Sunday, December 25, 2011

Eat: Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Pretzels

Merry Christmas, everyone! Today is a day for many things. For me, it is a day to celebrate Christ's birth while also spending time with my family and friends, eating way too much food, and rocking my favorite red sweater. However, today is decidedly not a day for blogging! With that in mind, I'm going to keep this post short (in its length) and sweet (in its recipe).

I first set out to make these Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Pretzels for my coworkers but quickly doubled the recipe so my family could enjoy them as well. This doubling, coupled with a few modifications on the original recipe, resulted in a decently long kitchen session. I'm sure that if I make them again, the process will be faster. Regardless, the final product is delicious! These little guys are salty and sweet and crunchy and soft. So everyone is bound to like something about them!

Happy holidays to you all! I'm looking forward to trying all sorts of new recipes in 2012!

TOTAL TIME:2 hours (including inactive cooling period)
YIELDS: 60+ candies

1 jar of creamy peanut butter (I bought the cheapest I could find!)
2 tablespoons of butter, softened
1+ cup powdered sugar
Flour, as needed
Bag of bite-sized pretzels
1-2 bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine the peanut butter and softened butter in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the powdered sugar. Your goal is to get the peanut butter blend to be easily rolled into small balls without being sticky and getting all over your hands. I had to keep adding and adding sugar until I finally started adding flour to avoid insanely high sucrose levels. The amount of peanut butter that you use will determine how much sugar and/or flour you will ultimately need.

Scoop out teaspoon-sized portions of the peanut butter blend. Using your hands, roll each bit into a small ball (it does not need to be perfectly shaped) and sandwich it between two pretzels. Repeat this until you run out of peanut butter, placing each new sandwich onto a baking sheet.

Place your tray(s) of pretzels in the refrigerator for an hour.

Pour the chocolate chips into a double boiler and melt over low heat. Dip one pretzel at a time into the melted chocolate, covering only half of it. Allow excess chocolate to drip back into the pan and place the pretzel onto a piece of parchment paper. Repeat for the remaining pretzels.

Store the pretzel bites in the refrigerator or freezer until serving time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Eat: Stuffed Zucchini "Boats"

I guess you could say that this week’s dish was love at first sight. As soon as I saw the photo for this stuffed zucchini recipe, I was hooked. The mix of colors nestled into a perfect little vegetable “boat” was simply too much for me to resist. Plus, my previous foray into stuffed tomatoes turned out so fantastically that I felt as though I was ahead of the cooking game. All in all, this recipe was not particularly challenging; the most difficult part was removing the zucchini halves from their baking dish without destroying them! Given the nature of its ingredients, this dish is best when served right of out the oven. With that in mind, I suggest that you make only what you plan to eat in one sitting. The up side to this was that I used a leftover fresh zucchini as inspiration to bake zucchini bread and muffins!

The recipe that I used (from Kayotic Kitchen) simply suggests “cheese” to sprinkle atop your newly filled zucchini boats. Well, I must to tell you, my friend, that your cheese selection is far more important than that description implies. Although this dish offers much in the way of presentation, texture, and health, its flavor tends toward subtle. The cheese you select will greatly impact the overall taste of the dish. I used blue cheese and recommend it, but other scrumptious options include (yet are not limited to) gorgonzola, feta, parmesan, provel, and provolone. Those are a few that I really enjoy, but the possibilities are expansive. Choose one that you already love or be a little adventurous and try something new!

TOTAL TIME: 40 minutes
YIELDS: 4 servings

1 tablespoon of light sour cream or crème fraiche
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of yellow curry powder
½ of a tomato
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
2 zucchinis
1 onion
your choice of cheese (I used blue)
salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Begin my preparing the zucchinis. Thoroughly wash and dry them, then slice each in half lengthwise. It is not necessary to cut off the rough ends but remember to not eat them later! Using a regular-sized spoon, scrape out the middle of each zucchini half leaving a ½ inch shell. It should look like a miniature canoe.

Now, chop the newly scooped-out zucchini, onion, and tomato.

Sauté the chopped onion in a dollop of oil for a few minutes; add the curry powder and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Note: if you allow the onions to cook in curry for too long, the blend will become bitter.

In a large bowl, mix together the onion, thyme, salt, sour cream, zucchini “pulp”, and tomato. You can also add pepper, to taste.

Grease a glass baking dish (whatever size best accommodates the zucchinis; I used a 9 x 13”) and set the zucchini shells in it. Fill each shell with the vegetable blend and sprinkle generous amounts of cheese on top.

Bake the zucchinis for approximately twenty minutes and check their progress. Turn on the oven’s broiler and cook for a few minutes longer or until they are lightly browned.

To garnish, you may use a bit of fresh parsley. You can also cut each zucchini half into smaller portions to serve as a side dish.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eat: Christmas Party Craze

This week’s “Sunday Dish” is wee bit different. One could say that it is a recipe post on steroids. Or it could even be called a culinary exploration in party-planning madness—okay, that is probably too dramatic. You see, last weekend, Matthew and I hosted our second annual “Ritter Christmas Kick-Off Party”. After countless hours spent browsing Pinterest and, I acquired a collection of seven recipes that offered something for everyone: sweet, savory, spicy, and always aesthetically pleasing. Although the plan was ambitious, I must say that I was very pleased with the final results. I also want to give a special thanks to my ever helpful hubby as well as our friends who brought their own tasty dishes to the party. By the end of the night we were all happy and well fed with leftovers to spare.

In my opinion, the key to keeping your party menu stress-free is to mainly select dishes that can be prepared ahead of time. With my right hand man, we did one recipe every night leading up to the party. Some dishes had to be done the day-of, but I didn’t feel stressed about it. I recommend all of the recipes I tried, which are briefly outlined below. Pick your favorite and give it a go!

Up first, some sweets…

Caramel Pecan Tarts by Betty Crocker
This was by far the most labor intensive dish that I made. However, it was certainly worth it since they are delicious, make for an elegant display, and are quickly consumed by partiers. Note that the assembly can be modified for twelve cupcake-sized tarts instead of twenty-four minis.

