killing time between meals

where talking about what's for dinner while you're at lunch is totally acceptable


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Springtime Baked Shells

I don’t know what was in the water 9 months ago, but several of my people are popping out babies. My friends Bridget & Zac had a beautiful baby girl, Ruby, on the first day of spring. A few weeks later came Beatrice to another set of friends. Ruby & Beatrice’s arrivals were two great reasons to make one of my very favorite pasta recipes. These new parents needed to eat, and springtime is the right time for this dish full of green veggies. It’s comfort food that you can justify.

golden bubbly

ingredients close up

Springtime Baked Shells
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

16 ounces medium pasta shells
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
½ pound broccoli, cut into small florets
1 medium zucchini, diced
3 green onions, chopped
½ cup frozen peas
30 ounces ricotta cheese
3 eggs
1½ cups Parmesan cheese

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13x2-inch baking dish. You can use a lasagna pan or something similar. When I need to deliver this dish, I like to use an Eco-Foil disposable 9x11x2 roaster/baker pan. It’s sturdy and comes with a domed lid for easy transport.
  • Bring a large pot of water to boil, and cook pasta until extremely al dente.
  • In a large pan, melt the butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low to medium heat. Add the asparagus to the pan and cook for five minutes. Sprinkle in a little salt. Add in the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the red pepper flakes, if using.
  • Next toss in the broccoli and cook for one minute; add the zucchini and cook for two more minutes; sprinkle in more salt and some pepper. Add the green onion and cook another minute. Turn off the heat and stir in the frozen peas. Set aside.

green veg 1

  • In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and a glug (about a tablespoon) of olive oil until well combined.

ricotta filling

  • Try not to step on the little dog under your feet who is patiently hoping you will drop something.

waiting

  • Assemble: Add half the pasta, then spread ½ cup* of the ricotta mixture over the surface (*NOT half of the entire mixture, just a ½ of a cup).

shells

spread

  • Sprinkle 1/3 of the Parmesan over the ricotta, then ½ of the vegetables. (The little dog is still lurking. Ignore him.)

layer veg action

  • Repeat with the rest of the pasta, the rest of the ricotta, and another 1/3 of the Parmesan. End with the remaining vegetables and top with the end of the Parm.

ricotta layer spread

ready to bake

  • Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly-hot.
  • Serve with extra Parmesan and crusty bread.

golden bubbly angle

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Chili Time!

withfritos

If there’s even the slightest chill in the air, it’s time to make a pot of chili. I have whipped this recipe up twice since the temperature dipped below 75 degrees. Chili is a very personal dish with more variations than I care to talk about. But aside from bean and spice preferences, I find chili to be a personally sentimental dish as well. It kicks off fall, my favorite season. It tends to draw a crowd of people I love. It’s casual comfort food that makes newcomers feel at home. And it’s the first thing I ever cooked for my sweetie.

Make chili for your next fall get-together. It’s all in one pot, so there’s little clean up. Setting up a pick-your-own toppings buffet couldn’t be easier. And it gives you an excuse to eat Fritos (like you needed one).

spread

Chili Girl’s Chili
Serves 6 to 8

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. ground beef
2 bell peppers (red and/or green), chopped
2 jalapeños, minced
4 generous dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
Salt & pepper
1 can tomato paste
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies (aka Rotel)
1 can chopped green chilies
2 cans beans (black, kidney, and/or pinto), rinsed & drained
Garnishes of your choice

  • Warm olive oil in Dutch oven and sauté onion and garlic until tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the ground beef and brown. Drain any excess fat from pot.
  • Add bell peppers and jalapeños.
  • Stir Worcestershire, chili powder, oregano, cayenne, cumin, paprika, chili flakes, salt, and pepper into the meat mixture. Cook 1 minute. Add tomato paste, mixing in well. Cook another minute.
  • Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Serve with chopped green onions, avocado slices, cheddar cheese, sour cream, Fritos, and cornbread.

bowlofchili


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A Few of My Favorite (Kitchen) Things

