Seven Layer Tortilla Pie

I have to be honest with you, Internet. Right now I am angrily biting the nail polish off my nails. I have extremely breakable nails, so I try to keep clear nail polish on them; you know, the super thick stuff. This stuff is also great fun to peel off when irritable. Come on, you know you’ve done it before… please?

red peppermashed black beans

I had big plans to bake something to bring to work tomorrow for some upcoming and recently passed birthdays, and I needed it to be flourless. But at this point I’m feeling like God made flour for a reason, and we just shouldn’t fight it.

layer onelayer one with black beans

I know, I can’t even believe it myself, but I tried those cursed black bean brownies again. No changes or alterations, just completely by the book. I was low on agave syrup, so I used half agave and half honey. They came out tasting so strongly of honey that it’s practically oozing from them. Don’t worry, my curiosity about these things has been sated. I’m burning the recipe – never again!

shredded chicken

Next I tried a flourless chocolate cake. The recipe stressed to gently fold in the beaten egg whites to the melted chocolate. Maybe I was too careful, because now it just seems completely bland.

Ghost failures twice in one night!!!

layer one completelayer two

I don’t even want to think about baking anymore right now. Let’s talk about dinner, okay? Dinner, unlike tonight’s stupid desserts (grrr!), turned out quite well.

top layer

A few years ago I tore a recipe out of a magazine for some kind of tortilla pie. The tortillas were stacked high and stuffed with cheese and black beans; it looked great. Unfortunately, I lost this recipe before ever getting to try it. So instead I tried to create something similar but with less cheese and more beans.

tortilla pie

Seven tortilla layers total – I alternated layers of black beans and refried. I also included shredded chicken, diced red pepper, garlic, a combination of diced tomatoes and salsa, and the tiniest bit of cheese on each layer. I just included spice on the top layer, but feel free to mix the spice throughout. I also cooked mine in a springform pan to avoid any potential toppling problems, but I think that you could get away with using a pie plate or cake pan as well. My husband really loved this and kept making trips back to the kitchen for leftovers. Enjoy!

tortilla pie inside

Seven Layer Tortilla Pie

1/2 pound chicken breast, baked and shredded
1 can black beans, drained and mashed
1 can fat free refried beans
1/2 cup reduced fat cheddar cheese, grated fresh
3 cloves garlic
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup salsa
1 red pepper, diced
7 flour tortillas
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper, optional

Preheat oven to 375F. Measure and prep ingredients and bake chicken (if looking for a way to bake the chicken, you can use my style found here. Because it’s only one half pound you will not need to bake it as long. Be sure to cut into the middle of the thickest piece to make sure it’s fully cooked. Shred with a fork). Combine diced tomatoes and salsa in the same bowl.

Lay one flour tortilla in the bottom of a springform pan (or pie dish or cake pan with high sides). Spread a thin layer of the mashed black beans over the tortilla. Follow with shredded chicken, garlic, red pepper, salsa mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Be a little careful near the edges so that your filling doesn’t spill out. Lay another tortilla over this and push down gently to level it. This time spread refried beans over the tortilla, then include other ingredients as before. This recipe makes just enough, so don’t make your “filling” too thick or you will run out. I was especially stingy with the cheese.

Continue to alternate layers. On very top layer, sprinkle remaining ingredients evenly along with 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and cayenne for some heat. Be sure to take the salsa mixture to the edges of the top tortilla so that the top does not dry out and become too crispy while baking.

Bake for 25 minutes. Serve in wedges.

Food Photography – Pinto Bean Chili

Happy photography day, loyal readers. Today’s photograph is one of my favorite vegetarian (and vegan) recipes: FatFree Vegan Kitchen’s pinto bean chili. I LOVE this dish. It’s nutritious, filling, low in calories and extremely delicious. I highly recommend it.

Pinto Bean Chili

Oat & Herb Baked Chicken

If you’re planning a wedding, have recently gotten married or just love weddings in general, then you’ve probably heard of a website called The Knot. The Knot is a spectacular place to find local vendors, get ideas for flowers, dresses, cakes and color combinations and to help out with planning and etiquette questions.


