Eat well. You owe it to yourself.

Month: January, 2013

Friendship Soup

I think that if this soup were a statue, it’s plaque would read, Give me your vegetarians, your vegans, your huddled lactose intolerant friends, yearning to eat well… Overly dramatic? Probably. But seriously guys, this soup is a soup for everyone, even the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.


Friendship Soup has been a family staple for as long as I can remember, written on a small index card in my grandmother’s handwriting. But a few years ago, my sister became a vegetarian, and no longer could she eat the recipe as written, with a pound of hamburger and beef bouillon. So, I set out to make a vegetarian version, and realized in the process that it’s also dairy-free, and if you switch out the pearl barley for more lentils, gluten-free. You’re welcome, special dietary needs world!


While following a recipe is generally a good idea for making food taste good, I think it’s also about the experience. So, today, I’d like to offer you some pro-tips on how to make Friendship Soup taste as utterly scrumptious as possible.

The first thing you need to do is make yourself look as unfit for the general public as possible. Do not wear real pants. Pull out your leggings, your yoga pants, your rattiest sweatpants, because we are getting comfortable. I can personally recommend the leggings as pants and oversized sweater combo, it’s excellent.

Now, you have a choice. You can either draw inspiration from the name of this recipe and invite some friends over, or you can go solo and have leftovers for days. These are both perfectly wonderful, valid options.

If you go the friends route, this is not the time to invite over someone you’re not worried about impressing. This is the time to invite your friend who has seen you ugly cry at Les Mis and still likes you, mostly because she was ugly crying right next to you. Seriously, your outfit ideally will not be presentable to anyone else.


You can also go the solo route. For this, I suggest hunkering down with an episode of American Horror Story. Sure, you can watch something funny, because Parks and Recreation or 30 Rock or Arrested Development is always a solid decision. But I think a American Horror Story is perfect for this, because you every time you start feeling sad or scared for the characters on the show, you can look down and remember that, oh yeah, you are cuddled up in your bed eating delicious soup. Nothing can get you down.

Friendship Soup

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely diced

2 tbsp olive oil

1 28oz. can diced tomatoes, not drained (I used two 14.5 oz cans and the world did not end)

6-8 cups vegetable stock, depending on how much broth you prefer

½ cup dry split peas

¼ cup pearl barley

½ cups dry lentils

1 tbsp Italian seasoning

½ cup uncooked long grain rice

½ cup quinoa

Salt to taste

Heat the oil on medium in a large pot. Sauté the onions and garlic in oil until soft and slightly browned. Add the tomatoes and broth, then the dry ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour or more, until the grains are cooked through. I added salt throughout the cooking time. You can also keep the soup on low in a crockpot all day.


Honey-Roasted Heirloom Carrots


This Monday, as part of my adventures in ethical eating, I went shopping at Homegrown Food, a local and organic food store here in Springfield, MO. I was enamored by the produce section, full of organic, unique fruit and vegetables. I’m big on color, so I was immediately drawn to the heirloom, or rainbow, carrots. Can you blame me? Look at how pretty they are!


(The purple ones reminded me so much of Gobstopper candy! Do you see it?)

I wasn’t initially sure what to do with them – I’d never had heirloom carrots before, and pretty much the only way I eat carrots is raw, maybe dipped in hummus. My first instinct with vegetables is to roast them, and a quick Google search proved that most people did that too.


This is barely a recipe; it’s so simple that I feel ridiculous posting it. But I liked it so much that I had to share it. My main beef with cooked carrots is that they usually turn out mushy and flavorless, but not these. The carrots, sliced in half length-wise, get crispy and caramelized in the oven, and the flavor is something entirely different from raw carrots. A balsamic vinegar reduction add an acidic, savory counterpart to the sweetness of the carrots and together it is brilliant.


It was a little bit reminiscent of fries to me, and I think it would be great alongside a burger, sandwich, or anything you would serve fries with. I ate it with pasta, and that was good too. I think you probably can’t go wrong.

Honey Roasted Heirloom Carrots with Balsamic Reduction

Note: You can use standard carrots if you wish, but buy whole ones with the tops still attached for optimal flavor.

1 bunch heirloom, also known as rainbow, carrots (I had twelve of varying sizes in my bunch)

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Drizzle of honey

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400˚.

Wash and peel the carrots, and slice in half length-wise. Toss on a baking pan with olive oil and salt, then drizzle a bit of honey over it and stir until lightly coated. Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes, stirring every ten minutes.

While the carrots are roasting, put the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and cook on high until boiling, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until reduced in half, or is your desired thickness. I wanted a syrupy texture, so I cooked it for 18 minutes past the boiling point.

To serve, drizzle the balsamic reduction over your carrots and eat up!

