Mediterranean Orzo

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I think orzo is underrated. It cooks really fast and acts and taste just like regular pasta, which means its absorbs any of the goodness you add to it. I also think it’s really versatile, which means it doesn’t have to be just Italian. That being said, I made a super simple Mediterranean Orzo with ingredients that you probably already have on hand.

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Mediterranean Orzo:

  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1 red onion – diced
  • 1 clove of garlic – minced
  • 1 zucchini – diced
  • 1 yellow squash – diced
  • 1-2 jalapenos – diced
  • couple tsp dried oregano
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 pencil asparagus – diced
  • 1/4 cup canned chickpeas – drained and rinsed
  • handful of kalamata olives – diced
  • red crushed pepper
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • a little less than 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey-dijon mustard
  • 1 heaping tsp of honey
  • 1 tsp dried oregano

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1. In a large pot add water, drizzle a little olive oil, sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and set over high flame to bring to a boil. Add in the orzo, and boil for about 8-10 minutes or until al dente. Strain, reserving the water and set the orzo aside.

2. In a large skillet, add in a tbsp of olive oil and heat over medium flame. Add in the onions and garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. Then add in the jalapenos and the rest of the veggies. Saute for a few minutes until slightly soft. Add in the oregano, red crushed pepper, salt, and pepper and chickpeas. Saute for another 5-8 minutes until all the veggies are tender, but not soft and mushy. Remove from the stove.

3. In a large serving bowl, mix together the red wine vinegar, mustard, honey, oregano, some more salt and black pepper. Drizzle in about 2-3 tbsp of olive oil until emulsified. Add in the cooked orzo and sauteed veggies. Mix altogether. Also add in the chopped olives and toss, making sure the pasta is completely coated with the dressing. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves 3-4 

Oil n’ Garlic Spaghetti with Caramelized Onions & Parmesan

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I think if someone asked me what my favorite simple pasta dish was I’d probably say Oil n’ Garlic (or vodka or pesto or pink sauce, etc etc..EVERYTHING). No, but really – I love Oil n’Garlic pasta. It’s garlicky, and smooth and when topped with parmigiana cheese -adds just the right amount of salt. One night my mom and I were craving some, so I whipped up this simple dish with the addition of caramelized onions.

Oil n’ Garlic Spaghetti with Caramelized Onions:

  • 1 large white onion – thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • sprinkle of salt
  • couple tbsp olive oil – good quality
  • 4-5 cloves garlic – lightly smashed
  • red crushed pepper
  • 1/4 box of Thin Spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmigiana cheese
  • good extra virgin olive oil

1. In a medium non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low flame. Add the sliced onions and saute. Once the onions start turning translucent, reduce the heat to slightly above low and continue to cook. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and the 1 tsp of sugar. You want to cook these onions for about 10-15 minutes until super soft and golden in color like caramel. Remove  from the skillet and set aside.

2. In a large pot bring water to a boil – sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and add a tsp of olive oil. Boil until al dente, then strain, but reserve the starchy water. Set aside.

3. In the same medium skillet, add a touch more olive oil and set over medium-low flame. Add in the garlic cloves and red crushed pepper. Saute for a 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add in the cooked pasta and a couple of tbsp of the reserved pasta water. Toss and add in a little more reserved pasta water if it seems to be getting dry. I added about 1/4 cup of the water in total. Toss in the reserved caramelized onions and the parmigiana cheese. Toss and place in a serving dish and top with more cheese. Serve!

