An Open Cookbook

An Open Cookbook


Eating through Italy

I have been eating so many Thanksgiving leftovers this past week, that I thought I'd take a little trip down memory lane and pull out some pictures from a European trip of a few years ago.  While on this trip, I decided early on that I would document each day by what food I ate and would connect that to the day's stories.  This was the beginning of my journey of writing about food.  During my trip, I sent out weekly emails to my family and friends, highlighting my menu selections.  Below is a little window into my journey...Buon Appetito!

Two years ago, I took a solo trip to Europe for five weeks.  I had always wanted to do the backpack around Europe via train and hostel trip that a lot of people did after college.  It was quite a culinary adventure.  I ate my way through Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy and Switzerland.  But what I am about to highlight, only encompasses Italy.  I spent two and half of my five weeks trekking through Italy, which was by far my favorite of all the countries.

My Eurail map
Venice was my first stop, and it was as though the air became sweeter and warmer the second the train pulled into the station.  I felt a sense of calm as I took a huge exhale.  It was then that I realized I had been waiting my whole trip to get to Italy. 

After having spent two and half weeks hopping around four other countries, I had gotten quite good at navigating a new city.  But Venice was a whole new arena.  After settling into my bed and breakfast, I hit the cobbled pavement.  And within an hour, I tucked my map into my purse, never to be used again.  Within two turns, and up and down a few bridges, you can be immediately lost.  But then you make another turn, and see a sign for the main drag or St. Mark's square, and somehow you know where you are again.    The picture above was a respite from being lost for the first time...a piece of my first Italian pizza...thinly sliced eggplant and red and yellow peppers. 

This panini was the last vittle of food I got before leaving Venice to go to Florence.  It consisted of roasted eggplant, zucchini and peppers with a healthy amount of fresh mozzarella, polished off with a nice glass of red wine.

The pizza below was my lunch looking out the window of Rome.  I had never had shredded zucchini on pizza before this trip.  What a brilliant idea!  I saw it upon arriving in Rome, and couldn't get the olive oiled shreds of zucchini out of my head.  And I loved the way they sell the slices of pizza there.  It was all by weight.  I had no idea how much to order the first time, so I just made a shape with my hands to indicate the size, and didn't mind when he cut a piece one and a half times that.

Rome was also one of my fondest memories of the trip.  I stayed in a cute little apartment overlooking a small neighborhood right down the street from the Vatican.  I would get a voucher every morning for a pastry and a coffee in the shop below my apartment.  The following is what I got four days in a row:

And I was so lucky to be right across the street from a busy restaurant crammed with people all hours of the night.  My usual routine was to go walking and sightseeing  all day (after having 'said' breakfast), and then I would come home and relax before dinner.  The first day I was so excited to try out the little restaurant after a long day of walking at least ten miles.  It was only about 6:30 and was beside myself, when I learned I had to wait until 7:30, to try the purple cabbage and blue cheese pizza!  Ah!  So I went back up to my room and ate a free cookie I had gotten on the airplane to tide me over.  But it was well worth the wait.

Before Milan, which was my last Italian stop, I popped into Cinque Terre.  I had been hearing so many mythical stories of this place, which literally means 'five lands' in Italian.  The most interesting aspect of it is that you can hike from town to town, stopping in each one for shopping, food or wine...or you can just keep going.  I stayed in the first town, Riomaggiore and hiked all the way to the end.  And the best part is that you can take the train back!  I enjoyed this so much, that the next day I did it again.  The reward was that at the end, you can get a glass of wine and a little cup of olives and sit on the beach, soaking in the Mediterranean breeze. 

I stayed above the most amazing deli that had fresh pesto, marinated artichoke hearts, figs, fresh mozzarella, foccacia and salami.  This is what I had each night I was there:

I actually had reservations to go to Milan one night, but decided I just couldn't leave quite yet.  So I double booked myself for a room in Cinque Terre and Milan...which was well worth the money.  How could I leave a place with food like this and a view like this??

I will close this chapter with warm thoughts of the Mediterranean breeze and fresh pesto and olives.  Next time I have a lot of leftovers, I will open another chapter.


