Veggie Pita With Hummus & Feta

It’s been too long friends! Spring Break hit us over the head, then a few days out of town, plus regular life stuff, and now I’m just getting back up to speed! So sorry for the absence. I brought you a rather wonderful sandwich today, so hopefully you’ll forgive me. Or at least have your mouth so full that you can’t complain.

I love sandwiches. Hot, cold, white bread, buns, whatever. I love them. This pita stuffed with goodness is no different. I’ve eaten this sandwich like it’s my JOB for about the last two months. It’s that good. And it’s meatless. Which is kind of just an added bonus. 

It’s super easy to assemble, I’d recommend doing a lot of chopping at once so you can just pull what you need each day. You’re going to want to eat this all week, so no reason not to.

Ingredients

recipe adapted from Cooking Light

If you have a mandoline type slicer this can go super fast. I have a cheapo one from Crate & Barrel so don’t feel like you have to spend a ton on one. And if you don’t have one at all, that’s cool too. Don’t sweat it.

Thinly slice the radish and cucumber. Chop the red onion into small pieces. I want to take a bite and not have stuff hanging out of my mouth. If you like, add a little lemon zest to the hummus, it adds a nice dimension. Slice your pita in two.

Smear the hummus on the inside of the pita. Add the greens (baby lettuces, spinach, mache, whatever you like), cukes, radishes, and red onion. If you like, a little salt and pepper is also fine. But the feta is salty so you might want to try it without salt first. Then, sprinkle on the feta cheese. Presto! A magic and wonderful little lunch! Of course you could add meat if you like, but it’s perfectly satisfying without it. As the season provides them, I’m sure some tomatoes would also be great tucked inside.

I sliced up a little mango to go along with mine. You can choose whatever your normal lunch accoutrements are. Sweet potato chips are also tasty.

What do you think? Would you give it a try? I could definitely see serving these at a luncheon, they’re easy to make and perfect light eating for spring and summer. You just FEEL healthier eating them.

Do you have a favorite sandwich? Will you eat the same thing over and over, or do you always fix something new?

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Easter Lunch

I think you’ll understand how my day is going if I tell you I’m writing this at the car repair shop. And that this is the third repair shop the car has been at this week. And I’m sick. And feverish. And frustrated. It’s been that kind of week. Do you have these weeks? I feel like life has been beating us up a bit lately.

But, it’s almost Easter, a season of hope. And it’s spring, what could be more uplifting than little green shoots forcing themselves up out of the ground? The weather here has been beautiful. I’m trying to take a few minutes each morning to just soak in the spring air, the beautiful view of my backyard, and be grateful that God has given me another day, another chance.

Photo courtesy of JJ Harrison (http://www.noodlesnacks.com/)

I hope life is treating you well. And, if not, I hope you know that you’re not alone. That there is some peace to be had. I’m hoping that by the time we get to church on Sunday morning I can feel some of that peace in my bones, soak it up, and let it be the salve that my wounds need.

Photo courtesy pf CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia

But enough sad blithering, you’re here for the food, right? So let’s talk about Easter food. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m pretty traditional in my holiday menus. I like to mix it up for parties, but I find that my family appreciates the more traditional foods at the holiday. Here’s the Easter menu.

  • Ham
  • Macaroni & Cheese
  • Asparagus
  • Peas or lima beans
  • Potato Salad
  • Deviled eggs
  • Rolls
  • Dessert (usually a springy cake)
  • Tea

Um, starch much? Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad. It’s one meal. We have protein and vegetables, too.

I don’t have lots of prep photos for you today, but I will share my recipes with you. None of this is hard. You can easily make this meal, even if you’re headed to church. I still manage to get the whole meal on the table at noon, we go to the 8:30 am service.

The day before:

