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Typical reaction when hearing I made this dish: “Are you crazy?” “Prunes?! In pasta??!” and the eventual “Ewwww!” Matthew’s response was simply, “That’s just too bad that I’ll be away this week for travel. I’ll be so sorry to miss out.” I sensed sarcasm in there but you know what? He SHOULD be sorry! Because this recipe was amazing!

Delicious, nutritious and cheapalicious. This recipe came from the Poor Girl Gourmet cookbook that my sister got me for Christmas and it’s the first of many recipes I’ll be making from it. Estimated cost for this recipe, which serves four, was $8.75. So if you find your pantry full of prunes and pasta — and you find your family has not run away screaming — then go forth and make this. And if you do find yourself deserted by all the people you love, it just means more pasta for you!

The prunes in the dish end up tasting like little meaty morsels. The ricotta adds a creamy, salty complement to the pasta and the leeks also offset the prunes’ sweet taste. The only thing I adapted in this recipe was to add extra leeks. The recipe, which was inspired by a dish the author ate when in Italy, is quick, healthy and easy on the pocketbook. Also — it’s strangely awesome.

Pasta with Prunes and Ricotta
from Poor Girl Gourmet cookbook
serves 4

1 lb medium-length, thick pasta, such as gemelli
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 large leeks, washed and sliced, white and light green parts only
12 oz. pitted prunes, quartered
1/2 cup fresh ricotta, plus an additional 1/4 cup for serving
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to its directions, or until the pasta is al dente.

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and add leeks, cooking until softened (roughly 5 minutes). Add the prunes and cook until softened and heated through (roughly 5-7 minutes).

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. Add cooked pasta and 1 cup of cooking water to skillet, stirring to combine. Simmer for one minute. Add 1/2 cup fresh ricotta and stir until melted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and serve, topping each serving with a tablespoon or so of fresh ricotta. Now go ahead. Embrace your exotic side.


A Valentines Day dinner to die for. Or just a regular dinner to die for, as we had this a week ago, but I think this is one of those dishes that should be reserved for a unique night. It’s elegant, decadent and relatively simple.

And kind of expensive. My eyes about bulged out of my head and my heart nearly gave out when I got to the register and I finally looked at the price tag on the salmon steaks — $30?! Oh, crapcrapcrap. Matthew is going to kill me! Not only was the salmon $10 a pound (I bought an extra one that is now sitting in the freezer, waiting to be eaten as another decadent dish), but the lamb stew meat I bought for another dish was $10/lb — making it $30 as well! Attack of an aneurysm. I’m sorry, but that kind of expensive meat buying does not normally happen in this household. Whoopsies. Thankfully Matthew did not kill me, but simply skewered me with one of those looks men perfect when their wives buy something that wasn’t, per se, in the budget.

HOW. EV. ER. This meal was absolutely mind-blowing. Which means I was forgiven! Whew. The salmon steaks were perfectly done, and the peppery, lemony, hint-of-mustardy lemon sauce that is drizzled on top is perfectly simple and utterly amazing. Put all of that on top of the wild mushroom risotto (which I had never made before and will definitely make again!) and you’ve got love on a plate.

I added these fantastic lemon/mustard Brussels sprouts to the dish (it is my favorite Brussels sprout recipe and always will be — for now) and the whole thing felt like we were at the classiest restaurant in Bloomington. Or New York City, for that matter! That’s right. It was that good. Make it for your special person tonight! Or on Valentines Day, whichever works.

Fresh Salmon with Tricolored Peppercorn Sauce
from “More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden”
serves 4

1/2 lemon
salmon steaks or fillets to serve 4
2 1/2 Tbsp butter (don’t substitute)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp finely crushed tricolored peppercorns

Squeeze juice from lemon half over salmon and barbecue or broil salmon until cooked all the way through (anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness of salmon steak). Do not overcook!

Melt butter, then add mustard and lemon juice. Remove cooked salmon and top with finely crushed peppercorns. Drizzle melted butter sauce over salmon and serve immediately over top risotto.

Wild Mushroom Risotto
minimally adapted from Three Many Cooks
serves 6

1 cup dried mushrooms (I used chanterelle because that’s what I had but feel free to use any kind)
1 quart plus 2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth, more if needed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-large onion, diced
Kosher salt, to taste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp tricolored peppercorns, ground
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (or up to 1 cup)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Put dried mushrooms in heatproof bowl and add 3 cups boiling water. Let steep until hydrated and soft (roughly 30 minutes). Drain mushrooms, reserving liquid, and roughly chop.

