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Quick Dinners

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one of my favorite things about spring in new york is how it reinvigorates the farmer’s market in union square. the market never quite disappears in the winter, braving those chilling days when it feels like the wind could cut straight through your cheeks and leave you wounded – but in the spring, it truly comes alive again. the square bustles with people: moms pushing double strollers and dads carrying babies and baggus. teenagers skateboarding past the strawberries and young couples picking out fresh flowers one by one. this past weekend was the first one in the city that truly felt like spring. i went to sleep on friday night, and when i woke up saturday morning, the sun was shining bright. the clouds were so fluffy it looked like if you jumped high enough you could land in them, sinking into their softness and squeezing in a 20 minute power nap. it was the perfect spring day: crisp air, highs in the upper fifties, the promise of something new and beautiful to come.

weather like that, it makes you forget that someone puked on the subway before. it’s like someone colors the city with a hazy, rose tint, and all of a sudden, everything is wonderful and nothing bad exists. it is, in other words, the perfect time to go shopping. and so shop i did. i came home from the farmer’s market with a slew of fresh fruit and veggies and on sunday afternoon, i took to my kitchen and went nuts. i made homemade chocolate chip cookie ice cream (recipe to come later this week), and then decided to meld all my fresh spring veggies into one delicious spring pasta. it was so delicious that i thought you might want to make it for yourself. what’s that? you do want to? great. the how-to is below.

The Recipe

2 cloves of garlic, diced

2 cups assorted sliced veggies – i used asparagus, zucchini, green beans and spinach

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1/3 box of penne (i like barilla)

2 tsp of olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

parmesan to taste

Make it

this recipe is insanely easy to make. it’s so simple, in fact, that i’m not even really sure it counts as a recipe. but whatever. it’s my blog and i can lie about recipes if i want to. so, let’s do this thing.

to start, slice all your veggies. you can use whatever spring veggies you’ve got around. i threw some frozen peas in at the last minute, and damn, were they good. your veggies should be cut into approximately 1″ pieces. they don’t have to be baby bite size, but you also don’t to be shoving an entire asparagus stalk in your mouth at one time. and if you do, well, you’re not allowed to eat at my house.

put a pot of cold water on the stove and bring to a rolling boil. when it gets there, dump in your pasta and add a pinch of salt. while your pasta is cooking, saute your veggies. put your olive oil into a pan and give it about a minute to heat up. add your diced garlic and give that a minute to get all fragrant and wonderful and garlicky. now, dump in your veggies. if your pan is too dry, feel free to add a bit more olive oil. a little more EVOO never hurt no one. while your veggies cook, zest your lemon into the pan. mmm, smell that lemony deliciousness. SO GOOD. don’t juice it just yet. that will come later.

when your pasta is done, drain it and reserve a tiny bit of the pasta water. pour it into a pretty bowl. now, add the sautéed veggies on top of it. take a fork and mix it all together for good measure. now, juice your lemon over the pasta and mix again. smells good, doesn’t it? season with salt and pepper to taste, and grate some fresh parm on top.

et voila! a delicious spring dinner.

note: if you’re looking to even this dish out, i’d recommend sautéing some shrimp with a bit of lemon juice, or grilling up some chicken to slice on top of it. protein’s great and all, but man, sometimes a girl just wants CARBS.

now, go forth and make something springy!

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you know that phrase “stressed is desserts” spelled backwards? well, sometimes i think stressed is carbs, spelled…i don’t know how. basically, what i’m trying to say is that as much as i love sweets (hello, blog name), there comes a time in a girl’s life (or day) when she just wants to eat carbs.

enter, a big bowl o’ pasta. i ask you, is there anything carbs can’t cure? a pot of penne can sop up a lot of tears, and we all know pasta cooks in salt water. yesterday was a long day, and even though it included a mini cupcake from crumbs, i still came home wanting nothing more than to cuddle up on the couch with some spaghetti and watch my DVR-ed episode of SVU. of course, the fact that SVU wasn’t new this week was a major let down, but i made do with nashville. can’t win ’em all!

i did, however, luck out with this super easy pasta recipe that’s sopped in garlic and freshened up by lemon zest and italian flat leaf parsley. i found it here, and i’d highly recommend it. this thing is YUMMY. major kudos to the chef. i didn’t measure as closely as the original recipe and so i’ve rewritten it slightly below. i’d recommend this dish for long days, when you want something delicious but don’t feel like slaving over the stove, or when you’re having company over, and you want to look like you’re an amazing italian chef who just happened to end up in new york (if you go this route, might i suggest an italian accent to go with)? no, but really. make this. it’s easy. and so, so good. Image

 The Recipe: Lemon Pasta with Parsley and Parmesan

 You’ll need:

 * 3/4 lb spaghetti ( I used the Trader Joe’s brand)

* 5 garlic cloves, minced

* 1/4 cup olive oil

* 2 tablespoons butter

* 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

* the zest of 2 large lemons

* the juice of one large lemon (about 1/3 cup)

* salt and pepper to taste

* a whole lot of pram

 To make:

First things first: cook spaghetti as directed in a large pot of salted water. While pasta is cooking, prep your other ingredients (yes, it’s that easy).

