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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Penne I

w/ Roasted cherry tomatoes:

Are you reading this? Penne I? Really, and you (me) an English major? Couldn't you come up with something any more interesting? The truth is... no. Sure Penne I evokes the image of some grotesque little space ship but let's not get above ourselves. If I had written "Lemon and Parmesan sauced Penne with Chickpeas and Cherry Tomatoes" would you still be reading? Actually, that has quite a ring to it.

I digress. Bear in mind: a) We're beginners here and b) funny sounding legumes can be scary. I, personally, adore those little peach shaped beans called garbanzos by some, chickpeas by others. Regardless, some people call them gross unless they are mashed and trussed up with garlic and lemon, ie. hummus. Oh hummus! The sauce for the pasta is simply reminiscent of that: olive oil, a little salt, lemon juice. Roasting the chickpeas was exhilarating and I think imparted an even nuttier flavor (whatever nuttier means). Likewise the cherry tomatoes get juicier post roast and a little wrinkled drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper. Basically it's delicious. Sweet tomatoes, zippy lemon and fruity olive oil and those darling little beans slightly crisp. The whole recipe takes about 30 minutes so long as you don't dilly dally like I just did. Top the dish with fresh grated Parmesan and you've got a light, tasty pasta dish ready to be enjoyed with a much deserved post-exam glass of sauvignon blanc.

Serves 2

4 oz penne pasta, regular or whole wheat
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cup whole cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup canned chickpeas
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 teaspoon lemon zest
juice of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

1. Put a pot of water on to boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Usually 9-11 minutes.
2. Preheat the broiler, placing a shelve two notches from the top.
3. Rinse the cherry tomatoes and halve lengthwise. Place tomatoes cut side up in a shallow baking dish or cookie pan.
4. Place rinsed chickpeas in the pan with tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. *Placing your thumb over the spout of the olive oil bottle is helpful.
5. Sprinkle the tomatoes and chickpeas with salt and pepper. Place under broiler for 1o minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking.
6. Zest the lemon. In a small bowl juice the lemon, adding in the zest. Add one tablespoon olive oil and a dash of salt.
7. Remove the tomato mixture from the broiler, add drained penne and the lemon and olive oil dressing. Stir until coated and check for seasoning. (You'll need to add a little extra salt). Top with Parmesan cheese.

... oh you wanted a photo too? Oh... I'll see what I can do.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sopa de Tortilla

Tortilla Soup, Peninsula style:

Have you ever noticed how blogs tend to be little moons of the mother planet orbiting endlessly around, well, the mother planet? Me, me, I, me! It pains me to do it but this post is going to be all about me and my sopa de tortilla. Why? Honestly? I made it up myself. Yes, I am the proud parent of a soup recipe and it is delicious. I, me, yo.

In the dining halls back on campus "Tortilla Soup" and "Green Chicken Chili" were staples. I won't lie, I scooped out big ladles of the stuff and ate it with hot sauce and a smile. But I'm not talking about pulled chicken and soggy strips of fried corn tortilla. In Spain tortilla de patatas is a beautiful dish full of deeply fried potatoes and onions cradled in egg two to three inches thick with juicy strips of red pepper sandwiched between. *That* is the sort of tortilla soup I am talking about, the kind that leaves brown bits and a crust on the potatoes and in the bottom of the pan. And, like the humble tortilla de patatas, this soup is simple, easy to make and perfect for almost any meal. So put down that plastic spoon and try my first soup creation. I couldn't be any more excited to share it with you! No really... I couldn't!

Note on Ingredients: Broth
Living at home I always know there is a bag of the stuff in the freezer. But a college kitchen isn't home and no student in their right mind aims to stew chickens regularly. So buy something good, something rich and something that isn't on clearance.

