a year in food and life

Whole wheat fusilli with swiss chard and balsamic roasted onions April 1, 2009

Filed under: food,Pasta — superspark @ 6:35 am


I have been in need of comfort of late.  Just when you think everything is going fabulously, a bump (or two or three) arises in the road, throwing your best laid plans asunder.  Already preoccupied by a couple of nagging health issues of my own, last weekend I awoke to Maddie’s screams in the middle of the night, something she hadn’t done in weeks.  In the past we had tried to give her a few minutes to settle herself, but this time there was an urgency to it and Dylan and I both quickly got up to find her in her crib with a high fever and her little body in periodic spasms.  No, they weren’t febrile seizures (thankfully) and yes, we have had her checked out by a doctor.  She’s fine, but fever in kids can do funny neurological things, and make new parents batty with anxiety.

While home from work and nursing her back to health on Monday, I was hit with more bad news in the form of a surprisingly, shockingly lowball salary offer for the otherwise “dream” job I was supposed to be starting this summer.   We’re talking so low that I thought perhaps they had accidentally given me a figure for half-time work.  To go into the details would be far too long and boring for people who come to this website looking for just a recipe and a bit of a break from the work day.  Suffice to say, that taking a large pay cut for a job that has a lot more responsibility just doesn’t seem right.  Yes, I know we’ll be moving to a smaller market (upstate NY as opposed to our current home in LA), and I certainly know there are many out there with far worse situations.  We will be just fine, no matter how this works out.  It is, after all, only money.  But in the thick of it right now, it’s very hard to find perspective and my only glimpse of clarity so far was brought on last night after a few sips of a gin and tonic and a deep sigh. I’m hoping I can bring myself back to that calming moment (sans gin) throughout the day today.

So between a sick baby and visions of an empty wallet, I’ve been craving comfort food.  Truly, what I most wanted in the midst of all of it was to run out and have a gargantuan piece of chocolate cake in the middle of the day, well-balanced diet be damned.  I’ve managed to resist that urge so far, though, and drowning my sorrows in a big bowl of pasta seems like nearly the next best thing.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, let me recommend that you embrace your comfort food- this is not, I’m afraid, the time for whole wheat fusilli.   I would also suggest that you use your favorite tomato sauce (be it homemade or jarred), a generous sprinkling of parmesan, and a handful of fresh mozzarella chunks.  Then mix it all together until the cheese goes gooey.  Heaven.

You will be sorely disappointed should you instead try to self-medicate with healthy comfort food, like this recipe from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley.  Whole wheat pasta is okay, but I’ve yet to try one I really like.  The texture always seems just a little bit off and the taste too powerfully cardboardy.  And while the onions were nice and I always like a little bit of greens,  I missed having a real sauce.  This was just sort of dry and balsamic-y.  I almost imagine it might be better as a room temperature pasta salad one day for lunch.   So mental note, next time just go for the full-on classic bowl of pasta when feeling down.  Or better yet, skip the pasta and run straight for the chocolate cake.

Whole wheat fusilli with swiss chard and balsamic-roasted onions (serves 4)


2 red onions, sliced lengthwise into thin wedges
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus more later for serving
Coarse sea (or kosher) salt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons dry thyme
1 pound Swiss chard, trimmed
1 pound whole wheat fusilli
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons pine nuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss the onion slices with the thyme, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar.

2. Spread the onions on a baking pan and roast them for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re soft and caramelized. Stir them after 20 minutes of roasting.

3. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt. When the water returns to a boil add the chard and cook for 2 minutes, or until wilted and tender. Using tongs, remove the chard from the water and drain in a colander. Bring the water to a boil again and cook the pasta according to the package instructions.

4. While the pasta cooks, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute over medium heat, just until it’s fragrant. Add the pine nuts and cook for 1 more minute. Add the swiss chard and 1/4 cup of the pasta water, then cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the roasted onion slices and cook until they are heated through.

5. Drain the pasta and transfer it to a large serving bowl. Add the vegetable mixture and toss. Season with extra balsamic vinegar, if you like. Serve immediately.


