Category Archives: green is good!

Stufffed Zucchini in Tomato Sauce

This past week, I’d been craving pasta like nobody’s business.  I think it was because the previous week, we’d gone out with a friend to Olive Garden for the endless pasta dinner special, where I ate some whole wheat linguine with roast chicken and marinara (which was good, but I won’t do it again).  I think having that gave me an Italian food jones something awful, and so I thought about things I could make at home with the ingredients I had access to.  The week before, I’d bought two large zucchini squash and had picked up some hot Italian sausage at Central Market.  I decided to make stuffed zucchini–it was easy, filling and really tasty.

Stuffed zucchini: easy to make, delicious to eat and full of antioxidants and fiber! The meat used can be changed to ground chicken or turkey sausage as well; pork was what I happened to have on hand. Serve with a salad and crusty bread, and you've got a filling dinner.

You will need:

  • 2 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise and cut in halves
  • 3/4 pound hot Italian sausage*
  • 1 cup instant brown rice, uncooked
  • 1 1/4 cups part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 28 ounce can tomato puree

*certainly, ground chicken or turkey sausage could also be used here as well; pork sausage was what I had access to.  For vegetarians, I think I’d probably mince up 3 cups of Portobellos sautéed with onions, garlic and red pepper flakes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat until completely done. While the sausage is cooking, cut the zucchini in half vertically, then slice them lengthwise.  Take a grapefruit spoon or melon baller (or something that scoops that has a sharp edge to it) to scoop out the pulpy middle of the squash.  Reserve this pulpy goodness in a bowl.  Lay the hollowed zucchini quarters in a 13 x 9 baking dish.  You do not need to grease the dish, as there will be plenty of liquid to prevent the zucchini from sticking to the bottom of the dish.

Once the sausage is done, drain it and return to the pan, and add the garlic, stirring to distribute it evenly throughout, cooking at medium-high heat.  Add in the zucchini pulp, again, stirring to evenly distribute it throughout the meat, cooking for about 10 minutes until the pulp really isn’t so visible.  You are adding the pulp back in to add moisture to help the rice cook and to add a bit more fiber.  Add in the half cup of water and then stir in the instant rice until it is well-distributed.  Stir in 3/4 cup of the mozzarella cheese until it melts throughout the mixture.  Turn off the heat to the skillet, and stuff the zucchini quarters, mounding the filling into each quarter.  Pour the can of tomato puree over all the zucchini quarters, and sprinkle the top of the baking dish with the remaining 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until the cheese is nicely browned.

This recipe serves 4, or two really hungry adults, as it did the night I made it.  It is lovely with a bit of garlic bread and a salad.  You could serve it over pasta if you wanted.


A Green Feast

If you have kids, you know that sometimes getting them to eat their veggies is a chore. Even for some adults, getting in the recommended amount of veggies is tough. There are only so many ways to eat some vegetables, and I’m always trying to find new ways to eat my veggies that’s both palatable and easy to prepare.  I would also like to decrease the amount of meat that I consume, but having spent the last 38 years as a dedicated meat eater, this is going to be a tough task.  I would like to make an earnest go at it, and tonight’s dinner was a step in that direction.

Enter the (nearly) vegetarian fare I fixed for dinner this evening.  A few lazy afternoons ago, SB and I found ourselves watching Giada DeLaurentiis’ show on the Food Network, and she was preparing for a child’s party.  She was going to serve homemade fish sticks (which seem remarkably easy to make) with marinara, and grilled cheese with spinach cleverly hidden inside.  As she prepared the sandwich filling, I thought, “hey, that sounds pretty good, but certainly there is a way to cut the fat and boost the fiber content.”  Lo and behold:

The green grilled cheese can be eaten open-faced, as seen here, or smushed together as a proper sandwich. Either way, it's a good way to get in a serving of veggies and dairy.

For contrast, here’s what the first round of sandwiches looked like:

This one turned out a bit more done than I would have liked. It was still pretty tasty, just a bit overdone. Also, these are the sandwiches that had bacon in them.

I made mine with part-skim mozzarella and a touch of Monterrey Jack, used a canola oil/butter spread and by proportion, doubled the amount of spinach used.  I also served mine on whole wheat bread.  Giada’s recipe calls for pancetta, and I will admit, the first round of these sandwiches I made did have a couple of slices of bacon on them, but I felt the addition of bacon added too much fat.  The second attempt at the sandwiches, I left the bacon off, which made them much better.

Now, you can’t have grilled cheese without soup.  I’d been wanting to make a broccoli soup, but not the usual broccoli-cheese or cream of broccoli soup.  I felt both were too heavy for summer, and laden with more fat than we needed to consume–remember, we were eating grilled cheese as well!  Instead, I went the Gordon Ramsay route and kept it simple:  4 ingredients, easy to make and quite savory.  I think this soup would probably be good served cold as well, but I didn’t prepare it far enough in advance to chill it.  Perhaps next time I make it, I’ll try that.  But here’s how my version of Ramsay’s soup turned out:

A simple soup, this broccoli soup is full of antioxidants, fiber and flavor--all from just four ingredients.

Both of these recipes could be made completely vegetarian with the substitution of vegetable stock for the chicken stock in the soup.  I’m sure the recipes could be made vegan as well with the use of soy-based cheese for the sandwiches, but I am not certain as I have no familiarity with how well soy cheeses melt.

