Saturday, February 27, 2010

Something is Missing...

Have you ever started to make something, gotten excited about it, and then realize you're missing some of the ingredients?  How about the MAIN ingredient?

Now that all of my exams are over (at least for the next few weeks), I can finally start cooking some good food again.  I was really excited to make Tyler's Ultimate Granola, which is my all-time favorite granola.  Usually, I need to check how many almonds I have first.  But this time, I went to get out my oats and realized I had maybe a cup and a half!  For a recipe that calls for 4 cups!  Definitely not going to cut it.  Of course I am too lazy right now to actually make the simple errand to get some oats.

When I go to the store, I've come to realize that it's better when I have a plan.  Otherwise I go up and down every aisle, and buy stuff that I don't actually need.  If I have recipes in mind, then I'll just buy ingredients for that - spending less money and time!

So now I have to decide what my baking plan is going to be for the weekend.  I know that I want to make my granola.  But what else?  Maybe finally try to bake gnocchi for the first time?  I bought a food mill at least a month ago, with the intention of making gnocchi, and that still hasn't happened yet.  I think I want to try making hummus - if I can find tahini!  Oh and of course I can't forget about hamantaschen!  I went to Chabad (Jewish organization on most college campuses) on Monday, and really didn't love the cookies we made there.  I had the idea that rugelach dough, instead of sugar cookie dough, might work well.  And after looking for a bit, I actually found a recipe on Epicurious that has a dough very similar to rugelach.  And the date orange filling they suggest sounds amazing.

Clearly I have a lot of things to make, so I should probably turn off my America's Next Top Model marathon and get on that!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fall in a Bowl

I almost thought that I missed the opportunity to make my favorite soup.  I know that it is no longer fall, so it's hard to find butternut squash in a lot of markets.  But I got lucky, and found a container of the pre-peeled, pre-chopped stuff (which is actually way more convenient to use).  I started making this soup about three years ago, right when I first started cooking.  I always make a full batch of it and freeze the leftovers.
Note: a tip on freezing leftovers.  I freeze individual servings in tupperware containers, usually overnight. When they are fully frozen, I run the tupperware under hot water for a few seconds, to loosen the contents, and let it slide into a freezer bag.  That way I have individual portions that I can bring with me for lunch or reheat for dinner, but I'm not using up all of my tupperware in the freezer.  And be careful with the tupperware after freezing - they shatter really easily! (Speaking from experience.)
Back to the recipe - this soup is so delicious, and really easy to make, especially if you buy the pre-peeled butternut squash.  My knife definitely isn't sharp enough to manage that task while keeping all of my fingers.  I think it would work really well in a slow cooker.
If you're going to freeze a lot, don't add the milk/cream to the whole pot.  Just add it to whatever you're eating, and then add it when reheating the leftovers.  I never know how dairy is going to last while frozen, so I try to avoid it.  I usually add skim milk (what I have on hand) but this time I added some leftover half-and-half, and I liked it.  It made the soup taste richer.  But I think I'm used to the skim, so I might go back to that.
So I started writing this up while the soup was cooking.  I went to add the rice, when I realized that the box I bought (Zatarain's) had the seasoning already mixed in!  Definitely not what I wanted.  So I had to fudge this part a bit - I added 4 oz brown rice, let that cook for a bit, then added 2 oz white rice.  So make sure that the box of rice you buy has a separate seasoning packet, and don't use that!  Or just use 6 oz of whatever rice you have on hand, like I did.
This is a really easy recipe to work with - you could add herbs to it (I think sage would be great).  You could also add different vegetables - either swap out with different root vegetables, or just add whatever you happen to have in your fridge.  I think this is a great base recipe that isn't too sweet, which is what I have found is the problem with a lot of butternut squash or sweet potato soups.
Oh and one last note!  I recently saw on Dinner at Christina's a great way to use up vegetable scraps - make homemade vegetable stock!  So I decided to give it a try, and I saved my first few scraps - the onion and sweet potato ends from this recipe, and some broccoli stems that were in the fridge.  I'm excited to make some broth once I have enough scraps.

Butternut Squash Rice Soup (adapted from SparkRecipes)
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed (I used a pre-peeled and cubed 2 lb container - I'm not sure what size butternut squash you would need to get that amount of flesh, but this recipe is flexible)
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed (mine was 1 lb)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped (*a friend recently told me that if you put the onion in the fridge for about 30 min-1 hr before you are going to use it, it won't make you cry)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/8 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp light brown sugar
6 cups vegetable stock (low sodium)
1 box long grain & wild rice
1 cup milk/cream
s&p to taste

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Add garlic and onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until starting to get soft.  Add the remaining ingredients (but not the rice or milk), cover, and cook until the sweet potato and butternut squash are soft.

Use an immersion blender and blend until the consistency of your liking - I like having some chunks still in mine, but you could completely blend if you prefer a smoother soup.  If you don't have an immersion blender, then just transfer the soup in parts to a regular blender, but be careful when blending the hot liquid!
Then return to pot, add the rice and cook until tender.
Stir in the milk/cream and cook until warmed through (don't add if you are going to freeze the leftovers).
Add s&p to taste.
And then enjoy your bowl of fall!

The Perfect Sandwich

I have made the perfect (winter) sandwich for my tomato bread!  I will probably make another version in the summer when better fresh ingredients are available, but I thought this was pretty delicious.  When I first made the bread, I attempted to make a sandwich with it, but I think I added too much to the filling and it overshadowed the flavor of this great bread.  One of my friends suggested basil and mozzarella, to make a caprese-esque sandwich - I think this will be my summer version.  After thinking about it for a bit, I thought of a perfect combination of flavors that is simple enough to let the bread shine through, but still tastes great!  But regardless of what I put on this bread, I still get strange glances and questions about "why is your bread orange?"  That's a price I'm willing to pay.
I think that toasting this sandwich is a must - the bread will be slightly crisp and warm, and the filling is still slightly cool and refreshing.

