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I am definitely my mother’s daughter in a lot of ways: we look really similar, we love outlet shopping, we have the same sense of humor. One thing I have really come to appreciate in my mom is her love for the slow cooker, which she has definitely passed down to me. Without fail, whenever we’re on the phone and I tell her I don’t know what I’m making for dinner, she tells me, “Put something in the crock pot!” And she’s always right (even though I don’t always do it). The slow cooker really is one of my absolute favorite kitchen tools, and I would be lost without it.

I have a few slow cooker cookbooks, and after finding this lentil chili recipe on Kid Tested Firefighter Approved, I might have to pick up Robin Robertson’s Fresh From the Vegan Slow Cooker, too; this chili is delicious, versatile (you’ll see!), and a snap to make.

Lentil Chili ingredients

I had just enough brown lentils left for this recipe, which was definitely a sign! Not pictured: the Mexican Oregano incident of 2013, in which, after putting it in this dish, I dropped that nearly-full little bottle of (expensive!) Mexican oregano, at which point it exploded all over my kitchen floor. Awesome.

Instead of using all chili powder, I used 2 tablespoons regular chili powder, and 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder – I think this made all the difference from a really good to a great chili, and I highly recommend it if you can get your hands on it! It adds a little spice and smokiness to it.

This is basically a dump-and-cook recipe; the onions, garlic, chili, and bell pepper call for a little saute before cooking, but if you’re really short on time, do it the night before and just keep it in the fridge.

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Happy spoon loves it! This is what it looks like when all the ingredients go into the slow cooker, and 6-8 hours later, it becomes…

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Chili! I was feeling good about chili, but I got a flash of inspiration while it was cooking, and we turned it into the best nachos I’ve ever had – no joke. If you have self-control, you can stop there, or you can go all the way:

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Cheese and sour cream, nachos’ best friends. The only thing I regret here is not having an avocado on hand, then it would have been perfect. You could also serve this over rice, or just a bowl on its own! It’s delicious and versatile – and it makes a ton, so you will have leftovers! I meant to freeze some but didn’t, but I suspect this would be perfect for that. I highly recommend it!

Slow Cooker Lentil Chili – slightly adapted from Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson, as posted on Kid Tested, Firefighter Approved

  • 1 medium onion (or 3 shallots, which I used), chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced (you can always add more!)
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped (I used a mix of red, orange, and yellow pepper from our CSA)
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp chipotle chili powder (or substitute another 1 T of chili powder)
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano (or substitute regular oregano)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (I used jarred tomato puree, again from our CSA)
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 4 cups water/broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions, garlic, jalapeño  and bell pepper over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes, or until soft. Add the chili powders, oregano, and cumin, and saute for 30 seconds more.

Transfer the onion mixture to your slow cooker; add the rest of the ingredients except salt. Cook for 6-8 hours on low (mine did cook about 7-8 hours). Add salt to taste. Serve any way you like!

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My fiancee and I were both hit by the flu bug that ravaged NYC (and other parts of the country, presumably) in January, so for a week or so, neither of us had much appetite, and when we did, I didn’t  have energy to do much more than call for Chinese takeout. But now we’re back in the land of the living, and the first thing I wanted to make was soup! Of course.

I was paging through Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Appetite for Reduction, which I finally picked up over the holidays after eyeing it for years. There, calling me, was a Quinoa, White Bean, and Kale Stew. I already had almost everything on hand (I had just picked up the quinoa and leeks at Trader Joe’s the day before, in a lovely coincidence), and I still had frozen collards from our CSA, so I decided to adapt the recipe slightly to tailor to what we already had.

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Those are baby carrots hiding back there!

The trimmed leeks from TJs make working with leeks as easy as possible – I’ve always been sort of afraid of leeks, because of the dirt and grit that can linger even after you rinse it, but these are already cleaned and trimmed! It’s cheating, sure, but it’s a baby step.

The original recipe also called for a mix of fennel seeds, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary – I had some of those things, but not others, but I did have a brand new jar of Herbes de Provence on the shelf! It has everything the recipe calls for (except marjoram, I think), plus lavender! It’s a really great savory blend that I recommend picking up if you can. If not, definitely use whatever herbs you like in soup.

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This soup has a lot of ingredients, and makes a ton of food, in case you couldn’t tell (that is a big pot in that picture), but it’s really easy to do. Basically everything gets chopped and thrown into the pot!

