Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Smokey Marinara Sauce

This is a short and sweet post. Doesn't it feel like one of those 'bleh' Tuesdays? Hopefully the week perks up.

I know some folks prefer jarred sauces. Me too, sometimes. It cuts corners, when you have no time for the real deal.

But when you have time, I encourage you to make this sauce. It was VERY easy, and worth it.

This marinara was made to go with Stuffed Shells (which you see above, but the recipe is coming on Friday). I was able to make this sauce, while cooking the pasta, and also assemble the ricotta stuffing, all at the same time. The timing worked out perfect.

I also think you could make the sauce ahead of time, and freeze it for later use. Or, double the recipe to use immediately and freeze the other half. Would make a great english-muffin pizza sauce (yes, I love these), or for use in a lasagne.


Smokey Marinara Sauce
from CookingLight

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.

Add garlic, basil, parsley, and oregano; saute 1 minute, stirring frequently.

Stir in vinegar and remaining ingredients. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.

Makes 6 cups.

Guten appetit!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Garlicky Peppers and Shrimp

Remember vegetarians, I'm a pescetarian (technically). This recipe is all about shrimp!

We hadn't made shrimp for a long time, as I'm almost as picky with seafood as I used to be with meat. However, I was in the mood for seafood. Shrimp were the perfect answer and I was really excited when I found this recipe - it's so easy. One of those recipes you almost doubt being any good because it's too easy. But, it was good. Oh yes, quite good!

While the recipe called for spinach linguini noodles, I made it with whole wheat spaghetti. Would be great with any pasta, and also corn tortillas.

I would say... This is definitely a solid recipe, and worth putting into regular rotation. Great weeknight meal. I'd also make it for informal family gatherings or guests that come visit us. Tim liked it so much, he ate all the leftovers in a second helping and asked that it be made again. Always a good sign. The recipe was also very easy to half for a 2 person dinner.

Was easy, light, flavorful, protein rich and delicious!

Garlicky Peppers and Shrimp
from Better Homes & Gardens

1 9-oz. pkg. refrigerated spinach fettuccine
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 small red, green, yellow, or orange sweet peppers, seeded and cut in strips
2 medium onions, cut in thin wedges
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 lb. peeled and deveined medium shrimp
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and return to pan. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, in skillet heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Stir in peppers, onions, and garlic; stir-fry 4 to 6 minutes or until crisp-tender.

Add shrimp and cayenne pepper. Cook 2 to 3 minutes more or until shrimp are opaque, stirring occasionally. Serve over pasta. Serves 4.

Additional shrimp and pasta/rice recipes:
- Shrimp and Okra Gumbo, from Allrecipes
- Penne a la Betsy, from The Pioneer Woman
- Arugula-Almond Pesto with Pasta and Grilled Shrimp, from Just a Bite

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes - A disaster!

Let's just say, this was not one of my finer cooking moments.

I didn't drop dinner on the kitchen floor, or make the kitchen smell of burnt rubber (I may tell that story in the future). This was a full fledged, I messed up the recipe SO badly, cooking disaster.

Ay, yay, yay.

Getting right to the point, here is what I'm moaning about...

Where did I go wrong?? Did I whip the batter too much? Did I miss a critical ingredient? Did I not whisper enough sweet nothings to the chocolate gods? What?

As you can see, the cupcakes did not rise properly, and most caved into themselves in the middle. I salvaged 2 of them and gave them to the neighbors kids. They tasted OK, not the best chocolate 'cake' I've ever had, but obviously looked terrible. Not bake sale worthy.

If you have suggestions on what may have gone wrong, please share. Since the strawberry cupcakes turned out great, I can't be a total baking dummy.

Here is the recipe I used, but, I can not recommend it...

Chocolate Cupcakes
recipe from Kitchen Link

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted*
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* To melt the chocolate, place in a double boiler over simmering water on low heat for approximately 5–10 minutes. Stir occasionally until completely smooth and no pieces of chocolate remain. Remove from the heat and let cool to lukewarm 5–10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers. Set aside.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the chocolate, mixing until well incorporated.

Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat. (hmmm... my error?)

Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters full.

Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Since these did not turn out well for me, I can't recommend them. There must be easier, fool-proof chocolate cake recipes better than this. Someday, I'll retry chocolate cupcakes and let you know which recipe is a winner!

Guten appetit!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Strawberry Cupcakes

I finally got around to my bake sale!

If you remember this post, you already know the reason behind the bake sale was to benefit CancerCare for Kids. This bake sale charity idea is a US nationwide event sponsored by Duncan Hines. Anyone can participate. I loved the idea and put my bake sale plans in motion. Was (mostly*) a huge success, with 30 baked goods raising $62. Hooray! Not bad for a couple days work and a lone girl's interest.

* Stay tuned for a cupcake disaster next week. Not all projects can turn out perfectly. (sigh)

I had intended to make 2 cupcake flavors and 1 cookie option. For my first cupcake, I chose the ever so yummy sounding Strawberry Cupcake. While most our strawberries are no longer local, we're still getting pints of fresh, delicious strawberries in the market, so the timing was good.

And, the finished product... tasted sooo good. I have to try out the products, right? Can't sell something without the chef's seal of approval. I heard one guy went back for 3rds. I only pilfered one to taste test, much to Tim's dismay. He wasn't fast enough and they were all gone by the time he went out to the work kitchenette to grab one. You snooze you lose!

Perfect end of summer treat.

These are great for bringing to work, a kids party (especially for a strawberry shortcake theme), or a weekend picnic. Super easy recipe, and had a great combo of moist, fluffy white cake with a sweet icing. I don't like super sweet, and these were just right!

To find the recipe, click here.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Click here to print coupons for the new Duncan Hines Carrot Cake & Cream Cheese Frosting. Although, I prefer my homemade carrot cake recipe... hmm, might have to make that again soon!

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Buttermilk Substitute

German confession: I don't know the word for 'buttermilk'. Fat free milk is 'fettarm milch'. But how often do you buy buttermilk?? Maybe often, if you're a big baker. Which I'm not (yet).

However, this past week was my baking bonanza! I know what you're thinking... I've said I'm not a baker in previous posts. I'm not, but I'm working on getting better. Plus, this was for a good cause, so I bucked up and did it.

I made 2 sets of cupcakes and 1 cookie recipe, all in one day. ONE DAY, people. I was freaking pooped by the end. But it was worth it. (more info and the recipes for the cupcakes later this week)

Alas, 1 of my cupcake recipes called for buttermilk. Since I don't know the German word for buttermilk, and I only needed 1 cup (Are you supposed to buy a whole carton? Seems like a lot of waste if you don't bake often), I used a standard buttermilk substitute recipe. I've used it before, and it works like a charm.

Buttermilk Substitute

1 cup regular milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Mix the two ingredients and let it sit for 5 minutes. Use in recipe as directed.

Easy peasy.

Guten appetit!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Chickpeas with Spinach

I give up. I'm so ready for fall! All I can think of are soups, breads, casseroles, and pies. Comfort food.

The only thing I've done this week that's half-way complimentary to the 'end of summer' vegetable bounty, is to make a tomato salad (1 pint cherry/grape/cocktail tomatoes cut in half and tossed with dressing: 4 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, dash of salt & pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano). But I made it to go with this delicious Chickpea with Spinach dish, which... not so summery.

However, the Chickpea with Spinach recipe hit the spot. It makes just enough for 2 dinners, and a little leftover for lunch the next day. I was so excited about my chickpea lunch, I couldn't wait for noon. At 11:41am (yes, exactly 11:41), I decided I'd waited long enough and reheated my leftovers. Mm, mm good! Even Tim, who doesn't usually like spinach (so he says), finished his plate with a smile and said it was worthy.

Without further ado...

