Thursday, December 29, 2011


Ah, my husband works as a professor, so he has over a month of not having to go into the office. Therefore, he's more active around the house. He volunteered to take over cooking, and I wasn't about to argue! So, another hiatus from the blog, as I get frozen meals and other easy dishes served up each night. I've got it good. ;)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

20 creme-filled chocolate sandwich cookies
2 1/2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

2 8oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp salt

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-inch-square pan with foil, so that foil overhangs sides. Mist with cooking spray.
2) Make crust: Process cookies in food processor until ground. Pulse in butter. Press evenly into pan. Bake until firm, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool slightly.
3) Make filling: With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth, about 2 minutes. Beat in pumpkin, then eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in vanilla, flour, spice and salt until just combined.
4) Pour mixture into pan. Put pan on a large rimmed baking sheet; place in oven. Pour hot water into baking sheet until it's nearly filled. Bake until cheesecake is set around edges, but jiggles slightly in center, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove pan from sheet; cool completely on rack. Cover with plastic wrap. Chill until firm, at least 3 hours.

Review: This was the second time I had made these bars. The first time, the water from the outer pan spilled and ignited a fire. I'm happy to say fire was not part of the recipe this time!! I made these late at night, after an evening of decorating Christmas cookies with my husband's family. Last year I joked about making cake and most were in agreement that the standard holiday pies were not as exciting after eating them a month earlier for Thanksgiving. I planned and planned, but realized 2 wks ago that I did not have a way of transporting a cake. I shopped for a cake carrier, and found one, but shipping could not be guaranteed prior to Christmas day. I decided then to make these bars for the holiday, noting the pumpkin would be season appropriate, and ironically my cake carrier arrived today! Go figure. Luckily, these bars were a hit and the promise of cake was forgotten! My only complaint was that I used pumpkin that was not Libby's. After reading that Libby uses GMO pumpkin, I decided to try a different brand. Ideally, I like to avoid GMO foods. Yet, they specially breed their pumpkins to have less water. Therefore, the pumpkin I used was watery and the cheesecake didn't set very well in the middle. I'm not sure if cooking longer would alleviate that, or if I should press my pumpkin through cheesecloth before mixing it in. I'm still not thrilled about the idea of returning to use Libby's pumpkin. We'll see what happens . . .

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Quinoa Pilaf With Tomato, Spinach & Pine Nuts (crockpot recipe)

1 cup quinoa
2 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 cups loosely packed baby spinach

1) Rinse quinoa thoroughly in cold water. Drain well.
2) In a large skillet, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and broth and increase heat to high. Bring to a boil, then carefully transfer to slow cooker. Stir in quinoa and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low until most of the liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 2 hours.
3) Place pine nuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, shaking skillet constantly, until pine nuts are light golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Immediately transfer to a bowl.
4) Remove slow cooker cover and stir in spinach and pine nuts. (If pilaf looks dry, add up to 1/2 cup more broth.) Cover and cook 15 minutes longer, or until the spinach has wilted completely. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Review: I had not realized this was a crockpot recipe, which eliminated the possibility of making this after work. I really prefer these dishes on the weekends, as it allows me to do other things while the meal cooks. However, this one involved more work than is typical. Wilting spinach is one of the easiest things to do, in a skillet. It's soooooo difficult in a crockpot!! It took some doing and I almost gave up. But, it eventually came together. This dish didn't have a strong flavor, so I added quite a bit of salt. It was hearty, but would have benefited from some garlic, and maybe some oregano.

Adapted from:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Charro Beans With Chipotle Sausage

2 Tbs olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
2 Mexican chipotle-flavored grain meat sausages (such as Field Roast), cut into 1-inch rounds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
3 15oz cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup vegetable broth

1) Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper and sausage, and saute 3 to 5 minutes, or until vegetables are soft and translucent. Add garlic and chili powder, and cook 1 minute more.
2) Stir in tomatoes, beans and broth; season with salt and pepper, if desired. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Review: This recipe originally called for dried beans, soaked over night and cooked for 1 1/2 hours. Puh-lease! I don't have that kind of time on a weeknight!! So, I used canned beans and this was done in about 20 minutes, including prep work. This dish is what would happen if beans-n-franks got married to chili, in Mexico. It was really interesting, but very tasty. We ate all of it, with no leftovers!

Adapted from:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pappardelle With Swiss Chard, Onions & Goat Cheese

12oz pappardelle or fettuccine
2 Tbs olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 bunches Swiss chard, stems discarded and leaves cut into 1-inch strips
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled

1) Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water; drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
2) Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chard and 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper, and cook, tossing frequently, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes more.
3) Add the chard mixture, 3 oz of the goat cheese, 3/4 cup of the reserved cooking water, and 1/2 tsp salt to the pasta and toss until the goat cheese melts and coats the pasta (add more cooking water if the pasta seems dry). Serve sprinkled with the remaining ounce of goat cheese.

