Friday, January 27, 2012

Spinach, Artichoke and Tofu Stuffed Shells

A few weeks ago I bought the January/February 2012 issue of Cooking Light after flipping through the magazine and being delighted with how many recipes sounded good enough to try.  I use Cooking Light as a major source of "weeknight" meal ideas; recipes that are easy and quick enough for me to make after a long day of work (followed by walking the dog and, as of late, working out).  Also, besides being quick and easy, many of the recipes have solid "bases" that seems to allow for modifications to meet specific tastes or preferences.  One example of this is the recipe below that I modified from Cooking Light's Shrimp-Stuffed Shells.  Though it sounded good as-written, I though this would be a great recipe to turn meatless.  Don't get me wrong, I am definitely a meat eater, but in an effort to be healthier I've been trying to create one meatless dinner a week.  This goal gave way to the recipe below that uses artichokes, spinach and tofu (!) instead of shrimp.

Canned artichoke hearts are easy and tasty, just remember to rinse well and drain!

(!) Tofu?!?  Yes!  Though it may be a little foreign to some of you, tofu is actually a really nice meat replacement because it doesn't have much flavor of its own so it just absorbs the other flavors of the dish.  Also, silken tofu (used in this recipe) has a very soft consistency that allows it to be blended into other ingredients so that its undecipherable in the final product.  I will use a real life case study as my final selling point.  Jim is not a fan of tofu (as realized after a tofu stir-fry dinner, which actually was quite tasty) but he really liked these stuffed shells!  Try tofu!

Spinach, Artichoke and Tofu Stuffed Shells (adapted from Cooking Light)
24 uncooked jumbo pasta shells (20 to use for recipe, 4 as back up in case any tear!)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic (I used jarred, can also use 6 cloves of fresh garlic)
1 cup chopped artichoke hearts (I used canned artichoke hearts, rinsed with cold water and drained)
1 1/2 cup fresh spinach, chopped
4 oz 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
8 oz silken tofu
1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup milk (I used fat-free milk)
1/2 tsp ground red pepper (I substituted ancho chili pepper for this, it’s a bit milder)
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
5 tsp all-purpose flour
Cooking spray
2 1/2 cup tomato puree (you could also substitute your favorite tomato sauce)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Stack spinach leaves and chop into ribbons

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat; swirl to coat.  When oil is warm, add shallots and cook for 2 minutes with occasional stirring.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute; stir constantly to avoid burning.  Add spinach and artichoke to pan; cook until spinach is wilted – about 2 minutes.  Add cream cheese, tofu, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, milk and spices; cook with stirring until cheese melts and mixture is smooth.  To thicken, add flour and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Coat a glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray.  (I used 8x8-inch dish and it was a tight squeeze but it worked.  A 13x9-inch dish can also be used.)  Cover the bottom of the dish with 1 cup tomato puree.  Fill 20 shells with a heaping spoonful of the spinach and artichoke mixture and arrange in a single layer in the baking dish.  Cover with remaining tomato puree and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Makes 5 servings (serving size is 4 shells), approximately 355 calories per serving

Spinach, artichoke and tofu contained in a tomato sauced shell...delicious!

Overall I think this recipe modification worked out really well - it tasted like shells stuffed with spinach and artichoke dip!  We will definitely be having this again sometime!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It would be a crime to keep this to myself!  I would like to take a minute to thank my lucky stars for stumbling across the following recipe for Sweet Potato Hummus.  Now, all you sweet potater-haters, stay with'll be glad you did!

One of my favorite websites to visit is Tastespotting, an amazing "visual potluck" that displays pages upon pages of images of food.  Each image is linked to a blog or website that (usually) contains the recipe.  If you recall from my first blog post, two of my biggest interests are food and this website was definitely made for me!  Anyway, I have been bookmarking recipes that I want to make from Tastespotting and Sweet Potato Hummus was one of these recipes.  I have had a few sweet potatoes hanging around for a while (an unrealized intention of making sweet potato chips) so this drove my movement to making the hummus.  A quick trip to Whole Foods for tahini (sesame seed paste, probably can be found at other specialty/organic/hippie grocery stores) and it was on!

