Saturday, 17 January 2015

Bean and roasted veggie tacos

There are a few things I always have in my pantry -- onions, garlic, canned beans, canned tomatoes (and their Tex-Mex cousin, Rotel). Today, I was needing some lunch but too lazy to go to the grocery store, so I whipped together one of my favorite easy, cheap dishes using those key ingredients listed above and a couple other things taking up residency in my fridge. These tacos are healthy, cheap and incredibly easy to make. They are even vegetarian.

Another huge bonus is that they are endlessly customizable. You can use whatever veggies you have on hand, and if you aren't feeling the Tex-Mex vibe, you could switch up the seasonings and make something more Italian or even Thai inspired. This is hardly a recipe so I'm just going to throw out the basic steps I followed


You'll first need tortillas (I used corn) or some other wrap - pita bread would even do.

The filling
The taco filling is basically beans + roasted veggies. I sauteed black beans in oil with garlic and onion, and added bit of Rotel, some leftover rice and chili powder. For the veggies, chop your veggie of choice into very small pieces (I used broccoli and red onions), coat with oil, salt and pepper, and pop under the broiler for about 10 minutes. Stir it frequently.
Then, just mix the two together.

Plain 2% Greek yogurt is a great topping here, and I made mine a little Tex-Mex by adding a couple tablespoons Rotel. You could sub sour cream, any yogurt or even mayo. I also sprinkled on a little cheese. Wrap all those goodies up in the tortilla and you're ready to eat!

I've fancied these up and served them for guests before, too. If you make some fresh salsa and guacamole to serve on the side and pop a bag of tortilla chips into a serving bowl, suddenly your quick lunch is turned into an impressive but easy dinner.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Cheater calzones

Hey there, long time, no see! It's been a busy winter, but I finally am throwing something up on the blog.

I've been partial to quick and easy meals lately, but that doesn't mean cheating on quality or health! So, the other night, I whipped up these "cheat's calzones," inspired by another great recipe from my 200 20-minute meal cookbook, a gift from a wonderful friend. Seriously, the book is dirt cheap on Amazon and I use it a few times a month - definitely worth the $4 or so. (I am not a fancy enough blogger to make any money if you buy the book. I just really like it.)

The best thing about this recipe is that, as long as you have tomato sauce and cheese, you can make it. There are endless combinations; what I used below are obviously just suggestions.

I also recommend making a big batch of homemade tomato sauce and freezing it in 1-cup or so increments in baggies to use in this recipe or whenever you need red sauce. My "recipe" is at the bottom of this post. It's really easy and cheap to make. If you don't want to make it, feel free to use the tomato sauce you can buy in cans. It's way cheaper than name brand "pizza sauce" or "pasta sauce" and you won't notice the difference. I paid 55 cents per can yesterday!

Without further ado, here is a delicious recipe for cheater calzones, also known as pizza quesadillas.

Serves: 2
Preparation: 15 minutes

Frying oil (light olive oil, canola/vegetable oil, coconut oil)
Salt and pepper
1/2 onion, sliced
1 c. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 red pepper, sliced
4 small flour tortillas
1 c. tomato sauce (recipe below)
1 roma tomato, sliced
2 slices bacon, fried or broiled and chopped
4 thin slices deli salami (about 4" in diameter), sliced
1/2 to 1 c. mild tasting cheese of choice, shredded (we used Monterrey jack)

1. In a small nonstick frying pan, heat 1 tsp. oil over medium heat. When hot, add onion, mushrooms and pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until soft; 5-7 minutes.
2. Heat a larger nonstick frying pan over medium high heat. When the veggies are cooked, assemble the calzones. On one half of each tortilla, layer with cheese and then layer all your fillings on top. Top with a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce. Then, fold the tortilla in half.
4. Place calzones in frying pan and cook about 2 minutes on each side, until the cheese is melted and tortillas are browned.


extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can chopped tomatoes

In a frying pan, heat up a few teaspoons of olive oil over medium-low heat (no higher or it will burn the oil). Add the onions and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook until soft; 5-7 minutes. Add the tomatoes with liquid from the can and cook for a few minutes more. Add other seasonings here if you'd like (like oregano, herbs de provence, basil, etc.). Add a bit of water if it's too thick. Transfer to a food processor or use an immersion blender to process to a sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(Just a shout-out: Here's a link to the Cuisinart Smart Stick if you don't have a hand blender. Again, I make absolutely no money off of this but I really, really love my immersion blender for soups, sauces and even smoothies.)

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Cheesy quinoa cakes with roasted veggies

I love using quinoa in place of rice or pasta because it's so much healthier, but my husband has never been a fan of the magical South American grain. That changed with this recipe. Apparently, all that was necessary to make quinoa palatable for him was to add cheese and fry it. In general, those two actions make any food taste good.

This was a really easy recipe to whip together, once I got the quinoa cooked. The Kitchn has a good tutorial on cooking quinoa if you've never done it.

