White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies (with or without Pancetta)

IMG_4299IMG_4302

IMG_4313

About two and half years ago, in the infancy of this blog, I posted a recipe for Barefoot Contessa’s chicken pot pies. In that post, I told you all that I don’t actually eat chicken pot pies. That still holds true to this day – I’ve made them a number of times between then and now, and I always give them away – I have a bite here and there just to make sure they’re edible, and I know they’re good, but they’re just easy for me to pass up. I first made this white bean version when Deb’s cookbook came out three years ago, and I haven’t made them since (until now) because I actually do eat them. I ate half of one when they came out of the oven the other night, even though I was going to dinner an hour later. I’m debating defrosting one for dinner tonight. My mouth is literally watering just thinking about them, that’s how good they are. They’re worth an extra mile or two on the treadmill – even if it’s an extra mile or two every day for the next two weeks.

IMG_4333

IMG_4314

IMG_4316

IMG_4317

I think one of the reasons I love this recipe so much is because I just adore the white bean and greens combo – remember my soup? Deb also introduced me to this stew, which is essentially a fancier version of my soup – but it calls for wine, which is always fun, and you get to serve it on a piece of garlic toast. Next on my list: Molly’s braised beans with escarole.  Beans and greens just feel healthy and hearty and comforting to me, I guess – the perfect cozy fall or winter meal – although the sauce and crust definitely negate most of the health factor in this case.

Another reason I have a hard time turning these pies down is because the filling is absolutely divine – the sauce is creamy and velvety and decadent, basically like a chicken pot pie sauce without the chicken, but not quite as rich (it doesn’t actually contain cream). The recipe as written is technically called “Pancetta, White Bean, and Swiss Chard Pot Pies” – although Deb tells you to feel free to skip the pancetta. I eat chicken but not pork (don’t ask me to explain why) so I’m ok with chicken broth but I leave the pancetta out. You can make it fully vegetarian by using vegetable broth, but the chicken broth is pretty dang good. Of course I don’t miss it at all, but I’ve made these pies with pancetta in the past and the people I fed them to felt pretty strongly I was missing out, so if you don’t have an issue with pork I would recommend trying it – I include instructions for either version, or a combo of both, below.

IMG_4318

IMG_4334

IMG_4323

IMG_4324

But finally, the thing I love most about these pies, the reason I was burning my tongue inhaling one the other night as they were steaming-hot-out-of-the-oven and I needed to save my appetite for dinner, is the crust. Yes, I love the beans and greens, but if I’m craving that I can make my soup (in a fraction of the time). If I want something richer and heartier I’ll make Deb’s stew. This pie crust, however, takes these from being really really good pot pies to absolutely freaking to die for delicious pot pies. And I’m not really even a pie crust person! Deb describes it as croissant-like, and she’s right, it’s a pie-crust-croissant-combination in the best way possible. She adds sour cream and vinegar to the dough, and I don’t know why we haven’t been doing that all along, with all pie crusts, because it does something really miraculous. The crust is flaky and buttery and slightly tangy – the filling really would make a delicious stew all on it’s own, but once you try this crust you would never not make it (although I will say, Ina’s version holds it’s shape much better, thanks to the crisco). If you’re wondering why I wouldn’t just use this crust for chicken pot pies, it’s because I’m perfectly happy not eating them, and I’m afraid trying them with this crust would give me a newfound love for chicken pot pie – which is basically the last thing I need.

IMG_4325

IMG_4327

IMG_4328

IMG_4329

So now you know why I can only make this recipe once every three years, and/or for very special occasions (funny story, I actually made these for my cousin who just had her third baby, and who is a strict vegetarian – so as I was pouring the chicken stock into the pan it dawned on me that I’ll need to make her a new batch….and thus these are calling my name from the freezer). Apologies for the excess of photos, and the entire paragraph devoted to pie crust (it’s a long recipe, an even longer blog post – if my high school English teachers/law school legal writing professors could read this they would cry). Full disclosure, this recipe will take you about two hours – longer if your pies need extra time in the oven like mine did – but I think you’ll find it time well spent.

Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Pie Cake (there’s no “one year ago” as apparently November 2014 was a bad blogging month for me!)
Pot Pies, Previously:
Chicken, two ways

White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies, from Smitten Kitchen (on her blog and in her cookbook)

Yield: 4 large pot pies (would also work well in an 8×8″ baking dish)

For the Crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
13 tablespoons (1 stick + 5 tablespoons from a second stick) unsalted butter, cold and diced
6 tablespoons sour cream or greek yogurt
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup ice water
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash (for topping crust)

For the Filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces (3/4 cup to 1 cup) 1/4″ diced pancetta, optional*
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped (I used 2)
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped (I used 2)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
Thinly sliced swiss chard leaves from an 8-10 ounce bundle, approximately 4 cups (I just use an entire bunch, large or small, without worrying about ounces or cups)
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter (remainder of second stick from crust, plus an additional 1/2 tablespoon)
3 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, ideally low-sodium
2 cups white beans, cooked and drained, or from about 1 and 1/3 cans (I used two whole cans)

Make Crust: In a large, wide bowl (preferably one that you can get your hands into), combine the flour and salt. Add butter, and using a pastry blender or your fingers, mix butter into the flour mixture until it resembles little pebbles. In a small dish, whisk together sour cream, vinegar, and water, and combine with butter/flour mixture. Using a flexible spatula, combine until mixture forms a dough. You may need to use your hands to knead it a few times (it will be sticky). Pat into a flat-ish ball and refrigerate for one hour (or up to two days – but it needs at least an hour, which conveniently is about the time it will take you to chop your veggies and make the filling).

Make Filling: Heat olive oil in large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat (if using pancetta, see * below). Add onions, carrot, celery, pinch of red pepper flakes, and a few pinches of salt, and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown. Add garlic and cook for one minute longer. Add greens and cook until wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, transfer to a bowl, and set aside.

Make Sauce: Wipe out your pan, add butter, and melt over medium-low heat.  Add flour, whisk to combine, and cook for two minutes. Slowly whisk in the broth, one ladleful or splash at a time, mixing completely with each addition. Once all the broth is added, bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until sauce is thickened and gravy-like, about 10 minutes, and then remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Add white beans and veggie mixture (and pancetta, if using).

