Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Szechuan Tofu, Green Beans, and Mushrooms

While I love meal planning, there are some busy weeks where I'm scrambling at the last minute to get my plan together. In those cases, I'm often left designing my menu around what I've already bought at the farmers' market or grocery store. This also tends to be the case more often once the farmers' market bounty really blooms and I'm too inspired by the market's offerings to think of planning ahead. This week, I'm somewhere in between. The outdoor farmers' market started up again just a couple weeks ago and even though it's very early in the growing season, I can already see my culinary horizons expanding. I wish I could say the green beans were from the farmers' market already (they were just on sale at Whole Foods), but my recently-expanded local mushroom options are the locavore soul of this dish. Locally sourced though they may be, my cremini mushrooms take on an entirely different world of flavor thanks to a well-stocked pantry of Asian flavors. This sauce strikes a nice balance between salty, sweet, and spicy, glazing the crispy tofu, tender mushrooms and fresh green beans with a gentle kiss of complex flavor. Tomato paste and mushrooms add give this vegan dish a real meatiness and tossing the tofu cubes in cornstarch before frying creating a particularly pleasing texture. The perfect bowl of flavors to dive in to on a warm spring evening, this meal will only get better as the farmers' market has more ingredients to offer.

Szechuan Tofu, Green Beans, and Mushrooms
adapted from Eating Well
serves 2

1/4 cup water, divided
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoons sugar
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
Half of a 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained
1 tablespoons canola oil, divided
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 ounces shiitake, cremini, or white mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
Cooked brown rice, rice noodles, or quinoa, for serving (optional)
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for serving (optional)

1. Whisk 2 tablespoons water, soy sauce, tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, crushed red pepper to taste and 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch in a small bowl. Set aside. Cut tofu into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes and pat dry. Toss the tofu in a bowl with the remaining tablespoon cornstarch to coat. 
2. Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and spread out across the surface of the pan. Let cook undisturbed for about 4 minutes, or until a golden crust forms (check one or two pieces after a few minutes). Gently turn and stir. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until browned and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes more, depending on desired level of crispiness. Transfer to a plate.
3. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add green beans, mushrooms, garlic and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 4 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup water, cover and cook until the beans are crisp-tender and mushrooms are softened, but not mushy, 2 to 4 additional minutes. Stir the reserved soy sauce mixture and pour it over the green beans. Cook, stirring, until thickened, about 1 minute. Add the tofu and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 1 minute more. Serve warm over rice, noodles, or quinoa as a main dish, or alone as a side, dressing with Sriracha, if desired.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Superseed Bar

I'm no paragon of health and fitness, but even still I have a few coworkers who like to give me crap about my healthy diet. Although it wasn't always the case, I have no problem passing up the many mass-produced "treats" that show up at my workplace on a regular basis. There is a time I would have just mindlessly chowed down, but now I actually far prefer foods like this snack bar, which satisfies my sweet tooth (and chocolate tooth!) but is still packed with whole grains, nuts, and seeds. I love the deep chocolate flavor with only a mild sweetness, allowing the nuances of the chocolate flavor to shine without being buried in saccharinity. Given my propensity for making granola and granola bars I always have lots of nuts and seeds in my pantry, but feel free to swap in whatever you'd like for what I have listed here. These bars are dense bites of energy, and although I used them to fuel my all-too-stationary laboratory workday, they would be perfect to take along on a hike, bike ride, or canoe trip. To form perfect squares I used my individual brownie pan, but I've included the original directions for shaping and cutting the bars since it's an uncommon piece of bakeware. One batch makes enough work snacks for two weeks and the extras hold up splendidly in the freezer. With spring fully in swing and dreams of spending the days outside a reality, a few minutes in the kitchen aren't too much to ask to fuel up for the day.

Superseed Bar
adapted from CHOW
makes 10 bars

Oil, for coating the pan
1 1/2 cups crispy brown rice cereal
1/2 cup raw sliced almonds
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup raw wheat germ
2 tablespoons whole sesame or chia seeds
2 tablespoons flax seed meal
1 cup dried Medjool dates (about 6 ounces), pitted
1/4 cup natural smooth unsalted peanut or almond butter
1/4 cup honey or brown rice syrup
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup high quality natural unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Coat an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with butter; set aside.