Sun Dried Tomato Bread Winter Sandwich
2 slices Sun Dried Tomato Bread
1 wedge light garlic & herb laughing cow cheese
1 cube frozen chopped basil (equivalent of 1 tsp)
Spinach leaves
Roasted yellow bell pepper slices

Heat up the laughing cow cheese and the basil, just until the frozen basil has thawed enough to be mashed into the cheese.  Mix them together to form a spread.
If your roasted pepper is from a jar, give it a quick rinse off and pat dry.
Spread the cheese mixture onto one of the slices, top with spinach leaves, then the pepper.  Add the other slice, and toast until the bread is just starting to turn golden brown.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Post-Exam Meal

Saturday night I finished a pretty big take-home exam.  It was closed-book, which I think is just mean...but anyway, I survived it!  After a week of studying, my fridge was getting kind of empty.  Now empty is definitely a relative term.  I've seen some very empty fridges.  And mine always has something in it.  But on Sunday, nothing looked good to make into dinner.  Of course, this meant I had to look through all of the ads for nearby grocery stores to see who had the best deals.  And Harris Teeter had tilapia on sale!  I love tilapia - it isn't too "fishy," it's always cheap, and it's easy to cook.  I looked through my recipes and found one that sounded amazing - Parmesan Crusted Tilapia with Tomato-Basil Cream Sauce.  I found the recipe at Life's Ambrosia, one of the blogs I read regularly.  Des said she served it with mashed potatoes, so I decided why not - I'll try two of her recipes!
I made a few changes, but mostly because of what I happened to have, and because of the time of year.  For the fish - I used frozen cubes of basil instead of fresh, half-and-half instead of cream, plus I doubled the amount of fish, tomatoes and garlic but left everything else was fine.  It worked out perfectly.  I bought a pound of fish - 4 fillets.  Which means I have dinner for almost the entire week.  It's holding up pretty well, too.  I think next time I would use less oil for the sauce, or maybe use butter instead?  I don't think my cream liked mixing with the oil.  The sauce is delicious - I think it would make a great pasta sauce as well, maybe with some shrimp?  The tomatoes are perfect in it - they're little bursts of sweetness throughout the sauce.  This would be even better with fresh basil, over the summer.

For the mashed potatoes - I used 1/4 cup instead of 1/2 cup of half-and-half.  And I used kerrygold butter.  I was expecting the butter to turn it into something extraordinary, but I don't think I could tell a difference between that and the regular old stuff.  After the first night, I decided it needed a little extra something, so I added more s&p, and grated some aged white cheddar on top (leftover from my mac n cheese).  I was really excited to make the mashed potatoes, since I had just bought a potato masher from The Happy Cook!  It's cute, and fun to use.

Parmesan Crusted Tilapia with Tomato-Basil Cream Sauce (adapted from Life's Ambrosia)
6 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
30 grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 cubes (2 tsp) frozen chopped basil
4 tilapia fillets (1 lb)
kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp granulated garlic


Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes.  Add grape tomatoes and basil and cook for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have released their juices.  Reduce heat to medium low and add half-and-half.  Let simmer for 15 minutes (or as long as you need to get everything ready).

Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet large enough to fit two fillets.
Rinse and pat dry the tilapia fillets.
Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a flat dish.
Put the beaten egg in another flat dish.
Combine the parmesan, panko and garlic in a third flat dish.
Dredge the fillets in the seasoned flour.  Shake off excess.  Dip in egg.  Press into parmesan/panko mixture.
Place in heated skillet, two at a time, and cook 3-4 minutes per side.  (Thicker pieces may take longer to fully cook.)  Fish will be golden brown and will flake easily when done.
Add another 2 tbsp to the skillet, and repeat with the remaining 2 fillets.
Lay fish on a serving platter and spoon sauce over the top.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes (adapted from Life's Ambrosia)
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (I left the peel on mine, it's up to you)
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup half-and-half
salt and pepper to taste
Any extras - I added some white cheddar cheese

In a large saucepan, add enough water to cover the potatoes.  Boil until they are fork tender.  Warning - the water tends to get really foamy and attempts to boil over.  When they are soft, drain the water and put them back in the pot.  Add the butter, half-and-half, salt and pepper, and mash until light and fluffy.  Add your desired extras, and fold in.
(Picture with my extra cheese on top!)

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Yesterday I went to the famous dumpling place (Marco & Luca) for the first time.  I still haven't been to the one downtown, but since one opened recently on the corner, I wanted to check it out.  There of course was the slight problem of the dumplings containing meat, but I got the hot veggie bun and spicy sweet and sour noodles.  I had no idea what to expect from the veggie bun.  It's actually pretty literal - it's a doughy bun that is stuffed with veggies and sitting in sauce.  I didn't love it.  Maybe they'll start selling veggie dumplings....
But the noodles were good - a little too much sauce for my taste, but I really liked the combination of flavors.  There were fresh apple slices in there which added some sweetness.  And it still tasted good after sitting for a few hours.  My eating habits are pretty erratic while I'm in the lab, so I wasn't able to enjoy it for a while.

Monday, February 15, 2010


I decided that since this blog is mostly for my own benefit, I should also include "reviews" of the meals I've ordered at restaurants. Whenever I go to a place I have been before, I always forget what I ordered previously and if I liked it or not. Now I'll have a record of it!

In the past few weeks I have been to Three, Boylan Heights, and Michael's Bistro - all located on the corner.

I ordered the blackened shrimp salad, with the balsamic vinaigrette on the side. I thought the salad was pretty good. There was a decent amount of shrimp, they were cooked pretty well, and the dressing was good. It also had caramelized onions, peppers and feta cheese, all which added lots of flavor. I would get it again.

Boylan Heights:
I've ordered their "meating canceled" veggie burger several times, and it's great! This time I wanted to mix it up and create my own. I got the typical burger, with avocado, roasted pepper (seeing a theme here?) and goat cheese. I didn't get any sauces - figured the creaminess of the avocado and goat cheese would be enough. It was amazing! I think they should add it to their menu :) And of course my meal wasn't complete without their sweet potato fries!

