Cheesy Tortellini & Asparagus


This is based primarily on a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s Make-Ahead Cookbook, which my mom gifted me for Christmas one year. It’s full of wonderful ideas for preparing dinner, lunch, and dinner and ways to get more meals out of your shopping list. It also gives ideas for freezer meals and slow cooker meals (good ideas for summertime—save the delicious Wisconsin sweet corn and don’t turn on the oven).

This is a fairly simple put-together dish; the only thing that gives it a second eggplant is that you need to blanch the asparagus. The bonus here is that you use the same water to boil the asparagus as the tortellini!

Speaking of, it’s time to start the water boiling. Whoever discovered heat+water=cooked food should be lauded for their curiosity and intuition.

With asparagus, I usually do the bend-til-it-breaks trick, but this time I decided to simply cut enough off the bottom, letting the knife tell me where the woody part starts. I think I didn’t want to be disappointed in how much I paid for it (this veggie is usually priced per pound), and I already have two baggies of ends in the freezer waiting for me to decide to make cream of asparagus soup.

Cut into roughly 1-inch pieces.

When the water bubbles, pop the greens in and set a timer for two minutes. Grab your trusty stainless steel bowl and put in some ice cubes; then, I usually keep the bowl in the freezer until the last second.

When the timer says so (in my case, it’s Alexa beepity-beeping at me), pull the bowl, fill mostly with cold water, and start slotted-spooning the asparagus into it to stop the cooking process. Let the pot on the stove come back to a boil.

Now it’s dressing time. I’ve mentioned before that making your own dressing is cheaper, better, and faster than buying bottled, and there’s no HFCS hiding at the top of the list, or Yellow #5 and Maltodextrin hiding at the bottom.

The dressing contains a delicious amount of minced shallot and garlic.

I’ve long known I’m never going to be a vampire. I like garlic way too much for that noise.

In a two-cup bowl, I squirt some lemon juice and realize I’ve run out, so I finish off the acidic liquid with some white wine vinegar. Because I’ve opted to use Lighthouse Farms freeze-dried Italian spices (do not buy this from Amazon, it’s too expensive—I’m sure your local Penzey’s store has a suitable alternative), I pour it in to let it rehydrate for a minute, then add the alliums. Whisk in the olive oil and let sit until everything else is assembled.

This is the magic sauce.

Slice up enough cherry tomatoes and put the asparagus into a medium bowl and add salt and pepper.

The multi-colored tomatoes make this dish pop.

To add a little bit of smooth crunch (I get the opposition, but pine nuts do that), roast a handful of pine nuts.

Since the tortellini is “fresh” (from Costco), it only takes about two minutes to boil (did I mention this dish comes together so quickly it’s almost silly?) so it’s the last thing to cook.

While it’s boiling, grate some parm and try to contain yourself.

Strain the pasta and rinse with cold water so it doesn’t melt the Parmesan. Pour into the bowl, add the dressing and shredded cheese. Stir carefully so as not to break the little pockets of cheesy amazingness.

Enjoy!

Cheese Tortellini and Asparagus

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Course: Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs asparagus ends trimmed, cut into 1" pieces
  • 1.5 lbs cheese-filled tortellini
  • 1/4 c lemon juice
  • 1/4 c white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp Italian herb mix
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • 2 shallots minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 c pine nuts
  • 2 c cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1 c grated Parmesan not that Kraft s#!t, either

Instructions

Salad

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add asparagus bits to boiling water with a little salt.
  • Prepare blanching vessel with ice cubes and cold water. After two minutes, remove asparagus from the pot with a slotted spoon into the ice-cold water. Strain and set aside. Return pot to a boil.
  • Stir together lemon juice, vinegar, and herb mix, then add diced garlic and shallots. Whisk in the olive oil and let rest.
  • Heat a small pan over medium and toast pine nuts until slightly darker than raw.
  • Slice tomatoes. Grate Parmesan.
  • Add tortellini to boiling water. After two minutes, straing and rinse with cold water.
  • Mix everything together carefully.

My mom’s boyfriend calls asparagus “spare grass” because he says horses eat it when they run out of real grass.

