Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Brie, Pear, and Brown Sugar Crostini

My roommate from college and I were obsessed with crostini - little snacks with a baguette slice as the base. The only requirements for toppings were taste related - something sweet paired with something salty. We called them "towers" and maybe someday we'll have a cookbook of our tower inventions! For Valentine's Day we had two different trays of crostini as appetizers and this recipe is one of them. It is comprised of two sweets (the pear and brown sugar) and one salty (a slice of soft Brie cheese).

Bruschetta vs. crostini?
Some people interchange the two but it is important to know the difference, especially if you are searching the internet for a certain recipe. Bruschetta is a very specific type of crostini (just as a square is a type of parallelogram - sorry, I'm a math geek!) that is comprised of a tiny toast topped with olive oil, salt, pepper, and diced tomatoes and onions. This word is often misused to describe what is actually crostini. The word crostini is Italian for tiny toasts, so the baguette could have any topping and still be a crostini.

Ingredients (per cookie sheet)
  • 1/2 loaf baguette or other long, thin bread, sliced at a diagonal
  • 1 wedge Brie cheese, cut into small thin chunks
  • 1 pear, sliced very thinly
  • brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place bread slices on a cookie sheet with sides. (The bread can be touching.)
  3. Top each slice with a piece of Brie, then a pear, and finally a sprinkle of brown sugar.
  4. Bake until brown sugar melts, about 5-7 minutes but sometimes longer.

These were heavenly and disappeared pretty fast! Sometimes they are good as a light dinner if you're feeling like snack-type foods for your meal.

If you dislike brie (I'm not sure it's possible but I've heard that some people feel this way), try finding another soft cheese that is salty but still has a pretty mellow flavor.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Roasted Vegetable English Muffin Pizzas

I know what you are thinking: is she serious? Is it possible to combine English muffins, symbol of Western imperialism, with the class and elegance of roasted eggplant and garlic? Yes, I am serious, yes it is possible, and yes, it is delicious and amazing. I had planned on making an amazing vegetarian dish from the new cookbook given to me by my friend. However, all I wanted after trudging home through the rain was some comfort food. So we improvised by combining the eggplant I desired with the English muffins that were on sale at the local grocery store.

Trust me on slicing those vegetables thinly - it is not only to help keep them atop your pizzas, but it also minimizes their roasting time in the oven.

Ingredients (enough to do up one 6-pack of muffins)
  • 1 eggplant, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 5-8 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 package English muffins, split
  • 1 jar pizza sauce
  • package of shredded mozzarella cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine eggplant, onion, pepper, and garlic in a 9x9 roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.
  3. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until eggplants are fully cooked.
  4. While vegetables are baking, place muffin halves on cookie sheet(s). Spread a dollop of pizza sauce on each one and some mozzarella; set aside.
  5. Remove vegetables from oven, leaving temperature at 425.
  6. Top each pizza with a spoonful or two of vegetable mixture.
  7. Bake pizzas for 12-15 minutes until cheese has browned.
This was a filling meal although they were so flavorful I probably could have eaten a lot more if I put my mind to it. :) The salt and pepper adds a nice touch to the eggplant, which often can taste too plain if left unseasoned. Roasting the garlic also worked quite well as it mellowed the sharp taste that garlic has in its raw state; I enjoyed several cloves of roasted garlic on top of my pizza.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Creamy Broccoli Cauliflower Soup

Did you miss out on green food for St. Patrick's Day? Look no further: this broccoli cauliflower soup has the perfect amount of green in it to sass up your month. The nice thing about this recipe is that it is easily altered for people with special diets, whether they are vegetarian, vegan, or just on a gluten-free or dairy-free restriction.

The secret of this soup is that it uses pureed vegetables as a thickener so there is no need for a roux. It is very creamy in texture, but without the use of cream. If my roasted red pepper soup hasn't convinced you to purchase an immersion blender, this soup might do the trick!

  • olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 head fresh cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 head fresh broccoli, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • big pinch of parsley
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth **
  • up to 1 cup milk or more broth (for thinning soup) ****
  • up to 1 cup cheddar cheese (optional) ** / ****
  • salt and pepper to taste
**for gluten-free diets, use broth made from gluten-free bouillon, as well as a brand of cheese that uses gluten-free caking agents, such as Cabot cheese.
****for dairy-free diets, use broth instead of milk, and omit the cheese.

  1. Heat stockpot on medium-low. Add oil, then garlic. Cook for about 1 minute.
  2. Add carrot, celery, bay leaves, and parsley. Cook for about 1 minute.
  3. Add broccoli, cauliflower, and 2 cups of broth. Put top on pot and cook for about 15 minutes until veggies are tender.
  4. Remove soup from heat. Remove both bay leaves and discard.
  5. If you wish to have some chunks of veggies in your soup, remove about 1 cup of veggies and put off to side.
  6. With immersion blender or regular blender, puree soup until smooth. Add enough milk or broth to thin soup to desired consistency. Stir well.
  7. If using cheese, add now and stir well so heat from the soup can melt the cheese.
  8. If you removed some veggies for texture, add them back in now.
  9. Salt and pepper as desired.

