Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Zucchini Part 3: Rosemary Zucchini Soup

Yes, it's another soup recipe.  Yes, I'm aware that it's now August.  Sorry!  But you know, soup is good any time of year, really.  It doesn't have to be piping hot to be good.  And this soup- is GOOD.  I got this recipe from Epicurious several years ago, when I had way too much zucchini going on in the garden.  It was something different, and I appreciated that, and still do!  This soup is good enough to make even if you are not overrun by zucchini.  It is light and simple and very flavorful.  Summer in a bowl, this is.

Rosemary Zucchini Soup, Adapted from

2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium-large zucchini, diced
1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 quart chicken broth, plus water if necessary
salt/pepper to taste

1.  Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.

2.  Add garlic and rosemary and continue to cook about 1 minute more.

3.  Add chicken stock and potato and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and add zucchini.  Simmer until tender, 10-15 minutes, adding water if necessary.

4.  Blend with an immersion blender, or in batches in a blender or food processor, and return to pot.  Heat to a simmer, and add water, if necessary, and salt and pepper to taste.

The original Epicurious recipe has some croutons and fried zucchini as a garnish, but I usually do not bother with that- I don't have time.  Honestly, this soup is quite flavorful as it is, and though it is yummy with the additions (which I have tried before), it doesn't need them to be good.

So, have we had enough zucchini recipes yet???  I still have a couple more!  I'm on vacation for the next week, so I'll see what I come up with after that.  But in the meantime, if anyone has a burning desire to make baked zucchini fritters or a Greek-style chopped salad with zucchini, let me know- I think I can help!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Zucchini, Part II- Italian Turkey Meatloaf

Well, this post was supposed to be a salad recipe, but my husband decided to take my camera on a day trip to Mt. Hood with the kids, so I can't shoot any photos of it!  Arghhh!  Well, lucky that I already have some pics of the lovely Italian turkey meatloaf that I made yesterday- I *might* forgive him in the next week (or 2)!

I love meatloaf- grew up with it, probably ate it at least once a week for many years.  However, in this day and age, I don't cook with ground beef too much- I have substituted ground turkey or chicken for a lot of dishes that I once made with ground beef.  Meatloaf, though, has been an has been difficult to make a turkey meatloaf that meets the standards of a regular beef one in terms of not only flavor, but also texture.  Recently, I was browsing the Foodgawker site, and happend to see a turkey meatball recipe that caught my eye, because it contained ricotta cheese.  The recipe promised a moist, tender texture to the meatballs, so I figured, why not try it with meatloaf?  The verdict:  GREAT idea!  It really helps the turkey to retain moisture and tenderness, without compromising the stability of the meat.  I will definitely use this again!

This is kind of a standard meatloaf recipe, other than the fact that it uses ground turkey instead of ground beef.  I used 93% lean ground turkey, rather than the ground turkey breast (which is 99 % lean) because, well, this is meatloaf.  It needs some fat.  I went with an Italian theme, because as previously noted, I have lots of zucchini to get rid of, and this was a good use of it.  And honestly, you don't even notice it in this dish.  I have made Italian meatloaves before, and usually in those, I use jarred spagetti sauce in place of ketchup.  Here, instead, I used tomato paste, along with the usual Italian spices, to balance the moisture brought by the ricotta.  You only want to go so far with moisture in a meatloaf- otherwise, you have meatmush.  This produces a tender, moist, flavorful, and light meatloaf.  You can always play with the herbs and spices to change it up a bit, if you want.

Italian Meatloaf

Serves about 8

1/2 onion, chopped
1 package ground lean turkey (93% lean)
1 zucchini, shredded, pressed through a strainer/colander to remove water
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 cup jarred spaghetti sauce

1.  Sautee onion in 1 tbsp. vegetable oil until soft.

2. Place ground turkey in a mixing bowl.  Add zucchini, ricotta, 1/4 cup parmsean, onion (cooled), and egg, and mix to incorporate.  Add seasonings, tomato paste, and bread crumbs and mix well.

3. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.  Place meat mixture on sheet and form into a loaf.

4.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until meat thermometer reads 180 degrees at deepest point.

5.  Pour spaghetti sauce over the top of the meatloaf.  Sprinkle with 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  Bake for additional 5-10 minutes.

6.  Remove from oven and cool.  Slice and serve.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Zucchini, Zucchini Everywhere, Part 1

I have a garden.  It's a rather messy garden, because while I like the part where you plant stuff and harvest it, I'm not a big fan of what comes in between- namely, the weeding.  With the warm, wet beginning of summer that we had, it's like a jungle out there!  Part of me had given up- I was feeling a bit dejected because less than half of the green bean seeds I planted came up, so I haven't even bothered to go out there and check things out much.  I finally started seeing some color on the tomato plants though, so late last week, I ventured out there to pick a few of the little orange cherry tomatoes that had suddenly ripened.  I was pretty surprised to see a fully grown zucchini on the nearest zucchini plant, ready to be picked!  I planted two zucchini plants and one yellow squash, and the zucchini plants have really grown fast.  The yellow squash plant does not get as much sun, so it is slower going there.  So I've had this one zucchini on my counter for a couple of days, and finally this morning I diced and cooked it up with some onion to have with breakfast alongside my fried egg and toast.  Whew, I thought- so glad to have used that up before it went bad!

Then I stepped outside to water the garden, and to my astonishment, there were 5 MORE zucchini ready for picking!  Funny how it happens all at once, isn't it?!  So my challenge today was to use as much of the zucchini as I could, so that I was not faced with the task of trying to cook that much zucchini during the week.  I managed to use 3 of them, so that's not too bad!

So what did I do with these lovelies?

Well, I did several things, and as such, it is going to take me more than one post to document it all!  So this is Zucchini, Part 1.  Stay tuned for more later!

