Creamy Orzo Pilaf

I like rice pilaf.  It goes with anything. I’ve always thought “pilaf” was just a fancy way of saying rice with stuff in it to make it more interesting. Some rice pilaf (particularly the kind you get in a box) comes with not-rice that looks like rice, but it’s actually a noodle! And that lovely stuff is orzo. It is always my favorite part.  So I figured I would make my rice pilaf with orzo instead. And to get really decadent, I finished it with a little cream just to make it a little more saucy.  The result? A cross between pilaf and alfredo, with some fresh veggies and herbs thrown in for brightness.

I threw this together as a quick side dish the other night, but we all liked it so much, next time I’m going to add some grilled chicken or shrimp to it and call it dinner!

Creamy Orzo

Creamy Orzo Pilaf

Creamy Orzo Pilaf

1 cup dry orzo
1-2 tomatoes, diced
Small handful of basil, chopped
Small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4-1/2 cup whipping cream
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup parmesan

Cook orzo according to package directions (usually 8-10 minutes, until tender). Drain well and add to a bowl with all other ingredients (start with 1/4 cup of cream and add more if you want it more saucy).  Mix well and serve hot or cold.

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Chili Roasted Pineapple Fries

Some recipes are barely recipes.  They are more about me needing something to go with something, and well, I have this pineapple…

This dish defies any predetermined meal placement.  I served this with a side of BBQ chicken, but it would be just as good with a scoop of ice cream for dessert, or alongside a couple of scrambled eggs for breakfast.

One of my favorite Mexican restaurants is this little place in my home town, run by a Mexican lady who is always singing.  Last time I ate there, she gave me a couple of little tins of spices that she’s planning to start selling. I scored ground cinnamon and this wonderful ground chipotle pepper.  I’ve been putting it on everything!  You may think peppers and pineapples don’t go together, but you’d be wrong!  The kick from the peppers and the sticky sweet touch of honey is the perfect combo.

Chili Roasted Pineapple

Chili Roasted Pineapple

Chili Roasted Pineapple Fries

Fresh Pineapple
Honey
Ground chipotle pepper (or any ground chili/red pepper powder)

Preheat oven to 400˚. Slice pineapple up into whatever shapes you like.  Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Lightly brush tops of pineapple with honey and sprinkle with ground chili pepper.

Cut into whatever shapes you like.  I prefer little stick shapes.  When I cook these on the grill, I do big sticks, the height of the whole pineapple.  Or you can do skewers of chunks if you prefer.

Cut into whatever shapes you like. I prefer little stick (french fry) shapes. 

Roast for 10-15 minutes, until just starting to turn brown. If you prefer grilling to roasting, these are perfect on the grill!

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Pizza Stuffed Peppers

I came across these giant red bell peppers the other day and they were so pretty (and so on sale!) that I just had to buy them.  And with so many spring colds going around, this seemed like the perfect way to get an extra dose of vitamin C. Did you know red bell peppers have more vitamin C than oranges?

Since the peppers were such a nice shape and good size, stuffing them seemed like the thing to do.  But stuff with what?  As it happens I had all the makings for homemade pizza, except crust.  You know, sometimes things just fall into place.  Obviously a pizza filled pepper was the solution to all my problems.

Now when you’re making a stuffed pepper, you’re faced with two choices:  lop off the top and stuff them whole, or cut them in half and make boats.  Since my peppers were so tall I opted for boats. This has the added benefit of being able to pick it up and eat it like pizza if you so desire (and if you’re willing to wait a bit for it to cool).

These were delicious.  I’m not anti-crust myself, but if you’re searching for a more healthy, low-carb or gluten-free solution to pizza, give this a try!  Feel free to vary the pizza toppings to your liking. I am not listing quantities because really it depends on how big your peppers are and how many you want to eat.

Pizza Stuffed Peppers

Pizza Stuffed Peppers

Pizza Stuffed Peppers

3-4 large red bell peppers (or any color)
Red or yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful of basil, coarsely chopped
Mushrooms
Mozzarella
Pepperoni (optional)
Salt & pepper
Dry or fresh oregano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stuff peppers with veggies, pepperoni (if using) and cheese.  I went for random placement so I could have a bit of everything in each bite.  Don’t overfill or it will just melt everywhere.  Lightly sprinkle with salt & pepper & oregano.  Bake for 20 minutes or so, until cheese is melted and lightly browned on top.

