Posts Tagged 'Vegetarian Meal Recipes'

Bell Pepper Egg-In-A-Hole

In the interest of tightening up my grocery budget just a bit, I recently went on a quest to see if Costco’s meat really was cheaper than my regular grocery store. The verdict?  Not so much.  However, I did discover that Costco had killer deals on several items of produce.  I was able to get 12 large Braeburn apples for only $4.49 (I’m used to paying around $1.99 per pound unless I make the special trip to Sunflower Market; $4.49 usually translates into about 5 apples), 12 ounces of raspberries for $2.99 (usually anywhere from $2.99 to $4.99 for only 6 ounces!), and a bag of 6 gorgeous red peppers for $5.79 ($1.99 each on a normal day, $0.99 when on sale).  I’m not sure that Costco would be worth a special trip since it’s 15 minutes from my house, but I’m definitely going to visit the produce area during every Costco trip from here on out.

Today’s recipe centers around the peppers from my produce score.  I have a special place in my heart for Egg-In-A-Hole; my uncle made if for me for breakfast during my Colorado visits when I was growing up (except he called it Egg Toast).  I always get the warm fuzzies when someone makes me breakfast, and his version was always so delicious.  I saw this particular version – Bell Pepper Egg-In-A-Hole – in this month’s issue of Everyday Food, and I just had to give it a shot.

To prep for the meal, I sliced one red bell pepper (any color is fine) into four 1/2-inch-thick rings and grated 2 teaspoons of Parmesan cheese.  In a large nonstick skillet, I heated 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium-high heat.  I added the bell pepper rings to the skillet (evenly spaced) and cracked 1 egg into the middle of each ring.  I seasoned the eggs with coarse salt and ground pepper and cooked until the egg whites were mostly set (about 3 minutes).  Next, I gently flipped each egg (with the pepper, of course) and cooked for an additional 90 seconds.  (The recipe says 1 minute for over easy; we tend to like our eggs over medium.  Cook them longer if you like your yolks cooked through.  If you gently touch the yolk area with your finger, you should be able to sense how cooked the yolk is by how firm to the touch it is.)  I sprinkled each egg with 1/2 teaspoon of the Parmesan and placed each one on a slice of unbuttered wheat toast.

In a separate bowl, I tossed 8 cups of mixed salad greens with 2 teaspoons of olive oil (the recipe said to use 1 teaspoon, but I didn’t think it was enough), seasoned the greens with coarse salt and ground pepper, and then tossed again.  I served the salad alongside the eggs.

Bell Pepper Egg-In-A-Hole

This was such a fun, delicious twist on the traditional Egg-In-A-Hole recipe.  Two added bonuses: it’s an incredibly light meal (only 4 Weight Watchers points, even with the extra teaspoon of oil in the salad) and it only took 10 minutes to prepare. 10 minutes!  It’s love.  I was also shocked by how delicious the salad was since it had next to nothing on it.  Flavorful greens and an appropriate amount of seasoning really did the trick.

Now, if I were going to serve this to company, I would probably butter the toast. Between a bit of runny yolk and the awesome flavors of the egg and the bell pepper, I didn’t miss it; I just think the extra bit of flavor would really step things up for guests.  Also, if you’re feeding folks with strong appetites (especially at dinner), be warned that Dr. O ate three of these.  He’s a machine.

Hope you try the recipe and enjoy!

TIPS:  I was surprised to see that the recipe recommended cooking the eggs over medium-high heat.  I’m used to cooking them over medium-low to medium heat for tenderness.  Everything worked out well with the recipe, though, so I’ll go with the higher heat setting when I make eggs this particular way.

