Basil-parmesan pot beans (~4 servings)

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I made this recipe from the Kitchn for the first time a few months ago, but I've been waiting to post it until the weather turned cooler. Pot beans (they'll get you high on deliciousness!) are slow-cooked beans that simmer for several hours before they become plump, flavorful, and deeply comforting. This version is distinctly Italian-influenced, but I'm sure the flavors could be switched up to suit any number of tastes. It's a fairly time-consuming recipe, as it requires a few hours of prep, but it's not labor-intensive at all. Most of the time is taken up by just waiting for the beans to soak or cook!

You will need:

  • 2 cups dried beans (it's been so long that I can't even remember what I used, but I think they were flageolet)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • grated Parmesan cheese (to taste)
  • 1 cup loosely-packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 large tomato

Steps:

  1. Rinse and drain the beans in a colander or strainer. Add them to a medium saucepan and cover with water by an inch or so. Allow to soak for a few hours or overnight.
  2. Once the beans have soaked and plumped up, sliver the garlic and chop the onion finely. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat; cook the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes until the onion is translucent.
  3. Add the onions and garlic to the beans and stir to mix. Place the saucepan of beans on the stove and bring to a full boil, covered, over high heat. After boiling the beans for five minutes, turn the heat down to low and allow the beans to (barely) simmer, partially covered, for 2-3 hours. Add more water if the beans start to dry out.
  4. When the beans are tender, finely chop the basil and mince the tomatoes. Add the basil, tomatoes, salt, and pepper to the beans. Serve with Parmesan on top.

Every time I've cooked with dried beans, I've felt like I'm adding way too much salt to flavor them, but I think it takes a lot to make them flavorful. The Parmesan helps though! I think I also added a little drizzle of olive oil over each portion for extra richness.

If you were generous with the cooking water, you might have to drain the beans before you add in the tomatoes and basil. I'm sure that some types of beans need more water than others do!

Pearl couscous with arugula and dried cherries (4 servings)

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One of my favorite things about cooking is experimenting with interesting varieties of familiar ingredients. Earlier this week, I tried Israeli (or pearl) couscous for the first time. Like regular couscous, it's not a grain but a type of pasta; however, the individual kernels are much larger and chewier than with common couscous. The squishy yet firm texture was oddly fascinating. You know that little packet of beads you get with a new pair of shoes -- the one that says "DO NOT EAT" all over it? I bet they'd feel like Israeli couscous if you tried to eat them. (But please don't. I can't be held responsible for the effects.)

The Kitchn's original recipe calls for whole wheat pearl couscous, but I wasn't able to find that type, so I just used the kind in the bulk bin at Whole Foods. I made a few changes to the recipe, skipping the celery and shallot and swapping almonds for walnuts. I can't fully describe how good this is. It's soft and crunchy, tart and sweet. It's also very filling and quite healthy, too. It's a cinch to put together, and the fact that it can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold makes it incredibly versatile. I'm definitely making this one again soon.

You will need:

  • 1 cup water
  • 2/3 + 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 1/3 cup pearl couscous
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2/3 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup packed baby arugula leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, slightly toasted
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 2 oz sharp white cheddar, shredded or diced

Steps:

  1. Put the water and 2/3 cups of the orange juice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover, and turn heat down to a simmer. Cook for 18-20 minutes. Once all the liquid has been absorbed, pour the couscous out onto a baking sheet lined with non-stick foil so it can cool.
  2. Next, add the remaining 1/4 cup orange juice, the olive oil, and the vinegar to a microwaveable glass measuring cup; whisk until smooth. Add the dried cherries and microwave the mixture for 90 seconds to two minutes. Let the liquid and cherries stand for 5 minutes so the cherries can plump up. Drain the liquid from the cherries, reserving it in another cup.
  3. Once the couscous is at room temperature (it'll only take a few minutes), transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Whisk the leftover liquid from the cherry mixture until smooth, then stir it into the couscous.
  4. Toss the couscous with the arugula, almonds, and onion powder. Add salt and pepper to taste. Finally, add in the cheese and serve.

The combination of flavors in this dish is enticing, and they work together surprisingly well. I was worried it might be too sweet because of the orange juice or that the arugula might be too strong, but everything fused in the perfect proportions. It's really a brilliant recipe, and it's definitely not something you'll see in many cookbooks or restaurants. And the fact that it's easy and relatively fast makes it even more tempting to try out!

