Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I did all the right things

We had a stretch of thunderstormy days a week or two ago. April showers. The clouds rolled in and rumbled a bit, and stayed for more than a week. Ditches filled with rain and we stayed indoors for the most part. By Sunday, when the forecast was showing rainclouds next to each of the next five days, most people around here were growing restless, contemplating a move anywhere south of here.

But not me, I didn't mind the rain that Sunday. I did all the right things.

I drank coffee late into the morning and tea in the afternoon, and wore my slippers all day. I pushed the windows open with rain splashing down and took a nap that was too long. I wandered around the apartment and avoided my heap of clean laundry on the futon in the office, my work laptop propped next to the door, the lineup of dirty mugs with old tea bags in them next to the sink. I said Oh crap, it's already 6:30 and ran to the grocery store, then made a big pot of the chicken dumpling soup that I've made 340 times this year and Adam still asks for it. I lounged on the couch and didn't even look at my running shoes. I baked chocolate chip cookies.

You can't complain about a day like that.

Now, these cookies: I'd like to have one go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, but I just can't do it. I like too many different styles to commit to just one: pale and soft, dark and chewy, studded with oatmeal - they're all good by me. This one that I read about on Orangette fits nicely in my repertoire. The magic ingredient here is whole wheat flour; it makes the cookies perfectly dense with a hint of nuttiness and just a pinch of saltiness. They are the least sweet and buttery, cookie-doughy of the versions I have made (although there's plenty of sugar and butter in these) - and I mean that in a good way. These are all about the chewy factor.

It's a good one for your recipe box, and your next rainy day.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (if using regular table salt, cut this about in half)
2 sticks butter (8 oz), softened
1 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease them with butter.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar and white sugar, about two minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat to combine. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and beat on low to incorporate (I recommend adding about 1/3 of the flour mixture at a time and beating until combined after each addition to give your mixer a bit of a break). Add the chocolate chips, and beat to combine.

Scoop dough into mounds of about 3 tablespoons and place on the baking sheet, leaving a few inches of space around each cookie. Bake 16-20 minutes until the cookies are browned and have set around the edges.  Do not over bake, or they will be a bit tough. Allow to cool for a minute on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Enjoy with a glass of milk on a rainy spring day.

Friday, March 21, 2014

That insatiable hunger

It's happened. Four weeks into marathon training, it has taken hold and I fear it's here to stay. A pit in my stomach that cannot be filled. I am so hungry, all the time.

If you've done any sort of consistent running, you know what I'm talking about: that insatiable hunger that doesn't go away. As the weekly miles get higher, your hunger soars, and it doesn't matter what (or how much) you put into it; the gnawing feeling of emptiness just lingers behind each meal. I'm hungry when I wake up in the morning and hungry when I go to bed. And all the hours in between, I'm either in the midst of stuffing my face, or scrounging through my desk drawer looking for scraps.

The upside? Food never tastes better than when you're truly hungry. When I sit down to a meal, the food feels like fuel for my sore muscles. I'm actually craving nutrient-dense food and lean proteins. And, I rarely leave a meal feeling full - instead, I feel content, or just done eating. And then an hour later, I'm sliding another piece of bread into the toaster.

I'm good at breakfasts, lunches and dinners: oatmeal with fruit, quinoa salads, turkey burgers, grilled chicken and sweet potatoes. My biggest challenge, though, is all the spaces in between. For snacks, I work my way through granola and bananas, almonds, toast, and hummus with veggies on any given day (OK, and M&Ms, too. A handful every day.). By mid-afternoon, when I've eaten everything and I'm reaching for my second apple of the day, and I know I need to find something that will stick with me longer.

And so, I come to you with this recipe for strawberry conserve, which I strongly suggest you stir into Greek yogurt and top with sliced almonds. I love eating Greek yogurt: it's an amazingly nourishing, protein-rich snack that fills me up better than anything else. And when I top it with this strawberry conserve and a handful of sliced almonds, it feels like a real treat. I'm not going to pretend it tastes like eating strawberry ice cream*, because we're talking about yogurt here for godssakes. But, as far as healthful snacks go, it's pretty damn close.