Heat broth and 2 cups mushroom liquid in pot over medium heat and simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and keep liquid simmering during risotto process.

Heat olive oil in Dutch oven, or heavy-bottomed pot, over medium high heat, then add onions. Sprinkle with salt and sauté until translucent (roughly 5-7 minutes). Add garlic, cook for one minute. Add pepper and rice, stirring often to toast the rice (roughly one minute). Add white wine and stir continuously until liquid is nearly absorbed.

Add ladleful of simmering stock to rice and stir until mostly absorbed, or when you drag your wooden spoon across bottom of pot, you see no excess liquid. Add another ladleful of stock and stir until absorbed, repeating the process until rice is tender and creamy (roughly 20-30 minutes). Make sure to stir continuously so that rice does not stick or burn on the bottom of the pan.

Most likely you will use all of the stock, though more or less may be needed. Stock added to the risotto must be hot for it to cook correctly.

When risotto has finished cooking, add chopped mushrooms, Parmigiano and butter, stirring to combine. Spoon onto plate, then place salmon on top and add butter sauce to top everything off. And try not to preen and prance about when said special person asks you to become their personal chef (because most likely you already are).

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet (except to say this post is for you, Patri!). The proof is in the pictures, after all. It’s closing in on 2 a.m. here and I am so wishing I had some of this dish leftover to eat right now. Eat at 2 a.m.?! Who does that! Oh, um, me. I’m not afraid to eat at this hour, oh no. A muffin held off most of my hunger but what I really wanted was Ma-Po Tofu.

Bits of beef and soft pieces of tofu have simmered in a salty, spicy red sauce that absolutely screams EAT ME!! And so we did. And it was good. I’m not sure what originally drew me to this recipe — probably the promise of a spicy kick on a cold night — but I’m so glad I made the effort.

Not that it takes much effort to make it. This recipe moves quickly, once you have everything chopped and combined in various bowls. Plate it over a bowl of hot rice and let the flavors scream in your ear (and mouth), too.

Ma-Po Tofu
slightly adapted from Epicurious
serves 4

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (I used regular, freshly-cracked pepper)
1 1/2 pounds soft (not silken) tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons Szechuan chili sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black-bean paste
4 Tbsp Hoisin sauce, split
2 Tbsp Asian chili powder (I used 3/4 Tbsp red pepper flakes)
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup peanut oil
8 ounces ground beef
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 scallion (white and green parts), thinly sliced
1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), washed, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup rice wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
Hot rice

Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add tofu, remove from heat, and steep (uncovered) for five minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer tofu to a medium-sized bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine chili sauce, black bean paste, 2 Tbsp Hoisin sauce and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

In another small bowl, combine cornstarch and 3 Tbsp water. Set aside.

Heat a large saute pan or wok over medium high heat, then add peanut oil until hot. Add beef, ginger, garlic, scallions and leeks, cooking until meat is fully browned (roughly 3-4 minutes). Add rice wine, cook until mostly evaporated (roughly 1-2 minutes). Add hot bean paste mixture and cook until mixture is incorporated (roughly 1 minute).

Add tofu, broth, soy sauce and remaining 2 Tbsp of Hoisin sauce and bring to a boil. Whisk cornstarch if it has begun to separate, and add to pan. Cook for roughly one minute, or until mixture thickens slightly.

Serve over hot rice, garnishing with chopped cilantro. Enjoy with unabashed ardor.

Otherwise known as Brazilian fish stew, consisting of mostly slurpy, rich, fresh-tasting stuff. Oh, you wanted real ingredients? Fresh white fish couples with coconut milk, cilantro, garlic, bell peppers and (my addition) zucchini in this amazing stew. Yeah, there’s the zucchini again. I can’t seem to stop myself from adding zucchini to nearly every dish. It’s a disorder, I tell you!

But it works here, luckily. I got this recipe from one of the first cooking blogs I started reading, Simply Recipes. Great blog, great recipes. The author, Elise, posted this Moqueca recipe a while ago and I fell in love with it, despite despising (for real) onions and bell peppers at the time. I have since gotten over my fear of both. This is big, for those who know me. I actually took a bite of a RAW red bell pepper the other day and…. and…. found that it tasted…. it tasted… good. How weird.

Anyway! Great recipe, with a few changes to fit my need to shove a few more vegetables into every dish. Enjoy!