Michael's Bistro:
I hadn't been here before, and I liked it a lot. Even though it's on the corner, the steep steps at the front probably keep out the drunk undergrads on a Friday or Saturday night. I went on a Wednesday, so the place was pretty quiet. They had good beer - I forget what exactly I had but one of them was Belgian! I ordered a pecan-crusted salmon with green beans. I was impressed - sometimes restaurants ruin salmon, but this one was good. It was nice and moist, and I'll admit that the leftovers stayed good for several days. Oh and the waiter who helped us was extremely friendly and pretty cute!

Fully Loaded

Last night someone cooked dinner for me, and the mashed potatoes were fantastic! I admit that I did most of the work for the mashed potatoes, but he did pick out the recipe! And his portion of the meal was pretty darn good as well. I'm not sure if he actually weighed the potatoes - when I got there, there was an entire pot just filled with potatoes. And we didn't include the chives and bacon (for obvious reasons) that were in the original recipe. I actually can't find the recipe anywhere online. So this is just coming from my memory - hopefully I got it right. I do recall that the recipe called for half a pound of cheese, and I completely nixed that idea. I love cheese, but that's just a bit much!

Loaded Mashed Potatoes: (adapted from Emeril)
4 lbs red potatoes, quartered (we didn't peel them)
1 3/4 tsp salt, divided
4 tbsp butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
Grated cheddar cheese

Put potatoes and 1 tsp salt in a pot and fill with water, covering the potatoes by an inch. (Use a pot that is big enough to still have a few inches above the water - otherwise you will boil over.) Cover, and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes. Drain water and return potatoes to pot. Add remaining salt, butter and heavy cream, and mash over medium heat until fluffy. Fold in sour cream and cheese.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Girls Night In

Last night was such a great night! I had two of my good friends over, and we had a stereotypical girls night that included eating, drinking, watching movies, and the required girly gossip. I decided that since I've had some bad luck with homemade brownies in the past, I was going to just follow a recipe. I started looking through recipes I've saved from some of my favorite blogs, and found quite a few that had used Ina's Outrageous Brownies Recipe. Of course, when I go to get my ingredients together, I found that my supply of semi-sweet chocolate was woefully low. I did have a vast amount of bittersweet chocolate (and it was the good stuff!) so I forged on. The bittersweet chocolate made them so rich and chocolate-y, they were amazing! I think that any combination of milk, semisweet, bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate would be great for the chocolate that is melted. And of course anything can be mixed in after. Besides that, I didn't change much. I used one of the General Foods International mixes instead of instant coffee. I think Ina may be the only person who buys extra large eggs, so I just used large and I was fine. The next time I make the brownies, I am going to cut back a bit on the butter. I figure if there is butter seeping out of the bottom, there is probably too much!

(FYI these are definitely not healthy.) Also, since I don't own a 12x18 sheet pan, plus I didn't want brownies coming out of my ears, so I halved the recipe and made it in a 13x9 lasagna pan, lined with parchment paper. And I left out the nuts. I didn't really want anything that wasn't chocolate in my brownies, plus one of my friends isn't the biggest fan of nuts usually.

Around 7:00 pm, my apartment was clean (only happens when I have people coming over!), the brownies were ready, and I had about an hour before my friends were coming over. I started to think, maybe I should have more than just brownies for my friends to eat! So last minute, I look through my fridge to see what I had to make a dip. I had a red bell pepper that needed to be used up. My first thought was hummus, since I have garbanzo beans, but I don't have any tahini. That's probably something I should stock up on. Then I saw that I had white beans, and since I've seen some recipes for pepper and white bean dips, I decided it would work. At this point, my apartment currently smelled of chocolate and scented candles. I didn't really think it through that making a dip with a fresh pepper required charring the skin, which not only set off my smoke detector, but also made my apartment stink of smoke. Oh well... I thought the dip turned out really well! I only had the one pepper, so I also used some jarred peppers. I think that the jarred ones added a nice acidity, which I was trying to achieve through the lemon juice. And I think this is something that can easily be adapted to include other flavors. I served it with multi-grain crackers (off-brand wheat thins).

And lastly - the drinks! It isn't a true girls' night without some good drinks. My alcohol supply is unfortunately pretty low. I have some wine and beer, but when it comes to the hard stuff, I haven't stocked up yet. I got spoiled when I was in St. Louis - you could buy that stuff at any grocery store around. Here, you can at least get wine and beer at the grocery store, but you have to go to an overpriced ABC to buy anything else. The only thing I had was Bacardi Razz, so I decided to make something fruity and tropical. I knew that my friend Sarah had Malibu Rum, and after looking through my pantry, I saw that I had a can of crushed pineapple in juice. Perfect! I really liked the drink.  Jess brought some wine, and I really liked that as well.  I usually prefer white, and this was a red, but it was very "drinkable."  My technical term.  She told me it was: Agua de piedra.

Outrageous Brownies (adapted from Barefoot Contessa)
2 sticks unsalted butter
7.5 oz bittersweet chocolate (use the good stuff! I used 3.5 oz Lindt and 4 oz Scharffen Berger)
4.5 oz semisweet chocolate chips (I just used 365 brand, from Whole Foods)
3 large eggs
1.5 tbsp instant coffee powder (I used General Foods International Suisse Mocha, decaffeinated)
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour + 2 tbsp
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
6 oz semisweet chocolate chips (365 again)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a 13x9 lasagna pan with parchment paper. It's easy to get them all out if you leave an overhang on two of the sides. Melt the chocolate and the butter either in a double boiler, or in a medium heatproof bowl over simmering water. Be careful not to let the bowl actually touch the water. Allow to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir a little of the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, to warm it up slightly. (Otherwise you may cook your eggs if the chocolate is too hot.) Then pour the rest of the chocolate in, and just fold it together, being careful not to introduce too much air into the mixture. Allow it to cool to room temperature.
In a medium bowl, sift together 1/2 cup flour, baking powder and salt. If you don't have a sifter, just whisk them all together. Add slowly to the chocolate mixture. Toss the 6 oz chocolate chips (and walnuts, if using) in a medium bowl with the 2 tbsp flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour into the prepared pan. (My batter was pretty thick, so I had to spread it in the pan.)
Bake for 18 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough.

