Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oat-Crusted Pecan Pie (from Cooking Light)

Some things are better when you don't know all the specifics, don't you think? Many things benefit from a little mystery, and pecan pie is right up there.  

I managed to pull off my first vegetarian thanksgiving (OK, not completely veg.- my mom brought over a turkey... I didn't want people to riot) and this dessert was what waited at the end.  

I am a diehard pecan pie fan, but this version left me a little deflated. Could it have been the knowledge that huge glugs of corn syrup were what made the pie so gooey? Quite possibly.  

The recipe comes from Cooking Light.  More and more I appreciate their recipes as a starting point, rather than an actual directive.  If only I knew more about baking, I could have seen the flaws in this pie in advance... and fixed them.  As made, the pie was a bit cloying and flat.  More spices would probably have helped that problem.  

Also, nobody wants a pecan pie with no pecans, dammit. That wouldn't be my first place to try to cut calories, Cooking Light. (I added about 1/2 c more pecans than the recipe called for.) 

In the magazine, the pie is paired with 'fresh cranberry sauce', which just seems bizarre.  Even the food stylist must have thought so: in the photo, the sauce is lurking in a ramekin yards behind the pie, looking sullen.  I didn't attempt the sauce.  

I do have nice things to say about the crust, however.  Easy to make, and with all that oatmeal ( if you ignore the butter), healthy! 

Oat- Crusted Pecan Pie (from Cooking Light)


1 3/4 c old fashioned rolled oats
3 TB granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 1/2 TB cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 TB ice water
cooking spray

3/4 c packed light brown sugar
2/3 c light colored corn syrup
3 TB all purpose flour
3 TB molasses
1 TB melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg white
2/3 c pecan halves


To prepare crust, place the first 3 ingredients in a food processor, and process until finely ground (about 30 seconds).  Add butter, and pulse 5 times, or until combined.  Add 1 TB ice water; pulse just until combined (mixture will be crumbly).  Press oat mixture into the bottom and up sides of a 9 inch deep-dish pie plate coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack. 

Reduce oven to 350.  Combine brown sugar, and next 8 ingredients (through egg white) in a medium bowl, stirring well.  Stir in pecan halves.  Spoon filling into prepared crust.  Bake at 350 for 48 minutes, or until center is set.  Cool to room temperature on a wire rack.  Serves 12. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Artichokes Braised in Lemon and Olive Oil (from Gourmet Magazine)

This was another item on the FPD (fall dinner party, I'm a dork, what do you want?) menu.  Maybe I should back up and let you know the big picture.  Dinner was cauliflower gratin, these artichokes, roasted acorn squash stuffed with mushrooms, and for dessert, a pecan pie.  

High maintenance vegetable alert!  Preparing these artichokes just really made me feel like I should have stripes on and a big old cuff and ball around my ankle.  Serious work-camp sensations came over me as I prepped artichoke 6 of 8 and wondered if I would ever have free will again.  

I'm not going to say the end result wasn't delicious-- because it was. The braising liquid of lemon, olive oil, fennel and coriander was aromatic and lovely, and the final presentation was quite satisfying. But so is having an extra three hours in the day, that you gained by not having made this recipe. 

One note- I  used a bit less olive oil than called for, because 1/2 c seemed gratuitous.  Nothing bad happened. 

Artichokes Braised in Lemon and Olive Oil 


1 lemon, halved
8 medium artichokes
3 small shallots, sliced into thin rings
1 carrot, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 c water
3 strips lemon zest
1/4 c fresh lemon juice, divided
2 TB coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley


To trim artichokes into hearts: add lemon halves to a large bowl of cold water, squeezing to release juice.  Cut off top inch of 1 artichoke and bend back outer leaves until they snap off close to base (keep stem attached).  Discard several more layers of leaves in same manner until you reach pale yellow leaves.  

Peel sides of stem down to pale inner core.  Put in lemon water while preparing remaining artichokes. 