Cauli-Orzo-Feta Salad


This is from Chrissy’s Cravings, which I’ve talked about before; it’s the “lightest” recipe we’ve made from the cookbook (there may be others, we don’t know yet). We’ve made this twice so far and it comes together really quickly because you get to use the roasting and cooling time to do all the other prep and then it seems like you didn’t have to wait for anything!

Break up a head of cauliflower and roast, boil water, cook feta, make the dressing, mix together in a bowl. I know that sounds easy, and I do tend to think that making food is easier than it really is, so I’ll go through it more thoroughly.

Broken up, ready to roast.

The cauli gets tossed in some olive oil, salt, pepper, and minced garlic and roasted; then set aside to cool.

The best picture of orzo cooking that you ever did see.

The orzo gets boiled, rinsed, and oiled; then set aside to cool.

It’s coming together!

Meanwhile, the dressing gets whisked, feta crumbled, and onions cut.

Toasted pine nuts for crunch.

Since I have a huge bag of pine nuts from Costco (it’s the best deal), I like to throw them in salads when I can; toasting gives a nice flavor.

Brick feta.

I like using the brick feta because it’s cheaper per ounce, and there aren’t as many preservatives as in the tubs of pre-crumbled feta. Plus, it’s not that hard to slice and crumble.

Mosty toasty roasty.

When the cauli is cool (it always is!), and you’re ready to assemble, throw everything in the bowl, along with a handful of dried cranberries (Chrissy recommends cherries, but I don’t have those) and fresh spinach.

Serve and eat immediately before I take your plate. Surprisingly, this holds up for lunch the next day without getting too wilty.

Now, go get Cravings (amzn affiliate link) so that I can afford her next book, Hungry for More!

Baked Catfish Po’ Boys 🐟🥖


Full disclosure: I’ve never been to New Orleans and my only litmus test for a good po’ boy is Bab’s brief stint on Willy St. (where Ha Long Bay currently resides) and New Orleans’ Takeout.

Last night, however, I think I made the best catfish po’ boys this side of Lake Pontchartrain; let’s see how I did it!

Cabbage, carrot slaw with added red onion and pepperoncinis.

I started four hours before dinnertime with a 10 oz. bag of Josie’s Organics Power Mix and added red onion and pickled pepperoncinis.

Next comes about three tablespoons of mayo, some Dijon, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, minced garlic, onion powder, sweet paprika, and a little Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning.

Mayo and vinegar slaw; the best of both worlds.

Mix all this together and put it in an airtight, leakproof container because you’re going to be flipping and flopping it around to get everything good and coated. Store in the fridge until you’re ready to put the sandwiches together.

Next up, the remoulade. I didn’t take pictures because it’s simply mayo, paprika, Louisiana hot sauce, and some more Chachere’s. Mix all this together and store in the fridge until assembly time.

When you can’t stand waiting any longer for that delicious slaw, turn the oven on and get your parchment paper out! Three fillets were one-half fillet too much for our huge sandwiches, so plan accordingly. These were frozen, but it seems they take about the same amount to bake… roughly 10-12 minutes. I sprayed ’em with avocado oil and seasoned them with some more Chachere’s and placed them in a 400° oven.

Fishy, fishy, fishy, fish.

I sliced the French bread loaf and scooped out some of the dough. Who needs that to take up space when you have all this other deliciousness?

A nice French bread will do.

When there are around three minutes left on your oven timer, pop the bread in to warm up.

Now it’s all about assembly: bread, cheese, tomato, slaw, fish, remoulade, bread. And a side of mildly dirty rice.

Baked Catfish Po’ Boys

A Norwegian gal's take on a New Orleans' classic.
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: French
Servings: 2

Ingredients

Slaw

  • 1 10 oz bag cabbage, carrot, kale slaw
  • 2 Tbsp pickled pepperoncinis diced
  • 2 Tbsp red onion diced
  • 3 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp agave nectar
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp lemon pepper
  • 1 tsp Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning

Remoulade

  • 4 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp Louisiana hot sauce
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning
  • 1 tsp prepared horseradish

Sandwich

  • 3 catfish fillets frozen
  • 1 spray avocado oil each
  • 1 tsp Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning each
  • 1 loaf French bread cut to length and sliced, insides scooped out
  • 2 slices beefsteak tomato
  • 4 slices cheddar cheese

Instructions

Slaw

  • Mix everything in a bowl with a leak-proof lid. Flip every so often. Keep in fridge until ready to use.

