Category Archives: Winter

2011 Gift Guide: Edible Edition

This year, I really want to make some of my gifts, and since I was never one for shop class our friends and family can expect gifts made from chocolate and flours, not wood and glue.

I know, of course, that during the holiday season you’re able to find a variety of goods and gummies, but nothing says love, and hopefully “yum”, like something handmade and homemade.

Make: Spice Cookies, Pistachio Trees, Spiced Nuts, Savory Cookies, Caramel Sauce, Ginger Sesame Brittle, Meringues, Almond Bark, Gummy Drops

These edible gifts are my inspiration as I head into the kitchen.  There are a variety of flavors, textures and treats.  I love the idea of surprising bites, and taking classic and traditional treats and adding some sophisticated flavors to them.

What is your favorite edible gift to give?  Tell me in the comments!

Pre-Game Snacks

I really do love football, but this weekend’s “big game” is not really luring me in.  I am not into the teams, and I’m not into the location being a snowy Dallas…

In any case, I am into making food for the “big game”.  Did you know that only NFL and the network broadcasting the game are allowed to use the term Super Bowl in a marketing context… little known fact!

If I was having a party for the Big Game I would serve up some of these healthy favorites!
Candied Pecans!
Stuffed Mushrooms!
Sweet Potato Chips and Spicy Arugula Pesto
For more inspiration and to honor the teams playing, The Greenbay Packers and The Pittsburgh Steelers, how about these recipes:

Roasted Cauliflower and Lentil Salad

Between all of the baking I really try to make our dinners filled with an abundance of seasonal vegetables and big bold flavors.  Last week it was all about cauliflower.  Roasted, delicious cauliflower.  This very easy recipe was a snap for a weeknight dinner entree, side or weekend lunch.  It was divine – which is saying a lot for a veggie.

Roasted Cauliflower and Lentil Salad
One Head of Cauliflower
1/2 Vidalia Onion
1 cup of cooked lentils
1/4 cup raisins
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tbsp White Wine Vinegar
1 teaspoon Curry Powder
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
Salt and Pepper to taste
Oven at 400 degrees
Instead of cutting the cauliflower into little trees, cut the head into slices across the sphere. 
In a small glass whisk the oil and vinegar and add the curry and paprika, salt and pepper.  The “dressing” now has a burnt orange color and fragrant scent.

I dipped the head of each cauliflower slice into the dressing and laid them all out on a covered cookie sheet.  With the remaining dressing, reserve about 1 tablespoon and drizzle the excess over the cauliflower.  Bake in over for 35 minutes.
With 10 minutes left on the cauliflower timer slice the onion and throw all of the onion slices into the remaining dressing.  In a non-stick pan over medium heat, cook the dressed onions until they are nearly translucent.  Add the pre-cooked lentils (I always use pre-steamed lentils from Trader Joe’s/Whole Foods/Wegman’s) and the raisins and allow the flavors to integrate completely.
When the cauliflower has fully cooked the dressed spots will be sweetly caramelized and the heads will be browned (and extra delicious)!

Add the cauliflower to the pan with the onion, lentils and raisins and let all of those flavors dance together and serve.  That is a delicious bowl of winter.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

Risotto is a favorite dish in our house.  It is fairly easy to make, inexpensive to make a lot of and is a great alternative to pasta for a gluten free diet, and a vegetarian main course.

So risotto is one of those things where you can experiment a little bit with ingredients, as long as you follow the rules with timing.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
1 Butternut Squash, chopped in 1-2″ pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt, Pepper, Paprika to taste

1 onion, chopped finely
3 carrots, chopped finely
3 stalks of celery, chopped finely
4 cups of Vegetable/Chicken Broth
1 1/2 cup of arborio rice
2 tbsp of butter
1/4 cup of white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmigiana
Salt and Pepper to taste

Peel and cut the butternut squash and put all chopped pieces in a colander and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle of salt, pepper and paprika.  On a covered cookie sheet lay out the pieces of squash and bake in the oven for 35 minutes at 375 degrees.