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Plus, I was in a cooking frenzy, so I also made buttermilk buns from The Everything Bread Cookbook, which is my favorite bread cookbook. They turned out pretty well! They fell apart pretty easily, though, so I think that means I kneaded it a bit too much – still trying to figure out my stand mixer’s power!

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While this stew looks a little wan in these pictures, it was so good – really, really flavorful, and chock full of really hearty things. I definitely recommend this one – plus, it’s so easy to just sub in anything you have sitting in the fridge!

Quinoa, White Bean & Collards Stew (Adapted from Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

1 tsp olive oil

2 thinly sliced leeks

1 teaspoon salt

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 large carrots, peeled & diced (I used a handful of baby carrots)

1 Tbsp Herbs de Provence

8 cups vegetable broth

2 potatoes, diced

1 cup dried quinoa

1 can white beans, drained and rinsed

1 bunch greens – I used 12 ounces of frozen collards, thawed, but kale, spinach, or any other green would be great!

Preheat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Saute the leeks and garlic in oil with the salt for about 3 minutes. Add the carrot, along with the herbs, turn the heat up to high, and saute for a few seconds.

Add the vegetable brother, potatoes, and quinoa. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes, until the potatoes and quinoa are tender. Add the greens and beans, and cook, stirring frequently, until the greens are wilted (or heated through, if frozen). Cover and simmer over low heat for 5 more minutes.

I love breakfast for dinner – when I was little, my parents would do it a couple times a month, and it always felt wrong, but in a delicious way. To this day, if I’m at a restaurant with breakfast all day, I’ll usually go for it, and I often get a hankering for pancakes in the middle of the night. So I was excited to find this Lemon Ricotta Pancake recipe on Pinterest, which was perfectly timed, as I had those CSA blueberries to use! I’d never made ricotta pancakes before, but the original post is right; they’re delicious! Light, fluffy, and a little creamy.

100_0251I basically had all this stuff in my kitchen, which is always awesome.

Apparently I didn’t take any in-process pictures, but you probably know what the pancake-making process is like! The recipe is really simple and comes together quickly – the only thing I don’t like about making pancakes is the fact that you have to be in the kitchen the whole time. But it was worth it, for this:

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce

I will note, though, that while the recipe says 3-4 servings, we got 3 light dinner portions out of it. Plan to have something on the side, or double the recipe.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce (From Damn Delicious, which I am so glad I found via Pinterest because it’s great!)

Pancakes:

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 T sugar
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 1 T canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg whites
  • Juice of 2-3 lemons (I used 2, it probably could have used another one)
  • Zest of 1 lemon

Blueberry sauce:

  • 1 1/2 T lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 t cornstarch
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 2 T sugar

Preheat the oven to 200F.

Make the blueberry sauce: combine lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl, set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries, sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Stir in the lemon juice and cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Keep warm; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the ricotta, oil, egg, egg whites, lemon juice and zest.

Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir using a rubber spatula just until moist.

Lightly coat a nonstick skillet with nonstick spray. Scoop 1/3 cup batter for each pancake and cook until bubbles appear on top and the underside is nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook the pancakes on the other side, about 1-2 minutes longer; keep warm in oven.

Serve immediately with blueberry sauce.

Long time, no post! The changing of the seasons seems to affect me more than most people I know; when it gets colder, and darker, I don’t want to do anything, or eat anything other than pizza and Chinese takeout. But having felt physically icky for a few weeks now, I’m determined to get back on the “cooking for yourself! and eating vegetables!” boat. So, expect more frequent posts – honestly!

A few things I’ve made and liked in the interim:

  • Crock Pot Mac & Cheese – A really good base recipe, on its own it doesn’t have a ton of flavor, though. Next time I would season it quite a bit.
  • Strawberry Greek Yogurt Banana Bread – I took this to work and it went over really well. A great breakfast bread! The only thing I noticed is that the bread turns out a little moister than I usually like.
  • Slow Cooker Cinnamon Almonds – Amazing!! The perfect snack, and very easy (although you do have to be around the slow cooker, as you have to stir them pretty often). These would make a great food gift!
  • Crock Pot Cranberry Sauce – This was my lone addition to our Thanksgiving table, as I had to travel halfway across the country, and I failed (twice!!) at making buttermilk rolls to take. This is a really nice cranberry sauce – hearty and flavorful. The apples are a great addition. I did add more honey than the recipe called for, however, as I like my cranberries a little sweeter. I also woke up too late on Thanksgiving to put this in the slow cooker, so I cooked it on medium-high heat for about 20-25 minutes, and the berries burst and everything melded together nicely.

