Sunday, August 30, 2009

4 Ingredients, amazing results

I'm starting school this week, and also my new job. This means 10 hours of class and three part time jobs. As you can imagine, I'm anticipating being quite busy this fall! But the last few weeks have been scattered through with days of doing nothing around the house, and I've worked hard to soak up that calm feeling. I made this pasta for lunch one day, which was a luxury I won't have with my new busy schedule.

Honestly, this recipe came about as I was working on cleaning out my fridge and pantry. I had two partial boxes of short pasta, some green beans that were starting to turn a little less green, a potato that was growing sprouts, and some pesto Joe made last week. I was flipping through my Everyday Food cookbook looking for dinner ideas for the week, and I happened upon a recipe that called for all the ingredients I wanted to use up. Perfect!

Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes, and Green Beans
from Everyday Food

serves 4

2 medium potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes (peeled if you want, I skipped it)
8 ounces short pasta
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and halved
1/2 cup pesto

Place the potatoes into a large pot of boiling water, bring to a boil. Add one tsp of salt and the pasta, return to a boil, and cook two more minutes. Add the green beans, return to a boil, and cook until the vegetables are tender and the pasta in al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain, toss with the pesto, and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Summer Corn Chowder

While I was in St Louis, Joe went out to the outskirts of Chicago to visit his parents. As you might know, outskirts of Chicago = farms and lots of open space. He drove by a farmer selling corn at a roadside stand, and bought a bunch of ears for us to enjoy at home. I never liked corn as a kid, unless it was on the cob. As I got older I realized that this meant I only liked fresh corn... none of that canned or frozen stuff. When it is fresh corn, I could it it in just about anything... salads, pastas, soups, anything!

This batch of fresh corn came right around the time I was craving chowder. I looked up recipes online, but a lot of them called for gross stuff like creamed corn in the soup. That was NOT the refreshing summer chowder I was dreaming of! I also wanted some potatoes in my chowder, so I went off searching for "corn and potato chowder". This recipe came from the Whole Foods website , and added cheese into the mix. What that meant was corn chowder perfection. I used my fresh corn instead of frozen junk, and I mixed a little half and half in with my milk for extra creaminess. Joe and I agreed that this was the perfect way to highlight the crunchy, sweet corn. The soup was indulgent without being too rich, and the potatoes added enough bulk to make this really fill you up. We had BLT sandwiches on the side, and thought this was the epitome of a late summer dinner.

Cheddar, Corn, and Potato Chowder


3 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
32 ounces vegetable broth
2 1/2 cup diced Yukon Gold potatoes (about 4 large)
2 cups frozen yellow corn
2/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper (garnish)
Chopped parsley (garnish)

In a large saucepan over medium high heat, melt butter and sauté onion about 5 minutes, until tender. Mix in flour, coating the onion. Add broth and bring to a boil, whisking constantly until smooth. Reduce heat, add potatoes and simmer 20 minutes until tender. Slightly mash potatoes in soup, then stir in corn and milk. Cook another 5 minutes, remove from heat and stir in cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish, if desired.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Summertime Feast

Can you believe it's already the end of summer? Kids are headed back to school, and we're starting to feel some cooler temperatures here in Chicago. I'm headed back to school soon, too. If you missed it before, I'm going back to school for certification to teach high school mathematics. I used to teach elementary school, and have decided it would be a better fit for me to teach my favorite subject to older students. I'm so excited about the opportunities I'll have this next year, between school and my multiple part time jobs. It is going to be busy, though, and I'm sure cooking will have to take a back seat at some points during the year. During this lull before classes start, I've been cooking like crazy to get it all out of my system. Too bad I know I can't resist cooking no matter how busy I get, so I'm sure I'll still be putting my kitchen to good use either way. This blog, however, might get a little neglected in the next few months... just warning you :)

For a refreshing summer drink, mix equal parts of pureed
watermelon with lemonade. You could strain the watermelon
if you want to avoid chunks of fruit, or leave a little texture in it for
something different. Either way, this will quench your thirst!
I have a feeling a little vodka would mix nicely, too.

Last week I was with my sister in St Louis, and I took some time out on Friday afternoon to make a nice summer meal for us to enjoy on the back porch. I took some inspiration from the Kirkwood Farmers Market, where I found beautiful heirloom tomatoes, juicy watermelon, farm fresh green beans, and little red potatoes.

