Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Linguine with Leeks and Walnut Pesto

I have a confession...I don't like basil pesto. (To date, I have not met one person who shares this opinion.) I think its an aversion from a bad experience I had with food poisoning when I was little, but pureed basil just doesn't do it for me. However, I love the consistency of a pesto, and recognize a hearty, hit-the-spot pasta dish when I see one. We all get those cravings for a heaping bowl of pasta sometimes, and the leek-walnut-Parmesan combination in this dish is a really interesting and flavorful variation from your typical pasta combinations.

The original recipe for Linguine with Leeks and Walnut Pesto from Epicurious was a bit too calorie-dense for my liking. To lighten it up, I shrank the pasta-to-person ratio from 2 servings to 1.5, used whole-wheat linguine and halved the olive oil. Feel free to substitute the radicchio for any other green or vegetable: I tossed in some diced sweet potato, but eggplant, zucchini, or arugula would also be good in this dish.

Anthony Bourdain's (courtesy of chef Scott Conant) Secret to the perfect pasta: "I take a single portion of pasta cooked just shy of al dente and add it to a saute pan that holds a single portion of hot, bubbling...sauce."
"I do this to look cool. Just kidding. The real reason is that this technique not only coats the pasta evenly with the sauce, but also introduces a little air into the process making the dish feel lighter and brighter."

Linguine with Leeks and Walnut Pesto
Yield: 2 servings Prep Time: 30 Minutes  Active Time: 30 Minutes

6 oz linguine
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided 
4 cups thinly sliced leeks
1/2 cup (loosely packed) fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted
juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups thinly sliced radicchio, loosely packed arugula, or diced roasted sweet potato/eggplant/zucchini
salt & pepper to taste
optional: hot red pepper flakes

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water just shy of al dente.
While pasta cooks, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add leeks (plus additional vegetables- if using radicchio or arugula, add at the end.)  Cover; cook until tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Puree parsley, Parmesan, walnuts, lemon juice, garlic, and 1 tablespoon oil in a mini processor until coarse puree forms. Season pesto with salt and pepper.
Drain pasta- keeping 1 tablespoon cooking liquid- and add to vegetable skillet, turning the heat to low. Add pesto to the skillet and toss gently, lifting the pasta high above the bottom of the pot, for a few minutes. Garnish with salt & pepper to taste; additional chopped walnuts, shaved Parmesan, and red pepper flakes if desired. Serve hot with a glass of your favorite wine.

How to cook pasta:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fudgy Black Bean Brownies Bites

I knew I had to try these Fudgy Black Bean Brownie Bites as soon as I heard about its magical secret ingredient. Always looking to find healthy ways to bake, this one was a no-brainer: a whole 15 oz can of black beans is added to the brownie ingredients, substituting flour and adding a tasteless but texture-rich moisture and essence to your typical brownie. Plus, you cannot beat the health benefits: an antioxidant superstar, beans also contain protein, B vitamins, potassium, and fiber. This cholesterol-free, low-fat legume has been shown to promote digestive health, relieve constipation, and is linked to colon cancer prevention and blood cholesterol reduction. Finally, beans are inexpensive and and very filling, which helps to combat portion control against your typical calorie-dense brownie. And if you don't like the taste, it doesn't matter, because you really can't taste it in these brownies!!
I originally set out to make brownies, but they didn't rise enough while baking so instead i switched to 2 x 2 brownie bites. The flavor is extremely fudgy and rich, thanks to a combination of unsweetened cocoa powder, dark chocolate bites and ground coffee. Preparation is also super easy.

