Monday, June 12, 2023

Roasted Texas Beets and Summer Squash Pasta

Last Sunday our friend Dana gave us a giant box full of organic produce from her garden. The beets were calling to me, as soon as I got home I roasted the biggest one up and made this fresh and light summer dish. I used the same bowl to toss the fresh veggies with seasonings and then at the end. The olive oil, seasonings, minced garlic, and the reserved pasta water come together to make a light sauce that lets the flavors of the garden fresh veggies shine through AND meant there were fewer dishes to clean up.  

Roasted Texas Beets and Summer Squash Pasta

  • 1 large beet, cut in half and then sliced (about 1 pound)
  • 2 yellow summer squash, sliced
  • 2 tsp Italian Seasoning 
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste 
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 6 ounces dry pasta of your choice
  • water according to pasta directions. Reserve one cup water after cooking
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan Cheese, shredded


  1. Cut the yellow squash and beet into slices, smaller slices cook faster. Add to a large bowl with olive oil and toss with the salt, pepper, and the Italian seasoning.  
  2. Roast the vegetables in the air fryer at 380F until soft and browned, about 20 minutes. You may need to turn them at the half way point. 
  3. Mince the garlic and place in the bottom of the serving bowl that the fresh veggies were tossed in. 
  4. Cook the whole wheat pasta according to the package directions, reserving one cup pasta water when draining the pasta. 
  5. Toss the hot pasta with the minced garlic and roasted vegetables. If it appears dry add the reserved pasta water, a tablespoon at a time. 
  6. Serve with grated parmesan cheese on top. 
  7. Take a pic and then realize no one at the table has Dana's phone number and we have to wait for Sunday to show her how good lunch turned out. 

Staten Island Memory: Insalata Caprese

On Sunday after church, open up your handy My HEB app, today's free coupon is for vine ripe tomatoes. Immediately flash back to lazy summer days in New York and sitting on the back deck in Staten Island and eating Insalata Caprese made from fresh mozzarella from Pastosa Ravioli and tomatoes and basil grown just feet away on the sunny side of the backyard. 

There's only one thing to do with this bounty: make Insalata Caprese. 

Insalata Caprese

  • 3-4 medium size vine ripe tomatoes, preferably of the same size
  • 1 ball of fresh mozzarella, approximately 8-10 oz 
  • Handful basil leaves
  • Large Grain Salt
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste 
  • 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar 

  1. Wash and dry tomatoes and basil, spin the basil dry or dry with a paper towel. 
  2. Cut each tomato and the mozzarella ball into slices. 
  3. Layer tomato, mozzarella and basil slices on a platter.
  4. Sprinkle with black pepper and kosher salt.  
  5. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  
  6. Serve as a salad or as an appetizer.
  • The mozzarella ball is easier to cut when it's chilled, but this dish is more flavorful at room temperature. If possible, prepare this dish first so the cheese has a chance to warm up and the flavors can meld. 
  • I was taught to use the Italian flag as inspiration when assembling this dish, red-white-green, but I prefer to have the basil between the tomato and the basil, red-green-white, I feel like it's more flavorful that way. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

Puff Pastry Spanakopita

Today I was once again lucky enough to have Mita make lunch for us. To no one's surprise, lunch was out of this world amazing. Mita spent years onboard the Na'ia as their cook, her food is some of the best in Fiji. Now semi-retired to Rakiraki, she works as a private chef in homes on Volivoli and around Ra. Mita is fully vaccinated and boosted and is available for in home catering, call her at 276-5602. 

Puff Pastry Spanakopita

  • 1 kg spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 200 g feta cheese, crumbled
  • ¼ cup yogurt (double if no sour cream or use ricotta)
  • ¼ cup sour cream (double if no yogurt or use ricotta)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 sheets puff pastry

Used in this recipe: Colander, Baking trays, Parchment paper, pastry brush

  1. Thaw the frozen spinach, leave to drain while you cook the onions. Squeeze thoroughly and set aside
  2. In a skillet over medium heat melt the butter and cook the onions until soft and translucent, add to the thawed and squeezed dry spinach
  3. While the onions, cook mix the feta, yogurt, sour cream, flour and egg yolks in a mixing bowl
  4. Mix the egg whites together to make an egg wash and set aside
  5. Then mix the spinach and onions into the feta/dairy and eggs, add salt and pepper to taste
  6. Roll out one Puff Pastry sheet to roughly 12 inches square, score the sheet into 16 squares approximately 3x3 inches
  7. Divide the filling in half in the bowl and then split one of those halves between the 16 squares
  8. Fold each square over to form a triangle and then use a folk to crimp the edge
  9. Chill for 30 minutes before baking.
  10. Preheat oven to 350F/175C
  11. Transfer the hand pies to a baking sheet, brush lightly with the egg wash and bake in a 350˚F/175C oven for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through
  12. Repeat with the remaining puff pastry and filling

If freezing for later, stop after step 8, do not wash with egg. Freeze on a flat tray lined with parchment paper and transfer to a Ziploc bag within 24 hours. To cook let thaw in refrigerator and continue from step 10

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Pad Thai

Prep: 40 mins Cook: 20 mins Total: 60 mins Servings: 6 Yield:6 servings


  • 1 (12 ounce) package rice noodles

For the Sauce (Savory, Sweet, Salty, Tangy, Spicy)

  • 2/3 cup tamarind pulp (~200 g) (see note)
  • 1/3 cup fish sauce
  • 3 Tbsp white sugar
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice or rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp sweet chili sauce
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp neutral oil

For the rest

  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • ¼ cup rice flour
  • 500g/1 pound boneless, skinless protein like pork, chicken, or prawns, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3/4 cup sesame oil, divided
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, sliced finely
  • 1 red bell pepper/capsicum (125 g)
  • 1 Tbsp paprika
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1 chili pepper, minced
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup crushed peanuts
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Step 1

Soak your rice noodles in room temperature water for around 30 minutes before cooking. Hot water will turn your noodles into a solid mass, so be sure the water is cool. Drain noodles. 

Step 2

Stir the tamarind paste, sugar, and fish sauce in a small pot over medium heat until the sugars dissolve. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and stir to combine. Taste for savory, sweet, sour, and salty notes in the sauce. Fish sauce will add umami, sugar is sweet, and the tamarind is sour. Adjust to taste. 

Step 3

Toss protein first in 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, then in the flour, coating pieces evenly. Heat some sesame oil in wok over medium high heat. Place protein in the skillet, cook and stir protein until browned but not cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove and keep warm. 

Step 4

Add some more sesame oil and heat, then add onions and capsicum, after a few minutes add the garlic, stir until fragrant.

Step 5

Add noodles slowly. Keep the noodles spread out in the pan as much as possible and slowly add sauce a little at a time until the noodles are soft and have soaked it up. If the noodles still don’t seem cooked, add a little water until they are softened. 

Step 6

When the noodles are softer, add the rest of the spices and vegetables (not the bean sprouts) and cooked protein along with sesame oil to keep everything moving. When the vegetables begin to soften, make a well in the center of the noodles. Add the last of the sesame oil to the bottom of the well, let heat, pour in the beaten eggs and scramble. Mix in with the noodles.

Step 7

Turn off heat, add bean sprouts and mix. Serve topped with crushed peanuts, chopped cilantro and wedges of lime

Have crushed peanuts, lime, dried Thai red pepper flakes, and fish sauce on the table. 

NOTE: You can get a ball of tamarind pulp at most markets in Fiji. In a small bowl add boiling water to the pulp and let sit until the water cools. Using your hand, mix the now cooled water with the softened pulp and remove the seeds, seed cases, and pod strings. A nice thick paste is desirable, so use the least amount of water necessary. If you can’t get tamarind paste then a commercial tamarind sauce will work, but decrease or eliminate the sugar in the recipe.  

Adapted from multiple recipes including:

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Mita's Rourou soup

I’m a bit embarrassed to be asking Mita for such basic recipes, but her basics are always so delicious, I keep thinking there must be a secret ingredient or a special method. I think the combination of love and experience shows through in her food. Mita spent years onboard the Na'ia as their cook, her food is some of the best in Fiji. Now semi-retired to Rakiraki, she works as a private chef in homes on Volivoli and around Ra. Mita is awaiting her second Covid jab and is available for in home catering, call her at 276-5602. 

