Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pear & Gorgonzola Salad

I am not a huge fan of salads.  This probably stems from my dislike of lettuce.  How can I dislike lettuce?  The same way I can also dislike celery, raspberries, cantaloupe, and other generally well liked foods;  I do what I want.  Or rather I dislike what I dislike.  Anyway, I had it in my head growing up that salads were gross and tasted like dirty water.  That and I thought ranch was the only salad dressing ever created, and although I would put ranch on juuuuust about anything, I hate it on my salads.

Then one day I discovered a real game changer, and it was called spinach.  I love spinach salads, but am still pretty particular about what I allow on one.  Last year at our neighborhood's Labor Day party, the pastor's wife brought the most incredible spinach salad, and I'm here to share it with you today.

Through pictures.

Spinach.  Wash, trim, dry.  Put in a fancy bowl.

Pears.  Slice thin.  Arrange in a pretty manner.

Pecans.  (Or walnuts.)  Crack 'em.

Gorgonzola.  Sprinkle it.

Balsamic vinaigrette.  Drizzle.  Admire your beautiful salad.

Now put the actual amount of toppings you wish to consume on there.  Don't be shy, there's certainly not any judgement here.

Toss and enjoy!

If you've never had gorgonzola cheese before, it's kind of like a mild blue cheese.  Don't be afraid though.  I hate blue cheese and Hubs loves it.  To the point that I felt bold text was the only way to explain the extent of our respective emotions.  Anyway the gorgonzola is a happy medium for both of us.  Combined with the pear, it makes for a hearty salad also.  Be forewarned though, we ended up fighting over the above salad, and could easily have eaten twice as much.

Pro tip:  If you end up having to buy a five dollar tub of gorgonzola for one salad, toss the leftovers in the freezer (we leave ours right in the container) and it will be there whenever you need it!  We do this with feta, goat cheese, fancy parmesan, etc.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Art of Respawning Celery

I was a busy bee this weekend.  I canned for HOURS.  My feet were killing me; it brought about flashbacks of waitressing.  I felt like a wounded war veteran, remembering the horrors bestowed upon me.

In fact, canning is a bit like waitressing.  Even if you enjoy it, it's often hard to get yourself going.  Sometimes You swear during the process and promise yourself that you're really going to quit doing this crap.  By the end you are sweaty, somewhat stinky, almost always covered in food and with aching feet.  But once you have your pocket of balled up money, or your washer/dryer topped with beautiful jars of goodies (respectively) you realize it's all worth it.  I heard someone else relating it to childbirth, and I'd stand by that one, too.

Anyway, above is the haul of my weekend project.  French onion soup, turkey broth, spaghetti sauce, bread and butter pickles, hellish relish, and even some pickled cucamelons.  Sunday night at 10:30 when I finally finished, I told Hubs that he shouldn't expect much in the way of a clean house the next day.  My plan for Monday was to do as little as possible.  I even managed to take a nap!  Ha!  It was like the good ol' days!  (I used to take about 4 naps a day in college.)  The one thing I did have to do yesterday was take my kitties to the vet.  Fun times.

Poose was less than thrilled.  She sat on the console and panted during the trip there.  
She pouted in Boo's carseat on the trip back.

But I digress.  In order to feel somewhat productive yesterday, I decided to try and sprout some celery.  I had to buy a bundle of it in order to make my turkey stock, and my sister had shown me her growth, so I thought I'd give it a go.  There's one thing you should know about me, though.

I kill plants.

Any and all, I never discriminate.  If it's green, I'm mean.  The sad thing is, I love plants!  I like having them in the house to purify the air for the severely allergy ridden family I've collected.  I like having them outside to snip pretty flowers from, or to collect fruit from.  But aside from wisteria and philodendron (which you need a priest and some holy water to get rid of) I am a serial killer.  Practically the Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer of plants.  Well except I don't torture them, nor do I ever mean to kill them!  But you get the drift.

So I thought I'd do what my sis did with her celery, but send her a picture a few days later of how I managed to kill an already dead plant.

However, something strange happened.

It started growing...  You can see the middle nubbin starting to poke up.  Now I contributed this to some fluke in my celery cutting skills.  But by yesterday evening...

Apparently celery grows like a weed.  It "respawns" as my sister calls it.  I wouldn't disagree.  Pretty impressive for 12 hours after cutting, I thought!  

