Hot Chocolate

Seriously, how horrible is it when you text/tweet/email and you realize you absolutely regret what you just wrote.

I, for one, am a completely delusional person, and always in the mindset thinking that I’m hilarious; especially when impulsively tweeting from my iPhone.  Unfortunately, I am brought back to reality when after a second read, I realize that I’m either:

1) creepy

2) approaching stalker-status

3) confusing

4) not hilarious.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

No one wants to discuss geriatric shoe inserts.  Why would I admit this?  So.not.funny.

Oh. My. God. Why did I reply my first thought of botched conception and then crying about it over a movie?  FAIL.

I’m not even a mom.  Why did I suggest that?  And why am I obsessed with all things related to feet?  Socks?  Really?!

Overshare.  The end.

This is just the beginning of my starting to reply to/tweet randomly @sassyradish.  ie looking like a stalker.  In my defense, this youtube clip is hilarious.  Yeah, not much of a defense.

To give you some background, @sassyradish tweeted randomly one day how she switched gyms to Equinox.  I of course, remembered this (because I’m a stalker, remember?) and mentioned it in my reply.  I think she’s now scared for her life.

This, well, this I think is a matter of things getting misinterpreted in tweet-speak (I hate that I’m making that a word).  I meant it to be funny, but I think she took it personally.  Note to self, always use a smiley face because when I think I’m being hilarious, I’m not.  People just think I’m being mean, crazy, <insert deranged-person-characteristic here>.

None of these tweets got back replies, and you obviously know why.  Seriously, would you reply back?  I’m surprised I haven’t been blocked yet.

But with this oversharing, you will understand why sometimes I need to curl up with a mug of warm, rich, hot chocolate.  The shame of my impulsiveness in Twitter-land is just too much for one to handle, and the comfort of liquid chocolate is a necessity.

While you may lead a normal social media life, I hope that with it being the first week of November, you can take a step back from the strong coffees and teas, to indulge in something special.

Adapted from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite

Serves 2

Ingredients

One third of a cup of water

2 tablespoons of cocoa powder

Half cup of light coconut milk

1 cup of unsweetened almond milk

Quarter cup of turbinado sugar (or you can use brown sugar, I just didn’t have any in my cupboard)

Quarter cup of chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Equipment

2 small saucepans

A whisk

A sharp knife

Add the water to a small saucepan and place on a burner over medium heat.  Bring the water to a boil.  Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a second saucepan, add the coconut milk, almond milk and turbinado sugar.  Place the pan on a burner over medium heat.  Whisk until the sugar has dissolved, about two to three minutes.  Add the cocoa powder mixture and chopped chocolate.  Stir till smooth.  Add the vanilla extract.

Serve, but maybe wait a minute till drinking so you don’t burn your tongue! …like I did.

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Butternut Squash Cake with Dark Chocolate and Dried Cranberries

I’ve mentioned it quite a bit this month that some items in our CSA has been more difficult to get through than others.  Produce like kale and onions were used within a day or two, while squashes and sweet potatoes have found practically a permanent residence on the shelf next to our Keurig.

I’ve honestly never made a cake with butternut squash before, but being related to pumpkin, I figured why not do a twist on a cake that I love so much this time of year.  Also, I had such good luck with my sweet potato cake, that I was hoping I’d ride on that recipe karma to something fantastically unexpected.

Yes, I always have high expectations.  That’s how I roll.

I’m glad that I took the chance, as this cake is incredibly moist, lush, with bits of chocolate speckled through the batter, yet countered beautifully with the bright, tart cranberries.  It’s something that I look forward to making again, especially since squash season is far from over and warming our apartment with an oven baking a cake is far better than turning on the radiator (hello humidifier, please jump into my trunk at Target because our heater hates my hair).

Adapted from Sweet Potato Spice Cake with Dried Cranberries

This makes two cakes, but can be easily halved.  The batter is especially thick and when the original recipe is used (for the two cakes), it is a large amount, therefore making one cake should be considered especially when not using a stand mixer.

Ingredients

5 cups of butternut squash “moosh” (1 large butternut squash) *Peel, de-seed and cut your squash into chunks and place on a microwave safe plate.  Cover with a paper towel and microwave until very soft.  (This took me about 10 minutes.)  Mash the chunks until very smooth, thus “moosh.”

One and a half cups of sugar

2 flax seed eggs (2 tablespoons of ground flax seed, mixed with 6 tablespoons of water, set aside for ten minutes)

1 cup of unsweetened unflavored almond milk (or another non-dairy milk)

Three quarters of a cup of mild tasting olive oil (if you are halving this recipe, you will need 6 tablespoons of olive oil)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

4 cups of white whole wheat flour

1 heaping tablespoon of baking soda

1 heaping tablespoon of baking powder

1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

1 cup of dried cranberries (I love it when the dried cranberries plump up in a cake, so yes, 1 cup it is)

Quarter to a half cup of chocolate, chopped

Quarter cup of turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (you can use regular sugar)

Equipment

1 large sized mixing bowl (the biggest one you have, seriously)

1 medium sized mixing bowl

A spatula

A whisk

Two 9″ cake pans

Parchment paper (optional) or grease your pan (with butter, like Earth Balance, and dust with flour)

Place the oven rack in the middle position in your oven.  Preheat your oven to 350F.

