Monday, November 29, 2010

Pasta with Beans and Greens

Sometimes life can get a little overwhelming. You find yourself curled in the bed with a massive headache because you are thinking too hard about how to fix things out of your control. When that happens... comfort foods are needed!

Fall and winter are the season for comfort foods. And since I've been giving you soup after soup recipe, I thought it might be time for something a little different. PASTA! I realize now that I so rarely cook with pasta anymore. Well, I occasionally cook up some pasta and throw a little tomato sauce on it - but that's nothing to write home about. The name of the recipe is actually Whole Wheat Pasta with Beans, Greens, Pancetta, and Garlic Bread Crumbs. I have of course shortened it due to time constraints. This recipe comes from Cooking for Two: 2009, it's an America's Test Kitchen cookbook. ATK is probably the best group of cooks out there. I love their cookbook because they always explain the trial and error process that it took to get this recipe right. I thank them for doing all the work for me!

Word to the wise... don't wait till 8:00 PM to throw this meal together. Or you wont get to eat until 8:50-9:00. This isn't a meal you throw together, it takes some time. Remember, you gotta prep the greens and that means removing the stems, soaking the grit off, and then chopping it up. However, I think it would be a great meal to cook for someone you want to have a nice evening of conversation with. I didn't drink wine, but this meal definitely was calling for it.

I followed the recipe exactly. The only substitutions I had to make were for the fontina cheese and pancetta. I couldn't find Fontina at Publix, so I just used some asagio that I had in my fridge. And why buy pancetta when I have perfectly good bacon in my frdige. It was still delicious. I liked how there was no "sauce", but it was still moist and flavorful. I also poured out some of the bacon fat, because there was a lot leftover. I used about 4 slices, next time I might just use two. Because you actually don't ever put the pancetta/bacon back into the dish. I just ate them while I finished cooking. It was 8:30 and I was starving. This dish gives two very generous servings. I had no time wolfing down half of it (cause remember, beans and greens are not that heavy). However, it could easily be stretched out to three servings if you serve it with a nice sized salad and dessert.

What's your favorite winter pasta (or just pasta) dish? Please share in the comments section. Or just stop by and tell me hi! I like to know who is reading.

Pasta with Beans and Greens
(Serves Two)

1 slice high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
4 teaspoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 teaspoons)
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1/4 cup)
1 small onion, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 large bunch of kale or collard greens, stems trimmed, leaves chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 7 cups)
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti (See note)
3/4 cup drained and rinsed canned cannellini beans
2 ounces fontina cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)

1 Pulse the bread in a food processor to course crumbs, about 7 pulses. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the garlic and continue to cook until the bread crumbs are dark golden brown, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste and transfer to a small bowl. Wipe out the skillet with paper towels.

2. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and pancetta to the skillet and cook over medium heat until the pancetta is crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer the pancetta to a small bowl, leaving the fat in the skillet. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the skillet and cook over medium heat until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Stir in the remaining 2 teaspoons garlic and pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the greens to the pan and toss with tongs until they begin to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add the broth, cover, and simmer, tossing the greens occasionally, until they are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

4 Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt, and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

5. Stir in the beans into the greens and let warm through, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the greens mixture and fontina to the pasta and toss to combine, adjusting the sauce consistency with the reserved cooking water as desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve, sprinkling individual portions with bread crumbs.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree

It's now officially okay to put up your decorations. For any of those you who started early, shame on you! While I am not currently home to decorate my own apartment, I will be soon! No cats to get in my way there! I am so excited because my excursion home will most likely allow me to bring back some of my beloved Christmas decorations. As most sentimental people will say, Christmas is often bitter-sweet for anyone who has lost a loved one.

My mother made the holidays extra special, but Christmas was her forte. Our house would get completely redecorated until December 31st. I am talking down to the trash can in the bathroom. As I got older I would describe it to friends as "It looks like Santa threw up in my house." But that was what made Christmas so much fun, it was just completely over the top, kitschy, and completely mom.

It never ceases to amaze me how long it's actually been since I've seen her. In fact I had the biggest blip I've had in a long time. I was talking about going home for Thanksgiving and I actually said, "I can't wait to see my mom." It took me completely by surprise and it really shows you how much a parent's imprint can't be removed.
I am looking forward to sitting down with my sister and going through mom's decorations. It will be interesting to see what random little item brings back the strongest memory. My taste (and appetite for that matter) for Christmas decorations aren't the same as my mom, but whenever I hang an ornament on the tree I can still hear her saying "don't forget to hang some on the back".

