Thursday, August 30, 2012

Nobody left behind.

   What to make for dinner, what to make? I came home and started looking around the fridge/freezer and pantry. Three boxes of "almost finished" pasta (all different shapes), a little bit of frozen spinach, leftover frozen broccoli, and a little bit of the milk on the bottom of a carton. Not enough to make anything, but too much to waste (I never waste food!!!). If only there was a recipe that combines all those things together. Oh wait... casserole, you can put anything in it, cover it with cheese and have the best dinner ever! I'm not even calling it a recipe, here is the "list of leftover ingredients" I had on hand:

*  1 lb pasta (different shapes and sizes)
*  2 cups broccoli
*  1 cup spinach, frozen and thawed
*  1 lb turkey breakfast sausage
*  1 large onion, chopped
*  1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
*  1 tbsp olive oil
*  4 eggs
*  1 cup fat-free milk
*  2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
*  salt and pepper
*  pinch of nutmeg

1. Cook the pasta to al dente,drain and set aside.
2. In a skillet, saute onions and turkey breakfast sausage until cooked and browned. 
3. In a deep bowl whisk together eggs, milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add 1 cup of mozzarella, broccoli, spinach, rosemary, pasta and turkey sausage. Mix well together, transfer into the greased baking dish, top with remaining mozzarella cheese and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.
4. Let it stand for 10 minutes before cutting into it so everything can set.

   Delicious! I love casseroles, they are the perfect way to get rid of all the leftover ingredients and make a comforting dinner... and a few lunches too. You don't need to stick to the ingredients I listed and you can use whatever you like/have, I'm sure it will be good.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Party in two minutes!

   Well, maybe not the entire party, but at least the appetizer! I think appetizers are the most challenging part of the dinner party for me. I hate to repeat them, I always look for new ideas and I try to make them rather then buy them. I mean there is nothing wrong with some delicious cheese and crackers, but I can't serve it every time (even though I can eat it every day!). I usually try to make something small (one-bitters preferred) and something light that will leave some space for dinner, especially for our "girls-night-in" dinners. It makes us feel more sophisticated, delicate and feminine when we eat a light appetizer ... and it allows us to "pig out" on ice cream later on (and all the femininity goes away!). This time I came up with the lightest of the light appetizers, super easy, super fast and super delicious cucumbers with herb cream cheese.

*  1 seedless cucumber
*  8 oz light cream cheese (room temp)
*  2 tbsp fat-free sour cream
*  2 tbsp fresh chopped mint
*  2 tbsp fresh chopped basil
*  1/2 tsp garlic powder
*  1 tbsp lime juice
*  salt and pepper

1. Whisk together cream cheese and sour cream.
2. Add herbs, lime juice and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
3. Slice the cucumber, layer them on a platter, and using a piping bag, top the slices with the cheese mixture.

   I mean how simple is that? You can make dozens of them in no time... and you can eat dozens of them in no time as well, no need to feel guilty about it either. It's basically water and herbs... cucumber - 96% of water, herbs - pure health, oh and cream cheese, but it's mostly calcium...right???


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Roll, roll, roll your spring roll!

   Summer is coming to an end (I know, where did it go???) so everybody should take advantage of all the fruit we have around. It's ripe, sweet, fragrant, delicious and it just tastes the best this time of the year. If you don't consider a "bare" fruit as a dessert and you don't want to load up on a heavy cake, here is an idea for you. Try to roll it in rice paper, dip it in some strawberry sauce and here you go... fresh, light, fruity dessert is ready in no time! Here is the recipe:

*  10 rice paper rounds
*  2 cups rice noodles
*  1 tbsp sugar
*  1 lemon
*  5 strawberries (sliced)
*  mango (cut into strips)
*  1/2 apple (cut into strips)
*  fresh mint

Dipping sauce:
*  4 tbsp strawberry preserves
*  2 tbsp lemon juice
*  2 tbsp water

1. In a pot, boil water with sugar, add rice noodles and cook for about 5 minutes. Drain the noodles, cool down and sprinkle with lemon juice.
2. Cut all the fruit, chop mint and arrange everything as an assembly line.

