Friday, December 28, 2012

Mom's Lentil Soup

Whenever I come home, I have a pretty lengthy menu of meals I ask my mom to prepare. Usually, it's her Baked Mac and Cheese. She made it for Christmas Eve, so that was taken care of. Though, if we had it twice in one week, I wouldn't be mad.

My mom also makes a bunch of really delicious soups. Her split pea soup is the only pea soup I will touch, and her mini meatball soup is just yum-tastic. But then, there is her lentil soup.

I LOVE Mom's lentil soup. We just finished consuming 2 huge bowls each, and I realized that I definitely had to share this recipe. It is hearty, heartwarming, and can be made into a vegetarian dish as well!

As you can tell from this weathered recipe print out, this soup has been around the block. She's made little tweaks here and there in an effort to perfect it. The beauty is in the details people!

If you're a regular Gas Stove Girl soup follower, you know where we begin:


Diced onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. Salt and pepper for good measure.

Then a can of petite diced tomatoes are added, for a touch of sweet and sour love.

Lentils are cleaned and checked for rocks, then stirred into the veggie mixture.

Look at Mom go!

All good soups need chicken broth (twelve cups, to be exact).

Let this baby simmer away until the lentils are tender. We made the soup the day before and let it rest, covered tight, in the fridge overnight. This made the lentils super (SOUPer) tender and thickened the soup a bit. Just warm it up over low heat when you are ready to serve it.

Oh, and when it comes to serving, it should be over a cut spaghetti pasta. I swear no other pasta would do the trick. If you can't find a cut spaghetti (we used Barilla), feel free to get a box of real spaghetti and break it up yourself!

Alas, when sprinkled with grated Pecorino Romano. you have the perfect meal for a chilly winter night. The lentils are rustic and packed with antioxidants. The soup has just the slightest tang from the tomatoes, and the cheese gives it a salty and nutty edge. Totally yummy. And so simple!

mmMMmmMM....Mom's Lentil Soup, inspired by Giada DeLaurentiis

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Clementine Chicken and Broccoli

I have a weakness, and it's Chinese take-out.

Those delightfully salty dishes that are tucked so kindly in little cardboard cartons, anything and everything fried up to golden brown perfection.

Put down the phone. You do NOT need Chinese take-out tonight!

Last night's meal was a little bit of an accident, but a fun and tasty one at that! We are trying really hard to clear out most of our perishables in the kitchen in preparation for our holiday travels.

One thing I had an abundance of was clementines. I absolutely LOVE clementines, they are smaller and sweeter than oranges, and worlds easier to peel. I can eat 3 or 4 in one sitting. I just can't stop!

Now, even though I can house a whole lot of celementines at once, I find that no matter how hard I try, some of them always get mushy and go to waste. This is probably because you can only buy a big wooden carton of them at the store. Well, waste not friends!

I took a bunch of celementines and mixed them up with chicken, broccoli and spinach to create a fun twist on one of my favorite chinese food dishes--orange chicken!

It was lighter, not nearly as greasy, and not smothered in some kind of mystery sauce. But it was flavorful and fun and extremely simple to make!

I followed some of my own rules on how to build a better stir fry and built flavors on top of one another. It starts by steaming broccoli in water and celementine juice.

Then I use a very special clementine olive oil (O brand) to sautee the broccoli until golden brown. Toss in the chicken and wedges from 2 or more clementines.

Balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, more clementine juice, and spinach thicken up the dish just a little bit; a plate of brown rice begs to be topped with the stir fry! Quick, and flavorful, and hearty, and delicious.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Peppermint Oreo Balls

Peppermint and Chocolate are so in love. And I am in love with them. You are, too.

You don't think so? What about those Peppermint Mocha Lattes you've been pounding back? Or that mint hot chocolate that you can't get enough of? And how many boxes of Thin Mints do you buy each year from those cute little Girl Scouts?

Do you know what happens when you take Oreos (America's favorite cookie obviously), candy canes, and cream cheese and dip them all in chocolate?

Answer: An amazing explosion of chocolatey, minty, rich and creamy goodness!

Alternative Answer: A surprisingly simply but decadent holiday dessert!

Alternative to the Alternative Answer: Peppermint Oreo Balls!

Traditionally, Oreo Balls consist of mashed up Oreos mixed together with cream cheese then dipped in chocolate (milk, white, dark, semi-sweet, whatever you fancy!). They are absolutely addictive.

