a very simple salmon

 Bulb by bulb, candy cane by candy cane.  The Christmas tree was deconstructed and taken down today.

I very easily become attached to things.  Mr. Jingles, my beta fish for 4 years.  Frenchie, my car. 

Carol, the Christmas tree.  I think I would keep it (her?) up all year if I had the choice. 

To avoid getting the Christmas time blues, I threw on my apron and set out to make a bright, flavorful lunch for the family.  Which, by the way, started with two very simple ingredients: Soy sauce and brown sugar.

And two pieces of wild caught salmon.

 Fast Forward 10 minutes.

Simple and perfect.  And that, my friends, is just one of the things that I love so much about salmon.  It doesn’t like to be messed around with too, too much, making things easier on the busy cook.

I still don’t like saying goodbye to things.  Dogs, fish, cars, or Christmas trees. 

I will say, however, that it’s kind of nice not crashing into Carol every time I do a downward dog or a sun salutation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sweet ‘n’ Salty Grilled Salmon
Serves about 3

Although this recipe calls for the salmon to be grilled, you could easily cook it in your oven.  I normally use a temperature around 350 to cook my fish, testing so often to make sure that I don’t overcook it.  The fish is ready when it flakes easily. 😀

To keep the sides simple and easy, I roasted a few potatoes with garlic and olive oil; the broccoli was also roasted with a bit of olive oil.

  • 1 lb. wild caught salmon fillets
  • 1/2 T. lite soy sauce
  • 1/2 T. brown sugar
  • lemon pepper
  • garlic powder
  1. Preheat grill.
  2. Sprinkle salmon fillets with lemon pepper and garlic powder.  In a separate bowl, combine brown sugar and soy sauce.  Spoon over salmon fillets.
  3. When grill is ready, place salmon skin side down and cook for 4-6 minutes.  Flip.  Continue cooking for another 4-6 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
  4. Serve and ENJOY! 😀

Question: Have you taken down the holiday decorations yet?

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that perfect afternoon

The weathermen aren’t always right, you know.

The expected 12-24 inches went off to other towns.  Other areas.  Namely, Boston, which I heard received about a foot and a half of fluffy white.

Here, we still received about 8-12 inches.  And I’m totally happy with that.  😀

Just enough snow to make everything look delicious and fresh. 

Not too much snow to keep me trapped indoors and off the roads.

That perfect amount.

Speaking of “that perfect amount,” walking in the snow provides a whole new level of working out. 

Mom and I threw on our hiking boots, donned our scarves and warmest jackets, and trekked our way across mounds of snow.  Four miles worth of taking two steps forward, one slippery step back.   It was such an old school way of going to the post office, just to mail a package.  But it was fun and productive, and it felt absolutely wonderful on the legs! 😀

By the time I came back, everything felt exhausted.  The windy gusts had knocked me around like a rag doll.  And my face was slowly—slowly—dethawing.

My appetite was ferocious.

And nothing but soup made sense.

Carrot soup is one of my most favorite of vegetable soups.

Maybe it’s because there’s not much to be expected from the humble carrot, and I like to prove a world of tastebuds wrong.  Most people think of raw, boring carrot sticks taking up space on the side of a plate.  Or carrot cake, which certainly does earn a high reputation, but that’s besides the point.

Carrot soup is where it’s at.  Warm, inviting.  Bright and savory.  Both nutritious and delicious.

It pairs as a lovely side to any salad or sandwich.  And since my appetite was throught the roof after a walk in the cold and snow, I took the sandwich route; my teeth felt like they needed to bite into something.

I toasted a simple lemon & dill hummus sandwich on some grainy Ezekiel bread slices.  A warm, satisfying meal.

That perfect amount of snow.

That perfect meal to warm up with after a chilly walk.

That perfect afternoon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Herbed Carrot Soup—as seen in Moosewood Cookbook and on this website.

This is one of my most treasured, favorite recipes.  It’s simple to make and goes wonderfully with grilled cheese sandwiches or just as is with a couple of croutons and a scoop of greek yogurt.  I’ve seen some people eat it over a bowl of rice, transforming the “soup” into a “sauce.”  Whichever way you eat it, this warming recipe is simply delicious.

