Slow-Cooker Middle Eastern Black Beans and Rice

This recipe is so easy and is best done in a slow-cooker so it’s twice as convenient.  Just dump everything in, leave it for about an hour, and you have a wonderful, hearty, and vegetarian dinner!

Ingredients:

2 cans of black beans (low-sodium, rinsed)

2 cans of chickpeas (rinsed)

1 can of medium black olives

1 cup white rice (or brown)

3-4 roma tomatoes, chopped

3 cups vegetable stock (low-sodium)

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small onion, chopped finely

2 tbsp paprika

1.5 tbsp cumin

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp coriander

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tbsp kosher olive oil

Cook the rice according to package instructions (typically, boil 1 cup rice in 2 cups vegetable broth for about 20 minutes) and set aside.  In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Add onions and cook until just translucent.  Add garlic and paprika (heating paprika in oil brings out its flavour).  Cook just until garlic softens and then toss in tomatoes and remaining spices.  Lower heat and cook for 2-3 minutes or until tomatoes soften.  Empty pan into slow-cooker set on high.  Add remaining 1 cup of vegetable broth, rice, beans, chickpeas, and olives.  Mix well.  Reduce slow-cooker heat to low after about a half an hour.  Mixture is ready to eat when hot, but tastes better after about an hour or two in the slow-cooker on low.  I serve it with whole-grain pita and it easily feeds 4 very hungry adults.

 

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Flourless Tiger’s Eye Cookies

Want to feel like you’ve got the eye of the tiger?  Try these super-easy, super-delicious cookies.

What you need:

Slightly less than 1 cup of creamy peanut butter

1 1/2 tbsp Nutella or other hazelnut spread

1 cup light brown sugar

1 egg

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together the brown sugar and egg in a mixing bowl.  Once smooth, mix in the peanut butter until thoroughly combined.  Finally, drizzle the hazelnut spread over the top of the batter (you can warm it slightly first if you want to drizzle, but you will need to let it cool again before the next step).  Next, stir in the spread just slightly, being sure to maintain some of the “swirl.”  Form dough into 1″ balls and use a fork to press down the cookies in a hatch pattern on a non-greased baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes or until slightly puffy, and then let them finish on the pan on the counter for a few minutes.

These are chewy and delicious and oh-so-easy!

Fresh from the oven!

Learning to cook…take some time to find your talent

I am not a great cook.  I am a pretty good cook.  I have never been to cooking school or even spent a weekend at some expensive cooking retreat.  I’ve never even taken one of those turbo-charged classes at a certain high-end kitchen store.  My mom taught me how to make exactly five things: guacamole, chicken enchiladas, chile rellenos, meatloaf, and chicken kiev.  So how did I figure out how to cook well enough to cook my way into my husband’s heart?  The hard way.

I’m going to get on a soapbox for a moment and say that it really annoys me when people say they don’t know how to cook.  My sister says this all the time, and to be fair, she’s the kind of person who burns toast and manages to find a way to screw up scrambled eggs.  She doesn’t know how to cook because she doesn’t want to know though.  I think people who don’t know how to cook generally fall into one of about three categories: those who don’t want to learn, those who don’t have time to learn, and those who don’t need to learn.  Obviously, I don’t find any of those excuses particularly convincing.  Even if you don’t need to know how to cook (spouse cooks, private chef, etc.) or either of the other excuses, you should know how to make at least one or two things for those times when you’re in a real pinch.  Feeding yourself is a basic need after all, and I am pretty lenient about what I consider ‘knowing how to cook.’

And that’s how I learned how to cook.  I needed to learn how to cook.  When I moved out of my parents’ house at three months shy of eighteen to go to college, I never moved back.  Sure, macaroni and cheese from a box is great for a little while, but I think I was born a foodie.  I wasn’t satisfied with mediocre food from a box.  If I wanted to eat well, I was going to have to do it myself.  Unfortunately, that meant eating not-so-well until I figured it out.