Thanksgiving Morning Festivities

This year for Thanksgiving morning, my friends M and K invited me to join their yearly tradition of cooking together in the morning.  I was so honored to be invited!  We started off the day with a yoga class taught by M, following by a glass clinking with mimosas...and then we turned on the oven.

The plan for cooking was to triple each of our recipes, so that we could share our food, and then in the afternoon, when we'd go our separate ways, we would have three things to bring. 

M and K made a savory cranberry chutney and pumpkin cheesecake.  I made a quinoa, orzo and sweet potato salad.  With all three recipes cooking, the kitchen had many layers of holiday goodness. 

A few of the ingredients

Sliced sweet potatoes getting ready for the boiling pot

Quinoa, orzo and sweet potato salad
K brought over the new addition to her house, Penny, who got a special spoonful of the pumpkin cheesecake batter.  She and M's two little cats were also participants of the morning yoga class.

I have a few notes on the cranberry chutney recipe.  We didn't have crystalized ginger, and substituted fresh ginger, which I actually liked better.  But either would do.  If you want a fully sweet, more traditional cranberry sauce, omit the onion.  But it does add a different dimension to the chutney.  As M said, it is interesting to have one bite with ginger and pear, and then the next bite has onion and cranberry.  Also, it is an open-ended recipe.  You can add oranges, or lemon zest, or any type of apple or pear.  You can add regular raisins, or dried cherries or dried apricots.  The options are pretty endless! 

Cranberry Chutney Recipe
from Marian's cookbook called The Thanksgiving Table by Diane Morgan

4 cups whole fresh cranberries
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup water
6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp salt
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled cored and diced
2 Bosc/Anjou pears, peeled, cored and diced
1 small onion, diced
1 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup crystalized ginger or 2 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1/2 cup whole hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed and halved (or crushed)

In a 6 quart saucepan, combine cranberries, sugar, water, cloves, cinnamon sticks and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.  Cook until cranberries pop, about 10-12 minutes.  Bring to a simmer.  (This is a good time to toast the hazelnuts)  Stir in apples, pears, onion, raisins and ginger.   Continue to cook, stirring frequently until thick, 10-15 minutes longer.

Remove from heat, stir in hazelnuts and cool to room temperature.  Discard the cinnamon stick and cloves, if you can find them!  Refrigerate in sealed containers.  Serve with Thanksgiving dinner, as a spread on a sandwich, or on French toast.


Lentil Carrot Soup

For a really cold night, what a better dish to make than soup.  I have been branching out lately, by using ingredients I already have at home.  So tonight, I pulled the following ingredients out of my freezer: cooked lentils, chicken broth, vegetable broth, a few tablespoons of pureed tomatoes, and frozen broccoli.  I actually ended up not using the broccoli in the soup, but I will eat it tomorrow in an omelet with some leftover squash. 

I pulled out carrots from my fridge next.  From the spice rack, I used dried parsley, za'atar, dried thyme, salt and pepper and garlic.  Za'atar is a spice blend that occasionally appears in recipes that I have looked through.  It is a Middle Eastern blend of herbs, usually including thyme, oregano, marjarom, mixed with toasted sesame seeds and salt, sometimes dried lemon peel and other herbs.   There is green za'atar and red za'atar.  Sumac makes the red one red.  I had green za'atar on hand, so that is what is in this recipe.

A few notes on this recipe.  This was developed by using 100% of ingredients in my kitchen, so you have a lot of leeway here!  If you have anything like a potato, sweet potato, zucchini or squash...these would work really well instead of or in addition to the carrots.  Any of your favorite spices would work.  I added the butter for a little extra flavoring because there wasn't any fat in the recipe.  You could also stir in sour cream or plain yogurt after taking off heat, for a creamy soup.  Topping the soup with a drizzle of lemon juice or vinegar gives it a mouth watering tang.

