But Sugar is Sweeter

Main Dish

Grilled Vegetable and Sun Dried Tomato Sandwiches

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I first made this last year when my mom came to visit me in Toledo for pre-wedding preparation, and I remember her loving them so much that I wanted to make it again.  Since John isn’t visiting with me this time  (he has summer school), I thought I would try to eat some of the foods that normally he would turn his nose up at – this way I can get my fill, without having to torture him :-).  While he’s never tried these sandwiches, he’s not a big eggplant fan, and it also seems that he  normally prefers meals if there is some meat included.  So these sandwiches seemed like a perfect lunch/dinner option for my solo visit home.   However, after enjoying them so much – I might have to try to convert him.

This is a pretty simple recipe, and it becomes a lot simpler if you don’t worry about measuring everything exactly.  The basic gist is to make a thick marinade with a 2:1 ratio of sun dried tomatos and basil, which becomes the base for the whole sandwich.  You use this marinade to flavor the vegetables, and then you put some of the marinade on the sandwich itself.  I chose to use sun dried tomatoes in oil, because I like to use the flavored olive oil in the recipe – it has a very strong flavor, which can be good or bad depending on your taste.  If you prefer, dry packed sun dried tomatoes can also be used, but you will have to add a little bit more olive oil to the marinade.  Whatever you use, know that the marinade is really what makes this sandwich.

Another great thing about this summery delight  is the variety of summer vegetables it works with.  I personally love roasted red peppers and eggplant, but I think zucchini, portobello mushrooms, yellow squash, or any other summer vegetables would be great.  In addition, I used ciabatta bread here, but a french baguette would also be excellent.  By chopping the roasted vegetables you could even serve this as an open faced appetizer – endless possibilities

Grilled Vegetable and Sun Dried Tomato Sandwiches

Make 4 sandwiches

  • 1 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed basil, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3-4 T. olive oil
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 3 red peppers, cleaned and sliced into 2 -3 inch slices
  • 2 small eggplants, sliced  1/4 inch thick
  • 4 ciabatta rolls
  • 6 oz goat cheese
  • spinach leaves for topping (optional)

1. Combine the chopped sun dried tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper in a small dish.
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2. In a large bowl, place the chopped eggplant and red pepper and toss with 2-3 T. of the sun dried tomato mixture.
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3. Heat the grill to medium-high, and begin by grilling the peppers – I put them directly on the grate, but you could also use a grill basket if you prefer.  The peppers will take longer to cook than the eggplant, so cook them for about 5 minutes and then add the eggplant.   Continue to grill all the vegetables for 8-10 additional minutes, flipping half way through.
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4. While the vegetables are grilling, slice the ciabatta rolls in half lengthwise and warm  on the grill until slightly crisped.  Top each with a generous tablespoon of goat cheese, followed by a tablespoon of remaining sun dried tomato mixture.  Feel free to put goat cheese on both sides of the bread (if you are a goat cheese lover like me).

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5. Top each sandwich with 3-4 slices of eggplant and 2 slices of roasted red pepper.  Finish with spinach, if desired.

IMG_0817Inspired by Giada’s Recipe from the Food Network

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Salmon Cakes with Lemon Yogurt Sauce

After 6 long weeks of studying (plus 2 years of med school), I finally finished that huge exam.  Honestly, I will have no idea how it went until I get my score in about a month- but for now, I’m just celebrating being done!  I spent the evening after my test in Toledo hanging out with friends, and then left the next day for a “vacation” to Brecksville with my Mom.  While I put vacation in quotes, it really has been a vacation.   Between a lot of wine and a lot of fun family time, we managed to make a trip down to the West Side Market.  Of course, I had a blog menu all planned out – and my mom was really excited to take part in something that was going to go on the internet :-).
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If you’re from Cleveland, or ever visiting, I highly recommend a trip downtown to see it.   It’s a really unique atmosphere, with every other stand trying to sell you their best produce (or at least the produce they have too much of).

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You can get some great deals on really fresh food, and they even have an indoor market where they sell meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, and even prepared foods like homemade pasta and crepes.