The conserve is really just a rich, sweet strawberry syrup that holds softened strawberry halves; kind of like the inside of a strawberry pie, but with a much thinner sauce. Yes, there is quite bit of sugar in the recipe, but one smallish spoonful of the stuff flavors my entire carton of yogurt and leaves me happy. Plus, I like that there are only three ingredients in this conserve - strawberries, sugar and lemon peel - I would choose that any day over the long list of ingredients in the fruit filling that accompanies most yogurts.

*Now, if you wanted to put this strawberry conserve on ice cream, I won't be the one to stop you. Or on buttered toast, or in your oatmeal, or on an English muffin..

Strawberry Conserve
Recipe from Bon Appetit

1 pound strawberries; washed, hulled and cut in half (about 4 cups)
3/4 cup sugar
Peel from 1/2 of one lemon (including the white pith)

Put all ingredients in a wide saucepan and stir to combine. Cover and let sit for two hours, stirring occasionally. The sugar will melt and the strawberries will get juicy.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer (uncovered). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries have softened, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the strawberries and place in a glass jar (where you will store the conserve). Continue cooking the syrup until it has thickened a bit more, another 3-5 minutes. Remove the lemon peel and pour the syrup over the strawberries.

Cool to room temperature, then cover. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Just like that

Three weeks have gone by since I was here last. Hot damn. How have you been?

I wish I could say that I've been up to something, but I really haven't. I seemed to slip into that slow, quiet phase of winter. Worked a little extra, slept in a little longer. Didn't you? At first we were waiting for spring I guess, shut indoors while ice covered every surface outside our condo. In my house, we turned to Oscar movies and new recipes; matinees on weekends and quiet afternoons in the kitchen. We waded through Twelve Years a Slave and Nebraska, apple dumplings and hazelnut pudding, Gravity and American Hustle, cider braised pork roast and a few attempts at a homemade chai recipe that I'm still tinkering with. Peanut butter cookies and Captain Phillips. My god.

I guess you could call it a restorative phase at best, if you're generous. Thanks for being generous.

And just like that, here we are on the other side. On Sunday the sun brought the first breath of spring, then stayed out until after dinner and we came alive again. I went for a run that evening and every patio had a grill a-blazin'. The skating rink by our apartment has turned into a pond again.

Spring has continued to tease us all week now, so we've been carrying on the same way: taking evening walks and listening to music with the windows open. Oh, it feels so good to live a little lighter. A casual gin and tonic after work. Salads.

Like this one, my new absolute favorite: a raw kale salad with spicy peanut sauce.

I am crazy about this one. I know the picture doesn't look like much, so you'll do well to trust me here. My infatuation with this combination of raw kale doused with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce started when I had a very similar version local brewery a few weeks ago. This recipe lives up to the hype. The kale is first massaged (re: scrunched in your fists) until it's lost some of it's bitterness, and takes on a more delicate texture like leaf lettuce. Then you shake together a peanut sauce spiked with fresh ginger, soy and sesame sauces, and coat the kale generously. Top it off with some sliced red peppers and crushed peanuts - shredded rotisserie chicken if you've got it - and you've got my new favorite dinner.

The flavors of the spicy peanut sauce pair perfectly with the sharpness of the kale. And, I really love the texture of the massaged kale: it's like eating a super salad, more sturdy, filling and nutritious than any lettuce salad I've ever stirred together.

The only thing stopping me from making this salad every night this week are the pesky carrots, cabbage and celery knocking around my crisper drawer, needing to be used up (luckily: Chicken Soup with Chive Dumplings).

Come on already, winter veggies. Make way for kale!

Kale Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Adapted from Food52

Kale salad:
1 large bunch of lacinto (dinosaur) kale
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
Handful of roasted, unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Optional: shredded rotisserie chicken, snap peas

Spicy peanut sauce: 
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, preferably all-natural
3 tablespoons warm water
3 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

First, prep the kale: Wash and dry the kale, then pull the leaves from the stems, and discard the stems. Tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. Massage the kale by grabbing it in handfuls and scrunching it in your fists; do this for about two minutes. The kale will decrease in volume by about half, and become a softer texture (like leaf lettuce).

