Every time I cook this dish I think of my nephew Andres. He, like many children, is not very fond of vegetables but he really likes pizza and, although I put lots of vegetables in this dish, he eats it without hesitation and he even ask for seconds.

Once upon a time, while camping in a motor-home with my family. I prepared this dish for the children, I thought they will like it because they could eat it with their hands like they would pizza. Adriana, Andres' mother, told me not to bother, "it has vegetable, they won't eat it," she said. I cooked it anyway and hoped for the best. That time I put chopped broccoli, spinach, mushrooms and onions along with lots of cheese. To everyone's surprise, the kids loved it and especially Andres who kept saying; "Tia this pizza is so good, I want more." 

Pizza-Pasta is a dish made out of leftovers. The main ingredient in this dish is leftover cooked pasta and the rest is up to your imagination.  I originally called this dish Torta de Pasta but Andres decided that it should be called Pizza-Pasta, so Pizza-Pasta it is.


1/2 pound angel hair pasta, cooked and at room temperature
5-6 sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped plus 1 Tbs. of the oil in which they were packed

2-3 small portabella mushrooms, clean and chopped
4 eggs
1/4 C. milk
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C.  parmesan cheese, graded
1/2 C. fontina cheese, graded (any other melting cheese can be substituted for fontina)
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-2 springs of thyme, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. parmesan cheese, graded
chopped thyme for garnishing (optional)

Toss together the pasta, sun-dried tomatoes with their oil and mushrooms. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk, salt and pepper. Stir in the next 6 ingredients. Add the pasta mixture and toss to coat.

Heat the broiler. In a large skillet (use one that can be transferred to the oven), heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Pour the pasta mixture in the skillet, pressing to form an even layer. Cook for about 3 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown. Sprinkle the top with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese. Transfer the skillet to the broiler and cook until the top is golden brown. Watch carefully, it only takes a few minutes. Cool to room temperature. Remove from the skillet, cut into wedges and serve at room temperature. 

This dish can be prepared with different vegetables and most kinds of pasta. I had prepare it with orzo and used basil instead of thyme, you can even add meat or chicken if you like. It is easy to prepare and very portable. Pack a small salad and a slice of Pizza-Pasta for a great lunch.


A Bright and Colorful Snack

I love beets. Crunchy red beets are my favorites. I can eat them raw or cook them any way I can think of; they are just great! I have been trying to get Rich, my husband, to eat beets but unfortunately, he hates beets... or does he?

I was at the farmers' market the other day looking for red beets. I couldn't find them but I saw beautiful golden beets that I couldn't resist. I got a bunch and brought them home. Then I thought to myself; "How can I get Rich to eat this?  Rich loves potato chips, he often eats them with his lunch. Bingo!  I'll make beet chips and while I'm at it, I'll throw in some butternut squash too; he'll love them."

A couple of days later, he was coming home for lunch and I prepared one of his favorite sandwiches - grilled cheese.  He says he likes my grilled cheese sandwiches because they have lots of cheese and they always have a surprise inside. This time I sautéed red onions and a couple of portabella mushrooms to put in with the cheese. I presented it to him accompanied with golden beet and butternut squash chips. At first he didn't know what it was. He started eating them and he said; "Umm, what are these? These are yummy." Although he ate more of the squash chips, he also ate a lot of the beet chips and he liked them! Which made me very happy because now I can buy them more often and we can enjoy a bright and colorful snack.

Butternut Squash and Golden Beets Chips
2 golden beets, peeled
1 small butternut squash, peeled
Enough oil to fry the vegetables (I used peanut oil but if not available, use another vegetable oil)
Sea salt to sprinkle over the chips

Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, thinly slice the vegetables. Arrange, in a single layer, on a paper towel to dry. Meanwhile in a deep heavy pan heat the oil to a temperature of 375°F (if you don't have a thermometer you can test it by adding a small piece of dried bread. If it floats and becomes golden in 30-60 seconds the oil is ready).  Fry your vegetables in small batches to avoid cooling the oil too fast. Place a few slices in the oil and let them cook for 2-3 minutes turning them once; the beets take longer than the squash. They are ready when they start curving on the sides and they come up to the surface. Remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel or a paper bag. Sprinkle with sea salt while they are hot. Enjoy with your favorite sandwich or eat alone as a healthy snack.


A Middle Eastern Angel

I know a beautiful lady that is more than an angel to me. She is the most giving and caring person I have ever met and has a permanent positive spirit that makes everyone happy. Her name is Hanaa and she is my friend. 

