Super Simple Summer Pasta

Though summer thrives though September or October here in the southwest, the end of summer vacation is coming up fast for those of us in school. The past couple of years, I’ve been astounded by how fast the summer passes. When I was a child, summer vacation lasted forever. Or so it seemed. By the end of it, I wanted to be back in school just for the change of pace. This year in particular, though, I feel like I’m scrambling to do everything I set out to do at the beginning of the summer…before it’s too late. Once the semester begins, free time for crafts and reading for pleasure will be long forgotten. It’s just something most college students learn to accept.

On that uplifting note, I present to you this super simple pasta recipe, perfect for those Sunday nights when you need a short break from cramming information into your brain as well as the sustenance to continue to be able to do so. :D

A couple of weeks ago, a family friend started handing out extra veggies from his garden, and I ended up with at least four bags of cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash. Needless to say, I’ve been constantly on the lookout for interesting new ways to eat them. For the cucumbers, I made raita a couple of weeks ago; I’ve been making tons of cucumber and banana smoothies (more on that later); they’re also awesome sliced with this spread or this one on toast. My new favorite way to eat the zucchini, though, is using this recipe from Super Natural Every Day. It’s more of a guideline than an actual set of instructions; more than likely, you can just wing it, and it’ll come out delicious.

This pasta, as well as everything else that I’ve tried from this cookbook, practically leaps into your mouth from the bowl. The ingredients are simple and the procedure is easy, but each of the flavors plays perfectly off of the others like a violin quartet inside your mouth. Just when you think the spice from the crushed red pepper might overwhelm you, the parmesan steps in with a hint of creaminess to comfort you. Perfectly timed.

Simple Summer Pasta

Adapted from Super Natural Every Day

2 medium zucchini, coarsely grated

Salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

8 oz dried pasta, I used sweet potato linguini from Whole Foods

½ cup parmesan, grated

1 tablespoon butter, optional

Fresh-ground black pepper

Toss the grated squash with the salt and set over the sink or a deep bowl to let the vegetables’ water drain away. Let sit for 10 minutes, then squeeze away as much excess water as you can.

Cook your pasta according to the package directions for al dente. Reserve some of the cooking water.

Put the olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper in a cold pan, then turn on the heat to medium and let cook for 1-2 minutes, just until the garlic begins to brown. Add the drained zucchini and let cook for 2-5 minutes, until tender.

Add the pasta to the pan, as well as some of the reserved cooking water if the mixture seems dry. Evenly distribute the zucchini and pasta, and add the butter, if using, and parmesan. Toss with salt and pepper, to taste.

Now, get back to that list of textbooks.

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Oatcakes

Somehow oatcakes ended up pulling the short straw. They must have, to end up with a name like that. When you hear the word “oatcake,” do you think of a bland, dry hockey puck? Probably not a hearty, delicious muffin. This recipe changes everything.

I have to admit, even I wasn’t expecting to be dazzled by these oatcakes. I figured they’d be good, and with the walnuts and flax seeds, they’d be healthy. But I had no idea I was about to fall in love.

Apparently, if you combine a healthy amount of oats with whole-wheat flour, walnuts, and maple syrup magic happens; there will be nothing dry or bland about these. The old-fashioned oats give it some weight, so it doesn’t feel like you’re eating mostly air when you grab one of these oatcakes for breakfast. Does anyone else feel like that about doughnuts? Those things are the most delicious air I’ve ever eaten.

Anyway, the walnuts add a complimentary texture to these muffin-like cakes. They give you something to crunch down on, in the midst of the oaty morning mist. Keeps you on your toes, you know.

(I like that you can see the clouds in the reflection of the wet ingredients in this photo.)

Maple syrup sweetens the cakes, without being sugary, and there’s just enough salt in the recipe to keep it feeling almost savory. Maybe it’s just me, but the first time I bit into these (carefully, as they were right out of the oven), I got hints of cornbread in the flavor profile. It was only that first bite, though, so maybe I’m crazy. Either way, these oatcake muffins are more similar to cornbread than, say, a cupcake. Or a hockey puck.

One last thing: this recipe uses coconut oil. I can honestly say that it was the first time I’d ever used the stuff. I was a little afraid of it, actually; solid in the cool grocery store, liquid in my stuffy pantry? Something’s fishy. I ended up trying it anyway because I can’t think of a better reason to conquer a food anxiety than delicious oatmuffincakes. It’s pretty cool stuff. The next thing you know, I’ll be going all-out hippie status and using it for hair and skin care. (Actually, only if it was a little less expensive. I’ll stick to my unnatural shampoo and conditioner for now.)

These oatcakes really were life changing. Try them, and you’ll understand.


