Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Less Cheese Please! Baked Zucchini Ziti

My menu for tonight’s dinner must have been swapped with one made for a big, boisterous Italian family. With each hefty spoonful of meaty, cheesy ziti my stomach filled and my heart warmed: ah, comfort. It was one of those dishes where every bite is as just as good as the last. What could you not relish about lumpy chunks of tomato, speckled with flecks of Italian spices, pasta, spicy sausage and beef, sautéed zucchini and cheese?
The best part was its amount of involvement. Would you believe that as I danced around the kitchen throwing food into my Corningware dish, I was gabbing to one of my friends on the phone? A meal you can do with one hand: a multi-tasker’s dream. I had made the meat sauce last week – nearly two pounds of sausage and pork, so I was just trying to finish it off – and boy, was it a stellar finish! As I cooked the pasta, I sliced and sautéed the zucchinis, being careful to give each slice its fair share of exposure to the hot cooking oil [zucchinis, or any other kind of sliced vegetable for that matter, like their space – so don’t crowd or stack them in your skillet or pan; they brown better this way]. I left out the typical calls for ricotta or sour cream, those aren’t necessary for flavor – just fat. Cheese lovers, do not fret, my sprinkling of grated mozzarella and parmesan cheese on top offered plenty of flavor. What transpired in that 400 degree oven is an Italian secret, but what came out was hard to keep undercover for long. The wafting smells brought people out of the woodwork, all gathering around for the meaty feast that ensued.
Baked Zucchini Ziti
1 zucchini, sliced
1 T olive oil
1 cup pasta [ziti, or shells, rigatoni, etc.]
2 cups meat sauce [if you must, go the canned route, but I recommend the homemade]
½ cup mozzarella cheese, grated
Sprinkling of grated parmesan
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Slice zucchini into about ¼ inch slices. Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Cook until zucchini are tender and browned.
3. Boil water, cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain.
4. Mix all together in Corningware dish: zucchini, pasta, meat sauce, shredded mozzarella.
5. Sprinkle parmesan on top and bake for about 20 minutes.
6. Eat in large helpings :)
Makes about 4-5 cups NOMS: 8.3

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Get the Skinny on My Big Fat Greek Salad

Warmer weather means lighter food. This doesn’t always mean the recipes are easier per say, but today it sure was. Due to the sunlight and a springtime breeze, we enjoyed an afternoon amble to the grocery store. However, I am an overzealous shopper and to avoid being “that bag lady”, we bummed a ride back.
Among my pile of plastic, there was a cucumber. Persuaded to adopt him from the shelf, I wondered where I could put him to use. I was thinking of just slicing him up and having a bit of salt and tomatoes on the side. “But wait!”, called my little white cooling box in the corner of my room. {Always remember your assets. I can’t tell you how easy it can be to forget things – even in a tiny, dorm size fridge.} From this treasure trove emerged a few festive foreigners: feta cheese, Kalamata olives…now that’s more like it!
With the dicing strokes of my chef’s knife, a splash of olive oil and a dash of a few extra spices, I was perhaps a few inches nearer to Greece. But it was light and tasty, exactly what I needed on a gorgeous afternoon – something has to remind me of the sun while I’m down in the cave-like basement call room where I work most nights.
There were plenty of leftovers, which I think I will put over couscous tomorrow for lunch, or maybe on some toasted bread as bruschetta. I think that adding some red or green pepper would have been a great addition, as well as fresh sweet basil. It’s all what you make it, spring and summer offer lots of fresh options.
Greek Salad
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 tomato, diced
Handful of pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
½ cup feta cheese
½ clove garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
Dash of: salt, pepper, basil
1. Dice vegetables, slice olives.
2. Add rest of ingredients. Mix.
3. Chill, eat whenever.

Makes about 2 cups. NOMS: 7

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Garden Party in My Tomato Sauce

This week I put together a REAL garden variety tomato sauce. It was chunky and creative, a far cry from the bland, processed Prego. We’ve all had the green pepper kind, the one with mushrooms and the random assorted spice type, but have we considered other vegetables worthy to put in a pasta sauce? It seems taboo, but change and experimentation are not always welcome dinner guests.
This week I invited the neglected canned artichokes and some jolly green beans to my tomato sauce dinner party. They were wildcards; yep, long-shots. Call them what you will; they were excellent additions to a tomato favorite. While tomatoes may have provided the stage, the guest vegetables stole the show.
Vegetable Tomato Sauce
2 T olive oil
1 c onion, diced – separated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, with juice
1 small can tomato paste
1 t rosemary
2 t oregano
Salt and pepper – to taste
Handful of canned artichokes, cut off the leaves/hard parts
3 c green beans, cooked [add butter, onions, garlic, s&p….anything you want]
1. In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Sautee onions until translucent.
2. Add in garlic, cook for about 2 min.
3. Add in tomatoes and tomato paste – extra water may be necessary depending on desired thickness. Add spices
4. Add in artichokes and green beans. Heat through.
5. Eat! **Good with chicken, pasta, ground beef or sausage, over eggs…the sky’s the limit.
Makes about 4-5 cups NOMS: 8.5

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Leeky Faucet? No!! Potato Leek Soup

I’m on a roll this week! …well, maybe more of a potato.
After buying a 5 lb bag of potatoes this weekend against my will, complaining that they would all go rotten, I ended up with only 4 small ones left after two days. First, it was the enormous pot of Champ mashed potatoes and then another pot full of Potato Leek Soup. There is a high probability that I will use up the rest this week, but then again I am the one having real issues with statistics right now. Maybe I’ll just flip a coin…
Anyway, back to soup. Leeks add a complimentary flavor to this dish. Although some substitute green onions for the leeks, I would advise against it. Green onions have a bitter taste, while a leek has a mild onion and cucumber flavor – and mild is what this soup is all about. It’s a cream based, comfort soup that gets almost to the consistency of soupy mashed potatoes.
This time I did add a bit of dry white wine, which gave the soup a little tinge of flavor. Keep in mind this was low grade cooking wine, so the flavor was quite lacking. Don’t skimp on wine quality – you cook with wine you would like to drink. Substitute your favorite dry white wine for my cooking wine and you will be glad you did. Also, I used homemade chicken broth, which I would also highly recommend if you have it on hand. If not, go for a low sodium kind because you will be adding salt throughout to taste.
The soup takes some time, but will yield plenty of leftovers. It is a great lunch or addition to dinner [try with a chicken and/or mushrooms dish]. Also, to the side I would recommend toasting a few slices of French bread to help ensure that you get to enjoy every last drop.
Potato Leek Soup
About 5 medium sized potatoes, cut into hunks
3 leeks, sliced about ¼ in thick
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1/3 cup dry white wine
4 T butter
¾ cup milk or cream
1. Boil chicken broth [if using homemade] for about 15 min in a large saucepan.
2. Add water, keep the liquids hot.
3. In a frying pan, add olive oil and leeks. Sauté those for about 7 min over medium heat. Add the garlic, cook for about 2 more min.
4. In another pot, boil potatoes for about 20 min until very soft.
5. Add leeks and potatoes to the liquids, bring to a simmer.
6. Add the wine.
7. Cook down the liquids until the soup has somewhat thickened.
8. Add butter; melt, continue simmering.
9. Add milk, simmer for a few more minutes.
10. CHOW DOWN. Add chives for more flavor!
Makes about 5 servings. NOMS: 9

Monday, March 15, 2010

Article on the Hungry Grape!

So I have reached out to the fellow food enthusiasts and website creators at the Hungry Grape and got an article posted on their "Food For Thought" section about cooking from a college perspective!

Check out my article here at:

And explore all that the Hungry Grape has to offer!

