Friday, July 31, 2009

Rustic Pine Nut Sauce

The recipe for Rustic Pine Nut Sauce can be found on page 796 of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. Since it's a copyrighted recipe from a book I can't copy it in here, and obviously I can't link to it either. Some of the pages of the book are available on Google books, but unfortunately page 796 is not one of them. So you will have to follow along as best you can knowing only the ingredients and what I did with them!

This sauce was on a list somewhere else in the book of sauces that would go nicely with whole wheat pasta. We used Barilla Plus, which I was expecting to be a little whole wheat-ier than it actually was, which is probably because it isn't whole wheat pasta. Anyway, that was my motivation for making this sauce. Another plus is that the ingredients don't go bad that quickly. The sauce includes chopped pine nuts, chopped basil or parsley, bread crumbs, red onion, garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil, and wine (red or white). Optionally, you can add capers, but I don't like them that much, so I left them out. One of the cool things about this book is all the variations offered on each recipe. One of the variations I wanted to try was the lemony version, which calls for replacing the wine with lemon juice, and the capers with lemon zest. I wanted to use wine, though, so I decided to add only the lemon zest, since it is one of my new favorite flavors. Ken helped a little by slicing up the onion for me. My poor little basil plant is dying, I think, because he is very droopy lately, even though I set him up outside where he might actually get some sun. I took several leaves from the plant for the sauce, so at least I will get some good use out of him. I never had a green thumb; all plants in my care die shortly after I get them. :(

I cooked the ingredients, following the recipe as closely as possible. The cooking times in the recipe seemed a little too long, so I moved things along a little more quickly. I also halved the recipe because I only had 1/2 the amount of pine nuts, and we are only two people (most recipes feed 4). Towards the end of cooking, I added the halved amount of wine. It disappeared almost instantly! At this point I became very concerned. How could this be a sauce? It had no liquid! I added more wine, and more olive oil. It just fizzled right out. I was getting nervous, so I picked up a bit and tasted it. It was a little strongly wine flavored, but good. After a few minutes I turned off the heat and stirred in the basil. We decided to just use it as is and hope it was good.

I mixed the "sauce" in with my pasta as well as I could and made sure to get some in every bite. Lucky for us, it turned out delicious. This is when we realized what "rustic" means. It doesn't have to be liquidy to be a sauce! Plus, pine nuts are a little creamy as is, which gives a very nice texture to the sauce. It was some wonderful chunky goodness. I think the lemon zest was a nice little touch and I didn't feel that I was really missing anything by leaving out the (optional) capers. I might try this with lemon juice, but the wine turned out quite good. (I used some Fish Eye Pinot Grigio left over from a while ago. This is a cheap brand and has a screw top, so if you keep it in the fridge it should be fine for cooking, or even drinking, up to a few weeks. That way you can use a little at a time, as needed, and you don't have to open a new bottle for each recipe.)

I wish I could post the recipe for you... but I don't think it would be copyright violation for me to share it with you privately - so if you would like the recipe, I would be happy to share my cookbook. However, it is a fantastic reference book, so I highly recommend looking into obtaining your very own copy.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Baked Pasta Casserole - Remix

Since I had another bag of spinach left from last Friday I have been meaning to try making the Baked Pasta Casserole again, to make it more freeze-able. I have had absolutely no time to do this, but today when I saw that the spinach had kept in its plastic bag for an entire week, we decided it needed to be done. Ken kickstarted the process by washing and chopping the spinach so that we HAD to make it tonight. (We already ate, but we will have this for lunch tomorrow, and if it turns out the way I want it to we will also try to freeze it.)

Ken wasn't here when we made this last time, so he didn't know what it was supposed to look like. For convenience he decided to chop the spinach in the food processor, so it ended up in really little tiny pieces - almost pureed. He chopped up the onion and pressed the garlic; I zested the lemons and shredded the mozzarella. After our pasta almost boiled over, I tossed it very generously with olive oil, since there is no sauce in this recipe.

The major variation that I made was adding ricotta cheese. I used about one 15 oz container. I mixed half of it with half of the shredded mozzarella, rather than layering the mozzarella by itself in the middle of the dish.

Because this is a pretty big variation and I am linking to the original, I am going to actually post my recipe for once!

