Monday, February 28, 2011

Shredded Carrot Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette

Ever since making cranberry relish that contained horseradish as part of Thanksgiving dinner, I've been incorporating horseradish into dishes fairly regularly, and it's becoming one of my favorite flavors (although I'll admit it's not for everyone). If you love the bold, acidic flavor of horseradish as much as I go, this shredded carrot salad is right up your alley. Sharp horseradish is a great surprisingly complement to sweet carrots, but is kept from being too assertive by the olive oil and cider vinegar. This crunchy, fresh dish is a great alternative to a green salad and will go happily alongside pork, beef, or chicken.

Shredded Carrot Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette
from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
serves 4

2 1/2 cups peeled and grated carrots

Horseradish Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 teaspoons prepared horseradish
4 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried dill weed (optional)
2 teaspoons small capers (optional)

1. Place the carrots in a serving bowl and set aside. With a whisk or in a blender, combine the rest of the ingredients for the dressing. (The Horseradish Vinaigrette will be smoother if pureed in a blender for 30 seconds.) Pour the dressing over the carrots and toss well. Serve lightly chilled or at room temperature.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Simplest Chicken and Leek Stew

After a long day at work, bookended by scraping layers of ice off my car, this stew was a welcome bowl of comfort at dinnertime. This is the second recipe by Jamie Oliver that I've tried from the current issue of Food and Wine (the first being Light Smoked Salmon Caesar Salad, a slight adaptation), and I'm happy to report I've been really pleased with both. I thoroughly admire his work trying to improve school lunch programs through Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and I'm pleased to discover that I'm also a fan of his work as a chef as well so far. I'd never cooked with leeks until a couple years ago, but I've really come to love their flavor, with Potage Parmentier being one of my favorite soups, despite being almost irreducibly simple. This stew is equally delicious as a long-simmered beef stew, but in a much different way. While both stews are hearty and perfect for a cold winter day, where the beef stew has deep, earthy flavors the flavor palate of this chicken stew is lighter and fresher, and isn't nearly as heavy a dish. I served this stew over brown rice, but it would also be great served over couscous, quinoa, or barley.

Simplest Chicken and Leek Stew
from Jamie Oliver via Food and Wine
serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 2-inch pieces
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the leeks and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are tender, about 4 minutes. Scrape the leeks and mushrooms onto a plate.

2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and lightly dust with flour, shaking off any excess. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in the skillet. Add the chicken and cook over moderate heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Add the chicken stock and thyme and simmer over moderate heat until the chicken is just cooked through, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to the plate with the vegetables.

3. Simmer the stock over moderately high heat until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Return the chicken, leeks and mushrooms to the skillet and simmer over low heat until warmed through, about 1 minute.

4. In a small bowl, blend the sour cream with the mustard and stir into the stew. Remove the skillet from the heat. Season the stew with salt and pepper and serve.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Light Smoked Salmon Caesar Salad

This is another recipe in my series of creative lunch salads on Saturdays. The current issue of Food and Wine is just packed with healthy recipes I want to try, and with a easy tweak, I turned this light side Caesar salad into a really delicious lunch. As unusual a craving as it might be, I've been craving smoked fish for a couple of weeks now and decided to treat myself and pick up some smoked salmon. I'm really a sucker for anything smoked and the extra layer of flavor from the smoked salmon was a great complement to the creamy, tangy dressing. You can always go more traditional and add chicken (or even smoked chicken), or just leave the protein off entirely and enjoy this as a crunchy, creamy, delicious side.

Light Smoked Salmon Caesar Salad
adapted from Jamie Oliver via Food and Wine
serves 2 as main-course

1/3 cup low-fat or nonfat Greek-style yogurt
2 anchovy fillets, mashed
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large head of romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
4 oz. smoked salmon, cut into bite-size pieces

1. In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt with the anchovies, garlic, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Whisk in the oil and half of the cheese and season with salt and pepper.

