Category Archives: Dinner Party

Orzo with Summer Squash, Zucchini, and Almonds

My favorite part of having a successful summer garden a few years ago was the prolific summer squash plant. I eat summer squash like there is no tomorrow, every summer. I made this light-ish dinner this weekend to get through the heat (it’s great served cold). I also realized that my new apartment does not have a microwave, so I had to eat cold anyway 🙂

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A deep, seasoned cast-iron worked well for this recipe. Mine is about 12″ across and it fit everything, though I did halve the recipe. Start the orzo water and preheat the oven for the almonds before you start prepping the squash/zucchini. If the orzo is done way before the rest, that’s okay; be sure to cook it al dente so it doesn’t get too soft once you add it to the rest of the food. Toast the almonds then turn off the oven, since you won’t need it again.

Orzo with Summer Squash, Zucchini, and Almonds
Adapted from Orzo with Summer Squash and Toasted Hazelnuts on Epicurious. I’ll try hazelnuts next time. Also note the dice size of the zucchini and summer squash–smaller than you might expect, but it makes for better cooking time.

3/4 cup orzo
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/3-inch dice
~ 1/2 teaspoon salt
~ 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped
~1 tsp dried parsley
~1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
~2 teaspoons lemon juice (lemon zest would definitely be better)

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Cook orzo in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain orzo in a colander. While orzo is cooking, toast almonds (6-8 minutes).

While orzo and almonds are cooking, heat butter and oil in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté onion, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini, yellow squash, salt, and pepper and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in nuts, parsley, basil, and lemon juice.

Add cooked orzo to skillet and stir gently. If mixture seems dry, moisten with some reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*I ate my leftovers with chopped up cold chicken breast and it was great together!

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Roasted Cannellini Beans with Rosemary

Roasted Cannelini Beans with Rosemary

Salty crunchy snacks that are NOT fried are notoriously hard to come by. These were easy to make and reallllly delicious, though they didn’t stay crunchy overnight. With a few minutes in the toaster oven I think they’d be crispy again, but I just ate them stale anyway because they were still that saltily wonderful.

These would probably be better with fresh rosemary, but it’s the dead of winter and I’m relying on dried everything. Definitely grind it up (or even really finely chop) first, since the dried stuff won’t stick to the beans and will poke your mouth when you try to eat these!

Roasted Cannelini Beans with Rosemary
Adapted from Ask Georgie’s Garlic and Rosemary Roasted Cannellini Beans

1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained
2-3 tsp olive oil
1-2 tsp rosemary, ground
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Rinse the beans twice and let them sit in a colander for 5-10 minutes. In a large bowl, toss together the beans and oil. Add the rosemary, salt, and pepper; toss to coat. Spread onto a cookie sheet in a single layer and roast for 25 minutes. Test one; if not crunchy enough, roast for another 5 minutes. Repeat as necessary. Be careful that they don’t burn.

Roasted Cannellini Beans with Rosemary

Secret Ingredient Pesto

Homemade secret-ingredient pesto

I love, love, love margherita pizza. Last week, I indulged myself on the way home from school and bought some basil (and roma tomatoes and whole milk mozzarella in ball form and whole wheat pizza dough) to make my favorite pizza…one day, I’ll remember to take pictures before I gobble it up. Luckily I had some leftover basil–a real treat in January in Boston–so I got to making a batch of pesto that only needed a bit of basil to make it work.

This pesto is not “real” pesto. It uses almonds instead of pine nuts and more spinach than basil. But since pine nuts and basil are such a luxury to come by, I think this is a perfect low-cost and high-deliciousness option! You could also use walnuts instead of almonds–I’ve seen that on other food blogs, though I’ve never tried it myself. If you don’t adore garlic, you might cut it down to 2 cloves.

I took Farm Girl Fare’s recommendation and tried this mixed with some rinsed garbanzo beans and chopped roma tomatoes, and OH MAN–it was divine and suprisingly filling! I’ve been using it this week for chicken sandwiches, too. So flexible and so flavorful.

Secret Ingredient Pesto
Adapted from Farm Girl Fare’s Recipe for Pesto.

1/4 cup toasted almonds
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Olive oil
3/4 cup frozen spinach, thawed
Bunch of basil (I had about 1 cup)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, combine the toasted almonds and the garlic and process until finely chopped. Add about 2 tsp olive oil, the spinach, and the basil, and process. Add olive oil as needed to get the paste-y texture–it will probably end up being about a tablespoon. Taste (with processor OFF, haha!) and add salt and pepper as needed.

Try not to eat it all straight off the spoon!

This was really hard not to eat off the spoon.