Remoulade

  • Mix everything in a bowl. Keep in fridge until ready to use.

Fish

  • Preheat oven to 400°. Line baking sheet with parchment.
  • Put fillets on sheet and pray each with oil and sprinkle with seasoning.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Sandwiches

  • Place bread in oven for 3 minutes to toast a bit.
  • Remove from oven and place cheese slices and tomato slices, then top with coleslaw, fish, remoulade and the top piece of bread.
  • Relish in what you've created.

Salade Niçoise


This is an amalgamation of several Niçoise salad recipes and, since it requires many dishes and methods, it gets five eggplants for difficulty.

I was recently talking to the fella about rating the recipes and timing and how to get everything in the right order and how that seems to come naturally to me, so I’ll try to incorporate reasoning into the recipes that I write so it helps make sense of the whole thing.

For this dish, you can either start with the eggs or make them while the veggies are roasting. They can be hard boiled at any point prior and I use Gwennie’s method because it makes sense to me. So, for this recipe, it’s a nine-minute egg. The eggs can sit in the ice bath in a metal mixing bowl until you’re ready to plate, as far as I’m concerned. The colder they are, the easier they are to peel.

A riveting shot of eggs, resting in boiled water, covered. Use your imagination.

As the salad is served room temp, you can roast the veggies next (or first, depending on your egg situation). This will give them time to cool enough to put atop your mixed greens, which are typically fragile enough to wilt under the heat of a roasted veggie. My recently-discovered trick: after the eggs are peeled, wipe out the metal bowl, put all the veggies in and pop in the freezer for about five minutes.

I have not been diagnosed with OCD or Asperger’s but identify with those who have.

I’ve been keen on the bag of peppers from Costco since I don’t care for green (they make me burp) and the red/yellow/orange are usually over a dollar a piece at Woodman’s.

Baby potatoes cut into halves will be chewy in about 35 minutes at 400°. The peppers, thankfully, go along for this ride nicely. Spritz with avocado oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, Herbamare, or any of your favorite seasonings and spices.

Little Ball jars are a staple in the kitchen for mixing up quick dressings.

While your eggs are cooling in the sink, you can steam the green beans using the leftover egg water. You still want the freshly crunch, which is why steaming (for about eight minutes on medium heat) is the best method here.

While waiting for the veggies, you can make the dressing and mix up the tuna. The dressing is just* olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. The tuna is a handful of parsley, capers, minced shallot, and two cans of tuna packed in oil. If you have an abundance of oil left in the can, add it to the dressing. It’s all going to the same place, so it doesn’t *really* matter, but it helps bring all the flavors closer together.

Mayo-based tuna salad is GOOD but this is waaay better.

A couple of the recipes I referenced for this specifically call for Niçoise olives (holy crap, they’re expensive on Amazon!), so if you have a patient helper, get them, otherwise, Kalamata olives will do just fine (and they’re already pitted—a huuuuuge time-saver).

Much of the assembly line.

Fill a bowl with greens (these are the organic mixed greens from Costco, but we’ve been having varying degrees of luck with them lasting more than a day past “best by”) and tomatoes. It looks like a lot of food but will scrunch down into the bowl after everything else is piled on.

The start of a very delicious dinner.

Top with the warmer veggies and dressing. This should, hopefully, get things closer in temperature. I was a bit anxious and hungry, so I may have pressed a bit on this step.

Top with tuna, olives, and a couple of crusty bread slices (as if it weren’t enough food already) and serve to your best friend(s).

Beauty in a bowl.

