-Reggiano, which I love, but feel free to use any hard cheese that your taste buds agree with. If you like meat, a great addition would be some local sausage.

I made this on a Sunday, cut it into 6 portions, and froze each portion individually. It covered my lunch and my husband's lunch for 3 days last week.

Savory Squash Bread Pudding
Recipe from Megan Goossen, Published in Simply In Season
Serves 4

3 cups winter squash or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Arrange in single layer on oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees.

1 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Saute in 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cool slightly.

4 large eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided (or your favorite hard cheese)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Whisk together in large bowl using only 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan. Stir in squash, onion, and garlic.

9 cups day-old French bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
Add and stir gently to combine. Let stand 10 minutes. Pour into oiled 2-quart square baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan on top. Bake at 350 degrees until golden on top and custard is set, about 45 minutes.

What's your favorite comfort food?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An Easy Dinner

On a scale of 1-10, I would probably have to give this dinner a 7 or 8. It wasn't incredible, but it filled me up just fine and made my taste buds happy. The beauty of these two unassuming recipes is that they're quick and easy to prepare. Not only that, but most of the ingredients are easily found on hand. I had leftover frozen cranberries from last Christmas (shh, don't tell anyone...they still tasted fine), I usually have apples, and broccoli is cheap and accessible. The only thing I actually had to buy for this dinner was an orange.

Herbed Broccoli Sandwich
By Gladys Longacre, published in Simply In Season
Serves 4

2 cups broccoli, finely chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
In large skillet saute 2 tablespoons olive oil until broccoli is bright green.

A few dashes each dried basil, thyme, pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix in to broccoli and onions.

4 slices French bread or your favorite bread
Top with broccoli mixture.

1 cup cheese, shredded (I used Havarti)
Sprinkle on top and broil until melted. Serve immediately.

Cranberry Apple Salad
by Mary Beth Lind, published in Simply In Season

1 pound whole cranberries (if using frozen, thaw first)
4 red apples, cored and diced
1 orange, peeled and diced
1 cup turbinado sugar
Mix ingredients together in large bowl. **Simply In Season suggest grinding it in a food processor to make it more like a relish for meat. However you prepare it, it's delicious!

What's your go-to meal when you're pressed for time? How would you make this meal a "10"?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pear Custard Bars

Hello, my lovely readers! I'm excited to have a theme for the delicious Autumn season: a cookbook of the month! I made this decision halfway through October, so it might spill into November (can you believe we're almost to November?). See, I realized I have quite a few wonderful cookbooks that I never use. Why? Because I'm bombarded with recipes on the internet and in magazines. Which is all very inspiring, but I do want to make use of my cooking library. Plus, now that all my friends and family (and couchsurfers) know that I love to cook, they naturally give me cookbooks as gifts. I need to make it a priority to use them.

This month's cookbook is Simply in Season. I found it fitting to choose this as the first cookbook of the month because I've dog-eared almost every page to indicate recipes I want to try some day. Eventually I decided to stop dog-earring and just start cooking.

So, without further ado, let's talk about the first recipe I chose. It's a doozy. Pear Custard Bars. Yes! They're amazing! I knew I would like them, but little did I know how much I would love them. And who can resist something with the word "custard" in the title? It actually only has one egg in it, but it still tastes rich and custard-y. Go to the farmer's market, pick up some in-season pears (and farm-fresh eggs and yogurt or cream cheese) and bake these for any occasion, even if you have to make one up. They're absolutely delicious. Here's the recipe:

Pear Custard Bars
Recipe from Jocele Meyer, published in Simply In Season
Yields 16 bars

1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar (I used turbinado)
1-4 teaspoon vanilla
Cream together with an electric mixer

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
Add and beat until combined

2/3 cup nuts (I actually omitted these because I was concerned about nut allergies, and the bars were still amazing, but I'm sure they'd be even more amazing with added almonds or even pine nuts)
Stir in and press into an 8x8 inch/2 quart baking pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.

8 ounces cream cheese (softened) or 1 cup plain yogurt (I used a combination)
1/2 cup sugar (turbinado)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
In a mixing bowl beat cream cheese until smooth (no need to beat the yogurt). Mix in sugar, egg, and vanilla. Pour over crust.

