Greek Orzo Pasta Salad

So, I used to post once a month on a blog called Today’s Housewife. In fall 2012, the group decided together to stop posting due the busyness of life and families and such. Though sad, I enjoyed being part of the group. As of early January, the blog was officially taken down. But I don’t want to lose my recipes, so periodically I will be reposting them on here. Enjoy!

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from April 14, 2011… this salad is delicious and I need to make it again!

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad | thepajamachef.com

My husband and I each take our lunches with us almost everyday, him to work and me to grad school. Not only is it less expensive to pack lunches, but it’s a lot healthier (and tastier) than eating out as long as you pack the right things. I discovered early on in our marriage that the best way to ensure that we each had delicious, filling lunches that would rival anything at a restaurant was to spend some time in advance doing some lunch preparation. So I started spending an hour or so every Sunday after church prepping our lunchtime vegetables and making a grab-and-go main course option. Then, every week night while we’re cooking dinner or cleaning up, we assemble our lunches for the next day. Having components in the fridge ready to go makes it a snap!

Pasta salads are one of my top choices for packed lunches as they are good served hot or cold, are customizable, and can be quite filling depending on the ingredients. I love that I can make a big batch to eat from throughout the week. This Greek-inspired dish was born out of the need to finish some random ingredients taking up space in my fridge such as a jar of sun-dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives that I used in a recent dinner, Pantry Pasta for Two. Each bite is a little different, and the sweet tang of lemon and tomatoes coupled with the bite of olives and the rich flavor of feta cheese is incredible. You’ll have to try it to believe it, but one bite and you’ll be hooked. It’s like a trip to the Greek Isles without every leaving your lunchbox! Not that I’ve ever been… (hint, hint husband!) I’m not sure this is a super kid-friendly dish depending on picky eaters’ palates, but I think it’d be great for girls’ lunches or family gatherings. Enjoy!
three years ago: The Best Panini Ever
four years ago: Maple Pecan Pear Scones

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 30 minutes
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adapted from Allrecipes.com
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup orzo pasta, uncooked (or any small pasta)
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (I used the oil that my tomatoes were packed in for extra flava!)
  • zest of 1 large lemon (maybe a couple tablespoons?)
  • juice of 1 large lemon (perhaps 1/4-1/3 cup?)
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1/3 cup spinach leaves, torn and packed
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup pasta water, reserved
Directions:
Prepare orzo according to package directions. Before draining, be sure to reserve 1/2 cup pasta water. If you’re like me and don’t have a fine strainer, place a (unused) coffee filter inside your regular strainer. Then drain your pasta carefully so as not to tear the coffee filter and spoon the pasta into a medium bowl. Immediately stir in sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, olives, lemon zest, spinach, and parsley. Mix gently to combine, then add lemon juice. Add feta cheese after a minute or so to let the pasta cool off (unless you don’t mind melted feta cheese). If needed, incorporate a little pasta water to make sure everything is fully coated, especially if you’ll be storing the salad for more than a day, as the sauce tends to be absorbed by the noodles over time. I used about 2-3 teaspoons of water. Season with black pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
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Dulce de Leche Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Guys, I gotta get going on my 30 before 30 list! My 20s are creeping away and this list isn’t getting any shorter. Yikes! But I must admit that it makes me feel pretty good when people who don’t know me at my university think I’m a student even though I’m a faculty librarian, and that one of my coworkers thought I was about 25 until I told her I was 29. Woohoo! But anyways. 30 before 30. Cookies. Let’s get to the point here. :)

Dulce de Leche Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies | thepajamachef.com

I put sandwich cookies as one of my 30 before 30 goals because I can sometimes be a lazy baker. I love baking, don’t get me wrong. But it’s the extra steps in recipes that I often avoid. [The steps sometimes and the entire recipe itself at other times. Just depends!] Chilling the dough, making a glaze, making brown butter, etc. Sometimes those steps just seem a bit nonsensical especially when they’re coming from food bloggers who come across as a little too authoritative and bossy. [Yup, I said it. I hope I don't sound that way to any of you!] There’s nothing that irks me more than extra steps that aren’t always necessary. I know that sometimes they are, but do you know what I mean? Let’s discuss, and I’ll try not to rant. I often skip glazes for muffins/quick breads because they really aren’t necessary and because we can’t eat the recipe fast enough so the glaze gets a bit yucky. And it seems like every single cookie recipe nowadays in the blog world asks you to chill the dough for 2 hours or overnight. Who has time for that? Not me! A quick 30 minute trip to the fridge works, but if you aren’t at home baking all day most people don’t have time for that on a weeknight when you just want some cookies!! And brown butter. Don’t get me started. Like salted desserts, it’s just a trend. A trend that I hate. Ehhh, maybe it takes the taste of butter up a notch but I’m not a big fan. For me, in the blog world, these steps amplify my annoyance when bloggers rail against the lazy [hello!] who want to skip the steps and thus [to the blogger] will ruin the recipe. Not true, my friends! The cookies may not be as soft, the bread may not be as sweet, the butter flavor may not be as nutty. But what you make will still be good. </endrant>

Dulce de Leche Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies | thepajamachef.com

But whatev. People are entitled to their passions. Some things about the “professional” food bloggers just tick me off! [And I can go on, but I'll stop now. I'm sure they're nice people in real life!] Sandwich cookies. I’m getting a bit ADD today, obviously. Sandwich cookies sound good in theory but I’m often too lazy to make them. When I put them on my list, I envisioned making homemade Oreos or some kind of chocolate peanut butter goodness. When I saw these Dulce de Leche Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies, I knew I had to try them. And I’m so glad I did, even if they were a ton of work.

