Tag Archives: tomatoes

plenty: multi-vegetable paella

To celebrate my new job(!!), my in-laws took Andrew and I to one of my absolute favorite restaurants, Jose Andres’ Jaleo. This is how I finished a memorable night of tapas:

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Back in our apartment days/my unemployed-days, I often stayed up to watch Chef Andres’ PBS show Made In Spain. His dishes looked remarkable, and I was especially envious of his children digging their forks into the paella he made on their backyard grill. Unfortunately for me, his paella consisted of many meat-lover’s ingredients, assuring me I might go my entire life without experiencing paella. Paella, meaning “frying pan”, is a saffron-flavored Spanish dish made with varying combinations of rice, vegetables, meat, chicken, and seafood. Those last three key ingredients just don’t fit in to my picky palate.

Then I bought this beautiful book last year that has rocked my kitchen over and over and over. To continue my series featuring the brilliant cookbook Plenty, I’m first going to tease you with this upcoming pistachio couscous recipe from said Cookbook-That-Delivers-Every-Time (then we’ll talk paella).

I did not have paella rice (though I realized yesterday I had risotto rice hiding in my pantry all along. Out of complete desperation I used long-grain white rice (you could use jasmine or basmati, though basmati has a strong flavor). I know using long-grain white rice means my chances of shaking hands with Chef Andres are now as slim as ever, surely I have embarrassed the entire country of Spain. But people: this is still the best damn rice you’ll have in your life, so don’t let a little grain get you down. Yes there are numerous ingredients, but this is very, very special. Bring this one out for company.

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Multi-Vegetable Paella

from Plenty, serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, cut into strips

1/2 fennel bulb, cut into strips

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 bay leaves

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. ground turmeric

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 cup short-grain paella rice (however, I used jasmine)

6  1/2 tablespoons sherry (I used sherry vinegar)

1 tsp. saffron threads

2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock

3/4 cup fava beans (fresh or frozen)

12 plum tomatoes, halved

5 small artichokes in oil from a jar, drained and quartered

15 pitted kalamata olives, crushed or halved

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

4 lemon wedges

Saute the veggies.

Heat up the olive oil in a paella pan, or a large shallow skillet, and gently soften the onion for 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and fennel and continue to cook on medium heat for about 6 minutes, or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the spices and cook the rice.

Add the bay leaves, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne to the vegetables, and stir well. Then add the rice and stir thoroughly for 2 minutes before adding the sherry and saffron. Boil down for a minute, then add the stock and ⅓ teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to the minimum and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Do not cover the pan, and don’t stir the rice during the cooking.

(I omitted this step:) Meanwhile, pour plenty of boiling water over the fava beans in a bowl and leave for a minute, then drain well and leave to cool down. Now squeeze each bean gently to remove the skin and discard it.

Steam the vegetables.

Remove the paella pan from the heat. Taste and add more salt if needed, but without stirring the rice and vegetables much. Scatter the tomatoes, artichokes, and fava beans over the rice, and cover the pan tightly with foil. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Take off the foil with gusto to reveal this exquisite presentation. Scatter the olives on top of the paella and sprinkle with parsley. Remove the bay leaves and serve with wedges of lemon.

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Andrew and I haven’t been to Spain—yet—but this dish provided a divine cultural experience. We have been traveling abroad recently, more on that next time 😉

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a salad to weather the weather

It’s April, and I find myself discussing “Spring” with the kindergarteners each day. Spring, however, is a confusing concept on the east coast of the United States of America in the year Two-Thousand Thirteen.

Last week was Spring Break; I spent three days in the mountains with my in-laws and the remaining weeks shivering with my folks at the beach.

Spring break day one (at a magical mountain cottage) looked like this:

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our NEIGHbors

Spring break day two looked like this:

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Last week I wore short sleeves to work; the following night’s forecast was sleet and flurries. This weather certainly leaves one stumped about dinner. Something potato-laden, bubbling with cheese? Or shaved asparagus with lemon, crisp and chilled? Here’s a very special salad featuring some buttery comfort from the oven and simple fresh veggies.

