Thursday, September 9, 2010

Quick Fix Greens

Matt and I spent Labor Day weekend up in Moretown, VT in a big ol' house with a group of great friends.  I decided to bring our remaining Boston Organics produce along so that it didn't spoil while we were gone, and I ended up cooking a lot while there (which granted me a merciful 15 handicap points for the play-for-the-dishes post-dinner games of Hearts).

Some of us out in the "backyard" on an evening constitutional

One of the dishes I made was a bit of an experiment.  I had a bunch of kale, and figured that cooking it with some boxed rice would simultaneously steam and flavor it.  And so, at the podunk mini-mart in the "center of town," I picked up two boxes of Uncle Ben's Long Grain & Wild Rice (actually, Gabi paid for it - thanks for footing the bill, Gams!).  About 20 minutes before dinner was ready - marinated swordfish steaks and grilled zucchini, oh my! - I washed the kale, tore it into pieces, and added it to a pot into which I'd already loaded the rice, seasoning packets, and water.  I cooked it for a few minutes longer than the instructions on the back of the box called for, and it turned out quite well.

The ingredients of choice

I will definitely do this again with greens and rice in the future - it was simple, quick, and completely delicious!

- M

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pesto Gets a Makeover

Early this summer, I planted one Italian basil plant and one Thai basil plant. Both flourished immediately. I use Italian basil all the time - who wouldn't? - but I found myself ignoring the poor Thai basil. It soon sprouted flowers at the top and stopped growing. The stems grew woody and thick.

I thought I had lost the plant, until I purchased a book on city gardening which helpfully informed me that trimming the plant of its flowering top would encourage growth once more. I did so, watered it, and lo and behold - the plant was like new!

My exuberance quickly wore off when I realized I still had to figure out what to do with the stuff. Standing there, looking at each plant, I realized, "Hey - since Italian basil pesto is so delicious, I'm sure there are delicious Thai basil recipes out there, too!"

Man, was I right. I used the first recipe that popped up on Google, which happened to be from Cooking Light, my favorite food magazine! I modified it a bit by adding cilantro (I had about half the amount of Thai basil as the recipe called for), and the result was insanely flavorful and complex. I mixed it with cooked and cooled whole wheat fusilli and halved grape tomatoes. It made for a great take-along to a cookout, as there was no spoil-prone mayonnaise involved.

Give this a try. Make a bunch and freeze some in ice cubes, if you'd like. It'd be a great way to kick up any meal throughout the year.

THAI BASIL PESTO (barely adapted from Cooking Light)

2 cups fresh Thai basil and cilantro
2 tbs dry-roasted peanuts
1 tbs sugar
1 1/2 tbs dark or toasted sesame oil
1 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs rice wine vinegar
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or minced fresh chile if you'd like)
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the pesto and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.  Alternatively, freeze in an ice cube tray then transfer the cubes to a freezer-safe bag.

Makes 1/2 cup. Nutritional info per 1 tbs: 45 calories, 3.6 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat, 1.5 g monounsaturated fat, 1.4 g polyunsaturated fat), 0.9 g protein, 2.9 g carbohydrates, 0.6 g fiber, 0.0 mg cholesterol, 0.4 mg iron, 189 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium.

- M

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Leftovers: Rice Edition

Whereas Matt is happy to reheat leftovers for days on end – either for lunch at work or for dinner at home – I tend to be turned off by them the very next day, with two notable exceptions: Italian food and Asian food.   I can reheat and enjoy pasta, lasagna, lo mein, and pad thai for days on end, though I’m guessing this has more to do with my love of carbs than with an appreciation for any cuisine in particular.

If you’re like Matt and don’t mind reheating and eating leftovers in their original form, try dribbling about a teaspoon of water over them before sticking them in the microwave.  Microwaves work by heating the water within the food, so adding a bit of moisture beforehand will reconstitute the food and help it heat all the way through.  I generally heat leftovers for 2:30 or 3:00 minutes on high, but I like for my hot food to be really, really hot.   In fact, I spend most weekends waiting for Matt to get up so that I can say, “Oh hey, while you’re up, would you mind reheating my coffee?”  My mother is the same way.  Genetics are very odd.

Ask yourself as well if the food would benefit from being reheated by methods other than microwaving.  Fried rice, for example, is delicious when reheated in a frying pan, and pizza stays crispy when reheated under the broiler or in a toaster oven.  Be creative with your heating methods, and you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

When utilizing frozen leftovers like soup or pasta sauce, try running the container under the faucet for a bit to loosen the contents inside, as defrosting in the microwave can be a bit harsh and might alter the flavor.  Once the contents have withdrawn from the sides of the container, dump them into a pot and bring them to temperature over medium-low heat, stirring frequently and leaving the top on in between.  Make sure to bring the food to a boil to eliminate any harmful bacteria.

All this being said, sometimes, no matter how tasty I found the first iteration to be, I just don’t want to eat the plain old leftovers the next day.  Or, alternatively, the leftovers don’t comprise a meal on their own, as is the case with rice.

Here are two recipes I enjoyed, both of which utilize leftover rice.  In a time when everyone is trying to save money, every grain counts!

PINEAPPLE CASHEW FRIED RICE (adapted from gimme some oven)
(photo from gimme some oven)

2 cups leftover rice (I used Goya Curry Rice – my favorite! - which I believe I'd made for an Old El Paso Fajita Dinner Kit meal)
1 tbs vegetable oil or wok oil
2 – 3 scallions, diced, saving the green parts for garnish)
2 tbs minced ginger (I freeze mine and thaw under running water, then microplane)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 hot pepper, minced (I freeze jalapenos and thaw under running water, like the ginger)
1 cup fresh pineapple, diced (I bought the peeled, cored kind at the supermarket because it cost the same as a whole, unprepared one!)
¼ cup cashews
1 tbs soy sauce (I always try to use low sodium)
1 tbs fish sauce or oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste

Warm the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat (wok oil is an easy way to add an Asian essence to your food - most contain hints of garlic, ginger, and some combination of spices and heat).  Add the scallion whites, ginger, bell pepper, and hot pepper / chile.  Saute until fragrant, 1 – 2 minutes.