I recently went to The Knot for the first time since my wedding in July 2008 to look up a friend’s wedding website. I was surprised to discover that when you log in after your wedding has passed, you’re redirected to a site called The Nest. The Nest features advice for married people – money tips, decorating your home and saving, love, beauty, babies and dinner recipes.

oat mixture

Of course I clicked first on the dinner recipe tab. It was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Many of the recipes on the site are designed to be relatively easy and healthy, and they’re geared towards serving two people.

One of the recipes that caught my eye was, well, one of the less healthy ones, something called “Herb Oven-Fried Chicken.” What sparked my interest was that instead of using plain breadcrumbs or “Shake ‘n Bake” to lightly coat the chicken, this recipe called for oats! Let me make sure it’s clear – I love oats!

cutting chicken

By pulsing the oats in a food processor, you get a fine powder that adds an interesting and wholesome taste to your chicken breasts. I added a lot more flavor to the coating by including more spices in the oat mixture. I also baked it in the oven (and removed a lot of the oil) instead of cooking it in a toaster oven. I don’t have a toaster oven, but even if I did trying to cook raw chicken in it sounds like an odd idea to me (even though apparently The Nest pulled this recipe from a book solely dedicated to cooking with a toaster oven, my question is “Why?” I understand not having a stand mixer or food processor, but why would you need a substitute for a conventional oven?).

My husband and I enjoyed this chicken with a side of mashed potatoes and mashed rutabaga and baked beans. It doesn’t taste like a typical breaded chicken; if you don’t like oats then you probably won’t like this. But I highly recommend this spicy and unique take on chicken breasts!

chicken breast

Oat & Herb Chicken

adapted from The Nest (who excerpted it from Lynn Alley’s The Gourmet Toaster Oven: Simple And Sophisticated Meals for the Busy Cook)

1/2 cup milk*
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup rolled oats (you can use Quaker Quick or Old-Fashioned, but not Instant)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, rosemary, Italian seasoning, black pepper, celery seed and paprika
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon paprika

My 1 lb of chicken breast contained 3 medium chicken breasts. Cut chicken breasts in half longways. In a small bowl, combine chicken, buttermilk, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and oil. I refrigerated this marinade for about 5 hours, but do it for however long you can.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425F. Combine oats, red pepper flakes, the remaining teaspoon of salt, parmesan, basil, rosemary, Italian seasoning, black pepper, celery seed and paprika in your food processor. Pulse until the oats are mostly powdered. Spread oat mixture out on a plate. Shake the excess buttermilk off the chicken gently and lay both sides of the chicken in the mixture to thoroughly coat.

Place chicken in a shallow baking dish (I actually used a ceramic pie dish). Bake for about 15 minutes, depending on thickness of your meat. The crust should be a little crispy. Be sure to test for doneness by cutting into the thickest piece and ensuring that it’s bone white in the center. Remove chicken and serve with vegetable of your choice.

*Note about Milk – The original recipe called for buttermilk, but I used skim milk because that’s what I had on hand and it worked out fine. Buttermilk will give you more of an authentic fried chicken type taste, and next time I make this I’ll probably try out buttermilk. For my calorie-counting friends, give buttermilk a chance! Wikipedia says, “Buttermilk is lower in fat and calories than regular milk because the fat from buttermilk has already been removed to make butter. It is high in potassium, vitamin B12 and calcium.” Yum.

Mmm, Carbs – Tomato Lentil Sauce

Red bell peppers have been on sale at my local grocery store on and off for months. I have no idea why, but I try not to question gift horses in the mouth (which, by the way, is a saying that never made sense to me). Instead, I eat as many of these horses… I mean peppers, as I can fit into recipes.

Tomato Lentil Sauce

Red bell peppers can be great in sauces and I was in a serious carb mood; hence today’s recipe. The paprika is subtle (you know me and spices. add more if you’d like) and the tomatoes work surprisingly well with the lentils. This dish is nice and simple because you really just throw ingredients in the respective pots and stir occasionally. As usual, let us know what you think.

