Donna Cooks

‘Tis the Season for Fish (Angel Hair Pasta with Broiled Salmon & Homemade Ice Cream Sandwiches)
March 6, 2007, 2:07 am
Filed under: Recipes

It’s officially Lent.  Hopefully this salmon recipe can come in handy for your next quick Friday dinner.  The jalapeno pesto sauce for the angel hair pasta is refreshingly different from regular pesto.  With the heat from the jalapenos and a splash of lime, it’s almost like a Thai pesto sauce.  I served this meal with a spinach cucumber feta salad and glass of Big Fire Pinot Gris.


Angel Hair Pasta with Jalapeno-Lime Pesto
4 fresh jalapenos, seeded and deveined
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup pecans
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup fresh parsley, packed
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 tsp salt
1 lb angel hair pasta, prepared to package directions
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

Place first 9 ingredients in a food processor and puree until mostly smooth (small chunks of pecan and herbs are fine).  Heat jalapeno-lime pesto in a saute pan over medium-low heat.  Add in vegetable broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer 5 to 10 minutes.  Toss sauce with cooked angel hair pasta.

Serves 4 to 6

Broiled Salmon

4-6oz fillets of salmon, skinned
1/2 cup of your favorite marinade glaze (I used raspberry chipotle this time, you can also do a combination of Dijon mustard and honey, or soy sauce and ginger and brown sugar, as long as it has a semi-viscous consistency)

Preheat broiler. Spray broiler pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Brush both sides of salmon fillets with prepared glaze. Broil (6” from heat) 8 to 10 minutes or until fish is lightly browned and opaque.

Serves 4

The homemade ice cream sandwiches are just a scoop of ice cream between two homemade cookies.  I tried this quick cookie recipe made from cake mix and really loved it!

Easiest Ever Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies


1/2 package (9 oz) package yellow cake mix
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350.  Beat first three ingredients at medium speed in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until batter is smooth.

Stir in chocolate chips and pecans.  Drop cookie dough by spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. 

Makes 1 dozen cookies

This recipe is so easy I will definitely be making other variations of it!


Oscars Picks Party Spread
March 4, 2007, 11:22 am
Filed under: Recipes

Since the Superbowl hasn’t been interesting to me personally for the last five years or so (no teams I care about have made it that far recently), the Oscars have taken over as the “big event” for a house party.  This year, we did a Pick ‘Em ballot to add a little excitement to the superbowl of fashion.  The red carpet (red tarp from Party City) was rolled out, and the guests had a great time!  A sample of a few items from the party spread:

Coconut Balls
Renamed at the party as “Balls de Borat,” but perhaps the original moniker is more appetizing.  These sweet treats tastes like cookie dough coated with coconut shavings, but no raw eggs are involved!  The recipe is from Cooking with the Juggs, a souvenir cookbook with lots of party appetizer recipes from a tour with the loud and energetic Jugg sisters in Nashville, courtesy of my friend Lauren (thanks babe!).  I cut back slightly on the sugar and butter content from the original recipe and the recipe below reflects the proportions of ingredients I used.


3/4 stick of butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tbsp water
1 cup flour
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup milk
2 cups coconut flakes

Pre-heat oven to 300.  Thoroughly combine softened butter, 2 tbsp powdered sugar, and vanilla.  Stir in water.  Add flour, mixing well.  Stir in pecans.

Roll dough into 1″ balls.  Place balls on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes.  Cool completely before removing from pan.

Meanwhile, preparing frosting by gradually adding milk to the cup of powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Blend until smooth.  Dip cooled balls into frosting and roll in coconut flakes.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Makes 1 dozen balls

Raspberry Vanilla Trifle
It’s so easy you might call it cheater’s trifle.


1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
1 loaf fat free pound cake (Sara Lee, for example)
3 cups low fat vanilla yogurt
Canister of low fat whipped topping

Cut loaf of pound cake into 1/2″ cubes.  Place on bottom of trifle dish (or loaf pan if you don’t own fancy things like trifle dishes, see pic above).  Top with vanilla yogurt, then raspberries, then whipped topping. 