Moqueca
minimally adapted from Simply Recipes
serves 4

1 1/2 to 2 lbs of fillets of firm white fish such as halibut, swordfish, or cod (I’ve also used fresh tilapia with success), rinsed, bones removed if needed, cut into large portions
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped or sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, de-stemmed, chopped (or sliced)
2 small-medium zucchini, halved and sliced
2 cups chopped (or sliced) tomatoes
1/4 cup green onion greens (scallions), chopped
1 Tbsp Hungarian sweet paprika (I used regular because that’s all I had)
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
hot rice

In bowl, add fish and coat well with garlic and lime juice. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.

In large pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened. Then add bell pepper, zucchini, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until vegetables are soft (roughly 5-8 minutes). Add chopped tomatoes and onion greens. Simmer for 5 minutes then stir in chopped cilantro.

Remove half of vegetables to bowl, then spread remaining vegetables in pan to make a bed for fish. Place fish on top of vegetables, then add back previously removed vegetables to cover fish. Pour coconut milk over fish and bring to simmer. Reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes.

Serve atop hot rice and let the comforting flavors seep into your very being.

This was one dish whose name I could not for the life of me come up with — there were way too many delicious ingredients to leave out of the title. But, instead of making it “Creamy peanut butter sesame noodles with soy sauce garlic chicken and crunchy radishes and celery,” I stuck with the current title. Thank you, Matthew, who came up with that one within a minute of looking at the ingredient list. And thank goodness for patient husbands who put up with random recipe-title-creating requests.

On to the recipe — yum times infinity! I’ve made this dish dozens upon dozens of times but have never once attempted to stray from the original ingredients. After eating it the first time I knew there was no way you can tamper with this sort of delicious concoction. Creamy peanut butter melds seamlessly in a sauce made with dark sesame oil, garlic, honey, fresh ginger, red pepper flakes and honey. And soy sauce. How could I forget? Once the linguine noodles are cooked, the peanut butter mixture is poured on top, creating a perfectly (I do not use that word lightly here) creamy sauce in a recipe which could happily end there — but thankfully does not. Crunchy is needed to combat creamy, and celery, radishes and freshly sliced green onions fit the bill here. Chicken breasts marinated in garlic soy sauce adds a bit of moist protein perfection.

Oh my goodness, I want to make this again right now as it closes in on midnight. The recipe came from a coworker at my first job as a fledgling reporter in a small town in Southwest Colorado. Loved that place, but seriously, I love this recipe. Hope you do, too. Merry holiday! 😉

Creamy Thai Peanut Noodles with Radishes
serves 4-5

3 chicken breasts, pounded flat
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb linguine noodles
2/3 cup soy sauce, halved
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp powdered ginger/1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 tbsp honey
1/4 cup dark sesame oil
2 celery stalks, chopped coarsely
1 bunch radishes, rinsed, chopped coarsely
2-3 green onions, white and green parts, sliced
2/3 cup peanuts, chopped coarsely

Place flattened chicken breasts, garlic and 1/3 cup of soy sauce in large bowl. Make sure chicken is coated, cover, and place in refrigerator until ready for use.

Clean and chop celery, radishes and green onions. Place in bowl with peanuts and set aside.

Remove chicken from fridge and saute in large pan over medium high heat until no longer pink in middle (roughly 10-12 minutes).

Cook linguini noodles in large pot of water, drain. In separate bowl, combine remaining soy sauce, water, peanut butter, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, honey and sesame oil. Add to cooked noodles, stir until combined.

Add chicken, celery, radishes, green onions and peanuts to noodle mixture and serve immediately. Attempt to keep slurping noises to a minimum when devouring dish.

I love eggplant. Stuffed, layered, sautéed — you name it, I’ll eat it. Except raw. That was one eggplant (Parmesan) disaster from my early years that I hope to never repeat. Using Asian eggplant in a recipe was a first for me and — yum — it won’t be my last. They’re a slender, milder variety of eggplant without as many seeds.

This recipe has been staring me down (literally, from my cookbook stand) every day since… forever. I would walk by and drool at the closeup photo of the seared, browned eggplant and bits of ground pork, all soaking up what seemed to be a spectacular-sounding sauce. Then I finally made it and it met every single one of my expectations from days of staring at the recipe.

And the sauce. I cannot describe to you how great this sauce is so I’ll settle with pleading that you find the chile bean paste (in the Asian section of any regular grocery store) and not omit it from the recipe. Feel free to bump up the sauce (I did) from the measurements below.