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After getting all the ingredients at the market, we stopped at Penzey’s spices which is right across the street.  I have wanted to go to Penzey’s for a while, so I was really excited that their new store happened to be so close.  They have just about every spice you could ever want, including about 8 different varieties of cinnamon.  I ended up getting poppy seeds, Ancho peppers and Garam Masala – all of which I’m really excited to use.  And the prices are surprisingly reasonable ($8 total for my loot).

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Now onto the Salmon Cakes!  These babies have been one of my favorite dishes since way back when I was living in LA (that’s Louisiana not the cooler California version).  I decided to try this recipe after  Whitney  had introduced me to crab cakes at Red Bar near Seaside, FL.  I have no idea why I never tried a crab cake before this but I found that I loved them and am now constantly on the lookout for good ones.

However, the price of lump crab meat is daunting (especially  here, far from the ocean),   so I thought salmon cakes would be a nice alternative.  These always prove to be delicious, and they are quite easy to make.  I think the hardest part is removing the skin from the salmon filet – but most of the time the Fishmonger will do this for you, as long as you remember to ask.

While this recipe doesn’t call for a lot of ingredients, I think each of them is very important – so don’t skimp.   I know adding pita to a salmon cake might seem a little strange, but the texture is much nicer than the usual breadcrumbs, and then you have some leftover pita bread sitting around your house (plus!).   The coriander is the main spice, and it really complements the salmon well.  If you like a lot of spice, feel free to up the cayenne pepper – but I usually only add a small pinch, and they are still plenty flavorful.  Finally, the lemon yogurt sauce is a must to serve with these.  It’s super easy to put together since you already zest a lemon and chop chives to put into the salmon cakes – the only other ingredient you need to buy is the yogurt itself.

I served the cakes with a cucumber salad – which complemented nicely but it not quite up to blog standards yet.  Hopefully I’ll tweak it and share it with you soon!
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Salmon Cakes with Lemon Yogurt Sauce

-Makes 4-5 salmon cakes or enough for about 3-4 people.

  • 1 pound skinless salmon fillet, roughly cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 large pita round (~10 inches), torn into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • small pinch of cayenne pepper
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 T. total chopped Chives (divided)
  • 2 teaspoons total lemon zest (divided)
  • 2 T. olive oil (for sautéing)

For the Sauce: 

  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • Plus half the chives and half the lemon zest from above

To prepare the yogurt sauce: Mix the yogurt, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of chives and 1 teaspoon of lemon zest in a small bowl.  Keep cold until ready to serve.

In a medium bowl, mix together salmon, pita, mayonnaise, egg, coriander, cayenne pepper, salt and 2 T. chives and 1 teaspoon lemon zest.

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Form the mixture into 4-5 patties, about 3-4 inches in diameter.  This can be done ahead of time – just cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge). 

Heat the oil on medium-high in a large stainless steel skillet.  Cook the salmon cakes on medium high for 3-4 minutes per side (6-8 minutes total), or until golden brown on each side.

Serve warm with lemon wedges and yogurt sauce.
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Adapted from Epicurious 


Salmon with Mango Salsa

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For some reason whenever I put salmon on the weekly menu, it seems to get pushed back to another day, or another week.  The last time I bought salmon, it sat in the fridge until I was afraid to look at it and had to throw it out.  This is really a shame considering that once I actually make salmon, I LOVE it!  This meal was no exception to my salmon “fear”.  I had gotten all the ingredients for the salsa and couscous, but when dinner time rolled around, I was really hesitant to pick up the salmon and make this dinner.  Because we didn’t really have anything else planned for dinner, and because if I didn’t make it, all the other ingredients would go bad,  I couldn’t really talk myself out of it (although I tried).

As soon as I starting chopping for the salsa, I was over my fear and glad that I had decided to make the salmon.  When I tasted the final product, I was even happier. I actually couldn’t believe that I was considering scraping this dinner for grilled cheese instead :-)!  This dinner came together quickly, and was delicious!   I served it over plain couscous that I cooked with chopped green onion and dried cranberries – which was also pretty yummy.  I think once the weather gets a little warmer, I’ll grill the salmon instead of broiling it, but broiling is easy and it came out great.

Salmon with Mango Salsa

– Makes 3-6 servings depending on the size of salmon filet used (Estimate ~4 oz per person)

For the Mango Salsa

  • 1 Mango, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 of a cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • A few strips of red bell pepper, chopped
  • ~1/4 cup of red onion, chopped
  • ~3 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime
  • pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix.

For the Salmon

  • 1-2 lbs wild salmon filets
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime
  • 2-3 Tablespoons light mayonaise
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat broiler.  Sprinkle lime juice over the salmon. Spread mayonaise over the filet using the back of a spoon.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place salmon on a broiling pan lined with tin foil, and broil for about 10 minutes, until cooked through.  To serve, cut into smaller filets, top with mango salsa, and serve over couscous or rice pilaf.

Source: A Spice Is Nice Original


Peanut, Chicken & Soba Noodle Salad

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This meal has been John’s favorite for a long time.  That’s right,   I said John’s favorite – Despite the fact that it has a weird looking buckwheat noodle, and is just about as far from a hamburger as you can get, John still loves this dinner.  If that isn’t reason enough to make it, I really like it too.  The first time I made it, I remember thinking, I have no idea how this is going to be – little did I know it would turn into a house favorite!  I’m not usually  a huge fan of ultra-healthy “hippie” food (no offense to the hippies out there), and soba noodles for some reason had that ultra-healthy sound to them.   Take quinoa, for example.  I know its uber healthy but every time I make it, I’m slightly disappointed.  I still keep trying, but I usually end of thinking, “This recipe would’ve been better without the quinoa”, and then the leftovers sit in the fridge, untouched.   This meal is not like that, at all.  The soba noodles really add depth and a slight nuttiness to the meal.  I made this once with spaghetti instead (because I didn’t have any soba noodles), and while it’s still good, it lacks the uniqueness and dimension that the soba noodles bring.  So that’s my rant about soba noodles.  You can find them in the Asian section of most grocery stores (I got mine at Kroger).

While this meal isn’t the quickest and easiest meal in my repertoire, it’s also not that involved, especially if you have the chicken left over or cooked in advance.  I usually end up boiling the chicken because it’s the fastest way I know, but when summer comes, I’m going to marinate the chicken in some lime juice, and then grill it because I I think the grill marks on the chicken would be pretty in this salad.  Oh and about that word – salad.  I didn’t really know what to call this.  It’s not really a salad – it doesn’t involve any lettuce and is more like spaghetti texture, but it’s a salad in the fact that you can eat it cold if you’d like.  I actually prefer it refrigerated, but John likes to heat his up – so it’s just personal preference.  I think this would be a great “salad” for a picnic lunch though (can you tell I have summer on the mind :-))!

Peanut, Chicken & Soba Noodle Salad

Makes about 6 Servings

For the Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter*
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 2 T. honey
  • 3 T. soy sauce
  • 2 T. ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more if you like it spicy)

Stir all ingredients together until somewhat smooth.  If sauce is still to thick, add another 1-2 T. of water, but also remember that the cooked soba noodles will likely add some liquid to the sauce.

*I like natural peanut butter here because I think it gives a stronger peanut flavor.

For the Salad

  • 1 package (~10.58 oz) Soba noodles
  • 5 carrots
  • 5 celery stalks
  • 3 green onion
  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • Sliced limes and Chopped peanuts for garnish (optional)

1. Begin by cooking the chicken – I usually simmer chicken in a pot of water at medium for 15 minutes.  You can also wrap in foil and roast in the oven at 450° for 15 minutes, or marinate in lime juice for an hour, and grill. (Lime, and citrus in general, helps to keep chicken tender). Shred or chop the chicken into bite-size pieces.

2. Prep the Veggies. Peel the carrots, and slice very thin or shave with the peeler.  (I got a julienne peeler at TJ Maxx, and it works great for this).  Wash the celery, and slice on a diagonal to create large slices.  Slice the green onions.
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3. Cook the Noodles. Boil a pot of water, and cook the soba noodles for 4-minutes.  Do not overcook (they cook a lot faster than pasta).
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4. Assemble.  If you want to serve the meal warm, quickly toss the sauce, soba noodles, chicken, and about 3/4 of the vegetables together in a large bowl and top with remaining vegetables to serve.  If you want to serve the meal cold, rinse the soba noodles under cold water, toss with the sauce,  chicken and 3/4 of the vegetables, and refrigerate for 10-20 minutes.  Then top with the remaining vegetables before serving.  A final sprinkling of lime juice and peanuts gives a lot of extra flavor to this meal.

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Inspired by Cooking Light


Chipotle Almond Chicken Mole

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If you’re looking for a change from your ordinary weeknight menus – look no further!  When I first saw this recipe, I knew I wanted to make it because it would really add a lot of interest to our normal weeknight menu rotation.  While being very unique, it doesn’t call for a bunch of crazy ingredients – you could find everything at Walmart if you wanted.   I was a little worried John wouldn’t like this since it’s not your typical American fare, but to my surprise I think he liked it even more than me!  It has a smokey flavor, and yet is a little bit creamy because of the ground almonds used in the sauce.

When planning meals for the week, I put  Spicy Bean Burritos on the menu, because they also call for chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, and that way I knew the can I bought wouldn’t go to waste.  If you like your dinner on the spicy side, then use the entire chipotle pepper.   Personally, I like just a hint of heat, so I removed the seeds from the 2 peppers I used, which really cuts down on the spice.  I also happened to have some corn tortillas left over from Chicken Enchiladas , so that helped to cut down on ingredients to buy (corn tortillas last forever, or so it seems).

The recipe makes a lot of sauce, so it could really accomodate anywhere from 2 – 4 large chicken breasts.  If you don’t want to make the whole batch, just freeze the sauce and use it over some leftover chicken at a later point in time.  We ate it plain, but I’m planning on serving the leftovers over some cilantro-lime rice, yummmm.

Chipotle Almond Chicken Mole

  • 2/3 cup roasted almonds (salted is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can  fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, roughly chopped
  • 1  tablespoon  sugar
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground cumin
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground cloves
  • 2  (6-inch) corn tortillas, torn into small pieces
  • 1  (14 1/2-ounce) can vegetable broth
  • 1  tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 – 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of all fat

To prepare the chicken:

Preheat oven to 450°.  Sprinkle chicken with salt &  pepper and wrap, individually, in tin foil to keep the chicken moist while baking.   Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Slice into strips.   *This can be done up to a day ahead of time.  As an alternative, you could poach the chicken breast in water for 15 minutes, or use leftover chicken breast from another meal.
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For the Sauce:

Place the almonds in a food processor and process for 2-3 minutes or until smooth (it takes a little bit of time, but should end up looking like peanut butter). Keep in the food processor.
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In a large skillet heat oil on medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and garlic cloves.  Sauté for 3-4 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients through broth: tomatoes, chipotle peppers, sugar, cumin, salt, cloves, tortillas, vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the tomato mixture to the food processor with the almonds.  Also add 1 T. vinegar.  Puree mixture until smooth.  Return mixture to pan and add the chicken to heat through. Serve over rice if desired.

Adapted from Cooking Light


Potato, Corn & Leek Chowder

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A couple weeks ago, I thought the soup making weather for the year was over – clearly I was wrong.  I guess a good way to embrace  the cold, is to look at it as one last opportunity to make a warm wintery soup!  When I was planning the grocery/menu list this week, I asked John what soup he would want for a (fingers crossed) last soup of winter meal, secretly hoping he would pick this soup.  Without any coaching from me, he said, “How about the potato one you make?”, so that sealed the deal – it went on the menu.  It also happens to be a quick meal (chopping is the only kitchen time), and a one pot deal (less clean up)!

