Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spinach and Chickpeas

This week has been pretty crazy for me, and so I was really needing easy recipes for this week's menu. The spring-ish weather has also had me in the mood for lots of fruits and veggies...and lots of flavor, which is why I just love Smitten Kitchen. Every recipe I try is just...perfect. This recipe was no exception.
I really loved this recipe for a lot of reasons. First, it was easy - I really got excited when I looked down the list and there was virtually NO chopping! Second, it's healthy, that speaks for itself. Third, it was really flavorful. Each bite had me tasting so many different flavors all just perfectly blended together. Fourth, it's different than my usual dish. I love a dish that is easy to make and uses familiar ingredients but tastes different than the same ol' same ol'. Four reasons to just love this dish right there. In fact, I brought some over to my neighbor and purposefully left it with her before she had tried it so she wouldn't feel like she had to say it was good even if it wasn't. A couple hours later she told me she really loved it and asked for the recipe! So there you go, it's not just me!And really, can you go wrong with a pound of fresh spinach? You have to feel good about that! Or a recipe with a pound of spinach in it that your 3 year old will eat with no complaints? Well, at least a few bites anyway. Or a recipe that has sauteed bread in the sauce? How cool is that?

I used a multi-grain shepherd's loaf of bread from Trader Joe's, but after sauteeing it up, I can see why really any bread would work. I had to add a little water to my sauce, like she added, especially since I don't have a food processor, just a blender. I really loved the sauce. Then, I simply toasted the left-over bread to serve the spinach chickpea concoction on top of. I didn't make a side dish that night, but I think it would be a great side to fruit.

Oh, and I arbitrarily added some parmigiano reggiano to the top. I thought it just sang with the dish. I'm sure it makes it unauthentic, but I was just going for yummy. =)

Oh - one more thing. I didn't have any smoked paprika, or paprika for that matter, so I just threw in a combination of Cajun seasoning and Cayenne Pepper. It was an acceptable substitute for us in a pinch. I also only had apple cider vinegar, so I used that instead of red wine vinegar.

Recipe here and below:

Espinacas con Garbanzos [Spinach and Chickpeas]
Adapted from Moro: The Cookbook and Lobstersquad

One of the reason I blended recipes was because I wanted the approachability of Ximena’s version but also some of the extras in Moro’s — the vinegar, paprika and the fried bread, mashed to a paste. Except, in hindsight, I think I’d also enjoy this recipe without the bread. It would be a bit thinner and saucier and possibly harder to slop onto a piece of toast, but also a bit lighter — in weight, not just calories. If you’re bread-averse or think you’d enjoy it without the crumbs in the sauce, give it a spin and let us know how it goes.

Tomato sauce, by the way, is emphatically not traditional in this dish but after making Ximena’s version with it — she says “you don’t have to use tomato in this recipe, but it’s so much better with it” — I can’t have it any other way.

Last note: This recipe is flexible. If you end up with a little less spinach or a little more sauce, or if you want it with a little less this or a little more that, so be it. Enjoy it. Have fun with it.

1/2 pound (230 grams) dried chickpeas, cooked until soft and tender* or two 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound (450 grams) spinach, washed
A hefty 1-inch slice from a country loaf or about 2 slices from sandwich loaf bread (2.5 ounces or 75 grams), crusts removed and cut inset small cubes
1/2 cup (4 ounces) tomato sauce (I used canned stuff I keep around)
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika**
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon juice, to taste

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add half the olive oil. When it is hot, add the spinach with a pinch of salt (in batches, if necessary) and stir well. Remove when the leaves are just tender, drain in a colander and set aside.

Heat 2 more tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the bread for about 5 minutes or until golden brown all over, then the remaining tablespoon of oil and the garlic, cumin and pepper. Cook for 1 minute more or until the garlic is nutty brown.

Transfer to a food processor, blender or mortar and pestle along with the vinegar, and mash to a paste. Return the mixture to the pan and add the drained chickpeas and tomato sauce. Stir until the chickpeas have absorbed the flavors and are hot. Season with salt and pepper.

If the consistency is a little thick, add some water. Add the spinach and cook until it is hot. Check for seasoning and serve with paprika on top, or on fried bread toasts (as the Spanish do).

