Friday, September 14, 2012

Salsa Chicken

Looking for a versatile, tasty dinner with a Tex-Mex flair? Then look no further. Salsa Chicken has something for everyone: easy prep, hands-off cooking, and at least a dozen ways to serve it. It's also gluten- and dairy-free, if that matters to you and yours. And it's very healthy, as it's loaded with protein and fiber and almost no fat. Best of all, you might even have all the ingredients on hand in your pantry and fridge. My kind of meal!

Let's get started: First, you'll need to get out the crock pot and dust it off. Also, you'll want to give a moment's thought to what you want to serve with this blend of chicken, beans and corn. Try to use something you've got rather than making a special trip to the store. When I made this for dinner, I opted for roasted sweet potatoes and a green salad. At lunch the next day, I enjoyed it on top of rice. I'm thinking it would be terrific wrapped in a tortilla or a crunchy taco shell (and topped with cheese, of course), as a nacho topping, or even reincarnated as a tasty Salsa Chicken Soup, with the addition of some chicken stock and garnished with tortilla strips. You could even serve it on top of a baked potato for a very filling meal.

Here I am making dinner ;)

Salsa Chicken
Serves 4 - 6

2 pounds boneless chicken breasts and/or thighs (I used breasts, cut in half)
1 can kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 jar salsa

Spray your crock pot insert with nonstick spray. Lay the chicken pieces on the bottom of the pot. Place the beans, corn and salsa on top of the chicken. No need to stir. Cover and cook on LOW for 3 - 8 hours. (Timing depends on how hot your crock pot runs. Mine runs VERY HOT so the chicken was done in 2 1/2 hours. You really don't want to overcook chicken in the crock pot. It's horrifyingly dry and dusty tasting if you do. I speak from experience.)

Recipe adapted from "Make it Fast, Cook it Slow" by Stephanie O'Dea

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Frito-Crusted Chicken Fingers

While this meal didn't instantly appeal to me, I decided to give it a try recently because I thought the other three family members would really like it. I've been experimenting with a gluten-free diet for the past few weeks, and this recipe qualified, so I took my chances.

Wow! Not only did the family gobble almost 2 pounds of chicken (unheard of at this house), but the four leftover chicken fingers, when heated briefly in the toaster oven the next night, were as good OR BETTER than the night before.

As always, I served this as the kind of meal where those who wanted healthy could veer that way (two of us had the fingers on top of a green salad) and those who wanted a Chick-Fil-A experience could have it with fries and ketchup (that would be the guys).

Frito-Crusted Chicken Fingers
Serves 4

1 bag Fritos corn chips (6 cups), crushed
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 - 2 pounds chicken tenders
1/4 cup Ranch dressing (light is fine)
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1/4 cup hot salsa

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray.

Place the corn chips in an aluminum pan or large plate. Season with a pinch of salt and a nice grind of pepper.

Place the beaten eggs in another aluminum pan or bowl.

Dip each chicken finger first in the crumbs, then in the egg, then in the crumbs again. Lie on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the fingers for about 18 minutes, or until cooked throughout.

While the fingers are baking, combine the Ranch, barbecue sauce and salsa. Use this as a dip. Serve the fingers with fries, salad or whatever floats your boat.

Recipe adapted from "Cooking for Isaiah" by Silvana Nardone.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nut-free pesto

There's no better use for fresh basil than basil pesto, IMO. We love pesto around here; my daughter's been eating it on pasta since she was a little girl. I like it on pizza, drizzled on sliced ripe tomatoes, on a cracker with a smidge of goat cheese, and sometimes, right off the spoon.