3 cups fresh pears (try experimenting with red pears, bosc pears, or even apple pears)
Slice pears (no need to peel) and arrange over filling.

1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine and sprinkle over pears. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes (center will be soft and will become firmer upon cooling). Cool for 45 minutes, then cover and refrigerate at least 45 minutes before cutting. Store in refrigerator.

What is your favorite autumn dessert? Which autumn recipes do you have on deck?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Apple Cheddar Panini

There are few ways I like to eat green apples better than with cheddar (everything's better with cheddar!). Cheddar is an old favorite of mine. I grew up eating orange cheddar, then switched to white, and now look for extra sharp aged white cheddar. There's just nothing like it. It goes so nicely with crackers, eggs, toast, on its own, and with green apples.

Now that Autumn is here, apples are in abundance. I read somewhere recently that there are hundreds, even thousands, of varieties of apples. Among my favorites are Honey Crisp, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith. Try Granny Smith or Mutsu apples in this easy Panini.

Apple Cheddar Panini
Serves 1

2 slices cinnamon raisin bread
1/2 of a green apple, sliced
3-4 slices of sharp white cheddar

Lightly butter each slice of bread. Layer apple and cheddar slices on the bread. Grill butter side out on a George Foreman grill (or you can put it in the toaster oven or on a grill pan) until golden. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Taste of "Home"

A Taste of “Home”

If you, like me, have lived in many different places -- I wonder: did they all feel like home at some point? Did it take you just a few months to acclimate? I have lived in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Western New York, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Baltimore. They all felt like home after a while. In different ways. Connecticut is where I daydreamed in pine trees, made pots out of the natural clay in the stream and left them to harden in the sun, and spent endless summer (and spring and fall) days in our pool. Massachusetts is where I was the new kid, where I figured out who my friends were and where I had my first boyfriend. In Western New York, I found my “zone” of not being shy anymore, found creative ways to have fun in the middle of nowhere (sledding on cafeteria trays and rearranging the campus center to be an obstacle course!), and basically just had a blast learning, growing, and having fun. In Costa Rica, my world was challenged with a new language and a new knowledge of my country and how it affects other countries. Nicaragua taught me how to be a leader and how to love a country and its people in the midst of sadness, defeat, victory, and corruption. Baltimore found me my church, my husband, and my passion of cooking, baking, and serving others.

All this to say that I have many homes. And each home tastes different. After six months in Nicaragua, it felt like home. Even though Nicaragua is not recognized on a world-wide culinary scale, they have some good dishes that you grow to love if you spend enough time there. The gallo pinto (a rice and beans dish that, literally translated, means “painted rooster”) is so familiar and satisfying, especially when it comes with a cool tomato salad and a dollop of crema √°cida (sour cream, but I love the direct translation: acid cream). Their tostones are incredible. They are plantains cut into 2-inch pieces, fried, flattened, and then fried again. One acquaintance of mine pronounced tostones to be the best thing he had ever eaten in his life. There are also sweet plantains, pollo a la plancha (grilled chicken with incredible seasonings), and whole, fried fish – head and everything. And the fruit! Warm mango, fresh bananas (different than you find elsewhere), papaya, guava, pitaya, pineapple…I know it’s apple season here, but some of the tropical fruit just blows me away.

So, the long intro is to give you a background on this dish I made the other day. It's not necessarily specific to Nicaragua. It may be served in many Latin American countries. But the ingredients and flavors make me think of "home." With the black beans, you can add whatever you like: cumin, cilantro, peppers, even ginger. Just be sure to include garlic and onions. That's the basis of this recipe (plus, they're really good for you!). The recipe I include here is an estimate since I usually just add whatever I'm in the mood for.

I served my black beans with sour cream, diced tomato, whole grain tortilla, and sauteed sweet plantains. The diced tomato is nice with cilantro and a small amount of thinly sliced onion. Other great accompaniments are avocado slices and sharp cheddar.

