Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Yo couscous! Have you gotten bigger?

Oh yeah. Now you can see how cute the pearl couscous is. 
First I'm sorry I've been ever so neglectful of my blog. Traveling, illness, general holiday distraction has kept me mighty busy, but I'm back with a bunch of delicious recipes. Or at least will do my very best :)
Simple. I am such a fan of simple food. Simple meals, simple prep work, simple ways of preparing food that leave nothing but clean strong flavors on your tongue. Which explains why I've roasted vegetables at least once a week for the past 6 months or so. I am a roasting machine! Recently at the grocery store I saw this large couscous, and thought, well aren't those cute. I'll readily admit many of my food choices often come down how adorable they are. I mean if a system works....

Turns out pearl couscous is fairly good for you, just another simple grain, click on the link to read all about it. I read several recipes and discovered that toasting this larger couscous before cooking it really helped develop the flavor.

This dish is easy, quick, and FULL of flavor. The large couscous has a delightful texture that slides right down your gullet. This meal is perfect for those who want a lot of flavor, but don't have a ton of time. I'm not sure if the larger couscous is hard to find, though you may need to check a whole foods if your regular grocery store doesn't have it. This meal will definitely become a staple at my house, it only takes about 40 minutes, so try it out!

Israeli CousCous with red carrots, parsnips, and butternut squash

I have a fabulous greek vinegrette I buy at our farmers market that makes a great marinade for roasted vegetables. You can also just coat the vegetables in olive oil with a fresh herb such as rosemary or thyme. 
The Goods: Serves 4-6
2 cups Israeli (aka pearl) couscous
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped
3-4 large red carrots, chopped
5-6 parsnips, chopped
2 tablespoons greek vinaigrette
1 tablespoon olive oil

The Deal: 
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place parsnips, butternut squash and carrots in a large bowl with the greek dressing. Using your hands evenly coat all the vegetables and spread out on a large cookie sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, removing from the oven at least twice to toss the vegetables to ensure even browning.

2. While the vegetables are cooking heat your olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add couscous and saute until aromatic and lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes. Watch closely, the couscous will burn easily. Once the couscous is lightly toasted add your broth and bring to a boil. Simmer until the liquid has evaporated, about 10-12 minutes.

3. Serve with roasted vegetables on the top and couscous on the bottom.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Make this casserole! I said do it now!

Butternut Squash, how I love thee.... Let me eat you all the ways.
Casserole. What a great word, I feel happy just saying it. Cass-e-role! Like I'm on-a-role, with Casseroles. What's a shame about casseroles is they are often associated with lots of butter, whole milk and cheese. I know there are healthy casseroles out there, so I'm making it my goal to find some. I love making a dish on Sunday night then having leftovers for lunch the following day, which is when a good casserole comes in handy.
I found this genius recipe in the Moosewood Cookbook aka what I'm snuggling with when Healthy Boyfriend is away. Pretty much everything appealed to me about this recipe. Seasonal ingredients, using yogurt and feta (instead of whole milk or cheddar like many casseroles) and quick preparation time. The squash, onions, garlic, pepper, and eggs were all local which means the dish was pretty darn friendly to the environment. Good for our bodies too!

I made this Saturday night, Healthy Boyfriend and I played Mankala and sung songs while he strummed his guitar. That's us, party animals. Once we finally finished dinner, he made sure to mention how much he enjoyed this casserole. Being someone who usually does not enjoy casseroles he was thrilled by how this one turned out. I thanked him for the compliment, but I had figured out how much he loved it as he went back for fourths.
This casserole is fantastic in its simplicity. What shines through are the natural flavors of the vegetables. The yogurt and egg hold it together and add a creaminess, but mostly you taste squash, onion, and peppers which is delightful. As I've mentioned red peppers and I are not on the best of terms, usually I flat out avoid cooking with them, but I gobbled them up in this dish. There was just enough to give a nice heat, but the red peppers didn't overpower the dish. As far as the topping, I didn't have nuts or sunflower seeds so I just roughly chopped plain sesame sticks which worked great. Really anything crunchy will do, just use what you have laying around.
I will definitely be playing with variations on this basic dish, so stay tuned. And make this casserole, it's just too good to miss.
Arabian Squash Cheese Casserole

