Monday, June 27, 2011

Bowl of Goodness: Roasted Veggies Over Rice

Sometimes simple really is best!  No need for a fancy marinade or complex procedures...just some good seasonal vegetables, roasted, with some brown rice and you have a colorful, flavorful, healthy meal!

Roasted Veggies.  They are just so versatile, beautiful, simple, tasty and healthy!  I love to roast a pan of summer vegetables.  I almost always make some kind of exclamation out loud as I am pouring them on the baking sheet to roast.  "Wow! Look at the colors!" or "Yum! It doesn't get any better than this!", or "Mmmm! This looks so good!"  Sometimes we make them with brown rice for a simple one-bowl dinner, or sometimes to go with pasta and tomato sauce.  We sometimes grill chicken to put with it - mostly to appease the males at my table.

The fun part is that you can use whatever vegetables you want.  Whatever you like, whatever you have on hand.  You can serve them as a side dish or with pasta, on rice, on polenta, couscous, as a main dish.  You can spice them up or keep them tame.  We love them topped with shredded parmesan cheese.  
It's a great way to serve a variety of veggies in one dish, where each one keeps its unique flavor but they are prepared together.  (And you can include the veggies that you know your eaters will like and they might even try another along the way.)

Prepare them with salt and pepper as seasoning (and garlic cloves and onions) and have additional seasoning/sauces available on the table.  In our house, the guys adore soy sauce.  I prefer a kick, like some Cholula hot sauce, or crushed red pepper or Sriracha (Thai hot sauce.)  And we all like cheese on top...parmesan, feta, cheddar or whatever you like.

Simply select your veggies.  I like to include: onion, garlic, bell peppers (all colors), asparagus, carrots, zucchini, and squash.  You can add fresh basil or other fresh herbs.
Clean and cut the vegetables into large pieces. 
Place in a bowl.  Drizzle with a thin stream of olive oil.  Toss to coat all vegetables.
Season with Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper (to taste).  (You can add other seasonings of choice at this point if you'd like...but they are yummy just the way they are). Dump onto a large pan lightly sprayed with cooking oil - spread evenly in one layer.  
Dinner is served!
Cook in a HOT oven (400 degrees) and after 15 minutes or so, use a large metal spatula to gently flip the veggies around.   Continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so.
When veggies are tender yet have a golden exterior, remove from oven and they are ready to eat!

I especially like them with brown rice.
Brown rice is prepared just the same as white long grain rice; it just takes much longer to cook (about 45 minutes).  You can put the rice on the stove and while it is cooking, you have time to prep and roast the veggies to go with it! 

My bowl of goodness

Here's to summer and dinner with roasted vegetables as the main attraction!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Snickerdoodle Celebration

This has been an exciting week at our house.  Dave, my husband, has been working on an album for the past few months and this week we got them from the printer! I had been thinking about what kind of celebration goody I should make for him and he suggested Snickerdoodles (his favorite cookies).  That very day we saw my sister and she, coincidentally, brought us/him a sack of Snickerdoodles that she had made.  I said to him, "Oh great! You got your Snickerdoodle fix!"  However, that was not what he was thinking.  He saw the cookies she brought as more of a foreshadowing of even more snickerdoodles to come.  He gobbled hers up (and shared a couple with the family) and then I made some more.  I read recently about adding a little kosher salt to the cinnamon sugar mixture in which you roll the dough.  I thought that sounded like a nice twist but Dave wasn't so sure.  But we tried some that way and we liked them!  It is a subtle change but a nice addition.  
I am not sure what it is about these cookies, but he can't seem to eat an appropriate amount of them.  They are soft and cinnamony and sugary.  In fact, let me illustrate his lack of self-control with these cookies with a story from our marital history.

About 12 years ago, Dave was traveling to a conference center in North Carolina, a 5 hour drive, to lead music at a week-long event.  I thought it would be nice to send some homemade cookies with him for the week, as I knew he would be eating camp food the entire time.  I made him a batch of Snickerdoodles (about 3 dozen) and sent him on his way.  He called me when he arrived at his destination that afternoon and let me know that he had made it safely there and that he loved the cookies.  I said, "loved...past tense?".  He said, "Yeah, weren't they for the drive?" To which I replied, "You are going to be sick! They were for the week!" Unbelievable!  Needless to say, I can't make these regularly in our home, he won't let me- he knows he has no restraint with them.

