As you’re probably already aware, the Steelers won their 6th Super Bowl on Sunday! It was an amazing game; Morgan and I were jumping up and down all the way until the end. My heart is still slowly (very slowly) coming back down to its regular speed. Please excuse me in this post if I’m not able to form complete sentences yet!

chopped spinach

This recipe is originally from 101 Cookbooks, but when I first made it last year I didn’t like it very much. I had high hopes because the recipe and photos looked amazing, but I thought it could be a little more flavorful. After a few changes, this recipe is now one of mine and Morgan’s favorites.

pastacasserole

I’ve read that a trick to make macaroni and cheese more filling (so that you don’t eat as much) is to use a sharper cheese. Keeping this in mind, I added some sharp Vermont cheddar to the casserole. I also added chicken, which really made a huge difference (I’m not good with vegetarian meals, sorry Edwin!).

bakedpastacasserole

The only thing that I don’t love about this recipe is that it is time-consuming. There are several different steps including cooking the chicken, cooking the pasta, softening the veggies, combining everything and then baking it all together. I’d suggest making it on a Sunday night so that you have leftovers to enjoy throughout the week!

Also, I beg you to grate the cheese yourself and use only freshly grated cheeses. The times I’ve made this recipe with pre-shredded cheese it is never, ever as good. Fresh cheese makes a huge difference!

pasta casserole bowl

Chicken and Pasta Baked Casserole

adapted from 101 Cookbooks

3/4 pound pasta shells (101 recommends whole wheat pasta shells, but my grocery store never has whole wheat)
salt, to taste
1 lb. chicken, sliced (I recommend my recipe to bake the chicken, using 2 tablespoons white wine, paprika, salt, pepper, Montreal chicken seasoning, cayenne, to taste)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 bag fresh leaf spinach, chopped
1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
6 ounces fresh mozzerella, grated
4 ounces fresh Vermont cheddar, grated

Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter/spray a large, rectangular casserole dish (I’ve found this works a lot better than round CorningWare).

Boil the pasta in salted water per package instructions. Drain, toss with a two tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside.

In the meantime, cook chicken in a baking dish. I use my standard method to bake the chicken, which you can find here.

Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a skillet or wok. Saute the onions and a bit of salt for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, then spinach, cooking for approximately 20-30 seconds. Remove skillet or wok from heat and stir in almonds. Combine spinach mixture with pasta in a large bowl and carefully stir. When chicken is done cooking, slice and add. Set aside. (If you like to sneak in more veggies, I’d recommend sliced mushrooms which I have also added before)

Grate cheese and combine in a medium bowl. Begin by adding a layer of pasta to the casserole dish, followed by a layer of cheese. Continue alternating layers, finishing with a layer of cheese. Sprinkle just a dash of cayenne and paprika over the top. Cover dish with foil and bake for approximately 30 minutes.

Sante Fe Soup with Chicken, A Super Bowl Savior

If you’re like me when planning a party, then you’ll probably make too much food. You’ll also choose things that all need to go into the oven at once, are too time-consuming, and keep you in the kitchen while everyone else is waving their Terrible Towel at the tv.

Sante Fe Soup

I’ll be trying to avoid that problem on Sunday by including an enormous, hearty bowl of chili on the menu.

This “Santa Fe Soup” recipe was given to me by a co-worker at a previous job. I normally don’t go wild for chili, but the chili’s great look and smell won me over when he brought it in for lunch one day. Unfortunately he didn’t tell me where he got the original recipe, and when I googled it I came up with hundreds of variations. I did, however, make a few changes.

Chili and Beer

The recipe I was given called for 2 pounds of ground round, but I substituted beef for rotisserie chicken. I also substituted chunky stewed tomatoes and tomato paste for crushed tomatoes. The recipe called for two packages of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing dry mix and one package of taco seasoning mix for seasoning, but I decided just to recreate these mixes using the spices in my kitchen and season it myself. I also halved the recipe, and it still almost filled my spaghetti pot.

This chili is excellent – spicy but not too spicy, thick, and full of variety. I hope you’ll consider it either for your Super Bowl party or a cold winter night!

Close up Sante Fe Soup

Sante Fe Soup with Chicken
(recipe below is a half batch, which still makes enough for several dinners for two!)

