Friday, June 27, 2014

Mexican Zucchini Boats

Remember the stuffed tomatoes I made a little while ago? Well, the stuffing-things-into-summer-produce bug has bit me. I made up my mind several weeks ago to try some sort of stuffed zucchini, but I hadn't decided what I was going to stuff it with. I was thinking about burritos the other day and inspiration struck: mexican zucchini boats.

Notes: You can make the rice with just water, but you'd be sacrificing an amazing amount of flavor. Canned tomato puree is easy and inexpensive. I happened to have fresh on hand, but I would have used canned otherwise. It gives the rice a lot of depth.

You want to make sure not to make the rice mixture too wet. If it seems to have too much liquid when it's finished, you can drain it (you'll have your strainer out anyway).

Don't toss out the zucchini innards once you're finished scooping! I've got a plan for those---stay tuned for the next recipe!

These are so cute, they would be great for entertaining.

1 cup minute rice
1 cup tomato puree
2 medium-large zucchini
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 shallot
1 15 oz. can of black beans
10 dashes hot sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon sugar
1 small bunch fresh cilantro
3-4 oz. cheese (I used Mahon), grated
Butter or olive oil


Heat oven to 400

Mince garlic, shallot, and cilantro. Rinse and drain the beans. Heat just about a tablespoon of olive oil or butter in a sauce pan over medium-high. When the oil is hot or butter melted, add the garlic and shallots and saute until just starting to turn translucent.

Season with salt and pepper. Add cumin, chili powder, sugar, and hot sauce. Pour in tomato puree and stir. Bring the mixture just to a boil and add the rice. Turn off the heat and let stand 5 minutes.

While the rice is finishing, cut the zucchini in half length-wise (I cut mine in half across first to make shorter boats). Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop some of the innards out of the zucchini. Be careful not to dig a hole in the bottom or the sides. Place the boats in an oiled baking dish and season the inside with salt and pepper.

When the rice is done, add in the black beans and cilantro and stir everything together. Using a slotted spoon to drain off the excess liquid, scoop the rice mixture into the zucchini boats, packing it in. Put grated cheese on top of each boat. Bake covered with foil for about 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for about 8-10 more minutes until zucchini is fork tender and the cheese starts to just brown.

Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lemon Garlic String Beans

This dish is one of the first side dishes I learned to make really well. It's easy, but so flavorful, it's good enough for company. I've made it with just green beans several times. This time I found some great looking yellow wax beans and I thought the mix would be nice. It did not disappoint.

Notes: I use two different cooking methods on this. First, I steam the beans and then I saute them. The steaming gets them tender-crisp and the sauteing give them extra flavor and cooks the garlic.

This is such a great dish for beginner cooks. It doesn't have a ton of ingredients and since it's not complicated, it gives you a chance to work on some cooking basics like mincing garlic. You can cut the stem ends off the beans, but honestly it's faster for me to just snap them with my hands. I wrote the recipe the snapping way.

If you're new to cooking with lemons, the zest is your friend. The zest is the colorful part of the peel---the part above the white pith. The pith is bitter, but the zest has all the essential oils and lots of lemony flavor. I have a zester that I use to take off the zest, but you could just as easily use a microplane. Just be sure not to take off lots of pith along with your zest.

1/2 pound of wax beans
1/2 pound of green beans
5-6 cloves of garlic
1 lemon
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil


Start by prepping the beans. Snap of the stem ends and snap the larger ones in half. Set aside. Mince the garlic and zest the lemon.

Add a small amount of water (just enough to cover the bottom) to a large skillet that has a lid. Heat the skillet on medium-high until the water starts to simmer and produce steam. Add the beans and steam the for about 10-12 minutes until the green beans turn emerald green (darker, but still obviously green).

Drain the water out of the pan and return to heat. Push the beans to the sides of the skillet and add the butter in the middle of the pan. When it melts, add the garlic and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Stir everything together and saute for about 5-7 minutes until some of the beans just start to brown.

Turn off the heat. Slice the lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the beans. Toss to coat, serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Grilled Portobello Steaks

If I had an alternative life, I would have become a biologist. Specifically, I would have gone into mycology. I LOVE fungi. I think they are the coolest things on the planet. It was by far my favorite lab in biology class in college.

Since I picked philosophy instead, my love of fungi will have to be a hobby. Cooking mushrooms are definitely a part of that hobby.

Notes: I get it. Some people just don't get down with mushrooms. It's usually either because they are (a) a fungus and that creeps people out or (b) the slightly rubbery texture. But if you're on the fence about mushrooms, grilled portobellos might be the dish to win you over.

I improvised this marinade and it turned out great. The mushroom caps will shrink a little, so be sure you get nice big ones.