I got the tomatoes from the CJ's stand, and I was so pleased with the whole experience. The girls working at the stand were friendly and knowledgeable, and they seemed to really take pride in the local products they were selling. If you're in the St. Louis area, look out for this seller at Kirkwood Market. I'd go back to them anytime! The tomatoes are (clockwise from the top) German Striped, Brandywine, and Cherokee Purple.

I wanted to serve the tomatoes simply, so we would focus on their flavor. I sliced them up, added some blanched green beans in the middle, and drizzled a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper over the whole platter. They were amazing! So sweet and juicy, we couldn't get enough of them. Between me, my sister, and my dad, we finished off the whole platter! We did agree that we had a hard time tasting the difference between the three types, but also said we would tell the difference between these babies and store bought tomatoes any day.

I also kept it simple on the potatoes. I quartered them, and tossed with minced fresh thyme and some salt and pepper. I roasted them in an incredible non-stick casserole pan my mom bought when they lived in Europe. It browns potatoes better than anything I've used in my kitchen. I tossed in some halved cloves of garlic when the potatoes were starting to brown, and the bits of garlic browned nicely without getting burned. Yummy!

The final part of our meal was a goat cheese and herb tart inspired by David Lebovitz. He posted an Herbed Ricotta Tart on his blog about a week before, and I stumbled across it when I was catching up on blogs while stuck at my parents house with no keys. It looked too good to resist, so I decided the tart would complement my farmer's market finds. I pretty much followed his recipe, but used scallions and goat cheese in my version. It was quite delish, although I realized as we were eating that I'd made a different goat cheese tart before, and I wish I'd tried this one with ricotta. The crust was the Chocolate and Zucchini recipe for Olive Oil Tart Crust, and I didn't love it. I was so happy when it didn't shrink when I blind baked, but it ended up pretty hard and not at all flaky. I don't know if it was over baked, or if it had to do with the whole wheat flour. I might try it again, though, because I really did like the ease and ingredients in this tart crust.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cooking from the Pantry

I've been in Saint Louis for the last couple days, hanging out with my younger sister while my parents were both out of town. My sister is just starting her senior year at a brand new high school, and since she doesn't have a driver's license or many local contacts, my parents asked if I could come down and stay with her while they were gone.

I was expecting a few relaxing days of hanging out around their house, and of course one of my plans for this time was to cook like crazy while I was home all day. I specifically directed my mom to not buy any extra groceries, because I was going to plan the shopping list around whatever recipes I picked out. Sounded like a pretty easy plan, right? That's what I thought... until my mom and brother left for their drive to Colorado with BOTH SETS OF KEYS. This left me stranded in the suburbs of Saint Louis with zero keys for the car that was sitting the in garage, and you can imagine what this did to my grand grocery shopping plans!

So plan B was born. First, I would entertain myself all day by catching up on reading people's blogs (I have about 10 unread posts left... not bad, huh?). I also spent waaaay too much time on Facebook, and checked my email about 10 times an hour. I wish I was joking! The other part of plan B was to still cook, but using only ingredients on hand. Boy did I miss my city condo with a grocery store around the corner and public transportation all over the place! Luckily, my mom is a great cook, so even without planning she had left me with plenty of ingredients to work with.

The first thing I made was bread, which I'll tell you about in a later post. I can already tell this post is getting long enough that someone like me would have gotten bored and given up on reading! :) I found a whole chicken in the freezer that had been pre-cut by the butcher, so I set about defrosting that to make a chicken dish that has been on my to-cook list forever. I spotted a mostly full bag of carrots in the fridge, and determined the 101 Cookbooks Carrot Soup would be a great way to round out the meal. My sister and I cooked together, which was a lot of fun. I taught her some basic knife skills, and taught her how mise en place would make her cooking go much smoother. The chicken was AMAZING, and now I can't wait to go home and make it for Joe. We did more like "Chicken with 30ish Cloves" because of the lack of car keys, but it was still great. I would love even more garlic, though, because the cloves become like butter and are so amazing spread onto bread. All in all, I think we pulled together a pretty damn good dinner using what we had around!

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
From Annie's Eats, who got it from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, who got it from Cook's Illustrated...


Table salt
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces
Ground black pepper
3 large heads garlic, with medium-sized cloves if possible
2 medium shallots, peeled and quartered pole to pole
3 tsp. olive oil, divided
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
¾ cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp. unsalted butter


Adjust an oven rack to middle position. Preheat the oven to 400° F. In a large container or bowl combine ¼ cup salt in 2 quarts of cold tap water; stir until the salt is dissolved. Submerge the chicken pieces in the brine and refrigerate until fully seasoned, about 30 minutes. Rinse the chicken pieces off and pat dry with paper towels. Season the chicken pieces on both sides with freshly ground pepper.