1lb short pasta (here, I used fusilli)
1 big bag of spinach, washed, and thick stems removed
1 yellow onion
a lot of olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced/pressed
1 cup pine nuts, toasted
zest of 2 lemons
15oz ricotta, split in half
8oz mozzarella, grated

1. Boil the water and cook the pasta for about 1.5 - 2 minutes less than the package directions. When cooked, drain and mix in olive oil to coat.
2. Chop the spinach and onions into very small pieces (separately); spinach can be almost pureed in a food processor to make tiny pieces.
3. Heat olive oil in a large pan and sautee the onions for a few minutes (longer if you would like them to be caramelized).
4. Add the garlic to the pan (you can press it right into the pan if you want, or add it in with the spinach).
5. Add the spinach. Cook for maybe 2 minutes, depending on how big your pieces are and how you like your spinach.
6. Remove the pan from heat and add the pine nuts and 1/2 of the zest. Mix together.
7. Dump the pasta into the pan and mix well.
8. In a 9x12 (or similar size) baking dish, rub olive oil on all sides with a paper towel, then sprinkle the rest of the zest on the bottom of the dish.
9. Mix 1/2 of the ricotta with 1/2 of the mozzarella.
10. Put a thin layer of pasta in the baking dish. Top with spoonfuls of ricotta, using all of the plain ricotta and trying to spread it out (if it's cold enough, you can kind of flatten it with your hands).
11. Add another layer of pasta and top with spoonfuls of the ricotta/mozz mixture (use all the mix).
12. Add a third and final layer of pasta and sprinkle mozzarella on top.
13. Cover with foil and bake at 375 F for about 30 minutes. If you want to brown your mozzarella a little, you can take off the foil in the last few minutes of baking, but it should melt fine without removing the foil.

So - why the ricotta? I want it to freeze. The extra olive oil may help with that too, hopefully, but the ricotta in baked ziti kind of envelops the pasta and keeps it safe in there. I was counting on the ricotta kind of melting around the pasta and doing just that. It didn't really melt that much - I think next time I might have to find a way to thin it out, maybe by beating an egg into it or something.

You will also have two naked lemons when you are done making this dish. Lucky for you, this is a fun problem to have. I like to cut them into wedges and use them in water and iced tea. You could use the juice to keep a fruit salad fresh. Or you can try my Cucumber Feta Salad recipe, or something else that uses lemon juice. The zest is so worth it in this dish - don't skip it just because you will have naked lemons.

If you are pressed for time or just don't like baked pasta dishes, you can stop right at the step where you mix the pasta into the big pan. That would be a good time to sprinkle some mozzarella, or maybe parmesan or something and just serve it that way. It's almost like an un-blended spinach pesto at that point. The pine nuts add a little textural variation. Any twisty kind of pasta will be perfect for letting the spinach pieces get stuck in them.

So how did this variation turn out? Well, I baked it late at night so I couldn't really try a proper slice. I just put it in the fridge. When I woke up in the morning, I realized that there was more stuff in the pan than in the original recipe, but I hadn't added any time to the baking. The ingredients aren't really raw ingredients that need to be cooked, but I had to wait until lunch to see how it really turned out. Lucky for me, it is yummy! I did not have enough time this morning to put any in the freezer to see how it goes, but I will try it later today. I suspect that the middle pieces will freeze okay because of the greater volume of cheese, so first we will eat the end pieces where there is less cheese.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins

In case you haven't yet noticed, I love muffins. When we went to Whole Foods on Friday I found 32 oz of delicious blueberries for $6 and decided to make a double batch of my favorite (so far) muffin recipe, which you can see here. You are probably wondering how I can eat these every day and not feel bad about it. My conscience doesn't mind because these muffins are mostly whole wheat! Plus, blueberries are SO good for you. How are my muffins so very white and pretty if they are whole wheat? Well, because I use white whole wheat flour, which has a lighter color and consistency than regular whole wheat flour. It's great for baking for that reason. You can also get whole wheat pastry flour which might be better for certain recipes. The recipe calls for a little bit of all-purpose flour also, which I think can be substituted with the white whole wheat flour for a 100% whole wheat muffin, but I love these muffins too much to take the risk of messing them up. As you can see, my muffins are full of berries, and I still only used half of the blueberries making a double batch. One thing I like about this recipe is that the batter will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. If you like freshly baked muffins, you can make this on Sunday and bake a few at a time for the next few days. I am out of muffin papers, so I was only able to make one dozen muffins. Like my other muffins, these freeze very nicely. Just wrap in plastic wrap individually, put them all in a gallon size ziplock bag (I like to label mine with a description and the date), and toss in the freezer. You can have a muffin on the go! If you have to wait 2 hours before eating it, like me, it will defrost itself. If you want it right away, you can just pop it in the toaster oven (or even the microwave) to warm it up like it just came out of the oven. This is an easy recipe and the sour cream makes the muffins really moist and creamy. If you don't freeze them, store them in the refrigerator. It is blueberry season in our area right now and it won't be for long so this is a great way to use them so that you can have some blueberry goodness later in the winter.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Baked Pasta Casserole

