Italian Chickpea Salad Plus the Endorsement of the Week

Don’t have time to make dinner? Too hot outside? All of the above? This recipe will fit both of these scenarios. All you need is a can of beans, some veggies, olives, basil, and some dressing and you are well on your way to supper! And trust me, this takes about 15 minutes to put together!

I play trivia every Tuesday night (don’t ask how my team “Loose Lips” does; while we are usually at the bottom of the leader board, we always have lots of fun) and on these evenings, if I don’t eat in town, I end up eating when I get home close to 9 p.m. And even I don’t want to fix something for dinner that late, so it tends to be an egg, some cereal, or a glass of milk before I head up to bed. A couple of weeks ago, I started to feel this was bad nutrition; I really needed to eat a light dinner. I had in my mind a bean salad with a tangy vinaigrette would be a simple and healthy dish to serve on top of some greens. So before I headed out the door, I created this dish that was ready to eat when I got home!

Leaving it in the fridge for an hour or two to let the flavors marry is perfect, but you can also eat it right away. If you serve later, add the basil right before serving. I’ve made this with sweet onions in place of the shallots, and black olives in place of kalamatas, it’s all good. Whatever you have on hand (or don’t) will work. Add extra cucumber if you don’t have the tomatoes, or vice versa. And if you don’t have basil, fresh oregano would be a lovely alternative. Substitute white beans or another light bean if that’s what you have in the cupboard. And while this salad is vegan and gluten-free, I don’t think adding some tuna packed in olive oil is such a bad idea. Or some crumbled feta or ricotta salata cheese. It will all taste delicious!

Happy Eating!

italian beanItalian Chickpea Salad

I realized after I started working on the ingredients for this salad that it is reminiscent to one I posted last summer, Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Chickpeas, with a few additions and subtractions. Either salad is a quick and nutritious meal, whether it’s for lunch or dinner!

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or roughly 2 ½ cups
2 small tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, peeled, cut horizontally, seeded, and roughly chopped
¼ cup chopped kalamata olives
1-2 TBS finely chopped fresh basil


1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

In a mixing bowl, add the chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumber, and olives. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar, mustard, and shallots. Add to the chickpea mixture and toss gently. Add the basil before serving if you’re letting it sit for a couple of hours. Or eat immediately.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week: Picnic in Provence, a Memoir in Recipes by Elizabeth Bard

provenceIn 2011, it was just dumb luck that I came across Elizabeth Bard’s first food memoir, Lunch in Paris, A Love Story with Recipes, while I was perusing the food memoir section at a bookstore. A story of living in Paris, meeting the man of your dreams, it was a truly fun story and one of the better food memoirs I’ve read. So imagine my delight when I was in the same section of the same bookstore (the Northshire in Manchester, Vermont. It has the BEST food memoir selection I’ve ever seen!) to find that Bard has continued writing and has moved to Provence!

Picnic in Provence, a Memoir in Recipes is a true delight. Now married to Gwendal and in tow with tiny Alexandre, Bard retells the story of finding the small town of Céreste in the heart of Provence, where she and her family move into the home of poet René Charr. Now she’s not a visitor, she is entrenched in day-to-day village life. And what I liked about this is Bard shows us life in another country as well as her vulnerable side; as a new mother, she writes about her questions and fears with her son when it appears he prefers his father to her. The back and forth of should she give up her U.S. citizenship to become a French citizen? (She does.) What it’s like to be an American living in a country where there is a certain “style,” ie. French women don’t get fat. One of my favorite chapters was when her friend, Courtney, visited. A woman who suffered from bulimia and binge-eating, Bard turns to look at her own eating habits and those of France vs. the U. S. “A French diet is a balancing act. If you eat a little extra dessert at dinner, you have a bowl of soup or a plate of steamed vegetables the next day for lunch. I call it the quiet diet. It’s nobody’s business but mine.”

Throughout it all, Bard gives us mouth-watering recipes and food descriptions. “There’s something a little greedy about roasted tomatoes. Slick with olive oil and mellowed with garlic, pulpy like a supermarket romance novel, they are my attempt at pleasure hoarding. I want to be able to peek into the freezer in December and know I can use this spark of sunshine to light up a winter pasta sauce or guarantee a sensational base for braised veal shank or white beans.” (I’ll be doing that this summer.) French cooking isn’t about fancy cooking with sauces, most of it is simple, local, fresh food since you go to the market regularly throughout the week. White Beans with Tomatoes and Herbs, Zucchini Gratin, Lentil and Sausage Stew, Arugula Salad with Chicken, Fresh Figs, and Avocado, Mulled Wine Roasted Plums. (Is your mouth watering yet?)

