brussels sprouts and kale salad with pecorino and almonds

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I never would have served my dad kale six months ago. For his whole life, he’s been a classic meat and potatoes guy, heavy on the meat. He’d put vegetables on his plate every night, and he’d always eat them – all two forkfuls that he’d served himself.

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He made a sudden switch last fall in an attempt to lower his cholesterol and blood pressure. (It worked, by the way.)  However, he didn’t just start eating more vegetables and less meat. He didn’t become a pescatarian, or even a vegetarian. No, he went all the way from meat and potatoes to vegan – vegan with no fat, not even from avocados.

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He’s loosened up the rules quite a bit since then, although I get the idea that rice and beans still play a big role in his diet. So when my parents visited, I took a chance and served my new favorite salad, almost a slaw of thinly sliced Brussels sprouts and Tuscan kale. It’s bright from lemon juice, but the pecorino provides a bit of richness. I love the crunch of the almonds. It’s a strange world, although not a bad one, where I am comfortable feeding my dad kale but not the Italian sausage dish that was the main course of this meal.

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Brussels Sprouts Kale Salad with Pecorino (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

6 to 8 servings

Slicing the Brussels Sprouts isn’t as tedious as it sounds; it’ll probably take you ten minutes. However, the slicing blade on a food processor should do the trick too.

1 teaspoon plus ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ cup slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
¼ teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
16 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved and sliced thin
2 bunches Tuscan kale (about 8 ounces total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
1 cup (2 ounces) finely grated Pecorino

1. In a small skillet over medium heat, heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Add the almonds and toast, stirring constantly, until browned and fragrant, 2-4 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a plate; set aside.

2. In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice, mustard, shallots, garlic, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the remaining olive oil.

3. Combine the Brussels sprouts, kale, dressing, almonds, and pecorino. Serve immediately or cover and chill for up to 8 hours.

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roasted cauliflower soup with feta

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While spinach with feta hasn’t quite reached the level of “Oh my god, if I eat this one more time, I’ll go crazy”, it’s certainly a far cry from the “wow, I can’t believe how delicious something as simple as the combination of spinach and feta is.” (Seriously, if you haven’t tried it, check it out – feta is creamy and salty and briny, so it covers all of the bases that a good salad dressing does.) After I eat a banana with peanut butter about halfway through my workday afternoons, when the only snacks I have left are spinach with feta and vegetables with hummus, I think to myself, “well, that’s it, the rest of the afternoon’s snacks are just to be endured and not enjoyed.”

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I don’t always, or even often, for that matter, want to spend part of my weekend making snacks for the week, but it’s occasionally worth it for some variety. This soup covers the same basic nutritional bases as spinach with feta would – vegetables and dairy protein. Surely raw spinach has more fiber and nutrients than roasted and boiled cauliflower, but let’s not overthink things.

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The important thing is that I actually look forward to eating this every day, instead of wavering between disinterest and dread. And not just because it isn’t the same thing I’ve eaten everyday for the last three years – it’s a great soup. The pureed cauliflower makes it seem rich and creamy, while the feta and squeeze of lemon juice brighten up the flavors. Having something to look forward to when you’re six hours into a nine-hour workday is worth a bit of extra cooking on the weekend.

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Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Feta (adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

1 head of cauliflower, cut into 1 to 2-inch florets
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, diced
3½ cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 sprigs thyme
2 ounces feta
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons parsley, minced

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees. When the oven is hot, remove the baking sheet, add one tablespoon of olive oil plus a generous sprinkling of salt, then the cauliflower. Spray the top of the cauliflower with cooking spray. Roast, stirring twice, for 20-25 minutes, until a couple sides of each floret are deeply browned.

2. In a 5-quart pot, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and the onion is translucent, 6-8 minutes. Add the roasted cauliflower, broth, and thyme. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Puree, either with an immersion blender or in batches with a stand-up blender.

3. Stir the feta, lemon juice, and parsley into the soup. Taste for seasoning, adjusting as necessary, and serve immediately. (Can also be made several days in advance.)

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grilled potato salad with watercress

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Dave’s birthday, 2 weeks after Christmas, is at a sort of inconvenient time of year. My dad’s is January 2nd, and even that is better – in my family, the holidays are just one day longer than they are for everyone else. But a week later, you’ve had all the cookies and wine and cheese (or whatever your splurges happen to be) you want, but you haven’t had more than a few days to detox from the decadence. And yet, it’s time for banana cream pie.