Lentil Carrot Soup
Makes about 4-6 servings

2 cups cooked lentils
1/3 lb. fresh carrots
5 cups broth (any mixture of veg, chicken, turkey)
3 Tbsp pureed tomatoes
1 Tbsp za'atar
2 Tbsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp butter
1 extra cup water if needed
Top with lemon juice or vinegar

In a large pot or Dutch oven, bring broth to a boil and add carrots.  Let them cook for about 10 minutes, or until they can easily break in half with a fork.  Add the pureed tomatoes, and boil for a few minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and allow to partially cool.  Puree in food processor or blender until smooth.  Transfer back to same pot or Dutch oven.  Stir in lentils and all the spices, garlic, salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer and cook, covered for 10-15 minutes.  Add the butter and stir until fully integrated.  Taste, and adjust seasonings if needed.  If the soup has gotten too thick, add the extra water until desired consistency.  Stir in vinegar or lemon juice at last minute.  Serve with warmed bread or biscuits on a cold night.


Cracked Wheat Pilaf

A few years ago, my mom came to visit and we took a trip up to Victoria B.C.  There was a cozy little restaurant called Rebar in the downtown area.  You walk in from the cold outside, and are immediately warmed from the colorful ambiance, small groups of happy people at tables, and the kitchen's busy stovetops and ovens with a mix of homecooked smells.  The food was so memorable at lunch, that during a walk in the afternoon, we decided to go back for dinner.  And then the next day we went back to buy the cookbook!

The following recipe is the first thing I made from the cookbook.  It was one of my first adventures of my New Year's Resolution to make recipes from existing cookbooks.  E and I made it for one of our Tuesday night dinner extravaganzas.  I had recently decided to venture out from my pantry's usual grain staples, and bought bulgur, also know as cracked wheat.  This was a grain I had cooked a small handful of times in my life, solely when making tabouleh.  To go along with the pilaf, we also made chicken stuffed with parsley and garlic butter.  It was a very fulfilling, homecooked meal, reminiscent of Rebar.

This recipe has warm Thanksgiving flavors, so it could be a new addition to the table this year!

Cracked Wheat Pilaf
Adapted from Rebar A Modern Food Cookbook
Makes 4-6 servings

2 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups bulgur, dry
2 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 fennel bulb, diced small
1 small red pepper, diced small
1 small zucchini, diced small
2 carrots, diced small
1 stalk celery, diced small
2 tsp dried summer savory
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 bunch fresh italian parsley, minced

Heat vegetable stock and keep warm.  Dice the fennel, zucchini, red pepper, carrots and celery into small cubes and set aside.

Heat olive oil and butter in a medium-sized pot or dutch oven.  Add onion and garlic and saute over low to medium heat until soft and golden.  Add bulgur, 1 tsp salt and bay leaf.  Saute for several minutes to toast the grains until they become aromatic.

Turn up the heat and stir in the diced vegetables and dried summer savory.  Saute for several minutes, then add the white wine.  Let wine absorb and add the warm vegetable stock and the remaining salt.  Bring to a boil, stir, cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook for 25 minutes, uncover pot and check to see if stock is fully absorbed and bulgur is tender.  If not, cover, and let steam for a few more minutes until cooked and tender.  Fluff with a fork and gently stir in parsley.  Add additional seasoning of necessary.  Spoon into a small bowl.  Place a plate on top of small bowl.  Flip over and release bowl, so that the bulgur is in a nice molded shape on plate.  Add chicken, or fish and salad to make a meal.


Fava Bean Quinoa Salad

Before I dive in to talk fava beans, I have to give a huge high five to Erin for the beet burger recipe!  I have gotten so much good feedback on them, that I just had to mention it!  I also added a link to the Beet Burger recipe posting, for Erin's column.  Be sure to go back to the Beet Burger post from last week, to get the link for great cooking and lifestyle ideas. 

Back to the favas.  The other day my friend T (of ATM) invited me over to hang out for dinner and wine.  I have been in the spirit of using my creativity and cook with ingredients in my pantry and fridge and freezer, so I surveyed the goods.  I recently bought dried fava beans at PFI, in an attempt to try my hand at dried beans.  In all the years of my home cooking, I have never cooked beans from dried.  This was my chance to see what it is all about. 

So on Thursday morning before work, I poured the beans into a glass bowl of water and covered them with plastic wrap.  I have very limited experience with fava beans, so I broke the intimidation by leafing through my New American Table cookbook.  He combines them with rice and spices, which gave me the idea to pull out the cooked quinoa I had in my freezer.  