  • Prep the ham – If you want to take the path of least resistance, get a spiral cut ham and prepare it according to the package directions. The key to making it awesome is garnishing. Once the ham is done (and they only require heating, not cooking) let it rest, then place it on your serving platter. Surround it by some dark (cheap) lettuces or herbs from your garden. If you have a few oranges or pineapples, slice those up and place them around the tray. Voila! No one will know Paula Deen isn’t in your kitchen.
  • Make the tea. Set the table. Put out all the platters and serving pieces you’ll need for tomorrow. Label them with post-its in case people show up and want to “help”.
  • Boil the macaroni noodles. It’s best to slightly undercook them because you want them to absorb the wonderful creamy sauce you’re going to make on the fly tomorrow.
  • Snap the ends off the asparagus, but keep them in water just as you would cut flowers. You can also use a vegetable peeler to shave down the stems. Don’t throw away the ends and peels, save them for soup or stock. Or compost, that’s fine too.
  • Make the potato salad. Oh, how I wish I cold share a recipe with you. But alas, I make it much the way my mom and grandma do, by taste and sight. Here’s a recipe that would be a good jumping off point. I would add a little sour cream and a tiny tiny bit of mustard to this. Most importantly, use a firm potato, fingerlings are my favorite. You don’t want a mushy potato for potato salad. And in our house, potato salad isn’t a garish yellow nor does it include pickles or pickle relish of any kind. If you like it that way, find your own recipe. :) Slice some hard-boiled eggs on top.
  • Make the Deviled Eggs. There is nothing more wonderful than a perfect deviled egg. But again, no pickles or pickle relish here. And no paprika on top. Only things that add to the flavor. Hard boil your eggs, peel them, slice them in half and remove the yolk. Mix the yolk with good, full fat mayo, a tiny bit of mustard, and garlic salt to taste. I like to make it a little saltier the day before then let them sit overnight in the fridge. Like the potato salad, they taste better the next day.
  • If you want to make homemade rolls, you want to start them today. Honey Butter Wheat Rolls would be awesome! But, because you might be rushing home from church, I’d recommend buying frozen roll dough from your grocery store and just thawing overnight in the fridge.
  • Make your dessert. I love a beautiful coconut cake, white and fluffy, or some kind of fruit dessert. This is one of my FAVORITE spring desserts. This Bunny Butt Cake from Betty Crocker is all over Pinterest. Personally, I would make it with a real cake, not a cake mix cake, but again, don’t kill yourself over it. A cake out of a box isn’t the worst thing ever. Icing out of a can is. My Nana used to make this bunny cake.

Photo courtesy of Betty Crocker

Easter Sunday: I find it helpful to create a timeline of when things need to go on the stove or into the oven. Work back from the time you want to eat. For instance, if you want to eat at noon and the ham needs to cook and rest for a total of 75 minutes you’ll want to start it no later than 10:45, but I’d shoot for 10:30. The mac and cheese needs 20 minutes of oven time and about 10 minutes on the stove. So you’d need to start it no later than 11:30. See where I’m going here? It’s also helpful to have this plan in case someone offers to help. Then you can tell them exactly what needs to be done. Little kids can put ice in the glasses, set out the butter, remind folks to wash up. Grown ups can follow behind, pouring tea and placing pre-prepared items on the table. Everyone else can get the heck out of the kitchen. Oh, wait, did I say that?

  • Heat the ham according to package directions. Let it rest. Garnish as mentioned above.
  • Make the cheese sauce for the Macaroni and Cheese (recipe below), assemble, and bake.
  • Boil water and steam asparagus.
  • Heat milk and butter to cook peas or lima beans.
  • Grease your muffin tin. Let the rolls rise. Put rolls in the oven and bake.
  • Dish up the potato salad and Deviled Eggs, garnish the Deviled Eggs with chives if you like. Spring onions would also be fine.
  • Pour the tea.
  • Put out butter for the rolls.
  • Done. Sit and enjoy!

Macaroni & Cheese

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1/4 cup store-bought or 3/4 cup homemade breadcrumbs
  • 1 pound grated white cheddar cheese (4 cups)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 8 ounces cream cheese

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter and 8×8 or 9×9 pan. In a small bowl, toss 1 tablespoon melted butter with breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup cheddar.
  • In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook macaroni until al dente, according to package instructions; drain.
  • In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring milk to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; add cream cheese, cut into cubes, stir until melted, 2 minutes. Gradually stir in remaining cheddar until melted, 5 minutes. Add cooked pasta, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper; toss to combine.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Bake until bubbling, 10 minutes. Remove from the oven; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake until golden, 10 minutes more.

What does your family like to eat for Easter? Are you brunch, lunch, or dinner people? Do you eat out or does someone cook?

Hoppy Easter!

Spring Food: Asparagus Tart with Ricotta

It’s spring here, but it’s definitely felt like summer. I refuse to turn on the air conditioning in March, so it’s been pretty steamy here in the evenings. By that time the house has heated up to the point where I don’t feel like cooking anything. What do you do when this happens? I’ll confess that we’ve had some cereal/sandwich dinners, but I really try to limit those. In the summer I’d serve a “cold supper”, mostly vegetables, but it’s spring, there aren’t really any vegetables in season. So I turned to a light tart. You can make this in the morning before things heat up. Eat it at room temperature, or cool it in the fridge and microwave yourself a slice in the evening. It would also be great on your Easter buffet!

