Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Vegetarian Enchiladas (for one) Edition

It’s been a busy week both in terms of work and its associated stress (that’s a whole other story) as well as errands and other “life things” that need taking care of. I am going to be hosting a wedding shower for my friend Lauren next weekend (look for posts on that subject soon) and I have spent much of the weekend finalizing plans, running errands, and buying supplies. Jason has had a lot of things to do too—he’s been fairly preoccupied with an electronics project (one that is taking over our kitchen/dining room bar/counterspace) and today he’s at his parents’ house changing the breaks on his car (he’s so handy to have around!)

Even though Jason won’t be home in time for dinner tonight, I decided to go ahead and make Sunday Dinner for myself. Cooking on Sunday is always more relaxing than during the week and given that I’ll be driving to Baltimore tomorrow, it seemed like a good idea to have something that can be easily heated up ready to eat. I chose to make a vegetarian enchilada recipe that I got from my friend Lauren (yes, the same one who’s getting married). Lauren’s family is from Texas and she knows good Tex-Mex. She made this recipe for Jason and I last summer and we were big fans. She included ground meat but I decided to try it without this time around.

It turned out well. I liked the addition of the green chile enchilada sauce (the original recipe called for red enchilada sauce)—it added some good spice. Next time I make the vegetarian version, I think I would add some additional beans (maybe a can and a half total). But otherwise, it is a delicious and easy dish—perfect for any day of the week.

Vegetarian Enchiladas
Adapted from a recipe given to me by a friend

1 can (15 oz) pinto beans (or more), rinsed and drained
1 cup corn (fresh, frozen, canned—whichever)
1 cup shredded cheese
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 can (14 oz) Hatch green chile enchilada sauce
½ cup salsa
8 flour tortillas (medium sized)

(If you want to add some meat, simply brown ground beef, turkey or even lamb, and add into the bean mixture before filling the tortillas—you might end up with more than 8 enchiladas though so plan accordingly.)

1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.In a medium bowl, partially mash the beans with a fork.
3.Add corn, ½ of the cheese, cilantro, and ¼ cup of the enchilada sauce.
4.In another bowl, combine remaining enchilada sauce with salsa.
5.Spray a 13x9 baking dish with cooking spray. Pour ½ cup of enchilada sauce/salsa mixture into the bottom of the dish.
6.Warm tortillas in the microwave (about 35 seconds—wrap in paper towels).
7.Spoon about ½ cup of the bean and corn mixture into the center of each tortilla and roll up. Place, seam side down, in the baking dish.
8.Top with remaining sauce and shredded cheese.
9.Bake for 20 minutes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Money Saving Shells

For the last year Jason and I have been trying to save up to buy a house. To aid in that effort we made a budget and have done a pretty good job of sticking to it. This summer, however, we fell off the wagon a little bit. Between lost rings, vacations, and new work wardrobes, we did not save as much per month as we should have. So this fall we are cracking down a little bit. Under normal circumstances this would primarily mean limiting our extraneous expenses but unfortunately this fall we have some (e.g., two out of town weddings and a car that needs new tires) that are somewhat our of our control.  So we are having to get serious about other aspects of our budget—like eating out.

As I’ve mentioned before, I generally cook Sunday-Thursday (I say generally because there are weeks like this past one where I get home late/tired and we end up picking up Panera or ordering pizza once or twice). That means Friday and Saturday are reserved for eating out. Really, two nights a week is not that much but Jason and I decided that it would be an easy place to save a little extra money so we’re now limiting restaurant meals to once a week.  That doesn’t mean that I am cooking an extra night a week, however; we agreed that this would only work if Jason took on responsibility for planning/making one meal a week  (because as much as I love doing those things, 5-6 nights a week gets to be a lot!).

We put our plan into motion two weeks ago when I made Turkey and Artichoke Stuffed Shells for dinner on a Saturday. The nice thing about this recipe is that it makes a lot—I usually freeze half of it and that still gives us two dinners and a lunch. The recipe is good—hearty yet still healthy (thanks to the ground turkey and part-skim ricotta). The perfect way to fill our bellies and our bank account.