Pork Tenderloin with Honey Mustard Balsamic Glaze

This one’s incredibly simple considering how fancy it looks and tastes…and how quickly you can throw it together. Mike made it last week when we made the Roasted Stuffed Baby Portobellos; this afternoon I made it and served it (to myself) with steamed broccoli.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

It helps a lot if you have a cast iron grill pan. Mike advised grilling these on the stovetop for about 3 minutes per side to get some beauteous grill marks (and maybe that sunset look above!), then putting the whole pan with the meat in it in the oven for about 5-15 minutes (depending on your meat). Without a grill pan, I’m not sure how to adapt it–perhaps you’d just start it in the oven and sacrifice the grilled look.

Pork Tenderloin with Honey Mustard Balsamic Glaze
Note that the amounts I listed for the mustard, vinegar, and honey are EXTREMELY approximate, as I didn’t measure at all–I went by sight and then taste.

2.5 pounds pork tenderloin (my pack contained two equal-size tenderloins)
~2 Tbsp Dijon mustard (regular yellow would work, too)
~2 tsp balsamic vinegar
~1 Tbsp honey
~1 tsp dried basil
Salt and pepper

Cut the tenderloins into serving-sized portions. Mine came to 6 3-inch long pieces, plus 2 ends about 4 inches long (but thin). Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, balsamic vinegar, honey, and basil. Taste. Add more of whatever flavor needs to be stronger. It should have a good balance between the acidity (vinegar/mustard) and sweetness (honey). Pour this mixture into a large plastic zippered bag. Add the meat to the bag, seal it, and smush the meat around to evenly coat each piece. Set aside.

Start heating the grill pan over medium-high heat and turn on the oven to about 350 degrees F. Once the pan is very hot (give it at least 5 minutes), gently place each piece of pork in the pan. Try to fit all of them. After 3 minutes, flip. After another 3 minutes, place the entire pan into the oven. After 5 minutes, remove from the oven and let sit for 2 minutes. Check one piece to see if done; the inside should be just barely pinkish. If still raw, put back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Check again and replace in the stove if necessary. Remember to let them sit out of the oven for at least 2 minutes when checking.

Enjoy!

Pork Tenderloin with Broccoli

Roasted Stuffed Baby Portobello Mushrooms

I was hoping to post about my foray into ciabatta bread-making tonight. Unfortunately, my adventure turned into a dead end when the yeast just refused to cooperate after kneading the dough. I think I know what went wrong and hopefully soon I’ll be able to add to the chorus of praises for King Arthur Flour’s recipe for ciabatta.

It’s no great loss, though! Last night Mike threw together an impromptu dinner combining crap we had lying around in the fridge (well, not crap, but you know what I mean…) and some things we’d just picked up at the mecca of local grocery stores, Market Basket. Usually, Market Basket is nothing short of a madhouse on Sunday afternoons–no parking spots, packed aisles, many children and older people, and my favorite feature, sawdust on the floor. I think the snowstorm that lasted from Friday night until yesterday held some regulars back, though, because I wasn’t as exhausted after our trip as I normally am.

Working on the pork he’d picked out, Mike assigned me the stuffed portobello mushroom project.

Roasted Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

(Side note: Writing “portobello” feels funny to me. I’ve always preferred “portabello.” And then there’s “portobella.” Apparently, they are all correct, but portobello is by far more common in a Google search, so…I’ll trust the wisdom of the crowds and go with that one. Sheesh.)

He grabbed a handful of baby spinach that was hanging out in the fridge, a few cloves of peeled garlic we buy in bulk, and sliced a piece of the Tuscan loaf we’d just bought. A piece of pecorino cheese from a few weeks ago was starting to get moldy, so we sliced off the edges and chopped it up. Mike also pulled out the block of cheddar we’d just thawed (apparently it can be frozen!).

I did the extra-tough task of throwing it all in the food processor and adding enough olive oil to get it to blend smoothly. I performed my salt-and-pepper-adding magic and DELICIOUS. Try not to eat it all before stuffing the mushrooms.

We bought baby portobello caps, so they only needed to be relieved of the woody interior (what’s left of the stem). When I used a spoon, I tore open a cap. Try using your finger instead…I had much better results. Practice makes perfect, I found, as I was much better at it by the last mushroom.

These took about 30 minutes overall, with about 15 minutes of that being oven time. They would be difficult to make in concert with another complicated dish, but I think if I had been cooking alone I would have managed to flip the meat when necessary so that everything finished at the same time. Luckily, with two cooks in the kitchen, it was a breeze.

Roasted Stuffed Baby Portobello Mushrooms
1 1-inch thick slice of crusty white bread, like a rustic loaf, sourdough, or baguette (use 2 slices for baguette)
Handful of fresh baby spinach (1/8-1/4 cup of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry, might work)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 oz. Pecorino, or any hard, waxy cheese (like Parmesan or Fontina), cut into pieces
2 oz. cheddar, cut into pieces
2-4 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
6 baby portobello mushroom caps

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Tear the bread into smaller pieces and add to food processor. Pulse until broken up into coarse crumbs. Add spinach, garlic, cheeses, and about 2 Tbsp of olive oil in food processor and pulse to combine with bread. Add more olive oil if necessary for easier chopping. Add salt and pepper, pulse, taste, and repeat until it tastes excellent.