After a birthday party at work on Friday, where we made minestrone soup, there was leftover fresh parsley.  The meal was coming together!  I had fava beans, quinoa and parsley...and a leftover red pepper.  A simple dressing with half of a lemon would compliment these ingredients.  As in most of my recipes, there is room for change.  You can soak and cook any type of bean.  You can also use any leftover grain such as rice, couscous, or anything else.  If you don't have any leftover grain, cook up whatever you would like.  Use any vegetable and fresh herbs to color the dish.

So I ended up taking the below recipe over to T's where we also had Thai red curry vegetables and rice, with homemade toasted pumpkin seeds and wine...a pretty culturally diverse dinner plate!

Fava Bean Quinoa Salad
Makes about 3 cups of salad

1 cup fava beans, dried
2 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 red pepper, diced
3 Tbsp fresh parsley diced


Juice and zest of 1/2 of a lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp cumin
A few dashes red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Soak the dried fava beans (or any type of bean) in medium sized bowl, covered with plastic wrap.  Let soak at least 8 hours or overnight.  Drain and rinse beans after soaking.  Bring medium pot of water to a boil and add beans.  Cook until beans are tender, about 30-40 minutes.  Test tenderness with fork or by tasting a bean a few times toward end of cooking.  Drain and toss with a little salt and pepper, and set aside.

Mix the quinoa, red pepper and parsley.  Add fava beans.  Make the dressing, by whisking all ingredients except olive oil.  Slowing drizzle the olive oil into the dressing mixture and whisk until fully integrated.  Pour dressing over quinoa and mix well, making sure to coat every ingredient evenly.  Serve as a side dish at pot luck, or with a main dish for dinner.


Jicama, Orange and Fennel Salad

One of my more recent food love affairs has been with jicama.  I did a little research on it before using in a recipe for Cooking Matters (wonderful cooking/nutrition class program I volunteer with) and found that one medium sized jicama contains 32 grams of fiber!  Not that you could really eat a whole jicama in one sitting, but wow that is a great source of fiber.  If you haven't had it before, it tastes sort of like a mix of asian pear, potato and apple...crisp and refreshing.

I chose this recipe from the all time great Moosewood Cookbook...when in doubt, look in the Moosewood for a good recipe.  I was looking for a nice light recipe for E and I to make for dinner one night, and came across this.  It makes such a beautiful presentation!

One thing I must say is that jicama is a little challenging to work with, in regards to peeling it.  If anyone has a better method than this, please let me know.  But I simply used a vegetable peeler to take it off.  It is a pretty thick skin, but once you peel it, it gets easier to handle.   I once had it at a potluck, cut into big chunks with lime juice and cayenne....a great mix of flavors were addressed with that recipe.

A few notes about recipe: I would recommend cutting this recipe in half if you are just making it for two of you.  It makes a lot of salad.  I sliced the jicama by cutting into large chunks and put in food processor with the big round slicing blade.  A mandoline would also work really well.  If you don't have either, using a knife to slice into whatever shape you like will be just all tastes the same anyway!  For the lettuce component, I chose belgian endive because I thought the reddish purple is such a rare color in a dish, and would add a nice element.  But you could really use any kind of lettuce or green.

I learned a helpful tip tonight at a cooking class I was assisting.  When making vinaigrette dressings, always add the oil last.  First of all, to allow all the other ingredients to marry their flavors, because the oil can inhibit that.  Second of all, you'll want to drizzle the oil in, while simultaneously whisking the juice/vinegar mixture, to make a sort of emulsion.

Jicama, Orange and Fennel Salad
From the Moosewood Cookbook
Yields 4-6 servings

4 navel oranges
1 medium jicama
1 small fennel bulb (with tops removed)
1 small belgian endive


2 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp honey
4 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper and fresh parsley to garnish

With a sharp serrated knife, cut off the ends of the oranges and slice the peel off from the sides.  Gently cut the sections apart, using a sawing motion.  Take out seeds if there are any.  Set aside.

Peel the jicama with a vegetable peeler and cut into chunks.  Use food precessor slicing blade, mandoline or simply cut into thin slices.  Slice the fennel into thin strips.

