Monthly Archives: May 2012

Bring on the Fungus!

When you shop at farmer’s markets you find all sorts of goodies you can’t get anywhere else.  One recent discovery of mine was the pasta stand.  Bins of pasta in cool shapes and flavors that you will never find at the grocery store.  It was difficult to choose, but I came home with porcini mushroom linguine.  I have my eye on some lemon-chive angel hair for next time.

Porcini Mushroom Linguine. Cool, huh?

I made up this recipe to complement my mushroom pasta, but feel free to substitute the pasta of your choice.  This sauce will be delicious on anything.

Double Mushroom Linguine

Double Mushroom Linguine

8 oz. linguine
1/2 red onion, chopped
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, or other mushrooms of your choice
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sherry
Salt & pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook linguine, 8-10 minutes, until just tender.  Drain.  Meanwhile, saute onion & mushrooms in a drizzle of olive oil until tender.  Add peas and herbs.  Stir and cook 1-2 minutes.  Add cream and sherry.

Yummy mushroom cream sauce. Give me a spoon!

Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.  Let simmer about 10 minutes.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Add pasta and toss to combine.  Garnish with fresh thyme and parmesan cheese if desired.  Serves 4 (or 3 really hungry people).


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A Darn Good Grilled Cheese

I asked my daughter, Claire, if I should bother putting something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich on my blog.  She replied that not everyone knows how to make a good grilled cheese sandwich so…why not?

When Claire was little one of her favorite snacks (and mine) was “square cheese”.  You know, the little individually wrapped slices of something called processed cheese food.  Otherwise known as American cheese.  Goes great with bologna.  I liked to fold it up into a stack of tiny squares and eat them one at a time.  But these days, square cheese doesn’t find its way into my fridge much.

For these sandwiches I used Tillamook cheddar, in my opinion one of the best cheeses ever.  When I moved to the midwest to go to college, this cheese was one of the things I missed.  You can use whatever cheddar cheese you like best, but I’m sticking with this one.  Time was, I did not like using this cheese for grilled cheese because it didn’t melt as easily as the American cheese.  But the trick is to cut it in thin slices and layer, layer, layer.  Melty goodness awaits.  The sweet cherry tomatoes are the perfect complement to the bite of the cheddar.

Melty Perfection

Grilled Cheddar & Cherry Tomato Sandwich

Sourdough bread
Cheddar cheese, sliced thinly, enough for 2 layers per sandwich
Cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
Butter (at room temperature)

Very lightly spread one side of bread with butter.  Heat skillet or grill pan over medium low heat.  Place one slice of bread butter side down, spread with one layer of cheese, then a layer of tomatoes, then another layer of cheese. Sprinkle lightly with salt & pepper if desired.  Top with the other piece of bread (also spread lightly with butter on the side facing out).  Cooking slower will help both with melting all the way through and with not getting black grilled cheese – nobody wants that.  Cook over medium low several minutes, flip gently but quickly, so the tomatoes don’t fall out. If they do, just tuck them back in. Cook for a few minutes on the other side until cheese is melted and both sides are golden brown.

Building the Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich

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Flourless Double Chocolate Cookies

For a brief period last year, my family went on a gluten-free diet.  This was as a result of a doctor telling me that my son, Luke, was allergic to about 10 different foods, including wheat and some other grains.  Thankfully, it was a misdiagnosis and we all happily returned to our old eating ways after a few months.  But during that period I learned a lot!

First off, we all lost about 5 pounds each so I learned that gluten-rich foods are fattening!  No big surprise there.

Secondly, I learned that buying alternative foods masquerading as foods with gluten (cookies, pretzels, pasta, bread, etc.) is not only very expensive ($8 for a bag of pretzels!!) but most often, quite disappointing.  Although brown rice pasta isn’t half bad if you have a mad craving.  After a few attempts we stopped trying most of this stuff and just ate foods that are naturally gluten-free for the most part.

Thirdly, and by far the most surprising, I found some gluten-free recipes that I absolutely love, that I probably never would have tried otherwise.  One of those recipes was for these cookies.  Chewy, fudgy, rich and decadent, they are everything a chocolate lover could ever hope for.  Plus they are quick and easy to make and have surprisingly few ingredients.  You have to make these.

Flourless Double Chocolate Cookies

Flourless Double Chocolate Cookies
(from Chocolate & Carrots) 

3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp. salt
2-4 large egg whites at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups 60% cacao chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli bittersweet chips)

Preheat oven to 350˚.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a large bowl whisk together powdered sugar, cocoa, and salt.  Whisk in vanilla and 2 eggs whites.  Whisk until batter is just moistened.  If batter is too thick to get the whisk through, add another egg white and whisk some more.  You are going for a thick, brownie-batter consistency here.  If it’s still too thick, add a 4th egg white.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Drop in 1 tablespoon scoops onto lined cookie sheets.  Leave room for them to spread.