1 cup of all-purpose flour
½ cup of butter or margarine, softened
¼ cup of powdered sugar

¾ cup of packed brown sugar
½ cup of chopped pecans
1 tablespoon of butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 egg, slightly beaten

1. Preheat your oven to 350ºF. In a medium bowl, use your hands to mix together the flour, ½ cup of butter, and the powdered sugar. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces. Press each piece in the bottom and up along the sides of an ungreased mini muffin cup.

2. In separate bowl, blend the filling ingredients. Spoon approximately 1 tablespoon of the mixture into each cup.

3. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool slightly and loosen the tarts from the pan with the tip of a knife. Let them set on a wire cooling rack for 1 hour.

Cookie Dough “Bites” by Chick Who Cooks
Who doesn't love to eat cookie dough? Now your guests can do so without those pesky concerns over salmonella. This is a super easy recipe that did not even require a trip to the grocery store! It is also a great option for your random egg-allergy-ridden party goers.

1 cup of salted butter, softened
1½ cups of packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 cups of flour
Chocolate chips or M&Ms (or whatever else you’d like to add)
Optional: melting chocolate

1. Mix the butter and sugar together. Add remaining ingredients and blend thoroughly. This will work best if you use your hands.

2. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Store them in the refrigerator or freezer. Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.

Optional: Melt chocolate in a double boiler; you can also use the microwave but I don’t recommend it since the chocolate is more likely to burn. Dip the “bites” into the chocolate. I served my batch without the extra chocolate and did not get any complaints!

Candied Pretzels
These treats present beautifully when arranged in a bowl, small vase, or mug. In fact, some of our friends said the pretzels were too pretty to eat! I think they really meant it because we had several leftover. Oh well, more for me!

Bag of pretzel rods (the bag I used had 16 sticks)
Almond bark or melting chocolate
Assortment of toppings: crushed candy canes, sprinkles, chopped M&Ms, etc…

1. Spread the toppings out over a piece of parchment paper. Lay out another large piece of parchment paper on your kitchen counter (for the newly dipped pretzels).

2. Melt chocolate or bark in a double boiler—I highly recommend this melting method for this particular dish since the chocolate will need to stay warm for a long time without burning.

3. Dip the pretzel rods in chocolate. Unless you use a whole lot of chocolate (to fill the pot), you will likely need to use a spatula to adequately cover half of the pretzel.

4. Roll the newly dipped pretzel rod among toppings and set on parchment paper to cool/harden. Store in an air tight container.

Candied Marshmallows
Equally attractive as candied pretzels but apparently less intimidating to guests, since several more of these were eaten.

Bag of marshmallows (regular size, not mini)
Melting chocolate
Crushed candy canes

1. Begin by spreading the crushed candy canes out over a piece of parchment paper. Lay out another large piece of parchment paper on your kitchen counter (for the newly dipped marshmallows).

2. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over low heat to avoid burning.

3. Dip one marshmallow at a time into the chocolate and allow the excess to drip off.

4. Sprinkle the topping onto the marshmallow or dip the chocolate end into the crushed candy. Set aside on the parchment paper to cool/harden. Store in an air tight container.

And now, for the savory crowd…

Mini Salsa Bowls by Betty Crocker
This is my absolute favorite appetizer in the entire bunch! The salsa is a cinch to mix together and the little wonton cups are just too stinking cute. You can make the salsa and wonton cups ahead of time, but wait to assemble until right before serving as the “bowls” can soak up some of the salsa’s liquid and get mushy.

40-50 wonton skins (typical package)
2/3 cup of salsa, thick and chunky works best
2 tablespoons of dried cilantro
½ teaspoon of ground cumin
½ teaspoon of chili powder
1 can (15oz) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (15oz) black beans, rinsed and drained

1. Preheat your oven to 350º F. Handling the wonton skills carefully (as they are prone to tear easily), press one piece into a mini muffin cup, repeating until the pan is filled. Bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from pan and repeat the process for remaining wonton skins.

2. Mix all of the remaining ingredients together in a bowl. Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble and serve the “bowls”.

3. Just before serving, spoon 1 teaspoon of salsa into wonton cups.

If desired, garnish with a teaspoon of sour cream and sprig of fresh cilantro.

Caprese Skewers (this is a pretty common recipe found in several resources, such as Mel’s Kitchen Café )

My entire motivation behind this selection was to have a red and green appetizer. Fortunately, this oh-so-fancy treat also happens to taste great. I am sorry report, though, that more than one guest grabbed their skewer a bit too eagerly and dripped balsamic vinegar down his or her shirt. A small price to pay, in my opinion.

1 pint of red cherry tomatoes
A few handfuls of fresh spinach leaves
8 ounces mozzarella cheese (in a block, not shredded)
Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
3-4 dozen toothpicks

1. Begin by prepping all of the ingredients: slice cherry tomatoes in half, cut the mozzarella into small cubes, and trim the stems off of the spinach leaves.

2. To assemble: skewer a piece of mozzarella onto a toothpick. Next, fold a spinach leaf in half and slide it onto the toothpick next to the mozzarella. Last, skewer a tomato-half (sandwiching the spinach) to form the base (cut side down). Stand upright on serving platter and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar.

Edamame Hummus
Look familiar?


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Eat: Sweet Potato Biscuits (or more accurately, cookies)

A delicious failure. That is how I would classify my attempt at sweet potato biscuits. Allow me to explain. After last week’s Thanksgiving festivities, I found myself with three lonely sweet potatoes. While searching for and weighing the options for said potatoes, I had a culinary flashback (complete with wiggly lines across the television screen in my head). Years ago, my mother-in-law tried a Paula Dean mix for sweet potato biscuits that were very, very good—I mean good enough that years later I am sitting here thinking about how good they were. It was only natural to assume that making similar biscuits from scratch could only be better. I was wrong. After laboring over the dough for a good while and waiting patiently for my creation to bake, I excitedly approached the oven with mitted hands. Yet disappointment fell upon me as I opened the oven door and my gaze beheld collapsed discs of orange dough. My should-have-been-fluffy biscuits turned out as flat as cookies. In fact, had I served them to anyone other than Matthew, I would have said they were cookies just to avoid the embarrassment. However, I must admit that my labor was not a complete waste as they still tasted like biscuits and were indeed sweet and yummy.