In the medium sized mixing bowls, add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Whisk the ingredients together, till combined.

In the large sized mixing bowl, add the butternut squash “moosh,” flax eggs, sugar, almond milk, olive oil and vanilla extract.  Stir till combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet, in increments.  Stir till combined.  Fold in the dried cranberries and dark chocolate.  The batter is going to be extremely thick and you’re going to question my sanity.  Trust it.

Spoon out the batter into your pans.

Bake for about about 35 – 45 minutes.  At the 30 minute mark, sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the tops of the cakes.  At the 35 minute mark, use a cake tester (like a toothpick), and insert into the middle of the cake.  If it comes out with a little bit of crumb, it’s done.  If not, put it back in the oven for another five minutes, and check again.

When done, remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

Butternut Squash Pasta with Braised Kale

I’ve had two butternut squashes taking up shelf space in my kitchen for the past couple of days.  Thoughts of throwing them into another soup and maybe even a cake crossed my mind, as every time I went to make a cup of coffee, there they were.

One of my favorite after work dinners as of late has been pumpkin pasta, and when I made it again on Tuesday, I asked myself, why not a pasta dish with butternut squash?  They were both from the same vegetable family, and have a lovely mellow flavor with a hint of sweetness.  The pasta dish was also a way to use a winter squash variety as a main component, something that Roo insisted he disliked.  But the sneakiness paid off, and like a kleptomaniac, I was absolutely addicted to the idea of getting away with it.

Yes, he is so lucky to have all. of. this. (crazy.)

There are many ways to prep butternut squash, but I prefer roasting, as I can allow it to cook while I work on the rest of the meal.  Roasting also brings out a great flavor in the squash, as the sugars in it naturally caramelize at high temperatures.  Of course, Roo’s main complaint about squash is that it is too sweet, in a dish he believes should be savory.  While I knew roasting the butternut squash would bring out its natural sugars, balancing it out with something bright and acidic, like freshly squeezed lemon juice, was a just another trick I had up my sleeve.  I could not wait to plate up my little brainstorm for Roo and just smile, (for the sake of the relationship, never say I told you so.  Smiling though, totes acceptable.) eagerly waiting for him to tell me it was delicious.

As I’ve said in the past, I love the element of greens swirled in with a creamy pasta dish.  Braised kale isn’t the end all, as you could easily add roasted broccoli or even cauliflower to this and make it just as delicious.  The kale however, works quite well, as the liquid you cook it in can be used to thin the pasta sauce if needed.  However, if you are using a sturdy pasta like penne, then thinning out the sauce may not be necessary (I used spaghetti as that’s all I had).  Also, you may just like thick sauce!  As always, cooking is something I love that people can use as an expression of themselves.  All of our tastes are different, and it’s up to you to use your own senses of smell, taste and sight, to decide what you’d like the final meal to be like.

Pasta Sauce Adapted from Oh She Glows

 

Braised Kale Adapted, a little, from My Recipe

Ingredients

For the squash

One small butternut squash, peeled and chopped (about 3 cups uncooked)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 pinch of fine sea salt

For the kale and sauce

2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil

2 medium onions, diced

8 cloves of garlic, minced

2 teaspoons of red pepper flake (this is a bit of heat to be shared for both the kale and butternut squash pasta sauce, so if you’re sensitive to spice, start off slowly, with half a teaspoon)

For the sauce

Three quarters of a cup of cashews

1 cup of unsweetened unflavored almond milk (and extra if you’d prefer to thin out your sauce with this)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons coarse sea salt

4 – 6 tablespoons of Nutritional Yeast

Half teaspoon of dijon mustard

Half teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning

Quarter teaspoon of ground tumeric (optional)

Pepper to taste

1 bunch of kale, leaves pulled off from stems and torn into easily edible pieces  (make sure to wash it well!)

One and a half to 2 cups of low sodium broth (I used homemade vegetable)

One box (about 12 ounces) of pasta (I would recommend something like a penne, something substantial to stand up to the thick sauce, ie not spaghetti…don’t make my mistake!)

Reserved liquid from braised kale

Equipment

A medium sized mixing bowl (can hold about 4 cups)

A cookie sheet (line with parchment paper if you hate cleaning dishes)

A large saute pan

A spatula

A sharp knife

A food processor

A big pot

A colander

Place the oven rack to the middle position in your oven.  Preheat the oven to 400F.

In a medium mixing bowl, add the chopped squash, olive oil and salt.  Toss (I used my hands) until the ingredients are well combined.  Place the tossed butternut squash onto your (lined) cookie sheet, and roast in the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on how hot/temperamental your oven is.  Check on it halfway though, flipping the squash to ensure both sides get browned.

