Monday, February 28, 2011

Asparagus and Spinach Soup

I've mentioned my love of soup many times on this blog, but I can't crow enough about the financial benefits of soup. Not only can you make large batches that can be frozen for months, but it's also a great way to use up vegetables that are on their way to spoiling. Want to stretch your food budget? Make soup!

I'm a big fan of baby spinach, so when I couldn't decide between making an asparagus or a spinach dish, marrying the two together in a healthy, nutritious soup seemed like the logical compromise.

Asparagus and Spinach Soup

2 cups peeled, diced red potato
3/4 lb. asparagus, diced into 1/4" inch pieces
2 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 ribs celery, chopped
4 1/4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh black pepper to taste

1. Combine potato, asparagus, onion and celery in a large soup pot, and cover with vegetable broth. Bring to a boil over medium high heat then lower to a simmer and cover for 15 minutes.

2. Turn off heat and add baby spinach to the soup. Cover for two minutes, or until spinach wilts. Blend using a hand blender and stir in Parmesan cheese. Season with black pepper to taste.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Truffled Scrambled Eggs

I can't believe I'm posting a description for how to make scrambled eggs, considering how easy it is to beat an egg, drop it in a pan, and stir it for a few minutes, but after years of watching people turn out the driest, most unappetizing scrambled eggs on the planet, I thought I'd offer my method for cooking soft, fluffy, creamy scrambled eggs.

First things first, beaten eggs and half and half have always been my recipe for success. Two eggs and about three tablespoons of half and half are added to a skillet over medium heat with 2 tbsp. melted butter.

The most important part of making scrambled eggs is to keep the eggs moving. I like to use a spatula to fold the eggs, but the key always seems to be to keep them moving. The eggs will not dry out this way.

Once the eggs have all formed and are no longer runny, but rather soft and fluffy, remove them from the heat and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with 1/2 tsp. of white truffle oil and serve.

Pictured above: scrambled eggs, fresh pineapple, roasted beets, steamed spinach and cherry tomatoes, and a whole wheat English muffin.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hawaiian Pizza

Way back in 2003, I was a homesick student at University of Oxford, thousands of miles away from everyone I knew and loved. I was certainly homesick, but there wasn't much time to feel sentimental, as I was busy studying and soaking in the sights. Trips to the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc., completely shocked me out of my homesickness, but I continued to feel out of place, out of my element, and all around confused.

Being a college student abroad, I was also broke. ALL THE TIME. I had a cell phone with ten minutes on it every month, a flat phone that no one from the States would call because it was too damned expensive, and a pocket full of foreign coins that I couldn't quite identify by simply feeling them in my pocket. I figured out pretty early on that the 99 p pizza at the corner market was the cheapest and most abundant answer to my hunger pangs, and I'm not sure what led me to Hawaiian pizza instead of the plainer cheese or sausage, but I like to think that I decided to try something different; to take a chance when it all seemed to be slipping out of my fingers. I roomed and was friends with students who had some serious financial backing from their parents, and all I could think about was how to make my bank account last as long as possible. Hawaiian pizza included pineapple, a serving of fruit that killed two birds with one stone (yes, it was likely dehydrated and processed, but I didn't care at the time) and that ensured I was getting at least a little nutrition into my diet.

Hawaiian pizza has always brought back the memory of feeling exhilarated, exhausted, titillated, and tired, and I love the extreme food memory that comes back to me each time I eat it.

I remember the day those foreign coins in my pocket became identifiable by touch. I was buying Indian takeaway, and in my haste to pay without thinking, I felt the change in my pocket. 25 p, 5 p, and one pence, all in a row in my jeans pocket. I had finally felt at home.

Hawaiian Pizza

1 cup diced fresh pineapple
2/3 cup diced canadian bacon
1/2 cup pizza sauce (see below)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 pizza dough recipe (see below)

1. Roll out pizza dough and place on a pizza pan sprinkled with cornmeal. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes (prick dough all over with a fork to prevent dough bubbles).

2. Spread pizza sauce over dough and evenly distribute. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over sauce, and top with evenly distributed canadian bacon and pineapple. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until crust is browned and cheese is melted.