Hanaa is a wonderful woman from Iraq who volunteers her time to help us around the office translating for Arabic/Chaldean speaking clients. Her presence in the office is a gentle reminder to all of us that giving is as important as receiving. Hanaa says she likes to help people because it makes her happy and that's the main reason she volunteers. She is an angel because she does this from the bottom of her heart and she is always smiling and spreading good vibes among us. Our clients love her, my crew loves her and I love her!

Besides being so generous with her time, Hanaa has taught me a few Middle Eastern recipes. She is a great cook and does not hesitate to share her food with others. She often brings food for us in the office and it's always so incredibly delicious! The following dishes are two things she has cooked for us. I tried to prepare them for her but of course, they were not as good as Hanaa's but they were not so bad, either. She said she liked them and Yvette, one of the girls from Lebanon that works with us said my dish reminded her of her own mom's cooking. As far as I'm concerned, that is the ultimate complement!

Stuffed Eggplants in Tomato Sauce

2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 C. each pine nuts and slivered almonds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 lb. minced meat (I used beef but you can use any meat you like)
1/2 tsp. each cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and a pinch of saffron all ground (Hanaa mixes her own spice but she does not use cinnamon for this dish)
salt and pepper to taste

1/2 C. olive oil to fry eggplant
10 small eggplants, washed and dried

1/4 C. sun dried tomato paste (it doesn't have to be sun dried tomato but this is what I like to use)
2 roma tomatoes, cooked, peeled and seeds removed (or a 12 oz. can of chopped tomatoes)
1 C. of chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. salt and a dash of pepper

2 Tsp. flat leaf parsley, chopped

Sauté the pine nuts in oil over medium heat. Remove from oil and add the almonds. Sauté and remove from oil. In the remaining oil sauté the meat and onions. Season with spices, add salt and pepper to taste and let simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add 1/2 of the nuts.

Heat the oil over medium heat. Fry the eggplants until light brown (you may peel the eggplant if you like but I didn't). Remove from oil and drain. When cool enough to handle, slit each eggplant lengthwise to form a pocket and fill with the stuffing. Arrange in an ovenproof dish.

Place sauce ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Pour over the eggplant. Bake in a 400°F  oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and garnish with chopped parsley and the remaining nuts.

Basmati Rice with Vermicelli

1/4 C. olive oil
1 C. broken vermicelli (you can use Mexican fideos)
5 1/2 C. chicken broth or water, boiling
1 tsp salt
A pinch or two of spice mix used in the previous recipe (optional)
Flat leaf parsley to garnish (optional)

In a large saucepan sauté the vermicelli in the oil until light brown in color, stirring constantly to avoid sticking and burning. Add the rice and boiling broth or water to the saucepan, stirring to mix the rice with the vermicelli. Stir in the salt, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until all liquid has evaporated and rice has cooked through. If using, add spice mix and stir with a fork. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with chopped parsley. 

Here they are on my plate accompanied with hummus and a Lebanese pastry filled with za'atar, both made by Yvette


Chicharron de Puerco y Puerca

"Chicharron de puerco y puerca"  yelled a man on the streets. This man was selling chicharrones. Every afternoon he passed by my house pushing a small two wheeled cart full of fresh made chicharrones that smelled so good... mmm, I can almost taste them. 

Chicharrones are pork-rinds deep fried in their own fat. They are eaten in many Latin American countries as well as in Spain, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. In México we eat them as a crunchy, salty snack sprinkled with lemon or lime juice and hot sauce or in tacos and gorditas. My mom prepares a delicious breakfast dish called chicharrones en salsa verde.  Although I love meat I don't eat it too often. My husband is vegetarian and I only cook meat for myself once in a while. Today was a cold rainy day and I felt like eating comfort food so chicharrones would do it. 

You can get chicharrones by the pound at the meat counter of a Mexican grocery store. If you don't have access to the fresh made chicharrones you can buy the kind of pork-rinds sold in a bag; they will taste good too.

Chicharrones in Green Sauce

1 lb. tomatillos, husk removed and cleaned
5 serrano peppers 
2 garlic gloves
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely shopped
Salt to taste
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped 
1 lb. chicharrones (fried pork-rind), cut in small pieces
chicken broth or water (as needed)

On a cast iron griddle or skillet grill the tomatillos, serrano peppers and garlic.  In a blender or food processor, purée the grilled vegetables together with the cilantro until smooth. Add salt to taste. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the onion. Pour the puréed ingredients into saucepan and bring to a boil stirring constantly. Add chicken broth or water as needed. The sauce should be soupy. As soon as the sauce is boiling add the pieces of chicharron, cover and simmer for about 10 minute until the chicharron has adsorbed most of the sauce and it becomes soft. Serve hot accompanied with refried beans and tortillas or use to prepare tacos with flour tortillas.