Tag Archives: basil

Couscous Stuffed Tomatoes


When in need of an extra vegetable that can sub as a main meal for the vegetarian coming to your party, reference back to this recipe.  I made these for Christmas and was in no way missing out during dinner.


What you’ll need:


  • 8-10 medium tomatoes
  • 1 box couscous
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 cup 2 different kinds of mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1 package mozzarella cheese


Wash the tomatoes then start by cutting the tomatoes in half and spooning the center out into a bowl.  I used a melon baller, which worked perfectly for this task. Set aside for later.


Next, fry the onions, mushrooms and garlic together with a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a frying pan.  Cook until the mushroom turn dark brown in color and the onions become translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Everything should smell of garlic.

Toss in your greens and spices (spinach, basil, pepper, cayenne, Italian seasoning) next then cook until the basil shrinks, about 2-4 minutes.


While your vegetables are cooking you can start the couscous. Cook according to the directions replacing the water with vegetable broth.  When the couscous is almost complete, stir in the sun-dried tomatoes until thoroughly heated (I used canned sun-dried tomatoes that were already softened).  When I made this I used two boxes of couscous because I doubled up on the amount of tomatoes, but this is not necessary.  One box was plenty and the condensed vegetable medley would have provided more flavors.


Next mix together your vegetables, couscous and tomato pulp in a mixing bowl.


Stuff the couscous blend into the tomato halves and place on a roasting pan.


Top each tomato shell with a healthy amount of cheese. Here you can experiment using parmesan, mozzarella, white cheddar or even fresh mozzarella slices. Another tasty option would be to mix parmesan inside the couscous mix and top with mozzarella.


Bake in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes.


To brown the top, broil for 3-5 minutes.


This was an excellent main course for Christmas for the vegetarian in our small group (me).  My uncle stated that when he spooned in a piece of basil with his grains it made a huge difference in adding much-needed flavor to the boring couscous.  The tomatoes mush, somewhat, when cooked allowing your fork to slice right through scooping up bits of grains, cheese, vegetables and tomato. 


I took both the left over couscous medley, tasty just on its own, and whole tomatoes to lunch for the next week. Two was more than enough to keep me going until dinner. The couscous, similar to when you cook it, puffs up in your stomach keeping you full for quite a while with a healthy carbohydrate. To make this gluten-free simply substitute in quinoa for the couscous.


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Pesto Pasta

Our basil plant has officially turned into a tree. What better way to use the endless amounts of basil growing before the fall/winter chill hits us than by making homemade pesto?


  • 6 roasted garlic cloves
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves (washed)
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • pepper & salt, to taste
  • nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup walnuts or pine nuts (optional)


  • 16 oz. small shell pasta
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 1/2 packet of Knorr Pesto Sauce Mix
  • cayenne
  • fresh Parmesan cheese (for topping)
  • roasted pine nuts (for topping)

To make the pesto, combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until throughly blended.  I left out the pine nuts, because I put them into my pasta.  Just a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. The roasted garlic (place in a sided cookie sheet with olive oil, shell and all, and broil for 2-5 minutes) and basil are the main flavor bursts in pesto.  If the ingredients aren’t blending well, add a little more olive oil.

Cook your pasta according to the directions on the box and drain in a strainer. 


In the same pan, while the pasta is draining, toss half the packet of Knorr Pesto Sauce Mix and heavy cream together. As you can see, I overcooked my pasta and some stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pull out your pasta just before it is finished cooking, as it will continue to cook while it drains in the strainer. Mix the cream and seasoning until the cream becomes a light green soup.  Next add in the fresh pesto and a pinch of cayenne.  Heat until the blend is thickened and simmering.  If you want to make it entirely fresh, leave out the pesto seasoning packet.  You’ll just have to adjust with a few spices from your cabinet to counter what you take away.

Place drained pasta into an individual sized pasta bowl. Top with a spoonful or two of the pesto pasta sauce.  Grate some Parmesan cheese atop the sauce and top with a sprinkling of roasted pine nuts.

This pasta is a pesto lovers dream. It would even be good with black olives mixed in.  It’s more of a heavy, winter meal from the healthy fat of the olive oil and cream.  Roasting the garlic and pine nuts adds that unique smoky, rustic taste at the back of your tongue, which is a must-try.  I like to use the shell pasta because it captures gobs of the pesto sauce and the little pine nuts, so you can savor every aspect of this dish together in one.

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Vegetable Quinoa Pilaf

A healthy, protein filled vegetarian dinner.

To make this:

  • 1 cup onions
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1/4 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup zucchini
  • 1 cup tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Several basil leaves
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1-2 cups pine nuts/walnuts
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp curry powder

I chose to use frozen corn and onions, as that was what I had lying around, but feel free to use fresh or canned corn and swap out vegetables for what you have in your cabinet.  imageIn a frying pan, combine frozen corn and onions with 1/4 cup water and heat on high with chopped carrots and fresh basil leaves for 10 minutes.  (If you are using fresh vegetables add a tablespoon of oil to the pan and heat vegetables).

When warmed add in your garlic, tomatoes and fresh zucchini (more of that giant zucchini my boss brought us).  Stir with 2 cups of vegetable broth and 1 cup of quinoa.  image
Heat until boiling and then lower heat to a simmer and cook covered until quinoa puffs up. image
It looked as though I was making a soup, and I started to worry that the quinoa to broth ratio wasn’t right, but when the quinoa is ready it will soak in the extra juice and flavor.

In the meantime, take some walnuts or pine nuts and broil for 2 minutes.  My first batch burned, so you really need to watch these.  image
They’d cook even better in a toaster oven.  You want them to look more like this: slightly browned top.
Set aside for later.

When the quinoa is light and fluffy, add in your spices and mix thoroughly. The cayenne, chilli powder, cumin, curry powder and black pepper adds a great medium spice to this rather bland dish, but any addition, sweet or spicy would help this meal.  You can either take out the whole basil leaves or keep them in.  image

Place the quinoa mix in a bowl and top with the nuts.  Enjoy!


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Fiesta Pasta

This recipe came about by simply throwing what I found in the cabinet into a pot.  A sort of hit or miss dinner, and it turned out pretty tasty.

Throw together:

Handful of whole wheat angel hair pasta
1/2 cup sweet grape Tomatoes
1 cup sweet corn
1/2 cup black beans
1 ball of fresh mozzarella
1/4 packet Fiesta Ranch Seasoning
Few leaves fresh basil
1/4 cup milk or heavy whipping cream

Cook the pasta according to the box, drain and set aside.

Cook any vegetables ahead of time if you are using a frozen bag.  In a saucepan, combine fiesta ranch seasoning, pepper, basil, cheese and milk.  I cooked the basil alone a little to crisp the leaves before adding in the milk, cheese and other seasonings.  Cook until cheese starts to melt.  Add in vegetables and cook until they are thoroughly warmed. image

 Put your pasta in a bowl and top with fiesta ranch cheesy vegetable mixture.


I think the taste of fiesta ranch seasoning makes everything taste that much better with its tart, spicy, creamy ranch flavor, so this dish made an amazing dinner.  The sweetness of the tomatoes and corn brought the spicy ranch flavoring to a minimum, blending with the aromatic basil for an ultimate smooth palate.  Fresh mozzarella is the best because there are no artificial dyes and it is still sitting in water keeping each bite moist.  It melts and mixes well with the vegetables adding just a hint of cheesy flavor but ultimately adding another layer of texture to the pasta.

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Caprese Pizza

This Epicurious recipe was worth the amount of time it took to wait for the dough to rise and the pizza stone to warm up.  Both my mom and her business partner, Claudia thoroughly enjoyed it during their meeting for PRS.  I highly recommend this for a Sunday night dinner.

Make sure you have:

  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 7 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
  • 2 1/4 cups (or more) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes or garlic powder
  • 1½ pound cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-4 garlic cloves
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella (about 8 ounces), or 6 ounces buffalo mozzarella, thinly sliced, divided
  • Chopped fresh basil
  • Optional added ingredients (black/green olives, zucchini, broccoli)
Prepare the dough 1 1/2 hours before you plan on eating.  It needs time to rise.  I started cooking at 6, so with hunger pains decided to cut the rising time down to only forty-five minutes. You could see and feel when handling the dough that it needed to be thicker and fuller resulting in smaller pizza crusts.
To prepare the crust, add yeast and sugar to 3/4 cup of warm water. Stir and let sit about 5 minutes until the top becomes a spongy crust.  Mix in 1 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil, 1 tsp of salt, and here I added in 1 tsp of red pepper flakes and 1 tsp of garlic powder.  Slowly stir in flour then knead either in the bowl or on a work surface for 6 minutes, adding more flour if it becomes too sticky. Grease a large bowl with oil to keep the dough from embedding itself to the sides of the bowl while it rises and add dough to bowl, cover with plastic, and let rise for about an hour and a half or until it’s double the size it started at.  The plastic will gather condensation as the active yeast works the dough to an increased size.


While the dough is rising, you will want to place the pizza stone on the very top rack of a cold oven and preheat to 500 degrees. 

Also, add a Tbsp of olive oil to a roasting pan along with the tomatoes and some pepper.  Place them on a lower rack in the oven and cook for 10 minutes or until their skins start splitting.  Too much oil will cause the oven to smoke, so add just enough to coat the bottom and the tomatoes.  Let them cool.

While the pizza stone is preheating and the dough still rising, you can take the time to go outside and grab fresh basil (or use your purchased basil) and chop it up.  You can also thinly slice the buffalo mozzarella into little circles and shred the parmesan if you didn’t buy it pre-grated.


When the dough is doubled in size, split it in half and roll out one portion to a 13″ x 9″ rectangle, or a circular shape if you prefer this.  Let it sit for 15 minutes to settle into the shape and puff up a bit around the edges.  Here I grabbed a paintbrush we use solely for the kitchen and painted on crushed garlic cloves with a Tbsp of olive oil.  Layer on a fine sprinkling of half of the parmesan and take half of your carved mozzarella slices and distribute them evenly across the pizza. Top with the tomatoes and any other ingredient you prefer to add.  Crush on a little black pepper then toss onto the pizza stone in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese a gooey mess and browning like the crust.imageGarnish with the fresh chopped basil.  Repeat with the second pizza.


My first pizza was a little messy (see picture above). I couldn’t figure out how to transfer it from the baking sheet to the pizza stone and ended up folding it in half then unfolding and rearranging it in the hot oven.  The second pizza (see picture of pizza on stone in oven) I cooked for 5 minutes on the baking sheet until the crust firmed up then transferred it to the pizza stone, which cooks the crust and entire pizza much better than the baking sheet. At the 5 minute mark, the baking sheet probably would have needed another 30 minutes to completely cook the pizza, but because the stone is preheated, it thoroughly cooks the entire pizza leaving a nice crunchy crust. 

I did not buy enough tomatoes, so substituting salt-free canned tomatoes worked just fine on the second pizza.  The fresh mozzarella melts perfectly and isn’t as salty as other cheeses. The recipe didn’t call for garlic, but it was a very nice addition, creating a good balance of spices without adding too much extra salt.  Next time I’ll buy the grape tomatoes which are a little smaller and sweeter than the cherry tomatoes. It will be easier to bite down on a piece of this pizza without stuffing a huge tomato in your mouth or having a hot one fall down onto your face. 

Claudia and my mom were only going to eat one pizza, but between the three of us we demolished both pizzas in one sitting. All that remained was the faint smell of garlic and basil in the air.


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Speaking of mini’s. I savored the remaining left overs of these delicious classics skewered on a 6-inch stick.  Plump red cherry tomatoes (or yellow and red if tomatoes are in season) smashing in a fresh mozzarella ball previously marinated in olive oil, pepper, and Mrs. Dash’s variety pepper seasoning (or whatever you find in your seasoning cabinet).  The mozzarella balls are delicately wrapped in a fresh basil leaf adding a splash of green to each bite you savor.  All together, a classic twist to the Caprese salad.  The only suggestion when biting in to these wonderful tomatoes is to pop the whole thing in your mouth or the juice will squirt out of the holes created from the skewer.image

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