Turkey and Artichoke Stuffed Shells
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

1 box jumbo pasta shells
3 TBL olive oil
½ large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground turkey (I use white meat)
1 can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
1 (15 ounce) container of part-skim ricotta cheese
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¾ cup chopped basil
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 (36 ounce) jar of tomato sauce
1 ½ cups grated mozzarella cheese

1.Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft, about 3 minutes.
2.Add ground turkey, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until turkey is cooked through. Add artichokes and stir to combine. Remove from heat and let cool.
3.Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for about 4 minutes. Drain and set aside.
4.In a large bowl, combine cooled turkey mixture, ricotta, parmesan, basil, and parsley. Salt and pepper to taste.
5.Cover the bottom of a baking dish with some of the tomato sauce (just a thin layer will do). Take a shell in the palm of your hand and stuff with a large spoonful of the turkey mixture—don’t be shy with the stuffing! Place in the baking dish and repeat. This makes a lot so I always do in two pans and freeze one for future use (see below).
6.Top shells with tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella.
7. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until cheese is melted and shells are bubbly.
To freeze: Cover unbaked shells in two layers of plastic wrap. Wrap the entire pan in at least 1 (if not 2) layers of aluminum foil to ensure it is well sealed. Place in freezer. To bake, unwrap the pan and bake (still frozen) for about 60 minutes or until shells are hot and cheese is melted.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Club Brownies

For this month’s book club I volunteered to bring dessert--I like baking but try not to do it too often given that it is just the two of us. I initially thought I’d make an apple cake or some other sort of fall dessert but when I asked Jason what kind of sweet treat he’d like to eat later this week (given that I almost always come home from book club with leftovers) only one thing came to mind—espresso brownies.  As I mentioned awhile back Jason is a big fan of the chocolate-coffee flavor combination so these mocha tasting treats are right up his alley. They also happen to be one of the first things I ever made him so they have the nostalgia thing going for them as well :)

Fortunately for me, these brownies require very little effort, making them the perfect thing to bake during the work week. One reason for their relative simplicity—they make use of brownie mix. I know, I know—I don’t usually make things from a box. But it doesn’t hurt to take a few shortcuts where you can. And these are GOOD. Just ask Jason.

Yep. I used a mix. Don't judge!


Espresso Brownies
Adapted slightly from Giada de Laurentiis

1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 TBL plus 2 teaspoons espresso powder
2 eggs
1/3 cup plus 2 TBL water
1 box of brownie mix
¾ cup mini chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 TBL butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups powdered sugar

1.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together vegetable oil, eggs, 1/3 cup of water, and 2 TBL espresso powder. Add in brownie mix and stir until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips.
2.Pour into well-greased 9 X 9 baking pan and bake for 35 minutes.
3.Place pan on wire rack and cool completely.
4.When the brownies are cool, dissolve remaining 2 teaspoons of espresso powder into the 2 TBL water. Add vanilla, powdered sugar, and butter and whisk until smooth. (If the frosting is too thick, you can thin it out with a little more water). Pour onto brownies and smooth with a knife or off-set spatula. Refrigerate until set. Cut into squares and serve.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Red Pepper Pasta and Garlic Bread Edition

Jason and I spent this weekend visiting my parents in Southeastern Pennsylvania. We had a really nice time buying apples and pumpkins at a local orchard, eating my mom's awesome bacon-wrapped scallops (with a lemon-dill sauce) for dinner, and playing spades. Since we didn’t get home until 4 or so , I decided to go with a tried and true favorite for dinner tonight--- pasta with creamy roasted red pepper sauce. But since I always try to do something a little bit special/out of the ordinary for Sunday Dinner I decided to shake things up with some homemade garlic bread.


(Consider yourself warned.)

Garlic bread, at least the way Ina taught me to make it, is so easy that it is hard to imagine why anyone would buy the frozen stuff. All you have to do is chop up some parsley and a lot of garlic, heat it in some olive oil and spread it between some ciabatta bread. Stick it in the oven for 10 minutes and you are done. Easy, garlicky goodness. (note: since it was just the two of us, I halved the recipe below—only using ½ loaf of bread, ¼ olive oil, etc. and it works just as well.)

Step 1: Cook olive oil, parsley and garlic over low heat.
Step 2: Spread mixture over bread
Step 3: Put halves back together and bake
 Step 4: Enjoy!

Homemade Garlic Bread
Adpated from Ina Garten

6 cloves of garlic
¼ cup parsely
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 loaf of ciabatta bread

1.Finely chop the garlic and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
2.Heat olive oil in a small pan over low heat. Add garlic mixture and cook for about 3 minutes or until garlic is tender but not browned. Set aside
3.Slice ciabatta in half horizontally. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
4.Spoon garlic mixture evenly over both halves of the bread. Place the top half on the bottom half. Wrap in foil. Bake on a cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 5 minutes or until crust is brown and crusty. Slice and serve (with breath mints if you have them).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Comcast Update and Okra

While Jason was dealing with Comcast’s shenanigans* on Saturday I was off at our local farmers’ market reveling in the bounty of late summer and early fall. In addition to the eggplant, tomatoes, and garlic I used to make Sunday Dinner, my shopping list also included apples for my lunch. As I was pursuing the rest of the market, my interest was sparked by the abundance of okra I saw at many of the stands.

True to my Southern roots, I am a fan of this odd little vegetable (well, actually it is a fruit), but I generally like it fried or in soups and stews. Although I’ve never tried cooking it myself, I decided to take some home and give it a try. I generally don’t fry things at home (too messy and I hate the way it makes the apartment smell) so I looked for other types of okra recipes. I ended up settling on one for Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes from Serious Eats (another Dinner Tonight recipe—surprise, surprise!). In addition to the titular ingredients, this recipe also included onions, curry and a little brown sugar. The resulting flavor was sweet and smoky—the perfect accompaniment for pan-roasted fish.  I’d highly recommend this dish—you could even serve it over rice for a hearty and delicious vegetarian dish.

One note about cooking okra—it has a bad reputation for becoming slimy. The key is to avoiding this is to try not to wash it if at all possible (or if you do make sure that you dry each individual piece very carefully). I was able to avoid washing because my farmers’ market okra came with a “no pesticides” guarantee.

*Comcast update: We never did get the call from the supervisor as promised (shocker!) so Jason ended up calling back later that day. The person he spoke to this time was somewhat more helpful and was able to lower our rates. We’re staying for now but are seriously considering trying something new so.... stay tuned!

Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes
Adapted slightly from Serious Eats

2 TBL butter
½ cups onion, finely chopped
1 pound okra, stems removed and chopped
2 ½ cups tomatoes, chopped
1 cob of corn, kernels removed
¼ teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoon brown sugar
Salt and pepper

1.Melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent.
2.Add okra and cook for 5 minutes. Add all the ingredients except the corn. Cover the pan and simmer until okra is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
3.Toss in the corn and cook for another minute or two. Salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup Edition

I have long been a fan of the blog Serious Eats (though sometimes I do have trouble keeping up with its 15 or so posts a day) but lately it has become an integral part of my weekly menu planning.  Nick Kindelsperger’s daily Dinner Tonight column in particular has been a great source of inspiration (see pasta with bacon and corn pesto and chicken and eggplant with black bean sauce as two fairly recent examples) which is good since I have been less than thrilled with the last few issues of Everyday Food, my usual go-to for weeknight meal ideas.

Speaking of Martha, her roasted tomato and eggplant soup was the subject of one of Nick’s Dinner Tonight columns that caught my eye just last week. With its end of summer vegetables, it seemed the perfect candidate for tonight’s Sunday Dinner especially given the cool and dreary weather we had for most of the day.  It was good. I loved the mix of smooth and chunky textures this dish offered. And the cilantro added the perfect amount of brightness to the smokiness of the eggplant and curry. Served with some “bread made by hippies” (as Jason referred to the rolls I bought at yesterday’s farmers’ market) and the first Dogfish Punkin Ale of the season, it was the perfect end to a fairly relaxing weekend.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Adapted from Serious Eats

3 pounds of Roma tomatoes, stems removed and sliced in half
½ pout of carrots, cut into ¾ inch pieces
7 cloves of garlic
1 large eggplant, diced
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 TBL olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
Chopped cilantro for serving

1.  Preheat the oven to 425. Line to baking sheets with aluminum foil.
2. On one baking sheet toss tomatoes, garlic, and carrots with 2 TBL olive oil, salt, and pepper. Make sure tomatoes are cut side down.
3. On the second baking sheet toss eggplant and chickpeas with remaining olive oil, curry powder, and salt and pepper.
4. Place both baking sheets into oven and roast for 45 minutes. Halfway through, stir vegetables and rotate baking sheets.
5. Remove both baking sheets from the oven. Remove skin from tomatoes. Transfer tomatoes, garlic, carrots (and all the juices from that pan) into blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour mixture into a large pot.
6. Add eggplant and chickpea mixture to the pot. Add 2 cups of water (more or less depending on how thick you want it to be) and bring to a boil over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cilantro and some yummy bread.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It's "Comcastic" Alright...

If by “comcastic” you mean absolutely ridiculous. For the last several years I (and now we) have been buying internet, cable, and phone service from Comcast….for a pretty exorbitant fee.  Once I stopped working from home we decided to get rid of the expensive phone service since I no longer needed a dedicated work line. Initially we were just going to cut the phone altogether but then decided to switch to Vonage so that we would have both a back-up phone line (which came in handy last fall when my cell phone died) and a number to give out to the public (doctors, credit cards, etc.) that would prevent us from receiving annoying telemarketing calls on our cell phones (because I have found that the Do Not Call list doesn’t work).  So we told Comcast we were cutting our phone service and transferring the number to Vonage.

At the same we were making that switch we also decided we were going to ask for a lower rate for our cable and internet since they had also recently gone up.  We were told—by two separate people—that we would be unable to make any other changes to our account while the number transfer for our phone was going through. Sounds fishy, right? It did to us too (as the customer we should be able to make changes to our account anytime we please). But one very helpful Comcast employee did tell us that we would be able to lower our bill by almost half once the change went through and September rolled around so we went with it (asking her to make notations of the prices quoted in our account).

Cut to today when Jason called back to make those changes and was told (by a less than helpful Comcast employee) first that those rates we had been quoted had expired September 1st (interesting given that the first person told us to call back to get those rates in September) and then that because we had downgraded our services by cutting the phone we were not eligible for lower rates on what we had left (also contrary to what we had originally been told).  Jason told him that was ridiculous and asked to speak to a supervisor. He was told a supervisor would call us back.


Yeah, not so much.
(Image courtesy of

Unfortunately we live in an area where Comcast is really the only cable provider…unless we want to switch to dish. So here is what our plan is—if they can’t, in fact lower our bill as we were originally told, we’re going to maintain the internet (since Comcast’s price for that is actually pretty comparable for similar services through other providers) and we’re downgrading our television to basic cable for $18.95 a month. That means no HD and no DVR but given that a lot of the shows we watch are available online we figure we’ll give that a try and see how it goes. Jason has been wanting to completely get rid of our cable and watch everything over the internet for awhile now but I’ve been a little less sure about it. But given how “comcastic” Comcast is being right now, I’m willing to give it a shot.

I’ll let you know how it all works out.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor Day Meatloaf

Jason and I spent the weekend celebrating our first anniversary in Charlottesville, Virginia. We ate a lot of good food, drank some champagne, and generally enjoyed the last unofficial weekend of summer together.  I came home yesterday afternoon with good intentions: I’d cap off our anniversary/Labor Day weekend with one of Jason’s favorite meals—meatloaf.

Meatloaf is a strange thing when you think about it. In some ways it’s like a giant burger— ground meat gussied up with seasonings and often topped with ketchup. But why would anyone want to bake ground meat in loaf form when they could just as easily grill it up and eat it on a bun? It wasn’t until a few years ago (when Jason and I were in the early phases of our courtship and I was looking for “manly” recipes that I thought he might particularly enjoy) that I decided to give meatloaf another shot.

