Superspark

a year in food and life

Lemony ricotta basil pasta November 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — superspark @ 12:05 pm
lemon ricotta basil pasta 2

Did I take this photo by candlelight?!

A few months ago  I shared our “woe-is-me” story of buying a house and two cars and then suddenly feeling a little bit of a panic at seeing the bulk of our liquid assets disappear from our bank accounts.   As  I wrote at the time, there was a lot of mac and cheese.  And it wasn’t homemade.  It wasn’t even Kraft (the blue box!).  No, it was the generic brand and it was a sad state of affairs.

Now that the paychecks have been rolling in and our bank account is once again growing, not shrinking, we’ve abandoned that sad old generic mac and cheese.  There were a few months in which we didn’t want to see any mac and cheese of any variety, but now that a little time has passed, the knockout combination of cheese and pasta is again on our radar.

This recipe for lemony ricotta basil pasta (found here on The Kitchen: Apartment Therapy may not be what most people think of when they imagine mac and cheese, but even with its more sophisticated ingredients, it is still reminiscent of the old favorite. And guess what, it’s so simple that it takes just about as long as the boxed stuff! Elegance in no time flat! Did I mention yet that it’s absolutely delicious, too? With the creamy ricotta, splash of lemon, and hint of basil, you’ll want to grab a big bowl and curl up on the couch with a blanket to savor it. If you make your own ricotta (as we did, in this case), it’s even better. A perfect, super-easy weeknight meal.

Lemony Ricotta Pasta with Basil(serves 4-6)

Ingredients:
1 lb good-quality pasta, in a short twisted shape or with a hole (such as penne or gemili)
1 15-ounce package (about 2 cups) fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
juice of half the lemon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 loosely packed basil leaves, sliced thin, as in a chiffonade

1. Set a pot of water to boil. When it boils, add a few teaspoons of salt and the pasta.

2. In a metal bowl wide enough to fit over the top of the pot, mix together the remaining ingredients, excluding the basil. When there are about 2 minutes remaining in the pasta’s cooking time, place the bowl over the pot and slowly stir the ricotta and other ingredients. You should see it loosening as it warms.

3. When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it, add the basil to the bowl of sauce and toss with the drained pasta.

 

Pear parmesan cashew salad October 6, 2009

Filed under: salads,Uncategorized,veggies — superspark @ 8:50 am

One of the perks of pursuing a PhD is that the summers are just a step away from the carefree summers of youth.  Yes, technically we were all still pursuing our research, but the summers always had a very different vibe.   In an anthropology department, all of the professors scatter to their field sites (or sometimes, their summer homes), while the grad students tag along on legendarily debaucherous archaeological digs or other such “work”.  Those of us who were left behind (mostly the more lab-work oriented in the bunch) would come in to find deserted halls and lots of time and freedom to pursue our other interests, such as sunbathing alongside the Charles River with a Diet Coke big gulp in hand (ah, those were the days!)  There was even one grad student in our department (no, not me) who decided to take a summer job at the Gap to supplement her meager income rather than working on her research.

So as I started my post-graduate career, it came as something of a rude shock to find that not all of academia shuts down as soon as classes end in May.  Those of us on the more clinical side may not even notice that it’s summer aside from it being a little warmer as we walk to our cars.  I haven’t had sunbathed with a Big Gulp in quite a while and its been years since I got into a bathing suit.  (Which says as much about my preferred pastimes as my work schedule, I suppose.)  This year it was particularly bad; what with our move from Los Angeles to upstate NY, summer came and went with the blink of an eye, punctuated only by lots of rain and cries of, “Is it already time to mow the lawn AGAIN?”

We were in no mood to eat salad this past summer, not even my favorite salads of the fruit-nut-cheese variety.   Now fall is another story.  Fall is when the Northeast is at its best, with leaf peeping, apple picking, and lots and lots of pie.  As you pull out your slow-cooker and turn to soups and comfort food, may I remind you that salads can be decidedly autumnal, too? I’m thinking of this particular combination with crisp pears, salty parmesan, and crunchy cashews from Jamie Oliver, via Serious Eats. I won’t lie- it’s not going to make you forget about the luscious berries and stone fruits that you enjoyed just a few weeks ago, but it might just remind you that fall has its little joys, too.

