Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Lately I have been trying to like quinoa. I know it is amazingly good for me and a healthier option than many of the carbs I love so much. The first time I tried quinoa was a few years ago and I really didn’t like it, it was pretty flavorless and the texture was not my favorite. I have since learned that it absorbs a lot of flavor and so it requires more seasoning than rice or pasta and that the texture is not as bad as I thought. I made some for a dinner recently and had quite a bit leftover (apparently a little also goes a long way). I was trying to go with a Mediterranean theme for dinner tonight and remembered growing up my mom really liked tabouleh (& I really disliked it b/c of the texture). Well, quinoa sorta reminds me of tabouleh in texture so I thought why not go that direction.

I have also been trying to eat more cooked fish (go figure, I will eat it raw, but really don’t care for it cooked). So we did a Mediterranean grilled fish, grilled green beans and the quinoa salad. Hubby said it was a very “earth muffin meal”. HA! I will still have to work on being able to eat entire filets of fish, but the rest was quite tasty. Even hubby liked the quinoa salad and if hubby liked it, we might just be on to something! This makes a great side to grilled chicken or fish and the flavor palatte is crisp and very summery!


2 cups of cooked quinoa
1 cucumber20150603_191400
1 shallot
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup kalamata olives
1 lemon
Feta or Goat Cheese Crumbles
Salt & Pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
Parsley, chopped

Cook the quinoa according to package directions. I like to cook mine in chicken broth (veggie broth would work too), just adds good depth of flavor.

Meanwhile, cut up the shallot and sauté in just a little olive oil. At the last minute throw in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds to a minute. Not too long or it will burn. Remember to season your shallots with some salt and pepper. Don’t worry, the quinoa will be able to handle it and you want to layer your flavors. Set aside.

Peel the cucumber, cut in half crossways and then lengthwise. Take out the seeds and squishy part in the middle until you have half moons and slice just a little chunky. Set aside.

Cut the Kalamata olives in half crossways and set aside.

Once the quinoa has cooked and is cooled at least to room temperature. Add the cucumbers, shallots, tomatoes and olives. Stir to combine.

Add the chopped parsley, juice the lemon into the quinoa mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cheese crumbles for each individual serving.


Semester of Cooking

One reason I’ve been a bit absent is that I’ve been taking a class that involved quite a bit of cooking this semester. Here are all the things I made this semester: (can’t believe it’s over already)

Dutch Apple Muffins

Salad with Vinaigrette

Creamy Broccoli Soup

BBQ Steak w/Bread Crumb Topping
Chicken Provencal





Eggs Benedict

Beef Chili


Summer Refreshment

A couple years ago my good friend Paula and I and another friend were at a restaurant in Denver and had a DELIGHTFUL drink that was a sorta cucumber, lemonade martini (I can’t remember what they called it). It was SO REFRESHING and I am not typically a fan of lemonade. It was cool and smooth and lemony and amazing!

Well, the weather has turned warm here in North Carolina (I forgot how early the warm weather arrives … and oh the pollen). It was an unusually hot day for the beginning of April and the air conditioning was not working, we were looking for ways to stay cool and I remembered that lemonade drink. I started throwing things in a pitcher and it worked!

I will tell you, the secret is “Rain Cucumber Vodka”. It has to be this brand … other brands do not quite have as much cucumber flavor. I also cut up some cucumber slices and let them just sit in the drink while it chilled in the fridge … it helps, really!

Rain Cucumber Vodka
Limoncello (this is kinda sweet as well as lemony)
Seltzer Water (not tonic water)
Fresh Lemons
Cucumber Slices
Simple Syrup (if you don’t prefer too much lemony tang and like a sweeter lemonade)
Fresh Basil (it sounds odd, but it goes and makes it DELICOUS)
Ice Cubes

Ok, put a little ice, tear a bunch of basil leaves (& add the simple syrup if you want) and a few cucumber slices. Muddle this together for a few minutes to release the oils of the basil. Squeeze in about 3 lemons, add about 1/2 a cup of the cucumber vodka and about 1/4 cup of limoncello. Stir, taste. Adjust accordingly to how much more cucumber or lemon or sweet you want to taste. We like ours lemony and tangy and less sweet so I omitted the simple syrup completely.

