Quinoa Salad

I feel like quinoa popped up overnight.  One minute I’ve never heard of it, the next it’s all over the internet.  I have grown very fond of quinoa and it is now a regular part of my diet.  It is known as an ancient grain and isn’t considered one of the “bad grains” I’ve written about earlier.  Quinoa has twice the fiber and protein of brown rice or any other grain.  It also has a nearly perfect blend of amino acids which helps keep stabilized blood sugar, etcetera, etcetera. I’m probably boring and not as qualified as the rest of the internet, so do your own googling!

This is one summer salad that is so easy to make and it’s light, healthy, and delicious!  The ingredients are easily interchangeable so the flavor profiles are endless.  It also packs well so it’s great on a picnic or the next day at work or school.

I used a tri-color quinoa of red, black, and white, but using simple white quinoa is just as tasty.  I love that quinoa is easily made on the stovetop or a rice cooker, with water or vegetable stock.  It is a great rice substitute and it goes well with so much.  I have given approximate portions of what I used, but this is the type of recipe that doesn’t need exactness, you just put a little bit of what you like and a lot of what you love.

Quinoa Salad

serves 2-3

2C cooked quinoa

1.5C cooked black beans

1 mango

1/2 bell pepper

2 scallions

zest from 1 lemon

3T lemon juice

5-6T olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

First, cook the quinoa if you haven’t already.  This would be a good time to make the dressing.  Simply combine the oil, lemon juice and zest, with the salt and pepper in a small food processor to combine.  Then, chop all the fruits and veggies of your choice.

Once the quinoa has cooled to room temperature, combine it with the black beans in a large serving bowl.

Toss the veggies and fruits in.

Look at the lemony yellow dressing.  It’s BEAUTIFUL!

Pour it over the salad and toss thoroughly to combine.

Rest for at least an hour to let the dressing soak into the quinoa and serve chilled or at room temperature.



Strawberry Basil Bars

Oh, summer.  I love it!  It has been a busy, yet wonderful summer thus far!  Light summer desserts are one of my favorite things about summer and I cannot get over my obsession with the combination of strawberry and basil!  In March, some friends and I ran a 5K in St. Augustine and afterwards we treated ourselves to a gourmet popsicle shop!  (After a rewarding breakfast of fruit, pancakes, and potatoes!)  This popsicle shop, called the Hyppo was fairly new and had a line out the door!  We had to check it out.  They had several flavors to choose from, so of course I chose strawberry-basil!  It was the perfect combination in a not too sweet popsicle.  I will tackle trying to create my own version at some point this summer.  For now, I have these lovely goodies to eat!

I am a firm believer that if you have a friend’s Tupperware (or Gladware or Ziploc containers, etc.) they should be returned with treats!  I tweeted this a few weeks ago and got a container returned to me with Dove dark chocolate.  I had forgotten about that container, but was greatly delighted to receive it back – with the lovely contents.  I had accumulated two different friends containers so I decided to bake them a summer treat.  I found a recipe for strawberry bars and changed up a few thing to account for my own friends’ tastebuds.

Strawberry Basil Bars

makes about 24 bars

Adapted from allrecipes.com

1C sugar

1/2C butter or margarine, softened

1/4C mashed ripe banana or fruit purée of choice

2 eggs

31/4C flour, divided

1t lemon zest

1t baking powder

1/2t salt

1 dash of cinnamon

8-10 basil leaves

12oz strawberry jam

First, combine 3 cups of flour, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  Then preheat your oven to 350.

Whisk dry ingredients together.

In my Kitchenaid, I creamed the butter, mashed banana, and sugar together, but of course this could be done in a bowl with a hand mixer.  This was somewhat of an experiment since I found out that banana can be a butter substitute.  Since I used the banana, I cut butter and sugar from the original recipe, but did not end of compromising on flavor.

Then added the eggs in, one at a time allowing the beater to incorporate each egg individually.

Add the lemon zest.

Then slowly add the flour mixture…

until the dough appears as big crumbles.

Set aside 1/4 of the dough-crumbs (about 1 cup,) then press the bottom of the remaining crumbs into either a 9×13 or 10×15 inch baking dish.  Greasing your fingers to press the crumbs helps tremendously.  So as not to brown the basil leaves, rip them into strips rather than cutting them, and spread them on top of the pressed dough.  (It’s ok if there are finger prints!)

Spread the strawberry jam on top.  If you’re really feeling adventurous and want to make your own strawberry jam, check out my first attempt here.