Recipe link: Bell Pepper Egg-In-A-Hole

Lentil Vegetable Soup

When my friend had surgery a few weeks ago, I wanted to bring him some food to make his life a bit easier in the following days.  It seems, though, like so many deliverable foods tend to be heavy: lasagnas, casseroles, enchiladas, etc.  (I should probably mention that my friend’s enchiladas are better than mine anyway!)  I was looking for something healthy and portable that would stand up to reheating; Ina Garten’s Lentil Vegetable Soup was a perfect solution.  It requires considerable prep work and the cooking time is long, but the results are absolutely delicious.  Plus, I nearly filled two 12-cup storage containers with soup when all was said and done. That’s plenty for eating, freezing, or sharing.

Full disclosure: Depending on your knife skills and how quickly you move in the kitchen, you should probably count on 15 – 30 minutes of vegetable prep work before you can really get rolling with the recipe.  I’m going to write about the process as if the vegetables are already ready to go.

To start, I sorted and rinsed 1 pound of green lentils.  (Thank you, Gomez family, for teaching me long ago that this isn’t meant to happen bean by bean!)  The recipe specifically calls for French green lentils; my grocery store had one type of lentil (not French, I’m sure), so I took what I could get.  I put the clean lentils in a large bowl, covered them with boiling water, and let them sit for 15 minutes.  Once the time had passed, I drained the lentils and set them aside.

Meanwhile, I sautéed 4 cups of chopped yellow onions (3 large onions), 4 cups of chopped leeks (white part only – I needed 3 large leeks), and 1 tablespoon of minced garlic with 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of coarse salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, and 1 teaspoon of ground cumin in a large stockpot over medium heat.  After 20 minutes, I added 3 cups of medium-diced celery (8 stalks) and 3 cups of medium-diced carrots (6 carrots) and sautéed everything for 10 more minutes.  Next, I added 3 quarts of chicken stock (three 32-ounce containers), 1/4 cup of tomato paste, and the drained lentils.  I covered the pot, brought the soup to a boil, then reduced the heat and simmered the soup uncovered for an hour.  (At this point, the lentils should be cooked through.  Keep simmering if they’re too firm for your taste.)  Once the hour had passed, I seasoned with salt and pepper to taste (I didn’t have to add much) and stirred in 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.  I delivered the soup to my friend with a container of freshly grated Parmesan for sprinkling on top.

Lentil Vegetable Soup

Oh, this soup is yummy.  The cumin and thyme help create a rich flavor profile, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had a soup more hearty and comforting.  I simmered mine for the recommended hour, and the lentils were almost al dente – completely cooked, but not even remotely mushy.  The vegetables were crisp-tender (even after an hour of simmering!), which is so much better than the “boiled to mush” vegetables you find in canned soups.  This soup earned the endorsement of my friend, his father, my husband, and my parents (my dad loves lentil soup, so my mom made it the week after I did); it’s definitely going in the “keeper” pile.

TIPS:  I used my 8.5-quart Dutch oven to make the soup; the pot size was just perfect.  Also, if you’ve never worked with leeks, please read this post; grit isn’t good!

Recipe link: Lentil Vegetable Soup

Potato, Leek, and Feta Tart

Last night, I fed Dr. O the last meal he would eat as a member of a certain age group.  (That age group will not be disclosed.)  If I had thought about our Thursday night meal this way when I was menu planning for the week, I might have planned an old favorite to mark the occasion.  Thankfully, what I did plan – Potato, Leek, and Feta Tart from Real Simple – was elegant, delish, and night-before-big-birthday-worthy.

To start, I preheated my oven to 375°F and then prepped my veggies and herbs.  I cut two small zucchini into half-moons (about 1/4-inch thick), chopped two tablespoons of fresh dill, and thinly sliced 2 red potatoes (about 8 ounces total) using the thinnest slice option on my mandoline.  (I have a cheap one from  I also cut the white and light green parts of two leeks into thin half-moons.  Leeks require a few rounds of rinsing to remove all the grit; if you’ve never worked with leeks before, I’d recommend reading my Tomato and Leek Frittata post.

