First of all, Happy New Year! Dave and I spent the long weekend in New York City. And the first thing you're probably thinking in response to that might be, You're insane. What about the crowds? Well, we weren't feeling brave enough to head into Times Square and battle the crowd of nearly one million people who came out to see the ball drop. And we definitely weren't interested in standing out in the bitter cold for hours, either. We had a great weekend, though, filled with wonderful food and drinks to celebrate not just New Year's Eve, but our 1 year anniversary and my (early) birthday. Surprisingly, it wasn't too hard to get in or out of the city. For a holiday weekend, travel on all accounts went surprisingly smooth. Sadly, I find myself now feeling ill with what I think might be a cold that was developing all last week in spite of all of my wishing that it wasn't. The rest of this week isn't getting any warmer, either. For my birthday on Saturday, it's going to be a blustery zero degrees and probably colder than that with the windchill, well into the negative single (and maybe double?) digits. Joy. Days like these call for something hot and comforting to take off the chill. Cannellini beans (white beans), frozen spinach, and a mirepoix of fresh vegetables (onions, carrots, and celery) are always well-stocked in my pantry to make soups and other meals that are always favorites to eat and quickly assembled. This recipe uses leftover red wine for added depth of flavor. If you don't have any or would prefer not to use it, it's fine to just add extra vegetable or chicken broth. Likewise, a Parmesan cheese rind is nice to add in here, but don't sweat it if you don't have one to spare. P.S. I'm transitioning all of the recipes over to a new plug-in tool as of today, so this one and others may look different as I'm getting them moved over. Let me know what you think of the new look and functionality.
Posts published in “Main Courses”
It was a snowy week here in the Northeast and I'm not a cold weather-loving person. Looking at the snowfall is all well and good, but I prefer to stay inside and do that. It's not that I'm necessarily scared about driving in bad weather—been there, done that—but everything that goes with said weather adds up to be a royal pain. Cleaning off the car and walking on ice both suck... Letting the car windows defrost for what feels like an eternity before it is possible to see clearly to drive anywhere is annoying... And don't get me started on what it feels like to be in wet clothes after getting caught in the snow or trudging through feet of it after it's drifted across the driveway. Ugh, ugh, and ugh. As far as I'm concerned, on an icky day nothing beats staying toasty in the house, crafting or playing board games with plenty of time for cooking or baking in between breaks. When nobody has to venture out to get anything for dinner, thanks to leftovers or a well-stocked pantry and freezer, it's even better. This is a vegetarian main dish that includes pantry-staples like salsa, tomatoes, and beans, and takes advantage of the oven—which helps to warm up the house on a cold day, too. Feel free to add chicken or cooked ground meat to the vegetable mixture, if you want added protein, and season to a heat level of your liking. As a happy compromise when I'm cooking for most of my friends and family, I sautee jalapeños (seeds and ribs included) with the rest of the vegetables and serve more fresh ones served alongside as an option, since there are different heat preferences ranging from no heat at all to spicy as possible (with myself preferring something towards the upper end of the heat spectrum.)
These sweet and sour meatballs are better than take-out and can be made in less than 30 minutes -- talk about a fast dinner! I like adding extra Sriracha to mine and topping with some cilantro, but it's totally optional. Quorn meatless meatballs are available in many of the grocery stores near me. If you can't find them, make these with frozen beef or pork meatballs for a non-vegetarian take on the recipe, or with another brand of vegetarian or vegan meatballs that you might prefer better or can find easier in your local stores. The sauce also works great with chicken or a chicken substitute, like Quorn chick'n products, which are vegan and I've used many times before.
