Monday, January 31, 2011

What's for Dinner Tonight: Sweets 'n Beans Chili

Hungry yet? Tasked with developing a vegetarian chili recipe this week (I try to eat vegetarian about half of the time; usually the red meat cravings kick in my Wednesday... at which point, I recommend you not get between me and a juicy burger), I wanted to go a different route than my typical bean and vegetable-packed concoction. The aromas of cinnamon, cocoa, and mmm... something sweet, stuck in my head. Lucky for my taste buds I discovered some delicious orange sweet potatoes at the Union Square Greenmarket. Perfect for dinner tonight... and to save for a snow-bound meal, possibly, later this week.

Want the recipe? See below. Make it tonight and let me know what you think!

And drumroll.... It's Thursday!!! So, you know what that means? Time to check out my recipe here, and make it tonight. I'm curious to know what you think -- send me an email, or comment below.
As published on The Daily Meal

This quick and easy vegetarian chili is tasty, healthy and will also satisfy your hankering for something slightly sweet, thanks to the addition of fiber-rich sweet potatoes and cinnamon. I like my chili with a bit of a kick so I  added three jalapeños. If you have a more mild palate, you can substitute in a julienned bell pepper. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, quartered and sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 jalapeños, halved, de-seeded, and sliced thin
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into ½-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon cumin, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground pepper
26 ounces tomato purée
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable stock (you can also use chicken)
One 15-ounce can red kidney beans, drained
One 15-ounce can black beans, drained
Zest of 1 orange (optional)
Lemon juice, to taste (optional)
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Sour cream, for garnish
Cheddar cheese, grated, for garnish

Heat oil in saucepan over high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the jalapeños and cook until they are tender. Add the sweet potatoes and cook 5 minutes or so. Add spices and seasonings and stir. Add in tomatoes, water, and stock. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cooking about 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are almost tender.

Add the beans and bring back to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until thickened and the potatoes are very tender. Taste for seasoning, adjusting as needed, and add in the optional orange zest and lemon juice if you wish. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cilantro, sour cream, and grated cheese.

Serves 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spinach and Artichoke Dip: Just in time for the Super Bowl...

Just in time for the Super Bowl. Wondering what dip to make? 
I'm headed to a dear friend's Super Bowl party next weekend, and I am looking forward to whipping up another batch of this from-scratch, never-fail, always delicious treat: Warm Spinach and Artichoke Dip.

Some close friends and I are slightly obsessed with Hillstone (formerly Houston's). For steak? No, no. Sushi? No again. Three things: MudHouse Sauvignon Blanc (it's amazing). Chopped Chicken Salad with LOTS of peanut sauce (they should bottle it; my friend has even asked. Dear Hillstone CEO, you're missing out). And this dip.

I've experimented with a couple of different recipes over the past year, forgoing the cheats like cream cheese and lots of sour cream, and instead opting for a from scratch bechamel base. 

While my recipe isn't heavy on the cheese, if you like yours cheesy, I suggest adding lots of shredded mozzarella on top and baking it until very bubbly.

Check out my recipe below--I promise, it won't disappoint!

As published on The Daily Meal

For the past few years, my friends and I have been monthly regulars at the steakhouse chain Hillstone (formerly known as Houston’s), where we catch up and order only three things from the menu, one being the warm spinach and artichoke dip. Once you have one bite, there's no stopping.

Needing a dip fix, I was inspired by the restaurant's dip and started to play around with ingredients, forgoing cream cheese for a béchamel from scratch, adding a kick of cayenne, a bit of lemon for brightness, and lots of spinach and artichokes. While it’s not quite the same as the restaurant’s, it’s pretty darn close and works for me.

4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup chicken broth
2/3 cup fresh-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste if needed
1/4 cup sour cream
Two 10-ounce boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed, and squeezed dry
18 ounces artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 cup shredded cheese, preferably fontina or mozzarella
Pita chips and slices of crusty baguette, for serving

In a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, sauté garlic in butter until golden, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute.

Slowly whisk in cream and broth and continue cooking until boiling. Once boiling, stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemon juice, cayenne, and salt; stir until cheese has melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Stir sour cream into pan, and then fold in dry spinach and artichoke hearts. Fold the mixture into a microwave-safe 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle cheddar evenly over top. At this point, the dip can be refrigerated until ready to serve, if desired. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until bubbly, or microwave on medium heat until bubbly. Serve with pita chips and slices of crusty bread.

Serves 12
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Simple Winter Salad for a Healthy Weeknight Meal

You know those weeks. You plan ahead, purchasing some yummy fruits, vegetables, and proteins with the best of intentions to cook every night you're home that week. 