3. Soak rice paper rounds in very warm water for 5-10 seconds and transfer on a damp kitchen towel.
4. Put a little bit of rice noodles, 2 pieces of mango, apple, strawberry and sprinkle with fresh mint.
5. Fold in both sides and roll up tightly.
6. For a dipping sauce, mix 2 tbsp of strawberry preserves with 2 tbsp of lemon juice and 1-2 tbsp of water.

   Super fresh, super delicious and super healthy! Such a great summery dessert full of fresh and sweet fruit. You can use any ingredient you want, mix and match and I bet you it's going to be delicious. I think mint is my favorite part of this roll, it's so flavorful and fresh and it wouldn't be the same with out it.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lunch be gone!

   You probably wonder what's with this weird title! Well, normally when I cook during the week, I make 4 portions and we have two for dinner and two for the lunch next day. This time was no different. I decided to make this pasta with grilled chicken, which seemed like something that might be really good, and I made, as usual, four servings of it. When I was planning the dish, I was shooting for something quick and easy that I can make right away after work and I didn't really think it's going to be something super extraordinary. Boy, was I wrong! This dish turned out to be awesome! So simple and so delicious, with clean and vibrant flavors. We enjoyed it so much, that we looked at each other and just went "screw the lunches, we want seconds"! So that's how we ended up with no lunch today, but it was so worth it!

*  whole grain spaghetti pasta
*  1 red bell pepper (chopped)
*  1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (thyme, mint, basil, parsley)
*  1 lemon
*  2 cloves garlic (minced)
*  2 tbsp butter
*  1 tbsp olive oil
*  salt

*  chicken breast
*  chicken seasoning

1. Season chicken on both sides and grill for 4-6 minutes on each side (depending on the size). Set aside.
2. Cook pasta in salted water until al dente.
3. In a skillet, melt butter with olive oil, add minced garlic, bell peppers, herbs and salt (adjust to your liking). Cook everything for 5 minutes.
4. Add cooked pasta, squeeze the juice from one lemon and toss everything together to combine.
5. Serve pasta on the plate and top it with sliced chicken on the top.

   This is the perfect example that less is more. Only a few ingredients, but a huge amount of flavor. It must be one of the best pasta dishes I've created so far... I know Justin would agree with that!


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lemon and vanilla!

   Don't those two things sound delicious together? Perfect in a cookie, right? My friend from the lab went home to Mexico last week and she brought me some delicious, aromatic Mexican vanilla extract. So what is a better way to say thank you than bake some vanilla goods and bring it to the lab? Since it's such a exquisite ingredient you don't have to go crazy and add too many things, actually the simpler dish, the better. So I decided to make some vanilla lemon cookies - simple, clean flavors that will satisfy any sweet tooth. Here is the recipe (makes 24 cookies):

*  2 cups all-purpose flour
*  1 stick of butter (softened)
*  3/4 cup sugar
*  1 egg
*  1/2 tsp baking soda
*  1/4 tsp baking powder
*  1/4 tsp salt
*  2 tsp vanilla extract
*  1 tbsp lemon zest
*  2-3 tbsp lemon juice

1. In a bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
2. With a mixer, cream butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla extract, lemon juice and lemon zest and mix all together.
3. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter and mix in. Add another half and mix until combined.
4. Layer the baking sheet with a parchment paper, scoop the cookie dough (about 1 tablespoon size) into your hands, form balls and arrange on a baking sheet spacing evenly.
5. Bake at 350F for 13-15 minutes until edges are lightly browned.

   Soft and lemony, that's the best description of these cookies. You can taste the lemon zest without overpowering a delicate vanilla, just the perfect combination. What am I going to do when I run out of this great vanilla? I guess I will just have to go to Mexico myself and get some more! Oh, well... another vacation!


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Summer crunch!

   Summer dinners are all about salads, fresh vegetables and colors, but it doesn't mean that you have to always use lettuce and tomatoes. Here is a perfect salad that you can make not only for dinners, but also for lunches, parties and cookouts. Looks great, stores well and tastes even better. All vegetables are fresh and crunchy, chicken is sweet and tangy and tortellini adds some starch to make you feel more satisfied. I know it must be really good, because for the first time I saw my husband finishing all the peppers without pushing them aside (he is not a fan of bell peppers)! Try it and see for yourself. Here is the recipe which serves  6-8, depending on if it's the main dish or a side:

Chicken marinade:
*  1 chicken breast
*  1/4 cup soy sauce
*  1/2 cup red wine
*  1/4 cup olive oil
*  2 tbsp brown sugar
*  1 tbsp curry powder
*  1 tbsp garlic powder
*  1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

*  1 small bag cheese tortellini
*  1 red bell pepper
*  1 orange bell pepper
*  5 celery stalks
*  1/2 cucumber
*  1 cup walnuts
*  strawberry dressing

1.  Mix all the ingredients of the marinade, add finely cubed chicken and marinate in the fridge for few hours (over night preferred)
2. Transfer chicken together with the marinade into the skillet and cook for 8-10 minutes until chicken is cooked. Set aside to cool down.
3. Cook tortellini according to the package directions. Drain, wash with cold water and set aside.
4. In a large bowl, combine finely chopped peppers, celery stalks and cucumbers. Add cooled chicken, tortellini, walnuts and strawberry dressing (you can use any sweet/fruit dressing you have).
5. Mix everything together and serve!

   Very crunchy, very healthy, very satisfying... the perfect summer dinner. You can play with the marinade or dressing to give it your own spin or just to change flavors once in a while. My marinades usually consist of whatever I have in a fridge or whatever I can reach from it, but it's always good no matter what. Not your ordinary dinner salad, is it?


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Meatless Wednesday!

   Meatless dinner consisting of sunny side up eggs over roasted potatoes/yams and green beans! Here is the short story of how I came up with this dish. Meatless - because I forgot to take chicken out of the freezer, potatoes - because my mom-in-law brought me some fresh potatoes from her garden, yams - because I always have them at home, beans - because they are in season and I got them for super cheap and eggs - because I love them to death! No, I didn't spend weeks perfecting this dish... like most of my recipes I just opened the fridge and grabbed whatever was in it that seemed like would work together! I don't even know if I can even call it a "recipe", it's just eggs and veggies. Here it is (serves 4):

*  4 eggs
*  2 large yams
*  4-5 medium potatoes
*  1 lb green beans
*  2-3 tbsp olive oil
*  1 tsp fresh rosemary
*  salt and pepper

1. Cut potatoes and yams into cubes, mix with trimmed green beans, transfer into the baking dish. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary, toss everything together to coat vegetables and bake at 400F for 30 minutes.
2. When veggies are ready, get your husband/partner/neighbor to fry four perfectly cooked sunny side up eggs. This is absolutely my husband's specialty and I would never interfere with it!
3. Put egg on the top of veggies, poke the yolk and enjoy your dinner!


   I'm sure I already said it at least fifteen times how much I love eggs, but in case you missed it: I love eggs! The runny yolk gently covers all the veggies making them silky and buttery. Rosemary flavors the dish and gives it this "summery" kick. Such a simple, but great dish.


Monday, August 13, 2012


   Amuse-bouche is nothing else than a fancy name for "one-biters" and I would probably never know this term if I didn't spend hours watching cooking shows. But, I do have to admit that it makes me feel sophisticated and almost "aristocratic" when I say that I made "amuse-bouche"... I think Justin just rolled his eyes on me when he saw "aristocratic". OK, maybe I'm going a little bit over board here with the terminology but, I do love my one-biters. They are perfect party food, easy to grab and easy to eat, no need to struggle with a knife, fork or even teeth (I always drag the entire topping with my first bite!). So here is the recipe for delicious mini blinis with avocado mousse and smoked salmon.

*  1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
*  2 eggs
*  1 cup warm milk
*  1 packet (1/4 oz) dry yeast
*  1 tbsp white sugar
*  1/2 tsp salt
*  vegetable oil 

*  1 ripe avocado
*  1 lime
*  1 tbsp fat-free sour cream
*  dash of salt

*  smoked salmon
*  fresh thyme

1.  In a bowl, whisk milk and eggs together, add yeast, flour, salt and sugar. Mix everything together, cover with a kitchen towel and put in a warm place for an hour so the dough can rise. If after an hour the dough seems to be a little bit "runny", add some more flour. You want it to be nice and thick so you can make a small and fluffy blinis.
2. In a skillet, heat the oil to a high temperature and using a tablespoon scoop a little bit of dough into the oil (to make a small circle), fry for about 20-30 seconds on each side (until golden brown) and transfer onto a paper towel to drain the excess oil.
3. When the blinis are cooling, blend together avocado, sour cream, lime juice and salt until smooth.
4. To assemble, scoop a little bit of avocado mousse on the top of blini, top with a piece of salmon and sprinkle with fresh lemon thyme.

   They fry so fast that you can make a huge batch of them in a matter of minutes! There is something about yeast containing food that makes me feel very homey and comfy. I think it's because it reminds me of my grandma who is the queen of yeast cakes! It's not only quick, but also super delicious, very elegant and unexpected. Perfect as an appetizer for your next party!


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Not only dessert!

   So I am continuing with a "Peach Week" theme but no, it's not going to be another dessert! This time I made a savory, delicious pizza with peaches, Prosciutto and mozzarella cheese. Pizza is one of those super versatile dishes that can be made with any ingredient available and everybody can create their own (that would make about 7.031 billion different versions of pizza!). Pizza dough is almost like a clean board that let you discover your inner artist and create a real masterpiece. After making this one, I think it's not the last one from me, I just got inspired to create even more pizzas with all sorts of ingredients. Here is this one:

*  thin crust pizza dough
*  fresh mozzarella cheese
*  1 large onion (thinly sliced)
*  1 large peach (peeled and thinly sliced)
*  6 slices Prosciutto
*  Parmesan cheese block
*  1/2 cup chopped cilantro
*  1 tbsp olive oil
*  1 tbsp butter

1. Melt butter and saute thinly sliced onions until browned and caramelized.
2. Roll the pizza dough, brush the top with olive oil and cover with caramelized onions.
3. On the top of onions layer slices of mozzarella cheese, peaches and Prosciutto.

4. Bake at 400F for 15 minutes.
5. After taking it out of the oven, sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro and shaved Parmesan cheese.

   Where do I start? Salty Prosciutto and Parmesan, sweet peaches, fresh cilantro and melted gooey mozzarella... do I need to go on? Such a great pizza.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Yet, another peach.

   As I promised, here is another peach recipe. This time I made probably the simplest and fastest home made dessert ever. It takes maybe 10 minutes all together, it's delicious and super light (it's almost 80% fruit!). It's one of those dishes that you want to make when you are craving some sophisticated and comforting dessert, but you don't want to spend the whole evening in the kitchen. All you do is broil some peaches, cover them with ice cream and blueberry sauce and it's ready to enjoy in minutes. Here is the recipe (4 servings):

*  4 peaches
*  1 cups fresh blueberries
*  1 tbsp white sugar
*  1 tbsp brown sugar
*  cinnamon
*  2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
*  vanilla ice cream

1. Halve the peaches, remove the pit and layer on a baking sheet cut side up. Sprinkle with a little bit of brown sugar and cinnamon and and bake at 400F for 5 minutes. Then turn on the broil on high and broil the peaches for about 3-4 minutes to caramelize the sugar on the top.
2. In the meantime, combine blueberries, mint and white sugar in a pot. Using a fork break down the berries a little bit and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Set aside and let it cool.
3. To serve the dessert, top two halves of broiled peaches with vanilla ice cream, pour some blueberry sauce on the top and voila, it's ready.