First, heat olive oil and butter on low in a small saucepan. Don’t turn it on high, your butter will burn. Mince your garlic, and add it to your olive oil/butter mixture and turn the heat up slightly. Cook until tender and fragrant (your kitchen will smell amazing right about now), about 3-5 minutes. While it’s cooking, zest and juice your lemons.

Drain pasta and place into a large serving bowl. Dump garlic and olive oil mixture atop of pasta and stir to incorporate evenly. Inhale. Exhale, and toss pasta with parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice. Resist the urge to take a bite right now. Season liberally with salt and pepper, and toss with freshly grated parmesan.

 Now, you can take a bite. Go ahead. See? I told you so. It’s good. Just try not to eat the whole thing (but I won’t blame you if you can’t help it).

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i can’t help it. anytime i think nachos, i think bad jokes. it’s like the two are inextricably connected in my brain. crazy. speaking of crazy, you want to hear something crazy? crazy is that my roommate “doesn’t really like snacks.” as in, she’s not a grazer. she doesn’t open the fridge and stand there thinking, “i need a lil’ somethin’ somethin’.” EVER. this blows my mind. i am a huge snacker. i overpack my lunch every day just in case i need a string cheese at 3PM or some popcorn at 4. at night, i crunch rainbow-colored NERDS on my couch while i watch house hunters, and sometimes, i stuff my face with trader joe’s cheesy popcorn. hi my name is sarah and i can’t live without snacks.

so it’s totally baffling to me that a person could say something like, “i don’t really snack.” SAY WHAAA, GIRL? but you know what, you guys? i made her snack last night. yes indeedy i did. and it was all thanks to the magical power of these nachos – which, by the way, take less than five minutes to throw together and require NO MEASURING CUPS OR SPOON AT ALL. easiest “recipe” ever.

The Recipe

(all measurements are approximate – but here’s what i’d estimate i used)

1 cup shredded mexican cheese (mine is from TJ’s)

1 can black beans (mine are from TJ’s)

about 3/4 cup of pico de gallo (the roughly chopped kind, not the tostitos kind you buy in a glass container at the supermarket)

1/2 cup of corn (i used fresh off the cob, but frozen would do)

sour cream, for dipping.

chips, of course.

ready for the hard part? spread your chips out on a plate. then sprinkle with cheese. you want the cheese to be the bottom layer so that it melts straight onto the chips. YUM CHEESE. next sprinkle your beans and corn on, then top with salsa, and if you’re a cheese-a-holic like i am, MORE CHEESE. now, microwave for a minute or two.

GIRL, you have just made some seriously kickass nachos.

optional other add ons, if you’ve got ’em: chopped cilantro (I HAD THIS WHY DID I NOT USE IT?!), chopped avocado/guacamole, a sprinkle of fresh lime juice, chopped chicken or beef. nachos are like a garbage can that tastes really good. you can put ANYTHING on there, and as long as you add cheese and melt that ish, you’re guaranteed a party in your mouth.

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foodie confession: i hate seafood with a pretty intense passion. i make a small exception for shrimp (but i am very picky about the size and texture of a given shrimp) and in the past few years, for salmon, but other than that, i don’t go under the sea, ever. no lobster. no clams. oysters? gross. i’ll take my dinner without slurping down a slimy shell-filler, thank you very much. i have no interest in figuring out flounder, or appreciating escargot. it’s just not my thing. i hate the smell of fish; i gag when i walk down the street in chinatown. but in an effort to be more adventurous (remember my strawberry disaster in paris?), i’ve recently introduced salmon into my eating arsenal. i like it extremely well done (again, i don’t like slimy foods), and pretty much smothered in flavor so i can’t taste the fishiness.