Whisk all dressing ingredients (except the olive oil) together in a small bowl, until the honey is dissolved.  (Sometimes I microwave the honey in the bowl by itself for 5 or so seconds so it will integrate nicely).  Once this is all combined, slowly drizzle the oil in, while simultaneously whisking the juice/vinegar mixture.

Assemble the salad on individual plates or platter right before serving.  Put a layer of endive leaves first.  Then the jicama.  Drizzle a little dressing on this layer.  Sprinkle with fennel and then arrange orange sections on top.  Spoon a little more dressing onto it.  Garnish with salt, pepper and chopped fresh parsley.  Enjoy!


Pear Almond Smoothie

This morning I was looking through all my food as I packed my lunch for work.  There was a very very ripe pear in my fruit bowl.  I picked it up, and it was extremely soft and bruised.  My first instinct was to throw it away.  And as I was walking over to the garbage, I remembered a blog I read one time about saving overly ripe fruit for smoothies.  So I set it on a plate to use when I got home.

During the day I was thinking of what else to add to the smoothie.  In the spirit of using only ingredients I had at home, I thought of the vanilla rice milk in the fridge.  Then I thought it needed some sort of protein and thickener, which the almond butter was perfect for.  And once I got home, I remembered the shredded coconut in the freezer  which would give it a tropical spin.

So many variations can occur with this recipe.  Any overly ripe fruit will work, such as bananas or peaches or unsweetened applesauce.  The pureed fruit makes a thick nectar  that would also serve as a base for a good sauce.  Any sort of milk such as cow's milk, soy milk, almond milk or yogurt would work.  Any nut butter such as cashew or peanut could replace the almond butter.  Ground flax seeds would be a nice addition too.  If you are looking for a 'smooth' smoothie, I'd leave out the coconut because it is a bit chunky.  But if you feel like chewing your smoothie, add it!

Double or triple the recipe if you are making this for several people.  The recipe below was just a small after work snack!

Pear Almond Smoothie
Makes about 4 oz.

1 ripe pear
2-3 tbsp vanilla rice milk
1 tsp almond butter
1 tbsp shredded coconut

Cut pear into large pieces and puree in a small food processor or blender with rice milk until smooth.  Add almond butter and blend.  Add coconut and blend until fully integrated.  Add extra milk if you want a thinner smoothie.  Pour into a pretty glass and take a swig!


Beet Veggie Burgers

I recently received this lovely recipe from my friend Erin who writes a column on healthy eating and living (  Oh my...this is the most delicious homemade veggie burger I have ever had!  The ingredient list is pure and simple foods.  Beets are a component I would have never thought of to put in a burger recipe, which adds a great color!

It is kind of an interesting experience because the raw burger patties are so bright red, that they actually look like beef burgers.  It is sort of fitting that I made a veggie burger because I just watched Food Inc. for the first time last night, and am feeling so much more inspired to cook healthy foods with lots of color, vegetables and love. 

Beets after being peeled and washed
While I was making the burgers tonight, I was also doing several loads of laundy, so I was coming and going from the kitchen a lot.  And everytime I came back to the kitchen, it smelled incredibly good...a mix of aromatic spices, with onions and beets mixed in with that.  

The original recipe is from a cafe in Columbus and I hear they are just divine.  I altered the original recipe a little bit.  It called for fresh parsley, but I only had dried, so I cut the amount in half.  So if you want to add fresh parley, add 2 tablespoons.  I also added a lot more flour than the original recipe, because I was worried that they may not stick together.  Now in hindsight, I think maybe one egg white might help keep it all together a little better.  But overall, it was a great recipe! 

Beet Veggie Burgers
Recipe from Erin and Northstar Cafe in Columbus on
Yields about 2 dozen small patties

1/2 cup Brown rice, dry
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 Onion, diced into small cubes
3 Small red beets, diced into small cubes
4 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 can Black beans, drained and rinsed
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon Parsley, dried
1 teaspoon Coriander, ground
1/2 teaspoon Thyme, dried
5Tablespoons whole wheat flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a full pot of water to a boil. Add the rice, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the rice longer that standard cooking, so that it becomes full and starchy, which will be about 40 minutes.   Drain the rice and set it aside.