What I like about this soup is that it’s a potato soup, with more than just potatoes and cream.  It has has a lot of vegetables in it, so it really feels like a balanced meal.  It does use some whole milk, but just enough to give it that creamy texture, while still keeping it healthy and relatively low fat.  I do realize that just before this I posted a recipe primarily made of butter and sugar – but what can I say, I like my sweets sinful and my meals, well the opposite.   This soup is pretty filling, and this recipe makes a lot – so if you’re not feeding a crowd, you might want to try halving it.  However, this is one of the few meals where I think the leftovers actually taste just as good or better than the original meal.  This is a rare finding for me, so I don’t mind making the whole thing and eating it later in the week.  I’ve never tried freezing it, but if you try it – let me know how it turns out!
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Potato, Corn & Leek Chowder

Servings: about 8 bowls         Prep Time: 20 minutes (for the chopping)       Stove time: 25 minutes

  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped  leeks (about 2 leeks)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 2 pounds yukon gold potatoes (about 8), peeled and cubed
  • 2 cups corn (frozen or fresh)
  • Dash of Salt & Pepper
  • Scallions/Chives/Parsley for topping

Melt butter in a large dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the leeks, celery and red pepper and stir until tender (3-4 minutes).
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Slowly add the flour and milk to the pan, stirring constantly.  Once mixed, add the rest of the ingredients (chicken broth, potatoes, corn, salt & pepper).  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes (or as long as you want – the starch from the potatoes will continue to thicken the soup).

Serve by topping with your choice of parsley, scallions, chives, or a mix.

Slightly adapted from Cooking Light


Twice Baked Potatoes

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I figured what would be better than a POTATO with the colors of the Irish flag!   I made mine with  broccoli, scallions, and cheddar, so I could get the green, white and orange effect.   I hope this brings a little St. Patrick’s Day spirit to your day!

My better half is interviewing people this week,  so it’s just me here until tomorrow.   Cooking for 1 can be tricky, but I think this recipe fits the bill – It’s quick, easy, and I had all the ingredients on hand.  The recipe is for 4 potatoes, but can easily be adapted to make just 1, or 8.  I often forget how great a good baked potato can be.  In college, my friend Christine, once had a “Baked Potato Party” in which she baked a bunch of potatoes, and then had all kinds of fun toppings for us to put on them.  It was such an easy and creative idea, and I have been wanting to do it ever since – maybe this will inspire you to host your own.  Whatever you put on your baked potato, it can be a hearty, and filling meal that’s easy and cheap to make.  I also included some suggestions for alternate stuffed baked potatoes , which I am now dying to try!

Twice Baked Potatoes

  • 4 russet potatoes – scrubbed and patted dry
  • Olive Oil and Salt
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 3/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 cup chopped broccoli, steamed
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions

Preheat oven to 400°.  Rub potatoes with a small amount of oil and sprinkle with salt.  Place potatoes directly on rack and cook for 45-60 minutes.  Do not wrap potatoes in foil because this will make the skins soft and it will be difficult to scoop the filling out later.

In a large bowl combine 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese, sour cream, milk, garlic powder, broccoli, and 1/4 cup scallions.

Remove potatoes from oven and let cool slightly.  Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Using a soup spoon, scrape out as much potato as you can while leaving the skin intact – leaving about 1/8 inch.  The potatoes taste better when there is less plain flesh left in them.  Add the flesh to the large bowl with sour cream mixture.  Mash the flesh until combined.

Spoon the flesh back into the potato shells.  Place filled shells on a baking sheet coated with aluminum foil.  Sprinkle remaining cheddar cheese over the tops of the potatoes.

Return potatoes to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and starting to brown.

To serve, top with remaining scallions.


Variation 1: Blue Cheese, Onion and Mushroom Potatoes

  • Substitute 1 cup crumbled blue cheese for the cheddar, and 1 cup sautéed mushrooms and onions for the broccoli.

Variation 2: Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Stuffed Potatoes

  • Substitute 1 cup of herbed goat cheese for the cheddar, and 3/4 cup caramelized onions for the broccoli.

Variations inspired by America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook