Italian meatball soup with orzo, spinach, and carrots

I went the extra mile for this recipe I adapted from dashrecipes.com!  I had the time this afternoon so I made a vegetable soup stock from scratch, using leeks, celery, garlic, and carrots, seasoned with bay leaf, fresh tarragon, and thyme. For additional flavor, I added a teaspoon of organic Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base. If not for that detour, this recipe would be quick and easy. Of course, to save time, I used the carrots from the stock in the meatball soup, and saved the rest of the vegetables for puréeing later. I will add the purée to the remaining stock for flavor.  I recommend serving this soup with a simple salad or hot crusty bread for a light supper.

Italian Meatball Soup with Orzo, Spinach and Carrots
INGREDIENTS:

1⁄2 lb ground sirloin
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons whole wheat Panko breadcrumbs
1 Tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
5 1/2 cups light chicken broth (reduced-sodium, fat-free)
2 cups fresh spinach (no stems)
3⁄4 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1/2 cup chopped carrot
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

1. In small bowl, combine ground sirloin, egg, Panko, cheese, basil, and onion powder. Using a teaspoon, shape into 1-inch balls.

2. In a large saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add meatballs and cook 10 minutes on simmer. Stir in the orzo and carrot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for another 10 minutes or until the meatballs are done. About a minute before the meatballs are done, add the spinach. Serve topped with additional Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

leek potato soup

I’ve been so busy lately, too busy to blog. What sacrilege. But I’ve a good excuse;  I’m writing a final paper for my summer reading teacher course. I was very ambitious and started a new course at the same time I started a new job. The course is almost over and I can breathe easier now that summer academy is over. So I whipped up this soup from a recipe courtesy of Irene Phaksuwan. I love my new soup bowl! I bought it in Chinatown because I needed some deep Chinese soup bowls to replace the shallow soup plates that I have. You have to dig into a soup, if you’re Chinese because Chinese soups are hearty and full of noodles, meat, and vegetables; we don’t skim soups delicately with a spoon. This Leek Potato Soup is hearty–and it’s all vegetarian.

Leek Potato Soup

Ingredients
2 leeks, washed, and outer leaves removed, chopped into 1 inch lengths
2 1/2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup celery, chopped with leaves
3 small carrots, scraped and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
1 sprig thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Head the oil in a large dutch pot over medium heat. Put leeks, potatoes, celery, carrots and garlic in the oil and stir-fry until tender about 3 minutes. Add the broth, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Cook 20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through.

If you wish, thicken the soup. Spoon half the vegetables into the work bowl of a food processor and process until the vegetables are the consistency of thick soup. Return processed vegetables to the soup. Serve hot with a salad on the side or a hot crusty whole grain bread.

grilled chicken with cucumber relish

That red sauce is  a little dollop of harissa that I cannot do without whenever I grill chicken. Plus a couple of twists of Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning. The chicken is yummy and juicy, lightly spiced. I loved the cucumber relish with this; it was slightly spicy, crunchy, and fresh tasting. I high recommend it as an accompaniment with other grilled meats and sandwiches. In fact, I made it again the other night for a light supper as an accompaniment for a grilled-mozzarella-cheese-and-turkey-pastrami-basil-pesto sandwich! (What a mouthful. It was delicious too!) I couldn’t call this quick and easy since the chicken had to marinate overnight. But with a little planning ahead, it can be done, because this chicken cooks up quick and easy in the George Foreman grill. And on a hot summer night, the Foreman grill does not heat up an already hot, non-air conditioned, New York kitchen!

Grilled Chicken with Cucumber Relish (adapted from allrecipes.com)

INGREDIENTS:

For the relish:
1 cucumber – peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/8 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional

For the chicken seasoning:
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or substitute 2 skinless boneless chicken thighs for 2 chicken breasts)

Mixed greens to serve

DIRECTIONS:
1. Split the chicken breast in half horizontally. Cut the larger piece in half. In a small bowl, mix the cumin and chili powder with the olive oil. Rub the mixture onto the chicken, and place in a shallow dish. Marinate in the refrigerator at least 1 hour.

Cook’s Note: Defrost the chicken in the refrigerator the night before. The next day, prep the chicken and refrigerate all day! Come home and do the grill…

2. In a medium bowl, prepare the relish by mixing together the cucumber, parsley, chopped onion, bell pepper, and red pepper flakes. Set aside.
3. Prepare the grill for medium heat.
4. Lightly oil the grill grate. Grill chicken 8 minutes per side, or until juices run clear. The chicken should register an internal temperature of 165˚F on an instant read thermometer.

Cook’s Note: I used the George Foreman grill, which requires no preparation. Grill the chicken pieces in the Foreman grill for 4-5 minutes for thighs, 3-4 minutes for breasts, or until they register an internal temperature of 165˚F on an instant read thermometer.

Serve chicken on a bed of mixed greens with cucumber relish and harissa on the side. Give a couple twists of Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning all over the plate.

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.

black bean quesadillas

This is my first summer in New York, and it’s packed to the humid skies with locals and tourists. I miss summers in Calgary, where the sidewalks are lonely and the humidity is low. Summer is not the season for cooking in the kitchen, and I have discovered that Eating Well has a number of Quick and Easy recipes online. Black Bean Quesadillas, I love you! I adapted the recipe by increasing the cheese and the salsa. I left out the oil and just used my grill pan to toast the tortillas. It really doesn’t need oil to cook. Whole wheat tortillas have a nutty toasty flavor anyway!

Black Bean Quesadillas

Makes 4 servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes

Ingredients
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1/2 – 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, preferably pepper Jack
1 cup prepared fresh salsa, divided (I bought mild salsa from Trader Joe’s)
4 8-inch whole-wheat tortillas (I used rectangular whole wheat roll-ups)
1 ripe avocado, diced, optional

Preparation
1. Combine beans, cheese and 1/4 – 1/2 cup salsa in a medium bowl. Place tortillas on a work surface. Spread 1/2 cup filling on half of each tortilla. Fold tortillas in half, pressing gently to flatten.
2. Heat a large non stick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 quesadillas and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides, 3 to 6 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board and tent with foil to keep warm. Repeat. Serve the quesadillas with avocado, if desired, and the remaining salsa.

white beans with potatoes, kalamata olives, and sun-dried tomatoes

Now this wasn’t hard to make; it just took longer.  Although it isn’t in the Quick and Easy category, it is perfect for a Sunday dinner when I have more time to cook. This recipe was originally called  White Beans and Lemon Potatoes with Olives and Tomatoes in Robin Robertson’s Vegan on the Cheap. It can either be a vegetable side or a main meal with a salad and another vegetable. I recommend roasted asparagus. This recipe doesn’t really need a lot of salt because of the tanginess of the lemon/lime juice and the olives, white beans, and sun-dried tomatoes.

Make 4 servings

White Beans with Potatoes, Kalamata Olives, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Ingredients
2 pounds small white or Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
1×15.5 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
6-8 oven dried tomatoes cut into 1/4 inch strips (I used sun-dried tomatoes in oil)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
juice of 1 lemon or 1/2 lime

Preparation
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Lightly oil a 9×13 inch baking pan. Add the potatoes and garlic, drizzle with a little oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake until tender, about 40-45 minutes.

Remove the potatoes from the oven. Add the beans, tomatoes, parsley, olives, and lemon or lime juice. Drizzle with a little more olive oil if needed to moisten. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine, then return to the oven to heat through, about 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Variations

  • Add sautéed spinach or other cooked vegetable to make a one-dish meal.
  • Substitute ripe black olives for the kalamata olives.
  • Add capers and/or chopped sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil.

cornmeal crusted chicken nuggets with blueberry-mustard dipping sauce

I adapted this recipe from Eating Well. The original recipe called for blackberries or raspberries, but I only had blueberries. It is quick and easy to make, especially on those days when I’m tempted to eat some fast food. This is much healthier. After all, it is made with chicken breasts, not something pretending to be chicken. Read Fast Food Nation or The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and I guarantee you will never look at your food the same way again!

