Friday, February 19, 2010


Yes, another salad with bacon and another mustard vinaigrette. I just can’t help myself! This one has a convoluted story: Along with kale and fennel, I’ve been craving sweet potatoes lately. In my analog recipe stash, I had a photocopied recipe from some forgotten cookbook for a warm side dish of sweet potatoes with spinach and bacon, which suddenly started sounding irresistible to me. So I went online to see if anyone else had made the recipe and what they thought of it. It turns out that you get a lot of results if you Google “sweet potatoes spinach bacon”—but most of them are salads. Apparently, sweet potato, spinach and bacon salad is, like, an established thing? I clicked on a few recipes and soon realized that they sounded better than the original recipe I’d been searching for. First I found this Mark Bittman recipe at Serious Eats, but I wasn’t sure the ginger, cumin, and orange flavors were what I wanted. Then I found this Rachel Ray recipe (yep, I fell into the Rachel Ray vortex again). It sounded delicious, except for the fact that the sweet potatoes were boiled, which, bleah. Why boil a sweet potato when you can roast it? So I stole the roasting method from the Bittman recipe, halved the Rachel Ray recipe, and went to work. We were both extremely pleased with the result. This is a big, bold salad bursting with a wide variety of flavors, textures, and fresh, colorful vegetables. I could have just eaten the salt-and-peppery roasted sweet potato chunks on their own, but on a bed of crisp spinach (mine didn't really wilt; I think my dressing had cooled a bit, but I didn't mind), dressed in a tart-sweet dressing and spangled with bacon, they were amazing. Even non-sweet-potato-lovers (A is one) will love this.

2 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 slices bacon, diced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2–3 cups baby spinach

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Roast, turning occasionally, until crisp and brown outside and just tender inside, 20–30 minutes. Remove from oven and keep them on the pan until ready to use.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, place a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the bacon, and cook until crisp.

3. Remove the bacon from the pan and add the onion, garlic, some salt, and tons of black pepper to the bacon drippings. Cook until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes.

4. Remove pan from the heat and add the mustard, vinegar, and remaining 1 tablespoon oil, whisking vigorously to incorporate the dressing.

5. Place the spinach in a large bowl, add the sweet potatoes, pour the dressing on top, and toss well to coat the potatoes and lightly wilt the spinach. Crumble the bacon over everything. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves: 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: We didn't try, but probably not great.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Brilliance, thy name is baked oatmeal.

I love oatmeal—I’m a sucker for it in baked goods and have been known to snack upon handfuls of raw oats. But I don’t find myself eating regular old steaming bowls of cooked oatmeal very often, because (a) I don’t usually have that much time in the morning, and (b) strangely, I’m not very good at making it. If I use the microwave, it boils over; if I use the stovetop, scalded milk sticks to the pot; and either way, it tastes sort of bland and boring. And the less said about the sickly-sweet instant stuff, the better. So I had pretty much resigned myself to eating cold cereal for breakfast—which is no problem, really; it’s one of my favorite foods and I make a killer homemade granola, but sometimes in the winter something hot and comforting sounds so good. Then I got a sudden hankering to make this recipe, which I had torn out of a Penzeys catalog at my parents’ house years ago and jammed into a folder (a Dawson’s Creek folder, of all things, which I once received as a gag gift, possibly at a white elephant party) where all the orphaned recipes I collected on a whim languished sadly. When menu planning, I always use the Internet, referring to my blog or all the online recipes I’ve bookmarked using Delicious, so I always forget about the torn-out magazine pages and photocopied pages from library cookbooks until it’s too late. But a spate of cold weather had me craving hot oatmeal, and I’m so glad I exhumed this recipe because it is the perfect solution to all my problems—er, the oatmeal-related ones, anyway.

