Sending a little Monday love


Cheese Louise, Kitty and I just wanted to say HI and THANK YOU for the fun pseudo-playdate this morning.. maybe the kitties didn’t have the best time but it was fun!  We hope you have a great day, and please ignore the super dirty carpet — I vacuumed last night and now the apartment is so clean I don’t recognize it!


Kitty & Lady


Whistle while you work…. Penne, navy beans and pine nuts.


Ever since I realized how easy it is to make my own pasta sauce from scratch, I never went back to buying the jarred stuff. It’s so expensive, plus I like being able to customize my sauces (cream or no cream? Basil or thyme? Or both? Or red peppers? Or aubergines? Should I roast the sauce, or not? Etc.). Anyway, I was stuck at a software workshop allll day Saturday, and by the time I got home it was past 3pm, and I hadn’t eaten a bite. I was ravenous, and a wee bit hungover. I had to eat something right away, or else. So I whipped up some pasta with marinara, and I’m still feasting on the leftovers. The dish took me less than 30 minutes. Take that, Rachel Ray!

Also, this is a great ‘customize’ dish. Want a different bean? I picked navy beans because I love how creamy and silky they make the tomato sauce — mash some of them up, and it becomes the most velvety (and insanely healthy) sauce. Want more vegetables? Squash would be lovely here. For a texture contrast, I bet chard would be great, too. If you using meat, some boneless, skinless chicken thighs would add a really rich flavor. Cheese Louise, maybe some silken tofu? The possibilities are endless! Make it your own! Eat the pasta joyfully! Throw out your scale! Damn the man! Save the empire! Ahem. Sorry. Got caught up in my rhetoric there. Let’s move on, shall we?


Penne with navy beans, toasted pine nuts and spicy tomato sauce.

1/2 pound penne (I would recommend whole wheat pasta, but I was out, so I used the plain old bleached white stuff)
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
15 oz. can cannelli, or navy, beans (no salt added, plz)
1 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced finely
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 thyme springs
2-3 medium sized dried bay leaves
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil (I really like the flavor blend of the fats, personally)

For garnishes:
1/8 cup raw pine nuts
basil, torn
1/2 cup freshly shredded parmigianno reggiano (no idea how to spell that, natch)
salt and pepper

So simple, right? Let’s get started. Throw the diced onion into a hot skillet with the oil and butter. Let the onions sweat out, without too much caramelization. Deeply inhale. That’s the stuff.

Add garlic, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir.

Add the crushed tomatoes and let it bring to a boil, and then take down to a verrrry gentle simmer. Add the dried oregano, bay leaves, and thyme. Oh, I also found some rosemary hidden in my fridge, which I added as a very fine chop. You’ll noticed I didn’t use the typical trio of aromatics, which I would normally do (i.e., add carrots and celery with the onion). That is because I had no celery. And was too lazy to dice carrots. And I don’t have an immersion blender, and I wanted this to be a pretty smooth sauce, which it wouldn’t have been, had I added more aromatics. Anyway.

Let that simmer for 10-20 minutes. Inhale again. Lick your wooden spoon a lot. I highly recommend it.

Bring pot of (well salted) water to boil. When the water comes to a boil, throw in the pasta and cook until al dente. That is, with bite. For me, this means undercooking by at least 3-5 minutes. I hate mushy pasta.

Right when you throw in the pasta, add a can of cannelli beans to the tomato sauce. I washed and realllly well rinsed my beans, because I didn’t want to add more moisture to the sauce than I had to. Stir them around and let them heat up. After a few minutes, mash up about half the can into the sauce, roughly. The sauce will get gorgeously colored and silky smooth. And taste fantastic.

When the pasta is finished, dump and let drain. I do NOT rinse my pasta – EVER – as it washes away the starches and makes it harder for sauces to adhere, which is muy annoying.

Add pasta to your skillet and gently fold to incorporate sauce.

Top with torn basil leaves, tons of toasted pine nuts, and a healthy amount of shaved cheese. I save half to sprinkle on top, and I stir the other half directly into the pasta to boost the flavor.

Spoon into bowls. Admire. This dish is so healthy and super-filling. It would be better paired with, say, a spinach or escarole salad, but it’s good as an easy lunch, too. Note: Your pasta will not look weirdly red as it inexplicably does in my photos. I feel like my camera has a weird red filter on it, but I don’t know how to take it off. So, ignore weird submarine lighting. That is all.