The limoncello gives a good lemon intensity, but is sweet so won’t help much with the tang.

Then add the seltzer water for a little fizz and to help balance it all out. Tear in some more basil leaves and add some lemon and cucumber slices. It makes for a really pretty drink and oh, so refreshing on a hot day!

Country Retreat

My mother-in-law has a couple dear friends that are like sisters. These are the kinds of friends that have seen many joys and sorrows together and have walked through many seasons of life side-by-side. Their children grew up together and the three of them have remained friends all these years (most of the “kids” are now in their late-20s and early 30s). Every few months they do an overnight together and rotate houses. Two of the ladies live “in town” and when they come out to my in-laws they call it a “country retreat”. They lay around the house and relax together, do a LOT of gabbing, watch movies, eat and just enjoy each others company.

This past weekend was a “country retreat” weekend and they came and stayed the whole weekend instead of just one night. I had been itching to recreate parts of a meal my mom made at Christmas as well as creme brulee (helllloooo birthday toy … err I mean torch) and they indulged me. I got to let the creative juices flow and had so much fun doing it! (My husband and father-in-law got to partake and enjoyed the creativity as well, which they didn’t mind)

The menu for the weekend was:
Beef Wellington with Brown Mustard & Horseradish Sauce
Haricot Vert Bundles Wrapped in Prosciutto Brushed with Herb Oil
Dinner Rolls
Crème Brulee with Berry Compote (I will save this for another post)

The recipe for the Beef Wellingtons is ridiculously long so I will just link to it. It’s a little time consuming and finicky, but oh man does it yield an amazing result that will not disappoint. Check it out here!

I will add that I bought a Boar’s Head brown mustard with horseradish thing to go with it and just added some Penzey’s Fines Herbs to help mellow it just a tad. It was the perfect bite to counter the richness of the meat and pastry.

Haricot Vert Bundles Wrapped in Prosciutto with Herb Oil (2 bundles per person)
3 8 oz bags of fresh haricot verts (the smaller French green beans work much better for this)HaricotVertBundles
Prosciutto (verrrrrry thinly sliced)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped chives
2 tbsp fresh basil paste
2 tsp fresh thyme (chopped)
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Chop the parsley, thyme and chives pretty finely. Put all in a bowl and add a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of black pepper. Be careful on the salt because the prosciutto is salty.
Slice the slices of prosciutto in half lengthwise.
Blanch the haricot verts and then plunge quickly into an ice bath to stop the cooking. You are going to roast them later, so they don’t need to cook long just get that bright green color.
Make sure the haricot verts are dried very well before starting.
Take about 10 haricot verts and wrap with a strip of prosciutto as many times as it will go around. Lay seam side down on a baking sheet.
Continue until you have made it through the all the haricot verts and prosciutto. I was able to get 2 strips per slice of prosciutto and made 12 bundles total.
Brush with the herb oil on all sides and roast in the oven at 350 for about 10 minutes. We like our veggies not mushy, so we cooked enough to get them to crisp tender and a little crisp on the prosciutto.

Soup & Sandwiches

It was a VERY cold few days here in NC. It was Denver cold, but in NC. It was also been pretty damp, the kind that goes right to your bones and doesn’t let go. All we wanted was hot and hearty food. I had been itching to try to make a French Onion Soup from scratch, but I have never actually tried French Onion Soup. My in-laws are huge fans of a good French Onion Soup and have tried it in many different restaurants. They said mine was pretty bang on. SCORE! And who doesn’t love a grilled cheese sandwich, even better a grilled cheese with bacon? So I decided, for this particular VERY cold evening to do French Onion Soup and an amped up grilled cheese for hubby and in-laws and then I made a grilled sandwich for me that didn’t include cheese. All turned out delicious! When I got home from work hubby and father-in-law had a fire going in the woodstove to combat the frigid temps and strong winds outside. We were tucked up inside the house, with a large pot of soup on the stove and grilled cheese sandwiches getting all toasty and golden brown. This meal was fairly easy, not greatly time consuming and made for a cozy evening.


