Thursday, August 30, 2012

Roasted Ratatouille Pasta Sauce

Whew, this has been quite the week!  I landed myself in the hospital Tuesday night with pneumonia and suspected hantavirus - luckily I do not have hantavirus, but I have about a million needle pricks to prove it!  (Ouch - I do not do well with needles!)  I'm back home and resting up, so I'll share this fantastic dinner I made a couple of weeks ago with you guys...there has not been a whole lot of home cooking this week for obvious reasons.

This was a dinner inspired entirely by our CSA box - we got eggplant, peppers, zucchini, and onions!  With all those ingredients, ratatouille was an obvious choice.  This is a way easier version of ratatouille that involves roasting all the veggies in the oven rather than sauteing each one separately. Then they're dumped in a pot with crushed up canned tomatoes, simmered a bit, and voila - you've got a simple and super delicious sauce for pasta or even just scooping up with crusty bread.  As with many tomato sauce-based dishes, it gets even better the next day, so make a big batch to enjoy all week.

Roasted Ratatouille Pasta Sauce (adapted from Luna Cafe, original recipe here)
Serves 4-6

2 medium Japanese eggplants, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 medium zucchini or summer squash, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 small bell peppers, trimmed and cut into 1-inch squares
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
28-ounce can whole tomatoes with basil (i.e. Trader Joe's)
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Cooked pasta, to serve

1. Place the eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt.  Let sit while you prepare the rest of the vegetables.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a large baking sheet with foil.
3. Rinse of the eggplant, pat dry, and place in a large bowl.  Add the zucchini, bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper and toss again.  Arrange on the baking sheet in one layer (or as close as possible).
4. Roast the veggies until they are caramelized around the edges and tender (but not dried out) - about half an hour or so.
5. While the vegetables are roasting, open up the can of tomatoes.  Break up the tomatoes with your hands, and transfer a pot along with their juices.  Bring to a boil.  Once the tomatoes are boiling, add the roasted vegetables and return to a boil.  Add the fresh mint and thyme and simmer about 15 minutes.  Add the juice of half a lemon, stir, and taste.  Add more lemon juice, salt, or pepper as needed.
6. Serve with cooked pasta.  Leftovers keep well in the fridge.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mocha Cookies with Chocolate Chips and Pecans

I never get sick of cookie recipes that taste like brownies!  This particular recipe is nice because you can prep the batter ahead and then stash it in the fridge for up to four days before baking.  I definitely took advantage of that feature this time, since I'd signed up to bake cookies for a church event on a day that I was super busy.  The cookies turned out perfectly and were a big hit - the ground coffee makes the cookies taste extra rich without being overly 'coffee' flavored.  You can use regular ground coffee (in which case you will get little bits of coffee grounds in the cookies, which I didn't mind at all) or instant espresso powder for a smoother texture, whichever you prefer.  Chocolate chips and chopped pecans add texture and make the cookies even more decadent.  I made these cookies tiny since they were being served at a dessert reception, but if you're baking them for munching, I'd make them larger and count on a smaller yield.

Mocha Cookies with Chocolate Chips and Pecans (adapted from Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunch by Alice Medrich)
Makes about 50 cookies

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 T unsalted butter
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1-1/3 cups sugar
1-1/2 tsp finely ground coffee
1 tsp vanilla
4 ounces chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

1. Combine the chocolate and butter in a pot over low heat and melt, stirring constantly. (You can also use a double boiler if you want to be extra careful.)  Remove from heat and let cool slightly while preparing the rest of the recipe.
2. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder in  small bowl.
3. In a stand mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the coffee and vanilla and beat to combine.  Beat in the melted chocolate, and then beat in the flour mixture.  Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.
4. Scrape the batter into a bowl, cover, and chill for at least an hour (or up to 4 days).
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment or foil.  Drop tablespoons of dough onto the cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.  Bake until puffed and crackled on the surface but still gooey on the inside, about 8-10 minutes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

