Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chickpea and Spinach Casserole

The other day I was in the mood for chickpeas - which is actually pretty much every day - but I was also feeling a little lazy. So, of course, I made a casserole. It's hard to find vegetarian casseroles that have a good amount of protein - and that aren't overloaded with carbs. This one turns out to fit the criteria pretty well, full of fresh chickpeas, hearty spinach, and ever-useful cottage cheese. I took a recipe that I found on the web and altered it quite a bit - so this is almost a recipe of my own. There are a few things I would do differently next time but I'll include them below.

Sorry, this is a picture of the pre-baked casserole. Sometimes you just are a little too hungry when everything is done and forget to take a picture before it gets eaten up. I know, terrible.

Serves 3 to 4

Chickpea-Spinach Casserole

Adapted from

~ 2 1/2 C cooked chickpeas or ~1 1/2 cans
~ 1/2 C cooked brown or wild rice 

2 large shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 celery stalks (See sugested changes)
1 heaping tsp dried rosemary

1 large egg, beaten 
1/2 cup cottage cheese 
1/2 C plain yogurt (for ONCE, I tell you: not Greek style)
1/2 Cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
juice and zest of half a lemon
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Sesame seeds* and Parmesan cheese (to top)

*The original recipe called for breadcrumbs, but my dad loves sesame seeds and they add more crunch and nutrition so I went with them instead. If you are completely against sesame seeds, breadcrumbs work too.

Suggested Additions and Changes for Next Time:

1. Add two medium carrots, cut into chunks, to the step with the shallots etc.
2. I decided to add celery to the recipe, and I am glad I did. Just one thing I will do differently next time: I finely diced the celery to match the shallots but I think it would be better just cut into 1/4-inch slices
3. I can't stop considering the addition of mushrooms to add a bit of texture and creaminess at the same time. If you do, try about 8 oz, sliced. I might considering cooking them a bit before mixing them with the rest of the casserole too. Just a thought...

First thing's first: cook your chickpeas and rice. You want them cooked and out of the way by the time you are ready to assemble the casserole.

Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic, and celery (and perhaps carrots...maybe mushrooms too) and cook them slowly so that they become soft and fragrant, for about 7 minutes. Add in the rosemary and cook for another minute or so. Let the mixture cool a bit.

Mix together the egg, cottage cheese, yogurt, lemon juice, and Parmesan in a large bowl. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper to taste. (Except don't actually taste it...raw egg - that's gross)

Add the chickpeas, rice, and parsley and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into a lightly greased baking dish. As usual, the dimensions and shape of the dish are flexible. I used an oval shaped dish with area probably equivalent to an 8-by-8 square dish.

Evenly spread the mixture into the dish then sprinkle the top with the lemon zest, a nice layer of Parmesan, and a good amount of sesame seeds (a tablespoon or two)

Bake it at 375° F for about half an hour, until the top being to brown. Enjoy!

Dressed Up Caesar Salad

Don't get me wrong, I love traditional Caesar salad, but it could definitely use a bit of fortifying sometimes. This post is mostly to share my homemade dressing recipe, but I'll also offer some ideas for branching out from romaine, Parmesan, and croutons.

I warn you, I never measure when making this dressing, so feel free to adjust the measurements to taste. Update: I measured tonight following what I wrote down. It was just about right! 

Caesar Salad Dressing

- Me

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mustard 
1 Tbs. champagne vinegar (white wine vinegar would work as well)
1 tbs. olive oil
~ 1/2 tsp honey (Don't measure it - just a litle "blop")
Juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)

Whisk it all together in a bowl...viola. The longer it melds before dressing the salad the better it gets. I made mine around 3:00 PM the other day and by dinner at 6:30 it was perfect.

Additional Ingredients

These things pair nicely with Caesar dressing and can make the classic dish a bit more exciting.

Replace the empty, watery romaine with: 
Baby spinach
Mixed baby romaines (The dark kind with purples in it)

Replace croutons with: 
Toasted almond slivers
Sunflower seeds

Add for extra crunch and flavor:
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Dried cherries or cranberries
Chickpeas (cooked well - I would cook chickpeas from a can a little bit too to soften them)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Homemade Focaccia

This recipe comes from a pretty sophisticated bread book that I have, definitely not the simplest of recipes. That being said, if you have a lot of time on your hands (such as four weeks of holiday break from college with no responsibilities) it is super fun and rewarding.