1/2 cooked rotisserie chicken, cut into bite size pieces (you could also use 1 pound of chicken breast cooked using a method of your choice)
1 chopped onion
4 cloves garlic
1 can black beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can white niblet corn, canned
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste, 6 oz.
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
15 saltines, crushed
1 tablespoon Nature’s seasoning
1 tablespoon parsley flakes

Combine all ingredients, beginning with beans and cooked chicken, in a large pot on medium low heat. Simmer approximately 20 minutes, but the longer the better. Top with tortilla chips, sour cream, or grated cheese to serve, or enjoy it “plain!”

Chicken & Spinach Pita Sandwich, My DC Area Favorite

Northern Virginia can be a frustrating place to live. The DC Metro Area is home to constant traffic, a very high cost of living and wall-to-wall people (just turn on your news this weekend to watch the swarms of people here for the presidential inauguration!).

spinach

But Northern Virginia is also full of hidden gems, my favorite being interesting local restaurants and ethnic stores. Lost Dog Cafe is a neat local sandwich and pizza place with a large selection of beer. The owners also established a foundation dedicated to rescuing stray cats and dogs.

pesto

My favorite sandwich at Lost Dog is called “Muttly.” The Muttly is a warm pita full of spinach, chicken, provolone, tomatoes and pesto. Because I’m a picky eater and always trying to figure out new things to tolerate for lunch, I really wanted to recreate this sandwich so that I could enjoy it more frequently (and, of course, cheaper).

sliced chicken

The outcome was great. Make sure you buy large pitas; mine were a bit small so I wasn’t able to pack in as much spinach as I wanted to. I made the pesto from scratch, which always beats adding more ready-made, processed food to your diet, but the recipe I used was time-consuming. To cut down on time I didn’t chop it quite as much as I should have. I hope you will forgive my “lazy” pesto.

spinach and pesto

Please note that this is not a spicy chicken wrap, a Cajun chicken melt or a chicken sandwich smothered in tangy ranch dressing. I seasoned my chicken generously before baking it, but the flavor is mild (though not bland) and it’s not dripping with any condiments. I love this about the sandwich, but I just wanted to warn you not to expect something like Panera’s Chicken Bacon Dijon calorie festival. Happy lunching!

ghost muttly

“Muttly” (Chicken & Spinach Pita Sandwich)
inspired by Lost Dog Cafe

1 package large pitas
1 lb chicken breast, uncooked
1 small tomato
1 package frozen spinach
1 package sliced provolone cheese
2 tablespoons white wine
paprika, salt, pepper, Montreal chicken seasoning, cayenne, to taste

For the pesto
1 bunch of basil
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut your chicken breasts in half so that they resemble chicken cutlets. Sprinkle the bottom of a 13×9 baking pan with 2 tablespoons of white wine. Arrange the chicken pieces in the pan and season generously with paprika, salt, pepper, Montreal chicken seasoning and cayenne. Bake the chicken for 25 minutes.

In the meantime, chop tomato and set aside. Cook package of frozen spinach according to package instructions and set aside.

To make the pesto, you can find some great instructions at 101 Cookbooks. Mine didn’t turn out as authentic or attractive because I don’t have a mezzaluna, but the pesto was fine for me and used less oil. I basically followed this recipe except I chopped it until it was minced, not finely minced (because all that chopping took 101 Cookbooks thirty minutes, and that didn’t sound so great to me!). I would also recommend adding a bit of salt to the recipe.

When the chicken is done, allow it to cook enough that you can handle it comfortably (leave the oven on). Slice the chicken into bite size pieces and set aside.

Arrange the pitas on a baking sheet and add one slice of provolone followed by some spinach, pesto, chicken and tomatoes. If your pitas are malleable, fold it over like a sandwich (without breaking the pita).

When you’re finished putting together the sandwiches, set the baking sheet in the oven for approximately 5 minutes (just until the sandwiches are warm). Remove tray and serve! Wrap tightly and store any leftovers (we had leftover sliced chicken and pesto in addition to leftover sandwiches).

Stromboli with Prosciutto, Mix & Match with Pizza Dough

I was blessed with a husband who also enjoys cooking.

pizza dough

A few months ago Morgan and I took a “Date Night: Pizza Party” couple’s cooking course at Sur La Table. It was a lot of fun and we learned how to make a variety of delicious pizzas. Because we don’t always have the time to make our dough, we like to buy ready-made dough at The Italian Store in Arlington, VA. They make amazing pizzas, pastas, subs and sandwiches, and you can buy enough dough to make a 16″ pizza at an inexpensive price. Try inquiring at your local (non-chain) pizza place, Italian restaurant or even grocery store to see if they sell dough.