Assemble Pot Pies: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Divide filling between four large ramekins (you could also use ovenproof bowls).  There should be a total of 6 cups of filling, or 1 1/2 cups per ramekin (I somehow had a greater volume of filling and chose to fill all four ramekins very full rather than filling a fifth, which was fine except that they all boiled over; if you would rather have a pretty crust than a super-hearty portion – I certainly would! – make sure not to fill ramekins too full). Set the ramekins on a baking sheet. Divide the dough into four pieces and roll each into a circle large enough to cover the ramekin and leave a 1″ overhang (I used large ramekins and had plenty of dough). Whisk the egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water) and brush it lightly around the top rim of the ramekins so that dough will stick. Drape pastry over each ramekin, pressing lightly so that the dough sticks to the dish. Brush crusts with egg wash, then use a sharp knife to cut slits or decorative vents in each to help steam escape. Bake until crust is bronzed and filling is lightly bubbling (hopefully only lightly!) through vents, 30-35 minutes (mine took about 45 to get the crust bronzed, and still not as bronzed as Deb’s photos).

To Make Ahead: the dough, wrapped in plastic wrap and then in a freezer storage bag, will last up to two days in the fridge or a couple months in the freezer. The filling can be made up to a day in advance and kept covered in the fridge.

*If Using Pancetta: Before cooking your veggies, sauté pancetta in one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove pancetta from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Leave pancetta renderings in the pan, add an additional tablespoon of olive oil, and then sauté veggies as written above and go from there. Add pancetta back to filling when you add veggies and white beans to sauce. If you’re feeding a group that’s half pancetta-friendly and half not, rather than cooking all the veggies in the pancetta renderings, just make the pancetta-free version, cook the pancetta separately, and then stir it into the individual pot pies.

IMG_4330

Mac and Cheese, Part Two

photo 3

As discussed yesterday, I went on a bit of a mac and cheese bender a few months ago when I was preparing freezer meals for my sister (in preparation for the arrival of her first baby/my first nephew). Beecher’s is an artisan cheese shop that originated in Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, and I might have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with their cheeses.  They also happen to make a really amazing mac and cheese, which is called “Beecher’s ‘World’s Best’ Mac and Cheese.” A pretty bold assertion, but even if it’s not the best it’s definitely in the running.

photo 1

Beecher’s mac and cheese is traditionally made with their “flagship” cheese – clearly I’m not a connoisseur, but I would describe it as similar to a sharp white cheddar.  I was snacking on their peppery “marco polo” during a wine and cheese night this past summer when I had an epiphany – why not make Beecher’s mac and cheese with marco polo in place of the flagship? It’s basically just a creamy, mild white cheese with green and black peppercorns – I think of it mostly as black pepper cheese, but there’s green in there too. Beecher’s makes a couple other varieties aside from the flagship (smoked, mariachi, chicken, pork), but they have not come out with a marco polo version – no idea why not, but as soon as I thought of it I became convinced it would be the most delicious thing ever.  Contrary to what it probably looks like based upon this blog, I actually don’t make/eat mac and cheese all that often (unless you count the frozen “reduced guilt” Trader Joe’s frozen kind) – and neither does my sister. But I figured if there’s ever a time when you can eat “full guilt” mac and cheese with no guilt (or at least, less guilt), it’s after you’ve given birth.  Plus, what better way to celebrate the arrival of the world’s best baby than with the world’s best mac and cheese?!?

photo 2
photo 1
photo 1

So I set about to make two casseroles, a traditional (flagship) and a black pepper (marco polo). Again, the recipe is pretty simple. Cook some pasta, make a quick béchamel, grate a ton of cheese and melt it into the sauce, toss the sauce with the pasta, top with more cheese, and bake. The traditional recipe calls for chili powder in both the sauce and on top of the casserole; I wasn’t sure that the chili powder would go with the black pepper so I omitted it from the second casserole. Aside from that, my only recipe “tweak” was to use the marco polo in lieu of the flagship in both the sauce and in the topping. Flagship cheese is pretty easy to find these days – it’s sold at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s (for a lot cheaper!) even outside of Seattle.  Marco Polo might be a little trickier – I’ve been able to find it at QFC and New Seasons in Portland, but I’m not sure if you would be able to find it anywhere else outside of Seattle or NYC (go here if you find yourself in the Flatiron district and in need of a good happy hour). Beecher’s will ship it to you – though for the shipping charges, I would just get the flagship at Trader Joe’s and call it good. The marco polo is good, but I have a hard time paying more for shipping than the cost of the actual item. If you can get your hands on it, though, please make this and let me know your thoughts – I really think I’m onto something.

photo 2
photo 2
photo-64

While I prefer to use pretty bakeware (and use this blog as an excuse to buy a lot of it), I think one of the nicest things you can do when bringing meals to new parents (or anyone in need of a meal) is to bring everything in disposable dishes so that they don’t have to worry about returning anything. So in that vein, please excuse these lovely tin foil casserole dishes. I might have considered using nicer dishes since these were for my sister (and therefore more likely that I could demand them back), but I didn’t want to be without two casserole dishes while they sat in the freezer for months.  Turns out they were eaten quickly enough that I wouldn’t have missed them.

photo 2

One year ago: Pumpkin Muffins 

Mac and Cheese, previously: Part One, Carrot

Beecher’s “World’s Best” Mac & Cheese 

Serves 4

Sauce

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 /2 cups whole milk
7 ounces Flagship cheese (about 1 3/4 cups), grated (for the black pepper option, use Marco Polo in place of Flagship)
1 ounce Just Jack (about 1/4 cup), grated (if you can’t find Beecher’s, any Jack will do)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder* (for black pepper version, omit the chili powder)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Pasta

6 ounces penne pasta (about 3 1/4 cups)
1 ounce (1/4 cup) Flagship cheese, grated  (for the black pepper option, use Marco Polo in place of Flagship)
1 ounce (1/4 cup) Just Jack cheese, grated
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder* (for black pepper version, omit the chili powder)

*I used the full 1/2 teaspoon in the sauce, and then less than even the 1/4 teaspoon on top of the pasta because I got scared it would be too spicy.  But it really is pretty mild (at least, the chipotle chili powder I used was), so as long as you’re not completely spice-adverse you can go ahead and use as much as you want.