Chickpeas with Spinach
adapted slightly from CookingLight

1 teaspoon olive oil
1-1 1/2 cups chopped onion (I tend to go light on onion and only used about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4-5 cups chopped spinach
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can chickpeas/garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup hot cooked basmati rice (I used plain white rice, use what you have on hand)
Lemon wedges (optional)

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, ginger, and garlic; sauté 4 minutes or until mixture begins to brown.

Add water and tomato paste; cook 2 minutes or until liquid evaporates, stirring constantly.

Stir in spinach, chili powder, cayenne, salt, and chickpeas; cover. Reduce heat and cook 5 minutes or until spinach wilts and mixture is heated. Stir in lemon juice (don't skip this step, I felt like the lemon juice brought out some great flavor).

Serve over rice (Naan would also be great with this recipe!). Garnish with lemon wedges, if desired.

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

I planted, from seed, a zucchini plant this year. I am embarrassed to show you how spindly and bad it looks...

Note to self and all future zucchini growers: zucchini plants do not, repeat NOT, like being planted in a pot. Plant in rich, fertile soil in the GROUND. Ah well, it had some pretty flowers on it, yet no zucchini survived growing larger than 3 inches.

If you had more luck than me and have a bounty of zucchini's (lori), this bread would be a good way to use a couple. It was an easy recipe with most items on hand, and came out deliciously moist. However, don't make the mistake I did and think it's a zucchini bread with chocolate chips. This is basically a chocolate cake with zucchini (which you can barely see or taste). And it's yummy.

Can you see the tiny fleck of zucchini? (Ignore the weird sausage fingers)

I doubled the recipe, and it made 2 loaf pans and 12 muffins. I baked the muffins for approximately 30 minutes, but I recommend checking them after 20, to see if they are done.

Good weekend snack for the kids after going back to school and hitting those books! Or a fun treat to bring into the office. Delicioso.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread
slightly adapted from Cooking Light

3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 cup applesauce
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups finely shredded zucchini, about 1 medium (I peeled mine before shredding, just cause)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate morsels, as it's what I had)
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350.

Place first 3 ingredients in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at low speed until well blended. Stir in applesauce.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups. Combine flour and the next 4 ingredients (through salt), stirring well with a whisk.

Add flour mixture to sugar mixture (slowly), beating just until moist and fully combined.

Stir in the zucchini and chocolate chips. Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack, and remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Check out these additional chocolate and zucchini recipes:
- Chocolate and Zucchini Cake, from Simply Recipes
- Chocolate Chip Orange Zucchini Bread, from All Recipes
- Chocolate Zucchini Brownies, from Suite101.com

Guten appetit!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Soba Noodles in Peanut Sauce

Peanut sauce. I'm sold.

You should know, straight up, my love for peanut butter. I halved this recipe (to make a reasonable portion size for 2 adults), yet made the full amount of sauce. Guilty. In my defense, a pregnant girl is allowed some liberties.

I found this scrumptious recipe on Smitten Kitchen. I changed up most of the ingredients, and used whole wheat soba noodles (she says you can also use pasta, which I agree and might do in the future). They look brown in the pictures, but looked purple in person. Tim was quite weary of them, and they don't make for a nice presentation. Of course, they tasted great, but I'd serve regular or pasta for guests.

In addition to the peanut sauce, what I loved about this recipe, is that it seemed easy to manipulate. I do that a lot. I like to use what I have on hand, or what sounds good that day, or what's fresh at the market... obviously, a 'strict, must be exact' recipe would not go over well. One of the reasons why I don't bake very often.

Anyway, off to the market I went, bought my fresh veggies, and I was practically done. Seriously, the recipe took about 30 minutes total to make - uber (very) easy. And other than the fresh ingredients, you probably have everything in your pantry. So, lets get cookin!

