Tag Archives: Dinner

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Lemon Cream Sauce

I love citrus season in Arizona – almost everywhere you look, there are lush green trees bursting with lemons, oranges, grapefruits and limes. It’s a deliciously welcome sight in the aftermath of the winter holidays and, well, to be honest I see it as free ingredients!

I walk my dog Marlow along a nearby canal and along the way, there is a huge lemon tree that hangs over the block wall fence. I first discovered it two winters ago and after passing by a few times that first week, I  realized that no one was picking the lemons on that side of the fence. What a sad waste of perfect fruit!  I quickly plucked a dozen lemons and realized that I hadn’t even made a dent in what must have been 40-50 lemons on just one side of that tree.

That year I used those lemons to make lemon rosemary cookies and lemon squares. Delicious, but this year I am on a healthier diet. I wanted to make an entree that also uses a little more lemon than a cookie dough calls for. It’s still technically winter, so a lemon cream sauce does fit the bill for a hearty dinner. After a lot of brainstorming and reading up on lower fat cream sauces, I came up with this lemon cream sauce recipe. I made it with whole wheat spaghetti to keep it healthier and rather than the typical broccoli or asparagus, I chose the sweetness of peas to compliment the slightly tart lemon cream sauce. The lemon and parsley give this dish a fresh and crisp taste, while the cream sauce, chicken and pasta maintain the heartiness of a winter dinner.

Now that I have my own brand new lemon tree in the backyard, I’ll be making this again and looking for some new ways to use fresh lemon!

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. dry whole wheat spaghetti
  • ½ cup light cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup peas

Directions:

Cook spaghetti according to package directions (when draining, be sure to reserve ½ cup of cooking water).

Melt cream cheese in a saucepan over low heat (make sure bottom doesn’t burn). Add olive oil, lemon juice and lemon zest.

Drain pasta, reserving ½ cup of cooking water. Stir reserved water into cream cheese mixture. In a large bowl, toss together pasta, chicken, peas, parsley and cream cheese mixture.

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Whole Wheat Turkey Lasagna

Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve ever made lasagna. I’ve always liked it, but it seemed like a lot of fuss for something that was made out of noodles and ground meat. Though out of sheer boredom from including penne, rigatoni or ziti in my weekly menus, I decided to give it a try.

My husband and I  agreed that it should be a healthier version, meaning substituting regular noodles for whole wheat noodles and ground beef for ground turkey. That being said, I used whole fat cheeses in order to keep most of the flavor and richness for which lasagna is known (and craved). In order to come up with this recipe, I stitched together a few different ones that I  came across online, from my best friend and on the back of the lasagna noodle box. I think it works really well and my husband likes it so much that he eats the leftovers for lunch, a snack and dinner the next night!

P.S. The garlic bread is the Texas toast from – Walmart! It’s pretty much the only thing I go to Walmart just to get. It’s in the specialty bread section and here in Phoenix it’s about $4 for a double loaf of it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box whole wheat no-boil lasagna noodles (15 noodles)
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1.5 jars pasta sauce
  • ½ cup water
  • 15 oz. tub ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. chopped oregano
  • 2 tsp. chopped basil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½  tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper

Directions:

In a large skillet brown ground turkey.

Stir in 1 jar of pasta gravy, simmer 10 minutes, but don’t cook off too much of the sauce.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, 1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, oregano, basil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Spread about 1/3″ of pasta gravy in the bottom of a 13×9 glass baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles vertically over sauce, overlapping edges.

Spread 1/3 cheese mixture over noodles, then spread about ¾ cup of the meat/gravy mixture.

Repeat layers, beginning and ending with pasta. Top with remaining meat/gravy mixture, sprinkle with remaining ½ cup mozzarella cheese and add additional Parmesan cheese is desired.

Cover with foil. Bake 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove foil and bake for about 10 min. longer, or until lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with a Caesar salad, Texas toast and a glass of wine! You also can bake in two separate loaf pans (just split the ingredients and do layers of two noodles lengthwise in each loaf pan) and freeze one for a future meal.

Easy Tortellini and Spinach Soup

Tortellini and Spinach Soup

This soup seemed so easy to make that I almost didn’t make it. It’s cheating, I thought to myself. I can barely consider it homemade. I certainly couldn’t blog about it. It looked so delicious that I  decided to make it, but I vowed to keep it my own shameful secret.

Though I  can keep a secret, I obviously didn’t want to keep this one! It was so good that my husband and I had to play paper rock scissors to see who got the last bowl. It’s the perfect dinner soup to get you through the winter blahs and to fill your belly with something warm and delicious.

This soup is from my Williams Sonoma soup book, but coincidentally, their blog featured it last week. They use tri-colored tortellini and escarole, but I went the healthier route and used whole wheat tortellini. I also chose spinach over escarole and I really like the texture and flavor of it better.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 9 ounces fresh tortellini (I use whole wheat tortellini)
  • 1 medium bag of baby spinach leaves (6 to 8 ounces)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

 Directions:

In a large heavy pot bring the broth and 2 cups water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the tortellini, cover and cook until al dente, 4 to 5 minutes, or according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the spinach leaves into strips.

When the tortellini are done, add the spinach and season with salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, until the spinach soft, about 2 minutes. Serve garnished with the Parmesan.

Perfect Party Pizza

Happy New Year! I know, I know, it’s Jan. 13 and I’m posting my first recipe of the year 13 days in because on New Year’s Eve I came down with the World’s Worst Cold. Then – surprise – my husband caught it. Sometime last week, while on a Theraflu/Tylenol high, I offered to cook dinner when my father-in-law came to visit us last weekend. Thank goodness for the NFL playoffs! Playoffs are the perfect excuse to make laid back finger foods – like I am doing everyone a huge favor by thoughtfully and selflessly preparing the easiest foods I can think of!

Did you know that I worked at a family-owned pizza shop for eight years? Pizza still is one of my very favorite foods, but I am very, very choosy about what constitutes good pizza. Here is my easy, but delicious, method of the perfect party pizza. Keep on reading below the recipe – I’ve put together some quirky and creative pizza ideas for your parties this year. They are perfect to serve at your academy awards party, your book club meeting, your Valentine’s Day dinner (think heart-shaped pies), your girls’ night in or your ladies poker night.

And, in case you’re wondering, YES. Yes, I can toss my pizza dough into the air and catch it.

Pizza Dough: I used Safeway pizza dough and I thought it was great. Trader Joe’s also makes a good one. You also can usually buy fresh pizza dough from your local pizza shop for a couple of dollars. For the pizzas pictured above, I used half of a pizza dough for each one. This works well if you want to make a variety of pizzas for your guests to sample. For a family dinner, you can make one large pie.

Pizza dough tips: Keep your dough cold in the refrigerator. Take it out a few minutes before you’re ready to use it, but don’t let it warm to room temperature. It becomes gooey and thin and difficult to work with. You want a cool workable, dough.

Basic Pizza Sauce:

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ tbs. olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 14 oz. can roma tomatoes, drained and diced
  • ½ Tsp. oregano
  • ½ tsp. basil
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 pinch sugar (add more to taste)

Directions:

Heat oil and brown garlic. Add tomatoes, oregano, basil, salt, pepper and sugar. Add more sugar for a sweeter sauce. Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes until sauce thickens.

Pizza Sauce Tips:  I doubled this recipe to make the four smaller pizzas. I had just enough sauce for all four. If you like a saucier pizza, I suggest either making more of this recipe or buying grocery store pizza sauce (this is different than spaghetti sauce), which is a thicker saucier consistency, rather than the chunkier consistency of my homemade sauce.

You can make your sauce ahead of time since it will heat up when you cook your pizzas. This can be a time saver that allows you to spend more time with your guests!

To make your pizza:

Start with a cold pizza stone in a cold oven. Preheat your oven with the stone in it to 500 degrees (your stone could crack if you place it into a hot oven).

Prepare a lightly floured work surface. A baking mat or parchment paper held down with scotch tape works well. To make smaller pizzas, cut the dough in half, using one cut through the middle. Cover your entire pizza dough lightly with flour. Take one half of the dough and using the pads of all of your fingers, press down and outwards in even strokes. This will start flattening and spreading your pizza crust. Do this evenly over the whole surface – this will help prevent air bubbles from rising up and pushing away your sauce and cheese while it cooks. Try to maintain and form a round shape while you’re doing this step. Do not fold or cut dough into pieces to attempt shaping. This will make your dough uneven and will cause tears in the dough when you are ready to stretch it.

Next, pick up the dough and without stopping, run your pointer finger and thumb around the edge of it and pinch down lightly, while rotating it through those fingers with your other hand. This forms the pizza’s crust. Your fingers should slide easily over the dough since it is covered in flour. Make sure you’re sliding the dough, not pulling it.

Next, make two fists (you may want to throw a bit of flour on top of your knuckles). Sit the dough on top of your left fist, while using your right fist to rotate the dough in a circle and lightly stretching it outwards. This will expand your dough to its actual pizza pie size. Make sure to keep the dough rotating at all times. Remember to use fluid stretch/rotate motions and don’t pull or tug. Letting the dough sit on your fist will cause it to fall through and you’ll have a huge hole in it. Using fluid motions will result in evenly stretched dough.

At this point, you may have some thin spots or even some tears in your dough. It should be ok. Don’t re-roll your dough and start over. Put your dough down on your lightly floured pizza peel. If you have any tears, you can stretch one side of the tear over to cover the hole. Press down to adhere. You may also use a bit of water to make the dough stick together. Don’t leave any tears in your dough. While cooking, the sauce will bleed through and your pizza will stick to the pizza stone and rip when you try to remove it.

Cheat alert: In lieu of the stretch/rotate step above, you can use a lightly floured rolling pin to flatten your dough. This might be safer for a beginner, but there will be a difference in the texture and consistency of this pizza crust versus the hand-tossed pizza crust.

Use a ladle to spread sauce on your dough in a circular motion, working from the center, out to the start of the crust (this is the seam that you created when you pinched around the edge of the dough earlier).

Sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese over the sauce. For a margherita pizza, use slices of fresh mozzarella. Add any toppings on top of the cheese.

At this point, you can slightly adjust the shape of your pizza. It will stay better with all of the toppings on it. To make a heart-shaped pizza, use your finger to make a dip in the top center. Then, lightly push in the sides to make the bottom point of the heart.

Pick up your pizza peel and tilt the handle upwards and shimmy it lightly to transfer the pizza onto your pizza stone in the oven. Cook until the cheese is melted and your crust is cooked to your desired crispiness.

To remove your pizza from the oven, position your pizza peel at the bottom of it and use two fingers to pull the pizza by the crust onto the peel. Do this quickly and use your fingertips so you don’t burn yourself. Transfer your pizza onto a pizza tray or a cutting board and slice immediately.

Remember to lightly flour all surfaces again when you make each pizza. Don’t use too much, though, or you’ll have a layer of flour on the bottom of your pies.

Making the perfect pizza takes practice! Working with the dough is an art and getting your sauce right, the perfect amount of cheese and cooking it to the perfect amount of crispiness all take practice. Don’t get discouraged and have fun!

As promised here is a list of some quirkier pizzas you can try.

Breakfast pizza: pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, scrambled eggs and bacon

Buffalo chicken pizza: pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and cut-up chicken tenders soaked in hot wing sauce. Try dipping your slice in bleu cheese dressing as you eat it!

Cheeseburger pizza: pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, ground beef, sliced provolone cheese and diced onion

Chicken and broccoli alfredo pizza: pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and chicken and broccoli tossed in alfredo sauce

Fig and goat cheese pizza: olive oil, minced onion, dried figs, chopped thyme, goat cheese

White pizza with tomato and broccoli: olive oil, minced garlic, mozzarella cheese, sliced tomato and broccoli

Beef Empanadas

I’m from the east coast and didn’t truly encounter any sort of empanada until I moved to Arizona in 2003. At first I kept a comfortable distance from all southwestern and Mexican food. I searched high and low for restaurants that served authentic versions of my beloved pasta, hoagies and pizza. I refused all avocado-laced hors d’oeuvres, dips and salads. I’m not quite sure when I realized exactly what I was missing out on, but one day after watching something on the Food Network featuring empanadas, I found myself wiping the drool off of my chin and thinking, “Yea, I think I’ll make empanadas.”

This is no simple commitment – everything is made from scratch, including the dough. But like most of the other cooking endeavors I’ve attempted over the past couple of years, making empanadas is by no means complex. If you have the time, this is a delicious alternative to your run-of-the-mill steak and potatoes dinner.

Empanada Dough

  • 4 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup or 8 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup ice water
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.) Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together and then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into two flat rectangles and chill them, each wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour. Dough can be chilled up to six hours total.

Empanada Filling:

  • 2 hard-boiled large eggs, chopped into bits
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3/4 pound ground beef chuck
  • 2 tablespoons raisins (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pimiento-stuffed olives
  • 1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained, reserving 2 tablespoons juice, and chopped
  • 1 package frozen empanada pastry disks, thawed (or homemade, recipe follows)
  • About 4 cups vegetable oil and a deep-fat thermometer (if deep-frying)
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water (if baking)

Directions:

Cook onion in olive oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened. Add garlic, cumin, and oregano and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in beef and cook, breaking up lumps with a fork, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes.

Add raisins, olives, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and tomatoes with reserved juice, then cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced but mixture is still moist, about 5 minutes. Stir in hardboiled egg and spread on a plate to cool.

Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap on a dampened work surface (to help keep plastic in place), then roll out an empanada disk on plastic wrap to measure about 6 inches. Place 3 tablespoons meat mixture on disk. Moisten edges of disk with water and fold over to form a semicircle, then crimp with a fork. [You might see some different crimps in my pictures. The fork method really works best.] Make more empanadas in same manner.

If frying: Preheat oven to 200°F with rack in middle.

If baking: Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 400°F.

Deep-frying instructions: Heat 3/4 inch vegetable oil in a deep 12-inch skillet over medium heat until it registers 360°F on thermometer. Fry empanadas, 2 or 3 at a time, turning once, until crisp and golden, 4 to 6 minutes per batch.

Transfer to a shallow baking pan and keep warm in oven. Return oil to 360°F between batches.

Baking instructions: Lightly brush empanadas with some of egg wash and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer empanadas to a rack to cool at least five minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tomato-bread Soup with Basil Oil

I went to Rome, Florence and Venice this summer and I expected to come back armed with dozens of recipes and gobs of inspiration. As much as I loved my experience there and feel very lucky to even have been able to go, I was a little deflated and uninspired when I returned. For one thing – it was hot and humid and very crowded. It also was very touristy and the food, though delicious, was very much the stereotype pizza, pasta and tempura fried seafood. I am happy to have added three new books to my regional cookbook collection, but honestly – I haven’t cracked open one of those books.

Over Labor Day weekend I went to Sausalito and San Francisco. I fell in love with the people, the food, the city, the bay – everything. I couldn’t get enough of downtown Sausalito, the San Francisco skyline, the bay breeze, North Beach, Nob Hill, Chinatown, Union Square – everything! I could write an entire blog post about my new crush named San Francisco, but I’ll just say that I highly recommend Cavallo Point Resort in Sausalito and the Westin St. Francis at Union Square in the city. I also very highly recommend the three-story Williams-Sonoma in the Union Square area (as well as the Tiffany, but that’s like six more blog posts). I think I may have started singing a song from “The Sound of Music” and spinning in circles with my arms held out as I entered the store, completely and happily overstimulated by the three stories of utter home-making pleasure. In the end, I walked away with the 303-paged, “Soup of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year.” Probably not the most lightweight souvenir, but my husband bought it for me saying, “This is to help you remember our ‘souper’ trip.” How could I refuse?!

The first recipe that I decided to make was this tomato-bread soup with basil oil. Commonly known as pappa al pomodoro, this is a Tuscan classic. Go figure that it took a trip to San Francisco to inspire me to cook something that represents my trip to Italy. You can find this recipe on page 204.

This soup turned out delicious. It’s surprisingly hearty, mostly due to the homemade bread croutons and minced vegetables. It’s pretty easy to make, but there’s a fair amount of prep work involved with the veggies, basil oil and fried basil. I cut the veggies a little bigger than the “minced” size it was calling for, hoping that my husband would find it filling enough. It was worth every teary-eyed onion chop, though, and has motivated me to open those Italian cookbooks!

For the basil oil:                                                                                                                       1 cup (1 oz./30 g) packed basil leaves                                                                                 3/4 cup (6 fl. oz./180 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

1 loaf country-style bread, crusts removed, cut into 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) cubes            Salt and freshly ground pepper                                                                                            6 Tbsp. (3 fl. oz./90 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling                        3 celery ribs, minced                                                                                                               3 white onions, minced                                                                                                          2 carrots, peeled and minced                                                                                                2 cloves garlic, minced                                                                                                           2 Tbsp. tomato paste                                                                                                              2 lb (1 kg) plum tomatoes, peeled (see my pasta caprese post), seeded and coarsely chopped                                                                                                                     1 tsp sugar

TO MAKE THE BASIL OIL, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Have a bowl of ice water ready. Set aside eight to 12 of the basil leaves. Blanch the remaining leaves in the boiling water for about 10 seconds. Drain and plunge into the ice water. Drain again, and squeeze the leaves to remove as much of the water as possible. Transfer to a blender (I used my Kitchen Aid hand blender attachment), add the oil and pulse until the mixture is a uniform green. Strain the basil through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth.

TO MAKE THE BREAD CROUTONS, preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Arrange the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes.

MEANWHILE, in a large heavy pot, warm 4 Tbsp. of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the celery, onions, carrots and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are softened, but not browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for five minutes. Add the tomatoes and sugar and season with salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the toasted bread cubes and six cups of water to the pot. Stir to combine with the vegetables, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, and cook, uncovered and stirring often, until the bread has softened, about 15 minutes. Whisk the soup vigorously to break up the bread cubes (you can use a large whisk or even a potato masher). Keep warm.

IN A SMALL FRYING PAN, warm the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat. Add the reserved basil leaves and fry, turning once, until crisp and slightly translucent, 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain and cool.

SERVE THE SOUP, garnished with the fried basil and drizzled with basil oil. Don’t skip this step – the fried basil adds a great crispy texture as an accent to the soup.

Whole Grain Pasta Caprese Salad

My best friend Erin sent this recipe to me after she saw it on the Curvy Carrot blog. It looked so delicious that we decided to make it when she came to visit me in Arizona. We agreed that using whole grain pasta would be the healthier route to take, so we found some whole grain penne. The original recipe calls for regular rigatoni, but this dish is so flavorful I think I could have made it with cardboard noodles and it would still have been delicious!

Earlier that day we had lunch at the Queen Creek Olive Mill (a Phoenix area MUST for all of you foodie’s) and we picked up a fresh loaf of their rosemary bread (which cancelled out the healthier whole grain pasta) and a bottle of their own olive oil.

What a feast! I didn’t modify the actual recipe at all, except for using whole grain pasta. However, when Erin made the recipe for her in-laws the next week, she added some grilled shrimp and it was a hit!

Ingredients

5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced. 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

Fresh ground pepper, to taste

Pinch cayenne pepper (if you don’t normally cook with this, go to CVS Pharmacy and get a bottle for 99 cents!)

1 pound whole grain penne pasta

8 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced or cubed as desired

Approximately 15-20 fresh basil leaves, finely shredded

Instructions

To peel and seed tomatoes, cut a shallow “X” on the bottom of each tomato.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and place the tomatoes in the water for about 15 seconds.  Immediately remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and place into an ice water bath.  This will stop the tomatoes from cooking.  Now the skins should be easy to remove and the tomatoes can be easily de-seeded and diced.

Place the peeled and diced tomatoes in a colander for about 15 minutes to remove excess juices.

In a medium bowl, combine the drained tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper.  Mix the ingredients well and let sit for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat.

Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente.

Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

Add the tomato mixture, mozzarella, and basil.  Toss gently, and serve immediately.