$19 mandolinFIRST, SECRETS TO A SUPERB SALAD: I get lots of compliments from guests about my salads, and this is the real texture secret: a mandolin. I have a $10 mandolin from Home Goods and love using it to slice peppers, apples or pears to toss with salad greens, lemon juice and olive oil (those last ingredients are Secret Number Two). The salad is uniformly thin, fork-friendly and crisp. No more salads weighted down with thick cuts of carrots and radishes that require endless chomping. I used my mandolin (carefully, so carefully) to quickly slice the onions and bell pepper for this recipe. You can find a mandolin at Target, Wal-Mart, TJMaxx, Amazon, etc. (Other kitchen essentials here).

Andrew and I loved this restaurant-quality dressing, exciting enough to enjoy the salad for two dinners—and use up the leftover buttermilk for fruit-topped pancakes on night three.

Time-saver Note: I whipped up Trader Joe’s Cornbread Mix in two minutes and baked this while prepping the remaining salad. I have still included a from-scratch cornbread recipe I’ll try on a weekend 😉

Corn Bread Salad

Adapted by Deb from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

1 recipe Crispy Corn Bread (below) or 3 cups of 1-inch cornbread cubes
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (4 to 6 medium or halved cherry tomatoes)
6 cups roughly torn sturdy fresh lettuce, such as Bibb, butter or Boston
2 cups bitter greens, such as arugula (crucial!)
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 large Vidalia onion, trimmed, peeled, sliced crosswise as thinly as possible and separated into rings
1 recipe Buttermilk-Lime Dressing (below)

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Preheat oven to 250°. Scatter the corn bread in a single layer on a half-sheet pan and bake until the pieces are lightly toasted, about 7 minutes.

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Chop the tomatoes with the skin on. Place lettuce, greens, 3 cups of toasted corn bread, onion and tomatoes to a large bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle with buttermilk dressing, season with salt and pepper, and toss again. Serve immediately.

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Deb’s do ahead tip: If you’re making this for a picnic or pot-luck — and oh, you should — she suggests keeping the croutons in one container, the dressing in another and the salad mixture in a third; this is best freshly assembled, or in the 30 minutes after.

Buttermilk-Lime Dressing
Adapted by Deb from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

3/4 cup whole or lowfat buttermilk
5 tabespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (they say from 3 to 4 limes; I only needed 1 1/2)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (optional, this was my addition to give it more zing)
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup finely minced fresh basil
1/4 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely minced green onions
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

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Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until combined. Can covered tightly and stored in the fridge up to two days.

Note from Lindsey: I kept this hand-chopped and chunky, but I think it would be creamier (and faster) in a blender. Since this is a repeat recipe, I plan to puree next time. This recipe is a fabulous twist on my favorite couldn’t-be-easier salad, Panzanella. Try it here.

if you’re not making the cornbread from a mix, read on…

Thin, Crispy Corn Bread
Adapted by Deb from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups whole or lowfat buttermilk (whole is preferred, here’s how you can make your own)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease a 12-inch skillet with one tablespoon of the lard or butter, leaving any excess in the pan, and place it in the oven.

In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg until frothy and then whisk in the buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix thoroughly. Melt the remaining butter in a small skill (or your microwave) and whisk the butter into your batter.

While the fat in the large skillet is smoking, carefully remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the fat around to coat the bottom and sides evenly. Pour the batter into the skillet; it should “sizzle alluringly”, says the Lee Brothers. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the top of the bread is golden brown and the edge has pulled away from the side of the skillet. Remove from the oven and either serve hot, in six wedges, or let cool and reserve for Corn Bread Salad (above).