So anyway, I'll keep you updated on my celery spawning project.  I bet this would be a great plant project for young impatient minds.  Also in a few weeks I should have more celery!  (BLECH!  I hate the stuff.  But it is good for cooking and Hubs eats it like it's going out of style)

Yay for accomplishing something on a Monday.  Better than I can say most weeks...

In summary, cut the bottom 2 inches off your celery stalk, stick it in water about halfway up, and go from there.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Composting 101

There are a zillion ways to compost.  You can compost in a bucket, in a composter, or in a big "stink pile," as our yard help calls it.  Poor thing.  Ours is just out of control.  It even grew a tree (see above)!  A slight exaggeration, maybe.  That is actually a very happy volunteer cherry tree.  But all of the foliage around it has sprung up in the past week or two, no doubt encouraged by all of the nutritious soil.

There is a science to composting.  At least there should be.  If you would like some detailed instructions on how to do the dern thing properly, check herehere, and especially here.

But I like things to be simple, as my attention often wanders when unfamiliarity is paired with long winded instructions.  So here's a brief summary of what we do.
  • Pick a place.  We picked an area and sectioned it off with some spare chain link fence we had.  My grandmother is the only other person I personally knew that composted, and she just had a big pile of stuff out behind the woodshed.  You don't have to have it enclosed, but it may be a good idea if you have scrounging animals around.
  • Find a bin.  This is something we are still working on.  Shown above is the large container we were using.  Its size is great in that when I'm canning, or otherwise have lots of scraps, there's plenty of room for everything I need to jam in there.  However.  After a miscommunication which involved this bucket not getting dumped for about 3 weeks, we decided to search for a smaller, more manageable bucket.  I was too scarred by the contents to ever risk doing that again.  I hear coffee tins work well, but I'm putting a counter compost bin on my Christmas list!
  • Learn what to toss.  Vegetable scraps, yard waste, egg shells, fruit peels, coffee grinds and filters; these are all pretty obvious.  Some less obvious ones could include lint from your dryer filter, contents of your vacuum canister, collections from hairbrushes and pet brushes, and any non glossy newspapers (shredded).  We also occasionally toss in paper towels/napkins that have nothing more than dirt or water on them.  No cleaners please!
  • And what not to.  Don't toss meats, dairy products, things with high contents of grease/fat, or anything that has come in contact with harsh chemicals.  I know some people toss any and all kitchen scraps, but we avoid those.  Just seems like an easy way to make a bacteria pile to me, as well as attract raccoons, opossums, foxes, etc.  Also don't include pet waste or cat litter.  There is a way to do it, but it shouldn't be combined with your regular compost.
  • Toss what you toss!  When I take a ripe batch of goodies out to the pile, I stir the whole mess up right good.  (Did I sound as if I should have had a piece of hay hanging out of my mouth as I typed that?  Good.  That's what I was going for.)  Dump the bucket, lightly toss the whole thing, and then sprinkle some grass clippings on the very top if you have some on hand.  This kind of sounds like a recipe.  Stink Soup a la Mode.
  • Dig down deep.  We tend to let our compost sit all winter, tossing occasionally, and place it in the garden come Spring.  Chop everything up with a shovel (although by Spring, there shouldn't be much left in the way of roughage) including 3-4 inches of the dirt underneath.  Sprinkle on your greenery and watch everything spring to life!
My Granny didn't really use her pile for manufacturing fertilizer, I don't believe.  I have found that even if I decided to stop gardening, I would continue to compost.  We have about half as much trash each week as we used to, and that makes me feel good.  I don't generally lose sleep at night thinking about landfills, but knowing that I'm not contributing more than I have to is somewhat enjoyable.

Also, we received quite a surprise a few weeks into the summer!  We had spread compost around each of our fruit trees, and had four or five tomato plants willingly pop up at their bases.  Good karma...?

Happy composting!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Quick Eggplant Parm Bites

Growing up, my family didn't really explore food too much.  I guess most people probably didn't, as this is the era of the foodie moreso than any before.  I fully expect that my kid will have tried sushi, lobster, french toast, and all manner of things by the time he's eight.  But it was only after I found an eggplant on sale for a dollar a few months ago that I ever considered eating one of those things.  They are so weird.  Purple outside, meaty innards.  But delicious topped with the right things!  I found a dainty one at the farmer's market and thought I'd give some appetizer-style eggplant parm bites a try.  