Sautéing your vegetables
Throw everything in a bowl, mix, then cook! 
The Goods: 4-5 Servings
2 medium-large butternut or acorn squash
1 heaping cup onions, chopped
1 heaping cup red and green peppers, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 cup greek yogurt or buttermilk
1 cup plain feta cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tsp salt, more to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Hot sauce (optional)

1/2 cup Sesame sticks or Sunflower seeds or Nuts, chopped

The Deal:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut both squash down the middle lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place face down on a oiled cookie sheet and bake for 35-40 minutes or until soft. Remove and let cook until handle-able. Scoop out flesh and mash.

Cooking Tip: I did most of my prep work while the squash was cooking.

2. Saute onions and garlic in butter and salt in a large saute pan on medium heat. When onions are translucent, about 3-5 minutes, add peppers. Saute peppers until just under done, about 5-7 minutes.

3. In a medium bowl beat eggs with the yogurt or buttermilk. Crumble in the feta and mix well. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir until evenly combined. Add additional salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste.

4. Spread into a buttered cassarole dish and sprinkle crunchy topping of your choice evenly over the top. Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes, just until the edges begin to bubble. Serve warm!

Healthier boxed Mac and Cheese!

Dinner for 2. Boom. 
Well this isn't a recipe as much as a neat trick. A friend with 2 kids under the age of 5 (read someone with almost no time or energy to cook, but still wants to feed their kids healthy food) found this idea in a parenting magazine and I'm stealing it.

I think it is safe to say that we all rely on boxed mac and cheese from time to time. Or weekly in some cases. Now I wouldn't say any boxed mac and cheese is "healthy", but Annie's definitely makes the healthiest cheap organic mac and cheese I have found. It has the lowest sodium content and the least amount of ingredients, which means the least amount of added chemicals. More importantly they have bunny shapes, I mean I'm human of COURSE I want my macaroni to be in a cute little bunny shape.
Notice my green beans in the background. Don't forget a good green! 
So next time you make boxed mac and cheese instead of using butter and milk use:
4 tablespoons plain greek yogurt
1 (4 oz jar) of Earth's Best sweet potatoes baby food

Combine the yogurt, sweet potatoes and cheese packet in a bowl and stir until smooth. Cook macaroni as directed, then stir in your healthier mixture and enjoy!

The yogurt adds protein and the pureed sweet potato has Vitamin A, Iron, and Calcium. Plus I think it this way tastes better than with milk and butter and it's better for you.
Anyone I've been pretty excited since I learned this little trick, hope you like it too!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Yes, they are as good as they look
Sometimes a cookbook is so genius, I actively can't stop thinking about it. I bring it to bed with me and end up reading new recipes until way past happy bedtime. If you have never read the Moosewood Cookbook, you are seriously missing out on some fun creative food. It is an older book, but definitely a staple in many vegetarian kitchens. Including my mothers, which is in fact how I got the book. It went something like this:
Me: Mom I'm taking this book home.
Mom: No, that's my book Bunny, you can't take it.
Me: Name the last time you cooked something from this book.
Mom: I.... (pauses) Look, that's my book, you can't just-
Me: Listen, I need it more, I'll bring it back. Thanks!