Add the rice, stirring frequently, for 3 – 5 minutes.  Add the pineapple, cashews (I can't remember if I used raw or roasted, but definitely don't use the seasoned snack kind), soy sauce, and fish sauce, and stir until well coated and heated through, about 2 – 3 minutes.

Season to taste, and add the green scallion parts as garnish.


1 tbs canola or other neutral vegetable oil
½ red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 – 2 chiles (I used the mild Thai chiles from my garden, so I added three and kept the ribs and seeds)
1 tbs cumin
1 tsp chipotle chile powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed
1 – 2 cups leftover cheesy vegetable rice (see stuffed zucchini recipe)
1 – 2 tbs minced cilantro (I used parsley since my cilantro plant died)
the juice of half a lime
salt and pepper to taste

4 whole wheat tortillas
reduced fat sour cream
Tabasco sauce

Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium low heat.  Add the onion, garlic, and chiles, and soften for 2 – 3 minutes.  Add the cumin, chipotle powder, and oregano, and stir to coat.  Add the black beans and leftover rice and stir to combine.  Heat through, stirring occasionally, for 4 – 5 minutes.  Squeeze in the lime and stir in the cilantro or parsley.  Season to taste.

Meanwhile, heat the tortillas in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Flip and heat for another 15 seconds.  Lay them flat, spread with a tablespoon or so of sour cream and salsa, add about ½ cup of filling, and roll, tucking in the sides as you go.  If you like your burritos hot, add a few dashes of Tabasco to the filling before rolling.

I hope that these recipes help you breathe some new life into your leftovers.  Be flexible (neither of these recipes called for the types of rice I used), and use your imagination.  In my experience, you won’t be disappointed, if only for the knowledge that you’ve saved so much money and left nothing to waste, something I think we should all try to do more often.

- M

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Zucchini, Circa 1950

I tried a really retro recipe today.  It actually didn't strike me just how retro it was until I started trying to think of a title for this entry.

I had two Boston Organics zucchini stragglers in my refrigerator that I was trying to decide what to do with.  I considered some sort of fritter, but I haven't been feeling very well recently, so I wanted to avoid ingesting much oil or egg.  I then remembered a recipe I came across on Tastespotting recently for Stuffed Zucchini with Vegetable Rice and Cheese.  The blog "Zoom Yummy" touted it as "light, healthy, playful, and favorful," and most importantly, "simple."

I mistakenly cooked 1 cup of rice (instead of 1/2 cup) in 1 3/4 cup of broth, so the end result seemed a bit dry.  However, I used half the amount of cheese and just as many vegetables, and those proportions all seemed right - I now just have an extra cup of cooked cheesy rice with which to play around tomorrow (I plan on adding some canned beans and/or rice, reheating, and stuffing into a makeshift veggie burrito).  Pending the success of said burrito, I'm thinking of dedicating a post to the possibilities of leftover rice.  I used leftover rice a while back to make pineapple fried rice with cashews, and that turned out pretty well, so stay tuned ...

(original photo)

2 zucchini, washed, dried and halved lengthwise
2 tbs olive oil
1 large or 2 small carrot(s), peeled and diced
1 yellow/white onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup frozen peas
A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup white rice (I used - and suggest - Carolina)
1 3/4 cup low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used a pizza blend with mozzarella and provolone - any mild, melty cheese will do)
1 tbs or so raw sunflower or pumpkin seeds (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Add the broth to a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add the rice and lower to a simmer, covering and cooking until all of the liquid is absorbed (usually around 20 minutes - start checking at 15).

Meanwhile, hold the halved zucchini in your hand, skin side down, and gently scrape the insides out with a spoon.  Collect all of the insides, place into a double-folded paper towel, and squeeze out all of the moisture into your sink or garbage.  Mince.

Cover a baking sheet in aluminum foil.  Lay the zucchini halves, skin side down, on the aluminum foil, drizzle over a bit of olive oil, and distribute evenly with a brush.  Place into the preheated oven for about 10 minutes.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onion, garlic, and squeezed and minced zucchini innards.  Soften for 2 - 3 minutes.  Add the carrot and peas (you can use a frozen veggie mix here if you'd like - peas, carrots, and corn).  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Soften for 2 - 3 more minutes.  When the vegetables are soft and fragrant, add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, stir to incorporate, and turn off the heat.

By this time, the zucchini, vegetable mixture, and rice should all be ready.  Remove the zucchini from the oven.  Add the vegetable mixture to the rice, add most of the 1/2 cup of cheese, and stir.

Being careful not to burn yourself, pack the rice mixture into each hollow zucchini half.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese over each and then sprinkle over a few sunflower or pumpkin seeds.  Return to the oven for about 20 minutes.  Once the cheese is melted and almost crispy, remove and allow to cool for a minute or two before serving.

Serves 4.  Nutritional info per half zucchini: 159 calories, 7 g fat, 1.6 g saturated fat, 0.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 2.5 g monounsaturated fat, 5 g cholesterol, 374 mg sodium, 312 g potassium, 22 g carbs, 2 g dietary fiber, 4.8 g sugar, 6 g protein, 29% daily vitamin A, 37% daily vitamin C, 8.5% daily calcium, 9% daily iron**

[** I do these calculations by hand using internet sources - if you are on a strict diet for any reason, please do not rely solely on these figures!  I am NOT a nutritionist!]

I'm by no means a mother, but this seems like a good way to serve vegetables to your kids.  Otherwise, it's a nice throwback, and a surprisingly healthy comfort food.  Enjoy.

- M

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chili, Chili, Chili!

I have made a LOT of chili over the past couple of years.

Turkey chili, beef chili, bean chili, butternut squash chili - you name it, I've made it - and as it turns out, many food bloggers use chili as a means of serving up those confounding local greens like chard, kale, collards, beet, dandelion, mustard, and turnip (check out Types of Cooking Greens by Local Foods for a helpful overview).  I have yet to make a chili I didn't like; plus, the leftovers keep for a while (and freeze well, too).

There's also something to be said for a dish that tastes better the longer you cook it.  There's no fretting about burning, toughening, or drying out - if too much liquid evaporates, just add more!  This makes for a relaxing - and ultimately rewarding - cooking experience.

