Roasted Cauliflower Melt — The Weekender

by in Recipes, February 21st, 2014

Roasted Cauliflower MeltDuring the fall and winter months, cauliflower becomes one of my staple vegetables, and we end up eating it at least once a week (and even more often during the depth of the season). The only trouble with my cauliflower habit is that it always ends up as a side dish and never as the dinnertime star.

That’s not to say that I don’t like the three ways I make it (mashed, roasted or baked in a cheesy sauce). But lately I’ve been seeing lots of ways that people are transforming cauliflower into the main event, and I want in on that action.

There’s this whole roasted cauliflower head that seems mighty intriguing, along with cauliflower steaks and pots of nutty, caramelized cauliflower soup.

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Chocolate-Orange Fondue — The Weekender

by in Holidays, February 14th, 2014

Chocolate-Orange Fondue - The WeekenderWhen I was in my mid-20s, some girlfriends and I started a Valentine’s Day tradition. Being that we were all single at the time, we chose to spend the evening of February 14 together instead of pining over ex-boyfriends and lost loves.

My friend Cindy would be on cocktail duty. Ingrid was in charge of selecting the movie. Una always brought the appetizers. And I took care of making our chosen dinner — fondue.

We’d start with a pot of cheese fondue with bread, steamed broccoli and grilled chicken for dipping. Once we’d had our fill of the savory course, I’d bring out a small pot of chocolate fondue with strawberries, orange segments, pound cake cubes and pretzel sticks. It was such a fun way to celebrate our loving friendships on a day most often reserved for romance.

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Wild Mushroom and Sun-Dried Tomato Farrotto — The Weekender

by in Recipes, February 7th, 2014

Wild Mushroom and Sun-Dried Tomato Farrotto - The WeekenderI discovered risotto when I was 27 years old. Before that, my only experience of anything even remotely risotto-like came from a box or involved a can of cream of mushroom soup. For a time, I made it every week as a way to stretch leftovers.

Lately I’ve been trying to eat more whole grains and fewer things that are blindingly white. I thought this meant that I’d need to give up my risotto habit entirely, but I’ve discovered that white rice isn’t the only grain with which one can make a savory pudding that stretches the end of a roast chicken into a brand-new meal.

I’ve tried it with barley, wheat berries and even oat groats, but the grain that has come out on top is definitely farro. Though some people argue about what farro is exactly, most typically believe it’s the whole-grain version of cereal crops known as einkorn, emmer and spelt.

A risotto made with farro won’t be quite as creamy as one made with rice, but it is worth making nonetheless. I really enjoy the sturdiness and texture of the grain. Unlike traditional risottos, this version reheats beautifully (though sadly, that means there’s no need to make risotto cakes).

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Beer Mac and Cheese — The Weekender

by in Recipes, January 31st, 2014

Beer Mac and Cheese - The WeekenderMy husband’s birthday is coming up and to celebrate I’m throwing a little birthday party. It won’t be a fancy gathering — just some easy food, a Funfetti cake (I am not a fan of boxed cakes, but it’s his favorite), and a bunch of our friends and their kids.

Part of my easy food plan involves several pans of macaroni and cheese. Scott loves the stuff, it’s easy to make in large quantities and the opportunities for making it more interesting are pretty darn endless.

As the plan stands right now, I’ll make one pan of basic, no-frills mac and cheese for those who can’t stand anything beyond noodles in a creamy cheese sauce. I’m still shopping for a recipe to serve the more adventurous eaters, however.

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Chicken and Green Bean Casserole — The Weekender

by in Recipes, January 24th, 2014

Chicken and Green Bean Casserole - The WeekenderI have a bad habit of isolating myself this time of year. Part of it is practical. My busy work season is April through November, so during these chilly months, I like to hunker down and get some neglected projects and tasks accomplished. But after spending long stretches of time working from home, with only my husband to break the quiet, I find that I need a little socialization. That’s when I put the out the potluck call.

All it takes is a quick email to a bunch of friends and, suddenly, a communal meal comes together. Sometimes we plan to do a Sunday morning brunch. Other times it’s a basic shared meal on a Thursday evening. It’s as much about contact and community as it is about the food.

I do have a couple of guidelines when it comes to cooking for a potluck. If I’m hosting, I always like to provide a dish that contains both a protein and a vegetable. That way, if the only other things on the table are wine, bread and dessert, I still feel like it’s a fairly balanced meal.

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No-Bake Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Squares — The Weekender

by in Family, Recipes, January 17th, 2014

No-Bake Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter SquaresI spent most of last week in Austin hanging out with my sister and her family. It was a trip I planned months ago, for no other reason than to see their new house and get a chance to spend many days playing trains with my 2-year-old nephew, Emmett.

One of Emmett’s favorite things to do is to pretend to make food (pizza and soup are two of his regulars). Because of that, I thought it would be fun to do a real food project with him. To maintain my sanity, I went in search of a no-bake cookie recipe and came up with Trisha Yearwood’s Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Squares.

You start by crushing up enough pretzels to make two cups of crumbs. I put them in a big zip-top bag and told Emmett to break them. He put the bag on the floor and jumped up and down on it. He enjoyed it greatly and it worked perfectly. Once they’re crushed, stir in melted butter, powdered sugar and peanut butter until fairly well integrated. I got it started so that the sugar wouldn’t explode everywhere and then let Emmett help with the stirring.