Italian Egg Bake
This was SO easy.  I managed to clean out my crisper a bit for this dish too, and used up some random onion pieces and a few mushrooms that were nearing their use-by date.  This is so simple to make, I won't even bother with a recipe- just a method of putting it all together.  This is so yummy, and bursting with fresh veggies and Italian flavors.

1.  Shred one zucchini.  Put in a colander over a bowl and salt liberally, tossing to mix in the salt.  Leave for 20 minutes or so.  Press water out of the zucchini through the colander and set aside.

2.  Sautee some chopped onions and mushrooms in a bit of oil or butter until soft.  Add zucchini for the last couple of minutes of cooking, tossing to incorporate all the veggies.

3.  In a bowl, crack 6 eggs and beat.  Stir in 1/2 lowfat cottage cheese and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, a few fresh basil leaves chopped, and a clove of garlic, finely minced.  Add cooled veggies and stir to incorporate.  Pour into a 9x9 square pan sprayed with nonstick baking spray.

4.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Sprinkle with a tablespoon or 2 more parmesan cheese and put back into oven for 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes before cutting into 3x3 squares.

This crustless quiche is really tender and flavorful, and omitting the crust makes it a lot healthier too!  You could reduce the fat by replacing half of the whole eggs with 2 egg whites for each whole egg.  I know the cottage cheese may seem like a strange ingredient, but trust me- it melts right into the dish and you don't even know it's there, and it contributes to the tender, delicate texture of this dish.  Garnish with fresh basil if you want- mine was fresh right out of my garden!

Stay tuned for Part 2, and possibly Part 3 as well- I have no idea what other lengths I will have to go to to use up all this squash!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Chicken and Grilled Corn Chowder

Ok.  I know. JULY??  Especially when most of the country has been dealing with 100+ degree temps for the last week plus??

Yeah, sorry.  Here in the Pacific NW, the summer has not been so harsh.  (Yet.)  Don't quote me, because in a couple of weeks I will probably be cursing myself for being so smug.  Yes, our warmest day so far was yesterday, which was about 90.  Really not so bad, by comparison.  I grew up where it routinely got to be 105 or more in the summer...with no central A/C.  So, yeah, this is still pretty livable (so far.)

Anyway.  Last week was the Fourth of July.  We spent the holiday with friends barbequing, hanging out, and doing fireworks in their cul-de-sac.  We potluck most years to their house, and this year I got off easy- a veggie tray with dip, some soda, and a dessert.  So I went to the store on the 4th for the veggies.  Holy cow, was it busy!!  While strolling through the produce section, I noticed the 6/$1 corn sale.  I had no plans to bring corn to the barbeque, but we all like corn, so I took advantage and bought 6 ears for $1.  I grilled some of it over this past weekend for dinner, but was left with 3 ears after that, just languishing in my kitchen.  Yesterday (Sunday) was fridge clean-out day, and I was faced with what to do with these last 3 ears of corn.  I decided to throw them on the grill, and figure out the rest later.

Later came today.  It's Monday...back to work, and I'm too tired to make a complicated dinner night.  Hubby took the kids out to grab dinner and a movie, and I pondered the grilled corn, as well as some other stray fridge ingredients, wondering if I could conjur up something out of them into something special...or at the very least, edible.  The answer, it turns out, was surprisingly simple.  This soup showcases fresh grilled corn, with a backdrop of creamy potatoes and a subtle hint of chicken.  The chicken is not the centerpiece here- that belongs to the corn, as it rightly deserves.  The chicken is just barely there, to provide a little structure and substance to an otherwise light, summery soup, making it seem more like a meal than a snack.  The flavor that comes from the grilled corn cannot be faked, so don't even think about substituting frozen or canned corn here- you will not get the same delicious results.  This is a light, yet substantial soup that delivers the essence of summer, right to your tastebuds.

To grill corn on the cob, remove husks and corn silk.  Wrap in foil and grill over a medium flame, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes.  Unwrap and cool, then cut corn from cobs.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Summer Chicken and Grilled Corn Chowder

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
 About 3 cups grilled fresh corn, cut from cob
1 boneless skinless chicken breast
1 carton (32 oz) chicken broth
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 cup half and half
salt and pepper to taste
chopped chives for garnish (optional)

1.  Heat vegetable oil in a large pot.  Add onions and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until soft and translucent.

2.  Add corn and heat through.  Move vegetables to the side, and add chicken to the middle of the pot.  Brown chicken on one side, then turn and brown on the other.

3.  Add chicken broth and potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.  Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender.

4.  Remove chicken from soup and set aside.  Using a hand-held blender, blend soup for just a few seconds at a time.  You don't want to puree the soup, just blend it a bit so that there are still whole pieces of corn and potatoes. 

5.  Shred chicken with a fork, and return to the soup and stir in.

6.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in half and half.

7.  Serve in bowls topped with chopped chives.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

 Well, I was not going to post this on this blog, because honestly, there's nothing healthy, easy, or particularly "common sense" about it.  However, not everything in life has to be, right?  And your son only turns 16 years old once, and if he happens to share your affinity for chocolate/peanut butter desserts, you are well-justified in making something like this (and blogging about it) once in awhile.

And also, my friend Jill asked me to share the recipe after I posted pictures on Facebook.  So, this is for you, Jill!
 I researched a ton for this cake.  I knew exactly what I had in mind for it, and I couldn't find any one recipe that was "it" for me.  So, as I usually do with these things, I combined elements from different recipes to make what I wanted it to be.  I also did not make the cake from scratch- I went for convenience, and used a boxed cake mix.  It was still really darned good!  This cake is incredibly rich.  It was so heavy, I had to weigh it, and it was over 6 pounds!  Make sure to cut thin slices of this to serve.  I gave generous slices of this to three teenaged boys, and they all complained that they could hardly finish them.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Birthday Cake

1 box devil's food cake mix and ingredients included on package directions
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Mix cake mix according to package directions.  Stir in peanut butter and chocolate chips.