Cook shallots, carrot, garlic and seeds in 1/4 c olive oil in a 4-5 qt heavy pot (pot should be wide enough to hold artichokes in 1 layer with stems pointing upward) over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes.  Add water, zest, and 3 TB lemon juice and bring to a simmer.  Stand artichokes in pot and season with 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.  Cover artichokes with wax paper, then a lid, and simmer over medium-low heat until bases are just tender when pierced with a knife, 20-30 minutes. 

Transfer artichokes to a dish and reserve cooking liquid.  When artichokes are cool enough to handle, halve lengthwise.  Scoop out and discard inner choke (fuzzy center and any sharp leaves).

Heat 2 TB oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then brown cut sides of artichokes in 2 batches, about 2 minutes per batch, transferring to a serving dish.  Add reserved cooking liquid to skillet along with remaining 1 TB lemon juice and remaining 2 TB oil.  Boil vigorously 3 minutes, then stir in parsley and pour over artichokes. Serve warm or at room temperature.  Serves 8 (first course or side dish) 

Gratin of Cauliflower with Gruyere (from Cooking Light)

This, right here, and right now is one of my ideal ways to spend a Sunday:  it's freezing outside, and I'm inside, surveying the scene.  There are dishes everywhere, leftovers crammed into the fridge, and folding chairs scattered across the living room.  Recovering from a dinner party is divine.  

Last night was my first all vegetarian dinner party... if you don't count my several forays into pasta making last fall.  I used two recipes out of magazines, which has its drawbacks.  I find that when I cook with a recipe, which is almost never,  I totally lose perspective on what I am actually doing.  

Without the pressure of having to think on my feet, I become sort of a cooking automaton, and don't think about what I'm trying to achieve.  Additionally, for some reason, when I cook to a recipe it takes me for_ever.  I think it's this sense that the recipe writer is lurking somewhere, waiting to see if I miss a step.  

You can imagine that I enjoy cooking quite a bit more if it's done without a recipe.

That said, a lot of the food I cook I consider too homey for a dinner party.  So, out came the cauliflower gratin recipe.  

Besides being intrigued by how well 2% milk thickens up in a sauce, I can't recommend this recipe.  It could have used some spice- a touch of nutmeg, or clove even.  As written, I found it to be a bit flat and lacking in depth.  For 8 people (as a side), I prepared 1 1/2 times this recipe.... and we barely had leftovers. 

Additionally, I used probably twice the recommended amount of cheese. Otherwise, the dish would have felt a little bit light, shall we say.  Finally, be sure to roast the cauliflower just short of done.  Too long and you're left with some mighty limp cruciferae.  

Gratin of Cauliflower with Gruyere (from Cooking Light)


1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets (about 2 lbs)
cooking spray
1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
2 tsp butter
1/3 c Panko
2 TB finely chopped fresh chives
1/2 c (2 oz) shredded Gruyere, divided
1/2 c finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
3 TB all purpose flour
2 c 2% reduced-fat milk
3 TB chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 400.  Place cauliflower in a 2 qt broiler safe baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray; coat cauliflower with cooking spray.  Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt; toss.  Bake at 400 for 30 minutes or until almost tender.  Cool 5 minutes.

Preheat broiler.  Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Remove from heat.  Stir in Panko.  Stir in 1/4 c cheese and chives.  

Heat medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray.  Add onion to pan; saute 4 minutes or until almost tender, stirring frequently.  Add garlic; saute 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk; bring to a boil.  Cook 3 minutes, or until thick, stirring constantly.  

Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1/4 c cheese, remaining 1/4 tsp salt, parsley, and pepper. Pour milk mixture over cauliflower mixture; toss.  Top evenly with cheese mixture.  Broil 3 minutes or until golden brown and thoroughly heated. Serves 6.  

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Trust me, I'm a Mom?

