Spanish vegetable rice pilaf recipe | writes4food.com

The Dorothy Project: Spanish rice pilaf with zucchini and tomatoes.

As I’ve been browsing through my grandmother Dorothy’s “Kitchen Klips” recipe file, I’ve smiled as I discovered recipes that are very familiar to me. That’s because I sent them to her.

In the mid-1990s, when Grandma was working on her cookbook, “Home Cooking with Dave’s Mom,” she sent out a call to friends and family asking for their favorite recipes that she might consider including. I typed up and printed out several recipes that Rob and I made often (and still do), including two that made it into Grandma’s book: Awesome Orange Chocolate Chip Muffins and Cheddar Cheese Biscuits (note to self: make those soon!).

Among her recipe clips, I’ve found all the recipes that I sent her, including this one: Spanish Rice Pilaf with Zucchini and Tomatoes. Rob and I picked this recipe up at a local cookware shop just after we married, and we’ve made it a zillion times since then.

This is the perfect transitional recipe as we shift from summer to fall: it uses abundant seasonal produce like zucchini, tomatoes and bell pepper, but it’s a hearty, comfort-food kind of dish.

Make this Spanish Rice Pilaf as a side dish for grilled chicken or pork, or as a main course with a light green salad and some crusty bread. Either way, leftovers are just as good.

I’m not sure if Grandma ever cooked this recipe, but I smiled when I recognized it among her collection.

Spanish rice pilaf with Zucchini, Peppers & Tomatoes recipe

makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of red bell pepper flakes
1 large onion, diced
1 zucchini, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
3–4 ripe fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (or 2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large saute pan, warm the olive oil; add the dried pepper and cook until it's fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chopped onion and saute for 5 minutes; add the garlic and a pinch of salt. Add the peppers and zucchini and cook until they soften. Give the vegetables another pinch of salt and a stir, then cover the pan, reduce the heat and cook until the vegetables are soft and translucent (but not brown), about 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes; bring to a boil. Add the rice and broth. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Add the chopped parsley and simmer 5 minutes more. Season the pilaf well with salt and pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature.

easy zucchini cheddar casserole recipe | writes4food.com

‘Lost and found’ zucchini casserole.

When you’re browsing through an old collection of vintage recipes, it’s fun to imagine what prompted the person to clip or save a particular recipe, and to envision when or why she may have made the dish.

In my grandma Dorothy’s “Kitchen Klips” file (see what they did there, with the alliteration?), tucked into the Vegetables pocket, is a page photocopied from Gourmet magazine’s February 1984 issue. It’s the “Sugar and Spice” column [Remember that one, where readers sent questions or their own favorite recipes? That was back when food magazines were actually about home cooking, and not about pimping the celebrity chef of the second … but I digress.]

So, the “Sugar and Spice” page has three recipes: one for Chicken with Artichokes and Pistachio Nuts, one for Lost-and-Found Zucchini Casserole and one for Lemon Tarts MacCallum. [How quaint: the magazine used to dub readers’ personal recipes with their last names.] OK, so back to the recipes … I’m pretty sure the artichoke dish was a little fancy for Dorothy. And the lemon tart recipe continued on another page, so the directions are totally cut off. Which leads me to believe that it was the zucchini casserole recipe that caught Grandma’s eye.

It’s very much a dish that she would have made — in fact, she made zucchini casserole many, many times every summer when her garden was abundant. It’s so easy and unfussy that it seems out of place in Gourmet magazine. The reader’s note accompanying the recipe describes the raves she earns every time she serves it to company (its name comes from the fact that she’d lost the recipe, which originally dated to the 1950s, then found it again).

So, Lost-and-Found Zucchini Casserole … it’s a simple, one-bowl recipe for baked vegetables with a little cheddar for pop and beaten egg to hold it together. It’s even simpler if you use your food processor to do 99% of the work.

Be sure to bookmark the recipe … so, you know, you don’t lose it.

Lost-and-Found Zucchini Casserole (Baked Zucchini with Cheddar and Breadcrumbs) Recipe

serves 6–8

4 large (but not baseball bat-sized, c'mon) zucchini
1 large green or red bell pepper
1 medium onion
3 slices white bread, crusts removed (or 1 cup fresh bread crumbs)
4 ounces sharp Cheddar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil or Italian herb blend
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 large eggs, beaten well

Preheat oven to 350°. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into quarters, then slice thinly into quarter-moons. Transfer zucchini to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the bread to crumbs; add to the baking dish. Process the bell pepper until finely diced; transfer to the baking dish, then process the onion in similar fashion and dump it into the dish. Switch to the coarse shredding disk in your processor, and shred the Cheddar; add to the baking dish. Add the olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper and use your hands to combine. Pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables and mix to combine. Bake uncovered for 50–60 minutes, until casserole is bubbly and browned on top. Serve hot or room temperature.

The Dorothy Project: Poppy seed cake.

When I was growing up, I loved poppy seed cake. It was a family thing: I recall that my aunt Gretchen had a poppy seed wedding cake, and Rob and I did, too. Taylor’s Bakery in Indianapolis made a delicious poppy seed cake with white icing. And I remember my grandmother Dorothy making it cake on occasion, too, though she was more of a pie baker than a cake maker.

I was delighted to find her recipe for poppy seed cake in her recipe file, which my mom recently shared with me after Dorothy passed away in April at age 95. She had clipped this recipe from the Indianapolis Star at one point — the original recipe is undated. But this cake recipe is pretty much perfect: It’s fancier than a basic pound cake but not as fussy or time-consuming as a frosted layer cake. Assuming you have poppy seeds on hand, you can make it any time, and it’s really easy to mix up.

As with many old recipes, I found the instructions to be a little wonky, so I rewrote them to be more logical. I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, so I reduced the amount of sugar called for from 1 1/2 cups to 1 cup. (You could use the full amount as noted below.) Since I love lemon, I increased the amount of lemon zest and juice.

Thanks to everyone who shared my enthusiasm for cooking with my grandmother Dorothy’s recipe file. This is the first recipe in what I’m calling The Dorothy Project. (For scoop on another collection of vintage recipe cards that inspired my cooking in similar ways, check out The Clara Project.)

In the coming weeks, I’ll be telling you a little bit more about my grandma and sharing more of her old-fashioned recipes.

Grandma's Poppy Seed Cake Recipe

serves 12

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar (use 1 1/2 cups if you like a sweeter cake)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 cup butter
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a standard tube or bundt pan with cooking spray, then dust with flour, shaking out excess. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. In another bowl, combine granulated sugar and lemon zest and use your fingers to work them together until the sugar resembles moist sand and the mixture is fragrant. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), cream butter until smooth; add lemon-sugar and beat together until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, blending well; stir in vanilla. In a measuring cup, combine milk and lemon juice (the milk will curdle). With the mixer running on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add 1/2 the milk. Repeat with another 1/3 of flour mixture, then remaining milk, and finishing with the flour—mixing well after each addition. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, leveling the top and tapping the pan on the counter to settle the batter. Bake until the cake is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into several spots comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool for 15 minutes, then invert cake onto a plate. Let cool. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

The Dorothy Project: what do you think?

Friendly readers who’ve been with me for awhile remember The Clara Project from four years ago. For those who are new to this space, I’ll share a quick recap:

Browsing an antique shop in Milford, OH, I came across a stack of vintage recipe cards — a huge stack, full of handwritten and typed recipe cards, magazine clippings, recipes from flour sacks and butter boxes. It was a treasure trove, and it inspired me to cook a bunch of these old recipes and share them here. Here’s an archive of all of the Clara Project recipes.

Then, I happened to track down, and meet, the previous owner of these recipes: Clara Shenefelt Williams (her name had been written on many of the cards). I have come to know her lovely daughter, Jan, and have continued to be inspired by Clara’s recipes.

Fast forward to last weekend, when my mom brought over my grandmother Dorothy’s recipe clipping file — another treasure trove of her old favorite recipes.

So I’m thinking: The Dorothy Project?