Serves 10 to 12

Mexican Sangria (aka Shortcut Sangria)
I drink a lot of red wine with dinner but don’t always finish the bottle.  Even though I have one of those wine saver pumps, I always like to open a new bottle with dinner.  This refreshing quick sangria is the perfect way to clear out the stock of 1/4 to 1/3 full bottles of leftover wine.

3 parts red wine
2 parts lemon lime soda
1 part simple syrup (sugar and water combined over low heat)
Lime juice
Slices of lime for garnish

Combine first three ingredients.  Add lime juice to taste (I’ve been known to love all things extra limey).  Add slices of lime into cup/pitcher for garnish.

Oscar the Grouch Cupcakes (courtesy of my friend Tanya)


There’s no recipe for this.  You need cake mix, creativity, lots of patience, and a love for cake decorating 🙂  Thanks Tanya, you know I don’t have the patience.

Shortcut Pigs in a Blanket

1 package refrigerated reduced fat crescent rolls
1 package cocktail wieners

Cut each triangle of crescent rolls into 3 smaller triangles.  Wrap dough around cocktail wiener and bake at 350 degrees 8 to 10 minutes.

Makes 2 dozen pigs in a blanket.

How to Make Hummus Without Tahini


I had a half can of leftover chickpeas but the Kroger by me didn’t stock tahini (sesame paste).  What’s a girl to do?

1/2 can of chickpeas
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp lemon juice
the following seasonings to taste:

Add first 5 ingredients to food processor and process until smooth.  Add seasonings to taste.

Makes about 3/4 cup of hummus.  Serve with pita wedges.

Also thanks to Michelle who brought the pin-wheels and guacamole!

What To Do With Leftover Rice? (Fried Rice)
February 27, 2007, 8:37 am
Filed under: Recipes

After spending almost two hours preparing dinner Saturday night, Sunday lunch was going to be super simple.  I had some leftover cooked white rice in the fridge, so the natural choice was to do a quick fried rice.  Actually, sometimes I make extra steamed white rice when cooking just so I’ll have an excuse to make fried rice later in the week 🙂


Fried Rice

1 cup cooked, diced ham (you can use the salad topper ham that’s already diced, or if you prefer something more unique, ask your deli counter to slice up one or two super thick slices of your deli favorite and dice it up yourself, you can also use cooked shrimp, or diced cubed chicken, or small cubes of hard tofu…)
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed and patted dry
2 eggs
1 spring onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry (or chicken or beef broth)
4 cups cooked white rice

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a pinch of salt and a few pieces of spring onions.

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a wok over medium high heat.  Stir-fry the peas and ham for about 2 minutes, the add 1 tbsp of soy sauce and the rice wine or sherry.  Remove and keep warm in a foil-tented plate.

Heat another 1 tbsp of oil in the wok and lightly scramble the eggs.  Add in rice, making sure that there are no large clumps and that the grains are separated, then the remaining 2 tbsp of oil and stir fry 2 more minutes.  Add in remaining 1/2 tbsp of soy sauce, spring onions, and the ham and peas mixture and mix well for another 2 minutes or so, seasoning with additional salt to taste.  And voila, lunch!

Serves 2-3

Mmm… Tastes Like Bacon (Artichoke Manicotti)
February 26, 2007, 8:32 am
Filed under: Recipes

Feeling creative and patient (patience doesn’t come to me easily) Saturday night, I decided to tackle one of the more complicated recipes I’ve ever prepared.  I was going to do Italian, without shortcuts, without cheating.  And even though this manicotti is completely vegetarian, I was informed by others who tried the dish that it tastes like bacon.  If you don’t believe me, try out the recipe for yourself.  But I have to warn you, it’s definitely not a 30 minute meal.

Artichoke Manicotti
Served with a simple side salad (spinach, basil, carrots, grated herbed feta, pine nuts, and Balsamic vinaigrette) and a glass of Sangiovese from Bluff Dale Vineyards.  Recipe based on menu item from Eastside Cafe in Austin, Texas.


For the Filling:
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms
12 sun-dried tomatoes, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil (packed), minced (I actually put the sun-dried tomatoes and the basil together in the food processor to make it somewhat quicker)
1 tsp garlic, minced
2 cups grated mozzarrella cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup skim ricotta cheese
1 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper
14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350.  Process pistachios in a food processor until coarsely chopped.  Place pistachios on a baking sheet and roast in oven for 10 minutes.  Set aside.

In the mean time, heat olive oil in saute pan over medium heat.  Saute onions for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add in mushrooms and saute another 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and onions are soft and translucent.  Add sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and garlic.  Saute for another 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine mozzarrella, Parmesan, and ricotta.  Add in mushroom-onion mixture, roasted pistachios, salt and a pinch of black pepper, and combine well.  Add in drained and coarsely chopped artichoke hearts and incorporate into other ingredients.

For the Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce
2 cups heavy whipping cream
8 sun-dried tomatoes, minced
6 oz can tomato sauce (ok this is a little bit of a shortcut)
1 cup fat free sour cream
1/2 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper

Simmer whipping cream, sun-dried tomatoes, and tomato sauce in a medium saucepan for 15 minutes over low heat.  Remove from heat and add in sour cream, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Whisk together until smooth.

3/4 lb cooked to al dente manicotti shells
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375.  Stuff manicotti shells/tubes with the artichoke mushroom cheese filling.  Place manicotti in a 11″ x 17″ baking dish.  Completely cover manicotti with sun-dried tomato cream sauce.  Top with grated Parmesan.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Serves 6

Bakery/Deli Lunch at Home (Fancy Tuna Melt and Carrot Chickpea Barley Soup)
February 18, 2007, 7:43 pm
Filed under: Recipes

Whenever I go to a bakery/deli style restaurant, I’m almost guaranteed to order the half sandwich and a cup of soup combo.  Trying to recreate this experience at home with some items that are not so standard (you can only have so many club sandwiches with a cup of broccoli cheddar), I made a fancy tuna melt and a pot of carrot chickpea barley soup for lunch.

Fancy Tuna Melt


1 tbsp olive oil (once around the pan)
¼ onion, chopped
4 fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 can (6 oz) tuna, well drained
¼ cup cream or half and half
2-3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup shredded Swiss cheese
2 large bread slices (I used a sun-dried tomato bun)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat broiler in toaster oven or regular oven

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, onions, and mushrooms; cook to soften, 3 minutes. Add tuna, cook 3 minutes more. Season with pepper, add cream, and simmer to reduce and thicken, 2 to 3 minutes. Add grated Parmesan cheese and salt. Add peas and stir to combine, remove from heat.

Toast bread 1 minute on each side and place on a baking sheet. Spoon tuna casserole onto bread, mounding it all the way to the edges. Top tuna with shredded Swiss cheese and return the bread to the oven. Cook until cheese has melted and browned at edges, 1 to 3 minutes.

Serves 2

Carrot Chickpea Barley Soup
an easy variation of the recipe from the March 2007 issue of Shape magazine


3 cups chicken broth
1 cup V-8
1/4 cup barley, rinsed and drained
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
2 cups matchstick carrots
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp choped parsley
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
freshly ground black pepper

In medium saucepan, combine broth, V-8, barley, and chickpeas.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes.

Add carrots and return to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in vinegar, some freshly ground black pepper, and parsley.  Divide soup among bowls and top with Parmesan cheese (optional, I didn’t do the Parmesan this time).

Serves 4

A Belated Valentine’s Surprise (Thai Basil Beef and Chocolate Cup Cakes with Cream Cheese Icing)
February 17, 2007, 12:34 pm
Filed under: Recipes

I spend my Monday and Wednesday evenings in class so cooking a Valentine’s dinner on the actual holiday was out of the question.  So I tried to add little romantic touches on dinner last night.  But dinner still needed to be quick, as I’m swamped at work and getting off early on Friday was out of the question.

Thai basil beef atop steamed jasmine rice with an egg roll (frozen aisle type, because I was lazy) and a glass of 2003 Michele Chiarlo Barbera D’Asti, a medium-bodied Italian red.


Thai Basil Beef 
variation of original recipe from Linda Doeser

6 tbsp cooking oil (vegetable, canola, peanut)
about 10 large fresh basil leaves, de-stemmed
10 oz rump steak, tenderized with mallot and sliced against the grain into bite sized pieces (some grocers actually carry pre-tenderized meat, often labeled as “stir-fry” beef, one of my trusty time-saving strategies)
2 tbsp fish sauce (found in the international foods aisle)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
2 dried red chiles, crushed (or you can use 2 fresh serrano chiles, sliced into small rings)
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp ginger powder
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped for garnish
1 tsp corn starch (optional)
squeeze of lemon juice

Mix together fish sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar in small bowl.  Place marinade in ziplock bag with sliced steak pieces and refrigerate/marinate for about 30 minutes.

While beef is marinating, heat oil in wok over high heat.  When oil is hot, add in fresh whole basil leaves and deep fry about 1 minute until crisp and golden.  Drain grease from basil leaves on paper towels, lightly crush (should be easy since leaves will be crispy).  Do this in several batches as needed depending on the size of your wok.  Remove wok from heat and pour off all but 2 tbsp of the oil.

Reheat wok with the 2 tbsp of oil over medium high heat.  Add in chiles, garlic, ginger, and sliced shallot and stir-fry for about a minute or until garlic is golden brown.  Add in marinated beef and stir-fry 4 to 5 minutes or until beef is done throughout.  Add in corn starch to thicken the sauce (optional, purely preference).  Add in crushed deep fried basil leaves.  Add in a squeeze of lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve thai basil beef on top of steamed jasmine rice and top with a few pieces of chopped fresh basil.

Serves 2

My belated Valentine’s surprise, chocolate cup cakes with cream cheese icing:


Cream Cheese Icing
The white icing.  The pink stuff is just gel icing from the grocery store.

1/2 brick (4 oz) reduced fat cream cheese
2 tbsp butter, softened
1 cup confectioner’s (powedered) sugar

Combine ingredients in a medium bowl and beat with mixer on medium speed until smooth.  Easy, huh?  It’s creamier and less sugary than store-bought icing, but you will need to refrigerate the cake/cupcakes until you’re ready to serve.

Cold Weather = Lots of Soup (Creamy Artichoke Soup & Cheddar Jalapeno Corn Muffins)
February 5, 2007, 1:44 am
Filed under: Recipes

I love soup.  The chilly weather is a great excuse for me to try out old favorites and new creations.  Tonight, a new one that will be making many returns in my kitchen, creamy artichoke soup served with cheddar jalapeno corn muffins.

Creamy Artichoke Soup


1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
14 oz can vegetable broth
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 tbsp thyme
1 sun-dried tomato, julienned

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat.  Sautee onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes or until onion is translucent.

Add in artichoke hearts and thyme to the saucepan.  Pour in vegetable broth and bring to boil, stirring well.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 3 minutes.

Pour in half and half and stir into soup mixture until broth is creamy throughout.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with strips of sun-dried tomato.

Serves 4

Cheddar Jalapeno Corn Muffins


8.5 oz box of cornbread mix (like Jiffy)
1 large egg
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup finely chopped jalapenos (you can find canned chopped jalapenos in the international foods aisle)
3/4 cup shredded cheddar
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp sugar
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

In medium mixing bowl, stir together dry mix, egg, and buttermilk until mixture is evenly moist throughout (it will be a little lumpy).  Melt butter in a small bowl in microwave and pour into corn muffin mix.  Add in chopped jalapenos, cheddar cheese, and sugar and stir well.

Grease muffin pan with cooking spray.  Fill each muffin pan half full with mixture and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.

Makes 8-9 corn muffins