My research concluded that just about every recipe for sweet potato biscuits is basically the same. I decided to combine two recipes from Smitten Kitchen and Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Before you start smirking in that know-it-all way, that is not why this dish failed. I simply added a combination of spices I liked from the former to the latter, so I in no way altered the cooking science involved. I honestly don’t know what happened! I used the right proportions of ingredients, avoided too much hands-on contact with the dough (so as to not overheat it), and even chilled the little guys prior to baking.

The experience did not break my heart but I couldn’t help but think that had I just bought good ole Paula’s boxed mix I would have saved myself lots of time and mess. Plus my biscuits would have looked more like hockey pucks than pancakes! Here is the lowdown, if you would like to give it a try yourself. Perhaps you will fare better.

TIME: 45 minutes
YIELDS: Approximately 20 small biscuits
SOUNDTRACK: Local Christmas radio station

3 small sweet potatoes (1 lb)
2 ½ - 3 cups of all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons of sugar
½ - 1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
¼ teaspoon of ginger
1/8 teaspoon of cloves
8 tablespoons of chilled butter
1/4 cup milk

To prepare the sweet potatoes…

Quick & Dirty Method: prick the potato(es) a few times with a fork (to avoid a starchy explosion in your microwave) and wrap in a moist papertowel. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Check for tenderness and microwave additional minutes as needed. Mine needed a total of 10 minutes.

Domestic Goddess Method: prick the potato(es) a few times with a fork (to avoid a starchy explosion in your oven) and bake at 350°F for approximately 1 hour.

Once you have finished your chosen method, allow the potatoes to cool before handling them. Remove the skins and mash the potatoes to a fine puree. You can use a sieve, ricer, food processor, or just a handy fork coupled with strong wrists. You will have somewhere around 1 ¾ cup of puree.

To make the biscuits…

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices. Cut the butter into small pieces and add it to the dry mix using a pastry cutter or a knife or your fingers. Do this until it resembles a coarse meal.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the sweet potato puree with milk. Add this to the flour blend and mix the dough just enough to stir it all together. If the dough has a sticky texture, add more flour as needed.

3. Place the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it a few times. Do not over handle the dough. Flatten it out to a 1/2 inch thickness. Cut biscuits with a cookie cutter or small glass.

Note: You can make the biscuits as large or small as you like. I made mine small (2 inches) and the baking instructions below are for such a size. Be mindful of adjusting your baking time.

4. Place the on parchment-lined cookie sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Bake for approximately 12 minutes or slightly brown.

These are best when served fresh and warm. The great thing about small biscuits is that you don’t feel quite as guilty eating several at a time!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Eat: Kale and Lentil Soup

A few weeks ago, my friend Mary sent me a recipe for kale and lentil soup. She said she was surprised at how much she liked it and encouraged me to give it a whirl. I figured if someone enjoyed a dish enough to email me the recipe, it was probably worth my time. I figured correctly. The combination of spices gives this soup a smokey, savory flavor which can be heightened by adding merguez, a spiced North African sausage. Detailed below are multiple ways to modify this recipe to suit your tastes. I stayed fairly consistent with the original recipe from Feast , only substituting a pinch of Cajun spice blend and cayenne pepper in place of paprika.

This recipe also held the appeal of a new ingredient to try: kale. I had never even eaten kale before, much less cooked with it. Kale is a form of cabbage available at most grocers. It has full curly leaves and can be either purple or deep green in color. Kale is a great source of several different vitamins and minerals. It even contains sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, chemicals that have strong anti-cancer properties. You have probably encountered kale far more than you realize since it is also used to garnish just about every buffet in existence.

TIME: 1 hour and fifteen minutes
YIELDS: 6-8 servings

2 tablespoons of oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
3-5 celery stalks, chopped
4 carrots, sliced
1 cup of lentils
5 cups of broth
½ teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of Cajun spice blend
dash of cayenne pepper
1 bunch of kale, chopped
1 tablespoon of red curry
salt and pepper, to taste

Once all of your ingredients are prepared (get ready for lots of chopping!), heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onion and cook a few minutes or until translucent.

Next add the garlic, celery, and carrots. Cook an additional minute or two.

Add the lentils, broth, cumin, Cajun spice blend, cayenne pepper, kale, and curry. Stir, cover, and and cook on medium/low heat for twenty minutes.

After twenty minutes, stir the soup and season it with salt and pepper. Cook for an additional fifteen to twenty minutes, until the soup begins to thicken and the lentils are tender. If adding meat, do so during this second session of cooking.

Tip: you will likely need to add some extra water to keep the soup from getting too thick. ½-1 cup should suffice. Also, be careful not to overcook the lentils as they may begin to disintegrate.

Serve garnished with reserved celery leaves or curried yogurt (if desired, see below).


Add ½ lb of chopped merguez or ham (Mary’s suggestion) to the soup near the end of cooking time.

Top with curried yogurt – ¼ cup of plain yogurt mixed with red curry, to taste.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Eat: Delicious Veggie Curry

Recently, my husband and I hosted a dinner party with exclusively vegetarian guests. Such ingredient limitations presented a good opportunity to try out a vegetable-based dish. What’s more, I knew that these particular friends were all culinarily open-minded and would enjoy something a bit more exotic. The final result was this week’s recipe, Vegetable Curry. In Western cultures, “curry” tends to be used as a general term for dishes hailing from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, or other Southeast Asian areas. A wide range of spices can be used in algorithmic ways to create an array of flavors. This particular recipe features turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and yellow curry powder. I think this recipe is a great introductory dish for those who are tepid about curries since the flavor is full but not overpowering. It also has a nice cilantro-yogurt sauce that is a cinch to make and offers a cool creaminess to the meal.

I suppose I should mention that I have historically been quick to identify myself as a carnivore. However, I have gradually been drawn to more and more vegetable-based dishes. If my veggie pursuits continue to turn out as fantastic as this one did, I may find myself roaming the produce section more often.