Here’s how you can recreate the Green Feast at your place.  You will need:

For the sandwiches:

  • 1 cup part-skim mozzarella, shredded
  • 1/4 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons Land O’ Lakes canola oil/butter spread (you can also use butter, softened)
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 8 slices whole wheat bread
  • Optional:  cooked bacon

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.  To make the spread for the sandwiches, pour the cheeses and butter spread into the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until the cheeses and butter are combined, and then add the spinach a cup at a time, until the leaves are completely blended into the cheese-butter mixture.  The mixture should be easy to spread at this point.  Spread about 2 tablespoons of the spread on each of the bread slices.  If you would like to add bacon to your sandwiches, as I did for the first sandwiches we ate, place a slice of bacon on each piece of bread (this will give you 2 slices/sandwich).  Place the bread with the spread on a baking sheet and bake until the cheese is melted, about 7-9 minutes.  Enjoy while hot.

Additionally, you could use a panini press, if you have one, or cook them on a griddle on the stovetop.  I elected to use the oven so that both sandwiches I was preparing would be hot and ready at the same time.

For the soup:

  • 3 broccoli crowns, chopped into chunks (I used frozen ones we had that I had defrosted; fresh would work just as well)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you want to make it vegetarian/vegan)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • black pepper to season (4-6 turns of a grinder, if you’ve got one)

Heat the stock up in a saucepan on the stove until it just begins to boil.  Add your broccoli, reduce the heat and place a lid on the pan and allow it to cook in the stock for about 8-10 minutes, or until the broccoli is soft but has not lost its vibrant green color.

Once the broccoli has finished cooking, you have two options:

1.  Pour the cooked broccoli and stock into a large bowl and use a hand blender to puree the soup.  Add the lemon juice and pepper.  Serve the soup while hot.

2.  Carefully pour the broccoli and stock into a blender and puree, adding the lemon juice and pepper during the blending process.

Either way, you will get terrifically tasty soup!  I garnished mine with broccoli sprouts, as you can see in the picture.  SB garnished his with a tablespoon of cheddar cheese and said it was quite tasty with that addition.

The soup recipe made 4 cups of soup, and the sandwich recipe made 4 sandwiches.

Garlicky Kale with Crispy Salt Pork

Inexplicably, all week long I’d been jonesing for some comfort food–some serious, Southern comfort food.  Maybe it was because this past week, I’d increased my cardio workouts to 20 minutes every other day, or maybe it was because I just wanted some down-home, stick to your ribs food.  Whatever the reason, I decided when doing the shopping for the week that we’d have unfried chicken, mashed potatoes and some greens.  I didn’t want green beans (we eat a lot of those), and I didn’t want a salad (we eat a lot of that too).  Sticking to my resolve to try at least one new recipe a week, and at least one new vegetable a week, I decided we’d have kale.

Kale is a member of the mustard family of plants–the Brassicas.  This is the same group that includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard/collard greens and Brussels sprouts.  I’m a big fan of the lot, and I’d had kale before, but had never actually prepared it myself and wanted to try my hand at it.

Last winter, my friend Julie and I had gone to a cooking class all about bacon over at Central Market, and one of the recipes we learned was kale with crispy salt pork.  I figured it would be a good accompaniment to my Unfried Chicken recipe, and decided that would be our green vegetable for dinner tonight.

A different take on traditional greens served with a lot of Southern cuisine, the saltiness of the salt pork here means you don't add any during the cooking.

They were not the soggy looking greens I’d been accustomed to seeing on steam tables.  These were toothsome, flavorful and a bit salty (owing to the salt pork in the recipe).  The salt pork here is cooked until it renders most of its fat, leaving it crispy.  The kale is then quickly cooked in a bit of the remaining fat until bright green, but not soggy or limp.  A bit of garlic is added, and then the crisp salt pork is then added back to the leaves and served while warm.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 large bunch of kale
  • 8 ounces salt pork, cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Optional:  red pepper flakes, Tobasco

Trim the thick layer of fat from the salt pork.  Trust me when I say there will be plenty of fat rendered from the meat to cook the greens in.  If you are all about the fat, then by all means, don’t trim the salt pork.  I trimmed the fat in an effort to reduce the fat content (and to not have to drain it off!).  Dice the salt pork into 1/2″ pieces and cook in a hot skillet until crispy.  Keep an eye on the skillet, as it will begin to smoke as the meat becomes crispier and crispier.

While the salt pork is cooking, remove the leaves from your kale.  It is best to do this by hand by tearing the leaves into bite-sized pieces away from the stem.  Put the pieces into a bowl or colander so that you can wash them off thoroughly, removing any traces of dirt.  For me, this yielded about 6 cups of raw kale.  Your amount may vary, depending on how large your bunch of kale is.

Once the salt pork is crispy and has rendered nearly all of its fat, remove the pieces from the pan to a bowl.  Pour off all but about two tablespoons of the drippings.  You really do not need much fat for this next step, but you want enough fat to flavor the greens without drowning them entirely in it.

While the pan is still hot, add the kale.  It should sizzle when added to the pan.  Stir it around rapidly to coat the leaves with the fat remaining in the pan and cook until bright green.  This took me about 4 minutes, because my leaves were not terribly large to begin with.  Near the end of the cooking, add the garlic and stir.  If you like your greens with pepper flakes, this would be the time to add them.  Return the crispy salt pork to the pan, stir one last time and remove from heat.  Serve while hot.

This recipe makes 4 servings.

I think if I make this again, I am going to rinse the salt pork a bit to remove some of the saltiness.  I do not usually eat a lot of salt to start with, so this dish was a bit salty for my tastes.