Spaghetti with Tomato Lentil Sauce

Tomato Lentil Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions; chopped
2 carrots; diced
1 red bell pepper; diced
2 garlic cloves; minced

1 cup lentils
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt

Sweat the onions, carrots, bell pepper and garlic cloves in the butter and oil until really soft; approximately 20 minutes. While sweating, cook the lentils. When the vegetables are ready, add the lentils, tomatoes, paprika, red pepper flakes and salt. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Serve with a pasta of your choice (I recommend spaghetti). Enjoy.

There are days when I get home from work where all I want to do is dig into some food as quickly and simply as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook, but we all have our ‘meh’ days. On those days I just want all my ingredients at home practically ready to go. Wouldn’t it be great if you came home to find your vegetables freshly chopped?

I’m not much a fan of frozen vegetables for most dishes, but I do recognize the value of frozen meats. When you have some beef tips or chicken breasts in the fridge you’ve got a small window of availability before they begin to spoil; usually within a few days. If you freeze it, however, then your window can range from a few months to even a full year (keep in mind, after a month most begin to slowly degrade in quality). But how to get that meat ready to be cooked and in my stomach as quickly as possible?

Cooking meats before they are fully thawed can be, to quote the Joy of Cooking (also known as my culinary bible), disastrous. Not only do you run the risk supporting the growth of harmful bacteria, you will most likely end up with something that’s cooked on the outside and raw on the inside. Not exactly good eats. If you know your meat’s thaw time in the fridge and you plan ahead, no problem. But stuff happens. You run out the door on your way to work and forget to move something from the freezer to the fridge only to return in the evening, stomach growling, with a frozen block of unhappiness. Sigh…

When this happens, use a technique I picked up from an episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats: running cold water. Put your meat in an airtight bag, place that bag in a bowl of cold water, and place that bowl under a small trickle of water in your sink. The trickle ensures the water stays cold (warm water = bacteria fun zone) while not spiking your water bill. This method is safer and faster than on your counter top.

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D’oh! As I started to type I noticed that my hand felt sticky. I looked down only to find that my wedding ring is covered in cake! This is a pretty typical day in the life of Ghost Baker… actually this is a good day – normally if cake’s involved it’s probably also squished into my clothes or in my hair.

fermented black beans

The reason for today’s mess is that I’m working on a fairly detailed birthday cake for my mom for this weekend. I’ve even drawn specs for the cake to compare what different decorations might look like. We always want to impress our moms, right? Please keep your fingers crossed for me, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

Today’s recipe, however, features dinner, not cake. I was given Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook for Christmas (are you sensing a pattern? I was lucky enough to receive many excellent cookbooks!). Though I’d flipped through the book and oogled things several times before, this was the first time I tried a recipe. I was drawn to Martha’s “Stir-Fried Shrimp with Black Bean Sauce.”

black bean sauce

This recipe does require a trip to your local Asian grocery store, but if you haven’t been to one before consider this your special invitation! You can find great deals on certain things at Asian grocery stores (rice in bulk, various sauces, etc).

Let me warn you that fermented black beans smell a bit strong, but they’re just soybeans that have been preserved in salt. They are not the same thing as typical black beans. They give the dish a distinct flavor. If you like Asian food then you will likely enjoy this dish.

This would also work really well with tofu – either replacing the shrimp with tofu or adding tofu in with the shrimp. I didn’t alter Martha’s recipe too much, but I did try to make things a little simpler and take the edge off the salty black beans. I eliminated the soy sauce and scallions and added a little more hoisin sauce. If you try this with tofu, please let me know how it goes! Aside from a trip to the Asian market, this dish comes together very quickly and requires little prep.

shrimp with black bean sauce

Stir-fried Shrimp with Fermented Black Bean Sauce
adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook
serves 2

5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed and crushed with the back of a spoon (found in Asian market in a small, usually clear bag)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced (be sure to lightly peel the papery covering off)
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine (found in Asian market, or if you have to you can substitute dry sherry or white wine)
3 teaspoons hoisin sauce (found in Asian market, or the international food section of your grocery store)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
12 medium frozen shrimp, peeled and dethawed under cold running water
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup white rice, cooked in a rice cooker or according to package instructions

