Roasted Beet and Arugula Salad

Despite feeling a little bit like Dwight Schrute every time I eat one, I adore beets. I’ve only ever eaten them at a restaurant or out of a can, so roasting fresh beets was high on my list of new cooking skills to master.

It’s pretty simple, actually. Just pull off the greens, lightly scrub the skin, wrap each beet individually in tinfoil, and roast until tender. Preparing beets this way brings out incredible sweetness and makes them a perfect addition to salads, or perhaps just eaten by the spoonful.

Plus, the color is absolutely beautiful! Even if it makes your kitchen look a bit gruesome.

Beets!

Roasted Beet and Arugula Salad

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Roasted Beet and Arugula Salad

  • 4 medium beets
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 oz. baby arugula, rinsed and dried
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 4 oz. crumbled goat cheese

Preheat oven to 400° F. Remove tops from beets, scrub them lightly under water, and dry. Wrap each beet in a square of tinfoil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 50-70 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a knife. Remove from oven, unwrap each beet, and let stand for 10 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Carefully peel beets using a knife or vegetable peeler, and cut each one in half. Slice each half into about 6 wedges.

Meanwhile, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the warm beets with about half of the vinaigrette. Toss the remaining vinaigrette (or however much you desire) with the arugula. Place arugula on a platter or in a bowl and top with the almonds, goat cheese, and beets. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6.

Source: Slightly adapted from Foolproof by Barefoot Contessa.

Paglia e Fieno

This dish made me happy for a number of reasons. It has a whimsical name: paglia e fieno, which means “straw and hay” in Italian. It let me try my hand at making green(!) pasta for the first time, which was accomplished simply by mixing 1/4 cup of puréed arugula to my regular pasta recipe. It let me learn about the existence of gorgonzola dolce, a sweet and milder version of that lovable (albeit pungent) cheese. And finally, this dish thrilled me because within one bite, it had soared to the top of Gabe’s favorite recipe list.

As I was tasting the pasta and adjusting the final seasonings, I declared blissfully, “Oh! This is company food!” Of course, that prompted Gabe to ask concernedly, “Does that mean you sometimes serve me food you wouldn’t serve to company?”

Of course not, darling.

I always aspire to make delicious food, but there are those dishes that aim to impress, and this one is something special.

Paglia e fieno

Green and yellow pasta

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Paglia e Fieno

  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, divided
  • 4 oz. prosciutto, sliced into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 4 oz. gorgonzola dolce, crumbled
  • 8-10 oz. fresh fettucine or tagliatelle*
  • 2 cups (about 8 oz.) frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Melt 1 Tbs. butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add prosciutto and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until crisp. Remove from pan and let drain on a paper towel-covered plate. Heat remaining 1 Tbs. of butter in the same pan, and sauté onion for 5-6 minutes, or until soft. Stir in garlic and cook one minute. Add milk and gorgonzola and stir until the cheese has melted. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, or until sauce has thickened.

As soon as you reduce the sauce to a simmer, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Drain pasta and add to pan with thickened gorgonzola sauce. Stir in prosciutto, peas, parmesan, salt, and pepper, and serve.

Serves 6.

* The name of this dish derives from the colors of pasta traditionally used: green and yellow. Any type of noodle will work well here, but fresh is always best.

Source: Slightly adapted from Foolproof by Barefoot Contessa.

Nutrition facts (per serving): 390 calories, 17.5 g fat, 37.8 g carbs, 2.8 g fiber, 20.1 g protein.

Chilled Spring Pea and Mint Soup

Sometimes I feel there’s this imaginary divide in my brain between “regular” cooking and “fancy” cooking. Regular cooking is the sort of throw-it-together meal that happens on a busy weeknight, like sandwiches or quesadillas, while fancy cooking involves an extensive ingredient list or a dish that I would be more likely to order at a restaurant than make myself. For whatever reason, chilled soup always seemed to be fancy cooking for me. Do people actually make cold soup, or is it just something to be served in tiny little cups as an amuse bouche at the beginning of a rather expensive meal?

Surprise! It turns out chilled soups are nothing more than regular soups with an ice bath thrown in for fun. I made this lovely, fragrant pea soup this week and served it for dinner with a homemade baguette and ricotta cheese. It was a quick and easy meal that certainly felt special. Plus, we dined al fresco, which is “fancy cooking” for outside on the balcony in the late evening sun.

Chilled spring pea and mint soup

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Chilled Spring Pea and Mint Soup

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 lb. fresh or frozen peas
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in shallots and cook for 2-3 minutes, until soft. Stir in peas and sauté for 2 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Stir in mint leaves, then blend using an immersion blender until smooth. (You can also use a regular blender, just do it in batches.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour soup into a bowl over an ice bath and cool, stirring occasionally. Finish chilling soup in the refrigerator, then serve.

Serves 6.

Source: Williams-Sonoma Cooking for Friends.

Nutrition facts (per serving): 130 calories, 4.9 g fat, 17.1 g carbs, 4.2 g fiber, 4.5 g protein.

Homemade Mint Oreos

A couple weeks ago I was watching The Colbert Report, and Stephen Colbert had Michael Pollan as his guest. I’ve always been a fan from afar, wanting to read his books but never taking the time to do so, so I was glad to have the chance to see Pollan “in person.” (Plus it was fun to watch him interact with the hilarious absurdity of Stephen Colbert.) One thing Pollan said stuck with me: “The most important thing about your diet is not a nutrient but an activity: cooking… As long as a human being is cooking for you, and not a corporation, you’re fine.”

