Grilled Vegetables with Quinoa

This summer, my oldest is at camp for the first time. It’s not like a sleep away camp – he gets the bus at the local Y to an outdoor Y center in the next town and spends all day there getting disgustingly dirty (seriously – he came home yesterday and I asked him if he just lays down and rolls in the dirt) and having a great time. The program has these so-called Family Fun Nights, where they serve (for a nominal fee) a meal of hot dogs, baby carrots, and watermelon. As an adult, that meal holds zero appeal for me. It didn’t either for a friend of mine who brought a really tasty looking salad made with veggies, black beans, salsa, and brown rice to the last FFN.

I saw her the following weekend at a birthday party and she gave me the recipe (which includes eggplant) and the method (cooking on the grill in a disposable tin). I don’t eat eggplant unless it’s fried and coated in marinara and mozzarella, so that was out immediately. And while her method is super easy and involves almost zero clean up, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include a vinaigrette when I was working with this, so I didn’t think the grill would work.

I will eventually try the recipe (minus the eggplant) the way it was intended, but I tried it this way and I think it came out pretty well. I love, love, love grilled vegetables. I could eat them every night, happily. They’re great leftover in burritos, eggs, salads – anything really. I liked the way this came out.

This was my first time cooking with quinoa. I wasn’t sure if red or white would be a better choice (still not sure) or if there’s a taste difference. I think quinoa, because it’s kind of bland, is a good fit because it lets the vegetables and the salsa speak for itself. I forgot to rinse the quinoa before I cooked it, but when I made this a second time I remembered and the difference in texture was significant. So rinse your quinoa. The slightly nutty taste of the quinoa and the sweetness of the grilled vegetables was a good match. Next time, I may have my husband grill a couple jalapeno peppers as well to add in – it just needed a little more heat. So if you like spicy, either add chili powder or use a spicier salsa. I used a little bit of olive oil on the veggies so they wouldn’t stick to the grill – you could sprinkle cumin and chili powder on the veggies before you grill them as well, which I may do next time. The second time I made it, I added garlic powder and chili powder to the broth before I added the quinoa. It definitely added some flavor, but I still think it needs some kind of chili pepper or spicier salsa.

I served this as a main meal, but you could certainly serve this as a side with grilled fish or chicken or even steaks.

Grilled Vegetable Salad with Quinoa

Serves 8

  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced thickly lengthwise
  • 1 medium summer squash, sliced thickly lengthwise
  • 1/2 large red onion, sliced in rings, about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels (I used Trader Joe’s fire roasted)
  • 1 15 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bunch scallions, white and green parts cut
  • 1 1/2 cups jarred salsa
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • salt and pepper to taste

Grill zucchini, squash, and red onion until charred, but not mushy (about 10-15 minutes – should be the same amount of time as your quinoa). Veggies should still be firm. Chop into bite size pieces.

Cook quinoa and chicken broth according to package directions. Stir in frozen corn kernels, black beans, and salsa once quinoa is cooked. Add grilled veggies and salt and pepper.

Serve with a sprinkle of scallions and a squeeze of lime juice.

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This is really good with a cold, summer beer.

Weight Watchers Points: 4

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Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad

My friends Andy and Ans host a pot luck party every year. Because winter was so miserable here in the Northeast, they decided that everyone should bring a vegetable focused dish to celebrate spring. I love vegetables. Lately, I’ve been very into big salads with light Italian dressing. There’s something satisfying about the crunch of fresh vegetables.

But the way I like my vegetables best is roasted. So when I was thinking about what to bring to Andy’s and Ans’ this weekend, I thought about the kinds of salads I like. I didn’t want to just bring a garden salad, but I wanted something that I wouldn’t necessarily need to reheat. You can eat pasta salad warm or cold, depending on your taste.

This borrows a bit from the orzo salad I usually make, but not so much that it’s the same recipe.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad

  • 2 medium red onions, quartered
  • 1 large zucchini, halved and sliced (not thinly)
  • 1 large yellow squash, halved and sliced (not thinly)
  • 1 large red pepper, cut into chunks
  • 1 large yellow pepper, cut into chunks
  • 1 package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, drained and dried
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1-2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup baby spinach, cut into ribbons
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled cheese (feta, goat, or blue)
  • 2-3 tbsp red wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked orzo pasta

Preheat oven to 425.

In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together olive oil, thyme & oregano leaves, garlic, lemon zest & juice, and salt and pepper.

Place vegetables in a large mixing bowl or zip lock bag. Pour marinade over veggies and mix well. On a large baking sheet (or two medium ones) lined with aluminium foil and sprayed with non stick cooking spray, spread the vegetables into one layer.

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Roast until vegetables are golden and tender. Usually about 30-45 minutes. Stir once or twice so the vegetables don’t stick to the pan.

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Cook orzo according to package directions and drain well. In a large bowl, combine orzo and spinach. Once vegetables are done, add to orzo and spinach. Whisk together vinegar/juice and olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over salad. Add cheese and olives. Serve warm, cold or room temperature.

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Shells and Cheese

I wanted to make macaroni and cheese this week because we’re into casseroles right now. It gets harder and harder to eat before 7PM these days so I try to make meals on the weekends that I can refrigerate and then heat up during the week. Shepherd’s pie has been our go to lately because that has everything the kindergartner will eat – red meat, corn, and mashed potatoes. But you can only eat the same thing so many times before it gets boring. And while the kindergartner is happy to eat Shepherd’s pie, pancakes, and blue box mac’n’cheese as often as possible, I need something else.

I googled a couple recipes just to get an idea of what people were doing to make macaroni and cheese and sort of combined a bunch of recipes. The topping didn’t brown as I had hoped – next time, I’ll use melted butter instead of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray. This is not in any way, shape, or form good for you, so I was trying to cut down a little bit by not using butter in the topping, but it didn’t brown at all. It still tasted good, but visually it wasn’t as appealing.

You can use whatever shape pasta you want for this, but I liked the mini shells.

You can make this ahead of time and not bake until ready to eat (which is what I did) or you can bake as you make. Either way, you’re getting a dish of hot, bubbly mac and cheese at the end of the day and that’s never a bad thing.

Shells and Cheese

  • 1/2 pound small shells, cooked a couple minutes shy of al dente
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 3 cups of milk (I used 1% and it came out fine)
  • 1 tbsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • salt to taste
  • 12-14 oz shredded cheddar cheese – sharp or mild (I used mild, but I make it sharp next time)
  • 1 cup panko crumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2-3 tbsp melted butter (I’m guessing since I didn’t do this part) or I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray

In a pot of salted water, cook pasta a couple of minutes shy of al dente.

(If you are not making ahead, pre-heat your oven to 350)

In a medium sized pot, melt butter. Once butter is melted, add flour, pepper, mustard, and onion powder. Whisk together until golden brown.

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Add in the milk and continue to whisk. The mixture will thicken up, but this will take time, about 10-15 minutes. Once mixture is thickened, add in cheese. Stir until cheese is completely melted. Taste and decide how much salt you want.

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Stir drained pasta into cheese mixture.

Spray casserole dish with cooking spray. Pour shells and cheese into casserole dish. If you are not baking now, refrigerate until ready to use.

 

If you’re baking now, make the topping.

To make the topping: Decadent version: melt butter, stir in panko crumbs. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan. Spread over shells and cheese. Leaner version: mix parm and panko in a bowl, spread over shells and cheese, spray with fake butter spray.

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Place tray in oven and cook about 30 minutes for non-make ahead, about 40 for refrigerated tray.

It’s not figure friendly, so I wouldn’t make this every week, but it’s really good on a really cold night.

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Vegetable Soup

I’m always looking to expand my repertoire of soups. There’s nothing better in fall and winter than a bowl of warm, comforting soup. I like meat based soups and chilis and stews better than veggie based ones, but sometimes I’m tired of meat. I made a black bean soup in a crock pot one year, but we had so much left over Steve said he never wanted to eat it again. Ina Garten has a to die for potato and leek soup that I love, but it’s so rich and fattening that I only make it when company is coming because the leftovers would raise my cholesterol level for the year.

A few weeks ago I finally had my gallbladder out. Not by choice, unfortunately. A raging infection and gall stones landed me in the ER. It had to come out, so that part was fine. Well, not fine because I had a c section nine weeks prior to that and I don’t recommend major abdominal surgery twice in two months. But while I was home I had a bowl of Progresso’s vegetable soup – low in fat and comforting. It got me thinking how I could make my own with less sodium. I googled a few recipes and I’ve come up with something that I think tastes pretty decent.

Vegetable Soup

  • 3-4 carrots, chopped
  • 3-4 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium zucchini, quartered and sliced
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, diced
  • half a bag frozen green beans
  • 4-6 cups vegetable stock or broth

In a large soup pot over medium high heat, saute onions, carrots, and celery in about a tablespoon of olive oil.

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Add tomato paste and dried herbs.

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Stir in zucchini and let soften. Then add potatoes and stir.

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Add frozen green beans and stir. Then add broth. Use enough broth to cover veggies. Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer until potatoes are tender, but not mushy.

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Serve with crusty bread and a cold glass of wine.

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Chicken Noodle Soup

It’s been a bitterly cold winter here. And even though it’s March, it doesn’t feel like spring will ever come. In fact, we’re being promised another snow storm this week. I’ve had it with winter. I’ve had it with the cold and the snow and the freezing walks to and from my car at work (I park six blocks from my office). I’ve had it with the neverending runny noses and coughs and constant feeling like the cold is into my bones.

But I’m not done with “winter” cooking yet. Soups, stews, hearty meals that make you feel warm inside – that’s winter cooking. I’m limited in some ways on what I can safely eat (thanks, stupid gallbladder), but my chicken soup is heavy on veggies, low on fat, and huge on bright flavor.

I made a similar soup last year, with rice, but this one is a little different. For one thing – egg noodles. For another, I’m cooking the chicken in the soup and using more traditional veggies. And this time, I also included a little (like half a teaspoon) of horseradish because Steve has a vile, vile cold (it might be more than that, but we’ll find out when urgent care opens tomorrow) that needs some clearing out.

The soup doesn’t actually take that long to make and it’s relatively easy to do, even on a weeknight. It makes really good leftovers and it’s hearty enough to serve on its own with some crusty bread.

Chicken Noodle Soup

  • 2-3 large carrots, chopped in bite size pieces
  • 2-3 large stalks of celery, chopped in bite size pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped in bite size pieces (all the veggies should be chopped about the same size)
  • 1 lb chicken, cut into bite size pieces (I used thin cut chicken breast cutlets. They cook faster and they’re easier to slice up)
  • 1 tbsp minced, fresh dill
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp prepared horseradish (optional)
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 8 cups low sodium chicken stock or broth
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 oz medium egg noodles

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat. Add chopped veggies, dill and garlic. Cook until veggies are soft, but not browned. Add horseradish and mustard, if using, and stir.

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Add chicken and stir. Cook until chicken is no longer raw, then add lemon zest and juice and salt and pepper. Pour in chicken stock and bring to a boil. Let simmer, covered, at boil until chicken is cooked through, then uncover and add noodles. Cook 5-7 minutes, uncovered, at boiling until noodles are done.

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Cover and remove from heat. Let sit for five minutes, then serve. It’s perfect for a cold day.

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Smoky Turkey Chili

My house has been run by illness lately. Steve had a cold, then it was gone, then it was back, except worse. Thomas has the runny nose that won’t quit and a cough that rattles. Even I didn’t escape it this year, getting a cold that kept me bedridden for a weekend.

I’ve tried chicken soup, but sometimes you need something that just clears you out. Chili is always good for that.

I’ve never cooked with chipotle chiles in adobo before, but I thought this was a good opportunity to try something new. They’re not so much spicy as they are smoky and the heat they leave is different from what I’ve had before. I went easier on the cumin than I might have otherwise.

This is very, very thick chili. If you need to thin it out a little, use a little chicken stock. I used about a quarter of a cup at the end to thin it out a bit.

Smoky Turkey Chili

  • 1/4 lb (about 4 slices) bacon
  • 1 1/3 lb lean ground turkey
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced (plus a teaspoon of the sauce, more if you want more heat)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 cup frozen corn (I used Trader Joe’s fire roasted corn)
  • 24 oz low sodium tomato sauce
  • 2 15 oz cans of black beans

In a cold pan, cook the bacon over medium heat (I snipped mine into the pan with kitchen shears; you can just chop it on a cutting board). Once bacon is browned, drain some or all of the fat out of the pan. Return bacon to pan and add turkey meat.

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Once turkey meat is partially cooked, add onions, peppers, and garlic. Mince up the chile and add to the pan along with the adobo sauce. Sprinkle oregano and cumin over the mixture.

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Add tomato sauce and corn and let simmer five minutes. Stir in beans. Cover and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Thin out with chicken stock if necessary and cook another 5.

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(Note: this was written back in May – I am clearly behind in posting)

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Stuffed Peppers

Having gall stones sucks major ass. It puts you on a virtually no fat diet, which is practically impossible. I track everything I put into my mouth. It sometimes makes comfort food completely out of reach.

I wouldn’t have thought of stuffed peppers as comfort food when I was a kid. Truthfully, when I was a kid, I ate the filling, not the peppers. I’ve come around on the peppers (although I will probably never come around on cabbage. You can use this filling for stuffed cabbage as well, but I never would. My sister would and has, but it’s a world of no for me). But Steve loves stuffed peppers. I make them much differently than the way he’s used to (he apparently ate them with cheese? Is that a real thing? Because, again, no.), but he’s kind enough to eat my version and not complain (he will also sprinkle cheese on his when I’m not looking).

My sister and I both agree that we remember the sauce as being much sweeter when we were kids, almost like a sweet and sour sauce, but my mother swears up and down that she never used anything but what’s listed below and doesn’t know why we remember it like that. Next time I see one of my uncles, I’ll ask them what they remember about their mother’s version. Because of course this is a Hungarian version. Comfort food doesn’t have to be deliciously fattening to be tasty; sometimes it can just be something you remember your mom making.

This is a lightened up version (I used ground turkey instead of ground sirloin, but you could absolutely use ground sirloin) of comfort food. Like I said, I live on a mostly low fat diet these days and will until I get the stupid gall bladder out.

This is a multi step recipe, so make sure you have plenty of room on your counter and stove to do this as in sync as possible. I made the rice while the peppers boiled, then did the onions and meat while the rice and peppers cooled. My kitchen’s a mess right now and my counters are crowded, so I ran out of room to do all this, but you’re probably better organized than I am.

I am including a picture of true sweet Hungarian paprika. Please, please do not use smoked paprika with this recipe. Smoked paprika will completely change the flavor. If you can get really good quality, sweet Hungarian paprika I recommend it. I will never forget the look of horror on my sister’s or mother’s faces when they realized I had bought generic paprika (it wasn’t even labeled sweet!) when I got my first apartment (of course the extent of my culinary skills back then was Kraft macaroni and cheese). I actually can’t find this paprika at my grocery store, so my mom buys it for me where she is when I run out. That’s comfort food, right there.

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Stuffed Peppers

  • 6 red and green bell peppers, tops removed, seeds and ribs scraped out (save the tops for snacking). They should be able to stand up in a casserole pan/dish
  • 1 cup uncooked white rice, cooked to package directions
  • 1 lb ground sirloin or turkey
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced small
  • 1 large (28 oz can) Hunt’s tomato sauce (do yourself a favor. Don’t skimp and get the generic. There really is a difference in the flavor. I’ve made it with both and I vastly prefer the Hunt’s version)
  • sweet Paprika
  • cider vinegar
  • Sour cream, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to boil, with a splash of cider vinegar. Once water is boiling, add peppers and cook for six minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Let sit until cool enough to handle.

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Saute the onions until soft and golden, but not browned. Remove from pan and saute meat until no longer pink. In a large mixing bowl, combine meat, onions, and rice. Add enough paprika until you get the color you want (mine’s pretty red as you can see).

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Spread some of the Hunt’s sauce on the bottom of a casserole dish. Stuff peppers with filling and stand up in the dish. Pour remaining sauce over the stuffed peppers. I had a lot of left over stuffing, but it’s great to eat with some sauce over it.

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Bake in a 350 oven for 45 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream on top (use full fat – the light doesn’t taste right with this).

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What’s your favorite version of comfort food?

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