a simple tomato sauce with penne

I hate to waste food. I had  grape tomatoes that we never ate because we got tired of salads, and half a package of penne languishing in the cupboard. Then I got inspired by a recipe I saw on Skinnytaste and came up with my own version of pasta with fresh tomato sauce.  It all came together in one skillet. It wasn’t bad!

Simple Tomato Sauce with Penne
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2  pounds grape tomatoes, halved (3 cups)
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt and fresh pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil plus
Chopped parsley and scallion to garnish, optional

4.5 oz. pasta, e.g. penne
1 cup mozzarella cheese or Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions
In a large nonstick pan, heat the oil on medium high heat. Sauté the garlic, onion, and peppers until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer 15 minutes. Uncover the pan and add the chopped basil. Cover and cook 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to directions. Drain and set aside. Spoon pasta into a bowl, add 1/4 cup of cheese and a cupful of tomato sauce. Toss. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and scallion, if desired.

curry kabobs

I substituted 2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs for half of the chicken breasts in this recipe because my son likes dark meat.  And of course, I used the George Foreman grill. It’s a lot less complicated than a barbecue and I can use it indoors in a New York apartment. I would prefer a stronger curry flavor, as I’ve noted in the recipe. In any case, the chicken turned out juicy and tender.

Curry Kabobs (adapted from allrecipes.com)
 
INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup mayonnaise (light mayo in the original recipe, which I think is too sweet)
1-2 teaspoons minced garlic
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2-1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon minced  ginger (1/2 teaspoon ground ginger in the original recipe)
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cubed

DIRECTIONS:
1. In a large, shallow dish, mix the mayonnaise, garlic, curry powder, chili powder, and ginger. Place the chicken in the mixture, and stir to coat. Cover, and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours. Cook’s Note: I marinated the chicken for 24 hours in the refrigerator. It was still good.

2. Preheat the grill at medium-high heat.

3. Discard marinade, and thread chicken pieces onto skewers.

4. Lightly oil the grill grate. Grill skewers, turning often, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until chicken juices run clear. Cook’s Note: I didn’t bother with the skewers. I grilled the chicken 3 minutes in the George Foreman grill.

5. Serve the grilled chicken over rice, if desired. I served it with harissa, roasted vegetables, steamed green beans, and cool cucumber slices.

baked tilapia with cilantro, ginger, scallion, and thai chile

This has been a trying week. I am trying out this new “diet” that said eating dessert for breakfast helps you lose weight. Of course, I had to try it. Who doesn’t want to have their cake and eat it too? After suffering an upset tummy from eating a chocolate frosted brownie too early in the morning, I found I wasn’t hungry until the end of the day, when my tummy began growling ferociously, FEED ME. So for dinner, I tried this new recipe called “Asian Inspired Tilapia,” which was such a curiously uninspiring name for a fish dish that has so many flavorful ingredients commonly found in the well-stocked Chinese kitchen. Except for the jalapeño. The jalapeño is for the timid soul. But if you are adventurous, I do recommend the Thai chile pepper instead. It made a huge difference in making this sauce piquant. So I re-christen this recipe–

Baked Tilapia with Cilantro, Scallion, Ginger, and Thai Chile

2 tilapia fillets – about 1 pound
1 Thai chile pepper (jalapeño in the original recipe)
3 scallions or green onions
2 inches peeled sliced ginger
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime (I used half a lemon)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup white wine (I used rice cooking wine)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Sweet Red Pepper, chopped for garnish (Any pepper will do just so long as it’s colorful)
Scallions, chopped for garnish
Extra cilantro, to garnish
1 package/bag Mixed Baby Salad Greens

Heat the oven to 475F. Pat the fish dry and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place in a glass baking dish.

Cook’s note: It doesn’t need salt and pepper, so I left it out. The “dressing” or sauce is salty, sour, and spicy enough.

Add jalapeno pepper, green onion, chopped ginger, and cilantro into small food processor and pulse until combined. Add the mixture to a small bowl with the fresh lime juice or lemon juice, soy sauce, wine, and sesame oil. Mix until blended.

Pour the sauce over the fish, pressing the solid ingredients down into the fish a bit. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork and is cooked through.

Divide the salad greens between two plates. Remove the tilapia with a spatula and place half on top of the greens on each plate. Drizzle the fish with the marinade left in the pan. Garnish with chopped red pepper, cilantro and green onion.

Serve with warm, crusty bread (or steamed white rice, if you are a traditionalist). I served this fish with roasted vegetables.

gluten-free quick chicken piccata

This was quick and easy! I usually don’t play around with a new recipe but I thought I could make some swaps without changing the recipe too much. So I swapped hazelnut flour for the all-purpose to make it gluten-free. Any nut-flour you might have on hand will do. However, without the all-purpose flour, which is also a thickener, the sauce was thin; but I don’t mind a thin sauce. It was a tad sour, so I recommend reducing the lemon juice. After all, the capers have been soaked in brine and they add a salty sour flavor to the sauce. This recipe was originally for chicken breasts, but my son dislikes white meat so I made it with boneless, skinless chicken thighs for him. Other swaps: rice cooking wine for white wine, and cilantro for Italian flat leaf parsley. I am basically, and without apology,  a Chinese cook!

Gluten-Free Quick Chicken Piccata (adapted from allrecipes.com)

Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 15 Minutes
Ready In: 25 Minutes
Servings: 6
 

INGREDIENTS:

1 skinless, boneless chicken breast (originally 4 chicken breasts)
2 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
cayenne pepper, to taste
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 cup hazelnut flour for dredging (all-purpose flour in original)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1/2 cup white wine (I used rice cooking wine)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (I thought it was too sour, so reduce to 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/4-inch slices
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped (I used cilantro)

 DIRECTIONS:

1. Slice chicken breast horizontally in half. Place chicken between 2 layers of plastic wrap and pound to about 1/2-inch thick. Slice each “steak” in half.

2. Lightly season both sides of chicken with cayenne, salt, and black pepper. Dredge lightly in flour and shake off any excess.

Cook’s Note: The sauce for this recipe is salty, so season lightly! Omit the salt just to be cautious.

3. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken in the pan, reduce heat to medium, and cook until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side for thighs, 3 minutes per side for breasts. Remove to a plate. Don’t wash out the pan.

4. Cook capers in remaining oil in the pan, smashing them lightly to release brine, until warmed though, about 30 seconds.

5. Pour wine into skillet. Scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until reduced, about 2 minutes.

6. Stir lemon juice, water, and butter into the reduced wine mixture; cook and stir continuously to form a thin sauce, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir parsley through the sauce.

Cook’s Note: Since I used hazelnut flour, it doesn’t thicken the sauce like wheat flour does. If you wish to make the sauce thicker, add 1 tablespoon teaspoon all-purpose flour to the capers, then add the liquid.

7. Return chicken breasts to the pan cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. The chicken soaked up the sauce  when it was returned to the pan. Don’t turn them; they’ll look prettier. Serve with sauce spooned over the top.

zucchini risotto

“Can I have the recipe, Mom?”

Apart from that unusual request, AJ had three helpings. He leans more towards the carnivore end of the scale. I’m just slightly to the left of omnivore heading into vegetarian territory. Nope, not vegan. I’m not ready to give up meat or dairy! But to get back to this recipe, it is a good one. What’s not to like? It’s not quick and easy, but short-cuts would compromise the flavor I think. And to me, anything that calls for a broth or stock should include one made from scratch. I made a simple vegetable broth from two leeks, three medium carrots, an onion, bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, and the stems of a bunch of cilantro. I gently boiled the vegetables in 7 cups of water for 40 minutes. The risotto itself took 45 minutes to make. So no, this is not quick and easy, but well worth the effort last Sunday afternoon when I made it instead of indulging in restless snacking. The rice was creamy, the zucchini was crunchy, and the sun dried tomatoes added texture, color, and flavor.

Zucchini Risotto (adapted from allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

6-7 cups vegetable or chicken stock, preferably home made
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups Arborio rice, uncooked
1 medium zucchini, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
10 sun-dried tomatoes, softened and chopped (if using tomatoes in oil, drain first)
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan (or mozzarella) cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves, or to taste (optional)
Salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

 Preparation:

  1. Bring vegetable or chicken stock to a boil in a medium stock pot, then reduce heat to a low simmer.
    Melt butter in a large, heavy bottomed stock pot over medium heat. Stir in onions and cook for 2 minutes, or until softened. Add the rice and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted.
  2. On medium heat,  ladle in 1 cup of simmering vegetable stock to the rice, stirring continuously. When the liquid is absorbed, add another cupful of stock to the pan. Continue stirring. Repeat using up to 6 cups of stock. Risotto should be “creamy” and slightly sticky, yet still firm in the center, or al dente. If it isn’t tender, add a little of the 7th cup of stock.
  3. When almost finished, stir in the zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, and thyme, adding stock as needed and stirring continuously. Stir in basil and 3 tablespoons cheese just before serving. Divide risotto among 6 bowls, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and season with (salt) and pepper to taste.

Cook’s Note: If using home-made vegetable broth, the dish might not be salty enough. Taste the rice and add salt to taste.

spicy mango-apricot chutney

Mango chutney is sweet and tart, a little bit spicy, and does it ever taste good with a turkey burger! As a snack, it’s also great on a brown rice cake. I had this for Elevenses, or Second Breakfast, I’m not sure which. It was definitely not Lunch. I experimented with the recipe again, and added cardamom to it for added spice. I also added a chopped peach when I added the mango to the pot–the fruit measurements don’t need to be exact. Also, the picture I posted for this recipe was terrible, so I made up a new batch of chutney and took the photo again!

Spicy Mango-Apricot Chutney (adapted from Vegan on the Cheap)
Makes 2 cups

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced red onion (I used yellow onion)
1 tablespoon minced hot chile or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon water
2 cups chopped fresh mango
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and chile. Cover and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger, sugar, salt, cardamom, water, mango, and apricots, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and stir in the vinegar. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to a week.

Related articles

broccoli with orzo

I discovered orzo. Orzo believe it or not, is pasta. It’s shaped like rice, looks like rice, but tastes like pasta! This is another recipe I adapted from Skinnytaste.com. It’s not low carb; not all vegetarian dishes are. I served it tonight with five-spice tilapia and steamed sugar snap peas with sweet pepper, but this could also be a main dish. It was cheese-y, garlicky, and wonderful!

Broccoli with Orzo

Ingredients:
4.5 oz uncooked orzo pasta
1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid, reserved (optional)
2 cups of fresh broccoli florets only (no stems)
4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
3 tsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and fresh pepper to taste
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, grated (optional)

Directions:
Trim stems off broccoli, cut into small pieces and season with salt. Steam covered with a little water until cooked, careful not to overcook. When broccoli is cooked, remove from pan and chop into smaller pieces.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in medium pot of salted water as directed for al dente. Reserve about 1/2 cup liquid. Drain orzo in a colander and add the oil to the pot. Saute garlic a few minutes until golden, add broccoli, season with salt and mix well. Add orzo and stir to combine all. Add a little reserved liquid as needed so pasta isn’t dry. Serve with freshly grated cheese if desired.

warm pasta salad with corn and zucchini

Last year,  I bought a coupon on Amazon Local for a home-cooked Italian meal with Sandra Catena, The Feisty Italian. She came to our old apartment to teach us how to cook the meal. One of the simplest and most delicious courses was the pasta, dressed simply with cubes of mozzarella cheese. The cheese melted in the heat of the spaghetti–a quick and easy version of mac and cheese!  I remembered that when I made this dish. This is a great one dish meatless meal–and it cooked up in about half an hour. To save time, I skipped the fresh corn and used frozen. The oil I didn’t use to fry the zucchini I used to flavor the pasta. Then I dressed it up with mozzarella cheese, a delicious lesson learned from Sandra.

Warm Pasta Salad with Corn and Zucchini (adapted from Skinnytaste.com)

Ingredients
2-4 teaspoons olive oil
4 cups sliced zucchini (2 medium zucchini sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds)
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (3 ears of corn)
1/2 cup red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red or yellow sweet bell pepper, thinly sliced
8 oz uncooked pasta
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
1/3 cup “black Italian olives” (I used kalamata)
1/2 to 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
8 basil leaves, chopped
Cooking spray
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preparation:

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain cooked pasta and set aside.

Spray cooking spray in a large skillet and heat it over medium high heat. You will need to cook the zucchini in two batches. Place the zucchini rounds in a single layer in the skillet. Cook 5 minutes on one side until roasted, then turn and cook again for 5 more minutes. Remove zucchini and set aside. Spray the pan again and put in another layer of zucchini rounds. Repeat.

Remove zucchini and add 2 teaspoons oil to the pan. Add the onion, peppers, and corn. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add the pan-fried zucchini, pasta, pepper flakes, vinegar, olives, cheese, and basil. Sprinkle a teaspoon or two of olive oil. Add salt to taste. Toss. Spoon onto plates and sprinkle freshly ground pepper on top.

southwestern cheese panini

I adapted this recipe from Eating Well. It takes about 25 minutes to prepare and cook. According to the website, one panini sandwich serving contains 330 calories. I imagine that if you use cooking spray instead of oil, the calories may be even less–how much, I don’t know, but hey, every little bit counts! What I also liked about it was that it was flavorful without having to use additional salt. I recommend serving it with a salad, such as strawberries, baby spinach, dried cranberries, and almonds.

Southwestern Cheese Panini
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

4 ounces shredded sharp Cheddar cheese or Pepper Jack cheese
1 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion (or a combination of onion, scallion, and chopped cilantro)
1/4-1/2 cup prepared salsa, drained of excess liquid, if chunky salsa
1 tablespoon chopped pickled jalapeño pepper, (optional)
8 slices whole-wheat bread or multi-grain bread
2 teaspoons canola oil or cooking spray

Preparation

  1. Have four 15-ounce cans and a medium skillet (not nonstick) ready by the stove.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine cheese, zucchini, carrot, onion, salsa, jalapeño (if using). Put one slice of bread on the work surface. Scoop about 1/2 cup of the zucchini mixture on the bread. Top with another slice of bread. Cook’s Note: I used Pepper Jack cheese and multi-grain bread which I think add more flavor and texture to the panini.
  3. Heat 1 teaspoon oil, if using, or spray a large non-stick skillet with cooking spray, over medium heat.  Place the panini in the non-stick skillet. Weigh it down with the medium skillet with the 4 cans. Cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Remove the top skillet with the cans. Reduce the heat to medium low and flip the panini. Replace the top skillet. Cook until the second side is golden, 1-3 minutes more. Repeat with another teaspoon oil, if using, and another panini.

my baking therapy: chocolate bundt cake with rum

The Fourth of July was my day for baking therapy. I should have done something red, white, and blue, but I wanted to do something rich, dark, and sensual with chocolate.  This cake came out dense and moist and very dark. And because of the rum syrup, it had a slight tangy flavor. Its texture so reminded me of the steamed pudding fruit cakes we love to eat at Christmas-time in Jamaica. Naturally, I watched my favorite movie Chocolat while I was baking; there is something magical about chocolate that sweetens the mood and raises the spirit.

Rich Chocolate Bundt Cake with Rum (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

Ingredients
For the Cake
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (2 1/4 oz) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine (I used unsweetened chocolate)
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee
3/4 cup boiling water
1 cup sour cream, room temperature (I used half sour cream, half Greek plain nonfat yogurt)
1 tablespoon vanilla
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
2 cups packed (14 oz) light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature

For the Rum Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark rum
2 tablespoons water.

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350˚F. Melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add 1 tablespoon cocoa powder to the melted butter or add 1 tablespoon flour. Mix well. Using a pastry brush, brush the inside of a 12-cup bundt pan with the butter mixture. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

3. Boil a cup of water. In another large bowl, combine the cocoa, chocolate, and instant espresso. Do not mix. Measure 3/4 cup of boiling water and pour over the top of the chocolate mixture. Cover and let stand 5 minutes until the chocolate is melted. Whisk the mixture smooth and set aside to cool. When cool, whisk in the sour cream and vanilla. Set aside.

Cake Baker’s Note: To chop chocolate, set the block of chocolate on a sheet of waxed paper. Using a serrated knife, thinly shave a corner of the block with a downward motion. Turn the block to shave another corner. Pick up the corners of the waxed paper and tip the shavings into a cup to measure 6 oz or 3/4 cup.

4. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-6 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, about 1 minute. (The batter may look curdled.)

5. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by half of the chocolate mixture. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture and the remaining chocolate mixture. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just incorporated.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Wipe any drips of batter off the sides of the pan. Gently tap the pan on the counter to settle the batter.

7. Bake the cake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 50-60 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking.

8. Remove the cake from the oven. Let the cake cool in the pan 10 minutes then turn it out on a wire rack. Mix the ingredients for rum syrup in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Set the cake on the cooling rack over a large rimmed baking sheet. While the cake is still warm brush with the rum syrup. Cool the cake completely before serving.