Serves 2-3 (or 1 depending on how hungry/hangry you are) 

Chile Relleno

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A lot of what I make is based on what’s good in the grocery store that day. Earlier this weekend, I went to the grocery store just to get 2 items. But of course, I cam out with 5 bags full of unnecessary (but very necessary) items. I found some beautiful fresh Poblanos and instantly thought – Stuffed Chili Rellenos. But, I wanted to make them healthy – althought the cheese stuffed, deep-fried restaurant version is great, I can’t be eating like that when I have to expose myself in a bathing suit next month. So, I whipped up a low-carb, low-fat Roasted Chili Relleno dish. It came out very good! See below…

(please excuse the iPhone 5 pics, ugh)

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Roasted Chili Relleno:

  • 4 poblano peppers
  • 1 yam/sweet potato – boiled until for tender then diced
  • 1 medium white onion – diced
  • 1-2 jalapeños – diced
  • 1 yellow (or any color) bell pepper – diced
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1 tbsp unsalted taco seasoning
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic – smashed and minced
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 lime
  • 3-4 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp reduced fat sour cream
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 cup shredded reduced fat cheddar – if vegan, use vegan cheddar
  • couple of slices of Cabot Habanero Cheddar – omit if vegan
  • handful fresh cilantro – chopped
  • 1/4 cup grape tomatoes – diced
  • olive oil
  • PAM

1. Char 2 of the poblanos directly on the flame on the stovetop until very soft and completely charred all around. Remove and let cool.

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Next char the remaining 2 poblanos on the flame but not as much – you want them to be slightly charred all around and JUST fork tender. Remove and let cool.

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2. Meanwhile in a large skillet spray with Pam and heat about 1-2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the cumin seeds and let them become fragrant about 30 seconds. Then add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, jalapeños, and diced yams and sauté. Add the taco seasoning, sprinkle of salt and pepper and the 1 tsp of oregano and continue sautéing. Add the spinach and mix in. Sprinkle in some water in the mixture. You want to cook this for about 10-15 minutes until all the veggies (especially the yams) are cooked through. Taste for salt and seasoning. At the last moment right after you shut off the flame, mix in a couple tbsp of the chopped cilantro. Set aside.

3. To make the sauce: Take the 2 very charred poblanos and remove from the stem and seed pods. Add to a blender with the sour cream, about 3 tbsp water, 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp chili powder, juice from 1/4 of the lime, and 1-2 tbsp of the chopped cilantro. Blend on high until very smooth – you may need to add a little more water. Set aside.

4. Quick Pico de Gallo: Mix together the chopped tomato, 1 tbsp of the chopped cilantro, lime juice from 1/4 lime, pinch of salt and set aside.

5. Assembly: Make a slit in the middle of the remaining 2 slightly charred poblanos. Place on a baking sheet. Remove some of the seeds of the poblano and discard. Stuffed generously with the vegetable stuffing all the way to the top. Top with the cheeses and broil for a few minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove. Place each one on a serving dish and top with a generous amount of the sauce and the pico de gallo. Serve!

Serves 2 

“Fancy” Grilled Cheese

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Do you ever get a craving for a simple grilled cheese sandwich? Something gooey and delicious and full of carbs and cheesy goodness? Yah, I get these cravings all the time, but if I ate what I craved all the time, I’d probably be a beluga whale. But I do like to reasonably indulge from time-to-time. I was craving a grilled cheese the other day, but I wanted something tasty and not too fatty. Thus, the “Fancy” Grilled Cheese was born.

“Fancy” Grilled Cheese:

  • 2 slices multigrain/whole wheat bread (I used Pepperidge Farm Brand)
  • 2 slices part-skim American Cheese (I used good ole’ Kraft)
  • 1 slice reduced-fat Pepper Jack Cheese (I used Sargento)
  • 2-3 slices beefsteak tomato
  • 3-4 slices fresh basil
  • Black Pepper
  • PAM Olive Oil Flavor

Pesto Aioli:

  • 2 tbsp reduced-fat mayo
  • 1 tsp basil pesto
  • sprinkle of red crushed pepper

1. Layer the ingredients evenly between the 2 slices of bread. Spray both sides of the outside of sandwich with PAM.

2. Pesto Aioli- stir all ingredients and set aside.

3. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat and spray with PAM. Grill both sides of the sandwich for about 4-5 minutes until golden brown and the cheese is melted. Remove from the skillet, and slice in half. Serve with Pesto Aioli.

