Grilling from my garden!

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We have spent a year in our house. A fall, a winter, a spring, and summer. A year can go by fast when you’re not counting the length of something. Some of my favorite things about living in this house have been the surprises that pop up in our yard. We moved into a blue house with a yellowed yard, the grass dry and prickly from the rain-free summer days of perfect blue skies and nice breezes. When the rainy season came we were happy to see the grass nourished again and refreshed to an emerald green (while the weeds grew taller!) In the springtime the tulips that we didn’t plant popped up, (thanks previous owners!) the camellia tree bloomed white flowers that quickly browned, and the rhododendrons grew big and bright in front of our window.

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I started my first home garden this summer, though as is typical of me, I had high hopes for all the things I would grow, but I never really planned how to make them happen. Eventually I planted some lettuce, which grew, but had a short season, and some herbs, strawberries, sunflowers, and squash. When the weather finally warmed enough I was rewarded with beautiful tall sunflowers, tiny, ruby strawberries, and zucchini whose leaves grew and spread wide just as I hadn’t really expected. I’ve since lost count of how many squash we’ve harvested from that giant plant, but I am thrilled every time I see a new one forming among the squash blossoms. I literally exclaimed with delight and surprise when I discovered the yellow patty pan squash growing on the other side of the plant. (The package I bought said squash medley, but somehow I only expected one type to grow!)

What I love about squash is their ability to be transformed into a number of different delicious dishes. I love zucchini bread, roasted zucchini, zucchini and cheese casserole, and many other recipes. However, though I tend to complicate things when it comes to food, zucchini are probably at their best when simply grilled. Toss them with a little oil, a sprinkle of salt, a few grinds of fresh black pepper and throw them on a hot grill alongside your chicken or burgers or whatever. Grilling them makes them soft, sweet, and smoky, the perfect way to eat more vegetables this time of year.

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I also forgot to mention another garden surprise from our new house: tomatillos! I never planted tomatillos and yet they sprouted seemingly out of nowhere in my garden bed (apparently they’re perennials). If they ever get ripe enough, I hope to share a recipe using them on the blog soon!

Summer is certainly winding down and it makes me sad to think of the return of the rain and cloudy, cool days, but I also look forward to our grass turning green again and the milder temperatures of fall. Happy end of summer!

Grilled Summer Squash

yellow squash or zucchini, any amount, any variety*

oil, salt, pepper

fresh herbs (optional)

Preheat your grill to medium heat (about 400 degrees)

Wash your squash to remove any dirt and trim the stem ends. Slice into rounds, about 1/2 an inch thick or close to that. Most importantly make sure they are close in thickness for even grilling. Toss or brush with your choice of high heat oil on both sides (olive oil or canola oil for example). Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

When grill has heated up completely, lay squash out on clean, oiled grates using tongs or your fingers (carefully). Cook for a few minutes on one side and then flip and cook a few minutes more. How long you cook them will depend on the thickness, but you want them to be soft and have good grill marks. Remove and serve with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and grilled chicken.

*In general the smaller the squash, the better the flavor. These round squash are perfect for grilling because you can cut them into rounds so they don’t fall through the grill grates. If you buy regular long zucchini, cut them into long strips from end to end. It is much easier to flip bigger pieces.

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Winter slow-roasted tomatoes

Merry almost Christmas! Why am I posting about tomatoes? It is the first day of winter and tomatoes are at their peak in the thick heat of the summer, not in this cold, cold winter. The reason is a few weeks back my mother-in-law gave me a quart of cherry tomatoes. My father-in-law had bought them at the supermarket because she likes to munch on them year-round, but apparently he had bought the wrong kind so she passed them along to us in case we would eat them.

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Ready for the oven

I consider it a gift (or a curse) of mine to not waste food. I either try to repurpose it or eat it as is. Sometimes I forgive myself if I realize I’m taking it a little too far and I will throw something away, but most of the time I try to think of creative ways to use it. Though I like tomatoes, I don’t get excited about eating them by the handful, particularly in the off season when they tend to be lackluster. When I worked at a country club in Ohio we would roast the little beauties in a low oven with dried herbs and oil until they puckered into sweet, intensified tomato gems. To be honest, I can’t remember how we served them after that: on salads perhaps, or as part of an appetizer. However you decide to use them, they will make a most excellent winter condiment to spice up your lunch sandwich, mix into your pasta, or to toss into your green salad. There is really no recipe, just guidelines, so take them with a grain of salt.

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Blistered and beautiful

Roasted Tomatoes

inspired by Smitten Kitchen

1 quart of cherry or grape tomatoes

1 head of fresh garlic

salt, pepper, and other herbs

olive oil or canola oil

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees F. Rinse tomatoes and slice in half from stem to bottom. Toss to coat in oil, a tablespoon or two maybe. Sprinkle with coarse salt, pepper, and other herbs desired such as thyme, rosemary, or basil. Break up the garlic into cloves (unpeeled) and toss with tomatoes. Spread on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and roast until puckered and sweet. This should take 1-2 hours. Let cool or use right away. You can keep the garlic cloves whole and peel them before use or peel and chop finely or mash into tomatoes. If you don’t use right away, feel free to store in the fridge with a little bit of oil. Note that if you use olive oil it will solidify around the tomatoes in large yellowy chunks, but it will liquefy again when heated.

Possible uses: Mix into pasta, soups, salads, or sandwiches.

Strawberry Queen of Heart Tarts

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Hello summer! I am so happy to see you! Spring and summer in Seattle have been beautiful with emerald-green lawns, colorful flowers of every variety, and warm temperatures. This past weekend got a little too hot though for a typical Seattle summer day. Temperatures reached 81 on Saturday and 92 yesterday, making our 4th floor, no A/C apartment pretty dang hot.

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In spite of the heat, I decided to turn on the oven and to make homemade pie crust (well not in that order).

Here’s a little summer advice for you: Do not make homemade pie crust on what is predicted to be the hottest day ever! Also don’t turn your oven on if you don’t have to!

Why shouldn’t you make pie crust on a hot day? The key to a good, flaky pie crust is cold fat (butter or shortening) and keeping it cold until it goes into the oven where it melts and creates pockets of air and thus flaky goodness. A hot kitchen (and hot hands) make keeping ingredients cold pretty difficult. I found myself popping my tarts in and out of the freezer at different stages to keep the butter from melting too early.

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But why was I making homemade pie crust in the first place? One of my friends was having an Alice and Wonderland themed engagement party over the weekend and I had to make something edible to fit the theme. Seeing the weather forecast, I told her I’d probably just make a salad to avoid using the oven. Yet the gorgeous, red strawberries grown right here in Washington were begging to be made into tarts and it seemed only fitting (and fun!) to make heart-shaped Queen of Heart Tarts.

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And because making one kind of tart is never enough (oh no, I always have to make it more complicated!) I made a savory asparagus tart too because, hello asparagus this time of year! For this tart I used puff pastry, because I had seen other recipes using puff pastry and it sounded oh so much simpler. In the end I was appreciative of the simplicity of the puff pastry compared to the pie crust, but in my opinion the pie crust tasted infinitely better!

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We had a wonderful celebration and kept cool in a lovely shady spot of the park. My friend was thrilled with the treats I brought and we ended up with a lovely Alice and Wonderland themed spread including: down the rabbit hole wraps (smoked salmon, herbed cream cheese, and cucumber), magic mushrooms (marinated mushrooms), mint tea (of course!) and a few other fun treats. They even had deck of card necklaces with different sayings on them from the book including “We’re all mad here!” I guess being crazy enough to bake on a hot day makes me fit right in!

Queen of Heart Tarts

2 pie crusts (homemade or store-bought)

2 cups diced strawberries

2-4 T. sugar (depending on how sweet your strawberries are)

2 T. cornstarch

lemon zest

1 egg, beaten

Roll out your pie crust into an even thickness of about 1/8 inch. Using a cookie cutter (or a stencil and a sharp knife) cut out heart shapes in your dough, as close together as possible. Re-rolling the scraps will overwork the dough and also make it start to soften and melt. (You can always bake the scraps with cinnamon and sugar and eat them as a treat!) Lay your cut-out hearts on a parchment lined sheet pan and put in the fridge while you cut up your strawberries.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Mix your diced strawberries, sugar, lemon zest, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Have your beaten egg ready as an egg wash for your tarts.

Remove the hearts from the fridge and top half of them with a small bit of strawberry mixture right in the center (do not overfill!). With the remaining hearts, gently place them on top of the strawberry filling and press around the edges to seal. Use floured fingers to keep your hands from sticking. Cut small slashes in the top of each heart and brush lightly with the egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Let cool and enjoy!

Note: I made my strawberry filling before I had my hearts cut out and the filling got progressively juicy and soupy as it sat. I think if you wait til you’re ready to use it, you won’t end up with an overly juicy filling, which will just bleed out of your pies when you try and fill them and when you bake them if they aren’t sealed well.

Lilacs, Spring Salads, and Grilling!

This past Saturday we celebrated spring’s sunny and warm weather with a 15-mile bike ride to explore some neighborhoods around Seattle (our first bike ride since moving here nearly 8 months ago!) I gripped my handlebars until my hands ached as we tore down sloping hills and I lost my breath crawling up the steep climbs that made for breath-taking views when you turned around. The Seattle winter may be pretty depressing with all of the rain and darkness, but the spring certainly makes up for it.

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After dragging our aching bodies through the rest of the afternoon, we had our friends, Zack and Kelly, over for a casual Saturday night dinner. They brought us lilacs picked fresh from their backyard and a jug of fermented apple juice cider that they’d been brewing in their house.The smell of the lilacs reminded me of the lilac bush we had in our backyard growing up and the posed pictures my sisters and I would take, each of us leaning in to smell the lilacs while smiling blissfully.

With the coming of summer and the spring hues beckoning us to spend more time outdoors, I find the need for easy, delicious, and no cook (or minimal cooking) meals: salads that can wait for us in the fridge when we’re ready to come inside from a long day in the sun and food that doesn’t weigh us down more than the heat already may. I’m trying to amass a salad recipe collection that I can turn to in times of spring and summer need, but I still have a long way to go. Some of my favorites:

Summer Pasta Salad with Roasted Veggies (what we had with Zack and Kelly) – this recipe works great with summer vegetables, though ideally you would grill the veggies to save turning on the oven.

Chickpea and Couscous Salad (I make it with regular couscous or make it with quinoa!) – extra cumin, extra chickpeas!

Marrakesh Carrot Salad (my new favorite) – texture and flavor heaven; the perfect combination of sweet (from the dates), salty (feta), crunchy (pistachios), and soft.

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With warmer weather also comes the season for grilling! I have never been a grill master, but that is partly due to my lack of practice, having rarely used a grill. Since living in apartments we have not had our own outdoor space, which makes it tough to own a grill. Thanks to the shared rooftop deck at our current place (and shared grills), I have taken advantage of the warm weather and have grilled twice with great success!

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I started out by pounding my chicken breasts, both to tenderize and to ensure they were all an even thickness. If you have a thick center and thinner outsides, you’re going to burn or dry the outer parts before the inside is cooked. Afterward I marinated them for about an hour in a simple lemon, rosemary, and olive oil marinade. Marinading adds both flavor and tenderness to chicken breasts.

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After a short time in the marinade, I gathered my tools and fired up the grill. The results – juicy, flavorful, and something to be proud of.

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Lemon-Rosemary Grilled Chicken

juice and zest of one lemon

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

2.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Mix the ingredients for your marinade and set aside. Meanwhile using a meat mallet and a non-slip cutting board, pound each chicken breast under a sheet of plastic wrap until an even thickness. Be careful not to pound it so much that it rips apart.

Place chicken in a 9×13 glass dish and pour the marinade over tipping the pan or using a spoon to make sure it spreads over every piece. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Remove the chicken from the fridge and begin heating your grill to medium (about 350 degrees). Once the grill is beginning to heat up, oil your grill with a brush or a paper towel dipped in oil (use tongs to apply the paper towel). Carefully lay each piece of chicken on the grill and close the lid. Cook for five minutes. Flip the chicken and cook another 3-5 minutes, until at least 165 degrees in the middle. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute in the meat.

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Slice and serve hot or cold atop your favorite bed of greens or another side salad. Happy grilling!

The Easiest Crispy Roasted Potatoes

Have we talked about potatoes yet? Have we talked about how easy it is to give them crispy browned sides with very little work on your part? We haven’t?! I can’t believe it.

Crispy, roasted potatoes are a staple in my kitchen. They are an easy, affordable, adaptable, people-pleasing side dish that everyone should know how to make. If you don’t, no worries. That’s what I’m here for.

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First things first – potatoes. What kind? How big? How many?

Personally, I am a fan of Yukon gold potatoes. They look buttery and golden, which tricks you into thinking they are covered in more butter or oil than they actually are (use them for mashed potatoes and everyone will ask you, because they are so yellow, how much butter you put in the potatoes to make them so goooood). You can also use red potatoes, purple potatoes, or even Idaho potatoes, but my personal favorite are the Yukon golds.

As for size, it doesn’t really matter how big the actual potatoes are, though it may help you in deciding how many to cook. It matters more how big you cut them for roasting. As for how many to buy, I would cook 1-2 medium sized potatoes per person depending on how hungry your people are. When in doubt, make more. They aren’t as good leftover (no crispiness!) but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Size becomes more important when you cut them into pieces. You want your potatoes all to cook at the same rate, which means cutting them all relatively the same size. Don’t worry about perfection. If there are some smaller ones, they will just get extra crispy!

Next – seasoning.

Potatoes by themselves are pretty boring, let’s be honest. With the help of a little salt, pepper, maybe some garlic powder, rosemary, Mrs. Dash, or whatever strikes your fancy, potatoes become delicious little bites of starchy carbs! Start with your choice of oil – olive oil or vegetable oil – and drizzle evenly over your potatoes. I never measure*** so I don’t want to throw out some number and be totally wrong, but remember less is more. You want your potatoes to be lightly coated after they are all tossed together, not swimming in a puddle of oil. You can always drizzle in more if they look too dry. Next sprinkle in your salt, pepper, and other seasonings. Again, I don’t measure so I can’t help you there, but start by lightly sprinkling the top surface of your bowl of cut potatoes as if you were salting your scrambled eggs. You can always salt them after they’re cooked if they aren’t salty enough, though cooking them with salt will go a lot farther. As Sam always says, you can always add more salt, but you can’t take it away.

IMG_1617Let’s talk about potato layout… has anyone every talked about that before?

One of the keys to crispy potatoes is space! You want the potatoes to be friends, but they also need their bubble of personal space. If the other potatoes are all snuggled up next to them, things will just get steamy, no seriously! If you want soft, mushy potatoes, let them steam. If you want crispy potatoes, give them some room. Check out the photo above for a good example of the closest the potatoes should be. In fact, some of them are probably even too close. If you are cooking fewer potatoes you can obviously spread them out more, but you don’t want them any closer! Pick your pan according to the number of potatoes you’re cooking. Use two pans if you have to. Give them space and they’ll be happy.

IMG_1619(1)Also speaking of potato layout, do you see the two potatoes in the center of the photo above? The one on the left sits on a flat, cut side for better roasting! The one on the right sits on the skin side – less crispy! You want all of your potatoes to be oriented cut side down and not skin side down for ultimate crispiness. Skins can get crispy, but the starchy potato inside gets crispier. You may have to go through and manually flip all your potatoes once you spread them out, but it’s worth it.

Lastly, high heat and an optional flip.

Potatoes roast best when they get a good amount of heat – 425-450 depending on your oven. Make sure the oven preheats all the way before you pop those babies in. If you want them to be crispy on all sides, it will take a little patience and a little extra effort. The laziest way is to do nothing, a step up is to stir and flip the potatoes with a spatula without worrying about if each one is being flipped (what I did for the photo below), and the ultimate effort is to remove the pan and flip each potato onto another side, one by one. You choose how crispy you want them.

Give your potatoes time. They will need to cook all the way through first before they can begin to crisp up. Expect 30-50 minutes depending on the size you cut your potato pieces.

IMG_1622What beautiful roasted potatoes!

Ok, let’s review:

Yukon gold

Seasoned lightly

Give ’em space

High heat

Time!

There you have it – crispy potatoes! I hope it worked.

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***UPDATE: I made potatoes again last night and actually measured this time for everyone’s benefit! For 2.5 pounds of potatoes I used 2 T. oil and 1/2 tsp of salt. The other seasonings are up to you taste buds!

Bon appetit!

Summer Potato Salad with Horseradish Dijon Mayo

About five years ago my mom and I drove the 800+ miles from Dayton, Ohio to Boston, MA, her black Honda Fit packed with as much of my stuff as it could hold. It was my first taste of living on my own in a city, and I was both terrified and thrilled. Though the first moments after my mom drove away definitely felt lonely and sad, I eventually settled into my new home and began getting to know Boston by bike and by train.

IMG_1042It is hard to believe that five years have passed since that move. I have lived through many momentous occasions in Boston – the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup, the Red Sox winning the World Series, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Patriots winning the Super Bowl, and the record-breaking snowfall this past winter. I have loved living in Boston and there are many things I will miss about this city, but I am also excited to get to know a new city on the other side of the country. Continue reading

An Easy Summer Treat: Frozen Grapes!

Ah summertime! Long warm days of sunshine, relaxed time at the beach, and cool ocean breezes – these are the dreams of summer. Well, sometimes those summer dreams can turn into too long, hot days, crowded beach, and absolutely no breeze! We began to miss the spring weather (or even winter) and long for cooler days ahead. However, I’m trying to remind myself that summer is worth celebrating, even if it’s hot! Let’s do the best to enjoy this much anticipated time of the year while we can despite the downsides. Continue reading