Zucchini, Walnut and Feta Cakes with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce

My life is pretty much complete now.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that I adore Cooking Light.  They use REAL ingredients and have REAL recipes for REAL food.  Just because it’s “light” doesn’t mean it’s tasteless.  I’ve been a subscriber for the magazine for about 6 years now and it’s one of the subscriptions that I just can’t part with.

Well, they finally noticed me.

Cooking Light “liked” my photo on instagram a couple of nights ago.

Zucchini, Walnut and Feta Cakes with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce are packed with zucchini straight from our garden.  If it wasn’t for awesome recipes like this, I would be sick and tired of eating zucchini already.  It’s growing like crazy!

To bind the cakes, quinoa is ground in a food processor along with walnuts and mixed in with the zucchini, eggs, feta, green onions and dill.  I loved the texture that the quinoa gave to the zucchini cakes.

Make sure to salt your zucchini after it’s grated and squeeze out all the water.  You don’t want to end up with a too-watery mixture and zucchini is full of water.

The zucchini cakes are pan “fried” in a  little olive oil until browned and cooked through.

Served over a bed of spicy arugula with a big dollop of a cucumber-yogurt sauce that is full of flavor thanks to garlic.

Full of flavor and even Cooking Light thought it looked yummy.

 

Pesto Pea Pizza

Pizza is the answer for a lot of things.

Pesto Pea Pizza was my answer to dealing with my parents leaving and being depressed.

All.the.carbs.

And homemade pesto.

basil

The pesto is the star of the show so the fresher, the better.

Our basil is looking amazing these days.

The pesto is made by whirling together a shallot, basil, garlic, red pepper flakes, olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt in a food processor (or high-power blender).

By the way, the leftover “pesto” is perfect tossed with salad greens.  So much flavor!

Once the pesto was made, it was time to make the crust!  Big Guy actually was in charge of this step and it was made a little easier with the Cup4Cup pizza dough mix (it’s the best!).

We cooked the crust for 8 minutes in the oven and finished it on the grill once the toppings were added.

The toppings are rather simple – though you might question the addition of peas on pizza.

But it works.

Trust me.

A layer of pesto is spread over the pizza crust followed by fresh mozzarella.  Then add about 1/2 a cup of peas to the top.  I used frozen peas since they’re more of a springtime veggie and simply defrosted them.  I wouldn’t use canned peas – those are no bueno.

And on top of the peas, a sprinkling of Parmesan.

The pizza was grilled until everything was warm and melty.  And then I added a good sprinkling of fresh cracked pepper and salt.

pesto pizza

Such a pretty pizza.

The crust was crispy on the edges but chewy with every bite.  And the pesto!  The best.

You must try pesto on your pizza.

pizza

If putting peas on pizza is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

 

Weekend Review. {double date and Lilly}

I literally shed a tear yesterday morning when my Momma and Dad drove away.

ugh.

It’s time to plan our next reunion, I suppose.

But this past weekend was just what I needed.

On Friday night, we took my parents to On The Square for dinner.

I ordered the Hold the Phone cocktail to start.  I had this same drink a few weeks back but it was so much better this time around.

Cardamaro, Fresh Basil, Lemon, Canton Ginger Liqueur, Bubbly

Momma took a sip of mine and then ordered her own – that means it was really good.

Refreshing and not overpowering at all.

To start, I tried the Picked Cabbage and Arugula Salad.  It was a “new” menu item this week.  The acidity was balanced out with the cheese and I enjoyed the brininess of the cabbage.

Artisanal Cheese, Micro Basil, Champagne Vinaigrette

The rest of the table ordered the grilled romaine salad which is always delicious.

For my main dish, the Grilled Escolar.

I am SO glad I ordered this plate.

Warm Tortilla Salad, Lime Crema, Blueberry Pico de Gallo

Though Momma and Dad had been with us to OTS before, I think they enjoyed themselves even more this time around.

With full bellies, we headed home.

On Saturday morning, the guys went to play a round of golf and Momma and I headed out for some errands.  We hit up the Farmers Market and I snagged some corn for dinner and some salad greens for the week.

We had all intentions of catching some rays at the pool but the weather was so weird.

So we showered up and headed to eat lunch with the guys.

Marlo and Garrett joined us for lunch.