I have been dying to try some of the recipes from 101 Cookbooks. I have several bookmarked to try, but the Baked Pasta Casserole really caught my attention. (Please click on the link and look at the picture - it is so pretty!) I like baked ziti a lot, but sometimes all the cheese and sauce can be really heavy, and since I sometimes put meat in it, that makes it even heavier. This light pasta dish has spinach and not too much mozzarella, and no tomato sauce. It wasn't too much work, either.

Montana is an expert chopper so she chopped up the spinach into small pieces. She also cut the onion using Alton Brown's tip to cut it next to the lit burner on your stove - it helps to not make you cry, and it really works!

I toasted some pine nuts (this was a substitution we decided to make - the recipe actually calls for almonds), and shredded the mozzarella. I also zested 2 lemons. This was one of my favorite parts of the dish - the hint of lemon from the zest. The recipe mixes some of the zest in with the spinach, and uses the rest sprinkled on the bottom of the pan. You can sprinkle zest on the bottom of any baked casserole like this to give it a little something extra.

We cooked the pasta a little less than the pasta box directions - about 7 minutes, instead of the 9 recommended for al dente. This worked out really well because the pasta goes into the oven and gets cooked more. If we hadn't drained it early, it probably would have gotten mushy, and who likes mushy pasta? We also used regular pasta - I'm not sure how I feel about whole wheat yet, and I don't feel like paying a lot for pasta when I can get it for 33 cents a box!

I really like the onions in this dish. They are sauteed with the spinach and garlic, which gives the final product an extra dimension.

The dish turned out well overall, although we agreed that it could have used a little more oil. If I make it again (and I probably will soon) I want to try adding ricotta to cover the pasta a little more. One thing I really like about traditional baked pasta dishes is that I can freeze them in individual portions and have one whenever I don't have time to make anything, or I can bring it with me for lunch. I want to rework this dish a little to make it freezable - since there is no sauce, it definitely won't freeze well. Another recommendation in the recipe is that if you don't want to bake it, you can just toss the pasta with the spinach mix and serve it with mozzarella sprinkled on top. I might try this too, although I would probably use some parmesan or something similar instead of mozzarella, and I would use a lot less of it. There are endless possibilities to vary this recipe, which is one of its greatest qualities!

Again, I forgot to take a picture because I was just ready to eat it all! Check back later to see if I remember to post a picture of the reheated leftovers. If you want to see it now, click on the recipe link and look at those beautiful photos.

Pret "Salad" Sandwich

This sandwich was inspired by one of my very favorite sandwiches at one of my very favorite places to have lunch in NYC. I like to bring my lunch because of all the calories, sodium, and who knows what else in takeout food around the city. But I (re)discovered Pret A Manger, which I had been to several times for lunch in London. They use only natural ingredients, no preservatives, and they donate their leftover sandwiches and stuff at the end of the day. This is a nice healthy alternative to the takeout options that my coworkers usually eat (although some of them go to Pret sometimes, too).

If you visit Pret's website you can find some "DIY Recipes." Some of them are totally impossible for me to make, if not for the lack of availability of ingredients, then for the metric measurements. But I had seen the Pret Salad Sandwich recipe on the site, and was so excited when they featured it as a weekly special in the store I go to in NYC. It consists of hummus and some veggies on whole wheat bread - delicious! I thought this would be a quick and easy thing to make for our light lunch. I was already chopping up cucumbers for my go-to salad, the Cucumber Feta Salad, so I set some aside for the sandwich. The cucumbers were from my Nonna's backyard, so yum - local food! I also chopped up some red pepper, and I used a few leaves of the spinach I had picked up for the pasta dish. I spread the hummus on the bread, sprinkled on some pine nuts, layered the veggies, and voila! Pret Salad Sandwich DIY in my own home. Easy peasy. I used Sabra hummus (the one with the pine nuts, for consistency) but sometime I would like to try making my own lemony hummus concoction. I meant to add some thin slivers of red onion to the sandwich, but I forgot. Oops!