Review: I used 2 bunches of rainbow chard, so it was really colorful and pretty. Mike decided to try more whole grain pasta, believing it to be a healthier pasta. However, I'm not a big fan of the whole grain texture, nor flavor. It's a little sweeter than I'm used to, and I don't like excessive chewing. Between the whole grains and the greens, this was a lot of chewing. I grew tired of the dish before I grew full. This was also a little bland. I'd definitely suggest using as small an amount of pasta water as possible, to preserve the goat cheese flavor. And don't skimp on the salt!

Adapted from:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas

1 15oz can tomato sauce
1 3/4 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp chipotle chile powder

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 1/2 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 15oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 16oz jar prepared medium salsa
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, drained and minced
1 15oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 12oz round queso fresco, divided

extra virgin olive oil, for brushing baking dish
16 6-inch corn tortillas, warmed
1 avocado, sliced, for garnish
1/2 cup sour cream, for garnish

1) To make Sauce: Bring all ingredients to a simmer in saucepan over medium heat. Whisk to combine, then remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
2) To make Filling: Heat oil in separate saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, and saute 3 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Add sweet potatoes, tomatoes, salsa, garlic, chipotle chile and 1/2 cup water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 30 to 40 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft. Mash mixture with potato masher until combined. Add black beans, and cook 5 minutes. Stir in half of queso fresco, and remove from heat.
3) To assemble Enchiladas: Preheat oven to 350F. Brush 13x9-inch baking dish with oil. Spread 1/2 cup Sauce in bottom of dish. FIll tortillas with Filling. Roll, and pack close together seam-side down in baking dish. Top with remaining Sauce and queso fresco. Bake 15 minutes.
4) Adjust oven to broil. Broil Enchiladas 5 minutes, or until cheese is browned and bubbly. Let rest 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with avocados and sour cream.

Review: Wow, this recipe is quite the endeavor! I decided not to make the sauce from scratch, as I lacked the vast majority of the ingredients. If I had to buy everything, it'd be a $50 enchilada recipe! So, I bought canned red enchilada sauce, but will make it from scratch someday. I also couldn't find queso fresco, and just used a bag of 4 cheese Mexican blend shredded cheese. The filling made so much, I easily could have made 2 pans of enchiladas. Instead, I tried to cram as many as I could into my lasagna pan. It ended up being a crammed mess, that was very choppy and disintegrated when I scooped it out. Serving bowls looked like piles of pre-digested enchilada. But, it was incredibly yummy and definitely worth the mess! It was spicy, with a strong tomato flavor. It wasn't as sweet as other recipes I made using very similar ingredients! Mike complained it was a little spicy and accused me of using more than one chipotle pepper. I didn't, but I may have to use 1/2 pepper next time.

Adapted from:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Warm Spiced Lentil Bowl With Yogurt & Smoked Almonds

2 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 medium leek, trimmed and chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and drained
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup smoked almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1) Heat oil in large saucepan over low heat. Add cumin seeds, and cook 1 minute, or until fragrant. Stir in carrot, celery and leek. Increase heat to medium-high, and saute 3 minutes. Stir in broth and lentils. Bring mixture to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook 20 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Stir in garlic, and cook 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
2) Ladle lentil mixture into 4 bowls, and garnish with almonds and yogurt.

Review: This mostly tasted like a normal lentil side dish. However, the smoked almonds gave it a very exotic flavor! I was surprised to see how much they cost, though. I think the almonds cost more than all of the other ingredients, combined!

Adapted from:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cherry Tomato & Tapenade Tartlets

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 tsp herbes de Provence
1/2 17.3oz pkg puff pastry, thawed
6 tsp black olive tapenade
9 tsp prepared hummus

1) Preheat oven to 425F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray with cooking spray.
2) Cut puff pastry into six 3 1/2-inch squares, and transfer squares to prepared baking sheet. Prick squares with fork.
3) Spread each puff pastry square with 1 tsp tapenade, then 1 1/2 tsp hummus. Top each tartlet with 8 cherry tomato halves. Sprinkle with herbes de Provence. Bake tartlets 20 minutes, or until crusts are browned on bottom and edges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Review: I had not realized this was a recipe for an appetizer. And, I regret not having seen this recipe when I had my hummus party! This was incredibly tasty, and we ate all of them for dinner. Unfortunately, the tartlets were incredibly greasy. Mike had one fly off his plate and onto the floor! I couldn't imagine actually serving this at a party, since they left our hands such an oily mess. They did make my belly happy, though.

