Seared Zucchini with Beans

Despite having hosted our friends for dinner for many of the Saturday nights over the past 20+ years I still find myself stumped fair to regularly on what to make for dinner. As a result I will often add “2 vegetables” to my grocery list with no real plan and hope for inspiration while in the produce section. Here are the results from such a recent inspiration.

Seared Zucchini with Beans
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 red onion, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
  • 3 zucchini, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 28 oz. can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 tsp. Penzey’s Mural of Flavor spice blend
  • 1/2 cup water.
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent; about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, stirring it into the onions and cook until fragrant, which should be less than a minute. Push the onions and garlic to the edge of the skillet.
  3. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and increase the heat to medium high. Add the zucchini and spread it out into a single layer. Allow it to brown on this side, untouched for 3-4 minutes. Now sprinkle the zucchini with salt and stir it to redistribute the pieces. Cook for another minute.
  4. Add the beans, spice blend and water. Stir everything together and cover. Reduce the heat to low and allow it to cook until the beans are warmed through, about 5 minutes.
  5. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste.

Notes:
You can really use any type of bean here that you like. Hominy probably wouldn’t be my first choice but if you rinsed it then it would work.

If you don’t have the Mural of Flavors spice blend you can mix together 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, 1/2 tsp. ground coriander and the zest from a lemon or orange. Use 1 teaspoon of that and save the rest.

Buttered Farro

There are times when an improvisation turns into something you want to repeat again and again. This dish is one of the successes that I will continue to make once a month or so because it’s just that tasty.

It’s “origin story” isn’t very glamorous though. I realized I had some cooked farro slowly wasting away in the fridge as I was putting together the menu for one of our mostly weekly Saturday night gatherings. Since I hadn’t actually planned on making it part of dinner I didn’t pickup the additional ingredients necessary to make Farro with Mushrooms and Thyme. Luckily, a handful of pantry staples turned this from a bland grain into a flavorful side dish.

Buttered Farro
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 5 minutes (if you have precooked your farro)
Total time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until just shimmering. Add the diced onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with oil and saute until translucent, 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add the butter. When it is fully melted add the farro, paprika and spice blend. Toss until the farro is coated with butter and the spices are well distributed.
  3. Heat for about 5 minutes so that the farro is heated through. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as desired. Serve.

Notes:
If you have fresh herbs such as parsley or chives on hand you could added a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped fresh herbs at the end of cooking.

Skillet Chicken, Veggies and Rice

[Chicken, veggies and rice]I wanted something simple for dinner and had chicken thighs thawing in the fridge. A trip to the grocery store yield mushrooms and a bit of inspiration from the canned soup aisle.

I have a fond memory for a baked chicken and rice dish that involved condensed cream of something soup. The strongest memory I have of it is from a youth retreat program from my late teens that had a strong influence on me. In the intervening years I’ve learned more than I want about how not-great-for-me condensed soup is and so I decided to try to make something similar with just chicken broth and water. The result was pretty good without the I’m eating what self-shame.

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Two Bean Salad

The longer this salad is allowed to rest the more of the red wine vinegar and spices have a chance to flavor the beans.

Two Bean Salad
Servings: 8-10
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

    • 1 (29 oz.) can Goya Pinto Beans
    • 1 (29 oz.) can Goya Small White Beans
    • 1 yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
    • 1 bunch parsley, rinsed, patted dry and chopped fine
    • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
    • 1tsp. Penzeys’ Mural of Flavor spice blend

(or 1/2 tsp black pepper and 1/2 tsp. ground coriander)

Directions:

  1. Drain and thoroughly rinse the beans. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the onion and parsley.
  2. Combine the oil, vinegar and spice blend/pepper in a measuring cup. Vigorously mix with a fork to combine. Stir into the bean mixture.
  3. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for ~2 hours or up to 24 hours. Stir periodically to distribute the dressing.

Notes:
Based on a One Bean Salad from Goya that I found on the back of a can of beans.

Use a red onion if you want a more pronounced onion flavor.

Ground Lamb with Swiss Chard

I am blessed to have access to a Winter Farmer’s Market between January and March. I am further blessed that I can get not only hearty root veggies but fresh, locally grown, greens like kale and salad mix. This recipe is inspired by the ground lamb and Swiss chard I picked up last weekend.

Ground Lamb with Swiss Chard
Servings: 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. Penzey’s Mural of Flavor spice blend
  • 1 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 8 oz. Swiss chard, stemmed and cut into 1″x2″ pieces
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • plain white rice
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Add oil to a non-stick skillet and heat on high until the oil shimmers. Add the ground lamb, breaking up in to smaller chunks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, breaking the chunks down into smaller pieces as the meat warms up and becomes more manageable.
  2. When the meat is mostly cooked through drain excess oil so that you have about a tablespoon left in the pan. Add the onions, sprinkle with salt and stir to incorporate. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Onions should soften but not brown.
  3. Add the garlic, stir and cook until fragrant; about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the tomato paste and spices. Stir until combined with the meat and cook for about 1 minute.
  5. Add the Swiss chard, sprinkle with salt and cover the skillet. Cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir to combine with the meat and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste the chard for doneness. Continue cooking if needed; if ready add the lemon zest/juice and toss together to coat. Adjust the seasoning as desired.
  6. Serve over plain white rice.

Notes:
You don’t really need the oil as ground lamb tends to be a bit fatty however you need something in the non-stick skillet while you preheat it.

Be sure to rinse your Swiss chard well and spin it dry. Since we want to wilt the chard it doesn’t need to be bone dry; a little dampness on the leaves will help them cook faster.

If the skillet seems a little dry when checking the chard half way through cooking add a tablespoon or two of water before slapping the skillet back on the pan. The steam will help the chard cook.

Puttanesca-style Chicken

This came out pretty well with a nicely browned chicken thigh surrounded by a flavorful sauce of tomatoes, olives and capers. It had a minimum of prep work and, despite the number of ingredients, came together in less time than it takes for the pizza guy to get here.

Other recipes like this I’ve seen used chicken breast. I like the flavor of chicken thighs and that they are more forgiving when overcooked.

Puttanesca-style Chicken
Servings: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil, perhaps a bit more
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 large yellow onion, medium dice
  • 1 bell pepper (red or yellow, not green), medium dice
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. Penzey’s Mural of Flavor spice blend (or see note)
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. anchovy paste
  • 1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1/4 c Kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1 tbs capers, drained, rinsed, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. green peppercorns, drained, rinsed, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. basil paste (or 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Pat dry the chicken thighs and trim any excess fat. Sprinkle the skin side with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the oil in a 12″ non-stick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Place thighs skin side down in the skillet. Cook for ~5 minutes until evenly browned. Sprinkle upward facing side with salt and pepper, flip thighs and cook another 5 minutes. Remove to a plate.
  3. If less than a tablespoon of oil remains in the pan supplement with additional oil. Add the onions and pepper, sprinkle with salt and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add chicken broth and scrap up any brown bits created by browning the chicken. Cook until the broth is mostly evaporated.
  4. Add garlic, spice blend, red pepper and anchovy paste. Stir to incorporate. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  5. Add the tomatoes and juice, olives, capers and peppercorns. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan and settle it into the sauce. Reduce temp to low and cook at a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  6. Add basil and parsley to the sauce and taste. Adjust salt & pepper accordingly. Serve with white rice or pasta.

Notes:
If you don’t have the Mural of Flavors spice blend you can mix together 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, 1/2 tsp. ground coriander and the zest from a lemon or orange. Use 1 teaspoon of that and save the rest.

Once the farm stands shutdown and our kitchen garden succumbs to frost it is difficult to find decent fresh basil. The grocery store will sell you a plastic box of it for $2.99 with half wilted leaves lacking aroma. I found basil paste in a tube and gave it a try. It’s OK, though certainly not the same as just picked fresh basil. I’d use it again.

This recipe was inspired by several sources including Home Sweet Jones, Epicurious and Cooking Light.

Rice Florentine

There is a restaurant nearby that serves Rice Florentine as a side. It seems to be not much more than rice with small bits of unidentifiable green vegetation tossed in. I wanted something with a bit more color, and flavor.

There is a fair amount of prep work on this dish, particularly with the baby spinach. I think the end result is worth the extra effort.

Rice Florentine
Servings: 12+
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups water
  • 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 1/2 cups long-grain rice
  • 10 oz. fresh baby spinach, stemmed, cut into 1/4″ pieces, rinsed and spun dry
  • 2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped into 1/8″ pieces
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced 1/8″, with most of green
  • 2 Tbsp.butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. Penzey’s Mural of Flavor spice blend (or see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered rosemary
  • kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Make the rice: – Bring water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to a boil in a large pot. Add rice, stirring briefly to distribute in the pot. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15-17 minutes. Check rice; it should be cooked through and look dry. Cook an additional minute if there is noticeable moisture. When cooked – turn off heat and place a double layer of paper towels between the pot and the lid.
  2. Cook veggies: – Heat remaining tablespoon of oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat until bubbling subsides. Add peppers and scallions with a pinch of salt. Stir to coat with oil and cook until peppers start to turn translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, stir and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute.
  3. Add spinach, cook for a minute so it starts to wilt then stir it into the pepper mixture. Cook until any water released by the spinach is evaporated, about 5 minutes total.
  4. Sprinkle spinach with spice blend and rosemary. Stir to combine, cook for a minute or so and taste. Add salt as needed.
  5. Fold spinach mixture into cooked rice. Transfer to a large serving bowl and enjoy.

Notes:
To prep the spinach I removed the stems from about 20-25 spinach leaves at a time, stacking the leaves on top of each other. I then cut them into 1/4″ pieces, transfered the cut spinach to a salad spinner and repeated the process until all the spinach is cut up. Rinse with cold water, drain and then spin at least 3 times.

If you don’t have the Mural of Flavors spice blend you can mix together 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, 1/2 tsp. ground coriander and the zest from a lemon or orange. Use 1 teaspoon of that and save the rest.

I referenced a couple of recipes while putting this recipe together: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/florentine-rice and http://southernfood.about.com/od/ricesidedishcasseroles/r/bl90805e.htm

Cauliflower and Shells

Have you ever been certain that you had some pantry staple and discover when you are pulling all the ingredients together before cooking that one is missing? Oops. The recipe I was following called for saffron, something we usually have on hand. I did not take into account the fact that my husband had been using it in focaccia however so the cupboard was bare. I looked for turmeric and that was missing as well. As I contemplated my spice options I noticed a spice blend, guessed at an amount and gave it a go. The results were well received. Guests noted a pleasant but not overpowering bit of heat. Lovely.

Cauliflower and Shells
Servings: 12+
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 head cauliflower, florets and core cut into small, even-sized, pieces
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 4 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp. Penzey’s Mural of Flavor spice blend (or see note)
  • 16 oz. pasta shells
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese for serving

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
  2. In another pot, fitted with a steamer basket, steam the cauliflower for about 3 minutes. Taste – it should be toothsome with a bit of crunch left. Transfer cauliflower to a bowl and set aside. Drain pot, wipe clean and return it to the stove.
  3. Heat the oil in the pot over medium heat. Add the onion with a large pinch of salt. Stir in the oil and cook until the onion softens, 5-6 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, spice blend and about 1 tablespoon of parsley. Stir to incorporate and cook until the garlic is fragrant. Add the cauliflower, another large pinch of salt and combine. Add 1 cup water and cover. Cook for 5 minutes. Taste the cauliflower; if it is done to your liking then remove from the heat and keep warm.
  5. While the cauliflower is cooking you can cook your pasta in well salted water. Drain, return it to the large pot and mix in the remaining parsley.
  6. When both pasta and cauliflower are cooked combine, mix and taste for seasoning. Adjust to your taste and serve.

Notes:
If I didn’t have the Mural of Flavors spice blend I’d cry. Then I’d mix together 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, 1/2 tsp. ground coriander and the zest from a lemon or orange. Use 2 teaspoons of that and save the rest. Finally I’d make a trip to Penzey’s to get more of the spice blend; it is that good.

This recipe is based upon Cauliflower with Saffron and Pasta from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison as shared by The Splendid Table.

Potato Gnocchi, Sausage and Spinach

This dish is a weeknight pantry/fridge raid with a package of shelf-stable gnocchi providing the starting point.

Potato Gnocchi, Sausage and Spinach
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs. Italian sweet sausage
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, 1/4″ dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. Penzeys Mural Of Flavor (see note)
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb. potato gnocchi
  • 1 6 oz. bag spinach, rinsed and spun
  • Parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions:

  1. Place sausages and 1/2 cup water in a lidded skillet and heat over medium. Cook for 5-7 minutes; cook until internal temp reaches 160°F. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile heat a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the gnocchi according to the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water and drain.
  3. Dump out excess water from the skillet and wipe skillet dry. Return skillet to medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer add the onions along with a pinch of kosher salt. Stir to coat and cook for 4-5 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds or until fragrants. Add the red pepper flakes and spice blend. Stir to incorporate and bloom the spices.
  4. Add the spinach along with the reserved pasta water. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring periodically. The spinach will wilt down to less than a cup in volume.
  5. While the spinach cooks slice the sausages into bite-size pieces.
  6. When the spinach is fully cooked add the sausages and gnoochi. Toss to combine. Cover and cook long enough to reheat sausages.
  7. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Notes:
Penzeys Mural Of Flavor is one of my favorite spice blends. If you don’t have it you could substitute 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, 1/4 tsp. ground coriander and 1/4 tsp. dried citrus peel.

I prefer to boil the potato gnocchi for a little longer than the package recommends. In my case the package said 2 minutes in boiling water. At that point they were warmed through but still a little dense for my taste. An extra minute made them a little lighter and less chewy.

Spice Cookie Bars

When I need to make dessert my mind first goes to chocolate. Alas I married a man who is not as fond of chocolate as I. Life is full of small compromises and one of mine is I don’t just make chocolate cake for dessert.

I found the recipe for Spice Cookie Bars at our “local” Penzeys Spice. We make a short pilgrimage a couple of times a year to their Arlington (MA) location to restock the pantry. One of my favorite parts is that they have jars of all their spices & blends available for customers to open, sniff and get a sense of the differences between 3 types of ground chile. They also have recipe cards randomly placed around the store with their products.

The resulting bars had a spongy quality that remind me of hermits. From the way they disappeared from the plate I’m guessing that folks like them a lot.

Recipe under the cut