Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pesto Pasta and Bean Salad



Today was a pretty chill, laid-back Sunday for our family. The best kind, if you ask me. My mom generously took our kids overnight last night, so my husband and I got to have dinner at the fabulous Wrigley Mansion, a Phoenix landmark since 1932, and sleep in this morning. It was kind of shocking how late we were able to sleep without the kids running around/arguing/informing us about poopy Pullups. (Anybody have a sure-fire solution for nighttime potty training a 3-year-old?) Anyway, the two of us went out for a late breakfast, which we almost never do--partly because we rarely eat out with kids and partly because I have a thing about brunch. I hate it. Seriously, it ruins my whole day. I'm the kind of person who wants to get up and eat something light and drink my coffee pretty much immediately. Brunch basically flies in the face of these desires. You have to do your hair and get dressed, get in your car and drive somewhere, order and wait until they bring out your food. Then you always, ALWAYS eat way more than you normally would and at lunchtime you still feel full and kinda gross but you want to eat. So you eat lunch and you feel even more over-full and gross. See where this is going? Whole day shot. You're dead to me, brunch.

Still, despite my issue with brunch, our day was a pleasant one. After we picked the kids up from Grandma's we went on a family outing to Ikea, where we got some fun stuff for the house, then went to Guitar Center, where the kids enjoyed jamming on the 95 keyboards they have stacked in one room. But even after skipping out on the meatballs and lingonberry sauce my family had for lunch at Ikea, those lemon ricotta pancakes I had at brunch still hung like dead weight in my stomach. Thankfully, our plans for dinner were the definition of light: this super-simple pesto pasta and bean salad. Yay!

If there was ever a straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get salad, this is it. I love it for its simplicity, its quick prep time, and its healthful vegetarian ingredients. It would make a great side to tote to a summertime potluck--but for our family, served with a side of crusty bread, this is plenty for a modest dinner!

Pesto Pasta and Bean Salad
(Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)

Ingredients:

8 oz. whole wheat penne or other small pasta
1 7-oz. container purchased basil pesto (or make your own)
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 15-oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
3 c. arugula
2 oz. Parmesan/Reggiano cheese, shaved

Directions:

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water; set aside.

2. Meanwhile, make dressing by combining pesto, red wine vinegar, and salt in a large bowl. Add cooked pasta, beans, and arugula and stir gently to combine. Top with shaved cheese.

Makes about 8 cups.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Homemade Tomato Sauce Tutorial

Back in February, I mentioned how many tomatoes were growing packed into our garden bed like so many Japanese bullet train passengers. As a near-native desert dweller, I'm just impressed when anything edible grows out of the ground, but tomatoes are especially great to have handy, as they're usable in so many dishes. For months they served us well in salads, tarts, pizzas, and sandwiches, but the day finally came when my husband said we needed to harvest the whole bed. (I wouldn't know why. He's the gardener. Probably it had something to do with the face-melting heat outside.) So out he went and returned with a heaping colander of 'maters of all different shapes, sizes, and hues.


If there's anything I've learned from gardening--or, more accurately, being the beneficiary of my husband's gardening--it's that the work comes both before and after the harvest. Tomatoes picked singly off the vine are a delightful convenience. Three hundred tomatoes sitting on your counter feel like a ticking time bomb of spoilage. Still, the work both before and after your produce is well worth it--not necessarily because it's cheaper or easier than buying from the store, but because it's a reconnection to the Earth, a reminder that all food comes at a cost of labor and love. And because food made from fresh fruits and vegetables is delicious!

With dozens of (mostly tiny) tomatoes now in my kitchen, silently begging the question "What are you going to do with us?" I knew I had to come up with something. Having never made my own from-scratch tomato pasta sauce, that seemed like an attractive option--made all the more attractive by the fact that I already had all the ingredients necessary! And I must say, it turned out INCREDIBLE. The flavor was so much richer and deeper than anything I've ever had out of a store-bought jar, probably due to the red wine, the fresh herbs, and of course, the garden-fresh tomatoes. My husband ate it on tortilla chips so he could have it as a snack. 

So if you, too, have a glut of tomatoes from your garden or just want to try a better-than-store-bought taste experience, here's a how-to for making your very own sauce for spaghetti, tortellini, meatballs, or any other creative choices (like tortilla chips).

