30 March 2012

Cooking The Books: Still More From The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook

So far, every recipe I've made from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook has been just for me. The Husband, you see, doesn't eat berries in anything but dessert and quinoa would have to be heavily disguised or drowned in sauce before it passed his lips. This has been fine by me as I don't mind selflessly eating all deliciousness, but ... maybe I am a being an inconsiderate wife? Surely, there's something on my big huge list of TUHGC recipes to try that The Husband would enjoy.

Well, there was! "Moist Chicken and Basil Cream Sauce" was on my list and did not contain any ingredients or combination of ingredients The Husband would disdain. No, indeed. Chicken smothered in cream sauce was right up his alley. And mine, it turns out.

Chicken in Basil Cream Sauce

This was a really good dish. Really good. Creamy and rich, but also surprisingly light and bright on the tongue. Can't wait to make this again with fresh basil from my own garden. I strongly recommend you borrow The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook from your library just to make this recipe.

Ingredients for Chicken in Basil Cream Sauce

Ingredients: boneless skinless chicken breasts, basil, scallions, garlic, white wine, heavy cream, butter, dried whole wheat bread crumbs, grated Parmesan, freshly ground black pepper. No idea why I included low-sodium chicken broth in the photo, because it's not an ingredient in this recipe!

28 March 2012

Cooking The Books: More From The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook

Working my way down the list of recipes I want to make from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook before it has to go back to the library next week. This third recipe I made, "Fresh From the Careers' Packs: Super Healthy Dried Fruit Quinoa Salad," is very delicious and so flagrantly healthy that I couldn't help feeling smug as I ate it. It also has a many ingredients:


Ingredients: quinoa, salt, water, scallions, celery, dried cranberries, dried cherries, golden raisins sriracha, garlic powder, canola oil, lemon juice, toasted sesame oil, cilantro, almonds, shelled sunflower seeds. (The golden raisins were an optional ingredient recommended under "Tips from Your Sponsor").


Sriracha, canola oil, toasted sesame oil, garlic powder, and lemon juice whisked together to make a tasty vinaigrette. (I recommend doubling up on vinaigrette as the salad was a little dry).


Cooked quinoa, vinaigrette, dried cranberries, dried cherries, golden raisins, celery, and scallions mixed together.


Serve at room temperature sprinkled with cilantro, almonds, and shelled sunflower seeds. Pretty to look at, yummy to eat.

This would be really good for breakfast, if you omitted the celery, cilantro, and scallions and used the maple vinaigrette recipe from Prim's salad.

26 March 2012

Cooking The Books: The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook

I brought The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook home from the library over the weekend and I have mixed feelings about it. It's rather contrived, trying way too hard to explain how every single recipe slots into The Hunger Games universe -- the description for "Hazelle's Beaver Stew with Rosemary Potatoes" goes too far by claiming "the beaver represents hard work and family." Dude. Sometimes a beaver is just a piece of meat. And where does a good suburban cook get beaver, anyway?

(She wants to know where to get some beaver) *snickers*


Hokiness aside, I must admit I am seriously enjoying cooking from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook. So far, I have made two recipes -- "Pimm's Sweet Goat Cheese Salad" and "From Casual to Formal: Fruit Nut Spread At The Capitol Banquet." To me, they are both spring dishes and would work well served at an Easter or Mother's Day brunch. They're also reasonably healthful so you can feel righteous while eating them.

"Prim's Sweet Goat Cheese Salad"

Salad Ingredients

Ingredients: romaine, blueberries, raspberries, dried cranberries, sunflower seed kernels, chopped pecans, goat cheese crumbles, white balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil.

Maple Vinaigrette

Combine white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and maple syrup.


Toss the salad ingredients together. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Say "Ohhhh, pretty!" and eat. So good!

"From Casual to Formal: Fruit Nut Spread At The Capitol Banquet"

Berry Cream Cheese Spread

Ingredients: raspberries and blueberries, almonds, cream cheese, maple-flavored yoghurt.

Berry Cream Cheese Spread

Run everything through your food processor until creamy and smooth.


Serve smeared on bagels or flat bread.

I made my spread with light cream cheese and low-fat yogurt and it's really quite good -- light, creamy, and full of berry goodness. It makes a nice change from regular cream cheese and is probably a lot healthier than the berry-flavored cream cheese spread you can buy at the market. I've been eating it for breakfast, smeared on toasted VitaBuns, with some extra berries on the side.