In an effort to be festive I imagined the aforementioned treats with an extra, pepperminty surprise. And since my cat keeps ruining Christmas by knocking all the candy canes off the Christmas tree I thought...yes. I will remove the candy canes from the tree and I will put them in the Oreo balls. Double win.

The process is super easy. Blend the oreos and candy canes together in a small food processor.

Then, using your best tools (your hands!), mash together the cookie and candy cane crumbs with softened cream cheese until well combined.

Form the mixture into 2-inch balls (I use a heaping teaspoon) and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze and wait, trying your best to be patient.

Using a double boiler, we will melt together a little bit of milk and a whole bunch of semi-sweet chocolate.

The frozen balls go for a swim in the chocolate pool. Then they are topped with tiny pieces of candy cane and returned to the freezer.

After the chocolate has set, you will simply transfer the balls to the refridgerator for storage until they are ready to serve!

If you get invited to a last minute holiday party, these are a super quick and delicious dessert. Nearly everyone at the party will devour them! They are a bit like a truffle and a cookie combined. And better still - there is no baking required!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rustic Potato Soup

It started with a need to clean out some of my perishables. The holidays are coming which means I will be traveling. Nothing would ruin a fabulous Christmas and New Years than coming home to a fridge full of moldy milk, expired chicken broth, and brown wilted vegetables.

Soups (my one true food love) are always a great option for the "kitchen sink" type of meals. I absolutely love hearty soups with tons of veggies and rich, tender potatoes. I happened to have plenty of both on hand.

My go-to potato soups are usually rich and thick and creamy. Think baked potato soup, or potato leek.

When I started putting this soup together, I decided more justice would be served to the ingredients if I kept it a little lighter. Not quite a broth-based soup, but not a rich potato mash either.

What I ultimately plated up for dinner was a Rustic Potato Soup, served alongside a toasted baguette and topped with pecorino romano and green onions. It was light yet hearty at the same time. With the bread, it created a very simple and sophisticated dinner; and, like all great soups, it reheated beautifully for a lunch time treat the next day.

And it started as any good soup should. With carrots and celery.

Herbs got bundled together to create a vessel of flavor euphoria.

I gave my russet potatoes a nice, rustic peel. Peeling potatoes "rustically" means a very, very lazy woman had the task of removing some of the skin from these taters, and she certainly couldn't be bothered removing every last bit of it.

Into the pot everything goes, along with a secret flavor weapon....a parmesan rind!

Whenever get down to the very bottom of a block of parmesan, be sure to wrap the rinds well and save them as flavor agents for your soups! They will last for a long time in the fridge.

The soup will simmer away until the potatoes become tender and then a little bit of low-fat milk is mixed in for a slight creamy edge.

All the flavors are very delicate, and the additions of potato and milk lets it stick to your stomach. I suggest using this as a base and adding in whatever you may have lying around the kitchen like chicken, kale, spinach, leeks.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How to: Make a Meal out of Annie's Mac and Cheese

The title of this post is so ridiculous I am already laughing. I had some other titles in mind. Something to the effect of:

"College Food Gone Wild"

"So What, There is Powdered Cheese Product in this Meal"

and "23 Year Olds like Boxed Mac&Cheese too!"

There is context to this. I promise. So when Hurricane Sandy was plowing her way up to the Northeast, I had a mini panic attack because Mommy and Grandpa weren't going to be here to make sure I had everything I needed in case of an emergency. It was just me, the cat, the turtle, and the boyfriend.

Have I never mentioned Angelo before? He is my Russian tortoise. I welcomed him into my family during sophomore year of college. He was our suite pet. He's hilarious. And his name is Angelo, which is also funny considering he is not a human.

Anyway, so it's the four of us. We made some spare water, took a candle inventory and made sure the two little flashlights we have had working batteries. Then I ran to the grocery store to get some non-perishable snacks. For some reason, I bought a family size box of Annie's White Cheddar Shells. I don't know what I was thinking or how I intended on cooking this in the event the power went out, but I got it.

I am currently in a pantry-clearing kick and so I decided last night that this purple box with bunnies on it had to go.

 I couldn't bring myself to just make the mac and cheese according to package directions, so I decided to dizzy it up a little bit. I had a lot of great veggies lying around as well, so what I went with was a Baked Veggie Mac and Cheese.

I have to say, this really ended up being a pretty flavorful dinner and it came together in no time at all. Better still is that you can take some of the basic principles here and apply it to a real homemade mac and cheese dish (like the buttery bread crumb topping). So next time you find yourself with a box of Mac and Cheese and no drunk person to make it for, try creating something better from it - I don't think you will be disappointed!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Rainy Saturday mornings usually means you'll find me vegging on the couch with a cup of coffee and the Food Network playing. I don't feel guilty about it, I just thought you should know.

