Cheesy broccoli orzo (4 servings)

Sometimes my stomach's rumblings are more eloquent than my mouth's... worderings.

Some days, I excitedly plop down in front of the blog with a clever, funny, or unique intro ready to go, the words flying from my fingers almost as quickly as they flash, lightning-like, into my brain.

Other times (like right now), I thunk myself into my chair with a weary, "I guess I should update the blog," as the cursor blinks at me on the blank template, a mocking middle finger flashing in front of my empty head. "This recipe is... good," I start to type, my brain carb-addled and sun-tired from the holiday weekend. 

But maybe there's something to be said for a simple introduction for an easy yet delicious recipe. So here you go:

Pasta + cheese + broccoli = Creamy goodness.

Enjoy. (And happy day-late Independence Day!)

You will need:

  • 1 cup dry orzo pasta
  • 1 head broccoli, chopped into small florets
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (Gouda works nicely too!)
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped

Steps:

  1. Start a pot of water boiling for the pasta. Once the water boils, cook the orzo according to the package directions. When 3 minutes remain, add the broccoli to the boiling water. Rinse and drain the orzo and broccoli.
  2. Return the orzo and broccoli to the hot stockpot, adding in the cheeses, butter, and 1/4 cup milk. Stir well to melt the cheese. Season to taste with salt, adding more milk if the sauce becomes too thick. Fold in the chopped tomato and serve.

Zucchini chips (or How to Eat a Whole Zucchini Without Really Trying)

These were thin and light enough that the breeze blew a couple out of my hand after I took a picture!

I read somewhere once that people crave crispy foods when they're angry because the crunch provides a physical release for stress. In that case, I must be angry all the time, because as long as I'm awake, there's a pretty good chance I'm craving something crunchy and salty.

And thanks to a recipe sent to me by my lovely mother-in-law, I've found a healthy, low-calorie way to satisfy that craving! Zucchini chips are easy to make (although they do take quite a while to bake in the oven), crispy, golden, and delicious. And since they require only a tiny spritz of oil, I can't imagine they'd rack up many calories at all. So what are you waiting for?

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • Zucchini
  • Oil in spray form (I used olive oil in my Misto sprayer, but if you don't have one of those, I'd imagine any olive oil, coconut oil, or canola oil in spray form would work well.)
  • Kosher salt
  • Optional seasoning, such as garlic powder, crushed oregano, or chipotle powder

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 225° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or non-stick foil and set aside.
  2. Slice the zucchini very thinly -- I recommend a mandoline slicer if you have one. Lay the zucchini slices between two paper towels for several minutes to draw out some of the moisture.
  3. Lay the zucchini slices in one layer on the baking tray. Spritz them with oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt (this will help draw out more moisture to make them crispy.) If desired, sprinkle with a tiny bit of seasoning (I used roasted garlic powder).
  4. Bake zucchini chips for 1-2 hours, depending on thickness of the slices. (I sliced mine at 2 mm and they took an hour and 20 minutes to get crispy.) You'll know they're done when they're golden brown and dry.

Supposedly, these last for three days in an airtight container, but I wouldn't know, since I downed them all in less than 10 minutes.

Dragon noodles (4 servings)

Everybody loves dragons. Everybody loves noodles. So who wouldn't love dragon noodles?

I (very loosely) based this recipe on Budget Bytes' recipe, eliminating the egg, adding ginger, and pumping up the veggies and protein. The nice thing about this recipe is that depending on how much sriracha you use, you can end up with gentle Figment levels of dragonness or raging Hungarian Horntail levels. For my part, I made it Trogdor level -- filled with majesty but still able to burninate some peasants.

This dish is vegan, and with some slight modifications, it can be gluten-free too!

Click here for printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 8 oz dry lo mein (rice) noodles
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup or agave
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce (or tamari or coconut aminos, if choosing gluten-free option)
  • 1 Tbsp grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup water or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 - 2 Tbsp sriracha, depending on heat preference
  • 8 oz cooked/prepared protein of choice (I used West Soy's seitan strips and chopped them into smaller pieces)
  • handful fresh chopped cilantro
  • handful grated carrots
  • handful sliced snowpeas
  • 2 green onions, sliced

Steps:

  1. Cook noodles according to package directions.
  2. In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Use a small bowl or jar to combine the maple syrup, soy sauce, ginger, water or broth, and sriracha. Set aside.
  3. Once cooked, drain the noodles and return them to the pot they were cooked in. Add in the protein, cilantro, carrots, snow peas, and green onions; toss gently to combine. Serve warm.

Produce spotlight: Microgreens

Farmers' markets are the perfect place to try new foods and for several reasons. First, they give growers, bakers, and artisans the opportunity to sell interesting, uncommon foods that might not sell as well in large grocery stores. Second, they allow customers to ask questions about the products -- how they're grown, where they're from, and how best to prepare them. (Many stands also offer samples and recipes!) Third, that direct interaction with customers gives sellers immediate feedback, allowing them to customize their offerings from week to week, focusing on what customers request instead of what supermarkets (often unrealistically) demand.

