Pasta Fagioli

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent Sunday in the kitchen getting ready for a crazy week. My school’s location does not offer much in the way of lunch options so I am forced to plan ahead. Between some evening events at work and early morning workouts it is not rare for me to pack a full three meals worth of food into my handy lunch bag. My sister think’s it is completely dorky that I carry this around with me but my lunch bag is crucial and I don’t care what she says I love it. This brand also seems to be a favorite among the teachers, when you look into the faculty room fridge my bag is never lonely.

My office is quite chilly so my favorite make ahead lunch is without a question soup. Its a great way to warm up midday and it holds really well in transit. I make big batches of soup every couple of weekends throughout the winter and freeze them into smaller portions for lunch. I try and make a few different soups at a time so I don’t have to eat the same thing all week long and keep a nice rotation going. Today I worked some Pasta Fagioli into the mix. Yum! I will be staying nice and warm today with my soup hope you are enjoying your lunch too.

Pasta Fagioli Soup:

Adapted from Rachel Ray

2 tbspn olive oil

1 tsp dried rosemary

1 tsp dried thyme

2 dried bayleaves

1 medium onion chopped

1 medium carrot chopped

2 small ribs of celery, chopped

4 cloves of garlic

salt and pepper to taste

1 (16 oz) can cannelini beans

1 (16 oz) can red kidney beans

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

2 cups water

1 quart chicken stock

1 1/2 cups pasta (ditalini or whatever you have in the cabinet today it was bowties)

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened then add the carrots, celery, herbs and garlic and continue to cook for another five minutes or so. Add salt, pepper, the beans, tomato sauce, water and stock. Allow the soup to come to simmer for 15 minutes or so. Bring the soup to a boil and then add the pasta, cook until al dente – timing dependent on the pasta. This soup in my opinion is better the next day after the flavors have a had a chance to mix and it freezes great!

Sunday Baking: Banana Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

A while back I talked about what happens when I fail to cook in advance of a busy week. Today I got ahead of the game and spent my Sunday in the kitchen cooking up a storm – more on this later in the week! While I was making room in my freezer for the newly cooked goods I came across some frozen bananas. Baking bananas in every form is one of my absolute favorite activities. The first recipe I ever created was my BaNina Bread and anyone who has known me for longer than a week has probably been treated to this delight. I could make it with my eyes closed and with one hand tied behind my back – and it still would come out great. I promise I will post this recipe in the near future but today I was in the mood for something different.

Given the joy that over ripe bananas bring to me and my electric mixer I have trained my friends and family well. They all know when bananas start to go bad you don’t toss them you put them in the freezer. I then find them on days like today and spend time baking them up into goodies. While banana bread is awesome (and apparently I missed Banana Bread Day this week) I wanted something a little more on the go, and a little less sweet for this week. I often go to the gym early in the morning before work and then bring my breakfast and coffee to enjoy at my desk post workout. These little treats make those moments all the more fun – and I of course share with co-workers.

Delicious! Do you taste your batter before baking? I always do.

Mini Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Makes 3-4 dozen mini muffins

1/2 cup of butter

1 cup of sugar

1 egg

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

3 ripe bananas

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a mini muffin pan by greasing the pan or placing in tin liners.

With an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy beat in the egg until fully combined.

In a separate bowl place the bananas and the vanilla they should be ripe enough that you can mash them with a fork. Add this mixture to the mixer and stir together until combined.

In a third bowl mix together the dry ingredients and stir into the batter. Add the chocolate chips and stir until combined. Drop about a tablespoon full into each muffin cup (each cup should be about two thirds full).

Bake 10-15 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Turn the rack halfway through cooking since they are mini muffins they will cook at different speeds in the front and back of the oven. These could easily be made into full sized muffins just adjust the cooking time (and you may need to adjust the temperature to 350 degrees).

Happy Margarita Day

So I have been informed that today is National Margarita Day..I have also discovered there is an entire website devoted to this holiday featuring a video with a muppet. Does life get any better? This website has officially combined three of my favorite things: margaritas, the muppets and guacamole (because it isn’t a margarita if you don’t have it with some guac). Add some chocolate and you would definitely have an award winning combo.

