April 22, 2014

Ratatouille Pasta

It may be Tuesday, but that's no excuse not to celebrate Earth Day. You might not have the time to plant a tree or the willpower to not use electricity for a full hour, but you certainly have time to make a delicious meal, especially one full of fresh seasonal vegetables.

Don't let the lack of meat and dairy products fool you; this may be another accidentally vegan recipe, but it tastes delicious. Plus what's better for Earth Day than something healthy and sustainable?

I think the Disney movie Ratatouille set unrealistic expectations for ratatouille (the dish). It's pretty difficult to layer the vegetables just so to make that gorgeous collage of colors, so I decided to make it into a pasta. That way, as long as you can chop vegetables into similarly-sized pieces (and if you can't, just call it "rustic"), you'll end up with a meal you can't wait to dig into.

The roasted squash, zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes blend perfectly with al dente pasta, and everything is coated in an addictive garlicky herb tomato sauce. You won't miss the meat, but you can always crisp up some prosciutto and throw it on top. A sprinkle of parmesan adds a sharp flavor that cuts the richness of the pasta, making it a dish you'll want to serve every Tuesday, if not more often.

1 Cup Diced Zucchini
1 Cup Diced Yellow Squash
1 Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Cups Cherry Tomatoes
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/4 Cup Minced Sun Dried Tomatoes
2 T Tomato Paste
1/2 tsp Basil
1/2 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Thyme
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 lb Pasta

Heat oven to 400F.

Spread the zucchini, squash, onions, and tomatoes on a greased large rimmed baking tray. Whisk the olive oil, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, oregano, thyme, garlic powder, and onion powder together. Toss the vegetables in the sauce mixture until coated. Roast for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until tender.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente and toss with the roasted vegetables.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from The Woks of Life

April 20, 2014

Lemon Cookies

It finally feels like Spring. It's warm and breezy and sunny, so I want something refreshing. The first flavor that comes to mind is lemon. Lemon cookies, in fact. The tart sourness of the lemon counters the sweetness of the cookies, and everything is topped off with a luscious lemony glaze. I actually had to make two batches in one day; the first recipe I used made cookies that spread out so much that my grandparents were all excited because they thought I made pancakes for everyone. Since I had plenty of lemons, I tried a new recipe, which baked perfectly.

This recipe will satisfy all kinds of cookie lovers. The edges get nice and crispy but the center stays soft and chewy. You can spread some of the glaze on top of one cookie, stick another on top, and enjoy lemon cookie sandwiches oreo-style. Or you could just douse them in glaze and enjoy the mess. Either way works. To make glazes, I usually just whisk powdered sugar and some sort of liquid and/or flavoring together. However, I use a spoonful of cream cheese in this recipe so that I get an opaque white glaze with an extra bit of tanginess. It's just as easy, but make sure your cream cheese is soft and you store the glazed cookies in the refrigerator.

These cookies do look pretty simple, but they are elegant enough for any occasion. The glaze dresses them up a bit, and I found some sprinkles perfect for Easter. You can also shave on some lemon zest, especially if you have one of the zesters that makes beautiful strands of zest instead of tiny flakes, although those would work well too.

The main secret to these cookies is the lemon sugar. I'm sure you could spend a few hours on the internet tracking down some overpriced gourmet stuff, but it is so easy to make your own. Simply zest your lemons and rub it into the sugar. Make sure you work quickly, though, because the zest will dry out and the natural oils won't permeate the sugar. If you do it properly, you should end up with slightly damp sugar with a very pale yellow hue, and it should smell lemony even without bits of zest. I do this before I beat the sugar and butter together so I know that the sugar is lemony enough. If you want a stronger lemon flavor, I recommend adding more zest instead of juice because it doesn't alter the texture as much. You could easily use oranges, limes, or a combination of any of the three instead; the pop of citrus is the perfect way to start Spring!

2 Cups + 2 T Flour
1 T Cornstarch
½ tsp Baking Soda
½ tsp Salt
1 ½ Sticks Butter, Softened
1 ¼ Cups Sugar
3 Cups Powdered Sugar
1 T Lemon Zest
6 T Lemon Juice
1 Egg
1 Egg Yolk
1 ½ tsp Vanilla
2 T Cream Cheese, Softened

Heat oven to 350F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt together. Rub the sugar and lemon zest together.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and lemon sugar together until fluffy. Add the egg and egg yolk, then stir in 2 T lemon juice and the vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture.

Scoop the dough onto the prepared trays and bake for 10 minutes or until just golden on the edges.

Whisk the cream cheese and remaining lemon juice together. Stir in the powdered sugar and drizzle on the cooled cookies.