What's the best part?...they're super simple.

Peel and slice the eggplant (good meaty slices, maybe 1/2-3/4" thick) and coat with cooking spray.  Broil for about 4 minutes.  Flip, spray, and broil again.  Also I had never successfully broiled anything before this meal.  Anyway, once the slices are good and tender, toss a layer of mozzarella on them.

Mix some breadcrumbs and (good fancy style) parmesan with a little olive oil, just enough to make it pack together.  Put the mixture on top of the cheese, and back into the broiler for a few minutes.  Keep an eye on it.  Those crumbs will burn very quickly if unattended.  This only takes between 30 seconds and a minute.

Put some marinara sauce on top of the breadcrumbs and still more mozzarella on top.  You could even dice some small tomatoes with basil and garlic instead to get a bruschetta feel.


This is a pretty quick recipe.  It's a lot of in and out of the broiler, which is why I used my toaster/convection oven.  Overall, though, it maybe took about 15 minutes.

I used my easy cherry tomato sauce in lieu of traditional marina, but feel free to take some creative licensing with it!  Also I wanted to eat about twice as much as I showed here.  Melty, cheesy and not loaded with carbs is seriously my kind of nomming.

Fun fact, I was actually out of parm, so I just kept calm and slacked on.  Surprisingly, for a meal missing one of the title ingredients, it was still really good.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Easy Cherry Tomato Pasta Sauce

I found a wee teeny eggplant at our farmer's market on Friday, and thought I'd do some eggplant parmesan bites.  Only thing, I forgot that I was out of spaghetti sauce.  Whoops.  Fortunately the week prior to this at the farmer's market I had bought a pint of cherry tomatoes.

Side note:  Don't fall for the myth that anything home grown, organic, or local is more expensive than grocery store fare.  I got my pint of 'maters for $0.75, just as beautiful and perfect as could be.  The stores I grace have wrinkly, sometimes even molded right in the package, sad looking pints of tomatoes for about $3.  Go local!

Anyway, after sitting in the fridge for a week, they were just now starting to get a little tender, and I figured they'd be perfect for sauce!  This recipe is enough sauce for a meal for two, or a few servings of pizza sauce.  It won't feed an army, but it will feed a few!  Here's what I did.

In a small pan combine about a tablespoon of olive oil and up to 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, depending on your love of the stuff.  I can't imagine my life without ajo.  It's a pretty significant love affair.

These are the cherry tomatoes, plus a few roma I considered adding in.  In the end I decided to stick with the pint, as that's a pretty standard way to buy and measure cherry tomatoes.  I always hated it when a recipe would call for, say, a pint and a 3rd.  Or, I dunno, what's really inconvenient to portion?  Well whatever you come up with, that.  That's what they would split into 5/8ths.  I tried to spare you of that.

I halved and quartered mine willy nilly, as I saw fit.  You could certainly give these a fine chop, or even a few pulses in a food processor.  Personally, I enjoy the fanciness and flavor of having real texture in the sauce.

You want to cook this on medium low, and keep it covered, stirring occasionally.  I added about a half of a small sweet onion, diced.  This is not necessary, but it adds great flavor.

Here I added basil, salt, pepper, sugar, and a mess of other spices.  Then I remembered that the equally-kickass neighbors that live on the other side of our house have been growing basil and offered it to us anytime we need it!

The fresh basil isn't necessary, but it is just so delicious and pungent.  This is how much I used, but my sauce was pretty powerful.

Give the basil a good chop and throw it in.  At this point you need to stop.  Once the tomatoes have really started to give off some water, you can take the lid off your pot.  Just keep an eye on it, as you don't want your pan to go dry.

And do this.  After your sauce has simmered for about 20 minutes, you need to come to a stopping point and decide what you're likely going to use this for.  If it's to toss with pasta, you can easily just stop here.  English muffin pizzas also.  (This was cray good.)

However, as noted, I was making eggplant parm;  I ended up cooking my sauce down further, about 7 or 8 minutes.  The consistency is up to you. 

If I hadn't made 3 english muffin pizzas, I probably would have had a half pint of sauce. 

Boo approved!