2. Bake according to package directions in two 9" round cake pans.

3.  Cool 10 minutes in pans, then remove cake from pans and allow to cool completely on wire racks.  (I refrigerated mine to speed up the cooling process.)

1.5 cup creamy good quality peanut butter, NOT natural or reduced fat
4 cups confectioner's sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup heavy cream (plus more if necessary)

4.  Mix peanut butter, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer in a large bowl until it resembles coarse crumbs.

5.  Add cream and mix until it is a thick, fudgy consistency.

6.  Spray a 9" round cake pan with nonstick spray.  Press peanut butter mixture into the bottom of the pan, smoothing to the edge of the pan bottom .

7.  Freeze for 30 minutes.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature (softened)
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2-3 tbsp heavy cream, or enough to achieved desired consistency

8. In a large bowl, combine butter, peanut butter, vanilla, and confectioner's sugar.  Mix with an electric mixer until it resembles coarse crumbs.

9.  Add 1 tbsp of cream at a time and continue to mix, until frosting is soft and creamy and at the desired consistency.

Chocolate Ganache:
4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream

10.  Place chips in a heatproof bowl and set aside.

11.  Heat cream in a saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to simmer.

12.  Remove from heat and immediately pour over chocolate chips in the bowl.  Allow to sit for 1 minute.

13.  Whisk mixture with a wire whisk until smoothe.

15 mini Reese's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, coarsly chopped
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

Cake Assembly:

14.  Place one cake round on cake platter upside down.

15.  Remove pan of peanut butter filling from freezer.  Add about 1 inch of warm water to a shallow pan, and put pan of peanut butter filling in it.  Allow to sit about 1 minute to loosen the filling.

16.  Run a knife or rubber spatula around the edge of the filling to loosen from pan, and pry up gently to pop it out of the pan in once piece.

17.  Place filling on cake layer, then add the other cake layer on top of the filling, right side up.

18.  Frost cake with peanut butter frosting.

19.  Prepare ganache.  Pour over the top of the frosted cake.  Use a rubber spatula to gently spread the ganache to the edges of the cake so that it drips down over the sides.

20.  Sprinkle chopped peanut butter cups and chips over the top.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Halibut Tacos

Fish tacos.  Back when I was in college, I worked part time in a bank, and across the street was a Del Taco.  I remember once going to work and looking at the reader board at the Del Taco and seeing the words "Fish tacos", and was completely disgusted by the idea!  Of course, I was young and a bit narrow-minded back then, and to me, tacos meant one thing: ground beef seasoned with a taco seasoning packet in one of those hard shells that taste like cardboard.  I had only recently been introduced to the idea of soft chicken tacos and was still getting used to that concept, and fish tacos was just way too outside of the norm for me.  I never even tried fish tacos until about a year ago.  We were over at the Oregon coast and went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch, and they had halibut tacos on the menu.  I had to try them.  They were amazing- and I couldn't believe I'd waited so long to try them!

These tacos are light, delicious, and easy.  The marinade comes together in a snap, the fish fillets marinate for only 10 minutes, and they cook under the broiler in about 10 minutes.  I love halibut so that's what I used here, but you could use any mild, white fish.  Tilapia would probably be lovely.

Halibut Tacos
Serves about 4

2  halibut fillets, about 4 oz. each
3-4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced finely
1 lime, zested and juiced
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped, divided
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp olive oil
salt/pepper to taste
1 cup shredded lettuce
1/2 grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 scallions, sliced thinly
Salsa, homemade or store bought
1 package corn tortillas

1.  Preheat broiler on high heat.  For the marinade, combine lime juice, lime zest, half of the cilantro,  olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes in a large ziplock bag.  Add fish fillets.  Marinate 10 minutes.

2.  While fish is marinating, shred cheese, lettuce, chop cilantro, and slice scallions.

3. Place fish fillets on a wire rack over a foil-lined shallow pan.  Broil about 10 minutes or until cooked through.  Thicker cuts of fish may take longer.  If fish begins to brown on top, cover with foil and continue to cook until done.

4.  Wrap tortillas (2 per taco) in a tea towel.  Microwave about 40 seconds just before serving.

5. When fish is cooked, remove from rack to a wide, shallow bowl or plate.  Use a fork to break the fish into large chunks.

6.  To serve, place two tortillas stacked on top of each other onto each plate.  Spoon fish in the center of each, then top with salsa, cheese, lettuce, cilantro, and onions.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Broiled Salmon With Garlic and Herbs (Gremolata)

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we enjoy a very short season wherein Copper River salmon are available.  The Copper River in Alaska is nearly 300 miles in length, and the salmon that run there become strong and robust, unlike any other salmon on the market.  Their peak season is mid-May to mid-June, and the season is so short that you have to jump on it before it is gone.

I love salmon, but I don't love its price: on average, it costs $10 per pound.  Hard to justify, when I can get chicken for $2.49 per pound or less.  Still, salmon is a delicacy, and one with immense health benefits.  I refuse to buy farmed salmon anymore.  Just do the research on it, and you will see why.  So when the Copper River Salmon hits the local grocery stores, I take advantage of it.

This is a recipe I have made for many years.  I did not always like salmon, or even fish in general- in fact, growing up, I did not much like fish at all.  I never had fresh fish though- my exposure to fish in my younger years was limited to the frozen fish sticks that pervaded the American market in the 1980s.  As such, I was not left with a favorable impression.  As an adult, I had salmon in restuarants, and was immediately won over.  It is so easy to cook at home too, and very versatile- it is delicious steamed, broiiled, or sauteed.