SRC: Roasted Carrots with Spiced Pistachios

I'm posting a bit off schedule for the Secret Recipe Club this month, filling in for a missing blogger in Group C (luckily the missing blogger was eventually found, but I'd already fallen in love with this recipe from Authentic Suburban Gourmet and so I decided to make and post it anyway!).  These roasted carrots are easy to make but also feel a little fancy, making them a great side dish option to have in your repertoire.  The carrot portion of the recipe is super basic - just cut open a bag of baby carrots, toss with oil, salt, and pepper, and roast.  (The original recipe used gorgeous yellow carrots, which will definitely make this dish even prettier, but I already had baby carrots on hand.)  The topping is where things get interesting: pistachios are sauteed in a mixture of butter, cumin, and brown sugar, with a pinch of red pepper flakes for heat (use more if you like your veggies spicier).  They added fantastic flavor and crunch to the dish, really elevating it from your everyday roasted veggies.  I ended up only using about half of the spiced nuts on my carrots, but I'm betting the rest will be awesome on salads, other veggies, etc. later in the week.  Thanks to Lisa for sharing this fantastic recipe!

Roasted Carrots with Spiced Pistachios (adapted from Authentic Suburban Gourmet, original recipe here)
Serves 4

16 ounces baby carrots
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 T unsalted butter
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted pistachios

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil.  Toss together the carrots with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Scatter in one layer on the baking sheet, and roast until tender, about 30 minutes.
2. While the carrots roast, melt the butter in a nonstick skillet.  Add the sugar, cumin, salt, and red pepper flakes and stir to combine.  Add the pistachios, and saute for about a minute.  Transfer to a cutting board in one layer, let cool slightly, and chop coarsely.
3. Serve the carrots topped with chopped pistachios.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pulled Pork with Balsamic-Dried Fruit Barbecue Sauce

I love using the slow cooker - especially when you go away for the afternoon and come home to an apartment that smells amazing!  This pulled pork recipe is super easy - just dump everything into the slow cooker, set it, and go about your day.  The first night, we just ate it plain, with no sauce, alongside rice and veggies.  And it was fantastic that way - this cut of pork is really flavorful and tender without a whole lot of extra effort.  Then there were lots of leftovers to enjoy throughout the week.  This simple barbecue sauce was a great way to dress up leftovers and enjoy them another way.  It was really delicious with lots of great flavor from dried figs, dried plums, and balsamic vinegar.  The sauce and pork made for a great sandwich with cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes!

Easy Slow-Cooker Pork Shoulder
Serves 8 - makes more than you need for the sandwiches

4-1/2 pound bone-in pork shoulder
Salt and pepper
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine

Place the pork in a slow cooker.  Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Scatter the onions and garlic on top, and then pour the wine over the pork.  Cook on low for 8 hours.

Balsamic-Dried Fruit Barbecue Sauce (adapted from Martha Stewart)
Makes 1-1/2 cups

2 ounces dried figs
2 ounces dried plums
Boiling water
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, minced

1. Cover the fruit with boiling water by a couple of inches and then let sit for 5 minutes.
2. Drain the fruit and place in a food processor or the container for an immersion hand blender.  Add the vinegar, tomato paste, and salt.  Process until smooth.
3. In a medium pot, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and heat over medium heat.  Add the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Pour in the dried fruit puree, and add 1 cup water.  Stir to combine, and blend again with a hand blender if you have one.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pork Meatball Soup with Kale

I love meatballs - something about them just makes a meal so much fun!  These little pork meatballs are no exception.  They're spiced up with chilies, garlic, and lots of fresh herbs, and then browned in a hot skillet and simmered in flavorful chicken stock.  This is definitely the time to pull out the homemade chicken stock - there aren't a whole lot of ingredients here, so each one really needs to shine.  Hearty greens complete the bowl - I used dinosaur kale, but any green that can hold up to a little hot chicken stock would be tasty - perhaps chard, mustard greens, or baby bok choy.  Homemade croutons are an optional but absolutely delicious addition to sprinkle on top.

Pork Meatball Soup with Kale (adapted from Tender)
Serves 3-4

For the meatballs:
1 pound ground pork
2 small, spicy chilies (such as serrano), minced
4 green onions,white and light green parts, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 bushy sprigs of parsley, leaves minced
6 bushy sprigs of mint, leaves minced
Fat to fry, preferably chicken fat (olive oil works too)

For the soup:
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
Salt and pepper
1 bunch dinosaur kale, leaves removed and coarsely chopped
Homemade croutons, optional

1. Mix together the ground pork with the chilies, green onions, garlic, herbs, and a generous sprinkling of salt.  Roll into small meatballs (I got about 24).
2. Heat the fat in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the meatballs until just browned, shaking the pan often, working in batches if necessary.
3. Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot, and bring a pot of water to a boil on another burner.  Season the broth well with salt and pepper, and add a good pinch of salt to the pot of boiling water.  Add the meatballs to the pot of chicken stock and the kale to the boiling water.  Cook the kale 1-2 minutes, until wilted, and then drain.  Cook the meatballs 4-5 minutes, until cooked through.  Add the kale, remove from heat, and serve right away, preferably with fresh hot croutons fried in chicken fat.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Creamy Potato Salad with Peas, Artichoke Hearts, and Fresh Herbs

I love potato salad - creamy, tangy, and the perfect summer side dish.  And this is a great one - it's got your classic mayo-based dressing, with a few fun twists.  One of these is artichoke hearts.  Sounds a little crazy, but their briny flavor is a fantastic counterpart to the richer ingredients in the salad.  Chopped fresh herbs and freshly toasted, freshly ground fennel and coriander seeds add an extra layer of flavor alongside smoked paprika, which is probably my favorite fun spice - I sprinkle it on everything!  Creamy potatoes, hard boiled eggs, and frozen peas round out the potato salad with some more classic, familiar flavors for a dynamite side dish.

Creamy Potato Salad with Peas, Artichoke Hearts, and Fresh Herbs (adapted from Fine Cooking)
Serves 2-3

1/2 T unseasoned rice vinegar
1 pound red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized pieces
Olive oil
2 canned artichoke hearts, each cut into 8 pieces (about 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup frozen peas
1 hard-boiled egg, diced
2-4 T chopped fresh herbs (use whatever mix you have - I used basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1-1/2 T olive oil
1 T red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly toasted and ground
A few good grinds of black pepper
Generous pinch of smoked paprika

1. In a large bowl, combine the rice vinegar and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir to dissolve and set aside.
2. Place the potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, and add few generous pinches of salt.  Bring to a boil and cook until tender.  Drain well and add to the bowl with the rice vinegar; stir to combine.
3. Meanwhile, heat a bit of oil in a non-stick skillet.  Add the artichoke hearts and saute until lightly browned. Add the peas, and saute for about 30 more seconds.
4. Add the artichoke hearts and peas to the potatoes, along with all the rest of the ingredients.  Stir to combine, and serve warm or chilled.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Secret Recipe Club: Buttermilk Waffles

Tim and I have been on a great weekend waffle kick lately - it definitely makes Saturday mornings a lot of fun! So it was an easy choice to find a great waffle recipe from my Secret Recipe Club partner for this month, No Reason Needed.  These buttermilk waffles are fantastic - tender, flavorful, and super easy to put together.  I was a little worried when I whisked together the batter because it seemed pretty thin, but the waffles cooked up perfectly in my waffle iron.  Because the waffles don't contain any sugar, you'll definitely want to go for sweeter toppings here - I used chocolate chips and maple syrup!

Buttermilk Waffles (adapted from No Reason Needed, original recipe here)
Makes about 10 waffles

4 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

1. Whisk the eggs briskly for a few minutes until light.  Whisk in the buttermilk and the oil.  Sprinkle the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and whisk to combine.
2. Cook in a waffle maker - this batter rises quite a bit, so be careful not to overfill.
3. Serve hot with your favorite toppings.

I'm also sending these waffles off to the Kitchen Bootcamp Challenge: Eggs and Breakfast!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cranberry-Pecan Zucchini Bread

Zucchini overload! As you might expect this time of year, our CSA has been overflowing with zucchini and summer squash every week.  This tasty quick bread will use up at least some of them, and any variety will work.  I ended up using little yellow pattypan squash, with great results, even though it felt a little weird using a yellow veggie rather than a green one!  The squash makes the bread moist, and cranberries and pecans just make it a little more fun and interesting.  I especially liked the tart cranberries as they contrasted perfectly with the sweet bread.  Of course, any favorite dried fruits and nuts would be excellent here.

Cranberry-Pecan Zucchini Bread (adapted from Smitten Kitchen, original recipe here)
Makes 2 loaves

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1-3/4 cups white sugar
2 cups grated zucchini or summer squash
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 T cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
Several grates of nutmeg
3/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray two loaf pans with oil.
2. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, and sugar.  Stir in the zucchini and vanilla.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg.  Stir in the pecans and cranberries.
4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix.  Divide the batter among the loaf pans.
5. Bake 50-70 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.