“gluten is not the devil” – Jenn Louis

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I realize I keep talking about pasta.  But it’s because not only do I believe it deserves constant love and praise, but also because I recently went to a dinner completely dedicated to it with things that looked like this:

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So how could I not talk about it? Chef Jenn Louis of Portland, Oregon was in Boston promoting her new cookbook Pasta By Hand, which is beautiful and drool inducing.  She showcased some of the book’s goodies in a collaborative dinner at Alden & Harlow in Harvard Square with some of Boston’s finest chefs. Swoon.

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Each chef took one of the pastas from her book and created a dish around it, and what came out of the kitchen was incredible. Silly delicious. And beautiful to boot.

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The pièce de résistance for me was Louis’ own dish. Strozzapretti (a Florentine dumpling whose name Louis explains translates to “priest strangler” – just so you know) are made with seasonal greens and ricotta.  Louis served them simply with butter and Parmagiano-Reggiano. I could eat them every day. I may even move to Florence so I can. Or attempt to make the recipe from Louis’ book. Either way.

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All of this eye candy is merely to remind us of some really important mantras: everything in moderation, treat yo self, and carbs are lifeblood.

treat-yo-self

“gluten is not the devil” – Jenn Louis

farfalle with zucchini greek yogurt and lemon

It’s true, there is yogurt in this pasta. Your first inclination might be to think that is not quite right, but think again my friends. Everyone secretly loves a creamy, cheesy pasta dish, but it inevitably makes you feel super bloated and full for about 2.37 days. Greek yogurt is the solution.IMG_6082Tangy is Greek yogurt’s most widely recognized characteristic, and it definitely brings that to the table here. But paired with a tiny bit of cream cheese, a healthy dose of salt, and the brightness of lemon zest–it really works.  And it’s just creamy enough to give that element of comfort minus the food hangover.
IMG_6074Rainy spring nights are the perfect setting for a heaping bowl of pasta, and thankfully (albeit slowly) vegetable isles across the northeast are once again showing signs of life. Grated zucchini is a pop of color and a subtle flavor that melts right into the mix and doesn’t event require additional cooking.  Frozen peas add a sweetness that offsets the zing of the yogurt and lemon. Someday I will swap them out for fresh peas…someday.
IMG_6083Important note to leave you with: feel free to get heavy handed with that parmesan cheese. It’s for your own good.

farfalle with zucchini, greek yogurt, and lemon
…slightly tweaked from Al Forno in Providence, RI via Food & Wine
serves 4-6

1 pound dried farfalle pasta
1 cup frozen peas
2 large zucchini, grated
3/4 cup plain greek yogurt
2 tbs plain cream cheese
2 tbs unsalted butter
zest and juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnishing
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt the water, and cook pasta for 10 minutes or until just cooked.  In the last minute throw in the frozen peas to flash cook. Drain (reserving a cup of pasta cooking water) and set aside.
2. In a pan over medium heat, melt the butter and then turn off the flame. Add in the yogurt, cream cheese, lemon zest and juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
3. Incorporate the zucchini, peas, and pasta.  Stir together, incorporating reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce if desired.  Add the parmesan cheese and taste for seasoning, add additional salt and pepper if needed.
4. Serve hot with extra cheese (see note above).
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farfalle with zucchini greek yogurt and lemon

thai lettuce wraps

Sometimes it seems like I only eat well on weekends. Weekdays can be draining with the whole working, commuting, waking up thing. It shouldn’t be like this. We should eat well always.

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So it was Tuesday. I was craving take out. Mostly because the idea of being off the couch for long enough to put something vaguely resembling a meal together in the kitchen seemed daunting. But I knew I had gone a little buck wild at Whole Foods and needed to eat some of the lovely produce I had purchased, so the only solution was to turn them into a take-out-esque meal to satisfy the take out cravings.

Behold Thai chicken lettuce wraps. They are sneakily convenient, most of what I needed I had in the house. With more vegetables these could have easily been vegetarian. They would happily take some shrimp in place of chicken, and if I could handle spicy foods I would definitely have added some chili flakes to the sauce. Alas, my taste buds are wimpier than my stomach for those sorts of things.

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And poof, the cry for take out was silenced.

thai lettuce wraps
serves 4

For the wraps
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, diced
1 cup broccoli, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 leeks, diced
1 cup dry roasted unsalted peanuts, finely chopped
1 head of iceberg or butter lettuce

For the slaw
1 cup pre-shredded slaw mix (or just red or green cabbage)
1 tbs red wine vinegar
½ tsp sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce
1 ½ tbs creamy peanut butter
2 tbs terryaki sauce
1 tsp seasame seeds
1 tsp brown sugar

  1. Whisk together all the sauce ingredients. Set aside. Combine all slaw ingredients and toss to combine. Set aside.
  2. Trim excess fat off the chicken thighs and dice into small pieces. Cut the vegetables into similar sized pieces.
  3. Heat two tablespoons of canola oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, stirring occasionally to brown on all sides (about 7 minutes).
  4. Turn heat down slightly and add in the vegetables stirring occasionally, cook until softened. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sauce coating everything. Chop peanuts and stir them in as the final touch.
  5. Carefully remove leaves from the head of lettuce to form little cups for the filling. (Some will rip, it’s inevitable. Don’t panic, that’s why they are wraps.) Add filling and slaw to each individual cup for eating.

