Cover of "Off the Shelf"

Cover of Off the Shelf

I’ve had my eyes on this recipe ever since I spotted it in one of my favorite blogs, “Lisa is Cooking.” In fact, this particular post was the final push for me to order Donna Hay‘s book, and I’m glad I did, it is loaded with ideas for quick but flavorful meals. I was hoping to have leftovers for my lunch, but we could not stop eating it until the serving bowl was clean. Still, there are far worse problems to have in life… 😉


(adapted from Donna Hay’s Off the Shelf)

7 ounces thick rice noodles (200g)
2 T peanut oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
4 red chillies, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup sugar
3 chicken breasts filets, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted cashews
2 T fish sauce
2 T soy sauce
2 T lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Cook the rice noodles in boiling water according to the instructions in the package (around 3 minutes), drain and rinse with cold water. Reserve. (You can coat them very slightly with a very small amount of peanut oil to prevent sticking).

Heat the peanut oil in a large wok or frying pan, saute the shallots, chillies, and sugar for 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the chicken and the bell pepper, saute until cooked through and starting to get golden. Add the cashews, fish and soy sauces, lemon juice, return the shallot mixture to the pan, and finally add the cooked noodles.

Cook everything together for a few minutes, stirring to coat the noodles with the sauce. Sprinkle cilantro and serve.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Stir-fries cook in minutes, but they usually involve a huge list of sliced and diced ingredients, which is a hassle on busy weeknights.  But, as Lisa mentioned in her blog, it’s not the case for this particular recipe: very few ingredients work together perfectly to bring a delicious dinner to the table in 20 minutes, maybe even less, depending on your knife skills…

This one goes to our regular rotation of meals, we both gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up!

ONE YEAR AGO: Panettone

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I’ve never met a risotto I didn’t like!  It’s one of the most versatile dishes around. You can get fancy  (lobster and saffron come to mind), or keep it simple, but it’s always satisfying.   This tomato risotto falls into the latter category, in that I didn’t roast the tomatoes myself.  Instead I used a Muir’s product that I’m quite fond of.  Their roasted tomatoes have just the right amount of heat and smoke, and these days I shamelessly admit gastronomic shortcuts without guilt, as long as they involve quality ingredients.   This risotto will also succeed with  homemade oven-dried tomatoes, or a lovingly prepared tomato confit.  But, for the time being try this version, which will warm up your senses, every single one of them! 😉

(inspired by Donna Hay)

1 shallot, finely minced
1 Tbs olive oil
1 cup Arborio rice (or other short grain rice appropriate for risotto)
3-4 cups of vegetable stock
1 can (14.5 oz) of Muir fire-roasted tomatoes, some of the liquid included
(I used  diced tomatoes with green chilies)
salt and pepper
1-2 Tbs butter to finish the dish

Heat the vegetable stock in a sauce pan, add all the tomatoes and some of the water, season lightly with salt and pepper, and reserve, keeping it warm.

Saute the minced shallots in olive oil until soft. Add the rice and saute for at least 2 minutes, stirring often, making sure each grain is well coated with oil.

Start adding the hot vegetable stock/tomato mixture, slowly, 1/2 cup at a time, allowing it to be almost fully incorporated before adding more liquid. Keep stirring gently. Add some fresh thyme towards the end of the cooking time. Keep the heat low, and pay attention to the changes in the rice grains:  they’ll become more plump and translucent as they cook. When the rice is ready (not mushy), add a little more stock.  Finish it by swirling some butter and stirring to form a nice emulsion with the sauce. Serve immediately.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Donna Hay used tomato puree, white wine, and served her risotto with mussels.  We didn’t have any white wine on hand, so I just used stock and tomatoes. Whenever you make risotto, be sure to warm enough liquid for the cooking – better to have some leftover than to run out of it midway through the preparation. The amount in the recipe is more than enough, even considering variations in the type (and age) of the rice.

