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.

Winter slow-roasted tomatoes

Merry almost Christmas! Why am I posting about tomatoes? It is the first day of winter and tomatoes are at their peak in the thick heat of the summer, not in this cold, cold winter. The reason is a few weeks back my mother-in-law gave me a quart of cherry tomatoes. My father-in-law had bought them at the supermarket because she likes to munch on them year-round, but apparently he had bought the wrong kind so she passed them along to us in case we would eat them.

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Ready for the oven

I consider it a gift (or a curse) of mine to not waste food. I either try to repurpose it or eat it as is. Sometimes I forgive myself if I realize I’m taking it a little too far and I will throw something away, but most of the time I try to think of creative ways to use it. Though I like tomatoes, I don’t get excited about eating them by the handful, particularly in the off season when they tend to be lackluster. When I worked at a country club in Ohio we would roast the little beauties in a low oven with dried herbs and oil until they puckered into sweet, intensified tomato gems. To be honest, I can’t remember how we served them after that: on salads perhaps, or as part of an appetizer. However you decide to use them, they will make a most excellent winter condiment to spice up your lunch sandwich, mix into your pasta, or to toss into your green salad. There is really no recipe, just guidelines, so take them with a grain of salt.

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Blistered and beautiful

Roasted Tomatoes

inspired by Smitten Kitchen

1 quart of cherry or grape tomatoes

1 head of fresh garlic

salt, pepper, and other herbs

olive oil or canola oil

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees F. Rinse tomatoes and slice in half from stem to bottom. Toss to coat in oil, a tablespoon or two maybe. Sprinkle with coarse salt, pepper, and other herbs desired such as thyme, rosemary, or basil. Break up the garlic into cloves (unpeeled) and toss with tomatoes. Spread on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and roast until puckered and sweet. This should take 1-2 hours. Let cool or use right away. You can keep the garlic cloves whole and peel them before use or peel and chop finely or mash into tomatoes. If you don’t use right away, feel free to store in the fridge with a little bit of oil. Note that if you use olive oil it will solidify around the tomatoes in large yellowy chunks, but it will liquefy again when heated.

Possible uses: Mix into pasta, soups, salads, or sandwiches.

Vegetable Galette & Mixed Berry Tart

Here in the Pacific Northwest, people love to hike. With plenty of beautiful hiking trails within a reasonable distance, from the Cascade mountains to the east of Seattle and the Olympics to the west, it is easy to see why. When I was a kid my family used to take a lot of camping vacations. We packed our gingersnaps (for carsickness, Mom told us), our tents, and our sleeping bags, and hit the road to camp, hike, and cook on a propane stove. I have many fond memories from our camping trips, like Dad’s rules of camping and the invention of our fake band, Faulty Gravity, but I also remember the hard parts: washing dishes in a basin in the woods when dish-washing at home was already a chore, walking to the bathroom at night with a flashlight, and sleeping on a slowly-deflating mattress with your two sisters as you slowly sank down to the cold, hard earth.

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We did some hiking while we camped and most likely did lots of complaining along the way, as kids often do. In fact it seemed like a long time before exercise became enjoyable to me. My days in Boston taking buses, walking from the bus, or biking to work taught me to appreciate my legs’ ability to carry me a farther distance than I believed. Now I run when I want to, walk because I enjoy it, and hike knowing I can come home and sleep in my own bed, on a real mattress.

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Me walking across a rickety bridge over a bubbling stream

This weekend my friend, Zack, invited me for a hike out near Skykomish. We wore our warmest, water-wicking clothes (and packed extra just in case) and drove out into the foggy mountains of Washington. The hike was beautiful. I felt nothing but a sense of appreciation for the present. I felt calm. I felt in awe of the beauty of nature surrounding me.

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Look closely at the pattern etched in this piece of bark – apparently it’s made by a certain kind of ants!

Along the trail Zack shared his forest knowledge, pointing out various trees, plants, and blackberry leaves, which he informed me grew like a weed in the forest. We shared a snack on the trail of soft Brie and bread, but on the drive home we found ourselves hungry and talking about all the delicious things we wanted to eat. While most food sounded good during our discussion, I found myself inspired by the emerald-green trees and the blackberry leaves to make a meal worthy of such natural wonder.