2. Place rice cereal, almonds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, sesame or chia seeds, and flax seed meal on a rimmed baking sheet, toss with your hands to combine, and spread in an even layer. Bake, stirring halfway through, until almonds are fragrant and lightly toasted, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

3. Place cereal mixture in a food processor fitted with a blade attachment and pulse until the mixture is broken up and the largest pieces are about the size of uncooked grains of rice, about 5 (1-second) pulses. Transfer to a medium bowl; set aside.
4. Place dates in the food processor and process until finely chopped and a ball forms, about 15 seconds; set aside.

5. Place peanut butter, honey rice syrup, salt, and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until mixture is combined and runs like slow-moving lava, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, immediately add reserved dates and cocoa powder, and, using a wooden spoon, stir, smashing down on the dates, until well combined and no streaks of cocoa remain. Add reserved cereal mixture and stir, pressing as you do, until evenly combined. (This takes some muscle and time, about 5 minutes.) Transfer to the prepared baking pan and, using your hands, spread and firmly press the mixture into the pan. Let cool completely.

6. Remove the date-seed slab from the pan. Cut it in half to form two rectangles, then cut each rectangle widthwise into 5 bars to form 10 bars total. Wrap each bar in plastic wrap. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 weeks; let frozen bars come to room temperature before eating.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sesame-Honey Tempeh and Quinoa Bowl

I typically choose non-soy protein sources when I eat vegetarian (beans, nuts, cheese, etc.), but every so often I'll make a meal with tofu or tempeh. It's not that I'm anti-soy protein, but all too often soy proteins are pretending to be meat instead of just simply enjoyed for what they are. If you make this recipe expecting it to feel like a dish made with ground meat, you'll be disappointed, but if you're looking for a hearty vegan meal full of bright flavors and satisfying protein, this is just the ticket. (If tempeh really isn't your thing, ground pork or chicken could be substituted for a vaguely larb-like dish.) This recipe gets an even bigger protein boost from quinoa, a trendy grain I've now been eating and adoring for years. Periodically I get into a real quinoa kick and sneak it into every recipe I can, swapping it for all manner of grains and even tossing it on my salads. Here quinoa serves as a traditional grain base, eagerly soaking up a vibrant Asian-inspired dressing, its chewiness the perfect textural contrast to crunchy carrots and firm tempeh. The flavors used here are pretty common and traditional, but they appear frequently in Asian cooking because they are so wonderfully balanced and complementary. If you need to fill up in the healthiest way, this is absolutely the meal for you. Packed with protein, whole grains, and a healthy helping of veggies, this vibrantly flavor bowl has enough fuel for even the most arduous days.

Sesame-Honey Tempeh and Quinoa Bowl
adapted from Eating Well
serves 2

Quinoa and Carrot Slaw
1 cup water
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup grated carrots (1-2 large)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted (see Tip)
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

Sesame-Honey Tempeh
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 8-ounce package tempeh, crumbled into bite-size pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish (optional)
Scallions, for garnish (optional)
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for topping (optional, unless you're me)
Freshly squeezed lime juice (optional)

1. To prepare quinoa: Bring water and quinoa to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce to a low simmer, cover and cook until the water is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Uncover and let stand.

2. To prepare carrot slaw: Meanwhile, combine carrot, cilantro, rice vinegar, sesame seeds, 1 1/2 teaspoons oil and 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce in a medium bowl. Set aside.

3. To prepare tempeh: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add tempeh and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, 7 to 9 minutes.

4. Combine honey, 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon water and cornstarch in a small bowl. Add to the pan and cook, stirring, until the sauce has thickened and coats the tempeh, about 1 minute.