This was easy to throw together on a Sunday morning. I was a little suspicious of how full the baking dish was—wouldn’t it boil over?—but what emerged from the oven (which I stupidly forgot to photograph) looked flat and solid and browned, like a cake. When I scooped out a spoonful, the interior was tender and fluffy, sort of like an oatmeal pudding, with toasty edges reminiscent of a soft cookie. It tasted like good, perfectly seasoned oatmeal. The best part was that after taking my initial serving, I threw the rest into an airtight container and stashed it in the refrigerator. Then every morning for the next week, I pulled it out, scooped out a bowlful, microwaved it for a minute, poured milk over it (recommended, as this has a slightly drier texture than your usual oatmeal), and voila! Oatmeal with all the fixins. Amazing! I can tell this is going to be a life-changer. I can’t wait to make another batch; it’s like the winter version of granola—and like granola, I suspect it’s infinitely customizable. Probably any dried fruit would work here; I used raisins and will use fewer next time, because I only like the occasional raisin in my oatmeal. I liked the walnuts but see no reason you couldn’t try pecans or almonds instead. I might experiment with using a bit less sugar (it wasn’t overly sweet by any means, but my tolerance for sugar in the mornings is unusually low), and will perhaps add some flaxseed meal too. You could also get experimental with the spices; I did add a little cardamom, because I adore it, but I suspect the other chai spices (nutmeg, allspice, coriander, even turmeric) would fit in well too. And of course, you can top it with whatever you like—yogurt, fresh fruit, jam, etc.

About the only annoyance with this recipe is that you end up with four spare egg yolks, which I hate to waste, but if I start making custards or mayonnaise or lemon curd or pudding all the time, it’s going to defeat the purpose of this wholesome, sensible breakfast.

POSTSCRIPT: I have since made this twice more, and I think I've arrived at a version that's just the way I like it. I made the following changes:
  • Reduced the brown sugar to ½ cup
  • Reduced the raisins to ½ cup
  • Used 2 whole eggs instead of 4 egg whites
  • Omitted the oil
  • Added 3-4 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal
I didn't detect a real difference in texture (or taste) due to the egg change. One of the times, the interior seemed slightly softer, but I may also have just underbaked it, because the next time it seemed to be the same as the egg-white version. Obviously, the egg-white version will be a little lighter in terms of cholesterol, but the whole-egg version is less wasteful and more convenient for me, so I'll be sticking with it. I figured that with the whole eggs plus the flaxseed, I didn't need the oil at all, and I didn't notice its absence. It's such a small amount that you might even be able to omit it while using the egg whites, if you oil the baking dish generously (I found that sometimes the browned exterior of the oatmeal tends to stick).

One time I also used chopped almonds instead of walnuts, because I had some that needed to be used up, and I threw in a drop of almond extract too, just for kicks. It tasted good, but I actually liked the texture of the walnuts better. If I try almonds again, I'll give sliced ones a shot.

2¼ cups quick cooking oats or 2¾ cups old-fashioned oats, uncooked
⅔ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¾ cup raisins or dried cranberries (craisins)
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
3⅓ cups skim milk (I used 1%)
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Milk, yogurt, and fruit for serving (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square glass baking dish with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, combine oats, sugar, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well. In a medium bowl, combine milk, egg whites, oil, and vanilla and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until well blended. Pour into the baking dish.

3. Bake for 50–60 minutes or until center is set and firm to the touch. Cool slightly. Serve topped with milk or yogurt and fruit, if desired.

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Serves: 6–8
Leftover potential: High. Store leftover oatmeal tightly covered in the refrigerator and you can enjoy it all week long! Just scoop out your daily serving and reheat it in the microwave.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I’m on a major kale kick lately, so I finally got up the gumption to try this recipe from Jack Bishop’s Pasta e Verdura. It’s one of my favorite cookbooks of all time (now shamefully out of print?)—and the source of at least half my cherished pasta dishes—so you wouldn’t think I’d be so reluctant to give this recipe a shot, but (a) there have been a few duds among all the gems in it; and (b) I tried a different kale pasta in December and wasn’t particularly thrilled by it, even though it came well recommended...which made me fear that I don’t really like kale quite as much as I think I do, like maybe I’m some sort of kale dilettante who likes it roasted or mixed with a bunch of other things but can’t handle the strong stuff straight up.

Luckily, I loved this. It’s exactly what it sounds like—crispy, garlicky, herby golden nuggets of potato tossed with tender, lemony kale over spaghetti. I devoured nearly all the leftovers myself (I think A only managed to snag one serving) and wouldn’t mind making it again right now. I did, belatedly, realize that it’s pretty much just a wintry version of a recipe I already have, only with spaghetti instead of penne and kale instead of arugula, but I think I actually like this one more; it seems to gel better somehow. The only thing I’d change from the original recipe? Saving some of the pasta water to loosen up the final dish—I almost did, but then figured I’d trust the all-knowing Bishop, and then sadly my results were on the dry side (although obviously still thoroughly edible). Also, be sure to use plenty of salt, or this may seem on the bland side at first bite (but trust me, it really isn’t). Now go forth and eat kale!

