July 31, 2012

Chocolate Chip Espresso Muffins

Photo from SeriousEats.com

Please excuse my extreme laziness and enjoy the pretty photo that I did not take!

I had been craving a chocolate muffin for whatever reason, so instead of buying one, I decided to make a batch to satisfy my craving and provide a treat for my co-workers. 

I found this recipe on Serious Eats and am mostly happy with the results. The top of the muffin has more flavor and a better texture than the bottom, which is a little dry. I left them in the oven for 17 minutes, as the recipe suggests, but should have pulled them at 15 or 16 minutes. I am still getting used to my new oven which holds heat like a champ. I didn't fill my muffin tins as full as the recipe's author did, so my yield was 18 muffins instead of 12. 

June 19, 2012

Penne with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Arugula

Yet another reason to lament the folding of Gourmet magazine (for other reasons see here, here and here).

This particular recipe is from the May 2009 issue in the section on quick weeknight dinners. And as promised, it came together quickly, was satisfying and surprisingly delicious. I followed the recipe as written, except I never make a pound of pasta when a recipe calls for it; a pound can easily feed six people and that is just too many leftovers for MM and me. I used about 1/2 to 2/3 of a pound of penne and it still made four servings.

One last thing, I know I have mentioned this before, but I am always pleasantly surprised/reminded how perfectly De Cecco pasta cooks. Its al dente is textbook tender. And a bonus for leftovers, it reheats well too. It doesn't fall apart like some other brands.

June 18, 2012

Lemon Cake

Two pounds of lemons

Address the elephant in the (virtual) room or not? I suppose I will.

Quite honestly, moving into a new home that happened to be an older home with lots of needs and quirks has the amazing ability to consume extra time and energy. Even after our new, gorgeous, highly functional kitchen was finished (I KNOW, you need to see pictures!), I didn't feel like cooking, or when I did, I made basic, boring, run of the mill dishes that didn't need to be shared. So I am sorry to have been absent for so long and if anyone is still reading, I have a couple seriously delicious recipes to share this week.

Let's start with dessert! MM's sister and brother-in-law came over this weekend to see our new house and while I couldn't bring myself to actually make lunch, I did make a delectable dessert. Although I love lemons, lemonade, lemon squares, lemon curd, etc., a lemon cake isn't the first thing I would be drawn to when deciding on a dessert. However, I had some inside knowledge that MM's brother-in-law loves lemon cake, so I thought I would give it a try.

I settled on Ina Garten's recipe from FoodNetwork.com, mainly because it has so many rave reviews. Well, they are for good reason. This cake was perfect: moist, delicate crumb, a slight tartness, but just the right amount of sweetness. As you can see, I made it in a bundt pan because I thought it would be prettier. I was impressed that it came out of the pan so perfectly, but I obsessively greased and floured every nook and cranny. I pulled the cake at exactly 45 minutes and it was perfect (in fact, it probably could have come out a couple minutes earlier). If you are looking for something a little different, or happen to have a surplus of lemons lying around, give this recipe a try!

May 8, 2012

Sausage, Mozzarella and Broccolini Baked Pasta

Photo from MarthaStewart.com

I have been so lazy about taking photos lately that we will just have to enjoy this very well composed photo from Martha Stewart. 

After taking over a month off from cooking, it has been a little difficult to get back into the swing of things. It doesn't help that we are still doing work in the kitchen, so utensils and produce are scattered around the house. 

I love baked pastas because they are comforting and usually reheat well for lunch the next day. This recipe from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine was great. The original recipe calls for broccoli rabe, but neither MM nor I like its bitter flavor. I substituted broccolini because it is the same shape and it worked perfectly. I baked the pasta in two 8-inch ceramic bakers for about 20 minutes.

May 3, 2012

Salted Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

The photographer was a slacker and took this photo with her Blackberry, which accounts for its terrible condition.

Our new range is installed and I have been able to start cooking and baking again! Marshal Mike's first request was salted oatmeal cookies. While I was making the batter, a bag of peanut butter chips serendipitous fell out of the cupboard and I thought, adding peanut butter chips to salted oatmeal cookies sounds delicious! Luckily, I was right.

The first thing I learned about baking with our new range is that there is going to be a learning curve. The ovens get to temperature quickly and hold the temperature. I practically burned the first sheet of these cookies because the recipe says 15 minutes, and my old oven used to take 16, 17, 18 minutes depending on its attitude that day, and these were easily done in 13 or 14 minutes. A-maz-ing.

Photos of our new kitchen will be coming soon!

April 29, 2012

Peony Update

My peonies are behaving the same way they did last year: strong start, but then their growth levels off and only one plant produces a viable bud. Now that we have a house with a yard, I plan to transfer them from their large deck pots to the ground where they will hopefully thrive!

(Last year's posts are here, here, here, here and here.)

Here are the cuties on March 29:

And here they are now:

Let's hope the single bud blooms!

April 13, 2012

Kitchen Teaser

After weeks of take out, frozen meals and the occasional gifts from generous friends, we have a start date for the installation of our new kitchen cabinets: April 16! This means that one week from today we will have new cabinets, a new counter top and be in the home stretch of our kitchen remodel. I don't want to post the before pictures until I have the after as well, so here is a little "kitchen-in-progress" teaser:

During the process of measuring for our new floor, we had the pleasure of discovering that one or two layers of the kitchen floor was asbestos tile (there were four layers of flooring on top of the concrete slab). This is not uncommon in a house built in 1960 in Northern Virginia and since we want to put in new flooring, the asbestos had to go.  An abatement company came in yesterday to pull it all up and dispose of it properly (i.e. dig a hole and bury it).

For your viewing pleasure, here are pictures of our kitchen as it looks now:

If you look closely, you can see the gas hook up to the right of that cabinet. My gorgeous new double oven range is looking forward to moving into its new home!

A sad empty square that will soon be a beautiful kitchen!

March 21, 2012


My dearest readers, I know I have been delinquent with my postings this month, but truthfully, I haven't been cooking very much. One of the reasons is that MM and I became first-time homeowners earlier this month! As if having a new home (and all the little surprises that come along with it) and packing up our current rental wasn't enough, we decided to be totally crazy and remodel the kitchen! I am excited to share the before and after photos with you and will do so as soon as I can.

In the meantime, I suggest trying this great Roasted Sweet Potato and Lentil Salad from GOOP (scroll about 3/4 of the way down the page).  It is truly phenomenal: hearty, earthy, satisfying, and delicious. I omitted the red chili flakes, the thyme, and the parsley because I didn't have any and I only used 1 cup of lentils and 2 cups of vegetable broth (instead of water). The best part is that this dish reheats beautifully.

March 9, 2012

Curried Ground Turkey with Potatoes

This is my second attempt at this recipe from Simply Recipes. The first time around I was underwhelmed, but this time it was much better.

I think part of the reason it had more flavor is that I bought 85% lean turkey instead of whatever I bought last time, which I am sure was 95% or 99%. I also consciously seasoned the ingredients at each stage instead of just at the end. I used a 15oz can of diced tomatoes with their juice instead of fresh tomatoes and they worked great. I also added a 15oz can of drained and rinsed chickpeas, per my own suggestion last time, and honestly, they didn't add much and I found myself eating around them.

Ultimately, this is a filling, satisfying dinner that tastes even better the next day.

February 29, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower and Barley Salad

As I mentioned yesterday, I am trying to use up pantry, fridge and freezer items and a bag of pearled barley was next up to the plate. I had purchased a head of cauliflower (on sale!) and knew I had to use it before Marshal Mike got home from his Army-mandated trip to Georgia because he insists that he doesn't like cauliflower. (I still try to make him eat it every now and then.)

I found this gem of a recipe on Food52. I didn't make the basil croutons because I didn't have any basil on hand, so I just toasted some breadcrumbs from the freezer. Also, I found my barley didn't take 45 minutes to get tender - more like 30-35 minutes and my cauliflower took 25-30 minutes to get brown and tender. I also used parsley instead of celery leaves and forgot the pine nuts. This dish keeps well and tasted even better two days later for lunch.

