Thursday, March 29, 2012

Za'atar breadsticks with Middle Eastern tomato sauce


Okay, so it seems like I am the last food blogger in the world to join PinterestI think I'm more of a verbal than visual person, so I prefer browsing recipes in cookbooks or recipe sites rather than looking at pictures alone. But I finally joined Pinterest and made my first boards last week, and although I'm not totally obsessed, it sure is fun! I've especially enjoyed collecting pictures of pretty desserts, which lets me imagine that I might become a master of cookie/cake decorating in the future (considering how rarely I make anything with frosting, this is highly unlikely). Of course, I've also been pinning pictures of regular meals, and one of these inspired this recipe. While I was browsing pizza pictures, I came across one of za'atar pizza, which I thought was a cool idea. Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend that is often mixed with olive oil as a dip for bread. I decided to take this idea and make za'atar-dusted breadsticks, with a jazzed up tomato sauce for dipping. Making the tomato sauce also gave me an opportunity to use another traditional Middle Eastern ingredient that I just bought for the first time - pomegranate molasses. I'm not going to make any claims as to whether the tomato sauce I made is anything like an authentic Middle Eastern recipe. I'll just say that it's tasty, a little sweeter, spicier, and more tart than the tomato sauce you may be used to, with a fruity undertone from the pomegranate molasses. The sauce works well with the spices on the breadsticks, and this dish makes a fun appetizer. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some more pictures to pin!


Have you ever used za'atar or pomegranate molasses?


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Monster cookies


I've been holding out on you. I made these cookies for my thesis defense party several weeks ago and haven't gotten around to sharing the recipe until now. I wanted to space out the dessert recipes a bit, but it's been a month since the last one, so I think it's about time for some sweets! The recipe for these cookies came from the Baked cookbook. I had never heard of monster cookies before I came across this recipe, but apparently they are well known in certain areas. If you are unfamiliar with them, monster cookies are peanut butter oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips and M&Ms. According to the authors of the recipe, they are called monster cookies because they are the Frankenstein's monster of the cookie world - a mashup of different components. (Also, I got 60 largeish cookies when I made this, but the recipe says it yields 36, so the cookies that they serve at the Baked shop must be pretty monstrous in size). Now, I think oatmeal chocolate chip cookies beat oatmeal raisin every time, and I love peanut butter, so mixing it all together sounded great to me!

To be honest, I wasn't thrilled with these cookies when I first made them. They were good, but not amazing. But then I stuck a bunch of leftover cookies in the freezer after the party and ate them over the following weeks, microwaving them briefly to thaw them. Well, microwaving did the trick and made me love these - it softened them up slightly and made them a little warm, but left the chocolate chips and M&Ms solid, just the way I like it. Perfect with a glass of milk as a snack or dessert. Too bad I finished the batch - I could really go for one right now...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mango fried rice with cashews and shrimp


You might have noticed that I've been posting a lot of original recipes lately. I'm officially done with grad school now, and I am taking some time off to relax and do some career-related introspection, along with lots of cooking, of course! Creating my own recipes is a little project that I've been working on now that I have more free time. I still spend plenty of quality time with my cookbooks and reading food blogs/websites, but the recipes I see serve mostly as inspiration as I develop my own ideas.

This inspiration for this fried rice recipe came from both a cookbook and a blog. I was flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, Ottolenghi's Plenty, last week and a recipe for mango and coconut rice salad caught my eye. And then I saw Lauren's recent post about kale salad with mango and avocado which also looked pretty tasty. I don't know if it was the incredible warm weather last week, but I was really craving tropical fruit! Anyway, those two salad recipes ended up getting merged in my mind and morphing into this fried rice. It's got shrimp, cashews, mango, toasted coconut, onion, red bell pepper, kale, ginger, and loads of cilantro and basil (if there's one lesson I've learned from Plenty, it is that I shouldn't be afraid to really amp up the amount of herbs I use in my cooking). I'm very proud of this recipe - it's pretty freaking delicious. The mango ends up kind of melting into the rice and adding a great sweet fruity note to the sauce. I really loved the combination of the tropical mango and coconut flavors with the local New England kale - all the ingredients really come together into a well rounded, filling, and flavorful meal.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Socca with caramelized onions, potatoes, and parmesan


