Asparagus In Wine, Balsamic and Soy Reduction

In my quest to appreciate the fungus known as mushrooms, I’ve been perusing some of the cookbooks at the local library. On amazing dish I came across was for roasted Portabello mushrooms from the book Veganomicon. By far the best mushroom dish I’ve had.

Fresh Asparagus Asparagus

I decided to try a variant of this with asparagus, as this vegetable is showing up in markets quite heavily as spring begins to roll in. While not as tasty as the original recipe, I like how the reduction works with this vegetable. There is plenty of liquid, which I sopped with couscous, but consider this as optional.

Asparagus and Balsamic Soy Wine

Asparagus In Wine, Balsamic and Soy Reduction

1/2 cup cooking wine (red)
2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic; minced
1 pound asparagus; woody ends removed and chopped into 1-2 inch pieces.

Preheat the oven to 400. Combine and mix everything but the asparagus. Place the asparagus in a large baking pan and pour in your “sauce”. Roast for 20 minutes, serve and enjoy.

Moroccan Chicken Couscous

Earlier in the week Edwin tweeted that, “Sadness is over baking your lemon squares.” Today I’m going to counter that by adding that sadness is cooking something delicious and not taking good photos of it because (you later realized) your flash was on a wonky setting.

Oh well! I’ll do the best I can? How about a sweet picture of my pup as a peace offering?


Finding myself in a bit of a dinner slump after finishing my midterms at school last week lead me back to my trusty “Great Food Fast” cookbook by Martha Stewart (If you haven’t entered her contest yet to win a free new book, click here!). I flipped to the winter section before spring is upon us, and I found some great recipes I hadn’t made before.


I’ve made her Moroccan Chicken Couscous twice this week – once to test it out and play around and then later in the week to bring to a friends house. This is a great meal to turn to if you want something healthy, light, relatively fast and easy and flavorful without heat (for spice-wary people like Edwin!).

I only made some relatively minor tweeks because things are pretty good! I did change the ratio of things a bit, added more veggies and changed the proportions to serve 2 (with leftovers) or 3.

Moroccan Chicken Couscous
adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

4 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs (if you can’t find skinless, you can remove the skin yourself with kitchen scissors)
5 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2 small onions, thinly sliced
1 can whole tomatoes (14 oz), drained
1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans (15 oz), drained and rinsed
1 3/4 cups chicken stock or reduced-sodium canned broth
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 zucchini, halved lengthwise and quartered

In a 5 or 6 quart pot with a lid (or Dutch oven if you have one), combine all ingredients except zucchini. Break up whole tomatoes using a wooden spoon.

Bring the pot to simmer over medium heat. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, then add quartered zucchini. Replace lid and cook until chicken is done yet tender, approximately 15 more minutes.

When you have 5 minutes left, cook couscous according to package instructions or by using Martha’s “Best Couscous” method. Spoon couscous into bowls, then spoon chicken, vegetables and broth on top.

I do, on occasion, try to eat a meatless dinner. Flipping through Giada De Laurentiis’s Giada’s Kitchen: New Italian Favorites always helps to make me feel good about veggies again. Italian cooking has a lot of great vegetables and healthy things about it, but in restaurants the food just seems to get so bogged down with cheeses and oil. Giada unearths the good food under all the excess.

Broiled Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Potatoes, Lightly Herbed & Sprinkled with Cheese1

I was drawn to her Broiled Zucchini and Potatoes with Pamesan Crust recipe… but with a few changes, of course!

I traded in the new potatoes for two small to medium sized Russet potatoes. I also added in two yellow squash in addition to the zucchini, and I used a bit of shredded Vermont White Cheddar cheese instead of Parmesan. Instead of buying fresh herbs (which are wonderful, but just not that accessible for a quick weeknight dinner) I used dried. I thought the result was pretty awesome.

Broiled Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Potatoes, Lightly Herbed & Sprinkled with Cheese2

Since I had more vegetables than the original recipe, I added in a little more unsalted butter to cook them in. So that I didn’t turn a relatively healthy meal into a butter fiesta, I used 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter + 2 tablespoons of Smart Balance butter. I would also recommend that you cook the veggies in batches in your skillet; I had a giant skillet to use and even with that things were just a little too crowded. The vegetables taste great, with a tiny bit of salt, cheese and butter giving it just enough zip to turn a veggiephobe into a new friend for life.