French Onion Soup
4-5 smallish onions
1 can beef consume (adds that really beefy flavor)
32 ounces beef stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. dried thyme leaves
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
4-8 ounces of gruyere cheese
1/2 loaf crusty bread
4 individual soup crocks (see picture)

1) Peel and cut the onions into half, then slice to a medium thickness (not too thick and not too thin). (I did this the night before, but it made the fridge & freezer smell like onions so perhaps the thinking ahead was not the best plan in the particular instance).
2) Put the onions in a dutch oven, one layer at a time, sprinkle with salt & pepper, then add another layer (mind the amount of salt, because you are going to be adding salt later in your consume and stock).
3) Cook the onions on about medium-to-medium-high heat for about 30-40 minutes until they are well sweated down and caramelized, stirring only occasionally.
4) While the onions are cooking, grate the gruyere cheese and slice the bread into thicker slices and to the size of the opening of your individual crocks and set all aside.
5) Once the onions have sweated and caramelized, add garlic and cook for just a minute or so. Enough to cook the garlic and get that great flavor, but garlic will burn quickly.
6) Add two tablespoons of flour (this will help it thicken) and stir in well and let cook for just a minute to cook off the raw flour flavor.
7) Add the white wine, deglazing the pan and scraping all the deliciousness up from the bottom. Cook that for just a minute until the onions have absorbed and the bottom of the pot is scraped pretty well (those brown bits are good flavor).
8) Add the beef consume (most cans will say to add a can full of water, not needed here unless its super salty), the stock and thyme leaves. Bring to a simmer. Give a taste and see if the and pepper needs to be adjusted. If it is too salty, add some water.
9) Let simmer for about 20-30 minutes and reduce just a bit.
10) While the soup is simmering brush the bread with a little olive oil or butter and toast just a bit.
11) Turn the heat off and ladle the soup into the soup crocks.
12) Place the bread on top and cover with the grated gruyere cheese.
13) Put under a broiler (we used a toaster oven) until the cheese is melted and bubbly. (I would also suggest placing the crocks on a sheet pan lined with foil in case the cheese bubbles over).


Grilled Cheese & Bacon Sandwiches
1 loaf good bread, something hearty. I used a loaf of some sort of several grain bread. It was a big round.
Provolone cheese slices
Your favorite hardwood smoked bacon
Gruyere cheese
Alouette Garlic & Herb Spread

1) Spread butter or margarine on one side of the bread slices.
2) On the other side, spread some of the Alouette spread)
3) Layer a slice of provolone, cut in half, layer of bacon and a layer of the grated gruyere cheese.
4) Put in a pan or on a griddle until golden brown on that side, then flip to the other side until golden brown.
5) Wrap the sandwiches in foil, pop in a toaster oven for a few minutes until the cheese is completely melted.


The variation I made for me was a take on something one of my roommates used to make. Spread a thin layer of butter on the bread, same as the others. Instead of the Alouette spread, spread a layer of roasted garlic hummus. Add slices of bacon, thin’ish slices of avocado and thin slices of a tomato. Add a little freshly ground pepper. Toast the sandwich same as the others. If you are not adverse to dairy things, the Alouette spread would be VERY good with the hummus and all the other stuff.

Grilled Chicken w/roasted veggie & balsamic pasta

No great story to tell tonight. I made a really yummy pasta dish and the picture turned out great (if I do say so myself), so I thought I would share. Last night we had an unseasonably warm day and evening. It was 70-something as a high. I was in the mood for pasta since it had been a while since we’d had it, but the warm weather did not really call for a hot, hearty pasta meal. So, we grilled chicken and I made pasta as a side instead. It was perfect! Satisfied the craving AND made for a little bit lighter fare on a warm evening.