I initially had my eyes on a recipe made with roasted vegetables, but ultimately opted for a slightly less complicated recipe that uses sautéed onions and peppers along with fresh herbs, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan cheese to give the dish an Italian flair.  It was a big hit with Jason (he asked me to make it for his birthday a few years ago) and even I had to admit meatloaf, in this form at least, wasn’t half bad.

While I had planned to make this meatloaf yesterday as a riff on the typical Labor Day cookout, once home I got sidetracked by life and we ended up having breakfast for dinner instead.  Better late than never, I guess.

Adapted from Michael Chiarello

½ large Vidalia onion, small diced
½ red or yellow red pepper, small diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TBL olive oil
1-1.25 pounds of ground beef (skip the super lean stuff—you need some fat to keep it moist. I never go below 90/10)
1 TBL chopped parsley
2 TBL chopped basil
1 TBL Worcestshire Sauce
2 TBL balsamic vinegar, divided
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
¾ cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and Pepper
½ cup ketchup
1 TBL brown sugar
1 shot hot sauce (optional)

1.Saute onions, garlic, and peppers in 1 TBL olive oil until just soft. Remove to a large bowl and let cool.
2.Add beef, herbs, Worceshire, 1 TBL of balsamic vinegar, cheese, breadcrumbs, and eggs. Mix (easiest to use your hands!) until well combined.
3.Preheat oven to 350. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with cooking spray. Shape meat mixture into a loaf shape on the center of the pan, trying to get it as even as possible.
4.Mix ketchup, brown sugar, remaining TBL of balsamic, and hot sauce (if using) until smooth. Pour evenly over the top of the meatloaf.
5.Place in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes or until the center reaches 160 degrees on a instant thermometer. Spoon excess fat away from the sides of the cooked meatloaf and discard. Let rest for at least 5 minutes. Slice and serve

Saturday, September 4, 2010

One Year

They say the first year of marriage is the hardest. If that's true then I think we have nothing but a lifetime of happiness ahead of us.

Happy Anniversary, Jason!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Signs of Fall

Now that it is September (!), the first signs of fall are everywhere. Pumpkin beer is popping up on restaurant menus and grocery store shelves; my teacher friends are heading back to work; wool blazers are making their way into my closet; and Hallmark is starting to put out its Christmas ornaments. But while some are starting to think of pot roast, I am still holding on to the last vestiges of summer making meals that focus on corn and tomatoes rather than meat and potatoes.

Last night, for example, I whipped up a pasta dish whose star was corn cut fresh from the cob. Cooked in bacon fat and pureed with pine nuts and parmesan, it is pesto by way of creamed corn. Once the corn is added to the long strands of tagliatelle pasta and topped with bacon and basil, the dish is almost carbonara-like in its creaminess. If I have a chance to make it again before fall is totally upon us, I think I would leave more of the corn whole. It seemed almost blasphemous to not eat it in its purest state. Other than that, and not making this recipe sooner, I have no regrets.

Pasta with Bacon and Corn Pesto
Adapted slightly from Serious Eats

4 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut into lardons
3 cups of fresh corn (from about 5 ears)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
3 TBL olive oil
12 ounces of tagliatelle or other flat, wide pasta
¾ cup basil, julienned

1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towels.
2. Add corn and garlic to bacon fat and toss to coat. Add salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes until corn is tender. Reserve ¾ cup (or more) of corn. Scrape remaining corn into a food processor (or blender). Add pine nuts and parmesan and process until smooth. With the machine running, add olive oil.
3. Meanwhile cook pasta according to package directions. When done, drain pasta reserving a cup of the cooking water.
4. Add corn pesto back to the skillet and heat over low. Add ¾ of the bacon and basil. Add in pasta and toss until well coated (use cooking liquid to thin out the sauce if it is too thick). Top with remaining bacon and basil and serve.