Yum.  Pick it up to eat or slice it up and eat it with a fork.  Up to you.

Yum. Pick it up to eat or slice it up and eat it with a fork. Up to you.

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April’s Eggs Florentine

“Florentine” seems to be the vague describer of anything with spinach.  I never knew that spinach and Florence were that closely connected but that seems to be the case.  Is it the birth place of spinach?  Or just the first place they thought to put eggs and spinach together?  Who knows? All I know is that it’s a pretty yummy combo.

If you look up recipes for Eggs Florentine you will find a pretty wide variety.  Everybody has their own little spin. But usually, it’s some sort of riff off Eggs Benedict.  There is some sort of bread, spinach, poached eggs, and some sort of sauce – sometimes it’s hollandaise, some times Mornay, or something else.

I usually make this just for me, so cooking up a fancy sauce for one isn’t always practical. Instead, I usually mix together a quickie sauce that in actuality is closer to a salad dressing.  It’s a little lighter, and definitely quicker.  And if you don’t want to mess with it, honestly sometimes I just skip it altogether.

April's Eggs Florentine

April’s Eggs Florentine

April’s Eggs Florentine

1-2 pieces of sourdough bread (usually the sourdough I buy is giant so I just cut one piece in half)
1/2 tsp. vinegar (any kind)
2 eggs
1/2 cup baby spinach
1 tsp. mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
Dash of dill
Dash of cayenne
1 tsp. lemon juice

In a small skillet, add a pinch of salt and vinegar to about an inch of water.  Bring to a boil.  Break eggs into the water and turn down to medium.  Cover. Stick the bread in the toaster.  When the toast pops up, the eggs should be done.  Scatter fresh spinach on top of toast and, using a slotted spoon or spatula, lift eggs, let water drain off, and place onto spinach.  In a small bowl mix mayo, dijon, dill, cayenne and lemon juice.  Drizzle over the top of eggs and serve.

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Roasted Zucchini Boats on a Creamy Polenta Sea

Last week it was raining in Oregon.  I know, it’s a shocker.  This month I’m doing a 30-day walking challenge, which means instead of enjoying the gentle tapping of raindrops on my roof, I was out slogging away in it, getting drenched in the process.  It’s not all bad.  It smells good.  It’s not very cold.  Things could definitely be worse.  However, all that rain made me wish for a boat.  Since I had no boat, I decided to set sail on zucchini boats instead.

If you haven’t tried polenta, this is a simple but delicious recipe to get you started.  It might look basic, but it was the perfect rich, creamy counter balance for my crunchy, zesty zucchini boats.   If you have any left over, put it in a dish or pan in the fridge and it will set up solid.  Then slice and pan fry, grill or bake it for a crunchy little cake.  It’s like two foods in one!

I made this as a main dish, but if you want something a little heartier, it would be great with a side of chicken or fish or pork chop or…you get the idea.

Zucchini Boats on a sea of creamy polenta.  Mmmm.

Zucchini Boats on a sea of creamy polenta. Mmmm.

Roasted Zucchini Boats on a Creamy Polenta Sea

4 zucchini
1 cup chopped tomato
4 oz. goat cheese
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
3-4 green onions, sliced and divided
1 cup dry polenta
4 cups water or broth
4 oz. cream cheese
1 tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 375˚.  Slice each zucchini lengthwise. Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop the seeds out of your zucchini.

A little zucchini canoe.

A little zucchini canoe.

Fill your boats with tomatoes, cheese and half the green onions.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until zucchini is tender.

While the zucchini boats are cooking, bring 4 cups of water or broth to a boil.  Add one cup of polenta.  Cover and cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When all the water is absorbed, remove from heat and stir in butter, cream cheese and the rest of the green onions.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Ladle some polenta onto a plate and top with zucchini boats.  Serves 4.

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Mediterranean Pizza

I can’t remember the last time I went out for pizza.  There are a few places I like in town, but none are very close to my house, and it usually just seems like too much trouble.  I’ve found it’s much easier to make my own, especially if I want a healthy-ish, gourmet-ish sort of pizza.

