Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Pasta with Ricotta

This is basic recipe that you can jazz up or change at will. You can use any variety of herbs, use almonds or walnuts instead of pine nuts, add pesto or another type of puree to the ricotta, add peas or chopped cooked vegetables (broccoli or green beans come to mind), etc. Tonight I used parsley, scallions, pine nuts and added some leftover roasted red pepper dip.

This recipe makes 4 or 5 servings.

Pasta with Ricotta
  • 1 pound dried pasta (curlier, open pastas are better for this: farfalle, malfade, fusilli, gemelli)

  • 1 15 oz. container of ricotta (I use part skim, but if I saw a good quality fresh whole milk ricotta, I'd use that instead!)

  • 1/3-1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano and/or romano cheese

  • handful chopped herbs

  • handful toasted pine nuts

  • salt and pepper to taste

Boil the pasta in salted water.

While the pasta is cooking, mix the rest of the ingredients together in a small bowl.

When the pasta is done, before you drain it, take a coffee cup or other heatproof cup and reserve about a cup of water. Drain the pasta and put it back in the pot and add the ricotta mixture and about a half cup of the water. Put the pot back over medium heat and stir until a sauce is formed. You may need to add a little more pasta water to loosen things up. The sauce won't be super creamy (not like an alfredo), it will always be a little more rustic than that.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Polenta Lasagna

Okay - this is more of a method than a recipe. The basic idea is to layer polenta and yummy fillings (this week I used: sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, red peppers, and green garbanzo beans - goodness!) to make a lasagna-like casserole. The trick is to have enough interesting flavors and textures. The basic method is this:

Polenta Lasagna (for one 9"x9" pan - enough for 4 generous servings)

  • 1 batch polenta - made with 1 cup polenta meal and 6 cups liquid - see below
  • 3 cups of fillings (this can be a varied of things, enough to make 3 cups total): cooked sausage, pepperoni, chopped or sliced salami or ham, sauteed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, chopped black olives, cooked and chopped spinach or other green, cooked vegetables, diced tomatoes, leftover pasta sauce, etc. etc. etc. You get the point? Raid the fridge.
  • 1/2 - 1 cup shredded or grated cheese (the richer your other ingredients, the less cheese you'll want/need)

Layer about 1/3 of the polenta in the bottom of a 9"x9" (or similarly sized) baking dish. Layer half of your ingredients over the polenta, sprinkle about a third of your cheese over the filling. Put on one more layer of polenta, vegetables and cheese. Top with a final layer of polenta and cheese.

Cover and refrigerate until ready. When ready to bake: bake covered with foil at 375 for 25 minutes, uncover and bake another 20 minutes or until bubbly. That is it.

Easy Oven Polenta

This is a method from Paula Wolfert that I read about in Fine Cooking magazine. Dunno why everyone doesn't make their polenta this way.

  • 1 cup polenta meal
  • 4-6 cups liquid: water and/or broth (The more liquid, the looser the polenta. Use the 4 cup amount for a stiffer polenta - the kind you'd grill or fry. Use 6 cups for a pourable polenta - better for a base for a ragu, or for this lasagna.)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Set the oven to 350. Put all the ingredients in a baking dish large enough to hold them (I use a roasting pan) and stir everything together. Gently (this will be splashy) put the pan in the oven. Every 10 minutes or so, reach in and stir what's the pan around to make sure nothing is sticking and everything is coming together well. (Be careful, this is sloshy stuff and nothing burns like a splash of polenta on your arm.) After about half an hour, it should look like polenta: creamy, smooth, not lumpy. If it's too stiff, you could gently work in more water or broth to loosen it up.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. You can add grated cheese now if you want. I have also used bottled pesto or roasted red pepper spread to add a different flavor. If you want to mold it to cut into slices to grill or fry, pour it into a loaf pan and let it sit until cool (a day or two ahead is great). If you want to use it in the polenta lasagna, go ahead and layer!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Lentil Soup

The full recipe makes enough for 4 good sized servings (2+ cups each), plus 3+ more servings for the freezer. Your yield will depend on how much soup you need for a meal. For those without freezer space I put the amounts for a half portion in parentheses.

This recipe is lifted liberally from the Cook’s Illustrated version found in their January 2004 issue.

Lentil Soup

  • 6 (3) slices bacon, cut into smallish pieces (easiest if you use a pair of kitchen scissors to do this

  • 2 (1) large onions , chopped small

  • 4 (2) carrots , peeled and chopped medium

  • 6 (3) cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press

  • 2 (1) cans (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes , drained (I have also used one 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, drained and chopped)

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 (1) teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves (or a healthy pinch of dried thyme)

  • 2 (1) cups lentilles duy Puy (rinse them and make sure there are no stones or other inedible bits) – see below for more on this kind of lentil

  • 2 (1) teaspoons table salt

  • ground black pepper to taste

  • 1 (1/2) cup dry white wine

  • 8 (4) cups low-sodium chicken broth (one brick pack of broth = 4 cups)

  • 4 (2) cups water

  • 3 (1 ½) teaspoons balsamic vinegar

  • handful of parsley leaves, chopped fine

Fry bacon in large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, 5ish minutes. Add onion and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about another 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute. Stir in tomatoes, bay leaf, and thyme; cook 1 minute.