Pour the olive oil into your large saute pan.  Place the pan on a burner over medium heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onion, and stir into the olive oil so that all of it is well coated.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned.

While your onions are cooking, throw your part of your pasta sauce together.  In a food processor, add the cashews and process until the nuts become a fine crumb (like corn meal).  Add the almond milk, lemon, salt, nutritional yeast, mustard, italian seasonings, tumeric (if using), and pepper to taste.  Process the ingredients till smooth.  Set aside (in the food processor).

When the onions are lightly browned (oh no, did you forget the about the onions?), add the garlic and red pepper flake.  Stir until well combined.  Cook, stirring occasionally for about another two (until the garlic becomes lightly browned) to four minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and add half of the caramelized onions, garlic and red pepper flake to the pasta sauce in the food processor.  Set the pan back on the burner, and give the pasta one or two pulses to mix the ingredients back together.

Now it’s time to add the kale and “let the magic happen” (I love the sound kale makes in a sizzling hot pan).  Add the kale in batches (ie only adding enough kale to form a single layer in the pan), tossing it around in the ingredients, covering it in the oil, onion, garlic goodness.  When all the kale has been incorporated (and wilted), add the broth.  The liquid should reach halfway up your greens.  Again, toss the kale in the pan so that it’s been splashed around by all that goodness in there.

When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to very low to keep the liquid at a simmer.  Cook the kale until it’s no longer bitter and tender.  The broth will be reduced to more than half.  When the kale is done, remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Cook the pasta according to the box’s directions.  During this time your squash should be ready.

Add the squash to your food processor and process until the sauce is smooth.  Taste.  Does it need more salt?  Pepper?  Adjust the seasonings to your liking.

This. Sauce. Will. Thicken.

So don’t fret dear reader, if it’s not super thick for you yet, just wait.  It’s going to happen.

When the pasta is ready, remove it from heat, drain and rinse with cold water.

No seriously, do this or else your sauce will break when you add the hot pasta to this.

Add the pasta back to the pot.  Add the sauce and kale to the pasta.  Mix.  Is your pasta sauce too thick?  Add either the liquid from the braised kale or almond milk to it.  Taste.  Do you need more seasonings?  Adjust accordingly.

If the pasta is too cold, you can warm it up in its pot on a burner over very low heat.

Cooking Playlist 2

It was around this time last year that Roo and I drove down to Pennsylvania for a wedding.  The last of his college friends were getting married and the ceremony was near the bride’s hometown.

Needless to say it was a beautiful wedding, I’ve probably never laughed so hard thanks to Roo’s amazing friends, and we all (over)appreciated the open-bar.  Unfortunately, as I had mentioned before in March, it ended up being host to the most ridiculous fight Roo and I ever had (yes, it took me months afterwards to write about it, it was that bad).  The next day we said our goodbyes to everyone at the hotel and drove back to Boston (a total of six hours), in absolute silence.

As we sat in the car, hostages to our own emotions, we listened to a mix CD from the bride and groom (a party favor for all the wedding guests).  It was basically my own Panama, as I had to endure the playlist on repeat for the entire car ride home.  Never before had I not talked to someone in the same car with me for that long, all the while watching them hit ‘play’ again, and again.

It was hell.

Fast forward to this past weekend, as I was driving home from the grocery store, I reached into the center console and grabbed the first CD case my hand laid upon.  And yes, the plot is totally obvious in this story, as I pulled out that same CD I had to listen to almost a year ago.

I debated putting it into the player, but when I looked at the back of the case, reading what artists were on the playlist, I decided to give it a second chance.

I loved it.

I loved it so much that I have been counting down the days to share it with you on LLN, wanting to time it with the weekly Cooking Playlist.

As for you, dear reader, I hope that this playlist gets you out of your head while you cook.  Some people think cooking has to be all serious, following the recipe exactly or else their kitchen will implode (or <insert your greatest fear here>).  It doesn’t have to be like that!  Play some good music, and just feel it out.  Taste everything (and season accordingly).  And be sure to share the love you cooked with someone special in your heart.

And if the YouTube player doesn’t work, you can listen to it here.

Apple Upside Down Cake

There’s this bag that’s been staring at me for the past two weeks.

Oh no, dear reader, it’s not a bag full of Godiva.

It’s a bag full of apples.  Apples that my parents picked and then unloaded on me, happy to give me the burden of trying to not waste these little gems.

What, you think they’re ugly?

Well, you’re right.  While the farmer insisted that they’re fine to eat, I just didn’t want to put my mouth on something that looks like….well, you know.

And I hate peeling apples, especially for every. single. one. that I want to eat as a snack.  No. No no no no.  Snacks should be easily consumed, no peeling involved.  Lazy snacking for me, please.

So, instead, I decided to get rid of them all.  I peeled them in one go and threw them into a cake.

