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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Veggie Scraps Pasta Sauce

Basically Free Pasta Sauce
Making Something From Nothing
You can eat that?

I just couldn't decide what to call this post. 

The very last thing I did with my week of roasted vegetables was to make a sauce out of the scraps. In An Everlasting Meal, she calls it a pesto, but I didn't think it was quite tangy enough to fit the connotation of a pesto.

It is indeed a delicious sauce, and it is indeed made from scraps. The parts of the vegetable that I have always thrown away became the basis for this sauce, and therefore the inspiration for dinner. 

As I prepped my vegetables, I kept aside those things I ordinarily toss in the compost bin. The leaves from the broccoli and cauliflower, the cauliflower core, the tough ends of the broccoli stalks, the chard stems, and the tiny little cores from the brussels sprouts all went into my cooking pot.

I chopped everything into smallish cubes and put them in a pot, just barely covered with water. To that, I added a few whole garlic cloves and a tiny little bit of salt.

Bring it to just under a boil, and let it simmer a good long time, until everything is tender enough to easily smash with a fork. This takes a good half hour at least, so it is a good thing to do while you are cooking something else. I let this pot simmer the same evening I was making the risotto. The cooked veggies will then keep in the fridge another couple of days, so you can be making two dinners at once!

Once everything is cooked through, puree it all in a blender with a good dose of olive oil and a handful of parmesan cheese. If it needs more water, pour it in a quarter cup at a time, and keep it pureeing until it is a nice, thick, pale-green sauce. Season it with salt and pepper and whirl it one more time.

That's it!

Serve it over pasta, and wait for comments like I got:

"Mom, I usually don't like tortellini at all, but this is really good!"


"Yum! Can I have seconds?"

That, my friends, is turning trash into a treasure.

Monday, February 27, 2012

greens gratin

I finished off my week of following Tamar Adler's advice from The Everlasting Meal, and the last two dishes I made with her guidance and my roast vegetables were a gratin with the sautéed greens, and a pasta sauce with the odds and ends left over from chopping the raw veggies back on the first day of vegetable prep work.

Both were, once again, delicious.

The gratin was a very basic dish. Other than needing to be able to put it in the oven an hour before eating, there isn't much to do.

First, make a basic white sauce.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of flour and stir together. Add a cup of milk and stir and simmer until it thickens up a bit. To this, add a small handful of parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Combine the cup of cooked white sauce with a cup of cooked greens. Spread it into a small buttered baking dish, and bake for about an hour at 350.

It came out creamy and sweet and delicious! It was a great side for chicken breasts.

Friday, February 24, 2012

roasted vegetable sandwich

This week, I am enjoying my big batch of roasted vegetables, and I am trying to share with you the many ways I have served them. I hope you aren't getting bored of me! I also hope that maybe you will be inspired after you see the seven or so meals I got out of one big day of cooking!

These sandwiches were, once again, simple to put together after the vegetables had been done a few days prior.

I took some carrots, turnips, and potatoes out of the fridge and chopped them up pretty fine. Then I mashed them a bit, and stirred in a good squeeze of lemon juice, a healthy pour of olive oil, and some chopped fresh parsley. That's it!

Just layer that in a pita with some salad greens, and enjoy a super quick, super healthy lunch!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

risotto and roast cauliflower

I used to be an English teacher. I taught high school, and within the high school I was happiest teaching seniors. Senior year of high school is a magical time. Suddenly, the kids are almost free. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel. They know that soon... soon... they will be done with assignments in classes they never wanted to take in the first place. Soon they will be done with curfews and dress codes and living by their parents' rules. They will be off to their "real lives," and moving out and trying on college or jobs or roommates or rental agreements. They are young enough to be completely idealistic, ready to end world hunger or animal abuse or the sex trade. They are young enough that they aren't quite adults, and they are young enough to still need adults to guide them, advise them, cheer for them, and console them. And yet, they are finally old enough to admit it. Most of the time, they know when and where to swallow their pride. They know when to stand up and fight, too. They are some of the most loyal people you might ever meet. They will do anything for a friend, but won't be walked on. They They are old enough to know better, to understand the rules, and how to play the game.

But still, they are kids. And like the seventeen previous years, they aren't always on their best behavior. They often make bad choices, give in to laziness, wallow in cattiness. They have a sense of being done with being controlled and ruled, and sometimes they become belligerent or defiant. They also have learned, quite well, that often times the consequence is well worth the fun of the transgression.

All of this is to say that by the time I had English students in their 12th year of taking English classes, I had kids who knew how to handle English class. They knew what grade they wanted (maybe just to pass and graduate, maybe to get into Harvard or MIT). They knew exactly how much work it would take to get where they wanted to be. Some felt fine skipping homework because they knew it would balance out come exam time, and the "C" would be secure. Some begged for extra credit... to raise their "A" to ... I don't know... a better "A"? A more secure "A"?