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I got Dave a cute little cast iron saucepan for the grill, so I had to plan a meal that would allow him to use it. He also got a new grill for Christmas, so I specifically planned a meal that would use both of our grills – barbecue pork ribs, grilled potato salad, grilled broccoli. And then the weather sucked, although we pushed through and grilled the ribs and potatoes still, but I roasted the broccoli.

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It wasn’t the most indulgent meal ever, but extra vegetables are always welcome this time of year, so I chose the potato salad that actually looked like a salad. It’s not a traditional potato salad coated in mayonnaise, but I didn’t feel like we lost out for the healthier option. This was crisp and fresh, healthy enough for January, but still with satisfying browned potatoes and creamy cheese. It was just light enough to justify a big piece of banana cream pie for dessert.

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Grilled Potato Salad with Watercress (from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

I’ve reduced both the potatoes (because I was trying to be healthier) and the blue cheese (because it can be too intense) from the original recipe, but I’m sure the original amounts are great too.

¼ cup sherry wine vinegar
1 large shallot, chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ cup olive oil, plus more for grilling potatoes
6 medium red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled (about 1½ pounds)
2 bunches watercress, stems trimmed
3 green onions, chopped
¼-½ cup crumbled blue cheese

1. Combine vinegar, shallot, and mustard in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in ½ cup oil. Season vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 16 minutes. Drain; cool completely. Cut potatoes into ¼- to ½-inch-thick rounds. Brush or spray rounds on both sides with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Prepare grill for medium-high heat. Grill potatoes until golden and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Dice the potatoes into ½-inch cubes.

4. In a large serving bowl, mix the watercress, scallions, and most of the vinaigrette. Add the potatoes and the remaining dressing, and gently mix to coat. Top with the blue cheese; serve immediately.

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kale salad with currants, pine nuts, and parmesan

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So, it turns out that I really like kale. It isn’t at all something I eat just because it’s dark green and probably really good for me. I like the flavor, earthy and vegetal together. I like the texture, how cooked kale is still chewy, unlike spinach which almost immediately turns to mush, and how raw kale doesn’t get soggy. And I like the convenience – it stays fresh for a while in the fridge and you can make salads with it days ahead of time, and they get better instead of worse.

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I made this for a pizza party I hosted. The party started right after work, plus I had to deal with the pizza dough, so making salad right beforehand wasn’t an option. I took a risk and served kale; I wasn’t sure how it would go over, but I assumed there were enough friendly flavors in this salad to please most palates.

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The salad might not have been as popular as the Nutella banana pizza or mascarpone-stuffed strawberries, but people seemed to like it.  There were leftovers, but that was okay, because even several days after I’d made the salad, it was still crisp and delicious. Plus it meant more kale for me – and I really like kale.

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Kale Salad with Pine Nuts, Currants, and Parmesan (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons dried currants
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 bunches Tuscan (lacinato) kale (about 1 pound), center ribs and stems removed, leaves thinly sliced crosswise
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
Parmesan cheese shavings

1. Place the vinegar and currants in a small pot; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then remove from the heat. Let soak 15-30 minutes, while you prepare the other ingredients; drain, reserving vinegar.

2. Whisk vinegar leftover from soaking the currants, the rice vinegar, honey, oil, and salt in large bowl. Add the kale, currants, and pine nuts; toss to coat. Let marinate 20 minutes at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate overnight. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle cheese shavings over salad and serve.

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mulled wine cranberry sauce

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This, finally, is the cranberry sauce I’ve been looking for – the one that is worth making not just because making cranberry sauce is fun, but because this is better than anything you could buy. And it’s no more effort than any other cranberry sauce; the only difference between this and the most basic recipe is that wine is used to simmer the cranberries instead of water, and there are a handful of warm winter spices thrown in.

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With so much wine, you might think that the sauce ends up tasting like wine, but that isn’t the case. It tastes like something much more than the in-your-face tart and sweet of regular cranberry sauce, but it isn’t particularly boozy. It’s just deeper, more complex, with a little buzz on your tongue.