At this point, a lovely crust should be forming. (This is my favorite part of brownies! It is the indication that you have made the perfect brownie - chewy and flaky.)
Bake for another 10-15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with just a little chocolate on it. Don't overbake! I think it's better to err on the side of caution - I'd rather have an underbaked than overbaked brownie.
Allow to cool thoroughly, and enjoy!

Red Pepper and White Bean Dip
1 red bell pepper, fresh
3 cloves garlic
1/2 red bell pepper, jarred, rinsed
1 cup white beans, rinsed and drained if canned
1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp lemon juice
s&p to taste

Preheat oven on broil setting, and move oven rack to top 1/3 of the oven. De-seed the fresh pepper and cut it in half, pressing it slightly so the halves are somewhat flattened. Place them, the outer side facing up, on a foil-lined pan. Put them under the broiler until the skin is completely charred, about 15 minutes. Put them in a container with a lid for 10-15 minutes, until skin is loosened. Carefully remove skin (they will still be hot).
Add the garlic to a food processor and pulse until minced. Add the red pepper, both fresh and jarred. Pulse until thoroughly blended. Add the beans, a little at a time, and pulse until mixed in. Add the remaining ingredients and blend. Add s&p as needed.
Spoon into a small bowl, and serve with crackers or fresh veggies.

Raspberry, Pineapple and Coconut Cocktails:
Bacardi Razz
Malibu Rum
Pineapple juice (not heavy syrup)
Club Soda (optional)

Mix 1 part Bacardi Razz, 1 part Malibu Rum, and 3 parts Pineapple juice. Add to a shaker with ice, and shake until mixed. Pour into glasses, and add some club soda if desired.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Another Recipe Quest

It's getting to be that time of year...when Hallmark starts raking in the cash. I'm having a "girl's night" with a few of my friends on Saturday, which means we'll be watching girly movies, drinking fun drinks, and eating good food. Since it's at my place, the food and drinks fall on me! (I wouldn't have it any other way.) Valentine's Day = chocolate, so I want to make some brownies. This means I'll have to look through my stack of brownie recipes to find the perfect one. Or make some adaptions so I can call it my own. I also want to try to make a fun drink. Maybe using a flavored simple syrup? It's going to be a fun night :)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Grown-Up Mac n Cheese

So here it is...the mac n cheese we've all been anticipating! Okay well maybe it was just me. After not even making an attempt the other night, I decided I would definitely make it yesterday. And my schedule in the lab worked out pretty perfectly. Class was canceled, so after a long coffee "break," I setup the one experiment I needed to do, and then spent a good hour looking through mac n cheese recipes. I bought white cheddar the other night, so I definitely wanted to use that. I also wanted to try to use onions and broccoli. After comparing some of the recipes, I came up with a good cheese to pasta ratio, and made up my own recipe.

I think I'm surprised by quite how delicious this was! (And I got someone else to try it, so it really is good!) There were a lot of small steps, but all in all it wasn't very difficult. I might try to add some more cheese the next time I make it. Either that, or include stronger cheese. I used the same amount of gruyere and cheddar, so it might need more cheddar. Also, this isn't even that bad for you. The whole grain pasta and broccoli add some fiber and vitamins. And hey - cheese is just calcium right? But seriously, this isn't one of those ridiculously fattening meals.

So the next time you're in the mood for mac n cheese, don't even waste your time on that powdered cheese. Make it with real ingredients!

White Cheddar Mac N Cheese with Onions and Broccoli:
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup onion, diced (I used 1/2 a small red onion)
3 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 cups broccoli florets, chopped into bite size pieces
8 oz whole grain medium shells
4 oz aged (2 yrs+ is best) white cheddar, shredded
4 oz gruyere, shredded
s&p to taste
1 tbsp soft margarine/butter to grease the dish
2 tbsp parmesan, grated

Start out by preparing everything (shredding, chopping, etc). I've found that it's easiest to start cooking if everything is already prepared. Plus, this is how they always do it on tv!
So shred the cheese - it's easiest to do this on a food scale. I got an inexpensive one at BB&B.
Then cut up the broccoli and the onion.
Even measure out the spices if you want. Use the soft margarine/butter to grease a 9x9 pyrex dish. And preheat the oven to 350 F.
So now you're ready to start. Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until it just starts to bubble. Add the onion, and cook until it is soft and translucent.
At this point, I cooked the broccoli in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Remove from water - add to an ice bath if you really want to stop the cooking. Save the water to use for the pasta.

Slowly add in the flour, maybe a tbsp at a time. Make sure you whisk it really well so there aren't any clumps. Cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes, to get rid of the raw flour taste. Next, very very slowly add the milk. I added maybe 1/3 cup at a time, and whisked until smooth, then added the next bit. Add the nutmeg, cayenne, and mustard. Keep on whisking, and continue cooking until the sauce thickens up. Reboil the water when you're waiting for the sauce to thicken up. This might take a while. For the longest time, my sauce just seemed like the consistency of milk. After a good 10 minutes, it started to get thicker. So don't give up! When it gets to a gravy-like consistency, take it off the heat.

This is when you can add your pasta to the boiling water. Reserving a handful of the gruyere and cheddar, slowly add into the sauce, stirring until well incorporated.
Drain the pasta after it cooks for 5 minutes. You don't want to overcook it, because it will continue to cook in the oven.

When the sauce is smooth and all of the cheese is incorporated, add s&p to taste. I didn't add any salt - I figure the cheese is salty enough. But I love pepper, so I added a decent amount of that. Then, fold in the pasta and the broccoli. Pour it all into the greased pyrex. Sprinkle the remaining gruyere and cheddar over the pasta, and then grate some parmesan right onto it.
Bake, uncovered, for ~30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and you have some crusty bits on top.
Let it sit for a few minutes, and then dig in!