And no matter what, with plenty of regularity, there was an assignment and a kid who just didn't match up. Even the top achievers found an essay or book or poem they just couldn't care about. But that is where the comedy comes in for the teacher. Watch a gifted writer, a sponge of a reader, a deep-thinking, idealistic 18-year-old, produce 3 pages of writing about a book he would rather ignore (or perhaps, a book he did ignore). It makes for some highly amusing reading.

"The novel's imagery is developed through a series of descriptions."

"The juxtaposition of the light and dark in the first stanza is quite noteworthy."
(Oh, do the smart ones love the word juxtaposition.)

"The characterization of the antagonist shows him to be vile."

And one of my favorites:
"The main character was very very very very very very very heroic."

As you can see, those smarter-than-their teacher, brilliant high school almost-grads can find an amazing balance between very sophisticated vocabulary and lack of actual thought, and come up with three pages (or one, or seven), about anything. And equally importantly, about nothing.

But. But maybe I didn't always give them enough credit. Maybe they wanted to do better, but they had a biology test and a history report due the same day as my essay. Maybe they needed to work harder on their science grade or make up for lost time in Spanish class. And maybe the soccer coach called an extra practice the night before, or maybe they got off work late. Or maybe they were just plain tired.

Because here I sit, wanting to tell you about the risotto I made last night to go with yet more of the roast vegetables from earlier this week. It was fabulous. Such simple ingredients, such an amazing treatment. It was rich and creamy and flavorful, and all of the other adjectives I have used one.million.times. (In three days it will be a year since my first post, and I am running out of ways to describe food). I am not really sure how to explain that I found this risotto and cauliflower to be an all-around perfect meal, without saying...

It was very very very very very very very delicious.

It is a simple risotto, cooked the old-fashioned way of stirring and stirring and adding liquids slowly, and stirring, and then ending with the addition of a great handful of parmesan cheese. And then that was topped with the pre-roasted cauliflower that I had stored in the fridge.

Just for a minute, though, can I talk about the cauliflower? This was a Romansco cauliflower. Have you ever seen one? It is wild! It looks like the salt crystals that you can grow from a kit on a little piece of cardboard. It also looks like a neon-green forested mountainside. At the same time, it looks like a piece of tropical coral. It is simply awe-inspiring. I had to do a little photo shoot with my cauliflower before I could cut it into bits and turn this bright, hobby, reaching, leggy being into something so banal as ... dinner.

okay, back to our recipe. The risotto.

First, chop half an onion and cook it in some butter until it is soft. Add a half cup of dry white wine and let that cook down by half. Add a cup of rice, and a big pour of vegetable or chicken stock. Keep stirring the rice and liquids, for about 25 minutes. Any time you see that your spoon leaves a trail that isn't immediately filled with starchy, rice-y broth-y liquid, add more stock. You want it to keep wet. Keep adding stock and stirring until the rice is al dente. All in all, I used just about 3 cups of chicken stock. Just before it is done, add a big handful of grated parmesan and a half-handful of chopped fresh parsley.

Then, in individual servings, make a little volcano of risotto and top it with the pre-roasted, re-warmed vegetables. I used the cauliflower, but I think broccoli would do very well, as would the beets.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sandwiches made with sautéed greens, mozzarella,and garlic

This was the second meal I made out of the pile of veggies I roasted and sautéed earlier this week.

I am telling you, I love each meal more than the last one!

These sandwiches took only minutes to prepare, but they were so very flavorful and scrumptious, that I am already wishing I could have another one tonight!

First, make some more vinegared onions (thinly slice some red onion or shallot, sprinkle vinegar over them, and let them sit for 10 minutes or so to soften). When the onions are ready, take some good crusty bread (I bought a fresh baguette), and slice thickly. Take out 2-3 cloves of the garlic you roasted with the vegetables, and squeeze the mushy garlic out of its skin. Spread this over one side of the bread. Then spread a thick layer of the sautéed greens (mine were chard, green garlic, and beet greens). Finally, top each with a slice of mozzarella cheese and close the sandwich.

Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet, and place another baking sheet on top. If your baking sheets are not heavy, you may want to put another pan on top of that, to weigh it down.

Place the smooched sandwiches in the broiler for just a few minutes... until the sandwich is a bit warm and toasty and the cheese just on the verge of melting.

Enjoy one of the tastiest, easiest meals ever!

Roasted Vegetable Salad

So, now that you followed yesterday's instructions and roasted a huge pile of veggies, you may want some ideas of what to do to serve them. You did roast a huge pile of veggies already, no?

Plus, today being Ash Wednesday and all, this is an amazingly filling dinner salad that contains no meat. Win-win!

