Category: Fruits


Finally getting around to writing about the Christmas cookies I baked this year!  I know, I know, it’s March.  But cookies are good any time of year.

I made seven different kinds this year, and only one was a variety I had made before:

Not so "easy" when it comes time to take them out of the pan...

“Easy” Layer Bars from a 1970s utility company cookbook. I REALLY should have lined the pan with parchment.

They don't turn pink when you use organic cherries

Cherry Blossoms from Flour On My Face

These were one of my favorites!

Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies, adapted from Go Bold With Butter (no coconut or nuts in mine)

The recipe made about a billion of these!  My freezer is still full of them.

Orange Cardamom Crinkles, also from Go Bold with Butter. Next time I’d probably double the cardamom.

I need more cooling racks.

So many cookies!

mmm...Nutella!

The only kind I’d made before: Nutella Lava Cookies from Kirbie’s Cravings. These are pretty much the Best. Cookies. Ever.

Plus I made Almond Cloud Cookies (unfortunately I seem to be lacking a picture of those), and that’s not even counting the Tangerine-Ginger-Vanilla Sugar Cookies and Nutella Chip Cookies that I made with some friends of mine earlier in December.  There were so very many cookies this year!

But I couldn’t go without making up my own cookie recipe, so my friends and I brainstormed flavors that would go well together and eventually decided that it would be really awesome to find a way to combine the flavors of habanero, lime, and dark chocolate all together in one cookie.

But how to do it?  I thought the flavors might get lost if they were just directly added to a chocolate dough.  So I needed some sort of filling.  Cheese is my go-to answer for almost every cooking question, so I figured, why not mix the habanero and lime with some goat cheese?

it looks Christmasy!

The filling, just waiting to be mixed…

Upon further reflection, it made sense to add cream cheese to the mix, because goat cheese can be a bit crumbly in texture, so it turned into a cheesecake filling, with cream cheese, goat cheese, lime zest, lime juice, very finely minced habanero, and powdered sugar.  I don’t actually know how much powdered sugar I ended up adding.  I started off with every intention of measuring and added a quarter cup, but upon tasting, it really wasn’t sweet enough and didn’t seem like a dessert, so I added more, a little at a time, until it tasted right.  So when you make these, just be sure you add the powdered sugar slowly until you’re satisfied with the flavor.  You need just enough to take it over the line from savory to sweet, but be careful not to go too sweet, since you’re already surrounding it with chocolatey cookie goodness.

They're big cookies.

 

Cheesecake Cookies!

Dark Chocolate Habanero Lime Cheesecake Cookies
(makes approx. 34 cookies)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 1.25 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2.25 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1.25c bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 8oz (1 package) cream cheese
  • 4oz goat cheese
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 habaneros, seeded and finely minced
  • 1/4 cup + extra (to taste) powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together the butter and sugar until they’re light and fluffy (this may take a couple minutes).  Add the eggs, one at a time, and then add the cocoa powder and mix it in gently.  Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder, and then slowly add them to the wet ingredients, about a third at a time, and mix until just combined.  With a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips.

In a separate bowl, blend together the cream cheese, goat cheese, lime zest, minced habaneros, 1/4 cup of powdered sugar, and half of the lime juice.  Taste it, and add more powdered sugar and/or lime juice until you’re satisfied with the taste of the filling.  Be careful not to over-sweeten: the chocolate cookie dough is fairly sweet, so just add the powdered sugar a little at a time.

Scoop up about 2tbsp of cookie dough, roll it into a ball, and then flatten it to a disk in your hand with a slight indentation in the middle.  Scoop a bit of the filling into the middle, and then wrap the cookie dough around it, sealing in the filling.  Roll it back into a ball, and put it on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Space cookies about 2 inches apart, and bake for 14-17 minutes.  Cool on the sheet for a few minutes, and then move to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Enjoy!

PS. You may have extra filling left–it makes an excellent mini cheesecake!  Just take a ramekin, mix a little melted butter with some graham cracker crumbs (or cookie crumbs…whatever you have) in the bottom and then load in the filling and bake at 350 degrees til it’s set.

mmm...leftovers!

Leftover filling mini-cheesecake!

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Cranberry Upside Down Cake!

Because I was teaching this semester, I wasn’t able to host Thanksgiving this year.  But I still wanted to make something to bring and share…but what?  I wanted something new, but something that would still fit with the Thanksgiving spirit.  Inspiration struck in the form of an email with the new seasonal menu for one of my favorite restaurants.  There, under the desserts, they were featuring a cranberry upside down cake.

I had never really thought of making an upside down cake before, much less one with cranberries.  I had always pictured upside down cakes with rings of pineapple, and they had never seemed particularly appealing to me.  But cranberries…cranberries had possibilities!