Oatcakes

Recipe from Super Natural Every Day

3 cups rolled oats

2 cups white whole wheat flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons salt

¼ cup ground flax seeds

¾ cup walnuts, chopped

1/3 cup coconut oil

1/3 cup unsalted butter

¾ cup maple syrup

½ cup natural cane sugar

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease or line a muffin pan.

Toast walnuts in a small, dry pan over medium heat until fragrant. Keep an eye on these – you don’t want them to burn.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl: oats, flour, baking powder, salt, flax seeds, and walnuts.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the coconut oil, butter, maple syrup, and sugar and slowly melt together. Stir just until the butter melts and the sugar has dissolved, and then remove from heat.

Pour the slightly warm coconut oil mixture over the oat mixture. Stir together with a fork, and then add the eggs. Stir again until everything comes together into a wet dough, and spoon the dough into the muffin cups. They will be nearly full, but won’t rise too much in the oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the edges of each oatcake are deeply golden. Remove from oven and let cool a couple of minutes. Then, run a knife around the edges of the cakes and tip them out onto a cooking rack.

Serve warm, at room temperature, plain, or slathered with butter or jelly. Enjoy!

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Chocolate Sorbet

This is serious. Seriously chocolatey. This is the chocolate you need when you’re feeling hormonal. This is not the chocolate you need when you want a delicate, lightly sweet dessert. This is not something to be taken lightly.

This might be the chocolate you need when you want a small serving of something – with flavor twice its size. That is, if you manage to not eat until you reach a chocolate coma status.

Being a sorbet, this recipe calls for no milk, cream, or eggs. While those three things are certainly lovely, the way I see it, there’s nothing in this sorbet to distract from that pure. Chocolate. Flavor. I mean it, my dad had to give up halfway through a bowl of this stuff because he didn’t know what he was in for when he served it. He just doesn’t understand. Just because it’s a lighter option than a custard-based ice cream doesn’t mean it lacks intense, ridiculous chocolate flavor.

Now, you didn’t hear it from me, but this stuff is stellar with a drizzle of Bailey’s Irish Cream.

Onward.

These are your ingredients. It’s not a difficult recipe: chocolate on chocolate on sugar. If it’s above 80 degrees where you are, it’s worth it to give it a try.

Here’s the mixture once everything is melted and dissolved. It may be very tempting to just drink this as is. I will not judge.

After the initial chill in the refrigerator.

Here it is, ready to be scooped and consumed.

There really are no words.

Chocolate Sorbet

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen, the Perfect Scoop

Ice-Cream-Maker-less technique from Brown Eyed Baker

2 ¼ cups water

1 cup sugar

¾ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

A pinch of salt

6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used semisweet chocolate chips)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large saucepan, which together 1 ½ cups water with the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking often. Continuously whisking, let it boil for 45 seconds.

Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate until it melts, then stir in the vanilla and remaining ¾ cup water. Transfer to a blender and blend for 15 seconds. Chill thoroughly and either freeze it in an ice cream maker, if you have one, or continue reading.

To freeze sorbet in your freezer, remove mixture from refrigerator once chilled and stir with a rubber scraper. Cover tightly and place in freezer for 2 hours.

Remove from the freezer and beat with a hand mixer to break up the ice crystals that are beginning to form. Cover and place back in freezer for two more hours.

Remove from freezer and beat with hand mixer one more time. (If your sorbet has not yet begun to get thick, repeat the freezing and beating again.) This would be a great time to stir in anything you may want to add to this sorbet, such as white and dark chocolate chunks (if the chocolate isn’t yet quite enough for you), or possibly a salted pistachio or two. Your options are endless.

Cover and return mixture to the freezer until the sorbet becomes firm.

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Lord of the Rings Detour

If I’ve been a bad blogger lately (I have), it’s because of Tolkien. My life has taken a bit of a Lord of the Rings detour in the sense of being side-tracked from everything that I should be doing and thinking pretty exclusively about LOTR. Earlier this summer, I picked up The Hobbit with no intention of going through the other three again, mostly for length reasons. Probably because I knew this exact thing would happen.

You see, I have a confession to make. I wasn’t a fan of the series pre-Peter-Jackson movies – I don’t think I’d ever even heard of them. Admittedly, I was 10 when Fellowship was released in theaters. So the movies were definitely the primary source of interest for me, though at some point, I picked up the books and tried to give them a read. Still being young and not a hardcore fantasy reader, I did not have the same experience then as I am having now. In fact, I now remember little of that first time with the books. Needless to say, I was long overdue for giving it another shot.

I am 88 pages into Return of the King right now, and already I’m feeling concerned about what I’m going to do when I’m done. I’ve grown attached to these characters and all of Middle Earth; what happens when I find myself back in New Mexico? True, I have a lot of other books I need to read this summer (mostly books loaned to me by family and friends that won’t see the light of day until winter if I don’t get to them before the semester starts), and getting caught in the middle of this epic series was probably the most inconvenient thing of the summer thus far. But it’s also been the best.

