Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Dog Days are Over

A treat we enjoyed on the 4th of July with my family. Insalata Caprese, or Caprese Salad with Crostini.

If you live anywhere in the midwest, or west, or east, err.... if you are alive right now, you are experiencing the dog days of summer. Days are blazing hot, nights are sultry, and dinnertime can be scary. I mean, who in their right mind wants to turn on an oven, stand over the stove, or even eat hot food for that matter. Not this ninja, I will tell you that much! (And though I'm pretty sure I've posted something similar to this before [I'm too hot to look back and see], it warrants repeating.) 

So, might I suggest a simply delicious, light, and beautiful dinner. Caprese Salad with Crostini. That is the fancy name for which you will pay $18 an appetizer in a restaurant. But you can do is easily, inexpensively, and probably even more deliciously at home. Ready for an added bonus? It is so beautiful, you can impress friends and neighbors with your culinary awesomeness. And if you have a garden, the awesomeness is off the charts!

Caprese Salad with Crostini

  • a baguette or loaf of yummy crusty bread sliced into pieces 1/2-1 inch thick
  • ripe, firm, room temperature tomatoes, sliced (NEVER refrigerate tomatoes!!! PLEASE) romas are great if store bought, home grown garden of any variety are best
  • fresh mozzarella cheese (in a log pre-sliced or solid)
  • extra virgin olive oil (the EXTRA virgin is important)
  • fresh basil leaves
  • fresh cracked pepper
  • sea salt or kosher salt
  • balsamic vinegar
  • optional: dried thyme, garlic salt, capers, thinly sliced cured meats

Lay sliced bread flat on baking sheet (covered with foil for easier clean up) and drizzle with oil. If desired, sprinkle lightly with a bit of dried thyme and garlic salt. Bake until crisp at 350 degrees (about 8 minutes). The term "crostini" refers to crisp pieces of bread in Italian. For hot weather.... grill the bread outside~ either on foil or directly onto the grate. Keep the heat low-med to avoid charring.

While the crostini toasts, wash tomatoes and slice into 1/4- 1/2 inch slices. Slice fresh mozzarella. You really cannot substitute for this. It really needs to be FRESH mozzarella... the soft and creamy stuff. You can make it yourself, or buy it in a log shaped package. You want to aim to have your cheese and tomato slices the same thickness. 

Arrange tomato, mozzarella, and basil on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic, season with salt and pepper. If you have them or want to use them, add the capers and slices of cured meat (salami, prosciutto, capicola). Serve on platter alongside a bowl of crostini. When digging in, I like to assemble it with the tomato on the bread, then basil, then cheese on top. That way the bread absorbs any juices from the tomato and makes it less messy. You could also certainly ditch the bread to cut the carbs and eat it truly as a salad. Which I LOVE. But, if you want this to satisfy you as a meal, the bread sure helps. And man, is it good! The only thing missing from this is a very chilled glass of a crisp pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc wine. Cheers!

Buon appetito... and happy summer!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Stuffed Sweet Peppers: A Fiesta on a Plate!

Beautiful and brightly colored sweet bell peppers

Back in college I spent a semester studying in Colima, Mexico, where I took an extra curricular cooking class to learn how to make some of the local specialties. Chiles Rellenos Colimenses (Colima style stuffed peppers) was my favorite dish I learned to prepare. So, inspired by my days in Mexico, I cooked up a fresh new version and boosted the nutrition in some clever little ways. Wow, was it delicious. I knew it was going to be tasty, but it was truly spectacular. I love it when things turn out even better than planned!

Traditionally, this dish uses poblano peppers, but I opted to use some beautiful and sweet bell peppers. I used red, orange and yellow. Figure a half of a pepper per person per serving. But I suspect you will want more than just one serving;)

Savory filling simmers as the sweet peppers prepare to be stuffed!


  • 3-4 of your favorite colors of bell peppers cut in half and cleaned out
  • 1 cup of quinoa, cooked according to package instructions (could sub brown rice)
  • 1/2 cup raisins, diced (could sub dried cherries or cranberries)
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 white or red onion diced
  • 1/2 cup nuts (pepitas, almond slivers, or walnut pieces are all good)
  • 1 jar/can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 large jar/can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lb lean ground turkey
  • 2 cups potatoes (boiled until tender, then diced into cubes)
  • 1-2 cups of diced cooked carrots
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • cumin, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic and onion powders, olive oil (or your preferred cooking oil)
  • * Optional toppings: 1 cup shredded or crumbled cheese; salsa verde/tomatillo salsa; jalepenos, chipotle salsa.
Sweet and Savory Stuffed Peppers (chiles rellenos)