2 sticks of butter, softened
1½  cup sugar
2 eggs
2¾  cup flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. kosher salt

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix butter, sugar and eggs thoroughly. Mix together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, and stir into above mixture.  Form dough into balls about the size of walnuts. Roll in mixture of sugar, cinnamon and kosher salt. Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet as they will grow and flatten.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees.  Let sit on baking sheet for a couple of minutes, then move to a cooling rack.

I wish I could give you a cookie sample on-line, but that's impossible.  However, I can give you a little music sample. (Well, actually, I can get my computer-smart husband to give you a little sample through this widgety thingy.  I wouldn't have a clue how to do this - or click here if you don't see anything below.) You can take a listen below.  Just click on the arrows on the far left beside each song to hear a little.  Hope you enjoy!  The CD is a collection of Hymns, old classics and a couple of new, modern hymns.  I think it is so well done, with great instrumentation and arrangements.  I am loving it! I couldn't help sharing with you some of the other things that have been cooking at our home lately.  Check it out.  And make a batch of cookies while you're at it- and see how fast they are devoured!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fruit Skills

There are many things that you learn in life along the way that become second nature to you.  It’s often not until someone comes along- a college roommate, a boyfriend/girlfriend, a friend, or perhaps a child -  and takes note of it, that you become aware of your knowledge.  It happened recently with my son about typing.  He was watching me type away at my computer when he said, “How did you learn to type that way?” And “Do you think I will ever be that fast at typing?"  I said, “It’s amazing isn’t it? that you don’t know something and then someday you learn it and then you know it for the rest of your life!  It even becomes second nature!"  I told him that I owe my ability to type to Ms. Banks at West High School, for teaching me this valuable skill.  My sister and I believe it was the single most important thing we learned in high school.  

I realized a while back that a skill I had taken for granted that my mom taught me is selecting and preparing fruit. When I go to the grocery, I start with the produce section (my favorite spot in the store). If I pick up a cantaloupe, I put it to my nose to see if it is ripe.  I pull back a little of the corn husk on an ear of corn to see if the corn is in good shape.  It’s fun to shop with my kids who now thump the watermelon or look for spots on the quart of strawberries. 

So, since it is the season for wonderful fresh fruit, I thought I would pass along some tips that I've learned about the selecting and the cutting of a few seasonal fruits.  These may be second nature to you, but if not, hopefully these tips will come in handy. 

Cantaloupes are a little tricky to select because the ripeness is not very obvious. You want to avoid one with soft, mushy places. The outside should be a little able to “give” when held in your palm and gently pressed.  You want to look for melons that are golden in color, not green.  The other clue is the belly button. Smell this spot.  Oddly, the smell you are going for is not a good smell or even a cantaloupe smell, but rather a kind of sweet, musky scent.  If there is no smell at all it is probably not ripe or flavorful.
[Watch the price.  Sometimes they are priced by the pound and other times by the piece.  If by the piece, I want to find the biggest one, that also meets my aforementioned standards, so I get the most for my money!]
Using a large knife with a pointed tip, slice the fruit in half.

Cutting the cantaloupe.

Using a large spoon, scoop out the seeds from the inside and discard.
Run your knife along the bottom of the fruit between the orange and green. Then slice longways and serve as long slivers.

or mustaches!
or cube it for a salad for easier eating. 
The outside of watermelons is pretty consistent.  I give it a good look all over to make sure there are no bad spots, give it a good thump and listen for a thud- a hollow sound- to make sure it’s full of juice and then take it home!  I find that watermelon is much easier to store once cut up (as it is so large and cumbersome), but as soon as you cut it up, it loses some life expectancy.  Sometimes I slice it in ½ and cut up one ½ to keep in a container (or eat immediately) and leave the other ½ intact. 
Here’s how I cut it.
Using a large knife with a pointed tip, slice the fruit in half and then in quarters

Run your knife along the bottom of the fruit - between the red and the white

You can slice it anyway you like, large wedges, slivers, long pieces, cubes, you can get really fancy and use a melon baller and scoop it out into balls! 

My kids love when I cut it with  “handles” (with the rind still on).  There are pros and cons to this.  The pros are that it requires no silverware, it’s less messy and it's fun.  The cons are that it takes up lots of room on your plate,  lots of room in your container or dish and you have to deal with the left-over “handles” once they have been eaten.


