Saturday, July 16, 2011

The secret to kitchen inspiration has been found...

I've had a love/hate relationship with food the last few months. I love food, especially sweets, but since March, Chris and I started focusing on exercising six days a week and eating more healthfully and sweets usually don't fit into that regimen. Don't get me wrong, we are still eating some sweets, but we're trying to cut back a bit and try different things to satisfy our sweet teeth like eating dark chocolate or munching on fresh fruit. So I haven't been baking like I used to, which is kind of sad, and perhaps as a result, making meals have become somewhat routine and mundane.

I'm hoping that's changing a bit though. Maybe it was the short trip we took over Memorial Day weekend to St. Michaels, MD, where the seafood (especially crab) is plentiful, that gave me a much-needed break from cooking, let alone even thinking about it, that is giving me new momentum. After all, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, making "adult" food and lots of baby food since Claire is getting bigger and requiring more calories. The only thing I had to think about food-wise over the weekend was at what restaurant to eat. Now, that's a vacation! We stayed at a bed and breakfast (the Hambleton Inn) with a lovely innkeeper, Sherrie, who made amazing breakfasts, complete with dessert after each meal such as baklava and tiramisu. (Our diets were also on vacation.) One day we had afternoon tea at The Inn at Perry Cabin, a beautiful hotel with an idyllic scene -- a wide grassy lawn with wooden white lawn chairs and tables that led right up to the edge of the Chesapeake Bay that was dotted with sailboats. No wonder The Wedding Crashers movie was filmed there. (See pictures below.)

I must feel refreshed since the day after we got home, I made three dishes -- a delicious pasta with broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes, a Tex-Mex mash for Claire, and curry chicken with rice. I haven't done that much cooking in one day in quite a while. So I guess the moral of the story is that if you feel uninspired in the kitchen, take a vacation!

Here's one of the recipes I just that's now destined to be one of my go-to meals for the summer. It's easy, delicious and can be enjoyed warm or cold.

Penne with Broccoli and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Courtesy of Alan Greene, M.D., "Feeding Baby Green"

3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
8 oz. penne pasta (I used elbow macaroni which worked fine.)
4 oz. portabella mushrooms, sliced (I used a 4 oz. can since I didn't have fresh on hand.)
3 cups fresh broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 oz. kalamata olives or other black olives
4 oz. feta cheese (I didn't have feta on hand so I just used Parmesan, and it was delightful nonetheless.)
2 oz. Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

Put the sun-dried tomatoes and chopped garlic in a small bowl and pour the olive oil over them. Let them stand at least 30 minutes before cooking, or overnight, to allow the tomatoes to reconstitute and the oil to become flavored. If you allow the flavors to marry for longer than four hours, put them in the refrigerator. (Instead of following this step, I used a jar of sun-dried tomatoes that were packed in olive oil and just added them together with the 5 cloves of garlic and 1/4 cup olive oil in the skillet. It was much quicker that way.)

Cook the penne according to package directions in a very large cooking pot.

While the pasta is cooking, begin cooking the sauce. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and add the tomato-garlic-oil mixture to the pan. Saute for one minute. Add the mushrooms and broccoli, and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is tender but still crisp - about 5 or 6 minutes. If the mixture appears to be dry, add 1/4 cup of water during the process.

When the pasta is al dente, drain the water and pour the penne back into the cooking pot. Add the tomato, garlic, broccoli, and mushrooms to the pasta. Gently stir in the olives and feta cheese. Mix thoroughly. (I also added a few teaspoons of the oil in the sun-dried tomato jar for extra flavor and a teaspoon of red pepper flakes for a little kick.)

Divide into four servings and sprinkle Parmesan on each serving if desired.

Claire on the grassy lawn of The Inn at Perry Cabin, St. Michaels, MD.
The Inn at Perry Cabin is in the background. Beautiful, isn't it?

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