5. Divide the quinoa between 2 bowls and top each with half the slaw and half the tempeh mixture. Sprinkle with garnishes and topping of choice.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sweet Potato-Peanut Bisque

With very few exceptions, sweet potatoes are better than potatoes in my book. Not only do sweet potatoes nail the savory options, they also get to participate in the worlds of sweets and baked goods, a feat potatoes don't dare fathom. When presented with the option, I'll always choose the sweet potato option for fries, hashes or almost any other dish you can think of. And if presented with a potato soup or sweet potato soup, I'll choose the sweet potato option. Sweet potatoes can take on many flavors that potatoes can't, like the rich and creamy peanut butter that features so prominently in this soup. The sweet potato and peanut combination has a distinctly African feel to me, creating a heartiness than feels appropriate even in the warmer months. That deep comfort is contrasted perfectly by the spice of the chiles, brightness of the garlic and ginger, and freshness of the cilantro. I love these bold flavors in my food, but you may want to hold back on the chiles and cilantro for those with less adventurous palates or those you're slowly trying to introduce to a wider experience of flavor. Although unintentional on my part, this recipe has the added bonus of being both vegan and gluten-free, allowing you to accommodate adventurous eaters with all sorts of dietary restrictions (my apologies to those with peanut allergies) in fabulous fashion.

Sweet Potato-Peanut Bisque
adapted from Eating Well
serves 2

1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1/4 cup diced green chiles (about half of a 4-ounce can)
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes (10-12 ounces total), peeled and diced
3 cups reduced-sodium tomato-vegetable juice blend or tomato juice
1 cup vegetable broth or water, plus additional for thinning
1/4 cup smooth natural peanut butter
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish (optional)
Chopped salted peanuts, for garnish (optional)

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over mediumheat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until it just begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chiles, and allspice and cook, stirring, until mixture is fragrant, about 1 minute.

2. Add diced sweet potatoes to the pot and stir to thoroughly coat with the onion mixture. Add tomato juice and water and bring mixture to a simmer. Cook, covered, until sweet potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

3. Remove pot from heat, add peanut butter, and stir. Puree with an immersion blender to desired consistency, thiining the bisque with additional broth or water, if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat until hot. Garnish with cilantro and peanuts, if desired.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Coconut, Oat, and Quinoa Granola

There are infinite combinations for delicious homemade granola. I'm constantly mixing up the fruits and nuts that I throw in to my granola, but the one element I do neglect to change up enough is the grains. Granted, granola is pretty much defined by rolled oats, but there's certainly room for adding other grains, especially protein-rich quinoa, which adds a lovely nutritious crunch. Millet would also be a welcome addition, but it doesn't come with quite the nutritional bonus of quinoa. The remaining ingredients are a particularly delightful melange of nuts, seeds, coconut, and dried fruit that become wonderfully crunchy and subtly sweet when slowly baked in a light glaze. I typically eat granola for breakfast, but this also makes a wonderful topping for frozen yogurt or ice cream and is special enough to give as a gift. So much of my eating follows the seasons, but granola always has a place in my diet, from spring to winter, breakfast to dessert.

Coconut, Oat, and Quinoa Granola
adapted from Aida Mollenkamp
makes about 3 cups

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or virgin coconut oil
2 tablespoons honey, maple syrup, or brown rice or agave syrup
1.5 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1.5 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1/2 cup chopped pecans, walnuts, or almonds
1/2 cup packed unsweetened flaked coconut
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons cup uncooked quinoa, flaxseed, or hemp seed
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/4 cup raisins, currants, or dried cranberries

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Combine butter or coconut oil, honey, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in a small pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Pour mixture into a bowl, add the oats and nuts and toss until evenly coated.

2. Spread the oat mixture in a thin, even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then stir in the coconut, quinoa or seeds, and pumpkin seeds, and spread out into a thin layer. Continue baking until the granola is very golden brown and smells toasted, about 10 to 15 minutes more. (Note : Granola should be golden and slightly crisp -- remember that it will crisp even more as it cools. Keep an eye on the granola at this point because, depending on the thickness of your baking sheet, it will cook faster or slower than mine did.)

3. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and cool the granola to room temperature, at least 15 minutes.
When the granola is cool, add the dried fruit and toss to combine.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Whole Wheat Pasta with Red Cabbage

Did you try the super simple Roasted Salmon, Red Cabbage, and Potatoes yet? If so, you may be have some extra red cabbage in the fridge that you need to use up. Before stumbling across this recipe, I never thought to put red cabbage in a warm pasta dish. I've tossed it in many Asian noodle bowls and sauteed it to accompany sausage, but this is the first time I've put those concepts together. Red cabbage is a particularly nice complement to nutty whole grains like barley or whole wheat pasta, its flavor and color bleeding and mixing beautifully with the hearty base. Slightly mellowed sharp red onions peek in and out of the cruciferous crunchiness of the cabbage boldly accented by salty pops of feta in each bite. The season for this pasta is nearly over, it's heartiness most at home in the cooler seasons, but it fits in perfectly with the cold and rainy days we've been plagued with lately here in southern Wisconsin.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Red Cabbage
adapted slightly from Food and Wine

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pounds red cabbage, thinly sliced (4 cups)
1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti or linguine
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup Greek feta cheese, crumbled (2 ounces)

1. In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the sliced onions, cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft, about 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the sliced red cabbage, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender, about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the linguine until it is al dente. Drain the pasta well, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot.
Scrape the cabbage over the pasta. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowls, top with the feta and serve.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Roasted Salmon, Red Cabbage, and Potatoes

As much I love cooking, some nights I just want a healthy homemade dinner to magically appear in front me. I may not be able to wave a wand and make that happen, but this recipe is pretty close. I love a one pot meal, especially one that requires little attention while it's cooking. I've roasted plenty of salmon and potatoes  before, both separately and together, but I'd honestly never thought of roasting cabbage. As it turns out, cabbage was destined for roasting! I don't know why I'm surprised I've found yet another roasted vegetable I love, but after many raw slaws and tender sautes, I'm particularly delighted by this crispy, crunchy cabbage. A classic combination of mustard, horseradish and lemon becomes a delicious crust atop the salmon with a generous spray of lemon juice popping against the deep roasted flavor all the elements share. This recipe is simple enough for a family meal, yet elegant enough for a last-minute dinner party, mere minutes of prep yielding an inviting meal for any occasion.

Roasted Salmon, Red Cabbage, and Potatoes
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4

4 cups shredded red cabbage (from half a small head)
1.5 pounds red or new potatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size
Extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound skinless salmon fillet
2 tablespoons grainy or Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons horseradish
Zest of 1 lemon plus lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cabbage and potatoes with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes. Smear salmon with a mixture of mustard, horseradish and lemon zest. Nestle in pan, and roast 15 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice over all.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Whole Wheat Beer Crepes with Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, and Spinach

I think we've almost made it to grilling weather, which means I'll be shelving my Sunday night breakfast for the lure of the charcoal grill. I've tried my hand at making a lot of whole grain breakfast foods - English muffins, biscuitsdonuts, waffles, and pancakes so I feel good about moving on to flame-cooked meals. And so I present to you what may be my last hurrah, whole wheat beer crepes.

I'm especially pleased with this recipe because I was able to incorporate one of my homebrews, a California Common-style beer (a style defined by Anchor Steam), making a recipe that was multiple levels of homemade. Beer not only brings flavor to these crepes, but the carbonation makes them especially light. I used my California Common because it has a presence without taking over, meshing nicely with the whole wheat flour and providing the perfect canvas for savory flavors to shine. My basement is full of even more styles of beer I've brewed - hefeweizen, chestnut and apple ales, a pumpkin dubbel, a dry and sweet stout, an ESB, and a porter, all of which I could be appropriate choices with the right fillings. Make sure to choose a beer you really like that actually has flavor (read: no mass-produced American Adjunct Lagers) because it is what will make these crepes truly spectacular. With such a homebrew cache in my basement, this recipe is sure to make a reappearance, its next incarnation probably a dessert concoction filled with fruit and Nutella.

