Saturday, May 28, 2011

Eating Out: Francesca's at the Promenade in Bolingbrook

On a recent trip to visit family in Chicago, I ate a lot. End of story.

Kidding. I had a lot of food to catch up on while in town, and while I didn't get to hit all of the places I miss in Chicago and the Chicago-land area, I did happen upon a few great places with my mom. See, my mom is adventurous when it comes to food, and since I take after her adventurous palate, we end up finding excellent items on any menu.

My parents had been to Francesca's once before, and my mom said it wasn't that great. Then again, if you're expecting the classic Italian American dishes to match up to your favorite Italian American restaurant in the Chicagoland region, you'll likely be disappointed. It isn't that the food is sub par, but rather that we just expect it to taste exactly like our favorite restaurant's version. That said, my mother and I ordered menu items that my dad would wrinkle his nose at, since hey, we're ladies lunching. And we can.

First up, we shared a Lenticchie e Spinaci salad, which was warm and delightfully creamy due to the goat cheese. My mom and I couldn't quite put our finger on the herb used to spice the warm lentils, but I made a mental note to try and recreate this one at home sometime....when Ian isn't home.

We also shared a Quattro Stagioni pizza with proscuitto, artichoke, mushroom and an egg that was whipped into the pizza tableside. I know a lot of people would likely be grossed out by egg (let along raw egg) on their pizza, but it's actually a very common pizza topping, and it's wonderful. Not a great dish to bring home as leftovers, as one might imagine.

Overall, we really liked the food, although I'll likely never try my favorite dishes from mom and pop Italian restaurants at a chain (Francesca's is ALL over the place in Illinois and a couple other states). There's just no comparison between chain restaurant food and the food that is a labor of love.

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

If you hand me pita, tortillas, or even bread, I will likely find something to wrap the edible utensil around. I'm just that kind of gal. While most people eat salad when handed lettuce, I prefer to cook up something tasty that I can wrap with lettuce. This also happens to be an economical meal despite the price of ground chicken (I have yet to purchase the meat grinder attachment to my mixer), as it yields quite a bit of meat filling and can be eaten throughout the week for lunch or a quick snack.

I prefer to cook up some very thin rice stick noodles instead of rice, but that's because I also happen to be the spring roll type of gal. Or, should I say, that's how I roll?

...Come on. You know it was funny.

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps (from GoodLifeEats)

1 lb. ground chicken
4 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated on a microplane
1/2 cup chopped red onion
8 shiitake mushrooms, diced
4 peeled water chestnuts, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 head Butter lettuce
1 1/2 cups cooked jasmine rice
1 - 11 ounce can mandarin orange sections, drained

1. In a bowl, marinate the ground chicken with the soy sauce, wine, and cornstarch for 10 minutes at room temperature.

2. Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat. When hot, add the oil, swirling to coat. Stir in the garlic, ginger, red onion. Fry for 30 seconds, until fragrant.

3. Add the ground chicken, cooking and stirring until lightly browned, about 2-4 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, water chestnuts, rice vinegar, and oyster sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through. Stir in the red bell pepper and simmer until it is tender-crisp, about 30 seconds to a minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired.

4. Assemble the lettuce wraps by spooning a heaping tablespoon of rice and filling onto each lettuce leaf. Top with 2-3 mandarin orange sections.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pasta e Ceci and How to Lower Your Grocery Bill

Ah, yes, cheap food. It seems everyone is looking for "budget meals" these days, and while technically this fits the bill, I tend to subscribe to the idea that everything can be a budget meal if you actually take the time to budget.

A day doesn't pass that I don't see some new list on the internet of ways to save money by cooking your own food, and of course they make excellent points, but they're pretty common sense, if you ask me. I can sum up my budgeting tips in five words: plan ahead and don't waste. But, of course, magazines and websites have to at least try to sell you some bits of knowledge.

Here's how I plan ahead and plan not to waste:

1. Plan your meals for the week, and do it ahead of your big weekly grocery shopping trip. Obviously, this means you'll need to plan on getting everything you will need on one shopping trip, which really isn't as daunting as it may sound. Every now and then I forget an item or two on my list (I have a habit of crossing an item off before I reach the item's grocery store location, only to be distracted by shiny things) and have to make a second trip during the week, but I find that the amount of time I spend planning in my down time more than makes up for the time I save not running back and forth to the store throughout the week when I don't have time. It's also useful to plan ahead since you can take stock of what is already in your refrigerator and not about to spoil. If you are planning on tacos, sandwiches, etc., it's helpful to know what kind of condiments you already have sitting in your fridge, and if you need a specific spice, your spice rack will thank you for thinking of it ahead of time.

2. Stock up on and keep note of your staples. Rice, pasta, grains, beans, flour, sugar, etc., are not only handy to have for those days you need to improvise, they are also the most powerful tools in your arsenal. I plan around the levels of my staples, so if I'm close to running out of pasta, I plan a pasta dish that will use up the remainder and then include a new pasta supply on my grocery list. If you are constantly buying a new staple (quinoa one week, bulgur the next; brown rice one week, jasmine rice the next) instead of using the abundance in your cupboard, you are likely wasting money. I keep a list on the fridge and check it weekly--when supplies are low, I make a note of it and buy more on my next shopping trip.

