Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nutty Quinoa Salad

Usually in the winter I want something warm and comforting; roasted squash, hearty soups or spiced cider. And no matter how much I’d been warned about the winter here in Pittsburgh, I was not prepared. Today, with the wind chill, it’s 0 degrees outside. What makes it feel so cold here and is noticeably different from DC is the wind that rips through you when you walk down the street.

Last night I was in the mood for something seasonal and refreshing, which is not usually what you think of in winter. So we made a salad with what we had in the refrigerator and it was delicious. This is one of those meals that you feel good after; lightly filled with nutritious food.

Nutty Quinoa Salad

-for the salad
1 cup of quinoa, rinsed thoroughly until the water runs clear
½ cup of raw hazelnuts
1 cup of pomegranate seeds
1 medium cucumber, diced
2 cups of fresh spinach leaves, washed

-for the dressing
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses (optional)
Salt and pepper

Combine quinoa with 2 cups of water and some salt and bring to a boil. Add lid to the pot and turn the heat down to a simmer, for about 20 minutes (or until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid). Once cooked, set aside to cool.

Turn oven to 350 degrees. Toast hazelnuts on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes. Once they are finished, dump them into a dish towel and rub them to remove majority of the skins. Roughly chop them once they cool.

Add spinach leaves to a large bowl. Mix in quinoa, pomegranate, cucumber and hazelnuts.

Make dressing by putting oil, vinegar, pomegranate molasses and salt and pepper (to taste) in a small Tupperware container. Shake container until ingredients are well mixed.

Dress salad and serve immediately.

Alternatives: pine nuts instead of hazelnuts, dried cranberries instead of pomegranate seeds, bulgur instead of quinoa. Or add some crumbled goat cheese on top.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Homemade Pasta

It took me four tries to really get this recipe to a point where I felt comfortable sharing it. If you have a KitchenAid mixer, now is the time to enjoy how simple it makes life. My Mom told me that my Grandmother used to make hand cut noodles all the time and that her ratio was always 1 cup of flour to 1 egg. I figure grandmothers and mothers know best, so I gave it a try.

Homemade Pasta

-3 cups all purpose white flour
-1 cup semolina flour
-4 eggs
-1 tsp salt
-water, as needed

Sift together flours and salt into the mixing bowl. Add eggs, one at a time while mixing on medium speed. It should take about 3 minutes until the mixture is well blended. Add water, a little at a time until the ball is damp, but not soaking wet. Remove ball of dough and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Take dough out and cut into 4 pieces, that are approximately the same size. Place 3 pieces back in plastic wrap to keep it moist. Lightly flour your workspace and begin to roll dough out until it's thin enough to see light through. Note: My Mom has a dough board and I rolled it until I could see the wood grain coming through the dough. Feel free to keep patting flour on the dough until you get it rolled out to the sufficient thickness. I flipped the dough a few times while I rolled it out, which seemed to help achieve an even thinness throughout the piece. Once dough is rolled out, cut off rough edges to get a rectangle. This doesn't need to be perfect, just approximate. Once you have the rectangle, flour the dough one more time, lightly. Fold the dough over four or five times. Now slice the noodles to your desired thickness.

One you are done slicing the folded dough, unfold the noodles and lay on a dish rag to dry while you repeat the process to the other 3 pieces of dough. If you only want to use a single portion, make sure the dough is wrapped tightly and store in the refrigerator overnight. Once you have all the noodles prepared, boil a large pot of salted water. Place noodles in and boil for about 7 minutes. They should be floating; don't forget to test one before you strain the whole pot. Top with your favorite sauce or throw them in a skillet with the other ingredients to mix well and enjoy!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Homemade Ricotta

After all our bellies were stuffed and the dishes were done this weekend, I found myself back in the kitchen. My Mom has the best kitchen and I always love cooking when I visit. She had the new Barefoot Contessa cookbook, How Easy is That?, so we tried our hand at homemade ricotta cheese. It was delicious and so easy to make. Here's the recipe:

Homemade Ricotta
-adapted from How Easy it That

-1 quart whole milk
-2 cups cream
-1 teaspoon salt
-3 tablespoons white vinegar

Mix together salt, milk and cream in a non-reactive pot (stainless steel or enamel). Bring to boil, careful not to burn the ingredients. Remove from heat and add vinegar. Mixture should start to curdle immediately. After a few minutes, pour the mixture into a fine mesh strainer with several layers of cheese cloth and strain into a bowl for 30-40 minutes. Enjoy immediately or keep leftovers in the fridge for about 5 days.

Tip: My Mom had a really thin dish cloth, like a handkerchief, that we used instead of cheese cloth which worked out well. Don't go to the store to buy cheese cloth just for this recipe; you probably have something you can use and throw in the wash!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Grow Your Own Mushrooms

I like to grow my own food, but always thought the mushroom kits I saw in my seed catalogs seemed gimmicky. But I just read about a new kit here and am going to give it a try and will keep you posted! I must say that it seems like a really fun gift for the holidays, and if you buy two, you get free shipping!

Macaroni and Cheese

Sometimes you just want comfort food for dinner; enough for a small army. I’ve tried a few macaroni and cheese recipes. All were delicious, including the blue cheese version (!) but none quite hit the spot like this one. There is a lot of fat in this, no doubt, but you’ll only want a small portion since it’s so heavenly, I mean heavy.

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
Recipe adapted from Epicurious

1 lb macaroni, preferably whole wheat

½ stick unsalted butter
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
¼ lb coarsely grated sharp cheddar
½ cup grated parmesan

1 stick unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups whole milk
1 pound coarsely grated extra sharp cheddar
½ cup grated parmesan
Smoked paprika

Grease lasagna pan or 2 2-quart baking dishes

Make the topping: Mix together cheese for topping and panko breadcrumbs in a bowl. Melt butter and pour over mixture. Stir until combined well.

Cook macaroni so that it is al dente. Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid. Drain and set in large bowl.

Make sauce: Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in flour, cooking roux for about 3 minutes, while stirring. Whisk in milk, one cup at a time. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly, otherwise the bottom will burn to the pan. When it starts boiling and sauce puffs up, pull off heat and let it simmer down for a few minutes. Pour over drained macaroni. Add cheeses, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika to taste. Keep in mind that smoked paprika is strong, so you don’t need that much. Stir and combine sauce, cheese and macaroni until combined well. Add 1 cup of cooking liquid from macaroni.

Pour macaroni mixture into baking dishes. Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni and bake on the middle rack for 25 minutes.

Savory Bread Pudding

It’s official; Fall has begun at our house. The tomatoes are giving their last hurrah at the grocery store before they become the mealy, gassed kind you find all winter. I found myself in the kitchen last night with one last beautiful, local tomato that weighed a hefty pound all on its own. I was tempted to make a refreshing salad with it to have one last glimpse of summer, but my tomato was starting to see its final days and was begging to be cooked.

Did you ever have stewed tomatoes growing up? My mom would always make them and we’d spoon some on top of our macaroni and cheese. It was such a good combination of acid and cream. I decided I wanted something like that for dinner; something hearty and wholesome. After reviewing a few recipes I had in mind, I decided on a savory bread pudding. It was delicious and was the first time I felt like I appreciated cayenne in a recipe. You didn’t taste the heat at all, but merely felt it on your tongue after you ate each bite. It was a tease that I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope you will too.

Savory Bread Pudding
-adapted from here (

1 lb tomatoes, cored and cubed (peeled if you like)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Pinch of cayenne
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
4 large basil leaves, loosely torn
2 slices of bread with crusts removed, cut into ¾ inch cubes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put cubed tomatoes, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar in small sauce pan over medium-low heat. Simmer about 5 minutes. Add basil and cayenne halfway through.

Melt butter in microwave; about 10 seconds. Pour melted butter over bread cubes. Toss to lightly coat.

Split bread cubes between 2 ramekins. Pour stewed tomatoes over bread. Place in oven for 20 minutes.

Enjoy with a salad or be totally gluttonous and serve it with homemade macaroni and cheese like I did. Let husband fill up on your macaroni while you finish the rest of his bread pudding in pure bliss.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gluten Free Girl & The Chef

I've been following Gluten Free Girl for quite some time. Her blog has amazing recipes and she writes with raw emotion. Her book is just as beautiful with her talent in the kitchen and for writing. She is about to release another book with The Chef, her husband. They posted a little video on their website and I had to share it. It captures them so wonderfully.

Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef from Daniel Ahern on Vimeo.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lemon Ginger Dressing, Amaranth Greens & Some News

Whew! Well, this summer is certainly whooshing by. You know those pictures where it looks like everything is standing still but there is a blurred person walking through it? That's what life feels like right now.

I know you are thinking to yourself, "Damn that's a long post title" or maybe "Yummy! Lemon ginger dressing. But what are amaranth greens and what's the news?" Let me start with the news. My husband and I (well only me for 2 more weeks) have moved to Pittsburgh from DC. We had been in DC for 13 years and needed a change of pace....and scenery. Don't get me wrong. I love DC. It's such a great city. But I was feeling tired and I was ready to explore. So, why Pittsburgh, right? We came up to Pittsburgh about 3 years ago to look at a firehouse for sale. Chad is a potter by heart and the firehouse is converted to artist studios and has 2 kilns. So, kilns on the first floor, a basement that could hold more preserves than your grandmother could ever make, loft style living on the second floor and the kicker - it came with 3 plots of land. Hello community garden! So we visited a few times and realized that we were drawn to the city itself and after a while the firehouse no longer became the reason we'd visit. Several architect's bills later and we decided that the firehouse was not in our budget. Even in Pittsburgh where I still gasp at the low cost of groceries, beer and other essentials. We rented a place for now and are looking for something unique with some land that will meet our criteria. But for now, I have space to relax for a second. And to enjoy my own adventures in the kitchen. But until I make some fabulous discoveries that will make me famous and ensure a lifetime of luxury, I want to take some time to review some favorite recipes from our kitchen.

And here I leave you with a staple in our kitchen that we got from the lovely Jaden Hair where she was a guest on the Simply Recipes blog that ignited my passion for the kitchen:

Lemon Ginger Dressing

-from Simply Recipes

-3/4 teaspoon Cayenne
-Grated zest of 1 lemon
-1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
-1/2 tablespoon grated ginger
-1/4 cup rice vinegar
-1/3 cup soy sauce
-1 tablespoon honey
-1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
-3 tablespoons olive oil

Whirl all the ingredients except the olive oil in the blender. Slowly pour in the oil and mix well.

I make this to throw on some noodles with whatever vegetables I have in the fridge. I imagine it'd be good for chicken, fish or salad. And I bet it'd be great on a lentil salad that would be incredibly refreshing during this hot summer heat.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the Amaranth greens! I can't speak highly enough about one of my favorite food websites: Serious Eats. They recently discussed Amaranth greens on the column Seriously Asian. I wilted them tonight and threw them on some noodles with edamame and you guessed it... lemon ginger dressing! The Amaranth greens were from a local asian grocery store. If you have one by you, go get some. I'm not sure they have a long season and they are cheap! I paid less than two dollars for a huge bag(think family-size potato chip bag) and they were delicious.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Big Chef, Small Farmer

This video was featured on one of my favorite food blogs Serious Eats. It helped me gain some perspective on the struggle that large restaurants have using small, boutique farms.

Sky Full of Bacon 15: Big Chef Small Farmer from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Garlic Scapes

This is the first year garlic scapes are on my radar. We went to the garden and harvested all of our peas and garlic scapes. Apparently farmers take the scapes of garlic so that the plant can focus energy on the bulbs. Coincidently, there was a post on Serious Eats that featured garlic scape recipes. Tonight we're having the garlic scape pesto with pasta and a garden salad.

Garlic Scape Pesto
-Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

Recipe for Garlic Scape Pesto

- makes about 1 cup -

1/4 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup coarsely chopped garlic scapes
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese


1. Toast the pine nuts. Most folks toast them on a skillet, but I prefer to put them in our metal bread pan and to throw them in the oven while cook other stuff in the oven for dinner. I'm much less likely to burn them. Let cool after you toast them.