Instructions

To prepare sauce, melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly. Cook until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Add cheeses, salt, chili powder, and garlic powder. Stir until cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or oil an 8-inch baking dish. Cook penne two minutes less than package directions. (It will finish cooking in the oven.) Rinse pasta in cold water and drain well.

Combine pasta and sauce in a medium bowl; mix carefully but thoroughly. Scrape the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle top with cheeses and then the chili powder.

For black pepper option, use Marco Polo in place of Flagship in both the sauce and the topping. Omit chili powder in both the sauce and the topping. 

Bake, uncovered, 20-25 minutes, or until top is golden brown and sauce is bubbling. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

If planning to use as a freezer meal, I still bake the casserole beforehand and then freeze it after it’s cooled, but I’m pretty sure you could freeze it uncooked as well.  Even if it’s fully cooked, it will take at least the full baking time to reheat.  I always tell people to take it out of the freezer as soon as possible and then bake at 350 for 30-60 minutes. If it’s close to fully defrosted it might take only 30 minutes to heat through; if it’s fully frozen it will take closer to an hour. These non-specific instructions really through my brother in law for a loop, but it’s the best way I can think of to explain it – if anyone has better tips I would love to hear them in the comments!

photo 1 

Mac and Cheese, Part One

photo 1-21
This post was originally supposed to be called “Mac and Cheese, Three Ways” – but it was getting so long that I cut it in half (stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow).  My sister and her husband had their first baby a couple months ago, and while I tried really hard to come up with some creative ideas for freezer meals, I had a difficult time getting past everyone’s favorite comfort food. So I decided if I couldn’t be original, I would be excessive instead: I stocked their freezer with, among other things, three different macaroni and cheese casseroles for the first few post baby months (they may have only lasted a few weeks). Number three was the one I was most excited about (more on that tomorrow), but I decided to start with a Barefoot Contessa classic. (Coincidentally, Ina’s new cookbook comes out today – it’s called “Make It Ahead” – and while I’m pretty excited about it, I’m not sure that there’s a better make ahead recipe than this mac and cheese).

photo 4 photo 3-9
Much like last week’s lasagna, I’m not sure that macaroni and cheese is fancy enough to warrant it’s own blog post. However, up until a couple years ago, my grandmother was the only person I knew of who made mac and cheese that wasn’t from a box (that list has now expanded to my grandmother, my friend Lindsay, and myself).  So I’m posting this relatively basic recipe in the hopes of inspiring those of you who haven’t yet realized how easy and delicious homemade mac and cheese can be.  Don’t be intimidated by the béchamel – it used to really scare me, but it’s so easy. SImply melt your butter, add some flour, pour in the milk, and whisk whisk whisk.  It will take a few minutes to thicken up, but once it does you’ll feel like Julia Child. Add salt and pepper, and nutmeg to taste – I usually add whatever the recipe calls for (because I’m a rule follower), but I know a lot of people don’t care for nutmeg in a dish like this so feel free to use less or none at all.

photo 4-7 photo 5-6

Add the cheese to the béchamel while it’s still hot and let it melt.  (If I could only give you one tip for making this recipe, it would be to buy your gruyère at Trader Joe’s – it’s literally half the price of any other store. A second tip would be to use Tillamook extra sharp for your cheddar, yum.)  Combine pasta and sauce and scrape into your prepared baking dish. See, it’s really so simple. And so delicious – you’ll never make mac and cheese from a box again. Not that you ever did.

photo 2
photo 3

Ina wants you to make homemade bread crumbs – which are super easy, but I often don’t have bread on hand so I like to use good store bought breadcrumbs or panko. I like to toast mine on the stovetop beforehand (with a little olive oil or butter), but it’s not a necessary step by any means.  If you want to make your breadcrumbs from scratch, cut the crusts off of five slices of bread (or a hunk of baguette) and process in the food processor until the pieces are the size of small crumbs (duh).  Mix the crumbs with melted butter and then sprinkle on top of the casserole before baking.  Casserole can be prepared ahead of time and then baked before serving, or baked and frozen for tired moms and dads to defrost and reheat as necessary.

photo 4

One year ago: Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash) and Greens

Mac and Cheese, previously: Melissa Clark’s Carroty Mac and Cheese

Barefoot Contessa’s Mac and Cheese, from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

Ingredients:

Kosher salt
Olive oil
1 lb. elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 quart milk (4 cups)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all purpose flour
12 ounces gruyère, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or less, to taste)
4 small tomatoes, sliced (optional – I skipped this step)
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs, fresh (5 slices bread, crusts removed) or store bought breadcrumbs or panko

To Make:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle olive oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add pasta and cook according to package directions (on the shorter side if they give you a range; you want the noodles al dente as they’ll continue to cook in the oven). Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan (don’t let it come to a boil). Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4 quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. While whisking, add hot milk (slowly) and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the gruyère, cheddar, one tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish. Arrange sliced tomatoes on top of pasta (if using). Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, combine with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on top (I like to melt the butter in a frying pan, add panko breadcrumbs, and toast before topping the casserole with them). Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and casserole is browned on top.  

photo 5

Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore

photo 2

photo 5

I’m not entirely sure if lasagna is a “sexy” enough topic for a blog post, but I’ve had enough people ask me for this recipe over the years that I thought I should share it with all of you. Plus, it seems appropriate to celebrate our first official week of rainy weather with a recipe from my “Celebrate the Rain” cookbook from the Junior League of Seattle. [Sidenote, my career in the Junior League was sadly short lived – but this cookbook was one of the best things I got out of it.]  I’m not ordinarily a huge lasagna fan – I don’t eat red meat, which means I often can’t eat it anyways, but even when there’s a veggie option I find it’s usually heavy and/or mushy and/or bland.  It’s hard for me not to like a dish made up of pasta plus cheese plus tomato sauce, but rarely have I experienced a truly stand out dish – this is one of the few lasagna recipes I’ve found that I can truly say I love. So much so that I made it for a dinner party last week, and have been pouting about lack of leftovers ever since.