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Unfortunately, with half a bottle of wine stirred into one bag of cranberries, there’s no chance of claiming that all the alcohol cooks off, so this isn’t the best cranberry sauce for kids. That’s why my friend offered to bring a can of jellied cranberry sauce for her kids when I invited them over for a big turkey feast.

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When she forgot, we figured what the heck, what harm could a few tablespoons of winey cranberries do? Not much at all, it turns out, as her son took one spoonful of sauce, noted that there was wine in it, and pushed it aside in favor of the stuffing. So maybe it’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely my new favorite.

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(turkey cranberry green chile sandwich on a crescent roll)

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Mulled Wine Cranberry Sauce (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

I pressed the sauce through a food mill right after simmering, because I like my cranberry sauce smooth.

zest from 1 orange
1½ cups red wine
½ cup (3.5 ounces) packed brown sugar
½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 ounces fresh cranberries

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the berries burst and the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Transfer sauce to bowl; chill until cold. (Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

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butternut squash soup with spiced creme fraiche

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I made this pumpkin mushroom soup a couple days ago using butternut squash instead of pumpkin, and it occurred to me that what was a pumpkin phase four years ago is now a butternut squash phase. I’ve been buying about two a week, and I’ve made all sorts of good stuff, like ravioli, chili, and lentil goat cheese salad. I was going to make squash kale pizza tonight, but some friends are getting together for dinner instead. I’m contributing butternut squash and green chile gratin. I thought about bringing this salad, but I already had it on the menu for next week anyway, so I know I’ll get to eat it soon.

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Butternut squash soup has kind of been on my radar to make, but I tried a recipe a few years ago that was good but nothing special, so I hadn’t gone back to the idea since. I ended up making this for a Saturday night dinner that I wanted to be as fall-y as possible. It was the perfect idea for a first course before roast chicken with potatoes and pan-roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots. Even better, a friend of mine was hosting a fall-themed dinner later that week and didn’t have time to test out a soup recipe, so I was able to help her out.

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I loved the soup, Dave loved the soup, my friend loved the soup, and then later that week, the rest of our group of friends said they loved the soup, several asking for the recipe. It’s kind of a subtle set of flavors, with nothing jumping out individually, but everything works well together. The star anise is interesting; if you think about it when you’re eating, it’s evident, but it and the cinnamon and nutmeg are balanced by the savory bay and thyme. The tart garnish (I made crème fraiche for the party but used Greek yogurt at home) was a nice complement since the soup is on the sweet side. I’m so glad I have a great butternut squash soup recipe after all these years – and it makes perfect sense that I would find it in the middle of a butternut squash phase.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Spiced Creme Fraiche (slightly adapted from Allison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing’s Southern Comfort via epicurious)

The original recipe calls for the big spices to be tied up in a cheesecloth bundle before being added to the soup. I’m sure they’re easier to remove before blending this way, but fishing out a few spices from a pot of soup seemed easier to me than digging out the cheesecloth from the pantry.

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large shallots, sliced
8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 bay leaf
1 thyme sprig
1 star anise
4 whole peppercorns
½ cup white wine
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Spiced Crème Fraîche, for accompaniment

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven; heat the oven to 425 degrees. When it’s hot, remove the pan from the oven and spread the olive oil evenly over the surface. Transfer the squash and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper to the hot baking sheet; stir to coat. Roast the squash until browned on at least one side, about 25 minutes, stirring once.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the edges start to brown, 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, pepper, bay, thyme, star anise, and peppercorns; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot, until reduced by half. Add the roasted squash, broth, cream, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low; cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Remove and discard the bay, thyme, star anise, and peppercorns. Puree the soup, either with an immersion blender or by transferring it in batches to a standup blender. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately, topped with Spiced Crème Fraîche. (Soup can be chilled for several days and reheated.)

Spiced Crème Fraîche

I actually don’t know how much of a difference the spices make, but I did like the tart dairy with the soup. Greek yogurt, sour creme, and crème fraîche will all work just fine.

1 cup crème fraîche
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Mix all ingredients.

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shitake mushroom and lentil asian tacos

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Vegetarian food, for me, means something quick and easy, healthy, perfect for a weeknight dinner. There’s no fussing with the handwashing of cooking with chicken, no long braising times. Most are one-bowl meals that don’t require side dishes. The exceptions to these rules invariably include lots of cheese, almost certainly pasta, and a long prep time – and are relegated to weekend meals.

