Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Spicy Eggplant & Potato Stew

Over the weekend I finally got around to recipe #2 of the crock pot challenge, with a brand new crock pot I was eager to test out. A few weeks ago I realized I had a bunch of credit card reward points that had just been sitting there forever, and my old crock pot was looking pretty sad - the handles had fallen off, the lid din't stay on tight and it generally looked like a rickety mess - so I traded in my points for a lovely new model. Can't beat free kitchen appliances. Bye bye college crock pot, hellooo Stay or Go!

I'm psyched to finally have a crock pot that I can lock and take with me to other people's houses without spilling all over the place. I'm still haunted by a Superbowl party I went to a few years ago toting hot pizza dip in the crock pot, which tipped over and spilled tomato sauce all over my car floor. That was fun.

I've been on a bit of an Indian kick lately, and when menu planning a few weeks ago I came across a recipe for Eggplant and Potato Curry in my Slow Cooker Recipes cookbook. I made quite a few changes - their version didn't have enough goin' on for me - and it turned out delicious.

It's filled with potatoes, ginger, onions and garlic, and if you're not an eggplant fan I bet you won't even taste it here. It literally melts into nothing and creates a really flavorful sauce.

It also has a pretty powerful kick, but you can tone down the heat if you prefer less spice. And also, if you don't feel like doing the crock pot thing, this can just as easily simmer the stew on the stove all afternoon if you're at home.

Matt topped his curry with some leftover Indian-spiced chicken he had on hand, but this is definitely hearty enough for a filling vegetarian meal. I felt it needed some brightness after cooking all afternoon, so I topped our bowls with a squeeze of fresh lemon, some chopped cilantro, and a few peanuts for crunch.

Now I promise to be done with the masala spice for a few days. ;-)

Spicy Eggplant & Potato Stew

Serves 3-4

1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into cubes
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. ginger powder
1 long hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. chana masala spice (any masala blend will do; omit if you don't like it spicy)
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups water
2 potatoes, chopped in large pieces
4 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 lemon
Chopped peanuts, for garnish (optional)

In a saucepan, heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil over medium heat. Add eggplant and half the salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. Set aside.

Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to the pan, then add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic, fresh ginger, ginger powder, hot pepper, curry powder, masala spice, remaining salt, and pepper; stir well and cook for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Then stir in tomato paste and 1 cup water; stir until tomato paste is combined. Add mixture to the cooked eggplant.

*Note: At this point, the mixture may be added to the slow cooker right away, or it can be refrigerated overnight and put in the slow cooker the next day. Alternatively, the mixture can be put into a stock pot and simmered on the stove on medium-low heat for 2-3 hours.

Put eggplant & potato mixture into a crock pot, then add remaining 1 cup water. Cook on low for about 6-7 hours, or on high for 4 hours, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft.

When serving, squeeze with fresh lemon and top with cilantro and peanuts.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Indian Flatbreads

The rest of the weekend turned out to be pretty productive around here. After breakfast and the gym yesterday, Matt and I tag teamed on house organization. It's been a long time coming, and it felt so good to finally set aside some time to get this place in order. We picked up a bunch of large Tupperware bins to organize all of Riker's baby clothes to put in storage (it was both fun and a little sad to go through all his clothes from the last year, remembering each little outfit and thinking how hard it is to believe that just a year ago he was wearing such tiny little things), and cleaned out and organized all our closets. Matt also had the great idea of installing some new shelves on the laundry room door, since the small cabinets we have in there are starting to really overflow with jars of jam, snacks and spices. Love having a mini pantry in there!

Dinner came together in a flash thanks to some prep work I'd done in the crock pot earlier that day, using some of the Indian spices I bought at Wegmans on Saturday. Speaking of Indian spices, we put together quite an interesting combo for dinner on Saturday night...Indian "pizza." Don't stop reading - I promise it was delicious!

A few weeks ago I picked up a package of naan at ShopRite, and tossed it in the freezer until I could figure out what I wanted to do with it. I love naan (a crispy yet doughy Indian flatbread), but have only ever had it in Indian restaurants as a vessel to scoop up rice and veggies. At home, though, I wanted to use it as the main part of the meal rather than as a carby side thought. I thought Indian "pizzas" would make a great Saturday night meal, and what a seriously good dinner it was.

In the flatbreads:

- Naan
- Cauliflower
- Chic peas
- Chana masala spice blend
- Tandoori spice blend
- Tikka masala (Indian tomato cooking sauce)
- Fat free feta cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Lemon juice

I started by tossing some fresh cauliflower florets and chic peas with a chana masala spice blend, then roasting them at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. There are tons of different masala blends, and I honestly don't know the difference between them, so I just picked one that had a lot of different flavors in it. It's spicy and a bit citrusy, with the flavors of cumin and coriander and fenugreek. If you like Indian food, masala is the spice that really makes you feel like you're at an Indian restaurant. The house smelled amazing when I was roasting the veggies, and when they came out of the oven I couldn't keep my hands off them - the cauliflower was a bit crispy and the chic peas a bit crunchy, all covered with that glorious spice. Mmm.

