Friday, July 29, 2011

Polenta Pie with Roasted Vegetables

My very good friend Lily is incredibly smart. In fact, she is currently taking the bar exam, which I'm sure she will ace after three successful years of law school. In addition to being smart and motivated and all that, Lily is also a great cook. Clearly more interesting than her law skills in my opinion and, fortunately for us foodies, also something she finds worth exploring and expanding even in the midst of studying for said bar exam. So while most law students hunker down and don't leave the library until the bar exam is over, Lily decided to start a food blog, appropriately named Bar Food. So while she was presumably doing a lot of studying, she was also exploring a whole list of food tasks that she's been meaning to tackle. One should eat while studying anyway so why not make it an enjoyable learning experience at the same time? Seems reasonable to me and the result is a very funny blog full of good food tips and fun recipe ideas.
Lily and I often talk about food and different things we like to make or want to try making. One food we've discussed often is the delightful dish of polenta. It's so versatile and easy and absolutely delicious. A recent recipe on her blog was for a vegetable pie with a polenta crust, something that both looked delicious and fit into my need for gluten free delights. So I decided I had to make it using up all of the delicious produce available at the farmers' market. Our versions are slightly different based on what we each had available. But give it a try with whatever you have on hand. It's easy to make and tastes amazing. I only wish I had had some goat cheese to melt on the top like she time!
Polenta Pie with Roasted Vegetables
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large zucchini and 1 yellow squash, sliced into thin half moons
  • 1 eggplant, peeled and sliced
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tbsp + olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 3 cups water or vegetable/chicken stock
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 450*F.
Toss onions, zucchini, squash, eggplant and tomatoes with enough olive oil to lightly coat and season well with salt and pepper.
Arrange vegetables in an even layer on a large baking sheet.
In a small saucepan, bring stock to a boil with a pinch of salt.
Turn heat to low and slowly pour in polenta, stirring thoroughly to avoid any lumps.
Continue cooking, stirring frequently, for about 5-8 minutes, until polenta is thick.
Spread cooked polenta into a lightly greased (vegetable spray works) pie pan, making it as even as possible.
Put both the vegetables and the polenta pie into the oven and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until vegetables are tender and the polenta begins to get golden on the edges.
Meanwhile, mix together eggs, milk and Parmesan cheese. Season with black pepper.
Remove polenta and vegetables and layer as many of the vegetables into the polenta pie as you can fit, pressing down the polenta as you go.
Turn the oven down to 375*F.
Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, pressing with the back of a spoon to get it to soak in.
Place the veggie pie back into the oven and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until the eggs are set.
Garnish with fresh basil and more Parmesan cheese.
Let the pie rest for a bit before cutting to let it set. I was too impatient for this and mine fell apart a bit. Still delicious though!

For a printable recipe click here

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer Vegetable Ratatouille with Feta

I've written about this type of dish before but it's just too good to not include this version of it on my blog. And besides, it's been awhile since we've had an abundance of summer produce available so it's time to start thinking about these great vegetables dishes again. The farmers' market is full of different types of squash: zucchini, yellow squash, Lebanese, patty pan and eggplant (not really a squash, but you get my point). Not to mention bright red tomatoes waiting to burst they're so juicy. So with these incredibly fresh ingredients at the ready, there are tons of delicious dishes just begging to be made. One of my favorites is a ratatouille type dish, served over gluten free pasta (or regular if you can eat it of course), topped with cheese. For this version, I went with feta, a change up over the usual Parmesan or other similar cheese but equally delicious. I chose feta because that is what Chapel Hill Creamery had at the time I went to the market. But I think it was just a cosmic push to include this wonderfully salty, briny cheese into my dish to add a whole new level of flavor that just wouldn't have come from anywhere else. Although the vegetables are incredible on their own, sauteed in a bit of olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper, I added a few things to create something new and add to the overall yumminess of the dish. The red wine vinegar adds a brightness to the dish while the sugar brings out the sweetness in the tomatoes. Finished off with some fresh basil and a bit more feta cheese and you've got yourself quite a meal.

Summer Vegetable Ratatouille with Feta

  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 2 zucchini, chopped into small cubes
  • 1 yellow squash, chopped
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed
  • 4-5 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried thyme, or 2-3 tsp fresh
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, or to taste
  • 3 oz feta cheese, crumbled, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
Heat oil in a large skillet, preferably with straight sides, over medium heat.
Add garlic cloves, zucchini and yellow squash, season with a pinch of salt and pepper; saute for a few minutes.
Add eggplant and tomato, stirring to combine. Cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 5-8 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste, red wine vinegar, thyme and sugar. Season with a bit more salt and pepper.
Simmer sauce for about 8-10 minutes until all of the flavors are well combined and the vegetables are tender.
Remove from heat and stir in crumbled feta and fresh basil. Check seasoning and add more salt or pepper if needed.
Serve sauce over cooked pasta or rice and garnish with a bit more feta cheese.