Makes 3-4 servings

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small onion, diced
1/2 red pepper (or two small), sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 red skinned potatoes
3 cups good chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon paprika
black pepper and cayenne (or a little shot of hot sauce) pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in a deep soup pot. Peel and dice an onion finely. When the oil is hot add the onion and the salt. Cook for 5 minutes over low-medium heat.
2. Wash the potatoes. Remove any eyes or blemishes. (I leave the skin on but feel free to remove it with a vegetable peeler). Cut the potatoes in half and then in half again as if to make wedges. Then chop. Keep the pieces close to the size of a quarter. Too large and they'll take forever to cook.
3. Add the butter and the potatoes to the onion mixture and cook 5-6 minutes. Stir occasionally as they will start to stick to the pan. That's okay you want them to start to brown and caramelize.
4. Add the broth, whole garlic clove, paprika, cayenne and black pepper. Stir and bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Cook 8 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

¡Buen Aprovecho!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earth Week: Sustainable Tools

Re-usable money savers:

In honor of Earth Week here are some sustainable and money saving tips for living and eating on or off campus:

1. Pack your lunch. My senior year schedule left little room for a dining plan. I was on campus between meal times so it didn't make sense to skip sleeping in to get a wilted salad with some tepid, rubbery dressing. Instead, I kept some money on my student card for emergencies and either ate at home or brought my lunch to campus. I saved close to $400 a semester and earned gas points buying at the grocery store!

Green Advantage: Think of the number of plastic forks, spoons, carry-out containers, paper wrappers, milk cartons, dressing packages and plastic bags the average student uses at a dining hall on campus in a single day. Now compare that with a responsibly packed lunch.

2. Be Responsible for your baggage. I am always surprised at how buying things like zip locks and plastic wrap blows up the grocery bill. Save money by investing in re-usable sandwich and snack bags. With a variety of bags under $10 buying one or two can help considerably reduce the amount you spend on disposable convenience items like plastic bags for chips, fruit or cookies. Imagine saving $15 a semester ($3.99 a box for conventional bags, 1 box monthly for 4 months) or $30 a year in plastic bags alone!

Green Advantage: More eco-friendly than your regular sandwich bag these little ditties are responsibly manufactured and worth their weight in gold... literally.

3. Use dish towels instead of paper towels. Personally I can't live without a good dish towel but for those of us who want convenience without the frills paper towels are usually the way to go. Imagine saving up to $2 a week on paper towels by buying a set of 3 "Paperless Paper Towels". They are dishwasher and machine safe making them a cheap, sanitaryLink replacement to the otherwise costly disposable paper towel.

Green Advantage: According to Squidoo.com 1 paperless paper towel does the work of 17 rolls of paper towels!

For a great selection of sustainable lunch, kitchen and shopping products (including snack bags, lunch boxes, grocery totes and produce bags) check out Reusablebags.com

Save up to 60% during their Earth Month Sale on select products!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Broiled Asparagus

Broiling makes it better:

After a weekend of pizza, sleeping outside in 30 degree weather and crashing until 4pm yesterday, tonight I was craving something full of greens and homemade flavor. Luckily when I came home I found a bundle of asparagus stalks calling my name in the fridge. Two teaspoons of olive oil, some salt and pepper and a 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese later we were in business. I am a huge proponent of asparagus steamed but I have been dying to try the method that I keep seeing on blogs: broiling. The idea of tossing those succulent green stalks in olive oil and then broiling them in the oven sounded like the most amazing way to satisfy my vegetable deficiency. The gentle roast created the perfect texture and a dizzying almost "meaty" aroma to an otherwise sweet vegetable. I use the term "meaty" loosely considering the fact that I am describing asparagus. Just trust me!

This dish is a beautiful side but could also be a delightful light lunch paired with some cheese and crackers or a fried egg and a slice of thick toast. The recipe was inspired by Martha Stewart and her brilliant section on spring veggies.

1 bunch green asparagus (1-1/2 pounds)
2 teaspoons olive oil, (plus an optional extra drizzle)
1/8 teaspoon salt, sprinkle pepper
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Raise the oven shelf to the second highest notch. Preheat the broiler to HIGH.
2. To prepare the asparagus hold each end in one hand. Bend the stalk and it will snap automatically at just the write place. Discard the thicker end as it could be bitter or woody. Rinse the asparagus, pat dry and place the on the baking sheet.
3. Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss until coated.
4. Place the asparagus in the oven and broil for 4 minutes. Stir asparagus gently and broil for another 3-4 minutes. The veggies will start to look crinkled and will be soft when pierced with a fork when they are done. If your asparagus is extra delicate you may need to reduce the cooking time slightly.
5. Remove from the oven and toss with the feta cheese. Serve warm with an extra drizzle of olive oil.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

No Bake White Chocolate Cookies

5 Ingredients and delicious:

Being that after college I gobbled up a job in a fine chocolate shop my tolerance for waxy, bitter grocery store chocolate has waned considerably. No longer does that bar of caramel, peanuts and nougat hiding in the freezer fit the bill. My older brother, in the throws of the last two years of his Ph D program, tells me that makes me a snob. I would be inclined to believe him but I know that is just the Ph D speaking.

Regardless there are a few times when I do enjoy buttery, super sweet white chocolate. Basically, whenever it is sandwiching something really undeniable. For me the King of undeniable things is peanut butter so when my Mom made these last year I was immediately receptive to their sweet, buttery charms. They also happen to be embarssingly simple and inexpensive to make. But, they are still pretty enough to give away as gifts and would be really darling all dolled up in spring colors. At their most basic (ie. plain white chocolate) they are still charming. I must tell you though these little gems are delectable and indulgent to the point of gluttony... so hurry up and make them before Finals!

2 "rolls" Ritz crackers
1 bag white chocolate morsels
Peanut butter (1/2 - 3/4 a cup depending but there is no need to measure)
Food coloring, sprinkles (optional)

1. Line a baking sheet with tin foil or waxed paper.
2. Sandwich peanut butter between two Ritz crackers. I use 1/2 - 1 teaspoon per "cookie". Too much will make dipping the cookies difficult.
3. Heat an inch or two of water in a pot over low heat. When the water is close to simmering (ie, little bubbles are visible on the bottom and there is steam moving across the surface) place a heat proof bowl over water. The water should not be touching the bottom of the bowl.
4. Pour the morsels into the bowl and allow them to start melting. Mix the chocolate occasionally until it is smooth and completely melted. Optional: Add a drop of vegetable oil (not olive oil) to the chocolate and stir. This keeps it super shiny once dry.
5. Add food coloring to the chocolate if you are using it.
6. Using two forks drop one "cookie" at a time into the chocolate and flip to coat completely. Lift the cookie out, allowing any extra chocolate to drip off. Place on the waxed paper or aluminum foil. Make sure the cookie is coated completly in chocolate.
7. Dust with sprinkles while the chocolate is still wet if you are using them and set aside until totally dry and set. Repeat.
8. When the cookies are all dry feel free to trim any excess chocolate that has pooled around the cookie with a sharp knife.

These cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

Tips for melting chocolate:
  • The safest method for melting chocolate (in my book) is using a double boiler. Heating chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water is essentially that.
  • Do not let the water come to a boil or touch the surface of the bowl.
  • Chocolate that is "scorched" will become stiff and granular. This is not very appetizing and, likewise, it is really unusable. If this happens throw the chocolate out and start with a new bag.
  • Melting chocolate is simple so long as you keep a watchful eye on it and go slowly with your heat. Try to work quickly while dipping the cookies and be sure to stir the chocolate occasionally.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Brunch Watch: Bacon Quiche

Easy, eggy and delicious:

When I think of bacon I think of that commercial for dog treats, you know the one. Not that I have anything against bacon. In fact, I deeply enjoy turkey bacon cooked until almost black so that it dissolves in your mouth with a little syrup or scrambled eggs. And, I think, most students like bacon too. In an effort to encourage quiche skeptics to enjoy this easy, economical brunch, breakfast or dinner treat I have omitted the fact that this quiche includes spinach as well as bacon. Yes spinach, which happens to be abundant in spring and therefor most grocery stores are all but giving the stuff away. Of course, I usually use frozen spinach (defrosted and wrung out) which is incredibly cheap and handy. If you're waist-line wary like myself using low-fat mayonnaise and a blend of whole and low-fat cheese as well as turkey bacon is an option. Disclaimer: fat-free anything resembles rubber in my book so I steer away from it.