I threw this together with a few ingredients I had on hand, and the result was a tasty, Mediterranean style pizza that disappeared in the blink of an eye!  I read an article recently about ingredients you should never put on pizza, and I think spinach was on the list, but what do they know?  I actually really like it on pizza, especially if you cook it at a high enough temp that it gets a little crispy on the edges instead of just wilting.  Because nobody likes a soggy pizza.  This is a great way to get some extra veggies into the little ones (and the big ones!) without it seeming like rabbit food.

If you have a Trader Joe’s in the vicinity, they make a great fresh pizza dough that you can find in their refrigerated section.  It comes in plain or garlic-herb varieties.  If you don’t have a TJ’s close to you, you can use any pizza dough that suits you.

Mediterranean Pizza

Mediterranean Pizza

Mediterranean Pizza

Garlic-herb fresh pizza crust (I used Trader Joe’s pizza crust, but whatever kind you like will work)
1/2 cup basil pesto (click here for my pesto recipe or use store bought)
Pepperoni
1 tomato, sliced or diced
1 cup spinach, coarsely chopped
Assorted olives (I used kalamata and some green Italian ones)
1/2 cup feta
1/4 cup mozzarella
Fresh ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  If you have a pizza stone, go ahead and preheat that too, otherwise you can use any baking pan.  Flatten your dough out with your hands into whatever shape suits you (I usually just make it whatever shape of pan I’m using). Make it as thin or thick as you like.

Spread pesto evenly over crust.

It doesn't have to be perfect, just try to get a little bit all over it.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, just try to get a little bit all over it.

Layer  pepperoni and spinach.

 

Pepperoni and spinach.  For a vegetarian version simply leave out the pepperoni.

Pepperoni and spinach. For a vegetarian version simply leave out the pepperoni.

Pile on the other toppings, sprinkling evenly over crust. Finish with a few grinds of black pepper, or if you like it spicy, scatter a bit of crushed red pepper over the top.

Tomatoes, olives and cheese scattered on top.  Doesn't that look gorgeous?

Tomatoes, olives and cheese scattered on top. Doesn’t that look gorgeous?

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until crust is lightly browned on the edges and bottom.  I like a crispy crust, so I sometimes cook an additional minute or two.  For a softer crust, take it out a bit sooner.

Let it set for a few minutes before slicing.  Cut into wedges and try not to burn the roof of your mouth when you dive in!

Mmmmm!

Mmmmm!

 

 

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Asian Meatballs with Sesame Noodles

Like to cook once and eat twice? This is a perfect double duty recipe.  I made this meatball mixture originally for potsticker filling.  Rather than making a huge batch of those, I used half for the gyoza, and used the other half for these fabulous meatballs.  Some quickie sesame noodles while the meatballs cook and you have dinner on the table lickety split.  If you don’t want to use them all right away, just stick the cooked meatballs in a freezer bag and save for another day.

Asian Meatballs with Sesame Noodles

Asian Meatballs with Sesame Noodles

Asian Meatballs with Sesame Noodles

Meatballs:
1/2 – 1 pound ground pork (I used one pound, which will make a double batch or use half for gyoza filling)
1 shredded carrot
1 inch ginger, minced
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce
3-4 green onions, chopped

Noodles:
1 package thin spaghetti noodles
1 cup spinach, coarsely chopped
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce (or more to taste)
1 tsp. lime juice
Salt (if needed – sometimes the soy sauce is salty enough on its own)
1-2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, combine meatball ingredients.  Roll into meatballs and space evenly on a baking sheet.

Meatballs!

Meatballs!

Bake for 30-40 minutes until brown and cooked through.

While the meatballs are cooking, bring water to a boil and cook noodles according to package directions.  When noodles are ready to drain, throw the spinach into the water with them, then drain the whole thing.  Toss with the other ingredients and then gently toss with the meatballs.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve hot or cold.

