crostini topped with ricotta and braised zucchini

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I often prepare elaborate multicourse meals just for me and Dave. Almost invariably, when I ask him to name his favorite course, it’s the meat, and just as often, mine is the carbs, although sometimes I make an exception for artichokes. This meal left me with a tough choice – bread is always a favorite, especially topped with cheese and vegetables cooked well, but I was also really pleased with the sauce I’d made from my homegrown tomatoes to serve over pasta. Dave, unsurprisingly, chose the ribeye.

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I was being stingy with the tomato sauce, both because it took longer to prepare and because my garden gives me more zucchini than tomatoes, so I certainly ate the most of this one. It might seem bland – neither ricotta nor zucchini is known for their strong flavors – but good bread, a generous drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of large-grained sea salt add plenty of interest.

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Considering that these toasts include a starch, a protein, and a vegetable, I could have skipped the pasta (and hoarded the sauce instead) and meat entirely! Dave might have missed his steak, but I certainly wouldn’t have minded filling up on these. Who needs multiple courses when the first one is so good?

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Crostini with Ricotta and Braised Zucchini (inspired by Annie’s Eats; zucchini adapted from Rachel Eats via Orangette)

Makes about 24 small toasts, depending on the size of your bread

If you have a flaked salt, kosher or Maldon, it adds a fun crunch when sprinkled on top.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
3 small to medium zucchini (about 12 ounces), ends trimmed, sliced ¼-inch thick
¼ teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 small sprig basil, leaves removed and torn (optional)
1 (12-inch) baguette, sliced ¼-inch thick
1½ cups ricotta cheese

1. In a medium nonstick skillet, heat the oil and garlic over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly golden, 4-5 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the zucchini and salt to the skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is softened and lightly browned in spots, 25-30 minutes. Stir in the basil leaves, if using.

2. Meanwhile, heat the broiler. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Broil until just golden. Flip each slice of bread and return the baking sheet to the oven; lightly toast the second side.

3. Spread some ricotta over each slice of toast. Top with a layer of zucchini, then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

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cinnamon zucchini cake with cream cheese frosting

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How do we justify putting zucchini in desserts? Carrot cake, for example, while it isn’t my favorite dessert, makes sense to me – carrots are sweet, cake is sweet. I don’t like beets, but I can see why they’re used in cakes, because they’re also sweet (and colorful). Zucchini, though, really isn’t that sweet.

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In fact, it really isn’t that anything – it’s fairly bland, as vegetables go. You could say it adds moisture, but there are plenty of more flavorful liquids to add to desserts than zucchini juice. So are we just trying to make cakes healthier by adding a bland, easily-disguised vegetable? Because trust me, this cake isn’t healthy, and adding a pittance of shredded zucchini to each serving isn’t going to change that.

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It certainly doesn’t taste healthy; it tastes like a delicious lightly spiced cake. Maybe the zucchini isn’t adding anything other than pretty flecks of green and a trick to use up the summer garden excess. I suppose I don’t care, because I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve baked with zucchini and have no plans to stop.

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Cinnamon Zucchini Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (cobbled together from a bunch of recipes)

Makes 24 2-inch squares

I used one large homegrown zucchini that weighed about 12 ounces. The zucchini at my store are much smaller, so two or even three might be necessary, but they should still weigh a total of 12 ounces.

2 cups shredded zucchini
1 teaspoon table salt
2½ cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup oil
1½ cups (10½ ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk

8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups (12 ounces) powdered sugar

1. For the cake: Combine the zucchini and salt in a strainer set over a larger bowl; set aside for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, use a rubber spatula to press on the zucchini in the strainer to release liquid. Discard the liquid.

2. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and baking powder.

3. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), beat the butter, oil, and sugar, on medium speed until evenly combined, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then mix in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add half of the dry ingredients, then all of the buttermilk, and then the remaining dry ingredients, beating just until evenly combined. Stir in the drained zucchini.

4. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, spreading it evenly to the corners. Bake until the cake is golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with no crumbs attached, 30-35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; cool completely before frosting.

5. For the frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla on medium speed until smooth. Stop the mixer, add the powdered sugar, and beat on the lowest speed until the sugar is incorporated, then increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until smooth and creamy, 2-3 minutes. Spread the frosting evenly over the cooled cake.