With the cold drizzle of a typical Seattle day I wanted something both wintery-warm and light, consisting primarily of plant-foods to reflect the day’s hike. I settled on a vegetable galette, very loosely adapted from this one by Melissa Clark. I made half as much dough for a less heavy meal and added sauteed rainbow chard and mushrooms for more veggies. I roasted sweet potatoes to use instead of the pumpkin, but then ended up leaving them out of the galette to keep as a side dish instead.

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The results were not as beautiful as the hike, but satisfying and delicious all the same. And after reading this great article, In Praise of Ugly Food, I hardly cared that it wasn’t the picture of food porn perfection.

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Of course, the blackberry leaves also had me craving a berry tart to follow my veggie pie. Despite the fact that berries aren’t exactly in season, I decided to make my dreamed-up tart, and why not?  When berries are in season hardly anyone wants to run the oven to bake a pie anyway. Winter was perfect pie-baking time.

So I made myself a triple berry pie with fresh blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries and it was delicious.

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Triple Berry Tart

Crust:

1.25 cups all purpose flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1 T. sugar

1/2 stick of unsalted butter, cold

3 T. shortening, chilled

3-4 T. ice water

Filling

4 cups mixed berries*, rinsed and shaken of access water

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

the zest of one lemon

In a medium bowl measure out the 1.25 cups of flour, salt, and tablespoon of sugar. Stir to mix. Cut your butter into chunks and stir into flour to coat, along with the shortening. Using a pastry cutter or breaking up with your fingers, blend the butter and shortening into the flour until the pieces are pea-sized. Drizzle in water, starting with 2 tablespoons and gently stir to moisten the flour. Add more water until your dough can come together into a ball. Don’t overdo it! Flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for an hour.

When your dough is chilled, mix together your berries, flour, sugar and lemon zest. It helps to rub the zest into the flour or sugar so that it doesn’t clump. On a floured surface, gently roll out your dough to an even thickness, about 1/4 inch. Aim for a circle, but as a tart this doesn’t have to be a perfect circle. Carefully transfer to a parchment-lined sheet pan. Top with the berry mixture and fold the excess over the top to help contain the berry juices once it starts cooking.

Bake at 375 F for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling. For best results, let cool before slicing to allow the filling to gel somewhat.

*I used 6 oz. of blueberries, 6 oz. of blackberries and 9 oz. of raspberries.

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When you take a bite, think of the blackberries that grow wild in the forest, blanketing the ground with their dark, bumpy fruits.

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Quick Whole Grain Pizza – Happ Happ Hurrah!

In my house we never order pizza. It’s not because we don’t like pizza or because we think it’s unhealthy. It’s because we are spoiled… Let me explain.

Upon finishing grad school a few years back, my husband declared he was going to start making bread from scratch. Slightly skeptical but totally supportive, I bought him the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, figuring with his culinary background (or lack thereof) and schedule this would be a perfect book. Soon after he impressed me by actually reading the introduction to the book and telling me there were a few other tools we needed. We invested in a pizza stone and pizza peel and have since put them to excellent use making homemade bread and homemade pizza. And as he had promised, there was actually a period of time where he made homemade bread!

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Though it has been a while since he’s done any bread baking, we now have a pizza stone that we use occasionally for bread and pizzas. So why are we spoiled? Have you ever baked homemade pizza on a pizza stone? I highly recommend it – you get a crisp, chewy crust with a nice rise from the preheated stone. When you have a pizza stone that makes delicious pizza at home, it’s hard to spend money ordering pizza or going out. You can easily save yourself money and customize your pizza when it is homemade, so why would you order in?IMG_1615 Nonetheless, pizza making takes time. For our recipe you have to make the dough, let it rise for 2 hours, refrigerate it, preheat the stone, roll your dough, top it and bake it. Most nights when you come home from work you want dinner ready as quickly as possible. This healthy pizza can be your fast solution and it’s just as quick as ordering delivery. The ingredients are basic and the toppings are customizable. You may even have everything in your fridge already.

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Forgive the weird prints on the parchment paper. I reused the paper after roasting my sweet potato slices!

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Spelling or translation error: recipies? Recipes for pies?

