Spaghetti with Lemon and Toasted Walnuts

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My worst nightmare? The kids going to bed happy and early. Why? Because it’s too good to be true. Zonking out dazed and speaking tongues inevitably means that someone will be jarred awake with night terrors in two hours. And that they’ll be up at 4:00am ready to start the day. Let’s go! But I guess I’m willing to take that risk tonight because my husband and I would like one hour together. Without children. One wondrous hour watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine so we can mock the overacting and the spectacularly absurd plot twists. Like Major Kira having O’Brien’s baby because it got zapped from Keiko’s body in some interstellar battle. Whatever.

Tonight we enjoyed this cold zesty zippy pasta dish with whole wheat spaghetti, spicy fresh chopped garlic and a fresh lemon, parsley olive oil marinade. It comes from Vegetarian Times and could easily be made vegan without the Parmesan cheese. This dish paired with a side salad will last us the work week and only cost about $10 – not bad for a healthy dish that even my 4 year old enjoyed!

SPAGHETTI WITH LEMON AND TOASTED WALNUTS
1 cup walnut halves
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tsp. grated organic lemon zest
1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)
¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. spaghetti
1 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast walnuts on baking sheet 10 minutes. Cool, and coarsely chop. Whisk together cheese, oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and pepper in large bowl. Cook pasta according to package directions. Add drained pasta to cheese mixture, and toss to combine. Stir in parsley and walnuts, and season with salt and more pepper.

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Putta-A-Fork-In-It Puttanesca

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It’s been two months of major changes in our household: two new jobs, new school, potty training, no more baby bottles, toddler bed to queen size, new nanny, first airplane ride with the kids. Change is hard. So this weekend was the beginning of a recommitment to my mind and body, and therefore my family. On Friday I finally joined the gym and reactivated my Weight Watchers app, and today I spent a majority of the day solo parenting to give my husband – who is my soldier in the trenches of the night – a much deserved break. These things may seem so simple and even carefree to most people, but the truth is these tasks seem insurmountable when you’re in a lousy state of mind.

When the membership director asked me what my fitness goal was I joked “To get here.” But what IS my goal here? I have a few. To not loudly sigh in annoyance at 4:30am when the baby screams through the monitor, to not slam the fridge door a bit too hard just to make a point, to go to bed tired in a good way and wake up refreshed (that’s one’s crazy!) and most importantly to find a meaningful getaway that gets me out of the house in a bad moment and do something good for my body. I will tell you jumping into a pool for water aerobics while listening to Lord of the Dance made me smile! So I guess you could say my ultimate goal here is to improve my attitude.

The nice thing about Weight Watchers is that nothing is “off limits”, just unashamedly tracked. So I don’t mind sharing today’s recipe for a vegan Puttanesca that is out of this world.

PUTTA-FORK-IN-IT PUTTANESCA

1 box spaghetti, cooked al dente
1 pint sweet cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch basil
1 red onion, slivered into thin moon shapes
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/4 cup capers, drained
6 garlic cloves, diced
Olive oil

Boil pasta “al dente” according to package instructions, typically 10 minutes. While cooking, add a dollop of olive oil and cook onions and garlic on medium high heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add capers and cook additional 2-3 minutes. Finally, throw in tomatoes, olives and basil and cook 5 more minutes. Add about 1/8 cup olive oil to pasta then mix in puttanesca topping. Salt and pepper to taste.

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A good night…

Bahamas Time, and Enchilada Casserole

BeansI haven’t been on a vacation since before my kids were born. Sure we’ve had a weeknight away here and there for sanity breaks, but my passport has sat untouched since 2008. Ever since eagerly planning for the family reunion in the Bahamas a few months ago, the word “vacation” has become a verb, noun and adjective in our household. A Holy Grail even. We’re going “On Vacation.” We put our pants on and acting like a good boy “To Vacation.” We are going to have a great “Vacation Day.” So naturally the trip had to start off with tears at the airport because mommy didn’t properly arrange for passports for the boys and after all that packing and planning and Asher screaming “I WANNA GO ON THE AIRPLANE WAAAAAH” in his Panama hat we ended up going home instead. Then mommy flew out for vacation with her overseas family while daddy stayed with the boys and applied for passports in Chicago for three days and never slept. But as most things that seem too perfect in the beginning go, the kinks and stress paid off in the end because it helped me value even more what we had gained at the end of the journey.

