Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I love cheese!!!  I didn't always like it though.  When I was a kid, I wasn't fond of it at all.  Except on special occasions, we only had American cheese.  And, as it turns out, that is the only cheese I don't like.  So, I assumed that I didn't like any cheese.

On special occasions we would get cheese in a jelly jar.  I am not even sure it is sold anymore.  It came in a threesome.  If memory serves me well, one was pimento cheese, one was a cheddar spread and one was a blue cheese spread.  This was a specialty for when my parents were entertaining guests.  I don't remember getting more than a taste of this delicacy.

On Fathers Day or other celebrations for Dad, he would get a Cracker Barrel log of sharp or extra sharp cheddar.  He would set himself up with a beer and a sleeve of Ritz Crackers and enjoy his day.

I don't remember when I first decided that I loved cheese almost as much as Steve Urkel does.  I do remember knowing that sometimes really good sharp Swiss cheese makes my tongue itch.

Anyhow, now I love all cheese.  But here's the strange part.  With only three exceptions, I don't like cheese on my sandwiches.  I will eat Swiss cheese on a tuna salad sandwich and I will eat cheddar cheese on a bacon cheddar burger, but otherwise NO CHEESE on my sandwiches.

The third exception is what this post is really about.  My very favorite sandwich!!  A grilled veggie sandwich on a crusty baguette or ciabatta bread with a creamy, tangy goat cheese.  I grill veggies in large batches and keep them in the refrigerator ready for salads or sandwiches.  In this case, it works best if the veggies are warm, so that they help to melt the cheese a bit.

Most people steam or boil vegetables.  Almost all veggies can be roasted or grilled and the flavors that come out when they cooked this way are phenomenal.  Some work better on a sandwich.  Basically a mix of juicy and dryer vegetables works best.  For example, grilled tomatoes are fabulous, but if you use too many on a sandwich, they will make your bread soggy.  Before grilling, I usually brush my veggies with olive oil that has been infused with lots of garlic and rosemary.

My favorite combination for a sandwich is grilled eggplant, zucchini,  peppers - one sweet and one chili, onions, and tomatoes.  I slice open the bread and spread both sides with a thick layer of goat cheese.  If I am feeling extremely decadent, I will mix the goat cheese with some oil cured sun-dried tomatoes first.  Layer on the veggies.  Close the sandwich and it's ready to eat.  If you have a panini press, this is a great time to use it too.

Don't limit yourself to my list of vegetables.  Many people like grilled carrots, asparagus and portobello  mushrooms on their panini.  Adding a grilled chicken breast, sliced leftover steak or grilled salmon is also a delicious addition.  Get creative and enjoy!!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Diane's Orzo and Peas

Our menus have been a bit up in the air lately.  My tutoring schedule has changed daily based on weather conditions and snow, snow and more snow.  But, I always have a list of possibilities ready to prepare at a moments notice.  We have also been living on an austerity budget, so this weeks list includes many "cheap" meals. 

Ditilini Pasta
The dinner for today is already in the rice cooker.  It is a modified version of ditilini and peas.  Ditilini and peas is an Italian quick meal.  It features a buttery sauce of garlic and herbs poured over freshly made ditilini shaped pasta and peas. The peas should be small enough to hide inside the ditilini.  And it should be served covered in freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. 

Orzo Pasta

My mother used to make the dish with small shell pasta.  The peas could hide in there too!  Her plan was always to make it when we had leftover peas.  Now since I love peas, there were rarely any leftover, so I would put a cup, or so, aside ahead of the meal to ensure we would have this comfort food favorite the next day.

Today, I am making this dish with orzo pasta.  Orzo pasta looks like large rice.  It maintains its "al dente " texture even as it cools and is great for cold salads and warm recipes as well. 

Anyhow, here is my method:

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the bottom of a rice cooker turned on the white rice setting.

1 6 cloves of garlic, sliced 
1 jalapeno pepper (or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
1 large onion, diced the size of orzo

Stir as the  aromatics soften and begin to smell luscious.  Add 1 package of onion soup mix.  You know the kind; it's used for dips.  Stir around and add 4 cups of water. 

Stir in 1 pound of orzo pasta.  Close the rice cooker and let cook.  After 10 minutes, open the cooker and stir to keep the pasta from becoming cemented to the bottom of the cooker.  I use the rice cooker paddle to stir pasta.  If your rice cooker tends to cook hotter than mine, you might have to add 1 cup more water.

When the rice cooker beeps and is done, add 2 cups frozen peas or a combination of frozen green veggies.  Broccoli, kale, or spinach all work well.  Also add 1 full stick of butter sliced into slabs that will melt fairly quickly. 

Stir all around and close the rice cooker.  Wait about 5-8 minutes to allow the veggies to defrost and the butter to melt.  Serve in bowls with lots of grated cheese.