Spaghetti Squash with Diced Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

Out of all the variety of squashes out there, spaghetti squash is my favorite by far.  If you’ve never tried it I highly recommend it.

Herbed Chicken with Spaghetti Squash Topped with Tomatoes and Goat Cheesse

Herbed Chicken with Spaghetti Squash Topped with Tomatoes and Goat Cheesse

Spaghetti squash is high in nutrients, including folic acid, potassium, vitamin A, and beta carotene and is low in calories (Wikipedia).  Once it’s cut open, it contains many seeds similar to a pumpkin that you scrape out.  The interior flesh is solid but once cooked, the flesh is easily scraped with a fork into strands similar to spaghetti.  It can be used as a substitute for pasta, salads, or side dishes like the one I’m going to describe below (apologies for the blurry photos).

Ingredients
spaghetti squash
olive oil
salt and pepper

Tomato Layer
6-7 riped tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 shallot
fresh basil

Topping
goat cheese
fresh tarragon (optional)

Spaghetti Squash Topped with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

Spaghetti Squash Topped with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  While the oven is preheating, halve the spaghetti squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and membrane.  Drizzle olive oil over the prepared flesh and season with salt and pepper.  Place the squash cut side down on a baking sheet and bake for one hour.  While the squash is baking, dice up the tomatoes, garlic, shallot and basil.  Over medium heat, add a bit of olive oil in a pan and add the garlic and shallots stirring until fragrant, approximately 1-2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes to the mixture and cook until the majority of the tomato juice is absorbed.  Remove from heat and add in 1-2 teaspoons of fresh basil.  After the hour is up, allow the squash to cool  to allow easier handling.  Using a fork, scrape the flesh and stir a bit to evenly distribute the olive oil, salt and pepper you added in the beginning.  Using a food ring, add half of the spaghetti squash, top with the tomato mixture and top it off with crumbled goat cheese and a few leaves of tarragon for garnish.  Slide the ring off and enjoy!

Kale Chips

Kale

Kale

Kale is a leafy green you may overlook at the grocery store.  However there are many benefits to eating kale that should not be ignored.  Some of these benefits, according to Wikipedia includes being high in beta carotene (necessary for healthy skin, immune system and good vision) , fiber, vitamin C & K, rich in calcium and blocks the growth of cancer cells.  Kale also lowers cholesterol which is a bonus for me.

There are many ways to prepare kale.  You can saute kale as a side dish, blend in smoothies, pureed in soups and many more options.  My favorite method is baking bite size pieces of the leafy green tossed with a bit of oil and seasonings.  If you are addicted to eating potato chips this is a healthy substitute as once you start eating it, you can’t stop.

Kale Chips

1 fresh bunch of kale
olive oil
garlic powder or any other seasoning you prefer (paprika, seasoning salt, etc)

Kale

Kale chips with garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Thoroughly wash and dry the kale in a salad spinner or paper towel.  Remove the thick stems from the kale and tear the leaves into bite size pieces.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil and toss to coat.  Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spread the kale evenly so there is no overlap.  Season with desired seasoning and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the leaves start to turn brown but are not burnt.  Cool and enjoy.

Stuffed Cocktail Tomato Appetizer

Bocconcini:are small mozzarella cheeses the size of an egg. (Wikipedia)

If you’re looking for a tasty, easy to make appetizer than this is for you. Selecting ripe cocktail tomatoes is key as well as using fresh herbs. This appetizer can be prepped ahead of time until ready to serve.

Stuffed Cocktail Tomatoes

Carton of cocktail tomatoes (depending on how many you need – I would plan for 2-3 tomatoes per person)
Container of cocktail bocconcini cheese, coarsely chopped
Handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
Sea salt
Reduced balsamic vinegar
Olive Oil

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and using a melon scooper or a small spoon, scoop out the pulp.  Lay tomatoes upright on a serving tray.  If you’re having troubles making the tomatoes still without rolling, cut the bottom of the tomatoes so it has a flat bottom.  In a small bowl, combine the bocconcini and basil and drizzle a bit of olive oil to coat.  Season with a dash of sea salt.  Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture and drizzle the balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes.

Grilled Portobello Mushroom with Tomato and Boccocini Cheese

marinate: A sauce made of oil, vinegar, spices, herbs, etc., in which meat, fish, or other food is soaked before cooking to flavor or soften it(Wikipedia)

John made an excellent portobello mushroom salad a while back which I took and modified slightly. The key to this dish is to marinate the portobello mushroom with a splash of balsamic vinegar before grilling.

Grilled Portobello Mushroom

Grilled Portobello Mushroom with Tomato and Boccocini Cheese

Grilled Portobello Mushroom with Tomato and Boccocini Cheese

1 large portobello mushroom
Balsamic vinegar
1 shallot
1 tomato
Boccocini chesse
Fresh dill

Begin by cleaning the mushroom with a damp paper towel or mushroom brush. Remove the stem by giving it a firm twist.  Finely chop up the shallot and mix in the balsamic vinegar.  Place the mushroom cap side up and drizzle the mixture evenly over the mushroom.  Feel free to brush the mixture on to coat it evenly.  Allow the marinate to sit for a couple hours before grilling.  Over a hot grill, grill the mushroom, cap side up for approx. 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Slice and plate, adding slices of tomatos and boccocini between the slices. Sprinkle chopped dill on top and add additional boccocini cheese and tomatos for garnish.

Mushroom Risotto

risotto [riˈzôtō]: An Italian dish of rice cooked in stock with other ingredients. (Wikipedia)

Mushrooms

Oyster mushrooms (left) and Shiitake mushrooms (right)

Risotto is one of those side dishes that that is easy to make and is well worth the effort. The creaminess of the rice infused with mushrooms and parmesan cheese creates an earthy flavor that goes well with many cuts of meat. I like to mix up the types of mushrooms I use but usually try to include oyster mushrooms. I definitely recommend using Aborio rice which is easy to find in your local grocery store as it contains a high starch content, which is what makes the dish so creamy.

Mushroom Risotto

1 cup Arborio rice
1 small white onion finely chopped
olive oil
1/2 cup of white wine
1 carton chicken broth
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto

Heat the olive oil in a wok or medium sized sauce pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, sauteing it until it becomes translucent, approx. 3 minutes. Next add the rice and coat it with the oil until lightly toasted. Toasting the rice is important so the rice doesn’t absorb the liquid too quickly and become mushy. Pour in the white wine and let it simmer until it’s fully absorbed.  Add in one cup of chicken broth at a time, allowing the rice to almost absorb it before adding in another cup. At this point, I like to stir in the mushrooms. When the last cup of broth is almost absorbed, add in the cheese and stir.  Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese if desired.