This recipe comes from a wonderful book my sister-in-law gave me called Happ Happ Hurrah. This colorful book of healthful, fresh recipes comes from the Happ restaurants located in Luxembourg and Iceland. Someday we will go to the restaurant when we visit them in Luxembourg (where they live now!) The dough comes together in 5 minutes – no rising, no waiting – and bakes in 10. After that you top your flatbread-like crust with whatever you like and throw it back in the oven to melt the cheese. IMG_1609IMG_1611Happ has recommendations for four different types of pizza, but you can top it however you like. I did a combination of two of them using roasted sweet potato slices, fresh mozzarella, basil, peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes. We also added grated Parmesan for a little extra saltiness. They baked up beautifully and we both enjoyed them (I didn’t know what to expect from Sam, but he gave them a sincere thumbs up). We made them small so that we could personalize our pizzas.

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Quick Whole Grain Pizza Crust

adapted from Happ Happ Hurrah!

makes 6 personal pizzas

2 cups + 2 T. whole wheat flour

1+1/4 cup mix of the following: rolled oats, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds (see note)

2 T. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. salt

2 T. cream of tartar (optional – see note #2)

1 cup warm water

1/2 cup olive oil

toppings of your choice

Mix all dry ingredients. Add water and oil and stir carefully. Add more whole wheat flour if the batter is too sticky. Gently knead the dough and divide into six equal parts. Gently stretch or roll each part of the dough into a small circle. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 400 degrees F. It should be lightly browned on the bottom when you lift it off the sheet. Turn the oven temperature up to 450 degrees F. Top your pizza as desired and return to the oven. Bake for 5-10 minutes or until toppings warm and cheese melts to desired browness. Cool slightly and enjoy!

Note: The original recipe calls for 3 dl. of oats, sesame seeds, muesli, and sunflower seeds. I did about 2/3 of that in oats and filled the remainder of the cup with a tablespoon of sesame seeds and the rest in roasted, salted sunflower seeds. Feel free to try purchased muesli, use only oats, or try your own ratios of seeds and oats.

Note #2: When I have made bread or pizza it always contains a leavener such as yeast or baking powder or soda. I looked up the properties of cream of tartar, assuming that must give this pizza some rise. Though I learned that cream of tartar is a natural by-product of wine-making, it is still unclear to me its role in this recipe. It is an acidic ingredient often used to make baking powder though it is more commonly used by itself to stabilize egg whites in angel food cakes or other baked goods. This particular recipe didn’t seem to get any benefit from it in terms of rising, though I did not test the recipe without it. Proceed at your own risk!

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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 112 – Ginger Ale Carrots & Plenty of Noodle Salads

IMG_1378The most enticing looking recipes are usually the carb-loaded, sugar-sparkled, cheese-sprinkled ones. Am I right? The most pinned recipes on Pinterest are always the gooey double chocolate brownies, the “easiest, creamiest” mac and cheese, or the “you won’t believe it’s Paleo” chocolate fudge pie. These are the ones we see over and over again. These are the ones that get the most attention. For most of us in our real lives, we can’t eat the gooey-est brownies or the fudge pie every day for every meal and still feel good. Vegetables may not be as glamorous but you gotta eat ’em too.

When picking out recipes for my Cookbook Challenge I try to find recipes that I am 1) interested in eating (duh!) 2) somewhat different from what I would normally make and 3) that add to a balanced diet. I know that last one sounds a little ridiculous, but to be honest I am constantly doing food math equations in my head. I am not an RD (yet?) but I do like to eat a varied and healthy diet as much as possible. When figuring out what to eat for breakfast I often consider what will be for lunch and dinner. Will I be eating chicken? Am I having a salad? Should I lay off the toast for breakfast since I’ll be having a sandwich for lunch? Though I don’t always strike a perfect balance, by the end of the day I like to know that I’ve eaten the important categories in close to the right amounts.

IMG_1379 While I do love many vegetables, they can be easy to leave out of a meal or daily diet plan (for the reasons mentioned above – veggies just aren’t as seductive as bread, cheese, and chocolate). Carrots haven’t always been my favorite, but recently I have come to enjoy them, especially when roasted. Roasting them (like roasting meat) helps caramelize them, turning the crunchy orange sticks into soft and golden-brown carrot fries. This recipe gives them a similar softness and sweetness with the aid of ginger ale. Though the ginger flavor isn’t super strong (perhaps it depends on the brand of ginger ale you pick – next time I might add some fresh ginger too) these carrots are luscious and beautiful as a side dish (I served them alongside the roasted pork. Their bright color might just be enough to catch your eye on Pinterest despite the other tempting options. The recipe comes from a beautiful book out of South Africa. A family friend of ours went there as a Rotary Scholar and helped to write this cookbook with two other young American women and the South African women who farmed there.