* I make all of my dried beans in the slow-cooker these days. They are perfect every time, and the flavor of fresh beans — even the sad-looking ones from grocery store bins I used — is incomparable. No presoaking, just cover them 2 to 3 inches of water and cook them 3 hours on high. (I have learned that cooking time can vary widely in slow-cookers so allot more time than you might need. I often make mine in the day or days before and let them cool in their cooking water, which is then by then very flavorful.)

** This might be my favorite ingredient on earth — it’s amazing on eggs and potatoes, too. If you can’t find it locally, Amazon and Penzeys are among a bunch of places that sell it online.

4 stars. I don't know, maybe 5, I can't decide. =)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My favorite chocolate chip cookies

These cookies don't really need a lot of explanation. I just absolutely love them. Every time I make them I get asked for the recipe - which I think says a lot for a food that we all already have a favorite recipe for. Butter is key. Brown sugar is key. I like it with unsalted butter and then adding a little kosher salt on the top of each cookie just before popping them in the oven, but salted butter works just fine as well.

So, the real debate is semi-sweet, or milk chocolate? I go back and forth, depending on my mood. Sometimes I just crave them with Hershey's Mini-Kisses and other times I just want that little bite that semi-sweet offers. Whatever mood you're in, or whatever your taste is - these will satisfy it. They're sweet enough to handle the semi, but they're rich enough that sweet tastes good with them as well.

Enough talk.


Makes about 2-3 dozen cookies, depending on your cookie dough rationing


1 C butter or margarine, softened

3/4 C white sugar

1 C brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 C flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 (12 ounce) bag chocolate chips (if you're into milk chocolate, I've found that Hershey's mini kisses chocolate chips really make this recipe)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla. In a separate bowl sift together flour, salt, and baking soda. Add to creamed mixture and beat well. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop onto greased cookie sheet by heaping tablespoons. Bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned (they will continue to cook a little when you take them out, so this step is critical for these cookies...). Enjoy!

Recipe originally found in “The Essential Mormon Cookbook”

5 stars.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fresh Tomato Basil Pasta

This recipe turned out much better than I expected. I mean, how many of us haven't had this type of dish in various shapes and forms a hundred times? But really, I thought this was quite tasty, one of the best of this type - and I was even excited to eat it for left-overs the next day!

I think recipes like this usually don't pack enough flavor, so I used spinach-chive fettuccine instead of normal spaghetti and made sure to add a lot of basil - maybe even double! I also had a number of extra veggies lying around, so I threw in some zucchini, mushrooms, and asparagus. All were a nice touch!

I also sauteed the veggies together beforehand since I had added in all those extra veggies. I thought it turned out great, and since there were so many flavors involved and the vegetables were mixed in with the green noodles, my kids ate a ton of the vegetables with no problem - always a good thing!

For what it was, it was 4 stars. Plus, it was so easy and used a lot of ingredients I had on hand and needed to get rid of anyway, I love those kinds of recipes!

Without further ado, you can find the recipe here or below:

Fresh Tomato Basil Pasta

2 large ripe, firm tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
1 Tb fresh chopped basil or 1 tsp dried basil (I doubled the basil)
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
½ tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
Shredded Parmesan cheese
6-8 oz angel hair pasta ( we prefer whole wheat) (I used spinach-chive fettuccine and it worked great!)
I also added zucchini, mushrooms, and asparagus, all chopped up to a large/rough dice

Mix together the diced tomatoes, chopped basil, minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Let "marinate" on counter for 30 minutes. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and toss with the tomato mixture. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan. Mmmmmm

