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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Spicy, Sweet and Sour Cucumber Noodle Salad

There's going to be a lot of meat smoking at my house this summer, which makes me extremely happy...fat and happy.  So naturally I am going to need a side dish to complement your more heavy meals like pulled pork sandwiches.  I can't think of a better balancing act than these crisp, cold, refreshing cucumber noodles.  The vinegar goes extremely well with barbecue and all the ingredients make this extremely healthy and light.  Again, a fantastic side to the plate of meat I will consume, which is just the opposite.  Now there seemed to be A LOT of liquid, so I am thinking of cutting the liquids in half next time.  I am writing the recipe below with that adjustment made.  If you make it and there is not enough liquid, just add some additional water and vinegar.

(Soon to come to the blog...the vinegar cole-slaw I made for the sandwiches was perfect.  It made the sandwich go from delicious to dream-worthy.)

Spicy, Sweet, and Sour Cucumber Noodle Salad
adapted slightly from Just a Taste

4 medium cucumbers, peeled and run through a spiralizer
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 cup red onion, chopped small
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Combine the vinegar, water and sugar and whisk until the sugar is dissolved.  In a large bowl, combine the cucumber strands, vinegar/sugar mixture, red onion, and red pepper.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.  When ready to serve, top with the sesame seeds.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad

For anyone reading who doesn't know...I am a high school math teacher.  I love my job for many reasons - aside from math being awesome and kids being funny, I always have a roomful of people with whom to share my thoughts.  So naturally, this food blog comes up quite often.  Do you remember being in school and having a teacher go off on a tangent and thinking, "This is awesome!  Please, please, please keep going long enough so that we don't have homework tonight!"?  Well, now I am on the other side of that, and my students know fully well that the best way to get me off topic is to bring up food.  My students have been the most ridiculously supportive of this blog, and although I am sure that part of that is because it can sometimes lead me to rant about where to find the best cannolis in the North End or how and why you should spatchcock a chicken, I also know it is because many of my students also share in my love of food and cooking.  I am always uber-excited to the point of near speechlessness when I hear that my students - past and present - are cooking my food.

So today was the seniors' last day of school.  I am not gonna lie...I am incredibly happy to be seeing the end of the school year near and summer come along.  Yet it was bittersweet - saying goodbye to some of my students today.  I have had the honor of teaching some of the most amazing kids in the state...the country...maybe even the world.  I hope they are reading this right now and know how proud they have made me with the kindness they demonstrate toward others, their enthusiasm for life, and their perseverance even when math can be a struggle.  I hope one student in particular is reading this now and will get to know how much her thank you meant to me.  She presented me with something truly special and her lovely words brought me to tears.  I apparently brightened her days as much as she brightened mine and it's really nice to know that I actually made a difference and wasn't just another annoying, naggy, math teacher force feeding unsolicited numbers and advice.  One of the negatives of teaching is that you rarely get to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  So sometimes an unexpected thank you can bring you to tears with happiness.

Speaking of students...another one of mine asked me if I would bake him a pie to go with his math project guessed it,,,pi!  I told him that if I had any time whatsoever to do so this weekend, I would.  Otherwise, he knows where Stop and Shop is.  (I am going to do my best.)  However, it is Memorial Day weekend and that means a barbecue with friends.  So the priority now lies in this pasta salad...which is awesome.  It is officially my favorite pasta salad ever.  Have a told you how much a hate mayo?  Well the dressing of this pasta salad is a pesto made from spinach!  (It feels kind of weird calling this a pesto when it has no basil, but I'll get over it.)  This pasta salad is so good that I couldn't stop tasting it.  I had to have Jim take it away from me before there was nothing left to bring.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do and I want to wish my seniors another sincere congratulations.

Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad
inspired by the kitchn

1 lb rotini pasta
6 oz baby spinach, divided
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 lemon, halved
4 Tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup pitted and halved kalamata olives
1/2 cup sliced sundried tomatoes
1 small shallot, diced small

While your pasta is cooking, place half of the spinach leaves in a food processor and top with the cheese, almonds, garlic, salt, and the juice of half of the lemon.  Pulse until the spinach is finely chopped.  Then add the rest of the spinach to the food processor and, while running, add the olive oil.  Process until smooth.  By now, your pasta should be finished cooking.  Drain and return to its pot.  Add the pesto while the pasta is still warm so the flavors can be absorbed.  Add the rest of the lemon juice, olives, tomatoes, and shallot.  Mix until thoroughly combined.  You can serve this salad warm or cold.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Singapore Noodles

Who doesn't need another noodle recipe???  As usual, you can really add any vegetables you want to this one, which is what I love most about noodle dishes in general, but singapore noodles are distinctly flavored with curry powder.  So if you love spice and curry, then you should absolutely love this dish.  It packs heat.  You could also add meat, shrimp or even tofu, but I made these tonight with just the veggies and it was great.  I can't wait to make them again.

Singapore Noodles
adapted slightly from Budget Bytes

8 oz vermicelli rice noodles (use brown if you can find it...they taste equally good)
1 Tbsp hot curry powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
3 Tbsp canola oil
4 heads of baby bok choy, thinly sliced
2 or 3 carrots, julliened
2 handfuls of beansprouts
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
some chopped cilantro to garnish

Submerge the rice noodles in a bowl of room temperature water for 15 minutes until they soften.  Drain the noodles, transfer them to a bowl, and cut up the noodles a bit with a pair of kitchen shears so that they will be easier to stir fry.  Then sprinkle with the curry powder, mixing until evenly distributed.  Heat the canola oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick pan or wok.  Once hot, add the ginger and garlic and cook for 30 seconds to a minute.  Then add the remaining veggies, reserving a bit of the scallions for garnishing at the end.  Stir fry for about 4 or 5 minutes until the bok choy and carrots have just softened.    Add the noodles to the pan and stir until heated through, about a minute or so.  Remove from the heat and add the soy sauce and sesame oil.  top with additional scallions and cilantro.