Once the veggies were prepped, I heated 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  I added the leeks, the zucchini, 1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and cooked the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.  Next, I stirred in 2 ounces of crumbled feta cheese and the chopped dill. Finally, I added the sliced potatoes, tossed everything to combine, and removed the skillet from the heat.  (At this point, the cheese will not be melted and the potatoes will not be cooked – don’t worry!)

On a piece of parchment paper, I rolled 1 store-bought 9-inch pie crust to a 12-inch diameter.  I moved the paper (with the pie crust) onto a baking sheet and spooned the potato mixture onto the pie crust, leaving a 2-inch border.  I folded the edge of the pie crust over the edge of the potato mixture and baked it until the pie crust was golden brown and the potatoes were tender (55 minutes).  (I did tent mine with foil at the 45-minute mark to prevent the crust from getting too dark.)  I served the tart in wedges with salad on the side.

Potato Leek and Feta Tart

I was nervous about this one since there wasn’t exactly a finished filling to sample before everything went into the oven, but I ended up pleasantly surprised.  The amount of salt and pepper was just right; the saltiness of the feta definitely added to the overall flavor profile.  The pie crust was flaky and not at all soggy, the vegetables were tender, and the cheese was browned on top but melted inside.  It was pretty yummy overall.  My only issue with this recipe is that the potatoes that were exposed on top of the filling ended up a bit chewy while the potatoes underneath were just perfect; next time, I’ll nestle the potato slices beneath a layer of leeks and zucchini.

The baking time is long but the prep work was pretty easy…  I would definitely make this again for any night when dinner needs to be simple but special.

Recipe link: Potato, Leek, and Feta Tart

Red Onion, Potato, and Goat Cheese Pizza

I really enjoy making homemade pizza, especially now that I’ve found a crust recipe that is super easy but still has good flavor and texture.  I realize that pizza is one of those things where you can really just slap some sauce, cheese, and other ingredients together on a crust, bake it, and probably end up with something good, but my favorite cooking magazines keep sending these irresistible pizza recipes my way.  I decided to try the recipe for Red Onion, Potato, and Goat Cheese Pizza from the November 2009 issue of Cooking Light yesterday so we would have something yummy to eat during our football game (go Huskers!).  Admittedly, this particular pizza is a bit dressed up for game day, but we absolutely loved it.

I’ll share my crust recipe first; it’s adapted from an Emeril Lagasse recipe with a tip from Mario Batali.

Basic Pizza Dough

¾ cup of warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
¼ cup of light-bodied white wine
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon of honey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of coarse salt


In a large bowl, combine the water, wine, yeast, honey and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, stirring until combined.  Let stand until the mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add 1 ½ cups of the flour and the salt, mixing by hand until everything is incorporated and the mixture is smooth.  Continue adding the flour, ¼ cup at a time, working the dough after each addition, until the dough is smooth but still slightly sticky.  You may not need all of the flour.  Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth but still slightly tacky, 3 to 5 minutes.

Oil the mixing bowl with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Place the dough in the bowl, turning to coat with the oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 ½ hours.  Punch down the dough before rolling out the crust.

If you don’t want to make your own dough, you can certainly use the refrigerated kind.  I just can’t do it anymore, though. 🙂

Now for the toppings…  First, I put 7 ounces of fingerling potatoes (about 5 potatoes) in a saucepan, covered them with water, and brought them to a boil.  I cooked them until they were just tender (12 minutes up here at altitude; 10 minutes is probably fine if you’re at sea level) and drained them.  Once they were cool enough to handle, I sliced them into 1/4-inch slices and set them aside.

While the potatoes were boiling, I sliced a medium red onion into 1/2-inch rings.  I heated 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and sautéed the onion until it was tender (8 minutes).  (Note: I turned the heat down to medium at about the 4-minute mark because my onion was charring pretty quickly.)