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stewed Vegetable Gratin

This recipe is wonderful when you have the same ol' same ol' ingredients but you want something that tastes different. You know - carrots, onions, celery, canned tomatoes...what do you think of? Soup, right? Well, why not add some sliced bread on the top with some thyme and call it a vegetable gratin? This meal happens to be so delicious that my husband and I ate this entire dish in one sitting by ourselves. Now that's a good gratin. Don't be intimidated by the name - you're really just sauteing some vegetables, throwing in some beans, and then throwing some cheese and bread with it.
Which leads me to another point - I love a vegetarian meal that is not just "meatless", but actually is vegetable-based and balanced. For instance - this meal has a variety of vegetables along with some beans which add protein. Although it does have some cheese in it, it doesn't rely on pasta or cheese to make it filling or delicious - or to mask the absence of meat. It is a vegetarian meal that can stand on its own two feet. Love it. Loved every bite!Make sure there is ample fresh (or dried if your grocery store happens to be out, which was the case for me) thyme, it really adds a nice touch. I also sprinkled some kosher salt onto the bread. Oh, and to save time, I made everything ahead of time and put it in the fridge until 30 minutes before dinner when I threw all the bread slices on top, brushed some olive oil, a little kosher salt, and plenty of thyme on the bread and then tossed it all in the oven. Perfection. So yummy!!

5 stars.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Butternut Squash with Couscous and Chutney

This fast, one-pot comfort meal is a staple at our house. Please, please try it sometime! I know, it sounds - and looks - a little different...but don't let that stop you! My friend was just talking about this dish last night and mentioned that she thought it was the strangest thing she had ever seen the first time she had it, and then she tried it and something about the blend of flavors has made it a staple in her house now. It has such a familiar, comfort food taste, but still has just enough difference from the everyday meal that it just really might be the perfect meal when you can't think of something to make. I can't ever get enough of the savory, rich butternut squash curry mixed with the sweet chutney and crunchy, salty nuts. Mmmmm - it's enough to make me want to make some right now!

One thing I also love about this recipe is that you can easily convert it to a vegan meal by using vegetable broth and coconut milk. It's still a very elegant and impressive dish, so if you have company that is opposed to meat, this is a great dish to make!
I know they say to cut the onions in half-moons, but I prefer to do 1/4 moons or even diced. I also do a half-mash of the butternut squash curry after it's all done because I like that consistency. Oh, and I use cashews instead of peanuts, and if you have allergies to certain nuts in your house but not others, I think any kind of crunchy addition would work.

I also use whole milk instead of half and half which I think works just fine and makes the dish even more healthy!

Oh, and I buy mango chutney in the Asian aisle at the grocery store. It's usually by the Indian curries or other chutneys. Sometimes I find it over by the relishes, olives, and pickles.

This dish is so easy, so yummy, and nutritious...definitely 5 stars in my book!

Recipe here and below.

Butternut Squash with Couscous and Chutney
Recipe originally found on

Serves 6 Hands-On Time: 20m Total Time: 50m

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, sliced into 1/2-inch half-rounds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 2- to 2 1/2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced (4 to 5 cups)
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups instant couscous
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
1/2 cup prepared chutney

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the squash, curry powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, stirring to coat evenly.
  2. Pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 17 to 20 minutes or until the squash is cooked through and most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the cream and cook until the sauce has thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Bring 2 cups of water and the remaining salt to a boil. Place the couscous in a large bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Immediately cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand 5 to 7 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. When ready to serve, fluff the couscous with a fork. Place about 3/4 cup of couscous on each plate. Top with the curried squash. Garnish with the peanuts and your favorite chutney.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Salad That Made Us Love Salad

I used to buy spinach or any number or green-leaved goodness at the grocery store only to have it go bad in the refrigerator husband and I, we're just not leafy kind of people. I mean, I love a salad that eats like a meal, but just everyday...salad? Blah. Then one day I discovered Brianna's poppyseed dressing (I know, we all remember the day we discovered that dressing, don't we?), and then I discovered it on spinach - with strawberries...and a new salad lover was born.
My friends lovingly call this salad the "Alicia Salad" because I make it so frequently (try almost every day) and I bring it to almost every gathering. It has evolved over the years until I now have a firm ensemble of ingredients that I use every time. I frequently make enough for 2-3 days of it so I only have to do the chopping once a week. If I'm out of one thing, I'll add something else, like peppers. It's really delicious, forgiving, and a crowd pleaser! Best of all, this salad has made it so that we now go through leafy greens by the bushel. Well, almost that much, anyway.

