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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Catching up on life and cooking…

Seattle summer happened a few months ago and it was beautiful – green, sunny, not too hot. Little humidity! I guess I got so caught up in it that I forgot to post on my blog! We also spent the summer house-hunting and now we are home owners! I guess I can blame that search for taking up a lot of our time. As usual though, I have done plenty of cooking and eating since the last time. Here’s a quick taste of just some of the things I’ve been cooking. (If you follow me on Instagram, however, you can keep up with my cooking and life a little more regularly – @erinthecooker)

Summer Berry Buckle (NYT), Blueberry and Peach Crisp, Black Bean Salad, and homemade Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Jam filling for a former co-worker.

Here’s a photo of our beautiful living room in our new house! (Don’t mind the Zappos box that I forgot to remove when taking the photo.) Don’t you love the orange front door?!

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I also made a Snickers pie (no Snickers actually in it, but rather a pie trying to imitate a giant Snickers!) It was rich, but it was a hit! I improvised the recipe off a Pinterest one I had saved months ago. The cake below is a chocolate stout cake.

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Having a house also means we now have a backyard and our very our own grill! We got to work right away grilling zucchini, chicken, and sausage. The photo on the right was a delicious Vietnamese-style noodle salad with grilled chicken. In the end, the recipe tasted very similar to one of our favorite Boston food trucks, Bon Me! Thanks again NYT Cooking!

Now that fall is upon us I’m looking forward to making some apple pie, pumpkin bread, and other cozy treats. Hopefully the next time you hear from me will be sooner rather than later!

Happy cooking!

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!

 

 

Post 45 – My weekend in food

Today all I have for you are pictures. Savor them.

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The new “super food” – chia seeds. Stir them into any liquid and they will firm up like a gel. I used them to make raw, vegan pudding.

photo(57)Sweetened with dates and maple syrup.

photo(58)My farmers’ market bounty!

5 lbs peaches

2 large zucchini

7 ears of corn

2 bags (4 heads) red leaf lettuce

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$14

IMG_3419Celebrating a friend’s belated birthday is always a good excuse to make this marbled cake with browned-butter frosting and cocoa nibs.

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45 or more minutes later…

IMG_3423Delicious peach butter!

Stir into yogurt. Use as a topping for chicken. Eat it with peanut butter on toast.

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IMG_3417Zucchini squares and fresh corn on the cob!

Definitely a delicious weekend.

Post 41 – Transitions

The sun rises and sets earlier now I’ve begun to notice. Now when I wake up at 6:00 am the sky hangs dark and seemingly cloudy, instead of the summer sun telling me I’ve slept too long. Then in the evening when Sam and I sit down for dinner too late, we have to turn the light on instead of relying on the lingering sunlight to illuminate our table. I know, it’s all part of the transition from summer to fall and onward, but I hate transitions. They’re rough.

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Transformation, on the other hand, is beautiful. Taking flour and flavor and frying it into little puffs that are soft and fragrant makes me grateful that things can change. Ingredients can change if nothing

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I had to go back to work today after a whole week off last week (I know, wah wah wah) and suddenly the transition from summer mode to work mode is making me itch. I did “work” this summer, but the job definitely felt more seasonal because it was a short stint and the weather and constant guests stopping in kept me happy. It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. After getting past the transition and into the new routine nothing is ever really that bad, but it’s the in between that gets uncomfortable.

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When it comes to making transitions easier, familiar foods can help. Or you can just buck up and accept that things are changing and try a new recipe for goodness sake! That’s the approach we’re taking here – do one thing every day that scares you! Remember that?

So a few weeks back I teased you with some pictures of a sausage stuffed zucchini without sharing the recipe. So here’s the scoop: kitchensurfing is doing a special Boston restaurant week menu where people pay a fixed price for a three-course meal that a chef offers, and I am offering this beautiful sausage, onion, and red pepper stuffed zucchini with goat cheese as my main event. Assuming none of you are going to go giving away my secrets, I’ll share the recipe with you here. But please don’t tell! Trust is the word.

I also FINALLY used the chickpea flour (after enjoying experimenting on gluten free chocolate chip cookies and gluten free cornbread – both highly successful) for a panisse­-like recipe: chickpea fritters. These babies are gluten-free, tasty little nuggets flavored with cumin and coriander and pumped up with fresh scallions. They are kind of falafel-like except smoother and softer. Serve them as an appetizer just as they are, with a homemade yogurt dip, or tzatziki sauce.

Sausage-Stuffed Zucchini

4 medium zucchini, the fatter the better

1 lb. Italian sausage or ground beef*

½ of a medium yellow onion, diced

½ of a red bell pepper, diced

4 oz. plain or herbed goat cheese**

In a large saute pan, heat a tablespoon of canola oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and pepper and saute for about 5 minutes or until they begin to soften and brown slightly. Add sausage or beef, breaking it into bite-sized pieces as you brown the meat.

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Meanwhile prepare the zucchini. Wash the zucchini and remove any blemishes with a vegetable peeler. Cut the zucchini in half length-wise and using a spoon or vegetable peeler, gently scrape out the inside seeds and pulp so that you have a little zucchini boat. Lightly spray a casserole pan or deep baking sheet and arrange zucchini in the pan, skin side down.

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When the meat and vegetable mixture is done cooking, distribute the filling evenly between the zucchini halves by spooning it. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 or until zucchini are soft. Remove the pan and the foil and crumble the goat cheese over the zucchini, allowing it to melt. Serve hot.

Using ground beef

Using ground beef

Using Italian sausage

Using Italian sausage

*If you use ground beef instead use 85% lean and be sure to salt each layer, adding about 1/2 tsp in total to start (and then season according to your taste). I also added 1 T. fennel seeds to give it that sausage flavor. I found the sausage was salty enough without adding any extra salt. Don’t drain the fat from the beef as I feel there wasn’t much of it and it added some flavor and moisture.

**I added fresh chopped rosemary and basil to spruce up my plain goat cheese the second round.

For the chickpea fritter recipe, I followed Joanne’s at Fifteen Spatulas, leaving out the onion, curry, and garlic powders and adding about 3 chopped scallions. I used canola oil and just a little bit in non-stick pan to fry them.

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Post 17 – Tuesday is the new Friday… sorta

Happy Tuesday!

Yes, that’s what I said. Pass it on!

I was walking home this afternoon, my mind glazing over from a tired Tuesday when I was awoken from my daze by the kindness of a stranger. Just a block from my apartment, a young man surprised me with a sincere, “How’s it going? Happy Tuesday!” His quiet greeting was followed by a nervous laugh as if he was slightly embarrassed by his own gesture. The greeting so threw me off guard that all I could do was smile in response, left in awe at the simple joy left by his kindness.

You know what? I think the world needs a little more joy on Tuesdays. I know that people love Fridays, but let’s say we give Tuesday a little love. I’ve always looked out for the underdogs (like the time I did my state report on Iowa because no one else had chosen to study the state before. Remember that, Mom? All the other 4th graders were fighting over Hawaii and Florida because they had sunshine and rainbows going for them, but I chose Iowa and all I got was corn.) Let’s hear it for Tuesdays!

I’ve been busy with life the past few weeks (getting ready to move, summer job hunting, life contemplations), but that’s not to say I haven’t been cooking nearly every day! Because variety is the spice of life, I’ve been trying to incorporate new recipes when possible and document them when I can.

Here are just a few food snapshots for your viewing pleasure.

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I take advantage of nights when Sam is gone to cook foods he doesn’t like. Here is a simple (but delicious) sautéed shrimp with scallions, white wine, and pasta. Oh and a jar of peas. That’s how I eat my peas these days…

Best thing to do with extra zucchini (other than make zucchini bread) – zucchini chips! Mmm – sweet and savory!

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The photo below is from a kitchensurfing gig I did. Smoked Salmon on Toasted Baguette and Cucumbers, Caprese bites, and Spinach Hummus.

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Dinner was Lemon and Herb Salmon, Mediterranean Couscous with Roasted Tomatoes and Kalamata Olives (and some plain couscous for the kids), Mixed Greens with Feta, Cranberries, Roasted Pumpkins Seeds and Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Roasted Green Beans.

IMG_2314Dessert!  Strawberry Rhubarb pie! Pictured above pre-crumble and pre-bake.

Pictured below after baking. One for me, and one for them. (Gotta test out the recipe first – sheesh!)

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Happy Tuesday! Pass it on!