This recipe utilizes a basic gremolata, which is a paste made from garlic, lemon, and herbs.  It is a flavorful addition not only to fish and meats, but to vegetables, sauces, and anything else that can support the strong garlic and herb flavors.  It is excellent with steak, or in salad dressing.  It is a perfect match for the bold flavor of the Copper River salmon.  Try making some ahead and using throughout the week- you can add instant flavor to any dish.

Broiled Salmon with Garlic and Herbs (Gremolata)

Serves: 2

2 salmon filets
4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1/2 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
1/2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tsp grill seasoning
1 tsp olive oil or more as needed

1.  Preheat broiler.  Combine garlic, herbs, lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl to make gremolata.  Set aside.

2.  Pat salmon filets dry and place skin side down on wire rack on a baking sheet.

3.  Spread gremolata (garlic and herb mixture) onto salmon filets.

4.  When broiler is hot, put salmon into oven.  Broil 7 minutes.

5.  Place a sheet of foil over salmon and continue cooking for 5 more minutes.

6.  Test salmon for doneness.  If not done, continue to cook, covered with foil, in 4 minute increments, until done.

7.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fiesta Black Bean Salad

Well, we've had a taste of summer..had a couple of days that were in the mid-80s, but nothing to write home about just yet.  Still, I'm gearing up for summer cooking, which means grilled meats and veggies, and lots, LOTS, of salads.  All kinds of salads- not just the tossed greens variety!  I've spent years experimenting with different types of salads, and while I'm always searching for new ideas, we definitely have our favorites here.  This one is my husband's favorite.  I have been making this for at least 10 years, possibly longer.  I remember bringing it to a 4th of July potluck when my daughter was just a baby, and she is almost 12 now!  In any case, it is delicious and stands the test of time.  Most importantly, it is very easy to put together, and pretty darned healthy too!  It's a great side for grilled meats, or alongside any Mexican-themed dinner.  This past weekend, we went camping, and I made it to accompany grilled chicken tacos.  Packed with beans, corn, and bold flavors, it stands well on its own as well.  I sometimes mix this with pasta if I need to stretch it to feed a crowd, but it is equally good and hearty without the pasta.  This is best if it has a few hours to marinate before serving.

Mexican Fiesta Bean Salad
Servings: at least 6

2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed well
1 can shoepeg corn, drained
about 1/2 cup prepared fresh salsa, either homemade or store-bought (such as Rojo's), drained of excess liquid
4 green onions, sliced thinly
about 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp Mojito Lime seasoning (made by McCormick.  I am not affiliated with McCormick, I just like their grill seasonings.  If you can't fnd this, substitute a mixture of garlic powder, red pepper, and dried grated citrus peel.)
1 large clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt/pepper to taste

1.  Combine drained and rinsed black beans and corn in a large bowl.  Add  drained salsa, cilantro, and green onions and toss to mix.  Set aside.

2.  In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, seasonings, and vegetable oil.

3.  Pour dressing over bean salad and toss to incorporate.  Allow to sit in refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Linguini With Prosciutto and Peas, For One

Life is so crazy busy these days, I barely have time to cook, let alone remember to snap pictures of what I do cook!  This has been another one of those weeks with more take-out than I would like.  My daughter has had extra dance rehearsals in preparation for their upcoming recital, and three nights in a row for 2 weeks is taking its toll!  Yesterday, I ended up getting take-out pizza for the kids, but didn't partake myself because I'm really trying to watch what I eat.  I did not even have time for dinner before we had to leave for dance class, so I was starving by the time we got home after 8pm.  I threw this dinner together for myself in about 15 minutes, and I can't decide what made it more delicious- the fresh peas I picked up from the farmer's market on Wednesday, or the fact that I was so danged hungry that ANYTHING would taste good!  Seriously, this is some great comfort food, and not *too* bad on the diet.  I looked for whole grain linguini in the grocery store, but could only find spaghetti, and really felt that a thicker noodle would be best in this one, so went with regular linguini here.  Seems like a trip to Trader Joe's is in order- I bet they have some variety of whole grain linguini!

Linguini with Prosciutto and Peas

I made one serving of this, and I didn't measure anything so for more, increase the ingredients.  It's ok, I trust you. ;)


- Dry linguini noodles, whole grain if you can find them.  I don't know how much.  Enough for one nice bowl.
- About 3/4 cup freshly shelled peas.  Use frozen if you can't get ahold of fresh.
- 2 slices prosciutto, fat from edges removed, chopped
- 2 green onions, sliced thinly
- Olive oil- a drizzle or two
- Splash of half-n-half
- Squeeze of fresh lemon juice from a small lemon wege3
- Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  However much you want.  Or however much you can get away with without feeling guilty, but still enough to make you feel like you are getting a treat after a very very long day.
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Handful of chopped parsley.  I didn't have any, but I was thinking how very lovely this dish would have been if I did.

1.  Heat salted water over high heat to boiling and add linguini.  Cook according to package directions.  Mine took about 10 minutes to al dente.

2.  In the last minute of cooking, throw the peas into the water with the noodles.  Cook 1 minute, then remove from heat and strain noodles and peas.

3.  Return pot to burner and reduce heat to medium.  Drizzle a little olive oil and add prosciutto.  Stir and cook a minute or  two, just until it gets a little color on it.

4.  Add noodles and peas back to pot, along with half and half.  Heat until a little bubbly, then add salt, pepper, and cheese, reserving a little for garnish.  Add green onions, toss to incorporate.

5.  Serve with additional cheese on top.  And parsley if you have it.  Enjoy with a glass of wine as you think about how 3 days in a row of dance class really is too much, and maybe you've lost your mind since you already signed your daughter up for more of it for the entire summer.

UPDATE 5/20/12: Pictures!  I made this dish again today, this time with some whole-grain linguini I found at another grocery store, and I also added a little squeeze of lemon juice, which really brightened up the flavors!  I've added that onto the ingredients listed in the recipe.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Slow-Cooker Turkey and Vegetable Lasagna

As I learned from one of my favorite authors, Susan Mallery awhile back, you can make lasagna in the Crock Pot!  Well, who knew??  Not me- until I saw the recipe on Susan's blog.  I have made her recipe a few times, and it is fantastic!  This weekend, while pondering the contents of my refrigerator, seeing all of the veggies that were about to go bad unless they were used NOW, I devised a plan for a vegetable lasagna, based on my experience with making Susan's recipe.  I had a package of ground turkey breast too, so decided to use that as well.  The result is a very robust, yet light, healthy lasagna that takes just a few hours in the slow cooker.  Disclaimer: yes, it does take some prep time.  You do have to sautee the turkey and vegetables, but after that it is very easy to put together, and then you can forget about it until dinner time!

I used the veggies that were hanging around in my fridge at the time, but you can use whatever you have on hand.  The important thing is that you sautee them really well, because any water that they retain is going to stay in the slow cooker when they are cooking in there.  No one likes a watery lasagna!  I would stick to veggies that sautee well, and stay away from the hardy winter veggies like turnips and the like.  I used broccoli, carrots, onions, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach in mine, and  I used a 6-quart oval slow cooker for this dish.

Turkey and Vegetable Lasagna
Serves: At least 8.  This is a dish you can make for a crowd, or in anticipation of leftovers

1 package (1.25 lbs) ground turkey breast
1/2 of a large onion, diced
3  tbsp olive oil, divided
Chopped vegetables- about 3-4 cups total, chopped small and uniform in size (I used carrots, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, and mushrooms
1 bag baby spinach, chopped
2 jars store-bought spagetti sauce
10 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
About 1 lb ricotta cheese
1/2  box no-boil lasagna noodles

1.  Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add onion.  Stir and cook until tender, then add turkey.  Cook, breaking up meat with a spatula, until cooked through.  Drain and set aside.

2. Clean out pan and heat the other 1.5 tbsp olive oil over medium heat.  Add carrots, sautee for 3 minutes, then add broccoli and asparagus and sautee 3 more minutes or until barely tender.  Add zucchini and mushrooms and sautee 3 more minutes.  Add spinach and sautee 1 minute until spinach has wilted and most of the liquid has evaporated.  Set aside.  Note: cooking times approximate.  Use your own judgement when sauteeing the vegggies!

3.  In slow cooker, spread about 1/4 cup spagetti sauce in the bottom of the crock.  Add lasgna noodles, breaking up to fill in uncovered spots.  Spread with more sauce to cover.

4.  Add 1/2 of the turkey and onions, then 1/2 of the vegetables, distributing evenly.  Spoon 1/2 of the ricotta cheese onto the vegetable mixture, spreading over the vegetables as you go.  Sprinkle with 1/3 of the shredded mozzarella cheese.

5.  Place another layer of lasagna noodles over cheese and repeat with sauce, the rest of the turkey, vegetables, ricotta, and 1/3 of the mozzarella.

6.  Top with final layer of noodles and the rest of the sauce.  Place lid and cook on LOW for about 4 hours or until noodles are cooked through and sauce is bubbly.

7.  Sprinkle remaining 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese on top, replace lid and cook 20 minutes more.

8.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Curried Couscous Salad

Ever have one of those weeks (or two, or three) that is just non-stop activity, where you barely have time to breathe, much less cook?  That's how it has been around my house for the past couple of weeks.  The closer we get to the end of the school year, the more we seem to have going on.  This past week was absolutely crazy!  I did not cook a single family meal all week, unless you count the one night I scrambled a few eggs for my son on his way out the door to youth group and reheated leftover spagetti sauce for my daughter.  I will admit to having those weeks when we rely on take-out, even though it is expensive and pretty unhealthy.

Today, I have had a little time to breathe (and cook), so have spent a couple of hours in the kitchen prepping some foods for the coming week and cooking a few things for lunches.  I have sliced some lean pork for stir-fry, and mixed up some ground chicken for kefta meatballs, along with tzatziki.  I decided to make a salad to go along side the meatballs, and dug a recipe out of my file for Curried Couscous and Garbanzo Bean Salad, which I found on Epicurious a couple of years ago.  The first time I made it, I did according to the recipe, however, this time I made some of my own modifications.  The original recipe calls for cooking the vegetables in curry-spiced water, but I decided to roast mine instead.  I added the curry powder to the dressing, which makes for a lighter, less intense curry flavor, but still very tasty.  If I were to do this again, I would probably toast the curry powder in a pan before adding it to the dressing.  The original recipe calls for this, and I meant to do it myself, but forgot.  I did not have any fresh ginger, so used powdered ginger instead.  Finally, instead of the white wine vinegar that the recipe calls for, I used a mixture apple cider vinegar and lemon juice.  It works just fine, but feel free to use white wine vinegar if you want.

Curried Couscous Salad
Adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2004 via
Makes about 6 servings

6 cups vegetables, cut into bite sized pieces (I used carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, and onions)
1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 10 oz box plain couscous, prepared according to package directions
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
4-5 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
 2 tbsp curry powder
1/4 tsp ground ginger
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spread vegetables on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil.  Mix to coat vegetables.  Roast 10 mintues, stir, and roast another 5 minutes or until vegetables are just tender.