Broiled Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Potatoes, Lightly Herbed & Sprinkled with Cheese3

Broiled Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Potatoes, Lightly Herbed & Sprinkled with Cheese
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

2 small/medium size Russet potatoes, cleaned and quartered
2 tablespoons unsalted butter + 2 tablespoons Smart Balance butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons rosemary
2 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and then cut into 1 inch pieces
2 small yellow squash, halved lengthwise and then cut into 1 inch pieces
Pinch of kosher salt and black pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated Vermont white cheddar

Boil a medium pot of water on high heat. Add quartered potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and let cool. Cut into 2 inch pieces when cooled.

Over medium heat, place a medium saute pan with butter, garlic, thyme and rosemary – heat until the butter melts. Meanwhile, lightly salt the cut surfaces of the zucchini, squash and potatoes. Place the cut side down in the melted butter and cook for about 15 minutes when golden brown.

Preheat the broiler and line a baking sheet with foil. Place the browned zucchini and potatoes on the sheet with the cut side facing up. Sprinkle with Vermont cheddar. Broil until cheese melts (about 4 minutes). Serve while hot!

Slow Cooker Week – Day 1, Sweet Potato & Beef Stew

It’s time for another theme week at DinnerCakes! From time to time we like to devote a week to a particular style or genre of cooking, a holiday or anything really that strikes our fancy. Past theme weeks include Rainbow Week, Halloween Week and Smoothie Week. Welcome to Slow Cooker (ie Crockpot) week!


When I say slow cooker, do visions of fatty, salty stews pop into your head? Slow cooker meals can be unhealthy when all you’re doing is opening a bunch of canned food into the pot and letting it simmer. Canned food contains a great deal of sodium, which is great to keep it fresher in the can… but not so great for your heart, blood pressure, etc.


So the trick is to use fresh ingredients when possible (watch the canned food), add spices and seasonings liberally (but create your own flavors instead of relying on flavor packets and premade seasonings) and get creative!


I’m starting out the week with the cliched beef stew, but I jazzed it up a little bit. Instead of adding russet potatoes, I used two sweet potatoes that I had in the kitchen, emphasizing the savory and sweet flavors of a stew. I also relied more on veggies than beef, using only a handful of leftover cubed beef that I had from my fondue experiment. Lastly, I didn’t measure any seasonings that I added to the pot. I’m sorry, Julia Childs, but slow cooker meals simmer for hours in the added spices, and I think trying to be too precise about measuring it would lead to a bland stew. Trust your own hand!


Though I was grumbling while preparing the ingredients in the morning, it’s so nice to be able to just walk over to the slow cooker and spoon out dinner in the evening!


Savory Beef & Sweet Potato Stew

Approx. one pound of beef stew meat, cubed
Approx. 1/2 cup flour (for dusting the beef)
2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and diced
Approx. 5 whole carrots, peeled and diced
Approx. 4 whole celery hearts, diced
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 cup frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
32 oz. low sodium beef broth
salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder (for sprinkling on beef)
salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, celery seed, paprika, thyme (to taste)

In the morning, prepare ingredients – season beef, cut carrots, celery, onion, potatoes, etc. Add vegetables to the bottom of the slow cooker.

Dredge beef cubes in flour. Heat a skillet on medium heat. Add cooking spray or a small amount of oil and lightly brown beef, then add to slow cooker. Add a small amount of beef broth to the pan and add onions. Saute until lightly browned, then add onions and deglazed beef broth to the slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients and beef broth to the slow cooker. Toss to combine ingredients and spices.

Cook on low approximately 6-8 hours. If stew needs additional thickening, add more flour or cornstarch and stir. If this is the first time you’ve used your crock pot, try to monitor the cook time as cookers vary in temperature (mine tends to be on the hot side).

Quick & Easy Zucchini and White Bean Soup

The other day I was browsing Food Gawker for inspiration, and I came across a photo for zucchini soup. This is normally the type of thing that I would quickly skip over, but I remembered that I had a stray zucchini around the house that needed to be used, and not much time left to use it!


I talked over a few ideas with Edwin, who was of course thrilled at my newfound fascination with soup. I came up with a few changes to make the zucchini soup I found a little more my style. The biggest change was probably adding white beans. I really enjoy white beans; they always make a really malleable addition to meals. I also some celery, removed the onion and added less zucchini and chicken broth.