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Few and far between are vegetarian meals that are not only healthy and delicious, but also feel special. This is one. First, it’s tacos, and I’m not out of my taco phase. Second, so many fillings and toppings in the tacos satisfy all sorts of flavor and texture desires.

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The mushroom-lentil mixture has plenty of ingredients that kick up the umami sensation that usually comes from meat. The miso and soy sauce in the sauce don’t hurt either, but the sauce is about more than just umami; it’s sweet and herbal and a bit sour from the rice vinegar. There’s crunch from the carrots and the buttery richness of avocados. All of it combines to form a special occasional dish that is perfectly healthy and not just vegetarian, but vegan. It’s a far cry from most of my favorite vegetarian dishes, and I love it.

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Shitake Mushroom and Lentil Asian Tacos (adapted from Sprouted Kitchen)

Serves 4 to 6

I toasted the garlic, while still peeled, in a small not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the papery peel started to brown on a few sides. This softens the bite of raw garlic, making it sweeter and more mellow.

My favorite new way to soften corn tortillas for tacos is to spray both sides of them with oil, then heat them in a 400 degree oven until pliable, about 5 minutes. Even better, add some of the mushroom-lentil mixture to the tortillas at that point and fold the tortilla over the filling; continue baking until the tortilla starts to crisp, another 3-5 minutes.

I grew radish sprouts just for this recipe, but they didn’t sprout in time. Bummer. They made a good garnish for avocado and shrimp-filled tortilla cups the next day though.

Miso herb sauce:
3 garlic cloves, peeled (see note)
2 packed cups basil leaves
1 packed cup cilantro
2 tablespoons white or yellow miso
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons orange juice
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

Tacos:
¾ cup brown or green lentils
salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly diced
12 ounces shitake mushrooms, stems discarded, sliced
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
about 16 corn tortillas, warmed (see note)
2 large or 3 small avocados, peeled and sliced
5 small carrots, peeled and grated
micro greens, for garnish (see note)

1. For the sauce: Place the garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the cutting blade; process until minced. Add the herbs and process until pureed. Add the remaining ingredients and process until the sauce is evenly mixed. Transfer to a serving bowl; set aside.

2. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the lentils and ½ teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, partially cover, and cook for about 20 minutes, until tender. Drain.

3. In a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften and release their liquid. Once the liquid evaporates, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and cook until the mushrooms and onions brown. Stir in the cooked lentils and the cider vinegar.

4. Stuff each tortilla with the mushroom-lentil mixture, carrots, avocado, microgreens, and miso-herb sauce. Serve immediately.

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braised potatoes

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I don’t live in a world (okay, a town) where there are duck fat fries. People are always raving about them – except for the few who claim they’re not all that – but my opportunities to try duck fat anything have been limited. So I do what I usually do when I can’t find a restaurant to serve me something I want to try: I make it myself.

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Not that I set out to cook with duck fat; mostly I just stumbled onto a container of it at Whole Foods on my last visit to see my parents in Albuquerque. Also I didn’t exactly make fries, but close enough.

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On my first attempt to discover what makes potatoes cooked in duck fat so popular, I simply melted a half-inch or so of the fat in a nonstick pan, added the potatoes cut-side down, and let them cook until they were tender inside and nicely browned on the flat edges. They were just fine, but I didn’t see what the fuss was about.

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I was planning to give it another try one evening – after all, I had a container of duck fat with no other plans for it – when, a few hours before dinner, I read about Cook’s Illustrated’s braised new potato recipe in their latest issue. In this technique, the potatoes are cooked in a mixture of water, seasonings, and fat (the original recipe uses butter). The water tenderizes the potatoes, and when it evaporates, the potatoes brown in the fat.

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These are now a contender for my favorite potatoes ever. I still haven’t tried it with butter, which I’m sure is delicious, but the duck fat makes the kitchen smell like the best of Thanksgiving.  The inside of the potatoes are soft and creamy, and the flat edge is crisp and browned.  I see what all the fuss is about now.

