Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

May I ask a question? WHY do people like zucchini? I mean, I understand not disliking it, or thinking it’s fine… but, people who LOOOOOVE zucchini? WHY?? I just had to ask. I personally think it’s fine, and I will eat it, but I certainly don’t skip through the produce section, seeking out zucchini with joy in my heart. I’ve always found it to be kind of watery and tasteless, and usually mushy.

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

And with a glowing intro like that one… I assume you’re all ready for a zucchini recipe?? Yayyyy, zucchini! Seriously, though – I do try to vary my vegetable intake in the name of health, so I’m glad to have found a way to eat zucchini that I actually enjoy. Not to mention, this recipe is pretty quick and easy, and doesn’t dirty every bowl in the kitchen. Win-win-win.

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats
serves 2-4

4 medium zucchini, cut in half lengthwise
half a yellow onion, diced fine
2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
1 pound italian sausage (pork or turkey is fine)
1 can diced tomatoes, drained well
1/2 cup cooked brown rice, farro, quinoa, or wheat berries*
2 oz cream cheese
2 T parmesan cheese
2 T minced hot peppers (jalapeno or cherry peppers are great), optional
3 oz monterey jack cheese, grated
olive oil
kosher salt
black pepper

*You can skip this if making a grain just for this purpose seems like a real pain in the ass. However, I think it’s an excellent use for some leftover rice or quinoa from another meal!

1.) Preheat your oven to 325°F. Using a spoon, scoop the seeds and some of the flesh out of the center of each zucchini half. Lightly drizzle the flesh of the zucchini boats with some olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and lay them cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the flesh is soft, but not mushy.

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

2.) While the zucchini bakes, start on the stuffing. Heat a skillet over medium heat, add about a tablespoon of oil, and saute your onions until they are translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic (along with a pinch of kosher salt and pepper – always season each layer of the dish), and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3.) Add the italian sausage to the pan; cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until the sausage is cooked through.

4.) Throw in the drained tomatoes, brown rice, cream cheese, and parmesan. You can also add the hot peppers now, if you’re using them. My husband doesn’t care for hot peppers, so rather than adding them to the mix, I just sprinkled them on top of my zucchini boats, and left his plain. Stir everything together and cook until the cheese is melted and everything is warm.

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

5.) Turn on your oven’s broiler. Spoon the sausage mixture into the zucchini, and then top each one with some shredded monterey jack. Pop them under the broiler until the cheese is melted and browned, and then serve!

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

One of the best things about this dinner is that there is no need for a side dish! You’ve got your protein, your veggies, and your whole grains all in one place. And, you can totally change the recipe up to use whatever you have sitting in your fridge. You could do a version with bbq chicken and corn added to the mix… or go vegetarian and use canellini beans and ricotta instead of cream cheese.

Because the seeds and insides are removed from the zucchini (and they get baked, empty and upside down, for a while), it’s not watery at all. It’s just a great vehicle for holding all the delicious fillings! The number of servings you’ll get out of this will vary. For my particular husband, on the particular night we ate this meal, he took down FOUR zucchini halves (I ate two). On another day of the week, he might stop at two halves… or finish plowing through six. It’s hard to say. You could certainly serve this with a nice side salad or maybe some roasted potatoes, and help it stretch farther.

FINALLY, a decent recipe for squash,

Peppered Pork and Parmesan Flatbread Sandwiches

I have recently discovered a new favorite show on the Food Network: Heartland Table. There have only been a handful of episodes thus far (maybe 6 or 7 total) but every time I see an episode, I want to make EVERYTHING, immediately. I basically watch the episode, drool a lot, and then run to the Food Network website to pin every single recipe. Makes for a nice little Saturday morning.

This is the first recipe I ever made from that show, and I’ve made it a couple times since. It requires a bit of time standing over the stove, but it’s pretty simple… and the smell of that thyme- and garlic-rubbed pork roasting is so intoxicatingly fantastic, you’ll dream about it at night.

Peppered Pork and Parmesan Flatbread Sandwiches

Peppered Pork and Parmesan Flatbread Sandwiches
adapted from here
enough for 8 sandwiches, with pork left over

For the pork:
one 3-pound pork loin, fat cap left on
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup very coarsely ground pepper
canola oil, for searing

For the basting sauce:
5 T butter
3 T apple cider vinegar
2 T chopped fresh thyme
6 cloves garlic, grated
remaining pepper from the pork crust

For the sandwich spread:
1/2 cup mayo
pinch of kosher salt
pinch of black pepper
zest and juice of half a lemon
one large garlic clove, grated

For the sandwiches:
8 pitas (or wrap of choice), lightly toasted/warmed
sandwich spread (above)
thinly sliced pork
1/2 cup large parmesan shavings

Peppered Pork and Parmesan Flatbread Sandwiches

1.) Remove the pork from the fridge about half an hour before you’re going to cook it, to let it warm up a bit. Heat a large, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat, and add a couple tablespoons of canola oil to the pan (while you’re at it, preheat your oven to 375°). While the pan heats, pat the pork loin dry; sprinkle it with the teaspoon of kosher salt, then cover it in the black pepper, using your hands to firmly press it on to the pork to be sure it sticks. Reserve any unused pepper for the basting sauce.

Pork Loin with Pepper, Garlic, and Thyme Crust

2.) Once the pan is hot, sear the pork on all sides, including the ends. While the pork is searing, heat a small sauce pan over medium heat, and add the butter to it. Once the butter bubbles up, add the apple cider vinegar, garlic, chopped thyme, and remaining black pepper. Remove the mixture from the heat.

Peppered Pork and Parmesan Flatbread Sandwiches

3.) When the pork has been seared and the basting sauce is ready, use a brush to baste the pork with the sauce, and then place the entire pan in the oven. Roast the pork for about 50 minutes, removing it from the oven every 10 minutes to flip it and baste it. Try not to pass out from the heavenly smell emanating from the oven.

4.) While the pork roasts, make your sandwich spread. Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl; cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.

5.) Remove the pork from the oven, and let it rest for about 15 minutes. If you’re planning to only use the pork cold, set it aside and allow it to cool for about an hour, then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate it until it’s thoroughly chilled. You’ll want to thinly slice the pork as you need it; keeping the loin whole will prevent the pork from drying out.

Pork Loin with Pepper, Garlic, and Thyme Crust

6.) To assemble the sandwiches: spread the warmed/toasted pitas with the mayo sauce. Layer on arugula, parmesan shavings, and very thinly sliced pork. Wrap, and enjoy!

I’m really not kidding you – the smell of this pork cooking is one of the best things you’ll ever experience in your life. And not only does it smell like heaven, but it imparts a TON of flavor into the pork (which I suppose is kind of the point). The pepper-y, garlick-y crust has a great hit of spice – next time, I think I’d try this pork on a salad filled with parmesan, some pine nuts, and a lemon vinaigrette.

Peppered Pork and Parmesan Flatbread Sandwiches

You could also make this pork into a great little appetizer! Cut some grilled pitas into wedges, spread with the lemon mayo, add a couple leaves of arugula, a piece of pork, and some parmesan – then spear the whole thing with a toothpick. Best of all, it can be served at room temperature, so it can be made and assembled ahead of time.

You know that if I’m recommending cooking a giant piece of meat, it must be pretty fabulous,

Grilled Cheese with Kale Pesto and Prosciutto

So, you whipped up a batch of kale pesto last week, and you had a bit leftover… not quite enough to freeze for another batch of pasta, but enough that it seems silly to throw away. A few tablespoons worth, maybe. I found myself in this exact situation this past week – or, almost this exact situation. Turns out, the monster bunch of kale I used to make my pesto actually produced enough pesto for TWO one-pound batches of pasta… and then some. I mixed some of the pesto with linguine for dinner (and several leftover lunches for my husband), froze another portion to have on hand for an easy dinner later, and still had about a quarter cup left. I threw it in the fridge, knowing I’d come up with a way to use it later.

Grilled Cheese with Kale Pesto and Prosciutto

Well, later came – and it was yet another exceptionally frigid day, with a threat of snow. By the time I got home from work, I was exhausted and freezing, and wanted nothing more than to put on my warmest sweats, and make dinner in less than 15 minutes. Enter: leftover kale pesto! A quick scan of the fridge produced two great ways to use up the leftovers. First, grilled cheese sandwiches, fancied up with some kale pesto, and crisped prosciutto. Second? A delicious dip for raw vegetables that took approximately 8 seconds to make. And BAM, dinner was done!

Grilled Cheese with Kale Pesto and Prosciutto
serves 2

4 slices sandwich bread (I used a fairly hearty white bread)
2 T leftover kale pesto
2 one ounce slices of provolone cheese (mozzarella or monterey jack would be fine, too)
3 thin slices of prosciutto
2 T grated asiago cheese or parmesan cheese
salted butter

1.) Start by crisping up your prosciutto. Heat a small skillet over medium heat, and throw in the prosciutto slices; it should take just a minute or two on each side for the prosciutto to render some fat, crisp up, and turn golden brown. Remove the prosciutto to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Grilled Cheese with Kale Pesto and Prosciutto

2.) On two of the slices of bread, spread a tablespoon of the kale pesto. Top with the provolone cheese, then the prosciutto, then the asiago or parmesan. Top each sandwich with the remaining slices of bread.

