Sunday, January 29, 2012

Vegetarian Chili with Black Beans and Sweet Potatoes

Here's a filling, healthy vegetarian chili. It's easy to adjust the seasonings to add as much as or as little heat as you like. You could also add other vegetables such as carrots, celery, zucchini, or mushrooms. I also made these corn muffins to serve on the side.


  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 large sweet potato, chopped
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, with liquid
In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, and green pepper and saute until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the chili powder and cayenne and stir to coat. Add the sweet potato, black beans, and tomatoes, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Taste for seasoning. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt and corn muffins.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Peppermint Hot Cocoa

I used to think that hot cocoa was made by mixing hot water into those little packets. I had no idea what I was missing! Hot cocoa is very easy to make from scratch. And the bonus is that you don't end up with little clumps of cocoa mix at the bottom of your mug!

If you don't like peppermint, just substitute vanilla extract. For a really decadent treat, substitute half-and-half for part of the milk. Serve with marshmallows or whipped cream, or for a fancy touch, garnish with a candy cane.


  • 1/2 C. water
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 C. cocoa powder
  • 1/2 C. sugar
  • 2 1/2 C. milk
  • 1 tsp. peppermint extract
In a medium saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil over medium-low heat (it won't take long). Immediately add the cocoa powder and sugar and stir continuously until dissolved - this will prevent the lumps at the bottom of your mug. Slowly add the milk and keep over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes, until heated through. Stir in the peppermint extract and serve immediately.

Spicy Thai-style Peanut Dressing

As I've mentioned before, I like to make my own salad dressing. This is a great one to serve with Asian-themed dinners. You could easily make it into a dipping sauce or sauce for noodles by adding a little more peanut butter to get it to the right consistency.


  • 3 Tbsp. natural peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp. chili oil (optional)
Whisk together the peanut butter and honey until combined (sometimes I heat them in the microwave slightly to soften to the right consistency). Add the other ingredients, one at a time, whisking until all are incorporated. 

The dressing can be refrigerated in a sealed container for several days, but before serving, you will need to allow it to come to room temperature, then whisk thoroughly to recombine.

Strawberry-Banana Smoothie

I have been continuing to clean out my freezer. One thing that I love to freeze is fresh fruit. It is a way to prolong the summer harvest, as well as salvage overripe bananas. You could just as easily use fresh fruit in this recipe though. 

I also just used up the last of the local honey I had on hand from the end of farmer's market season. Luckily, I discovered my favorite Virginia apiary, Bees n Blossoms, sells their honey online!

  • 1 banana
  • 1 C. strawberries
  • 1 C. plain yogurt (I use nonfat Greek yogurt)
  • 1 Tbsp. honey, or to taste
  • 1/4 C. ground flax seed or wheat germ (optional)
  • 1 handful of ice
Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Makes 1 large smoothie.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

It's My Blogiversary!

Wow, I can't believe it's been a whole year since I started this blog. Thank you to all of you, my wonderful friends and family, who have encouraged me, been my taste testers, and shared your great ideas and recipes!

Thanks to the wonderful tools from Blogger, here are some interesting stats from my first year.

Most Visited Posts:

Top Blog Visitors By City:
  • Burke, VA
  • Alexandria, VA
  • Centreville, VA
  • Falls Church, VA
  • New York, NY
  • Arlington, VA
  • Fairfax, VA
  • Frederick, MD
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Meridian, ID
  • Chicago, IL

Top Blog Visitors By Country:
  • USA
  • Canada
  • UK
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • France
  • Netherlands
  • India
I'm looking forward to another great year of cooking and baking and sharing it with you!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Crunchy Baked Fish, Mashed Potatoes, and Easy Creamed Spinach

Here's another quick meal for a busy weeknight. It makes use of a few things I found while cleaning out my freezer over the weekend.

Crunchy Baked Fish
  • 3-4 thin fish fillets (tilapia, cod, salmon, or similar) - I thawed some frozen fish
  • 1 Tbsp. mustard (dijon, spicy, yellow, whatever you have)
  • 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. panko bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
Lay the fish on a greased cookie sheet. Mix the mustard and mayo in a small bowl, then brush over the tops of the fillets. Sprinkle with panko to cover each. Season with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 for 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. The bread crumbs should be browned and the fish should be moist and flaky.