I’ve seen a quote somewhere, though I don’t remember where anymore, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” (A quick Google search led me to George R. R. Martin.) If that’s not enough incentive to pick up a novel, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, I’m not planning on asking some dumb “do you prefer the book or the movie” question because nine times out of ten, there’s no comparison. I am, however, interested in one question: is there a scene or character that got little or no screen time in the movies that you would have chosen to include or highlight, even if it required of you to reduce focus on a different scene of your choosing? If you want to add something in, you have to take something out.

I’m really interested in hearing anyone and everyone’s response. I’ll come back in and edit this post with my response when I finish those last 252 pages. ;)

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House of Mirth by Judith Wharton

To continue with the loosely-applied “gender” theme of these literature posts, I present to you House of Mirth by Judith Wharton.

Somewhere on the border of naturalism, with just a touch of realism for good measure, House of Mirth focuses on Miss Lily Bart and her social circle of rich New Yorkers in the late 1800s. Lily, however, finds herself pushed away from the center of this circle as it becomes more and more apparent that she doesn’t have the money to play cards every night and go vacationing nearly every week. She lives primarily off money distributed by her aunt, while she employs herself with finding a husband with enough financial security for her elaborate taste. In her late twenties when the book begins, her time is running out, yet she cannot seem to resist sabotaging her own chances at marrying. Unable to admit that she desires independence, at least to some extent, she must navigate treacherous social highways which seem to lead nowhere but disaster while overcoming the indecision that comes from being trapped between two unattainable lives.

Though the story centers around Lily Bart, the opening scene depicts Lawrence Selden spying her and speculating about her from across a train station, and it prepares the reader for a novel intensely focused on social perception, expectation, and reaction. Rather than watching Lily learn to navigate high society, we find that she has already finely tuned her ability to manipulate both the men and women around her to the point where it’s arguably the art form Selden describes. Therefore, as circumstances change, we follow her fall from high society into Lily’s personal purgatory.

While Lily may not appear particularly inspiring on paper (so to speak), the character brings about questions of one’s ability to rise above his or her circumstances, as well as the expectation that have been imposed on him or her. Lily’s mother in particular taught her that there was nothing worse than “living like a pig” and the value of living a “fashionable” life. After years of hearing her mother’s opinions of how one ought to look and act, Lily first experienced the hardships of poverty after her father lost all his money. Her mother took the opportunity to place the burden upon Lily’s shoulders, speaking to her of their family’s money, “But you ’ll get it all back – you ‘ll get it all back, with your face”. This notion that the family’s money depended on her ability to marry a wealthy man stuck with Lily for the rest of her life, weighing heavily upon her. By telling her that her beauty would secure their financial stability once again by landing a wealthy husband, her mother also began to form Lily’s perception of her self-worth. By the time she reached 29, Lily valued only her pretty face, rather than her considerable intelligence or “dramatic instinct”. Rather than appreciating the art in her calculated actions as Selden does, she consistently regards those social necessities as mere “business.”

To me, these ideas of influence and the power of choice are at the forefront of this novel, and this past semester, I wrote a paper about how Lily’s indecision stems from her inability to fully accept the life expected of her and her refusal to enter the working class. It is as though she is frozen somewhere in the middle of these two lifestyles, with too many mistakes and not enough self awareness to firmly step to either side. Personally, several things about this book drew me in, particularly seeing how Lily uses her manipulative skill to her advantage as her own type of social power, as well as the ongoing tension between Lily and Selden. They’re not perfect, but they’re adorable.

– — –

There are so many other things I could say about this novel, but I’ll leave it at this:
If you’ve read this book before, what do you think is the word that both Lily and Selden discover after it’s already too late?

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Spinach Lasagna with Squash

In the five years that I’ve eaten vegetarian, there have been a handful of people that have come to me seeking advice. These people have generally been my friends that were thinking about going vegetarian themselves, and they would ask me, “But what do you eat?”

In a lot of ways, it’s concerning that American culture fixates on meat and meat products so much that any other option is just beyond the scope of reason. I realize that there are a lot of people who just love meat so much that they can’t imagine life without it, and that’s fine. I get that. I feel the same way about vegetables. “You don’t like ANY vegetables? How do you liiiive??” But the people that inquire about my dietary choices as a sort of reconnaissance generally do so out of curiosity, determining whether or not they can do it because they probably weren’t that attached to meat in the first place.

Usually I’ll respond to the “what do you eat?” question with, “The same things you do, but without meat.” It’s not wholly accurate, but it can be frustrating when vegetarianism is thought of as alien. I’ll usually follow that with some sort of “Eat more beans and nuts when you’d be eating meat, and when you’re not filling up on animal flesh, there’s more room for the vitamins and nutrients that vegetables provide.”