Once the potatoes and onions were ready to go, I rolled my dough out to a 14-inch circle on a lightly floured surface.  I sprinkled my pizza stone with cornmeal and transferred the dough round to the pizza stone.  Next, I sprinkled 1 cup (4 ounces) of shredded part-skim mozzarella over the crust.  I arranged the potatoes and onions over the mozzarella and then evenly topped the vegetables with 4 ounces of soft goat cheese and 1 minced garlic clove.  (The recipe only called for 3 ounces of goat cheese but mine came in a 4-ounce package; I knew it would go to waste if I didn’t use it all.)  Even though the recipe didn’t say to do this, I gave the entire pizza a sprinkle of coarse salt and ground pepper; I think sometimes Cooking Light recipes go too easy on the seasoning (probably because many of their readers are trying to cut things like salt – and sugar, fat, etc. – from their diets).

I baked the pizza in the lower third of my oven at 450F until it was browned (15 minutes), and then sprinkled it with 1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves before serving.

Red Onion Potato and Goat Cheese Pizza

Man, was this ever good.  I loved the sweetness of the charred red onion, the tanginess of the goat cheese, and the bright flavor of the fresh thyme.  Texturally, I thought the tender potatoes, creamy goat cheese, and chewy crust were just perfect together.  I know one online reviewer of this recipe indicated that the pizza was “flavorless” beyond the goat cheese, so maybe the homemade crust and the sprinkling of coarse salt and pepper really does make a difference.  (I’d like to think so!)  The one thing I think would make a good thing even better in this case is BACON…  Granted, it takes a nice vegetarian option and turns it into something different, but that addition would really send the flavors of this pizza over the edge.  I can’t wait to try it!

TIPS:  If you can’t get fingerling potatoes or don’t want to pay for them, you could absolutely get away with using red or white new potatoes.  You might have to adjust the boiling time if the potatoes are on the large side; just make sure they’re tender (but not mushy or falling apart) before you drain them.

Also, as always, feel free to substitute a different kind of cheese if you don’t like goat cheese.  I think 3 to 4 ounces of part-skim ricotta (distributed in teaspoon-size dollops, maybe?) would work well with this recipe.

Recipe link: Red Onion, Potato, and Goat Cheese Pizza

Potato and Onion Frittata

I recently decided to take a good look at the search terms that drive traffic to my blog.  Some of the top terms are common, everyday-type foods (like enchiladas and stuffed peppers), but I was shocked by how many people were out there searching for frittata recipes.  (Maybe they’re more common than I thought?)  It then occurred to me that while I used to make frittatas so often that it was almost an obsession, I haven’t posted a frittata on this site in ages.  (Since October 14 of last year, to be exact!)  I turned to my breakfast recipe spreadsheet to find a quick and easy option with inexpensive ingredients, and the Potato and Onion Frittata recipe from the January/February 2006 issue of Everyday Food fit the bill perfectly.

First, I prepped my veggies.  I peeled, halved, and thinly sliced 1 large onion and 1 8-ounce baking potato.  In a medium (10-inch) nonstick broilerproof skillet, I heated 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  I added the onion, potato, and 1/2 teaspoon of crumbled dried rosemary, seasoned with coarse salt and ground pepper, and tossed everything to combine.

I covered the skillet with its lid and cooked the veggies for 10 minutes.  Next, I uncovered the skillet and cooked the mixture, tossing occasionally, until the onion and potato were tender (about 5 minutes).

While the potato and onion were cooking, I whisked together 5 large eggs, 5 large egg whites, 1/2 cup of whole flat-leaf parsley leaves, 3/4 teaspoon of coarse salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper in a medium bowl.  (I used a melamine bowl with a spout since it’s easier for pouring.)

At this point, I started heating the broiler so it would be ready for the last step; I also made sure a rack was positioned in the upper third of the oven.