3. Plan meals that can be stretched out, and/or plan meals with ingredients you can use throughout the week. Most people know that if you buy a whole chicken and roast it, you'll have chicken for sandwiches, salads, soups and snacks throughout the week, but this rule really applies to many other ingredients. If I buy a big ol' bag of red bell peppers in bulk, I might use a couple in a stir fry one night, and then roast the remainder for a roasted red pepper pasta sauce and as a topping for panini or salads throughout the week. Likewise, if you make a batch of marinara sauce for spaghetti and meatballs, you can freeze the rest or use it on pizza or eggplant parmesan later in the week. Lentil chili one night easily becomes an awesome topping for baked sweet potatoes. Chicken and herbed rice one night becomes chicken fried rice the next.

4. Don't rely on coupons. Not only are most coupons a rip off (who really wants to buy two huge jars of crappy pasta sauce when even on sale, the homemade stuff is cheaper...and tastier). There might be sales offered in the produce department, but coupons never cover produce, and most of the crap that coupons entice you to buy or things you would likely not buy without a coupon. Stick to whole foods that you can cook and generate multiple recipes with rather than processed foods for 20 cents off.

5. Don't waste food. Obviously, eating leftovers or repurposing leftovers into other meals will help you reduce waste in your household, but there are other ways people waste than throwing out five day old chili. Those ends to the celery with leaves? Vegetable peelings that usually go into the trash? Save them in a container in the freezer, and the next time you feel the urge to make soup, reach in and grab your veggie scraps, throw in a pot, add water, salt and pepper, and your vegetable stock is ready to go. Same thing goes for beef or chicken bones--throw them in the freezer and when you have time (while you're folding laundry or doing chores over the short and crazy weekend), make beef or chicken stock. You won't have to buy packaged broth, which will cut down on your grocery bill, but it will also get you in the habit of finding creative ways to reduce waste in other areas. Even if it's using that last tiny handful of pine nuts in a pasta dish or keeping the hard rinds of Parmesan for an Italian soup or pasta sauce, you can find a way to not only save money, but also liven up your menu.

These are just the basics, and here is a basic recipe that I often refer to as "midweek staples purge" for its usage of tiny pasta, beans, and chicken stock. Since all three of the aforementioned are staples, I tend to make this a lot, and the actual price per serving comes out to around $1.33 (even cheaper if I grow the rosemary myself in the garden). Still think that $5 footlong for dinner is a bargain now?

The following recipe calls for canned garbanzo beans, but to keep the serving price super low, I usually use dried beans. I also cannot find ditalini pasta in these parts, so I usually sub with a Mexican pasta brand that carries small, star-shaped pasta.

Pasta e Ceci
(from Serious Eats)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 stick of celery, trimmed and finely chopped, plus celery leaves if available
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
2 14-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 1/2 ounces ditalini or other small soup pasta
A good handful of fresh basil or parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
Juice of half a lemon

1. Heat a large skillet or soup pot over medium-low heat, and add the olive oil. Saute the onion, garlic, celery, and celery leaves, covered, until soft and colorless, about 15 minutes.

2. Add the chickpeas and stock and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer for 20 minutes until the chickpeas are soft. Remove half the chickpeas with a slotted spoon, and purée the soup in a blender, through a food mill, or with an immersion blender. Return the purée and reserved chickpeas to the pot, and add the pasta.

3. Cook until the pasta is tender, adding boiling water if necessary to loosen. Season to taste with salt and pepper and the lemon juice. Serve with parsley or basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Smoked Turkey Sausage and Leek Soup

Every year, it seems the arctic grip of winter holds on to the Palouse for a little longer than other regions of the country, so while my friends were posting pictures of themselves sunbathing in 75 degree weather in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere, I was wearing cold weather boots and scarves long enough to develop a complex. I do enjoy cold weather, and I would never, EVER trade winter for the "seasonable" (read: BORING) winter weather of the Southern states, but I am still one who enjoys all of the seasons, particularly the change of the seasons. When the seasons do not change as scheduled, I am not only disappointed, I am completely devastated.

It was with a heavy heart and a sideways glance at my spring wardrobe still packed away in the closet that I planned to make this soup, and despite my gloomy attitude after not receiving the bounty of spring on time, it really did cheer me up. Smoked sausage, leeks, celery, and carrots have rescued me from the pit of late seasonal depression, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Sausage and Leek Soup
(From Gourmet, 2003)

4 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, then chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
8 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth (64 fluid ounces)
2 medium boiling potatoes
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup thinly sliced smoked kielbasa (I used smoked turkey sausage)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram (I used rosemary)
White pepper to taste


1. Wash leeks in a large bowl of cold water, then lift out and drain well in a colander. Cook carrot and celery in 1/2 stick butter in a 4- to 5-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add leeks and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, 15 minutes.

2. While stock simmers, peel potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Melt remaining 1/2 stick butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, then add flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add 2 cups simmering stock, whisking vigorously (mixture will be thick), then whisk flour mixture into remaining stock and return to a simmer, whisking.

3. Add potatoes, kielbasa, and marjoram and simmer soup, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper.

The Perfect Roast Beef and Gravy

There are few greater culinary feats than mastering the medium rare (or medium) roast beef. I know people who are terrified of roast beef, but once you get the hang of it (and learn to take kitchen catastrophes in stride), this is an impressive tool in any cook's arsenal.

I prefer using a round roast, but it's equally easy to prepare using a sirloin tip or rump roast. Whatever cut you use, note that all cuts cook differently in the oven, so you'll need to rely on your handy thermometer to tell if the roast has reached the desired temperature.

Another tip to note is that I do not use a roasting pan for my roast beef, so I instead plop the whole roast, fat side up, directly into the oven on the rack. All the sites I've read claim that this creates convection in the oven, but I prefer just to say that it creates deliciousness. I place the roasting pan below the roast so the drippings melt over the meat and bathe it in deliciousness. Once the roast is finished, you'll have drippings for gravy in the pan and a perfectly cooked roast to boot.

