Friday, September 12, 2008

Best Recipe of the Week

When I am in the midst of a zillion things at once - right now, revising my first first-author paper, and prepping for a committee meeting, AND starting grant-writing class - I am always thankful for a good, simple recipe, and happy to not have to come up with my own ideas for cooking as well as at lab.

This one, Fusilli with Spinach and Asiago Cheese, was actually my effort at using up the end of my cherry tomatoes (which I'd used for a different pasta dish earlier), and also using up some of the large amount of spinach I still have in the freezer. It calls for fresh spinach, but I found that the frozen stuff was just fine - might be better with fresh, but who has time to go to the store in the middle of the week to pick up spinach?

Other substitutions I made were: gemelli instead of fusilli, and the Kraft parmesan/asiago mix out of the green can(!). I know, I know - but it still tasted really good, and while I'd rather not have all the preservatives and excess salt, sometimes when it's crunch time at work you have to do what you can to make dinner fast and easy.

I don't have a picture today, but I promise more yummy recipes soon!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Absolute Best Substitution

Have you ever looked at a recipe you REALLY wanted to make, only to find out you don't have half the ingredients you need?

Since I live alone (and on a grad student's salary), I find myself in this position all the time. There just isn't enough need, or enough money, to buy everything I could possibly need for cooking and baking. Thus, in the past few years, I have become the queen of substitutions.

Take, for instance, the Starbucks chocolate cinnamon bread recipe, which they gave out on recipe cards last fall. The bread is rich and delicious, but it calls for buttermilk - something which is just not practical to keep around the house when you live alone. If you're as busy as most grad students (or others with crazy jobs) are, there isn't even time to head to the store to pick up a carton of buttermilk - not to mention, shell out the cash for what will inevitably be waaaay more buttermilk than you need.

Enter the mother of all substitutions: plain, nonfat yogurt. While it may seem simple and unassuming, yogurt is incredibly multifaceted. I have used it as sour cream for tacos or nachos, and substituted it for buttermilk in baking recipes - and, if you are a fan of No Pudge Brownies (in my opinion, the ultimate dessert for singles - fat free, very yummy, and you can make them in single servings), you can use yogurt to make these delicious treats, too. I keep yogurt around at all times, since I can use it for so many things - and of course, it's delicious on its own, with some fruit and a little honey, so I can always eat up whatever's left from my baking adventures.

The best part of this substitution is that you definitely get all the rich flavor of buttermilk, without all the fat. In a recipe like the chocolate cinnamon bread, which calls for 5 eggs and 3 sticks of butter, you can use all the nonfat substitutions you can get!

I made the chocolate cinnamon bread last night, and discovered a few more recipe substitutions along the way. Because I cut the recipe in half and didn't want to waste eggs (the half recipe calls for 2 1/2 eggs), I used Egg Beaters to replace the half-egg. Of course, this isn't entirely cost-effective, as eggs are cheaper than Egg Beaters - but since Egg Beaters bring less cholesterol and fat, I felt that it was justified. I also managed to run out of cocoa powder, and found that 1 oz of unsweetened chocolate can substitute for 3 tbsp of cocoa powder (I actually used a dark chocolate square, since it was all I had around!).

The result, even with all the substitutions, was a delicious, indulgent treat to bring to work:

If you decide to try the recipe, I recommend baking for at least 50 minutes, if not more - otherwise, the bread collapses on itself a little, and may be incredibly pudding-like in the center. Believe me, I know from experience!

I hope all is well with everyone - and happy start to the school year, for those of you still in classes!