Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cute cukes, checca, and chocolate

Dan and I had the privilege of having a dear friend over for dinner the other night, so I decided to mix the experimental with a family favorite. Our appetizer was inspired by Cherrapeno's Boursin, Tomato, and Cucumber Nibbles. I absolutely love seedless cucumbers, and I fell in love with this idea as soon as I saw it. Instead of Boursin, I mixed a bit of garlic hummus, feta, and fresh cracked pepper (of course) with some reduced fat cream cheese, and topped it off with a fresh slice of tomato and a drizzle of balsamic vinegarette. They were scrumptious.

The main course was Giada's Spaghettini with Checca Sauce -barely modified. This is a dish that my Mom makes all the time, usually a triple to quadruple batch when the whole family is around. We just can't get enough of it, which is saying something considering that we can all be pretty picky. I have made checca with my Mom many times, but the was the first time on my own. For some reason, Mom's tastes better. Maybe it's the homegrown basil she uses or the extra pinch of love she adds when my back is turned. Either way, our's was still quite satisfying, and there is nothing better than openning up the food processor and taking a great big whiff of the fresh tomato sauce. Mmmmmm...

                                      ...I wish I could make this scratch-and-sniff

Spaghettini with Checca Sauce

8 ounces thin spaghetti
4 scallions (white and pale green parts only), coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (12-ounce container) cherry tomatoes, halved 
1 ounce grated Parmesan
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until tender. Stir often to keep it from sticking together.
Meanwhile, combine the next 7 ingredients in a food processor. Pulse just until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped (do not puree). Drain the pasta and do not rinse. Toss the pasta with the tomato mixture and fresh mozzarella in a large bowl. Serve immediately.

I did not reserve any pasta water as Giada recommends. I used a container of grape tomatos this time, and they were very juicy. I actually removed a bit of the liquid that came out of the sauce. I have read reviews of this recipe stating that the fresh garlic flavor is too stong or intense. Never! I will warn you, however, that you should not plan on meeting anyone new within 2 days of eating it. : ) The smell and taste do not go away, but it's well worth it as far as I'm concerned. OK, if you are not into the strong garlic flavor, either use only one clove, or try roasted garlic. 

Finally, dessert! of consciousness. I have been thinking about the cooler weather and hot chocolate, Abuelita hot chocolate to be exact, with it's cinnamon-y goodness, which makes me think of other spiced chocolate like the chili chocolate bar that Dan and I found at a museum in New York several years ago and the way it tickles my taste buds. So...I decided to make a chili, cinnamon pudding.

Spiced Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Cream, adapted from Cooking Light

1/2 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. skim milk
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
generous pinch of cayenne pepper

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan; stir with a whisk. Gradually add milk and evaporated milk, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring contantly with a whisk. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat; add chocolate, stirring until melted and mixtre is smooth. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon, and cayenne and mix well. Pour into a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap, and refridgerate overnight.

Just before serving prepare Whipped Cream. Pour a half pint of heavy cream and 1 tsp. vanilla extract into a chilled mixing bowl. Slowly add 1/2 c. powdered sugar while beating on medium speed with a whisk attachment. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

The flavor turned out awesome! Rave reviews, especially fom my parents who were lucky enough to sample the left-overs. But, I have to confess. My futile attempt to save calories and fat cost me a bit with this one. The pudding did not thicken up a much as I would have liked. Next time I will use the 1% milk that the recipe calls for...or maybe just 1/2%, we'll see.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I saw this the other day after thinking even more about's a great place to start.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Soup Success - Smooth Vegetable Soup

My usual excitement and anticipation for weekend cooking was replaced with aprehension when it came to the soup. I have been wanting to make a vegetable soup for some time now, but was a bit nervous since the majority of my last soup adventure was digested by the garbage disposal rather than our stomachs. I followed a recipe, but it was bad. So this time, I decided to wing it. I did my usual research of perusing what seemed like dozens of recipes, and this is what I came up with...a winner!

Smooth Vegetable Soup

2 tbsp. olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium cooking onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 carrots, chopped
1 medium baking potato chopped
1 plum tomato, chopped
1 (15 oz.) can chick peas, drained and rinsed
2-12 oz. packages frozen green peas
4 c. low-sodium vegetable stock
2 c. water
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
salt to taste (forgot to measure; a few turns of the sea salt grinder)

Heat oil, garlic and onion in your favorite stock pot on medium-high heat until onions just start to soften. Add carrots and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Transfer soup in batches to a blender or food processor and puree until almost smooth. (I like a few tiny bits left in the mix) Garnish with fresh grated parmesan and more pepper. Serve with some crusty bread.

Tip: After simmering, I transfered the soup to another stock pot before blending. This way you can pour your pureed soup back into the original cooking pot to mix and to reheat if necessary.

This recipe makes a decent amount. Plenty to eat and enough to freeze for later. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Well, after thinking about it for months and months, I have finally started this, my cooking blog. Why "Playing House"? I am by no means an expert, and I usually feel like I am just playing in the kitchen. A little of this a little of that, which can be challenging when it comes to sharing recipes because I rarely write things down, but I am trying. Also, if you are not already aware Dan and I are Jack Johnson fans. I especially like his song "Do You Remember," in which, he shares how his wife used to, and still does, describe their life together as "playing house." I plan to be playing for a long, long time. For my first entry it is only fitting that I share our version of rice & beans. It's a staple around the world, as well as in our home (we make it at least once a week).

Black Beans and Rice

1-2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup long grain, white rice
2 (15 oz) cans black beans, well rinsed
1 (15 oz) can tomatoes and green chilies - we like Red Gold, hot

Prepare rice according to package directions. While rice is cooking, add oil and garlic to a skillet on medium heat. When the oil starts to bubble, add the tomatoes and green chilies (DO NOT drain) and black beans. Stir and simmer for about 15 minutes until the sauce begins to thicken. You can smash some of the beans with the back of a spoon to help it along. Serve beans over rice.
There you have it. Cheap and DELICIOUS!
...and a special thanks to my mother-in-law who got me hooked on this. :)
Please note that this site is still under construction and may change quite a bit in the next week.