Remove the outer paper skins of the heads of garlic. Separate the cloves but keep the peels on. In a 9-inch pie plate combine the garlic cloves and quartered shallots. Toss with 2 teaspoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover tightly with foil and roast until softened and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes, shaking the pan once to toss the contents after 15 minutes (leave the foil on to toss). After 3o minutes, remove the foil and return the pan to the oven to bake uncovered for 10 more minutes, so the cloves are fully browned and tender. Remove from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 450° F.

Using kitchen twine, tie together the fresh thyme, rosemary and the bay leaf; set aside. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil in a 12-inch skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until beginning to smoke; swirl to coat the pan with oil. Brown the chicken pieces skin side down until deep golden, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces with tongs and cook until golden brown on the second side, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a large plate and discard the fat. Off the heat, add the vermouth or white wine, chicken broth, and herb bundle, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the browned bits. Set the skillet over medium heat, add the garlic-shallot mixture to the pan. Return the chicken pieces to the pan, skin side up, and nestle them on top of and between the garlic cloves.

Place the pan in the oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 160° F, about 10-12 minutes (mine took about 18 minutes). If desired, increase the heat to broil and broil to crisp the skin, about 3-5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the chicken to a serving dish. Reserve 10-12 cloves of garlic and place them in a mesh sieve. Using a slotted spoon, scatter the remaining garlic cloves and shallots around the chicken and discard the herbs. Push the reserved garlic cloves through the mesh sieve into a bowl; discard the skins. Add the garlic paste to the pan and bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally to incorporate the garlic. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in the butter. Transfer to a sauce dish and serve with chicken pieces.

Carrot Soup

(My Note: I didn't take any pictures of this soup, but I can't say enough about how great it is for an easy soup straight from the pantry. As long as you have carrots, this is all basic ingredients that you most likely have on hand. My parents only have an immersion blender for a European plug, so we ended up mashing up the carrots in the soup with a potato masher. It was chunkier than when I've made it before, but we ended up liking that texture. Each time I've made this I have added some kind of Indian seasoning, which takes it up a notch. Try 1/2 teaspoon of curry powder or garam masala.)

1 1/4 pounds carrots
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (or clarified butter)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cups+ vegetable stock or water
juice of 1/2 a lemon
fine grain sea salt (as much as you need)
olive oil, toasted sesame oil, or red chile oil for a finishing drizzle

Take the tops off the carrots (if they have tops) and give them a good scrub. Cut them into 1-inch segments and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and saute for a few minutes or until the onions start to get translucent. Add the stock and carrots and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes or until the carrots are tender - longer if your carrot pieces ended up larger. But try not to overcook. Remove from heat and cool for a few minutes.

Puree with a hand blender (sometimes I leave the soup a bit chunky, other times I go completely smooth) - then stir in the lemon juice. Now salt to taste. If you used a salty veggie stock, you might just need a little salt. If you used water, you'll need quite a bit more. Keep adding a few pinches at a time until the carrot flavor really pops. If it tastes flat or dull, keep adding. Finish with a drizzle of great extra-virgin olive oil, one of the other drizzles I mention up above, or whatever twist you come up with.

Better Late Than Never... NYT No Knead Bread

If you're into food and spend some time on the internet, chances are you've seen this recipe before. I know I have, but bread is something I just don't make often enough. The recipe for No Knead Bread was introduced by Mark Bittman in the New York Times food section in November of 2006. Here's the link. I had heard mention of it before, but didn't look at the recipe until sometime last week. Amazing! Only 4 ingredients (including the cornmeal for dusting), and most of the time spent on this recipe was watching TV or reading blogs while the dough just does its own thing. It does take a little bit of planning ahead, since it's a recipe that takes two days to prepare. Lucky for me, I had the right amount of time off work to ensure we would have fresh baked bread for dinner the next night. And really, if you have a normal 9-5 type job, you could still easily plan ahead and make this on a week night.

I think the fact I ate about 4 slices with our pasta that night was a sign of how I felt about this bread! It was really moist with a great crusty outside. Simple flavor, and was nice and chewy. I ate it sliced and plain, and also toasted it. It was great for dinner, and for caprese inspired sandwiches the night night, and for a couple mornings worth of toast. I will be making this again, and most likely soon! Once the weather turns fall-like this will be great with soup. As soon as I bit into this I knew where all the hype came from. If it weren't for the "Beard on Bread" recipe that is rising in my kitchen right now, I think I'd be craving more of this loaf right now!