I added another tablespoon of olive oil to the potato-onion mixture in the skillet and poured in the egg mixture.  I cooked the frittata over medium-low heat (use low or medium-low, depending on how hot your stove gets), lifting the mixture a few times around the edges to let the egg flow underneath.  Once the frittata was almost set in the center (12 minutes for me, 10 minutes according to the recipe), I put the frittata under the broiler until it was set and golden brown (3 minutes).  The photograph shows the frittata still in the skillet, but it released very easily; I just ran a clean spatula around the edges and slid it out onto a plate for cutting and serving.

Potato and Onion Frittata

After all this frittata-less time, it was sure nice to have one for dinner.  This one was a bit thinner than what I’m accustomed to; it was almost like a thick egg pancake.  It was really delicious, though, with the tender potato, charred onion, and fresh herbs.  This frittata is especially healthy (only 5 Weight Watchers points for an entire quarter of the dish) because there’s no cheese, but I didn’t think it was lacking in the flavor department at all.

The only thing I would do differently next time is that I would stir the potatoes and onions halfway through the covered cooking time.  I’m a huge fan of charred bits and I think they add a lot of flavor, but letting the potatoes and onions sit undisturbed in that hot oil for ten whole minutes was almost too much.  If charred bits make your day (Christopher, I’m talking to you!), though, give the recipe a whirl as is.

Recipe link: Potato and Onion Frittata

Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables

With the passing of Labor Day, I realize that summer is essentially over.  No more white pants, straw handbags, yadda, yadda, yadda.  However, according to the calendar, the first day of fall isn’t until September 22nd, which is why I think Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables from the June 2009 issue of Everyday Food still fits the dinner bill fantastically.  My grocery stores are still brimming with the essential ingredients – zucchini or summer squash, grape tomatoes, and basil – and I’m going to continue to enjoy summer’s produce bounty while it lasts.

First, I prepped my ingredients so I could have everything lined up and ready to go for the skillet.  I quartered and sliced 2 pounds of zucchini, halved a pint of grape tomatoes, chopped 1/4 cup of fresh basil, grated Pecorino Romano cheese to yield 2 tablespoons, and juiced a lemon to yield 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.

In a large skillet, I heated 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat and then added the sliced zucchini and 2 teaspoons of minced garlic.  I seasoned the mixture with salt and pepper and cooked it, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini was crisp-tender (about 4 – 5 minutes).  Next, I added the halved grape tomatoes and continued cooking the mixture, still stirring occasionally, until it was juicy (about 2 minutes more).

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, I cooked 1 pound of gnocchi according to package directions.  (I buy vacuum-packed gnocchi at Sunflower Market; they usually cook in about 4 minutes.)  Reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, I drained the gnocchi and added it to the zucchini-tomato mixture in the skillet.  I tossed everything together, adding enough of the cooking liquid to create a sauce.  (I used about half of the liquid.)  I removed the skillet from the heat and stirred in the chopped basil, grated cheese, 1 tablespoon of butter, and the reserved lemon juice before serving.

Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables

This dish is another winner!  I think there are quite a few similarities between this recipe and the Pasta with Zucchini and Toasted Almonds I made earlier this summer.  Both were incredibly delicious, but I think the defining factor for this recipe is the richness of the sauce.  It’s amazing what one little tablespoon of butter can do.  I think I also have to vote for gnocchi over linguine any day…  There’s just something about the light yet chewy texture of the potato dumplings that really does it for me.   Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Recipe link: Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables

Pasta with Zucchini and Toasted Almonds

Slowly but surely, I’m working my way back into an (almost) daily cooking routine. 🙂

My friend Christopher often has a sense of what I need even when I don’t.  One of his recent gifts was a subscription to Cooking Light, which has served me well in two ways.  One, it provides endless options for healthy cooking; two, it helps me break out of my Everyday Food rut.  (It’s an often fabulous and tasty rut, but a rut nonetheless.)  I’ve really enjoyed having the magazines around because I feel like the recipes are generally pretty safe, nutritionally; I don’t have to do a bunch of calculating to make sure we’re on track with our Kauai goals (eight weeks and counting!).

