Gourmet Veggie Mama

Creamy Parmesan and Spinach Orzo

Here’s the deal with dinner lately: I don’t really cook it. It’s not that we don’t eat dinner at home… it’s just that the way our family life works right now sort of preludes me from being the primary chef at dinnertime.

Amelia has an early bedtime, so I have to start her bath at 5:45, do her bedtime routine (which includes nursing, so it’s my job) and then she’s down by 6:30 most nights. Nora, however, doesn’t go to bed until around 8 pm. We used to eat dinner at 6 and then play outside for a little while afterward, but since we like to eat together as a family,* we had to switch it up a bit. At first, we tried eating before I started Amelia’s bath, but it ended up being too early for everyone but her… and she was always on the verge of meltdown that close to bedtime, so it wasn’t working out. Our current solution is to eat at about 6:45, so I have time to put Amelia to bed and everyone can sit down together without throwing off Nora’s bath-and-bedtime routine.

*Well, minus the not-yet-eating-solids member of our crew.

Of course, if you do the math, that usually means someone other than me has to cook dinner, or at the very least do the final steps and get dinner ready to go on the table. And that means that the hubby has been primarily in charge of dinner lately. Sometimes I make the meal plan for the week, and other times we just wing it. Truth be told, I am still a little sleep deprived and unmotivated, so winging it wins out more often than it probably should. Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s freezer meals!

Anyhow, blah, blah, blah, get to the good stuff. I made a delicious dinner the other night (on one of my more motivated days) — and I accomplished it by prepping everything ahead of time (while the babe was napping), and then having the hubby finish it off right before we sat down to eat. This recipe for parmesan and spinach orzo has been floating around Pinterest, and I decided it sounded like a perfect weeknight meal — with some slight modifications, of course. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t be me.

spinach and parm orzo-001

 

I had high hopes for this one, and it did not disappoint. My only regret is that I really thought Nora would love it — and she did, for a few minutes. She chowed down until she realized that there was green stuff in it, and then proceeded to tell me she didn’t like “the kale.” Everything green is kale nowadays, and despite the fact that I have photographic evidence of her former love of actual kale, nothing can convince her that it isn’t gross. Plus, there were onions. Although basically undetectable to the adult palate (except for the lovely flavor they add), there were in fact onions in this dish, and that was apparently unacceptable. Sigh.

Regardless, the hubby and I scarfed ours down, and finished off her leftovers, too. Her loss, our gain!

Creamy Parmesan and Spinach Orzo
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Prep time: 
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Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 cups spinach, packed, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, and add the orzo. Cook until al dente, according to package directions (around 8 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in another saucepan.* Saute the onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the flour to the onion and garlic mixture, and stir to coat. Gradually add the milk, whisking to eliminate any lumps. Heat, stirring, until bubbly and thickened, 5-10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.**
  4. Stir in the parmesan and spinach and heat until the cheese is incorporated into the sauce and the spinach is wilted.
  5. Add the orzo to the sauce and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
Notes
* Or, if you're like me and prefer to minimize the mess, cook the pasta first, drain it in a colander, and then wipe out the same pan to use for the sauce.

** If you're making this ahead, you can stop at this step, and refrigerate the pasta and sauce separately (keeping the sauce in the saucepan for simplicity's sake). When you're ready for dinner, gently reheat the sauce on the stovetop, and then proceed with the recipe.

 

The Alabazam

The other night, the hubby and I were in the mood for a cocktail, and he suggested a Sidecar. I, however — mindful of how much I’ve neglected Cocktail Thursdays lately — suggested we try a variation. A little Googling later, we agreed on the Alabazam.

alabazam

 

Although it sounds a bit like a cheesy magical incantation, the Alabazam is actually just a subtle variation on the classic Sidecar, with the same ingredients — though bitters are an added touch — in different proportions. In fact, the Alabazam was developed before the Sidecar, at least according to The Straight Up (which has a great walk-through of several Sidecar variations).

The experiment was a success! Although the Alabazam shares most of the same ingredients with the Sidecar, it’s a very different drink. The bitters definitely change the taste (though I opted for a lighter hand with them than the original recipe), and there’s more cognac than citrus, which makes it a bit sweeter with a little more kick. I’ll drink to that!

The Alabazam
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Recipe type: cocktail
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Serves: 2
 
Ingredients
  • 4 oz cognac
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • juice of ½ lemon (about ½ oz)
  • ½ oz simple syrup
  • 4 dashes Angostura bitters
  • lemon twists, for garnish
Instructions
  1. Combine the cognac, Cointreau, lemon juice, simple syrup and bitters in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake vigorously and strain into two cocktail glasses. Garnish with a lemon twist, if desired.

