Quinoa with Fresh Asparagus and Tomatoes

Quinoa with Fresh Asparagus and Tomatoes

Quinoa with Fresh Asparagus and Tomatoes

In my not so successful quest to be more healthy (since the very next day I made mac & cheese with bacon), I decided to try making Quinoa since I’ve read about its benefits so much lately.  Here is a great article.  While treated like a grain, it is actually a seed from the Chenopodium or Goosefoot plant related to beets, spinach, Swiss chard, and lamb’s quarters and is gluten-free for those who want or need to avoid that.  It is cooked similarly to rice (and even better because it doesn’t stick to the pan) and can be used to replace  grains or pasta in many recipes.   It is high in complete protein, calcium and iron and has all 8 essential amino acids.  Although I used chicken broth, and parmesan cheese you could easily use water or vegetable broth and leave out the cheese if you prefer vegetarian or vegan.

It was good, and I will definitely make it again.  I thought it was interesting, especially the little “tails” that when cooked have a little crunch (you can see them in the picture).   It kind of reminded me of the way corn pops, but the little parts are not nearly as hard as a popped corn shell,  barely crunchy.  It is basically pretty bland alone, so you need to add lots of flavor.  This is really quick to make, less than 1/2 hour and you can serve it hot or cold as a salad.

Printable Version

Ingredients for 4 servings:

2 cups quinoa

3 cups chicken broth, water or vegetable broth

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 lb grape tomatoes

1 lb asparagus spears cut into 1 inch pieces

3 cloves of garlic minced (I like a lot so you can cut that down if you prefer)

2 Tablespoons fresh basil (or 1 T dried)

2 Tablespoons fresh oregano (or 1 T dried)

1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese (optional)


First rinse the quinoa well using a very fine strainer or cheesecloth.  Although some brands are pre-rinsed, this is important not to skip as otherwise you could end up with a bitter taste.

Add the quinoa and broth to a large saucepan over medium heat up to a simmer, then lower the heat and maintain the simmer for about 15 minutes.

Asparagus and Grape Tomatoes

In a large skillet, add the olive oil and sauté over medium high heat for about 5 minutes, just until the asparagus is cooked but still crisp and most of the tomatoes are still intact.  If the tomatoes start to break apart it is done.  Add the minced garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.  When the quinoa is cooked, add it to the vegetables, along with the basil and oregano and the shredded parmesan.

The Daring Cook’s Challenge Edible Containers:  Stuffed Meatballs in a Parmesan Crisp Bowl

The Daring Cook’s Challenge Edible Containers: Stuffed Meatballs in a Parmesan Crisp Bowl

Stuffed Meatballs in Parmesan Crisp Bowl

Stuffed Meatball with spaghetti in Parmesan Crust cup

This month there was another great challenge to create something to serve in an edible container.

Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers! Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 17th to May 16th at http://thedaringkitchen.com!

I chose to make a simple Parmesan Crisp bowl and fill it with stuffed meatballs.  I made two versions, one for an appetizer and one with spaghetti that could be served as a meal.  I thought both turned out well and would be great for parties as you could make the bowls and meatballs ahead then just reheat and assemble.

First I made the crisps which are really simple.

Shredded Parmesan spread on cookie sheet

Place about 2-3 tablespoons of shredded Parmesan, depending on the size you prefer, spread into a circle.

Melted Cheese

Bake at 400 degrees for about 3-5 minutes until the cheese melts.

Making the bowl shape

Remove from the oven and quickly (but carefully as it will be hot) place in small heat proof bowls molding to the shape of the bowl.  You can do this either inside or with the bowl upside down, I chose to do it on the inside.  I would only do a couple at a time because you have to work quickly the cheese hardens fast.

Parmesan Cheese Crisp Bowl

Let cool and pop them out (or lift them off) and set aside.

Next the stuffed meatballs:


1/2 pound Italian sausage, casings removed (hot or mild as you prefer)

1/2 pound ground beef

1 cup bread crumbs (I used some really good but stale ciabatta rolls)

1 small onion chopped very finely

4 cloves garlic chopped very finely

3 tablespoons mixed fresh Italian herbs ( oregano, parsley, basil)

1 egg

1 cup milk

1 cup Pizza sauce (homemade or purchased)  You could also use spaghetti sauce but it might be a little thin.

1 cup shredded mozzarella


Mix all ingredients except the pizza sauce and cheese in a large bowl.  Mix thoroughly, but don’t handle more than necessary.

Make the balls:

Make a disk

Start by making a flattened round disk.

Add some sauce

Add a small amount of pizza sauce.

Add cheese

Sprinkle with some cheese.

Cover the filling

Make a second flattened disk and cover the filling.  Make sure and seal the edges well, then pick it up and roll (very) gently between your hands to round it out and make sure all the edges are sealed.

Ready to bake

Place in a baking pan and bake at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes depending on how big you’ve made them.  I made two versions, one small for appetizers and one of large ones for the main dish.

To serve the appetizer size, just add 2-3 small meatballs to each bowl and sprinkle with some shredded Parmesan.  For a meal, serve a large meatball with a portion of your favorite spaghetti mixed with sauce in the bowl and sprinkle with some shredded Parmesan.

Ready to serve

Papas Rellenas (fried meat stuffed mashed potatoes)

Papas Rellenas (fried meat stuffed mashed potatoes)

Papas Rellenas de carne - stuffed and fried mashed potatoes

What could be better than fried stuffed mashed potatoes – even a picky eater like me can appreciate that.  For this month’s Daring Cook’s Challenge, Kathlyn of Bake Like a Ninja was our Daring Cooks’ March 2011 hostess. Kathlyn challenges us to make two classic Peruvian dishes: Ceviche de Pescado from “Peruvian Cooking – Basic Recipes” by Annik Franco Barreau. And Papas Rellenas adapted from a home recipe by Kathlyn’s Spanish teacher, Mayra.  Of course as I am not a seafood eater (even cooked), I just couldn’t do the Ceveche so Papas Rellenas it was.

I generally followed the recipe she provided with a few substitutions.



For the dough:
2¼ lb (1 kg) russet potatoes
1 large egg

For the filling:
2 tablespoon (30 ml) of a light flavored oil
½ lb (250 grams) finely diced chuck beef
1 small onion, finely diced (about 1 cup (240 ml))
2 bell peppers finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or passed through a press (if you love garlic, add more)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (4 gm) (1/8 oz) ground cumin (use more if you like cumin)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 cups beef stock for deglazing
Salt and pepper to taste

For the final preparation:
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm) (5 oz) all-purpose flour
Dash cayenne pepper
Dash salt
1 cup dry (240 ml) (110 gm) (4 oz) or fresh (240 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) bread crumbs (you can use regular, panko, make your own or use store-bought)

Oil for frying (enough for 2” (50 mm) in a heavy pan like a medium sized dutch oven)


Brown the beef

First I finely diced the meat and vegetables and began by browning the meat in a couple teaspoons of oil.

Beef Browned

Brown the onions

Once the beef was browned, I removed and set it aside, adding the onions to start them first as I prefer my onions really browned.

Add garlic and bell peppers

Next add the peppers and garlic cooking for just about 1 minute.

Add broth

Add the beef broth (I use “better than broth”  or “beef base” as I never seem to have regular broth around when I need it and it is much better than the powered cubes.) Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower and simmer until the liquid evaporates.



While the beef is simmering.  Peel and boil the potatoes in salted water until easily pierced with a fork.  Remove, drain and cool, then mash or put through a ricer if you have one.


To the mashed potatoes, add egg, salt and pepper and knead “dough” thoroughly to ensure that ingredients are well combined and uniformly distributed.

Forming and frying the papas:

  1. Use three small bowls to prepare the papas. In one, combine flour, cayenne and salt. In the second, a beaten egg with a tiny bit of water. Put bread crumbs in the third

Ready to fill

  1. Flour your hands and scoop up 1/6 of the total dough to make a round pancake with your hands. Make a slight indentation in the middle for the filling.  (I ended up cutting each one in half and reforming them as making only 6 made HUGE ones.)

Forming the papas

  1. Spoon a generous amount of filling into the center and then roll the potato closed, forming a smooth, potato-shaped casing around the filling. Repeat with all dough (you should have about 6 papas).
  2. Heat 1 ½ – 2 inches (4 – 5 cm) of oil in a pan to about 350 – 375° F (175 – 190°C).
  3. Dip each papa in the three bowls to coat: first roll in flour, then dip in egg, then roll in bread crumbs.
  4. Fry the papas (in batches if necessary) about 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Flip once in the middle of frying to brown both sides.

Ready to serve

They were a big hit, thanks for the challenge!

Italian Caprese Sliders – Superbowl Sliders

Italian Caprese Sliders – Superbowl Sliders

Italian Caprese Sliders

Italian Caprese Sliders

I know this isn’t new, but seemed perfect for tomorrow (and it did get an Editor’s Pick in Food52‘s burger contest a while ago).  When I was growing up my father was a true grill man – charcoal only and whatever he was making, there was one beer to splash on the food and one for him!  I on the other hand, love my gas grill (and I think dad has one now too) mostly because I’m lazy and don’t want to mess with the charcoal.  Of course, dad would probably not been caught making “wimpy” sliders and I am generally prone to enormous burgers stuffed with cheese but as I mentioned in a previous recipe for the Bacon Sliders, my husband brought home a “slider” pan which I determined wasn’t worth much, but I did like the sliders so here’s another variation.  If you have the time, it is well worth it to make fresh rolls from either your own or the frozen dough.