[Disclaimer: I couldn't care less about the great chili debate and thus have no desire to take part in it.  Is it a stew that involves meat, beans, tomatoes, and/or veggies, and is infused with southwestern/Latin American flavors?  Good.  Then I'll call it chili and I'll like it.]

That being said, any chili (no matter what your definition) can be greatly enhanced by a variety of accoutrement.  I prefer shredded cheese to sour cream, as the cream eventually breaks and turns the chili an unappetizing shade of pale pink.  Avocado, cilantro, scallions, and chives are always welcome.  I also like to whip up a batch of cheddar jalapeno corn muffins which requires only five ingredients - cheddar and jalapeno (shocking), "JIFFY" corn muffin mix, one egg, and milk.  They take 20 minutes from start to finish and are absolutely divine.

Read on for two chili recipes (plus the cheddar jalapeno corn muffins) that have done me well.  The next time you open your Boston Organics box and are greeted by a few giant bunches of intimidating greens, consider turning to chili for a satisfying fix.

BLACK BEAN CHILI WITH BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND CHARD (adapted from running with tweezers)

2 tbs olive oil
1 large or 2 small yellow onion(s), chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium jalapeno, diced into small pieces (omit the ribs and seeds if you're "spice sensitive")
2 1/2 cups peeled and diced (about 1/2") butternut squash
3 tbs chili powder
3 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dried red chili flakes
1/4 tsp salt (plus more at the end if necessary)
2 15 oz cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 cups of vegetable broth
1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes in juice
1 bunch of coarsely chopped greens (chard, kale, etc.)

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and saute until tender and golden, about 5 minutes (be careful not to burn the garlic!).  Add the jalapeno and squash, plus the cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, and salt.  Stir for a couple of minutes until the vegetables are fully coated and the spices are aromatic.

Stir in the beans, broth, and tomatoes with juices and bring to boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the squash is knife-tender (about 15 minutes).  Stir in the greens and simmer until tender but still bright green (about 4 minutes).  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowls and serve.

Serves 6 - 8.  Nutritional info per 1 1/2 cup serving (without garnish): 273 calories, 6 g fat, 962 mg sodium, 244 mg potassium, 46 g carbs, 10 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 14 g protein, 154% daily vitamin A, 52% daily vitamin C, 16% daily calcium, 22% daily iron**

BEEF CHILI WITH BEET GREENS AND CORN (adapted from Just Making Noise)
(original photo)

1 lb ground beef (I used 85% lean)
2 tbs olive oil
2 small white onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1-2 small chiles (I used 3 Thai chiles from my garden as they're not very hot), diced (omit the ribs and seeds if you're "spice sensitive")
1 tbs dried oregano
1 tbs dried basil
1/2 tbs ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes (omit if you're worried about heat)
1/4 tsp salt
1 15 oz can crushed tomatoes in juice
2 cups beef stock
2 15 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can corn kernels, drained and rinsed
1 bunch greens (I used beet)

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic, and chiles and saute until tender and fragrant, about 3 - 4 minutes.  Add the oregano, basil, cumin, chili flakes (optional), and salt, and stir to coat.  Add the crushed tomatoes and beef stock, and stir.  Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour.

Add the black beans and corn and stir to combine.  Heat through (about 5 - 10 minutes).  Add the greens and cover for up to 5 minutes to wilt.  Season with salt and pepper to taste (if necessary), and serve with any garnish you'd like (cilantro, avocado, cheese, etc.).

Serves 6 - 8.  Nutritional info per 1 1/2 cup serving (without garnish): 383 calories, 17 g fat, 5.2 g sat fat, 51.3 g cholesterol, 976 mg sodium, 495 mg potassium, 33 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 25.5 g protein, 21% daily vitamin A, 48% daily vitamin C, 14% daily calcium, 25% daily iron**

(photo from

1 box "JIFFY" mix (corn muffin variety)
Nonfat cooking spray
1 egg
1/3 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup shredded lite Mexican blend cheese
1 jalapeno, minced (omit the ribs and seeds if you're "spice sensitive")

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Pour the dry "JIFFY" mix into a large bowl.  Add the milk and egg and stir with a fork to combine.  Add the jalapeno and cheese and mix again.

Spray a muffin tin with nonfat cooking spray.  Fill 6 of the cups half way with the mixture (if the muffin tin is "mini," the mixture will fill more than 6 spaces).  Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, depending on the power of your oven.  Allow to cool slightly and dislodge each muffin with a fork.

Serves 6.  Nutritional info per 1 muffin: 196 calories, 43 g fat, 46 g cholesterol, 414 mg sodium, 36 mg potassium, 28 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 7 g protein, 4% daily vitamin A, 2% daily vitamin C, 16% daily calcium, 5% daily iron**

[** I do these calculations by hand using internet sources - if you are on a strict diet for any reason, please do not rely solely on these figures!  I am NOT a nutritionist!]

Qué sabrosa.
- M

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Art of the Side Salad

I love being asked to bring food to a social gathering.  It's super satisfying to watch and listen to everyone devouring something you created with your own hands.  Therefore, when Miriam asked me to bring "something from [my] blog" to her potluck going away BBQ, I happily obliged.  I had collard greens and local corn from Boston Organics in my refrigerator that I wanted to use while they were still fresh, so all I had to do was find a recipe or two that fit.

One of my favorite activities (seriously) is searching Tastespotting for recipes featuring a specific ingredient.  When I do these searches, I copy and paste the name of the recipe, the main ingredients, and the URL into an email which I then send to myself.  I label the email "Food" and archive it so that it's searchable later.  Because I have so many of these emails now, I always search my Gmail account first for a specific ingredient before moving onto Tastespotting.  If I'm at home, I'll sometimes search my OCD-ified recipe clippings, but it's generally quicker and easier to search by keyword on the web.