Eggless Nutella Stuffed French Toast

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Last weekend a legend passed away: Michele Ferrero the owner of Nutella (not to mention the richest man in Italy) died on Valentine’s Day (of all days!!!). In his honor, I had to use Nutella this past weekend (let’s be honest, it was just another excuse for me to use Nutella). Recently my mom made me a delicious stuffed french toast, so I used the same concept and added a few delicious things.

When you hear French Toast, you probably think of something decadent and unhealthy. Don’t get me wrong, this is very decadent, but definitely not super unhealthy. Its a simple and satisfying item to make for brunch and it’s sure to please your friends and family!

Eggless Nutella French Toast:

  • 4 slices cinnamon-swirl bread
  • 3-4 tbsp Nutella
  • 1/2 cup fat-free half & half
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup cinnamon-sugar mix
  • PAM Butter Flavor
  • sliced strawberries
  • raspberries
  • cinnamon whipped cream (recipe below)

Cinnamon Whipped Cream:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream – chilled
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sugar

1. Spread about 1 tbsp of Nutella on each of the 2 slices of cinnamon-swirl bread. Top with the other non-Nutella sides to create a sandwich. In a shallow and wide plate pour in fat-free half & half and add in vanilla extract, mix. In another shallow and wide plate, add in the cinnamon-sugar mix. Lightly dip each side of the Nutella sandwich into the milk mixture, and shake off access. Dip each of the wet sides into the cinnamon sugar mix. Repeat for the second Nutella sandwich.

2. Spray a on-stick skillet with PAM and place over medium-low heat. Once the pan is hot, place in the french toast one at a time. Grill on each side for about 2 minutes. Remove, and cut in half on the diagonal. Top with fresh berries, whipped cream and powder sugar (optional).

Cinnamon Whipper Cream:

1. In a clean and chilled bowl, pour in heavy cream and using a hand mixer beat on medium speed until it becomes frothy then slowly sprinkle in the cinnamon and sugar. Continue to beat on high until stiff peaks. Wrap bowl in plastic wrap and place in fridge until ready to serve.

Eggplant Rollatini with Spinach Pesto

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This past Christmas we decided to relax at home and I cooked up a vegetarian Italian feast! I decided to make Eggplant Rollatini as the main dish, but of course with a twist. I first made a homemade marinara sauce using San Marzano crushed tomatoes the night before. I spiced up the traditional ricotta filling with a homemade spinach pesto and pine nuts. It was delicious and fairly simple to put together.

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Eggplant Rollatini:

  • 2 large Italian eggplants – cut into 1/8 thick long slices
  • salt
  • 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup lowfat buttermilk

1. Place the eggplant slices on a slotted cookie sheet/large colander. Sprinkle generously with salt on both sides. Let sit (I placed them in the sink), so all the moisture drains out – for about 15-20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.

2. Place a large skillet over medium-low flame. Pour in olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and fill about 1/8 of the way up. Meanwhile, place the buttermilk in a large shallow plate. Sprinkle in the cayenne pepper and black pepper. Stir. In another shallow dish, add the breadcrumbs and basil – stir. Carefully dip each eggplant slice into the buttermilk, coat well on both sides, and then dip in the breadcrumb mixture. Press the breadcrumbs into each side, gently shake off excess crumbs. Place slice into the hot skillet. Place about 2-3 slices at a time – you do not want to overcrowd the pan, so adjust this based on how big your pan is. Cook about 3-4 minutes on each side until browned and crisp. Remove and lay on a play that’s lined with foil and paper towels to drain excess oil.

Spinach Pesto – Ricotta Filling:

  • about 1 cup baby spinach
  • 1 clove garlic
  • red crushed pepper
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • about 2 tbsp roasted garlic olive oil/extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 12 oz lowfat ricotta cheese – drained in a cheese cloth to remove excess liquid
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts – toasted
  • 1 tbsp grated pecorino

1. Place spinach, garlic, red crushed pepper, salt, and black pepper in a food processor. Pulse until relatively chopped. Turn to low and drizzle in olive oil and continue grinding until its a thick paste. Mix in the toasted pine nuts and grated pecorino, set aside.