A couple Saturdays ago at Chapel Hill Farmers' Market (By the way, how did I get so lucky to have a biweekly market directly across the street from me?!), I bought a box of microgreens from Open Door Farm's stand. They looked a little like alfalfa sprouts, and I was drawn to their delicate, tangled stalks in hues of eggplant, mustard, ivory, and ruby. According to Open Door's website, "microgreens are basically the harvested seedlings of vegetable and herb plants," but unlike sprouts, they are grown in soil. Open Door Farm offered a few different mixes of microgreens, but I went with the rainbow mix, a combination of arugula, amaranth, beets, broccoli, cabbage, chard, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. What a variety! 

After some online research, I found a few ways to use the rainbow microgreens in my own kitchen and took photos of the results throughout that week.

Here, colorful microgreens garnish a bowl of black bean soup sprinkled with crushed tortilla chips and drizzled with chipotle sour cream.

They added a crunchy layer in a sandwich wrap filled with sliced apples, cheddar cheese, and whole-grain mustard.

Microgreens gave an extra flavor accent in my favorite brunch sandwich (inspired by Lititz, PA's Tomato Pie): melted brie, scrambled egg, and raspberry jam on toasted sunflower bread!

Microgreens don't stand up well to heat, so they're best used in cold dishes, as finishing garnishes, or in the very last step of cooking. I'd buy them again to add to salads, throw in stir fries, or maybe even try in a smoothie. 

What will you try at the farmers' market this week?

Pineapple-black bean potluck salad (6 servings)

For someone who tries to use local, in-season ingredients, I sure eat a hell of a lot of pineapple. Sigh.

Pineapple and black beans are not new friends on this blog. They've snuggled together in a tortilla before, smothered in a spicy, silky sauce and topped with cheese. So when I saw this Budget Bytes recipe, which features several classic flavor combinations (Pineapple and black beans! Cilantro and pineapple! Black beans and lime!), I knew I had to try it. Its contrasting sweet and acidic flavors, plus the chewy/crunchy texture combo, make it an interesting dish, and its no-need-to-heat-me attitude make it perfect for a summertime picnic. It's also yet another meal to add to my growing list of dishes to prep on Sunday and eat for lunches throughout the week!

By the way, I want to give a quick shout-out to Whisk Carolina and Stacey Sprenz for ALL they were able to teach me about food photography in one short, interactive class. I think my pictures have already improved a lot, and I'm excited to continue trying out their techniques. Thank you again!

Pineapple-black bean potluck salad - 6 servings
(NEW!! Click here for a printable PDF!)

You will need:

Vinaigrette

  • Juice of 1 lime (3-4 Tbsp)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup (or agave, if you prefer)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • chipotle powder to taste

Salad

  • 1 1/2 cups dry bulgur wheat
  • 1/4  cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/3 cup toasted cashews
  • 15-oz can pineapple tidbits
  • 15-oz can black beans
  • one tomato (optional)

Steps:

  1. Add all the vinaigrette ingredients to a bowl or jar; whisk or shake to combine. Set aside.
  2. Cook the bulgur according to package directions. (Or read instructions here.) Allow it to cool.
  3. While it's cooling, roughly chop the cilantro leaves. Toast the cashews and chop roughly once they're cool enough. Drain the pineapple and black beans and chop the tomato, if using.
  4. Once the bulgur has cooled off, transfer it to a large serving bowl, along with the cilantro, cashews, pineapple, black beans, and optional tomato. Give the vinaigrette a final mix and pour over the salad; toss gently to combine. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

I stuck to the original recipe here, minus a few changes. First, I substituted maple syrup for the honey since the honey was the only ingredient preventing this recipe from being vegan. I also doubled the garlic powder, and I would double the cumin next time too. I added the chipotle powder for a little heat and the tomato just because I wanted to use what I had left in the fridge. I'd like to try this with another grain -- maybe farro or chewy wheat berries. I think couscous (not really a grain -- I know) would get too soggy, and quinoa's flavor might dominate the dish, but farro could be just right. I also think some sliced green onions would make a nice addition, along with chopped bell pepper (if your insides are more accommodating than mine.) Bring on the summer picnics!

The only thing that could have made this salad better was if I'd also had a spicy pineapple margarita from Calavera, my new favorite Carrboro hangout. ¡Dios mío! If you haven't tried this place yet, do yourself a favor and go. Go right now. Stop reading. Go.

Greek-inspired chickpea salad (4+ servings)

On the past couple Sundays, I've made up a big batch of something that can be stored in the fridge and warmed up for last-minute lunches during the week. One week it was a green bean and pasta salad, another week I made Mexican quinoa salad, and this week, I came up with a lower-carb version of this pasta salad. Filled with lemony brightness and hearty chickpeas, it's satisfying, healthy, and adaptable. It's another great dish to make this time of year, since the weather is warm but not much is growing just yet; in a few months, I'll be able to make it again with local produce! 

You will need:

  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 2 cups cut green beans (thawed if frozen)
  • 2-3 cups halved cherry tomatoes or chopped plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • zest of half a lemon (or more, if you like it really lemony!)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a rimmed skillet over medium heat. Once warm, add the chickpeas and cook, shaking the pan frequently, until chickpeas start to brown. (Shaking the pan keeps the chickpeas from becoming overly comfortable in their new home and celebrating by jumping up in the air and splattering oil all over the stovetop you just cleaned an hour earlier. ...Cocky little garbanzo bastards.)
  2. Add the garlic to the pan; cook and shake the pan for another minute. Transfer chickpeas and garlic to a large serving bowl.
  3. Add the remaining oil to the pan over medium heat. Add the green beans and cook for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the beans are just tender. Transfer them to the serving bowl.
  4. Add the tomatoes, mint leaves, oregano, lemon zest, and feta to the serving bowl. Toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or chilled.

In hotter months (and they'll be here before we know it), this could easily be made with un-toasted chickpeas and raw green beans for a speedy meal that requires no heat from the stove!

Portobello and pineapple-teriyaki burgers (4 servings)

Tell me those aren't the sexiest tan lines you've ever seen.

"The Sound of Sunshine," by Michael Franti & Spearhead, defines the auditory and visual sensations of warmer weather -- crashing ocean waves and friends chatting on the sand as the sun beats down from above. This Whole Foods recipe, on the other hand, epitomizes the tastes of summer in the candy-like sweetness of pineapple and the toasted earthiness of mushrooms made juicy by the grill. It's like a ray of sunshine for dinner. And who doesn't need that right now? This vegan, gluten-free-optional meal takes a little while to come together because of the time needed to marinate the mushrooms and pineapple, but the cooking step is a snap. Serve these burgers with a colorful bean salad and you've got a healthy, tasty preview of the coming summer!

You will need:

  • 4 portobello mushroom caps
  • 1-20 oz can pineapple rings in juice
  • 3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce (use tamari or coconut aminos for the GF option)
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup or brown sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • Lettuce (optional)
  • Buns (We used toasted pretzel rolls, but you could use hamburger buns, Hawaiian sweet rolls, or gluten-free buns)

Steps:

  1. Wipe off the mushroom caps with a damp paper towel. Use a spoon to scrape out the gills; pop out the stems. Place the mushroom caps in a wide, shallow baking dish. Add the pineapple rings to the dish, reserving the juice for the next step.
  2. Next, make the marinade. Combine 3/4 cup reserved pineapple juice with the soy sauce, maple syrup, garlic, ginger, and sesame oil; whisk ingredients until smooth. (I zapped the mixture in the microwave for 15-20 seconds to make the maple syrup easier to mix in.) Pour the marinade over the mushrooms and pineapple rings; cover and set aside, turning occasionally, for 1-2 hours.
  3. After the marinating time, heat a grill, grill pan, or electric griddle to medium-high and oil the grill surface. While it's heating up, remove the mushrooms and pineapple from the marinade and set aside. Transfer the marinade liquid to a microwave-safe bowl and cook for a minute or two, checking frequently, until the liquid has reduced. Alternately, boil the liquid in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it's thickened. (This will be your glaze.)
  4. Grill mushrooms and pineapple for 4-6 minutes, gently turning them once after basting with the glaze. The mushrooms won't get very grill-striped, but the pineapple rings will develop gorgeous caramel-colored ribbons as the sugars break down.
  5. Place mushrooms on buns, top with pineapple (and lettuce, if desired), and another coating of glaze.

Bring on the sunshine, please!

Vegan skillet supper with greens, beans, and sausage (4-5 servings)

Skillet suppers are glorious. If composed well, they boast all the nutritional necessities of a filling meal, plus they require very little cleanup. This is one of those meals, and it has two added bonuses: It's vegan and it doesn't take long to make. The sausage, with its crisp and browned exterior and slight kick, pairs well with the creamy beans, brothy tomatoes, and chewy, just-barely-cooked greens. So what are you waiting for?

You will need:

  • 1 Tbsp olive or canola oil
  • 2 vegan Italian sausages, sliced into thin rounds (I used -- and would recommend -- Field Roast brand)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 15-oz can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup water or broth
  • One bunch collards or kale, washed, de-stemmed, and cut or torn into ribbons

Steps:

  1. Heat the oil in a large rimmed skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sausage. Cook and stir until the sausage is browned fairly evenly.
  2. Add the garlic to the pan; cook and stir another minute.
  3. Lower the heat to medium. Add in the bean, the undrained tomatoes, and the water or broth; stir gently to combine. Pile the greens on top and cover. Let cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the kale/collards are bright green and wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Hardy greens should be in season in most places in the U.S. right now!