For a printable recipe click here

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Geer Street Garden: Another Durham Gem

Image courtesy of
Gavin and I are always in search of great new places to eat and Durham rarely disappoints when introducing a new restaurant. In the past couple of years, we've been lucky enough to have a number of great new restaurants, especially in the downtown area. The next area to be developed - with more to come, I'm sure - is the Central Park district. Already home to the Durham Farmers' Market and Piedmont Restaurant, this stretch of Foster Street and surrounding area seems to be exploding. Fullsteam Brewery recently opened on Rigsbee Avenue, serving up cold seasonal and local beers along with music and food truck eats. And even more recently, this Central Park district has welcomed Geer Street Garden, an old gas and service station turned casual eatery, using local produce, meats and cheese. The restaurant combines a lot of what is great about Durham: an old, brick building repurposed to serve great food highlighting local farmers' and artisans.
I was a little nervous about trying it out when I first looked over the menu, wondering if they would have any options for me that didn't include gluten. Although their sandwiches sound and look amazing, I am unfortunately unable to eat them. For most of the gluten-eating population, however, the menu is full of great looking finds, from the locally raised beef burgers to the giant pimento cheese sandwich - a southern classic. However, when we arrived at the restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of gluten-free options and a very helpful bartender who was willing to check and assure me which menu items I could eat. Instead of being forced to order the one and only gluten free option, I actually had choices! I was thrilled with what I ended up ordering - the seasonal vegetable stew, pictured above - but I'm sure the other choices would have been equally as tasty.
Gavin and I started the evening off with the local salami and cheese board. Unfortunately we gobbled most of it up before I remembered to take a picture but it was complete with thin slices of salami, local fresh goat cheese covered in honey, apricots, and almonds, delicious little pickles and black olives. The toasted crostini rounded it out for Gavin but I didn't miss the bread with all of the other great flavors on the board. As I mentioned, I ordered the seasonal vegetable stew, which was exactly that: a mix of all of the vegetables I had just seen at the farmers' market earlier that week. Mine included patty pan squash, snap peas, carrots and greens, but yours might look a bit different depending on whatever is the freshest available that day. Topping the soup was a generous triangle of polenta cake with sprinkled Parmesan cheese. An absolutely delicious and satisfying meal, showcasing the best our local farmers can produce. Gavin chose the local, pasture-raised burger, complete with a slice of cheese and spicy red cabbage on the side. Not to mention a delicious mound of fresh-cooked French fries, which I was happy to sample. To accompany your dinner, Geer St. offers several beers on tap and in the bottle, a short but tasty looking wine list, and a number of signature cocktails along with anything you want the bartender to whip up for you. The inside of the restaurant is rather small but the big patio outside nearly doubles the space and makes for a lovely evening. All in all, our visit to Geer Street Garden was a huge success and will definitely be followed up by more visits. Nothing beats an affordable meal, highlighting both the history of Durham and the incredible food produced locally.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Vegetable Gazpacho: Perfect for a Hot Summer Night

Sometimes in the summer - especially a North Carolina summer - you just don't feel like cooking. The thought of turning on a hot stove and then standing over it for 30 minutes or so sounds unbearable. But just because you don't want to cook anything, doesn't mean you have to miss out on a healthy, homemade meal. Besides, getting takeout usually involves going outside, which will probably be hotter than turning on the oven anyway. And we all know that homemade food is better for you than takeout (not that the occasional Thai takeout meal hasn't saved me during pregnancy-induced exhaustion). But making something at home is definitely the better bet when you can. Although I love me some salads, sometimes I want other options for no-cook dinners. So instead of eating vegetables tossed in salad dressing, I blended them all together and made gazpacho. This delicious, cold soup - usually made with tomatoes - fits the bill perfectly for a healthy meal that requires absolutely no heat. It's full of good for you veggies and heart healthy fats like avocado and a touch of olive oil. I served the soup with some crackers spread with a bit of cheese and had a delicious dinner that didn't cause the temperature in my house to raise one degree. I used a blender and did the pureeing in batches. A food processor would also work, just be careful to not overfill it. Most gazpacho recipes call for onion, but I don't really like the bite of raw onion so I left it out. But feel free to include a small onion or other vegetables that you like: bell peppers would also work nicely. Basically you can throw the whole vegetable garden in there and create a delicious soup that takes very little time to prepare.
Vegetable Gazpacho