We celebrated National Wear Your Lilly Day with a glass of prosecco!

The rest of the day was spent soaking up precious time with my parents.

I’ll share our delicious burger dinner later in the week.

And I think we can all agree on this:

Chickpea and Vegetable Tagine

Did you know that today is National Eat Your Veggies Day?

I enjoy veggies so most meals include them and sometimes they’re even the star of the show.  Like last night.

Chickpea and Vegetable Tagine is loaded with veggies.

It’s also loaded with bold spices.

spice

I adore the deep flavors of turmeric, cinnamon, coriander seed and cumin (not pictured) and the smell is so inviting.

Moroccan tagines are stews that are rich in flavor thanks to the “exotic” spices.  This particular dish is vegetarian and the vegetables are easily adaptable to what you have on hand.

Our garden is still cranking out zucchini so I was happy to use up some of that along with heirloom baby tomatoes and onion.

The tagine was served over a bed of quinoa for some extra protein and nuttiness.

tagine

 

I loved the flavors and textures in this dinner.  And even though we had a zucchini-based dish last night, I haven’t gotten tired of zucchini thanks to the different flavor profiles:  Italian vs. Moroccan.

What vegetables are you going to eat today?

Zucchini Lasagna

I really wish I had invited company over for dinner last night.  It was that good.

The zucchini is growing like crazy and we’ve picked four since Friday.  They were destined to be used in zucchini lasagna.

The recipe requires some time but the end result is better than I ever imagined.  Big Guy claimed it was the best lasagna he’s ever had.

lasagna 2

First I started working on the sauce.  Lean ground beef is cooked and then simmers with crushed tomatoes, fresh basil, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.

While the sauce simmers, the zucchini are sliced into long strips – like lasagna noodles.  I used a mandolin but you could totally use a sharp knife.  The zucchini slices are salted and allowed to sweat for about 10 minutes to release the extra water.  This prevents soppy lasagna.  No wants soppy lasagna.

Big Guy was in charge of grilling the zucchini slices until tender.

Ricotta is a key ingredient in lasagna.  The ricotta is mixed with an egg, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Once all those parts are prepped, it’s time to start layering.

Start with a layer of sauce at the bottom of the baking dish.  Then goes a layer of zucchini followed by sauce and then the ricotta mixture and finally a hefty sprinkling of mozzarella.

Then keep on layering until all the ingredients are used up – ending with a layer of mozzarella on top.

The lasagna bakes for about 45 minutes, covered and then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.  I broiled the top for about 3 minutes to get it nice and bubbly.

lasagna

Y’all – this is comfort food.  And I honestly couldn’t tell I was eating a huge plate of veggies.

The zucchini becomes so tender but has just enough bite that makes it better than noodles.

Seriously delicious.

Cheesy.

Comforting.

Rich.

Meaty.

Salty.

Tender.

Saucy.

And since the zucchini is growing like crazy, I’ll have enough to make another lasagna.

But I’m not making it unless I have guests.

Salmon with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Zucchini

Last night was another “single girl” dinner.  Thankfully I enjoy Big Guy being gone here and there so that I can cook salmon at home.  Since he’s an anti-salmon man, it’s my go-to when I want a delicious dinner for one.  (I buy the Simply Balanced brand of frozen salmon at Target.  It’s delicious, wild-caught and thaws out in about 30 minutes.)

Last night I turned to cookinglight.com to find a recipe using salmon and ingredients I had on hand.  I had a handful of cherry tomatoes that were begging to be used and I had just picked up some zucchini at the Farmers Market yesterday morning.

Salmon with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes didn’t require many other ingredients and it also didn’t require too much prep work.

In a small bowl I tossed the cherry tomatoes with a teaspoon of basil-infused olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and dried oregano (it was pouring outside and I was not about to get soaking wet for a few herbs).

On a small sheet pan, I roasted the tomatoes at 400 degrees for 15 minutes along with the zucchini that I had sliced and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Once the oven timer went off, I added the salmon to the same sheet pan (minimal clean-up is awesome!) along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a splash of my favorite fig balsamic vinegar and I roasted for 10 minutes more.

So simple, so healthy and so delicious.

The tomatoes were bursting (literally) with flavor and the zucchini were perfectly cooked.  The salmon was tender and flaky with so much flavor from the tomato juice, garlic and oregano.

Do you have a meal that you adore that your significant other won’t touch?

 

Warm Brown Rice and Edamame Salad with Blueberries and Goat Cheese

Sometimes I follow a recipe exactly.  This is not one of those recipes.  I knew that I was having a “single girl” dinner last night but I wanted more than just a snack plate of crackers, veggies and cheese.

I took the lead from a recipe in the latest edition of Cooking Light but made changes based on what was in my kitchen and what’s in season here in NC.

The combination of brown rice, edamame, blueberries and goat cheese might seem a little strange but I promise it tastes delicious.  Bonus – there are leftovers for my lunch the next couple of days.

rice blubes

In a large bowl, I mixed together a pouch of Uncle Ben’s precooked brown rice, a sliced green onion, a handful of basil from the garden, 1 cup of blueberries, 1 tablespoon of EVOO, 2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

I then portioned out a serving and mixed it with 1/2 cup of shelled, cooked edamame and crumbled about 1 ounce of blueberry goat cheese (from Trader Joes) on top.

The heat from the rice and the edamame made the blueberries sweetness a perfect addition to the bowl.  The goat cheese was creamy while the fresh basil really added some freshness to the dinner.

Chickpeas would be amazing in this but all I had was edamame and black beans on hand.  And while cherries would have added a welcome tartness, blueberries are coming into season and cherries are harder to find (plus you have to pit them – which is literally the pits).

So there you have it, my interpretation of a recipe that I saw in a magazine but made changes to suit what I had and what was available at the grocery store.

p.s. I am in love with our blooming flamingo plume hibiscus!

p.s.s. I love the Waterlogue app!

 

Bida Manda {Triangle Restaurant Week}

Triangle Restaurant Week is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence that includes restaurants in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and other surrounding areas.  For me, Restaurant Week is an opportunity to try a new-to-me restaurant.  Restaurant Week happens two times a year and I try to make it if all possible.  (If you recall, I tried out Battistella’s in January as a part of Restaurant Week.)

Before I get to the review, let me start with this:  Make a reservation now at Bida Manda.  It’s been on my list of places to try but for some reason we never made a point to dine at Bida Manda.  And we’ve been missing out.

Bida Manda is a Laotian restaurant and the term “Bida Manda” is a term for “mother” and “father.”  The food is a flavorful marriage of Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese cooking traditions with French sensitivity.

The restaurant space is beautiful.  The wood that you find on the walls was salvages from old barns and church walls.

First of all, the service was impeccable.  Our waiter was fantastic despite having a high-volume of customers and I would go back for the service alone.

Secondly, the drinks were seasonal and delicious.

I ordered the Jamaican 75.  It’s on their new bar menu which isn’t posted online yet but it was a mix of rum, hibiscus simple syrup, citrus and sparkling wine.

Perfectly sweet without being overwhelming.

While the regular menu was available for us to order from, we were there for Restaurant Week so we ordered off the 3-course menu.  

The waiter highly recommended the sausage appetizer and the lettuce wraps.  While Big Guy’s sausage was delicious, the lettuce wraps stole the show.

Crispy Rice Lettuce Wraps with herbs, peanuts and lime

wraps

Taste buds were blown away.  This was hands-down the favorite plate of the night.  The description gives this appetizer no justice what-so-ever.  I happily shared with Big Guy because this portion is huge.  Perfect for sharing with the whole table.  Though you might be tempted to order another plate of them.  The next time we return, we will no doubt order this dish.

The waiter also gave us recommendations for the entree selection.  He did not hesitate to recommend the Crisp Pork Belly Soup and the Green Papaya Salad.

Big Guy ordered the soup.  But soup isn’t a fair word for this dish.

Kaffir lime leaf coconut curry broth, julienned fresh vegetables, peanuts, local herbs, rice noodles, and house-made crispy pork belly 

Savory and succulent, this dish was a pleasure to taste.

As for me, I went with the salad.  But it’s not really a salad.  First of all, there’s no lettuce.  Secondly, the papaya is cut into noodle-like strips and served warm and tossed with a delicious sauce.  And finally, there’s really no green on the plate – expect for the lime and the dill.

Julienned green papaya, tomato, house-made tamarind and lime sauce, peanuts

crab

 

For the protein, I ordered the Crispy NC Soft Shell Crab.

I actually don’t typically like crabs because they are so.much.work to get a bite of meat.  But with soft shell crabs you can eat every.single.bite.  And since it’s seasonal and not often on the menu, I was glad that I went that route.

And then dessert was served.

The dessert is where I tasted the French inspiration of the Lao cuisine.

French Macaroons with a shot of Chocolate milk.  The macaroon was a lemon-lime flavor with a blueberry cream filling.

It reminded me of the most amazing lemon bar ever.

macaroon

And I couldn’t tell you the last time I had chocolate milk.

The perfect ending to the most amazing dinner.

I cannot wait to go back!

And after dinner, we stumbled upon a sandcastle.  In the middle of downtown.

And this is why I love date nights with Big Guy.

 

Fried Brown Rice with Shrimp and Snap Peas

I’m typically not a fan of using precooked rice.  I mean, cooking rice isn’t that difficult.  And it’s so much cheaper to buy it and cook it yourself.  But last night, precooked rice came in handy.  I ended up working later than I thought I would but thanks to my menu-planning dinner didn’t take long at all to throw together.

The key to making Fried Brown Rice with Shrimp and Snap Peas is to prep ALL your ingredients before you put anything into the hot wok.  Despite cooking a lot of things separate in the wok, there’s still minimal clean-up.

The shrimp are cooked and then tossed in a mixture tamari (or soy sauce), honey and chile garlic sauce.   Then the eggs are cooked and set to the side.

The rice is then “fried” for a few minutes in peanut oil before being added to the shrimp mixture.

The snap peas, garlic and peanuts are then stir-fried before adding back the shrimp and rice along with the eggs to warm it all up.

My favorite part of this dish was that the peanuts were cooked and not simply sprinkled on top in their “original” form.  The peas were cooked until crisp-tender so they still provided lots of crunch to the dish.

I ended up adding some sriracha to the top for a little extra kick – totally optional.

Quicker than take-out.

Healthier than take-out.

 

Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts

My Dad is one of the most wonderful men in the whole wide world.  And while Father’s Day is a couple of weeks away, I couldn’t help but think of him as we ate this dinner.

You see, as wonderful as my Dad is, he rather random.  And sometimes he has a hard time remembering how to pronounce certain foods and drinks.

For example:  What do you call one of my favorite drinks that involves Champagne and orange juice?

Most people would say, “Mimosa.”

But not my Dad.

He called that a “Hermosa.”

Sometimes I laugh hysterically, unable to control the noise.  And other times I just shake my head.

Because let’s be honest, I have had more than one “hermosa” in my life.  And to be sure I’ve said this word a multitude of times around him.  Even if only on Christmas morning.

Another example:  What’s the word for little pasta-like pillows made of potatoes?

This is a harder one, I’ll give him that.

“Gnocchi.”

The best way I can describe this pronunciation is “no-key.”  Obviously I’m not an English major or teacher.

But he pronounces it differently every single time.  I can’t even type what it sounds like when he says the word.

But it’s hilarious.

And it’s just one of the billions of reasons why I love my Dad oh-so-much.

And it’s why I thought of him more than once last night while fixing and enjoying Browned Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts.  

Despite have a name that’s not the easiest to pronounce, the dish comes together in no time at all.  Gnocchi only need to cook a couple of minutes in boiling water.  And I used pre-packaged gluten-free gnocchi from Harris Teeter.  I found these little gems near the hummus.

gnocchi 002

 

This particular brand exceeded my expectations and made dinner such a cinch.

While bringing the water to a boil, the butter begins to melt and brown in another skillet.  The pine nuts and garlic are sauteed in the butter before adding the cooked gnocchi and spinach.

A simple sprinkle of salty cheese (a 3-cheese blend in my case)  finishes the dish in less than 15 minutes.

gnocchi 003

This brand also makes a plain potato gnocchi but I loved the sweet potato flavor.  I’m pretty sure there was some nutmeg or cinnamon in the gnocchi that paired perfectly with the browned butter and spinach.

And even though this was our main course (and only course), it would make a perfect small plate if you were serving a fancy meal.  Just make the portions smaller.

Food is so much more than food in my life.

And this particular food was one that brought a smile to my face as I thought of how my Dad pronounces “gnocchi.”