They don’t look like much, but trust me, one tablespoon is all you need.

Bake approximately 10 minutes until tops are firm and glossy.  Remove from oven and slide parchment sheet with cookies on it onto the table or cooling rack.  Let cool a few minutes and the cookies will peel off the parchment easily.  This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies.

10 minutes in the oven and magic happens.

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Cheesy Potato Soup

Potato soup is one of my favorite foods, summer or winter.  It’s also one dish that I just can’t help but mess with because there are so many great variations.  This is the first time I tried this particular combination and it was a huge hit!  The cheese gives it added richness and flavor and the cumin, chiles and cilantro lend just a hint of southwestern flair.  Feel free to play with the texture to suit your tastes, it can be chunky or smooth, thick or thin.  It’s up to you.

And now…I’m off to do extra yoga to work off some of those potatoes.  So worth it!

Cheesy Potato Soup

Cheesy Potato Soup

8 medium russet potatoes
2 leeks, sliced
2 spring onions, sliced
1/4 cup butter
1 8 oz. can diced green chiles
2-3 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 strips crispy cooked bacon, crunched up into bacon bits (for garnish, optional)

Peel and quarter potatoes, cover with water and boil until fork tender.  Drain off the water (or most of it).  While potatoes are cooking, saute leeks and onions in butter in a separate pan.  When onions and leeks are tender, put in a blender with a little chicken broth and puree.  Add to drained potatoes, along with diced green chiles, 2 cups chicken broth and cream.  Using an immersion blender or a potato masher, mash up the potato chunks, leaving some bigger pieces (if you like it totally smooth, puree to your heart’s content, but I prefer a slightly chunky texture).  Add more chicken broth if you want a thinner texture (I used three cups of broth in mine). Add salt, pepper & cumin.  Heat until just barely boiling.  Turn heat off and stir in cheese until melted.  Serve hot, topped with fresh cilantro and bacon if desired.

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Greek Salad with Roasted Chickpeas

One of the challenges when you go crazy at farmer’s market is using all the stuff up that you bought.  This week I not only went nuts at farmer’s market, but also at Trader Joe’s (they had a sale, who could resist?).  I came home with all my goodies, sat down and made a list of all the stuff I picked up, and then made a somewhat creative menu for the week to use it all up (beet pasta, anyone?).  So, at least one main dish salad was definitely in order.  Best of all this recipe was a good excuse to make roasted chickpeas again, and use them in place of croutons.

Greek Salad with Roasted Chickpeas

Greek Salad

4-6 cups mixed greens
Kalamata olives
Cherry tomatoes
Feta cheese
Mild banana pepper rings
Roasted chickpeas (I used oregano and garlic powder for the seasonings for these)

I don’t measure anything when I make salad.  If you like tomatoes, use lots of tomatoes, and so on.  Combine all ingredients.  Toss with Herbed Vinaigrette (see below).

Herbed Vinaigrette

1/4 cup cider vinegar (or apple jalapeno vinegar!)
1/4 cup  extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup crumbled feta
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tsp. dijon
Salt & pepper

Combine all ingredients, whisk well or shake up in a jar.  Toss with salad.

Greek Salad with Herbed Vinaigrette & Roasted Chickpeas

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Pasta with Roasted Beets, Spinach & Goat Cheese

Beets are one of those things about which nobody has a mild opinion.  You either love them or you hate them.  Me? I love them.  They are actually one of the few vegetables I will buy in a can.  I like them pickled and not pickled. But the best way to eat them is of course to buy them fresh when they are in season and roast them in the oven.

In case you’re wondering, beets are terrific for cardiovascular health, contain significant levels of Vitamin C, potassium and B vitamins, among other vitamins and minerals.  Some people even believe they are an aphrodisiac.  The greens are also very nutritious.  And incidentally, if you have small children, this is a great veggie to introduce while the kiddos are young because it’s sweet and they love it.  At least, my daughter used to love it.  Now not so much.  But Luke and I are big fans.

One of the most fun (and sometimes annoying) things about beets is that they turn everything pink.  Never cook beets while wearing white.  Of course, I don’t cook anything while wearing white.  But especially not these.  In this pasta, the more you stir it up, the more pink the sauce gets.  I just barely tossed it so it was more of a pink swirl.  And I chose campanelle pasta because it looks like a flower so it would be pretty when it’s pink. 🙂

Pasta with Roasted Beets, Spinach and Goat Cheese

Pasta with Roasted Beets, Spinach & Goat Cheese

8 oz. Campanelle (or other smallish-shaped pasta)
1 cup sliced roasted beets
3-4 cups fresh baby spinach
5 oz. goat cheese (1 small package)
Salt & pepper

To roast beets, I leave them whole, with the skin on (less juice everywhere when you do it this way).  Trim the greens (some people eat those too), drizzle with a little olive oil and roast in the oven at 400˚ for about 30 minutes until tender when stabbed with a fork.  Let cool, peel and slice.

Cook pasta until tender but not overcooked.  In a large serving bowl (or you can do individual servings if you have some beet haters) place spinach.  Scatter sliced beets over the top along with dollops of goat cheese scattered about.  Drain pasta (reserving a bit of the pasta water).  Add pasta to serving bowl along with 1/4 – 1/2 cup of pasta water.  Toss lightly to combine.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.

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Fresh & Creamy Cucumber Salad

I love people who are really good at growing gardens.  I’m not one of those people, although I always make an effort.  But it is very wise to be friends or be related to those people.  I especially like it when they plant cucumbers. For some reason, people who plant cucumbers never expect the volume of cukes that grow.  So they quickly get sick of eating cucumbers.  And they give them to me instead. 🙂

I was thrilled to discover a new recipe for cucumber salad.  This one is quick and creamy and just plain mouthwatering.  And though I may not be good at growing cucumbers, I’m great at growing herbs.  I’m planting dill and mint this weekend just to have on hand for this.  I made this to go with my Quinoa-Stuffed Tomatoes the other day, but I think it would go with just about anything.

Fresh & Creamy Cucumber Salad

Fresh & Creamy Cucumber Salad
(adapted from Cooking Light) 

1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp. dried dill
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
2 tsp. dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 garlic clove
2 large cucumbers, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced

In a blender or food processor combine all ingredients except cucumbers and onions.  Process until smooth.  Toss with sliced cucumbers and onions in a large bowl.  Best when made right before you eat.

Quinoa-Stuffed Tomatoes with Fresh & Creamy Cucumber Salad

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Baked Stuffed Tomatoes

I like to subscribe to cooking magazines.  It keeps me from buying too many cookbooks and gives me tons of ideas, especially for using seasonal foods.  I usually switch it up and order a different magazine each year.  One of my favorites that I’ve kept coming back to is Cooking Light.  I think part of that is because just the name makes me feel like I’m eating healthy.

I have had great success with CL recipes overall.  I should be honest and also add that I’m not all that great about following the recipes as they are printed.  So a lot of the things that make CL recipes lighter – low-fat cheese and dairy, etc. – are not really used when I make them, so the recipes turn out more “Cooking Medium”.  I really don’t like the taste and texture of most of the low-fat versions of cheeses, sour creams, skim milk and the like and I rarely have them in the house.  Even so, I think these are still tasty recipes on the healthier side, and that’s good enough for me.  This is one I actually followed pretty closely to the original and I’ll definitely be making it again.

I think you could use any size tomatoes for these.  I actually prefer the texture of the small to medium tomatoes to the large one so I just made more.

Baked Stuffed Tomatoes

Baked Stuffed Tomatoes
(from Cooking Light) 

2 poblano chiles
2 cups fresh corn kernels
1 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. salt – divided
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. black pepper
6 large ripe tomatoes (or more if they are smaller)
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup cheddar-jack cheese, shredded

Preheat broiler.  Cut the chiles in half lengthwise, remove seeds and stems.  Place skin side up on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Broil until skin is blackened.  Remove from oven and place in a paper or plastic bag to cool.  Add corn and onion to pan and place back under the broiler.  Cook  about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Put in a bowl.  Peel chiles and coarsely chop, add to the bowl with the corn and onions.  Add oregano, oil, lime juice, 1/2 tsp. salt, cumin and black pepper.  Stir to combine and set aside.

Cut tops off tomatoes.  Carefully scoop out the tomato pulp, leaving the shells intact.  Drain pulp through a sieve over a bowl, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract liquid.  Reserve 1 1/4 cups liquid, discard the rest.  Sprinkle inside of tomato shells with salt and invert onto a rack to drain while you cook the quinoa.

Place quinoa in a fine sieve, rinse and rub the grains together with your fingers, and drain well. (I bought pre-rinsed quinoa so I skipped this step, but if you didn’t buy that kind, this will help prevent any bitterness the grain might have). Combine reserved tomato liquid, 1/4 cup water (use more if you didn’t have 1 1/4 cups tomato liquid – you should have 1 1/2 cups total liquid), quinoa, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a sauce pan.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and cover.  Cook for 15 minutes on low until liquid is absorbed.  Fluff with fork and add to corn and pepper mixture.  Stir to combine.

Preheat oven to 350˚.  Stuff each tomato with quinoa mixture. Place stuffed tomatoes in a casserole dish or jelly roll pan.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake for 15 minutes, until tops are browned and cheese is melted.