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“Color me happy, there’s a sofa in here for two!”

lucky for me, this recipe checks all of those boxes. by wrapping the salmon in parchment paper, you ensure that, while it doesn’t dry out, it cooks out all the slime. plus, it seals in the flavor. by topping it with the orgasmic combination that is sesame oil, soy sauce and grated ginger, you ensure that all the fishiness goes out the window, and by laying it on a bed of mushrooms, you get, well…shrooms. but who doesn’t love shrooms? especially when they’ve cooked down and are also smothered in sesame soy? color me happy, there’s a sofa in here for two!

this dinner was super easy to make, and it comes courtesy of miss martha stewart (duh). the queen has cometh down from her throne to share with us a salmon dish that makes even fish-haters salivate in excitement. martha’s recipe uses pea shoots and shiitake mushrooms, but i’m a cheapskate and had neither on hand, so i swapped arugula in place of the pea shoots and regular brown button and sliced portobello mushrooms in place of the shiitakes. i also may have added extra soy sauce and oil, but that’s because, as i said, i like my salmon positively drenched in flavor.

note: i generally cook for one or two – one serving for dinner, one for leftovers. someday, i hope i have a boyfriend or a husband and a cat and a family and a big kitchen with a giant island. then i can use the actual measurements and cook for a family of four. but right now, it’s just me and penny, and penny doesn’t like salmon (a gal after my own non-seafood heart, that feline is!). i also, as i said, like extra sauce – so my measurements are different than martha’s. but this is the sort of recipe where you can totally improvise, so just keep adding till your sauce tastes good. got too much sauce? girl, that’s what tupperware is for!

The Recipe

  • 1 tbsp soy sauce (my fave brand is kikkoman)
  • 1 tbsp finely grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms (i used brown button and portobello)
  • 1 large or 2 small boneless, skinless salmon fillets, preferably wild sockeye
  • Coarse salt
  • 2 teaspoons toasted-sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 1 cup arugula, loosely packed

to make, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. prepare your parchment paper by cutting a piece large enough to hold your salmon and then some, and folding it down the middle to create a crease. open it back up. essentially, what you’re doing is creating a little envelope/pocket sort of thing to keep your salmon in while it cooks.

next, mix the soy sauce, ginger, lemon juice, and just a splash of sesame oil in a medium sized bowl, and toss with the sliced mushrooms. lay the mushrooms out on the parchment – you’re making a little bed for the salmon to lay on. now, place your salmon atop the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. drizzle with your remaining sesame oil (and feel free to add more if you feel so inclined).

tuck or gather the parchment paper so that your salmon fillet(s) are wrapped up. you want to keep the heat and flavors in that baby, so wrap it up tight.

bake for about 15-20 minutes (depending on the thickness of your salmon fillets). remove, and season immediately with sesame seeds and top with arugula. i served mine with white rice and steamed broccoli, and it was DELISH.

Kale Parsley Pesto Pastaa few weeks ago, my parents came to visit me here in NYC, and brought with them a bevy of fresh fruits and veggies – some from fairway, and others that had been hand delivered to my mother by her farm worker patients at the government-funded health center where she works.

let’s back up a bit. the town where i grew up is nothing short of idyllic, all rolling hills and freshly cut lawns and old victorians, with highly-rated public schools and well-paved sidewalks. it’s the sort of town where pedestrians have the right of way, where cars are required to stop for anyone on foot. the sort of town where, for the most part, everybody knows everybody. it’s the sort of town that allows lesbians on the bima at the synagogue (though my two mothers were the first at our shul to do so), the sort of town that then goes on to elect a lesbian mayor. it might not be pleasantville (our life is definitely lived in color…in the rainbow, really), but it’s pretty damn close.

which is why it’s surprising to hear that there are poorly-treated farm workers pulling sixteen hour days shelling soybeans not twenty minutes away from our picturesque new england main street. growing up in the pioneer valley, one thinks such atrocities wouldn’t occur. not in our house! not on our watch! we are a town of politically-minded left wing hippies who believe in equal rights for all. certainly, we wouldn’t allow such abuse to go on behind closed (or, heaven forbid, open!) doors. but since my mom took her job at the health center, i’ve heard quite a few horror stories, many of which come at the hands of people that are pillars of the local community. 

i’ll leave you to infer what’s gone on by reading the article above – but trust me when i say that the people my mother cares for are, for all intents and purposes, people that have been left behind by this country. their rights, if they have any, have been violated, time and time again. and yet, many of them insist that the money they make here, the treatment they receive here – it’s worth it because it enables them to support their families, many of whom are back in their home country. they tell my mother things that breaks her heart. every single day. and somehow she still gets up each morning and does it again, like a brave, proud soldier, ensuring that anyone that steps over the threshold of her waiting room door gets the care they deserve. to say i have the utmost respect for the work she does would be the understatement of a lifetime. while i sit here and type up a dinky blog post, she’s out changing the world and making it a better place for everyone, not just for those who have been deemed by society and the law to deserve it.

