Trattoria Thompson

I grew up in a house that had a beautiful kitchen. Really and truly. The secret to keeping it beautiful was a combination of my mom’s obsessive attention to detail (read: constant cleaning on top of having a regular housekeeper) and minimal cooking.

My adult life has been made up of rentals, and as such, less than stellar kitchens. In my married life, though, I’ve done my best to make the most of what we have in our modest Queens apartment. I’ve learned how to prepare meals that aren’t just suited to my tastebuds, but that can work well with meat for Adam, too. My only rules for our kitchen in this home, though temporary,  are that meals be kept healthy (whole grains, no salt, natural ingredients), no pork, and no shellfish (Kosher style, so to speak).

I’ve conquered a few of my foodie fears in feeding my husband. I’ve made challah, toum and poached eggs. But tonight, I tackled a beast that I failed to tame as recent as two days ago: homemade whole wheat pasta.

I tend to limit my grain intake to post-workout, but I had a rough day from some muscle pain and had a hankering to try my hand at it again. And it was a wild success.

I followed the recipe that came with my KitchenAid Pasta Extruder, and decided to make a shape that I can rarely (in fact, I think have never) found in a whole wheat variety: bucatini. There’s something charming about a chubby spaghetti-style noodle that’s hollow in the center.

Charm meet flavor when I added the final product to sautéed heirloom eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, Spanish onion and a little bit of olive oil, topped with French feta.

The recipe made a huge portion that satisfied my husband and me, with plenty leftover for lunch or dinner tomorrow.IMG_2328.JPG

I highly recommend the recipe and the attachment for your stand mixer. It was super easy to make (less than 30 minutes from prep to plating), and just as easy to clean and store. Next up will be a whole wheat spinach pasta, and by then, you could call our kitchen Trattoria Thompson.

 

New Tastes

I don’t do much after work. On Tuesdays, I go to the gym for a session with my trainer. On Wednesdays, we’ve started playing trivia at The Sandwich Bar — and we won our first go at it last week! On all other days, you’ll probably find me at Whole Foods.

Since Whole Foods opened up by my office a couple years ago, I over-frequent it. I’ve started buying groceries once per week, but I still find myself stopping by Whole Foods to stock up on the things I plow through — tomatoes, spinach, and berries.

On my way home from work on Friday, I popped in to buy the essentials – my fridge was barren – and happened upon a find that I can’t seem to get enough of: valbreso feta.

This isn’t at all like greek feta – not even in its texture. Valbreso feta is french and is super tangy – almost lemony in its brine – and incredibly creamy versus crumbly. It’s more like a goat cheese in texture than anything else. I’m a big fan of using goat-like cheese with lentils, and so I decided to make just that. I think in the past three days I’ve had lentils for almost every meal.

I’ve had a pantry full of lentils for a while – I once bought a giant bag of black (or beluga) lentils at Whole Foods, and it’s been sitting there, unopened ever since.

These little guys seem to cook a bit faster than their brown and green counterparts (one quarter cup lentils to one cup of water for about 15-17 minutes over medium heat).

Once the lentils were cooked through (tender, but not mushy), I transferred them to a pan that was heating up with one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and finely minced garlic. I added baby spinach, chopped heirloom tomatoes, and a little lemon juice to the pan. The lemon juice adds great flavor, but also deglazes the pan.

Once the lentils were combined with the vegetables and nicely sautéed, I transferred them to a bowl and sprinkled some valbreso feta over the top.

The creaminess of the feta added a really nice rich flavor and smooth texture to the earthiness and bite of the lentils and the acidity of the tomatoes.

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Aubergine Dreams: An Ode to Eggplant

Before Mark Bittman penned his praise for eggplant via the New York Times, I became acquainted with the fantastic fruit.

Sometime after I lost interest in microwaving spaghetti squash, I picked up a beautiful Italian eggplant at Whole Foods. Like my foray into egg poaching, I was intimidated by this purple-skinned ingredient.

Nerves were lifted when I pulled my first attempt at baked eggplant out of the oven. Lightly sprayed with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and other fresh herbs, I had successful made juicy, tender eggplant steaks. And I ate all of them. In one sitting, without regret.

Fast-forward a year later, as I live happily with my boyfriend, a confirmed carnivore. Eggplant is our unity fruit — the one ingredient we can agree upon as the star of a meat-free meal. Whether it’s his stewed eggplant and tomatoes, or my eggplant with cherry tomatoes, lentils, and spinach, together we enjoy it, and Mark Bittman was right, it does make me happy, as I do eat it everyday.

Sliced, lightly battered and fried with a honey drizzle on-top, or char-grilled and topped with a dollop of skordalia, I can’t think of an eggplant dish I would want to pass up. Most recently, my boyfriend grilled up eggplant steaks that I proceeded to eat for one week straight, often topped with a slice of ovaline mozzarella and a poached egg, I’ve spent some time collecting a series of eggplant recipes I cannot wait to try on my own:

  • Fried Eggplant with Molasses Recipe – Berenjena Frita con Miel de Cana: This recipe reminds me of a dish I tried at Tapas Adela in Baltimore (their dish was called Eggplant Fritas, and was served with a lavender honey). It’s like an eggplant donut, and makes this otherwise healthy ingredient just a wee bit sinful. Remember: no regrets.
  • Grilled Eggplant with Tomato and Feta: I love eggplant, but I especially love eggplant with tomatoes. The acidic sweetness of the tomato mixed with the hearty earthiness of the eggplant work so well together, and the fresh bite of feta adds a nice touch. I might add mint to this recipe for kicks.
  • Mediterranean Eggplant Salad: I love a good eggplant salad, and the prep is so fuss-free, that there’s no excuse not to try this one at home. Another added benefit? This recipe comes from Weight Watchers, so it’s inherently PointsPlus-friendly.
  • Black Bean and Red Pepper Burgers: Where does the eggplant come in? You see, that’s the genius behind this recipe. As a fan of any opportunity to ditch the bun, I was so pleased that this recipe replaces the simple carbohydrates of a bun, with the ever-loved eggplant.
  • Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta: Like I said, I like to ditch unnecessary carbs. And with eggplant acting as the base of this bruschetta, the flavors of the other fresh vegetables will be better blended, also allowing the textures to shine without competing with the toasted baguette.

The Perfect Poach

Poached eggs were, until recently, a mystery to me. I was unsure of how to order them (over-easy, over-hard?), and was intimidated at the thought of preparing them. This was all true until last week.

Adam and I went to Costco and for some reason — cholesterol not on the mind — he purchased a huge container of fresh eggs.

I’m not really an egg person, but I do like a good poach every now and then, served over steamed spinach, cherry tomatoes, and feta. And while brunch is over-accessible in New York and neighboring parts, I decided to save money one afternoon by making my very own poached eggs.

I watched several tutorials — finding the Serious Eats one to be most helpful — and quickly poo-pooed the idea of vinegar, saran warp, a spoon-induced whir in the water. Nope. All you need is a pot or deep non-stick pan, a slotted spoon, water, and fresh eggs. Fresh eggs are perhaps the most important element, because the whites will form beautifully with fresh eggs.

The process turned out to be super easy, albeit suspenseful as I waited for the whites to cook fully over the yolk. As the poaches perched up to the surface, I knew they were ready, and waited with anticipation to cut into the oozy yolk.

I captured a Vine video of my perfect poach, and snapped this photo to share.

Spinach Smash a la Sandy

I started feeling real impacts from the storm around 7 pm — lights flickering, doors shaking from the wind. Lights still flicker, but at this point, I do have power and am actively online. Around 8, I decided I was hungry and that it was safe enough to cook. I made a delicious dish from my poorly chosen provisions — mostly perishables because I’m a damn fool! — and have named it Spinach Smash a la Sandy.

Simple, quick, and hearty — all you need is 2 cups of fresh spinach (baby spinach will do, but I used regular), 3 baby Yukon potatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, 1 teaspoon smart balance, and a pinch of sea salt.

Start by boiling the potatoes for about 20 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork or knife. While the potatoes are boiling, slice the cherry tomatoes in thirds, peel and mince the garlic. Combine the tomatoes, garlic, and spinach. Once potatoes are ready, add them directly to the vegetable mixture. Add Smart Balance. Use a smasher or a big fork and start mashing this mixture until the ingredients combine, the spinach wilts, and the Smart Balance melts.

Finally, finish with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Voila. Delicious, not so unhealthy, and hearty enough to help you through the storm.

Lentils, Spinach, Goat Cheese

I love Middle Eastern flavors. I could eat lentils for every meal, and often times I do.

In Detroit, we have some of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in the country — and I’m including New York in that statement. I’ve lived in New York for almost three years, and simply have not been able to find a single restaurant that comes close to my midwest Middle East.

Lately, Anita’s Kitchen (Ferndale, MI) is my favorite place to go when home because their portion sizes are more realistic and meant for one person (I don’t like being too full, and I don’t like taking home leftovers), and the food is a bit more eclectic. Their garlic sauce is not my favorite — I prefer it from Sultan’s in East Lansing, MI — but their Spinach, Goat Cheese, and Garlic dish is one of my favorites. Don’t even get me started on their eggplant salad. Noms.

For dinner tonight, I was craving Anita’s, but with a few states between us, I decided to make my own version of my favorite dish.

Start with a non-stick pan, and spray well with Olive Oil-flavored cooking spray or EVOO (1-2 tablespoons). Add half a medium white onion (sliced) and two cloves of garlic, finely minced.

Once the onion softens, add a 1/2 cup cooked beluga lentils, 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, and 1.5 cups spinach. I added steamed string beans to my recipe — about one cup.

Because the lentils were air-packed, and not freshly boiled, I didn’t add salt. For a peppery taste to balance the earthiness of the vegetables, I added 1/8 cup pepper-crusted goat cheese.

Delicious, filling, and healthy. Lentilicious.

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Quick & Easy Black Bean Stew

So, I’ve been obsessed with black beans lately. I have had a can of organic, low-sodium black beans in my pantry that I’ve been meaning to use for ages. I decided to whip up something unoriginal but nonetheless delicious for dinner, with black beans at the heart of the dish.

This recipe serves 3-4 comfortably, and uses an entire can of low sodium, organic black beans, one small can of corn or two cobs of corn (remove the kernels), 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, 2 cups baby spinach, half of a white onion, and half of a yellow pepper. For seasoning, use chili powder and garlic powder. No salt is needed.

Spray a sauce pan lightly with non-stick, fat-free cooking spray. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute on medium heat. Add the tomatoes, pepper, and corn. Cook on medium heat, occasionally stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Add the can of beans, with some of the starchy liquid. Add seasoning. Raise the heat a notch and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the spinach until cooked and reduced. Once reduced, take stew off of heat.

I finished my stew off with a dollop of fat-free Greek yogurt and a small portion of avocado. Delicious, healthy, fast, and easy.