For the peanut sauce: whisk all ingredients together in a bowl (or, alternatively, place all the ingredients in a glass jar with a lid and shake until combined).

Toss the kale with a heavy coating of the peanut sauce - I used all of the peanut sauce from this recipe for one large batch of kale. Toss in the red pepper, peanuts, and chicken and snap peas if you are using them.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Here we go, already

A robin perched on our deck railing yesterday. A fat, fluffy bird with a bright orange belly sprang up out of nowhere, stood on our railing for a bit, and fluttered off. Two tiny indents in the inch of fresh snow linger as evidence.

Which means: spring is coming! 
And also: running season is upon us.

This may have been the coldest winter of my adult life and cabin fever is nearing dangerous levels, but I still have that inevitable feeling of: Wow, is it really almost March? Almost spring? Almost running season? 

And yes, it is. My 18-week training program for Grandma's Marathon starts on Monday.

It's funny: I've been running a June marathon for the past two years, and every time I cross the finish line, I say: Nope. No way. I'm done. Never again. Because it's insane. It hurts. It's exhausting, and I hate it. 

It takes all of your time for 18 weeks. It sucks you up on a Wednesday night when you should be sitting by your grill and drinking ginger ale. It ruins your Friday nights when you should be sharing a pitcher on a patio somewhere, and your Saturday mornings when you should be drinking coffee by the window. You give these things up.

But I also love it. Because it's insane. It hurts. It's exhausting. It makes you lace up your shoes on a Wednesday after work when you think you have nothing left after dozing off on the bus ride home. But somehow you get out there in the evening sun and run 7 miles with more energy than you ever imagined. Or you drag yourself out there on a Saturday morning and run 18 miles, even though you really wanted to sleep in and at mile 3 you were still dragging. But you do it, one foot after another, and then suddenly you're done and treating yourself to a vanilla milkshake because your body needs to make up about 1,800 calories and you deserve it. That, I love.

So here I am again, already. The snow is still falling, but the calendar is telling me it's time. I'm ready to get out there, to be active. To have that feeling of tiredness and strength in my legs that lingers throughout the day and reminds me I have been running a lot.

One of my goals this year, aside from my perpetual goal of drinking enough water (oh why do I struggle with this?), is to figure out a food plan that really works for me. Recipes with good carbs, lots of protein, and healthy fats to fuel my runs and nourish my body.

This guacamole quinoa may just be in the weekly rotation.

I made this after my 7-mile run on Saturday (for the record, that's 112 times around the track at our condo association gym). I was famished, and this was the number one thing I wanted to eat when I got back to my apartment: good carbs (quinoa), protein (quinoa and walnuts), and healthy fat (avocado). A perfect post-run lunch.

This recipe was inspired by a similar recipe on Food52, but I created my own version to play into my favorite guacamole recipe, and added some walnuts to make it more salad-like. I may try it someday with fresh corn kernels cut off the cob or diced fresh tomatoes when those things are in season. I bet some crumbled feta would be good, too. But for now, it's perfect as-is eaten right out of the bowl. Scooped up on tortilla chips would also be a nice snack.

Do you have any favorite recipes that help fuel your workouts? I'd love to hear.

Guacamole Quinoa Salad

1 1/2 cups quinoa
3 cups water
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 avocados
Juice of 1 large or 2 small limes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro, roughly chopped
5 green onions, thinly sliced, or 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Rinse the quinoa well and drain. In a medium saucepan, heat the quinoa and 3 cups water over high heat until it boils. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until liquid has evaporated, 14-15 minutes. Remove lid and set aside to cool. When it has cooled a bit, add the glug of olive oil (1-2 tablespoons) and stir to coat evenly.

In a medium bowl, mash the avocados together with the lime juice, salt and minced garlic. Stir in cilantro.