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emerging from hibernation

Good evening readers and eaters! As I mentioned two posts ago, I have an exciting life project that occupies my evenings—hence the lack of recent recipes. I have indeed been cooking and photographing lovely meals to share with you. Warning: this blog is about to grow in its proportion of heart-healthy, veg-filled delights.

Andrew and I are really cutting back on saturated fats these days: it’s not about a fad diet or vegan trends. As we venture into our fifth year of marriage, we’re unhappy with the weight gain we’ve experienced in this brief time—over 20 lbs. between the two of us. Neither of us is overweight, but 20 lbs. in 5 years is a scary trend considering the inevitable metabolic slow in the coming 5 years. A generous topping of high-fat cheese was making its way into too many of our meals.

My two years immersed in Nutrition grad studies taught me that the most realistic way to weight loss is small, simple dietary substitutions. One less soda a day, less fattening milk, etc. For Andrew, this meant switching from sandwiches to soup for most workday lunches. For me, this meant cut-up fruits and veggies as snacks before meals insteaPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMugd of my infamous feed-a-family lunch portions. Smaller portions, more frequent meals. Now Andrew eats breakfast. We eat smaller dinners and finish the evenings with yogurt fruit smoothies.

So now I must share my thrilling very-recent discovery: ethnic markets. I had heard about the affordable produce prices for years, and finally visited my local Korean and Hispanic supermart. Not only were the prices one-third of what I paid at Shoppers (which I had found less expensive than my other local chains), but the produce was fresh, abundant, and varied beyond my imagination. Where Shoppers has carried three to four moldy eggplants the past five months, Fresh World had hundreds of firm, blemish-free eggplants—five different varieties! I realize I am spoiled in my metropolitan area, but if you have the opportunity to explore an international market, this is a wonderfully affordable way to incorporate far more fresh ingredients into your meals. I left with seven stuffed produce bags  for barely $40.

Sometimes, we’ve just got to stop complicating dishes with steps and stress. Have a simple, fresh meal. Give yourself a break, your body a boost. Here was our light Friday night…Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Pita and Feta with Vegetables

inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Very Full Tart” recipe (minus eggs, heavy cream, buttered pie crust)

do substitute/omit ingredients per availability

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced

handful cherry tomatoes, halved

1 sweet potato, peeled and diced (1-inch)

1 zucchini, diced

1 large onion

4 tbsp. grapeseed/vegetable oil

4 oz. feta, crumbled

whole wheat pita for serving, cut into wedges

Preheat the oven to 400F. On at least two baking sheets, scatter the chopped vegetables into an even layer. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with dried thyme or oregano as you like. Roast the veggies about 30 minutes, tossing halfway through, until potatoes are fork tender and browning occurs. Season with ground pepper and sprinkle with feta. If you have fresh oregano or chives, add them here.

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We spooned this vegetable mixture into whole wheat pita pockets, dunking the pita into homemade baba ganoush as well. Surprisingly satisfying.

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pizza: it’s what’s for dinner

Let’s get in the mood with a scene from a beloved childhood film. In this clip from Back to the Future II, we glipse at the McFly family in the Future: the year 2015. Ha!

I am impressed the writers in 1987 foresaw caller ID. Still waiting on Black & Decker to release The Hydrator.

Yes, it’s a cherished dish since I was born in the 1980s when Mom, Dad, Jason and I would lay the picnic blanket on the family room floor to watch TGIF around a piping hot pizza box. Even on a scorching summer night, 26 years later, pizza is still the ultimate end-the-week dinner. Now that I’ve wrapped up nutrition classes, it seems an apt time to talk about up-ing the nutrient value of our favorite foods. Let’s start perfecting the pie.

OVERLOAD

Carry-out pizza, despite the presence of carbs, veggies, dairy and in one serving, can be nutritionally void and calorically perilous. Fat and salt reign. The sodium overload in the sauce, pepperoni, and cheese cancels out much hope of absorbing calcium. Pizza also often lacks fiber so crucial to our diet; I found a way to include it in my version, with a flavor just as appealing.

