Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sunshine and Popsicles

Did your Mom ever make you popsicles when you were little? Bring a little sweet chill to your warm weather fun by making your own. The process is so simple I won't even call it a recipe...

- Popsicle molds. I have a set from my childhood, but you can find your own online.
- Take your pick! I used peach and pineapple yogurts from Chobani in this batch, but you can use any kind of yogurt you have on hand, juice, pudding, or even make a smoothie and pour it into your molds.

How To "Cook" It
1) Pour your chosen ingredients into the popsicle molds.
2) Put in the freezer for the same amount of time as it takes your ice cubes to freeze, ideally overnight.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Asparagus Soup

I looooooove asparagus in spring. Heck, I love asparagus any time of year, but enjoying a vegetable in season is where it's at. If you have a half hour and want to use the extra asparagus you have laying around, try out this recipe. Not only are we using one seasonal vegetable, but I've thrown in spring-only fresh garlic and green garlic stalks for good measure. If you're not reading this in the spring, then just replace the garlic stalks with leeks or any other vegetable that has a mild onion flavor.

- 2 TBSP butter
- 1 1/2 TBSP flour
- 1 head garlic, chopped
- 1/2 cup green garlic stalks, cleaned and sliced thin
- 1 bunch asparagus, with dry ends snapped off and snipped into small pieces
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- salt and pepper to taste

How To Cook It
1) Using a dutch oven or stock pot, melt the butter. Add the garlic and sliced garlic stalks. Sauté until both are tender.
2) Stir in the flour (make sure to blend it in well), and cook for an additional few minutes.
3) Pour in the wine and use the liquid to remove the browned garlic and garlic stalk pieces from the bottom of the pan so that they can add flavor to your soup.
4) Add the vegetable broth, asparagus, rosemary, ginger, salt, and pepper.
5) Simmer until the asparagus is tender, about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the color of your asparagus. When it turns bright green, it's pretty close to being done. Going from that nice green to a browner color means that you've overcooked it.
6) Remove the soup from the heat and purée until smooth using an immersion blender, food processor, blender, etc.
7) Place your pot back on the stove and add your milk. Cook for an additional five minutes and serve.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pasta Lentil Bolognese

This recipe became what I like to call... accidentally vegan. Translation: Laura forgot to add milk. It was delicious though, and it is nice to have a recipe that can be good with or without animal products.

The recipe comes from the April/May 2011 issue of Clean Eating Magazine. My in-laws gave us a subscription as a gift, and there's a lot of inspiration to be had by looking at all of their culinary creations. They describe what a bolognese sauce is with the recipe too, which is nice: Bolognese sauce is a rich ragout that simmers for hours, coaxing flavor from aromatic vegetables and texture from at least one form of meat. Our plant-based version honors it's roots with steady preparation (thankfully quicker than several hours!) that persuades sweet notes from caramelized vegetables and soft yet sturdy chew from meaty lentils. A splash of milk (OOPS) towards the end of an hour-long stovetop stay rounds out the zip of the tomato-based sauce.

Now, without further adieu, I give you Pasta Lentil Bolognese...

- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced small
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
- 2 small celery stalks, diced small
- 1 small fennel bulb, diced smal
- 4 cloves garlic, minced (I used one head of garlic instead)
- 2 TBSP white wine vinegar
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup lentils
- 28 ounces canned, diced/chopped tomatos
- 2 tsp oregano
- 2 tsp parsley
- 1 tsp basil
- 8 ounces pasta
- 1/2 cup low-fat milk
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

How To Cook It
1) In a large Dutch oven or saucepot, heat oil on medium-high. Add onion, carrot, celery, fennel, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until released water evaporates and brown bits begin to form on bottom of pot, about 15 minutes. Add vinegar and scrape any brown bits from bottom of pot as liquid evaporates. Stir in broth, 1 cup water, lentils, tomatoes, oregano, parsley, and basil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2) Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and set aside.
3) Add milk to bolognese and continue to simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

So, my friend Shannon is biking 300 miles this week to raise awareness about climate change. She's titled her journey: Will Bike For Change (Or Pie!), and since she's joining us for dinner tonight before her ride kicks off in New York I thought it only fitting that we have pie for dessert. Strawberry-Rhubarb is a classic spring pie, and while rhubarb is bitter on it's own it pairs nicely with the sweetness of the strawberries. You'll find yourself headed back to your 'fridge for seconds.