But besides that... I wanted to tell you that in terms of Christmas Music, I always keep it simple. Sure, I've bought a few CDs here and there and I tolerate the music on the radio. But for the most part, I can't stand modern pop Christmas. For as long as I can remember, we have been listening to The Time Life Treasury of Christmas (volumes 1 and 2) from the late 1980s. We had the records people! Mom would crank it up the day after Thanksgiving and we would be going to town putting out wreaths, dishes, and door hangers. I like the music collection because it really has a frozen in time feel. And I will be listening to it from now until Three Kings Day!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Kitchen Closed

Happy Thanksgiving!

Normally I am always talking about how to cut recipes down or just preparing meals for two. But today there will be no such thing. Today I will be digging into large casserole dishes filled to the brim and enjoying every bite with my family and friends. Today I have no desire to do anything on a small scale.

Don't worry though, I am working on some holiday recipes for two that I hope to post up the week before Christmas. Those menus come in handy for small families, for those of us stuck away from home, or someone simply opting for a simple holiday.

And here is a picture of my clean kitchen (view from the dining table). In case you were wondering what my kitchen looked like. I am actually going to start trying to organize and decorate it a little better, so consider this a before picture.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grits and Greens Casserole

This is probably my last greens recipe for a while (one can hope). Now that I've gathered up some recipes I like, I'll probably just recycle those for a while. You'd think from the way I've been carrying on that I don't care for greens. Honestly, until this season I only really ate spinach. I'd eat a green if it was served to me, but I didn't go out of my way to cook them. I think also is that it's hard to cook the way I want to (one to two servings at a time) when you literally have a bushel of greens in your fridge. And every day I open the fridge they look a little sadder, forcing me to cook double batches or large serving recipes to use them up.

However, at the time I made this Eating Well recipe I was actually able to cut the recipe in half. But let me tell you, my excitement about this recipe could hardly be contained. Everything in it was something I liked grits, greens, cheese, and bacon! (Once again, this recipe could easily be made vegetarian with a few modifications.) It seemed a little odd to make this and I was really worried it would turn out gross, but I was quite pleased with the results. I served it with ham steak and salad and asked my friend Linc to come share this meal with me. He seemed to enjoy it, and Mallory enjoyed the ham and salad part. I actually ate the leftovers with a fried egg, and it was a great breakfast/brunch kind of thing!

Do you make any strange casseroles that sound like they'd be horrible (IE tater tot casserole), but are actually really tasty? Please tell me all about it in the comments section. If anything, just say hi and let me know you actually read this.

Grits and Greens Casserole
(Serves Six)

4 slices bacon, chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 cups chopped collard greens or kale, stems removed (about 1 large bunch, 1 1/2-2 pounds)
2 cups water, plus more as needed
1 cup grits (not instant)
3/4 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 cup prepared salsa
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat an 8-inch-square baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Place bacon (if using) in a large Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until crispy, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off the bacon fat.

3. Return the pot to medium-low heat; add oil, onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant and starting to brown in spots, 2 to 8 minutes (cooking time will be quicker if you started with bacon). Add 1 cup broth and salt; bring to a boil over high heat. Add collards (or kale); stir until wilted down to about one-third the volume and bright green, 1 to 2 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Adjust heat during cooking to maintain a simmer, and add water, 1/4 cup at a time, if the pan seems dry.

4. Meanwhile, bring 2 cups water and the remaining 1 cup broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Pour in grits in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, whisking often, until thick, about 5 minutes. Combine 1/2 cup cheese, salsa and egg in a small bowl. Remove the grits from the heat and quickly stir in the cheese mixture until combined.

5. Working quickly, spread about half the grits in the prepared baking dish. Top with greens, spreading evenly. Spread the remaining grits over the greens. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese and the reserved bacon (if using).

6. Bake the casserole until hot and bubbling, about 20 minutes. Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

Getting tired of soup season yet? I didn't think so. So today's recipe is another winning combo - black beans and sweet potatoes. Honestly, I could probably just eat both of them cooked and mashed together by themselves. Remember recently we tried out Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos - and they were a hit with all who tried them. I was tempted just to make those again, but when I sit down to watch some TV I like the easiness of bowl in one hand spoon in other. It works well.