The recipes I settled on were a Quinoa Taco Salad from the Gluten-Free Goddess and a Collard Greens Slaw from A Chow Life.  I had all of the ingredients on hand, save avocados and cilantro for the quinoa salad (my cilantro unfortunately perished during a week-long vacation earlier this summer - one of only two garden deaths thus far!).  Sounds easy enough, right?  Yah.  I had to go to three stores to find cilantro.  THREE.  Trader Joe's didn't have any and Whole Foods had run out.  I finally found some at Shaw's, by which point I was incredibly frantic as there was no way I was going to get to Miriam's on time.  Then ... wait for it ... when I got home, it turned out what I'd been picturing as quinoa in my cabinet was actually couscous.  Yep - I had to go back to the grocery store.  And finally, when I was already elbow-deep in the collard slaw, I realized I'd run out of golden raisins when making my last kugel.  Already about an hour behind and frustrated to the max, I decided that dried cherries would be a sufficient substitute.

The cilantro quest was worth it, despite the anxiety it produced.  I managed to make the two salads, shower, pack for my trip to Tanglewood to see Matt, and get to Miriam's in time for them to fire up the grill.  Both salads were a hit.

(photo from Gluten-Free Goddess)

1 cup quinoa
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Juice from two limes
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1 half small red onion, diced fine
1 bell pepper (any color - I had green on hand), cored, seeded, and diced fine
1 cup roasted corn**
1 large or 2 small avocado(s), cut in half lengthwise, pitted, scooped from skin, and diced
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

**There are three varieties of corn one could use in this recipe: canned, frozen, or fresh.  As I had corn on the cob, I needed to cook it (whereas canned would only need to be rinsed and added cold).  Borrowing from instructions on, I peeled back the husks, removed the silk, brushed the cobs with canola oil, reassembled the husks, wrapped each ear in aluminum foil, and placed them in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 - 45 minutes.  It did not taste particularly roasted ... the method produced more of a steaming effect.  Therefore, when attempting this recipe again, I will cook the corn directly on a grill pan to produce that delicious, smoky, charred flavor, and then cut the kernels from the cob when cool enough to handle (cut off the bottom of the cob, stand it on its cut end, and run a sharp knife down each side of the cob from top to bottom).  The Gluten-Free Goddess suggested roasting frozen corn kernels on a baking sheet for 6 - 7 minutes, so I'm sure that would work well, too.

Cook 1 cup of quinoa in lightly salted water according to the package directions.  Empty into your serving container to cool.  Fluff with a fork.

Add in the fresh chopped cilantro, diced red onion, diced pepper, avocado, and roasted corn kernels.  Drizzle over the extra virgin olive oil and the juice of two limes (this will keep the avocado from browning).  Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Toss to evenly distribute ingredients.

Serve cold or at room temperature.  Serves 8 as a side (161 calories per half cup).

(photo from A Chow Life)

1 bunch collards
4 tbs mayonnaise
4 tbs golden raisins or dried cherries
2 tbs lemon juice (1 lemon)
1 large or 2 medium carrot(s), julienned
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tbs apple cider vinegar
1 tbs dijon mustard

Pour the raisins or cherries into a little bowl and cover with boiling water.  Let sit for 15 minutes until the raisins or cherries plump.  Drain and dry.

Cut the stems from the collards, stack a few leaves, roll the leaves into a cigar shape, and then slice into a chiffonade.  Place the chiffonaded collards into a colander and rinse well until the water runs clear (collards tend to be dirty).  Dry well in a salad spinner.

Mix the mayonnaise (reduced fat would probably be fine), lemon juice, vinegar, dijon, and scallions to a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Place the collards, julienned carrots, and plumped raisins or cherries in a separate serving bowl and cover with about a half of the dressing.  Toss to coat, and add more if necessary.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve cold or at room temperature.  Serves 8 as a side (80 calories per 1/4 cup).

This is a great alternative to braised or sauteed collards, which can be quite rich and a bit tired.  I'd suggest giving raw collards a try!

- M

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Give Beets a Chance

A lot of people don't like beets.  I think it's mainly a textural issue.  I just last night thanked my parents for not forcing me to eat such "controversial" vegetables when I was a kid, preventing me from harboring any aversions toward things like beets or Brussel sprouts.  (They did, however, force me to eat peas, which resulted in about a decade-long hiatus until I rediscovered them in dishes like chicken pot pie, shepherd's pie, and pasta with peas and pancetta in a pepper cream sauce.  MMM.)

I'm here to plead with you adults who have sworn off beets to give them another try.  I'm not talking canned beets, '70s-style - I'm talking the crisp, earthy root vegetables that arrive with their stems still intact.  They require a bit more patience and innovation than most (even simply roasting them takes about an hour, and you can kiss your crisp-white cutting boards goodbye), but they're absolutely worth it when done right.  They also provide a lot of nutritional bang for their caloric buck - one serving has only 45 calories yet provides 27% of the daily value of folate, as well as a significant amount of Vitamin C, iron, manganese, magnesium, and "glycine betaine," a blood cleanser.  Not bad, eh?

Nutrition aside, beets are beautiful and delicious when not overcooked.  I'm going to highlight here two ways I've prepared them that have turned out quite well.  The first - Glazed Baby Beet and Carrot Salad with Cumin Dressing by Grace Parisi at Food & Wine - is super fast, easy, and exquisitely flavored.  I'd recommend this dish for those with textural fears, as the vegetables remain quite crunchy.  My father, who was forced to eat soggy canned beets as a child, tried them last night and actually loved them.  I kept things super simple and didn't even bother with the lettuce, feta, and almonds, and it still made for a beautiful side dish.  Simply follow the link above and enjoy!

The second method is a bit more laborious.  Okay, so laborious that a) I probably would have given up had Bethye not been there to (literally) lend a hand, and b) I don't know that I'll ever do it again.  HOWEVER, the recipe makes so much that I still have an entire gallon Ziplock-bag-full in the freezer that I'm sure will be much more enjoyable when I can just plunge them right in the water one day and enjoy a few minutes later.

I'm talking about beet and ricotta gnocchi.

Yes, making gnocchi is a massive pain in the ass.  The finished product is delicious, though (well, the beet gnocchi were great - the sweet potato gnocchi left a bit to be desired), and there's a bit of pride to be had in making it out alive.  I highly recommend having someone else on hand to help out when you're elbow-deep in the stickiest fuschia mess imaginable, preferably someone who's an excellent baker (again, thank you, Bethye).