This tart comes from the wonderful Sweet Paul, Spring 2012 edition. Paul is a person, but it’s also the name of his beautiful e-magazine. It’s amazing! Take a minute to check out Paul on his blog or the magazine. This recipe and many others can be found there. But it’s not just about the food. There’s a lot of other stuff too. And it’s just beautiful to look at, I can’t overstate that!

Asparagus Tart with Ricotta

Recipe courtesy of Sweet Paul Magazine, Spring 2012

  • 1 1/4 c flour
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 2-3 T cold water
  • 1 lg egg
  • 7 oz ricotta (I used part skim)
  • 1/4 c heavy cream
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1 bunch thin asparagus, trimmed

This crust is so good! And easy to make. It calls for salted butter, which I normally don’t use. If you don’t have any, toss a bit of salt into your flour mixture. This tart is not meant to be fussy, it’s fine if it’s a little rustic. That’s code for “not perfect.”

Put the flour in a large bowl. Cut the cold butter into cubes and add the butter to the flour.

Quickly work the butter into the flour using your hands. I use a snapping motion with my fingers to work in the butter. You can use a pastry cutter if you like, but clean fingers are God’s gift to cooks, use them.

You’re looking for a grainy or mealy texture. It doesn’t have to be consistent. You want some little butter globs in the dough. These melt in the oven and release steam which makes the crust light and flaky. And in case you think you don’t learn something every day, there you go, a bit of chemistry.

Add the water one tablespoon at a time and work the dough together quickly. Roll into a ball and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for an hour.

Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured surface. My tart pan is nine inches, so I used the nine inch guide to roll out my crust. I also keep a metal ruler (dishwasher safe) in the kitchen to help me get my measurements correct. But this pastry mat is invaluable. Here’s a link to a bunch of different kinds if you want to check them out.

See? Not perfect. No sweat. Use the guides on the mat to cut the circle, or use the tart pan to cut the circle. Or, you can do what I do and just make the pan accommodate the dough. It depends on how perfect you want to be. It will all taste the same, I assure you.

Do you know this trick? To move the dough I roll it around my rolling pin and lay it gently in the pan. It’s easier than folding it or trying to drag it up over the lip of the tart pan. But you do it your way.

Place the dough in the tart pan and press to fit. Prick the bottom with a fork and put the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cover the tart shell with aluminum foil and fill it with beans or pie weights. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, remove from the oven, take out the foil and beans, then cool a bit. Turn down the oven to 350 degrees.

This method is called blind baking. See, again with the knowledge!

In a bowl, beat together the egg, ricotta, cream, milk, salt, and pepper.

Pour the mixture into the tart and nestle the asparagus spears on top. Scooch a few into the edges if your pan is round like mine. Put the filled shell back on the baking sheet and bake another 20 minutes (mine took closer to 30) until golden and set in the middle.

Serve hot or cold.

This was such a great supper! I hope you’ll give it a try! I also hope you’ll check out my Facebook page for other links and info!

What do you cook when it’s too hot to cook? Anything you crave when the weather gets warm? For me it’s Mexican and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Weird, huh?

Working Lunch Part Two: Lemon Almond Tart

Lunch is one of my three favorite meals of the day. Sadly, I usually eat lunch standing at the kitchen counter wolfing down some leftovers. But still, there are worse things. I was delighted to make this working lunch and even more excited to eat it. There will be some posts forthcoming with recipes from the amazing Sweet Paul Magazine, Spring 2012, which if you’re not reading, you totally should be. The food is great but the magazine itself is a work of art! Today’s recipe is from that magazine and is the dessert from the working lunch, Lemon Almond Tart. And it’s soooooooo good! It would be perfect for your Easter table!

Don’t be intimidated by the lemon curd. This recipe makes it simple, just follow the instructions.

Lemon Almond Tart

Recipe courtesy of Sweet Paul Magazine, Spring 2012

Dough:

  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 1⁄2 cups plain flour
  • 1⁄3 cup sugar
  • 1 1⁄4 sticks salted butter, cold and in pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

Filling:

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 3⁄4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1⁄2 cup lemon juice
  • 3⁄4 stick salted butter, cold and in pieces

candied lemon, optional

Place almond meal, flour, and sugar in a bowl and mix. Add the butter and work it into the flour with your fingers. The result should be grainy. Add egg and lemon zest and quickly work the dough together. If it seems dry, just add a few tablespoons of ice water. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour. After an hour, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Take out the dough and roll it out to a thin crust. Place in a greased pie tin or tart dish. Use a fork to prick the bottom. Blind bake for about 15 minutes or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Beat egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Place over a hot water bath and add zest, lemon juice, and butter. Beat mixture until it becomes thick and creamy. Pour into the pie crust and cool until serving.

Decorate with candied lemons if desired.

