Thursday, October 25, 2012

girl's gotta eat: smoky red pepper pesto

Here's one of those dinners I made for a solo night at home.  Lest you think that I only bake, I really do cook. I cook from scratch almost every meal I eat at home.  More often than not I cook without a recipe using favorite preparations and my core ingredients and so the camera does not always come out and a post isn't written when dinner is just another version of what I like to eat.  I almost exclusively roast or grill vegetables with olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and maybe garlic, thyme, rosemary or a splash of balsamic vinegar.  I can't quite break the habit of having a base on my plate and that's often polenta or some form of sweet potato but I do love a little pasta.  I eat meat pretty sparingly and generally it's from the foul family chicken or turkey but about every two weeks my body just tells me it needs iron and protein and a little steak pronto.  I need a salad every day and if I don't have one at lunch I have one at dinner even if it's just romaine lettuce with a little vinegar, oil and pepper but usually I make my own dressing with garlic, fresh herbs, white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper aka "the good salad".   Often dinner is a little meat on a salad or vegetables with polenta or pasta in a bowl.  There are endless variations, but you get the general idea.

I have so many recipes dog-eared, bookmarked and in my binder that I feel badly when I just "wing" it.  So this is how we get to tonight's post.  Whole Living magazine always gets me marking a page or two or six for something I'd love to try.  This recipe is from earlier this year and a feature on pestos beyond the traditional basil and pine nut classic.  I wanted to try this recipe for smoky red pepper pesto because I love romesco sauce and this just takes it in a little different direction with the heat from the chipotle pepper.  I grilled some chicken tenders and made a little batch of polenta and layered polenta, chicken and pesto for a nice little dinner for one.  This pesto would also be great with pasta, on a sandwich or panini, as a dip or as a base on a pizza or flatbread.  Unlike my romesco recipe, it just makes a little which is good for my world, but you could easily double it if you are feeding four or more.

Here's one of those rare cases where it's gone unrecorded, so please excuse the lack of pictures.  I'll make it again and add them at a later date.

Smoky Red Pepper Pesto

2 large red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut in fourths (or jarred roasted red peppers
 in water, drained)
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T almonds, toasted
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 T olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

If using fresh red peppers, char and blister the skins by either roasting them over your gas burner on your cooktop (mine has cast iron grates so this is pretty easy) or broil them on a baking sheet in your oven.  Place charred peppers in a paper bag and roll closed to steam the peppers.  After about 15 minutes, use a paper towel in your hand to slough off the charred skins.  It's completely fine if there is still some skin on the peppers.  And it's completely fine just to use the roasted peppers from a jar, I'm a big fan of the ones from Trader Joe's.

Process the peppers, chipotle pepper, garlic, almonds and oregano in a food processor or blender until pretty smooth.  Drizzle in the olive oil.  Taste for salt and pepper.

Monday, October 22, 2012

nuggets: pumpkin cookies

Ooh baby, now I've got a sleek bluetooth keyboard for my vintage iPad making it a whole lot easier to watch football (what else is on this time of year?) and blog at the same time.  Super exciting.  I've had three posts in draft form all week, but it's been one of those weeks for writing.  Well, more correctly not writing.  You would think that with the house all to myself (well, and our cat) I'd post away.  But the flow just wasn't there.  But today it's back.  First time in forever that I had Sunday off without being out of town or having lots to do.  So what did I do with a big fat juicy Sunday off?  Started it off at 8:15 am express lane church, 9:30 am hot yoga (great music today from Erin:  Molly Hatchett is a first on the yoga mat), long walk in the October sunshine with the husband and then an afternoon of cleaning and cooking with the Colts game on the radio and all the windows open.  Joyous.  Greg's parents joined us for dinner and dessert because as you well know I rarely let a day off go uncelebrated by baking.  And in tailgate season, I can not bake a pie without having company to share it.  I can not be trusted with pie in the house.  And it was a good one, brown sugar cinnamon apple custard pie. This is the second time I've mentioned it in the blog without giving you the recipe.  I will, I need to get this half-written cookie post out first.