One thing to keep in mind is to be a little careful handling the zucchini. After chopping it my hands felt completely dried out, itchy, tight and raw. I was initially a little startled, but then I remembered an excellent comment left by a reader on Edwin’s Celery Root Bisque recipe from last year – handling squash can cause a condition called Contact Dermatitis, and zucchini is a squash. It shouldn’t cause any real damage, but if you’re susceptible like me then your hands might be a little uncomfortable right after working with it. Try touching it as little as possible or, if you’re really concerned, wear latex gloves when handling squash.

Dry hands aside, I have to admit that I really loved this soup. Zucchini doesn’t really have a very strong flavor, so there’s nothing overpowering about the soup – the white beans and pepper make it flavorful. It’s light, very tasty and quick and easy to make – definitely a DinnerCakes win and a great summer dinner!

zucchini soup

Zucchini & White Bean Soup
adapted from Cooking with Michele

2 cans chicken broth (14 oz. each)
1 can cannellini beans (19 oz.), drained
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1/2 cup half and half, optional
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat large pot over medium heat and add oil when hot. Add garlic, zucchini and celery and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add stock, drained white beans and thyme to the pot, then cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until zucchini and celery are softened, about 15 minutes.

Remove pot from heat and pour in batches of two or three into food processor (be careful not to overflow!) and pulse. When desired consistency is reached, pour final batch back into the pot and add half and half, followed by salt and generous amounts of pepper to taste (don’t skimp on the fresh ground pepper!).

Makes about 3 or 4 servings of soup.

Reader Request – Vodka Cream Sauce Using Fresh Tomatoes

A few weeks ago a friend contacted me about homemade vodka sauce. She happens to love it, and she and her significant other have a huge garden where they are about to come into a large surplus of tomatoes – something like two bushels of tomatoes a week!

blanched tomatoes

I had never made vodka sauce from scratch, but Edwin and I are always ready for adventure here on DinnerCakes.

tomatoes simmering

I unearthed a discussion thread about making vodka sauce from scratch on Chowhound. A few of the commenters had some interesting ideas about making it from scratch, and a number of others just suggested a combination of canned and fresh tomatoes to really get the best taste. For this first attempt I used only fresh tomatoes, but I agree that adding some canned tomatoes would probably make a bit of a fuller sauce.

vodka sauce

My sauce came out light and fruity, and I served it over gnocchi pasta. My husband and I both came to the realization that while we love gnocchi for the first few bites, we get a little bored with it towards the end. I think we might have enjoyed this more served over a different kind of pasta.

However, this is a good, lighter style vodka cream sauce that’s just right for summer! Please let us know if you have your own variation of vodka sauce using fresh tomatoes.

gnocchi with vodka sauce

Summertime Vodka Cream Sauce
inspired by Chowhound forum

2 fresh tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon vodka
1/4 cup light cream
salt and red pepper, to taste

Wash tomatoes and make a few shallow cuts in the skin. Boil water, add whole tomatoes to boiling water for a moment, then remove and run cold water over them (ie, blanche tomatoes). The skin will now peel off easily. Peel tomatoes and set aside.

Heat a large pot and add a liberal amount of oil. Mince garlic and add to oil. Stir so that garlic does not burn. Quarter tomatoes and add to pot; simmer on medium heat.

Continue to heat until tomatoes come apart. Stir occasionally and break apart tomatoes with a wooden spoon as they simmer. This process will take a little while until the tomatoes turn to a pulpy sauce. Continue to stir frequently while simmering so that some of the liquid boils off and the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.

As the sauce begins to caramelize, add the vodka and stir well. Add the cream last, then sprinkle with salt and red pepper. Pour over pasta while warm.

Well, I wasn’t entirely sure about posting this recipe since Edwin had just posted an asparagus and pasta dish earlier in the week, but then I thought, “DinnerCakes face-off?”


Of course I didn’t consult Edwin about this, so perhaps later today we’ll have a DinnerCakes rumble. Maybe all the Ghost Baker recipes will suddenly disappear! Maybe my photo over in the right sidebar will be replaced with a Lolcat! Actually the Lolcat thing would be sort of awesome.

cut asparagus

In any event, a few short weeks ago my good friend’s boyfriend was in town on business. My husband and I went to dinner with him and his co-worker at Clyde’s in Georgetown. The wait was a lot longer than what they originally said and the food didn’t knock our socks off, but I liked the idea behind my dish – I ordered mini ravioli with spinach and asparagus.

peascream sauce

As you know, I have to take any opportunity that tricks me into eating more vegetables than I normally might, so I decided to adapt this dish at home. In addition to spinach and asparagus, I also threw in some peas. The ravioli has just enough cheese so that I’m slightly less aware of the massive amount of veggies present. I also found that I could get away with using only the tiniest amount of cream sauce, just enough to keep the ravioli moist and the veggies flavorful.


