toasted orzo risotto with corn, thyme, tarragon, and chives

The secret to this deliciously simple dish is the orzo. For best results, this tiny pasta must be al dente. And I recommend making it with a vegetable stock because it tastes so much better! As the orzo absorbed the stock, it turned brown. If you use water, the orzo will be white. I insist that all the ingredients must be fresh: fresh corn, thyme, tarragon, chives, garlic, lemon, and shallot. It’s surprisingly sweet but tangy, with a faint peppery flavor from the tarragon. To get the corn off the cob, I used a sharp knife to slice the kernels off the cob, then lightly chopped them to separate them. Be careful when you do this;  I put the cob lengthwise on the cutting board and sliced downward.  I added tarragon and chives because the thyme was already in the recipe, but I think experimenting with a combination of fresh herbs would be delicious. Savory Simple recommends Penzey’s Sunny Paris Spice for seasoning, but I think it is only available by mail order. I just used salt and pepper, which is simple and easy. Like this recipe. The whole thing took 25 minutes to prep and cook.

Toasted Orzo Risotto with Corn, Thyme, Tarragon, and Chives (adapted from Savory Simple)
Makes  2 entrees or 4 side dishes

Ingredients

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup shallots, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup orzo
1 ear of sweet corn, approximately 3/4 cup kernels (see note)
Juice of 1 lemon
3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, leaves only, minced fine
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced fine
1 3/4 water or homemade stock
salt & pepper to taste
optional: 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Preparation

  1. In a 10 inch skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds Add the orzo to the pan and turn the heat up to medium. Allow the orzo to toast while stirring. You can go lighter or darker with the toasting. As the orzo browns, it will develop a nutty flavor.
  2. Turn down the heat to medium-low and stir in the corn kernels, lemon juice, thyme, tarragon, and chives. Add 1/4 cup of water or stock. Stir frequently to prevent the orzo from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the liquid is absorbed, add another 1/4 cup liquid. Repeat until a total of 1 1/2 cups liquid is added  to the pan and is absorbed by the orzo. Reserve the last 1/4 cup.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the last of the water or stock, pine nuts (if using) and salt and pepper to taste.
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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.

blackened whitefish with sautéed corn with cherry tomatoes

Another Friday in Lent and today’s menu included: blackened whitefish with sautéed corn with cherry tomatoes, roasted vegetables, and steamed broccoli. I adapted this fish recipe from a recipe for blackened catfish in the Cooking Light Eat Smart Guide: 200-Calorie cookbook. The fish was just cooked and the spice added a delicious burned texture that contrasted with the delicate flakes of fish. What more can I say? I love burned toast too…

Blackened Whitefish

Ingredients

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon ground red pepper
¼  teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
4 (6 oz) white fish fillets, e.g. catfish, tilapia, basa

Preparation

  1. Combine thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, black pepper, red pepper and salt in a small bowl. Cook’s Tip: This will only be enough spice to rub onto one side of each fillet. If the spice mixture isn’t dry because of the fresh thyme, heat it up in a dry skillet. The spices may darken.
  2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil to the pan. Brush both sides of the fillets with remaining teaspoon olive oil. Rub one side of the fillets with spice mixture. Add to pan and cook 3 minutes on each side or until fillets flake easily with a fork. Cook’s Tip: For a low calorie alternative I grilled the fish in the George Foreman grill, about 2 minutes per fillet.
  3. Serve with sautéed corn with cherry tomatoes.

Sautéed Corn with Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 minced garlic cloves
2 cups fresh corn kernels (can be frozen or tinned)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped scallions
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh minced thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
salt and pepper

Preparation

Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add corn and tomatoes then cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat. Stir in the scallions, vinegar, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm or at room temperature with blackened white fish or as a condiment for steak tacos.

the 500-calorie dinner: hoppin’ john, summer squash soup, and watermelon yogurt ice

Tired of dieting but must eat! These recipes came from Eating Well’s dinner menus which offer a main dish, a side, and a dessert, all for 500 calories. What a bargain! Now I’m starting the sequence with dessert, a cool delicious ice, because dessert takes the longest time to make, in fact! The second recipe is a light soup. The third one is a variation on the southern dish Hoppin’ John, and it is made with lean pork chops rather than with bacon or salt pork.

Watermelon-Yogurt Ice
This is so refreshing! Especially on a warm night in the Teeny Tiny Apartment.

Ingredients
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups diced seedless watermelon, (about 3 pounds with the rind)
1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
1 tablespoon lime juice

Preparation
1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan.Cook,stirring,over high heat until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a glass measuring cup and let cool slightly.
2. Puree watermelon in a food processor or blender,in 2 batches,pulsing until smooth.Transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in the cooled sugar syrup, yogurt and lime juice until combined. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into another large bowl, whisking to release all juice. Discard pulp.
3. Pour the extracted juices into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturerʼs directions. As an alternative, pour into a shallow metal pan and freeze until solid, about 6 hours or overnight. Remove from freezer to defrost slightly, 5 minutes. Break into small chunks and process in a food processor, in batches, until smooth and creamy. Serve immediately or transfer to a storage container and freeze for up to 2 hours.

For one 1/2 cup serving: 74 Calories; 1 g Fat; 0 g Sat; 0 g Mono; 2 mg Cholesterol; 16 g Carbohydrates; 2 g Protein; 0 g Fiber; 21 mg Sodium; 155 mg Potassium

Golden Summer Squash and Corn Soup
This soup reminds me of the classic Chinese corn soup. It was rather bland so I suggest adding salt and pepper to taste. And a dash or two of hot sauce like Sriracha! Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, chopped
2 medium summer squash, (about 1 pound), diced
3 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme or oregano, divided
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 cup fresh corn kernels, (tinned is okay)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash or two of hot chili sauce, optional but recommended
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese or goat cheese

Preparation
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook,stirring,1 minute.Add squash and 1 teaspoon herbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash starts to soften, 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Add broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the squash is soft and mostly translucent, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.)If you have an immersion or wand blender, then puree the soup in the pot.
3. Return the soup to the pan and stir in corn. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender, 3 to 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat; stir in lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add hot sauce, if using. Serve garnished with the remaining 2 teaspoons herbs and feta or goat cheese.

For a scant 1 cup serving: 111 Calories; 6 g Fat; 2 g Sat; 3 g Mono; 6 mg Cholesterol; 13 g Carbohydrates; 5 g Protein; 2 g Fiber; 462 mg Sodium; 497 mg Potassium

Blackeyed Peas with Pork and Greens
This one was quite tasty. I added 2 extra cloves of garlic; you can never have too much garlic. Remember not to overcook the pork or it will get tough.

Ingredients
1 pound boneless pork chops, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup instant brown rice
8 cups roughly chopped kale leaves, (about 1 small bunch), tough stems removed
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons cider vinegar, or sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, preferably hot
1 15-ounce can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained

Preparation
1. Toss pork with salt and pepper.Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.Add the pork and cook, stirring, until just cooked through, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
2. Add onion,tomato paste and rice to the pan and cook until the onion softens,about 4 minutes. Add kale and garlic and cook until the kale begins to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in broth, vinegar, paprika. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until the rice is done, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the reserved pork and black-eyed peas and heat for 1 minute.

For one serving (1 1/3 cups): 281 Calories; 8 g Fat; 2 g Sat; 3 g Mono; 45 mg Cholesterol; 32 g Carbohydrates; 22 g Protein; 5 g Fiber; 405 mg Sodium; 740 mg Potassium