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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Green Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables

I am very excited to start a new project - cooking through the recipes friends and family gave me for my bridal shower. My mom put them in a cute recipe binder, and I managed to read through them several times but haven't made anything yet!

The first recipe is from Katrina, a dear friend from middle school. Even though I moved to Michigan at the beginning of high school, we have stayed in touch and even vacationed together one summer. We both got married last year and attended each other's weddings too (hers in California and mine in the D.C. area!). Katrina is probably one of the smartest, if not the smartest, person I know. She and her husband Michael are moving back to the east coast, so she can begin medical school - and she already has a PhD in psychology!

Katrina is a vegetarian, so she gave me this great recipe for green lentils. I don't think I've cooked lentils before, so this recipe provided a great reason to try it out! The red wine and Dijon mustard in the glaze totally make this recipe. The red wine flavor intensifies over time, so this meal makes fantastic left-overs. I even ate the lentils cold for lunch. I recommend making the recipe on a weekend night when you have some extra time to stand over the stove as the sauce takes awhile to reduce. If you want to add some extra protein, I think the lentils would be a great base for grilled chicken or salmon.

Chop up your veggies and the garlic.

Then, bring the lentils and water (it's a 2 to 1 ratio of water to lentils) to a boil. Add in a bay leaf for added flavor. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes.

When the lentils have about 10-15 minutes to go, start sauteing the celery, carrot and onion in a large pan (I used a healthy drizzle of olive oil here). Saute until the veggies start to brown.

Then, add in the tomato paste and garlic (I just love this tomato paste in a tube - so much easier to store the leftovers!).

Add in the wine followed by the Dijon mustard.

Add the lentils back in and then simmer until the liquid is reduced. I added in about a tablespoon of butter to add some richness to the sauce.

Katrina offers up two "fancy" variations on the recipe. You can serve the lentils in individual ramekins topped with puff pastry dough (just throw them in the oven to bake the puff pastry). I chose to serve the lentils over some wilted rainbow chard for some added green vegetable goodness!

Green Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables
From Katrina's Kitchen
Serves 4-6

  • 1 1/2 cups green lentils
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 or 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2/3 cup dry red wine
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 tablespoons tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • Parsley (optional)
Bring lentils, 3 cups water, 1 teaspoon salt and bay leaf to a boil, then return to simmer and cook for about 25 minutes.

Heat oil in pan. Add onion, carrot and celery and season with salt. Cook over medium heat until browned. Add garlic, tomato paste and cook a minute more.

Add wine (Katrina mentions that you should pour some in a glass for the cook as well). Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the liquid is syrupy. Stir in the mustard and add the cooked lentils with the broth. Top with fresh parsley if desired.

Fancy Variations:

1) Put finished dish in ramekins and top with puff pastry. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.
2) Serve over a bed of wilted chard.

Simmer until sauce is reduced, then stir in the butter or olive oil and season with pepper.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Vanilla-Scented Granola

It's been a rainy weekend which is the perfect opportunity to stay in and bake 'n blog! I'm not quite sure what got me thinking about homemade granola. I have never made it before, so maybe I was just curious to see if making it from scratch is really worth it. Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is SO worth it. I had trouble keeping myself from just eating this by the spoonful out of the baking pan. The toasted almonds, vanilla, cinnamon and honey make a delicious flavor combination that is sweet, but not too sweet. The texture is wonderfully crispy (especially right out of the oven), and the caramelized sugars provide additional crunch. The granola keeps for two weeks in an air-tight container, but it will be gone before that. You'll think twice about purchasing store-bought granola again after trying this recipe!

The recipe is very straight-forward. Mix your old-fashioned rolled oats (not the instant kind), sliced almonds, golden brown sugar, salt and ground cinnamon in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan, combine the oil, honey and sugar and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Mine started simmering very quickly, so keep an eye on it. Take it off the heat, and then add in the vanilla extract.

Pour the hot liquid into the bowl with the oats, and then toss the mixture until the liquid has evenly coated the oats. You may need to use your hands.

Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray, and then spread the granola mixture evenly over the pan. Bake it for about 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Those toasted almonds made my kitchen smell so good!

This basic granola recipe is incredibly versatile. Make a parfait with Greek yogurt, honey and berries, serve it over vanilla ice cream for some extra crunch, or eat it with your favorite cereal.

Make sure you put the leftovers in an easily accessible place in your pantry!

Vanilla-Scented Granola
From Epicurious
Note - I made half the recipe


  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 4 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I was generous with the cinnamon)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Lightly spray large baking sheet with nonstick spray. 

Mix the next 5 ingredients in large bowl. Combine oil, honey and sugar in a small saucepan, bring to simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.

Pour hot liquid over oat mixture; stir well. Using hands or a spatula, toss granola until thoroughly mixed.

Spread granola on prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 25-30 minutes. Transfer sheet to rack and cool granola completely. 

Can be made two weeks ahead, store in airtight container at room temperature.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Shrimp, Mango, and Avocado Salad

It's only March, and I'm already looking for no-bake recipes, so I don't have to use the oven or the stove top. What is going on with this weather? Whatever it is, I'll take it.

Nick gets credit for finding this recipe. It is one of his "go-to" meals for a quick yet delicious weeknight dinner. There's really nothing special about the contents of the salad - shrimp, mangoes and avocado over a bed of lettuce. What makes it fantastic is the sweet and spicy vinaigrette dressing. The base is Vietnamese sweet chili sauce, and then you add in unseasoned rice vinegar, fresh or ground ginger, and salt and pepper to taste. You can find the chili sauce and the vinegar in the ethnic foods aisle of most grocery stores. While the vinaigrette tastes sweet initially, the heat can sneak up on you. A bit of sweet mango and creamy avocado will help cool you down, though!

I didn't have fresh ginger on hand, so I used about one teaspoon of ground ginger. Fresh is always better, but the ground will do in a pinch.

Once you make the vinaigrette, just pour a few tablespoons over the thawed shrimp and toss to coat.

Chop up your mango. I used the Champagne mangoes at Whole Foods. They are small, wonderfully sweet and usually don't need much time to ripen.


Trying to get the hang of my avocado slicer. It sort of worked.

Now, all you need to do is toss the shrimp, mango, avocado and lettuce into a bowl and pour on the rest of the vinaigrette.

 Take a bite, and you'll be transported to that little cafe at your favorite tropical spring break getaway.

Shrimp, Mango, and Avocado Salad
From The Bon Appetit Test Kitchen
Serves 2 (main course servings) or 4 (first-course servings)

  • 1/2 cup Vietnamese sweet chili sauce
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced and peeled fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 12 peeled cooked large shrimp (about eight ounces) - I used frozen shrimp
  • 1 large head of butter lettuce or 1 package of "salad in a bag" of your preference
  • 1 mango, peeled and pitted, cut into 1/3-inch thick slices
  • 1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, cut into slices

Whisk sweet chili sauce, rice vinegar and ginger in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Place shrimp in a medium bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette; toss to coat.

You can either put all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and mix in the vinaigrette or place the ingredients on each plate and then serve the vinaigrette on the side.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Slow-Baked Salmon with Lemon and Thyme

I really enjoy eating fish, but lately, I've been totally unmotivated to cook it at home. We generally buy frozen fillets (tuna or swordfish), season with salt and pepper and then grill it on the Griddler. I am usually underwhelmed by the finished product, and our apartment smells like fish for days!

This blog, however, is all about tackling culinary challenges, so I spent my weekend scouring Epicurious for an easy and appetizing fish recipe. Nick and I decided on salmon, and I was intrigued by a simple recipe for baked salmon with lemon and thyme. I started getting really excited about it when we found gorgeous 6 oz. fillets at Whole Foods.