Manchego Mama.

Easy comfort food: Red Lentil Dal with Spinach and Red Onion


Well! Yesterday was a big day indeed. Thanks for your thoughtful words yesterday, C.L.! Our hopes will only be realized with hard work on ALL of our parts, and holding ourselves accountable (as you said). In any case, I was so wiped  yesterday that I baaaarely had enough energy to make dinner. Barely. But! Mama Manchego surprised me yesterday with one of the best things in life, like ever: The Almighty Care Package.

It was her famous annual Chinese New Year package. This year the lunar new year is happening a little early — Jan. 26 (a Monday). It’s Year of the Ox! I’m a Rat, so last year was my year, and it wasn’t even that great of a year so I have high hopes for the Ox. Characteristics of an Ox, you ask? I shall elucidate thee:

People born under the influence of the Ox are kind, caring souls, logical, positive, filled with common sense and with their feet firmly planted on the ground. Security is their main preoccupation in life, and they are prepared to toil long and hard in order to provide a warm, comfortable and stable nest for themselves and their families. Strong-minded, stubborn, individualistic, the majority are highly intelligent individuals who don’t take kindly to being told what to do. The Ox works hard, patiently, and methodically, with original intelligence and reflective thought. These people enjoy helping others. Behind this tenacious, laboring, and self-sacrificing exterior lies an active mind.

Well that’s nice. I’m definitely not an ox, but I kinda want to meet a nice boy who is — don’t they sound like the perfect Mate?  Anyway. I’m depressing myself. Let’s move on to the contents of the Package. My mom snuck in a bunch of stuff that I mentioned when I saw her last (sneaky!), and most of it is food-oriented — dried fruits and roasted nuts for salads, bottles of vitamins, high quality baking chocolate — and items that I simply can’t afford in Ithaca. A couple of things caught my eye: Trader Joes jars of cumin, coriander, and chubby sticks of cinnamon.

Inspired, I decided to make a healthy, filling red lentil dal. Here’s how I did it:

Red Lentil Dal with Spinach and Red Onion (serves 2)

  • 1 cup red lentils, picked over
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 15oz can tomato sauce (no salt added; I used the Muir Glen brand)
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tbsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tsp curry power (optional – I know some people don’t like the powdered stuff)
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 lime
  • 1 stick cinammon
  • 3-4 cups baby spinach
  • Cracked black pepper & salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter / ghee (Omit if feeling super healthy. But it’s so good here.)

Garnishes optional:

  • Handful pepitas
  • Chopped basil


Okay. Heat up a non-stick pot to medium/medium-hot and throw in the olive oil and butter. Get a diced onion in your pot and soften (but not brown). Once translucent, throw in the red lentils and stir to coat. Add all of the spices, garlic, and lime juice. Your kitchen will smell phenomenal. I’m willing to bet my leftovers on it. Add 3 cups of broth (you may need to add more later if your dal dries out, as mine did halfway through) and stir.

Bring up to an easy simmer and cook until lentils are soft, 25-35 minutes. Add the can of tomato sauce and stir. It should be a gorgeous saffron hue, thanks to the marriage of tumeric and tomato. Drooool.

Dice the baby spinach into pretty ribbons (I do this so it’s more uniformly throughout the dal) and stir until wilted. Turn off the stove and ladle. I topped mine with some salted pepitas and chiffonades of basil — both added a nice pop of flavor and color. I enjoyed this with some flax seed crackers and an ice-cold beer.

Next time, I’ll probably use half a cinnamon stick — the sugary aroma and taste was pretty strong, and I had to compensate with more salt and acid. This is also, I should stress, not at all like soup or stew in terms on consistency. So it would be good as a  main dish with basmati rice or naan. But you could make this into a soup really easily by adding twice as much chicken broth, or water. This would also be great with some kidney beans or chickpeas stirred in.