And really, what’s better in late October than freshly baked apple cake?  Oh, that’s right, upside down apple cake, because I wanted all my apples used.  I mean, I wanted apples in every nook and cranny of this cake.  Sure.

Half an hour into baking, the apartment became enveloped with, what a Yankee Candle Shop should smell like: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cardamom. (Seriously, what is up with that store and their scent-terrorism? Do I really want my eyes to water as I walk by?)  It was like tempting a hungry bear, as every few minutes, Roo and I circled in and out of the kitchen, eagerly waiting for the cake to be done.

About an hour after being put into the oven, the cake tester finally came out clean.  Throwing open the door, and snatching up the cake like I was stealing a baby, I immediately took it outside onto the porch for a “fast cool.”  And by “fast cool,” I mean I waited a mere minute, and tried to sneak a bite, burning the roof of my mouth in the process.  The second however (thirty minutes later), left me floored.  The mix of spices, added such lovely warmth to the cake, with cinnamon as the main star.  The caramelized turbinado sugar was rich, gooey, and practically bathed the apples that circled the top.  And the cake itself was extremely moist, jam packed with even more apples.  If anything, one will be left satisfied with the smallest of slices.  The cake is incredibly rich and perfect with a cup of strongly brewed coffee.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes one, 9″ round cake

Ingredients

For the “upside down” apples

Quarter cup of turbinado sugar (you could also use brown sugar)

Half teaspoon of cinnamon

1 tablespoon of butter (like Earth Balance), melted

4 apples, peeled, cored and cut into thick slices (slice the apple in half, then cut the halves into half)

For the apples inside the cake

4 apples, peeled, cored and chopped into easily edible pieces

Half teaspoon cinnamon

Quarter cup of sugar

For the cake

Two and three quarter cups of white whole wheat flour

Half teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Half teaspoon of ground ginger

Half teaspoon of ground nutmeg

Quarter teaspoon of ground cardamom (optional)

1 tablespoon baking powder

Quarter teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup mild tasting olive oil

One and a half cups of sugar

Quarter cup of orange juice

Three teaspoons of vanilla

4 flax seed eggs (4 tablespoons of ground flax seed, 12 tablespoons of hot water, mixed, and set aside for about 10 minutes)

Equipment

Three medium sized mixing bowls (you can use your apple mixing bowl, twice, as all that goes in it are apples, cinnamon in sugar, well, twice)

A spatula

A whisk

A sharp knife

A nine inch cake pan

Parchment paper (if you’re lazy and don’t want to clean out caramelized sugar out from your cake pan)

Another knife (to loosen your cake from the cake pan)

A plate as large as your cake pan, to invert the cake on

Place your oven rack to the medium position in the oven and preheat it to 350F.

If using, line your cake pan with parchment paper.

In your first mixing bowl, add the 4 sliced apples, turbinado sugar and cinnamon.  Toss together.  Pour the ingredients from this bowl (including excess sugar) into your cake pan.  Evenly disperse the apples and sugar in the pan.  Set aside.

In the same mixing bowl, add the 4 chopped apples, sugar, and cinnamon.  Toss together and set aside (in the bowl).

In the second mixing bowl, add the while whole wheat flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, (cardamom if using) baking powder and salt.  Whisk together until the ingredients are combined.  Set aside.

In the third mixing bowl, add the oil, orange juice, vanilla extract and sugar.  Mix till combined.  (I know, don’t freak out, the flax eggs get added a little later.)

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, in increments.  Stir till just combined.  Add the flax seed egg, folding and incorporating, till combined.  Be sure to scrape down the bowl to make sure everything is mixed together.

The batter is going to be super thick.  You’re going to doubt yourself, but trust it.

Scoop half of the batter into your cake pan.  Spread the chopped apples on top of the batter.  Scoop the rest of the batter over the apples.

Bake for about an hour.  At the 45 minute mark, use your cake tester (like a toothpick) and check to see if it’s done (my oven runs incredibly hot and has a part-time hobby of drying out cakes).  If not, keep checking it every five minutes until it’s done.

Cool until you can handle the cake pan with bare hands, but the cake is still warm.  Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it a bit from the pan/parchment paper.  Place a large plate on top of your cake (but it’s actually the cake’s bottom).  Invert the cake onto the plate, remove the parchment paper (if used), and allow to cool to room temperature for serving. Or, burn the roof of your mouth like I did, from sheer impatience.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Good Morning!

Oh wait, I forgot, you’re Evil Monkey.

At least your sister is nice.

Sometimes.

Despite some moody cats, things are pretty good over here in our little apartment.

Last night we went to a house-warming party for J, with the usual suspects M and B (S and E had to work).  It was a fun evening filled with good food (J’s mum visited this week and brought him vats of homemade kimchi. Kinda epic.), laughs, and maybe a little too much red wine.  Coming back home around midnight, it was well past our bedtime and we dragged our sorry behinds to bed.