My most recent Cooking Light attempt was a fabulous find – Pasta with Zucchini and Toasted Almonds.  It sounds like a strange combo (I’m used to toasted almonds on my oatmeal and in salads – not so much in my pasta), but the flavors were divine.

The recipe is basically a three-part process: combining ingredients to create a room-temperature tomato mixture, cooking a batch of fresh pasta, and sauteeing some zucchini with garlic.  I started with the tomato mixture.  In a medium bowl, I combined 2 cups of cherry tomatoes (halved), 2 tablespoons of minced shallots, 1 teaspoon of minced fresh thyme, 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, 3/4 teaspoon of kosher (coarse) salt, 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of sugar.  I added 2 teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil, tossed everything to coat, and set the mixture aside.

Next, I cooked 1 package (9 ounces) of refrigerated linguine according to package directions.  While I waited for the water to boil, I coarsely chopped 1 pound of zucchini and 3 tablespoons of fresh mint.  Once I had my pasta going, I sauteed the zucchini with 1 1/2 teaspoons of minced garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  After 3 minutes, I added 3/4 cup of chicken broth and brought the mixture to a simmer.  (This happened almost immediately.)  I stirred in the cooked linguine and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the chopped mint, tossing well.

I transferred the pasta-zucchini mixture to a large bowl, added the tomato mixture, and tossed well again.  Each serving was 1 1/2 cups of the pasta mixture topped with a quarter of the remaining mint, 4 teaspoons of grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and 2 teaspoons of toasted almonds.

Pasta with Zucchini and Toasted Almonds

Man, was this ever good.  The flavor was *so* fresh.  It was veggie heavy, but it still had an indulgent pasta feel, mostly because of the way the Pecorino Romano clung to the chicken broth-moistened linguine.  It was heavenly.  I thought the almonds would be weird, but I really enjoyed the added texture.  I *definitely* plan on making this one again…  It just tastes like summer!

TIPS:  My only beef with this recipe is that it was kind of difficult to toss together…  The tomatoes and zucchini didn’t seem to want to incorporate evenly with the pasta.  I just made a special effort to make sure each serving had a proportionate amount of “good stuff” when I dished it up.

Recipe link: Pasta with Zucchini and Toasted Almonds

Perfect Macaroni and Cheese

Despite all of the moving chaos still present in my life, I’ve decided that today is the day I take a giant step back towards normalcy.  I cooked my own breakfast (no more Starbucks and cold cereal!), I’m hitting the gym, and I’m firing up this blog.  I haven’t started cooking full-on meals again just yet (thank you, Christopher, for green enchie leftovers) , but I have a few good stories to share from the past couple of weeks.  Let’s start with one of those now…

I’m a macaroni and cheese FIEND.  I’m too well-behaved (from a nutritional standpoint, at least) to eat it all the time, but it’s truly one of my favorite foods.  I even have a cookbook that is dedicated entirely to macaroni and cheese (thank you, Colleen!).

Several weeks ago, my friend Christopher had friends over for a meatloaf dinner with macaroni and cheese on the side.  He said the macaroni and cheese recipe – Perfect Macaroni and Cheese from the February 1999 issue of Martha Stewart Living – was to die for, so I picked up the ingredients.  This was about the time that moving chaos really started to set in, though, so I was struggling to stick with my scheduled menus.  In a comical turn of events, we actually ended up at my place one Sunday finishing up a baking project that we had started at Christopher’s place.  Dinnertime rolled around and I had the Perfect Macaroni and Cheese ingredients (and little else) in the refrigerator, so we decided to make it together while the cakes we had been baking were cooling.

The original recipe serves 12 people, so I had purchased ingredients for a half recipe.  First, we buttered a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish and set it aside.  Next, we took 3 slices of white bread, removed the crusts, and tore them into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch pieces.  We placed the bread in a small bowl, poured 1 tablespoon of melted butter over the top, tossed the mixture, and set it aside as well.