 

 

Overnight Oats

I said I was going to start with simple recipes, right? Well, this is about as simple as it gets. Overnight oats. Mix one part oats, one part liquid and one part yogurt,* plus whatever spices, berries, nuts or other flavorings you’d like. Refrigerate overnight. Eat for breakfast.

*Or two parts liquid, if yogurt’s not your thing, or two parts keifer if you want to get crazy.

overnight oats

Bam.

With temperatures rising (mostly) and spring well on its way to summer, who wants to make hot oatmeal in the morning? Plus, this is ready as soon as you open the fridge. No pans, no waiting, no muss, no fuss. Perfect for those hectic mornings when you just need to get everyone out the door and on their way.

The best part, though, is that it’s completely customizable. Sub almond, coconut or soy milk, or even water, for dairy milk. Use flavored yogurt, or use plain (I prefer Greek yogurt for the extra protein) and add some honey, maple syrup or agave to sweeten it. Add some cinnamon, raisins, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, vanilla — whatever. Subbing in some pumpkin puree for the yogurt and adding pumpkin pie spice makes a delicious fall treat. Finish it off with some fresh fruit (blueberries, strawberries or banana slices spring to mind) or pecans or walnuts in the morning, if you like.

Any way you slice it, it makes a delicious start to the morning, and — best of all — it is thoroughly Nora-approved!

Here’s a recipe for one of our latest favorites: Strawberry Coconut Overnight Oats. Enjoy!

Strawberry Coconut Overnight Oats
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1
 
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • ⅓ cup coconut milk (or other milk)
  • ⅓ cup strawberry keifer (or substitute plain yogurt with a bit of honey to sweeten)
  • 2 Tbsp dried unsweetened coconut flakes (or more, to taste)
  • sliced fresh strawberries for topping
Instructions
  1. Mix the oats, milk, keifer and coconut together in a container with a lid.
  2. Refrigerate overnight. Serve cold, topped with sliced strawberries.

 

The Jasmine

Campari, to me at least, is a warm-weather spirit. I’m so glad, now that temperatures are climbing, and it finally feels like spring outside, that I get to experiment with it some more.

I know it sounds weird, but what first drew me to the Jasmine was that I read an article in which it was described as tasting just like grapefruit juice… yet it contains not a drop of actual grapefruit juice. I was intrigued, so I had to see for myself how these flavors played off each other.

the jasmine

As it turns out, the Jasmine does taste a lot like grapefruit juice — only better. Plus it’ll give you a nice spring buzz. Cheers!

5.0 from 1 reviews
The Jasmine
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Prep time: 
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Serves: 2
 
Ingredients
  • 3 oz gin
  • ½ oz Campari
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier (or Cointreau)
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 1½ oz)
  • lemon twists for garnish
Instructions
  1. Combine the gin, Campari, Grand Marnier and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into two cocktail glasses. Garnish with a lemon twist, if desired.

 

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta with Fresh Ricotta

Not long ago, I made a meal (this fantastic baked ziti) for a friend who just had a baby. Several people did this for me when Amelia was born, and I like to pay it forward. Having a newborn is a hard gig! However, I am still a little sleep deprived myself, so while I was making the ricotta cheese for two batches of baked ziti, I had a math fail. Long story short, I ended up with twice as much ricotta as I actually needed.

But, hey, that’s definitely not a bad problem to have. I pondered what to do with the extra, and landed on a quick and easy meal of spinach and artichoke pasta. Since we have plenty of spinach growing in our garden these days, it was easy to pop outside and pick some, sauté it, combine it with some chopped marinated artichoke hearts, the ricotta and a little cream, and toss it with pasta. Voila! Dinner is served.

spinach ricotta pasta

I do like my pasta pretty saucy, and this is no exception — so if you like yours with more pasta than other stuff, well, just make more pasta.

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta with Fresh Ricotta
Author: 
Prep time: 
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Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 8 oz spaghetti or angel hair pasta
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups fresh spinach, chopped roughly
  • 1 12-oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese, preferably homemade (recipe follows)
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted.
  3. Lower the heat and add the artichoke hearts, ricotta cheese (breaking into smaller chunks with spoon) and cream. Stir over low heat until warm, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Stir in the pasta. Serve warm topped with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Homemade Ricotta
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 4 cups whole milk (preferably organic, pastured milk)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
Instructions
  1. Fold a length of cheesecloth so that it's four sheets thick, and set it in a colander in the sink.
  2. Bring the milk, buttermilk and cream to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Keep watch over the mixture, stirring occasionally, until you see the curds start to separate. When this happens, turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Keep scooping under all you've got left is a light-yellowish liquid (whey).
  3. Sprinkle the cheese with a little kosher salt and let it drain for about 5 minutes. Use immediately, or store in the fridge in an airtight container.

 

Sailor’s Ale

I bought a bottle of Flor de Caña gold rum right before I got pregnant with Amelia, around this time last year. I was really looking forward to experimenting with some rum cocktails… and then I was sidelined. So, imagine my surprise when I pulled the bottle out of the back of the bar… and it was mostly empty.

Sigh. The hubby hadn’t realized it was anything special, and thus had been using it to spike his limeade when he went to the pool last summer. A lot.

But, onward and upward!

rum

A toast to Sailor’s Ale — originally a concoction of rum, ginger syrup, lime and dark beer. However, I didn’t quite feel like making ginger syrup, and I happened to have ginger beer on hand (everyone in our neighborhood is currently obsessed with the Moscow Mule), so I made it more like a slightly tricked-up version of a Dark and Stormy — just heavier on the lime.

sailor's ale

It was delicious, refreshing and perfect for this weird patchwork of winter and spring we’re currently experiencing. Drink up!

Sailor's Ale
Author: 
Recipe type: cocktail
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 3 oz gold rum
  • juice of 2 limes
  • ginger beer (1 can)
Instructions
  1. Combine the rum and lime juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into 4 rocks glasses (each will be about half full).
  2. Top each glass with about an ounce of ginger beer. Stir gently. Garnish with a lime slice, if desired.

 

Risi e Bisi

Ladies and gentlemen, the Naptime Chef is back. I thought, after a couple of years of being limited to meal prep during naptime, that I was past all that. With a child in preschool and plenty of time around the house by myself, I thought I could start to prepare meals like a normal person. Then along came Amelia.

Babies certainly have their own ideas about meal prep — namely that it’s not their favorite thing, and that there are a number of other endeavors on which their waking hours should be spent. So, I am, once again, limited to prepping dinner during naptime, however sporadic and undependable that may be.

And here I am, the Naptime Chef again. I guess that’s how it’s going to be for a while, at least. But, that’s okay, because I do have a few of my old tricks memorized, and I’m sure to discover some new ones along the way.

The difference is, this time, we’re starting out with a young palate to please as well — and yes, Nora has turned out to be quite the picky 3-year-old, despite my best efforts.* But, one thing she does like is rice. The kid will shovel handful after handful of the stuff into her mouth. And peas are one of her favorite veggies, too.

* I guess it happens to most kids eventually, at least to some degree. I just try not to cater to it too much, and hope it’ll pass sooner rather than later!

So, imagine my delight when I ran across this Slate article about the best thing to make with arborio rice that isn’t risotto, complete with a recipe for Risi e Bisi — an Italian rice and pea dish.

risi e bisi

Of course, I wouldn’t be touting it if it weren’t also pleasing to adult palates as well. It has many of the same ingredients as risotto — arborio rice, broth, butter, parmesan — but it’s far less time consuming. Even better, it’s something I can easily make ahead (during naptime, naturally) and finish quickly at dinnertime. Now that’s something I can get behind — particularly as our freezer stash is running low and I have to start cooking real food again on a regular basis.

Risi e Bisi
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Cuisine: Italian
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Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 5 cups vegetable stock, divided
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 14-oz bag frozen peas
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated, plus additional for serving
  • salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until light golden brown and beginning to caramelize.
  2. Add 4 cups of the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Stir in the rice and peas.
  3. Add a generous pinch of salt, cover and cook at a low boil until the rice is just tender, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.** Thin with additional stock if needed. The consistency should be thick, but not quite as thick as risotto.
  4. Stir in the parmesan and taste and adjust seasoning. Serve topped with additional parmesan cheese.
Notes
** If you are making the rice ahead, simply stop a couple of minutes before the rice is done to your liking and refrigerate; reheat later, adding some of the reserved broth and finishing with the parmesan.

 

Snow Falling on Agave

My mom gave me the most thoughtful Christmas present this year: A book of “literary-inspired” cocktails called Tequila Mockingbird (ha!), a bottle of Z Tequila to mix with, and (just for kicks) a gift card to Barnes & Noble. What a way to combine a couple of my greatest pleasures! While I look forward to trying out a few of the recipes from the book, none of the tequila-based drinks grabbed me, so I decided to break open the new bottle to try out a great drink from one of my favorite wine bloggers, SAHMmelier — the charmingly named Snow Falling on Agave (actually a Prado in disguise).

snow falling on agave

The combination of tequila and maraschino liqueur is not one I would have thought to try, but it was lovely. This drink is herbal-tasting and smooth — the tequila doesn’t back much of a punch at all. The “snow” is the foamy white layer on top of the drink formed by the egg white when shaken with the drink. Cheers!