Remove woody center of each mushroom cap and discard. Gently but firmly spoon filling into each cap so that the mushroom is full but not overflowing. Once each is filled, distribute the rest of the stuffing so that there are small mounds (giving it that “stuffed” look). This way you won’t run out before actually filling each.

Place mushrooms, stuffing side up, on a baking sheet. Roast for 12-15 minutes, checking after 10 minutes for doneness. When ready, they will feel “spongy” if gently squeezed–similar to the texture of a hard-boiled egg (a bit softer).

Sweet Amandine’s Almond Tart (in Tartlet Form)

This year, I made Christmas lists for my parents for the first time since elementary school. Instead of listing “a hamster” 30 times on one sheet of paper like I did in second grade, I picked some food-blogger-worthy items–a few square bowls, a big geometric serving platter, and 6 cute ramekins recommended by Deb of Smitten Kitchen. I found Sweet Amandine’s recipe for Almond Tartlets via her beautiful photos on Tastespotting and I figured this would be the perfect chance to get those ramekins in use!

Sweet Amandine's Almond Tartlets

Her original recipe is meant for a single 9-inch tart. I found an amazing resource on allrecipes: Cake Pan Conversions for most sizes and shapes of bakeware! After learning that a 9-inch cake recipe usually yields 6 cups of batter, I initially planned on halving the recipe and filling 6 ramekins about half-way. It worked out that I only filled 4 ramekins, though–so this was a nice mid-week impulse bake.

The almond flavor is intense. I might pull back a little next time and maybe add a little kirsch, just to balance out the sweetness a little better, but otherwise these were perfect. They’re better warm, I think, but not hot. In total the prep and baking took about an hour, so this is definitely doable for dinner parties!

Jess (of Sweet Amandine) oh-so-helpfully annotated her recipe with guidelines for when to do what. Instead of copying-and-pasting here, I think it best to link to her recipe, since I did this almost exactly as described (though I did halve the ingredients). So here it is, Sweet Amandine’s annotated recipe for Almond Tarts.

I baked mine at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, but I started checking after 20 minutes so that they didn’t burn.

Enjoy! I will hopefully have some non-baking exploits on here soon, and I’m hoping to get back into the thrice-weekly posting schedule I had going before last semester. We’ll see. Keep your fingers crossed, dear reader(s)!

Easy-as-Pie Cranberry Cake

You know what bugs me the most at the grocery store? Buying things because they’re on sale (bad habit, I know), then ringing in up front and having it come up as the original non-sale price. At any other store, I’d say something–but when it’s 60 cents, I just feel silly! It happened last week with some impulse-buy cranberries I’d grabbed.

In the end it worked out well, though, since those cranberries found a delicious home in a simple, easy, and beautiful cranberry cake. Be forewarned that this is a time-consuming cake: it needs about 12 minutes of solid attention while mixing and then 60-75 minutes in the oven. But if you have company, you’ve eaten everything, and you’re on the 5th or 6th bottle of wine–as I found my group of friends on Friday night–this cake is perfect! Minimal ingredients and fancy-schmancy lookin’.

CHOMP
(I took a bite while taking pictures, yum!)

Oh–the kirsch and almond extract are optional, but I highly recommend them both. Kirsch is good to have around for fruity ice cream anyway (thanks, David Lebovitz!) and almond extract…well, it rules.

Easy-as-Pie Cranberry Cake with Candied Walnut Topping
Adapted from TheKitchn’s Recipe for Cranberry Cake.

Cake Ingredients
3 eggs
2 cups granulated white sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon kirsch
2 cups flour (I used a mix of mostly cake flour and some all-purpose)
12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries (I don’t think dried would work well here)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×13″ pan or a 10-inch springform (which is what I used). Beat together eggs and sugar for 5-7 minutes. They will be pale yellow and will form ribbons when you lift the beaters. Add butter, vanilla, almond extract and kirsch, and beat for another 2 minutes until well-mixed. Stir in flour by hand. Batter will be very thick. Fold in cranberries until well-distributed.

Pour batter into pan; spread so it is even. Bake now or make topping below before placing in oven. Check at 45 minutes and every 5-10 minutes thereafter until a tester comes out mostly clean.

Topping Ingredients

1 cup walnuts (or pecans), toasted
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the brown sugar. Add walnuts and stir continuously for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture looks somewhat smooth. It’s okay if the butter and brown sugar don’t look totally combined. *Before* putting the cake in the oven, pour topping over cake batter as evenly as possible.