Today when I went to make pesto, I discovered I was out of nuts. But I did have sunflower seeds, so I took a leap of faith (despite my daughter's disapproving look) and used them instead of pine nuts. And guess what? We LOVED this pesto. I think this will be great for my nut-free clients as well. We decided to make pesto pizza; here's my pesto-lover wrestling with the dough:

Nut-Free Pesto
Makes about 1 cup

1/4 cup olive oil, plus about 2 T. more
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 T. sunflower seeds
1 - 2 cloves garlic
about 40 leaves fresh basil
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper

Place 1/4 cup oil, cheese, seeds, garlic and basil in bowl of small food processor or Vitamix. Process until roughly chopped. Drizzle in a little more oil until the pesto is the consistency you desire. Taste and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pesto will keep in the fridge for several days and the freezer for a few months.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Creamy Pasta with Grilled Vegetables

What's your definition of a perfect dinner? Mine usually involves a lean protein and lots of fresh vegetables, carefully prepared and beautifully presented. However, there's no denying my pasta cravings, which kick in more often than I'd like. After spotting a recipe for Herbed Ricotta Pasta with Corn and Zucchini in Everyday Food, my pasta craving couldn't be ignored any longer.

I switched things up a bit by using goat cheese in place of the ricotta. I'd choose goat's tangy flavor to boring ricotta any day. I also decided to make it easy (and flavorful) and grill both the corn and the zucchini. I loved every creamy, starchy bite of this bowl of pasta - I hope you do, too.

Here's my version of the recipe:

Creamy Pasta with Grilled Vegetables

Serves 4

2 large zucchini, ends trimmed and quartered lengthwise
3 ears of corn, shucked
drizzle Wegman's basting oil (or olive oil)
salt and pepper
10 - 14 ounces campanelle pasta
1 container Chavrie soft goat cheese
fresh basil, chopped
grated Parmesan cheese, optional
Toss zucchini and corn with oil, salt and pepper.

Grill vegetables over medium heat for a few minutes each side, or until lightly charred. When cool enough to handle, chop zucchini into large bite-size pieces and cut the corn off the cobs.

Meanwhile, cook pasta as directed and drain, reserving at least 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water.

In a bowl, whisk together the pasta cooking water and the goat cheese. Add the cooked pasta and vegetables. Toss to combine. Add basil. Taste and add salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Find the original recipe on page 78 of the June 2012 issue of Everyday Food

Monday, May 21, 2012


Whenever I see fajitas on a menu, I order them. It's a safe choice for someone (me) who doesn't like to quiz the server about every ingredient in a dish. Actually, I don't mind quizzing the server, but my husband has to take a deep breath and go to his happy place when I start my order.

Server: "Do you know what you'd like?"

Me: "Can you describe the specials again?"

Server describes the specials.

Me: "Hmmm. What do you recommend?"

Server: "The (gross fried cheesy dish) is AWESOME!"

Me: "I'd like something healthier...."

Dear Husband shares a sympathetic look with server, who then recommends something I don't want.

Me: "Hmm. You know what, I'll have the chicken fajitas."

Fajitas are a safe dish because they are deconstructed -- all the parts are separate, so you can decide what to put on your dish. I 86 the dairy (sour cream and cheese) and focus on the protein and vegetables, and I'm a happy camper. And so are DH and the server.

Making fajitas at home is actually easier than going to a restaurant with me. Don't tell my husband!

Chicken and Steak Fajitas

Serves 4 - 8

1 pound flank steak
1 pound chicken breast
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cumin
3/4 tablespoon chili powder
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion -- cut in strips
1 green bell pepper -- cut in strips
1 red bell pepper -- cut in strips
pinch Penzey's southwest seasoning
8 fajita tortillas
Optional toppings: reduced-fat sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, guacamole or avocado, wedges of lime

Combine coriander, cumin, chili powder and a pinch of salt and pepper and rub onto both sides of meat and chicken. Drizzle with 2 T. olive oil and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Place onion and peppers on baking sheet and toss with remaining 2 T. olive oil. Season with southwest seasoning. Roast in 425 oven for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are getting charred around the edges. Set aside.

Preheat grill to medium. Grill steak and chicken for 4 - 6 minutes on each side or until done to your liking. Let meat rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing thinly against the grain. Divide onions and peppers in half. Toss half with the chicken and half with the steak.

Serve the chicken and steak fajitas along with any toppings you like.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Sauteed Kale with Carrots and Walnuts

After scoring a case (that's 18 bunches) of kale yesterday for $12, I got busy making some of our favorite kale dishes. After washing and stemming a bit of it, I decided to roast some kale and make this tried-and-true side dish with another. Now what to do with the remaining 16 bunches...

