Portobello Pasta with Rosemary & Toasted Pine Nuts

Apr 27, 2011

I'm in an adjective, poem-y kind of mood. I guess. (Not really, but it sounds kind of interesting.) So consider this an adjective poem dedicated to my faithful reader (hi, Mom!) who told me that she quite enjoyed her dinner last night:

Rosemary is really rad.
Lemons are likely luscious.
Parmesan is pretty pleasing.
Toasted pine nuts are.... totally toasty.... and pointedly perfect.
Garlic is gigantically great.
Olive oil is outrageously outstanding.
Portabello mushrooms are pleasantly pleasant and marvelously marvelous.
And pasta is superly stupendous.

(I ran out of P words.)

The point I'm trying to make here is that you should make this and eat it because it's good. Kind of really good, actually.

Notes: Feel free to use whole-wheat pasta if you have it on hand. I used orecchiette, which works wonderfully because it catches all of the goodness in its little bowls.

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, Sept. & Oct. 2009


Apr 25, 2011

Like most college students, I had several different roommates over the years. All had fun, unique qualities, and we all got along so well. There are many fun memories we created over the years and the one I share today took place during my Freshman year.

It was a Sunday afternoon. We were all in the kitchen looking for a little pick-me-up when Daniella pulled out her blender. She dumped in a can of beans, plopped a few scoops of tan gloopy stuff inside, tossed in some garlic cloves, and sprinkled in a few pinches of green powder. Then she pushed "blend." After a minute or so, she took the lid off the blender and stuck a pita chip right into the light creamy stuff.

My curiosity was peaked. The only ingredient I recognized was garlic. What was that light creamy puree she had made? I asked her just that and Daniella said it was called hummus. She offered me a taste and I immediately had to know more about it. She explained that it was a simple chickpea puree eaten frequently in the Middle East. She told me all about chickpeas, tahini, and her special green spice blend, called Zatar, which came straight from the Middle East. Boy, was that stuff yummy.

Not long after, I started making my own hummus and have been doing so since that first year of college with Daniella. Though I have no Zatar picked up from a recent trip to the Middle East, I still think this hummus is quite delightful.

There are many different versions of hummus: black bean hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, sun-dried tomato hummus, chipotle cilantro hummus, the list goes on. Basically, if you can blend it, you can probably make some kind of hummus with it. This is my favorite classic version: chickpeas, garlic, hummus, tahini, lemon, olive oil, and a few spices. Hummus makes for a great afternoon snack. It's healthy, filling, creamy, and light. I like hummus served with pita chips or homemade crackers. It is also a great spread in sandwiches or a dip for vegetables.

Notes: The only special ingredient you need to make hummus is called tahini. Tahini is sesame paste - simply ground up sesame seeds. Think of peanut butter, but made with sesame seeds. You can usually find tahini by the peanut butter in most grocery stores. Also, I like the fresh taste of home cooked beans, but you can certainly use canned if you prefer, just be sure to drain and rinse the beans.

Adapted from The New Best Recipe

Olive Oil Crackers

Apr 24, 2011

I spent one college term studying abroad in London. Simply put it was the best college term EVER. (And that was even a blatant understatement.) How could it not be, right? One of my favorite things about that gorgeous city is that it seems to never end. There is so much to explore. The streets go on and on, brimming full of antique shops, markets, flats, restaurants, pubs, and theatres. I spent hours upon hours wandering around London by myself. I found so many little treasures and exciting places.

Ottolenghi has a few little shops around London. With a focus on fresh produce and high-quality ingredients, the dishes at Ottolenghi offer many unique flavors and textures. The counters are filled with huge trays of sandwiches and quiche, and an abundant array of salads, breads, cakes, croissants, and the like. I was lucky enough to live only two blocks from the shop in Kensington. I frequented this cozy place, often purchasing a few cookies and muffins to take along for the day's adventures. One day my pocket book must have seemed particularly full, I suppose, so I decided to sit down for an exceptional lunch. While enjoying my meal, I noticed a stack of Ottolenghi cookbooks nearby. I picked one up and thumbed through the beautiful pages. Though I would have loved to bring a sample of everything in the store that day home, I did end up with one little, yet very important(!), souvenir. Is it a surprise that this beautiful book now sits on my shelf at home with about half of the pages dog-eared?

Every time I pull that cookbook off the shelf I am flooded with memories of London. I pulled it down yesterday to find my favorite recipe for crackers and it immediately brought a smile to my face. To me, heaven will be exactly like London.

Notes: Crackers are fun and simple to make at home. Straight from the oven, they are fresh and crispy. You can personalize them by adding your own preference of spices. This version takes a little kick from a pinch of cayenne pepper and goes beautifully with some homemade hummus. I use a combination of whole-wheat pastry and spelt flours, but all-purpose will also work well.

Adapted from Ottolenghi

Tiger Cake

Apr 21, 2011

This is a really fun cake. Not only is it called Tiger Cake (who would turn down a cake with that kind of awesome name!?), but as soon as you cut a slice, the cake looks like you spent forever making the beautiful swirls inside.

Secret: you did not. You did not spend forever making the beautiful swirls inside - because it's magic.

Or it's just that the batter marbles itself as the leaveners begin reacting from the heat of the oven.

One of the two.

Anyway, this cake is also really fun because it is made with olive oil and pinch of white pepper. Sound strange? I know. Stay with me. The flavors are very subtle and so delicious. The pepper does its work behind the scenes - it doesn't stand out as a dominant flavor at all. The job of the pepper is to accentuate the olive oil flavor, which it does just beautifully.

I was a bit hesitant before trying this cake - pepper in cake? Really? Pepper. Hesitation finally set aside, I decided to trust Alice Medrich's award-winning reputation.

And it honestly works. Somehow.

Maybe it's magic, after all.

Notes: I decreased the amount of sugar in the original cake from 2 cups to 1 1/2 cups because I prefer my desserts a little less sweet. If you like your cakes on the sweeter side, I would leave the sugar at 2 cups. Also, Alice notes that natural cocoa is a must in this recipe because Dutch-process adds an unpleasant taste since it reacts with the leavening and olive oil in the cake.

Adapted from Bittersweet

Tomato & Zucchini Tart with Garlic & Basil

Apr 19, 2011

I am so anxious for summer to arrive, it's hardly funny. This year has been a crazy one, to say the least, so the summer break promises just that - a little break with lots of warm (hot! yay!) sunshine. Summer also means the garden will be producing tomatoes and zucchini like crazy, of which I will not complain about for one single second.

I made this tart a few weeks ago with summer in mind. Of course, the tomatoes and zucchini came from the local grocery, but as soon as summer hits, I know this tart will taste that much better with just-picked fresh vegetables from out back.

Notes: I really love this crust. I use it all the time when making savory tarts. I love that it uses all whole-grain flour and olive oil. It's tender and flavorful. It's also a great one to add additional herbs to. I might try adding a little fresh basil to the dough next time. Also, this tart will feed five hungry people. I tried to stretch it to 7 one night and Dad was not happy. He wanted more. I like it when people want more... It means I did pretty good, right?

Filling a Flour Sack original 
Tart crust adapted from 101 cookbooks

Broccoli Pesto Orzo with Lemon & Avocado

Apr 18, 2011

The rain is slowly drizzling outside the window as I sit here today. It's overcast and beautifully misty out there. The pitter patter of the rain drops hitting the roof is so peaceful. It's the kind of day that makes you just want to curl up in a big sweater, grab a wonderful book, and settle into a comfy chair. In fact, that's just what I did after making this delicious pasta dish for lunch. I'm currently reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I'm not too far into it yet, but so far it's been a page-turner - a little bit of World War II history, charming England, and a touch of romance all rolled into one book. I have high hopes for it.

As for this pasta. I had high hopes for it, too, upon seeing it in Heidi's new book. And, as usual, it fulfilled those high hopes. This dish is quick and easy to put together. The creme fraiche and lemon zest add a touch of brightness while a bit of diced avocado lends a bit of creaminess. This is the perfect kind of nutrition- and flavor-packed lunch I love. I hope you'll try it soon.

Also, pick up that book if you're ever on your way past the library. I think it's going to be a good one.

Notes: Heidi notes in her book that if you can't find orzo, substituting another tiny pasta, or even farro or wheat berries, would be great. I can imagine if you also don't have pine nuts on hand, walnuts would make a nice substitution.

Adapted from Super Natural Every Day

Broccoli Pesto Orzo with Avocado & Lemon

pasta & broccoli
2 cups whole-wheat orzo
Kosher salt
7 cups raw broccoli, cut into small florets

(3 cups of the broccoli florets after being cooked)
2 cloves garlic
2/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup cream

to serve
Zest of one lemon
1 large avocado, diced
Remaining toasted pine nuts
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

pasta & broccoli
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook according to the package directions, until al dente. Drain the pasta and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water in a separate bowl. Set the pasta and cooking water aside.
In the meantime, cook the broccoli by placing the florets in a steam backet. Cook for 3-5 minutes, just enough to take off the raw edge. Set aside.

To make the pesto, combine 3 cups of the cooked broccoli, the garlic, most of the pine nuts, the Parmesan, the lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice in a food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil and cream and blend until smooth. Adjust the consistency so that the pesto is not too thick by adding a few tablespoons at a time of the pasta cooking water. Taste and add additional salt and lemon juice as needed.

to serve
Just before serving, toss the orzo and remaining cooked broccoli florets with the broccoli pesto and the lemon zest. Gently fold in the avocado. Serve topped with pine nuts, Parmesan, and a few grinds of fresh black pepper.

Yield: Serves 4 as a main dish, a few more as a side

Millet Muffins

Apr 16, 2011

Christmas presents arriving in the mail yesterday are good things. "Um. Isn't it April, Brooke?" Well, yes. Yes it is April. But you see... I got a gift card for Amazon for Christmas. Of course I knew exactly what I would use it for - cookbooks. And of course I knew that one of those cookbooks would be Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day, set to be published in April 2011. See where I'm going with this whole Christmas-in-April thing? Uh-huh.

Well, the book finally (!!!) arrived. I completely love Heidi's first book, Super Natural Cooking, and have made many of the lovely recipes therein. Heidi is the author and creator of one of my very favorite culinary blogs. In fact, her site was the first to inspire me in this wide world of food blogging. Anyway, I absolutely love her style and approach to cooking. She and I have very similar taste and her photos and recipes continually inspire me.

These muffins were the first I made from Heidi's new book. They are the perfectly honey-kissed, lemon-scented, and just a little nutty from the millet. They come together quickly and are a wonderful morning breakfast. Be sure to serve them warm from the oven with plenty of salted butter.

Notes: I made no changes to these muffins. They are beautiful the way they are. I did half the recipe, which worked perfectly and made exactly 6 muffins. They store well in an air-tight container for a couple of days or will freeze well if sealed in a plastic freezer bag.

Adapted from Super Natural Everyday, by Heidi Swanson

Cream Cheese Brownies

Apr 14, 2011

Brownies. Cream cheese. Does it get any better than this? Two of my favorite things combined into one little dish makes for a rich and intense dessert.

I've tried other recipes for cream cheese brownies, but none have quite hit the spot for me. Not these. These brownies have the perfect ratio of cream cheese to chocolate - a very important element in this dessert. Most recipes call for half of the cream cheese that these call for. For me, the ideal cream cheese brownie should be a rich, fudgy brownie with a swirl of cream cheese filling in every bite. These are the winners.

Notes: I've included my regular substitutions for the all-purpose flour and traditional white sugar called for in the original recipe below. Feel free to use what you have on hand.

Adapted from The New Best Recipe

This post linked to Sweet as Sugar

Pear & Buckwheat Pancakes

Apr 12, 2011

Buckwheat flour is easily recognizable. It is dark, almost purple in color, and has a very distinct flavor. It is bit of a deep, earthy taste. Traditionally, buckwheat flour is used to make galettes and buckwheat crepes in north-western France, in Russia to make blini, and in many Asian countries to make noodles. The name "buckwheat" comes from the Middle Dutch for "beech-wheat" because the triangularly-shaped groats look similar to beech-tree nuts. Because of it's assertive flavor, buckwheat pairs well with fall fruits, as in these Pear and Buckwheat Pancakes.

These little breakfast cakes are topped with a rich honey butter instead of the usual maple syrup accompaniment. The honey goes wonerfully with the buckwheat while the pears lend a bit of moisture, texture, and sweetness to the cakes.

Notes: If you find buckwheat flour too strong for your taste, simply use a greater proportion of white or whole-wheat pastry flour. I also think these pancakes would be extra-nice with a few warm spices added to the batter - I think I'll try a 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg and then an 1/8 teaspoon cardamom.

Adapted from Good to the Grain

Graham Crackers

Apr 10, 2011

I have been wanting to try my hand at homemade graham crackers for some time now. I finally found a recipe that looked like it would promise what I was hoping for. I have to say, these are some good crackers. Apparently someone else in this household thinks so, too. I made these with the intent to later use them as a crust for a cheesecake, so I sealed them up and put them in the freezer. A few days later I noticed that there were, oh maybe 7 left in the container, along with a few small crumbs. So much for that cheesecake. I guess I'll have to whip up some more crackers soon. And find that sneaky thief (and his sly accomplice)... *ahem, little brothers*

Notes: The original recipe is written in metric units, but I've included the measurements in customary values if you don't have a scale. The original recipe calls for all-purpose flour and dark brown sugar. It also calls exclusively for molasses, but I like these with a touch of honey to keep the strong molasses flavor from dominating the crackers. I would like to also try these by replacing all of the molasses with honey. A quick word on graham flour - graham flour is whole grain and is just hard red wheat. We don't usually keep red wheat on-hand at home so I purchase Bob's Red Mill graham flour and it is great. It's pricey on line, but only a few dollars at our local grocery. If you can't find it locally, any whole-wheat flour will substitute well.

Adapted from here

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