Lemon Basil Quinoa Salad

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My local grocery store sells the most delicious quinoa salad in the deli case. It has quinoa, tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta cheese, artichoke hearts, and red onions, all mixed together with a mildly sweet lemon basil dressing. The salad is light and refreshing and has a great combination of sweet and savory flavors. I took one bite and I immediately started thinking about how I could recreate this salad at home.

Lemon Basil Quinoa Salad

I served this salad at my mother-in-law’s birthday dinner last night, and it was a big success! The bowl was practically scraped clean, but I managed to save some leftovers, which I had for lunch today, topped with some left-over salmon (yum!).

I omitted the artichoke hearts and red onions from my recipe, since they are not part of my low FODMAP diet, but feel free to add them to your salad, if you like. You can adjust the ingredients and quantities shown in my recipe below, but be sure to only use fresh basil. I had some trouble finding fresh basil in the grocery store, so I went to my local nursery and bought a basil plant for about the same price I would pay for a handful of basil as the grocery store. Now I can plant my basil plant and have fresh basil all summer long!

The quinoa will need time to cool in the fridge, so be sure to cook the quinoa the day before, or at least a few hours before you plan on serving the salad. This recipe will serve about 6-8 as a side dish.

1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa
1 container of grape tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/3 cup feta cheese
1 tablespoon sliced green onions
2 lemons, juiced (approximately 4 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup (or honey)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper, to taste

To prepare the quinoa, first add the quinoa to a fine mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly under cold water to remove the bitter coating. Add the quinoa to a large saucepan or deep skillet (make sure it has a lid). Add 3 cups of water to the quinoa and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed. I usually stir it once or twice while it’s cooking and check the water level. Burnt quinoa doesn’t taste good (don’t ask me how I know).

Once the quinoa is cooked, let cool for 30 minutes, then transfer to a mixing bowl and place it in the refrigerator for several hours, or overnight.

To prepare the salad, remove the quinoa from the fridge (the quinoa should be cold), and add the tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, and green onions. Gently stir to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, maple syrup, fresh basil, and salt and pepper. Pour into the bowl with the quinoa and gently stir until thoroughly coated with the dressing. Have a taste and add additional salt and pepper, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Lemon Curd and Whipped Cream

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I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter! For some reason, Easter seems to invoke serious dessert inspiration for me. Last year I made these delectable Mint Chocolate Ice Cream Cupcakes. This year I wanted something lemon. I am a member of Raley’s Something Extra Try It program, and they sent me not only a box of their premium vanilla bean cake mix, but also a whisk, recipe booklet, and some adorable Easter cupcake liners. I was originally planning on making a lemon cake, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to use my cute new cupcake liners.

I’ve been known to turn up my nose at boxed cake mixes, but I was intrigued by the vanilla bean flavor . . . and hey, it was free, and I’m not one to turn down a bargain. So, I quickly whipped together the ingredients (cake mix, eggs, milk, and melted butter), and popped the cupcakes in the oven. They smelled divine right out of the oven, and tasted even better. They were light, flavorful, and pleasantly sweet. Sweet enough to eat without any frosting – but what’s the fun in that?

I still wanted something lemon, and I thought about making a lemon buttercream frosting, but I knew I’d want something lighter after gorging myself on Easter dinner. Instead of traditional frosting, I smeared the top of the cupcakes with lemon curd, added a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream, and then topped them off with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios.

Yep, they were awesome – feast your eyes . . .

The sweetness of the vanilla bean cake, combined with the tart lemon curd, creamy whipped cream, and crunchy, salty pistachios created the perfect marriage of texture and flavor. Next time I may skip Easter dinner and gorge myself on dessert instead.

Raley’s Vanilla Bean Cake Mix (or your favorite cake mix)
Lemon curd (on the jam and jelly aisle)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Powdered sugar, to taste
1/4 cup chopped pistachios

Prepare the cupcakes, per the package directions and let cool completely (this step can be completed the day before).

Prepare the whipped cream, by beating the cream in a medium bowl (preferably metal) with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. (Note: to speed this process, I put a few ice cubes in the bottom of a large bowl, and then set the bowl of cream on top of the ice while I’m mixing). Sprinkle in the powdered sugar (I think I used about 1 tablespoon) and beat to combine. Taste the whipped cream, and add additional powdered sugar, if desired. Continue beating for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until peaks form when you remove the beaters.

To assemble the cupcakes, spread about 1 teaspoon of lemon curd on top of each cupcake, then add a generous spoonful of whipped cream, then sprinkle the pistachios on top. Serve immediately.