This was the first meal I made from the book An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. I followed her instructions to roast my veggies and sauté my greens, and then I made this salad with those roast vegetables.

Oh my goodness was it amazing! I couldn't get over how much I was enjoying my dinner. The vegetables were absolutely amazing, they paired perfectly with the peppery greens, and the vinegar brought out the best of all of it.

And the best part of all of it was that it really was as easy as can be imagined to put it all together after I spend the morning prepping the vegetables. Dinners this week really should be a piece of cake to get on the table!

First, take the vegetables out of the fridge for at least a half hour before you plan to eat. This will allow them to come to room temperature (which makes the first sensation you experience to be flavor, rather than temperature).

Thinly slice a bit of red onion, or a shallot. Place it in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl, and sprinkle some red wine vinegar on it. Let that sit and soften the onion for about ten minutes. Add a teaspoon or so of mustard and let that sit another couple of minutes.

Add the vegetables you plan to eat with your salad to the vinegared onions. I used the broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, and brussels sprouts that I roasted yesterday. Toss it all together, and let it sit another couple of minutes for the vinegar to penetrate the veggies. Drizzle it all with a good helping of olive oil.

Make a bed of bitter or peppery greens on each plate. I used the arugula that I got in my Abundant Harvest box this week. I piled the dressed vegetables on top of the greens, and sprinkled some of the roast nuts that I did in the oven yesterday on top of it all.

Again, I can't get over how delicious this salad was. Just trust me. And then find out for yourself!

Coming tomorrow... the best little sautéed greens sandwich this side of the Mississippi.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

roasting and sautéing enough veggies for a week

Come along with me.

I am going on a little bit of an eating journey this week.

I have been reading The Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. It's an amazing book. As I read, and thought, and made my plans for my vegetables this week, my mouth was literally watering. Let's hope things turn out in reality the way they are in my mind. I am only part way through it, but I had to stop right there in the middle of chapter three and do what she told me to do.

If you love food, and cooking food, and eating food, this book is amazing. I am not going to say it is light reading or a page turner by any means. It is also not a cookbook that you can leaf through during spare minutes or while making your shopping list.

But, it you like to enjoy great writing and amazing descriptions of food and its preparation, this book is fabulous.

Her entire premise is that we ought to stop burying ourselves in recipes. We can stop having to go through a process of researching, reading, shopping, and prepping every time we want to put dinner on the table. Although the book is all about how to cook food and enjoy amazing meals, there are actually very few recipes, and very very few measurements. Rather, she describes what type of ingredients to use, and what ways they can be prepared. By letting each thing you cook build on the last thing you cooked, you don't ever have to find yourself standing in the kitchen at 5:00, wondering what the heck is for dinner. Tonight's dinner can most likely be built upon last night's dinner, and is therefore mostly decided upon and already partially done.

At any rate, in chapter three, she describes her process for shopping for a bunch of vegetables, roasting and sautéing them all on one day, and then having prepared ingredients for a week's worth of meals. According to Tamar Adler, they will be as easy and versatile to use as a can of beans, once the initial cooking is completed.

Most importantly, though, the ways she describes the meals she makes out of the vegetables... soups, salads, risotto, curries, pestos, and sandwiches, made me wish I were sitting at her kitchen table. Right. Now.

Well, since I have a beautiful box of vegetables sitting here that I picked up from Abundant Harvest Organics, I decided to give it a go.

I followed her instructions to roast the hefty veggies and sauté the greens on the first day.

Tamar Adler lists many many different veggies to roast, and I chose to use everything in my box that seemed like a "cookable" vegetable (All that was left, besides fruit, was cilantro, napa cabbage, a salad green called mache, and arugula).

I had broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, beets, brussels sprouts, turnips, and carrots to roast. I also sautéed chard, green garlic, and the greens from the beets.

I thought I was doing well with making candy out of orange peels and stock out of onion skins, but according to Tamar I am not making the most of my vegetables! She suggests saving the core and leaves of the cauliflower, the tough stems of the broccoli, the core of a cabbage or the stems of chard. These can be made into a pesto, and I will give you that recipe when I try it later this week. For now, I have dutifully set them aside and I'm saving them for their ultimate fate.

I began with this amazing pile of gorgeous, fresh vegetables:

I chopped and roasted two pans that held broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, with some whole cloves of garlic.

I also chopped and roasted two pans with the root vegetables: carrots, potatoes, and turnips.

Finally, I roasted a pan of beets. These need to be tented and cooked with a bit of water so they steam all the way through while they roast.

Preheat the oven to 450. Scrub, peel, and chop all the vegetables except the beets.