saute the mushrooms and garlic

We happened to have some dough and a bit of prosciutto in the fridge on Friday night, so instead of making pizza, Morgan decided to make stromboli. One big difference between cooking and baking is that you have a little more room with cooking to experiment. You can add more or less of an ingredient without ruining it and add new flavors liberally.

folding the stromboli

Below is our recipe for stromboli with prosciutto from Friday night, but perhaps a better recipe is: buy some ready-made dough from your local pizza place and buy some cheeses, meats and/or tomato sauce at the grocery store, break open the wine and invite your significant other or spouse into the kitchen for a fun night of mix and match pizza toppings or stromboli filling where you can’t go wrong!

stromboli

Stromboli with Prosciutto

16 inch ball of ready-made pizza dough
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms
cooked prosciutto, sliced and torn into pieces
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt, pepper and garlic powder, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F with a pizza stone in the oven. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium heat and saute mushrooms, garlic, salt and pepper for about 5 minutes.

Lightly flour and oil a baking sheet. Roll out dough to form a circle and cut in half. Distribute filling equally on both halves – crushed tomatoes, mushrooms, prosciutto, garlic and cheeses. Fold dough over on each half and press edges down to seal.

Carefully transfer both strombolis to the preheated pizza stone in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Instead of removing the pizza stone from the oven, remove from the stromboli individually with a large spatula. Sprinkle with garlic powder, cool slightly, slice and serve!

Stuffed Shells with Beef, Shedding New Light on a Old Classic

Unlike Edwin, I am not a flexitarian. However, my husband Morgan and I try to limit ourselves to lean meats such as chicken or fish. We rarely eat a strictly vegetarian dinner and once every few months, we break down and cook with beef.

Stuffed Shells filling with spinach

I was inspired by a recipe I found on blogchef.net – these stuffed shells are a little different than the kind you might typically find. Aside from the addition of beef, the blogchef recipe replaces ricotta cheese with mozzarella. It also removes the usual spinach and adds dry red wine.

Stuffed Shells Ready to Go in the Oven

But because I’m not a flexitarian, I need to get my vegetables wherever I can. I added half a bag of fresh spinach leaves, more garlic, and a can of Hunt’s diced tomatoes with green peppers, onions, and celery. I also left out the red wine and parsley.

This recipe isn’t very difficult, but stuffing the shells gets a little time consuming. It’s very filling and makes an enjoyable and attractive winter meal for both the holidays as well as the weekly dinner rotation!

Stuffed Shells

Stuffed Shells with Beef
inspired by Blogchef.net

1 lb ground beef
1 large onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 (8oz) bag shredded mozzarella cheese (fresh is always better, if you don’t mind grating)
1 bag fresh spinach leaves
½ cup Italian breadcrumbs
1 egg (beaten)
1 (26 oz) jar of spaghetti sauce (I use Paul Newman sauces)
1 (15 oz) can Hunt’s diced tomatoes with green peppers, celery and onion
Grated parmesan cheese, as desired
24 jumbo pasta shells (cooked according to package directions and drained)
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook shells according to package directions. In a large skillet, brown ground beef, garlic and onion. Drain off excess grease (if you really want to cut down on even more fat, you can actually quickly rinse the ground beef, but you risk losing flavor). Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a large bowl, combine meat, shredded mozzarella, beaten egg, breadcrumbs, fresh spinach leaves, salt and pepper.

In a 13×9 inch oven safe dish, add half the spaghetti sauce and half the canned diced tomatoes.

Stuff the cooked and drained shells with the meat/cheese/spinach mixture and place on top of the sauce in the oven safe dish. Pour the remaining spaghetti sauce and diced tomatoes over the stuffed shells. Sprinkle with parmesan as desired.

Bake for 20-25 minutes and serve.

As promised, I’m posting an actual dinner recipe for the first time in five posts! It’s a miracle, my sweet tooth is sated (don’t worry, not for long).

salmon filets

Salmon won out as the healthiest, lightest thing I could think of to compensate for my total failure in watching what I eat in the last few weeks. Wild salmon is high in protein, Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. WebMD lists salmon as one of the top “super foods,” lowering your cholesterol, reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease and even brightening your mood (and yes, pumpkin is on that list, too).

lemons

I looked for a salmon recipe that had the spirit of the season, and I think I found what I wanted. The glaze was almost sweet, combining honey and apple cider as a marinade. Maybe it was just enough to satisfy my sweet tooth while still providing all the benefits of a healthy fish fillet. Also note when buying your salmon that you want wild instead of farmed.

cooking salmon

Below I altered the recommended amount of white wine for the spinach leaves. Maybe I got carried away somehow, but the wine taste was a little too strong and I didn’t think it mixed well with the honey and cider taste of the salmon. I also served mine with a side of asparagus in addition to spinach leaves, since cooking the leaves really decimated them.

