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!

Stove Top Personal Pizza

Surprisingly I didn’t miss the snow this winter. Maybe a little bit, a tiny little itty bit, but mostly not. Winter in Seattle is mild, dark, cold, and rainy for sure, but no half melted slush, cold feet traipsing through half-shoveled sidewalks, sleeting ice in your face, and below freezing temperatures that require wearing leggings under your jeans and trying to decide if you should change out of them when you get too hot at work. Thank you, Seattle. Thank you for your mild winter that is slowly morphing into a beautiful spring!

Spring is gorgeous out in the Pacific Northwest! There are colorful flowers of every kind everywhere and though there aren’t many plants and parks in the city, there are plenty of places within reach to see nature’s beauty at it’s best: Golden Gardens, Magnuson Park, and Discovery Park to name a few. Even just running around Green Lake in my own backyard is a beautiful sight that I am grateful for every day. (It’s usually not that blue, but I’ll take it!)

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It still isn’t hot here yet, which I’m happy about, but the hot weather will be here before we know it, and with that the need to find meals that don’t require the oven (or at least not for very long). Last weekend, after returning from a run and feeling rather warm, I wanted to make a pizza without heating up the apartment. I had pizza dough and toppings ready to go and wanted to make something quick. Enter stove-top personal pizza! It goes in the broiler just a few short minutes at the end to brown the cheese (which I suppose you could totally skip) and then you quickly turn off the oven before the heat takes over. Perfect for a quick weeknight meal or a quick weekend lunch!

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Bon appetit!

Stove Top Personal Pizza

tennis ball size blob of easy homemade pizza dough* (see recipe below)

pizza sauce

cheese

toppings of your choice

Heat a large cast iron skillet or broiler proof pan over medium heat. Swirl a glug of olive oil in and let your pan heat up. Meanwhile roll out your dough on a floured surface until it is about a 1/4 inch thick. Make sure it is not too big for your pan! When the pan is hot, make sure the oil has coated the pan and carefully lay your rolled out dough circle in.

Now is the time to turn your preheat broiler to high. Allow your dough to cook in the pan for a minute or so, watching for bubbles to start forming on the surface. Using a wide spatula or tongs carefully flip your pizza and gently press down to brown the other side. You can also lift it up to check for doneness before flipping and give it a little longer if needed.

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Check out those bubbles!

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Top with sauce, cheese and other toppings and allow to cook on the heat another minute. Turn off your burner and carefully transfer the topped pizza to the oven to broil, keeping an eye out so the cheese doesn’t burn. Broil for 5-8 minutes, depending on your broiler and how well done you want your pizza. Remove, let cool, and serve it up! Be careful as it will be hot and fresh from the oven!

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If you totally want to skip the broiler you probably could, but don’t expect browning. You would want to just leave it on the heat long enough to melt the cheese and heat your toppings. You could also cover it with a lid to encourage melting, but you might end up with a steamed, soggy crust. Broiler is best and when I did it, it had hardly heated up so it didn’t make the apartment hot.

Happy spring! Happy eating 🙂

And if you want to make your own dough, here’s a recipe. Make ahead of time and store in the fridge for when you’re ready!

 

* Easy Homemade Pizza Dough – no kneading!

(makes enough for probably 6 personal pizzas) from Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day

1.5 cups lukewarm water

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)

2 1/4 tsp Kosher salt

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

2 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix the yeast and salt with water in a large bowl that has a lid. Add whole wheat flour and all-purpose and mix with a wooden spoon, using your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour if necessary (alternatively you can do the whole thing with a food processor or stand mixer). Cover the bowl with the lid, leaving it not completely sealed and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until doubled in size. Refrigerate until ready to use (dough is easiest to use when cold). Dough can be used for up to a week after making it if kept refrigerated.

 

 

Post 118 – Balsamic Green Beans and Spring!

Oh man, the weather here is BEE-YOU-TIFUL! It’s hard to believe the snow has all melted and we’re seeing green again. Right now all of our windows are open, there’s a perfectly cool breeze flowing in and the cats entertain themselves by staring out the window and listening to the birds (when they aren’t chasing reflections from our electronic devices.)

IMG_0846I am so very grateful for the beautiful weather and I’ve tried to soak up every wonderful moment of it before it gets too hot. To me the warmer weather means making flavorful salads and fresh dishes without using the oven. These green beans are made stovetop and remind me of the spring with their beautiful bright color and crisp snap. If you’ve only eaten canned green beans, you are seriously missing out. Fresh green beans can be enjoyed raw or cooked (to your desired doneness) and can make for an excellent spring side dish.

This recipe comes from a William-Sonoma kids cookbook gifted to me by the former summer camp director at school. She gave it to me as a way to encourage me to do more cooking with kids. Thanks in part to her encouragement, I ran my first (highly popular) cooking club this past spring! I had a nice group of five sweet kids for nine weeks and when it ended they all begged me to do it again. We had a great time and I would be happy to do it again!

