Some of us love and enjoy cooking, while others just like to eat and would very willingly skip the cooking part because they find absolutely no joy in it. Sometimes they just believe they do not have the skills necessary to cook delicious and healthy meals. Such is the case of Alison, our Executive Director. Alison loves to eat and she actually wants to follow a healthier diet, but feels her skills in the kitchen are an obstacle to her goal. She does not feel comfortable in the kitchen at all – not even her own kitchen. She doesn’t even know what kitchen appliances she owns and what they do!
She came to me for help: “Madelyn…I can’t cook to save my life! Where do I start?” Alison is not alone. I get this same question all the time from friends, family, and even people I meet randomly. And what I suggest all of them do is start small. I now love cooking, but it wasn’t always like that. I remember there was a time when all I knew was how to make things in the microwave. It’s all a matter of exposure to flavors, techniques and ingredients that make your life easy and delicious.
I went to Alison’s home recently and created a whole dinner party menu anyone can put together, even those of you who are kitchen challenged. This menu is all a matter of “assembling”: mixing, layering, pureeing and tossing together ingredients which in the end all look and taste delicious. The best part is, it’s all good for you. If you look closely at the recipes, you will find that they require lots of assembly and very little tending over a stove.
Here was our menu:
Baked Goat Cheese in Tomato Sauce
Mesclun Greens, Figs and Blue Cheese Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
I hope Alison and some of you “eaters-not-cookers” find the confidence to make at least one of these recipes at home. You don’t have to make them all for a dinner party… start small. Pick one and start building your self-confidence. You’ll see that in very little time you’ll slowly start enjoying cooking – or at least “assembling” – a whole lot more. Stay positive, I am rooting for all of you. Right, Alison?
- 1 bottle of white wine or non-alcoholic apple cider
- 1 32oz bottle of natural ginger ale
- ½ can of passion fruit juice concentrate
- 1 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
- 1 orange, sliced
In a pretty glass pitcher, mix all the ingredients together. Let the flavors meld together for about 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving. Serve over ice.
- 1 can of organic garbanzo beans – I still haven’t figured out how to make dry garbanzo beans work
- 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
- The juice of one lime
- About 1/2 cup of olive oil – enough to make the mixture as creamy as possible
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- ¼ cup of water, optional
- salt and pepper to taste
- a dash of paprika
Rinse the garbanzo beans. Place garbanzo beans, cheese, garlic, lime juice salt, pepper, paprika and some of the olive oil in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is creamy. If the mixture is not as creamy as it should be, add the water and a bit more olive oil in small increments until you reach the texture you seek.
- 3oz of goat cheese, keep refrigerated until ready to use
- ½ cup crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
- A drizzle of Spanish olive oil, plus more for bread
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Pinch of Italian Seasonings, optional
- ½ French whole-wheat baguette, sliced on a bias
Take the bread slices, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle some salt and pepper and toast in a toaster oven. Set aside. Place the crushed tomatoes in a small bowl and season with some sea salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix well and place in a large ramekin dish. Cut a 3oz piece of goat cheese and place in the middle of the ramekin on top of the seasoned tomato puree. You can drizzle a bit more olive oil on top of cheese to help it get a golden brown color. Place in a 350 – 400F oven for about 15 minutes to cook a bit the tomato and warm up the cheese. Plate the ramekin with the bread toasts and enjoy.
- 1 package puffed pastry, thawed in the refrigerator for about 3-4 hours
- 1 package of thin asparagus, trimmed of the woodsy part in the bottom
- 2 small onions, sliced very thin and cooked down slowly in 1 tbs of olive oil until caramelized
- About ¾ cup of shredded Parmesan cheese
- About 4 oz of goat cheese
- Garlic Salt and Pepper
- Olive Oil
- Some spelt or whole wheat pastry flour to roll out the pastry
Preheat oven to 425F. Open up each sheet of puff pastry and with a little flour stretch it just a bit… enough to kind of erase the creases but not that much that the pastry sheet would not fit the baking tray you have. Using a paring knife, score a ½ inch border around the pastry sheet but be careful not to cut through the pastry. Prick the inside of the pastry using a fork. Prick especially the corners to make sure the inside will not puff up when cooked in the oven. Make sure the border you created is not pricked… you want the outside border to puff up. Spread the caramelized onions you cooked down earlier over the pricked portion of the pastry. Spread it evenly all over the bottom. Scatter Parmesan cheese over the onions. Place the asparagus one next to the other, tips facing out and alternating one tip towards the right and the next tip towards the left. You just want to make it look pretty… no matter how you place the asparagus, it’ll taste good all the same, so no worries. After you create a whole layer of asparagus on top of the pastry, sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper. Drizzle some olive oil on top. Afterwards, place dollops of goat cheese on top of asparagus. Bake in oven for about 25 minutes… or until the edges are puffed up and look golden brown.
Mesclun Greens, Figs, Pickled Onions and Blue Cheese Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
- Mixed Mesclun Greens
- Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, sliced or diced
- Dried Mission Figs, diced
- Pickled Red Onions in lemon juice
- Sliced Almonds
- Crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- Aged Balsamic Vinegar
- Salt and Pepper to taste
To pickle the onions, slice ½ medium red onion as thinly as possible. Place in a glass bowl or jar and pour the juice of 1 lemon, a drizzle of warm water and 1tsp of salt. Allow the onions to wilt in the water mixture for about 30 minutes. Assemble all salad ingredients in a salad bowl – from the spinach down to the cheese. In a measuring cup or bowl mix together 2 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar with a dash of salt and pepper to season. Mix well and drizzle over salad. Toss to coat.
- 5 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
- 3 tbs cornstarch
- Zest and juice of 1 yellow lemon
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- Sprinkle of cinnamon
- ½ tsp of vanilla extract
- Canola Oil Spray
For the Crisp Topping:
- 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- ½ cup of quick cooking oats
- 2/3 cup of sliced pecans
- 1 stick of butter, cut into small cubes
- Sprinkle of cinnamon
Pre-heat oven to 375F. In a large glass baking dish sprayed with canola oil, dump the cut apples and mix in the cornstarch, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Mix well to combine. Set aside. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, pecans, oats with the pieces of cold butter. Using a fork, combine the butter with the rest of the ingredients until it becomes like the consistency of wet sand. Pour the topping over the apples evenly. Bake in oven for about 30 minutes… the apples will bubble and the topping will look cooked and golden.
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