Green Tea Cheesecake


In high school, I worked at a coffee shop, and we got a free drink every shift. I had a few standards I would make for myself – mochas with three extra shots, hazelnut soy lattes, and pina colada green tea smoothies. I realize this last one sounds so odd, but I promise, it was delicious. The green tea aspect came from matcha, a Japanese green tea powder, blended into the smoothie.


When I graduated, I had two graduation parties, one a brunch for family and church friends, and then a sort of combo graduation/birthday/going away, end of the summer shebang with all my friends. For this mutt of a party, I decided a simple cake would not do. Cookies would be anti-climatic, and pie simply isn’t my favorite. No, only cheesecake would do for this occasion. And when it comes to baking, I cannot leave well enough alone. So I decided to make a decadent brownie mosaic cheesecake, but I wanted something else to balance out the all-capitals, no-holds-barred lavishness of CHEESECAKE and BROWNIES and RICH RICH CHOCOLATE GANACHE. While working one day, I thought, how good would this matcha powder be in cheesecake? I had to try it. And good it was – understated but not underwhelming, creamy and just the right amount of tangy sweetness.


Since then, I hadn’t made it because I had a hard time finding reasonably priced matcha. The coffee shop stopped selling it, and when I finally found some at World Market, it was much too pricey for my college-student-working-a-summer-internship budget. Then, a few weeks ago, I was traversing an Asian market, trying to find boba and not succeeding, probably due to my inability to comprehend the languages of the signs and packaging, and I stumbled upon a silver parcel with the magical words “green tea powder” and even more magical price of $1.99.

When you’re looking for matcha, I’d recommend your local Asian market, and if you have no luck there, try this. This cheesecake is a standard 1234  (1 cup sugar, 2 tsp vanilla, 3 pkg of cream cheese, and 4 eggs) cheesecake with the matcha added. I think it’s the best cheesecake out there; if you don’t have matcha and just want to make a simple cheesecake, omit the matcha and you will still have an excellent dessert.



Before we dive into the recipe, I’d like to talk crust with you. I find most crusts on cheesecakes to be uninspiring, necessary as a way to contain the cheesecake, but just kind of…there, flavor-wise. However, there are two tricks to take your crust to a new level: brown sugar and cookies you’d actually want to eat by themselves. I often use Teddy Grahams, but today I used a vanilla wafer cookie from Trader Joe’s. You can experiment a bit here, but I’d suggest sticking to vanilla or plain flavors if you’re using the matcha.

Green Tea Cheesecake


2 cups cookies, run through a food processor until finely ground

¼ cup brown sugar, packed

¼ cup granulated sugar

1/8 tsp salt

6 tbsp butter, melted


3 pkg of cream cheese (8oz each), softened

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

1 cup sugar

½ cup matcha powder (also known as powdered green tea)

Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease a 9-inch springform pan.

Mix together cookie crumbs, sugars, and salt in a medium bowl. Add melted butter, and stir until combined. Press into the springform pan, going about an inch up the sides.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium-high until fluffy, and then add the eggs one at a time. Turn the mixer to low, and add sugar, vanilla, and matcha. When thoroughly mixed, pour into pan and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the cake is completely set three inches in, but still slightly wobbly in the middle. Refrigerate until completely cool before serving.

When I made this a few years ago, I made a white chocolate ganache for the top. It was delicious, and if you’d like to do the same, here’s a recipe, although you might want to half it. Pour it on hot when the cake is at least room temperature, and cool until serving.

Spicy Kale Salad


For quite some time, if you asked me what the grossest thing I’ve ever eaten was, I would have responded kale chips. This point of distinction has now been taken over by some sort of animal intestines dish my grandfather made me try from a weird buffet in a small Missouri town when I was 16. I’m not sure if this is actual fact or not: I’ve heard that this particular town (Fredricktown) is the meth capital of Missouri. This is a fact: the state of Missouri is the meth capital of the world. Clearly, I make awesome decisions about what to eat and where to live.

But I digress. The kale chips – they were not great either. They were weirdly crispy and way too garlicky and no one in my family could eat them without making a face. So for years, I avoided kale. Not that it was that hard to avoid, but you know.


Then I started seeing all this stuff about how healthy it is. It has lots of fiber, calcium and obscure vitamins like Vitamin K. It’s one of those foods people eat on a cleanse/detox juiced or blended into their smoothies. And listen – if you’re one of those people who do cleanses, I’m happy for you. I am. But three to seven days of eating veggie smoothies and weird waters with cayenne pepper and lemon juice and apple cider vinegar or whatever just sounds like my personal hell. I can’t imagine feeling good enough after that experience to make up for the days of awfulawfulawful. I like regular meals and real food and plain old water. (Actually, I really like strawberry basil water, try it sometime!)

