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Olive Garden Salad Knock-Off

Olive Garden Endless Salad

Even though I may be a food industry professional who generally avoids big chain restaurants, even I have to admit that Olive Garden’s all-you-can-eat salad and bread-sticks are hard to pass up!

all you can eat Olive Garden salad

Not that we are frequent diners at Olive Garden. In fact, I believe the only times we’ve eaten there in the past decade have been on road trips.

no much of a stretch

This is the salad I made for work-weary Marissa and Jeff on Friday night. I have a few more photos of the apartment kitchen too. Here you can see that 6′ 3″ Jeff doesn’t have to stretch much to touch both ends of the kitchen at the same time.

color strip

After I complained about how dark the sink area was at night, Dave went to Costco and bought a cool light strip that Jeff and I installed around the kitchen and over the sink. It even has a remote and you can have a full-color light show! Most importantly, it really lights up the place.

pumpkin happy

Lastly, Marissa used the velvet pumpkins I made for her last year, to cover up and camouflage the TV cords and components on her mantel. Cute!

And most wonderful of all… I found the Jarrahdale pumpkins, that I so love, at Marissa’s corner market which is only two blocks from her house. I smuggled home three of them in our luggage! So excited!

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October 8, 2013   3 Comments

cooking in a postage stamp-sized kitchen

We return later today from a glorious long weekend, spent with Marissa and her boyfriend, Jeff, in San Francisco and Napa.

San Francisco from the ferry

Marissa had a very busy and stressful work week, so I made dinner on Friday night in her very small kitchen. When I say small, I mean really small!

In May, Marissa moved from the Outer Sunset neighborhood to Pacific Heights. Part of the tradeoff to live closer to the center of the city was less space.

postage stamp kitchen

The closet-sized kitchen is only 7 feet wide by 10 feet long, with less than 25 square feet of walkable floor space and only 3 linear feet of counter space. No dishwasher, no garbage disposal, and a smaller than average sized refrigerator.

fridges

Speaking of the refrigerator… remember this Friday Funny I posted last week?

small fridge

It is Marissa’s reality! Here is her refrigerator…

fridge

… and here is how mine typically looks. Just a bit of a contrast!

filled to the rim with goceries

So, what did I make for dinner in the tiny kitchen, you ask?

After a quick trip to Trader Joe’s, I unpacked it all, which took up every inch of counter space, then I proceeded to make a one pot (no drain) pasta dinner, rounded out with salad and garlic bread. The salad recipe will be posted tomorrow.

foil to cover holes in cover

The one pot Marissa owned, that was big enough, had a lid with holes, for draining pasta. I needed a solid lid so I covered the pot with foil, then added the lid, for a tight seal.

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October 7, 2013   6 Comments

easy meaty or meatless Monday meal

It has only taken me a week, but I’m finally getting back to you with the second recipe using those polenta scraps from the Polenta Pesto Bruschetta recipe I gave you a week ago today.

trader joe's polenta

This is almost the perfect “layer and bake” recipe, all you have to do is brown some Italian sausage. Although, you could easily make this dish even more convenient by omitting the sausage, thereby creating the perfect Mindless Meatless Monday Meal.

Dave was out-of-town when I made it, but Connor was home for the night, so meat was called for. We enjoyed the spiciness that the sausage added.

Italian Polenta Bake

Italian Polenta Bake

Polenta trimmings from this recipe, or a tube of prepared polenta, cut into rounds
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
8 ounces hot Italian sausage, cooked
1  1/2 cups purchased marinara sauce
2/3 cup grated mozzarella cheese

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September 16, 2013   1 Comment

I’m back…

Connor and I had a blast in Disneyland and California Adventure. When I say a blast, I not only mean a great time but a heat blast too.

main street USA

It never fails, I leave this Godforsaken desert to find some refreshing cool air and the heat follows me! It was 95 every day we were there. The weatherman is predicting a lovely 75 degrees for Tuesday! It’s not right!

polenta bruschetta

Oh well, fall is coming soon… I hope. Until then, I have the quickest and the easiest appetizer for you …. plus a few Disney vacation photos at the end of the post.

polenta pesto bruschetta ingredients

Most grocery stores carry the tubes of prepared polenta … and prepared pesto too. Although, I used some frozen arugula pesto I had on hand. I brought this to a surprise party on Sunday that our dear friend, Amy, threw for her husband, our dear friend, Scott.

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September 9, 2013   1 Comment

simple stir-fry

I really love stir-fry. When I have a plethora of fresh vegetables on hand, there is nothing I’d rather make.

stir fry equipment

With a little prep, a nutritious and colorful dinner comes together in a matter of minutes.

More often than not, I don’t even take the time to make rice. None of my family seems to miss it, so why bother?

