Friday, December 27, 2013

Zoe's Crockpot Chicken

Zoe's Crockpot Chicken resize
This past weekend, I invited my best friend and her family up to our house for dinner.  Instead of trying to make a meatloaf large enough to feed eight people, I decided to use my two crockpots to save time and effort in my prep.  In the one, a mushroom pot roast.  In the other, I made a lightly curried pot of chicken thighs.  I wasn’t sure if my friends’ kids would like it – they’re eight and ten years old, and I didn’t know if it would be a hit.  Ten year-old Zoe took one bite and her face lit up.  ”Mama,” she excitedly told my friend, “you have to ask Dana for this recipe so you can make it at home!”  I have to tell you, I’ve never been so proud of a recipe in all my life!  This, then, will be called Zoe’s Crockpot Chicken.
You can use one or two pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  If you use one pound, you’ll have more sauce, and will probably want to serve this over rice or noodles.  If you use two pounds, like I did this time, it’s a thicker stew and doesn’t need anything under it – but jasmine rice would certainly be delicious.  Use any store-bought curry powder you like.  I have two, and the one I used this time was just a $4 jar from Trader Joe’s – nothing fancy.  I also used half a head of cauliflower, diced.  It doesn’t add much to the flavor, but it adds nutrition and body to the sauce.  I like to garnish with a big dollop of plain yogurt, and if you have cilantro, sprinkle some of that on top.  If you need a quick chicken dish that promises to please grown-ups and kids alike, check this one out.
Zoe’s Crockpot Chicken
  • 1 large onion, sliced fine
  • 1 or 2 pounds chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes (I like fire-roasted)
  • plain yogurt and cilantro to garnish, optional
  • rice or noodles, optional
  1. Place the sliced onions on the bottom of the crock pot.  Layer the chicken thighs on top.  Season well with curry powder and salt.  Open the can of tomatoes and dump on top.
  2. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 hours.  When ready to serve, shred the chicken with a fork and mix all the ingredients.  Serve on top of optional rice, garnish with optional yogurt and cilantro, and enjoy!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Chocolate Cranberry Quinoa Biscotti

If you’ve ever paid $2 for a biscotti at your local coffee shop and thought, “It can’t be that hard to make these,” you are right!  This recipe for Chocolate Cranberry Quinoa Biscotti takes a few extra steps, but if you are looking for a gluten-free, nut-free treat for your afternoon coffee break, read on!
I was looking for nut-free biscotti recipes online, and I found one using quinoa flour, which I’d never heard of or used.  Time to experiment!  It turns out that quinoa flour is incredibly easy to make, and exceeds wheat flour in fiber, protein, and nutrients.  If you don’t want to make your own at home, I understand – you can find it in health food stores and online, and Bob’s Red Mill makes it (I really like and trust their products.)  I used red quinoa, so the biscotti has a darker color, but feel free to use the regular white kind.  To make quinoa flour at home, pour one cup of quinoa on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes at 300*F.   When cool, grind in a spice grinder, grain mill, or superpowerful blender.  I have a hand-crank grain mill that made short work of the job!  One cup of dry quinoa will yield one and a quarter to one and a third cups of flour.  If you don’t want to go through the trouble, you can use regular or whole wheat flour instead.
Everything else in this recipe is pretty customizable.  Don’t like chocolate chips?  Leave them out or use white chocolate or even butterscotch chips.  Add in any kind of nut, like almonds, pecans or pistachios.  Replace the dried cranberries with cherries, apricots, or just lemon zest.  Drizzle with white or dark chocolate.  These make great gifts, too, because they are pretty hearty and don’t get stale too quickly.  After rigorous and exhaustive testing, I can report that these stand up well to dunking in coffee.  The things I do for you people! 
If you have a friend who loves coffee, give these as a gift (and keep a few for yourself!)