Linguine with green beans, ricotta, and lemon November 25, 2008

Filed under: food,Pasta — superspark @ 7:29 am


Several years ago, we lucked upon a last-minute reservation to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Napa Valley.  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Dylan was quite beside himself with excitement at the prospect of finally experiencing the legendary tasting menu and at the end of the night, after 10 tiny and exquisite courses,  Dylan declared  it awesome and said he could eat another 10 right then and there.  As for me, while I found the whole experience quite fascinating, it just wasn’t my style.  I was at a disadvantage right off the bat, ordering the vegetarian sampling menu after noticing that about half of the dishes on the regular sampling menu had meats that I don’t eat.  And really, is there anything you can serve a vegetarian that makes a meal worth several hundred dollars? I think not.  But putting that aside for a moment, it just wasn’t the way I prefer to eat.  I’m not one for fancy sauces, complicated techniques, and hoopla.  No, I much prefer one big bowl of something hearty and satisfying that I really love over a dozen interesting mini-courses.

Lest this build-up make you think that I’m suggesting this linguine with green beans, ricotta, and lemon outshines a meal at French Laundry, I’m afraid that’s not quite the case.  My point is that sometimes something incredibly simple and seemingly ordinary turns out to be quite a hidden gem.  I wasn’t expecting too much when I whipped this quick dinner together a couple of weeks ago, but it turns out this recipe from Giada’s Kitchen (found here on Serious Eats) is surprisingly good, rising above your average pasta dish.  I’ll never turn down a plate of pasta and cheese, but in this case, it’s the lemon that really shines.  Bright and sunny, it draws out the fresh flavors of the veggies.  Even if you’re a member of the tiny, persnickety plates school of eating, I have a feeling you’ll like this one…

Linguine with green beans, ricotta, and lemon (serves 4)

1 pound linguine
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound French green beans (haricot verts), trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
Zest of 1 lemon

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the hot pasta to a large heat-proof bowl and add the ricotta. Toss to combine.

2. Meanwhile, in a large, heavy skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the green beans, garlic, salt, and pepper and sauté for 4 minutes. Add the reserved pasta cooking liquid and continue cooking until the beans are tender, about 4 more minutes. Add the ricotta-coated pasta to the pan with the green beans and toss to combine. Add the tomatoes and toss gently. Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle with the lemon zest. Serve.


Thai rice noodles with cilantro ginger sauce July 12, 2008

Filed under: food,Pasta — superspark @ 12:05 pm

Like pretty much everyone I know, I love pad thai, that delightful combination of noodles, egg, bean sprouts, and peanuts, with perhaps some veggies, tofu, or shrimp thrown in. It’s just a little exotic and tangy, but still very approachable, which is why it’s the most popular dish at Thai restaurants everywhere. We tend not to go out for thai very often, though, and almost never order pad thai, because my honey has a mild peanut allergy that causes him to break out in hives. On the rare occasions he travels without me, you’ll see me madly concocting recipes with peanuts (like pad thai, cold sesame noodles, or tofu and spinach in peanut sauce), but since I’m usually cooking for both of us, that means no peanut dishes.

While looking for a way to use up the thick rice noodles in our pantry, something other than pad thai, I stumbled across this recipe for thai rice noodles with cilantro ginger sauce from Didi Emmons’ Entertaining for a Veggie Planet, one of my favorite cookbooks. It proclaimed that it was similar to pad thai, but featured ginger rather than garlic as its distinct undertone, and the peanuts were advertised as an optional garnish. So how did it compare to the venerable thai standby? Eh. They were fine, good enough, sufficiently edible, and vaguely reminiscent of pad thai, but really not that exciting. What’s more, though tomatoes are on the ingredient list (an opportunity to use our first batch of homegrown tomatoes this season), they dissolved away to nothing, leaving me wanting some sort of vegetables to balance out what ended up being just a big pile of flavored noodles. For me at least, I’ll hold out for genuine pad thai next time, peanuts or not.

