Carmelized Onion, Tomato, and Goat Cheese Tartlets

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Ina Garten was the lady who first helped me realize that homemade food can be just as delicious, if not more so, than eating out. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love eating out. I can never resist the temptation to hit up my favorite spot for local margaritas and chips, and no homemade popcorn tastes as good and artery clogging as movie theater popcorn. But in my teenage years, Ina Garten’s recipes showed me I can cook, and it can taste good.

I first made these tarts when my friends and I back home got together for weekly cooking nights the summer after our freshman year in college. We went through many of Ina’s recipes (hello roasted potato and leek soup) that I have made multiple times since. These tarts were also part of my first dinner I made entirely by myself for my parents and my aunt.

These tarts are pretty simple but involve a few steps to prep. But they turn out great. I made mine a smaller side to serve as a side dish this time, but they are great when you make ’em bigger and serve as a meal with salad or soup.

CARMELIZED ONION, TOMATO, AND GOAT CHEESE TARTLETS
Slightly Adapted from Ina Garten

INGREDIENTS

2 onions, thinly sliced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons white wine
2 teaspoons dried thyme
Salt and pepper
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
2-4 ounces goat cheese
Parmesan cheese, grated
3 tomatoes, sliced
Herbs de Provence

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 425°F. Prepare baking sheets.

In pan, combine olive oil and onions. Cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Stir in white wine, thyme, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat.

Roll out sheet of puff pastry slightly. Cut into small tart-size squares (about 1 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 inch). Place on prepared baking sheets. Spoon onion mixture evenly across tarts. Place tomato slices on top. Crumble goat cheese and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

Bake for 20-15 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. Sprinkle herbs de Provence on top. Serve warm.

Spicy Mushroom Tomato Sauce over Pasta: Secret Recipe Club

7-9 Spicy Mushroom Tomato Sauce over Pasta

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was afraid of spicy food. She had a very traumatic experience once when she ate a pepper on her pizza by mistake. And she was always very cautious around Indian food. Eventually that little girl grew up, still afraid of spicy food. But one day she ate some buffalo wings. And some Pad Thai. And then she realized that spicy food wasn’t so bad after all. And then the little girl and spicy food lived happily ever after.

Lately I have had an insatiable obsession with spicy food. Given that I used to be a mild-only girl, this is a big change for me. I now cannot get enough of spice. Yesterday I actually suggested Indian food for lunch under my own free will. So when I was assigned Rhonda’s blog The Kitchen Witch for this month’s Secret Recipe Club, I knew I wanted to find something spicy.

When I saw this pasta with spicy tomato sauce, I was sold. This recipe uses crushed red pepper, which used to be my arch-nemesis, but works great in this tomato sauce. I added a pinch of sugar to my sauce to balance out the spiciness, and I added sliced hot Italian sausage instead of making meatballs because I was tired and getting hangry. This is a great spicy, quick, easy, delicious dinner!

Because this was so easy and delicious (and it was way past my dinner time), I only got to snap a photo with my phone which turned out less than desirable.  But I guarantee a happy stomach.

Make sure to check out Rhonda’s blog and what everyone else made this month!

SPICY MUSHROOM TOMATO SAUCE OVER PASTA
Slightly Adapted from The Kitchen Witch

INGREDIENTS

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
28 ounces crushed tomatoes
6 ounces mushrooms, sliced
Pinch of sugar
Dried basil, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 ounces dried pasta
Hot Italian sausage, cooked, optional

DIRECTIONS

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add oil and let heat for 1 minute. Stir in onion and cook until tender and slightly browned, about 5-9 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.  Pour into tomatoes and their juice.  Bring  to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.  Let cook and thicken for approximately 15-20 minutes.

Stir in mushrooms, sugar, basil, and crushed red pepper.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Let cook for an additional 5-10 minutes.  Prepare pasta according to package instructions.  Top pasta with tomato sauce and sausage, if desired.

Serves 3-4.

Turkish Red Lentil Balls

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Time to go back to real life.  Teaching, working, cleaning, grocery shopping, picking up the mail, showering within a socially appropriate interval, wearing real pants – Yuck.