I also amazingly didn't have to use canned tomatoes. There are still tomatoes in my box? I am really perplexed by this, but I am going to attribute it to our Indian Summer we had this year. Did you know... an Indian Summer is classified by the unseasonably warm temperatures after the first frost that makes the leaves change colors. I did feel strange crunching leaves on the sidewalk with my flip flops. Oh the joys of the South! Back to the tomatoes... because they weren't canned, I added them a little earlier in the simmering process to give them time to break down and flavor the soup.

I topped it with a little sour cream and shredded cheddar. It was super filling and tasty. The chili was made for two servings, but my girlish appetite probably will be pulling three out of this bad boy. The last little bit might have to be eaten with a grilled cheese.

Do you have any out of the norm chili recipes you'll be making this winter? Do you let yours sit in the fridge for seven days before it's ready to be served? Please share in the comments section.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili
(Serves Two)

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 1/3 cups water
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sweet potato and cook, stirring often, until the onion is slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, ground chipotle, and salt and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add water, bring to a simmer, cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the sweet potato is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes and lime juice; increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.

Recipe from Eating Well Serves Two.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Collard Green & Black-Eyed Pea Soup

-My friends, the recipes for greens never ends! I find myself singing the song from the musical Into The Woods... ♪Greens, greens, and nothing but greens!♪. After working with them, I have realized that I really enjoy collards, kale, and of course spinach. Sadly, mustard and turnip greens don't always substitute well in recipes. However, no substitutions were needed for this Eating Well recipe. If you recall I talked about how collards were often just lumped into Southern Cuisine and recipes I have found played around with that. Collard Green and Black-Eyed Pea soup couldn't sound more Southern. And once you read the recipe and realize there is bacon in it you know you've found a winner. (On a side note, this recipe easily adapts to a vegetarian by changing the broth and skipping the bacon or substituting soy bacon).

This recipe is not for two, but I divided it into freezer bags with two servings in each bag. They are now frozen and will be enjoyed later. I've never been a huge fan of canned soups, so having frozen soup in two serving portions is super nice. Perfect for Sunday lunches when I don't want to cook. I was able to use not only collards from my box, but also carrots. I had no taste testers to give me feedback (my room mate shys away from cooked greens) but I really enjoyed the soup and will make it again when I have collards.

The only thing I changed about the recipe, was that I just made regular cheese toast with whole wheat sandwich bread and Swiss cheese.

I find that I've been making a lot more soups this year than I have in the past. What are your favorite soups you make at home? Please share in the comments section.

Collard Green & Black-Eyed Pea Soup
(Serves 6)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
5 cloves garlic, (4 sliced and 1 whole), divided
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
5 cups chopped collard greens, or kale leaves (about 1 bunch), tough stems removed
1 15-ounce can black-eyed peas, rinsed
6 1/2-inch-thick slices baguette, preferably whole-grain, cut on the diagonal
6 tablespoons shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese
2 slices cooked bacon, finely chopped

1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring, until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add sliced garlic, thyme and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Increase heat to high and add broth, tomatoes and their juice. Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in collard greens (or kale), reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Discard the thyme sprig. Stir in black-eyed peas; remove from the heat and cover.

2. Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.

3. Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and broil until lightly toasted, 2 to 4 minutes. Rub each bread slice with the remaining garlic clove. (Discard garlic.) Turn the slices over and top with cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted, 1 to 3 minutes. Serve the soup topped with the cheese toasts and bacon.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Orange Spice Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

Orange overload! I've always liked oranges, but in cake form I knew I would love them more! It's been too long since I posted a baked dessert. And as always, I am inspired by the fruit of the season. I have no doubt that orange peel desserts started to stretch the precious treat that was an orange. Which makes me happy to enjoy this cake in a seasonal fashion. This is also my first spice cake. My mother never made them much, and if she did somehow spice cake doesn't sound as yummy as chocolate. But now that I am older, I have learned to enjoy cake in all its forms.

I am using once again, Small Batch Baking. A great cookbook with scaled down desserts. I love it because I don't have to bake a huge cake that I either eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or that I end up throwing away because no one is around to help me eat it. The book advocates baking in the can method that I have talked about before (see carrot cake post here), but I normally do cupcakes to spread out the servings a little more. This time I did mini cupcakes because I wanted a cute bite sized treat that I could enjoy after meals this week.