Spread each set of vegetables out on a baking sheet. The sheet can be pretty full, but they need to be in a single layer, with a bit of space between them. Toss them with some olive oil, until they are coated, and sprinkle with salt. Pop them in the oven, and after a half an hour, start checking them to see if they are done enough to make you want to keep eating. Be sure and tuck a few whole cloves (unpeeled) of garlic onto each baking sheet. Apparently we will use this later this week.

This is romanesco cauliflower. More on that to come! It's wild!

The beets are a bit different. Cut the greens and stems off and place them in a sink full of water, to use later with the other greens. Tuck the beets, tails intact, into a baking pan, and wash them with hard running water. Tip the pan while you wash them, and allow the water to run out. Once the waste water is clear, the beets are clean enough to cook. (Removing the skins after roasting them also removes any little bits of dirt that are left). Leave a little bit of the water in the pan, drizzle with olive oil, and and cover the pan tightly with foil. Place this in the oven.

Now that all of your veggies are cooking, you may want to check them once in a while. If they are getting too brown but not soft enough, scoot them all together to build up steam. If they are getting soft but not browned, spread them out.

The majority of the veggies should be done in half an hour to 45 minutes. She explains that they need to roast until they are "completely, completely tender." Rather than giving a specified time to let them cook, she says to check after a half an hour, "Test the doneness of...vegetables by tasting them. When you don't wonder, but reach to eat another, they're done."

And boy oh boy was she right about that. I couldn't stop myself from reaching again and again to munch on the first pan of veggies to come out of the oven while I continued prepping and cooking other things.

The beets, though, are going to need a bit longer, and won't necessarily all be done at the same time. Check the beets by lifting the foil, and trying to pierce each one with a knife. If it goes in easily, pull the beet out of the oven. If not, let it keep cooking. Tamar says "If you're not sure if they're done, they're not." Be sure to re-cover the pan tightly after checking and removing any beets, so they can continue to steam. After they are done and cooled, remove the skin by rubbing it off with your fingers. Cut them into slices or wedges and then sprinkle them with red wine vinegar and salt.

Once a pan of veggies finished and there is a little space in the oven, Tamar recommends placing a pan of nuts in. Let the walnuts or pecans cook for about 10 minutes, and they will come out toasted and perfect for topping a salad.

After all of the roasting vegetables are in the oven (and some may be back out again by this point!), it's time to take care of the greens. Add any greens you have to the beet greens that are soaking in the sink. In my case it was green garlic and chard leaves (I cut the chard stems off and added them to my collection of cauliflower leaves and core and broccoli stems that I am saving for later). Swish them all around in the sink to get them clean, and then pull them out, chop them roughly, and sauté them in a little olive oil and a tiny bit of salt. Keep most of the water that clings to them after washing... they are supposed to steam more than they sauté. If they dry out while they cook, add a tablespoon of water every once in a while. Cook them in as many batches as you need to. I did two frying pans full. Tamar recommends adding chopped garlic in with the greens, but since I had green garlic I didn't want to overdo it. These are done when they are completely wilted and can be easily cut with a knife.

After I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen, I had changed that beautiful pile of veggies into these containers of prepared ingredients:

Come back tomorrow and I'll share the first meal I made out of them! It couldn't have been simpler, and it was one of the most delicious meals I have eaten in a long long time.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

kiwi lemonade

Believe me, I know it's one of those "first-world" problems to complain about too many kiwis. Especially right smack in the heart of what should be winter. (Although I hesitate to use that term, when it's warm and sunny and hasn't rained in weeks).

But the fact is, that in the past few weeks, we have had such an abundance of kiwi that I have sliced them up with breakfast, added them to my morning protein shake, put them in lunch boxes (slice in half and packed with a spoon), peeled a bowl full of them for the dinner table, and tried to offer them as an after-school snack. My kids love kiwis, but even they draw the line somewhere.

At any rate, as I started to make yet another kiwi strawberry smoothie, I was inspired. The kids love kiwi-strawberry juice. I love strawberry lemonade. Why not kiwi lemonade?

Why not, indeed.

It's delicious on its own, and it takes on a whole new level of irresistibility when a shot of vodka is added to your glass.

On a side note: In my grandmother's cookbook, the very few cocktail recipes call for a "jigger" of liquor, rather than a shot. Doesn't that sounds a bit like a work that shouldn't be used in polite company?

Whichever way you prefer to enjoy your kiwi lemonade, be aware that when you strain the kiwi, you won't get all of the fiber out of it. It is a bit thick, and some seed particles will make their way into the final product. These will settle to the bottom of the pitcher, so give it a good stir before pouring, and be prepared for a hearty beverage.

Kiwi Lemonade

1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
5 kiwi fruits
5 cups water
1 cup sugar
vodka (optional)

Peel the kiwi and puree them in a blender. Pour the puree into a fine mesh sieve that is sitting over a bowl, and let the juice drain into the bowl.

Combine the kiwi juice, lemon juice, water and sugar in a large pitcher. Chill for a couple of hours, and enjoy!