Another tip is to roast and mash the beets the day before.  That way, the process the day of is a bit quicker and easier.  Good luck!

BEET AND RICOTTA GNOCCHI (adapted from Eat a Beet)

(original photo)

3 small beets, trimmed 
16 oz. fresh ricotta cheese 
1 large egg 
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 
salt and pepper to taste 
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, divided 

Preheat the oven to 450˚. Wrap the beets in foil and roast until tender, about 1 hour.  Let cool for 15 minutes before removing the skins.  Grate coarsely or mash with a potato masher.  This part can be done the day before. 

Into a food processor, add the beets (about a cup’s worth), ricotta, egg, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and 1 cup flour.  Again, this part can be done ahead and kept in the refrigerator until ready for assembly. 

Lightly dust a baking sheet with flour.  Place the remaining 1/2 cup of flour in small bowl.  Measure out tablespoon-sized scoops of dough, plop into the bowl of flower, and coat.  Shake off the excess, and roll with a gnocchi board or a fork to get the traditional indentations.  (Bethye and I had a tough time with this part, so we just plopped the floured balls onto the baking sheet and pressed them gently with the tines of a fork.  Imitation gnocchi!) 

Yet again, the recipe can be prepared to this point up to 6 hours ahead.  Just cover and chill in the meantime.  Alternatively, place the baking sheet in the freezer until the individual gnocchi are hard, then dump into a Ziplock bag and freeze. 

Put a large, well-salted pot of water on to boil.  Cook the gnocchi until they float to the surface, about 2 minutes.  Cook about another minute, then remove with a slotted spoon. 

Place the gnocchi on plate and sauce appropriately (I made a brown butter sage sauce, which in retrospect was maybe a bit too rich).  Serve immediately, sprinkled with additional Parmesan cheese. 

If after trying both of these recipes you still hate beets, then maybe you should just try using them as dye.  They were certainly effective on my cutting board. 

- M

Breakfast, New and Improved

Yesterday morning, I woke up, threw on a pot of coffee, and got started on breakfast: scrambled eggs with cheese and chives from the garden served with whole wheat toast.  Tasty, sure, but a bit tired.

So when I woke up this morning, I really wanted to try something new.  I flipped on the Cooking Channel and started scanning Tastespotting to see if anything popped up, and lo and behold, "shakshuka" appeared.  It looked delicious - poached eggs nestled in tomato sauce - but I wanted to investigate a bit further.  Queue Wikipedia!

Shakshouka (also shakshuka, shaqshuqa, chakchouka; Arabic: شكشوكة‎; Hebrew: שקשוקה‎) is Middle Eastern dish consisting of poached or fried eggs cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices (often including cumin, turmeric, and chillies), and usually served with white bread. It probably originated in Tunisia.

I was convinced.

Tastespotting lead me to a shakshuka recipe on a site called "My Jewish Learning."  The fact that this dish was a nod to my heritage was a surprising and added bonus.  I read the recipe, realized I needed to cut it in half (I hate living alone ... come home, Matt!), and went to work.

The recipe recommended cooking the tomato sauce for 30 minutes in a saucepan and then transferring it to a frying pan when poaching the eggs.  This seemed unnecessary to me, so I simply cooked the tomato sauce in the frying pan itself.  Why dirty an extra pot?  I also sauteed the garlic, tomato paste, salt, and paprika for a minute or two before adding the crushed tomatoes in order to really bring out their flavor.

(Note: if you don't have tomato paste in a tube, get some.  Recipes almost never call for a full can - what a waste!)

After the sauce had reduced for about 5 - 10 minutes (during which time I brewed some coffee and toasted two slices of bread), I gave it a taste and felt it was missing something.  I went back to my pantry and decided to add some smoked paprika (very strong stuff - use cautiously) and red chili flakes.  Much better.

The eggs took twice as long to poach than what the recipe called for, but it might have been because I didn't have appropriately-sized lid.  Don't forget to season the eggs themselves with a little bit of salt and pepper.

I finished the dish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  It's pretty hard to go wrong when either of those ingredients are involved.  (I recently started finishing spaghetti this way - once portioned into bowls, I sprinkle the spaghetti with some Parmesan, drizzle over about a teaspoon of olive oil, and dust with freshly cracked black pepper.  It's divine, and actually inspired by that tantalizing De Cecco ad that runs before every episode of Lidia's Italy!)

In short, this dish is a great way to mix up a tired breakfast routine, never mind its low calorie, low fat, antioxidant and lycopene rich characteristics.  It's also incredibly simple and quick.  It would be especially great during Passover - just swap out toast for matzo!

SHAKSHUKA (adapted from My Jewish Learning)

(photo from TravelBlog)

1 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp paprika
¼ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp tomato paste
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbs minced fresh herbs (e.g. thyme, sage, parsley, basil) if desired
2 – 4 large eggs
2 – 4 slices of hearty bread (or matzo during Passover)

Heat 1 tbs of olive oil over low heat.  Add the minced garlic, salt, paprika(s), pepper flakes, and tomato paste and sautee for 1 – 2 minutes, until fragrant and slightly softened.  Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine.  (If using fresh herbs like thyme or sage, add now.  If using fresh herbs like parsley or basil, add just before serving.)

Allow the sauce to thicken over low heat for 5 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally lest it burn.  Toast the bread while the sauce thickens.

Once the sauce is ready (make sure to taste and adjust seasonings if necessary), crack 2 – 4 eggs into the pan, depending on how many people want to eat.  Season each egg with a tiny pinch of salt and pepper, and gently pierce each yolk with a fork.  Cover tightly and poach until set, approximately 4 – 6 minutes.

Remove from the heat, drizzle with olive oil and Parmesan cheese (and fresh herbs if you have them, like parsley or basil), and serve in the pan with toast on the side.

You could easily make this an “anytime” meal by serving it with a simply dressed green salad and a big glass of red wine.  Give it a try!


Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Alternative to Baba Ghanoush

Matt and I attended a Potluck BBQ in JP last night for our friend Jules' 26th birthday.  I was planning on making baba ghanoush with the one lonely eggplant that had been sitting in our refrigerator since our last Boston Organics delivery, but while browsing Tastespotting, I came across a recipe for a spicy eggplant dip.  Eggplant, ginger, garlic, onion, jalapeno, and cilantro?  Yes, please.