Ginger Ale Carrots

7 large carrots, cut in sticks 1/4-1/2 inch thick

2 T. unsalted butter

heavy pinch of salt

1 cup ginger ale

1/2 tsp.-1 tsp. chili powder

1 T. chopped parsley

Heat a sauce pan or large skillet over medium heat and add carrots, butter, salt, and ginger ale. cover and bring to a simmer. Once the mixture is simmering, reduce the heat to low and cook for five minutes. Remove the lid, add the chili powder according to your taste, and increase the heat to high. Allow the ginger ale to reduce to a glaze, stirring frequently for another four to five minutes, or until carrots reach desired tenderness. Pour into a serving dish, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

IMG_1390Another cookbook full of beautiful vegetable recipes is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. Famous for his restaurants in London, UK, this particular book is full of vegetarian fare, but with plenty of Pinterest drool-worthy recipes. I had a hard time picking just one recipe to make from it so I opted for two different noodle salads. Both include a tasty assortment of vegetables and/or herbs that will have you forgetting you’re even eating vegetables. They too would make a lovely side dish or a lighter main meal.

The first has all the flavors of summer and would make a lovely summer meal because it can be served cold and made ahead of time. Soba noodles with eggplant and mango has a nice sweetness, saltiness, and tang plus plenty of fresh herbs for a flavorful, summery taste.

IMG_0794The second recipe is one I have easily skipped in the table of contents many times simply because I didn’t recognize what it was. This dish is called Mee goreng and is apparently a popular Malaysian street food. It is relatively quick to prepare, simple, yet flavorful. I left out or substituted a few of the ingredients simply because I couldn’t find them, but the main flavors are there. I served this dish hot, though I’m sure it would be equally delicious leftover cold the next day.

IMG_1389IMG_0792Though the poor lighting doesn’t show it (I need to get better at my food photography skills!) these salads are made with two different types of noodles. I have included a photo of the packages below so you can get an idea what to look for if you aren’t familiar with different types of noodles. Soba noodles are made with buckwheat (and often wheat as well though gluten free 100% buckwheat ones are available) and the Mee goreng is made with fresh egg noodles (not to be confused with dried egg noodles – lo mein is more what you’re looking for here).

IMG_1398Both noodles have a nice chew to them and take on any flavors you put on them (though the buckwheat has more of a nutty flavor that some people don’t like).

Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango

adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

1/2 cup rice wine or rice vinegar

3 T. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

grated zest and juice of 1 lime

1 cup canola oil

2 eggplants, cut into 3/4-inch dice

8 oz. soba noodles

1 large ripe mango, peeled and diced

1.5 cups basil leaves, chopped (Thai basil if you can, but in smaller amounts)

2.5 cups cilantro leaves, chopped

Start by preparing the dressing. Dissolving the sugar and salt in the rice vinegar either by warming it slightly on the stove or in the microwave. Set aside to cool slightly. Finish the dressing by adding the garlic, sesame oil, and lime to the vinegar mixture.

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium and shallow-fry the eggplant in batches, flipping the pieces as they brown. Remove to a colander, sprinkle with a bit of salt and let sit to drain.

Bring a medium saucepan to a boil and add salt. Cook the soba noodles according to the packaging, drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

Combine the noodles, dressing (you may not need it all), eggplant, mango and fresh herbs. Toss and serve immediately or refrigerate for later.

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Mee Goreng

adapted from Plenty

2 T. canola oil

1/2 onion, diced

14 oz. firm tofu, drained and squeezed gently dry

4 oz. green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

4 oz. bok choy, cut into large chunks

9 oz. fresh egg noodles such as Nasoya

1.5 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/4-1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 T. reduced sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup water

Set a wok or a large pan on medium heat with the canola oil. Once hot, add the onion and saute for a minute or so to soften. Meanwhile cut the tofu into 1/2 inch strips. Add the tofu and green beans and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to give the tofu some color. Stir gently so as not to break up the tofu too much.