Then, I tossed some fresh vegetables (tomatoes, red peppers, onions and mushrooms) with olive oil, fresh garlic and paprika and popped them under the broiler for about 10 minutes. While they were roasting, I made these cheesy quinoa cakes, halving the recipe and adding 1/2 c. each of frozen corn and pinto beans. I used Asiago cheese.I added a little side salad made of mixed greens and homemade ranch dressing. I used that ranch recipe as a base and added dried parsley, salt, pepper and nutritional yeast. The ranch also was delicious drizzled over the quinoa cakes.

Easy, peasy, vegetarian weeknight dinner. I will definitely be making this again.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Tomato biscuits with whipped goat cheese

A lot of favorite foods revolve around tomatoes. Salsa, gazpacho, tomato basil soup, bloody marys, ketchup (I'm serious). Big, meaty tomatoes, sliced thickly and sprinkled with salt and pepper and broiled. Cherry tomatoes, eaten fresh off the plant. Tomato sauce made with just a little salt, pepper, garlic, onion and olive oil.

I know that it's a vegetable that divides people. I mean, we can't even make up our collective minds about whether it's a fruit or a vegetable. But I simply cannot identify with anyone who orders a sandwich and says, "No tomatoes, please."

Which is why this sandwich, made entirely of tomatoes, caught my eye. The blogger behind smitten kitchen even put it on the cover of her cookbook (which I highly recommend).

I modified it quite a bit (as always) and I could have eaten the entire batch.

You start with a crumbly biscuit made with scallions and Parmesan.

Then, you make an easy tomato salad (make sure you have some perfectly ripe, farmers market or homegrown tomatoes).

Finally, you top it off with some whipped goat cheese, bacon and walnuts.


2 c. + 2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
5 Tbsp. butter, chilled
2 scallions, sliced
1 c 2% milk
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded

Tomato salad
1.5 c. tomatoes, roughly sliced or chopped
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. whipping cream
3 oz. goat cheese
4 slices bacon
1/2 c. walnuts
1 Tbsp. honey
1 scallion, chopped

1. Start by making the biscuits. Preheat the oven to 425*. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix all of the dry ingredients well and then mix in the butter with your fingertips until all incorporated (use a pastry blender if you're fancy). Stir in the scallion and cheese and then add the milk. Form the dough into six biscuits. Place them on the baking sheet on a center rack and cook for about 15 minutes. Leave the top rack of the oven empty.
2. Cut the bacon up into small pieces and fry it over medium heat until crunchy.
3. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and put them on the top rack in the oven. Bake for 3-5 minutes, watching closely and stirring frequently, until toasted. Remove from oven, place in a bowl and drizzle with honey. Mix well.
4. Make the tomato salad by mixing the ingredients to taste.
5. Whip the whipping cream and goat cheese together until fluffy and light.
6. To assemble, slice a biscuit in half. Spread the goat cheese mixture on bottom half. Top with a generous helping of the tomato salad and a tablespoon each of crumbled bacon and honey walnuts. Sprinkle with scallions and top with second half of biscuit.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Thai Peanut Curry with Chicken

My cousin works at this great restaurant in our area called New Scenic Cafe. They were pretty early to the farm-to-table, local food movement, opening in a cute little cabin-y building on the shores of Lake Superior in 1999. They make creative but accessible food in an atmosphere that strives to not be pretentious (and most of the time, they actually succeed).

As a wedding gift, my cousin gave me the New Scenic Cafe cookbook. It's a work of art! Of-the-moment restaurants often try to capitalize on their popularity by publishing some bare bones cookbook to bring in some extra revenue, but this is no such effort. You can tell it took years to put together and it was a labor of love. A lot of the recipes are pretty involved, with obscure ingredients and some pretty intense, high-level techniques. I love it, though. It has given me tons of ideas for unique flavor combinations and the handful of recipes I've tried have been great successes. It's definitely not a beginner's cookbook, but if you've been cooking for a couple years, you'll adore it. It's going to be well-loved kitchen tool for me for years to come.

This is a recipe based on one in the cookbook. I tinkered with it and personalized it, based on what I have in my kitchen and my bare-bones knowledge of Thai food. It turned out great!

NOTE: I've been using boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of breasts lately. They are cheaper and more flavorful. I'd recommend giving them a try, but you could easily do this recipe with breasts or any leftover, cooked chicken you have on hand.