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One year ago: California Roll Burgers
Two years ago: Lemon Bar (comparison of 3 recipes)
Three years ago: Grilled Artichokes
Four years ago: Fresh Strawberry Scones
Five years ago: Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Cannellini Beans and Balsamic Vinegar

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Braised Red Potatoes with Lemon (from Cooks Illustrated)

Did I mention that they’re almost entirely hands-off?

1½ pounds small red potatoes, unpeeled, halved
2 cups water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 sprigs fresh thyme
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

1. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer, cut-side down, in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. Add the water, butter, garlic, thyme, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer until potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes.

2. Remove the lid and use a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic to a cutting board; discard the thyme. Increase the heat to medium-high and vigorously simmer, swirling pan occasionally, until the water evaporates and the butter starts to sizzle, 15-20 minutes. When it’s cool enough to handle, mince the garlic to a paste.  Transfer the paste to a bowl and stir in the lemon juice and pepper.

3. Continue to cook the potatoes, swirling the pan frequently, until the butter browns and the cut sides of the potatoes turn spotty brown, 4 to 6 minutes longer. Off the heat, add the garlic mixture and chives and toss to thoroughly coat. Serve immediately.

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pasta with broccoli, chickpeas, and garlic

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Have I told you that we’re moving? In just a few days, in fact. It isn’t a big move as far as distance, as our new house is just a 15-minute drive away from our old one, but it is big as far as life steps. Having spent the majority of our twenties in graduate school, we watched our friends buy houses while we were still solidly in apartment mode. We’ve rented a nice little house for the last three years since we moved to New Mexico, but now, finally, we’re acting like grown-ups and buying our own place.

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The process hasn’t been without its hiccups. Who knew that ordering lighting fixtures would be so complicated? I keep telling myself that, when we’re settled and I have bright and colorful pendants hanging over the breakfast bar, it’ll be worth it, but for now, I just wish we could find lights that aren’t actually purple when the website says they’re cobalt, or lights with cords that are long enough, or lights that work with the slopes of our vaulted ceilings. Not to mention the hours of packing, visits to the bank, trips to Lowe’s, and oh yeah, we’re going on vacation a week after closing.

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When we’re not eating leftovers from the freezer, we’ve been eating a lot of quick meals like this one. Even better, I’ve gotten in the habit of buying those bags of pre-cut broccoli, which shaves another ten minutes off of prep time. At that point, it’s just an issue of boiling pasta while pan-roasting broccoli, pressing garlic into the pan with a pinch of red pepper flakes, and mixing everything together with a whole lot of lemon juice and parmesan to up the flavor ante. Dinner is served in no time at all, which means I can get back to procrastinating on packing by shopping for light fixtures.

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One year ago: Star Wars Cookies
Two years ago: Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Three years ago: Roll-out Sugar Cookies (comparison of 3 recipes)
Four years ago: Roasted Kale
Five years ago: Spaghetti and Meatballs

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Pasta with Broccoli, Chickpeas, and Garlic (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

Serves 6

Pasta dishes like this tend to cool quickly after being transferred to serving dishes, so I like to warm the empty bowls in an oven heated to about 200 degrees.

16 ounces whole wheat pasta
salt
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 (12-ounce) bags fresh chopped broccoli (or 3 heads of broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces)
12 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
juice from 1 lemon
1 cup (2 ounces) finely grated parmesan, plus more for garnish

1. Bring 4 quarts water to a rapid boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook according to package instructions. Before draining the cooked pasta, put about 1 cup pasta cooking water in a separate bowl and set aside. Return the drained pasta to the cooking pot.

2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the broccoli and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until bright green and browned in spots, 4-5 minutes. Add ¼ cup water; cover the pan for 1 minute to cook the broccoli through. Remove the lid and push the broccoli to the edges of the pan. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, the garlic, and the red pepper flakes to the center of the pan. Cook, stirring constantly and excluding the broccoli as much as possible, for about 1 minute, then add the chickpeas and stir the mixture into the broccoli. Add the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon salt.

3. Transfer the broccoli to the pot with the pasta, stirring to incorporate. Add about half of the reserved pasta cooking water and 1 cup of cheese, stirring until the cheese melts evenly over the pasta. Taste and adjust for seasoning with more salt, lemon juice, or parmesan. Add more pasta cooking water if the pasta seems dry. Serve immediately in warmed bowls.