Mita’s Rourou Soup


  • 1 pot boiling water for blanching 
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 bundle fresh Rourou (if purchasing frozen, about 500g cleaned and trimmed taro leaves)
  • 2 coconuts, grated and milked (or 1 can coconut cream)
  • Cooking oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ tsp ginger, grated
  • Salt to taste

  1. Blanch cleaned and trimmed rourou leaves, about 10 minutes in boiling water and baking soda, drain well in a colander, roughly chop before returning to pot.
  2. In heated cooking oil, cook onions until translucent, add ginger, garlic, fry for two more minutes.
  3. Add drained rourou and coconut cream. Let cook until soft. Salt to taste and blend. 
  4. Serve hot, add additional coconut cream as a garnish if desired.

Mita's Lentil Soup

Mita spent years onboard the Na'ia as their cook, her food is some of the best in Fiji. Now semi-retired to Rakiraki, she works as a private chef in homes on Volivoli and around Ra. We call her a conversation killer because no matter how animated the discussion at the table is, her food is so delicious that we all fall silent when her food comes out. Mita is awaiting her second Covid jab and is available for in home catering, call her at 276-5602. 

Mita generously shared her recipe for Lentil Soup after one meal that met with rave reviews, unlike some of her other dishes this one is easily within my abilities as a home cook. 

Mita’s Lentil Soup


  • 1 Tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 Tbsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • 500 g Red Lentils
  • 1 liter water, hot
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 tsp salt
    Cilantro to garnish


  1. Heat oil in low consistency
  2. Add onion, cook until translucent, then garlic and ginger. Sauté until aroma develops.
  3. Add turmeric, cumin, chili, coriander. Stir for one minute, add lentils and carrots, stir well to combine.
  4. Add the water and boil, uncovered, for 20 minutes, reduce to a simmer until the lentils are soft and break up. You may need to add additional water.
  5. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve hot.  

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Baked Gluten Free Yogurt Cheesecake

Finding ingredients here can be interesting, a couple of days ago a friend sent me a recipe for a yogurt cheesecake, I decided to give the concept a try today. The recipe I saw had no eggs, and I had eggs to use up, so after poking around a bit I came up with this. 

Baked Gluten-Free Yogurt Cheesecake


  • 1.5 cups quick oats, uncooked
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup Fiji sugar
  • 76 g Rewa butter, melted
  • 1 tsp Punjas chai spice blend 

might add some powdered ginger next time


  • 6 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • Juice of one large lemon
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 200 g Rewa butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons corn flour (corn starch)
  • 1 cup gluten free flour*
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Liter Rewa Yogurt

Add ¼ teaspoon salt if not using Rewa butter

THIS MAKES A LOT! If you're not using a 9" springform pan be prepared for the extra


(haven't yet decided on one yet) 


  1. For crust: Preheat oven to 350F/175C; pulse sunflower seeds and oatmeal in blender until roughly ground, combine all crust ingredients in large bowl, and mix well. Firmly press onto bottom and about 4 cm/1.5 inches up the sides of an ungreased 9 inch springform pan. Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown; let cool.
  2. Filling: Separate eggs, whisk the egg whites with a mixer until they form stiff peaks. Set aside. (Do this first so you don't have to clean the beaters, if you do it last your beaters need to be clean and dry) 
  3. Use a large bowl (same one the crust was in if you want) and combine the granulated sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla extract, and the melted butter and beat until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add salt here if not using Rewa butter.
  4. Add corn starch, flour, and baking soda and continue to blend on medium-high speed until the mixture is very creamy. Slowly add the yogurt to the mixture. Reduce the speed to medium low and blend well.
  5. Fold the whisked egg whites into the mixture.
  6. Pour the filling into the prepared springform and put the pan into a water bath.
  7. Bake for 75 to 90 minutes until set and golden brown. The top might move a little bit but shouldn't jiggle a lot. Turn off oven and crack the door slightly for 30 minutes. Remove cake to counter and let cool until the cake is at room temperature. Remove the sides of your pan and continue to cool in the refrigerator for several hours until completely set. 
NOTE: Gluten free flours tend to be very thirsty. If you're using regular flour you may want to consider using Greek Yogurt or draining your yogurt and/or decreasing the eggs. Today my gluten free flour was 1/3 besan gram flour, 1/3 rice flour, 1/3 tavioka starch.