2. Divide the romaine equally between two plates, top with smoked salmon, and drizzle with dressing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Curried Quinoa with Chickpeas

I've had the original version of this recipe bookmarked since I bought the Moosewood Restaurant New Classics cookbook several months ago because I love quinoa and am always looking for new ways to prepare it. This dish was originally intended as a side, but I turned it into a main course by adding a can of chickpeas, which pair superbly with the mix of spices in this recipe. Although most grains should be washed before cooking, this is particularly important with quinoa, as the outside of the grain is naturally coating with saponins, which are bitter and soapy-tasting and make the quinoa unpalatable. I had parsley on hand already instead of cilantro so I used that, although I cilantro would pair much better with this Indian-inspired dish. The spices in this dish are quite mild and a great way to introduce this palate of spices to those who are not familiar with them; if you like bolder flavors, increase the amount of each spice, particularly the cayenne (or fresh chile), if using. I served this alongside the profoundly simply, yet spectacularly delicious, Dijon-Roasted Cauliflower for a quick, healthy, vegetarian/vegan dinner.

Curried Quinoa with Chickpeas
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
serves 3 to 4 as a main course or 6 to 8 as a side dish

1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced onions
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
1/2 fresh green chile, minced, or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1. Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse it with cold water. Drain well.

2. In a heavy saucepan, warm the oil and saute the onions on medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the ginger, chile or cayenne, and the quinoa and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, and salt and cook for another minute, stirring.

3. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the peas and chickpeas, cover, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the peas are tender, the chickpeas are heated through, and the water has been absorbed.

4. Before serving, fluff with a fork and add the cilantro, if you wish.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dijon-Roasted Cauliflower

I'm kind of obsessed with roasted cauliflower. This recipe was originally intended as a garnish for Silky Cauliflower Soup, but couldn't resist making it just as a side. I adore the beautiful simplicity of cauliflower roasted with just olive oil and salt, cauliflower is also a great palate for a host of other flavors. After savoring this dish, I'm convinced dijon mustard is the perfect mate to cauliflower. It's hard to believe that the addition of one simple ingredient can elevate this dish so much, but the addition of dijon mustard to roasted cauliflower took it from delicious to absolutely divine. My husband and I both loved it so much that I stopped after the work the next day to buy more cauliflower to make it again. The quality of the dish is highly dependent on the quality of the mustard, so go ahead and spend a few extra bucks and indulge in a good dijon mustard instead of picking up the store brand. Mustard is my condiment of choice for sandwiches, so I was fortunate to have a few great options to choose from. This recipe is destined to become an indispensable and much-loved part of my cooking repertoire-it's simple, healthy, and unbelievably delicious.

Dijon-Roasted Cauliflower
from Food and Wine
makes 8 garnish servings, or 4 side-dish servings

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
One 2-pound head of cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a bowl, whisk the mustard, oil and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Toss in the cauliflower; spread on a baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes. Serve.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Black Bean and Corn Frittata

I'm currently working on cooking from my fridge, freezer, and pantry right now and frittatas are one of the best ways to combine a variety of ingredients quickly and easily. I'm a total sucker for the black bean and corn combination and always have both around, so tossing them into a frittata with some scallions and cheese was an easy decision. Bell peppers would also be a nice addition or substitute for the scallions and the heat could be easily dialed up with a bit of jalapeno or other hot chile. Frittatas are fantastic for breakfast, lunch or dinner; I usually have them with a piece of toast and side salad for lunch or dinner or toast and fruit for breakfast. The next time you're scrambling to come up with something for dinner at the last minute, try this quick, healthy, and tasty frittata!