   The peaches are warm, soft, sweet and cinnamony. Ice cream melts on top of the fruit and when you mix it with blueberry sauce, it's like a piece of heaven in your mouth. When I was "designing" this dish I had some idea how it could taste, but I have to be honest that it turned out to be way better than I thought and nothing like I expected! Super delicious!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Straight from the orchard!

   The peach season is in its peak and what's better way to take advantage of it than pick your own peaches straight from the tree? Last weekend we went with our friends to Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville, Va (highly recommended) where you can not only pick your own fruit, but also go for a hike, admire beautiful views, have peach ice cream and the most important, taste and buy some delicious wine from their vineyard! Despite the scorching weather, we had lots of fun, burned some calories hiking (that we immediately replenished with peaches and ice cream) and we went home with trunks (and stomachs) full of peaches... and wine! So the next three posts will feature peaches as a main ingredient. Are you excited? Lets start with one of the most popular peach desserts - a peach/almond crisp. Here is the recipe that makes 6 individual crisps:

Fruit filling:
*  5 medium peaches (peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
*  1/3 cup white sugar
*  2 tbsp corn starch
*  2 tbsp almond extract

*  1 cup all-purpose flour
*  1/2 cup oats
*  1/3 cup white sugar
*  1/3 cup brown sugar
*  1/2 tsp cinnamon
*  1 dash nutmeg
*  1/4 tsp salt
*  1 1/2 stick of cold butter (cut into pieces)
*  3/4 cup slivered almonnds

*  vanilla ice cream 

1. In a bowl combine peaches with sugar, corn starch and almond extract. Mix everything together and put into 6 medium size ramekins.
2. In a food processor, combine flour, white and brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and butter. Pulse until everything resembles a coarse meal. Transfer into a separate bowl, add oats and almonds and using a spoon mix everything together (to maintain a texture of nuts).
3. Cover generously the peaches in each ramekin and bake at 350F for 45 minutes. It looks like a lot of toppings on the peaches, but don't worry, it will all melt down and bake off decreasing significantly in size!
4. Serve it slightly warm, with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on the top.

   Such a great and summery dessert! I actually make it very often using all sorts of different fruit (try it also with cherries) always trying to use a seasonal ingredients for extra deliciousness. The nuts and oats make it very rich so it's the perfect dessert to share with someone... or just enjoy it by yourself!

Good luck.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


   So here is the story: a few days ago a good friend of my sister-in-law (friends of my friends are my friends) contacted me and asked if I would be willing to try a new product that she is distributing and give it my honest opinion on my blog! I don't know if I was more surprised or honored that somebody thinks that my blog is good enough to do something like that. You know that I am always up for trying new things, so I didn't think about it even for a second and I said yes... and then she told me what it was: "Choffy", a brewed chocolate! My heart sank, I am not a chocolate person, so how am I going to judge it? Even though I dislike chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream, I can definitely appreciate good quality chocolate itself. So I decided to be a professional, taste it and give my objective opinion about choffy.
   So the website says that it is 100% premium cacao beans roasted and grounded like coffee. You prepare it in a French press, exactly how you would regular coffee. It not only contains a great amount of antioxidants but also a healthy substitute for caffeine - theobromine, which provides long-lasting energy without the crash or other negative effects of caffeine. You can find more information on Simone's website: Choffy - Simone Lee or on her Facebook page: Choffy on FB

   But enough with the theory and all this blah, blah, blah... lets try this baby out! When you first open the bag, the smell of high quality, aromatic chocolate just fills the room! It looks like a coarsely ground coffee and it smells delicious. So you put few spoons of it in a French press, add boiling water, stir it and let it steep for 5 minutes. Then just strain it and it's ready to serve. It has this brown, coffee-like look to it and it smells even better then before. So I tried few sips of it without any additions and I wasn't too crazy about it, but I'm not crazy about "bare" coffee either, so there you go. I added a spoon of sugar and a splash of milk... and there you go! It's delicious, tastes kind of like a cocoa or hot chocolate... and that sexy aroma! Justin actually said it tastes like childhood to him (can there be a better complement?). It took about 10-15 minutes for theobromine to start working and all I could see is Justin's big eyes and a huge smile saying: "man, that stuff really works, lets do something!".

