Lentil ‘Meatballs’ and Molten Salted Caramel Chocolate Cakes

It only took 50+ days, but I achieved part of my new years resolution—the bulk of a meal made completely by following a new recipe! It started with an absolutely tempting dessert recipe that I stowed away for our first Valentines Day as a married couple. I was excited to surprise D, who may love salted caramel more than me, and stocked up on the ingredients subtly. And like the best laid plans, life got in the way and I got hit with the flu just before February 14th.

We decided to postpone V-Day until I was feeling better, which means this weekend was both Valentines Day and our 4-month wedding anniversary. Time has flown by, so I wanted to really take a night to celebrate us, celebrate the milestone of 1/3 of our newlywed year, and do something a little bit challenging to symbolize taking risks and growing together. What resulted was far better than I ever could have imagined.

We paired our 'meatballs' with a kale salad and garlic bread

We paired our ‘meatballs’ with a kale salad and garlic bread

Lentil ‘Meatballs’ with Homemade Marinara

Meatballs were never a huge appeal for me growing up–while they were always homemade, they just weren’t my favorite meal. Regardless, I have always loved Italian food, especially in the cooler months when comfort food is anything warm! Pasta has never been a big component in our diets, but I would honestly put D’s marinara on a flip flop, so these ‘meatballs’ seemed like a great way to satisfy all of our priorities while also trying something new. I am so proud to say that I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of substituting fresh basil for the parsley that the recipe called for. We didn’t make the pesto that the recipe called for, but I preferred these with marinara because the texture and color actually makes them seem like turkey/chicken meatballs, which traditionally would be served with a red sauce. They were fun to make- we actually smashed everything together with a potato masher instead of the food processor! 

We invited some friends over to dinner and I was honestly nervous. Our friend E is as rough-and-rugged as it gets. He lives in the woods, stocks his freezer with freshly killed venison, and is a true man’s man. His wife R was vegetarian in college, so we knew she would give us honest feedback about how well these compared to the real deal.

OH.MY.GOODNESS. The herbs and the ricotta keep these rich and flavorful, the lentils give them great texture, and there’s nothing better than knowing these are honestly healthy! I also like that they’re ‘clean’ eating, not a ton of processed soy, which often people associate as the only alternative to meat. Drenched in some amazing marinara, all 4 of us were completely satiated. I took the leftovers for lunch today and put them over quinoa– what a fantastic pairing. Try these on a sub with melted mozzarella, atop your favorite pasta, or toss with pesto for a different iteration. I can’t wait to make a double batch and freeze them to have as needed for weeknight dinners- they are very versatile and so delicious!

Absolutely decadent!

Absolutely decadent!

Molten Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel
The recipe that started it all…I love the meticulous nature of baking and knowing that as long as you follow steps A, B, and C that the end result will be what you expect. Life doesn’t always work out that way, nor do relationships, but you’ve got to take the risks to see if the end result is worthwhile.  While this recipe may be intimidating, just take it step by step and you’ll be fine. At the end, you’ll have an oozing chocolate and caramel reward. My only suggestion from the initial recipe is to add the caramel to the ramekins before you refrigerate them, because once the cake portion sets in the fridge, it’s hard to push the caramel into the cake and cover it back up with cake batter (you want it to be completely enclosed with the chocolate batter). We also made them in muffin tins because we didn’t plan well and the ramekins were in the dishwasher…so don’t make the same mistake we made. They were still amazing, but more difficult to get out of the pan due to the slight slope of the sides. No one seemed to mind the gooey mess that resulted because we were too busy licking our forks and trying to hold back from eating the leftover cakes.

If you’re too intimidated by the full recipe, here’s my suggestion for a way to adapt this to suit your level of comfort with baking. Make a double batch of the caramel and pour it atop your favorite brownie recipe (even if that’s a boxed mix!) Just bake the brownies completely and pour the caramel over while they’re still warm so that the chocolate and caramel get a chance to melt together a bit and cool together. This caramel is absolutely fantastic. It takes quite a while for the sugar to get to the golden level you need it to get to, but patience is a virtue and I promise you’ll find it worth the wait. The only downside of this recipe is now I’ve revealed my trump card and D expects salted caramel everything for every special occasion moving forward. We’ll see….

Sometimes taking a risk pays off. And this weekend, despite the delay in our special meal, every minute in the kitchen created one of the most amazing meals we’ve had in a while.


Finger Foods

As much as it may be frowned upon, I love snacking and finger foods. I enjoy the meticulous nature of arranging bite-sized pieces, but also putting together a big bowl of something I know people will come together around, sharing stories, experiences, and their love of  good food. And while most chefs broke out their favorite snacks for the SuperBowl, my sporting event of choice is the Olympics, particularly the winter Olympics. Something about the combination of speed, skill, and snow, plus national pride, makes me want to make something special to celebrate!

These very different recipes can bring together even the most diverse people over your amazing (meat-free) kitchen skills, but won’t also keep you in the kitchen all day. Make them for a crowd of friends or share with someone special on the couch – you’ll be a game day hero!

soft pretzels surrounding a pool of cheese- what could be better?

soft pretzels surrounding a pool of cheese- what could be better?

Soft Pretzels with homemade cheese sauce

-1.5 cups warm water
-1 TBSP sugar
-2 tsp salt
-1 package dry yeast
-4.5 cups all purpose flour
-2 oz unsalted butter, melted
-vegetable oil or oil spray
-10 cups water
-2/3 cups baking soda
-1 large egg yolk, beaten together with 1 TBSP water
-2 TBSP large-grain salt, such as Kosher salt or sea salt (not table salt)

Set oven to warm setting, or if not available, the lowest possible temperature setting. Combine water, sugar, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and sprinkle yeast on top. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes until the mixture foams and starts to smell ‘yeasty’. Turn mixer on and slowly add flour and butter, mixing on low until the dough is combined. Increase speed to medium then mix 4-5 minutes until dough forms a ball and pulls away from the bowl.

Transfer dough to a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the warm oven and let it sit for 50 minutes–it should double or triple in size. While the dough is rising, heat 10 cups of water and the baking soda in a large stock pot until boiling. Remove dough from oven and increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.

Pull off a piece of dough about half the size of an adult fist and roll into a long snake. With the dough horizontally in front of you, pull the ends away from you, making a U-shape. Bring the ends back down to the bottom of the U, crossing them into an X to make a pretzel shape. Continue to make pretzels until the water is boiling rapidly, or make all at once and turn on the water to boil once you get to the end of the pretzel forming.

Drop the pretzels into the boiling water one at a time for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, gently remove them from the water (a slotted spoon or spider work well) and put them on a cooling rack to drain. You should have enough time to roll and form each pretzel while the prior one is cooking. When all of the pretzels are formed and boiled, set them on a greased cookie sheet (allow some space in between each, but they won’t rise much) and brush with the egg yolk mixture, sprinkling with salt. Bake for 12-14 minutes until the pretzels develop a crust.

Cheese Sauce
-2 TBSP butter
-2 TBSP flour
-1/2 cup milk (we used Almond Milk, which works just as well as dairy milk)
-1 cup of cheese, preferably mostly cheddar (we added some Gruyere in too)
-pinch of cayenne
-1 tsp of dried mustard

Make a roux by melting the butter on medium-low heat in a small pot and whisking in the flour, allowing to brown slightly (this will get rid of the raw flour taste).  Add in the milk, whisking to combine with the roux– the milk creates the volume of the sauce, so feel free to adjust depending on how much sauce you want. Add the cayenne and mustard, stirring to incorporate in. Slowly add in the cheese in about 3-4 installments, incorporating it fully into the warmed milk before adding in the next bit of cheese.

These are better than any soft pretzel I’ve ever gotten in a bar or arena and since you know exactly what goes into them, I promise they’ll even be better! They’re a fun, interactive project to do as a date or with friends but also easy enough to do alone. No one will miss the buffalo wings, chicken fingers, or ribs when these are on the table, and they freeze well so you can break them out anytime you’re in need of a snack. If there’s any cheese left (it’s SOOOOOO good) store it in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or so. We use leftover cheese on nachos, with black beans, and anywhere else you’d otherwise buy one of those pre-made cheese dips in a jar.

tangy, sweet, and creamy-- the best combination for a healthy finger food

tangy, sweet, and creamy– the best combination for a healthy finger food

Marinated Mushrooms with Herbed Goat Cheese
-6 to 10 baby portobello mushrooms per person, cleaned and de-stemmed
-balsalmic vinegar
-Worchestershire sauce
-minced garlic
-2 oz goat cheese per person
-zest of 1 lemon
-minced parsley
-slices of your favorite baguette

Mix together a 50:50 ratio of balsalmic vinegar and Worchestershire sauce, then add in minced garlic and salt/pepper to taste. Pour over the mushrooms and marinate for at least 30-40 minutes, tossing periodically. Meanwhile, mix together the goat cheese with lemon zest and parsley and set aside-season with salt and pepper if desired.

When the mushrooms are soft and are easily punctured with a fork, remove from the oven and let cool. Serve with crustini and goat cheese– either spread the cheese on the bread and top with mushrooms and the residual sauce, or pipe goat cheese into the center of the mushrooms and sop up the leftover sauce with the bread. Either way, it’s a fun activity that’ll have you eating with your fingers, enjoying a great meal, and thinking of mushrooms in a whole new way.

Whoever said finger food has to be greasy, fried, and messy clearly hasn’t eaten in our house! Whether it’s a quiet dinner for two mid-week or a night with friends to watch your favorite Olympic event, these snacks are sure to please and will have you out of the kitchen before the food is gone!