Monthly Archives: February 2012

Breezy Cheesy Homemade Gnocchi

Gnocchi with mushroom white wine sauce

Cooking in real life rarely goes as smoothly as recipes read, mostly because buttoned up, step-by-step recipes just beg to be messed with. It’s rare for me to find a recipe I won’t tweak at all, but writing a blog with recipes necessitates some attention to detail and process. Since I’m sharing a recipe with the online world (or at least 2 or 3 of you), I want to make sure I get things right. For someone who is accident prone and terrible at estimating, planning out ingredients and amounts adds a comforting level of confidence and control. While I’m glued to my measuring cups, and always within reach of my google machine for “how to” research, the boy likes to play things by ear in the kitchen…and in every single area of his life, but that’s another topic altogether.

When I’m not making a recipe for the blog, I can usually go with the boy’s improvisational flow. For instance, we have an awesome go-to sauce that combines mushrooms, white wine, broth, and cheese. We made it up on the fly once, and have made variations of it several times since. Although we’ve never measured the amounts, I figured the sauce was so good it needed to be shared.

For the pasta beneath the sauce, I wanted to experiment with something new. Gnocchi tastes so decadent, but my google research had taught me that the process of making it at home is deceivingly simple. Since I was elbow-deep in gnocchi process research, I asked the boy to get the sauce together. When he asked for some direction, I told him, “Do whatever you want!” Of course, I had bought the groceries, so I figured my ingredients spoke for themselves. I had a plan, and it was going to be so good.

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Garbage Can Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed Peppers

I’m a fan of random dinners, or what I like to call “garbage can meals.” Put together a bunch of forgotten ingredients, that would otherwise end up being thrown out, and you have yourself a resourceful garbage can meal. Although I find grocery shopping relaxing, which I know is kind of strange, sometimes I don’t have time for it because it’s kind of an event for me. I tend to get lost in aisles, staring at the different bread options, wondering if I should try that new cereal, or whether I should be adventurous and grab that intriguing curry sauce. Some nights my lack of focus intimidates me, so I choose to go home and see what I can do with what I have. Fortunately, my grocery store wanderings often result in a pantry that’s full, albeit random, but packed with edible things ready to be thrown in a garbage can meal.

One night I came home and looked at my fridge, and it stared back at me with red and green peppers, zucchini, and a yellow onion. Then I went to see what my pantry had to offer. A can of tomatoes caught my eye first, then I pushed it aside and saw the kasha that had been waiting patiently to be used since last summer. This past June I went through a brief gluten-free phase, and my mom, perpetually confused by me yet always supportive, bought me a box of kasha so I’d have a new gluten-free grain to try. This gesture, while kind in intention, left me unsettled. “I’ve never cooked with kasha!” I thought, “What is kasha?! Why don’t I know what kasha is? Am I failing at gluten free-dom?” You may find my reaction a bit intense for the situation, and it absolutely was, but a lack of gluten resulted in a high amount of crazy in this one. My sister even told me I was “tweaking out,” and looking back on it she was dead on. Once I started eating gluten again, I dove gleefully into pizza, pasta, and bread baskets of all kinds, and didn’t look back.

The box of gluten-free kasha sat lonely and forgotten in my pantry until this one fateful evening of no grocery shopping. On this night I decided I was going to use the kasha, gosh darn it, and I was going to like it. What is kasha, you ask? Just another word for buckwheat groats, and honestly if my name were “buckwheat groats” I’d probably prefer a fancy stage name too. Before you jump to the conclusion that buckwheat groats belong in an actual garbage can, not included in a garbage can meal, let’s take a judgement-free moment to learn about kasha. It has a hearty texture, nutty taste, and crazy nutrition. Even for us gluten enthusiasts, kasha is a grain worth trying: one serving (1/4 cup dry) boasts 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, plus a bunch of flavanoids and antioxidants. K enough with the learning, let’s get to the food.

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Artichoke Soup: Unattractive Yet Awesome

Artichoke Soup with Homemade Thyme Croutons

There are certain ingredients that reel me in immediately. They turn this indecisive girl into a real go-getter. Sometimes these dishes aren’t vegetarian, so I need to be the girl who orders, “The chicken penne without the chicken” just so I can get the herb goat cheese, or the roasted tomatoes, or the artichoke hearts. Artichokes especially, with their buttery layers, disarm me entirely. I use them at home frequently, but often without variation or creativity. For me, artichokes add to the old standards: pizzas, dips, or that chicken penne recipe without the chicken. One Saturday morning a few weeks ago an episode of Giada at Home rocked my world with a recipe for puréed artichoke soup with fresh mint and lemon. Puréed artichokes? That’s crazy, but brilliant. In my artichoke trance, I decided I needed to give the recipe a try.