1. A new recipe. Confession #1: I easily get into cooking ruts. But last Saturday I unearthed an Everyday Food cookbook I hadn’t used in a while and decided to branch out. So I made this. (Scroll down for Lime-Marinated Flank Steak recipe.) sliced

2. This juicer. For only $20 you can have fresh squeezed citrus juice in seconds. Generally I am against buying appliances that are only good for one thing, but I am never sorry that I have this citrus juicer when I am making drinks or marinades. (Watch for sales. I swear I saw this thing at Kroger for $12.)
juicer

3. Microplanes. I have two. One for smaller zesting (lemon zest, garlic, ginger) and one for larger grating (hard cheeses, chocolate shavings). If you put one of these on your wedding registry, I WILL buy it for you. Heck, I might buy it for you anyway out of that tiny piece of goodness left in my heart.
microplane

4. Culinary treats from abroad. I purchased a cute jar of red pepper flakes while in Sorrento (which I didn’t know is known for their chili peppers) at Aromi di Sorrento, a spice shop off the beaten path. This is a fun thing to look for while traveling. I’ve picked up vanilla in Mexico, maple syrup in Canada, bacon in Knoxville … you get the picture. And speaking of picture, look at the difference!

red pepper

Kroger brand (left), the real Sorrento deal (right)

5. Le Creuset. This little roaster has become my favorite size around the kitchen. Clocking in at 8×11 3/4 inches and holding 2 1/2 quarts, it’s the perfect vessel for half a casserole recipe, a Thanksgiving side dish, or holding my marinating meat in case of any drips.
marinate
6. New skills. Confession #2: I don’t know how to grill. The fire scares me. Plus it’s already hot outside when you grill, so I know I’m gonna sweat, what with the blazing sun and the flames that you are reaching your hands into. Nevertheless, I feel this is a skill that it is beyond time I learn. So my brave neighbor Nate has agreed to teach me. And the first lesson didn’t go too badly, even if I did squeal like a small child when putting the meat on the hot, hot flames.
grilled

What are your kitchen essentials? I’m sure this post is just the first installment of many.

Lime-Marinated Flank Steak
Adapted from Everyday Foods
Serves 4

Juice of 4 limes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 scallions (about 1/3 cup), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1 1/2 pounds flank steak
Vegetable oil, for grates
Coarse salt and ground black pepper

  • In a resealable plastic bag, combine lime juice, soy sauce, scallions, ginger, garlic, and red-pepper flakes. Add steak, and seal bag; marinate in the refrigerator, turning occasionally, for at least 1 hour.
  • Heat grill to high; lightly oil grates. Remove steak from marinade, letting excess drip off (discard marinade). Season with salt and black pepper. Place on grill and  cover.
  • Cook, turning once, for 6 to 8 minutes (for medium-rare). Let rest 10 minutes before slicing thinly.
  • Serve with sides or on top of a salad.


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Dear Italy: A Photographic Love Letter to Seafood and Carbs

Just one week ago I was far, far away in a fairy-tale land. A place where eating pasta twice a day is not only accepted but expected. A land of corner cafes and breakfast pastries and gelato galore. A country that romanced me through fluffy carbs and fresh seafood, wooing me to never leave. Here’s the full story.

The Journey: Rome to Florence to Naples to Sorrento to Positano to Amalfi to Capri to Rome

The Journey: Rome to Florence to Naples to Sorrento to Positano to Amalfi to Capri to Rome. Whew.

In Florence taking in the views from a rooftop cafe

The Partner in Crime: Caroline and I in Florence taking in the views from a rooftop cafe.

My first lunch upon arriving in Rome: mixed seafood salad

My lunch upon arriving in Rome: the first of many mixed seafood salads. I gazed at some ancient fountain while I ate this. But you don’t care about seeing that, do you?

locals

Dinner that night was on my own. The hotel recommended a little trattoria around the corner called Antica Boheme. I was seated next to a table of six locals, only one of whom barely spoke English.

 But this man insisted that we communicate. He also insisted that I order the carbonara, so I did. And by the end of the night we were such good friends that they paid for my dinner. I love Italians.