Fudgy Black Bean Brownie Bites (altered slightly from Whole Food's Flourless Brownies Recipe)
Yield: 36 brownie bites; 16 brownies
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans, drained and rinsed
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons melted butter, more for the baking dish*
2 tablespoons Canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup white sugar plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted
1 tablespoon ground coffee
*The original recipe called for 1/3 cup melted butter, but as I like to minimize saturated fat and cholesterol as much as possible, I opted for half butter and half canola oil. You can choose your own ratio of butter to oil, refer to the chart below for accurate measurement substitutions.
Solid Fat to Canola Oil Conversion Chart

Solid Fat (melted)      Canola Oil
1 cup (250mL)              3/4 cup (175 mL)
3/4 cup (175 mL)         2/3 cup (150 mL)
1/2 cup (125 mL)         1/3 cup (75 mL)
1/4 cup (50mL)            3 Tbsp (45mL)


Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Butter an 8-inch baking pan. Place the black beans, eggs, melted butter, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla extract, sugar, and coffee in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Remove the blade and gently stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts. (Walnuts can be toasted in advance in a dry pan on medium heat for 8 minutes, stirring periodically to make sure they don't burn.) Transfer mixture to the prepared pan. Bake the brownies for 30 to 35 minutes, or until just set in the center. Cool before cutting into squares. 

The brownies turn out a little sticky, so I recommend refridgerating the pan before cutting into squares. They are also great for freezing.
"Baking With Canola Oil: Give Trans Fat the Boot." Culinary Institute of America. Web. 27 Aug. 2011. <>.
Davis, Jeanie L. "Antioxidant Superstars: Vegetables and Beans." WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature, 22 Apr. 2005. Web. 27 Aug. 2011. <>.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cranberry Walnut Bread

There is nothing more satisfying than a warm loaf of freshly baked bread; when you reach across the table for the bread basket at a restaurant and simultaneously feel and smell the warm curls of air wafting up towards your fingers.. However, for me the thought of baking bread immediately stirs up a sense of panic and a vivid image of myself standing in the kitchen covered in flour with clumps of dough sticking to my hair. Isn't it hard? doesn't it take hours? what if I don't own a breadmaker? I have the answers for you, and you can do it!

Start your bread baking with the mentality that you are about to embark on a journey with a tremendous gustatory (and olfactory) result, and do it with others!! My sister and I baked the no-breadmaker required bread together, and as she walked me through the different steps I realized that simple explanations for each aspect of the bread baking made way for an extremely easy process to understand and execute. Yes, it takes a while, but the prep time is light compared to the total required time and thoroughly enjoyable. We baked a whole wheat Cranberry Walnut Bread loaf that came out simply amazing. Feel free to top with butter, jam, or cottage-cheese, but this sweet and nutty loaf is just as irresistible on its own.
Cranberry Walnut Bread (The original recipe is made for a Cuisinart; which is optional. I think it makes the instructions complicated, so I've tried to simplify as much as possible below and provide pictures to guide. We also altered the ratio of whole wheat flour to bread flour to incorporate more whole grains, but which I think prevented the bread from rising as much as it was supposed to.)

Yield: one round loaf (about 12 servings) Total time: 3 1/2- 4 hours. Active time: 30-40 minutes

1 and 1/3 cup warm (105°F) water
2¼ tablespoons maple syrup
2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
1¾ cups bread flour or unbleached, all-purpose flour 1 1/4 cups bread flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour 2 cups whole wheat flour
1½ tablespoons vegetable or walnut oil
1¾ teaspoons sea or kosher salt
¾ cup chopped, toasted walnuts
½ cup dried cranberries

1. Place warm water (same temperature as your wrist, 105 degrees Fahrenheit if you have a thermometer) maple syrup, and yeast in a large bowl. Stir and let stand for 5-10 minutes.  Wait until mixture bubbles and is foamy: this means the yeast is alive and active.
2.  Add both flours, oil, and salt to the bowl. Mix until smooth and knead for 10 minutes on a floured surface, adding just enough flour to keep it from sticking. (To knead dough, push down into the dough with the heels of your hands, fold, rotate, repeat. For detailed instructions, click here)
knead dough with the heels of your hands
3. Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl (can use the same bowl as in step 1, just wash it first) for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, covered, until dough has doubled in size in a warm, draft-free place.
risen dough
4. Prepare a pizza stone or cookie sheet with a sprinkle of oil followed by a light coat of cornmeal or flour.  Punch the dough down to deflate and form into a ball, flattening the dough into a 9-inch round, like a very large cookie.  Place the flattened round onto the prepared pizza stone/cookie sheet.

5. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until nearly doubled – about 60 to 70 minutes. Ten minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425°F.* see note below

7. Remove saran wrap, and sprinkle the top of the risen loaf with flour.  Using a serrated knife cut a cross in the top of the loaf, cutting about ¼-inch into the loaf. Place the bread in the hot oven and bake for 15 minutes.
8. Lower the heat to 375°F and bake for an additional 20 minutes – until the bread is a rich brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Turn the oven off, slide the bread directly onto the oven rack and let stand in the closed, hot oven for 5 minutes to crisp the bottom of the loaf. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Bread slices best when allowed to cool completely before cutting.
*Note: if you want your loaf to come out on the crusty side, the oven must be steamy. (Professional ovens have steam-injectors.) To achieve this, place a pan filled with half an inch of water on the bottom shelf of the oven while you preheat it. After 10 minutes of baking, remove the pan. This works because the humidity from the steam prevents the crust from forming immediately, so when you remove it the crust forms more thickly.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Spanish Romesco Sauce

It tastes as foreign and thrilling as it sounds. Like any traditional European food- it originated in Spain- Romesco Sauce bears the essential hearty, fresh ingredients of Mediterranean kissed fine cuisine: fresh garlic, olive oil and tomato; rustic day-old Italian bread.  Add roasted red pepper, smoked paprika and almonds/hazelnuts to the mix, and you have yourself a sauce perfect for fish, tofu, or potatoes. 

My version came out a little breadier that I meant it to, and Romesco sauces usually exhibit a hearty red flavor (I can thank Trader Joe's roasted red and yellow pepper mix for my orangish hue). However, you really can't go wrong with the sauce, exactness is not required here. Also, feel free to skip the roasting before/after if you're in a rush. It's really that good. The coarse texture the ground nuts give to the sauce is really spectacular too.

Spanish Romesco Sauce (original Simply Recipes link here)
Yield: about 1 1/2 cups. Prep time: 5 minutes, Cook time: 20 minutes

1/4 cup olive oil (because the almonds are high in fat, feel free to half this if your conscious of calories. I started out with 2 tbsp to saute, and added 1/2 tbsp before blending.)
1 1-inch thick slice of crusty bread, torn into pieces (I used a classic thick Italian)
1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped or slivered (can substitute hazelnuts, peeled)
5-6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, or canned whole tomatoes (including the juice) that have been de-seeded, or 1 pound fresh tomatoes that have been par-boiled, skins removed, and de-seeded (I just used fresh grape tomatoes with skins + seeds.)
1 8-ounce jar of roasted red bell peppers, drained
1 Tbsp smoked paprika (preferred) or sweet paprika
2-3 Tbsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Optional: crushed red pepper flakes if you like spice


    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, sauté the bread and almonds, stirring often, until they just begin to brown. Add the garlic and sauté another 1-2 minutes, stirring once or twice.
    2.  Place the contents of the sauté pan into a food processor with the remaining ingredients—salt, tomatoes, roasted bell peppers, smoked paprika, vinegar (and crushed red pepper if desired.) Purée until smooth. Spread the sauce out on a rimmed sheet pan and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the edges begin to caramelize. Allow to cool and scrape into a container to store.
    To use romesco sauce, mix with pasta, shrimp, chicken or vegetables either before or after they are cooked, much like you would a pesto.*
    Kept in a sealed container, Romesco sauce will last for a week or more in the fridge. It freezes well, too. 