Stir the avocado mixture into the quinoa, and then add the onion and walnuts. Stir to combine.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I've been distracted

I have a lovely salad recipe for you today. An Israeli coucous salad flecked with rosemary, apples and dried cranberries to be specific. I think you'll want to make it for your next potluck, or a brown-bag lunch, or hell! maybe a picnic someday soon, please god please.

And that's where I'll stop talking about the salad.

Because, I've been distracted from here to the moon and back these past few days. Since Sunday morning, when I waited with phone in one hand, coffee in the other, pacing around the apartment. Any minute! my mom had just told me (I called her for a morning update). At 9:30 my brother finally called, and when I answered I first heard a baby crying (which made me tear up too, hearing her for the first time ((and also, because I'm an emotional person))).

And then he said, Well, we have a little girl. My brand new baby niece.

I drove to the hospital later that morning and cradled her in my arms. And people, she is perfect. Dark button eyes and a head full - full - of feathery dark hair. Soft chubby cheeks and fists in a ball. I know everyone says this about every baby, but she is perfect. They named her Natalia.

And now she's ours - I can't believe that. Forever! She's one of us. Our little Nattie, so perfect, with that swirling dark hair...

Israeli Couscous Salad with Apples, Cranberries and Herbs
Adapted just slightly from Giada De Laurentis

Note: This recipe makes quite a large batch, great for a party or potluck. If you're serving two people like me, I'd recommend halving it. To toast the slivered almonds, simply place them in a dry skillet over medium heat, and cook, stirring often, until fragrant (3-5 minutes).

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Israeli couscous
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 small tart apple, diced (I recommend granny smith)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted (see recipe headnote for instructions)
Maple cider vinaigrette (recipe below)

In a medium saucepan, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat. Add the coucous and cook, stirring occasionally, until the couscous is toasted and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add 4 cups of water; raise heat and bring to a boil. When it reaches a boil, turn heat down to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated, about 12 minutes.

Remove couscous from heat and set aside to cool. When cooled a bit, add herbs, apple, cranberries, toasted almonds; stir in the maple cider vinaigrette.

Maple Cider Vinaigrette
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Whisk together the vinegar, maple syrup and kosher salt. Slowly whisk in olive oil until combined.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

These stuffed mushrooms will happen

Do you have your Superbowl plans figured out yet? Are your avocados ripened, your wings thawed? Have you practiced your touchdown dance?

Check, check and check.

Superbowl Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year. I said that to a coworker yesterday, and he said Yeah, well you love food. True! But I was referring to the whole event: the game, the beers, the food (of course), the spectacle of all of it.

I'm still finalizing the plans for Sunday. But I know I'll be rooting for Peyton the Broncos, dipping into guacamole and picking at some to-be-determined style of chicken wings. Hopefully we'll have a few good beers to choose from, and there will be a plethora of other snacks. (OK, maybe this is largely about the food?)

These stuffed mushrooms will also happen.

I've had this recipe in my back pocket for years: my favorite little stuffed mushrooms. I make them for parties (and little happy hours for two) all the time, and they always go fast. 

Where most stuffed mushroom recipes call for large mushroom caps stuffed with a blend of meats and cheeses and bread crumbs, these are a much simpler version, but even tastier in my opinion. Instead of large mushroom caps, I look for smaller mushrooms, so these are little one-biters with just the right ratio of stuffing to mushroom. The stuffing starts with the stems from the mushrooms chopped and browned with garlic and thyme, then stirred into a blend of cream cheese and parmesan. It's a little salty from the parmesan, and savory from the mushroom and thyme - and, when stuffed into a mushroom and baked until browned on the top, hard to stop eating.

Hope you eat and drink well this Sunday. And, go Broncos!

Stuffed Mushrooms

Note: This recipe will make enough stuffing for at least two packages of mushrooms. The stuffing actually freezes well, if you'd like to save some for a batch of mushrooms later. We've often got a tupperware of this in our freezer.