We enjoyed it with seared sea scallops, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a dust of ground coriander, then seared quickly on a hot non-stick skillet with a smear of olive oil. It was a good match for the fiery rice, leading my husband  to close the dinner with one of my favorite phrases: “you are going to make this again, right”? No worries there.  In fact, I think I’ll have an “encore”  next week! 😉

ONE YEAR AGO: A special dinner for two

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Could it be the one we harvested from our garden?   Was it one from the farmer’s market, so perfectly shaped, with a shiny skin that gave me pause before putting a knife into it?   No.   The butternut squash of my dreams – and I hope you can stand the truth – was sold in plastic bags,  uniformly cut, in a grocery store.  Confession heals the soul, so now I feel good! 😉  I must explain,  that since 1995 I’ve lived  in a  place devoid of  food  stores such  as “Trader Joe’s” and “Whole Foods.” Although our “Native Roots Market” and “Forward Foods” are local delights, whenever our travels took us to a city blessed with TJs, we’d make a point to stop by and collect enough goodies to tide us over for a few months.  However,  fresh produce and planes don’t mix,  so I had to “walk on by” all the  tempting veggies and just look.   Look, look and dream  about how nice it would be to buy that cute bag of perfectly diced butternut squash, and enjoy its succulence without risking my fingertips.  Here in LA  we have 5 Trader Joe’s and 2 Whole Foods within driving distance, so when I spotted that little yellow bag I grabbed it  and drove smiling all the way home …. beside the butternut squash of my dreams!

(from the Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by Donna Hay)

pasta of your choice
butternut squash, cut in chunks
drizzle of olive oil
a few sage leaves
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (full fat, please)
fresh arugula, preferably baby leaves
zest of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Turn your oven to 400F, open the bag of butternut squash, admire how nice each piece looks, and spread them all in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Drizzle olive oil, season with salt and pepper, scatter a few fresh sage leaves over it, mix it all to coat all pieces with some oil, and roast for 20 minutes, until soft and starting to get brown at the edges.

Meanwhile, boil salted water to cook the pasta.   In a large bowl, place the arugula and ricotta cheese, breaking it up with a fork.  Season with salt and pepper.  When the pasta is cooked, reserve some of the water, then place the pasta over the arugula/ricotta mixture, mixing it all very well. Add the butternut squash, lemon zest, and a little of the pasta water in case the mixture seems too dry.   Adjust the seasoning, and serve.


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Comments:  Due to the constraints of our nano-kitchen, I search for all sorts of shortcuts when preparing dinner.  Pasta sauces that don’t need much cooking are now  my best friends.   I got the inspiration from a cookbook that recently arrived in the  mail:  Donna Hay’s Off the Shelf. She only used ricotta and arugula, but butternut squash and sage sounded like a nice way to round out the pasta.   As far as cheese goes, ricotta is light, so I recommend the full fat version.

A juicy grilled chicken breast was all we needed for a simple, satisfying dinner on a Tuesday evening after a busy day at work… Life is good!

ONE YEAR AGO: Levain Bread with Caramelized Onions

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I can’t say enough about this salad!  The recipe, from Lisa’s blog (Lisa is Cooking),  originated from Donna Hay, the Australian writer who has incredibly beautiful cookbooks, with simple, elegant recipes.  You can find the original recipe here; I’m giving you my own adapted version.

(adapted from Donna Hay)

1 bag of baby spinach
3 small red potatoes, sliced very thin in a mandoline
olive oil spray
1/2 cup grated Parmiggiano-reggiano cheese
2 Tbs sour cream
2 Tbs low fat yogurt
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the potatoes…
Place the slices on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and spray them with olive oil. Place in a 420F oven until they get dark golden spots, turn them over and bake until crispy. Remove from the oven, allow them to cool slightly.

Prepare the dressing…
Mix the sour cream, yogurt, lemon juice, and olive oil in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Assemble the salad…

In a large serving bowl, mix the spinach with the potato slices and parmiggiano-cheese. Add the dressing right before serving.


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Comments: Don’t be too concerned with measurements, but make more than you think you’ll eat. It will quickly disappear … I imagine that variations with different greens, like baby arugula or a mixture of greens, will also work well….Maybe with crumbled feta or gorgonzola cheese…   A nice salad to serve at your next dinner party!

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