Forget the Lettuce Veggie Salad

When you eat a lot of vegetables, which we do at my house, you get sick of the traditional salad. Sometimes I just don’t want to see another leaf of lettuce, even though I really like salad. But never fear, when salad boredom happens, I tend to just start combining random ingredients in the hopes of inventing something new that everyone will actually eat. It usually works.

I would describe this as a Mediterranean-ish veggie extravaganza. Filling and flavorful, it stands well on its own, or is the perfect side dish for just about anything. As an added bonus, it works well at room temperature which makes it terrific for potlucks and picnics.

No Lettuce Veggie Salad

Forget the Lettuce Veggie Salad

Forget the Lettuce Veggie Salad

1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 can olives, cut in half
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 zucchini, diced
2 green onions, sliced
1 small can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered or coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
2-3 tbsp. vinegar
Salt & pepper

Combine all ingredients. Eat.

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Roasted Pepper Black Bean Chili

I know, I know. It’s 80 degrees and I’m making chili. You might think I’m odd, but for me, chili is not just a winter food. One reason is I like it too much to confine it to just one season. The other is that I planted ten pepper plants and I have to find ways to use them, assuming I don’t kill them off before they produce anything. Besides, this is a recipe for the crock pot, which means no heating up the house with the oven!

The basic recipe for this is actually quite similar to my regular chili, but this time I used dried beans and roasted peppers and wow! it tastes completely different. Deeper, smokier, wonderful! You can use whatever combination of peppers you like or happen to have. I’ll list the combo I used, which resulted in a fairly mild but flavorful batch. Feel free to toss in some hotter ones if you are a five-alarm sort of person.

Plan ahead and soak your beans the night before to ensure they get done in the slow cooker. Or you can use canned beans in a pinch. This works well as a vegetarian recipe too, just leave out the ground beef.

Roasted Pepper Chili

Roasted Pepper Chili

Roasted Pepper Chili

2 cups dried black beans
4 cups water
2 poblano peppers
3 anaheim chiles
1 red bell pepper
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans fire-roasted tomatoes
1 pound ground beef
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2-3 tbsp. chili powder
2-3 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. oregano
Salt & pepper

The night before, rinse dried beans. Place in a bowl with at least six cups of water. Let soak overnight. In the morning, drain beans and put in crock pot. In a skillet, brown ground beef and add to crock pot.

Remove seeds and stems from peppers and lay skin-side up on a large cookie sheet. Place under broiler 4-5 minutes, until skin turns black. Remove and put in a paper or plastic bag to cool.

Add onion, garlic, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili powder, oregano and cumin to crock pot.

Remove peppers from their bag, chop and add to the crock pot. Cover with about 4 cups of water, give it a stir. Cook on high for 6-8 hours until beans are soft. Add salt & pepper to taste.

This was even better the next day!

So good.

So good.

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Polenta Veggie Bowl

I have so many recipes picked out and marked on my weekly menu, and yet…they sit there mostly ignored lately. The reason is that fresh produce is happening, and when I go to farmer’s market, I don’t really make a list. I just buy whatever looks great and is priced right. Usually whatever is coming off the plants is not only the tastiest, but also the cheapest, since it is ripe and plentiful. Of course I buy more than I plan to, because everything looks delicious and then I have a pile of stuff that needs to be used pretty quickly. Aside from the veggies, there is hummus, and fresh goat cheese and oh my, so many wonderful things. And all of this lives in my kitchen during these months. Which all adds up to ignoring my recipes and throwing random ingredients together.

This is a terrific weeknight meal, since it only takes about 15 minutes from start to finish and uses no weird ingredients (if you consider any of these ingredients weird you can swap it for something more “normal” if you’d like). As far as vegetarian meals go, this one is very satisfying.

So set aside your Pinterest recipe board and your cookbooks and magazines, and join me by throwing together whatever random veggies and cheese YOU like and using them to top off a bowl of piping hot and creamy polenta. Mmmm. This is the combo I made, but feel free to substitute. I don’t mind a bit.

Polenta Veggie Bowl

Polenta Veggie Bowl with Goat Cheese. 

Polenta Veggie Bowl
(serves 2)

1 cup polenta
Olive oil
1-2 zucchini
6 (or more) cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
6-8 olives (I used green castelvetrano olives, but any kind is fine)
Basil
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup milk
2 oz. goat cheese, divided

Bring 2 1/2 cups of water or broth to a boil. Add polenta and a pinch of salt. Give it a stir, cover, and turn down heat to low. Cook for 10-15 minutes until liquid is absorbed and polenta is soft and creamy. Remove from heat. Add butter, milk, half of the goat cheese and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk into the polenta until creamy.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Add onion and cook 2-3 minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook another 30 seconds or so. Add zucchini, tomatoes and olives. Cook 2-3 minutes until zucchini is softened but still firm. Taste and season with salt & pepper if needed.

Scoop polenta into a bowl and serve the veggies on top. Sprinkle with remaining goat cheese.

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Sesame Stir Fried Broccoli

I’ve heard some people say they don’t like broccoli because of the way it smells when they boil it. I say don’t boil it at all! A quick sauté in a saucepan is going to give you bright, crisp-tender broccoli that will be far more appetizing than any boiled broccoli mush you’ve eaten in the past.

If you aren’t crazy about how a vegetable (or anything) smells when you are cooking it, one of the best ways to combat it is to cook it with things that smell wonderful. I’ve combined my broccoli with garlic and sesame, both of which smell absolutely divine. Toss in a little crushed red pepper and a splash of soy sauce and you are good to go.

I would put this on a bowl of rice or noodles and call it dinner, but feel free to toss some shrimp, chicken or tofu with it, or just serve it as a veggie side for your favorite main dish.

Sesame Stir Fried Broccoli

Sesame Stir Fried Broccoli

Sesame Stir Fried Broccoli

1-2 heads broccoli, cut into bite size florets (I chop up the stems and include those too)
2 tsp. sesame oil
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. soy sauce
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Heat large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add sesame oil, garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook and stir 30 seconds until fragrant. Add broccoli. Cook, stirring often, over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes, or until broccoli is bright green, tender but still crisp. Toss with soy sauce. Add a bit of salt if needed. Garnish with sesame seeds if desired.

 

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Fruity Salad with Basil Vinaigrette and Roasted Polenta

It’s that time of year again when salad becomes an every other night menu item in my house. This is partially due to the no air conditioning equals minimal cooking policy. And partly because I’m trying to fit into my summer clothes from last year.

In any case, salad doesn’t have to be boring. This one has an easy, bright vinaigrette, fresh fruit and yummy roasted polenta rounds to go with it.

The first time I bought polenta in a tube I was leery to say the least. It’s weird. It doesn’t look appetizing. And good food usually doesn’t come in a tube of any kind. BUT. Polenta is one of those weird foods that you cook and then as it cools it will form whatever shape you happen to put it in. The tubes of polenta generally are minimally processed with no extra ingredients. It’s such a wonderful convenience, especially if you are wanting to fry it up like this. Simply take it out of the tube, slice it up and bake it (or you can pan fry it instead). It’s delicious and soooo easy.

To easily get the seeds out of your pomegranate, score around the center (don’t cut all the way through), pull the two halves apart, turn one half over in your palm and beat on it with a wooden spoon. In about 10-15 seconds, you will have a bowl full of pomegranate seeds. Try not to hit your hand with the spoon. For you visual types, check out this video if you don’t believe me or need to see it before attempting. If you like pomegranates, this will change your life. Seriously.

basilvinaigrettesalad3

Salad with Fresh Basil Vinaigrette and Roasted Polenta

6-8 cups salad greens (I used 1/2 leaf lettuce and 1/2 spinach)
1-2 cups sliced purple cabbage
2 ripe pears, seeded & sliced
1/2 pomegranate
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup walnuts (I lightly toast mine in a skillet but it’s optional)

For the dressing:
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced into thin ribbons or chopped
Salt & pepper

1 tube prepared polenta

Preheat oven to 400˚. Slice polenta in rounds about 1/4 inch thick and spread out on a cookie sheet. Very lightly drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake 20-30 minutes until a lightly browned and a bit crispy on the edges. They will still be tender and chewy in the middle.

Polenta "croutons", disks, rounds...whatever you call them, they are crispy, chewy, wonderful good!

Polenta “croutons”, disks, rounds…whatever you call them, they are crispy, chewy, wonderful good!

In a large salad bowl, combine greens, cabbage, pears and pomegranate.

In a small bowl whisk together dijon, vinegar, salt and pepper. While continuing to whisk, add olive oil very slowly, just a tiny drizzle. Stir in basil, taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Whisk, whisk, whisk to get a dressing that stays together!

Whisk, whisk, whisk!

Add feta, walnuts and dressing to salad bowl and toss gently to combine. Serve with polenta rounds.

If you're going to eat salad, you should definitely eat this one!

If you’re going to eat salad, why not eat this one?

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Pesto Potatoes with Poached Eggs & Spinach

Any meal that is centered around potatoes is going to be a winner in my book. There is no better way to get me to eat a whole bunch of spinach than to pile some wonderful potatoes on top of it.

I’ve been known to make this particular meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner (sometimes more than once in a day if I have leftovers). Not only that but the potatoes used in this regularly show up as a side dish for dinner or breakfast as well.  Now that summer is approaching, I already have one pot of basil growing with more to join it soon, which means pesto in my fridge ALL SUMMER LONG!

If you have your favorite pesto recipe or store brand, feel free to use that. For my fresh basil pesto, click here. Or for something slightly different, try my recipe for hazelnut pesto.

Pesto Potato Masterpiece!

Pesto Potato Masterpiece!

Pesto Potatoes with Poached Eggs & Spinach
(Serves 2-3)

2-3 cups red potatoes, quartered
2-3 tbsp. basil pesto
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Salt & pepper
Eggs (1-2 per person)
3 cups spinach
Handful of kalamata olives, pitted

For sauce:
1 tbsp. mayonnaise (or olive oil if you don’t like it creamy)
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. pesto

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook about 10 minutes until fork tender (but not mushy). Drain potatoes. In a bowl, whisk together 2-3 tbsp. pesto, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt & pepper. Add potatoes and toss to coat.

Divide spinach between two plates.

Spinach

Spinach

 

Top with potatoes.

Then potatoes. Mmm.

Then potatoes. Mmm.

Bring a small pan of water with 1/2 tsp. of vinegar to a boil. Gently break eggs into the pan (1-2 per person). Turn heat down to simmer. Cook 3 minutes until whites are set. Remove with a slotted spoon and lay on top of potatoes.

Perfectly poached eggs on top. If you prefer your eggs a different way, do your own thing here.

Perfectly poached eggs on top. If you prefer your eggs a different way, do your own thing here.

Mix together sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Scatter a few olives on top of the eggs & potatoes. Drizzle everything with sauce, add a grind or two of fresh pepper and eat!

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Spaghetti Squash Gratin

I’m not a squash fan. Or at least, I didn’t use to be. I’ve been gradually teaching myself to like it. The main trick I have learned in teaching myself to like new foods is to start by cooking it in a similar recipe as foods I do like.

I like spaghetti. With red sauce and cheese.  Now I’m not going to tell you that spaghetti squash tastes exactly like spaghetti. It doesn’t really. In fact, it doesn’t really taste like much at all. When you cook it with cheese and spaghetti sauce, mostly what you taste is cheese and spaghetti sauce. But the spaghetti squash has a nice texture (a little firmer than an actual noodle but not that different) and it’s a great conveyance for your favorite flavors.

The star of this dish – for me – was the ricotta topping. It’s hard to feel like you are missing out when you are eating something so rich and creamy. And here’s the kicker. My daughter ate SQUASH and it was all because she loved the ricotta stuff so much. I gave her a tiny spoonful of this dish (I have a rule that you have to at least try everything once) and told her if she hated it she could make herself a sandwich. Normally she hates squash, so this is how I was expecting it to go down. But instead she went back, loaded up her bowl and ate it all. It was some sort of squashy miracle.

One note on cooking the squash: some people cook it whole, some cut it in half. It will cook faster if you cut it in half (in about 45 minutes or so), but wrestling these things into submission when they are raw is not always easy. I found it much easier to break this sucker down when it was cooked and tender, so I left mine whole.