What isn’t yucky?  These lentil balls.  This recipe comes from the Turkish cooking classes I have been taking (and one thing I am actually looking forward to starting up again now that vacation is over), and I served them at our Around the World New Year’s Dinner.   They also are an excellent way to keep up any health related new years resolutions.

They may look a little strange, but they are little bites of lentil-y, tomato-y, pepper-y heaven.   The taste is not super exotic if you are afraid of trying new foods, but it it just a little bit different than the food we tend to eat, a little special.   And I love ’em.  They serve perfectly as a side dish for dinner or as an appetizer for you vegetarian (they may actually even be vegan too- my first vegan recipe!) friends at parties.

TURKISH RED LENTIL BALLS
From Cinnamon Freud

INGREDIENTS

1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
2 cups extra fine bulgur
1 onion, minced
15 ounces tomato sauce
7 scallions, chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons pepper paste*
1/2 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons red pepper (aloppa pepper)*
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses*
1 bunch parsley, minced

DIRECTIONS

In a saucepan combine lentils and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine uncooked bulgur, onion, tomato sauce, and scallion. Mix lentils and remaining water in bulgur mixture. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, pepper paste, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, red pepper, black pepper, and pomegranate molasses. Let stand until cooled. Mix in parsley. Shape into balls by hand.  Serve with lettuce, tomato slices, pickles, and lemon juice.

Makes approximately 30-40 lentil balls, can serve 8-10 as a side dish.

*These ingredients may be difficult to find but I found most in the specialty aisle of my grocery store. You can always substitute as needed

Individual Falafel Pie

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I am so over this thing called “work” and “earning a paycheck”.  Especially when said paycheck technically puts me under the poverty level.  And when textbooks for one class total $138 (when finding the best deals used).  #Gradstudentlifeisfun

So I am particularly excited to head out of town with my mom and take a trip to the northeast next week. Excited as in my neurotic self has been planning/fantasizing for the past month.  We will be visiting family and hitting New York City for a few days.  And while in New York, one goal of mine is to eat lots of food, including falafel.

I have a confession. I use to hate hummus.

At gatherings people would often joyfully announce to us all “Guess what, I have hummus for us!”. Everyone would cheer and gush, and I would remain very quiet. I’d insist I wasn’t hungry or choose the other offerings, leaving the tan dip to those who could stomach it.

Well, I was a fool. Hummus is delicious. As is lots of Greek food.  Now I love to eat hummus on pita chips and carrots, but I also like to mix my hummus with falafel. Chickpea dip on chip baked chickpea balls? I reworked my baked falafel into this single size falafel pizza, mostly to just up the cute factor. This is for when you just want straight falafel and toppings with no pita bread to slow you down.

Also, it’s great if you are looking for a lighter meal- this is a healthy, vegetarian dinner that will leave you happy and satisfied.  I am trying to trim up a little before my vacation (without any actual exercise… because I am tired and/or lazy).  My thinking is that I can just return back to my equilibrium after going hog wild on vacation.  Logic FTW.

If the falafel in New York is good, I may never be coming home.  Mom, you’re okay with 100% supporting me in a listless New York life full of eating and relaxing, right?  Good.

So tell me, what do I need to see in New York? Where should I go? Most importantly, what should I eat?

FALAFEL PIE
Inspired by Heat Oven to 350

INGREDIENTS

For the Falafel:
1 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 red onion, minced
5 cloves of garlic, roasted
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon coriander (cilantro seeds)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup all purpose flour
Olive oil, for brushing

For the Toppings:
Hummus
Tzatziki
Kalamata olives, halved
Grape tomatoes, halved
Cucumber, chopped
Sweet pickles, chopped
Feta cheese crumbles
Goat Cheese crumbles
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

For the Falafel:

Pour dried chickpeas into a large bowl. Cover with water. Let soak at least 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. In the food processor, combine chickpeas, onion, garlic, cumin, parsley, coriander, salt, lemon juice, and water. Pulse until mixture forms a paste. Fold in baking powder and flour, until mixture stays together. Add more flour if needed.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide falafel mixture into four portions and form into 5-6 inch circles. Brush tops with olive oil. Bake for 20-23 minutes, rotating pans halfway through.

Top with any mixture of desired toppings. My favorite way is to spread a layer of hummus on the falafel pie and top with olives, tomatoes, cucumber, pickles, and goat cheese. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Makes four falafel pies.

