Cheesy Asparagus Tart


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After all the filling holiday meals I decided to go vegetarian the week between Christmas and New Year’s. So l was looking for some creative ideas, as well as a way to clean out the freezer and unused veggies… I came up with this (Inspired by Carla Hall’s Acorn Squash Tart). It took all of five minutes to assemble and 30 minutes to bake – and I guarantee you everyone will ohh and ahh. I posted a photo on social media (because yes, I’m that girl) and my notifications blew up!

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Toasted and Roasted Vegetable Israeli Couscous



So I’ve had this jar of tri-color Israeli couscous in my cupboard for awhile now. Wasn’t sure what to do with it. But after a little research I decided roasting and toasting stuff to go in it was my best bet. Sometimes great things happen by accident. I just started throwing stuff in there and voila…. the result was pretty darn awesome. Savory, nutty, spicy… and that mysterious “umami” taste everyone’s talking about. Technically, the term is borrowed from the Japanese, meaning “savory taste”. But we use it meaning “beyond savory”… that something extra that makes you say, “wow!”

Anyway, the beauty of this dish is that you can swap out ingredients (like the veggies) for your favorites. Just be sure to prepare them the same way. Be sure to think about the type of vegetable you’re using to make sure it will go well with the spices used.

It’s a little labor intensive, but makes a huge batch you can eat on for days. Trust me, it’s worth it. Also, there are a few unique ingredients that if purchased in the grocery store, can be pretty pricey. Find a local International Market in your area (you’ll be surprised how many are out there!)… you will pay 1/3 of the price there and get twice as much. That’s where I purchased the turmeric, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, saffron and even the sliced almonds (1/2 lb bag for $4!).

Ingredients
2 cups of Israeli couscous (tri-colored optional. Sometimes called “pearl” couscous)
3 cups low-sodium veggie stock
1 cup water
1 cup fresh broccoli florettes
1 cup fresh cauliflower
1 whole red bell pepper (stemmed, seeded and julienned)
1/2 cup asparagus tips *and 2″long each)
1 cup chopped tomatoes (I used canned, drained and rinsed because that’s all I had)
1 16oz can chickpeas – rinsed
1/2 a medium sweet onion – diced
1 tblspn minced garlic
3 sprigs green onion – diced
1/2 cup sliced almonds (use less if desired – I love almonds!)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp whole mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp saffron
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Preparation
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

This is a perfect opportunity to organize your mise en place.

Dice sweet onion, mince garlic, cut asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper and green onion according to ingredients above. Toss cut asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and bell pepper lightly in olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Spread out on a cookie sheet into one even layer. You may need to do this in two batches.

Ready To Cook?
Place cookie sheet of veggies on top rack of oven (or use broiler). Rack should be roughly two inches from the top. Cook for 15 minutes or until broccoli and cauliflower edges start to get brown and crispy. You can smell when they’re done – yum! While that’s cooking,  drizzle olive oil and heat in  a large soup pot or dutch oven, over medium flame. Add sweet onion, garlic, saffron, turmeric powder and a pinch or two of sea salt. Saute until onions are translucent.

Once garlic and sweet onion are softened, add couscous to the pot and stir consistently. This will toast the couscous and will keep it from becoming mushy. Toast for 2-3 minutes… couscous will start to turn a slight color. Add chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil. Add another pinch of salt and pepper.

While that is boiling, drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil on a saute pan. Once hot, toss in mustard seeds and cumin seeds. They will sputter and splatter so be careful. This only takes a minute – so don’t burn them! You’ll suddenly smell the aromatic seeds and they are ready to throw in the pot of couscous. Reduce pot to simmer. Add roasted veggies, almonds, green onion, chickpeas, tomatoes and red pepper flakes. Stir until well mixed. Remove from heat when all liquid is absorbed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm or cold!

The Perfect Bite
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I’m about to tell you to stack your fork with a little bit of everything! However, there are so many ingredients in this – that might be impossible. So, take a few bites… you’ll be amazed how each bite will taste like a different dish! I love getting a taste of the earthy mustard or cumin seeds… then heat from pepper flakes, or smoky from the roasted vegetables. You’ll never get bored, bit after bite.

The Perfect Pairing
There are so many flavors happening here you want an uncomplicated wine. Try Cline Cellers 2010 Viognier. Cline’s Viognier offers rich and distinctive aromas of peaches, apricots, orange blossoms and honeysuckle which will compliment the smoky, earthiness of the spices in this dish.

The Perfect Health
I’ve heard so many people say that couscous is a grain. But, um, no. It is pasta. Believe it or not, it’s made from semolina. Often hand rolled and sprinkled with wheat flour to keep separated. Israeli couscous is toasted, rather than dried, which gives it a nutter flavor.

So is couscous healthy? Not necessarily. But it is a healthier option than most pastas. Especially since it’s generally paired with vegetables and not cheese. But it is a little “carby”. Read more HERE about the health pros and cons of our beloved couscous.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin in a Mustard Horseradish Sauce



Pork loin is such a great cut of meat. It’s versatile, inexpensive and easily impressive. And as far as pork goes, it is probably the healthiest way to enjoy some pig.  🙂 Simply by seasoning and searing the outside and roasting in a dutch oven you will have the juiciest, tastiest slices of meat you can imagine. I learned from Chef John’s video that if pork loin is cooked properly, you can cut it with your fork. If you follow this recipe your fork will glide though your meat like buddah (butter).

Most pork loins come 2 to a package… and because of their versatility you can make both pieces and use them to create amazing leftovers through the week.

I discovered this recipe HERE (scroll half way down).  With the exception of a couple of tweaks, it’s pretty much all his recipe. I love that Chef John shows the whole process on video. I suggest watching the whole thing. He makes it all pretty effortless.

Ingredients (makes 2-3 portions)
1-2 pork tenderloin, trimmed
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoons vegetable oil

Sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (smooth, not course)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons cream
1 teaspoon fresh chives – chopped finely
1-2 tablespoons cold butter

Preparation
Pre-heat oven 375 degrees.

Trim any of the silver tissue that might be on the tenderloin, though most come pre-trimmed now. There will be a little fat, but be sure to leave that alone. Your pork needs it to melt in the pan to brown it properly.

Ready To Cook?
Using a pan that can go from stove top to oven, pre-heat your oil on a medium burner. Sprinkle both sides of the tenderloin generously with the salt and pepper. Once your oil is ready – it should glisten – you want the meat to sizzle the SECOND it hits the oil or it won’t brown. Place your pork tenderloins in the pan. Leave them alone for 3-4 minutes. No seriously, LEAVE THEM ALONE! It’s tempting to pick up and peek to see if they’re browning every 20 seconds, but then of course, they won’t brown. Once ready, turn your meat over and the second side is going to brown in the oven. NOTE: The browning process is key to getting juicy meat. Don’t think you can skip this process. Unless of course, you’re a fan of shoe leather.

Cook in the 375 degree over for about 20 minutes. Use a meat thermometer – your pork tenderloin should be at an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Be sure to let your meat rest, uncut, for at least 10 minutes. The internal temperature will rise to 150-155 degrees while resting.

While the meat is resting comfortably on the cutting board, you can make your sauce. I do encourage you, once again, to watch Chef John’s video for this… he really takes the mystery out of making what might “sound” like a complicated sauce. But basically, you start by de-glazing the pan (while it’s still hot) that you cooked your pork in by pouring in the chicken stock and scraping up all the delicious little bits stuck to the bottom. Then add the horseradish, mustard and cayenne pepper. Whisk until fully blended and then pour in the cream. Bring to a simmering boil – you’ll see bubbles surfacing around the edges of the pan. Then remove from the heat and stir in the cold butter. I’m not sure how the science of this works, magic possibly, but this creates a very silky sauce.

Drizzle over sliced meat and sprinkle with chopped chives. Yes, you may name your first born after me.

The Perfect Bite
My perfect first bite is when the meat is warm and I swirl it through the horseradishy mustardy sauce. Then I like to add a little of whatever else is on my plate – a crunchy bite of asparagus, garlicy mashed potatoes… this is a meat that’s meant to play well with others.

The Perfect Pairing
Try the Twisted Oak Winery Viognier 2005 for its super-silky finish, plus it has a taste of allspice and white raisins. It’s a $20 bottle but since you’re making such an inexpensive dish… feel free to indulge here!

The Perfect Health
The spicy root of horseradish can be used as a natural treatment against rheumatic disorders and respiratory disorders, especially the superior respiratory ways. It is so beneficial because it is laden with a high amount of vitamin C and B complex, nutritive minerals (potassium, calcium, iron), natural antibiotics, enzymes etc. Read more HERE.

Garden Vegetable Pasta Bake


This is one of my favorite go-to meals, especially if unexpected company stops by… which happens frequently at my house. If your pantry is regularly stocked with an assortment of dried pastas and a few fresh garden vegetables (or even better – you have a vegetable garden in your yard!) you can whip this up on the spot… an hour’s time max!

Yields: 4-6 main course servings / 8-10 side dish servings

Ingredients
1 lb Fusilli or Rotini noodles (uncooked – I use Barilla Plus)
1/2 cup Vegan Parmesan
1 medium zucchini squash
1 medium yellow squash
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 cup asparagus tips
1 small sweet onion
1 medium red tomato (seeded – rind only)
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1 pinch each of what I call The Italian Big 5 (dried): thyme, basil, sage, oregano, rosemary
1.5 tablespoon kosher salt (divided)
1 teaspoon pepper as needed
2-3 tablespoons cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine (you can you veggie stock if you prefer)
2 tablespoons vegan butter

Preparation
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

This is where your veggie chopping skills come in. I’m going to list how I chop my vegetables for this dish, but change it up to your own preference!
Zucchini – trim ends and then chop whole zucchini into three 1.5″-2″ rounds. Then take each round and quarter length-wise.
Yellow Squash – slice into 1/8″ dials. If the squash is fairly fat at the end (more than 1.5″) cut dials in half. The goal is bite-size.
Red & Green Bell Peppers – I cut them julienne. Which is a fancy word for skinny strips. Simply trim top and bottom off pepper and discard. Core and remove seeds and spines. Then slices in 1/4″ slivers about 1.5″ long.
Asparagus – I use just the tips because often the center can be a little woody if not cooked long enough. I cut the tips off about 2″ in. Then I reserve the remainder of the stalk for making soups or purees.
Sweet Onion – peel and dice finely… this should be for flavor and not something you want bite-size.
Garlic – same as the onion above.
Tomato – Slice in half and core out seeds and spines. We just want the fleshy part. Cut into 1″ chunks.

Ready To Cook?
Put a large pot of water on medium heat. Drizzle olive oil and add a tablespoon of salt to the water. I use a good amount of salt when cooking pasta… I’ve heard your water should taste like the ocean when you’re done. Infusing your pasta water with salt is better than adding salt to your meal later.

Once your water comes to a boil add your pasta and continue cooking until it’s just shy of al dente.  Remember, it’s going to cook a little more in the oven so we don’t want to overdo it. I prefer to use the fasilli or rotini noodles because the corkscrew shape holds the seasonings best… but feel free to use whatever your favorite pasta is – I’ve used to bowtie with this as well, which makes for a festive looking dish.

Using as cast iron skillet (or any nonstick), pour in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. While bringing it to a medium heat toss in The Italian Big 5 (dried thyme, basil, sage, oregano, rosemary). Once your oil is ready (it sizzles with a drop of water), gently add in your onion and garlic first. Stir well so that the dried herbs are worked through the oil, onions and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes then slowly add the veggies in this order (based on cooking time): Peppers, asparagus, zucchini, squash. Reserve the tomato, which won’t be added until ready to bake. Pour the 1/4 cup of white wine over veggies and continue sauteing for 5-6 minutes or until the zucchini has become tender and can easily be stabbed with a fork.

Drain pasta and transfer to a large baking dish (a lasagna dish works best). Add diced tomatoes. Then pour all the contents from your skillet over the pasta including olive oil/wine reduction that’s happened in the pan while sauteing. This is going to be the sauce. TIP: If your pan has become too dry while sauteing, you may have overcooked your veggies. Just add more olive oil and a splash of white wine (or veggie stock) and de-glaze the bottom of your pan. Add that to your pasta-veggie mix.

Immediately add 2 tablespoons of Vegan margarine so it can melt. Add half of your Vegan Parmesan cheese and mix thoroughly until everything is coated and you can see that the herbs are distributed evenly.

Taste your dish to see if additional salt and pepper is needed. TIP: Don’t assume it needs salt – salted pasta may have added plenty. Always taste your food before seasoning!

Sprinkle top with remaining Parmesan and bake uncovered on middle rack for 20 minutes (or until cheese starts to brown at edges).

TIP: If making extra to freeze for later, do not bake the portion you want freeze. Freeze after it’s cooled. Should last in freezer up to a month.

The Perfect Bite
This is one of my favorite kind of dishes to get a perfect bite from. I love stacking my fork with a twirly little noodle, a juicy piece of sausage, a buttery bite of zucchini and sweet sliver of red pepper. Oh, my mouth is watering just thinking about it! I love the nutty Parmesan and lightness of this invisible sauce.

The Perfect Pairing
This is a great summer dish so I prefer to pair it with a chilled glass of wine. Now, I’ve long since been a rosé snob. Pink wine? Really? My mind immediately goes to that giant box of Almaden Pink Blush Chablis that sits warm on the edge of my mom’s kitchen counter. Sorry Mom, but really?

However, rosé has come a long way… and I’m starting to warm up to them… well, at least when they’re chilled (again Mom, really?). Try pairing this dish with this French Rosé Note Bleue Cotôs De Provence Rosé 2009 – it’s sweet and earthy. A perfect compliment to the buttery pasta and veggies and peppery sausage. Served chilled, about 47 degrees.

The Perfect Health
Using Barilla Plus, reduces carbs and adds protein to any meal.  It’s made from legumes such as Chickpeas and Lentils as well as Egg Whites, Spelt, Barley, Flaxseed, Oat Fiber, and Oats.  Be sure check the box for cooking instructions – Barilla Plus can take longer to boil. Unlike many wheat or whole grain pastas that taste a little, well, cardboardy. This one is delicious! And I’ve found it holds up better in soups (as in, doesn’t swell and get mushy).  Read more here about its nutritional value.

Sweet Potato Orzo with Mascarpone Sauce, Asparagus Tips & Truffle Oil


I love discovering a new food and on a recent trip to Pike’s Market in Seattle I stumbled across a dried pasta vendor selling Pappardelle‘s products. They had a myriad of flat cut and pasta blends… but the one that sounded best to me was the Sweet Potato Orzo. Oh my heavenly word… I purchased a pound of it (it’s actually cheaper to do so online… check the above link).

I couldn’t wait to get home and start experimenting! Keep an eye out – I also bought chocolate linguine… and I’m trying that out next week!

I started researching a few ideas of how to best bring out the flavors of this new pasta… and came up with the following recipe. The final touch was when I added white truffle oil.. prior to that, it was a good taste. But I didn’t get that “wow” factor until I added a couple of drops of the precious truffle oil – also a Pike’s Market treasure. I’m always looking to get that “oh… my… gosh…” response when I ask a willing friend to try a bite. Definitely got it this time.

Ingredients
(serves 6)
1lb Sweet Potato Orzo
1/3 cup fresh asparagus tips (cut 1″ to 1.5″ tip off of stalk)
1 clove garlic minced
1/3 cup shelled, toasted pine nuts (toast your self at 3 min on top rack of a 350 degree oven)
4 tblspns butter
7 oz mascarpone or cream cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp of Truffle oil for drizzling

Ready To Cook?
Melt butter in skillet and sauté garlic until golden brown. Add asparagus tips and continue stirring for 3 minutes and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in 6-8 quarts of rapidly boiling salted water until al dente. While pasta is cooking, add the mascarpone (or cream cheese) to the garlic/butter mixture and heat on low until asparagus tips are tender. Be careful not too overcook or asparagus will become mushy. Should be done in 3-5 minutes.

Drain pasta (don’t rinse), toss in the Parmesan and pine nuts and transfer to serving dish. Stir in sauce. Top each serving with a sprinkle of Parmesan and 1-2 drops of white truffle oil. Be careful as a little goes a long way. Serve at once.

The Perfect Bite
Be sure to get a little sweet potato orzo, pine nut and asparagus on your fork. The blend of sweet potato and pine nut with the buttery cheesiness of the mascarpone… will be reminiscent of the candied yam casserole your mom used to make at Thanksgiving. But combined with the asparagus, Parmesan and truffle oil… your pallet will be surprised with a profile of favors you might not have experienced before. Enjoy!

The Perfect Pairing
What better pairing for this unique blend of flavors than a blend of reds from Cline Cellars? Cline’s Cashmere 2007 is a silky blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache. With a purchase of this 2007 Cashmere… Cline Cellars will donate $25,000 to the Breast Cancer Network of Strength’s Ride to Empower. Visit their website to learn more.

Did You Know?
To quote Julia Child, “Don’t be afraid!” Truffle Oil is one of those mysterious ingredients we hear about on Food Network cooking shows like Top Chef Masters… but most of us really have no idea what to do with it. White Truffles (Tuber aestivum), often called Autumn Truffles, are even more rare than Black Truffles. Their distinctive, subtle flavor uniquely complements pasta, cheese and fish dishes.

Red & Orange Roughy


This is one of my favorite dinners, and probably one the most healthy entrees I’ve created so far.

Orange Roughy are a deliciously light and ‘non-fishy’ deep sea fish that’s a little pricier than the more common Tilapia… but worth every penny.

Ingredients (per filet)
Orange Roughy filets
Fresh Rosemary, 2-3 sprigs
Sweet roasted red bell peppers from jar, 2-3 strips
Butter, 1 tsp
White wine, 1/4 cup (*see pairing below)
Course salt, pinch
Black & red pepper, pinch
Panko bread crumbs, pinch
Asparagus, 5-7 spears
Olive oil, 1/2 tsp

Preparation

Fish

  • Preheat over to 375 degrees.
  • Tear off a large enough piece of tinfoil to form a boat-like baking dish (see photo), crimping edges up enough to hold liquid.
  • Place filet in boat (be sure it’s thawed if you’re using frozen Roughy).
  • Wedge a couple of rosemary sprigs under and around the filet.
  • Pour wine evenly over fish. It shouldn’t cover the fish completely… only about 1/4 to 1/2 way.
  • Take the tsp of butter and divide into tiny pats and place evenly throughout fish.
  • Pull 2-3 strips of the sweet roasted peppers out of the jar and lay atop the filet.
  • Sprinkle pinches of salt & peppers across fish
  • Sprinkle Panko crumbs across fish. Make sure this is the last step so they don’t get soggy.

Asparagus

  • On a non-stick baking tray, lightly drizzle olive oil over asparagus spears. Roll spears to completely cover with the small amount of olive oil
  • Sprinkle with course salt

Ready To Cook?
Put tinfoil fish boat(s) on a baking tray or right on to the middle rack. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. The narrow end of the filet will start to brown and curl up when fish is done. Move your second rack to the very top rung. Place baking tray of asparagus spears there and bake simultaneously with the Orange Roughy. Asparagus will be done in 15-20 minutes. If you do not have a 2nd rack you can use the broiler. But only cook spears for 5 minutes under the 500 degree broiler.

When both fish and asparagus are done, place asparagus in center of plate, then place filet on top of the asparagus. Drizzle leftover juices from the tinfoil boat across both.

The Perfect Bite
Stack your fork with an inch of rich, green asparagus spear, a flaky bite of buttery roughy and be sure to include a little of the sweet roasted red pepper. Enjoy!

The Perfect Pairing
Now, I’m not against pairing red wine with fish. But… I also wear white shoes after Labor Day. So, perhaps you shouldn’t trust me. Regardless, if you have a red-wine-only policy… please, feel free. Just find a gentle red with light tannins like Washington’s Red Diamond Cabernet. However, even though I prefer reds over whites on any given day, with this particular dish… I wanted to find something crisp and fresh that wouldn’t over-power the entree’s delicate flavors… yet wouldn’t be wimpy standing all on its own. Meet<!–DOMAINE LAPORTE –> Henri Bourgeois’s Pouilly Fume La Porte de L’Abbaye 2007. The light, yet smoky French Pouilly Fume perfectly compliments the earthiness of the roasted red peppers and rosemary, all the while balancing the buttery-ness of the roughy. *I would recommend using this same wine for the 1/4 cup in the ingredients above).

Did You Know?
Fish and seafood is one of the “power foods” that have a multitude of health benefits that include inproving physical, emotional and mental health levels. And Did You Know that Rosemary, beyond being a flavouring-enhancer for certain foods and its use in cosmetics, has been used as an extract with a long history of medicinal uses too. It has been used to treat a wide range of ailments, including stomach upsets, digestive disorders and headaches.