I ended up following the recipe nearly to a T, which is a bit unusual for me, and I didn't even have to purchase any ingredients!  I had everything on hand; ginger and jalapenos keep extremely well in the freezer (just "defrost" under lukewarm water for a minute or so before chopping), and I have cilantro in my garden.

The only liberty I took (aside from using 1 TBS of oil instead of 2) was to char the eggplant under my broiler instead of on a grill (after all, the broiler is, in essence, an upside-down grill).  Two notes of caution: a) place something on the rack below the rack you set your eggplant on because when the skin blisters, liquid pours out, and b) use tongs, not just an oven mitt (whoops), to turn the eggplant every five minutes or so.  The liquid that drains is thick and VERY hot.

The dip was a huge hit - I only wished I had more of it!  The entire recipe, using a medium-sized eggplant, yielded only about a cup.  I plan on doubling the ingredients next time, and perhaps using the results as a sandwich or pizza spread in addition to "just" a dip.

Thank you, father-of-Seven-Spoons'-author, for what is sure to become a go-to recipe.

SPICY EGGPLANT DIP (adapted from seven spoons' "My father's eggplant spread")

(photo from seven spoons)

1 TBS canola oil or other neutral oil
1 medium eggplant (aubergine)
1 large onion, cut lengthwise, then into thin half moons
2 teaspoons ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 small green chili, diced (I used half a jalapeno, seeds and ribs included - discard these if you want yours to be more mild)
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
salt to taste

Turn your broiler to "Lo" and position the top rack approximately 3" below from the oven ceiling.  Wash and dry your eggplant, and then place on the top rack just below the flame.  Turn every five minutes or so until the skin is dark, blistered, and peeling, and dark liquid drains from the inside.

Meanwhile, heat 1 TBS of canola or other neutral oil in a non-stick pan over medium-low heat.  Saute the onions, ginger, and garlic for 15 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes or so, until the onion is translucent and the garlic is sweet.  Add the chili and the cilantro and cook for 5 minutes more (note: if you want a stronger cilantro flavor, wait to add this until the end).

By now, the eggplant should be done cooking.  Remove it from the oven and gingerly remove the skin, being careful not to burn yourself.  Chop the meat roughly (it should basically fall apart on its own) and add to the pan, stirring to combine.  Increase the heat to medium, add a dash or two of salt, and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally until the eggplant has darkened and the ingredients are fully combined.

Remove from the heat and eat at room temperature.

- M

Horticulturally Challenged

Despite my extreme reservations, I decided to bite the bullet and plant an herb garden.

I had a bunch of free time on my hands last month while Matt spent two weeks in China for a wedding, so I called my Mom (the resident Green Thumb) and asked for her help in starting a garden.  She was more than happy to oblige, so we went to Russell's Garden Center in Wayland together to get everything I needed before heading back to my place in Somerville.

It took us a few hours of hard labor to clear the "backyard" (a 6' X 12' patch of ground nestled behind the porch), and then not only did we plant our new purchases, but we uncovered a bunch of great pre-existing plants to boot!  There were rhubarb plants, hostas, creeping flox, and lilies - and that was only in the back.

(Day Three)

The next weekend, Mom came out again and helped me fix up the small, fenced-in gardens on the front and side of the house.  There were many hidden jewels there, too, including a plethora of spearmint that Matt and I later used to make delicious mint juleps (note: beware the hangover).

I've had some touch-and-go moments with the cilantro and parsely, but all in all, things are still looking good.  I've already used almost all of the herbs in my cooking (and drinking!), and the berries and chilis are coming along nicely.

We planted the following:

basil, Thai basil

mint, strawberries
Thai chilis

I can't wait to see how the fruits and vegetables turn out ...

Monday, May 10, 2010

When I See an Elephant Fly

Hell has frozen over.  I'm attempting a diet.

It's not one diet in particular - I'd rather die than cut out carbs - rather, it's an examination of what I am used to putting into my body on a regular basis and what I should be putting into it instead.

I'm not attempting anything drastic, here, I just haven't been feeling as good in my clothes as I'd like.  At my "best," I'm 135, and I'm currently rocking 148 (hey, at least it not the 160-something-or-other I peaked at in college ... Jumbos, indeed).

I tried the South Beach Diet once and made it one whole day before vomiting up a stomach full of raw broccoli, deli meats, and Starbucks coffee.  That was enough to turn me off of strict diets forever.  Recently, my diet guru Erin mentioned a website called My Fitness Pal which allows a user (free of charge!) to enter their parameters and goals and then keep track of their calories ingested and burned.  "How fabulous," I thought.  And it is fabulous. 

But it also sucks.

The magical calculator spit out my daily caloric limit: 1,320/day.  Having absolutely no idea what that meant, I shrugged and thought, "No biggie."  What I learned IMMEDIATELY is that I can easily eat and drink 1,320 calories in one meal.  I realized that I need to gain perspective before I gain any more weight.  As I near my 30's, my metabolism certainly isn't going to improve.

I'm still starving by the end of the day (keep in mind that I'm only on Day 4), but my guru assures me that it'll get easier.  I hope to grow accustomed to the limitations, and upon eventually reaching my goal, relax my guidelines and enter into the lifelong "maintenance" phase.

This evening, after starting my day with a Dunkin' Donuts Wake-Up Wrap (nasty) and having a Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teryaki 6 incher for lunch (meh), I was craving a fresh, homemade for dinner.  I had some zucchini that was about to go bad and some shrimp in the freezer, so I threw together a haphazard Mexican meal as a bit of an experiment.  After I finished, I entered the nutritional values of all of the involved ingredients (aside from the spices) into an Excel sheet and added them up.  579 calories was more than I was expecting, but I walked to and from work today (about 1.5 miles each way), which bought me a couple hundred calories.

I feel satisfied ... for now.  Check back in with me in 3 hours when I'm huddling feverishly in bed, haunted by images of KFC's Double Down.

It's a process.  I'm working on it.