What do you think? Should I tackle working my way through Dorothy’s old recipes? Let me know if you think this would be fun and you’d follow along!

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Summer melon and golden tomato salad with honey-lime vinaigrette.

I cobbled this recipe for Summer Melon and Golden Tomato Salad together based on a longstanding culinary theory: what grows together tastes good together. I had on hand a super-ripe, juicy cantaloupe purchased this weekend from the farmers’ market, along with some backyard golden cherry tomatoes. I’ve seen the watermelon-tomato salad idea all over the interwebs, and have made it myself in summers past. So I wondered: how about cantaloupe and tomato?

Jackpot.

This could not be simpler — you hardly need a recipe. Ripe tomatoes, ripe melon, and a splash of honey-lime vinaigrette totally makes this. (Oh, and Feta, of course. Feta makes every summer salad that much better.)

While summer produce is at its peak, give this seasonal salad a try! It might be your new favorite combo.

summer cantaloupe and golden cherry tomato salad recipe

serves 4

For the dressing:
2 teaspoons local honey
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

In a lidded jar, combine honey and lime juice; cover and shake vigorously to dissolve the honey. Add olive oil, salt and pepper; cover and shake well. Shake again before using.

For the salad:
2 cups cantaloupe, cut into cubes
2 cups halved golden cherry tomatoes
2 oz. Feta cheese, diced
Salt and coarsely ground pepper
Tiny basil leaves for garnish

In a serving bowl, gently toss the melon and cherry tomatoes with half the honey-lime dressing. Add Feta, season to taste with salt and pepper; drizzle with more dressing as desired. Scatter basil leaves over the salad. Let sit 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.

Arancini (delicious balls of fried risotto).

Two months, practically, after our trip to Italy earlier this summer, I still have Italy on the brain. More specifically, I still have Italian food on the brain.

I wrote recently about the lovely Italian custom of getting a little nosh when you order a drink in a bar/cafe—sometimes, it’s just a bowl of potato chips, but sometimes you luck into an assortment of housemade nibbles that are just enough to stave off the before-dinner hungries in the most delightful way.

I think arancini fall into that category. Little fried balls of risotto with a bit of cheese inside, they’re a) a great cocktail snack and b) a great way to use leftover risotto. (If you love making risotto, here’s my go-to risotto recipe.)

Since I still have Italy on the brain, I made up a batch of these last weekend. Like any breaded-and-fried thing, they require a bit of time to make. But you’ll end up with a good-sized batch and they’re easily stashed in the freezer and reheated in the oven later. Serve these with good homemade marinara sauce.

arancini (fried risotto balls) recipe

makes about 2 dozen

For the risotto:
1 small onion, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth, kept warm
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper

In a large, wide saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers; reduce heat to medium and add onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, until the onion is translucent but not brown. Add rice and stir to coat with oil; cook 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Add warm broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring the risotto so that the rice releases its starch. Drag your spoon across the bottom of the pan; when it leaves a clean trail, you know that the liquid is absorbed and it's time to add another 1/2 cup. Keep cooking, stirring and adding broth until the rice is creamy and tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in parsley and Parmesan; taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer the risotto to a rimmed baking sheet to cool.

For the arancini:
3–4 cups risotto (above recipe, or leftover)
2 oz. whole-milk mozzarella or Fontina cheese, cut into small dice
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup Panko bread crumbs (more if needed)
3 cups canola or peanut oil, for frying
Marinara sauce, for serving

Arrange your breading: in a wide, shallow bowl, whisk the egg and water; place the flour and the breadcrumbs in two more wide, shallow bowls. Scoop a small handful of risotto into your palm, press a cube of cheese in the center and form the risotto into a tightly compacted ball around the cheese. Set on a baking pan lined with waxed paper. Repeat with remaining risotto and cheese. Dust each ball thoroughly with flour, tapping off excess. Dip each ball in egg to coat thoroughly, letting excess drip off. Then coat evenly with breadcrumbs. In a deep, heavy pot or fryer, heat the oil to 360°. Fry the arancini, 3 or 4 at a time, until they're deeply browned. Transfer to a paper towel-lined platter. Serve warm with marinara sauce for dipping.