Will I be making more recipes from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook? You betcha. Looking forward to "Fresh From the Careers' Package: Super Healthy Dried Fruit Quinoa Salad" and "Survival of the Fittest: Quinoa and Black Bean Salad For Bonnie and Twill" among others.

19 March 2012

Slow Cooker Beef Stew w/ Merlot & Tomatoes

I made beef stew on Saint Patrick's Day and, to thumb my nose at limiting faux-Irish traditions, it doesn't have Guinness in it. Or potatoes. Hearty with thick chunks of beef and vegetables, this made a delicious alternative to corned beef, boiled potatoes, and cabbage.

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Easy Slow Cooker Beef Stew

1 pound stew beef, trimmed & cut into bite-sized pieces
2 shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red onion, chopped
3 carrots, sliced thick
3 celery ribs, sliced thick
sliced mushrooms
28 oz can Muir Glen fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
1 cup Little Penguin Merlot
1 Tbsp Penzeys Beef Soup Base & Seasoning
2 tsp Penzeys Herbes de Provence
Dried parsley, as desired
Black pepper, to taste

Layer mushrooms and other vegetables at bottom of slow cooker. Top with beef. Whisk soup base into wine until dissolved and combine with tomatoes, parsley, and pepper. Pour over beef. Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours. Serve over parslied egg noodles.
This stew makes a lot -- enough for four or six -- but the leftovers reheat well.

17 March 2012

An Adoration of Kumquats

sweet pulp and sour skin --
or was it sweet outside, and sour within?
For however many kumquats that I eat
I'm not sure if it's flesh or rind that's sweet,
and being a man of doubt at life's mid-way
I'd offer Keats some kumquats and I'd say:

You'll find that one part's sweet and one part's tart:
say where the sweetness or the sourness start.
            -- from "A Kumquat for John Keats" by Tony Harrison in the anthology Eat, Drink, and Be Merry:             Poems About Food and Drink (Everyman's Library, 2003)
Last week, I tried kumquats for the first time. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the idea of eating any citrus fruit in its entirety -- just pop it in my mouth and chew it up like a grape -- seemed a little weird. And, texturally, it was a little weird but the flavor was excellent. First a burst of bitter lemon, then a sharp orange burst, then a just generalized sweet-tart deliciousness that filled my mouth with the promise of summer.

Still, I did not think I would be able to eat them all whole or raw and turned to the internetz for recipes. And the internetz were very good to me, for the first recipe I found was Beyond Salmon's "Spinach with Kumquats." Excepting spinach, I had all the ingredients on hand and what's a quick trip to the grocery store when a promising new recipe is in play?

Spinach & Kumquats, Ingredients
Sliced Kumquats
Spinach & Kumquats

Oh, I am so glad I tried this recipe. Full of fresh, bright flavors, the spinach tasted fabulous. My jaded winter tongue could not get enough of the sweet-tart kumquats, zesty lemon, and sweet raisins. I served the spinach with marinated chicken breasts and Basmati rice, but I think I would have been just as happy skipping the chicken and serving a big scoop of it over rice. Yes, it was that good.

Note to self: acquire more kumquats.

15 March 2012

Improv Challenge: Potatoes & Cheese

I knew I had to sign on for March’s Improv Challenge (hosted by the wonderful Kristen of Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker) when I saw the ingredients where potatoes and cheese. Potatoes and cheese! Is there any combination of potatoes and cheese I wouldn’t like? Methinks not.

Anyway, despite days spent pinning hearty cheesy potato soup recipes and casseroles, I ended up making "Healthy Sweet Potato Skins" from Pinch of Yum, because it used three ingredients I like a lot -- sweet potatoes, spinach, and chickpeas. Also, lots of dairy. Mmm, dairy!
Stuffed Sweet Potatoes Ingredients 
Healthy Sweet Potato Skins
Reproduced with permission by the author: Pinch of Yum
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 60 mins
Total time: 1 hour 20 mins
Serves: 2-3

2 medium or large sweet potatoes
1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
1 bag fresh baby spinach
¼ cup light sour cream
2 ounces light cream cheese
1 cup chickpeas
¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Bake sweet potatoes at 350 for 45-60 minutes, or until fork tender.

