The Other Day [gnocchi with potatoes, green beans, and mushrooms]

The other day, a friend of mine mentioned how she was completely and totally exhausted because of her busy schedule.  And then I thought about my own. It is, without a doubt, one of the two busiest times of the year for me right now.  And I am not exhausted.  Weird.

gnocchi with potatoes.

The other day, a friend of mine emailed and mentioned how much she enjoys perusing this blog when she’s looking for dinner options.  She’s paying more attention to what is in the food she’s eating, because she wants to be the one who decides what goes into her meals.  Love this.  When I got her email it made my day.

gnocchi with potatoes.

And then, over-analyzer that I am, I got to thinking about these two friends, and their situations, and my own kitchen.

gnocchi with potatoes.

The other day, I took a bag of Trader Joe’s country potatoes with haricot verts and mushrooms, and a package of gnocchi from the farmer’s market.  I boiled the gnocchi (fresh pasta cooks in like, two minutes), and heated the potatoes in a skillet (six minutes).  When the potatoes were heated through, I added several glugs of olive oil, and the gnocchi.  I took a picture, and then I realized, that duh, it needed cheese.  So I took another picture. (You know I added more cheese after that, too.)

gnocchi with potatoes.

And I thought a lot about how most of what I eat is not that bad for me at all.  Most of what I eat uses ingredients I bought from places I know, and gets prepared with my own two hands (and my oven).  I can spend way too much time frowning at the number that shows up on the scale as soon as I step on it, or I can chill on that, and celebrate that I eat stuff that’s pretty darn good most of the time, and that keeps me fueled through my busiest days.

Had I not gotten that email from my friend, I wouldn’t have posted this meal, as it didn’t seem anything special.  But then I realized that y’all need to know that I don’t always spend time before dinner with a knife in hand, chopping onions, garlic, and who knows what else.  Dinner can be simple and healthy at the same time.  You just have to know how to put the pieces together.*

*Also, yes, the pieces, in this case, are potatoes and more potatoes.

On Beauty [pounded cheese]

This weekend was beautiful, which reminded me that life is beautiful, which is (part of the reason) why I made pounded cheese.

pounded cheese.

The other part of the reason is that The (Not So) New Girl found me a secret foodie brain twin named Jesse, and we’re pretty much BFFs who have never met.  She was kind enough to let me borrow her new fave cookbook, which she didn’t know I had been checking out online anyway.  Even more kind was that she made a note of recipes I should try.  Within a half hour of receiving this little surprise, I had flagged Jesse’s recipes, and a whole bunch more.

the new midwestern table.

I knew the only acceptable starting place in terms of my plan of attack on this book was pounded cheese.  We enjoyed this outside, on the deck, on the most glorious Saturday evening that ever existed.  It was gone in no time at all.

To make Old-Fashioned Pounded Cheese with Walnuts and Port Syrup for 6, you will need:

  • 1/2 C port wine
  • 1 T (packed) light brown sugar
  • 7 oz. aged cheddar cheese (3 years old or more), at room temperature
  • 6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cool but not cold
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 C walnut halves, toasted

To make the port syrup, combine the port and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Simmer gently until reduced to a syrup, which will take a few minutes.  You’re looking for the consistency of maple syrup.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

Break the cheddar cheese into chunks and drop them into a food processor fitted with steel blade.  Process until pureed.  Add the butter, mustard, black pepper, and cayenne, and process, stopping often to scrape down the sides, until whipped and smooth.

Transfer the cheese to a shallow dish, break up the walnut halves, and drop them on top, and drizzle with port syrup.

Serve with crackers, or small pieces of (sourdough) toast.

*To make a few hours early, simply leave cheese at room temperature.  To make a day ahead, prepare, stopping short of garnishing with nuts and sryup.  Put cheese in fridge, and the day you want to serve, let come to room temperature before garnishing.

The Dinner that Saved Dinner [chicken and broccoli]

We’ve been in a little dinner rut lately, in which getting quick options from any of my favorite DC joints is preferable to taking the time to turn on the stove.  Luckily, Dinner a Love Story swooped in to save me with a recipe that tastes like takeout, but isn’t.  There’s gotta be a reason that Chinese takeout places don’t offer you nutritional facts, so how much better this is for you than their equivalent is left to the imagination.

chinese chicken and broccoli.