As I have been on a bit of a baking kick lately, I thought I would also treat myself to a delicious homemade treat on this dreary day.

I used a leftover carton of sour cream to make a sweet and lovely loaf cake. Add a cinnamon and brown sugar streusel topping to that, and what I was left with was a sweet and moist coffee cake.

This cake is really tremendous. I had a very large piece for breakfast, and I'm not sorry I did. I'll probably do the same tomorrow.

The sour cream keeps the cake moist and not too sweet. I love the crunch on top from the streusel, too. In a way, the cake is also light and delicate. It's such a great combination of flavors and textures.

I used to LOVE those Hostess coffee cakes. The kind that came with 2 in a pack. I'd eat those for breakfast, I'd have them as a snack, they made a great dessert too. Now that I consider myself an adult, I usually try to avoid pre-packaged baked goods. Does any good REALLY come from those?

Well, good does come from my oven. And that goodness is in the form of a Sour Cream Coffee Cake. The adult Hostess snack of my dreams!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Mini Fried Pickles

I don't know if it was Snooki's influence on the Jersey Shore or if my palette has just become more advanced in my twenties, but all of a sudden I LOVE pickles. A delicious BLT is not complete without a dill pickle or two.

I actually find sweet pickles to be slightly repulsive, but dill dickles. Oh lawd, can't get enough!

On a whim while in the grocery store a few weeks ago I bought a jar of Gherkins. These are cute baby pickles that I thought would be easy to take for lunch alongside sandwiches and the like. I always disappoint myself. I never brought these pickles with my lunch. I would just eat some here and there while I waited for dinner to cook or couldn't decide what to have for a snack.

I realized that someone out in the greater food world really loves me; I know this, because that person invented fried pickles. I love you, Mr. or Mrs. Fried Pickle Inventor. I really, really do.

Because of my love for all things miniature, I thought it would be extra adorable to have Fried Gherkins. And I felt today was as good as any to put that vision into action.

I whisked together all-purpose flour with a beaten egg and some beer. I drank the rest of the beer (you should also do this when you decide to make this yummy snack). Once this mixture resembles a batter, season with salt and pepper.

Next, it's time for the Gherkins to go for a swim in the batter. Be sure that the pickles are drained well beforehand!

Vegetable oil on the stove.

"I'm melting!!"

"Oh no wait...I have just become a crispy and delicious treat!"

Dip them in a mixture of sour cream, chili powder, and green onions. Chow down!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Red Velvet Black and White Cookies

Christmas time makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

I just put up a fun-sized (read: appropriate size for a 1 bedroom apartment in the greater Boston area) Christmas Tree and our family stocking last night. The Christmas cheer is palpable!

I love going around looking at houses all decked out with lights, and spiral trees, and giant Santa balloons.

I am addicted to eating and drinking all things peppermint and candy cane and chocolate.

My best friend Lisa and I can quote the entire Jim Carrey version of the Grinch. It's so worth it.

Who can forget about the whole presents part of Christmas? There is no better feeling than giving someone a perfect and thoughtful gift that they adore, or receiving a gift that had the same care and thought put into it. People love each other year round, but we really know how to show it in December, don't we?

Then, there's the cookies.

Christmas and cookies. Peanut butter and jelly. Skinny jeans and booties. These are matches made in heaven.

I made these Red Velvet Black and White cookies from Joy the Baker this past weekend. These could not have been baked at a better time. It was like, I was all depressed because it started snowing and life is sometimes so boring and I couldn't get into the Christmas spirit and then BAM! Red Velvet + Chocolate Glaze + Cream Cheese Frosting came to remind me that things are never all that bad.

They reminded me, in fact, that things are usually pretty darn good.

I will absolutely be making these a second time for Christmas with the family in New York. I encourage you to do the same, no matter where your holiday celebrations take you. They are soft and decadent, rich from cocoa powder and chocolate glaze, but also sweet and tangy from the cream cheese frosting. Go forth and bake these, friends! You know you want to!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Parmesan and Herb Butternut Squash Sauce

I know what you're thinking...

2 posts about pasta in a row?! (That IS what you were thinking, isn't it?)

Look, let's just set the record straight. Pasta dishes are just delicious. If it weren't for the abundance of empty carbs and the obesity that would ensue, we would eat pasta all day, every day. wouldn't? Liar. J/K I still love you though.

The one thing that isn't always rainbows and butterflies when it comes to pasta dishes is that they can often seem redundant. Pasta. Sauce. Maybe a veggie tossed in. And some variation of protein. Yadda yadda yadda.

Nowadays, people are looking to answer one big question: how can I lighten up some of my favorite pasta dishes? Whole wheat pasta is a great place to start. I really enjoy the texture of whole wheat pasta. It's a little grainy and stays firm even if you cook it a little more than al dente.

I have also seen a lot of foodies out there branching out beyond traditional sauces like marinara, alfredo, and marsala. One trend that has intrigued me most this season is the use of pureed butternut squash as a substitute for sauce. I've never cooked with butternut squash before, but I am really happy that I tried it!

I used whole wheat rotini pasta (the rotini is one of my favorites because the saucey goodness tends to get trapped in the center of the curls) and mixed it up with sweet chicken sausage and baby broccoli. Add a heaping palm-ful of parmesan cheese to pureed butternut squash along with your favorite fresh herbs, and the result is a sophisticated and out-of-the-box pasta dish.

This whole meal comes together in about 30 minutes (extra bonus!) and the flavors are just bursting in each bite! Even my self-proclaimed pasta fanatic boyfriend went back for seconds and thirds, so I know something went right. Next time you want a comforting meal without the expense of a day's worth of carbs, pick up a butternut squash and give this recipe a try!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Aunt Roe's Bolognese Sauce

Our family said goodbye to an amazing woman a couple of weeks ago. My Great Aunt Roe passed away on November 11th.

Saying goodbye is always hard, though the time we spent with the family allowed everyone to reflect on all the good times -- the laughs, the stories, the visits, the food.

When my sister and I were in middle school, we would spend a lot of time during our summer vacations at "Camp Rosemary." This was a very exclusive summer camp that involved days with Aunt Roe doing puzzles, making crafts from Michael's, watching the Game Show Network and playing around with her Italian Greyhound, Stella.

Aunt Roe loved entertaining and being around others and welcoming friends and family into her home. She always thought to put others before herself--what a gracious woman!

Whenever we visited Aunt Roe, we knew there was going to be some delicious food involved. First, there were her infamous Chicken Cutlets. She would pound out the chicken so thin, and they would be cooked to fried crispy perfection. I will NEVER be able to make chicken cutlets like her--they were addicting! She also made the BEST peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I don't know what her secret was...perfectly toasted bread, an even distribution of peanut butter and jelly, some extra love sprinkled in.

As I started cooking more, she bestowed upon me one of her best recipes...Bolognese Sauce. This sauce is just delicious. A creamy tomato sauce with ground pork and beef, simmered on low until it reaches perfection. I cannot begin to count how many bowls of pasta I have enjoyed that were topped with this sauce and a healthy amount of parmesan cheese.

Cory and I wanted to honor Aunt Roe by cooking up a batch of her bolognese sauce this week. It is warm and loving, just like Aunt Roe. Enjoy it with family and friends, share laughs and good stories, just enjoy each other! Next time you need a pick me up, this is your solution.

Now, before you make this, there are some things we need to set straight.

First, it needs to be topped with a generous helping of FRESHLY GRATED parmesan cheese. None of that powdery bottled stuff. It elevates everything to a level of cheesey Italian euphoria.

Second, none of that whole wheat pasta. Fresh pasta would be best, but otherwise try it with a short cut roni of some kind. Rotini and cavatappi are some of our favorites.

Third, don't try and go all lean here. What I'm saying is, this dish does not want to be made with ground turkey or chicken (it told me so!). Pork and beef. The only options. Got it? Good.

Fourth, warm and toasty bread should be served on the side with a smear of butter. I know what you're thinking...pasta AND bread? SO MANY CARBS. That's OK. We are just going to pause our diet for one night and eat this meal the way it was supposed to be eaten.

The recipe below is enough sauce for 2 pounds (2 boxes) of pasta. That will serve about 6 people very hearty portions. If you are cooking for a smaller crowd, still make the full batch and freeze the second half. These measurements are impossibly annoying to cut in half, and besides, this freezes VERY well. Just defrost all day in the refrigerator when you are ready to use it again.

From my family, to yours. Here it is: Aunt Roe's Bolognese Sauce

Here's what you need:

1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
6 tablespoons of butter (not a typo...6, no more no less)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove chopped garlic
1 medium onion, diced
1 14.5 ounce can tomato sauce
1 14.5 ounce can beef broth
1 10.5 ounce can tomato paste
1/3 cup or more half and half

Here's what you do:

In a large, deep skillet, add the olive oil and sautee the garlic for no more than 1 minute. Melt in the butter over medium heat.