Yes, I learned how to cook almost entirely through trial and error.  Well, almost.  The secret to learning something through trial and error without having a decade long learning curve is to seek out some outside resources.  With cooking, we are lucky to have a variety of resources available to us.  There are recipe websites, cookbooks, blogs (like mine), YouTube videos, and entire cable channels devoted to teaching you how to cook.  From these resources, you can learn techniques (t.v. is great for learning knife work) and maybe even more importantly, you can begin to learn what flavours work together.  You can then use these techniques and your knowledge of flavour profiles to begin to create your own dishes based on your preferences (say, creating kosher adaptations).  This is exactly how I learned how to cook.

I’ve made some pretty nasty stuff.  I made a grape-stuffed chicken that made me gag and I’ve made some of the most flavorless soups and stews that have ever had the sad opportunity to boil.  But, I kept at it.  Now, my failures are much fewer and far between (though things still don’t always work out…especially when you start talking about baking).  Come to think of it, cooking is probably the only thing I wasn’t good at right away that I didn’t quit (that’s another blog post).

I guess my whole point is that it’s not that hard.  Just try every once in awhile.  Watch 5 minutes of a cooking show here and there or read a recipe online.  Give it a chance and see what happens.  You might discover a talent you never knew you had, and it will only increase your sources of delicious food.  In the words of the lovely Ina Garten, “How bad could that be?”

Creamy Brussels Sprouts Soup

All of this rain has put me in the mood for some hot and creamy soup.  I know it’s still hot outside, but this is a great recipe for snuggling indoors and pretending it’s already autumn.  This recipe is also jam-packed full of calcium between the Brussels sprouts, the cheese, and the milk.

What  you need:

2 cups Brussels sprouts (frozen works fine)

1/2 cup water

1 cup whole milk or half and half

1/4 cup finely shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar)

1/8 tsp. Hungarian hot paprika

1/2 tsp. kosher sea salt

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1 tsp. chopped parsley

1/8 tsp. garlic powder (garlic cloves would be too chunky and overpowering I think)

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan and then add the Brussels sprouts.  Boil until sprouts are tender.  Pour water and sprouts into a food processor and pulse to desired consistency – about 30 seconds will yield a creamy soup with still a little tasty texture.  Return the Brussels sprouts purée to the saucepan and add milk, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.  Once the soup is hot, remove from the heat and melt in the cheese.  Garnish with parsley.

Green, calcium-rich, and belly-warming.

Dinner from the Dollar Store

Sometimes, in our efforts to fight for a better food system, the push to ban GMOs and go all organic, and the pleas to save the family farm, we forget about those who are too often already forgotten.  Nearly one in four American children goes hungry each day, and while they need nutritious food, they also just really need food.  What’s more is that many people don’t recognize the very real existence of food deserts in America.  Some people can’t even get to a grocery store, let alone their local [insertorganicgrocerystorenamehere].  For some, the corner convenience store or the dollar store is their grocery store.  I was reminded of this fact this past May at a conference I attended called Food and History: from Theory to Practice at North Carolina State University.  Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson at the University of Maryland College Park specifically gave a talk on the role of dollar stores in feeding those who might otherwise be located in a food desert.  You can watch her presentation from the conference here: “A Dollar Today, A Meal Tomorrow…”

 

In response, below is a meal I created from the local dollar store.  It is relatively healthy, and I thought it was pretty delicious.

What you need for Creamy Seafood Pasta with Roasted Broccoli:

1 box pasta salad mix (I used a creamy Parmesan variety – no bacon!)

1 tin of mackerel fillets packed in oil, drained

1 tin of white tuna, drained

Mayonnaise (see your particular pasta salad mix for the exact amount)

1 lb. bag of frozen broccoli

2 tbsp. sunflower oil/olive oil blend (my dollar store did not sell straight olive oil)

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. black pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Blanche your broccoli to thaw it by boiling it in a pot of water for about 5 minutes and then dropping into ice water.  Once the broccoli is no longer hot, drain and place on a shallow baking sheet.  Drizzle with oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast until tender and the floret is just slightly crispy (about 25 minutes).  For the pasta, boil the pasta component of the salad mix according to the package directions.  Next, combine the seasoning packet and mayonnaise well and then stir in both tins of fish gently.  Drain and rinse the pasta once al dente and add to the bowl with the seasoning/fish mixture.  Chill or serve slightly warm.