Peace out,

Manchego Mama.

change is here

shepard-fairey-barack-obama1  i just finished watching barack obama’s inaugural address – let’s hope our nation, our leaders and fellow individuals follow through with our current momentum and fervor, holding each other accountable for the change and progress we hope to accomplish. 

this day not only marks the commencement of our 44th president but my return to ciao chow ciao!  i thought about returning for the new year, but those resolutions and fresh starts are so overrated.  no, just kidding m.m.  the holiday craze and subsequent struggle to get back into real life did not make my participation a priority.  thank you, m.m., for holding down the fort and providing your thoughts and delicious dishes.  i did make some changes after the holiday, though.  i’ve been hitting the gym regularly – 4 to 5 times a week.  also, i’ve been a vegetarian since the start of the new year.  things are going great!  i’ve been very conscious about what i’ve been eating and have been trying to focus on positive and realistic body transformation!  i couldn’t do it, though, without the help of cheddar chap…he’s been very supportive AND he’s doing yoga…everyday!  i hate yoga, but i’ll post about that later.

unfortunately, i’m at work now and cannot post much more.  i look forward to sharing my new vegetarian recipes and lifestyle, as well as my journey through 2009 thus far!

cheers and love,

cheese louise!

The everything-but-the-kitchen-sink spinach salad.


Last night I was too lazy/busy to cook dinner — although I REALLY wanted to make some red lentil dahl from scratch, another night methinks — so I literally took everything out of my fridge (that was edible; dangit I guess I should throw away that weird sundried tomato pesto that now more closely approximates fuzzy poop) and threw it into a bowl, and ate. And it was good. Really effing good. As long as you have a ‘base’ — in my case, it was baby spinach, but I think brown rice, lettuce, or something equally light would do the trick too — you can take the most disparate of ingredients and mix it all up into a glorious slurry of taste. Flaverz, I can haz them.


Here’s what I threw into my clean-out-your-damn-refrigerator-already salad:

-1/4 breast of leftover rosemary-lemon roasted chicken
-a few leftover roasted fingerling potatoes and cherry tomatoes
-1 cup of sprouts
-a handful of tamari almonds
-1/2 cup leftover parsley chickpea salad
-thinly sliced manchego shavings

I served this on top of a huge bed of tender baby spinach and gently tossed it with some black pepper, 1 tsp good balsamic vinegar, and 1/2 tbsp of olive oil. I enjoyed it with a couple slices (slightly stale) crusty bread and low-fat hummus from Wegmans. One of the best dinners I’ve had in a while. Ignore Round #2 of Ghetto White Paper Plate. Ahem.


Love for Leftovers: Baked penne with roasted vegetables and andouille sausage.


Don’t you just love it when food tastes better the day AFTER you make it? (Apologies for ghetto white paper plate above. That’s just how we roll in Casa de Manchego Mama.) Anyway, there are some foods with which this is almost universally true:




-Rotisserie chicken (when I buy it from the store)


There are some things that just will never taste good the day after you prepare it. Things like:


Sushi (Ew.)

-Sandwiches. Toast.


-Anything deep fried. (Chicken fingers comes to mind.)

-Salsa fresca.

My version of baked ziti is one of those glorious pasta dishes that holds up marvelously well for a few days. Pasta that appears in soup, for example, would be a little gross the day after, because it just keeps absorbing liquid and keeps expanding and gets mushy. Not good. But in this pasta dish, the roasted vegetables and homemade tomato sauce keeps everything… firm. And delish.

This was a dish that I made Thursday night for my impromptu dinner party (thanks for coming over, C.L. and Cheddar Chap!), and I enjoyed the leftovers yesterday — on a Sunday. It still tasted awesome. The envelope, plz:

Baked whole wheat penne with mozzarella, roast vegetables, and chicken sausage

Whole wheat penne
2 cans 15oz tomatoes (diced or whole)
Fresh mozzarella
3 cups any roasting vegetables (I used broccoli, red onions, and butternut squash — I also used baby spinach. More on that later.)
Roasting herbs (I used a lot of rosemary, sage, and thyme)
1/4 cup chicken stock, low sodium
4-5 links chicken sausage (I used andouille)
Red pepper flakes
Freshly cracked salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Throw those cans of tomatoes into a 400 degree oven. I used the same pyrex baking dish that I made the final product in, because, well, it’s going back in there anyway, you know? I drizzled olive oil on top of the tomatoes and cracked a LOT of black pepper and a little salt on top, and stirred everything together. I threw in 4-5 springs thyme, still on the stick. When the tomatoes are done roasting, we’ll fish them out. I love how those little leaves naturally fall off! The less chopping, the better, I say.