February 28, 2012

Creamy Orecchiette with Bacon and Peas

This dish was inspired by the traditional Italian pasta dish Farfalle with Prosciutto and Peas, which has always been one of my favorites. I was consciously trying to use up items in the fridge, freezer and pantry, and was pleasantly surprised by the results. I love recipes that are adaptable to whatever ingredients you have on hand, but that still retain elements of the original that made it great in the first place. This dish is a perfect marriage of salty crisp bacon, chewy pasta, and delightful green peas that pop when you bite into them, all held together in a creamy sauce.

Creamy Orecchiette with Bacon and Peas
Serves 3

6 slices center cut bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 lb orecchiette
1 onion, diced
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 oz mascarpone
4 oz heavy cream
handful flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped

1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the bacon until crisp; transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

3. Return the skillet with bacon grease to medium heat. Cook the onions until soft and starting to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Stir in the peas; heat for 1 minute and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the mascarpone and heavy cream and heat until the mascarpone melts. Add the pasta. (I felt like the sauce was a little thick at this point, so I added a little of the pasta water.)

4. Remove from the heat and stir in the bacon and parsley. Taste for seasoning and serve.

February 23, 2012

Johnny Marzetti

I find non-descriptive recipe titles to be unhelpful at best. Take this recipe, for example. It is called "Johnny Marzetti" and when I told MM that is what we are having for dinner, he stared at me with a blank expression. So I said we are having a cheesy beef and noodle casserole, and he said, that sounds great! Now, I am sure if either of us were from Ohio or Columbus, specifically, we would have known immediately what this dish was. Apparently there was an old (now closed) restaurant in Columbus, Ohio called Marzetti's and Johnny was the owner's brother and this dish was named after him. I happened to find the recipe in the December 2011 issue of Saveur.

Furthermore, while doing some internet research on this dish, I found that people in New England refer to this dish as chop suey and thinking back to the chop suey my mom used to make, this is similar.

Overall, this dish was delicious and reheats beautifully. I followed the recipe as written, but you certainly don't need as much olive oil as the recipe suggests, especially if you are using a non-stick pan. I used cremini mushrooms instead of white button mushrooms, because something about white button mushrooms really eeks me out. I also put the pan under the broiler for the last couple minutes so the top would brown. Lastly, this recipe serves way more than 6 people - at least 8.

February 21, 2012

Farro with Artichokes and Herb Salad

I really love farro and am always happy when I stumble upon a recipe using it. This recipe for Farro with Artichokes and Herb Salad is from the February 2011 issue of Food and Wine. It is similar to the Farro Salad with Winter Fruit, Pistachios and Ginger (also from Food and Wine) that I made last month. The best thing about this recipe is that everything is cooked in the same pot.

I followed the recipe as written, except I couldn't find any celery root, so I used two small kohlrabi in its place; I thought one carrot was paltry, so I used three; and I couldn't find Grana Padano cheese, so I used Parmigiano-Reggiano. The bright acidity of the white wine vinegar and the freshness of herb salad complement the farro and vegetables perfectly; without it, the dish would be one-note and disappointing. The farro and vegetables easily made five servings, but the herb salad barely made three servings, so I would recommend doubling the herb salad. I boxed the farro and the herb salad separately for leftovers and both held up well after a night in the fridge.

February 16, 2012


I made a couple good repeat dishes this week and I thought I would remind you about them in case you are searching for something to make for dinner!

Forbidden Rice with Roasted Vegetables: This time around I used 2 medium sweet potatoes, 2 large parsnips and 1 carrot, which was about 5 cups of vegetables. There didn't seem to be quite enough dressing for that amount of vegetables, so it was a little drier than last time.

Farfalle with Kale and Lentils: This recipe never disappoints. I followed my own advice and added diced carrots to the lentils and simmered both in broth instead of water (I used the leftover beef broth from the Guinness Braised Beef, but vegetable or chicken broth would work just as well).

Cashew Chicken: I was convinced that I had written about this dish before, so I didn't take a picture, but alas, I haven't. It is a pity because it really is delicious. I found the recipe on the Bitten Word blog, but it is from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine. This dish comes together really quickly; the most time consuming part is marinating the chicken for 30 minutes. I served the chicken with brown rice and it doesn't mention this in the recipe, but after toasting the cashews, I roughly chopped them.


