Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ninth CSA

I can't believe we have passed the halfway mark for our Spring/Summer CSA! I'm going to be sad to see it come to an end in August. The only good thing about Mondays is looking for an email listing the contents for this week's share. Fun recipes are suggested, and it helps me begin menu planning for the rest of the week.

Broccoli (Nichols Farm, Illinois)
Spring Onions (Nichols)
Red Leaf Lettuce (Genesis Growers, IL)
Kohlrabi (Genesis Growers)
Double strawberries (Seedling Farms, Michigan)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ricotta Gnocchi

Two years ago, A and I celebrated his birthday with a long weekend in San Francisco. We rented bikes near Fisherman's Wharf to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge with a stop at the Palace of Fine Arts and a few snacks along the way. (Incidentally, we rented our bikes from Blazing Saddles, which I remembered reading a Harvard Case Study while taking Professor White's Entrepreneurship course. I was happy to see that it was thriving.)

I hadn't been on a bike in at least 15-17 years, but I had been taking spin classes at the gym for about a year at that point. I used to think that burning 700 calories during class was a good workout, but no matter how much resistance I put on those bikes did not prepare me for the hills of San Francisco. After acclimating myself to the crappy rental bike, I have to say that riding across the Bridge was one of my fondest memories on that trip. Needless to say we worked up quite the appetite after being on the bikes for 3-4 hours.

I had made dinner reservations at Zuni Cafe, and I was greatly looking forward to their renowned ricotta gnocchi and roasted chicken with bread salad for two. Imagine my disappointment to learn that they didn't have the gnocchi that night! How could it be?! This is one of their most famous dishes!

Later that year, I received the Zuni Cafe Cookbook for Christmas. Everything sounds lovely, but the number of pages on some of the recipes really intimidated me from diving in. So, 18 months later, I finally took the plunge and decided to try the ricotta gnocchi. With fresh ricotta sourced from J.P. Graziano's, and armed with some photo tutorials and a video on making the gnocchi, I was ready! As some of you may know me in real life, I'm a numbers girl. So even though this recipe takes up 5 pages, I didn't really take the time to read it thoroughly since I had let the photos of those who preceded me do the teaching. Fortunately, this is a rather forgiving recipe, and I am delighted to report that the ricotta gnocchi was wonderfully fluffy, delicate, and cheesy. They are light pillowy, clouds that just ooze ricotta. It was a bit time-consuming to form, but not too bad looking for my first foray into homemade gnocchi. I didn't have any fresh sage on hand, so I opted to serve these with Lidia Bastianich's red sauce. Next on my list from Zuni Cafe will be the roasted chicken or the chard and onion panade.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I scream, You scream, We all scream for ice cream

Without a doubt, The Perfect Scoop is my favorite cookbook. I have about 30 cookbooks, and hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes bookmarked via blogs, epicurious, Cook's Illustrated, and King Arthur Flour, just to name a few sources. I very rarely repeat dessert recipes, but ice cream is an exception.

David Lebovitz was recently in Chicago promoting his gig with Spice Islands as a Flavor Explorer and his latest book, The Sweet Life in Paris. He had a book signing event at Hotel Allegro, which is conveniently just blocks away from my office. Of course, I brought my copy of The Perfect Scoop and picked my paperback copy of The Sweet Life in Paris since proceeds of the book sale went to Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance. He graciously signed both of my books and posed for a picture with me!
I bought the ice cream attachment for my Kitchen Aid a couple of years ago, and ever since, I can count the number of times on one hand in which I have bought ice cream from the store. Homemade ice cream is so much better than anything you can buy in a store. You can control the quality of ingredients that you use, which results in something wonderfully rich and milky tasting. Once you start making ice cream, you can play around with the recipes a bit. The Philadelphia style vanilla ice cream is one of our favorites. I try to keep this in the freezer at all times as it is the perfect accompaniment to many desserts. Since I make this so regularly, I get my heavy cream and vanilla beans from Costco. They sell 10 vanilla beans for about $12 around the holidays. I keep them in the fridge, and they last all year long until they reappear in stores for the next holiday season. The vanilla beans are long and plump with vanilla seeds.