8 ounces of white button or cremini mushrooms
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 teaspoons fresh thyme
8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wipe the mushrooms clean of any dirt, and separate the stems from the caps. Set the caps aside. Finely chop the mushroom stems.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the diced mushroom stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 5 minutes. Add the fresh thyme and cook a minute more until fragrant. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese, parmesan cheese and mushroom mixture. Season with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt and mix well.

Place the mushroom caps on a baking sheet, and stuff enough cream cheese mixture into each cap to slightly overfill it. Bake for 20 minutes, until the cream cheese begins to brown on the top.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Wait, what?

What was I talking about back there? About the bitter cold, the hunkering down inside - about all of that extreme winter cold being a memory. What?


Because right now I'm looking outside at snownadoes, and the air feels like -20.

I guess I was disillusioned last Sunday with our one day of glorious sunshine. The warmth on my cheeks and puddles in parking lots tricked me into thinking we had come out the other side; that we had turned, even just slightly, toward spring. Who knew there would be a round two! And yet, here we are. The polar vortex thingy is back. Temperatures are peaking before sunrise and sinking the rest of the day. For tomorrow, we're looking at a high of -11. That's air temperature, people. Windchill is forecasted at -40.

And so we make chili.

This turkey chili makes a regular appearance on our stove in the winter, especially during bitter cold snaps. We made it most recently during that first wave of insane cold earlier this month. After getting home from work with fingers frozen and cheeks chapped by the polar wind, the only reasonable option for dinner was a heavy pot of chili.

And with nearly the same forecast this week, my hunch is that another pot will be bubbling on our stove by Tuesday.

OK, about this recipe. I wasn't sure if I wanted to share this recipe here, because it's not an award-winner, knock-your-wool-socks-off kind of recipe. But, it's good. It's easy. It's one of our true winter staple recipes. And so I thought you might like a good, easy, staple-kind of recipe for your repertoire. Those are some of my favorite types of recipes to collect, after all; the recipes that might not show up at a dinner party, but are kept handy and fill stomachs in your household again and again. Hopefully you feel the same.

Good luck out there!

Turkey Chili

Note: Don't be alarmed by the amount of garlic and chili powder in this; the turkey and beans need a heavy seasoning. Also, this chili is even better the next day, and freezes perfectly.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey thigh
4 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
3 cans of pinto or red kidney beans, drained (I use a mixture of the two)
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
Pinch of salt
Shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream, for serving

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion, red pepper and garlic; saute until onion has softened, 5-7 minutes. Add the ground turkey and cook while breaking up the turkey with a spoon; cook until turkey is no longer pink. Stir in the chili powder and cumin; cook for another minute. Add beans, tomatoes and their juices, and chicken broth. Stir well. Raise heat to bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chili has thickened, about one hour.

Taste and add salt and additional chili powder as needed. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkling of cheddar cheese.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Call me old fashioned

Oh, it's a memory now - that bitter cold, that polar vortex. Thankfully. After mostly hunkering down and putzing about* through the coldest of days in early January, we are now finding some days here and there with sunshine; we are out skiing in thermal tops and getting some freckles on our cheeks. Sometimes we are ice skating, too, in the evenings in the dark with light snow falling (and then we come home to hot brothy soup). Yesterday we even fired up the grill on our little snowy patio long enough to torch some chicken wings. Winter isn't so bad like this.

But, it sure was damn cold for a while there.

*There was one exception to the hunkering down, though, and not on my part. On one of the windiest Sundays this month when the temperature was far below 0, Adam and his sisters were sitting in the bleachers at Lambeau Field watching the Packers play against the 49ers in the first week of the playoffs. Wackos. (Not to mention, they loved every second of it. Wackos.)

So I had that cold, bitter day to myself, and wanted to spend my time with cooking projects. I had been eying up a recipe for Hungarian cabbage rolls stuffed with browned meat, rice and sauerkraut, seasoned with paprika and topped with sour cream. Doesn't that sound right for a frigid day? However, Adam and his sisters were driving back from Lambeau Field that night, and he wouldn't be home until maybe 2 a.m. Call me old fashioned, but I decided not to have the apartment smell like sauerkraut when he finally walked through the door, tired and weary, and ready to crawl into our warm bed. They say romance is dead!

