Vegging Out

This week, Steve and I are vegetarians!  While we have a stash of good ol' beef dogs and turkey burgers for Henry, the two of us are trying out going meatless to see if we eat better, feel healthier, etc... Its not going to be a complete lifestyle change or anything like that, but if nothing else it's a fun challenge for meal planning! (Yes, I think meal planning is fun...)

Monday kicked things off well with a Caprese sandwich, or at least what was supposed to be. I toasted the sourdough and roasted the tomato slices which made them really sweet and concentrated, but because we didn't have mozzarella, I used goat cheese instead, and then topped it off with basil. So good...

We didn't actually get to eat together tonight, but I spent part of the afternoon making a pretty healthy risotto with the thought that we could re-heat the leftovers as needed to keep up with the vegetarian theme of the week. Yes, I realize that this recipe does use chicken stock so its not truly vegetarian, but its the thought that counts, right?!

I find I always let my risotto go a little bit to long. I used 5 cups of chicken stock when I should have stopped myself at 4.  Test your rice as you cook - it should be cooked through but still have a little bite to it. It will keep cooking as you add the rest of the ingredients, and if you cook it to perfection before that point, it will end up a bit mushy. The flavor will still be great, but it won't be creamy and luscious like it should be.

Summertime Risotto
Adapted from Self.com

1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
2 cups diced zucchini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups nonfat chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter butter
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Salt & Pepper

Heat oven to 250°. Gently toss tomatoes in 2 tsp oil with a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with tin foil. Bake for 1 hour.

Heat 1 tsp oil on medium heat in a medium pan. Cook garlic and half the onion until translucent; add zucchini and cook 5 minutes. Puree zucchini mixture in a blender with lemon juice and 1 tbsp oil. Add 2/3-3/4 cup of the roasted tomatoes and puree until completely incorporated.  Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a medium pot on medium heat and sauté remaining onion until translucent. Add rice and cook 2 minutes. Gradually pour in wine, stirring until rice absorbs wine. Add broth 1 cup at a time until absorbed, stirring continually for 20 minutes or until rice is tender (add more broth if necessary). Once rice is cooked, stir in zucchini puree, butter and cheese.

Top risotto with remaining roasted tomatoes and enjoy!

Serves 6


Fancy & Simple

Because we have a few herb plants on our deck this summer, I've been looking for ways to use them (for more than just decoration anyway). This is a super-simple way to make your bread a bit more "fancy." Its so good that I may or may not have had a cold piece of this bread for lunch the next day. If you really want to be really fancy, you can call it "French Bread with Chive Garlic Compound Butter." Or to be really really fancy you can call it "Pain français avec du beurre de composé d'ail et ciboulette." But I'll just call it...

Chive Garlic Bread
From "Taste of Home"

1 loaf french bread
6 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. chives, finely chopped/snipped
1 garlic clove, minced

Preheat oven to 350.

Cut the loaf of bread into 1 1/2 inch slices, not cutting all the way through the bottom of the loaf. Place on a sheet of tin foil long and wide enough to wrap around the bread.

In a bowl, combine butter, cheese, chives, and garlic. Spread on each side of each slice of bread. Wrap in the tin foil and tightly seal the edges.

Place on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes or until heated through.

Serves 6-8

Image from http://www.cookinglight.com/


What We (Will Be) Eating

It all started about 2 years ago. I was wandering through Cost Plus World Market on a Friday evening when I came across the clearance food rack. This was a favorite in the store because it was a nice way to try food I wouldn't otherwise have given a second glance. And on that clearance food rack was a packet of dill pickle mix for canning. Now, I've never canned before, but I remember having lots of mason jars of pickles, tomatoes, and peaches in our basement growing up. So I decide to give it a try myself!

It took about a week to get all of the supplies together (jar lifter, jars, lids, bands, cucumbers, etc...) but the next Friday night I gave it a shot. To be honest, they weren't my favorite; they were a little on the sweet side.  But that got me to try freezer jam, canning cranberry sauce, strawberry rhubarb jelly, and a few others, mostly in the freezer-preserving category.

I found myself running out of freezer space and also in posession of a Barnes & Noble gift card. I was wandering around trying to think about what I could buy, when I saw this:

I have about 20 "to try" recipes dog-eared right now, but I started simple with the basic pickled vegetable recipe. Its about two pages long and really detailed, which makes it perfect for a beginner like me. If you find yourself in a bookstore, check it out. Its pretty fun. And in about 5 weeks, I'll let you know how the pickled cucumbers and carrots taste!


Good & Simple

It used to be that whenever I bought bananas, at least one, usually more, would go brown on our counter. Then into the freezer they'd go until I had enough to make a batch of banana bread. These days, we're going through literally three bunches of bananas a week since they're Henry's favorite food, so we don't get to have brown bananas anymore. So Wednesday, I took matters into my own hands - I put three perfectly yellow bananas into the freezer because I wanted banana bread.

I've tried lots of recipes for banana bread. Some are sweet or exotic (and these were both tasty), but this one is just banana bread - plain and simple. Or good and simple. Or delicious and simple. Because you don't need to mess with the flavor to make it delicious. If you have a good texture and good bananas, that's really all you need.

I'm going to share with you the key to making banana bread, and its something I stumbled upon by necessity. Storing bananas in the freezer (see above) makes them very mushy inside. All you have to do is let them thaw at room temp for about 30 minutes (or if you're like me and don't have the patience, thaw them in the microwave), cut off one end of the banana in its peel, and squeeze the banana into the bowl like you'd squeeze frosting out of a bag.  This isn't a pretty sight - Steve was at first grossed out and then fascinated by this. But you hardly have to mash the banana after that, and I like the texture it gives the bread. So there you have it. Freezer bananas are the way to go.

Note: In order to make sure I was spelling "bananas" correctly, I sang the one line from "Hollaback Girl" in my head a number of times while writing this post (B-A-N-A-N-A-S!) But it was the one from "The Office" when Kelly sang it. Not the Gwen Stefani one. Too much language. :)

Banana Bread
From Lois Smits

2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup mashed banana (about 3)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9x5x3 inch bread pan.

Sift flour, soda, powder, and salt together and set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar, then add eggs until well-combined. Add flour mixture and bananas alternating between the two. Beat well after each addition. Fold in nuts if using. Pour into the prepared pan and let sit for 15 minutes.

Bake 45-60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (it will look golden brown before it is actually done - test it to be sure).

Makes 1 loaf. Will last maybe 2 days, not because it goes bad, it just won't last.



This summer, I'm trying something new - a garden! More specifically, our garden is a container garden on our deck. I'd love to have a big garden in our backyard, but I don't always know what the neighbors put on their lawn, and I don't know if I want to eat whatever it is! So Roma Tomatoes, Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes, chives, basil, and cilantro are all growing splendidly on our deck. The best crop so far has been the basil - throw it in bruschetta, pasta, eat it plain... But the chives and cilantro have made brief appearances as garnishes as well.

The real up-and-coming stars, though, are going to be the tomatoes.

We at our first cherry tomato today, and can I tell you how sweet it was? It tasted so tomato-y. We've had green tomatoes on the vine for about 5 weeks now, and I'm getting a little antsy, although I suspect that they'll all turn red at once and we'll have tomatoes coming out of our ears. But we'll share! What could be better than bruschetta or salsa made with tomatoes and herbs from three steps away? It doesn't get much fresher than that.


Deep Breath...

Today, I cooked salmon for the first time. Ever!

I really love cooking and trying out new recipes, and I think I'm pretty good at it too (patting self on back:). However, seafood has always stumped me. Frightened me. Unnerved me. But today, I was at Meijer and they had salmon, you guessed it, on sale, and it looked so nice. So I decided, "Its now or never."

I get home, and hop online to my favorite recipe sites - epicurious, Smitten Kitchen, Orangette, Food Network, and Pioneer Woman. Didn't see much that looked good until I went to the Tasty Kitchen section of PW, and (angels singing) there it was. Salmon in a Foil Packet. Its easy, there's little to no clean-up, and I like everything that goes in it! To paraphrase Joey from Friends, "Garlic, good! Wine, good! Lemon, good! Butter, gooooooooood!"

A few notes as I was making it...
~ Our salmon filets came with lots and lots of bones in them. Fortunately, they were big enough that they were easy to find. (Although I found myself wishing for one of those really fine needle nose pliers like they use on Top Chef. But I just wanted them to look cool.) Steve and I both noted that it did make us slow down and concentrate more on chewing our food which sounds strange, but is really interesting when you think about it. You taste more flavor and are more aware of texture. Plus, its good to slow down and unwind at the end of a busy day.
~ I would use more lemon. The garlic was pretty powerful, and I like garlic so it wasn't all bad. But the wine got lost in the shuffle. So next time: same garlic, less wine, more lemon juice.
~ Use good dill!  Whether its a newly purchased dried dill or a bit of fresh dill, use good dill! We just got the faintest taste of it and it was quite nice, though we would have liked more. Our dill was over 1 year old... too long.
~ And don't forget Ina's rule, "If you're cooking with wine, make sure its wine that you would drink."

And the salmon was delicious!

Salmon in a Foil Packet
Adapted from carmelasmythe on Tasty Kitchen

Olive oil
1 pound salmon filet(s)
1/3 cup white wine
Juice from 1/2 medium-small lemon
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dill
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a large square of foil on a sheet pan and sprinkle lightly with olive oil. Place salmon filet(s) on top.

Drizzle white wine and lemon juice over salmon, and sprinkle on garlic, dill, salt and pepper. Dot the cubes of butter evenly on top of the salmon.

Bring up sides of the foil to fold/roll together and create a nicely sealed packet. Leaving packet on the sheet pan (to save a crazy mess in the stove, you know), bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven, but don't open the packet, and let it sit for an additional 5-10 minutes. Fish is ready when it is opaque and flakes with the touch of a fork (don't look for it to be that whitish-pink all the way through - it'll be overcooked).