So go. Go and make this. Unless you hate eggplant, then I’ll settle with crying for the loss in your life.

Sichuan-Style Braised Eggplant
minimally adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cookbook
serves 4-6

1 1/2 lb Asian eggplants
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp canola or peanut oil, or as needed
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp chile bean paste (also called “hot bean paste” or “Sichuan chile sauce”)
1 tbsp black vinegar (I used balsamic)
2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch (add a little water to make a slurry)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup celery, minced
1 tsp grated fresh or prepared horseradish
1/2 lb ground pork
2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
hot rice

Cut each eggplant on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces. Place eggplant pieces in large bowl, add cold water to submerge and stir in salt. Weight the eggplants with a plate and keep them submerged for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat 2 tbsp of canola oil in a wok or large saute pan over high heat until very hot. Working in batches, add eggplant to cover bottom of pan in a single layer and saute until crisp and brown on all sides (roughly 7-10 minutes). Remove pieces using slotted spoon and transfer to another bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant, adding more oil if necessary. Set pan aside but do not rinse.

In another bowl, make sauce by stirring together stock, chile bean paste, vinegar, soy sauce, tomato paste, sesame oil, sugar and cornstarch. Set aside.

Return pan to high heat, add 1 tbsp oil, stir in garlic, ginger, celery and horseradish. Saute until golden brown (roughly 2 minutes). Stir in pork and stir-fry until meat turns opaque (roughly 5-7 minutes).

Add sauce to pan and bring to a boil. Stir in eggplant, reduce heat to low, cover, and braise eggplant until tender, (roughly 7-10 minutes). Uncover and simmer for a few minutes to thicken sauce. Place eggplant and sauce over hot rice and garnish with green onions. Feel free to smack your lips when devouring this dish.


When Matthew’s mom got me the Williams-Sonona Eat Well cookbook as a belated bridal shower present, I squealed happily, clutched it to my chest and ran into my bedroom where I proceeded to pour over the book’s beautiful pages like a starving child. I had this same reaction to another cookbook we (er, I) received as a wedding present and I hope to reenact that scene once again when Christmas day rolls around (*cough*cough* to any family members out there reading this).

Back to the book. I have a thing for Williams-Sonoma cookbooks and the recipes in here are just as gorgeous as the first WS cookbook I received a few Christmases ago. The theme of this particular book, if you couldn’t tell from its title, revolves around creating healthy dishes that inspire you to think about what you eat while also enjoying every bite.

A bit of forewarning — this pesto, because it lacks one of pesto’s primary ingredients (freshly-grated Parmesan-Reggiano), tastes (and is!) healthy. If you’re seeking the unique cilantro-pumpkin seed flavor but want to retain the richness that comes with regular pesto, feel free to add 1/4 to 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Also, the remainder of this pesto is delicious as a spread on sandwiches. Also, I’m going to shut up now.

Grilled Garlic Chicken with Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Pesto
from Williams-Sonoma’s Eat Well Cookbook

serves 4

Marinade (from Kalyn’s Kitchen):
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tsp poultry seasoning (or any favorite seasoning blend)
4 tbsp olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

Pesto:
1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds
2 cups packed cilantro leaves
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp lime juice
2 garlic cloves
1 serrano chili, seeded
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For marinade (to be done 6-24 hours ahead of time):
In a bowl, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, seasonings and olive oil. Make small slits down the length of each breast so marinade can fully penetrate. Place chicken in a large Ziploc bag and pour in marinade, making sure each breast gets coated. Place in fridge for 6-8 hours or up to 24 hours.

For pesto:
If pumpkin seeds are not already toasted, preheat oven to 350 degrees, spread seeds on baking sheet and toast until fragrant or golden at the edges (roughly 8-10 minutes).

In food processor, blend toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro, 4 tbsp olive oil, lime juice, garlic, chile, salt, freshly ground pepper and 1/4 cup water until smooth. Scrape down sides of processor as necessary. Set aside.

For chicken:
If using a grill, heat to medium high and oil rack. Place chicken on rack and grill, turning once, until cooked through (roughly 12-13 minutes). If using stove top (my preferred method!) heat large skillet over medium-high heat and add chicken breasts. Saute until cooked through (roughly 12-13 minutes).

Transfer chicken to plates and spoon pesto over top. Lick your lips and greet this healthy dish with a grin.