So, I went a different route to take advantage of my solo day. With Adam gone, I could cook a vegetarian dinner with no complaints. And that is what I did.

I made one of our classic standbys: an Indian-spiced tomato sauce baked with spinach, chickpeas and feta, served over basmati rice.

This must be the most comforting vegetarian meal in my repertoire. A curry tomato sauce with ginger and cilantro is spread into a baking dish, then topped with a layer of earthy spinach and then chickpeas, which become richly creamy and nutty after baking in the oven. The dish is topped with salty feta cheese, baked until piping hot and just starting to brown, and then served over basmati rice. It's light and packed with nutrients, but fills your belly on a frigid Minnesota day.

And your house will smell lovely when you're done.

Baked Chickpeas and Spinach with Tomato Sauce
Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

Note: There is nothing difficult about this dish, but it does take a little time (largely unattended). First, you toss together the tomato sauce, and then let it bubble away on the stove until it has thickened. Second, when the tomato sauce is ready, you assemble the casserole, and bake it in the oven to meld the flavors and brown the tops of the feta cheese. If you can plan ahead, it would be great to make the sauce ahead of time. Or, make on a day when you have a little time before dinner needs to be ready.

Basmati rice, cooked (for serving)
1/2 tablespoon or so of butter (to grease a pan)
1 16 oz bag frozen spinach
1 batch of Curry Tomato Sauce (recipe below)
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese

If you haven't already made the tomato curry sauce, do that first and then proceed to the steps below.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and grease a 9x13 inch baking dish with butter.

First, get the basmati rice started - rinse the rice and cook according to packaged directions.

Second, in a medium saucepan, boil 1/2 cup of water. Add the frozen spinach and cover. Boil for 4-5 minutes until spinach is cooked through. Drain thoroughly and, when it cools, squeeze out as much moisture as possible.

Spoon the entire batch of tomato sauce into the greased pan. Next, spread the spinach over the sauce, then add the drained chickpeas over the top. Finally, scatter the crumbled feta over the top of the casserole.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the feta cheese is beginning to brown in spots. Serve spooned over basmati rice.

Curry Tomato Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
One knob ginger (about 2 inches), peeled and minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, minced
4 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons sugar
About 4 cups canned diced tomatoes (28 ounce can + 14 ounce can)
1 14 oz can coconut milk, well shaken
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Pinch of salt

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeño; saute until onion is soft but not browned, 7-8 minutes. Stir in curry powder, chili powder and sugar; cook until spices are fragrant, just 1 minute or so. Stir in canned tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Stir in coconut milk and cilantro; bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened and tomatoes have broken down. You'll end up with a chunky, thick tomato sauce. Season with a pinch or two of salt to taste.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Oh, what magic!

Hello frozen world, and happy 2014. I mean it, really: happy 2014. I'm giddy at the thought of it. 2013 was my best year ever in life, and I can't believe I'm rolling into 2014 on the same note. Isn't that something! I hope you have some feelings of excitement and wonder at what lies ahead, too.

And if the way we ring the new year is any indication of how the next 12 months will play out, I'm happy to say my 2014 will include:
wonderfully elaborate dinners, and also Dominoes Pizza
wonderfully ridiculous friends
obnoxious dancing
a small napkin fire or two
Adam telling me I'm funny (people, this is the only time this has ever happened, and it was toward the end of the night, and he has since retracted it, but I will not forget it!)

I brought a pastry dessert to the New Year's dinner party, and I'm elated to reveal that New Years Resolution #1 for me is: more pastries, both making and eating.

I have long shied away from making my own pie crusts, tart shells, flakey turnovers, or anything that requires rolling and pressing and poking and prodding heavy slabs of dough. I've just never really done it! Whenever I'm asked to make a dessert for a get together, I mostly stick to one of my (pathetically few) tried and true dessert recipes, deciding to play it safe and not risk a new recipe failure when hungry people are counting on me. (Case in point: just three weeks ago, I tried a new recipe for almond cake to take to a dinner that night. It came out of the oven looking lovely, but slowly sank to a sorry puddle of uncooked batter as it cooled, which happened just an hour before we needed to leave. Luckily my berry cobbler takes not more than 45 minutes, start to finish, and I can make it in my sleep throw it together and bake it while I shower.)

