Saturday, June 18, 2011

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Roasted Garlic Sauce

I mentioned in the baked ziti post that I don't like using whole wheat pasta as a substitution for regular pasta. It has a strong and unique flavor. I think it needs to be in dishes where its flavor can be the star, so I'm trying to come up with recipes that do just that.

I love roasted garlic and I thought that would be a good flavor base. Roasted garlic has a deep flavor and it's much more mellow that its raw counterpart. I wanted to keep this first recipe simple, so I just used an olive oil and herb base.

I like the small/thin whole wheat pastas. Sometimes the bigger ones can be a little toothy, but the thin spaghetti doesn't have that problem. 

Of course I needed some veg, so to continue the roasted theme, I roasted some broccoli. If you haven't tried roasting it before, I highly recommend it!


There are some things I would change about this dish.

1.) Something about it came out a bit gritty. I don't know if it was the brand of pasta I got (I've never tried it before) or the fact that I didn't let my chopped rosemary sit in the oil long enough to get soft. I'm going to try using that pasta again to see if I need to switch brands. In the meantime, if anyone has other whole wheat pasta suggestions, pass them along!

2.) The roasted garlic did not behave as I expected it to. I thought it would dissolve a little in the warm olive oil, but it didn't. It just sat in the oil as a paste. It wasn't too big of a deal: once you start tossing it with the pasta it distributes over the noodles. If I had my druthers, I'd blend it with the herbs and oil in a blender or food processor to make a sauce with a pesto-like consistency. The trouble with that is I have neither of those kitchen appliances. If you do, try it out and tell me how it works.

3.) Scott believed there was too much roasted garlic. I disagreed. So, if you are a roasted garlic lover, by all means use the amount I used. If you're wary, you might want to use 2 heads instead of three. 

The recipe looks like it takes a long time, but really it just has three different steps. None of the steps are complicated.


For roasted garlic:
3 small heads of garlic
Drizzle olive oil

For roasted broccoli:
3 small heads of broccoli, cut into florets
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, sliced

For pasta:
1 box whole wheat pasta, thin spaghetti or angel hair
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter (optional, I like the flavor)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch read pepper
Salt (for sauce and for pasta water)

Roast the garlic first. This can be done well ahead of time.

Heat oven to 400. Cut the top off three whole heads of garlic. Drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the three heads together (cut side up) in foil and place the foil bundle on the oven rack. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour until the garlic is tender and browned. Set aside (if you do this early, let them cool and pop them in the fridge until you're ready).

For roasted broccoli, keep the oven on 400. Cover a baking sheet with foil, toss the florets and shallots with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (make sure they're well seasoned). Scatter them on the baking sheet in one layer. Roast for 10 minutes and then turn them over. Roast for another 8 to 10 minutes until tender and starting to brown. You could do this while you're warming the oil and cooking the pasta.

Fill a stock pot with water and bring it to a boil. While the water is heating, pour the olive oil into a pan. Turn the pan on medium low. Add rosemary and allow it perfume the oil and heat through. Add red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Squeeze the roasted garlic heads over the pan. The garlic will squish (technical term ;-)) out into the oil. NB: The garlic won't dissolve. Keep the temperature low so that the garlic doesn't get too warm.

When the water comes up to a boil, add salt to the water (wheat pasta needs to be seasoned) and drop the pasta. Cook according to the directions on the box.

When the pasta is finished, drain it and put it back in the stock pot. Add the roasted broccoli and pour the olive oil and garlic sauce over it. Toss well, making sure that the roasted garlic evenly coats the pasta.

Serve it up and enjoy!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Farmer's Market Creation: Stewed Heirloom Tomatoes and Okra Over Brown Rice

I'm introducing a new feature here at A Professor's Kitchen called Farmer's Market Creations.

Living in New England meant I could find local fresh produce any old time I wanted -- it's kind of their thing. There are plenty of other places that haven't rabidly embraced the local/organic/sustainable trifecta, Lake Charles being one of them. Never fear! Charlestown is here! Every Saturday from 8 until noon, there's a farmer's market on Ryan Street right across from the old city hall.

Farmer's Market Creations are inspired by my favorite challenge:
1.) Go to your local farmer's market.
2.) See what looks good.
3.) Come up with a dish using what looks good.

So, this dish is made from the things that looked good at the farmer's market and the stuff I already had in my pantry.

