kale pasta with harissa

I’ve been living off frozen pizza, nachos, and Thai takeout all summer. Between conference organizing, work stress, and Donald’s new schedule, I haven’t been in the kitchen for what feels like months. When I got back from a trip to a family reunion, I needed to eat something that tasted comforting and familiar but still had some nutrients, to get myself back into a cooking routine.

I usually try to eat all the fresh veg in the fridge before we leave for a trip, but this time I’d left behind half an onion and a whole clamshell of baby kale, both of which miraculously made it an extra week before being cooked. Adding the harissa and sun-dried tomatoes, and using the oil they were packed in to cook the onion, made this simple pasta spicy and rich.

Kale Pasta with Harissa
Serves 2

You will need:
6 ounces dry pasta
1 Tbsp. olive oil or oil from sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
6 oz. baby kale
2 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes
1 Tbsp. harissa
1 Tbsp. butter
salt and pepper, to taste
grated parmesan cheese for serving

Boil water for the pasta, and salt the water. Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and season with salt and pepper; cook until translucent, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic clove and cook 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add baby kale and reserved pasta water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, turning frequently, until kale is wilted. Add sundried tomatoes and harissa and cook until fragrant. Stir in butter.

Serve immediately and pass with parmesan cheese.

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mexican rice balls (with a spicy tomato sauce!)

This dish isn’t for the faint of heart.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s an excellent use of leftover rice, especially if you felt the need to make six cups of Mexican rice for a total of four people, and then have five cups of rice leftover because you made way too much food.

Not that that’s ever happened. And not that that’s a bad thing.

This dish is a pain to put together. If you’re a rice ball aficionado, then I’m sure you’ll have no problem. But if you’re like me, and don’t have years of rice-ball-rolling experience under your belt, prepare for things to get a little messy. Between the rice (which flat refused to mold), the flour (which I wound up working into the balls as I tried to reform the balls after coating them in flour), the egg (which attempted to disintegrate the rice balls), the panko flakes (which I had to press into the sides of the balls), and the huge mess on my counters, I almost threw in the towel on this meal several times. But I persevered, and you should too.

Mexican Rice Balls
Loosely adapted from Food.com
Makes appx. 10 rice balls 

You will need:
3 cups cooked Mexican rice
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs, divided and beaten lightly
Flour, for coating
Panko flakes, for coating
Vegetable oil, for frying

Mix the rice, cheese, and two of the eggs in a large bowl. Using a 1/3 measuring cup, mold the rice (to the best of your ability) into a ball.

Coat the ball in flour, then dip it in the other two beaten eggs, then coat it in panko flakes. Set on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. If it looks a little weird, or starts to fall apart, don’t despair. Just put it together as best you can, and do the next one. Continue until your rice is gone.

Put the sheet of rice balls into the freezer, and heat 2 inches of oil in a saucepan. When the oil is hot, take the rice balls out of the freezer and fry them in batches, turning once. The balls will need about 2-3 minutes, total. Drain on a tray lined with paper towels. Serve immediately, with Mexican-Style Tomato Sauce.

Mexican-Style Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Epicurious
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

You will need:
1 14-oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1/4 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 fresh jalapeño, or several slices of pickled jalapeños
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Warm thoroughly in a saucepan, and serve with Mexican rice balls!

pesto pasta salad with roasted tomatoes

Pesto Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes
Serves 2
Note: These roasted tomatoes are delicious on their own, tossed with fresh thyme, basil, or oregano during roasting.

You will need:
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, peeled but whole
3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 lb. small pasta, such as rotini
1.4 c. pesto
1/4 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese

Halve the cherry tomatoes. Toss tomato halves and garlic with 1 tbsp. olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast on a cookie sheet in a 450-degree oven for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions and drain. Toss pesto, remaining olive oil, and tomatoes with pasta. Serve immediately, topped with parmesan cheese.

creole-esque pasta with shrimp

I’m honestly not sure what to call this pasta. When the fork hit my mouth, I thought of gumbo and jambalaya and all those wonderful Creole flavors, although I’m not sure that was the original intent.

I also am not the designer of this dish. This dish came together after my boyfriend realized that some of the peppers from our garden needed to be eaten like, now, and we had a few other leftover veggies that were running low on shelf life. So he sautéed them in a pan with oil, boiled some water, and made me dinner. And it was delicious. And took about twenty minutes.

Creole-esque Pasta with Shrimp
Serves 2
Note: We tend to use frozen, raw shrimp. When we can find them already peeled and deveined, we do that as a time-saver. This week, we could only find deveined, but peeling them is a cinch. Just put them in a colander under running cold water (or, if you’re in Texas and in a drought, in a colander in a sinkful of cold water) and in about ten minutes, they’re soft enough to peel.

You will need:
1/2 lb. pasta
10-12 large shrimp
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Cayenne pepper, to taste (substitute with red pepper flakes, if desired)
Creole seasoning
Splash of heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste

Boil a pot of water and cook pasta according to package directions. Set aside.

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat, but don’t let the butter burn. Add the shrimp and cook about 1 minute. Turn all shrimp and cook about 30 seconds. Remove from heat.*

Add onion, pepper, garlic, and spices, and cook until softened and slightly caramelized. Add pasta and shrimp to skillet and toss to coat pasta in oil and vegetables. Add cream and toss to evenly distribute. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve in bowls and top with parmesan cheese.

*The key to not overcooking shrimp is to undercook them. When you remove them from the heat to a bowl, they will continue to cook each other for a few more minutes. For pasta, they also continue cooking when you add them to the hot noodles. You want them to be just barely opaque when you cook them initially.

cilantro-lime rice

I’ll keep this brief: This rice is so, so versatile. I’ve served it with fajitas, alongside enchiladas, with Chinese dumplings, and with Thai chicken. The flavors are fresh and unique, but work well with half the meals I make. If you’re in a hurry, or you’re bone tired, toss some chicken thighs with Goya Adobo seasoning, roast them, and throw this in the rice cooker. About twenty minutes later, the chicken and the rice are done, and you have a reasonably healthy meal with almost no effort.

Cilantro-Lime Rice
Serves 2

You will need:
3/4 c. basmati rice
3/4 c. + 1 tbsp. water
1 tsp. olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro

Rice cooker:
Add the rice, water, and oil to the pot. Stir, and turn the pot on.  When ready to serve, stir in lime and cilantro, and serve immediately.

Stovetop:
In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add rice and cook about two minutes, stirring constantly. Add water and bring to a boil. When boiling, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook about 15 minutes (and this is so approximate). When done, stir in lime juice and cilantro, and serve.

leek and bacon pasta

This is a shameless copycat of Pioneer Woman’s pasta, trimmed down to serve two and with slightly less cream. I’m posting it because a) it’s delicious, b) it feels fancy, and c) it’s pretty cheap and easy to make, especially for two. Also because a friend asked me to. You’re welcome.

I didn’t know about leeks until this dish, and now I think I could eat them every day. In case you didn’t know about leeks either, here are some notes:

Leeks are delicious. They’re in the onion family, but their flavor is very light and fresh. They tend to have lots of sand between their leaves, so you wants to rinse them very well, but the extra trouble is worth it. And they don’t make you cry when you slice them! You can use them essentially anywhere you would use an onion, or you can let them shine, like in this dish. They’re also a common ingredient in potato soup; leeks are often paired with potatoes or bacon or both.

Leek and Bacon Pasta
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Serves 2

You will need:
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 slices bacon, cut into small strips
2 leeks
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. cream or half-and-half
1/2 lb. penne pasta
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese

Start a pot of water boiling and prepare pasta according to package directions. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add bacon and cook until browned. Remove bacon from pan, leaving grease behind.

Meanwhile, wash the leeks by removing their outer leaves, slicing off the roots, and slicing the leeks into 1/2″ coins from the white part of the vegetable to the first inch or so of the green part. Rinse these coins well, and pat dry. Add the leeks to the pan (this is why you want to dry them– it avoids starting a grease fire) and cook until tender. They will start to come apart into ribbons. Do not be alarmed. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add pasta and reserved bacon to pan, and stir to combine. Add cream, stir again. Serve immediately with parmesan cheese. Leftovers also keep well and heat up quite nicely the next day.

shrimp scampi pasta

Don’t be like me, kids. Look before you leap. Think about the cooking process start to finish, and take appropriate steps to ensure that everything comes together at the right times.

Do not, for example, allow the butter to get too brown before you add the onions and garlic. It would also be advisable to start a pot of water boiling before you heat the oil at all; while you wait for the water to boil so you can prepare pasta, your onions and garlic will become darker in color than you would prefer. It is also advisable not to add the shrimp to the hot pan until the pasta is close to done. If you are like me, and you don’t even start a pot of water before your shrimp are perfectly opaque, then you will become paranoid about the shrimp overcooking and becoming rubbery.

Even if you do all of these things, however (brown the butter, burn the garlic, overcook the shrimp, forget to season until the last moment, and undercook ever-so-slightly the pasta), this dish will still be edible. The shrimp were much more forgiving than I expected them to be (taking them off the heat as soon as I realized my timing errors ensured that they didn’t continue cooking for too long), and the brightness of fresh parsley surprisingly covers a multitude of sins. Despite the near-horrific experience I had with this dish, I still can’t wait to make it again. With the slightest amount of forethought, this dish is miraculously simple enough for a weeknight meal, while still fancy enough for date night.

Shrimp Scampi Pasta
Serves 2
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Note: The Pioneer Woman uses a dash or two of Tobasco sauce to flavor this dish. I went a little too light on the sauce and didn’t get as much spice as I wanted, so I would go heavier next time. Switching to red chili flakes would also spice things up.
If using frozen shrimp, use raw shrimp. Do not buy cooked frozen shrimp. Ever. Trust me. If using raw shrimp or frozen shrimp in their shells, make sure they are shelled, cleaned, and deveined before cooking.

You will need:
1/2 lb. thin pasta, such as angel hair
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
~16 medium-sized shrimp (see note)
Dash Tobasco sauce (see note)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
Shredded parmesan cheese, to taste

Start a pot of water boiling. Add pasta and cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile, melt oil and butter together in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook until fragrant and onions are tender. Add shrimp, Tobasco sauce, salt and pepper, and lemon juice. Cook about 1 minute on one side, then turn shrimp and cook until they look like tiny C’s. (If they turn to O’s, you have overcooked them, but do not despair. They are probably fine, and you’ll do better next time.)

Add cooked pasta to skillet. Toss, coating pasta with the delicious butter sauce. Add parsley and toss. Serve immediately with parmesan cheese, and garnish with an extra lemon wedge if desired.