Then the week begins, and you're swallowed WHOLE. Yes, you typically work late one night a week, and sometimes take work home on an additional evening. But EVERY NIGHT?! For me, it happens often, and typically on those weeks I've planned on cooking every night -- not working.

Now, this is where my favorite part of cooking comes in -- making do with what you have and the time you're dealt. I planned on making a bunch of rice and some lentil stews this week; healthy and light, yet filling and nutritious. Now that time I was to devote to the kitchen was to be spent in front of my laptop.

What to do? Be imaginative. 

Tuesday night, I began the week whipping up a big batch of Wild Mushroom Soup. Did I eat it for dinner? Nope. While I was busy chopping vegetables, I put a big pot of water on for a couple nights worth of whole wheat and einkorn pastas (I also had to make my saucepan multi-task for me; I only have one saucepan!). Then once the pasta was ready, I drained it and put the pot back to work, sauteing onions, garlic, and carrot for the soup.

While I dined on a hearty whole wheat pasta, tossed with sauteed beet greens, beets (inspired by an old favorite), and a dab of some leftover Devonshire Cream I had on hand from last week's party, and of course a garnish of Colston Bassett Stilton, I began working on the soup.

Wednesday night, I ended up inhaling two bowls of that soup, garnished with a bit of pasta and proscuitto. Thursday, I dined out with one of my darling friends at my favorite tapas place

Ah, then Friday. It was a beast of a day. Now, Fridays are usually the one day of the week I always work until 8pm. It's quiet, and there are at least three of us laboring away on things for the week ahead. Yeah. That intention went out the door this week! Completely exhausted, I knew it would be better for me to go home and make a nutritious dinner, and tackle that story over the weekend. Both the story, and myself, would benefit from the decision.

The big question remaining: What to make for dinner?

My delicious red and yellow beets I cooked Monday after my run were a must. Of course, they pair perfectly with creamy, salty proscuitto. On top? A lightly dressed spinach salad, and a garnish of carrot coins from the greenmarket. And, because I'm a cheese snob and what goes better with beets than blue cheese, a garnish of my latest favorite, Colston Bassett Stilton.

Beet and Blue Salad

3 slices proscuitto, thinly sliced
1 red beet, cooked until tender
1 yellow beet, cooked until tender
1 large handful baby spinach
Your favorite dressing (mine is equal parts maple syrup, grapeseed oil, and champagne vinegar, shaken with a minced shallot, salt, and pepper)
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin
Stilton, or your favorite blue cheese, for garnish

Line large dinner plate with proscuitto. Top with slices of beet, alternating colors. Toss greens with dressing, to taste, and place atop beets. Garnish with sliced carrots and blue cheese.

Perfect served with a hearty slice of pain de campagne and a flavorful olive oil.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Simple Saturday Party

When it comes to entertaining at home, often the most simple parties are more fun than the more over-the-top gatherings, where often the host or hostess takes on too much and just can't execute it all. I'm a firm believer in simple is better, but when I say simple, I don't mean boring. Simple as in clean, fresh, modern; the simple elegance of a row of small vases filled with dahlias down a dinner table. Clean green dinner plates, topped with white salad plates. Stemless wine glasses. And LOTS of white votives. It's my favorite way to set a dinner table (or coffee table, in my apartment).

Just last evening, I hosted a small gathering of friends to celebrate winter, and to warm my "house" belatedly, now that I have moved back to the NYC area. My goal of the night was to keep it simple, as it was about spending time with close friends and talking. The plan was to serve nibbles and drinks (serving dinner to 9 would have been difficult with 8 dinner plates), and then we'd walk over to a charming and delicious homey restaurant in the neighborhood for dinner. Nothing big, and no reason for me to sweat. Why is that? I planned ahead, and didn't bite off more than I could chew.

To Drink:
Lots of Bubbly!
If you're looking to dress up a plain glass of bubbly, try serving flutes with a garnish of frozen raspberries or cranberries. I love a splash of Chambord with my bubbly, for a pretty red Raspberry Royale. 

To Eat:
Fresh-baked Vanilla Scones served with Clotted Cream and Wild Blueberry Jam. Something comforting and classic that goes well with an effervescent wine, and is also perfect on a cold, winter afternoon with a group of ladies.

Cheese plate. But of course! Serve a variety of cheeses on a simple board, along with your favorite crackers. While I didn't have time to make it to my local cheese shop for my favorite Humboldt Fog (which pairs well with a drizzle of honey on oat crackers), one of my favorite combinations is plain Swiss cheese on wheatmeal crackers (a topping of blueberry jam, optional). 

Chips and Dips. One of my friends is starting up her own Texas-style catering company (Texas-style you ask? Yes. She's from El Paso and makes some killer dishes full of southwestern flavors), and she offered to bring her spin on guacamole (more of a chunky avocado, tomato, pepper relish than creamy spread) and souffle-like cheese spread, paired with her homemade tortilla chips.