If you already had the mayonnaise, salt, and pepper, this meal cost you $5.  That’s $1.25 per person for a family of four – less than the cost of a school lunch.  And, it’s loaded with healthy fats from the fish, mayonnaise, and oil; Vitamin C from the broccoli; and calcium from the pasta.

Creamy seafood pasta leftovers for lunch!

Dutch Apple Pie Oatmeal and a Latte for Breakfast – at Home!

I love apple pie.  It’s in my genes really.  My dad is a complete apple pie fanatic.  I think it got into his blood growing up in the Midwest (along with a love of corn).  Apple pie isn’t really all that healthy though, and when you’re looking for a quick and easy breakfast, pie isn’t exactly on the list of things your mom would approve of.  While I can’t say this adaptation of pie for breakfast is a health food, it’s definitely better for you than stealing a few bites of that leftover pie in the fridge.

What you need (makes 6 servings):

4 cups old-fashioned oats (quick-cooking)

4 1/2 cups whole milk

1 cup natural, unsweetened apple sauce

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

1 pinch ground cloves (optional – you could use 1tsp. apple pie spice blend to substitute the cloves, allspice, and nutmeg)

1/2 tsp. ground allspice (optional)

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (optional)

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup flour (whole wheat would work)

1/2 cup cold butter cut into pea-sized pieces

For the topping, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Combine 1 cup of oats, flour, brown sugar, and butter in a small bowl either with a pastry cutter or by rubbing the ingredients together with your fingers (I like to use my fingers but you have to work quickly to keep the butter from getting too warm). Spread mixture over a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for about 35 minutes or until crisp.  Crumble into a bowl and set aside.

For the oatmeal, pour the milk into a large saucepan and add ground spices.  Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent a skin from forming.  Once the milk is boiling gently, add 3 cups of oatmeal.  Stir frequently until the oats begin to thicken – about five minutes.  Reduce heat to low and add the applesauce and continue stirring frequently until desired consistency is reached.  It will thicken the more you stir.  If it goes too far for your tastes, add a little more milk (I love thick oatmeal).

To serve, spoon oatmeal into bowls and top with crisp topping.  If there’s any leftover topping (yeah, right!), you can store it in an airtight container in the fridge to put over baked apples or pears for dessert later.

What better way to accompany a delicious hot breakfast of heart-healthy oats than an indulgent latte?  The following instructions are super-easy and will leave you wondering why you ever spent $4 at that pretentious coffee shop.

Simply brew your favourite dark roast coffee (use a scoop or two more than you would usually…and using a French press will yield even better results, but it’s not necessary).  Fill your desired coffee mug halfway with whole milk and then pour into a large microwaveable measuring cup.  Microwave for 1 minute 45 seconds.  Carefully remove from microwave and add sugar if desired (powdered sugar dissolves easily and helps keep the milk foam light).  Now, here’s the only tricky part: insert a whisk into the milk and roll back and forth violently between your hands (this and kneading bread are two great ways to relieve stress in the kitchen).  The milk will start to foam.  Continue whisking for 45-60 seconds.  [Or, if you have a clean jar sitting around, you can do it Martha Stewart’s way.]  Fill your mug halfway with brewed coffee, pour in milk, spoon remaining foam on top, and enjoy!

 

Quick Snack

I’ve been super-busy and haven’t had a whole lot of time, but I wanted to share something I discovered last night.  I wanted dessert and even though we’ve bought an awesome Yonanas® maker, the idea of strawberry sorbet just wasn’t doin’ it for me.  So, I rummaged around and found some organic fuji apples in the fridge.  They’re totally yummy on their own, but to upgrade them from snack to dessert, they needed a little something.  I thought about eating apples and peanut butter as a kid and remembered I had Nutella® in the pantry.  Perfect!  I sliced the apples (left the skin on to save some nutrients), and spread each slice with a thin layer of the yummy hazelnut spread.  So yummy.

