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.

IMG_3008

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.

IMG_3027

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!

IMG_3014

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.

IMG_3012

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.

IMG_3016

IMG_3019

 

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.

IMG_3022

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

Advertisements

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.

IMG_1623

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.

IMG_1620

***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!

Seattle Apple Pie

image(2)

We made it to beautiful Seattle and in a week’s time we have toured apartments, visited family and friends, walked around a hilly but beautiful new city, and eaten delicious food. Surprisingly I have hardly cooked in the last three weeks. Between staying at a hotel our last week in Boston and now staying with my in-laws, I don’t even remember how to do meal planning and shopping as all of our food has been prepared by others (and for that I am grateful!) Eventually we’ll have to get back to real life, but for now I’m enjoying it. Continue reading

Post 103 – Thai Red Curry or Things my mother taught me

IMG_1237

It is my mom who taught me to love color. Thanks to her, bright splashes of blues, greens, purples, and oranges or swirls and stripes of different hues often catch my attention. Mom is a quilter and the quilts she has made over the years range from beautiful seasonal-inspired designs to teddy bears and rainbows (no really – my sister’s quilt was a rainbow log cabin design and mine was based on fabric with teddy bears on it).

Besides that Mom has been a teacher for over twenty years. The colorful pins, earrings, and necklaces that she wore to school when I was growing up, seemingly to entertain her young students, were really because she enjoyed the colorful accessories herself. Mom also wore her fair share of, ahem, we’ll call them creative teacher sweaters, many of which probably inspired the ugly Christmas sweater parties people have today (sorry Mom). Mom taught by example and the colors she wore and the fabric she spun into quilts taught me all I needed to know about color.

IMG_1232

My mom also taught me to never follow a recipe twice. Actually she might have taught me to never follow a recipe. I resisted for years, but now unfortunately I think I’ve picked up on this particular habit. Oh that says 2 tablespoons of sugar. I think it really means eyeball 2 tablespoons or maybe don’t worry about measuring at all and it’ll come out just fine!

This explains why sometimes the recipes I give here can be a little bit vague. I can’t promise the accuracy of this one. You can thank my mother.

IMG_1233IMG_1234

Now when making recipes I am free to experiment (in most cases) and think outside the pages of the recipe. I start my dish based on a few recipes that I’ve researched ahead of time, but often I throw all caution to the wind and add whatever the heck I want.

This particular dish was inspired by a meal I enjoyed this weekend at a Thai restaurant. It was also inspired by all this snow! The warm and bright colors will brighten up all that white stuff outside and the smooth creamy coconut milk and curry will take the chill off your cheeks when you come in from the cold. This isn’t the American comfort food of yore, but it will certainly make you quite cozy in this winter weather.

IMG_1236

Mom also taught me to be grateful (and with all this snow I am reminded of how very grateful I am!). Especially when you are feeling down or bored, remembering all the wonderful things that you have can give you some perspective. (However, I don’t recommend using social media to soothe your sad soul or you will likely find yourself comparing your life to the glamorous snapshots of all your friends and acquaintances. I speak from experience, my friends.) On this snowy day in Boston (wait are those more flakes I see coming down right now?!) I am grateful for so many things, my wonderful mother included.

Thai Red Curry with Basil and Tofu

As with many recipes you can certainly substitute and play around with the ingredients. Change the vegetables, switch the tofu out for chicken, swap soy sauce for the fish sauce. Or better yet don’t even follow the recipe!

1 14-oz can coconut milk (I used full fat, but you can try light)

2-3 T. Thai red curry paste (Thai Kitchen brand)

2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 T. fish sauce (or soy sauce)

1-2 T. brown sugar

1 acorn squash

1 red pepper

1 zucchini

1 14-oz package of firm tofu

Fresh basil (Thai basil if possible)

splash of lime juice

Start by prepping your vegetables. Peel and remove the seeds from the squash and dice into 1-inch cubes, cut the zucchini into half moons, and dice the pepper as small or big as you like, keeping the pieces even so they cook at the same rate. In a large saucepan or cast iron skillet dump your first six ingredients – coconut milk through the squash. Over medium heat bring to a gentle simmer, lower the heat and cover the pan. Depending on how well done you like your vegetables you can add the zucchini and pepper and at this point too. Or you can let the squash get a head start and add the other vegetables after about 10 minutes of cooking. Drain your tofu and gently squeeze to remove excess liquid. Dice and add to pan with the other vegetables. Simmer, covered on low for another 10-15 minutes or until the tofu is warmed through and the vegetables reach your preferred doneness level. Garnish with a splash of lime juice and fresh basil. Serve over rice.

If you are making this with chicken, you can add the chicken pieces in raw – just make sure to let it cook long enough to cook the chicken all the way. With shrimp add 3-4 minutes toward the end as you don’t want the shrimp to get too tough.

Enjoy and stay warm!

IMG_1238

Post 89 – Pineapple Pulled Pork

Welcome to my first official low FODMAP recipe – this delicious and easy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork.

photo 1(36)

First things first, many recipes for meats or stews call for either garlic or onion or both, but both of these foods are fructans (from the F in FODMAP) and seem to be one of the highest offenders in the FODMAP group. Therefore low FODMAP recipes mean

No garlic

No onion

photo 1(35)

These two ingredients form the base of so many savory recipes, providing that umami flavor that is hard to replace. Do you know how many sauces, broths, and condiments already contain onion or garlic? Start reading labels and you will see that everything from ketchup to Worcestershire sauce to chicken broth all have at least one of these ingredients.

photo 2(32)

Since garlic and onion are found in nearly everything, to avoid them you often have to make your own sauces or go without. This recipe for pulled pork gets its flavors from the mix of spices (be careful of spice blends that contain onion and garlic), and some sweetness from natural pineapple juice. And the best part about slow cooker recipes is that they’re usually pretty hands-off.

photo 4(19)

Slow Cooker Pineapple Pulled Pork

inspired by this recipe

2 T. canola oil

3-4 lb. piece of pork butt/pork shoulder

1 T. brown sugar

2 tsp. Kosher salt

2 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1 cup pineapple juice

1/2 cup water

Begin by heating up the canola oil in your slow cooker on the “brown/saute” setting if you have it. If not you can either skip browning it or brown it in a pan on the stove. While it is heating up, in a small bowl mix together the brown sugar, salt, and spices. If desired, cut your pork down into 2 or 3 manageable pieces and remove any large slabs of fat on the outside. Rub your spice mixture all over the pork (you may not need all of it). When the slow cooker is sufficiently hot, add your spice-rubbed pork allowing it to brown on one side without moving it for a few minutes. You want a nice, crisp, brown exterior. Using tongs, carefully flip it over to brown the other side and cook for a few minutes (if you cut your pork into multiple pieces you’ll get more crispy, browned bits). If desired, flip to brown all sides (even the ends). Once browned turn the setting to low and add your pineapple juice and water. Cover and cook for 7-8 hours or until pork is tender and falling apart. Serve with barbeque sauce. OR For a stronger barbeque flavor, drain the juice after the pork is done cooking and add 1.5-2 cups of barbeque sauce. Let cook for another hour and taste.

Note: I found that though the pork was fairly tender after 8 hours in my slow cooker, I could’ve left it even longer (though I left mine in one piece from the beginning).

photo 3(29)

Remove from the slow cooker and shred. If desired, pour some of the juices over the pork or discard. Serve with your favorite barbeque sauce.

I paired mine with homemade gluten free cornbread found here (made with bacon grease) and low FODMAP barbeque sauce (although the pork is so good by itself you don’t need any sauce!)

photo 3(30)

photo 2(33)

Our upstairs neighbor brought us over some beautiful tomatoes from her community garden plot and we threw those in with our salad.

photo 4(20)

Yum! This was a delicious and low FODMAP meal, though the tomatoes might have been a little too acidic for me in the end. If this is the case for you, the pulled pork is totally delicious on its own without any sauces.

Bon appetit!

Post 87 – Blueberry Frangipane Tart

As a kid living in Ohio, our family vacations often took us to Michigan where much of my extended family lives and where we enjoyed summers on the lake and days spent blueberry picking. I remember each of us would have a giant bucket that we tried to fill as full as possible with the biggest berries. My mom loved to load up while they were in season so we could take them home and put them in the freezer for the dead of winter when we wanted a good pie or batch of blueberry muffins. A few years ago I got in my head that Sam and I should go blueberry picking around Boston. We took our time making plans and by the time we got around to it, we pretty much missed blueberry season. We got to the fields and picked less than a pint of blueberries and raspberries and returned home disappointed with our timing. I since haven’t tried blueberry picking in the Northeast, but I’ll always remember those summer days picking blueberries in Michigan.

photo 1(34)

This weekend we ventured to see our friends an hour south of Boston and we were in charge of bringing dessert. With blueberries bursting with deliciousness in every market this time of year, I decided to feature them in my dessert and of course I thought I’d make a pie. But not just any pie of course – psha! I have been dying to try this New York Times gluten free pie crust recipe so I figured this was the opportunity. Just in case it was lacking in flavor, I thought I’d fill my crust with frangipane – a buttery almond filling that transforms this instantly from pie into a tart (how elegant!) I followed this recipe from the Kitchn using the NYT pie crust as my base.

photo 2(31)And what a delicious tart it was. The crust was crunchy, the filling creamy but with a texture from the almond meal that added a nice mouthfeel and the blueberries melted into the whole thing. Scrumptious! Next time I might use a finer ground cornmeal and actual oat flour (instead of just finely ground oats) to make the crust not as gritty.

So there you have it: Blueberry Frangipane Tart (and gluten free too!)

photo 3(28)

And for those of you wondering… the wedding and honeymoon were wonderful! I can’t believe it’s August already. Time flies. I am back and back to cooking. (And I realized while on vacation that as much as I like to cook, I like taking a break from it every now and then. When I am well fed and other people do the cooking I am quite content.) Nonetheless I am back and ready to get back at cooking.

Our adventures in Attleboro also rewarded me with a pile of delicious farm-fresh veggies! We wandered the giant garden that my friend’s dad tends to with some other folks, marveling at the beautiful colors and shapes that mother nature gives us. The vegetables were made all the more beautiful by the fresh raindrops that landed on their leaves. Something about the purple cabbage blooming out into several feet made me think of some kind of fairy tale.

IMG_4730

IMG_4732IMG_4734Like a cabbage rose…

After picking as much as we liked, we returned to their place for fish tacos and games.

IMG_4738

And then enjoyed our tasty tart.

IMG_4740

Looking forward to turning these beautiful veggies into something yummy!

photo 4(18)

 

Post 86 – Summer Pasta Salad

Happy 4th of July! (Happy wedding month!) Happy summer!

photo 2(32)

If you’re looking for a delicious potluck picnic dish this July 4th, here is a crowd-pleasing pasta salad recipe. I based the idea on a simple salad my mom used to make for us in the summer. She’d mix pasta, kielbasa, chunks of cheese, and fresh veggies and toss them in a light vinaigrette. It made a nice summer salad because all you had to do was cook the pasta and the rest was assembled cold. My version calls for roasting the vegetables and pan-searing the sausage, which adds an extra layer of flavor that is not to be missed, though these steps do add extra time and labor and if it’s too hot to run the oven you might be tempted to skip it. However, if you make a big batch of this, you only have to run the oven once and you have lunch for the whole week. Try it once. I promise it’s delicious.

To roast your veggies, simply chop them up into even pieces (not too small as they do shrink slightly when roasting). Coat lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast at 400 degrees on a parchment lined baking sheet. The key to good roasting is spreading them out so they don’t touch each other.

photo 1(34)

Look at these beautiful roasted grape tomatoes!

photo 3(28)

Pan-sear the sausage for extra flavor. First cut the links in half lengthwise and then into bite-size pieces. Sear in a hot un-greased skillet for a few minutes on each side.

photo 2(31)

Basil chiffonade adds fresh summer flavor

photo 4(18)

And then your pasta of course – I chose Tinyada rice noodles this time.

photo 5(8)

Put it all together

photo 1(35)

photo 3(29)Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and a splash of olive oil. Add your favorite cheese in cubes. Refrigerate until serving time!

 

Summer Pasta Salad

(as usual this recipe has been written by estimating as I tend to not measure these days…)

1 lb. pasta

1 large zucchini

1 large summer squash

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, whole, unpeeled (optional)

2 T. fresh basil chiffonade

1 lb. kielbasa or Italian sausages, pre-cooked

balsamic vinegar

olive oil

1/4 pound cubed provolone or other cheese

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Half the tomatoes lengthwise and toss with a small amount of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Feel free to add a few whole cloves of garlic to roast with them as well if you like. Spread out on a parchment paper lined sheet pan and roast in the oven while you cut the squash.

Dice the zucchini and squash into bigger than bite-size cubes (they shrink as they roast) and toss with oil, salt, and pepper. Spread out on a parchment paper lined sheet pan and put in the oven with the tomatoes. Roast the tomatoes until they begin to shrivel and caramelize slightly, probably 25-35 minutes. Roast the squash until it browns slightly, turning the pieces and stirring them if desired for more even browning.

While the veggies are roasting, prepare your sausage. Slice in half lengthwise and cut into bite size pieces. Heat a large skillet on the stove over medium heat. When hot, add some of the sausages cut side down without any oil, (being sure not to crowd them) and cook for a few minutes before flipping to the other side to cook for a few minutes more. Remove the cooked pieces and cook the remaining sausages the same way. Let cool. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions (I recommend in lightly salted water), drain, and rinse with cold water.

Pour the pasta into a large bowl and toss with a splash of balsamic vinegar (start with 1 tablespoon at a time) and a bigger splash of olive oil. Sprinkle with black pepper and your fresh basil chiffonade. Toss well to coat. When vegetables and sausage have cooled, carefully stir them into the pasta. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary by adding more vinegar, oil, salt, or pepper. Add the cheese cubes or keep them on the side until ready to serve. They will be fine if you mix them in now, though they do become a little softer.  Refrigerate or serve slightly warm as is.

Bon Appetit!