Often when my parents come to visit us in Boston, my mom will cook up some delicious Indian food for us to eat (I'm a good cook, but my skills don't even come close to my mom's when it comes to Indian food!). One of these times, she bought a big bag of chickpea flour to make bondas, which are fried balls of spiced mashed potatoes dipped in chickpea flour batter. Mmmmmm, I'm getting hungry just thinking about them...Anyway, when my mom left, I had no idea what to do with the rather large quantity of chickpea flour that remained. It's been sitting in my pantry ever since. But this past week I came across a couple recipes for socca (also called farinata), which is a pancake made of chickpea flour, often seasoned with rosemary. Even though socca is traditionally eaten without toppings, the recipes I saw added some veggie toppings to make the dish more like a complete meal. I immediately knew that I had to try something similar. Based on the ingredients that I had around, I decided to top my socca with caramelized red onions, thinly sliced roasted potatoes, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Both Andrew and I loved the result - it made a lovely light meal with a green salad on the side, and the toppings worked really well with the rosemary and thyme seasonings that I used. I'm definitely going to be experimenting with more socca toppings in the future!

Do you have any suggestions for how to use chickpea flour?


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Granola bars


This past Sunday, I ran my first half marathon. A year ago, I never could have imagined that I was capable of running 13.1 miles. I would have told you that half marathons are for crazy people, because no sane person would ever run that far by choice. But now...I guess I've become one of those crazy people! I started running last May because I wanted to do cardio exercise more regularly and improve my fitness for health purposes. I slowly built up my mileage over several months and found that I really enjoyed long runs, even in sub-freezing temperatures. I eventually decided to run the Half of Quincy and couldn't have asked for a better experience for my first half marathon. The weather on Sunday was gorgeous, and the first few miles of the race were along the ocean, which I loved. My training paid off and I felt great on race day, although I'll admit that miles 11-13 were very challenging, both mentally and physically. My goals for the race were pretty modest, since I'm a new runner - I wanted to run/jog the whole thing without walking breaks, and I wanted to finish with a smile on my face. I'm proud to report that I accomplished both those things, and I already can't wait to do it again!


While I was training, I made a conscious effort to refuel properly after running. I wasn't trying to lose weight, so I tried to replace the calories I was burning by adding some healthy snacks to my routine. One of my go-to snacks was granola bars. I tend to find that packaged granola bars are often too sweet, too dry, or have some components (like certain nuts or fruits) that I don't care for. So it seemed obvious that I should develop a recipe of my own that is suited to my particular tastes! This granola bar recipe went through a couple iterations - the first version I made had nice flavor but the texture was too soft and the bars didn't hold together well. I made several changes and finally ended up with this version, which I love. The texture is chewy rather than hard, but the components of the bars still have good crunch. They are full of ingredients that you can feel good about, and have really great flavor with just the right amount of sweetness. I'll definitely be keeping a supply of these bars around as I train for my next race!


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sweet potato, kale, and black bean enchiladas


As a kid, enchiladas were my favorite thing to order when my family went out for Mexican food. For some reason though, I hadn't ever cooked enchiladas myself until recently. I guess I usually make tacos or burritos when I have a Mexican craving, and I never really thought about making enchiladas instead. But I was doing a freezer cleanout recently, and found a package of corn tortillas that needed to be used. I had also been wanting to experiment with making chile sauces, and enchiladas seemed like the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone. It took a couple tries for me to come up with a good chile sauce recipe, and I am thrilled with the final result that I am sharing with you here. It has a nice deep chile pepper flavor that is tempered by tomatoes, and it isn't too spicy. It worked really well with the sweet potato, kale, and mashed black bean filling that I used (spring is almost upon us, but until spring vegetables arrive, I'm perfectly happy eating kale and sweet potatoes!). I'm really glad I made a batch of 16 enchiladas for dinner - Andrew and I have been really enjoying the leftovers and I don't think they're going to last very long...

In other news, I finally created a Facebook page for my blog so that I can stop spamming my whole friend list with blog updates. You can "like" the page here if you are interested in following via Facebook:

p.s. I know it's St. Patrick's Day, and enchiladas are really not Irish. Sorry. They do pair well with beer though!