I also think if you are planning a small Thanksgiving (family of 6 or less), that these would be perfect to make (in mini cupcake form), because everyone always "just wants a bite" of all the desserts. I think a small batch of something that gets eaten completely is better than bringing a whole cake that goes home half eaten. And it's always nice to run out and to hear people say "Oh I wish there were more." You know then, you've got yourself a winner.

Or if it's just gonna be two of you celebrating together. Go ahead and make the larger cupcakes or the mini layer cakes. The "spice" part reminds me of pumpkin pie, but the orange adds a refreshing flavor to the holiday. I've been enjoying these little bites for the last few days. I don't keep cake in my house, so these have been nice little treats.

Do you have any orangey or spicy desserts you are going to make these season? Please share in the comments section!

Orange Spice Cakes
(Makes two mini layer cakes)

4 tablespoon (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing cans
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for flouring cans
1/4 cup buttermilk
Yolk of 1 large egg
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/c cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Pans Required:
Two 14- or 14.5-ounce cans
1 baking sheet

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325F.

2. Lightly grease the insides of the cans and dust them with flour, tapping out the excess. Place the cans on a baking sheet for easier handling, and set aside.

3. Combine the buttermilk, egg yolk, and orange zest in small bowl and whisk to mix.

4. Place the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger in a medium-sized mixing bowl and whisk to blend well. Add the butter and half of the buttermilk mixture. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 45 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Pour in the remaining buttermilk mixture; then beat on medium speed for 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

5. Spoon the batter into prepared cans, dividing it evenly between them. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.

6. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the cans to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Then run a thin, sharp knife around the edge of each can and invert them to release the cakes. Turn the cakes upright and let them cool completely on the rack.

7. To frost the cakes, cut each one in half horizontally. Spread a layer of the Orange Cream Cheese Frosting about 1/4 inch thick on the cute side of one cake half and then stack the other half on top of it. Frost the top and sides of the cake. Repeat with the remaining cake and frosting. (The cakes can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated, covered. Let them return to room temperature before serving.)

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
(Makes 1 cup)

4 ounces cold cream cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon thawed frozen orange juice concentrate

Place the cream cheese and butter in a medium-size bowl and beat with a hand-held mixer on medium speed until blended, 20 seconds. Add the sugar, orange zest, and vanilla, and beat to mix. Then add the orange juice concentrate and beat until the frosting is fluffy, 1 minute. Use right away, or cover and let stand for up to 1 hour before using.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Citrus-Scented Black Bean Soup with Chipotle Cream

I want to call this a pantry recipe, but I am not sure it is. I happened to have everything I needed except cilantro and I decided, even though it hurt my soul a little, that we would just go with out it. I also needed a much needed break from greens (see posts here, here, and here! - and that's not even all of them yet). So I went for a black bean soup that I knew Mallory and I would enjoy while watching one of our favorite shows, Big Bang Theory. I also had tons of oranges from my box that needed to be used. The seasons really do determine how I cook.

This is a straight forward recipe and I did only some minor changes. I left out of the cilantro like I said, but it was really only because of a time crunch. I also used cayenne pepper instead of chipotle because that's what I had in my pantry. I also just completely opted out of the green onions and decided they would be no real sacrifice I do not have a micro plane (aka zester). So I actually have to carefully peel off the skins of citrus with a vegetable peeler and then dice it up as fine as I can. I am on the hunt for one at the thrift store, until then... this will do. I also didn't puree it until smooth, but rather used my immersion blender to get it to a nice chunky state.

I actually have a really fun citrus recipe planned, but you will have to wait! Do you use citrus to cook with? Please share in the comments section!

Citrus-Scented Black Bean Soup with Chiptole Cream
(Serves Two)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
4 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream, divided
Pinch of ground chipotle
2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add cumin and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add beans, water, orange zest and juice, salt and pepper; increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring often. Transfer to a blender with cilantro, lime juice, and 3 tablespoons sour cream. Puree until smooth (use caution when pureeing hot liquids).

2. Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon sour cream and ground chipotle in a small bowl. Serve the soup garnished with the chipotle cream and scallions.