Thai rice noodles with cilantro ginger sauce (serves 4)


12 oz fettucine width dried rice noodles
3 tbsp canola oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into half-moons
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
2 tbsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup coconut milk (can substitute water)
3 tbsp fresh lime juice (1 1/2 juicy limes)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, leaves and stems
1 tsp kosher salt or 1 tbsp Asian fish sauce
1/4 cup crushed peanuts for garnish (optional)

1. In a large bowl of hot water, soak the rice noodles for 20 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

2. In a large, well-seasoned skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 9-11 minutes. Add the tomatoes, jalapenos, ginger, and cumin and saute for 2 minutes more.

3. Add the noodles, sugar, and cup of coconut milk and cook, stirring often, until noodles soften, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add the lime juice, cilantro, and plenty of salt or fish sauce to taste. Divide among four plates, garnish with crushed peanuts, if using, and serve immediately.


Spaetzle with vegetables and poached egg April 15, 2008

Filed under: food,Pasta,veggies — superspark @ 6:11 am


I’m simply crazy about spaetzle, the tiny pasta-like dumplings that can be whipped up from just in a flash. In fact I’ve posted about them an inordinate number of times in the year or so since Superspark’s inception, considering what a simple and unassuming dish they are. But I just can’t get over how quick and easy they are to make and I somehow feel that this news must be shared with the world, especially those who regularly slave away with their Kitchenaids or pasta rollers to make fresh pasta. Spaetzle are SO much easier for day to day cooking, people!

All of this goes to say that anytime a new spaetzle recipe passes through my Google Reader, it gets an immediate star, marked for future making. This particular recipe was originally posted here on Eating Out Loud where it was deemed a “breakfast spaetzle”, though I found it through Apartment Therapy: The Kitchen. Being firmly of the breakfast-anytime-of-day school, so this seemed to me a perfect quick dinner option and a good way of incorporating some fresh veggies into an otherwise carb-rich dish. Plus I’m slowly coming around to the merits of poached eggs, having been a scrambled (and scrambled alone!) devotee for most of my life.

In the end, I wasn’t as wowed by the recipe as I had hoped to be. I felt like it was crying out for a little more flavor and sauciness. Seasoned only by salt and pepper, it was, to be frank, a little bland. On the plus side, the spaetzle recipe itself was great and marked an improvement on some others I’ve made. Oftentimes, it’s hard to get the dough through the colander or spaetzle maker and it all turns into a bit of a sticky mess. In this case, perhaps because of the resting time, the dough was of just the right texture to push through easily, forming the delicate little dumplings with surprisingly little ado. So I’d certainly hold on to this recipe for that innovation alone. Beyond that, I like the idea of vegetables in my spaetzle as well as the poached egg idea, I’m just looking for a way to jazz it up and make it a little more flavorful. Any suggestions?

Spaetzle with vegetables and poached egg (serves 4)


1 cup flour
6 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 roasted red pepper
2 scallions chopped
1 small head of broccoli, broken into small florets
2 tablespoons butter

1. Put a pot of salted water on to boil. Place flour in a bowl and create a well in the center. Crack 2 eggs into well and add milk. Use a fork to whisk the milk and egg together, then mix in flour with a wooden spoon or your hands until a dough forms. Let ball of dough rest for 10-15 minutes.

2. Using a spaetzle maker, a colander, or a slotted spoon, press dough through holes into boiling water. When the spaetzle rise to the surface of the water, they are done. Skim them off and place into large bowl. You will probably want to make them in several batches, but each one only takes about 2 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat a skillet and add the butter. Add the broccoli and cook until starting to turn bright green, about 2 minutes. Add spaetzle to skillet and turn to coat in butter. Fry until they begin to take on a little color, then add the scallions and roasted red pepper. Cook for another 2 minutes.

4. Crack the 4 remaining eggs into the spaetzle water (or a clean pan of boiling water, if you don’t mind more dishes) and poach for 3 minutes. Place the spaetzle/veggie mixture on a plate and place poached eggs on top. Season with salt and pepper. Before eating, run your knife through the egg so the yolk oozes down into the spaetzle.