With the strawberries in our most recent CSA, I decided to surprise A with strawberry cheesecake ice cream. His favorite desserts are cheesecake and strawberry shortcake, so why not combine them? I made the base for the cheesecake ice cream and added in a half batch of strawberry sauce. I also found a recipe for graham cracker crumble, but made a few adjustments. For an ice cream without any yolks, this is creamy, most likely attributable to the combination of both cream cheese and sour cream.

Cheesecake Ice Cream
Makes 3 cups

8 oz cream cheese, softened, cut into small pieces
1 c (240 g) sour cream
1/4 c milk
1/4 c heavy cream 
2/3 c (130 g) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 lemon, zested 

Place all of the ingredients into a blender, then zest the lemon over ingredients. Blend and puree until smooth. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator. Freeze the mixture in the ice cream maker as instructed by the manufacturer. Add strawberry sauce during the last minute to incorporate. 

Strawberry Sauce
Makes 1 cup

3/4 lb (337.5 g) fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
2 tbsp (25 g) sugar
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

 Puree ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Press puree through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds. Use as a mix-in or a topping for cheesecake ice cream. (Can be stored in refrigerator for up to 3 days)

Graham Cracker Crumble

4 whole graham crackers
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a silpat. In the bowl of a mini food processor, process graham crackers into fine, sandy crumbs. Add brown sugar and process again. Add melted butter, vanilla, and salt and process until combined.
Pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet, and form a large "cookie" in an even layer. Bake about 12-15 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack to cool completely. Break graham cracker crumble into pieces. Use as an ice cream topping and store remainder in an airtight container.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chicken taquitos

Remember that Costco rotisserie chicken that I used to make Mexican Lasagna? I still had some leftover chicken and picked out another Mexican recipe - taquitos. I haven't had these in over 10 years. I came across the recipe on Annie's Eats, and everything she makes is so approachable and enticing. 

I was amazed at how crispy these were after baking them. I used corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas suggested in the recipe. I keep tortillas in the fridge until I am ready to use them. I noticed that the first few came out beautifully, like those pictured below. As I made my way through the rest of the package, the corn tortillas started falling a part a bit. I would recommend taking out a couple of tortillas from the fridge as you warm them on the stove rather than taking out the whole package. 

I added a can of diced green chiles for added flavor and heat. The end result had a slight kick to them, and you can certainly adjust the heat level to your liking. I had leftover filling which I used on top of tortilla chips. I liked having salsa with the taquitos and sour cream with the tortilla chips. I can't really explain why, but it just worked for me even though they are very similar! Next time, I will probably add a little more shredded Monterrey pepper jack cheese and perhaps some fire roasted corn to the filling. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

CSA Week 8

Congrats to our CSA Green Grocer, who recently won Chicago Reader's Poll for Best Grocery Store 2011! This is well deserved as Cassie and her staff are always so friendly. They often have in-store demos or tastings when we stop by to pick up our CSA. It's a clean, well organized space that I love having in the neighborhood.

Looking forward to make a special surprise for A with this week's strawberries. Also going to try two different pasta recipes using the cabbage and scapes. Can't wait!

Garlic Scapes (Nichols Farm, Illinois) - made a really delicious pesto from Dorie Greenspan
Baby Beets (Nichols)
Romaine (Genesis Growers, IL)
Cabbage (Genesis Growers) - used with farfalle, pancetta and fresh mozzarella
Double strawberries (Seedling Farms, Michigan) - made a strawberry cheesecake ice cream

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mexican Lasagna

Have you seen the rotisserie chickens at Costco? They're huge, juicy, and fresh. It was less than 30 minutes to closing, but customers were still stalking the station waiting for the chickens to come out. I can get 2-3 meals for both of us from one chicken. We love Mexican flavors, so my husband chose this Mexican Lasagna from Slow Cooker Revolution. The original recipe called for you to use a meat filling that was prepared in the slow cooker, but we took a shortcut by using the rotisserie chicken.

