I Cooked: Indian Pulao Rice

This is my first time trying a recipe I found on Pinterest, I believe. A delicious stir fry in 30 minutes? With chickpeas, even? Yes, please, and thank you.

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  • 1½ cup brown rice
  • ½ red pepper, cut in small pieces
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 large tomato, washed and cut in small cubes
  • 2 handfuls spinach, washed
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • ⅛ tsp.  ground cayenne
  • ½ tsp. whole cardamom seeds
  • ½ tsp. garam masala
  • 3 cups water
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • Salt

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  1. Cut the onion. Warm a large pan over medium heat. While that is heating up, continue cutting the rest of the vegetables (pepper, garlic).
  2. Once the pan is hot, pour a generous amount of olive oil and put the vegetables in (except the tomato, garlic, spinach and chickpeas), stirring often, until nicely roasted (probably 7-8 minutes).
  3. Add all the spices (except salt) and stir well for 15-20 seconds, to make sure the spices develop their flavors. Then add the tomato and garlic for a few minutes and then add the rice, water, and chickpeas, stir, cover and reduce temperature a bit, just under medium.
  4. Let it cook, covered, for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. If the water evaporates too quickly, add a bit more water so that it doesn’t burn at the bottom. A few minutes before the end, throw in the spinach. Add the salt and pepper before serving.

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I feel bad commenting about this food because I screwed it up a little. I’m so used to stir-fry recipes calling for pre-cooked rice that I just pre-cooked the rice without thinking and realized later that it was supposed to be cooked IN the dish. Oops. That said, it came out pretty good, if a little spicy for my bland Midwestern tastebuds. I am feeling a little deceived about the 30 minute bit, though, as that always seems to leave out the time-consuming step of slicing and dicing veggies, not to mention everything that happens before the final cooking. All told, this ended up taking about 40 minutes to make (not including time for the rice to cook beforehand), so if you actually let it sit and cook for 30 minutes while the rice you’ve cleverly NOT pre-cooked gets done, it’ll probably be close to an hour including prep time. Which is fine, it’s a healthy and tasty meal, but it’s not a quick 30 minutes. So if you have about an hour and an empty tummy, try this out!

I Ate: Hash House A Go Go

In early April, Drew’s uncle Tom passed away, and he and I and his parents went down to Las Vegas for the funeral. The majority of his extended family made it to LV, actually, which is especially meaningful because many of them traveled all the way from North Dakota. We (and by that I mean pretty much everyone) stayed at the Rio, and both mornings we were there, we ate breakfast at Hash House A Go Go, one of the places in the hotel.

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This place is efficient with line management and customer service y’all. The first morning we ate there, we all kind of trickled in bit by bit, and the staff was super accommodating as we had to keep adding tables to give all of us a place to sit. The second morning, there was a significant line and we were a party of 12, but we still got seated within about a half an hour. Once you sit, the waitstaff shows up quickly and the food comes out faster than you’d ever imagine possible in a crowded place. That food comes out in ENORMOUS portions. I just laughed when I saw mine, because I knew there was no way I was going to be able to eat all of that. What I did eat was decent, but not amazing: a greater emphasis on quality as opposed to quantity would not be missing here. It was also greasier than is my usual wont.

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Hash House A Go Go has a few locations around Las Vegas: we were at the one in the Rio, but there’s also one on Sahara. Prices are actually pretty reasonable: I expect breakfast food to be a little overpriced, and for the incredible quantity of food that was placed in front of me, I felt like it was a fair bargain, and not even just “for Las Vegas”. Service was excellent, everyone was friendly and accommodating. Recommended for big appetites.

Birchbox: August 2014

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This month’s Birchbox was pretty decent, but nothing special. Once again, we got to pick one of our samples, which is a feature I hope they keep (it seems like they will, since they’ve already done the choosing process for next month’s box) because I really like having a little control over what I get but mostly having little surprises.