I am also a champion for homemade pie crust at all costs but, in the interest of being a progressive blog let homemade pastry be a hurtle we come to together later. For now, take a deep breath and put one of those frozen crusts from the cheese and butter section into your basket.

Serves 6-8 slices

1 unbaked pie shell, defrosted gently
*1 aluminum pie plate if you don't own a glass or ceramic one already

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 cups Swiss or American cheese
1/3 cup onion, diced finely
4-5 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1/2 cup cooked spinach, drained
Salt and Pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Roll out the pie crust and fit to the pie plate. Lift the dough gently as you press it so that it conforms to the curve of the pan. You can crimp the crust one of two ways or not at all:
a. Using a fork press the fork down on top of the lip of the pan. Then, using a sharp knife run the blade along the edge of the pan to remove the excess dough.
b. Using your thumbs (side by side) press the pods of your thumbs down and together to create a small ridge between them. The, using a sharp knife run the blade along the edge of the pan to remove the excess dough.
3. Peel and dice the onions finely. Crumble the bacon and spinach and set onions, bacon and spinach aside. In another bowl whisk the eggs with a fork.
4. In a large saucepan add the mayonnaise, milk, eggs, cornstarch, cheese, onion, bacon and spinach. Heat over medium heat until the cheese is melted and all the ingredients are incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Pour ingredients into the pie shell and bake for 45 minutes. The quiche will be done when the crust is golden and the egg is firm and set and browning nicely in places. Allow the quiche to cool before cutting. Serve warm or chilled.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tips & Tools Wednesday: Baking Soda

Cleaner, Secret Agent, $2 Deodorizer:

Welcome to the wide world of Sodium Bicarbonate. Although we are most familiar with baking soda as a leavening agent in breads, cakes and cookies this simple antacid has many more purposes in and around your kitchen. Try these top 10 ways to use baking soda in your apartment for cheap, simple cleaning and deodorizing:
  1. Stove top: Nothing is more unappetizing than a gritty stove top. Use a teaspoon or two on the delicate surface, working in circular motions with a damp towel or sponge. Baking soda will do wonders on tough cooked on stains without damaging your stove or your security deposit.
  2. Pots and pans: Burned on greasy foods? The next time you char the scraggly remains of an otherwise delicious dinner try removing the burned bits with a paper towel and soaking the pan in a little water. Remove the pan and add a sprinkle of baking soda, working with a damp sponge. Rinse thoroughly and scrub with dish soap to remove any remaining film.
  3. Before long winter or summer breaks: When you're the last to leave for break sprinkle a little baking soda in the drain to keep any bits of leftovers trapped below the drain from stinking up your kitchen while you're away.
  4. Refrigerator odors: For a mere eighty-nine cents you can buy a small box of baking soda to keep your fridge smelling so fresh and so clean. Peel back the box top and place it in the back of your fridge. The box should be replaced monthly. Do not use baking soda from the fridge for baking! Keep a clean box in the pantry and pour some baking soda into a Tupperware dish and place in the fridge for odor patrol.
  5. Gym bags: You can buy a variety of deodorizers that cost an arm and a leg but the "secret" ingredient in almost all of them is sodium bicarbonate. Empty the bag, sprinkle in some baking soda and allow the bag to dry overnight and dump out the soda.
  6. Shoes: You can also deodorize your gym shoes or hiking boots. Unlace them, folding the tongue back and douse the interior with a little baking soda. Shake it around and allow them to dry (at least overnight), pouring out the soda before wearing them again.
  7. Tubs and sinks: When it's your turn to scrub-a-dub the tub use a fresh damp sponge and a generous sprinkle of baking soda instead of expensive, harmful cleaners. Scrub as usual and rinse thoroughly.
  8. Trashcans: Sprinkle baking soda in the bottom of your kitchen or bath trashcan before placing your plastic liner to keep odors in check.
  9. Mouthwash: Did you say Thai food? Add a teaspoon of baking soda to a glass of water. Swish generously and then spit.
  10. Carpets: When the party is over save yourself from your landlord and stinky odors. Spot wash the stains using a mild cleanser (dish soap and water on a towel) and let dry. When the spot is totally dry sprinkle a little baking soda over it and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. Vacuum as usual. Warning: while mild, some carpets may be discolored by baking soda. Try testing a little baking soda and water on a spot say under the edge of the couch before treating a big area.
For more suggestions and coupons check out the Arm & Hammer website. Happy Spring cleaning!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chick-Chick Parm (aka Chicken Parmesan)