Cut sweet potatoes in half and let cool for 5-10 minutes. While sweet potatoes are cooling, saute the shallots with the butter over medium heat until translucent. Add fresh spinach and heat for 2-3 minutes, until spinach has cooked down. Set aside. [I dumped the chickpeas into the hot pan and gave them a stir 'round until they were lightly toasted]

Sauteed Spinach w/ Chickpeas

Scrape the sweet potato out of the peel, leaving a thin layer inside with the peel so that it can stand up on its own. Mash the sweet potato with the cream cheese and sour cream. Stir in chickpeas, spinach, and salt and pepper.

Sweet Potato Filling

Coat potato skins with a drizzle of oil and bake for about 5 minutes to get a crispier outside. Remove from oven and fill each skin with the sweet potato mixture and top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake again for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and filling is heated through.

Twice-baked Stuffed Sweet Potato
I love these potatoes -- they're pretty, portable, and perfectly delicious. I baked two large sweet potatoes and took a potato half to work each day for lunch. They reheated really well using the staff room toaster oven and a little foil and, paired with a small salad, they kept me going all afternoon. No three o'clock slump for me! No sirree, Bob. Not with these potatoes.

When I make these again, because I will be making them again, I might season the chickpeas and spinach with sweet curry powder and swap the mozzarella out for some fresh goat cheese crumbles.

Eating the Alphabet: C is for Chickpeas

I knew I wanted to use chickpeas in this month's Eating the Alphabet Challenge and so was pleased to find Oxmoor House's "Lemony Fusilli with Chickpeas, Raisins, and Spinach" posted on myrecipes.com. This was a warm pasta salad made from whole wheat pasta, lemon juice and zest, chickpeas, baby spinach, and golden raisins. With all that yellow and green, it seemed like an excellent recipe to welcome Spring!

Lemony Fusilli with Chickpeas, Raisins, and Spinach

I made this salad twice and the second time through I changed up the amounts of seasonings (the first iteration was a bit bland) and subbed fresh goat cheese crumbles for the shredded fontina as, while fontina is a tasty cheese, I thought this salad needed a tangy-sweet creaminess to balance the lemon. Also, I really like fresh goat cheese crumbles!
Pasta With Chickpeas, Spinach, and Golden Raisins

3 cups uncooked whole wheat rotini
2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (9-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
¾ cup golden raisins
¼ cup (1 ounce) goat cheese crumbles

Cook pasta as directed.

While pasta cooks, zest lemons and squeeze juice from lemons to measure 4 teaspoons zest and ¼ cup juice. Whisk zest, juice, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and garlic together in a really big bowl. Add spinach, chickpeas, and raisins; toss well. (I think you could do this an hour or two ahead of time to really let the spinach, raisins, and chickpeas pick up as much flavor from the dressing as possible).

Drain pasta and return to hot pot. Immediately add the spinach mixture, stirring until spinach wilts. Taste for salt. Serve warm sprinkled with goat cheese crumbles. Serves 4.

12 March 2012

Menu Plan Monday, 12 March

The Husband and I had a slightly self-mocking conversation over the weekend about how the basement freezer was for storage, not for eating from, and that we couldn't take things out of it because then we'd have to put things back in. As it is, the freezer currently exists in perfect equilibrium which we dare not disturb less we disturb the harmony of the universe. Yes.

You know what this all means, right? It's time to pop the seal on that baby and have a good rummage 'round. Maybe plan out a menu or two ...

Brush thawed tilapia fillets and fresh asparagus with melted butter & sprinkle with salt-free lemon-pepper blend & bake @ 400 for 15 minutes. Serve with basmati rice cooked in fat-free low-sodium chicken broth.

Lemon Pepper Tilapia & Asparagus

3 oz slow cooker boneless skinless chicken breast with Beyond Salmon's fantastic "Spinach With Kumquats." Plus 0% Greek yoghurt, mango, & pretzel chips.

Use expiring Groupon for local sports bar/grill. I've been putting off using the Groupon as I fear I'll regret its purchase.

3 oz slow cooked boneless skinless chicken breast with "Moroccan Carrot & Chickpea Tagine." Plus 0% Greek yoghurt & pretzel chips. I tried this recipe out for the Eating the Alphabet Challenge ("C"), but ended up going with a different recipe. Still very yummy, though.