  • 2-3 large tomatoes, diced
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced; reserve 1/2 of 1 cucumber
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1/2-1 cup tomato or vegetable juice
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 bunch basil, divided
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2-1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
In a blender or food processor, chop up tomatoes, 1.5 cucumbers and zucchini. Add about 1/4 cup tomato juice to help the vegetables combine. Do this in batches if needed, making sure everything is finely pureed.
Dice the remaining 1/2 cucumber into small cubes and reserve.
Roughly chop half of the avocado and add to the blender. Cut the other half into cubes and reserve.
Chop half the basil and add to the blender. Thinly slice other half and reserve.
Add balsamic vinegar, 1/4 - 1/2 cup tomato juice, juice of half a lime, and about 1/2 tsp of salt to blender and puree until well combined. (Amount of salt will vary depending on saltiness of tomato juice).
Pour all of the pureed soup into a large bowl. Stir in diced cucumber (I like the added texture, but puree everything if you want a totally smooth soup).
Add more tomato juice if too thick. Stir in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add more lime juice, if desired.
Soup can be served immediately or refrigerated for up to a day before serving.
Garnish each bowl with a few chunks of reserved avocado and ribbons of basil.

For a printable recipe click here

Monday, May 16, 2011

Goat Cheese Smashed Potatoes with Spring Veggies

I must admit that I have been less than inspired by my cooking recently. It's not that I haven't been cooking or that it hasn't tasted good, I've just been relying on things I'm comfortable with or variations of things I've made many times before. And while it provides nourishment for me and my hubby, these meals have not compelled me to write about them and share them with you. This meal, however, was an exception. It started with a trip to the Durham Farmers' Market, which is always cause for some cooking inspiration, especially as we move into new and exciting spring produce. As usual, I didn't enter the market with much of a plan, hoping to find some products that would work well together and create a simple, seasonal meal. I ended up with some great little red-skinned potatoes, Lebanese squash (a cross between zucchini and yellow squash), shiitake mushrooms, and red pepper goat cheese. Armed with these fresh items, I headed home to come up with something to make.
Since potatoes and cheese are a match made in heaven, I decided to start with smashed red potatoes seasoned with the flavored goat cheese. The red pepper added a touch of sweetness while the fresh goat cheese made the potatoes nice and tangy. I like my potatoes to have some texture, so I left the skin on and simply mashed them with a fork for an uneven consistency. I then sauteed the squash and mushrooms, added some sun-dried tomatoes and white beans, and finished it off with a splash of red wine vinegar. The whole meal took less than 30 minutes to make and tasted fresh, healthy and exciting. It's also a great meal to try if you want to eat less meat. The beans and goat cheese add protein and make the dish satisfying enough that you won't miss the meat. Hopefully this meal, and the season's great produce, will inspire you to make something new and bring some excitement back to the dinner table.

Goat Cheese Smashed Potatoes with Spring Vegetables (serves 2, with leftovers)

  • 1 lbs. red-skinned new potatoes, halved if large
  • 4 oz fresh goat cheese, flavored if desired
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup milk (if needed)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 4 oz shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
  • 2 medium Lebanese squash (or zucchini), chopped
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped small
  • 1 15oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Salt and black pepper
Put the washed potatoes into a small saucepan and cover with cold water.
Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat.
Once boiling, season water with a generous (1 tsp +) pinch of salt and boil potatoes uncovered until tender, about 12-15 minutes.
Drain potatoes and return to hot pan.
Stir in goat cheese and butter, mashing potatoes with a fork or potato masher.
Add milk if needed to make potatoes easier to mix.

While potatoes are boiling, heat oil in a large saute pan.
Add garlic and saute for a minute.
Add mushrooms and cook until mostly browned, about 4-5 minutes.
Add squash and season with salt (1/2 tsp or so) and pepper (1/4 tsp or so).
Saute for about 8 minutes, until squash is nearly tender.
Add in sun-dried tomatoes, white beans and vinegar, cooking for another couple of minutes to heat through.
Season with more salt and pepper if needed.

Serve vegetables over mashed potatoes and enjoy!

For a printable recipe click here

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fast and Easy Veggie Burritos and A Big Announcement

So it has been a ridiculously long time since my last post and for this I am very sorry. It's not that I have forgotten about this little blog, I just have been cooking very basic dishes that I've made a million times or relying on take out. Why do this when usually I love creating new things and get bored of too much repetition, you might ask? The reason is simple and very exciting...I'm pregnant! And for anyone who has been through it themselves, or knows anyone who has, the first trimester is not a time to be whipping up exotic new creations and experimenting with new flavors. If you're nausea doesn't prevent you from entering the kitchen altogether, the exhaustion will keep you from putting in much effort when all you want to do is eat something that sounds remotely appealing and then lay back down.  I was fortunate in that I did have nights where I was able to cook simple dinners for me and my hubby. But as far as creating new recipes and then writing about them, that was more than I could handle.
I did, however, manage to take some pictures of a couple of the things I made over the last few weeks. Now that I am feeling better and have more energy, I will share them with you. This first one is a great recipe to have in your arsenal since you can always have the ingredients on hand and it takes very little time to whip together. Like many of my recipes, this one is based on a recipe my mom used to make us as kids. It's always fun to eat things with your hands and there's lots of healthy things all mixed together with flavorful spices. Although I generally like to use fresh produce, frozen is almost as good and great when you haven't been to the store in awhile and don't feel like making an extra trip. We used flour tortillas growing up but if you prefer corn, or can't eat the flour ones like me, those work just as well. I'd probably just heat up a few more since they tend to be much smaller. Feel free to play around with the toppings, adding whatever you have or whatever sounds good, like sour cream, hot sauce, avocados, etc.