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pizza with zucchini, goat cheese, and lemon

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Thank god for my zucchini plant. Despite some cucumber beetles and slugs, it is growing quite nicely. This is in contrast to most of my other plants. The tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber plants are all just barely holding on, and of course I can’t figure out what’s wrong with them. Seeing the huge, green zucchini plant and cutting off a zucchini every few days makes me feel much better.

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Almost all of my zucchinis so far have gone into enchiladas with goat cheese and black beans, but I saved one for a light, summery pizza. The zucchini is julienned and salted to draw out liquid, so it doesn’t waterlog the pizza. If you’re lucky, it might brown a bit in the oven too.

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I’m not completely sold on the slices of lemon called for in the original recipe; even sliced paper-thin, they still caused a few shockingly lemony bites. I did like the hit of tartness though, so I think a quick squeeze of lemon juice on the just-baked pizza would be a nice substitute. I’ll have to try that next time; since my garden apparently won’t be producing gazpacho ingredients, I’ll just make more zucchini pizza.

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Pizza with Zucchini, Goat Cheese, and Lemon Pizza (adapted from The Food Lab)

Makes one 10-inch pizza

I use a baking steel, not a baking stone. I’ve found that it makes for a lighter crust with a crisper base. However, if you leave the parchment paper on the steel under the broiler for the full five minutes, it will burn to a blackened flaky crisp. After one minute under the broiler, I use a spatula to lift the edge of the pizza and pull out the parchment paper with tongs.

¾ pound pizza dough (⅓ of this recipe)
1 small zucchini
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced into 1-inch cubes
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Place a pizza stone on a rack about 5 inches below the broiler and heat the oven as high as it goes for at least 45 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball; cover and set aside for about 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.

2. Slice the zucchini into rounds ⅛-inch thick, then slice each round into slivers ⅛-inch thick. In a small bowl, combine the zucchini, garlic, and salt; set aside for 30 minutes.

3. Drain the zucchini, then transfer it to a kitchen towel; squeeze it as dry as possible. Transfer the zucchini back to the empty bowl, add the oil, and stir to evenly coat it.

4. Gently flatten the dough, then pick it up and stretch it out to about 10 inches, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches unevenly, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

5. Line a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet) with parchment paper and transfer the round of dough to the peel, rearranging it to something reasonably circular. Top with the mozzarella, then the zucchini and goat cheese. Transfer the pizza with the parchment paper to the hot pizza stone.

6. Immediately turn the oven off and the broiler on (to high, if yours has settings). Bake the pizza for about 5 minutes, until the bottom crust is spotty browned. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack and drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the top, then evenly distribute the scallions over the pizza. Cool about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

lox and goat cheese omelets

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I stopped at the grocery store today and bought salmon, green beans, scallions, cream cheese, chocolate chips, and oreos. This pretty much sums up my overall diet – very healthy, except for when it isn’t.

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Weekend breakfasts used to sit more in the “isn’t” category, but I’ve been moving them more often than not over into the healthy side (especially, I have to admit, in the month or two before our annual trip to the beach). Of course healthy means different things to different people, but one thing I try to do when I step it up a notch is increase my protein and reduce my starches. This means less scones and more omelets.

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This recipe takes my favorite bagel toppings and mixes them with eggs instead of bread. I replace the traditional cream cheese with goat cheese not just because goat cheese isn’t quite as rich as cream cheese, but because the stronger flavor of goat cheese holds its own better with the salty salmon and capers and sharp bites of onion. Eggs instead of bread might sound like a sad substitution, especially for a bagel lover like me, but I never feel like I’m missing out when I’m eating these omelets.

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Lox and Goat Cheese Omelets

4 servings

I like a little raw onion on my lox bagels, but if you don’t, you probably won’t like it here either.

10 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
5 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
¼ red onion, minced (optional)
2 tablespoons capers
6 ounces lox, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, salt, and 2 ounces of goat cheese. In a second bowl, combine the remaining goat cheese, tomatoes, onion, capers, and lox.

2. Heat 1½ teaspoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add one-quarter of the egg mixture. Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to gently stir the eggs in a circular motion for about fifteen seconds. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the eggs cook, without moving, for about a minute. Use the spatula to lift up a small section of cooked egg along the edge of the pan; tilt the pan so raw egg can flow underneath the lifted portion. Repeat this motion around the edge of the skillet. Add one-quarter of the lox mixture, spreading evenly over half of the eggs in the pan. Cover the pan and let cook for 2-4 minutes, until the eggs are just set. Fold the bare half of the eggs over the filling, then slide the omelet onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining eggs and filling.