I also recently discovered something. My mom will occasionally put fresh basil in a salad. The other day I had some mint so I thought I'd try it on for size in this salad. Let me tell you - it was amazing! I just kept getting little bites of sweetness as I worked my way through the salad. So yummy...and kind of fun to have a "secret ingredient" in such a common side dish. I put in probably 2 Tablespoons, finely chopped.

The Alicia Salad:
Mixed greens or Spinach (baby spinach is best, but any other kind works)
Mushrooms - button or baby bella are my favorite
Craisins (optional)
Feta Cheese
Olives (optional)
Pine nuts or chopped almonds - sunflower seeds are a good substitute if you have allergies
Finely chopped mint (optional)
A sweet poppyseed dressing (recommended: Brianna's brand)

Place all in a bowl with desired amounts/level of chopping. Toss if desired. Place cheese, mint, and nuts/seeds on last for garnish. Serve with poppyseed dressing, or favorite sweet dressing (Trader Joes has a wonderful Cranberry Walnut Gorgonzola dressing that goes well).

A very humble 5 star recipe. =)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tomato and Mozzarella Quesadillas with Basil

If Heaven is a place where we sit around all day and eat fresh basil all day, then sign me up! I absolutely love this easy recipe. These little bites of deliciousness are something we make around here for a fast, easy, comfort food-y kind of meal. The ingredients are deceptively common, but don't be fooled. Something about the mozzarella and basil, mixed with pine nuts (provided there aren't allergies in your home), and a healthy dose of pepper (and a little salt) create an amazing flavor that is more than the sum of its parts. Fresh mozzarella obviously is best, but for some nights (like the other night), when I'm in a pinch, I just use the frozen mozzarella I keep in the freezer for just such occasions.I really think you can't over-do it on the basil, and I do think fresh, not dried, basil is key to the deliciousness. Just heat up the pan with a little spray or oil, throw a tortilla on, add some fixings, fold it over and then flip it, cook a little more, and serve! Mmmmm...just talking about it makes me hungry!

Are you kidding me? 5 stars, for sure.

Recipe below and here. Oh, and I know I make them a little differently than they do, but I like my way just a little better. =)

Serves 4 Hands-On Time: 15m Total Time: 20m

Tomato and Mozzarella Quesadillas with Basil

8 8-inch flour tortillas
12 ounces grated or sliced mozzarella
2 tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves picked
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Heat grill to medium. Arrange 4 of the tortillas on a cutting board. Arrange the mozzarella and tomatoes on the tortillas, leaving a 1-inch border empty. Season with ½ teaspoon of the salt and the pepper and top with the remaining tortillas.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the basil, pine nuts, oil, and the remaining salt; set aside.
  3. Cook the quesadillas around the perimeter of the grill until the cheese melts and the tortillas are crisp and golden, about 2 minutes per side.
  4. Immediately cut the quesadillas into wedges and serve with the basil salad.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Applesauce Muffins

We made these at our house the other day. They were a last-ditch effort to rid my toddler of the late-afternoon blues. I needed something relatively healthy so and these are what I found. Now, I don't think they're the most delicious muffins. They don't taste like those muffins everyone makes where you mix a can of pumpkin with a cake mix. But I didn't want them to. I wanted something with whole wheat, something sweetened with spices and applesauce...something I wasn't going to feel guilty about handing to my kids throughout the day. So, with that as the criteria, I'll say these little muffins were great! Moist, yummy, healthy, and really quite guilt-free!
I'm giving them 3 stars because I still think there's something better out there. Although the fact that I finally got to get rid of that random odd-numbered can of pumpkin left over from Thanksgiving almost made me bump it up to a 4! =) In either case, these were worth a post and a try.

Oh, and I didn't have pumpkin pie spice, so I just threw in dashes of Mace, Allspice, Nutmeg, and cinnamon until I thought it was right.
I also didn't have buttermilk and was too tired to make it, so I just used regular milk. Not a problem.
Lastly, I threw out the oil. Just didn't use it. I added an extra tablespoon of applesauce, but other than that, I really didn't think they really needed it. They were moist and delicious anyway!

Recipe here and below.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Applesauce Muffins

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sweet and Spicy Chicken Tacos: Day 4 Slow Cooker Chicken Menu

Whew! And that's a wrap! That (unbelievably cheap) whole chicken successfully fed my family for 4 meals! There is just something very satisfying about feeling like you used the whole chicken.