Snow and Frustration

Last night I decided to go to the grocery store. We're supposed to get around 5 inches of snow between today and tomorrow, and since that could completely incapacitate Charlottesville, I wanted to be prepared. Now, first, I had to extract my car from the snow. Not such an easy task. The snow the previous weekend was pretty easy to clear off - it was light and fluffy. This snow was waterlogged, heavy and full of ice chunks. Let's just say that my attempt to kick it away with my rainboots was not so successful. I got lucky though - a ton of people were out doing the same thing I was, but with actual tools - shovels. Some nice kid let me borrow a shovel, and then when saw my pitiful progress 15 minutes later, just came over and shoveled me out himself! And then helped me navigate to back out. So I'm finally out, I get to the store, buy my stuff, etc... I figured that my spot or someone else's spot would be open when I got back because I was gone for such a short time. I was in the mood to make some homemade macaroni and cheese so I bought some necessary ingredients - sharp white cheddar, whole milk, pasta shells (I prefer these over elbows). I pull into the lot, and see my spot as well as a bunch of other spots open. I go to pull back into my original spot. And my car wouldn't accept it. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to get into every spot that was open. Even the spot of the kid who helped me get my car out. Finally, I pulled all the way to the end of the lot, and took a spot on the very end. Even that took about 5 tries to pull into, and I'm still afraid I damaged the bottom of my car. After all of this, I come inside, put my groceries away...and am so frustrated that I just can't pull myself together to make my mac n' cheese. But that's okay. Now I have the rest of the day to find the best recipe. I will be posting my results (as long as some other frustration doesn't prevent me from cooking).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Cinnamon Chip Banana Coffee Cake

I was supposed to go to a Superbowl party last night. Then, because of 1.) my car being covered in snow and a lack of a shovel, 2.) the fact that I hadn't done any work the entire weekend, and 3.) sheer laziness - I didn't go. I'm sure I missed some great snacks because Jess is a great cook, but I was pretty content at my place. I was planning on making cinnamon chip banana cake to bring to the party, so I figured I might as well make it. This is my current favorite use of leftover bananas. I started seeing it on multiple blogs - first Two Peas and Their Pod, then many others. The first few times I made it, I used chocolate chips. I can't even tell you how long it took me to find cinnamon chips. I've been hearing about them on all of the blogs, and most are in the same boat I was in. I looked for them every time I went to the grocery store. Finally, once I moved to Cville and started using the lovely Kroger, I found them! I didn't know how long they would be available, so I think I bought 5 bags the first time I saw them. But back to the cake - it is amazing. It's so easy to make, with basic ingredients you'll always have around (except for maybe those cinnamon chips). It is delicious with the chocolate chips, and even more amazing with the cinnamon chips. Sometimes I do a combination of chocolate and cinnamon, so I can get my chocolate fix. I have made it in both an 8x8 pyrex and in a 9-inch cake pan. The cake pan is a bit too small to fit the whole recipe, but I made it work the first time I made the cake. I usually add in an extra banana. I think it makes it even more moist. And I wanted to make an attempt to call this "healthy" so I used 1/2 cup whole wheat flour in place of the same amount of AP flour. And you know what? I don't think it changed the taste at all. It might just be a little more dense. So the next time you have overripe bananas (or your stockpile in the freezer starts to overflow), MAKE THIS CAKE!

Cinnamon Chip Banana Coffee Cake (adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod):
4 ripe bananas
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/3 tsp baking soda (use only 1 tsp if using only all-purpose flour)
2 heaping tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup Splenda
3/4 cup cinnamon chips (or chocolate/peanut butter chips)
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cinnamon chips (or chocolate/peanut butter chips)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray pan of your choice (8-inch pyrex works well) with cooking spray. Mash the bananas well with a fork or potato masher. Beat in the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. Gently stir in the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, sugar and Splenda. When the mixture is about halfway combined, stir in 3/4 cup cinnamon chips. Be careful not to overmix! Pour the batter in your prepared pan. For the topping - stir together the cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle the 1/4 cup chips on top of the batter, and then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top of that. Bake for ~30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. It tastes great when it's still warm!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Spiced Vanilla Rice Pudding

Now that I have this blog up and running, I'm feeling much more motivated to cook. Usually, I spent more time pouring over recipes, cookbooks and food blogs to actually get into the kitchen and make anything. Now, being able to write about it adds a level of excitement! Two nights ago I had a craving for rice pudding. It was pretty simple to look through my bookmarked recipes and find the right one. The ingredients needed to be pretty basic because I'm a little limited, being snowed in and everything. I wanted something that was stove-top only because I haven't tested my pots to see if they're oven-proof yet, and my pyrex dish is currently housing my sweet potato and banana casserole. I found the perfect recipe on Gratinee.
I changed it up slightly by adding a cinnamon stick while it was cooking, adding a combination of sugar and Splenda, and adding ground cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg when serving. I think next time I would use whole milk - I used skim because that was all I had on hand. I think whole milk might make a thicker custard. But the flavor was delicious, and it definitely fulfilled my craving!

Spiced Vanilla Rice Pudding (adapted from Gratinee)
3/4 cup arborio rice
1 1/4 cups water
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
2 cups milk, divided (I used skim but any kind would suffice)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup Splenda
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp good vanilla extract
1 tbsp butter
Ground cinnamon
Freshly grated nutmeg

Boil 1 1/4 cups water in a medium saucepan. Add rice, cinnamon stick, and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 20 minutes. Stir every once in a while. After 20 minutes, most of the water should be absorbed, and the rice will have just started sticking to the bottom. Add 1 1/2 cups milk, sugar, Splenda, and salt. Cook over medium heat until most of the milk is absorbed, about 15 minutes (it took me a lot longer than that). Stir often, so the bottom won't burn. Combine egg with the other 1/2 cup of milk and slowly incorporate into the rice. Make sure the egg is beaten very well and you add very slowly - otherwise you will have bits of cooked egg! Cook for another 2-5 minutes, stirring constantly. It will seem very soupy at this point, but don't worry, it thickens when it cools. Add the butter and vanilla.

Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tomato Bread

After my very successful first real attempt with yeast last week, I decided to give it another try! This time I wanted to make a bread that would be more suitable for sandwiches. I remembered a tomato bread recipe I had seen in Cooking Light ages ago, and since I had almost a full bag of sun-dried tomatoes in the fridge, I figured it would be perfect. I followed the recipe almost exactly, except I used julienne cut tomatoes instead of tomato halves, and I added 1 tsp of basil. I love the combination of tomatoes and basil! It's best with fresh basil, but it's the I used what I had. My dough needed an extra 20 minutes or so for the first rise. Also, I didn't roll it out. When I took the dough out from its first rise, it was really soft and easy to work with. I just patted it out until it was the right size, and rolled it up from there. And piece of advice - after letting it rise the second time, make sure it is still sealed well. This has happened with both times I've cooked bread lately - I didn't check, and it unrolled slightly while baking. That's okay - it still tastes amazing! This bread has a rich tomato flavor, and is great warm with some butter, or used in a sandwich. And it's so easy to make!