Roast Beef and Gravy

4 lb. roast (sirloin tip, rump, or round)
2 cloves garlic, cut into thin slivers
Salt and pepper
Oil (I prefer olive oil)
1-1/2 cups beef broth
2-3 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Take the roast of the fridge at least one hour before you plan to cook it. It should be at room temperature before you prepare it.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make incisions around the roast the size of the garlic slivers and insert each into the roast. Sprinkle the roast with salt and pepper, and rub with oil (just enough to coat).
3. Place the roast directly on the middle rack of the oven, with a roasting pan below to catch the drippings.
4. Cook the roast for 1/2 hour at 375 degrees, and then turn the oven down to 225 degrees for around 2 hours, or until the roast reaches the internal temperature of 135 degrees. Let the roast stand for at least 20 minutes before carving.
5. While the roast is resting, place the roasting pan on the stove over medium heat. Stir a couple of tablespoons into a bit of beef broth until fully combined, and add the mixture along with the rest of the beef broth into the roasting pan. Stir the gravy until thickened, and taste for salt and pepper.

Et voilà!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Eggplant Parmesan

I'm in love with eggplant parmesan, but it happens to be one of the richest foods that I always regret eating after the fact. Particularly when I order the dish in a restaurant, my hands and feet bloat up from all the salt added to the eggplant and I end up feeling miserable and vowing to never again order it.

Then there's this Martha Stewart recipe that allows me to wear the same size clothing the next day, and I don't even have to use soap and water to get my wedding ring off at the end of the day. I always serve this with farfalle tossed with a little of the homemade marinara (homemade marinara is best, in my opinion--that store bought jarred sauce just doesn't hold a candle to the fresh taste of a fresh marinara that you can make huge, cost-effective batches of).

Eggplant Parmesan
From Martha Stewart

1 large eggplant (2 pounds), sliced 1/2 inch thick crosswise
1 tablespoon olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 cup fat-free (skim) milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup homemade or best-quality store-bought marinara sauce
1/2 cup grated part-skim mozzarella
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

1.Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Arrange eggplant on two rimmed baking sheets. Brush eggplant on both sides with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden brown and very tender, 20 to 25 minutes, turning slices and rotating sheets halfway through.

2. Meanwhile, make sauce: Off heat, in a medium saucepan, whisk together 1/4 cup milk, flour, and garlic. Gradually whisk in remaining 3/4 cup milk and 1/2 cup marinara sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook until pink sauce has thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Spread cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Alternate layers of baked eggplant with pink sauce. Dollop with remaining cup marinara sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake on upper rack until browned and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tomato and Feta Baked Shrimp Pasta

What a crazy month. First, the inevitable end of the semester grading tornado pretty much knocked out any available free time I had, and then the beginning of summer session knocked out any chance I had of returning to some level of sanity.

In addition....I'M MOVING! Yes, I'm leaving the Palouse, headed back to the midwest, and am now firmly entrenched in the very exciting but very time consuming process of setting up housing and wrapping up loose ends here in Pullman. Needless to say, I've been making a lot of quick and easy dishes for dinner.

Quick and easy is exactly what this shrimp and feta bake is, and if you happen to have vegetable orzo on hand, it can also be colorful. I imagine you could also substitute Israeli couscous, which I'm trying next time. Serve it with a spinach salad or some warm, crusty bread for a light and healthy weeknight meal.

Tomato and Feta Baked Shrimp Pasta
From Closetcooking

1/2 cup orzo (I used a whole wheat orzo)
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion (chopped)
2 cloves garlic(chopped)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups tomatoes (peeled and chopped)
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh herbs (chopped, parsley, basil, dill, mint, etc.)
2 green onions (sliced)
1/2 pound shrimp (peeled and deviened)
1/2 cup feta (crumbled)

1. Cook the orzo until al dente.
2. Heat the oil in a pan.
3. Add the onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
5. Add the white wine, tomato and oregano and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.
6. Remove from heat and stir in the herbs and green onions.
7. Mix the sauce, orzo and shrimp, place in a baking dish topped and top with the feta.
8. Bake in a preheated 425F oven until the shrimp is cooked and the sauce is bubbly, about 10-15 minutes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The History of a Sandwich and Shrimp Po' Boy with Remoulade Sauce

I have been in love with remoulade sauce since the first time I tasted it. Tangy, slightly pungent, and creamy, I could probably pour remoulade over all manner of food: burgers, steak...cereal.

So what better way to celebrate my love for remoulade than to make a healthy version of a classic: the shrimp po' boy. A long and storied history is attached to the poor boy sandwich, which originated in--you guessed it--New Orleans in 1929 at a little coffee stand turned sandwich shop run by two brothers, Clovis and Bennie Martin.

At the time, streetcar operators went on strike, which lasted several months. The Martin brothers decided to show their support for the down and out workers by offering them free sandwiches. According to the letter the Martin brothers wrote to the workers, archived at Tulane University, "We are with you till hell freezes, and when it does, we will furnish blankets to keep you warm." They kept good on their word, and the name of the sandwich came along when the workers showed up for their free sandwiches. They would utter the phrase "Here comes another poor boy," thus giving birth to one of the most recognizable sandwich names in American culinary history. Bon appetit!

Shrimp Po' Boy
from Ezra Pound Cake

1 loaf whole wheat French baguette
1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. Creole seasoning
Crunchy fresh lettuce
Tomato slices
Remoulade sauce (recipe below)


1. Toss the shrimp with the olive oil and Creole seasoning. Heat a grill pan to medium-high, and grill the shrimp for about 3 minutes each side. Remove the shrimp from the pan, and set aside.