I served the sandwich with a little of the salad, and since we were going for a light lunch I just made one sandwich for us to split. It was the perfect tiny portion to hold us over before we went on our very fruitful adventure to Whole Foods.

Quinoa Corn Muffins

Today I spent the day grocery shopping/cooking with my big, Montana. In the morning I went to pick up everything we needed at the farmers' market. I also stopped at Stop & Shop and got 9 boxes of pasta for $2.90. (I will probably go back to get more!)

We decided that I would make a quick light lunch, then we would make a baked pasta dish and a muffin. (All will be posted here!) All were some funky kitchen experiments that I have been plotting for weeks. The most experimental were the Quinoa Corn Muffins (you can see the recipe here).

The recipe calls for sprouted quinoa. This was strange. You just rinse the raw quinoa seeds, then soak them overnight, and they sprout. As in, they start to grow into a plant. As you can imagine this was a very new concept to me, although apparently it is very common among people who only eat raw foods. But I decided to try it anyway because the recipe suggested that they would be easier to puree for the recipe if they were sprouted, which turned out to be true. I also tried using agave nectar as my sweetener. I didn't really notice anything in the muffins, but they turned out to not be too sweet anyway and I used 2 Tbsp of agave nectar.

Sometimes I get very engrossed in my cooking and I forget to take pictures. Sorry! The final result was interesting. This recipe did not taste like a corn muffin at all. It had its own flavor. Not bad, but not a corn muffin, and not sweet at all - more like a bread you would eat with some kind of soup, maybe. We tried them with a little almond butter, which dominated over the flavor of the muffin, and we also concluded that it would be good with a fruit spread, or if you added cranberries when baking (very Thanksgiving-ish). I might try making these again, but if I do I will probably use about half as much quinoa and twice as much cornmeal. One benefit, though, is that the quinoa is a complete protein, so this is a good vegetarian source of protein if that's what you're looking for. I think this might be a little too natural-foods for me, and I will need to adjust the recipe if I make it again. I might also add a little more sweetener! Also, judging by how little the muffins rose I think it's time for new baking powder...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

All About Organic Food

In an ideal world, I would eat everything organic. But the reality for most of us is that it's not always easy to find, or easy to afford, an entirely organic diet. The challenge is to stretch your budget and still get some of the benefits of organic food into your diet. I have been doing a lot of research lately (just google it and you will find a ton of stuff) and I want to share some of the tips that I have found.

What to buy organic:
1. Meat. This is the number one thing you should buy organic. Animals fed antibiotics on a regular basis develop strains of diseases that are resistant to antibiotics. If we eat those animals, we can get those resistant diseases. While tests did show that a small percentage of meat contained these diseases, the tests were done on a small scale and not many of these tests are done. There is absolutely no control over antibiotics being fed to animals - you can walk into a feed store and buy a big bag of antibiotics to feed to your animals. Eggs are also worth buying organic - look for free range eggs. But
2. Dairy products. These come from the same kinds of animals as meat, being fed terrible things like hormones and antibiotics. Organic milk might seem like a ridiculous purchase to you right now, but it actually has MUCH more nutrients than regular milk. I have seen organic milk at the top of a lot of lists of what to buy organic.
3. Some produce. Produce with skin that you eat, or produce grown with a lot of pesticides, is better to buy organic. Apples, peaches, cherries, berries, grapes, bell peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, and green beans are some examples where organic is the best choice. I have also read that if you eat a lot of one certain item, you should buy that organic. For example, if you eat carrots every day, you should go for organic carrots.

What not to buy organic:
1. Seafood. Don't bother with organic seafood - it's not regulated, so anything could be labeled organic, and you will just pay more for no reason.
2. Some produce. Not all produce uses a lot of harmful pesticides. Some, like broccoli, require minimal pesticides to grow and therefore don't have much residue. Others, like bananas, have a protective skin that you don't eat. Pineapples, oranges, and onions are some other foods that don't really need to be organic.
3. Processed foods, cosmetics, and cleaning products. Processed foods include things like chips and pasta. Also, don't bother buying organic junk food. Organic junk food is not healthy, just like regular junk food isn't healthy.

