Four-Cheese Zucchini Pizza Boats

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Two weekends in, I feel like I can declare this August downright leisurely.  Lily and Jake camped outside in the back yard this past Friday and they both survived the whole night without coming inside.  They didn’t, however, survive without the iPad.  At one with nature, huh?  I didn’t care; I was inside spread out over the entire bed watching old episodes of Suze Orman in peace.

Lily also had the chance to ride a horse (well, half horse, half pony) for the first time and solidified her love for everything equine.  Anything and everything in our house is now a pretend horse.   She was funny because she was SO excited and fidgety the whole way there and after she was done riding, but while she was with the horses she was calm and focused.  It was incredibly sweet.

 All summers should be so lovely.  

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I call these 4-cheese pizza boats because that title fits, but the filling and marinara make it taste like lasagna to me.  Granted, cheese and marinara are the basis for a million different Italian dishes, so I could have called them zucchini stuffed shells for all it matters.  But pizza boats are a fairly common term, so I went with it.

I really liked this recipe.  I mean, there’s four cheeses!  What’s not to like?  Jake said that he liked the cheese mixture, but didn’t like that you could taste the zucchini.  So, I should give a disclaimer: the zucchini isn’t intended to be hidden!  If you hate zucchini, this probably isn’t the dish for you.  But trust me, for normal people it’s delicious.

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Four-Cheese Pizza Zucchini Boats

3 fresh zucchini
1/4 cup marinara sauce
8 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded provolone cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil or parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Wash the zucchini and slice it in half lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds.  Put about 1 heaping tablespoon of marinara onto each zucchini half and spread it out evenly.

In a bowl, mix the ricotta, egg, and garlic powder until combined.  Stir in the mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan.  Add salt and pepper to taste (I don’t use much).  Spread evenly onto the 6 halves.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is warm and the zucchini is a little soft.  I then throw the broiler on for a minute to brown the top, but that’s optional.

Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve warm.

Source: Inspiration from Cooking Classy

Easy Greek Pasta Salad

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This pasta salad was born when I clipped a coupon for Marzetti dressing in the Sunday circular and didn’t know what to buy.  Summer was here and we had been itching to eat outside on our never-used screened-in porch, so a pasta salad seemed to fit the occasion.  We also had a huge (Costco-sized.  HUGE.) block of feta in the fridge to use up, so a Greek pasta salad it became!  This recipe is obviously adaptable depending on what ingredients you like.   I think it would be great with the tomato halves roasted, but Jake doesn’t like roasted tomatoes so I left them fresh.  If you try it that way, let me know how it turns out.

So, after two years of living in our house and never using the porch for anything other than storing leaf bags, we ended up using it twice in one day! And I think we actually had this pasta salad as a side for both meals.  The porch is inconveniently placed because the only access to it is through the basement (every house in Pittsburgh is on a hill), but the grill is right there, so we happily had a couple of picnics.  It’s so peaceful on the porch without the tv or any of our other distractions that we determined it’s well worth dragging everything downstairs.

Dinner was followed up with a fire in our also-underused fire pit where Lily learned that she loves s’mores as long as there aren’t any marshmallows.  Too messy.  Can you still call it a s’more if you’re just eating cold chocolate on graham crackers? I wasn’t too surprised by her aversion because she hates the way cotton candy sticks to her fingers.  Yet, somehow this distaste for messiness doesn’t translate to her playroom.  Or jumping in muddy puddles.  Or hating baths.  Can’t win ’em all.

Easy Greek Pasta Salad

1 pound short-cut pasta
1 – 1.5 cups creamy Greek/feta salad dressing (I like Marzetti and Trader Joe’s)
1/2 cup  English cucumbers, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup kalamata olives, roughly chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup bell peppers, diced
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh mint and/or oregano, diced, to taste

Boil the pasta in salted water according to package directions.  Drain the pasta and immediately combine with 1/2 cup of the salad dressing (this is so that the pasta absorbs the dressing).  Set aside until cool.

Add in all of the other ingredients, including half a cup of dressing, and stir to combine.  Add additional dressing as needed.

Refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavors develop.  Enjoy!  Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to a few days.

Source: L+K Original (I just threw it together, but there are many Greek pasta salads out there to explore)

French Onion Soup Tartines

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I’m BACK.  But no, I didn’t go anywhere (well, I went to D.C. this past weekend, but that doesn’t account for weeks of silence).  I just took a little 3-week vacation in my own mind and really didn’t get into the kitchen very much.  I couldn’t be bothered.  And I have the take-out bills to prove it, so I’m glad I got that out of my system!  I hope I’m not alone in this needed break.  Maybe it’s because it got hot so quickly.  Or just the idea of summer makes me want to laze about.  Or the thought of putting pen to paper and writing up a post just made me want to take a nap.  It could be a hundred things.  But I’m feeling more normal now, and after my weekend full of fancy D.C. meals (with desserts and everything!), I am ready to kick myself back into the kitchen.

I actually made this recipe about a month ago.  It’s a French onion soup reinvented for the spring.  The weather is getting too warm to leave a pot full of onions simmering on the stove for hours on end (though this is about an hour, so prepare yourself), but I love onion soup so much that I couldn’t part with it for the summer yet.  These tartines are a great combo: hearty, but still a fairly light entree.  And with several varieties of onions, the flavor has a good depth to it.  I definitely recommend giving it a try.