Black Beans
Serves four

1/2 pound dried black beans
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 jalapeno pepper, diced
optional: 1 bell pepper, diced
1 teaspoon cumin (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
a bunch of cilantro (about 1/2 to 1 cup)

1) Cover 1/2 pound of dried black beans with 2-3 cups of water; soak overnight. Drain water from beans and add 2-3 cups of fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer for another 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let rest for about 20 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, sauté the garlic, onion, and jalapeno (and bell pepper, if you use it) in olive oil over medium heat until tender Рabout 10 minutes.

3) Drain beans, keeping just a bit of water with them, and add to garlic and onion mixture, along with cumin, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and red wine vinegar. Stir together and simmer for a few minutes, adding water if it seems too dry. (The idea is to have beans that stick together somewhat but aren’t mushy). Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.

Sweet Plantains
Serves four

4 plantains (Choose plantains that look overripe. The green ones are better for tostones)
Canola oil
salt, if desired

Peel plantains. Cut diagonally into 1 inch pieces. Saute in 1-2 tablespoons canola oil until fragrant and tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt if desired (but taste them first!! Usually they're perfect without salt).

What does home taste like to you? How many different places have you called home?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Peach Picking!

I went peach picking a couple weeks ago, and we brought home a full bushel. What does one to with a full bushel of peaches? Make every peach recipe imaginable, that's what!

Some friends and I made a plethora of peach-y goodness. Some of them are pictured. Since a lot of them involved canning and freezing, I haven't tried every last recipe yet, but here is what we made:

Peach Ice Cream (the flavor was amazing, but somehow it turned out too icy)

Blueberry Peach Cobbler (this one was definitely a keeper, although we used blackberries instead of blueberries)

Peach Salsa (delicious!)

Peach Tea (very refreshing)

Grilled Peach, Arugula, and Feta Salad (loved this, especially after all of our hard work)

Peach Chutney (haven't tried this one yet -- I'm waiting for the right recipe to use it on!)

Baltimore Peach Cake (had to choose a local recipe for my local fruit -- it smelled delicious out of the oven, but I put it in my freezer and it's still waiting to be eaten)

Maple Vanilla Peaches (haven't tried this yet either, but a friend says they're great in oatmeal)

We also made jam, which is the one recipe I don't have available, but there are plenty out there you can use. I'll have to let you know how these goodies taste as a slowly get through them.

I also made peach pancakes with some of the fresh peaches. They were nice. I used an oat-based pancake recipe, cut up peaches to add to the batter, added pecans, and made a peach syrup to drizzle over top. And, of course, since we're all about toppings at the Kuk household, we doctored them up with granola, yogurt, and extra peach slices. Use your favorite pancake recipe, but grind up oats in a blender to make into flour, and use in place of regular wheat flour. Add whole oats as well. Buttermilk makes a nice flavor addition too.

What is your favorite peach recipe? Do you plan to go fruit picking this Fall?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lavender and Peaches

Lavender. Don't you just love that word? It's right up there with "violin." Something about the "v" and "n" combination is soothing to me. Speaking of soothing, lavender is known for its calming effect, and has been used as a natural remedy for insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Interestingly, in this amazing recipe I found online, lavender is paired with lemon, which is known for its energizing scent and bright flavor. I gave these Lavender Raisin Buns a try, and I must say, the recipe is a keeper. They are bright and refreshing and not too heavy. The only change I made was to use 1 cup of whole wheat flour in place of some of the all-purpose flour. The other thing I might change is the name...Lavender Lemon Rolls? Lovely Lavender Sweetbread? La La Lemony Lavender...

The other recipe I feel compelled to share with you was a random creation I came up with in the kitchen at my office earlier this week: Cottage Peaches. Or, Peaches and Cottage Cheese. Peaches and Cheese. You can pick the title. I was grabbing food from my refrigerator in the morning, not having anything in particular in mind, and I found myself at work with a peach and cottage cheese (for a snack -- don't think I only each a peach and cottage cheese in an 8 hour time frame!). I don't prefer cottage cheese on its own (see my previous post about my recent search for tasty cottage cheese recipes). So, to avoid plain cottage cheese, I halved the peach, scooped some cottage cheese on top, drizzled some honey (which was already at work for tea), and sprinkled it with cinnamon (I have no idea why we had cinnamon at work). The results? Very pleasant. I thought I only liked cottage cheese in savory recipes, but this was the first sweet recipe I enjoyed. And so easy too.