The first order of business was figuring out how to make the cranberries stick to the top of the cake.  Flat pineapple slices would sit on a cake fairly well, even with an imperfect “glue” but cranberries seemed problematic to me.  So I asked Google for some help and read through a bunch of different upside down cake recipes and learned that in almost all of them the “glue” is basically just a caramelized sugar and butter mixture that you pour in the bottom of your cake pan, and then press the fruit into before it hardens.  Seemed fairly easy to me!

Then there was the cake to figure out.  Most upside down cake recipes called for some variety of plain cake (white, pound, vanilla, etc) to support the fruit.  On the one hand this makes sense–you want the fruit to be the star of the dish.  But I wanted something different.  I wanted something more than just a blank slate with fruit on top–I wanted something that would work together with the cranberries and enhance them.

Answer?  Spice cake.  When I make cranberry sauce, I add a whole host of spices to the pot, so I figured the same idea would work for the cake.  But I needed somewhere to start.  Luckily, I came across Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Spiced Applesauce Cake.  I wasn’t entirely sure it would work, because, never having made an upside down cake before, I wasn’t sure how stiff of a cake you would need to hold up the fruit.  (And never having made the applesauce cake before, I was also unsure how strong it would turn out to be.)  I also wanted more spices in the cake than that recipe calls for (because again, I put a LOT of spices in the pot when I make cranberry sauce) so I decided to wing it a bit, and just use the recipe as a guide.

In the end, the final product came together beautifully.  The cake was moist and well-spiced without being overpowering.  The cranberries stayed neatly in place in their single layer, their tartness marrying beautifully with the sweet, aromatic cake.  The one flaw was that in the attempt to not waste any cake batter, I overfilled the cake pan a bit and it overflowed.  Luckily I caught it before *too* much dripped down, and stuck a sheet pan on the rack below to keep it from getting on the heating element and burning.

Oops. Drippy.

Just out of the oven!

Success!

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Cake Batter:

  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1.5 c unsweetened applesauce

Topping:

  • ~2c fresh cranberries (I used a little more than a package…basically you want enough to completely line the bottom of your pan in a single layer)
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 3/4 c packed light brown sugar

Note: You can either make this cake in a 9′ cake pan or a 10′ cast iron skillet.  I made it in a cake pan, and had slightly too much cake batter.  It would most likely all fit in the skillet.  The advantage of using a cast iron skillet is that you can caramelize the butter and sugar right there, as opposed to needing to pour it from a saucepan into the cake pan.  On the other hand, using the cake pan, I was able to line the bottom with a disc of parchment paper, which made for easy extraction.  It’s up to you.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small saucepan (or your cast iron skillet) melt the butter for the topping over medium heat, and then stir in the brown sugar.  Keep stirring constantly as it simmers for 4-5 minutes.  The color should darken some, but don’t let it burn!  Pour it into your parchment-lined cake pan if you’re using one, and then spread the cranberries over the top in a single layer, packing them in tightly.  (You could even arrange them in a pattern if you wanted to be fancy.)  Do not touch the sugar/butter mixture.  It will burn you.  Set the pan aside.

Whisk or sift together all of the dry ingredients in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Then, in a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar, vanilla extract, and softened butter–keep going until it’s light and fluffy.  (You’re going to want to use an electric mixer/stand mixer to do this unless you want a really good workout.  Because it takes a good 2-3 minutes on high to achieve proper fluffiness.)  Then beat in the eggs one at a time, and finally beat in the applesauce.  Then mix in the dry ingredients until just combined.  I did this by hand because my mixer doesn’t have a setting that’s low enough to avoid a flour explosion.

Pour the batter over the cranberries in the cake pan/skillet.  Even if you have a little batter left over, do not overfill your cake pan.  Bake the rest into a little spice muffin if you like.  Put the cake in the oven on the center rack, and put a sheet pan on the rack below (just in case you did overfill), and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick in the center comes out clean *and* the center of the cake feels springy when you press on it gently (i.e. doesn’t feel like it’s a crust sitting on top of liquid).  Make sure you do both tests–toothpicks were coming out clean significantly before the center of the cake was fully set.

Cool the cake in the pan on top of a cooling rack for 15-30 minutes or until you can easily handle it with your bare hands.  (Even longer won’t hurt it.)  Gently run a knife around the edge of your cake to loosen it in the pan.  Then take your cake plate, put it upside down on the top of your cake, and flip.  The cake should slide easily out of the pan.  If you made it in a cake pan with parchment paper, gently peel off the circle of parchment.  Cool completely and enjoy.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator–it makes an excellent breakfast the next day!

Did you know it’s possible to make tofu that doesn’t taste like feet?  No?  Neither did I!

But it IS possible.  And the results are delicious!  All you need to do is watch some Good Eats and buy a lime.  (Well, and some other stuff…more on that in a bit.)

You might be asking yourself why, precisely, I was cooking tofu the other day when I was firmly of the opinion that it tastes like feet and that there are far better ways to get protein (nuts, dairy, eggs, or for us non-vegetarians, meat).  Well, the answer is that my vegetarian husband picked up a package of tofu at the grocery store and wanted us to try and make it like some of the “good” restaurant tofu that’s out there.  And tofu *is* actually quite healthy.