I won’t lie to you and say it’s as easy as ordering out.  But I’ll tell you that in the time it takes you to order and wait for delivery, this will be done.  And it will probably cost less per serving.  And it tastes just as good, if not better.  I’ll let you make that dinner decision for yourself.

I love when Jenny writes a recipe as if she’s talking to you, so I’ll let her take over here.  To make Chinese Chicken and Broccoli (and Edamame)…

In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, brown 3 or 4 chicken breasts (cut into bite-sized pieces, tossed in a little cornstarch if you have time) in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. After a few minutes, push all the chicken to one side and turn down heat to medium-low. Add 2 cloves garlic (minced) and 1/2 large onion (chopped) and cook about 2 minutes until onions are soft. Mix together with the chicken, then add about 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, turn up the heat, and stir. Add 2 heaping tablespoons hoisin, 1/4 cup water and cook until chicken is heated through. Add steamed broccoli and cashews (my kids like it without cashews) and serve with rice.

*My notes:  We didn’t have cashews, but the crunch would have been exactly right here.  I did have some frozen edamame, which I added at the end.

 

The Week Ahead [crustless broccoli quiche]

We’re headed into a long week here at Casa Glass of Milk.  As I was getting my meal plan together this weekend, I noticed that almost every recipe I wanted to make involved chicken and/or broccoli.  While winter where we live means I’m in the kitchen, slow-roasting a giant hunk of meat for Sunday dinners, spring and summer call for simple and easy fare, leaving me enough time to sneak out for a walk before sunset.

crustless broccoli cheddar quiche.

This evening, simple and easy meant Crustless Broccoli Quiche from Keepers, which I found via Joanna.  I’m always in for a recipe with about 5 ingredients.

To make one, 10-inch quiche, you will need:

  • butter, for greasing pie plate
  • 3 C chopped broccoli florets
  • 4 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2/3 C heavy cream
  • 1 C whole milk
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • pinch nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 10-inch pie plate.

Steam broccoli florets for 2 minutes, till bright green, but not fully cooked.  Drain and pat dry using a kitchen towel.  Place florets in pie plate, and top with cheddar cheese.  Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk cream, milk, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg till combined.  Pour mixture over broccoli.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, until quiche is set.  The middle may still be a bit jiggly, but that’s okay.  Let quiche cool a bit (5 or so minutes), and serve in big wedges.

The beauty of this dish, of course, is that it can be taken in any number of directions.  You could easily add caramelized onions and sausage, and you know it kills me that I didn’t have any mushrooms on hand.  Red peppers would take this in a different direction, as would Parmesan cheese and a little bit of thyme.  But I tend to over-complicate matters.  This quiche is a marvelous breakfast, lunch, or dinner completely on its own.  Or maybe with a lightly dressed pile of arugula nearby.  Ugh, there I go again.

Note to Self [garlic herb bread twists]

Dear Jennie,

You know how you love having people over, and how happy you are when you have a house full of mouths to feed?  But when you get ready to have people over, and you think up what to cook for them, you never quite know what fits?  Because party food is tricky.  It’s often bite-sized, which means more time in the kitchen, bent over little squares of dough.  Or it’s fried, which means hot, smelly oil, that can’t be dealt with in advance.  Neither of these situations is ideal.  It’s more than likely that party food = whatever was cheapest and least offensive looking in the Trader Joe’s freezer section warmed up in the oven while everyone is working on their first drink.

There’s better out there.

garlic herb bread twists

It comes in the form of Shutterbean’s Garlic Herb Breadsticks.

Jennie, you already know that garlic, herbs, and Parmesan cheese have near universal appeal.  If there’s a guest who wouldn’t enjoy these, do you really want to invite that person into your home?

garlic herb bread twists 2

These are pillows of Trader Joe’s pizza dough, filled with cheese and herbs, then baked, and finished off with oil and more cheese.  They are as good as it gets in the snack food department.  You can prep them quickly in the morning, and then finish them off at night, right before company comes.  And everyone you feed will want to come over again and again because everyone you feed will recognize that these are in a class of their own.  That we all cave and order cheesy bread with our pizza, and yes, it feels right at the time, but it’s never memorable.  Garlic Herb Bread Twists are memorable.  They have a kick from some red pepper flakes, a double dose of cheese (mozzarella and Parmesan), and they have that soft-pretzel-y thing going on where parts of the dough are crisp and crunchy, while the twistier parts are soft and dreamy.