Paula’s Choice RESIST Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum: Given that my only real wrinkle is the one between my eyes where I knit my brows together while concentrating, it’s hard to tell if something like this is “working”. It feels good on my skin and hasn’t made me break out, so that’s good at least? I will say that the sample size was nice and that I liked the design of the sample with the pop-up dispenser. I don’t know how well it works, honestly, but I’ll use up the sample at least.

Whish Coconut Milk CC Body Cream: When they say “CC body cream” here, you should read “body shimmer”, because that’s what this is. It’s a nice body shimmer, moisturizing and everything, and the shimmer is pretty and subtle, but it’s definitely there. If this was 5 years ago, I’d have been all about this stuff. But a year and change from 30, body shimmer isn’t really on my radar anymore.

Laura Gellar Beauty Cool Lids Cream Eyeshadow: This was my chosen sample, which I was really excited about because I’ve never tried cream eyeshadow before and this was a metallic, which is what I tend towards when I do buy eyeshadows. And I’m happy with my choice! I squirted just a little bit out onto my fingertip and put it on…which is probably an acquired skill because it wasn’t especially neat. It’s pretty sheer, but could easily be layered for a stronger look.

Neil George Shampoo: This is one of those shampoos that actually needs you to lather rinse repeat, because the amount of lather I got on the first go-through made it feel like my hair wasn’t going to come fully clean. With superfine, oily hair, I require a very shampooed head to not have grease accumulate. I don’t like having to lather up twice, I feel like I should only have to do it once. Also, the smell wasn’t bad, but I didn’t love it. Meh.

Neil George Conditioner: This conditioner felt heavy and rich, which is the kind of conditioner I usually use anyways, so it didn’t really move the needle for me in any way. My hair felt the same after using it as it usually does with my Nexxus conditioner, so I’ll use it until it’s gone but won’t purchase full-size.

I Cooked: Fake-Out Risotto with Sweet Potatoes

I can’t remember when or where I first heard that risotto is hard to make, but it’s an idea that has stuck with me and I’m hesitant to try to make one. I do like risotto, though, so when I ran across this recipe on The Low-Acid Kitchen for a risotto-esque dish with many of my favorite ingredients (spinach and chickpeas and sweet potatoes oh my!), I knew I wanted to try it out. If you have trouble with the old stomach acid demon (I’ve had my tussles with that one, myself), you should head over to the original post and explore the blog, because there are lots and lots of recipes that won’t set your upper GI tract on fire.

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2 large sweet potatoes
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
4 cups packed baby spinach
1 15.5-oz can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp oregano
2 oz goat cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice

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Wash and dry the sweet potatoes. Place them on a plate lined with paper towel and poke holes in them with a fork. Microwave on high for 6 minutes; then flip and microwave for another 7 minutes.

Let the potatoes cool slightly; then peel them and discard the skins. Chop the potato flesh into medium-sized chunks.

Heat the broth over medium-high in a large pot. Add the spinach and chickpeas or black beans; drop the heat to medium-low once the pot returns to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for 3 minutes.

Add the spices and stir.

Turn down the heat to low. Add the sweet potato and goat cheese, and stir until combined, breaking up most of the potato chunks. Add more broth or some water if it’s too thick to stir easily.

Fold in the rice and stir until warmed, then serve and enjoy!

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I’m so glad I found this recipe, y’all, because it was pretty easy to make and it was soooooo good. As in, when Drew decided he didn’t want to go for seconds, I was excited because it meant I got thirds. It was definitely an appropriate food for this time of year, because it had a very “fall” taste, warm and hearty, but wasn’t heavy. I did laugh ruefully once I saw that the recipe suggested it could serve 4 to 6…I could see this serving a 4 person family with two small kids, maybe, but not 6 grown adults unless they’d had a very filling lunch. So when you make this (and it should be when, not if, internet friends), bring an appetite and one friend and you should both go home, or wherever the night takes you, with a happy belly.

I Saw: August 2014

As my work schedule gets more crunched with election season upon us, I am not going to have as much time to watch movies, which really bums me out. Only four this month!

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The Last Picture Show: 7/10

I didn’t have super high expectations for this one, really. The summary sounded kind of “meh”. But I ended up really appreciating the coming-of-age story…having grown up in a small town, I could identify with the characters in the movie trying to figure out where they fit in, how they would get out. Cybil Shepherd was really amazing as Jaycee, and as a woman myself, I found her story and the examination of how she discovers and experiments with the power that her beauty (and she is gorgeous) gives her with regards to men to be really compelling. I was also unexpectedly moved by Chloris Leachman, who I always think of as a comedienne but brought a lot of gravitas to her role.

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Center Stage: 7/10

This is one of those late 90s/early 200s teen movies that I have continually meant to see and never gotten around to seeing until now. The rating of this movie reflects the quality of the dancing rather than the actual quality of the film, because the story is formulaic as hell and the acting is mostly bad. But the acting is mostly bad because the movie made an effort to cast dancers…with the exception of Zoe Saldana (who does have a dance background) and Susan May Pratt (who doesn’t), the major roles are played by actual professional dancers. Like I’ve mentioned before, I am a sort-of dancer, but I’ve always loved and appreciated the beauty of dance, so I really enjoyed the dance sequences here. The rest of it falls more along the lines of awesomely bad than just terrible.

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Exit Through The Gift Shop: 5/10

This movie was not what I expected going in. I had it in my mind that this was a documentary about Banksy, and while it certainly involves Banksy, it’s not really about him. It’s about a man named Thierry, a French immigrant in LA, who can’t help himself from compulsively filming everything around him. He gets into the street art scene through his cousin, Space Invader, and from there is gradually accepted by other artists, including Shepard Fairey (of Obama poster fame) and Banksy himself. Thierry purports to be filming a documentary about street art, but never touches his footage once he’s done with it, just stores it away. When pressed on his documentary, he cobbles together footage to make something that’s barely watchable. The street artists decide he needs to be distracted while they figure what to do with his footage and encourage him to become a street artist himself, which he does, becoming Mr. Brainwash. There’s some interesting stuff about street art and artists in there, but the film doesn’t really have much of a point.

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The Manchurian Candidate: 7/10

I didn’t know too much about this movie going in, only that it was about a brain-washed assassin and that Angela Lansbury played a really awful mother. My expectations were middling, which wasn’t terrible because it ended up that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this. The whole bit about being a brain-washed secret super-assassin was a little silly, but if you didn’t think too hard about that part, there was great acting all around and a story that was well-told and enjoyable to watch unfold. There were some little WTF bits, like Laurence Harvey’s “American” (read: definitely European) accent, and the way that Janet Leigh’s character apparently decides on sight that she’s going to marry Frank Sinatra’s, that keep it from being as actually amazing as it could have been, but it’s definitely worth a watch and probably even two…whenever I have enough time to start re-watching movies.

Losing A Piece

My mom is having a hard time of it lately. She’s going through a delayed version of Empty Nest Syndrome. My sister and I both went to college close to home, so she was still involved in our lives through undergrad. My sister graduated from college in the summer of 2013, and then lived at home until the end of the year until she got married and moved out with Tom. So for 28 years, “mother” was a central component of our mom’s identity. And while almost all mothers take motherhood seriously, my mom was a single parent without family support, so for her it was everything, for 28 years. Now what?

We like to think of identities, our own and other people’s, as being static. I’m this, she’s that. It makes things easier, helps us expect how other people will act. But life doesn’t work like that. Am I the same basic person I’ve always been: outgoing, smart, kind of bossy, high-strung? Sure! Someone who knew me at 10 would recognize me as being that way just as much as someone who only met me at 28. But I’ve grown and changed, too: my positivity is something that’s been hard earned after years of making an effort to be a happier person, I’m less self-centered and more thoughtful, I’m no longer convinced that my intelligence makes me special or better than anybody else. I think I’m a better person than I was 10 years ago, even just 5 years ago. But, to abuse a cooking metaphor, these have been relatively small adjustments to my own recipe: an extra dash of some things, a little less of some others…but the fundamental dish remains the same.