Now I will admit that there are varying degrees of tofu awfulness, and that I have, on occasion (usually in Asian restaurants), had tofu that bordered on being edible.  But I had never yet found tofu that I actually wanted to eat (unless I were starving on a desert island somewhere.)  However, I do like a challenge in the kitchen, and I did want to find a way to add more calories/protein to my typical stir fry recipes so that we wouldn’t negate the healthiness of all the vegetables by gorging ourselves on gelato afterwards.  So I needed some help.  I turned to Alton Brown, who is pretty much always the best source of information on how to cook an unfamiliar ingredient.  Or a familiar one for that matter.

I remembered having watched the tofu episode of Good Eats, and since we never delete Good Eats off the dvr, it was a simple matter of endless scrolling to find it.  What I was looking for was this recipe: thick slices of firm tofu, marinated, battered with egg and fried.  I decided, however, to make my own marinade, since I intended for this tofu to go with Asian-style stir fried vegetables.  While the tofu slices were being squished to remove excess moisture and render them ready to soak up my marinade, I took stock of my pantry options.

Tamari soy sauce of course would be a key ingredient for the marinade.  Mirin and rice vinegar also seemed like good options to get a bit of acidity in there.  Sriracha of course would bring the heat, ginger and lemongrass would add another nice flavor dimension, and then I remembered!  I had a sad, lonely lime sitting in the fridge, left over from making the curry paste.  It was a bit ugly on the outside, having given up its zest to the curry, but the inside was still bright and fresh, and full of juice!  This, in the end, turned out to be the key marinade ingredient, and the main one that I was able to taste in the finished product.

Tofu taking a marinade bath

After the tofu had soaked in its marinade bath for half an hour (15 minutes per side), it was time to fry it.

Now I am notoriously bad at pan frying.  Either my oil isn’t hot enough and things get limp and greasy, or it’s too hot and it smokes, or the things that I’m frying fall apart (looking at you, potato pancakes!), or things get all squished and deformed when I’m trying to flip them…

But this time I was prepared!  With the aid of Alton Brown’s recipe, I was able to create a nice egg batter that stuck to the tofu.  I decided to go with grapeseed oil instead of canola oil for frying because grapeseed oil has a much higher smoke point–thus I would be unlikely to smoke it.  I had spring-loaded tongs at the ready for flipping the tofu, and a thermometer so that I could periodically monitor the oil temperature.

After heating up the oil, I gently placed the egg-battered tofu into the pan.  Instant sizzle – success!  I kept an eye on the temperature and after two minutes, flipped each piece–they were actually golden brown!  After another two minutes I removed them to a cooling rack over a sheet pan to drain.  They smelled good!  I assumed the pleasant smell was just the egg batter, but I was quite pleased that they came out looking like they were supposed to.

Golden fried deliciousness!

Meanwhile it was time to stir fry the vegetables.  I had already chopped them up while the tofu was marinating, and since the burner was still hot, it was a simple matter to grab another (larger) frying pan, add a little oil, and toss the veggies in.

Rainbow!

You might want to tie your lemongrass in a bundle for easy removal. Doing it this way was a mistake.

After the veggies had softened up a bit, it was time to deglaze the pan and get some flavor in there.  I had planned on just using the rest of the marinade to accomplish this, but I overestimated how much was left and underestimated how much I would need to create any sort of sauce.  So I added more tamari, mirin, and rice vinegar, along with a sizable squirt (okay, several sizable squirts) of sriracha, and more grated ginger.  I also added the broccoli and finely sliced Thai chiles at this point, because I didn’t want them to overcook.  I covered it with a lid that is rather too small for the skillet, but it was good enough to collect some steam to cook the broccoli faster.  After a few more minutes, it was done!

The lid is too small!

To assemble the dish, I started with a nice scoop of brown rice (which I had cooked with a bit of tamari and lemongrass, and which, miracle of miracles, did NOT boil over!), and then topped it with a healthy scoop of vegetables, and then put the lovely golden tofu brick on top and spooned a bit of sauce over the whole thing:

Isn't it pretty?

Pretty, aren’t they?

And then it was time to taste it.  I cut off a corner of the tofu, admiring the crispy egg crust, and popped it in my mouth.  And was shocked!  It tasted good!  Not just in an I-can-see-how-this-would-be-good-if-you-liked-this-sort-of-thing way, but in a legitimately I-want-seconds kind of way!  It was delicious!  There was no trace of the soy flavor I typically find so unpleasant.  Just crispy egg batter, a pleasant tang from the lime, and a soft texture somewhat akin to a fluffy quiche.  No longer could I say that I hated tofu.  Hats off to Alton Brown.  His tofu-cooking technique is without equal.

