Thursday, May 27

Easy Pasta Sauce

I am dog sitting (which is more like a vacation, since the dogs are great and the family has a nice backyard and a great kitchen) for the weekend. Since I am on my own for meals (though my meal time seems to coincide just perfectly with the pup's meal time!), I thought it might be nice to experiment with some new recipes with ingredients in their kitchen (they told me I could do this, don't you worry!).

For dinner this evening, I had a great homemade cheesy-mustard sauce over shells, topped with fried zucchini. They order their produce from Growing Power, which for those of you who are not aware of Growing Power, it is an urban farm in Milwaukee, WI. Growing Power focuses on providing foods to the local community and grows a majority of its food crops within the city limits, in greenhouses. The farm is founded by former NBA player Will Allen, who is receiving much attention lately, for his urban farming initiatives and for recently being awarded the MacArthur Genius Award in 2008. Myself and several others at Marquette participate in the Market Basket program through Growing Power, in which students, faculty, staff and community members are able to order produce through Growing Power at a reasonable price and it is delivered weekly to a local pick-up point. This program is really great because it provides fresh, affordable and local produce to people who otherwise might not have access to it. All-in-all, I was excited to incorporate a locally grown veggie into my dinner dish tonight.

Here is my homemade recipe for cheesy-mustard sauce. Its quick and easy so anyone can do it, and most of the ingredients are probably waiting for you in your pantry or fridge!
Cheesy-Mustard Pasta Sauce
1/2 cup of milk (I used 2% so it would be extra creamy and delicious!)
1 Tablespoon of mustard
1 Teaspoon of olive oil
1 Tablespoon of water combined with 1 Tablespoon of flour (I used rice flour, because that is what I had available. Otherwise, I would suggest white flour)
1/4 cup of shredded cheese (I used parmesan, but feel free to experiment!)

1. In a small sauce pan, combine milk, mustard and olive oil and whisk together. Over medium heat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

2. Slowly pour in water and flour mixture, stirring constantly. Add cheese and stir until thickened. Pour over cooked pasta and top with stir-fried vegetables!

I really liked this combo, with the parmesan cheese, mustard and zucchini. The zucchini complemented the spicy mustard perfectly, and the mellow flavors of the parmesan added just the perfect amount of flavor without dominating the sauce. Let me know if you try another combination that you are particularly fond of! I would love to hear your ideas.

Happy Eating!

Rhubarb Cream Pie (with love)

Throughout my childhood, I dreaded one thing throughout the summer... rhubarb. My grandpa lives on a farm and amongst other food crops, rhubarb grows abundantly on his farm, and our family sees its fair share of it throughout the summer. Though I used to dread the plant, somewhere over the past couple years I have learned to love the herbaceous plant.

Rhubarb is a funny food: you either can't get enough or can't get far enough away. Its tangy-sour flavor, though harsh on its own, makes it a great pair for sugary sweet fruits like strawberries. In my pie recipe, I have explored several alternative combinations of sweet and tangy. Rhubarb season lasts from late spring through much of the summer, which allows much room for experimentation!

Rhubarb Cream Pie (with love)
For the pie crust:
1/2 cup of butter, chilled
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons of white sugar
About 1/4 cup of cold water

1. Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl and mix. Then, cut the butter into small pieces and add to mixture. Using either a pie cutter, the back of a fork or your clean hands (this is my favorite method!) blend the mixture into pea-sized pieces. 

2. Add cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough can form together. Knead the dough gently, until it forms a uniform ball. Let set while making the filling. When finished with the filling, roll out the dough to make a uniformly thick crust. Gently lay the crust into a 9" pie pan.

For the filling:
1 cup of white sugar
1 cup of sour cream
3 eggs
2 Tablespoons of flour
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg 
1/4 teaspoon of salt
About 15 stalks of rhubarb, chopped
A handful of brown sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

2. Beat the sugar, sour cream, eggs and flour together. Stir in the vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Fold in the chopped rhubarb. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust, and bake for one hour. In the final 15 minutes, sprinkle brown sugar over the top of the pie, for a sweet and crispy topping! 

Alternative One:
Replace sour cream with 1 cup of vanilla yogurt. Reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup and remove vanilla extract. Add 1/4 cup of raisins. 

Alternative Two:
Replace sour cream with 1/2 cup of strawberry yogurt. Reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup. 

All of these pies are GREAT with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Perhaps with these recipes, you too can love rhubarb (if you don't already!). 

Happy eating! 

Sunday, May 16

Violets turning (into) Violet Jam!

Urban foraging is honestly, one of the most rewarding little hobbies. This past Saturday, Beth and I went on an urban foraging hike with Matt Flower from the Milwaukee Urban Ecology center (If you are from Milwaukee and haven't been to the UEC, drop what you are doing and head over there this instant! It is a wonderful, wonderful place). Our hike, though ultimately in search of violets, led us through Riverside Park, where we discovered many urban edibles. These include burdock, dandelion, catnip and wild grapes.

Matt made a point to emphasize the importance of accurate identification, when foraging in the wild. One bad identification could be very hazardous. Luckily for us, violets are very easy to identify. In this case, we were gathering purple violets.
After our wonderful hike, we returned to the UEC, and prepared violet jam. This recipe was provided by Matt, and is a simple yet delightful way to use these beautiful little flowers. It only takes about 10 minutes to prepare the whole recipe and it yields quite a bit of pretty purple jam.
Violet Jam
1 cup of violet flowers, packed
1 1/2 cups of water, divided into 3/4 cups and 3/4 cups
2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 1/2 cups of sugar
1 package of pectin

1. In a blender, blend violet blossoms and 3/4 cups of water. After blended, add the lemon juice (note: the lemon juice changes the color of the violets, so pay attention for some color-changing fun!) Slowly add in the sugar and blend until it is a consistent paste.

2. In a small sauce pan combine the remaining 3/4 cup of water and the package of pectin. Bring to a boil and boil rapidly for 1 minute (this is time sensitive, so watch the clock). After one minute, remove from heat and pour into blender, and blend for 1 minute. The jam will begin to set at this point, so be sure to blend for only a minute or your jam will be lumpy.

3. Pour into jelly jars and store in the refrigerator for 3 weeks or in the freezer for 3 months.
Happy eating.

Friday, May 14

Summer is here (with waffles!)

It has been summer vacation for me, for two days now, and for the very first time I know it is really here! Jill is leaving tomorrow morning for home and then Colorado where she will be a camp councilor! I'm sure she will have a lovely time, but she will surely be missed. One of the unique features of the garden unit, is that we have a pseudo-porch, outside of one of our windows. It is the perfect place for early morning breakfast with friends, on sunny days like today. So this morning, I was so fortunate enough to have a lovely breakfast with my dear friends Bridget, Lauren, Alex and of course, Jill. The sun is shining and the air is warm and it was a perfect morning.

For breakfast, we prepared a waffle recipe from my More-with-Less cookbook. The recipe was for "high-protein waffles", which we spruced up with some chocolate chips and some blueberries. The results? A truly wonderful breakfast!
Here is our revised recipe:
Summer Waffles (best when eaten with friends)
1 1/2 cups of cottage cheese (yes! cottage cheese! just trust me on this one)
6 eggs
1 cup of whole wheat flour
2 pinches of salt
1/3 cup of oil
1/3 cup of milk
1 splash of vanilla
Blueberries and chocolate chips to taste

1. Mix all of the ingredients together, and blend for one minute until smooth. Bake on a waffle iron and you are ready as can be!

2. Top with Lauren's "maple" syrup (see below). Enjoy with your close friends and a cup of tea. Have a great day!

Lauren's "Maple" Syrup
1 part brown sugar
1 part white sugar
1 part water

1. Heat in the microwave until liquified. Stir and pour over your pancakes or waffles!
Happy eating.

Wednesday, May 12

Boston Creme Pie(cakes)

Its Pat's birthday today! So, a happy birthday shout out to you, Pat.

Unfortunately it is also exam week, but birthdays are always time for celebration, even if you are caught up in other things (like studying...).

Im not very good at baking, but I thought I would try my hand at cupcakes. And lucky for Pat, these little guys turned out great!

Instead of making one cake, we decided to make mini "personal" boston creme pies (aka. cupcakes). I used Martha Stewart's recipe and put a little twist on it. They really did turn out great, and they didn't even take much time at all.

Here is my step by step instructions:

1. Follow Martha's recipe for boston creme pie. In a lined cupcake tray, pour 1/4 cup of batter into each cup and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or until golden brown around the edges, rotating once.
2. Let cool. Prepare any vanilla pudding recipe, that your little heart desires!
3. When the cupcakes are cooled, use a small spoon and scoop out the center of the cupcake (these little cake crumbles are a tasty treat!). Fill with a dollop of pudding.
4. Frosting: Heat 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream in a saucepan, until it is boiling. Then, remove from heat and add about 3/4 cup of chocolate chips and stir until melted. If it is too runny, don't be afraid to add more chips! (p.s. This is the best chocolate frosting recipe I have found so far!)
5. Spread frosting over the little pies, and you are good to go! A lovely little treat, that anyone is bound to love.
Happy eating!

Vegemite Challenge

My great friend, Beth (an avid reader of my blog) decided that she would present me with a challenge. She gave me one small jar of Vegemite, and asked me to prepare a palatable dish with it.

What the heck is Vegemite, you might ask? Well, let me tell you what I know. Vegemite is a popular Australian delight. It is concentrated yeast extract and has a taste of... fermented brewers yeast. Well, its pretty potent. So why do they eat it? Fermented yeast has one of the highest naturally occurring vitamin B concentrations in foods. 

Since I am not familiar with the taste of Vegemite, I thought that I had better try my luck with an already existing recipes with Vegemite, rather than create my own. Remember, the dish needed to be palatable... In my search to find recipes with Vegemite, I stumbled upon a recipe for Vegemite Frijole Dip, on the Vegemite homepage. 

And let me say, it turned out wonderful! 
Here is my take on the recipe:
Vegemite Frijole Dip
1 teaspoon oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
2 teaspoons Vegemite
1 can of red kidney beans, drained
1 can of chopped tomatoes, undrained

1. In a stir-fry pan, saute the onion, garlic and chilli powder for about 3 minutes or until the onion is tender.

2. Add Vegemite, beans and tomatoes and cook for a further 10-15 minutes or until liquid reduces and the mixture is thick. 

You can serve this with chips or eat it with a spoon, its so tasty, and you will be set with your vitamin B, for quite some time!

I would love to take on more challenges! If you have an ingredient or recipe challenge, just shoot me an email! Also, if you have any comments on recipes you have tried, please let me know. I would love your feedback.

Happy Eating! 

Monday, May 3

Weeds for dinner

Another foraging adventure...

For a last minute dinner treat, Jill and I ventured back to the bike trail, to forage for garlic mustard. Another plant that is considered a nuisance, garlic mustard grows in abundance, once it is introduced into an ecosystem.

Though making this pesto won't completely wipe out the garlic mustard, you can feel a bit good, that in making garlic mustard pesto, you are not only eating free food, but you are eliminating a highly invasive species!

Here is what garlic mustard looks like:
Garlic Mustard Pesto
3 cups of garlic mustard leaves
3 tablespoons of pine nuts
2/3 cup of olive oil
A pinch of salt

1. Wash the garlic mustard VERY well. Because it is a weed, garlic mustard may be sprayed with an herbicide. So don't skip the washing...

2. Puree all the ingredients together, and voila! Instantly classier dinner, on a low budget!
We spread ours on toast, and tossed it with pasta. Garlic mustard is a bit spicy, but the kick adds a little something to your dish. Also, you can freeze pesto, if you want to make a bit of extra. Simply, distribute excess pesto into an ice cube tray, and freeze individually. When you are ready to use it, just pop how ever many you need in a bowl and allow to thaw at room temperature! A great way to store your food :)

Happy foraging!

Carrots and Couscous with a Kick!

About every other week, I get to that point, where I am just about ready for a grocery run. Some tell tale signs of this, include a sparsely filled refrigerator, empty pantry shelves and me, pondering for quite some time, in order to decide what strange concoction I could make for lunch. Often, the results are something too strange to write about (and will probably never be made again...) Luckily for me, today was an exception to the rule. In fact, my lunch was fabulous! A combination of tangy, sweet and spicy, this is on concoction that will hopefully be testament, that there is hope for those of you who also have bare shelves in your kitchen!

Here is my recipe:
Carrots and Couscous (with a kick!)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of chili powder
5 large carrots, sliced into discs that are about 1/2 of an inch thick
1 1/2 cups of water, divided, plus more for the couscous
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1/2 cup of uncooked couscous

1. In a large fry pan, heat the oil and saute the garlic for about 2 minutes. Then, add the chili powder and cook for about 1 more minute.

2. Add the carrots, 3/4 cup of water, salt, and lemon juice. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, add 3/4 cup more water and simmer uncovered for about 5 more minutes or until the carrots are fully tender.

3. Strain the carrots from the liquid and set the carrots aside. With the remaining liquid, add enough water to make 1/2 cup of liquid. Bring to a boil, in a small sauce pan. When its boiling, remove from heat, and add the uncooked couscous. Let set for 5 minutes, fluff and serve with the carrots.

So tasty and you get a healthy meal quickly, and without many ingredients.
Happy cooking!

Saturday, May 1

Foraging in the City

Happy May Day! I haven't been able to post anything lately, because life has been filled with the busyness of school and finals approaching. However, today Jill and I spent the day foraging for dandelions and making jam out of it. Seemingly a silly thing to do, but really, the day was such a delight and has left me feeling revitalized.

Recently, I have discovered the art of foraging, when my friend Beth invited me to go foraging for violets, with our local Urban Ecology Center (we will be doing that in a few weeks, and you can bet your bottom dollar, that there will be a blog post about that too!). Living in a city, it might seem silly to find food in the wild; perhaps you might wonder, What on earth can I eat from the city?! Well, with just the minimal research that I have done so far, I have been amazed with the possibilities!

Today, Jill and I foraged dandelion flowers to make jam. I found the recipe from Ava Chin's urban foraging blog on It is funny, because dandelions are perceived as such a nuisance. Never have I considered the "pesky" flower, as a potential food source. But with a little preparation, the weeds become a delicate and tasty treat. When foraging for plants in the wild, make sure that the plant you are getting is the one you want. With dandelions, it is pretty simple, but be careful not to take plants that are poisonous. Also, make sure that you are not destroying the plants' potential to live. Again, with dandelions, this is not a huge issue, but with other plants, there is potential to destroy the plant. Use your judgement, and be cautious.

Also, with urban foraging, especially with dandelions, try to find a source that is minimally sprayed. For instance, Jill and I harvested our dandelions, along side the bike trail.

This is my first foraging adventure, but I am excited to explore the possibilities of urban foraging, throughout this summer.
Here is the process for making dandelion jam.
Dandelion Jam
4 cups of dandelion blossoms (removed from the greens of the plant, see photos below)
4 cups of water
4 teaspoons of lemon juice
1 package of pectin
2 1/2 cups of sugar

1. Separate the yellow petals from the base of the plant, saving only the yellows and composting the rest. 
2. Bring the water to a boil, and add the dandelion blossoms. Boil them for about 10 minutes, and then strain the blossom tea, and return to a boil. 

3. Add lemon juice, pectin and sugar, and follow the directions according to the particular pectin's instructions (using pectin is an art in itself, and not following the directions, can cause a failed batch! Be sure to follow the directions.) The cooking jelly should boil up in the pan (careful not to let it overflow!) and this is a good sign that your jelly will set. 

4. Boil until the jam is thickened and then pour into sanitized jars and quickly lid them. Allow the jars of jelly to set in room temperature for 24 hours, so they can set. 
Then, enjoy! Oh, goodness. This jelly is so lovely, and tastes a bit like honey. Your friends will be shocked to know that their yard weeds can produce such a delectable treat. 

After chatting with her mom, about our foraging adventure, we were excited to find out that Jill's great-grandma, who used to be a home-ec teacher, used to prepare many things with dandelions. It seems that these weeds have had a history in the kitchen, and hopefully, with our support, can reclaim their territory.

Stay tuned for more foraging in the city!