Similar to cantaloupes, the mango's outside is not always telling.  Some great tasting, ripe mangoes are yellow, some are red, orange, or green.  The trick to selecting is placing it in the palm of your hand and gently squeezing it to see if it "gives" a little. It should not be soft, nor should it be hard. You can, however, buy ones that are harder and they will ripen at home.

Then the slicing.  The challenge is the long-shaped pit that is fiberously connected to the meat of the fruit.  It is trickier than a peach or plum in that way.  I have found that the key is to run your knife alongside the middle, just up a bit and let your knife guide you in knowing where the pit is.  Slice horizontally above the pit.

Using a large spoon, move around the edge of the fruit between the peeling and the meat to separate the fruit and scoop it out.  
Place on a cutting board and slice in slivers or cubes.
Repeat this on the other side.

 Holding pit, peel the remaining strip of peeling and then carve around pit to get all of the meat you can.

If you are wishing for a recipe to try, I recommend you practice your mango skills with this
Mango Avocado Salsa (and Fish Taco) recipe.....mmmm!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kicky Chickpea Salad

Last summer when I started blogging, I wasn't sure what it would be like. I didn't know if I would really enjoy it.  I mean, I love food, taking photos, telling stories, and sharing tips from the kitchen and "philosophies" of life.  However, I was hesitant about this whole blogging thing.  Would it be fun? Would anybody read it?  But I thought it was worth the risk!  Little did I know that it would be a creative outlet that I would CRAVE each week; that during the week I would be thinking about what yummy recipe to post and what tips to share or story to write.  I didn't know until I tried it how very much I would like it; that I would take photos all the time in the kitchen just in case the dish was worthy of writing about.  

Well, Spicy Chickpea Salad is a lot like my relationship with blogging. Chickpeas 
(Garbanzo Beans) have never been my favorite legume, except in Hummus.  They don't have a lot of flavor and they have an interesting texture.  So, I wasn't sure how I would feel about this recipe, though it sounded really tasty with a list of ingredients of flavors that I love.  

And I am so glad I tried it because I really love this salad.  When I first made it last month, I ate it for lunch and dinner until it was gone.  And then I made it again a couple of weeks later for a dinner gathering at our house and people asked for the recipe, (which is always a good sign that I should post it).  This dish is so packed with flavor that I crave it! As I made it twice last month I made a few changes from the original recipe.
I got this recipe from Joy the Baker.  Do you read her blog?  If you haven't already found her, you must check her out.  She is HILARIOUS! In some ways we are alike (mostly in food tastes) but in other ways we are different.  For example: she is much, much funnier than me- she makes me laugh out loud; she loves her cat (who frequently shows up in blog photos); I love my kids (who frequently show up in blog photos); she lives on the west coast- I live in Tennessee; she is single and younger than me, and her life is much zestier than mine.  But we are both very passionate about food and cooking.  When I read her descriptions of food and see photos of her beautiful creations placed on lovely dishes with great linens, we seem more alike than different.  I love that about food.  It is a great unifier, isn't it?

I am so glad I tried this risky salad. It's been an unexpected pleasure. Kind of like blogging.

Here's the recipe:

Kicky Chickpea Salad

Adapted from joy the
In a large bowl toss together:
2 (15 oz.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup finely diced red onion
½ to 1 whole jalapeno pepper, deseeded and finely diced

½ tsp. lime zest
juice of one lime
1/3 cup salted, roasted almonds, finely chopped
1 ripe avocado, diced into chunks
small handful flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (optional)

4 cups baby spinach leaves (save until end)

In another bowl make dressing:
2 cloves garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
½ tsp. kosher salt
heaping 1 tsp. mustard (yellow or whole grain)
1 tsp. honey
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
¼ cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mash garlic and salt with a fork until it forms a paste.  Blend in the other ingredients ending with the olive oil.  Drizzle the olive oil in slowly until mixture is thick and emulsified.  Add salt and pepper to taste…if any is needed at all.