So it’s hard, when you lose a piece of your personal puzzle, to figure out how to fill that space. My law school roommate Gloria and I had several discussions, back in the day, about the issue she was having with her boyfriend at the time: changing her Facebook status from “single” to “in a relationship” after a few months of dating. She was happy with her boyfriend and put up photos of the two of them together, but she felt so connected to her identity as a single girl that she was resistant to making that change in such a public fashion (if I recall correctly, they compromised by having her delete her relationship status altogether). When I finished law school at 24 and bid farewell to about two decades of continuous identification as a “student”, it was not an easy thing to wrap my head around. While I was more than happy to be done with homework and tests (well, except the bar exam), being in school had been such a big part of who I was for so long that it threw me for a loop. I still identify as a Midwesterner despite having only lived in Michigan for a little over two years of the past seven and don’t anticipate that I’ll ever move back permanently. In just over a year, I’ll officially no longer be a twenty-something. But where one piece is lost, I’m coming to find, something always comes around to fill it. I’m not a student anymore, nor am I a lawyer, I’m a lobbyist. One day I’ll surprise myself, when someone asks where I’m from, by saying I’m a Nevadan. When I stop being a twenty-something, I’ll start being a thirty something. And my mom? She’s a smart, hard-working lady. Some organization is going to get her involved sooner or later and she’s going to do something great with all that leftover Mom energy. After all, she raised me and my sister all by herself. There’s nothing she can’t do.

I Cooked: Roasted Red Pepper Pesto Pasta

I am a pretty boring eater, honestly. I LOVE the things that I love, and I’m usually fairly reluctant to venture too far outside of my comfort zone. I have a lot of strong food preferences (read: there are a lot of things I hate to eat), so it works out best when I stay in my little happy food area. But I’ve made an effort to be willing to at least try new things, which sometimes works out awesome and sometimes works out less well. Now, on my pasta, I am usually a stickler for tomato-based sauces. I’m not overly fond of creamy sauces, and I’ve never liked pesto. But when I found this recipe for Roasted Red Pepper Pesto, I decided this was a good time to push my food boundaries a little, because this pesto sauce had a lot of things that I do like in it. Maybe, just maybe, this time would be different, eh? And I got to use my food processor for only the second time!

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  • 16 oz. jar roasted red peppers
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves (10-15 leaves)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 16 oz. package pasta, any kind
  • Salt and pepper

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  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the pasta according to the package instructions, approximately 10-12 minutes. Drain the pasta and pour back in the pot.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, add the roasted red peppers, fresh basil, and garlic to a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped.
  3. Add the parmesan cheese, olive oil, and 1/2 tsp. salt to the food processor, Pulse to combine. Salt and Pepper to taste.
  4. Pour the pesto over the cooked and drained pasta and toss to coat.
  5. Serve warm.

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So, on the bright side, this was so fast and really easy to pull together. Prep work/chopping vegetables is something I do not enjoy, because I am clumsy and I try to go too fast when I do things and I am terrified that one day these two things are going to combine and I am going to injure myself horrifically with a knife. But this was just dumping the things into the food processor and letting it do its thing. Making the sauce literally took about two minutes once I peeled the garlic cloves. On the down side? I didn’t like it, y’all, honestly. Not that the recipe is bad at all…Drew really liked it and went back for seconds. If the recipe made a bad dish, I wouldn’t post it. But when it comes to pesto, even though I thought I could get over it because I really like red peppers, it’s just not for me. I did omit the chopped walnuts that the original recipe calls for, but I don’t think that was it. I just want tomato-based sauce on my pasta. That’s what I like, that’s what makes my tummy happy. But if you are not as slavishly devoted to tomato sauce as I am, you should definitely try this, because my boyfriend liked it and he wouldn’t lie to me. Unless it was about whether or not he was listening to the long and involved story about what happened at work today. Not about food, though, I promise.

I Stayed: The Luxor

As I mentioned when I posted about this trip back awhile, my sister and her husband didn’t have time for a proper honeymoon when they got married. In February, my sister called me and told me that since she was about to get 4 days in a row off, they were thinking of coming to Las Vegas for a long weekend, because Tom had never been and it’s arguably a part of the American experience. I was thrilled she was going to be on my side of the country and when she set a date, Drew and I made plans to join her and Tom for the weekend.