February 14, 2012

Guinness Braised Beef with Roasted Broccoli and Potatoes

We had a brief window of winter weather in DC this past weekend - it was cold, windy, dry and generally inhospitable. I decided a hearty beef stew (of sorts) was in order.

I found this recipe for Guinness Braised Beef on Chow. You could certainly treat this like a stew, but as you can see, I made a massive amount of roasted broccoli and potatoes to go with it, so I wanted to put it all on the same plate. I followed the recipe as written and we generally liked the result. I couldn't taste the bacon at all and feel like it could easily be omitted. This does taste even better the next day and would recommend having some crusty bread on hand to sop up the yummy broth.

February 13, 2012

Quinoa with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Feta

Our second quinoa dish was an even bigger success than the first one! I found this recipe on the popular food blog, Amateur Gourmet, and it is rightly named "The Quinoa Converter." You can't not like quinoa after trying this recipe. Similar to the rice dish I made two weeks ago, this is basically a salad with vegetables. My variation on the Amateur Gourmet's recipe is below:

Quinoa with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Feta
Adapted from the Amateur Gourmet
Serves 3

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups water
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted and then chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1 handful parsley, chopped
1-2 tablespoons chopped thyme

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the sweet potatoes in a tablespoon or two of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast on a baking sheet for 20-30 minutes or until lightly browned and soft. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of water to a boil; salt generously. Add the quinoa and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. While the quinoa is cooking, make the dressing. In a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard, honey and vinegar. Continue whisking and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Pour half of the dressing over the still warm quinoa and mix with a rubber spatula. Add the sweet potatoes, walnuts, feta and herbs. Stir and add more dressing to taste. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. When packaging up my leftovers, I added a bit more dressing to the tupperware, so it wouldn't dry out and I still had about 1/2 cup dressing left over.

February 10, 2012

Risotto with Roasted Parsnips and Kale

MM and I recently went out to eat at a restaurant that we used to love, but which has gone down hill within the past couple years. It appears to be making a slight rebound as MM loved his steak. I ordered seared bay scallops, which came with lobster risotto, and was looking forward to having two seafood items that I don't make for myself at home. The scallops were great, but the risotto was terrible. The rice was mush and there was no lobster to be seen. Just tiny pieces of tomato and some spinach.When I asked the waiter about it, he said, "Oh, it is made with lobster stock, there isn't supposed to be pieces of lobster in it." Excuse me? If I make risotto with chicken stock I don't call it chicken risotto. Let's call tomato and spinach risotto what it is!

So I decided that I had to make a satisfying risotto at home. I had some parsnips and kale in the fridge that I needed to use and stumbled upon this recipe for Risotto with Parsnips and Greens in the NY Times. The recipe was created by David Tanis who is a chef at Chez Panisse and has two award-winning cookbooks, A Platter of Figs and Heart of the Artichoke. I bought Heart of the Artichoke on Gilt for a really good price and while I haven't made anything from it, the pictures are incredible and Tanis's storytelling is top-notch.

This recipe turned out well and did satisfy my craving for good risotto. I altered it slightly to be more to my liking (I prefer a higher ratio of vegetables to rice) and more streamlined for a home cook. I find that when professional chefs try to create (write) recipes for home cooks, you can still tell they are coming from a professional origin and usually use more pans than necessary and are a little fussy. (Although my adaptation still uses 3 pots and 1 baking sheet. Sorry!)

Risotto with Roasted Parsnips and Kale
Adapted from David Tanis, NY Times
Serves 4 generously

Approximately 3/4 lb parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Approximately 3/4 lb kale, leaves torn from the stems and cut into 1/2 inch strips
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup vialone nano or arborio rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
4 cups vegetable broth
1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, toss the parsnips with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast until slightly browned, about 20 minutes.

2. While the parsnips are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the kale until bright green and tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, cool and set aside.

3. In a small saucepan, bring the broth to a low simmer and maintain the simmer.

4. Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and saute until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the rice and cook, stirring continuously for about 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it has evaporated. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice and stir until it is absorbed. Continuing adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, until it is all gone and the rice is al dente. This will take about 20 minutes. I usually start tasting the rice around the 15 minute mark. The rice should have a bite, do not overcook your risotto.

5. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, parsnips, kale and some cheese. Taste for seasoning and serve with more cheese.

February 9, 2012

Orecchiette with Sausage, Beans and Mascarpone

I have made this recipe of Giada's many times and unfortunately, this time around it wasn't as good as I remember. It certainly wasn't bad, but something was a little off. The recipe is in her cookbook, Giada's Kitchen and available on the Food Network. I can never find fresh turkey sausage, so I always buy pork.

February 8, 2012

Farfalle with Beets, Kale and Pine Nuts

Pink pasta!
I am usually a very thoughtful and rational person, but for some reason I have this rather delusional reaction every time MM tells me that he doesn't like some food item (usually a vegetable). I always say, "Oh, well, you'll like it this time. Just try it." And MM will be a trooper and try it, all while making a face, choking down his dinner and strategically planning how he can feed his dinner to Patton without me noticing.

Beets happen to be one of those vegetables that MM does not like and this pasta dish from the January 2009 issue of Bon Appetit happens to be one of those recipes that I ever so gently coaxed him into eating even though I knew he probably wouldn't like it.

As you can see, I couldn't find golden beets, so I used regular old red ones, and I used kale instead of the beet greens because I happen to hate beet greens. For anyone who likes beets, you will like this recipe. If you don't like beets, this recipe won't convert you.

February 7, 2012

Lofthouse Cookies

Marshal Mike loves the supermarket sugar cookies with frosting that changes color depending on the holiday or season and I randomly came across a recipe for those very cookies, which I learned are Lofthouse cookies.

I found the recipe on the blog Two Peas and Their Pod, but a quick search will bring up a bunch of different sites with the same recipe. I found the cookies to be really dry, but MM and all of my reliable tasters at work loved them. The buttercream frosting, however, is one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. The frosting does not get very hard though, which makes packaging and transporting the cookies a little messy. And a warning: when I made this recipe, I ended up with 95 cookies. It probably would have been closer to 100, but I didn't roll some of the dough as thinly as I should have. Also, do not attempt this recipe without a heavy duty stand mixer. I have a 5 quart Professional Kitchen Aid mixer and the dough was creeping up the blade and trying to jump out of the bowl. I would also recommend separating the dough into 3 sections (instead of 2) before refrigerating it - it is just easier to deal with later on.

February 3, 2012

Forbidden Rice with Roasted Vegetables

This delightful recipe from David Lebovitz is easily one of the most delicious items to come out of my kitchen in 2012 and possibly 2011 as well. By the time I had finished eating it I was already thinking about the next time I could make it. I will admit, however, and my astute readers will be shocked to hear, that when MM heard we were having rice and roasted vegetables for dinner, he was not enthused. Luckily, this recipe is so delicious that it even turned meat and potatoes MM into a rice and roasted veggie lover. For one night at least.

I followed the recipe as written except I used black forbidden rice because I had bought some awhile ago and have been wanting to try it. It was a revelation; the texture and taste is so much better than white or brown rice. I cooked it using Lebovitz's instructions. For the vegetables, I roasted 2 carrots, 3 parsnips and 1 fennel bulb. They were only about 4 cups, instead of the recommended 6 cups, but the ratio of rice to vegetables seemed fine to me. Having less vegetables did mean that the recipe only made 3 servings. Lebovitz notes that the salad dries out when chilled, so you don't want a ton of leftovers. It was fine the following day for lunch, but I think the quality would deteriorate quickly after 24 hours in the fridge.

For the dressing, I omitted the garlic because I was feeling lazy and didn't feel like chopping it and instead of plain water I used the rice cooking water. I figured that's what I would do if it was pasta, why not for rice.

February 2, 2012

Turkey and Feta Flatbread

The problem with having a pound of pizza dough in the fridge is forcing myself to not make a traditional pizza. But knowing I had bought ingredients especially for this "flatbread" was enough to overcome the traditional pizza urges!