Is there a dish that you love eating at restaurants but have never tried making at home?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Quinoa veggie bowl with tofu and peanut-miso sauce


I have a confession – until recently, I didn’t like quinoa very much. Gasp! I hope this doesn’t ruin my credibility as a healthy(ish) food blogger. I guess I tend to prefer heartier grains and felt that quinoa was kind of….bland. However, a recipe for a quinoa/rice/veggie bowl in last month’s issue of Food & Wine caught my eye and put quinoa in my head. I tossed some ideas around for a while, and eventually decided to combine quinoa with toasted coconut, add some zucchini, broccoli, and tofu, and drizzle with a peanut-miso sauce. A little avocado on top made the dish complete, at least in my avocado-obsessed mind. I loved this healthy meal, and something about quinoa in this context just worked well for me. I’m definitely opening up to the idea of cooking with quinoa more often now!

What is your favorite quinoa recipe?


Monday, March 12, 2012

Sweet potato sandwiches with goat cheese, arugula, and avocado


When I'm looking for a vegetarian option at a cafe, I'm always happy to try a sweet potato sandwich. I've had some great ones, like the one at 3 Little Figs, but I've also had some disappointing ones, with textures and flavors that don't quite work. Last week I had one that was just so-so and decided that I should try my hand at making my own version. Here's what makes a good sweet potato sandwich, in my opinion: 1) fully cooked sweet potatoes (seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised what some places serve), 2) goat cheese, 3) a dressing or sauce that is both sweet and acidic, 4) good hearty bread. For my sandwich, I made a dressing with maple syrup and balsamic vinegar to toss with arugula, and also added some avocado because well, everything is better with avocado on top, right? It came out wonderful - we don't eat sandwiches at home too often, but this one might have to make another appearance soon!

What is your favorite sandwich?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Spiced pecans with rum glaze


It's no secret that I love cookbooks by the late Gourmet magazine, given how often I cook from The Gourmet Cookbook and Gourmet Today. In addition to those books, I also own copies of the 1979 edition of The Gourmet Cookbook, Volumes I and II (these were given to me at my bridal shower - such a thoughtful gift!), as well as The Gourmet Cookie Book, The Gourmet Menu Cookbook (1984), and The Best of Gourmet (2005 and 2006). I love looking through the books from different times and seeing how recipe writing, cooking styles, and photography have developed over the years.

The Gourmet Menu Cookbook in particular has some text that is really funny to read now because of how dated it is. For example, in the section about cocktail parties:
"At a small party in a servantless house, guests can usually be counted on to offer assistance by helping themselves...Food that can be served from trays and eaten with the fingers is best for a small party. To attempt to manage a plate, a glass, and a cigarette all at once can prove most uncomfortable."
Making sure the guests can manage their cigarettes is not usually the biggest concern for a host/hostess these days, but one thing that hasn't changed is the fact that roasted/spiced nuts are always a good party snack. I'm sure the recipes by Gourmet are quite good, but my go-to recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen. The pecans are perfectly spiced, and the rum glaze will keep you going back for more - I certainly hope this recipe never goes out of style!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Salmon cakes


I still have a couple more party recipes to tell you about, but I'm going to save those for another time. For today, I'm going to tell you about a healthier recipe that is more appropriate for an everyday dinner. I ended up making these salmon cakes after buying canned salmon for the first time last week. Although I know that fish is very healthy, and I love the taste of seafood, I don't really cook fish that often. I would like to, but my local grocery store doesn't have great options for fresh fish, especially if you're concerned about sustainability. But recently I have been hearing a lot about canned salmon as a good alternative - it's easy to find wild rather than farmed, and it's a heck of a lot cheaper than fresh. Of course, canned salmon can't replace fresh for all applications, but it's perfect if you are making something like these delicious salmon cakes. I was thrilled with how these came out, and I am definitely going to start buying canned salmon more often from now on!

This recipe was adapted from one that I found on Epicurious. I cut down the amount of mayo and adapted the ingredients a bit based on what I had on hand. The cakes are full of flavor, soft and tender on the inside, with some veggies adding texture. The leftovers were fantastic for lunch the next day, and from the reviews online, it sounds like leftover cakes freeze well too. I love finding dishes like this that are simple, cheap, tasty, and healthy all in one!


Have you ever cooked with canned salmon?