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thai lettuce wraps

snacks! (cheese & zucchini sticks)

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Snacks are a part of life. They get a lot of press around the holidays, the Super Bowl, and Oscars viewing parties, but in reality the time for snacks, is always.

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Behold two variations on one concept: sticks. zucchini and mozzarella.  One baked, one fried, and both tasty.  Everyone loves finger foods.

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The mozzarella recipe is a riff on Giada De Laurentiis’, and the zucchini evolved out of a google search that lead to the YummyHealthyEasy blog‘s recipe. They were both a huge hit dipped in marinara sauce, but I wouldn’t hesitate to try the zucchini in a ranch dip either.

There is something to be said for making your own snacks.  It’s so satisfying to snack on something that has no mystery ingredients and was not pre-packaged in plastic.

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zucchini & mozzarella sticks

2 large zucchini
1 ball fresh mozzarella
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cups italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs
salt and pepper to taste
marinara sauce and/or ranch dip for eating

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1. Cut the zucchini and mozzarella in thin sticks (1/4 inch thickish).
2. In one bowl, beat the eggs and add a dash of salt and pepper.  In another, have the milk. Mix together the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, and then divide evenly between two separate plates.
3. For the mozzarella sticks: Dip sticks in the egg, then the breadcrumb mixture, then repeat the process a second time so each is double breaded.  Place on a baking sheet, cover, and freeze.  (Freeze for at least 1 hour, or up to 24 hours.  I froze them for 6 hours and that worked like a charm.)
4. For the zucchini: dip each stick in the milk, then in the other plate of breadcrumbs.  Be careful to really press the mixture into the zucchini so they are well coated.  Place on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. (These need to get baked immediately, so if you are making both variations you may want to do this prep after the mozzarella sticks have been freezing for a while.)
5. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Spray the tops of the zucchini with cooking spray to help them brown, and cook for 25 minutes.  If they brown too quickly, cover the top with foil. Serve immediately with either aforementioned dip.
6. In a heavy bottom skillet, heat some vegetable or canola oil over medium high heat.  Working in batches, pan fry the frozen mozzarella sticks for about 30 seconds on each side (or until browned), rotating so each side has time in the oil.  Serve immediately with marinara sauce.

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snacks! (cheese & zucchini sticks)

kitchen sink blueberry banana bran muffins

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As a huge fan of pastries and breakfast in general, I realized that recently I have been straight up neglecting a former favorite morning food companion of mine: the humble muffin.  As soon as I came upon this realization, I began immediately craving muffins.

However, due to the aforementioned need to reel it in diet-wise post 2014, I decided to try my hand at making them myself to monitor their contents.  I dreamed up these muffins using buzzword healthy ingredients like “oat bran” and “whole wheat flour”. Though admittedly I am not a baker by nature I think these are pretty great.  They have ripe mashed banana that keeps them moist, nuts and coconut for a crunchy and chewy texture situation, and blueberries because all muffins should have blueberries.

These are an all the time dream treat.  They are perfect as a grab and go breakfast, a midday snack, or even as dessert with a cup of tea.  They have minimal sugar and though the ingredient list looks long (hence the kitchen sink moniker) it is likely that most of this stuff is hiding somewhere in your house already. If not, it’s worth investing. You’re going to want more than one batch of these.

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kitchen sink blueberry banana bran muffins
Yield: 18 muffins

1cup whole-wheat flour, plus 1 tablespoon set aside
½ cup oat bran
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut shreds
½ cup rolled oats, plus extra for sprinkling over tops
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 cup mashed ripe banana
¼ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
½ tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups blueberries
½ cup chopped pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl combine 1 cup of the flour, the oat bran, coconut, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar and oil.  Add in the banana, milk, eggs, and vanilla, and combine until smooth.  Add the dry ingredients into the wet mixture slowly and mix together until just combined (it’s fine to have a few lumps).
  3. Wash and thoroughly dry the blueberries.  Toss them and the pecans in the extra tablespoon of flour until coated (this helps them not sink in the batter).  Fold them into the batter without over mixing.
  4. Fill a cupcake tin with liners and using an icecream scoop fill each tin.  Sprinkle the additional oats atop each muffin and press them in gently.
  5. Bake for 22 minutes.  If a toothpick comes out clean, remove them. Otherwise, let them cook an additional 3 minutes. Let cool completely, and serve.
kitchen sink blueberry banana bran muffins

the greenest pasta

The week before thanksgiving is a tough one for eating and cooking. You are likely anticipating just how much eating and cooking is in your immediate future, which fuels a desire for quick, easy comforts as you prepare for those ultimate kitchen hours ahead.