P.S. I'm super proud of that photo.

Chickpea casserole with lemon, herbs, and shallots (6-8 servings)

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As I was planning out this week's meals, I realized that a huge percentage of my main dish recipes involve chickpeas. I've already posted 13 recipes involving chickpeas, and I have lots more than I haven't yet posted. Chickpeas are so versatile and they pack a great protein punch. So when I saw this recipe on the Kitchn the other week, I knew I had to try it out.  This recipe comes from Faith Durand's Not Your Mother's Casseroles, which I'd love to read sometime. I changed the temperature and baked the casserole covered for part of the time, going off readers' suggestions. I also added more rice for bulk and some broth for moisture.

You will need:

  • 3 15-oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 4 shallots, minced or grated (or ground up in a food processor - yay!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (food processor again)
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup cottage cheese (small curd if you can find it)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used Greek)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 cup grated parmesan, divided
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
  • 2 stalks rosemary, leaves stripped and minced
  • 2/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • extra-virgin olive oil (opt.)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spritz a 3-quart baking dish with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. Add the chickpeas, rice, shallots, garlic, and lemon zest and juice to a large bowl and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, broth, and half the parmesan. Mix in the parsley and rosemary. Add the egg mixture to the chickpea mixture in the large bowl and stir to combine.
  4. Spread the mixture in the prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining parmesan and the bread crumbs. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil, if desired. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes; uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes. The casserole should be bubbly and golden. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

There are so many wonderful things about this recipe. As the Kitchn's writer states, "It's quick and easy -- a modern, lightened-up version of the 'dump-and-mix' dish, where you can open up a few cans and mix everything together." But, as the writer points out, it doesn't rely on predictable ingredients like pasta or cream of mushroom soup. I loved the combination of the tender chickpeas and the custardy, creamy filling. The lemon worked really well with the other flavors. This is another bright, flavorful dish that works well for the transition from winter to spring. Serve it with a big ol' spinach salad and you'll be full for hours!

A word about shallots: I don't know much about them and they tend to annoy me. I love their mellow, slightly sweet flavor, but they frustrate me. First of all, peeling them is a pain in the arse. They're much worse than garlic or onions. Also, when the recipe calls for four of them, I don't know if that means four "bulbs," which might contain more than one "clove" (for lack of a better description) or if that means four "cloves," which could only be two or three "bulbs." Ugh. I found two big ones -- almost the size of a tangerine -- at Whole Foods and used both. The end result wasn't overpowering, so I guess that was a good choice!

Moroccan chickpeas & spinach (4-6 servings)

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On New Year's Eve, Bryan and I decided to make a new recipe (together!) and then watch a new (to us) movie. We started off with a glass of wine, some SNL reruns, and a batch of French onion soup-stuffed mushrooms. They were delicious even though they were time-consuming to make, although mine didn't turn out as beautiful as the Pioneer Woman's.

We finished the evening by making the Smitten Kitchen's version of Moroccan spinach and chickpeas and watching Devil while we ate. Cooking a new, exotic recipe and watching a mysterious, critically-disdained movie turned out to be fairly similar experiences. During both activities, we found ourselves thinking,

How will this turn out? Will there be any unpleasant surprises? Will the various elements come together for a satisfying ending? Will M. Night Shyamalan make a cameo?

(In the end, the answer to the final question was "no" for both.)

You will need:

  • 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 5 Tbsp olive oil (I just happened to have a bottle of Moroccan olive oil from one of Bryan's friends!)
  • 1 lb spinach, washed and torn into smaller pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (I used the spicy kind and thus skipped the red pepper flakes)
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce (canned is fine)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar (all I had was white)
  • juice from half a lemon (or more, if desired)

Steps:

  1. Heat 3 Tbsp of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the spinach and a pinch of salt and stir well. (The volume of the spinach will drastically decrease, so don't worry if it doesn't seem to fit in the pan at first!) When the spinach leaves are just barely tender, drain them in a colander and set aside.
  2. Heat the remaining oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add in the garlic, cumin, pepper flakes, and paprika; stir for 30 seconds.
  3. Add in the drained chickpeas and tomato sauce and mix in the vinegar. Cook and stir for a few minutes, just until the chickpeas are heated through. Add the spinach back in and season the mixture with salt and pepper and lemon juice.

