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!

Post 41 – Transitions

The sun rises and sets earlier now I’ve begun to notice. Now when I wake up at 6:00 am the sky hangs dark and seemingly cloudy, instead of the summer sun telling me I’ve slept too long. Then in the evening when Sam and I sit down for dinner too late, we have to turn the light on instead of relying on the lingering sunlight to illuminate our table. I know, it’s all part of the transition from summer to fall and onward, but I hate transitions. They’re rough.

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Transformation, on the other hand, is beautiful. Taking flour and flavor and frying it into little puffs that are soft and fragrant makes me grateful that things can change. Ingredients can change if nothing

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I had to go back to work today after a whole week off last week (I know, wah wah wah) and suddenly the transition from summer mode to work mode is making me itch. I did “work” this summer, but the job definitely felt more seasonal because it was a short stint and the weather and constant guests stopping in kept me happy. It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. After getting past the transition and into the new routine nothing is ever really that bad, but it’s the in between that gets uncomfortable.

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When it comes to making transitions easier, familiar foods can help. Or you can just buck up and accept that things are changing and try a new recipe for goodness sake! That’s the approach we’re taking here – do one thing every day that scares you! Remember that?

So a few weeks back I teased you with some pictures of a sausage stuffed zucchini without sharing the recipe. So here’s the scoop: kitchensurfing is doing a special Boston restaurant week menu where people pay a fixed price for a three-course meal that a chef offers, and I am offering this beautiful sausage, onion, and red pepper stuffed zucchini with goat cheese as my main event. Assuming none of you are going to go giving away my secrets, I’ll share the recipe with you here. But please don’t tell! Trust is the word.

I also FINALLY used the chickpea flour (after enjoying experimenting on gluten free chocolate chip cookies and gluten free cornbread – both highly successful) for a panisse­-like recipe: chickpea fritters. These babies are gluten-free, tasty little nuggets flavored with cumin and coriander and pumped up with fresh scallions. They are kind of falafel-like except smoother and softer. Serve them as an appetizer just as they are, with a homemade yogurt dip, or tzatziki sauce.

Sausage-Stuffed Zucchini

4 medium zucchini, the fatter the better

1 lb. Italian sausage or ground beef*

½ of a medium yellow onion, diced

½ of a red bell pepper, diced

4 oz. plain or herbed goat cheese**

In a large saute pan, heat a tablespoon of canola oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and pepper and saute for about 5 minutes or until they begin to soften and brown slightly. Add sausage or beef, breaking it into bite-sized pieces as you brown the meat.

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Meanwhile prepare the zucchini. Wash the zucchini and remove any blemishes with a vegetable peeler. Cut the zucchini in half length-wise and using a spoon or vegetable peeler, gently scrape out the inside seeds and pulp so that you have a little zucchini boat. Lightly spray a casserole pan or deep baking sheet and arrange zucchini in the pan, skin side down.

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When the meat and vegetable mixture is done cooking, distribute the filling evenly between the zucchini halves by spooning it. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 or until zucchini are soft. Remove the pan and the foil and crumble the goat cheese over the zucchini, allowing it to melt. Serve hot.

Using ground beef

Using ground beef

Using Italian sausage

Using Italian sausage

*If you use ground beef instead use 85% lean and be sure to salt each layer, adding about 1/2 tsp in total to start (and then season according to your taste). I also added 1 T. fennel seeds to give it that sausage flavor. I found the sausage was salty enough without adding any extra salt. Don’t drain the fat from the beef as I feel there wasn’t much of it and it added some flavor and moisture.

**I added fresh chopped rosemary and basil to spruce up my plain goat cheese the second round.

For the chickpea fritter recipe, I followed Joanne’s at Fifteen Spatulas, leaving out the onion, curry, and garlic powders and adding about 3 chopped scallions. I used canola oil and just a little bit in non-stick pan to fry them.

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