2. Put scapes, pine nuts, lemon juice and zest, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse about 20 times, until fairly well combined. Pour in the olive oil slowly through the feed tube while the motor is running. When the oil is incorporated, transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the grated cheese.

Do you know the dirty dozen?

-Spring peas from our garden

The Environmental Working Group released a shopping guide of fruits and vegetables that have large amounts of pesticide residue on them. They are known as the Dirty Dozen and those without much residue are known as the Clean 15. The lists are included below. Even if you can't grow all your own, or buy it all at the farmer's market, try to keep these in mind when you purchase produce at the grocery store. I know times are tight for folks on a budget, so if you can focus on eating organic for these foods specifically, they estimate that you'll reduce your exposure to pesticides by 80 percent. So, keep the list in your wallet, iPhone, blackberry, or written on your hand; send it out to family and friends; grow what you can; and buy organic and local when possible!

The Dirty Dozen

Domestic blueberries
Sweet bell peppers
Spinach, kale and collard greens
Imported grapes

The Clean 15

Sweet corn
Sweet peas
Kiwi fruit
Sweet potatoes
Sweet onions

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Peas! It's what's for dinner!

Remember that little dinner I mentioned? Here's a picture of the inspiration. With the recent rain, our garden is bursting with green!

Post Pittsburgh Cleansing

My husband and I absolutely adore Pittsburgh, but we found ourselves eating more than our fare share of greasy/non-local foods during our visit this weekend. This morning we were chatting on e-mail about what to have for dinner tonight. Yes, we are geeks, but as you can probably tell, we're passionate about food. I was so excited when I was able to put together a meal in my mind based on what's fresh and ready for harvest in the garden. We're going to have a farro salad with peas, mint, shallots and goat cheese with a walnut oil vinaigrette. And for a side we are going to have wilted spinach and beet greens with pine nuts and golden raisins. The peas, mint, shallots, spinach and beet greens will all be coming from our garden plot. My mouth is watering in anticipation of how good the fresh greens will be. We've also got garlic, red onions, carrots, lettuce, and kale close to being ready for harvest. Before we know it, we'll have tomatoes galore (we have 8 plants this year!), tomatillos, cucumbers, beets, fennel, cherry peppers, jalepenos and fingerling potatoes. Chad is particularly excited about the tomatoes this year. I'll post some pictures soon of what's coming up in the garden. Anyone else out there growing some good food?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Twist on the Old Pasta Salad Recipe

I love pasta salad. No, not the types you get smothered in mayonnaise or ranch dressing with fake bacon bits. But real pasta salad that showcases whatever fresh produce and herbs you have on hand. And some really good olive oil. I decided to try a recipe from one of my favorite blogs, 101 cookbooks. You use saffron-infused red wine vinegar for the dressing. Honestly, my taste buds are usually able to predict what to expect, but I couldn't imagine what I was in for with this one. I loved that it was simple and featured asparagus.

And how excited are you that it's asparagus season?! We have someone in our community garden that dedicates half of their plot to asparagus. It's beautiful. Have you ever seen asparagus growing? It looks like huge, overgrown ferns. I'm always tempted to steal some for myself each Spring, but I've been able to control myself so far.

Here's the recipe for Asparagus Pasta Salad:

Adapted from 101 cookbooks

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
pinch saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 medium size lemon
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 lb pasta (penne works well)
1 lb asparagus cut into 1/2 inch pieces
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

Heat garlic and olive oil in a skillet. Add mushrooms and saute until tender.

Add the red wine vinegar to a small saucepan with the saffron and bring to a simmer. Once it starts to simmer, remove from heat and let cool.

Cook pasta according to directions on package. Add the asparagus during the last minute of cooking. Drain and rinse pasta and asparagus with cool water.

Put the vinegar/saffron mix into a small mixing bowl with the lemon juice and mustard. Whisk in the olive oil. Add cream at the end and salt to taste.

Put the cooked pasta, asparagus and mushrooms into a large bowl. Cover with vinaigrette and toss. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Add goat cheese and pine nuts and enjoy!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Winter Farro Salad

I know some folks hate the snow, but I think it's absolutely beautiful outside today. Snow makes everything so serene and is the perfect excuse to cook up something nourishing! Here's the second recipe that I adore for the winter:

Winter Farro Salad
-adapted from David Lebovitz
-6 servings

1 1/2 cups of farro
1 bay leaf
2 lbs of seasonal vegetables, cubed (parsnips, carrots, beets, brussels sprouts, squash)
2 shallots, chopped
1/2 lb portobello mushrooms, coarsley chopped
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 lemon
walnut oil (or another good tasting oil for dressing)
1/3 cup of olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil with a good amount of salt. Once boiling, add the farro and bay leaf. It should take 30-40 minutes to cook completely.

3. Put cubed vegetables on a baking sheet with thyme sprigs and bake for 20-30 minutes until they start to brown and can easily be pierced with a fork.

4. Sauté mushrooms and shallots with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper until brown.

5. Drain farro once it's cooked. Dress with 1/3 cup of olive oil, 2 tbsp of red wine vinegar and lemon juice. Toss lightly to mix ingredients.

6. Add roasted vegetables and sauteed mushrooms. Remove thyme sprigs before you add the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste and season with a bit of walnut oil on top.

Serve warm.

*If you want a bit of sweet, add craisins. That's what David Lebovitz does.
*If you have some hard cheese sitting in your fridge, shave it on top when you serve

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Recipes that get me through the winter

There are the two recipes that get me through winter. Both are salads of sorts. The first recipe is a warm winter salad and is easy, and so damn tasty.

Warm Winter Salad
-adapted from Serious Eats
-serves 4- (or 2 who want some leftovers for work the next day)

Half a loaf of artisan bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
Small butternut squash cut into 1 inch cubes (you can substitute sweet potatoes here, but you miss out on the creamy goodness)
1 lb of brussels sprouts cut into halves
2 shallots, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
4-5 fresh sage leaves, chopped
Good hard cheese (dry aged goat, manchego, parmesan)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
2. Put bread cubes on a baking sheet and the squash and brussels sprouts on another
3. Drizzle olive oil over bread and vegetables and sprinkle vegetables with chopped sage
4. Add salt and pepper to taste to both baking sheets and put in the oven
5. Take out the bread cubes after 10 minutes and the vegetables after 15-20 minutes. I like to let my veggies go a bit longer to caramelize.
6. Whisk together olive oil and red wine vinegar with some salt and pepper to taste
7. Line two wide soup bowls with toasted bread
8. Layer vegetables on top
9. Sprinkle chopped shallots over the vegetables
10. Top each with some vinaigrette
11. Shave good quality cheese on top

My husband and I have been eating this almost once a week during the last two winters and we never tire of it. In fact, we always get a little excited when it's "warm winter salad night".

I can think of a bunch of variations depending on what is in your fridge:

-use walnut or hazelnut oil for the dressing
-throw some crumbled blue or goat cheese in at the end instead of shaved cheese
-throw other vegetables into the mix: parsnips and leeks come to mind as tasty choices
-throw other herbs into the mix: roast veggies with sprigs of fresh thyme on top or add fresh chopped herbs to the dressing

Most importantly, enjoy and adapt as you see fit!

For the Greener Good

Last night I went to the National Building Museum for a lecture about urban agriculture. Josh Viertel, from Slow Food USA, was particularly inspiring. His points challenged me to shift away from the idealistic nature of locavores. He was frank about the fact that there needs to be incentives created for people for this movement to move forward. Something that he spoke about caught me. He talked about the demographics of those in urban areas that are food insecure and that they are the same demographic of those who suffer most from obesity. Think about it. We all need to eat. If a community, particularly an urban area, has clear evidence of the poor distribution of food, isn't that a sign of poor distribution of jobs, healthcare, adequate housing? Some people don't need to work; some don't need health care that often; but we all need to eat.