2. Split the baguette horizontally, scoop out some of the bread (if desired), and spread the Spicy Remoulade Sauce on both sides of the bread.

3. Place the shrimp on the bottom half of the baguette. Then pile on the shredded lettuce and tomato slices. Place the top half of the bread onto the sandwich, and divide the sandwich in half vertically to make two sandwiches.

Remoulade Sauce
adapted from Ezra Pound Cake

1 1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used Smart Beat Omega3)
1/4 cup stone-ground mustard (preferably Creole)
1 clove garlic clove, smashed
1 tablespoon pickle juice
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
Dash of Frank’s Red Hot hot sauce


Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Chill until ready to serve.

Note: if you make the remoulade sauce a day ahead of time, the sauce will be even more intense in flavor.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Italian Greens and Beans

I have been rather remiss in my blogging this past month, and that's due to a number of factors that would bore you to death were I to list them here, so I simply won't bore you. Suffice to say, a tornado of responsibilities descended upon me this semester, and when I have had a free moment, I've been cooking rather than cooking AND blogging. Let's just say I have an interesting backlog.

What I have for you today is rather special. Growing up, my mother was a fantastic cook, and she remains as such, but I rarely ever ate anything my dad made...because he didn't cook. My dad is a meat and potatoes kind of guy who wasn't involved much in the kitchen, and not that there's anything wrong with that (he's also a Seinfeld fan--did you catch my Seinfeld reference? Did you?) but when he did cook, he prepared a meal that is kind of a craving staple for me.

He also has an affinity for mafia history, something that I was disturbed by as a kid, but am rather interested in now that I've grown past the embarrassment over parental quirks phase. I remember watching him pour over book after book about the FBI's role in taking down Gotti, Gotti himself, Al Capone, pretty much all of the wise guys of yesterday, and so it is only fitting that this recipe I have to share with you came from a mafia cookbook.

Panacotte, or greens and beans in Italian, is a cheap and easy way to use up day old bread, and it's mostly vegetarian (I imagine one could sub out the chicken stock in this recipe for vegetable broth or water) so it is also a wonderfully cheap dish. The original, of course, is a bit different from my own version, as it uses escarole, and I've used kale in its place, and I'm not including a link to a recipe original, as this is one I've made my own. Try it the next time you have a craving for the food of wise guys!

Italian Greens and Beans
1 loaf whole wheat Italian or French bread, dried out (or toasted at 225 degrees in the oven for twenty minutes)
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 head of kale, torn into pieces
15 oz. can cannellini beans, undrained
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 lemon
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup freshly shaved Parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cut Italian or French bread into cubes and place in a baking dish coated with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Heat olive oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for one minute. Add torn kale and toss around in pan for five minutes, or until reduced in size. Add cannellini beans with juice, red pepper flakes, the juice of 1/2 lemon, and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and let cook until kale has wilted. Remove from heat.
3. Pour bean and kale mixture over bread cubes in baking dish, and sprinkle with fresh Parmesan. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Healthier Sloppy Joes: Lots of Slop, Not a lot of Meat

This recipe is yet another "make it healthier" comfort recipe, but if you are automatically rejecting the healthier route, can I entice you with "tastier than the real thing" as an ad slogan?

I loved sloppy joes growing up, but I can't eat large amounts of ground beef without feeling sick, so this recipe that asks for a mixture of only 6 oz. of ground beef (or sirloin), kidney beans, and carrot. You get all the great taste of traditional sloppy joes with added fiber and nutrition. When served on whole wheat hamburger buns with fresh side vegetables, this dinner is a promising addition to the "lighter and better for it" dinner category.

Sloppy Joes
(From Mark Bittman's recipe in Cooking Light)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces ground sirloin
1/2 cup grated carrot
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1 (15.5-ounce) can low-sodium red beans, rinsed, drained, and divided
4 (2-ounce) whole-wheat sandwich rolls, split and toasted
4 (1/4-inch-thick) red onion slices, separated into rings


1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, salt, black pepper, and beef to pan; cook 5 minutes or until meat is browned and vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally to crumble beef.
2. Add carrot, chili powder, sugar, oregano, and red pepper; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook 10 minutes or until thickened and carrot is tender, stirring occasionally.
3. Partially mash 1 cup beans with a fork or potato masher. Add mashed beans and remaining whole beans to pan; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Spoon 1 cup bean mixture onto bottom half of each roll; top each serving with 1 red onion slice and top half of roll.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mushroom Marinara

Please excuse the strangely reddish pink hand holding the beautiful pasta to your left. I absolutely adore strozapretti pasta, and not just because strozapretti means "priest choker" in Italian, but also because of the texture of this pasta in my mouth. It's like long macaroni with a seam down the middle, and it tastes simply divine in macaroni and cheese dishes, or along with a simple marinara sauce.

I cook sans meat three or four days a week (if you couldn't tell by the preponderance of vegetarian recipes I have posted), and mushroom marinara is a great upgrade from simple marinara. If you're looking for a quick and easy weeknight vegetarian meal, this one's for you!