I won’t spoil the ending for you like the book jacket did for me (grrr), but I have a feeling in the next few years I will find yet another chapter in Bard’s food life on the shelf of a bookstore. If I’m lucky enough.

Chickpea and Vegetable Tagine

While last week I extolled the virtues of extending summer a wee bit, I am now head over heels in love with autumn. The apple orchards are open, squashes are filling the produce departments, and for the first time this season, we turned the heat on to take the chill out of the living room. I’ve discovered something about myself recently; despite loving summer and summer cooking, I truly am a cold-weather cook. Even on a cooler than normal day in August, my thoughts went to roasted chicken, chili, homemade bread, anything to warm the house and soul. So I am thrilled that the season is finally upon us (although not too thrilled about the idea of snow, the dark days, and really cold weather), and that the weather is now perfect for making warm, comforting stews like this one.

I’ve made this recipe twice and both times it was a hit. The first time I substituted grape tomatoes for the Sun Golds and rice instead of quinoa, and it was just as good. The second time I followed it to the letter (served with red quinoa cooked in chicken broth–yum!) and it was delicious. It’s a perfect fall dish, served with a simple green salad, you can rest assured you won’t be adding to your waistline. And it’s quick! Chop everything ahead of time and you just stand and stir. Plus it makes fabulous leftovers!

Chickpea and Vegetable Tagine
This recipe originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Cooking Light.

Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: 1/2 cup quinoa and 1 cup zucchini mixture)

1 cup water
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 cups Sun Gold or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 (15-ounce) can unsalted chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring 1 cup water, quinoa, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 13 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

2. Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion to pan; sauté 4 minutes. Add cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes; cook 2 minutes or until tomatoes begin to release their liquid. Add chickpeas and zucchini. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Serve zucchini mixture with quinoa.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week: Eating Well on a Budget
Perhaps it is the same everywhere, but I’m finding food, that is, good for you food, more and more expensive in the past few years. This question of how to eat healthy on a tight budget recently was posed on I am always looking for helpful hints on how to lower my grocery bill. While I’m familiar with most of the suggestions I know, I still found a few new ones that I’ll try! What are your best hints? I like to buy dried beans instead of canned and cook them up, as well as buying spices in bulk so I get as much–or as little–as I want. Plus, they are fresher!

Eat well on a tight budget.

Chicken and Chickpea Tangine

DSCN0369I have two reasons why I love my crock pot (or slow cooker as they’re now called): 1. Most recipes have few steps, basically put everything in a pot, set it, forget it, and when you get home the kitchen is filled with wonderful scents, you have a delicious meal ready to eat, and you’ve barely picked up a knife; and 2. Freezing leftovers is wonderful and you can pull dinner out of the freezer in the morning on a busy weeknight. It’s the original frozen dinner!

I love chicken, chickpeas, and stews, so this comforting meal was a home run in my house. I have a smaller crock pot, so I ended up finishing the cooking on the stove, because the chicken wasn’t getting cooked enough. And I took it one step further and shredded the chicken for easier eating. The leftovers were delicious, and it ended up being at least three meals in our house!

My apologies for no photograph of dinner this week. I took one, but when I looked at it, it made the dish look really unappetizing! I’ll have to work on my color settings!

Chicken and Chickpea Tangine
This recipe originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Cooking Light magazine. Serves 8.

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
8 (5-ounce) bone-in chicken thighs, skinned
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh garlic
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick (MVK’s Note: I used 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon in place of a stick.)
2/3 cup chopped dried apricots
2 (15-ounce) cans organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
Lemon wedges


1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle meaty side of chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Add chicken to pan, meaty side down; cook 5 minutes or until well browned. Remove from pan (do not brown other side).

2. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 4 minutes. Add cumin and next 5 ingredients (through red pepper); cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, stock, honey, and cinnamon, scraping pan to loosen browned bits; bring to a simmer. Carefully pour mixture into a 6-quart electric slow cooker. Stir in apricots and chickpeas. Arrange chicken, browned side up, on top of chickpea mixture. Cover and cook on LOW for 7 hours. Discard cinnamon stick. Sprinkle with cilantro; serve with lemon wedges.

A Comforting Vegetarian Casserole For a Chilly Night

Thanksgiving morn. Started out chilly and ended up being in the 50s! The kitchen windows were opened to let out some of the heat!