New York Times No Knead Bread
Published: November 8, 2006
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Green Chili with Pork

Anyone who blogs about food would probably agree with me when I say I plan some meals specifically so that I can post about them. There are probably one or two recipes per week that I pick out and plan specifically because they sound like something I'd like to share on this site. But pulling out the camera can get a little old, and I sometimes just want to eat my dinner without thinking about how I would describe the taste to someone else! Does anyone feel me on this?

This Chile Verde was a dinner I made when the blog was far from my mind. I actually made it the night before and let it sit in the fridge overnight, because the recipe recommended letting the flavors marry. Also, I was going to be working until 7:00 the next evening, so I thought it would be really nice to have dinner 95% ready to go when I got home. So I got home from work, threw the dutch oven back on the stovetop, and patiently waited for the chile to reheat. Not thinking too much, I grabbed a couple bowls, ladled in full scoops, and sat down on the couch with Joe. Being an example of what's wrong with dinner in America, I had my eyes on the TV as I went to take the first bite. WOW! I was amazed with what was going on in the chile. The pork was fall apart tender, and the tomatillos had melted into sauce. The chunks of poblano peppers added the perfect amount of spice, and as the recipe predicted, the flavors really did marry nicely. I forced myself to stop eating long enough to tell Joe to grab the camera, and after a few shoddy pictures I settled back into the couch to really savor this fantastic stew. If you wanted to make this yourself, I would really recommend making it the night before, then putting it in the fridge until the next day's dinner. I think it would also be nice to freeze some of this, then have it on hand for a busy night. Once it gets cooler in Chicago I can promise you I'll be making this again!

Chile Verde
from Cooking Light (2005ish?)

1 Tbsp canola oil
2 (1 lb) pork tenderloins, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup all purpose flour
4 cups chopped onion
2 lbs small tomatillos, husks and stems removed and quartered
1 lb Anaheim or poblano chiles, cut into 1 inch pieces (I charred and peeled the skin, too)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3 cups water
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano

Heat canola oil in a stockpot over medium high heat. Sprinkle pork evenly with salt and pepper. Place flour in a large zip top plastic bag, add pork to bag, seal, and shake to coat. Add pork to pan and saute for 5 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove pork from the pan.

Add onion, tomatillos, chiles, and garlic to the pan. Saute about 8 minutes, or until tender. Add pork, water, and remaining ingredients to pan. (It will seem very chunky, but that's ok) Bring to a simmer, cook for 2 hours until pork is tender, stirring occasionally. If saving for the next day, allow the chile to cool to room temperature and then put in the fridge overnight.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summer in the City: Picnic Time!

Just in case you haven't figured it out yet, let me be clear: I LOVE living in Chicago! To me it is just about the perfect city... full of culture, amazing food, shopping, tall buildings, and there is always something to do! Yes, I will admit the weather is not perfect. But that is why summer is the best season here, because everyone has to get outside to enjoy the nice weather! From street festivals to picnics to movies in the park, there are tons of options for how to get your outdoor fix once the temperature warms up.

This is me and my little sister on the bridge leading to
the Art Insitiute's new Modern Wing. If you've never
been to the Art Institute, I would highly recommend
it next time you're in town!

One of my favorite places to enjoy a weekend afternoon is at Millennium Park, located in the heart of the city. While it can be quite the tourist destination, I love that this park is really a hang out spot for all types of locals as well. On the weekends you can spread a blanket on the grass at Pritzker Pavilion, and enjoy a picnic while listening to performers rehearsing on the stage. Even on a beautiful weekend it isn't too crazy crowded, so you can throw a frisbee or football to balance out all the cheese eating you might be doing.

The day of our picnic, there was a tap dancing troupe practicing.
They were fun to listen to AND to watch.