photo 3

photo 4

photo 5

Chicken cacciatore is basically chicken braised in tomato sauce, usually with some combination of onions, garlic, mushrooms, bell peppers, and herbs. I made that definition up, but it’s a combination of the first five or so recipes I read after a quick google search. This recipe, as the name implies, is a combination of chicken cacciatore and lasagna. We make a “cacciatore sauce” of sorts using lots of fresh vegetables, shred the chicken into the sauce, and layer it with noodles (or pasta sheets!) like a lasagna, only using mozzarella and parm instead of your typical ricotta layer. While there is still plenty of cheese, it somehow seems so much lighter than traditional lasagna – and so full of veggies that you don’t even feel that bad about going back for seconds.

photo 2

photo 1

photo 2

This isn’t the quickest of recipes, but as lasagnas go it’s pretty simple to put together. The chopping takes some time, but it’s so worth it. I’m now really wishing I had doubled the recipe, as this will keep well in the freezer (baked or unbaked), and as long as you’re doing one, you might as well do two (or even three!) – the increase in time is marginal. Time saving tips include no-boil noodles or pasta sheets and rotisserie chicken. Boiling lasagna noodles is a total pain – no matter how much oil I add to my cooking water, they seem to always stick together and then break when I try to pull them apart. I’ve used no-boil noodles before and think they’re fine, but I know some people don’t like them – the pasta sheets really are the way to go if you can get them. They’re so easy and so fun, and it makes it a lot easier to serve your lasagna without having to worry about cutting in between the noodles (no pretty ruffles like regular lasagna noodles, though). Rotisserie chicken is a huge time saver, and I find the meat easier to shred. For once I can’t tell you to use the Trader Joe’s pre-chopped onions (my apologies to your eyeballs), but slicing doesn’t take too terribly long.  Pre-grated cheese seems so un-gourmet….but if that’s your thing, I won’t tell and it will still taste yummy.  Honestly though, if you can force yourself to be at least sort of efficient in the kitchen (slice onions while chicken cooks, slice mushrooms/mince garlic/dice pepper while onions cook, grate cheese while sauce simmers, etc.) it really doesn’t take that long to put together.

photo 2

photo 1

unnamed-2

Layer your lasagna: noodles, sauce, cheese; repeat; repeat again. Don’t the pasta sheets look so fun?!? Dump an extra can of tomatoes over everything (except the top layer of cheese) if you’re short on sauce (see my note at the bottom of the recipe). You can stop here and then bake later (if you’re making this ahead of time), or freeze now and bake later, or bake and then freeze – the possibilities are endless.  For my aforementioned dinner party, I put the lasagna together ahead of time, went about my day, and then popped it in the oven right before everyone arrived. The house smelled yummy, we had a lovely 30 minute cocktail hour, and then I took the lasagna out of the oven, popped dessert in, and we sat down to a bubbling-hot-out-of-the-oven dinner (and then an hour later, a bubbling-hot-out-of-the-oven apple crisp).  For someone who’s always scrambling around and doing everything last minute, I was pretty proud of myself!  Lasagna may not be the sexiest blog topic, but it gets major points for the make-ahead factor. Serve with a simple green salad and bread, and it’s a great meal to share with friends – you can sit and chat and enjoy yourself rather than frantically throwing everything together at the last minute. And with a fire in the fireplace and a couple bottles of wine, it’s the perfect meal with which to celebrate the rain.

photo 3

Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore, from Celebrate the Rain

Serves 8*

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
3/4 lbs. boneless, chicken chicken breast**
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
10 ounces button mushrooms, brushed clean, trimmed, and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2″ dice
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes***
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 lb. mozarella cheese, grated
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
12 cooked lasagna noodles OR 9 no-boil lasagna noodles OR 3 fresh pasta sheets

To make sauce:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, add them to the pan, and cook until browned on the bottom, about 6 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook until tender and cooked through, about 5 minutes longer.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and let cool; reserve the saucepan. When the chicken is cool, shred it and set aside. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in the saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the mushrooms and garlic and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes longer.  Add the bell pepper and sauté until nearly tender, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, basil, salt, black pepper, and dried red pepper flakes. Add the chicken, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

To prepare lasagna: 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce (avoiding large chunks of chicken or vegetables) on the bottom of the dish.*** Line the dish with 4 cooked lasagna noodles or 3 no-boil lasagna noodles or one pasta sheet. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the parmesan. Repeat the layering of noodles, sauce, and cheese two more times.  (The lasagna can be prepared a few days ahead, covered with plastic, and refrigerated, or covered securely with plastic and foil and frozen for a few weeks). Bake the lasagna until the cheese turns golden brown in spots and the sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes (if after 30 minutes the sauce is bubbling but the cheese hasn’t started browning, turn the oven to broil and watch the lasagna carefully – it will brown quickly).  Transfer the dish to a wire rack and let the lasagna sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

*The recipe says 8 servings, but I’ve found it usually yields closer to 10-12. You’ll want leftovers, though.
**You could use a store-bought rotisserie chicken here as a shortcut. I usually do, and wondered why I didn’t this time (not that it’s hard to cook the chicken, but I always manage to get oil splattered all over my stovetop). You’ll need about two cups cooked, shredded white meat, skin and bones discarded.  One chicken should yield this easily.
***Every time I make this recipe, I find that I’m way short on sauce (in part probably because my lasagna pan is bigger than 9×13, so this may not be as much of an issue for you). My new trick is to use an extra can of crushed tomatoes – you could use a jar of spaghetti sauce as well if you’re in a pinch.  I like to pour 1/2 cup – 1 cup crushed tomatoes into the bottom of the pan before I start building the lasagna (rather than using the sauce as instructed). Then I do the recommended 1 1/2 cups of sauce per layer (possibly a little more if it looks like that isn’t enough). Once I reach the third layer I’m a little short, so I use up the homemade sauce and then dump the rest of the can of crushed tomatoes over the casserole before I add the final layer of cheese.  You could use a 15.5-ounce can of tomatoes if your lasagna pan is closer to 9×13 size/if you find you aren’t that short on sauce, but I used an entire 28-ounce can this time and it turned out great.  You could also just add the second can of tomatoes to the sauce as you’re making it (along with the can called for), but my saucepan is usually close to overflowing so I’ve been doing it this way.  Making sure the top layer of pasta is fully covered with sauce is especially important if you’re using the no-boil noodles or the fresh pasta sheets as they’ll need the liquid to cook. photo 3

Dark Chocolate Chunk Zucchini Bread

photo 5

Happy stormy Wednesday, friends! Can you believe this weather? The cool(er) temps were a nice reprieve for a day, but two days (or three, per the forecast) is just too much! Although it’s hard to complain about the weather when (a) we’ve had such a gorgeous summer so far, and (b) we have way more important things to talk about, like zucchini bread with chocolate chunks, or my new baby nephew.