Artisan Breads by Eric W. Kastel

For the "Biga"

The Biga is a prefermentation of the dough. You will want to make this the day before you plan to bake the bread, as it must rest for 10+ hours.

1/2 C water at about 55°F *See note
1 1/3 C bread flour
"pinch" of instant dry yeast **

*Two comments:
 1. I guessed on the temperature because my candy thermometer broke recently. You can be the better person and measure if you want. 
2. I just learned the shortcut for the degree symbol!

** Two more comments: 
1. I don't really know how much a pinch is either. Honestly, I have a spoon in a teaspoon set that says it measures a pinch, but if you don't have one don't stress. I didn't use it. 
2. "Instant Dry" yeast (often called "Bread Machine yeast" or "Rapid Rise") is recommended by the author of this book. Of course I failed to realize this and used "Active dry", which is NOT the same. Don't make my mistake! 

Mix the flour and yeast in a bowl. Put the water in the bowl of an electric mixer and add the flour mixture. Mix with the dough hook attachment for about 2 minutes on medium speed. If you don't have a mixer and/or a dough hook, mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon and finish by kneading. Whatever method you use, the biga should end up "stiff and slightly dry". Place it in an oiled mixing bowl and roll it around to coat it in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 2 hours. After the refrigeration, take the bowl out and leave it at room temperature for 10 to 12 hours (I think I might have let it rest for closer to 14)

For the "Final Dough"

2 C water at ~ 86°F 
3 Tbs olive oil
1/8 tsp. malt syrup A.K.A. barley malt syrup  (Do you know how tiny 1/8 tsp is!?)
4 C + 2 1/2 Tbs. bread flour
3/4 tsp. Instant dry yeast
1 Tbs. salt

Toppings: I used red onions, Mozarella, and a bit of Parmesan. The possibilities are endless though - you just don't want to overload the bread.

Put the water, oil, malt syrup, and fermented biga into a large bowl. Mix it with your hands for about five minutes, picking up the biga and squeezing it between your fingers to break it up. Combine the flour and yeast in another bowl then add it to the water-biga mixture while stirring. Add the salt too. Continue to knead and work the dough until it is evenly mixed. It will still be very sticky and unstructured. Cover and allow it to ferment in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour.

Next, dump the dough onto a lightly floured counter - I would recommend putting parchment paper down and then flouring that to achieve the cleanest, least sticky experience. Fold the dough over itself into thirds and let it sit, yet again, for about 10 minutes.

Lay out two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Divide the dough into three equal pieces, lightly flouring the bottoms. Fold each piece in half, then in half the other way. Flip it over so that the folds are on the bottom, and lightly roll it a bit to form a loose ball. This whole shenanigans isn't an exact science...

Put two of the loaves on one sheet and the third on the other sheet.  Brush them with olive oil and let them sit, covered, for another ten minutes. Uncover the loaves. Dip your fingers in olive oil and "stipple" the dough by gently stretching it and making light depressions in the dough with your finger tips. You want each loaf to end up about 10 by 6 inches. Cover the dough lightly with plastic wrap and let them sit for half an hour to 45 minutes - the FINAL fermentation!

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 475° F. If you have a bread or pizza stone, that's great. If not, just gather a few other baking sheets. About 15 or minutes before you put the loaves in the oven, put whatever baking surfaces you are using into the oven to preheat. Fill an ovenproof tray with a few inches of water and place it in the oven as well in order to create steam.

Prepare your toppings. For me, this meant sauteing the red onion with some oregano and thyme and finishing it off with a bit of balsamic vinegar. I diced the fresh mozzarella into small cubes and grated the Parmesan. You could use any cheese you'd like, and swap out the onions for anything from olives to dried fruit. 

When the dough is finally done rising, re-create the light depressions with you fingers but don't stretch it out anymore. Sprinkle on your toppings and transfer the dough to the oven by sliding the parchment paper from the prep trays to the trays/stones in the oven. Immediately turn the heat down to 450°F. If your loaves are spread between various racks, rotate them half way through baking. Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes and then remove the tray of water. Bake for another 5 minutes or so, until the bread is browned and "does not give when pressed".

