Monday, April 30, 2012

First Day of a New Job

I don't want to shift focus from my main purpose here, which is to share so much lovely food with you. But, I'll probably be making some references to my life going forward, and I owe you the opportunity to understand what's going on here. No cheesy photos, just a quick explanation of what has been going on in my life. 

I'll make it quick:

So today I officially started my new day job. I can proudly say I am now the "President of Doing Whatever I Want". At least for the next 6 months. 

So what happens in 6 months, you ask? 

Well, there's due to be a little Libra joining the household in the end of October. That is, as long as he or she decides to come a couple days early... fingers crossed! 

And then Little Libra becomes President of Doing Whatever I Want, and I get demoted to serving and supporting the President for some time. 

Don't feel too jealous. Or do. I can't tell you how to feel. 

My first day was busy. I used and recharged my laptop battery 2 full times. I made an excel sheet to keep track of all the projects, to-do lists and forgettable items. I did some laundry. I vacuumed. I researched baby furniture. I walked Misty with my friend for 45 minutes. I spent a few hours researching complex travel itineraries for the President (myself) and CFO (my husband) of Whatever I Want.  Cuz, Yeah, what we want is to travel. A LOT. 

I am, for the first time ever, dedicated to my own life. 30-some years I spent focused on becoming a successful fashion designer. Seriously, since I could hold a pencil. Been there, done that, not fulfilling, next! 

No looking back now, and certainly no regrets.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vegetarian Hungarian Mushroom Soup

I've been making this Hungarian Mushroom Soup recipe for a long time. I first searched for the recipe after discovering the creamy, orange-ish color soup at Pret a Manger. The dill was what hooked me.

Once I found the recipe, I haven't altered it much, except to make it vegetarian-friendly. I'm glad I can make it at home, because you can't get this at Pret now!

Vegetarian Hungarian Mushroom Soup
6 servings

4 T butter
2 C onions, diced
16oz (about 4 C) cremini (baby bello) mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 T paprika
1 T low sodium soy sauce (I use only Japanese brands like Kikkoman)
2 C organic vegetable stock
1 C lowfat milk
3 T flour
salt & pepper
1 T lemon juice
1/4 C fresh dill, chopped (or use 2 teaspoons dried dillweed)
1/2 C fat free sour cream

1. In a soup pot over medium-low heat, cook onions in butter until tender, about 5 minutes. Don't let them brown.

2. Add mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes, tossing with onions. 

3. Stir in paprika, soy sauce and stock. If using dried dill, add it now. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Mix milk and flour together until smooth, and then add it to the pot. Simmer (covered) another 15 minutes. Stir occasionally so the milk doesn't cook down in the pan.

5. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice, fresh dill and sour cream. Let simmer over low heat another few minutes, just to heat through. Garnish with dill and serve with plain crackers.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Salad with Hazelnuts and Lemon Vinaigrette

Beets and goat cheese are a combination that never ceases to please me. The sweet, tender beet, combined with the creamy cheese gets even better when you add a crunchy toasted nut. The addition of greens adds bulk, crispness and a neutral vehicle for tangy dressing that brings it all together.

Many times I've used pre-cooked packaged beets to make a salad like this. However, they never have the same firm texture or sweetness that you get from roasting them fresh. But that takes time, and cooling time, making this first-course dish a long-term commitment in kitchen time.

I had some nice giant beets hanging out in the crisper one week, and kept putting off making them into a salad for this reason. And then I realized that since I had my oven on for something else, maybe a baguette or some potatoes, why don't I just roast them now and use them later? I don't usually have this kind of foresight, but this time it worked out.

While I enjoyed whatever dinner I had made on a Sunday night, my beets roasted away in the oven for over an hour. It seemed like they'd never be done, but luckily I was in no hurry. When they finally became tender enough to slide my knife in, I set them out to cool before throwing them, whole, into a ziploc to refrigerate, right before going to bed. The next day, and the next, I had my fancy beet salad ready in minutes - which is key for a busy weeknight.

Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
4 servings

4 medium fresh beets, scrubbed, trimmed, rough spots removed
1 T olive oil
salt & black pepper

4 C mixed greens
6 oz goat cheese (chevre)
1/4 C hazelnuts, halved and lightly toasted

Lemon Vinaigrette:
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
salt & black pepper

1. Heat oven to 400F. Place whole beets on a large sheet of aluminum foil, on a baking sheet, and drizzle with oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Seal the beets in the foil, making a closed packet with the seal at the top so juice does not escape. 

2. Roast for approximately 1 hour - checking at 45 minutes, and then every 15 minutes. A sharp knife should go easily through to the center. Cook them more or less, based on preference.

3. Open the packet and let cool completely, before using or refrigerating for up to 3 days.

4. Prepare the dressing when you are ready to make the salads. Whisk together lemon juice and mustard in a small bowl (a glass measuring cup with a spout works best). Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking with the other hand. Adjust with more lemon or oil to taste, and season lightly with salt and pepper.

5. To assemble salads, slice beets (1 per serving) into 1/4" rounds and place on plates. Toss greens with a few tablespoons of dressing and pile over beets. Top with chunks or crumbles of goat cheese and toasted nuts. Drizzle a bit more dressing on top, or serve it on the side.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Skillet Chick'n & Mushroom Rice

Dinner in my house growing up was a rotating series of options. We would cycle from one meat to the next - Chicken, Steak, Pork, Chicken, Burgers, Sausage.... and a very occasional fish. I believe this to be pretty common for my generation, especially in rural New England where people of European (especially Eastern European) background are the majority. The meals generally revolve around a land-based protien, a starch and a vegetable.

Particularly in the 80's & 90's, semi-homemade quick and easy meals were very popular. It seemed that every day there was a new variety of cheez-whiz, cool-whip, pizza-bagel, hot-pocket or other ready-made, hyphenated, short-cut showing up in the center aisles of the supermarket. But there's one time-saving prepared food that showed up on the shelves over 100 years ago: Campbell's Soup.

In my house, one must always be sure the shelves were stocked with a variety of these items. We had a cupboard just for cans. A quarter of it was canned soup - especially Campbell's. Because not only could you pop a can open and have lunch in minutes, but you could cook with it too.

One of the dishes on rotation in my house was pork chops cooked in mushroom rice. My mom actually used another popular item - the counter-top electric skillet. The reason for electric skillet's existence escapes me, but my parents found it quite necessary. She would season and brown the chops, and then add Campbell's cream of mushroom soup, water, instant rice and a packet of Lipton's beefy-onion soup mix.  45 minutes later: the ultimate set-it-and-forget-it semi-homemade meal.

Today I live in a city and time where fresh whole food is the norm. I also live in, and run, a household that rarely, almost never, cooks meat. Pork actually makes me sick now, literally. But every now and then it's ok to go back to these delicious, satisfying, time-saving tricks from our parents. Timeless Campbell's soup can liven up vegetarian food too! (But beware of the low-fat soups - they are made with chicken broth).

I recently decided to pull this old skillet rice recipe from the far reaches of my memory, and adapt it to fake meat. I started with Gardein Chicken Scallopini instead of pork, and of course I skipped the beefy soup mix and just seasoned it on my own. Unfortunately I only had brown instant rice on hand, which might be healthier, but I found it not nearly as devourable as white rice in this recipe. Creamy sauce lends itself to white rice.

Still, overall, it was quite delicious. My only problem is that it's just not a pretty dish, and was very hard to photograph.

Skillet Chick'n & Mushroom Rice
4 Servings

1 package (4 pieces) Gardein Chick'n Scallopini
2 T olive oil
Salt & Pepper

1/4 C onion, diced
1-3/4 C water
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt & pepper 

2 C instant rice

1. In a deep skillet, sauté scallopini in olive oil over medium heat until browned - about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

2. Add onions to the skillet and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 C water and scrape up all the bits from the pan. 

3. Add remaining water and condensed soup. Bring to a boil and stir until the liquids are well combined. Season with garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, salt & pepper. 

4. Add rice and stir in. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Place chicken on top of the mixutre and cover. Simmer 10-15 minutes, making sure rice is completely covered in liquid (give it a stir halfway through). It may take longer if using brown instant rice.

5. Meanwhile, cook bacon strips to package directions (microwave about 1-1/2 minutes). Serve chicken and rice with bacon crumbled over the top.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Quick Homemade Cocoa Frosting

I was very randomly in the mood for cupcakes one week. My husband offered to get me some cupcakes from "that store". I'm not sure what he meant, maybe he didn't either, because there are so many. I said "no, I want the homemade kind". Meaning plain yellow cake mix with basic chocolate frosting.

However, as I ordered my supplies, Fresh Direct didn't have a very good frosting selection. I didn't feel like going to the grocery store for a single item, so I ordered Hersey's cocoa powder to make my own. I could do without the corn syrup/processed variety anyhow. I'm definitely no baker, but I can handle a mixer for a few minutes, so I thought I'd give it a try.

So there I was with all the ingredients, except heavy cream. I rarely even have milk on hand. We pretty much always have a small container of fat-free sour cream around, so I decided to throw that in the mix instead. Heavy cream, sour cream... pretty much the same thing, right? Not really, but it came out nice!

My only problem in the end was what to do with 24 cupcakes.
(Solution: refrigerate the frosting and freeze naked cupcakes in small groups wrapped in plastic and foil.)

Quick Homemade Cocoa Frosting
adapted from Cathy Lowe's recipe on

3 C confectioner's powdered sugar
3/4 C unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 T fat-free sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

I found this to be a messy process, so you'll need to find an area of the kitchen that's easy to clean after spatters and powders fly. Turns out I'm not that good controlling the mixer. A little frosting on the ceiling never hurt anybody.

Combine sugar and cocoa in a small bowl. In a medium mixing bowl, soften butter.  Add about a cup of the sugar-cocoa mix and 1 T sour cream to the butter, and begin to beat with an electric mixer on low. Repeat the adding, and scraping down the sides of the bowl, until all has been incorporated. Add vanilla and beat on medium-high for about 2 minutes. Let set for 15 minutes before using.

This frosting tastes just like cocoa at first. But, the next day it tastes even more chocolatey as the flavors meld.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sweet Potato Pizza with Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onions

As you may know, pizza is one of my favorite foods. However, sometimes I need a break from the routine toppings. My husband tends to dictate a regular style pizza with sauce, cheese, pineapples and onions as the go-to style. But, he's not always calling the shots in the kitchen, is he?

I decided on night that I wanted a heartier pizza. Caramelized onions and goat cheese make a nice pizza topping, so I thought why not make it more like a potato tart, and top it with sweet potatoes too? It turned out pretty well. It did take some time to pre-cook the potatoes and onions, but with a purchased pizzeria-fresh dough it wasn't too much work.

The flavor was mild and sweet. You'd need a good vinegar-y salad to go with this, as it is quite bland and begs for greenery.

Sweet Potato Pizza with Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onions
1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes
1 T olive oil

1 pizza dough, stretched/rolled out (your favorite dough, store-bought or homemade)
olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
sea salt

3 C onions, thinly sliced 
2 T butter
pinch of sugar

4-6 oz goat cheese (chevre), crumbled

1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
sea salt & black pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 425F.

2. Peel sweet potatoes and slice into 1/4" rounds. Leave the rounds intact in potato shape and place on a square of tinfoil on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and seal the tinfoil around the potato. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour until just barely tender through. You want it almost cooked, not quite done. Remove and set aside with the wrapping open to cool.

