Category: Raisins


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!

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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.

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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!)

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!

More Beets!

The lasagna from my last post only used one beet, so I had three more to use!  I decided to try something a little different and make a beet curry.  Since I’d never made anything like this before, I started off by googling around for recipes, but came up mostly empty handed.  I did find a few recipes, but they all required a long list of Indian spices which, unfortunately, I don’t have.  But I wasn’t going to let this stop me!  I do have a good curry powder, so that’s what I started with.

I dropped about three tablespoons of unsalted butter into a medium pan, and once it was melted I threw in about a tablespoon of curry powder.  There are a lot of different curry powders out there, and if you’re not making your own, I would recommend the Whole Foods brand (though ironically that’s not what I have–they were sold out so I ended up with Frontier Natural Curry Powder, which is also a pretty good option).

Then I tossed in the diced beets, peas (thawed but not heated), and what turned out to be the key ingredient–golden raisins.  After letting everything simmer for a bit I tasted it and added some salt.  Just at the end I threw in a couple tablespoons of shredded coconut, tasted it again, and added a few more raisins and a bit more salt.  Here’s the result:

mmm...beets!

It turned out better than I was expecting, and tasted even better as leftovers!

The recipe (all quantities are approximate):

Beet Curry

3tbsp unsalted butter
1tbsp curry powder
2 medium beets, cooked, peeled and diced
1/3c frozen peas, thawed
a handful of golden raisins
2-3tbsp shredded coconut
salt to taste

Melt the butter in a medium pan and add the curry powder.  Stir until curry powder is coated.  Add beets, peas, and raisins.  Simmer 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add salt, stir, and add coconut.  Cook for another minute or so and add more salt and/or coconut if necessary.  Enjoy!