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Beef Stroganoff Soup

Spring is on the horizon but for now it’s still soup weather at my house.  Oh let’s face it, I make soup all year long.  But this one is especially nice for warming up on a chilly day.  I was in the mood for beef stroganoff but wanted something not quite so heavy.  I also only had a small amount of meat on hand.  So I decided to turn one of my favorite dishes into soup instead.  In  the process, I managed to slip in some extra veggies.  And ding, ding, ding…we have a winner!  I will definitely be making this again.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a somewhat indulgent soup with a nice creamy base.  But it’s also got a healthy dose of veggies.  Compared to eating a plate of beef stroganoff, I’d say this is the healthier choice, if for no other reason that I’m not heaping it on top of a pile of noodles.  I would caution you to resist substituting low or no fat sour cream or whipping cream for the regular versions in this. The lower fat versions tend to curdle sometimes and you will just not get the same nice creamy flavor and texture.  If you want to lighten it up, simply use less of these ingredients and then balance with a bit more water or broth to get the soupy consistency you want.

Beef Stroganoff Soup.

Beef Stroganoff Soup.

Beef Stroganoff Soup

3/4 pound sirloin, sliced thinly
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. flour
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp. butter
4 cups beef broth
1 cup water
1 cup dry pasta (I used bow ties but any small shape will work)
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup whipping cream
1-2 tbsp. sherry
1 cup chopped spinach

Toss beef strips with flour, thyme and salt & pepper.  In a soup pot or Dutch oven, melt butter.  Add beef and cook until brown.  Add onion and mushrooms and saute 2-3 minutes until veggies start to soften.  Add broth, bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Add water and bring to a boil again.  Add pasta, stir, and reduce heat to medium (low boil).  Cook for 10-15 minutes until pasta is tender.  In a small bowl stir together whipping cream and sour cream until smooth. Stir in spinach, cream mixture and sherry.  Cook 2-3 minutes until spinach is wilted and soup is heated through.  Add salt & pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.

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Potato Palooza! My Top 20 in Spuds

This week marked two years since I started this blog. It started with a 30-day vegetarian challenge issued by my daughter, Claire.  From there it has become a fun way to share my love of food and cooking with my family and friends (even the friends I’ve never met!), an online recipe box for myself and an ongoing cooking project for me and my kids to work on together.

To celebrate, I thought I would highlight my favorite food – the potato! I know National Potato Day is in August, but let’s be honest.  If you know me, you know it’s always National Potato Day at my house.  Maybe it’s my Irish side, or maybe just because they are irresistible, but I love them.  And apparently, so do you, since some of these rate among my most popular posts over the last couple of years.  I thought it made sense to have a collection of these favorites all in one place.  So I give to you my top 20 in spuds.

One of the most fun things about potatoes are all the incredible ways to cook them.  Which is your favorite?  It’s so hard to choose! Just click on the photo caption to go to the corresponding post.

The #1 most popular potato post on my site, and in the top five of ALL my posts, you can’t go wrong with this fancy presentation of an old favorite.

Like salt & vinegar potato chips?  You will LOVE these zippy roasted potatoes!

Who says potatoes are a side dish?  Grab yourself some big spuds and let them shine as a main course.

Forget frozen french fries.  Leave the chemicals behind and make them yourself!  Easy and oh so good.

Work out your aggression and enjoy a tasty side dish with these delightful smashed and baked potatoes.

One of my very favorites and a cure-all for just about everything.  Restaurant quality hash browns right in your own kitchen.

Spanish tortilla. One of my favorite tastes of Spain and such a beautiful presentation too!

Easy to throw together for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  And you can even use up your leftovers!

My favorite camping food – but perfect for a lazy evening at home too.

Not your mama’s scalloped potatoes.  No cans of soup here.  Just unbelievably good comfort food.

Breakfast anyone?  Easy baked eggs with a little potato and cheese.

Lemony potatoes, perfect side dish for fish or chicken.  I can eat a whole batch of these by myself. Scroll down past the fish recipe for the potatoes (but the fish is worth stopping for too!).

 

The most perfect side dish with just about anything, but especially if you are a “meat & potatoes” type.

A very veggie version of Shepherd’s Pie.

The best – and most unusual – stuffed peppers you will ever eat.  A touch of heat and Indian spices make these irresistible.

A classic potato salad to make your grandma (and mine!) proud.

A not-s0-classic potato salad.  This hearty spinach salad features tiny potatoes that steal the show.