TIME: 30 minutes prep + 5-6 hours cooking
YIELDS: 6-8 servings
MY SOUNDTRACK: Vampire Weekend


½ cup of fat free plain yogurt
2-3 tablespoons of dried cilantro (or ¼ cup fresh)
1 ½ teaspoons lime or lemon juice
1 of clove garlic, finely chopped
dash of salt
dash of freshly ground black pepper

Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerated until served.

Additional garnishes include raisins or sweet chutneys like mango or apricot.

Vegetable Curry…

2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons of yellow curry powder
½ teaspoon of ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 medium eggplant, cubed (1”)
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 cup sliced ( ¼“ ) baby-cut carrots
15oz. can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of pepper
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
2 cups uncooked brown rice or couscous

1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the onion is translucent, add your garlic and cook a few more minutes while continuing to stir. Blend in the curry powder, turmeric, cinnamon and red pepper. Stir the mixture over heat for an additional 30 seconds.

Note: be careful when handling turmeric as it can stain skin, clothing, and even countertops! Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way…

2. Coat a 3-quart slow cooker with butter, oil, or cooking spray. Combine all of the ingredients (including the onion mixture) in the slow cooker, leaving out the spinach and rice.

3. Cover and cook on low setting for 5 to 6 hours. Approximately 5 to 10 minutes before serving, add the spinach to the curry.

4. Prepare the rice or couscous per packaging directions. I made brown rice which took 40 minutes to cook. Stir the curry before serving over a place of rice or couscous; top with sauce.

This week’s recipe can be found on Betty Crocker’s wonderful website!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Eat: (not your average) Pumpkin Soup

Earlier this week, after narrowing down my recipe choices, I called my husband to ask if he had a preference. The first option: spiced apple cake. The second option: pumpkin soup. Before I could even finish the sentence, Matthew eagerly declared “pumpkin soup!”. Thus began this culinary adventure. I was intrigued by this particular recipe because it includes several ingredients that I had never before seen in pumpkin or squash soup, like pureed black beans, balsamic vinegar, cumin, and shallots. Suffice it to say, this is not your grandmother’s pumpkin soup. What it lacks in appearance (dark brown instead of the soft orange I had imagined), it makes up for in rich and savory flavors. In the end, we both agreed (as did our dinner guests) that this soup does not actually taste like pumpkin at all. However, that does not mean that we didn’t like it. In fact, we loved it!

The original recipe, found in the November 1996 issue of Gourmet, uses Sherry and Sherry vinegar. Since I am not a fancy-pants lady, I did not happen to have either of these on hand. Fortunately, I found there are several alternatives. In place of Sherry, one can use dry white or red wine, vanilla extract (1 tsp for every 2 tbsp), apple cider vinegar, wine vinegars, or even citrus juice. I used apple cider vinegar but would only recommend it if you don’t mind the strong kick of vinegar. Should I make this again, I will try white wine instead. Similarly, in place of Sherry vinegar one can use red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or cider vinegar.

TIME: 1 hour
YIELDS: 9 cups
MY SOUNDTRACK: Steve Martin & the Rare Bird Alert

three 15oz. cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of diced tomatoes, drained
1 ¼ cups of chopped onion
½ cup minced shallot (or ¼ cup dried)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon & 2 teaspoons of cumin
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of black pepper
½ stick of unsalted butter (1/4 cup)
4 cups of beef or vegetable broth
16oz. can of pureed pumpkin (not pie filling!)
½ cup of apple cider vinegar
3-4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
Optional: ½ - 1 pound of cooked ham, diced

1. In a food processor, combine beans and tomatoes. Puree coarsely.

2. Heat a large (at least 6-quart) pot to medium heat. Stir together the butter, onion, shallot, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper. I added the butter first and let it melt before putting in the other ingredients.

3. Once the onion has softened and begins to brown, stir in the bean-tomato blend. Next add the pumpkin, broth, and apple cider vinegar. Simmer, uncovered, for approximately 25 minutes. Stir the dish occasionally to avoid burning along the bottom of the pot. You can check its progress by dipping a spoon into the pot; the soup should get thick enough to coat the spoon.

4. Before serving, add the balsamic vinegar and ham (if desired) and cook until heated through. You may garnish the dish with sour cream and toasted pumpkin seeds.


Sunday, November 06, 2011

Eat: A tart that tastes as good as it looks

Get ready for something a little different. This week’s recipe for a Pear and Gorgonzola Tart had me feeling like a fancy housewife from the fifties--minus the pearls and A-line skirt. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I was wearing pajamas when I made this, but that is beside the point. The point is that this dish is downright beautiful and boasts a full, complex flavor. Named after an Italian village, gorgonzola is a fairly common cheese known for its green-blue coloration and sharp taste. “Fun” fact: the distinct kick of gorgonzola actually comes from the penicillin mold that is added to the otherwise creamy and subtle cheese. Feel free to share that tidbit at your next soirée to score major points with your highfaluting friends.

I found this recipe on a carton of cheese that I used for my (amazing) Fig & Pear Pizza. The recipe was swiftly cut from the packaging and secured via magnet to my refrigerator. It has been waiting there patiently until this week when I finally resolved to try it. Now, I recognize that there may be those who hesitate to try something with a strong cheese flavor but I encourage you to bake outside of your comfort zone with this particular recipe. It is worth noting that my husband isn't shy about his dislike of most cheeses, so as I labored I became mentally prepared to eat the entire tart alone. But after one bite, he was hooked! So go ahead, be adventurous and give this dish a try.

TIME: 15-20 minutes
YIELDS: 10-12 servings

2 tablespoons of butter
2-3 pears, cored, peeled, sliced lengthwise
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
4-5 oz. crumbled gorgonzola cheese, divided

approximately 24 graham crackers
6 tablespoons of butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. To prepare your crust, place the graham crackers in a plastic bag. Using a rolling pin, roll until finely crushed. This is easier to do in small batches. In medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Press the mixture into a pie pan and bake for 8-10 minutes.

2. While the crust is baking, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a skillet. Add the pear slices and cook for 8-10 minutes. Occasionally turn the pear slices, checking for a light golden color.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and heavy whipping cream. I recommend first cutting the cream cheese into small pieces to make combining easier. Stir in half of the gorgonzola cheese, blending thoroughly.