Basic Pizza Dough

1/2 tsp. yeast
1/4 cup warm water, plus more as needed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Handful of cornmeal

1. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Place flour and salt in food processor and pulse a couple of times. With processor running, add yeast and water mixture. Add more warm water, a tablespoon at a time, to dough until a ball forms in processor.

2. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead five times. Shape into a ball and place dough in a large bowl coated with olive oil or olive oil cooking spray. Let rise in a warm place for at least one hour.

3. Roll out dough with a rolling pin into a circular shape. Top with toppings and bake.

Classic Tomato Herb Pizza Sauce

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 28 oz. can tomato sauce (preferably Muir Glen Organic)
1 15 oz. can tomato paste (again, preferably Muir Glen)
1 tsp. turbinado sugar
4 tbsp. mixed fresh herbs, such as basil, marjoram, oregano
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Saute garlic and onions for 3-4 minutes, or until onions are soft and translucent. If using dried herbs, add to onion and garlic.

2. Pour in tomato sauce and tomato paste, stirring to combine. Once heated through, add sugar, turn heat down to low and cover. Simmer for 10-20 minutes.

3. Stir in fresh herbs, salt (you might not need salt if you are using non-organic sauce and paste--check the label), and black pepper to taste. Remove from heat, cool, and pour into serving sized ziplock bags. Label and freeze up to six months.

Monday, February 21, 2011

BC Beet Salad Knock Off

I can't praise Pullman's own Black Cypress enough. Although they opened just over a year ago, they have become my very favorite place to eat in this horrible food wasteland that is the Palouse. Before they came along, I was forced to eat "fancy" food that was glorified fast food, and not to be too gross here, but when you eat somewhere and every burp has the same note, you know it ain't good. Black Cypress has never disappointed me, and when I have family in town, dinner there is the first item on my visitor agenda.

My favorite dish at BC is a rather simply dressed, fresh, and flavorful salad that combines the earthy sweetness of beets with the salty, pungent delight of blue cheese, so I decided to try a homemade version. Despite all my best efforts, this dish is still one best served in their dining room, but I think I came pretty darn close. If you're in the area, try the Turnip the Beets salad, even if you aren't a fan of beets. It has the capacity to make the worst enemy of beets a relative worshipper.

Fresh Beet Salad

3 medium beets, unpeeled
1/8 cup olive oil
4 tbsp. champagne vinegar*
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. blue cheese, Gorgonzola, or other pungent cheese
1 tbsp. crushed pistachios
1 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley


1. Cover beets in a large pot with cold water and boil until soft, around 30-40 minutes. Alternatively, you can steam them in a steamer for around 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Once cool, skins should easily peel off.** (See note)

2. Slice beets into bite size pieces and place in a medium bowl. Add olive oil, champagne vinegar, and lemon juice to beets, and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour (the longer the better).

3. Once chilled, distribute beets onto a serving platter and sprinkle with blue cheese, pistachios, and chopped Italian parsley. Serve.

*Note: I used champagne vinegar infused with lemon already, so I simply increased the amount of champagne vinegar and it turned out the same as when I used vinegar and lemon juice. I'm guessing apple cider vinegar would work well in this recipe as well, given its natural tart yet fruity notes.

Beets stain skin pretty easily, so I advise wearing kitchen gloves when handling them. If you don't wear gloves (I didn't have any on hand once), rub your skin with the half of a lemon, preferably the one you juiced for the beet dressing.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy....just lighter

This is yet another "comfort food goes lighter" recipe, and if you don't mind a few minor changes to truly unhealthy recipes, you'll love this one. I know the common feeling about comfort food is that if you're going to eat something that is comfort food, you might as well splurge. Well...I simply don't accept that excuse, and I strive to make menu choices that are comforting, healthy, but flavorful at the same time, and I heartily espouse my right to lighten foods that are heavy.

I served the chicken fried steak with simply steamed green beans and mashed cauliflower for maximum vegetable intake.
Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy (from

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
1 teaspoon paprika
1 pound cube steak, cut into 4 portions
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup half-and-half


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Place all-purpose flour on a large plate. Place egg whites in a shallow dish. Whisk cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, 1/4 cup cornstarch and paprika in another shallow dish. Season both sides of steak with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Dredge the steak in the flour, shaking off excess; dip in the egg whites, then dredge in the cornmeal mixture.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add 2 pieces of the steak; cook until browned on both sides, turning once, 3 to 5 minutes total. Transfer the steak to the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 2 pieces of steak. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, add broth to the pan and boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 cup, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk water and the remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in half-and-half; season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Serve the steak topped with the gravy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chicken with Easy Mushroom Sauce

Not much to report on this one, save for the fact that I'm drowning in grading (I've even had dreams to that effect) and I needed something with mushrooms. And potatoes. And chicken. My brain doesn't work outside of spitting out random ingredients when work gets the better of me, so considering I made it through preparing dinner without drooling or rambling nonsense, I can attest to this being an easy comfort food to prepare. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it sure hits the spot.

Okay, back to my grading hovel. If you don't hear from me in the next week, send someone in with a sword fashioned out of a red pen and a really big dictionary.

Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce (Link to original recipe)
2 5-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and tenders removed (see Tip)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 cup thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps
2 tablespoons dry vermouth, or dry white wine
1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, or scallion greens


1. Season chicken with pepper and salt on both sides.
2. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning once or twice and adjusting the heat to prevent burning, until brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, 12 to 16 minutes. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
3. Add shallot to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 2 minutes. Pour in vermouth (or wine); simmer until almost evaporated, scraping up any browned bits, about 1 minute. Pour in broth and cook until reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in cream and chives (or scallions); return to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan, turn to coat with sauce and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Vegetable Macaroni with Four Cheeses

Macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food, but I often struggle to eat vegetables on the side when faced with a heaping helping of cheesy goodness. To help counteract this disturbing occurrence, I often bake vegetables into my casserole in hopes that I'll be comforted AND hit my daily vegetable intake. In the past, I've used peas, corn, assorted frozen vegetables, butternut squash, but this time I had on hand a couple of small yellow bell peppers, a container of baby spinach, and a large tomato that needed to be used.

I also used brown rice pasta in lieu of traditional macaroni, as I really like its subtle nutty flavor, but you could use whatever macaroni you see fit. I won't come along and second guess you.

Vegetable Macaroni with Four Cheeses

1 1/2 cups brown rice pasta
1 3/4 cups skim milk, divided
4 tbsp. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 cup cubed brie (rind removed)
1 cup freshly grated reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup freshly grated white cheddar
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
Fresh ground black pepper
2 yellow bell peppers, diced and steamed
2 cups baby spinach, shredded
1 large tomato, cut into slices


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil a pot of salted water, add brown rice pasta, and cook for 13-14 minutes, or a few minutes less than package directions. Drain pasta and set aside
2. Heat 1 1/2 cups skim milk over medium heat, until steaming. Mix remaining milk and flour in a small bowl or cup, and then drizzle the slurry into the steamed milk. Add dijon mustard and brie to milk mixture. Whisk and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until thickened. Remove from heat and add sharp and white cheddar, stirring until melted.
3. Add steamed bell pepper and spinach to melted cheese mixture, dump macaroni in pot and toss to coat. Pour macaroni mixture into a baking dish coated with cooking spray, sprinkle Parmesan on top, and cover with slices of tomato. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbling and tomatoes are soft.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tilapia Fish Tacos

If you haven't ever tried a fish taco, I shall convert you. I am the Jehovah's fish taco girl. Okay, unless you don't eat fish. Then I suppose I will respect our differences....

This is perhaps why I've never gone into sales.

But honestly, it's easy to make your own fish tacos at home, and if you don't like to pan fry, this recipe could easily convert for the bake-friendly (see? I'm at least trying to sell it to you). I like to sprinkle broccoli slaw mix on my tacos and cover with a nice coating of a simple sour cream and salsa mixture, but regular cabbage slaw and salsa work just the same.

Tilapia Fish Tacos

4 tilapia fillets
Salt and pepper
Chili powder
1/2 cup cornmeal
4 tbsp. canola oil
Lime wedges to serve


1. Coat tilapia fillets with a fine dusting of salt, pepper, cumin and chili powder. Drag fillets through cornmeal and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a frying pan or skillet over medium high heat. Add fillets to the pan and cook 4 minutes a side, or until fish flakes easily. Serve fillets in corn tortillas with lime wedges to serve. Sprinkle with broccoli slaw and slather on Cilantro Salsa Cream (recipe below), if desired.