To make the cheese sauce, we started by heating 2 3/4 cups of milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  While the milk heated, we made the roux that would become the sauce’s thickening agent.  In a high-sided skillet, we melted 3 tablespoons of butter, added 1/4 cup of flour when the butter began to bubble, and cooked the mixture (stirring constantly) for 1 minute.

Whisking constantly, we slowly poured the hot milk into the flour mixture.  The next line of the recipe says, “Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.”  It probably should have said “continue cooking, and cooking, and cooking, and cooking…”  The process of thickening this sauce really did take forever.  It’s a good thing I had Christopher there to cheer me on as I whisked, because I would have stopped long before the sauce had reached an optimal thickness.

When the sauce was nice and thick, we removed it from the heat and added 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/8 teaspoon of grated nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon of ground black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 cups of grated sharp white cheddar, and 3/4 cup of grated Gruyere.  We stirred the sauce until it was well blended and set it aside.

Cooking the macaroni was the last step before we could assemble the casserole.  In a large saucepan of boiling water, we cooked 8 ounces of elbow macaroni until the outside of the pasta was cooked and the inside was underdone.  (Normally, this would be about 2 – 3 fewer minutes than the package instructions; at this altitude, it’s more like the exact recommended cooking time or 1 fewer minute.)  When the pasta was adequately cooked, we rinsed it under cold water, drained it well, and stirred it into the reserved cheese sauce.

Finally, we poured the noodles and cheese sauce into our prepared casserole dish.  We sprinkled the mixture with 3/4 cup of shredded sharp white cheddar and 1/4 cup of shredded Gruyere, scattered the buttered breadcrumbs on top, and baked the casserole at 375F until it was browned on top (about 30 minutes).  We let the dish cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes and served it with rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and green beans from the freezer.  There’s nothing wrong with dressing up a gorgeous dish with a few convenience items in a tight situation, eh? 🙂

Perfect Macaroni and Cheese

This macaroni and cheese was *really* delicious.  Truly.  It was creamy, nicely textured, and the breadcrumbs on top were killer.  I couldn’t count it as “perfect,” though, because I’ve been ridiculously spoiled by the macaroni and cheese at The Porch in Dallas, which I consider to be the standard by which all other macaroni and cheese should be judged.  There was something in the flavor profile of the cheeses I used that didn’t quite do it for me, but like anything, a dish is only as good as the ingredients you put into it.  Next time, I think I’m going to try the Pecorino-Romano variation given in the original recipe to see if that yields a flavor that is closer to what I want.  I’ll definitely give this one another shot, though.

TIPS:  I failed to plan ahead in the milk department, so I only had 1% milk on hand when it was time to make the roux.  For maximum creaminess, I should have used whole milk (and will next time).

Also, be sure to plan on grating your own sharp white cheddar and Gruyere, unless you have access to a (probably gourmet) grocery store that sells them pre-shredded.

Recipe link: Perfect Macaroni and Cheese

Cuban Black-Bean Stew with Rice

My gosh, I haven’t blogged in FOREVER.  I apologize.  We closed on the house, my mom came to visit, and I just now feel like I’m getting caught up.  (Only to fall behind again, of course…  We found out yesterday that our landlady will allow us to terminate our lease as long as we’re in the new house by April 15.  It’s a blessing, really, in terms of saving money, but now I need to hustle my bustle.)

I’ll try to do better over these next few weeks until I completely dismantle my kitchen again.

Anyway, I made something so fantastic for dinner Sunday night that I just *had* to write about it – Cuban Black-Bean Stew with Rice from the September 2008 issue of Everyday Food.  It’s really quick and easy, but it tastes like it simmered on the stove for hours.

First, I cooked up some long-grain white rice according to package directions.  The recipe said to make 1 1/2 cups of dry rice, but I thought the quantity was a bit much.  Next time, I’ll just make 1 cup.