4. Spoon small portions of the blend into the crust and spread evenly. The smaller portions you use, the easier it will be to spread. Otherwise you might break up the delicate crust.

5. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Arrange the pear slices in whatever pattern you choose. I fanned them in a circular fashion. Serve at room temperature and store in a refrigerator.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Eat: Tasty Tacos

I must be on a Mexican food craze. How else can I explain two forays into Mexican dishes within 7 days? This week, I found myself drawn to the idea of tofu tacos and began searching for the perfect recipe. If that idea gets you excited, you might be disappointed by this post. I say that because I was ultimately won over by a recipe for spicy chicken tacos. I know, I know, on the surface this does not present as particularly interesting. However, the unique aspects of this dish lie in the details: do-it-yourself seasoning with ten different spices and garnishes like lime and avocado slices. The seasoning really is the star of this meal; it is incredibly flavorful without being too spicy. I would know because I am a total wimp when it comes to spicy foods. So give this dish a try and enjoy!

TIME: 30 minutes (including time to prep garnishes)
YIELDS: 20-25 small tacos

DIY Taco Seasoning...

In a small bowl, mix together:

1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Shredded Chicken Tacos...

3 cups of shredded, cooked chicken
3-4 tablespoons of taco seasoning
¼ cup of water
2-3 teaspoons dried cilantro (or ¼ cup fresh)
20-24 small corn tortillas
Garnishes: whatever you like! I recommend our selections: lime wedges, avocado slices, green onions, peppers, shredded spinach, and diced tomatoes.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, add the chicken, taco seasoning, and 1/4 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally to avoid burning along the bottom of the skillet. Let the mixture cook for about 5 minutes; the sauce should be very thick.

Remove the skillet from heat and stir in the cilantro.

As far as the tortillas go, you have two options: soft or crunchy. If you go the soft route (as I did), you are now ready for taco assembly (and taco enjoyment!). If you would like crunchy tacos, use the following instructions.

First, place a few paper towels on a plate next to your stove. In another large skillet, heat some oil on medium-high heat.

Once the oil is bubbling, add a few tortillas to the pan. Wait 10-15 seconds and then flip them over.

Place some of the chicken mixture down the center of the tortillas (about 2-3 tablespoons, depending on the size of your tortillas). Using heat-resistant tongs, fold the tortillas in half and press for a few seconds allowing them to take shape. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then flip each over to the other side to cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Transfer to the plate lined with paper towels. Repeat this process with the remaining tortillas.

This week’s recipe came courtesy of Perry's Plate .

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Eat: Sweet Potato Cakes with Black Bean Salsa

This week’s recipe for Sweet Potato Cakes with Black Bean Salsa offers a unique blend of flavors and textures. The cakes themselves are subtly sweet and soft with a little kick from green onions. Add to that the cool smoothness of sour cream, zest of lime juice, crunch of raw onion, smack of cilantro, and heat of cayenne peppers. What does all that give you? Quite a culinary experience, that’s what! Preparing the sweet potatoes is the most time consuming aspect of this recipe but the salsa is incredibly easy and quick. So they balance each other out, right?

Although I found this dish while browsing Pinterest, it was adapted from the book Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and Jonathan Lovekin. The original recipe has a few variations from my own rendition. For example, I added some extra heat with dried cayenne pepper instead of chipotle in adobe. This was balanced by the sweet onion I utilized in place of the red onion originally prescribed. I say that as though it were part of my grand culinary scheme, but I just wanted to use ingredients that I already had waiting for me in my cupboard. The most important difference to note is that this is actually a recipe for appetizers: little bitty cute potato cakes ready to be displayed on your finest silver platter. Since I knew my husband and I would consume everything ourselves, I opted to save time by making larger (and therefore fewer) cakes with bigger portions of sour cream and salsa. As always, you are welcome to adjust the dish according to your own edible preferences.

TIME: 1 hour
YIELDS: up to 34 cakes (if using smallest portions)
MY SOUNDTRACK: Brahms' cello sonatas

Sweet Potato Cakes…

2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 green onions, both white and green parts, finely chopped
4-6 tablespoons oil (I used vegetable, but any kind is fine)
4-6 tablespoons butter

1. Begin by steaming the sweet potato chunks for 15-20 minutes. As odd as this may sound, this was my first time really steaming vegetables without using my microwave or an electric steamer. I'm pleased to report it is a snap. You simply fill a pot with approximately 1 inch of water and then place a "steamer basket" or colander atop the water. Bring to a boil, fill the steamer with your raw vegetables (check to make sure they are not touching the water), and cover. You can check the progress by testing a potato chunk with a fork; if it smooshes easily you are good to go.

Tip: I recommend making the salsa while the potatoes are steaming. You can also prepare the other ingredients for the cakes.

2. Transfer the potatoes to a colander or strainer over the sink and allow to dry thoroughly. Once the sweet potato chunks are cooked and dried, place them in a large mixing bowl. Mash them with a fork or potato masher (if you ever thought to purchase such a thing).

3. Stir in the flour, green onions, salt, and pepper. Resist the urge to use a food processor or else the sweet potato mixture might get gummy. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired.

Note: the mixture should be sticky but not wet; add more flour if needed.

4. In a non-stick skillet, heat two tablespoons of oil and/or two tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Form round, flat cakes from about two tablespoons of batter per cake (or more if making larger cakes like I did), and fry four or five at a time for three minutes per side until golden. Transfer finished cakes to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain and cool. Add more oil and butter to pan between batches as needed, and continue frying a few cakes at a time until all are ready for their toppings.

Black Bean Salsa…

16 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1-2 dried cayenne peppers, chopped
1 small bell pepper, finely chopped
¼ cup finely minced onion (red or yellow)
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
¼ teaspoon salt

1. Combine all of the salsa ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine.

2. Taste for heat and seasoning, adding more peppers and/or salt as desired.

This salsa can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

To assemble…

Place sweet potato cakes on a serving platter and add a small dollop of sour cream to each. Top sour cream with a small spoonful of black bean salsa.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Eat: Praline Pumpkin Cake

Everyone has their preferred season and autumn is definitely mine. What's not to love with all of the changing colors, unpacking of long forgotten sweaters, and multiple federal holidays? Not to mention that the season contains my birthday and wedding anniversary. Here in St. Louis, though, we’ve been enjoying an “Indian Summer” with average temperatures in the eighties. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. I'm certainly glad to bask in the extended heat but it just doesn’t feel like fall yet. I have taken a few measures to battle this, including a significant collection of harvest décor in and around my home. I also brought my autumnal motivation to this week’s dish: Praline-Pumpkin Cake. Yes, it is as good as it sounds. Pureed pumpkin, candied pecans, pumpkin pie spice, and caramel sauce should definitely get you in the spirit of fall. Before you know it, you will be whipping up some apple cider and reaching for your warmest slippers and Snuggie.