There is nothing like not knowing what time it is and, more poignantly, not caring what time it is. The Bahamas is a magical place frozen in time full of warm sea water, white squishy sand, coconut trees growing wild, and a general sense of peace and pleasure. Nestled into the quiet nook of Lyford Cay on the island of Nassau is a private little bay and a gorgeous villa where you can literally walk out your bedroom door and follow the manta rays that stalk the shore at dawn. Where tiny little hermit crabs are the same shade of white as the sand, and where night herons screech and dance amongst the palms. A place where the 1940’s polo-themed living room with no walls opens to a plantation style porch on one side and a peach travertine pillared courtyard that welcomes the Caribbean rain water on the other. Where the turquoise water is so shallow and calm that a baby can sit there for hours. Where toddlers develop a general sense adventure, jumping into swimming pools, wading through the Caribbean Sea, sleeping in a Queen size bed. Even one day in this island haven makes the effort with two young children worthwhile. Sigh.

Enchilada Casserole I was in the mood to continue to the fiesta when I returned home – hence today’s recipe for Enchilada Casserole. The bean salad from the recipes makes the perfect side dish for a BBQ or can be the stuffing for peppers or enchiladas, but I opted for the Enchilada Casserole because it is makes a hearty dish that you can serve with fresh avocado and cilantro. And margaritas.

ENCHILADA CASSEROLE
12 corn tortillas
3 zucchini, diced
1 can black beans, drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 small can sliced black olives
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
30 oz can red enchilada sauce
1 bunch of cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup of shredded Mexican cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large pan, add olive oil and fry the zucchini for 7 to 8 minutes on medium heat, until translucent. Stir in the chili powder and cumin, then mix in the corn, beans and olives. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Arrange 6 corn tortillas on the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Top with half the bean mixture then pour half the enchilada sauce over the mixture. Add another layer of 6 corn tortillas, then top with the remaining bean mixture. Pour remaining sauce evenly over the top layer. Top with cheese or soy cheese, then bake for 40 minutes.
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Child Safari and Bruschetta Pasta

bruschetta pastaBrunch for four turned into a child safari this past weekend as we hosted our first “adult” brunch in over a month – meaning, we made something with garlic and put out cloth napkins. As per our usual start to Sunday mornings, we began with a pot of strong coffee and Deadmau5. After herding our two boys to the table, we actually managed to eat food on plates, remain in our chairs and share complete stories for about seven blissful minutes. And then abruptly, there was more food was on the floor than on anybody’s plates as Asher announced he was DONE and Everett stubbornly stood up in his high chair after unbuckling his safety belt and my husband and I scrambled around alternatively picking up each child, wiping oily fingers, and placing them at enticing toy stations in hopes that they would entertain themselves for just a minute without choking on a Lego or making stabbing motions with their plastic Chefs knives from the toy kitchen. How dare we adults enjoy ourselves and sit on our butts when there is so much wreckage to be done?

And so, with an apologetic smile and a good-natured laugh, we respectfully invited our brunch guests to join us upstairs to play in Asher’s room. And thus began the two-hour process of slowly upturning and investigating every room of the house which included; playing in Asher’s circus tent while Everett took a nose dive into the empty bath down the hall, settling in small uncomfortable nooks in the hallway as the kids practiced walking backwards, watching in horror as Asher threw all our dirty laundry out of the hamper, playing catch with a bouncy ball in the master bedroom, changing several diapers in the middle of the floor, and nestling in the den to watch three episodes of “Batman”. And throughout the madness of it all, our very dear and very patient friends Adam and Alexia never politely excused themselves with an undertone of “… NEVER AGAIN…”

And so today I am grateful. Grateful for friends. Grateful for flexibility. Grateful for my husband who is willing to listen to our toddler scream all day long that he ONLY wants mommy, and grateful for pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company which makes it all worth while. So come join us for our next Child Safari brunch, or host your own with today’s simple recipe for Bruschetta Pasta!

BRUSCHETTA PASTA
1 pound of linguine pasta (my photo depicts angel hair)
1 cup of sun-dried tomatoes soaked in water for 15 minutes
4 large Roma tomatoes
1 bunch of fresh basil
1 cup medium green olives, pitted
3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until blended but still chunky. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook 8 minutes. Drain well then combine with tomato mixture and toss until the pasts is coated. tomatoes

Lentil Ratatouille

lentil stew

10 Things You Should Know about Being a Working Mom:

1. Coming home from work is actually when the hard work begins
2. Your Kate Spade will soon become affectionately known as the “snack bag”
3. There may come a day when you steal a roll of toilet paper from work because you’re down to half a roll between 3 adults and 2 kids and you just need to get through the night
4. What’s the point in a manicure since they only last a day?
5. You will frequently be getting into bed for a “nap” at 4am before getting up for work an hour later
6. Waist-high shared lukewarm baths with your toddler every night does not constitute a proper adult shampoo
7. Rewards cards now seem magical, especially since you will be buying new shoes every 4 months and no they are not for you
8. You now have “at home” clothes and “outside world approved” clothes. If you know people that have seen you in both then they are indeed a true and beloved friend.
9. You will be buying odd tomatoes that have been thrown in your grocery cart on Saturday mornings that you’re too embarrassed to put back
10. You can never have too many Goldfish crackers. Ever.