Serves: 4
Preparation: 1 hour

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed and cubed
2 Tbsp. coconut oil
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 small to medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
1/2 c. coconut milk
1 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. peanut butter, unsweetened
1/2 Tbsp. red curry paste
1/2 tsp. cumin
1.5 tsp. sambal oelek
1/4 c. cilantro
1 large tomato, chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
Cilantro, lime wedges and sambal oelek, for serving

1. Season chopped chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat half of the coconut oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Add the chicken and cook, stirring every few minutes, until no longer pink; about 10 minutes.
2. Heat the other half of the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, celery and onions and cook, stirring frequently, until tender; about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and lower heat to medium.
3. Add the coconut milk, peanut butter and chicken stock and stir with a whisk until combined. Turn heat to low.
4. Stir in the curry paste, cumin, sambal and cilantro. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken, garbanzo beans and tomato and keep on heat for about 5 minutes, until warmed through. Season to taste with salt.
5. Serve over basmati rice and top with sambal oelek, cilantro and lime juice.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

One crock pot roast, two nights of dinner

Beef roast with mashed potatoes and salad
French dip
I'm busy, so I like food that's easy but delicious (like everyone else in the world.) This crock pot beef roast is perfect. You can make it overnight on Sunday and eat it for dinner on Monday AND Tuesday. Don't worry, not in the same meal -- you use the meat in two different, simple

recipes. How's that for easy?

Recipe inspired by this one.


Serves: 2 meals for 2 people
Preparation: 9 hours

1 2-lb. sirloin tip roast
red wine
salt and pepper
2 medium onions, sliced
1 large red pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1.5 c. beef broth
1/4 c. tamari

1. Coat the roast completely with pepper and salt, massaging it into the meat. Drizzle with a bit of wine and wrap in plastic wrap. Allow to sit for at least half an hour and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
2. When ready to cook, place the roast in the crock pot. Place the onions, pepper and garlic on top. Pour broth and tamari over everything and cook for 8 hours on low (overnight works well).
3. After 8 hours, remove the roast and vegetables from the liquid. Pour remaining liquid into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add about 1/4 c. red wine, lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Pour half of the liquid into a container and set aside; this is your au jus for French dips.
4. Whisk 1 Tbsp. of flour with 1 Tbsp. of water and add to the remaining liquid. Simmer while whisking until thickened; this is your gravy for the beef roast.

Shred half of the roast beef with two forks and layer on two long buns. Top with half the red peppers and onions and slices of white cheese (we used gouda, but traditional recipes call for provolone). Broil for 5-7 minutes until cheese is melted and meat is warmed. Serve with a side of au jus.

Serve half of the roast beef on two plates as a traditional roast beef meal with gravy and your choice of sides (mashed potatoes are mandatory!)

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Shells

I'm just in love with Rachael Ray. I've been checking out her books from the library here and there, and every recipe has turned out so well.

This recipe is based on her Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna Roll-ups recipe. It's packed with veggies and cheese -- two of my favorite things. I use cottage cheese instead of ricotta in the recipe.

Can we talk about cottage cheese? It's kind of been a game changer for me. I always thought it was soooo '80s -- I remember my mom serving it to our family with either pineapple or salt and pepper and fresh onions. It was good but it seemed so ... dated. Now, I've realized that mom, as usual, was right.

Cottage cheese is insanely good for you. One cup of full-fat cottage cheese has 25 freaking grams of protein -- that's almost as much as a serving of chicken! It only has 5-9 grams of fat per serving, too. It's extremely versatile. My mom (why is she so smart?) gave me the idea of using it in dips in place of mayonnaise. If you pulverize it in the food processor, it has this fluffy, creamy texture perfect for the spicy chip dip my husband lives on. It's also WAY cheaper than Greek yogurt. I thought Greek yogurt was basically the second coming of Christ, but I soon realized I can't stomach regularly spending $6 on a container of Fage.

Obviously, this post is bringing in the cash-money from my great sponsors, the cottage cheese industrial complex (Ha. Ha.). But seriously, if you're not on the cottage cheese train, get it together!

Now, on to the recipe.

Rachael (yes, we're on a first-name basis. Duh.) recommends serving this with asparagus and broiled tomatoes. I'll include my broiled tomato recipe at the end, and I usually steam whatever green veggie is on sale and serve on the side. A salad would go well with it, too.


Serves: 2-3
Preparation: 40 minutes

1/2 pkg. of jumbo shells (about 6 oz.)

Olive oil
1 pkg. baby bella mushrooms
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic
11-oz. package fresh spinach
1 Tbsp. butter
1.5 c. cottage cheese

1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. heavy cream
4 oz. Gorgonzola cheese

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook shells according to package directions. Drain, drizzle with olive oil, cover to keep warm and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Pulverize the mushrooms in the food processor and add to pan.
3. Finely chop the onions and garlic in the food processor and add to the mushroom mixture. Season with salt and pepper and cook until browned, about 10 minutes.
4. Chop the spinach in the food processor and add to the mixture. Add the butter and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in the cottage cheese. Cook until the mixture is heated through.
5. Combine the cream and chicken broth over medium-low heat in a saucepan. Bring to a light simmer and stir in the cheese. Cook, stirring frequently, until cheese is melted.
6. Stuff each shell with 1-2 Tbsp. of the mushroom mixture. Top with Gorgonzola sauce and serve.

Broiled Tomatoes
2 large tomatoes, thickly sliced
Olive oil
Fresh Parmesan

Preheat the oven to broil. Place the tomato slices on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with shredded Parmesan and broil until cheese is melted, 3-4 minutes.