Unfortunately, we were slightly underwhelmed by this recipe which is from the February 2012 issue of Real Simple. The first problem was the pizza dough, which we bought from Trader Joe's and which I usually like. This time around it was dry and tough - not chewy like pizza dough should be. Second, I didn't read the helpful hint on the side of the page that suggests buying 93% lean turkey and I had bought ground turkey breast, which ended up pretty dry. MM and I agreed that a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt would do wonders for this "flatbread" and when we reheated the leftovers for lunch the following day, that is exactly what we did.

January 31, 2012

Tuna Noodle Casserole Redux

Growing up, my mom used to make the best tuna noodle casserole and when I was single I recreated it with mild success. Unfortunately, after meeting my lovely, sweet husband, the cuisine that comes out of our kitchen is affectionately referred to as "post-seafood." MM basically hates any and all seafood. But in our year of trying new foods, I convinced him to give tuna noodle casserole another chance. Being the trooper that he is, he choked down forkful after forkful, and in between bites he repeated, "it's chicken, it's chicken." It was mildly entertaining, to say the least.

For all of us without a natural aversion to seafood, this is a great reworking of a traditional tuna noodle casserole. I found the recipe to be a little fussy and it certainly isn't quick, but the results were delicious. In fact, I thought it was even better reheated for lunch the following day. Dear readers, you will not be surprised to hear that MM declined to take leftovers for lunch.

This recipe is from the Washington Post and was created by one of their guest columnists, David Hagedorn. I followed it as written except I don't have a 2 quart square casserole dish, so I used a 2 1/2 quart rectangular baking dish. It worked just fine, and to be perfectly honest, I think it would have overflowed in a 2 quart dish. The bunch of dill I bought was massive, and I wasn't about to only chop 1/4 cup, so I used about 1 cup of chopped dill. I loved the flavor it added to the casserole. I only used 8 lasagne noodles, instead of the requested 10, because that's all that was remaining in a box in the pantry and I wasn't about to buy a new box for 2 noodles. And finally, I think the paprika sprinkled on top of the panko is completely useless. I did turn on my broiler for the last 4 minutes to brown the panko and the paprika just burned (see black blotch in the middle of the right side of the photo).

January 30, 2012

Bacon, Arugula and Tomato Pasta

Kind of like a BLT...
We had bought a package of baby arugula for another version of lentil soup I had planned to make last week, but the weather has been so mild here in DC that soup just doesn't sound appealing. There was also a partially used package of bacon lurking in the fridge and I thought, if I add a can of diced tomatoes to these two ingredients, we practically have a BLT! I threw a little bit of ricotta salata on top and a delicious pasta dish was born.

Bacon, Arugula and Tomato Pasta
Serves 4


3/4 lb fusilli (penne would also work well)
1/2 lb bacon, cut into half inch pieces
1 onion, diced
15 oz can diced tomatoes, not drained
2 tablespoons heavy cream (I was just trying to use this up, you could certainly omit it)
5 oz container baby arugula
4 oz ricotta salata or other cheese (cubed fresh mozzarella would be great)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; salt generously. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium heat in a large skillet. When it is crisp, remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Add the onion to the bacon fat and cook until soft, 5-7 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes with their juice to the onion; season with salt and pepper. Gently simmer for a couple minutes and then stir in the heavy cream. Reduce the heat to low.

4. Transfer the cooked pasta and the arugula to the skillet. Toss to combine and wilt the arugula. Add the ricotta salata and stir. If it is a little dry, add some of the pasta water. Taste for seasoning.

January 24, 2012

Quinoa and Kale Crustless Quiche

It seems like everywhere I turn - on the internet, in food magazines, talking with friends - someone is singing quinoa's praises. After finding this recipe for a Quinoa and Kale Crustless Quiche on Food52, I decided it was time to buy some quinoa and give it a try!

Overall this was a great dish: super healthy, and filling (I'd say we each ate about 1/4 of the quiche for dinner and the leftovers reheated nicely for lunch at work). The downsides to this recipe is that it takes about 1 hour and a half for a pretty simple end product (granted it is not 90 minutes of active time, but it is still time ticking away), and the recipe itself could use some editing. For example, it calls for 1/2 cup white cheddar cheese. Great, would you like that shredded? Cubed? Cut into thin pieces? I assumed it was meant to be grated, so that's what I did. It isn't a huge deal, except it takes a couple more minutes to think about it and find the cheese grater.

Another example is in the first step of the method, it says to bring the quinoa and water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. "This will take about 20 minutes." No, it will not take 20 minutes to boil 1 cup of water. I assumed they meant that it will take 20 minutes for the quinoa to be tender. Mine cooked in just over 10 minutes. I bought Bob's Red Mill whole grain quinoa; maybe there are other kinds that take longer to cook?

Ultimately, I enjoyed my first foray into quinoa and will certainly try it again. Get ready MM!

January 18, 2012

Lentil Soup

My grandmother bought me Domenica Marchetti's three cookbooks for Christmas and this lentil soup is the second recipe I have tried from them. (The first was her recipe for fresh pasta, which I made before the New Year and didn't photograph. I made fresh ricotta ravioli with the fresh pasta and they were fantastic; I will be making them again.) I am drawn to Ms. Marchetti not only because of her Italian heritage, but also because she lives near me in Virginia and she is a good storyteller. On her blog, in her articles for the Washington Post, and in the introductions to her recipes in her cookbooks, she shares a part of her life that makes the recipe that more intriguing.

I love lentils and had an extremely disappointing bowl of lentil soup at a restaurant recently, so I decided that I needed to make a batch to make up for it. (For other delicious lentil dishes, see here, here, here, here, and here.) Ms. Marchetti's recipe for lentil soup is in her cookbook, The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy, and can be found in this interview with her in Northern Virginia magazine.

This soup is a keeper. It is simple, delicious, healthy and the best part of all: the ingredients maintained their integrity throughout the cooking process. I hate mush, so was delighted when after simmering for 45 minutes, all of the ingredients were still recognizable. I didn't make the croutons she recommends for the soup, but MM's Aunt Ann had sent us home with a bag of oyster crackers this past weekend, and they added the perfect amount of crunch and salt to the soup.

January 12, 2012

Multi-Grain Pasta with Butternut Squash, Ground Lamb and Ricotta Salata

The first time I tried lamb was at a neighborhood restaurant named Rustico. They had retooled their menu and added a new appetizer: carrot hummus with spiced lamb, crumbled feta and grilled pita. It was amazing and now I insist on getting it every time we go to Rustico. The lamb tasted a little like beef, but different and certainly interesting.

When MM and I went to Bryan Voltaggio's Volt restaurant right before the New Year and I saw they had lamb on the menu, I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed. It was a loin cut and was delicious and tender. Although, to be honest, MM got the beef strip loin and we couldn't tell the difference between the two!

When I was looking through old food magazines and saw this Mark Bittman recipe for a pasta dish with ground lamb in the January 2011 issue of Bon Appetit, it seemed like the universe was telling me it was time to try cooking lamb.

Ultimately, this dish was pretty good, but I doubt I would be tempted to make it again. First, I don't really like multi-grain or whole wheat pasta. During the cooking process, it goes from being too hard to falling apart within a minute and doesn't reheat worth a dime.

I also learned that I don't like pre-cut butternut squash. I have always been weary of pre-cut fruit and vegetables because the price is jacked up and they aren't as fresh as whole fruits and veggies. But, we saw the exact size container we needed at Harris Teeter, so we bought it. This was the first time I had bought a package of pre-cut butternut squash and I wasn't impressed. The squash turned to mush in the roasting process and didn't have much flavor.

Finally, I couldn't find kasseri cheese and neglected to look up appropriate substitutes, so when I was standing in front of the cheese case at the Commissary, I decided I hadn't had ricotta salata in awhile and I like it with pasta, so it would have to do. It may have been the best part of the whole dish! That and the cilantro. I love cilantro.

January 11, 2012

Chicken Parmesan with Pepperoni

So after my "more meat-less meals" proclamation from yesterday, I give you, meat on meat! Did I mention it is baby steps with MM?

I found this delectable recipe in the January 2011 issue of Food and Wine. I will admit that I usually shy away from recipes calling for the dredging and coating of a protein because it is kind of an annoying process.  It is time consuming to set everything up and then to clean the myriad dishes afterwards; I always make a mess all over the counter; and I hate that so much flour, egg, and coating go to waste, spoiled and contaminated at the bottom of the dish. But I was up for a challenge this week, so decided to give this a try.

If there is anything to take away from this dish, it is that panko fried in oil is delicious. Sadly, once you cover the chicken in sauce, cheese and pepperoni and then cook it, the coating loses it crispiness and becomes like any other slightly mushy breaded coating. Mushy or not, it tasted delicious and the chicken stayed moist. I know I have said this before, but don't count out the parsley as just a garnish; the fresh flavor complements the cheesy saucy bready chicken perfectly.

Another helpful note: line your baking sheet with foil. I did not, and poor MM soaked and scrubbed my baking sheet the entire night.

January 10, 2012

Farro Salad with Winter Fruit, Pistachios and Ginger

One of the BlB household's goals for 2012 is to eat more vegetarian meals. (I tend to shy away from "resolutions" because I feel like they are made to be broken.) As most of my loyal readers know, I ate mostly vegetarian this past year while MM was protecting our freedom in Afcrapistan. Now, I am trying to get my steak and potatoes husband to enjoy meat-less meals.

This recipe from the current (January 2012) Food and Wine magazine is a delicious starting point. The farro is hearty enough that it fills you up and it is more nutritious than pasta, which is the usual vegetarian stand-by. The citrus, dried fruit and herbs work wonderfully together. 

I was a little nervous when the recipe said that it made 6 servings, but that has to be side dish servings. I reduced the amount of farro to 1 1/4 cups (I generally find that recipes don't have enough "stuff" to accompany the pasta, grain, etc) and it gave us just over 3 main course servings. I would also reduce the olive oil to 3 tablespoons next time and add more cherries. Another note about farro: start checking it at about 20 minutes. I think I drained mine at 25 minutes; part of its charm is its chewiness, so you don't want it to be mush.

January 9, 2012

New Year's Eve Lunch

As we did last year, Marshal Mike and I had his sister and brother-in-law over for lunch on New Year's Eve.

This year, we started with Roasted Fennel and White Bean dip on crostini.

The recipe is from Food52 and was superb. Since the fennel is roasted, the flavor mellows and sweetens and the resulting dip is creamy with a crunchy, slightly salty crust on top. It will delight fennel-lovers and haters alike.

For lunch I made Giada's Butternut Squash Lasagna, which is in her cookbook, Giada's Family Dinners. It was phenomenal. We couldn't stop eating it. MM's sister took some home and ate it for breakfast and lunch the following day!

And for dessert, I made Giada's Cornmeal and Rosemary Cake with Balsamic Syrup, which is in her cookbook, Giada's Kitchen.

This is a great cake: light in texture and it straddles the delicate line between sweet and savory. The balsamic syrup was the perfect foil; it added just the right amount of tang. I wanted to lick my plate, but restrained myself. We did have guests afterall!

January 4, 2012

Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread

Just can't stay away...

Yup, I'm back on the banana bread kick! And as you can see from my color choices, I made this around Christmas; I just haven't really felt like writing about it until now.

This delicious-sounding recipe came from the popular blog 101 Cookbooks. The blog's author, Heidi Swanson, released her second cookbook in 2011 as well.

I say delicious-sounding because I love anything with lemon and I love olive oil cakes. Add in chocolate and banana and I thought this would be a home run. Much to my taste buds' chagrin, it wasn't.

Part of my problem is that I have never, repeat, never, been able to cook a quick bread in a 9x5 inch pan in the time suggested in a recipe. Never, in my entire life. I always have to reduce the temperature and cook for an additional 10-20 minutes to get the center cooked. The result is that the bread usually dries out and the edges end up overcooked. Now, maybe if I cooked the bread at a lower temperature for the entire time, I would have a more evenly cooked bread. And perhaps I will try that with my next recipe. Honestly, I always just hope that with each new recipe I try I will have better results.

This particular bread was great when it came out of the oven: the top was nice and crunchy and the inside moist and lemony. By day two it was dry and unappealing. You can see that I didn't make the glaze to drizzle over the bread; mainly out of laziness, but also because I knew I wasn't going to eat the whole thing in one day.

So I guess I will keep trying!