Recipe from Eating Well Serves Two.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tiny Tables Expansion Pack

I recently added the line to my header... "and living on a smaller scale." I felt it was time to share more about my philosophy on life, not because I have anything great to say about it - but because it's something in my life that I am constantly working to make better.  I am actually in a place where I feel I have my feet on a solid path (in terms of small scale living - I wish I was so secure in other areas!), it's now about taking the steps forward. So this should be fun! It should be more like tips and tricks rather than preaching. At least that's the goal.

I actually started cooking because I was trying to reconnect with my food. I should say "connect", because reconnect implies that I was once connected. I only got a smidge of it from my granny. I can remember snapping green beans into big buckets of water and her making muscadine jelly. That woman really knew how to pinch pennies and is my personal example of small scale living. So as an adult who was looking to really take a leap into something that might really impact my life, I chose food. So over the last year I have met all the seasons bounty and can appreciate each season. This eventually lead to Tiny Tables, a blog that's supposed to be sharing with people how to enjoy fresh seasonal foods when it's just one or two people.

Future Topics: Bicycling, sustainable farming, community, non-consumerism, livable cities, gardening, and frugality.

Are any of you making steps to living on a smaller scale? Is it because of the economy, environment, or maybe some of both? Or are you like me and just a country girl trying to merge your past into this here city life?

This is me and the Pink Lady.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pizza Night

I am not sure if some of you realize this, but I sometimes find it a pain to take pictures of the cooking process. But since I know (as a blog reader) everyone likes to see the process, I do it. It's all for you! Though sometimes I don't take pictures. And pizza is certainly one of those times that if you need me to explain how it's made - then there isn't much hope for your future as a cook. It's okay... I'm single. ;) (Statement for men only, sorry girls!)

You know whats also great about homemade pizza? I don't ever mind making more than two servings of it, because cold pizza is one of by absolute favorite leftovers.

This week: The sauce was just some simply garlic and chili infused olive oil. The pie was topped with Cherokee Purple tomatoes, grilled chicken, feta, and red onions.

Next up... a variation on the butternut squash pizza my girls Summer and Jen made!

What was on your pizza this week? Homemade or not, please share in the comments!

Does anyone else see the LOL cat hiding in my tomato?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Diet Coke and Artificial Sweetners

So.... for those of you who don't know me, I am in love with Diet Coke. I am not just saying that's the soda I prefer, it's just about the only soda I will drink. I'll occasionally dabble around, but I always come back. I am the person who immediately judges a restaurant that carries Pepsi products. I am also not satisfied with Coke Zero. If I wanted a soda that tasted like real Coke, I'd drink real Coke. Just ask my ex about my melt down at Break n Bread when there was only Coke Zero... you would have thought the world was ending by the way I was talking. Hmmm, I wonder if my relationship with Diet Coke had anything to do... um, let's not go there!

But then as all bad relationships go, I became addicted to the evil love that is Diet Coke. I mean really... why should I like - no love - this weird fake sweet brown chemical liquid? There is absolutely nothing natural about it. Wouldn't evolution teach us that murky brown water probably isn't a good idea to drink? And let's not even consider the environmental impact that my addiction has had on the planet (though... one saving grace, I am mostly a canned soda kind of girl).

This blog is all about eating in a more natural way, and most of the time I am washing this delicious food down with this horrible unnatural drink. I've even tried the Crystal Lite road, and there is just something about those drinks that turn me off.

I have tried many times to give up Diet Coke, and usually I can only agree to some severe moderation. However, this has got to stop. It's not just Diet Coke, but it's also all the other artificial sweeteners in my life - it's the diet foods I sometimes eat and all the fake sweeteners I put in drinks and food.

It's just not good! So... I am going to try to give it up for good. Maybe not cold turkey, but a slow phasing out if you will. I am hoping that just in the way that I can no longer enjoy snack cakes (they taste like plastic), that I'll eventually take a swig of Diet Coke and my taste buds will scream to spit out the sweet toxic bliss.

Have any of you fought the artificial sweetener battle? Did you come out on top or have you slipped back into it's sweet seduction?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sausage & Lentil Casserole

Don't shoot me... this is another recipe from Eating Well Serves Two. I can't resist the perfectly portioned healthy recipes they offer in this collection.

I was looking up spinach recipes in the index to see if any recipes would allow me to easily sneak in collard greens. My roommate had said she had a thing for lentils and she is trying hard to try new foods. She doesn't like cooked greens, so I was worried this wouldn't work out for her. However, I cut the collards up into smaller pieces and I feel that the texture of the greens was somehow hidden by the rice and lentils. She and I both tasted it and agreed it was pretty good.