This recipe serves 4 (one mushroom per person), but if you have hungry folks, you might want to make extra.

4 portobello mushrooms
1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
10-12 dashes hot sauce
4-5 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons honey mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon herbs de provence
Pepper to taste


Clean the mushrooms by wiping them off with a damp paper towel. Remove the stems. Using a spoon or fork, scrape the gills out of the mushrooms.

In a small bowl whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade. Put the mushroom caps into a plastic food storage bag and pour in the marinade. Massage the food storage bag to make sure the the mushrooms are covered in the the marinade. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Heat a grill pan on high or an outdoor grill on medium-high. Grill the mushrooms for about 3-4 minutes per side. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Peach Muffins

The amount of produce in my fridge is getting a little out of hand. I brought so much home from the store today that it took up the whole counter after I washed it all.

But it's summer time! There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables in season---how can you resist?

Case in point: fresh peaches. I walked by a whole pile of them at the store and the impulse baker took over. Peach muffins for everyone!

Notes: These are delicious. They aren't too sweet, which makes me happy. If you want a little extra sweetness, I would add about 1/2 cup of honey.

Be sure to dice your peaches very small. You want them to cook all the way while they're in the muffins.

This recipe made about 16 muffins for me, so you might want to have two muffin tins ready. If you have to do them in batches, just put the batter in the fridge for a little bit. Make sure to take it out about 10 minutes before you bake it.

Make sure all the ingredients are close to room temperature to make sure they mix well.

2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla or peach liquor
1 egg
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2-3 fresh peaches


Heat the oven to 350. Remove the egg, butter, yogurt, milk from the fridge and set aside. Peel and cut the peaches into a small dice.

Add flour, baking soda, and cinnamon to a bowl and whisk together. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, add melted butter and sugar and whisk until mostly smooth like a very thick molasses. Beat the egg and whisk it in. Add milk, yogurt, and vanilla and whisk everything together.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet in batches and stir just to combine. Gently fold in the the diced peaches.

Spoon the batter into a paper-lined or greased muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until the muffins are a light golden brown.

Enjoy the fruits of summer (in a muffin)!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Q.E.D.: Fried Egg and Goat Cheese Breakfast Sandwich

When we were visiting our parents a few weeks ago, my mom made me a fried egg sandwich for breakfast one morning. I had forgotten how great fried egg sandwiches are. I decided to make one this morning and put my own twist on it.

Notes: This makes a great breakfast, of course, but it could easily be a light lunch as well. Add a green salad and you'd be good to go.

I've written the directions using sight clues rather than time. Eggs vary pretty widely, so you're better off just watching to see when it's done rather than trying to time it.

I desperately wish I had used some herbed goat cheese, but I only had plain. It was still good.

You want to make sure you take the goat cheese out of the fridge well ahead of time so that it's spreadable.

This recipe makes one breakfast sandwich.

1 large egg
2 slices of bread (I used multigrain)
Goat cheese for spreading
Butter for frying


Remove all ingredients from the fridge. Put a small amount of butter in a small skillet. Heat between medium and medium-high.

When the butter is melted, crack the egg gently in the pan. Season with salt and pepper. When the white starts to turn opaque, tuck the sides slightly in with your spatula (just so it will cook more evenly and fit on your bread). When the whites are almost totally opaque, pierce the yolk.

Put your slices of bread in the toaster. When the toast pops up, flip your egg, turn off the heat, and let the egg sit in the pan.

Spread the goat cheese on both slices of toast and slide the egg on top of one of the slices. Assemble the sandwich, serve, and enjoy!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Orzo Stuffed Tomatoes

It's summer time and that means tomatoes are in season. And that means you need a recipe that features tomatoes prominently!

Notes: Truthfully, the tomatoes I used were not quite ripe. But that's better. You need some that are a little sturdier to stand up to baking. Since you bake them, the oven develops their flavor, so you don't have to worry about how they taste.

On the subject, I wouldn't use fancy tomatoes for this dish unless you're making it for company. Heirloom tomatoes would be impressive and delicious, but they're also a bit pricy. It's a little more economical to use your run-of-the-mill tomatoes. Again, the baking makes them taste more tomato-y.

The goat cheese makes this dish! You can see from the photo I baked some without (for Scott, who is a philistine and doesn't like goat cheese), but they are really much better with it than without it. Don't skimp on it!

8 medium-large tomatoes
1 box orzo pasta
1 bag (about 2 cups) baby spinach
1 batch homemade pesto
4 oz. of goat cheese

Directions: Heat oven to 400.