Mexican Lasagna
Serves 4-6
2 cups shredded chicken, beef or pork filling or 3 cups ground taco meat filling 
1 15 oz can pinto beans or black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 oz can whole tomatoes, drained and diced
1 cup fire roasted, frozen corn
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
salt and pepper
9 6-inch corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterrey pepper jack cheese

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Microwave filling, beans, tomatoes, and corn in a covered bowl until hot, stirring occasionally, 2-4 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup cilantro, lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste
3. Coat both sides of tortillas with olive oil spray, arrange on rimmed baking sheet and bake until tortillas are soft and pliable, 2-4 minutes
4. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees
5. Spread one-third of filing into 8-inch square baking dish. Layer 3 tortillas on top of filling, overlapping as needed, and sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat with one-third more filling, 3 more tortillas, 1/2 cup cheese, and remaining filling. Cut remaining 3 tortillas into quarters and scatter over filling. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese
6. Bake until bubbling and golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Top with remaining cilantro and serve.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Best of Montreal: Part 3

I can't believe we've been home from Montreal for almost two weeks ago! I guess I better write this up before I forget too many of the details...So far, I've summarized the markets in part 1 and institutions in part 2. Part 3 will focus on our nice dinners from the trip. 

As I had mentioned before, going to Montreal was a last minute decision, so we didn't have a ton of time to plan things in advance, such as restaurant reservations. Luckily, I was able to get into Au Pied de Cochon for Sunday night dinner. Located on St. Denis in the Plateau, it's essential that one has the address for this restaurant. Since it was such a gorgeous day, the front windows and doors were opened, which resulted in no obvious signage. 

After seeing Anthony Bourdain feasting on the entire menu in the Montreal episode of No Reservations. I was pretty confident that anything we order would be delicious. We started with an order of foie gras poutine and cod fritters. Oh my goodness! The foie gras poutine was P H E N O M E N A L. The foie gras added so much richness to the gravy, and the fries were wonderfully fried and oh so potatoey. Can't go wrong with handcut fries! The cheese curds were so wonderful. We also ordered cod fritters and weren't really sure what to expect, but these were lovely as well. 

We had a hard time deciding on an entree, but our server said that PDC's cut was intended for two, but we think it's really intended for four! I can't believe she recommended that we supplement it with cheesey mashed potatoes. It was way too much food for us, which was such a shame. We were so full, we couldn't fully appreciate it. 

On our last night, we had to have some French cuisine so we ended up at LaLoux, also in the Plateau area. Our good friends had honeymooned in Montreal back in Spring 2009, and highly recommended this restaurant. Unfortunately, our table was quite dark, and thus my pictures just can't give the food adequate justice. A ordered the beef strip sirloin with asparagus, pearl onions, and brioche marrow toast. Two slices of brioche were toasted and smeared with marrow...oh the buttery richness of this combo! I ordered the Pacific halibut served with pine nuts me "meunière", basmati rice and haricots verts. My fish was seared to perfection creating a wonderful crispy exterior. 

To round out our meal, we had to order dessert. I had a hard time deciding, but based on the season and our server's recommendation, we went with the Rhubarb-strawberry sorbet, cream cheese, almond-ginger cake, rhubarb compote and pink grapefruit. This screamed spring to us. I recently made rhubarb-strawberry sorbet, so I'm determined to replicate this dessert after figuring our the almond-ginger cake. 

If you find yourself planning a trip to Montreal, I would also recommend that you check out The Endless Banquet.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Peanut butter dog treats

A picked B as a foster puppy in February 2010. B was estimated to be 3 months old at the time, and A had to spend a few days house training him. It exhausted him, and during this time, we all fell in love with each other. B is the first pet I've ever had, and I love him to pieces. I love coming home from a rough day at work to a sweet dog that is excited to see me. His wagging tail and playful personality always lifts my spirits. 

It's amazing how many dog treats there are to choose from when you hit the pet aisle at the store. There are often lots of ingredients that I don't even recognize. I'm happy to say that there are lots of recipes for dog treats to make at home. I made a batch of these peanut butter treats for B, and with this little bone shaped cookie cutter, the yield was probably 75-100! I froze some dough in the freezer to use at a later date. They're a big hit with B. 
Peanut Butter Dog Treats

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup unsalted, natural peanut butter
1 cup skim milk

1. Preheat over to 350 degrees. Prepare baking sheets with silpat, parchment paper or cooking spray
2. Stir flour and baking powder together in a bowl; set aside.
3. Add peanut butter and milk to the large bowl of an electric mixer and stir on low speed until combined. Stir in flour mixture. Increase speed to medium and mix until combined.
4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from sheets and let cool on a wire rack.
5. Store in an airtight container

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Aaron's Birthday!

We celebrated Aaron's birthday all weekend long, especially since it was his first birthday as my husband! I love birthdays because it gives me an excuse to make a special, elaborate cake. I let him choose any cake from five of my cookbooks. I was thrilled with his cake selection because it was going to be another Baked birthday cake! Last year, I made the Sweet & Salty Cake and it was probably my favorite cake of all time. This year, he chose the Chocolate Coffee Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache. The cake was moist and chocolatey, the frosting was light and fluffy with an intense coffee flavor. The dark chocolate ganache was the perfect finishing touch. Like the photo in Baked Explorations, I decorated the cake with chocolate covered espresso beans.

Luckily, I was in Evanston over the weekend, which allowed me to stop by the Spice House to get the required coffee extract for the frosting. If I didn't have access to coffee extract, I would've taken a tip from The Perfect Scoop and steeped about 1 1/2 cup whole coffee beans in the warmed whole milk and heavy cream used in the frosting. I would steep for at least an hour before removing the beans and proceeding with the recipe. 

The original recipe called for 6 sticks of butter, and I just couldn't do it. I made 2/3 of the frosting recipe and 1/2 of the ganache, so that I was now down to 4.5 sticks of butter. I don't think the cake suffered one bit! Feel free to contact me if you'd like my calculations. The recipe is three pages long in the cookbook and already posted elsewhere online.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

CSA #7

Strawberries are starting to arrive in local markets, and our first locally grown strawberries arrived in our CSA this week! I was thrilled to use them in strawberry brushetta: d'amato's short French bread; softened goat cheese, macerated strawberries, topped with fresh basil, ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Is this an appetizer or a dessert? You decide!

Below is our CSA: 
Rapini (Nichols Farm, Illinois)
Peas (Nichols)
Lettuce (Nichols)
Mizuna (Nichols)
Strawberries (Seedling Farms, Michigan)
Rhubarb (Seedling)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Best of Montreal: Part 2

There are certain institutions in Montreal that one must visit. They have been open for almost 100 years and have remained mostly unchanged throughout time. They have maintained consistency and have not compromised their identity or quality as their popularity has catapulted them into international recognition.

In the Mile End of the Plateau are Wilensky's Light Lunch (est 1932) and Fairmount Bagel (est 1919). When we stepped into Wilensky's, it was like being transported into a different era. The space had a vintage but well kept feel to it. The floor plan was wide open leading us up to the counter where there was a line of stools where patrons, most likely regulars, quietly ate their lunch. There's not much of a menu as most people just order the lunch special - the only choice you get is with or without Kraft or Swiss cheese. But Kraft sells a variety of cheeses you say, at Wilensky's, Kraft is cheddar cheese. The lunch special is a sandwich for less than $5, which is made with salami, bologna, mustard and cheese, if you so choose.