Yes! protein:

You thought the day would never come that I would post a meat dish but the day is dawning and here is our first foray into the world of poultry. *Insert Fireworks here* This recipe is a variation on what my boyfriend calls "Imperial Chicken" turned Italian. I will be the first to give credit where credit is due: the chicken recipe is his. We made this dish last weekend and we were shocked at how delicious it was! It was really simple with two of us in the kitchen and it proved to be the tastiest meal we had the whole weekend. All in all the whole kit and caboodle costs about $20 for two healthy portions and one bowl of leftovers. We had a bag of frozen chicken breasts and a can of bread crumbs already in our possession which cut down on the total cost. Pair this dish with a crisp green vegetable (like fresh steamed green beans or broccoli) and you've got an easy Italian dinner ready in under an hour. Serves 2.

2 medium chicken breasts
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs (if you've only got plain crumbs toss them with a teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Wa-la!)
2-3 garlic cloves
1/2 stick of butter, melted
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (the canned stuff will do as well although I think it is lacking a little in flavor)
1/2 pound thick spaghetti noodles

Simple $5 Spaghetti sauce (originally by smittenkitchen):
1 (28 ounce) can crushed or whole tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion
5 tablespoons butter

1. Pour the tomatoes into a deep sauce pot. Peel and halve the onion and drop into the tomatoes along with the butter. Heat on medium until the concoction begins to simmer. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking uncovered for 40-45 minutes until it has thickened, stirring occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the chicken. (If your breasts are frozen thaw them in a bowl of lukewarm water or in the microwave. Or, if you're thinking ahead, put them in a covered dish in the fridge overnight). Trim any excess fat or skin that you may find unpalatable.
3. Melt the butter in a small bowl. In another bowl mix the bread crumbs and cheese. Rinse and the chicken breasts and pat dry. Coat the breasts with the melted butter and then dredge generously in the bread crumbs. Set aside.
4. Peel the cloves and crush using the flat side of a kitchen knife. I suggest chopping them very roughly.
5. Heat a frying pan on medium-low heat. Add the melted butter (or another two or three tablespoons) and garlic to the pan. You are going to pan fry the breasts so the "fat" doesn't need to be terribly deep. When the butter is hot and bubbly add your breasts. Don't disturb them (ie flip) until they are at least half way cooked through. You want the bread crumbs to soak up some of the butter and get golden brown and crispy before flipping. The total cooking time will depend on your breast size. If they are especially thick they may take longer. Be sure to cut into the breasts before removing them from the pan. The juices should be clear and the breast itself should no longer be pink or translucent looking.
5. When the chicken is done remove from the pan and drain on paper towels for 1-2 minutes. Heat another pot of water and bring to boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions.
6. When the sauce is done remove the onion. I like to toss half of the pasta with some of the sauce before plating. Add a handful or two of fresh grated Parmesan. Top the chicken with a little extra sauce and serve the noodles on the side. You'll never call for delivery again after this meal. Enjoy