They got a package deal with airfare and hotel and came in Wednesday afternoon. Drew and I didn’t arrive until the next night. We decided, in the interests of saving money for everyone, to split the room they had at the MGM Grand (with two queens) on Friday and Saturday nights because those are the spend-y ones. For Thursday, though, we did our own thing. We wanted to stay on the Strip so we’d be close by, but also wanted to be cheap because Las Vegas is expensive enough anyways. So we decided to stay at the Luxor.

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When we arrived at the hotel around 10 that night, we got through the line to check in pretty quickly and headed up to our room. It was pretty standard issue: two queen beds, TV, closet, bathroom…maybe a little on the small side, but not crowded or anything. Décor was Egyptian-themed, obviously. This is an older resort, and one of the less fancy ones, and it showed: there was some cracking and peeling around the edges of the doorframe in the bathroom, as well as some water damage to the door itself. Nothing that was an issue, everything was clean, but it was just a little bit shabby. Drew was hungry after we got in, so we walked around the casino for a while to find a place to eat. We ended up at the Public House, where it was overpriced, but this is Las Vegas and that’s how it goes.

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The Luxor is generally regarded (along with the Excaliber) as being one of the lower-end Strip properties, so rates were very reasonable (we paid $50 for a Thursday night before taxes, booking only about two weeks in advance). We interacted with hotel staff very minimally, but they were friendly and helpful when they did. There are several dining and drinking options within the casino.

The Road Not Taken

Every so often, I lose myself in daydreaming about the ways my life didn’t go: the classes I never took, the relationships that didn’t work out, the jobs I didn’t get. I’m not even 30 yet (not even 29!), and there are so many junctures that brought my life to where it is instead of where it could have been. And no matter how content one is with what is, I think there’s something in the human psyche that compulsively considers what would have happened if you’d turned left rather than right, had a jazzier resume, not had that stupid fight with your best friend in 10th grade that left you estranged for years. If there’s some alternate universe where you’re happy and content because you went right instead of left and ended up exactly where you belonged. I know enough to know that there isn’t, that each decision you make leads to more, harder decisions at some point, but there are some things I always find myself coming back to when I get lost in the reverie…

What if I’d never gone to law school? My senior year of college, I changed my major from political science to psychology and absolutely loved it. I wanted to keep studying it, but I’d been so sure for so long that I was going to go to law school/be a lawyer that I was scared to change my mind. I decided to let fate decide for me: I wouldn’t study for the LSAT, besides a basic once-through practice exam so I knew what it looked like. If I managed to do well on it, I would go to law school. If I bombed it, I’d start getting ready to take the GRE. I scored in the 92nd percentile on my LSAT. I went to law school. I became a lawyer. I hated being a lawyer. What if I’d had the boldness, the nerve to tell everyone who’d been hearing from me for years that I wanted to be a lawyer that I’d made a different decision? It’s easy to think that I would have loved it, that I would have gone on to a fulfilling career. But I know Ph.D. students, and getting a Ph.D. has tribulations of its own. The time it takes to get it, finding a thesis topic, actually writing a thesis…and then there’s the after part, where you have your degree and have to get a job. The pressure of “publish or perish”, the unstable home life of having to move around until you can claw your way into tenure. It’s not an easy life, and it’s all too possible that my sudden bloom of interest in psychology would have been eroded into the nub that my once-passionate feeling for the law was.