Fast and Easy Veggie Burritos (serves 4)
  • 8 10-inch flour tortillas
  • 1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into matchsticks or small cubes
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 8oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 16oz bag frozen broccoli florets, thawed and drained
  • 1 10oz bag frozen corn, thawed and drained
  • 1 15oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • Dash, or more, of hot sauce, depending on your taste
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, or to taste
  • Shredded Cheddar or your favorite cheese
  • Salsa, sour cream, or any topping of your choice
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Saute onion, carrot and garlic for a few minutes to soften. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Stir in tomato sauce, broccoli, corn, black beans, chili powder, cumin and hot sauce. Season with more salt and pepper, to taste.
Cover and let the mixture simmer for about 5-8 minutes, until everything is heated through.
Warm the tortillas in a low oven or, covered, in the microwave.
Serve the burrito mixture in the tortillas topped with cheese and any other toppings you like.

For a printable recipe click here

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lentils with Red Wine Vegetables

Photo courtesy of Urban Durham Realty blog
Last weekend my good friend and one of my college roommates came to visit. Obviously a cause for celebration, we made the most of the weekend in true Durham-loving fashion. Although she lived in Durham for four years in college, a lot has changed in the past three and a half years since she left. I couldn't wait to show off how cool Durham has become. So in addition to spending some quality time together, we got to explore some of  what I consider to be the coolest parts of Durham. To start the weekend off with a bang, we went to dinner at Revolution, which I consider to be one of the best new restaurants in Durham. Saturday we enjoyed the free tasting offered at Wine Authorities and then cheered on the Duke Blue Devils with friends and more good wine. Sunday we had a delicious breakfast at Foster's, stretched it out at Patanjali's Place with yoga flow, and then topped that off with lunch at Dame's Chicken and Waffles, Gavin's favorite for Southern delights. Unfortunately that afternoon I had to drop her off at the airport, making the weekend seem incredibly short. But I'm pretty sure she left feeling relaxed and full, and hopefully a little impressed with all that Durham has to offer. For one weekend, we managed to take in several of Durham's best spots.
In addition to all of the "site-seeing," eating and drinking, we also spent some time talking about cooking. Considering we both love to cook, this was an inevitable conversation for the two of us. It's been an unusually cold winter in both NC and Texas, our respective homes, leading our conversation toward heartier comfort foods and the delights of root vegetables. For anyone who doesn't love to cook, this may sound like an odd conversation to have, but trust me, we got pretty excited about delicious soups and hearty roasted vegetables. One dish in particular made us both intrigued and since I loved it and she wanted to try it, I promised to share it here. I wrote a couple weeks ago about lentils and how delicious they are. This recipe is no exception. Combined with root vegetables in red wine and finished off with Dijon mustard, this is a satisfying and healthy dish. I adapted this recipe from Cooking Light, a great resource for healthy recipes year round.

Lentils with Red Wine Vegetables (serves 6)

  • 3 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 1/2 cup dried lentils (I used French lentils)
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 celeriac (celery root), peeled and chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bunch Brussels sprouts, stems removed and halved if large
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon, divided
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
In a medium saucepan, combine stock/water, lentils, 1/2 tsp salt and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until lentils are tender.
While the lentils simmer, heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute onions for about 5 minutes. Add celeriac, carrots, parsnips and sweet potato, seasoned with 1/2 tsp salt, or so. Cook for about 10 minutes.
Stir in Brussels sprouts, 1/2 tbsp tarragon, tomato paste and garlic. Cook for another 2-3 minutes.
Pour in red wine, scraping any bits of the bottom of the pan.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until vegetables are fork tender.
When lentils are done, add them to the vegetables with mustard and black pepper.
Stir to combine and cook for another 2 minutes to let flavors blend. Remove from heat and stir in remaining tarragon.