Fairmount Bagel is just down the street from Wilensky's. With racks and racks of prepackaged bagels, there is little room leftover for customers to queue. It was a little daunting to place our order since a few varieties that we wanted were not ready yet, so we had to pick something else. A lot of flavors listed on their website were no longer being sold fresh from the bakery. Bagels from Montreal are different that most bagels as they are denser, chewier, and have a slight malted flavor. Although, not really a bagel, our favorite was the NY style pretzel.

 Another popular destination in the Plateau is Schwartz's (est 1928), a Jewish deli. The line is often out the door, but luckily we were able to get two seats at the counter right away. We ordered a black cherry pop and two smoked meat sandwiches - medium. Smoked meat is most similar to what we know as pastrami. It's served on rye bread with yellow mustard. By ordering it medium - my meat was not too lean and dry but not too fatty - just the right amount.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I was thrilled to learn that a regular poster on LTHforum, whose blog I had become fond of, was opening up a burger joint in downtown Evanston. He wrote about the trials and tribulations of starting up a restaurant in his blog. You could feel his passion and hard work getting poured into making this a success. Two years later, I think it's pretty safe to say that Edzo's is thriving. Edzo's was voted by the Chicago Reader as 2010's best burger, and frequently included in area polls for best burger.

I know that if I was still in school, I would be making visits at least on a weekly basis. Now that we live so far into the city, I am not able to make it up to Evanston as frequently as I would like. I'm always looking for an excuse to hit up the North Shore just to hit Edzo's, so I scheduled an appointment to end just in time for lunch.

I've heard wonderful things about the patty melt, but I just can't tear myself away from the simple beefy goodness of the 4oz griddled burger. Each day, the meat is hand ground, which really allows the flavor to come through, and the fries are hand cut. I love that level of dedication when things are made with care from scratch daily. 

You can't go wrong with any of the french fry combinations - plain, truffle salt & parmesan and Taylor Street (Italian beef gravy and giardiniera) are all so good. I highly recommend ordering a shake of the day. Today, Edzo had three flavors: Mexican Chocolate (which I've had), Salted Caramel, and Michigan Strawberries with balsamic. I'm a sucker for salted caramel, but given that we're entering into strawberry season, I couldn't pass on it today.

Get to Edzo's! It's my favorite burger for less than $10. If you're coming in from the city, take the Metra up for a much shorter route compared to the El.

1571 Sherman Avenue
Evanston, IL 60201-4493
(847) 864-3396
Tues-Sun 10:30am-4pm

Friday, June 10, 2011

Best of Montreal: Part 1

Montreal has been on my list to visit for over five years now. I know this because I bought the special issue of Gourmet Magazine from March 2006! The opportunity for a long weekend finally presented itself. We didn't have much time to read into Montreal and plan much in advance.

As usual, I turned to my trusty LTHForum for some research, which turned up this thread. On our first day, we decided to hit Marche Jean Talon. I am going to venture out to say that this is probably my favorite market among LexingtonSt. Lawrence, Queen Victoria, Granville Island, Pike Place Market, and Detroit Eastern Market. This market is enormous with indoor and outdoor vendors bursting with bright, colorful produce and a wide variety of ready to eat food vendors.

We started grazing our way through the market with our first stop at Au Pain Dore. We opted for a ham panini and croissant. Eating the bread and croissant from Au Pain Dore was a revelation. Without a doubt, this was the best croissant I have ever sank my teeth into - flaky, light, delicate, buttery with a slightly sweet note. I could eat these on a daily basis. Even the milk in the latte was rich tasting and really tasted like milk. To be completely truthful, I'm so used to getting skim milk in the States that isn't much different than water.