Farmer's Market Ingredients:

First up, heirloom tomatoes

So magical
Nothing tastes like a real tomato. The things you find in the grocery store just can't match it. These had unbelievable flavor.

The other thing I couldn't resist was some great-looking fresh okra, which I neglected to take a photo of by itself. It was pre-sliced and had a mild, fresh flavor.

So, what does a good Southern girl make with tomatoes and okra? Yeah, you know what's up.

Notes: Remember that brown rice (a) takes more liquid than regular rice and (b) takes much longer than regular rice. Give yourself 45 minutes for the rice to cook. Luckily, you can simmer the okra and tomatoes while the rice cooks. Once the 45 minutes is up, you'll still see liquid in the pot. Never fear, it's cooked. Brown rice is just wetter than white rice.

Since I had lots of time, I decided to try to caramelize the onions. I'm not very good at this: I either burn them or I don't get them brown enough. This try was no exception; they weren't as caramelized as I would have liked, but they were still good.

You may need to add a little water to the pan once you put in the tomatoes, okra, and beans. It depends on how juicy your tomatoes are. If it looks too dry, add just a little water to start with. Once you put the lid on and start simmering, the veggies will produce their own delicious juices.


For rice:
2 1/4 cups of stock (I used chicken stock)
1 cup brown rice (plain, not quick-cooking)
2 tablespoons of butter

For tomato and okra mixture:
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon of butter
4 heirloom tomatoes, diced
2 cups sliced okra
2 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 15 oz. can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
10 drops Tabasco
1 capful of liquid smoke

Start by cooking the rice. Add butter to a 2-quart sauce pan and let it melt. Add rice and toast until it smells nutty or about 2 minutes. Pour in the stock, give it a stir, and bring everything to a simmer. Put the lid on and simmer for 45 minutes.

While the rice cooks, prep the other ingredients.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan and sweat the onions over medium-low heat for 20 minutes until tender and golden brown. Add garlic, tomatoes, okra, beans, thyme, liquid smoke, and Tabasco. Season the onions with salt and pepper, then season the entire mixture with salt and pepper. Simmer the mixture for another 20 minutes. By that time, your rice should be almost done.

Spoon some rice into a serving bowl and ladle the tomato and okra mixture over the rice. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Slow Cooker Black Bean Tacos

Who doesn't love tacos? Extraterrestrials? Fascists? Gargamel from the Smurfs? Probably, but you don't want to hang out with them, do you? Of course not. You want to eat delicious tacos.

I've been looking to ditch canned beans for awhile, but my one reservation was the pre-soaking step. I like flexibility -- what if I decide I don't feel like a bean dish after I've already soaked the beans? Plus, my track record for remembering to do things before I stumble off to bed isn't exactly stellar.

Enter Smitten Kitchen's recipe for black bean soup. Slow cooker beans with no pre-soaking? Now we're in business!

My favorite way to use black beans is in tacos, so I decided to make my taco filling in the slow cooker instead.

Wedding present we still use

Four hours in the slow cooker and the beans came out PERFECT. Tender, but not mushy and full of more flavor than you could ever get from a can. And no pre-soaking involved! It was cooking magic.

Notes: I like to do a black bean and corn combo for my taco filling. Since corn is in season, I used fresh ears. I like to roast them first, which is an easy task.

Cooorn, corn on the cooooob!

Preheat the oven to 350, throw the ears in there, husks and all. I don't even put them on a baking sheet. 30 minutes later, you have delicious roasted corn. Just let them cool so you can pick them up to cut off the kernels.

This recipe ended up to be accidentally vegan. I hadn't intended it to be; it just so happened that I didn't use any animal fats or byproducts.

It turns out slow cookers vary pretty widely in terms of cooking time. If you've got a small one or an old one, I would try 6 hours instead of four. Ours is relatively new and gets nice and hot, so 4 hours was just fine.

1 lb dried black beans (I used the Camellia brand)
2 small onions, sliced
6 cups hot tap water
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 heaping tablespoon of chilli powder
1 1/2 tablespoons of cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 heaping tablespoon of kosher salt (sounds like a lot, but beans need salt)
15-20 drops of Tabasco
1 capful of liquid smoke
3 large ears of corn, roasted (see notes above)
Pepper to taste


Dump beans into colander. Pick out any broken or shriveled beans and discard. Rinse beans and let them drain.

Put beans in the slow cooker. Assemble all other ingredients except corn and put them in the slow cooker. Stir. Set slow cooker on high for 4 hours (see notes above).