For a printable recipe click here

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lemony Shrimp Risotto

There are two problems I sometimes face when sitting down to write a blog post. The first is a lack of recipes to share, or a lack of a photograph to go with a new recipe. I just feel that I can't share a recipe without some sort of visual aid. I think it makes the post more inviting and hopefully encourages people to make something new. The other problem I face is writer's block. I just simply cannot get myself to write anything, even if I have a ton of new recipes to share. It's not that I don't want to share them - because I definitely do - but I can't seem to figure out how to do so. This past week has been one of those times. I have several recipes, with photos, that I want to share with you, but I've been unable to put anything into writing. It's not like I usually have anything particularly profound to say, but I try to have some sort of story to go along with the food. I could just write out a recipe, and I'm sure there are plenty of people who never actually read food blogs, they just scroll down to the recipe (yes, I too am guilty of this on occasion). But for those people who do want to read something, I like to oblige. So when I have nothing to say, I end up not posting for awhile.

So instead of trying to come up with something clever for today's post, I decided to simply share with you my dilemma. I'm sure anyone who's ever written anything - a journal, a school paper, a book - has experienced some sort of writer's block, so hopefully you can forgive my lack of recent posts. I will do my best to overcome this block and share with you some new recipes. This first one is pretty simple, despite the sometimes scary thought of making risotto. Yes, I do recommend stirring it as much as possible while it cooks. But don't worry if you have to step away for a minute to do something else. Just make sure there's always plenty of liquid in the pot so that the rice doesn't dry out or potentially burn. The lemon zest and juice add a great brightness to this dish while the creaminess of the risotto makes it luxurious and comforting. This is definitely a dish that can transfer from winter to spring with no problem. To make it even more spring-like, stir in some sliced asparagus spears a minute or two before adding the shrimp and you've got a fresh dish, all in one pan.

Lemony Shrimp Risotto (serves 2, with leftovers)

  • 4-5 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or combination of stock and water)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 6-8 oz sliced mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3 tsp lemon zest & 2 tbsp juice, from 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
In a small saucepan, heat chicken stock over medium-low heat.
In a large pan, preferably with straight sides, heat olive oil over medium heat.
Saute chopped onions until soft, about 8 minutes.
Add mushrooms and saute until soft and lightly browned, about 6 minutes.
Season with garlic, salt and pepper and cook for another minute.
Add rice and cook for another couple of minutes to toast rice.
Add lemon zest and deglaze the pan with white wine, scraping up any bits from the bottom.
Once the wine is almost absorbed, add about 3/4 cup of stock.
Stir mixture until stock is almost absorbed and then add more stock, by about 1/2 cup at a time.
Continue stirring and adding stock until rice is tender and creamy, about 18-20 minutes cooking time.
When rice is just about tender, stir in shrimp, cooking until shrimp is fully pink, about 5 minutes.
Remove pan from the heat and stir in chopped tarragon and lemon juice. Add a pinch more salt and pepper, if needed.
Cover pan and let sit for 2 minutes before serving.

For a printable recipe click here

Lemony Shrimp Risotto

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lentil Soup with Balsamic Roasted Vegetables

I tend to forget about lentils when I'm thinking of things to cook. I'm not sure why I forget about them because they are delicious and one of my favorite bases for vegetarian cooking. But they just haven't made their way on to my mental rolodex, yet. I love lentil soup, curried lentils, lentils and rice, all of which I've ordered off of various menus. But why wait to eat them at a restaurant - and pay a lot more - when I can easily make them at home? So when I ran across a Cooking Light list of winter recipes, I knew I had to try the ones with lentils. So in the past week, I have made two different lentil dishes, both of which I will be sharing with you. If you're not familiar with lentils, I definitely recommend giving them a try. They are packed with protein and other great nutrients, making them a perfect base for any vegetarian meal. Although I love meat and often cook all types of meat at home, I do like to include one or two vegetarian meals during the week, both for the health benefits and the environmental impact, but I won't bore you with you my philosophies on these things.
Regardless of how you feel about meat or non-meat dishes, lentils are hearty and satisfying and great for cold weather meals. This soup combines the heartiness of lentils with the tangy, sweetness of balsamic roasted root vegetables. Feel free to play around with which root vegetables you use, depending on what's in season and what you like. I used sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots but turnips or butternut squash would also work well. The flavors in this soup only get better the longer it sits, so make a big batch and save some for leftovers, or make it a day ahead and reheat right before serving.

Lentil Soup with Balsamic Roasted Vegetables (serves 4, with leftovers)

  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, divided
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 2-3 parsnips, peeled and sliced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp salt, divided (or to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, divided (or to taste)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/4 cup dried lentils (I used French lentils)
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves chopped
Preheat oven to 375°. 
In a 9 x 13 pan, toss together 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, chopped sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots. Season with 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp black pepper.
Roast vegetables until tender, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While vegetables are roasting, heat remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat.
Saute onions until soft and lightly golden, about 10 minutes.
Add garlic, thyme and remaining 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for another minute.
Pour in wine, scraping up any bits off the bottom of the pan.
Add lentils and 4 cups of broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender 30-45 minutes (depends on type of lentils, check lentil package for more information).
Remove cover and add roasted vegetables and remaining 2 cups of broth. Simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes.
Stir in Swiss chard and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes.
Season with remaining salt and pepper, if needed.