This morning we woke up to the scratchings of kitties’ paws on our bedroom door, letting us know that we had slept in too long and that they wanted breakfast.

It was 730 a.m.

Roo and I are pretty non-functional not before breakfast, but coffee.  If you remember, I had a bit of a meltdown at Starbucks, when I found out that their Soy Pumpkin Spice Latte wasn’t dairy free.  Of course a lot of factors contributed to this meltdown, but when I was finally able to get my hands on some form of caffeine, I asked myself why was I wasting my time in line for a latte, when I knew how to make one.

Unlike a lot of the teens that single handedly support Starbucks on their weekly allowance alone, I prefer a not-too-sweet latte that won’t make me want to call up my dentist afterwards.  I’m always “that girl,” asking the barista to give me an extra shot of espresso, yet one (or two) less pumps of syrup in my flavored latte.

Yet, with natural ingredients, I find that I love the perplexity of flavors that you can establish in a homemade drink, different from the injection of syrups that are pumped by your favorite barista.  Creamy pumpkin, heat from cinnamon and ginger, and just a little bit of nutmeg to give it that extra something (nutmeg goes well in lots of dishes with creamy ingredients), after drinking this I seriously questioned my laziness on a workday.

With it being the weekend, I hope that you can take your time rolling out of bed, turning your coffee machine on, and save a couple bucks on something that doesn’t have your name misspelled on the side of the cup.  Unless, you like that kind of thing.

Image from Amazon

Adapted from The Kitchn

Serves One

Ingredients

Six ounces, or half a mug filled with your favorite, strongly brewed coffee

1 cup of almond milk

2 tablespoons of pumpkin puree

1 tablespoon of vanilla extract (I know, it’s a LOT but hey, you’re worth it)

Half a teaspoon of cinnamon

One eighth a teaspoon of nutmeg

One eighth a teaspoon of ground ginger (optional)

Sugar to taste (I don’t like sugar in my coffee, but I find that 1 tablespoon added makes this latte smooth to drink. Sugar lovers you may want 2.)

Equipment

A small pot (that can hold about 2 cups)

A whisk

A blender (or an immersion blender), if you don’t want foam, you don’t need either any of these

A tea towel/bunch of paper towels, is using a blender (to put over the top)

A spoon, maybe

Pour the almond milk into a small pot and place over a burner on medium low heat.  Warm the milk until it gets very hot.  If it bubbles a bit, that’s ok, just turn the heat down so it doesn’t come to a rolling boil.  Add the pumpkin puree, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger and sugar, if using.  Stir the ingredients together, until the milk gets very hot again, ie steaming.

Remove the pot from heat and pour the milk mixture into your blender, or if you’re using an immersion blender, blend the ingredients within the pot until frothy.

If using a blender, place the top on, along with a tea towel (to protect your hands).  Still with your hand on the towel and top, blend the milk mixture together, until frothy.  (This took me about 30 seconds.)

Pour your now frothy milk mixture into your mug that’s half filled with coffee.  As you empty the blender, the foam should settle on top.  If there’s any leftover foam, grab a spoon, and ladle it on top.

30 Minute Marinara Sauce: For The Busy College Student and The Tired-After-Work-Cook In Us All

There are some days when I come home from work, absolutely exhausted from the lab politics of “my grant is bigger than yours,” and “what do you mean you don’t have x when clearly you only have y?”, I don’t want to go from stepping off the bus, straight into the kitchen.  While it takes me on average of an hour to cook from pan to plate, most of America doesn’t have this luxury.  The majority of my friends are now are married, with children who require constant supervision no less, and they cannot just leave them to have some “alone time” in the kitchen.

I’ve also noticed that the yoga studio is more popular than ever with college students.  No longer are they flocking to the gym to the once over-popular spin class, but are now rolling out their mat next to me, as they too probably love the “everyone can do yoga” mantra, that got me there in the first place.  These same students I know, also don’t have the time after a full day of classes to spend an hour cooking dinner.  Exhausted, and just wanting to refuel their tired body and minds, they often turn to take-out.  I did.

This afternoon I came home, mind absolutely full from what our PI (head of the lab) told us in our weekly meeting, and just wanted some good ol’ comfort food.  Warm, hearty, and to make me feel that I really was home, bringing my mind back to the “family” that I love and out of the lab.

Plans of making a soup were out, as that would take an hour to make.  But I have been toying with the idea of making a 30 minute meal (please don’t sue me Rachael Ray for using your probably trademarked phrase) for a while now and figured the best place to start was a marinara sauce.

It all starts with a good base.  The elements of sweet, almost jammy, caramelized onions, garlic, and a bit of heat from red pepper flake, compliment the loads of roughly chopped baby bella mushrooms that are thrown in.  There’s just something magical about onions, mushrooms and garlic.  When they hit a hot pan, the rich, earthy and sweet aromas fill our entire apartment, and often cause Roo to get off the couch and into the kitchen to ask, “what are we having?”