Asian-Style Vegetable Stir Fry with Delicious Tofu
(serves 4)

For the marinade:

  • 2tbsp tamari soy sauce
  • 1tbsp mirin
  • 1tbsp rice vinegar
  • the juice of one lime
  • several squirts of sriracha
  • a pinch of freshly grated ginger
  • 1 stalk lemongrass halved and separated

For the tofu:

  • 1 15oz block extra firm tofu
  • 1/3c all purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • grapeseed oil

For the vegetables:

  • 1-2 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 2 large carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1 large or 2 small heads of broccoli
  • 2 watermelon radishes (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, roughly diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 7-8 stalks of lemongrass, halved and tied in a bundle
  • 1-inch knob of ginger, grated
  • 2 green Thai chiles, finely minced
  • the leftover marinade
  • additional mirin, rice vinegar, and tamari in equal parts
  • sriracha (to taste)

For the rice:

  • 1c brown rice
  • just over 2c water
  • splash of tamari
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, halved and separated

Drain the liquid from your package of tofu, and then slice it and press the rest of the liquid out as per Alton Brown’s recipe.  A few minutes before it’s done, get out a container with a tight-fitting lid that’s big enough to fit the slices of tofu side by side.  Add in the tamari, mirin, rice vinegar, sriracha, lime juice, ginger and lemongrass and stir until the sriracha is fully dissolved.  Taste it, and add more sriracha.  (Don’t worry–you can add a whole lot and your tofu still won’t be spicy.)  When the tofu is ready, put it in the marinade, cover it up, and set aside for half an hour.  If the tofu isn’t fully submerged, flip it halfway through.

Meanwhile, wash and chop up all your veggies.  Be sure to mince the Thai chiles very finely because they pack some punch!  This is also a good time to get your rice started, since it will take a good half hour (more if you’re using wild rice) to cook.

If you happen to have two good skillets (and two good burners), you can fry the tofu and stir fry the vegetables at the same time.  The vegetables don’t take a whole lot of attention, and the tofu isn’t hard to fry.  But if you want to do them one at a time like I did, start with the tofu.  I followed Alton Brown’s instructions pretty much exactly, right down to the spring-loaded metal tongs.  The only change I made was to use grapeseed oil instead of canola oil.  This is not strictly necessary, but if you do use canola oil, keep a closer eye on the temperature.  Grapeseed oil is good to 420 degrees.  Canola oil varies significantly depending on how it’s processed, but the kind I have is only good to 375-400 degrees.  And I have made it smoke before.  Grapeseed oil seemed safer.  When your tofu is done, remove it to a wire rack over a sheet pan to drain off any excess oil.

For the vegetables, heat a little oil in your skillet and add everything except the broccoli and Thai chiles.  Toss/stir them around occasionally.  Once your vegetables have started to soften, deglaze the pan with the extra marinade plus equal parts additional tamari, mirin, and rice vinegar as well as some sriracha.  You want just enough to create some sauce in the bottom of the pan.  Add in the broccoli and Thai chiles, stir, and then cover to let the broccoli steam.

By the time your vegetables are done, your rice should also be done.  Put some rice on each plate, top with vegetables and a slice of tofu, spoon a bit of sauce from the vegetable skillet over the top, and enjoy!

I love my slow cooker.  It’s so nice to be able to just put the ingredients in it in the morning and have dinner ready and waiting for us when we get home.  And at 3.5 quarts, it’s plenty big enough to feed the two of us with enough leftovers for several lunches, and it’s also a great way to feed a crowd.  But when most people think about slow cookers, they think about things like meaty stews or pot roasts–obviously not going to fly around here!  However, slow cookers are also great for cooking beans.  And lentils, and chickpeas, and black eyed peas, and just about anything that you normally have to soak overnight and then boil for an hour.  Conveniently, these are all things that form the basis of a lot of Indian dishes, and so that’s what usually gets made in our slow cooker!

If you’re new to cooking Indian food (or even just to slow cooking it), I would highly recommend this book: The Indian Slow Cooker. So far all the recipes I’ve made from it have been delicious, plus it helps you get used to the cooking times required for different ingredients so that you can create your own recipes (which is what I’ve done here.)

So on to the evolution of this fusion curry.  I’ve been wanting to make my own curry paste for a while, and as I had a whole bunch of long green chiles from the farmer’s market, I decided now would be a good time to do it.  After a bit of googling, I discovered that the key ingredients for green curry paste are green chiles, lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, shallots, garlic, cilantro, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, salt, shrimp paste, and galangal.  Now for obvious (vegetarian husband) reasons, shrimp paste was out, but I figured that its primary contribution was salt, so if the paste tasted bland, I could always just add soy sauce (or more salt!).  Galangal was a bit more of a problem–I had nowhere to get it.  The Asian grocery store might have had it, and there are probably places in the city that sell it, but I was not about to go on a wild goose chase all over town.  So I decided to substitute ginger.  Yes, I know, it’s not authentic, but ginger tastes good, is readily available (I always keep some on hand in the freezer), and goes with all the other flavors.  So ginger it was!

