March 30, 2008

Miso Soup





Ingredients:
4 1/4 cups water
4 oz extra firm tofu, diced
.5 oz bonito flakes
2 2-inch squares kombu
1/4 cup miso paste* dissolved in an equal amount of water
3/4 cup baby bok choy or seaweed cut into manageable strips


Directions:
At no point do you want the water/soup to come to a full boil. Watch your soup carefully. Simmer kombu in the water in a medium pot. Bring to almost a boil, the water should be rippling. Remove the kombu. Add the bonito flakes**, return it to a high simmer for 5 minutes, then skim out the bonito. You have just made the simple dashi (broth) that is the base of miso soup. Add the cubed tofu and greens. Simmer 5 minutes. Stir in the dissolved miso and evenly distribute it. Cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat, allow to cool for one minute then serve.


Optional: garnish with green onions or garlic chives.

Yield: 4-6 servings



*Normally we use Shiromiso or "white" miso, but this time I used Akamiso or "red" miso. They taste slightly different from each other but both are commonly used to make miso soup.
**Optional, add a few dehydrated shiitake mushrooms at this point and remove them when you skim out the bonito then add them back in when you add the miso.

My thoughts:
Miso soup is so simple I almost hesitated to post the recipe. However, I have gotten a lot of requests for a recipe for miso soup so the last time we got sushi, I made some homemade miso soup and actually measured out my ingredients so I could share it with you. I don't do anything too radical but I do like to make my own simple broth (AKA dashi, which is a great base for a lot of Japanese cooking) instead of using instant dashi powder and I am of the "don't let it boil" school of miso soup-making. I find a high simmer (think ripples, not bubbles) yields the best flavor.

Like I said, miso soup is easy to make but it does require a few very specific ingredients. I have had no problem finding miso paste (which, incidentally, keeps for months in the refrigerator if tightly sealed), bonito flakes, kombu (a variety of kelp, you need it for making sushi rice , so it is worth keeping on hand and also has a long shelf life) at pretty much any Asian market (even Safeway sells most of it) but finding good quality wakame seaweed is sometimes an issue. I frequently just use some other kind of green: baby bok choy, kai choy, tat soi etc instead. I also like to heat up any leftovers for breakfast the next day. It isn't quite as tasty as it is freshly made but not bad.

March 28, 2008

Spring Vegetable Stir-Fry


Ingredients:
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces3 bunches baby bok choy, cut into 1 inch strips
1 lb asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 oz extra firm tofu, cubed
1 cup snow peas
1 bunch chives, cut into 2 inch pieces
6 dried shiitaki mushrooms
2/3 cup hot water
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fermented black bean paste
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil

for the marinade:
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cornstarch
salt
pepper

hot rice for serving


Directions:
Combine all of the marinade ingredients, pour over the chicken and marinate for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, rehydrate the mushrooms in the hot water. Drain and slice, reserving the water. Add both soy sauces, sesame oil, fermented bean paste, Shaoxing wine to the reserved water and whisk until smooth. Sit aside. Heat the canola oil in a large wok. Add the chicken (and all of the liquid it marinated in) and the mushrooms and stir fry until the chicken is just opaque. Add all of the vegetables and the tofu and cook for a minute then pour the sauce over everything. Stir-fry until the bok choy has wilted slightly and the chicken is cooked through but the snow peas and asparagus are still crisp. Serve over hot rice.




My thoughts:
We have some sort of stir-fry at least once a week. Stir-fries are a great, quick way to use up any vegetables or odds and ends you have around and perfect for weeknight dinners. This week's stir-fry was especially fresh and tasty so I thought I'd share the recipe. Snow peas and asparagus are just coming into season here, so naturally I threw them in. We also had a small amount of tofu leftover from an earlier meal and two lonely chicken breasts so in they went! I like to keep the flavors of the marinade and the sauce similar so the final dish has a cohesive taste but pretty much any of the other ingredients can be swapped out for something in season where you live.