Pear, Parmesan, and Cashew Salad (serves 4)
Adapted from The Naked Chef Takes Off by Jamie Oliver.

Ingredients:
2 Bosc pears, sliced thinly
5 ounces greens, a mixture of arugula and mesclun
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil, or to coat
Shaved Parmesan or Piave cheese
Handful unsalted cashews, crushed roughly

1. In a large salad bowl, add the greens. Pour a gentle stream of olive oil 3-4 times around the bowl, just enough to coat the sides well. Do the same with the lemon juice. Add a good pinch of salt for each person.

2. Add the pear slices, then toss the greens gently until evenly coated with the oil and the acid. Taste and adjust the oil/acid/salt ratio. Top with the cashews and shaved cheese. Finish with fresh black pepper.

 

Spicy white bean and sweet potato soup with collard greens January 11, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — superspark @ 9:23 pm

spicy-white-bean-and-sweet-potato-soup-with-collards

Though I definitely indulged my fair share and more over the holidays (who among us didn’t?), I was lucky enough to come through it no worse for the wear and perhaps even a pound or two lighter. I haven’t a clue what my secret was as snowstorms more or less prevented me from doing a lick of exercise during the 10 days we were in New York and I made no real attempt to limit my sweet tooth. I can only guess that perhaps having my hands constantly occupied with a small infant gave me less opportunity to snack.

Even so, like many of you, I’ve found myself in the mood to eat a little healthier in the new year. My palate is in need of some relief from the sweetness, creaminess, and richness that characterizes holiday foods and there’s nothing like a broth-based, veggie-packed soup to fit the bill. This soup was inspired by our recent sweet potato bounty and one of my Christmas presents, Robin Robertson’s Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker. My mom bought us a slow cooker last year and I asked her for the cookbook as a way to force me to make better use of it now that life is a little busier.  So far, I’m kind of lovin’ it and have vowed to cook something from it once a week.  Yes, that means I have to take the enormous appliance from the top shelf of my closet, but the convenience of throwing some things in a pot early in the day and having dinner ready (presto!) right on time at night more than makes up for it.

This soup was a big hit with Dylan. I was a little unsure at first- with the sweet potatoes and brown sugar, it’s definitely a bit sweet, but the more the soup sat, the more the flavors melded and it ended up just tasting fresh and healthy, packed with nutrients and warm goodness that hits the spot on a winter’s day.  I had never tried collard greens before but it turns out they’re pretty tasty and I’ll be looking forward to trying them again in a recipe that really showcases their flavor.  More tasty, healthy crock pot recipes to come in the weeks ahead…

Spicy white bean and sweet potato soup with collard greens (serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 fresh hot chile, seeded and minced
1 tsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes with their juices
3 cups slow cooked or 2 14.5 oz cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp light brown sugar or natural sweetener
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cumin
2 bay leaves
3 cups vegetable stock (we used Better than Boullion)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped collard greens cooked in simmering water until tender and drained

1. Heat the oil in a large skiller over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, and garlic. Cover and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

2. Transfer the mixture to a crock pot (slow cooker). Add the sweet potatoes, chile, ginger, tomatoes, beans, brown sugar, allspice, cumin, bay leaves, and stock, then season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low 4-6 hours.

3. Close to serving time, stir in the cooked collard greens. Taste and adjust the seasonings, remove the bay leaves and serve.

 

Hearty lentil soup October 24, 2008

Filed under: grains,soups,Uncategorized — superspark @ 6:16 am

Yeah, this is a food blog, I know, but you’ll just have to bear with me when I feel the need to put up with a picture of my little Madeleine now and then. Though we’re back in LA and I’m back at work, life in our family still revolves around our little cupcake, shown here lounging, a la Hugh Hefner, in her bathrobe. I’m happy to report that having had about 2 1/2 months now to get used to this whole parenting thing, we’ve managed to get a routine down whereby we no longer have to rely entirely on frozen foods or the kindness of friends who like to cook.