Stir-Fried Kale with Carrots and Walnuts

Serves 3 - 4

Adapted from Greens, Glorious Greens

handful of chopped walnuts
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
1 bunch kale, washed and stemmed, coarsely chopped
optional: chopped ginger and garlic to taste
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
2 handfuls of chopped or shredded carrots
2 - 4 Tablespoons water or broth
coarse sea salt

In a large skillet, toast the walnuts over medium heat for a minute or so, until they begin to darken slightly and have a toasty aroma. Remove the nuts from the skillet and set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in the same skillet. Add the ginger and garlic (if using) and saute for 10 - 20 seconds, until fragrant. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and carrots and saute for 1 minute.

Finally, add the chopped kale to the skillet and toss to coat with the oil. Cover and cook for 30 seconds. Uncover, toss again, and cover again. Let cook another minute or so. Uncover again. If the kale seems to be too dry, or is in danger of burning, add a bit of water or broth. By now, the kale should be tender and bright green. You can set it aside, covered, while you prepare the rest of dinner, or dig in now.

Before serving, sprinkle the walnuts on top and season the kale with coarse sea salt.

(Three of us ate the entire batch with dinner last night. Picky Teenage son abstained. Can you imagine?)

Friday, April 27, 2012


That's us - me and my husband Steve, in NYC!

I promised an update on our Clean Eating, and I had a bit of a challenge this past week, as I traveled to New York for the Edgar Awards (my husband's book was nominated for "Best First Novel"). I was prepared in that I packed some shelf-stable healthy snacks such as almonds, dry cereal, bananas, peanut butter and grape tomatoes. I also carried an insulated lunch bag down with me that had my lunch, fruit and cheese in it.

In a nutshell, it was very easy to maintain my clean eating while I traveled, because I could carry food and drinks with me and I was in Manhattan, which is a very forward-thinking place when it comes to healthy food choices.

Breakfast turned out to be easy. Our hotel offered oatmeal as well as hard-boiled eggs and fruit at breakfast - I was delighted. My delight turned to angst when I saw the breakfast bill - about $90 for both of us! The second morning, I ate from my larder - an Ezekial English muffin, some peanut butter and a Svelte protein drink. It worked for me, and was about $87 less expensive than the day before. Unfortunately, my husband got two Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast. And was proud of it. Sigh.

We only had one lunch in New York, and we chose Pret a Manger, a restaurant we were familiar with from traveling in Europe. Lentil soup, a salad with chicken and avocado, and a liter of water hit the spot.

We had two dinners; one was at a terrific restaurant called Novita. The salads were large and fresh, and the seafood was perfectly prepared. The second dinner was at the banquet; I opted for the vegetarian plate rather than the short rib Wellington, which was a perfect choice for me.

The most amazing thing about eating so well was how much energy I had during the trip, and how I felt about myself. I swear my skin and hair do look better than they did a couple of weeks ago, and I credit clean eating.

Now that I'm home, I'll work to get the family back on track. Tonight I made fillet of sole, pasta with marinara sauce, and steamed asparagus and cauliflower for dinner. Tomorrow my daughter and I will go for a run in preparation for the 5K we are running on May 5, and make a stop at Whole Foods for a few provisions. It's good to be back, and feeling great.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Eating Clean

Although I am supposedly the "expert" when it comes to cooking, occasionally I get inspiration from my clients. Two of my clients are into eating clean. One is a busy mother of three who eats clean when she can. She flagged a few recipes in Clean Eating magazine for me to make for her, and they were good. This was my introduction to the term "clean eating/eating clean."

My other clean-eating client is a serious body builder who's all muscle. He doesn't touch gluten, alcohol or fatty meats. My assistant and I have been making most of his meals for the past few months, and he recently told me we've changed his life. His headaches are gone, his body fat is down, and his strength is soaring. Wow!

After hearing that, I decided to do a little more research into the topic, and what I've read makes a lot of sense.

The basic advice*:

1. Drink lots of water (8 cups or more per day)

2. Eat whole foods (fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains).

3. Eat sensible/small portions of these foods every few hours.

4. Include healthy fats in your meals.

5. Avoid white flour, white sugar, artificial sweeteners, over-processed, preservative-laden foods and other "junk food."

6. Avoid or limit alcohol.

* adapted from The Eat Clean Diet, Recharged by Tosca Reno

According to the proponents of this way of eating (as well as a couple of personal trainers I know), 75% - 80% of your appearance is directly related to what you put into your body. The remaining 20% - 25% is genetics and exercise. Think about it. You can look and feel better just by drinking more water, cutting out processed foods and being a little more mindful of what you buy and eat. I'm in!

The bowlful of berries was part of my attempt to encourage my family to eat better. Rather than buy the berries and let them sit in the fruit drawer until someone discovered them, I washed and dried them and put them in a bowl. Guess what? They were gone within hours. We all had them for dessert last night, and today my son told me he snuck down during the night for a second helping. My husband scarfed the remainder with his Greek yogurt at breakfast.

Are you a clean eater? Tell me about it, and I'll keep you posted on how we're doing.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hash Brown Vegetable Quiche

I've prepared many a quiche for my family (and a couple of my clients as well), but I don't ever eat it because it's usually loaded with cream and cheese, two ingredients that don't agree with me. I stumbled upon a recipe without cream in a recent issue of Vegetarian Times, and knew I could adapt it for my lactose-free lifestyle. I've also been curious about using shredded potatoes as a quiche crust - not a new idea, but one I'd never tried. So I took both ideas and created one very tasty quiche!

Notes about serving and making: I would happily eat this any time of the day (as a matter of fact, I have); it reheats wonderfully in the oven or the microwave. Any combination of lightly sauteed or steamed vegetables would work in this. Next time I'm going to try broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes. If you are not dairy-free, ignore my notes about dairy- and lactose-free cheeses and use whatever kind you like.

Hash Brown Vegetable Quiche

Makes 1 quiche

1 bag of Alexia frozen shredded hashed brown potatoes, thawed
4 T. Earth Balance or butter, melted
2 t. oil - coconut or olive recommended
1 small onion, peeled, halved and sliced very thin
1 small bulb fennel, top and bottom trimmed, sliced very thin
salt and pepper to taste
1 small jar roasted red peppers, drained, patted dry and chopped
a pinch of dried basil (fresh would be even better!)
6 large eggs
1 cup Lactaid cottage cheese
1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar, dairy-free if need be
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease a deep pie dish.

2. In a large bowl, combine the hash browns with the melted butter. Press into the prepared pie dish to form a crust. Bake at 450 degrees for 35 minutes, or until the edges are brown and crispy and the center is beginning to get light brown. Remove from oven and reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.

3. While the crust is baking, heat the oil in a medium saute pan. Saute the onion and fennel until softened. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in the roasted red peppers and basil. Set aside to cool a bit.

4. Also while the crust is baking, combine the eggs, all cheeses, and salt and pepper in a blender. Mix until smooth.

5. When the crust is done cooking, remove it from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. (I know I said that twice. It's important.)

6. Pour the sauteed vegetable mixture into the crust and spread it around so it covers the bottom of the crust. Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the vegetables. Bake (at 350!) for 35 - 45 minutes, or until eggs are completely set in the middle (no jiggling) and top is nice and light brown.

7. Let cool at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Slow Cooked Peanutty Chicken

After getting home from a monster cook date (six different entrees, six servings of each, plus side dishes), I was short on both cooking mojo and time before I had to pick up the kids at school. What I did have was a package of chicken breasts, a hankering for peanut butter, and my trusty slow cooker.

If you've ever read this blog before, you'll know that my slow cooker is actually a fast cooker. Aside from the fact that it cooks everything in half the time it should, I love the slow cooker because it's pretty hands off, which is great when you have to drive 30 minutes each way to get your kids, or are sick of standing at the stove all day and it's not even dinner time yet. Guilty on both counts.

Because of my experience with this "slow" cooker, I knew for a fact that my boneless breasts would be cooked within 2 1/2 hours. Even 5 minutes longer turns them into dry, dusty throat-cloggers. Your crock pot/slow cooker may be different; all I can suggest is that you use it (a lot) until you figure out exactly what timing works for you.

This recipe can be doubled or tripled, and will fill the crockpot better if it is. If you don't have/can't find ginger and garlic in the tubes, substitute about 1 T. of fresh ginger and garlic for each "squeeze" I call for.

Slow Cooked Peanutty Chicken
Serves 3 - 4

nonstick cooking spray
1/3 cup peanut butter
3 T. low-sodium tamari (soy) sauce
1 squeeze of fresh ginger from the tube
1 squeeze of garlic from the tube
1 squeeze of Sriracha or other hot sauce (or crushed red pepper flakes)
about 1/4 cup of low-sodium chicken broth
1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

Spray the crockpot with nonstick spray. Turn to LOW.

Combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, hot sauce and broth in the crockpot and whisk to combine. Place the chicken breasts in the pot and use a spatula to coat them with the sauce. Cover and cook for 2 1/2 hours (or longer), or until chicken is cooked through. You will definitely have to stir this once or twice while cooking to make sure the sauce doesn't burn on the bottom of the crock pot, if yours is as hot as mine. :)

Serve with wedge of lime, a grain (I went with quinoa) and vegetable (I went with baby spinach, julienned and stirred into the quinoa) for a very delicious dinner.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Simply Delicious Cheesecake

After having all four of his wisdom teeth pulled, my son had one request - cheesecake. I promised him I'd make him one. That was seven months ago. Poor neglected guy. At least I am not posting the picture I took of him in the recovery room, so I do have some feelings for the lad.

Last week, a client asked me to make a gluten-free cheesecake. After successfully doing that, I whipped up a traditional cheesecake for my family - it's simple and straightforward, and like most recipes that are simple and straightforward, it's quite delicious.

The recipe is based one I found in Fine Cooking, and is pretty fool-proof. The only hard part was lugging out the food processor to chop the graham crackers and then the Kitchen Aid mixer to mix the filling. So you actually get a workout while making the cake, which completely justifies the eating of the cake later. :) Enjoy.

Simply Delicious Cheesecake

Makes one, 9-inch cheesecake

8 ounces of graham crackers, finely crushed
3 T. sugar
5 T. melted butter
3 8-ounce packages Philadelphia Cream Cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 T. flour
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

Position rack in center of oven and heat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray.

In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and 3 T. sugar. Mix in the melted butter until the crumbs are evenly moist and clump together slightly. Transfer the mixture to the springform pan and press evenly onto the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of the pan (I wore a disposable plastic glove to do this). Bake until the crust is fragrant and slightly darkened, 9 to 12 minutes. Let the pan cool on a rack. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, sour cream, flour, and a pinch of table salt on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle frequently, until very smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Make sure the cheese has no lumps. Add the 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar and continue beating until well blended and smooth.

Add the vanilla and beat until blended, about 30 seconds. Add the eggs one at a time, beating just until blended. (Don’t overbeat once the eggs have been added or the cheesecake will puff too much and crack as it cools.) Pour the filling into the cooled crust and smooth the top.

Bake at 300°F until the center jiggles like Jell-O when nudged, 55 to 65 minutes. The cake will be slightly puffed around the edges, and the center will still look moist. Set on a rack and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

Unclasp and remove the side of the springform pan and run a long, thin metal spatula under the bottom crust of the cheesecake. Carefully slide the cake onto a flat serving plate.

To cut, run a thin knife under hot water, wipe it dry, and cut the cake into slices, heating and wiping the knife after every slice.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Spaghetti and Wheatballs

Although I lead a very ordinary life, sometimes the accumulation of daily events makes me want to pack a bag and head to a tropical island. Alone. Yesterday was one of those days.

When dinner time rolled around, I was ready to kick back and enjoy a quiet evening without the kids. But faster than you could say, "Ski club's been cancelled," I had a houseful of hungry peeps and no plan. I offered up Meatball Subs* to the masses - they've never turned them down and I knew I could pull them off with little effort. Now what to feed the vegetarian? My little friend asked if I could make a "meatball" out of chick peas, one of her favorite legumes. My body (silently) screamed "no" but my racing heart (thank you Starbucks) said, "sure."