In a medium bowl, whisk together garlic, peanut oil, black beans (don’t forget to mash them first with the back of your spoon), ginger, Chinese wine, hoisin sauce and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

Heat wok on medium high until it sizzles when you sprinkle a few drops of water on it. Add oil to the wok (never add oil to an unheated wok… remember what my Chinese cooking instruction said, “hot wok, cold oil”). Right before adding the shrimp to the wok, toss it with the cornstarch to coat it. Add shrimp to the wok, count to 5 and then press down on the shrimp with your wok utensil for a few seconds to sear it. Stir it quickly a few times, then let it sit for another few seconds. Continue this pattern until your shrimp turn pink and curl up, just another minute or two. Shrimp cook quickly. Pour in the sauce mixture and turn the heat up on the wok. Cook for just under a minute without stirring to let the flavor lock in, then stir before serving to coat.

Serve shrimp immediately over rice.

All right, pop quiz: Name the first 3 three dishes that come into your head when you think “vegetarian cuisine.” Go! (No, seriously. Reader requests welcome.) For me, this list includes stuffed bell peppers; which is a bit ironic considering I’ve never actually made stuffed bell peppers. Until this week, that is.

Red Bell Pepper

I’ve had stuffed bell peppers before, but never a vegetarian one that I’ve enjoyed. Meat has a nice flavoring effect that can be difficult to compete with at times. Enter the power of spices.

Cauliflower Chopped Small

Both couscous and cauliflower have very mild flavors, so it’s up to the spices and sauted aromatics of the dish to take center stage. The chickpeas add a subtle flavor but also a nice additional texture. You can use any type of bell pepper you’d like, but I recommend a red or yellow. Their sweeter flavors really complement the curry of the filling; which fortunately isn’t lost in the roasting process.

Stuffed Red Bell Pepper with Couscous

Vegetarian Stuffed Bell Peppers with Couscous
You can use big long red bell peppers like I did, but I’d recommend the more traditional shorter fat ones if you have a choice. Of course, these have the nice advantage of becoming quasi-finger food.

2 cups cooked couscous
2 tablespoons oil
1 yellow onion; chopped
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 garlic cloves; minced
2 cups cauliflower; chopped small (see picture)
2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one can, rinsed and drained)
3 red or yellow bell peppers
1/2 teaspoon fennel
1/8 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1/2 teaspoon sweet curry
1/2 cup stock
1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste
3 medium sized red or yellow bell peppers

Preheat the oven to 350.

Saute the onion and thyme in oil under medium high heat until browned; approximately three minutes. Lower to medium heat and add the garlic for an additional minute; stirring frequently to prevent burning. Transfer to a medium bowl along with the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Cut off the top half inch of your bell peppers and remove seeds and membrane. Stuff your bell peppers with your filling, placing them in a glass baking pan as you go (metal sheets would work in a pinch, but you may want to oil it first). If you have extra, just pile it on top. Place your peppers in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until everything is cooked through. Enjoy.

Food Photography – Braised Pork with Clams, Mariner's Style

Braised Pork with Clams, Mariner's Style (Portugal)

(Pictured: Emeril’s recipe for Braised Pork with Clams, Mariner’s Style (Portugal), cooked by my father-in-law for dinner on Saturday night and served over pasta. Enjoying this awesome and unique dish with just a bit of bite made adding a Dutch Oven to my wish-list a top priority.)

I should probably come as no surprise that I talk food a lot with friends. Besides the immense amount of time Heather and I go back and forth on various ideas, there are several other people with food on the brain quite often. One of my recent talks with one of these people has been about cabbage soup.

Behold the Cabbage

The only cabbage I knew of growing up was the german style red cabbage my mother would make, stinking up the entire house. Oh, how I hated it. But I want to like it. I want to start over, bury the hatchet and live in vegetable harmony. Cabbage has a few things going for it. Other than being incredibly cheap (less than a dollar a pound!), it’s a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. My friend was supposed to be working on her own perfect cabbage soup recipe to share (*cough*cough*), but I could wait no longer. Enjoy my cabbage soup.