Once the squash is in the oven, move onto the risotto.  In a separate sauce pan bring the vegetable/chicken stock to a boil.  
In a large sauce pan add 1/2 tbsp of butter to the pan and then add the finely chopped onion, carrots, and celery. Add salt and pepper to taste – just a pinch, because you’ll continue to layer the flavors.

When the vegetables are softened add the rice to the pan on medium/low heat and let it saute until the pieces are translucent.  When the rice is translucent add the first ladle of stock.
Let the rice simmer in the broth, stirring frequently, until it is completely absorbed.  When the broth is absorbed add another ladle and continue the process of adding, stirring, absorbing until all of the stock is used up.   You’ll notice that as the broth is being absorbed the rice with release it’s natural starchiness and become creamy. 

After the last ladle, but before the broth is completely absorbed make a well in the rice and add a cup of the now roasted squash.  Using a potato masher (or a spoon), mash up the cup of squash and combine it with the risotto.  The mashed squash adds beautiful color and rich flavor.
Then add the rest of the squash, the remaining butter (in pieces) and the parmigiana cheese and gently stir all of the ingredients. 

This is a perfect winter weeknight dinner, enjoy the comfort of good food!

Pear Cranberry Muffins

This weekend I finally got back to baking.  After the holidays I didn’t have a lot of baking interest, which is not to say I wasn’t still consuming baked goods by the handful, I was.  In any case, I wanted to foray back into the flour, sugar, butter and eggs with a healthy and seasonal pick.

Pear Cranberry Muffins 
1/4 + 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp nonfat Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
zest of one orange
1 cup chopped Bosc Pear
1/4 cup chopped fresh cranberries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Set oven to 350 degrees, bake for 25  minutes
This looks like maybe a lot of ingredients, but it is really pretty simple, and very easy, and beyond delicious.  Yes, I received comments like “this is the best muffins you’ve ever made!”.  So, what are you waiting for?

In a small saucepan melt the 2 tbsp of butter, and set aside to cool.  In a small bowl whisk the egg and then add the Greek yogurt and continue to whisk.  At this stage is may start to resemble cottage cheese, do not worry.  Slowly add the cooled, but melted butter and the sugar and continue to whisk.  
Now the egg mixture is a beautiful creamy golden color.  At this time add the fresh squeeze orange juice, the zest and the vanilla, give this a good whisk and set aside.

In a separate bowl mix the flours, baking powder, baking soda and spices.  Set this aside and move onto the chopping of the pears, cranberries and walnuts.
Create a well in the flour bowl and pour in the egg mixture and mix enough to fully incorporate the dry and wet ingredients.   With a spoon mix in the the chopped pears, cranberries and walnuts.
With a large spoon scoop the batter into muffin cups and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

These muffins are a delight, full of moisture, seasonal fruits and low in calories.  Secret: These beat those packages 100 calories vita-muffins in flavor, and health!

A New Twist on a Traditional Favorite

We cook at home just about every night, and we do so for a lot of reasons: it’s cheaper, it’s healthier, it’s easier and often it’s just as good.  The trick however, become making home cooked meals interesting and fun.

This weekend I took a seasonal favorite, sweet potato and upped the ante.  
Sweet Potato Coins with Arugula Pesto
2 Sweet Potatoes (I used 1 yam – that’s the lighter color)
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt, Pepper, Paprika to taste (just a light sprinkle)
We do homemade fries a lot, so this was a nice change.  Cut the potatoes into 1/4″ coins.  I put all of them in a colander and drizzle with olive oil so that all of the coins get an even coating.

Sprinkle the salt, pepper and paprika over the coins on a tin foil covered cookie sheet.
Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  You could go longer, but 30 minutes gives the coins enough time to be crispy and golden brown.
You could stop now, and eat.  You’ll be happy, I promise.  Or… you can take it up a notch.