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 Also, if you live in a place where the farmers’ markets basically shut down completely as winter arrives (like in say, Massachusetts), you are probably stocking up on what’s left of the fresh produce before it all but disappears.

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 This dish pairs the need for ease with some remaining market treasures. With sliced and sautéed swiss chard, some leeks, and fresh spinach pasta; you get to feel like you’re eating your greens even though you’re also getting the treat of hearty carbs. And naturally there is a healthy topper of parmesan cheese for good measure.

 *If you want to be bold and make your own pasta, check this recipe out. If you are following my pre-thanksgiving laziness guidelines, grab fresh pasta that someone else made, ideally someone local. Don’t be afraid to use ravioli or tortellini either. The more cheese the merrier.

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the greenest pasta
serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 pounds fresh pasta
6 leaves of swiss chard, stems and leaves, chopped
½ cup of leeks, finely diced
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan cheese for serving

  1. Remove the leaves of the swiss chard from their stems. Cut in small strips, and dice the stems in small pieces.
  2. Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and sauté the diced leeks and swiss chard stems for 3 minutes or until softened. Add in final tablespoon of butter and the chard leaves and cook additional 3 minutes.
  3. Add stock to the vegetables and turn up heat slightly to reduce into a sauce. If you’re feeling indulgent, throw in a little more butter. Cook until liquid reduced to your preference and remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to your taste.
  4. 4. Cook pasta (fresh pasta usually only needs to be boiled for a minute or so) and add directly into the sauce pan. Over low heat, stir pasta with chard and leeks until combined. Top with parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

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the greenest pasta

spaghetti squash and pepperoni sauce

Yes, I did in fact say pepperoni sauce.

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it’s decorative gourd season! I for one could not be more excited about it. In this little corner of America, the leaves are once again mimicking the shades of a brilliant sunset…making driving on highways pleasurable and reminding us all to stock up on cider.

The farmers’ markets are also shifting out of their summer ware as zucchini and pattypans are being replaced by delicatas and butternuts. Squash is a quintessential piece of the autumnal diet.  And while each is great in its own right, spaghetti squash holds a special place in this carb lovers heart.

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It is an exceptionally deceiving substitute for pasta, mimicking it in color and hearty texture.  This dish is ridiculously easy, and comes together quickly for a veggie-centric weeknight dinner.  Salami or sopressata can sub in for pepperoni.   In a pinch you can use a favorite jarred tomato sauce.  And there are greens thrown in just for good measure so you remember to pat yourself on the back for eating so many vegetables.

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Let’s celebrate decorative gourd season the right way.

Spaghetti Squash with Pepperoni Sauce

the base of the sauce is adapted (barely) from the incomparable Deb Perelman of smitten kitchen. I trust her on almost everything because unlike me she is utterly meticulous in her testing and retesting. I take a more…devil may care approach.

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THE SAUCE
2 cups swiss chard or spinach leaves, sliced in strips
1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup red wine
hunk of pepperoni (this is to taste really, but get it thick off the log from the butcher), cubed

THE REST
olive oil & butter for cooking
1 large (or 2 small) spaghetti squashes
parmesan cheese for garnishing

1. Set the oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Slice the spaghetti squash lengthwise and remove the seeds.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and place flesh side down on the baking sheet.  Roast in the oven for half an hour, or until fork tender.

2. Remove the squash and let it cool enough to handle.  Using a fork, scrape the flesh out of the skin.  It will come out in strands and look like spaghetti.  Put in a large bowl and set aside.

3. In a large pot over medium heat, melt a tablespoon of butter, and add onion. Let cook 5 minutes or until just translucent.  Add in the garlic and greens, then cook an additional minute.  Add in the rest of the sauce ingredients and cook together over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until flavors meld and the greens are well wilted (this takes a bit longer if you are using chard as it is tougher than spinach).

4. Pour the sauce over the squash and mix together to coat the strands.  Top with parmesan cheese for a truly pasta-esque experience.

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this is real life.
spaghetti squash and pepperoni sauce

farmers’ market fagioli

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So the weather is changing.  The trees are even mid color shift, and I had no idea until it was suddenly cold enough to crave soup for dinner.

Since the farmers’ markets are still open and there are plenty of amazing things available — like fresh cranberry beans and leeks and heirloom tomatoes — it stands to reason that if there is to be soup, it should be made with fresh goods.

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This seasonal take on Pasta e Fagioli is hearty like a good pasta dish and light like healing consommés of yore.  It is warming and  satisfying and everything you need for those first few cool nights of fall.