  • 2 pounds peeled, chopped carrots
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1-2 small cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  1. Place carrots, liquid, and potato into a medium sized soup pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer it for 12-15 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  2. Saute the onion and salt in the oil for about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and herbs until onions are tender (about 5 more minutes.)  Stir in lemon juice.
  3. Puree everything together in a blender until smooth.  Place back in pot and keep on low heat until ready to serve.  ENJOY!

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lemon Dill Hummus

A container of fresh dill was sitting in my fridge, with absolutely no purpose other than to look pretty.  And that is how this simple, savory spread was born. 

Lemon and dill are two flavors that always go well together, and hummus is no exception for this lively pair.  Enjoy this bright spread on crackers, sandwiches or salads.

  • 1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1-2 T. fresh dill
  • dash of cayenne
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a food processor, mix all of the ingredients together.  Taste and adjust seasonings as preferred.
  2. ENJOY! 😀

Question: Are you making any New Years Resolutions?  How far ahead do you start to plan them out?  What are some ways you make sure they’re successful (are they successful?) 

sometimes onions fly

I figured that it was about time for me to come clean with you guys.

I am not a clean cook.  In fact, I am a downright messy cook.

I can dice an onion with enthusiastic speed. 

I can eyeball out an accurate tablespoon of olive oil. 

I can handle three or four pots at once.

Hm.  I could probably even chop an eggplant with my hands tied behind my back.  Maybe. 

But please don’t ever ask me to keep my kitchen clean.  It just isn’t going to happen.

In my kitchen, carrot peels cling to the wall before plummeting to the earth. 

Pepper seeds sprinkle themselves across the butcher block. 

And sometimes, onions fly.

Now, before you start envisioning a dreadfully messy kitchen, I should point out that it’s not like my kitchen is always messy.  After dinner, it becomes rather spotless.  You’d barely believe that there was ever a moment of chaos, just 15 minutes previous.

Even still, I did seriously consider making “maintain a clean kitchen environment while cooking” as my New Years Resolution.  I envisioned myself twirling around a completely spotless kitchen, making both mom and martha proud.  

Not a speck of tomato sauce on anything (or anyone, for that matter.) 

But then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this wasn’t such a good idea.

I kind of like being a messy cook.  It’s my time to just let loose.  To peel a carrot with reckless abandon.  To chop an onion like its my duty.  To let the pans sizzle and fry.

Really, now, you’ve got to admit.  Sometimes it feels good to get a little messy.  Sometimes it feels good to just let things fly.

Ratatouille—recipe taken from Everyday Food by Martha Stewart

I’ve always thought of “Ratatouille” as being a difficult (and maybe a little prestigious) recipe.  And yet, after finally overcoming my fears and just making it already, I can honestly say that there is nothing to be afraid of. 

Ratatouille is, very simply, a vegetable stew that is most commonly made with a mixture of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onion and seasonings.  It comes together relatively quickly and aside from some vegetable dicing, most of the work is hands off. 

This recipe is delicious when served as is, with a hunk of crusty bread.  Or served over brown rice.  Or whole wheat pasta.  It would even make a lovely filling to your soft wrap at lunch, when topped with a sprinkle of goat cheese.  This recipe makes a lot, so you will have plenty of chances and opportunities.

  • 1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes
  • 4 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • coarse salt and pepper
  • 2 large yellow onions, diced large
  • 1 head garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
  • 2 bell peppers, seeded and diced large
  • 2 large zucchini (1 lb total), diced large
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T. fresh oregano
  • 2-3 T. red wine vinegar
  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Place tomatoes and juices on a rimmed baking sheet and use your hands to break tomatoes into 3/4 inch pieces.  Drizzle with 2 T. olive oil and bake until thickened, 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a colander, toss eggplant with 1/2 tsp salt.  Let sit 20 minutes, then squeeze out any excess liquid with a paper towel.  In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat 2 T. olive oil over medium.  Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until onions and garlic are soft, 5 minutes.  Add peppers and cook, stirring, until crisp-tender, 4 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Add tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bay leaf, and oregano to pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a simmer.  Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover and cook at a gentle simmer until vegetables are tender but not mushy, 15 minutes.  Season to taste with vinegar, salt and pepper.
  4. ENJOY! 😀

Question: Are you the cleanest of cooks or do you typically make a mess? 

the “other” white meat

I don’t know why they call pork the “other” white meat.  In my opinion, pork is the white meat.  Juicy and succulent.  Infused with rich, meaty flavor.  And when it’s cooked just right, pork can show chicken up any ol’ day of the week.