Be forewarned that this dessert is seriously sugary. Depending on how sweet your sweet tooth is, you may want to skip some of the optional toppings or remember to cut thin slices. I opted to make a round two-layered cake for a more elegant presentation, but this cake could easily be modified for simpler construction in a 9x13-inch baking pan.

TIME: 2 hours & 15 minutes (including baking/cooling time)
YIELDS: 16 servings (small slices)
MY SOUNDTRACK: The Avett Brothers

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1.5 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (see below to learn how to make your own)
1 container cream cheese frosting
Optional: caramel sauce, additional chopped pecans

1. Heat oven to 325°F. Stir together the butter (I cut it into smaller portions), whipping cream, and brown sugar. Cook over low heat in a 1-quart saucepan, stirring occasionally until the butter melts. Pour praline blend into two ungreased 8 or 9 inch round cake pans. Sprinkle each evenly with the ¾ cup of pecans.

2. In a large bowl, beat together the cake mix, pumpkin puree, water, oil, eggs, and 1 teaspoon of the pumpkin pie spice. If using an electric mixer, beat on low speed until moistened then on medium speed 2 minutes. If mixing by hand, stir for several minutes, taking care to break up any lumps.

3. Carefully spoon batter on top of pecan-praline mixture in each pan. The batter will be too thick to pour.

4. Bake 40 to 45 minutes. Cool approximately 5 minutes in pans, then remove the cakes and transfer them to a cooling rack. Let them sit for about an hour, cooling completely.

5. Stir the remaining ½ teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice into frosting. Place one layer on a serving plate, praline side up. Cover the top with frosting. Top with the second cake layer, praline side up, and ice the entire cake with remaining frosting. The rough texture of the pecans will make it difficult to frost the cake completely (as you would a traditional cake) but it still presents nicely. An alternative is to use half of the frosting for the middle layer between cakes and the other half on the top of the cake.

Optional: drizzle the cake with caramel and sprinkle additional pecans on top.

This week's recipe can be found on Betty Crocker's wonderful website.

How to make your own Pumpkin Pie Spice…

Mix together:
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground all spice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Yields 1 teaspoon

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Eat: Baked Shrimp in Tomato Feta Sauce

My ears perk up at the mere mention of the word “feta”. Maybe that is why this recipe for Baked Shrimp in Tomato Feta Sauce caught my attention while browsing Simply Recipes. Although I’ve salivated over countless recipes on Elisa Bauer's blog, this was my first time actually trying one. I must say that I was pleased with the result. She suggests using an oven-proof skillet as the recipe starts out on the cooktop and transitions to the oven. I, however, do not have such a skillet and have included instructions on how to cope. Despite not being particularly saucy, I served this dish over spaghetti to add a bit more substance to the meal.

Let's talk about shrimp. Depending on what you buy at the grocery store, shrimp can take quite a while to prepare with the removal of the heads, shells, and tails. However, shrimp are well worth the extra effort since they are high in calcium, iodine, and protein. They are also good for your circulatory system with low levels of saturated fat and high levels of “good” cholesterol (I will just leave it at that and encourage you to pursue a more detailed LDL/HDL overview elsewhere). Let’s not forget that shrimp tastes good too! An important fact to remember is that overcooking shrimp by even a few minutes can result in a rubbery entrée. Shrimp turn a nice shade of pink once they are cooked through. This is nothing to stress over, just stay near the oven and be a mindful little chef!

TIME: 40 minutes
YIELDS: 4-6 servings
MY SOUNDTRACK: Cardinals’ game (my husband is a fan)

1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 15 oz. cans of diced tomatoes (do not drain!)
1-2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 to 1.25 pounds medium-sized raw shrimp, thawed, peeled, and deveined
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
3-5 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Heat the oil in a large skillet (preferably oven-proof) on medium heat. Add the onion and cook 3-5 minutes or until softened.

Add the garlic to the skillet and cook an additional minute.

Add the tomatoes (with liquid) and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and let the blend simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid should thicken a little bit.

Remove the pan from heat and stir in the shrimp, spices, feta cheese, salt, and pepper.

If you have an oven-proof pan, place it uncovered in the oven and bake approximately 10-12 minutes.

If you do not have an oven-proof pan, simply pour the ingredients into an ungreased baking dish (9x13”) and follow the baking instructions as written above.

When finished baking, stir up the mixture and spoon on top of a plate of pasta or rice. You can also eat it carb-free but you will probably only get 2-4 servings out of the dish. Either way, it is a treat!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Eat: Edamame Hummus and Pita Chips

If you read my post from last week, you know that my Fig & Pear Pizza was quite time consuming and laborious. As pendulums are known to do, mine swung in the opposite direction this week. I decided to give myself a break and try something much easier. Although Edamame Hummus may not be challenging it is definitely still unique and delicious! It is a Japanese twist on traditional hummus, a chickpea-based dip common to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. A healthy and tasty alternative to your usual dips and salsa, it can be served with raw vegetables, crackers, chips, or my favorite: pita chips! Following the hummus recipe, I will explain how easy it is to make your own pita chips.

Since this recipe features a few ingredients that you may not be familiar with, I think it might be wise to briefly discuss these elements. First up is edamame. Edamame are immature green soy beans originating from Japan. They are generally cooked while still in their pods but do not confuse them with peas. Though similar in appearance, their tastes and textures are totally different. I, for one, do not like peas but love edamame. Their popularity has grown considerably over recent years and they can now be found in almost any grocery store.