Cabbage Soup

Cabbage Soup with Beans

2 tablespoons oil
1 yellow onion; chopped
2 leeks; sliced (whites only)
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 cups stock or water
2 large carrots; diced
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 large white potato; chopped into quarter inch pieces
1/2 head of green cabbage; cut into 1/4 inch slices or shredded
2 cups cooked great northern beans (or one can rinsed and drained)
1 teaspoon salt

Sweat the onion, leeks and garlic cloves in the oil until soft and translucent; approximately 10 minutes. Add the stock, carrots, herbs and bring to a boil. Add the potato and simmer until slightly soft; approximately 15 minutes. Add the cabbage and simmer for an additional 15 minute; adding the beans and salt for the last five minutes.

Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy.

Dessert for Breakfast – Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal Ice Cream

Hello, hello! If you were on the east coast this weekend, then you enjoyed some incredibly gorgeous and mild weather. I was in Richmond celebrating some birthdays, and it was a little disconcerting to experience almost 80 degree weather in the same city that saw 11 inches of snow earlier in the week.

Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal Ice Cream

In any event, the return of the sun made me crave a cool and creamy treat – nothing that a little dessert for breakfast couldn’t fix!

I absolutely love maple & brown sugar oatmeal, and I don’t think I’m alone. I remember in college when I was an RA I set up a snack station in the study lounge during exam week; the maple & brown sugar oatmeal all disappeared over night.

Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal Ice Cream

So it occurred to me to try making Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal Ice Cream, inspired by my favorite ice cream recipe book, The Ultimate Ice Cream Book: Over 500 Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, Drinks, And More by Bruce Weinstein. You will need an ice cream machine for this recipe. You can actually buy some fairly decent yet inexpensive ones these days; I own a Deni that is probably 6 or 7 years old at this point.

It does have a bit of a chewy consistency because of the oatmeal. If you’d like it to be less noticeable then you can use Quick Quaker Oats (not instant) instead of Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats. To get that maple taste I used pure maple syrup, feel free to use your favorite brand. It’s just enough to add sweetness, without being overpowering.

Also, because I try to lighten the fat content of things wherever possible, I used light cream instead of heavy cream. Most great custard recipes call for heavy cream, and if you’re making this ice cream for guests or to impress then you’ll probably just want to use heavy cream as well. Every time I use light cream it just doesn’t freeze as well in the ice cream machine, and I wind up having to freeze it overnight in a separate container so that it’s not soupy. I don’t mind doing this but it can be a hassle, and of course it delays the immediate gratification of enjoying the ice cream right out of the machine.* Good luck!

Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal Ice Cream

Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal Ice Cream
inspired by Bruce Weinstein

3/4 cup brown sugar
3 large egg yolks
2 cups skim milk
1 1/2 cups roll oats (not instant)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups light cream*
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

In a medium bowl, beat sugar and egg yolks until thickened. Set aside.

Bring the milk to a low boil in a medium saucepan. Add oats, salt and cinnamon. Reduce the heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes, stirring continuously until the oatmeal is thick and creamy (if you taste it at this point you’ll think it’s too salty… but don’t worry, it all comes together). Slowly beat the hot oatmeal into the eggs and sugar (this will kill any harmful bacteria present in the eggs). All the mixture to cool slightly, then stir in the cream. Cover and chill or refrigerate overnight.

Once chilled, stir the mixture into your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When finished, the ice cream will still be very soft. Transfer to a freezer-safe container (I usually use corningware or a covered glass bowl) and freeze overnight. Before serving, let it sit out for three minutes so that it’s easier to spoon the ice cream into your favorite bowl.

*Update: Hello, everyone. I received a few questions about light cream versus heavy cream. As you might guess, heavy cream has a higher butterfat content than light cream. This higher fat content lends itself to thickening and increasing in volume. Heavy cream can also hold its form a little better for pastries or cheesecakes. Substituting light cream for heavy cream in something like cheesecake will probably not work out well. I noted above that substituting light cream for heavy, as I did in this recipe, really doesn’t work well in ice cream machines and so you need to do extra freezing to harden the ice cream. If you choose to use light cream, make sure you plan ahead to allow plenty of time for freezing.