garlic herb bread twists 3

Garlic Herb Bread Twists.  Round up your friends, send out the invite, and get these on the menu, stat.

xoxo,

Yourself

*a note: I made Tracy’s recipe pretty much as-is, except for an herb substitution, and a last minute mozzarella sprinkle.  But this is a versatile recipe that could hold up to an infinite number of flavor combinations.  Tell me what you’d do with it.

To make Garlic Herb Bread Twists as a snack for 3, you will need:

  • 1 Trader Joe’s pizza crust
  • 1 tsp. dried basil (which I didn’t have, so I used thyme)
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes (this is going to give you enough of a kick that you can taste it in each bite, so adjust accordingly)
  • 1/2 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
  • 1/8 C olive oil, plus more for the pan
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 C shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 C marinara sauce, for dipping

Set dough on counter to come to room temperature.  If you’ve removed the dough from the package, keep it covered with a kitchen towel.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly oil a baking sheet.  If you do this with your hands, it’ll help you work with the pizza dough.

Combine basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, and Parmesan cheese in bowl, and set aside.

Place minced garlic in oil and set aside.

Roll or spread the dough out till you’ve formed a rectangle that is roughly 10 x 15 inches.  Sprinkle dough with 1/2 the Parmesan mixture, and fold dough in half.  Tracy did this the long way, though I did mine the short way.  The longer dough will make for (longer, duh, and) thinner,  crispier twists.  The short way makes them puffier.  I’m a sucker for puffy.  Slice dough into pieces less than 1 inch thick.  Use your sharpest knife, or a pizza cutter.  Pick up each end of a slice of dough and twist in opposite directions from both ends.  Transfer to baking sheet, and top with garlic oil.  I did my best to get all the pieces of garlic onto the tops of the twists.  Repeat for each piece of dough.  Bake for 17 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle each twist with a little bit of mozzarella.  Return to oven for 4 more minutes.

Remove from oven and brush with oil.  Be careful not to get any remaining pieces of garlic on the bread at this point, as it’s not baking off in the oven anymore.  Then, top with remaining Parmesan mixture, which will melt right onto the piping hot twists.

Serve with marinara sauce, for dipping.

Pasta without a Recipe [spaghetti all’amatriciana]

The other day I was chatting with a friend as she cooked dinner, and she mentioned she was following a recipe for pasta e fagiole that was barely a recipe at all.  The recipe (written by another of her friends) told her to throw in a few sprigs of rosemary, and a glug or two of white wine.  She was a little perplexed, but she kept at it, noting she felt like Julia Child, cooking without precise measurements.

We threw in a few impersonations for good measure.

I was taken aback a little by her level of discomfort, though, because she cooks often.  But a lot of people don’t love cooking when they don’t have specific instructions.

Funny though, because when said friend asked me what was on our dinner menu that night, I mentioned we were also having pasta, hold the recipe (Italy, I miss you).

pasta all'amatriciana

Dear readers, next time you make pasta, try to make it without a recipe.  What do you usually do to sauce your pasta?  Fry up some garlic and add cream?  Let some olive oil sizzle and add tomatoes?  Crack a giant egg on top of your noodles while they’re piping hot?  As long as you’re adding a solid cup of cheese, your dinner is not going to taste bad.

I’m going to tell you how I made Fettuccine all’Amatriciana for dinner, because we’re almost to the point in a post where that happens.  But I didn’t measure anything, so you shouldn’t feel like you need to either.  And if you want to change things up by adding sprigs of something and glugs of something else, I think you should.  Messing around in the kitchen is great fun.