Arugula Pesto
2 handfuls of arugula
1.5 tbsp of pine nuts
1 tbsp fresh grated parmesean cheese
1/2 tbsp of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a food processor blend all of ingredients, using a spatula to scrape down the sides.  This is a dish that you can’t really screw up, because you can continue to taste to check your flavors. I like it garlicky, maybe you want a bit less, so it is very easy to adjust.

A traditional pesto features basil, I went with arugula because we had a lot on hand and it no longer had the crisp bite that I would want for a salad.  No wasting in our house, and this new use for salad greens was a huge success, and a delicious dip for the sweet potato “chips”.

Italian French Toast

I consider myself a connoisseur of French Toast, and having said that I think the only way you can really make a good French Toast is with challah, brioche if you’re fancy, egg bread if you’re not.

It is very difficult to find a challah in DC that rivals Publix’s challah, which is just as good since I have graduated to whole wheat bread, but when it comes to French Toast healthy just doesn’t make sense. 

What do I substitute for challah?  Panettone.  Made in Italy, Panettone is a dome of rich egg bread studded with raisins, currants and sometimes bits of orange.  They are a traditional Italian Christmas treat and Panettone french toast has become a bit of a tradition for our family.  Because Panettone stays fresh (and delicious) for a very long time, the shelf life of this recipe last long after Christmas ends.

Panettone French Toast Ingredients
1 medium sized Panettone 
4 eggs
1/3 cup of skim milk
1 tsp of vanilla
1/2 tsp of almond extract
2 tsp of cinnamon
1/4 tbsp of butter for the pan
In a medium sized bowl whisk together the eggs and the milk and then add the extracts and the cinnamon.  Some people like lots of cinnamon, if you’re one of those people, add more.

Slice your panettone across the dome and then cut those pieces in half – I do this to make it easier to manage in the pan, but it also helps with the portion control 🙂

Dip each piece of pannettone into the egg mixture so that each slice is completely covered.

In a non stick pan, or a griddle pan, cook the slices so that they are golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes each.  Tip: use a flat, wide spatula to help maneuver the slices.  Because the bread has a softer texture than a wheat bread they can get  a bit flimsy in the batter.

Serve with your favorite jam, a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar, syrup or nothing at all.  Enjoy!  Buon Appetito!

The Best Winter Salad – Seriously

In the winter I am pretty much a salad hater.  I just can’t get behind the arugula and mixed greens that I love in the spring and summer, they all just seem so blech…  Until this weekend.

In full disclosure I did not create this recipe, in fact besides finding the recipe and eating it, I have done nothing constructive.  Mark has made this salad two times in four days and I have enjoyed it everytime.  
Spiced Butternut Squash and Lentil Salad Ingredients
3/4 cup lentils
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and “cubed”
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 cups baby arugula
1/2 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

When we first made this it was for an impromptu New Year’s Eve dinner, happily lentils are lucky on New Years Eve.  Also lucky is that all of these ingredients were available prepared.  I am no “Semi-homemade” but, if you want to save time you can find butternut squash already peeled and cut into chunks (Trader Joe’s, Wegman’s) and lentils that have already been cooked (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Wegman’s).  Major, major time savers.

Otherwise, you can peel the squash and then cut it into 1″ thick rounds until you reach the base of the squash, and then cut the base in half and continue to cube.  I’d recommend keeping the pieces on the larger side, and forgo the urge for perfectly small squares.  The larger pieces stay firmer and provide a great texture.  I promise, it’s really very simple, and nearly impossible to screw up.

Toss the cubed squash with cumin, paprika and salt and bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, and then flip the pieces and cook for another 15 minutes.  
Look at those delicious pieces of squash — ahh, Heaven!
Let the squash cool and then layer it with the lentils, which I had at room temperature, but they could also be warm, and the crumbled goat cheese and argula… Or, you could skip the arugula, it’s still pretty healthy.