Finally, mix the remaining crumbles with the flour.

Work with your fingers until it looks about like this.

Then top the jam and basil mixture.  You want to keep this part crumbly, but you also want to make sure all your basil pieces are covered.  Exposed basil in the oven = black, burnt basil = no bueno.  It’s ok if some strawberry jam peeks through.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes and viola!  Crumbly, gooey goodness.  Seriously, they’re so good.  The bars aren’t too sweet, and the basil and strawberry combination shines!

Strawberry basil bars!!!  Eat liberally, or be a hero and give them to your friends.  And oh, yeah, Operation-Return-Tupperware was successful.

Orzo & Wild Rice Salad

What an eventful week!  The 4th always brings lots of fun, memories, and food!  After the burgers & desserts that accompanied the fireworks I had to make something light, chilled, and refreshing for this HOT summer we’re having in Florida.  This little chilled salad is perfect!

I was inspired, once again, by J. Alexander’s and their orzo & wild rice salad.  That side is one of my husband’s favorites, so I decided to make my own version.  Cherries are in season and so delicious, so I wanted to make those the star of this dish.  This is the type of dish where measurements don’t really matter, as long as you’re happy with the look of the salad and ratio of ingredients.  But for all those OCD folks, I listed the measurements I used.

Chilled Orzo & Wild Rice Salad

Serves 10

2C orzo pasta

1C wild rice

1/2C red winter wheat berries

2 handfuls of fresh cherries

1 ear of corn

½ red bell pepper, diced

½ green bell pepper, diced

1 handful of raw almonds

5-10 basil leaves

1/3C olive oil

2T balsamic vinegar

1-2T lemon juice

1/2t pepper

1/4t salt

1T cherry juice, optional

Cook the orzo, wild rice, and wheat berries according to the package directions on the stovetop.  Meanwhile, roast your corn in the oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes.  Leave the husk on (it holds in juicy moisture) but rinse it off before placing in oven.  Also, this is a good time to stem, pit, and slice the cherries.  I used my handy dandy cherry pitter from Williams-Sonoma.  It shoots through the cherry taking only the pit and occasionally a small circle from the bottom of the cherry.  Otherwise the cherry is perfectly in tact.  I shot the pits directly into a deep garbage can…and still managed to get cherry juice on the side of my white fridge.  Clorox wipes to the rescue!

Since cherries are notorious for staining, and I didn’t want my pasta pink, I sliced them each in half and let them sit on paper towels for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I roughly chopped the almonds.  If you want to save some time, or really want everything to be symmetrical, you could pre-buy slivered almonds.  But, I like the rough and tumble, all natural, hand-made, rustic feeling of this dish, so I roughly chopped away.

Then, I julienned the basil.

And made the dressing.  I first combined the salt, pepper, half the basil, & vinegar

with the lemon juice.  This would be the time to add a Tablespoon or two of cherry juice if you’d like, but if not, add extra lemon juice.

Blend together well.

Once blended together, slowly, and I mean slowly incorporate the oil a little bit at a time, and set aside.  At this point, the corn should be about ready and whenever the orzo, wild rice, and wheat berries are ready, they should be cooling at first on the stove top, then in the fridge.  Don’t forget to rinse the starch from the orzo.  Though it looks like rice, you’re still dealing with pasta!  Cut the corn off the cob and assemble your ingredients together.  You’re almost ready!

I first started with the orzo, wild rice, and wheat berries to make sure I had a good ratio of each and that it looked pleasing.  (I didn’t end up using all my wild rice.)

Then added the veggies (I used them all!)

then lastly the nuts, fruit, remaining basil, and dressing.  Stir well and chill for at least an hour to let the flavors develop.  Enjoy!

Sweet & Salty Popcorn

Here’s another fun recipe that could be adapted to any holiday based on the food coloring chosen.  Since 4th of July is rapidly approaching, I attempted red, white, and blue popcorn.  The red & white worked, but the blue was a fail.  I’ll have to experiment with blueberries or something in order to get a good, healthy, natural blue food dye into my repertoire.  Though the blue didn’t work out, it was still delicious!!!

If there is a food that is near and dear to my heart, it’s popcorn.  My childhood is full of memories of my popcorn-freak-father having popcorn weekly and in as many different varieties as you could imagine.  One of my favorite “dates” with him was when we would go to the popcorn store to buy specialty popcorn.  He would always get something cheesy or spicy and I, a cool kid of course, would get the multi-colored popcorn.  Cuz that’s basically what kids do.  This is a fun, healthier version to make at home!

Sweet & Salty Popcorn

makes 6 quarts

1C popcorn kernels

1/4C high heat oil, I used Safflower

salt to taste, for salty popcorn

spray oil or butter, for salty popcorn

1T butter per colored, sweet popcorn

1C sugar per colored, sweet popcorn

2-3T water per colored, sweet popcorn

food coloring of choice, I used beet juice for red color (ignore the failed blue food coloring pictured)

Burnt popcorn is one of the most awful culinary tragedies.  It’s shameful, disappointing, and stinks up the house.  So don’t do that.  Make homemade popcorn with the most preparedness possible.

Heat the oil on medium-high heat and toss in 2-3 kernels.  Prepare the rest of the kernels.  (You may want to make this in 2 batches if your pot is small.)

Once the first 2-3 kernels pop, dump in the rest of your kernels.

You’ll want to get a splatter screen quickly, otherwise popcorn and oil will be filling your kitchen rather quickly!

Shake the pot occasionally so the popcorn doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn.  Then divide popcorn into respective number of colors desired. I divided my popcorn 3 ways for 3 colors, but since the blue didn’t work out, I ended up having 2/3 salty white popcorn and 1/3 sweet red popcorn – which actually was a nice ratio.

With the white, salty popcorn spray oil or butter onto it lightly and sprinkle salt to taste.  Toss well (or as I did, attach a lid and shake well.)  Then prepare the colored sweet coating for the remaining popcorn.  On medium-high heat combine butter and sugar

and water and food coloring.  Since my food coloring was natural and very liquidy I used 1.5T beet juice and 2T water.  (You couldn’t even taste beets!)

Bring to a slow boil.

It is ready when it is the consistency of a thick syrup.

Remove from heat for a moment to cool, then dump over reserved plain popcorn.  Mix well to coat and set aside to cool.  (I cooled mine in the fridge so the plastic bowl the popcorn was in wouldn’t melt.  The syrup is super hot!)  Once all colors are mixed, cooled, and dried, combine with salty, plain popcorn and serve!

Passion Tea Lemonade

Summer is approaching.  And as hot and humid as Florida days have been lately, summer has arrived.  Lemonade is a trademark drink, and Starbucks has made it’s own twist on an Arnold Palmer by combining lemonade and Passion tea – an herbal tea by Tazo.  Passion tea is officially described as “a magical blend of hibiscus, lemongrass, rose hips, mango & passion fruit flavors.”  It is so fruity and delicious, it pairs nicely with lemonade.  You can order it at Starbucks, or make your own for fewer bucks.

This is a great drink to make when company calls unexpectedly, for a brunch, or just an afternoon treat.

Passion Tea Lemonade

makes 2 quarts

2-3 bags of Tazo Passion tea

10 lemons

Simple syrup (or sugar) to taste

First of all, I highly recommend keeping simple syrup on hand if you are a flavored coffee drinker.  This particular batch I made included the insides of scraped vanilla beans for a vanilla simple syrup.  Simple syrup – or “Classic” syrup as Starbucks calls it – is simply sugar water, but the scientific way in which the sugar breaks down makes the same amount of sugar sweeter when in simple syrup form.  I use a 1 to 1 ratio of sugar and water, bring to a boil on the stove, then drop to low heat and stir until dissolved.  The syrup should be a consistency of just thicker than water.

To start the passion tea lemonade, I brought 1.5 quarts of water to a boil, turned down the temperature, then added 3 tea bags and let sit for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, I started juicing the lemons.  Hubby & I recently become acquainted with Mr. Jack LaLanne.  Love him!

Though I used a juicer, you could hand squeeze or use a citrus juicer to extract the juice of the lemons.  My 10 lemons yielded about 1.5 cups of fresh lemon juice.  Notice the white foam on top of the 1 cup portion – that’s where a ton of nutrition is!  (I am a nerd & learn things from food documentaries.)

Once the tea and lemon juice are ready, it is as simple as letting the tea cool slightly, and mixing it with the lemon juice and simple syrup.  I ended up using 1/2 cup of simple syrup for my liking.

Garnish with some ice (I had frozen cubes of lemon juice on hand) and freshly cut lemon, and you’re set to serve!

If you are not serving it right away, do not put lemon garnish in the tea mixture as the lemons will stain red.  Simply add fresh lemons when ready to serve.

Johnny Marzetti

Sometimes you just need some comfort food. It was my birthday a few weeks ago and I was thinking a lot about my family. Growing up, this recipe was a favorite of mine, served up by my Polish grandmother. She is one of my heroes. She survived both the Great Depression & World War II as a slave in Germany, her love story with my Grampa is Oscar worthy, she taught herself English by reading magazines, and raised four great children, the oldest of whom was my dad. Whenever I visited she would always pull me up in her lap, tell me how beautiful I was, and give me a dollar or two (which was a lot to her) so I could have my own spending money. So, yes this meal is pretty basic, but when you’ve got all that history in some food, it makes it that much more special.

This is Johnny Marzetti. It began during World War II at a restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, where my grandparents lived after the war. I suppose it was an easy, relatively affordable way to feed people so I easily see how my grandmother picked up on it with six mouths to feed. From what I’ve read online, Johnny Marzetti is traditionally baked and made with red sauce, but I made this one on the stove top like Grandma did. She made both red & white sauce versions, but this time I decided to tackle the white sauce. Though Grandma never used recipes or had anything written down, my uncle told me what he could remember, and I added a few adaptations of my own to make this rendition a bit healthier.  I’ll let you know when I conquer the red sauce.

Johnny Marzetti
Serves 6-8

12oz elbow macaroni
12oz ground soy crumbles or ground beef
1 yellow onion
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
2C milk
1C grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt & pepper to taste
1T olive oil, if using soy crumbles
Parsley for garnish, optional

So my grandmother’s way was to use Kraft macaroni & she included the cheesy powder in her recipe. Not that you can knock anyone’s grandmother’s cooking (was that even English?!) but I really try to cook with whole foods that are as natural as possible, so cheese powder was out for me. But, I glanced over the Kraft box and besides crazy stuff, it was mostly milk based, so I figured, why not actually add milk to the recipe?

So I set the macaroni to boil

while I chopped the onion.

Since I didn’t have to cook any meat, I mostly browned the onion and heated the soy crumbles. Since soy doesn’t have the grease that meat does, I added the olive oil to help keep everything from sticking to the pan. If you use ground beef, cook it with the onions. Once browned, drain the grease off before adding the other ingredients.

Cook the macaroni only for about 5 minutes, drain and rinse the starch off

then add it to the meat mixture.

Add the cream of mushroom soup and stir well.

Stir in the milk, salt, and pepper, and simmer for 10 minutes.

After simmering, add the Parmesan cheese and stir until it’s melted in.

Serve immediately, garnishing with Parmesan and parsley.

Comfort food at its finest. If you add a sunset, it makes it that much more perfect.

Caprese Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Ok.  April is National Grilled Cheese Month?!  This is why I was born in this month.  Thanks, Mom!  To celebrate, I made a killer lunch yesterday for me & my husband.  I love simple grilled cheese, I even like wheat toast, vegan butter, and veggie cheese grilled cheese – it’s salty and delicious.  But I wanted to make a fancy grilled cheese, you know.  Cuz it’s National Grilled Cheese Month.  It was so good I can’t even describe.  The picture is nice, but you can’t see all the gooey goodness that’s inside.  You’ll just have to make it.  Today.  Or at least before May 1st.

Caprese Grilled Cheese Sandwich

For 2

1/2 French loaf

4 oz. fresh Mozzarella

1 tomato

Pesto sauce

Olive oil for brushing

2T freshly grated Parmesan cheese optional

So simple and quick!  Slice and shred the ingredients.

Assemble the sandwiches, using the pesto as the spread.  I put pesto on both sides of the bread because it’s that good.  This is also a good time to turn on your heating element.  You could use a panini press, George Foreman grill, or the stove top with a steak weight.

Close the sandwiches and brush the tops with oil.

Then press the Parmesan onto the oiled bread.  So yummy!

Repeat on the bottom sides, then they’re ready to cook!  I used my monster of a George Foreman.  I did spray it with a little olive oil just to make sure the sandwiches didn’t stick.

Keep an eye on them, though on a George Foreman it’s hard to burn a sandwich.  I like mine nice and smashed with the gooey cheese running out the sides.  Enjoy!

It’s even better with Herb Fries & Bistro Dip!  I’ll post that next week!

Greek Pasta Salad

Here’s a yummy recipe that’s quick & easy to assemble.  I made it in less than 30 minutes, and that was while taking pictures, switching the laundry, and cleaning the kitchen.  No, I’m not Superwoman, but I bet your time would beat mine.  This is a great dish for a picnic, potluck, or quick, healthy lunch.

Look at it.  It screams “GOOD JOB!!! YOU’RE EATING HEALTHY!!!”  This, like most recipes I make, comes from creativity with the ingredients I had.  For a more authentic Mediterranean flavor profile, I would have used cucumber, but I had just used my last cucumber on another recipe that day, so I used zucchini instead.  If I hadn’t let my parsley plant die, I would have added fresh parsley as well.  You could also add vegan feta cheese or, for a vegetarian option, real feta cheese.  You’ll never hurt my feelings experimenting with my recipes.  So, here’s what I used:

Greek Pasta Salad serves 3-4

8 ounces whole wheat rotini pasta

1/4 Cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice from 1 lemon

1T dried oregano

1T dried parsley

1 medium zucchini

2 Roma tomatoes

2 large scallions

1 small 2.29oz can sliced black olives, drained

salt & pepper to taste

I got a pot of water up to a rolling pasta and cooked it al dente for 9 minutes uncovered.  Meanwhile, I chopped all the washed veggies.  In no particular order:


zucchini (or cucumber if you’d rather,)

and tomato.

Then I made the yummy, tangy dressing. 1/4 cup olive oil,

lemon juice,

salt & pepper,

and oregano & parsley.

Whisk it all together until it’s a creamy yellow color.  Taste and adjust the seasonings as you’d like.

Once I drained the pasta, I let it cool just a few moments before adding it to the dressing.  The pasta was still steamy.

Gently toss the pasta to evenly coat.  Then add all the veggies and the olives.  Toss away.

Then you get this.  It’s ready to serve warm, room temperature, or chilled.  It’s so simple and delicious!

I packed it up for the next day’s lunch.  Yummo as usual.  Enjoy!

Black Bean Soup

A couple of years ago, I was so intimidated by the thought of homemade soup.  I had no clue what I could possibly make the base out of and how to get everything diced so fine and perfectly and the list went on.  I started making black bean soup about a year ago, and that’s a miracle because my husband is not a soup lover – yet, he really, really likes this!  I learned it doesn’t have to be like canned soup.  That’s basically the beauty of homemade soup.  It can have whatever vegetables and spices you have on hand, and be whatever texture or thickness you want.

This week is a bigger win because when I opened my pantry to make the soup, I had run out of my most crucial ingredient: vegetable stock.  After giving up the soup making idea for a nanosecond, I realized I’ll just have to get creative.  And it turns out my soup recipe got even better!

You’ll need:

1T olive oil

1 can of black beans – I used the spicy organic 365 Wholefoods brand

8oz of tomato sauce

3/4 bell pepper, chopped

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

1/2 zucchini, chopped

3/4 Cup of carrots, chopped

1/2 jalapeño, diced

1-3 cloves of garlic

handful of cilantro, chopped

salt & pepper to taste

This version turned out way spicier than any black bean soup I’ve made before.  It was mild tasting at first, but then once it lingered on the taste buds a few moments, the spiciness raged.  My husband was delighted!  If you don’t want it as spicy, use regular black beans and remove the seeds from the jalapeño or omit the jalapeño all together.  However, the jalapeño, salt and pepper are really the only seasonings in this soup, so I do recommend it.

After washing and chopping all the produce, heat the oil in a soup pot or dutch oven on medium to high heat.  Add the onion and saute until it is fragrant and slightly translucent.  Add the garlic and saute for a few more moments before adding the carrots.

Then the bell pepper.

And the jalapeño.

After everything has sauteed, add the tomato sauce.  If you want a less intense tomato flavor, only use half the amount of sauce.  But, since we’re not using vegetable stock in this soup, this is the main component to the soup base.  You don’t want it too watery.

Add enough water to thin out the tomato sauce.  I added 1/2 cup at a time until it was a thin, soupy consistency.  Add the black beans, zucchini, salt, and pepper, and simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes.  After about twenty minutes, it had become very thick, so I added more water at that point.

When it’s almost finished, add the cilantro and simmer for 5-10 more minutes.

And there you have it! Spicy black bean soup.  I think it’s my hispanic roots (the ones in my heart, not my bloodline) that make me want to automatically pair black beans with cilantro, but I knew this soup needed a cooling agent of some sort, so cilantro was a nice touch.

After it had cooled a bit, I jarred and refrigerated the soup to take for lunch the next day.  Just as delicious on the second day!