Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Way back in 2013, when I discovered my beloved funky monkey baked oatmeal, I commented on the wrong-feelingness of eating chocolate in the morning (and, indeed, 75% of the time I’ve made that recipe since, I’ve omitted the chocolate and coconut so it’s just banana-peanut butter), and speculated about using cocoa powder so that the base of the oatmeal itself was chocolaty, instead of being studded with chocolate chips. I never bothered to follow up on this idea, or I would have seen that my trusted baked oatmeal recipe source, Budget Bytes, already had a chocolate banana version in its archives. I only spotted it recently, while posting about banana coconut baked oatmeal, and I immediately knew it was the next logical step in my breakfast journey.

It’s hardly shocking to reveal that this oatmeal is objectively delicious, but I was still surprised that I enjoyed it so much. I’ve never been one to crave chocolate cake for breakfast, even in my carefree youth, so it took a few bites to overcome the twin disconnects of (a) eating something that looked and smelled like a brownie at 8 a.m., and (b) eating something that looked and smelled like a brownie but was barely sweet. Once I recalibrated my senses, however, I loved how the deep flavor of the cocoa shone through (use a good-quality cocoa powder, because it’s going to be the main flavor here), and how I felt fully as satisfied and energized until lunchtime as I do from any other oatmeal. If you do actually hunger for dessert first thing in the morning, this may be a good way to trick yourself into thinking you’re indulging. For me, it’s another fun riff to add to my baked oatmeal rotation.

The original recipe suggested a number of possible add-ins, including coconut and peanut butter, but to make sure I got plenty of protein to carry me through the morning, I went with sliced almonds. I toasted them for added flavor, but they still got largely overshadowed by the blast of cocoa. I appreciated their crunch, however, so they’ll be making a return appearance.

3 large or 4 medium ripe bananas
2 large eggs
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
⅓ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 cups milk
2½ cups old-fashioned oats
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, mash enough bananas to make 1½ cups.
  3. To the bowl of mashed bananas, add the eggs, cocoa powder (I like to sift this in to eliminate lumps), brown sugar, vanilla extract, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Whisk together until smooth. Add the milk and whisk again. Make sure there are no clumps of cocoa powder. Stir the oats and almonds into the bowl.
  4. Coat the inside of an 8-by-8-inch casserole dish with nonstick spray. Pour the oat mixture into the pan.
  5. Place the oats in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes, or until firm. Cut into six pieces and serve warm, with milk.
Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great. Oatmeal will keep for a week in a covered container; reheat individual pieces in the microwave each morning.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Despite being a lifelong fan of Calvin Trillin, who has famously claimed that spaghetti carbonara should replace turkey as the national Thanksgiving dish, I had never made (or, I think, even eaten) carbonara before—initially because I was grossed out by undercooked egg yolks, and more recently because I was afraid I would love it insatiably and perilously. But when The Brewer and the Baker posted this recipe last spring, I no longer had good reason to resist. Here we have a two-to-one ratio of springy green vegetables to pasta, perhaps not enough to counteract the richness of the bacon, egg and cheese, but enough to feel like a reasonable one-dish weeknight meal—and, honestly, much more interesting and appealing to me than plain old carbonara.

This is one of those recipes that comes together so quickly, it behooves you to have everything prepped and ready to go before you start. I always thought making carbonara was tricky, but the technique doesn’t get any more advanced than tempering eggs, which basically means stirring a little hot liquid into them so they warm up slowly and don’t immediately cook and congeal. Beyond that, the only hard part is the timing—making sure your noodles and your sauce come together at exactly the right moment. The good news is that if you muck it up a little bit, as I did the first time—foolishly believing that I could simplify things by simply mixing the pasta with the sauce in the hot skillet—and your eggs scramble a little instead of turning into a smooth sauce, it will still taste pretty great. When I returned to this recipe a year later and actually followed the directions precisely, it was even better. Working quickly and confidently is the key…and practice makes perfect, so clearly I’m going to have to try the entire range of spinoff recipes: Roasted cauliflower, my new BFF! Roasted broccoli! Spinach and sweet potato! What vegetable wouldn’t taste amazing in a peppery, smoky-salty, cheesy, magically creamy-without-a-drop-of-cream sauce? (Beets, probably.)

8 ounces spaghetti or other long pasta
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 slices bacon, cut into cubes
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 1¼ pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt to taste
  1. Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta. (If your asparagus is very thick or you like it very tender, once the water boils you can blanch your asparagus in it for a few minutes to give it a head start on cooking, removing it with a slotted spoon to a colander before adding the pasta to the same pot.)
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook bacon pieces to a crisp and remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.
  3. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup of pasta water before draining.
  4. Add black pepper to bacon drippings in skillet and cook for two minutes. Add asparagus and cook about 5 minutes, until fork-tender, stirring occasionally.
  5. Whisk egg, yolk, 2/3 cup Parmesan, and ¼ cup very hot pasta water in the bowl with the bacon.
  6. Add drained pasta and the contents of the asparagus skillet to the bowl and toss, adding splashes of reserved pasta water to create a creamy sauce. Season with salt to taste and serve topped with extra Parmesan.
Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


I believe it’s safe to call my journey toward becoming a cauliflower eater complete, having toured four of my favorite food groups—soup, fritters, pasta, and now pizza—with successful results. I don’t want to play favorites, but this powerhouse recipe from Bev Cooks (found via the Kitchn) is my current obsession. Cauliflower in its best form (crisp and toasty) gets an assist from umami-bursting browned mushrooms, slivers of red onion, savory herbs, plenty of cheese, and, just to flirt with gilding the lily, a crust bathed in roasted garlic oil. Anyone still think vegetables are boring?

I made two slight improvements on the original, to help balance out all the earthiness: adding red pepper flakes for a welcome pop of brightness and heat, and complementing the creamy mozzarella with a sharper cheese—Parmesan on my first try and, even better, Pecorino Romano the second time around. I’m also going to note that you really should use fresh mozzarella here; I usually find it too watery for pizza and opt for the aged, low-moisture kind, but since the other ingredients in this case are fairly dry, the extra juiciness is welcome.

I’m especially grateful for this recipe because it wouldn’t otherwise have occurred to me to combine cauliflower with mushrooms, but maybe that just goes to show what a cauliflower newbie I am. Clearly, further experimentation is still needed!

1 pound pizza dough
1 medium cauliflower head, broken into florets
½ pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2-3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
10ish fresh sage leaves
6 large garlic cloves, in their skins
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste
½ cup shredded Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
5-8 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Place the mushrooms on one baking sheet, and the cauliflower florets on another. Nestle the garlic cloves in with the veggies. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and pepper, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, sprinkle with fresh thyme and sage leaves, and toss well (make sure the garlic cloves in particular are well coated with oil).
  3. Roast the mushrooms for 30 minutes and the cauliflower for 45, or until you get some good roasted color all over. Remove pans from oven and set aside. Increase oven heat to 450.
  4. Using tongs, fish out the garlic and press the cloves out of their skins into a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and mash into a paste.
  5. Roll out the pizza dough on a floured work surface and transfer to an oiled or cornmeal-dusted baking sheet. Evenly brush the garlic oil over the crust and par-bake for 2 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle Romano or Parmesan over the crust, and evenly top with the roasted mushrooms, cauliflower (don’t forget all the herbs on the baking sheets! I crumble the crispy sage leaves with my fingers and scatter it over the pizza) and red onion. Finish with the mozzarella and bake another 12 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and bubbly, and the dough is cooked through.
Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016


This soup might look familiar. It’s apparently based on Olive Garden’s “Zuppa Toscana,”* and it’s quite the Internet sensation. I can anecdotally report that it seems to be approaching the cult status of the Mrs. Fields/Neiman Marcus cookie, and perhaps someday its origins will be as shrouded in mystery. I first had it years ago, when my visiting friend L improvised a soup based on one her aunt had cooked for her. It was tasty, so when I saw this version at Budget Bytes recently, I decided to give it a shot. Funnily enough, that exact week, my mom was describing a soup recipe she’d gotten from my aunt that she was planning to try that week…and lo and behold, it was just another variation on the very same ur-soup.

All this popularity isn’t unmerited. Sausage, potatoes, and kale are best friends (see this similar combo from my own soup archives), and adding cream only sweetens the deal. Apparently, the original soup contains bacon, although many of its imitators do not; the slightly lightened recipe I tried adds smoked paprika as a stand-in, dials down the cream to half-and-half, reduces the sausage and swaps in some white beans for added protein and creaminess. It’s delicious and I wouldn’t change a thing. The only slight tweak I made was adding the half-and-half near the end of the cooking process so it didn’t curdle, as some commenters suggested and most other versions do. I went ahead and used hot Italian pork sausage for max flavor, but you can substitute a chicken variety if you prefer.

*Insert obligatory foodie snideness about the Olive Garden here, along with the requisite disclaimer that I’ve only eaten there twice in my life, during my hungry/cash-strapped/silly college days. And you know what? It was fine.

½ pound Italian sausage (hot or mild)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
2 cups half-and-half
3 medium red potatoes (1½ pounds), quartered lengthwise and then cut into thin slices (about ¼ inch thick)
1 bunch (½ pound) kale, stemmed and chopped
1 pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Squeeze the sausage out of its casing into a large pot. Sauté over medium heat, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. (If you’re using chicken sausage, you may need to add a little olive oil to keep it from sticking.)
  2. Once the sausage is mostly browned, add the onion and garlic to the pot and sauté until the onions are softened.
  3. Add the beans, smoked paprika, chicken broth, water, and salt to taste (my chicken broth had no salt, so I added 1 teaspoon kosher salt; use less if you’re using a commercial broth that contains sodium). Place a lid on the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the potatoes and kale, stirring until the kale wilts. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for at least 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
  5. Reduce heat to low and add the half-and-half, heating until warmed but not boiling. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.
Serves: 6-8
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.