A tip from me: Strawberries and rhubarb are both juicy ingredients. This pie will most likely turn out to have some extra liquid. Rather than drowning your filling with too much more flour than the recipe calls for, embrace a little juice! You can always serve your pie over ice cream, where juice is an advantage. Now, wouldn't that be a shame?


For the crust you'll need...
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- 1.5 TBSP vinegar
- 10-12 TBSP water

For the filling you'll need...
- 6 cups strawberries, de-stemmed and sliced
- 2 cups rhubarb stalks, sliced
- 1 tsp fresh lemon zest
- 1 tsp lemon juice, ideally freshly squeezed
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup flour

How To Cook It

The crust...
1) Blend flour and salt.
2) Cut in shortening with a pastry cutter until the pieces are the size of small peas.
3) Sprinkle the water/vinegar into the flour mixture while gently tossing the mixture with a fork. Form into two balls. Try to handle the dough as little as possible, but add a little more water if the dough is too dry.
4) Put the dough balls into the refrigerator to chill.
5) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit while you prepare the filling.

Assembling and baking your pie...
1) After you've combined your filling ingredients in a large bowl, grease a pie plate.
2) Place the dough on a floured surface and roll from the center to the edges to make a round flat dough that is a little bigger than your pie plate.
3) Gently fold it in half to pick it up and place it on the pie plate. Pat down and add your filling.
4) Repeat step two to make the top crust.
5) Crimp the edges together, using a little water if necessary.
6) Using a knife, cut some openings in the top of the pie. Be creative! You could do anything from a couple simple lines on up. Think of it like carving a jack-o-lantern if it helps you to have a little more fun.
7) Place the pie pan on a cookie sheet (to catch any drips) and bake for 50 minutes, or until the crust is nice and golden.
8) Allow your pie to rest for at least an hour before serving.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Baking Class: Butter Lane Cupcakes

I had the pleasure of joining a group of ladies from the Urban Girl Squad at Butter Lane Cupcakes last night for a baking class. I don't journey downtown often, but let me tell you: The cupcakes and baking/decorating classes at Butter Lane are officially added to my list of excuses to hop on the subway. All ingredients are fresh, natural, and ideally local as well. Best of all, not a glimpse of fondant in sight!

We learned some tricks of the trade to help us improve our baking techniques:
  • Use cake flour when making cupcakes. It has less gluten than all purpose flour, and will make for a lighter cake.
  • When mixing your flour into the wet ingredients in your recipe, less is more. Don't mix the batter too much, or you'll develop more gluten in the flour. Translation: Chewy cupcakes. Stop your mixer (or your spoon) when the flour just disappears.
  • On the other hand, it's the opposite when making a good butter cream frosting. For nice fluffy, light frosting, mix for a longer period of time.
  • Even when you're not making cream cheese frosting, add some to frosting recipe. It's not exactly intuitive, but it cuts down on the amount of sugar you need in your cupcake topping. 
  • Move beyond the basic vanilla, chocolate, and cream cheese frosting flavors. Feeling adventurous? Mix a scoop of peanut butter into your chocolate frosting! Add some fresh fruit preserves into your vanilla frosting! Shake some cinnamon into that cream cheese!
  • Use an ice cream scoop when you add the cupcake batter to your liners. It will ensure that you have an equal amount of cupcake mix in each cup.
Disclaimer: I am in no way a skilled cupcake decorator, as you can see from the above photo. The other women and I did our best, but we were no match for our teacher... who had attended pastry school! This was a delicious treat though, and I truly enjoyed my experience at Butter Lane. I look forward to developing my decorating skills in the coming years.

If you're in New York City, stop by the bakery on East 7th Street for a dessert to remember. Whether you're a local or some distance from Manhattan, you'll definitely enjoy the recipes posted on the Butter Lane Cupcakes page on Facebook (like the page, then look under PDFs). Happy baking!