(original photo)

Makes approximately six servings
Takes 30 minutes from start to finish

12 - 18 frozen jumbo shrimp, thawed and shelled (heads removed)
1 15 oz. can whole kernel corn, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium zucchini, diced
1/2 large red onion, minced
1 medium jalapeno, minced with half the ribs and seeds removed
8 oz. light sour cream
1-2 tbs cumin
1 tbs ground chipotle powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbs canola oil
salt & pepper

1 package flour tortillas
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 cup salsa
1 package prepared curry rice

Place the frozen shrimp into a bowl in the sink.  Fill the bowl with room temperature water and then leave the water running over the bowl for a minute or so.  Turn the water off and let the shrimp sit, submerged, for several minutes.  If using fresh shrimp, you can obviously skip this step.

Start the rice, following the instructions on the box.  I used Goya Curry Rice with Carrots & Onions (Arroz Curry) - my favorite.

Mince the onion.  Rinse, dry, and dice the zucchini.  Mince the jalapeno, removing half of the ribs and seeds (remove all of them if you'd like your filling to be mild, or leave in them all if you want a real kick!).  Empty the beans and corn into a colander and rinse thoroughly - I used Trader Joe's Whole Kernel Corn and Organic Black Beans.

Remove the shells and heads from the shrimp under lukewarm running water.  Place on a paper towel to dry.

Heat 1 tbs canola oil over medium heat in a non-stick skillet.  Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper.  Place the shrimp seasoned side down in the hot pan.  Season the other side while the first side cooks.  Flip after 1-2 minutes.  Cook the other side for 1-2 minutes more, until the shrimp are pink, opaque, and curled.  Remove and set aside.

Return the pan to the heat.  Add 1 more tbs of oil.  Add the red onion the zucchini.  Season with salt and pepper.  Saute for 2-3 minutes, then add the jalapenos, corn, and beans.  Dust with the cumin, ground chipotle pepper, and turmeric.  Stir and saute for approximately 5 minutes more.

While the vegetables saute, remove the tortillas from their packaging.  Place on a plate, cover with paper towel, and microwave for 30-60 seconds until soft and warm.

By now, the rice should be done.  Turn off the burner and stir to fluff.  Turn off the other burner, add the cilantro to the cooked vegetables, and stir.

Assemble your burritos: spread 1 tbs of light sour cream (again, I used Trader Joe's) down the middle of a tortilla.  Place your shrimp (3-4 per burrito) on the sour cream, and add 1/4 cup of the vegetable mix and 1/4 cup of the rice.  Roll tightly, tucking in the sides.

Enjoy with your favorite salsa if desired.

Nutritional Facts (1 burrito)
Calories: 579
Total Fat: 21.5 g
Saturated Fat: 2.25 g
Trans Fat: 0
Cholesterol: 48 mg
Sodium: 1267.5 mg
Carbohydrates: 79 g
Dietary Fiber: 8 g
Sugars: 6 g
Protein: 19 g
Vitamin A: 8%
Vitamin C: 10%
Calcium: 15%
Iron: 39%

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sautee No More

I had some of my closest girlfriends for dinner over last night, and well … I’m still in pain.  Hello, Gatorade and Tylenol – nice to spend yet another Sunday with you.

The pain was totally worthwhile in light of the amazing time I had last night.  It’s impossible not to have fun with these women: they’re smart and hilarious (and delightfully inappropriate) and we’ve known each other for over a decade.  Therefore, it was important for me to spend as much as the evening chatting with them as possible, as opposed to hovering over the stove or running around like a crazy person.  I wanted to serve a rich and delicious meal, but I wanted it to be simple and manageable as well.

I didn’t have much time to prepare, as I’d spent the majority of the day nursing my hangover from Friday night (what? I don’t have a problem …).  I built my menu around two items I already had in my freezer: a 2 lb. bag of shrimp and some broccoli pesto I’d made a few weeks prior.  My menu was as follows:

Linguine with Broccoli Pesto, Cherry Tomatoes, and Roasted Shrimp
Romaine Salad with Homemade Caesar Dressing
Garlic Bread

Miraculously, all I had to buy to make this meal was a crusty baguette, a pint of cherry tomatoes, and a lemon!

I wanted to get as much done ahead of time as possible, starting with defrosting the shrimp in room temperature water.  This is the quickest and gentlest way to thaw anything, and it works particularly well for shrimp.  I then peeled and dried them (they were already cleaned and deveined) and put them back in the refrigerator.  The pesto also needed to be defrosted.  First, I ran the container under the faucet for about a minute, then I dried it off and defrosted it in the microwave on the gentlest setting for about 3 – 4 minutes.  I set this aside on the counter.  I then chopped, washed, and dried the a head and a half of lettuce, thinly sliced a quarter of a red onion, and added both to a large serving bowl which I covered with a paper towel and put in the refrigerator.  Next was the homemade dressing, which I made by following the recipe on the side of Crate and Barrel’s Salad Dressing Bottle with Stirrer (the best Secret Santa gift ever – thanks, Rava!).  Next I washed and sliced the cherry tomatoes and set them aside.  I filled a large stockpot with water, salted it, and put it on the stove, then placed a stick of butter in a small saucepot so it would be room temperature and ready for melting and slathering on the bread.  I also diced the garlic for the bread and set it aside.  I cleaned up (with much assistance from Matt), set the table, and then finally hopped into the shower, calmed by the fact that I was well on my way toward a finished meal.

Showered, dressed, refreshed, and finally feeling in control, I continued my prep with about 30 minutes left until my guests arrived.  I turned the oven to 400 degrees, put the stockpot full of salted water over a high flame, and began melting the butter over low heat.  I cut the baguette in half horizontally and placed it on a large piece of aluminum foil.  Once the butter had melted, I added the garlic and parsley and swirled the pot.  5 minutes later, the mixture was ready to spread over each half of the bread, after which I placed the halves back together and wrapped them completely in foil.  At this point, the water had come to a boil.  I added a package and a half of linguini (for 5 people) and gave it a quick stir to prevent clumping and sticking. 