If you want to add vodka, either add a cup to the pitcher, or if you prefer to keep it so it can be served either way, add a shot to each glass.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thai Chicken Pizza

Once upon a time, when I was a starving college student, and my cousin was a starving graduate student, we found ourselves making dinner together one night. This memory almost feels like a dream, because my cousin lived on the opposite coast of the United States from me, and I am pretty sure that only once in our lives did we make dinner together.

Anyway, she had a new cookbook she was trying out, and we leafed through it together, to choose a recipe to cook for dinner that night. We chose the Pacific Rim Chicken Pizza, which was a sort of Thai-inspired chicken and veggie pizza with peanut sauce. Being as we were starving college students, we couldn't afford to buy all of the 13 ingredients it required, so we made some cuts and some substitutions and came up with a poor man's version of the dish. But as I recall, it came out great and we were quite proud of our culinary achievement.

I decided right then and there that I needed the cookbook. I am not sure why, as a student who couldn't afford to buy any of the ingredients to follow the recipes, I felt that I had to have this cookbook. But I did. My mother got it for me as a Christmas gift that year, and I have to admit that I haven't used it too much since then. When I do use it, though, I really like it.

Anyway, when I saw that the Improv Cooking Challenge this month was to use carrots and ginger together in a recipe, I immediately remembered this pizza, that I haven't made since that night 17 years ago  long ago  when I was in college.

This time, rather than substituting things that are cheaper, I made different substitutions. I made my own pizza crust instead of buying one (I find it easier to turn on my mixer than to run to the market). I also used orange marmalade since I like the tang of it better than mango chutney. Finally, I substituted a half of a leek for the green onions, since I got one in my Abundant Harvest CSA box this week.

Here is the Thai Chicken Pizza that I largely based on the Pacific Rim Pizza recipe from Eating Well is the Best Revenge.

Thai Chicken Pizza

1 pizza crust (I used my recipe, which you can find here)
3 carrots, cut into matchsticks (about 1 cup)
1 green bell pepper, cut into matchsticks (about 1 cup)
1/2 leek, diced
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (if you have leftover cooked chicken, that's great. If not, you can bake a breast while you work on the pizza)
1 tablespoon coarsely grated ginger
2 tablespoons orange marmalade (I make that too, which you can see here... or just buy it)
3 tablespoons unsalted peanut butter
2 tablespoons Asian cooking wine (or use some dry white wine or cooking sherry)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Start by making your pizza crust. Or if you are using pre-made pizza dough, roll it out. Trader Joe's has a great pizza dough in the dairy case. Heat the oven to about 450 degrees, and bake the pizza crust until it is about half-way done. (about 6-7 minutes). This will keep it from getting soggy when we load it up with the other yummy stuff.

If you are cooking your chicken, pop it in the oven once the crust is done, and take it out as soon as it is cooked through (about 10-15 minutes).

Meanwhile, start chopping the carrots, bell pepper, and leeks.  Set them aside, and in a small bowl, whisk together the ginger, marmalade, peanut butter, cooking wine, and vinegar.

Once the chicken is done, cut it into matchsticks also. Keeping all the toppings the same size and shape makes sure that each bite of pizza has a great balance of all the yummy flavors!

Toss together the chopped vegetables, the chicken, and the peanut/ginger sauce.

Spread it out evenly on the pizza crust, making sure to get it close to the edges all around.

Bake it for another 6-7 minutes, until the edges of the pizza begin to brown.

Sprinkle the chopped cilantro on top, slice, and serve.

This recipe is linked to the Improv Cooking Challenge.

Improv Challenge

Friday, February 10, 2012

Brussels Sprouts Salad

Oh my. I was just looking over my (very few) posts from the last month... and I realize they aren't exactly what we might call "health food." Muffins, squash bread, bean dip, and cake bars are hardly healthy options.

I was about to tell you about the most heavenly pumpkin brown butter muffins that I made last week, but I feel compelled to interrupt my baking frenzy to bring you a salad. But, I promise you, this is every bit as delicious as muffins. Just not sweet, comforting relaxing delicious. More like tangy, flavorful, interesting delicious.

I was so happy to get brussels sprouts in my AHO box this week. As of this time last year, I had never eaten a brussels sprout in my life, convinced as I was that they would be yucky. As of now, though, I am listing them as right up there among my favorite veggies.

However, it never occurred to me that I could eat them raw. Most recipes I could find were for roasted, caramelized, sautéed, or even grilled. But when I stumbled on this recipe for a raw salad, I thought. Well, duh. They're like cute little adorable mini cabbages. And cabbage makes an awesome salad. So...

And as it turns out, brussels sprouts make an awesome salad as well.

