Thursday, June 30, 2011

Veggie Bolognese

In my never-ending quest to find ways to eat more vegetables, I was inspired by a recent recipe posted on Weelicious for Veggie Bolognese Sauce.  What a great idea, making a chunky tomato sauce which includes multiple vegetables!  But rather than follow this recipe, I decided to adapt my recipe for basic Meat Sauce and just replace the meat portion with tons of veggies.  Carrots are a natural addition to a tomato sauce (and are already in my meat sauce anyway), and then while I was grocery shopping this weekend I saw some great looking organic zucchini and yellow squash as well.  The resulting sauce was absolutely delicious - flavorful, sweet, and a little crunchy.  I loved the combination of flavors, but feel free to make your own combination of veggies.

My first application was in Baked Ziti, since hubby has been asking me to make a veggie version for a while, and I highly recommend giving this a try (just throw in the entire recipe below as the sauce portion in the ziti recipe).  Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of the sauce before mixing it into the ziti, but hopefully you get the idea!

Veggie Bolognese Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
2 cups (approx 8 oz) carrots
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet.  Chop the onion, carrots, and squash by hand or in the food processor.  Add the veggies to the pan and cook for 5-10 minutes over medium-low heat, until onions are translucent and other veggies begin to soften.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, and salt.  Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, until veggies are soft to your liking and sauce has thickened.  Serve over your favorite whole wheat pasta.

Makes enough for 1 lb of pasta

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chocolate Muffins

If you've been following my posts about the baby naming we hosted for our little peanut, you'll know I found a new chocolate muffin recipe to try out on my guests.   These muffins really could pass for dessert, but I figured for a special event, having some decadent choices to go with all of the savory bagel accompaniments and other dishes I served wasn't a bad thing.  And as it turns out, these muffins are fairly equivalent nutrition-wise to my other muffins, but the addition of chocolate chips fooled everyone into thinking they were indulging while eating a whole grain muffin with not a ton of sugar.

My only complaint about this recipe is that the muffins turn out a little crumbly (even though they are also moist and rich!).  I had a few casualties that fell apart as I was taking them out of the muffin cups, but we sure did enjoy the scraps, and until I find a way to help these hold together a little better (suggestions welcome!!), I am thrilled to add a recipe to my muffin collection that satisfies a serious chocolate craving without any guilt!

Chocolate Muffins
adapted from Steph Chows

Dry Ingedients
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 cup canola oil
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350, and grease a mini-muffin tin.

In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  In a separate larger bowl, whisk together wet ingredients.  Add dry mixture to wet ingredients, stirring to combine, and then gently mix in chocolate chips.

Divide batter into 24 mini-muffin cups, and bake for about 16 minutes (20 minutes for standard muffins) until tops are firm to touch.  Let cool in tin before gently removing.

Makes 24 small mini-muffins

Monday, June 27, 2011

Asparagus and Zucchini Ribbon Salad

Last week I told you about the Mini Spinach and Cheddar Frittatas I made for the peanut's naming.  In addition to an egg dish, I wanted to include a light and summery salad.  I had a hard time thinking of what to do that wouldn't overlap with the veggies already present as a side for the bagels or in the Lentil Salad.  Until, that is, I remembered a recent post in Smitten Kitchen for an asparagus ribbon salad.  I thought this was such a cool idea - just eating raw ribbons of asparagus.  After a little more digging, I found a similar Giada De Laurentiis recipe that combined zucchini ribbons with small asparagus pieces, also in a lemon dressing, and decided to combine the two concepts.  After being told by several people that I was crazy to make a salad for 35 people that required shredding the veggies with a peeler, I bit the bullet and allotted a decent amount of time for prep of this salad the day before the party.  I am happy to report that not only did it take way less time than I expected to make my ribbons, but the ribbons also held up beautifully in zip-top bags in my fridge (without dressing!) overnight.

On the day of the party, this salad just kept disappearing!  Despite some skeptical looks when I told guests the asparagus was raw, overall I got rave reviews, including comments from people who generally don't like asparagus telling me they loved this salad.  My serving bowl wasn't quite big enough for the amount that I prepared, and we had to refill the bowl several times as people came back for seconds...and thirds :).  I hope you'll keep this in mind as a yummy side dish for your family or as a unique dish to serve to company!

Asparagus and Zucchini Ribbon Salad
adapted from Food Network and Smitten Kitchen

2 zucchini
1 bunch asparagus

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1-2 ounces Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

Trim the ends off of the zucchini and then use a vegetable peeler to create long strips.  Next, lay each asparagus spear flat on a cutting board and, holding the woody end, use the vegetable peeler to make long strips from the base to tip (I found this easiest with a "Y" shaped peeler).  Discard the woody ends when you're done.  Use your peeler to create shavings of the cheese as well.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. 

Create the salad by layering veggies and cheese and gently tossing with some dressing about 1/3 at a time.  Serve immediately or up to 2 hours after dressing.

