Easiest Dinner Ever

This is quite possibly the easiest dinner I have ever assembled. Short of a freezer meal.

Last week, there was one night I didn’t get home until almost 10pm. After work I went shopping and then I went running and then I had to pick up a few things at Target. By 10pm I was hungry and tired and not in the mood for a lot of fuss. But I still wanted something tasty and relatively healthy. Enter this beautiful creation.

In a bowl, toss together:

  • 1/2 cup cannellini beans (from a can that has been drained and rinsed)
  • a handful of artichoke hearts, quartered (also from a can that has been drained)
  • 1/2 a pint of cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 of a small avocado, diced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • a generous sprinkle of goat cheese
  • salt, pepper, Garlic Gold

I served this with a big glass of water and one of my grandpa’s homemade whole wheat rolls topped with a smear of Earth Balance.

I was surprised at how quickly this meal came together and pleased with the tastes, textures, and nutritional balance. The artichokes and tomatoes were sweet and light, providing a contrast to the rich, buttery avocado and beans. The beans provided fiber and protein, the avocado and olive oil provided healthy fat, and the tomatoes and artichokes contributed to my 5 – 9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

I highly recommend keeping some pantry staples (beans and canned veggies) on hand to mix with fresh veggies when you are crunched for time but still want to eat real food. I can definitely imagine this combination appearing in my life again for a quick, light summer lunch or dinner.

Summer Succotash Pasta with Garlic Avocado Cream

Last night for dinner I whipped up a delicious pasta salad. It was chock full of seasonal vegetables and tossed in a light, garlicky cream sauce. I got the idea from a few recipes I’ve seen on blogs that use avocado to make delicious, creamy sauces without actually using heavy cream.

Start with 1 pound of short pasta in any shape you like (elbows, bow ties, etc.). I used a fun shaped pasta from Trader Joe’s. Cook the pasta according to package directions for al dente, making sure to salt the pasta water generously. Drain, transfer to a large serving bowl, and set aside to cool.

Prepare the following:

  • 2 zucchini, sliced into rounds and the quartered
  • 1 bag of broccoli, cut into tiny florets
  • 2 ears of corn, kernels removed
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
  • Handful of cilantro, chopped (basil would be delicious here, too, but we had cilantro on hand)

In a large skillet, heat a few teaspoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the zucchini and broccoli. Saute until slightly softened. Add the corn and sauté for another few minutes. You want the vegetables to be softened, but not overcooked. I like my corn to still have a bite to it. Remove from heat and add  the sautéed vegetables to the bowl with the pasta and set aside. Add a drizzle of olive oil and still to combine. After it has cooled slightly (you don’t want the cheese to melt when you add it!), add the tomatoes, mozzarella, and cilantro. Stir to combine. While the pasta and vegetables cool, prepare the sauce.

In a small food processor, combine a few teaspoons of olive oil and one clove of roasted garlic. Pulse until the garlic is minced. Add one small avocado, and 6 ounces Greek yogurt. Pulse until smooth. This will create a delicious, fluffy sauce. If you think it is too thick, thin it out with additional olive oil.

It is important that you do NOT add the sauce to the pasta/vegetables. Leftover pasta will turn brown from the avocado (because of enzymatic oxidative browning – one thing I remember from my food preparation class in college). To serve, portion out the pasta/vegetables into bowls. Top with a dollop of garlic and avocado cream and stir to combine. This is also good because each person can control how much sauce they have. Top with a few cubes of avocado and enjoy!

The result is a light, delicious, creamy pasta salad that you don’t have to feel guilty about eating. The corn and tomatoes are sweet and brighten up the dish and serve as a good complement to the creamy, rich avocado and mozzarella.

A few notes/words of caution:

  • To increase the protein quotient in this dish, you could add a can of rinsed and drained beans (garbanzo, black, or cannellini would all be delicious). You could also add cooked and diced chicken sausage.
  • I may or may not have used 4 cloves of raw garlic in the sauce instead of one clove of roasted garlic, resulting in an overwhelming garlic flavor (I believe Artie actually said it burned his tongue…). I would highly NOT recommend doing this.

To store leftovers, put the sauce in a separate container from the pasta. The top layer of sauce may turn slightly brown but it will still be fine to eat. The pasta actually tastes better after the flavors have had a day to merry. I guarantee this dish will be making an appearance in our house all summer long!

Strawberry Avocado Grilled Cheese

When  first saw this recipe pop up on one of the blogs I follow, I was skeptical. Fruit and avocados on grilled cheese? Meh. I floated the idea by a few coworkers who looked at my like I’d lost my mind.

However, my curiosity won out and last Tuesday night I found myself whipping this up for dinner.

It was surprisingly good! The avocado was buttery and creamy, the strawberries were sweet, and it was all held together by creamy, melty reduced-fat provolone cheese. Mmm. Plus, it’s grilled cheese which means it took all of 5 minutes to throw together and I only had one dirty pan. Win!

I found myself recreating this sandwich at least 4 times in the past two weeks (not grilled, but on bread and in wraps). It’s the sweet-salty combo that I love and highlights to of my favorite fruits. With a lightly dressed arugula salad on the side, this is a perfect meal.

I hope you will give this a try – if you like strawberries and avocado, I assure you it will not disappoint. I’m already dreaming up other sweet-savory grilled cheese combos to try in the future…

Taco Salad

Although I enjoy salads, I do not usually have a craving for one. Today was an exception to that general rule. For some reason, I was really craving a taco salad. This light but flavorful salad was a tasty way to wrap up the weekend.

In a large skillet, brown about a pound of ground turkey and add salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and dried oregano to taste. To the browned turkey, stir in a 4 oz can of diced chilis.   Add a (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes with their liquid. Drain and rinse a can of black beans and a can of white hominy. Stir the beans and hominy into the turkey and simmer until heated through.

Assemble the salad by crushing baked tortilla chips in the bottom of a bowl. Cover the tortilla chips with chopped romaine lettuce. Pour the taco meat over the lettuce and top with bell pepper, cubanelle pepper, jicama, sliced grape tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, avocado, and cilantro. Finish the salad with a light drizzle of olive oil.

Taco Salad
Taco Salad

What’s in Season Now: Avocado Smoothie

Avocado Smoothie

This time of year, my family has a plethora of ripe, delicious avocados falling off the trees in the backyard. I’m not sure exactly what variety of avocado these are, but they are significantly larger than Haas avocados (the avocados from California that you typically see in the grocery store) and don’t turn brown as they ripen. They have a sweet flavor and a buttery, silky texture. We returned home from our Winter Haven Christmas with two large, almost ripe avocados. Inspired by a recipe in the latest edition of Everyday Food, I whipped up this smoothie for breakfast one day last week.

Avocado Smoothie (1 serving)

In a blender combine one small banana, 2-1/2 ounces avocado (about 1/4 of a Florida avocado), 1/2 cup milk (I used 1%), 2 teaspoons almond butter, 1/8 cup rolled oats, 3 ounces fat-free plain Greek yogurt, and 5 – 6 ice cubes. Blend until smooth. Sweeten to taste (I added a drizzle of honey). Serve immediately.

The color of the smoothie left something to be desired (berry smoothies are much prettier in the glass) but the texture and subtle avocado flavor was excellent. I don’t typically like smoothies for breakfast, but his recipe was creamy and satisfying. The almond butter and Greek yogurt provided satieting protein while the oats served as a thickening agent. Overall this is a breakfast I really enjoyed and would definitely make again.

Fiesta Spinach Salad

Oh, this was soooooo good!  On Wednesday, after a long day of cleaning out the storage closet at work (no small feat!) followed by a post-work bike ride, all I wanted for dinner was something simple and delicious that used up some random ingredients in my fridge: black beans, an avocado on its last leg, and spinach.  Enter my creation of the Fiesta Spinach Salad:

Start with a bed of spinach (I used two big handfuls).  I give mine a quick chop first.

Top with chopped bell pepper.  I used 1/2 of a large pepper, but you could use the whole thing if you bought a small one.

Top with about 1/2 cup-ish of black beans – I just eyeballed it.

Top with the protein of your choice.  I’m currently in love with Amy’s veggie burgers, which I mentioned before in this post.  As far as frozen veggie burgers go, these have the best texture, flavor, and ingredient list, hands down.

Top with 1/2 a small avocado.  Want to know an easy way to dice an avocado?  After slicing the avocado in half lengthwise, carefully score the avocado (make crisscross cuts that don’t pierce the skin).

Then carefully use a spoon to scoop the avocado out of the skin.  So easy!

To keep the other half of the avocado from turning brown (the technical term is oxidative enzymatic browning – can’t believe I remember that from an undergraduate nutrition class!), wrap the avocado in plastic wrap, making sure the plastic wrap is touching the entire surface of the avocado.  This will keep the other half from turning brown as quickly.

Back to the salad – top the whole creation with a healthy amount of salsa.  
Another one of my favorites.  Paul Newman, what a guy!  Artie and I probably go through a jar of this each week.

Finally, give the entire thing a sprinkle of cheese.  We had white cheddar on hand.

Mmmmm so good.  This was easy to assemble (only got 6 dishes dirty – a cutting board, a knife, the cheese grater, a spoon, a fork, and a bowl), tasty, and exactly what I was craving.  It was enjoyed with an episode of this:
And the recipe was easily replicated the next morning to make for a delicious Thursday lunch:

The second time around, I didn’t have much spinach left (maybe a handful or so?) so I added in about a cup of raw broccoli florets, chopped into little pieces, and it worked really well.

Have a great weekend!