CCQ Biscotti Close up Resize
Chocolate Cranberry Quinoa Biscotti
  • 1+ 1/3 cups quinoa flour (you can use whole wheat flour instead)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil (or use butter)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar (or use brown sugar)
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries (or cherries or diced apricots)
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • White chocolate for drizzling (Confession:  I was out of white chocolate, but I found a cookies and cream white chocolate bar that fit the bill.)
  1. Preheat oven to 300*F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine quinoa flour, coconut flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, coconut oil, vanilla, and coconut sugar together.  Mix well, then stir in chocolate chips and cranberries.  Stir in the flour mixture a little at a time until thoroughly combined.
  4. Turn the dough out onto the parchment, and using damp hands, mold into a log that measures about 4 or 5 inches wide, one inch high, and about 15 inches long.  Bake until firm, about 25 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from oven, then pick up the parchment with the biscotti log on it, and let it cool on a rack.  You want this cooled to room temperature, so it won’t crumble too much.  With a serrated knife, slice the log into 1/2 inch biscotti.
  6. Place the biscotti back on the baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes until dry and crunchy.  Let cool completely, then drizzle with white chocolate.  Store in an airtight container to keep them crisp.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Roasted Red Pepper Aioli

… or as it’s known at my house—Magic Sauce!  This recipe for Roasted Red Pepper Aioli is easy to whip up at a moment’s notice, and is infinitely customizable.  Like it spicy?  Add some hot sauce of your choice, or a spoonful of adobo sauce from a jar of chipotle peppers.   Depending on my mood and what else I have laying around, this aioli also gets a few shakes of smoked paprika, or a half a teaspoon of ground cumin.  Mix it up in your blender, taste it, and then see where you want to take it.
We eat this on roasted asparagus.  My husband dips steamed broccoli in it.  I love it on oven-roasted sweet potato fries.  And it’s the best sandwich spread in the world!  Try it in place of regular mayonnaise on your next turkey sandwich or veggie wrap and you’ll ditch that jar of Miracle Whip for good!
Roasted Red Pepper Aioli
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup roasted red peppers from a jar, drained and patted dry (or roast your own!)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt or more to taste
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise (make your own!  Or use store-bought, but not low-fat mayo)
  • optional:  paprika, cumin, hot sauce
  1. In a blender or small food processor, blend together the garlic, red pepper, lemon juice and salt until almost smooth.  Add the mayonnaise and optional ingredients and blend again.  Keep refrigerated.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Chicken with Fennel and Olives

Chicken with Fennel and Olives resize

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!  If you have leftovers, by all means, eat those first.  Once you finish off your turkey, ham, or whatever else you had, try this recipe for Chicken with Fennel and Olives.
Fennel is in season now and has a delicious anise flavor.  When you are shopping for the olives, buy the biggest green olives in a jar you can find – sometimes they’re called Queen olives – and make sure they’re pitted.  You can find them plain, but I used a jar of large green olives stuffed with cloves of garlic.  Amazing!  You can also find them stuffed with almonds (but for this recipe, I would avoid the ones stuffed with blue cheese or hot peppers!)  This recipe also calls for a cup of white wine.  Use a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, or pinot grigio – these are dry white wines that will pair perfectly with the chicken.  If you prefer, you can substitute chicken broth.
This is a healthy, light recipe that will warm your house and keep you from feeling like a slug after all the Thanksgiving feasting is over.  (But feel free to have that last piece of pie for dessert!)
Chicken with Fennel and Olives
  • 1 whole chicken, or a package of skin-on chicken thighs, or skin-on chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or bacon fat for cooking
  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 jar large green pitted olives
  • 1 cup dry white wine (or substitute chicken broth)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.  If you are using a whole chicken, remove the legs and breasts – you should have 4 pieces.  Reserve the rest of the chicken for soup or another use.  Season the skin with salt.
  2. In a very large oven-proof pan, heat the olive oil or bacon fat.  When very hot, add the chicken pieces skin-side down and cook over medium heat for about ten minutes.  When chicken skin is crisp, remove the chicken pieces from the pan and place skin-side up on a platter and set aside.  Set the pan aside – do not drain!
  3. While the chicken is cooking, slice the onion into thin strings.  Cut off the stalks of the fennel, but keep a few green fronds for garnish.  Cut the fennel into very thin rings or slices, about the same size as the onion.  Drain the jar of olives and slice the olives in half.
  4. Heat the pan again and add the wine, stirring to scrap up any stuck-on bits of chicken.  Add the onion, fennel and olives and stir to combine.  Remove from heat.  Place the chicken pieces skin-side up (so it stays crispy) on top of the bed of vegetables and place in the oven.
  5. Cook for 30 minutes.  Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.  To serve, make a bed of vegetables, place a chicken piece on top, and add a sprig of fennel frond.  Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Layered Greek Dip

