I firmly believe that God or the Universe, however you prefer to say it, puts the right people in our path for us to learn and grow… And Annie Mariel has been a real blessing in my life. It’s as if God, in his all-knowingness, understands and knows exactly the type of person you need in your life at a certain time in your life.
We got along almost immediately since we met each other about 5 yrs ago in a conversational French class. We have lots of things in common – we’re both consultants, we both enjoy anything French, we both enjoy to travel, we follow yoga and spiritual practices, we are both vegetarians… bueno, almost vegetarians because Annie Mariel still eats seafood and shellfish on occasion. But she gets my idiosyncrasies of being vegetarian. She has passed on to me her love of running and we even applied to run the Amazing Race together… (oh boy!!!)
Annie Mariel is a great supporter and fan of KarmaFree Cooking… and for my last supper of 2012 she wanted to contribute by bringing a salad. She knew I was going to cook pasta. She asked me to make it as light as possible, so I pleased her by making the sauce all tomato, instead of mixing it with some cream or half and half, like I like to do on other recipes. She told me she would surprise me with the salad… and that she did.
This salad had a little bit of everything… and it was delicious! I asked Annie Mariel if I could feature her salad in KarmaFree Cooking and she agreed. I hope I make her proud. Try it for yourself…
ANNIE MARIEL’S COMPOSED SALAD
Sliced Red Onions
Crumbled Blue Cheese
Toasted Almond Slices
Crispy Fried Onions
Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
- In a large bowl add all the ingredients. Toss lightly to combine
- Dress the salad with vinaigrette.
Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup extra virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Sal and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Place all the ingredients in a empty glass or mason jar. Shake well to combine. Let rest for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to combine well.
- Serve on top of your favorite salad.
I planned the menu for my niece’s baby shower last week. As you know… I only plan vegetarian parties, so this baby shower would be no exception. Last time we catered a lunch, but after all that was left afterwards, I decided this time around I would do the catering myself.
Over the next few posts you’ll enjoy some of the creations I prepared for the event. I am pretty audacious because I am not afraid of trying a new recipe onto 20-30 unsuspecting guests. Some are really not that new… but new twists on old favorites. Some are just improvisations at the last minute. Like this stuffed shell recipe for example…
The main course for the baby shower menu was Broccoli/Cauliflower Stuffed Shells. You’ve already read about it here. Pastas are so popular among non-vegetarians and so easy to make in advance that I decided this would be the dish to wow once again some vegetarian lifestyle non-believers. I didn’t want to make lasagna like I did for my nephew’s birthday just a mere 6 weeks ago. But stuffed shells give you the same make-in-advance advantages but in a very different presentation. People just feel is something completely different, when in reality, it isn’t.
I was making 2 baking dishes of stuffed shells… so my instinct was boil two boxes of large pasta shells. I never knew how many shells that would yield. When I was halfway thru my broccoli/cauliflower filling I knew that I was going to run out of filling before I would run out of shells. So my instinct was to make a cheese/spinach stuffing with some extra cheese I had bought. My family always teases me that I exaggerate… maybe it’s the Cuban in me. But I always want to err on the side of caution… we have a saying in Spanish – “Pa’ que falte, que sobre.” which translates to that I prefer to have more food than we need than to be short. So I always buy a few extra cheeses and things when I am cooking for a party. Sometimes I don’t need them, but this time it came in extra handy.
CHEESE AND SPINACH STUFFED SHELLS
About 30 brown-rice pasta shells – I use the Tinkyáda brand
2 tbs olive oil, divided for the filling and the tomato sauce
15oz ricotta cheese
8oz package 1/3 less fat cream cheese
8 oz cottage cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese, divided
4 large handfuls of fresh baby spinach, chopped
1 handful of basil leaves, chopped for filling
Another handful of basil leaves –chopped for sauce
28oz of diced tomatoes
About 1 tbs apple cider vinegar
4 oz of crème fraiche
4 oz of sour cream
½ cup of milk
6 Slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot filled with salted water to a boil.
- While the water boils, add the pasta shells. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until they have grown in size a bit, are flexible to the touch, but still not fully cooked. Drain the pasta shells and rinse with cold filtered water to stop the cooking process and cool them enough to handle. Set aside.
- For the filling, mix together the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, cottage cheese, ½ cup of parmesan cheese, baby spinach and basil leaves for the filling. Season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. It helps when the ingredients are at room temperature.
- For the tomato sauce, mix together the diced tomato, salt, pepper, vinegar, basil leaves and a small drizzle of olive oil. Set aside.
- For the white sauce that goes on top, mix together the crème fraiche, sour cream, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and season with some salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Now we assemble… in your baking dish 9 x 13 glass baking dish pour the tomato sauce on the bottom. Using a small spoon, fill each shell with the cheese mixture and place in the baking dish. I can accommodate about 3 rows of 10 shells each.
- After all the shells are filled and placed on the baking dish, spoon the white sauce over the shells. Now sprinkle some additional parmesan cheese on top of the white sauce and finish with pieces of fresh mozzarella on top.
- Now we bake at 400F for 25-30 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown. If you find the top is not browning, just turn the broiler on and watch the oven until it starts getting golden. Turn the broiler off and wait a few minutes. It’ll brown a little bit more with the oven off, you’ll see. As always… leave it there for about 10-15 more so it finishes cooking with the residual heat in the oven.
You can certainly assemble everything the night before your event, cover completely and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake. I usually take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before I want to bake… or before pre-heating the oven. Then bake as directed above.
This dish was such a hit!!!! Both, these shells and the original broccoli/cauliflower ones, were all a great success. Even my cousin has asked me to show her how to make the recipe. It’s simple, no?? She’s excited I am posting here, but she wants a full-on demo in her kitchen. So now I know what I am eating the night before the Miami ½ Marathon I am running next month!!!!
Have you ever come up with a recipe “on the fly” that was as successful as your original recipe???? Please share…
This is my current favorite salad… hands down, I have been making it for 2-3 weeks straight almost every time I cook for myself at home.
Chame is my friend for 15+ years now. And she has been inspired by our little blog here to follow a healthier lifestyle. By reducing the animal products she and her family eat, they have been able to lose many pounds. She tells me she feels with more energy, her cholesterol numbers are lower, she is trying new recipes each week … basically, she is in love with their new lifestyle. The message here is that shifting your habits and lifestyle overall, does lead to improvements in weight and self-esteem.
When I was in Miami recently she invited me over to dinner. She wanted to “brag” about the changes they’ve made in their diet and lifestyle and wanted to showcase one of their favorite meals – A mini pizza with a spinach salad with blue cheese and figs. After my experience at Cocina Abierta recently, I am certainly a believer of figs in a salad.
Inspiration goes both ways… I am grateful to Chame for inspiring me to create this salad. This is as easy as any salad is, and impressive enough to make for company.
CHAME’S SPINACH, FIGS AND BLUE CHEESE SALAD
Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, sliced or diced
Dried Mission Figs, diced
Crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste
- Assemble all salad ingredients in a salad bowl – from the spinach up to the cheese.
- In a measuring cup or bowl mix together 2 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar with a dash of salt and pepper to season. Mix well and drizzle over salad. Toss to coat.
I don’t know what it is about tomatoes in Florida… but every time I visit my sister, we can’t contain the urge to buy lots and lots of tomatoes. They’re just so plump and red and sweet and delicious… And I learned never to put them in the fridge. Just leave them on the counter and eat from there. They’ll not spoil and you’ll always have the best tomato experience.
We would go to The Boys Farmers Market or to another smaller more traditional type of farmers market near my sister’s home and would always return home with a batch of delicious tomatoes. I would make batches and batches of my Tomato Basil Brushetta mix and this Caprese Salad for my sister… her favorite.
I always like to add a bed of crispy lettuce underneath to bump the nutritional value and heft of the salad. Even though its tradition to have only tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, I need lettuce to make it feel more of a real salad to me. All the components are readily available fresh from The Boys – mozzarella, basil leaves and mixed greens…
6-8 romaine lettuce leaves, thinly shredded or baby spinach leaves would work well also
2 large tomatoes, sliced
½ ball of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
10-12 basil leaves, washed and trimmed
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Coarse Sea Salt
Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
- Just place cut lettuce or other greens as a bed on a serving platter. Arrange tomato and mozzarella slices alternately on top of lettuce bed.
- Place a basil leaf in between each slice of tomato and cheese.
- Drizzle with Olive Oil and Balsamic. Sprinkle liberally with Salt and Pepper.
Don’t the tomatoes look scrumptious???
My friends from French class and I used to meet at Chez Kristina every Tuesday to practice our French grammar and practice our vocabulary and speaking fluidity. Since last Summer we took an indefinite break from our weekly get-togethers and I truly miss them.
Kristina was gracious enough to open up the doors to her house each week and also usually made us dinner. Many times we offered to help and these reunions were the reason or excuse for many recipes shared here – Mushroom Goat Cheese spread, Cranberry Trifle, “Shrimp” Creole, and the Pita Pizzas made with Spinach and Tomato Sauce. But many times, Kristina surprised us with a creation all her own.
One of these creations was what I lovingly call Arroz Kristina – a rice Kristina made in the oven so little tending in necessary. The flavor is spectacular and it’s great to make for yourself or for company, just like Kristina made it for us. I tried a few times before this recipe with little success. It was mostly my fault for screwing up the liquid measurements to accommodate for whole-grain rice. But recently I discovered Texmati rice, whole grain basmati-style rice apparently grown in Texas that cooks almost exactly was white long-grain rice – similar in texture, liquids to use, time to cook. This rice is FAST!!!
After discovering Texmati rice and having a pint of mushrooms in my fridge about to spoil, I decided to give Arroz Kristina another serious try… and the results were as good as the original.
¾ cup of Texmati whole-grain brown rice
1 pint button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
½ red onion, diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbs ume plum vinegar
½ cup frozen spinach or 2 cups fresh baby spinach
¼ cup walnuts, chopped – you can use any nut you wish… I’ve used pecans also
1 cup water or vegetable broth
About 2 tbs olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
¼ cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
- Pre-heat oven to 400F
- In a medium-sized skillet over medium heat, pour about 1 tbs of olive oil and sauté the diced onions and peppers. After a few minutes, add the garlic cloves. Stir to combine. Add the mushrooms and stir so the olive oil in the pan coats them and so the garlic doesn’t stay all together in the bottom to potentially burn.
- After a few minutes of cooking and the mushrooms browning a bit, add the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes for the mushrooms to absorb the flavors and cook completely. After a few minutes, set aside to cool a bit.
- In a glass casserole dish, add the rice, frozen spinach (no need to defrost at all) or chopped fresh baby spinach leaves, walnuts or pecans, cooked mushroom mixture and water or vegetable broth. Mix together to blend and season with a bit of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Be careful here and try to avoid over salting… remember you seasoned the mushrooms so keep that in mind. Cover with foil paper.
- Place in oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. At about the 1 hour mark, check the rice and fluff and move a bit if necessary. Keep covered and leave in oven the additional 15 minutes.
- After time has elapsed, uncover, add the cheese, cover again and turn off oven. Let the cheese melt with the residual heat in the oven.
The color of the dish might be a monotone brown, but the flavors are really good. You could also use fresh spinach and the color would be greener… but using frozen spinach is just as good and super easy to have always at hand in the freezer.
I want to thank Kristina for always opening up the doors to her house for our French extra-curricular rendez-vous. I am extremely grateful for her hospitality, but most of all for her friendship. Hope that we can retake these weekly meetings, if not in her house, possibly in mine. And possibly start sharing once again new recipes we can all share with you…