Toss the dressing into the chickpea mixture and blend well.  Add the spinach leaves. Combine well to coat.

lunch: leftovers+ extra spinach & sliced tomatoes

For lunch I added some sliced grape tomatoes to my leftovers and scooped them on top of additional spinach leaves.  It was a great, hearty, one-dish lunch!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summertime Smoothies

So I didn’t know until I was about to get married that it is appropriate to give your betrothed a gift for the wedding.  I knew all about the etiquette of gifting a bride and groom as a guest, but maybe because I had never been a bride before, I didn’t know about this tradition.  So I thought about what might be a good gift to give to Dave, my husband to be.  I also let him know that I was trying to think of what wedding gift to give to him.  His reaction indicated that this whole bride-groom gift-giving tradition was news to him too.  We were babies.  We were clueless.  We were happy to be marrying each other. So he bought me this fun necklace with a heart charm and I bought him this classic blender from Williams Sonoma. 

I thought it would be a fun gift since he loves milk shakes and it seemed so timeless.   So I bought it.  A Waring Blender- 2 speed.  The challenge is that, though it is classy and pretty, it is tough to make a good, thick shake with it.  Just after we got married, Dave began to work at a restaurant that made ridiculously amazing milkshakes out of Haagen Dazs ice cream.  They were thick and were presented dramatically. The trick was that they prepared them in a Kitchen Aid Mixer.  A mixer…not a blender! We have used this technique, and though it takes a ton of ice cream, it makes a lovely milkshake.

Speaking of milkshakes, I feel like I need to confess something. I learned the hard way about not placing spoons into the blender while the blender is running.  When I was in high school, my friend and I were making chocolate shakes and when it clogged as it was blending, I carefully removed the lid, ensuring that it wouldn't splatter everywhere.  I stuck my wooden spoon into the blender to move things around a bit.  Sudddenly, I heard a loud zzt  sound and my spoon jerked.  Uh oh!  I realized that I needed to turn the blender off before sticking an object in (profound, I know).  All was well until we were eating the milkshakes and I discovered an "almond" in my chocolate shake.  I thought, "is this rocky road ice cream instead of chocolate?" That's when I removed the said almond and discovered that this "nut" was actually a chunk of the wooden spoon. Lesson learned.  Don't do this.  Learn from me.

So the combo of these events has led me to use this nice wedding gift blender to make some great smoothies and steer clear of milkshakes.

berry banana blast (Asher's name for it)
Do you like smoothies?  It's June 1 and, in Nashville, it's so hot already - it feels like smoothie time.
Now, I'm not into the $5-with-a-bunch-of-chemical-enhancers-added smoothies.  I am too much of a purist and too frugal.  I prefer blending them at home with some simple ingredients: yogurt, frozen fruit and juice.

 I wrote about over-ripe bananas in my last post, and in addition to banana bread, this is a great use of them!  Peel and slice your ripe bananas, throw them in a ziplock bag and place in the freezer.  Then they are ready when you want to make a smoothie.

ripe bananas sliced to put away

ready to be frozen

 banana orange mango smoothie
Basic Smoothie Instructions
1 cup or more frozen fruit- a combo or just one (I find that banana adds a great creamy element to all smoothies)
1/2 cup juice- of your choice- I use orange most often
1/2 cup low fat yogurt (vanilla or flavored- my favorite is natural vanilla)
a handful of ice and more IF the fruit you are using isn't frozen;

add honey IF the fruit isn't sweet enough
and a sprinkle of flax seed if you want to add some fiber and OMEGA 3 pow!

Blend together.  Turn off blender and stir if it clumps.  Repeat until smooth and well blended. Drink with a straw.

Makes 2 smoothies- 1 to eat, one to's a good way to live.

Make note of what you did that you liked and what you would change or add so you can remember the next time.  Then you can discover your favorite combinations.

My 9 year old is the smoothie connoisseur.  He loves them and requests them often.  Recently there was an insert in a food magazine that was on our coffee table that had 50 Smoothie recipes.  Asher loved the idea and excitedly chose some for us to make.  After trying a couple that he didn't love, and which required many ingredients (including flavored extracts, coconut milk, etc.), we agreed that simple is best.  So, I say, get creative with your variety of fruit, yogurts and juices, but keep it simple!
strawberry mango banana orange

This week we had mango and strawberry fruit salad for dinner.  We had leftovers and I knew that it would get yucky by the next day in the refrigerator, so I froze them.  This morning we used them in a smoothie with banana, orange juice, ice, and vanilla yogurt.  In a few minutes I heard the sound of success...slurping straws in empty glasses!