To make Fettucine all’Amatriciana for 4, you will need:

  • Fettucine (I had somewhere between 12 and 16 oz.)
  • a couple slice bacon, chopped (bonus points if you have thick cut pancetta, diced)
  • red pepper flakes
  • black pepper
  • 1 onion, small diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1, 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • tons of Parmesan cheese (or Romano if you want to be more authentic)

Cook bacon in large skillet till brown and crispy.  When bacon is cooked, add red pepper flakes (a little pinch goes a longer way than you’d think) and black pepper, and stir quickly.  Add onion and cook for a couple of minutes.  Stir in garlic till you can smell that you added it.  Pour in diced tomatoes and their juices.  Bring sauce to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and let it bubble on the stove while you bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a couple tablespoons of salt to the boiling water, and add pasta.  Cook according to package directions.  Rather than draining, use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer pasta to skillet.  This will ensure you still have that great, starchy pasta water leftover.  Add about 1/2 C water to the sauce to thin it out a little.  Toss pasta and sauce, and if it still hasn’t thinned enough, add pasta water by the quarter-cupful until you get the consistency you’re looking for.  Drown your dinner with cheese, and serve immediately.

On Beach Cooking

beach walkway

It’s a different kind of cooking, isn’t it?  You never quite know how a rental kitchen will or won’t be stocked.  You aren’t going to bring too many ingredients from home, and you certainly don’t want add too many little jars of McCormick spices to your cart when you only need a teaspoon of this or that.  You’re looking to use entire jars or bottles, but preferably those not labeled, “Cream of _________.”

When we leave for the beach, I make sure to stock the kitchen with these basics, either by bringing my own, or stopping by the nearest grocery:

  • olive oil – because I can’t go a day without using it
  • balsamic vinegar – great for reducing, and drizzling over roasted veggies, or for combining with olive oil to make vinaigrette
  • salt and pepper
  • flour
  • sugar
  • butter
  • eggs
  • pasta
  • salad greens
  • box mixes – Wooden Nickels has a great rule of thumb wherein she brings whatever random box mixes (think cake mixes, Rice-a-Ronis, Kraft boxes) we have stuck in the pantry and refuses to tote them back home.

But it’s not enough to have the right ingredients, you need the right recipes as well.  Perfect beach cooking requires low-maintenance food.  Dishes that can be assembled the night before so you don’t miss a second of soaking up the sun, or ones you can stick on the stove and forget about while you enjoy cocktails with friends are the only acceptable fare.  This is neither the time nor the place to spend an hour slicing and dicing, and it is certainly not when you want to be chained to the stove.

one pan pasta

On a recent trip, I finally had a go at Martha Stewart’s One-Pan Pasta.  You know, the one you saw everyone pin several months ago.  The premise is simple – throw everything in a pan, add some water, and create a perfect meal in a short amount of time.  The reality?  I had to cook this a little longer, and drain some excess water out of the pot, but otherwise, I was happy.

To make one-pan pasta for 4, you will need:

  • 12 oz. linguini
  • 12 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered if large
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 1/2 C water
  • a bunch of arugula, per The Kitchen Sink’s suggestion
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, olive oil, 2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper in large, straight-sided skillet.  Bring to boil over high heat.  Boil mixture, stirring occasionally, until pasta is al dente, and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.  Serve immediately, over a bed of arugula, and under heaps of Parmesan.  Season with more salt, pepper, olive oil, and basil, if desired.

On Missed Opportunities

When the New Year had just begun, Tracy posted a list of her top 20 recipes from 2013.  As I scrolled through the list, I ended up kicking myself over just about every photo that appeared on my screen.  Why hadn’t I made that yet?  I’m looking at you, turkey, broccoli, cheddar panini!

spinach tortellini soup

But I started super simple, and ended up with a meal that is sure to become a weeknight staple in these, the colder months.  Spinach tortellini soup.  It’s a keeper because a week after making it, I could walk to my kitchen and recreate the entire dish without looking up the recipe again.  My recommendation is to double the recipe below so you can keep a full serving in the freezer.  You never know when soup weather is going to strike, and you wouldn’t want to be caught unprepared.

To make spinach tortellini soup for 4, you will need:

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • salt and pepper
  • 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 32 oz. chicken stock
  • 10 oz. package tortellini
  • 6 oz. fresh baby spinach
  • Parmesan, for serving

Heat olive oil in large stockpot.  Add onion and saute 3-4 minutes, till translucent.  Add garlic, and stir 30 seconds, till fragrant.  Add red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add can of diced tomatoes and chicken stock.  Bring mixture to boil and let it roll about 10 minutes.  Add tortellini and cook about 6 minutes, or according to package directions.  Remove soup from heat, and stir in spinach till slightly wilted.  Ladle into bowls and top with Parmesan cheese.

