A beautiful picture of the STL Arch taken by the girlfriend!

And they make everything better.  It’s true, isn’t it?  Long weekends are a time to get everything done that you can’t during the week, whether it be relaxing, cooking, cleaning or getting away from it all.

My girlfriend and I did all of the above!  We went to Saint Louis, MO for a couple of days to get away.  Last year, we went for our one year anniversary and didn’t have the best time with the activities that we chose.  We did a Riverboat Dinner Cruise…. let’s just say that watching an old lady choke on an ice cube, get heimliched and puke right in front of us as we were eating our dry salads kinda ruined that for us.  We did go up the Arch, though and that was fun.

This time we stayed on the outskirts of the city and drove in and around the city to get to the activities that we had lined up.  We went shopping at the Galleria, got a few chicken wings at Wingfest 2011, got soaked from a torrential downpour as we walked back to our car, but the best part was the Soulard Farmer’s Market.  OMG.  I was in heaven.  But more on that later this week as I’ve asked my girlfriend to write a guest blog and she’s going to talk all about it!  Throughout the days, when we were relaxing at the hotel, we were able to watch my favorite cable channel – FOOD NETWORK!!  I found myself ready to get home and start cooking and blogging again.

Me and Max waiting for the Double Feature to start at the Drive-In!

When we got back on Sunday, we did some cleaning, a little cooking and a lot of relaxing.  My girlfriend made pizza dough and a yummy lemon-butter-garlic chicken and vegetable roast and I blanched our abundance of tomatoes so they wouldn’t go to waste.  Then we went to a double feature at the local Drive-In.  Monday, though… that’s a whole different story.

I made EIGHT different dishes yesterday.  After a weekend of spending money on eating out, we knew we had to buckle down and make some things to last us throughout the week or we’d end up spending waaaay too much money!  Here’s the breakdown of what was made:

- Low-fat Layered Taco Dip
- Ciabatta Pizza Squares
- Chicken and Rice Soup
- Saucy Italian Chicken
- Grilled Zucchini
- Mediterranean Brown Rice Vegetable Bake
- Salted Caramel Brownies
- and something else… I can’t remember!

I’ll be posting the recipes for the taco dip, ciabatta pizza squares and salted caramel brownies later, but today, you get the recipe for the Mediterranean Brown Rice Vegetable Bake! I found a recipe in my Cooking Light magazine that looked good, but I made a BUNCH of changes to better fit our taste preferences and what we had available in our fridge.

Mediterranean Brown Rice Vegetable Bake (modified from Cooking Light)
Servings: 8-10
PointsPlus Per Serving: 6 for 8 servings, 5 for 10 servings

Photo of the original recipe in the September 2011 issue of Cooking Light

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil, 7 PP
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup diced red/yellow/green peppers (CL uses 1 cup fennel)
  • 1 cup diced zucchini (CL uses 2 cups mushrooms)
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped, 2 PP (I had dried ones, so I re-hydrated them first and then cut them up)
  • 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese, 4 PP
  • 2 eggs, 4 PP
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tbsp dried parsley (CL uses 1/4 cup fresh parsley)
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice, 11 PP
  • 1/2 cup roasted almonds, chopped, 9 PP
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, 6 PP
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, 3 PP (optional; it doesn’t change the PP value so add it!)

Directions
1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onions, garlic and peppers; saute 6 minutes. Add zucchini and tomatoes. Add basil and parsley and red pepper flakes. I also added a bit of garlic powder here. Cook until all of the liquid has evaporated from the pan. Set aside and cool completely.

2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together ricotta cheese and eggs. Add cooled, cooked vegetable mixture and the remaining ingredients, including brown rice (and a little extra basil and parsley if you like). Mix well.

3. Preheat oven to 350.

4. Lightly coat a 1 1/2 quart ovenproof baking dish with oil. Place mixture in a dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 40 minutes. (This is where CL stops, but it wasn’t done when I pulled it out, so…) Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Check it when you pull it out to make sure it’s done. There should be no liquids pooling on top and it should cooked and steamy when you slice through. Serve immediately or save for later! This warms up well.

When we ate it, my girlfriend really loved it and so did I. I did feel like it was missing a little something, so I added feta cheese to the recipe at the top. I believe the salty tartness of the feta is exactly what the missing ingredient is! This dish was so easy to make that I can definitely imagine making up a few others with different flavor focuses – mexican, fajita, indian and greek.