I'm glad I took on the challenge, because we absolutely loved these 'Wheatballs,' which came together in no time and baked up crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I'm new to vital wheat gluten, an ingredient used in some vegetarian recipes to provide a meaty texture. I've used it in Black Bean Burgers and tonight's Wheatballs. It seems that the key to success is kneading the mixture well, forming a small burger or ball, and baking or sauteeing until most of the moisture has cooked off.

To ensure the Wheatballs tasted Italian and not like they belonged in a falafel wrap, I seasoned them with Parmesan cheese, Italian-style breadcrumbs and Italian seasoning. If the leftovers are just as tasty, I will consider postponing my tropical vacation for a while.

*Meatball Sub recipe will be shared in a future post - it's embarrassingly simple.

Makes about 20 little balls

1 15-ounce can of chick peas, drained and rinsed
2 T. olive oil, plus more for baking
1/4 cup Italian-style breadcrumbs
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
2 T. grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, pressed
splash of soy sauce (optional)
pinch each of Italian seasoning, salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Pour the drained chick peas into a 9x9 glass baking dish and mash with a potato masher until broken up (no whole chick peas remain). Add 1 - 2 T. oil and mash until the oil is incorporated into the chick peas. Stir in remaining ingredients, using a spoon, spatula or your hands. Begin kneading the mixture to form a thick "dough". If it is very dry, drizzle some warm water on it. Knead the mixture for a minute or two, until everything is combined and the "dough" feels well mixed. Taste a little bit at this point - if you think it's bland, add more garlic, seasonings or even lemon zest or juice.

Form the dough into walnut-size (or smaller) balls and place on oiled baking sheet. Drizzle with a little more oil and roll them all around to coat. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and turn the balls over. Bake for 15 more minutes, or until the balls are medium brown and not mushy. Serve with your favorite marinara sauce.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Easy Weeknight Dinners

The good life continues, with lots of great vegetarian meals at our house. We tried pierogis (the kids had never had them before) on Monday, along with a spinach salad; we all enjoyed Five-Treasure Fried Rice, sans Canadian bacon and with a side of broccoli on Tuesday; and last night the ladies dined on Spaghetti Squash with Marinara and leftover broccoli.

I have tried various methods for cooking spaghetti squash, and last night's was the easiest. I poked the squash with a paring knife all over, to help steam escape, microwaved it (whole) for 5 minutes, and then baked it (whole) in a glass dish at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. (If you aren't in a hurry, you can bake it an hour or so and skip the microwave.)

By then, the sides were beginning to cave in and a fork inserted into the squash indicated it was tender. I cut it in half and scooped out the seeds and strings from the middle (trash or compost them), and then scraped the remaining strands back into the glass baking dish - fewer dishes to wash. **Warning: I seem to have burn-proof hands, so handling the hot squash was no big deal. Mere mortals might want to wait 10 minutes or so, or handle the squash with pot holders. Don't say I didn't warn you.**

I drizzled a little bit of Wegmans Basting Oil on the squash strands and sprinkled with some sea salt. Since it was a weeknight, and as mentioned above, I was in a hurry, I used the Silver Palate San Marzano Marinara, a new discovery I made after clipping a coupon and finding it on sale at the store. It was very tasty and has no added sugar, nor any big pieces of tomato, meaning my kids will eat it.

My newest source of inspiration is Veganomicon, a really great vegan cookbook. I'm trying out a few recipes over the next week or so - they won't be as easy as this week's, but I think will be worth the effort. Look for reviews (and pictures) soon!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Accidental Vegetarian

Exactly two weeks ago, my 14-year-old DD announced she was converting to vegetarianism. That was fine with me, because I think it's a pretty healthy way to eat. Funny thing is, I ended up liking what she was eating so much that I, too, haven't had any meat/fish/poultry in the past two weeks. I didn't see that coming!

The first week, her meals were adaptations of the rest of the family's. For instance, if the guys were having hamburgers, my daughter and I had veggie burgers, and we all ate the same side dishes (salad and waffle fries). When I made meat sauce for pasta, I left some sauce meatless. Pepperoni calzones were easy to adapt - no pepperoni for the girls, soy cheese for me, regular cheese and 'roni for the guys. We always have loads of steamed vegetables, salad and beans to round out the meals. Nothing fancy, but definitely nutritious and easy.