And just like that I have a new book, that I am technically borrowing. Man kids are selfish, even when they are in their late twenties. Anyhoo back to the recipe.
So this recipe is so freakin tasty I'm sure to make it again soon. A bunch of vegetables, some egg and flour to hold it together, and wham! Delicious vegetable pancakes in 30 minutes or so. These suckers attracted me for a few different reasons, the largest being I had 90% of the ingredients already in my kitchen. All the vegetables used are still in season (depending on where you live obviously) plus I had local eggs and garlic just waiting to be used in something scrumptious. I've seen many vegetable pancakes and all seem to be fried in butter instead of baked. Of course I would like to avoid frying, but I mean it's all vegetables, what do you WANT from me? I want delicious vegetable pancakes, so frying in butter it is!
These little babies are delicious and take almost no time. I suggested in the recipe making them all at once and keeping the completed ones in a preheated oven until you finish cooking them all. I really can't imagine anyone one not liking these, even picky little kids loves these guys. Honestly sweet potatoes are kinda the whores of the vegetable family, every body wants a taste. Be sure you are serving a nice nutritious green on the side, green beans, broccoli, kale chips, anything green and leafy will do.
I will be blogging a BUNCH of recipes from the Moosewood Cookbook in the weeks to come. You are welcome, in advance. This post is kinda scattered, but the flavor of these pancakes is solid. A big thanks to my Mom for letting me borrow a new inspirational book. Huzzah for Mommas!

Your "batter"
Frying them up
Lightly browned, crispy and vegetarian. Yum!

Sweet Potato Pancakes
Adapted from Moosewood Cookbook

The Goods: Serves 4-6
1 cup carrot, grated
1 cup white potato, grated
1 cup sweet potato, grated
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons onion, grated
1 garlic clove, crushed
juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup parsley, chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Dash nutmeg
Unsalted butter for frying

Suggested topping:
1 cup sour cream or greek plain yogurt
2-3 tablespoons chives, minced
Dash of salt and pepper
Dash of lemon juice (optional)
Combine all ingredients

The Deal:
1. Place grated sweet and white potatoes in a colander over a bowl. Salt lightly and let stand 15 minutes. Lightly rinse and squeeze out well to get rid of all the extra water. Preheat oven to 250, and place a cookie sheet inside.

2. Toss all ingredients in a bowl and mix to combine. Heat enough butter to coat a large skillet on medium high heat. Once butter is hot, scoop a scant less than 1/2 cup of the mixture in your hand and flatten to make into pancake, then place in pan. Use a spatula to help form it (see pictures above). You should get 2-3 in a pan, fry on each side until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining batter, adding butter as needed. Place finished pancakes in the preheated oven to stay warm until all are cooked.
Serve hot with sour cream or yogurt mixture.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Butternut Squash Tacos! This is no BS.

Family Friends often inspire the greatest dishes. These tacos were inspired by some of the best damn tacos I've ever had. Though like so many delicious dishes, the Carmola tacos are filled with seasoned chicken and then fried in oil. I'll admit I have dreams about those tacos, and someday I will make them the traditional way. Unfortunately fried in oil usually isn't in the same sentence as super healthy for you.

Recently I was talking to a Erin Carmola, one of the Carmola clan, and we starting reminiscing about how good her parents tacos are, and if we could brainstorm how to make them healthier. She suggested ground turkey, but I am pretty sure that isn't vegetarian. She also suggested trying to focus on the spicing of the dish to make up for the lack of frying. For filling I knew I wanted to use seasonal ingredients, hence the butternut squash. Black beans are just plain ole good for you tasty beans. They've got all kinds of good stuff like fiber, protein and manganese, click on the link to read more.

In general, store bought taco seasoning is ridiculously high in sodium and other highly processed chemicals. I found a few recipes online for DIY taco seasoning which was super easy to make and most people should have these spices laying around the kitchen already.
So were these healthier tacos a success? Absolutely! Unless of course you have had the Carmola tacos, because they were just NOT as good. But for a quick healthy vegetarian taco they were all I could ask for. Definitely will be a staple at my house from now on. The squash and black beans were perfect together and the seasoning was flavorful without taking over the whole dish. Also I think anyone would eat these, the flavors are simple but dead on. Plus with your own seasoning, people can add more or less depending on preference.

As far as the recipe below, I did my best to give correct measurements but a lot of it is just common sense. Hopefully everyone knows how to make a taco. In terms of seasonings, I add less so I can still taste the vegetables, but adding more is fine, especially since it's homemade. Also it's another reason to make guacamole, which I could eat by the spoonful. And did.

