Category Archives: Vegetarian

Spinach and Cheese Strata

spinach and cheese strata

I’m still here. I haven’t forgotten about this blog and I haven’t stopped cooking either. I’ve just been absent and it’s time for me to do my makeup homework. I would apologize to my readers, but I’m not entirely sure I have any. I mean that in all lightheartedness. This blog has never been about who reads it and who doesn’t, it’s a personal project and a personal commitment. Lately it’s been important for me to remember to just keep moving forward because these past two years surely have been draining. Last year it was the year of layoffs and wedding planning. I can’t think of another combination of words in the same sentence that could evoke more stress. And beyond that it’s been a year of false starts, both internal and external. There’s been those good times too. Like our three week honeymoon to the other side of the world, yet I shouldn’t mention that it left me with three weeks of jet lag. And knowing when I came back from our lovely honeymoon that there was a long list waiting for me. And what’s that saying? Long lists never get done. That could not be more true. So in the spirit of long lists, I will begin posting my back log of what I’ve cooked, starting with a spinach and cheese strata.

This recipe made a lot of food. It was nice and convenient to have around for several mornings of reheating, because cooking in the morning is a chore and usually not something I do. Next time I’ll make sure I have Dijon mustard on hand. The aioli garlic mustard I used instead was not the best addition, otherwise, this one’s a win in my book.

Spinach and Cheese Strata
adapted from Smitten Kitchen via Gourmet Magazine

1 10 ounce package frozen spinach, thawed, squeeze of all excess liquid, and chopped
1 large finally chopped onion
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed French or Italian bread in 1-inch cubes (1/2 lb)
2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère
1 cup finely grated parmesan
2 3/4 cups milk
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Sauté onion in butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg and continue cooking for one minute. Stir in spinach, remove from heat and set aside.

Spread one-third of the bread cubes in a well-buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other ceramic baking dish. Top with one-third of bread cubes, one-third of spinach mixture and one-third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice with remaining bread, spinach and cheese.

Whisk eggs, milk, mustard and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and chill strata for eat least 8 hours or up to a day.

The next day, let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350°F. Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

{photos by Avocados and Pancakes}

Goat Cheese, Spinach and Onion Pizza

goat cheese spinach and onion pizza

I can’t count the number of times I crave pizza weekly. But I don’t often give into my cravings for two reasons: there’s only one pizza place in Chicago that’s up to my taste (I hear the gasps already, but deep dish is not my thing) and buying a frozen pizza never results in a favorable experience. In order to appease my budget and my cravings, I decided it was time to finally make a homemade pizza from scratch. I’ve done this before, but it involved store bought dough. Pre-made dough usually does result in a delicious pizza, but these days I don’t really buy pre-made anything for a long list of reasons. That being said, it does take some patience to make your own pizza dough, but it is well worth the wait. If you’ve never made your own pizza completely from scratch, plan ahead. It takes about two hours for the dough to rise and double in size. If you plan ahead, you can put your pizza dough in the fridge while you’re at work or overnight. The cold slows down the rise, so it may need a full eight hours in your fridge before the dough has doubled. However, I’ve been told a long rise results in a more complex flavor. Once your dough is ready to go, roll it out with a rolling pin. Should you not have a rolling pin, you can even use an empty wine bottle. Fortunately for me, the mister has pro skills in hand stretching pizza dough. Thank you to that after school job in high school. Top with your homemade pizza sauce, recipe follows, and top with your choice of toppings. Pop in an oven hot enough to melt your eyelashes, and ten minutes later you’ll have a little slice of happiness.

goat cheese spinach and onion pizza 2

This pizza was very good, with pockets of warm goat cheese and caramelized onions. Even though I was really pleased with this pizza, I’d like to experiment a little more with this recipe. Next, I’d like to try bread flour in the pizza dough instead of all-purpose flour. Bread flour has a higher gluten level, so this produces a stretchier, chewier crust. And I do love a chewy, thin crust pizza. I also recently received a pizza dough recipe that does not use any yeast at all. This means no waiting next time that pizza craving strikes. What a nice proposition!

Pizza Dough
adapted from Smitten Kitchen via Mario Batali

I doubled this recipe to yield two small pizzas, enough to serve 2-3 people.

3/4 cup warm water (may need up to 1 or 2 tablespoons more water)
4 tablespoons white wine
1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups flour

Cornmeal for sprinkling
Flour for dusting counter

For each pizza:
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup baby spinach
1/3 cup onion, thinly sliced
6-8 slices of goat cheese

Whisk wine, water and yeast in a medium bowl until yeast has dissolved. Add honey, salt and olive oil and stir. Add flour and no matter how dry it looks, work it with a spoon and your fingers until it comes together as a dough. Add more water one tablespoon at a time if you need.

Sprinkle some flour on the counter and knead the dough for a minute or two. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rise for an hour or up to two, until it is doubled.

[Easiest way to tell if a dough has risen enough? Dip two fingers in flour, press them into the dough, and if the impression stays, it’s good to go. If it pops back, let it go until it doesn’t.]

Meanwhile, make some sauce, recipe below.

Preheat your oven to its highest temperature. If you have a pizza stone, sprinkle it with cornmeal and put it in the oven to preheat the stone. Otherwise, sprinkle a baking sheet with the same.

Once the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured counter and gently deflate the dough with the palm of your hands. Form it into a ball and let it rest on a floured spot covered with an upside down bowl. In 15 minutes, it is ready to roll out or stretch by hand.

Roll out on a floured counter until pretty thin, then lift it onto a cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet or stone. Add pizza sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, spinach, onion and goat cheese. Place pizza in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, checking at 8 minutes. My oven cooks very slowly, so it took my pizza about 15 minutes to achieve a golden brown crust. Slice and serve immediately.

Pizza sauce
adapted from smitten kitchen

14 ounces crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste, preference is the double concentrate paste in tube form
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Splash of white wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt

Pour in olive oil in a sauce pan and let it heat completely before adding the garlic and stirring it for a minute with a wooden spoon. Add the red pepper flakes and stir it for anther minute. You do not want the garlic to brown. Put the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste in the pot, along with the wine, sugar and salt, stirring to combine.

Let the sauce simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, letting the flavors meld. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

{photos by Avocados and Pancakes}

Black Bean Burger with Endive Salad

endive salad

To most people salad is not an exciting thing. It’s what you eat when you’re on a diet or a clichéd first date food. But I confess, I love salad. It’s also true that when I make a salad it’s not necessarily going to guarantee a low calorie intake. A salad is a great vehicle for all types of condiments and things you might feel guilty eating if they were not otherwise on lettuce. This salad may be put in the above category, but trust me you will not feel bad about eating it. It is such a nice combination of the bitter Belgian endive with the sweet candied walnuts, plus there’s blue cheese. Oh, blue cheese, how I love you. This recipe calls for crumbled blue cheese, but I really prefer to use a chunky blue cheese dressing to add extra creaminess. My favorite blue cheese dressing for this is Cindy’s Kitchen Real Blue Cheese Dressing Dip, it is so chunky, creamy and delicious.

black bean burger

I’ve been telling the mister for about a year now that he should try black bean burgers. Well, I think when I mentioned this to him he nodded politely, thinking that a burger really should contain some form of meat and definitely a bun. Yet, I think even for a meat lover like the mister he enjoyed these. I keep it simple by making a mixture of spices, black beans and roasted sweet potato and baking the patties in the oven. The juxtaposition between the savory, creamy black beans and the sweet potato is what makes these special. I like these served without a bun and with a dollop of sour cream.

I’ve made these awhile ago, probably two years ago, and I couldn’t find the original recipe. I must say I liked these better the first time I made them. I’m not sure if it’s the recipe or the possibility that now my palate is more experienced. That being said, I did enjoy these and I would make them again.

Endive Salad with Candied Pecans and Blue Cheese
adapted from Robin Miller

2 bunches Belgian endive, leaves separated and rinsed well
1 cup candied pecans
1/4 cup blue cheese, or blue cheese dressing
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
kosher or sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Arrange endive leaves on a serving platter. Top with candied walnuts and blue cheese. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, oil and mustard. Whisk to combine. Season, to taste, with salt and black pepper. Drizzle mixture over salad and serve.

Black Bean Burger

1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans black beans, drained
1 sweet potato, diced and roasted
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 cup sour cream
kosher or sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°. In a saute pan, saute onions and garlic untill translucent. Place sweet potato in oven and bake until fork tender. Combine onions, garlic, black beans, roasted sweet potato and spices in a bowl. Mash the mixture with a fork until the black beans and sweet potato are half-crushed. Add the breadcrumbs. Stir to combine. If the mixture looks too moist, add more breadcrumbs. Form mixture into 4 inch patties and place in oven for 20 minutes or until patties are warmed through and firm. Place a dollop of sour cream on top and serve warm.

{photos by Avocados and Pancakes}

Salmon Fillets over Couscous with Roasted Asparagus


Salmon and couscous are two ingredients I eat and cook often. Yet, I’ve never cooked or eaten them together, so it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed this recipe. It was such a cinch to make and full of flavor. After I cooked the couscous it seemed a bit dry so I added a long drizzle of olive oil which helped the texture and flavor. This is optional, but sometimes I really do just look for opportunities to finish a dish with olive oil, there’s nothing better!


Even though this meal is done in well under an hour, it still looks stylish enough once plated that I’m sure dinner guests would think you fussed over it more than you did.

roasted asparagus

The roasted asparagus, well that’s just a staple in this household. It’s true that the asparagus right now does seem a bit listless compared to asparagus when it’s in season, but I have been seeing it on sale quite often lately. Maybe this is the trade off? It is quite good roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, but the Parmesan cheese is what makes converts out of non-asparagus eaters. Trust me, I’ve converted life long asparagus avoiders into lovers with a sprinkle of cheese.

Salmon Fillets over Couscous
adapted from Bobby Dean

Salmon Fillets

olive oil
4 salmon fillets
1 lime
1 teaspoon sea salt
5 turns of a peppercorn grinder, course ground
1 tablespoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine sea salt, pepper, and garlic powder in small bowl. Add a drizzle of olive oil to glass pan and place the salmon. Squeeze the juice of 1 lime over the top of the salmon and sprinkle with your seasoning mixture. Top salmon with pads of butter. Wrap in foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve on a bed of couscous.


1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons butter
1 cup couscous
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup green onions
olive oil

Combine water, salt and butter in a saucepan, over medium heat and bring to a boil. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork, drizzle with olive oil. Add diced tomatoes, crumbled feta, and green onions. Serve at room temperature.

Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan
adapted from Ina Garten

1 pound fresh asparagus
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400° F. Break off the tough ends of the asparagus. Place the asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, then toss to coat the asparagus completely. Spread the asparagus in a single layer and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast the asparagus for 25 minutes, until tender but still crisp. Remove asparagus from the oven and top with shredded Parmesan cheese. Turn off the heat in the oven and place asparagus back into the oven for 3 minutes until cheese is melted.