Homemade Tomato Sauce
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

5 lbs. fresh tomatoes (10 large, 40 plum, or 100ish cherry tomatoes)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. chopped fresh herbs (a mix of rosemary, basil, and thyme is ideal)
1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 c. red wine
1 bay leaf
2 stalks celery
2 Tbsp. tomato paste

Directions:

1. Boil and peel tomatoes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have ready a large bowl of ice water.  If using large or plum tomatoes, use a sharp knife to score the top or bottom of each with a small "X" to make peeling easier. Place tomatoes into boiling water until skins start to peel. Depending on your tomatoes' ripeness, this may take as little as 1 minute or as much as 3-4 minutes.


Remove with a slotted spoon and place in the prepared bowl of ice water.


The skins will begin to loosen and look like little Pacmans:


Let tomatoes rest until cool enough to peel. Once they are cool to the touch, peel and set aside. (The skins should slip off easily.)



Let's pause for a moment to honor the many tomatoes who gave their skins for this sauce.

2. Puree peeled tomatoes in a food processor or blender.


3. Make the rest of the sauce:
Rinse the pot you used to boil the tomatoes. Heat oil and butter over medium heat in this pot and cook onion, carrots, and garlic until onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes. 


Add pureed tomatoes, fresh herbs, Italian seasoning, and wine. Place bay leaf and whole celery sticks into the pot.


Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Stir in tomato paste and simmer another 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and celery sticks. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.




Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fresh Blueberry Ice Cream


For your reference and mine, here's a handy flow chart to show the decision-making process for whether or not to write (yet another) post about dessert on the blog: 


Yep, that's basically how it goes around here. I genuinely do like other foods, it's just that I like dessert so much more. Of course I know it's supposed to be eaten in moderation and that sugar is killing us all and yada yada yada. But for me, sweet foods are just one of life's great pleasures, so dang it, I'm gonna keep making them. Maybe someday I'll achieve some dietary zen where I'm eating lentils for dessert holed up at a hermitage writing a book like this:
From amazon.com
but all I can say is I am not there yet, and I don't think I want to be. (I have a lot more I could say about this topic as a prospective nutritionist, but it would probably just get me all worked up and then I'd have to go diffuse my frustration with a cupcake brisk jog and I'd never get through this post.)

Anyway, so let me tell you about this melt-in-your-mouth blueberry ice cream. Blueberry is a flavor that gets a lot of love in muffins, breads, and even pies, but rarely do you see it headlining in ice cream. This needs to be remedied ASAP. The combination of blueberries and cream just rings with freshness and makes me think of what you would be served at some quaint Alpine pension. With blueberries in season, it's time to take advantage of rock-bottom sale prices and stock up so you can try blueberry-flavored everything. When we got a giant clamshell of them at Costco recently, they were quickly put to work in fruit salads, jam, and a blueberry-lime pound cake...but I think this creamy treat may have been my favorite. Give it a try and see if you agree!


Blueberry Ice Cream
(Adapted from Your Home-Based Mom)

Ingredients:

2 c. fresh or frozen blueberries
1 c. sugar
1/2 Tbsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
1 c. half and half
1 c. whipping cream

Directions:

1. Puree berries in a standard blender or with an immersion blender.

2. Heat pureed blueberries and sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Refrigerate until cold--totally, thoroughly cold. Your end result will be much creamier this way.

3. Mix in vanilla, salt, half and half, and whipping cream.

4. Pour into ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer directions.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Turkey Shepherd's Pie


For a long time, I was skeptical of making, ordering, or in general eating shepherd's pie. To the best of my knowledge I have never met a person who herds sheep, so it's not like I have a prejudice against shepherds. And trust me, I love pie. So neither of those things were the problem. Believe it or not, my reservations about this one-dish wonder came from eating it at my favorite restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. Like everything else on their menu, it sounded delicious: "Ground Beef, Mushrooms, Carrots, Peas, Zucchini, and Onions in a Delicious Sauce Covered with a Mashed Potato-Parmesan Cheese Crust." (Yes, I am quoting from their menu. No, I do not have it memorized....not all of it, anyway.) But for whatever reason, at least the one time I ordered it, it was Gross with a capital G. The veggies were hard to the point of being crunchy and something was definitely off in the sauce. I guess since then I figured that if even the wonder-working Cheesecake Factory couldn't pull off a good shepherd's pie, I certainly couldn't expect to. (Then again, it has been a staple of English cuisine since at least the 1790s...though I'm not entirely certain whether that's a pro or a con.)