But there is a secret.  Butter (like Earth Balance).

One to two tablespoons of it adds a creaminess that brings everything all together.  You’re not going to need cheese, and you may not even need real pasta (we love roasted spaghetti squash with this).  It’s all about the sauce.  And I hope you’ll feel that way too.

Serves Four People, With Leftovers

Ingredients

Two to three tablespoons of olive oil

Two to three medium onions, diced (it seems like a lot, but it really makes the sauce)

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon of red pepper flake (this gives substantial heat, if you just want a little bit, start with a quarter, and go up from there)

1 box (about 12 oz) of baby bella mushrooms, roughly chopped, stems removed (I find their stems super woody, so I remove them)

1 large green pepper, diced

One jar of good marinara sauce (I use Newman’s Organic basil marinara sauce)

One to two tablespoons of butter (like Earth Balance)

Salt and pepper to taste

Equipment

A very large saute pan (with tall sides) or a pot

A sharp knife

A spatula

Add the olive oil to your large saute pan.  Place on a burner over medium heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer, add the diced onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions become lightly browned.  Add the garlic and the red pepper flake.  Cook, stirring frequently, keeping an eye on the pan so that the garlic and red pepper flake do not burn.  When the onions become browned (versus lightly), add the mushrooms (this is around the ten minute marker from start).  It’s going to look like a lot of mushrooms, and you may question my sanity as to how many I made you put in there, but like the onions, they’ll cook down.  Add about a pinch of salt.  Stir the ingredients till evenly distributed in the pan.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until they have cooked down and are tender (about seven minutes).  At this point it’ll be around 18 minutes into cooking.  Add the green peppers.  Stir till combined, getting all that hot oil/onion/mushroom flavor over the peppers.  Cook for about a minute.  Add the sauce, and you’ll probably be 20 minutes in.  Stir till combined.  Add the butter (like Earth balance).  Stir till combined.  Reduce the heat to very very low, so that the sauce is simmering (or burping, in my case, as I had a very veg-dense sauce).  Cook for about eight minutes.  Taste and season with more salt and pepper if necessary.  Simmer for another two minutes.  Taste, and you should be done.

Time: 30 minutes, you can do it!

Cooking Playlist

I feel music has become such a huge part in my everyday life.

I listen to it when I commute to and from work.  I “allow” myself to buy one new song, once a week.  And when I cook, I need to have the right kind of music playing to fit my mood, or else it may feel like what I’m doing is “work.”

Some people can cook in silence.  Some people may enjoy cooking in silence (does it have to do something with your chi? Your yang? Please enlighten me, because I can’t do it.)  I on the other hand, need the music blaring from the iHome I bought on sale from TJ Maxx (oh that’s why it was discounted, there’s no remote and two of the buttons are faulty), placed on top of our Keurig, teetering, threatening to fall off, basically a metaphor for my life.

Just as a random aside, do you ever look at things and basically say to yourself, “metaphor for my life.”

My friend S and I do this all. the. time.

Perhaps it’s because we have screw loose, but we love sending each other picture texts of inanimate objects looking incredibly sad, and just title it, “metaphor.”

Like, this used up umbrella by the bus stop after the rainstorm?

Metaphor.

Wait, you don’t get it?

Yeah, S and I are completely delusional that we’re “hilarious” (said in crazy cat lady voice, who probably has been smoking 2 packs a day for 40 years).

I need to call her…

Anyways, back on track.

I am definitely a believer that music is very personal, and I feel that it expresses a part of us that many may not know.  For example, my good friend J, who is probably one of the most professional, astute businessmen, loves loves loves Brit-Brit, ie Britney Spears.  I, on the other hand, am sometimes manic, to which good friends that I haven’t seen in a while will email me, “I miss your crazy, I haven’t had a good laugh in ages.  When can we get together?,” love me some old fashioned Etta James and Ottis Redding.

Seriously, one of the best ways to get to know someone is by what they listen to.

Do you have a road trip with a friend coming up?  Bring your iPod, and demand that they do too.  Screw battling static and “emergency broadcast alerts,” who needs to know where that twister is anyways?  “You’re on the road to have fun” (if I could insert my friend M’s impersonation of her hardcore Jewish mother’s Brooklyn accent, that sentence would be so. much. better).  This is how you will really get to know the other person.  It’s true, no iPod owner can lie about what’s in their song collection, because who else downloaded it?  No one else has access to their iTunes account and then transferred it to their mobile device, except for them, and them alone.

And it definitely is one of the reasons I loved Roo just a little bit more, when he played, unapologetically, Sarah McLachlan in his car once.  Ok, maybe more than once.