What if I’d gone to a different law school, then? I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was often completely miserable at Alabama. It was almost impossible to predict at the time; my campus visit to Alabama was lovely and I thought I would have a splendid time living there. But my final decision on law school came down to Alabama and Indiana. I chose Alabama both because of that great visit and because of scholarship considerations (I had not yet discovered what a racket the scholarship game was at Alabama). But I took a visit to Indiana and I really liked it there, too. Indiana would have been easier on me in a lot of respects: much more similar to home in every way. Maybe I would have done better there, both academically and personally. Maybe not. Maybe I would have spent more time going back and forth between school and home, because it would be easier to stay halfway in my old routines than to develop new ones. Maybe I would never have learned the lessons about dealing with disappointment and salvaging what you can, leaving the rest behind you, that I’ve found so valuable in my life. Maybe I would have settled down, but be building up to a panic at 30 where I wonder what else there is outside the Midwest. This is the one that haunts me the most, honestly. I think I would have been better off making the other choice. But life doesn’t go backwards, only forwards, and I have to take what I can from where I’ve been and move along.

Moving back to Michigan after law school was so obviously the correct choice that I never second guess it. But once I moved back, and passed the bar, I spent nine months looking for a job. There were two that I almost got before the one I did get, and I find myself wondering if I’d gotten one of those jobs, if I’d still be a lawyer in Michigan. The first was a small one-stop shop in Ypsilanti. It was run by an older lawyer who liked to work with an underling and his current one was leaving after several years. I had actually been all but granted the job (a salary had been discussed and settled and a meeting set up to finalize the next day) when he decided at the last minute to give it to the other person he was still considering, someone who had some small bits of summer experience from law school that I did not have. It still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, because I wanted it so bad and was lead to believe I had it before having it snatched away. The second was a small firm focused on representing women in divorce cases, in one of the Detroit suburbs. I breezed through the first interview and went to the second, excited to know that the applicant pool had been cut to ten and they were planning on offering two. I was told, when I got the call, that I finished third. Once again so close but still so far. Maybe in those jobs, I would have had more active mentoring, been taught how to be a lawyer instead of being thrown in the deep end and told to sink or swim, figuring out how to doggy paddle just enough to keep from going completely under but always gasping for air. Maybe I would have been an awesome lawyer. Or maybe the disillusionment would have just been slower. Maybe it would have taken me 10 years to figure out that I didn’t love it instead of a year and a half, already stuck in a real life with a family and a mortgage instead of being young and free enough to run away.

At the end of the day, my life is actually pretty happy. If I hadn’t gone to law school, far away from home and learned how to deal with living in a place that I didn’t like, I might never have had the courage to quit my job for a temporary gig 2000 miles away from home…from which, obviously, I would never have met Drew and I wouldn’t have a job that I wake up excited for every day. I wouldn’t have met the people I came to love in law school and in my lawyer job, people who make my life richer and better. I might not appreciate the job that I have so much if I’d never had the soul-crushing experience of a job I hated. I’m glad I had the experiences that I did, I mostly like the person I’ve ended up. I could still use work, obviously, but I’m pretty damn alright. I think back to who I was a decade ago, five years ago, three years ago, and I can feel how far I’ve come, how much I’ve learned. But I guess you can’t ever help yourself wondering what if.

I Cooked: Gnocchi with White Beans, Tomatoes, and Spinach

Clearly, we’ve reached the point in my recipe planning where I was referencing meg.goes.nom.nom a lot, because this is like the third recipe in the past few months that I’ve jacked from her blog. She’s great, people! Straightforward and delicious recipes for home cooking! Like this one! Pasta and beans and veggies, oh my!

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1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 package (16 ounces) potato gnocchi
1 can (15 ounces) white kidney or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) Italian diced tomatoes, undrained (or used regular diced tomatoes and Italian seasoning, whatever)
6 ounces fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

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In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook and stir until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Add gnocchi; cook and stir 5-6 minutes or until golden brown. Stir in beans, tomatoes, spinach and pepper; heat through.

Sprinkle with cheeses; cover and remove from heat. Let stand 3-4 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve and enjoy!

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So super easy, takes like half an hour to pull together and there’s very little prep besides mincing the garlic (thanks, garlic press!) and chopping the spinach. While it’s always good to work hard on something and have it come out great, sometimes it’s awesome to put in just a little bit of effort and get something you really enjoy eating out of it. So come on, summer’s almost over, you don’t want to work too hard, do you? Didn’t think so.