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

Spaghetti Squash Gratin
(from Recipe Sweet)

1 spaghetti squash

Sauce:
1 tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or minced
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes, drained and smooshed with your fingers or coarsely chopped (or you can use diced ones)
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 basil leaves, coarsely chopped or torn

Gratin Topping:
1 (15 oz.) container part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400˚. Poke your squash with a fork or knife a few times and place in the oven whole (I put mine on a pan just in case it leaked some juices). Roast for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until tender. Let it cool just a bit so you can handle it. (You can do this the day before or earlier in the day if time is an issue).

Slice it in half, scoop out the seeds in the middle (discard the seeds), and then using a fork, comb through the squash, creating “spaghetti” strands. Place these in the bottom of your baking dish. Drizzle with just a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Toss a bit with your fingers to combine.

Looks like spaghetti!

Looks like spaghetti!

In a saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil. Add garlic and crushed red pepper.  Cook and stir for a minute. Add tomatoes, salt & pepper, Italian seasoning and wine. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for 15 minutes. Pour over the top of the squash and spread out so all of the squash is covered.

Smother anything in this sauce and it will be good.

Smother anything in this sauce and it will be good.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta, parmesan and seasonings.  Carefully spread ricotta mixture over the top of the red sauce.

Ready to cook!

Ready to cook!

Bake at 400˚ for 40-45 minutes, until lightly browned. Dig in!

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Greek Lamb with Orzo

I’ve been slacking on the blog lately. No good excuse. Life happens, and sometimes the paying work has to come first. But never fear, I’m still around, and still cooking!  This recipe was just too good to keep to myself.

I had actually planned to make something else last night, but when I turned on my oven, the smoke and the smell and the burning happened. And the smoke detector went off and chaos ensued. And then I remembered. Scalloped potatoes happened on Easter. I made a delicious batch but filled the pan a tiny bit too much and it bubbled over and dripped everywhere, doing its best to adhere permanently to my oven. Did I feel like cleaning it right then? Of course not! I left it and promptly forgot it was there…until I tried to cook again.

So. Plan B. I had found this recipe on Food52 and was planning to make it later in the week. But it got moved up in the schedule since it can all be cooked on the stove top.

If you haven’t tried cooking with ground lamb, give this one a go. It’s easy to cook, with delicious, savory, wonderful flavor. And it’s got orzo! Who doesn’t love that? If you have olive and/or feta haters (who ARE those people?) among you, you can serve the olives and feta on the side if you prefer.

Greek Lamb & Orzo

Greek Lamb & Orzo

Greek Lamb with Orzo
(from Food52)

1 pound ground lamb
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, drained and smooshed with your hands (fun!)
14 oz. can of diced tomatoes
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 pound orzo pasta
2 cups chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta

In a Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pan, heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Cook, stirring to break it apart, until it is browned. Remove the lamb with a slotted spoon and drain all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.

Return the pot to the stove top and add the onion and garlic (still over medium-high). Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the spices (cinnamon, oregano, cumin, coriander, and red pepper) and cook until they start smelling extremely toasty and fragrant (1-2 minutes). Then, stir in the smooshed tomatoes.

Cook the smooshed tomatoes in the spices, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Then, add the can of diced tomatoes and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Add the cooked lamb back to the pot, give a good stir, then cover the pot and leave it to cook, stirring from time to time, for 20 minutes. At this point, stir in the fresh spinach and cook just a couple more minutes until the spinach is wilted. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste (keeping in mind you’ll be sprinkling just a touch of feta and olives on, which will add to the saltiness).

While the lamb and tomatoes are simmering together and marrying their flavors, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook until al dente, about 7 or 8 minutes, usually. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.

Drain the orzo. Toss the orzo with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, and all of the parsley, adding a bit of pasta water at a time, if you feel it needs additional liquid.

The yummy orzo before it gets it's coating of lamb and other goodies.

The yummy orzo before it gets its coating of lamb and other goodies.

Spread the orzo out on a large serving platter or bowl. Spoon the lamb and sauce all over the top, then sprinkle with the feta and chopped olives.  Serves 4-6.

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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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