This week I was in the mood for a traditional hot ratatouille, but with a nontraditional twist of protein. This Lentil Ratatouille features a creamy braised eggplant and an earthy bite from the lentils. It can be eaten as a hearty stew or served atop any variety of pasta for a delicious dinner entree!

LENTIL RATATOUILLE
1 large firm eggplant, stem removed and diced into small 1/2” cubes
4 zucchini, stems removed and diced into small 1/2” cubes
1 bunch of basil, stems discarded with leaves torn into small pieces
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 red onion, diced
1 jar of marinara
1/4 cup olive Oil
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon dried thyme
1 cup brown lentils
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium pot, boil 2 cups of water then add the lentils, bay leaves, and thyme. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer then cook uncovered for 20 – 30 minutes. In large pot, cook olive oil, onion and garlic on medium heat until the onions are translucent. Toss in the eggplant and cook 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and cook with cover on pot for additional 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add marinara and fresh basil and simmer for an additional 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove bay leaves from the lentil mixture, then add the lentils to the ratatouille mixture and serve hot.

Mexican Red Quinoa Soup

soup I often make grilled vegetables for the week to enjoy with pasta or salad, but it never occurred to me until this week to puree those grilled vegetables into a soup base and then pour that over a grain base to make a yummy stew. WHOA MAMA! Imagine the possibilities. It all started with this amazing recipe for a Mexican flavored vegetable soup with quinoa from Reboot with Joe which I altered slightly just because it is literally impossible for me to make a recipe without changing it somehow just for the hell of it. And now that the seed has been planted, I am definitely going to experiment more with spices, flavors and grains. This soup is hearty, sweet and spicy, and makes a nice substitute for the usual chili.

MEXICAN RED QUINOA SOUP
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
2 jalapeno chili peppers
4 cloves garlic
1 medium red onion
3 tomatillos, peeled
2 15 oz. cans of black beans
1 cup frozen corn
1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 cups organic vegetable broth
4 green onions, sliced
1 handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
1 cup cooked red quinoa
sea salt and pepper to taste

veggies Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Discard all stems and seeds from the peppers (if you want it spicier leave in jalapeno seeds). Roughly chop field peppers and onion. S[read whole garlic in peel, whole tomatillos, cherry tomatoes, onion and peppers onto baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and roast until pepper skin is soft, about 15 minutes. While roasting, heat broth in pot. Remove baking sheet from oven. Peel garlic and place all vegetables into broth, and add half of the corn and beans. Blend with a hand blender until smooth. Add remaining corn and black beans, stir, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Serve over bed of quinoa and garnish with chopped scallion and cilantro.

Quinoa Granola

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Wikipedia moment! Apparantly, the same person who invented the graham cracker was also a major catalyst in the vegetarian movement. Reverend Sylvester Graham (July 5, 1794 – September 11, 1851) was an American dietary reformer who, around 1829, invented the Graham Diet – which consisted mainly of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole wheat and high fiber foods, and excluded meat, milk and all animal byproducts in an effort to purify our mind and body. Graham was also amongst the first to argue that chemical additives used to make bread whiter in color and more commercially appealing also made it unwholesome. Well at least that was a far cry from 1590 when the city of Paris actually declared it legal to use the bones of dead Parisians to be ground into flour and baked into bread during the famine!

Unfortunately, Graham also believed that vegetarianism was essential to an asexual lifestyle, and that consuming animal byproducts caused sinful lusts. So next time you feed your toddler a graham cracker just remember that it was invented as a substitute for sex!

Today I am invoking my inner free love hippie and sharing a rather pleasant recipe for Quinoa Granola.It’s mild cinnamony sweetness combines well with the tartness of the dried cherries and the nuttiness of the quinoa and almonds.

QUINOA GRANOLA
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup quinoa (uncooked)
1 cup slivered or roughly-chopped almonds
1/4 cup honey
2 Tbsp. melted coconut oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 oz. dried apricots
6 oz. dried cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together oats, quinoa, almonds, honey, coconut oil, salt and cinnamon until combined. Spread the mixture out on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, stirring once halfway. Remove and let cool, then stir in dried fruit and toss to combine. Serve immediately or store in a sealed container for up to 2 weeks.