Our Michigan lake house had a dream kitchen and a killer collection of cookbooks.  I spent a good deal of time leafing through the pages of  two Jane Brody cookbooks.   A little vintage, but ahead of her time a bit with lots of whole grains and fresh vegetables.  Clearly, this is a cookie recipe and it calls for a stick of butter so I can't in good conscience call it healthy.  But it's low sugar, high fiber and all kinds of delicious.  They are moist cake-like cookies that bake up into little nuggets.  Really good with coffee or tea and a good breakfast grab on the go.

Pumpkin Cookies
1/2 C unsalted butter
2/3 C sugar
2 eggs
1 C pumpkin
1 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 C rolled oats
1/2 C chopped dates
3/4 C raisins
1/2 C chopped walnuts
maple sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl cream butter and sugar.  Beat in eggs and add pumpkin and beat until incorporated.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.  Add dry ingredients to mixing bowl and beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl.  Stir in oats, dates, raisins and walnuts.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Drop batter by heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto prepared sheets.  Bake in 375 degrees for about 12 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 36 cookies.

ingredients plus recipe on my dinosaur iPad with it's zippy new Bluetooth keyboard

honestly can't tell you if these are raw dough or baked, they hold their nugget shape

Monday, October 15, 2012

family night: one pot spaghetti

The weekend I've been anticipating for two months has come and gone with Kelly home for her first Purdue Homecoming as an alumna and Sara home for her Fall Break.  Poor Kelly valiantly battled against jet lag.  That girl has been a good sleeper her whole life, but crossing multiple time zones just slays her.  When she had the world's shortest birthday as we flew to Tokyo and crossed the dateline to cut short her fourth birthday celebration complete with Preschool class crown and the 5 foot long Slimey the Worm I sewed her (one of her favorite Sesame Street characters).  We crossed 13 time zones and she took 10 days to eat or sleep again.  So we watched her sleep a bit this past weekend but there's still a nice warm happy feeling to have your children back in your warm home curled up on the sofa sleeping peacefully.  Miss that.  

all together

But all is well because Sara has one more night at home and today we made the most of the gorgeous Fall day and took a drive to hike in Turkey Run State Park.  We have yet to determine just how far we hiked, but we do know we made at least two complete loops on Trails 3 and 10.  Even at home when I look at the map I can't tell you exactly the route we took without my head hurting in that way it used to when I would stare at a completely unsolvable equation in Honors Calculus at Purdue.  It's not pain really, it's that empty pinging around of my mind searching for the missing knowledge over here, no over this way, no maybe that way......If you've never had that feeling you are hopefully my doctor or the engineer that designed the suspension bridge we crossed with a little trepidation.  The colors were gorgeous and the hiking was a little challenging here and there which in Indiana is really saying something.  
suspension bridge (I am afraid of heights, so you know these are challenging)

you needed to see just how precariously perched my camera was for this shot

Kelly is safely back home in California and Sara flies back to North Carolina tomorrow, but while we were all together we feasted.  It helps with feasting to throw a tailgate in the middle.  All the tailgate classics were served:  breakfast casserole, burgers, mac and cheese, queso, guacamole, apple pie squares.  Not that any of us were hungry the next day, but we've all been so looking forward to family favorites at our kitchen table we made a classic from a kid's cookbook:  one pot spaghetti.  I've updated it a little using ground turkey, more tomatoes,  fresh garlic and onions.  Pretty much the campfire spaghetti you may have had if you were in scouts back in the 70's (yes, I am that old).  So here's one for the picky eaters and the busy moms I know.  