The beginnings of curry paste

I ended up with rather a lot of curry paste.  Several cups of it in fact.  The first day I made it, I made a coconut curry on the stove with Thai eggplant, broccoli, kale, and soba noodles.  It…wasn’t that good.  I had tried simmering the vegetables in the coconut milk and curry paste but by the time the vegetables were reasonably cooked through, the coconut milk had reduced way past what I had wanted, and to be perfectly honest, I just don’t like eggplant very much anyways.

That's a lot of curry paste!

So the next day I decided to try again, this time in the slow cooker.  Using a little inspiration from the cookbook’s black-eyed peas recipe, I decided to go with a combination of chickpeas, black chickpeas (which are slightly smaller than the regular ones) and black-eyed peas.  If you’re making your own version, feel free to use whatever combination of dried beans you like.  After giving them a good rinse, I put them in the slow cooker along with four and a half cups of water and all of the leftover curry paste, plus some turmeric and a bit of brown sugar to provide a sweet note to counter the spice.  And then I just let it cook.  I set the timer for eight hours, and about ten minutes before the end I added a can of coconut milk and some vegetables–broccoli and green pepper.  I did end up adding an extra half hour to the cook time because the vegetables weren’t fully submerged so they didn’t cook as quickly as I had expected.  The end result?  Much better than making it on the stove and definitely delicious!

Fusion Curry

Thai-Indian Fusion Curry
(serves 6-8)

For the Curry Paste:

  • 5-10 peppercorns
  • 1tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion (or 2-3 shallots), roughly chopped
  • 1 small head of garlic (8-10 cloves), peeled and smashed
  • 7-10 stalks lemongrass, chopped
  • a 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 15 spicy green chiles (mine were about 6″ long. use more if you’re using the small thai chiles), de-seeded and chopped
  • a small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • the zest of one lime
  • 1/2tsp kosher salt

Everything else:

  • 1.5c dried chickpeas, black-eyed peas or beans in any combination, rinsed in cold water
  • 4.5c water
  • 1tsp turmeric
  • 1tbsp brown sugar
  • 13.5oz coconut milk (1 can)
  • 1 large head of broccoli, chopped (you can use the stems too!  just peel them first)
  • 1 green pepper, chopped

Toast the coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a dry pan over medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant.  Keep them moving in the pan so they don’t burn.  Then put them in a spice grinder with the peppercorns and grind them up.  Set the mixture aside.

Put the chiles, onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, lime zest, and salt into a food processor* and buzz it up until you have a relatively uniform consistency.  Taste it, and adjust the ingredients if you need to.  (Be sure to have a glass of milk on hand to quell the burning afterwards!)  Add the ground up spices, and run the food processor a bit longer until everything is fully incorporated.  Set aside.

Measure out your chickpeas and/or other beans and give them a good rinse.  Check for very small rocks (which, despite what you may have heard, do not float!).  Put them in into the slow cooker and add 4.5c of water.  Add 1-2 cups of your fresh curry paste (depending on how spicy you want your curry to be), the turmeric, and the brown sugar.  Mix everything up, cover it, and set your slow cooker to high for 9 hours.  Go about your day.

After 8 hours, the beans/chickpeas should be fully cooked.  Give everything a good stir, and then add the coconut milk and vegetables.  Stir again, cover it back up, and let it continue to cook until the vegetables have reached your desired level of done-ness.  Depending on how well the lid of your slow cooker seals and how submerged the vegetables are, this could take anywhere from 10-30 minutes.  When they’re done, stir, serve, and enjoy!  Leftovers should keep well in the fridge for several days at least, and leftover curry paste will last a day or two.

*If you don’t have a food processor, you can do this in a mortar and pestle.  Just chop everything as finely as you can first, and be prepared to put some muscle into it!

I’m still working on getting the rest of the Portland posts put together, but in the meantime, here’s a guest post from my mom who wanted to share her Orzo Caponata recipe with you all.  Enjoy!

*                                   *                                   *

I am always looking for recipes which incorporate fresh veggies from the garden or which are seasonally available at the market. Substitutions in a dish like this are easy, and if you don’t have some of the items in your pantry, just try substituting something similar. Any shape of pasta will work, and once the pasta is boiled (which can be done in advance) this is a one-pan-meal. I like to cut up all my veggies first, and lay out the pantry ingredients on a dinner plate so it is easy to add them into the pan in good order.

Easy Orzo Caponata

  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium white (or red) onion, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and rough-chopped
  • 1 small (or Chinese) eggplant, peeled and sliced into ¼” semi-circles
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 12 large black Kalamata olives, halved and pits removed
  • 2 tsp. wild capers
  • 2 tsp. fresh finely chopped basil
  • 2 tsp. fresh finely chopped curly parsley
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced into thin wedges
  • 2 Tbsp. Red wine vinegar (or to taste)
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • Fresh grated Parmesan or other hard Italian cheese
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Option: toasted pine nuts

Boil a large pot of water, add salt and 2 – 3 cups of organic orzo pasta. Cook until just tender. I like to boil a big batch and use some for this dish and the rest for soup or a pasta salad the next day. Drain, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, stir and set aside.

