Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ham and Cheese Crescent Bake

Let's be honest: my house is awesome.  I'm 29 years old and already living in my dream house.  It's in the best location, we have central air, we have this super cool heating system that almost makes me wish it was cold outside, we have an inground saltwater pool, and that kitchen!  By far my favorite room in the house, the kitchen was recently renovated (the sellers say it cost $50,000 and I believe it).  I have a gorgeous granite island, a gas stove, stainless steel appliances, tons of cabinets, and a beautiful backsplash.  It was perfect... or, as close to perfect as I could have wanted.  There was one tiny detail that was missing, however.  I hate to be nitpicky, but let's be honest: in a house this awesome, why wouldn't every detail in that kitchen be seen to?!  And... there was no garbage disposal.

Okay, it might not seem like a big deal, but I have a strong theory on this topic.  People who grew up without garbage disposals are fine without them.  They compost, they peel carrots over a trash can, they put their egg shells back into the carton.  And for them, that's business as usual.  But, for people who grew up using a disposal, life without it is impossible.  I know helping friends or families clean up in garbage disposal-less houses was always stressful for me.  How are you supposed to clean a pan?  How can you scrape every grain of rice out of the pan before you put it in the sink?  What do you do with leftover milk and cereal?  I seriously don't know the answer to those questions.  And so I was determined to get a disposal.  STAT.

Don't worry, we have public sewer in the house; I know septic systems and disposals don't mix.  Mark and I skipped off to Home Depot and bought one, and my cousin Pat promised to put it in for us.  We had to wait for our vacation, and then his vacation, but finally it was time!  The night Pat put it in for us (and thus perfected my kitchen and house), I decided to make him dinner.  Knowing that Pat might not be a fan of quinoa or faro, I somehow came up with this: ham and cheese crescent bake.  Totally not my normal kind of recipe.  It's ham and a cheesy cream sauce, baked inside crescent rolls and topped with more sauce.  I was kind of grossed out hacking at the ham steaks in order to make it, but it came together fairly quickly.  Pat was very appreciative and ate multiple helpings, as did Nick, who also helped with the garbage disposal.  Kenzie, Ross and Mark also happily partook in this meal.  I didn't try any, but this was one of those meals I made with other people in mind :)  Not the healthiest, but some good old fashioned comfort food, ham and cheese as a casserole!

Oh, and cleanup?  It was a breeze with my new garbage disposal :)

Recipe:

ham and cheese crescent bake
from Taste and Tell
yields 4 - 6 servings

Ingredients:
crescents:
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 green onions, diced
2 cups cubed, cooked ham
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
salt and pepper
2 cans (8 ounces each) crescent rolls

sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 cup Swiss cheese
chopped green onions for garnish

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

2) In a bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter.  Add in the green onions, ham, garlic, and Swiss cheese.  Season with salt and pepper.

3) Open the crescent rolls and divide each can into 8 triangles.  Place a mound of the filling mixture on the wide end of the crescent roll and roll up.

4) In a large skillet, melt the butter.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two.  Slowly whisk in the chicken broth and then the milk.  Cook until the mixture has thickened.  Season with salt and pepper.

5) Spread a small amount of the sauce over the bottom of the baking dish.  Place the rolls in the dish, akin 2 rows of 8 filled rolls each.  Pour the remaining sauce over the rolls.  Sprinkle 1 cup of Swiss cheese over the top.

6) Bake for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.  Let cool slightly, sprinkle on green onions, and serve.

Happy boys!

Veggie Curry Pies

One quick note - this post was written 6 days ago last Sunday, but before I could publish it, my laptop was stolen by Nick because his crashed during their Fantasy Football draft.  I wasn't happy, but the post was too full of reminiscing and pre-schoolyear-blues that I decided to keep it the way it was written, even though we have now survived 2 days of professional development and 3 days with students!


