Butternut Squash "Cream" Sauce

by Laura

This is a great meal when you are looking for something comforting but not trying to eat a 1000 calorie, cream-laden bowl of pasta. The pureed butternut squash makes the sauce creamy without adding any dairy and I used Barilla Plus pasta, which has added fiber and protein (and tastes much better than whole wheat pasta in my opinion!). It is also great leftover for lunch!

Served with roasted brussels sprouts and balsamic

Served with roasted brussels sprouts and balsamic

Sausage, Spinach and Butternut Squash Pasta

Recipe base from Skinny Taste

8 oz. pasta (I used penne)

4-5 links of spicy italian turkey sausage (chicken or pork would work too!)

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup chopping red onion

2 cloves garlic minced

1 lb butternut squash peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (the pre-cut and peeled kind at the grocery store works great)

2 cups baby spinach

3 tbsp grated parmesan

5-7 sage leaves thinly sliced

Red pepper flakes to taste

Heat a large frying pan on medium heat. Remove the casing from the sausage and cook sausage until browned through, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. While sausage is cooking, boil a large pot of water and cook the butternut squash until soft enough to easily stick a fork in it - about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the squash and place in a blender, keeping the water boiling for the pasta. Cook pasta according to the package instructions. If you can remember (I never do!!) reserve one cup of pasta water before you drain the pasta. Season the squash with salt and pepper and then puree it. I needed some water to get the squash to actually puree, so add a little if you need it. Remove sausage once cooked through and set aside. In the same pan, add the oil and cook onions and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the pureed butternut squash, spinach and parmesan into the pan and stir until spinach is wilted. Add sage and stir again. Add sausage and pasta and combine until the whole pan of is heated through. I topped mine with some red pepper flakes and another sprinkle of parmesan. Enjoy!

Celery Soup

by Laura

My roommate (now he could also be called my fiance - woohoo!) is generally very easy to please when it comes to food and complimentary of my cooking. However, there are a just a couple of foods he really doesn't like that I enjoy, so every once in a while I try to sneak it into my cooking and convince him he actually does like whatever it is. If my dad hates cheese but can love lasagna, I thought surely I could get John to like celery if combined with the right ingredients. Well, I was wrong. Because this celery soup was so good and not even all that healthy, and still...not for John. 

I thought it was delicious but second guessed myself without a second opinion. So, I took leftovers to work and got confirmation that it is, in fact, very tasty to anyone who doesn't hate celery. Also, easy to throw together and could be made much healthier by reducing both cream and butter quantities (which I already did from the original recipe).

Just one photo - sorry. Working on it!

Just one photo - sorry. Working on it!

Celery Soup

adapted from Bon Appetit

1 head of celery, chopped

1 potato (I used russet), peeled and chopped

1/2 of a large onion, chopped

1/2 stick butter

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cups low sodium broth (chicken or vegetable)

1/4 cup fresh dill plus extra for garnish

1/3 cup heavy cream

Olive Oil and flaky sea salt for serving

Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add celery, potato and onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook stirring until the onion softens, about 10 minutes. Add the broth and simmer until the potato is tender, another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the dill and puree with an emersion blender (or transfer to a blender and puree).  Stir in cream and serve right away with drizzled olive oil and flaky sea salt. Garnish with fresh dill or celery leaves.

Weeknight Dinner File: Spaghetti Marinara

by Elissa

In order for a meal to enter the weeknight dinner rotation at our house, it has to clear a couple of challenging hurdles: 1) it cannot take more than 40 minutes to prepare, from start to finish, and 2) it has to be something that all four members of our family will at least contemplate eating (bonus points if everyone is enthusiastic). I also try to fix meals that are reasonably healthy. I thought I'd try to highlight one of our standbys, in case any of you face similar challenges.

Earlier this year, the New York Times ran a recipe for classic marinara sauce (adapted from Lidia Bastianich). The total time for this recipe was 25 minutes, so it met our time limit. It's a very simple tomato sauce, but it hits all the right notes. Josh and I love it, and the kids will sometimes try it (don't get me started about how much they loved tomato sauce as babies and toddlers and how they refuse to eat it now!)

Because this recipe is so simple, the quality of the ingredients really matters.

 I'm partial to these San Marzano crushed tomatoes, and Bionaturae's whole wheat spaghetti is my new favorite whole grain pasta.

 I'm partial to these San Marzano crushed tomatoes, and Bionaturae's whole wheat spaghetti is my new favorite whole grain pasta.

I also try to buy California olive oil, either this type from Trader Joe's or the California Olive Ranch Everyday Olive Oil (sometimes our local Safeway has it on sale for a great price). 

I also try to buy California olive oil, either this type from Trader Joe's or the California Olive Ranch Everyday Olive Oil (sometimes our local Safeway has it on sale for a great price). 

The recipe has you slice the garlic cloves, rather than crushing them.  The accompanying article claims that this makes for a less overpowering garlic flavor. 

Sliced garlic cozying up with plenty of extra virgin olive oil

Sliced garlic cozying up with plenty of extra virgin olive oil

Then it's just a matter of adding a 28-ounce can of tomatoes, along with a little water and a pinch of red pepper flakes. After about 20 minutes of simmering, you've got some excellent homemade marinara. I use that simmering time to throw together a salad. Add some al dente spaghetti, some parmesan cheese, and a glass of Chianti and you've got dinner!

Weeknight Marinara (adapted from the New York Times and Lidia Bastianich)

1/4 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 28-ounce can tomatoes (I like the San Marzano crushed tomatoes)

pinch of red pepper flakes

sprig of fresh basil (optional)

salt to taste

Slice the garlic while you put a large skillet on medium heat. Add the olive oil and the garlic and cook for just a minute or two, before the garlic browns. Pour the tomatoes into the pan, and pour about a cup of water into the empty can. Use the water to rinse out the can and pour into the pan. Add the red pepper and a pinch of salt, put the basil (if using) on top of the sauce.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened. Remove basil, taste for salt and serve on top of spaghetti or other pasta. 


Plum Torte

By Katherine

Elissa sent me this plum torte recipe years ago, and it is a keeper. It is so much of a keeper that the New York Times bowed to reader demand and made its appearance an annual fall tradition for twelve years. The key to this cake is the Italian prune plums that crown it; they are smaller than regular plums and egg-shaped, and are typically available only in September and October. 

I saw these beauties at my local market last week and snapped them up immediately.  Prior to arriving at the store, I was planning to make a pluot galette for a family birthday celebration, but my plans changed as soon as I spotted the Italian plums. And I have to say, this cake is definitely easier than a galette - no pastry crust to deal with and the chilling and rolling that goes with it. You just mix sugar, butter, flour, baking powder, eggs, and salt all together and put the batter in a springform pan. Then you arrange the halved plums over the top, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake. You can easily have this cake in the oven within 20 minutes of starting (though you do need softened butter, which requires a little planning ahead). 

As the cake bakes, something magical happens to those plums. They turn jammy and sour-sweet and sink down into the cake batter. The finished product is truly excellent with vanilla ice cream. 

Find the full plum torte recipe here

Peanut Chicken Broccoli Salad

By Katherine

I have a love-hate relationship with using Pinterest to find new recipes. I find it's a great way to flag recipes that interest me on a variety of sites, and I occasionally find something that looks good just by trolling Pinterest's food and drink section, but there is also a heck of a lot of unhealthy garbage on there. I'm happy to say that this salad is one of my Pinterest success stories. I found it during one of my browsing sessions, and I made only a couple of minor modifications to the original recipe. I love that it is super simple to pull together (especially if you have leftover cooked chicken), and it is equally great for dinner or to pack for lunch the next day.  Do you use Pinterest? If so, connect with me here!

Peanut Chicken Broccoli Salad

Adapted from Sunset

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime's worth)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
  • garlic clove, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 1 pound broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro

In a large bowl, whisk the first eight ingredients together until smooth. Taste and see if you think it needs some added sweetness (if you use natural peanut butter, this may be the case). If so, add the sugar and whisk. Add the remaining ingredients and toss until the dressing is evenly incorporated. 

Cilantro Lime Gluten Free Chicken Marinade

by Laura

If you know me well - or if you have ever shared a meal with me - you probably know that I am a big fan of gluten (or rather all the delicious things that happen to contain it). A number of friends have recently either been diagnosed with Celiac disease or have gluten sensitivity or are trying to be skinnier and blame gluten.

image.jpeg

I tend to have anxiety when I am in charge of cooking and there is a gluten free person in the mix, which is never really necessary since there are plenty of delicious meals that don't have it. I found this recipe by Googling "gluten free chicken marinade"  when a big group of college friends rented a house in Calistoga, one of whom has been recently diagnosed with Celiac disease. (For the record, this friend has a legitimate Gluten allergy as evidenced by her giving up beer - no one used to love Coors Light like J. Gal!)

This recipe is so simple and really delicious--I have already made it again for a non-gluten free people (but with a side of toast this time, obviously). It is great as tacos, over a salad or just on its own.

Adapted from Gluten Free Anna

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or tenders

1/3 cup olive oil

Juice of 4 limes

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 red onion sliced in wedges (that are big enough to not fall through the grill grates if you're grilling)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

Salt and Pepper

Place all ingredients into a large ziplock bag and kind of massage the marinade into the chicken breasts and let sit for 30 minutes to several hours. Preheat grill over medium-high heat and grill until cooked through (about 6 minutes per side depending on how thick your chicken breasts are).


Chickpeas, Chorizo and Goat Cheese

by Laura

I have been on a major goat cheese kick lately -- adding it really makes almost every recipe taste better! So when my friend Lisa sent me this recipe from Food 52 and said it was done in 20 minutes and delicious, I was sold. I have made it twice now - once with chicken sausage and once with vegan soy chorizo from Trader Joe's. I actually prefer the soy option but if that is not your cup of tea, any sausage will work! This recipe is truly versatile so don't feel constrained to these ingredients. Poach an egg and throw it on top. Serve it next to toast or rice if you need carbs (ahem, looking in the mirror). Add spinach as the original recipe suggests. Go crazy. 

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

These are one of my favorite new discoveries at TJ's. Great in salads, pasta or this dish! **Trader Joe's marketing people, let me know if you want to start paying me for all these endorsements - thanks!

These are one of my favorite new discoveries at TJ's. Great in salads, pasta or this dish! **Trader Joe's marketing people, let me know if you want to start paying me for all these endorsements - thanks!

2 Trader Joe's Hot and sweet cherry peppers, chopped into small pieces (could also use raw bell peppers or roasted red peppers packed in oil)

6 oz. Trader Joe's soy chorizo (note the casing on this is actually plastic so definitely remove it!)

Small dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Small dash of paprika

1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Chives 

Parsley

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions, garlic and peppers and cook stirring frequently until the onion is soft - about 5 minutes. Add the chorizo breaking it up and mixing it with onion mixture. Add paprika and cayenne and cook another 3 minutes or so until the chorizo is warm. Add chickpeas and heat through. Remove from heat and add goat cheese, parsley and chives. Serve warm and save the rest for lunch tomorrow.



Tipsy Palmer Cocktail

By Katherine

Last weekend I was trying to come up with a drink to take along to a picnic. It was going to be a warm day, so I wanted something refreshing and cool. My thoughts turned to an Arnold Palmer, which is a classic combination of iced tea and lemonade, but I wanted to give it a little kick. I started googling and learned that many people add vodka to an Arnold Palmer (and some call that concoction a John Daly). You can also cut out a couple of steps by serving sweet tea vodka (Jeremiah Weed and Seagram's both make versions, along with several other brands) with lemonade. However, I'm not a big fan of vodka, and the sweet tea version is a little too sweet for me.  When I think of iced tea and lemonade, I think of sitting on a porch somewhere in the south, and the spirit that best matches that setting is bourbon. After a little more searching, I found this article, which calls the combination of iced tea, lemonade, and bourbon a Tipsy Palmer.  My new favorite drink of the summer was born. 

The ingredients (from left): lemonade, lemons, bourbon, iced tea, simple syrup

The ingredients (from left): lemonade, lemons, bourbon, iced tea, simple syrup

The Tipsy Palmer

2 parts iced tea

2 parts lemonade

1 part bourbon

Ice

Lemon slices for serving (if you're feeling fancy)

Stir all ingredients together and serve over ice. This is a very basic formula and you can make it as do-it-yourself (or not) as you like. I initially intended to make my own iced tea and lemonade, so I could control the sweetness, but I reconsidered when I saw the price of lemons at the store (I was making a big pitcher for a group, so it would have taken a lot of lemons). I decided instead to use bottled lemonade but then tweak it with some fresh-squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup as needed. I found the Trader Joe's lemonade I used was plenty sweet for me, so I didn't end up adding any additional sweetener, but I know there are those who like their iced tea super sweet (looking at my brother-in-law Josh right now).  I did make my own iced tea by brewing black tea according to the directions on the box and then chilling it for several hours. You could definitely experiment with different types of tea, or start with bottled iced tea if you're pressed for time.  For a party-sized amount (about 12 servings), I used 6 cups iced tea, 6 cups lemonade, 3 cups bourbon, and the juice of 4 lemons.  Find a porch somewhere and enjoy!

Black Bean and Corn Salad

By Katherine

I consider black bean and corn salad a summertime staple - it showcases sweet summer corn, and it's great for picnics and barbecues because it travels well (and pairs great with burgers and other cookout food). This is something I make without a recipe, and it's a little different every time, depending on what I have lying around. I've used red onion instead of green, red wine vinegar instead of or in addition to lime juice, and I've added avocado, tomatoes, and even a diced mango before, all with good results. In case you don't already have your own favorite black bean and corn salad in your repertoire, I thought I'd share my basic formula. 

Black Bean and Corn Salad

Serves 6

4 ears corn

2 green onions, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 15.5-oz. cans of black beans, drained

2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo (or to taste), minced

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Juice of 2 limes

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, lower your corn cobs into the water carefully, and cook for 3 minutes.  Remove the corn from the water and set aside. Allow the corn to cool while you prep the other ingredients. As you chop the other vegetables, add them to a large mixing bowl. 

When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off of the cob. I like to cut the (non-stem) end off to create a flat surface to brace against the cutting board while I cut the kernels off vertically. I also just ran across this technique online, which I may try next time I make this. Add the corn kernels to the other vegetables in the mixing bowl, as well as the drained black beans, chipotle peppers, and cilantro, and mix. Squeeze the limes over the mixture, add the cumin and salt, mix again, and taste for seasoning. If you have the time, allow the salad to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld. 

Sausage Orecchiette

by Laura

Orecchiette! One of the best underused pasta shapes and it is ear-shaped -- is there anything more appetizing?! Sometimes they can be tough to find at a smaller market or Trader Joe's, but they hold a not to saucy sauce perfectly so next time you see a bag/box in the pasta aisle, do yourself a favor and grab one. This recipe requires just a few basic ingredients and can easily be thrown together on a weeknight. Adapted from The Food Network.

Ingredients:

Chop all this up while the water is boiling for the pasta...

1/2 package (6 oz) orecchiette

2-3 pork or chicken sausages, casings removed

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 scallions

1 clove garlic sliced

1/2 carton (4 oz) crimini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 carton mini heirloom tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), sliced in half

1/2 cup grated parmesan

2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped

Red pepper flakes to taste

 

Bring salted pot of water to boil to cook pasta. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan and add sausage, breaking it up as it browns. Once cooked through, add garlic and onions and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook three minutes then add mushrooms. Add cherry tomatoes. Once the pasta is cooked through, use a slotted spoon to transfer it into the sauce pan with all of the other ingredients (bringing a little bit of the pasta water along with it to smooth out the sauce). Give it a few stirs, add parmesan, fresh basil and red pepper flakes if desired and serve!

Maybe even better as leftovers!


Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint

By Katherine

I am posting a quick shout-out today to my favorite summer salad of late: a refreshing combination of arugula, watermelon, feta cheese, and mint. If you haven't tried this combination yet, you should right away. The watermelon and mint make it taste like summer in a bowl, while the arugula lends a bit of a spicy punch, and the feta gives it always-welcome creaminess and saltiness.

I originally had this combination of flavors at one of my favorite San Diego restaurants, Urban Solace. Sadly, they no longer have the watermelon salad on the current menu, but as I recall, they also added cucumber, tomatoes, and dried currants to their version. There are lots of ways to play with these ingredients, but recently I have been following the recipe of one of my tried-and-true cooking gurus, Ina Garten.  You can find her recipe here.  The only change I made was to add 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts for a little extra texture. I also found that I had plenty of vinaigrette left over for a second salad a few days later; alternatively, you could skip making Ina's dressing and use any other vinaigrette you have on hand.  We have eaten this salad three times in the last week (in part because even the baby watermelon that I bought yields a ton of watermelon) and we're not sick of it yet - I hope it makes it into your summer rotation too!

Asian (Mayo-Free!) Slaw

by Laura

I've always wondered how much coleslaw is thrown away on an annual basis since it has to be the most poorly made and unsolicited side dish provided at restaurants. The mayo-drenched, soggy type that has become widely known really is terrible, but I've come across quite a few delicious ones that are fresh and healthy and even make you want to eat cabbage. This is one version I adapted from Dave Lieberman. As with most salads, you can modify this to include any veggies you love or get rid of those you aren't so fond of.

 

Ingredients:

For the slaw:

3 cups cabbage (red, purple or a combination), sliced thin

1 cup shredded carrots

Served on top of and on the side of a salmon burger (salmon marinated in Trader Joe's Soyaki for 20 minutes then grilled for 8 minutes flipping once), with avocado and Sriracha mayo.

Served on top of and on the side of a salmon burger (salmon marinated in Trader Joe's Soyaki for 20 minutes then grilled for 8 minutes flipping once), with avocado and Sriracha mayo.

1 cup sugar snap peas cut into 1 inch pieces on the diagonal

1/2 cup red onion sliced thin

Sesame seeds sprinkled on top if desired

For the dressing:

1/8 cup soy sauce

Juice of 2 limes

1/8 cup vegetable oil

1 tbsp ginger, peeled and minced or grated

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp sesame oil

salt and pepper to taste

Grilled Pork Chops and Roasted Broccoli

By Katherine

Today I'm going to share with you one my go-to weeknight meals: grilled pork chops and roasted broccoli. This is easy, tasty, and relatively healthy, which is why it's made it onto our weekly rotation. Ordinarily, I just roast the broccoli with olive oil, salt, and pepper, but this week I was inspired by the "broccoflower" dish we had at Laura's birthday lunch on Monday at MB Post, and the results were great. If you don't have a grill, you can broil the pork chops instead. 

Grilled Pork Chops and Roasted Broccoli

Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Serves 2

2 bone-in pork chops (thicker is better)

1 head broccoli, cut into small florets

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)

1 tablespoon capers, drained

1 oz. parmesan cheese, grated

Take the pork chops out of the refrigerator to come up to room temperature while you preheat the grill over moderately high heat and the oven to 400 degrees.  Pat the pork chops dry, then rub with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and about 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season the chops with salt and pepper. 

Toss the broccoli with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes (I like to do this in my roasting pan so as not to dirty an extra bowl). Roast the broccoli at 400 for about 20 minutes, until the edges of the florets are browned and crispy. 

While the broccoli is in the oven, grill the pork chops. First, sear the chops over the hottest part of the grill for about a minute per side, then move them to a cooler spot and continue cooking with the grill closed for about 10 minutes more, turning once halfway through, until the chops are done.  (Thicker chops will take longer.) The finished chops should be firm to the touch and their juices should run mostly clear (a slight pinkish hue is okay). When cut into, the flesh should be pale (again, a little pink is okay).  Let the pork chops rest while you finish preparing the broccoli. 

Once the broccoli is done roasting, toss with the capers and the remaining lemon juice. Sprinkle the grated parmesan over the top and serve alongside the pork chops. 

Jaleo-style Spinach

by Elissa

Jaleo is a DC institution: a great Spanish tapas restaurant that is a consistently fun and delicious place to eat. I have eaten my way through most of the extensive menu over the years. But one dish that I insist on ordering every time I go is the Espinacas a la catalana. Spinach is not really my favorite green--either when I'm cooking at home or dining out. But this combination of spinach, raisins, pine nuts and apples is much greater than the sum of its parts.  One day I finally thought to Google the recipe, and I found a recipe from Jose Andres, the chef-owner of Jaleo, in the Wall Street Journal. The recipe was so simple that I thought there was no way it could be as good as the restaurant version, but when I tried it I couldn't believe how good it was (not to mention easy to prepare).

My take on Espinacas a la Catalana

My take on Espinacas a la Catalana

I think the keys to this dish are starting with a hot pan, letting the apples caramelize, and making sure that your pine nuts get nice and toasty. And don't be shy with the salt. I'm delighted to be able to add this dish to my repertoire, particularly since prewashed baby spinach is so easy to come by these days!

Jose Andres's Espinacas a la Catalana (adapted from the Wall Street Journal)

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 apple, peeled and diced into half-inch cubes

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup raisins

12 oz. baby spinach

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the apple cubes and let them caramelize, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes.  Add the pine nuts and stir them around until they turn golden brown; stay close by, as these suckers can go from toasted to burned in just a few seconds. Add the spinach and cook until fully wilted and combined with the other ingredients.  Season with salt and serve!

Grilled Cheese with Fried Sage

by Laura

I had the unfortunate experience of recently analyzing my monthly expenses and having to face the fact (that I really already knew but didn't want to admit) that my largest expense BY FAR is eating and drinking out. With that in mind, I am trying to be better about making dinner at home more often and making it something to get excited about. A good way to do that is to fry sage in butter and oil, put that between cheese on really good bread, and then grill that all in the sage-infused oil butter. (Keep in mind this post is about saving money, not eating healthy)

This is inspired by my favorite pizza of all time at Mozza, a white pizza topped with fried sage that has some crazy ingredients including truffle-laced sottocenere and fennel ash, whatever that is. Here is a recipe for that if you want to go crazy.

If you only have the ingredients available at the Manhattan Beach Von's, this is not a bad substitute!

Cut it in narrow pieces and call it an appetizer!

Cut it in narrow pieces and call it an appetizer!

Ingredients:

Crusty French or Italian bread, cut into medium-thin slices

Sage!

Sage!

Fresh sage leaves

Provolone, fontina, mozzarella, or some combination of whatever white cheese you have on hand, sliced

Butter

Olive Oil

Sea salt flakes (I like Maldon)

Heat about 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil (enough so the bottom of your frying pan is well covered) over medium-high heat in a small frying pan. Once the oil and butter is heated through, place individual sage leaves into pan. Fry for about 1 minute on each side. Remove from oil and set aside. Top bread with a slice of cheese, fried sage, then another piece of cheese and bread and place in heated sage oil. Cook for several minutes until bread is golden brown. Flip and cook on the other side until cheese is melted on both sides. Remove and sprinkle with salt flakes.

Serve with green salad, (store bought) tomato soup, and a glass of Justin Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99 at Costco) and you have a pretty great weeknight dinner.


Flank Steak and Brussels Sprouts Stir-Fry

By Katherine

Over the past few months, I got into a terrible pattern of not planning ahead for weeknight dinners. Too often, I was starting to think about what's for dinner at 6 pm as I was leaving the office--which would usually result in a meal that was either disappointing, very late, or expensive (Thai take-out, I'm looking at you). It also meant going to the grocery store way too often. I decided I can do much better, and I've been trying to turn over a new menu-planning leaf.  This means setting aside some time on Sundays to plan meals for the week, create a master shopping list, and brave the Sunday crowds at our local Whole Foods.  It definitely takes some effort, but I think it is already paying off in better meals and reduced stress during the week.  I'm about 2 weeks into this new regimen--we'll see if I can keep it up!

This new plan has allowed me to explore some new recipes, which has been fun. I'm still trying to keep it simple and relatively quick, though, and stir-frying is a great option for those concerns.  Stir-fries are flexible, since you can use whatever vegetables and proteins you have lying around or look good at the supermarket, and they cook fast. I also love that if you add some steamed brown rice, you have a whole meal, ready to go. The key to this recipe, and stir-frying generally, is to prep everything in advance, since once you start cooking, everything will go very quickly.  

Flank Steak and Brussels Sprouts Stir-Fry

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Serves 2-4, depending on appetite

3 tablespoons oyster sauce

3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1 pound brussels sprouts, halved if small, quartered if large

1/2 pound flank steak, thinly sliced against the grain

Kosher salt

4 scallions, sliced (keep green tops separate from white and light green parts)

3 garlic cloves, sliced

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated or chopped

1 cup sliced mushrooms

2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on a diagonal

1 jalapeño, sliced into rings (seeds and all)

Steamed brown rice for serving

Measure 1/4 cup water in a measuring cup. Add oyster sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, and cornstarch and whisk together. Set sauce aside. 

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the brussels sprouts and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown, about 4 minutes. Cover the pan and cook until the sprouts are still crisp but cooked through, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer the sprouts to a plate or bowl and set aside.

Season the steak with salt. Increase the heat to high, add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the skillet, and turn on the exhaust fan over your stove to avoid any unpleasant smoke alarm interruptions. When the oil is just starting to smoke, add the steak in a single layer and cook until nicely browned, about 3 minutes, then flip to quickly cook the other side, about 30 seconds more. Add the steak to the reserved brussels sprouts.

Reduce the heat to medium, and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet. Add the scallion whites/light greens, garlic, and ginger and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute, adjusting the heat as needed to make sure the garlic doesn't burn. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are starting to soften, about 5 minutes, then add the carrots and jalapeño and cook about 2 minutes more, until the carrots are also slightly softened.

Return the brussels sprouts and steak to skillet and add the sauce. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the sauce is thickened, about 3 minutes. Serve with steamed rice and garnish with scallion greens.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

By Katherine

Here's another favorite from the Cary Hart archives: chocolate chip banana bread.  It's probably closer to the cake end of the spectrum, but I like to call it bread so it remains an acceptable breakfast food. Our mom made this regularly throughout our childhoods, and I even received a few of these as care packages while away at college (and beyond).  As bananas turn overripe, I toss them in the freezer so I always have some on hand to make this. Just let them thaw on the counter as you're letting the butter come up to room temperature, and you'll be good to go. 

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 1/4 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

2 1/2 ripe bananas, mashed to make 1 cup

1/4 cup yogurt or buttermilk (or milk with a few drops of vinegar added)

1 tsp. vanilla

3/4 to 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an angel food cake pan. Cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs.  In a separate bowl, mix the bananas, yogurt, and vanilla. In another bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. Add the dry ingredients to the batter in thirds, alternating with the banana mixture.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Pour into the prepared pan and back for 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean (expect some melty chocolate smears, though). 

Cous Cous Salad with Peanut Dressing

by Laura

Even though I didn't have a good excuse like an amazing New Zealand vacation, I too have been overindulging lately, so wanted to make a big batch of something relatively healthy that I could take to work for lunch. This is a very filling salad, packed with veggies and whole grains and it also is very tasty if I do say so myself. And the variations are endless! Looking for something gluten free? Sub quinoa for cous cous! Feeding a vegan? Swap out agave for the honey in the dressing. Want more protein? Go crazy and add chicken. And unlike most salads, this one can sit in its dressing for days and doesn't get soggy!

Cous Cous Salad with Peanut Dressing

adapted from Ambitious Kitchen

Ingredients:

For the Salad

3 cups cole slaw mix (purple and green cabbage, shredded carrots)

1 red bell pepper, seeds and core removed, sliced

1 cup whole wheat cous cous (quinoa or rice would work well, too)

2 scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced (or 1/4 cup chopped red onion)

3/4 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup roasted, salted peanuts, chopped

For the dressing:

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

2 tsp. finely chopped or grated fresh ginger

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp olive oil

Sriracha or other hot sauce to taste

water to thin as necessary

Before chopping up all of the veggies, cook cous cous to package instructions and allow to cool. Meanwhile, combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. Place peanut butter and honey in microwave safe bowl and heat for about 20 seconds. Add the remainder of the dressing ingredients and whisk until combined. Add water or other ingredients until dressing is at the desired flavor and consistency. Add half of the dressing to the cous cous then combine cous cous and salad and top with the rest of the dressing.


Post-Vacation Detox Salad

By Katherine

Sean and I just got back from an incredible two and half weeks in New Zealand. The scenery was stunning, the people were unbelievably friendly, and the food and wine were both plentiful and delicious.  We may have overindulged, just a bit. 

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Upon our return, we both decided that we needed to try to undo a little of the damage done while we were gone and have a little health detox of sorts.  For us, this means cutting down on alcohol and increasing our salad and vegetable intake.  Luckily, I was inspired by an amazing salad I had in Christchurch and decided to try to recreate it at home, with a few modifications.  The inspiration was the spiced lamb salad at Pomeroy's Old Brewery Inn in Christchurch (if you ever find yourself in Christchurch, definitely go here - great beer, food, and atmosphere).  It was a mediterranean-style salad, with roasted zucchini and eggplant, feta, olives, tomatoes, and a mint-yogurt dressing, topped with slices of grilled lamb and a spicy red sauce.  My re-creation at home omitted the lamb and the tomatoes (to keep it vegetarian, and because I forgot them, respectively) and added toasted pine nuts for a little crunch. I think it turned out pretty great - it was delicious but still felt healthy.  Putting roasted vegetables on salads is one of my new favorite tricks - it makes the salad feel more substantial, but it's still healthy since it's vegetables. This mint-yogurt dressing is also yummy, low-fat, and could be used for all sorts of things (sauce for grilled meat, dip for veggies, etc.) 

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Post-Vacation Detox Salad

2 small to medium zucchini, sliced

1 medium eggplant, cubed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

5 oz. mesclun or other salad greens

1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped

1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced 

1/4 cup Kalamata olives 

1/4 cup English cucumber, thinly sliced

3 radishes, thinly sliced

2 oz. feta cheese

2 tablespoons pine nuts

Mint-Yogurt Dressing:

1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt

1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

Juice from 1 lemon

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the zucchini and eggplant with the olive oil, season to taste with salt and pepper, and roast for approximately 25 minutes (you want some color on the veggies for flavor).  While the vegetables are roasting, make the dressing by whisking the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, and mint together.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside (you want the flavors to have a little time to meld together).  Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over low heat until golden brown, stirring or shaking frequently (about 3-5 minutes). Don't walk away and forget about them, which will result in tragically burned pine nuts. (You could also toast them in the oven while the vegetables are roasting; just be sure to check them frequently.)  Once the zucchini and eggplant are done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool for about five minutes. In a large salad bowl, layer the remaining salad ingredients, topping with the roasted vegetables and pine nuts.  Toss everything with the mint-yogurt dressing and serve with hot sauce on the side for those who might like some spice. 

 

Lime Pudding Cakes

by Elissa

Are you looking for a dessert that tastes like spring? Something that is satisfying but not too heavy? I have got the recipe for you, and it's great for entertaining because you can make it a day or two in advance.

This recipe comes from The Hay Day Country Market Cookbook, which I received as a gift 15 years ago.  Although the book is not new or famous, I go back to it several times a year for delicious recipes that are simultaneously classic and unique. One of my tried-and-true favorites is their recipe for key lime pudding cakes, although I usually end up substituting regular limes for the key limes. The recipe is kind of crazy because you start with a uniform batter, but as it bakes it separates into a delicate cake atop a layer of smooth pudding. It really is like a magic trick.

Folding whipped egg whites

Folding whipped egg whites

The key to the magic is the whipped egg whites that you fold into the batter. As the puddings bake, the egg whites and flour rise to the top, creating the cake layer and leaving behind something that tastes like lime curd.

Here's the cake

Here's the cake

And here is the pudding layer

And here is the pudding layer

It's a great recipe to have in your arsenal. If you add a full 2/3 cup of lime juice the cakes will have a real bite to them; if you think you'd prefer something a little milder I'd recommend trying 1/2 cup of lime juice. And I bet these would be amazing with Meyer lemons.

(Key) Lime Pudding Cakes

3 Tbs unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 eggs, separated

6 Tb. flour

pinch of alt

2 cups whole milk

2/3 cup fresh lime or key lime juice

Preheat the oven to 325.  Grease 8 ramekins and have a roasting pan and kettle of hot water ready (they need to cook in a water bath). Cream the butter and sugar together (it will be very crumbly). Add in the yolks one at a time, beating until smooth.  Add the flour and salt and then the milk, stirring until smooth. Stir in the lime juice and set aside. Bring the kettle of water to a boil while you whip the egg whites until they are firm but not totally dry.  Fold the whites into the batter. Divide the batter into the prepared ramekins and arrange them in a roasting pan; pour the boiling water in to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until tops are very lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove from the water bath and allow to cool. You can serve them warm, at room temperature, or you can cover and chill them for up to 3 days.