Black Bean and Corn Frittata
serves 2 to 4

6 eggs
1/2 cup black beans, drained and rinsed well if canned
1/2 cup fresh, canned, or frozen corn, rinsed if canned and thawed if frozen
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup shredded melting cheese (smoked cheddar, Monterey Jack, and mozzarella all make good choices)
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dash ground chipotle pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Salsa, for serving (optional)
Sour cream, for serving (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the upper third. Whisk eggs together in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper and chipotle pepper, if using. Add beans, corn, scallions, and half the cheese and mix well to combine.

2. Preheat a medium (approx. 10-inch) cast-iron or other oven-safe skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, add the butter and swirl to coat the entire pan. Add the egg mixture and cook for a couple minutes, until the outer edge is set. While the egg is cooking, sprinkle the other half of the cheese over the top of the egg mixture.

3. Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven. Bake until frittata is set in the center and the top is slightly browned, about 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how long you let the frittata cook on the stove and how browned you want the top of the frittata to be. After removing the frittata from the oven, run a rubber spatula around the edge of the pan to loosen the frittata. Allow to rest for a few minutes, then transfer to a cutting board, slice into wedges and serve, topping with salsa and sour cream if desired.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sesame-Peanut Noodles

My husband and I had a low-key Friday night at home and I wanted a quick and fun, but still relatively healthy dinner to go along with our movie, so I could still indulge at our weekly meal out on Saturday. I'm also on a mission to clean out the pantry, fridge, and freezer a bit so when I saw that we had a few mini spring rolls left in the freezer, I instantly thought of a veggie-packed noodle bowl as the perfect main dish to accompany them. This great simple dinnerfeels a bit like take-out, but without all the fat, salt, and MSG and you can throw in pretty much whatever veggies you like and have in the fridge. On a technical note, you'll likely want to thin the dressing out a bit to coat all the noodles with some water; adding the noodles and veggies to the dressing when the noodles and peas are freshly drained and still a bit warm will also help to distribute the dressing. So whip up a quick bowl of noodles, pop in a movie, and enjoy!

Sesame-Peanut Noodles
adapted slightly from Whole Foods
serves 4

1 (8-ounce) package 100% whole grain soba noodles or whole wheat spaghetti
2 cups sugar snap or snow peas, strings removed
2 tablespoons roasted smooth peanut butter or almond butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon reduced sodium tamari
1 tablespoon sesame tahini
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 cup sliced green onions
3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1. Cook soba noodles or spaghetti according to package directions. Add peas with 1 minute cooking time remaining. Drain noodles and peas thoroughly.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together peanut butter, vinegar, tamari, tahini and crushed red pepper. Add a splash of warm water if needed to thin the sauce so it will coat the vegetables and noodles. Add noodles, snow peas, carrots, bell pepper, green onions and sesame seeds. Toss to coat noodles and vegetables thoroughly with sauce. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Grilled Chicken, Fig, and Goat Cheese Salad

I'm definitely a creature of habit and putting together a creative salad for my husband and I for lunch on Saturday has become a bit of a tradition in recent weeks. I eat vegetable salads all the time as a side, but when putting together a main course salad I typically use a combination of cheese, dried fruit, and nuts, which may or may not be combined with more fresh vegetables or a protein. Here I pair rich and creamy goat cheese, with sweet, slightly tart, and chewy dried figs, toasty, crunchy walnuts, and simply seasoned chicken for a delicious and healthy meal. To make this salad vegetarian, as I brought it for lunch, eliminate the chicken and increase the amount of walnuts and figs; bacon could also be added or substituted for the chicken. I love these kind of meals that deliver tons of flavor with minimal time and effort and make my husband actually happy to eat a salad.

Grilled Chicken, Fig, and Goat Cheese Salad
serves 2

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces of mixed romaine and radicchio
1/4 c. chopped dried figs
1/4 c. crumbled goat cheese
2 T. chopped toasted walnuts
Salad dressing, for serving

1. Preheat a grill pan or electric grill (like the Cuisinart Griddler or George Foreman grill). Brush both sides of the chicken breast with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until chicken reaches 170 degrees F, flipping halfway through if using a grill pan. Remove chicken from heat and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes. Slice chicken into slices or bite size pieces.