And good luck in your own battle of the Thanksgiving bulge, let me know if you have more healthy recipes or tips to stay away from the baked goods!

glazed salmon

Honey and Cider Glazed Salmon
adapted from Simply Recipes

1/2 cup apple cider (not hard cider)
1 1/4 tablespoons honey
2 large or 4 small wild salmon fillets (if you can’t find skinless, just don’t eat the skin)
1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 lemons, cut in half
1 Tbsp butter
12 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 tablespoon white wine

Preheat oven to 350°F with a baking dish in the oven. Set salmon fillets flat in a large baking dish.

In a saucepan on medium-high heat, boil cider and honey for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour cider mixture over the salmon, let it sit for 10 minutes.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Sprinkle one side of the salmon with salt and pepper. Place the fish in the pan for approximately 2 minutes. Brush periodically with cider glaze.

Turn the salmon and brush with remaining cider glaze. Remove from heat and transfer the salmon to the baking dish in the oven. Add the two sliced lemons to the dish. Bake for 6 minutes, salmon is cooked when it flakes when tested with the tip of a knife.

While the salmon, wash your skillet and place back on the stove to melt the butter (on medium-high heat). Add the spinach, salt, pepper and garlic. Cook just until leaves begin to wilt (a little less than one minute). Pour the wine sparingly over spinach and cook for an additional minute.

Drain excess liquid from spinach in a drainer.

Winning Over Skeptics Everywhere – Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers

Without a doubt, this is my favorite dinner in the rotation.

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Walnuts about to be Chopped

At first I was skeptical. I’ve never been a crazy lentil-lover like Edwin. And as I’ve hinted, despite my passion for cooking and baking, my palate isn’t terribly adventurous! When Edwin gets excited and exclaims to me that he found green candied cherries for baking Christmas cookies, I respond with, “bleh!” When my husband suggests to me that I make a fajita for lunch using leftovers, I look at him with horror (I don’t really like eating leftover meat… it’s a weird thing, I know).

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Cooked Lentils

So, when searching my favorite, tried and true cookbook for something new and delicious, my eyes only lingered over “Lentil-Walnut Burgers” long enough to conjure images of frozen veggie burgers and strike fear into my heart. The next time I picked the book up I paused over this recipe again, considering it. And so it went like this for a few weeks until I finally found the courage to dive in.

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Spices, Salt and Peppers

This story also illustrates a fact about me that friends over the years have found enormous pleasure in teasing me about – apparently, if there’s ever something that I react to immediately with vehement hate, chances are in time I’ll grow to be head over heels in love with it. I’ll never admit this to be true, but I can’t exactly say they’re wrong either…

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Mixing/Mashing

Ghost Baker’s Favorite Dinner, Putting the Spice in Spicy:

I’ve made this recipe several times since the first time, and I’ve even made it for dinner guests. Be warned that my recipe for these little dinner cakes is spicy! I adore spicy food and lots of garlic, but I do like to serve them with milk. I add two more cloves of garlic than the original recipe calls for, as well as more red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Spicy Lentil Walnut BSpicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Just added to the Skillet

I also love the texture – they should be just a tad crumbly and grainy. The second time I made them I mixed the ingredients a little too much and I think you lose something. The recipe says to use a food processor; however I don’t have one and I don’t think one is absolutely necessary (again, you don’t want to over-blend). It also suggests serving with a yogurt-cilantro sauce, but I don’t do cilantro.

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, My Husband Stole One...

My husband enjoys these burgers with the same accoutrements you would add to a hamburger, I like mine plain on the bun, and one of my dinner guests once asked for cheese on his – so have fun with it! We typically accompany these with a side of Szechuan green beans or couscous.


Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Ready to Eat


*Note – I would have taken a photo of all four burgers together with some toppings and sides, but when I turned around I caught a glimpse of my husband running into the other room with a burger in one hand yelling, “Take a photo of THIS!” and stuffing it into his mouth…

Spicy Lentil-Walnut Burgers
adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

Makes 4 burgers (serves 4), Prep time about 40 min, Cook time about 20 min

3/4 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
5 garlic cloves, minced (or use a garlic press)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large egg
4 Hamburger buns

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Place lentils in a small saucepan, cover with an inch of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover, and cook until the lentils are tender but holding their shape, 15 to 20 minutes (it’s important that you don’t overcook them and make lentil-mush). Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, spread the chopped walnuts on a baking sheet to toast in the oven for about 10 minutes. They should be a little darker and very fragrant. Set the walnuts aside to cool.