Soba Noodles in Peanut Sauce
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Peanut dressing:
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Asian toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes or a splash of the hot sauce or chili paste of your choice

3/4 lb dried soba noodles (dried linguine fini or spaghetti will work in a pinch)
4 scallions or 1/4 cup yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips

Heaping handful of green beans, ends discarded and cut in half (bite size pieces)

1 zucchini, quartered and cut cross-wise
1 package firm or extra-firm tofu, cubed (marinated in soy sauce for a few hours, if preferred)
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted (optional)

Puree dressing ingredients in a blender until smooth, about 2 minutes, then transfer to a large bowl. (Will keep in the fridge, but if it gets too thick, you may need to allow time to bring it to room temperature. Mine stayed in the fridge for 1 hour and was still saucy/smooth.)

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until tender. Drain in a colander, then rinse well under cold water. (Soba noodles are typically served cold, and need the cold water to stop them from cooking - i.e. getting mushy.)

Add pasta, vegetables and tofu to dressing, tossing to combine. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

More soba noodle recipes:

Guten appetit!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Product of the Month: Vegetarian Times

I know there are a lot of web recipe sites out there (I surf them daily), and plenty of great cooking magazines... but this was a new one for me that blew my socks off.

I'm not sure if I should admit this on a vegetarian blog, but I'm an honest girl... my confession: I'm not usually a fan of vegetarian websites or magazines. Why? I've never thought they were all that good. A lot of recipes are flat-out strange. There, I said it.

I hate portabella mushrooms and eggplant (which many vegetarians waaayyyy overuse), and they use a bunch of ingredients I've sometimes never even heard of (and yes, I'm lazy enough not to bother looking them up). Also, while I consider myself earth friendly and eco-conscious, I'm not super-bio girl. A lot of vegetarian sites or people, are associated with being 'crunchy, tree huggers' as well. I'm working on it, but admittedly, not yet at the level of making my own household bio-cleaners. And I don't want to feel bad about that.

But, I may be changing my tune for one particular magazine. My friend gave me her copy of Vegetarian Times a couple months ago, and really, it was so great. Like Cooking Light, for veggies. Had interesting health and fitness info, and normal, yummy looking recipes. Wahoo! Someone got it right.

If you are ever in the mood to try out a new magazine, I urge you to give Vegetarian Times a shot. Peruse it during your next long, coffee in hand, Saturday visit to Barnes and Noble and let us know what you think.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fresh, Herb-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Hellllooooo September! Time to start breaking out the comfort food, squash recipes and soups. Ok, well, maybe not just yet - but soon. Today, I have a recipe that will help inch you in the right autumn direction. However, it can still be served with a light summertime pasta or grilled fish. Keep the summer dream alive, a little bit longer.

These sweet potatoes are jam packed full of flavor, yet one of the simplest recipes with minimal ingredients. Seriously.

If you have an herb garden, first - I'm jealous, second - you are half-way done with the recipe. I've kept a small rosemary plant on my balcony all summer, so I just needed the sweet potato (or yam) and fresh thyme. Yes, that's it! 5 ingredients...

Herb-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

2 large sweet potatoes/yams, washed, peeled (optional) and halved lengthwise
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt & Pepper to taste (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Evenly drizzle olive oil into a pie plate or 9x9 inch oven-safe pan.

Remove leaves from the sprigs of rosemary and thyme. An easy way to do this, is running your fingers along the branch, opposite the direction of the leaves growth. Or just pluck/peel. It's OK to leave some stem, you can remove the larger pieces and stems later.

Sprinkle rosemary, thyme and salt/pepper in the olive oil pan. Place potatoes cut side down in the herbs/olive oil.

Put in oven to bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a fork can easily pierce the potatoes and they are cooked through. Remove from oven, and place the potatoes on your serving dish. Discard any herb stems stuck to the potatoes (leaves are ok, although I don't like too many on the potatoes as they can be overpowering), and serve.

More sweet potato recipes:
- Sweet Potato Fries, from Bake Hagen
- Sweet Potato Ravioli with Brown Butter, from Epicurious
- Curried Lentils with Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard, from Smitten Kitchen (I want to try this one!!)

Guten appetit!