So sorry if the majority of this post doesn't make much sense... I am half asleep tonight after our first day back at work!  As usual, I spent most of the night awake, worrying that I wasn't going to get enough sleep - such a vicious cycle.  We have one more day of professional development stuff, and then students start Wednesday.  This is my first year as Mrs. Ajemian, which is kind of cool.  But I would still give anything to rewind life to the beginning of the summer, or even to one month ago today... one month ago at this exact second, I was dancing in a gorgeous white dress with a cute new husband :)

Or, I could rewind even farther to my first home-cooked meal of the summer!  School ended for us on a Friday, and that night I went straight up to Seabrook for vacation (and Mark went off on his bachelor party in Portland, which also happened to coincide with Gay Pride weekend, which was awesome).  When we got home, it was our first time to actually relax here in our new house without school, work, vacation, or anything until the wedding!  And these beautiful pot pies were screaming my name.  They are vegetarian, of course, filled with a curry with delicious veggies like eggplant, sweet potato and regular potato, and peas.  Plus there are cashews in there for a great crunch, and flavored with lime juice, curry, coconut milk, and sesame oil.  Unlike most pot pies, these are made with puff pastry, which is only used as a top (there is no bottom pie crust).  They're really, really good.  Lots of textures and flavors in cute little ramekins that are perfect for portion control!  I also found they reheated pretty well, which you don't always expect in a pot pie.  I kept the extras in the fridge and we ate them over the next week.  They stayed delicious.

I miss summer already, but here's to a new school year, and my first season as a married lady :)

Recipe:

veggie curry pies
from Fast Fresh Vegetarian by Metro Books
makes 4 pies

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
2 tablespoons penang curry paste (I couldn't find it, but curry powder worked okay; I just used a little less)
1 cup coconut milk
2 baby finger eggplants, peeled and sliced
1 medium potato, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 small sweet potato, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted cashews
1 cup frozen peas
2 sheets puff pastry
1 egg, beaten lightly

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2) Heat vegetable oil in a medium saucepan or wok over medium-high heat.  Cook onion, stirring, 3 minutes or until softened.  Add curry paste; cook a further 2 minutes or until fragrant.  Stir in coconut milk; bring to a simmer.  Add eggplant, potato and sweet potato; cook, covered, 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

3) Remove from heat; stir in juice, sesame oil, nuts and peas.  Season to taste.  Cool to room temperature.

4)  Meanwhile, using one of four 1-cup ramekins as a guide, cut out 4 rounds from pastry, 3/4 inch larger than the dish.

5) Spoon curry mixture evenly into ramekins.  Lightly brush outer rims of ramekins with a little egg; cover with pastry lids, pressing overhanging pastry against the sides.  Brush pastry with a little more egg.  Cut a small slit in the top of each pie.  Place pies on an oven tray.

6) Bake pies 15 minutes or until golden.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Black Bean and Quinoa Enchilada Bake

I cannot believe the summer is almost over!  I was in my classroom today, trying to get things ready for next week.  I always hate for summer to end, but even I have to admit that there have been so many changes in our school over the summer that it almost makes going back exciting.  Then again, I planned to get up early today and I got up at 10:30... 6:15 is not going to be pleasant!

Back to the food!  This quinoa bake is exquisite. Mark and I loved eating it for dinner as a main dish, but then we also ate it for a few days as a side dish.  We actually had enough left over that I was able to bring it for our family vacation at Seabrook.  My family is a bit less wild about quinoa than Mark and me, so it was a big deal that people ate it and enjoyed it!  They liked to eat it with tortilla chips as a dip.  Either way, it's excellent.

Besides tasting great (lime juice, cumin, chili powder, and fresh cilantro help to spice it up, not to mention enchilada sauce and lots of cheese melted over the top!), it's so colorful and pretty!  There are multiple colors of peppers, bright yellow corn, green cilantro and scallions - it's like a rainbow casserole.  Plus, it makes a huge amount (8 - 10 servings) and freezes well.  What's not to like?  I'd say this is a good dish for quinoa lovers and quinoa not-so-sure-about-its alike!