For dinner tonight, I wanted something easy, filling, and (relatively) healthy. I went with a Quinoa Mac & Cheese recipe I had bookmarked, as I figured it would be at least two out of three. This mac & cheese ends up much more like a cheesy rice casserole than your standard mac & cheese, but it’s really hearty and warming, and as healthy as you want it to be with the addition of vegetables!

(Our milk is in a pitcher because its jug had a crack in it, and now I’m kind of in love with how it looks)

This is a real fridge-cleaner of a meal: any vegetables you want to use up, any cheese you have on hand, and the rest are (for me, at least) pantry staples! Cook the quinoa, and while that’s cooking, take whatever veggies you want in your mac & cheese – I had frozen broccoli and baby spinach on hand – and sauté them with any seasonings you want. I went simple, with just garlic and crushed red pepper.

When both those parts are cooked, add them to a custard base of 2 eggs and 1 cup milk, whisked together – I tempered the eggs with the quinoa slowly, so I didn’t get scrambled eggs – and then stir in the cheese. Pour it all into a prepared pan, top with breadcrumbs (I added Parmesan, as well) and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. The easiest!

Apparently, I’m in a real mac & cheese mood lately, as on Sunday, I’m going to a Mac & Cheese Cookoff. I mean, when am I not in a mac & cheese mood, really. This quinoa version, which I originally found at Around the Table, is going into my standards file, for sure!

Lately I’ve been looking for ways to both cook healthy, and cook cheap, and this is the perfect solution to both. All I didn’t have in the fridge for this Kale and Chickpea Saute was the kale! Plus, kale is a favorite food in this house, so I’m going to ride the kale wave as far as I can.

Apparently I forgot to take pictures of this dish in progress, but that’s probably because it is so simple that no real explanation is needed! Sautee the garlic and shallots (finally, I’m using shallots in a recipe that actually calls for them!), then add the chickpeas until they get browned and crispy, add the red pepper and kale until it wilts down, and zest and juice the lemon over the top!

A few stray observations: My chickpeas never got browned or crispy, really, at least not as much as I was hoping. I’m pretty sure this is because I had a really heavy hand with olive oil at the beginning, and also because I kept changing the temperature on the burner, since I didn’t want the garlic and shallots to burn. Next time, I’d use less oil (I’d just use the recommended amount of oil!), and keep the heat constant. Next time, I’m also going to double the recipe! Since it’s probably meant to be a side dish (my partner mentioned how good it would be with steak…), there was just enough for both of us – we probably both could have eaten more! I wish I had some for lunch today, too. But I served it with freshly-baked Honey Beer Bread (recipe coming soon!), and it was a really filling, satisfying pantry-clearing meal.

Kale and Chickpea Saute (Originally from Live To Eat)

1 can chickpeas
1 bunch Kale
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Red pepper flakes to taste
salt to taste
1 tbsp Olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon (I used the zest of the whole lemon and juice from half, because I had a particularly juicy lemon)

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. In a large non-stick pan, heat the olive oil and saute the shallots and garlic till soft. Add salt and the chickpeas and saute till the chickpeas turn golden and crusty, about 8-10 minutes. Add the red pepper and mix well. Add the kale and saute for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lemon zest and lemon juice and mix well. Season with more salt if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I recently mentioned to my mom on the phone that I was really excited about getting an immersion blender, and would probably ask for one for Christmas, or, failing that, put it on my wedding registry. Well, my mom is a wonderful woman who loves giving gifts, so I was pleasantly surprised when UPS dropped off a box with an immersion blender in it not too long after! Whatta great lady she is. I decided my inaugural use of the blender would be this White Bean Hummus Soup I’ve been eyeing from Keep it Simple Foods for a little while now.

The soup is really delicious and flavorful for how simple it is! You sautee your onions and garlic, add the beans, broth, lime zest and juice, and cilantro, and let it go for 5-10 minutes!