Lasagna

There are pros and cons to still being a student.  One con is that I still have homework (booo), but a great pro is I still get a spring break.  Spring breaaaaaaaaaaak! Now, my spring breaks have never been wild enough to elicit all those “a”s.  Instead, they are really a time to relax and recuperate.  It’s been a stressful semester, which means I need comfort food and lots of it.

What is the one dish that makes you think of home?  The meal that brings up memories of gathering around the dinner table after a long day of school followed by watching way too many preteen television shows while snacking on potato chips.  Mine is my mom’s lasagna.  It was a rare treat since it took a long bake time and was best saved for those few cold days we had in Houston.  One bite of this lasagna causes immediate relaxation and comfort.  A perfect meal for anyone who is feeling a little stress.

LASAGNA
From My Mom
INGREDIENTS

For the Tomato Sauce:
30 ounces tomato sauce (Contadina is our preferred brand)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon granulated sugar
For the Lasgna:
1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage, removed from casings
9 lasagna noodles
2 cups cottage cheese
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon parsley
4-6 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
DIRECTIONS

For the Tomato Sauce:


Combine tomato sauce, oregano, parsley, basil, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over low heat, uncovered. Continue to simmer for 45-60 minutes until thickened.  Keep warm.

For the Lasagna:


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Brown sausage and cook until cooked through.  Drain off grease if needed.  Stir sausage into tomato sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook lasagna noodles one minute shorter than al dente according to package directions.  Drain and cover with cold water. (A helpful tip from my mom is to cook an extra lasagna noodle in case on breaks while cooking . And you can snack on it while the lasagna bakes if you don’t need it).

Mix cottage cheese, oregano, and parsley in a large bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread a small amount of tomato sauce (with no sausage) on the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch baking dish.  Layer 3 lasagna noodles on top.  Spread about half of the tomato sauce on top.  Spread dollops of 1 cup of cream cheese on top.  Layer half of the mozzarella on top.  Layer 3 more lasagna noodles on top.  Spread remaining tomato sauce on top, reserving about 1/4 cup.  Dollop remaining cottage cheese and mozzarella on top.  Top with remaining lasagna noodles.  Spread remaining tomato sauce on top.

Bake for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand at least 15 minutes.  Cut and serve.

Serves 6-8.

Southwestern Barley Salad

Can you believe it’s August already?  I know everyone always says that about every month (insert some profound statement about the passage of time and human existence here), but for I promise it’s really true this time! I really can’t believe August is here.  August is going to be a huge month of change for me.  A few posts ago I mentioned that I have worked my last day at a urology practice. Why?  Because in about two weeks I am making my first big move of my adult life and starting a new chapter in my life.This fall semester I will start a PhD counseling psychology program in Lubbock, Texas.  For the next five to seven years it will be my new home as I learn how to be a psychologist, as both a researcher and therapist.  I won’t lie: I’m a little nervous.  Pretty nervous.  Actually, really nervous.  A combination of nervous and excited (depending on when you ask me I lean one way or the other).  It’ll be my first time I actually really and truly live away from my parents and my only home, and I am starting my career.  All this sounds a lot more adult than I feel.

All this change has led to lots of reflection about my life and what I want it to be.  All these life musings have also led me to think about my identity as a cook/kitchen frequenter and my blog.  What kind of food blog am I, and what is my “POV” on food?  Even in the past two years and fumbling around the kitchen and past year(!) of posting on this blog, I have already changed and learned so much.  After some thought, here is my sum up of my food world: healthy, affordable, seasonal (most of the time), and fun.  I like making things completely from scratch and easy, no fuss dishes.  I love trying new foods and revisiting classics.

Starting this new PhD program will probably mean posting will become a little more intermittent, but cooking and blogging have become some a big part of my life that I can’t imagine not doing it.  I plan on making myself keep it all up, but I may not be able to experiment as much as I have been able to these past months.   After all, I am about to become a home cook and a grad student with little time, even less money, and will always be on the go.

