A Tale of Two Salads

I feel like it is hard to find really interesting salads that double as sides, not to mention filling and healthy. I came across two this month in two of my regular food magazine reads. One is made with quinoa, which is a grain dubbed the "super food" because it not only has fiber but is full of protein. It is a great alternative to pasta for those that can not eat gluten and perfect for vegans. I had never tried it before and I was impressed, my expectation of something so healthy was low. The other salad is made with honest to goodness rice and both salads have tons of fresh healthy ingredients mixed in. So I guess the point of this post is flavor and healthy ingredients combine to make two delicious salads that can be a staple in your kitchens this summer. And bonus is that you can make them in advance and they are great as leftovers (maybe even better the next day).

Southwest Rice and Corn Salad with Lime Dressing
Adapted from bon appetit May 2010
makes 8 side servings

1 cup long-grain white rice (you could also use brown)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (It was published using lemon juice, but I used lime because I prefer it, use what you love!)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels (about 2 ears)
1 cup chopped fresh poblano chile's or green pepper (about 1 pepper)
1 cup diced seeded yellow bell pepper (about 1 pepper)
1 cup 1/2 inch cubes yellow zucchini (about 1 zucchini)
1 avocado, halved, peeled and diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions (about 5)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 jalapeno, seeded, cored and finely diced (add if you like a little more heat)
1 tablespoon green Tabasco (It is my secret ingredient and makes everything taste a little bit better :)

Cook rice according to package instructions until just tender. Drain and rinse in cold water. Drain again. Or if you have some time, spread on a baking sheet and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk lime juice, 3 tablespoons of the oil, and Tabasco (if using) in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add avocado, green onion, cilantro, and jalapeno (if using) to dressing. Toss so avocado is covered with dressing and does not brown.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add corn, poblanos, yellow bell pepper, and zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until vegetables are just tender, 6 to 7 minutes; scrape into the large bowl. Add rice to the bowl and toss everything together. Season with salt and pepper.

Sante Fe Quinoa Salad
Adapted from Food & Wine May 2010
serves 4

3/4 cup quinoa (can be found in same aisle as the rice and grains)
1 1/2 cups water
Kosher Salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
6 tablespoons olive oil (I did not end up using this much oil, 4 would do it)
freshly ground pepper
One 15oz can of black beans, rinsed
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
One 3 oz jar of cocktail onions, drained, finely chopped (I know it seems strange, but it is amazing)

In a medium saucepan, combine the quinoa, water and a pinch of salt; bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Spread quinoa on a baking sheet and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the lime juice, cumin, oil,and a good pinch of both salt and pepper. Pour the dressing into a large bowl, add the black beans, bell pepper, cilantro and cocktail onions. Scrape the quinoa into the bowl and toss everything to coat, seasoning with additional salt and pepper to taste.

I added a little more lime to taste and green Tabasco to give it a little kick.



Pantry Raid - Spaghetti All'Amatriciana with Chicken

I find myself many nights not wanting to plan a meal, go to the market and come back to follow instructions. Problem is, I think it is hard for anyone to look at your current stock of food and come up with something delicious and satisfying. I decided to give it a go having on hand the below ingredients. This style of pasta can be found in most Italian restaurants and the richness of the tomato sauce is delicious. Plus, there is bacon in it so you know it is salty and comforting. Even with the bacon, though, this is a healthy dinner anyone is going to love. If you do not have chicken on hand, you could use a lot of different proteins. Thawed frozen shrimp. Sliced Italian sausage. Take a look in your fridge and toss in whatever feels right and will go with this tasty pasta.

Spaghetti All'Amatriciana with Chicken

Forks & Amusement 2010
serves 2 very hungry people

3 slices of bacon or pancetta, diced
1/2 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (use more of if you like more heat)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup dry white wine
28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 cooked chicken breasts, meat shredded (leftover or cook using the methods in this post)
16 oz or spaghetti or about 1/4 of the box
Parmesan cheese, grated

Place large pot of water on the stove, bring to a boil, add salt to the water and cook pasta according to the package until al dente. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, place large skillet over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook until crisp, but not burnt and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Remove skillet from heat and remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Return to stove and place over medium high heat. Add the onion and crushed red pepper. Cook until onion starts to slightly brown, add the garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant. Add the wine and turn stove to high. Simmer until most of the wine is cooked off and reduced, scraping the pan of any browned bits. Add the tomatoes and season with generous amount of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer over high heat until mixture is very thick, about 10-12 minutes. Add in the chicken and allow to simmer an additional 5 minutes. Finally, add in the pasta and cook for about 2 minutes until the pasta is well coated with the sauce. Toss in the bacon. Serve in heaping mounds with a very generous amount of Parmesan cheese.



Pizza for Everyone!

