Healthy Pasta a la Vodka with Zucchini and Greek Yogurt

So I worried about law school for a long time.

Then it started, and all of a sudden I became immersed in the world of reading and cold-calling and research and writing and more reading.

The hours turned into days and the days turned into weeks and I didn't have time to process how different my life had become.

I had momentary glimpses of my old life, I guess. Like that first week when one of my professors intimidated me SO much and I tried to make myself feel better by imagining him facing my worst class of seventh graders last year.

"He's not as tough as me," I told myself.

Then he cold-called on me in class a week later, and I blew it.  He was not nice about it.  I came home and cried for two hours before finally pulling myself together and realizing I've dealt with worse.

Because I have, and I still must admit that my worst day of law school so far pales in comparison to my worst day in teaching.

As the days passed, I started noticing some positive changes.  I liked making my own schedule. I liked quiet mornings spent reading in the library. I liked thinking through complex issues. I liked the challenge of writing succinctly, but well.

But then things really got busy, and the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, and it wasn't until fall break last week that I finally had time to come up for air and think about what I miss about my old life.

And that's when I realized how teaching has ruined me.

Because those quiet morning reading in the library? They're peaceful, but they're also sometimes lonely. Even when I'm in the library studying with friends, there's some chatting, but mostly we're focused on our own work, just keeping each other company. And it scared me to realize how many weeks had gone by of me just plugging away, doing my own thing, studying and reading and writing and talking with friends, but mostly wearing blinders focused on this one goal of success.  And everyone around me was doing the same thing. This is sort of the point of grad school, I know. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with being driven and focused on a future goal. (Especially a future goal that involves helping people.)

But, as I said before, teaching has ruined me.  Because this whole put-your-head-down-and-work-really-hard-for-your-own-future goal-thing--I could do it, for sure--but it wasn't fulfilling. It felt empty. It felt a bit, well, purposeless.

Because here's the thing about teaching--no matter how under-appreciated, overpaid, and overworked you are, not matter how demanding your kids are, or how negative your co-workers are, or how much your kids sometimes drive you out of your ever-loving mind--there's always a purpose.  On the worst days, when you have the least desire to go to work, and your kids have been behaving terribly, there's always that one kid's face who pops into your head and makes you think, "I need to go teach today for that kid." On the good days, there are many faces.

I've known since before I left teaching that I would miss the kids. (There is a hispanic family that lives near me and the kids ride their bikes around our loop. They remind me so much of my former students, and the other morning when I was turning out of the neighborhood, I saw them waiting for the bus with their backpacks on.  I tried so hard not to cry.)

However, I didn't know how much I would miss the purposefulness of it. This is partially my own fault, of course.  I intentionally (and selfishly) didn't get involved with a lot of volunteer activities this first semester because I wanted to focus on my classes and have time to spend with Adam when he was home.

Now I've realized that just "doing" school isn't enough for me anymore. It definitely was at one time, but it's not anymore. And that's how teaching has ruined me.

As much as I try to be a model law student, I have to admit that sometimes my mind wanders in class. I had a recurring daydream this week about pasta--as in every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday  around 2:45 I would dream of swirling fettucini into creamy sauce with a fork. Yep, I have a problem.

This weekend I was able to turn that dream into delicious reality.

See, the creamy sauce I was craving was vodka sauce, which is traditionally made of tomatoes and heavy cream and, you guessed it, vodka. The sauce is rich and indulgent and totally worth the occasional splurge, but I wanted to make a big batch of something healthy that I could eat throughout the week.

Thus, this healthy version was born.  I replaced the heavy cream with 2% Greek yogurt and added in a ton of veggies. I sliced the red pepper thinly and used a box grater to grate the zucchini, which made them similar in both size and texture to the noodles and infinitely more fun to eat.

I'll admit that this doesn't have quite the creaminess of the original, but I think you'll still find immense satisfaction in twirling those noodles and veggies around with your fork and taking a bite.  Adam "doesn't like Greek yogurt," but he has eaten several helpings of this without complaint. I won't tell him if you won't.  :)

Healthy Pasta a la Vodka with Zucchini and Greek Yogurt

7-8 oz whole wheat fettucini (or a little over half of a regular 12 ounce box)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots (or 1 small onion), chopped
2-3 zucchini, shredded on a box grater
1 small red pepper, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans chopped tomatoes
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vodka
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper
lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cook fettucini according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add leeks, zucchini, red pepper, and garlic. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until leeks are semi-translucent and zucchini is beginning to soften.

Add two cans of chopped tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and vodka. Cook for 15 minutes or until tomato liquid is slightly reduced.

Add Greek yogurt and basil and cook 5 minutes until heated through. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Pour sauce over fettucini and top with plenty of fresh parmesan cheese and extra basil as a garnish, if desired.

Adapted from Skinnytaste.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes & Pears

I think adding fruit to savory dishes automatically elevates them to a level one could call "fancy." 

Pork chops? Drab. 

Pork chops with apples and onions? Fancy.

Baked Salmon? Bland. 

Baked Salmon with Mango Chutney? Fancy.

 Roasted potatoes? Boring.

Roasted potatoes with pears and rosemary? Fancy. 

The thing is, adding fruit to a savory dish is not hard. It doesn't require any special culinary skill.  I think it's just different, and daring in a way that might prevent the ordinary home cook from attempting it. 

Home cooks, fear no more. I'm here to tell you that adding fruit to savory dishes is ridiculously easy and ridiculously tasty and--if you happen to be swayed by that kind of thing--likely going to be considered fancy by your dinner guests.

You can probably tell by now that I like roasting things. (See here, here, here and here) To me, roasting requires minimal effort. I can prep my veggies, toss them in the oven, and then tend to other things on the stove, rather than having to stir them or check on them incessantly.  For that reason, I think it's an optimal way to prepare food for a dinner party. There are always going to be last minute things to check or prepare before people come over, so it's nice to have something that doesn't require constant stirring.

I had some friends over for dinner this weekend, and I did something I wouldn't normally recommend: I made a recipe for the first time. Inspired by a picture in a magazine, I decided to try the roasted potato/pear combo.  I was nervous because the pair seemed a little strange, but I hoped with the addition of some rosemary from my parents' garden, it would be just strange enough to be good.

I'm happy to report it was, (by my standards anyway).  The roasted pears were amazing. I had forgotten that when you cook fruit the sugars caramelize and produce a deeper, richer fruit flavor. In fact, next time I want to ditch the potatoes and just roast some pears with butter and rosemary and eat them in a big bowl with some vanilla ice cream. I'm dreaming of it now.

Make these potatoes and pears, maybe along with some tomato and feta stuffed chicken or zucchini and  you'll impress yourself and your dinner guests.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes & Pears

1 lb mixed small potatoes, quartered
2 Bartlett pears, chopped into 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 sprigs fresh Rosemary*
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet (or 2 if needed) with aluminum foil.

Lay potatoes and pears in an even layer on cookie sheet.

Combine melted butter and olive oil and drizzle over potatoes and pears.

Break off the individual leaves from 2 sprigs of the rosemary and sprinkle over the pan, along with some salt and pepper.

Use your hands to mix and make sure everything is evenly coated.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring a couple times through to brown all the edges.

Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with remaining leaves from the last sprig of fresh rosemary.

* I was lucky enough to get some rosemary from my parents' garden, but I have to insist that the fresh rosemary is worth the splurge for this recipe. I know I always struggle to use up fresh herbs, but here are some tips on preserving them.

Inspired by Sunny Anderson's recipe in O Magazine.

Double Chocolate Brownies with Peanut Butter Marshmallow Swirl

So I made brownies...

At first it was a bit of a sloppy mess of marshmallow fluff and peanut butter.

But then things came together, as they usually do. 

I had to restrain myself from eating all the batter with my fingers. 

Originally I thought about trying to persuade you that these are healthy brownies,

that the marshmallow fluff is relatively low in calories,

that they're made with a little bit of almond flour,

which, combined with the peanut butter, practically makes them protein bars...

But then I decided you wouldn't really believe me. (They're made with a stick of butter, after all, and plenty of chocolate. )

And, more importantly, none of that really matters. 

Because, when you need a brownie, 

you need a brownie. 

And after this week, I definitely need a brownie. 

I think you do too. 

Double Chocolate Brownies with Peanut Butter Marshmallow Swirl

1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond meal/flour
1 cup marshmallow fluff
1/4 cup peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350

Grease a 9 by 9 pan with cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan, melt butter and 1 cup chocolate chips. Remove from heat, and whisk in cocoa power, sugar and salt until sugar is partially dissolved. Then whisk in vanilla extract, egg and flours.

Mix in remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips and pour into prepared pan.

Spoon marshmallow fluff into a microwave bowl and cook for 30 seconds. Add peanut butter and stir until combined.

Use a spoon to drop peanut butter/marshmallow mixture across brownie batter, then use a knife to incorporate.

Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool completely before cutting. They will be messy and fall apart a little, but they are totally worth it!

Adapted from Chocolate Moosey.

Pasta e Fagioli with Kale

I like slow Sunday afternoons like today,

with some stew simmering on the stove

and some slow dancing in the kitchen with my love to this song.

I think Sunday stew is going to become a regular around here. 

Sunday afternoons/evenings can be stressful and a little sad for me, both with dreading the week of school work ahead and the prospect of Adam leaving to drive back to Charlotte on Sunday night. 

But, there's something about inherently relaxing about chopping vegetables, watching them meld with broth and tomatoes and spices, then breathing in the rich aroma that seeps into every room. 

With all the things of the world that I cannot control, this is one thing that I can. One good thing I make with my own hands. It calms me when my brain gets full of worry and "what-ifs."

This is Italian comfort food, the kind of thing that Italian peasants ate hundreds of years ago.  Pasta e fagioli means pasta and beans. Here, most people actually pronounce it "pasta fazool," which is how you'll hear it referred to in that iconic Italian love song That's Amore. ("When the stars make you drool, just-a like pasta fazool, that's amore.")

My dad calls it beans 'n greens, and I've been eating some variation of it for a long time.

My favorite version is from an authentic Italian restaurant in Myrtle Beach called Umbertos that my family has been going to for the past fifteen years.  My dad even insisted on taking my grandmother there before she passed away. 

It's simple to make at home, and forgiving in the way that most soups are. Throw some vegetables,  broth, and spices in a pot and let them simmer until they become a whole that is somehow greater than the sum of its parts. It's Sunday [soup-day] magic.

Wishing you some peace this afternoon, friends.

Pasta e Fagioli with Kale 

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, peeled & chopped
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp basil
1 tsp rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 cans cannellini beans
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
2 cans diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup dry macaroni*
1 bunch kale, de-stemmed and chopped
1 cup water
salt & pepper
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving.

*You can use any kind of pasta you like. I tried gluten-free brown rice pasta this time, and it turned out great!

In a large dutch oven, melt butter and olive oil. Add in onions and carrots. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until carrots are slightly soft and onions are translucent.

Add garlic and cook another minute. Add thyme, basil, rosemary, bay leaf, beans, vegetable broth, tomatoes, and wine.  Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 25 minutes.

*At this point, you can proceed with the next step to add the pasta and kale, OR you can let the soup simmer on the stove on low for an additional hour or so, and then add the pasta and kale about 10 minutes before serving.

Add in macaroni, kale, and 1 cup water and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.

Adapted from Marshall's Abroad