Loading up on Veggies

Frozen or fresh, veggies rule the plate! In the last year, I’ve made a conscious effort to load our dinners with vegetables. It helps to have biweekly deliveries from Farm Fresh to You, and a stash of frozen options in the freezer. The challenge with fresh veggies is beating the clock. Baby spinach has a limited shelf life, but it’s a versatile veggie. Here are some of the ways I use spinach when the expiration clock’s ticking:

  • Spinach salad: Add chopped walnuts or slivered almonds, dried fruit or apple slices, tomatoes, mushrooms and a creamy dressing.
  • Sauteed spinach: A lot goes a little way, so this is a good way to use up a large batch. Season with olive oil or butter, plus salt and pepper.
  • Tossed with pasta: Add to strained pasta while its still warm; best with tomatoes, fresh parmesan, and any other veggies.

Plus, you enjoy all the Popeye-endorsed health benefits!

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Flash in the Pan Pasta

Pasta + veggies = one-pot hall of fame. As part of my blog birthday celebration, I’m sharing my favorite techniques collected over the past year. Time after time I’ve combined frozen veggies with pasta and beans from the cupboard, and in a pinch I have a healthy dinner for two. Sauces can be just as simple: olive oil, butter, fresh parmesan… or homemade pesto!

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Tonight it took less than 30 minutes to make spaghetti with broccoli and peas, plus pesto made from walnuts, spinach leaves, garlic and olive oil. Cheat sheet: Bring pasta to a boil. Meanwhile, add chopped walnuts to a food processor with a little olive oil, and pulse. Add garlic and pulse. Next add a handful of spinach leaves and blend well. Give it a taste test, and add salt and pepper if needed. After boiling the pasta to al dente, add the frozen veggies and continue boiling until just tender.

Here are some other ways to make an easy and healthy pasta dish all in one pot:

  • Homemade minestrone: Start by sauteeing chopped onion and sliced, cubed sausages; add 1/2 can diced tomatoes, 1 can white beans, chopped carrots and celery (and any other veggies of choice) and bring to boil. Add 1 container of chicken broth or homemade veggie broth; simmer all ingredients for 30 minutes. Add macaroni towards the end and bring to al dente. Serve over sourdough toast, with fresh parmesan.
  • Creamy pasta primavera: Boil spaghetti or any pasta of choice; add frozen peas towards the end of the boiling time (depends on when its near al dente). Meanwhile, microwave beans in a separate dish and dice 2-3 tomatoes. Drain pasta with lid, retaining pasta & peas mixture in same pot. Add warm beans and diced tomatoes; plus 1 tsp butter, a dash of oregano. Coat lighlty with olive oil, and salt & pepper to taste. Serve warm.
  • No talent ravioli: When all else fails, boil frozen ravioli and add butter, fresh herbs and drizzled olive oil to the pot after draining the water with the lid. Or, you can plate the ravioli first and drizzle desired ingredients on top.

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Happy Blog Birthday

Dinner with David + 365 days ago = birthday blog! One year ago I started blogging about what took place in my kitchen on busy weeknights. That evolved into a challenge of incorporating Farm Fresh to You deliveries into dinner planning, which has taken on a life of its own.

While I still whip together meals to wind down after a busy workday, I’ve started really enjoying cooking on Sundays. I pick out my recipe in advance, spend time thinking of the tweaks based on what’s actually in my cupboard, and spend Sunday evening cooking and blogging about it. I’ve learned new techniques and worked with unique ingredients like kale, and made more batches of risotto and butternut squash soup than I thought I ever would.

One of the most exciting things about this whole experience has been the response from friends, family and followers. I love hearing that I’ve inspired someone to try a new recipe, or simply shared in the joy of food. It’s one of my favorite things to talk about, and everyone has their own unique viewpoint and legacy in the kitchen.

To celebrate my blog birthday, I’ll be posting some of my favorite techniques… starting with fruit! Since David and I don’t eat up the seasonal fruit in our kitchen fast enough, I’ve created many ad lib recipes by cooking fruit with meat. This week I came up with a couple of new approaches, inspired by one of my favorite recipe resources: Everyday Food.

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  • Saute sliced, halved apples in olive oil; toss with honey and serve over pork chops (or pancakes/french toast for breakfast!)
  • Poach chicken breasts in homemade veggie broth or low-sodium chicken broth; add orange slices once chicken is cooked through and simmer for a few extra minutes
  • Roast pork chops with sliced apricots; drizzled with honey
  • Add peeled, grated apples to ground turkey to make extra moist (and a little sweet) meatloaf or meatballs

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What’s your favorite way to use fruit and meat together?

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Pancrepes

Pancakes – baking powder = pancrepes. Thick pancakes have never really been my thing. But I love crepes. I stumbled upon a way to make more crepe-like pancakes: leave out the baking powder. I used this recipe for Blueberry Pancakes from Epicurious but you could use virtually any pancake recipe. Just make sure to use less batter with each pancake and keep the heat to medium-low.

Another trick, when there’s just two of you: make the whole batch and freeze the leftovers (in baggies or with wax paper between each, otherwise they will stick together).

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Surprise Pairings

Meatloaf + mashed potatoes = no surprise. Chardonnay + dried apricots? Mmm. The last two nights have been slightly scrappy – using leftover ingredients, I’ve stumbled upon some pleasant pairings of flavor and texture:

  • Last night, I added chopped celery, onion and grated apples to ground turkey to make a deliciously moist meatloaf. (See apple discovery here)
  • Tonight we had creamy mashed potatoes with the leftover meatloaf. Always a very complementary combination of tastes and texture.
  • The chopped celery also made a nice addition to creamy spinach salad – adding a refreshing crunch to each bite.
  • For dessert, we had dried apricots which left a sweet, tart aftertaste that created a delicious palate with a swig of Chardonnay.

Sometimes it’s the little things!

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Gumbo or Go Home

Gumbo recipe from @epicurious + Super Bowl Sunday = a meal for Saints. I’m more foodie than football fan, so I decided to give New Orleans-inspired gumbo a whirl for the big game. I followed the recipe for “Shrimp and Andouille Gumbo” from Epicurious, but I used Aidells Chicken Apple Sausage instead of andouille (Safeway was out of the Cajun stuff).

My first roux was a little on the light side, so I’d recommend waiting for it to turn a little darker in color. Plus the okra seemed slightly overpowering, but I didn’t measure precisely. Also, this recipe has a kick! (Dial down the cayenne if you’re sensitive.)

Final score: 3 to 1

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Basic Guac

Avocados + tomatoes + salt + cumin. Done. I’ve never made guacamole before (shocking as a Californian native, I realize). So the other night I decided to improvise with two ripe avocados. Fortunately after working in food PR early in my career, I knew exactly how to cut, seed and scoop avocados. After mashing the contents, I added freshly diced tomatoes, a pinch of cumin and sea salt to taste. David upped the salt after a taste test, which definitely helped. We had it with delicious chips from a nearby Mexican foods store. Guac for two.

Ready for the game?! Tomorrow I tackle gumbo..

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Menu by Twitter

Surplus of spinach + @BHGFood tweet re: risotto = 2010 dinner planning. This morning I came across “Spinach-Pea Risotto” on Tweetdeck, courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens and it fit the bill: I had an abundance of nearly expired spinach and carrots in the fridge, Arborio rice and garlic in the cupboard, and frozen peas and homemade vegetable broth in the freezer. So minus a couple of ingredients (namely green onions, radishes and tarragon), we enjoyed risotto alongside turkey meatballs for dinner tonight.

Note: don’t leave the burner on after you add the final veggies and cheese to the cooked risotto. Turn it to low to keep it warm until served (or serve immediately as BH&G suggests). I ended up with a burnt pot but saved dinner in time!

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