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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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.

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

Ming Tsai’s Spiced Ginger Cake

I always look forward to the summers with childlike glee. And not just for the sunshine, warm temperatures, and beach days, but for the summer produce. I think of the piles of emerald zucchini and fuzzy peaches at the farmers’ market stands. I pine for the days when there is fresh corn on the cob and sweet ruby berries. In winter or fall it always seems like summer weather and summer produce holds so much potential for summer magic – spontaneous backyard cookouts with fresh, colorful salads or that shiny, happy feeling when you see a beautiful sunset after the perfect day.

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So after all this talk of gorgeous summer stone fruits and squashes, why am I making a ginger cake in August? Here you are nearing the end of a hot and feisty summer season and you’re making what’s essentially a Christmas treat? Okay, okay, let me explain. 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

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!

Post 109 – Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage

Following a few days of eating that mac and cheese, which was delicious, I opted for a lighter recipe. This one comes from Nigella Lawson and her seductive book Nigella Bites.

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IMG_1338Though Nigella called for standard cabbage in her recipe, I opted for Napa cabbage as it is lighter in flavor and less densely packed per head. I find that even when I buy the smallest head of cabbage I can find, it balloons into this giant overflowing bowl once I cut it up. That amount of cabbage I will never eat by myself (and Sam hardly helps). With the Napa cabbage it hardly seems to be as big of a problem, or maybe it just depends on the recipe you turn it into.

IMG_1342Nigella also calls for fresh mint though I used cilantro instead. I prefer the flavor of the cilantro and I could not find mint at the store. Along with a few other slight variations, I followed the general flavors of her dish including the lime juice, fish sauce, and rice wine vinegar.

This salad is delicious with or without the chicken and would be particularly good in the summer. Served with the chicken, it makes for a delicious light lunch. Leave the chicken out and it would pair nicely with a hearty meat dish.

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A pepper mustache

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Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad

adapted from Nigella Bites

There are so many delicious recipes I could make from this cookbook – Chocolate Cloud Cake, Sticky Toffee pudding, pigs in blankets, and Deep-fried Candy Bars with Pineapple, but when choosing recipes I want to eat I have to keep some kind of balance and while sweets are delicious, I cannot live on them alone.

1 head napa cabbage

1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded

1/2 a bell pepper, chopped

chopped cilantro (to your tastes)

1 garlic clove, minced

1 T. sugar

1.5 tsp. rice vinegar or rice wine (Mirin)

1.5 T. lime juice

1.5 T. fish sauce

1.5 T. vegetable oil

1 cooked chicken breast, shredded or chopped

Rinse and remove the outer leaves from the cabbage. Shred with a sharp knife or a food processor and transfer to a large bowl. Mix in carrots, bell pepper, and cilantro. In a separate small bowl mix garlic, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and vegetable oil. Stir to dissolve the sugar and toss with cabbage mixture. Toss in cilantro. Mix in chicken or store separately and serve with the coleslaw.

IMG_1348Another cookbook done!