 Assembly: 

  • 1 bunch of basil leaves (enough so each eggplant gets 1 leaf), plus some more for garnishing
  • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
  • 1 jar homemade/favorite store-bought marinara sauce
  • 1-2 balls fresh mozzarella – sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices

1. In a large oven-safe casserole dish, place about 1/4 of the homemade sauce on the bottom of the dish, and spread evenly to cover the entire surface.

2. Once the fried eggplants have cooled and drained, place each one gently on a clean surface/cutting board. Place about 2 tbsp of ricotta filling at the fat end, and gently roll making sure the filling is not squeezing out. Repeat with the rest of the breaded eggplant slides and then carefully place each roll in the saucy casserole dish close to one another until the dish is covered completely,

3. Pour the remainder of the sauce all over the eggplants, making sure to cover everything. Place a slice of fresh mozzarella on each rollatini. Top the entire dish with shredded mozzarella.

4. Cover with tin foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 10-15 mins, or until bubbling. Remove foil, and switch oven to maxi broil, and bake for a few minutes, until cheese its melted and slightly brown. Carefully remove, and let rest for 2 minutes before serving. Take the reserved fresh basil leaves, and tear over the top before serving.

Enjoy!

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Garlicky Broccoli & Brussel Sprouts with Almonds

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I love green vegetables (how can I not, I’m vegetarian!). I specifically loveee broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, asparagus, etc etc ETC. I had some fresh broccoli and brussel sprouts on hand, so I decided to combine them. Below is a super simple and fast side dish you can put together if you have these veggies on hand. If you don’t then you can always combine other greens – broccoli and spinach, or asparagus and brussel sprouts.

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Garlicky Broccoli & Brussel Sprouts with Almonds: 

  • 1 cup baby brussel sprouts – cleaned and dried
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 3-4 dried red chilies
  • 2 tbsp slivered almonds – toasted
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary – rosemary separated from the stem
  • 3 cloves of garlic – peeled and smashed, but should retain whole shape (not minced)
  • salt
  • pepper
  •  1/4 cup grated pecorino – for garnishing (optional, especially if vegan)
  • olive oil
  • PAM Olive Oil flavor

1. In a large skillet, spray with PAM and add olive oil (couple of tbsp), set over medium flame. Add in the garlic and chilies. Saute for a few seconds – we don’t want the garlic to burn. Add in the brussel sprouts and broccoli florets. Toss with the garlic and chilies and saute for about 3-4 minutes. Add in the fresh rosemary and continue sauteing. You’re going to be cooking this for another 10-15 minutes until the veggies are cooked through, not soggy. Generously season with salt and pepper. Taste.

2. Once the veggies are cooked through, add in the slivered almonds and toss. Remove from heat. Right before serving, top with the grated pecorino and serve immediately.

Burrata with Truffled Cherry Tomato-Basil Salad

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Does this really need an introduction?

Burrata with Truffled Cherry Tomato-Basil Salad:

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  • 1 fresh burrata cheese – good quality burrata is now available at Costco (Whole Foods sells the same brand)
  • 1 box fresh cherry tomatoes – can be any size box, no real measurements here
  • a hefty handful of fresh basil
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • 1 tsp red crushed pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil
  • about 1 tbsp good quality white truffle oil – I bought mine from Dean & Deluca
  • 1 Italian/French baguette
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • shaved dark chocolate (optional and it’s not pictured)

1. In a bowl, mix together the tomatoes, black pepper, salt, red crushed pepper, olive oil, truffle oil, and tear in the basil. Mix and let sit for a good 10-15 minutes so all the flavors can marinate together.

2. In the meantime, slice your baguette on a diagonal, rub the clove of garlic all over it, drizzle with olive oil and toast in an oven or in a pan until golden brown.