The recipe involves baking and cooling the sweet potatoes, which adds about 50-60 minutes to the preparation time (45 minutes of baking plus time for oven pre-heating).  Otherwise, this is a very quick and simple recipe...just add the ingredients to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

Sweet Potato Hummus

Sweet Potato Hummus (recipe from The Novice Chef)
2 medium sweet potatoes*
7.5 oz canned chick peas, rinsed and drained
1 tsp minced garlic or 3 small cloves of garlic
2 tbsp tahini
1/2 medium lemon,  juiced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 heaping tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ancho chili pepper
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Individually wrap sweet potatoes in foil and bake for 45-50 minutes, until tender.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Unwrap foil and remove peel. 
*I baked the sweet potatoes the night before and stored the peeled potatoes in tupperware overnight in the refrigerator.

In a food processor, combine chick peas and garlic.  Puree until "smooth" (mixture will be dry so it will not be completely smooth, but you'll be able to tell that it has been pureed).  Using a flexible spatula, scrape sides of the food processor to allow for further mixing.  Add the lemon juice, oil, sugar and spices; puree until smooth.  Add sweet potatoes; puree until smooth and completely combined.

Makes 10 servings (serving size is about 1/4 cup), approximately 80 calories per serving

I really cannot say enough good things about this recipe.  It is a perfect balance of slightly sweet and yummily savory.  I ate the hummus with multi-grain pita chips but I think it would also be very tasty with carrots, apple slices, spread on toast, eaten with crackers (maybe even graham crackers??), or off of a spoon =)  Let me know what you try!

Lastly, I want to admit that I have been dreaming about cupcakes ever since having the Jilly's cupcakes that I blogged about last time (and the other Jilly's cupcake I had after that...).  I want to stop thinking about cupcakes, but someone keeps rubbing them in my face...

Loving cupcakes - like mother, like puppy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quick and easy dinner: Shrimp with Lemon-Saffron Rice

I'd like to dedicate this post to my sister in Phoenix.  Brigette has called me a couple times recently while on her way to the grocery store and has asked for quick, easy recipe ideas that she could make for dinner.  The last time she asked me for ideas I promised her that I would gather together some recipes and send them to her.  One month (or more) later and I still haven't sent her anything...sorry Brig!  In lieu of a recipe collection I'm posting the following recipe, which was found in the January/February 2012 issue of Cooking Light.  Its easy, quick (20 minutes!) and definitely tasty.  Enjoy!

Shrimp with Lemon-Saffron Rice (recipe from Cooking Light)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 tsp minced garlic (I use the jarred, minced garlic)
1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp
2 cups uncooked instant rice
1/2 cup water
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed*
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp black pepper
14 oz chicken broth
1 cup frozen sweet peas
2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice (calls for fresh, but I used prepared lemon juice)

*A little insight into what I did:  I purchased saffron threads at a local spice store (though I recently saw that Trader Joe’s offers saffron!) and received a little guidance from the clerk, who said that she usually uses a “pinch” of threads for every cup of rice.  So instead of actually measuring out 1/4 teaspoon of saffron, just prior to the point of adding the spice I pulled out a couple hearty pinches of threads and crushed them beneath my fingers.  Saffron is fairly costly (my 0.2 ounce jar was about $8) but I after making this recipe I have to say that it’s worth it!

Heat a Dutch oven or large, deep saucepan (make sure you have something to cover it with; a lid, dinner plate, etc) over medium-high heat.  Add oil to pan and swirl to coat.  When oil has warmed, add onion and bell pepper; sauté with frequent stirring until vegetables are tender – about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds; stir constantly to avoid burning.  Add shrimp and cook for 1 minute with frequent stirring.  Add rice, water, spices and broth to pan; bring to a boil and cover pan.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until rice is done – about 5 minutes.  Remove pan from heat; stir in peas and lemon juice.