Couscous salad with apples and feta.

Earlier this summer, on our trip to Italy, we enjoyed the delightful custom of having light nibbles with our Negroni and Aperol Spritz cocktails. It’s the best thing: You order a drink in late afternoon at any little bar, and you get a snack. Sometimes, it’s just a bowl of potato chips, but other times it’s an array of beautiful bites: little wedges of herbed polenta, squares of focaccia topped with prosciutto, maybe a little vegetable salad.

In Lucca, a town in Tuscany that has stolen my heart, we made a return trip to the Stella Polare on the Piazza Napoleone. We first loved the Stella Polare on a previous trip—it’s one of those spots ubiquitous in Italy that’s a coffee bar in the morning and marvelously, magically morphs over the course of the day into a cocktail/wine bar in the late afternoon and evening. You can stop into the Stella Polare (North Star) at any moment during your day and have something wonderful to drink or order from the straightforward food menu. (Actually, it’s not called the Stella Polare anymore … it seems to have changed names sometime this year … but it’s always the Stella Polare to me.)

Anyhoo, the Stella Polare rocks the appetizer scene. And it was here that we noshed on little cups of this delightful couscous salad. It was easy to create a recipe for it when we got home. I love couscous as a base for any kind of salad, and these are equally good as side dishes for grilled chicken or fish as they are stand-alones for lunch.

Give this recipe a try and imagine yourself at the Stella Polare (or wherever your cocktail happy place is), drink in hand.

couscous salad with apples, feta and olives recipe

serves 4 (8 as an appetizer)

3/4 cup couscous
1 cup water or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil
1 crisp-sweet local apple, diced
2 oz. Feta cheese, diced
1/4 cup pitted black cured olives, chopped
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring water or broth to a boil in a saucepan. Stir in couscous; cover, remove from heat and let couscous steam for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in butter or olive oil; re-cover and let sit another 10 minutes. Fluff again and turn out into a serving bowl; let cool. Gently fold in diced apple, Feta and olives. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Right before serving, fold in sliced almonds. Serve at room temperature.

quick blender gazpacho recipe | writes4food.com

Quite possibly the best summer gazpacho.

I love LOVE gazpacho. I’ve published recipes for Mom’s Quick Gazpacho (my mom’s favorite, a chunky version made in a food processor), for Cool White Gazpacho (a totally amazing and refreshing Spanish soup with green apple and grapes), for Creamy Gazpacho with cumin and smoked paprika.

But a recipe I recently spotted on the New York Times Cooking app is my go-to gazpacho for Summer 2017 (which I’ve adapted here). It’s ridiculously easy and so, so flavorful. Just whirl everything in a blender, run it through a food mill, and voila.

Like all gazpacho variations, this cool soup is even better the day after you make it, so plan ahead. Garnish your gazpacho with fresh herbs, a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, or a drizzle of top-quality olive oil.

Stay cool. Eat gazpacho.

quick blender gazpacho recipe

serves 4

2 pounds (3 very large) tomatoes, the ripest you can find
1 long, sweet yellow pepper (or 1/2 yellow bell pepper)
1 medium cucumber, peeled
1 small sweet onion (about 1/4 cup)
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (not cooking sherry!)
1/4 cup olive oil plus more for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, onion and garlic into chunks. Working in 2 batches, if necessary, puree vegetables in a blender until very smooth. Add vinegar, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and a generous grind of pepper and blend again. Transfer mixture to a food mill set over a large bowl and use the mill to strain out seeds and skins and extract as much pulp and flavor as possible (alternately, run the mixture through a mesh colander or sieve and use a spoon to press on the solids). Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Chill before serving.

Quick breaded chicken tenders with corn salad.

We’re less than a month into sweet corn season, and I can’t get enough. We’re eating corn for dinner practically every other night. And while I’ve yet to sink my teeth into a buttery, salty ear of corn on the cob, I’m feasting on fresh corn off the cob in all kinds of ways.

This easy recipe for Breaded Chicken Tenders with Corn Salad is a great way to showcase summer sweet corn. Frankly, breaded chicken cutlets or tenders, quickly sautéed in a bit of olive oil, go well with pretty much any vegetable, from a pile of lightly dressed arugula or butter lettuce, to thick slices of fresh tomato. You can’t go wrong. (And breaded chicken cutlets or tenderloins are crowd-pleasers for all ages.)

Use pounded-thin cutlets in place of the tenderloins, if you prefer. (I typically trim the tenderloin from boneless, skinless chicken breasts—because they sort of get in the way—and save them in a freezer bag for uses such as this.) Bookmark this page, as the quick sautéed chicken tenderloin recipe will serve you well in any number of iterations.

Quick breaded chicken tenders with fresh corn salad recipe

serves 4

For the chicken tenders:
2 pounds chicken tenderloins (or thin chicken breast cutlets)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2–2 cups panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and ground pepper

In a shallow bowl or pie plate, whisk together the eggs and mustard. Place the breadcrumbs in another shallow bowl or pie plate. Have a parchment-lined baking sheet at the ready. Season the chicken pieces well with salt and pepper; dip each one in beaten egg mixture, then coat thoroughly with breadcrumbs. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy, wide skillet until it shimmers. Working in batches, cook the breaded tenderloins until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towel before serving.

For the fresh corn salad:
1 small sweet onion, diced
1/2 jalapeño, minced (or use more to taste)
1 medium yellow squash, diced
2 ears sweet corn, kernels removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pint yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
Fresh basil leaves, torn
Kosher salt and ground pepper

In a large skillet, heat olive oil until it shimmers; reduce heat and add onion and jalapeño and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt. Add squash and cook 5–7 minutes more, until squash is crisp tender. Season with salt. Add corn and cook 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer vegetables to a large bowl to cool. Add cherry tomatoes, taste and adjust seasonings. Just before serving, scatter torn basil leaves over salad. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with breaded chicken tenders.

low-fat tomato and roasted red pepper soup recipe | writes4food.com

Quick fresh tomato soup.

Who doesn’t love grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup? Seriously. It’s my favorite lunch ever, and a go-to quick supper, too.

Last summer, among the tomato goods I canned or put up in the freezer—including Sun Gold Tomato Sauce and Spiced Cherry Tomato Jam—I wound up with two containers of fresh tomato puree that weren’t destined for the sauce pot. Fresh tomato puree freezes beautifully, and makes a great addition to soup or sauce; it tastes so much brighter and fresher than canned tomato puree.

Last week, I fancied a grilled-cheese-tomato-soup supper, so I took a container of puree out of the freezer and roasted up some cherry tomatoes, carrots and onions to make a super-quick soup. When you start with great fresh ingredients, you don’t really have to fuss to come up with something tasty.

Roasted veg + stock/broth/puree + blender = deliciousness.

quick tomato soup

makes about 4 cups

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
4 baby onions (or 1 small onion) cut into wedges
3 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sprig of fresh tarragon
Sprig of fresh thyme
3 cups tomato puree (see Note)
Kosher salt and finely ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400°; line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. On the baking sheet, toss the carrots with about 1/2 tablespoon olive oil; season with salt. Arrange the carrots on one end of the baking sheet. Roast 10 minutes. To the middle of the baking sheet add the onions with a drizzle of olive oil. Place the cherry tomatoes on the other side of the baking sheet. Season onions and tomatoes with salt; nestle herb sprigs into the tomatoes. Roast 20 minutes, until carrots are tender. Transfer the vegetables to a large saucepan (discard the herb sprigs). Add the tomato puree and a Parmesan rind, if you have one. Bring the soup to a strong simmer; partially cover, lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook 20 minutes until the vegetables are totally soft. Remove the Parmesan rind. Use a regular or immersion blender to puree the soup to a texture you like.

Note: To make fresh tomato puree, set a food mill over a large bowl. Quarter 4 large tomatoes and run them through the food mill to extract the pulp, leaving the seeds and skins behind. Alternately, blend quartered tomatoes in a food processor until they're juicy and strain through a sieve to remove seeds and skins.

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