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Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage with a Ricotta Surprise

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I haven’t always been a fan of Rachel Ray’s recipes, but she got this one right! The flavorful sausage and broccoli are wonderful with the pasta, but it’s the lemony-peppery ricotta that makes it amazing. I really was surprised at how good this was!

You can find the original recipe in Rachel’s Express Lane Meals cookbook (another 30-minute meal cookbook – although I rarely seem to be able to complete her recipes in 30 minutes). This recipe is well worth the time, even if it takes more than 30 minutes to prepare, and I’ll be making it again soon!

1 pound penne pasta
1 cup ricotta cheese
Juice and zest from one lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 large head broccoli
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (approximately)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)

Bring water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, add a bit of salt and the pasta. Cook according to the package directions, until al dente (just underdone). Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, before draining the pasta.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, lemon zest, salt to taste, and a generous amount of fresh black pepper. Let the ricotta mixture stand on the counter and come up to room temperature.

Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the sausage, breaking it up into small pieces with a spatula. Cook the meat until brown, about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

While the sausage is browning, chop the broccoli into small pieces (discard the tough stems).

Once the sausage is brown, remove it to a paper-towel-lined plate. Return the skillet to the heat and add the broccoli and onion. Spread the veggies out in an even layer, season with some salt and pepper, and let the broccoli brown a bit before stirring, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the sausage back to the skillet along with the chicken broth. Add the 1/2 cup of cooking water from the pasta and bring it up to a simmer. Cook until the broccoli is tender and the liquids have reduced slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and cooked, well-drained pasta. Toss to combine and simmer about 1 minute to allow the pasta to soak in the flavors. Turn off the heat, add the parmesan cheese, and toss to combine.

To serve, place a large dollop of the ricotta mixture into a bowl and bury it with the hot pasta mixture. Before eating, mix it around with a fork to distribute the ricotta and sprinkle with extra parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

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Grilled Lemon Chicken

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I love all things made with lemon. Something about lemon is so refreshing on a hot day. This lemon chicken is not only light and tangy, but it also has the smoky goodness that you can only get from the grill. It’s a great alternative to grilling with barbeque sauce.

6 to 10 pieces of bone-in chicken (I used legs and thighs)
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the grill.

If desired, remove the skin from the chicken (it’s good either way). When the grill is hot, place the chicken pieces on the grill and begin to cook.

Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Reserve about a third of the sauce in a small bowl and set aside for later. Take the remaining sauce to the grill and use it to liberally baste the chicken. Fully cook the chicken, basting frequently with the lemon sauce.

Place the cooked chicken on a platter. Whisk together the reserved lemon sauce and pour it over the cooked chicken. Serve hot with your favorite side dishes.

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Tabouli Salad

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This refreshing salad is full of flavor and a perfect side dish (or light meal) to enjoy on a warm day. Look for bulgur wheat in the bulk bin department of your grocery store. Be sure to make this in advance, so the flavors in the salad can blend into yummy goodness.

1 cup bulgur wheat
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 lemons
1 lime
1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup diced cucumber
1/4 cup chopped green onions
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper to taste

Mix the bulgur wheat and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt together in a medium bowl. Pour the boiling water into the bowl (no stirring necessary). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the olive oil to a medium bowl. Cut the lemons and lime in half and squeeze their juice into the bowl with the olive oil. The easiest way to do this is to stick a fork into the cut side of the lemon or lime, and then squeeze the lemon (or lime) around the fork, while simultaneously moving the fork in a circular motion around the inside of the lemon (or lime). (Note: use a fine mesh strainer over the bowl to catch the seeds.) Stir in the garlic and the mint.

When the bulgur wheat is ready, stir the dressing into the bulgur, cover and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Before serving, stir in the tomatoes, cucumber, and green onions. Take a bite . . . or two . . . or three. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and enjoy!

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Grill-Roasted Red Snapper

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This delicious recipe produces fish that is light, tender, and full of flavor. It’s easy to prepare and lovely to look at too!

1 pound red snapper fillets
Black pepper
1 medium onion, sliced
2 small tomatoes, sliced
1 lime, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1 whole fire-roasted green chili, sliced (I used canned)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 sprigs fresh cilantro
1 bay leaf
Olive oil

Preheat your grill to about 450 degrees. While the grill is heating, place a pizza stone on top of the grill rack and then place a wire rack, or another grill rack on top of the pizza stone (the pizza stone should be sandwiched between two wire racks).

Line a metal baking pan (I used the bottom of a broiler pan) with aluminum foil. Place the snapper fillets in the baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Scatter the remaining ingredients, except for the olive oil, over the fish. Drizzle the olive oil on top.

Place the baking pan on the grill and grill-roast until the fish is fully cooked and flakes easily with a fork (the time will depend on the temperature of your grill and the thickness of the fish).