One Pot Spaghetti

1 pound ground beef or ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 C water
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1tsp basil
1 pound spaghetti
1 C Parmesan

Brown ground beef in large saucepan over medium heat.  Drain.  Stir in onion and cook over medium heat until softened, 4-5 minutes.  Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Add salt, pepper, water, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, oregano, Worcestershire, sugar and basil.  Bring to a boil and add spaghetti (break the noodles in half or big pieces).  Stir in and reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer about 20 minutes until spaghetti is al dente, stirring occasionally and checking for seasoning.  Stir in the Parmesan or sprinkle on top. 

stirring in spices

stirring in broken spaghetti

old school one pot spaghetti

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

more traveling desserts: spiced pumpkin bundt cake

There are some amazing cookbooks in my kitchen just waiting for me to work through them, Julie & Julia style.  One of my favorites that begs me to try something new any time I browse through it over lunch or dinner at my kitchen island, is "Chicken and Egg, A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading".  That chicken farmer girl has some lovely recipes all using chicken, eggs or both.  When my work pal, Shannon,  decided to raise chickens in downtown Indy,  I bought her a copy and recently the two of us have had a bit of a bake-off going.  She made the brown sugar apple custard pie with a brown sugar cinnamon crust (right?) and I baked the spiced pumpkin cake but did not make the warm caramel sauce to go with it since mine was going to a tailgate.  This is all very good news for our other lululemons when there are leftovers.

This cake clearly was going to be moist with oil and four eggs and it was clearly going to be nicely spiced with generous quantities of all the good pumpkin spices, you can just tell.  I set out on a walk with mine in the oven and when I came back that oven was on "hold" and the cake was still good.  One of the things I like about this cookbook is it's organized by seasons.  I always look forward to bringing my cooking back in the house and heating up the ovens.  We are having a gorgeous Fall here in central Indiana.  Honestly, we were owed a good Fall after a brutal hot and dry Summer.  The grass is lush and green and needing mowing again and the trees just look relieved.  Me too.

Spiced Pumpkin Bundt Cake

3 1/4 C flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 /34 C sugar
1 C canola oil
4 eggs
1 15-oz. can solid-pack pumpkin

2 C confectioner's sugar
1 T softened unsalted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3-4 T milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease a 12-cup bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray, lightly sprinkle with flour and shake to coat tapping out excess flour.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, baking soda and salt.  In the bowl of a stand mixer beat together the sugar and oil at low speed.  Add the eggs, one at a time,  beating well after each addition.  Beat in pumpkin.  Slowly add the flour mixture, beating just until blended.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake 55-60 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 min.  Invert onto wire rack, remove pan and cool completely.

Stir together confectioner's sugar, butter, cinnamon and 3 T of milk.  Add more milk if needed to get proper icing consistency.  Spread across top of cake and let fall down the sides of cake.

Serves 16

ingredients with a focus problem
do I really need to wear my readers to see my camera screen?

dry ingredients (I freshly grate my nutmeg for giggles)

sugar, oil, eggs and pumpkin

inverted to cool

iced and tested for goodness

Sunday, October 7, 2012

desserts that travel: peanut butter chocolate chip blondes

I have a fondness for peanut butter:  sandwiches, cookies, brownies (really, I just checked and I haven't posted this recipe so look for it soon), peanut butter cookies with pb chocolate chip filling (decadent), my homemade peanut butter, peanut butter in my yogurt/granola or muesli breakfast get the idea.   I'm not much of a chocolate girl, but if you put it together with peanut butter, I'm all in.  Here's an easy recipe for a peanut butter and chocolate chip bar cookie that travels well.   Mine were blondie-like in crumb and texture.  Mine also barely made it to the pan, the batter is wickedly irresistible.  The original recipe calls for chocolate ganache on top, but that runs afoul of my acceptable peanut butter to chocolate ratio and it seriously makes taking these bars to a tailgate trickier.  Well, they would have been fine this week.  Pretty chilly up in West Lafayette Saturday.  I also baked a pumpkin bundt cake for the tailgate (another recipe to post) so my lulu coworkers will have some treats in the back room this week.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blondies