For a printable recipe click here

Friday, January 21, 2011

Slow Cooked Chicken and Rice Soup

I am happy to report that we are now able to enjoy all of the deliciously hot water we want, thanks to some very hard working people at the gas company. We only suffered through about a week of no hot water, but if you have ever shared a similar fate, you know that that week seems to take forever. But for the past week or so, we've been enjoying hot showers, a functioning dish washer, and a much easier method of hand washing dishes. But even with hot water, it's sometimes nice to make an entire meal that involves very little clean up. Entire meals that can be made in one pot are great for when you want something satisfying and simple. One way to get a great meal with minimal effort is through the use of the slow cooker. This is not a gadget I've spent a lot of time with, but I do have one and it certainly helps to make an easy dinner. The best part about a slow cooker is that, once you have the chopping and measuring done, all you have to do is press a button and forget about it. These meals are especially great if you have some time in the morning to get things prepared, so then it can cook all day and be ready to go when you want to have dinner. You could also prep everything the night before and simply pour it all together and hit the on switch in the morning. It's such a wonderful feeling to come home after a day of work or errands or school and know that dinner is already waiting for you. And as far as clean up goes, you probably will only have a knife, cutting board and the slow cooker pot. Doesn't get much easier than that. If you don't have a slow cooker, this soup could easily be made on the stove in a large soup pot with a lid. Set the soup on the lowest heat possible and cook for an hour or two, as opposed to 6-8 for the slow cooker. It's best to stir occasionally if the pot is on the stove since you do run the risk of burning the bottom. But it is still a relatively painless and easy to make soup, either way.
Chicken and rice soup is a great alternative to chicken noodle soup, especially for those of us who are gluten-free. But even for the noodle lovers out there, pasta can get overly mushy and fall apart when left in liquid too long. Brown rice, on the other hand, holds up nicely and only gets more flavorful the longer it's in the soup. And don't worry, chicken and rice soup can cure as many ailments as the classic bowl of chicken and noodle. (Note: I am not a doctor and don't actually know if soup cures anything, but I do know it tastes good.) The soup is also full of low fat chicken and healthy vegetables, making it a great dish if you aren't feeling well or even if you just want something healthy to balance out all the cookies and pies from the holidays.

Slow Cooked Chicken and Rice Soup (serves 4-6)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3-4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2.5 - 3 cups mixed vegetables (I used broccoli and cauliflower florets)
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 3 cups cooked chicken, chopped (I used 2 large chicken breasts)
  • 1 cup water
  • 6-7 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tsp dried
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
Combine all vegetables, brown rice and chicken in the pot of a slow cooker.
Pour in 1 cup water and enough chicken stock to fully cover everything.
Season with bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper.
Cover and cook on low heat for 6-8 hours. This just gets better the longer you cook it.
Season with a bit more salt and pepper if needed.

For a printable recipe click here

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Osso Buco with Pine Nut Gremolata

Sometimes you just want to do something extra for dinner. Step out of the weeknight dinner mode and really make something special. A special occasion dinner will take a little longer and might cost a bit more, but it's definitely worth it when the time comes. And any dinner you make at home will be less expensive than a similar dinner at a restaurant and usually means more to whoever gets to enjoy the dinner with you. Birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, all are great reasons to take the time to make something you wouldn't normally cook. In my case, this dinner was a thank you to my parents for a great holiday trip to Mexico. I figure if they want to take me and Gavin down to Mexico for an awesome vacation, the least I can do is take the time to make a great dinner and pair it with some really nice wine. And since I not only made the dinner but also got to eat it, I definitely think I lucked out on the exchange. But nonetheless, I wanted to at least show a small token of my appreciation.
Thanks to some great advice from a coworker, I decided to make Osso Buco, a classic Italian comfort food that is often served around the holidays here in the states. The veal slowly cooks in a rich, savory sauce of tomatoes and stock, making it so tender it just falls of the bone. It's hearty and satisfying and perfect for a meal during the cold winter months. The simple gremolata served on top adds just the right amount of freshness and crunch to the dish. Serve it over pasta or brown rice and you've got a show-stopping dish. Combine the Osso Buco with a rich Amarone and you've got a serious feast on your hands. This lush, velvety red wine from Veneto, Italy pairs perfectly with the hearty dish and makes the meal itself worth celebrating.