Sun Dried Tomato Bread: (adapted from Cooking Light)
1 cup boiling water
~3 oz sun-dried tomato, in a bag (not packed in oil)
1 packet active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 tsp)
3 1/2 cups bread flour, divided
2 tbsp extravirgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried basil
1 large egg
Cooking spray/oil
Melted butter (optional)

Combine boiling water and tomatoes in a small bowl. Cover and let stand 30 minutes. Drain tomato mixture through a sieve into a bowl, reserving the soaking water. Finely chop the tomatoes. Heat the water to 100-110 F (should feel warm, not hot, to the touch). Place water in a large bowl and add yeast. Let stand 5 minutes, until you see bubbles at the surface. (If you don't see bubbles after 10 minutes, then either your yeast isn't working or your water was too hot. You'll have to start with a new packet of yeast and new water. Unfortunately, you won't have the tomato flavored water, so I don't know how this will affect the bread.) Add 3 cups of the flour, tomatoes, oil, salt, basil and egg to the yeast mixture. Stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. (At this point, if you you don't keep your place really warm, heat some water in the microwave for 10 minutes. This will be where you let the dough rise. Don't open the microwave until the dough is ready.) Knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Add enough of remaining 1/2 cup of flour, 1 tbsp at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands. Place dough in an oiled large bowl, turning to coat.

Cover, and let rise either in a warm, draft-free place, or in your microwave, for 45 minutes (or until doubled in size). (Gently press two fingers into the dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down, cover, and let rest 5 minutes. Roll dough into a 14x7-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface.

Roll up rectangle tightly, starting with a short edge, pressing firmly to eliminate air pockets (maybe this was my problem with my cinnamon raisin bread!). Pinch seam and ends to seal. Place roll, seam side down, in a 9x5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray.

Cover and let rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size. (If using microwave again, heat water while rolling dough.) Preheat oven to 350 F. Uncover dough; bake at 350 F for 40 minutes or until loaf is browned on bottom and sounds hollow when tapped. (note - how can you tell if it's browned on the bottom if you're not using a glass pan? food for thought) Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. If desired, brush with melted butter.
* Because of my temperamental oven, I cooked it at 325 F for 30 minutes.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snow and Sweet Potatoes

It has been snowing ALL day long. I somehow woke up at 8 am (even though it's a snow day) and it was already snowing then. When I moved to Charlottesville, I figured I would be safe from the snow. Definitely not the case. At least not this year. But that's okay - as long as I don't need to go anywhere, I am completely content. I've been sitting in my pjs all day, watching tv. By the time dinnertime came around, I figured I should do something productive. I have a lot of cooked sweet potato leftover from my burritos the other day, so I really wanted to use that up. Of course, I didn't find anything dinner-related to make with it. But I did decide to make a sweet potato casserole. While this was cooking, I made a frozen Indian dinner from Trader Joe's with some naan - delicious.

I can't wait until Charlottesville gets a Trader Joe's! I heard it's still a few years away though...
But back to the recipe - it's another weird flavor combination using sweet potatoes. If you don't like sweet potatoes, you won't like this recipe! And another warning - it is much better at room temperature. I tried some right when it came out of the oven and wasn't impressed. But after an hour or two, it's much better! So this isn't one of the best things I've ever made. But I think it was a good use of leftovers.

Sweet Potato and Banana Casserole:
1 MASSIVE sweet potato, cooked and mashed (about 1 1/2 - 2 cups)
2 medium-large bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup skim milk
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 inch piece of ginger - grated
Cinnamon sugar
1/4 cup raisins

Pretty simple - mix all of the ingredients together from the sweet potato to the ginger. Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease an 8x8 glass baking dish. Pour the mixture into the dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and the raisins. Cook for about 30 minutes, until set. Let cool before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.

* Update: After refrigerating overnight, it is delicious! This should definitely be served cold.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos

This is one of my first successful recipes, back in undergrad. I try to make these burritos every winter now, and freeze them so I can have a quick lunch or dinner. I usually try to double or quadruple the recipe so I can have a lot stocked up in the freezer. This time I must have used much smaller tortillas since I had a TON of the filling leftover. Not to worry - I used it as a dip and ate it with endive leaves.
The flavor combination sounds a little strange, but I promise - it's so good! When I freeze them, I take them out individually and either cook it in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or thaw it in the fridge and give it a quick toast.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos: (adapted from SparkPeople)
Half a large sweet potato
Olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Half an onion, diced
1 tsp cumin
hot pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup black beans (drained and rinsed if from a can)
2 wedges light garlic & herb laughing cow cheese
2 tortillas

Bake or boil the sweet potato in its skin until soft. While doing this, heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the onion and spices - cook until the onion is translucent.
When the sweet potatoes are cooked, let cool slightly and then remove from peel and mash.
Add black beans and cheese to the onion mixture - mash until creamy.
To assemble: heat tortilla between two paper towels for 20 seconds. Spread some of the sweet potato on, and then add some of the bean mixture. Try to add it in a line down the center. Don't over-fill or it won't close!
To fold: Fold in the two edges perpendicular to the line you created. Then roll in the other direction. I'm sorry if this is hard to understand - I'll try to put up pictures diagraming this at some point. At this point, either put it in the oven to reheat and toast, or roll them up in foil and stick in the freezer. Make sure you wrap them really well and put in a freezer bag.

Pumpkin Ginger Spice Granola

This is the second recipe I've tried from Steph Chows. Actually, this is the first recipe I made from her site. I've made this recipe at least 3 or 4 times since November. This granola is amazing! The flavor combination is perfect - nice and spicy. I only made a few slight changes to the recipe. I used half pumpkin seeds and half sunflower seeds. I LOVE ginger so I used more, and cut larger chunks. Cinnamon is another one of my loves, so I doubled the amount. Also, my oven is very touchy. I always have to set the temperature lower and cook for less time. If you have a normal oven, check out Steph's original recipe.

Pumpkin Ginger Spice Granola: (adapted from Steph Chows)
2 1/2 Cups Rolled Oats
2 Cups Steel Cut Oats
1 Cup raw Almonds
1 Cup Walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 Cup Sunflower Seeds
1/4 Cup Pumpkin Seeds (pepitas)
1 Cup Crystallized Ginger, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Ginger
1 tsp Nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 tsp Cloves
1/2 tsp Allspice
15 oz Pumpkin Puree
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Maple Syrup
2 Tbsp Oil
1 Cup Raisins/Craisins

Preheat oven to 300 F. Mix all of the dry ingredients together.

Add in all of the wet ingredients - mix thoroughly. Spread out on two foil-lined lasagna pans. Bake (one at a time) for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

When it is just starting to look slightly dry, add the raisins or craisins (1/2 cup to each pan). The granola will need just 10 more minutes at this point.

This granola is different from the typical granola you find - it's a little soft and moist. I enjoy eating it plain or with milk/yogurt.

I hope you like it as much as I do!

Pasta with Roasted Veggies and Shrimp

This may be obvious because I am a vegetarian, but I love veggies! I’ve realized that one way to make a meal seem bigger without completely engorging yourself is to add a ton of veggies. This meal is easy, delicious, and even better – healthy! I think that roasting shrimp is one of the best ways to cook it, and they're always nice and juicy.
This recipe is so easy to adapt – just use whatever vegetables you have on hand. I got the lemon pepper pappardelle and the lemon pepper seasoning from Trader Joe’s.

Pasta with Roasted Veggies and Shrimp:
2 bunches of broccoli florets
1 red bell pepper
Olive oil
Lemon pepper seasoning
Lemon pepper pappardelle
~3/4 lb shrimp
Hard cheese for grating

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. If using frozen shrimp, thaw under running cold water. Drain and pat dry. Wash the broccoli, and then cut up into individual stalks. Wash the bell pepper and cut into long strips. Toss the broccoli and pepper with 1-2 tbsp olive oil and some lemon pepper seasoning. If you don’t have this seasoning, substitute some freshly squeezed lemon juice or dried lemon peel, and salt and pepper. Spread out on a foil-lined pan and put in the oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, boil salted water for the pasta, and de-shell your shrimp. Toss the shrimp in olive oil and lemon pepper seasoning. Pull out the veggies and make room for the shrimp, so it can all be spread out in a single layer. Put back in the oven for ~8 minutes. Cook the pasta until al dente. When everything is done, toss the pasta, shrimp and veggies together. Add some additional lemon pepper seasoning or s&p, and grate the cheese of your choice on top.

Pasta with Spinach Sauce

I love spinach. I especially love it when it’s cooked and creamy with some kind of cheese. Of course, cheese makes everything better. So I decided the other night to make an all-time favorite – pasta with cheesy spinach sauce. I had planned on making enough to last several meals. What I had forgotten was how much fresh spinach shrinks down once cooked! So I made enough for dinner and lunch the next day. Whenever there are at least some leftovers, I feel my time cooking is validated.

This is yet again another vague recipe. I listed the amounts I used, but I usually base it on taste. It all depends on how much garlic you like, how thick or thin you want the sauce, what your sauce-to-pasta ratio is…

Pasta with Spinach Sauce:
2 tbsp butter
9 oz fresh baby spinach (I picked off all of the stems – probably isn’t really necessary for you to do this)
2 cubes crushed garlic (I used frozen cubes of crushed garlic – 2 cloves would substitute)
¼ - ½ cup milk (I used whole milk leftover from the cinnamon raisin bread)
3 wedges laughing cow cheese (light garlic & herb)
2-3 tbsp flour
1 cup whole wheat rotini
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano

Melt butter over medium-low heat in a medium saucepan or pot. Add the spinach. If your pan/pot isn’t big enough to hold all of the spinach at once, add a little at a time. It will wilt down once cooked, so you’ll eventually be able to fit it all in. In the meantime, boil salted water and cook the pasta. When the spinach is almost entirely wilted, add the crushed garlic and milk. I like adding a little milk at a time, and adding more later if I think the sauce needs to be thinner. Add the laughing cow cheese, mushing (a technical term) it into the sauce. Add the flour and continue stirring. Once the sauce is at your desired consistency (and flavor – taste and add ingredients to your liking), stir in the pasta. Serve with black pepper and some freshly grated cheese.

This recipe can easily be doubled, tripled, etc. It depends on how many people you are cooking for, and in my case, how much fresh spinach you have!

Cinnamon Raison Swirl Bread

I keep on meaning to make a yeasted bread, but with the exception of a failed pizza, and several successful focaccias, it’s one of those things that I manage to put off. After reading tons of recipes for cinnamon raisin bread, I decided to take the plunge! First I had to choose a recipe. I looked through my Sweet Breads folder (yes, I am that organized) and found about 7. I knew I wanted a bread with both raisins and cinnamon. I also wanted a swirled bread. So by process of elimination, I found a recipe on Steph Chows that fit all of my requirements.

I followed the recipe exactly with a few exceptions. I used 1 packet of active dry yeast – I didn’t bother to measure. I used whole milk (her recipe didn’t specify what kind she used). I didn’t have agave so I used honey. And I don’t have amaretto, so I soaked my raisins in a combination of Torani Gingerbread Syrup and water. I didn’t add cinnamon to the dough since I wanted to have a pure white bread – but I did add extra to the filling. I love cinnamon!

This bread was really not that difficult to make. I also keep my apartment pretty cool, so I used her technique of heating water in the microwave to create a warm, humid environment. It worked like a charm. I don’t have a stand mixer so I mixed everything by hand, but it still seemed to come together pretty nicely. There were a few moments of concern when my “softened” butter was broken up in chunks in the liquid mixture. But once I added the flour and continued mixing, it all became incorporated.

So if you are like me, and keep on thinking about baking bread but haven’t yet tried it, use this recipe! It’s easy and the bread is oh so delicious. I may invest in a second loaf pan just so I can double this recipe. Or I’ll have to make it once a week! I’m probably going to freeze half of the loaf, since I would love to be able to toast a slice for breakfast when I’m short on time, so I’ll have to let you know how that works out.* When you live by yourself, you have to freeze everything or give it away. Or just get really fat from eating all of your food.

I noticed that once I got to the middle of the loaf, there was a gap between the filling and the bread. Perhaps I didn’t roll it tightly enough? Of course these slices still tasted just as good, they just weren’t as pretty.
Also, the filling remains moist and gooey, even after several days. I decided to put it in the fridge after a day.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread: (adapted from Steph Chows)
1 packet active dry yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar + ¼ cup
¾ cup warm (not hot) milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 tbsp + 2 tbsp honey (use agave if you have it)
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3 ¼ cups bread flour, plus additional for rolling
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 ½-2 tsp cinnamon
½ cup raisins

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a medium sized bowl if you don’t have a mixer), whisk together yeast, 1 tsp sugar, and warm milk until well combined. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, until the mixture starts foaming. (If you don’t see any foam after 10 minutes, start over with a new packet of yeast. Either the yeast was too old to work, or the milk was too hot and killed the yeast.) Add remaining ¼ cup sugar, egg, 3 tbsp honey, vanilla, salt, and butter, and mix using a dough hook (or wooden spoon), until well combined – about 1-2 minutes. Add flour, ½ cup at a time, and mix on medium speed for 10 minutes (or with the wooden spoon for several minutes).

Remove dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for an additional 8 minutes. (Before kneading, this is when I started heating the water in the microwave.) Shape dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, turning to coat. Lightly cover and allow to rise in a warm area for 1 ½ hours.

At this point, soak the raisins in whatever flavorful liquid you have. Worst case, just use water. I used a combination of Torani Gingerbread Syrup and water. Steph used amaretto, which I’m sure was amazing. After an hour, drain the raisins. You can start the soaking process before this if you want.

In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins until well combined. (Start heating water again in the microwave, if necessary.) Roll dough out using a rolling pin, into a rectangle, ¼-inch thick. I tried to make it so that the shortest side was about 8-9 inches long. Drizzle remaining 2 tbsp honey over the dough. Sprinkle raisin mixture over dough. Roll up, starting with a short end. Pinch and tuck the ends under, and place seam-size down in a greased loaf pan. Lightly cover and allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If desired, whisk together an egg and a tsp of water and brush over the top of the bread. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until deep golden brown, well risen, and it sounds hollow when tapped. Cover with foil if bread browns too quickly. Cool for 30 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

* Update: I have reheated some of the frozen slices and they were great! They turned out as good as fresh either in the toaster oven or the microwave.

"Sandy" Pasta

So usually, when a recipe doesn’t go according to plan, that’s a bad thing. Not always so! Over the summer my friend Jess told me her mom’s famous recipe for “sandy pasta.” Now I know that sounds like the sandwiches you ate on the beach as a kid, but it really is good. It’s basically pasta with breadcrumbs that have been toasted in olive oil, garlic and herbs. Really tasty. The other day, while in class, I decided that what I really wanted for dinner was some sandy pasta. I remembered that in the summer I added some chopped tomatoes and that made it even more delicious. Of course now, it’s in the middle of winter, and I refuse to buy tomatoes. They are overpriced and filled with water. But that’s okay, I have a can of diced tomatoes. Let’s just say that adding a can of diced tomatoes, with the liquid, kind of defeats the purpose of a pasta dish that is supposed to have dry, toasted breadcrumbs. But you know what? It was actually still really good! It turned a great summer dish into something that is a little heartier, for the winter. I’m excited that my revision didn’t completely ruin the dish. So try this if you’re in the mood for something different. But when fresh tomatoes are in season – you must try the original version.

"Sandy" Pasta (adapted from Jess's recipe)
Ingredients: (these are going to be very vague since I wasn’t in the mood to measure)
Olive oil (2-3 tbsp)
3-4 cloves of garlic
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Dried basil (fresh would be amazing if you have it on hand)
Seasoned breadcrumbs – I used maybe ½ a cup?
Can of diced tomatoes (or 2 chopped tomatoes during the summer)
Pasta (I used rotini – and maybe about a cup?)
Parmegiano reggiano (or other hard cheese for grating)
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Dice or slice the garlic – it depends on how much you like garlic. If you love it – you can make the pieces bigger and even add more cloves. Add the garlic to the pan, with the pepper flakes (and dried basil). In the meantime, heat salted water for the pasta, and cook it until al dente. Keep an eye on the garlic to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the breadcrumbs and stir to evenly distribute the oil. Stir occasionally to toast evenly. Once the breadcrumbs have absorbed all of the oil, add the tomatoes. Cook until heated through. Once the pasta is ready, add it right to the pan. If you need to thin out the sauce, add some of the pasta water. (If using fresh basil, this is when to add it.) Grate some cheese on top, sprinkle with black pepper, and enjoy!

My first blog!

I read more food blogs than I can count, and I finally decided to start my own. Coming up with a title was probably the hardest part. It took me two weeks just to get here, and there's a good chance I'll probably change it more than once :)

Okay, so I should probably introduce myself first. I'm Jen, and I'm halfway through my first year of a Ph.D. program at the University of Virginia. I moved to Charlottesville in June '09 and absolutely love it here! I started cooking a few years ago - in my senior year of undergrad. Since then, I realized how much I really love cooking (especially baking). Life can be stressful at times, especially because of my program, and trying a new recipe acts as a stress reliever. (Of course until it's time to do the dishes.)

I wanted to start a blog to keep track of what I've made. This is mostly for my own sake - so I can take note of what worked and what didn't. I would love to start being more adventurous in the kitchen - try new techniques, new ingredients. The farmers markets and local produce here in Cville is great, and I want to try to take advantage of that.

I would love feedback - if you try a recipe, please let me know how it turns out, good or bad!

The next few posts are about food I've cooked in the past two weeks - just because I couldn't think of a title, didn't mean I stopped baking!