Layered Greek DipThis month I am focusing on side dishes and things you can bring to your Thanksgiving table.  When my family gets together, we all commit to bringing a piece of the dinner puzzle:  whichever family member is hosting usually makes the main dish, and the other family members decide on who is going to make dessert, salad, vegetable, and appetizer.  My sister brought an appetizer called Layered Greek Dip – and I was hooked!
This dish is easy to put together and is healthy to boot!  Assemble it right before your guests come, or make ahead and covered in the fridge until you are ready to serve.  Offer a variety of dippers:  I like pita chips, tortilla chips, Triscuits (my favorite cracker of all time!) and veggies like carrot sticks and red pepper slices.  This will take the edge off people’s hunger long enough for you to finish up your last-minute dinner duties.  Offer some white wine with this appetizer and your guests may forget all about the main course!
I should have taken a photo of my sister’s dish when she  made it, but it slipped my mind, and before I remembered, we had all smeared it all over the plate and eaten half of it!  I made it again this morning, so the photo is of a “personal-sized” serving.  And you know what?  It makes a yummy, unusual breakfast too!  I used sundried tomatoes because I didn’t have any cherry tomatoes (and I don’t care for them anyway.)  Try it and let me know if you love it like I do!

Layered Greek Dip

Serves 8 as an appetizer
  • 8 ounce container of hummus (or make your own!)
  • 4 ounces crumbled Feta cheese
  • 6 ounce container of plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 4 ounces cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 4 ounces Kalamata olives (or other black olives)
  • 2 green onions, diced
  • handful of parsley, minced
  1. On a large plate, spread out the hummus.  Cover with a layer of Feta, then cover that with the Greek yogurt.  Arrange the cucumber, tomatoes, and olives over the top in any way you find aesthetically pleasing.  Sprinkle with green onion and parsley.  Serve with chips or veggie sticks.  Keep refrigerated until ready to eat.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer (Paleo)

  One of the hardest things I’ve ever done for my health was changing how I took my morning coffee.  I was a teaspoon of white sugar plus half and half kind of girl.  I was also a big fan of Coffeemate creamer – you know, Irish Cream, French Vanilla, Hazelnut – the good stuff. Unfortunately, white sugar first thing in the morning creates a huge insulin spike, setting you up for inflammation, sugar cravings, energy crashes – the list goes on.  And I dare you to pick up a bottle of flavored coffee creamer at the store and tell me what half of those ingredients are. Chemical city!  So I decided to surf the web and find something to jazz up my coffee (because a splash of almond milk just isn’t making magic in my cup.)  After some experimentation, I present to you:  Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer!
This recipe is dairy-free, gluten-free, and processed sugar-free.  I used maple syrup for a little sweetness, but you can use honey or stevia if you prefer.  This recipe calls for an egg.  Try to find organic, best-quality eggs – hopefully you can find a farmer’s market that carries local eggs, because that really lowers any salmonella risk.  If it freaks you out, you can skip the egg, but it really does add body and substance to the creamer.  I keep this in a mason jar in my fridge.  I go through it in about a week and that seems to work well.  It may get solid, and that’s fine – just scoop out a ball of creamer with a tablespoon and it will melt immediately in your coffee.  If you want to make a fall treat for the kids, heat up some milk in a pan on the stove, stir in a quarter cup of the Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer, and garnish with whipped cream and a little extra cinnamon!
Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer
(makes about 16 ounces)
  • 1 can (13.5 ounces) full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or try half vanilla and half almond extract!)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional, but I like it!)
  1. Add all ingredients to the blender and mix for 30 seconds.  That’s it!  Pour into a jar with a lid and store in the fridge for up to one week.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Baked Fish with Cilantro Sauce

Baked Fish with Cilantro Sauce
Monday I went to Costco and found some really beautiful fish.  It was so yummy-looking, I couldn’t pass it up, even though I didn’t know what I was going to do with it.  Google to the rescue!  I went to a site called that I’ve had luck with before, and found a recipe for halibut, but it said you could use any firm-fleshed white fish.  Bingo!  I changed a few things, and now I’m calling it Baked Fish with Cilantro Sauce!
Use whatever firm-fleshed white fish you have.  I used rockfish, which is like red snapper.  You can also use halibut, cod, and probably even tilapia.   And if you’re not really a fan of fish, I bet you could even get super crazy and make this with thin-sliced chicken breast (though you’ll probably want to cook it a little longer.)  The cilantro sauce is phenomenal!  The original recipe called for shitake mushrooms.  I didn’t have any, so I used regular button mushrooms.  But I really liked the mushroom flavor in the recipe and wished it was stronger.  I would suggest a wild mushroom mix, or maybe portobello mushrooms if you can find them.  Regular button mushrooms will work fine, but if you like mushrooms, maybe use more than the recipe calls for.  And if you can find shitakes, by all means use them!
Full disclosure:  My girls didn’t really like this.  I think this is maybe more of a grown-up dinner.  So make this for you and your adult diners, and maybe throw some fish sticks in the oven for the kids.  That meant I had leftovers.  I ate them yesterday for breakfast … and finished the rest off at lunch!  (Can you tell I really liked it?)