2. Meanwhile, divide the lettuce mix between two plates and top each with half of the figs, goat cheese, and walnuts. Place sliced chicken on top and drizzle with your favorite dressing. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pasta and Red Pepper Tuna Sauce with Anchovies, Garlic and Basil

Who doesn't love a hearty bowl of pasta for dinner? There's a pasta dish out there to please nearly every taste because there are infinite combinations of ingredients and types of pasta, ranging from the super-healthy to the sinfully indulgent. This pasta is absolutely delicious but full of heart-healthy ingredients. Olive oil, tuna, and whole grain pasta combine with sweet roasted red peppers and toasty garlic punctuated with a little kick of spice to make a deeply flavored, yet well-rounded dish. With relatively few ingredients in this dish, the olive oil and wine are important to the flavor, so don't cheap out. You should never cook with a wine that you wouldn't drink, but that doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money. I used a Pinot Grigio from Cedar Creek Winery, one of the many wonderful Wisconsin wineries producing a wide variety of wines at very reasonable prices. And since you won't be using even close to the whole bottle to cook, you might as well pour yourself a glass to enjoy with your pasta.

Pasta and Red Pepper Tuna Sauce with Anchovies, Garlic, and Basil
adapted barely from Cook's Illustrated
serves 4 to 6

6 tablespoons olive oil
6 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 anchovy fillets, minced
1 cup roasted red peppers (7 ounce jar), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup dry white wine
12 ounces canned solid white tuna in water (2 6-ounce cans), drained well and chunks broken up with fingers
Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or fresh chopped parsley
1 pound whole wheat penne pasta or fusilli, cooked until al dente and drained, 1/4 cup pasta cooking water reserved
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat 3 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon garlic, and red pepper flakes in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and sizzling but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add anchovies and roasted red peppers and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly dry, about 30 seconds. Add wine and bring to simmer; simmer until aroma bears no trace of alcohol, about 1 minute. Add tuna and 2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring frequently, until tuna is heated through, about 1 minute.

2. Toss tuna mixture, remaining oil and garlic, lemon juice, basil, cooked pasta, and reserved pasta water to coat in warm serving bowl. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste; serve immediately.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sunshine Soup

I absolutely love Nigella Lawson. She's wonderfully talented and poised and one of the most charismatic and inviting celebrity chefs out there. When I picked up her latest book, Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, I found myself wanting to bookmark nearly every recipe, with this one being the first of a long list of recipes I plan to make.

And what a fantastic start! This soup is so simple and tastes like a burst of summer, most welcome on a cold, snowy winter night, although it would be even more incredible in the summer with fresh sweet corn and peppers from the farmer's market. This soup also has a delightfully rustic texture and makes for a satisfying dinner for two with a crusty roll or side salad (or both, if you're feeling particularly ravenous). As written, it is beautifully sweet and mild, but if you'd like to give it a bit more kick, substitute chili-flavored oil for the garlic-flavored oil and add a bit of cayenne, habanero, or chipotle pepper when adjusting the final seasoning.

Sunshine Soup
from Nigella Kitchen
serves 4 as a starter, or 2 as supper in its entirety

1 yellow bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
2 teaspoons garlic flavored oil
1 quart vegetable or chicken broth (good-quality canned, carton, or cube), preferably organic
1 pound (3.5 cups) frozen corn
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and cover a smallish lipped baking sheet with aluminum foil.

2. Remove the core, seeds, and white membrane from the bell peppers, then cut the peppers into strips and place on the prepared baking sheet shiny-side down. Sprinkle them with the oil and smoosh them about so that all the sides are a little covered by oil, then leave them, shiny-skin-side up this time. Roast them in the oven for 25 minutes.

3. Pour the vegetable broth into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the frozen corn, bring back to boil, reduce the heat, cover, and let bubble for about 20 minutes.

4. Using a perforated spoon, remove about 1 cup of corn, and set to one side while you blend the rest of the corn along with all its cooking liquid and blistered bell peppers, then toss the set-aside corn niblets back into the blended, but not too smooth, soup, and season to taste.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Barbecue Spices

I love sweet potatoes prepared pretty much any way you you can prepare them. Baked, mashed, steamed, boiled, fried-they're just plain delicious and in general I prefer them to regular potatoes these days. I've mashed them many different ways, made them into soup, hash, and a few kinds of fries, baked them with apples, made classic candied sweet potatoes, and even stir-fried them, but I'm still on the search for new and delicious recipes for this wonderful vegetable.

As always, America's Test Kitchen came through with a recipes that couldn't be simpler, yet has layers of flavors without being too assertive and covering up the flavor of the sweet potato. This recipe is a bit unusual in that you start with a cold oven, so resist the natural impulse to start up the oven before tackling your recipe prep. I found that my cooking time was less than in the original recipe, but I provided the original cook times because I suspect my oven runs a bit hot (and am yet again reminded that I need to buy an oven thermometer to figure out just how far off my oven truly is). I also divided my sweet potatoes between two half sheet trays, rotating the two trays for the first time after about 20 minutes and again once the sweet potatoes were flipped.

There's simple no excuse not to make this nearly effortless, healthy, and delectable dish. These sweet potatoes will pair happily with fish, chicken, beef, or pork and will grace your kitchen with a suite of savory aromas, enticing everyone to the dinner table for a nice family meal. Need another reason to love these sweet potatoes? The leftovers, warm or cold, are almost better than the original dish because the flavors have had a chance to marry with the sweet potatoes even further.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Barbecue Spices
from The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook
serves 4

3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 4 medium), scrubbed, ends trimmed, and sliced 3/4-inch thick
2 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray lightly with vegetable oil spray. Combine the paprika, brown sugar, oregano, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Toss the potatoes with the oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and spices in a large bowl. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and cover tightly with foil.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, place the potatoes on the rack, and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cook the potatoes for 30 minutes.

3. Remove the foil and continue to roast until the bottoms of the potatoes are golden, 15 to 25 minutes. Flip the slices and continue to roast until golden on the second side, 18 to 22 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Grilled Portabella and Goat Cheese Salad

Grilled chicken and steak salads are great, but if you still want a hearty vegetarian main course salad, portabella mushrooms are an excellent choice. Portabellas have a satisfying, meaty texture and earthy flavor and are often used in place of meat by vegans, vegetarians, and those trying to be a little more health conscious. While they aren't going to satisfy a craving for steak, portabellas are much more than a sub-standard meat substitute, and pair well with many of the same ingredients as steak, like creamy and rich goat cheese. Add a bit of crunch from some toasted walnuts and you've got a healthy, tasty, and well-rounded salad sure to fill you up without leaving you lethargic.

Grilled Portabella and Goat Cheese Salad
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 2

1/4 cup dry white vermouth
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 portabella mushroom caps, cleaned and stemmed
2 ounces mixed greens
2 ounces baby arugula
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 cup crumbled fresh goat cheese
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon very finely chopped shallot

1. In a large bowl, whisk the vermouth with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms to the vermouth marinade, then toss and let stand for 20 minutes, stirring them occasionally.

2. Meanwhile, mix the greens and arugula together and distribute between two plates and top with goat cheese and walnuts. Combine shallots and vinegar in a bowl and allow the shallots to soften.

3. Light a grill or preheat a broiler. Drain the mushrooms; reserve 1 tablespoon of the marinade, add to the shallot and vinegar mixture, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Grill the mushrooms or broil them over high heat until browned and tender, about 15 minutes. Thickly slice the grilled mushrooms.

4. Toss the warm sliced mushrooms with the marinade mixture. Place the grilled mushrooms on top of the salad and drizzle the marinade on top. Toss everything together and serve.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Easy Mexican Pita Pizzas

This is another one of those dishes I threw together quickly in an effort to use up ingredients that I bought without any specific purpose (most of my grocery shopping is driven by a specific meal plan for the week, as well as sale prices). I got a great deal on some organic bell peppers because they were just a little past their prime, and I instantly thought of roasting them because having a bit of a softer texture than normal doesn't matter in the slightest. Roasting brings out the best in vegetables, creating a smoky flavor and intensifying the natural sugars, transforming veggies into little bombs of complex flavor.

As written, this could either make a nice light dinner for two with a vegetable side or an appetizer for 4. Although fresh corn off the cob is ideal, particularly if you have time to roast it, frozen will have to do during winter in Wisconsin. To make this more a bit more substantial, add some black beans or chorizo; if serving as an appetizer, try dipping the wedges into sour cream. This quick and easy meal will please everyone from kids to adults, while still being relatively healthy.

Easy Mexican Pita Pizzas
serves 2 (as a main course) to 4 (as an appetizer)

1 small onion, cut in half and peeled
1 red or green bell pepper
2 whole wheat pitas
6 tablespoons salsa
2 tablespoons corn
1/2 cup shredded Mexican melting cheese like Chihuahua or Oaxaca, mozzarella, or Monterey Jack cheese
Cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Sour cream (optional)

1. Preheat broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, if desired, and spray with cooking spray. Place onion and pepper on baking sheet and broil until blackened on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes, rotating every few minutes during cooking. Remove pepper and onion from the oven and set aside and allow to cool to room temperature. Reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees F. Once cool, core and seed the pepper and slice both the onion and the pepper.

2. Spread 3 tablespoons salsa on each pita. Top each pita with 1 tablespoon corn and the desired amount of roasted peppers and onions (you will likely have extra). Sprinkle each pita with 1/4 cup cheese, place on a baking sheet, and return to the oven. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until cheese is melted, bubbly, and just starting to brown. Cut into wedges and serve hot.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stir-Fried Sweet Potatoes and Beef with Vietnamese Flavors

Sweet potatoes are definitely not one of the first ingredients that come to my mind for a stir-fry, but after this dish, it might have to change. This recipe was immediately intriguing to me when I came across it in The Food Matters Cookbook, and it most certainly did not let me (or my husband) down. The sweet potatoes are caramelized and sweet, the beef rich and earthy, and the cilantro and lime fresh and light, punctuated by a bit of heat from the chiles. The key to the success of this dish is not overcooking the sweet potatoes, but also allowing them to cook undisturbed for a bit at the beginning so you get a little bit of delicious, crunchy caramelization. When the sweet potatoes and other veggies get added to the pan, err on the lighter side with salt because the fish sauce (or soy sauce if you don't have and/or like fish sauce), will add a lot of salt and you can always add more right before serving. Serve this delicious mixture over brown rice and enjoy!

Stir-Fried Sweet Potatoes and Beef with Vietnamese Flavors
from The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman
serves 4

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 ounces beef chuck, flank, or sirloin steak, cut into bite-size pieces
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and grated, about 4 cups
1 cup sliced scalloins
1 or 2 fresh hot chiles (like jalapeno or Thai), seeded and chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup nam pla (fish sauce)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, basil, or mint

1. Put a large skillet over high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and the beef. Stir immediately, then stir every 20 seconds or so until the meat is no longer pink, just a minute or 2. Transfer the beef to a plate.

2. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When it's hot, add the sweet potatoes, scallions, chiles if you're using them, and garlic and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring only occasionally, until the potatoes change color and begin to brown, then stir more frequently until they are tender but not at all mushy, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Return the beef to the pan along with the fish sauce and lime juice. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the liquid is reduced slightly and you've scraped up all the bit of meat and vegetable. Toss in the herb and serve.