So of course I decided this special day should be honored, with some recipes. Everyone has a specific way they prefer their margaritas. When it comes to this delicious drink, I am a purist. I prefer the traditional (not flavored) on the rocks with salt. If it isn’t done this way it’s not a margarita in my book. I also don’t like my drinks sweet and they have to be strong! Strangely a shot of tequilla was the first alcohol I ever had – it was and still is a family favorite. While I may not be able to handle shots of tequila the same way I definitely enjoy Margarita Monday or margaritas on any day of the week!

Margarita’s My Way: makes a shaker full – perfect for sharing with friends

Shake together one cup of tequila (the good stuff not the cheap liquor or you are just asking for the hangover),  one cup of lime juice, one quarter cup cointreau (triple sec if you don’t have cointreau).

Use a slice of lime to moisten the rim of your glass before dipping it into salt on a plate.

Guacamole: since you can’t have a margarita without guacamole

I credit this recipe to the Barefoot Contessa one of my favorite go-to’s for basics

4 ripe avocados

1 small red onion (chopped)

1 garlic clove minced

1 plum tomato (seeded and chopped)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

a few dashes of tabasco

Chop the onion and put it into a small bowl with the garlic. Cut the avocados in half and scoop the insides into the bowl. Immediately add the lemon juice, this will help stop the avocados from turning brown. Using a sharp knife slice the avocados in the bowl. Keep running the knife through the avocados until they are the consistency you like. I prefer my guacamole a little chunky. Add the tomatoes, hot sauce, salt and pepper and enjoy!

Happy Margarita day I hereby declare tomorrow National Hangover Day!

Fat Cat Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Meet Twizz - it is no surprise that her favorite activity is sleeping

I have a very fat cat. Twizz has been on a diet now for about a year and has lost 1 pound! This may not sound like an accomplishment but I guess its like the human version of losing 10 pounds. Recently she started howling in the middle of the night. Worried that she was hurt or something was wrong I hauled her to the vet (not an easy task). Turns out there was nothing wrong, she just doesn’t like her diet and is using the time between midnight and 2am to express her disgust with diet foods. While I don’t entirely blame her, I would get pretty bored if I had to eat the same bland low carb mush every day, I am beginning to understand what it must be like to have a child who won’t sleep through the night. The vet armed me with different techniques to try and determined to sleep through the night without having an 18 pound cat stand on my chest and cry, I am ready to try them all!

I bet by now you are wondering what all of this has to do with pumpkin cookies. One of the vet’s suggestions was to feed Twizz one teaspoon of pumpkin before bed at night. Apparently pumpkin is very high in fiber and a teaspoon is supposed to keep her feeling nice and full. Well after a few days of doling out a teaspoon of pumpkin at a time, I began to crave some pumpkin myself. I also began to wonder how long pumpkin lasts in the fridge (when you are only using a teaspoon a day it take a really long time to go through a can). So began my pumpkin baking adventure. Hope you enjoy my pumpkin cookies! I also don’t know if cookies is the right term for these they are very cakey and are a cross between cookies and mini muffins!

At least now I have a treat to eat when I am up feeding the cat in the middle of the night (and don’t be surprised if you see more pumpkin themed posts in the coming weeks.)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

(makes about 3 dozen cookies)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter – room temperature

2 eggs

2 tsps vanilla

1 cup pumpkin

2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinammon

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (or chunks)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Using an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time blending in between. Then add the pumpkin and vanilla.

In a separate bowl mix together dry ingredients. Add to to wet ingredients and mix together by hand until blended. Add the chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto a greased cookie sheet. Cook for 8-10 minutes until set, cool on a wire rack.

"More pumpkin please"

Veggie Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs

I have been on cooking hiatus for the past few days. Usually when I know I am going to have a busy week I try to cook a bunch of things ahead of time and use my freezer. Due to a debacle with some questionable ground turkey (and a little too much Karaoke on Saturday night) I failed to spend Sunday afternoon making the chili that was supposed to hold me over for the week. So fast forward a few days to this afternoon – I knew I would have enough time to stop at the store on the way home and pick up ingredients and then spend a little time getting reacquainted with my stove. Having lived on the dregs of my fridge for the past few days cobbling together meals from leftovers I wanted something a little heartier tonight and something that would make good leftovers tomorrow.

I took to the web and was intrigued by this pasta toasted breadcrumbs sounded delicious! I made some adjustments for veggie preferences and what was available at the grocery store on the way home and subbed out some of the ingredients for whole grains and was very pleased with the results! The best part about this meal is the whole thing took less than half an hour, after a long week that was a major perk (and yes I realize it’s only Wednesday but one more work day for me this week and then a nice long weekend!)

Veggie Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs

Inspired by Big Girls Small Kitchen

Extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

Red pepper flakes

1/2 onion chopped into slivers

1 medium zucchini sliced into discs then quartered

1/3 pound bowtie pasta (I use Barilla Plus its great for those not ready to make the jump to whole wheat but want a little more out of their pasta-its great for those who don’t believe in whole wheat pasta too)

1/2 bag fresh spinach (2-3 handfuls)

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 tsp of thyme

sundried tomatoes

grated parmesan cheese

Start a pot of salted water with olive oil for the pasta. Cook according to directions on the box.

In a frying pan on medium-high heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the breadcrumbs and red pepper flakes. My breadcrumbs were already seasoned but if yours aren’t you might want to add some oregano and salt. Coat the breadcrumbs and stir in the pan for about two minutes until crispy.

Transfer the breadcrumbs to a plate in the same pan heat another tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes then add the zucchini. After onions are translucent and the zucchini has begin to soften a bit add the garlic and cook until browned then add the spinach. Continue cooking until the spinach becomes soft.

Once pasta is cooked, drain and reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the vegetable mixture coat stir together the pasta, vegetables, thyme and lemon juice. Add enough of the reserved water until the pasta is moist to the proper consistency.

Serve garnished with breadcrumbs, chopped sundried tomatoes and paremsan cheese.

On a completely unfood related note – happy birthday to my awesome Dad!

Homemade Granola Bars

Lots of chopping but it was definitely worth it!

I had never been a too into granola bars as a snack, they are often sweet enough for dessert and I prefer to eat the real thing when I want dessert – which is almost always. Granola bars just never seemed to do their job and I ended up eating lots of extra sugar without the same satisfaction. Then I discovered Larabars and realized how great snacks granola bars can make. One of the greatest things about Larabars is they do not have any artificial sweeteners added unfortunately I live on a pretty tight budget and Larabars which can be quite pricy don’t always make the cut.

I have been trying to make my own granola bars for quite some time. They have been too crunchy, too crumbly, and dry. I did my research read up on different things to bind the ingredients together but hadn’t had success – until now. I found a recipe on Eat Simply that looked intriguing. I hadn’t used egg before. I switched up some of the fruits based on what was available at my grocery store and the fact that I LOVE dried blueberries and I used a mixture of nuts to vary the flavors and because using all pecans would be more than my budget can handle. I have been imagining new combos of flavors for granola bars all day, can’t wait to make more!

Homemade Granola Bars – adapted from Eat Simply

1/3 cup flour (can be whole wheat)

1/8 tsp baking soda

1/8 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup dried blueberries

1 cup dried apricots chopped

1 1/2 cups dried figs (I wanted to use dates but all the store had were figs) chopped

1/2 cup almonds chopped

1/2 cup walnuts chopped

1/2 cup pecans chopped

2 eggs

1/2 tspn vanilla

1 tbsp honey

*make sure that your dried fruit does not have added sugar and that the nuts you purchase are not salted.

preheat the over to 325 degrees

Line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper.

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl then add the chopped fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and vanilla for 2 minutes until light and frothy. Add egg mixture and honey to the fruit, nuts and dry ingredients.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes depending on your oven then let fully cool before cutting.

Cut as small as you would like – one of the best parts about making your own granola bars is you get to determine how big they are.

Have you made your own granola bars – what worked and what didn’t?

Granola bars before they were cut into bars!

The Snowy Day

I work in an elementary school and teachers speak a special language “picture book.” Anyone who has spent some time in a school or with little kids knows that The Snowy Day is an excellent picture book about what else but a snowy day. We read this book to the kids before the first big snow storm each year (thanks to Mother Nature we have not yet had the opportunity to share this literary gem). We teachers firmly believe just as Apple suggests for everything “there is an app for that” for any given situation, mood or lesson “there is a picture book for that.” We express our feelings with I Love you This Much, celebrate seasons with The Snowy Day, and refer to all of our bad days as Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days!


I woke up giddy this morning planning on spending my Snowy Day doing laundry, cleaning and my favorite snow day activity baking. Despite my excitement, the white stuff failed to fall from the sky. I decided to bake anyway.

Enjoy my snow day Chocolate Chocolate Chip Butterscotch Cookies:

1 cup butter – room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
Preheat the oven to 350  degrees
Using a mixer cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy then add eggs one at a time mixing until combined then add vanilla.
In a separate bowl sift together dry ingredients – flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Mix into the butter mixture until well blended. Mix in the chocolate chips and butterscotch chips.
Use a tablespoon to drop unto a greased cookie sheet bake for 8 to 10 minutes until set. Cool on a wire rack completely.
I hope that you all enjoy your not so Snowy Day tell me about all The Places You’ll Go today!

Waldorf Chicken Salad with a Twist!

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My senior year of college I discovered I LOVE chicken salad. I am not sure what brought about this sudden adoration, maybe I had never even tried chicken salad before but suddenly I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Then I discovered Waldorf Chicken Salad and I fell in love all over again.

At my first job after college there was a place around the corner from my office with the best Waldorf Chicken Salad ever. I made every excuse to go there: having a bad day guess I need some chicken salad, having a good day well I should treat myself to some chicken salad. I went through this reasoning regularly and my love for this dish was widely known. When I left that job they had an office goodbye party, you better believe there was lots of Waldorf Chicken Salad from my favorite spot. I am not sure which I was more upset about leaving the job that I loved or the regular access to such a great lunch.

Now I work at a job I absolutely love but there is no great chicken salad in the neighborhood so I am forced to make it myself. I have gotten pretty skilled in the art of Waldorf Chicken Salad but today decided to add a new spin – a waste friendly version. I swapped out the mayo for some greek yogurt and was pleasantly surprised. Except for the need to add a little extra salt it was hard to tell the difference. Tonight for dinner I will be indulging in a Chicken Salad Sandwich, tomorrow for lunch I will continue the streak by putting it over some baby spinach for a salad, in my book if it’s Waldorf Chicken Salad you can’t go wrong!

Waldorf Chicken Salad with a Twist:

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken chopped or shredded (I use chicken breast baked in the oven)

2 stalk celery chopped

1 Fuji apple chopped

1/2 cup plain greek yogurt

1/4 cup toasted walnuts

handful of dried cranberries (about 1/4 of a cup)

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

Drizzle the lemon juice over the apples immediately after chopping. Combine all the chopped ingredients and add yogurt until the salad is as moist as you desire – you may not need the full half cup or you may want a little more. Everyone likes their chicken salad a certain way I like lots of cranberries and apple so feel free to adjust the amounts to get the right balance!

Turkey Meatballs with Ginger Scallion Dipping Sauce

I love watching football and everything about it including the food. In case yesterday’s post wasn’t clear today I will be very enthusiastically rooting for the Giants! I will also be sporting a new favorite shirt thanks to my book club secret santa – she found the softest Giants t-shirt known to man! I have had to resist the urge to wear it and sleep in it all week long so that it would be clean for today, it wasn’t easy.

In addition to being a football fan I am lactose intolerant (I realize these things usually have nothing to do with one another). Incase you haven’t noticed most foods that go with football watching tend to be smothered in cheese. While Lactaid pills are an amazing invention and they make sampling all of the cheesy concoctions possible I wanted to bring a tummy friendly food to add to our super bowl menu. One of the many reasons I love asian foods is because they are usually dairy free so, to cheer on the Giants I made turkey meatballs with a ginger scallion dipping sauce.

Three of my favorite ingredients: Ginger, scallions and onions

Turkey Meatballs (will make about 12-15 meatballs depending on size):

1 1/4 pounds ground turkey (extra lean)

1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

1 egg

1 clove garlic minced

1 tablespoon minced ginger

2 scallions chopped

1 teaspoon sesame oil

salt

Ginger Scallion Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tsp minced ginger

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp red pepper flakes

3 scallions chopped

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees

In a large bowl mix together meatball ingredients. Shape together meatballs about 1 inch in diameter. Place meatballs on a lightly greased cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes (or until no longer pink when cut open). Transfer meatballs to a serving dish and serve with toothpicks.

Whisk together ingredients for the dipping sauce.

Enjoy and don’t forget to root for the Giants – Go Big Blue!

Go Big Blue Cookies!

Growing up, black & white cookies were a personal favorite and wonderful treat. I always ate them the same way: a little bit off the vanilla side then the chocolate saving the middle bite with a little bit of each color for last.  It wasn’t until I went to college in Boston that I realized they were a regional favorite. At least the version I was used to.

A friend in my freshman dorm’s family owned a bakery in the North End (Boston’s version of little Italy). I couldn’t get over my fortune upon finding out this information and couldn’t wait to pay a visit and eat some goodies. Now don’t get me wrong, everything I ever ate from Bova’s Bakery was delicious but, you can imagine my disappointment when I ordered what I believed was my old favorite disguised under the name half moon and learned that it was a totally different dessert! Black & white cookies in New England are called Half Moons and they don’t have same hard glazed icing that we  in NYC are accustomed to. Half moons have chocolate and vanilla frosting like you would find on a cake and while still delicious (I am never one to turn down dessert) it is not what I grew up with and came to love. During my four years in Boston while fellow New Yorkers complained about not being able to find quality pizza or bagels I longed for a good black and white cookie. I dealt with this loss by eating cannolies (always from Bova’s and never from Mike’s Pastries).

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I even thought about trying to make this treat. It’s important to note that I hadn’t attempted this recipe again until today. This is due to the amount of work that goes into making them but today is a very special occasion, the Giants are in the super bowl and I needed to make a treat to show my support for Big Blue! By the way, the name is still up for discussion – anything but Black and Blue Cookies, that does not have a good ring to it.

Go Big Blue Cookies:

Cookie Ingredients: 

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups cake flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup + 2 tbsp unsalted butter (slightly firm)

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp lemon oil

3/4 cup milk

Vanilla Glaze:

3 cups confectioners sugar

4 1/2 tbsp hot milk

1 1/2 tbsp light corn syrup

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

a few drops of lemon oil

blue gel food coloring

Dark Chocolate Glaze”

1 oz unsweetened chocolate

1 oz dark chocolate

2 tspn unsalted butter

2/3 cup confectioners sugar

2 tbsp boiling water

2 tspn light corn syrup

1/2 tspn vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and spray standard muffin tins with non-stick spray

For the cookie: sift together the flours, baking powder and salt set aside

In the bowl of a mixer using a paddle attachment cream together the butter and eggs until light and fluffy, and the eggs one at a time mixing after each addition, then mix in the vanilla and lemon oil.

Add in the flour mixture in 4 additions alternating with the milk in 3 additions. Start and end with the dry mixture.

Put 2 tablespoons of the batter into each muffin cup and cook for 10 minutes until the edges are brown a little and center is set.

Cool in pans for 10 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Glaze: in a large bowl stir together confectioners sugar, milk, corn syrup, vanilla, and lemon oil. Stir until smooth and pours well – if it is too thick add a little more milk if too thin add more sugar, then add a food coloring a small amount at a time until you get the shade you desire.

To glaze the cookies line the cookies up on the rack side to side. This process is messy and it’s best to put a cookie sheet or plate underneath to catch the icing as it drips off. Use a long offset spatula to mark the halfway point on the cookies. Put the blue icing in a measuring cup with a spout and pour onto the cookies toward the center line letting it drip towards the outer edge.

Chocolate Glaze: heat the chocolate and butter in a double boiler until melted. Add the confectioners sugar and boiling water in alternating additions, stirring between each. Stir in the corn syrup and vanilla until smooth, can use a whisk if sugar is not smooth. Spread onto cookies using the back of a spoon.

***Caution both glazes harden/clump quickly so make the vanilla and glaze immediately then make the chocolate and frost onto the cookies.***

Enjoy and root for the Giants, these are New York style cookies not the half moons the Pats fans will be eating!