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carrot-ricotta ravioli

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I recently made potstickers, and it reminded me how much easier dumplings like these ravioli are to make with homemade dough than with those little square wonton wrappers. With homemade pasta, you have a long strip of dough; after you drop dollops of filling along the strip, you can just fold the whole thing over at once, sealing the long end before cutting in between the filling. Contrast this with individually folding and sealing each square of dough when you use pre-made wonton wrappers. Granted, my method based on homemade dough can only make square dumplings, but it’s so easy that I’m tempted to make square potstickers from now on to avoid individually sealing each one.

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This is an easy filling too. The carrots and shallots are roasted in large chunks, browning and sweetening in the oven. The vegetables are transferred to the food processor with ricotta and parmesan, and then your filling is made with the touch of a button.

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The sauce, if you can call it that, is simply melted butter with parsley. A generous shaving of parmesan on the ravioli provides some salty contrast to the sweeter filling. Homemade ravioli is one of my favorite starter courses, and it really isn’t that hard – provided you start out with sheets of pasta and not a tedious stack of tiny squares.

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Carrot-Ricotta Ravioli with Herbed Butter
(slightly adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Vegetables of Italy)

4 main course or 8 first-course servings

3 large carrots (12 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large shallot, quartered
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream
5 ounces (½ cup firmly packed) ricotta
6 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg yolk
1 recipe fresh pasta dough, rolled to the second-to-last setting on a pasta roller
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced parsley

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a baking dish, toss the carrots and shallot with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. Let cool slightly.

2. In a food processor, combine the carrots, shallot, and cream and puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a bowl. Stir in the ricotta, parmesan, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the egg yolk.

3. Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 2 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Fold the pasta sheet lengthwise over the filling. Press around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza cutter to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (Ravioli can be formed several hours in advance and covered and refrigerated or can be flash-frozen, then transferred to freezer bags and frozen for several weeks. Do not defrost before cooking.)

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with ¼ teaspoon salt and the parsley.

5. Boil the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water and transfer them directly to the skillet with the butter. Once all the ravioli are boiled, lightly toss them in the butter to thoroughly coat. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan.

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poblanos stuffed with black beans and cheese

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Sometimes I try to have quick, healthy weeknight dinners that don’t include any grains. I’ve found that melty cheese is a satisfying way to replace the simple comfort of starches – although I’m not sure that replacing brown rice with cheese is much of a nutritional improvement.

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This has become a new favorite, in that it takes the main flavors of some of my fallback rice and bean dishes and stuffs them inside of a pepper. (I’m always reaching for the bag of frozen Hatch green chile we keep in the freezer so I can add it to the beans, and I have to remind myself that there’s plenty of spicy chiles in this recipe already.)

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With beans, Greek yogurt, and a simple guacamole, there’s plenty to keep me full here, even with a restrained amount of cheese. Even if it isn’t, in the end, any healthier than my normal bowl of rice and beans, it’s worth it for a meal as good as this one.

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Poblanos Stuffed with Black Beans and Cheese (inspired by Sara Forte’s The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook)

2 generous main course servings or 4 side dish servings

You can, of course, add more cheese, but I was trying to keep it light, and I found this amount to be satisfying.

4 medium poblano peppers
2 teaspoons oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can black beans (about 2 cups)
½ cup salsa
3 ounces cheddar, monterey jack, cotija, or queso fresco, shredded or crumbled
1 avocado, peeled and seeded
juice from ½ lime
¼ cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream)

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut a slit in each pepper from the stem to the end. Place the peppers in a rimmed baking dish; bake for 15 minutes, until softened.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the salsa and beans. Simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir half of the cheese into the beans.

3. Remove the peppers from the oven. When they’re cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to remove the seeds and veins. Pour out any liquid inside the peppers. Spoon one-quarter of the bean mixture into each pepper, then stuff the remaining cheese into the peppers over the beans. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cheese is spottily browned and the peppers are soft, 15-20 minutes.

4. In a small bowl, mash the avocado with a pinch of salt and half of the lime juice. In a separate bowl, mix the Greek yogurt with the remaining lime juice. Serve the roasted peppers with the avocado, yogurt, and a sprinkling of cilantro.