Like all of the recipes I've made before in this series, I made a big batch and froze the extras to enjoy for a couple of weeks. So far they've been two spectacular weekday breakfasts - the first time filled with cream cheese, strawberries, honey, and almonds and then second simply filled with peanut butter and banana. They can be enjoyed at room temperature, but a quick zap in the microwave turns makes for an especially warm and cozy meal.

Whole Wheat Beer Crepes
adapted from Epicurious
makes about 12 crepes

3 large eggs
1 to 1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup beer
1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons canola oil

1. Whisk the eggs until they are combined, then whisk in 1 cup of the milk and the beer. Add the flour to the liquids, sprinkling it over the surface as you whisk to avoid lumps. Add the salt and oil, then whisk the batter vigorously for 3 to 5 minutes so all is thoroughly incorporated. Let the batter site for 1 hour.

2. Heat a 10-inch skillet, perferably non-stick, over medium heat. Brush it with butter, and when it's hot but not smoking, pour a scant 1/3 cup of batter into the center of the skillet and rotate it so the batter covers the bottom of the pan in a thin layer, pouring out any excess batter. Cook the crêpe until it is just golden on one side, 1 to 2 minutes, turn it and cook until it is golden on the other side, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate, and keep warm by covering with aluminum foil. Continue until all of the batter is used. If the crêpes are thicker than you'd like, thin the batter with additional milk, whisking it in gently.

Sausage, Mushroom, and Spinach Filling with Dijon Mustard Sauce
makes enough for 2 crepes/1 serving

2 small sausage links, casing removed
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 ounces fresh spinach, cut into smaller pieces if leaves are large
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, diluted with 1 tablespoon water

1. Preheat a pan over medium heat. Add sausage and break into small pieces. Cook, stirring frequently and breaking into pieces, until the sausage has rendered some of its fat. Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted, 2 to 4 minutes.

2. Pour thinned mustard over sausage mixture and stir to coat thoroughly. Cook just another minute or two or until sauce is cooked down, but filling is not dry. Divide filling evenly between two crepes and serve promptly.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Shrimp and Feta Omelette with Cilantro

For reasons I can't explain, I got the idea of making a shrimp omelette stuck in my head. There was definitely a time where I would have scoffed at the idea of a seafood omelette, but shrimp omelettes have a proud place in Asian and American cuisine. My recipe doesn't fall under exactly under either of them, but instead uses a complementary set of flavors from all over the map. Old Bay and seafood are a natural combination, that magical blend of spices just as delightful with shrimp as with the traditional crab. Cheese and seafood are often a dicey combination, but salty feta is light enough that it doesn't overpower the shrimp. Cilantro adds just the right fresh and herbaceous note, though if you're one of those people who thinks cilantro tastes soapy, parsley or basil would be suitable substitutes. Although it is an omelette, I consider this a light dinner rather than a breakfast as the only seafood I can easily see myself having at breakfast is smoked salmon. Eggs are one of my favorite options for a quick supper, easily accommodating almost any ingredient or flavor and making it from pan to plate in just a few minutes. I like my omelettes with a little color, as you can see above, but feel free to keep yours golden yellow. Not quite breakfast for dinner, but uniquely satisfying, this is a perfect meal for any busy weeknight.

Shrimp and Feta Omelette with Cilantro
serves 1

Canola or olive oil cooking spray
2 ounces raw shrimp, cut into bite-size pieces
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
2 tablespoons/0.5 ounce crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1. Preheat an omelette pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally until shrimp are translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

2. Whisk the eggs and Old Bay together in a medium bowl. Spray pan with cooking spray and add eggs to pan, agitating the pan gently. Tilt pan and lift edges of omelette to allow the runny eggs to cook. When the eggs begin to firm and are almost cooked, add shrimp, cheese, and cilantro, distributing evenly over the middle third of the omelet.  Use a fork or spatula to fold each side of the omelette over the center filling, tilting the pan to help roll up the omelette. Cook 10 to 30 seconds longer, depending on how brown you like your omelette. Slide onto a plate and serve promptly.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Winter Squash and Ricotta Lasagna