So easy, you probably don't need a recipe, but here it is anyways:

Peaches and Cottage Cheese
Serves 2

1 peach, halved and pitted
1/4 cup cottage cheese
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Place peach halves in bowls and layer with cottage cheese, honey, and cinnamon.

I gave you two recipes with potential name changes. What would you name them? What's the strangest-named recipe you've come across? (I think anything with "Delight" in the title is kind of a red flag. Like, "Veggie Delight" or "Lemon Delight Trifle"... Funny, I used to live in a neighborhood called "Ridgely's Delight", and I thought it was rather silly.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

We Got Chickens! (Plus Eggs & Toast)

Yes, that's right, on July 31st we brought home three new chickens. Where do I begin? Over the past year or so, Justin and I have been going through a sort of "food renaissance." We're more into buying local, growing our food (or attempting to, at least), and buying sustainable eggs, seafood, meat, etc. "Sustainable" is a big buzz word these days, so it's easy to skip over the true meaning of the word. It basically just means a way of raising food (whether it be meat, produce, or seafood) that does not have harmful impacts on the environment or other people. There is a whole world of unknowns out there, and I encourage you to find out where your eggs come from, how the cattle are raised, whether your apple has pesticides all over it that may harm you...as well as harm the people who live near the orchard where pesticides are used and now may have contaminated drinking water.

Ok, I'll get off my soap box -- I can get carried away. So anyways, Justin and I decided that you can't get more local than fetching eggs from your back yard. We're sharing these lovely hens with two other couples, and they are just as delighted as us to know these chickens. Earlier this week we had a chicken party, ate good food, and tried the very first egg! When we bought the hens, the seller told us only one was laying, and she probably wouldn't lay for at least a week due to the stress of moving. Well, we got an egg the very next day! We thought we were such good chicken owners, and then she dried up for a couple of days. Apparently it's normal for hens to be sporadic in their early egg-laying careers.

Just so you know, we don't have a huge backyard, and we live right in Baltimore City. We're allowed up to four chickens, as long as their coop is at least 25 feet from the house. Luckily, with these Baltimore rowhomes and narrow yards, our neighbors don't seem to mind. Our favorite neighbor even shows the chickens off to her visitors. If you're thinking about getting chickens, make sure your city or town allows them. And if they do, go for it!

I love to go to the backyard in the morning and let the hens out of the coop. It's funny to see them trip down the ramp, clucking and flapping. As I sit there eating my breakfast, it's fun to watch them scratch, scratch, scratch, then stick their butts up in the air and peer very intently at the dirt, looking for bugs and worms. Did you know -- if a hen grabs a too-large worm with its beak, it instinctively starts running? The other hens see the commotion and start running after it, grabbing at the prey with their beaks. In this way, the worm gets broken up into manageable sizes for the hens to swallow. Kind of strange, I know, to be talking about worms being torn apart, but it's a great example of collaboration. I've held the chickens a few times and their feathers are surprisingly soft. It can be a bit challenging to pick up a chicken. You swoop it up from its ankles, keep it upright, and immediately hold it close to prevent it from flapping its wings. It makes soft, slightly annoyed cooing noises.

Enough talk about chickens. It's time for a recipe. One of my favorite meals to make as a grad student was eggs. I would hurry home from my morning class, fire up the skillet, toast some bread and cheese, and fry up an egg to place over top. A little salt and pepper, and you got a good, cheap, tasty meal. (Then I would flop on the couch and watch Food Network - oh, how I miss Barefoot Contessa). I have to say, a fresh laid egg really is wonderful. I made this recipe for dinner last night, and it was just so good. Use high quality whole-grain bread. I used whole grain sunflower seed bread, sharp white cheddar, and a fresh egg. You could probably figure this recipe out on your own, but I'll give it to you anyway.