Do ahead: Prepare the veggie and cheese strips and store in zip-top bags overnight, mixing up the dressing and storing in a separate container.  Toss up to 2 hours before serving and add cheese at the last minute.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mini Spinach and Cheddar Frittatas

As I mentioned in my post about the naming ceremony we recently hosted for the peanut, I decided to plan a menu that mixed traditional bagels with some homemade sides that helped round out the meal.  I was serving lox (smoked salmon) with the bagels, but for people who may not be a fan, I thought it would be nice to have another protein selection.  I love egg dishes, but thought it would be difficult to make enough quiches or frittatas for 35 people.  While doing some recipe searching, however, I found this recipe for Crustless Spinach Quiche which had tons of suggestions in the comments to make it in muffin tins instead of a pie plate.  I thought that sounded perfect!  When testing the recipe, I made some other changes suggested by reviewers (more egg, less cheese, less spinach, add milk) and also decided that this really isn't quiche since it has no cream and a very different consistency.  And so mini frittatas were born.  I served these to two separate groups - the friends I tested them on last week, and my family at the naming, and got tons of rave reviews.  On top of being delicious, they were also so fun to serve and eat, and even reheated well the next day (or were yummy straight from the fridge!).

I quadrupled this recipe for my crowd and borrowed muffin tins from my mom so I could make all 48 at one time.  But if you are making this for a crowd and don't have multiple muffin tins or enough oven space, they were delicious at room temperature, so feel free to make them one batch at a time.  I also prepped the egg mixture and the spinach/onion mixture the day before and mixed up all of the ingredients right before baking, which saved me a good amount of time and didn't seem to impact the final result at all.

As a side note, you could definitely play with this recipe if you want - I think it would be great with broccoli, or different kinds of cheeses, using the proportions here as a base.  Please let me know if you find any variations that are especially yummy - I have a feeling I'll be returning to this recipe time and time again!

Mini Spinach and Cheddar Frittatas
adapted from All Recipes

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
8-10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (or any cheese you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and just starting to carmelize.  If you're not sure your spinach is well drained, you can add it to the pan for a few minutes with the onions to get rid of any extra water.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk.  Add cheese, salt and pepper, spinach, and onion. Distribute mixture evenly into 12 standard muffin cups.  Bake until eggs have set and sides are light brown, about 20-25 minutes.  Let cool for 5-10 minutes and gently remove from muffin tin before serving.

Makes 12 mini-fritattas

Baby Naming for the Peanut

Last weekend, we hosted a naming ceremony for our little peanut at our home.  Traditionally, Jewish events like this require a spread of bagels, cream cheese, lox, tuna, and various other cheese, fish, and veggie sides for the bagels.  Sometimes there are also knishes, or noodle kugel, but the basics are the same and catered from the local bagel shop or deli.  I was all ready to serve this menu to my guests, but somehow it didn't feel right.  First, when you really take a look, it's not a well balanced menu - where are the veggies?  And who decided it's a good idea to serve a potato or pasta dish as a side to enormous bagels - can anyone say carb overload?  Also, as a person who loves to cook (and writes a blog about how important cooking is!), buying all pre-made food for such an important event seemed wrong.  And my final reservation was that while I love bagels, I actually don't really like most of the traditional accompaniments.  Yes, I'm admitting on the internet that I'm a Jew who doesn't like cream cheese, lox, tuna, whitefish salad, etc.  Not that I need to like every food I serve to guests, but I just thought I could do better!

So after gaining assurance from my mom, hubby, and friends that I wasn't completely insane for making food for my 35 guests while taking care of a toddler and 3 month old, I came up with a menu.  My mom insisted that if I was inviting guests to a Jewish event on a Saturday at noon, they were going to expect bagels, and I certainly didn't want to disappoint!  So I decided to get bagels with some of the fixings, but make a few extra dishes to round out the meal.  The theme was small, individual portions so that guests could easily take a little of everything without having an obscene amount of food on their plates.  With that in mind, after much deliberation and recipe searching, the final menu is below.  Some of my old standby recipes made a comeback, along with a handful of new ones that turned out to get rave reviews!  In the end, I'm so glad I was able to put my personal touch on the food served on this very special day in my baby girl's life, and was rewarded with enough compliments on the food to make all of my work worthwhile :).



*New recipes - links will be added as I post these! 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Simple Falafel

Falafel is not something I grew up eating, but at some point a few years back, hubby must have decided to order some and I discovered how delicious it is.  I have had it a few times since, but it never occurred to me to make it at home.  That is, until I signed the munchkin up for a cooking class this spring which had a different country theme each week.  When it came time to learn about Israel, the food of the week was falafel, served with hummus and pita bread.  The recipe had to be easy and quick in order for 2 year olds to be able to make and eat it within the 45 minute class time, and the result was delicious!  Well, the munchkin really was only interested in the pita bread, but I didn't mind finishing off her portion :).  When I got home I did a quick internet search and found a recipe that sounded just like what we made in class.

I ended up making a few changes.  The biggest was that I'm really not up for deep frying at home, so I pan fried my falafels instead.  I also left out the garlic and used dried parsley instead of fresh.  Happily, my home version was just as good as the ones from class.  The only problem is it's a little tricky to keep them from falling apart when not deep frying, but I'm totally willing to overlook that for a healthy non-meat based meal!

Simple Falafel
adapted from

1 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon coriander
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
oil for frying (canola or vegetable)

Combine all ingredients (except oil) in a food processor to create a thick paste.  Preheat a large (non-stick) pan over medium heat.  Add enough oil to just barely cover the bottom of the pan.  When the oil is hot, drop 2 tablespoon balls of the mixture into the pan and flatten slightly (I did this with a large cookie scoop).  Don't overcrowd the pan.  Gently flip when the first side is brown and crispy, approximately 5 minutes, and cook another 5 minutes on the other side.  Repeat additional batches with remaining mixture as needed.

Serve with pita, hummus, salad, yogurt/lemon/tahini sauce, or eat on their own.

Makes approximately 20 falafel patties.