When the walnuts have cooled I like to chop them a little more finely. Then combine them in a large bowl along with the breadcrumbs, garlic, cumin, coriander (if you have whole instead of ground, just put them in a plastic bag and crush with the flat side of a meat tenderizer or even a can), red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Mix with a wooden spoon. It should appear finely ground except for some pieces of walnut.

Add the lentils and 1 tablespoons of the oil. Don’t be afraid to be a little rough in your mixing – the contents of the bowl should appear chopped and fully incorporated but with some lentils remaining whole.

Whisk the egg in a small bowl and add it to the lentil mixture. Mix well, but be careful here not to mix it into mush. Divide it into 4 equal-size parts and roll into balls; flatten with the palm of your hand into 3/4-inch-thick patties.

Heat a large nonstick skillet and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the burgers and cook over medium-low heat until crisp and browned, turning carefully with a thin-edged spatula, 8 to 10 minutes per side. Do not turn more frequently or else they will start to crumble. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.

Add to your bun and serve!

Hints and Pinches, Fried Apples

Apples and Cinnamon

If you went apple picking this season like Edwin, then you may have a few extra apples in your kitchen. Apple pie is delicious, but many people don’t have the time to wrestle with dough and pie crust (and some don’t want to be tempted to eat a whole pie by themselves). Of course, this is sad for me because my favorite part is the crust! But most people, my husband included, just love the taste and smell of warm apples.

Apples and Cinnamon, Bag of Apples

This weekend my in-laws gave us a bag of leftover apples. The apples are on their way to going bad, and they’re really too mealy to eat by themselves. But Morgan’s father offered that he thought they would be perfect for frying – and he was right!

Apples and Cinnamon, Peeling and Slicing

Fried apples are difficult to get wrong, but you should decide how you want them before you start. I like a crispier apple, my husband likes mushy. I like my apples peeled and thinly sliced, and he prefers non-peeled chunks. We decided to experiment separately.

Apples and Cinnamon, Adding Spices


She said, Fried Apples (Crispy and Thin)

Apples and Cinnamon, with Cool Whip

I chose a medium size apple, washed and peeled it. Use an apple slicer to cut it into 8 pieces, removing the core. Use a small knife to make thinner slices.

Heat up a small skillet and add 2 tablespoons of butter when hot. After about 30 seconds, add the apple slices to the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring and turning the slices once or twice.

Sprinkle a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar over the apples. Stir one or twice to coat both sides of the apples.

Remove immediately from heat so that they’re still crispy. Serve with a side of fat-free cool whip.

He said, Fried Apples (Mushy and Thick)

Apples and Cinnamon, Morgan's Apples

Morgan washed two medium size apples and used an apple slice to cut into 16 pieces total (skins on). He added butter to a hot skillet, and then included the apples.

After cooking for about 1 minute, add cinnamon, brown sugar (about 1/4 cup), nutmeg and allspice. Continue to cook the apples, stirring occasionally, for about 4-5 minutes.

Morgan served his fried apples without cool whip (a tragedy, it’s true).

Apples and Cinnamon, Morgan's Apples Served

Fish, the Final Frontier

I grew up in a house of seafood lovers and fishermen, spending summers at the Jersey Shore. I watched my dad catch, clean and cook fish. I set crab traps in the lagoon using hotdogs and fish heads (crabs go nuts for that stuff!). But, I never really learned how to cook fish myself.

Other than my parents, I can’t think of anyone I know who frequently cooks fish. Why? The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week.

When I asked some of my friends why they don’t cook fish, I heard things ranging from, “seems hard” to “I never think to.” People seem genuinely stymied by the idea of cooking fish! After searching for some recipes, I almost was too – page after page of recipes for fish tacos and fish casserole almost made me lose my appetite forever.

Grouper, Pan-fried

Ghost Baker’s demystification of fish:

If you want the best, always cook fresh fish. The times I’ve purchased frozen fillets they have never dethawed into anything special. Put your best foot forward and buy your fish the same day that you cook it.

Fresh fish should never smell “fishy;” that’s a sure sign that it’s been sitting out. If you get a whiff of something at the grocery store that is overpoweringly fishy, just keep walking.

When you look at the fillet, make sure any liquid on it is clear and not cloudy. It shouldn’t look faded or dull.

Today I purchased a grouper fillet (maybe not the most attractive fish in the sea, but he’s tasty!). I coated the fillet with an egg (beaten), and lightly covered it with breadcrumbs. I used salt, pepper, a little bit of Old Bay and a little bit of Mrs. Dash to season the fillet. A good fillet doesn’t need to be doused in butter or deep fried – some light seasoning makes it very flavorful and preserves all those good vitamins.

Grouper

I pan fried my fillet using only a tablespoon or two of oil on low heat. The cook time depends on the thickness of your fillet, mine was relatively thin and took about 8 minutes. You can tell your fish is done when the fillet is golden brown and the meat flakes off easily when tested with a fork.

My husband prepared side dishes of wild rice and green beans. In the span of 25 minutes (including both cook and prep time) we had a healthy and delicious dinner ready to eat! Cooking with fish isn’t messy – there’s no beef blood to deal with or salmonella chicken scares. The biggest “hassle” is simply going to the store to buy it fresh. It cooks quickly, requires minimal prep, and the list of health benefits of eating fish high in Omega 3 fatty acids only continues to grow!

Delightfully Spicy Black-Bean Cakes

For someone that lists cooking and baking as her two favorite hobbies, I’m probably not as much of a food snob as I should be. I love going out to a fancy dinner, but when I’m cooking, I’m mostly interested in something that’s healthy and relatively quick.

Spicy Black-Bean Cakes, Grated Sweet Potato

Thus, my favorite cookbook is Everyday Food: Great Food Fast, From the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living. Several of the recipes found in this book are staple dinners in my home.

Spicy Black-Bean Cakes, Rinsing Black Beans

Last night we enjoyed Spicy Black-Bean Cakes (hey, they’re DINNERCAKES!). These crispy bean cakes are broiled rather than pan-fried, and the recipe doesn’t use much oil (click here for more information about using the broiler on your oven). My only complaint is that the prep time lies, lies, lies! If you can grate a large sweet potato, finely chop and thinly slice your ingredients, drain, rinse and mash two cans of black beans, and flatten 8 patties in 20 minutes, then my only explanation is that your kitchen is magical like Fantasia.

Spicy Black-Bean Cakes, Divided into 8 Balls

Ghost Baker’s verdict and serving suggestions:

I’m a garlic lover, so I upped the recipe to 8 garlic cloves in my garlic press instead of 6 (just make sure you have a toothbrush handy for after dinner). If you like your food hot, don’t be afraid to add a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne, though these cakes are already quite spicy as is.

Spicy Black-Bean Cakes, Flattened into Patties

The recipe calls for a lime sour cream sauce to pour over the cakes, but in the interest of cutting down on fat content (and because I don’t love sour cream to begin with), I just cut this part out. I served these cakes over a leafy salad with a side of corn.

Spicy Black-Bean Cakes, Crispy and Ready to Eat

Spicy Black-Bean Cakes
Makes 8 cakes, Prep time around 45 minutes, Cook time about 15 minutes total
adapted from Every Food: Great Food Fast

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced
8 garlic cloves, pressed

2 jalapeno chiles, finely chopped (you can remove the ribs and seeds if you like less heat)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon of cayenne (optional)

2 cans (15 oz cans) black beans, drained and rinsed

Coarse salt and

fresh ground pepper
1 large sweet potato, peeled and coarsely grated (about 2 cups, be prepared for tired arms!)

1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs

In a small skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the oil. Cook scallions until softened (about 1 minute).

Add the garlic, jalapeno, cumin and optional cayenne – cook about 30 seconds or until fragrant, stirring continuously. You may want to make sure you have some ventilation – all the spices combined on the stove got to me a little. Transfer contents of the skillet to a large bowl.

Add the rinsed and drained beans to the bowl. Mash beans with a potato masher or fork, leaving about 1/4 of the beans whole. Season with salt and pepper.

Move an oven rack to the top of the oven and heat the broiler, leaving the oven door slightly open.

Fold in the grated sweet potato, egg and breadcrumbs. Divide into 8 balls of equal size, then flatten into patties.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, and brush the paper with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Place the patties on the sheet about 1/2 inch apart.

Broil on the top rack until golden brown, about 10 minutes. With a thin metal spatula, carefully turn the cakes after 10 minutes. Broil for another 3 minutes, then serve!