Makes 4 servings (serving size is 1 cup), approximately 400 calories per serving

I would definitely make this again...especially since I had to fight Jim for the leftovers!  I think the flavors would work just as well with poultry, so I might even try substituting chicken for shrimp sometime.  Let me know what you try!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Celebrating cupcakes

A new episode of Cupcake Wars was aired last night and one of the contestants represented a cupcake bakery from St. Louis!  In honor and support of Chefs Casey Shiller and Dana Holland from Jilly’s Cupcake Bar, I purchase two fabulous cupcakes for Jim and me to eat during the show.  I also skipped lunch and went on a long run in order to indulge in the aforementioned cupcakes…though I’m sure my efforts only put a dent into number of calories that these decadent, monstrous cupcakes (almost 1lb!) contain.

The chefs from Jilly’s have been on, and won, Cupcake Wars previously.  Unfortunately they didn’t make it past the second round this time.  While the loss is disappointing it’s a comfort to know that there are still amazing cupcakes (and brunch!) offered in Jilly’s newly-expanded storefront, such as the ones shown below.

Jilly's Black Forest Cupcake
Jilly's Reese's Cupcake

The Reese’s is a chocolate cupcake filled with peanut butter mousse and chocolate ganache. Chocolate buttercream, peanut butter buttercream and Reese’s chunks generously top this treat, which is also available as a vanilla cupcake.

The Black Forest is a chocolate cupcake filled with cherry pie filling and topped with vanilla buttercream, chocolate shavings, powdered sugar, and a cherry on top!

Jim and I split the two cupcakes so that we could get a taste of each (because you know if I got the better one then I wouldn’t want to share!).  While both cupcakes were incredibly tasty, the Reese’s was a bit too rich and overwhelming; I think a few bites of this cupcake are about as much as I can handle.  The Black Forest is also rich, but the tart cherry filling helps in keeping the sweetness of the frosting from being too much.  Overall these cupcakes are certainly delicious and are absolutely works of art, but I prefer a cupcake that is a bit smaller and more subdued.  So, in the future I will longingly gaze at Jilly’s cupcakes but will travel to The Cup to make a sweet purchase (the Tuxedo is my favorite!).

To end this celebration of cupcakes, I’m including a recipe for homemade “Hostess” cupcakes.  I made these cupcakes for a baby shower in December and was pleased with the results…though the recipe was derived from one found in Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes so it’s not surprising that it turned out well.  I don’t know exactly how I feel about Martha, but I have to admit that she knows her way around cupcakes.

Homemade “Hostess” cupcakes (adapted from Martha Stewart's Cream-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes)
For the cupcakes:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter plus, room temperature, plus more for muffin tins
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for muffin tins (I used Godiva)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter muffin tins and dust with cocoa powder to coat.  Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl; whisk to combine.
Using a handheld or stand mixer on medium, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each is added.  Decrease the mixer to low and add half of the flour mixture followed by half of the sour cream, mix until just combined.  Repeat with remaining flour and sour cream.  Make sure not to over mix!
Fill each well of the muffin tin a little over halfway.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool the cupcakes in the pan for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes remove cupcakes from pan and continue to cool on a wire rack.

While cupcakes are baking, prepare filling and chocolate glaze.  (Here is where I modified Martha’s recipe a bit…sorry Marty!)

For the filling:
3/4 stick of butter, room temperature
1 jar of marshmallow fluff
1 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp sugar

For the glaze:
2/3 cup heavy cream
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 tbsp corn syrup

To prepare glaze, heat heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, making sure not to let the cream boil.  In a separate bowl, combine chocolate and corn syrup.  When cream is hot, pour over chocolate and cover bowl with a plate.  Let sit 5 minutes.  Remove plate and whisk until mixture is smooth.  If the chocolate is not completely melted, microwave mixture for 15-20 seconds at a time, whisking after each round of heat.  If chocolate seems too thick to be able to dip cupcakes, add 1 tbsp of cream and whisk.  Repeat until desired consistency is reached.  Set chocolate glaze aside.