Being a somewhat superficial food lover, I had some qualms about this soup’s appearance. Artichokes usually add visual appeal to dishes, but an artichoke puree mixed with spinach results in something very…green. But not a vibrant, beautiful green…kind of a dulled, yellowish green. While I knew I’d have to come to terms with a less-than-beautiful dish, it was clear the superficial part of me would need to act in some way.

To add to my need for slight adjustments in appearance, I knew I’d need to give the soup a bit of “oomph” to overcome the boy’s internal struggle over eating a bowl of puréed vegetables. To help us both, I made just a few adjustments to Giada’s recipe. As the soup simmered, I baked bread into buttery, crunchy croutons to give some aesthetic, yummy appeal. Since thyme has a lemony flavor that mixes well with mint, I baked the croutons with thyme, and added a half teaspoon to the soup base to tie it all together. To make the soup more decadent, I added a scoop of creamy cheese, which melted easily into the otherwise nutrient-packed soup. With a plan to meet both our beauty and taste needs, I thawed my artichokes and prepared to fall back into my trance.
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Deliciously Sarcastic Love Brownies

Triple Chocolate Love Brownies Valentine's Day

I’m not someone who’s ashamed of my nerdiness. I actually wear it on my sleeve, right below my sarcasm. When it comes to Valentine’s Day, it’s a time for both to shine. The boy and I often pretend to be a sugary-sweet, over-the-top corny couple. It’s an inside joke that may induce vomiting if overheard by others, but for us it’s a fun reminder of our in-sync humor. Valentine’s Day provides the ideal environment for this side of us to flourish. For instance, last year I made heart-shaped, bright pink cookies. Since I knew he couldn’t eat the entire batch, I also brought some to work, but cut them jaggedly in half in honor of a particularly difficult client. A client you might say was “breaking our hearts,” ha ha ha…nerd, remember?

I’ve always been fascinated/obsessed with attractive baked goods, but for the same reason costume parties were always my favorite in college, I just can’t say no to a theme. Halloween, Christmas, Fourth of July, you name it, and I’ll make a dessert for it. Valentine’s Day is special, though, because the opportunity for hearts, sugar, chocolate, and pinkness comes wrapped in a bow, just asking to be assembled into something delicious and obnoxious.

This year, I knew I wouldn’t have time to make individual heart-shaped baked goods, but I wanted a brightly decorated dessert to bring to our Valentine’s Weekend (he’s out of town this coming week, so I got a whole weekend). I decided to go with brownies because they come together rather quickly, but are kind of like a blank canvas. A delicious blank canvas, just asking to be stuffed with chunks and chunks of chocolate, then topped with thick cream cheese frosting ready to be decorated with abandon. Or you know, something like that.
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Oh My, Pad Thai

Vegetarian Pad Thai

I’m sad to admit that I discovered pad thai much, MUCH too late in life. As a picky eater in childhood, as a teenager, and into young adulthood, I missed some of the finer things in food. In college I started being more open to the unfamiliar, mostly because a girl can only eat so much peanut butter and jelly. Thank goodness for my lack of attention span with meals, because now I want to take on the culinary world…or at least the vegetarian hemisphere of the culinary world.

Which brings me to thai food. In my pickier years I had a “gross, but what IS it” attitude towards the food genre. Now I care less, try not to think about it, and then when curiosity gets the best of me I know I can figure out what it is with a quick google search. Of course, with Pad Thai the search results came with a landslide of recipes with fish sauce. Recipes that insisted, “fish sauce is the key ingredient! You need the fish sauce! Leave out the fish sauce and it’s not pad thai!” Cool it, people, step aside, and put the fish sauce down, cause this vegetarian is hungry. Hungry for sweet-yet salty sauce mixed with light rice noodles, twisting around a mix of bean sprouts and sweet cooked pepper, then dusted with crushed peanuts and fresh lime…it’s just the best, right? Right. But this kind of love begs the question: is this perfection that can be recreated at home, and without fish sauce, no less?
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