Cornmeal Crusted Chicken Nuggets with Blueberry Mustard Dipping Sauce 

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

 Ingredients

1 cup fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1 pound chicken breasts, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/3-1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon olive oil
Cooking spray

Preparation

  1. Mash the blueberries and sieve the pulp. Discard the skins. Add mustard and honey. Mix well and set aside. Cook’s note: If using blackberries or raspberries, there is no need to discard the skin.
  2. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the chicken cubes. Put cubes into a plastic bag. Add oil and shake. Add the cornmeal and shake the bag until the chicken is evenly coated. Add cornmeal and shake the bag. Add more cornmeal a tablespoon at a time if needed.
  3. Spray cooking spray in a large skillet. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and put the chicken in a single layer in the pan. You may need to do this in two batches. Cook until browned on one side, about 4-5 minutes. Turn and brown the other side, about 4-5 minutes. Thinner nuggets will cook faster than thicker ones. Nuggets are cooked when they are firm to the touch when poked. Serve the chicken nuggets with the berry mustard.

florentine tortellini

Still continuing my quest for quick and easy meals that are healthy and low cal/low carb. This one met all my requirements, but I think I would have preferred the ravioli instead of the tortellini. I used Cheese Tortellini from Trader Joe’s, and it wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t that good either. No flavor. I liked the spinach bed–I used fresh instead of frozen–it was flavorful because of the red pepper. Next time I would add some lemon juice to it. And caramelized onions.

Florentine Tortellini (adapted from Eating Well)

Ingredients
1 20-ounce package frozen cheese ravioli, or tortellini (4 cups)
6 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 bunches fresh whole-leaf baby spinach, washed, drained,stems trimmed
1/2 cup water, optional
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preparation
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the ravioli or tortellini according to the package directions.
2. While the ravioli/tortellini is cooking, heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, salt, and crushed red pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 to 7 minutes. If the spinach is too dry, add a tablespoon of water up to 1/2 cup.
3. Divide among 4 bowls, top with the pasta and drizzle 1 teaspoon of the remaining oil over each portion. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of Parmesan.

Nutrition Per serving : 263 Calories; 13 g Fat; 4 g Sat; 6 g Mono; 28 mg Cholesterol; 28 g Carbohydrates; 13 g Protein; 5g Fiber; 660 mg Sodium; 730 mg Potassium

pappardelle with mushrooms, rosemary, and light tomato sauce, redux

I’m stubborn. Especially when I like a recipe and it doesn’t work the first time around.

It’s been a challenging week. Just as I was getting used to the rhythm of work, I started an online course last week. I’m keeping up with the assignments but not getting much sleep. It’s been tempting to eat out or to eat prepared foods from the supermarket, and so far I have not given in–though we did eat out once this week, and I told myself it’s just because it’s hump-day.  I am still determined to cook healthy low fat low carb meals, but now they have to be quick and easy recipes or they don’t make it into my kitchen! Still, I was stressed out enough that I needed some baking therapy.  I made Martha Stewart’s white butter cake recipe again, but this time I added strawberries to it. It tasted fine but that recipe needs to be revisited too. The strawberries sank to the bottom. I saw somewhere on the internet to dust the fruit lightly with flour to prevent this from happening. Does anyone knows if this really works?

Pappardelle with (Wild) Mushrooms, Rosemary, and Light Tomato Sauce (adapted from Dana Slotkin)

Serves 8 as a side dish or 4 as a main course

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra ­virgin olive oil, divided
1/4 large red onion, minced
2 garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (15­ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup low ­sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half (It doesn’t need it; I left it out)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound homemade or store­ bought pappardelle (or other wide pasta)
1 pound assorted wild mushrooms, washed well and sliced (I used baby bellas)
Grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper, for serving

Preparation
1. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over low heat and sauté the onion and garlic until fragrant and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the white wine, increase the heat to medium, and simmer until the wine has reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and rosemary and continue cooking until the sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes. Add the broth and cook until thickened slightly, about 10 more minutes. Stir in the cream, if desired; simmer for one more minute, and season with salt and pepper.

Cook’s Note: I had some grape tomatoes that I wanted to use up. I sliced them in half and added them to the onion and garlic mixture. You can never have too many tomatoes!

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

3. Transfer the sauce to a blender and blend the sauce; keep warm.

4. Cook the pasta in the boiling water until it is tender but still al dente; drain (do not rinse) it and set aside.

5. While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat and sauté the mushrooms until they are golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

6. Add the tomato sauce and pasta to the skillet, tossing to blend. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. With a large serving fork, twirl the pasta and transfer it to serving bowls. Top each portion with extra sauce and grated Parmesan cheese. I added a few twists of freshly ground Trader Joe’s four peppercorn mix. I served it with a fresh salad and Hugo’s sushi vinaigrette salad dressing.