Of course, clean your house well! Put away any clutter. Clear your countertop and coffee table. Nothing is worse than seeing personal detritus hanging around when you're in someone's home. Also, clean the bathroom, and put away any personal belongings. Light a candle in the bathroom, and be sure to put out fresh toilet paper and hand towels.

Nothing is more welcoming than the sight of beautiful flowers. While I went to my flower market envisioning 5 short, little vases filled with freesia and lilies, I spotted some incredibly fragrant tuberose. I would only need 3 stems, and their intoxicating aroma would fill the apartment in no time. And, I had just the perfect narrow vase.

I'm lucky to have excellent lighting in my apartment. I turned off all the overhead ceiling lights (not that they're ever on; I can't stand them), and instead turned on the two floor lamps I have in the living area (as I have no room for side tables and lamps). Paired with the under-cabinet lights in my kitchen, and a candle, it created just the soft light I wanted, but without making it too dim or romantic.

An essential part of any gathering, whether it's you and a loved one cooking together, or a group of girls drinking and gabbing about life, work, boys and more. I put on my iPod to one of my favorites, She & Him, and let it cycle through the two albums during the course of the evening and a volume that didn't cause us to raise our voices, but was loud enough to hear and appreciate.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Easy Roast Veggies


It's been a while since I've written. A LONG while. Partly because I've been busy whipping up spinach and cheese souffles, turkey meatballs with raisins and pine nuts, or salmon cakes. I've been writing about how olive oil is made, and how to properly taste it, and expanding my knowledge about one of my most favorite foods: chocolate.

And then there were the holidays. One of my most favorite times of year, but always filled with lots of gatherings, cheer, and secret missions, all in the name of Santa Claus -- until I escaped the East Coast just in time to enjoy a week of snow (and we got lots, nearly 4 feet) and the wedding festivities of a dear friend out in Utah.

Which brings me to January. That cold and dark month that is really not as dark as December, but for some odd reason feels infinitely bitter cold. Bone-chilling cold.

While I know a cup of one of my new favorite drinks, a Bailey's-spiked dark hot chocolate, would be sure to warm me up, I naturally (like most of you out there) am resolving to eat a little healthier (not a problem here), exercise a little more, and drink a little less (ah, you guessed right). So, I've held off on buying a new bottle of that oh-so-delicious booze, instead opting for the last of the bright orange carrots from the farmer's market that are just like eating crunchy sugar. And, of course, cipollinis, so I can perfect my browning onion skills.

It all started at Thanksgiving. I was in charge of helping my mom roast the turkey. Not a problem, as I had researched all the pros and cons of brining and not brining, and was confident in my decision to roast our bird au naturale, with a good slathering of butter, and of course lots of herbs.

But, when it came to one of my other most favorite Thanksgiving dishes, things were different. We had no pearl onions for the creamed onions. Dad had come to the rescue, however, finding wonderful little cipollinis (which, to be honest, are probably in much better condition, not to mention more flavorful, than those darn little pearls...). So, for that dish, I had my first meeting with these flat, little beauties, browning them deeply to create a caramelized flavor.

So, for my second meeting with cipollinis, this time along with my lovely carrots, I knew they needed some high heat to bring out their innate sweetness. As it was already 8pm on a weekday night, I didn't want to be up all night babysitting the oven -- or waiting for dinner, for that matter -- so roasting it would be.

I peeled the carrots, then sliced them in half, and chopped them in half vertically again. For the onions, I simply peeled them of their outer skin. A toss with oil, and a sprinkle of salt, and into the oven they went at 450 degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour.

With a shake every 15 minutes or so, I kept an eye on my little beauties. And it paid off. They emerged tender, yet with a little resistance to the bite. And oh so delightfully sweet -- almost too sweet to be true, when talking about vegetables.

While I ate these vegetables alone (or two days later, with the my remaining souffle), you could also toss them with your favorite pasta, and a hint of goat cheese and pasta water, to make a creamy sauce. Or toss with leftover lamb or beef, and your favorite sauce (tomato or curry) for an instant ragu to serve over pasta or rice. One of my favorite ways to eat roasted vegetables, however, is over greens, with a handful of dried cherries, a handful of salted, roasted nuts, and a garnish of whatever cheese I have in the fridge (usually Humboldt Fog or a stilton).

Easy Roasted Vegetables

1 bunch carrots
10 cipollini onions
Olive oil, to taste
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Trim and peel carrots. Remove outer layer from onions. Drizzle with olive oil to just coat, and sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Spread on foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until carrots are tender and onions are browned on both sides. Remove and serve.