Mushroom Marinara

2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
12 oz. mushrooms (shitake, button, baby bella, etc.)
Good splash of red wine
1-15 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
Fresh shaved Parmesan cheese to serve
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and saute until onions are soft. Add mushrooms to the pan and saute until mushrooms darken and soften. Once cooked through, add a good splash of red wine and cook 1-2 minutes, or until reduced. Add diced tomatoes with their juice to the pan, along with the tomato paste, basil, and oregano. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Serve tossed with your favorite pasta and sprinkled with shaved Parmesan.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Homemade Matzo Ball Chicken Soup

About a month ago, the husband unit fell ill after months of being lucky enough to stave off all the wonderful infections and influenzas that come with the territory when one lives in a college town. Proximity to sleep deprived students, financial stress, lack of sleep because of work and the complexities of life, and touching dirty money and food plates in his place of work all combined for the perfect storm. After coming home from work with a fever, poor husband unit spent the night alternately sweating and freezing, so when I woke up in the morning, looking compassionately at the poor suffering soul next to me, I knew it was time for the mother of all flu busters.


The following recipe is for Matzo Ball Soup how I make it (there are a million recipes out there, and this is my favorite because I've made it my own), but you might know it by its other name: Jewish penicillin. It's no joke that this soup has the power to heal, and after four hours of prep, I like to believe that the love and care put into a big pot of chicken soup is enough to fill the sickened with a sense of hope. I might be waxing a little romantic here, but isn't that what chicken soup is for? Hope?

Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls

For stock and schmaltz:
1 whole chicken, gizzards removed and skin intact
1 1/2 onions, divided
2 stalks celery, chopped
Handful of celery leaves
8-10 baby carrots
2 turnips, halved
8 cloves garlic, smashed but unpeeled
2 bay leaves
Handful of fresh dill
Handful of fresh parsley
Black pepper to taste
Water to cover

For soup:
8 cups stock
3 stalks celery, chopped
7-8 baby carrots, sliced
3 tbsp. dill, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

For matzo balls:
1/2 cup matzo
2 tbsp. schmaltz (substitute vegetable oil if not using)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. seltzer water

1. To make schmaltz, remove half of the chicken skin from the whole chicken and place in a skillet over medium heat with 1/2 chopped onion. The chicken fat will melt and produce a ton of chicken oil, but this is liquid gold in the making: DO NOT SKIM. Cook until browned and remove from heat. Strain over a fine mesh colander and reserve golden deliciousness. Refrigerate until ready to make matzo balls.

2. Place whole chicken in a large soup pot with the rest of the stock ingredients and completely cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and lower to simmer. Cook, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from heat and let cool.

3. Once stock is cool enough, strain through a fine mesh strainer into a large container. Shred and reserve chicken meat for another use, like enchiladas, pasta salad, or even BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches. Set stock aside until ready to make soup.

4. To make matzo balls, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and work ingredients together with hands until uniform. Refrigerate for one hour (you can [and should at some point] make this ahead of time in order for the ingredients to produce very fluffy balls [hehe]).

5. Using a tbsp. measuring unit, scoop tablespoons of matzo dough and shape into balls. Drop each ball into a large saucepan filled with boiling water. Reduce heat to medium once all balls are in, and cook, covered, for about 30-40 minutes.

6. While matzo balls are cooking, make the soup. Combine 8 cups chicken stock with the rest of the soup ingredients except for dill. Warm, turn off heat, and add dill. Serve two to three matzo balls with warmed soup poured over.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Asparagus and Spinach Soup

I've mentioned my love of soup many times on this blog, but I can't crow enough about the financial benefits of soup. Not only can you make large batches that can be frozen for months, but it's also a great way to use up vegetables that are on their way to spoiling. Want to stretch your food budget? Make soup!

I'm a big fan of baby spinach, so when I couldn't decide between making an asparagus or a spinach dish, marrying the two together in a healthy, nutritious soup seemed like the logical compromise.

Asparagus and Spinach Soup

2 cups peeled, diced red potato
3/4 lb. asparagus, diced into 1/4" inch pieces
2 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 ribs celery, chopped
4 1/4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh black pepper to taste

1. Combine potato, asparagus, onion and celery in a large soup pot, and cover with vegetable broth. Bring to a boil over medium high heat then lower to a simmer and cover for 15 minutes.

2. Turn off heat and add baby spinach to the soup. Cover for two minutes, or until spinach wilts. Blend using a hand blender and stir in Parmesan cheese. Season with black pepper to taste.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Truffled Scrambled Eggs

I can't believe I'm posting a description for how to make scrambled eggs, considering how easy it is to beat an egg, drop it in a pan, and stir it for a few minutes, but after years of watching people turn out the driest, most unappetizing scrambled eggs on the planet, I thought I'd offer my method for cooking soft, fluffy, creamy scrambled eggs.

First things first, beaten eggs and half and half have always been my recipe for success. Two eggs and about three tablespoons of half and half are added to a skillet over medium heat with 2 tbsp. melted butter.

The most important part of making scrambled eggs is to keep the eggs moving. I like to use a spatula to fold the eggs, but the key always seems to be to keep them moving. The eggs will not dry out this way.

Once the eggs have all formed and are no longer runny, but rather soft and fluffy, remove them from the heat and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with 1/2 tsp. of white truffle oil and serve.

Pictured above: scrambled eggs, fresh pineapple, roasted beets, steamed spinach and cherry tomatoes, and a whole wheat English muffin.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hawaiian Pizza

Way back in 2003, I was a homesick student at University of Oxford, thousands of miles away from everyone I knew and loved. I was certainly homesick, but there wasn't much time to feel sentimental, as I was busy studying and soaking in the sights. Trips to the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc., completely shocked me out of my homesickness, but I continued to feel out of place, out of my element, and all around confused.