While rice is cooking, prepare the beet mixture.  Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a separate pan, over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until they are translucent and softened. Stir in the beets. Cover and cook until the beets are completely tender (about 10-15 minutes), stirring every few minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Empty the black beans into a large bowl and use a fork to mash, until about 3/4 of the beans are mashed. Add the cooked rice.   Pour the beet mixture on top of this.  Swish the vinegar in the pan the beets were in, and pour this into the bowl with beans, rice and beets.  Add the lemon juice, the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and all the spices. Stir well to fully integrate all the flavors. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Adjust the flavorings to your taste.  Add the flour and stir until it if fully dissolved and integrated.

Scoop about 2-3 tablespoons burger mixture into your hands and shape it into a patty between your palms. Portion out the rest of the mixture onto a few large plates.  (You make them bigger if you want.)  Heat a large skillet on medium and add olive oil.  Set a few patties in the pan, and cook for about 5 minutes.  Flip over and cook for 5 minutes on this side.   A nice crust should form on each side.  If you need to cook longer, do so.  If you are adding cheese, add to patties once they are flipped over and almost done.  

Cook all the mixture.  Serve immediately on toast or in a tortilla with mustard, cilantro and cheese.  You could add some slice cucumbers for added crunch.  You can also save the cooked patties in the freezer, by putting them in a plastic container, with the burger divided by parchment paper.  Enjoy!


Spiced Couscous Salad with Dates and Almonds

So during my last PFI adventure, I discovered tri-colored couscous.  They are colored with natural components such as vegetable juices.  There are orange, green and the natural yellow colors.  And I have been saving it to make for an occasion.  So tonight I went to a dinner party/potluck get together with a few girls from my volunteering group Cooking Matters.  The three of us are part of a group of girls who get together over food and wine and talk about careers, food, nutrition, recipes...basically anything food related.  Our hostess S, coined our group the Food Group.   

We had such a nice gathering tonight.  R brought a sweet potato salad with pepitas, cranberries, rosemary and a balsamic chutney so delicious.  And S made a wonderful frittata with mushrooms, greens and sun dried tomatoes, AND an apple cranberry crisp topped with vanilla ice cream.   It is so nice meet up with people similarly interested in food and recipe talk.

So this recipe can definitely be made with regular couscous instead of the tri-color.  I think the tri-color is sort of more difficult to find.  Another side note is that the dates look really nice and different if you cut them into thin rings.   The original recipe calls for toasted almonds, but I thought raw would be a nice addition. 

Spiced Couscous Salad with Dates and Almonds
Adapted from

1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 1/2 cup dry couscous (regular or tri-colored)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 1 Tbsp zest and 3-4 Tbsp juice)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup pitted dates, chopped in rings
1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped fine
1/4 cup green onion, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Feta to garnish

Bring vegetable broth and water to a boil.  Add the dry couscous and stir for about 30 seconds.  Turn off heat and cover for 5-10 minutes.  If the couscous seems dry, add a little more hot water and let sit for a few more minutes.  Fluff with a fork and transfer to a large bowl to let cool.

Meanwhile, zest and juice the lemon (in that order) and whisk together with olive oil, cumin and coriander.  Drizzle the dressing over the couscous.  Add the dates, almonds, cilantro, and green onion.  Toss together and add salt and pepper to taste.  Top with feta.   Let stand for about an hour and serve!


Wind Cookies

There is a lovely bakery that my Mom and I started frequenting when I was in high school.  It was always such a special treat to go there and get our favorite cookies called Wind Cookies.  We would also go there with my high school friends and moms for special occasions and lunch dates.  It is such a magical little place once you walk through the doors.  Everything seems just as it should be.  The fluffy sugary smell of cakes, cookies, and other dessert treats, makes me feel like I am in CandyLand when I think of it.

So this year for my Mom's birthday, I tried recreating the famous wind cookies.  They are basically a dense meringue cookie.  And you can either get it plain, or filled with coconut, chocolate chips and nuts.  So of course, we liked the latter.  One of the best parts about them too, is the little pockets of carmelized sugar you sometimes bite into, which I zoomed into in the the above picture.