Up next is tahini. The first time I made regular hummus, I had no idea what tahini was. I assumed it was some sort of seasoning and wandered the spice aisle of the grocery store like a lost child. Turns out, tahini is actually a paste made from sesame seeds and is used in many Middle Eastern dishes. You are most likely to find it in the foreign food section of your grocer. When I purchased it, my only option was a very large jar that will last me through several (several) recipes.

So now that you know a little more about the ingredients, let's discuss what to do with them.

Edamame Hummus…

TIME: 20-30 minutes (includes time to shell the edamame)
YIELDS: 2-3 cups

16 oz. of edamame (typical frozen bag)
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cilantro
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Optional: 1 tablespoon fresh parsley (or 1/3 tablespoon dried)

Cook the edamame according to the instructions on the bag. If you are using fresh beans and don’t have any instructions, I suggest you boil them in salted water for 4-5 minutes. Once cooked, remove the beans from their shells. This could take a while.

Combine all of the ingredients except the parsley and oil into a food processor. Puree until well-blended and smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a small bowl. Stir in the oil and parsley.

That’s it!

DIY Pita Chips…

TIME: 10-15 minutes
YIELDS: 30-36 chips

5-6 pieces of pita bread
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon rosemary
Salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Slice each pita loaf into six wedges.

Combine the oil, garlic, and rosemary in a small bowl. Stir thoroughly.

Brush the oil mixture onto each pita wedge and arrange slices on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for ten minutes or until edges start to brown. Note: the more oil you put on the slices, the quicker they will go from nice golden brown to burnt black. So keep an eye on the oven!

These dishes are slight variations of recipes found on the Food Network and Group Recipes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Eat: Fig and Pear Pizza

When it comes to this week’s recipe, I really have to pat myself on the back. My husband described this pear and fig pizza as one of the best dishes I have ever made. I did not come by it easily, though. The pizza features homemade dough and fancy ingredients that were a challenge to find. Were it not for Trader Joe’s, this venture would have been a failure before I ever set foot in the kitchen. Such efforts coupled with two hours of labor were handsomely rewarded in the end. The subtle but sweet flavors of pear, fig, and caramelized onion are balanced by sharp Gorgonzola cheese and crème fraiche. If the following recipe sounds delicious but you aren’t interested in investing so much of your time, you need only to visit Eleven Eleven Mississippi. This dish is readily available on their lunch and dinner menus. It actually presented itself to me in a weekly e-newsletter from Sauce Magazine. It was just too intriguing to not try.

Please note before you begin this recipe that the onions can be prepared up to two days in advance. I recommend doing this to break up such a lengthy preparation time.

TIME: 2 hours (including prep and cooking)
YIELDS: 10-12 servings

3.5 cups flour
1 cup warm water (100-110°F)
2 tablespoons yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup and 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
1 pear, peeled and sliced
1.5 cups red wine
1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons crème fraiche (sub: sour cream)
1/2 cup of thinly sliced dried black mission figs
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

Begin by preheating the oven to 425 degrees.

To prepare the dough, add the yeast to warm water and allow to dissolve.
In a large mixer (preferably with a dough hook) combine the yeast/water blend, flour, honey, olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Run the mixer for 5 minutes (or knead with your hands) until a smooth ball of dough is formed.

Set the dough aside in its bowl, covering the top with a dish towel. If possible, set it somewhere warm. I put the bowl on top of my oven while preheating.

While dough is rising, melt butter in a medium-sized pan. Add the onion slices and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Saute over medium-low heat for roughly 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Once soft and brown, let the slices cool to room temperature.

In a medium-sized sauce pan (or a large skillet), combine the pear, red wine, vanilla, 1/2 cup of sugar, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil and then simmer approximately 20-30 minutes until the pear slices are tender and a bright red-purple color (they will absorb the poaching liquid).

Spread the dough over a pizza pan or cookie sheet. Cover the dough with a thin layer of crème fraiche. Evenly distribute the onion slices, pear slices, and figs across the pizza. Sprinkle with cheese.

Bake for 10-12 minutes and get ready to impress yourself!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Eat: The Tasty Challenge of Pumpkin Ravioli

For this week’s dish I wanted to up the ante. I began looking for a seriously challenging recipe and boy did I find it! My first impression of this recipe for pumpkin ravioli was that it must be a sweet twist on traditionally savory ravlioi. This was due to all of my previous interactions with pumpkin dishes: pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, even pumpkin cookies. However, I quickly learned that pumpkin in its purest form is not even remotely sweet. In fact, as far as I could tell (or rather, taste) it does not taste like much of anything by itself.

An interesting aspect of this recipe is the use of wonton wrappers in place of pasta. The upside to this is the drastically shortened preparation time. Wonton wrappers function like ready-made pasta without any cooking. The downside to this trick is that after putting so much effort into making perfect little pockets of cheese, many of them opened up while boiling. So if you give this dish a try, be emotionally prepared to watch some of the fruits of your labor burst open. Otherwise, it was a fun challenge with tasty results! I particularly enjoyed the tomato and ginger sauce, which would also pair well with traditional pasta.

TIME: 1.5 hours
YEILDS: 6-8 servings
MY SOUNDTRACK: She & Him, Mates of State


1 teaspoon oil
4 oz. onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
15 oz. pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
15 oz. ricotta cheese
2 egg (1 will act as "glue" for ravioli)
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
12 oz. (approximately 50) wonton wrappers
cornstarch for dusting pan

Begin by heating oil in a small skillet. Sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes until softened.

In a large bowl, beat one of the eggs with salt and pepper. Stir in the pumpkin and ricotta cheese. Add the onion and garlic mixture. Blend thoroughly, scrapping the sides and bottom of the bowl.

To make the ravioli: Prepare two baking sheets by dusting them with the cornstarch. Put one teaspoon of filling in the middle of a wonton wrapper (which is fairly delicate, so handle gently gentle). Dip your index fingers into a beaten egg and line the edges of the wrapper. Fold diagonally into a triangle and press the edges firmly to seal the pocket. Place on baking sheet. Repeat for each wonton wrapper.

To cook: Bring a large port of water to a boil. Add a few teaspoons of water to prevent the ravioli from sticking together. Gently add each ravioli to the pot and bring the water back to a boil for a few minutes.