March 27, 2008

Southwestern Meatloaf




Ingredients:
for the meatloaf:
1 lb lean ground beef
15 oz canned black beans, drained
10 oz diced tomatoes with green chile, drained
1/4 cup bread crumbs or panko
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 clove garlic minced
1 small onion, minced
1 egg
salt
pepper

for the topping:
1/3 cup tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Mix the topping ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Place all of the meatloaf ingredients and mix together by hand to evenly distribute. If the mixture looks very wet, add some additional bread crumbs. The mixture should be able to be easily shaped into a mound and not fall apart. Place in a standard loaf pan or meatloaf pan*, pressing firmly to pack it in and then smooth out the top. Evenly spread the topping over the meatloaf to cover. Bake 40-50 minutes or until cooked through. Allow to sit 2-5 minutes before cutting. Serve hot.




*I love my meatloaf pan. It allows all of the extra fat to drain out of the meatloaf while allowing the meatloaf to remain moist. Totally worth getting even if you only eat meatloaf once a year.




My thoughts:

People are always asking how I come up with so many different recipes each week. For me deciding what to make is generally is a combination of necessity (hey, that bok choy is looking a little limp!), satisfying a craving and bringing to fruition a vague food related thought I had. If I want to make something that is "postable" I try to think of either something I've never made and/or posted before or a new variation of an old favorite (think new flavor of cupcake). I then head to the kitchen and get started, taking notes as I go.

While I like to make the distinction that I cook for me but I write for an audience, i.e. I don't make things I don't want to eat just to have something to post but I do write the recipes so people can recreate them at home and I take note of what recipes are reader favorites and what foods I thought were great but maybe didn't go over as well. I might make them or some variation again but if no one is interested in say, gravy, I might not post another recipe for it unless it was particularly good. Of course, sometimes it is hard to tell when something is going to be a hit. Occasionally I make something that I personally enjoyed but that I am not sure if other people would be interested in (the no bake peanut butter oatmeal cookies comes to mind) and then it goes on to be a top ranking post and I get literally hundreds of people sending me emails thanking me for the recipe, many of whom told me how they made the cookies the same day I posted the recipe. So you never know.

In this case, I had a pound of ground beef that needed to be cooked immediately or it would spoil. I had the idea for a Southwestern style meatloaf back when I made the tamale pie but never got around to making it. After figuring out what I am going to make, the next step is to work out the details and avoid any potential problems. Meatloaf is pretty straightforward but there is always something to worry about when developing a new recipe. My issue this time was that I only had a pound of meat. That would make for a pretty skimpy meatloaf. Solution: I decided to add the beans, which fit into the Southwestern theme and added some much needed volume. Then I decided what spices to use, how to keep the moisture in the meatloaf (I loathe ketchup, the go-to coating for meatloaf) and decided on a combination of spices and tomato paste that not only kept things moist but really accented the flavors of the tomatoes and chiles inside. I formed the loaf, baked it and then tried to get halfway decent photographs of it before it got cold. Which wasn't easy, it was dark out and meatloaf isn't particularly photogenic. And there you go, a new recipe and dinner all in one.

March 25, 2008

Mango-Chile Cupcakes


Ingredients:
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup milk, at room temperature
1/4 cup mango nectar*, at room temperature
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1 egg, at room temperature
1 mango, cubed (about 2/3 cup)


key lime cream cheese frosting


Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Line or grease and flour 12 wells in a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, mix thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder, chipotle powder, and salt to the butter mixture. Add the milk and mango nectar to the rest of the batter and beat until well combined. Fold in mango. Fill each well 2/3 of the way full. Bake about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted the center of a cupcake (try to avoid spearing a mango cube!) comes out mostly clean. Cool briefly in the pan, then remove cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely before icing with key lime cream cheese frosting. Ice.

*Available at most well-stocked grocery stores, mango nectar is made from mango pulp. I've found it in the "international foods" isle more often than the beverage isle, so look there first.



My thoughts:
The combination of mango and chile might sound odd at first but it is actually quite good. This recipe was inspired by the mango vendors I've seen in NYC that take a mango, peel it, stick a skewer in it and sprinkle it with chile powder and salt for an addictive spicy-sweet snack. Today's our third anniversary and I wanted to make something fun. Matt loves anything spicy and we both love mangos so it was an obvious choice. I paired it with key lime frosting to keep the tropical feeling present (plus the mangos-on-a-stick are often doused in lime juice) but I think it would be great with a mango icing or even just plain buttercream.