RETHINK PIZZA

What do we love about pizza? The crust’s crunch, rich tomato flavor, the alluring salty cheese? Here’s just one way to enjoy this essence without sacrificing our heart’s health. Using an appropriate portion of salty cheese provides ample cheesiness and significantly decreases the saturated fat. I added toppings high in vitamins, low in calories—then baked it to that golden brown we all adore.

Heart-Healthy Pizza

A  Friday Night Linvention

1 cup baby spinach leaves (use arugula for peppery kick)

1 cup mixed basil and mint leaves

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 bell pepper, sliced thin

½ cup shaved parmesan cheese (pecorino, romano, asiago are all great options)

1 prepared pizza crust (mine was only about 9 inches diameter; whole wheat is a great choice)

budget tip: purchase a wedge of romano or asiago cheese and shave with a vegetable peeler. this can be several dollars less than pre-shredded parmesan.

Note the sodium per serving size on this Trader Joes’ pizza crust! It would have been all too easy to eat this entire pie. It’s not just about fat: it’s about the whole picture.

Preheat the oven to 450F.

In a food processor (a 2-cup machine is sufficient), puree the spinach and herbs with 2 tbsp olive oil. If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop all of greens and stir into the olive oil. A traditional pesto with nuts and cheese would add much more fat than I desired here.

Spread the pesto over the crust. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on the sauce along with the peppers. Sprinkle a pinch of kosher or sea salt over the tomatoes—this will help them roast in the oven. Scatter the cheese in between the tomatoes and peppers, leaving the tomatoes exposed.

Bake directly on the rack according to the crust’s package directions, or until the cheese browns. I place a large baking sheet beneath the pizza to catch any dripping oil or cheese as it bakes. Cool slightly before cutting; I prefer a long knife instead of a pizza wheel.

Other ideas:

Rather than high-sodium pizza sauce, top your crust with thin slices of salted beefsteak tomatoes (and herbs if you like) and bake until the tomatoes begin to dry out. Top with ½ cup of salty cheese, and the veggies/meat of your choosing and bake until brown. Of course, the tricky part is not eating the whole pie! Serve with a salad and munch on fruit or nuts before dinner. Eating a salad (tossed with peaches or berries) while our pizza is in the oven helps with smaller portions.

Pizza is a favorite is our home, and we’re always playing around with new ways to make it memorable in our own kitchen. Find more pizza inspirations here and recent medical news on life-saving fiber from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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food of the gods

There are things in life for which Americans offer incessant apologies: sneezing, asking questions, arriving early, arriving late, and the worst offender: apologizing for apologizing. This is why I am not sorry to  make—yet again—a fuss over feta.

Andrew and I ventured into Whole Foods last weekend to recycle wine corks from our wedding (three years is not too late to consider Mother Earth). At the entrance, a young woman offered eight locally-made dips. One particular feta dip was so phenomenal, we talked about it the whole way home. It was a life-changing cheese moment for us both. Though still not worth the $10 for  4 measly ounces.

A single glance at the ingredient list made this simple to re-create at home. Imported feta—essential here—is a creamy experience that shames all fetas you’ve known before. For $6, this high-end tub of feta was still far less than the gourmet dip, and made a generous batch.

jalapeno feta dip

1/2 large red onion

1/2 jalapeno

about 1 lb. imported feta block, in brine (sheep & goat milk blend)

2 tablespoons olive oil

On the large holes of a box grater, grate the red onion. With a paring knife (and gloves on), slice the jalapeno in half, scraping out the white ribs and seeds. Dice the jalapeno and wash your hands well—do not touch your eyes or nostrils… even an hour later!

In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and soften for about five minutes. Add the jalapeno and soften two minutes more. The onions should be translucent, not brown.

Break the feta into a large bowl, and pour the hot contents of the skillet directly over the feta. With a wooden spoon, gently break the feta to incorporate the pepper and onion.

Spoon onto toasted pita (I love whole wheat pita, torn and baked at 250F until crisp). This appetizer is even more phenomenal paired with my slow-roasted tomatoes. This can be made, along with pita chips, within 20 minutes… just in time to take to a friend’s house to share!

 

A note on spice: I can handle only mild heat, and this dip barely approaches medium. The creamy feta balances the pepper well so it’s not too hot. If you want a little more kick, consider using the entire jalapeno.

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earning your [favorite dessert here]

A family friend recently asked (regarding my veggie-loving, meat-free diet), “Lindsey, I just don’t understand what you order when you go out for fast food” to which I could only respond, “Well, I don’t eat fast food.” I realize this is a lifestyle choice, and the next few thoughts explore why it’s mine.

Now I think dinner in 20 minutes does count as (pretty-darn) fast food, but, yes, it requires planning ahead—precisely why I write this handy blog for you! The following grilled treat is healthy and creamy-wonderful; I simply do not believe there has to be a trade-off between enjoying food and treating your body well. Lately I’ve been considering whether this perspective is an adoptee thing?

It feels like people around me are always yapping about their genes, “A strong heart runs in the family, I just eat what I want…” Or persistent co-worker: “We’ve always had good cholesterol on Dad’s side, I don’t need to worry about sodium”. Maybe two decades of checking the not applicable box on those medical history forms has led me to the silly assumption I’ve got take things into my own hands mouth and eat foods that will best provide my body with nutritious fuel. Adoptees often don’t know of historical health on which they can rely, not that this makes all of us vegetarians…

I love to eat, I live for cheese; I cook at home so my food can be delicious and controlled in salt and fat (motive: so I can live a long time traveling the world with Andrew, who has enviable genes). Call me nuts for considering this concoction a complete meal, but it was divine and followed by a well-earned a gelato date with the hubs. Andrew my Chicken-Loving Man loved this, called it restaurant material. Gene-ius 😉

Grilled Corn and Feta Bruschetta

based on a June 2011 recipe from Bon Appetit

2 ears corn, shucked

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1/2 loaf fresh ciabatta bread

1/2 garlic clove

1/4 cup sour cream (or crema mexicana)

3 tbsp. crumbled feta

1 large tomato, chopped

1 lime

fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, or chives)

chili powder

kosher salt

fresh black pepper

Grill the corn

If you want to speed along the corn cooking (and avoid charred, raw kernels), consider partially cooking the cobs in the microwave. When ready to grill, rub the corn with vegetable oil and season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill over medium heat until lightly charred and tender. Slice corn off the cob in wide strips.

Season the Bread

Cut the loaf into one-inch slices; stack the slices and cut them in half (I found grilling smaller pieces the second night—not pictured—made for easier eating). Lightly brush the bread slices with olive oil and grill on each side until slightly charred (just 3 or so minutes on each side, keep on eye on ’em). Immediately rub the top of each slice with the cut side of the garlic—a rustic Italian technique you will love.

Assemble the bruschetta

Mix the sour cream with feta (I used fat-free sour cream).

Smear the toasts with the cheese mixture and top with the grilled corn and chopped tomatoes. Squeeze a generous amount of lime juice over each and garnish with your favorite herb (a must). Top with chili powder (also essential; I use a completely mild chili powder and it adds lovely smokey flavor to the corn and lime).

Without a Grill?

If you find this recipe as alluring as I did on paper, you can replicate it without a grill by cooking the corn (either in the oven with this fabulous method, or cutting off the cob and then sautéing in olive oil until tender). Brush the bread slices with olive oil and toast on a baking sheet in a 400F oven until lightly brown, rubbing the garlic on the bread as soon as it’s out of the oven.

Pepita and Spinach Salad

inspired by an April 2011 taco recipe from Epicurious

1 large tomato, chopped

1/4 cup roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

1/3 cup canned chickpeas

1/2 lime

3/4 cup packed spinach leaves, stacked, rolled, and thinly sliced

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 avocado, peeled, seeded, cut into chunks

1 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

olive oil

If the pumpkin seeds are raw, toast them until fragrant in a dry, medium-hot skillet. Toast the chickpeas in a large skillet with a drizzle of olive oil and stir until brown and crisp.

Combine the sliced spinach and tomatoes with a generous squeeze of fresh lime and small drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the feta, avocado, chickpeas, and seeds just before serving.

More about my most adored indoor grill here. And have you checked out the updated About Lindsey tab??

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quesapizza!

Thin-crust pizza in 20 yummy minutes

Here in our little apartment, Andrew and I are onto the Official Spring Break countdown (and getting a little hyper). With vacation now barely three days away, we’re getting creative with fridge findings. This is the first of a few posts on deliciously do-able weeknight eatings (with uncomplicated ingredients)…

inspired by Fresh Flavor Fast

For thin, crispy and remotely healthy pizza, all you need:

  • whole-wheat tortilla or sandwich wraps
  • olive oil
  • ricotta cheese (low-fat scores you extra points)
  • veggie or meat tidbits

Preheat the oven to 450F. Brush a thin layer of olive oil on both sides of the tortilla and place on a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper for a no-mess ending to your night). Sprinkle a very light layer of shredded or grated cheese–mozzarella, parmesan, asiago, your favorite. Spoon a few small dollops of ricotta spaced across the pizza.

Simply top with just a few pieces of your on-hand toppings: very thin slices of onions, veggies, or meat. For the veggies to soften and brown, I brushed on a little olive oil.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the cheese begins to brown. Don’t be too alarmed about the crust darkening, the whole pizza needs time to develop fabulous crunch. Cool for about two minutes and cut into quarters with a large chef’s knife.

It’s hard to imagine the true transformation of this floppy wrap into a crispy flavor-packed pizzeria treat. The whole-wheat may sound unappealing or maybe overpowering, but its heartiness brings something truly special.

A little salad? A little wine? One large [quesa]pizza is a perfect serving size, and surprisingly substantial with whole grains. The ricotta spreads across the crust in creamy guilt-free decadence. A cheesy treat that’s a healthy, quick alternative to frozen pizza on those tiring nights.

Topped with ricotta and mushrooms: 305 calories,  14 g of fat, 15 g protein, 33  g carbs, 4 g fiber. Take those little stats to the freezer aisle and delight in your homemade wonder!

If you’re enamoured with the speedy simplicity of this pizza, but seek something more crowd-friendly, check out my lavash pizza here!

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a little chick[pea] told me…

…that you must try Indian food. When I brought my homemade Indian leftovers to work and opened the container to release cumin and tomato-scented steam throughout the teacher’s lounge, there were two, predictable, reactions:

reaction no. 1

“Oh my gosh, is that homemade Indian food? Oh I love chana masala, one of my favorites! That smells so good!”

reaction no. 2

[initially nonverbal; glances down the nose towards my reddish-brown pile of garbanzos, followed by:] “I’ve never liked curry. My mother never liked curry, either. I simply can’t stand the flavor of curry.”

the curry myth

I cannot count how many times I have been told “I don’t like Indian because I don’t like curry” everywhere I go. Interestingly, this remark always comes from the same demographic. I imagine post-WWII mothers in the kitchen, their daughters eyeing the cake in the oven while they learn important Lady Life Lessons: keeping one’s knees together in a skirt, crossing at the ankles, and lastly, “You might hear of a thing called ‘curry’, dear. Avoid it, it’s rather unpleasant.”

Curry is a meat, vegetable, or fish dish with spiced sauce and rice or bread. In Britain, where chicken tikka masala is the national dish, “curry” is often a generic descriptor for all Indian food. However, the word curry describes more of a soup or stew, it is not a particular ingredient. Curry powder is a spice mixture developed by the British to make Indian food at home. Curry powder can range from 5 to 20 ingredients, and you will not see it in today’s recipe. Think of seasoned salt or dried Italian seasoning: convenient? yes. traditional? no.

the yellow spice tumeric will stain, watch out!

Like the most recent post on my very favorite Indian dish, Palak Paneer, or spinach with fried cheese, this is a very mild dish you could make spicy if you like. I’m a wimp.

Chana masala is a Northern Indian chickpea stew with tomatoes; masala refers to spices in a thick sauce for rice or flatbread.

Unpretentious, economical (canned chickpeas, canned tomatoes, dried spices!) and even better the next few days.

Chana Masala

(slightly adapted) from Smitten Kitchen

1 tablespoon vegetable/olive oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced (on your microplane)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (on your microplane)
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced (optional; I use half a can of TJ’s mild fire-roasted green chili)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (I use a quarter of this because cayenne is extremely hot)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lemon (juiced)

fresh cilantro (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger and peppers and sauté over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, cumin seeds, paprika and garam masala. Cook onion mixture with spices for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes with juices, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro, if you’ve got it.

Serve over basmati rice (click here for a flawless recipe) and buttery flatbread (click here for our top freezer-section pick). And do write back about your culinary experimentations!

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succulent steak

If you’ve visited A Pear to Remember before this, I don’t blame you for being bewildered. No, I didn’t develop a recent palette for beef. But in cooking for crowds recently, I’ve found flank steak a smash hit. Andrew, as my Certified Meat Taster, assures you this marinade is stellar. Eyes wide and an “Oh, honey”! Your guests with surely agree in delight.

Miraculous Marinade

for chicken, beef, pork from Susan Wyler’s Cooking For A Crowd

this recipes halves and multiplies easily, this is for 36 servings

6 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts

6 pounds skirt (or flank) steak

4 medium onions

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 cups fresh orange juice

1 cup sherry vinegar

2/3 cup fresh lime juice

1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil

2/ tbsp. dried oregano

2 tbsp. ground cumin

1 1/2 tbsp. salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

Layer the chicken with half the onions and garlic in one large plastic container or large bowl. Layer the beef with the remaining onions and garlic in a second container or bowl.

Whisk together the orange juice, vinegar, lime juice, oil, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Pour half over the chicken and half over the beef. (Note: If you are preparing this recipe so that you can grill the chicken in advance, make all the marinade, pour half over the chicken, and store the remainder in a covered jar, to use the day you grill the beef. It is not safe to use all the marinade for the chicken and reuse it for the beef.) I usually make this marinade a day before and marinate the steak overnight.

Best Tip: Dry the meat so it browns.

To cook the chicken, prepare a moderately hot fire in a barbecue grill (or heat a stovetop grill). Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry, scrape off any onions of garlic that cling. Grill the chicken, turning occasionally, until the chicken is nicely browned outside and white inside, but still juicy, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let stand for a minute or two, then slice into thin strips.

To cook the beef, remove the skirt or flank steaks from the marinade and pat dry; scrape off any onions or garlic. Prepare a hot fire in a barbecue grill and cook for about 2 minutes per side; this steak needs to be on the rare side or it will be tough. (Still, I cooked it a bit longer, making a cut in the middle to ensure it was not overdone). Transfer to a cutting board and let stand for a minute or two before carving crosswise on the diagonal into thin slices. 

One possibility: Serve the chicken and beef strips with warm flour tortillas and your choice of garnishes. I grilled poblano peppers and onions, and served with tomatillo guacamole , sour cream, and varied salsas. Don’t forget this unbeatable Mexicali salad.

Another possibility: Serve with grilled onions and mushrooms, fresh ciabatta slices, and these slow-roasted tomatoes. Homemade mac and cheese makes for a memorable entrée.

in the kitchen, where else?

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out of our (walnut) shell

Not that it lessens the shame, but it turns out I’m not the only one. Often I go to the grocery store and think, “I hope I don’t see anyone I know, I look/feel [self-deflating comment here] today.” Why one’s self-esteem drops upon stepping into the flourescent lights is beyond me; I never have this thought at the post office, the shoe store. Certainly not at Trader Joes.