Eggs and Toast
Serves 1

1 slice high-quality whole grain bread
A few slices sharp cheddar cheese
1-2 eggs
olive oil
salt and pepper

1) Slice the cheese and arrange on top of the bread. You don't want to cover every centimeter with cheese, since it will melt and ooze. Leave a few gaps. Toast the bread in a toaster oven for a few minutes. If you don't have a toaster oven, you can use a regular toaster, then top with cheese and microwave.

2) Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the pan. Once it's hot, add the egg(s). Let them sizzle for 30 seconds to a minute, then flip over to make eggs over easy (you can prepare the eggs however you like, but this is my favorite way to eat them with toast). Sizzle a bit longer, then scoop the egg(s) onto the toast, and sprinkle with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Enjoy the savory goodness.

What do you think about backyard poultry? What's your favorite way to eat eggs?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Lunch for the Week

Sometimes you can get by on leftovers from the night before for lunch; other times you're busy and want to save your leftovers to avoid cooking again! Enter my solution for lunch for the entire week.

Lunch for the Week Sandwiches
Serves 5

Here's what you need:

- Lots of grill-able veggies (I used about 4 pieces of squash, 1 onion, and 1 pepper)
- 2 blocks tofu or (sustainable) meat
- Cream cheese (I used veggie cream cheese - great flavor!), humus, bean puree, or other condiments that you like
- 5 Whole grain bagels or 10 slices thick bread
- Cheese (optional - you can omit this if you're using cream cheese)
- Lettuce

And here's what you do:

1) On Sunday evening, fire up your grill and let it get hot. If you don't have a grill, you can fire up the broiler in your oven instead.

2) If you're using tofu, drain and slice it into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Place a lint-free towel on a plate and lay the slices individually on it. Place another lint-free towel over top, and set another plate over it to push out the moisture. Let sit for 15 minutes.

3) If you're using other meat, prepare it however you like, just be sure it's thin enough to fit on a sandwich.

4) Wash and slice your veggies to be about 1/2 inch thick. (If you use eggplant or squash, salt the slices and let the moisture drain out for about 15 minutes. Pat dry).

5) You can get all fancy, if you want, with grill sauces and spice rubs, but I just used olive oil, salt, and pepper on my veggies.

6) I used the same on my tofu slices.

7) Lay the veggies and tofu on the grill in shifts. For the tofu, be sure to lightly rub the grill with oil so it doesn't stick. Grill for 5-10 minutes on each side until it's done. (If you're broiling, lay the veggies on a pan and broil on each side for a few minutes. I recommend pan-frying the tofu -- I've never tried broiling it before).

8) Package the veggies, tofu, lettuce, and everything else into containers. If you have the fridge space at work, you can bring everything in on Monday and just build your sandwich each day. To build my sandwich, I toasted my bagel, added the cream cheese, then added the veggies, tofu, and lettuce. All you need to add is a piece of fruit, and you got a complete meal.

Delicious! What combination of veggies and protein do you think you'll try? What's your favorite easy lunch idea for work?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What I Ate For Dinner Last Night

I just love summer produce! My food co-op has been providing me with some very tasty veggies. I've been using dependable recipes lately that had been previously posted on my blog, but I figured it's time for something new.

My husband says that cottage cheese is good on baked potatoes. Given my recent discovery of the versatility of cottage cheese, I decided to give it a try, along with sauteed mustard greens and cumin carrots. The beauty of these recipes is that I made them up as I went along, so you can too! If you don't have a certain herb or vegetable, substitute something else. It might even be better than the original.

If you aren't part of a food co-op (or community supported agriculture) I highly recommend it. You get to eat seasonally, eat fresh, and your menu is planned for you each week. You just choose how to prepare it.

In the summer, with so much bounty, I don't worry about choosing recipes ahead of time. As long as you make sure to have staples of dairy, sustainable meat, whole grains, olive oil, and seasonings on hand, you can make pretty much anything. I just pulled stuff out of the fridge and cabinets last night, and it turned out so well.

Baked Potatoes with Herbed Cottage Cheese
Serves about 4

A bunch of small to medium potatoes
3-4 whole cloves of garlic
About 1 cup cottage cheese
About 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper

1) Preheat the toaster oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil pan. Scrub potatoes and prick a few times with fork. Arrange potatoes and whole garlic cloves on pan and cover with foil. Bake for 30-40 minutes.

2) Choose your favorite herbs. From my garden I picked basil, rosemary, and lemon thyme. Anything you like would work well. Rinse, dry, and chop. Mix together with cottage cheese, lemon, salt, and pepper. If you choose to use dry herbs instead, use 2-3 teaspoons instead of tablespoons.

3) Remove potatoes from toaster oven. Mash garlic and either mix into cottage cheese or spread directly onto potatoes. Top potatoes with herbed cottage cheese.

Sauteed Mustard Greens
Serves 3-4

Huge bunch of mustard greens, rinsed and roughly chopped (about 8 cups or more)
1 red onion, sliced
1 heaping teaspoon whole peppercorns (or 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper)
3 small beets, scrubbed, peeled, and thinly sliced
Beet greens, rinsed and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt

1) Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add peppercorns, red onion, and beets. Saute until almost tender, less than 10 minutes.

2) Add greens in batches. Cover to speed up the wilting process. Keep adding greens until all are wilted down. Add sea salt to taste.

Cumin Carrots
Serves 3-4

About 2 cups carrots, sliced diagonally 1/2" thick
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin)
1 tablespoon butter

1) Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and saute for a few minutes. Add carrots, cover until firm-tender, about 5 minutes.

There you go, you did it! A seasonal meal with fresh ingredients and pantry staples. Do you feel exhilarated? What is the tastiest way you've prepared veggies recently?

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Dream of a Bakery

When I was in Ludington, Michigan a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting a bakery/cafe that was absolutely charming. The owner, John, started it years ago on a shoestring budget, using a credit card for funding. He was kind enough to show me his kitchen and tell me how he got started.

John made a few things really well and established a customer base. His customers liked his baked goods so much, and they wanted to see the business succeed, that they started donating mugs, tables, chairs, anything they could to help him out. A local artist painted the floor with unique designs for free. He couldn't afford wallpaper, so he used old cookbooks to cover the walls of the bathrooms. He found used baking equipment and ovens to expand his menu. (He didn't even have an oven when he first started out!!)

Little by little, John's business grew and is now a local hangout and tourist destination in Ludington. He makes really good carrot muffins (I included a similar recipe below, though not his) and multi-grain bread. I didn't have a chance to have breakfast there, but I definitely will next time I visit Ludington. John was very encouraging toward my own dreams of starting a bakery.

My life goal is to open a bakery/cafe, using locally grown organic food, and run it as a social business. I have a heart for homeless people, and I want to hire and train homeless people to work in the bakery, and then eventually move on to other jobs, so that I could continue to train people. I would also use some of the profits to keep the bakery open a couple of weeknights and have it be a glorified soup kitchen. Homeless and hungry people could come in, sit at a table with others, and order from a fixed menu. Then, volunteers would serve them what they ordered. It would be a more dignified approach to feeding the hungry.

This is my dream, and I've come across quite a few bakery-owners and business people who have absolutely exuded confidence, making me hopeful that my dream will someday become a reality. Even though I have no business background and only have about five recipes that are truly menu-worthy, I'm working towards this dream.

What do you think? Will I succeed? What is your life passion, or are you still searching?

Carrot Muffins
Adapted from a Gourmet 1998 recipe

1 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plain yogurt (or 1/2 cup canola oil)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 Granny Smith apple, shredded

Preheat oven to 350°F. and oil a 12-muffin pan.

Into a large bowl sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt and whisk in sugar. Coarsely shred enough carrots to measure 2 cups and chop pecans. Add shredded carrots and pecans to flour mixture with raisins and coconut and toss well.

In a bowl whisk together eggs, yogurt, and vanilla. Coarsely shred the apple, omitting the core. Stir shredded apple into egg mixture and add to flour mixture, stirring until batter is just combined well. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling them almost full, and bake in middle of oven until puffed and a tester comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.

Cool muffins in cups on racks 5 minutes before turning out onto racks to cool completely. Muffins keep in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days.