To make the flatbreads, I started with a base of jarred tikka masala I also bought at Wegmans. Then I topped them with the cauliflower and chic peas, and finally about an ounce of fat free feta cheese. The feta was a last minute addition, but it totally worked. It added a bright saltiness to the spicy veggies.

Matt also added some chicken to his, which he'd marinated in a masala yogurt sauce he made by mixing fat free Greek yogurt with tandoori spice mix and lemon juice. Then I baked them on my pizza stone for 10 minutes, until the naan became nice and crispy.

To finish them off, I squeezed a fresh lemon over top, and added a few dollops of the tandoori yogurt sauce. The yogurt sauce was spicy, but also had a cooling factor and was really great on top.

I loved these. Such a unique twist on a Saturday night pizza. Now I just need to figure out what to do with all the leftover masala I have in the fridge!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Redneck Aquarium

Since we were away last weekend and didn't get to spend much time with Riker, Matt and I wanted to do something fun with him on our Saturday. He was also getting really antsy around the house, so we all needed to get out. Unfortunately there aren't many options here when the weather is freezing and we didn't want to drive an hour to a museum or aquarium, so we opted for something so totally cliche. We braved Chuck E. Cheese's for the first time.

I knew the day would come, just didn't think it would come this soon. ;-) Our friends Chris & Karla and their two kids joined us there for lunch and activities, and none of us had ever been to a Chuck E. Cheese's before. It was a madhouse in there and we were all a little overwhelmed when we first arrived, but Riker and Evan loved it.

All the rides are only 25 cents (crazy right?) and they rode every one until their hearts were content. Chris and Karla had a new baby nearly two months ago and I still had not met her, so I was excited to catch up with Karla and finally meet their little girl Lizzie. She's so cute!

After about an hour and a half the kids were tired and us parents were all kinda done, so we said our goodbyes and headed out. I don't think we'd go there often, but it's not a bad option for a cold day.

I had plans to make Indian flatbreads for dinner last night but only had curry on hand, and Matt insisted we needed some new Indian spices, so we decided to take a little drive up north for our quarterly trip to Wegmans. It's seriously my favorite grocery store ever. They carry everything, it's way cheaper than Whole Foods, and it's beautiful inside. I wish we had one closer, but it's actually kind of fun to go every few months and stock up on fun foods. Every time we go, we leisurely go up and down every aisle, sample practically everything (yesterday's favorite - brie with cranberry chutney, mmm), and get a snack to have in their Market Cafe.

We didn't end up buying a ton of items this time, but we did come home with a variety of Indian spice blends and some Japanese goodies, including organic buckwheat soba noodles for the Thai peanut soba noodle salad we love.

When we pulled into Wegman's Matt spotted a giant fish store in the plaza next door, and suggested we take Riker there to see all the different fish. He loves 'em. I looked at him sideways and asked if he was kidding, but he was totally serious.

I could just hear Jeff Foxworthy using that as a punchline. "If you take your kids to the fish store and tell them it's an aquarium, youuuu might be a redneck." Yep. Rednecks we are.

I have to admit, though, that he loved the place. It was the biggest fish tank store I'd ever been to and they had tons of brightly colored tropical varieties.

On our way home, Riker requested we stop at Dairy Queen for ice cream.

Ok, actually Matt requested it since I made him get a healthy snack at Wegmans that he didn't like. :) I love DQ and haven't been in forever. We each got a mini Blizzard, which is the perfect size even if you're over the age of 5. Mint Oreo is probably the best flavor in the world. Other than Ben & Jerry's strawberry chocolate cookie, that is.


This morning started with Van's light waffles with peanut butter & bananas, followed by a great treadmill & arms workout at the gym.

I just threw a bunch of stuff in my crock pot for dinner and am off to tackle the long list of Sunday chores. Hope you're having a great weekend!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Purple Buckwheat

The last few mornings have been so beautiful in our little neck of the woods.

I always wake up before the dawn on weekdays, but I don't always get a pretty sunrise to match. The last few mornings, the sky has had such a pretty rosy glow that it catches my eye and stops me in my tracks as I'm getting ready. Something about a gorgeous sunrise just makes the whole day feel right.

We've also been getting lots of snow flurries, which I adore. I have New England blood running through my veins, and the cold days don't bother me a bit. I crave them! I love how pristine our backyard looks and how crisp and clean everything feels when I drive down roads lined with snow covered trees. Every morning feels like a fresh new start.

Yesterday it started snowing in the late afternoon, so I spent the last few hours of work intermittantly gazing out the window at the snowflakes falling down and powering through my to-do list so I could cozy up with my family at home for the evening. Snow-filled Friday evenings call for red wine, movies and fun dinners in my book.

Matt had picked me up a bottle of Yard Dog over the holidays but I was too sick to drink it then. It was pretty tasty last night, though. Especially alongside a plate of homemade pierogies.

Making homemade pasta is one of my favorite things to do on winter Friday nights (a glass of wine, some good conversation, music and dough-kneading - what more could a girl want? ;-) but I'd never done pierogies. Matt suggested I try making my own, so this was my project for last night. They were amazing. I'll definitely share the recipe soon!


Breakfast this morning was a bowl of creamy buckwheat. I've been in the mood for hot cereal all week but never have time to make it, so when Matt asked me what I wanted to eat this morning, I knew the answer right away.

Buckwheat has only 140 calories per serving, but is so much creamier than oatmeal. It tastes similar to grits but without the corn flavor. I sometimes add cinnamon, nutmeg and bananas, but this morning I cooked it plain with water and topped it with a drizzle of the blueberry maple syrup we bought in Vermont last weekend.

All stirred up, it made purple buckwheat. Yum!

A clementine served as my fruit and I had a glass of skim milk for some extra protein.

I'm not sure where the day will take us today, but Riker is having one of those days where he's getting into literally everything, so I think we're going to try to find something to do to get us all out of the house for a few hours. Have a great Saturday!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Spaghetti with Caramelized Onions, Kale & Garlic

I'm on another Sons of Anarchy bender. We're knee deep into season 2 this week and I'm barely containing myself from watching more than two episodes a night. All day at work I daydream about when I can shut down my computer and curl up on the couch to lose myself in the biker gang. I have a thing for counter-cultures. Someone stop the madness!

I always need dinners that take 30 minutes or less during the week, but it's especially crucial when you've got a Netflix instant queue calling your name from the living room.

I've been seeing a few spaghetti & kale recipes on my Pinterest lately, but sadly every time I tried to get the recipe I landed on a dead link. But when I spotted a frozen box of kale at the grocery store (right next to those small frozen boxes of spinach), I figured I'd give my own version a go.

I don't feel bad about serving up a big bowl of pasta for dinner when it's smothered with leafy green veggies. And I definitely don't feel bad when it's 8 degrees outside.

I wouldn't normally buy frozen kale, but I thought this was one place it could work well - no cleaning, no chopping, no taming of the hardy, tough kale leaves you get in the produce aisle. Success! Using frozen kale made the dish so easy and quick to make. Bonus - this meal is low in calories and chock full of vitamins. Plus it's delicious - even Riker ate a few handfuls. ;-)

I'm willing myself to not watch another episode of SOA and go to bed to read the last few chapters of The Glass Castle. Talk about total opposite ends of the spectrum!

Spaghetti with Caramelized Onions, Kale & Garlic

Serves 2 as a main meal (4 as a side dish)

4 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
3 tsp. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
10 oz. package frozen kale
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, microwave frozen kale according to package directions (approx. 9 minutes).

Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onions, 1/4 tsp. of salt and crushed red pepper flakes and cook for about 10 minutes, until onions become soft and slightly caramelized. Add garlic and cook for about 2 minutes more. When kale is finished cooking, drain any excess water and add to the onions and garlic; add remaining salt, pepper, and lemon zest and juice. Stir until well combined.

Add cooked spaghetti and parmesan cheese to the kale mixture. Toss until pasta is well coated and serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Food Tour of Waterbury

The second half of our winter getaway weekend was just as good as the first. After skiing all day Saturday, I was glad to come home to a cozy house full of friends and happy that no one was in the mood to go out. Sweatpants and "family dinner" at the house sounded great to me! I have to admit I didn't really feel like cooking though, so I was content sitting at the kitchen island eating cheese & crackers, sipping on coffee with Bailey's and watching Lindsay work her magic on eggplant and chicken parmesan.

Sticky breadcrumb fingers! ;-) I can't vouch for her chicken (although I hear it's awesome), Lindsay makes a seriously delicious eggplant parm.

The eggplant is crispy and the sauce and cheese are perfectly gooey. Can't think of anything much better on a frigid winter's night.

I had a plate full of spaghetti covered in eggplant and a few pieces of homemade garlic bread.

We spent the rest of the night playing college card games (so fun) and Left, Right, Center (I won 20 bucks!), enjoying grapefruit vodka cocktails and generally laughing our butts off. Great night indeed. :)


On Sunday morning we slept in late and enjoyed homemade cheesy omelet breakfast sandwiches & coffee at home before traipsing around town for a few hours. The best part about staying in the Waterbury/Stowe area of Vermont is definitely the road of foodie finds, all of which are generous with the samples - the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, the glass blowing studio (ok, no samples here), Lake Champlain Chocolates, the Cabot Cheese Annex, and of course, Ben & Jerry's.

I stocked up on a few of my favorite goodies, including maple syrup, Cabot cheddar, and cheddar shake, which tastes like Smartfood powdered cheese but is waaaay better. After tasting all the savory samples, we moved on to the sweet.

I usually do pick out a few chocolates at the chocolate factory, but I resisted the temptation this time since I knew ice cream was on the agenda. I tried a bite of Matt's chocolate covered apricot and toffee, though, and it was rich and decadent.

Up next was Ben & Jerry's!

I've done the tour a million times, but it's always fun to go with new people so I hopped on the train. The tour ended with a sample of a new flavor B&J's is testing out, Molten Lava. It's a strawberry ice cream with chocolate cookie chunks.

All 15 of us agreed this may be one of the best flavors we've ever had, and it was such a treat to taste it before it goes to market. I really hope this one makes it to store shelves...but kind of not, since then I'll have to buy it and become addicted. And let's be serious, that little sample up there didn't satisfy my ice cream-lovin' self, so I ordered a cone of Late Night Snack from the scoop shop. It was ok, but didn't come close to the Molten Lava.

Our food tour of Waterbury finally ended around 3:00, when we headed a little further up north to Burlington to hit the shops and watch the football games at Ri Ra, an Irish pub on Church Street.

Ri Ra had a decent menu of craft beers and a special whiskey room with amazing cocktails like a Salted Caramel Appletini. 

Around dinnertime everyone decided to order some food, and while I was still fairly full from all the mid-day snacking, I figured I should eat a little something. Rather than ordering a full meal, I ordered two sides - the sweet potato puffs and the roasted Brussels sprouts.

I ended up only eating a few bites before giving the rest away, but they were both pretty good.

Unfortunately my beloved Pats lost the game which was a major bummer, but we had fun nonetheless. Great times with a great bunch!

We all said this trip felt like an annual one, so we're already planning next year's voyage. Maybe Lake Tahoe is in our future? :)

Matt and I left early yesterday morning to pick up Riker and make the long drive home. We dropped everything in its tracks when we arrived home last night, collapsing on the couch for a DVR'd episode of Top Chef before crawling into bed, so now I'm staring down a pile of suitcases that are calling out to be unpacked. Not my favorite part of traveling, to be sure. Off to clean this place up!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Recipe ReDux: Pesto Popcorn

It's that time again...the first Recipe ReDux post of 2013! This month's theme is all about food trends of the new year. It's always exciting to see new food trends unfold, so I loved the idea of exploring what's on the horizon in 2013 and creating a dish inspired by one of them. Guess what hot new trend you can expect this year?

Oh yes. Popcorn.

According to SRG's 10 Cutting-Edge Dining Trends of 2013, sour foods will trickle onto menus, Asian flavors will influence American comfort food, veggie main dishes will see the spotlight (I hope this one comes true), and popcorn will be the favorite snack of 2013.

Popcorn isn't exactly a new snack, but when I saw it would be the hottest snack this year, I was sold on creating a gourmet version with some seriously amped up flavor.

When I was a little kid, I had a friend whose mom used to make parmesan basil popcorn on weekends, and that memory came floating back to me last week when making snacks for the playoff games. Pesto-inspired popcorn laden with garlic, fresh basil, olive oil and parmesan cheese...I mean really, what's not to love? While jarred parmesan cheese certainly has its uses, this is one place you really want to use freshly grated - the fresh parmesan cheese has a great salty bite, and it also melts a little when you add it to the hot popcorn.

I won't lie and tell you this is a 100-calorie snack - hello butter and cheese - but with portion control, it's not as bad as you might think (around 250 calories a serving). And it's for a special occasion. Like the Superbowl, or an awards show party, or a Friday night movie after a super long work week. ;-) You might want to have a few other people around when you make it though...Matt and I were the only two people here and we devoured the bowl in seconds. We literally could not stop until every last kernel was gone. It's really that good.

Scroll down below to check out other ReDuxers' adaptations of 2013 foodie trends. There are some goodies in there!

Pesto Popcorn

Serves 6

1/2 cup popcorn kernels
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup packed basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp. salt

Using an air popper, pop the corn kernels and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter together over medium-low heat. Add minced garlic and cook slowly for about 4 minutes, until fragrant (do not brown). Turn heat to low and add basil. Heat for 1 minute more, then remove from heat.

Pour the butter/garlic mixture over the popcorn and toss to coat. Then add parmesan cheese and salt, and toss again to coat. Serve and enjoy!

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