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salmon tacos with tomatillo-avocado slaw

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I’ve always made my fish tacos with white fish and been perfectly happy with that, but salmon actually makes a lot of sense. Just like barbacoa and chicken thighs, its richness makes a nice contrast to the crunchy slaw and tart dressing. Plus, I just really like salmon.

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In this case, it’s rubbed with chili spices, a little sugar, and just a bit of finely ground coffee for an extra bite. Rather than serving slices of avocado in the tacos, it’s pureed along with tomatillos and cilantro into the dressing for the slaw. As much as a pile of different toppings on tacos is fun, on a weeknight, I appreciate the simplification of mixing them all into one bowl with the cabbage.

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I don’t plan on pushing my white fish tacos aside – or my shredded beef tacos, or my Asian-inspired tacos, or even my lentil tacos – but we eat tacos often enough to enjoy plenty of variety. Combining one of my favorite types of fish with a creamy dressing made with avocados and stuffing it all into fresh corn tortillas? Plus it’s easy and healthy? Yes, this can be added to the list of tacos I make regularly.

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Dry-Rubbed Salmon Tacos with Tomatillo-Avocado Slaw (rewritten from Food and Wine via JBean Cuisine)

Serves 4

4 cups of pre-shredded coleslaw mix would work well here in place of the cabbage.

Tomatillo-avocado slaw:
2 tomatillos, husked and halved
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 small jalapeño, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 ripe avocado, halved, peeled, and pitted
salt to taste
lime juice to taste
½ head cabbage, cored and finely sliced

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon finely ground coffee
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (8-ounce) salmon fillets
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of ½ lime

For serving:
12 small flour or corn tortillas, heated and wrapped to keep warm
hot sauce, for serving

1. For the slaw: Transfer the tomatillos, cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, sour cream or Greek yogurt, and avocado to a blender or the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth; season to taste with salt and lime juice. In a large bowl, stir the dressing into the cabbage. Set aside.

2. For the salmon: In a small bowl, combine the cumin, chili powder, brown sugar, coffee, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Dry the salmon fillets, then rub them with the spice mixture. If the salmon has skin, use all the rub on the skinless side; if the fillets are skinless, spread the spices on both sides.

3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the salmon (skin-side up if it has skin), and cook without moving until well-browned, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, flip the salmon, and cook until the salmon just flakes, another 4-6 minutes. Transfer the salmon to a plate and break into approximately 1-inch pieces. Season with lime juice.

4. To serve: Top each tortilla with a portion of the salmon and the slaw; sprinkle with hot sauce. Serve immediately.

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roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash with bacon-porter dressing

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Vegetables, cooked right, are delicious, a fact all-too-often forgotten as they’re relegated to an afterthought. It’s fortunate that roasting vegetables has become popular, because those can be an afterthought and still be tasty with just salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, but what could happen if we put the same effort into a vegetable dish as we did the main dish? What could happen is that Brussels sprouts will be the most popular dish at your party.

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A friend and I threw a beer tasting party last month, with amber ale cheddar soup, stout-braised beef topped with potatoes, scotch ale creme brulee, and these vegetables. This was the dish that got the most compliments and recipe requests. (Although I need to ask my friend for the creme brulee recipe, because that had a really interesting and delicious bitter edge to the sweet custard.)

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Brussels sprouts and squash are roasted, which is always a good start, but then the ante is upped with a dressing made from bacon renderings, minced shallot, malty beer, mustard, and apple cider vinegar. I wasn’t sure about the pairing of Brussels sprouts and squash, but the earthy and sweet combination ended up being great, and it was all tied together with the sweet-tart dressing. I admit, it isn’t quite as easy as just throwing vegetables in the oven with salt and olive oil to roast, but every once in a while, don’t vegetables deserve to be the star?

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash with Bacon-Porter Dressing (adapted from Beer Bitty via Craft Beer)

8 servings

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch dice
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme)
4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4 ounces porter or brown ale
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Place a heavy rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven; heat the oven to 475 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the Brussels sprouts, squash, oil, cayenne, nutmeg, and thyme. Transfer to the hot baking sheet and roast until the vegetables are browned and tender, about 20 minutes, stirring twice.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; when cool, coarsely chop or crumble. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the skillet. Add the shallot and garlic; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and maybe a little browned, 2-3 minutes. Add the beer and vinegar, increase the heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced and slightly syrupy, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, mustard, sage, salt and pepper. Pour the beer mixture over the vegetables and stir to combine. Top with the bacon and nuts; serve.