Pasta e Fagioli 

Serves 8

8 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 cups fresh borlotti (cranberry) beans, shelled
3 garlic cloves, diced fine
2 cups small pasta such as ditalini
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 ½ cups parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste

  1. To peel the tomatoes, slice each in half crosswise and place flesh side down on a baking sheet.  Set oven broiler on high, and let tomatoes roast for 8-10 minutes.  Remove and let cool 2 minutes.  Peel away skins, remove cores, and dice.
  2. In a large stockpot over medium heat olive oil.  Add leeks, carrots, celery, oregano, salt and pepper to taste, and cook until soft; stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook 2 additional minutes.
  3. Add chicken stock, water, bay leaf, and beans. Cook 25 minutes, covered.
  4. Turn heat down to low.  Add pasta and tomatoes (and more salt if needed) and cook additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Remove bay leaf and add in spinach.  Serve immediately topped with fresh grated parmesan cheese.

PS: don’t be afraid to throw some cooked bacon or pancetta into the mix here…it can add another layer of flavor (and let’s be serious, bacon always plays.)

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farmers’ market fagioli

honey whipped goat cheese crositini

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The Jewish New Year has just come and gone, and somehow things feel the same.  Crazy that the switch from September 24 to September 25 didn’t bring fireworks and glittery outfits. But alas, it did come with some semblance to its January 1st counterpart: a (food) hangover and a slice of hope for the next year.

It is customary to eat apples and honey as a symbol of hope for sweetness in the coming year, and so behold my appetizer menu take on this traditional pairing: honey whipped goat cheese crosinti with apples and walnuts.

This recipe appeared in the food section of The Boston Globe this week, so you can find it there, or you can read it here, either way it’s worth making.  And no, you don’t have to eat it only for the Jewish New Year.  Didn’t you just go apple picking? What will you do with all those apples!? Do this. It is very autumnal tasting if I do say so myself.  It takes all of 10 minutes to put together…and as the fairy-god-mother of my dreams Ina Garten says, “how easy is that?”.

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Honey Whipped Goat Cheese Crostini with Apples and Walnuts 

Honey is nature’s sticky golden sweetener, and one of the most versatile ingredients in a cook’s arsenal.  It easily acquaints itself with either sweet or savory preparations; and has a flavor that is distinct yet plays well with others.  The Rosh Hashanah pairing of apples & honey is this dish’s inspiration. The crostini can be served on their own as an appetizer with a glass of sparkling wine, or  as the temperature drops, alongside a warming squash soup.

One baguette, sliced

4 oz goat cheese

1/3 cup honey, extra for drizzling

1 large apple, sliced

3/4 walnuts, toasted and chopped

Salt to taste

Serves 6-8

  1. Cut baguette in ½ inch thick slices. Set oven at 350 degrees and toast slices 8 to 10 minutes or until just browned.
  2. In a food processor combine honey, goat cheese, and salt. Pulse until honey is fully incorporated into the cheese and the mixture is smooth.
  3. Over medium heat, toast walnuts 5 minutes or until just fragrant. Remove from heat, let cool, then coarsely chop.
  4. Spread cheese on toasts and sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Slice apples thin and place 1 slice on each toast. Drizzle with honey and serve immediately.
honey whipped goat cheese crositini

maple spiced oats

Oatmeal is having a renaissance. I am not talking about those square little packages that you just add water to–not to hate on instant oatmeal, it serves a purpose in a pinch–but I am talking about serious oats.

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Cooking oats on the stove top takes only a few more minutes than the instant stuff, yet it creates a completely different product. It gets kind of fluffy, and toothsome. Yeah, toothsome.

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My oats air on the side of creamy.  It’s a bit like a porridge a la Oliver Twist, only way tastier.  The best part is with the right accoutrements this can be a perfectly seasonal breakfast.  Add a dash of cinnamon during the cooking for a little spice, and stir in some maple syrup at the end for the ultimate autumnal bowl of goodness.  Because maple spice is the new taste of fall…later pumpkin.

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Maple Spiced Oats
2 servings

1 cup oats
2 cups water1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Maple syrup to taste
pinch of sea salt (it highlights all the other flavors)

1. Bring the water to a bowl. Add oats, lower to medium heat.  Stir oats with a wooden spoon about 2 minutes as oats thicken.
2. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 2-3 minutes.  Uncover and add milk and cinnamon. Stir continuously as oatmeal continues to thicken. Remove when it reaches your desired thickness.
3. Add maple syrup to taste and a pinch of sea salt and stir to combine.

Definitely feel free to add nuts, diced apples, dried fruit…heck get crazy and throw in a pinch of nutmeg to get real spicy. Oatmeal is a blank canvas just begging to be painted delicious.

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maple spiced oats