When we last met, I was impatiently waiting for Baby P’s arrival.  Anticipating that things might be a little busy once he got here, I had a week’s worth of blog posts drafted and ready to go – all I had to do was hit publish.  But then he was born, and I fell head over heels in love and forgot I had a blog. Or a gym membership, or a blow dryer, for that matter.  All I want to do is hang out with Cooper. But since I would hate for those blog posts to go to waste, there are a lot of B&B treats heading to your inbox in the coming weeks: lentil salad, tomato tart, peach pie…..get excited.

First, though, zucchini bread.  August is the month for zucchini, and when you buy five at the farmers market and it turns out you only need one or two (for a galette or a tart or perhaps even something that doesn’t involve pie crust), zucchini bread is the perfect way to use up the rest. I had developed a nasty banana bread habit before zucchini season rolled around, but luckily this recipe has cured me of it.

photo 2

photo 3

photo-16

Zucchini bread always makes me think of two people, my uncle Rich and my friend Courteney. We have a “family cookbook” in my family, and the zucchini bread recipe in the cookbook is called “Uncle Rich’s Zucchini Bread.” I can’t remember if Uncle Rich actually makes zucchini bread, or if the cookbook publisher (yours truly) was in a rush to assign everyone a recipe and just put his name on something random (I’m pretty sure it’s the former, but I couldn’t swear to it). Regardless, zucchini bread now makes me think of Uncle Rich. And it also makes me think of Courteney, who is always asking me for the recipe for “Uncle Rich’s Zucchini Bread.”

This is one of those great recipes where you can literally just dump everything in one bowl and stir. Counting your food processor or grater, that’s only two dishes to wash. The cake comes out of the oven crunchy at the edges but with a delicate and not-too-sweet crumb, and then of course the dark chocolate chunks.  I had intended for this to be chocolate chip banana bread, but the Whole Foods baking aisle leaves a lot to be desired and I couldn’t find the chips I wanted – so I went with chunks and I’m so glad I did. It’s still a cake-y type bread, but the zucchini does a lot to alleviate the guilt (and there isn’t that much chocolate). The recipe yields two loaves (or in my case, one regular loaf and two mini loaves) and freezes well, so you can have one now and save one for later. I divided mine between a cousin who has a new baby and a friend recovering from surgery, and it was the perfect treat to wrap in foil and store in their freezers. But it would also be the perfect thing to make and eat yourself on a gray and thunderstorm-y August Wednesday, or to bring over as an excuse to visit your new baby nephew.  Lots of options for us. 

photo 3

photo 1

photo 4

Zucchini, previously: ricotta galette, carrot muffinssummer squash tart

One year ago: peach dumplings with bourbon hard sauce (one of my top two most popular B&B recipes, at least in terms of how many people told me they made them and loved them), and can we just relive for a moment the best party I ever threw?

Dark Chocolate Chunk Zucchini Bread (adapted from a variety of zucchini bread recipes)

Yield: two loaves, or four mini loaves (or in this case, one regular loaf and two mini)

Ingredients:
3 eggs
1 cup oil (vegetable, olive, or coconut)
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
2 heaping cups grated, raw, unpeeled zucchini
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup dark chocolate chunks (or any chocolate chunk or chip of your choice)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two loaf pans or four mini loaf pans (I like to spray with “PAM for baking“). Crack your eggs into a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Add oil, sugar, and zucchini; mix well. Add vanilla. Stir in flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and spices. Fold in chocolate chunks (and nuts if using). Pour into loaf pans and bake for one hour (mini loaf pans will take about 45 minutes). Remove from pans and cool on wire rack.

photo-15

Leek Bread Pudding + Coconut Loaf

photo 1

photo 5-1
{Smitten Kitchen‘s Leek Bread Pudding}

photo-2
{Sprouted Kitchen‘s Coconut Loaf}

I’m not entirely sure that these two recipes go together, but they’ve both been on my “to make” list for awhile now and they’re both made in loaf pans, so I thought maybe they should share a post. They’d also both be excellent additions to your Easter brunch menu, if you’re looking for new ideas – so that’s three things they have in common. I’ve been meaning to try the leek bread pudding for literally years now, and it did not disappoint. I’ve made the coconut bread before, but I’ve been wanting to do it for the blog and I’m so glad I did because it was even better than I remembered. I’ve been trying to avoid wheat lately, but I splurged on a piece of this fresh from the oven last night and it was worth every bite.

photo 2

photo 2-1

This bread pudding couldn’t be easier, as bread puddings go. Just cube your bread and stick it in the oven for about 20 minutes, and sauté your leeks while the bread is toasting. Deb suggests stale brioche, which I’m sure is ideal, but I used a loaf of fresh french bread and it worked just fine. The recipe calls for one cup of leeks, but I used closer to two and it was delicious – and next time I might even use more (I bought three leeks and only used two of them – I think I could have used the third and it would have been a welcome addition, although it was fine with just the two. Deb also suggests you could sauté any other veggies you like along with the leeks and add them in as well).

photo 1-1

photo 3-1

Layer your toasted bread cubes and leeks with cheese, pour a custard over it, and it’s ready to go into the oven. Again, the recipe calls for small amounts of chives and thyme; next time I’ll probably use more – although it was delicious as is. Deb noted that you could add more cheese as well, so of course I stirred a little grated parmesan in with my eggs and milk. It didn’t need it but of course it didn’t hurt.

photo 4-1

An hour later, you have a toasty, bubbling casserole that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Breakfast: warm, perhaps with an egg or bacon on top (not me personally – gross! – but others might like it that way); lunch: cold, with a crisp green salad; dinner: alongside a roasted chicken breast or something of that nature. I think it’s adorable in the loaf pan, but you could double the recipe and it would work in a 9″ X 13″ casserole dish (that’s my plan for Easter brunch). Savory bread pudding, who knew?