To prepare the filling, beat butter and marshmallow fluff with a handheld or stand mixer until creamed together.  In a separate bowl, beat whipping cream and sugar until stiff peaks form but be careful not to over mix.  (Whipped cream will be ready when you can turn a spoonful upside down and the cream does not slide or fall off.)  Carefully blend whipped cream into marshmallow mixture and transfer filling to a pastry bag fitted with a wide tip.  (If you do not have a pastry bag or a tip then you can make a cone out of parchament paper or even use a ziplock bag.  With either of these options just cut the tip off so that the opening is about as wide as a dime.)

To prepare cooled cupcakes for filling, use a teaspoon or melon baller to carefully cut "plugs" out of the bottom of the cupcake.  Set plugs aside, keeping each plug paired with the cupcake it came from.  After each plug is cut out, use the teaspoon or melon baller to carefully hollow out the inside of the cupcake to make room for the filling.  I would hollow out an area that is about the size of half of your thumb.  Be very careful doing this so that A) the cupcake base doesn't lose its foundation and crumble and B) the plug will fit snugly back into the cupcake.  I wish I would have taken a photo of this but I didn't think to...oops.  (Alternatively, a cupcake hollower could be used but I didn't have one of those so I had to make a melon baller work!)

When cupcakes have been hollowed out, fill 1/2 to 3/4 full with marshmallow filling then insert the cupcake plug.  Dip the top of each cupcake in the chocolate glaze and let excess to drip off.  Set cupcakes aside for 30 minutes to allow glaze to set.  When glaze is set, melt 2-3 oz of white chocolate in a parchament paper cone.  Cut a small tip and use white chocolate to decorate.  Allow white chocolate to set then insert cupcakes into cupcake wrappers, if desired.

So tasty!

Wow, that recipe and description was quite long!  Don't be scared to try this though, I'm just a little wordy, it's not as complicated or time-consuming as I've made it seem.  (Must work on being more concise...)

Hope you've enjoyed this cupcake break!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Evaluating the results of a cranberry-turkey experiment

A few weeks ago I bought fresh cranberries with the intention of baking delicious cranberry orange cupcakes with a mascarpone goat cheese frosting.  Fast forward three weeks and those cranberries are still in the fridge.  Even though the bag was buried beneath various fruits and vegetables in the drawer, I could hear the berries scream "Use us!" every time I opened the fridge.  Since I have committed myself to eating healthier then the cupcakes were not an option and I needed to think of some other application for the cranberries...

Time to think of a use for cranberries...need an idea...cranberries...Thanksgiving...turkey...turkey! 

To challenge myself I didn't use a recipe but instead experimented with flavors that would "match" cranberries and turkey.  Result?  Pretty tasty (and healthy!) dinner.

Please ignore the smudgy range top, I'm not the cleanest cook.

Cranberry-Pomegranate Glazed Turkey Fillets (yes, I need to work on my recipe-naming skills)

For the glaze:
2 tbsp pomegranate jelly or preserves
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced (I used 1/2 tsp of jarred minced garlic)
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp pink peppercorns, crushed (crushed between fingers, not ground)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb turkey fillets
1 cup fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
1 shallot, thinly sliced

In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the glaze.  Mix well and set aside.

Remove turkey fillets from packaging and lightly sprinkle with salt. Heat olive oil in a large skillet pan over medium heat, add fillets to pan when oil has warmed. Brown fillets for 1-2 minutes and turn to brown other side. After turning, brush first browned side of each fillet with a spoonful of glaze. Turn fillets again and brush with a spoonful of glaze. Add remaining glaze, fresh cranberries and shallots to pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, depending on thickness of fillets. During this time, turn fillets occasionally (don't worry about squashing the cranberries when you do this, they almost taste better when they get smushed!).

When fillets are cooked through, remove from heat and cool slightly before slicing. Serve with the cooked cranberries and shallots spooned over the turkey.