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Chocolate Hazelnut Bites

I have so many things to say about these chocolate hazelnut bites, but I'm going to lead with the fact that they taste a lot like nutella and those Ferrero Rocher chocolates...but without ANY of the sugar or oil or artificial ingredients.  Nutella tastes like heaven in a jar, but when I look at the ingredients, I feel...sadness.  Here is the ingredient list on a jar of nutella:  Sugar, Palm Oil, Hazelnuts, Cocoa, Skim Milk, Reduced Minerals Whey (from Milk), Soy Lecithin (an Emulsifier), Vanillin (an Artificial Flavor).  The first ingredient is sugar and the second is palm oil.  Then comes the hazelnuts and cocoa.  I personally find the last ingredient to be the kicker.  They couldn't spring for some real vanilla??? They went with "vanillin" - the fake stuff.  Again...sadness.

So what spurred me to make this creation???  Jim and I have been trying to lay off most of the added sugar in our diets.  I know I always say everything in moderation including moderation - and I still believe that - but that's exactly why we need to pull back from sugar.  Sugar is in almost every processed food that we consume.  It's in our yogurts and our cereals, our granola bars, and it's most definitely in the piece of chocolate I like to eat every night with my cup of tea.  Even when I cook, I often add a little bit of sugar.  Even when I try to avoid processed sugar, I still find that I add honey or maple syrup...still sugar.  I have yet to make a sugar free recipe!  I am still 100% for eating a sweet treat - I just want to try and stop doing that every single day all day long - that is feeling a little bit less than the moderation I try to live by.

So I have been trying to come up with a replacement for the chocolate component of my nighttime tea and chocolate ritual.  There is only so much fruit I can take.  I eat it all day long.  By the time 8 o'clock rolls around, I just don't want any more fruit.  what I really want is CHOCOLATE.  So I have found my fix.  I served these to some friends last night and they all loved them, but I think the key is that you must freeze them.  I tried them after I first made them and I wasn't all that happy.  It just tasted like what it is and nothing more...dates, cocoa, hazlenuts and vanilla.  But after tasting them out of the freezer...holy awesome.

 Chocolate Hazelnut Bites
recipe from Running to the Kitchen
makes 16 balls

2/3 +1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 cup pitted and chopped Medjool dates
1/3 cup rolled oats
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spread the hazelnuts over a parchment lined baking sheet.  Roast for 8 minutes.  After allowing them to cool for a few minutes, place them in a clean dish towel and attempt to remove most of their skins by rubbing the towel against a hard surface.  Then transfer to a food processor and process into fine crumbs.  Set aside 1/4 cup of the crumbs for rolling later.  Add the remaining ingredients and process for about two minutes.  The recipe I used said it would form a ball on the blade when it was ready after about two minutes, but that never happened for me.  I may not have used enough dates, but regardless, I was able to form balls out of the mixture anyway and it still tasted fantastic.  Form balls out of the mixture by the tablespoon and roll in the hazelnut crumbs that were set aside.  Place the finished balls on a single layer on a plate or baking sheet and freeze for at least 2 hours.  You can then place them in a freezer bag and enjoy one whenever the mood arises.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pasta with Chicken, Escarole, and Beans

So it's Thursday night and I have leftover pasta in the fridge.  Alone, I am projecting that will not get me through my three hour class tonight...pity party for me.  I need more to keep me going.  So I have a head of escarole waiting to be used in the fridge and when I think escarole, I think white beans.  I don't know why that's such a classic combo, but of course my husband hates white beans.  I'm pretty sure it is one of his objectives to make me replace at least one ingredient that customarily is found a dish.  Pine nuts in pesto...gone!  Like walnuts in your brownies?  Tough!  You want asparagus in your stir fry?  Fuggedaboudit.  I wonder where Adrienne gets it from??  Anyway, so it's kidney beans instead of white beans.  Feel free to use white beans if you make this and you prefer to do so...I personally like the texture of the white bean better for pasta (Jim of course disagrees.)  Although the color from the kidney beans made the dish much prettier to look it's all good.

Chicken, Escarole, and Bean Pasta
serves 4

8 oz. pasta of your choosing, cooked al dente
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into pieces (good chicken sausage would be amazing, but I had chicken breasts on hand.)
1 head of escarole, sliced into thin ribbons
1 15 oz. can of dark red kidney beans...or white beans...or chickpeas
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1-1/2 cups of chicken broth
1/3 cup romano cheese plus more for serving
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Saute the onion until translucent, then add the garlic and saute a minute more.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot.  Stir occasionally until completely cooked though, about 5 minutes.  Add the escarole, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently until wilted, about 5 minutes more.  Add the red pepper flakes, beans, and chicken broth.  Bring to a simmer and allow to cook so the beans get hot and your broth reduces a bit.  Then turn the heat to low, add the pasta and incorporate it thoroughly.  Add the romano cheese and mix well.  Remove it from the heat and serve hot with extra cheese.  Enjoy!

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