However... let me tell you this was not an easy one for me to make. First of all, I love how recipes call for canned lentils. I am certain I have never seen a can of lentils. I thought they all came in bags. So I looked up the conversion chart for dried lentils. I was told 1/2 cup dried lentils makes one cup. Since one can roughly equals two cups, I made a whole cup of lentils. Suddenly I had four cups of cooked lentils. That's okay! Because half of the lentils went into the freezer for another day.

Now I also I had to prep the collards. I had to soak the grit off, slice them up, and cook them. I also didn't have any instant rice, so I decided I would just half way cook some regular rice. And this is where things got out of proportion. I measured out the rice called for in the recipe, and it cooked out a lot of rice. So perhaps if you also do not have instant rice, you should reduce your rice from 3/4 to about 1/4 to 1/2 cup. I decided at the time I didn't give a crap and just dumped everything into the casserole dish and baked it.

This is way more than two servings, honestly it's more like 3 or 4. But that's okay... cause it tastes pretty good and I am never going to complain about large servings of healthy casseroles. However, I am sure next time when I reduce the amount of rice it will actually be two servings. FYI, the picture does not do it justice. It tastes a lot better than it looks.

Do you have any healthy(ish) casseroles that you'll be making this winter? Are you sneaking greens into dishes and hoping no one will notice? Please share in the comments section.

Sausage & Lentil Casserole
(Serves Two)

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 link hot Italian sausage, casing removed
1 small onion, chopped
1 14-ounce can lentils, rinsed
1 cup frozen or fresh spinach
3/4 cup reduce-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 cup instant brown rice
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Coat a 1-quart casserole or loaf pan with cooking spray.

2. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and onion; cooking, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add lentils, spinach, broth and oregano. Increase heat to medium-high and cook stirring often, until heated through, about 3 minutes. Stir in rice and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and cover with foil. Bake until the rice is tender, 30-35 minutes. Top with cheese and bake, uncovered, until the cheese melts, about 2 minutes more.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Curried Squash & Chicken Soup

I just call it Thai Butternut Squash soup.

This soup is s(o)uper simple to serve up! So... I think I am just cooking my way through the Eating Well Serves Two cookbook. I actually have come to realize I kind of prefer Eating Well to Weight Watchers cookbooks (previously my all time favorite), because Eating Well seems to realize that there are seasons. Not always, but most of the time I can find recipes that work perfectly with what I have on hand.

The recipe calls for frozen winter squash, but I had pounds of fresh butternut squash sitting in a bowl. So I simply cut them in half (with my very good kitchen knives) and roasted them in a olive oil coated pan. If you buy winter squash at the grocery store, they claim that you can ask the produce guy to cut in half for you. My friend Summer once told me she got Publix to cut her squash. So... I feel confident you can pry into your fresh squash with some effort. Of course, you can take the easy route and buy the frozen stuff.

After I roasted it I scooped it out (yes... I kind of burned my fingers) and then pureed the flesh with my immersion blender. I love that thing! It's as old as me and I can distinctly remember calling it the milkshake maker when I was little. Granny made some awesome blueberry milkshakes. Back to the soup... because the flesh was already hot... I didn't really have to heat it or cook it much. I kind of just dumped the seasonings in, let it simmer for a couple of minutes and then served it.

The recipes says you can leave out the chicken and spinach if you want a simple first-course soup. Or maybe you're like me and just don't have any chicken and spinach around. The recipe also doesn't talk about cooking the chicken, but if you are using raw chicken please cut it very thinly and then cook it until it's done. I bet you could throw it some precooked chicken and it would be fine. I had most everything on hand, and luckily I live next to an Indian-owned convenient store... so finding coconut milk is not a hard task. I forgot to buy limes at the store, so I just used lemon juice from my fridge. I ate this with some simple water crackers and found it quite comforting on these cool nights we've been having.

I actually trippled this recipe and put some of the soup in the freezer. If I remember correctly, I stopped getting winter squash in my box last year around December. I love the taste so much that I wanted to be sure to enjoy it a little longer this time around.

How are you using winter squash this season?

