Lettuce Wrap Lunatic

Zesty lime and peanut lettuce wraps

Where have I been? How is it that I have missed the lettuce wrap craze? Heck, even the cattle wrastler Pioneer Woman has a recipe for tofu lettuce wraps. I have not been to P.F. Chang’s so maybe that explains it. And, ‘low-carb’ is not a hyphenated word you hear around our house often. I did witness one of my friends ordering a Jimmy John’s sandwich wrapped in lettuce once. “LETTUCE instead of BREAD?!” I thought. “What the hell?”.

Mea maxima culpe (because mea culpe isn’t enough here).

After I made one batch of the filling for these wraps, I ate half of it before it even hit the table. This required me to fry up another pound of tofu. We ate the wraps for dinner, then I had them for breakfast and the last bit for lunch the next day. To say I love these is an understatement . . . I love these more than cheese or ice cream  . . .

Or pie. Yes, I typed ‘pie’.

Thai-Style Tofu Lettuce Wraps

serves 4 generously

adapted from The Cozy Apron


1 pound extra-firm or firm tofu, cut into slabs, blotted dry with paper towel and crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
2 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon vegetarian oyster sauce (The original recipe calls for fish sauce. I think you could also use soy sauce or hoisin.)
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Pinch black pepper

Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the crumbled tofu, seasoning with a pinch of salt. Resist the urge to stir the tofu. Let it fry for at least 5 minutes. Stir when you see the edges of some of the crumbles brown. I use a metal spatula to scoop up the bits that stick. If you let it get somewhat crispy, there should be minimal sticking. Cook until most of the tofu bits are light to medium brown. The key here is not disturbing it too much.

In a medium-large bowl, add the cooked and cooled tofu; next add the remainder of the ingredients, and toss all together until well combined; set aside while you prepare the dipping sauce.

Sweetly Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

makes about 1/2 cup (More than enough for the wraps. The original recipe is double this. I really don’t like it when there is a lot of sauce leftover because it inevitably sits in the fridge until I throw it away one month later. Yes, I could go out of my way to find something to do with it. Sometimes I do. But, more often it goes to waste.)

1/4 cup natural peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3/4 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sriracha

In a medium bowl (or a food processor), combine all ingredients and gently whisk together to combine; at first the sauce may look “broken”, but it will come together- just continue to whisk until smooth and creamy; set aside until ready to serve with wraps.

To Serve

2 tablespoons dry roasted peanuts, chopped, for garnish
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges for garnish
20 Romaine leaves, bottom half of the leaves’ hard “rib” portions removed

Fill boat-shaped Romaine leaves with the tofu mixture. Top with peanut sauce, chopped peanuts and a squeeze of lime juice. Swoon accordingly.

I served sauteed and steamed broccoli on the side.


Me:  A++ (To infinity, really)

Scott:  B (He is not a big fan of the spines in Romaine, so this may have something to do with his ratings. I could see serving the crumbled tofu in a tortilla or over noodles the avoid the lettuce spine avoidance.)

Luca:  B+ (“This is exotic.” Then he choked on a red pepper flake so I think that may have something to with the rating.)

Alia:  A++ (And, she meant it this time. I did serve hers over rice because I didn’t want to argue about the lettuce.)

Breaking News: Potato Topples Tomato in Soup Cage Match

The new go-to potato soup

“I like this better than tomato soup.” You read that right. Roasted Tomato Bisquehas enjoyed favorite soup status in our house for years now . . . YEARS. But, last night, it was unexpectedly dethroned. The fall came out of nowhere. Luca sat quietly next to me slurping his Kartoffelrahmsuppe (say that three times fast) and the proclamation was handed down . . . “A++” . . . then, “May I have another bowl, please?” Then, “Can I take this for lunch tomorrow?”

I had high hopes for this soup for myself – potato soup with the spicy bite of horseradish. I have found typical potato leek soup to be a bit subtle and uninspired, so when I can across this recipe last week, I worked into the menu as soon as I could.

I did make some tweaks based on availability of ingredients. I had time to stop at one grocery store – Schnucks – and they did not have celery root, so I used celery. I thought of substituting turnips, but the ones they had were unappealingly rubbery. The celery was fine, but I will try celery root if I can locate some next time. I used thyme instead of marjoram and cut some of the fat by decreasing the amount of butter and using half and half instead of heavy cream. It is a very smooth creamy soup. Next time, I will probably add some chunks of potato . . . maybe even some small roasted cauliflower florets . . . for some textural contrast.

And, next time I will be certain to make more of the new house favorite.

Spiced Potato Soup (Kartoffelrahmsuppe)

adapted from Saveur

4 main course servings

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
½ leek, white and light green parts only, cut into 1″ slices
1 rib celery, finely chopped (The original called for celery root. The grocery store I stopped at didn’t have it, so I went with celery.)
1 ¼ lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2″ chunks
2⅔ cups vegetable stock (I mixed 2  2/3 cups water with 1 teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon)
1 ¼ cups half and half (The original recipe called for heavy cream which is unecessary . . . I think you could even use 2% milk.)
1 1/2  tablespoon prepared horseradish (You may also use fresh.)
1 ½ tsp. finely chopped thyme (The original called for marjoram, but I have loads of thyme growing in the backyard.)
2 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. finely chopped chives
Caramelized onions, for garnish

Heat butter in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium heat; add garlic, onion, leek, celery and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, stock, cream, celery root, horseradish, thyme, cloves, and bay leaves, and bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Remove bay leaves and cloves. Remove from heat, and using an immersion blender, regular blender, or food processor, purée soup until smooth and frothy. To serve, ladle soup into 4 bowls, and garnish with chives and caramelized onions.

Serve with chunks of whole wheat baguette and butter.


Me:  A (I love the flavor the horseradish gives the soup.)

Scott:  A (“Definitely an A.”)

Luca:  A++ (There was discussion of infinity, so I think this soup earns Luca’s top rating.)

Alia:  A (She said, “Two As” in fact.)

Around the World in Lentil Soup

Lovely lentils

Lentil soup, let me count the ways. Soup featuring the humble lentil is a vegetarian cliché, I know. But, it is a cliché for a reason. Like tofu, like other legumes, lentils easily take on any flavor profile. So, I make lentil minestrone, Mexican lentil . . . how about curried lentil soup . . . or French?

I added a new one to the repertoire last night – Spicy Moroccan Lentil Soup with Tomatoes and Herbs. I was very indecisive about dinner. It must be the change in season or a low-yield trip to the farmers market (you have to get there before 10 around here or you are stuck with sweet potatoes and scallions) because I find myself at a loss for dinner ideas this week. Last night, I did something crazy . . . crazy for someone who has a tendency to control . . . I picked up A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen and opened it up. That’s the dish I made for dinner. Call it fate or kismet or whatever, but I had almost all the ingredients I needed for the soup.

This recipe as written is easy – measure, chop and dump. I made it a little more complicated to develop more flavor. It is still simple. The prep time is quick, but it does take some time to cook so plan accordingly.

Where to next? I think Thailand is nice this time of year.

Spicy Moroccan Lentil Soup with Tomatoes and Herbs

adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

Four generous main course servings

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion finely chopped

4 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground tumeric

pinch of cayenne, or more to taste

1 1/4 cups French lentils (the original recipe called for brown lentils, which I did not have)

1/4 cup red lentils (these can be omitted – I added them to thicken the soup a bit)

6 cups water

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)

Salt, to taste (I think I added about 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt)

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large soup pot. I use a 6 quart Dutch oven. Add the onions with a pinch of salt and saute until soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Lower heat to medium and add ginger, garlic and scallions. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the spices – paprikas, cumin, tumeric, cayenne (if using) – and stir for a minute more. Add the lentils, water, tomatoes and salt.

Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the lentils are soft and the soup has thickened. Add the parsley and cilantro. Taste and add salt if needed. The flavors should pop . . . make sure it is seasoned or it will be bland.

I served the soup with packaged garlic naan.


Me:  A- (It has good flavor, but I still wanted a little more.)

Scott:  A (“Definitely an A.”)

Luca:  B+

Alia:  A+ (I am not sure how seriously you should take this. She did finish her soup, which says something.)



The Gateway Tofu Recipe

Tasty Tofu Guaranteed

Back when I was in high school, there was lots of talk about marijuana being a “gateway drug.” You smoke a little weed then, before you know it, you are plunged into a scene from “Sid and Nancy.”

If you try this recipe, I doubt you will find yourself curled up in front of a PETA headquarters on a Saturday morning after a protest of an industrial farm complex in Oklahoma. I do think you will see (if you don’t already know) that tofu can be tasty. You may even commit to eating one meatless meal a week as the Meatless Monday campaign suggests.


The amount of evidence that eating less meat is better for you and the planet we inhabit is overwhelming. Michael Pollan has extensively researched and written about our food system and came to the following simple recommendation: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He explains further, “populations that eat like modern-day Americans — lots of highly processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains — suffer high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. But populations that eat more traditional diets don’t. Our great-grandmas knew what they were doing.”

Mark Bittman is another advocate of what has been called the flexitarian “diet” (I put diet in quotes because this is not a weight loss plan, but rather a way of eating).  He, along with Pollan, has written extensively about the effects of  factory farming, a deeply flawed system that gobbles up resources in the name of widely available cheap meat. “Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.”

Even chicken came under fire recently. Nicholas Kristof recently wrote about “new scientific studies suggesting that poultry on factory farms are routinely fed caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and even arsenic.” So along with eating local, ethically raised meat, why not incorporate some meatless options into your cooking repertoire? It isn’t painful, I promise. This particular dish earned A ratings from everyone in my family – the picky 4 year-old, the 8 year-old food critic, and the meat and potatoes vegetarian spouse. Even cattle-raising Pioneer Woman has posted some tofu recipes this year.

Try this  . . . or any other recipe I have shared here. I promise you won’t find yourself in a Vegetarians Anonymous meeting any time soon. You will, however, be taking steps towards creating a healthier family and planet.

Spicy Basil Tofu and Noodles

adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

Serves 4 generously

1/4 cup low sodium tamari or soy sauce

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (You may need a little more.)

1 serrano chile, seeds and ribs removed, then minced

1 pound extra-firm or firm tofu, cut into slabs, blotted dry with paper towel and crumbled

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 small heads broccoli broken in small florets

12 ounces Chinese noodles

1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh Thai or Genovese basil (I prefer the Thai basil for this dish.)

Put a large pot of water on high heat on the cook top to boil the noodles.

Combine soy sauce, water, and brown sugar in a small bowl, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.

Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until shimmers. Add the crumbled tofu, seasoning with a pinch of salt. Resist the urge to stir the tofu. Let it fry for at least 5 minutes. Stir when you see the edges of some of the crumbles brown. Cook until most of the tofu bits are light to medium brown. The key here is not disturbing too much. After the tofu is cooked, toss in the garlic and chile and cook until fragrant – less than a minute. Transfer the tofu mixture to a bowl.

Heat about a teaspoon of vegetable oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Add broccoli florets and a pinch of salt and stir fry until bright green and brown in spots. Put 1/4 water in the frying pan and cover. Steam broccoli to desired tenderness.

When broccoli is done, put a few tablespoons of salt into the boiling water. Put noodles in and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. We found out the hard way that Chinese noodles cook fast. Overcook them and they are a gloppy mess. I start tasting them 2 minutes in. You could also try this with linguine pasta if you can’t get your hands on Chinese noodles. The linguine takes longer to cook – about 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the tofu mixture and cooked noodles into the skillet with the broccoli. Add the soy sauce-brown sugar mixture and carefully stir to combine. Incorporate the basil. Serve immediately.


Me:  A+  (One of my favorite tofu dishes. I love, love the basil.)

Scott:  A (He wasn’t here for dinner, but said “I love it!” after eating leftovers for lunch.)

Luca:  A (Just an A, not an A+)

Alia:  A+, B+ (“The best rating I give.”)

A Little Taste of Freedom in the Form of Polenta, Mushrooms and an Egg

The Runaway Mom Antidote

Do you ever think about what life will be like when (and if) your kids move out of the house? I know this may be a blasphemous thought in perfect mommy land because we aren’t supposed to think of day-to-day life without our little miracles. They ARE little miracles, don’t get me wrong.

But, man, they can be little buzz kills too.

There are two things I won’t miss when Luca and Alia make their way out into the world. One is negotiating every single act during the course of the day – getting up, putting clothes on, brushing teeth, choosing breakfast, eating breakfast, playing, not playing, putting stuff away, putting shoes on, taking shoes off, getting in the car, blowing noses, washing faces, flushing the toilet . . . EVERYTHING. I know many parents see these as mini “teachable moments,” but by 10 a.m. I am all taught out. Teaching tank is empty. Dry as a bone. I shouldn’t be surprised that all I can do after the final negotiation of the day – bedtime – is stare at the wall, then pass out into a deep, dark slumber only to wake up and do it all over again.

The other thing I won’t miss is tailoring meals to their tastes. It can’t be “too spicy.” Luca will surely ferret that out. If I put any kind of crunchy green or fresh tomato in a dish, I know Alia will resist. I don’t leave this stuff out though . . . because I want them to keep trying things. But, when I choose something to make, potential negative reactions are always in the back of my head. Or not. Sometimes, I am completely surprised that one of them doesn’t like something. Take the bowl of goodness pictured above. Cheesy, creamy polenta topped with oven roasted mushrooms and a fried egg. “How could this be wrong?” I thought. Last time I made it, there was a mutiny at our dining room table . . . there was crying and gagging and wrinkled noses. And, I can’t even write about the Dan Dan Noodle drama. It’s still too raw. I almost took my pot of scrumptious noodles and ran away from home.

So to keep myself put I sometimes make anything I want and do what I swore I would never do – make two (somewhat) different meals. Last night, the kids got the yoga special without the yoga and I made myself  Parmesan Polenta with Fried Eggs and Roasted Mushrooms. This recipe was a revelation to me the first time I made it. I discovered roasting mushrooms is the best way to prepare them. Their texture becomes satisfyingly chewy and dense, a great contrast to the soft polenta. This method of making polenta is brilliant. No laborious stirring at the cook top – just mix, bring to a boil and simmer.

And, everybody was content. The eggs and hash browns were gobbled up by the two miracle/buzz kills while I savored my little bowl of heaven and felt happy that they will be around for a while longer.

Parmesan Polenta with Eggs and Roasted Mushrooms
adapted from The Kitchn
Serves 3

For mushrooms:
1 lb mushrooms (I use cremini.)
1/8 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

For polenta:
1/2 cup polenta
1 cup milk
1 cup water
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

To finish:
3 eggs
chopped fresh herb of your choice for garnish (I have used chives and basil. Flat leaf Italian parsley would be good as well.)

Preheat oven to 475.

Cut mushrooms into quarters. Toss mushrooms with oil, pepper flakes, and salt on a baking sheet. Spread in single layer and roast until browned, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk polenta, milk, water, and salt together in saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, covered. After reaching a boil, turn heat to low and let sit with lid cracked for 15 minutes.

While polenta is cooking, heat about 1 teaspoon olive oil a cast  skillet over medium heat and crack the eggs so that they are sunny side up. Season with salt and pepper. Lower heat to medium low and put a lid on the skillet. Cook for about 4-5 minutes until everything is set.  Flip the eggs and cook to desired doneness. I like mine over medium – whites firm and the yolk somewhat runny.

Mix Parmesan into polenta. Spoon polenta into a shallow bowl. Top with 1/3 mushrooms and one egg. Garnish with chopped herb(s) of your choice.


Me:  A+ (This is a perfect bowl of food. One of my favorites.)


Spagittata - frittata with a backbone

Luca asked me what we were having for dinner last night. “A frittata with pasta,” I informed him. “We could call it a spagittata,” he suggested. (I am heartened by the fact that he likes to make up words as much as I do.) Luca then went on to tell me how excited he was because he is not crazy about frittata, but add some pasta and he may be sold on the concept. I could toss some pasta with sliced shoe leather and he would be sold on the concept. The kid loves his pasta.

In its first morph, the spagittata did not live up to expectations. When trying a new recipe, I attempt to stick to the original as much as possible the first time around. Then, I rate it (out of 5 stars) and note possible changes for next time. This time I made three changes out of necessity and prudence . . . I should have listened to my gut and made two more for the sake of flavor. The recipe calls for arugula, which excited me because I love arugula and I happened to be at Kroger when the produce people were marking it down drastically. A good sized container went from $5 to .75. When I got home, I discovered it was too far gone to use. Into the compost bin it went. I had a bit of spinach in the fridge so I used that instead. The original recipe also calls for 2/3 cup of cream – copious amounts of cream the little, old German woman in me decided. So, I cut that down to 1/3 cup. And, there is the ONE cup of Parmesan. I reduced that to 1/2 cup.

The resulting spagittata made Luca imitate this commercial:

which brings me to what I should have done. I should have substituted basil for the mint because as is, the thing tasted like a not-as-strong egg version of a peppermint patty. It needed more salt as well. The thing with frittatas (or is it frittati?) is, it is difficult to check seasoning because it is mostly raw eggs. There have been times when I have under and over seasoned. This time was under. And, it doesn’t matter if you add salt when it is on the plate. It is too late to infuse the eggs with those precious little grains of flavor boost.

I’m not done with this recipe yet. I will try, try again – mostly because I can’t let a good, made-up name go to waste.

adapted from Fine Cooking
serves 6
Kosher salt
3 oz. uncooked dried spaghetti (or 1-1/3 cups cooked)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large or 2 small shallots, trimmed, peeled, and thinly sliced crosswise
2 oz. (about 2 cups lightly packed) fresh spinach, stemmed and chopped
8 large eggs (preferably at room temperature)
1/3 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (use the large holes on a box grater)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint (Next time I will use basil instead – see above.)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons sliced chives

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.

Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water according to package directions. Drain well and let cool. Transfer to a medium bowl.

In an ovenproof 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tbs. of the olive oil and 1/2 Tbs. of the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are softened and lightly golden, about 8?minutes. Add the arugula and toss with tongs until wilted, about 1 minute. With a heatproof spatula, scrape the arugula mixture and any fat left in the pan into the bowl with the pasta. Toss lightly to combine.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, 1/2 tsp. salt (I will increase this to 1 teaspoon next time), and several grinds of pepper. Add the pasta mixture, Parmesan, mint, parsley, and chives. Mix gently but thoroughly.

Heat the remaining 1 Tbs. oil and 1/2 Tbs. butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and is bubbling, add the egg mixture. Use the heatproof spatula to gently distribute the ingredients evenly. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the eggs have set just along the outside edge of the pan, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the frittata is puffed, golden, and set, 22 to 24 minutes.

Let the frittata cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes. Run the spatula gently around the edge and underneath the frittata, and slide it onto a cutting board. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve with pan-fried and steamed broccoli.

While the frittata baked, I broke two bunches of broccoli into bite-size florets and sauteed them in 1/2-1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan. I seasoned the broccoli with about 1/4 teaspoon of salt, a few grind of pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes. When it turned bright green and was brown in spots, I put a few tablespoons of water in the pan and put a lid on it and steamed to desired tenderness. This is my favorite way to prepare broccoli!  


Scott:  B (“It needs something.”)

Me:  B- (See above for explanation)

Luca:  B- (See above for explanation)

Alia:  A? (I am not sure she really thought it was an A. She ate it all, but it was a dessert night so that could explain it.)

Presto Pasta

A quick pasta for Monday night

Our dinners the past three nights wouldn’t go over well with the Paleofolks. Pasta and pasta and more pasta.

My excuse? The pantry is bare. We made our Easter trek to just outside of Hermann, MO where my mother-in-law has a house. Coloring eggs, egg hunts and the sacred Easter lasagna are standard out there. Another standard is coming home on Sunday night to a sparse pantry and funky smelling fridge. We made a stop at Trader Joe’s in St. Louis (Do you know Aldi owns Trader Joe’s? I kid you not!) and picked up a few things, but I have not been on a full-scale, farmers market + four store shopping trip yet.

This pasta doesn’t taste like a “cupboards are bare” type of dinner though . . . creamy, spicy, hardy and quick. Presto Pasta!

Farfalle with “Sausage,” Tomatoes and Cream

adapted from Epicurious

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup chopped onion, about 1 small

2 Trader Joe’s Sausage-less Sausage (The original recipe calls for 1 lb Italian sausage. You can also omit.)

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added puree (I use Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

1/4 cup whipping cream (The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup. I have found that 1/4 is plenty.)

1 pound farfalle (bow-tie pasta)

1/2 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion with a pinch of salt and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add crumbled “sausage” and sauté until lightly browned. Add garlic and crushed red pepper cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute. Dump (not the most eloquent word, but I was getting tired of using ‘add’) in tomatoes and cream. Reduce heat to low and simmer until sausage mixture thickens, 3 minutes or more. I let it simmer for about 1/2 an hour while I worked on the rest of the meal. Season to taste with salt and pepper before adding the pasta. Make sure it is well seasoned because you are adding 1 lb of pasta that is dying for some flavor.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Return pasta to same pot. Add “sausage” – tomato – cream mixture and toss over medium-low heat until sauce coats pasta, adding reserved cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if mixture is dry. Transfer pasta to serving dish. Sprinkle with basil. Serve, passing cheese separately.


Me:    A

Scott: A

Luca:  A

Alia: A

Chewy or cakey?

Do you have bananas that suffer from over-ripeitis? Try this cure.

People have opinions about chocolate chip cookies. Do you like them crumbly and puffed up high? Or thin, chewy puddles on the baking sheet? Personally, I am a chewy lover.

A batch of banana chocolate chip cookies I made to take to a gathering at the park last weekend ended up more on the cakey side. There was a hint of chew, but mostly cake. In my experience, it has been harder to achieve the type of chocolate chip cookies I prefer at home.

Despite the texture issue, these are flavorful cookies that went over well with our friends. I often have one or two bananas perishing in the fruit basket. Because I don’t like waste, I am always on the prowl for banana recipes other than my usual go-to banana bread. These cookies fill the bill. I made the recipe as-is this time. Next time, I will tweak it in an effort to achieve the holy grail of chocolate chip cookies – thin, caramely and chewy.

Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (You could easily use 1 cup whole wheat and 1/2 cup white. No one would notice.)
1 teaspoon coarse salt (I didn’t have coarse salt so I use 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt.)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large mashed ripe banana (1/2 – 3/4 cup)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (Ghiradelli bittersweet chips would be even better.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Whisk together both flours, salt, and baking soda in a bowl.

Put butter and both sugars into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low.  Add egg and vanilla; mix until combined.  Mix in banana.  Add flour mixture; mix until just combined.  Stir in oats and chocolate chips.

Drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper by the rounded teaspoon, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and just set, 8 to 10 minutes.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes.  Transfer cookies to wire racks; let cool completely.  Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 days. They taste even better the next day – more banana flavor.


Me:     A-

Scott: A

Luca:  A+

Alia:   A+


Taco salad makeover

It’s not a town in southeastern Idaho.

Nor is it a suburb of Dubai, India.

It’s a salad! It’s a meal! It’s a malad! Okay. Not the catchiest name, but what else can we call these one bowl wonders? One of our favorite malads is taco salad. Even Alia will eat this one . . . not without a bit of prodding because of the vile, crunchy stuff known as lettuce, but – hey – you can’t have everything.

Before I came across this recipe, my experience with taco salads was limited to those served in restaurants, if you call Taco Bell a restaurant. I grew up on those taco “salads” – a big, greasy flour tortilla filled with ground beef (possibly mixed with pink slime?), cheese and a little, tiny bit of green stuff. This recipe from Cook’s Illustrated ditches the big, greasy shell for crushed tortilla chips. You know. The ones in the bottom of the bag that you throw away? Start saving them. When you have a few cups, make this salad. If you can’t wait, take out a rolling pin and crush the crap out of whole ones. This is also a very greens forward recipe. You may have noticed the whole meat thing. I use a mix of Yves Meatless Ground Round and canned black beans instead. You could easily just use beans or stick with the ground beef, of course.

Malad is not the most appetizing name, but don’t let that keep you from trying this updated taco salad. Better than Taco Bell – guaranteed.

Taco Salad (serves 4 generously)

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 tablespoons lime juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
scant 1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
Table salt and ground black pepper
12 oz. Yves Meatless Ground Round (or a can of black beans, drained)
1 can black beans (low sodium is better), drained
1 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
pinch of cayenne (optional)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 hearts romaine lettuce, shredded
1 tomato, cored, seeded, and chopped
2 cups corn tortilla chips, broken into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
Optional add-ins: diced avocados, shredded pepper Jack or cheddar cheese, or minced red onion.

Combine lime juice, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, and 1/3 cup olive oil  in a lidded jar and shake to mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat remaining teaspoon oil in large skillet over medium heat until warm. Add remaining garlic, cumin, chili powder and cayenne, if using, and heat until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the Yves Meatless Ground Round and black beans and cook, breaking up clumps with wooden spoon, until heated through. Stir in tomato paste and water and simmer until thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and cover to keep warm.

Toss lettuce, tomatoes, and chips (and any other add-ins – I always included shredded, sharp cheddar) with lime juice dressing in large bowl. Add enough dressing to coat, but not soak (I usually don’t use all the dressing). Divide salad among individual plates and top each portion with some bean mixture. Serve topped with sour cream if desired.


Me:  A (It think the tangy lime dressing and tortilla chips make the salad.)

Scott:  A++

Luca:  A++ (This is one of his favorite dishes.)

Alia:  B (She happily ate everything but the Romaine.)