Camera Drama Ends Well with Roasted Red Pepper Beef Salad

Roasted Red Pepper Beef Salad

Roasted Red Pepper Beef Salad

It’s strange how people develop routines and when one thing goes wrong, the whole routine is out of whack. That’s pretty much what happened to me this week after my camera broke. Well, it only half broke, the truth is that it’s still functional but the focus is hit-or-miss and the macro setting is kaput.

No macro + no focus = unappetizing food photos. And that’s something I desperately want to avoid.

But as someone who’s become accustomed to using a camera while cooking (think wooden spoon in one hand, camera in the other), this was quite a setback. So much so that I spent most of the week bringing my poor little point-and-shoot to camera doctors all over the Chicago area. And I was afraid to cook anything important without my camera by my side lest I miss something good.

In the end I was forced to make a very adult decision: yesterday afternoon I purchased a brand spanking new DSLR, a Canon EOS Rebel XSi.

I’m still trying to learn how to use my new toy, so please be patient while I get the hang of it. You wouldn’t believe all the buttons and options this thing has! My first attempt at using it was for this roasted red pepper beef salad, and I took the photo before I’d even looked at the manual. What can I say, I was too hungry to study.

Despite the distraction of a new toy, I did take a few minutes to enjoy this fabulous roasted red pepper beef salad. There’s no exact recipe for it as I used ingredients I had on hand including leftover top sirloin, my new favorite cut of meat, so consider this “recipe” to be a “guide” instead. The flavors in this salad work extremely well together, although I felt it could have used a bit extra punch, so next time I’ll add some very thinly sliced red onions.

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal. Check. Yogurt. Check.

Sounds pretty healthy, right? There’s something about putting the word “oatmeal” in front of “cookie” that makes me think I’m getting a healthy treat. Sort of like how “apple pie” sounds healthier than “chocolate mousse pie.” While I won’t go so far as to call these oatmeal chocolate chip cookies healthy, they are darn tasty with a phenomenal texture and have less fat than traditional recipes.

The key is to use nonfat Greek yogurt in place of some of the butter. This tenderizes the cookies and adds a very subtle tang. But be sure to use Greek yogurt which is thicker than regular yogurt.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies: cream butter and sugars Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies: add eggs and yogurt Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies: cookie batter

This recipe makes five dozen cookies that are best eaten the same day or frozen. In fact, I really like them just out of the freezer – cold, chewy and oddly refreshing.

The best part: you can eat oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for breakfast! Okay, maybe that’s just me but they are that good.

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Zucchini Pesto Pasta

Zucchini Pesto Pasta

Zucchini Pesto Pasta

I was extremely fortunate to volunteer at the top food event in Chicago a few weeks ago: the Green City Market BBQ. One of the best run events in the city – and far superior to last year’s Chicago Gourmet – the BBQ features 65 chef’s from the city’s finest restaurants and sells out quickly, so while crowded it wasn’t overcrowded, and they didn’t run out of food!

Spiaggia's Crostini

Spiaggia's Grilled Zucchini & Pestyo Crostini

There were so many amazing dishes featuring exotic meats like elk and goat to  the predictable but always delicious pork belly. But it was a vegetarian offering that really stood out for me: “grilled zucchini and pestyo crostini” from Spiaggia. There was something so pleasing about the simple, fresh, bright flavors that I was inspired to try it at home. Mind you, I don’t claim to cook Spiaggia-type food (it’s one of the top restaurants in Chicago), but I did want to try my hand at reinterpreting the flavors.

My version uses spaghetti (today it was dried whole wheat but fresh would be ideal) instead of crostini (toasted bread) to make it an entree, but I think this zucchini-pesto combination would also be fabulous as a sandwich with chicken.

Pesto: lots of fresh basil Pesto: toasted pine nuts Pesto: grind pine nuts

Pesto: grind basil Pesto: drizzle in olive oil Pesto: blend in parmesan cheese

The first thing I had to do was make the pesto, an Italian sauce made from blended basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. This recipe makes much more than you’ll need for the zucchini pasta, but it’s versatile and freezes very well so definitely make the whole thing.

Next I went to work on zucchini. I used stripped zucchini that have the same flavor as regular, which I sauteed with sliced onion until both were lightly caramelized then tossed them with homemade pesto and cooked spaghetti noodles. Voila, a fantastic summer weeknight dinner.

Zucchini Pesto Pasta: striped zucchini Zucchini Pesto Pasta: saute zucchini and onions Zucchini Pesto Pasta: stir in pesto

Here’s the recipe for zucchini pesto pasta:

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Roasted Pineapple Salsa

Roasted Pineapple Salsa

Roasted Pineapple Salsa

Summer is about simple dishes with refreshing flavors, and it doesn’t get any more refreshing than a fruit salsa. Essentially diced fruit mixed with savory ingredients, it’s a sweet compliment to any simply cooked chicken, fish, shrimp or even flank steak.

This recipe for roasted pineapple salsa takes the basic version to the next level. The pineapple is broiled or grilled to caramelize the natural sugars and enhance the flavor, and the sweetness is balanced by tart lemon juice and pungent red onion that is briefly sautéed with ginger. It is best served warm or at room temperature with salmon or chicken.

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Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa

Black Bean & Tomato Quinao

Black Bean & Tomato Quinao

I like quinoa but can find it difficult to work with. It’s easy to cook, that’s for sure, but sometimes the flavor’s I pair it with just don’t seem to meld quite right.

But I tried it again recently after stumbling upon this recipe on Epicurious.com for black bean and tomato quinoa (Gourmet, July 2007), a peaceful melding of central American flavors that reminds me of the food I ate in Costa Rica.

Black Bean & Tomato Quinao: beans, cilantro, tomatoes Black Bean & Tomato Quinao: fluffy cooked quinoa

It sounded perfect: not only would I get to use super-healthy quinoa, but I could pair it with black beans, my new best friend! Yes, remember those from black bean brownies welcome to my world? I’m still appalled with myself for ignoring such a delicious bean for so many years. Shame on me, and shame on you if you don’t try this earthy and fragrant warm salad!

Oh, and did I mention my favorite part aside from it tasting great and being healthy? Black bean and tomato quinoa is quick and easy to make because all the ingredients can be prepped and mixed while the quinoa cooks.

I served this salad warm as a side dish to salmon seasoned with salt and fresh lime juice. Ah, yes, life is good.

Here’s the recipe:

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