it’s no surprise, then, that with all she does to care for these people (and she truly goes above and beyond, every day), they like to give back to her, oftentimes by bringing her a bit of their bounty. as part of their employment as farm workers, they’re allowed to take some of what they pick, and often, they bring it to her, and she, in turn, brings it to me. this visit, i was gifted with farm fresh kale, italian parsley, and the ugliest but tastiest tomatoes i’ve ever seen.

what does one do with kale and parsley? lots of things. parsley is a great garnish, and kale can be cooked, steamed, blanched, put into a salad, a pasta dish, a soup. but for some reason, i looked at my kale and immediately thought, what about pesto? so make pesto i did, with parsley and parmesan and sliced almonds and a whole lot of garlic. and i was worried that it’d be a bit weird, but to my surprise, it was totally delicious. and i made enough to have plenty to store in my freezer for later on.

so, let’s make some pesto with a side of politics, shall we?

note: pesto is one of those things that’s really all about taste-testing. so my “measurements” are more recommendations, because you might want more or less garlic, more or less cheese, or more parsley than kale. just stick your finger into the food processor (when it’s not running, obviously) and do a little taste test now and then.

The Recipe

About 6 cups of kale, slightly chopped (i used raw, but you could blanch yours slightly if you were so inclined)

1 1/2 cups parsley (don’t throw the stems in)

1 cup parmesan cheese (i used pre-shredded, but if you buy the real thing it’ll be way better)

1/2 cup sliced almonds (or walnuts, or any nut you choose – pine nuts would be great too)

2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped

olive oil

to make, dole out all your ingredients and throw them into your food processor. i laid my kale in there first, then my parsley, then spread my almonds and my cheese on top, as you’ll see in the picture. then in went the garlic. then i poured enough olive oil into swirl the perimeter a few times. i’d estimate it was a few tablespoons, but again, pesto is a fluid recipe. you can add more or less depending on the texture you’re looking to achieve. 

throw the top on and pulse to blend. if your pesto looks chunky, throw in a bit more olive oil and pulse some more. now, stop the motor and stick your finger (or a spoon, if you’re fancy and a germaphobe) in and have a taste. at this point, add salt and pepper if you think it needs it. mine didn’t, because parm and garlic are pretty darn salty already. once it’s reached a creamy consistency, remove and either mix immediately into pasta (which i did but forgot to photograph because i was too busy stuffing my face with deliciousness), or divy up into plastic bags to freeze.

note: you can see my bags above. what i do is scoop about two heaping tablespoons into a plastic foldover baggie. then i twist the tops so they make a little hershey’s kiss shape and tie the tops off. then snip off the extra with scissors. then i throw all the little baggies into one big freezer-safe baggie, and voila – pesto, whenever i want it. this is a trick i picked up from my parents, who’ve been making their own pesto for as long as i can remember thanks to the hords of basil that they grow in their garden. god bless suburbia, huh?

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you know what starts with the letter P? pasta. and pancetta. and you know what else? pretty little liars, which is my favorite guilty pleasure show on TV (and it’s not even really a guilty pleasure because it’s just that good). last week, my PLL partner in crime and i threw together this amazing pasta dish, which i found via jamie oliver before we turned on the TV, and let me tell you, this ish is GOOD. melt in your mouth creamy, accented with the slightly tangy taste of fresh mint leaves, and oh so salty thanks to the pancetta. of course, there’s a big dose of carbs in there, and let’s be real – everyone loves carbs (except those people on the atkins diet, and i’m not really worried about them). 

my friend alissa whipped up this recipe like a champ (and girl thinks she’s not good in the kitchen! proof that anyone can follow a recipe and make something DELISH), and then we plopped down on her overstuffed couch and stuffed our faces while watching pretty teenage girls say things like, “BITCH CAN SEE!” it came together in under 20 minutes, and did i mention it’s creamy and delicious and i ate two huge helpings? (what? i was carbo-loading for my walk back down the stairs). Image

make it. i made it again the next night, and we’re making it again tomorrow. it’s not that we lack creativity – but that it’s yummy and easy and makes you look like a legitimate chef. 


The Recipe (adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe for carbonara)

Makes enough for four servings, or two super hungry folks.