Recipe:

black bean and quinoa enchilada bake
from Two Peas and their Pod
serves 8 - 10

Ingredients:
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed,diced
1 red pepper, seeds removed, diced
1 orange pepper, seeds removed, diced
1 cup corn frozen kernels
Juice of 1 small lime
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 (15 oz) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups red enchilada sauce
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese
Toppings: Sliced green onions, avocado slices, sour cream, optional

Instructions:

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. 


2) Add quinoa and water to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Cover quinoa and set aside.
3) In a large skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeño. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add in the peppers and corn. Cook for about 3-4 minutes. Add the lime juice, cumin, chili powder, and cilantro. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
4) In a large bowl, add the cooked quinoa and black beans. Add the sautéed vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Pour in the enchilada sauce and stir. Add 1/2 cup shredded cheese.
5) Pour the black bean and quinoa mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with remaining shredded cheese. Cover the pan with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove foil. Bake an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and edges are bubbling. Remove from the oven, and let cool for 10 minutes. Garnish with toppings, if desired. Serve warm.



Saturday, August 16, 2014

Deconstructed Falafel Salad

I love falafel.  I've made my own baked version numerous times over the last few years.  What's not to like?  Savory little patties of chickpeas, parsley, cilantro, garlic, tahini and lemon juice, baked till they're crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, served inside pitas with plenty of tzatziki.... mmmmm!  So I was very interested when one of the blogs I follow posted a recipe for a deconstructed falafel salad.  The ingredients are the same, but there are no patties, no baking or frying (except to make your own pita chips!), and no sandwich.  All the falafel makings get tossed together with a delicious dressing, and voila: a healthy, protein-packed salad, perfect for a June evening in your new house with your at-the-time almost-husband.  Yeah, this was another meal eaten on the deck, table-less :)

In addition to homemade pita chips and chickpeas, this salad adds to the party some tomatoes and cucumbers, which are excellent additions.  The dressing is made from lemon juice, olive oil and tahini, spiced with cumin and coriander.  And do not think you can leave out the fresh herbs: scallions, parsley, cilantro, and mint.  Are you getting hungry just hearing about these ingredients?

The awesome thing is, this is a salad.  It's so quick to make.  You just have to bake your pita chips (which by the way I ate way too many of before I added them to the salad) and then throw everything else together.  My one warning is that this salad doesn't keep very well if you add the pita chips right to the bowl as the recipe suggests.  Maybe next time, I will let people add their own chips and keep them separate; otherwise they get super mushy and not so appetizing in the refrigerator.  It can be made ahead - just leave out the chips!

Recipe:

deconstructed falafel salad
from Pink Parsley

Ingredients:
3 whole wheat pita pockets (each 6 - 8 inches in diameter)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium lemons
3 tablespoons tahini
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups halved or quartered grape tomatoes
1 large english cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
4 scallions
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut each pita into 2 rounds.  Using 2 tablespoons total of the oil, lightly brush the pita rounds with the olive oil.  Cut each round into 8 wedges, and arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Sprinkle very lightly with salt.  Bake the pita triangles for about 8 minutes, or until they are lightly crisped and beginning to brown.  Allow to cool at least 5 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, juice the lemons into a large bowl (you need about 1/3 cup of juice).  Add the tahini, the remaining tablespoon of oil, the cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and cayenne if using.  Whisk well to combine.


3)  To the bowl, add the chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, cilantro, mint, and parsley.  Add the pita chips to the bowl and gently toss to combine everything with the dressing.  Serve immediately.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Simple Vegetable Paella

When you picture a young couple in their first home, less than a week after they move in, how do you imagine them eating dinner?  I always pictured people eating on the floor, drinking some wine as they open a box of pizza or some cartons of Chinese food.  This vision was actually pretty similar to Mark and me our first few weeks in our new house, except obviously with my cooking replacing the pizza and Kung Pao chicken.  And we usually ate sitting on the back deck rather than the dining room floor.  And I couldn't get Mark convinced to open one of his wine collection bottles.