1 1/2      lb            ground beef

1             lb            hot Italian sausage

1             tsp          dried Italian seasoning

1             med       onion finely chopped

1                            bell pepper finely chopped

3                            cloves minced garlic

18                          (White Dinner Rolls freshly baked – your recipe or frozen dough best)

8             oz           fresh Mozzarella cheese sliced 1/4 inch thick

4             large      Roma tomatoes sliced in 1/4 in thick slices

36          large         fresh basil leaves stems removed

freshly ground black pepper

3             Tbs         extra virgin olive oil

3             Tbs         balsamic vinegar

Freshly baked rolls

Garlic, Onion, peppers and fresh herbs

Ready to mix

Mix gently

1             Gently but thoroughly mix together the ground beef and ground Italian sausage (removing from the casings if any), along with the Italian spices, chopped onion, chopped Bell pepper and 2 cloves of minced garlic.


Use spatula to measure squares

Use spatula to measure squares

Cut squares

Cut entire pan into squares

2             Press the mixture into a jelly roll pan using a rolling pin to make a flat even layer.  Cut the meat into 2″ squares.

3             Grill 2-3 minutes on each side or until cooked through to a temperature of at least 160.

4             If not fresh from the oven, wrap the rolls in foil and warm on the top rack of the grill while the burgers are cooking on their second side.

5             When the burgers are done, place a slice of Mozzerella on each burger and tent with foil while preparing the buns.

6             Whisk together olive oil, balsamic and remaining 1 clove minced garlic

7             Place the burger with cheese on the bottom of the bun, add a slice of tomato and two good sized basil leaves and drizzle each burger with 1 teaspoon of the balsamic/olive oil dressing.

Pasta Fagioli inspired by Olive Garden – Party/Freezer size

Pasta Fagioli inspired by Olive Garden – Party/Freezer size

Pasta Fagioli

Even though I know it isn’t very authentic I really enjoy the Olive Garden’s soup and bread sticks lunch, which led me to make my own version of the soup at home.  Of course it isn’t exactly the same as I tend to make my soups more substantial to the point they are often mistaken for stews.  It was very tasty and a great start to my penne with vodka sauce meal although I have adjusted the recipe a little because after the soup, everyone was too full to eat much of the pasta so I added some extra liquid to thin it out.  It freezes really well, so I made the usual gigantic batch and sealed the rest in several packages for later.  (I have learned my lesson and am now much more careful about labeling as it is amazing how similar things look once they are frozen.)

Here’s the recipe:


3 TBS olive oil

3 lbs ground beef (you could use 2 pounds but I live with the meat-eaters so I go with 3)

2 medium onions chopped

3 celery stalks chopped in a small dice

6 carrots chopped in a small dice

4 cloves garlic minced

1 large can (102 oz) crushed tomatoes

1 6 oz can tomato paste

2 cups red kidney beans

2 cups white kidney beans

8 cups beef stock

4 cups tomato juice

2 cups water

1 TBS Italian seasoning (or 2 tsp oregano and 1 tsp basil)

8 ounces small shell pasta


Sauté the ground beef until it starts to brown, add onions, carrots and celery and simmer for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, simmering for another 10 minutes.

Drain and rinse the beans, then add the remaining ingredients to the pot and simmer for about 45 minutes.  If you like a longer simmer (I like to let it go for several hours) don’t add the pasta until about 45 minutes before serving or it will get soggy.

Pasta Fajioli Served

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

I really love soups.  They are tasty, generally easy to make, great for using up leftovers in a way that doesn’t seem like the same thing again and most are pretty healthy (remember I’m trying to balance my natural inclination to the “no carbs left behind” plan).   I always thought that this would be difficult to make, but it is really pretty easy yet looks impressive.  The most important part of the recipe is to use a good quality broth and have patience browning the onions, the browner the better!


  • 6 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced.
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup of red or dry white wine
  • 8 cups of beef stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 slices of  French bread
  • 1 1/2 cups of grated Swiss Gruyere

Onions in the pot with olive oil and sugar

Brown the onions in a large heavy pot over medium high heat in the olive oil and with the sugar which will help the onions caramelize.  (Just a hint, once I tried sweet Maui onions with a sweet white wine and it wasn’t a good choice – stick to the yellow onions and a dry wine.)

Onions nicely browned

When the onions are browned, add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.  Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes to reduce, then add the stock, salt and pepper and simmer for about 1/2 hour.

Toasted bread

While the soup is simmering, prepare the bread by placing on a single layer on a baking sheet and brushing generously with olive oil.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 5-10 minutes or until nicely browned (the fresher the bread, the longer it will take).  Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn.

Ready to Broil

To serve, ladle into a heat safe bowl, place one or as many slices as will fit of toast on top and cover with shredded or sliced Gruyère.  Place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, just long enough to melt the cheese.  Serve immediately but be careful, the bowls will be hot so use hot pads and don’t put them down directly on the table – use small trivets or cloth placemats.

Ready to Serve