One of my favorite opportunities to swap out meat for something vegetable-y in a recipe is in lasagna. When I was younger, my grandma regularly made lasagna for dinner and it was one of the few things I thought I would miss when I stopped eating meat. Fortunately for me, my mom found this recipe for vegetarian lasagna that uses zucchini in the place of meat in the sauce and spinach as one of the layers. These are two of my favorite vegetables, people! I love this recipe. It satisfies that need for comfort food from your childhood, but it also provides glorious glorious vegetables. Like all lasagnas, the layers provide complexity, especially with the surprising sauce. This stuff is seriously good and seriously filling. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, consider giving this recipe a shot!

Hand modeling by my mother :) Sauté these onion cubes!

Sauce pre-squash:

Sauce with grated squash stirred in:

Layers forming! In this photo you can see the sauce on top, with mozzarella and spinach underneath. Below that is a bit of ricotta and whole wheat noodles.

Ready to bake!

Look how pretty it comes out!

Vegetarian Lasagna with Italian Tomato Sauce

Source: Unknown

For the Sauce:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 14-oz. can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes

1 14-oz. can tomato sauce

6 oz. tomato paste

1-2 tablespoons sugar (optional)

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning, or any combination of herbs you like

black pepper to taste

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion for about 5 minutes. When it starts becoming translucent, add the garlic and sauté another 5 minutes.

Turn up the heat to high and add the cans of tomato and tomato paste. Stir well to incorporate. Add the optional sugar and bring to a boil.

Lower heat, add the herbs and pepper, cover and let simmer for at least 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Stir in the optional cheese, and simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasonings. If sauce is too thick, add some water.

For the lasagna:

1 pound dry lasagna noodles

1 recipe Italian Sauce (see above)

2 small or 1 large zucchini, grated

1/2 pound ricotta cheese

at least 1 large bunch baby spinach

1 pound mozzarella cheese, grated or thinly sliced

1/2 pound provolone, grated or thinly sliced (optional)

Bring the tomato sauce to a boil, stir in the zucchini, and cook for about 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Ladle a bit of sauce into the baking dish and spread it around so the bottom of the dish is lightly coated.

Place lasagna noodles in the pan to form a single layer. If necessary, break noodles to fill the gaps.

Spread 1/3 of the ricotta cheese on the noodles, then lay out 1/3 of the spinach on top of that. Sprinkle or place 1/3 of the mozzarella (and provolone, if using) cheese on top of the spinach, then finish with 1/3 of remaining tomato sauce.

Repeat this process twice, saving a sprinkle of cheese for the top.

Bake for about 1 hour, until sauce is bubbly, cheese is melted, and noodles are tender. Let cool 10 minutes and serve.

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Redemption

This post is about redemption for a couple of reasons: 1) I haven’t posted in about two weeks. Uh-oh. 2) Honey Whole Wheat Pound Cake.

Sometimes when I’m cooking or baking, I ruin stuff beyond all hope. I have a major minor freak out every single time, but kitchen fails are a part of life, right? Usually, I know what I did wrong and know how to redeem myself, such as keep a closer eye on the garlic so it won’t burn, or use a 25-degree-lower temperature for dark baking pans. Whatever I did to this pound cake, though, is a mystery to me.

I debated with myself for a while about whether or not I should post a picture of what happened that day, but maybe someone can tell me what on earth I did wrong? This is it, through the oven door. I (un)fortunately don’t have a better photo of that day.

So, after this happened, with a pep talk from my mother, I resolved to make another and just split up the batter into two pans. Though they came out short, they tasted like victory.

Also, they tasted nutty from the whole wheat with just the right amount of honey flavor. The honey was like that one person you know that you can’t help but adore because they’re sweet and interesting, but not overpoweringly so. If you smell that person just a little more than you taste them, then this comparison gets extra credit points. The texture was successful, at least according to one praising coworker. ;)

Time to redeem myself:

Start by gathering up your dry ingredients.

Here are some super special wet ingredients: buttermilk and honey!

After some mixing, it may look a little curdled. Don’t sweat it.

Batter! And it sure is pretty.

My two short loaves ended up looking like this.

Care for a slice?

Honey Whole Wheat Pound Cake

From Joy the Baker Cookbook

2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup honey

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together  butter, sugar, and honey until soft and creamy, 3-5 minutes. On low speed, beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minutes between each addition. Beat in vanilla.

With the mixer on low speed, beat in half of the flour mixture. Slowly add the buttermilk and beat until just incorporated. Stir in the remaining dry ingredients with spatula.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake 55 to 65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, before transferring onto a wire rack to cool completely.

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