Key Lime Cream Cheese Frosting



Ingredients:
4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon key lime juice
food coloring, optional

Directions:
In a large bowl, beat together all ingredients until well blended. Frost on cooled cupcakes or cake.

Yield:
icing for about 12 cupcakes or a single layer cake.

My thoughts:
I still find a few things about key limes amazing. The first thing is that they have become really easy to find in the last couple of years. Secondly, even here in Maryland, far from any place they could possibly grow, they are often cheaper than regular limes. finally, they produce a lot of juice. I got a whole tablespoon of juice from a lime the size of a quarter. This icing has the whole sweet-tart thing going. It's good with other citrus flavors or paired with something more tropical like mango or pineapple. It would probably be good on vanilla or chocolate cupcakes/cake as well.

March 23, 2008

Caribbean-style Mango Chicken


Ingredients:
2 cups fruity red wine
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced in 1/2 inch wide strips
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 mangos, sliced*
juice from 2 key limes (about 3 tablespoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
1 4 inch stick cinnamon
1 inch knob fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon butter

Directions:
Pour the wine in a large pan. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken and allow to cook for 5 minutes. Drain off the wine into a small saucepan. Add the cinnamon stick and the ginger to the wine. Boil until the liquid reduced by about half. Meanwhile, saute the chicken with the butter, thyme and garlic until the chicken slightly crisped. Add the wine back to the chicken pan, discarding the cinnamon stick. Add the mango, allspice, soy sauce and lime juice to the pan. Cook,about 5 minutes or until everything is hot and the sauce has reduced slightly. Serve hot.

Yield: 2-4 servings

*Follow the linked instructions but only score the mango vertically-don't cut again to make cubes. Scoop it out the same way as usual.

My thoughts:
While I love, love, love the recipe for mango chicken I developed a while back, this week marks our third wedding anniversary and to celebrate, we made some Caribbean influenced foods. We went to a few islands while on our honeymoon and really enjoyed the food and culture we found in the communities and local stores. In this version, the chicken is poached in wine before being coated in a yummy spiced mango sauce.

March 21, 2008

Fresh Basil Deviled Eggs



Ingredients:
10 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced length-wise
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 handful fresh basil, minced
white pepper
salt


Directions:
Place yolks, mayonnaise, mustard, basil, and pepper in food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Spoon an equal amount into each of the egg halves. Top with a baby basil leaf and serve.

My thoughts:
Nothing says Spring quite like deviled eggs. I'm not quite sure why, eggs don't really have a season, but there is something so Spring-like about egg dishes. As you know, I love deviled eggs and this is one of the best ones I've come up with. Initially I wanted to make a sort of pesto egg but wasn't sure how pinenuts and parmesan would taste with the mustard necessary to make it a true "deviled" egg. I'm glad I went the straight basil (it constituted my first "harvest" from my Aerogarden!) route, the flavor was really light and fresh and the perfect foil to the mustard.

March 20, 2008

Gingered Carrot Cornmeal Muffins


Ingredients:
1 egg
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1/2 cup carrot, grated
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375. Grease or line 15 wells in a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, mix together buttermilk, sugar, oil, egg, and carrot. In a separate bowl, whisk together the salt, flour, cornmeal, ginger, nutmeg, baking soda and baking powder. Add to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. The batter will be rather thick. Spoon batter into prepared wells, filling each 2/3 of the way. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then invert on a wire rack. Eat warm or at room temperature.


My thoughts:
Why is it that every Spring, I have the urge to make something with carrots? I don't know, but you really don't need an excuse to make these yummy muffins. The cornmeal adds just enough crunch to be satisfying without taking it to cornbread territory. Ginger is a perfect companion to carrots, the spicy flavor accents the natural sweetness of the carrot. They store really well and stay fresh up to about five days, perfect for making on the weekend and taking for lunch all week.

March 19, 2008

In the news...