Here’s the part that I found to be particularly thrilling: I spread the shrimp on a sheet pan, drizzled them with olive oil, cracked some salt and pepper over them, and gave them a stir.  A sheet pan?  For shrimp?  I know – it felt odd to me too, but I once saw Ina Garten do it, and the Barefoot Contessa has yet to disappoint.  I figured that not having to prep a sautee pan and stand over the stove turning the shrimp and worrying about overcooking them would be a huge relief while entertaining, and I was right.  It was a completely fuss-free experience and they turned out beautifully.  I don’t think I’ll ever sautee shrimp again!

Everything came together at just the right moment.  The pasta was al dente, the shrimp were roasted, the salad had chilled, the homemade dressing was prepared, and the garlic bread had warmed and crisped in the same temperature oven as the shrimp.  All I had to do was squeeze some lemon over the shrimp, add them and the tomatoes to the pasta after draining it and returning it to the pot, add the pesto, and stir.  I finally sat down, free of stress, and truly enjoyed the company of my best friends (as well as a delicious meal).

BROCCOLI PESTO (from Feeding the Big Guy)

(photo from Feeding the Big Guy)

1 large broccoli stalk, chopped (peeled stem included)
1/2 cup fresh parsley
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt/pepper to taste

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli and boil for 3 minutes or until slightly tender. Drain and immediately immerse in ice water to retain the bright green color.

Drain the broccoli from the cold water and transfer to a food processor.  Add the parsley, garlic, pine nuts (if yours are raw, simply place them in a nonstick skillet over low heat and toast for approximately 5 minutes, making sure they don't burn - your nose will tell you when they're done), cheeses, olive oil and salt/pepper (be careful not to add too much salt because of the parmesan cheese). Pulse until the mixture reaches the desired consistency.

Toss with hot pasta or freeze for later use.

ROASTED SHRIMP (adapted from Ina Garten’s Lemon Pasta with Roasted Shrimp)

(photo from BUTTERYUM)

2 pounds (17 to 21 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbs fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the shrimp on a sheet pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss well, spread them in 1 layer, and roast for 6 to 8 minutes, just until they're pink and cooked through.

After removing the cooked shrimp from the oven (they should be pink and curled up), drizzle with lemon juice and toss.

HOMEMADE CAESAR DRESSING (from Crate and Barrel’s Salad Dressing Bottle with Stirrer)
2 oz. White wine vinegar
3 oz. Olive oil
4 tsp Grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. Black pepper
2 Anchovy fillets, minced
2 Gloves of garlic, minced

Combine all of the above ingredients in a sealable container and shake well (alternatively, combine in a bowl and whisk well).

GARLIC BREAD (adapted from Bobby Flay)

(photo from herbcountryliving)

1 stick unsalted butter
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbs chopped fresh Italian parsley OR 2 tsp dried parsley flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 loaf Italian or French bread, sliced lengthwise

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and let it cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Brush each slice of the bread with the melted garlic butter. Wrap the loaf of bread in foil and bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until heated through.

Thanks for a great night, ladies.  It was truly one for the ages.

- M

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bow to My Will, Chard!

So we meet again, Swiss Chard. 

Even in the depths of the most frigid winter, you greet me from inside the Boston Organics box, too big to properly store in a paper towel lined plastic bag in the refrigerator, and too "exotic" to tackle straight away.  I postpone your use, waiting for some sort of divine inspiration to hit me in a moment of inspirado: "Aha! Butternut Squash and Chard Lasagna!" or "Sauteed Moroccan Chickpeas and Chard!"  But by the time I bite the bullet and enthusiastically reach for you in the refrigerator, you've wilted and browned, rendering yourself completely useless.  WELL NOT THIS TIME, CHARD ...

... not this time.

First of all, since the tag on the bunch read "Green Chard," I was compelled to Google the different between "Green" and "Swiss."  From what I can tell, Swiss Chard comes in Red and White varieties, and the White is also referred to as Green (can't someone just decide on one name?).  Having discovered/decided this, I predictably searched TasteSpotting for recipes and gathered a few I thought looked good, simple, and easy.

A few hours later, I found myself in bed, exhausted, and not feeling very well.  I was craving comfort food, and so I decided to try the easiest recipe I'd found earlier in the day: Browned Butter Pasta with Tatsoi

"What the crap is Tatsoi?" you ask?  I have no idea.  It's some sort of Chinese green for which spinach or chard can be substituted.  Close enough.

I was excited to make browned butter.  I've seen it done on TV and I've certainly eaten (and enjoyed) it, but up until tonight, I'd never given it a try.  Here's what I discovered: it is SO easy, SO quick, and SOOO delicious.  I was a bit dubious at first - it releases such a strong, rich odor that I thought I might not like it - but as soon as I added some sage (dried, because I didn't have fresh; and remember, always use less dried herbs than fresh when substituting), it blossomed into a glorious scent and I couldn't wait to dig in.

All in all, this meal took me less than 20 minutes to cook and less than 10 minutes to devour.  I highly recommend it.  Also, keep in mind that in the same way I substituted chard for tatsoi, one could easily use spinach or collards or any other dark, hearty greens in this recipe.  Check out the Cook's Thesaurus for a quick reference guide on the different varieties and how best to cook them.

And so, Mr. Chard, the next time you show up on my back porch, I just may get to you before you spoil.  I plan on enjoying every second of it, too.


(photo from Appetite for China)

1 box pasta (I used ziti and loved it)
1/2 stick unsalted butter

1 bunch chard, leaves torn from stems and shredded or julienned

1/2 cup chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp dried sage

1/2 ripe lemon, seeds removed
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and stir.

When the pasta is almost done, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Swirl the butter in the pan as it foams.  Meanwhile, remove the pasta from the heat and drain in a colander.

Once the butter has browned slightly, add the sage and swirl again.  Add the drained pasta and stir to coat.  Add the chard and toss with the pasta.  Squeeze the lemon over the pasta and greens and cover.  After a few minutes, remove the cover and stir.  The greens should be wilted.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Plate and serve with grated parmesan.

This dish could be easily dressed up by adding other ingredients such as toasted pine nuts, currants or golden raisins, red pepper flakes, and/or crumbled goat cheese or feta.  However, the simplicity of the recipe above was just what I was looking for this quiet Saturday evening.  I can't wait to have it again tomorrow.

- M