1 pound small red potatoes
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste
1 pound kale (about 2 large bunches)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Scrub the potatoes under cold running water, but do not peel them. Cut the potatoes into ½-inch chunks. Place in a baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer (I used a 9x12 Pyrex). In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons oil with the garlic, rosemary, and 1 teaspoon salt. Drizzle the oil mixture over the potatoes, toss well, and spread back out in a single layer. Bake until potatoes are crisp and golden brown, about 40 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, bring several quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Remove the tough center stems from the kale and discard (I find that folding them in half and slicing it off works best). Wash the kale leaves well in a colander or (if they seem particularly sandy) in a large bowl of cold water. Slice the damp leaves crosswise into ½-inch-wide strips. Add the kale and salt to taste to the boiling water. Cook until kale is tender but not mushy, about 4–6 minutes. Drain the kale and toss it in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons oil, the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Add the pasta and cook until al dente; drain (you may want to reserve a bit of the pasta water).

5. Add the roasted potatoes (along with any garlic and rosemary that can be scraped from the baking dish) to the bowl with the kale. Mix well, then add the hot pasta, the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well (if you have reserved pasta water, add some if the pasta looks dry). Serve sprinkled with Parmesan.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Leftover potential: High

Friday, February 12, 2010


Potatoes and sausage seem like such an obvious pizza-topping combination that I’m surprised I haven’t tried it already. I mean, I’ve got pizzas with potatoes and pesto, potatoes and chicken, potatoes and leeks, potatoes and other root vegetables…I’m a potatoes-on-pizza fiend, apparently. In fact, while I was making this one, A kept asking me, “Are you sure we haven’t had this before? It sounds so familiar.” But believe it or not, it’s new, and it’s tasty, with garlic and shallots and Fontina and Parmesan boosting the flavor of the meat-and-potatoes combo.

The recipe is from Serious Eats’ Meat Lite column, although I’ll admit I went a bit heavier on the meat than the recipe says; I was using my lighter, homemade, precooked sausage, which not only gave me license and desire to be more generous with it but also allowed me to skip a step in the recipe prep, always a good thing. The only difficulty in preparation came in slicing the potatoes sufficiently thin without a mandoline, but that was just a slight annoyance and well worth the effort.

4 small/medium Yukon Gold potatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 link (about 2.5 ounces) Italian sausage, mild or spicy
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
3 large shallots, peeled and sliced very thin
1 pound pizza dough
4 ounces grated Fontina cheese (about 1¼ cups)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Slice the potatoes ⅛ inch thick (a mandoline is helpful here, but not required).

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the sausage from its casing and crumble the meat into the hot pan. Cook the meat about 5 to 7 minutes, breaking it up into smaller bits with a wooden spoon as it browns. (If using precooked sausage such as ’Atsa Spicy Pizza Sausage, skip this step; just add 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet and cook the garlic and shallots in it..)

4. Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic and shallots to the pan, and saute with the sausage.

5. Stretch the dough out and press it onto a baking sheet. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the dough and then set half of the potato slices in one layer across the dough. Put the other half of the potatoes in the pan with the sausage and cover with a lid or foil. Transfer the dough to the hot oven and bake for 5 minutes.

6. Remove the pizza from the oven and sprinkle half the Fontina over the first layer of potatoes. Spread the sausage, garlic, shallots, and remaining potatoes on top. Season with salt and pepper. Add the rest of the Fontina and the Parmesan. Return the pizza to the oven and bake 10 to 15 minutes more, until the cheese is bubbly, the crust is golden, and the potatoes are tender.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good, especially if reheated in the oven

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Every now and then (about twice per winter, on the darkest and wettest of days) I get a hankering for lentils. Luckily, I have a good recipe for an easy lentil soup. Unluckily (or less luckily, anyway), A doesn’t really like lentils. And although he’s quite the champ about trying everything I make, eating one serving without complaint even if he doesn’t care for it, comforting me if I'm disappointed in the product of my labors, and enduring my barrage of requests for reassurance (“Do you like it? It’s good, right? You’d have it again?”—being the companion of a food blogger is a burden sometimes, I imagine), I can always tell whether he really likes something based on how much he eats the leftovers. And the last time I made lentil soup, I had to slog my way solo through all four remaining bowls, which dampened my enthusiasm for it a bit.

So when I saw this bacon- and sausage-studded lentil stew at Simply Recipes, I thought (a) “That looks delicious!” and (b) “That might be a good way to get A to enjoy lentil soup!” (If you haven't noticed by now, "bacon" is pretty much the magic word where A is concerned.) Besides the addition of meat, the recipe isn’t too different from my old one, only without the tomatoes and with some additional seasonings. I went easy on the cumin, not wanting my soup to taste like tacos, but in the end it wasn’t too assertive and paired well with the flavor of the lentils. And I downright loved the hit of vinegar stirred in just before serving—I didn’t have sherry vinegar, and while the recipe suggested cider vinegar as a substitute, I went with balsamic, one my secret ingredients for pizza sauce, and was not sorry.

But alas, all this deliciousness did not win A over to the lentil-eating team. He didn’t hate the soup, but he ended up picking out all of the meat and leaving about a quarter of a bowlful of lentils behind, and once again I was left with all the leftovers (and there were a lot of them; the recipe claimed to serve 4-5, but I got 7 bowlsful out of it). The difference was that this time, I devoured them eagerly. Paired with brown bread, this was a perfect soup for our recent rainy winter days, zesty and hearty, and the extra herbs and spices and the smoky undertones from the meat made this a marked improvement over my older, simpler recipe (which is still quite worthy and delicious, I hasten to add, particularly if you want something cheap and vegetarian). So it was a qualified success.

I found the recipe to be straightforward and self-explanatory. It takes a bit of time, but most of that is hands-off simmering time. For the sausage, I used spicy chicken andouille from Trader Joe's, which is not only delicious but also precooked, enabling me to skip the sausage-browning step of the recipe. I liked the heat and peppery smokiness they added to the soup, but really, you can use just about any type of sausage you enjoy here.

⅓ pound of bacon (about 5 thick slices), diced
1 medium-large yellow or white onion, chopped (about 1¼ cups)
2–3 large carrots, diced (⅔ cup)
2–3 large ribs celery, diced (⅔ cup)
½–1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 pound brown or green dry lentils, rinsed and picked over to remove any debris
3 cups water
3 cups chicken stock
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
½ pound Italian sausage (mild, sweet, or spicy, your choice) or smoked sausage, in links (about 2–3 links)
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar (can sub cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar)
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, with a little extra for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a large, thick-bottomed pot (6 to 8 quarts) on medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until much of the fat has rendered and the bacon is browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon from pan to a paper-towel-lined dish and set aside. Remove (and discard or reserve for another use) all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat from the pot.

2. Heat the remaining fat on medium high and add the carrots, onions, celery, and cumin. Cook until softened, about 5–7 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and cook a minute more, until fragrant.

3. Add back in the cooked bacon, rinsed lentils, stock, water, thyme, and bay leaf. At this point, add a teaspoon of salt and some pepper. You will season more to taste later. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook partially covered until lentils are tender, about 40 minutes.

4. While the lentils are cooking, heat a frying pan on medium heat. Add the Italian sausage links. Gently cook, browning on all sides, until just cooked through. Remove from pan and let cool enough to handle. (All this can be skipped if your sausages are precooked.) Slice sausage and add to stew for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

5. Add vinegar and parsley to stew. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serves: 6–8
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: High

Friday, February 05, 2010


So it’s official: We like fennel! Fresh on the heels of our delicious fennel pizza comes this delectable pasta from Bon Appetit, which I first spotted at The Kitchen Illiterate while searching for something else—what, I can’t remember, because it completely slipped my mind as soon as the words “fennel,” “pasta,” “bacon,” “red pepper flakes,” and “cheese” registered. (It turns out that the original recipe relies on red jalapenos for its spiciness, but I followed The Kitchen Illiterate's lead in using red pepper flakes, because I so dearly love them in pastas. I don’t set too much store in the original recipe anyway, because it’s inexplicably called “Spicy Spaghetti With Fennel and Herbs,” even though parsley is the only herb in evidence. I also copied The Kitchen Illiterate in using bacon instead of pancetta, and was quite pleased by that decision.)