photo 1-2

And then, if you’re in the mood for something sweet, this divine coconut loaf from one of my favorite cookbooks. I love the Sprouted Kitchen blog, of course, but her cookbook is really worth getting as every recipe I’ve tried from it has been to die for.  As I’ve mentioned here many times already, I love anything with coconut,  so of course this bread is a safe bet – coconut flakes, coconut oil, and coconut milk.  I would call this recipe “healthy-ish” – it’s still a loaf of bread, and it still has sugar in it, but there’s enough whole wheat flour, coconut oil, and lack of white sugar and butter that I feel ok about eating it. I was calling it vegan until I remembered it has eggs in it (duh!), but it is dairy free.

photo-1

Again, super easy. Toast your coconut, combine your dry ingredients and your wet ones, and stir them together – two bowls, one spoon (ok, I used a spoon and a whisk), no mixer, easy cleanup. So much fun to stir cake batter with a spoon, I felt like a pioneer woman.  Is this how our grandmothers did things all those years?

photo

When I’ve made this recipe before I’ve never bothered with the glaze, but I did it just for blog purposes and was prepared to tell you you could skip this step – but it turns out the glaze is delicious. It adds a little extra sweetness and moisture to the cake, which isn’t necessarily needed but I appreciated it. Sara suggests serving the cake with fresh blackberries; I used strawberries here and it was SUCH a good combination. This is also something that could be served as breakfast or dessert (or perhaps just a snack!) – which I guess means it has more in common with the bread pudding than I initially thought. (Note: if you aren’t serving the cake warm from the oven, Sara suggests you toast your slices under the broiler for a minute or two).

One year ago: Chicken Pot Pie (two ways) and Chocolate Pudding

Leek Bread Pudding, from Smitten Kitchen via Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home

Yield: 6 servings (as a side dish)

1 cup leeks (or more to taste), white and light green parts only, cleaned and rinsed, and cut into 1/2″ thick slices
Kosher (or coarse) salt
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups 1″ cubed crustless brioche or other bread (about one loaf)
2 teaspoons chives, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3 cups whole milk, heavy cream, or half-and-half (or a combination thereof – I used 2 cups whole milk and one cup half and half)
Freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup shredded Comté, Emmanthaler or Swiss cheese (I used Gruyère and a little extra Parmesan)

Place a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, drain excess water from leeks, and add to pan. Season with salt, and sauté until leeks begin to soften, about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in butter. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very soft, about 20 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While leeks are cooking, spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake until dry and pale gold, about 15 to 20 minutes, turning pan about halfway through. Transfer to a large bowl, leaving the oven on.

Add leeks, chives, and thyme to the bowl of bread and toss well. In another large bowl, lightly whisk the egg and egg yolks, then whisk in milk or cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg.

Sprinkle two tablespoons shredded cheese in the bottom of a buttered 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Spread 1/2 of bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another two tablespoons cheese. Spread remaining bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Pour in enough milk mixture to cover bread, and gently press on bread so milk soaks in. Let rest 15 minutes.

Add remaining milk mixture, letting some bread cubes protrude. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until pudding is set and top is brown and bubbling, about 55 to 65 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Coconut Loaf, from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook

Yield: 6-8 slices

1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (I used flaked)
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk (I used light)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup organic powdered sugar, or more as needed
Berries, for garnish

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8 1/2″ loaf pan with a thin coat of coconut oil.

Spread the shredded coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until just golden brown, about four minutes.  Watch it carefully, as it can burn quickly. Set aside 1/2 cup for topping the loaf.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the toasted coconut and the turbinado sugar.  Sift the flours, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and stir to combine.  In another bowl, whisk the eggs together, then whisk in one cup of the coconut milk, the coconut oil, and the vanilla.   Gently stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined.  Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 45-50 minutes (mine took 55). Remove loaf from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

While the loaf is cooling, combine 1/4 cup of the remaining coconut milk and the powdered sugar in a bowl and whisk until there are no clumps. Add more sugar or more coconut milk to taste, depending on the consistency you prefer (you won’t use the entire can of coconut milk). Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and sprinkle the remaining toasted coconut on top.  Cut into slices (wait for the loaf to fully cool or your slices will crumble).  Toast each slice, if you like.  Serve with a handful of fresh berries.  YUM!!

photo 4-2

Miraval’s Raspberry, Lemon, and White Chocolate Chip Cookies

photo 5-2

photo 2-3

I attended a cooking demo while at Miraval a couple weeks ago, and these cookies were on the menu.  We were able to sample them during class, and as soon as I had my first bite I knew they’d be the first thing I made when I got home.  The woman who taught the class, Kim Macy, is the pastry chef at Miraval, so she was full of tips on how to make baked goods a little healthier – raw evaporated cane sugar, egg whites, adding fruit, etc.  What’s amazing about these cookies, though, is that you would never know they’re meant to be healthy – or as I call them, spa cookies.

photo 2-1

photo 3

photo 1-1

I’ve always had a sweet tooth, and anything fruity is my weakness.  I love the raspberry and lemon combo here, but I think these cookies would be delish with any other berry – blueberries or diced strawberries would work  just as well – use whatever sounds good to you or whatever you have on hand.  The egg whites make the cookies extra light and airy and almost scone-like. The recipe only calls for one third of a cup of chocolate chips, so it’s just enough to make the cookie feel indulgent without adding a ton of extra calories. I googled the recipe when I got home, and discovered they had even been on Oprah!  One of my favorite tips from the class – if you can’t find evaporated raw cane sugar (I never can), just pulse turbinado or demerara sugar (sugar in the raw) in your food processor until it’s a little more finely ground.

photo 4

photo 5-1

The recipe says you can use fresh or frozen berries, but in the class we used fresh and Kim made folding the berries in look easy. When I tried it at home, it didn’t go quite so well – there were a lot of squished berries and my batter turned pink pretty quickly. When I make them again I’ll use frozen berries to avoid that problem – should you do the same,  just make sure they’re straight from the freezer when you add them to the dough or they’ll bleed even more than fresh berries.

photo 2-2

photo 3-1

As you can see from the photos, Kim is also a lot better at icing the cookies using her whisk than I am – I considered piping the icing on, but then thought the whisk idea had just looked so fun….oops! Practice makes perfect, though, so that just means I have an excuse to make these again (soon).

One Year Ago: Split Pea Soup, Blueberry Muffins (original and my healthy version)

Cookies, previously: sugar, my favorite chocolate chip, pumpkin chocolate chip, lactation

Miraval, previously: magic bars

Ingredients:

3/4 cup butter (or combination butter and coconut oil – the recipe calls for all butter but I used half butter and half coconut oil)
1 cup evaporated raw cane sugar (or granulated sugar)
1 large egg
3 large egg whites
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/3 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen

For glaze, optional:

Powdered sugar, lemon juice – measurements aren’t exact, but I used about one cup of powdered sugar and a little less than the juice of one medium lemon.  Just add the lemon juice slowly until you reach the right consistency, and add more sugar if it gets too thin.  You want it thin enough that you can drizzle it over the cookies easily, but not so thin that it won’t dry/make the cookies soggy.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray cookie sheet(s) with non-stick cooking spray or line with parchment.  Cream together butter (and/or coconut oil) and sugar. Add egg and egg whites one at a time, then lemon juice and zest.   Combine flour and baking soda and mix into batter.  Stir in the chocolate chips, then gently fold in the raspberries. Bake 7-10 minutes.  To make glaze: Whisk lemon juice into powdered sugar until your desired consistency is reached.  Drizzle over cookies, let dry.

photo 4-1

Nutrition Information: (based on this recipe making 60 cookies – which would mean they’re teaspoon sized.  I made mine with a small cookie scoop – probably a rounded-tablespoon-size – and my batch yielded 36 cookies).

Calories: 56
Total Fat: 3 g
Saturated Fat: 1.5 g
Cholesterol: 10 mg
Sodium: 55 mg
Carbohydrate: 8 g
Fiber: 0 g
Protein: 1g

Pasta & Co. Red Lentil Soup

IMG_6030Spring is allegedly only two and a half weeks away, but you’d never know it if you looked out the window. I had the good fortune to escape to the desert last week (more on that on Friday), but returned home to gray skies, nonstop drizzle, and temperatures in the thirties (I know my Midwest/East Coast friends have it way worse, but even the high thirties is still freezing for this girl at this point). This was the second year in a row that I’ve spent the end of February in Arizona, and it makes me wonder why I don’t spend the entire month there. Potentially March as well – but I digress. The silver lining of this weather is that nothing sounds better than making soup, except possibly curling up on the couch to watch the Oscars with said bowl of soup – and maybe some popcorn.IMG_6022

IMG_6023

IMG_6024So often when I go to post one of my favorite recipes, I wonder how I haven’t shared it with you already, and that is especially true in this case. I could eat lentil soup for every meal – I have a hard time not ordering it when I see it on a menu, or making it immediately when I come across a new recipe. As such, I think I can fairly say I’ve tried quite a few different variations, and nothing comes close to this one – especially for the time and effort it takes to throw it together.IMG_6025

IMG_6026

IMG_6027Simply toast the cumin seeds along with the other spices, then sauté your onions and garlic (I of course use the pre-chopped Trader Joe’s bag of onions), dump in the lentils, water, and tomatoes, and simmer. Note that using water in lieu of chicken stock means (a) it’s vegetarian, (b) it’s so much lower in sodium, and (c) you have one less thing to buy at the store. The recipe tells you to make a “bouquet garni” (I love that term) with the cilantro, but I usually just throw a few stems in and then dig them out after half an hour. Another fun note is that the Trader Joe’s bag of red lentils is exactly two cups – nothing makes me happier than not having to measure AND not having to add a half-used or almost-empty bag of something random to the pantry, never to be used again. Although in this case, you’ll want to make this soup again so you would use them, but still – you know what I mean.IMG_6028

IMG_6035Stir in a little lemon juice and cilantro at the end, and that’s it. So easy and SO good. I like to serve it garnished with more cilantro, a lemon wedge, and perhaps a dollop of greek yogurt, but it really doesn’t need anything. The soup will keep well in the fridge or freezer, so it’s great to package up for lunches for the week – your coworkers will be so jealous, and you won’t have to brave the weather to go grab lunch.

One year ago: coconut granola, lemony banana bread 

Pasta & Co., previously: black bean and couscous salad

Soup, previously: white bean and kale, split pea, tomato, pumpkin black bean, curried butternut squash, cauliflower leek, minestrone, and roasted sweet potato and apple 

Red Lentil Soup, from Pasta & Co. By Request 

Serves 6-8

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or put through a garlic press
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 quarts water
2 cups red lentils, rinsed
1 cup crushed tomatoes in purée (the recipe recommends Paradiso brand; I use whatever I have on hand)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
7 sprigs cilantro, washed and tied together
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons cilantro (or more to taste), washed, dried, and finely chopped
Sour cream, yogurt, or quark to top (optional)

In a large saucepan, combine oil, cumin seeds, coriander, and turmeric.  Over low heat, cook mixture until seeds darken.  Remove from heat and add onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  Sauté over medium heat until onions are translucent.  Add water, lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, and cilantro sprigs.  Bring to a boil and simmer 20-30 minutes, until lentils are very soft.  Remove soup from heat, take out cilantro sprigs, and stir soup for a few minutes to break up any remaining pieces of lentil (do not purée this soup).  Stir in lemon juice and chopped cilantro.  Taste for seasoning (may need additional salt) and texture (may need to be thinned with a small amount of water). Garnish with sour cream, yogurt, or quark, if desired.  Soup will keep well for days in the refrigerator, and freezes nicely.

Whole Grain Pear Hazelnut Muffins

image

image

This cookbook has been all over my favorite food blogs of late, so I ordered it despite the fact that my breakfast typically consists of a green smoothie (or a Starbucks bagel on the too-common occasion that I’m out of a green smoothie ingredient). So far I’ve made the whole grain pancake mix, the blueberry breakfast bars, and these muffins. I’ve given the pancake mix as birthday and hostess gifts, and it’s been a hit. I made the blueberry bars when I spent the night with my friend Kyle and her picky toddler year old last week – Ellie gobbled them up, but Kyle and I decided that, while delicious, they seemed more like dessert than breakfast.  Next on my list of recipes to try: Bacon and Kale Polenta Squares (hold the bacon), Strawberry Oat Breakfast Crisp (although I suspect it, like the blueberry bars, might also be better suited as dessert), and Zucchini Farro Cakes – YUM.  And of course variations of this granola.  These muffins, though, are a definite win – you can do them ahead of time, and they really do feel healthy – the perfect breakfast treat.