Niçoise Salad

A veritable mashup of crunchy, soft, savory, tasty goodness.
Prep Time45 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Cool Time10 mins
Course: Main Course, Salad
Cuisine: French
Servings: 2

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 12 baby potatoes halved
  • 2 peppers sliced
  • 2 cups green beans
  • 2 cans tuna packed in oil
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 2 tbsp shallot minced
  • 1 tbsp parsley chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 12 cherry or grape tomatoes halved
  • 2 cups greens mixed
  • 2 tbsp Niçoise or Kalamata olives sliced

Instructions

For the eggs:

  • Place eggs in a pot and cover with cold water until an inch over (it's really hard to see what a liquid inch is when you're looking down into the pot). Turn heat on high and watch for boiling bubbles.
  • As soon as the water boils, turn off the heat, move pot to a cold burner, and set a timer for nine minutes.
  • Fill a metal bowl with ice cubes and put in the sink. When the egg timer goes off, run some cold water in the metal bowl and put the eggs in there to cool.

For the roasted veggies:

  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • Slice potatoes into halves, slice peppers into strips, and arrange on a baking sheet (covered with parchment, if you like to make your life easier). Spray with avocado oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, herbamare, and/or your favorite seasonings from Penzey's. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven, remove veggies and parchment to another surface to cool.

For the steamed green beans:

  • Place a steamer basket into a pot of water to make sure you haven't overfilled it. Turn the heat on.
  • Break off bean ends and cut beans in half. When the water is near boiling, arrange in the steamer basket and set a timer for seven minutes, cover. Remove basket and set on counter to cool (there is a theme here).

For the dressing:

  • In the vessel of your choice, add olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper (and some dijon mustard, if you're feeling fancy). Shake, whisk, or otherwise mix together and hold for later.

For the tuna salad:

  • Empty two cans of tuna into a bowl and add capers, shallots, and parsley. Mix well with a fork.

Assembly:

  • Peel eggs, slice in half.
  • Place mixed greens in two bowls, throw in the sliced tomatoes, drizzle dressing over the greens.
  • Assemble veggies, top with tuna salad and olives. Place eggs pleasingly around the bowl edge and serve.

I’ve had my share of mock-tuna dishes made with a slightly mashed chickpea mixture and think this would hold up well if you wanted to make it vegetarian; do this and omit the hard-boiled eggs to make it vegan.

My Take on Dressing

The sooner you learn how to make (and enjoy the simplicity of) your own dressing, the happier you’ll be. No more half-used bottles of Ranch in the back of the fridge, no more zero-calorie (and tasteless) Caesar dressing, no more salads doused with high fructose corn syrup and whey powder. *Just* oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper (also dijon mustard and agave nectar).

And, if you do want Caesar, Ranch, or whatever, you can enjoy the pure calories of buttermilk cuz you haven’t been using the bottled kind.

Easy-Peasy Cheesy-Quichey


We’d been having migas each weekend day for breakfast for a while, so I thought we could mix it up for the long weekend (also, I had only thought to buy two poblanos instead of three).

I scoured the blueprint of the fridge in my brain to come up with suitable ingredients, wishing there was a button with which to dispense asparagus. Alas, this is not Star Trek, so I landed on a simple tomato-basil mix as the featured stars.

I whipped up a quick crust and pressed it into a Pyrex pie pan.

Don’t worry! If it looks rough, I call it ‘rustic’.

Chop up the tomatoes (these are from Costco) and sprinkle with basil (I threw in some Italian seasoning, too) and salt. Right about now is when I would remember that I should have turned the oven on to 400°.

Tomatoes and basil smell so good.

Place the tomatoes on the crust and crack four eggs into the bowl (don’t bother rinsing it out, it’s all going to end up in the same place) and whisk with a fork or, the fella’s favorite, a French whisk.

Pretty little tomatoes.
Eggs and cheese.

Mix the shredded Asiago into the eggs and pour over the tomatoes in the pie pan. Top with a few sliced tomatoes to make it look nice.

It even looks good raw!
Into the oven.

Throw it in the oven for 30 minutes. When the timer beeps, grab a wooden toothpick and poke it into the middle of the egg. If it comes out clean(ish), it’s done enough to take out (it will keep cooking a little while it rests). Leave it on the counter for five minutes and then slice and serve!

Easy, cheesy, quichey.

Mary Berry would have been proud that there was no soggy bottom, but I didn’t press it into the pan evenly enough, so it was thicker in the corners. It will come out and taste just as well without the crust if you want to skip that part. That would qualify this as a one-eggplant recipe, then.

Tomato-Basil-Asiago Quiche

This is a quick, throw-together for breakfast or lunch. It takes mere minutes to prepare and you can use any compatible ingredients that you have hanging out in the fridge.
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Rest Time5 mins
Course: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Servings: 2

Ingredients

Quick Crust

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup ice water

Yummy Quiche

  • 1 1/2 cups tomatoes cherry or grape, sliced
  • 2 tsp basil dried or chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs beaten
  • 1/2 cup Asiago cheese shredded

Instructions

For the crust:

  • Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl.
  • Whisk together oil and water to thicken a bit and pour into dry ingredients.
  • Mix with a fork until well combined, use your fingers to spread the crust into an ungreased 9" pie plate.

For the quiche:

  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • Clean out the bowl from making the crust and put the chopped tomatoes in there. Mix well with basil and salt. Spread them as evenly as you can over the crust.
  • Beat the eggs in the same bowl. When sufficiently mixed up, add the cheese and pour gently over the tomatoes and crust. Top with some halved tomatoes for looks.
  • Bake for 30 minutes. Test the middle with a wooden toothpick, and if it comes out mostly clean, it's ready. Let rest for about 5 minutes, slice and serve.

Fried Catfish Sammies


Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings was a gifted cookbook that I honestly didn’t think much of at the time (it’s a pretty decadent cookbook—the mac ‘n’ cheese has nearly 10 cups of dairy), because I was doing Gwennie’s detoxes, trying to eat more raw veggies, and generally eschewing cheese, pasta, and bread.

Since giving the book a second chance recently, we’ve enjoyed her tuna melts, mac ‘n’ cheese, Cobb salad, and sriracha Caesar salad. For an unknown reason, I got it in my head to give her dad’s fried fish sandwich a try. Gastrologically, this was not a good idea, but they sure tasted real good.

Aside from my digestion, I’m also wary of making fried fish because the smell sticks around the house, but it was nice enough outside to have the windows open, and I remembered to put a curtain at the base of the stairs so it wouldn’t get up into the bedrooms.

Since I don’t own a deep fryer, we filled the cast iron with vegetable oil and turned it up, using the thermometer to check progess. I wish I had timed it so I could tell you, but I think it’ll depend greatly on heat source and vessel.

A vat of oil; highly unusual in this kitchen.

I “cheated” by using pre-shredded red and green cabbage with carrots mixed in. It is definitely more expensive per ounce, but I’d rather use that than buy two heads of cabbage to end up throwing away three-quarters of them. Really, the whole point of learning all this is about convenience and knowing that you can, and how to, substitute what you have in the fridge for what’s in the cookbook.

I have an overabundance of jars of relish, so I didn’t make the sweet pickles from scratch either. Come on.

Really, the whole point of learning all this is about convenience and knowing that you can, and how to, substitute what you have in the fridge for what’s in the cookbook.

– Amateur Foodie
Tartar and slaw.

The frozen fish (we opted for catfish) will thaw quickly in a bowl of running, cold water. If it floats, just plop a bowl on top!

Thawing fishes.

The batter is a tricky mixture of corn starch, flour, an egg, frozen vodka, and cold seltzer water, which is why I made the coleslaw and tartar sauce first. The required speed with which the fish are battered and put in the oil is a bit intimidating. So, the batter gets mixed up RIGHT BEFORE the oil is ready. Prepare your paper towels and get your tongs set!

I can smell the oil as I type (or maybe it’s cuz I’m writing this from a bar with a deep fryer). We waited for the suggested 3 minutes, but the desired golden-brown didn’t happen. In the interest of keeping things less, rather than more, greasy, I pulled them after about 5 minutes.

The second batch was a little darker, but that’s because the oil was slightly dirtier and probably a little hotter.

While all this is happening, the buns get toasted with butter and cheese.

All that saturated fat is good for you, right?

When the fish is cool enough, it can be sandwiched, topped with tartar and slaw, and enjoyed!

Thank Chrissy for her Laissez-faire attitude about tasty food and follow her on Instagram!