“The only obstacle between kids and their french fries: Mom. So here is Debra DeMuth, global nutrition director [for McDonald's], mounting a spirited defense of fries to five mothers of young children at a McDonald's in Baltimore.”

Through the haze of sleep, I was hoping I’d accidentally picked up The Onion. But upon closer inspection, no, still the Washington Post. And the Washington Post was telling me about how McDonald’s is enlisting mothers to chat up how healthy and nutritious their food is. Whhaaaa?

McDonald’s is an easy target for high and mighty people like me, isn’t it? But they deserve it.

This idea of moms as “fast food emissaries” is offensive not only because it feels like McDonald’s thumbing its corporate nose at peoples’ (correct) instinct that, hey, this food is NOT healthy, but also because of the chosen information vehicle. Moms? Really? Have you no shame?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Black Bean and Kale Soup

Happiness is a warm bowl of soup, to paraphrase Linus.  Speaking of Linus, I heard on NPR last week (OH NO. Stop me now. Starting sentences with "I heard on NPR..." ranks right up there with, "One time, in band camp...").

So I'm afraid, due to self-censorship, we'll never learn what the story was I heard on NPR, but take heart. I have other ideas.  

I love love love soup, and am trying to cut back on salt (how ironic, I know) ever since I learned that excessive sodium intake can interfere with calcium absorption.  Sort of a drag, but it just means that I am being driven further from the canned sodium bombs that the grocery store offers. 

Speaking of canned soup, want to hear something evil?  I thought so.  Progresso makes this soup in their vegetable classics line. That's vegetable classics, mind you, not pork-lovers classics.  Anyway, the soup is split pea. Sounds good so far, right? Wrong. In teeny, tiny .9 font under the name it says, snarkily, in italics that you need a bionic eye to read, "with bacon".

Thanks a lot, Progresso. Screw you, too. 

Hence, I've been making a lot more of my own soups. I know the food blog universe is flooded with kale love this time of year, but I'll add my valentine.  

Black Bean and Kale Soup


1 TB olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp thyme 
4 c vegetable stock
4 c water
2 bay leaves
10 c kale
1 14 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed 
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1/4 lemon 


Heat oil over medium-high heat in skillet.  Add onion, carrot, thyme, and cumin and saute for 5-7 minutes, or until onion is soft. Set aside.

Put 1/2 c of black beans in blender with 2 TB water. Blend until creamy. Set aside. 

Meanwhile, bring stock,water and bay leaves to a boil in a large stock pot.  Add kale, and turn heat down to medium.  Cook, with lid on, until kale begins to soften, about 7-9 minutes.  

Add onion mixture, beans,  and tomatoes with juice to pot. Cook, with lid on, for about 10 minutes.  When kale is soft, but still has some bite to it, remove soup from heat.  Add bean puree and stir to combine.  Remove bay leaves and discard. Add lemon immediately prior to serving. Serve with grated cheese if desired.  Serves 6-8.  

Friday, November 14, 2008

Roasted Cauliflower

Sometimes, if the fog is just right, and the rain has just brought fall leaves out of the trees....the world smells like maple syrup. My favorite.

Roasted Cauliflower


cooking spray
1 tsp olive oil
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp TB cumin
1 tsp salt


Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients, and mix using hands. Spread cauliflower on baking sheet, and roast for about 15 minutes. Using tongs, flip cauliflower on sheet, and roast for another 20-25 minutes, or until brown. Serves 4, as a side dish.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Eggplant Curry with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Tofu

I am positively drowning in un-posted posts right now! Ack! Here's my effort at chipping away at the backlog...

As I recently emailed a friend, my brain does this funny thing annually where it totally hits delete on the misery that is late fall / all of winter as soon as warm weather rolls around.

Consequently, here we are at late fall, and suddenly, cruelly suddenly, I am caught off guard by how very dreary it all is. It truly must be some sort of evolutionary amnesia that I'm programmed with that serves to prevent me from cliff-jumping around late October.