Put your leftover baked potatoes to good use in this hearty, comforting soup.

Cheesy, with a southwestern kick.  This is a great spin on the classic potato soup.

Who says potato soup isn’t healthy?  Get your veggies for the day without evening noticing in this delicious concoction.

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Gyoza

I love going out for sushi.  One of the little-known best parts of going for sushi, in my opinion, is the not-sushi.  It’s the gyoza.  Also known as potstickers, or dumplings.  Mmmm, little pockets of heaven.  Pork, veggies, and a bit of Asian mystery all bundled up in a tiny little package just for me.  Dip them in ponzu sauce for a salty, tangy finish and oh man, happy happy me!

These are very easy to make.  Don’t be intimidated by what looks like hours of work.  While there is a little more prep work than just throwing something in a pan, these babies come together pretty quickly and it’s sooooo worth the extra effort!  They are easy enough to make that you can get the kids (or even the dinner guests!) to help with the assembly.  And the really nice thing is this recipe yields a ton of them.  This batch will easily make 60+ dumplings.  I made about 40 and then used the rest of the filling for Asian style meatballs for another day.  Don’t want to eat that many at once?  No problem.  They freeze beautifully for an easy meal or snack later on.

While most of the time in restaurants gyoza is offered as an appetizer, I really enjoy it as a main dish.  A pile of stir-fried veggies and rice alongside and you’re in business!

Gyoza.  Who says it's just an appetizer?  These were main dish quality.

Gyoza. Who says it’s just an appetizer? These were main dish quality.

Gyoza

1 pound ground pork
1 shredded carrot
1 inch ginger, minced
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce
3-4 green onions, chopped
1-2 packages round gyoza wrappers (find in the refrigerated section in most produce departments at the grocery store)

Mix all ingredients (except wrappers) in a large bowl.  In the center of each wrapper place a teaspoon of the pork mixture.  I usually work in batches, laying out 9 or 10 skins (put out a little bowl filled with water for dipping fingers), filling, and then crimping all of them.  This is also a fun task for little (or big) helpers.

Making gyoza.  Be sure not to overfill, this is about the maximum amount you want to put in there if you want to be able to seal them up.

Making gyoza. Be sure not to overfill, this is about the maximum amount you want to put in there if you want to be able to seal them up.

Moisten the edge all around with a bit of water and bring the two edges up to meet in the center.  Pressing outward to remove the air, seal the edges, crimping with fingertips.  Place on wax paper on a baking sheet or board.

Gyoza, all crimped up and ready to cook (or to freeze).

Gyoza, all crimped up and ready to cook (or to freeze).

Heat a skillet over medium high heat.  Drizzle a bit of canola or peanut oil in the pan and let it heat (I use about a tablespoon of oil for each batch).  Swirl oil around to coat the bottom of the pan.  In small batches, add the gyoza (I can do about 10-12 at a time in my skillet).  Let them sizzle and cook until brown on the bottom.  Add 1/3 cup of water to the pan and cover.  Let cook about 3-4 minutes, until water is evaporated.  Remove dumplings and repeat as needed with additional batches.  Serve hot with ponzu dipping sauce (see below for recipe).

Leave space between the dumplings so they cook evenly and don't stick together as they steam.

Leave space between the dumplings so they cook evenly and don’t stick together as they steam.

This batch made 40+ gyoza (1 package of skins), which for the three of us equals two meals.  So I cooked half, froze half, and still had some filling left which I rolled into meatballs for another meal.  Or if you have more wrappers, just make more gyoza and freeze what you don’t want to eat that day.

To freeze gyoza, leave on the cookie sheet, stick the whole thing in the freezer.  Let them freeze about an hour, and then you can pile them in ziplock freezer bags.

Frozen gyoza.  Freeze first on a cookie sheet, then pile into bags for easy storage.

Frozen gyoza. Freeze first on a cookie sheet, then pile into bags for easy storage.

To cook, simply take out what you need and follow the directions above.  No need to thaw first, simply put the frozen gyoza in the hot oil and cook as usual!

Ponzu Dipping Sauce

1 tbsp. chopped green onions
3 tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice
2 tbsp. mirin
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic chile sauce
1/4 tsp. fish sauce

Combine all ingredients.

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