Still, I am a big-time sucker for any one-dish meal that packs meat, vegetables, and a starch in one 9 x 13 (or 8 x 8 or 11 x 7) Pyrex dish. Freezable, portable, and compact can all be great qualities in a dinner, especially under certain circumstances, like taking a meal to someone recuperating from surgery, or your next ice cave spelunking trip. So despite my bad meal at Cheesecake Factory, and the fact that my shepherding experience is limited to shooing sheep out of the way so I can exit the petting zoo, at some point I decided to give shepherd's pie another try. I'm happy to report that I have now made this several times and the vegetables are not crunchy, nor is there anything funky about the sauce. In fact, the combination of juicy turkey and hearty veggies on bottom and creamy mashed potatoes on top is delicious! Great comfort food, made just a little healthier by swapping the traditional ground beef or lamb for turkey. Give it a try and you may decide it's a good thing this British casserole has endured for over two centuries. 

Turkey Shepherd's Pie
(Inspired by Skinnytaste)

Ingredients:

4 c. prepared mashed potatoes* 
1 lb. lean ground turkey
2 tsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
10 oz. frozen mixed vegetables
2 Tbsp. flour
1 c. chicken broth
2 tsp. tomato paste
1/2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
3/4 c. shredded Cheddar cheese 
paprika, salt, and pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a large sauté pan, brown the turkey and season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan and set aside to drain on paper towels. 

3. In the same pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté 2 minutes. Add celery and cook another 3-4 minutes. Add flour and season with salt and pepper. Add chicken broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, frozen vegetables, and cooked turkey, and mix well. Simmer on low 5-10 minutes.

4. Spread the meat mixture evenly on the bottom of an 11 x 7 baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes, then sprinkle with paprika and Cheddar.

5. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Let cool at least 5 minutes before serving.

*These can be leftover, made from frozen (like Trader Joe's excellent version), or made fresh by boiling 1 1/2 lbs of peeled potatoes for 20 minutes and mashing with 1/4 c. butter and several tablespoons of milk (season with salt and pepper to taste).



Sunday, June 8, 2014

"Top 40" Exercise Playlist


So, obviously, this is a blog about food. From its title, that's probably pretty clear. But sometimes it's nice to jaunt off on a little side trail that has something to do with another area of interest frequently paired with diet--like, ohhh, let's say exercise. To maintain good health, I try to exercise regularly, usually by doing yoga, running, or dancing around my living room like a Britney Spears backup dancer slash insane asylum escapee. Each of these activities is enjoyable in and of themselves, but I would be LOST were it not for the music that accompanies them. In fact, one of the main reasons I look forward to exercise is that, as a music lover, it's my chance to physically jam out all the feelings music evokes. (Which is why I highly recommend getting a treadmill in your garage so you can bring out some Beyonce dance arms while you run. Much less embarrassing to do in your garage than at the gym...not that I would know... Also in your garage you can run in mismatched Halloween socks and your rattiest tank top from high school. Again, not that I would know...) 

I'm always on the hunt for great music to work out to--the stuff that gets me singing along loud and busting my best moves. (Like "The Badger." Available upon request.) The search for body-rocking, soul-jiving workout music must not be uncommon, either, as I frequently see Facebook friends post asking for the same thing. Since replying in their comment thread with a 40-song playlist would probably come off as a bit excessive, I'll just post it here. Below are:

--24 songs to majorly rock out to (hardest phase of your workout)
--9 songs for medium speed (like a comfortable jog)
--6 songs that are low-key enough to warm up with but still definitely get you moving.

As far as I know, these are all available on Spotify. I hope they get you grooving like they do for me! Happy exercising!

