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Archive for November, 2009

Winter Squash Stew

Adam felt like he was missing out when I made butternut squash soup last week when he was on a business trip.  His exact words were “You can’t make good things when I’m not there!”  I reminded him that I needed to eat too.  Luckily, I had a second butternut squash waiting to be made into something glorious.  So, for his return, I decided to make butternut squash soup with a twist.  I decided  to actually make a stew using ingredients that I have never paired with butternut squash – tomatoes, lentils, and corn.  Sounds funky, but when you add spicy and savory to the sweet of the squash and corn and the heartiness of the lentils, you get a fiber packed, low fat, delicious stew!

Winter Squash Stew by Anne
Printable Recipe

1 TBS olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno, chopped finely
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 – 1 tsp cayenne pepper (to desired heat)
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
1 can (15 oz) corn, drained
1 1/2 cups lentils, rinsed
Parmesan cheese for topping

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil then add the lentils and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until tender.  Meanwhile, heat the oil and saute the onion, garlic, and jalapeno, until soft, about 4 minutes or so.  Stir in the squash, tomatoes, broth, cumin, chili powder and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until the squash is tender.  Add the lentils and bring to a simmer.  Season with cayenne pepper to taste.  Serve with grated parmesan cheese on each bowl.

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I have a slightly unhealthy relationship with chocolate chip cookies.  I LOVE them.  The chewy cookie paired with gooey chocolate morsels, yum!  Chocolate chip cookies have the power to brighten any gloomy day, turn enemies into friends, and they finish off a nice dinner with just the right amount of sweet.  My love affair with chocolate chip cookies began when I was young, but it really blossomed in college.

I had a very unique college experience – I attended a women’s college in Upstate New York.  There were only 400 women at the school, total.  Yep, a very small school, in the middle of nowhere, all women, and chock-full of traditions.  One of the traditions was Tea Time.  Tea Time was held in the middle of afternoon seminars.  The dining hall staff would bring tea, coffee, and cookies to the Main Hall for us to enjoy with our professors.  My favorite were the chocolate chip cookies they made from scratch.  If our professors let us out a little late for the break, we would miss-out on the chocolate chip cookies.  This was incredibly disappointing.

I have made many different types of chocolate chip cookies over the years – ones with nuts, milk chocolate chips, chocolate chocolate chip, white chocolate chips, even peppermint chocolate chips.  I enjoy making them, just so that I can eat some of the cookie dough – cook’s reward, right?  I usually just make them based on the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package.  Yesterday,  however, I strayed from my usual routine.

I thought it would be a great opportunity to turn up the volume on chocolate chip cookies!  There is definitely a chill in the air, and when it gets colder, I start craving spicy foods.  I was thinking about the Mexican Hot Chocolate I had at a chocolate house in Santa Fe, NM.  Chocolate melted with cream and spices – cinnamon, chili powder, vanilla – what a great idea!  I found a recipe that did not disappoint.  This is definitely a chocolate chip cookie for adults – sophisticated and spicy.

Caution: I would recommend not giving your children the beaters to lick, the cayenne pepper will likely “light up their lives” and burn their tongues.

Spicy Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Diet Recipe Blog)
Printable Recipe

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs, butter, white sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla; beat until smooth and light.  In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper.  Gradually mix into wet ingredients. Beat until they are combined.  Fold in the chocolate chips until combined.  Scoop cookies into 2-inch balls and place them on cookie sheets.  Bake for about 12 minutes (until lightly golden).  Let the cookies cool slightly for a few minutes, then remove from them from the cookie sheets and transfer to a wire rack until they cool completely.

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Butternut squash is technically a fruit, but is all vegetable to me.  This amazing squash can be roasted and puréed, and it is used in everything from casseroles, soups, breads, muffins, and gratin.  It is packed with vitamin C and A, fiber, potassium, and is all-around a great food.  My only complaint is that it is a bit difficult to cut.

Butternut squash soup is one of the only things my dad cooks that does not go on the grill.  It is something that I have been cooking for years.  It is basic, unpretentious, and delicious.  This recipe really lets the butternut squash shine without any other ingredients that would steal its thunder.  Seriously, the only ingredients you need are a butternut squash, 1 onion, and chicken broth.

I like to add half & half to make my soup creamy, and I enjoy sopping-up the soup with a nice piece of bread.  Seriously easy, seriously good.

Butternut Squash Soup by Anne
Printable Recipe

1 Butternut Squash (approx. 3 pounds), peeled, seeds and pulp removed, diced
1 onion, diced
6 cups (48 oz) chicken broth
Half & Half to taste
1 TBS butter & 1 TBS olive oil
bread for dipping

In a large pot heat oil and butter over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until translucent (approx. 7 minutes).  Add butternut squash and chicken broth, and bring to a boil.  Simmer until squash can be easily mashed by fork (approx. 20-25 minutes).  In batches, carefully transfer squash and onions into a blender, adding a few ladle-fuls of chicken stock depending on your preference of how thin or thick you would like your soup to be.  Purée.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Continue with remaining squash.  If the soup cools while in the bowl, place back into the pot and heat through.  Serve hot with a splash of half & half and pieces of bread.