What I’m saying with all of this is that I was quite dubious about kale. But I wanted to like it, so when I happened upon this recipe by Moorea Seal, of all people, I decided to give it a go. And, with a switching of cheeses, I happened to LOVE it. It’s enough for a light lunch by itself, although it’s great as a side as well. And, best of all, you get to eat kale in a healthy-ish way without being on a cleanse that makes you hate your life. (I would assume.)


Confession: one time, I blatantly brought this salad to lunch in a Tupperware container with a friend at a local Italian restaurant, Cupini’s, because wanted to eat there but I also wanted to eat this salad. I sat outside, so that makes it a slightly better, right? It was fantastic, the perfect accompaniment to my favorite gnocchi with pesto. I only feel a little guilty.

Spicy Kale Salad

Adapted from Moorea Seal

Serves one

Note: I’ve bought kale both whole and already chopped and packaged. The ready-to-go stuff makes life easier, but the bag I got from Trader Joe’s was already starting to go slightly bad. It was salvageable, but I had to pick out some pieces. I haven’t had the freshness problem when I’ve bought it whole, and I chopped it up right when I got home from the store and kept it in an airtight container in the fridge. I’d recommend this – the taste is better, and you can pre-chop it if you want a quick lunch.

2 cups (or whereabouts) kale, chopped into manageable pieces

1 tsp. olive oil

Juice of half a lemon

½ tsp kosher salt

¼ tsp + more to taste crushed red pepper flakes

1 small garlic clove, minced

Handful of feta cheese

Toss all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Note on the red pepper flakes: I prefer about ½ tsp, but that’s spicy enough to make my mouth burn a little. Start with very little and build from there.

Your turn: Do you have any awesome recipes for kale I should know about? What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Spiced Pear & Brown Butter Cake

This Wednesday, I got a day off from my winter break gig of wiping runny noses, refereeing fights, and listening to stories of why Transformers RescueBots is “the bestest ever” for three little ones. A lot of good things happened that day. My family had a respite from me forcing them to watch adorable videos of the baby I’m nannying blowing raspberries. I helped tutor some of my favorite kids I worked with this summer. Twitter had a reprieve from me doing odd things like live-tweeting Dora. But probably the best thing to come out of my day off was this cake.

This cake incorporates so many things I love. Seasonal produce! (The fruit section in most grocery stores is so pitiful lately, I’m glad at least pears are in season.) Brown butter! (Have you heard of it? It will change your life.) Homemade caramel sauce! (Mmm, so good and so simple.)


It’s the perfect cake to make on a lazy day; there’s a fair amount of steps involved, but none of it is hard and it’s worth it in the end.

The first thing you do is peel and dice the pears. I used a mix of Red and Bartlett, but any type of pear will do. Pro tip from me to you: use pears that are ripe but fairly firm. If they’re too ripe, you’ll end up with a juicy mess on your hands. You only need five for this recipe, but buy six so you have one to snack on while it’s baking. You’ll thank me.

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I cut my finger while doing this, because I have the knife skills of a two year-old, and, inexplicably, the first band-aids I found were Dora the Explorer, even though the youngest person in my household is a 13 year-old boy. Also, my nail polish is atrocious, but let’s not dwell on any of this because we have more important things to talk about, like BROWN BUTTER!


Brown butter, simply, is melted butter cooked a little longer. It sounds boring, but it is more than the sum of its parts. It has a magical nutty flavor, and once you try it, every time a recipe calls for melted butter you will wonder if it would be better browned. The answer is yes.

The construction of this cake is a bit different than most. You beat the eggs for what feels like a ridiculously long time, until they look a bit like this:


From here, you work quickly before it loses volume, which is why it’s crucial to have the butter browned and the dry ingredients mixed before you begin whipping the eggs. The pears are not folded into the batter, but spread on top. However, as the cake bakes, the pears are enveloped by it, as you can see in the pictures of the final cake below.

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By itself, this cake is delicious. But we don’t have to stop there. I suggest we go all out. I suggest caramel sauce. And since you already have heavy whipping cream for the sauce, why not whip it up with a little sugar and vanilla and make this truly decadent? Then you can drizzle the caramel sauce all fancy-like, and pretend you’re at a nice restaurant eating dessert, instead of in your kitchen eating cake for breakfast. No shame though, cake for breakfast is totally acceptable. Especially when your cake is this good.


Spiced Pear & Brown Butter Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus 2 tbsp

5 tsp baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

14 tbsp unsalted butter
(1+¾ stick – but don’t worry, you’ll use the other 2 tbsp for caramel)

5 eggs, at room-temperature

1 1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

5 pears, peeled, in a small dice

Preheat the oven to 350˚. Oil and flour a 13×9 pan.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.

Stir the diced pears with two tablespoons of flour. This helps give the batter something to hold on to when it’s baking, so they won’t sink to the bottom as much. (In theory, anyway.)