This last beautiful weekend almost had me convinced it was spring, but the cold snap this week indicates otherwise. The only saving grace of this retreat into winter is that it puts some foods back on my seasonal table, like this lasagna. I've gotten quite lax in using up my winter squash puree in my freezer recently, but this recipe uses a whopping four cups to a delicious end. Winter squash and ricotta get paired up all the time, their sweetness and silkiness blending beautiful while still maintaining their own character. Pungent Parmesan cheese adds a more assertive note, with a simple seasoning of salt, pepper, and sage bringing it all together. I can't exactly call this fast food since it spends quite some time baking, but you won't spend long preparing it before putting it in the oven. For a meal that will make you resent this backslide into winter just a little less, make up a batch of this hearty lasagna. Even if it's only for a few minutes, a cozy meal will make the cold spring rains feel just a little less harsh and threatening.

Winter Squash and Ricotta Lasagna
adapted from Vegetarian Times
serves 4 to 6

2 12-oz. pkg. frozen wintersquash purée, thawed, or 4 cups fresh winter quash purée
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried rubbed sage
½ tsp. ground black pepper
15 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 short no-cook whole wheat lasagna noodles (about 7x4 inches)

1. To make Lasagna: Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine squash purée, 1 tsp. salt, sage, and ¼ tsp. pepper in medium bowl; mix well. Combine ricotta, ¼ cup Parmesan, ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper in second bowl, and mix well.

2. Coat 8×8-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Place 2 noodles in bottom of dish, overlapping slightly. Spread half of squash mixture over noodles. Layer 2 more noodles on top, and spread with half of ricotta mixture. Repeat layers—noodles, squash, noodles, ricotta—then sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup Parmesan.

3. Cover baking dish with foil. Bake 45 minutes, remove foil, and bake 20 to 25 minutes more, or until golden on top. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Warm Quinoa-Oat Squares with Date Sugar

I can't make it through the morning without a snack. My stomach sounds the warning alarm for a snack break right around 9:30 each morning and until I get my granola bar and cup of tea, some of my focus definitely gets diverted from my work. Just 10 minutes to check my email, eat a snack and sip a cup of tea recharges me for the second half of the morning and is essential to my work productivity. This slightly sweet combination of whole grains and nuts, although requiring a little more effort than the granola bars I usually make, is one of the most refueling snacks I've made. Although all the grains after softened as they cook, each still retains their own flavor and textural character. The sweetness is subtle and multi-layered, a gentle saccharinity throughout punctuated by bites of sweet dates. I've included the original cooking instructions here, but if you're lucky enough to have an individual brownie pan like I do, you can make perfectly square bars with an adjustment to the cooking time. An entire batch makes a two week cache of snacks and extras fare pretty well in the freezer. I ate these bars without any accouterments, but they would be lovely served warm with more almond milk and fruit for a cozy breakfast. Whether you choose to have them as a snack or leisurely meal, these bars are a perfect way to fuel up for the day.

Warm Quinoa-Oat Squares with Date Sugar
adapted from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen

Nonstick pan spray
½ cup quinoa, rinsed under cold water
½ cup bulgur wheat
1½ cups almond, rice, or soy milk, plus more, warmed, for serving
1½ cups water
¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
½ teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
8 dates, pitted
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons date sugar (or ¼ cup granulated or turbinado sugar)
½ cup walnut halves
2 ripe pears (such as Bartlett or Anjou) or apples--halved, cored and cut into ¼-inch pieces, for serving (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick pan spray. Line the baking pan with a long sheet of parchment paper, letting the sides of the paper hang loosely over the pan edges to create a sling. Lightly coat the parchment with the nonstick spray.

2. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, add the quinoa, bulgur, rice milk, water and salt. Stir to combine, then bring to a boil. Cover the saucepan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the quinoa has uncoiled and the bulgur is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the oats, vanilla extract and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until the oats are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the dates and date sugar until the mixture is crumbly, about three 3-second pulses. Transfer the date mixture to a bowl and add the walnuts to the food processor. Pulse until the walnuts are coarsely ground, about three 1-second pulses. Add the walnuts and the date-sugar mixture to the oat mixture and stir to combine.