If you really want to treat yourself, you should get your picnic supplies from Fox and Obel, a fantastic gourmet market in Streeterville. The French boule with herbes had a soft interior with a chewy crust, and was the perfect vehicle for shoveling cheese into our mouths. It was huge, too, so I brought some home and used it for breadcrumbs a couple nights later. We had three types of cheese, which the friendly and knowledgeable cheese monger helped us select. We told him our picnic plan, and he picked a balanced spread which he cut into perfectly portioned pieces.
The top cheese (next to the turkey) is Taleggio, a soft cow's milk cheese from Italy. It was stinky in the way that makes cheese so tasty! The one next to it was Mona, a hard cheese made of sheep and cow milk. This cheese from Wisconsin had a texture that reminded me of asiago, and was salty and almost buttery. The third cheese, on the bottom of the picture below, was our favorite. It's Bethmale de Chevre, a washed rind goat's milk cheese from France. It was creamy and rich, and had a hint of goat cheese flavor without being as zingy and overpowering as some chevre can be. All three cheeses were quite enjoyable!

This is our idea of the great outdoors. Can you tell how happy it makes Joe?

Another trick for a kick butt picnic... wine in juice box form!
These cute little sangria boxes came from Target, and I would highly
recommend picking some up before your next visit to the park!

If you want to be an authentic Chicago 20-something, after the park you should head to a street festival. Listen to cover bands and people watch while drinking a ridiculous yet awesome pina colada in a pineapple. Also, the chicken gyro in his other hand was quite delish... I ate mine before I could document it!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dinner and a Movie: Julie & Julia

As you all know by now, I like cooking. A LOT. So when I heard about the movie Julie & Julia, I started counting down until it came out. I read both books a while back, and fell in love with Julia Childs after reading My Life in France. She was such a character, and I was fascinated by her life story. I also read Julie & Julia, about Julie Powell's blogging project. She cooked all the recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, and blogged about the whole adventure. I liked the idea of the book, but thought Julie was kind of a jerk. Honestly, I didn't finish the book, but I still thought the project was a fun concept.

The movie Julie & Julia came out last Friday. I wasn't sure what to expect, because there had been tons of publicity before the movie and that is not always a sign of a good film. But I was excited, and insisted on seeing the movie on opening night. Aside from the fact we had to sit in the front row (full house!), I adored the move! The actresses did a great job with their characters, and I thought they did a great job combining the two stories in a way that really flowed. The movie made me want to cook, blog, eat, and live in Paris... so really it was all my usual emotions captured on film! I would recommend gathering your foodie friends to check out this movie, and have a French food feast planned for before the movie. But plan your cooking times carefully, to avoid arriving late and sitting in the front row :)

I made a broccoli and mushroom quiche for our dinner, with potato gratin and roasted green beans. Not the most summery meal, but it was a cool and rainy day in Chicago. I wanted to make the ratatouille from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but we'd had a busier day than I expected and I decided roasting green beans would be much more manageable. The quiche recipe was inspired by a recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Here's my version.

Savory Herb Pie Crust

5 ounces all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp herbes de Provence
8 Tbsp cold butter (1 stick), cut into about 8 pieces
3 Tbsp ice water, plus more if necessary

Combine flour, salt, and herbes de Provence in a food processor and pulse once or twice. Add the butter and turn the machine on; process until the butter and flour are blended and the mixture looks like cornmeal, about 10 seconds.

Add the three tablespoons of ice water, and process again until the dough comes together. Add more water if it's too dry, or a little flour if it's overly sticky. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, form into a disc, and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to one day. Proceed with quiche recipe below.

Mushroom and Broccoli Quiche

1 recipe Savory Pie Crust
4 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced onions
2 cups fresh broccoli florets, in bite sized pieces
2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
1/2 tsp dried thyme
6 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups cream, half and half, or milk, heated until just warm

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the chilled pie crust and place into a pie dish. Bake the crust for about 12 minutes, until it begins to brown. Remove from the oven and let cool while you prepare the filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Boil or steam the broccoli for about two minutes, so it's tender crisp and not fully cooked.

Put the butter or oil into a large skillet that has been warmed over medium high heat. Add the onions and saute for 3 or 4 minutes, until starting to soften. Add the sliced mushrooms and saute for an additional 5 minutes, until mushrooms and onions are softened. Add the thyme and broccoli, stir, and take off the heat.

Combine the eggs and creme in a bowl, then add to the mushroom mixture. Place the partially cooked shell onto a baking sheet, and pour in the egg mixture. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the quiche is almost firm and lightly brown on top. It should still jiggle a little in the middle. Cool on a wire rack, and serve either warm or at room temperature.

I baked my quiche in the Gien tart dish I got for my birthday this year. Apparently it's a popular brand of earthenware in France, so I thought it was appropriate for this dinner!