How to buy organic on the cheap:
1. Look for sales. Check your local stores' circulars and look for coupons.
2. Buy store brands. Stop & Shop has the Nature's Promise brand, which is their store brand natural and organic food line. Even Whole Foods has a "private label."
3. Buy in season and local produce. When it costs less for producers and stores to ship things, they cost less for you, too. If the produce is in season, prices are more competitive, so buying organic won't be too much different from buying regular, price-wise. You can also check out local farmers' markets.
4. Join a CSA. Community-supported agriculture is on the rise. I just found an organic farm CSA to join for next year. It works like this: you pay near the end of the year for a share of the next season's crops. Each week, you pick up your share - a big box full of whatever was ready for harvest at that time. You will get tons of fresh produce, and depending on the CSA, you may also get fresh herbs, flowers, or other products such as eggs. One share typically feeds about 4 people. Some CSAs also offer half-shares. The CSA I plan to join by purchasing a half-share ends up costing about $17 a week for the season. If you get used to eating in-season produce, you won't need to buy any other produce at the store. You can find a CSA near you here.

Click here to see one article I used when writing this post.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Salmon Packets

For 4th of July weekend, we went to this sweet party on the beach and had salmon in grill packets. Oh wait, no... that was Giada, not us, and we just watched it on TV. But it looked really good, so we planned to make it this weekend down the shore. (You can find the recipe here.) After we went shopping on Thursday night and bought frozen salmon, I found out that my mom was having some family over and I wasn't allowed to cook while she was cooking. I somehow managed to convince her that our menu of salmon packets with grilled asparagus was genius, despite the fact that she hates salmon, and is allergic to asparagus (it makes her sneeze). I also convinced her that we needed "real" salmon (as opposed to the frozen salmon that I had).

Ken agreed to help me with this, which was great since I now was making 4 times as many salmon packets as I had planned. We opened the salmon to get started, and saw that it still had the skin on. We didn't think this would work well in packets, but also couldn't figure out how to fillet it. Luckily, my dad (who also had no idea how to fillet) helped Ken out and they managed to get the fish in packet-size skinless pieces. I didn't actually touch any salmon. Yuck.

We brushed each piece of salmon with olive oil and placed each on a piece of foil, and then I added all the ingredients - salt, pepper, rosemary, lemon slices, lemon juice, wine, and just a few capers since we don't really like them. (My distaste for capers stems from a cooking disaster that occured a few years ago and made me have no desire to cook until now.)

Then, we folded up the packets. This was difficult because there was quite a bit of liquid in each and it wanted to escape. We put them in a pan in the fridge until our guests arrived and we were ready to throw them on the grill.

My mom cooked some chicken first, then told us it was our turn to grill our salmon. We put it on the grill and came back in ten minutes to check on it. We opened a packet and... yuck. It smelled like wine and was definitely not cooked. My mom had turned the grill off just before she turned it over to us and since it was still hot, we didn't notice. Oops! No problem though, we just turned it back on and cooked them for the ten minutes (again).

Once we finally got them cooked, everyone was hungry and attacked! I don't have any finished pictures, since they went so quickly. The finished product looked a lot like these pictures, just the cooked color of salmon instead. Luckily, everyone said it was great!

The filleting didn't go all that smoothly since we had no fillet knife or knowledge whatsoever, so we had some salmon left on the skin. We grilled it today with just olive oil, salt and pepper on it, and it was delicious. Salmon skin crisps up very nicely. It mostly came off the skin, but it was still good. I added a few pieces of salmon to my salad as well, which was delicious.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Greek Barley Salad

I am trying a bunch of different kinds of whole grains and other healthy stuff. Sometimes I find things I want to try before I find any recipes to try them with. When I bought my quinoa at Whole Foods I saw the barley near it on the shelf, and it really appealed to me because of its size. Barley is one of the largest grains, which is one reason farmers in the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago decided to plant it to become farmers. (It's a lot more complicated than that, so if you are interested you should check out this book I am reading right now - Guns, Germs and Steel.) So I bought the barley and looked for a recipe to make with it. I came across a recipe for Greek Barley Salad. I like Greek food, so this looked good to me. I decided I would make it down the shore this weekend.

The barley I got is pearled barley, which means that the hard outer shell has been removed. If you want to be really picky about it, this means that it's no longer a "whole" grain. But that doesn't mean it's not good for you! Barley takes a LONG time to cook, so I got it going and had my mom watch it while I got ready. Of course, it wasn't done when I came back. I mixed the dressing and cut the pepper, tomatoes, onions and parsley.