On Regrets {chocolate crunch bars}

I try to live regret-free.  I don’t spend much of my time wishing things that didn’t happen, happened. chocolate crunch bars 1 But. chocolate crunch bars 2 I walked by this cookbook on sale at Anthro post-Christmas, and didn’t pull the trigger.  I know that its price on Amazon is likely equal to or less than its reduced price at my favorite store, but there’s something about feeling like you caught something on sale, isn’t there? chocolate crunch bars 3 It is most-gorgeously designed, and I’m a sucker for cookbooks, especially pretty ones.  But I already have a lot of cookbooks.  And our house isn’t that big.  And so I had to keep walking. chocolate crunch bars 4 My general rule of thumb when purchasing a cookbook is I have to know I’m going to actually cook from it.  I’ve purchased too many books that have gone untouched to think about anything else.  If I don’t know for sure I’m going to make food from a cookbook, I do not buy the cookbook.  Usually.  And I don’t know much about these Mast Brothers and their chocolate.  I mean, I love chocolate.  But just who are these guys and what makes their chocolate so special? When Jessica linked to Meg’s Chocolate Crunch Bars, I knew they were happening during my weekend this weekend.  They had to.  They are made of 6 ingredients I keep on hand at all times, and don’t require baking.  And when I looked closely at the recipe, I saw that it had come from the cookbook I passed up those few weeks ago.  Coulda.  Woulda.  Shoulda. chocolate crunch bars 5 These bars are beyond anything I’ve made in quite some time.  They are the perfect bite of chocolate after any meal (breakfast included).  One of my goals this new year was to give away pretty much all of what I bake, save for a taste here or there for me and my husband.  But I do not want to do that with these.  I want to hide them in the depths of my refrigerator and not tell anyone they live there.  I want to sneak little pieces of them after meals for the rest of my days.  I want them forever and always. To make a 9 x 9 panful of chocolate crunch bars, you will need:

  • 1 1/2 pounds good dark chocolate (though I cobbled together some semi-sweet and dark chocolate I had in my baking drawer)
  • 1 stick butter, cut into several pieces
  • 2 T peanut butter
  • 1 T honey
  • 4 C Rice Krispies
  • sea salt

Melt chocolate and butter in double boiler.  Off heat, add peanut butter and honey.  Stir in Rice Krispies.  Pour mixture in parchment-lined, 9 x 9 pan.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Place in refrigerator or freezer till completely firm.  Slice into manageable chunks and enjoy all alone.  Don’t share if you don’t want to!

Some Help with your Resolution

It seems like all around the Internet, people are picking words for the year, not making resolutions.  But I have to believe there are some of us out there who still set a few intentions for the next 365 days of our lives.  If yours has anything to do with being/getting/staying healthy, allow me to introduce you to cauliflower fried rice.

cauliflower fried rice

Yes, cauliflower.

As in, the vegetable I detest except in this one casserole.

And now in this fried rice.  Because you pulse it in the food processor till it’s small and grainy, just like rice would be.  Throw in some soy sauce, and maybe even chili oil if you’re feeling daring, and you won’t know that you’re eating cauliflower.  Ali brought it for lunch one day and I had to run home and make it for myself.

To make cauliflower fried rice for 4, you will need:

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1/2 C frozen peas
  • 1/2 C frozen corn
  • 1/2 C shredded carrots
  • 1/2 C edamame
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, small diced
  • 1 T sesame oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 1 tsp. chili oil, if you have it, and if you like a kick (you could also add some Sriracha at the end)
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 C reduced sodium soy sauce

Throw large chunks of cauliflower in food processor and pulse till you have pieces about the size of grains of rice.

In large skillet, heat oil(s), garlic, and onions over medium heat and cook till soft, about 3 minutes.  Add frozen vegetables and cook another 3-4 minutes.  Add beaten eggs, and stir gently till scrambled.  Add cauliflower, and stir around till cooked through, 5-7 minutes.  For me, the key to knowing when everything was cooked through was to pick a forkful out of the skillet and try it.  Remove from heat, add soy sauce, and serve hot.

*A note – my husband really wanted to add shrimp to this