Refreshing Orzo Salad

Growing up, one of my favorite meals that my mom would make was Grecian orzo salad.  Recently, I was in the mood for orzo salad and I decided to try to replicate hers.  Thinking back, my mom’s orzo salad included Feta cheese, kalamata olives, and red peppers.  Well, I don’t like Feta cheese and I always dug around it in the salad bowl (sorry, mom!), and my grocery store didn’t have any organic red peppers.  Without those two, the kalamata olives just seemed a bit out of place.  So the Grecian orzo salad idea went out the window, and I decided to try my own orzo salad concoction.  Mine is fresh, light and simple – like my mom’s – but it’s not “Grecian.”  Ah, well, the best laid plans…

This was still pretty darn delicious.

Refreshing Orzo Salad with Shrimp

~2 cups cooked orzo pasta, chilled
1 long English cucumber, large dice
2 green bell peppers, large dice
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
~1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
steamed shrimp

  • Combine orzo, cucumbers, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes in large salad bowl and mix well.
  • In a separate bowl, vigorously whisk oil and lemon juice until the mixture emulsifies.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Pour dressing over salad and mix thoroughly until the pasta and veg are coated completely.  Add additional oil sparingly, and only if needed.
  • Serve with steamed shrimp (I tossed mine in lemon-pepper seasoning).

Source: Inspired by my mom!

Nota Baker: This pasta salad recipe makes a TON.  You will not, I promise, finish this in one day.  That’s intentional!  It makes a fantastic lunch for the next week or so.  I’m nothing if not thrifty!

Orzo with Sausage, Peppers and Tomatoes


This dish encompasses some of my very favorite things: adorable pastina, chicken sausage, and peppers.  It’s also easy… ridiculously easy.  You just start browning the sausage at the same time as you put the orzo’s water on to boil, and by the time the orzo is done, you have your sauce ready to go.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that, and the flavors are unbelievable, with sweet, crisp-tender peppers, tart fresh cherry tomatoes, and spiced sausage bits in every bite.

Orzo with Sausage, Peppers and Tomatoes

1/4 box orzo
1 package fresh sausage (I used garlic and tomato chicken sausage)
2 peppers, cut into strips
1/2 package cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered (depending on size)
salt and pepper

  • Start water to boil for the orzo.  When water is boiling, season with kosher salt, add orzo and cook according to the package directions.
  • Meanwhile, begin browning the sausage in a nonstick pan.  If the sausage is still in its casing, squeeze it out so that it is in a mass in the pan.  Break it up with a wooden spoon and distribute it so it browns in small chunks.
  • While the sausage is browning, cut the peppers into strips and prepare the cherry tomatoes.  After the sausage has made some good progress, add the peppers and tomatoes and stir to distribute them.  Continue to cook the sausage, peppers and tomatoes together, keeping a careful eye on the orzo.
  • When the orzo finishes cooking, drain it and add it to the pan with the sausage and vegetables.  Mix together and serve.


Yield: Serves two or three for a main course, four to six as a side.

Source: Adapted from Giada’s Kitchen, by Giada de Laurentiis

Note: The original recipe actually called for roasted red peppers in a jar, cut into strips.  This is usually a standard pantry item for me, so I didn’t even give it a second thought when I made my grocery list and it turned out that when I went to look for them in my pantry or fridge, I was out – who’d have thought?  Instead, I used sweet Hungarian peppers from my farmer’s market.  However, I think this recipe would work equally well with sauteed red, orange and/or yellow bell peppers, or with roasted red peppers from a jar.

Wine Pairing: Hubby and I are trying to work through the bulk of our wines these days, because we are preparing for a trip to Napa in about a week and a half, and we’re going to be bringing quite a bit home!  For this dinner, we poured Pinot Grigio from Doukenie Winery in Purcellville, Virginia.  Doukenie is our favorite winery in the region – we are actually members of the wine club there, which requires simply that we buy twelve bottles per year (easy; their wines are delicious).  Pinot Grigio is normally not my choice.  I once received a bottle as a gift and it had oxidized.  Ever since then, I have been turned off by Pinot Grigio and will almost always choose Sauvignon Blanc or a more obscure white instead.  But Doukenie’s PG is very nice, crisp and yet smooth, with mellow fruit aromas.  It’s making headway toward changing my mind about Pinot Grigio, and I think it worked well with this dish.  I’d also recommend a northern Italian white, or a lighter-bodied Italian red such as Barbera d’Asti.  If you substitute pork sausage for the chicken or turkey, you could pair it with Chianti and it would be delightful.  Enjoy!

Tamale Pie


Growing up, I was never much of a television watcher.  Partly, that was because I just didn’t have that much time with all of my extracurricular activities, and partly it was because I really preferred reading.  Yes, I was one of those.  These days, I still prefer reading, but I have recognized that there are certain joys to collapsing on the couch and turning your brain off for an hour or so, especially after a long day of reading LEXIS printouts.  I still don’t have that much time, though, so a show has to really capture my attention for me to actually invest in it.  When a show succeeds in getting my undivided attention, I find that I want to know everything about the characters.  I check out websites… read news articles… and (confession time) I even bought The Desperate Housewives Cookbook.  (What can I say?  I enjoy the show enough to want to make Bree’s Basil Puree and Gabrielle’s Black Bean Soup.  Don’t act like you don’t have your own guilty pleasures.)

Recently, I discovered “Big Love” – an HBO show about a modern polygamist family.  It’s a great, well-written show starring some very big names – Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin – and I’m totally invested in the characters.  So when I found a fictional blog on the HBO website, “written” by Ginnifer Goodwin’s character Margene, I had to check it out.  And of course, when “Margene” posted a recipe for “Barb’s Tamale Pie” (Barb being the first wife, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn)… well, I absolutely had to make it for myself.  And I’m glad that I did!  The filling was savory and the cornbread topping was crisp and made the perfect counterpoint.  I’m considering stopping by the Henricksons’ for dinner… if they have room for me at the table.


Barb’s Tamale Pie

1 package lean ground turkey
1 shallot, minced
1 yellow pepper, chopped
2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes in juice
1 poblano pepper, minced
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 package boxed cornbread mix (I used Bob’s Red Mill, but Jiffy is fine too) and other ingredients called for to make cornbread

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high and brown chopped shallot, yellow pepper and turkey.  Season with salt and pepper and add chili powder and cumin.
  • Drain any excess fat and transfer to a large heat-proof bowl.  Mix in cheese, minced poblano, canned tomatoes, chicken broth and golden raisins.  Stir together.
  • Pour mixture into a lightly oiled large baking dish and spread into an even layer.
  • Prepare cornbread mix according to package instructions.  Spread over meat mixture.
  • Bake 40 minutes, until top is browned.

Yield: Serves one polygamist, three wives and eight kids.  If your family isn’t quite that big, feel free to halve the recipe or resign yourself to leftovers.

Source: Adapted from Margene’s Blog

Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches


Hiking is one of my favorite pastimes.  Growing up, my family did a fair bit of hiking, but we didn’t consider it a hobby, per se.  Hiking was more of a way to get where we wanted to go.  You see, we often wanted to go to places that were a bit out of the way.  Like mountaintops in the Adirondacks.  Hiking is really the best way to get around the Adirondacks in the summer.  When I started dating my hubby, naturally, I needed to know that he was outdoorsy – otherwise, it would never work.  On our third date, we went hiking at Buttermilk Falls, and I knew then that we saw eye-to-eye.  Since we’ve moved to the Mid-Atlantic region, we have done a great deal of hiking – it’s a truly beautiful part of the country, my home, and I love to trek up and down the Potomac river experiencing it.  If you haven’t hiked along the Potomac, trust me, you’re missing out.

Of course, if you spend as much time in the fresh air as the hubs and I do, you’re going to get hungry eventually.  If you take my advice, you’ll have these sandwiches on hand.  They travel well and keep in a backpack.  Add an apple and you’ll be able to fuel a six-mile hike.


Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches

2 large red bell peppers
1 loaf ciabatta bread
4 ounces goat cheese
1 scallion

  • Preheat your broiler on high.  On a baking sheet lined with foil, arrange bell peppers.  Roast directly under the broiler until blistered and black, turning once.
  • Transfer peppers to a plastic zip-loc bag and tightly seal.  Let stand for 10-15 minutes.
  • Run peppers under water and peel off skins.  Pull out core and tear – as neatly as possible – in half.  Wash off as much of the ribs and seeds as possible, but don’t get too precious about it.
  • Slice the ciabatta in half lengthwise and rip out the soft core.  (Go ahead and eat that part; I won’t tell on you.)  Slather the bottom half with goat cheese.
  • Lay the peppers as neatly and evenly as you can atop the goat cheese.  Try to cover as much area as possible.  Using kitchen shears, snip the scallion over the peppers – white, light green, and dark green all.  If you have any leftover goat cheese, spread it over the top half – that will prevent the bread from becoming soggy.  But don’t freak out if you don’t have any left.  Ciabatta’s pretty crusty.  ‘S all good.
  • Top the peppers with the crust and slice into 4 equal pieces.  Devour immediately… or wrap the sandwiches up for the trail.


Yield: Serves 4 hikers.

Source: Adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten

Bonus pic: A shot from our hike at Great Falls – powered by a picnic of these sandwiches.  Yum.


Roasted Vegetable Pasta Sauce


Despite the title of this blog, I am actually something of a neat freak.  Although I do flail about and throw flour everywhere while I bake, I’m an extremely tidy cook and am very conscientious about cleaning my condo – particularly the kitchen, since I spend so much of my time there.  But one cleaning chore that I geniunely hate is cleaning the refrigerator – especially the dreaded produce drawers.  Mostly, I hate doing this because it bums me out.  I end up throwing so much away – mostly vegetables that were intended for dinners which never materialized, because I worked late or came home exhausted or forgot about happy hour plans I had made when I wrote my weekly menu.  Throwing that stuff away makes me sad, partly because I hate to waste anything (especially money, and since I shop at Whole Paycheck, it really is like tossing cash down the drain) and because I was really looking forward to those dinners that never happened.

The solution?  Make something out of nothing.  I’m good at this – you should have seen my 1L Torts outline.


I don’t always succeed, but I try not to get to the point where I have to throw food away.  Instead, once a week I try to do a fridge-clearing meal and actually use those vegetables that would otherwise be thrown out on the next market day.  Because I like alliteration and keeping my husband on his toes, I come up with cute, catch-all names for the dinners, like “Pantry Pasta” or “Fridge Frittata” so that he never knows what he’s going to get for dinner that night.  (Evil laughter.)  These dinners don’t really take to being written down in recipe form, but here’s one I made recently.  Alter as you see fit, depending on what’s languishing in your vegetable drawer…


Roasted Vegetable Pasta Sauce

2 Japanese eggplants
1 red bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
1 cup shredded carrot
1 28-ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 dried bay leaf
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons light cream (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

  • Cut eggplants and peppers into medium-sized chunks.  Toss on a baking sheet with extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt and pepper.  Roast in a 450 degree oven for approximately 40-45 minutes (keep an eye on it) tossing halfway through.
  • Bring remaining ingredients to a simmer over medium-low heat.  Stir in roasted vegetables and simmer together 20 minutes.  Remove bay leaf.
  • Process in a blender or in the pot with an immersion blender until sauce reaches the consistency you prefer.  Stir in Parmesan cheese and cream, if using, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

You can serve this over any pasta that you happen to have in your pantry.  I served it over whole wheat spaghettini, but it would also work well with linguine, penne, rigatoni or cavatappi, either classic or whole wheat.

Happy cleaning!

Source: Covered In Flour