2.   Toast curry powder in a pan over medium heat for a minute or so, or until fragrant.  Place in a bowl and add vinegar, lemon juice, ginger, and olive oil.  Whisk or stir to incorporate.

3.  Place cooked couscous in a large bowl and fluff with a fork to separate and break up any clumps.  Add vegetables and garbanzo beans and toss toss gently.

4.  Drizzle dressing over salad, add salt and pepper to taste and toss gently to incorporate.  Cool to room temperature.  Add green onions and feta cheese and toss.

Serve either at room temperature or chilled.  The flavors will meld and become a little more intense with time in the refrigerator.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Spring Scramble

I know that technically spring started last month, but here in the Pacific Northwest, it doesn't *really* start until early to mid-April.  We still get a lot of weather waffling- one day will be in the 60s, and the next we have a high of 45 degrees.  I am happy to report that spring seems to finally be here, although still a bit tentatively.  The temperature varies, but everything is in bloom, promising that one of these days soon, we can finally put away our coats and boots!

My and my husband's wedding anniversary was this week- on Monday the 9th, to be exact.  It was 18 years for us- seems like such a long time, but at the same time, it seems like just last week!  We usually try to take a weekend away together for our annivesrary- it was a tradition we started on our very first anniversary, which we spent in Coos Bay, Oregon, back in 1995.  We vowed then to always take a trip, however short, to force ourselves to take time out to appreciate our marriage and each other.  It has worked out well, and we have enjoyed some very nice and memorable weekends together doing just that.  Last year was really special- we went to Manzanita, a small town on the north Oregon coast just south of Cannon Beach.  Manzanita is a very small, quaint town, and just perfect for celebrating a low-key occasion.

On our last day there, we had breakfast at a local bakery called Bread and Ocean, which was just up the road from the hotel where we stayed.  They had incredible baked goods, and also sandwiches and select breakfast specials.  I ordered their egg special of the day, an egg scramble with spring vegetables.  It was a simple dish with complex flavors, and I was blown away.  Eggs were scrambled with tender asparagus, peas, and fresh herbs, and served over a bed of baby arugula, with a touch of cheese.  The proportions were such that there were more veggies than eggs, which made the dish feel completely guilt-free!  The dish was fantastic no matter what- it was the perfect balance of soft egg, tender spring vegetables, and tangy cheese.  It stayed with me for weeks, and I vowed to make something similar at home.  Of course, life intervened, and I never got the chance before summer arrived.  Now, however, here we are in April again, and since our anniversary just passed, I began thinking again of those delicious green spring vegetables mixed with delicate eggs.  Time to finally, FINALLY re-create that experience at home.

I made this dish using what I already had at home, which meant substituting fresh spinach for the arugula.  I think either works in this dish, however, I do think the arugula holds up to the heat a bit better, as it is a hardier green.  The spinach did wilt on me a bit- and that is ok- but when I had this dish in Manzanita, I enjoyed the fact that the arugula stood up to the heat of the eggs when served with them hot out of the pan.  As with the original, I used asparagus and peas (frozen), and I decided to add some mushrooms since they were in the fridge.  I do not recall what kind of cheese was used by Bread and Ocean, but I used Gruyere, as I think that goes so nicely with asparagus.  For herbs, I added chopped chives from my garden, since that is all that is sprouting at the moment (apart from the rosemary, which has taken over my herb garden and needs to be trimmed, but I digress.)  The result is a very nice light, fresh, springy dish that is also healthy and delicious.

Spring Scramble

Servings: 2


2 tsp vegetable oil or butter
3-4 stalks asparagus, bottoms trimmed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4-5 mushrooms, sliced
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup peas (thawed if frozen)
1/3 cup grated cheese (gruyere, parmesan, etc)
1 cup fresh baby spinach or arugula
salt/pepper to taste
chopped herbs for garnish

1.  Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, add asparagus.  Cook and stir 1-2 minutes.

2.  Add mushrooms.  Let stand in skillet 2 minutes, then stir and cook 1 minute more.  Reduce heat to low-medium.

3.  Add eggs and stir gently.  Do not allow eggs to brown- keep stirring so that they slowly congeal.

4.  When eggs are about halfway cooked, add peas, 1/2 of the cheese, and salt and pepper, and stir into eggs.  Cook about 1 minute more.

5.  When eggs are just done, remove pan from heat.  Add spinach or arugula to pan and toss with eggs to just barely warm.  Add salt/pepper as necessary.  Add remaining cheese on top.  Garnish with chopped herbs before serving.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Vanilla-Strawberry Tart

Happy Easter everyone!  We had a nice Easter dinner here that was not too much different from our standard Sunday dinner.  I roasted a whole chicken, and we had mashed potatoes, steamed green beans, rolls, and salad as sides.  Nothing too complicated.  I did want to make a nice dessert though, and wanted to do something nice and springy, without too much work.  I went to  Costco the other day and got a couple of containers of beautiful strawberries, so decided to use those.  What I came up with was a simple tart using a puff pastry base, along with vanilla pudding, and fresh strawberries, with whipped cream topping the whole thing off. The result is delicious!

Vanilla Strawberry Tart


1 box Jello brand Cook-and-Serve Vanilla pudding mix
3 cups milk
1 puff pastry sheet
2 cups strawberries, tops removed and halved vertically
Whipped cream for garnish

1.  Line a 10-inch tart pan with puff pastry sheet.  Trim as necessary, and flute edges.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes, until pastry is cooked through.  Press down on center to compress pastry as it puffs up when it bakes.

2.  In the meantime, cook pudding according to package directions, and cool.

3.  When both crust and pudding are cooled, pour pudding into crust about 2/3 up the crust.  Reserve remaining pudding for another purpose.  Chill at least one hour until pudding is set.