I really enjoyed this! I’ve had instances in the past where asparagus doesn’t cook quite right, but for this dish I decided to steam them and they were perfect! The cream sauce is really barely noticeable; this is not one of those dishes you get at a restaurant where you have to wade through the sauce to find noodles. *If you’re not a big fan of garlic you may want to use one clove instead of two, as the sauce does have a more noticeable garlic flavor (which I like).

Ravioli with Asparagus, Spinach and Peas

I’d have to say that any dinner that results in me happily eating THREE different kinds of vegetables is a success! It also received the seal of approval from my husband.

Ravioli with Asparagus, Spinach and Peas

Ravioli with Asparagus, Spinach and Peas

1 package of light four cheese ravioli (9 oz.)
13 asparagus, cut diagonally into 1 inch pieces
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 package frozen chopped spinach (10 oz.)
2 cloves garlic*
1/4 cup cream
salt and pepper, to taste
dash onion powder
dash marjoram
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 tablespoon shredded parmesan cheese

This dish isn’t time consuming, but it does take a little maneuvering to cook each item separately. You may want to frequently check your vegetables while they’re cooking to make sure you get your desired consistency.

Cook spinach according to package instructions. While spinach is cooking, slice your asparagus and get your other ingredients ready. When spinach is done, drain and set aside. Boil ravioli according to package instructions; steam cut asparagus in a colander (covered) while pasta cooks.

While pasta is cooking, combine cream, garlic, salt and pepper, onion powder, marjoram, parsley flakes and shredded parmesan in a small sauce pan. Stir frequently to prevent a film from forming over the cream sauce. The peas should only take a short amount of time to cook – so start peas when pasta is about halfway cooked. When the peas are done, combine them with the spinach. The asparagus will likely finish steaming just a minute or two before the pasta is done. When done, remove asparagus from colander and combine with spinach and peas.

Drain ravioli when cooked. Return to pot and toss with a glug of extra virgin olive oil. Gently add in the spinach, asparagus and peas, then pour hot cream sauce over pasta and vegetables. Toss just once or twice to incorporate the cream sauce.

This recipe yields enough for two people to have seconds.

Who Needs Scallions? Mashed Potatoes and Rutabaga

Two dinner posts in one week instead of dessert? This is Ghost Baker blasphemy! And I picked rutabaga to work with; such a bizarre looking vegetable. Maybe hitting our 100th DinnerCakes post this week has made me loopy.


Don’t worry, I’ve just been cooking a lot lately and trying new things… and thankfully they seem to be working out well! Weight loss and weekly baking weren’t really fitting together, though I believe Chef Edwin got a good laugh at my dreams of a pound cake diet (which he sarcastically termed my “pound diet”).

My mother-in-law got me a subscription to Food Network Magazine for Christmas which I have already toyed with before here. This was a really cool gift because now I get great, seasonal recipes delivered directly to my door (er, mail slot). Today’s recipe was inspired by the Nov/Dec 2008 issue featuring some fancy potato recipes.


The original recipe called for a few things that I thought were a little unnecessary for my purposes (a weeknight side dish). And my husband quickly vetoed my quest for fresh parsley and scallions in the grocery store stating incredulously, “Who has ever eaten something and said it needs more scallions!?”

So here we are! I took out some of the “fluff,” used basic Russet potatoes instead of Yukon Gold and added broccoli. This recipe makes a shallow baking dish full of mashed potatoes and rutabaga. We had enough leftover for a full week of dinners and/or lunches… quite a bit, really. But I surprisingly never got tired of it! This dish really is a nice surprise. I’d only had rutabaga once before at Thanksgiving 2008. I thought it had a very distinct, almost bitter taste that didn’t agree with me, but combining it with potatoes makes it much more mild and very enjoyable.

mashed potatoes and rutabaga

Mashed Potatoes and Rutabaga
adapted from Food Network Magazine

1 pound rutabaga (yellow turnip), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound Russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons margarine, room temperature (I did half regular butter and half margarine in an attempt to reduce the fat content, but you certainly don’t have to)
3/4 cup half and half, warmed
salt, to taste (I used coarse Kosher salt)
1/2 tablespoon oil (I used Smart Balance oil)
2 cups broccoli florets, chopped
3/4 cups plain breadcrumbs

In a large pot, cover cut rutabaga and potatoes with cold, salted water and bring to a boil on medium heat. Once the water begins to boil, reduce to a simmer until the vegetables are tender (they should hold there form, but there should be little resistance when pierced with a fork). This will take approximately 30 minutes.

Drain the water and turn the heat down to low. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the butter (not the margarine) and mash (I used a potato masher) until smooth (I like to leave just a few potato chunks in mine, but I know everyone has there own preference!). Add the warm half and half and salt. Keep warm on low setting.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of margarine with the oil in a skillet on medium. Add the breadcrumbs and broccoli and cook until broccoli is tender, stirring so that the breadcrumbs don’t burn.

Pour the potato mixture into a shallow baking or casserole dish. Sprinkle potatoes with the breadcrumb/broccoli mixture and serve.

Note – after discussing this dish with Edwin, we think mashed cauliflower might also be good in here, possibly as a substitute to the Russet potatoes. Let us know if you try it out!

At first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That’s how the saying goes and for me, applies no better than in the world of cooking. I was not blessed with any innate culinary skills. I have burnt many a baked good, and overcooked many a meat until tasteless. It is a hobby that is sometimes bittersweet (though I love it all the same).

Baby Bok Choy

Bok choy is something I’ve been trying to become comfortable with and the ride has been… educational. I wanted something light to accompany future asian dishes and for some time this vegetable did not want to cooperate. However, eventually progress was made.

Baby Bok Choy Stir Fry

Bok choy is a cheap healthy vegetable also known as chinese cabbage. This simple dish would go well with a heavy stir fry to balance out the meal.

Baby Bok Choy Stir-Fry with Garlic and Ginger

1 to 1 1/2 pounds baby bok choy
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 large loves of garlic; minced
1 tablespoon and one teaspoon of ginger; minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce (use regular if you don’t have any)

Cut the bottom end of the baby bok choy and separate the leaves. Rinse and dry.

Mash the garlic with the salt briefly to get more of the flavor out. Put a wok or large pan on high heat. Immediately, before the wok heats up, add both oils along with the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant; approximately one minute.

Add the bok choy leaves along with the soy sauce. Continue tossing to coat and stir-fry until green ends begin to wilt and the tougher base is crisp but hot and slightly tender.

Ahhh, the holidays are over. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years: the trifecta of bad (but delicious) eating. It’s no mystery why so many people list “lose weight” or “get back into shape” as one of their New Years resolutions. All things considered, life is pretty good for most of us. We don’t have to hunt or forage for food, worrying whether or not we’ll have enough to last the winter. The amount of physical labor required by us on a regular basis is almost non-existent, maxing out at carrying groceries up some flight of stairs for some. In comparison, life is good, but life is also sedentary and this does lend itself to its own set of problems.


So, the punch line to this little diatribe of mine (since I’m sure you’ll nodding away right now) is to eat well and inject some exercise in your regular routine. We try to keep it pretty healthy here at DinnerCakes (when it’s not baking, as Heather shudders reading this) so I strongly recommend you try some of our recipes if you haven’t already. We’ll keep pumping them out and welcome any feedback you may have, whether it be on issues with a meal, requests for a particular type of recipe or simply to let us know how things are working out.

Asparagus and Cauliflower - Ready To Bake

Anyway, back to the recipe! Since my first experiment with cauliflower was so successful, I decided to try another. This is a simple roasted dish that would work well as a side. While cauliflower is in season right now, the asparagus is not. That aside, this is a great dish.

Roasted Cauliflower and Asparagus with Lemon and Garlic

Roasted Asparagus with Cauliflower with Lemon and Garlic
Cauliflower cooks a bit slower than asparagus, so be sure to cut into small florets (smaller than the pictures here).
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bunch of asparagus; chopped into threes
1 head of cauliflower; chopped
3 garlic cloves; minced
Juice of one lemon

Preheat the oven to 450

Chop the vegetables and toss all the ingredients into a bowl until coated. Transfer to a glass baking pan and roast for 15-20 minutes; until the vegetables are soft. The cauliflower will still be crisp to the bite.