Makes 28
Recipe Adapted from Cooking Classy

April 15, 2014

Pasta with Mushroom Marinara

It's not even 24 hours into Passover and I'm craving carbs, so I decided to continue my 18-year streak of not keeping Kosher by eating bread. And pasta. And cookies. I'm so good at this whole no-flour-or-leavening-just-matzo-and-sadness thing. Since I clearly failed already, I decided to just go with it and eat as usual, but I'd like to try to respect the laws of Judaism and make something that's at least Kosher on a regular (non-Passover) day, meaning no pork, shellfish, or mixing meat and dairy. Luckily, this recipe is accidentally vegan, so I don't have to worry about any of that.

We've all seen Rachael Ray work her 30-minute magic in the kitchen. She plans and executes this lovely multi-course meal in less time than it takes for me to get out of bed in the morning. It's a lie. She has an army of sous chefs and dishwashers and food stylists and probably half the workers of New York City hiding in the studio. It probably takes the average person twice as long to cook the same meal, but I promise that this recipe is ready to eat in 30 minutes or less.

Your inner Italian grandma may question how a marinara sauce--which is supposed to take hours to simmer into tomato-y heaven--can be ready in under 30 minutes. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. It just kinda works. It's full of earthy mushrooms bathed in bright fresh tomatoes as well as crushed tomatoes with a good splash of red wine to enhance the flavors. It's not the prettiest dish you'll ever make, but a generous spoonful of parmesan cheese makes it all better. You won't even know it's vegetarian or vegan, and it will make you feel better about breaking Passover. Unless you haven't. In that case, spoon this on some matzo and you won't even miss bread.

1 lb Pasta
1 Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 lb Sliced Baby Portobello Mushrooms
½ tsp Thyme
½ tsp Basil
½ tsp Oregano
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
2 Cups Diced Fresh Tomatoes
⅓ Cup Red Wine
1 T Tomato Paste
1 28 oz Can Crushed Tomatoes
2 tsp Sugar
Parmesan Cheese

Heat some oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, thyme, basil, and oregano and cook until the mushrooms begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender. Stir in the wine, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and sugar. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Toss with the sauce and serve with the parmesan.

Serves 6
Recipe Adapted from Bake Your Day

April 10, 2014

Passover Chocolate Pecan Thumbprint Cookies

It's almost that time again. Passover. As you can imagine, I'm not particularly enthusiastic about anything that tries to take my carbs away from me. I'm not even sure what the rules are anyway, so if somebody wants to explain them to me that would be lovely. As far as I know, I'm not allowed to have any flour or leavening. Just matzo. But you know what matzo is? Flour and water. So why can I eat flour in the form of matzo but not flour in anything else? This has always confused me, as has the restrictions on leavening. Apparently I can't use chemical leavenings (like baking powder or baking soda), but did the Jews way back in the time of Moses have baking powder and baking soda? I've heard I'm allowed to use whipped egg whites as a leavening agent, just as I would for an angel food cake if I could use flour. But isn't that technically leavening, which defeats the point of Passover? I'll quit my rambling now and just focus on what I can eat, because sometimes it can actually taste pretty good.

I've noticed a spike in popularity over the last few days for my Passover almond thumbprint cookies. I decided to make a variation of that recipe because they are really easy to make and can be adapted to suit most tastes (but don't try it if you have a nut allergy). The one thing I always want to eat, especially when I can't have carbs, is chocolate, so I decided to take out the last bit of anything remotely healthy in this recipe--the jam, which does have an iota of fruit--and replace it with chocolate. Since I'm not having carbs, I'm pretty sure those calories can be transferred to chocolate, so I use lots of it. You can dip the bottoms of the cookies in more chocolate and/or drizzle some on top if you really want to celebrate. A white chocolate drizzle would look great on top of the giant core of dark chocolate.

Now for the base of the cookie. It might seem difficult to make cookies without flour or leavening. There's recipes everywhere for gluten-free anything, but those require leavening. Most shortbread, including my ever-popular white chocolate cranberry cookies, don't use leavening, but they do have flour. See my conundrum? It's really difficult to make Passover desserts. However, I found this cookie recipe and I'm sticking with it. It uses a combination of nuts and the secret ingredient, matzo cake meal. I'm not exactly sure why using nut flours (which is basically a fancy name for ground up nuts, something you can make in a food processor in seconds) works so well, but it does. The matzo cake meal is glorified ground up matzo, and it has this powdery, sandy texture that feels pretty awesome if you run your fingers through it. Since matzo is made from flour, it acts as flour would in a cookie recipe, although again I'm not entirely sure why you can't just use regular flour.