My grandfather passed away a few weeks ago, at the age of 94. He spent the last few days of his life in the hospital, which was not the way he would have wanted to go, but he received such wonderful care from the doctors and nurses that we were all glad he was there. I wanted to do something nice for the nursing staff as a thank you and had planned to bake these cookies, but my cousin Christina (a nurse herself) suggested bringing in something healthier, as nurses get a lot of cookies.  I had seen these muffins on a couple blogs, and this seemed like the perfect excuse to try them.

image

image

image

I love the idea of cooking with whole grains – especially oats – and the pears make the muffins incredibly moist and dense without being too heavy. Sara from Sprouted Kitchen suggests a way to make them gluten free; Deb from Smitten Kitchen suggests you add chocolate, which they definitely don’t need, but I would imagine would be delicious.   Point being, you can swap out ingredients or doctor them up any way you like. I loved the pears but you could definitely use apples too.

image

image

image

It looks like a lot of bowls (and it is), but it’s really only the dry ingredients and the wet, combined with my tendency to make a mess in the kitchen and dirty more bowls than necessary. Deb includes suggestions to “streamline the recipe” (use fewer bowls) for anyone that doesn’t have the luxury of a dishwasher.

image

You could chop the nuts in a food processor, but I was worried they would get ground up too finely so I used a ziplock bag and my go-to crushing utensil, a bottle of wine. I also ate a lot of hazelnuts in the process, yum.

image

image

Pear-Hazelnut Oat Muffins, from Whole Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon (she’s a Seattle gal so I’m extra happy to support her!)

Makes 12 standard muffins (and maybe a few more)

3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 firm medium pears, such as Bartlett (you want them firm so they don’t get too mushy when you grate them)
2/3 cup natural cane sugar, such as turbinado
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan (I’m going to try coconut oil next time)
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin tin, or line with papers.

In a bowl, combine the oats, flours, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt. Mix well and set aside.

Peel and core the pears, then grate them into a bowl using the large holes of a box grater (or the grater attachment of your food processor). You should end up with about 1 cup of shredded pear [Note: I doubled the recipe so grated four pears, and ended up with about four cups of grated pear, unpacked – I dumped them all into my batter and the muffins turned out fine. Just in case you were worried about ending up with too much grated pear].

Put the sugar in a large bowl. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the butter to the sugar and stir until well combined. Whisk in the buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and pear until you have what resembles a loose batter. Add the flour mixture and fold it in gently. Reserve 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts to sprinkle on top of the muffins; stir the other 1/2 cup into the batter. Be careful not to overmix.

Fill the muffin cups almost to the top with batter, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup hazelnuts. Put the muffins in the oven and immediately decrease the heat to 375 F. Bake until the tops are golden brown and feel firm to the touch, even in the center, 25-27 minutes (they might look done before they really are – the tops will brown before the fruit-filled centers are cooked through).

Let the muffins cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Muffins will keep in an airtight container for up to two days; they also freeze well.

All wrapped up for Grandpa's nurses, along with boxes of See's chocolates, his favorite

All wrapped up for Grandpa’s nurses, along with boxes of See’s chocolates – his favorite

Roasted Sweet Potato and Apple Soup

image

So I realize “sweet potato and apple” seems a little fall-ish, at least to me, but this post has been in my draft folder since October, and I figured I might as well post it during a January “Soup Week” rather than leave it there until next fall (mainly, because I will have forgotten about it by then).  And altruistically, I thought some of you might want it sooner – there’s a good possibility that you have all of the ingredients for this soup in your house already, and could make it for dinner tonight.  In less than an hour, with zero trips to the grocery store.

image

This recipe is courtesy of my dear friend Ellie, who is mom to one of my all-time favorite kids (Liam, age 4.5). Last fall Ellie subscribed to some sort of family-friendly recipe sharing service, where they would give you weekly meals that were healthy, kid-friendly, budget-friendly, quick, etc. I can’t really remember the details, I just remember I happened to be there for dinner the night that she made this and I got really exited about it – so excited, in fact, that I went home and made it for myself, and brought it to work for lunch for weeks thereafter. Turns out it’s not just moms that need quick and healthy meal ideas, it’s all of us.

image

image

By “quick and easy,” I’m talking really quick and really easy. Simply peel and roughly chop two sweet potatoes, one apple, and one onion. Toss them with a couple garlic cloves, a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them all together for about 30 minutes at 450 degrees F (stirring every 10 minutes or so).

image

image

Something strange is happening with the lighting (instagram filters) in these photos, but they’re a before and after.  Once the veggies and apple are done roasting, simply dump them into a pot, cover with chicken or vegetable stock, and purée.   Garnish with a little greek yogurt and perhaps some chives and you have yourself a quick, healthy, and delicious bowl of soup. Bon Apétit!

image

Roasted Sweet Potato and Apple Soup

Total Time: 50 minutes (20 minutes prep/30 minutes roasting)

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium-sized chunks
1 firm apple, such as Gala or Jonagold, peeled, cored, and quartered
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste (I used more)
1/8 teaspoon pepper, or to taste (I used more)
3-4 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Yogurt, chives, croutons, and/or roasted pumpkin seeds (my personal fave), for garnish

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Put the sweet potatoes, apple, onion, and garlic in a roasting pan.  Toss them with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast, tossing every ten minutes or so, until they’re soft, about 30 minutes.  Transfer roasted veggies to a soup pot and add just enough broth to cover them (if you’re going to purée the soup in a blender, you can just add the veggies and broth to the blender).  Purée (using immersion blender or a regular blender or food processor) until smooth, adding more broth if necessary.  Warm the soup over low heat, or refrigerate for up to one day, or freeze for up to 3 months.  Stir in yogurt or sour cream just before serving for a creamier taste, if desired.

image