Being a college student abroad, I was also broke. ALL THE TIME. I had a cell phone with ten minutes on it every month, a flat phone that no one from the States would call because it was too damned expensive, and a pocket full of foreign coins that I couldn't quite identify by simply feeling them in my pocket. I figured out pretty early on that the 99 p pizza at the corner market was the cheapest and most abundant answer to my hunger pangs, and I'm not sure what led me to Hawaiian pizza instead of the plainer cheese or sausage, but I like to think that I decided to try something different; to take a chance when it all seemed to be slipping out of my fingers. I roomed and was friends with students who had some serious financial backing from their parents, and all I could think about was how to make my bank account last as long as possible. Hawaiian pizza included pineapple, a serving of fruit that killed two birds with one stone (yes, it was likely dehydrated and processed, but I didn't care at the time) and that ensured I was getting at least a little nutrition into my diet.

Hawaiian pizza has always brought back the memory of feeling exhilarated, exhausted, titillated, and tired, and I love the extreme food memory that comes back to me each time I eat it.

I remember the day those foreign coins in my pocket became identifiable by touch. I was buying Indian takeaway, and in my haste to pay without thinking, I felt the change in my pocket. 25 p, 5 p, and one pence, all in a row in my jeans pocket. I had finally felt at home.

Hawaiian Pizza

1 cup diced fresh pineapple
2/3 cup diced canadian bacon
1/2 cup pizza sauce (see below)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 pizza dough recipe (see below)

1. Roll out pizza dough and place on a pizza pan sprinkled with cornmeal. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes (prick dough all over with a fork to prevent dough bubbles).

2. Spread pizza sauce over dough and evenly distribute. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over sauce, and top with evenly distributed canadian bacon and pineapple. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until crust is browned and cheese is melted.

Basic Pizza Dough

1/2 tsp. yeast
1/4 cup warm water, plus more as needed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Handful of cornmeal

1. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Place flour and salt in food processor and pulse a couple of times. With processor running, add yeast and water mixture. Add more warm water, a tablespoon at a time, to dough until a ball forms in processor.

2. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead five times. Shape into a ball and place dough in a large bowl coated with olive oil or olive oil cooking spray. Let rise in a warm place for at least one hour.

3. Roll out dough with a rolling pin into a circular shape. Top with toppings and bake.

Classic Tomato Herb Pizza Sauce

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 28 oz. can tomato sauce (preferably Muir Glen Organic)
1 15 oz. can tomato paste (again, preferably Muir Glen)
1 tsp. turbinado sugar
4 tbsp. mixed fresh herbs, such as basil, marjoram, oregano
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Saute garlic and onions for 3-4 minutes, or until onions are soft and translucent. If using dried herbs, add to onion and garlic.

2. Pour in tomato sauce and tomato paste, stirring to combine. Once heated through, add sugar, turn heat down to low and cover. Simmer for 10-20 minutes.

3. Stir in fresh herbs, salt (you might not need salt if you are using non-organic sauce and paste--check the label), and black pepper to taste. Remove from heat, cool, and pour into serving sized ziplock bags. Label and freeze up to six months.

Monday, February 21, 2011

BC Beet Salad Knock Off

I can't praise Pullman's own Black Cypress enough. Although they opened just over a year ago, they have become my very favorite place to eat in this horrible food wasteland that is the Palouse. Before they came along, I was forced to eat "fancy" food that was glorified fast food, and not to be too gross here, but when you eat somewhere and every burp has the same note, you know it ain't good. Black Cypress has never disappointed me, and when I have family in town, dinner there is the first item on my visitor agenda.

My favorite dish at BC is a rather simply dressed, fresh, and flavorful salad that combines the earthy sweetness of beets with the salty, pungent delight of blue cheese, so I decided to try a homemade version. Despite all my best efforts, this dish is still one best served in their dining room, but I think I came pretty darn close. If you're in the area, try the Turnip the Beets salad, even if you aren't a fan of beets. It has the capacity to make the worst enemy of beets a relative worshipper.

Fresh Beet Salad

3 medium beets, unpeeled
1/8 cup olive oil
4 tbsp. champagne vinegar*
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. blue cheese, Gorgonzola, or other pungent cheese
1 tbsp. crushed pistachios
1 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley


1. Cover beets in a large pot with cold water and boil until soft, around 30-40 minutes. Alternatively, you can steam them in a steamer for around 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Once cool, skins should easily peel off.** (See note)

2. Slice beets into bite size pieces and place in a medium bowl. Add olive oil, champagne vinegar, and lemon juice to beets, and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour (the longer the better).

3. Once chilled, distribute beets onto a serving platter and sprinkle with blue cheese, pistachios, and chopped Italian parsley. Serve.

*Note: I used champagne vinegar infused with lemon already, so I simply increased the amount of champagne vinegar and it turned out the same as when I used vinegar and lemon juice. I'm guessing apple cider vinegar would work well in this recipe as well, given its natural tart yet fruity notes.

Beets stain skin pretty easily, so I advise wearing kitchen gloves when handling them. If you don't wear gloves (I didn't have any on hand once), rub your skin with the half of a lemon, preferably the one you juiced for the beet dressing.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy....just lighter

This is yet another "comfort food goes lighter" recipe, and if you don't mind a few minor changes to truly unhealthy recipes, you'll love this one. I know the common feeling about comfort food is that if you're going to eat something that is comfort food, you might as well splurge. Well...I simply don't accept that excuse, and I strive to make menu choices that are comforting, healthy, but flavorful at the same time, and I heartily espouse my right to lighten foods that are heavy.