Anyway, every time I hear the word "paella" now, I picture Mark and I devouring this delicious meal sitting outside on the deck floor, eating our first meal with just the two of us in our "starter castle" as Mark's friend Churchie calls it.  It's kind of a cute and homey picture, I think :)

Back to the paella: Mark is such a good sport eating my food without complaint.  I often beg him for meal requests but he never has any.  He says he doesn't know, or asks for things like frozen waffles and Greek yogurt.  Argh.  So when he randomly threw out the term "paella," I was on it.  I found this vegetarian version and decided to try it.  I had made green paella  before but wanted to try something new.  This one calls for brown arborio rice, which I knew Mark would appreciate (he's the weirdo who gets brown rice at Chinese food restaurants).  It also did not call for saffron, which is rather un-Spanish but also a heck of a lot cheaper, which was good for a brand new homeowner.  It has great things like shiitake mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and chard, plus chickpeas for protein.  We both really loved it.  I even packed the leftovers for Mark for our last week of school and he ate it - this from a man who hates leftovers.  Definitely a great paella if you're in the mood :)

Recipe:

simple vegetable paella
from A Couple Cooks
serves 4

Ingredients:
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, chopped
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, tops cut into 1/4 inch strips
1 or 2 bunches chard (enough to make 2 cups chopped)
4 whole artichoke hearts (canned, but not in oil), quartered
1 cup brown arborio rice
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup chickpeas (canned or cooked)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Instructions:

1) In a large cast-iron skillet or frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic and mushrooms,  Saute for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add smoked paprika, turmeric, and rice.  Stir for about 1 minute.

2) Add diced tomatoes and their liquid, chard, chickpeas, kosher salt, and fresh pepper.  Stir to combine, and cook for a few minutes.  Pour in about 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth (enough to fully cover the rice and vegetables, but not enough to overflow the pan!).  Place the artichoke quarters in an artistic manner over the top of the dish.

3) Bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and simmer without stirring until the liquid has evaporated, about 40 minutes or so (it took far less on my gas stove).  You can add a bit more liquid (water or broth) if necessary if you find that the rice is not done.

4) After the liquid is mostly cooked out, remove from the heat and let sit for a few minutes - a little more of the liquid will absorb as it sits.  Make sure not to leave it on the heat too long, or it may burn.  Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mediterranean Eggplant Pasta Cake

Okay, this is my first blog post in nearly a month!  I apologize for the lapse in posting.  To be honest, I was so insanely busy, I was hardly cooking either.  I think I have an excuse - getting married and going on my honeymoon sort of kept me busy :)  It was truly one of the most exciting, wonderful, and exhausting month of my life, but now the Ajemian household is calming down ( a little bit!) and I can finally get around to sharing the Mediterranean eggplant pasta cake, which by the way is one of my favorite dishes of all time.

First, you know how much I adore eggplant.  So imagine this: thinly sliced eggplant (I used my new mandoline), quickly pan-fried until it is slightly crispy and insanely delicious (I may or may not have devoured too many of them before the meal was put together).  This eggplant is laid out in a cake pan, forming a crust almost, and then on top you pour spaghetti mixed with a quick homemade sauce, cheddar and parmesan cheeses, basil and parsley, and an egg to hold it all together.  Bake it, flip it upside down, remove the pan, and voila: you have a cake, made out of eggplant and pasta.  Can you seriously imagine how amazing this was?!

It was a huge hit here, and I happily ate the leftovers all week long until every bite was gone.  It's so flavorful, and the eggplant "crust" makes for a pretty impressive-looking (not to mention ridiculously delicious) dinner.  In fact, typing this up now, I am wondering why I haven't recreated this amazing dish.  Oh yeah, I was wedding planning.  Well, the next time I go grocery shopping (does anyone else miss Market Basket?) I am picking up some eggplant and making this cake again!

Recipe:

Mediterranean eggplant pasta cake
from Fast Fresh Vegetarian, by Bauer Media Limited, 2013 (thanks Allie!)
serves 8
14.1 grams fat, 336 calories, 37.8 carbohydrates, 11.6 grams protein, 4.9 grams fiber

Ingredients:
12 ounces spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
12 1/2 ounces canned crushed tomatoes
vegetable oil, for shallow-frying
2 medium eggplants, cut lengthways into 1/2 inch slices
1 egg
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
1/2 cup coarsely grated cheddar
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped coarsely

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a deep 8-inch round cake pan.