We rounded the market and decided that the crowds surrounding Aqua Mare was a sure sign that it was not to be missed. Not knowing enough French to distinguish their menu offerings, I had to ask the cashier to translate for us. Given that it's smelt season, I opted for the fried smelt and calamari combo with spicy mayo. We like things hot and spicy!
To conclude our visit to Jean Talon, we indulged in two scoops of sorbet: cassis and frambroise. It was the perfect way to round out our meal. The sorbet was light, refreshing and deeply flavored. We definitely preferred the raspberry to the black current, which is a shame since it was the top scoop and less of it.

Later during our trip, we decided to check out Marche Atwater. It was probably only a fourth of Jean Talon in size.

I was excited to have a second opportunity to visit Première Moisson, another reknowned boulangerie. We shared a croque monsieur and a croissant. This croissant didn't live up to my new gold standard from Au Pain Dore's. Since it's lobster season and given Montreal's close proximity to Boston, we ordered a lobster roll and a pomegranate lemonade. The lobster roll had large chunks of lobster tail meat, chopped red onions and celery. Good, but not quite as good as the real thing from James Hook. The pomegranate lemonade was imported from French, provided a little bit of bubbly and plenty of natural flavor.

Even though, Chicago now has the French Market, it pales in comparison to these two markets. I hope the developers behind French Market continue to support its growth to become more like its true French counterparts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

CSA Weeks 5 & 6

To my handful of readers, I apologize for the lack of posting lately. We were in Montreal for the long weekend, and when I returned I had a client meeting all day followed by the Dispatch concert at Millenium Park. Needless to say, I am exhausted! I have plenty to post recapping the highlights of our trip, and A's birthday is on Friday, so there will be plenty of culinary delights! 

CSA Week 5 was not much to photograph, but it included 

Asparagus (Nichols Farm, Illinois)
Kale (Nichols)
Spinach (Nichols)
Spring Onions (Nichols)
Rhubarb (Nichols) - we took an extra bunch of kale instead so we could make spicy kale lasagna
Blueberries (California) 

Pictured below is CSA Week 6
Asparagus (Nichols Farm, Illinois)
Baby Turnips (Nichols)
Pea Tendrils (Nichols)
Thyme (Genesis Growers) - we took extra pluots instead
Rhubarb (Nichols)
Pluots (California) 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dragon Boat Festival

Today is the fifth day of the fifth month in the Lunar Calendar, in which the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated. There are a few different iterations of the origin, but the most common story is about a patriotic poet, Qu Yuan, drowning in a river. His admirers did not want the fish to eat his body, so they raced to him, beating loudly on their drums and threw zhoong into the river to distract them. Zhoong is sticky rice filled with various things like beans, meat, and egg and wrapped in bamboo leaves. In addition to eating zhoong, dragon boat races are still held today. Boats range in size between 40-100 meters, and can have up to 80 rowers!

Now, onto the zhoong! My favorite cousin was so kind and generous to teach my sisters and me how to make these delicious treats. She grew up calling them Chinese hand granades or Chinese tamales! We spent one day learning how to make them, and I came home with 17! My cousin started the process 2 weeks days before our lesson by placing a dozen egg yolks on a bed of salt. Voila! They became preserved by the day of our arrival! These were creamier, softer, and not as salty as preserved duck eggs.


Three days prior to our visit, she boiled the bamboo leaves to loosen up the dirt. She changed the water and allowed them to soak. On the day of the lesson, I was the first to arrive and given the duty of brushing the leaves and rinsing them one last time to prepare them for wrapping around the rice.

We rinsed and soaked the glutinous rice for an hour until each rice kernel was easily cracked between our fingertips. Meanwhile, we soaked the mung beans and prepped the other ingredients by dicing them.

We had dried shrimp, pork belly, Smithfield ham, and Chinese sausage. It's tempting to want to stuff the packages with all the "goodies," but we were warned that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, or in this case, too salty. Soon, our assembly line was ready for us to start filling! We came to a stop when the rice ran out. We put the wrapped up packages into a pressure cooker.