    *I find Romesco sauce a particularly tasty way to spice up flaky white fish. For this version I used mahi-mahi.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Carrot and Fennel Soup

    I've always been intrigued by fennel, because I really like licorice (and ouzo).  I could probably devour the whole bulb plain- the texture is like celery, and fun to crunch on for a snack- but I was eager to seek out a recipe. 101 Cookbooks is always my first go-to for all dishes veggie, and where i stumbled across Carrot and Fennel Soup. Simple, elegant and tasty, this easy soup was definitely hit. Carrots and fennel give the soup an earthy feel, and a hearty serving of rice texturizes the dish. Lastly, the soup is topped with tons of shaved Parmesan, which you just can't go wrong with in a vegetable-broth based soup.

    Did you know?
    Fennel is actually a member of the Apiaceae family, and closely related to carrot, parsley, cumin, and dill. During the Middle Ages it was hung over doorways to drive away evil spirits. It's up to you if you want to give that a try or not. 
    Fennel also is very nutritious. A unique combination of phytonutrients give way to strong antioxidant activity, plus an excellent source of vitamin C.

    Carrot and Fennel Soup (I mainly stuck to the original recipe, which I printed below, but my modifications are in italics)
    Yield: Serves 6. Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 30 minutes

    3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I think 2 is sufficient)
    2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed fronds reserved, thinly sliced
    2 1/4 pounds / 36 ounces farmer market carrots, thickly sliced
    2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
    10 cups good-tasting vegetable broth or water
    salt to taste (if using broth, check the sodium serving before adding salt- its probably already very high)
    3 cups / 12 oz cooked wild rice/brown rice
    2 tablespoons blood orange olive oil or 5 tablespoons fresh orange juice (I used a drop of apple cider vinegar instead)
    lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    Optional: 1/3 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
    Optional: 1/2 cup canned chickpeas- Heidi suggests alternately adding a poached egg for protein

    Heat the olive oil in your largest soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and cook for 3-4 minutes, until softened a bit. Stir in the carrots and cook another 10 minutes, just long enough for them to soften a touch and start taking on a bit of color. Stir in the garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Stir in the broth. Bring to a simmer and simmer, covered, until the carrots are very tender, another 15-20 minutes or so. Stir in the wild rice, bring back to a simmer, taste and add more salt if needed

    Remove from heat and stir in the blood orange olive oil or orange juice. Taste and add more if needed. Serve dusted, generously, with freshly grated Parmesan, and a sprinkling of the reserved fennel fronds.

    "Specialty Crops: Fennel." Sustainable Farming Project. Tufts University. Web. 9 Aug. 2011. <>.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Minted Cucumber Salad

    Think of what foods are conjured up by the word "refreshing", and cucumber and mint are probably quick to come to mind. So after last week's seemingly endless heatwave, you'll thank me for finding this cool, refreshing Minted Cucumber Salad recipe to combat any hot day. (Thank you for sharing Amy!)  I'm used to cucumber salads seasoned with dill, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the fresh mint/dried oregano combination tasted perfectly natural in this dish. Although not a big fan of mayo but cognizant that it is a staple in a lot of cold summer salads, I found the Greek yogurt with a touch of mayonnaise a perfect base that was creamy without being heavy.

    Minted Cucumber Salad
    Yield: 3 sides

    4 small or 2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded (optional) and cut into very thin (1/8 inch) "moons"
    2 tsp salt
    1/2 clove garlic, minced
    1/4 cup plain nonfat Greek Yogurt
    1 tsp light mayonnaise
    2 tbsp fresh mint, tightly packed and minced
    1 tsp dried oregano
    1/4 cup thinly sliced sweet vidalia onion
    1 tsp red wine vinegar
    salt & pepper to taste

    1. Salt cucumbers with 2 tsp salt and put in colander for 20 minutes.
    2. Mix mint, garlic, oregano, yogurt, mayonnaise, and red wine vinegar in a large bowl.
    3. Just before serving, add cucumbers to yogurt mixture. Add fresh pepper and additional salt to taste.