Anyway, in an effort to expand my dessert repertoire, I've resolved to tackle any combination of butter and flour that tickles my fancy this year. Enter these profiteroles: a pastry filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce, served with whipped cream.

Oh my, we are off to a good start. These were perfect.

Not only are they perfect, sophisticated and delightful: they are also so fun to make. You basically heat some butter and water, then dump in some flour, and stir stir stir - then add a few eggs and stir some more. Then you have a heavy, sticky dough that you will pipe (with a pastry bag if you are fancy, or with a Ziploc bag with its corner snipped if you are me) into weird little blobs on a cookie sheet. At this point, your significant other may observe your progress and say, I don't really get what you're making. And to be honest, you might be thinking the same thing, because for now you just have heavy little dough blobs lined up on a cookie sheet.

But after 20 minutes in the oven, those heavy little dough balls balloon into beautiful, light pastry puffs.

And somehow, they are perfectly hollow inside - just waiting for you to slice them open and add a spoonful of ice cream. I couldn't believe this actually worked. Oh, what magic! 

We are in for a good year.

Pastry recipe from Anne Burrell; chocolate sauce adapted from Ina Garten

Note: The instructions below tell you to fill the dough puffs with ice cream just before serving. For New Year's, at the last minute, I decided to fill the puffs ahead of time and place the ice cream-filled puffs into the freezer until ready to serve. I was glad I did - it saved me a lot of time fussing around at the party when it was time to serve dessert. I also made the chocolate sauce ahead of time. Right before serving, I simply reheated the chocolate sauce gently over a pot of boiling water, plated the frozen profiteroles and spooned the chocolate sauce over (and added the whipped cream, of course!). This process worked beautifully.

1 cup water
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
Pinch of salt
1 cup flour
4 eggs
Pinch of cinnamon
Good quality vanilla ice cream (like Haagen-Dazs)
Chocolate sauce (recipe below)
Prepared real whipped cream, lightly sweetened

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter and pinch of salt to a boil over high heat. After it boils, reduce heat to medium and dump in the 1 cup of flour all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is combined and has formed a ball, about 2 minutes. It should have a sweaty shine to it. Remove from heat and transfer the dough to a mixing bowl; allow to cool for about 5 minutes (it doesn't have to be completely cool, you just want to make sure it isn't hot enough to cook the eggs you're about to add).

When dough has cooled a bit, add eggs one at a time. Stir with great enthusiasm after you add each egg, and don't add the next egg until it is fully combined. You'll know when it's combined - after each egg addition, the dough will slip and slide around the bowl. When you stir enough that it becomes fully combined, the dough will become very sticky and heavy and hard to stir.

After all 4 eggs have been added, add the pinch of cinnamon and stir to combine. Then scoop the dough into a pastry bag or a large Ziploc bag with one of the corners snipped. Pipe in small blobs onto one of the prepared cookie sheets, about 1 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch high. Leave at least an inch between each dough ball. When you are done piping, wet your fingers with a bit of water, and smooth the top of each ball where the pastry bag released the dough.

Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes (mine were done at 18 minutes). They should be golden brown, light, and sound hollow when tapped on the counter. Set on a wire rack to cool.

To serve: Slice dough puffs in half horizontally, and fill with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Replace the top half of the dough puff, and pour a spoonful of warm chocolate sauce over. Serve with whipped cream alongside.

Chocolate sauce:
1/2 cup heavy cream
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, or other good-quality dark chocolate
2 tablespoons brewed coffee

Place the cream and chocolate in a stainless steel bowl set over a pot of boiling water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Stir to combine as the chocolate melts. When just combined, remove the bowl from the heat, and stir in the brewed coffee.