Baked Stuffed Tomatoes, fresh from the oven!

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Spicy Thai Noodles with Spring Veggies

If I owned a grocery store, I would stock latex gloves next to the fresh chile peppers.  Why?  Because I ALWAYS forget to buy them when I’m grocery shopping, and I always wish I had them when my fingers are stinging and I’ve forgotten I shouldn’t rub my eyes after chopping peppers.  Someday I will learn my lesson and buy a case to have on hand at all times.

But until then, stinging fingers and eyes are just part of the sacrifice I’m willing to make for delicious spicy food.  This is a zippy, fresh tasting recipe that makes the most of spring vegetables available right now.  I love how the cold rice noodles are balanced by the hot, spicy stir-fried veggies.  If you are not a fan of spicy food, you can use less (or leave out) the fresh chiles.

Spicy Thai Noodles with Spring Veggies.
(And teenage boy fingers snatching noodles!)

Spicy Thai Noodles with Spring Veggies
(adapted from Cooking Light) 

7 oz. (1/2 package) flat rice noodles
1 cup thinly sliced radishes
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped mint
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tbsp. walnut oil (or peanut oil)
1 1/2 tbsp. grated peeled fresh ginger
6 garlic cloves, sliced
2 serrano or Thai chiles, finely chopped (use less if you don’t like it spicy)
2 cups snow peas
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 2 inch pieces
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (or more) unsalted, dry roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

To cook noodles, bring a pot of water to a boil.  Remove from heat and submerge noodles.  Let sit in the hot water for about 10 minutes until tender.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Place in a large serving bowl.  Add radishes, green onions, basil, cilantro, mint, lime juice and fish sauce.  Toss.

In a large skillet, heat walnut or peanut oil over medium-low heat.  Add garlic, ginger and chiles.  Cook for 2 minutes, stirring.  Increase heat to medium, add veggies and salt to pan.  Continue to cook and stir about 3-4 minutes, until veggies are crisp-tender.  Add to noodle mixture, toss well to combine.  Sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

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Not Your Mama’s Scalloped Potatoes

I grew up eating scalloped potatoes made with cream o’ mushroom soup and – I’ll admit it – loving every bite.  But as my tastes and cooking skills have evolved, I have found there is a better way.  Not to mention that lately I just don’t see any reason to eat the extra sodium and chemicals that come with most canned food if it can be avoided.  So ditch the can, get out a saucepan, and spend an extra five minutes making a scrumptious cheese sauce to replace it.  You won’t regret it!

For those of you not so keen on the veggies, or trying to disguise them for picky kiddos (or husbands), this is one of those recipes that I use to “hide” veggies.  I added a layer of fresh spinach in this one.  Don’t like spinach?  Try a different green like kale, or chopped peppers, zucchini, eggplant, whatever!

This is a great vegetarian meal, but if you want to take it way over the top add some lean sausage or fresh franks to the top.  I was lucky enough to score some lean, freshly-made spicy frankfurters last time I went to farmer’s market and they made a fine addition to this!  Lip smackin’ good!

Not Your Mama’s Scalloped Potatoes – Sans Meat

Not Your Mama’s Scalloped Potatoes – Over The Top Version!

Not Your Mama’s Scalloped Potatoes

3 pounds potatoes (I used half small yukon gold potatoes and half baby red potatoes)
3 large spring onions
2 cups fresh spinach
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 cups milk
1 cup grated parmesan
Lean sausage or frankfurters (optional)

Slice potatoes in thin rounds.  Chop spring onions (if you don’t have spring onions you can substitute leeks or regular onions). In a small bowl, mix flour, salt, dry mustard, cayenne, and black pepper.  In a saucepan, melt butter. Whisk in flour mixture.  When the butter is absorbed, gradually whisk in milk.  Continue to cook and whisk until mixture comes to a boil and thickens.  Remove from heat and stir in parmesan cheese.  Whisk until smooth.  Add a little more milk if it seems too thick.

In a large casserole dish, start with a layer of potatoes, sprinkle with onions and generously drizzle with sauce.  Repeat.  After two potato layers, add all of the spinach in one layer.  Top with at least one more potato-onion-sauce layers (I had enough ingredients for two more layers).  End with sauce.  Cover tightly with foil.  Bake at 375˚ for 1 hour.  Remove foil.  If you are using sausage or frankfurters, scatter over the top now.  Either way, continue to bake for another 15-20 minutes until potatoes are tender and top is browned.

In theory, you should let it sit for 10-15 minutes so it can set up and be cut into pretty wedges.  But let’s face it, it smells so good that I usually cannot wait.  So if you don’t let it set up, it will still taste great, but instead of a wedge it will look more like this:

Scalloped potatoes in a bowl when you’re too impatient to wait!


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