The basic idea here is that most Americans won’t take the time to make French fries or ice cream at home– or there’s no possible way to make things like Cheetos from scratch– so cooking more means we’ll automatically eat less junk food. But even if you’re like me and love the challenge of making homemade versions of things like oreos, it’s so much better to be making them than buying them. Fewer pseudo foods and harmful chemicals and more control over ingredients and portion sizes can only be a good thing.

So with that in mind, here’s a recipe for homemade mint oreos. They’re not too difficult but do require some time and effort. If we all had to pull out the cookie sheets every time we wanted an oreo, we’d be a lot better off.

Homemade mint oreos

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Homemade Mint Oreos

Cookies

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt

Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/8 tsp peppermint extract, or to taste
  • 2 Tbs. milk or heavy cream
  • green food coloring
  • 1 oz. dark chocolate (optional)

Make cookies: Cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well. Add flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt, and mix on low speed until just combined. Divide dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the freezer for 30 minutes or the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350° F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out dough onto a lightly floured surface until very thin– about 1/8 inch. Cut out using a round cookie cutter; I used one 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Carefully transfer cookies to the baking sheets and bake for 10 minutes or until crispy but not burnt. Let cool on a wire rack.

Prepare frosting: Beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating well on medium speed. Add milk or cream and beat until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in peppermint extract to taste (start with 1/8 tsp. and add more if it’s not minty enough) and add green food coloring. Using a fine grater, grate the chocolate bar over the frosting and stir to combine. (This will give it lovely little flecks of chocolate.)

Assemble oreos by sandwiching two cookies around a smidgen of frosting.

Makes approximately four dozen cookies, although the amount will vary based on the size cookie cutter used.

Source: Cookies from My Kitchen Addiction. Mint chip frosting a Lingonberry Jam original, using a basic buttercream recipe from Wilton

Sea Salt and Black Pepper Crackers

When I was little, my sisters and I would spend all summer playing outside. We’d roam through the woods, splash in the creek, and frolic in our tree fort. So much play to get in each day meant we couldn’t possibly come inside for lunch.

One of my funniest memories has to be when this dutiful big sister decided to pack the most desirable of kid lunches for her younger sibs: lunchables. But our (very wise) mother didn’t let us buy them too often, so I improvised. I filled three plastic containers with little squares of cheese, sliced summer sausage, crackers, and a handful of m&m’s. And then I labeled each one with a riff on our names: Kristable, Brynnable, and Erinable.

Yeah, weirdo alert.

I smiled at this memory last week while making homemade crackers. As I pulled the crispy little squares from the oven, I had a sudden desire to eat cheese and sausage and go running to a swing set. With sea salt and cracked black pepper, these crackers are a bit more sophisticated than the ones of my childhood, but that doesn’t mean I have to be. :)

Sea salt and black pepper crackers

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Sea Salt and Black Pepper Crackers

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. cold, unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup milk

Note: This dough also comes together quickly in a food processor if you don’t want to mix by hand.

Preheat oven to 450° F. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, and a small dash of salt and pepper. Grate the butter into the bowl using a small cheese grater. Gradually stir in milk. When dough comes together, knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth, about 5-6 minutes. Let dough rest for 15 mins before rolling.

Roll out half of the dough very thinly (1/16 inch if possible) onto an inverted nonstick cookie sheet. Score lightly with a fork and cut into squares using a pastry or pizza cutter. Sprinkle with sea salt and more black pepper. Bake for about 10 minutes or until brown, removing the outer crackers if they start to brown too quickly. Let cool on the pan for a couple minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with second half of dough.

Makes approximately 100 crackers.

Source: Slightly adapted from Lemons and Anchovies.

Nutrition facts (per 10 crackers): 125 calories, 2.9 g fat, 21.2 g carbs, 0.7 g fiber, 3.3 g protein.

Garlic, Dill, and Chive Cream Cheese

I’m a weekend morning person. Monday through Friday, I’ll pull the covers over my head and pretend to be asleep while Gabe dutifully heads off to the gym, but come Saturday, I’m ready to wake up. There’s something so magical about getting up slowly– not at the request of an alarm clock– and padding into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, knowing that I can stay in my pajamas all morning if I like. Quiet weekend mornings are totally my jam.

Last Saturday, in preparation for Gabe’s parents’ arrival from Los Angeles, we decided it was our duty to scope out the local bagel scene. So we woke up early, threw on some clothes, and headed outside. The pale morning sun hesitantly reached toward our backs as we walked hand-in-hand down a hushed Lyndale Avenue.

We ended up at Common Roots Cafe and sat down to a breakfast of iced lattes and fresh bagels. I topped my bagel with a tantalizing spread of garlic, dill, and chive cream cheese. The raw garlic zinged my tongue, energizing me as much as the sunlight now flooding the cafe. Gabe and I soaked up the simple food and quiet company, and waited for the rest of the world to wake and join us.

Garlic, Dill, and Chive Cream Cheese

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Garlic, Dill, and Chive Cream Cheese

  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 tsp. fresh, chopped dill
  • 1 Tbs. fresh, minced chives
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Place the cream cheese in a small bowl and soften in the microwave by heating it on half power for 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and stir until smooth. Add the garlic, dill, and chives and stir until well combined. Add salt and pepper, if desired.

Source: Inspired by Common Roots Cafe.