2) Cook spaghetti in large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender; drain.  Place in a large heatproof bowl.

3) Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat; cook onion and garlic, stirring, 5 minutes or until onion is softened.  Add paste and tomatoes, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes.  Season to taste.

4) Meanwhile, heat vegetable oil in a large deep frying pan; cook eggplant in batches until golden brown.  Drain on parchment paper.

5) Whisk egg, cheeses and herbs together with a fork in a medium bowl.  Stir warm tomato sauce, then egg mixture, through spaghetti.  Mix well.

6) Line cake pan with eggplant slices, overlapping slightly and allowing slices to hang 4 inches over edge of pan.  Pour pasta mixture into eggplant-lined pan; press mixture firmly into base and corners.  Fold overhanging eggplant over filling.  Cover top of pasta with remaining eggplant slices.  Cover pan tightly with foil.

7) Bake pasta cake 30 minutes or until heated through.  Stand 10 minutes.  Remove foil and invert pasta cake onto a serving plate.  Cut into wedges to serve.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Finiqe, or Albanian Filled Cookies!

These cookies actually have a rather funny story.  Mark's mother let me bother her mom's Albanian cookbook.  It's pretty awesome and old, and the recipes call for exotic things like "2 pounds of lamb, preferably leg," "a 4 or 5 pound fowl," "kadaif," , "flour - the green box," , and spices you've never heard of.  Evelyn caught me flipping through it and taking pictures of tons of recipes to try out, so she just told me to take the book!  I hadn't gotten a chance to give any of them a try because of the house and the wedding and all the life changes someone could stuff into 2 months, but then all of a sudden it was the night before our school's volunteer appreciation breakfast and I had no idea what to bring.  I had only cooked in my new kitchen once, so I decided to make something rather than grab donuts in the morning, and somehow I thought to flip through the Albanian cookbook.  I found basically only one recipe that called for ingredients that I had; they were called finiqe, or Albanian filled cookies in English.  They seemed simple enough (I love when the recipe says "mix all ingredients together" to start off), and I was intrigued that the dough had orange juice in it.  They are stuffed with walnuts and raisins, and then dipped into a hot sugar syrup once they're cooled.  Intriguing, right?  And while I was a bit nervous to try a weird recipe like this from a cookbook I hadn't yet learned to trust, I figured this was a perfect situation to try them out: after all, what were the chances someone at the volunteer appreciation breakfast would have tried finiqe before and would know whether or not mine were terrible?

So of course at the breakfast the next morning, a woman grabbed one off the plate as Mark was standing there telling people about them.  She heard him, walked right over to him, and started speaking in Albanian!  Drat!  He immediately mumbled something about not speaking the language, and so she switched to English and asked if he had ever visited Albania.  No again!  By then, he was desperate to pawn this woman off on me, so he introduced us and I had to accept the fact that my dream of introducing people to my finiqe was dead, since this woman was a legit Albanian who had just come back from working in orphanages there.

Oh well!  The good news?  She said the cookies were great.  And so did lots of other people, to the point where I was handing out the recipe to my coworkers, and they were all gone by the end of the day when I went to pick up my platter.  I was actually kind of surprised they were so popular, because I thought they were super crumbly, but apparently that's acceptable!  So anyway if you are feeling rather exotic this weekend, go ahead and make yourself some finiqe.

By the way, guess what I'm doing in a week from today!?!?!?

Recipe:

finiqe, or Albanian filled cookies
from Albanian Cookbook by the Women's Guild of St. Mary's Albanian Orthodox Church in Worcester, MA, 1977
yields 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cups oil
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts
for syrup:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix all ingredients together except raisins and nuts.

2) Form dough into oval balls and place a few raisins and nuts in center and fold.

3) Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.  While cookies bake, make the syrup by boiling the water and sugar together for 15 minutes.

4) Dip cooled cookies into hot syrup and sprinkle with crushed walnuts.