Once you add an egg and some melted butter to the dry ingredients, you have your cookie dough. You should form them into thumbprint cookie shapes as fast as possible after adding the butter because they are significantly easier to shape and they don't crumble as much. It's a fairly dry cookie dough, and you'll get much prettier cookies if you form them before they absorb the butter entirely. The dough only stays moist and pliable for a few minutes, so work quickly!

I was a little concerned the chocolate would burn or leak out of the core during baking, but I wanted chocolate, so I risked it. Luckily, it turned out pretty well. I just stuck a few chocolate chips in the thumbprint crater and they melted perfectly while baking. Since mine held their little chip shapes, I took an offset spatula (or you could use a small knife) to swirl the chocolate around and break up the chips. They were molten inside, but they needed to be broken up to make that beautifully smooth core. To reduce the sadness of being carbless for a few days, I brightened up my cookies with some rainbow sprinkles, which are a totally optional decoration but they do make the cookies look just a little more special.

1 Cup Pecans, Toasted
2/3 Cup Matzo Cake Meal
2/3 Cup Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Melted
1 Egg
3/4 tsp Vanilla
1/2 Cup Chocolate Chips

Heat oven to 350F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Pulse the pecans, cake meal, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor until fine. Whisk the egg, butter, and vanilla together, then fold into the nut mixture.

Quickly scoop the dough into balls. Place on the prepared tray and make a small indentation in the center of each. Spoon a few chocolate chips into the dent and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Makes 20
Recipe Adapted from Gourmet

April 5, 2014


I have a lot of homework and college stuff to do this weekend, so I probably shouldn't be cooking much. But during one of my study breaks, I was scrolling through some recipe websites and I saw these brownies. They looked so good. So, so good. I started thinking about brownies and how even though I cook all the time I still love a good box mix brownie because they are fudgy and chocolaty and delicious. Also easy. Like I said, I have a lot of stuff to do, and I don't have much time to satisfy my chocolate craving.

Anyway, I clicked on that recipe and started drooling at all the pictures. I noticed I had all the ingredients and started getting out my mixer and apron. And then I saw how much butter I had to use. Three sticks in one small pan? No thank you. I want chocolate, but I don't want to eat obscene amounts of butter. So I did some more research and salivated over more pictures and finally found this one. It has only one stick of butter, so it isn't nearly as bad for you, and it is full of chocolate. Even better, it's all in one bowl and is ready to bake in about 10 minutes, so you can start gorging on brownies in less than 45 minutes.

This recipe is extremely easy, but there is some science behind the perfection. You start by whisking cocoa powder and sugar together. I prefer dark chocolate cocoa powder rather than unsweetened so that my brownies aren't quite as bitter. You don't have to sift anything because the coarse sugar granules break up any lumps of cocoa, and even plain granulated sugar is coarse enough to do the job. The mixture should feel powdery but grainy at the same time. They should make sandboxes out of this stuff or something because it's just fun to play with. Is that weird? Either way, if you want brownies, you have to stop sometime. You then stir in some melted butter. You want it to be fairly hot because the heat wakes up the cocoa and intensifies the chocolate flavor. You'll notice it darken significantly, and it should be very fragrant. The eggs go in next. The butter should be just warm, and wait until it cools down a bit if it's still hot so you don't cook the eggs. I also stir in a splash of vanilla because vanilla just makes everything better. Finally, I stir in the dry ingredients, which includes a little bit of flour, a pinch of salt, and a sprinkle of baking soda. There's only a little bit of flour so that the brownies stay fudgy and moist.

If you like cakey brownies, this recipe will convert you. I don't particularly like fudge, but there is something about a rich, dense brownie that just lures me in. These are addictive. They are packed with chocolate, and you can use whatever type you want. There's the cocoa powder in the batter and also some chocolate chips folded in. I prefer plain semisweet chips, but milk, white, mini, or jumbo would be delicious as well. You can even sprinkle some M&Ms on top for some color. I know I just found my go-to brownie recipe, and I hope you enjoy it, too.

1 Stick Butter
1 1/4 Cups Sugar
3/4 Cup Cocoa
1 tsp Vanilla
2 Eggs
1/3 Cup Flour
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Chocolate Chips

Heat oven to 325F and line an 8-9" square pan with parchment. Grease.

Melt the butter in a small pot over medium-low heat. Whisk the sugar and cocoa together, then add the butter. Whisk in the vanilla, and add the eggs one at a time, stirring until incorporated. Fold in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until just cooked through.

Makes 16
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit