Sunday, July 25, 2010

It's a Party!!

Party at Renee and Paul's house! Well, it was a party. Took me awhile to get a post together. It was actually a work function last weekend to say good-by to my former boss and wish him well in his new assignment. So of course I volunteered to host! I love to have company and I especially love to cook for people.

It was a blast with people that I know well and have worked with for many years. Everyone brought a little something so there was quite a variety of goodies! Here are my contributions.

Southwestern Pasta Salad

This a sort of a pantry challenge dish. I pretty much just used what I had on hand to make it. This dish is best when made the night before, chilled overnight, then allowed to come to room temperature before serving.


4 medium cucumbers, peeled and diced
1 red onion, chopped

3 sweet bell peppers - I used 1 red, one green, and 1 yellow - diced
2-3 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2 bag frozen white corn
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 recipe Spicy Vinaigrette dressing
1 16 oz bag rotini pasta, cooked al dente

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to mix. Chill.


Hummus has just a few ingredients and is quite easy, but there are a couple of secrets to making delicious and creamy restaurant-style hummus. Th
e first is starting with fresh cooked chickpeas. Fresh cooked chickpeas don't even taste like the same legume as canned.

When I cook chickpeas I always cook at least 2 pounds and freeze what I am not going to use immediately. I also save the cooking liquid, which
is important for yummy hummus.

The second secret to perfect hummus is the tahini. I'll describe this in the recipe directions.

1/2 cup tahini

1/4 - 1/2 cup water or cooking liquid from chickpeas
2 large cloves garlic

3 cups cooked chickpeas

juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt, more to taste

This first step is the most important for smooth, creamy hummus. Place tahini in a food processor. Process for about 2 minutes, unti
l the mixture is very smooth and creamy.

Add 1/4 cup of liquid and process another 30 s
econds. Add more liquid if it seems too thick. Add garlic and process for another 45 seconds. Add chickpeas, lemon juice, salt, and cumin. Process until the whole mixture is very smooth. If it seems too thick, add more liquid; too thin, add more chickpeas.

Refrigerate for at least an hour and adjust seasoning as necessary. Sprinkle paprika over top as a garnish.

Salsa Fresca

The secret to wonderful salsa is
fresh ingredients. Use tomatoes and peppers right out of the garden when possible.

4-6 medium-size ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped (remove the seeds for less heat)

1 green pepper, chopped

juice and zest of 2 limes
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp salt, more to taste

Combine all ingredients and chill for several hours.

There is one more thing...... See those yummy-looking candy-coated pretzels? Well, I promised to add the how-tos for these on my blog. Kathy brought them and she says they are very easy!

Use one bag of Snyder's pretzel logs, a package of vanilla Candy-Quick (I'm certain this is not vegan, but you could use vegan white chocolate chips instead), and candy sprinkles. That's it!

Melt the Candy-Quick (or vegan white chocolate) in a double
boiler over low heat. Dip the pretzels in it, then roll them in the sprinkles. Lay the coated pretzels on wax or parchment paper to cool. That's it!

Bye-Bye Bob! Good luck!

So please be thinking about me next Saturday! I'll be swimming, biking, and running in my very first triathlon. I'm feeling scared but excited. Actually scared is an understatement - it's more like terrified, but it just makes me that much more determined!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Pasta Sauce

It’s been a wonderful summer weekend! Hot, hot, HOT, and humidity off the scale, but the summer produce is rolling in. Preparing, preserving, and eating it is such a delight.....

Yesterday I did my first brick in preparation for the upcoming tri. A brick is when you cycle and then get off your bike, change shoes really fast, then run. It’s really kind of insane when you think about it, especially in this heat, but I did it and it rocked! I think they should call it a “brawl” instead of a “brick”. Bike, run, then crawl the rest of the day....

I spent most of this morning in the kitchen. I had tons of plum tomatoes that I didn’t really feel like canning, a whole basket of different kinds of peppers, and a couple eggplants that needed to be used. So, I put all the peppers in the dehydrator. There’ll be lots more coming and I already had some in the fridge that I’ll use this week. Some of the hot ones I’ll grind into chili powder after they’re dried. Some I’ll keep whole to use when I cook beans or cabbage. The dried sweet peppers will be wonderful this winter in soups and stews.