With the aid of a food processor, all the parts of this salad couldn't be easier to prep. First I put the chopping blade in and pulsed the pecans a couple of times. Then that blade came out, and the shredding blade went in. I quickly shredded the cheese, and then turned the blade over to slicing. I threw the brussels sprouts in, and because they are so little and leafy, they came out shredded nicely. Just shake together the dressing ingredients, and voila!

This recipe originally came from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, but I changed the dressing quite a bit, so I'll give you my version:

Brussels Sprouts Salad

15-20 brussels sprouts, tough little stems completely removed
1/2 pound gruyere cheese
3/4 cup pecans

1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon honey

In a food processor (or by hand), chop the pecans with the chopping blade. Then switch to the grating blade and shred the cheese. Turn the blade over to slicing, and shred the brussels sprouts. Toss these three ingredients together.

In a small jar, combine the oil, vinegar, mustard, and honey. Shake well. Toss the dressing with the salad and serve.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Momofuku's Butter Cake Bars

Are you on Pinterest? I love it. If you are, follow me and I'll follow you.

I love the happy constructive nature of Pinterest, and I have gotten all kinds of great ideas from how to store my boots in my closet to party decorations to new recipes for cauliflower.

One thing that makes me giggle, though, is the fine balance between people pinning things like this:

I stole this photo from Pinterest, and I don't know how to give credit. So sorry!  

 and the people pinning things like this:

Stole this one too. Forgive me?

I especially love when it's the same person. Back and forth, back and forth.... I should get out and run...Oh! Dessert! Yummy!!! ... Really I need to work out more.... Mmmmmm. THAT looks good!

As for me, rather than pinning reminders to exercise and stick with it and get moving and remember my goals, I just try to steer clear of.... exercise. It's fabulous. I have yet to quit that routine. no goal, no plan, no quitting, no guilt! 

And I DO pin lots of sweets and yummy foods. I figure that anyone who eats an entire box of vegetables every week can eat all the dessert she wants. I have earned it.

Pinterest actually does give me lots of ideas and recipes for my CSA veggies. I have had many happy, delicious, nutritious veggie-packed meals inspired by Pinterest. It also happens to give me recipes for things like this...

This is Momofuku's Butter Cake Bar. They are very oozy and gooey, and not at all something you can eat, and look dainty, at the same time. The bottom layer is a thick chewy base make with a yellow cake mix and that is topped off with the sweetest, richest, drippiest, cream cheese-and-vanilla layer you can ever imagine.

We took these to the Superbowl... and although they are a big gooey mess that leaves you licking your fingers, no one seemed to mind after a margarita or two.

They are super simple to make since they use a box of cake mix and almost everything else comes pre-measured (one block cream cheese, one box powdered sugar, one stick of butter). I think I might try using a cake recipe instead of a box of cake mix next time; I'll let you know how that works out. Being as it has that much butter, sugar, and cream cheese, its a good thing that just a tiny little square leaves you satisfied. Which means the rest of the pan should be shared. With me.

Momofuku's Butter Cake Bars

one box yellow cake mix
4 ounces butter, melted
3 eggs
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 pound powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350, and line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper.

To make the bottom layer, mix together the cake mix, butter, and 1 egg. Pat this evenly into the bottom of the pan.

To make the layer of heaven, cream together the cream cheese, 2 eggs, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Spread this evenly over the bottom layer.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown around the edges.

Cool completely before serving. I stuck them in the freezer for an hour before I cut them.  These pictures were taken just after cutting, and before the top layer started flowing onto the plate. I recommend serving with a spoon!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

seven-layer dip

I have watched many episodes of ER and Grey's Anatomy, so I feel like I am a bit of an expert on Emergency Rooms and procedures for dealing with a massive catastrophe.

You know how the rescue workers go around marking the victims according to a triage system? I think the people who are about to die get a red tag, and the people who have a broken toe get a yellow tag, and everyone in between gets some color on the spectrum between the two. The idea is that you have to take care of some people immediately, whereas other people can sit and wait -- although they do need help -- for some time before they are taken care of.

My life feels this way right now. Since my kindergartner was Star of the Week last week, making his poster and preparing his biography were given red tags... DO THIS BEFORE MONDAY MORNING! Then came making valentines (which for some reason needed to be turned in already), and below that was putting together party favors and baking cupcakes for the second grader's birthday. Those got orange tags... they could wait a week without any major repercussions. Then there were a few yellow tags on things like making appetizers for the Superbowl party and RSVP'ing to a wedding and two birthday parties, and securing a babysitter for everything. Oh yeah, and a glance at the calendar reminded me that we are hosting a cub scout meeting/craft today. Yellow tag on that one.

Once the Star Week passed, the birthday party items moved into red tag status, and everything else moved up a step. There are still a few victims lying so deep in the wreckage that I may never get to them... things like cooking dinner or shaving my legs...or writing this blog. Don't tell anyone, okay? They'll just remain passengers "unaccounted for."