Once I had the rice going, I chopped 1 red bell pepper and 1 medium red onion.  I heated 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and added the chopped pepper, chopped onion, and 1 minced garlic clove.  (I used the jarred stuff, I’ll admit.)  I cooked the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the onion was softened (about 8 minutes.)

Next, I added 2 cans of black beans (rinsed and drained), 1 can of vegetable broth, 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano.  I cooked the mixture, mashing some of the beans with the back of a spoon, until it was slightly thickened (about 8 minutes).  I served the bean stew over the cooked rice garnished with cilantro and a lime wedge.

Cuban Black-Bean Stew with Rice

Mmm, mmm, mmm!  This dish had truly terrific flavor.  I loved the onion base and the sweetness of the red pepper, and the cider vinegar added real depth of flavor.   Stirring the cilantro garnish into the dish and adding a squeeze of lime turns ho-hum white rice into cilantro-lime rice.  Dr. O compared this to the inside of a burrito from his very favorite place (any guesses?)…  I agree, and with this much flavor, I certainly didn’t miss the tortilla.  I can’t wait to make this one again.

TIPS:  Don’t skip the cilantro and the lime!  The added flavor is totally worth the extra ingredients.

Recipe link: Cuban Black-Bean Stew with Rice

Lighter Eggplant Parmesan

Here’s one for any of you who might have a chocolate hangover from this weekend…  Lighter Eggplant Parmesan from the December 2008 issue of Everyday Food.  It’s super flavorful without any of the guilt, probably because this recipe ditches the breading and cuts down significantly on the amount of oil used.  (Eggplant slices are like little sponges!)

The recipe called for one large (2-pound) eggplant, but Sunflower Market only had eggplants that were around a pound apiece.  I just bought two.  My first objective was to slice the eggplants into 1/2-inch rounds.  I’ll admit that I used my kitchen ruler to mark the 1/2-inch points because I’m obsessed with detail that way.  (It might sound crazy, but the slices sure cooked evenly.)

Once I had my eggplant slices, I arranged them on two rimmed baking sheets and brushed them on both sides with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.  (The recipe called for 1 tablespoon of olive oil, but I actually needed about 1 1/2 tablespoons to get through all the slices.)  With racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, I baked the eggplant slices at 450F for 25 minutes, turning the slices and rotating the baking sheets halfway through.

While the eggplant baked, I made the sauce for the dish.  In a medium saucepan off heat, I whisked together 1/4 cup of milk (the recipe called for skim; I used 1%), 3 tablespoons of flour, and 2 minced garlic cloves.  I gradually whisked in another 3/4 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of store-bought marinara sauce.  I brought the mixture to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and cooked until it had thickened (about 2 – 3 minutes).

To assemble the dish, I spread 1/4 cup of regular marinara sauce (not the cooked pink sauce) in the bottom of a 2 1/2-quart baking dish.  (The recipe called for a 2-quart dish, but I only have a 1 1/2-quart dish and a 2 1/2-quart dish.)  I alternated layers of eggplant with the pink sauce.  (I ended up with 3 layers, but it depends on the size of your dish and the size of your eggplant slices.)  I dolloped the dish with another 1/4 cup of regular marinara sauce, topped it with 1/2 cup of grated part-skim mozzarella and 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan, and baked it at 450F on the upper rack until it was browned and bubbling (15 minutes).

Lighter Eggplant Parmesan

This was *delicious*.  Look at that cheesy crust!  I honestly didn’t miss the breading and it was nice not to have the dish oozing oil on the plate.  As you might guess (since it’s mostly eggplant!), this is very eggplant-y…  If you don’t like eggplant to begin with, this one probably isn’t for you.  If you do, though, I can’t recommend it enough.  Mmmm.

(Eggplant fans, give Eggplant Rollatini a try as well!)

TIPS:  The online post of this recipe has two errors in the third step.  Each time it says “cup marinara sauce,” it should instead say “1/4 cup marinara sauce.”

Recipe link: Lighter Eggplant Parmesan

The Daring Kitchen

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