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3. In a large serving dish, place the burrata in the middle, and slightly score with a knife until it starts oozing. Toss together the tomato mixture and place around the burrata. Drizzle the entire dish with a bit more extra virgin olive oil and top the burrata with a sprinkle of black pepper and salt. Serve with the crusty bread.

4. If using shaved dark chocolate, when serving, top with about 1 tsp of shaved dark chocolate. The sweetness and bitterness of the chocolate combines nicely with the creaminess of the burrata and strong flavors of the truffle.

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Eggnog (Lowfat)

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Not sure if this needs any introduction at all, but that this was the first time I made Eggnog. I’ve generally not ventured into the realm of eggnog, as it is super fattening and most of the time it is raw (there are recipes where you can temper the yolks so they’re cooked, or a raw version). The recipe I created gives the look and feel of regular full-fat eggnog, but just healthier! It’s also very easy to make. I also used the leftover eggnog to make Eggnog Lattes the next morning!

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Eggnog (lowfat):

  • 4 large eggs – yolks and whites separated
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • About 1 tbsp granulated sugar (for egg whites)
  • 2 cups lowfat milk (I used 2% Lactaid Milk)
  • 1 cup Fat Free Half & Half (I used Landolakes Brand)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • Whip Cream – to serve (I used Redi Whip)
  • Ground Cinnamon – for garnishing
  • Shaved Dark Chocolate – for garnishing (optional)

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1. In a small sauce pan, pour the 2 milks in, add the cinnamon stick, and nutmeg. Simmer over low heat until heated through, fragrant, and slightly simmering. Remove from heat and let cool COMPLETELY.

2. Meanwhile, in a large clean bowl, whip together the yolks and 1/3 cup sugar on high speed until light, fluffy, and a pale yellow color. Once the milk mixture has completely cooled, pour into the yolk mixture slowly with the mixer on medium speed.

3. In another cool and clean bowl (preferably steel), whip the egg whites on high speed (make sure to use clean beaters), and as they start becoming fluffy, slowly add in the 1 tbsp of sugar. Whip until stiff peaks. Pour in the milk-yolk mixture into the whipped egg white while keeping the mixer on medium-low (not high). Mix until combined. Chill completely (I chilled it in the fridge for about 6-8 hours).

4. Once chilled, pour into a serving glass, top with whipped cream, garnish with a dash of cinnamon and shaved dark chocolate.

Enjoy!

Stuffed Italian Hot Peppers

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There are a lot of vegetables that are overlooked, especially when it comes to vegetables used in Italian cooking. My family (especially my dad) have always loved long Italian hot peppers – they’re usually offered at Italian restaurants in Staten Island. This Christmas when we decided to cook an Italian feast I decided I’d make these Roasted Italian Hot Peppers as we usually get, but stuffed with roasted garlic and bread crumbs. It’s super east to make and a wonderful side dish.

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Stuffed Italian Hot Peppers:

  • 6 fresh long hot Italian peppers – slightly slit in the middle
  • 10-12 cloves of garlic – peeled
  • a little more than 1/4 cup of plain bread crumbs
  • a little less than 1 tbsp dried basil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated parmigiana
  • extra virgin olive oil

1. In a large skillet, pour in olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and place over medium flame. Add in the cloves of garlic and saute for about a minute until the cloves become fragrant and start to cook. Add in the peppers and saute on all sides until slightly blistered and the skin starts peeling away.

2. In the meantime, mix together breadcrumbs, seasonings, and cheese. Set aside.

3. Place blistered peppers on a baking sheet, with the slit side facing up. Carefully place 1-2 cloves inside the slit of each pepper. Place the breadcrumb mixture inside the pepper with the garlic and generously on top. Drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil set aside (cover with foil) until ready to bake.

4. Place in an oven that’s been preheated to 350 degrees. Bake until breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove and top with shaved parmigiana. Serve hot.