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.

Cooking for the Week Ahead

It has been too long. I am still here. I am still eating. I am still cooking. I am still writing.

Life has been busy and different. I no longer come home in the afternoons after work to shop and cook dinner. (In fact I now work almost 8 hours more per week than I used to!) Instead I try and spend Sunday evenings stocking up on foods to pack for lunch and dinner for the week ahead. With my new schedule I get home from work just in time to kiss my wonderful husband, heat up some leftovers, and thank my past self for making them. During the work day, instead of staying on my toes pulling pans in and out of the oven and serving hungry children, I’m on my (mental) toes keeping parents happy, making sure their kids get the care they need. It’s a different life. When I can I go for runs around this beautiful lake.

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So how I do plan around my new and busier schedule? I try to make foods that will travel and keep well and feed me with comfort and keep me full until the next snack. These blueberry walnut muffins were made as a challenge to myself while one of my friends was avoiding processed sugar. They contain a little bit of honey, plus whole wheat flour, oats, walnuts, and of course blueberries! The oats and nuts make them more filling, add great contrasting textures, and are also quite tasty!

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I know some of your are scoffing the the mention of whole wheat flour in a muffin, but trust me – these were well-received after our long and muddy hike!

IMG_2584This quinoa and chickpea salad is my new favorite go-to lunch salad. I adapted mine from this one on the New York Times Cooking site and I especially enjoy it with roasted carrots. Made with canned chickpeas and a few chopped veggies, it’s fairly quick to make (especially if you use couscous). If you make a big batch at the beginning of the week, you will be set for lunches for the week!

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Another quick and healthy lunch is a big salad. Boxed mixed greens, chopped deli meat, cheese cubes, nuts (toasted, if you’re fancy) and dried fruit make for a delicious lunch. Bring a bottle of dressing to work or a little container of your own if you can.

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For dinners, soups and stews make for tasty fare and can be especially easy if you throw it all in the crock pot. Above is one of my favorites – Ginger Chicken Meatball Soup – adapted from this lovely recipe. When I plan my meals for the week I try to make at least two recipes, preferably one in the oven or on the stove and the other in the crock pot. Between the two of us packing lunch everyday and eating dinner at home, we need a lot of food!

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On the weekends when you have some time to relax and you’re feeling somewhat ambitious, make yourself some pancakes, fluffy and warm, served hot from the skillet. Top them with bananas, toasted nuts, and real maple syrup. Don’t go out to brunch. Make it at home instead! Then you don’t have to decide between ordering the pancakes and the omelette – you can have both!

Ah yes, but the weekends don’t last long, so you enjoy them while you can. Go out to dinner, whip up a homemade dessert for your loved ones, and then get ready to get ready for the week ahead once again. Even if the week is a rough one, at least you can say you were well-fed!

 

 

Vegetable Galette & Mixed Berry Tart

Here in the Pacific Northwest, people love to hike. With plenty of beautiful hiking trails within a reasonable distance, from the Cascade mountains to the east of Seattle and the Olympics to the west, it is easy to see why. When I was a kid my family used to take a lot of camping vacations. We packed our gingersnaps (for carsickness, Mom told us), our tents, and our sleeping bags, and hit the road to camp, hike, and cook on a propane stove. I have many fond memories from our camping trips, like Dad’s rules of camping and the invention of our fake band, Faulty Gravity, but I also remember the hard parts: washing dishes in a basin in the woods when dish-washing at home was already a chore, walking to the bathroom at night with a flashlight, and sleeping on a slowly-deflating mattress with your two sisters as you slowly sank down to the cold, hard earth.

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We did some hiking while we camped and most likely did lots of complaining along the way, as kids often do. In fact it seemed like a long time before exercise became enjoyable to me. My days in Boston taking buses, walking from the bus, or biking to work taught me to appreciate my legs’ ability to carry me a farther distance than I believed. Now I run when I want to, walk because I enjoy it, and hike knowing I can come home and sleep in my own bed, on a real mattress.

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Me walking across a rickety bridge over a bubbling stream

This weekend my friend, Zack, invited me for a hike out near Skykomish. We wore our warmest, water-wicking clothes (and packed extra just in case) and drove out into the foggy mountains of Washington. The hike was beautiful. I felt nothing but a sense of appreciation for the present. I felt calm. I felt in awe of the beauty of nature surrounding me.

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Look closely at the pattern etched in this piece of bark – apparently it’s made by a certain kind of ants!

Along the trail Zack shared his forest knowledge, pointing out various trees, plants, and blackberry leaves, which he informed me grew like a weed in the forest. We shared a snack on the trail of soft Brie and bread, but on the drive home we found ourselves hungry and talking about all the delicious things we wanted to eat. While most food sounded good during our discussion, I found myself inspired by the emerald-green trees and the blackberry leaves to make a meal worthy of such natural wonder.

With the cold drizzle of a typical Seattle day I wanted something both wintery-warm and light, consisting primarily of plant-foods to reflect the day’s hike. I settled on a vegetable galette, very loosely adapted from this one by Melissa Clark. I made half as much dough for a less heavy meal and added sauteed rainbow chard and mushrooms for more veggies. I roasted sweet potatoes to use instead of the pumpkin, but then ended up leaving them out of the galette to keep as a side dish instead.

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The results were not as beautiful as the hike, but satisfying and delicious all the same. And after reading this great article, In Praise of Ugly Food, I hardly cared that it wasn’t the picture of food porn perfection.

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Of course, the blackberry leaves also had me craving a berry tart to follow my veggie pie. Despite the fact that berries aren’t exactly in season, I decided to make my dreamed-up tart, and why not?  When berries are in season hardly anyone wants to run the oven to bake a pie anyway. Winter was perfect pie-baking time.

So I made myself a triple berry pie with fresh blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries and it was delicious.

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Triple Berry Tart

Crust:

1.25 cups all purpose flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1 T. sugar

1/2 stick of unsalted butter, cold

3 T. shortening, chilled

3-4 T. ice water

Filling

4 cups mixed berries*, rinsed and shaken of access water

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

the zest of one lemon

In a medium bowl measure out the 1.25 cups of flour, salt, and tablespoon of sugar. Stir to mix. Cut your butter into chunks and stir into flour to coat, along with the shortening. Using a pastry cutter or breaking up with your fingers, blend the butter and shortening into the flour until the pieces are pea-sized. Drizzle in water, starting with 2 tablespoons and gently stir to moisten the flour. Add more water until your dough can come together into a ball. Don’t overdo it! Flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for an hour.

When your dough is chilled, mix together your berries, flour, sugar and lemon zest. It helps to rub the zest into the flour or sugar so that it doesn’t clump. On a floured surface, gently roll out your dough to an even thickness, about 1/4 inch. Aim for a circle, but as a tart this doesn’t have to be a perfect circle. Carefully transfer to a parchment-lined sheet pan. Top with the berry mixture and fold the excess over the top to help contain the berry juices once it starts cooking.

Bake at 375 F for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling. For best results, let cool before slicing to allow the filling to gel somewhat.

*I used 6 oz. of blueberries, 6 oz. of blackberries and 9 oz. of raspberries.

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When you take a bite, think of the blackberries that grow wild in the forest, blanketing the ground with their dark, bumpy fruits.

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Quick Whole Grain Pizza – Happ Happ Hurrah!

In my house we never order pizza. It’s not because we don’t like pizza or because we think it’s unhealthy. It’s because we are spoiled… Let me explain.

Upon finishing grad school a few years back, my husband declared he was going to start making bread from scratch. Slightly skeptical but totally supportive, I bought him the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, figuring with his culinary background (or lack thereof) and schedule this would be a perfect book. Soon after he impressed me by actually reading the introduction to the book and telling me there were a few other tools we needed. We invested in a pizza stone and pizza peel and have since put them to excellent use making homemade bread and homemade pizza. And as he had promised, there was actually a period of time where he made homemade bread!

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Though it has been a while since he’s done any bread baking, we now have a pizza stone that we use occasionally for bread and pizzas. So why are we spoiled? Have you ever baked homemade pizza on a pizza stone? I highly recommend it – you get a crisp, chewy crust with a nice rise from the preheated stone. When you have a pizza stone that makes delicious pizza at home, it’s hard to spend money ordering pizza or going out. You can easily save yourself money and customize your pizza when it is homemade, so why would you order in?IMG_1615 Nonetheless, pizza making takes time. For our recipe you have to make the dough, let it rise for 2 hours, refrigerate it, preheat the stone, roll your dough, top it and bake it. Most nights when you come home from work you want dinner ready as quickly as possible. This healthy pizza can be your fast solution and it’s just as quick as ordering delivery. The ingredients are basic and the toppings are customizable. You may even have everything in your fridge already.

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Forgive the weird prints on the parchment paper. I reused the paper after roasting my sweet potato slices!

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Spelling or translation error: recipies? Recipes for pies?

This recipe comes from a wonderful book my sister-in-law gave me called Happ Happ Hurrah. This colorful book of healthful, fresh recipes comes from the Happ restaurants located in Luxembourg and Iceland. Someday we will go to the restaurant when we visit them in Luxembourg (where they live now!) The dough comes together in 5 minutes – no rising, no waiting – and bakes in 10. After that you top your flatbread-like crust with whatever you like and throw it back in the oven to melt the cheese. IMG_1609IMG_1611Happ has recommendations for four different types of pizza, but you can top it however you like. I did a combination of two of them using roasted sweet potato slices, fresh mozzarella, basil, peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes. We also added grated Parmesan for a little extra saltiness. They baked up beautifully and we both enjoyed them (I didn’t know what to expect from Sam, but he gave them a sincere thumbs up). We made them small so that we could personalize our pizzas.

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Quick Whole Grain Pizza Crust

adapted from Happ Happ Hurrah!

makes 6 personal pizzas

2 cups + 2 T. whole wheat flour

1+1/4 cup mix of the following: rolled oats, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds (see note)

2 T. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. salt

2 T. cream of tartar (optional – see note #2)

1 cup warm water

1/2 cup olive oil

toppings of your choice

Mix all dry ingredients. Add water and oil and stir carefully. Add more whole wheat flour if the batter is too sticky. Gently knead the dough and divide into six equal parts. Gently stretch or roll each part of the dough into a small circle. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 400 degrees F. It should be lightly browned on the bottom when you lift it off the sheet. Turn the oven temperature up to 450 degrees F. Top your pizza as desired and return to the oven. Bake for 5-10 minutes or until toppings warm and cheese melts to desired browness. Cool slightly and enjoy!

Note: The original recipe calls for 3 dl. of oats, sesame seeds, muesli, and sunflower seeds. I did about 2/3 of that in oats and filled the remainder of the cup with a tablespoon of sesame seeds and the rest in roasted, salted sunflower seeds. Feel free to try purchased muesli, use only oats, or try your own ratios of seeds and oats.

Note #2: When I have made bread or pizza it always contains a leavener such as yeast or baking powder or soda. I looked up the properties of cream of tartar, assuming that must give this pizza some rise. Though I learned that cream of tartar is a natural by-product of wine-making, it is still unclear to me its role in this recipe. It is an acidic ingredient often used to make baking powder though it is more commonly used by itself to stabilize egg whites in angel food cakes or other baked goods. This particular recipe didn’t seem to get any benefit from it in terms of rising, though I did not test the recipe without it. Proceed at your own risk!

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Post 122 – Pesto Couscous Summer Salad

Summer’s a coming. It is here! Or at least it feels like it. The weather has turned humid and muggy and sunny and green and the school children are getting restless (the teachers and staff too! Trust me – I work at a school.) But it is beautiful this time of year where I live. I am loving the views!

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Now I love cooking and baking, but when it gets hot and you have no central air I can lose my energy for cooking, especially in a hot kitchen. When I think of a good summer recipe, I think of something that is quick, fresh-tasting, and doesn’t require the oven. When you don’t have an outdoor grill, these recipes can be hard to come by. Sometimes I sacrifice one night of oven cooking for several nights of tasty leftovers, but other times it is just not worth it.

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Here is a summery flavored side salad or main dish that works well in the summer heat and can be changed to suit your tastes too. You can skip the cooked veggies and throw in raw ones instead (cucumbers, red peppers, shredded carrots) and you can even try quinoa instead of couscous. If your garden has overgrown with fresh basil, make your own pesto! If you just want dinner in 10 minutes, use the store bought kind or the batch you saved in the freezer from last month. If nothing else this simple recipe can be a go-to when you are out of ideas and out of time. Throw in some leftover chicken (or even store-bought rotisserie chicken) and you’ve got a meal. You’re welcome. (Another cookbook checked off the list! By the way, this cookbook was first published in 1977 so if it looks a little old fashioned, that’s why.)

IMG_1564IMG_1566Pesto Couscous Summer Salad

from Betty Crocker’s Cook it Quick!

1 cup uncooked couscous

1 T. olive oil or vegetable oil

1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 container (7 oz.) pesto (homemade or store-bought)

2 T. balsamic or cider vinegar

Cook couscous according to package – for 1 cup you will boil 1+1/4 cup water, remove from heat, add couscous, cover and let absorb the water (off heat!) for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork immediately and set aside.

Meanwhile heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat. Add zucchini, squash, and red pepper and cook about 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.***

Toss couscous, vegetables, pesto, and vinegar in a large bowl. Serve warm or cool.

***Alternative method: Now I don’t know about you, but when I try and saute a large amount of vegetables in a 10 inch skillet for 5 minutes until “crisp-tender” I end up with somewhat softened vegetables and maybe a little browning. I found that this amount of time and vegetables in this size pan leaves no room for crisp or tenderness and even leaves some of the veggies raw from not enough heat exposure. If you don’t mind running the oven I recommend roasting the veggies, well spread out on a sheet pan or two. It does not require as much stirring, and you can walk away from the hot oven for at least a little bit of time while they cook. Cut the veggies into sticks, cubes, or slices (so long as they are all even-ish in size), toss with oil, salt, and pepper and spread out on parchment lined sheet pan. Roast at 425 degrees, stirring once toward the end until they are lightly browned and beginning to caramelize.

IMG_1553IMG_1555Mmm tasting looking veggies.IMG_0890Throw these in with your couscous and pesto or serve on the side of your main dish as veggie “fries.” They are addictive and delicious. Happy almost summer!