Easy Baked Rice Casserole

This is inspired by a recipe I learned in college, though it’s run far afield since then. I was an international studies student then, was learning Arabic and Spanish, and had a lot of friends from around the world. Fairly often the International House, the center of international student and International Studies student social life, would have a potluck. They also had a big dinner fundraiser for which I helped make 1500 gyoza and 1200 krumkake in two of the most mind-numbing days of my life. But that’s another story for another day. One of the things at least or or two or three Arab students would bring was kabsa. And every kabsa was different. I learned how to make it and decided it was perhaps the easiest thing in the world to make. Now this is not going to be a traditional recipe because that’s the thing with kabsa, you make it what you want it to be.

The first thing is you heat your oven to 350° F. While it’s heating up, you put a baking dish on a medium high burner with a tbsp of olive oil. In the olive oil, you put about 1/4 tsp or so of an aromatic spice like nutmeg, cardamom, anise, allspice, cinnamon. The heat releases the oils and flavors the oil which is going to make everything wonderful. For today’s dish, I used 1/4 tsp of anise and a few shakes of red pepper flakes.

Then toss in a piece of meat – a chicken breast, 1/2 pound of ground beef, or some stew meat cut into good sized pieces, at least 1 inch square. I went far astray and used carnitas–which means I can’t really call this kabsa, because no Muslim would be using pork. You want to brown the meat.

While the meat is browning, cut up some vegetables into big chunks. No need to be dainty. For this one, I cut an onion into 8 wedges, crushed a couple cloves of garlic, cut some asparagus stalks into thirds, and chopped up two inch long pieces of red chard stalks and fennel stalks.

After the meat was browned, I tossed in all the veggies. I tossed salad tomatoes in whole and cut a lemon into quarters. The lemon is not required, but it sure makes it delightful. I just dump everything in, then I made a dip in the center, put one cup of rice there, added two cups of water. Now, if I were using chicken, I might add some turmeric here, but not for pork.

The raw rice, veggies, meat, and lemon – ready to get baked.

Okay, so to recap, aromatic spiece, browned bits of meat, big chunks of veggies, 1 cup rice, two cups water. That’s all you need, takes less than 10 minutes. Now you stick in the 350° and come back in 30 minutes and it’s done. No stirring, no messing with it, all in one pot. What could be easier?

The rice will be perfectly cooked. The large cuts of veggies keeps them from overcooking. Brownign the meat keeps the meat juicy and tender. It will taste not tasted boiled! The aromatic spice adds depth and the lemon wedges infuse the entire dish with a subtle, light lemony flavor. This makes four servings, that get better with every meal.

Fresh Tomato Rocket Soup with Basil

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The Oregon Food Bank Harvest Share gave huge bags of tomatoes. As soon as I saw the tomatoes I thought of making tomato soup with basil. They also gave out big bags of rocket, a peppery salad green that is wonderful as an accent and highlight in salad but a bit strong on its own. I thought it might make a good flavor accent in the soup. It worked.

This is a recipe that will make almost four quarts of soup, enough to freeze for later and enough for several servings. Enough to share with friends.

In terms of prep, do not worry about chopping things fine. I only cut the onions in quarters. After all, it’s all going to be pureed anyway.

Put a big stock pot with a cover on medium heat. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add 2 yellow onions. I cut into quarters, but you can dice if you like. Crush 6 cloves of garlic and toss in after the onions are nearly softened.

Toss in the bag of tomatoes, about four pounds or so. I poked the tomatoes with a knife just to make them release their liquid faster. Add salt and pepper. Put the lid on top. It needs to fit tightly because I am not adding any water. Leave it to cook for 20-30 minutes and check. There should be plenty of liquid with no need for water or broth.

Add 1 cup of fresh basil and 2 cups of rocket. Add salt and pepper. Put the lid back on for another 10 minutes.

Let cool and puree with an immersion blender, regular blender or a Magic Bullet.

This makes a great tart, peppery tomato soup. The flavors are really rich and deep, with a lovely tang. I served with just a bit of fresh rocket on top. It keeps well because tomato is very acidic and there is no dairy in it.

Zucchini Noodles with Roasted Tomatoes and Feta

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  • 12 grape tomatoes
  • 2 zucchini
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • 1 lemon, squeezed
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 dried red chili

Turn on the oven broiler. Cut a dozen grape tomatoes in half, sprinkle with a bit of olive oil and some kosher salt. Stick them under the broiler and let them cook until they are browned.

Meanwhile, put a little olive oil in a pan and toss a dried chili pepper in the oil and let the pepper heat and flavor the oil. You will smell the chili in the air. You can remove the pepper and the zucchini will be flavored by the oil without getting too spicy.

While the oil is heating, go ahead and spiralize two zucchinis. If you don’t have a spiralizer, just slice them as thin as possible. Spiraling is fun, though. Toss the zucchini in the oil, squeeze the juice of the lemon on the zucchini. Add some salt and pepper.

(If you are using an inexpensive hand-held spiralizer, do not cut off the zucchini stem since you cannot process the entire length of the zucchini. Instead, leave it on so you waste less of the vegetable.)

To serve it, put the zucchini on the plate, add the tomatoes on top, then sprinkle the feta on top, add some salt and pepper. Makes one dinner serving or two side dishes.

Baked Egg & Portobello Mushroom

Scrambled Egg Portobello

While pulling some broccoli out of the crisper to roast for my supper, I accidentally knocked an edge of this gorgeous portobello mushroom I was planning to stuff and cook on Sunday. Deciding to cook it before I added more injury, I had to think a bit about what to stuff it with. Al the meat I had was frozen, so I knew it had to be meatless. I decided to try scrambling a couple eggs and baking it in the mushroom. It worked beautifully and was delicious.

First, I heated my oven to 400°.

Then, of course, I removed the stem and scooped out the black gills underneath the mushroom cap, making plenty of room for my eggs. I reserved it all for another meal, perhaps a mushroom gravy.

In a bowl, I cracked two eggs, added 2 TBSP of finely diced scallions, the leaves from one sprig of fresh tarragon and 6 San Marzano tomatoes cut in half and then in thirds. You could use cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, too. You want tomatoes that are small so they have more flesh and less water in their substance. I used a fork to stir it all up.

I put a small amount of oil on the top of the mushroom and laid it in my roasting pan and poured it into the bowl of the mushroom. I sprinkled pepper and salt on top. I did not mix them into the eggs because salt will make a scrambled egg tough. I added a bit of broccoli on the other side of the pan with some olive oil and garlic and roasted about 20-25 minutes, until a lovely brown. The broccoli was also done and you can see they were served on the side.

I had thought about adding cheese, but felt that the tarragon had more than enough flavor to carry the dish and the cheese would only distract from it. I think I was right and it is better without cheese.  It was nice and meaty, though still tender. Eggs and mushrooms are always a good match and the tarragon added such a bright flavor profile that I could easily make this again and again.

Garlic Scapes, Tomatoes & Parmesan

Garlic Scapes, Tomatoes  & Parm

I love roasted garlic scapes, but I did not want to turn the oven on and heat up my apartment. What to do? Well, I often use my iron skillet with its lid to function as an oven. I will bake biscuits in the skillet with dry heat, for example. So I thought about roasting them in the skillet, but then when I had the skillet out and heating, I suddenly decided to go a different way and have to say, it worked really well, giving me a new, delicious way to enjoy scapes.

I heated 1 TBSP of olive oil in the skillet on medium-high (7 out of 10 on my electric dial) and cut one bunch of scapes into 2 inch long pieces while it heated. I tossed a dash of cumin in the oil as it heated. Then I added the scales and let them cook until they started to brown and began to get tender. I diced one tomato and added it after the scapes were cooked. While that cooked, I shredded 2 oz. of parmesan cheese and tossed on top, stirring in so it melted. This made two large servings of veggies.

The cumin and scales and tomato are magic together and the parmesan just makes it all so decadently delicious. I will definitely make this again.

Turkey & Kale Chili

Turkey - Kale "Chile"

A week ago, Sunday, I roasted a post-Thanksgiving turkey. New Seasons, the fabulous grocer nearest me, had deeply discounted their fresh turkeys hoping to sell them off before being forced to freeze them for less sumptuous turkey dinners of the future. In the past week I have had roast turkey, turkey sandwiches, turkey lavash rollups, turkey mushroom casserole, turkey salad and turkey dumpling soup and I still had a pound of bits and pieces. So, since I had already made everything else, I decided to make a chili. Or more honestly, a “chili”, the scare quotes indicating how very unorthodox and inauthentic my chili will be.

I save my bacon fat in a little butter bowl, storing it for cooking when I want to add some easy flavor. I put two tablespoons in the bottom of my stock pot and began adding ingredients, stirring and sauteeing over medium heat.

  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 TBSP of dried oregano
  • 2 tsp of cumin
  • 1 TBSP of chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp of cayenne
  • salt
  • pepper

After the onions were cooked, I added

  • Leftover turkey cut in small chunks, about 1 pound
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of frozen corn
  • 1 box of chicken broth (I had already used my turkey broth in the turkey dumpling soup.)

I let all this cook. Meanwhile I chopped up a bunch of kale. That turned out to be too much and I made yesterday’s salad with the unused kale. I added about 4 cups of chopped kate to the soup and put a lid on it and let it simmer. After it was done, I tasted and added a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

Well, you can’t go wrong mixing tomatoes, black beans, corn and onions together – but the turkey adds a mellow savoriness and the kale gives it an earthy flavor. The overall taste is bright and fresh with plenty of toothsome bites with the black beans, the corn and the kale. This last catch-all dish is by no means a single serving, however. It made 2 quarts of soup for 8 servings.

Chicken & Rice Soup

Chicken and Rice Soup

A small soup made with reserved broth and chicken from a whole fryer. For this, I added some rice that I had made separately. Use your favorite rice-making method. My preferred way to make rice is to rinse 1 cup of rice and put it in a kettle with 1.5 cups of water and a half teaspoon of salt. Make sure it has a tight lid. As soon as the water is at a heavy boil, I remove from the heat, leaving it covered to cook in its steam for 15 minutes. This makes a relatively dryer rice than some people like, so if you like softer, moister rice, use two cups.

In a kettle, saute 2 TBSP of yellow onion in 1 TBSP of olive oil. Add 1 clove of garlic and some fresh thyme. Stir in 1/2 cup of chopped chicken and 2 mushrooms sliced. Add 1 tomato, diced and 1 very small zucchini, sliced. Pour in 3 cups of chicken broth and 1/2 cup of rice. Salt and Pepper to taste. Let cook until the vegetables are done. This still makes 2 servings, but for a soup, that’s a pretty small batch.

Charred Tomato Salad with Chicken and Broccoli

Charred Tomato, Broccoli and Chicken Salad

I served this salad two ways, with and without the chicken breast.  I had it without the chicken as a side dish for my Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms and then ate the other half for dinner with a braised chicken breast cut up and added to it. Both ways were delicious.

First I put my cast iron skillet on the stove and heated it to medium high. While it heated, I cut a large heirloom tomato (it happened to be about half yellow and half red)  in half and gave it a soft squeeze to get some of the wateriest tomato juice out. I rubbed a bit of olive oil on all sides and put the two pieces of tomato cut side down into the skillet and let it cook until it charred before turning it over and charring it on the other side.

Meanwhile, I took a stalk of broccoli and trimmed the stem away, leaving about 2 cups of broccoli florets. I heated water to a boil with a tsp of salt and added the broccoli cooking about 3 to 4 minutes until just tender. I removed from heat and cooled.

After removing the tomatoes from the skillet, I added the juice of one lemon and 1/4 cup of vinegar to the skillet and deglazed the skillet, adding a bit of salt and pepper. Removing from the heat, I added 2 chopped scallions and 1 clove of minced garlic. This is the vinaigrette, using the oil and tomato char from cooking to add a bit of smokey flavor.

I chopped up the cooked tomato, added it to the cooked broccoli and dressed with the tomato vinaigrette and let cool in the fridge while the flavors married. This made a tasty side salad. This made enough for two salads. The first was a delicious vegan salad and the second a salad entree.

For dinner I wanted to add some protein, so I braised a chicken breast  and cut it up and tossed it in with the salad.

Tomato Salad with Lebanon Bologna

Tomato - Lebanon Bologna Salad

I picked up some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes at New Seasons this week as they were just $2.49 a pound. I had a yen for an Italian sub and was picking up some dry salami at the deli and saw some Lebanon Bologna and had to try it out. It had such a tangy flavor and it’s semi-dry texture was so perfect, that I picked up a quarter pound for sandwiches. But after making four sandwiches, I still had a few slices left so I thought I might try it out in a salad. IF you don’t have it, I would suggest a nice Genoa salami.

I cut  3 slices of tomato (about 1/4 inch thick or so) and diced them up. Then I sliced 2 scallions and chopped up the Lebanon bologna. I added about 1/2 ounce of crumbled feta and 3 pepperoncini. The tomato was so juicy, I did not add any oil, but did squeeze some lemon to help break down the tomato proteins a bit. I added a bit of chopped cilantro and salt and pepper. Next time, I think I will try basil. I served it on three leaves of lettuce that I had nuked in the microwave about 10 seconds – just enough to make them fold without cracking but not enough to wilt them. I used the salad leaves like a sandwich wrap. It was delicious but very, very messy. In the end, I took a knife and sliced up the lettuce and just ate it like a normal salad.

Chicken Broccoli Soup

Broccoli Chicken Soup

First off, this is not a Cream of Broccoli Soup. As a diabetic, I am not going to make cream soups when there are such delicious options without cream. I will make chowders using mashed cauliflower or potatoes to give the thickness and creaminess of a chowder without the cream. This soup, however, doesn’t mimic cream soups at all, but is a simple, yet delicious broth-based soup.

The first thing I did was stew a whole chicken last night. I sauteed one chopped onion, three cloves of garlic and a tablespoon of oregano with some olive oil. While they sauteed, I washed the chicken and removed the giblets etc that were stuffed inside. When the onions were transparent, I added the chicken and the giblets and covered with water. I tossed 2 bay leaves on top and let simmer for about two hours until the broth had a rich, chicken flavor and the meat fell off the bones. I removed the meat and set it in a colander on top of the stock pot so the broth drained back into the pot. Refrigerating overnight, the meat was cold and easy to work with as I removed all the skin, cartilage and bones. This left me with about 4 quarts of broth and 12 cups of chicken meat that I stored in airtight refrigerator containers.

I put 1 quart of broth and 2 cups of chicken in a medium sized sauce pan. The broth was not as deep in flavor as I like so I added 1 tsp of Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base. While the broth and chicken heated, I chopped up 2 broccoli spears and 1 tomato. I added them to the broth when it began to simmer and let them simmer for about 15 minutes – until tender and then added 2 tablespoons of Dijon Mustard.

The soup has a rich chicken flavor with a great foundation from the onion, garlic, oregano and bay leaf. The broccoli is perfectly tender without being the least bit mushy and the tomato adds some nice color. The Dijon Mustard top note, though, really makes this a fabulously, flavorful soup and unlike a cream soup, this is nice, light summer fare.

This makes about 6 servings – and of course, there is chicken and broth enough for another soup and several salads or sandwiches.