Saturday, April 30, 2011

Superfood Recipe: Quinoa & Mushroom Pilaf

Article first published as Red Quinoa and Mushroom Pilaf on Blogcritics.

Do you know quinoa (kEEn-wah)?  If not, you should!  It’s definitely a superfood, being a complete protein that’s also rich in fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium, and other vital minerals.  It’s not actually a grain as it appears, but rather the seed of a dark leafy Kale-like green.  The ancient Inca’s relied on it as a staple of their diet, and it is becoming more and more readily available in U.S. grocers.  I like the red quinoa, as this version is not bitter, and cooks in under 20 minutes (which is really quick compared to other whole-grain options for your dinner table).  Here’s some more scoop on its many nutritional benefits and options on how to use it:

Quinoa is inexpensive, shelf-stable for a long time, fairly quick cooking, and takes on the flavors of whatever it is cooked or served with.  You can use it in everything from breakfast cereal to casseroles.  Most often, I make an Asian-style side dish with quinoa, red peppers, cilantro, edamame, and snow peas, in a soy, ginger and peanut sauce. (I’ll share that recipe soon – I promise!)

Last night, I decided to change it up and serve a quinoa and mushroom pilaf as a side dish to steak and arugula salad.  It all came together in less than 30 minutes and even my kids chomped it right up!  The nutty, savory quinoa was a really nice compliment to the peppery, slightly bitter arugula, and the steak brought out the best in both dishes.  I didn’t really follow a recipe, but here’s how I made the dish:


1 cup red quinoa
1 1/3 cups reduced sodium beef broth (you could use vegetable broth too)
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup chopped mushrooms
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

First, rinse the quinoa well in cold water.  This will remove bitterness, and any debris that may be packed in with the grain.  Set aside.  Saute the chopped onion, garlic, and mushrooms in the olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan.  Add the broth, whole sprigs of thyme and the bay leaf and raise the heat to high, bringing to a boil.  Add the quinoa and the rosemary, reduce heat and cover.  Cook for 15-20 minutes until liquid is all absorbed and the quinoa is to your desired texture.  It should be nutty and fairly soft but still a bit al dente.  Remove from heat and take out the bay leaf and the thyme stems.  Add the zest and juice of one lemon and the chopped fresh parsley.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.   Enjoy!!  This is a filling, flavor-packed and highly nutritious alternative to rice or potatoes that your family will love.  You can change out the herbs and types of broth for other flavor profiles easily and serve it with a wide variety of proteins and salads or cooked vegetables for many different meals.     

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What's On Your Easter Dinner Table?

We’re having some dear friends and family over for Easter Dinner this year.  I personally adore Easter.  It’s a totally low stress holiday not at all focused on gifts, but my young children still make it magic in their pursuit of colored eggs and the mystery man of the day….the Easter bunny.  I like to celebrate the day with a memorable and special meal, but unlike Thanksgiving or Christmas, I don’t go crazy.  Keep it simple with an appetizer tray, salad, roasted lamb, potatoes, 2 veggies and a dessert and you’ll have a gorgeous meal, and still have the energy to enjoy it!

Here’s my meal plan and some recipes and ideas.  Hope you find some of it helpful!

The Warm-Up:             Vegetable Crudite and Pita Chips with 2 Dips

The Main Event:           Salad of Spring Vegetables
Garlic & Rosemary Crusted Boneless Leg of Lamb
                                    Herbed Baby Creamer Potatoes        
                                    Roasted Asparagus with Orange and Fennel
                                    Zucchini and Cherry Tomato Saute
The Wind-Down:         Toasted Coconut Cake with Raspberry Sauce

The Grapes:                Crisp Sauvignon Blanc with appetizer/salad
                                    Bold Shiraz with the Lamb
                                    Prosecco for dessert

My plan is to make the dips and the cake on Saturday.  Saturday night before I go to bed, I’ll also prep the lamb roast(s).  Then on Sunday, all I have to do is throw together the salad and the veggies, roast the lamb and make some gravy.  Easy-peezy lemon squeezie, right?

Here are the recipes, but remember that I don’t ever follow them exactly and you should use them as inspiration, but feel free to adapt to what you have available and what you enjoy….Bon Appetit!