Thawed stew beef in slow cooker on LOW for 6-8 hours with sliced mushrooms, frozen pearl onions, a little Penzeys beef base, & red wine. Serve over whole wheat egg noodles with buttery parslied carrots.

Steam-in-bag garlic & herb mahi mahi with celery braised in a little low-sodium fat-free chicken broth with butter, parsley, and pepper. Serve with rice?

Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and onion rings from the chicken place down the hill.

Lazy Day Chicken w/ Tomatoes & Mozz

Even on lazy spring-like days, when the back garden is full of too-early miniature irises and the shrubs are atwitter with robins and it feels the whole world is saying "come sit in the sun with that ridiculously fluffy novel you've been flirting with," a girl's got to eat ...

Bake two Whole Foods' seasoned chicken parmesan cutlets in a 450°F oven for 20 min. Top with sliced fresh mozzarella and diced cherry tomatoes. Broil until golden and bubbly. Serve with steam-in-bag green beans tossed with butter, salt, pepper, and a little garlic powder. Nom.

Mozz & cherry tomatoes

Making lazy chicken parm

Lazy chicken parm w/ green beans

Follow with cheesecake brought home from the Cheesecake Factory oh-so-conventiently located next to Whole Foods.

Cheesecake to go

Go for a brisk walk. Figure it all balances out in the end.

They see me walkin'

11 March 2012

The Savor of Mango

February's selection from Melissa's Exotic Fruit club arrived last week and it was ... Ataulfo mangoes! Delicious Ataulfo mangoes. Exquisite Ataulfo mangoes. Addictive Ataulfo mangoes. Seriously, I love a good mango as much as the next girl, but these mangoes ... I couldn't stop eating them. Eight mangoes in four days, darlings, and when I saw a bin of them at Whole Foods (not as pretty as Melissa's, mind you) my heart leapt to know I could get more of them. Yes, my taste buds are seriously in love with these mangoes.

Champagne Mangoes

Champagne Mango

Ataulfo mangoes are also known as champagne or honey mangoes and for good reason -- these mangoes are deep gold when ripe and very sweet, with a rich almost buttery flavor that makes taste buds swoon.

What's up next for Melissas's? Sadly, not more mangoes. Instead, I get to try Cherimoyas!(?).

10 March 2012

Pantry Raid: Tuna, Capers, & White Bean Salad

Restlessly pacing the kitchen at eleven o'clock Thursday evening, eager to slap together something fast and (hopefully) tasty to take to work in the morning, my gaze fell upon a small golden tin of oil-packed tuna and I had the most delicious brainstorm. I would make tuna and white bean salad! Why not?! I had tuna. I had beans. I had capers. And shallots. And lemon. Mmm, lemon! It was going to be the most awesome tuna salad ever.


And, you know, it pretty much was. If you're sensible, this recipe serves two. I am not sensible and went omnomnom until it was all gone and then I wished for more.
Tuna & White Bean Salad

5 oz tin oil packed tuna, undrained
15.5 oz tin white beans, drained and rinsed
1 small shallot, minced
2 tsp capers, drained but not rinsed
Lemon juice
Black pepper
Baby spinach

Mix undrained tuna, beans, shallot, and capers together. Season with lemon juice, black pepper, and parsley to taste. Serve on a bed of baby spinach.
Tuna & White Bean Sala

I'm thinking this would be awesome in the summer with chopped garden tomatoes and fresh basil or tarragon.

08 March 2012

Egg All Over My Face

Whoops! Here I have been grumbling to myself about blogs that use CAPTCHA and I never turned off CAPTCHA on this blog. So embarrassing.

It wasn't easy figuring out how to shut the fool thing off, either! Just in case someone else using the new Blogger is scratching their heads, wondering why CAPTCHA is turned on when there's nothing under Settings to suggest it is, here's how I did it:

You have to sign in to the old Blogger dashboard by going to www.blogger.com/home instead of www.draft.blogger.com/home. The select Settings and disable CAPTCHA.