Wash and prepare vegetables. I use organic and home-grown ingredients. If you use eggplant from a store, you may wish to salt the slices and let them sit to draw out any bitter liquid. Rinse and pat dry before using.

In large deep skillet, heat approximately 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Add onions and celery and sauté until translucent. Add more olive oil if needed, then add green pepper and eggplant. Saute over medium heat until vegetables are tender-crisp. Reduce heat slightly. Add raisins, olives, and capers. Stir a few times. Add herbs, black pepper and pine nuts (if you wish). Stir until all ingredients are hot. Add tomatoes and red wine vinegar to taste. Stir. Add 2 cups or desired amount of cooked orzo. Stir. Grate cheese in to taste. Stir and cook over low heat until cheese melts and flavors meld. Add sea salt to taste.

Serve warm. Can be eaten the next day over fresh greens as a salad.

You guys, I’m so excited!  The husband and I are headed off on our honeymoon tomorrow to Portland, Oregon for 10 days of food nerd awesomeness!  We have both a spreadsheet and a customized google map marking out all the places we want to try–it’s going to be awesome!  (Of course we also have lots of walking and hiking planned…have to do something to burn off all the ridiculous meals we’re going to be eating!  Plus there are awesome waterfalls near Portland!)  I’m planning on tweeting pictures of the food (and anything else cool that we come across!), so if you haven’t followed me on Twitter yet, please do!  Or not if Twitter’s not your thing–don’t worry, I’m planning a round-up blog post about the trip when we get back.

And now on to today’s recipe!  I made this a couple weeks ago but I hadn’t gotten around to actually writing up the post yet.  But this might just be one of my favorite recipes I’ve shared here.  It has just the right balance of flavors…sweet/sour/savory/salty/bitter, with just the right amount of spice.  The key is really the lime juice at the end.  The lime juice takes what would have been a pretty decent dish to a whole other level of flavor.  So don’t leave it out!  Added bonus: this dish is ridiculously healthy, what with the quinoa and the beans and the kale and such.  But it doesn’t *taste* like health food.  It just tastes good.

Colorful, isn't it?

So without further ado:

Quinoa Adzuki Bean Stir Fry

  • 1/2c quinoa (uncooked)
  • 1.25c water
  • 1/2tbsp tamari
  • 2 carrots, sliced into discs
  • 1 daikon, sliced into discs
  • 1 green pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1/2 habanero pepper, minced
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 1 can adzuki beans, drained (also rinsed if they contain salt)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • splash mirin
  • 1 inch knob ginger, peeled and freshly grated
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 bunch lacinta kale, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/2c sugar snap peas
  • freshly ground black pepper

Rinse and pick over the quinoa, then put it, the water, and the tamari into a pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about half an hour until all of the water is absorbed.  Keep an eye on it, both so it doesn’t boil over and so it doesn’t overcook.  If it finishes cooking before you’re done with everything else, take it off the heat, fluff it with a fork so it doesn’t stick and then set it aside.

Meanwhile in your largest skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  When it’s hot, add the onion, carrot, daikon, ginger, and black pepper.  Stir periodically.  When the onion starts to get transparent, deglaze the pan with the mirin and add the kale and habanero.  When the kale starts to wilt, add the quinoa, green pepper, and adzuki beans.  Mix well.  When everything is heated through, remove it from the heat and add the sugar snap peas and a splash of tamari.  Pour in the lime juice, give everything a good toss to mix it all together and enjoy!

Carrot cake is delicious.  And I’ve made Smitten Kitchen’s version (layer cake style) with great success in the past.  Seriously, it was one of the most delicious cakes ever.  And I think I still have some in the freezer somewhere.  I may need to go thaw that out…

Unfortunately, carrot cake also tends to be ridiculously bad for you.  Now I’m not one to turn down delicious desserts just because they’re unhealthy–far from it!  I love dessert and I have a terrible sweet tooth.  I don’t buy in to all the sugar-free, low fat, fake butter, weird chemical trends.  However, I’m trying to eat somewhat healthier of late and (more importantly) I’ve been itching to try my hand at baking experimentation for a while!  So I wanted to see if I could make a version of carrot cake that was still delicious and moist but didn’t contain a cup and a quarter of oil.