3.) Heat a skillet over medium low heat, and melt about half a teaspoon of butter in the center of the pan. Most people spread softened butter directly on to the bread for their grilled cheese; personally, I find that, while it results in a crispy, buttery, brown crust on the sandwich, it’s a little TOO buttery and greasy for my liking (and I LOVE me some butter, trust me). By melting the butter directly into the skillet, you’re able to use a lot less, and still get the desired brown, crispy crust. ANYWAYS (my apologies for my lecture on Grilled Cheese Etiquette), melt the bit of butter in the center of the pan, and then add your sandwich to the pan.

(Please excuse my excessively dirty stove top. I swear I cleaned it as soon as I was done making these grilled cheese sandwiches.)

(Please excuse my excessively dirty stove top. I swear I cleaned it as soon as I was done making these grilled cheese sandwiches.)

4.) Cook each sandwich for about 2-3 minutes per side, until the bread is golden brown, and the cheese is fully melted (I often loosely tent the pan with foil, to help speed up the cheese melting process). Add a bit more butter to the pan when you flip the sandwich, so the second side will brown nicely as well.

5.) Allow the sandwiches to rest for a couple minutes after removing them from the pan, so the cheese can firm up slightly, then cut in half and serve.

Of course, this “recipe” is about as flexible as they come. If you don’t have prosciutto? Use bacon! If you don’t want to use meat? Don’t! If you think tomatoes would really make this grilled cheese amazing? Put some in! Got some leftover caramelized onions looking for a home? Add ’em to your sandwich!

Grilled Cheese with Kale Pesto and Prosciutto, Kale Pesto and Greek Yogurt Vegetable Dip

To make the vegetable dip, here’s what you need to do: place 1/3 cup of plain greek yogurt or sour cream into a bowl. Add a tablespoon of leftover kale pesto. Stir. Serve with raw vegetables or crackers of your choice. (It may have taken me 1,000 words to tell you how to make a grilled cheese, but I can be succinct about a two-ingredient dip, dammit!)

The point of all of these very, very many words: even if you HATE leftovers (*Tina quietly raises her hand*), you can often make them into something totally different than their original state. Leftover meatballs can become meatball pizza! Extra ham from Easter turns into a delicious dip! A pesto that began its life as a pasta sauce is now a sandwich spread!

Grilled Cheese with Kale Pesto and Prosciutto

I apologize for the excessive use of exclamation points this morning,

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Honey and Whole Grain Mustard Glaze

Asparagus is one of those vegetables I’ve just never really loved. It’s okay, and I’ll eat it – and depending on the preparation, sometimes I’ll even LIKE it. But, I just can’t get excited about asparagus! I buy it occasionally (typically when I come across a nice-looking bunch of very thin stalks), and I usually roast it with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and kosher salt… but, the last time I brought some asparagus home, I decided to dress it up a little. As I tend to do, I surveyed the contents of the fridge, brainstormed a little, and came up with a new recipe to try.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Honey and Whole Grain Mustard Glaze

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Honey and Whole Grain Mustard Glaze
serves 2-4 as a side

one bunch of very thin asparagus, trimmed (about 30 stalks)
6 very thin slices of prosciutto
1 T whole grain mustard
1 T honey
1 T olive oil
kosher salt

1.) Preheat your oven to 400°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and place a baking rack inside the sheet. Divide the asparagus into 6 even piles, and wrap each one with a slice of prosciutto; lay the bundles seam side down on the baking rack.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Honey and Whole Grain Mustard Glaze

2.) In a small bowl, whisk together the whole grain mustard, honey, and olive oil. Lightly brush a thin layer of glaze over each bundle, then sprinkle them lightly with kosher salt.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Honey and Whole Grain Mustard Glaze

3.) Place the asparagus in the oven; after about 10-12 minutes, take the bundles out and brush them with the remaining glaze. Roast for another 10-12 minutes, until the prosciutto is crisp, and the asparagus is lightly browned. I finished mine with about 90 seconds under the broiler, to get a little extra crunchy, delicious, golden brown-ness going on. Serve immediately.

If you have trouble getting your children (or yourself?) to eat green vegetables? Make these. Right away. As I mentioned before, I am not the world’s biggest fan of asparagus – and I am not kidding you, my husband and I ALMOST got into a fist fight over the last asparagus bundle. (We ended up splitting it, like civilized adults, but he gave me the half with the crispy tops, because he’s smart and he knows better than to make the cook angry.) The sweet/salty combination of the prosciutto and honey is spot on, and the mustard gives a little tang, and has an earthiness that pairs really well with the asparagus.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Honey and Whole Grain Mustard Glaze

These little bundles would be great for a dinner party – they’re fancy looking, delicious, and they take about 14 seconds to put together. Everyone wins!

Is it Friday yet??