Next add the bok choy. Once wilted, add the noodles (you will not boil them before) and spread them out carefully using tongs. You want the noodles to get a lot of heat, almost to fry. Mix gently, cooking the noodles for about 2 minutes. Now add the spices, soy sauce and water and cook until the noodles are soft, carefully scraping the bottom to keep the noodles from sticking too much. Taste, adjust to taste with more soy sauce, hot sauce, or water and serve.

Tip: The noodles will clump together a little if you don’t help to break them up. I cut the noodles in half with a knife before adding them to the skillet since I found them to be particularly long. I found this helped with the clumping a little.

Happy vegetable eating!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Post 102 – Sushi making

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With all the snow falling this time of year (in Boston especially), I find myself leaning toward the heavy, filling foods: meaty, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of food. Winter time means you load up on the food that keeps you warm and satisfied. You bust out the crock pot and get your oven cranking so that you can make all of the thick stews and freshly baked breads needed to fill you up. I love a big pot of Cincinnati Chili or Beef Stew, but after a few days, I find myself wanting to balance out my heavy meat consumption with something a little lighter, but this time of year most veggies seem scarce and a summer salad hardly seems appealing. So how do I lighten things up?

In general I try to eat a balanced diet and as wide a variety of all food groups as possible. Nonetheless I still struggle on a daily basis with what I should be eating for my diet in general. More protein? More veggies? Less fat? More fat? The answer I give myself is constantly changing. After reading this National Geographic article on the evolution of diet, though no more enlightened on the issue of what to eat, I realized the wide diversity of diets that are sustaining people across this planet. I began to think about how grateful I am not to have to hunt for or gather my food. I do have to lug my groceries back from the store, (less than a mile away, though in this snow it’s more of a chore) but I’m not afraid of not having enough to eat because I have to catch dinner. In this country we are privileged to have so many choices of what to eat. Without this choice I would never be asking myself what should I eat. Perhaps the ability to choose itself is something to appreciate.

IMG_1204So I’m getting my veggies in today via sushi. Admittedly most of the veggies are eaten outside of the sushi, but hey I ate them so that counts for something. If you make your own sushi, you’ll realize how few veggies really fit inside.

IMG_1206After college when I lived in Ohio for a short time before moving to Boston, I enjoyed volunteering at a small cooking school associated with an upscale grocery store. In exchange for helping to set up and clean up I got to watch each chef in action and keep the recipes from the class. It was a great gig and though it could be exhausting, it gave me a good introduction into the professional culinary world. I loved the nights I volunteered at a cooking class. In one of the many classes that I went to we learned to make sushi.

IMG_1207Of course after going to the class and seeing how relatively do-able it is to make your own sushi, I got suckered in to buying the sushi rolling bamboo mats, which I use every now and then (including for this week’s school cooking club!). I learned that just learning how to cook the rice correctly takes years of training in Japan! Sushi making is definitely a skill.

IMG_1208I filled mine today with carrots, cucumber, avocado, and shrimp. I used brown rice because that’s what I had on hand, but there is a special type of sushi rice available that has the right stickiness for sushi.

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IMG_1210Served with thin slivers of pickled ginger, soy sauce, and the extra fillings on this side, this made for a tasty way to eat my veggies! It makes for a nice break from the usual heavy winter fare.

IMG_1212Sushi Rice

It’s hard to write a real recipe for sushi as technique is easiest demonstrated rather than described and fillings can be whatever you want. One way to make your sushi extra… er sushi-flavored (?) is to make sushi rice. After you cook your rice, whether it is actual sushi rice or just short grain brown rice, mix in a mixture of rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt. You’ll want about 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, and an 1/8 teaspoon of salt per half cup of uncooked rice (though you’ll add this mixture after cooking).

Stir the vinegar, sugar, and salt together to dissolve the mixture. When the rice is done, spread it out on a plate or a sheet pan to help it cool and let out some of the moisture. Drizzle in some of your vinegar mixture, carefully folding it into the rice. Taste and add more as desired for flavor. Be careful not to add too much as you want your rice to be somewhat sticky, not wet. Use your sushi rice to spread on Nori (seaweed) and top with fillings as suggested below for your sushi. Enjoy!

Possible fillings

cucumber, carrots, avocado, red pepper, scallion – cut in long thin strips

cooked shrimp, smoked salmon, tofu, cooked chicken

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Post 98 – Homemade Chicken Pot Pie

Happy New Year! It’s 2015!

We’re supposed to be eating more chocolate and doing fewer jumping jacks and packing on the pounds for hibernation, right? No? Since when did winter mean resolutions – green smoothies, early work-outs and cutting back on holiday sweets? If we can’t eat all the delicious foods that help us gain that extra fat as we hunker down for the cold weather, than I’d rather just sleep. That’s what winter should be all about – hibernation! Well, at least we can pretend on snow days… that is if we get any.

If your goal is fat and happy hibernation food, then here’s a good recipe for you. Or if you’ve made a resolution to do more cooking, here is something you can try: Chicken Pot Pie. Now don’t be scared – it’s not as hard as it sounds (or if it is as hard as it sounds see below where I’ve given you some simplified options while still maintaining the “homemade” feel.) You start with a pie crust (one of my favorite things to make because I get to use my favorite kitchen tool – the pastry blender (pictured below).

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The best kind involve flour, butter and/or shortening, salt, and ice water. It’s as simple as that. This extra flakey recipe also adds a little egg and vinegar. Don’t ask me why the vinegar, but trust me. It’s good. You want the fat to be cold and the water to be cold because the chunks of fat in the flour is what gives you your flakey pie crust. You can also use your hands (equally fun) to break the fat up into the flour. You’ll want it to look like this (this one I did by hand).

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Now I know you’re probably nervous because the chunks are uneven and large and ugly, but this is what will make the most delicious pie crust ever. Add your liquid ingredients and gently mold it together. Don’t knead, don’t overwork, just bring it together so it holds in one piece and embrace the shaggy dough that you’ve made. Wrap, refrigerate, and wait.

IMG_1124Now for your pie filling. Cook some chicken – poached to keep it simple and mostly hands off.

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Saute some vegetables – the usual trio of onions, celery, and carrots (or leave out the onions if you’re like me and they seem to bug you).

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Add some flour to thicken it and slowly ladle in chicken broth to make your sauce. Add your shredded, cooked chicken and some peas and ta-da! Was that so hard? (Ok, ok different strokes for different folks.) I will break it down for you below.

IMG_1132Roll out your chilled dough. Cut some slits for breathing. (You see those giant butter chunks in there? That’s okay! It’ll be great!)

IMG_1133Pour your filling into a dish. Tuck your crust in and put in the oven. Everything is cooked but the crust so this is really about getting a good golden-y crust. Egg wash will help you with that one.

IMG_1137See that flakey crust? Yum!

IMG_1139Chicken Pot Pie. Hibernation. Ready, set, GO!

Chicken Pot Pie

adapted from Ree Drummond’s recipe

For the crust: (double the recipe if you want a bottom crust)

1.5 cups all purpose flour (I did 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour in mine)

1/4 tsp. salt

6 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

6 T. cold shortening, cut into 6 pieces

1 egg, beaten

2 T. ice cold water

1.5 tsp. white vinegar

In a medium bowl (or food processor if you must) mix flour and salt briefly to blend. Add in butter and shortening and toss briefly to coat in flour. Blend with a pastry blender, your hands, or two knives to break up the fat into smaller pieces. Drizzle the ice water, vinegar, and HALF of the beaten egg over the mixture and gently mix to combine. If necessary use your hands to bring the dough together. Save the remaining beaten egg, cover, and refrigerate. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to a day. When ready to bake, remove the crust from the fridge 10 minutes before to making it easier to roll.

For the filling:

3-4 chicken breasts (about 1.5-2 lb.)

6 cups chicken broth

3 T. unsalted butter

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

3 stalks celery, diced

1/4 cup flour

frozen peas, add to your liking

In a large saucepan lay your raw chicken breasts, without overlapping if possible. Add enough cold water or chicken broth to cover by a few inches (for me that was 6 cups) and put the lid on. Bring to a light boil, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile start your veggies. After 10 minutes, use a digital thermometer to check your chicken breasts. They should all be at least 165 degrees. When done, remove and set aside to cool. Reserve chicken broth! If you used water to poach the chicken broth, measure out your remaining water and add enough bouillon to flavor it (I use Better than Bouillon). OR heat up 4 cups of chicken broth in a separate saucepan until warm.