3. Stretch the dough on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with a little salt and garlic powder. Pre-bake the dough for about 5-7 minutes, until it becomes crusty on top instead of doughy. Remove from oven and raise heat to 450F.

4. In a sauté pan, heat butter over medium heat. Add onions and cook slowly, stirring, until tender and browned, about 15 minutes. Add a pinch of sugar if you like them sweeter.

5. Spread onions evenly over pre-baked pizza crust. Top with sweet potato slices. Season with sea salt, pepper and herbs. Crumble goat cheese over the top, evenly distributed. Bake until browned, about 8-10 minutes.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Easy Beef-less Empanadas for Brunch

A while back, I put together a brunch party for my friends. It was one of those times when everyone I invited happened to accept. I wondered how I could pull off eggs for twelve.

Once I decided the Latin theme, the answer to the egg dilemma was simple. I would make a hearty casserole of black beans and tomatoes, topped with eggs. Instead of experimenting and concocting, I found a great recipe from Kalyn's Kitchen for Mexican Baked Eggs.

I needed a secondary protein dish - something to take the place of sausage or bacon. Since my husband had been bugging me to make vegetarian empanadas, I decided to go that route. It was an undertaking too big for a sleepy Sunday morning, but I was determined.

It's been ages since I cooked meat, especially ground beef, but for some reason I wanted the real thing that weekend. I knew my friends would be into it, too. So I actually doubled my workload and made both real beef and fake beef empanadas - careful to avoid cross-contamination. I wanted them to taste authentic, and I didn't have time to test them out before the brunch unveiling, so I went with a classic Goya recipe for Beef Turnovers. You can't go wrong with Goya!

It turned into a taste-test challenge with my friends, actually. Which empanada was meat, and which was fake meat? Could you tell? Which one do you like better? In this case, we got people to try fake meat and they actually liked it as much as the real thing.

Although I had the random craving for this Latin brunch in February, it would make a great Cinco de Mayo brunch. It falls on a Saturday this year, so you'll need that high-protein base for a day of celebrating with cervezas y margaritas! And don't forget that cute little piñata!

If I had to do it again, I'd add a couple things to the plan - it would go something like this:

Vegetarian Cinco de Mayo Brunch Menu Plan

Mexican Baked Eggs - recipe
Easy Beef-less Empanadas - see recipe below
Green Apple and Cantaloupe Salad with Lime Juice and Mint - (to function as a natural antacid)
Fresh OJ & Prosecco Mimosas - but if you have a juicer, try 3 Grapefruit, 3-4 Apples, 2-3" ginger + Prosecco - it will be a hit!
Cabo San Lucas Mexican Coffee - this recipe from PBS is exactly how I remember it served at the Riu Hotel in Cabo

Easy Beef-less Empanadas
approx. 1hr
16-20 empanadas

1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 C yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 C low sodium tomato sauce
6 Spanish olives stuffed with minced pimientos, thinly sliced
2 T golden raisins (optional)
2 T Sofrito
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Black pepper & Salt

1 package frozen puff pastry sheets (12-17oz)

*Heat oven to 400F.

1. In a skillet over medium heat, add oil and onions. Cook until softened, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.

2. Add the frozen crumbles and cover 5 minutes until thawed. Stir in tomato sauce, olives, raisins, sofrito, sazon, and oregano. Cook over medium heat another 10 minutes, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.

3. On a floured surface, roll out puff pastry sheets. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out thin - about 1/16". Cut 3" rounds with a cutter or a martini glass. 

4. Place a tablespoon of filling on each round, and dab a little water around the edge. Fold in half and press closed with a fork. Stab a couple holes in the top for the steam to escape. 

5. Bake the filled pies 2" apart on baking sheets for about 8-10 minutes until golden brown. 

*Serve plain, or with salsa, sour cream or guacamole.

Please excuse typos and inconsistencies. I work with dog attached.

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