Tortellini, bean, and pesto soup March 5, 2008

Filed under: food,Pasta,soups — superspark @ 6:46 am


Although my preferred culinary style would hardly be classified as ambitious these days, back in my bachelorette life, my cooking was even more, er…low key, shall we say? Which is not to say that I was one to order take-out every night or that I lived on frozen meals. My friend Amanda and I used to cook together at least once a week and managed to make some pretty great meals, but if it’s any indication of the general complexity of our menus, I distinctly remember our cooking attempts being thwarted one time by neither of us owning a whisk.

Back then, I was much more willing to go along with the “Semi-homemade with Sandra Lee” style of cooking- not the perky sweater sets and Stepford Wife demeanor, but the rampant use of prepared ingredients and shortcuts. This recipe for tortellini, bean, and pesto soup (from one of my first cookbooks ever, Betty Crocker’s Great Main Dishes without Meat– a bargain starting at $0.25 on Amazon these days!) is a prime example and was one of my go-to dishes at the time. Using boullion (or cartons of store-bought chicken broth), dried packaged tortellini, canned beans, and jarred pesto, the whole dish came down to a little chopping, a little boiling, and voila! A “homemade” dinner in a mere 30 minutes or so, most of that spent lounging while the soup boiled away.

These days, though Dylan and I bake our own bread, make our own jam on occasion, and have even been known to infuse our own vanilla vodka, I still can’t resist a few shortcuts. Preferring the ease of canned beans, I have yet to take on their dried bretheren (yes, I know they must be better, I’m just not up to the challenge yet). I love fresh pasta but I hate the work of making it, so dried is perfectly suitable for me 99 times out of 100. And making chicken stock? No thank you. It’s all the long-time serious vegetarian in me can do to muster up the courage to trim the fat off of frozen chicken breasts.

I recently decided to revisit my old beloved tortellini, bean and pesto soup, having not made it in at least 2-3 years. Perhaps my tastes have become a bit more refined in the interim, a bit more used to “almost entirely”, rather than “semi”-homemade cooking, but the tortellini soup was just okay. Perfectly edible, a nice idea, but certainly not as exciting as I remembered it. Even I felt like it was a little “canned”, not as fresh and vibrant as the meals I’ve gotten used to. All of which got me thinking that were one to make this recipe with homemade chicken stock, handmade tortellini, rehydrated dried beans, and homemade pesto, it might once again rise to favorite status. Maybe someday, but I’m not quite there yet…

Tortellini, bean, and pesto soup (serves 6)


1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, cut into julienne strips or small “coins”
1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)
1/2 cup chopped celery (about 1 medium stalk)
2 tbsp margarine or butter
6 cups water
2 tsp chicken boullion granules
1 can (15-16 oz) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 package (10 oz) dried cheese tortellini (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp pepper
6 tbsp pesto
6 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

1. Cover and cook garlic, carrot, celery, and onion in margarine/butter in Dutch oven over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in water and boullion. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat. Stir in beans and tortellini.

2. Cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until tortellini are tender. Stir in parsley and pepper. Top each serving with pesto and cheese. Serve immediately.


Kung pao tofu with udon noodles February 2, 2008

Filed under: food,Pasta,tofu,veggies — superspark @ 11:43 am


I actually made this recipe several weeks ago, but felt like I had to wait to post it until now. Why, you ask? In the post-holiday fog of appetite loss and upset stomach, I was having an awfully hard time coming up with anything that sounded appetizing, that would motivate me to start cooking again. Going through the hundreds of recipes in my Google reader, representing dozens of different blogs, I could only manage to pick out a couple that actually appealed to me. As it happens, both were from Everybody Likes Sandwiches. I made the first, a terrifically simple and tasty minestrone one night and quickly followed it up with this kung pao tofu a couple of days later.

Lest Kickpleat think I’m a recipe stalker, though, I held off on posting the kung pao tofu until now. My appetite thankfully back in full force, I’ve been cooking up a storm over the past couple of weeks, happily scouring all of my cookbooks and favorite blogs again. So what about this kung pao tofu? Well, for starters I should say that I always love a tofu stirfry and that any opportunity to use udon noodles strikes my fancy. As for this particular stirfry, I liked it. Seriously spicy and chock full of veggies, the stirfry was filling and healthy, ideal for combatting the holiday over-indulgence. I can’t say it wowed me as much as the minestrone did, but with my peanut-allergic husband unable to eat it, I was perfectly happy to eat the leftovers for lunch over the next few days. What more can you ask?

