Mediterranean Orzo Salad

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It’s August, and we are at top temperatures pushing 100 degrees here in Sunny Florida. There are days when I don’t feel like eating very much let alone be in the kitchen for too long. I look for ways to create tasty dishes, and if possible, I prefer not even to turn the oven on. This dish is a very quick, easy and light one. It has a little of everything. There are fresh vegetables for healthy texture and crunch, fresh herbs, creamy feta for a little salty bite, kalamata olives for an unmistakeable Mediterranean flavor, banana peppers for some heat, and of course orzo, which is a nice rice-shaped pasta for salads and side dishes. It’s all brought together with a simple balsamic vinaigrette. This dish is great as a side to any protein you like, or a vegetarian main dish as well. It’s great to bring along to a potluck, a picnic, or just to have something quick to snack on in the fridge. Get creative and use whichever veggies and herbs you like, as well as adding in some grilled shrimp, or chicken for more options. Whatever ingredients you choose, you’ll find this a quick and easy recipe to enjoy any time of year! So here we go…

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Cut all your vegetables into a medium dice, slice your grape tomatoes in half, chop your fresh herbs, and measure out your feta cheese. You can buy it in a block and dice it or do what I did here and buy it already diced.

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Combine the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper, and whisk to combine and emulsify into a nice vinaigrette.

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Cook the orzo pasta according to manufacturers instructions, run under cool water to stop the cooking process, then drain well.

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In a large bowl, toss the orzo, vegetables, herbs and dressing together first without adding the feta cheese just yet. Only add a little dressing at a time, so you don’t over dress it. Keep in mind that the orzo will absorb the dressing as it sits so you need to add enough, but taste it as you go to check it for flavor and also to see if you need to add more salt and pepper. When you are done combining, add the feta cheese and toss gently so you keep the chunky bits in tact.

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Here you have it! Mediterranean Orzo Salad. Enjoy!

MEDITERRANEAN ORZO SALAD (Yields: 8 Servings)

Ingredients:

1 lb Orzo Pasta

1 1/2 c Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, sliced in half

1 c Green Bell Pepper, medium dice

1 c Orange Bell Pepper, medium dice

1 c Red Onion, medium dice

1 c Cucumber, peeled, seeded, medium dice

3/4 c Kalamata Olives, sliced

3/4 c Banana Peppers, medium dice

1/2 c Fresh Basil, chopped

1/2 c Fresh Flat Leaf Italian Parsley, chopped

1 1/4 c Diced or crumbled Feta Cheese

1 1/2 c Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 c Balsamic Vinegar

1 TBS Dijon Mustard

1 TBS Honey

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Procedure:

  1. Cook orzo pasta in salted boiling water according to manufacturers instructions. Pour cooked orzo into a strainer, rinse under cool water to stop the cooking process, and drain well. Set aside.
  2. Chop all the vegetables and herbs, and set aside.
  3. In a bowl or liquid measuring cup, combine the dijon, honey, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper together, whisk until emulsified into a vinaigrette. Check for seasoning.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the orzo, vegetables and herbs. Toss to combine.
  5. Adding a little vinaigrette at a time, toss together until well combined and dressed with the vinaigrette to add plenty of flavor without over dressing. Check for seasoning.
  6. Finally, gently toss in the feta cheese, being careful not to break it up completely, but leave the cheese fairly chunky.

Enjoy!!

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Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

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Well here we are, almost another year has gone by…we have been celebrating all the holidays and have eaten countless calories. We have eaten to our hearts content, and then some. This time of year many of us enjoy roasted meats like turkey, ham, beef, lamb and so on. We also tend to eat heavy side dishes and appetizers too. I don’t know about you, but at this point I want something different. So on this “Meatless Monday” I am sharing a very easy, roasted vegetable lasagna with some nice little short cuts for those of us who are very busy with work and life in general. Speaking of which, I have to apologize for the long stretch since my last blog post. A new job and a new home have kept me very busy. I am happy to finally be able to share another recipe with you. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you have the most wonderful New Year!!!

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To start, gather all of your ingredients together. For this recipe, I am using no boil noodles to save time, a good jarred marinara sauce, and a little bottled Italian dressing for the quick vegetable marinade. You can certainly make your own sauce, dressing, and boil regular lasagna noodles. You can also grill your vegetables if you prefer. I’ve done it that way too and it’s great, but this time we are  taking a little help where we can get it😊. You can also add any vegetable that you like, eggplant, asparagus, spinach, there are so many combinations. Have at it! Make it your own!

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Slice up all your vegetables and place them in a large zip lock bag.

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Pour the dressing over the vegetables, close the zip lock bag and rub the marinade all over the vegetables to cover them.

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Lay the vegetables out in a single layer onto sheet pans, and place them into a preheated 400 degree oven to roast for about 15 minutes until nicely caramelized and slight char is achieved.

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While the vegetables are roasting, melt the butter and olive oil together in a large sauté pan.

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Add the sliced onions and a little salt and pepper to the melted butter and oil mixture, and slowly sauté them until they are soft, sweet and light golden brown. Also add the chopped garlic to the onions and cook until fragrant.

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Next mix the pesto into the ricotta cheese.

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In a greased baking dish, cover the bottom with about 1 c of the tomato sauce.

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Place the lasagna noodles on top of the sauce..

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Layer 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, the roasted vegetables, the onions, and mozzarella cheese and more sauce, on top of the lasagna noodles. Repeat this 2 more times, finishing the last layer with sauce and cheese.

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Spray some foil with cooking spray(so it won’t stick to the melted cheese) and cover the lasagna. Place it in a 375 degree oven and bake for 50 minutes. Uncover and cook about 10 more minutes until the cheese melts and lasagna is hot and bubbly.

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Enjoy with a nice garden salad!

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna (Yields: 8-10 Servings)

Ingredients:

2 TBS Olive Oil

1 TBS Butter

1c Italian Dressing

1/2c Prepared Basil Pesto

15 oz Ricotta Cheese

1 28oz Jar Marinara Sauce

1 Box No Boil Oven Ready Lasagna Noodles

2-3 Small Zucchini, sliced

1 Red Bell Pepper, seeded

1 Green Bell Pepper, seeded

1 Yellow Bell Pepper, seeded

2 Medium Onions, sliced

3 Garlic Cloves, minced

2c Shredded Mozzerella Cheese

Procedure:

  1. Place sliced zucchini and seeded peppers in a zip lock bag, pour dressing over them. Close the bag, and rub the dressing all over the vegetables. Place the seasoned vegetables on a baking sheet in a single layer, and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
  2. Saute the onions and garlic, with a little salt and pepper, in a large sauté pan with melted butter and oil until soft and golden.
  3. Combine the pesto and ricotta cheese together in a small bowl.
  4. Spread 1c of marinara sauce on the bottom of a greased 13 x 9 inch baking dish.
  5. Layer 1/3 of the lasagna noodles, the ricotta mixture, the roasted vegetables, the onions, the mozzerella cheese, and the marinara sauce, in that order. Repeat this 2 more times ending with the sauce and mozzerella cheese.
  6. Cover the lasagna with oiled  aluminum foil, and place in a 375 degree oven for 50 minutes. Remove the foil and return to the oven for 10 more minutes.

Rice and Beans

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When I first met my husband, and started enjoying the many Puerto Rican foods that his family ate, it opened up a whole new world of exciting foods and flavors for me. Not only did I learn about where these dishes came from, and who the recipes were passed down from, but I was fortunate to have my mother in law teach me how to cook them. I would go over once a week and watch her make many dishes but rice and beans was one that I definitely had to learn. I would watch her, ask questions and started to make the dish along side of her to eventually learn how to cook it on my own. Of course, like many families, there were no written recipes to follow so I had to learn from site, smell, taste, and texture. There were many trials and errors but eventually I got it down. Every family has there own variation, and they are all good. This is the one I learned and still make at least twice a week per my husbands request. One of the biggest compliments is when my mother in law told me that I got it, and I was spot on. That was a great feeling 🙂 Nothing in my opinion can ever taste as good as your Mom’s, but I’m happy to pass this recipe on to all of you to try.

The type of pot that I use and most Puerto Ricans have in their kitchen is a caldero. It is an aluminum cast pot with a lid, IMUSA is a popular brand, and they are pretty inexpensive. I think mine was $20.00 or less. Rice and beans are a great side dish that pretty much goes with any protein, whether its roasted chicken, pork, beef, or fish. You can even eat it on it’s own because there is lots of protein in the beans making it a complete meal. I like to use Goya products, because of course that is what I was told is best. The Goya rice that I like to use is the medium grain rice. If you can’t find Goya Alcaparado in your market, some don’t carry it, you can use another brand of pimento stuffed green olives and add some capers to it as well. I like to use pinto beans or gondules (pigeon peas) but there are also other beans that are fine to use too. Whatever you like, go for it and enjoy. Or as they say in Puerto Rico,

Buen Provecho!!

 

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Start by gathering your ingredients and measure them out. This is fairly quick and easy but it’s good to be ready to just add them all to the pot.

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Heat your pot on medium high, add the olive oil, Recaito,  Sazon, Adobo, and tomato sauce. Simmer these together until fragrant.

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IMG_1855Add the water and salt to taste. This may taste a little on the salty side at this point but that is ok. Once it is all cooked into the rice it will not taste salty in the finished dish. Bring this all to a boil.

IMG_1856Once the liquid comes to a boil, add in the rice and stir it all together. Bring this all back up to a boil, and reduce to simmer with the lid off. At this point do not stir the rice mixture anymore.

IMG_1877Once the water has simmered down to pretty much the level of the rice, cover it, reduce the heat to low, and let it cook for 25 more minutes. Do not peak or stir it. trust me, it will be okay!

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After 25 minutes, turn off the heat, remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork. It should be cooked through and not crunchy or mushy, but perfectly wonderful! If it needs more time no worries, just cover the pot and cook a little longer until ready.

 

Rice and Beans (Yields: 4-6 Servings)

Ingredients:

2 TBS Olive Oil

1 1/2 TBS Goya Recaito

3 TBS Goya Tomato Sauce

1 Packet Goya Sazon

2 tsp Goya Adobo

3 TBS Alcaparado

1 Can Goya Pinto Beans or Gondules, drained

1 tsp salt, to taste

3 1/2 c Water

2 c Goya Medium Grain Rice

 

Procedure:

1. Heat a Caldero or large pot on medium high. Add the olive oil, Recaito, Adobo, Sazon, and tomato sauce. Heat until fragrant.

2. Add the Alcaparado and drained beans and stir to combine.

3. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil.

4. Once the water is boiling, add the rice and stir to combine. Bring back to a boil, lower the heat to medium and simmer uncovered until the liquid has boiled down to the level of the rice. Do not stir anymore.

5. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low and cook for 25 minutes. Do not lift the lid to peek into the pot, or stir the rice. I know, it’s tempting, but don’t.

6. After 25 minutes, turn off the heat, remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork before serving.