I am still trying to figure out how to photograph soup, since the steam fogs up my camera’s lens!

Once that’s done, you run your immersion blender through the soup – or, if you don’t have one, you can definitely just add it to the stand blender and puree. And you’re done! The original post recommended making some French bread crostini, which I did as well:

There is basically nothing better than bread and olive oil, seriously.

The soup was a great success – light, but still pretty filling for early autumn! Unfortunately, my cilantro had partially gone south since I bought it, so there wasn’t as much in as I would have liked, and I think I would add some crushed red pepper flakes or even a little bit of hot sauce in the future for a little bit of heat. A really simple, delicious soup with pantry ingredients, what more can you ask for?

White Bean Hummus Soup (from Keep It Simple Foods)

3 cans cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)

2 limes (juice and zest)

3 cloves garlic (chopped)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cups vegetable stock

1/3 cup chopped onion (I used shallot, as always)

a good handful of cilantro (chopped)

salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, on medium high heat, combine the oil, onion, and garlic. When onions and garlic cook down a bit, add the beans and lime zest. Cook for another minute or two.  Add in the veggie stock, then add in the cilantro and lime juice.

Cover with a lid and bring to a slight boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for another 5 minutes. Use an immersion blender to make the soup creamy and smooth.  Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste, if needed.

 

Now that the weather has cooled, it’s officially fall, no matter what the calendar says. And fall means I finally rise out of my heat-induced torpor and get interested in food again! Last night, I had a real bee in my bonnet, and made this Spicy Mac & Cheese that I have been promising my boo for a while now, as well as roasted broccoli and some baked goods to bring to work today! (More on the bread later). The mac ended up absolutely deliciously.

Ingredients! And we’re not even missing anything, I don’t think! Progress.

This mac & cheese (or maybe I should call it gemelli & cheese?) is a pretty standard mac & cheese recipe, with a few great additions. The first step calls for sautéing onions (or, in my case, shallots, as always), jalapeño(s) (I only used one because of the pepper jack that went into the sauce), and roasted red peppers until they’re soft. Then, you cook the pasta – whatever small shapes you have, I used gemelli because it was on sale and I had never used it before! – and make your cheese sauce. It starts, like almost every cheese sauce, with a roux of flour and butter, with milk added once the two are combined. A lot of times, my cheese sauce on homemade mac gets grainy, but this time, I made sure to whisk really well, and cook the milk a little longer than I usually do. This made it perfect! Once the time came to add the pepper jack and the cheddar (what I had around – the original recipe called for cheddar and jack cheeses), the sauce was thick, creamy, and rich. Mix the cheese sauce with the cooked pasta and vegetables, put some breadcrumbs on top (again, the recipe called for homemade breadcrumbs, but I had some in the pantry that were begging to be used up), and pop it in the oven! It comes out hot, rich, and a little spicy – perfect for me! If you’re really into spicy, I would use two jalapeños.

I was in total mom-mode, so I had to make some vegetables to go on the side. I used my standby roasted broccoli recipe, the so-called “best broccoli in the world,” which actually is really damn good. My fiancee was bananas over this broccoli, possibly even more than the mac & cheese! Thank goodness the time for roasted vegetables is here again.

Spicy Mac & Cheese (adapted from Annie’s Eats original recipe)

4 cups pasta shapes
3 shallots, finely chopped
1/3 cup roasted red pepper (jarred or home roasted), finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely minced
6½ tbsp. butter, divided
4 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2½ cups milk
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
8 oz. pepper jack cheese, shredded
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. breadcrumbs

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  When the water boils, cook the pasta according to the package directions.  In the meantime, melt ½ tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the shallots, red pepper and jalapeno to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until fragrant and tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat.  Once the butter is completely melted, whisk in the flour.  Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it turns a light golden brown color and begins to foam, about 2 minutes.  (Be careful not to burn!)  Whisk in the milk until well blended.  Cook the mixture, whisking or stirring frequently, until it begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium-low.  Whisk in the spices.  Add the cheeses to the mixture and whisk until completely melted and well incorporated.  Remove the mixture from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Grease a 2-quart casserole dish.  Return the drained pasta to the large pot.  Add in the cooked vegetables and the cheese sauce, and mix until well blended.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs in an even layer on top of the pasta.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until the mixture is heated through and the topping is golden brown.  Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.