Kung pao tofu with udon noodles (serves 4)


1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp canola oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 small head of broccoli, broken into florets
2 carrots, sliced on the diagonal
1 rib of celery, sliced on the diagonal
1 small packet of prepared udon noodles
1/2 block tofu, cubed
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 tbsp chili paste or asian hot sauce (the one with the rooster on the bottle)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp bottled peanut sauce (I substituted peanut butter)
1 tbsp cornstarch

1. Mix sauce ingredients and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and garlic and saute for 1 minute or until soft. Add carrots, celery and broccoli and stir-fry until crisp-tender. Add the sauce and the udon noodles and combine well.

3. In a separate pan, fry tofu in a bit of oil until golden on all sides. Add tofu and peanuts to the vegetable mixture, stirring gently to coat with sauce.


Israeli couscous with roasted butternut squash and preserved lemon January 30, 2008

Filed under: food,grains,Pasta,veggies — superspark @ 7:13 pm


Folks, they can’t all be winners. I was slow to return to cooking after the over-indulgence of the holiday season, but since then had had some pretty good luck, inspiring me to pick up the ladle, to wield the spatula once again. I’ll admit, I’ve had my eye on this particular recipe, found here on Epicurious, for quite some time. You see, I have such a thing for israeli couscous that I regularly search for recipes that feature it on Epicurious and elsewhere. I had spotted this one, which also incorporates one of my favorite veggies, butternut squash, several months ago and had filed it away in the recesses of my mind.

Why not make it right away? Well, as you can see in the title, this particular recipe prominently features preserved lemon, an elusive little ingredient I’ve been curious about for quite a while. With this recipe in mind, I bought a bunch of lemons at the farmer’s market in December, and with David Lebovitz’s recipe (yes, the ice cream guy) in hand, I stashed away a jar of lemons, counting the days until they’d be ready and I could finally make this recipe.

What can I say? After all that build up, after all the expectations, it takes a pretty little picture, no? But as for the taste, I was in for some serious disappointment. I have a sweet tooth, but not so much when it comes to dinner. I can get into a little fruit flavor in my dinner when it’s properly balanced by a savory taste, but this recipe was downright sweet. I think the sweetness of the squash and the golden raisins were supposed to be complemented by the muskiness of the lemons and the brightness of the parsley, but all I got was an overwhelming, cloying sweetness that made it difficult to eat more than a few bites at a time.

It may have been my own fault, in part. You see, I had roasted a whole butternut squash earlier in the week, then scooped it out of its skin, resulting in a sort of mashed squash. Although this recipe called for cubes of roasted squash (see the recipe below), I decided to go with the mash, mixing it in until it was evenly distributed throughout. Would it have been less oppressive had the squash been left in its intended form? Quite possibly, since not every morsel of every bite would have been laced with the sweet squash. But even so, I’m not convinced that the results would have been sufficiently different that I would have actually enjoyed eating it. I’m just not willing to give it another go, though you can bet I’ll still have my eyes open for more savory israeli couscous recipes…

Israeli couscous with roasted butternut squash and preserved lemon (serves 4)


1 preserved lemon
1 1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 3/4 cups Israeli couscous, about 1 lb.
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 475°F. Halve lemons and scoop out flesh, keeping both flesh and peel. Cut enough peel into 1/4-inch dice to measure 1/4 cup. Put lemon flesh in a sieve set over a bowl and press with back of a spoon to extract juice.

2. Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil and salt to taste in a large shallow baking pan and spread in 1 layer. Roast in upper third of oven 15 minutes, or until squash is just tender, and transfer to a large bowl.

3. Cook onion in 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to turn golden. Add to squash.

4. Cook couscous with cinnamon stick in a large pot of boiling salted water 10 minutes, or until just tender, and drain in a colander (do not rinse). Add couscous to vegetables and toss with 2 tablespoon oil to coat. Add lemon peel and juice, parsley, nuts, raisins, ground cinnamon, and salt to taste. Toss to mix well.