Testing Dried Mushrooms

After testing Palm Leaf Plates from a while back, I emailed them to thank them for the opportunity to try a new product. I really liked the plates as an earth friendly and stylish alternative to paper plates. Justin emailed me back saying he was glad I liked them, and he asked if I would like to test out any other new products that they're offering. He offered to send me some new dried chilies that they had just started carrying, but I admitted that I am a wimp when it comes to spicy food. Then he offered one of my favorite things to cook with... mushrooms! Not just any mushrooms, either. Dried mushrooms in a ton of varieties.

I have had mixed experiences with dried mushrooms, so I was eager to see what the Marx ones were like. We've used dried shiitake mushrooms from the Asian grocery stores before, and I haven't been too impressed with their texture and flavor when reconstituted. The Marx dried mushrooms seemed to be better quality when they arrived, and they were different types that would be fun to compare.

After soaking them in hot water, the mushrooms looked and tasted close to fresh.

I went for the porcini ones first, because they're used frequently in Italian food, and it's a cuisine I'm comfortable playing around with. I had brought some basic marinara sauce home from work, and I thought mushrooms would be a great way to enhance this basic sauce. I put the porcini and lobster mushrooms into a bowl, covered them with boiling water, and let the mushrooms soak while I started on the rest of dinner. I had a couple links of Trader Joe's chicken Italian sausage in my fridge, so I took it out of the casings and browned the sausage in a saucepan. When the mushrooms were soft, I removed them from the water. Save that water, though, because it has tons of yummy mushroom flavor at this point! I chopped the mushrooms and added them in with the sausage, then poured in the marinara sauce and about a cup of the water from the mushrooms. I simmered this sauce for 20 or 30 minutes, until most of the water was gone. Mixing this sauce with whole wheat pasta made for a quick and healthy dinner, and the dried mushrooms helped elevate this basic sauce to another level.

Sun Dried Tomato Paste is another trick to add extra flavor to a basic tomato sauce.

The finished pasta, with a fresh salad to round out the meal.

I was really pleased with the texture and flavor of the porcini and lobster mushrooms-- easy to bite, not watery tasting, almost like the real thing. I'm not going to lie... I have a feeling fresh lobster or porcini mushrooms would be better, but these are really not bad and soooo convenient! I like that you could have your favorite dried mushrooms on hand in your pantry, ready to use at any point. I'm going to keep testing the different varieties they sent me, and I plan to order a bag of my favorite type to keep in my kitchen. I've also tried the Oyster and Maitake in a soy sesame stir fry with tempeh, and they were a nice addition. So far porcini is my top pick, but I will keep you posted if I fall in love with any of the others I still get to try!

I mixed Oyster and Maitake mushrooms into this stir fry, with broccoli, snap peas, and marinated tempeh.

The finished stir fry... yum!

Check out to learn more about what they have to offer, and let me know if you try any that you really like!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Farmer's Market Find: Stuffed Round Zucchinis

There is a cute farmers market in my neighborhood every Tuesday during the summer, and my work schedule has been lax enough to allow me a couple visits in recent weeks. It's getting to be the prime of summer, and the produce options have been abundant! There are beautiful tomatoes in a rainbow of colors, tons of summer squash, and multiple varieties of stone fruit. One thing I always look out for at the farmers market is round zucchini, because they're hard to find at the regular grocery store. They are ideal to stuff with all kinds of filling, and when I saw some this past week I picked up three to fill and bake.

I'm still on a mostly vegetarian kick, so I immediately gravitated towards a grain with some kind of beans for protein. I had regular and red quinoa which I cooked on the stovetop, and in the oven I roasted some chickpeas that I'd tossed with olive oil, herbes de provence, and salt and pepper. I sauteed quartered crimini mushrooms with a little garlic, then added some sun dried tomatoes that I'd chopped up. I mixed these components together, added some dried thyme and seasoned with salt and pepper. I knew it was a good sign when I decided I could eat this quiona mix on its own!

For the zucchini I started by slicing off the tops. I cut them in half lengthwise, and used a spoon to scoop out the seeds on the inside. Once the zucchini shells were ready, I microwaved them for about 3 minutes, to soften them up. I should have seasoned them with a little olive oil and salt and pepper at this point, but didn't think of that until we were already eating. Hindsight is 20/20, right? When the zucchini were pre-cooked I filled them with the quinoa mixture, and baked them in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Pita bread and hummus rounded out this farmers market treat. Can you think of all the great combinations you could stuff inside a round zucchini? Keep an eye out for them at a farmer's market near you!

Look at this mix of cherry tomatoes I found!

I added the tomatoes to a pasta salad I'd made the night before.