Monday, February 23, 2015

Shells with Peppers

A super simple Italian dish for Meatless Monday: pasta shells in a hearty sauce of peppers, onions, and tomatoes. Flavored with some basil and Parmesan cheese. All that there is to it and chock full of delicious veggies.

Pasta Shells with Peppers
(serves 4-5)

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled
1 pound bell peppers (whatever color you like), about 3 medium peppers
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
5 sprigs fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Core the peppers and then slice lengthwise. Cut the onion in half, then slice. Pick the leaves off the basil sprigs. Rip or chop the leaves coarsely. Start a large pot of boiling salted water for the pasta.

Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onions until golden and no longer crunchy, but not browned. Add the peppers and raise the heat to high. Sauté until the peppers are limp. Turn down the heat to medium-low. Add the tomatoes, basil, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the cover, reduce to low, and continue cooking while you cook the pasta.

By now your pasta water should be boiling. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and dump into the skillet. Stir to combine - a large spoon and tongs work better than just a spoon. Then stir in ½ cup of the cheese. Stir gently. Taste for salt; add more if needed. Serve immediately with remaining cheese as garnish.

Adapted from Food alla Florentine by Naomi Barry & Beppe Bellini, Doubleday & Company, 1972.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Waldorf Salad with Fennel

Waldorf salad, the old stand-by, an apple-celery-nut salad with a rich mayonnaise dressing. I can't tell you how much of this I ate during my college days. Could use with a little updating. I found a recipe from Whole Foods which was a good starting point. But, it's a side salad that contains 400(!) calories. That's rather excessive. Trimmed it down a bit by reducing the nuts and dried fruit, and cutting back on the amount of dressing.

This salad gives me a chance to introduce fennel. Fennel has a slight licorice flavor and great crunch. I'm not a huge licorice/anise fan but fennel has just the right amount. Celery is what usually gives Waldorf salad its vegetable crunch. No celery here, just fennel. Give it a try. Fennel is good raw in any salad. Slice it thin because big pieces can be fibrous. It is also good roasted. Simple and delicious.

Waldorf Salad with Fennel
(serves 4-5)

3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
5 Tablespoons lowfat Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon lemon or lime juice
1 Tablespoon honey
2 Tablespoons minced fresh mint
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt

1 small bulb of fennel or ½ a large one
2 apples, cored and chopped (see Note)
⅓ cup chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews)
½ cup raisins or dried cranberries

Combine all the dressing ingredients and set aside while you prepare the rest.

To prepare the fennel, cut the bulb in half from the top (the part with the leafy stalks) to the bottom. Cut out the hard core at the bottom of the bulb. Slice the remaining bulb as thinly as you can. Combine the fennel with the rest of the salad ingredients, add dressing, and toss to combine. Add more salt to taste.

Best if eaten immediately because the dressing thins out when it sits in the fridge. But, it's still good. For a more substantial variation, add in some cooked chicken or turkey.

Note: Braeburns or Cortlands are preferred because they don't brown quickly. See our post on apple varieties for more info on our one of our favorite fruits.

Fennel photo credit: By Jamain (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, February 16, 2015

Meatless Monday: Spinach Lasagne

Previously, I posted a recipe for meatless Spinach Lasagne that is "baked" in the microwave. Here's a similar recipe that is cooked in the oven and it uses no-boil noodles. This makes the recipe easier, though the time is about the same. You have to give the noodles time to cook once it's assembled but you don't have to deal with cooking the noodles ahead.

Oven-Baked Spinach Lasagne
(serves 6-8)

9 no-boil lasagne noodles (2" wide by 10" long)
non-stick cooking spray
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 ½ cups water
1 Tablespoon vegetable stock concentrate or dry vegetable soup mix
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon black pepper
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
12 ounces frozen spinach, thawed but not drained
2 cups low-fat cottage cheese, a 16 ounce container
2 eggs
8 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (2 cups)
½ cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a 9"x 11" baking dish with cooking spray.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Sauté onion for 4 minutes. Add garlic, cook for another minute. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, vegetable soup mix, salt, sugar, basil, oregano, black pepper, and crushed red pepper. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Keep warm while you mix up the filling.

Combine the spinach, cottage cheese and eggs in a medium bowl.

To assemble, lay 3 noodles in dish  Ladle on ⅓ of the sauce, ½ the spinach mixture, then sprinkle on ¾ cup of mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers, finishing with another 3 noodles covered by the remainder of the sauce, making sure that the noodles are completely covered. Cover tightly with foil.

Bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle on the last ½ cup mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese. Bake for 10 more minutes. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving to allow cheese to set up which makes lasagne easier to cut.

Freezes well.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Chinese Ground Meat and Rice Casserole

I made this one with cooked leftover leg of lamb.
This recipe was inspired by one for Lamb Crepes Oriental. Just a hunch...most people reading here are not going to make crepes. I simplified things by using rice and making this a layered casserole. This is a delicious way to use up all sorts of cooked meats: beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, pork. If you don't have 2 cups of cooked meat, you can substitute 1 pound of ground meat. See the instructions for changes if you start with raw meat.

We don't usually think of cooking lettuce, but romaine is hardy, holding up to some gentle cooking, and adds some nice crunch here.

Chinese Ground Meat and Rice Casserole
(serves 4)

non-stick cooking spray
4 cups cooked rice (brown or white)
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (if using cooked meat only)
1 onion, minced
2 cups of cooked chopped meat or poultry
1 pound ground meat
¼ cup beef broth
½ large head of romaine lettuce, shredded
½ teaspoon black pepper

1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon dry sherry, sake, or rice wine
1 cup beef broth

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a 9"x11" baking dish with cooking spray. Spread the rice in the dish and set aside.

If using cooked meat, heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauteacute; for 5 minutes. Add in the cooked meat and beef broth. Simmer until meat to warmed. Remove from heat, mix in lettuce and black pepper.

If using raw ground meat, heat up a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook the meat until no longer pink. Drain off most of the fat, leaving about 2 Tablespoons. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook the onion for 5 minutes. Add beef broth and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, mix in lettuce and black pepper.

Pour the meat-lettuce mixture over the rice.

Make the sauce: Combine the cornstarch, soy sauce, ginger, dry sherry, and beef broth in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Spoon the sauce over the meat. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes.

Adapted from a recipe for Lamb Crepes Oriental in Cooking with Cornelius: The Corning Cookbook by Cornelius O'Donnell, Random House, 1982

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Sale Alert! Hazelnuts! Cara Cara Oranges too.


Hazelnuts (aka Filberts) are on sale at Trader Joe's in Boulder this month. One of my favorites. I like them in salads. They are delicious in granola. They are good all by themselves as a snack. They are on sale for $7.99/pound which is a great deal.

They are raw and not peeled, however. No problem! Though sort of messy and tedious, this method really works. Then, for the best flavor, toast them until lightly browned and crunchy. I've also tried toasting them to get the skins off. Doesn't work consistently. Hazelnut skins are bitter so I go for the blanching method.

How to Blanch Hazelnuts:

Bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil. Add ½ to 1 cup hazelnuts and 2 Tablespoons baking soda. Turn down heat to maintain a steady boil and boil for 3 minutes. When the timer goes off, run a few nuts under cold water and if the skin slips off of all of them, they are done. Otherwise, boil for another minute. Pour the nuts and the now black water into a strainer and run under cool water. Slip the skin off each nut and place in a dry dish towel (one you are willing to sacrifice-it will be permanently stained afterward). Rub to dry the nuts, then toast in a 300°F oven until browned, 15-20 minutes.

After a little rubdown in a paper towel. The skins come right off!

Cara Cara Navel Oranges

Cara Cara oranges are pink on the inside, sweet, and seedless. Winter is citrus season and Cara Cara's are one of the best. According to Trader Joe's, they were first discovered in Venezuela in 1976. A little citrus trivia - many new varieties come from random hybrids. Since citrus (like most tree fruits) is cultivated by grafting rather than seeds, one tree with unusual and delicious qualities can be propagated around the world. Nowadays, Cara Cara's are cultivated in California and Florida. Their flavor is more complex than regular navel oranges - a little spicy. Give them a try. They look beautiful in fruit salads.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Day Before Lentil Soup

This is a stick to your ribs winter soup. I love lentil soup. I posted a vegetarian lentil soup previously. This one is not vegetarian, but it's still full of wonderful things. The addition of bacon gives it a smoky flavor, which is quite delicious, without adding too much richness.

You really should make this the day before because lentil soup, like many soups and stews, gets better after chilling in the fridge. All the flavors come together in a more cohesive whole. It also freezes well.

Day Before Lentil Soup
(serves 9 generously)

5 slices bacon, chopped
1 teaspoon oil
2 onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups dried lentils, rinsed and checked for any pebbles
8 cups water
¼ cup balsamic or red wine vinegar
½ cup chopped fresh parsley

Garnish (optional)
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
lemon wedges
quartered hard boiled eggs

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until browned and the fat has rendered out. Remove the bacon pieces to a paper towel to drain. Add the onion, celery, and carrots. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, tomatoes, and thyme. Cook for another minute. Add the black pepper, bay leaf, salt, lentils, water, and reserved bacon. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 45 minutes (less time if lower than Boulder, CO altitude of 5300 ft) until lentils are tender but not mushy.

If you don't plan to eat the soup right away (good call!), chill in the fridge. Fish out the bay leaf and discard. Put about 3 cups of soup in the blender and puree. This makes the soup thicker and creamy. Or, you can use an immersion blender to puree it slightly, right in the pot. Reheat over medium-low heat until piping hot. Stir in vinegar and fresh parsley. Check for salt; add more if needed. Serve with garnishes of your choice. Add a salad and you've got yourself a hearty meal.

Adapted from Cooking with Cornelius: The Corning Cookbook by Cornelius O'Donnell, Random House, 1982.