1 C unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 C creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
1 T pure vanilla extract
2 C flour
1 1/2 C semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used Celtic grey sea salt or try Kosher salt for a more salt-forward flavor)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 13x9x2 baking pan with the butter wrappers from the recipe, then line bottom of pan with parchment paper and butter parchment.  I did all of that when I usually just spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray.  The bars did pop right out of the pan so maybe it was worth the work.
Beat together butter and sugar until mixture is light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Beat in peanut butter until incorporated. Beat in whole eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla.  Reduce speed of mixer to low to blend in flour.  Stir in chocolate chips.  And now taste the batter for salt.  I used a heaping 1/2 tsp of salt because my batter was very sweet.  Your peanut butter might be saltier, so taste the batter and add the salt if needed.  Just try not to eat all the batter!
Bake in 350 degree oven until golden and tester comes out clean with some crumbs sticking to it, about 40-45 minutes.

creamed butter, sugar and peanut butter mixing in 

baked bars


Monday, October 1, 2012

squash, it's not just for decorating: roasted spaghetti squash with hazelnuts and herbs

This one is for Sara, my child (well, she's 20 but she's still my child) who really really loves squash of any variety.  Not to leave out my other child (right, she's 22 but she's still my child), Kelly who really really loves squash too, but was off at college before we discovered everyone in the family loves it.  Let's review some of our favorites:  butternut squash skillet lasagna so good with italian turkey sausage and a lightened parmesan cream sauce with sage, acorn squash with rosemary and brown sugar sliced acorn squash browned in a skillet and braised with white wine, roasted spaghetti squash with marina super  easy and a fun switch from pasta and, of course, straight up baked acorn squash.  When your picking out your pumpkins, buy some winter squash for cooking or baking.  Or, cheat a little and buy the peeled, seeded and cubed butternut squash at Costco.  Genius.

gorgeous pumpkins and zinnias near Three Oaks, Michigan

look at all of these acorn squash, Sara!

I think Martha Stewart posted the following adapted recipe on her facebook page.  How does she have the time?  Ha.  It's always the clean layout and beautiful photography that pulls me in.  This recipe for roasted spaghetti squash and herbs with hazelnuts needed to be prepared one of those evenings when I was feeding just myself.  Greg would have to throw in some ground turkey or chicken sausage.  Well, actually it would be delicious with real honest pork sausage and that would truly be how he would enjoy it.  So if you are feeding meat-eaters brown some bulk pork sausage (mild or medium with sage would be a good complement) and toss it in the bowl with the squash and herbs.  Let me know how yummy it is.  Meanwhile, I'll share this vegetarian version for my veggie friends.  And I better do it quickly because how is it 6:08 pm already and I haven't even started tonight's dinner?  I have had a great day off starting my third 30-day yoga challenge this morning at The Yoga Center in Broad Ripple, tennis practice with my awesome team this afternoon at Carmel Racquet Club and a quick trip to lulu to try on some cute things I just couldn't wait until tomorrow evening when I work to see for myself.  This is how it's now 6:10 pm and dinner isn't started or really even decided.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Hazelnuts and Herbs

1 3-4 pound spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded (use a serious chef's knife)
1 T olive oil
1 T brown sugar, light or dark
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 C freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 C loosely packed chopped Italian/flat-leaf parsley, stems removed
1/2 C loosely packed chopped cilantro, stems removed
1/4 C toasted and coarsely chopped hazelnuts

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  If you need to toast your hazelnuts, when the oven is around 325 degrees put them on a baking sheet and toast them for 5 minutes or so as the oven heats up to 400 degrees.  Keep an eye on them so they do not burn.

Brush cut sides of spaghetti squash with olive oil and sprinkle with brown sugar, a little kosher salt (maybe 1/2 tsp between both halves) and grind some black pepper on top (about 1/2 tsp or more).  Roast until tender (check with a fork to see if strands easily pull away), about 40-45 minutes (I use my convection oven at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes).  Let cool for about 10 minutes.  Use a fork to pull long strands of squash into a serving bowl.  Toss with Parmesan, parsley, cilantro and hazelnuts.  Taste for salt and pepper and serve immediately.
halved, olive oil, salt, pepper and brown sugar rubbed

baked and fork ready

ready to toss

And I mean that literally.  While I was loading pictures I whipped up some pasta with pancetta tomato cream sauce (no cream, fat free half and half and culinary thickener).  7:08 pm and time to eat!