Snow Falling on Agave
Author: 
Recipe type: cocktail
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
Ingredients
  • 3 oz tequila
  • 1½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 oz maraschino liqueur
Instructions
  1. Mix all the ingredients in a shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake vigorously until cold and strain into two cocktail glasses.

 

Hearth Bread

One of life’s great joys, as far as I’m concerned, is fresh-baked bread — preferably warm from the oven with a nice slather of butter. Sadly, though, fresh-baked bread can be hard to pull off without much notice. While I do love beer bread (which can be ready in just over an hour), it’s just not quite the same as a warm loaf of traditional yeast bread. But, so many yeast breads require multiple rises, or lengthy kneading, so this busy mama simply can’t work with that on her current schedule (or lack thereof).

hearth bread

Enter my new favorite bread recipe: King Arthur Flour’s Hearth Bread.* It’s super-easy, basically foolproof, requires only one rise and bakes in well less than an hour. Plus, I’ve adapted it so that my Kitchen Aid can do the kneading, so it requires no floured countertops or messy hands. Easy peasy. And since we’ve been thawing lots of soups from our freezer stash to enjoy in the cold weather, a nice loaf of freshly baked bread is always a welcome accompaniment.

*I let Nora, my kitchen helper extraordinaire lately, shape one of the loaves. Can you tell which one?

The recipe makes two loaves, so I always freeze one for later. That’s always a nice surprise for a rainy day!

Hearth Bread
Author: 
Prep time: 
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Serves: 2 loaves
 
Ingredients
  • 1 Tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 cups warm water (less than 110°)
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour*
  • 2½ - 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • olive oil for greasing
  • cornmeal for dusting
Instructions
  1. Mix the yeast, sugar, salt and warm water together, and let stand until the salt and sugar are dissolved and the yeast begins to bloom.
  2. Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer running on low, add the flour cup by cup (beginning with the whole wheat) until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all the flour is incorporated.
  3. Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed for 5 minutes.
  4. Let the dough rest while you grease a large bowl generously with olive oil, then knead for an additional 2-3 minutes.
  5. Shape the dough roughly into a ball and transfer it to the greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until doubled, 1 to 2 hours.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400°. Punch the dough down and knead briefly by hand to press out any bubbles. Separate the dough into two roughly equal parts and shape into loaves.
  7. Dust a baking sheet with cornmeal and place the loaves on the sheet. Slash each 3 times with a sharp knife. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow to the touch. Remove from the oven and cool slightly before slicing. Enjoy!
Notes
* I like to use white whole wheat for a lighter taste. If you want a heartier loaf, use regular whole wheat; you can also substitute an equal amount of all-purpose flour if you don't have whole wheat.

Texas Grapefruit and Bourbon Cocktail

I promised a new cocktail last week, but, well, life got in the way. I’d rather bring you something great with just a little delay than something subpar right on time. So, here we are. Cocktail Thursday is back!

For our first installment after hiatus, I turned to my old standby: bourbon. The hubby did a bit of experimenting with bourbons while I was pregnant, kicked off by our old favorite, Maker’s Mark, announcing that it would cut its alcohol content (it later reversed that decision). He decided that Bulleit Bourbon was his new favorite, and now that I can actually taste-test rather than just sniff, I agree. Bonus: It’s a little less expensive, too.

So, what better to pair with bourbon in January, the height of grapefruit season, than Texas grapefruit? Texas’ Rio Grande Valley is known for it’s juicy, sweet, bright red grapefruit, and they are perfect and delicious at this time of year. Bourbon and grapefruit, however, was not a pairing I would have thought of myself, until I stumbled on this cocktail recipe from Food & Wine. With just a little tweaking, it was perfect — and this is one of my new favorite cocktails!

texas grapefruit and bourbon cocktail

The hubby heartily agreed. I just can’t get enough of that Texas grapefruit this time of year, so, while I’m still going to have it at breakfast, I may as well shake some up and have it at cocktail hour, too!

Texas Grapefruit and Bourbon Cocktail
Author: 
Recipe type: cocktail
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
Ingredients
  • 2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
  • 4 oz bourbon
  • ½ oz agave syrup, stirred with ½ oz warm water (or substitute 1 oz simple syrup)
  • grapefruit slices and maraschino cherries, for garnish
Instructions
  1. Combine grapefruit juice, bourbon and diluted agave syrup in a shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into two rocks glasses over ice. Garnish each with a grapefruit slice and maraschino cherry.

 

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