An hour later, we were able to unwrap the fruits of our labor and taste our first batch. It did not disappoint! I was thrilled at how good they turned out. I shared a few with my parents and brother. The rest were for me to take home. I have been rationing these in my freezer, and now have 4 left. I will be sad once the last one is gone because these are so much better than the ones purchased in the Chinese bakery.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Spicy Kale Lasagna

With our trip to Montreal for the weekend, we needed someone to care for B. We are so blessed to have generous helpers in my aunt and uncle and my SIL. My SIL stayed over at our place for the second half of dog sitting duty. To ensure that she would have something for dinner I made spicy kale lasagna the night before we left. We had two bunches of kale from our CSA that week, which provided the perfect amount for the recipe. To cut down on calories and carbs, I always make lasagna with three layers of noodles when most recipes call for four. We don't notice any compromise to the end result, so it's a win-win.

A squeezed the living daylight out of the kale, and I drained the cottage cheese, but the end result was still quite watery. On it's own, the sauce reminded me of a rich minestrone soup. When a recipe calls for canned tomatoes, I always keep canned whole tomatoes on hand. I find that those tomatoes are better quality, and it allows me to add spices and herbs on my own. Here, I used fresh basil from my planter on the balcony. We loved this vegetarian lasagna - melty cheese, healthy kale, and bold marinara flavor.

Spicy Kale Lasagna
Adapted from A Couple Cooks via Annie Eats
Yield: about 6 servings


1¼ lbs. kale (or spinach), stems removed
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes, diced
1/4 c fresh basil, chopped
2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
16 oz cottage cheese, drained
¾ cup grated Pecorino cheese, divided
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
¾ tsp. pepper
9 no-boil lasagna noodles (or noodles cooked according to package directions)
1.   To prepare the kale, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the kale to the pot and boil for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool enough to handle. Spin the kale in a salad spinner, and wrap the kale inside paper towels to wring out as much excess liquid as possible.  Chop roughly, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
2.   To make the tomato sauce, combine the oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt in a cold saucepan.   Heat over medium-high, stirring frequently.  Once bubbling, cook for about 30 seconds.  Mix in the diced tomatoes, reduce heat and let simmer 5-10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the fresh basil.
3.   To make the cheese mixture, mix drained cottage cheese, ½ cup of the Pecorino 1½ cups of the mozzarella, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper.
4.   Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.  To assemble the lasagna, add a thin layer of the sauce to the bottom of a 8 x 8-inch baking dish.  Cover with a layer of noodles, then half of the cheese mixture, half of the kale, and half of the remaining sauce.  Add another layer of noodles, the remaining cheese mixture, and the remaining kale.  Repeat and top with the remaining sauce.  Cover with foil sprayed with oil and bake for 45 min, until bubbly. Remove foil, and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup Pecorino. Return to oven, uncovered and bake until cheese has melted, about 5-10 minutes.
5.   Let stand at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


It seems that many cultures have some version of a dumpling. Growing up, my dad would often make shui mai, won ton or potstickers on the weekends. I had fun filling the wrappers and folding them. My husband's cultural dumpling is the pierogi. He grew up eating giant pierogies larger than the size of your palm! Over the holidays, I took a stab at making pierogies from scratch. I have made them a couple of times again since then and always freeze the extra so we can have easy access to them for a quick weeknight meal when I am not feeling inspired or running short on time. 

When serving the kielbasa and pierogies, we use organic ketchup and Weber's mustard for condiments. My husband introduced me to this horseradish mustard, which we always stock up on when we go to Buffalo. We like Trader Joe's organic ketchup because we recognize all of the ingredients. Did you ever notice that some ketchup include HCFS? How is that even necessary for ketchup?!

The pierogies pictured below are filled with potatoes and cheese. I used the recipe from King Arthur Flour after reading the post on Baker's Banter. (Being a test cook at King Arthur Flour or America's Test Kitchen would be my dream job!) The dough comes together very nicely and is very easy to use.