The whole getting dark at 2:15 in the afternoon thing feels like being ripped out of bed on a freezing cold morning and then being told that someone just ate the last pancake. Every day.

Oh, I am a dramatic one, aren't I?

Here's some curry to pour into the wound.


1 TB vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1 white onion, chopped
1 TB fresh ginger, chopped finely
1/2 TB turmeric
1/2 TB garam masala
1/2 TB curry powder (your blend of choice)
1/2 c vegetable stock
2-3 eggplants, cut into roughly 1 1/2 inch chunks
1 red pepper, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 roasted sweet potatoes, cut into roughly 1 inch chunks
1 block extra firm tofu, pressed, thoroughly drained, and prepared as described here


Heat oil in large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add mustard and coriander seeds, and stir to coat in oil. Put lid on dutch oven and cook seeds until they begin to pop, about two minutes.

Remove lid, and add onion, ginger, turmeric, garam masala and curry powder to pot. Cook over medium heat until onions soften, about five minutes. Add vegetable stock, and stir to loosen any browned bits from bottom of pan.

Turn heat to medium-low and add eggplant and pepper. Stir to combine all ingredients. Cook with lid on for about thirty minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove lid and cook until sauce has reduced to desired degree, about ten minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, put approximately 1/2 c sweet potato and 1/2 c tofu in each bowl. Top with curry mixture. Serves 4-6.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Pan-Fried Tofu with Mushrooms, Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed with Rice

I feel like singing, and trust me, I have an awful, awful voice. The cause of the joy-overload? I just went running in Rock Creek and it was amazing... the leaves are at their absolute peak and I feel marinated in fall. Bizarre image, good feeling. 

I've already started trying to overdose on squash, no sense in pacing myself through the season, right? I can't get enough.  The Husband loves squash, too, but that's probably due to his secret love of babyfood.  And, no, we don't have a baby. 

If people didn't look at him really strangely, he and a really wee spoon could probably even be spotted in public, scraping the last bits of pureed banana out of a jar with a kid's face on it. 

Pan Fried Tofu with Mushrooms 


cooking spray (I like high-heat spray)
2 blocks of extra firm tofu, pressed and thoroughly drained
1TB olive oil
6-8 spring onions, white and half of green parts, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 lbs assorted mushrooms
1/2 TB thyme
salt and pepper to taste


Slice each block of tofu lengthwise into four equal slabs.  Then slice each slab into four triangles. Season tofu generously with salt and pepper. Spray nonstick pan, and heat over medium-high heat.  Pan fry tofu in batches, cooking for about ten  minutes per side, or until well browned.  Set aside. 

Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic, and saute until softened. Add small amounts of water as needed to prevent onions and garlic from sticking.  Turn heat down to medium-low and add mushrooms and thyme.  Stir mixture to coat mushrooms in oil.  Stir occasionally, and allow mushrooms to cook until they have released all but about 2TB of their liquid.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  

To serve, top tofu triangles with mushroom sauce. Serves four. 

Roasted Acorn Squash stuffed with Wild Rice


cooking spray
2 acorn squash
1TB butter
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked wild rice


Preheat oven to 425.  Line a baking sheet with foil, spray with cooking spray, and set aside.

Cut acorn squash in half crosswise.  (Note: to make cutting easier, try microwaving squash for 2-3 minutes to soften it prior to cutting.)  Scoop seeds out and discard.  Place squash flesh side down on baking sheet and roast for about 45 minutes, or until outside of squash feels soft to the touch.  

To serve, divide butter between four squash halves, and place in well of squash. Season with salt and pepper.  Add 1/2 c of wild rice to each squash.  Serves four.  

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mimi's Apple Cake

I am still in shock about Tuesday; maybe I didn't have enough faith in this country.  After Obama's acceptance speech, we all walked down to the White House, where a huge crowd was gathered.  The energy was amazing, and it was so cool to be a part of it. And, it was Husband's first time voting in the US- not a bad first race! 