While I was making them, I snacked on some chocolate chips and coconut.  Yum!  You can put all of the additions (chocolate chips, coconut, nuts) into this recipe, or you can just add one or two.  Or you can leave them all out for a simpler, lighter fare.  You can also substitute the vanilla extract with almond extract.  I am not really one for food coloring, but you could add some for different colored cookies too.  A side note too is that the recipe below was taken from and I cut it in half.  So you can double it if you are making for a larger group.

Wind Cookies
Recreated from bakery and adapted from
Makes 12-20 cookies, depending on size

1 large egg white
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup chocolate chips (Ghirardelli are good!)
3 Tbsp shredded coconut
3 Tbsp chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  In a large bowl, using a hand mixer, beat egg white and cream of tartar until thick and foamy. Gradually add sugar, a spoonful at a time, and continue to beat until mixture holds stiff, shiny peaks.  Stiff shiny peaks occur when you pull the beater (while turned off) from the mixture, and the peaks stay up and keep their shape.  This will take awhile! 

With a spatula, carefully fold in the vanilla, chocolate chips, coconut and pecans.  Spoon mixture into a pastry bag or if you don't have one, use a large ziptop plastic bag with a small corner cut out to pipe mixture through.  For small cookie, pipe about a tablespoon's worth of batter onto parchment lined baking sheet.  Keep cookies at least 1" apart from each other.  This is where you can choose the size of cookie you want.  So pipe more or less!

Bake until the cookies are firm and dry to the touch on the outside, about 25-30 minutes.  You can either pull out of oven and let cool on a rack, or leave in turned off oven overnight.  I chose the latter, and then was able to wake up the next morning and package them in the birthday box.  As a side note, they travel well!!


Baked Cucumbers

I know, a Baked Cucumbers recipe sounds really strange...but wow, what a great surprise they are!  At the beginning of this year, my friend and co-worker let me borrow her copy of Julie and Julia, which turned out to be the spark of my inspiration to start blogging.  This book led me to read many other similar books of peoples' culinary adventures.  And I gained a new appreciation for French cooking from this book.

So back to the cucumbers.  This concept does sound quite an unconventional thing to do to cucumbers.  When I heard about it, I thought they would undoubtedly be soggy and slimy.  But no!  Even in Julie and Julia, she has a dinner party and serves this, and everyone had the same reservations before trying them.  But everyone liked them and so did we. 

Another great thing about this dish is that cucumbers are something you may likely have in the fridge and it is a simple dish to whip up for guests.  The process of making them is really easy and mostly passive cooking, though you do bake them for an hour, so there is some planning that goes into it.    You have an option of what type of seasoning to use.  I chose dill, but Julia Childs suggests dill or basil.  Every time I cook from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I follow the recipe without any diversions.  So what you see below will be exactly what Julia says to do. 

We also made the potato and leek soup, which is so simple and good.  We tried two methods of puree-ing the soup, one in the food processor and one with a potato masher.  Both were equally good, just different consistency.  Chicken and a few pieces of hearty bread made this a nice meal.

Baked Cucumbers
From Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Yields 6 servings

6 Cucumbers
2 Tbsp wine white vingear
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp sugar

3 Tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp dried dill or basil
3-4 Tbsp minced green onions
1/8 tsp pepper

Peel the cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds with a spoon.  Cut in lengthwise strips about 3/8 inch wide.  Cut the strips into 2" pieces.  Toss the cucumbers in a bowl with the vinegar, salt and sugar.  Let stand for about 30 minutes (or a few hours).  Drain and pat dry with a paper towel.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Toss the cucumbers in the baking dish with the butter, herbs, onions and pepper.  Put in a baking dish (I used 9x13 glass dish).  Put in midlevel of oven for 1 hour, tossing occasionally.  Cook until the cucumbers are tender but still have a little crispness and texture.  They will basically look the same color as when you started.

Serve immediately as a appetizer or addition to a meal.  Bon appetite!


Roasted Broccoli

One thing I really enjoy is going to a good yoga class...which I did tonight.  Another thing I enjoy is coming home afterwards and having a super simple dinner.  I must give you a fair warning: this recipe is sooo easy and delicious and healthy.  It is modeled after a dish I  mentioned previously, from one of our favorite restaurants in town called Black Bottle.  So whenever I fix this dish, I call it Black Bottle Broccoli because I have spent about two years trying to recreate it. 