We served our fish with tabouli (I’ll post that recipe soon) and salad for a wonderful warm-weather dinner!

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Grilled Garlic Artichokes

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It’s artichoke season and this recipe is an amazing way to prepare these prickly veggies. The artichokes are first steamed, then grilled and basted with a lemon, garlic, olive oil sauce that perfectly complements the artichokes. The flavor is amazing and the preparation is simple. The original recipe can be found here, but I’ve changed the preparation a bit to suit my tastes.

2 large artichokes
1/2 lemon
3/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

First prep your artichokes by pulling off the small leaves at the bottom, then use kitchen shears to snip off the pointy end of the leaves around the sides. Use a serrated knife to cut off the tips of the leaves on the top of the artichoke, cut off the stem, and then cut each artichoke in half. Cut out the fuzzy stuff above the artichoke heart using a sharp paring knife.

Steam the artichokes in a large pot with a steamer basket for about 20-30 minutes, or until just under-done (you could probably also use the microwave in a pinch).

While the artichokes are cooking, squeeze the juice of the lemon into a medium bowl, and then stir in the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.

Preheat the grill.

Brush the artichokes with the olive oil mixture and place them on the grill. Cook the artichokes for about 5 to 10 minutes, turning and basting frequently with the olive oil mixture. Remove the artichokes from the grill when the edges are charred and serve immediately.

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Grilled Lemon Herb Pork Chops

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I discovered this pork chop recipe on Allrecipes and I had to share it with you. Most pork chops I’ve had are tough and not very flavorful, but this recipe produces chops that are not only tender, but taste more like steak than pork! Click here to see the original recipe. I like to buy a pork loin roast (not tenderloin) and cut my own chops at home. This allows me to decide how thick I want the chops, and the roasts are usually cheaper too.

1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 boneless pork loin chops

In a large resealable bag, combine lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt, oregano, and pepper. Place chops in bag, seal, and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight. Turn bag frequently to distribute marinade.

Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil the grate. Grill pork chops for 5 to 7 minutes per side, being careful not to overcook. Serve with your favorite side dishes and enjoy!

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Mini Ginger Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Gingerbread cookies aren’t the only way to enjoy the flavor of ginger during the holidays. These bite-sized cupcakes get an extra zing from candied ginger, and are topped with luscious cream cheese frosting. The small size is great portion control too!

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lightly packed, finely grated lemon zest
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup finely chopped candied ginger

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line three miniature muffin pans (with 12 cups each) with miniature paper cupcake liners.

Sift the cake flour with the ground ginger, nutmeg, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Whisk to ensure thorough mixing. Using a hand mixer, beat the butter in a medium bowl on medium speed until smooth, about 1 min. Add 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the vanilla, and lemon zest; beat on medium speed for 1 min. Add the remaining sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, beating for a few seconds after each addition. Scrape the bowl and beat for another 2 min. Add the egg and beat on medium-high until very smooth, about 1 min.

Add about one-third of the flour mixture and stir gently with a rubber spatula only until incorporated. Add half the sour cream and stir until incorporated. Repeat with half the remaining flour mixture, the rest of the sour cream, and ending with the last of the flour mixture. Stir in the candied ginger.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, filling each cup about three-quarters full. (Use two regular teaspoons: one to pick up the batter, one to push it off.) Don’t smooth the batter.

Arrange the pans in the oven so that there’s a bit of space between them and bake until the cupcakes are pale golden and spring back when gently pressed in the center, about 17 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool completely on wire racks before frosting (see below for frosting recipe).

Cream Cheese Frosting

This delectable recipe is from my Joy of Cooking cookbook. According to “Joy”, the secret to getting perfectly thick and smooth cream cheese frosting is to use cold cream cheese and not to over-beat it. They’re right!

8 ounces cold cream cheese
5 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Chopped candied ginger, for garnish (optional)

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until just blended. Add the powdered sugar, 1/3 cup at a time, and beat just until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice.

I used a gallon-sized freezer Ziploc bag to pipe the frosting onto my cupcakes. Simply cut off a tiny portion of one of the bottom corners of the bag (around 1/4-inch diameter) and then fill the bag with about 2 cups of the frosting. Grip the top of the bag with one hand and gently squeeze the frosting down to the bottom of the bag. Starting at the outside of the cupcake, squeeze the bag while moving your hand in a circle around the edge of the cupcake. Continue making the circle, smaller with each pass, until you reach the center of the cupcake. This should give you that ice cream cone look that you see in my photo. Garnish with chopped candied ginger, if desired.

Be sure to store these cupcakes in the refrigerator, since the frosting is perishable.

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