Butternut Squash Tacos
Adapted from my brain

Getting ready to roast
The Deal: Serves 4 plenty
1 large (2 1/2 lbs) butternut squash, peeled and diced into 2 inch cubes
1 can black beans (organic is best because it has the lowest sodium content)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing
12 tortillas (choose ones you like)
A good dash of salt and pepper

Taco Seasoning: 
2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp sea salt (you can also use seasoned salt)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
Dash of cayenne (add more or less depending on preference)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Suggested Toppings: grated cheddar, salsa, Guacamole, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, onion, and cilantro

The Deal:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash on a large baking sheet with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss with your hands being sure the squash is evenly coated. Bake for 15-20 minutes, taking out and tossing once to ensure even browning. Remove when golden brown and soft.

2. While your squash is baking make your seasoning. Mix all the taco seasoning ingredients in a bowl and stir to blend. Drain black beans and place in a pot over medium heat to warm up. Once warm, remove from heat and crush with a potato masher. Just enough so it forms a paste, which makes it easier to spread. Add a good teaspoon of the taco seasoning, and then add more to taste.

3. Place baked squash in a bowl and mash to make a paste. Add a teaspoon of taco seasoning and then adjust to taste. Heat a large skillet on medium heat. Add a tortilla and heat on both sides until tortilla is soft and warm, 1-2 minutes. Remove and place on plate. Add a heaping spoonful of squash, then beans and spread evenly on one side. Fold in half to form a taco. Lightly brush the outside with oil and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Bake tacos for 10-15 minutes, flipping once half way through to ensure even browning. Remove when golden brown and serve warm.
Place on the table with cheese, guacamole, salsa, lettuce, tomato, etc and let people add toppings as desired.

Monday, November 7, 2011

G is for Ginger Molasses cookie.

If I was scoring redeemable value for these tasty treats, it would probably be in negative numbers. I wish I could say they are good for you in some way, but they just AINT. I will attempt to make them next time with part chia gel, but since I'd never made these cookies before I wanted to know what they should taste like before experimenting. Cookie experiments is the kind of science I'm in to.
Perhaps if you have a big healthy salad and teach some blind kids to read you can indulge in one of these delightful suckers. I just wanted to make them so I did. So there. No good reason besides I like cooking cookies.
Everyone is different, but when it comes to cookies I'm a chewy gal all the way. It is a rare occasion I hope for a crunchy cookie, almost always longing for a soft bite that slowly dissolves in my mouth. These chewy spice filled rounds were perfect. Soft, full of ginger and molasses flavor with a nice subtle crunch from the sugar on top. They were easy to make, just took a bit of time. Actually I made one batch the first night and then one batch two nights later. The dough held up great, just make sure you seal it tightly. I think the pictures express enough, no need to ramble too much about how delicious sugar, butter, ginger and molasses are. They are FREAKIN cookie-tastic and I want some right now. These would be a great treat to bring to a holiday party ie not a good idea for a night alone watching repeats of the Vampire Diaries (That is not me, it is some other crazy person...). Hope you enjoy these as much as I did, make sure to share. I did. Mostly.
Step One butter and sugar
Sticky Dough, needs refrigeration

Cold Dough, ready to be balled up
Ginger Molasses Cookies
Flat out taken from Orangette

If you can wait these puppies are twice as good the next day. Something magical happens if you let them rest a night. Trust me, the flavors develop so do your best to eat these the next day. 
The Goods: Makes about 22 cookies
2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, room temperature (try to buy non-trans fat brand like Spectrum)
6 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup granulated sugar (such as unrefined cane sugar)

The Deal: 
1. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground cloves, and salt and mix with a whisk to evenly blend. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl with electric mixers, cream shortnening, butter, and brown sugar until smooth and pale in color. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the ginger and molasses, and mix to blend well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.

3. Using a rubber spatula, fold half of the flour mixture into the wet mixture. After the first half is incorporated, add the remaining flour and continue folding gently until all of the flour has been absorbed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least two hours. You CANNOT skip this step, the dough will be way too sticky without chilling.