It wasn’t this man, but he insisted that we communicate. He also insisted that I order the carbonara. So I did. By the end of the night we were such good friends that we were all sitting at the same table and they paid for my dinner. I love Italians.

First pasta in Italy: carbonara. The Italian version of bacon is much more like country ham, FYI.

After meeting up with Caroline in Florence, we had an epic dinner. Epic because I ate this entire pizza topped with prosciutto, arugula, and fresh mozzarella.

After meeting up with Caroline in Florence, we had an epic dinner. Epic because I ate this entire pizza topped with prosciutto, arugula, and fresh mozzarella.

And then I ate this entire tiramisù. I have no shame.

After a late night, we started the next day with coffees at Il Porcospino. One of the waiters has friends in Arkansas and even called the hogs for us. Small world.

Then he told me I would have the fried squash blossoms. So I did.

That night we had a traditional Tuscan meal at Trattoria Cibreo. AKA there was no pasta on the menu. But this sweet server steered us in the right direction. He also told us that he was once in love with a girl from Tennessee. How precious.

We started with the most amazing polenta I have ever eaten.

We started with the most incredible polenta I have ever eaten. It was creamy and oily and salty and cheesy. Just look at all that parmesan.

Then I had this pork chop that was stuffed with a  rosemary concoction. And those creamy potatoes were divine. DIVINE I tell you.

Then I had this pork chop that was stuffed with a rosemary concoction. And those creamy potatoes were divine. DIVINE I tell you. If you are ever in Florence, I highly recommend this little eatery.

The next day we were on to the Amalfi Coast. No place is more beautiful. This was taken in Positano, just a bus ride away from our hotel in Sorrento.

This day also happened to be Caroline's birthday, so we decided to celebrate with—what else—dinner. Ristorante Bagni Delfino started us off with the best bruschetta I've ever had. Seriously.

This day also happened to be Caroline’s birthday, so we decided to celebrate with—what else—dinner. Ristorante Bagni Delfino in Sorrento started us off with the best bruschetta I’ve ever had. Seriously.

My main course was a seafood risotto that was looking back at me, but I didn't mind.

My main course was a seafood risotto that was looking back at me, but I didn’t mind. I ate every bite.

We finished our meal as we watched the sunset into the sea.

We finished our meal watching the sunset into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The next day we stopped for lunch in Positano at Buca di Bacco. As we looked out onto the water, I enjoyed this homemade tube pasta with baby shrimps, walnuts, capers, and parmesan.

After lunch and shopping, we got on the bus to Amalfi. After much Trip Advisor searching, we decided to go to Gerry's Pub for dinner. It was a long bus ride to the top, but the views and Gerry were worth it.

After lunch and shopping, we got on the bus to Amalfi. Through much Trip Advisor research, we decided to go to Gerry’s Pub for dinner. It was a long bus ride to the top (and we almost got lost since the sweet little man we asked thought we said “cherries” and tried to take us to a fruit stand), but the views and Gerry himself were worth it.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

I had homemade seafood pasta.

I had homemade seafood pasta.

And then a seafood salad because I was still hungry.

And then a seafood salad because I was still hungry.

Gerry really liked us. He played Kenny Rogers and sang "Ruby" to me.

Gerry really liked us. He played Kenny Rogers and sang “Ruby” when we told him we were from the south. Apparently we didn’t want to leave because we missed our bus. Luckily we caught the last one and headed back to Sorrento.

The Isle of Capri! And I ain't talking about a casino.

The next day we were off to the Isle of Capri! And I ain’t talking about some silly casino.

23capri

After a boat ride around the island, we had a caprese salad and this was our view.

Dinner was back on the mainland at La Fenice which Caroline had read made amazing gluten free pizza. So we went. And it was delicious. I started with the mussels.

Dinner was back on the mainland at La Fenice which Caroline had read made amazing gluten free pizza. So we went. And it was delicious. I started with mussels with garlic and parsley …

And ended with the gnocchi. Those fluffly pasta pillows were delightful.