Put on the Green Light: St. Patrick's Day Dinner

[From Last Night]
I know it’s only Sunday, March 14th, but for those of us with busy schedules or class until six on Wednesdays, St. Patty’s Day dinner has to come early. Don’t worry, I’ll still be wearing green on March 17th, but the Corned Beef and Cabbage and Champ couldn’t wait.
Let’s face it, there is not much more Irish than Corned Beef Brisket…oh wait. It didn’t actually originate in Ireland. The closest relation in Irish traditional cooking is a Bacon Joint and Cabbage [which is more like Canadian bacon or even ham]. It seems our Irish-American ancestors swapped a pig for a cow mostly due to financial reasons, but it remains a favorite edible associate of St. Patty’s Day celebrations in the U.S.
The recipe we used this weekend was excellent for a Sunday dinner. When making this Corned Beef and Cabbage recipe, allow a few hours for the beef to reach the desired tenderness [each pound takes about an hour to cook]. It is the easiest way to cook corned beef because you don’t need to constantly monitor it. Slow cooking the beef allowed us to leave it simmering away on the stove while we enjoyed some wonderful, warm sunshine. Finally! It took the spirit of good ol’ St. Patrick to shove the cold and clouds away for the day.
Then, today I used some of leftover corned beef to make a simple Cheddar and Corned Beef Sandwich along with some apple sauce and a Samoa Girl Scout Cookie. So that’s at least two meals out of that corned beef yet!
Corned Beef and Cabbage
3 lbs corned beef brisket [came with spice packet, if not would recommend mustard seeds, salt, pepper – simple seasonings]
1 head of cabbage
5 carrots, peeled and sliced
1. Place brisket in Dutch oven. Cover with water. Add the spice packet [or your own blend].
2. Cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer.
3. Simmer about 50-60 min per pound, or until tender.
4. Add carrots and cabbage. Cook for about 15 more min, until tender.
5. Drain water.
6. Take out brisket, let rest on cutting board.
7. Cut across grain into slices.
**Recommend dipping the beef in Dijon mustard!
1 lb potatoes, peeled and chopped into pieces
1 cup scallions [green onions], sliced
1 cup milk/cream
Butter, salt and pepper to taste
1. Boil potatoes until tender.
2. In small saucepan, simmer milk and scallions until thickens a bit.
3. Mash potatoes with beaters.
4. Separate scallions; add all. Then slowly pour in milk as it’s blended.
5. Heap potatoes on plate, put dollop of butter in center to dip potatoes.
Overall, the dinner is a classic, if not entirely traditional, Irish feast. My last recommendation would be a loaf of soda bread to accompany this delicious meal. Hope this helps you with your St. Patrick’s Day plan!
P.S. – My Cheddar and Corned Beef Sandwich recipe from today was very good, and again pretty simple. Makes for a hearty and tasty lunchtime experience.
Cheddar and Corned Beef Sandwich
2 slices wheat bread
Sliced corned beef, cold
Sliced cheddar cheese
Sautéed onions, about 5-6 slices
Dijon mustard, about 2 t
1. Sautee onions in olive oil over medium heat until tender.
2. Place beef and onions on one slice of bread; cheese on the other.
3. Toast in either toaster oven or oven for about 3-5 minutes.
4. Spread mustard on cheese side.
5. Fold together, nom.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Coming Clean

I realize that it has been a while since my last blog post. Trust me; it was all against my will. The past two weeks have been midterms and then spring break [but really more like no-class week because many of my classes assigned essays and tests all due this Monday].
Now I am back in the odd comfort of my dorm room. The fridge is still has a “vacancy” sign up since I emptied it last week. The shelves of my pantry have some half-filled boxes pasta, canned black beans and a couple Fiber One bars on them. I haven’t been to the grocery in two weeks; I feel like I am waiting out a drought. The rains will come soon, but as I wait I thought it would be interesting to see how much this whole “cooking at college” experience was going. A little personal reality check.
How Much Money Have I Spent?
I kept a separate bank account so that I could easily check how much I’ve spent. In the 7[ish] weeks since I’ve been back at school I’ve spent $296. Yes, there were a few things I probably purchased in cash, and I don’t even count my birthday dinner in the amount, but overall that’s about $42 a week in groceries. So I have met my goal to keep things under $50.
How Am I Feeling?
I think overall, my mood has greatly improved. I’m in control: my food, my way, on my time! I feel much healthier, maybe even a bit thinner. The key is that now I eat what I want and am fully satisfied. My meals are balanced with everything that I love. Dinner is no longer a game of hit or miss. I don’t need to walk through the buffet one more time in hopes that something will strike my fancy. I’ve got it all here. I don’t keep junk food in the room; no temptations of simple snacks and quick fixes. I do keep the emergency chocolate bar handy, because bad days still do happen. *Wink*
Overall Rating
I would give it an A for sure. Yes, it does take a little time, a little planning, but in a pinch I can whip up something in a snap. I have gained even more confidence in my cooking skills – I hardly even use recipes anymore because I just know what tastes right. I have a fulfilling past time that is both practical and enjoyable. I would not get back on the meal plan if they paid me! [Okay, well maybe if they paid me I would just use that money to make my own food off to the side. College kids never turn down an opportunity for money!] I highly recommend cooking on your own to any student, single, and even families. It’s rewarding on so many levels. I can’t wait to cook up something new this week!