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spanish chickpea and spinach stew

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I wasn’t big on life-changing, be-a-better-person resolutions this year, but I did get inspired for a lot of projects. There’s the cookbook goal; a list of house projects; an effort to post on my blog’s Facebook page more often; and a desire to take more pictures. To hold myself accountable (and give myself a satisfying box to check when I complete something), I’m tracking everything.

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My goal is to put effort into photography almost every day. It was easy the first few days, when we were traveling, but I was at a loss the first day back at work, when I don’t do much other than sit in my office all day, make dinner, and fold laundry. But of course I love food pictures, and dinner was right there, so I figured I might as well see if I could get a decent shot without much effort.

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In this case, not only were the shots decent (maybe from all that practice I’ve been getting taking random dinner pictures!), but the meal itself was fantastic. I’m a sucker for tomato-based soups, but with all the other good stuff in there, I didn’t even feel the need to dip a grilled cheese sandwich into the bowl. It’s lucky that I’d snapped a few quick pictures before we ate, because there were no leftovers – not that making it again soon would have been a hardship.

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Spanish Chickpea and Spinach Stew
(rewritten but not significantly changed from Serious Eats)

I was worried that the spinach would turn to mush after 40 minutes of simmering, but even the baby spinach I used was okay. A heartier spinach would likely be even better.

For the tomatoes, I transferred half of the tomatoes from the can to a small bowl and used scissors to chop them. I used an immersion blender to puree the remaining tomatoes and ginger in the tomato can.

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 1-inch knob ginger, peeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for serving)
1 medium onion, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 teaspoon sweet or hot smoked paprika
12 ounces fresh spinach, roughly chopped
2 (14-ounce) cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), undrained
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (optional)

1. Blend half the tomatoes, all the liquid from the can, and the ginger until smooth. Coarsely chop the remaining tomatoes.

2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onion, garlic, and paprika, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato-ginger puree; stir to combine. Gradually add the spinach, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the chopped tomatoes, garbanzo beans (with their liquid), bay leaves, and soy sauce, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a bare simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in the sherry vinegar. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately, drizzling with extra virgin olive oil.

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pan-seared shrimp with tomatoes and avocado

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I hate to be a cliche, but it’s January and I’d like to eat a little healthier for a while. That is, a little healthier than normal, and a whole lot healthier than I did over the holidays. I have no regrets; it was a delicious holiday break, full of cookies, holiday meals, restaurants, and fun new beers. But I’m happy to be back to eating the occasional green thing now.

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A book with Light and Healthy in the title was the obvious choice for choosing cookbook recipes in early January. It’s simply shrimp, cooked in just a bit of oil, then topped with barely softened vegetables. A bit of brown rice helps soak up any extra sauce.

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As much as I crave healthy foods when I’m eating feasts every night, sometimes when I’m trying to get back into eating lots of vegetables, I find myself missing sugar and fried food and cheese and all those delicious treats. Light, vegetably dishes as good as this one help ease the transition – especially since each serving has plenty of fatty, buttery, creamy avocado.

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Pan-Seared Shrimp with Tomatoes and Avocado
(from America’s Test Kitchen Light and Healthy 2011)

Serves 4

I used cherry tomatoes since they tend to be better in the winter than bigger varieties. I also substituted about ¼ cup minced roasted and peeled Hatch green chile for the chipotle.

1 pound tomatoes (2 to 3), cored, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
6 scallions, white and green parts separated and sliced thin
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
salt and pepper
1½ pounds extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
⅛ teaspoon sugar
4 teaspoon canola oil
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
lime wedges

1. Combine the tomatoes, scallion whites, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, chipotle, and ¼ teaspoon salt in bowl.

2. Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and season with the sugar, salt, and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half of the shrimp and cook until curled and lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

3. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl and cover with aluminum foil. Repeat with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and shrimp; transfer to the bowl.

4. Return the skillet to high heat, add the tomato mixture, and cook until the tomatoes soften slightly, about 1 minute. Off the heat, return the shrimp to the skillet and toss to coat. Transfer the shrimp and tomatoes to a platter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with the scallion greens and avocado. Serve with lime wedges.

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