IMG_1459You start by trimming your green beans (or having a child do this) and blanching them. Blanching is an easy technique for pre-cooking vegetables. Basically you throw them in boiling, salted water for a few minutes until almost cooked (think al dente pasta) and then you drain them and shock in cold water. I did my best to trim as little as possible off the ends of the green beans, remembering not to waste too much as told to me by the chef from my job at the country club. Anyway, I think I did alright. Nowadays you can buy trimmed beans anyway so you can save yourself the work.

IMG_1463While your green beans are blanching, you want to thinly slice a few shallots. They are a small purple-ish onion with a pretty pinky colored skin and milder onion flavor. You can use a white or red onion for this if you prefer. These shallots will be cooked down into a stringy, sweet tangle that adds a level of sophistication to a regular side dish of green beans. And if your children are Williams-Sonoma-sophisticated maybe they will cook them for you and even eat them! I’m not making any promises.

IMG_1464Once the shallots have cooked down to soft oniony strings, you add a splash of balsamic vinegar and your pre-cooked green beans. You just want everything to come together and the green beans to warm up.

IMG_1465Serve with a big helping of mashed potatoes (stovetop – no oven required!) or throw them in with a green salad and celebrate the colors of spring. Winter is gone baby!

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Post 73 – Cilantro Pesto

Cilantro – you either love it or you hate it. It tastes like soap or it tastes like Sunday nights at your cousins’ house with your aunt’s homemade salsa and salt-rimmed margaritas for the adults.

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I am one who happens to love cilantro. I also love pesto – herby, salty, with a creaminess you can feel less guilty about and a slight crunch here and there from whatever nuts you’ve thrown it. The great thing about pesto is its versatility. Pesto does not require an exact formula and ingredients can be interchanged to suit your tastes. In addition, it does not need cooking, making it a fast and fresh sauce perfect for the warmer months. While this month is not yet exactly warm, the days are getting longer (yay sunlight!), which gives the promise of an eventual spring and then summer.

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I had some leftover cilantro in my fridge from an earlier recipe and seeing as I wanted to use it up, I decided I could do a cilantro pesto. Using this recipe for inspiration, I eliminated the garlic and lime juice (for GERD’s sake) and substituted feta cheese for the cotija.

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The result was flavorful and spunky, the south-of-the-border cousin of the more popular basil pesto. Even better, I hardly noticed the lack of garlic and lime juice in terms of flavor. I drizzled it over some shrimp and quinoa (I love shrimp!) for a delicious lunch one day and served it with my chicken and cheese quesadilla the next day. AND this pesto got Sam’s approval.

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Cilantro Pesto

adapted from Simply Scratch

quantities estimated since, you know, I never measure anything (thanks Mom – you taught me well)

1 bunch of cilantro

1/4 cup nuts of your choice, toasted or untoasted (I used sliced almonds)

1/4-1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled

salt to taste

1/4 tsp. ground cumin (optional)

olive oil or canola oil (added to your preferred consistency)

 

Gently rinse the cilantro to remove all sand or dirt. Shake dry and roughly chop just so it blends more easily. Pulse nuts and cilantro in a food processor until well mixed and no more cilantro stems appear. Add feta and cumin and blend. Drizzle in a bit of oil (a few tablespoons to start) and blend. Add more oil if desired (or to cut down fat, add warm water to thin out to your desired thickness). Taste for saltiness and add salt if necessary (remember the cheese will add a fair amount of salt). Serve over your favorite dish.

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Wilted spinach, quinoa, and shrimp with cilantro pesto

Recommendations: Serve with fish, veggie burger, quesadillas, shrimp, or on toasted sliced bread.

Cheese and chicken quesadilla with cilantro pesto and sauteed spinach

Cheese and chicken quesadilla with cilantro pesto and sauteed spinach

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Post 72 – Catching up

March! Thank goodness. This is the month where I start to believe spring is coming soon (until I remember that last year on my birthday – the end of May – it was forty degrees and rainy!) Eh, I guess spring and warm weather may be a long way off, but here’s hoping. Why do I look forward to the spring? Sunshine, warmth, no ice to slip on, fresh fruit and vegetables in abundance! I will miss the snow days, but there’s always spring and summer break to look forward to.

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from my blog, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking (of course). I haven’t been bloggin because I haven’t been cooking anything crazy interesting lately, due to my continuing issues with GERD. I’ve resorted to fairly simple (boring) recipes as the list of foods that I can’t eat seems to grow longer and longer and so I haven’t taken many pictures of them. I am back to eating wheat and gluten (for now), but still experimenting with other foods that might upset my system. It’s frustrating for someone whose job and life revolve around food, but I’m figuring it out.

Here are a few photos of what I’ve made since my last post (all carbs and sugar since those seem to be the most photogenic recipes I make):

photo 1(20)Homemade chocolate peanut butter cups for my valentine

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The simplest, freshest, crustiest, homemade, hot-from-the-oven oat flour bread (from this book!)

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Classic Chocolate Chip cookies (my future mother-in-law’s recipe, with a twist)

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I hope to have more interesting recipes to share with you soon, but until the next time I hope these pictures will get you by. I only wish I had equally tantalizing pictures of beautiful fruits and vegetables! If that’s what you’re looking for check this out.

 

Cheers and here’s hoping spring comes soon!