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August 28, 2013   1 Comment

sizzlin’ fajitas

Connor is between semesters at school so he is home for a couple of weeks. On Sunday, I asked him to decide what we’d have for dinner and he didn’t hesitate – he requested fajitas.

fajita fixins

It’s been ages since I’ve made ‘em, so I went all out and cooked up not only traditional beef, but also shrimp and chicken. The best part about that… we had plenty of leftover beef and had tacos on Monday night. Yay for leftovers!

flap meat

Connor and I shopped at Food City for our meal. In our search for skirt steak, we happily stumbled upon flap meat. Flap meat can be difficult or next to impossible to find at standard grocery stores like Safeway, so when I come across it, I can’t help but get a little excited.

Flap meat comes from the bottom sirloin, and although it’s from a similar region as flank steak or skirt steak, it’s a different cut. The flap is not very tender, but it is well-marbled and very flavorful. It’s sometimes called flap steak or bavette and is an excellent meat for carne asada and fajitas.

If you can’t find flap, use either skirt or flank steak for this recipe.

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August 27, 2013   2 Comments

as requested by Peggy…

pita jungle

After not seeing each other for more than three weeks, Peggy and I just had to get together and go out for lunch this past Monday. That’s a long time to not see your BFF!

The day before, I called her to make our lunch plans. Coincidentally, she was having lunch at Pita Jungle, enjoying Coconut Curried Soup w/ Chickpeas, with her daughter, Natalie.

Peggy said, “Linda, I LOVE this soup! You have to taste it, figure out how to make it, and give me the recipe!”  I told her that if she didn’t mind going back to Pita Jungle the next day – I’d do my best.

Problem is, the Coconut Curried Soup with Chickpeas is not on the printed or online menus at Pita Jungle. This means there is no description of the soup for me take any of my cues from.

I’ve deciphered restaurant recipes many times before but there’s always been some sort of guide or reference, you know, a description of the dish – besides just the food itself. This was going to be more challenging than I had originally thought.

Monday, I ordered the soup. I ordered nothing else, I wanted all my focus to be on the flavors of that soup.  I tasted it and knew some of the ingredients for certain; obviously coconut milk, probably full fat. I’m going to use lite coconut milk for my recipe, feel free to use full fat if you’d rather.

There was most certainly red curry paste, garlic, and ginger … and possibly jalapeño as well.

pita jungle soup

Next, I spread the vegetables out on the rim of the bowl to see what I could see; I snapped this photo of it – let’s see… red bell pepper, tomato, poblano pepper, parsley, chickpeas, onion, and either orange bell pepper or carrot.  The orange-colored pieces were so small that neither Peggy nor I could decide which it was – so I’m going with orange bell pepper since I don’t care for carrots. I’m also adding diced mushrooms, just ’cause I want to.

soup vegetalbes

I’m posting the recipe this morning but I may come back and tweak it after Peggy gets over here and tries it.

Get over here, girl!

If tweaking is done, I’ll put any additions or changes in red print… stay tuned.

Peggy never did make it over to try the soup, but my boys and I decided it was too thick. Add another can of coconut milk or vegetable broth to thin it out to your liking. I used more coconut milk and then needed to add more curry paste as well.  I’ve made those changes in the recipe below.

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July 25, 2013   4 Comments

shrimp & squash couscous

logcabin

We are currently enjoying the good life the Log Mansion in Wisconsin with Jeff, Jen, and their boys. Prior to arriving here, we went from Toronto, Canada to Niagara Falls, New York to Rockton, Illinois.

falls pano

Neither Dave or I had been to the Falls before. We were blown away by their power and beauty!

maid of the mist

This is a recipe my mother-in-law and I made while we were visiting her in Illinois. She’d found it in Ladies Home Journal. I’ve made a couple changes to the original by using both green and yellow summer squash instead of just zucchini and by adding tomatoes, otherwise it is pretty much as written.

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July 17, 2013   4 Comments

“garbage” pasta

As I mentioned a few days ago, I make it my mission to clean out the fresh food in my refrigerator before we go out of town. The easiest way to do that in the winter is to make a soup and the easiest way the rest of the year is to make pasta. I call this “garbage” pasta, because I’ll put any and everything in it.

garbage pasta

This particular time, I had a partial box of cherry tomatoes plus fresh heirloom tomatoes from my garden. In addition there were partial bags of green beans and sugar snap peas. I always have garlic and onion on hand, so those always start the dish.

The first step is to get a big pot of water boiling. Add salt and blanch vegetables such as the green beans, sugar snap peas, asparagus, snow peas, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower for a couple minutes. Use a slotted spoon or spider to remove them and have a big bowl of ice water ready to drop them into – to stop the cooking.

Once they’ve cooled down, drain and set aside.

icedbeans

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May 27, 2013   1 Comment

Crudités Mexican Flag for Cinco de Mayo

Are you hosting or attending a Cinco de Mayo party this weekend?

If so, I have the perfect thing for you to serve or bring.

Crudites Mexican Flag for Cinco de Mayo

Serve these flag inspired crudités with your favorite dip or salsa.

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May 2, 2013   2 Comments