 

As soon as I originally posted this, I found this idea on Natural Jewish Parenting.  Try coring the apple, slicing rings, topping with spread (or peanut butter), and then whatever other goodies you like!

Stick-to-your-ribs Mac’n’Cheese

I made this the other night and my husband didn’t even miss not having meat at dinner since this mac’n’cheese is so substantial.  It’s a great opportunity for a vegetarian dinner or you could even mix in some faux meat and still keep things kosher.  I mixed grilled bell peppers into ours and served it with crusty whole grain garlic bread.  (Clearly, this is not kosher for Pesach!)

What you need:

1lb. box of elbow macaroni (if you use whole grain, you will have to boil it slightly longer)

1/3 cup kosher unsalted butter (I like to control the salt in my food)

2tsp. black pepper

1 1/2 tsp. kosher sea salt

1tsp. hot Hungarian paprika (optional – regular paprika also works well and gives a nice colour)

5 cups whole milk (just do it!)

1/4 cup flour

2tbsp. cream cheese

2 cups grated extra sharp white Cheddar cheese

2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and follow the instructions for boiling your macaroni, except that you will want to pull it out and drain it a minute or two earlier than the package says (about 7-8 minutes at a good boil).  In the meantime, melt your butter in a large saucepan.  Once the butter has melted, sprinkle in the flour and mix well with the butter (this part is called “making a roux”).  Cook the mixture until it’s just a golden blonde colour (DO NOT WALK AWAY WHILE YOUR ROUX IS COOKING!!!!  People who say a roux is hard to make are people who walked away and burnt theirs.).  Add the milk and start whisking vigorously.  Keep on whisking until all of the roux is dissolved in the milk.  Whisk some more (but not quite as vigorously) until the mixture has thickened into a gravy-like texture (Mazel tov!  You’ve made a béchamel!).  Season with salt, pepper, and optional paprika.  Melt in the cream cheese.  Begin adding the white Cheddar about 1/4 cup at the time.  Make sure each time that the cheese you’ve added is melted before you add more or you’ll end up with a big stringy ball.  Next, add 1 cup of the regular Cheddar 1/4 cup at the time and then add the Parmesan.  Once all the cheese has melted into the sauce, combine your drained pasta, cheese sauce, and any mix-ins (veggies, fake meat, real meat, etc.) together in a large casserole dish.  Top with the remaining 1 cup of Cheddar cheese.  Bake until the cheese on top is melted and bubbly (about 20-25 minutes – longer if you have mix-ins that need to heat up, just cover it with foil to keep the cheese from burning).  Let cool slightly before serving because it will be like molten lava when it comes out of the oven.  Enjoy!

So yummy! (Yes, I know I need a food stylist.)

 

Cold Borscht? It’s better than it sounds…

It’s hot here – like really, really, really hot.  It’s too hot to slave in the kitchen all day for a hot Shabbat evening meal.  I found a recipe for cold borscht on Haaretz and thought what a great alternative to the gazpachos everyone goes crazy for in the summer (especially since I have yet to be convinced that there’s a difference between gazpacho and a really good salsa).  I’ve tweaked it a little since the original recipe was a little plain.  You could serve this with some some grilled white fish and grilled potatoes/veggies for a complete meal.  And did I mention that beets are good for you?

Here’s what you need:

5-6 medium beets, peeled

4 cups water

1tsp kosher salt

1/4tsp Hungarian hot paprika (I can’t say enough how much I love this stuff, and it’s packed with Vitamin C)

1tbsp sugar

1tbsp kosher balsamic vinegar

1tbsp lemon juice

1 1/2tsp lemon zest

1/2 tsp black pepper

In a pot arrange the peeled beets in water. Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 45 minutes, or until the beets are fork-tender.  Remove the beets and purée.  Add black pepper and lemon zest to the beets and freeze into ice cubes.  Vigorously blend the salt, sugar, paprika, vinegar, and lemon juice into the remaining beet juice.  Chill for at least 4 hours and serve cold.  I recommend serving it in a fancy glass with the beet ice cubes mentioned above and a dollop of sour cream on top.

Healthy, pretty, and great in soup!

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