Which is not to say that there’s lots of extra time to whip up haute cuisine. No, at this point we’re all about easy recipes and making things in giant batches to freeze or eat over the course of a week. Take, for instance, this recipe for hearty lentil soup from our beloved The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition with 1,000 Recipes (from America’s Test Kitchen). We’ve made it a number of times and it’s a favorite in our household. It makes 4-6 servings as presented in the book and as we made up our grocery list this time, Dylan turned to me and said, “What do you think about multiplying it by six?”

Six?! That’s 12 quarts of lentil soup! While I’m all for saving time and effort by doubling recipes, that’s a lot of lentil soup for two people to eat. In the end we doubled it, ate half while enjoying our favorite cheap Trader Joe’s wine, and stashed half away in the freezer to come in handy for those moments when there’s just not enough time in the day to put something fresh together.

And as the weather grows cooler (well, it’s all relative in Southern California), I’m happy knowing that we have a big stash of this fall favorite. Often I find lentil soups to be bland and mushy, but this one is downright flavorful, a perfect blend of spices. Lentils de puy (or french green lentils) are preferred, but it can be made with green, black, or brown lentils. Served atop a bed of rice, it’s a terrifically filling meal for those moments when you want something that will really stick to your ribs but is also healthy.

Hearty lentil soup (make 2 quarts, about 4-6 servings)

Ingredients:

1 large onion, chopped fine
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped fine
1 tbsp oil
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 bay leaf
1 tsp minced fresh thyme
1 cup lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 tsp salt
ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine (we subbed red)
4 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp minced parsley leaves (for garnish)

1. Saute the onions and carrots in the oil, stirring occasionally until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaf, and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the lentils, salt, and pepper, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low and cook until vegetables have softened and lentils have darkened, about 8-10 minutes.

2. Uncover and turn heat to high. Add wine and bring to a simmmer. Add the broth and water, then bring to a boil. Cover partially and turn the heat to low. Simmer until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape, about 30-35 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.

3. Puree 3 cups of the soup in a blender then return to the pot (or use a hand blender to partly puree the soup for about 10-15 seconds). Stir in the vinegar and heat the soup over medium-low until hot, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tbsp parsley and serve, garnishing each bowl with remaining parsley, if desired.

 

Zucchini egg-lemon soup October 4, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — superspark @ 7:44 pm

We’re back from New York and on the eve of returning to work after about 2 months of maternity leave, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve managed to cook since Madeleine’s birth. In fact, I can count them on three fingers. That’s right. In two months, I’ve cooked three times and none of them were terribly ambitious endeavors. Still, looking at the latest pictures of Maddie and how much she’s plumped up, she and I are clearly eating well.

Right before we left to visit the grandparents in New York for the month of September, I used a huge crop of home-grown tomatoes (thanks Saskya!) to make tomato pie to freeze for our return. My second undertaking took advantage of my mom’s discovery of quinoa and willingness to babysit. I excitedly perused Epicurious on my parents archaic computer, finally deciding up on a recipe only to realize after the fact that I had not only made it but blogged about it a year earlier. They say having children does terrible things to the memory and I wish I had remembered that while the dish was okay, it certainly wasn’t interesting enough to want to make again when one has such rare opportunities to cook!

My final attempt at cooking during this pre-day care period consisted of a zucchini egg-lemon soup published in the New York Times food section on September 10. Did I stumble upon it in my usual way, reading the paper online in the morning? No, of course not! I haven’t had a chance to do that since Madeleine was born. Instead, bleary and exhausted at Starbucks one afternoon, I happened across a copy of the paper someone had left behind and enjoying a few minutes of peace while Maddie slept in the din of the coffee shop, I came across this simple soup recipe.

After buying the ingredients, it literally took me a week to have the time and energy to make the soup and I can’t say it was entirely worth the effort. It was fine, but not terribly flavorful, which shouldn’t be such a surprise given that zucchini itself is rather bland. After adding a LOT of lemon juice, parmesan, and ground pepper the soup definitely perked up, becoming brighter and more flavorful. Still, it wasn’t enough to make me race for the leftovers the next day. If you’ve got an abundance of zucchini to use up, by all means give it a try, otherwise I’d say skip this one and hold out for a soup with a bit more bang.