Start by halving and cleaning the peppers and place in a glass baking dish, and roast at 350 degrees until they are beginning to caramelize around the edges and flesh is tender (15-ish minutes). While they roast, brown the turkey in a large skillet, seasoning liberally with cumin, salt, pepper. Add a bit of olive oil and mix in onions, garlic, spinach and stir until the spinach wilts down. Next, add the carrots, potatoes, quinoa, raisins and  nuts. Mix well, and add tomatoes (do not drain them). Season with oregano, garlic and onion powders. Cover and turn off heat. When the peppers are soft but still hold their bowl like shape, spoon in the mixture.You will have extra filling that can be used as a sauce to top them off when serving. Top with your favorite shredded or crumbled cheese*, and put back into the oven for 10-15 minutes. I used feta crumbles, just a few on top. Too much cheese will make it a much heavier meal and take away from all of the flavors and textures.

This really has everything you could need or want all in one pretty and delicious little package. The dried fruit and roasted tomatoes add a nice but subtle sweetness to the otherwise savory dish. The quinoa and nuts add some texture, and the spinach and peppers pack a nutritional punch to round out the meal. I like mine with a little more heat, so I add sliced jalepenos and chipotle sauce to the ones for the grown ups.

I hope you enjoy this fresh fiesta on a plate!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Make Your Own Liquid Gold

Garlic and Herb Infused Olive Oil
Sometimes it's the simple things in life that are just so good. For me, there is nothing better than the smell of garlic heating in olive oil. It gets all of my senses going, and I start to imagine all of the delicious forms this smell could physically take on... oven roasted vegetables, sauteed seafood, a classic spaghetti and marina or a simple dipping oil for some good crusty bread. The possibilities are endless... and it all starts with a few simple ingredients. So today I decided to bottle that smell, and preserve that flavor so that it is ready in a moment's notice. It's silly how easy it is, yet incredibly delicious.

Garlic and Herb Infused Olive Oil

  • 1 bottle of olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • pinch of dried herb mix and salt

Empty a bottle of oil into a pan and heat on medium-low. Peel several cloves of garlic and smash them to release their juices (don't chop) then add to hot oil. Next, add a pinch of sea salt or kosher salt, and any dried herbs you really like. An Italian blend would work great and be very versatile, or you can use something more particular like rosemary. I chose to use my new favorite seasoning of ALL time... Bragg Organic Sprinkle. It's a blend of 24 organic herbs and spices, with no salt. It is SO stinking delicious. I now use it in EVERYTHING! I'm slightly obsessed.

There are two reasons you need to saute the garlic and herbs in the oil, rather than just plunking them into the bottle and letting them marinate. First, the heat will bring out the flavor of the garlic and herbs and actually infuse it into the oil, and you get to experience the heavenly aroma. And second, by bringing up the temperature enough to kill bacteria in or on the garlic, you save yourself from a nasty case of food poisoning. Let it bubble for a few minutes, but do not get it going so hot that you are frying the garlic. Excessive heat destroys the olive oil and changes it's chemical properties so that it could actually be carcinogenic. Olive oil should never get to the smoking point, and is well suited for low to medium heat cooking, or unheated in dressings, dips, etc.

Put a strainer on top of a glass measuring cup with a spout for easy pouring, and carefully pour the hot oil through. All of the garlic and large pieces of herbs will then be removed from the oil, and you can carefully pour it back into the original bottle. Allow it to cool with the lid off. Now don't go throwing away that garlic! Now that it's been cooked it has a really mild flavor and you can eat it on bread, or if you're like me, eat it all by its delicious self. 

Use the infused oil in salad dressings, drizzle over pasta, add some Parmesan cheese and black pepper and dip in some hot and crusty bread, whip it up with some goat cheese for a delicious spread, drizzle it over sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese for a Caprese type snack, or toss with fresh basil, diced tomato and onion for a tasty bruschetta. And, savor every golden drop!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Simply. Delicious. Pasta.

Looking for something, quick, easy, yet a little elegant? We're talking less than 30 minutes from the time the little light bulb in your overworked brain ignites to your first bite of yumminess at the table. The other great thing about this dish is that it requires few ingredients -many that you may already have- so pre-planning is not an issue. When push comes to shove in our house in the dinnertime battle, pasta is always a winner! So pour yourself a glass of vino, and savor the taste of victory.

Simply Delicious Shrimp Pasta
  • 1 pound (box) pasta
  • 1 pound large shrimp (raw, peeled, deveined, tail off)
  • 1 small carton cherry or grape tomatoes halved or quartered
  • 6 cloves fresh chopped garlic (or a good squeeze of the tubed stuff, or two heaping spoonfuls of the jarred minced stuff)
  • 1 pesto cube (see previous post Pesto, Presto!), or tablespoon of prepared pesto
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • 1 jar of marinated artichoke hears (cut into bite size chunks)
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 3 TBSP soft goat cheese
  • Salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil and dry white wine (I like sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio since I can also drink it, too!)
Start a pot of super salted water for pasta on high, and a large skillet with garlic, butter, and a good coat of olive oil over medium heat.

While both pans heat, slice tomatoes and artichokes.

As soon as the garlic is fragrant and butter is mostly melted, add shrimp.

Next, add in the tomatoes and artichoke.

Flip shrimp with a pair of tongs as soon as they begin to curl and quickly add some freshly cracked black pepper, salt, squeeze of lemon, and about 1/2 cup of white wine.

Allow liquids to bubble, then remove from heat to avoid overcooking shrimp.

When noodles are cooked to your liking, drain add to pan with shrimp and goodies.

Top with pesto and goat cheese, then mix. If it's a bit dry, add a drizzle of olive oil and one more squeeze of lemon.

A really fun, and yummy, garnish is a Parmesan chip. Make a few piles of shredded cheese (don't use the grated stuff in the shaker) on some foil, and put into toaster oven on 350 for a few minutes until bubbly and golden brown. Allow to cool, then peel off and place on top of each serving.

Enjoy with a glass of white wine, and viola! Done.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chicken Soup for the Soul

One thing I can't resist is volunteering to deliver meals to families coping with illness, loss, deployment, new babies, sick babies, family difficulties, natural disasters, etc. I know it's a small thing, but sometimes it's all I can offer. And I know if my family were in need, I would be eternally grateful if others did the same for me. So, here is what's on the stove right now for a colleague who is hospitalized with an acute illness, and has precious small children and a working spouse at home.

Yummy Tummy Warming Tortellini Soup
1 rotisserie chicken (de-bone and shred or cube meat)
2-3 cartons low sodium chicken broth (you can use 2 and 2 cups water, but will need extra seasoning)
1 can cannellini beans rinsed and drained (white kidney beans)
1 or 1/2 frozen peas (depending on your taste)
2 bags frozen cheese stuffed tortellini
1 cube frozen pesto
Parmesan cheese
salt, pepper, thyme

Add broth, beans, peas to pot and bring to boil. Add frozen peas and tortellini. Cover. As it comes to a simmer, shred/chop chicken. Add chicken and salt, pepper, and thyme to pot. Soup will be ready to eat immediately after coming to a boil though it is best when you cover, turn off heat, and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.

Serve in bowls, top with grated Parmesan cheese and pepper. A great side is some warm, crusty bread, simply drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with pepper. Dip into soup for a scrumptious bite! Heart-warming, tummy-warming, and just plain yummy on a chilly fall night.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gruyere Toasts with Caramelized Onions and Sherry

It's been a while since I've shared an appetizer from Concetta, the Party Ninja. This is a very savory and robustly flavored finger food that is perfect for a cocktail or dinner party. It would be excellent with a nice frosty micro brewed beer to cut through some of the tartness of the mustard and bring out the flavors of the rye bread. My current favorite beer of all time is Sierra Nevada Kellerweis.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Yummiest beer ever! A silky smooth Hefeweizen with subtle banana and clove. DE-LISH!
1/2 cup extra virigin olive oil
4 large onion thinly sliced
1/4 cup Fino Sherry
1 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, lightly toasted
Kosher salt and pepper to taste.
Rye cocktail bread
1/2 cup whole grain mustard
10 ozs Gruyere Cheese, shredded.

On the stove put olive oil, onions, caraway seeds, salt and pepper in pan and saute at med to med-high for 20 to 25 minutes or until onions are soft and translucent. Add Sherry and cook for another 2 minutes, set mixture aside.

Toasted cocktail rye with mustard, Gruyere cheese, and caramelized onion
Toast Rye bread for 3 minutes each side. Once cool, spread mustard on each slice, add onion mixture and cheese on top. Put on a cookie or baking sheet in oven for another 10 to 15 minutes until cheese is melted. Or, you can put oven on broil until the cheese is slightly browned.

Well, what are you waiting for? Summer is coming to an end, so get your party on!!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pesto... Presto!

Fresh basil, thyme, rosemary, and flat leave parsley from the garden rinsed and dried.

Toss in food processor with several peeled cloves of garlic, and bits of good Parmigiano Reggiano cheese..

Blend, then drizzle in extra virgin olive oil, and a season with salt and pepper. Blend again until evenly chopped..

Viola- pesto!! Spoon into an ice cube tray, cover, and freeze until firm. Empty into freezer bag or tupperware with lid and store in the freezer.

These pesto pops are awesome in the winter when garden fresh herbs don't exist, and on days when you are short on time, but need a fresh and flavorful finish.

Great for tossing in your marinara sauce (jarred or homemade), combined with lemon juice and hot sauce as an amazing marinade for meat or fish, or just add straight to a pot of cooked and drained noodles, toss in capers, cheese, and some balsamic vinegar for a fast and fresh side dish.

Warning: four cups of fresh herbs only yields about 10 ice cubes. So don't be disappointed. Each little cube packs a fresh flavor punch!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Is there a doctor in the house?

Cooking every meal from scratch with all natural, raw, and organic materials is like sitting on the beach from sunup to sundown sipping on cocktails. I would love to do it every day! Sadly, that is not the world in which I live. I guess that's why there is spray tan and jarred pasta sauce!

There are times when a little "doctoring up" of some ready made items can save the day and help you get a hot meal on the table without resorting to take out. I really don't subscribe to the Sandra Lee "Semi-Homemade" method nor have I used her recipes. But I DO appreciate having the ability to take shortcuts and still be able to do a home cooked meal in an economical and efficient way.

A couple of my favorite culinary doctoring procedures:

Pasta Sauce:  I buy organic marinara in a glass jar. You can get it with mushrooms, peppers, garlic, etc, etc. I personally prefer the traditional tomato, basil and garlic. It's a good base.
    • What it needs: more flavor and depth, freshness
    • How to get that: Start with a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium-low heat.  Add about a teaspoon of sugar, either freshly chopped basil, or a good squeeze of the basil from the tube (see Arsenal of a Dinnertime Ninja). Optional- a few tablespoons of dry red wine. Mix and then quickly add the jar of sauce. Let it heat up until it starts to simmer and bubble. Reduce heat.  Serve over- whatever you want! Great for pasta dishes, chicken or eggplant Parmesan, casseroles, or on a meatball sandwich!
Pre-washed Salad Mix: They have so many varieties available, and even the organics are affordable.
    • What it needs: fresh veggies and homemade dressing
    • How to get that: I keep things like cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions on hand pretty much all of the time. Just slice them up, and toss on top of the salad mix. For a dressing just give a couple shakes of balsamic and red wine vinegar, kosher or sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, and dried herbs of your choice. Toss and coat the salad with the mix. Drizzle on a little extra virgin olive oil and top with crumbles of cheese (feta, blue, gorgonzola, goat cheese, parmesan...) toss again and viola! 
    • The darker the green, the more nutrient-rich it is. We love arugula, baby spinach and mache.
No MD required!

    Sunday, July 24, 2011

    I'm Winning!!

    Though you may not consider cooking a sport, I often do. I'm not talking about a Throwdown with Bobby Flay (though that would be fun!) but rather a competition with myself. My most recent triumph was an old favorite; Eggplant Parmesan. I've been making it for years, each time a little differently. It's been an arduous process of experimenting, tweaking, and trying to combine the very best methods from each preparation to get me to the ultimate, perfect, scrumptious version I gleefully prepared Friday evening. As you can see, I take my food very seriously. If I'm cooking over a hot stove in the summer, I darn well better make it worth it!

    Eggplant Parmigiana alla Angelina
    This dish is a bit of a labor of love. Though not difficult or requiring much technical skills, it does require several steps and a good dose of patience. I also find that I require a glass or two of wine to sip during the preparation.

    Round One:
    The skin is pretty, but tough to bite through... try slicing off stripes before slicing into rounds.
    Pick it: Select a firm and heavy (dense) feeling eggplant. Not too soft or bruised, but deep in color so you know it's ripe.
    Cut it: Slice off sections of the skin lengthwise, cut off top stem and bottom.
    Slice into 1/3 inch thick rounds.
    Eggplant rounds sweating on the stove top

    Sweat it: Lightly salt rounds with sea or kosher salt, and spread out onto cookie sheet. Put into oven on very low heat (200) until the rounds are beginning to wilt and brown. You can also do this in a large sautee pan on the stove top on the lowest setting. Flip the eggplant rounds and sweat for another 5-10 minutes. The purpose of this is to sweat out the excess water in the plant, and begin the cooking process to ensure tender, fully cooked eggplant in your final stage. If you skip this or don't sweat them long enough it will be like biting into raw zucchini. I am not a fan of that.
    Tip: They will seem slimy and weird, but that's the moisture being pulled out... and that moisture helps the flour stick in the next step!
    Eggplant rounds that have sweat it out in the oven and are ready for breading

    Round Two:
    Ready to bread with seasoned flour, egg wash, and special breadcrumb mix
    Bread it: Set up a breading station with 3 glass baking dishes. Dish one is flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Dish two is an egg wash with two eggs beaten with a tablespoon or two of water. In dish three is one of the secret weapons... a mix of panko (Japanese style) breadcrumbs and the traditional Italian seasoned breadcrumbs. Dredge the rounds in the flour, thoroughly coating both sides. Shake off excess flour gently, and place into egg wash, wetting both sides. Lastly, place into bread crumbs mix and pat firmly to be sure they stick and form a good coat all around. From here, they can go straight into a saute pan of olive oil heated over medium heat, or onto the baking sheet as a holding dock. It depends on how much you're making... if you can fit it all into one pan then put them straight in.
    Tip: Use tongs or another utensil to help or your fingers will become coated with more breading than the eggplant will.

    Brown it: In olive oil over medium heat (don't let it get to the smoking point) brown both sides of the breaded rounds. You may need to add in more oil before flipping since the breadcrumbs absorbs a bit. Once they are browned and crispy, set aside on paper towels back onto the cookie sheet.
    Tip: If cooking in multiple batches, it may be necessary to wipe out the pan with a paper towel to get rid of burnt pieces... just add a bit more oil and you're good to go!

    Breaded and fried eggplant rounds in baking dish
    Round Three:

    Bake it: Place crispy fried rounds into a baking dish with a very little bit of red sauce spread out on the bottom. Top with thinly sliced FRESH mozzarella cheese (not the hard brick or shredded stuff) and a dollop of sauce. Into a preheated oven they go, and bake at 375 for 15 minutes tops, until the cheese is melty and they sauce is bubbly.
    Eggplant rounds breaded, fried and ready to bake topped with fresh cheese and sauce

    While it bakes, cook up some Orzo pasta according to the box's directions. Orzo is a small, rice-looking pasta. But, it's NOT rice, it's pasta!! It has an awesome texture and size that is unique, easy to eat, and blends beautifully with the rest of the dish. Drain... do not rinse.

    Serve it: Finally, you are ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Serve up this scrumptions but surprisingly light dish by spooning out a bed of Orzo pasta onto the center of a plate, ladle on a bit of sauce, top with two rounds, another bit of sauce, and fresh basil.
    Eggplant Parmesan on Orzo pasta with fresh mozzarella and basil
    A FABULOUS side to accompany this is my Arugula Salad- with diced capicola ham, sweet grape tomatoes, capers, crumbles of aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and homemade lemon vinaigrette. It is to. die.for. delicious and light and healthy. It's basically what you just read. But here is the dressing: Juice of 1/2 lemon, extra virgin olive oil, few splashes of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, thyme. Viola!  
    Tip: either add the ingredients to a container with lid and shake well, or wisk... OR add the lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper and thyme directly to the salad, toss well, and then drizzle on the olive oil. If you add the oil first, it coats the salad and repels the acid (vinegar) and it will taste oily and leave a puddle of vinegar at the bottom of the bowl.

    A piece of crusty bread, glass of wine, and you have yourself a $50 restaurant-quality meal! Only it's in your own home, doesn't cost as much, the booze is cheaper, and you don't have to tip anyone or drive home.

    Now that, is WINNING!

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    It's All About The Pot

    Oppressive heat and humidity can pretty much guaranty I will be looking for ways to feed the family that does NOT involve turning on the oven. Or stove top. Or toaster oven. Or microwave... This week we had plenty of that kind of weather, and a friend reminded me of the beauty of the crock pot. It puts off no heat while it sits quietly on the counter, cooking up whatever yummy concoctions you can come up with. The challenge for me was to overcome my image of crock pot food being heavy, comfort-type meals better suited for cold weather. I'm happy to say I made two successful crock pot meals that were equally easy, healthy, and enjoyable on a hot day.

    Crock pot meal #1: Crock Pot Turkey Joes
    My version of sloppy joe's has a sneaky way of adding in extra nutrition, and cutting down on fat. I was inspired by Jessica Seinfeld's book, but don't have the patience or time to make numerous purees of vegetables to "hide" in my kids' food. And, my kids do a pretty good job of eating their vegetables. But, nonetheless, sometimes an extra boost can help make up for the popsicles and ice cream truck treats that come with summer. I started this a little after noon, and it was great for dinner around 6:00. Best of all I didn't have to stand over a hot stove browning meat!
    • 1 pound lean ground turkey
    • 1/2 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
    • 1 packet Sloppy Joe seasoning
    • 1 small can tomato sauce
    • 1/4 cup ketchup
    • 1 jar organic/ all natural spinach and carrots baby food (trust me, you can't taste it a bit)
    With crock pot on high, mix in the turkey and seasoning packet (don't follow directions on packet to add water). The turkey will absorb the seasoning and begin to cook. Stir occasionally for the first half hour.

    Next, add tomato sauce, baby food, beans, and ketchup. I also sprinkle in onion powder and garlic powder, but it's not necessary. Mix well, put on the lid and let it go! I turned down the heat to "keep warm" after an hour and propped the lid open slightly to let out steam so I didn't end up with chili instead.
    Serve on your choice of whole grain bread or bun with a fresh fruit salad and you have yourself a tasty summer meal.

    Crock Pot Meal #2: Taco Bar Chicken with Rice
    This is a fun meal for entertaining or feeding a crowd without heating up the kitchen. The chicken and rice cook in the crock pot, leaving only fresh veggies and condiments to prepare. It's also nice for picky eaters since you serve it taco bar style allowing everyone to choose their own toppings.

    In the crock pot:
    • 2-4 cups shredded chicken (prepared store bought rotisserie chicken works great, or make your own shredded chicken in bulk, freeze and store for quick no-cook recipes in the future. Check out Making Bulk Shredded Chicken in Crock Pot)
    • 1/2 cup rice
    • 1/2 cup orzo pasta
    • taco seasoning packet
    • 1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes with green chili
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 1 TBSP olive oil
    • lime pepper (optional, to taste)
    On the side: (the possibilities are endless!)
    • diced tomatoes
    • diced jalepeno
    • shredded cheese
    • shredded lettuce
    • diced avocado or prepared guacamole
    • sour cream
    • taco and/or hot sauce
    • chopped onion
    • sliced black olives

    Combine all ingredients in the crock pot and mix well. Simmer on high for about 10 minutes covered, and then add in shredded chicken, replace lid, turn to low and let it go. Once all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, mix well to fluff rice and pasta, and turn to "keep warm" until you are ready to eat.

    Serve with whole wheat soft tortillas, hard shell tacos (la Tierra brand is my all time favorite) or even pita pockets. I love a squeeze of lime and dash of chipotle powder on mine. Often, I don't even bother with a side dish for this, since you have the meat, rice, and vegetable toppings all rolled into one delicious package.

    What are your favorite crock pot recipes?

    Happy crock potting!

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    Time to Hit the Sauce

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it! While normally this describes my attitude about pasta and sauce, there are times when adding a little extra zip to traditional marinara is all it takes to turn a boring Tuesday night spaghetti dinner into something special.

    Goat Week: Day 3

    Pasta Margherita

    This is a play on the original Pizza Margherita made with thin crust, fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella. The red, white, and green in the pasta version are marinara, goat cheese, and pesto. It's super quick and easy, and can be used on any type of pasta shape... and even on lasagna.

    Depending on your level of commitment, you can do this with homemade marinara and homemade pesto sauces. Or, to keep it simple and quick, you can use jarred sauces.
    •  Start with your favorite marinara sauce simmering on the stove. 
    • Add in prepared pesto sauce (chopped basil, pine nut, olive oil and garlic) and mix. 
    • Next add a package of goat cheese (chevre) and stir until it is smooth and creamy. The sauce will be slightly pinkish.
    • To be honest, you can't really do it wrong. Just go according to your taste. In general 1 part pesto, 1 part goat cheese to 5 parts marinara will get you there. 

    I'm fine with just pasta and sauce. But when I tell my husband we are having pasta for dinner, the first question is, "Does it have meat?" So if you are looking to add a protein to the dish, here are two delicious ideas.

    Meat option #1: Italian Sausage
    Brown the sausage, slice, and top your fettuccine.

    Meat option #2: Chicken Breast
    This is one of those times to cheat and use a rotisserie chicken to save time and trouble. Remove skin and cut the breast meat off of the bone. Or bake a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place on a bed of rigatoni and top with sauce.

    Viola! Dinner is done.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Is that a party in your pepper?

    It's summer... and it's HOT! There are many days this time of year when I crave something special, but have no desire to turn on the oven. Or even the toaster, for that matter. This simple yet sophisticated dish is a great snack, appetizer, or even side dish. It requires absolutely no cooking, and virtually no time to prepare. This makes it perfect for those impromptu neighborhood gatherings featuring cold beverages, lawn chairs, and snacks! The zesty flavor and freshness of these little guys is surprising... it's like a party in a pepper!

    Mini sweet peppers stuffed with herbed goat cheese

    Goat Cheese Stuffed Sweet Peppers (Goat Week: Day 2)
    • 1 package of sweet mini peppers (wash and dry)
    • 8 oz chevre (soft goat cheese)
    • balsamic vinegar (or glaze if you can find it)
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • sea salt
    • fresh cracked black pepper
    • fresh chopped basil or squeeze tube (optional)
    • black pepper
    • pinch of thyme (optional)
    Roasted mini peppers stuffed with herbed goat cheese
    There are two ways to prep the peppers. Either cut the tops off, empty seeds and stuff the whole empty pepper; or, slice in half lengthwise and fill the hollowed center. Sometimes the halved peppers are easier to bite through all the way and don't end up squirting the filling out. It also yields more servings which is helpful if you are entertaining and want to maximize the quantity of bites for the amount of ingredients.
    In a bowl mix cheese, salt, pepper, and herbs to taste. Drizzle in a touch of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. *If using the balsamic glaze do not add to mix, reserve it to finish the dish. Whip together with a fork, and spoon into peppers.

    Now, you have two options here. You can serve them raw, chilled, crisp, and delicious at this point (with balsamic glaze drizzled over top if that is what you are using).
    You can put them in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes and roast the peppers, melting the cheese, to make a hot, savory, mouth-watering bite. Then drizzle with glaze and allow to cool slightly before serving.

    Both versions are delectable!

    Cherry tomatoes stuffed with herbed goat cheese filling. YUM!
    But wait! There's more! You could also use cherry or roma tomatoes for this dish... just scoop out the seeds and fill. AND you could do the cold or roasted version with those as well. So here you have glorious goat cheese done four ways. I know I couldn't ask for more!

      Monday, June 6, 2011

      La semaine de la chèvre!

      I would eat it in a box, I would eat it with a fox. I would eat it in a car. I would eat it near or far.

      Chevre (goat cheese
      Actually, I love it on pizza, pasta, sandwiches, in salads and sauces, with fruit, eggs and veggies... What is this mystical and magical food? Goat cheese! Specifically Chevre. It's the tangy, creamy and smooth, spreadable cheese that comes in a log. And in an attempt to justify my insatiable appetite for this product, I am going to open my bag of tricks and dump it all out on the table. 

      Several years ago when I was first introduced to goat cheese, I shuddered a bit at the thought of it. It was just not something I had grown up eating, so it seemed odd. Here in the Midwest we are used to cow's milk products, and not much more exotic than that. But, to my delight, one of my favorite delicacies is becoming more and more mainstream and widely available. So whether you are a goat cheese aficionado, or reluctant virgin, I hope you'll find something you love.
      Enjoy "la semaine de la chèvre!"
       (Goat week sounds less appetizing in English) 

      Goat Week: Day One

      Ode-to-Chevre Brushetta 
      (contributed by the lovely Consetta)
      Bruschetta with goat cheese, olives, tomatoes and herbs

      • 1 baguette
      • 5 tablespoons olive oil
      • 2 lbs firm ripe tomatoes, diced
      • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
      • 1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
      • 1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives (pitted)
      • 3 tablespoons chopped basil
      • 2 cloves crushed garlic
      • 6 oz Chevre cheese
      • salt and pepper to taste

      Slice baguette, drizzle with olive oil, bake at 425 for 5 minutes. Once cool, spread Chevre on each slice of baguette. In mixing bowl add all other ingredients and mix, spoon over Chevre and serve.

      Sunday, June 5, 2011

      Marry Me!

      I LOVE steak. Juicy, rare, and right off of the grill. And right now it's prime grilling season! In fact, as I type this, there is a giant, thick cut sirloin marinading in the fridge. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

      I have found that there are two kinds of steak eaters in the world. The first is the traditional set that subscribes to the belief that simplicity is best. My husband is one of these. He doesn't like anything but a simply seasoned piece of meat. He is happy with some kosher salt, pepper, and olive oil. And I agree it is tasty, and even fantastic for chicken, pork, or fish. But I stand firmly with the second group of steak eaters: those that enjoy creative and bold seasonings and sauces. If I were to have a celebrity chef prepare my steak, I'd choose Bobby Flay.

      Whichever team you are on, I have a marinade recipe for you to test at your next cookout. It adds enough flavor for bold and spicy craving carnivores like me, but is not overpowering enough to put off the traditional meat eaters. It's a lovely compromise. And compromise is the key to any successful relationship. Steak eaters- unite!

      Depending on your taste preferences, you can go a little easy or extra heavy on specific ingredients. Normally I am a rib-eye loving girl, but this marinade makes even an inexpensive sirloin scrumptious. We used one large steak that can serve 2-4 diners, and this is enough marinade. Adjust quantity and measurements for your needs and tastes!
      • olive oil 1/3 cup roughly
      • apple cider vinegar 1-2 cap fulls
      • Worcestershire sauce 2-3 tablespoons
      • soy sauce (either go really easy on this, or use the lite/low sodium to avoid over saltiness) 2 teaspoons
      • prepared horseradish 1 teaspoon
      • fresh garlic 3-4 cloves
      • kosher or sea salt
      • black pepper
      • fresh or dried basil and (flat leaf) parsley 2-3 tablespoons dried or a handful of fresh
      Add all ingredients to food processor if using fresh whole garlic cloves and herbs, and pulse until it's all finely chopped. If using dried herbs and you don't mind chopping garlic (or are using the jarred minced garlic) then you can simply whisk it together or shake it well in a container with lid. Then pour marinade over meat in a glass baking dish, or into large plastic bag. Refrigerate and allow to marinate for up to 8 hours. The longer it sits, the more the flavors will marry and tenderize the meat. For a zesty topping or dipping sauce, whisk together a teaspoon of horseradish or wasabi, few drops of honey, and few tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce.

      I have recently become a grilling ninja, and have learned lots of tips and secrets that make any steak at home as delicious and appealing as any from a restaurant. Perhaps you are already a grill master and know what I'm about to tell you. Well goody for you! These are things I've leaned from my favorite chefs and from my own experimenting.
      1. When marinating steak in the refrigerator, it's important to remove it up to an hour before you plan to grill and allow the meat to come to room temperature to help it to cook evenly. That's important because it prevents well done steak from burning on the outside and drying out. It will also help a rare to medium rare steak get a nice sear on the outside and a warm, juicy center. I love a rare steak, but a cold, raw center is not appealing! 
      2. Preheat the grill with all burners on high for at least 15 minutes, and use a steel brush to clean the grates. This will get you a good sear on the meat with those pretty grill marks and avoid that gas smell and taste meat absorbs if you put it on too soon. 
      3. Only turn the meat once! And keep the grill closed as much as possible. This keeps the cooking temperature even. When it is time to flip, use an open area on the grate for a good sear on the second side and more good grill marks! Second side takes less time, so don't go too long. You can always put it back on, but if you over cook it, you're stuck with it.
      4. Let the meat rest! And avoid the temptation to cut into it to check the doneness. Let it sit, loosely covered, for 5 minutes before doing any cutting. The juices will redistribute and it will finalize the cooking process.


      Sunday, May 1, 2011

      A May Day Basket Case

      And I don't even like chocolate!
      Easter baskets. An arch nemesis to anyone with kids who is trying to lose weight and promote healthy eating. I'm not even a chocolate fan, but when they are strictly forbidden, they somehow have more allure. (Yes, I dated a bad boy in high school, too.) In second place to all of sweets are the brightly colored hard boiled eggs just begging to be deviled! So now I have chocolate, sugar, and the potential for egg yolks whipped with mayo staring me in the face. So today, May Day, I am going Ninja on all of the leftover Easter Basket evils.

      I believe it's serendipitous that I totally forgot to purchase anything to make May Day goodie baskets. Here is an opportunity to use that leftover candy! And there is always a random selection of cups leftover from birthday parties that take up space in the cabinet, yet I don't want to throw away. Two of my problems solved! Now all I need to do is whip out a few stickers, glitter paints and pom poms left in our winter survival craft kit and, VIOLA! Instant May Day baskets that rid my home of sweets and clutter. That's so ninja.

      Now, on to the serious business of those eggs. I LOVE deviled eggs. I LOVE egg salad sandwiches. However, they love me so much, too, that they stay on my butt wherever I go! Time to do a little maneuvering to turn an old foe into a friend. Just the name devil'ed eggs tells you something!

      Angel'ed Eggs
      There are a few options for this. If you are on a specific diet plan (like me) and limiting fat, you will want to use half or less of  the yolks. If you are just wanting to eliminate the fat of the mayo, etc, and are ok with yolks, then by all means, use every one of those yummy little guys. They are not as high in cholesterol and fat as once believed, though they certainly do have some. Also, you can do this as an egg salad by chopping whites rather than halving and refilling.
      Again, I don't use specific measurements. You can eyeball it, taste it along the way, and make adjustments for quantity and taste.

      Ditch the devil'ed eggs and go for Angel'ed Eggs!
      • 1 dozen hard bolied eggs (remove yolks and chop whites)
      • salt, pepper
      • fresh chopped flat parsley, or tarragon, or cilantro, or scallion
      • finely diced celery (optional)
      • 1-2 small containers plain Greek yogurt (I like Dannon) drain whey
      • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard (naturally fat free)
      • paprika (I like to use smoked sparingly, but either is fine)
      • 3+ drops of Tobasco or similar hot sauce (optional)

      In a bowl mix yolks, yogurt and mustard, and hot sauce until smooth. Add herbs and seasonings, and fold in diced celery. If you choose do do as egg salad, fold in the chopped egg whites, cover and refrigerate. If it's deviled style you desire, spoon into hollowed whites, sprinkle with paprika and a little bit of the fresh herbs to garnish.

      Happy May Day! Or, as it's also known, National Ding-dong Ditch Day!