Now baking is finicky.  Unlike cooking, where you have a lot of freedom to adjust things as you go along, with baking, if you measure wrong or add the wrong ingredient, there’s no way to salvage it once it’s in the oven.  I was always a bit hesitant to try experimenting because I didn’t want to have a lot of good ingredients go to waste.  So I decided that I needed to do some research.  I compared four different recipes: Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, Chuck Hughes’ recipe, Alton Brown’s recipe, and the recipe from Advanced Bread and Pastry (which is definitely a book you’ll want to invest in if you’re serious about baking like my husband is!).  By studying the recipes, I got a pretty good idea of the ratios of the different types of ingredients involved in making a carrot cake delicious.  So then I started to contemplate substitutions.

The first thing I decided I wanted to include was some banana puree.  I figured that since, like applesauce (a common healthier substitution for oil), bananas contain pectin, it would probably work to sub it in for some of the oil.  I also guessed that I could cut the sugar in the recipe since bananas are naturally sweet.

The next thing I decided to include was crushed pineapple.  Again this is a naturally sweet ingredient, and in fact is commonly included in many carrot cake recipes including Chuck’s, so I figured I could get away with it.  (Also it meant that I got to have a big glass of pineapple juice to drink since I drained the crushed pineapple before mixing it in.  I love me some pineapple juice!!)

I also substituted a quarter of the flour with whole wheat flour.  I seriously considered doing more–and in retrospect I probably could have gotten away with it–but I was already not entirely sure how these were going to turn out so I didn’t want to press my luck!

The results of all this tinkering were surprisingly delicious.  The muffins were soft and moist, with sweet bursts of chewy dried fruit in the middle (I used dried cherries and raisins).  While I wouldn’t call these muffins a health food, by making the substitutions of the bananas and pineapple, I was able to cut the oil content from a cup and a quarter down to just half a cup!  And I really don’t feel like lost anything by it.  I definitely think I’m going to keep playing with this recipe–I’d like to create a version that reads more like a cupcake, and I’d like to find a way to make cream cheese frosting healthier (because I’ve been known to eat it with a spoon.  I am a cream cheese frosting junkie.)  But I hope that this convinces you, like it convinced me, that with a little research, baking is definitely something you CAN experiment with, and the outcome can be delicious!

*Originally these were meant to be cupcakes.  And really, there’s a very fine line between sweet muffins and cupcakes sometimes.  And if you want them to be cupcakes, all you really need to do is frost them.  (You could also eliminate the dried fruit if that would make them feel more cake-y to you.  Feel free to play around!)

P.S. If you’re wondering about the lack of pictures, it’s because the muffins were all gone before I remembered to take any!  My apologies!

Carrot Cake Muffins
(makes about 24 muffins) 

  • 1.5c all purpose flour
  • .5c whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • .5 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp garam masala (or ground cinnamon if you prefer)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 4 large eggs
  • .5c canola oil
  • .5c mashed overripe bananas
  • .5c crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1.5c granulated sugar
  • 3c grated carrots
  • .5c raisins (optional)
  • .25c dried cherries (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line your muffin tins with paper liners.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the two types of flour, the salt, baking soda, and the spices.  Set it aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together oil and sugar.  Then whisk in the eggs, and when they’re fully combined, mix in the mashed bananas and the crushed pineapple.  Then mix in the grated carrots.

Once the carrots are incorporated into the wet ingredients, add the dry ingredients to the wet and start to mix.  Use as few strokes as possible – you don’t want to overmix!!  When about half of the flour is mixed in, add the dried fruit if you’re using it.  Mix a bit more until everything is just combined.  If you can still see a little bit of flour here and there, don’t worry about it.  It will be fine.

Use a disher or an ice cream scoop to evenly distribute the batter into the muffin tins.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  (It might take longer–just keep an eye on them!)  Let them cool in the pans for a bit, and then when they’re cool enough, take them out and put them on cooling racks to cool down the rest of the way.  (This is especially important if you’ve decided to frost them.  If not?  They’re really good while they’re still warm!)

I’ll admit it–I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post.  Why?  Because of the two people who tried this dish (me and my fiance) only one of us (me) liked it.  50% success rating?  Not very good.

But I liked it!  So I’ve decided to post it anyways.  Feel free to try it out, make your own tweaks, and tell me what you think.

squash

Yellow summer squash has a pretty delicate flavor, which makes it a good canvas for mixing with other, stronger flavors.  I decided I wanted to try marinating it in a mix of spices, so I pulled out all the spices I thought would work well together, measured them into a bowl (amounts based on how it smelled), and then I chopped the squash into 1 inch(ish) cubes, tossed them in a ziploc bag, poured in just enough olive oil to coat them, and then added the spice mix.  I sealed up the bag and tossed it around until all of the squash was well coated in spices and then I left it to sit while I got everything else ready.

Spice Mix

Marinating Squash

 

I put a pot of water on the stove to boil for making buckwheat, which I thought would make a good base for the spiced squash.  You could also use rice, quinoa, couscous, or any other grain you wanted.  Once that got going, I chopped up some baby red onions, and put my largest skillet on the stove to heat up.