I also hear you can do the same thing by clicking on the gear on the right hand side of the new Blogger Dashboard and select Old Blogger interface, but that did not work for me at all. As with all things internetz, ymmv.

lolcats funny cat pictures

07 March 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Spaghetti & Red Sauce

PhotobucketAs soon as I saw that March's Crazy Cooking Challenge was for spaghetti and red sauce, I knew I was on the lookout for a Bolognese sauce, because we love a good Bolognese sauce. And by "good Bolognese sauce" I mean something that resembles the classic Bolognese sauce registered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, which is made with skirt steak, pancetta, carrot, celery, onion, tomato puree, milk, white or red wine, salt and pepper. Experience tells me it must be served with a splodge of ricotta and sprinkle of shredded fresh basil. Ideally, it should be served on a bed of tagliatelle, but I find that impossible to buy locally.

I found many promising recipes and actually went so far as to try a few, but even though I dallied with others, I knew "Spaghetti Bolognese" by Bobbi’s Kozy Kitchen was the recipe I would go with in the end. It had everything I wanted -- even the splodge of ricotta -- and dried mushrooms.

This was proper Bolognese.
Spaghetti Bolognese by Bobbi’s Kozy Kitchen (reproduced with permission)

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, wiped of grit
¼ pound pancetta or slab bacon, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs rosemary
1½ pound ground pork [2 pounds lean ground beef]
1½ pound ground beef [1 pound ground pork]
2 cups milk [heavy cream]
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 cups dry red wine [Little Penguin Merlot]
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
1 handful fresh basil leaves
Fresh ricotta cheese

Bolognese Ingredients

Reconstitute the mushrooms in boiling water for 20 minutes until tender, drain and coarsely chop.

Making Everything Smooth

Puree the mushrooms, pancetta, onion, celery ribs, carrots, garlic, together in a blender. [I used my food processor and whizzed it all 'round until it looked like pate].
In a heavy-bottomed pot add olive oil, bay leaves, herbs and cook gently until fragrant, then add vegetable puree and continue to cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes. [I wasn't sure whether to leave the herbs in or take them out, so opted to leave them in].
Pureed Pancetta & Vegetables
Raise the heat a bit and add the ground pork and beef; brown until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up the clumps with a wooden spoon [it is very important to break the meat into the tiniest clumps possible as, despite being full of meat, this sauce should be very smooth].
Meat & Cream
Add the milk and simmer until the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Carefully pour in the tomatoes and wine and season with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and cover. Slowly simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring now and then, until the sauce is very thick. Taste again for salt and pepper. [Remove bay and rosemary].
Bolognese Sauce Before Reducing

When you are ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm. Drain the pasta well and toss with the Bolognese sauce.

Spaghetti Bolognese Redux

Serve with a good scoop of fresh ricotta cheese and garnish with some shredded basil, grated Parmigiano and a drizzle of olive oil.
Fabulous, just fabulous. A little labor intensive, yes, but well worth it. Lots of flavor, very meaty and rich, and it made the whole house smell delicious as it cooked. The recipe makes an enormous amount of sauce -- especially if, like me, you're "only" cooking for two -- but that's fine because that means there's plenty of sauce left for lasagna, English muffin pizzas, and freezing for later!

02 March 2012

Easy Mixed Greens & Tomatoes

Last week I was at Shoprite looking for The Husband's favorite ice cream and, while I didn't find that, I did find a big display Glory Foods bagged chopped greens! Super-excited, I snapped up a bag of mixed greens and brought it home, full of fantasies of the good things I could make from it. When I got home, I knew I wanted "proper" greens -- rich, flavorful, hearty greens -- but I didn't want to use meat in the dish. I ended up with this, which is an amalgamation of ideas I found on the internetz and, yes, the recipe on the back of the greens' bag:

Greens & Tomaters

Easy Greens & Tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small red onion, chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 16 oz bag Glory Foods chopped mixed greens
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth stock
A dash or two of liquid smoke
1 14.5 oz can Muir Glen no salt added diced tomatoes, undrained
Salt and black pepper, as desired
Red wine vinegar, as desired.

Heat oil in a French/Dutch oven. Sauté onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes until onion is until tender and fragrant. Add greens and cook for about a minute, stirring. Add broth and liquid smoke, cover pot, and simmer on low for about 40 minutes or until the greens are much reduced in volume and most of the liquid has cooked away. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, until tomatoes are heated through. Season with salt and pepper, as desired, and serve drizzled with a little red wine vinegar.
Oh, this was delicious! I used leftover cheddar biscuits to sop up the pot liquor and it was an awesome flavor combination.