When the barley finished cooking but was still hot, I mixed the dressing in, then after it cooled to room temperature I mixed the rest of the ingredients in. I didn't measure the feta, I just used a full 5 ounce container. My mom, my sister and myself tried it after it was mixed together and they liked it. My sister thought it should be served cold, and my mom thought it should be served warm. I liked it room temperature, but we will have to see what happens when we try it again later (it's now in the fridge). This is a good recipe to try for someone who has never cooked barley before, and if you leave out the feta it is instantly vegan!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Banana Bran Muffins

I have been eating blueberry muffins every day at work for about the past month. Even if I eat before I leave the house, I am starving by the time I get to work. I love this morning ritual of having a delicious fruity whole wheat muffin with my latte. Sadly, I am getting just a little bit bored of blueberry muffins after a whole month of them, and blueberries aren't getting any cheaper either. I have been looking at a variety of muffin recipes lately, particularly healthy ones, and I have seen wheat bran as an ingredient in many. I decided to pick some up so I would have it in case I found one I wanted to try. Last night, I really wanted to make muffins, so I looked for recipes using ingredients I had already - frozen bananas and wheat bran. I found this recipe for Banana Bran Muffins, and conveniently found a small amount of walnuts hanging out in my snack cabinet.

This recipe seems pretty healthy already, since banana and wheat bran are pretty healthy things. But it still calls for all-purpose flour, so of course I had to replace 1 cup with white whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour is one of my favorite healthy things, because you can barely tell the difference! My blueberry muffins come out still looking like I used all-purpose flour.

The frozen bananas were a little bit of a disaster. I have read online that you can use them in baking and they supposedly work really well because they are already very mushy. However, I thought I was going to get frostbite from handling these things. The recipe called for three of these suckers, and most of my time spent on this recipe was spent wrestling these bananas, trying to peel off the skin so it wouldn't get in my muffins. The most success I had was by slicing on the inside curve from the top to bottom and then kind of peeling it off. (Think of what you see people on Food Network doing to make stuffed plantains.) I ended up with a plate full of gunk that I had to scrape off of these bananas. I will definitely be doing some more research to see how others overcome these problems. I would have taken a picture of this catastrophe, but you would probably lose your appetite!

Another issue I had was that the butter wasn't really soft enough, and the brown sugar was too attached to itself. These two things had to be creamed together until fluffy. They were fluffy, but the bottom of the mixing bowl was coated in sticky brown sugar, which just would not scrape off with the poor overworked spatula. This resulted in some little spots of brown sugar on my muffins. It wasn't enough to ruin them, but I would like to not have this problem again.

When I finally got all this working, I put the walnuts in my beautiful food processor to chop them up. Some got a little too chopped. I'm going to have to work out the logistics of this machine to get it right. I didn't measure the walnuts. I don't measure my blueberries in muffins either. I don't think it's necessary. If you have more goodness one time than another, so be it! You can easily see whether you have enough, so why dirty another measuring cup?

I put the muffins in the oven and baked them for about 22 minutes. I find that to usually be the optimum cooking time for muffins. One thing that is tricky about banana muffins is the gooeyness of bananas in general. It is harder to test with a toothpick, because you might get a stick full of banana goo when your batter is actually fully cooked. I think that may be the case here, because they are just slightly on the dry side. I will have to think of a way to moisten them up for next time. I am considering using some ground flax seed. This is easy to add to anything - you just grind it in a coffee grinder, and sprinkle it on whatever you want. According to my research you really need to grind it to get the optimal benefit.

So, the muffins came out yummy. I took them out of the pan and put them on a cooling rack so they could cool more evenly. They seemed very greasy on the bottoms so I put them on a paper towel to absorb that moisture. When they were fully cooled, I individually wrapped them in plastic wrap and put half in a bag in the freezer, and left the other half out to eat in the next few days. When freezing muffins, it's best to do it sooner rather than later so that you preserve the quality for when you decide to eat them.

Almond Chive Salmon with Lemon Dill Green Beans

I just got myself a present, a brand new Cuisinart food processor, so I absolutely had to use it over the weekend. I had bookmarked a recipe for Almond Chive Salmon that called for a food processor and decided it would be delicious with some Lemon Dill Green Beans.

It is always a challenge for me to do more than one thing at a time! So, I began by chopping the parsley and making the bread crumb mixture. I used whole wheat bread, of course, instead of white bread. I made the mixture in my food processor as directed and I was thrilled with it! I love my food processor. I plan to take advantage of it frequently.

