*This is a fun recipe canvas. You can spice these up in many ways. Think of curried seeds or pumpkin spiced seeds for fall!
To me, orzo is the potato chip of side dishes. Everyone likes it, you can flavor it in any way you like, and you truly cannot just eat one (there’s my lame attempt at a potato chip joke and analogy). The tiny little pasta jewels are a blank canvas, and you, my friends, are the ar-teest!
Whether you throw in some garlic and parmesan or sun dried tomatoes and artichokes, orzo is a great, substantial pasta that can stand alone as a side dish or even be a great addition to soups, casseroles or part of a main dish, like you see here in my chicken with grape tomatoes.
For my basic, go-to, super fast orzo, I like to use three things that I always have at home: olive oil, lemon and parsley. Parsley, a sometimes underrated herb, is the star ingredient as it boosts the lemon and adds a lovely, fresh taste. Trust the parsley. It is more than just a garnish!
Enjoy this lemon orzo with your favorite protein or even eat it the next day chilled as a salad. Confession: I often have mixed leftover orzo with my salad greens…it is AWESOME!
- 1 cup orzo (I like Barilla)
- 5 cups water
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup parsley
- Juice of one lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Season with a few heavy pinches of salt. Once water is boiling, add the orzo. Boil for 9-11 minutes, until orzo is tender. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
- After rinsing, add the juice of one lemon, olive oil, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
This past Monday I invited two girlfriends over for a casual meal. I had bought some creme fraiche and mascarpone last week thinking I would use them for my birthday party (which might I add was a blast), but did not get around to incorporating them anywhere. So, I decided that I had to use these two items ASAP. And of course who wants to eat alone? I went mediterranean not because it was Monday and they both start with “m,” but because I think that I should cater to the tastes of my guests and I know that this is a generally pleasing genre. What is funny is that when I was growing up I always thought that mediterranean meant Egyptian food since I am half Egyptian and people always referred to this food as mediterranean (now I think more people call it Middle Eastern). So, as I grew up and ate at mediterranean restaurants I was really confused as to where the hummus and falafel were! Of course mediterranean includes the cuisine of all countries that border the Mediterranean Sea and overall embodies freshness, lightness and was perfect for this summer day. On the menu: Chicken with Grape Tomatoes and Creme Fraiche sauce, Lemon Garlic Broccoli, and for dessert (because I feel like I have to make dessert even though I do not have a sweet tooth) I made a quick Lemony Mascarpone Ricotta Whip with fresh berries. We sat outside on the balcony afterwards and watched the glorious lightning that cast a tapestry of brightness and beauty over downtown.
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts sliced lengthwise to make four cutlets
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 shallot
- 1/2 red onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 pint grape tomatoes
- 1 cup chicken broth or dry vermouth
- 2-3 tbsp creme fraiche
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- Reserve 2 tbsp of the flour. Set aside.
- Combine remaining flour with paprika, salt, and pepper. Lightly coat each chicken cutlet in flour. Let sit on a wire rack for 5 minutes to adhere. Heat sauté pan on stove on medium heat with 2 tbsp olive oil. Place chicken in pan and cook 5 minutes on each side. Because the chicken is thinly cut, be careful not to burn. Meanwhile, finely chop shallot, onion and garlic. Halve the tomatoes. Once chicken is cooked, remove from pan. Add butter and 2 tbsp flour. Stir occasionally to make a rue, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add to the pan the shallot and onion. Cook 3-4 minutes until soft. Add garlic and tomatoes and cook for 1 minute. Once the garlic is soft, add in broth, or if you prefer, dry vermouth. Stir occasionally until thickened, about 5 minutes. Once thickened, turn off stove and add 2-3 tbsp creme fraiche to taste. Stir to combine. Plate chicken with sauce atop. Garnish with fresh, chopped parsley.
My fab mom was (and still is) the most incredible cook when I was growing up. Nissa (as I sometimes like to refer to her by her name instead of my usual ‘Mama’) brought my sister and I into the kitchen to help her out very early on, which is why I probably developed my love for everything and anything related to cooking. Virtually every meal was eating at home and always homemade. However, Nissa fully admits that desserts are not her strong point. They are not mine either. We both are more free spirited in the kitchen and enjoy the improvisation opportunities that savory cooking lends. But, I have definitely been exploring this side of myself as a means of development and for a challenge. Anyway, I digress. The most memorable dessert of my childhood would probably make most scoff and run away in horror. It’s not homemade. It’s processed. Heck, it’s canned peaches on top of vanilla ice cream. I am not sure where Nissa picked up this duo, but I must share that this was something that I loved and even as I type, my cheeks are swelling and my mouth is watering. There is a time and place for everything; even canned peaches. But, this day is not the time. However, I really do love the combo of fruit and something creamy alongside it. So, fresh nectarines with dulce de leche was born!
Finding ways to incorporate my favorite spices into more standard items is one of my main jams. Saffron is a spice that I grew up with as my mom used it in many dishes, both savory and sweet. You may recognize it as the key ingredient in paella that gives the dish its unique flavor and color. But, I know it as a special ingredient in many Indian dishes since my mom exclusively used it for Indian cooking.
Saffron is said to be the most expensive spice in the world as the plant that provides the tiny, red threads do not lend to easy gathering. I think it makes ordinary dishes quite extraordinary as it gives off a sweet, yet slightly bitter flavor and a one of a kind reddish orange color. So, saffron gives us the best of both worlds with its color and flavor.
This dessert is so simple and so special at the same time. I was inspired by these fresh nectarines and really wanted to add an exotic element with saffron. But, how? Whenever my mom used saffron, she always dissolved it in a little milk to get the color and flavor to begin developing (many people just use hot water) and so the milk idea kept churning in my brain and I soon arrived at the saffron infused dulce de leche (candied milk). I topped the individual desserts with a homemade sunflower seed brittle for some crunch and texture.
- 4-5 nectarines
- 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tbsp half and half
- 3 ½ tbsp sugar
- Pinch saffron
- Chop nectarines into bite size pieces or wedges. Place in bowl with 2 tbsp sugar. Toss to coat. Let sit 3 hours in fridge or overnight to extract juices. *If nectarines are soft and ripe, you do not need to do this step.
- For the dulce de leche, heat the can sweetened condensed milk with 1 ½ tbs sugar on medium high heat. Microwave half and half for one minute. Add saffron to milk and stir. Let sit for five minutes and then add to pan. Stir and turn down to medium. Cook for 10-12 minutes. Don't take your eye off the stove or it will burn! Use a rubber spatula to stir every couple of minutes (a metal utensil will cause sugar to stick to it).
- Top nectarines with desired amount of dulce de leche and sunflower seed brittle.
Enjoy this arugula salad a a brunch side, light lunch or great base for a dinner salad!
- For the salad
- 7 oz arugula
- 2 granny smith apples
- ½ cup manchego cheese (shaved)
- For the vinaigrette
- 2 lemons
- 2 tbsp fig balsamic (or balsamic)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- Combine all vinaigrette ingredients and whisk together. (or I like to use a mason jar and just shake it up)
- Halve, core and slice apples into thin slices.
- Combine apple, arugula and toss with desired amount of vinaigrette making sure to not overdress the salad.
- Top with shaved manchego
- Serve immediately
- Great tip: use a vegetable peeler to shave the manchego