With that, I give to you, the playlist I listened to when cooking dinner tonight.  It usually takes me an hour to make dinner, so this was perfectly timed with prep, actual cooking, and plating.  I like to start with something upbeat, getting me in the mood to start chopping away at veg, moving around in the kitchen.  Then, I slow it down a bit, probably throwing some sad sad sad (I love me some emo, though it’s probably not cool to call it “emo” anymore…is it even emo? This is how lame I am.) tunes in, so that I can focus on the braising, stewing, etc.  There is usually one or two random fast, upbeat songs in the middle, just to get my focus back (I think about this playlist way to much, I need help.)  Plating of course is usually when I play songs that make me feel “triumphant,” (weirdo) knowing that I’m about to be done and eat.

To me, cooking dinner is like a very good battle, one in which I hope to win every time.  I may cry (damn you onions), I may have loss (oh garlic, why must you burn?), but I usually come out of it at the end, victorious (I beat you, you sneaky, slimy piece of okra).

If no one exactly hates this, I hope that I can post something like this once a week.

And in case that embedded youtube video doesn’t work, you can go here.

Pumpkin Pasta, Two Ways

Sometimes girlfriends have to be a little sneaky.

I’m not saying, “be a ho-ho behind his back,” kind of sneaky, but when it comes to boys and their “dislikes” of certain foods, I’m convinced that they don’t like it “just ‘cuz.”

First, there was cauliflower.  It was amongst the many on a list of veg that Roo told me about that he disliked.  He said it smelled like something Evil Monkey would leave for us under our bed.  While I can’t fault him (I am not a fan of it steamed either), after slicing it thinly, tossing it with olive oil and salt and pepper, then roasting it in the oven, he couldn’t help himself.  Caramelized bottoms, silky and creamy insides, the boy didn’t stand a chance.

There were also peas.  Peas that he insisted he absolutely hated because of the consistency, taste, and just the plain old look of them.  “Why should I put something in my mouth that looks like that?”  But after two distributions of peas from our CSA, I knew it was a sign to get Roo to like peas.  Pea pesto was the answer.  A good quality olive oil, garlic, and farm fresh peas whirred all together in a food processor, made the perfect accompaniment to shelled pasta.

But then there was squash.  I unfortunately had a giant swing-and-miss with it this month.

While the oven roasted acorn and butternut squash soup was probably one of my most favorite recipes I’ve made during VeganMoFo, it tasted, well, like squash.  It captured the squash in it’s best state: roasted, salted and folded with herbs.

He hated it.

Thankfully all my other squash-loving friends gladly took on the leftovers, but I was left feeling burned.  I had been dethroned as the ‘Queen of Sneak.’

I was sad that I didn’t get to see Roo, in typical fashion, nod his head and say, “Babe, this is really good,” while I would just smile and say nothing.  (For the sake of your relationship, say nothing.  Always.  Sitting across from them at the kitchen table while you have, “the church giggles,” though, totes acceptable.)  After two bites of the soup, he said “I’m sorry, I just can’t,” and proceeded to pile on the oven roasted cauliflower and broccoli I had made as a back-up, onto his plate.

So. Sad.

But, tonight, I’ve reclaimed my throne.  This pasta recipe can be tweaked so that it tastes like it’s been folded into a rich, creamy “cheese” sauce, or that it’s been taken straight out of a harvest festival, full of hay rides, auburn leaves, and crisp air.  All it takes is editing the amount of pumpkin puree.

The caramelized onions add a lovely luscious component (um hello, when do they not?), that completes this dish.  They’re sweet (but not “squash sweet” as Roo would say), almost jammy, and just bring so much flavor to the sauce.  I love that the pasta gets folded into something so incredibly smooth and not over-the-top rich.  And once it’s eaten with a side of braised kale, you’ll wonder why families don’t have the two together for dinner more often.  If there’s anything you need for a frosty night, but aren’t willing to acknowledge that winter is on it’s way (seriously, who wants to do that?), then this is what you need.

Adapted from Simply Stardust

Serves 4 Generously, With Leftovers

Ingredients

2 tablespoons of mild tasting olive oil

2 tablespoons of butter (like Earth Balance)

2 tablespoons of all purpose flour

1 cup of almond milk (or other unflavored, unsweetened non-dairy milk)

1 large onion, diced

6 (for more of a cheese-sauce quality) to 12 (for utter pumpkin mania) heaping spoonfuls (tablespoons) of pumpkin puree

Eighth of a teaspoon of nutmeg

13.25 ounces (a box, like Barilla) of your favorite pasta (in our case, it’s whole wheat penne)

Salt and pepper to taste

Equipment

2 medium saute pans (or use one, put the caramelized onions into a small bowl to set aside, and clean out the saute pan to use for a second round)

A spatula

A sharp knife

A large pot

Fill your large pot with water and cook the pasta per the directions on the box.  When the pasta is al dente/to the texture that you like, drain the water and place the pasta back in the pot.  Set aside.

Add your olive oil to your saute pan.  Place the pan on a burner over medium heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deeply browned (this takes about seven to ten minutes, depending on how hot your burner is).  Set aside.