Week 2 arrived, and I was starting to get bored, so I bought a copy of Vegetarian Times. Inspiration hit and I made Cheesy Cauliflower and Tomato and Fennel Soup from the magazine, and created my own Quinoa-Vegetable dish, Tofu-Mushroom-Spinach Stroganoff and Refried Bean Tacos. Of course we had pasta one night, and pizza on Friday. Those two favorite meals are very easy to adapt to please both vegetarians and meat-eaters.

Yesterday, I picked up a couple of vegetarian cookbooks at the library and am overflowing with ideas for the coming weeks. From the Joy of Cooking's All About Vegetarian Cooking cookbook, I've already made a double batch of vegetable stock to use for soups and other dishes, and have put Kasha Varnishkes, Couscous with Chick Peas, and Stir-Fried Vegetables with Lentils on my "to try" list. We just dined on Falafel sandwiches, couscous salad and red grapes for lunch. Since my muse is going out with her friends tonight, I will probably have the leftovers for dinner.

As we enter the third week of her vegetarian diet, I have never felt better, or eaten more produce, in my life. Who says you can't learn a thing or two from your children?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Poached Etruscan Salmon

This amazing dinner had one of us licking her plate clean (I'm not going to say which one), while the other two family members were showering her with compliments about the meal. Picky Teenage Son was at work, which was just as well as he does not enjoy seafood.

The recipe (and the photo above) come directly from the Wegmans website, which I have found to be a very reliable recipe source. If you're not watching your carbs, serve with bread or a little pasta or rice to soak up the scrumptious sauce.

BTW, as far as using a "braising pan:" a 4- or 5-quart straight-sided skillet with a lid that holds the fish without crowding or a Dutch oven would do the trick.

Poached Etruscan Salmon

Serves: 4
Active Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 30 mins


2 Tbsp Wegmans Basting Oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons finely diced shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 1/2 cups Kitchen Basics Seafood Stock
1 cup Italian Classics Grandma's Pomodoro Sauce
1 Tbsp capers, drained
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced
1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
4 salmon fillets (about 6 oz each), skinned
Salt and pepper


Heat basting oil in braising pan on MEDIUM-HIGH. Add shallots and garlic; cook, stirring, about 1 min, until soft but not browned. Add wine and crushed red pepper; cook 3-5 min until liquid is reduced to one-third. Add seafood stock, pomodoro sauce, capers, olives, and rosemary; heat to 170-degree simmer. Reduce heat to MEDIUM-LOW; simmer 5 min to combine flavors.

Season salmon with salt and pepper; place, skinned side up, in pan. Return to 170 degree simmer. Cover; poach 5 min. Turn salmon over; poach, covered, 5-7 min, until internal temp reaches 130 degrees (check by inserting thermometer into thickest part of salmon).

Remove pan from heat; let rest at least 2 min.

Calories: 480
Nutrition Info: Each serving (1 salmon portion , 3/4 cup sauce) contains 480 calories, 8 g carbohydrate, (2 g fiber), 41 g protein, 27 g fat, (4 g saturated fat), 110 mg cholesterol, 1750 mg omega-3 fats, and 730 mg sodium.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Just cook!

Today's post is brought to you by your refrigerator. And your grandmother (or great-grandmother, depending on your age).

Your refrigerator would like you to use up its contents before you open another cook book, watch another cooking show, or print out another recipe from the computer.

And your grandmother would like you to put down the cookbook and cook from the heart. Make something you like, without a recipe, and without making another trip to the supermarket. Like grandma, use the contents of your "icebox" and pantry to create soups, pasta and bean dishes, stir-fries and other simple family fare with little waste and no added expense. If you can boil water, turn on the broiler and chop a vegetable, you've got the skills necessary to make something edible.

Sometimes in my house I ask a family member to name three ingredients from our pantry and fridge, and I make a meal from those. It might be a pasta dish, a soup, a big salad or some grilled meat. I season according to what I know we like (not too spicy), cook in healthy method, and dinner's ready.

In the new year, please JUST COOK. You don't have to be Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray or Bobby Flay - be yourself and create food you'd like to eat. It's that simple. And you'll make grandma very, very proud.