Orecchiette with Balsamic Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Let’s talk about weeknight dinners. A Monday dinner no less. Could there be a less appealing night to get in the kitchen and dirty up a ton of dishes?

Last night, after hiking up the hill to my apartment, peeling off layer after layer of cold weather gear, slipping off my boots and putting on pajamas, I plopped down on the couch and just stared at my kitchen. I was starving. I needed to eat. But all I wanted in that moment was my make-believe cabana boy (who doubles as a chef) to come cook me dinner.

Alas. My cabana boy seemed to have the night off. So I reminded myself how therapeutic cooking can be, even when your body and mind are tired, and got to it.

The brussel sprouts were two days shy of being thrown out. The orecchiette hadn’t been opened despite taking up valuable real estate in my cupboard for over a month now. The butter and the cheese, well, that was my reward to myself for getting off the couch.

I cooked in silence for once. Usually I jam some music or have MSNBC on in the background, but the sounds of the knife thunking on the cutting board, the hissss of gas when I turned on the oven and even the crinkle and tear of the parchment paper I used for roasting the sprouts was a soothing back drop. And there it was, I found my zen.

It was a nice little moment, and something I need to remind myself I can have every day if I like. I have a tendency to stop before I even start when it comes to weeknight cooking, don’t you? I have these big ideas for, let’s get real, ambitious meals, and once I get home the idea of cooking for more than 15 minutes sounds completely overwhelming. (Not to mention the dishes. Oy! The dishes!) But these meals can, and should, be simple but special in some way. So here are my weeknight cooking tips:

  1. Start with a pantry staple (in this case, pasta)
  2. Add an ingredient you don’t normally use (brussel sprouts)
  3. Boost flavor (balsamic here, but think spices and herbs too)
  4. Indulge a bit (butter and cheese)
  5. BONUS TIP: add an appetizer

Regarding that last one – start keeping some good bread/crackers and cheese in your house. You’re not going to eat the whole loaf or inhale the entire wedge of cheese, but a couple slices of each with a glass of wine while you wait for dinner to finish can be really nice. I probably have more cheese in my house than I know what to do with, and am perpetually freezing my favorite loaf of bread.  These odd habits have served me well for both the average weeknight and for entertaining unexpected guests.

But let’s get to it – here’s what you’ll be making for dinner tonight! Continue reading

Simple Pico de Gallo

I love cooking on vacation…especially when I have a bunch of hungry tummies who are just aching to eat. So when The BF, Scott and Jonah walked in from the grocery store (and woke me from my nap) yelling, “Alejandraaaaa!!! Come make something for us to eeeeaaaat!” I couldn’t really be annoyed.

When I’m on vacation I don’t want to cook fancy, hard to make food. I want to eat fresh, familiar, soul warming stuff. And for me, that’s Mexican food. The first two things I made the boys was my Best Guacamole Ever and Simple Pico de Gallo. Add tortilla chips and a stack of Skip-Bo cards (okay, and booze) and you pretty much have your afternoon laid out for you.

If that bowl of heaping freshness doesn’t make you happy, I don’t know what will.

Two things I *always* buy too much of at the store: tomatoes and onions and garlic. I don’t know why but I do. Lucky for me, these are three of the five or so ingredients you’ll need to make this super simple side/topping/scoopable dish. Plus, the farmers markets are just brimming with tomatoes right now! So go! Get to it! Recipe after the jump!

Enjoy!

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Stuffed Peppers

You know those “Mom” dishes that always make you think of being home for Sunday dinners?

Yeah. This isn’t one of those for me…but I know plenty of people who have Moms that made stuffed peppers for Sunday dinners! :)

This recipe is in my Weight Watchers cookbook…and like I said…I’m workin’ on my fitness. It’s surprisingly flavorful thanks to all the herbs and cheese. Ok, confession, I put way more than a 1/4 cup of cheese. Suck it, Points!! A girl needs somethin’!

Can I apologize for the lack of pictures? It’s hard to take an appetizing photo of a hunk of ground beef. Go ahead. You try. Send me the best one.

Okay, moving on to cooks notes: use fresh herbs. I don’t care how much they cost! Use ‘em! It’s totally worth it! You’ll thank me. Also, don’t use green bell peppers. I know, they’re cheaper! But they’re also bitter tasting, and they don’t soften well. It just makes you not want to eat the healthiest part of the whole dish.

Enjoy!

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Tomato Cucumber Orzo Salad

More beach recipes! I served up this one with grilled chicken and the cilantro garlic yogurt sauce. It was a greek-ish inspired meal…of sorts.

Another non-recipe recipe here. The BF really loves tomato-cucumber salad, I wanted a pasta salad and love orzo and ta-da! A side dish!

Unlike potato salads, and even guacamole, this wasn’t heavy at all. It was cold to the chicken’s hot, cool to the bite of the yogurt and lightly crunchy thanks to the cucumbers.

I hope you like it as much as we did :)

Enjoy!

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The Best Guacamole. Ever.

What goes better with carne asada tacos than guacamole? Um. Nothing.

I love guacamole. It’s my favorite summer snack. Sometimes the avocados don’t even last long enough to make it into the bowl for mashing…I just love to eat them with a sprinkle of salt.

Everyone has a trick to making the best guac ever. Well, mine is cumin. Balk at it if you want, but it totally changes the stuff. Including it is to make your summer bbq memorable. To not include it is to, well, miss out.

Ok, not really.

Enjoy!

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Juicy Turkey Meatballs with Ramps and Cilantro

Know what I love? Meatballs. Know what I love even more than meatballs? Spaghetti and meatballs!

So I set out to make spag and balls (a phrase my very “New York” friend Phil taught me) one night. I started with a Best of Cooking Light Italian Favorites meatball recipe as inspiration…and I use the term inspiration because the only thing similar to the Cooking Light recipe and my meatballs was that they both are made of meat.

I’ll date this recipe when I say this, but it was the height of ramp-madness at the farmers markets when I made it. I had ramps…I had to use them…and I wasn’t going to make Spring Pad Thai or Spring Risotto…I was on a meatball kick! (Has anyone noticed by now that my dinner and cooking choices are driven, largely, by freak cravings that must be satisfied?) I also had a large bunch of cilantro that was intended for an herb salad I don’t think I ever got around to making. These ingredients had to be used or else my market buys were going to go bad.

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Valentine’s Day Dinner

It’s Valentine’s day this weekend! Whether you’re celebrating your supremely sexy, single self…or you have a significant other, I think cooking a special meal every now and then is important!

I made this dinner for myself last night actually…and quite by mistake. I needed protein (lots of working out with all this snowed-in business) so chicken was a must. I love brussel sprouts (more on that in another post later this week) and had a whole bag on hand. I had to move corn meal out of the way while I was trying to get sugar for a blueberry cake (again, more on that later) and saw a recipe on the side of the bag for polenta and thought, “Hey! I’ve never made polenta before!” And so my meal was born.

This is an easy meal to put together (trust me!), but looks and tastes delish!

Enjoy!

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