As for me, day care starts this upcoming week and with my office in the process of moving, I’m working from home. All of which goes to say, I’m excitedly looking forward to doing some cooking and hopefully a little blogging to go along with it…

Zucchini egg-lemon soup (serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1/4 cup short-grain rice
2-3 medium zucchini or other summer squash, shredded
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 eggs
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, more to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese for garnish, optional

1. Put oil in large saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion, stir occasionally, cooking until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Add rice and stir to coal with oil, then continue cooking, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

2. Add zucchini, a sprinkle of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Stir constantly for a couple of minutes until zucchini starts to wilt and release its liquid. Add about half of the parsley. When the mixture starts to stick to the pan, stir in 6 cups water. Bring soup to boil and reduce heat so mixture simmers steadily. Cover and cook 20-30 minutes until rice is tender and vegetables start to melt into soup.

3. Beat eggs in a 4-cup bowl or larger heat-resistant bowl, then whisk in the lemon juice. Take a ladle of broth from the pot (don’t include too many vegetables) and slowly add broth to eggs, a few drops at a time at first, whisking constantly so eggs do not curdle. Repeat once or twice more until egg mixture is thick, smooth and very warm.

4. Adjust heat so that soup bubbles gently. Slowly add egg mixture, stirring constantly. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more lemon juice, salt and/or pepper as needed. Serve immediately, garnished with remaining parsley and, if you like, cheese.

 

Introducing Madeleine August 11, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — superspark @ 3:24 pm

Wondering where Superspark has been? Busy cooking up a most special new addition to the family, our own Madeleine, born August 6, 2008 at 1:14 pm. She was 7 lbs 6 oz, 21 inches and Mom (Superspark), Dad, and Maddie are all doing well, enjoying their first days at home together as a new family. And yes, we did already have homemade madeleines in honor of our little girl. More recipes to come soon…


 

Quinoa and black bean salad with smoky lime dressing July 4, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — superspark @ 7:45 am

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, can I say once more that I love grain salads for summer? Not only are they more filling than ones based on greens, but they travel better (hello, easy workday lunch!) and won’t get soggy and sad after a few hours sitting in dressing. I’ve made a lot of grain salads during the year and half during Superspark’s inception- some good, some less so. But I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting grain salad recipes- they are perfect for easy, hot weather eating (which is good since it’s been about 100 here for the last few days!).

I first bookmarked this recipe from Family Style Food. many months ago, tempted by the quinoa (one of my very favorite grains for for its nutritiousness and its nutty taste and texture), but a little turned off by the “smoky” in the title. I’m not a huge chipotle fan, to be frank, though I know it’s supposed to be one of the hot and trendy foods, along with goji berries, pomegranates, and the like. I’ve just never been a fan of anything with a smoky flavor, and yes, that includes bacon back in my meat-eating days long ago. Nevertheless, this recipe stayed in the back of my mind and on the long list of starred recipes to try in my Google Reader.

And of course, it was another classic case where I had to ask myself why I waited so long- it was incredibly easy and quick to make, travelled well, and was really, really tasty. Even Dylan, who’s not always as much of a grain salad devotee as I am commented that it was really delicious. The lime was refreshing and unexpected, and while the chipotle taste was definitely there, it wasn’t so strong as to be a turn-off for me. Lastly, it goes without saying that the quinoa (the protein-rich Peruvian “supergrain”) and black beans (packed with fiber and antioxidants) that form the backbone of the dish make it a super-healthy meal all-around.  Think of it as a tasty but completely guilt-free lunch for a hot day when you just want a light bite. Enjoy!

Quinoa and black bean salad with smoky lime dressing (serves 3-4 as a main dish, 6 as a side)

Ingredients:
1 cup quinoa
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon low-sodium teriyaki sauce or soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped

1. Place the quinoa and 2 cups water in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.

2. Lower heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Stir in the green onions, beans, and cilantro.

3. Puree the remaining ingredients together in a food processor; pour over quinoa and stir to coat with dressing. Serve warm or at room temperature.