While I was cooking, A kept asking me what this was going to taste like and whether he would like it. My best guess at what it would taste like was “Italian sausage without the meat,” and that was a pretty darn fine prediction. There’s garlic, spice, savoriness from the cheese and broth, saltiness from the bacon, and a double hit of fennel flavor from both the bulb and the seed, with a zip of freshness from the lemon and parsley. We both loved it. My only caveat is that I wish I’d sliced the fennel more thinly; I followed the recipe’s instructions to cut it into “thin wedges,” but maybe I misunderstood what that meant, because it took forever (longer than 20 minutes, anyway) to get tender, and even though it tasted good, it never achieved the melting softness and sweetness of the caramelized fennel from my first fennel experience. (Great band name: The Fennel Experience.) So I’m saying to slice it thinly instead, but of course you can do what you like. I’m not the boss of you. But if I were, I’d tell you to get yourself on the fennel bandwagon already and make this recipe immediately, and then share some of it with me (well, I guess I still have some leftovers at home, but I’m currently stuck at work, with four rainy train rides separating me from that pasta).

3 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, chopped
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large fennel bulbs, stalks trimmed, sliced thinly
1½ cups low-salt chicken broth
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1½ teaspoons crushed fennel seeds
1 pound spaghetti
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish

1. Sauté pancetta or bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta/bacon to paper towels.

2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to drippings in skillet. Add garlic and red pepper flakes; sauté over medium heat 1 minute. Add fennel; cook until beginning to soften, 5 minutes. Mix in broth, 2 tablespoons parsley, lemon juice, and fennel seeds. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until fennel is very tender, 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid, then drain.

4. Just before pasta is done, uncover skillet with fennel mixture and return to medium-high heat. Cook until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add pasta, 2 tablespoons oil, ½ cup cheese, and pancetta/bacon to skillet. Toss well, adding cooking liquid by ¼ cupfuls if dry. Transfer to serving bowls. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons parsley and additional cheese to taste.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Very good.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


My old standby recipe for potato-leek soup with plenty of dill and lemon is among my favorites, but it verges on the plain, and apparently I’m a sucker for potato-leek anything, so when I saw this recipe on Food52 (via Last Night’s Dinner), I was intrigued. Cheddar is hands down my favorite cheese, and I’ve been gradually coming around to Dijon—which used to gross me out—through its use in the dressings of a few of my recent favorite salads. I may have slightly overestimated the zip these two ingredients would give an otherwise simple soup, because even though the finished product tasted perfectly delicious, I was ever-so-slightly underwhelmed; it was still, after all, potato-leek soup, and it didn’t taste wildly different than my usual version. In particular, I wanted more cheddar flavor (this could be my own fault; I used my refrigerator staple, Tillamook Sharp, but this may have been an occasion to try something sharper and more aged). Still, this is a great recipe, and I think my initial reaction was mainly a product of my own overexcited expectations (not to mention the fact that I may have oversalted the soup a little in the heat of the moment). The leftovers have been lovely (especially last weekend when I was suffering through a cold), A was pleased, and I’d certainly make this again.

¼ cup unsalted butter
2 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts, only)
Coarse kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
4 cups peeled, cubed red or Yukon Gold potatoes
2 tablespoons sharp Dijon mustard
1 cup firmly packed grated sharp Cheddar cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh dill, plus additional for garnish

1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot.

2. Add the leeks and a generous pinch of salt, and cook over medium heat until soft.

3. Sprinkle the flour over the leeks and stir until coated. Cook for a few minutes, then add the stock, potatoes, and mustard, stirring until the mustard dissolves into the soup.

4. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the potatoes are very tender when pierced with a fork.

5. Turn off the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender (or in batches in a blender or food processor).

6. Turn the heat back on low and add the cheese, stirring well until it melts into the soup.

7. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the dill, stirring it through. Sprinkle additional dill on top of each serving.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: High; improves over the course of a few days and can easily be frozen