   It's perfect not only after dinner as a part of a dessert, but also great as a morning energy boost for people who don't drink coffee at all! Not only does it energize you, but it also comforts you and gets you ready for a long day at work. And I know all of you chocolate lovers will love it! Give it a try!


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Do you have cold feet?

   OK, are you ready for this? It's only for people with strong nerves, and even though I took the "fear factor" out of this dish, it still can be intimidating (especially for my husband!). The Polish name of the dish is "Zimne Nogi", which translates as "cold feet", and traditionally it's made with pigs' feet and is nothing else but jellied meat and veggies!!! Are you still with me? Don't worry, I am not using pigs' feet (mostly because it's too much work and too hard to find) and I substituted them with chicken legs (much healthier and less scary). I made a huge mistake and introduced it to my husband as "chicken jelly" ... he looked at me with disgust and said " mean like a strawberry jelly chicken?" and from now on he can not overcome this mental barrier and eat it (good, more for me!). So every time ho goes out of town for work... I make myself a huge batch of zimne nogi and I usually share it with my good friend, who is also a big fan of them (yes, he is Polish, too!). Here is the recipe:

*  8 chicken legs
*  1 cup frozen pea (thawed)
*  1 cup canned corn (drained)
*  1 cup baby carrots
*  4 dry bay leaves
*  5-6 dried whole allspice berries
*  8-10 tbsp gelatin powder (depends on the brand)
*  salt and pepper

1. In a large pot, cover chicken legs with water, add carrots, salt, pepper, bay leaves and allspice. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 45-60 minutes until meat is tender and separates from bones easily. 15 minutes into cooking, fish out all the carrots, slice them and set aside.
2. When chicken is tender, remove it from the water, debone it and cut it into chunks.
3. Strain the broth to remove big spices and "debris". Bring to boil, turn off the heat, add gelatine and mix until dissolved.
4. Into small bowls, divide equally peas, corn, carrots and meat. Pour the broth to completely cover the meat and refrigerate over night until the gelatin sets. Serve it with lemon juice or vinegar.

   You have to admit that it looks really pretty. And it's delicious too... if you are willing to try. Some are afraid of the name...some are afraid of the texture, but remember, it's all about being open minded and trying new things in life!

Good luck.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ultimate Polish sidekick!

   It might not be as famous as pierogi or kielbasa, but it's probably one of the most popular Polish side dishes ever (if not the most popular)! I remember Justin's first visit to Poland and his impression that we eat a lot of pickled stuff. He wasn't wrong at all... pickled cucumbers, mushroom, shallots, bell peppers... you name it we will pickle it! But my absolutely favorite is sauerkraut, which is nothing but pickled cabbage. Well, now when I think about it, I don't think I can decide on one favorite pickled vegetable, I love them all. This sauerkraut salad (called surowka) is not only super easy and refreshing, but it also keeps for days in your fridge without losing any flavor (if not getting better). It's perfect for a heavy dinner to lighten it up a little and make it less "guilty". Here is the recipe

*  1 lb sauerkraut
*  1 large carrot
*  1 apple 
*  1/2 onion
*  2-3 tbsp dried cranberries
*  2 tbsp fresh parsley
*  1-2 tbsp white sugar
*  1 tbsp lemon juice
*  salt and pepper

1. Squeeze out the liquid from the sauerkraut. Add shreded carrot and apple, finely chopped onion, cranberries and parsley.
2. Mix everything together and season with lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Mix well and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.

   Very Polish, very tasty and very healthy! Loaded with vitamins, with almost no calories, so if you want double portion of meat go for it! Cranberries are probably not the most conservative ingredient in here, but you know I like to put my own spin on things. I think it's one of the most popular dishes among my friends. Forget fancy meats and deserts, everybody always seems to get seconds of this salad... and honestly, I can't blame them!