Meat used to scare me.  Not because I was an animal activitist (although I do consider myself to be an animal welfarist.)  And not because I thought meat was bad or dangerous to my health. 

No.

Meat scared me because I was afraid of undercooking it.  Or worse.  Overcooking it.  But through many periods of trial and error, a few flops, and some lovely successes along the way, I’ve learned to embrace my inner carnivore.  I’ve realized that meat isn’t something that I should fear, because it really doesn’t have to be difficult to prepare. 

Sauteed pork chops, for example, are one of the quickest and easiest meats you’ll ever make.

First things first.  Drizzle each side of each pork chop with a bit of olive oil.  You don’t need a lot, especially if you spray your pan well with cooking spray.

Next, sprinkle on some coarse sea salt and pepper.  Now here’s the kicker.  Add about 1/8 of a tsp of sugar on one side of each pork chop and place sugar side down into heated pan.

Yes.  Sugar.

If you’re a little freaked out right now, don’t be.

Trust me, you won’t taste the sugar afterwards (nobody likes a sugared pork chop unless it involves apple chutney and cranberries!)  But it will give you a nice goldened crust which is exactly what we’re looking for.

Let those babies brown!

I kept the sides simple.  Pan roasted cauliflower with a balsamic vinegar reduction.  Baked sweet potato fries.

I love it when a deliciously healthy dinner is on the table in 30 minutes or less.  😉

Easy Pork Chops—recipe idea taken from Cooks Illustrated

Any leftovers taste great chopped up with some leftover brown rice, soy sauce, pineapple juice, garlic and diced bell peppers.

  • 4 boneless pork chops, about 7 oz. each
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper
  • sugar
  1. Drizzle a small amount of oil onto each side of each pork chop.  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Sprinkle one side of each pork chop with about 1/8 tsp of sugar.  Place sugar side down onto a pan that has been heated to medium and coated in cooking spray.
  3. Cook for 4-9 minutes.  Flip once the side has become browned to liking.  Continue cooking for about 4-6 minutes or until cooked thorough.
  4. Once cooked, move pork chops to a plate and cover loosely with foil for 5 minutes.  Do not throw away pan juices!  Add any juices from the plate with the pork chops to the pan, bring juices to high, and scrape browned bits.  Once sauce has been reduced (about 30-60 seconds,) turn off heat.  Add pork chops, flip once, and serve immediately, drizzling each pork chop with any remaining juices.
  5. ENJOY! 😀

Question: Is there anything that you’re “intimidated” to cook?  A souffle!  I think they’re so elegant and beautiful, but they intimidate me since one wrong move could result in a deflated balloon.  One of these weekends I plan to overcome my fear and just make it. 😀

breakfast and a bowl of soup

So—well—I kind of lied.

Breakfast did start with ‘p.’  And it did end in ‘umpkin.’ 

But there were oats involved too.  I have nothing more to say, other than I simply couldn’t help myself.

Breakfast Bonanza, Day 3: “Pumpkin Pie Smoothie”

Pumpkin is perfect for smoothies.  Where frozen bananas supply the frothy sweetness, canned pumpkin gives you that creamy, indulgent texture.  They’re really a match made in smoothie heaven.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

Don’t be afraid to add the oats!  Some people don’t like the texture of raw oats in things, but the blender does a fine job of grinding them up into a texture that’s similar to oat bran.  This whole grain addition gives you fiber, nutrients, and energy for a busy morning. 

(p.s. Have fun with the toppings!)

  • 1/2 c. regular rolled oats
  • 1/2 c. canned pumpkin
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 banana, frozen and cut into chunks
  • 1 tsp chia seeds (optional)
  • cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and a splash of vanilla
  • toppings: sweetened coconut, Trader Joe’s apple cranberry butter, walnuts

Blend everything together, except for toppings.  Pour into a large bowl, top with your favorite of things, and enjoy each delicious bite!

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Today was a very productive day.  I cleaned.  I set up appointments that needed to be set.  I ate.  I completed many homework assignments.

I made a pot of soup.

I know I’ve stated this before (probably more than once,) but it deserves repeating.  If your recipe calls for chicken, beef or vegetable broth and you don’t have your own homemade version on hand, buy this broth base!

The name says it all: “better than bouillon.” 