Sure enough, upon shopping for this celebratory meal, I see two women reuniting in front of the napa cabbage. The first, with her back to me, motions her palms down her body shaking her head apologetically. The other, I can nearly hear by now, reassures, “It’s great to see you. Oh, but really, you look fine.”

Why do we walk about feeling so terrible about ourselves when there is so much to enjoy, certainly in the produce section? I wish I could say this fear of ours is irrational, but I encountered my favorite teacher (of all time, I might add) at Whole Foods before Thanksgiving. I came straight from the doctor, had not showered, my skin the shade of bitter onion. We caught up on each other’s lives and menus, and exchanged e-mail addresses; I guarantee no trauma ensued.

All the energy on our looks, fear of lengthy recipes, feelings of inadequacy, is more efficient for creating something wildly memorable in the kitchen. What better way to end the day than take loving pride in a wonderful dish you cooked?

Something new with 5 ingredients in 10 minutes? Now that sounds do-able.

Creamy Walnut Sauce

mostly from Fresh Flavor Fast, serves 4-6

tell me you would also fall for this darling orecchiette ("small ears") pasta?

1 lb. pasta (your favorite kind)

1 cup heavy cream

1 garlic clove

2 cups walnuts, toasted

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

(1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley or chives, optional)

Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant (just a few minutes).

Bring a pot of water to boil, then add a generous amount of salt (there isn’t much elsewhere in the dish). Cook the pasta until al dente according to the package. Drain pasta and return to the pot.

While the pasta is boiling, combine the cream, garlic, and 1 cup of the walnuts in a food processor. Process until smooth, and season with coarse salt and fresh pepper to your taste. (If you don’t have a $2 pepper grinder, pick up one in the spice section next time).

Transfer to the pot along with (at least) 1/4 cup parmesan, chives (if using), and remaining 1 cup walnuts. Toss to coat the pasta. Serve with additional cheese.

Since this is a simple and inexpensive dish, maybe the $2 for fresh chives won’t break the bank??

On the side? The first time I made a walnut pasta dish, I made this incredible fried bleu cheese arugula salad.

Tonight, I made a very, very basic panzanella. You may remember my first Greek panzanella, an inspiring salad experience. I recommend panzanella to every person who a) claims they can’t cook anything and b) needs to impress dinner guests. No bowls, no baking.

Panzanella requires day-old bread, so it’s a great use for a leftover dinner loaf, or any nice bread abandoned in the freezer.

There are a number of ways to transform your nearly-stale bread into remarkable croutons. You could bake them—now cut into two-inch cubes—in the oven, but I find it simpler to flip them around in a medium-hot skillet with some nice olive oil. Really toast the bread until you’re concerned it’s rock hard. This won’t take ages, maybe a little more than five minutes.

In your serving bowl, combine equal amounts olive oil and red wine vinegar (or balsamic). Stir in a little salt and pepper. For a medium-sized salad bowl, 2 tbsp. of each is a good amount. Add your veggies. I kept it to tomatoes and cucumbers, chunks of feta and fresh basil. (It was less expensive to purchase a big pot of basil at the store than a single serving, so I set it in our sunny window with abundant prayers).

Of course, red onion, white beans and all kinds of other wonderful ingredients can grace your panzanella. There is no one way to create this rustic bread salad—an overwhelming thought to some cooks. You really can’t make this incorrectly. Toss your veggies around in the oil and vinegar, and taste if it needs salt or pepper. Once your happy with your seasonings, add the bread and serve it… anytime! I don’t like the bread too soggy, though this is the point of the salad. Let it sit about twenty minutes, or even hours in the fridge. The bread absorbs deep flavors and makes this salad a substantial accompaniment. Add your basil or chives just before serving.

Finish off with this delightful dessert.

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