When that base layer is fully combined, pat it into a baking pan. This is another opportunity for a kiddo to help. I put a sheet of aluminum foil down and had him help me push it flat.

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Two-Meat Chili with Scallion Cornbread — The Weekender

by in Recipes, January 10th, 2014

Two Meat Chili with Scallion Cornbread - The WeekenderOne of the things I’ve learned in my years as a home cook is that you can never have too many reliable chili recipes. When I’m cooking for my sister, I go with a recipe for white turkey chili. Whenever my husband does a low-carb stint, my go-to is a batch made with ground beef and lots of vegetables. And when the weather turns frigid (like it has this week), I need a meaty, rich version that will keep us warm and comforted.

One such hearty recipe is Nancy Fuller’s Two-Meat Chili. Served with her Scallion Cornbread, it’s a good meal for days when the mercury drops. You start by crisping a few strips of minced bacon. Once it’s brown and rendered, you pull out the bacon to use in the cornbread. Then you brown your onions and peppers in all that good bacon fat. After that, the spices, tomatoes, beef, pork, beans and broth join the party.

It simmers for nearly an hour, until it has thickened and filled your house with the heady scent of meat, peppers and spices. Topped with shredded cheese and sour cream, it is the perfect thing for parties, tailgates and your next Weekender.

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Turmeric Roasted Chickpeas and Lentil Salad — The Weekender

by in Holidays, Recipes, January 3rd, 2014

Turmeric Roasted Chickpea and Lentil SaladIf you’re anything like me, you’re feeling decidedly overfed right about now. A late Thanksgiving overlapped with Hanukkah, which rolled right into the holiday party season, which was topped off by Christmas and New Year’s. I feel like I’ve been eating nonstop for the last five weeks.

And so, while I’m not setting any hard-and-fast resolutions, I am making a point of eating a little bit better with the arrival of the new year. For me, this means less meat and sugar — and more vegetables, legumes and whole grains.

I find that resetting my eating habits has everything to do with advance planning. Instead of waiting until I’m hungry to start thinking about the next meal, I make a few hearty bean or grain salads to keep in the fridge. Then making a meal is as simple as putting a few handfuls of baby arugula or tender spinach in a bowl and spooning the premade salad on top. It acts both as a dressing and a hearty, filling element.

One dish that is very good for this keep-in-the-fridge treatment is Guy Fieri’s Turmeric Roasted Chickpea and Lentil Salad. You toss a drained can of chickpeas with a little oil and a few spices, then roast them until they’re crisp and meaty. While they cook, you simmer lentils with half an onion, a hunk of lemon and a few crushed garlic cloves until they are tender. The drained lentils get tossed with the chickpeas, along with some minced roasted red pepper and torn parsley. It is filling, flavorful and just the thing for a post-holiday Weekender.

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Quiche with Country Ham — The Weekender

by in Holidays, Recipes, December 27th, 2013

Quiche with Country Ham - The WeekenderOf all the traditions my husband and I have started since getting married, our annual New Year’s Day brunch is my favorite. It started as an informal thing, just a few friends gathering to eat homemade waffles and watch the television coverage of the Mummers Parade (a beloved Philadelphia institution). However, over the years, it has grown into something of an event.

The festivities start at 11am and run into the late afternoon. Friends bring their kids and something for the table and we eat, watch the parade and share our hopes for the fresh, new year.

Guests show up with sweet rolls, deviled eggs, fruit platters and makings for mimosas. I fill in the gaps with whole-wheat waffles, a big green salad and a few quiches of various types. I particularly like making the quiche, because they can be prepared and baked the night before and then just warmed in the oven a bit before we eat.

Because I’m something of a planner, I start mapping out my menu well before the big day. I’ve already settled on one of the quiches I’ll be making for the party. It comes from recent Food Network Star winner Damaris Phillips: Quiche with Country Ham.

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The Pioneer Woman’s Favorite Christmas Cookies — The Weekender

by in Holidays, Recipes, December 20th, 2013

The Pioneer Woman's Favorite Christmas CookiesWhen my sister and I were young, we had a standing Christmas- cookie-decoration date with a family friend. Eleanor’s kids were grown, but she loved mixing up several batches of dough (some colored red and green with food-safe dye), pulling out the cookie cutters, and helping us make and bake fancy tray after tray of cookies.

I looked forward to that afternoon in Eleanor’s kitchen every year. Even after I got too old for the annual cookie party, I thought about it fondly (and dreamed about her delicious, buttery cookies).

When December rolled around this year, I found myself craving the experience of making and decorating holiday sugar cookies. I used to have a copy of Eleanor’s recipe, but no matter how much I looked, I couldn’t put my hands on it. And so I went looking for options and found The Pioneer Woman’s Favorite Christmas Cookies.

It uses vegetable shortening in place of butter and adds a little bit of orange zest to the dough, but otherwise seems very close to the recipe I once knew. And truly, it’s a delightful dough to work with. It comes together quickly, rolls out beautifully and holds its shape nicely while baking. If you’re still in the midst of your holiday baking, stir together a batch of this dough and cut out some cookies for your Weekender!

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