Dulce de Leche Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies | thepajamachef.com

Go back and reread that paragraph about my complaints against baking and bloggers who say you have to do xyz or your recipe will be ruined!!! Oh so dramatic. This recipe, ironically, is finicky. The peanut butter cookies aren’t your traditional easy recipe. They’re crumbly and have almost a shortbread texture. But they are super peanut buttery which totally makes up for the crumbly mess of dough you’ll have, and the fact that you have to bake them one sheet at a time because putting them on the bottom rack of the oven will burn them faster than you can say peanut butter. Ha. It’s true! If you want, you can skip this peanut butter cookie recipe and use your favorite. Just make them smaller than usual because mini sandwich cookies are so cute and pop-able.

Dulce de Leche Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies | thepajamachef.com

Those shortbread-y peanut butter cookies are filled with a divine homemade dulce de leche!! Alas, it is a bit finicky too, but just time-wise. All you have to do is cook sweetened condensed milk in a double boiler [mine is homemade], stirring occasionally for an hour to two hours. It’s easy enough to do when you’re home reading or watching tv or doing whatever else, so long as you can head to the kitchen every 15 minutes or so to stir it up. I know there are lots of ways to make dulce de leche [here's a summary] but this is the only one I’ve tried. Making it in the can scares me. No matter how you make it, the resulting sweet, syrupy, caramely filling is the perfect center for crunchy peanut butter cookies. They look impressive and taste amazing. I’m sure they’ll be a bit at your next party!

three years ago: Chorizo and Potato Tacos
four years ago: Mango Chicken Curry

Dulce de Leche Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

  • Servings: 30 cookie sandwiches
  • Time: 3 hrs
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from Jun-blog

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk [14 ounce can]

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking soda.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars together with a wooden spoon. A mixer can also be used. Then add egg, peanut butter, and vanilla and vigorously mix together until well combined. Add the flour mixture in 1/4 cup increments until combined. Dough will be crumbly and should just hold together.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on a ungreased and cool cookie sheet. Flatten each ball with a fork: first in one direction, then the perpendicular direction to form a crisscross pattern.

Bake one cookie sheet at a time for 10-12 minutes or until just golden brown. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to a wire rack to cool. Allow the cookie sheet to cool to the touch before adding more cookie dough to it. Keep dough refrigerated between batches. Dough should yield approximately 60 small one inch cookies.

While cookies are baking, prepare dulce de leche. Pour sweetened condensed milk into the bowl of a double boiler. I used a homemade one. Basically, you’ll need a large metal or glass bowl that can sit on top of a pot of simmering water without touching the water. This bowl should seal the pot so no steam escapes, because the steam is what causes the cooking effect. For more details, see this tutorial. After sweetened condensed milk is in the bowl, heat double boiler to a simmer and cook for 1-2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so. The longer the milk cooks, the thicker it gets as it caramelizes. The milk turns to dulce de leche as it gets to be a darker, golden brown color. The original recipe says to only cook for an hour but mine was nowhere near done by then. It took a good two hours. Cover and refrigerate dulce de leche until completely cooled–I just refrigerated this overnight. A good test for telling when dulce de leche is done is to stick a small plate in the freezer after about an hour of cooking. Remove plate from freezer. Carefully spoon a teaspoon of dulce de leche onto the cold plate and then return to freezer. In five minutes, check the consistency of the dulce de leche. If it’s what you like, great! If not, keep cookin’.

When cookies and dulce de leche are completely cooled, match cookies up by size. Spoon just under a tablespoon of dulce de leche on the flat part of one cookie, then cover with another cookie. Place on a single layer on a serving plate or cookie sheet and refrigerate until set. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Menu Plan

Menu Plan | thepajamachef.com

Week of August 18

Monday: work event
Tuesday: Mexican cornbread pot pie [that I didn't make last week]
Wednesday: turkey burgers
Thursday: leftovers
Friday: out to eat
Saturday: wedding :)
Sunday: something easy…typical Sunday fare [roasted chicken, frittata, breakfast for dinner, etc.]

Earthy Frittata

This frittata combines earthy mushrooms, yellow squash, and oregano with sweet corn for a wonderful savory summer meal. The cheesy, crunchy topping will make you come back for seconds and thirds! 