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French Onion Soup Tartines

2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 medium sweet onion, quartered and sliced
1 medium red onion, quartered and sliced
3 small yellow onions, peeled and cut into ⅛-inch-thick slices
2 Tbsp. dry white wine
1.5 – 2 cups vegetable broth
½ tsp. honey
1 sprig fresh thyme
4 slices of French or Italian bread
4 sandwich-sized slices of Swiss or Gruyère cheese

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the sweet onion and red onion, cover, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until onions begin to brown.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add yellow onion slices (keeping all of the rings in tact), and cook for 5 minutes on each side, or until browned. Transfer to a paper towel to let it drain. Set aside the 8 prettiest yellow onion slices, and chop the remaining yellow onions.

Add the chopped yellow onions to the sweet and red onions. Cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes, or until all onions are browned. Add wine, and cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until most liquid has evaporated. Stir in the broth, honey, and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Partially cover and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes, or until most liquid has evaporated.

Preheat the oven to broil.  Lightly toast the bread and then place the slices on baking sheet. Spread 1/4 cup of the cooked onion mixture on each slice. Lay two of the reserved sautéed onion slices on top of each tartine. Top with a slice of cheese. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and brown.

Source: Adapted very slightly from Vegetarian Times

Soy Chorizo and Queso Fundido

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The biggest day of the year is upon us.  Not Christmas or a birthday.  Not even Halloween with all of its candy and treats.  It’s Cinco de Mayo!  I’m not 100% on the origins of the holiday besides what Wikipedia tells me, but there is still no better reason to celebrate with Mexican food and one too many margaritas.  Actually, Jake and I spent our birthdays eating Mexican food and drinking margaritas, so I guess my point it moot, but still.  Cinco de Mayo!  Party time!  Also definitely worth trying this weekend: chiles rellenos, tomato tortilla soup, roasted corn guacamole, and creamy corn and pepper taquitos.  You could have a feast.   Or you can make like my daughter and just eat plain tortilla chips.  She’s a trooper and tried salsa once, but Mommy and Daddy didn’t realize that it wasn’t mild and she thought that her mouth was on fire (literally).  So, once the PTSD wears off we’ll ease her into more diverse Mexican foods again.

Since this recipe makes a whole pie plate and Jake and I aren’t complete ogres, there was a good amount left over.  We ate it the next day on top of baked potatoes with fresh avocado chunks and it was just as good as with tortilla chips.  I would also eat it as a topping on hot dogs or burgers (especially black bean burgers), or as a taco filling.  And I made it after work one day, so it’s a n easy weeknight meal.  But I wouldn’t recommend pairing it with too many margaritas if you have a big meeting at work the next day.  Not that I’ve learned the hard way. :)

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 Soy Chorizo and Queso Fundido

1/2 pound block of Monterey Jack cheese (not shredded)
1/2 pound of fresh mozzarella (not shredded)
1-2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
12 oz soy chorizo (I buy the package from Trader Joe’s)
1 can of tomatoes with green chiles (e.g. Rotel)
Tomatoes, onions, avocado, sour cream, etc. for topping

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Break the two cheeses up into big chunks and put them in a food processor.  Process until they are completely ground up and blended and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the oil up and add the onion.  Cook until it is soft and starting to be translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, and then add the chorizo and Rotel.  Keep on the heat until everything is warmed through.

In a pie dish, spread about half of the cheese onto the bottom.  Cover with the chorizo mixture and then top with the rest of the cheese in an even layer.

Cover and bake for about 10 minutes.  Remove the cover and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and melted.  If you would like to, finish up with a quick broil to brown the cheese.

Top with the garnishes and serve warm with tortilla chips.

Source: I did a lot of research and didn’t find exactly what I wanted, so I created this combination with the influence of many recipes.

Pear and Brie Crackers

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So, Lily started her first dance class last week and it was my first foray into the lives of dance moms.  We were so excited leading up to the class and it’s advertised as a casual “Dance Explorations” class for 3-4-year-olds.  Seems innocent enough, right?  Lily put on her tank top and stretch pants, and we went out to the waiting area.  She was the ONLY little girl not decked out in full leotard/tights/ballet shoes regalia.  Clearly, I had been underinformed about the clothing necessary for 3-year-old kids to run around in chaos while a poor 18-year-old teacher tries to wrangle them.  But, since I now know that it’s required, and I feel this need to help Lily fit in, I went out this week to purchase the appropriate clothes for tonight’s class.  I spent over $50 for an outfit that Lily is going to wear to a class we paid $35 for.  I’m officially a sheep.

But back to the class, OhMyGod the parents.  Even though the instructions were to not distract the class, there were a dozen moms huddled around the little glass window trying to get the perfect picture of their child.  And not one cute picture and done.  I’m talking 30 minutes of iPhones and DSLRs clicking away.  Not distracting to the kids AT ALL.  Is this what I should be expecting for the next 15 years?  I need to prepare myself.

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In between running too and from class, we also have to eat.  And I’ll admit, I actually made these little snacks and served them as a dinner one night.  But there weren’t any complaints from the peanut gallery, so I consider it a success.  And hey, we had fruit, cheese, and grains.  How much more square of a meal do you need?

I first had something similar to this at a Christmas party and loved the simplicity.  This recipe takes less than 5 minutes of prep time and was still one of the first dishes to go.  I like having the sugar on top both raw and torched.  When you torch it, it gets a little bit of a crunchy crust like creme brulee and the taste of the sugar caramelizes a bit.  Raw it is sweet and simple.  At a party or at home, this is definitely worth a try.

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Pear and Brie Crackers

1 ripe pear
1 wheel of brie cheese, room temperature
12 crackers
raw (turbinado) sugar for sprinkling

Slice the cheese and the pear into about 1/8-1/4 inch thick slices.  Lay out the 12 crackers and stack with brie and then pear, followed by the sugar.  If you would like, use a kitchen torch to liquefy the sugar.  Serve soon, as the sugar will eventually start breaking down the pear.  If you want to serve later, add the sugar at the last minute.