Just a quick note: I was interviewed for an article about marshmallows last month and it appeared in the Baltimore Sun food section today. Read the online version here. It was actually a lot of fun, the reporter and photographer came to my house to interview me and document the marshmallow making process. There's even a how-to photo gallery of me making the marshmallows.

March 18, 2008

Double Chocolate Crackle Cookies


Ingredients:
4 oz semisweet chocolate chips PLUS 6 oz semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg

Directions
Preheat oven to 350. Line with parchment paper, use a Silpat or grease one cookie sheet. In a small pot, melt together 4 oz chocolate and butter, mix until smooth. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, beat together egg, brown sugar, and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in melted chocolate. Mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in the remaining chocolate chips. Drop 12 tablespoons of dough evenly placed about 1 1/2 inches apart onto the lined cookie sheet. Bake, until cookies are crackly, about 12 minutes. The cookies should still be soft. Do not over bake. Cool on sheets until about 95% cool then carefully transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely.

Yield: One dozen cookies



My thoughts:

These are possibly the most chocolatey chocolate chip cookies I have ever made. Even the most die hard chocolate lover will be satisfied. They have a glossy finish, a slightly chewy center and a ton of chocolate chips. The crinkles and the finsh come from the melted chocolate, just like in some brownie recipes. In fact, I modified one of my brownie recipes to create this cookie, if that give you some idea of the texture and flavor.Just be sure not to over bake and to store them in an airtight container or they will dry out and the texture will be effected.

March 17, 2008

Corned Beef and Cabbage Quesadillas




Ingredients:
1/2 lb leftover corned beef, cut into batons
1/2 cup leftover cabbage, sliced into 1/4 inch wide strips
1/2 cup leftover potatoes, sliced thinly
deli style mustard
shredded Irish cheddar
2 flour tortillas


Directions:
Heat a pan large enough for a large tortilla to lay flat. Place one tortilla in the pan and heat until warmed through and slightly browned, flipping once. Repeat. Remove from heat. Sprinkle the cheese on one half of the tortilla. Top with a sprinkle of cheddar, the corned beef, then the potatoes, a few dollops of mustard, top with a sprinkle of cheese. Fold the plain half over to form a half moon. Cook until the cheese has melted, flipping it once, and the both sides are slightly browned, about 1-2 minutes. Remove to a plate and cut in half. Repeat for the second torillas. Serve immediately.



Note: If the leftover meat, potato and cabbage are very cold from the refrigerator, microwave them for one minute before assembling the quesadilla. This will help ensure that the food is heated through during the brief cooking time.

My thoughts:
I know what you are thinking. Corned beef and cabbage (and potato!) quesadillas? Really? I made this so I would finally have an answer to the deluge of "what to do with leftover corned beef and cabbage" questions I get each year on the day after St. Patrick's Day. I figured if you get a "German taco" (think: sausage wrapped in a tortilla) at festivals in Texas, I can totally make something Irish-American meets Tex-Mex. And you know what? They are actually really good. The mustard gives it a good kick, and the rest of the ingredients melded well together. Sort of like a toasty grilled cheese with a lot of extras.

March 15, 2008

Avocado Shake with Boba




Ingredients:
1 cup ice
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
large tapioca pearls

Directions:
In a medium pan bring about 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the amount of tapioca pearls you would want for one large drink. Continue to boil until the pearls float to the top and are soft, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile pulse the avocado, ice and sweetened condensed milk in a blender until smooth. Pour the pearls into your glass and top with avocado drink. Drink with a extra large straw for best effect.

Yield: 1 shake


My thoughts:
I have been thinking about sweet uses for avocado and thought an avocado milkshake sounded divine. The only way I could think to improve the idea was to add the large tapioca pearls normally found in bubble tea (boba). Now I had never heard or had a avocado bubble tea before but a quick google search showed me that it isn't entirely unheard of but that like most commercially made bubble teas, it is generally made with a powdered mix. Using fresh avocado was so good and creamy, I can't imagine that a powder could even come close.