This recipe is simple and good for you with fresh ingredients that will make you want to cook! You can make this dish in under 30 minutes, and the result is a melt-in-your-mouth salmon fillet bursting with citrus and herb flavors. Making the salmon in the oven also helps keep the fish smell at bay.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray. Place the salmon fillets, skin side down, on the baking sheet.

Zest a lemon, chop up some fresh thyme leaves and mix together with a tablespoon of olive oil. Brush the oil mixture on the salmon fillets and then season each fillet with salt and pepper. Let the fillets rest for 10 minutes before baking to help the flavors meld.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, and that's it! The fillets will slide right off the aluminum foil on to your plate, making clean-up a breeze. This recipe is also versatile - what about using fresh rosemary instead of thyme? Lime zest with a little roasted garlic and olive oil would also be yummy. Let me know if you think of any other ideas!

Slow-Baked Salmon with Lemon and Thyme
Adapted from Epicurious
Serves 2

  • Cooking Spray
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 6-oz boneless salmon fillets, skin on
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
  • Zest of one lemon, plus lemon wedges for serving
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray the aluminum foil with cooking spray, and place the fillets on the foil, skin-side down.

Mix the oil, thyme and zest in a small bowl. Brush the mixture on the fillets, and then season with salt and pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Bake the salmon for 15-18 minutes until just opaque in the center. Serve with lemon wedges.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mom's Basic Banana Bread

The unseasonably hot weather this week has turned our lovely apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows into a greenhouse. The bunch of bananas we bought on Sunday have thus become brown-spotted before their time. I come from a long line of women who hate wasting food; banana bread, anyone?

My mom's recipe is no-muss, no-fuss, just throw everything in a bowl and then mix until just incorporated. You'll be eating a freshly baked piece of bread in under an hour. It's a simple, classic banana bread - sweet but not too sweet with just enough banana flavor. I didn't have walnuts on hand, so I used some pistachios and raw almonds. Note that I doubled the recipe pictured here (we had a lot of very ripe bananas!).

The recipe is actually from a neighbor in Wisconsin (I lived there until I was eleven). She brought the bread as a treat to an afternoon coffee with my mom when my sister was a baby. The aroma of the baking bread certainly brings back memories of simpler times - coming home from school and grabbing a slice from the beige tupperware container on the counter.

When life is stressful, there's something soothing about baking - there's a set beginning and end to the project, you have to carefully measure the ingredients, your treat is going to bake on its own time (not yours), and you end up with something made from scratch. I'll remember that the next time I'm just too busy to bake.    

Mom's Basic Banana Bread
Serves 8-10

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 ripe bananas (3 if small)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat over to 350 degrees and grease a medium-sized loaf pan (8 1/2" x 4 1/2") or two small loaf pans. I use Pam's baking spray and non-stick loaf pans.

Mix the butter, bananas, flour, sugar, eggs and baking soda in a large bowl until just incorporated. Then, fold in the chopped nuts. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and bake for 45-60 minutes. If using two small pans, it will probably take 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf should come out clean when the bread is ready.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spaghetti with Chickpeas

Sometimes I just need to eat plain old spaghetti - forget the whole wheat noodles and the Barilla Plus. I justified my indulgence with the fact that we were running a four-mile race the next morning. The last mile was all uphill as well! I'm crediting the pasta with our success in reaching the finish line (no walking either!). Whether you are training for a race or in the mood for an interesting twist on spaghetti in red sauce, you need to try this recipe!

Some of the chickpeas are pureed to make a thick sauce while the rest are left whole and add additional layers of texture. When mixed with the basil and the pancetta, I think the chickpea sauce had an almost cinnamony-flavor to it. We used pre-diced pancetta (time saver), but I would have preferred larger pieces to add even more texture and bigger flavor. You'll need to be generous with the salt and the chile flakes (make sure to taste the sauce before serving).

This recipe takes some time, but it's not hard. Just saute the onions, pancetta, garlic and chile flakes.

Mix in the tomatoes, basil and pureed chickpea mixture. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes.