… and ended with the gnocchi in a mozzarella and tomato sauce. Those fluffly pasta pillows were a delightful last bite of Sorrento.

Back in Rome we found our favorite restaurant, Flavio Al Velavevodetto. These servers, Simone and Sergio, made it great.

Back in Rome we found our favorite restaurant, Flavio Al Velavevodetto. These servers, Simone and Sergio, made our dinner an authentic Italian experience.

We started with zucchine scapece (marinated zucchine) which I am totally going to try to make. It was lightly fried and heavily flavored.

We started with zucchine scapece (marinated zucchini) which I am totally going to try to make. It was lightly fried and heavily flavored. I am always amazed at the way something so simple can be so good.

Then the pièce de résistance for me—handmade ravioli stuffed with ricotta in a cherry tomato sauce. People, pasta in Italy does not get any better than this.

Then the pièce de résistance for me—handmade ravioli stuffed with ricotta in a cherry tomato sauce. People, pasta in Italy does not get any better than this.

I finished dinner with a creamy tiramisù.

I finished dinner with a creamy tiramisù.

Our last day in Rome included many sites and two unforgettable meals.

Our last day in Rome included many sites and two unforgettable meals.

After wandering around the Trastevere neighborhood, we stumbled on a quaint lunch spot. I started with yet another seafood salad.

After wandering around the Trastevere neighborhood, we stumbled on a quaint lunch spot. I started with yet another seafood salad. It was my last, but perhaps the best.

Next I polished off this plate of spagghetti cacio e pepe, which is essentially pasta with cheese, oil, and pepper. You could add something, but why would you want to?

Next I polished off this plate of spagghetti cacio e pepe, which is essentially pasta with pecorino, oil, and pepper. You could add something, but why would you want to?

A few hours later, we had seen some sights and were ready to eat again. But even with three maps on the table we couldn't figure out where to go for our last dinner in Rome.

A few hours later, we had seen some sights and were ready to eat again. But even with three maps on the table we couldn’t figure out where to go for our last dinner in Rome.

So we went back.

So we went back.

Since the menu changes daily, we had a completely different experience. But a wonderful one nonetheless. I enjoyed a hearty plate of seafood risotto.

Since the menu changes daily, we had a completely different experience. But a fantastic one nonetheless. I enjoyed a hearty plate of seafood risotto.

Followed by this chocolate torte.

Followed by this chocolate torte.

By the end of the night we had made friends with the table next to us and the entire staff. What a wonderful last supper.

By the end of the night we had made friends with the table next to us and the entire staff. What a wonderful last supper.

Ciao, Italy. Until we meet again!

Ciao, Italia. Until we meet again!


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Olé! Grilled Mexican Fish & Cilantro-Lime Slaw

To my knowledge, there are only two things that Ina Garten and I disagree on:
Jesus and cilantro.

green things

I hold neither against her. But cilantro is the key to my most recent recipe obsession. My friend Caroline passed this gem to me, and lately I’ve been whipping it up once or twice a week. It’s that good, that easy, and that healthy.

fish

Grilled Mexican Fish with Cilantro-Lime Slaw
Serves 2

First, make the slaw:

¼ cup canola oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 limes, juiced
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
4 cups finely shredded cabbage (I use that pre-shredded bagged stuff)
1 bunch scallions, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeds removed and finely diced

  • In the bottom of a large bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Add the cabbage, onion, cilantro, and jalapeño. Toss thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Next, marinate the fish:

3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 limes, juiced
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cumin
2 large or 4 small firm, white fish filets (such as tilapia)

  • In a shallow dish, whisk together the oil, honey, lime juice, cilantro, salt, and cumin. Add the fish, turning over to coat. Marinate about half an hour.

marinate

Finally, cook & assemble:

1 avocado, peeled and diced
1 lime, cut into wedges

  • When you’re ready to cook, heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Sear the fish on each side about 2 to 3 minutes or until cooked through, being careful not to overcook.
  • Taste the slaw for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Fold avocado into slaw. Pile fish and slaw onto plates. Serve with lime wedges.

Side notes:

  • When preparing the slaw, go ahead and measure your ingredients for the fish marinade as well. Most of the ingredients are the same, so it will streamline the process.
  • You can easily turn this into a fish taco fiesta. Just add warm tortillas.

 


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New Year, New Books & Boards, New Traditions

To be known is to be loved. And I am certainly feeling the love after this Christmas. Four of my nearest and dearest gave me these lovely gifts.

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Two cutting boards and and three cookbooks later, I’m a happy girl with a year full of new ideas to look forward to. The Cheesemonger’s Kitchen and Super Natural Every Day both have exceptionally beautiful photography, not to mention unusual (but accessible) recipes.  The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook officially completes my Ina Garten collection. And y’all know I have been dreaming of that AR cutting board for nearly a year.

Gift giving is such an enjoyable tradition, don’t you think? I’m a big fan of traditions in general. They give you a framework for how to spend your holidays. Something to plan for and look forward to. In a lot of ways, they make you, you. In my little family, we have a nice meal and open our gifts on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day we go to the movies. This year, I was happy to be in charge of the Christmas Eve dinner. We had The Pioneer Woman’s lasagna and Ina’s tiramisu. Both were divine and eaten for days. Here’s a peek at the lasagna:

  

I have some simple traditions for myself, too. Each Christmas I watch Love Actually and The Family Stone while I put up my “travel tree” and reminisce about the places, friends, and memories each ornament represents. But I realized that I don’t have any New Year’s traditions (and NYE is usually a let down), so I thought I might attach one. While I love the idea of Hoppin’ Johns, my grocery store run ended with lentil soup ingredients, which I’d never made before. So, I’m thinking New Year’s Day should be Try a New Soup Recipe Day. Why not? Packed with veggies, protein, and rich flavor, this lentil soup is filling and warm on a chilly New Year’s Day.

Lentil Vegetable Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten
Serves 4

½ pound green lentils
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 leeks, chopped (white part only)
3 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Kosher salt & ground black pepper
½ tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon ground cumin
4 stalks celery, diced
2 or 3 carrots, diced
1½ quarts chicken stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon red wine or red wine vinegar
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  • In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.
  • In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes.
  • Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 more minutes, until the lentils are cooked through.
  • Check the seasonings. Add the red wine and serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan.


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Knick-Knack Patty Whack, Give a Girl Some Squash

Yet another CSA box has arrived, and this time I felt like I could post about it because there were some non-green things inside.

Here we have blueberries, beets, onion, bok choy, cauliflower, pattypan squash, kale, snow peas, mint, and green onions.

As much fried, baked, boiled, and sautéd squash as I’ve had in my life, I have never eaten pattypan squash. True story. And after trying this recipe that my friend Christi found, I sure am glad it turned up.

Roasted Pattypan Squash with Herbed Chickpeas
adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini
Serves 2-4

2-4 small pattypan squashes
Olive oil
Salt & black pepper
1-2 scallions
1 handful cilantro
8 mint leaves
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
Cayenne pepper to taste
1 lemon, zested & juiced
1 can chickpeas, rinsed & drained thoroughly

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the stem and root ends of the pattypan squashes, and cut each of them into 8 sections, all about the same size. Place the sections on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat. Roast in a single layer for 30-40 minutes, until cooked through and browned.
  • While the squash is roasting, finely chop the herbs and capers together. Place in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl and add a drizzle of olive oil, cayenne pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, and black pepper. Whisk together to create a dressing.
  • Add the chickpeas to the herb dressing, and let rest in the refrigerator. When the squash has cooled, toss with the chickpeas and serve.

I swear it kinda smelled like sweet pancakes when these babies were roasting. And then, they tasted buttery sweet. Yum! So nice to meet you, pattypan squash. I have a feeling this won’t be our last encounter.

Confession: I realize the title of this post is silly. And I’m sorry. But I was at a loss, people. You try making everything you say come out witty and see if you don’t come up short now and then.