Makes 4 servings, approximately 275 calories per serving

I served the turkey with Trader Joe's Harvest grains that were prepared in chicken stock. I planned on roasting brussel sprouts to accompany the turkey, but I became too lazy and too hungry to spend the time on that, maybe tomorrow night!

Cranberry-pomegranate turkey fillets, an original recipe!

Welcome to the blog!

I think I've started writing this first post at least a handful of times, which resulted in zero content that I actually wanted to appear on the web.  Oh, the trials and tribulations of an obsessive person!  In any case, I've realized that I need to bite the bullet and just get the first entry out of the way, so here goes!

A few months ago, thanks to a generous and totally awesome gift from my parents-in-law, I was able to take a food photography course at Kitchen Conservatory.  This was such an amazing opportunity since my two biggest extracurricular interests are photography and food (making it, eating it, talking about it, looking at pictures of it...).  Though I thoroughly enjoyed cooking and eating the delicious dishes featured during the class, the food photography lesson was what really spoke to me.  I learned so much from the instructor (who, after four years in food photography, is a main contributor to foodie mags in St. Louis) and left the class with a newfound drive to practice my photography, specifically with food!

Since taking the course this fall, I have tried to take photos of nearly everything I've baked or cooked.  The accumulation of photos was really the catalyst for starting this blog, I wanted a way to document my photography over time so that I can watch my (hopeful) progress.  I don't want to be too presumptious and assume that others will be interested in the same things that I'm interested in, but a blog was my forum of choice because in addition to capturing my images over time I can also share my photos (and recipes!) with my family and friends.  In addition to sharing my food photos, I plan on including other photos and stories of where life has taken Jim and me.  I don't anticipate every entry to be interesting to everyone, but maybe it'll at least give someone a few minutes of entertainment when a break from work is needed (I mean, if you're the type that looks at non-work webpages while at work, which is totally not me.  I'm also not sarcastic.  Ever.)

So, now that the introduction is out of the way, here is the real first blog post.  Congratulations to Split Pea Soup, it has won the honor of first post!

Split Pea Soup, adapted from a recipe in Williams-Sonoma "Soup"
Thanks to my wonderful sister-in-law, I was able to try this recipe for Split Pea Soup.  My venture into soups is fairly new and this is definitely the first time that I've made split pea soup.  I took a few liberties with the recipe (e.g. Williams-Sonoma is too fancy to include baby carrots in their recipe, but that's what I had so that's what I used), but the final result fortunately passed the "Should I make it again sometime?" test!

Split Pea Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small/medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced (I used a mandolin slicer)
8-9 baby carrots, thinly sliced (again, mandolin slicer)
1 cup (7 oz) dried green split peas, rinsed and drained
5-6 cups (40-48 fl oz) chicken or vegetable stock
6 slices bacon
2 tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/4 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste

Warm oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.  Add onion to pan and sauté for 3-5 minutes.  Add celery and carrots and sauté until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.

Add split peas, 4 cups (32 oz) stock, 2 slices of uncooked bacon, parsley, marjoram and thyme to pan.  Reduce heat to medium-low and bring to a simmer.  Cover partially and cook until peas are tender, about 50-60 minutes.  While soup is cooking, fry remaining bacon until crisp, drain and cool.  When cool, crumble and set aside.

When peas are tender, remove 2 cups of the soup (include both strips of bacon) and purée in a blender or food processor with remaining 1-2 cups of stock (depending on how "soupy" you want it to be).  Return puréed soup to saucepan, season with salt and pepper, return to medium heat and simmer for about 5 more minutes.

Serve garnished with crumbled bacon and crusty french bread (no need to be fancy though, I made Pillsbury french bread!).

Makes 4 servings, approximately 300 calories per serving (by my best calculation)

I think the next time I make this I'll adjust the soupiness by adding a bit more stock (I added 1 cup during blending) because this was a little too baby-food-consistency for me.  I also might try using ham instead of bacon, though bacon was quite delicious.

Hope you enjoyed this entry, feel free to check back for more photos/recipes, including Tofu Satay Stir Fry, Shrimp with Lemon Saffron Rice, Spaghetti Pie, and more!