Okay, enough rambling: on to this southwestern barley salad.  This is very indicative of my type of food.  With this dish I tried barley for the first time and fell in love.  Barley, a cheap but filling grain that adds a chewy and nutty flavor, is combined with fresh summer produce and tossed in a light vinaigrette.  As I eat mostly meatless now, this is a perfect dinner for me, but  it would also be fantasic as a side with something from your barbeque for you carnivores.  Also, I am not the world’s biggest fan of tomatoes or avocados (I know, for shame), but I love this.

 

SOUTHWESTERN BARLEY SALAD
From Cinnamon Freud
INGREDIENTS
For the Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lime zest
Pinch of salt
For the Salad:
2 1/2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 cup dried pearled barley
2 tablespoon butter, divided

1 red onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 ears of corn
2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 small avocados, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cilantro, chopped
DIRECTIONS
For the Vinaigrette:
In a large serving bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, honey, and lime zest.  Whisk together.  Season with salt to taste if needed and set aside.
For the Salad:
In a large saucepan combine water, bouillion, and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil and add pearled barley.  Cook according to package instructions (30-45 minutes typically).  Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon butter.  Add onion and a pinch of salt.  Cook until onion is tender, 7-9 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.  Add corn and the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.  Cook for 3-5 minutes.  Add cherry tomatoes, smoked paprika and cumin.  Cook for 3-5 minutes, until tomatoes are slightly broken down.  Season with salt and pepper.
Whisk vinaigrette.  Transfer salad into bowl with vinaigrette.  Add avocado and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with cilantro, if desired.
Serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side dish.

 

Seven Layer Mediterranean Dip

One of my first recipes I created and made for weekend snacking as a seven layer Mexican dip (minus a few layers since I didn’t like tomatoes and avocados when I was younger so I wisely compensated by adding some more cheese).   Served with salty Frito scoops, I was set for a weekend of yummy snacking and felt like a culinary genius.

This dip is a genius idea for a spin on the traditional seven layer dip replacing the Mexican layers with its Mediterranean flavored counterpart.  It tastes fresh and light and is simple to make.  Each layer provides a different flavor profile to create a combination of creaminess and crunchiness.

SEVEN LAYER MEDITERRANEAN DIP
INGREDIENTS

10 ounces hummus
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cloves roasted garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cucumbers, pealed and chopped
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
4 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

DIRECTIONS
Spread the hummus in the bottom of an 8×8 pan.  In a large bowl, combined cream cheese, garlic, dill, and lemon juice.  Using a hand mixer, beat until combined and whipped.  Spread cream cheese mixture on top of hummus layer.
Spread cucumbers in a layer over a colander.  Salt and let sit for at least 15 minutes.  Pat dry and transfer cucumber to a tea towel.  Wring out excess water.  Sprinkle cucumber on top of cream cheese layer.  Drain excess juices from chopped tomatoes with a paper towel.  Sprinkle over cucumbers.  Drain excess juices from olives with a paper towel.  Sprinkle olives on top of tomatoes.  Sprinkle green onions, feta cheese, and parsley on top.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at least 2 hours (preferably overnight) in refrigerator.  Serve with pita chips.

Eggplant Caponata Pasta

Besides food, one of the other great loves in my life is television.  These two great loves are united in a great show on ABC: The Chew.  Its description of a daily talk show about food may seem silly or boring, but this show is great.  The hosts are a great mix of fun personalities and their themed episodes are often fun and campy.  It’s a great show to watch for entertainment and great recipes and techniques.

This recipe is from the oh-so-Italian Mario Batali.  Pasta is topped with a sweet and tangy tomato eggplant sauce.  A definite repeat for an easy Italian dinner.  Make it while watching The Chew (weekdays at noon on ABC).

EGGPLANT CAPONATA PASTA
Adapted from Mario Batali
INGREDIENTS

2 eggplants, chopped
Olive oil
8 ounces linguine
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup crushed tomatoes (or substitute any tomato sauce)
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/4 cup currants
Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Spread eggplant in a single layer on top of paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt.  Let stand at least 20 minutes.  Pat dry.  Toss eggplant with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil.  Spread in single layer on baking sheet.  Roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender.  Set aside.

Cook pasta according to instructions.  Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Add onion and cook until tender, about 7-10 minutes.  Add crushed tomatoes, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, anchovy paste, red wine vinegar, capers, and currants.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add eggplant and cook until warmed through, 3-5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve sauce over linguine

Serves 4.