Add in the onions and cook until slightly browned and softened.
Add in the meat. Crumble and cook until browned.
 In a bowl, mix the paste and most of the beef broth.
Reduce heat to low and stir in the beef broth mixture. Add in the tomato sauce gradually, using the remaining beef broth to clean out as much of the sauce and paste from the cans as possible (personal tip from Aunt Roe that she wanted written explicitly in the recipe!).

Cook on low for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the sauce cooks and all the flavors marry together, cook pasta to al dente in a generously salted pot of water.

Just before serving, stir in the half and half. Start with 1/3 of a cup and add more depending on your creaminess desires. I usually don't even measure it. Just pour and stir, pour and stir, in small batches until desired thickness.

For serving, as I always enjoyed it at Aunt Roe's, I like to add this sauce individually to each plate rather than combining all the pasta and sauce together in one pot or mixing bowl. Serve 3 to 4 serving-spoonfuls of pasta and top with 2 to 3 generous spoonfuls of bolognese sauce. Allow everyone to add their own parmesan cheese (but encourage them to go overboard. Just this once).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Cranberry Baked Brie Bites

Well, Thanksgiving came and Thanksgiving went.

We all ate a little too much turkey, a little too much gravy, way too many slices of pie, and more scoops of mashed potatoes than we care to count.

Despite all of this overeating, one thing is always certain...

No matter how fast Thanksgiving comes and goes, the leftovers are here to stay.

Most leftovers are pretty easy to tackle. Turkey can be made into yummy soups and stews and sandwiches. Mashed potatoes and vegetables make a great base for lunch.

But what about that pesky cranberry sauce?? Is it an easy part of the meal to throw away? Sure. But I say, waste not!

Let's put that cranberry sauce to new use. Let's grab a couple of sheets of frozen puff pastry. Let's put brie and cranberry sauce/chutney/preserves inside. Let's call it---Baked Brie Bites.

I was originally inspired by this Joy the Baker recipe. I'm pretty sure my mouth started watering as I read through the description. I don't tend to have too much jelly/jam/marmalade on hand, but thanks to Thanksgiving (how punny!)--I did have plenty of Cranberry Apple Chutney leftover!

I absolutely recommend serving these hot out of the oven--they make a great appetizer. I have also been enjoying a few of them for breakfast each morning alongside scrambled eggs (it's like an adult bite-sized Pop Tart! Rejoice!).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes for Kitty!

 One year ago today, I fell in love.

One year ago today, I think I became a cat lady. I was NOT a cat lady ever before. I was more of a dog lover (sidenote: I still love dogs).

One year ago today, the boyfriend and I took a little trip to the MSPCA Angell animal shelter around the corner. We just wanted to "check out the place," see what the shelter had to offer, see what the process was to adopt. We were foolish.

One year ago today, this darling face stared up at me, cradled in my arms in the cat room. His eyes said "please take me home with you."

One year ago today, we signed some papers and we took him home.

I think pets are such an important part of our lives. They offer a kind of love that's different from human love but just as endearing. They don't care what you wear or what you say or where you live. They just want to be near you.

Our cat, Dot, is funny, handsome, mischievous, and just a bundle of joy. He's ALWAYS hungry (like mother, like feline).

Sometimes he makes me really mad. Like the 3 times he has ripped holes in our new windowshades because there was a moth taunting him. Or that one time when I was sound asleep and he dumped an entire glass of water on my head. Or the way he knocks over any decoration or cup or vase simply because it's there. Or all the holes he has made in the screens when he tries to get at the birds flitting around outside. For shame, kitty cat.

But when he isn't making me mad, he makes me laugh. Like when he yawns these big giant yawns (because staying home sleeping all day and then resting afterwards is hard work), or when he literally watches what's playing on the tv, or when he begs for chicken even though I'm cutting up carrots, or when he chases around his own furballs because he thinks it's a mouse, or when he jumps in the dryer.

So one year ago today we welcomed this handsome boy into our home and we couldn't be happier. And I thought the occassion called for something special. Cupcakes are always special. And since it's Thanksgiving (tomorrow!!) pumpkin cupcakes seemed like a logical choice.

Special pumpkin cupcakes for Dot's one year adopt-iversary and 2nd birthday!

You can mock me, but just this once.