With the Thanksgiving holiday over but Christmas right around the corner, I find now is the time to delve into lighter meals for dinner. I try to make this time in between the holidays to be about healthy, yet comforting meals. Less on the meat, more on the fruits and vegetables. Your waistline will thank you in April!

A couple of months ago I noticed a picture of a dish in a copy of Eating Well magazine that looked very similar to my own Chris’s Chi-Chi Beans with a few additions. I didn’t bother looking at the recipe, I decided to add those extra ingredients and try it! The dish I created was a warm and comforting vegetarian recipe (and gluten-free, too) that will be good on any night. Plus, it made lots of leftovers for lunches!

“Frost” the top of the casserole with the squash!

Chickpeas and Squash Casserole with Quinoa
I like to have a box or two of frozen squash on hand in the winter. Along with being a quick side dish, I find it utterly comforting; it’s much smoother than I can ever get squash I roast. With no additions, it’s just pure squash and it’s delicious!

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, diced
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup cooked quinoa*
1 package of frozen winter squash, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-sized saucepan, warm the olive oil. Sauté the onion, garlic, and carrot until the the carrots are soft and onions soft and translucent. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, quinoa and stir to combine. Place in a casserole dish and top (or “frost”) with the thawed winter squash. Place in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until you’re ready to serve dinner.

*To cook just one cup of quinoa, add one cup of water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add ½ cup of quinoa and cook until soft and the water is absorbed.

Cook’s note: When setting some of this aside for my lunch, I thought a dash of cinnamon would be a welcome spice and it was! Just a tiny bit really gave it much more flavor and melded well with the beans and tomatoes.

Thanksgiving Redux

I thought I’d check back with this year’s Thanksgiving recipes. I made four new dishes (including the aforementioned Astor House Rolls), some were repeaters, some not. (For those of you wondering, I chickened (turkeyied? yuck yuck!) out and cooked the stuffing on the side instead in the bird; I didn’t want to take any chances!)

I followed most of my pre-dinner tips, although I skipped making the pie on Wednesday afternoon in favor of seeing “Lincoln” (which was great, by the way). Along the way amongst the many cooking podcasts, websites, and magazines, I also collected a couple more tips to add to my entertaining arsenal!

More tips

• When making pie crust, put the stick of butter in the freezer for a little while and take out your hand grater and grate it like you would cheese or a carrot, thus making small pieces of butter to start making crust! This worked great; I keep butter in the freezer, so my stick took some elbow grease to shave, but it certainly beats chunks of butter that you need to work into the flour. This tip came from Amanda Hesser of Food52.

• Take out the crock pot! With just four burners and an oven, I heard on “America’s Test Kitchen Radio Show” to use your crock pot for whatever needs warming, leaving one more available burner. I decided to do this with mashed potatoes; not wanting to make them at the last minute, I made them the night before with the intention of warming them in the crock pot. I just added a little liquid and they tasted like they were just made!

• Remember the paper towels! Noticing the windows in the November light hadn’t been cleaned in months, I used up most of my paper towel roll and had just a couple of sheets left. Lucky for me, my dad carries them in the car, so we were saved!

Madeira-Sage Turkey Gravy

I thought I was lucky when I snatched a 2012 holiday catalog from Williams-Sonoma. I love perusing and dreaming of all the cookware and they sometimes have recipes interspersed. And this recipe for a dark coffee-colored turkey gravy in a turquoise Dutch oven looked really yummy. Unfortunately, mine wasn’t that dark and the flavor was just ok. But full admission, I made this before the turkey was done, so I didn’t get a lot of pan drippings, probably less than a quarter cup, and it was quite thin. And I found the Madeira was on the strong side. If I make this again, I will definitely follow instructions!

Canal Street’s Cranberry Port Gelée 

If you have a bag of cranberries, some sugar, and ten minutes, then you can make this recipe! This came together quickly, although once you start to serve it, I noticed the “gelée” sort of lost its gel. This was definitely one of the better homemade cranberry sauces I’ve made, with just the right amount of sugar to lose the sourness and bitterness of the cranberries. I used Madeira, since I had it on hand and they said that was a worthy substitute.

Bourbon Pecan Pie

This recipe, from The Essential New York Times Cookbook was the sparkling gem. Frankly, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a bad pecan pie, but this was tops. Just those two tablespoons of bourbon lent just a slight flavor in the rich filling. I’m not sure what happened, but the tart totally collapsed, so my fluted edges sank. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but it was delicious! A definite repeater, but perhaps an ending for a less filling and rich meal!

While delicious, my beautiful fluted crust sank when put in the oven.