For the past two weeks, everything that has crossed my mind as a "to-do" item falls into its place...Just let me get through the birthday party and I can worry about the Superbowl. Just let me get these appetizers done and I'll bake the birthday cake and wrap gifts after the Superbowl party. Just let me get through the birthday and then I can plan the craft/shop/make snacks/clean the house for the cub scout meeting. 

So anyway, I meant to write about some Superbowl Party foods before the big game... you know, when it might have actually been helpful for you? But since the food got thrown together just as we walked out the door, things are not nearly as impressive as I wish they were.

Luckily, I got green garlic and avocados in my Abundant Harvest box this week. Which meant that the fates wanted me to be able to eat guacamole during the big game. And who am I to test fate?

Still, though, seven-layer dip should be an entire cuisine, in my opinion. And it is the perfect party food. So, here is what I brought when I went to watch the Giants beat the Patriots. 

Okay, who am I kidding? I watched the food table. Other people watched some sort of football game.

Seven layer bean dip:

Start with a good thick layer of black beans stirred with some salsa. This makes it easy to scoop up with chips. Spread a layer of sour cream over that, and them some shredded cheddar cheese, some sliced green onions, some chopped tomatoes, some black olives, and then dollop a whole lotta guacamole on top. I recommend waiting till the last minute for the guac, since you don't want it getting brown at all.

Monday, February 6, 2012

happy birthday to the one in the middle

I have a middle child.

Of course, having three children means that there is a middle child. I knew that back before I had kids; I knew it when I was pregnant with number three.

I just didn't realize how much being in the middle really makes you a middle child. When my first was born, she got my undivided attention for 3 years, and then after her brother was born, she got my undivided attention during all his long naps.

When my third child was born, he got dragged around town to practices, lessons, and performances. He napped in the car, he ate jars of baby food in his carseat at soccer practice, and he practically lived in a stroller. But. he also got my undivided attention when the older two went to school. He still gets me all to himself every day, for 3 hours, since kindergarten gets out at noon.

But the one in the middle always has his brother and sister around. He either gets lumped with his big sister (As in, "Let's get things done before the big kids get home") or with his little brother (as in, "Let's go do stuff while the boys are busy.") I have to make sure to make time for my middle boy. He needs it, and he sure deserves it.

On the other hand, that means that when I can spend time with just him, it is special. We don't spend our alone time grocery shopping or folding laundry. We spend our time going out to lunch, playing Uno, or sneaking away for frozen yogurt. We laugh and laugh when we spend our time together.

When he was born, we named him Collin. His big sister (at not-quite-three years old) declared, "I don't want to call him Coll-in. I want to call him Coll-moon." And somehow, it stuck. He became Moon or Moonie to us forevermore.

And little did we know it, but it was a pretty good name for him. He is a bit moony.  He is definitely my most emotional child (yes, more than his sister!). He gets the most frustrated, the most angry, and he definitely has the worst temper. But there is a flip side to that coin. He also gets the most elated, the most excited, and is the most caring. He is always happy to snuggle up on the couch, and almost always reaches out to hold my hand when we are walking together. He was born with a hole in his heart, (which according to the EKGs and echocardiograms is just a hair shy of closing itself) and sometimes I think his feelings just leak out whether he wants them to or not. He is such a worrier that I find myself worrying on his behalf, trying to make everything okay for him.

He is also hilarious. Most often, when he makes a joke, it is more to himself than to anyone else. You have to listen carefully, but when you catch something he has mumbled out loud, you will almost always find yourself giggling. He is great at remembering a funny line from a TV show or movie that you have seen together, and quoting it back to you in just the right situation to give it a whole new life and meaning.

He is amazingly smart, too. I don't always know what all is going on his little noggin because he isn't one to talk much, but he can answer any question his teachers have for him, and he sails through his school work. He will read a pretty tough book, to himself, and when I ask him about it he doesn't have much to say. "Was it good?" "Yep." "What was good about it?" "I don't know. I just liked it." "What was it about?" "A boy. I don't know." And yet, when he takes a computerized test on the book, he gets 100% of the questions correct. Every time.

He likes to figure things out by himself. He doesn't want you to watch him trying to do something, until he feels like he is doing it right. He will watch his instructor or coach demonstrate something, and then he will walk a safe distance away to try it out himself. Only when he feels like he is doing it properly will he do it in front of his teacher.

He doesn't much care what other people think of him. He is unique and not at all concerned about doing what is cool, or owning the right toys or wearing the right clothes or listening to the right music. If he likes it, he likes it. If not, he doesn't care about it one whit, no matter how popular it might be. For Halloween, while most boys were superheroes or zombie/scary/dead stuff, he was a Macaw. And damn proud of it.