Here's a tip for those of you who do not like to clean: whenever I bake fish (or something similar) I put down aluminum foil on my pan. That way, you can just crumple it up and toss it in the trash and you have one less thing to wash!

I steamed the green beans, which was also the first time I ever used the steamer pot thing! The recipe said 5-7 minutes, so I turned the heat off after 5 and left them for another 2 minutes. I like cooked veggies to be crunchy, and they turned out wonderful. When they were done, I mixed them with the vinaigrette and it was delicious. (I just had to stick my finger in and taste a little because it smelled so good!)

Because I cook for two and most recipes are made for 4, I halved the crust mixture for the salmon. I still had too much. I followed the recipe for the lemon dill vinaigrette, but I used fewer green beans than the recipe called for. I am now noticing that the salmon recipe suggests using different herbs besides parsley, so I think if I make this again I will use dill for both for more consistency. I might also cook the salmon for a shorter time.

Unfortunately I timed things poorly. My green beans were ready about 5 minutes before the salmon, which doesn't sound like a long time, but was enough to cool them down a little more than I would have liked. Next time, I should get the salmon in before mixing the vinaigrette. I might also cook the salmon for a minute or two less, because I felt that it came out a little on the dry side, and it would have been yummy if I squeezed some lemon over it as well. But it was delicious, and I would definitely have it again! I might try it with asparagus instead of green beans, as the recipe suggests. I was a little hesitant about not having a carb-y side, but the dish was filling enough as-is.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Quinoa and Pine Nut Pilaf with Light Tilapia

Last time I went to Whole Foods, I picked up some quinoa. I have been reading a lot about whole grains and other fun stuff and today I decided to try it. I made a Quinoa and Pine Nut Pilaf from the Food Network website, with a little modification based on what I had on hand. Although quinoa itself is a complete protein, I decided to also make a light tilapia to go along with it.

Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is actually a seed. As I said, it is a complete protein, which means it gives us a balanced set of essential amino acids, and this makes it a great choice for vegetarians and vegans. NASA is considering it as a crop for long-term space flights because of its nutritional value. This was my first time trying quinoa, but I liked it because it just looked so... cute! A way to tell if your quinoa is cooked is to look for little white fibery threads wrapped around each seed.

This pilaf recipe was a real test for me. I have never cooked with quinoa before, and I don't generally do well with doing multiple things at once. First I had to rinse the quinoa. It has a natural protective layer on it, which isn't really yummy to eat. The recipe says to put 1 cup of rinsed quinoa with 2 cups of chicken stock in a pot, bring it to a boil, and then cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. I used one can of stock, which is 14.5 ounces -- less than 2 cups. I am also not very familiar with what boiling looks like when it's not water alone. I turned the heat down a little too late. Luckily, I checked the quinoa after about ten minutes. Perfect timing! Meanwhile, I cut 1/2 of an onion and cooked it in olive oil after toasting 1/4 cup of pine nuts. I mixed both in when my quinoa had finished cooking. The recipe also calls for fresh parsley. I didn't have that, so I thought I would use dried. For some strange reason, we don't have any. I put in some oregano instead, since I would be using it with the tilapia. I was nervous about how much to add and it ended up very underseasoned, despite the salt and pepper I also added. I liked the quinoa itself, but I would also like to try cooking it with water to see what it tastes like without the chicken broth flavor. I also ended up with way too much quinoa pilaf left over. The recipe says 6 servings, and the quinoa box says 2. I think it was closer to six.

My "light tilapia" comes from a recipe I found online a long time ago (but can't find now). I have made it several times in the past because it is so easy. The only difference between my version and the official recipe is that the recipe has amounts and measurements, and I use estimates and sprinkles. I get tilapia filets frozen and individually wrapped. I use hot water to defrost them just enough that they are flexible enough to work with. I know that's the wrong way to defrost things, but it works really well for last-minute meals, especially with these individually frozen fish. I put aluminum foil on a baking sheet, rinse the fish and pat dry, and lay it on the foil. I press 1 or 2 cloves of garlic and spread them on the fish as evenly as possible. Next, I sprinkle on some dried oregano, and a little less dried basil. I top it off with grated parmesan and a sprinkle of kosher salt. Put it in the oven for 8 minutes at 400 degrees. That time and temperature are exactly perfect to cook tilapia. It always comes out wonderful that way.