Remove the focaccia from the oven, place it on a wire rack, brush lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle each loaf with a bit of salt.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Eggplant Parmesan+ Mozzarella

When out to dinner, I am usually wary of Eggplant Parmesan, due to its tendency to be over-breaded, under-seasoned, and deep fried. The problem is, if it is not fried and breaded enough it gets soggy and tasteless.  In honor of my father's love for the dish (and my desire to conquer the eggplant conundrum) I have been keeping my eye out for a recipe that fits my  picky requirements as well as passes the taste test. 

Guess what. I found one - in the latest copy of Fine Cooking's CookFresh, which is hands-down my favorite food magazine. With a bit of adaptation it turned out great; my dad won't stop talking about it. I served it with a side of pasta, but I personally skipped the noodles and thought it was perfect on its own. 

Serves 4

Eggplant Parmesan (with Mozzarella)

Adapted from Fine Cooking's CookFresh

1 medium globe eggplant (about 1 lb)
~ 1 C flour (I used whole wheat)
2 eggs
3 or 4 slices of hearty bread, such as oatmeal (bread-ends are great!)
1 to 1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
One batch tomato sauce (recipe follows) or about 3 C prepared sauce
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
5 oz. fresh Mozzarella, thinly sliced
3/4 C freshly grated Parmesan

First, cut the eggplant crosswise into 1/4-inch disks. Line a plate with paper towels and lay out a single layer of eggplant slices on top. Sprinkle them generously with salt, cover with another layer of paper towels, and repeat until all of the eggplant is salted. Let the eggplant rest for about 20 minutes. This releases the "juices" and keeps it from getting too soggy or dense.

Meanwhile, place the bread in a food processor and grate it into as finely as possible. The original recipe called for "fine, dry breadcrumbs", but I liked my slightly imperfect, not-quite-fine, fresh version. 

Set out three wide, shallow bowls. Put the breadcrumbs in one, the flour in another, and whisk the eggs in the last one. Line two baking sheets with paper towels. Take one eggplant slice, press both sides into the flour, dip it in the egg (allowing excess to drip off), and coat each side in breadcrumbs by pressing it into the bowl. Set it on one of the cookie sheets and repeat until all of the eggplant is breaded.

Heat the largest skillet you have over medium to medium-high heat and pour in a layer of olive oil. This is where preference comes in: I, of course, used a little oil as possible - just enough to coat the bottom, basically. The recipe, on the other hand, said to pour enough oil into the pan to create a layer about 1/2 inch thick. Both ways and anywhere in between work fine.

When the oil is hot enough that a crumb sizzles when tossed in, arrange as many eggplant slices as possible in a single layer. Cook for about a minute then flip them. You want them to be nicely crisped and golden to dark brown. Drain them on the other cookie sheet, repeating in batches until all of the eggplant is cooked.

Now, finally, it's time to assemble. Get out a baking dish - really, whatever size you'd like. The recipe called for a 9 by 13, but I chose a tall, round, about 8-inch dish. If you have a large, shallow dish, you will probably have about three layers. If you have a deeper, smaller dish like mine then you will have four or five. Whichever type of dish you use, start by placing one layer of eggplant slices on the bottom of the dish. Top the eggplant with a proportional amount (1/3 , 1/5, etc.) of the tomato sauce, basil leaves, Mozzarella slices, and Parmesan - in that order. Repeat until everything is used up, ending with the cheeses.

Bake it at 425 for about 25 to 30 minutes. The time will vary based on the dish dimensions, but what really matters is that the cheese is melted and beginning to brown, and the sauce is bubbling around the edges. Let it cool for a while, then serve.

Basic Tomato Sauce

A hopelessly mixed-up combination of my ideas and bunches of other recipes. Safe to call it mine.

Makes about 3 cups. Double, triple, and halve to your heart's content

1/4 C chopped onion
1/4 C sliced carrot (about 2 medium carrots) 
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
~1/2 tsp each dried thyme and oregano
One 28 oz can peeled tomatoes

Heat about 2 tsp. olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add the herbs, a few pinches of salt, and a dash or two of black pepper. Cook for another few minutes, until the herbs are toasty and aromatic and the vegetables are beginning to brown.

Add the tomatoes with their sauce, stir, and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes, allowing it to thicken a bit - don't boil off too much liquid though!

Remove the sauce from the heat and puree it, either with an immersion blender, or in a food processor or blender. Puree of all of the vegetable and tomato chunks, leaving a smooth, flavorful sauce.