Cilantro Salsa Cream

1/4 cup sour cream (I'm blasphemous...I use fat free)
4 tbsp. salsa of your choice
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro


1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Warming Italian Vegetable Soup with Beans and Orzo

Soup is easy to make. Seriously easy. I always suggest trying out a simple broccoli or vegetable soup for those who aren't quite confident in their culinary skills, as often it's just a matter of throwing ingredients into a pot and simmering. Who could be nervous throwing things into a pot, where all the magic is done without you?

The following recipe was born after a long, harrowing day for my poor husband, who has been working an awful lot as of late, in addition to his other duties. He's also been honing his own culinary skills by cooking one or two days a week, so after a particularly tough day, I told him to take a load off and with the ingredients I had in my fridge and pantry, this is what resulted. When I make it again, I will be adding zucchini. If you have a big wedge of Parmesan on hand, throw a small piece of rind while it simmers for a lovely, slightly salty finish.

Italian Vegetable Soup with Beans and Orzo

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, thoroughly cleaned, white and light green parts thinly sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups kale, torn into pieces
2" piece of Parmesan rind (optional)
3 tbsp. orzo
Fresh ground black pepper


1. Heat olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add leek, onion, celery, and garlic to pot, and cook until vegetables are tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes and beans into the pot and stir to combine. Cover vegetables with chicken stock, and add kale and Parmesan rind (if using) to the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes.
2. Once soup has simmered, add orzo to soup and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until orzo is cooked through. Taste for seasoning, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms

I use portabella mushrooms on those days I want something "meaty" but I don't quite want meat. I suspect this would be ideal for meatless Mondays, particularly for those who resist the idea of a vegetarian dinner. I've noticed more meat lovers are embracing this new tradition, so I'd like to stress here that not only is vegetarian eating more economical, but it can also be flavorful. I'm never going to become a full-blow vegetarian (please don't get me started on this subject), but I do plan meatless meals three or four days a week.

This recipe also happens to be one in my arsenal that overlaps with staples I make huge batches of and freeze for all manner of meals. The ricotta and spinach mixture I use for lasagna and stuffed shells, and the marinara I use for a quick pasta dinner (which I made as a side dish here) or for pizza, etc. Versatile meal bases are important to me, and they keep me well within my budget.

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms

4 large portobello mushroom caps
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup finely chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped kalamata olives
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
3/4 cup prepared marinara sauce

(from here)

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Place mushroom caps, gill-side up, on the prepared pan. Sprinkle with salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Roast until tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, mash ricotta, spinach, 1/4 cup Parmesan, olives, Italian seasoning and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Place marinara sauce in a small bowl, cover and microwave on High until hot, 30 seconds to 1 1/2 minutes.
4. When the mushrooms are tender, carefully pour out any liquid accumulated in the caps. Return the caps to the pan gill-side up. Spread 1 tablespoon marinara into each cap; cover the remaining sauce to keep warm. Mound a generous 1/3 cup ricotta filling into each cap and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Bake until hot, about 10 minutes. Serve with the remaining marinara sauce.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Shrimp and Grits: the lighter version

Southern food is comforting, naughty, and for the most part, hella unhealthy, so when I want a lighter taste of heaven, I make a few changes. First and foremost, I refuse to use bacon grease in my food. Yes, I know, this is completely unforgivable, but I imagine these days (given our increased awareness of diabetes, obesity, etc.) there won't be many objections. I also substitute low fat cheese where I can, and I tend to broil, bake, or roast meats and seafood instead of pan frying. And even though butter makes me the happiest girl on earth, I shun all things Paula Deen in favor of olive oil instead.

Although this recipe certainly doesn't hold a candle to its more authentic counterpart, it's a great way to eat healthy and still cheat a bit.

Shrimp and Grits
(Recipe adapted from

1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup quick grits (not instant)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1 cup low fat white cheddar cheese
1 pound peeled and deveined raw shrimp (16-20 per pound)
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon salt


1. Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.
2. Bring broth and water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in grits and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Cover to keep warm.
3. Meanwhile, toss shrimp, scallions, oil, garlic powder, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper and salt in a medium bowl. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Broil, stirring once, until the shrimp are pink and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Serve the grits topped with the broiled shrimp and scallions.