March 12, 2008

Absinthe makes the Heart Grow Fonder Cupcakes


Ingredients:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup absinthe*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, at room temperature


green fairy frosting
sugar cube for garnish


Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Line or grease and flour 6 wells in a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, mix thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder and salt to the butter mixture. Add the milk and absinthe to the rest of the batter and beat until well combined. Fill each well 2/3 of the way full. Bake 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted the center of a cupcake comes out clean or with just one or two dry crumbs. Cool briefly in the pan, then remove cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely before icing with green fairy frosting. Ice, then top with a sugar cube.


*I used Kübler Absinthe Superieure, which is the best of the absinthe brands I've tried.
My thoughts:
Absinthe is recently legal here in the US and we've been making good use of it. The flavor is anise but even I, who dislikes most licorice, like it. Once I had the drink (mineral water, sugar cube and all) all I could do is think about other ways to harness the flavor. Cupcakes were a obvious choice, the flavor could be used in both the cake (where the flavor is pervasive) and the icing. The perfect adult cupcake.

Green Fairy Icing



Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon absinthe
2 drops green food dye
pinch salt

Directions:
Beat the egg whites and salt to soft peaks using an electric mixer. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally. Continue to boil until it reaches soft ball stage (when a drop of the syrup forms a soft ball when dropped in cool water)while continuing to stir occasionally. Keep the mixer running (you need a stand mixer or a friend to complete this next step) while you pour a continues stream of the molten syrup into the egg whites. Continue to beat for about 5 minutes, adding absinthe and food dye after about two minutes, or until the frosting is fluffy, glossy and cool. Frost cooled cupcakes or cake.



My thoughts:
Absinthe is frequently referred to as the "green fairy" and this fluffy green icing laced with absinthe is worthy of the name; it's almost ethereal.

March 10, 2008

Pork & Shrimp Potstickers


Ingredients:
1 egg
1 bunch scallion, chopped finely
3 dried shiitake mushroom rehydrated in hot water and minced
2 heads Shanghai cabbage*, chopped finely
1 cup pork broth
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound shrimp, chopped finely
3 tablespoons black sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons grated garlic
1 teaspoon white pepper

dumpling wrappers


Directions:

In a large bowl thoroughly mix all of the filling ingredients to form a uniform mixture. Place a small teaspoon of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half to form a half moon shape, pinching the wrapper tightly together. Press the "fold" side gently down on the plate so it can stand alone, seam side up. Make sure no filling is peaking out or they will break while cooking. Heat oil in a large saucepan, place pot stickers flat side down and cook until the bottom is browned. Add 1 cup of broth, cover immediately. Allow dumplings to steam. Once the dumplings are fully cooked the stock will evaporate and the bottoms will be crisp. Excellent with my favorite dipping sauce.


*or substitute 2 heads baby bok choy

Yield: about 50 potstickers




Quick tip: Before filling the wrappers, fry up a bit of the filling mixture to taste for seasoning. The filling should stay together in a solid mass, if not, you might want to add a tiny bit more cornstarch.

My thoughts:
These are so good! I love when you can just mix together a bunch of ingredients you just happen to have on hand and it turns out to be one of the best things you've had in ages. We had sort of a dumpling orgy and just had loads of dumplings for lunch and nothing else but they also make great appetizers.

March 08, 2008

Chicken Lo Mein




Ingredients:
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1/4 inch slices*
2 carrots, julienned
2 stalks celery greens included, diagonally sliced to 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 lb snowpeas
1/2 lb broccoli, cut into florets
4 oz bamboo shoots
1 small onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch knob ginger, minced
2 tablespoons canola oil

for the omelet:
2 eggs
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in warm water and drained
1 scallion, sliced
drizzle sesame oil

for the sauce:
3 rounded tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons water

to serve:
lo mein noodles
1 small bunch scallions, chopped

Directions:
Cook noodles according to package directions. In a small bowl, mix together all of the sauce ingredients, set aside. In another small bowl, mix together all of the omelet ingredients. Pour into a small hot nonstick skillet or crepe pan. Allow to cook through in a single layer to form a sort of egg pancake. Remove to a plate and slice. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet or wok. Add the chicken and stir-fry until just turning opaque, push meat to the side and add ginger, garlic and all vegetables. Stir-fry until the chicken and vegetables are cooked through. Toss with the noodles, scallions, sauce and egg. Serve hot.