Ok, drum roll please. I am about to introduce you to the easiest recipe you've ever seen...and so, so very delicious.

For Day 4 (and I call it "day 4" because it was the 4th meal made with the chicken, but we didn't eat chicken 4 days in a row. I rationed it over a week, so in case you are thinking "ugh, I just couldn't stomach that chicken so many days in a row!", no need to fear. You can space it out.) we had Sweet and Spicy Chicken Tacos. This recipe actually came at me unexpectedly. I was at a friend's house who made this a few nights ago and it was so delicious that I knew I had to use my already-cooked chicken to complete this, the world's easiest meal ever!

This meal isn't by any means fancy, but it is delicious and super easy and I am giving it 5 stars!So, without further ado, I give you:

Sweet and Spicy Chicken Tacos
(at least, that's what I'm calling them because I have no idea what else to call them!)

2 Cups (about 1/2 pound - more or less to your liking)
1 Cup brown sugar
2 10 oz cans Enchilada Sauce (I used Mild, but you can use whatever you like)
Fixings for tacos: corn or flour tortillas, cheese, quacamole, sour cream, tomatoes, olives...etc...)

Mix the sugar and enchilada sauce together. Place chicken in a slow cooker or a sauce pan large enough to hold all ingredients. Pour sauce over chicken. Stir. Cook on low in a slow cooker for approximately 2 hours or until ready. Alternatively, you can also cook it in a sauce pan for 30 minutes over medium heat as well. Serve according to your taste.
I used this quacamole recipe... mmmmmm!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Rosemary Polenta: Day 3 of Slow Cooker Whole Chicken Menu

We've been a little chickened-out around these parts, so I decided to turn to the juices left over from the chicken to make a fun new recipe. The adventure that ensued is below.I've made polenta before and while I think this is by far my favorite polenta recipe I have yet to try (not surprising, all things Ina Garten are just delicious), I do have to say that I'm just not an all-around polenta kind of girl. I mean, I like it, it's a fun texture, it's rich...but it's a little heavy and uni-taste for me. I did, however, enjoy eating it with some fun side dishes to cleanse my palette! The fresh rosemary mixed with the crushed red pepper flakes was a really fun combination. I did take issue with the amount of butter, oil, and half and half in the recipe, so I reduced the half and half to just milk and it turned out fine. I wouldn't, however, go too skimpy on the butter when you're frying them. I found that the oil and butter created the perfect temperature for the perfect crispiness for the polentas.
I had to fuss around a bit while trying to get the perfect timing so that my polentas weren't too soft or weren't blackened and by the 3rd round of polentas I had it just right (this made a lot, by the way. I 3/4-ed the recipe and it will easily feed my husband and I for lunch tomorrow.
When it came to adding the chicken broth, I scraped the fat off the top of my chicken juices and added about 1/2 cup of water and stirred it around and then dumped it into the polenta. I'm going to guess this gave me around 2 cups 'broth'. Since I cooked the chicken in salt I didn't add any salt. The flavor and texture turned out wonderfully!

The moral of the story is: if you want to use your leftover chicken juice on something adventurous, try this recipe, it was fun and yummy. However, if you want to use them on something more simple, you could make a gravy or use it in a quinoa, couscous, or rice dish.

This dish could also be easily converted to vegetarian if you use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

3 Stars.

Recipe here and below.

Rosemary Polenta
(Barefoot Contessa)

  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup good grated Parmesan
  • Flour, olive oil, and butter, for frying

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, rosemary, salt, and pepper and saute for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, half-and-half, and milk and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly sprinkle the cornmeal into the hot milk while stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for a few minutes, until thickened and bubbly. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan. Pour into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch pan, smooth the top, and refrigerate until firm and cold.

Cut the chilled polenta into 12 squares, as you would with brownies. Lift each one out with a spatula and cut diagonally into triangles. Dust each triangle lightly in flour. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large saute pan and cook the triangles in batches over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, turning once, until browned on the outside and heated inside. Add more butter and oil, as needed. Serve immediately.