Mashed Potatoes

I use 2-3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes and leave the skin on. Once they are tender, I mash with just a little butter, milk, salt, and pepper. I like my mashed potatoes on the chunky side, so I don't mash for very long.

Easy Creamed Spinach

I used a package of frozen spinach. I thawed it in the microwave, then squeezed out the extra water. I heated the spinach and about 4 oz. of plain cream cheese in a small saucepan over low heat. I seasoned it with a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Simple and yummy. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Goals for the New Year

Here are some food and cooking related goals that I have for the upcoming year. Please share yours in the comments below!

1. Expand our support of local sources of food.
We've already signed for our 4th year of the CSA at Great Country Farms. And thanks to my awesome brother-in-law and soon to be sister-in-law, we're trying out some deliveries from South Mountain Creamery (in addition to milk/butter/cheese, they also have eggs and meats, as well as other locally-sourced food). I'd also like to visit a farmer's market every week - the one just down the street is only open from May-October, so I'll have to venture out a little further.

2. Continue to eat less meat, maybe even just once or twice a week. 
I'd like us to eat more fish and rely on locally-sourced meat. I'd really like to eliminate processed meat, like deli meat, hot dogs/sausages, and bacon. Honestly, we don't eat most of those regularly, but the bacon will be tough for me.

3. Try to replace some processed foods with things I can make at home. 
I'd like to make bread-baking a weekly activity, as well as replace some other foods that we regularly buy (especially snacks). This past year, I eliminated boxed desserts (cakes, muffins, brownies) and some snacks (granola bars, granola), but I know there is more I can do. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

4. Continue growing a vegetable garden and experiment with canning.
I would like to grow even more things this year. Last year, I had success with herbs, lettuce, and cucumbers, but the crazy July heat torpedoed everything else. I have always been nervous about canning, but I'd like to try to learn. If you have any tips on either of the above, I'd be grateful!

5. Learn some new cooking techniques.
Thanks to my sisters, I have a gift certificate to take a class at Open Kitchen. There are so many interesting choices, I don't know what to pick!

Here's to a great year of cooking ahead! Let me know what you have planned in the comments!

Easy Weeknight Tortellini with Spinach and Mushrooms

This is one of those meals that is easy to customize with what you have on hand. I always keep a big bag of frozen tortellini in the freeze. Combined with whatever veggies are available, plus some olive oil/butter, and parmesan cheese, and you have a delicious, fast meal. I serve it with some rolls and a green salad.

  • Frozen tortellini (enough to serve 4)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1Tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 package sliced mushrooms
  • 1 package baby spinach
  • 1/2 jar sundried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained and chopped
  • black pepper, to taste
  • parmesan cheese, for serving
Cook the tortellini according to the package directions. Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release most of their moisture. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Add the sundried tomatoes and season with pepper to taste.

Drain the tortellini and return it to the pot it was cooked in.

Add the sauteed vegetables and stir to combine. Serve with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

Other Favorite Holiday Recipes

Since most of our family members live in the DC area, we celebrate holidays as a big group. We try to rotate locations and then everyone pitches in to bring food. Since we didn't end up hosting Thanksgiving or Christmas this year, I was in charge of bringing side dishes. Here are links to some of the things that I made:

Pan-Fried Onion Dip

Recipe from Ina Garten. This is a party favorite. And really easy to make. I don't even use a mixer.

Another great appetizer that my sister made is baked brie. You take a wheel of brie (leave the rind on), smother it with raspberry jam, then cover the whole thing with crescent roll dough (or puff pastry). Serve with crackers or bread.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Sweet Onion, and Apple

Recipe from The Washington Post. Everyone loved these, even those who claimed to not like brussels sprouts. They are such an underrated vegetable. Also pictured is my mother-in-law's sweet potato casserole and my sister's corn pudding. I'll try to get the links to those recipes and add them here.

