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Black Bean and Fresh Salsa Quesadillas

These are very tasty vegetarian quesadillas. I cooked them on the grill and served them with grilled summer squash.


Black bean paste:

1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (from a can, or leftovers from Slow Cooker Black Beans)

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

small bunch chopped cilantro (leaves and stalks), about 1 oz.

juice of 1 lime

1/4 tsp salt

Fresh salsa:

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

3 green onions, thinly sliced

5 medium tomatoes, diced

1 garlic clove, pressed

1 mild fresh red chile, finely diced (I used a seeded serrano pepper instead)

small bunch of finely chopped cilantro (leaves and stalks), about 1 oz.

3/4 tsp salt

juice of 1/2 lime


2 ripe avocados, diced

8 small corn tortillas (or more–I had a lot of leftover ingredients, but no more tortillas)

3/4 cup sour cream

1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

6 Tbsp drained and chopped pickled jalapenos


Make the bean paste by processing all the ingredients in a food processor until they form a rough paste.

Make the salsa by soaking the onion in the vinegar for a few minutes, then adding the rest of the ingredients.

Prepare a barbecue or griddle pan (or heat the oven).

Spread bean paste on a tortilla, leaving a space clear around the edge. Spread with sour cream, cheddar, some salsa, avocado, and jalapenos. Spread bean paste on a second tortilla and use it to top the first. (Or, put the toppings only on half the tortilla and fold it over. I couldn’t do this with my small tortillas without breaking them.)  Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Heat on a barbecue or grill pan or in the oven for a few minutes per side, until the inside is warm, the cheese is melting, and the tortilla is slightly charred. Serve with the extra salsa and avocado.

preparing quesadillas

(Recipe adapted slightly from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)

If you have some ingredients left over, they are worth saving to make Migas for breakfast in the morning.


Slow Cooker Black Beans

These beans have a good flavor and a firmer texture than canned black beans. This makes a lot, but if you don’t want to eat them all week you can freeze the leftovers and use them instead of canned beans in other recipes, such as Black Bean and Fresh Salsa Quesadillas.

black beans and rice

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, pressed

1 Tbsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp smoked paprika

1 lb. dried black beans, rinsed

1 dried chili

2 Tbsp tomato paste

2 tsp salt

9-10 cups water (or unsalted vegetable or chicken broth)

1 Tbsp lime juice

For serving:

chopped red onion

lime juice

chopped fresh cilantro


sour cream

cooked rice

Put all the ingredients for the beans, except the lime juice, in a 6-quart slow cooker. Cook on high for 3-6 hours, until beans are very tender. Alternately, you could cook on the stove top –bring to a boil and then simmer over low heat for about 3 hours.

For the garnishes, mix the red onion with some fresh lime juice and a bit of salt and let them sit for 15 min. to make them slightly “pickled”. Also, the recipe I used recommends mixing 1 tsp cumin in 1 cup of sour cream to use as a garnish. I served the beans over rice, but you could also have them over garlic toast.

(Recipe adapted slightly from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman)

Labneh (Yogurt Cheese)

Labneh is a soft mild cheese made from yogurt. It’s very easy to make.  All you need is:

plain yogurt  (any kind)
fine woven cheesecloth (also called butter muslin)


Mix 2 cups yogurt with 1 tsp salt. Line a colander with a piece of fine-woven cheesecloth and place the colander over a bowl. Put the yogurt onto the cheesecloth and let it drain for 12-24 hours at room temperature.

You can tie the ends of the cheesecloth and hang the bundle somewhere over a bowl (I hung it from the knob of the cupboard). This recipe works best if you leave it at room temperature, but if you can put it in the fridge if you need to. The longer you leave it, the more liquid drains, and the thicker it gets. I think it tastes a lot like cream cheese. After you are done draining it, store it in the fridge.

making labneh

To serve, spread the labneh on a plate or bowl and top with extra-virgin olive oil, zahatar, and salt, and eat it with pita.  You can also make little balls of labneh and let them air dry for a few hours before storing them.

labneh, pita, oil, zahatarLabneh with my souvenirs from Israel – olive oil and zahatar.

(Recipe from Urban Cheesecraft.  You can read more about this recipe and order supplies here.)

Roasted Cauliflower and Manchego Hand Pies

chicken, veggies, and hand pies

Last weekend I got to try something new that I’ve been wanting to do for years–competitive picnicking. A few years ago, I was at a concert in Millennium Park and heard that there was a picnic contest. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, so this year we joined the contest. We didn’t win, but we sure had a great time!  And delicious food :).  The theme for the picnic was Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. We needed to incorporate things like a love of nature and the country, peasants, shepherds, birds, a bubbling brook, a storm, etc.

Team: Country Folk

We started with a rustic homemade bread with butter and homemade cheese, goat cheese biscuits with strawberry preserves, and grapes, followed by these roasted cauliflower and manchego hand pies with quince paste. The main course was poached baby vegetables with caper aioli and roast chicken. Then we had a break from eating and had some sparkling water (I wasn’t sure what else to do for a storm…). Then, we finished with chianti chocolate cupcakes and coffee.

I would definitely make any of these foods again. These hand pies were delicious warm or at room temperature.  I found the quince paste to serve with the pies at Trader Joe’s.


2 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup finely grated manchego cheese

pinch of sugar

1 tsp kosher salt

3/4 cup cold butter, cut into pieces (1 1/2 sticks)

2 large egg yolks (1 for the crust, 1 for egg wash)

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

1 Tbsp cream, for egg wash


1 small head cauliflower, florets separated and sliced thinly

3 Tbsp + 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

2/3 cup hazelnuts

1 garlic clove

1 tsp lemon zest

2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped

5 ounces manchego cheese, thinly sliced

To make the crust:

Mix flour, cheese, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1 egg yolk and pulse to combine. Drizzle in 1/4 cup ice water and pulse until dough just comes together, adding a little bit more water only if needed.  Divide dough in half and shape into 2 disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 1 hour, until firm.

To make the filling:

Toast the hazelnuts at 375 degrees F until the skins split, about 10-12 min. Let cool, then place in a clean kitchen towel and rub the skins off. (It doesn’t really matter if you can’t get it all off.)

Toss the cauliflower with 3 Tbsp oil and some salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake at 425 degrees F until golden brown (about 10-15 min.), flipping over part way through.  Let cool.

Pulse the hazelnuts and garlic in a food processor until roughly chopped. Slowly add 1/4 cup oil while machine is running. Add zest and rosemary and some salt and pepper. Process until the mixture becomes a rough paste.

To assemble:

Roll out a disk of dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out eight 4-inch rounds (or sixteen 3-inch rounds if you want to make mini hand pies). Spread about 2 tsp hazelnut mixture on each round (1 tsp for mini rounds), leaving a 1/4-inch border. Top with cauliflower and cheese slices.  Sprinkle with pepper and extra rosemary if you want. Mix the other egg yolk with the cream and brush the edges of the dough. Cut out eight more rounds (or 16 mini rounds) from the other piece of dough. Top each pie with another round of dough and press the edges together with a fork to seal them. Place the pies on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Use a small cookie cutter to cut out shapes from the dough scraps. Brush each pie with the egg wash, top with a cutout, and brush the cutout with the egg wash. Refrigerate about 30 min, until firm. Bake at 375 degrees F until crust is golden brown, about 30 min. Serve warm or at room temperature with quince paste.

assembling hand pies

(Recipe adapted slightly from Martha Stewart’s Pies & Tarts)

Mom’s Pasta Salad

This pasta salad has been a family favorite for years. It’s good cold — we’ve brought it to 2 picnics this weekend — but it’s even better warmed up if you are near a microwave. It’s a great way to use up leftover meat and vegetables, and it will feed a crowd (or a husband for a week if you go out of town).  It’s easy to halve if you don’t want that much food, but I know I can eat this for several days in a row before I get tired of it.

The recipe is very flexible, so it ends up being a little different each time. This time I used leftover roast beef, roasted broccoli and cherry tomatoes, and some boiled round “Parisian” carrots, along with a combination of rotini and rigatoni because I only had part of a box of each.

pasta salad

2-3 cups chopped vegetables of your choice (such as lightly steamed or roasted broccoli, cherry or sundried tomatoes, green peppers, etc.)

1 lb. box pasta, cooked according to directions in salted water

2 cups chopped cooked meat (leftover beef, chicken or pork)

6 strips cooked bacon, crumbled

1/2 cup parmesan cheese


1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup olive oil

2 tsp salt (or to taste)

2 tsp ground pepper

1 Tbsp dried parsley

2 Tbsp dried basil

3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

Whisk the dressing ingredients together and toss with warm drained pasta and the rest of the ingredients. Chill. Serve cold or warmed up in the microwave.

Upside Down Glazed Almond Poppyseed Muffins

A few years ago I was working in Cannon Beach, Oregon, and the bakery there had these upside down glazed almond poppyseed muffins. I thought they were delicious and tried to get the recipe. They wouldn’t give it to me, so I found a muffin recipe online, turned them upside down and glazed them. The next summer when I went back to the bakery, I found that I actually liked my own version better. I would never have thought to glaze the bottoms of the muffins, but it does make sense–usually the top of the muffin is the favorite part, this turns the bottoms into the best part (and there is more of it)!

upside down muffin

1/2 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs, separated

1 tsp lemon zest

1 1/2 tsp almond extract

1 1/3 cup flour

1 1/8 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice + almost 1/2 cup milk)

2 1/2 Tbsp poppy seeds


2+ cups icing sugar

1 tsp lemon extract (or juice)


Cream the butter and sugar. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each. Add zest and almond extract. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add to creamed mixture alternately with milk. Mix until just combined. Fold in poppy seeds. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until peaks are stiff. Gently fold into batter.

Thoroughly grease and flour 9 of the muffin spaces in the tin. Fill with batter to the tops. Bake at 350 degrees for about 18 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool slightly on a wire rack. While they are still warm, mix the icing sugar, lemon extract, and enough water to thin the glaze so that it is runny. Place a pan or sheet of waxed paper under the rack to catch the drips and drizzle the glaze all over the bottoms and sides of the muffins.

muffins in tin

muffins on rack

These ones needed a little more glaze…

glazed muffins

That’s better.  The whole bottom surface should have a thin coating.


Well, I may not need to go back for the muffins, but I do miss Cannon Beach. Can’t wait to visit again someday…

Cannon Beach

cannon beach

haystack rock

tide out

tide pools

rock with starfish

2 starfish

birds at sunset

sunset with haystack rock

dusk with haystack rock

Herb Stuffed Tomatoes

Another yummy stuffed vegetable, this one with Provencal-style flavors.

stuffed tomatoes

4 medium tomatoes (ripe but still firm)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

12 oil-cured olives, pitted and chopped (you could try Kalamatas instead if you don’t have oil-cured)

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano

3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint

1 1/2 Tbsp capers, chopped if large (and rinsed first if packed in salt)

salt and pepper

Trim a small slice off the top of the tomatoes. Scoop out the seeds and most of the flesh, leaving a tomato shell. Sprinkle some salt in the tomato and let it sit upside down to drain.

Saute the onion, garlic and olives in 1 Tbsp oil over low heat until the onion is softened. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste. Wipe the insides of the tomatoes with paper towel and fill them with the stuffing, so that it forms a small lightly packed mound over the top. Place them in a greased dish and drizzle with the remaining 1 Tbsp oil. Bake at 325 degrees F for 35-45 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened. Serve hot or warm.

(Recipe from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)

Green and Red Salad

Sometimes I miss all the restaurant choices I left back in Chicago, but then other days I have something for lunch at home that is so delicious it more that makes up for that–like this salad. We got some special oil and vinegar at the Olive Cart in St. Joseph. This combination of lemon avocado oil with strawberry white balsamic is so delightful!

It is unlikely that I will find any restaurant that I can afford to eat at on a regular basis where I will get a salad as delicious as this one (especially with as much avocado as I want).  For lack of a better name, I’m calling it green and red salad, since everything but the cheese was green or red…or close enough.


Mix equal parts lemon avocado oil and strawberry balsamic vinegar.  Drizzle over baby romaine and toss to coat. Add red grapes, slices of avocado, and crumbled feta. (I added toasted pecans later too, but they missed out on the picture.)

oil and vinegar

Grape Leaf Pie

If you like stuffed grape leaves (dolmas), this is a really interesting and delicious alternative. The grape leaves form the crust, and the filling includes rice flour, fresh herbs, yogurt, and pine nuts.  I’ll need to try this again sometime when I can get some fresh local grape leaves. They grow everywhere here, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them at the farmers’ market.  This worked just fine with grape leaves from a jar though.

grape leaf pie

20-25 grape leaves (I’m not sure how many I used, but it was a lot less than this – I doubled the recipe to make 2 pies and still had half a jar of leaves…but maybe mine were exceptionally large)

4 shallots, finely chopped

4 Tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 Tbsp butter, melted

1 cup Greek or plain yogurt (you can make plain yogurt thicker like Greek yogurt by placing it in a coffee filter in a strainer over a bowl for 30 min or so, but either kind of yogurt should work fine), plus more for serving

2 1/2 Tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted

1/2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh tarragon

2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh dill

4 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint

grated zest of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper

1/2 cup rice flour

3 Tbsp panko breadcrumbs

Place the grape leaves in a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for 10 minutes before draining and patting dry on a towel. Use scissors to trim off the hard bit of stalk from the base of each leaf.

Saute the shallots in 1 Tbsp oil for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Take a pie plate and lay the grape leaves over the bottom and sides so they are slightly overlapping and hanging over the sides of the dish. Add 2 Tbsp oil to the melted butter and use 2/3 of it to brush the leaves in the dish.

Mix together the shallots, yogurt, pine nuts, herbs, lemon zest and juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Add rice flour and mix well to make a paste. Spread it over the leaves in the dish and fold the overhanging leaves over the top. Finish covering the rest of the paste with more grape leaves. Brush with the rest of the butter/oil mixture. Top with the panko breadcrumbs and drizzle with remaining 1 Tbsp oil.

Bake at 375 degrees F for about 40 min, until the grape leaves get crispy and the breadcrumbs start to brown. Let rest for at least 10 min before slicing and serving with plain yogurt.  You can also serve it at room temperature.

grape leave pie slice

(Recipe adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)

Whole Grain Waffles with Fresh Fruit, Nuts and Honey

We’ve been trying lots of waffle recipes lately and I really liked this one with fresh fruit, a little honey, and some toasted pecans. It’s also the healthiest of the waffle recipes that we’ve tried so far. You can mix up the dry ingredients in a bowl the night before to save some time in the morning.

whole grain waffle

1/2 cup flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup quick cooking oats

1 Tbsp yellow corn meal

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 cup milk

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1 Tbsp oil

1 egg, lightly beaten

Mix the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Preheat the waffle maker on medium heat and use about 1/2 cup batter per waffle (or follow the directions for your waffle maker). Top with fresh fruit, a bit of honey, roasted pecans, and a bit of whipped cream.

The recipe makes 4 waffles. If you have some left over you can put them in the freezer and reheat them in the toaster oven.