Tomato & Basil

Artichoke, Caramelized Onions & Prosciutto

BBQ Chicken

Pizzas on the grill have always sounded so amazing to me and last night I took the plunge. It required hardly any cooking, just some prep work and a hot grill. With a little help from my mom and husband, we figured it out and it was delicious. We made the three varieties above and really you could make this any way you would like. I bought the pizza dough from Trader Joe's, but you could certainly make your own or pick up some from your local pizza place. Everything I used for the pizzas was store bought, except for the caramelized onions, which you can get the recipe for here. I would absolutely make this again and it was a blast to prepare. At one point dough was spinning in the air and someone was using a fake Italian accent, brilliant.

Grilled Pizza
Forks & Amusement 2010

For the Crust:
Pizza dough (from scratch or store bought), at room temperature
Olive Oil
Optional: Pizza Peel

Preheat grill to high heat. Place pizza dough on a well floured surface, sprinkle top with more flour and roll out until 1/4 inch thick. You can use your hands, a rolling pin, anything you would like. If the dough is not stretching, add more flour and pick up with both hands. Work dough in a circular motion all the way around using gravity to stretch it. This process was not easy, but keep at it and add more flour as needed. Once dough is 1/4 inch thick, transfer to floured pizza peel or any serving tray big enough and brush top with olive oil.

Brush grill with olive oil, then flip crust onto the grill, oiled side down. Brush top with olive oil now. Allow crust to cook until it is set enough to flip over, about 2-5 minutes depending on the size of your pizza. Carefully flip over the crust using tongs/spatula/pizza peel/all of the above! Top pizza with desired toppings (some ideas below) and place cover over grill. Cook until crust is set and toppings are warmed, cheese is melted if using, about 5 minutes. Eat as soon as cooled!

For the Toppings:
Use whatever you would like! This is a great way to run through some of those items in your fridge or pantry that you want to try or eat! Pasta sauce, sun dried tomatoes, pears, brie, sliced turkey, bacon, zucchini, yada, yada, yada!

Here is what I used for my three pizzas

Tomato & Basil: jarred pizza sauce, freshly chopped basil, shredded mozzarella

Artichoke, Caramelized Onion & Prosciutto: jarred artichoke spread, caramelized onions, prosciutto (my fave of the 3)
BBQ Chicken: BBQ sauce, shredded rotisserie chicken, shredded Monterrey jack and cheddar cheese, cilantro

I hope you play with this and make it your own. So yummy and a great meal to enjoy outdoors with a salad and a glass of wine.



It's time to break out the grill!

Spring has officially arrived and I love seeing some of the new produce at the market and throwing everything possible on the grill. I also am a recipient of a new rice cooker, which I splurged on during my latest trip to Williams-Sonoma. This dinner includes the grill, my rice cooker and every one's spring fave, asparagus. You certainly do not need to use a rice cooker to cook your rice, but if you are looking for a fool proof one, I got the Panasonic model that they sell at WS. It took a long time to cook brown rice, but it was perfect when it was done. Best of all, you can make it during the day and it will keep it warm for you. Genius!

Grilled Cod with Soy, with Grilled Asparagus and Fried Rice
Forks & Amusement 2010
serves 2 very hungry people

Ingredients for the Fish:
1 lb fresh Cod or any firm white fish
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
salt & pepper
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

For the Asparagus:
1 bunch of fresh asparagus, chop off the woody ends
olive oil
salt and pepper

For the Fried Rice:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
4 oz shitake mushrooms (you can use whatever mushroom you prefer), roughly chopped
3 cups, cooked rice (you can cook on the stove, in rice cooker or even use leftover rice from take out!)
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic chili paste (can be found in Asian food section, a great condiment for any Asian dish)
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 scallion, finely diced

Whisk together all of the ingredients in a bowl except for the fish. Place fish in a resealable plastic bag and pour the marinade over the fish. Allow to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Place asparagus in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss until coated.

Place a large saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once pan is hot, add the onion and stir to coat with the oil. Cook 2 minutes until starting to become translucent, add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine and cook until onions are translucent and mushrooms are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the cooked rice, continue to stir and cook until rice is coated with vegetables and heated through. Add the soy and chili sauce, stir to combine. Remove rice from heat. Top with the drizzle of sesame oil and scallions. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Heat your grill to medium heat. Place the asparagus next to the heat source piled on top of each other. Place the fish on the heat source, skin side down for 5 minutes. Continue to mix the asparagus around every 1 or so to allow it to steam a bit, close lid in between turns. Flip fish and cook an additional 3-5 minutes or until fish is cooked through. Meanwhile spread asparagus out on grill and "char" for 5 minutes until slightly browned. Remove fish and asparagus from grill. Serve immediately with fried rice.



Mexican Lasagna

This is a super easy recipe that was once enjoyed by my roommate and is now adored by my husband. This is not a show stopper for a fancy dinner party, but a great casual dinner. Every time I make it someone wants the recipe or wants to come back for more. The picture does not do it it justice. Think of it as a lovely lasagna that does not photograph well. This is also healthy, so eat as much as you would like!

Mexican Lasagna
Forks & Amusement 2010
serves 4+
There are 5 layering components, I have separated them out and then we will talk assembly at the end

Meat Mixture
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of mushrooms, diced
1.25 lbs. ground turkey (you can use any ground meat you prefer)
1 tablespoon cumin
2 dashes cayenne
salt and pepper

In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat the olive oil and add the onion. Cook for 2 minutes and add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt & pepper, stirring to coat with the oil. Cook an additional 5 minutes and add the garlic making sure the pan is not too hot to burn it (then turn it down!), stirring occasionally and combining. Once the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are cooked, add the turkey, breaking it up and combining with the other ingredients with a wooden spoon. Add the cumin and cayenne, sprinkle with more salt and pepper, continue to stir and break up meat. Cook until meat is cooked through. Set aside to cool.

Sour Cream Mixture
16 oz 2% cottage cheese
1/2 cup light sour cream
juice of 1/2 of lime
1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Set aside

Other components:
7 oz. or 1 3/4 cup grated cheese (I use the Mexican mix at the market, cheddar and Monterrey jack, reduced fat)
9-12 soft tortillas
1 1/2 cups salsa or your choice (I use my cilantro sauce from this post)

Assembly & Cooking
Preheat oven at 375 degrees. Spray a standard lasagna pan (usually around 14"x 11") with cooking spray. Layer 3 tortillas on the bottom of the pan. Lay two down, rip the other in half and fill the space. Spread 1/3 of the sour cream mixture onto the tortillas. Sprinkle 1/2 of the meat mixture on top of that. Next sprinkle 1/3 of the grated cheese on top of the meat. Last, drizzle with 1/3 of the salsa. Repeat starting with the tortillas, then the sour cream, meat, grated cheese, and salsa. Top with 3 more tortillas, spread the rest of the sour cream mixture on top, sprinkle the last of the grated cheese and drizzle the last of the salsa. Note that nothing has to look perfect or be done perfectly! Bake for 45 minutes until warmed through and bubbling.


Love and Cheesecake

My very talented and amazing uncle sent me this recipe for Valentine's Day, but I have just gotten around to trying it. Since I gave up sweets for Lent, this was the perfect way to get back on the dessert train. My uncle has been making this for 20+ years and swears by it. He and my mother love to cook together and some of my favorite childhood memories are of the two of them making an amazing dinner for the family. I have gotten ahold of many of their recipes over the years and I was excited to acquire another.

Vanilla Chocolate Cheesecake
Adapted from: Maida Heatters Book of Great Chocolate Desserts
Serves 8-10


2 tablespoons of butter, melted + some for buttering the pan
4 oz. chocolate wafer cookies (think just the chocolate part of an Oreo)
6 oz. semisweet chocolate
12 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
plus, an additional 1/2 cup sour cream (2 cups total)

For the Crust: Butter only the sides of an 8"x2.5" or 8"x3" spring form pan (I actually used a 10"), not the bottom. The chocolate wafer cookies need to be ground to crumbs in a food processor fitted with a steel blade OR ground in the blender in batches OR placed in a heavy plastic bag and pounded with something heavy (rolling pin) until they are fine. You should have 1 cup of crumbs. Mix the crumbs with the melted butter in a bowl until the butter is evenly distributed. You will think there is not enough butter, but there is! Pour into the baking pan and use your fingers to press it into a compact, even layer on the bottom only. Refrigerate.

For the Cheesecake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the chocolate (You can do this in a double broiler, or in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring each time and ensuring it does not burn) and set aside to cool slightly.

Beat the cream cheese until very smooth. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat to mix. Add the eggs one at a time, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating until smooth after each. Then add the salt and 1 1/2 cups of the sour cream and beat until smooth.

Beat the melted chocolate with the remaining 1/2 cup of sour cream (you can use the same beaters if you want). Remove 1 1/2 cups of the cream cheese mixture and beat into the chocolate mixture.

Place the two batters, alternating colors by spoonfuls over the crust in the pan. Use the flat side of a table knife to marbleize; cut down the batters and use the knife to swirl them into spirals, zig zags, whatever you like! Don't over mix or you'll lose the contrast. Briskly rotate the pan a bit first in one direction, then the other to level the top. Bake for 30 minutes on the lowest rack in the oven. It will seem soft, but it is done. Cool on a rack to room temperature, then chill at least 5-6 hours before serving cold.

My skills with the final stage of swirling the batters was terrible, but it did not matter since this was delicious!

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