Indian food has always been an elusive thing for me to make at home. Thai, I can manage—Dave is particularly good at cooking it. Italian, of course. French, too. Indian, though, has been a no-go. Now, I'll be the first one in the car if we're going out for Indian food. I would consider it to be one of my favorite things to eat, right up there with tapas. I remember a class I took in high school, though, when we had a pot luck one day for lunch. Each of us had to bring in a dish that was inspired by another culture. A strict vegetarian at the time, I chose India for its abundance of veggie-friendly dishes, none of which I had made but many of which I had eaten out at restaurants. To say that I had no clue what I was doing would be an understatement. I didn't have time to try to make dough and filling for samosas, so I opted instead for something that could be classified as "chop, throw it in a pan, and cook." Maybe that was my first mistake—flavors in a one-pot dish would still need to be built and developed—but this is hindsight now talking. I also had no idea where to find paneer, Indian cheese that is often cubed and cooked as a main ingredient in many dishes. Unlike most cheeses, paneer doesn't melt, so it's comparable to halloumi, which is used in Greek cooking and can be fried. (I'm reminded now of my saganaki fail, but that's a different story for a different time.) Even I knew better at the time to try to substitute it, so mutter paneer, palak paneer, and other tasty dishes were out of the question. I settled on a huge batch of aloo gobi, curried cauliflower, for my classmates, the primary ingredients of which were vegetables that I could easily find in the grocery store. Needless to say, it ended up as an adventure in the kitchen, and I was upset to find that nobody, except myself and probably the teachers, tried my food. In hindsight, I can't blame them. The flavor profile was overwhelmingly cumin and tumeric, which also made the dish a glowing yellow color that probably looked a little intimidating to the eye, especially for those who maybe never tried Indian food and this was the first time they were seeing something like it. Then again, I grabbed whatever curry powder looked the best at the store; I didn't use fresh spices or develop their flavor by toasting and grinding them to make my own spice blend, which would have made a huge difference. The experience, nevertheless, made me decide to give up any future attempts—until now. I put aside any fears I had and set out to make daal for dinner—quite literally the first time I've tried making homemade Indian food since this experience.
Confession: I have a "thing" about Cobb salad. I've always appreciated the various tastes and textures within it—crunchy lettuce, refreshing tomatoes, crispy bacon, creamy hard boiled eggs and blue cheese—but it was ever since I tried the Green Goddess Chicken Cobb at Panera Bread, believe it or not, that I've been really hooked. Panera's salad is a perfect combination of traditional Cobb salad ingredients with a few unexpected extras. Pickled red onions add a nice, sweet and sour tang and a herby Green Goddess dressing adds a another refreshing final layer of flavor to the salad. All-in-all, it's pretty yummy. Big, main course salads are a perfect meal to make during the summer. They are light and refreshing, and they don't take a lot of effort or time. Just chop up ingredients—or buy pre-chopped ingredients to make assembly even quicker—and quickly assemble on a bed of lettuce arranged on a big platter, family-style, to allow everyone to help themselves.
Crisp fall nights call for baking. Lots of baking. Cookies and cakes are obvious go-tos anytime I choose to bake something sweet. When it comes to savory dishes, though, the first thing that always comes to mind is pasta. There's just something so nice and comforting about taking a big tray of baked, bubbling, cheesy pasta out of the oven. It's instant happiness and a whole meal without putting in a lot of effort. Sometimes, if I'm in the mood, I'll serve a big tray of pasta with a side dish, like a green vegetable or a salad. It can help to feel a little bit better about eating all of that cheesy goodness, even if I know, deep down, that it doesn't make a damn difference. When it comes to naming a so-called king of baked pastas, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in my house who disagrees with the fact that it's macaroni and cheese (baked ziti, a distant second place.) It's one of the most versatile baked pasta dishes that I can make and everyone loves it. I'm always trying new recipes, too -- adding spinach or other vegetables, bacon, or simply just loading up on different kinds of cheese because more cheese, more better. The best part is that even when a recipe doesn't come out quite as I planned, even bad mac and cheese is good. This is how, on a whim a few years ago, I ended up with this memorable, very orange -- and, dare I say, sort-of healthy -- mac.