By the way, if you REALLY want to take the easy way out, but a coconut cake and add your own fresh berries and sauce.  Buy some hummus and tzatziki in lieu of the homemade dips, and ask a guest to bring the salad.  Life if too short to stress out, so cook what you want, buy what you want, and enjoy your holiday.

Feta, Yogurt and Spinach Dip

1 small box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
4 oz. light cream cheese
3/4 cup(s) low fat greek style yogurt
1/4 cup(s) crumbled feta cheese, reduced fat variety is fine
3 Tbsp(s) shallots, fresh, minced,
2 Tbsp mint, chopped
2 Tbsp basil, chopped
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp table salt, or less to taste (optional)

Be sure that spinach has all the water squeezed out first.  You may also use fresh baby spinach if preferred.  Simply chop it up, blanch it in boiling water, then drain and squeeze out the water.

Put the spinach, cream cheese, shallots, and feta in a food processor and pulse until pureed. Add the yogurt and pulse to mix.  Remove from the food processor and stir in the herbs, lemon juice & zest and salt & pepper. This is great with raw veggies or baked pita chips.  Leftover, it is also a wonderful topping for baked potatoes, or a dip for roasted potatoes or baby lamb chops.

Sun-Dried Tomato and White Bean Dip

1 (15oz.) can of Cannellini Beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp Lemon juice
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp crushed red pepper
¼ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
Salt to taste
Fresh Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped

First, boil some water in the microwave and add the dried tomatoes to re-hydrate.  Allow to steep for about 2 minutes and drain the water, squeezing it out of the tomatoes.  Chop and set aside.  Chop the garlic and rosemary. Now add the chopped garlic and rosemary, crushed red pepper, the rehydrated tomatoes, drained beans, olive oil and lemon juice to food processor and puree.  Season to taste with salt and turn into a serving dish.  Garnish with some fresh chopped parsley.  This is a nice alternative to hummus and goes well with pita chips, baked tortilla chips, and fresh veggies.

Coconut Cake with Raspberry Filling and Sauce

I cannot take total credit for this cake.  I pulled all the elements from some great sites on the web that I use frequently.  The cake itself comes from Cooking Light (, the frosting from Epicurious (, and the raspberry sauce and filling was my idea.  I hope you like it!

By the way, if you’re not a baker, just buy a coconut cake from a good quality bakery, transfer it to your cake dome, and garnish with fresh raspberries.  Make some of the sauce and spread on the plate before serving. Nobody will know!


Cooking spray
1 tablespoon cake flour
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

            Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; dust lightly with flour.
            Combine 2 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (for about 5 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and coconut milk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in vanilla.
            Pour batter into prepared pans. Sharply tap the pans once on countertop to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on wire racks, and remove from pans. Cool completely on wire racks.
Raspberry filling and sauce
1 (10oz.) package frozen raspberries in syrup, thawed
1 ½ Tbsp sugar
1 Tsp lemon juice
Mix all ingredients in a food processor or blender until well pureed.  Push through a sieve to strain out seeds and set aside.  Leftovers are great over ice cream.
3 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1 8-ounce package philadelphia-brand cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (about) sweetened flaked coconut
1 pint fresh raspberries

Using the electric mixer, beat sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in large bowl until blended. Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on plate. Slice carefully through it lengthwise, making 2 thin layers.  Spread 1 with raspberry filling and place other on top.  Now, spread the re-assembled layer with about 1 cup of the icing. Sprinkle with some coconut and place about ½ of the fresh raspberries on the cake.  Repeat the process with the 2nd layer.
Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of cake. Sprinkle some of coconut over top of cake; pat more coconut on sides of cake. Garnish with the remaining fresh raspberries.  You’ll still have raspberry sauce left – store it in an airtight container. Make one day in advance if possible, storing in the refrigerator.  This cake is best served at room temperature though, so remove it to sit on counter while you are preparing the dinner.    Sit the remaining raspberry sauce out too.  When ready to serve, check the sauce.  If the consistency is too thick, add in about ½ Tbsp of water and stir well.  Spread about 2 Tbsp on each plate, topped with a slice of cake and a mint leaf for garnish. Enjoy!

Roasted Greek style Leg of Lamb

5 lb. boneless leg of lamb
6 garlic cloves
2 Tbsp whole grain mustard
zest and juice of 2 lemons
3 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 Tbsp coarse ground pepper
2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup fresh rosemary leaves

Mix all ingredients except for the lamb in a food processor into a paste.  Cut some small slits all over the lamb roast and spread the paste evenly over the roast, pushing some of it into the slits.  Wrap well in plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator.  Allow to sit overnight or at least 8 hours.

Remove roast from refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to roast it.  Preheat oven to 425.  Remove plastic wrap and place roast in roasting pan, brushing with a bit more olive oil.   Roast at 425 for 15 minutes, and then reduce temperature to 325 and continue roasting until internal temp is about 130 degrees.  This should be approximately 1 more hour.  Remove lamb from oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving. 

Meanwhile, you can make some gravy if you like.  Drain the pan juices from the roasting pan and separate out the fat.  Place the roasting plan on the stove over medium high heat.   Add about ¾ cup red wine to deglaze the pan, scraping all the browned bits off the bottom.  Add the pan drippings back to the pan, without the fat, which has been separated out.  Add about 2 cups of low sodium beef broth and continue to stir and reduce.  Make a paste of about 2 Tbsp flour and ¼ cup water.  Stir and add slowly to the gravy.  Stir out any lumps and season with salt, pepper and additional rosemary if desired.

Slice lamb and serve with gravy and mint sauce, tzatziki, or chutney as desired.

Herbed Baby Creamer Potatoes

 Creamer potatoes are tiny, baby new potatoes, usually of the Yukon gold variety.  You can often find them in grocers in the springtime.  If not, you can use red new potatoes or fingerling potatoes for this dish, but the smaller and fresher the potatoes are, the better this will be.  It’s a very simple dish, so you want to be sure to use the best ingredients possible.

4-6 cups baby creamer potatoes
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
¼ cup butter
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
Sea salt and Pepper to taste

Rinse the potatoes well but leave them whole and unpeeled.  Place the potatoes and chicken broth in a medium saucepan, and cover with water to fill pan about ½ way.  Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes.  While the potatoes are cooking, chop the herbs and melt the butter in the microwave.   Check the potatoes with a fork –they cook quickly because of their small size.  Drain and return to pan, turning off heat on stove.  Add butter and fresh herbs to the potatoes and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.  I like to smash 1-2 potatoes on each plate and then add several whole ones on top.  Spoon a little of the herbed butte over the smashed ones and enjoy.  You can really use any herbs you enjoy in this - tarragon or thyme are nice additions as well.

Zucchini and Cherry Tomato Saute

1 Tbsp Olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 medium zucchini, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
1 pint bucket of tiny cherry or grape tomatoes
2 Tbsp fresh oregano or parsley, chopped
3 oz. crumbled feta or goat cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in large sauté pan.  Add the zucchini and sauté for about 5 minutes until there are some nice golden and brown spots on the squash, but it is still somewhat crisp.  Add in the tomatoes and sauté for 1-2 minutes more until they are slightly softened/blistered.  Season well with salt and pepper and add the chopped herbs.  Transfer to a serving dish and allow to cool for a few minutes.  Add in the crumbled cheese and toss just before serving.  This dish comes together in a snap and is very pretty on the plate.  It’s a great side for lamb, roast chicken, or steak.

Roasted Asparagus with Orange and Fennel

1 ½ lbs. asparagus spears, trimmed (about 24 spears)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
zest from ½ orange
1 tsp fennel seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp high quality balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss asparagus with orange juice and zest, fennel seeds and olive oil.  Spread out onto baking sheet in single layer and season with salt and pepper.  Roast for between 14-18 minutes, depending on thickness of spears.  Remove from oven and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  Transfer to serving dish and serve immediately.

Spring Vegetable Salad

½ thinly sliced red onion
6 radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh English peas
1 small head Belgian endive
1 bulb fennel
4-6 cups of fresh mache, watercress or arugula as preferred

½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup water
½ tsp sugar
3 Tbsp Olive oil
1 tsp whole grain mustard
1 tsp honey
2 tsp fresh tarragon, chopped
1 1/2Tbsp white wine or champagne vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

First, make a quick cold pickle of the red onions.  Mix the cider vinegar, water, and sugar together and add the onions.  Allow to onions sit in the vinegar and sugar combination for 20-30 minutes and then drain.  While that is happening, make the salad dressing and blanch the freshly shelled peas by cooking in boiling slated water for 2 minutes.  Drain and plunge into ice water for 3 minutes or so, draining again.  To make the dressing, mix together the honey, tarragon, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper in a blender.  Slowly add the olive oil while blending to emulsify.  Set aside.  Slice fennel and radishes very thin.  Separate the endive leaves and slice into 1 inch pieces.  When ready to serve, toss the chosen greens, radishes, fennel, pickled onions and peas together and add the dressing.  Serves about 6.    

Shopping List  (assuming you have basic pantry staples)

Boneless Leg of Lamb                                    Lemons
Prosecco                                                         Fresh Raspberries
Sauvignon Blanc                                             Cherry Tomatoes
Shiraz                                                              Salad Greens or Mache
Butter                                                              Fresh English Peas
Greek Yogurt                                                  Baby Creamer or New Potatoes        
Feta Cheese                                                    Oranges
Cream Cheese                                                Fennel Seed               
Basil                                                                Frozen Spinach
Parsley                                                            Fresh Garlic
Oregano                                                          Frozen Raspberries in Syrup
Rosemary                                                        Cake Flour
Mint                                                                  Sweetened Flaked Coconut
Tarragon                                                         Canned Light Coconut milk
Radishes                                                         Powdered Sugar
Fennel Bulb                                                     Olive Oil
Asparagus                                                      Sun-dried Tomatoes
Red Onion                                                       Whole Grain Mustard
Shallots                                                           Cannellini Beans
Chicken Broth                                                  Beef Broth
Belgian Endive                                     Flowers for the table

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lentil Salad with Feta and Mint

Article first published as Recipe: Lentil Salad with Feta and Mint on Blogcritics.

I love lentils!  They are inexpensive packed with protein, versatile, and relatively quick cooking.  I especially like to use French Green Lentils because they hold their shape and texture in cooking so they’re equally good in salads and casseroles, as in soups.  Read more about lentils here:

This salad makes an elegant and delicious supper with mixed greens and some grilled fish or lamb.  You could also make it a main dish used as a base for sautéed shrimp.  The leftovers make a terrific luncheon and with its vibrantly colored herbs and chopped vegetables, it is pretty and unique enough to take to a cookout.  Enjoy! 

2 cups dried French green lentils
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
3 Tbsp Olive oil
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 Tbsp white wine or champagne vinegar
¾ cup diced red onion
¾ cup diced red pepper
2 Tbsp capers
¾ cup diced celery
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
3 oz, crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped mint
¼ cup chopped basil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Cook the lentils as directed in salted water.  Add the sprigs of thyme and the bay leaf to the simmering pot (be sure to remove before stirring the lentils into the salad).  Cook for about 25 minutes, testing to be sure they are done but not mushy.  Drain and set aside to cool.  While the lentils are cooling, mix up the lemon juice, zest, vinegar, olive oil, capers, and salt and pepper.  Chop all the vegetables and herbs and add into the dressing.  Add the lentils to the dressing and chopped vegetables/herbs and stir gently to mix.  Add the feta cheese just before serving to ensure it doesn’t melt from the heat of the lentils.  This dish is great served room temperature or cold.    

Monday, April 18, 2011

Creamy Dreamy Lemon Berry Pie

Article first published as Creamy Dreamy Berry Lemon Pie on Blogcritics.

This quick and very easy lemon pie, slightly reminiscent of cheesecake, comes together in a snap.  Surprise – it’s also relatively diet-friendly, thanks to some reduced fat products.  Kids and adults will love this and it is a wonderful showcase for springtime’s gorgeous berries.  You can certainly make the crust yourself, but I’m cheating today and using a pre-made graham cracker crust.  Also, you can use store-bought whipped topping, but I prefer from scratch….and happen to have some heavy cream on hand. We plan to have this tonight with some shrimp and baby vegetable risotto. Bon Appetit!


1 reduced Fat Graham Cracker Crust
2 large eggs
1 (11 oz.) can of fat free sweetened condensed milk
4 oz. reduced fat cream cheese
½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon zest
fresh berries
Whipped cream

Preheat oven for 15 minutes.  In mixed, combine cream cheese and eggs until smooth.  Add in sweetened condensed milk and continue beating until fluffy.  Add lemon juice and lemon zest and beat for 2 minutes at medium speed.  Pour into graham cracker crust, and place pie on a baking sheet.  Bake on middle rack in over for about 15-20 minutes, or until the center appears firm.  Cool at room temperature, place plenty of mixed berries on top, and then chill until ready to serve.  This pie is best served cold with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

To make whipped cream, put ½ cup heavy whipping cream in a standard mixer together with about 2 Tbsp white or brown sugar.  Add ½ tsp vanilla and best on medium until soft peaks form.  Can be made and held in refrigerator for several hours ahead of serving and will stay fresh for reuse for at least 2-3 days.       

Don't Fear the Risotto!

Article first published as Don't Be Afraid of Risotto! on Blogcritics.

Is there anything better than good risotto?  It’s a gorgeous version of comfort food, all creamy and slightly salty and cheesy, with lots of possible flavor combinations.  So delicious!  Many home cooks avoid it because they just don’t know the basics.  If you have just a little bit of patience, some chicken stock, good Arborio rice and some cheese on hand, you’re 25 minutes away from perfect risotto…I promise!

I admit I was scared of risotto.  I consider myself an accomplished and adventurous home cook, but my confidence faded just sort of this classic Italian rice dish. Then came the blizzard of 2009.  I was buried under 38 inches of snow with my family and decided that I’d be productive.  I took on both risotto and gelato that weekend and never looked back!  So, here’s what I leaned through some research and trial and error.  I’m going to share a basic risotto recipe that you can play around with in infinite ways.  Tonight, I’m making a version of it that includes spinach, shrimp, bacon, fresh spring peas, basil and parmigiano reggiano cheese.  But honestly, once you have the basics down, you can use almost any combination of herbs, grated or crumbled cheeses, vegetables, and protein, if desired.  So go ahead, get out your most comfortable wooden spoon, open up a nice bottle of wine and get down to it! 

I’m going to go ahead and share the recipe I’m using this evening, but as I’ve suggested, you can leave out the vegetables and protein and sub out whatever you like.  As long as you follow the technique and use the same ratio of fat, wine, stock, rice, cheese and herbs, you can be as creative as you want.


1 Tbsp Olive oil (or butter or bacon drippings as you prefer)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock or broth (you could use beef, seafood, vegetable stock, etc..)
½ cup dry white wine (or other wine choice)
1 cup Arborio rice
3 oz baby spinach leaves, rough chopped
¾ cup sweet peas
4 slices of bacon, cooked
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup chopped fresh parsley and basil
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
salt & pepper to taste

You’ll use 2 pots for this dish. First, hear the stock in a medium saucepan over medium.  Heat it through but do not boil, and keep it at that temperature while making the risotto.  On a large burner, use a 12-inch sauté pan, and heat the olive oil on medium. (I’m actually using a bit of the bacon drippings combined with olive oil this time, but it’s totally your call.)  Add the chopped onion and sauté for at least 4 minutes until soft.  Add the garlic and cook/stir until soft.  Add the Arborio rice and stir well, ensuring that all the rice gets toasted and a little translucent.  Season with a dash of salt and pepper at this time.  Then, add the wine to the pan and scrape any brown bits off the bottom.  (If you’re adding long-cooking vegetables such as butternut squash or mushrooms, add these now.  I am not using anything like that for this particular recipe.).  Next, add one full ladle of the heated stock and stir constantly until nearly all the liquid is absorbed.  Keep doing this, one ladle at a time, only adding more stock when all the liquid in the pan is gone.  This will take 20-22 minutes.  Test a grain of the risotto to see if it is too al dente and if so, continue cooking, stirring constantly.  Now, add the shrimp to the pan, stirring it into the rice, and sautéing until pink and slightly curled.  Add the grated cheese and continue stirring.  Add the peas and the chopped fresh spinach.  Stir.  Add the lemon juice and zest and additional salt and pepper to taste.  Crumble up the bacon you pre-cooked, and add that now too.  Finally, add the fresh herbs, reserving a few for garnish.   Serve the risotto immediately as it is best warm.  I garnish it with just a bit more grated or shaved cheese and a sprinkle of fresh herbs.

I serve this with a simple salad of arugula, shaved fennel, and endive, tossed with some feta cheese and walnuts, and dressed lightly with good quality olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper.  It will pair beautifully with a lighter Oregon Pinot Noir, French-style steel-aged Chardonnay, or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, depending on your preference.

Go ahead – take the plunge and remember – don’t fear the risotto!  If you keep some Arborio and stock in your pantry, you are almost always no more than ½ hour away from an elegant and comforting supper good enough for last-minute company.  Try it with exotic mushrooms and seared scallops, or asparagus, goat cheese and shrimp, or butternut squash and sage, or anything else that is fresh, in season, and a favorite of your family.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vegetarian Minestrone

Article first published as Vegetarian Minestrone on Blogcritics.

Truth be told, there are few things I love to eat more than a great bowl of warm, comforting and healthy homemade soup.  I love minestrone and wanted to have a go-to version that I could make quickly and use on our meatless Mondays.  If you’re more of a true carnivore, you can absolutely use chicken or beef broth in lieu of the vegetable broth that I suggest.  You can also use ground turkey, or Italian sausage, instead of the meatless crumbles.  Also, I recommend cannellini and kidney beans, but you can really use whatever you have on hand.  For pasta, I like orzo, but mini shells, ditalini, or other small pasta works fine.  You can even mix it altogether if you prefer and add 1 extra can of beans.  I like to cook the pasta separately and toss it with a bit of olive oil.   I store it separately as well and add only when reheating – this way to does not get overcooked. If you can find it, use whole wheat or multigrain pasta for an added fiber boost – it will also hold up better in cooking.  Finally, I adore kale and love the extra fiber, iron, flavor, and vitamins that it imparts to this soup, but if you are not a fan, feel free to use spinach – fresh or frozen is fine.  This is so delicious, healthy and quick, and it freezes wonderfully!   


1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 medium onion, chopped
½ stalk of celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, matchstick or julienne cut
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pkg frozen Morningstar or Boca meatless crumbles
½ cup dry white wine
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried marjoram
1 bay leaf
4 fresh sprigs of thyme (leaves intact)
1 rind section of Parmigiano-Reggiano *
48 oz. container of vegetable broth
1 (15 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic (including juice)
2 (15 oz.) cans of cannellini beans
1 (15 oz.) can of dark red kidney beans
1 small head of kale, thinly sliced and chopped
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
Dash of hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup small pasta of choice, uncooked

Heat oil over medium heat in a large stockpot or dutch oven.  Add chopped onions and sauté for about 3 minutes.  Add meatless crumbles, garlic, carrots and celery, and continue to cook over medium heat until vegetables are soft.  If you are using uncooked real meat, add that to the pan first and brown before adding onions and all other vegetables.   Next, add kale and zucchini and sauté for a couple more minutes.  Add wine (red is fine too if that’s what you have), and be sure to get any brown its off the bottom of the pan.  Now add oregano, marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, and cheese rind if available.  Add broth and tomatoes with juices in the can.  Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes on medium low.

In another pot, in salted water, boil water and cook pasta as directed.   Finish the soup while this cooks.  Rinse and drain canned beans well and add to soup pot, continuing to simmer on low, now uncovered.  Remove and discard cheese rind, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs at this time.  Add fresh basil and parsley and stir in.  Add juice and zest of ½ a lemon, salt and pepper to taste and a dash of hot sauce.  Spoon a bit of the pasta into a bowl and ladle soup on top.  Garnish with a bit of fresh grated parmesan cheese if desired.

*Note on Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind: This cheese is a high end and fairly expensive variety of parmesan cheese which offers a delicious saltiness and sharpness to dishes.  It comes in large wheels and is best bought in a small triangle and grated fresh at time of use.  The wheel has a waxy rind, so most pieces you buy will have one rind piece at the end.  Many cheese stores and higher end grocers who sell this product will also sell a small container of just the leftover rinds for a few pennies.  If so, grab them up!  They keep for quite a while and are an Italian cook’s secret to flavoring and adding a bit of richness to soups, stews and other braised dishes.  Just be sure to fish out and remove the rind before serving.  If you cannot find, this, don’t sweat it at all!! 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Don't Dis the Cauliflower!

Article first published as Don't Be So Quick to Dismiss Roasted Cauliflower on Blogcritics.

Cauliflower can be the hero of your vegetable drawer.  I’m totally NOT kidding.  If you grew up, as I did, dreading this bland, boring, slightly smelly soggy veggie, usually over-boiled to a mushy consistency and possibly drowned with cheese sauce, you’re in for a great treat!  If you respect the subtlety of cauliflower and nurture it just a bit, you’ll have many options for great side dishes.  I’m sharing a roasting recipe that can be adapted in many ways to accommodate your mood and accompany the other elements of your meal.  I’m going to suggest a few ideas, but my hope is that you’ll be inspired to create your own.  I’m also going to share a couple of yummy ways to creatively use leftovers.  Cauliflower – I promise it will end up being a favorite of yours too!


1 head cauliflower, washed and patted dry
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Cooking Spray
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.  Take the washed head of cauliflower, cut it in half, and remove / discard the core with a sharp knife.  Then, take each half and separate it into florets.  If they’re large, cut them in half lengthwise, so that you have some uniformity in the pieces.   Spread them out in a single layer on the foil-lined baking sheet.  Either mist the florets with the olive oil or if you do not have a mister, drizzle it as evenly as possible over the pieces and then use a brush to spread the oil a bit more evenly.   Season with salt and pepper.  I personally like to use good quality sea salt, or at least kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.    Put in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

Now, if you’re making just basic roasted florets, you can just pull out the pan, shake it a little bit, spray it with some more olive oil or cooking spray, and put it back in for 12 more minutes.  You can garnish with a little bit of chopped parsley and enjoy. 

I prefer it flavored up a bit!  Here are some ideas.  For all of these suggestions, roast as directed for 15 minutes, remove the pan, shake it a little it, add the topping(s), and then put back in the oven for an additional 12 minutes.  Garnish as suggested and season again with salt/pepper to taste.


Mustard- Glazed Cauliflower:  Take 3 Tbsp butter and melt it in the microwave.  Stir in 1 Tbsp whole grain mustard and the zest of one lemon and 1 tbsp lemon juice.  Drizzle evenly over the florets, roast for 12 additional minutes and garnish with some fresh thyme before serving.

Italian- Style Cauliflower: Remove baking sheet from the oven after the first roasting.  Take 2 Tbsp of regular or reduced fat packaged pesto sauce, and mix it with 3 Tbsp chicken stock or olive oil.  Now, shake the baking pan a bit and toss in some cherry or grape tomatoes and a handful of pine nuts. Drizzle the pesto mixture on top of the florets and return to the oven for 12 more minutes.  Garnish with fresh chopped basil.

Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower:  After the first roasting, remove the baking sheet form the oven and grate some fresh parmesan cheese over the florets.  Return to the oven for 12-15 additional minutes.  Remove for the oven and garnish with some chopped parsley a it more fresh parmesan cheese just before serving.

Southwestern-Style Cauliflower:  Before the initial roasting, drizzle florets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with cumin, coriander, garlic powder and chili powder.  Roast for 25 minutes at 425, shaking baking tray once or twice.  Garnish with a bit of chopped cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice if desired.

 What else can you think of? Please share if you have other ideas!

Here are some great ways to use any leftovers.

Soup!  Take the leftover roasted cauliflower and any pan drippings/seasonings and add them to a medium pan with some low salt chicken or vegetable broth.  Simmer until very tender, and then puree with an immersion blender until smooth.  Add some half and half, plain yogurt or cream to thicken if desired and season with salt and pepper.

Mash!  Reheat any leftovers in the microwave and then puree in a food processor, adding any desired seasonings, spices, or cheese to taste.  If needed, you can adjust the consistency with some reduced fat sour cream, plain yogurt, or cream.  This is a great vitamin-packed and low cal substitute for mashed potatoes.  I really like to make a bit of this using leftovers and blend it with a couple of real mashed potatoes.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Quick Friday Supper: Grilled Salmon and Mache Salad

Article first published as Quick Friday Supper: Grilled Salmon and Mache Salad on Blogcritics.

So, I get occasional grief from my friends and co-workers who assume that I have these gourmet healthy meals every night.  Au contraire!  I’m prone to the occasional pizza night, sandwich night, leftovers night, or even plain grilled chicken/steamed broccoli/microwaved rice night.  Not often though, life’s too short to eat sub-par food, and as I’ve shared, I do get genuine pleasure out of preparing healthy, yummy meals for my friends and family….most of the time.   

Today, I’m not going to share a recipe exactly, but rather how I reuse some stuff from my mid-week meals to throw something quick and delicious together.  I had some cilantro-lime sauce leftover from last night’s dish (Asian Chicken with Cilantro & Lime Dipping sauce – check out my prior post).  To be honest, it wasn’t much, just about 1/3 cup left.  I’m glad I saved it though because it did inspire me to make this evening’s delish meal, which came together in a snap. 

I had a business lunch today next to a huge Whole Foods store and couldn’t resist stopping in.  They had some gorgeous fresh salmon on special so I grabbed enough for 3 good portions (knowing my kids would split one).  I also picked up a bottle of chardonnay, a handful of slivered almonds from the bulk bin, about a pint of curried Israeli couscous salad with golden raisins from the salad bar, and some machê.  Do you know about machê?  Check it out here:  It’s a great buttery, nutty micro-green reminiscent of watercress.   Anyway, together with what I already had in my fridge, this turned out to be a terrific meal in under 30 minutes.

Here’s the plan.  I took the leftover dipping sauce and added zest and juice from ½ of an orange, plus about 1 tsp of honey, and 1 tsp of sesame oil.  I shook that up and poured it over the salmon to marinade while I pulled everything else together.  While the fish soaked up the sesame, limey deliciousness, I moved the couscous salad into a pretty bowl.  After all, there’s no need for my family to know that I didn’t slave all day on that dish.  I’m looking some help on the laundry tonight after all!  Then, I put some of the greens in a salad bowl with the slivered almonds and the other half of the orange, cut into sections.  I also added a few thinly sliced radishes and some torn mint leaves that I had leftover from the Shrimp Salad I made earlier in the week (check that out here if you like:

I dressed the salad with a store-bought ginger citrus soy vinaigrette that I had on hand, and seared the salmon in some olive oil over medium high heat, finishing it up on the skin side.  I dirtied one sauté pan, one knife and 2 bowls and had everything on the table in  about 25 minutes.  Amazing!  

I share this because I want readers to know you can reuse so many things in different ways and have great meals ready, even on soccer practice night!  Don’t be intimidated by ingredients outside of your comfort zone.  With some creative reuse, a few pantry staples, and maybe one or 2 key purchases, you can pull multiple meals together from similar ingredients and keep your family coming back for more.

If you’re on a tight budget, you can make a few small tweaks to this game plan, and still have a lovely meal.  First, skip the wine. Next, you could definitely use catfish, tilapia, or another low cost fish in lieu of the salmon.  Forego the machê, and pick up a bag of baby spinach leaves or a head of green leaf lettuce. Instead of the curried salad from the pre-made bar, you can grab a package of 90-second microwave rice and after quickly cooking it as directed, toss it with some curry powder, a handful of raisins, and any green onions or herbs you may have on hand.  Voila! Simple, right?  

By the way, my kids were rewarded for their bravery in eating the curried couscous, fancy-looking salad and glazed salmon with family movie night and some Whoppers’ Brand malted milk balls.  It’s all about balance after all and nobody should be denied an occasional treat.  They ate up ALL their fish and veggies, so they deserve a little chocolate.  Now that I think about it, so does Mommy…Enjoy!