Baked apple crisp

Last week was a glorious week.  I turned in the written portion of those tests I’ve been moaning about, and then one of my best friends and my sister ended up in town for work.  We went on an eating bender, of course, because that’s what I do whenever there’s out-of-towners to take the blame.  Among the highlights: black pepper broth and tofu skins at cramped, hipster-filled Mission Chinese (oh, and we ran into Martha Stewart on our way out the door, which felt like a very misplaced celebrity siting — her aura of handcrafted holiday wreaths clashed with the gritty Mission), a winter squash and parsnip soup at Outerlands, vegan charcuterie at Gather, and a tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar (I need to learn how to cook Burmese food…I am so in love…).

You might think that would be the end of it, but my sister and I decided that there should also be dessert.  Of course!  So, on Monday night, after the restaurant tour was winding down, we made a baked apple with a crisp topping.  Warm, sweet apples almost make me glad it’s getting cold out.

Teel and I tried out a bunch of different apples after being inspired by a recent Saveur test on baked apples.  We used a Macintosh, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and a Braeburn.  Like Saveur, we found that the Macintosh (not pictured) and Granny Smith apples split open/exploded.  The Braeburn looked the best, but it wasn’t juicy enough.  The Golden Delicious turned out to be our favorite, which was surprising since neither of us love them raw.

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Zucchini pie with yeasted olive oil crust

I am so happy with this savory pie.  Here’s the deal: the filling takes about four minutes to pull together and you can use any pie shell you want.  You can make this recipe in a snap with a pre-made crust, or you can give it a little more love and make the crust yourself.

I went with a yeasted olive oil crust from one of my most favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  I usually shy away from tart and quiche type things for dinner because, with a buttery crust, they can be pretty high in calories.  This crust is lighter.  In many ways, it’s like a thin pizza dough enriched with olive oil and an egg.  It’s seriously very easy to make — not fussy and it comes together within a few minutes.  I think it’s much easier than a regular pie dough.  All you need is a bit of time to let the dough rise.

If you prefer a traditional shell, I am currently digging on this recipe for a for a flaky rye pie crust on 101 cookbooks.  I would definitely go the beer route for the liquid in the crust.  A Pilsner style would be perfect.

So, on to the filling.  Ever since that zucchini casserole, I’ve been thinking about a pie.  The flavors in this pie, white wine vinegar and mustard, draw from a southern French salad dressing recipe a friend taught me a while back.  The dressing, combined with Gruyere, pulls together a very flavorful dish.

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Amaranth and quinoa porridge

Every PhD student’s life is marked by a bit of academically sanctioned torture that’s known as a “qualifying exam.”  In my case, the qualifying exam is a month long written test followed by a 3 hour oral exam.  It’s a scary test, but preparing for it is even scarier — my desk is currently hidden under teetering piles of papers and books.  Thankfully, the prep is almost over.  I start my exams in 10 days.

Because of this exam situation, I haven’t left my desk as often as I’d like over the past month.  That also means I’ve been eating less fresh fruits and veggies and more stuff from the pantry (or the proverbial pantry, as our tiny kitchen definitely does not have a real pantry).  One of the dishes that’s become a new staple over the last month — and one I absolutely adore! — is a multigrain porridge.

I’ve always liked a warm breakfast cereal.  I started veering away from the usual flaked grains one day when I laid my eyes on a bag of amaranth that had been sitting around the house for a while.  I cooked a bit of it.  Then I mixed it with some other grains.  At points I was stirring together some combination of amaranth, quinoa, short grained brown rice, jasmine rice and millet, seeking a lightly sweet and creamy breakfast porridge.  I also added different types of milks, spices, fruits and nuts.

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Simple white bean salad

In my ideal world, there would be a magical little fairy that would supply our refrigerator with a handful of rotating salads.  But, the salad fairy seems to have not found our house quite yet, so I’ve resorted to making some simple salads that hold up well to a few days in the fridge.  Here is one of my recent favorites.  It’s great right after it’s made, but gets even better as it marinates.  It’ll last 3 or 4 days.

For the herbs, use a mix of whatever you have around that veer toward provincial flavors.  I used mostly parsley and thyme, with some rosemary and a wee bit of mint.  I really liked the addition of the mint, but I wouldn’t go too heavy on it.  If you don’t have fresh herbs, you can substitute with 1 T of dried herbs de provence.

For the beans, I used some cannellini beans that I cooked from the dried beans, but any canned white bean will do just fine.

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Corn, cucumber and tomato salad

It’s high time for a salad post to balance out the booze and baked goods.  Especially since it’s that corn and tomato time of year.  So, here’s a simple salad I made the other day for a friend.  Mid-bite she said, “See, this is the kind of stuff you should be putting on your blog!  It’s so easy.”  Or something like that.  I agree.

In this recipe I use white balsamic vinegar, which my step-mom introduced me to a little while back.  It’s really nice on corn, since it conveys a sweet flavor without discoloring the salad.  It used to be pretty hard to find, but now Trader Joe’s stocks it and I’d imagine Whole Foods has it, too.  If you don’t own a bottle, I think it’s worth adding to your vinegar collection.  Just don’t show it to your cultured Italian friends, who will stare and say, “There is no such thing as white balsamic in Italy.”  (Hi, Christina!)