Baked Fish with Cilantro Sauce

(Serves 4)
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, ends trimmed off (but use the stems too, not just the leaves!)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small squirt Sriracha chili sauce, or other hot pepper sauce of choice
  • juice of one large lemon
  • 1 1/2 pounds filets of rockfish, halibut, cod, or other firm white fish
  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 1 bunch mizuna or arugula
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 450*F. Combine first 7 ingredients (through the lemon juice) in a food processor and blend until mostly smooth.  If you’d like it a little smoother, you can add more olive oil.  Taste and add salt if desired.  Set the sauce aside.
  2. Wash and trim the green beans, and cut into bite-sized pieces.  Place in a covered bowl and add a tablespoon of water.  Microwave for 2 minutes.  You just want to help them along so they can bake in the oven and not still be crunchy when the fish is done.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the mizuna or arugula, sliced mushrooms, sliced garlic,and green beans.  Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Place in the bottom of a very large casserole dish (like one you would use for lasagna.)  Place the fish filets on top, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
  4. Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish filets.  Divide fish and vegetables among 4 plates, and serve with the cilantro sauce.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Creamed Kale

Creamed Kale
My favorite side dish in restaurants is creamed spinach.  There’s just something about it that I crave.  And lucky for me, it’s not hard to make at home.  But spinach is a little fussy – it goes mushy in the fridge really quickly, so I don’t have it on hand unless I’m cooking it that day.  But kale on the other hand … that hearty veggie will hang out in your fridge for a few days without appreciable loss of texture or taste.  So I had 2 bunches of curly kale hogging space in my fridge and decided to see if I could cream it.  In short, yes I did!  Creamed Kale for dinner!
Use whatever hearty green you have – kale, chard, or spinach.  If you are using spinach, just wash and blanch it quickly.  Kale and chard need more time in the pot to soften up, so plan accordingly.  I made this with one part whole milk and one part half-and-half, but I think next time I can just use whole milk.  If you like a richer flavor, use all half-and-half.  As for the onion, I used just a regular brown onion.  I think a sweet variety would be even better, so if you see Vidalias or Walla Wallas, pick one up!  Also, I left it out, but you can certainly add a little (or a lot, your choice) grated parmesan cheese to garnish.  Ready to check it out?  Let’s go!
Creamed Kale
(serves 2 as a side dish)
  • 2 bunches kale, any kind, or chard, or spinach (see note above if using spinach)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  1. Set a large pot of water to boil.  Prepare the kale:  tear out the tough center stem, and tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces.  Wash well.
  2. Slice the onion as fine as possible – you want thin strings.  In a large pan, cook the onions in 2 tablespoons of butter, stirring to make sure they don’t burn.
  3. Boil the kale for about 3 or 4 minutes.  You don’t want it too soft – a little chew is nice.  Remove to an ice bath.  When cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible from the kale.
  4. When the onions are soft and browning, add the kale to the pan.  In a bowl, whisk together the milk, half-and-half, and cornstarch.  Pour over kale and onions and stir to incorporate.  Turn the heat down to medium low and simmer for 3 minutes until thick and creamy.  Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Stir in last tablespoon of butter, then serve hot.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Basic Meatloaf (Paleo)

This Meatloaf started out following one of Martha Stewart’s recipes, but over the years I’ve kind of made it my own.  I think what makes this a great meatloaf is that it’s not actually baked in a loaf pan.  It’s a freeform meat sculpture!  But making it on a sheet pan instead of in a loaf pan lets the fat drain away, and all the sides get nice and crusty.  It’s easy, it’s a crowd pleaser, and it doesn’t take long to put together.  If you make your own ketchup, this recipe is Paleo.  (I haven't taken that step yet, but I'll get there eventually.)  Let’s get into it!


  • 1 small onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 carrot
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herbs, or oregano
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 2 eggs
  • a big squirt of ketchup (maybe 2 tablespoons)
  • a big squirt of yellow mustard (maybe 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, your choice (Sriracha or Tabasco, whatever you have)
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour (you could use 1/2 cup bread crumbs if you like, or even ground oats)
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons mustard
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar or coconut sugar

Let's bake this bad boy!
Let’s bake this bad boy!
  1. Preheat oven to 400*F.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot to the food processor and blend until combined and kind of pureed.  You don’t want any big chunks.  Empty the veggie puree into a very large mixing bowl, then add the bacon to the food processor.  Blend until ground and add to the veggie puree.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients—up through the salt and pepper—to the mixing bowl.  Mix with your hands until combined.  Dump out the meatloaf mix onto the baking sheet and form a loaf with your hands.  You want it to be long and flat, kind of like a loaf of French bread.  Smooth it out and make it even.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar.  Frost the top of the meatloaf with the ketchup mixture.
  5. Bake for one hour, or until internal temperature reaches 165*F.  My kids eat this with lots of additional ketchup!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Roasted Chipotle Salsa

Roasted Chipotle Salsa
I planted my garden a little late this year, so my tomatoes are just getting ripe now.  My husband loves tomatoes in any form, in any dish.  As for me, the ONE food I don’t like is plain raw tomatoes.  I keep them off my sandwiches and salads.  Every other preparation is fine with me – ketchup, tomato sauce, anything with cooked tomatoes – and especially salsa!  And while I like raw tomato salsas a lot, I like this Roasted Chipotle Salsa even better!
Chiptole peppers in adobo sauce are easy to find – just check your local grocery store in the “ethnic” aisle with all the other Mexican food.  They’re cheap, and they are nearly pickled in the adobo sauce, so once you open the little can, you can keep the rest of the peppers and sauce in a small container in your fridge for months.  (A little Ball jar, or leftover jelly jar, is perfect for this.)  Then, if you find you love the smoky, mild heat of chipotles, use some of the others in your jar to make this dinner salad.  If you can’t find fresh cilantro at your store, you can leave it out, but it really adds a burst of freshness to this spicy sauce!
This recipe made a little more than a cup for me.  That said, my husband and I ate it all in one night!  It was “taco” night at our house, but we were using lettuce leaves instead of taco shells.  Ground beef with onions, avocado slices, and this salsa – delish!
Roasted Chipotle Salsa
  • 3 regular-sized ripe tomatoes (around 1/2 pound, or a little more)
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • salt
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (or more if you like it spicy!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • small handful cilantro, about half a cup
  • 1/2 lime or lemon
  1. Preheat oven to Broil.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Slice the tomatoes in half, removing any core or stem you don’t like.  Slice the onion into rounds.  Peel and smash the garlic cloves.  Lay these out on the baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Season with salt.
  2. Broil the vegetables until they start turning brown and are very juicy – about 8-10 minutes, depending on your oven.  Remove from the oven.  Pour the vegetables and any juices into a food processor.  Add in the cumin, chipotle pepper, cilantro, and hit start.  Process for a few seconds, then squeeze in the lime juice.  Process again – leave it chunky!  Taste for seasoning – maybe more salt or lime?  Process again until you reach your desired consistency.  I like mine to still have some texture and not be a puree.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  Tortilla chips, burritos, enchiladas – even over scrambled eggs – this stuff is yummy!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Zucchini Lasagna

Zucchini Lasagna Resize
This recipe came about, as many do, in my house:  I start with an ingredient and brainstorm what in the world I’m going to do with it.  I had a bag of summer squash from the farmer’s market – it was so inexpensive, I couldn’t pass it up.  But aside from making zucchini bread, I couldn’t think of how to use it.  That was when I stumbled upon a recipe for Homemade Ricotta, and it came to me:  Zucchini Lasagna!
The zucchini stands in for traditional noodles in this recipe, so if you are following a low-carb diet, or if you are avoiding gluten, you’re in luck!  If you are making ricotta, drain and squeeze it to keep any extra liquid out of the casserole.  Nobody likes a soggy lasagna!  Feel free to saute and add other veggies or herbs to the lasagna, too – baby spinach, bell peppers, black olives, or fresh basil would all be lovely!
This is a small casserole, so we ate it with a big salad for dinner.  You can easily double or quadruple this recipe to serve more people.  Hope you like it!
Zucchini Lasagna
  • 1 or 2 zucchinis or other summer squash, about 3/4 pound
  • cooking spray
  • 1/2 pound sausage
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained (I used fire-roasted canned tomatoes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian herbs, or oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup Homemade Ricotta, or store-bought
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 400*F.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Chop the zucchini into thin coins – about 1/8″-thick.  Lay out on the baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes.  They don’t need to be cooked through at all – you just want to dry them out a little bit.  Remember, no one likes a soggy lasagna!
  2. While the zucchini is drying out, dice the onion, and mince the clove of garlic.  In a large pan, brown the sausage with the onion and garlic.  Drain any fat that accumulates.  Add in the drained tomatoes, oregano, and salt and pepper, and heat through.
  3. In a casserole dish, spray a little cooking spray so nothing sticks.  Layer half the zucchini slices to cover the bottom of the casserole dish.  Spread half the ricotta over the zucchini, then spread half the sausage mixture over the ricotta.  Repeat with the rest of the zucchini, then ricotta, then sausage.  Cover with the shredded mozzarella.
  4. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove lid and bake for another ten minutes, until the cheese is golden and melty.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Homemade Ricotta

Homemade Ricotta Resized
When I was in high school, 25 years ago, I thought the funniest movies in the world were Monty Python movies.  Yes, I was one of those nerds who could rattle off quotes from all the movies (in the intervening years, my skills have gotten rusty, but I still have a few).  One of my favorite scenes in the movie “The Life of Brian” was when a group of people are listening to the Sermon on the Mount.  Unfortunately, they are way, way at the back of the crowd and can’t hear well. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” the crowd in back misinterpret it as “Blessed are the cheese makers.”  So when I came across this recipe for Homemade Ricotta, I immediately started giggling.  I want to be a blessed cheese maker, and you can be too!
You already have the ingredients you need.  Use whole milk, or else the ricotta won’t set up.  One lemon, a little salt, and a tablespoon of white vinegar – what could be easier?  You’ll also need a thermometer.  I have a candy thermometer that clips to the side of the pan, but you could use a meat thermometer, or one of those fancy infrared ones too!  The only equipment you might need to buy is cheesecloth.  I found it at my regular grocery store, and have used it before in making Homemade Coconut Milk.
Ricotta is one of those amazing ingredients that can be used in either sweet or savory recipes.  In the following two weeks, I’ll have recipes that use fresh ricotta in a zucchini “lasagna” (with no noodles!), and in a dessert with fresh summer fruit.  Until then, you can serve fresh ricotta as an appetizer, spread on thin slices of bread, with either cracked pepper and minced herbs, or with a light drizzle of honey and crushed walnuts.  Ready?  Let’s make some cheese!
Homemade Ricotta  
(Makes one cup of ricotta)
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar (you may need more, but I didn’t)
  1. In a pot, heat milk and salt over medium-high heat.  Stir occasionally to make sure it’s not burning on the bottom.
  2. Prepare your utensils:  Line a mesh sieve with a double-layer of cheesecloth.  If you want to save the whey, place the sieve over a large bowl.  (I saved my whey – next week I’ll show you how I used it.)
  3. When the temperature of the milk reaches 185*F, turn off the heat and pour in the lemon juice and vinegar.  Stir gently.  You just made what Little Bo Peep was eating – curds and whey!  Let it sit for about ten minutes, and stir again.  If you see any milk in your pot that hasn’t curdled, you can add another teaspoon of vinegar, stir, and let sit another ten minutes.  Mine didn’t need any extra and separated easily.
  4. Pour the curds and whey into the cheesecloth-lined sieve.  The whey, the yellowish liquid, will end up in the bowl.  Let cool and refrigerate for later use.  Let the cheese curds, aka your lovely homemade ricotta, drain in the cheesecloth.  If you want it soft and moist, let it drain for about ten minutes.  This is good for spreading on bread, or in dessert applications.  I let mine drain for much longer – about half an hour – because I was baking it in a “lasagna” and didn’t want extra water in the casserole.
  5. This keeps for about 5 days, refrigerated.  I challenge you to make it last more than a few hours!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bacon-Wrapped Figs

Fresh Figs
Ah summer!  You bring us such a variety of delectable little fruits and veggies, some that are only in season and available for a few weeks!  Figs are one of those little gifts from God.  I saw them at my farmer’s market two weeks ago, and Sunday I bought a basket.  Tender little nuggets of sweet pink flesh, hidden under an unassuming brown skin, figs are a sweet treat!  If you’ve only ever had them in Fig Newton form, try this recipe for Bacon-Wrapped Figs!
Simple ingredients, simple preparation – so easy!  Look for figs that are a little soft, but not squishy.  These little bites are sweet and salty and kind of rich, so you don’t need to eat a dozen to feel satisfied.  Try them with a green salad for a light lunch, or with some sparkling wine as an appetizer.

Bite-sized bacon goodness!
Bite-sized bacon goodness!

Bacon-Wrapped Figs

  • 6 ripe figs
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 6 teaspoons cream cheese
  • fresh-ground black pepper
  • optional: honey
  1. Preheat oven to 400*F.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  
  2. Rinse off figs and pat dry.  With a knife, trim off the little stem nub at the top and slice in half lengthwise, so you have 12 halves.  Cut the bacon in half so you have 12 short pieces.
  3. To assemble:  Place half a teaspoon of cream cheese on top of each fig half.  Season with a grind or two of black pepper.  If you want them sweeter, add a drop of honey on top of the cream cheese.  I didn’t use honey and mine were delicious, but it’s up to you how sweet you want them.  Wrap each cream cheese-topped fig in bacon.  I wrapped them so the open end is underneath the fig, but some had the open end on top and it didn’t unravel.  You could use toothpicks if you are worried they won’t stay wrapped in the oven, but mine were fine without.  Lay the bacon-fig bundles on the baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes.  Turn off the oven and let them figs rest for 5 more minutes in the oven.  Take them out and serve hot.  Watch your fingers!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Roasted Chicken and Broccoli with Raisin Sauce

Roasted Broccoli and Chicken with Raisin Sauce
Wait, wait, where are you going?  This isn’t a joke!  Raisin sauce!  It’s real, and it’s delicious!
Let me back up a bit.  We love roasted broccoli at our house.  We eat it two, sometimes three times a week.  And while I enjoy it, I really do, there came a day (last week) when I wanted to add a little something new to our dinner repetoire.  Google is my friend, and I quickly came across several different recipes for Broccoli with Raisin Sauce.  Well, if so many other people thought it good enough to make, photograph, and write about, it must be worth a try.
And it was an unmitigated success!  This simple sauce has it all – sweet and spicy, with a little bite from the vinegar.  I served this with roasted chicken thighs, and the raisin sauce was amazing with those too!  For an easy dinner, roast the broccoli on one sheet pan, chicken thighs on another, and make the sauce when they’re done.  Be bold, try something new, and surprise yourself with a funky, fun new recipe!
Roasted Broccoli and Chicken with Raisin Sauce
  • 3 large bunches of broccoli, chopped into florets
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • salt and pepper
  • 9 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup raisins (I used golden raisins, but use what you like)
  • 2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  1. Preheat oven to 400*F.  Line two cookie sheet pans with aluminum foil.  On one pan, lay out the chicken thighs, making sure there is room between them; don’t crowd.  Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper (and a little garlic powder is nice too).  Place in the oven on the top rack.
  2. On the second sheet pan, spread out the broccoli florets and drizzle with 3 tablespoons of oil.  Sprinkle with salt and place in the oven on the bottom rack.
  3. While the chicken and broccoli cook, make the raisin sauce:  combine remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, raisins, vinegar, and cumin in a blender or food processor.  Blend until relatively smooth – until the raisins are broken down and saucy.
  4. The chicken is done when a thermometer reads 160*F, and the broccoli is done when it’s getting some crispy brown spots.  Serve both with the raisin sauce!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Tropical Granita

In my last post on the joys of Homemade Coconut Milk, we’ll look at the most traditional use of coconut:  Dessert!  Coconut milk can be used in savory or sweet dishes, but I think most people like to find coconut mingling with chocolate or fruit.  Here’s a recipe that will satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthy way – Tropical Granita!
For some reason, my girls won’t try new fruits readily, but if I put them in a smoothie or in this granita, they love it!  A granita, if you don’t know, is like a cross between a sorbet and shaved ice.  It’s icy, flaky, and refreshing!  You can use any fresh, juicy fruit you want here – mangoes, peaches, any berries – but be sure you add at least one banana.  The bananas create a thicker texture and enough sweetness that you don’t need to add any sugar!  You could use frozen fruit too – pineapple and raspberries would be lovely!  I used nectarines, bananas, and strawberries.
As with all homemade recipes, there are pros and cons.  The pro, of course, is there are no sweeteners, preservatives, artificial color, etc.  The con is that since there are no stabilizers and gums, this granita is a little more difficult to scoop than commercial ice cream.  I take it out of the freezer about half an hour before we eat it, so it can soften up a little.  It’s a great motivator – I tell my daughter I’m taking dessert out of the freezer, so if she wants to eat some, she better start eating that broccoli on her plate!
Tropical Sorbet
  • 1 cup dessicated coconut and 1 1/2 cups water (or one can coconut milk)
  • 3 nectarines or peaches
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • optional toppings:  whipped cream, shredded coconut, strawberry jam
  1. In a blender, blend the coconut and water.  Strain through a colander and cheese cloth.  Return coconut milk to the blender.  (If using canned coconut milk, just pour it in the blender!)
  2. Boil a pot of water.  Score an X on the bottom of each peach or nectarine.  Drop each nectarine into the water and let it boil for 30 seconds.  Remove the nectarines to an ice bath.  When cool, peel off the skin.  Cut the flesh from the pits and add to the blender.
  3. Add the banana to the blender and blend for 30 seconds.  Remove stems from strawberries and cut in half.  Add to blender and pulse a few times – I like to see chunks of berries!
  4. Pour into a large, shallow container and cover with plastic wrap.  Freeze until firm, at least 6 hours.  To serve, let thaw for about half an hour, and then scrape up with a spoon or fork.  Mound in a dish and serve with whipped cream, more diced berries or coconut flakes, or a dollop of strawberry jam!
These make great popsicles too!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Homemade Cheezits, from Homemade Coconut Flour

Homemade Cheezits

So, you fell in love with coconut milk too, right?  It’s your end-all, be-all, new favorite thing? That’s okay if it’s not.  But if you have made it, or plan to, you will be left with a cheesecloth-wrapped ball of pulp.  Now, someone who didn’t know better might just chuck that in the trash.  But not us!  We are going to use the pulp to make Homemade Coconut Flour and, with that flour, we’re going to make Homemade Cheezits!
First, the tools you will need:  You’ll need a baking sheet, parchment paper, and a food processor or blender.  If you have a Silpat silicone baking liner, now is the time to use it.  And you’re in luck:  the ingredients are already in your house, right now!  Once you make (or purchase) coconut flour, you can whip these crackers up in minutes.  The good news is that they have no preservatives, artificial colors or flavors, or any unpronounceable chemicals – hooray!  They come out of the oven the perfect blend of crispy and  chewy, ready for snacking.  The bad news is, because they lack any of that lab-created stuff, they don’t stay crispy.  But that is easily remedied by a quick pass through a toaster oven.  Just a few minutes is enough to make these crackers crunchy again.
Ready to make some homemade, preservative-free snacks your family will love?  Let’s go!
Homemade Coconut Flour
  • Pulp from 2 batches of coconut milk
  1. Preheat oven to 250 F.  Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.  Spread out the coconut pulp, breaking up any lumps.  Toast the pulp until completely dry and powdery.  You really need to make sure all the moisture is removed.  This can take anywhere from one to two hours.  Stir occasionally to make sure the lumps are broken up and there are no hot-spots, and don’t let it burn!
  2. When the pulp is very dry, let it cool in the oven for another hour or so.  Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend for 5 minutes.  Depending on how powerful your blender is, you can get it pretty fine.  My food processor did a decent job, but the flour was not silky fine in texture.  That’s okay!  Get it as powdery in texture as your tools allow.

Homemade Coconut Flour

Homemade Cheezits
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used cheddar)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.  In a food processor, blend all the ingredients together.  You will end up with a moist ball of dough.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat liner.  Plop the ball of dough down on the liner, and cover with a piece of parchment paper.  Roll out the dough very thinly, to about 1/8″ thickness.  Try to make it even thickness all the way across – you can see my edges were a little thinner, and they got crispier than in the middle.  That’s fine, but you don’t want a huge variation in thickness.  Remove top sheet of parchment paper and bake for 8-10 minutes until starting to color.
  3. Remove from oven and score with a sharp knife.  You don’t need to go all the way through, because you don’t want to cut your liner or parchment paper.  Bake again for another 8-10 minutes until golden brown and starting to get crispy at the edges.
  4. When it’s cool enough to touch, cut all the way through the crackers, or just use your hands to break them at the perforations.  When cool, store crackers in sealed container.  To crisp, put them on a baking sheet in the toaster oven or regular oven for five minutes.
I think next time I make these, I’ll add a little paprika or garlic powder.  New flavor combinations are exciting!  So - what store-bought snacks do you like to make at home?