Adapted from:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lasagna With Asparagus, Leeks & Mushrooms

2 Tbs butter, divided
2 medium leeks (white and light green parts), halved and thinly sliced
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
4 oz fresh morel or shiitake mushrooms, rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs all purpose flour
9oz pkg no-cook lasagna noodles
1 1/4 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1) Melt 1 Tbs butter in large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add leeks; cook until wilted, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl. Melt remaining Tbs of butter in same skillet. Add asparagus, mushrooms and thyme. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; saute until asparagus is crisp-tender, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add to bowl with leeks and toss to distribute evenly. Add broth, cream and bay leaf to same skillet and boil over high heat until slightly thickened, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle flour over and whisk to blend. Boil until sauce thickens, about 1 minute, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2) Preheat oven to 350F. Coat four 2-cup shallow oval or round baking dishes with nonstick cooking spray. Break off corners of noodles to fit flatly into dishes. Spoon 1/4 cup sauce into each dish. Place 1 noodle atop sauce. Scatter 1/4 cup vegetable mixture over, spreading in even layer. Drizzle 2 Tbs sauce over. Sprinkle rounded tablespoonful cheese over each. Repeat layering 2 more times with noodles, vegetables, sauce and cheese. Drizzle remaining sauce over lasagnas.
3) Cover each dish tightly with foil. Place on rimmed baking sheet and bake until noodles are tender, about 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese begins to brown, about 6 minutes. Let stand at room temperature 5 minutes before serving.

Review:  Argh! My sauce never became much of a sauce. It remained runny and the flour clumped. I've never had such an issue in making sauce like this. I think much of the problem was that I made the sauce in the same skillet and the cooking space may have been too broad. Next time I will definitely make it in a saucepan. But, this was still yummy. I used shiitake mushrooms, as morels are incredibly expensive. I had no idea! And I made this one big lasagna, instead of the two individual servings described in the recipe. This meant I also had to "fluff" it out, so I added shredded mozzarella in a layer with the leeks, while the other layer was asparagus, mushrooms and Parmesan. It worked well!

Adapted from:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Vegetables Wellington Redux

1 Tbs olive oil
1 lb asparagus, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium bell peppers (any color), cut into thin strips
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 5oz pkg baby spinach leaves
1 4oz jar prepared pesto sauce
1 large egg
1 17.3oz pkg frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 10oz log goat cheese, softened
1 16oz jar prepared tomato sauce, warmed

1) Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus, bell peppers and onion, sauteing for 5 to 10 minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften. Add spinach, and cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until spinach wilts. Stir in pesto. Cool.
2) Whisk egg in bowl, and set aside. Cut 15x10-inch piece of parchment paper, and set on work surface. Place 1 sheet puff pastry on parchment paper. Lift parchment paper with puff pastry, and place parchment-side-down in 9-inch loaf pan. Press pastry into pan, being careful not to let folds get caught in parchment, and allow pastry to hang over sides. Cut squares from second puff pastry sheet, and press onto short sides of parchment-covered pan to make dough shell. Prick bottom of puff pastry all over with fork.
3) Spread goat cheese over bottom of puff pastry. Top with asparagus mixture. Fold excess puff pastry over vegetables, and brush edges with egg.
4) Cut 9 1/2 x 5 1/2-inch piece of puff pastry from remaining sheet. Set on top of asparagus mixture, pressing to seal edges. Refrigerate 30 minutes, along with unused pastry scraps and egg.
5) Preheat oven to 425F, and place oven rack on second-lowest level. Brush top of Wellington with egg, and poke 2 or 3 holes in top. Cut decorative leaves and stems from remaining pastry, press onto top of Wellington, and brush with egg. Use tip of small knife to score leaves and top with decorative touches.
6) Bake Wellington 15 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 350F, and bake 45 minutes more. Cool 15 minutes.
7) Use parchment paper to lift Wellington from loaf pan. Remove parchment paper, and transfer Wellington to flat serving plate. Slice, and serve with warmed tomato sauce.

Review: This was incredibly delicious, though I did not serve it with tomato sauce. The reason being, that I had other chaos to deal with and totally spaced the sauce. I had perfectly timed making this and making pumpkin cheesecake bars. My plan was to slide the bars into the oven right after the Wellington. It all was working so well, until it didn't. Apparently the Wellington created a lot of grease. The parchment paper created a bit of a funnel, allowing the grease to bubble up, and out over the edge of the cookie sheet I had under the loaf pan. It missed the cookie sheet completely and formed a huge puddle of grease in the bottom of my oven (which I didn't see). When I slid the bars in, I had the bars in a 8x8 pan, nestled into a 9x13 pan filled with water. A bit of the water spilled out and hit the grease puddle. I had massively huge flames ensue, which ignited the parchment paper that was used in the cheesecake bars. I was SO scared, as flames seemed to be engulfing everything. I shut the oven door in a panic, and the flames started to die down. But, I panicked that I should get the pans out of the oven. When I opened the oven doors, the flames quickly picked up and took over again. I shut the door and let it die down completely. At this point, my kitchen was filled with smoke. I ran around fanning the smoke out of open windows and doors. It was awful. And, I was home alone. My husband arrived shortly after the flames quit. I was shaking and scared, so of course, warmed tomato sauce was not on my mind!! The Wellington was absolutely amazing, savory and crispy. The cheescake bars were tossed in the trash. The oven was salvaged with cornstarch and a wipe-down. What a night!

Adapted from: