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!