I served the chicken fried steak with simply steamed green beans and mashed cauliflower for maximum vegetable intake.
Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy (from

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
1 teaspoon paprika
1 pound cube steak, cut into 4 portions
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup half-and-half


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Place all-purpose flour on a large plate. Place egg whites in a shallow dish. Whisk cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, 1/4 cup cornstarch and paprika in another shallow dish. Season both sides of steak with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Dredge the steak in the flour, shaking off excess; dip in the egg whites, then dredge in the cornmeal mixture.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add 2 pieces of the steak; cook until browned on both sides, turning once, 3 to 5 minutes total. Transfer the steak to the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 2 pieces of steak. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, add broth to the pan and boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 cup, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk water and the remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in half-and-half; season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Serve the steak topped with the gravy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chicken with Easy Mushroom Sauce

Not much to report on this one, save for the fact that I'm drowning in grading (I've even had dreams to that effect) and I needed something with mushrooms. And potatoes. And chicken. My brain doesn't work outside of spitting out random ingredients when work gets the better of me, so considering I made it through preparing dinner without drooling or rambling nonsense, I can attest to this being an easy comfort food to prepare. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it sure hits the spot.

Okay, back to my grading hovel. If you don't hear from me in the next week, send someone in with a sword fashioned out of a red pen and a really big dictionary.

Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce (Link to original recipe)
2 5-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and tenders removed (see Tip)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 cup thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps
2 tablespoons dry vermouth, or dry white wine
1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, or scallion greens


1. Season chicken with pepper and salt on both sides.
2. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning once or twice and adjusting the heat to prevent burning, until brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, 12 to 16 minutes. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
3. Add shallot to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 2 minutes. Pour in vermouth (or wine); simmer until almost evaporated, scraping up any browned bits, about 1 minute. Pour in broth and cook until reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in cream and chives (or scallions); return to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan, turn to coat with sauce and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Vegetable Macaroni with Four Cheeses

Macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food, but I often struggle to eat vegetables on the side when faced with a heaping helping of cheesy goodness. To help counteract this disturbing occurrence, I often bake vegetables into my casserole in hopes that I'll be comforted AND hit my daily vegetable intake. In the past, I've used peas, corn, assorted frozen vegetables, butternut squash, but this time I had on hand a couple of small yellow bell peppers, a container of baby spinach, and a large tomato that needed to be used.

I also used brown rice pasta in lieu of traditional macaroni, as I really like its subtle nutty flavor, but you could use whatever macaroni you see fit. I won't come along and second guess you.

Vegetable Macaroni with Four Cheeses

1 1/2 cups brown rice pasta
1 3/4 cups skim milk, divided
4 tbsp. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 cup cubed brie (rind removed)
1 cup freshly grated reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup freshly grated white cheddar
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
Fresh ground black pepper
2 yellow bell peppers, diced and steamed
2 cups baby spinach, shredded
1 large tomato, cut into slices


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil a pot of salted water, add brown rice pasta, and cook for 13-14 minutes, or a few minutes less than package directions. Drain pasta and set aside
2. Heat 1 1/2 cups skim milk over medium heat, until steaming. Mix remaining milk and flour in a small bowl or cup, and then drizzle the slurry into the steamed milk. Add dijon mustard and brie to milk mixture. Whisk and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until thickened. Remove from heat and add sharp and white cheddar, stirring until melted.
3. Add steamed bell pepper and spinach to melted cheese mixture, dump macaroni in pot and toss to coat. Pour macaroni mixture into a baking dish coated with cooking spray, sprinkle Parmesan on top, and cover with slices of tomato. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbling and tomatoes are soft.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tilapia Fish Tacos

If you haven't ever tried a fish taco, I shall convert you. I am the Jehovah's fish taco girl. Okay, unless you don't eat fish. Then I suppose I will respect our differences....

This is perhaps why I've never gone into sales.

But honestly, it's easy to make your own fish tacos at home, and if you don't like to pan fry, this recipe could easily convert for the bake-friendly (see? I'm at least trying to sell it to you). I like to sprinkle broccoli slaw mix on my tacos and cover with a nice coating of a simple sour cream and salsa mixture, but regular cabbage slaw and salsa work just the same.

Tilapia Fish Tacos

4 tilapia fillets
Salt and pepper
Chili powder
1/2 cup cornmeal
4 tbsp. canola oil
Lime wedges to serve


1. Coat tilapia fillets with a fine dusting of salt, pepper, cumin and chili powder. Drag fillets through cornmeal and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a frying pan or skillet over medium high heat. Add fillets to the pan and cook 4 minutes a side, or until fish flakes easily. Serve fillets in corn tortillas with lime wedges to serve. Sprinkle with broccoli slaw and slather on Cilantro Salsa Cream (recipe below), if desired.

Cilantro Salsa Cream

1/4 cup sour cream (I'm blasphemous...I use fat free)
4 tbsp. salsa of your choice
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro


1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Warming Italian Vegetable Soup with Beans and Orzo

Soup is easy to make. Seriously easy. I always suggest trying out a simple broccoli or vegetable soup for those who aren't quite confident in their culinary skills, as often it's just a matter of throwing ingredients into a pot and simmering. Who could be nervous throwing things into a pot, where all the magic is done without you?

The following recipe was born after a long, harrowing day for my poor husband, who has been working an awful lot as of late, in addition to his other duties. He's also been honing his own culinary skills by cooking one or two days a week, so after a particularly tough day, I told him to take a load off and with the ingredients I had in my fridge and pantry, this is what resulted. When I make it again, I will be adding zucchini. If you have a big wedge of Parmesan on hand, throw a small piece of rind while it simmers for a lovely, slightly salty finish.

Italian Vegetable Soup with Beans and Orzo

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, thoroughly cleaned, white and light green parts thinly sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups kale, torn into pieces
2" piece of Parmesan rind (optional)
3 tbsp. orzo
Fresh ground black pepper


1. Heat olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add leek, onion, celery, and garlic to pot, and cook until vegetables are tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes and beans into the pot and stir to combine. Cover vegetables with chicken stock, and add kale and Parmesan rind (if using) to the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes.
2. Once soup has simmered, add orzo to soup and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until orzo is cooked through. Taste for seasoning, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms

I use portabella mushrooms on those days I want something "meaty" but I don't quite want meat. I suspect this would be ideal for meatless Mondays, particularly for those who resist the idea of a vegetarian dinner. I've noticed more meat lovers are embracing this new tradition, so I'd like to stress here that not only is vegetarian eating more economical, but it can also be flavorful. I'm never going to become a full-blow vegetarian (please don't get me started on this subject), but I do plan meatless meals three or four days a week.

This recipe also happens to be one in my arsenal that overlaps with staples I make huge batches of and freeze for all manner of meals. The ricotta and spinach mixture I use for lasagna and stuffed shells, and the marinara I use for a quick pasta dinner (which I made as a side dish here) or for pizza, etc. Versatile meal bases are important to me, and they keep me well within my budget.

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms

4 large portobello mushroom caps
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup finely chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped kalamata olives
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
3/4 cup prepared marinara sauce

(from here)

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Place mushroom caps, gill-side up, on the prepared pan. Sprinkle with salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Roast until tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, mash ricotta, spinach, 1/4 cup Parmesan, olives, Italian seasoning and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Place marinara sauce in a small bowl, cover and microwave on High until hot, 30 seconds to 1 1/2 minutes.
4. When the mushrooms are tender, carefully pour out any liquid accumulated in the caps. Return the caps to the pan gill-side up. Spread 1 tablespoon marinara into each cap; cover the remaining sauce to keep warm. Mound a generous 1/3 cup ricotta filling into each cap and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Bake until hot, about 10 minutes. Serve with the remaining marinara sauce.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Shrimp and Grits: the lighter version

Southern food is comforting, naughty, and for the most part, hella unhealthy, so when I want a lighter taste of heaven, I make a few changes. First and foremost, I refuse to use bacon grease in my food. Yes, I know, this is completely unforgivable, but I imagine these days (given our increased awareness of diabetes, obesity, etc.) there won't be many objections. I also substitute low fat cheese where I can, and I tend to broil, bake, or roast meats and seafood instead of pan frying. And even though butter makes me the happiest girl on earth, I shun all things Paula Deen in favor of olive oil instead.

Although this recipe certainly doesn't hold a candle to its more authentic counterpart, it's a great way to eat healthy and still cheat a bit.

Shrimp and Grits
(Recipe adapted from

1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup quick grits (not instant)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1 cup low fat white cheddar cheese
1 pound peeled and deveined raw shrimp (16-20 per pound)
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon salt


1. Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.
2. Bring broth and water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in grits and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Cover to keep warm.
3. Meanwhile, toss shrimp, scallions, oil, garlic powder, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper and salt in a medium bowl. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Broil, stirring once, until the shrimp are pink and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Serve the grits topped with the broiled shrimp and scallions.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Za Jiang Mein

I found this recipe months back on FoodMayhem, and I instantly knew I would be making it very soon. Ground pork and sweet bean sauce? I'm all over it.

I loved the way it turned out, but I'm not sure I prepared it correctly, as it ended up being so salty that my lips were burning and my hands swelled up. I think next time I might have to water down the bean sauce so that I can still wear my wedding ring after dinner, but this was definitely a tasty addition to the weekly menu.

Za Jiang Mein
(from FoodMayhem)

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 scallions, chopped
1 pound ground pork
1 (6oz) can sweet bean sauce
1/2 cup water
3 1/2 tablespoons ground bean sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
serve with noodles

1. Heat oil in a large deep pan or wok on medium high heat. Saute scallions until lightly golden.

2. Add pork and break up lumps with a spatula as you stir until all has turned evenly brown and no pink is left.

3. Add sweet bean sauce, water, ground bean sauce, and sugar. Stir occasionally as you let sauce cook down to desired consistency, about 5 minutes. It should be pretty thick and viscous. Serve with noodles.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Curried Coconut Butternut Squash Soup with Red Lentils and Clams

I'm always looking for new ways to eat clams and mussels beyond the usual (but very satisfying) steamed seafood with herbs or over pasta, so when I found this dish while perusing the internet, I knew I had to make it. I had a butternut squash lying around that needed to be eaten, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out a new clam dish.

Curried Coconut Butternut Squash Soup with Red Lentils and Clams
(from La Tartine Gourmande)

1 lb 2 oz red kuri squash (or butternut!), seeded and diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced (5 oz)
1 leek, white part only, chopped
1 celery branch, chopped
1 zucchini (7 oz), cut in pieces
3 cups water
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) red lentils
1 shallot, chopped
1 tsp ground curry
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 + 1/8 cups coconut milk
A splash white wine
20 clams (about 4 to 5 clams per person)
Chopped parsley
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. In a large pot, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add the shallot, leek and celery. Sweat for 2 minutes, until soft, making sure that the vegetables never brown. Then add the ground cumin and curry, and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
2. Add the rest of the vegetables and continue to cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add the water, salt and pepper and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft.
4. Mix the soup. Check the seasoning, and add the coconut milk. Keep warm.
5. In the meantime, cook the red lentils (1/2 cup lentils requires 1.5 cups water, plus salt; cook until soft, most of the water will be absorbed; set aside).
6. Cook the clams with a splash of white wine on high heat, covered, until they are open; set aside.
7. Add the lentils to the soup; mix well.