While beans are cooking, roast corn. Allow it to rest and cool. Remove kernels from cob. Add them to the slow cooker during the last hour or 30 minutes of cooking time.

Serve in your favorite taco shells and enjoy!

A Healthier Baked Ziti?

Baked ziti has to be my all time favorite baked pasta dish -- more than lasagna, more than baked spaghetti. There was a restaurant in Greensboro that Scott and I loved (called Lubrano's; it's gone now) that had the best baked ziti I've ever tasted. I've tried in vain to recreate that recipe. I have no idea what magic they put in there, but it was delicious.

Since I can't make their version, I started trying to come up with a healthier version. I love the ooey-gooey cheesy goodness, but that stuff (as Cookie Monster would put it) is a sometime food. I wanted to make a version that you could eat often and not crystallize your arteries in the process.

My first secret weapon?


I know some of you recoil at the thought of cottage cheese. I don't. I love the stuff. Give me a serving of cottage cheese and some dried or fresh fruit and I am a happy camper. But even if you don't love it, I bet you could tolerate it in this dish. It mostly melts into the sauce, so you don't get the normal cottage cheese texture. You do, however, get a nice rounded flavor without the loads and loads of cheese that regular baked ziti has. Scott is not a fan of cottage cheese, but he loved the ziti anyway.

I also don't top my baked ziti with cheese. I love this dish leftover and the topper cheese never reheats well. Plus, fresh mozzarella, while wonderful, is expensive. I didn't miss it -- the dish had such great flavor on its own, I didn't think it needed any.

My second secret weapon?

Whole wheat pasta sometimes has too strong a flavor for me. I don't like using it as a substitute for regular pasta. It needs to be in a dish where its wheat-y flavor can shine. The whole grain pasta is a nice substitute option. It's got a few more health benefits than regular pasta, but its flavor is very mild.

Notes: I always start my marinara sauce out with bacon. It's not healthy, I know, but the bacon gives the sauce a distinctive flavor that can't be replicated. I only use two slices and since I'm using cottage cheese, I figure I can trade in the bacon calories.

You'll see tarragon featured again. I finally used it up, so it will be on to different herbs in the future. But when I make that sauce again, you can be sure I'll add it. The basil and the tarragon really balanced the acidity of the tomatoes.

1 carrot, diced or sliced thin
1 celery stalk, diced or sliced thin
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons of dried oregano
2 15 oz. cans died tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)
3/4 cup - 1 cup water
1 large shallot or 2 small shallots, sliced
1 large garlic cloves or two smaller ones, minced
2 slices of bacon
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup tarragon, chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 box of pasta (penne, ziti, rotini)
1 cup cottage cheese
Kosher salt and pepper

Directions: Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Fill a stock pot with water to boil the pasta.

While your oven is heating, add the olive oil to a large pot or deep skillet and heat it on medium-low. Add the two slices of bacon and cook until crisp. Set aside.

Cook carrot, celery, shallots, and garlic in the bacon fat until tender and slightly caramelized.

Add all dried herbs, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper (to taste). Add canned tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil and then turn to a simmer. Add fresh herbs.

The real awesome sauce

While your sauce simmers, bring your stock pot to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to directions on the box (I cooked mine for a minute less, since it's going in the oven).

Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Stir in cottage cheese. Transfer to a 13 x 9 baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes. Let stand for 5-7 minutes. Serve it up and enjoy!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tarragon Tuna Salad

Tuna salad is a classic that we eat a lot at my house. It's a budget-friendly lunch staple, but let's be honest. Tuna salad isn't exactly the most exciting thing to ever grace a plate. I decided to try to add some pizzazz to it.

Notes: This makes a small batch of tuna salad. It fed the two of us for two days. If you need to feed more people, I think doubling it would be no problem.

Normally tuna salad is heavy on the mayo. My husband is not a mayo guy. Ergo, my goal was to use a smaller amount of mayo and use something else as a binder. For me, the clear choice is mustard. I'll confess: I'm anti-yellow mustard (unless we're talking hot dogs). Too plain, not enough depth of flavor. There are so many different kinds of mustard out there, squirting out some French's just seems like a waste. My favorite mustard is whole grain, but we had some sweet and hot on hand, so I used that.

I had some leftover tarragon from my brown rice risotto and I thought the mild licorice flavor would round out the sharpness of the mustard. 