Serious Jam Playlist (Intense Workout)

1. Hey Ya! by OutKast. 
Probably the best workout song of all time.

2. Don't Stop by Foster the People. 
Listen to The People! Don't stop!

3. Can't Stop Running by Todd Rundgren.
No better song to keep you running.

4. Girl by Beck.
Beck sounds like he uses a Random Lyrics Generator, but hey, the music's fun!

5. Shake Me Like a Monkey by Dave Matthews Band.
Killer song for cardio.

6. Djobi, Djoba by the Gipsy Kings.
Cho-kee-cho-bee, cho-kee-cho-ba!

7. Hummingbird Heartbeat by Katy Perry.
If I were stranded on a desert island with only one artist to work out to, I'd choose Katy Perry every time.

8. Waking Up in Vegas by Katy Perry.
Not that that would ever happen.

9. Birthday by Katy Perry.
But if it did, totally Katy Perry. 

10. Video Killed the Radio Star by The Presidents of the United States of America.
Anyone else associate this song with the soundtrack to The Wedding Singer?

11. Classic by MKTO.
Not to be confused with Vlasic by PIKL.

12. Home Run by Geoff Moore and the Distance.
Digging deep on this one, a CCM song from 1995. Cheesy but a lot of fun.

13. What I Like About You by The Romantics.
Uhhhh-huh! Hey!

14. Love Letter to Japan by The Bird and the Bee.
A lively introduction to The Bird and the Bee, if you don't know their stuff.

15. Canadian Idiot by Weird Al.
You'd be surprised how many of Weird Al's songs are compulsively danceable.

16. Hit Me by Dirty Loops.
This Swedish band is a-ma-zing. Look them up.

17. Here It Goes Again by OK Go.
Remember their famous treadmill video? It's a sign that you should get on the treadmill to this song.

18. Crazy in Love by Beyonce and Jay Z.
If these two can't make you dance, you are made of stone.

19. Good by Better Than Ezra.
Classic '90s jam.

20. I Love It by Icona Pop.
There's a clean version available on Spotify, FYI. Where she's a "90's chic," not a "90's you-know-what."

21. You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates.
A great feel-good song that has held up over time.

22. Tonight, Tonight by Hot Chelle Rae.
I don't know who the heck these guys are, but "there's a party on the rooftop, top of the world."

23. Out in the Twilight by Tally Hall.
Tally Hall has got to be the most talented, least appreciated band I know of.

24. Call It What You Want by Foster the People.
Another Foster the People one to round out the list.

Medium Jam:

26. My Name is Jonas by Weezer.
Weezer is a must for any workout playlist. Too bad none of their songs are longer than two minutes.

27. Girls Chase Boys by Ingrid Michaelson.
Get to see her in concert later this month--super excited!

28. What Is Life by George Harrison.
A beast of a moustache was not the only thing The Quiet Beatle could pull off. The man could also jam.

29. Every Heartbeat by Amy Grant.
This is still a really fun song, provided you can get over the 1991 drum sound.

30. I Want You Back by the Jackson 5.
For some reason, this section of the playlist has a lot of '70s stuff...

31. I Know What I Know by Paul Simon.
See above. Also, as an aside, I once had this song in my head for ten days straight.

32. Feelin' All Right by Joe Cocker.
Okay, end of the '70s streak! (Though it was probably the best decade for music in the 20th century, just sayin'.)

33. Rock and Roll by Eric Hutchinson.
A boppy, poppy little tune.

34. Ready to Run by the Dixie Chicks
Especially good to run to, for obvious reasons.

35. Party in the CIA by Weird Al.
Remember what I said about Weird Al?

Low-Key Jam:

36. Weight of the World by Chantal Kreviazuk.
Love this song for its free-and-happy feel.

37. Five O'Clock World by The Vogues.
Also known as the theme song for The Drew Carey Show.

38. Inside and Out by Feist.
Probably listened to this song 70+ times since getting this album for Christmas.

39. The House That Jack Built by Aretha Franklin.
Had to include a little Queen of Soul.

40. Eyes on the Prize by Sara Groves.
A song about keepin' on keepin' on.

41. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Pomplamoose.
Super fun cover of Wham!'s 1984 hit. 

Whoops, how did we get to 41? Guess I threw in a freebie. Anyway, for next time, back to your regularly scheduled program: FOOD!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

4 Condiments You Didn't Know You Could (Easily) Make Yourself

Many moons ago when I was in college, I somehow got recruited to help out with the production of the Senior Class Film. (At Wheaton College, where I went to school, every class made a film each year...some better than others...most better than this one.) I remember being really eager to be a big part of the production--after all, this was film we were talking about. Stardom! Fame! Playing to an audience of 2,000 who would promptly forget your class's really bad movie! Yeah, it sounded awesome. In the end, though, I made no appearance in the film and for some reason the only thing I was called upon to contribute was a batch of fake blood. 

What self-respecting college student wouldn't take a picture like this after making fake blood?
What stood out to me about making fake blood was how easy it was. Surprisingly easy...sinisterly, wickedly easy. The only ingredients were water, corn syrup, food coloring, and corn starch. You don't even have to go to the store to make blood! 

Years later, as I became an adult trying to whip up meals for my family instead of bowls of fake blood for a class film, I realized a similar truth about condiments--those flavorful accompaniments that meals so much more enjoyable. Most condiments are made of very basic ingredients, meaning that when you run out of the pre-purchased kind, they aren't usually too hard to throw together with things you already have on hand. Additional bonus: if you don't like added sugars/chemicals/preservatives in your food, making your own condiments makes you the chef calling the shots.


Some condiments are, of course, more complicated than others. I've made teriyaki sauce from scratch and it was a paaaaaiiin. (Though it tasted fantastic.) So I thought I'd share four common condiments that are super simple to make from ingredients you probably have on hand--and taste a whole lot better than the store-bought version.

Ketchup


Since we just talked about fake blood, let's start with ketchup, shall we? If you've never had homemade ketchup, you're missing out. I made this not long ago when to accompany meatloaf and was amazed at how much more flavorful ketchup can be when you make it yourself and add your own mixture of spices. Since it uses tomato paste as its base, here's a tip that has saved me many a can of wasted tomato paste: if you can't use a whole can, freeze the remainder in 1-Tablespoon portions. So easy to pull out of the freezer when you just need that little bit!

Look at the baby tomato paste plops!
Ketchup
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

1 6-oz. can tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. corn syrup
3/4 c. water

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Simmer gently until you get the consistency of ketchup, 5-10 minutes.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.


Tartar Sauce


I don't know about you, but I don't recall ever getting through an entire jar of tartar sauce before its expiration date. Mixing it up in a single-serving quantity is now my modus tartarus sauce-i. Fresher, tastier, and all-around better!

Tartar Sauce
(From Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

1 c. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish
1 Tbsp. minced onion (or 3/4 tsp. onion powder)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper

Directions:

In a small bowl, mix together mayo, pickle relish, and minced onion. Stir in lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 1 cup.


Chocolate Syrup


Here's an interesting blog post about the ingredients in Hershey's chocolate syrup. If you get to the bottom of what Hershey's and other companies put in their chocolate syrup, you're kind of ruined for ever wanting to purchase it again. When I think of stirring chocolate syrup into my milkshake or drizzling it over ice cream, I for one am not thinking Mmmmm....Polysorbate 60. I'm thinking of cocoa powder, sugar, and vanilla, which is what this homemade version contains. It's definitely thinner than the commercial version, which may take some getting used to, but it sweetens and chocolifies just as well (and you can keep thickening it with corn starch).

Chocolate Syrup
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

scant 3/4 c. water
3/4 c. white sugar
1/2 c. cocoa powder
dash salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. corn starch

Directions:

Combine the water, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and begins to simmer. Stir in vanilla. Slowly whisk in cornstarch until syrup has reached desired thickness.

Makes about 1 cup.

Taco Seasoning


I've been using this taco seasoning mix for years and have no intention of ever going back to the store-bought kind. When I start running low on it, I just set out my little assembly line of spices, systematically go through them with my measuring spoons, and ta-da! In moments I have a little snap-top Ziploc container (the size I used to cart my kids' pacifiers around in) filled with taco seasoning. A good rule of thumb for using this mixture is 3 tablespoons per pound of meat. 

Taco Seasoning
(From Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Directions:

In a small bowl, mix all ingredients. Store in an air-tight container.

Makes 1 ounce.


Once you start making your own condiments, there's no going back. Don't be surprised if you find the cleaner ingredients and better, bolder flavors of the homemade versions keep you coming back to make just the little more effort it takes to whip them up yourself.