Osso Buco (serves 6)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 whole veal shank, about 3.5-4 lbs
  • 1 onion, diced, about 2 cups
  • 3-4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 3-4 celery stalks, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, about 15-20 thyme sprigs, stems discarded
  • 1 x 28 oz can plum tomatoes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups veal or chicken stock 
  • Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Heat oil in a large, oven proof dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat.
Season veal shank liberally with salt and pepper (about 1.5-2 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper).
Brown veal in hot oil for about 4 minutes per side.
Remove veal and set aside.
Turn heat down slightly and saute onion, carrots, celery and garlic till soft and slightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Add fresh thyme, tomatoes, wine and stock. Break up tomatoes with a spoon.
Return the veal shank to the pot. Make sure the liquid comes up about half way on the shank. If not, add more stock. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Cover the dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, or aluminum foil, and place on the middle rack in the oven.
Cook the veal for about 2.5-3 hours or until meat pulls away easily with a fork.
Remove the lid from the pot and cook for another 30 minutes to allow the sauce to reduce.
To serve, either remove the bone and pull the meat apart into chunks, or place the entire shank onto a separate platter and slice meat, serving the sauce alongside. Pass gremolata as a garnish.

Pine Nut Gremolata
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts 
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley, stems removed and leaves chopped
  • Salt and pepper
In a small, dry skillet, toast pine nuts until golden and fragrant, being careful not to burn them.
Combine chopped parsley, lemon zest and cooled pine nuts. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

For a printable recipe click here

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Asparagus and Herb Pesto Pasta

Some days, in the middle of winter, when I feel like there is no end in sight, I crave the fresh, light tastes of summer. Sure by the end of August or September, I start to get tired of zucchini, yellow squash, and asparagus every night of the week. I look forward to the earthy, heartier root vegetables available in fall and winter. And don't get me wrong, I still love those vegetables and all of the comfort they bring during the cold winter months. But there are times in the winter when I want a taste of something green and fresh. Something that reminds me of the warm spring and summer months.
This simple pasta dish is full of bright, fresh tastes and colors. The sweetness of the peas and the slight crunch of the asparagus goes perfectly with the fresh herbs in the creamy pesto and the salty feta cheese. Everything cooks in one large pot of boiling water and the pesto whips up in no time in a food processor or blender. I will definitely be making this again when asparagus really is in season come early summertime. But for now, I will take a little help from the grocery store to invoke those flavors of warm weather and long days.

Side note: I realize when I write, I sound like I must live in Alaska or the frozen tundra, but no, I just live in NC where our winters are quite mild. However, I strongly detest cold weather and therefore blow any amount of coldness way out of proportion. Just wanted you to know that I am aware of this personal trait. :)

Asparagus and Herb Pesto Pasta (2 dinner servings, or 4 side dish servings)

  • 1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup green peas (frozen is fine)
  • 8 oz pasta
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, about 1.5-2 cups loosely packed
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, about 1 cup
  • 3/4 cup feta cheese
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with about 1 tbsp salt.
Boil asparagus for 4-6 minutes, until crisp tender. After 2 minutes, add peas. Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon and put into a large bowl.
Return water to a boil and add pasta. Cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Add pasta to vegetables.
While pasta is cooking, Combine basil, mint and feta in a food processor or blender. Pulse to combine.
Stream in about 1/3 cup olive oil to make a thick paste. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Feta is quite salty on its own, so only a little is needed.
Toss pasta and vegetables in pesto sauce, using a splash of pasta water if too thick. Check seasoning.
Garnish with remaining feta cheese.

For a printable recipe click here
Adapted from

Monday, January 10, 2011

Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel and Tomatoes

I'm sad to report that our beautiful new home currently has absolutely no hot water. The previous water heater sputtered it's last ounce of hot water early Thursday morning after leaking far too much water onto the ground for anyone's good. So, alas, we are without hot water during what will probably (hopefully!) be the coldest week of the winter. However, we are very fortunate to have parents near by with plenty of hot water to spare and a furnace that is working wonderfully to keep our house nice and toasty. So other than freezing cold hands, we are doing ok. The most challenging part for us, I believe, is the lack of hot water in the kitchen for washing dishes, which in turn means that our dishwasher does not work. Therefore, we are forced to wash everything by hand with water we have boiled on the stove. Very old school indeed. While many saner folk would probably opt for take-out on disposable dishes or eating out so someone else can wash the dishes, we plug on and are determined to cook as usual. Although Gavin usually does most of the dishwashing - since I do all the cooking - we are sharing the task now that everything has to be handwashed. But fear not! Like I said, I am still cooking and will therefore be sharing some fun new recipes.
I've been alternating recently between wanting hearty comfort food to fend off the cold and then lighter meals to pretend like it might some day get warm again. I wholeheartedly believe that what you cook and what you eat can effect your overall mood and your outlook on the day. So if you're feeling chilled to the bone and in need of warm blanket or hug, make something hot and satisfying that will not only warm you up as you're making it, but keep you warm after the dinner has been eaten and put away. This pork with fennel and tomatoes will make you warm and satisfied without weighing you down. Pork tenderloin is a very lean cut of meat and the vegetables are full of all of those great nutrients that help keep your body going and hopefully ward off that inevitable cold. To add another layer of comfort to this dish, serve the pork over rice or pasta. That way you have somewhere to catch all of the delicious sauce from the juicy tomatoes and white wine.

Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel and Tomatoes (Serves 4)
  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1.5 lbs)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved if large
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
Preheat oven to 350F.
Rinse off pork tenderloin and pat dry.
Combine minced garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper, thyme leaves, salt and pepper.
Rub the mixture all over the pork. Set aside to come to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
Heat oil in a large dutch oven (any oven proof pan will work) over medium heat.
Sear pork on all sides, about 3-4 minutes per side.
Cut the green tops from the fennel bulb. Reserve about 4 tbsp fennel fronds and discard the rest.
Cut the fennel bulb into quarters from top to bottom. On a diagonal, cut out the core from each quarter. Thinly slice the fennel bulb and chop the fronds.
Once pork is seared, add sliced fennel, fennel fronds and tomatoes to the pot. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Put pot, uncovered, into the oven and cook pork to desire doneness. For medium rare, the thermometer will read 135-140, about 25 minutes.
Put the pot back on the stove and remove pork. Let the pork rest while finishing the sauce.
Over medium heat, add wine to fennel and tomatoes.
Scrape up any herbs on the bottom of the pot and allow to simmer until reduced by half, about 5-8 minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
Slice pork and serve with the sauce.

For a printable recipe click here.

Roasted Pork Loin With Fennel and Tomatoes

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Herb Crusted Steak with Wine and Mushroom Reduction

Some things are just meant to go together: peanut butter and jelly, Batman and Robin, Oreos and milk, Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippin. You get the idea. And near the top of this perfect pairing list, or possibly at the top depending on who you ask, is steak and red wine. The two are just meant to be consumed together. They are both delicious in their own right, don't get me wrong. But something magical happens when they are together. The steak draws out the earthy richness of the wine while the wine elevates the buttery, melt in your mouth quality of a good steak. Add a simple mushroom sauce to the steak and you have all sorts of umami going on in your mouth. There is something incredibly satisfying about flavors that are so connected to the Earth. No one wants their food to actually taste like dirt, of course, but hearty earthy flavors have some of the same soul-satisfying qualities as getting your hands dirty planting a garden or building something. Not that I do much of either of those things - although I will have a vegetable garden one of these days! - I can imagine what that would feel like. So for now, I'll get my soul satisfaction through delicious steak paired with the perfect glass of red wine.
However delicious steak and red wine may be, it's not the sort of thing I would want to eat every day. (Gavin might disagree but that's another story.) Part of its appeal, for me at least, is that steak is a special occasion sort of thing. I'm not talking about beef in general, or meat for that matter, but really good steak deserves special attention. This year for our Christmas Eve dinner, I made my family Filet Mignon with red wine and mushroom sauce paired with an excellent Bordeaux from the St. Emilion region. Chateau Rocher Corbin produces a delicious red wine full of rich flavors, blending Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The dark and earthy berry flavors went perfectly with the steaks, seasoned with fresh rosemary and thyme. Although this meal is definitely worthy of a special occasion, it isn't at all difficult to prepare. A few really good quality ingredients will do most of the work for you. And feel free to ask a friendly wine person (at Wine Authorities perhaps?) for suggestions on a perfect pairing for your steak meal.

Herb Crusted Steak with Wine and Mushroom Reduction (serves 4)

  • 4 x 6 oz Filet Mignon (or your preferred cut of beef or size of steak)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme, finely diced
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 12 oz sliced mushrooms (I prefer cremini but button also works)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (something you would drink, but save the really good stuff for the meal)
Pat steaks dry and allow to come to room temperature before cooking; cold meat = tough meat.
Heat oil in a large pan or grill pan over medium to medium high heat.
Season steaks liberally with salt and pepper. Combine fresh herbs and divide among the four steaks. Press the herbs into the meat to stick.
Sear the first side of the steak for 3-4 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium, medium-low and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Flip the steaks and continue cooking till desired doneness. For medium rare, the steak should be about 125-130F.
After you have flipped the steaks, add the onions to the pan to begin sauteing while the meat finishes cooking.
Remove the steaks when they are done and allow to rest while finishing the sauce.
Add the mushrooms to the pan and saute for 6-8 minutes to brown. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Deglaze the pan with the red wine, scraping up any of the herbs left in the pan.
Simmer the sauce until the wine has reduced by half.
Serve the mushroom sauce alongside the steaks and pour yourself a glass of red wine.

For a printable recipe click here