When the sauce has cooked down, add in the cooked pasta, reserved pasta water and whole chickpeas and toss to coat.

Sprinkle on some parmesan cheese, and then you are ready to fuel up for that race (or a night of intense TV-watching)! Thanks to the lovely Caitlin for her many contributions to this post - she makes a great hand model, don't you think?

Spaghetti with Chickpeas
Adapted From Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4 as a main, 8 as a first course

2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup chicken stock
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup pancetta, diced (a little shy of 4 ounces)
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch chile flakes
2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes
20-25 basil leaves
Salt to taste
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste

Set 2/3 cup of chickpeas aside. In a blender or food processor, combine remaining chickpeas with chicken stock and pulse a few times until chickpeas are pureed.

Place a large pot over medium heat and add olive oil and diced pancetta. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes until lightly brown. Add onions, garlic, and chile flakes. Continue cooking until onions and garlic are translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Add chickpea mixture, tomatoes, and basil, and let simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

While sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spaghetti, and cook until al dente, or tastes like it could use an additional minute’s cooking time. Reserve one to two cups of pasta water and drain the rest. Toss pasta with chickpea sauce, reserved chickpeas and half of the reserved pasta water until evenly coated and heated through, about one minute. If sauce still feels too thick add reserved pasta water as needed.

Season again, as needed, and serve with grated Parmesan to pass.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Jamie Oliver's Tomato Soup

I am a big Jamie Oliver fan. His cookbook, Jamie's Food Revolution, has simple, fresh recipes that encourage busy "reluctant home cooks" to get back in the kitchen. Nick and I enjoyed watching his TV show of the same name where he worked to solve our nation's obesity problem by developing healthful eating programs in cities across America. Check out his TED speech to learn more. We decided to make this delicious tomato soup along with the Macaroni and Four Cheeses from last week. It is bursting with fresh tomato and basil flavor and comes together quickly - you'll never go back to canned tomato soup again! Jamie's recipe suggests that you just add the salt at the end, but I think it would help to use it when sauteing the carrots, celery, onions and garlic to get more flavor. 

Roughly chop up the onions, celery, carrots and garlic. Heat a large pot over medium heat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. Meanwhile, start heating the chicken or vegetable broth in a sauce pan.

Add the vegetables and some salt. Saute for approximately ten minutes with the lid askew (stir occasionally). The carrots and celery will be soft and the onion starting to turn color when the vegetables are done. 

Just look at that beautiful aubergine Staub pot. Sigh.

Add in the canned and fresh tomatoes.

Pour in the heated broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for ten minutes.

Add in the fresh basil, salt, pepper and maybe some red pepper flakes if you like spice. 

And now here's the fun part - pull out your trusty immersion blender (this kitchen gadget is so worth it - go get one now) and blend, baby, blend. You'll have a nice smooth puree when you are done.

Top that tomahto soup with some cheese, slurp it up, and you'll be ready to start your own food revolution.

Tomato Soup
Adapted from Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver
Serves 6-8

  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 3/4 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
  • olive oil
  • 28 ounce can plum tomatoes
  • 6 large ripe tomatoes
  • Small bunch of fresh basil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Crushed red pepper (optional)

Peel and roughly slice the carrots, slice the celery, peel and roughly chop the onions and peel and slice the garlic. Put the broth in a large saucepan and heat until boiling.

Put a large saucepan on medium heat and add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped ingredients and mix together. Add about 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook for around 10 minutes with the lid askew until the carrots have softened but are all still holding their shape, and the onion starts to turn color.

Add the boiling broth to the pan with your canned and fresh tomatoes, including the green stalks that may still be attached (provides additional flavor). You should save the sauce from the canned tomatoes and add in case the soup is too thick. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on.

Remove the pan from the heat, and season with salt and pepper (you can also add in some crushed red pepper flakes if you'd like) and add the basil leaves. Using an immersion blender, pulse the soup until smooth. Season again before dividing between serving bowls.