Tip From The Hearth: Make Your Own Vanilla Sugar

Coffee drinkers and sugar aficionados rejoice! Did you know you can make your own flavored sugar? All you need: One used vanilla bean and two cups of sugar. Once you've cut open the bean and used it's yummy goodness in a batch of frosting, ice cream, cookies, etc, bury the pod in two cups of sugar. Allow the mixture to rest for a week. When the week is up and you remove the bean, you'll have two cups of vanilla-flavored sugar to use as you see fit.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Baked Meatballs

Do you have omnivores in your life? I do, and I cook meat for them. Where my son is concerned, it's a matter of choice: When Gavin is an adult, he'll choose what diet he wants to follow. In order for it to be a real decision, he'll need to be able to digest meat. Sure, he could get all of the nutrition he needs from an octo-lavo vegetarian diet like I do, but as anyone who has eaten a big hamburger after giving up red meat for a significant period of time can tell you: It's not going to be a picnic digesting the thing. So, Gavin will eat meat as a little boy. If he trends like his mama he'll get sick of it by the time he's in middle school, and he can learn how to have a healthy diet without it. If he follows in his daddy's footsteps, I'll need to invest in a good set of steak knives. Either way, it'll be his choice.

Now, where others (including my husband) are concerned, it comes down to this: I do not feel that my status as a vegetarian means that others around me should/must follow the same path. You'll encounter some "Vegan-gelicals" out there, but I am not one of them. Vegetarian food is tasty and nutritious, and you're missing out on a great meal if you poo-poo food when it doesn't have cow, pig, chicken, fish, etc. in it, but if you feel you want to eat meat-- eat it. My only request to my omnivore friends is to look into where your meat and animal products come from. Purchase them from local, responsible, humane, and (ideally) organic farmers; do not support the factory farming industry.

Phew! Quite a soapbox speech that was. On to the recipe. These meatballs have been endorsed by Gavin, who cleaned his plate, and Greg, who said that they were "tasty".

- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 TBSP red wine, plus a little extra
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (either from a container, or made with stale bread you've got laying around)
- 1 tsp parsley
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp oregano

How To Cook It
1)  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) Get a big bowl, and mix together all of your non-meat ingredients until well-blended.
3) Using your hands (or gloved hands), knead the beef into the mixture.
4) Roll meat into balls (this recipe should make about 15-20) and leave in the bowl.
5) Heat up a little olive oil in a large oven-safe pan with a lid.
6) Once the pan is hot (but not scorching... olive oil has a low smoke point), add the meatballs and brown for a couple minutes.
7) Add a splash of red wine to the pan, immediately cover with the lid, and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
8) Serve over pasta and red sauce, sliced up on a pizza, on a salad... be creative!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Spring Leek and Farro Soup

I've never been one for wimpy, wispy soups, and that shows with this recipe. You'll find the flavors to be both easy on the taste buds and robust. Pull up a chair and enjoy some hearty soup, with seasonal leeks at the heart of the recipe.

The leek a lighter, milder version of the same family onions and garlic belong to. It doesn't get nearly as much praise as it deserves. Break out some leeks when adding onions would take things over the top, and you don't want to overpower your other ingredients. They're subtle, yet flavorful.

- 3 leeks, sliced thin (Never cooked with leeks? Check out this tutorial.)
- 1 cup corn
- 1 cup celery, chopped
- Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
- 8 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 2 TBSP butter
- 2 cups pearled farro
- Salt, to taste
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 2 TBSP cayenne pepper-based hot sauce (optional)
- Pomegranate seeds (optional)

How To Cook It
1) Sauté leeks and celery in butter until translucent, but not browned. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top and cook just a minute or so more.
2) Add 4 cups of the vegetable broth, corn, rosemary, hot sauce, and salt. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
3) Remove from heat, add the other 4 cups vegetable broth, and blend together using either (my favorite) an immersion blender, and a bit at a time in a regular blender.
4) Bring the mixture back up to a boil, stir in farro, and simmer for 30 minutes or until farro is cooked al dente.
5) Stir in the milk (I used skim; you can add a higher-fat milk for a richer soup) and cheese. Cook a few minutes more.
6) Garnish with pomegranate seeds and serve.