I made a wonderful thick pasta sauce with the tomatoes, eggplant, and caramelized onions that we’ll be enjoying all week. Here’s how this worked:

2 medium eggplants, sliced about 1/2” thick
20-25 plum tomatoes, quartered
5-6 (or more) large garlic cloves, peeled
1 jalapeno or other hot pepper pepper, cut in half (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
2 large onions, sliced
2-3 tbs olive oil
2 cups good red wine
1 cup water
2 veggie bullion cubes

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray and arrange the eggplant, tomatoes, garlic and jalapeno in a single layer. This will probably require two baking sheets. Roast the veggies for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cook slowly until they are soft and sweet and brown.

When the tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, and pepper are done, dump them into a food processor along with the caramelized onions and process until all the big pieces are gone. This won’t be quite smooth, but won’t be chunky either. Now dump all this into the dutch oven. Bring to a simmer and stir in the wine, water, and bullion cubes. Return to the simmer and cover. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring, occasionally. Serve this over your favorite pasta. The roasted garlic and caramelized onions make this soooooo flavorful. And it’s so good for you to boot!

Just so you know I sometimes make a huge mess of things in the kitchen, I totally screwed up a batch of pita bread I tried to make this morning. I forgot that I was using the oven when I set the dough on a back burner to rise. When I got around to punching it down so I could make the loaves, it was already half baked from sitting on top of the hot oven. I went ahead and baked it like I normally would have, and we’ll eat it, but pita bread it ain’t! It didn’t puff at all and is more like a heavy whole wheat loaf bread. Oh well. Guess I’ll go to the bakery later in the week. Ain’t makin’ any more today!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Roasted Veggies and Middle Eastern Hot Green Chili Paste

Still trying to get caught up from vacation. I just returned from my childhood home in Western North Carolina to attend a funeral. Funerals are always sad, but I did get to visit with my cousins and a very good friend, all of whom I see far too infrequently. Combine that travel with training 6 days a week for the triathlon, which, by the way, is in 3 1/2 weeks, and I just can’t find a minute to get anything posted. It has taken me almost 2 weeks to get this written!

I have been cooking, though, never doubt. I’ve already made falafel a couple of times and I have put together my own recipe for that wonderful hot green chili paste we had in Israel.

Curried Roasted Veggies
We have been feasting on roasted veggies ever since we returned. No real recipe to this - just whatever fresh-from-the-garden (or market) things you have on hand. This particular night I had:

yellow squash
red and green peppers
red onion
sweet potato
canned tomatoes (best with 1-2 fresh tomatoes but I was out)
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2-3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs za’atar (optional)
2-3 tbs good curry powder
1-2 tsp sea salt
black pepper to taste
pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)

I have also used cauliflower, broccoli, new potatoes, butternut squash - throw it all in there! I always shoot for leftovers, ‘cause this just gets better as it sets. Talk about making your co-workers drool over your lunch......But I digress.....

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Chop or slice all your veggies. Place them in a large bowl and toss with remaining ingredients.

Spray a large baking sheet with non-stick spray and transfer the veggies onto it. Roast for around 25-30 minutes, stirring a couple of times to make sure nothing is sticking.

Serve this with whole wheat couscous or brown rice and some schug or harrisa. Or, split open a loaf of pita bread, slather on some hummus, and stuff the roasted veggies into it. Top with as much schug as your mouth can stand. Heavenly!

Schug (Middle Eastern green chili paste)
Schug, also known as “zhuk”, is more of a method than a recipe. Best I can tell, this dish originates in Yemen. If you Google it, you will find a dozen different recipes for this. Here is how I make mine.

4-6 hot green peppers (I usually use jalapenos), seeded or not, depending on the heat you desire
2-3 tbs olive oil
2 tsp freshly ground cumin seed (toast first if desired)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
1-2 tbs za’atar (totally optional)

You can add cardamom or cloves, more or less garlic, omit the lemon juice - this really is your own creation!

Dump everything into a food processor and pulse until almost smooth but not chunky. Store in a glass jar in the fridge.