This is another recipe that we made with the seniors' nutrition class that I am an assistant for. Honestly, spending time with them on a Friday afternoon is the best way to wrap up the week.  

This cake comes courtesy of "Chef Jenny" who works at Sticky Fingers Bakery, among other places.  The recipe a healthified version of a cake her grandma used to make.  I am anti sugary sweet breakfast breads, so I only use about 1/4- 1/2 c of sugar when I make them. 

Mimi's Apple Cake 


1 c white flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c sugar (original recipe calls for 1 c sugar + 1/2 c brown sugar)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice (not called for in original recipe)
1 c applesauce
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla 
2 1/2 c peeled, chopped apple
1 c chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)


Preheat oven to 350.  Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside. 

Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.  Mix all of the wet ingredients well, reserving apples and nuts, if using.  Add dry ingredients to wet, and mix until just combined. Fold in apples and nuts.  Bake for about 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in bread comes out clean.  

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Spaghetti Squash & Mushroom Enchiladas

I got the idea for these enchiladas from the nutrition/cooking class that I am an assistant to.  I just started assisting a chef and a nutritionist in teaching the group of low-income seniors a few weeks ago, and I am in love.  They are the spunkiest, funniest, most perverted group of sixty and seventy year olds you could ask for. What more could you ever want?

For a group that are living in senior housing, many of whom have trouble getting around and some suffering from chronic conditions, they talk about sex an awful lot. There's no way around it. But it is very life affirming- these are not people who are sitting around waiting to die. 

Oh no. They are waiting for the Friday night dance, to see who's making the moves on who. It is awesome.  

We are teaching basic nutrition and healthy cooking skills, and I am happy to say I feel like they are embracing a lot of the principles.  Sure, people might always prefer to make a sweet potato pie rather than bake some sweet potato fries, but at least we are offering new ideas.  

Last week we made spaghetti squash, which a few people had never seen before. It is one of nature's wackier veggies, isn't it? 

I was inspired to make these enchiladas, which do best when complimented by sides of refried bean, rice and salsa.  They are protein-less when eaten solo, so do add some bean somewhere to the dish.  But they are surprisingly filling, and quite healthy.  

Spaghetti Squash & Mushroom Enchiladas 


12 corn tortillas, softened in a heated skillet (30 seconds per side)
1 TB olive oil 
1 onion, chopped 
5 cloves garlic, finely minced 
jalapeno, or other pepper, to taste
1 lb assorted mushrooms
3 c spaghetti squash*
salt and pepper to taste
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 14 oz can green enchilada sauce
1/2 c shredded mozzarella cheese 

* to prepare spaghetti squash, split squash lengthwise in half.  Scoop seeds out of squash with a spoon or your hand.  Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray foil with cooking spray.  Place squash flesh down and bake in a 450 oven for about 30-40 minutes.  When finished cooking, use a spoon or fork to scoop out flesh.  


Spray a 13x9 inch pan with cooking spray, and set aside.  Preheat oven to 400. 

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion, and garlic and saute until softened. Add jalapeno (or other pepper) and saute until softened. Turn heat down to low, and add mushrooms to skillet.  Cook until mushrooms have release most of their liquid, about five to seven minutes.  Remove mixture from heat. 

In a large bowl, combine mushroom mixture and spaghetti squash.  Allow mixture to cool ten-fifteen minutes. 

Pour tomatoes into 13x19 inch pan.  Spread evenly.  Take one tortilla, and lay on counter.  Spread 3-4 TB of mushroom mixture across center of tortilla. Roll tortilla up, and place seam down in enchilada pan. Continue preparing tortillas; there will be two rows of six tortilla rolls. 

Once all tortilla rolls are in pan, pour enchilada sauce over middle of each roll, and down sides of pan.  Top rolls with cheese. Bake at 4oo degrees for about 20-30 minutes, or until cheese is golden.  Serves 6.