Every time I go in, I ask a different person how they make it.  It seems to vary person to person, but one common theme is that they use a convection oven, which I do not have.  So instead I roast it.  The usual suspects for flavoring are lots of garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Sometimes I use cayenne for a little extra something.  Lemon zest would be a nice tangy touch too.  You can also use a bag of pre-cut broccoli to make it simpler.  We usually split this and a flat bread pizza or chicken drums with a glass of red wine.  Or sometimes just have this as a beginning or end of the night dish. 

Roasted Broccoli
Re-created from Black Bottle's 'Broccoli Blasted'
Yields about 1-2 cups

1 Bunch broccoli, or bag of pre-cut broccoli
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.   Cut off the broccoli florets and chop into small and medium pieces.  Wash and let drain in a colander.  In a large bowl, coat the broccoli with half of the olive oil, garlic powder, pepper and salt.  Toss with hands to fully cover the broccoli.  Repeat with the remaining half of ingredients, so everything is evenly coated.  This is a basic recipe, so add any other flavoring you wish.

Place on baking sheet and put in oven for 12 minutes.  Toss with tongs and put back in oven for 15 minutes or until broccoli begins to singe and turn dark on the ends.  Serve as an appetizer or side dish to pizza, meat or fish, or bean dish.


Black Eyed Peas and Smoky Squash Salad

This recipe is a dedication to my Great Aunt Boo, who I always think of when having black eyed peas.  She was a wonderful cook.  When she'd come to my grandma's for her summer visit, she'd be cooking up a storm in the kitchen.  And usually at least once during her visit she'd make black eyed peas. 

I came across this recipe on the always lovely blog Smitten Kitchen yesterday.  She posted a Spicy Squash Salad with Black Lentils and Goat Cheese.  I had a bunch of leftover feta and a can of black eyed peas, so I thought they'd make great substitutions.

And last night was my first and successful attempt at peeling a butternut squash with a vegetable peeler.  I was a little nervous, so I looked on the internet to find the easiest and least dangerous way to do it.  I found a great site that suggested cutting off the top and bottom of the squash first, to have a flat surface so the squash isn't rolling around everywhere, and tempting the peeler to cut you.

After this, the peeling was easier than I anticipated.  I would do one layer, and then there was a second, green-striped layer that I peeled as well.  From there, it was so simple to cut them in cubes...much like chopping a cantaloupe.  The seasoning was a different combination than I have used before and really enjoyed the result.  The recipe called for hot smoked Spanish paprika.  I only had the sweeter variety of paprika, so I did half of what I had, and half of a smoked dried chili pepper I had gotten at Whole Foods this summer, after taking a Turkish/Mediterranean cooking class.

I jazzed the black eyed peas up, by sauting an onion and garlic first and then added the peas and some salt and pepper.  I was drinking a glass of white wine that I wasn't totally enjoying (a little too sweet), so I poured a few swallows into the mix.  The result was really good.

Black Eyed Peas and Smoky Squash Salad
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yields 4-6 good sized servings

1 Butternut squash, peeled, cubed and roasted
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked chiles, powdered (or hot paprika)
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 salt

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can black eyed peas, drained
1 Tbsp white wine
Salt to taste

1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare butternut squash.  Cut off top and bottom of squash.  Peel with vegetable peeler until you reach the smooth yellow/orange surface.  Cut the squash in half.  Scoop out seeds and cut into cubes.  Put cubes in a large bowl and toss with 2 Tbsp olive oil, cumin, paprikas and salt, making sure to coat each piece.  Roll a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and spread squash on top in one layer.

Bake for 20 minutes and flip cubes over and cook for another 15-20 minutes until tender.

While squash is cooking, saute the onion and garlic in 1 Tbsp olive oil on low/medium.  Cook until onion is translucent.  Add black eyed peas, wine and salt.  Cover and cook on low heat to let the flavors marry.

Take out squash and let cook.  I picked up the parchment with the squash on top, and carefully placed on wire rack to let cool.

Meanwhile, prep the spinach and feta.  Toss the black eyed pea mixture in with it.  Add squash and toss with vinegar, salt and pepper, adding more if needed  Serve as a healthy sized dinner salad, or a side salad to soup, chicken or toasty bread.