I enjoyed this for a light dinner. We paired it with a loaf of roasted garlic bread and I still felt satiated even a few hours after the meal. The texture I ended up with is not like broccoli cheddar soup you might find at a cafe - it has much more of a body to it. However, you could get it to be thinner by adding more liquid if you wanted.

Dan the Man's feedback: "It looks like baby food, but it tastes a lot better." You can't get more honest than that, I suppose. :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pepperoni Pasta

Pepperoni pasta is a great way to put a twist on the traditional pasta and marinara sauce type dinner. As for cut pasta, rigatoni is what I used this time but penne, ziti, and farfalle all make good replacements in this meal.

Dan the Man''s tip for whole pepperoni - if the stick comes in its own casing, this thick wax coating is to protect the meat inside and must be peeled off before cooking. If the pepperoni comes in a plastic wrap of some sort, then the casing on the stick itself is normally a natural casing and does not need to be peeled.

  • 1 lb. cut pasta
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • big pinch of basil
  • big pinch of parsley
  • small pinch of oregano
  • 1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped (I used homemade roasted peppers)
  • 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 stick pepperoni, cut into half-moon slices
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (optional) **

**For a dairy-free diet, omit this ingredient.

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Rinse and leave pasta in colander.
  3. Return stockpot to stove top and wipe clean of water.
  4. Heat olive oil over medium-low heat.
  5. Add garlic, onion, basil, parsley, and oregano. Cook until onion softens.
  6. If using raw peppers, add them now and cook until softened.
  7. Add tomatoes. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
  8. Add pepperoni. If using roasted peppers, add them now too. Cook until the mixture is heated through. You will hear the liquid begin to bubble. Turn off heat.
  9. Add pasta back into stockpot. Stir well.
  10. If using Parmesan cheese, add and stir. Enjoy!

This recipe makes enough for 4-5 servings. It's one of our favorites for leftovers since it keeps so well overnight. By using the spices and onion to flavor the oil, you eliminate the need for a fancy sauce; the diced tomatoes work perfectly.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jalapeno Lime Ginger Shrimp

Does having ancestors from a Mediterranean country destine me for a life of obsession with oceanic life? I'd like to think so. When I was younger I was completely in love with dolphins and orcas. Now that I live nowhere near a great body of water I have moved on to smaller types of ocean life, preferably ones I can eat. Nori (Japanese seaweed used in sushi) is one. Shrimp is another.

When cooking with seafood, I like to stick to simple flavors that will highlight the flavor of the fish. That's why this recipe on
Worth the Whisk caught my eye. She intended her chili lime shrimp recipe as an appetizer, but I altered its contents for a couple reasons: it sounded really good as a meal(!), and where I live, I don't have access to a lot of exotic peppers.

A note about buying shrimp
: the number matters more than the size description. My recipe below suggests a pound of 16-20 count shrimp. The measuring system means in that one pound, there will be between 16-20 shrimp. A 51-60 count shrimp means you get more shrimp in a pound, but they will be much smaller. If you are looking for what some would describe as "colossal" shrimp, you would want a number like U12 or U10 (meaning fewer than 10 shrimp per pound). There is a great article about purchasing and cooking shrimp here. This article suggests that one pound of raw shrimp still in its shells (which is what my recipe used) is equivalent to about a half pound of shrimp once is has been shelled and cooked.

Also, something I didn't realize for a long time: unlike most meats, raw shrimp starts out grey and becomes pink when cooked. This fact can make an important difference in your cooking time!

  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb 16-20 ct. shrimp, shelled but tails left intact (purchased raw, with shells on)
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • half a jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and pepper minced
  • juice of one lime
  • handful of fresh cilantro, chopped (optional, but recommended)
  1. Heat a frying pan to medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic. Cook for one minute.
  2. Add shrimp and cook for two to three minutes.
  3. When shrimp is pink on one side, stir/flip shrimp. Add ginger and jalapeno.
  4. When shrimp is fully cooked, turn off heat. Add lime juice.
  5. Plate immediately and serve with cilantro on side.

Dan and I had this dish with a side of rice. It was the perfect amount for two dinners. Just as importantly, it was a very easy and very enjoyable meal!

We forgot the cilantro until halfway through our meal. It made a big difference in the flavors of the meal. Since the ginger and jalapeno can be strong flavors, the cilantro was nice to cool the mouth a little. It certainly wasn't unbearable without the cilantro though.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Overnight Waffles

image by heather

If you enjoy waffles you will adore these overnight waffles. By preparing the batter the night before, you give time for the yeast (rather than baking powder) to work its magic. You won't believe the difference in how crispy the edges get while still keeping the center of each waffle perfectly fluffy.

This recipe is from Mark Bittman's book How to Cook Everything.

The amounts listed give the perfect amount for two people (when Dan the Man and I are enjoying a Saturday brunch together). Double it to get four to six servings.

  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 Tbsp butter (half a stick), melted and cooled
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • oil or oil spray for your waffle iron
  • 1 egg
  1. The night before, combine dry ingredients (yeast, flour, sugar, and salt).
  2. Stir in milk, then butter and vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside overnight at room temperature.
  3. The next morning, brush or spray the waffle iron with oil and preheat it.
  4. Separate the egg and stir the yolk into the batter. Beat the egg white separately, then add it to the batter.
  5. Spread a ladleful of batter onto the hot waffle iron and cook until waffle is done. Enjoy!