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.

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!

Post 89 – Pineapple Pulled Pork

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!)

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

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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IMG_4732IMG_4734Like a cabbage rose…

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

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And then enjoyed our tasty tart.

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Looking forward to turning these beautiful veggies into something yummy!

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Post 86 – Summer Pasta Salad

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

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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.

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Look at these beautiful roasted grape tomatoes!

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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.

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Basil chiffonade adds fresh summer flavor

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

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Put it all together

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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!