I also used some neat-o lemon cucumbers I happened upon at the farmer’s market.  They’re kind of funny looking, but a cute little kid behind the stand assured me that they were good.  I’m glad I took his word for it.  I really liked them.  But, this recipe will work with whatever cucumbers you have around.

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Zucchini, corn and cherry tomato casserole

I knew I wanted to make something with zucchini and corn.  I also wanted there to be leftovers — something I could easily eat for lunch over the next couple days.  For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that a casserole might be the answer.  So I made one.  And it will definitely, definitely not be my last casserole.  It hit the spot.

This dish is total comfort food.  It’s particularly nice when you wake up in August with a cold that’s left your head in a cloud (colds in August = not fair), or even when all the news stories are just so miserable that it feels good to make something simple and grounded.

Contrary to my previous thoughts on casseroles, this is a light dish.  You could eat it as either a main or a side course.  If it’s a main, you may want to pair it with a tossed green salad.  Also, this recipe isn’t fussy.  If you have little bits of leftover grains around your house, you might mix them in place of or in addition to the rice.  I can picture something with millet, quinoa, farro or wheat berries being totally yummy. Continue reading

Trail mix cookies (oatmeal, dark chocolate and GORP)

These cookies are really doing it for me.  They’re moist, nutty and chunky.  When they’re warm, they overflow with dark chocolate.  As soon as I claim I’ve had enough, I find myself reaching in for another…

I started thinking about trail mix a couple weeks back when Alex and I threw work aside, haphazardly packed the car with whatever gear we could find, and headed off to Mt. Shasta.

Mt. Shasta is a big ole volcano that stands high above its surrounding mountains.  It’s a dramatic mountain.  For those of you who care about these things, the summit rises to 14,162 ft.  The base is at around 7,000 ft.  We planned to hike up in a single day, leaving at 3 am and getting back whenever we did.  Sound exhausting?  It was.  In all the mountains I’ve climbed, I’ve never ascended 7,000 ft vertical in a day.  Let alone after coming from sea level the day before.

It was incredible!  Gorgeous!  But the altitude was beating us up.  As we switchbacked up the hill, kicking steps into the snow with our crampons, I snorted down trail mix and chile-rubbed dried mango (thank you Trader Joe’s).  I hoped that the calories would turn into magical wings and fly me up the hill.  Eventually I gave up hope on the wings and started dreaming about trail mix cookies. Continue reading

Apricot cobbler (for breakfast!)

OK, fine, you can eat this cobbler for dessert (and you’ll love it), but breakfast cobbler!  It’s easy to prepare, can be made ahead of time, has lots of fresh fruit, little sugar, whole grains, almonds and yogurt.  And let’s not forget that it tastes awesome.

I threw together this not-so-sweet cobbler after reading Good to the Grain, one of my new cookbooks.  The author, Kim Boyce, talks about using whole grain flours in baking not explicitly for health reasons (though, they do provide more nutrients, protein and fiber), but because of the complex and wonderful flavors they often impart.  I was sufficiently inspired that, as I thought about how I wanted a nutty topping for my cobbler, I added in some whole wheat flour.  I don’t usually use whole wheat flours in desserts, but I wasn’t trying to be virtuous.  I just wanted its nutty flavor.

Then, as I rifled down some cobbler for breakfast the next morning (tell me I’m not alone in eating leftover dessert for breakfast), I realized that my breakfast was actually pretty healthy.  In fact, it had less sugar and bad fats than most pancake and muffin recipes, let alone those devilish things at the bakery down the street.  It also had good stuff like fruit, whole grains, almonds and yogurt.

Thus was the dawn of Breakfast Cobbler.  Possibly the greatest I-feel-like-I’m-being-bad-but-I’m-not breakfast ever.  So, really!  Bake this cobbler.  In the morning, put a big spoonful in a bowl, heat it up, top it with a dollop of yogurt and feel almost as virtuous as you would if you were eating a bowl of oatmeal and fruit.  Or maybe eat it directly from the pan with a fork (who would ever do a thing like that…?). Continue reading

Summer split pea soup with yogurt and dill

I usually think of split pea soup as a winter thing, but last week I gave a summer version a shot and I was really happy with the result.  Alex and I ate it outside for an early dinner with a couple glasses of savignon blanc.  I also think this soup would be nice served up in little shot-sized glasses or porcelain spoons for an hors d’oeuvre or an amuse bouch (they did something similar with a spring pea soup while we were at Blackberry Farm and everyone was raving about it).  But, beyond tasting wonderful, this recipe is secretly really healthy — packed with protein and low in fat and calories (perfect for post-July 4 BBQ benders!).

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Barbecue tempeh burgers topped with jalapeno slaw

When I first became vegetarian, it seemed like there were only two food options out in the restaurant world: variants of marinated and grilled zucchini/eggplant/peppers and veggie burgers (both of which were especially present at barbecues).  About 10 years ago I finally reached my absolute fill — no more!  So, I started to look around for other grilling options.  I mean, grilling is fun!  And chowing down on a burger off the grill (whatever that burger is made of) is such a part of American culture.  I like joining in.

Recently I’ve really been on the tempeh wagon.  Not only do I like the way it tastes, it’s a great mechanism for eating barbecue sauce, which I definitely don’t get enough of.  This recipe can be made the night before your barbecue (in fact, it’s best if it is) and then slapped on the grill when you’re ready. Continue reading