In another saute pan, add the butter (like Earth Balance) and place over a burner on medium heat.  When the butter has melted, add the flour, and stir till the ingredients are combined.  Slowly add in the almond milk and stir in until there aren’t any lumps left in the pan.  Add the pumpkin puree.  Again, six heaping spoonfuls gives you a lovely, rich, “cheesy” quality.  More than that will yield and obvious “pumpkin sauce.”  As long as you’re not dating Roo, you should be ok to decide how far you want to go with pumpkin.  Stir in the pumpkin puree until the ingredients are combined.  The sauce will thicken as it continues to cook.  I tend to be satisfied with its consistency as soon as I get the pumpkin puree stirred in.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Add the nutmeg and the caramelized onions (including the oil that they were cooked in).  Stir until the ingredients are combined.  At first it’ll look like an oily mess, but keep going, it’ll come together.

Add the pumpkin sauce to the pasta in the pot.  Stir till every bit of pasta is coated with the deliciousness.  I mean, sauce.  Serve immediately.

These make excellent leftovers, and Roo and I love eating it with a side of braised kale.  There’s just something magical about mixing greens and “cheesy” pasta.

Potstickers with Red Lentils and Caramelized Onion Filling

This past weekend was pretty great.

The Patriots won against the Cowboys at the last second, we spent our time during the game dog-sitting this gentle giant,

and I was able to do two loads of laundry in machines that sang to me when I selected different settings.

Oh, the sweet, sweet luxury of home-ownership.

Well, now it’s Monday and we’re back in our little apartment.

And while my favorite pillow has been taken hostage,

and my spot on the couch was claimed by this beastie,

I’m happily back in our tiny kitchen, Pandora blaring (the Florence & The Machine playlist will change. your. life), folding the rest of these potstickers

so I can eat them as fast as I can move my fingers to my mouth.

What I absolutely love about these tiny pockets of pan-fried-love is the filling.  Red lentils, pureed until fluffy, with natural hints of cumin and pepper, have caramelized onions folded into it, making it an amazingly creamy and luscious.  And yes people, yes, the caramelized onions kind of steal the show.

Ok, they totally steal the show.

Sweet, full of body, ohmygoodness, I cannot say enough about caramelized onions.  If there’s any take home message from LLN, it’s that if caramelized onions were a tall man, I’d probably be married to him already.

These potstickers are perfect for game day, or even post, when you’re recovering in your rental, without a fireplace, giant dog, and there are two cats that are trying to take over your life.

I mean, I love our cats.

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Makes About 24 Potstickers

Ingredients

For the chili dipping sauce

1 red chili pepper (I used a Mirasol, but whatever you have on hand that’s spicy)

One tablespoon of sugar

Quarter cup of soy sauce

Quarter cup of water

A scallion, dark and light green parts diced

Sesame oil to taste (it’s pretty potent so my “yum” may be your “blech”)

For the filling

Two to three tablespoons of mild tasting olive oil

1 very large onion, diced

Salt to taste

1 cup cooked red lentils, pulsed in a food processor until uniform (if you don’t have a food processor, you can get away with just mixing them in with the caramelized onions)

Half a package of potsticker wrappers

Cup of water (to seal the edges of the potstickers)

1 – 2 tablespoons extra mild flavored olive oil for frying

One third cup of water (to add to the cooking potstickers)

Equipment

Small saute pan

2 Large saute pans (or clean it after your first use to use again) and one lid to cover a saute pan with

Spatula

Food processor

Small bowl

Sharp knife

Add a quarter cup of water and a quarter cup of soy sauce to a small bowl.  Cut open the chili pepper with a knife, sprinkle with sugar, and then start chopping.  Smash the sugar into the chili pepper with the knife while cutting it up.  Stop when chili pepper is diced.  Scoop up the chili pepper and sugar and add to the small bowl.  Add the diced scallions.  Stir to combine.  Taste, and add the sesame oil to your liking (start off with a couple drops!).

Add two to three tablespoons of olive oil to a large saute pan.  Place the pan on a burner over medium heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer, add your diced onion and salt to taste.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are browned.  Add the lentil meal, stirring until combined.  Remove from heat, taste, and season with salt.  You want to be able to eat the filling plain so season accordingly.

Place your wrappers on a flat surface.  Add about a teaspoon of filling to the center of each dumpling.  Wet your fingers in the cup of water, and run your fingers along the edge of each wrapper.  Fold the wrapper in half, and press the edges tightly closed.  Keep going with this process until you run out of filling.

Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil to a large saute pan.  Place the pan onto a burner over medium high heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer, start laying down your potstickers into the oil, making sure that they don’t touch.  This prevents them from sticking together.  Cook the potstickers until they are golden brown (the side face down in the oil).  Add the one third cup of water, and then cover the pan immediately with a lid.  Cook the dumplings for a couple of minutes, until the water is almost evaporated.  Remove the lid and cook the potsickers until the water is evaporated.  For me, this took about a minute.  Remove the potstickers from the pan. If necessary, repeat with any remaining potstickers.

Serve the potstickers with the dipping sauce.