I planned to make tuna salad wraps, but the Louisiana humidity plus Target's subpar packaging resulted in an entire package of wheat wraps that were fused together. So, I served it over spinach instead -- a tuna salad salad, if you will.

1 large can of tuna or 2 small cans, drained
1 tablespoon of mustard
1 tablespoon of mayo
1 tablespoon sweet relish
3 celery stalks, diced
1/4 cup tarragon, chopped
Zest of one lemon
Pinch of salt and pepper

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a bowl (you can even make it right in your storage container to save time). Mix well. Refrigerate overnight.

Summer makes me naturally nostalgic, so I ate my tuna salad with a classic childhood snack:

Ants on a log, anyone?

 I plan to test out more versions of snazzier tuna salad, so you'll likely be seeing more posts like this in the future.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Brown Rice Risotto with Snap Peas and White Beans

I love risotto. I love it because it's creamy and hearty, I can add anything I want to it, and because I can eat it out of bowl (NB: eating out of a bowl is more conducive to my sports habit, as it allows me to sit on the couch).

I've been wanting to try making risotto with a healthier grain for awhile now and when I saw a recipe for barley risotto on smittenkitchen's blog, I decided to try mine with brown rice.

I know what you're thinking: "It can't really be risotto if it's not arborio rice." Yes, I know. It's really risotto-style rather than risotto proper. But I'm OK with that.

Notes: I wanted to get a little color on the snap peas before I started the risotto, so I sauteed them a little first. I took them out of the pan and just added them back in at the end.

The saute stage

I intended to use pesto, but I couldn't find any store-bought version that I was crazy about. Plus, I found some tarragon on sale, so I decided just to use some fresh herbs.

You really need six cups of liquid for the risotto. I hate just using half of one of my cartons of stock, so I just cut it with water. If you want to use all stock, just replace the two cups of water with more stock.

Risotto is not a super-fast fix. It needs a little patience, so don't make it if you're starving. Allow a good 45 minutes just for the risotto cooking time. Allow a little more for prep.

I'm a season-as-you-go and taste-as-you-go kind of gal. In order to know if the rice is done, I taste it. If it's still crunchy, it needs more time. I add a little salt and pepper while I'm sauteing the veggies and aromatics, I add it again at the beginning, and then when I start tasting, I adjust as I need to.

1 1/2 cups brown rice (not the quick-cooking kind)
4 cups or 32 oz. (one carton) of chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups of water
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 lb (8 oz) of snap peas
1 15 oz. can of white beans, rinsed and drained
1 large or 2 small shallots, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup of tarragon, chopped
3/4 cup of basil, chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Directions: Add stock and water to a sauce pot and turn heat to medium-low. It needs to be warm, but not boiling.

Heat a large skillet to medium. Melt the butter. Add shallots and garlic. Cook for two minutes or until fragrant. Add snap peas and saute until tender crisp. Remove the snap peas from the pan and set aside.

Add the rice to the pan and toast until it starts to smell nutty. Add the bay leaf. Add three ladles of the warm stock and stir. Allow the rice to absorb the stock. When the liquid starts to look low, add two more ladles of stock and stir again. Keep this process going until your stock is almost gone and the rice is tender.
Bubbling away

Remove the bay leaf. Add the snap peas back in and add white beans. Warm them through. Turn off the heat and add the herbs and lemon zest and juice.

The finished product

Put in a bowl and enjoy in front of your favorite sport!

In the beginning...

Welcome to the kitchen!

Being a professor, summer time provides a more flexible schedule for me to indulge in my favorite hobby. For me, cooking requires a different set of skills than my philosophical work does. It offers up a kind of balance for me -- something that tempers my otherwise hyper-reflective modus operandi. While I'm cooking, everything I do is about being in touch with the sensuous side of thought. You can't think your way to the right consistency for gravy or to the right texture for a salad. You have to determine how it looks, smells, feels, and of course tastes. Cooking is my one seamless connection to being "in the moment." It's probably as "in the moment" as I get. 

My plan for this blog is very simple: I write down the things I cook. I don't have a food mission or agenda per se. I like healthy food. I like simple food. I like food that doesn't come ready-made in a box. I like food that you can find outside and that doesn't have ingredients I can't pronounce. I'm not talented enough to be a chef and I don't know enough about science to be a nutritionist. I just like cooking. And I like eating.

So, there you have it. The recipes here are mostly my creations. If they are adapted from someone else, I'll let you know: no recipe plagiarism! I have to cite my work!