Boneless skinless chicken breasts (however many is needed to feed your crowd)
Olive Oil
Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning (or other favorite chicken seasoning)
Fettucine Pasta
1-2 zucchini
1 container grape or cherry tomatoes
1 red bell pepper (cut into bite size pieces)
1 shallot (chopped, but not finely)
2 medium’ish garlic cloves (chopped fine)
Balsamic Vinegar
Dried basil (I didn’t have fresh on hand)
Parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Peel the zucchini in striped (or completely if you prefer it that way) and cut into thick rounds. Put the tomatoes and zucchini on a sheet tray, brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes (or until desired doneness, we do not like mushy veggies around here) and turn once during the process. Tomatoes will most likely burst, don’t worry, it just adds flavor! 🙂 Once it is cooked, cut the zucchini into wedges (I cut the rounds into fourths).

Meanwhile, pound the chicken breasts until even thickness on both ends. Brush will olive oil, season liberally with your favorite chicken seasoning on both sides. Grill until done (12 minues on one side/8 minutes on the next … depending on thickness of chicken). Set aside and let rest (don’t want to lose all those great juices).

While the chicken is grilling away, start your pasta water and cut all your other veggies (shallots, pepper, garlic). This is also a good time to chop your parsley.

Once you throw the pasta in the water (don’t forget to salt the pasta water), start a sauté pan with a little olive oil on medium heat. Once the pan is hot, throw in the shallot and red bell pepper. Cook until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add chopped garlic and cook for just a minute. Next add about 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and let the shallots, peppers and garlic sorta marinate in it. Give it a minute to cook and then take it off the heat.

Once the pasta is done, drain it then throw it right back in the pot and add the balsamic veggie mix and the roasted tomatoes and zucchini and dried basil. Toss well (I find tongs work best for this).

I add a little parsley at the very end to add a little freshness.

Dinner is served! 🙂

If you want a twist … a little goat cheese ‘never hurt ‘nobody! 😉

Fall … on the EAST COAST!!

Yet another long lapse of time … school, moving, new job and new surroundings! A little over a month ago we moved back to the East Coast, back to NC to be specific. And let me just say it is SO GOOD to be HOME! While it has not been easy in so many regards, there are elements of comfort. Being back on the East Coast has meant a bit of a delay in the fall weather (fall doesn’t really arrive in NC until AT LEAST mid-October and this year has been no exception). We are finally starting to really settle into a bit of a routine and enjoying reconnecting with friends and family. It has also meant we went from summer to fall and barely noticed. Thank goodness though … late summer in NC is MISERABLY hot and humid.

When I was a kid, fall meant apple picking in the mountains of Virginia and stock up on apple butter and at least one apple picking outing included picking up some pumpkins. To this day I cannot let fall go by without picking up a pumpkin. Pumpkins are happy fall accents, and they are orange which is even happier. Apple picking also meant climbing trees to get the apples (that was my favorite part) and getting some apple cider at the apple farms (oh my, that stuff was soooo good). And apple picking, always meant apple desserts. I LOVE apple desserts and hot apple cider … for me it meant fall had arrived (crisp air and changing leaves) and it is quite possibly my favorite time of year. As an adult it means those things AND more.

As soon as the first hint of crisp weather made it’s appearance … I knew it was time. Time for some sort of apple dessert. This year, I found a recipe from Trisha Yearwood that involved biscuits, apples, butter and cinnamon sugar … umm, you cannot go wrong with those ingredients! It’s ridiculously simple and easy. It is something that I think kiddos would probably really enjoy helping with and wouldn’t drive mom up a wall. Annnd, it’s a dessert that even my hubby LOVED … and he doesn’t even like apple desserts AT ALL. Score for wifey! 😉

Apple Dumplings
Trisha Yearwood

• 2 Granny Smith apples*
• 1 lemon
• 1 cup sugar
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 8 canned buttermilk biscuits
• 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Peel, core and slice the apples vertically into 8 slices each. Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of water and add the apple slices to keep from turning brown.

In a medium saucepan, mix 1 cup water, 3/4 cup of the sugar, the butter and vanilla. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil over medium heat.
Separate each biscuit into 2 layers. Flatten out just a bit with your fingers. Peel and core the apples and slice into wedges. Wrap half a biscuit layer around a slice of apple, stretching the biscuit slightly to overlap, and seal on the bottom. Place the wrapped slices, sealed-side down, in a 9- by 12- by 2-inch casserole dish. Pour the hot sugar mixture over the apple slices. Mix the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture over the tops of the wrapped apples. Bake until golden.

*Note* I have found that the use of Granny Smith apples is really important. They give a tartness that really balances the sweetness that is added by the butter and cinnamon sugar. I tried it with some gala apples, and those were too sweet for the recipe.

Hispanic Side of Life

Hubby and I were recently watching a cooking show in which the cook made a queso fundido. THEN … we went to a local Latin restaurant and that was an item on their menu. It was a sign, it was time to make it ourselves. Also at that same Latin restaurant we had a salsa that was made with morita chiles. They are a smoky chile that smell amazing when you open the package and provide a delightful smoky flavor to anything you add them to. Hubby and I decided it was time to explore the Hispanic food side of life (more than just ground beef and a taco seasoning mix). This is the first time I have really tried to make salsa so it was definitely experimenting. Off we went to the local Hispanic market. International markets are one of my favorite places … I have more experience with Hispanic and Asian markets. There are so many fun products for discovery and culinary adventures.

I have a bit of an issue with dairy, so the challenge became how to make a dairy free queso fundido, since it is pretty much just dairy (yummy, melty cheese). Well, we have recently discovered a dairy free cheese made by Daiya. We tried the mozzarella style (there is also a “cheddar style” that we have yet to try). Well, it probably was not the best use of this product … the taste was definitely different (probably easily hidden in something like a lasagna), but on it’s own you will notice the flavor difference. It will take some getting used to. This is my first experiment with a dairy free cheese, so we may have to continue the experimenting and flavor combinations. I will say though, it melted like a perfect mozzarella.

Lately I have become infatuated with cast iron cooking. Queso fundido seemed to be the perfect way to use cast iron cookware. I picked up a little skillet at TJMax for $9. It was not pre-seasoned so I had to do that first, but I had a lazy weekend ahead of me with nothing better to do.

    Queso Fundido with Chorizo

Queso Fresco (if you want non-dairy, try “Daiya Mozzerella Style”) Cheese (grated)
Pork Chorizo (you can find spicy or mild)

Turn the chorizo out of the casing into a cast iron skillet. Cook on medium heat until it resembles ground beef. It will not brown like ground beef, so once it gets to a state of crumbles, it’s done. If it’s not completely done, it’s ok. It’s going to cook more in the over with the cheese.

Take your grated cheese, sprinkle into a thick’ish layer in the bottom of another cast iron skillet.
Layer the chorizo on top of the cheese, also in a thick’ish layer.
Put another layer of grated cheese on top of the chorizo.
Cook at 400 degrees until the cheese is bubbling and slightly browned.

    Morita Tomatillo Salsa

Dried Morita Chiles (3-4)
3-4 Tomatillos
Water (or chicken stock) – 1/4 – 1/2 cup?
1 tsp Cumin

Put the morita chiles in boiling water and put the lid on … let the chiles reconstitute, 20-30 minutes.
Husk the tomatillos and wash the stickyness off.
Char the tomatillos in a cast iron skillet (or open flame if you have a gas stove).
Slice in half and throw in a blender
Once the chiles are reconstituted, slice open and clean out the seeds then throw in the blender (leave the seeds if you like it HOT).
Add a little water until the salsa loosens up some.
Pour the salsa into a small pot and heat over low heat until just warmed through.

Heat some tortillas until they are soft. Wrap the queso fundido and salsa inside the softened tortillas. ENJOY!

Perfect for Summer

One week it’s snowing and the next it’s sunny and 80’ish … which is HOT for me. I am not a fan of hot weather … warm is ok (lets define “warm” as no more than 75 degrees), hot is NOT. When it’s hot I always say I go from one air conditioned unit to another. It’s the only way to survive. Well, not the ONLY way … the other way is to eat cool summery foods! I don’t have as large a repertoire of summery foods, but the ones I do have, I make quite a bit and they are quick and easy and do not require heating up the kitchen. The following recipe is one that we eat often and seems to go with so much and is so refreshing (GREAT with hamburgers fresh off the grill). Also, I could eat cucumbers by the pound (seriously, ask my father-in-law, we “fight” over them when we are together). So whatever way I can find to incorporate them into dishes, I do! 😉

Cucumber and Mozzerella “Salad”

2 Cucumbers (peeled)
Cherry Tomatoes
Fresh Mozzerella block
Garlic Powder

Cut each cucumber in half and then each half in half again (quarter spears). Slice each spear into bite size chunks. (How do you like my technical terminology? Ha!!) Wash the cherry tomatoes and cut in half. Cut the mozzarella into bite-size cubes. Put all these into one bowl and add a little garlic powder, salt and pepper. Taste as you go and don’t over season. Sometimes hubby likes it when I add just a tad of balsamic vinegar.

*Note* Penzeys has a garlic salt that is really perfect for this.


We have had a cold snap here … as in 30’s and snow the last two days. It was a really wet snow and slushy. This morning’s commute was GROSS. Wet and cold and blustery … which is ok in February, NOT MAY! Last night was so cold and wet that hubby and I wanted a hot, hearty meal to comfort our disgruntled spirits from the weather. Hubby’s jambalaya was the perfect solution. Fairly quick and easy and so filling and comforting.

Spice Mix:
We make the spice mix and just keep it on hand for when we want jambalaya.
2.5 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. onion powder
1/2 – 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (we use only a little cayenee because I don’t like it super hot. If it was just for hubby, he would put quite a bit more in.)
1 tbsp. dried, ground oregano
1 tbsp. dried, ground thyme


3 cups of chicken broth
1 tbsp. spice mix
2 cups jasmine rice
Cook rice according to package directions. I use Golden Star or Mahatma brands jasmine rice.

Jambalaya Meat/Veggies:
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 packages Hillshire Farm turkey polska kielbasa
1 green pepper
1 shallot
2 cloves of garlic

1. Cut each chicken breast into bite size cube. Toss in a few spoonfuls of spice mix or until it looks like it’s well seasoned (it took us a few times to find out the right amount).
2. Slice kielbasa into ½ inch rounds and then slice the rounds in half.
3. Cut green pepper into bite size pieces.
4. Add small amount of olive oil. Saute chicken until barely cooked. Remove from pan into a bowl.
5. Add a small amount more of olive oil. Add peppers. Saute until barely soft. Remove from pan into the same bowl the chicken is in.
6. Add kielbasa to same pan and brown. Remove from pan into chicken & pepper bowl.
7. Add garlic to pan, saute for a few minutes (too long and it will burn and be bitter).
8. Add ½ cup chicken stock to pan, allow to simmer and deglaze the pan for 5 minutes or so.
9. Make sure to taste for seasoning.
10. Add chicken, peppers and kielbasa back to pan. Let simmer for a few minutes just to get the flavors combined.
11. Serve over rice.

Variations 1: If we were still living on the East Coast, I would definitely make it with shrimp. Shrimp out here is expensive and so disappointing (no flavor) so we don’t use it. We did make this with my in-laws back in March (who DO live on the East Coast and can get delicious shrimp and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg) with shrimp and it was fannntastic. If you can get good shrimp and not break the bank, you should absolutely add it in! Just cook the shrimp until just done before saute’ing the garlic.

Variation 2: If I make this when hubby is not eating, I would add okra for sure. You could just add some frozen sliced okra. You can cook it with the peppers until just done. It is amazing.