I’ve never tried their beef base, but I’m a huge fan of the chicken and veggie.  The flavor is as close to homemade as I’ve yet to find.  Way better than bouillon cubes or cans. 

As much as I love whisking things, I also love simmering soups.  Who  needs therapy? 

Once the vegetable soup was simmering long enough to cook the barley, I added in some crushed tomatoes…

…and white beans.

This soup was such a quickie to throw together.   Ready in a matter of minutes (about 30, to be exact…even less if you had a batch of cooked barley or brown rice on hand.) 

The rich tomato flavor was a lovely reminder of being welcomed home with hot tomato soup after playing outside all day long.  It warms you, heart and soul.

Tomato Vegetable Soup (serves 4-6)
Idea taken and tweaked from a Taste of Home cookbook

Veggie soups are one of my favorite autumn eats.  This tomato soup takes on more veggies and protein than your typical tomato soup version might, giving you more nutrition per bite. 

I ate my hot bowl of soup with toasted honey wheat bread.  But I’m thinking that a grilled cheese sandwich would make this meal perfect and complete. 

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 c. vegetable broth (preferrably low sodium)
  • 1/4 c. uncooked barley
  • 1-1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cans (15-oz. each) white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (28-oz. each) crushed tomatoes
  1. In a medium pot, saute onion, carrot and celery in oil until crisp-tender.  Add garlic, saute 1 minute longer. 
  2. Add broth, barley, Italian seasoning, and pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until pasta is tender.
  3. Add beans and tomatoes, simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
  4. ENJOY!

Question: What do you consider to be the perfect autumn meal?

Tomorrow is *Day 4* of the Breakfast Bonanza.  If you haven’t started yet, that’s okay!  You can jump in any time.  Just let me know what breakfast(s!) you want to include on the breakfast post for next week.  Even if you want to throw just *one* breakfast into the mix, go for it.  And, most of all, have fun! 😀

not without a fight

I kind of just blew my entire budget…

I’ve never been much of an Ocean State Job Lot fan.  In fact, I usually avoid the store like its the plague.  Most of what they sell is stuff you don’t need (or want.)  Hence the reason why I never go there. 

Until today.

Don’t ask me what it was that first drew me in.  Not the aesthetics of the building, thats for sure.  But once inside, there was absolutely no turning back.  An entire isle was dedicated to nut butters.  Jams and jellies that you can only find at Whole Foods.  Flaxseed for half of the normal price.  I was a bit awestruck, really. 😉 

Current Favorite Snack: 1% cottage cheese with Bear Naked Banana Nut Granola and a dollop of Cinnamon Raisin Peanut Butter.

After recovering from my excitement, I felt like baking. 

It truly is a rare moment to have a bunch of spare bananas lounging around my house.  The occasional soggy apple or pear may find its way into the trash, due to neglect and oversight.  But never—never!—does this happen to a banana.  Green bananas.  Yellow bananas.  Brown bananas.  It really doesn’t matter.  They’re gone in a matter of days, as they find their way into each and every family member’s morning meal.

In order to celebrate the rare and momentous occasion of having ripe bananas at my disposal, I decided to bake a banana bread.
 

Just as a side note, I’ll usually take the time to read through the ingredient list before pouring everything in. 
 

I guess the excitement of banana bread overcame me, because I didn’t even give the list a second look. 

And—apparently—I don’t have cream of tartar sitting in the back (or front, for that matter) of my pantry.

I remember someone once telling me that you can substitute baking powder for a cream of tartar/baking soda combination.  I wasn’t sure if this was actually going to work, but there was no turning back.  My bananas were mashed, and there was no way I was going to give up.  Not, at least, without a pretty darn good fight.

(With the dry and wet ingredients, remember to only stir until *just* moistened.  This is especially important if you’re using whole wheat flour.  Nobody wants a tough, gummy banana bread!  Those lumps are completely okay–and normal.)

Substituting baking powder for the cream of tartar/baking soda seemed to work out alright.  The result was a little more dense than I would have liked, but all in all, at least my banana bread was saved from the doom of a trash can. 😉 

There was nothing fancy about this bread.  No cinnamon.  No nutmeg.  No vanilla.  No walnuts or chocolate chips.  Completely unadorned. 

Because sometimes you want those deep, dark chocolate chips.  Sometimes the crunch of a walnut, surrounded by the flavor of a sweet, sweet banana is nothing short of perfection.

But sometimes you just want the basics.  Bananas.  Bread.  Banana Bread.

Your Basic Whole Wheat Banana Bread

This is a spin off on my whole wheat chocolate chip banana bread.  If chocolate is what you’re after, just add 1/2-3/4 c. of dark chocolate chips after mixing the flour together with the banana mixture.  OR, try melting a bit of chocolate and drizzling it over the banana bread before serving.  Both ways are equally scrumptious. 😀

  • 1 c. mashed ripe banana (about 2-1/2 medium)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • cooking spray
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl with a whisk until smooth.
  3. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife.  Combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, stirring with a whisk.  Add flour mixture to banana mixture and stir just until moist (do not overmix).  Spoon batter into an 8×4 inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray.
  4. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack, remove from pan.  Cool completely on rack.

Question: Have you ever substituted another ingredient after realizing that you didn’t have the one that was originally called for?  How did this turn out? 

a greedy indulgence

Guess what I was busy peeling and washing, in anticipation for tonight’s dinner?

Beets.  Lots and lots of beets.  Enough to feed a family of five.  Or, in my case, a family of three.  We like our produce.

I could have canned them.  Really…I should have canned them.  When will I learn to preserve summer’s crops? 

I have received so many useful tips on preserving the produce.  “Freeze your pesto!”  “Bottle your beets!”  Friends have shared with me, all of the genius ways in which they ensure they’ll be eating from-the-garden tomatoes, all year round (salsas, sauces, and soups, oh my!) 

Unfortunetly, I’ve never listened.  Instead, I greedily eat summer’s produce, all at once.  Aside from a handful or two of frozen basil leaves, there’s not an inkling or trace of what once was.  Summer becomes a thing of the past, as I move forward into the months of autumn.  Arms (and mouth) open wide, ready for squash and cabbage and things like kale.

When I see a bunch of basil, I see a toasted, basil hummus sandwich for lunch.   And when I see beets, I see a salad piled high with those beautiful red, roasted roots.  I can’t resist.  I do realize that this is a shame.  A fault, even.  I would love to have produce all winter long.  I would!  I would love to pull out a bottle of zingy tomato salsa, smack dab in the middle of January.  I would love to pull out a batch of pesto in the dead of winter, just as a reminder of what summer tastes like. 

 But tonight, that didn’t really matter.  I savored each bite of the earthy, sweet beets, towering high on a bed of greens.  Dressed in nothing but olive oil.  I know this is a greedy indulgence.  But I just couldn’t help myself. 

As a side note, I am completely addicted to the peanut hummus.  Age really does do wonders for this tangy spread!

As a note to self: “Next summer? Grow a bigger garden.”

Roasted Beets

  • 1 large bunch of fresh beets, trimmed and peeled of any lingering roots or tough exterior
  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Chop beets into bite sized peices, and place in single layer on a well sprayed cookie sheet.  Roast for 10 minutes, flip once, and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes.
  3. ENJOY! 😀

Question: Do you preserve summer’s produce, or do you eat it right away?  What is your favorite way of preserving the produce?  One of these years, I would like to plant enough tomatoes to make a fresh tomato salsa.  And then open and eat it on the coldest day of the year. 😀

a bowl of super soup

Tis the season for colds and things.

Bring.  On.  The.  Soup!

I’m proud of the fact that—for the most part—my immune system keeps me far, far away from the little things that tend to plague people.  A head cold here.  A flu there.  They never seem to bother me.  That being said, when I do get sick, I get *sick.*  There’s absolutely no fooling around.  I’ve learned to simply wave my white flag and surrender. 

In other words, I spent most of the day in my pj’s.  Resting.  Relaxing. 

Making a big batch of veggie soup.

 Usually when I make a soup that calls for use of the blender, there is intensive time involved.  Not always.  But usually.  Between the simmering and cooling times, the soup making process is a long one.

Not so with this recipe.  The blending came pre-cooking.  Just a can of diced tomatoes and three cans of white beans.  The consistency—which reminded me of refried beans!!!—made for an awesome thickener.  I need to remember this for future soups!

The rest of the soup recipe was just as easy.  Just as simple.  And it involved many…

…many…

…many, many, many…

…many, many, many vegetables. 

I can practically hear my immune system thanking me. 😉

While the soup was simmering, dad picked up some crusty, artisan sourdough bread to accompany dinner.

The bread was absolutely perfect.  Crusty on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside. 
 

Cold season may be in full swing around here.  But it’s nothing that a little veggie soup can’t handle.

Loaded-with-Veggies Soup Recipe—courtesy of Woman’s Day Magazine

  • 3 cans (15.5 oz each) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1⁄2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1⁄2 bulb fennel, chopped, or 4 cups chopped celery
  • 1⁄2 small butternut squash peeled and cut into 1⁄2-in. pieces, or 4 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini (8 oz), halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 8 oz broccoli rabe (thick stems removed), cut crosswise into 1-in. strips, or 8 oz broccoli florets
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • Olive oil

1. Purée beans and diced tomatoes with their juice in food processor, in batches, if necessary. Pour into a 6-qt pot. Stir in water, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 10 minutes.

2. Add remaining vegetables except peas. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in peas and simmer for 3 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

3. Drizzle olive oil over each bowl of soup; serve with crusty bread, if desired

Question: What is your favorite kind of soup?  I love a soup that’s jam packed with veggies.  Chicken stew is definitely on my list of favorites too. 😀

in defense of noodles

Tonight, I wanted a big ol’ plate of fettucine.

Which is strange, because I really don’t like pasta.  I’m sure by now, you’ve heard all of my rants and raves about how “it’s not the pasta! it’s the sauce!” that makes or breaks an Italian meal.

But over the weekend, Nicole and I had a conversation about how lovely a big bowl of piping hot noodles sauced in butter and fresh parmesan cheese can be.  With this delicious thought lingering in the back of my mind, I realized that maybe I don’t have such a strong distaste for noodles after all.

On my dinner plate, pasta has most often taken the back burner.  In a way, they allow me to indulge my inner Italian (not that I’m Italian, but don’t we all have an inner Italian, somewhere?)   I love slurping up my mom’s homemade red sauce, indulging in a creamy alfredo and enjoying a fresh, summery pesto.  And noodles can soak up the sauce in a way that only a crusty hunk of bread could hope to contend with.

Tonight, however, I felt a different air of respect towards the simple noodle.

A good hair stylist will tell you to work with your hair, not against it.  “Don’t put on so much gunk…appreciate your hair for what it is and let it just be.”  My salonist is a bit of a naturalist when it comes to things like that.  But maybe she’s right.  And maybe, in the same way, fettucine shines the most when it’s not covered up.  Left to its own devices.  Appreciated, just for what it is.

I’m kind of convinced.

Spinach Shrimp Fettucine
Adapted from Taste of Home (8 servings)

  • 1 lb. uncooked whole wheat fettucine
  • 1 package (6 oz.) baby spinach
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 lb. uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 medium plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
  1. Cook fettucine according to package.  Test for al dente.  Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute spinach and garlic in oil for 2 minutes, until spinach is wilted.
  2. Add shrimp, tomatoes, Italian seasoning and salt; saute for 2-3 minutes or until shrimp turn pink.  Drain fettucine and add to skillet; toss to coat.  Sprinkle with cheese. 

 Question: Have you ever changed your mind about a food that you previously loved or hated? 

stuffed to the gills.

Sometimes—when I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed, tired, or downright cranky—it feels good to chop an onion.

A lot has been happening these past few weeks.  Nothing really, really bad.  And nothing too crazy either.  Just—a lot.  I’m realizing that the weekends aren’t enough to bring me back to normal, and so I’ve been relying on my sharpest kitchen knives and a few good recipes, as my greatest form of stress management. 😉

Tonight I felt like making stuffed vegetarian peppers.

I’ve been wanting to make stuffed peppers for some time now.  Hesitation is what has held me back for so long.  Thoughts of my mom’s famous hamburg stuffed peppers, lingering in the back of my mind.  Memories of a recipe that was handed down from my mom’s mom’s mom, to my mom’s mom, and then to my mom (and eventually to me.)  That’s kind of a lot of pressure to put on a girl.

But I decided, after all, that I still wanted a vegetarian stuffed pepper to call my own.  And if I found a recipe that was unique enough, it could become a new recipe to add to my collection.  Not a replacement.  Never a replacement.  I’m sure the long line of French Canadian women wouldn’t mind hearing that I experimented in the kitchen (although there may be a few eyebrows raised at the idea of having a meatless meal!)  😉

To find a well deserving recipe, I pulled out my stack of magazines.  That’s when I stumbled across a Vegetarian Times Magazine, which proudly boasted pictures of stuffed peppers, smothered in a rich cheddar cheese.  I had all the ingredients on hand to make such a pepper.  It was obviously meant to be.

Recipe? Found.  Cooking utensils? Ready.  Apron? On.  Stress Management Class may now commence.

By this point in the recipe, you’ll have an onion and two stalks of celery simmering in a bit of olive oil on the stove.  For about 5 minutes or so.  The cumin and garlic are then added for a minute more of cooking (thanks to an informative reader for letting me know that this short duration of heat upon spice really does intensify the flavors…)

Moving on.  Drain the juice from 2 cans of diced tomatoes, but save it for later.  You’ll see why, later on in the recipe.

Add the diced tomatoes and 10-oz. of dethawed & drained frozen spinach to your onion mixture.

(I probably failed to mention this earlier, but you’ll also want to have a pot of brown rice going at this time, unless you’re taking the quinoa route (see recipe below for the details!) 

Meanwhile, grate 3 large carrots.  If you’re like me, you’ll want to peel an extra one for munching. 😉

Mix all ingredients together.

(All Ingredients = Cooked brown rice.  Spinach.  Tomatoes.  Black beans.  Carrots.  Cheese.)

Stir, Stir, Stir.

I’m pretty sure that any leftover filling (because this recipe does make extra filling) will find its way into a tortilla wrap or atop a salad.  The flavor is superb.

But a wrap or a salad was not meant for tonight.  Tonight, I forged ahead and decided to stick completely to the written recipe, halving and coring the freshest bell peppers that I could find, and stuffing them to the gills. 

After the procedure of stuffing the peppers was finished, I covered them with a tight seal of foil, popped them in a 350 degree oven, turned the timer to an hour and then I did something that I never do.

I left my mess behind.

Washing dishes is a little like brushing my teeth.  I can’t not do it immediately after a meal. 

But I came to the conclusion that the dishes could wait.  The sunshine could not.  So with an hours worth of time, I went for a walk.  And I’d recommend you do the same if you have a spare 30 minutes or so before your next meal.  It felt absolutely luxurious. 😀

When I strolled back in, there was a good 15 minutes left on the timer. 

Just enough time to melt a bit of cheddar cheese on top of the peppers.  Just enough time to braise some brussels sprouts.  Just enough time to get those dishes done and out of the way. 😀

The meal was fabulous and earned tablewide compliments.  The flavors were very complex and came together beautifully.  Next time I may try adding some salsa to the mix, or a jalapeno for some x-tra spice. 

Needless to say, I’ll be making these again. 

(Especially since they pack up nicely for next-day-lunches!)

Stuffed Peppers
Vegetarian Times, February 2009—plus some minor tweaking

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 celery stalks, finely choped
  • 1 T. cround cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1, 10-oz. package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2-15 oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
  • 1-15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 c. quinoa (OR, cook 1 c. dry rice as directed on package)
  • 3 large carrots, grated
  • 1-1/2 c. grated, reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 4 large red, green or yellow bell peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs removed

1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and celery, cook 5 minutes or until soft.  Add cumin and garlic, saute 1 minute.  Stir in spinach and drained tomatoes.  Cook 5 minutes, or until most of liquid has evaporated.

2. If using quinoa: Stir in black beans, quinoa, carrots, and 2 c. water.  Cover, bring to a boil for 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes or until quinoa is tender.  Stir in 1 c. cheese.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
If using rice: Stir in black beans, cooked rice, and carrots.  Stir, reduce heat to low and stir in cheese.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

3. Preheat oven to 350F.  Pour liquid from tomatoes in bottom of baking dish.

4. Fill each bell pepper half with heaping 3/4-cup quinoa or rice mixture, and place in baking dish.  Cover with foil, and bake 1 hour.  Uncover, and sprinkle each pepper with 1 T. remaining cheese.  Bake 15 minutes more, or until tops of stuffed peppers are browned.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Transfer stuffed peppers to serving plates, and drizzle each with pan juices before serving.

Today’s Challenge: Do something that you really love and enjoy, as a form of “stress management.”  Go for a walk.  Brush your cat.  Paint your nails.  Bake some muffins.  Look through old pictures.  Make a cup of tea and do absolutely nothing for 15 minutes…(what is your favorite stress buster?)