To serve: This is where things can get a little dicey. If some of the ravioli have opened while cooking, I would not recommend draining the water. All of the filling will escape into the sink leaving you with a pile of plain cooked pasta. Instead, remove the ravioli from the pot using a slatted spoon. You can then spoon out any of the filling in the pot and add it to your plated pasta. Top with tomato ginger sauce (see recipe below).

Tomato Ginger Sauce...

1 tablespoon oil
6 oz. onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger or 1-2 teaspoons of dried
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes, with juice (do not drain!)

In a medium saucepan or skillet, heat oil. Cook the onion and garlic until tender. Add the ginger and tomatoes. Bring to a boil briefly and simmer for 10-15 minutes. If it is too thick, you can add a pinch of water. For a smoother texture, puree the sauce.

This week's recipe came from my husband's own collection. Unfortunately, he cannot recall where he originally found it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eat: Yummy Stuffed Tomatoes!

Wow. That is the best word to describe this recipe for veggie-stuffed tomatoes. At first blush, it may present as too labor intensive, but it was actually quite fun! In fact, I managed to throw this dish together at the end of a busy and tiring day. I was faced with the usual quandary of what to make for dinner and resolved to find something to do with two ripe tomatoes that my father-in-law had recently given us. After a series of online searches for "recipe, two tomatoes", I stumbled upon this gem. The recipe blends a plethora of healthy ingredients into a savory and delicious meal. What's more, it presents beautifully on top of a plate of pasta. My husband was very impressed and we both loved it. This dish combines interesting textures and offers a unique alternative to traditional pasta sauce. I definitely plan to make it again soon!

TIME: 40 minutes (prep and cooking)
YIELDS: 2 servings

2 medium tomatoes
3-4 baby carrots, coarsely chopped (or 1/2 small carrot)
1-2 scallions, chopped
1/2 small onion, peeled
1 small garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine or broth
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3-4 fresh basil leaves, sliced

Optional: a few handfuls of pasta, oil, and additional Parmesan.

Begin by thinly cutting off the top of each tomato (approximately 1/2" slices). Scrape out the interior, leaving a 1/4 to 1/2" thick shell. Set aside the pulp for later.

If either tomato won't stand upright, slice off a very thin layer from the bottom. Sit the newly carved tomatoes upside down on a paper towel to drain any excess fluid.

Combine the carrots, scallions, onion, garlic and reserved pulp in a food processor. Run the processor until all of the ingredients are chopped and well blended.

Pour the vegetable mixture (it will be somewhat soupy) into a large skillet with heated oil. After a few minutes, add the wine or broth and bring to a boil. Allow the mix to simmer (uncovered) for 2+ minutes until the liquid is reduced by half. If the blend still seems to have too much liquid, do not worry. The soon to be added cheese and breadcrumbs will take care of it.

Remove the skillet from heat and let it cool briefly. Stir in the parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, oregano, and basil.

Now the fun part! Using a small spoon, fill each tomato with the veggie blend.

Place the tomatoes in a shallow baking dish (coated with butter or cooking spray). Bake for 20 minutes at 350°.

While the tomatoes are baking, you can cook as much pasta as you like. I used spaghetti but any type should work well enough. Toss the cooked pasta with some oil and a pinch of grated Parmesan cheese. Place each tomato on top of a stack of plated pasta.

Note: Removing the tomatoes from their baking dish may require some fancy maneuvering with a fork. The tomatoes may split open (as one of mine did) which will make the process a bit more delicate.


This week's recipe came courtesy of Taste of Home .

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Eat: Maiden Voyage with Tofu

Mexican Eggplant with Tofu. As soon as I spotted this recipe I knew my husband would love it. The name alone features three things that Matt adores. I also thought it presented a nice challenge since I had never before cooked with tofu.

This marked my second attempt at a Zorba Paster recipe. In case you are unfamiliar, Paster is a physician and the host of WPR’s Zorba Paster on Your Health. Quick synopsis: listeners call in to ask a plethora of questions which Zorba answers in humor-laced laymen terms. He also offers a healthy, unique recipe at the end of each show. For all of you St. Louisans, the show airs on Sundays at 1:00pm. I love public radio and take any opportunity I can to endorse it! This recipe and others like it can be found on Zorba Paster's website

But I digress. Here is the recipe:

TIME: 1 hour (including prep and baking)
YIELDS: 9 servings
MY SOUNDTRACK: Devendra Banhart, TRON movie soundtrack (this odd combination came courtesy of my husband)

1 large eggplant
1 carton of tofu*
12 oz. tomato sauce
1 can of green chilies (alternatives: fresh onion or serrano chilies)
¼ cup scallions, sliced
1 tsp garlic powder
1 ½ tsp cumin
2 tsp olive or vegetable oil
8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
Cooking spray (or butter)

Right off the bat, one thing struck me as problematic: How much tofu?! The original recipe simply says a "carton" which can come in every shape and size. Fotunately, the grocery store only offered one amount (14oz.). Unfortunately, upon entry to the organic food aisle I found myself staring a shelf of several different kinds of tofu. I was at a loss and spent several minutes hemming and hawing. In the end, my moderate roots won the day and I selected the carton marked "regular". I cannot say whether or not this was the best choice but I can tell you that it worked well enough.

Begin by slicing the tofu (it will be in a large block) into half-inch pieces or slabs. Place the slices in between a few sheets of paper towel on your countertop. In order to drain the excess fluid, put something large and heavy on top (such as a cutting board).

Slice the eggplant into half-inch rounds. Arrange slices on a coated cookie sheet and bake at 450° for 20 minutes (flipping pieces after 10 minutes).

While eggplant is baking, combine tomato sauce, scallions, green chilies, garlic powder, and cumin into a sauce pan. Simmer for 20 minutes.

To further strengthen your multi-tasking skills, saute the tofu in oiled skillet while the sauce is simmering.

Once everything is ready, coat a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray or butter. Layer the eggplant, tofu, sauce and cheese. Repeat for a second layer.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350° and enjoy with a side of brown rice!

*As mentioned, I used one 14 oz. carton but I would recommend at least twice that amount.