Boil the pasta according to the directions. While you're waiting for the water to boil and pasta to cook, scoop the innards out of the tomato. Use a small knife to cut the membranes away from the inside of the tomato and then use a spoon to scoop them out. Season the insides with salt and pepper and place in an oiled baking dish. Roughly chop the spinach.

When the pasta is finished, drain it and return it to the pot. Add pesto and baby spinach and stir until the orzo is coated with the pesto and the spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the orzo into the tomatoes and top with goat cheese.

Bake uncovered for 25 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and the goat cheese just begins to brown.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Q.E.D.: Pasta with Peas and Mozzarella

Sometimes great things happen when you make a mistake.

I had planned to make one of my staple dishes for dinner: pasta with a vegetable and an olive oil and herb sauce. I like a healthy sprinkle of parmesan on this dish, but I was out, so I sent Scott to the store to get it.

That didn't quite work out. Scott, who doesn't have a ton of culinary knowledge, got mixed up and brought home mozzarella instead of parmesan. No matter, I thought, I'll figure out a way to use the mozzarella. The only think I could think to try was to chop it up and add it to my dish.

Well, it turned out great! The mozzarella melts just a little and it provides a great mix of textures with the peas.

Notes: I added the the mozzarella to the pasta after I put it in the serving dish. Dice the mozzarella and keep in a separate container so that you can add it to the individual servings of pasta. If you add it to the dish as a whole, it won't heat up the same if you have leftovers. If you don't plan to have leftovers, then you can add the cheese to the pot when the pasta is finished.

1 box elbow or shell pasta
1/3-1/2 cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter (optional)
5-6 cloves of garlic
1/2 bag frozen peas
1 tablespoon Italian herb blend
1/2 tablespoon basil
Fresh mozzarella
Red pepper flakes


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a small handful of kosher salt. Cook the box of pasta according to the directions.

Mince the garlic. Add olive oil, butter, herbs, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to a small pan. Heat the mixture on medium low while the pasta cooks.

Dice the mozzarella.

When the pasta has about 2 minutes left to cook, add the peas. When it's finished cooking, drain and return to the pot. Pour the oil mixture over the pasta and peas. Stir to coat throughly. Put the pasta in the serving dish and add pieces of mozzarella. Stir gently. Enjoy!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Pot Roast Spud + Slow Cooker Chuck Roast

Lots of my posts start out talking about our favorite restaurants and this one is no different.

McAlister's Deli in Lake Charles fed Scott throughout the two years we lived apart. He probably ate there three times a week or more. One of his favorite dishes was their pot roast spud: it's a baked potato with pot roast and gravy poured on top of it. It's easily something you can make at home, so I decided to try it using the slow cooker.

Notes: The slow cooker wins again! The pot roast is delicious: the meat is super tender and flavorful. You can use this in a number of different ways and it makes enough (at least for us) for plenty of leftovers. Having cooked meat in the fridge is such a help during the week when you have to get dinner on the table. It's so versatile, you can use all week without getting bored!

I have tried several methods for cooking baked potatoes. This is the one that works best for me. Every time I've tried it some other way, the potatoes are never cooked all the way. The salt and butter just makes the potato skin that much tastier, but you can omit it if you'd like.

Ingredients for Slow Cooker Chuck Roast
1 3-pound chuck roast
2-3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon ground thyme
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon cumin
Pepper to taste

Directions for Slow Cooker Chuck Roast

Slice the onion and put the slices in the bottom of the slow cooker. Whisk together the thyme, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cumin to form a paste. Rub the paste into the chuck roast. Put the roast on top of the onions in the slow cooker. Set for 8-10 hours on low.

When the roast in done, use tongs or a fork to shred the meat.

Ingredients for Pot Roast Spud
1 Russet potato per person (this recipe will serve 2 people with leftovers or 4 people with no leftovers)
1/2 bag of frozen mixed vegetables
1 large onion
1 pint mushrooms (I used cremini)
1 cup beef stock
2-3 cloves of garlic
2-3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Shredded cooked chuck roast (however much you want)
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup of milk

Directions for Post Roast Spud

Heat the oven to 400. Prick potatoes with a fork. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and rub them with butter. Wrap them in foil and bake for 1.5 hours.

While you're waiting, slice the mushrooms and mince the garlic

When the potatoes are nearly done, heat a large skillet on medium high and add three tablespoons of butter. Add in the mushrooms and cook until they start to give off liquid. Add the garlic and Worcestershire sauce.

Sprinkle in flour and stir to coat. Whisk in the beef stock and milk. Allow the mixture to thicken a little. Stir in the mixed vegetables and slices of beef. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

When the potatoes are done, slice them open and fluff the insides with a fork. Scoop the pot roast mixture over top. Serve and enjoy!