At this point the dough can hold for up to 4 days

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner. Pour the granulated sugar into a pie pan or shallow bowl.

5. When dough is solid and cool enough to handle without horrible sticking, scoop it out of the bowl and roll it into balls a scant 2 inches in diameter. Toss each ball gently in the sugar, and then place them on the baking sheet (about 6-8 per sheet), leaving 3 inches between each ball. Bake cookies on the center rack of oven for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown and slightly puffed. Let cool on baking sheet for 15 minutes before transferring to a rack. Repeat with two more sheets.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Ricotta Bruschetta and Caramelized Onions

Little bites of fall heaven
Creating recipes is tough, yall. This dish was inspired by a need to use up some food in my kitchen. It was a very make it up as I go type dinner that happened to work out well. Score, there is usually about a 50/50 shot of that. I knew I needed to use a half empty container of ricotta and already had flagged a recipe for ricotta bruschetta in one of Barefoot Contessa's cookbooks. The recipe called for the cheese mixture to be served on toasted bread, but I wanted to healthy that up a bit. That began the elaborate process of looking around my kitchen to see what else I could use. My eyes surveyed the bowl of local vegetables on the counter and honed in on some boring looking sweet potatoes. Of course we all know how far from boring sweet potatoes taste, but they are not lookers. Yellow onions hid underneath the sweet potatoes, just hoping to get thrown in the mix. My college roommate and I used to make these baked sweet potatoes that were so (oooooooo) good, and since I had local sweet potatoes I figured might as well combine two awesome recipes to see what would happen.

Success! Baked Sweet Potatoes topped with an herby ricotta mixture finished with sweet caramelized onions were in fact little bites of savory goodness. Baking the sweet potatoes gave them a lovely soft texture while the breadcrumbs added a needed crunch. The ricotta bruschetta was light and full of all the right herbs, while caramelized onions finished it off with a hit of sweetness. I'm sure I could improve on this recipe, and will certainly try, but for now it's pretty freaking good. It is a good main course, served with a side of green vegetables, but would also make a great appetizer. As an appetizer I would try to get small thin sweet potatoes as to make them bite sized. I used large sweet potatoes, which required a plate and a fork if you consider yourself fancy.
Sliced avocado was what I wanted to top these with first, but they were all rock hard and expensive at the grocery store. The onions were delicious, but I bet you could top this with fresh tomatoes, avocado, perhaps evenly lightly sautéed mushrooms. All the vegetables used in this (except the herbs) are seasonal, and the greens, browns, and orange are perfect fall colors to decorate your dinner plate.

Ricotta Bruschetta with Baked Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from my brain, with help from the Barefoot Contessa.

The Goods: Serves 4-6 as main course
2-3 large sweet potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch
2 cups breadcrumbs ( I prefer panko, just read the ingredients before you buy them)
4 tablespoons (more or less) of butter, melted plus 2 tablespoons for the onions
2 cups ricotta
3 tablespoons scallions white and green parts, minced
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1 tablespoon fresh chives, minced
1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced in 1/8 inch slices
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

The Deal:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease 2 large cookie sheets. First caramelize your onions: In a large saute pan on medium high heat melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add onions and saute until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently. Reduce heat to medium (or medium low depending on your burner) and cook onions until soft and browned, about 40 minutes. Only stir occasionally, but watch for burning. If they begin to burn reduce heat.

2. Set up your breading station. Place melted butter in a shallow bowl. Then place breadcrumbs and a good dash of salt and pepper in second bowl. Coat sweet potato in butter, letting excess butter drip off, then dredge in the breadcrumbs being sure it is evenly coated. Place on the greased cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining sweet potatoes. Bake until lightly browned and soft, about 20-25 minutes.

3. While sweet potatoes are cooking, make your ricotta bruschetta. Combine the ricotta, scallions, dill, chives, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl.

4. Once your sweet potatoes and caramelized onions are ready, assemble your dish. Place 1 breaded sweet potato on the plate, followed by a heaping tablespoon of ricotta mixture, and finish with a a good dash of onions. Serve immediately.