Curried Squash & Chicken Soup
(Serves Two)

1 10-ounce package frozen pureed winter squash
1/2 cup "lite" coconut milk
1/2 cup water
8 ounces boneless, skinless, chicken breast, thinly sliced
1 6-ounce bag baby spinach
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat squash, coconut milk and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash defrosts, about 10 minutes. Add chicken, reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in spinach, lime juice, sugar, curry paste to taste and salt and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through, about 3 minutes longer.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Making recipes work for you!

Today I am revisiting a recipe I made several months ago, Spicy Potato and Kale Soup. I really loved the soup and encouraged everyone to give kale a try. Kale was still relatively new to me then and honestly I've only eaten it two or three times in my whole life.

When I started receiving collards in the box, I was having a really hard time finding a recipe that didn't use them with a ham hock. Collards are a very Southern vegetable. And I became really curious about where they came from, because I had this vision of Indians walking around in the woods and finding this ultra lush leafy bush and somehow thinking "Hey... why don't we eat this with cornbread?". That's assuming the Indians were just really tan red necks. So after some mild research, apparently no one knows where the heck collards came from, but we do know that Jesus probably ate them. However, you ask any American what are Southern foods and collards is the first thing that comes to mind.

For me, when someone says soul food I immediately imagine a big pot of collards with hunks of bacon and onions floating in the water. And sadly, the food world likes to lump collards into that category. I found several recipes using collards with black eyed peas or grits (and always with bacon), but I wanted something a bit different.

So I decided that I could just substitute collards for recipes using kale. I tasted collards and they had no real distinct flavor... other than leafy. So why not? How much different could it be. Plus, for whatever reason kale has become one of those vegetables that all the chefs are ranting about. The recipes for kale seemed to be a little more universally accepted in all cuisines, instead of just Dixie Cooking. So I made Indian Spiced Collards and Chickpeas and then I remade the Spicy Potato Soup using collards, and it turned out great! In fact, it was pretty damn good.

So my point is... you can look at traditional Southern vegetables, take them outside of the box (haha... get it?), and make some really exciting dishes. It probably might be cheaper if you are a grocery store shopper as well. Kale has a certain popularity right now that collards don't. (If you know the pricing, it would be cool to share in the comments section).

But don't think I am not gonna make that grits and greens casserole to go with my ham steak! Yummy yummy!

What about you? Have you tried using a vegetable in a way that isn't the norm? Please share your cooking trials with me, I would love to hear them. Also, I like to know that people are actually reading the blog.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Indian Spiced Collards and Chickpeas

My weekly vegetable box is truly a magical experience. Now that I've had the box for over a year I've almost become fully acquainted with the South's bounty. However, there was one category I kind of stayed away from last year. Greens. I would always call and say to leave them out of my box. Especially after a really bad run in with Indian spiced mustard green pizza (don't do it!).

But this year I decided I would face my greens and really try to enjoy them. I did decide that perhaps mustards weren't my green of choice, but when I got collards I didn't conveniently ignore them until they were a wilted slimy mess.

First up is another recipe for two from Eating Well Serves Two. If you haven't noticed, I am mildly obsessed with it's waist line friendly recipes. The recipe this week was actually called Indian-Spiced Kale and Chickpeas, but kale is pretty rare in the box so collards it is!

I also get really nervous about any recipe described as "Indian spiced". I don't know what it is, but sometimes those flavors don't translate to my taste buds. However, there was no curry powder in this recipe, just garam masala (which I made myself from spices in my cabinet... save that money honey). I actually loved the way it smelled and knew that this recipe might not be so bad!

Another inconvenient thing was having to prep the collards. Greens often have soil on them and require being washed. I did remember reading somewhere to fill a sink up with water and to swish the greens around and let the grit fall to the bottom. This is what I did and worked quite well.

I served it over brown basamati rice and it was very filling. I wouldn't make this all the time, but I enjoyed it. In short, I think that I am okay with collard greens. I've decided to try using collards in recipes that call for kale or spinach and see how that goes. I have a lot of collards in my fridge right now! I am really excited about a casserole from Eating Well Serves two that I plan to use collards in. Stay tuned!

Have you discovered the greatness of greens yet? How do you prepare them at home?

Indian-Spiced Collards & Chickpeas
(Serves Two)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 1 1/2 pounds collards, ribs removed, coarsely chopped
1 cup vegetable broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add collards and cook, tossing with two large spoons until bright green, about 1 minute. Add brother, coriander, cumin, garam masala, and salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the collards are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in chickpeas; cover and cook until the chickpeas are heated through, 1 to 2 minutes.