Kale and Butternut Squash Gratin

Recipe from The Washington Post. This was probably the favorite side dish I made for Thanksgiving this year. It is so delicious - perfect use of fall vegetables from the farmer's market. Also pictured is my mom's stuffing, which is one of those recipes that is not written down - everyone just knows how to make it.

Fennel and Apricot Slaw

Recipe from The Chicago Sun-Times. Fennel is a very polarizing ingredient. I happen to love it, and I thought this slaw was a good contrast to all the heavy food served during a holiday meal. Also pictured is my cranberry sauce (made using the recipe on the bag, except I substitute orange juice for the water) and my sister's dinner rolls, which are so fantastic. I need to get the recipe for those.

Here are some more photos from the holidays.

Holiday Cookie Round-up

I love to make holiday cookies; they are the perfect gift for teachers, neighbors, and the mail carrier. They're also great to bring as a hostess gift to parties or to leave out for Santa.

I have a few tried and true recipes that I make every year, but I also love to peruse The Washington Post's annual cookie issue to find a few new recipes to try. None of these recipes is my creation, and I really didn't modify them enough to print the recipe here. So I'll just post some photos, along with the link to the recipe and a few comments.

Pumpkin Sandwich Cookies

Recipe from The Washington Post. These are one of my most requested cookies. They are actually like a whoopie pie and very rich. I have found that it works best to double the cookie recipe but make only one recipe of the filling or you will have a lot left over.

Monster Cookies

Recipe from Paula Deen. These are a favorite among kids. My oldest says they remind him of granola bars, since they use oatmeal as the base, rather than flour. They do have peanut butter in them. I omit the raisins, though. They're just too much.

Cranberry Orange Zingers

Recipe from the Washington Post. These are one of my favorites. I don't make the optional frosting, but I do sprinkle them with sugar before baking. I don't keep cardamom in my spice cabinet so I substituted allspice.

Cherry Pistachio Oatmeal Cookies

Recipe from the Washington Post. Pistachios can be a time-consuming ingredient to work with, but the flavor is just delicious. This is definitely a grown up cookie, though.

Lime Basil Shortbread with Orange Glaze

Recipe from The Washington Post. I am a sucker for savory ingredients in my desserts. These do not disappoint. I did make a few modifications to the recipe. I used regular basil and substituted orange juice concentrate for the passion fruit, since I couldn't find either at the store.

White Chocolate and Peppermint-Studded Chocolate Mountains

Recipe from The Washington Post. These are another favorite. They have a great bittersweet chocolate and peppermint flavor. And my 5 year old loved helping smash the candy canes!

The 5 year old and I also made sugar cookies for his class, but I forgot to take a photo. In past years, I've also made my chocolate chip cookies, but I decided we had enough already.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Potato Pancakes (Latkes)

I always love a good excuse to cook. And since many of my friends celebrate Hanukkah in December, it's a great reason to make potato latkes. A few years ago, I started making half with plain potatoes and half with sweet potatoes. Served with a large green salad, they make for a delicious (although time consuming) meal. I make two batches of the recipe below, one plain and one sweet. Each batch makes 10-12 latkes.


  • 2 large white potatoes (or 1 white potato and 1 sweet potato), grated
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 C. flour
  • pinch of salt
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • sour cream, for serving
  • applesauce, for serving
Grate the potatoes and onion into colander lined with a clean dish towel. Allow them to drain for a few minutes, then fold the towel around itself and squeeze to remove any extra moisture. Dump the potatoes and onion into a large bowl and mix with the eggs, flour, and salt until just combined.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add just enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom. When the oil is hot, add spoonfuls of the potato mixture and flatten slightly with the back of the spoon. Do not crowd the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until you see the edges browning. 

Use a spatula to flip the pancakes, taking care to make sure the oil doesn't spatter. 

Cook for 1-2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, cover, and continue to cook the rest of the pancakes. You will periodically need to add more oil to the pan. Be sure to wait until it is hot before continuing.

Serve the latkes with sour cream or applesauce (or both).

Quick and Easy Chocolate Cake

I made this quick cake for Christmas Eve dinner. It is a "dump cake" - that is, you dump everything in a bowl, mix it together by hand, pour into the pan, bake, and serve. It's served with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, so it's a really great dessert to make when you don't have a lot of time. The recipe is also vegan, although I quickly negated that by serving it with a scoop of peppermint ice cream...


  • 1 1/4 C. AP flour
  • 1/3 C. cocoa powder
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 C. vegetable oil
  • 1 C. water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. white vinegar
  • powdered sugar, for serving
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until smooth. Pour into a greased 8x8 baking pan. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes. Cool completely before slicing. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.

Baked Eggnog French Toast

This is a great breakfast to make the night before. The eggnog gives it a rich flavor that is perfect for a special occasion.


  • 1 loaf of challah, brioche, or other fresh bread, sliced thickly into about 8 slices
  • 1 1/2 C. eggnog
  • 1 C. milk
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 C. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
Grease a 9x13 baking pan. Arrange the bread slices in the pan. In a large bowl, mix the remaining ingredients together until combined. Pour over the bread slices. Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, uncover the pan and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until puffy and golden brown. Serve with maple syrup or fresh fruit.


One of my favorite New Year's Eve traditions is fondue. My sisters and I started it a few years back, and it is so fun to do with a crowd. We don't have a fondue pot, but if you're looking for one, I'd recommend this electric one from Target. I have found that the ones that use sterno fuel just don't work as well. When making fondue for my family, I just serve it in the saucepan that I made it in. This works well if you're serving it right away for a small group.

I make both a cheese and chocolate fondue and that's enough for us. In the past, we've also cooked meat and vegetables in bouillon as a middle course, but that works better if you have more people. The following recipes serve about 4 people. I've had good luck reheating these for leftovers too - the trick is to reheat slowly. If you use the microwave to reheat, you need to go 30-60 seconds at a time and be prepared to eat them right away.

Cheese Fondue

  • 16 oz. (3-4 C.) shredded swiss-style cheese (I use equal amounts of Gruyere and Emmentaler, purchased from the specialty case at the grocery store)
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 C. dry white wine (or substitute chicken broth)
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice (about half a lemon)
  • pinch of dry mustard and nutmeg
  • Suggested dippers: chunks of fresh bread, sliced veggies (carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower), apple slices
Prepare all the dippers first as the fondue comes together quickly. Grate the cheese into a large bowl and toss with the cornstarch. Rub the bottom and sides of a medium saucepan (or fondue pot) with the garlic, then discard. Heat the wine (or broth) and lemon juice over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Turn down the heat to low and slowly add the cheese, stirring constantly to keep it smooth. Add the dry mustard and nutmeg and taste for seasoning. Serve immediately with the dippers. Use regular forks if you don't have fondue forks handy.

Chocolate Fondue

  • 1/2 C. heavy cream (plus more for thinning, if necessary)
  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips
  • Suggested dippers: strawberries, sliced bananas, clementine segments, marshmallows, graham crackers
In a small saucepan (or fondue pot), heat the cream over low heat until just shimmering - do not boil it or you will scorch it. Remove the cream from the heat and slowly stir in the chocolate chips until melted. If the fondue seems too thick, add a little more cream until it reaches the desired consistency. If you want to bump up the flavor a bit, you can add a dash of orange liqueur (Grand Marnier or similar). Serve immediately with the dippers.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! I can't believe it's been 2 months since I've posted. Never fear, I've been cooking and baking as much as usual. The crush of the holidays left me with less time to post, and there were many times I was so distracted that I forgot to photograph what I'd made. I do have a few things that I managed to catch, so I will be posting those soon.

One of my favorite gifts, courtesy of my sisters, was a copy of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, along with a supply of instant yeast and specialty flours and cocoa. I can't wait to try out the recipes, and if you are interested in making your own bread (and learning the basic philosophy of bread baking), I'd highly recommend this book.

Here are some New York-style bagels from the book that my sister and I made recently. While not quite as good as what you can buy in NYC, they are close and certainly better than most of what can be found in the D.C. area. I just need to work on my shaping. :)

More to come!