Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Forget the Caribbean. Just Give Me Some Black Beans and Rice

Caribbean black beans and rice

The other day I received a flyer advertising a romantic Caribbean get-away. It showed a scantily clad, deliriously happy couple lounging on the beach, cocktails in hand. I ripped it in half and tossed in the recycle bin.

When you're married to someone whose Twitter handle is @Dermdoc, lying on the beach isn't in your future. Consider this: Last summer when our local Target ran out of sunscreen, they called us.

So the only thing worth going to the Caribbean for would be the food. Caribbean food is a fusion of many cuisines including African, Ameri-Indian, French, and Spanish making, making it deliciously unique. Given its temperate climate, the Caribbean produces an astounding array of exotic fruits such as passionfruit, guava, cherimoyas, and coconuts which feature prominently in both sweet and savory dishes. And their beloved jerk seasoned meats and fresh fish, are often accompanied by two of my favorite foods: plantains and black beans.

Caribbean black beans and rice. If you've never had it, I'm sorry; you've been missing out. I had my first taste about 12 years ago in an eclectic Caribbean restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina. I was smitten and still am.

What makes Caribbean black beans so good? They're flavored with an enticing combination of ingredients including refreshing ginger, sweet pineapple and orange juice, aromatic allspice, and savory thyme. Spooning Caribbean black beans atop a bowl of white or brown rice makes a happy, humble vegetarian dish that you'll find yourself returning to again and again. And if you'd like to add some protein, may I suggest some pan-seared chili-lime shrimp?

Caribbean Black Beans and Rice
Serves 4
Printable recipe.

1 cup white or brown rice of your choice
3 cups water
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 medium white onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 (14-ounce) can black beans, drained
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/3 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon freshly minced ginger
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending on how hot you like it
1/8 teaspoon allspice or nutmeg
2 teaspoons fresh thyme

1. In a medium heavy saucepan over high heat, bring rice and water to a boil for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and cook until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

2. In a medium pot over medium heat, saute garlic and onions in olive oil until fragrant and lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, and stir until combined. Cook over low heat until heated through, about 8 to10 minutes. If beans become too thick, simply add a little bit more juice or water. Serve atop white or brown rice.

Optional garnishes: Chopped ripe mango or diced fresh pineapple.

You might also like these Caribbean-inspired recipes:
Slow Cooker Caribbean Jerk Chicken recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking
Caribbean Style Black Bean and Delicata Squash recipe from Lisa's Kitchen
Caribbean-Style Steamed Cabbage and Carrots recipe from Coffee and Vanilla
Bluebeard's Rum Custard Pudding recipe from Trini Gourmet

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Waiting on Winter Squash

spaghetti squash

I wanted kabocha squash. You don't always get want you want.

The other morning when I walked to the squash section of my local supermarket, it was practically empty, well, except for the tiny area where the produce guy was rearranging the spaghetti squash. 

"Hey, do you have any kabocha squash in the back?" I asked. 

"Sorry, we didn't get any kabocha squash in this week, but we do have spaghetti squash," he said, and held one out to me, with an expectant smile.

"How about butternut squash?"

"No, the truck hasn't come in yet."



"You know, that spaghetti squash looks really good," I said. 

"Doesn't it?" he replied, and handed me the squash.

Though I'm committed to eating more kabocha squash this year, there's nothing wrong with giving spaghetti squash a little love. Or shall I say, "amore"? Because spaghetti squash needs Italian love -- grassy extra virgin olive oil, fragrant rosemary and basil, and salty Parmesan. Mangia!

Herbed Spaghetti Squash with Olive Oil and Parmesan

Herbed Spaghetti Squash with Olive Oil and Parmesan
Serves 4 to 6

1 spaghetti squash (about 3 1/2- 4 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided (preferably extra virgin for drizzling on top)
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup chopped fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, rosemary, and oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking pan with tinfoil (for easy clean up). Place squash halves flesh side down and pierce all over with a fork. Cook for 45-50 minutes, or until tender. Let cool. Using a fork, scrape the hot flesh from the squash and place in a bowl.

2.  In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant. Add the herbs, crushed red pepper, salt, and 1/4 cup grated cheese, and stir. Pour over the cooked squash and stir well. Place in a serving dish. Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil (preferably extra virgin) and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup grated cheese. Serve hot.

You might also enjoy these spaghetti squash recipes:
Baked Spaghetti Squash with Butter and Cheese recipe from Food Blogga
Spaghetti Squash Gratin with Walnuts and Bacon recipe from Teacher Cooks
Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Chickpeas recipe from Fat Free Vegan
Spaghetti Squash with Spinach, Feta, and Basil White Beans recipe from Cookin' Canuck

The Winner of Parents Need to Eat Too Is....

Danielle. I hope your sister enjoys the book, Danielle. Please email me your name and mailing address so we can send you the book.

Thank you so much to all of you who commented and tweeted about the give-away. There will be many more give-aways, so better luck next time!


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cookbook Review: Parents Need to Eat Too by Debbie Koening

While most moms spend their entire pregnancy worrying about how and what to feed their newborn, they often neglect themselves. While baby is fortified with breast milk and organic mashed veggies, mom has the number of the nearby Domino's memorized.

Lucky for new moms and dads, there's Debbie Koenig, proud mom of 5-year-old Harry, and author of the remarkably useful new cookbook, Parents Need to Eat Too.

The idea for the book grew organically from Koenig's own life. As a sleep-deprived new mom, she found herself resorting to too many fried egg sandwiches and Clif bars instead of nutritious homemade meals. So she started making a few changes: During Harry's morning and afternoon naps, she'd chop and roast vegetables or whip together a cheese or tomato sauce so that when dinnertime came, she'd be way ahead of the game. Miraculously, it worked! So well, that you're now reading this review of her cookbook.

Parents Need to Eat Too has over 150 delicious, nutritious, easy-to-make recipes divided into creative chapters including "Nap-Time Cooking, "Un-Recipes for Partners Who Can't Cook," and "Galacta-what? Recipes to Support Breastfeeding." It also gives new moms tips on how to stock her pantry, which cooking tools and gadgets to buy, and how to shop with a baby.

In the "New Mom's Pantry" chapter you''ll find lots of satisfying, simple, one-pot wonders and pasta dishes such as Smoky Split-Pea Soup (perfect for baby food), Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca, and Southwestern Polenta Lasagna.

"Nap-Time Cooking" will no doubt be the most popular among most new moms. Once the baby's asleep, Koening helps you dice and slice like a pro. You'll find recipes for Zucchini and Spinach Risotto, Indian-Spiced Black Lentil Stew, and more.

And on those days when Sweet Pea won't stop crying, and you have to carry him around all day, Koening even has a tasty selection of "One-Handed Meals," including Chicken (Pot) Handpies, Meat Pasties, and BBQ Chicken Empanadas.

You still wonder, Will the recipes really work? Yes. How do I know this? Because the recipes were tested by a group of more than 100 parents! Indeed, you'll appreciate (and sometimes chuckle at) the "Mama said" section at the end of each recipe that includes a note from a parent who made the recipe. Conveniently, every recipe also has instructions to make baby food from the same ingredients.

If it seems that Koening has anticipated all of your new-parent eating dilemmas and come up with tasty solutions for you, it's because she has. It's called Parents Need to Eat Too, and if you click here, you can watch of video of Debbie Koening telling you more about it.

There's more! If you order the book before February 21st, you'll receive a FREE Digital Starter Kit with bonus recipes, a guide to making baby food, a bookmark, and more.

Give-Away Time!

In the comment section below, tell me why you'd like to win a copy of Parents Need to Eat Too. Tweet about it and mention @Susan_Russo, and I'll count that as another entry. I'll announce the winner on Monday, February 20th. Good luck!

Monday, February 13, 2012

30 Days, 30 Ways with Macaroni and Cheese

Salami, Spinach, and Smoked Gouda Macaroni & Cheese
                   Salami, Spinach, and Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese

You never know where recipe inspiration may come from.

A few Sundays ago as I was trying to think of a new macaroni and cheese recipe, I was stuck. I knew I was going to use Wisconsin Smoked Gouda Cheese, but as for everything else, I just didn’t know. Did I want a Tex-Mex mac ‘n cheese with charred poblanos? Or how about a hog-wild American version with bacon and caramelized onions?

So I did what any good recipe developer would do: I started watching the Packers/Giants playoff game. Green Bay had just fumbled the ball, and the Giants recovered it. And I exclaimed, “That’s it!”

Click here to find out what happened next and to get the recipe for Salami, Spinach, and Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese.

For 29 more amazing macaroni and cheese recipes from some of the best food bloggers out there, please visit The 3rd Annual 30 Days, 30 Ways with Macaroni and Cheese web site, sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Secret to Amazing French Onion Soup

brandied French onion and fennel soup

You know what the secret to amazing French onion soup is? Brandy.

brandy bottle

Next time you make French onion soup, skip the white wine and add brandy instead. You won't taste a strong liquor flavor, but you will notice a complexity and depth of flavor that lingers delicately on your lips.

Brandied French Onion and Fennel Soup
Makes 8 servings
Printable recipe.

Note: The licorice flavored fennel complements the sweet onions and brandy in this soup. If you're not a fennel fan, then add 2 more onions. For a variation, you can also use smoked Gouda or rye bread.

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 medium fennel bulbs, finely chopped, about 1 1/2 pounds
5 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced, about 2 pounds
1 cup brandy of your choice
7 cups beef broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, depending on your likeness
3/4 pound shredded Gruyere cheese
8 thin slices of French bread, toasted

1. In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add fennel and onions turning to coat. Cook for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. This allows the onions to "sweat" and become meltingly tender, browned, and sweet. Add brandy and cook for 5 minutes until slightly reduced. Add beef broth, salt, black pepper, and thyme and stir. Reduce heat to low and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Pour soup into individual bowls. Top each with a piece of bread, toasted side down, and top with 1/8 of the shredded cheese. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until browned and bubbly. Serve immediately.

You might also enjoy these onion soup recipes: 
English Onion Soup recipe from Never Enough Thyme
Beef and Onion Soup recipe from The Food in My Beard
Italian Onion Soup recipe from Ms. Adventures in Italy
English Onion Soup with Sage and Cheddar recipe from Erin Cooks