4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking pan, smooth the top with an offset spatula and bake until the top is lightly browned and the bars are set but still soft, about 15 minutes. Remove the baking pan from the oven and cool for about 15 minutes.

5. To serve, carefully pull up the sides of the sling to lift and transfer the quinoa-oat square to a cutting board. Slice the bars into 8 rectangles and serve in bowls with the warm rice milk and chopped pears.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hummus Kale Chips

It finally feels like I can start planning my garden and it just hit me I need to plant a lot of kale. I have a seemingly bottomless appetite for kale chips and I can't believe it took me this long to dress up the basic recipe. It's true that this recipe isn't much of stretch from a simple roasting with olive oil and salt, but it's certainly delicious enough to be worth sharing. I chose roasted red pepper hummus to dress up my kale chips, but any flavor you like will do, be it homemade or from the store. Kale chips are addictive enough on their own, but this little flavor boost makes it even harder to put them down. It's a perfect example of a snack you realize is healthy after discovering it's delicious, so there's no reason not to snack to your heart's content. Rather than paying an arm and a leg for the now-trendy kale chips at the grocery store, sacrifice just a few minutes and make a batch at home to snack well on the cheap.

Hummus Kale Chips
serves 1 to 2

Canola or oil oil cooking spray
2 tablespoons hummus (I used roasted red pepper hummus)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces kale, washed, dried, and ripped into bite-size pieces

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk hummus, and oil together and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add kale and toss to coat evenly with the hummus  mixture.

3. Roast for 20 minutes, tossing occasionally. Raise temperature to 450 degrees F and continue roasting, tossing occasionally, until crisp, about another 10 to 20 minutes depending on the size and type of kale. Serve promptly.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Polenta Lasagna

I usually make my own polenta from scratch, but occasionally I'll pick up a roll of the premade stuff. Typically I'll just fry it up in a little butter or olive oil, but this time I decided to get a bit more creative. This meal is the perfect compromise between homemade and convenience food, taking shortcut items like jarred marinara sauce and premade polenta and combining them with a pile of fresh vegetables and mushrooms for a lot of flavor in just a short time. That being said, because you're using shortcut items to build a lot of flavor, you better make sure they're good choices. Rao's is frequently regarded as the cream of the crop when it comes to jarred sauces, but it also comes at a pretty steep price. Newman's Own, which I happen to love, comes at a much more budget-friendly price, but use whatever you love (or honestly, just happen to have in the cupboard). I really pumped up the sauce by using not-quite frugal shiitake mushrooms, but this will also be delicious if you can only get your hands on creminis. This lasagna has all the flavor and comfort that a traditional lasagna does, but is a slightly sloppier affair because the polenta rounds don't form the seamless layers that lasagna noodles do. A pile of vegetables carefully disguised as comfort food, this decadent meal will happily feed kids, adults, gluten-intolerants, and vegetarians all from one generous dish without anyone feeling like they're missing out. Spring has finally made her subtle entrance, so seize the opportunity to make a last cold-weather indulgence before warm weather settles in for good.

Polenta Lasagna
adapted from Cooking Light
serves 4 to 6

1 (26-ounce) jar marinara sauce, divided (or homemade marinara sauce)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
8 ounces shiitake (or cremini) mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
One 10-ounce box of spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 (16-ounce) tube of polenta, cut into 18 slices
1 cup (4 ounces) preshredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Spoon 1/2 cup marinara sauce into an 8-inch square baking dish to cover bottom, and set aside.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, pepper, mushrooms, and garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté 6 to 10 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add remaining marinara sauce and spinach; reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Arrange 9 polenta slices over marinara in baking dish, and top evenly with half of vegetable mixture. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of cheese over vegetable mixture; arrange remaining polenta over cheese. Top polenta with the remaining vegetable mixture, and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

4. Cover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.