When he's in the mood to talk, look out. It doesn't stop. Any thought that comes into his head goes right out his mouth, and it it usually things like the intricate details that differentiate one beyblade from another, or what type of bakugon can beat another. But when he isn't so talkative, there is no chance you are going to get anything out of him. This goes as far back as I can remember. One day when he was three, I picked him up from preschool. I asked what they talked about at school that day, and his answer was "Arctic animals. But I'm not going to talk about it."

I sometimes worry that he had a hard time making friends, because he doesn't ask to have friends over after school, or to invite friends when we go places. I know he just needs his down time, though. He likes to spend time alone. Also, I will ask him what he did at school. "Played dodgeball." "Who did you play with?" "I don't know their names. Just some kids. Just the kids who were playing dodgeball." I am reassured by many people that this is just the way boys are, though. The game is far more interesting than the players. He had a birthday party at his Kung Fu studio, and had plenty of people to invite (I had to make him cut the list nearly in half), and they all came. I suppose I worry about him too much.

At any rate, in my heart, I feel like he is going to be just fine. He is personable, funny, and thoughtful. He is smart and willing to work hard. He pays careful attention, probably most often when you least suspect it. He knows what to expect from the world, and he knows what the world expects from him. When he's in the mood to deliver, there is no stopping him.

For his birthday, he asked for a lemon cake. He explained to me that he wanted something that his dad could share (he can't eat chocolate). He also requested lemon cupcakes (with green frosting) for his birthday party. He said he figured it would be easier for me if I could do it all at once.

Unfortunately it didn't work out that well. I made the lemon cupcakes for his birthday party, which was Saturday. And then Sunday we were getting ready for a Superbowl party. In between making Momofuku's butter cake bars (more on those coming soon) and a seven-layer bean dip (more on that soon too!), to take with us to the Superbowl, and more cupcakes to take to school to share with his class for today, I thought I would go ahead and make him his lemon cake at the same time, so we could have singing and candle blowing after dinner tonight.

Well, in between my trying to cook all that, and my husband working on frying beignets and cooking a pot of vegetable soup simultaneously, things got a little crazy and out of control. The time to head over to our friends' home for the Superbowl party came and went, and things were not looking pretty in the kitchen. I tried to rush the cake, and...

Only half came out of the bundt pan. Damn.

I was about to cry or throw things or curse up a storm, when my husband wisely suggested I walk away from the cake disaster and enjoy the Superbowl. And so I did. Four hours and two hundred thousand calories of buffalo wings and guacamole and spinach-artichoke dip later, and I was ready to forgive the cake.

So, as I write, there is a new lemon cake in the oven. I am giving it one more chance. If it works out, I will write about it tomorrow and give you the recipe. I have a lot of hope for it. It contains lots of sour cream and lemon juice and plenty of sugar. It has a yummy syrup drizzled over it while it is still hot, and the big chunks of broken cake that I munched on as I cleaned the kitchen last night were delicious.

For now, though, I just wanted to write about one of my favorite guys in the world.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

broccoli and cauliflower salad

There are those out there who declare that raw is the only way to eat vegetables, and that cooking anything means breaking it down and losing some of its nutritious value. I can't say I know much about that. I imagine it has a decent dose of validity to it, but I also know that breaking vegetables down might not necessarily be the worst thing possible. I also know that there are degrees of truth, and that the method and length of cooking makes a big difference.

What is important is that you eat your veggies. If you cooking them is what will make them appeal to you, by all means cook 'em up and enjoy them. If eating them raw seems better, eat them raw. Just make sure you are getting a good variety and a great amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet.

For myself, I have a pretty good balance. Obviously things like potatoes need to be cooked, most fruits are eaten raw, and plenty of other things are good both ways. Like broccoli. A few weeks ago I did a series of ten recipes for cooking broccoli. Today, though, let's keep the stove turned off and the oven cool.

This salad has become an old standby at my house. It keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days, so I can make a big batch and enjoy it for dinner, as well as the next couple of lunches. It is very easy to throw together, and has a great sweet and tart flavor. As soon as I saw that there was both broccoli and cauliflower in my Abundant Harvest box this week, I knew that this was going to be on the menu.

I have had an abundance of rutabagas lately, and I have been throwing one into just about everything I cook, including this salad. If you have one, feel free to throw it in. If not, don't even bat an eye. It's not intended to be there, and it won't be missed.

Broccoli and cauliflower salad
This salad is best if it can be made ahead and allowed to chill for a few hours. Try to plan ahead! (This also makes it great for dinner on a busy weeknight).

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1 red onion, diced
1 small-medium rutabaga, diced (optional)
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup roasted salted sunflower seeds

1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar

Chop all the veggies and toss together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Toss the salad with the dressing until evenly coated.