I let the tomatoes hang out, with a couple stirs, for about 45 minutes. Halfway through, I added 1/4-1/2 cup chicken stock to loosen things up. If the sauce feels really dry at the end, add some canned tomato puree. That always does the trick.

On a baking sheet, toss the chopped vegetables with a little olive oil, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, finely chopped rosemary and salt and pepper. Let roast for 20-25 minutes, or until vegetable look tender and golden.

Dice the sausage into little coins and throw into a hot skillet with some finely diced red onion and red pepper flakes. Let it get nice and crispy… it’s sooo good if you brown it up first before throwing it in the pasta. Shouldn’t take longer than 5-7 minutes — do it in batches so you don’t crowd your pan. I’m talking crispy, people!

Bring a big pot of water to boil, throw in some salt, and add a box of whole wheat penne. I find that the whole wheat version tastes heartier and holds up better over the weekend. Also looks really pretty browning in the oven. But I’m a stickler for detail like that.

Cook the pasta until 3-4  minutes to doneness. I like it verrrrrry al dente because it keeps cooking in the oven, and I love those crispy bits that poke out of the cheese at the very end.

Now the fun part! Take out the sauce and mix in vegetables and pasta. Rinse the pasta and stir it all up. Oh — don’t forget to dice half the amount of mozzarella (swiss would taste good here too, or maybe a smoked gouda) and stir it all in, too. That way there is some cheesy goodness not just on top, but throughout as well. Grab 2-3 packed cups of fresh baby spinach and dice into ribbons and throw that in there. It adds an amazing color pop and vitamin goodness.

Layer the rest of the mozzarella on top. Throw it back into your 400 degree over and let cook, uncovered, for about 40-45 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and bubby.

Tear some fresh basil on top, and enjoy! We ate this with a spinach salad with dried cherries and toasted pinenuts. Yum! This perhaps not the most healthy of dishes, but I figure that by controlling salt, oil and using whole wheat pasta instead of white, chicken sausage instead of pork, and tons of vegetables, this is reasonably nutritious.

Food on the go: Lemon chickpea salad with red onion and parsley


Happy Thursday! I am inordinately happy that today is Thursday — the first half of my week was really rough, work-wise, it feels like such a weight has been lifted from my shoulders now that it’s all over. Now I’m ready to let it all hang out, metaphorically and literally!

Sometimes it’s really hard to eat healthy when I’m so busy, and I end up grabbing a sandwich or paying money for food that would be easy to make at home. But yesterday I made an amazing cold bean salad that takes about 10 minutes to prepare, and is so fresh and healthy-tasting that you’ll want to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That being said,  I had it for dinner last night, I’ll eat the rest for lunch today, and I’m making another batch for my dinner party tonight! It’s the perfect snack — cheap, super healthy, and so pretty to look at.

This chickpea salad goes great with toasted whole wheat pita (as I had it last night), but I can see it being tossed with some lightly dressed spinach or greens for a salad, or over a bed of curry-flavored couscous. This also seems like a great side dish to something more substantial, like grilled chicken or a piece of fish. And part of me just wants to throw the whole bowl into the food processor you gave me (THANKS! by the way), because it’s essentially the ingredients for hummus. But deconstructed.

Moving along:


Chickpea salad with red onion

You need:

2 cans chickpeas (I like to call those little suckers ‘banzos)

1 lemon

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 medium-ish red onion

1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

lots of freshly cracked black pepper and flaky salt

That’s it! That’s all the ingredients. Rinse the chickpeas well and pat dry. Chop a red onion really finely. Mix in the rest of the ingredients and salt to taste. Let it hang out for a few hours to let the lemon really incorporate all the flavors. That’s it!

You can also mix in endless variations to this — maybe add a can of black eyed peas, too. Or some chopped tomatoes and cilantro for a more “salsa-ish” variation. Add bulghur to make tabbuleh. Add cumin to make it smoky. And you know what else would be good? Putting the entire pan into a 350 degree oven and roasting until they’re crispy and insanely addictive — like this. Lawsies, how I love the Mighty Pea!!!

Exxess and ohhhhs,

Manchego Mama.