Once the skillet was good and hot (check this by dripping some water on it–if it sizzles and evaporates right away, it’s ready), I dropped in the squash.  To get a bit of a flavor contrast with the savory spices of the squash, I also added about a third of a cup of dried sour cherries.  You could use any dried fruit, really, depending on what you’re going for, but I found that I really liked the sourness the cherries brought to this dish.

After half a minute or so, I added in some white wine,  because I had a bottle that was almost empty and it seemed like a good idea!  It turned out to be an excellent idea except that I only had about a quarter cup left.  If I were making this recipe again I would definitely use at least half a cup if not a bit more so that the wine flavor really gets in there.  The cherries and the wine really pair well together.

Simmering

I let everything simmer down for several minutes, and then I added the onions and covered it so that the squash would cook through faster.  (The buckwheat was almost done!)  After simmering for about 20 minutes, the squash was tender and it was time to serve it up!  I put a scoop of buckwheat on each plate, put a good-sized scoop of squash on top, plus a bit of the juice from the bottom of the pan.  And that’s it!

Spiced Yellow Squash

Spiced Yellow Squash
(serves 3-4)

  • 2 medium yellow squash, chopped into ~1″ cubes
  • 1/3c dried sour cherries 
  • 2-3 baby red onions or shallots, chopped
  • 1/2c white wine
  • olive oil
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2tsp smoked paprika
  • 1tsp cumin
  • 1/8tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8tsp black pepper
  • 1c buckwheat or other grain
First, measure out your spices into a bowl and mix them together.  Feel free to vary the amounts–it has a pretty good kick the way I made it.  Chop your squash into approximately 1 inch cubes, then toss it in a ziploc bag with some olive oil and the spices.  Make sure it’s fully coated with the spices, and then leave it to marinate for a bit.
Put the water on to boil for the buckwheat/rice/whatever, and make it according to package instructions.  Meanwhile, chop the onions, and put a large skillet on medium heat.  When the skillet is hot, add the squash and the cherries.  Let it sizzle for half a minute to a minute, and then add the white wine.  When it starts to reduce, add the onions and cover so that the squash cooks through.  (If you don’t have a cover for your skillet, use aluminum foil).  When the squash is tender, serve on top of a scoop of buckwheat.
My fiance wanted the dish to be sweeter.  If you agree, feel free to add a few handfuls of golden raisins at the same time you add the cherries.  Personally I like it better without, but to each their own!

Heidi Swanson over at 101 Cookbooks always has great recipes, but her recipe for Feisty Green Beans ranks as one of the best things I have ever tasted.  Period.  Between the crisp freshness of the still-slightly-raw green beans to the pops of sweetness from the raisins to the aromatic mixture of Indian-style spices, everything about this dish works perfectly together.  I’m so happy I have leftovers!  And if there are green beans again at the farmer’s market the next time I go, I’ll definitely be making this again!

I came across this recipe while trying to figure out what to with the pound of beans I had sitting in my fridge.  I wanted to make something more inspired than just beans sauteed with a little butter and basil, which was all that was coming to mind for me.  I also didn’t want to have to go to the grocery store, because I’m trying to stop spending so much on groceries by cooking with things I already have in the pantry.  So I looked around for different recipes and found a few that sounded like they had potential, but nothing that would work as a main course, and nothing that I had all the ingredients for.  Until I found the Feisty Green Beans.

Don’t be intimidated by the long ingredient list–most of the ingredients are spices which you probably have on hand.  (Especially if you ever make Indian food).  I did end up substituting paneer for the tofu because a) I didn’t have any tofu and b) I really don’t like tofu.  The paneer works out really well in this dish though, so I’m really glad I used it.  It adds a bit of a salty flavor which contrasts nicely with the raisins and spices.  You could also probably substitute queso blanco for the tofu if you can’t find paneer, but I personally find that queso blanco doesn’t have quite as nice a texture as paneer.

So the next time you’re at the farmer’s market, get yourself a pound of green beans and make this recipe!  You’ll be sooo happy you did!

The breakfast smoothie is the easy solution for fruit that’s going to go bad if you don’t use it up RIGHT NOW, for that last little bit of yogurt in the container that you can’t figure out what to do with, for getting any variety of healthy nutrients that you may be lacking…you get the idea.  Probably most of you already know how to make smoothies, but it’s a topic worth revisiting because they’re just so tasty!  And they can almost make you feel like it’s summer even as you look out the window at the chilly, pouring rain.

Today I made a smoothie for all of the reasons listed above–I had strawberries in the fridge that really needed to be used up, I need more potassium in my diet but the texture of bananas has always grossed me out, and I had a little bit of yogurt left that I didn’t know what to do with!  So I cut up the strawberries (there were 3), peeled the banana and broke it into pieces, tossed all that in the blender, added the yogurt, a handful of ice cubes, and blended it til it was smooth.  It made one good sized serving (or probably two kid-sized servings).

Speedy, delicious, nutritious breakfast!

And of course you can make it with whatever fruit you have on hand.  Be creative!