To dress the “best winter salad ever” combine the left over oil/juice from the pan the squash baked on, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

I realize this doesn’t seem too salad-y, but it is a great way to play with new ingredients (lentils or goat cheese), and it is beautiful to see and eat and really affordable to prepare and it keeps well for leftovers.

Share with friends, I am sure this is lucky after New Years, too!

Clementines, Simply the Best

Sometimes you don’t need a recipe.  Sometimes after pies, cookies, cakes, tarts, lasagnas, risottos, cheeses and dips you don’t need a recipe.

You just need a piece of fruit.  
It is cold outside so warm cookies seem to make more sense, but your body will thank you for this.  Clementines are like the most perfect piece of fruit, perfectly wrapped up, in what I referred to as a “fruit purse” to Mark this morning.

What is your favorite fruit?

Tomato Soup + Grilled Cheese… Winter Perfection

You know what you’re supposed to do when it looks like this where you live?  

I’ll tell you.  You’re supposed to make soup.  A big bowl of soup, filled with vegetables and not much else.  If you’re looking for extra warmth then of course you’ll need a grilled cheese sandwich to go with it.

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwich
1 Yellow Onion
2 Cloves of Garlic
4 Stalks of Celery
3 Medium Carrots
1/2 – 1 Red Pepper
1 – 12 oz. Can on Diced Tomatoes
3 cups of Low Sodium Chicken Stock
1/2 tbsp of unsalted butter
1 tbsp Olive Oil
Basil to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste
A splash of milk, totally optional
Grated Parmesean Cheese, also optional but, really good
Makes soup for 4 people, or 2-3 very hungry, cold people
Set up your soup pot over low to medium heat with 2 swirls of olive oil.  Then add the diced onion and thinkly sliced carrots and celery into the pot.  Sprinkle a little bit of salt and stir the veggies gently and let that simmer for a few minutes.  Then add diced garlic.  Seriously, at this point you could just stand there and absorb the aroma – there are few smells I enjoy more than cooking garlic.

After the garlic, onions, celery and carrots get to know each other add thinly sliced red pepper.  I only had half of a pepper, maybe if I had a whole one I would have used a whole one.  The pepper adds a richer, sweet flavor and a beautiful deep red to the veggies. 
At this point I added a touch of butter and gave the veggies another good stir and let them continue to do their thing.  After 8-10 minutes of the veggies cooking the onion should be thoroughly translucent and the carrots softened.

Add the three cups of chicken stock and the can of tomatoes and give it another stir with one final sprinkle of salt.  Turn the heat up to bring it to a boil.  Once the soon-to-be soup is boiling place the top on and reduce the heat to low for 15 minutes.

While the soup is getting soupy it is time to make a grilled cheese sandwich.  Here is the thing, I know that grilled cheese sandwiches can be make with tomatoes, bacon, fancy, cheeses, beautiful challah (my personal favorite), and sweet and savory jams, but, when I have a grilled cheese with soup I always go with an old faithful, American Cheese.  Yes, wrapped in plastic and not really cheese at all, it is the perfect melty goodness perfect for soup dipping.

Grilled Cheese Ingredients – silly, I know
2 slices of Multi-grain bread
Some butter, not a lot, really
1 1/2 slices of American Cheese per sandwich
Double as needed
Lightly butter both sides of the bread.  Very lightly.  Place cheese in between slices.  Put bread together and then put on a pan, or even better for a more authentic panini experience, grill it on a press or the George Foreman grill you still have from college.  Cook the sandwich on both sides (of a pan) until browned and the cheese is melted, or on the grill press for 3 – 4 minutes.
I like a smoother soup, and I like being able to use the random kitchen tools we have so out came the immersion blender.  You can also use a food processor.  The quick blend – 3 – 5 pulses takes the soup from a chunky minestrone style soup to the more classic tomato soup.

Be fancy, serve it cute.  This is a fairly healthy meal that will leave you feeling full, comforted from the cold and great to share.  Extra points to Mark for his great food styling and photography!