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Since Adam has been away, it has been interesting for the cats.  It is sometimes hard to tell what a cat is feeling, especially when one of their “humans” is suddenly not around.  Do they miss their human?  Are they sad?  Hopeful for their return?  I have to say that, for our cats at least, they feel all of those emotions.  When they hear any noise in the hallway coming towards our door, they both take-off running side-by-side to the door, hopeful that it will be Adam.  They sit there dutifully until all hope of Adam walking through the door is gone.  It breaks my heart.  I, at least, know that Adam will be returning in a few days, but the cats don’t know this.  I talk to them and tell them that he is coming back in a few days, but I highly doubt they get this – they don’t really have a sense of time, except when it is time to eat their stinky “wet food”.  Luckily, our cats do not hold a grudge, and will gladly welcome Adam back when he arrives in a few days.  This might not be the case for my sister’s dog…

My sister set-out on a month-long road trip at the beginning of November.  She is driving from state-to-state interviewing for residency after medical school.  Her dog, Sella, is being taken care of by family.  This is a dog that sleeps with my sister every night, goes running with her, rides along as her co-pilot in the car, and has been there for her unconditionally during difficult times.  Being away from each other has been as much of an adjustment for my sister, as I imagine it has been for the dog.  Sella, unlike my cats, can hold a grudge.  My sister is worried that Sella will be angry with her upon her return.

While it is hard to be away from your loved-ones while they are away on business, it is almost harder to be away from your pet because you can’t explain to them why you are gone, and that you will be returning.  Their feelings of abandonment can’t be eased by a telephone call.  They can only be loved by the person who is taking care of them.  Luckily, cats and dogs have an amazing ability to forgive and things go back to normal very quickly.

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This week is all about easy things to make for myself while Adam is out-of-town.  I usually don’t like to cook when Adam isn’t here to enjoy it with me because, ultimately, after he hears how wonderful my dinner was, I will have to make it again next week when he returns.  So, what’s easier than a quesadilla?  Not much.  Quesadilla = tortilla, cheese, tortilla, flip once during cooking, and enjoy with salsa.  Bam, dinner!  I decided to take the quesadilla to a whole new level.

I was inspired by a fellow food blogger, Kate in the Kitchen, who made Apple, Brie and Sweet Salty Praline Quesadilla, back in October.  This was actually the recipe that got me hooked on reading her blog.  Not only did it sound fantastic, her photos made me want to reach into the computer screen and grab it.  Kate’s quesadilla reminded me of Los Angeles.  Back in Los Angeles, my go-to sandwich at my favorite restaurant, The Alcove, was the Apple and Brie Panini.  The granny smith apples and brie are snuggled up to caramelized onions between two fabulous pieces of focaccia, and grilled to perfection.  Mouth-watering and seriously amazing!  So, I thought I’d give Kate’s recipe a try.  I bought the tortillas, brie, and pecans.  I thought I had apples at home, but alas, I did not.  So, instead of making a trip to the store, I improvised with cranberry sauce.  I hoped that it would mimic baked brie – the tortilla being the puff pastry.  It did.  The gooey, mild brie with the salty, sweet, nutty pecans and the tart and sweet cranberries definitely worked!  It was one sophisticated quesadilla.

Cranberry, Brie, and Praline Quesadilla
Printable Recipe

1-2 TBS cranberry sauce (whole berry, or regular)
Two slices of Brie cheese cut into sections
Sweet Salty Pralines (recipe below)
Two Flour tortillas

In a skillet, heat one tortilla until starting to crisp and brown. Remove to plate and add second tortilla to pan. While second tortilla heats, spread brie, cranberry sauce and scatter pralines on the tortilla on the plate.  Remove second tortilla, and return the tortilla with the toppings to the pan and heat until you can see the cheese melting.  Cover with second tortilla. Carefully flip tortilla once during heating. When cheese is melted, place on plate and cut into wedges. Serve hot.

Pralines (adapted from Kate)

1 cup pecans
1 TBS unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
2 TBS brown sugar

In a medium-sized skillet, melt butter over medium heat until foamy. Add pecans and stir to coat. Cook, stirring regularly for about 2-3 minutes, then sprinkle in brown sugar and salt.  Stir to coat pecans, breaking up any chunks that form. After a minute or two, carefully pour 2 TBS of water into the skillet and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring regularly, until syrup thickens and pecans are fully coated.  Pour onto a plate and spread to cool, being careful not to touch the caramel.

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Unlike in years past, we did not carve a pumpkin this year for Halloween.  We do not have our own porch to display a carved creation, and someone would surely trip if we tried to keep it on our building’s stoop. I could see a lawsuit coming a mile away.  So, no pumpkin carving party, no roasted pumpkin seeds, no “pie pumpkins” to roast and mash.  I was feeling like I missed out a little bit, and when I saw that can of Libby’s pumpkin purée at the grocery store, I just knew I had to pick it up.  I didn’t intend to make pumpkin items all weekend – it just sort of happened that way.