Stir in lentils, salt, and pepper to taste; cover (this is important to do), reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until vegetables are softened and lentils have darkened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Uncover, increase heat to high, add wine, and bring to simmer. Add chicken broth and water; bring to boil, cover partially, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 30 to 35 minutes; discard bay leaf.

Use an immersion blender or potato masher to mash up the soup a little. You want it to get a little creamy. (the original told you to "puree 3 cups soup in blender until smooth, then return to pot" if you only have a blender and want the creamier texture, you should do this step. If you don't mind a brothy soup, don't worry about it). Stir in vinegar and heat soup over medium-low until hot, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley and serve, garnishing each bowl with some of remaining parsley.

Lentilles du Puy are small French lentils. You can get them in some supermarkets, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and another speciality food stores. Get them, they are worth it. You can also find them at

Week of January 28

Here's this week's plan. There is less made ahead this week - this week's more about advance prep. For instance, I made both the lasagne and lentil soup in double batches. So now I have enough for this week plus at least one week's worth to go in the freezer too. There are always some weeks where I won't have the time cook ahead. So, I try to lay in enough frozen meals to tide me through those times.

Due to popular demand, I will try to start posting more recipes. A lot of them are made up on the spur of the moment, but I'll do my best. Let me know if there's any recipe you're craving.

Roasted pork tenderloin *
Green tomato chutney (my Mom’s)
Butternut squash gratin *
Kale with sherry vinegar *

Cold cut sandwiches on pita: turkey, cheese, red pepper or pesto spread
Veggies: carrot & celery sticks, cherry tomatoes

Polenta “lasagne” with sausage, mushrooms, red peppers (and whatever else I found in the fridge) *

Sunday leftovers

Lentil soup *
Daikon salad

Monday leftovers

Pasta with ricotta, parsley and toasted pine nuts


Tuesday leftovers

Falafel sandwiches
Cherry tomato salad
Yogurt sauce

Thursday leftovers


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cucumber Salad

I love this salad. It's really easy to make and makes a great side dish. Looks like a lot of steps, but it's pretty easy.

This is not great made ahead, the cucumbers turn into pickles when they sit in the dressing. Nice, but not salad.

Thai (?) Cucumber Salad

For two:

  • 1/2 an English cucumber (this is the cuke you see in the supermarket that is shrinkwrapped in plastic)
  • 1-2 scallions or green onions (optional)
  • 1 lime (2 limes if your lime is not very juicy)
  • fish sauce
  • rice vinegar
  • brown or white sugar
  • chili flakes or chopped fresh chili to taste
  • garlic
  • 1 handful peanuts (dry roasted, roasted, whatever you've got)
  • a half handful of herbs like cilantro, mint, parsley, cut or torn into small pieces (optional, but good)

Peel the cucumber if you want (I am lazy, I do not). Cut the cucumber in half the long way. Cut the two long haves into half moons - depending on your taste, they can be wafer thin to 1/4"ish. Slice your scallion into small rounds, or be really stylish and cut in into thin, angled slivers. Put cukes and scallions into a bowl.

If you want (I like to), toast your peanuts in a skillet or the oven. I like it if some get the tiniest bit "burny"around the edges. Whether you toasted or not, chop up your peanuts into slightly smaller pieces (also optional, you can always use whole peanuts and not chop 'em up). Set aside.

Dressing: this is very much where your taste plays a role. I use 1 juicy lime for this size salad. Squeeze lime into a bowl or jar. Add fish sauce (about half as much as the lime juice, maybe less - shake some in and taste - you don't want it too salty). Add a splash of rice wine vinegar. Add a little sugar (teaspoon or less). I do not like a sweet dressing, some do ... if you are one of the some, add more sugar to taste. Adjust the dressing with a little water - you don't want it too salty, but you should be able to taste sour, salty and sweet. Adjust the ingredients to taste. Press in one small garlic clove and sprinkle in red pepper flakes to taste. Shake the jar, or stir to blend.

Pour dressing over cukes, toss on herbs and peanuts. Toss. Enjoy.

You can add grilled shrimp on top to make this more of a main dish. Nice in summer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Eggplant Parmesan

This is a remarkably easy and good recipe. First, forget the "eggplant parm" you know. You know the one: the eggplant is breaded and fried and HEAVY. You feel like you'll be digesting it for a week.

This is not that. This is goooooood. The method is simple: slice eggplant, bake eggplant, layer cooked eggplant with tomato sauce and parmigiano reggiano cheese. Bake and eat. I have made this as far ahead as 3 days (make Sunday for Wednesday night).

This is sort of Jamie Oliver's recipe from his new book "Jamie's Italy." I revised it for even more ease, although the original recipe is easy too - the only major difference is he makes his tomato sauce from scratch, where I am relying on a prepped sauce.

Eggplant Parmesan

  • 3 medium-large eggplants, cut into 1/2" slices (rounds) (you can use slender Japanese eggplants or little Italian ones too, you'll just need a few more)
  • 1 28 oz. can of Trader Joe's sugo di pomodoro (or another marinara sauce of your choice)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano (buy a block and grate it yourself - it's worth it)
  • handful breadcrumbs
Set oven to 450 degrees. Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a small bowl and dip the eggplant slices into oil to lightly coat them with oil (add more oil as you need it - you just want to lubricate the eggplant, not drown it). Lay the eggplant on baking sheets - the pieces should be in one layer and should not touch. Bake the egpplant until golden brown - about 15 minutes a side.

In a 9" x 9" ish pan (a smallish baking dish) put a layer of tomato sauce. Add a layer of eggplant and top with a layer of sauce and some of the cheese. Add another layer of eggplant, sauce and cheese. Repeat with one more layer if you still have ingredients left. (If you are using small eggplants like I did this time, you may just want to tumble them into the dish instead of layering them. Just portion them out so you have at least 2 layers.)

Toss the breadcrumbs with a little olive oil. Scatter over the top.

If you're going to bake it now - go ahead: 30-40 minutes at 375. If you are making it ahead, cover and refrigerate. To bake later: Cover the dish with foil and bake covered in a 375 oven for about 20 minutes, then uncover and bake another 20 or until bubbly.

Feel free to add fresh herbs: basil, thyme, parsley ... all will add a different dimension to the dish.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Baked Macaroni & Cheese

So here's the (now baked) macaroni & cheese (& cauliflower & spinach). Dave was on his own tonight, so he baked the casserole I prepped on Sunday.

Had I been home, I might have broiled the top for extra browning because I like a crispy top on my mac and cheese - but this looks good too. Can't wait to have my leftovers on Thursday!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Macaroni and Cheese

I used a recipe from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. It's [supposedly] designed to be frozen. It seems like a pretty basic Mac and Cheese recipe, so this may mean that I can safely freeze all macaroni and cheese.

Anyway, I made it today (Sunday) and one portion of it will be heated up on Tuesday. The other half is going in the freezer in individual dishes. I haven't made this kind of casserole more than a few hours in advance before. I'm curious to see how the pasta and sauce hold up.

It's a pretty standard recipe. 1 pound pasta, cheese sauce made with 4 cups of milk, 12 ounces of cheedar.

I used 12 ounces of pasta and put in about 8 ounces of cauliflower (cut into teeny tiny florets) and rest of the spinach I had left over from the Italian Wedding Soup.

This is a picture of an unbaked portion - I will post a picture of the baked version later this week.

This is the macaroni and cheese destined for the freezer. I have finally learned to a) LABEL what's going in the freezer, and b) put the baking instructions ON the package.

Italian Wedding Soup

Here's the Italian Wedding Soup. Fairly easy to make:

Make meatballs:
1/2 pound ground turkey (could also use beef, pork and/or sausage meat)
1/4 cup finely sliced scallions and/or chives
salt and pepper to taste

Form into small meatballs (1 1/2"), and fry until browned and cooked through.
While meatballs are frying, heat together:
1 quart chicken broth
1 can, drained, chickpeas
about 3 cups fresh chopped spinach
When heated through, add cooked meatballs and correct seasoning (depending on the broth, you may not need any more salt).

January 20, 2007

Here's my menu plan for the week. This week's menu has a good mix of mediterranean and asian flavors. I went to Super 88 (a big asian market) yesterday, and so I have a nice collection of asian vegetables to work with. Asterisks show what I will make or prep on Sunday.

This may seem pretty agressive - but with planning, judicious shopping and choosing a good variety of easy-to-make dishes, it's not so hard.

Hoisin Duck (gota half a Peking duck at Super 88!) *
Crispy noodle cake *
Gujarati cabbage (napa cabbage with green chilies, and mustard and cumin seeds) *
Naan (Trader Joe's frozen)
Moon dal *
Tamarind chicken (grilled) *

Sandwich (made on no-knead bread): steak (left from Saturday night) with cheese, roasted red pepper spread, and bitter lettuces
Italian wedding soup (with turkey meatballs and chickpeas) *

Sunday night's leftovers
Mac and cheese *
Carrot salad *

Monday night's leftovers
Eggplant parmesan *

Tuesday night's leftovers
Thai shrimp soup (either green or red curry - not sure yet)
Cucumber salad with toasted peanuts

Wednesday night's leftovers

Saturday, January 20, 2007

First Post

I have a busy life. To make sure that my husband and I eat well, don't spend a fortune on takeout, and don't blow our sodium intake off the chart (through gratitous consumption of frozen foods), I have been planning each week's eating in advance.

After enough folks at work asked: What is that you're eating? You made that? I've decided to blog my meal planning to share some of my planning methods and recipes.

So, let the meal planning begin!
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