You can serve this as is or mash it up a bit and serve it over toasted crusty bread. I did the latter and Bryan did the former. Deb's version of the recipe involves grinding up bread in a food processor and adding it to the dish to make it thicker, but that was more work than I was willing to do that night. I'm sure it's good though! Maybe I'll try that next time.

Next time, I might also use a little less oil, since the spinach got a little slick in the end. I will also be lazy and buy bagged, washed spinach instead of washing my own. There are many kitchen tasks I'm willing to do on my own, but after realizing how long it takes to thoroughly wash and dry a pound of spinach, I probably won't do it again for a long time!

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Wild mushroom ragout (4 servings)

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Well, hello there! It's been a long time! In the weeks leading up to the holidays, I found myself cutting back on making new recipes, partly because holiday socializing had us away from home more often, and partly because we were so busy that it was easier to turn to my tried-and-true recipes for dinner.

One new recipe I did make recently was David Tanis' wild mushroom ragout, which I found on The Kitchn a few weeks ago. This was my first attempt at cooking with dried wild mushrooms. Just for the record, the white button mushrooms (which are sometimes called Pennsylvania mushrooms because many of them are grown there) you find in the grocery store taste nothing like wild mushrooms. When a recipe calls for wild mushrooms, nothing else will do. It would be like trying to satisfy yourself with a Tootsie Roll when you're really craving a hot fudge sundae. (Props to my dad for coming up with that metaphor to describe cravings a long time ago!)

However, as soon as I began planning this meal, I discovered a problem: wild mushrooms are expensive. I halved David's recipe, but even one pound of wild mushrooms would have been far too expensive for our budget. I bought two one-ounce bags of dried mixed wild mushrooms, knowing they would yield about twelve ounces once reconstituted, but just those two bags cost me almost $10. I ended up using a few baby portabellas to round out the pound, just for budget reasons. If you can afford to buy all wild mushrooms, you won't be disappointed by the flavor. But a girl's gotta be realistic here!

You will need:

  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 lb wild mushrooms (or a combination of wild and cultivated)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup mushroom broth (see note below)
  • splash of white wine (opt.)
  • 1 Tbsp butter (opt.)
  • rice, pasta, couscous, or whatever else you want to serve the ragout over

Steps:

  1. Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil over med-high heat in a large rimmed skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown (8-10 minutes, I think). Lower the heat to medium, sprinkle in a little salt and pepper, and continue to cook the onion until it's nicely caramelized (another 5 minutes or so). Transfer the onion to a bowl and return the skillet to the stovetop.
  2. Bring the skillet back to medium-high and add the remaining oil. Add the mushrooms, stirring well to coat with oil. Saute the mushrooms until they're lightly browned. (Unfortunately, I don't remember how long that took! Oops!)
  3. Season the mushrooms with a bit more salt and pepper; add in the garlic, thyme, sage, and pepper flakes, and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion back in, and stir in the tomato paste. If you'd like to add the wine and butter for a tad more decadence, do that now. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring well.
  4. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir it in. Slowly pour in the mushroom broth and cook the mixture for another 5 minutes. If it's too thick, add a little more broth or water, and if it's too thin, let it cook for a few minutes longer.
  5. Ladle over pasta, rice, or couscous and serve immediately.

We served this luscious sauce over buttered egg noodles, and it was just glorious. It's tough to describe the flavor of this sauce without using words that are always connected to mushrooms -- earthy, meaty, rich -- but all of them definitely apply. I feel like the wine and butter are pretty essential here, but don't add the butter if you want this dish to be vegan.

A note about the mushroom broth: If you buy dried mushrooms, just save a cup of the broth that's left over after you've reconstituted them. An ounce of dried mushrooms yields six to seven ounces, so make sure to plan accordingly. I found a useful tutorial on preparing dried mushrooms here. However, in preparing them, I discovered one other problem with dried mushrooms: they're very, very gritty. After I soaked them, I drained them in a sieve, but that wasn't enough, as it turns out. Every couple of bites, we'd get a mouthful of sandy grit, which really took away from the experience. Once you soak them, pour the liquid through a coffee filter, and then maybe even rinse the mushrooms one more time.

But don't let that scare you off! The sauce is multifaceted and filling, and it's perfect for a lazy winter day.