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vegetable lasagna

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After spending the better part of a week visiting my parents and celebrating Christmas, Christmas Eve, my dad’s birthday, and a rare opportunity to eat sushi and get takeout from my favorite pizza joint and carne adovada breakfast burritos from my favorite burrito place (twice!), I thought maybe some vegetables were in order when we got home. On the other hand, we were still on break from work and I got a new lasagna pan for Christmas. Vegetable lasagna was clearly the answer, even if it isn’t necessarily healthy.

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I was feeling pretty good when I bought three big eggplants, three zucchini, three yellow squash (not the most seasonal recipe, but let’s face it, the quality of zucchini is pretty constant year-round even if it is a summer vegetable), and two bags of baby spinach. It seemed like an awful lot of vegetables for one pan of lasagna, but I figured they’d cook down a bunch. Besides, this is a Cooks Illustrated recipe, so they must know what they’re doing.

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Maybe they do, but my grocery store apparently doesn’t know what they’re doing when it comes to calibrating their scales in the produce department. Three eggplants resulted in quite an intimidating pile of ½-inch cubes, especially for someone who doesn’t generally love the vegetable. It didn’t lose much volume during its trip to the microwave, and the pan was so crowded when I sautéed the eggplant with the squashes that the vegetables mushed instead of browned.

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Once it became clear that I had far more vegetables than necessary, I adapted my cooking method and ended up with a big bowl of properly cooked vegetables in addition to a big bowl of mushy vegetables, plenty for two generous layers in my lasagna. The browned squash and wilted spinach were a great match for the bright tomato sauce and cheesey white sauce. But…

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That eggplant. It was just a bit rubbery and chewy. It tasted okay, but the texture was disappointing enough that I dreaded the eggplant bites, and with as much of the stuff as this lasagna contains, every bite is an eggplant bite.

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It seems like there’s a simple solution though – mushrooms. Mushrooms would go just as well with the other ingredients in this lasagna, and it’s such an easy fix that there’s no reason not to share this lasagna that has so much else going for it. And even if the eggplant was disappointing, at least I ate some vegetables and used my new pan.

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One year ago: Rice Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing
Two years ago: Pasta Puttanesca
Three years ago: Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup
Four years ago: Pasta with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Peppers
Five years ago: Pad Thai

Printer Friendly Recipe
Vegetable Lasagna (from Cook’s Illustrated)

I bought three of each of the eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash, but two of each would be plenty. And if you decide to substitute mushrooms for the eggplant, like I will in the future, skip the microwaving step and just sauté them separately from the squashes until they soften, release their water, dry out, and brown.

No-Cook Tomato Sauce:
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

No-Cook Cream Sauce:
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)
1 cup whole-milk cottage cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Vegetable Filling:
1½ pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound zucchini, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 pound yellow squash, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
12 ounces baby spinach (about 12 cups)
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
12 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1. FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

2. FOR THE CREAM SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

3. FOR THE FILLING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Line surface of large plate with double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Spread eggplant in even layer over filters. Wipe out and reserve now-empty bowl. Microwave eggplant, uncovered, until dry to touch and slightly shriveled, about 10 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that eggplant cooks evenly. Let cool slightly. Return eggplant to bowl and toss with zucchini and squash.

4. Combine 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, and thyme in small bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half eggplant mixture, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Push vegetables to sides of skillet; add half of garlic mixture to clearing and cook, mashing with spatula, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir to combine garlic mixture with vegetables and transfer to medium bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant mixture, 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining garlic mixture.

5. Return skillet to medium-high heat, add remaining teaspoon oil, and heat until shimmering. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer spinach to paper towel–lined plate and drain 2 minutes. Stir into eggplant mixture.

6. TO ASSEMBLE: Spray 13 by 9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of baking dish; shingle 4 noodles on top of sauce. Spread half of vegetable mixture over noodles, half of cream sauce, and 1 cup of mozzarella. Repeat layering with 4 noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetables, remaining cream sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella. Place remaining 4 noodles on top layer of cheese. Spread remaining 1 cup tomato sauce over noodles and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Lightly spray large sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray and cover lasagna. Bake until bubbling, about 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack 25 minutes. Cut into pieces, sprinkle with basil, and serve.

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