I had never worked with almond meal before, but it’s pretty tasty and gluten free! Once you add the cold butter (note that it’s salted) work it into the dry ingredients by snapping it with your fingers. Use this snapping motion to break down the butter and integrate it into the dry mix. I added about two tablespoons of ice water to get my dough to come together. It’s not the easiest dough to work, but it is forgiving so don’t stress.

Pat it together in a nice disk, wrap it in plastic and stick it in the fridge. After at least an hour, roll the dough out on a floured surface. I made my circle about nine inches because my tart pan is nine inches. This left me some dough which I cut into strips, baked off, and served as an afternoon snack. Very lemony and very yummy!

Many pies and tarts (quiches, too!) call for blind baking the shell. It’s simple. Line the shell with aluminum foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. You won’t want to used these beans after they’ve been baked, so store them in an airtight container for the next time you need them. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until shell is stable and starts to brown. Remove the shell from the oven and take out the beans and foil. If your crust looks a little anemic (read: pale) stick it back in for another 3-4 minutes. The tart will not be baked so the shell needs to be cooked through.

Once the shell is done, set it aside to cool on a rack and begin the curd.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar in a heat-proof bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering (not boiling!) water and add the zest, lemon juice, and butter. Stir, stir, and stir some more. The curd will thicken and darken slightly to a more rich yellow color. Once the curd has thickened, pour it into the tart shell.

Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. That’s it! Super simple and perfect for spring!

For our working lunch, I set the tart on the side table. I served it like this!

It has a nice tang to it, not super sweet. You could also serve it with a mint sprig or some homemade whipped cream. Either would be lovely!

What do you like to serve for spring? Do you have a favorite Easter dessert?

Working Lunch: Quinoa Salad

A good meeting is one that starts on time and ends at least 30 minutes before you think it will. A great meeting is that plus good food. When I host a meeting, I can’t promise that it will end early, but I can assure you there will be good food. It’s been hot here, I think I may have mentioned that a time or ten. So I wanted a light lunch but I also needed something I could make ahead and serve up without a lot of work.

I also needed to serve up a gluten-free option. Since no one in my house has any dietary sensitivities, I’ll admit I don’t think much about these kinds of things. We eat pretty healthy most of the time, but I had been looking for some new options with quinoa anyway and this was a great opportunity to try something new. I should caution you though, normally I wouldn’t serve a new, untested recipe as such a major part of a meal. Since I was making the salad ahead, I felt like I had enough time to whip out something else if this didn’t work.

My menu:

  • Parmesan Crusted Chicken Cutlets – pounded and reserved for last minute frying
  • Quinoa Salad – made ahead
  • Lemon Almond Tart – made ahead

I had some chicken breasts in the freezer, so I pounded them flat and used a standard recipe for Parmesan Crusted Chicken Cutlets. I started these about 20 minutes before I expected my colleagues. In that time I could fry up three cutlets, tent them with foil, and clean up the pan before anyone arrived. I make chicken cutlets all the time so I won’t bore you with the details. You can check out one of my favorite recipes for Crispy Parmesan Chicken from Cook’s Country.

I had some quinoa in the pantry waiting on me to do something with it. And this gluten-free meal was the perfect opportunity. So I trolled the interwebs for a few minutes before deciding on this Quinoa Salad recipe from the Food Network. It was light, cold, and had lots of things in it that I like to eat. It sounded like, with the chicken, it would be a full meal. Plus, it made a lot! Leftovers were a bonus! I made the salad the day before, but didn’t add the tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes, the only decent thing you can get before June) and the avocados until I was ready to serve.

Quinoa Salad

Recipe adapted from Food Network

  • 12 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 container of grape tomatoes
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 bunches mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced, for garnish

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the quinoa, stir once, and return to a boil. Cook uncovered, over medium heat for 12 minutes. Strain and rinse well with cold water, shaking the sieve well to remove all moisture.

When dry, transfer the quinoa to a large bowl. Add the cucumbers, onion, parsley, mint, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and toss well. Top with avocado and halved grape tomatoes, and serve. Garnish with parsley or mint.

This isn’t really cooking. It’s assembling. Anyone can do it. And quinoa is cute and hairy, so give it a whirl!

Then stick it in the fridge overnight. It lets the flavors absorb and makes it nice and cold.

Plate it up on a nice platter, spreading the tomato halves and avocado slices over the top. I stuck a bunch of mint on top for garnish. Pretty AND tasty!

It is such a good salad! And my colleagues loved the lunch. Check out the dessert portion of the meal on Wednesday!

Have you tried quinoa? Do you have a favorite recipe? I think I’ll try it for breakfast next!