*For extra flavor, marinate for 20-30 minutes in a mixture of dark soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and minced garlic and ginger before cooking then pour it in with the chicken.

My thoughts:
This is sort of a healthier version of the totally Americanized takeout classic-more fresh vegetables, less fat and you can make it in about the same time it would take to be delivered. And the flavor? More complex, more flavorful and more interesting than than the best lo mein you can get out. The leftovers hold up very well for lunch the next day.

March 06, 2008

Baked Penne with Four Cheeses




Ingredients:

12 oz short tubular pasta like penne or ziti

for the sauce:
3/4 lb ground beef
32 oz can tomatoes in puree, chopped*
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon oregano
pepper


for the cheese mixture:
15 ounce ricotta cheese
5 oz frozen chopped spinach
1 egg
4 oz grated Parmesan cheese
4 oz asiago, grated
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg


for sprinkling
mozzarella cheese, finely shredded



Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Cook pasta until almost al dente. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients of the cheese mixture. Set aside. Heat oil in large saucepan. Add onion, garlic and carrot, red pepper flakes and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. And the ground beef and sauté until almost cooked through. Drain off any rendered fat if needed. Mix in tomato paste, tomato chunks in puree and oregano. Simmer until mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, covered, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread a small amount of tomato sauce over bottom of the dish. Top with some pasta. Dot with cheese mixture. Top with more sauce. Repeat until all of the pasta, cheese and sauce is gone, ending with sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Cover with foil and bake until heated through, about 35-40 minutes. Remove the foil and cook about 2-3 minutes to brown the cheese on top. Allow to sit a few minutes before serving.

*I just stick a long knife into the center of the can and slice towards the can to cut the tomatoes into manageable chunks. Much less messy than using a cutting board.



My thoughts:
Matt really likes baked ziti so I created this recipe to be sort of an über ziti using all of his favorite ingredients. I did use penne because we had it on hand, but any sort of short pasta would work. It is actually just as good in a vegetarian version, just omit the ground beef and follow the rest of the directions as is. I just added the beef because that's how Matt likes it, it is great either way. It can also be made the day ahead, all the way up to the actially baking, just cover and refrigerate it until you are ready to cook. I'd let it warm up a bit on the counter while you preheat the oven.

March 05, 2008

Ice Cream Soda



Ingredients:
8 oz seltzer
1 heaping scoop vanilla ice cream
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup*


Directions:
Scoop the ice cream into the bottom of a tall glass. Top with syrup and seltzer. Stir lightly with a long spoon. Serve with a straw and drink immediately.

Serves one.


*I used the best chocolate sauce/syrup I've had the pleasure of eating: the bittersweet chocolate sauce from Sassy Sauces. It is rather thick so I heated it slightly before use.


My thoughts:
It's a little early in the season for ice cream sodas but I was dying for an excuse to try out my new favorite toy: the edition one seltzer/soda maker from Soda Club. Ice cream sodas are an old fashioned soda fountain treat that is always made with seltzer or club soda. Use Coke or root beer, eliminate the syrup and it becomes a float. Use ginger ale, eliminate the syrup and it is a Boston Cooler. A Snow White is made with 7 Up and vanilla ice cream. But my favorite is this ice cream soda. Some people make it with milk, but I think the ice cream makes it just creamy enough. It is very refreshing even on a not-so-hot day.

March 03, 2008

Scallop & Artichoke Pasta





Ingredients:
10 oz frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 lb small scallops
1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
juice of one lemon
handful fresh parsley, chopped

12 oz hot pasta*

Directions:
In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic and onion. Saute until just fragrant. Add the scallops, artichokes and lemon juice and cook until the scallops are almost opaque. Add the zest and parsley. Cook 1 minute. Remove from heat and toss with the bread crumbs, cheese and pasta. Serve hot.


*I used skinny spaghetti but any kind of long, not too thick pasta would work.


My thoughts:
This is a tasty, simple meal that you can make in the time it takes to cook the pasta. I like how it combines staples (bread crumbs, pasta) with fresh seafood and seasonal fruit which makes it a great late Winter dinner. It seems fresh and light but doesn't call for anything that isn't readily available (or tasty!) in Winter.