In a medium saucepan, brown the butter. Start by melting on medium heat. Once it is entirely melted, continue cooking for another 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will foam, then turn clear yellow and bubble, then, in a moment, turn brown and smell gloriously nutty. Cook it about a minute past when you first start to notice it turning brown. It should end up looking like the second photo of butter above. Set aside in a warm place.

Next, beat the eggs into oblivion in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on high. No really, beat them for 7-9 minutes, until pale and thick with only small bubbles instead of the initial froth. If you have a KitchenAid or similar stand mixer: 1) I am so jealous of you, and 2) you can let it do its job with the eggs while you brown the butter and save some time.

Add sugar and vanilla and continue beating it on high for another minute or two. Turn the mixer to low, and alternately add one third of the flour mixture and half of the browned butter. As you add the last portion of flour, turn the mixer off and use a spatula to stir the ingredients until just combined. Spread the batter in your prepared pan, and then sprinkle the pears evenly on top.

Bake for 40-50 minutes – mine took exactly 45 minutes both times – or until the edges start to pull away and a toothpick comes out clean.

Serve with caramel sauce, below, and whipped cream, barely sweetened, with vanilla.

Easy Peasy Caramel Sauce

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tbsp butter

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Pinch of salt

Whisk the ingredients together in a small saucepan, and cook for 5-7 minutes, until warm and thickened. Serve immediately, and refrigerate any leftovers. Reheat in microwave for 30 seconds to serve again.

Your turn: Have you ever tried brown butter? What’s your favorite winter fruit or vegetable?

Magic Broccoli


This summer, some friends and I made dinner, and while shopping, I picked up a massive amount of broccoli. Everyone looked at me dubiously, convinced I was crazy and that the dozen or so of us could not consume that much broccoli. Three of my friends in that group didn’t even like broccoli. In the words of one, (hi Sammy!) “Broccoli tastes like death!”

But that night, not only was every last floret eaten, but those three became broccoli converts. Sammy declared it tasted the least like death of any broccoli she’d ever eaten, and even went back for seconds.


This, friends, is the power of magic broccoli. It’s had other incarnations – I was first introduced via Amateur Gourmet who in turn got the idea from the venerable Ina Garten. I’ve also found, on Pinterest, it referred to as crack broccoli. These recipes have all sorts of extras – Parmesan cheese, sugar, basil, pine nuts, but none of them are necessary. In fact, I think they get in the way. A scant amount of olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic, a hot oven, a lemon squeezed over – that’s all you need for broccoli nirvana.


And, GUYS, nirvana it is. This broccoli is so very good that I forget I’m eating something healthy.

It’s simple enough to make on a weekday to accompany dinner, yet delicious enough to be a welcome, healthy side to a potluck or holiday dinner. I’ve provided a recipe here, but take the measurements more as suggestions. This is YOUR magic broccoli, do what feels right to you.


Magic Broccoli

Adapted from the Amateur Gourmet et al.

Note: Do yourself a favor and, for the love of all that is good and holy, buy a real lemon. They’re only whereabouts of 33 cents each. If you have some bottled lemon juice in your fridge, throw it away and never ever look back. In the words of Ina Garten, “There is no substitute for fresh squeezed lemon juice.” That is especially true in this recipe.

Serves 2-4, although it can be easily multiplied.

1 lb. broccoli, washed and dried well

1 tbsp. olive oil

3/4 tsp. salt, plus more to taste

½ tsp. pepper

2 garlic cloves (I have been known to use minced garlic from a jar, or garlic salt if in a pinch. It’s good no matter what.)

1 lemon, cut into quarters

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Chop the majority of the stems off your broccoli, leaving mostly florets. Spread them across a cookie sheet; they don’t need to be spaced out, but don’t pile them on top of each other.  Drizzle the olive oil across the broccoli, and stir with a spoon to evenly distribute everything, or use your hands if you’re feeling wild. There are no rules here. Slice the garlic cloves into maybe five or six pieces, and toss with the broccoli along with the salt and pepper, making sure it is well coated.

Put it in the oven for 18-20 minutes, stirring once around the ten-minute mark. It’s done when the ends of the florets look brown and crispy. Pull it out, and squeeze your lemon over it and add salt to taste. I usually end up using about half the lemon, but adjust to your taste. You’ll probably have to fish a few lemon seeds out, one of the occupational hazards of being a real lemon lover. While you’re at it, fish out the garlic cloves too, because no one wants to accidentally bite down on a large chunk of garlic. Then enjoy your bit of vegetable heaven, at peace because you’re eating something both scrumptious and good for you.

This is my first post – feel free to leave a comment and introduce yourself! What’s your favorite way to eat broccoli? What other vegetables do you like to roast?