Earthy Frittata | thepajamachef.com

I first fell in love with frittatas a few summers ago when we got a CSA through a vendor at our local farmer’s market. Man, I miss that farmer’s market so much. I just haven’t found one in Nashville that compares! :(But that’s alright, Nashville wins in plenty of other ways [read: BBQ. beautiful parks. our awesome church. our cats getting along. I could go on and on and on.]. Maybe someday I’ll find a farmer’s market I adore. But back to this frittata. It is gooooooood! And chock-ful of all your summer favorites, ready to eat hot or cold for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

Earthy Frittata | thepajamachef.com

Though I still make this kale frittata more often than a certain husband of mine might like, I do try to branch out in my frittata-making. Aside from this pizza frittata, I think this one is the most different, simply  because of the crunchy topping. I usually finish off my frittatas with a sprinkling of cheese on top but now I know the secret for impressing Ben with a frittata: add cheese AND panko! Seriously! It sounds weird to add bread crumbs to an egg dish, but it works! It almost makes this healthy meal into a hearty comfort food casserole, and almost keeps him occupied enough not to notice the mushrooms [which aren't his favorite thing ever]. I used shiitake mushrooms because Ben likes those more than traditional white mushrooms, but either can work.

Earthy Frittata | thepajamachef.com

The best thing with frittatas is that they are totally customizable, so feel free to play around with the mix-ins. Use zucchini instead of squash, or tomatoes instead of corn. Use another herb or a different type of cheese. But don’t forget about the topping… it’s what really makes this frittata stand out! Enjoy!

two years ago: Oatmeal Buttermilk Bread
three years ago: Pillow Cookies
four years ago: Tomato Pie

Earthy Frittata

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 minutes active + 30 minutes for squash to rest
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Ingredients:

  • 1 medium yellow squash, thinly sliced
  • salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced [white mushrooms also would be fine]
  • kernels from one ear of corn
  • crushed red pepper
  • 8 eggs
  • 2-3 sprigs Greek oregano [or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano]
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 ounces Swiss cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan Herb Panko breadcrumbs [or add a little Italian seasoning and a dash of Parmesan to regular toasted breadcrumbs or Panko]

Directions:

Place sliced yellow squash in a large colander in the sink. Sprinkle with salt and let rest for 30 minutes to draw out excess moisture. Roll in a clean kitchen towel and gently press squash to dry and draw out moisture.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a 10 inch oven proof skillet, melt butter over medium heat. When hot, add squash and mushrooms and cook 3-4 minutes until they begin to soften. Add corn and season with crushed red pepper and stir to combine. Cook another minute or so.

Whisk eggs, oregano, and water together, then pour into skillet, taking care to distribute vegetables evenly throughout egg mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes until eggs are starting to set.

Next, top frittata with cheese and breadcrumbs, then bake for 10-15 minutes or until eggs are fully set and cheese is melted. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Greek Dressing

Who says simple is boring? This quick and easy greek dressing takes just a few minutes and a few ingredients but is so good that you’ll never want to buy bottled dressing again!

Greek Dressing | thepajamachef.com #simple #healthy #salad

 

Greek salad has been my LIFE recently. I’ve eaten a huge bowl for lunch everyday the past couple weeks, and think that’s going to happen again soon. [But I need more tomatoes!] My philosophy is… a big salad for lunch means dinner can be whatever I want. Even mac & cheese from Panera. That stuff is so good and I’d never ordered it myself until last Wednesday, much to Ben’s relief [on Panera dates before I'd always steal like half his bowl]. Because salad for lunch = indulgence for dinner. Or something like that. Right?!?

Greek Dressing | thepajamachef.com #simple #healthy #salad

Anyways, salad. And this dressing. I just can’t get enough! It’s creamy and tangy and so so fresh. I know my Greek salad isn’t exactly authentic and this dressing isn’t either, but it’s close enough. It’s full of flavor–all garlicky and lemony and herby! Just perfect. Some salad dressings are a little too oily without enough vinegar and acid to balance things out, but this half and half combo is just how I like it. I adapted a grandma recipe [not my grandma, but Laurie's] so that’s why it must be so good! :)

Greek Dressing | thepajamachef.com #simple #healthy #salad

I use this dressing to top off a simple Greek salad of romaine, tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas, red onion, and feta. Heavy on the chickpeas and feta for me, please! If you like, you can add olives or chicken or whatever else sounds good. Apparantly the dressing is also a killer chicken marinade. Filing that bit ‘o info away for next time! BTW this dressing keeps for about a week in the fridge, so feel free to make a double batch. You’ll need it!

three years ago: Cinnamon Bacon Carbonara
four years ago: Lime Yogurt Cake with Raspberry Sauce

Greek Dressing

  • Servings: 8 ounces
  • Time: 5 minutes
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adapted from Simply Scratch
Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup oregano, loosely packed [or 1 teaspoon dried oregano]
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
  • to serve with a simple salad: torn romaine, tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas, red onion, feta

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. I love my immersion blender for this! Taste and season with additional salt or pepper if necessary.

You can also finely chop the oregano and mince the garlic and shake all ingredients together.

Store in a jar, refrigerated, for up to a week.

Linked up with Weekend Potluck.