The first thing that came to mind, when I was dreaming up what to do with the 15 ounces of pumpkin purée, was cookies!  Adam would surely love some iced pumpkin cookies after a long work week.  The cookies actually turned out to be more muffin-like than cookie-like.  They were basically muffin tops without the stumps (remember that Seinfeld episode?).  They were fluffy and the spices were just perfect.  The icing was so tasty, and satisfied my sweet tooth.

On Saturday evening, we went to dinner with some good friends in Manhattan’s East Village at Cucina di Pesce.  I had the pumpkin ravioli.  There were 6 plump pasta pillows on the plate and they were smothered in a creamy pesto sauce.  The contrast of the sweet, velvety pumpkin filling and the rich pesto was divine!  I gobbled it up too quickly to take a picture!  I can’t wait to go back!

On Sunday, I wanted to make Adam something yummy before he left town for a business trip.  I decided to make some pumpkin and cranberry scones.  They didn’t turn out like I had hoped, but they were still pretty tasty.  I think if I were to try my hand at these again, I’d use this recipe instead and add fresh cranberries.  Adam enjoyed the tartness of the unexpected bits of cranberry.

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Finally, this morning I made a bowl of steamy pumpkin oatmeal for breakfast.  This one, I created myself.  I had to keep adjusting the amounts of spices, sugar and pumpkin, but in the end it was delicious!

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Mmm…pumpkin.  I’m only going to post the recipes to the cookies and the oatmeal, and not for the scones because I got the recipe from a blogger that I do not follow regularly.  She had what sounded like a good recipe, but it did not turn out as I had hoped, and I thought it would be in bad taste to “out” her recipe.  You win some.  You lose some…

Iced Pumpkin Cookies (allrecipes.com)
Printable Recipe

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Icing
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt; set aside.  In a medium bowl, cream together the 1/2 cup of butter and white sugar. Add pumpkin, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients. Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls; flatten slightly.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven. Cool cookies, then drizzle glaze with fork.

To Make Glaze: Combine confectioners’ sugar, milk, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add milk as needed, to achieve drizzling consistency.

Pumpkin Oatmeal by Anne
Printable Recipe

1 serving oatmeal prepared according to package directions (steel-cut or quick-cooking rolled oats)
milk, or half & half, as needed
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
sugar, brown sugar, and salt as needed

Prepare oatmeal to package specifications adding a pinch of salt.  Stir in pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, and sugar.  Taste and adjust sugar, brown sugar and spices as necessary. Heat through, and serve with a sprinkle of brown sugar.

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Spanish Tortilla

A few years ago, I began receiving Real Simple magazine as a gift.  I love this magazine almost as much as I love Martha Stewart’s Living magazine.  Earlier this year, there was an article about hosting a tapas party.  There were recipes for marinated mushrooms, sangria, some sort of crostini, and Tortilla Espanol.  Adam became very excited when I was telling him about this idea for a tapas dinner party.  He recalled a story of how he ate a very similar dish called, Spanish Tortilla, while he was in Spain and how much he loved it!  Adam exclaimed that he wanted to help make it.  I was completely baffled – this man rarely cooks, so when he is excited about cooking, I gladly let him take the lead!  However, I always chop the veggies!

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Since the Great Bagel Incident, I always handle the knives in the kitchen.  The Great Bagel Incident happened several years ago.  It innocently began with a shopping trip, that I did alone, to purchase a wonderful meal that I had planned for Adam.  The store was already very busy, and it was a frustrating trip.  I bought bagels for breakfast with cream cheese and smoked trout, like he likes it.  I was feeling a little overwhelmed with everything I had to do in the kitchen to get the ingredients in the slow-cooker, and Adam requested repeatedly for me to make breakfast.  I told him to help me and make his own bagel.  Well, sure enough, he cut his finger and I had to take him to the emergency room.  If Adam told this story, he would say that since I knew that the likelihood of him cutting himself was so high, I effectively cut him myself.  Luckily, and unfortunately, he was unable to get stitches.  The emergency room tech said that bagel cutting injuries are one of the most common injuries they treat.  We purchased a bagel guillotine, and Adam hasn’t wielded a knife since then.

We have made Spanish Tortilla many times this year.  It has become so routine that we don’t need to follow the recipe.  We have always used 2 more eggs than the recipe calls for, because it just didn’t seem to cover the potatoes.  It is a great dish, and is basically a frittata minus the cheese, and you don’t have to flip it.  The eggs and potato are reminiscent of breakfast, but paired with bread and white wine, very elegant.  The simplicity is amazing!

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Spanish Tortilla (adapted from Real Simple magazine)
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 russet potatoes (approx. 1 pound), peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons
1 onion, thinly sliced
salt and black pepper
8 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350° F. Heat the oil in an ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the onion, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and the potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes.
Pour the eggs over the potatoes; stir to distribute the ingredients. Transfer the skillet to oven and bake until brown around the edges and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature, sliced into wedges.

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