1 pound pasta of your choice (i like penne)

1 egg

3.5 fl oz (about 1/2 cup heavy cream)

sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

about 12 slices of pancetta, thinly sliced (generally, one grocery store sized package will do)

3 handfuls fresh or frozen peas 

4 sprigs of fresh mint, chopped, a few more for decorative purposes

1 cup freshly grated parmesan, for topping

to make, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, then add pasta and cook according to instructions (i find around 7-8 minutes to be the sweet spot for most boxed pastas, and barilla is my go-to brand). 

whisk the egg in a bowl and mix in the heavy cream and salt and pepper. in a large skillet, cook your pancetta until crispy and golden. your kitchen will smell orgasmic by now. 

when your pasta has nearly cooked (let’s say around the 6 minute mark), add the peas for the last minute or so. this will cook them ever so slightly, but won’t overdo it. when the timer dings, drain your pasta and peas and reserve a bit of the pasta water.

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dump your pasta and peas mixture into your pancetta skillet and stir. now, stir in most of your sliced mint (save a little bit for topping purposes). if you like things minty, add even more. i did, because i do. there’s really nothing like fresh mint, especially when peas are involved. note: if your pan is too small, you can do all your mixing in a large bowl – but the pan is better, because the pasta will cook a tiny bit more in a warmed environment. Image

now, add the egg and cream mixture to the pasta. you need to make sure and add it while the pasta is still hot, but while the heat isn’t actually on the pan anymore. if you’re careful, the residual heat of the pasta will cook the eggs (since no one likes raw eggs); if things are too hot up in here, you’ll get a curdled, scrambled egg like sauce. GUH-ROSS. do it right (leave the pasta be for a minute or two to cool slightly, remove from heat) and you’ll get a silky smooth sauce. toss everything together and add your reserved pasta water to loosen things up a bit if need be (i needed to). 

divy up into four bowls, season again with a bit of salt and pepper and sprinkle with your remaining mint and however much parm you like (i love cheese). serve asap; this one doesn’t reheat all that well. 

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guys, i think i’m really on an asian kick. like, i might need to take a trip to asia sometime soon (except that i hear things are cramped and crowded and hot and potentially smelly and just the thought of a place like that makes my OCD-ness kick into high gear…oh wait, i just described most of new york city).

i came across this recipe for general tsp’s tofu on pinterest last week, and figured i might as well try it while i was on my whole “mix sesame oil and soy sauce and ginger and good things will happen” kick. what do you know? this stuff is GOOOD. and would be even better on some deep fried chicken pieces. no offense, tofu, you know i really like you a lot, but i think it’s better that we just be friends. chicken and i are in a serious relationship, and it ain’t complicated.

if you’re a vegetarian, you’re gonna looove this dish. if you’re not, you’ll love it too – just make it with shrimp or chicken. the sauce is made separately, so you can throw it onto whatever you want.

note: the original recipe calls for a good amount of sriracha, and i can’t handle spice – so i cut it down substantially, and just threw in a little squirt to my sauce. if you’re into spice, go for it, but buyer beware! that ish is on FIRE.

The Recipe

tofu:

12 oz extra firm tofu, cut into cubes (i buy mine at trader joe’s)

1 tbsp corn starch2 tsp vegetable oil (i use canola)

sauce:

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tsp grated ginger

2 tsp vegetable oil

1/4 cup water

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp hoisin sauce (warning: this stuff is like crack)

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp sriracha (i used just a squirt, remember)

additionally:

1 tbsp corn starch + 2 tbsp water

veggies of your choice

1 cup white or brown rice

to make the tofu, preheat your oven to 400 and toss tofu cubes with 1 tbsp of corn starch in a bowl. make sure they’re evenly coated on all sides. cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spritz with a layer of nonstick spray. spread your tofu cubes out on the baking sheet and bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and slightly crispy to the touch.  

meanwhile, cook your rice. white rice is generally a 2:1 ratio (two cups water to one cup rice). brown rice is too, but it takes longer to cook (usually around 40 minutes), so i prefer white in a pinch.

while you’re baking the tofu, make your sauce. cook your diced ginger and garlic in a medium saucepan for a few minutes, then add the other ingredients listed under “sauce” above and cook for another few minutes. mix the remaining water and corn starch in a tiny bowl, and pour it into the sauce mixture slowly. stir until it’s evenly integrated and your sauce is thick and slightly chunky. i know that’s gross, but that’s what it should look like. see picture. 

take out your tofu from the oven and toss it with your sauce. serve it over rice and top with a bunch of sauteed veggies. i chose zucchini and purple cabbage (i just sauteed them in a few teaspoons of soy sauce and sesame oil). throw some  sesame seeds on top and dig in.