In a large skillet melt the butter. When it begins to foam add your chopped veggies (an onion too if you like) and saute for 5 minutes or so until they begin to soften. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and stir. Cook for a few minutes to incorporate the flour. This will help thicken your sauce. Now gradually add your chicken stock, one ladle at a time, stirring carefully as you add. You will notice the sauce will thicken immediately. Add the stock to your liking. I find 3-4 cups seems the right amount for me. The filling will thicken a little more as it cools so you don’t want it to be too thick.

Chop or shred your cooled chicken and add to the filling along with peas if desired. Stir and taste. If it’s bland, add some salt. If it’s too salt, add a little water. Then remove from heat and pour into a deep dish pie pan.

On a floured surface roll out your dough to the size of your pie plate. Cut slits in a few places to let the pie breathe. Place on top of your filling, tucking in carefully to avoid burning your fingers. Crimp the edge if you like. Brush with the remaining beaten egg you saved (you may not need all of it). Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Let cool and enjoy!

Shortcuts

Buy Rotisserie chicken instead of poaching the chicken – you’ll want 2-3 cups worth of meat

Buy chicken stock (notice I didn’t give you a recipe to make your own!)

Buy pre-made pie crust (It’s okay – I forgive you)

Buy frozen carrots – if you do this, use an onion to develop some flavor and then add the carrots in at the end with the peas.

And if you’re looking for more winter delicious-ness…

Make this delicious sweet potato dish!

Yum!

Yum!

Post 94 – Beets & Sweets

The leaves are gone. The cranberry-walnut bread is gone. Winter’s cold has sunk its claws into the leaf-strewn earth. It is fall here in Boston, but the temperatures have dropped dramatically already and I fear we have a cold, cold winter ahead of us. I love the beautiful fall colors, the cozy smells, and the seasonal flavors, (Pumpkin everywhere! Quick – get it before it’s gone!) but I hate to think that winter is coming.

Nonetheless it will come and with the passing of time so will the spring and then the summer. Life beats on and the sun rises and sets again and again. For now we must embrace all that we have and enjoy the moment.

Speaking of enjoying the moment, I have been reading about meditation lately in an effort to take a more holistic view of health. As a kid I always thought of meditation in the stereotypical way – sitting with your legs crossed and your fingers forming O’s in the air while you hummed “ommm” and reached a higher state of being. However, from what I’ve recently read, it seems meditation is not about reaching enlightenment in the way I may have originally thought. Meditation is about being present in the moment. It’s a practice that takes, well, practice, but can be used to enrich your life and daily experience. Meditation goes along with mindful eating. If you are present with your food and in the moment when you eat a meal, you are less likely to overeat and more likely to feel satisfaction from your meal. The act of meditation may not help you to reach Nirvana, but the act of being present and mindful may eventually give you more satisfaction with your life.

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If changing what we eat does not fix our food woes, perhaps changing the way we think can. (Read this interesting article for a lesson on awareness.) Taking a moment to relax and reflect before a meal can help you to ease into digestion mode. Eating slowly and in good company will help as well. These are strategies to relax and prepare yourself for a meal eaten mindfully. If our lives do not satisfy, there are many things we may want from our food instead – comfort, companionship, acceptance – but we are unlikely to get them from the food itself. Practicing meditation helps us to live in the moment and be thankful and aware of what we are living and receiving right now. I am grateful for the cold weather that helps me to appreciate the warm weather.

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With the cold weather brings the root vegetables. I love sweet potatoes in particular and beets I enjoy in moderation. Mostly I love their beautiful fall colors and their naturally sweet flavors. Check out those swirls in the beets! Since I’m always suckered into buying those root vegetable chips at the grocery store (like Terra or Trader Joe’s) I decided I’d try making my own. I sliced my veggies as thin as I could without slicing my fingers off (no mandolin slicer here), tossed them in oil and salt, and roasted away. They were delicious, but they didn’t get as crispy as I wanted them to without burning so I’ll have to play with the recipe more. Nonetheless they satisfied that sweet and salty craving and kept me from eating a whole bag of chips (not usually my weakness).

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Being mindful and practicing meditation is sometimes easier said than done. On a daily basis there are so many things going on in our lives and going through our minds that it can be tough to remember all the promises we’ve made to ourselves every moment – eat less, lose weight, be kind, be patient. Sometimes being present in the moment is the best we can do.

Thanksgiving is coming. Be grateful.