4.  Arrange strawberry halves on top of pudding, making a ring around the edge of the tart, then moving inward, covering the tart with strawberries.

5.  Garnish with fresh whipped cream.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spaghetti With Shrimp and Spicy Roasted Tomatoes

Today was clean out the fridge day- time to use up a bunch of the odds and ends that were hanging out in the fridge before they go bad and have to be thrown away.  I hate to waste food...every time I have to toss leftovers, I cringe!  Must be the training I received while growing up- EVERYTHING got used, even if Saturday night dinner consisted of a buffet of every leftover from the previous week.  I am not nearly as militant about using up leftovers as my parents were, but I make an effort to use up as much as I can.  This week, the most pressing items in the fridge were a container of grape tomatoes that were beginning to get pruney, and about 1/2 pound of shrimp.  I debated ways that I might use them together and separately, and ultimately decided to make one dish and use both of them.  I wanted to make something with items already on hand in my kitchen.  I briefly considered shrimp tacos with a homemade salsa, but didn't have any limes, so decided not to go that route.

I finally decided on a pasta dish- I always have plenty of dried pastas in my pantry.  It's a simple dish packed with lots of bold flavors, including a spicy kick from fresh garlic and some red pepper flakes.  Use more or less of the pepper flakes depending on how spicy you like it- you can even omit them if you want.  If you do, I would increase the black pepper just a bit, to round out the flavors.  This is not a saucy pasta dish- the roasted tomatoes have a bit of a pasty consistency that clings to the pasta well, without being liquid.  I topped mine with some chopped chives from my garden, and some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  This makes a nice light, tasty pasta dish.

Spaghetti With Shrimp and Spicy Roasted Tomatoes


Shrimp and marinade:

1/2 tsp grated fresh lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
couple dashes red pepper flakes
1/2 pound small to medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed


1 pint grape tomatoes, rinsed and dried
olive oil
spaghetti noodles- enough for 3-4 servings
1/2 small onion, sliced thinly
5 cloves garlic, minced finely
Red pepper flakes
salt/pepper to taste

Garnish: freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, chopped fresh herbs

1.  Combine all shrimp and marinade ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

2.   Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil and toss to coat.  Roast in oven about 20-30 minutes, until tomatoes are soft and most liquid has evaporated.  Remove tomatoes to a cutting board and chop roughly with a knife.

3.  Cook spaghetti according to package directions until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

4.  Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet.  Remove shrimp from marinade with a slotted spoon and place in hot pan.  Discard marinade.  Cook 1-2 minutes and then turn over and cook 1-2 minutes more until cooked through, being careful not to overcook. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside.

5.  Add onions to pan and stir and cook about 3 minutes over medium heat until softened.  Add garlic and pepper flakes and cook 1 more minute, being careful not to scorch garlic.  Add 1 more tbsp olive oil to pan and spaghetti noodles to pan and toss well to coat noodles with olive oil mixture.  Add tomatoes and shrimp and toss to incorporate, and heat through.

6.  Serve garnished with grated cheese and chopped herbs.

Makes about 3-4 modest servings, or 2 large ones.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Potato-Leek (or Onion) Soup

Spring is here, and winter is coming to a close...supposedly, anyway.  (Never mind the fact that three days ago it snowed enough for the schools to be closed, but I digress.)  With the change of seasons, I always begin to think differently about cooking, what to cook, and how to prepare it.  After a long winter of roasting and braising, I look forward to using my grill more often as the temperatures warm and the light stays until after dinnertime.

Unfortunately, it doesn't all happen overnight, and at least here in the PNW, it won't be consistently warm for at least another couple of months.  As such, I am kind of all over the place with cooking this time of year.  Last night, I grilled some lovely center-cut pork chops, and today, I made potato soup.  I like soup any time of year, but tend to make it less in the summer when it's warmer.  And in the spring, I like to make lighter soups with seasonal ingredients, rather than the meaty, heartier soups of winter.  This potato soup is just perfect for this time of year, and it is so simple, there's really not even a recipe for it- more a collection of ingredients, and a technique for assembling them.  It is inspired by the classic potato-leek soup of Julia Child, with just a couple of minor changes.  Her recipe calls for water, and I use a mix of water and chicken broth.  Also, I used a mix of leeks and onions in mine- I don't always, sometimes I use all of one or the other, but this time I had only two leeks, so supplemented with half an onion.  It is delicious with any of these options, not to mention light and healthy, with very little added fat.  I topped mine with newly-sprouted chives from my garden.

Potato-Leek (or Onion) Soup

1.5 tbsp butter
2 medium leeks
1/2 large onion
4 medium russett potatoes
3 cups chicken broth
water, as needed
about 1/4 cup half-and-half
salt/pepper to taste
optional: fresh chopped chives

1.  Slice root ends and most of green tops from leeks and discard.  Slice leeks in half lengthwise.  Soak in a large bowl of cold water to remove dirt and sand from between layers.  Pat dry, then slice leeks thinly crosswise.

2.  Slice onion thinly.

3.  Peel potatoes and slice thinly.

4.  Melt butter in a large pot.  Add leeks and onions; stir and cook until tender.

5.  Add chicken broth and potatoes.  Add enough water to cover potatoes by 1 inch.

6.  Bring to a boil, tnen reduce heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender.

7.  In batches, puree in a food processor or blender, or use a stick blender right in the pot.  (I **LOOOVVEE*** mine!)  Puree until smoothe and velvety.

8.  Bring heat back up to a simmer and cook about 15 more minutes.  Cook longer if it seems too watery.

9.  Add salt, pepper, and half-and-half.

Makes about 4-6 servings.  It tastes even better the second day!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad

I love Greek food.  I remember the very first time I ever had it.  My then-fiancee (now husband) and I were in Indiana visiting his older brother, and he took us to a favorite Greek restaurant for lunch.  He ordered a combination plate for us all to share, so I got a good sampling of some of the more popular Greek dishes: spanakopita, dolmades, moussaka, kababs, and salad.  I remember loving all of it, and especially noted the salad, because it was so simple and, I thought, would be easy to make at home.  I was right, and have for many years made different versions of Greek salad at home.

There are a lot of versions out there. Some contain lettuce, others spinach, and still others, no greens at all.  Some are a simple mix of tomatoes, onions, cucumber and olives in a garlicky lemon and olive oil dressing, along with feta cheese.  It is this version that I most often make, because it keeps well for several days, and actually tastes better when it has been sitting in the fridge for a couple of days, allowing all the flavors to meld together.  To make it into more of a meal in itself than a side dish, I will sometimes add pasta, rice, or couscous.  The version I am sharing today uses orzo pasta, but it would be equally delicious with another small pasta.  I have made this exact version many times with couscous as well.

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad
Servings: about 4-6


1 cup orzo pasta
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
1/2 of a large cucumber, peeled,  seeded and diced
1/4 cup diced red onion (about 1/4 of a medium sized onion)
1/2 cup kalamata olives, halved lengthwise (you could use regular black olives if you don't have kalamatas)
1/2 cup canned artichoke hearts, drained well and diced (note: I have  used both water-packed and marinated artichoke hearts before, but in this version, I used marinated)
1.5 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small cloves garlic, minced finely
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Whisk dressing ingredients together and set aside.

2.  Cook orzo according to package directions.  Drain and rinse in a sieve under cold water and place in a large bowl.  Drain well after rinsing.

3.  Add tomatoes, cucumber, onions, olives, and artichoke hearts to orzo and toss well to incorporate.

4.  Pour dressing over salad and toss gently to mix completely.

5.  Add spinach and feta cheese and fold in gently.  Add additional salt and pepper if necessary.

This is best if it is made ahead and allowed to sit in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours.  Keep in mind that the spinach will wilt over time, so if you don't like that texture, you could keep the spinach separate and add it when serving.  To make a hearty lunch salad, you could add a can of well-drained albacore tuna, some diced cooked chicken, or shrimp.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chicken Stroganoff With Asparagus

Maybe it's the time of year, but I've been craving (and cooking) comfort foods lately.  I make a lot of soups this time of year, but I also get hungry for more substantial, stick-to-your-ribs dishes: meatloaf, potatoes, roasted meats. creamy, cheesy casseroles, and the like.  Last weekend I caved and made a meatloaf and au gratin potatoes.  SOOOOO good....and I've been paying for it in the form of a tighter waistband all week!  Time to lighten things up a bit!

Today is Saturday, which are always busy at my house.  My kids both have activities first thing in the morning, so usually my hubby and I tag-team: he takes one, I take the other, and we coordinate pick-up depending on who has what else going on.  Today I was all on my own, as my husband picked up a shift at work.  What an adventure!  Between getting everyone (meaning the kids) fed and out the door on time, I didn't even have time for breakfast for myself- had to grab a muffin from the grocery store bakery and eat it in the parking lot of the dance school!  By the time I got everyone picked up and home, I was STARVING.  I was soooo tempted to go get take-out, but as we are trying to stay on a budget, decided to stick to whatever is in my fridge and make it work.

I enjoy challenges like this, but not when I am REALLY hungry.  Whatever I was going to make had to be fast and easy.  I had about a cup of cooked wide noodles left over from a couple of nights before, so decided to start there.  I also had some uncooked thin-sliced chicken breasts, so I decided to put the two together.  I like beef stroganoff- why not chicken?  The rest of the ingredients came together quickly: sliced onion and mushrooms, some asparagus (because I bought a bunch on sale and need to use it up, so it's going in pretty much everything these days), and a sauce made from chicken broth, thickened with corn starch, and a little lite sour cream.  Because the noodles were already cooked, it came together in about 10 minutes.  And know what- it was delicious!  I love it when a plan comes together!

This was great comfort food that was not terribly unhealthy or fattening.  Adding the asparagus adds bulk and flavor to the dish, not to mention fiber and nutrients.  I used whole grain egg noodles, which are much healthier than regular noodles.  Organic chicken broth does not contain as much salt as a lot of other brands, so I was able to control the amount of salt by adding my own.  Light sour cream gives the sauce enough flavor and creamiess without adding much fat at all.  All in all, a very well-rounded dish- great flavor AND great ingredients!

I made a small batch, which was about 2 good sized servings.  Just double or triple ingredients to serve more.

Chicken Stroganoff With Asparagus

vegetable oil
1/2 of a good-sized boneless skinless chicken breast half, sliced thinly into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup sliced onion
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup sliced asparagus
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup cooked wide noodles (mine were whole grain egg noodles)
About 3/4 cup chicken broth
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp light sour cream
salt/pepper to taste
Optional: fresh grated parmesan cheese for garnish

1.  Heat a couple tsp. vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onions.  Stir and cook about 2 minutes.

2.  Add asparagus and cook, stirring, about 2 more minutes.

3.  Add mushrooms. Cook, stirring only occasionally, about 2 minutes, until mushrooms are browned.

4.  Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.  Heat a bit more oil in pan and add chicken.  Cook, stirring, until browned and cooked through.

5.  Add vegetables back to pan, along with garlic.

6.  Mix corn starch in a small bowl with about 1 tbsp of chicken broth.  Add the rest of the chicken broth to the pan, bring up to a boil, then add corn starch mixture.  Stir well to incorporate.  Mixutre should thicken to a gravy-like consistency.

7.  Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in sour cream.  Serve over hot noodles, garnished with parmesan cheese.