I needed a vegetable, so I heated up some frozen green beans in the microwave. I like to keep frozen vegetables on hand because you never know when you will need to add a veggie (like today), and they also are awesome for quick last-minute stir fry.

The meal as a whole was pretty good. Since the quinoa was so underseasoned, I took bites with the green beans and with the tilapia, which made it tastier. I will definitely be cooking quinoa again. Unfortunately I was not able to take many pictures this time, since I constantly had my hands full!

Nutella and Banana Sandwich

Sometimes I get up around 4AM to run before work. (Yes, I am crazy!) Usually I eat a little something before I go, just a few bites to keep my stomach from growling, but today I was too sleepy and didn't even think of it. So when I got back from my run I was STARVING! I saw some ripe bananas on the counter and was reminded of my afternoon spent catching up with Closet Cooking posts yesterday, where I saw a gooey sandwich with Nutella and bananas.

I put two slices of cracked wheat bread in my toaster oven. (I got this bread at Stop & Shop when I couldn't find the regular bread aisle. I can never find what I am looking for there and it is always SO obvious.) While it was toasting, I cut 9 banana coins, which was about half the banana. When the toast was done I put a dollop of Nutella on each slice and spread it thinly. There is no reason to have a lot of Nutella, but everything is better on BOTH sides of your sandwich. Then I placed the 9 banana coins on the bread, overlapping a little in 3 rows.

At first I thought the sandwich might be too banana-y, but I think it turned out to be the perfect amount of banana. After assembling I cut the sandwich into two triangles.

One minor problem I encountered was that it cooled down very quickly. The toast did not keep it warm enough. I tried to solve this by putting the whole sandwich in the toaster oven. It worked for a few seconds and then got cool again. Luckily it was still very tasty.

I look at a lot of food blogs, and all the ones I like take fancy pictures. I have been using my Blackberry (and my mom's iPhone, which explains those few better pictures) but I am going to TRY to start using my digital camera. I used to really like photography, so I think I can handle taking some nicer pictures of my food. Look forward to higher quality images - coming soon!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cucumber and Feta Salad

I spend a lot of time looking for recipes online. I found this recipe for Cucumber Feta Salad last summer and have made it a few times since. I like that it doesn't require actual cooking, and that I can toss it in the fridge and have it later. I made it this morning and then went out for a few hours, and I took it out at dinnertime. I was the only one who really ate it but I still think it is good and I'm sure I will make it again since it is so easy.

I adjusted the recipe a lot because the few first times I made it, it was a little overwhelming. This time it was pretty light. I sliced 2 cucumbers and chopped about 1/4 cup of dill. Then I juiced 1 1/2 lemons (we had 1/2 left over from something else so I added it in to have more dressing) and added a little olive oil and some salt and pepper. I added the dill and feta (not sure how much I used exactly, but maybe 1/2 of a 5-oz container) and tossed it with the lemon mixture. Then I just covered it and put it away until we were ready to eat it.

One trick to the salad is not to slice the cucumbers too thick or too thin. If they are sliced too thin, they get pickle-y from the dill. Too thick, and they don't have enough flavor. This time it turned out just right!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lemon Pepper Shrimp Scampi

Today I wanted to make dinner for my family and decided to make the Lemon Pepper Shrimp Scampi that we frequently make at home, which we adapted from a recent issue of Cooking Light. I had a lot of help but it turned out very yummy in the end. If you are wondering where the peppers are in the pictures, the "pepper" part is actually ground black pepper!

My mom helped me out by peeling and defrosting the shrimp while I cut up parsley and broccoli. I tried to chop it like they do on Food Network. I pressed some garlic and juiced a few lemons. I had the orzo cooking while I was juicing the lemons, so I overcooked it by a minute or so. (Luckily it still turned out good.) My mom helped by straining it. The pot was very heavy (to me at least), and since orzo is so small it can't be put through a regular strainer or it will just fall right through the holes!! She had to use the lid to hold in the orzo while draining the water.

To cook the broccoli, I needed to saute some garlic and olive oil in the pan. It heated up much faster than I expected and as I was pushing it around, it suddenly turned brown! It had to be redone and Ken decided at that point that we wouldn't be able to eat unless he took over entirely. I helped as much as I could. When the broccoli was done, I mixed it into the orzo along with the parsley.

The final product came out great, although I wish I was able to do more of it myself. Everyone seemed to really like it and it is a great light summer dish.