Cherry Tomato Pasta Sauce

-1 pint cherry tomatoes
-1/4 C diced sweet onion
-1 tbsp olive oil
-1/2 tbsp minced garlic
-1/2 tbsp sugar
-1/2 tsp basil
-1/2 tsp oregano
-1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
-1/4 tsp pepper
-3-4 fresh basil leaves (optional)
-1/4 tsp sage (optional)
-1/8 tsp rosemary (optional)

1.  In a small pan, roast garlic in olive oil over medium low heat.  Dice tomatoes and onions, combine in pan.  Add the rest of the ingredients and heat covered for 5 minutes or until tomatoes start to give up their juices and flavors begin to combine.

2.  Remove lid from pan and continue simmering until sauce reaches desired consistency, about 20-30 minutes.

My eggplant parm was delicious!  This sauce is pretty easy and incredibly flavorful, I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sweet Heat Relish (aka Slacker Relish)

I call this my Slacker Relish because I didn't have all of the ingredients necessary for the recipe I was using.  So I subbed things here and there, and did things my way (read: the slack way).  I was working off of a sweet relish recipe from a BHG book, similar to this one on their website.  I've also made that recipe as it is supposed to be before, and it's delish!  The one I concocted today, however, has a little more punch to it.  It's ideal in my mind because it has all the wonderful flavors of sweet relish, with just a little tinge of heat to it.  And of course you may adjust the ingredients if you'd like it a little hotter!  I plan to try a Hot! Hot! Hot! version in a few days.

-8 C cukes, seeded and chopped
-2 C bell pepper, seeded and chopped
-1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
-3 C chopped sweet onions*
-1/4 C pickling salt
-3 C sugar
-2 C cider vinegar
-1 tsp celery seeds
-1 tsp red pepper flake
-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
-1/2 tsp turmeric

*I made bread and butter pickles a few weeks ago, you know, the kind with the onions in them?  Hubs ate all the pickles and left the onions behind, and said he thought I could use them for relish!  Genius, that man.  If you happen to have a similar scenario, just use fresh onions to make up the difference in the 3 cups.  And don't put the B&B onions in the salt brine, add them when you put everything else in the pot.

1.  Combine cukes, bell pepper, jalapeno, and onions in a large nonmetal bowl.  Sprinkle salt and cover with water.  Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.  Rinse and drain well.

2.  Bring sugar, vinegar and next 4 ingredients to a boil, add drained ingredients, and simmer for 10 minutes.

3.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Earlier I posted about how I was SO. SICK. OF CUKES.  I went through my fridge and found this many more hiding in various places!  But I only used about 4 or so to get the 8 cups.

Chop, seed, dice, repeat.

About 4 smallish bell peppers and 1 jalapeno.  (Don't fear the jal!  It's really not that hot, I promise)

The onion remainders of my bread and butter pickles.

Dice, stick to the side as they don't need to soak in pickling salt.

Chop chop.  I think you get the picture.


+Water.  Wait 2 hours.


Here were my results!  Seven jars.  But I packed my relish pretty tightly.  The last time I was a little more lax and got about 10.

When I ended up with 10 jars of relish about 3 weeks ago, I figured most of them would end up in Christmas baskets.  After all, we've had the same jar of grocery store relish in our fridge for approximately....I dunno, 6 months or more?  We're already on our 4th jar.  It's just so much better, and turns simple meals like chicken or tuna salad into an instant treat!  Plus everyone loves sweet relish, so it makes a great butter-'em-up present!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Garden Pizza!

Tomatoes are starting to come in!  I was shopping the other day and picked up some pizza crusts, so I figured I'd whip up some Garden Pizza!  It is incredibly simple, and also looks fancy enough to serve with friends, as appetizers at dinner parties, or just sitting on the couch with your boo.

This works with pizza crusts, pitas, naans, english muffins, etc.  It doesn't really matter.  I used roma tomatoes because they are an ideal size and flavor, but I think it would really work with just about any type.  You can also peel them, but that's not necessary.

Sprinkle the tomatoes with herbs (I do basil, garlic salt, onion flakes, and red pepper flakes) and then generously apply cooking spray, or drizzle olive oil.  I'm just not a very good drizzler, it ends up pooled up in some places and bone dry in others.

Put it in the oven/on the grill and let sit until the tomatoes start to wilt and turn a deeper red.  You can see in the picture above, the pizza on the right has already had its turn in the oven.

Yank 'em out of the oven, throw cheese on them, and whatever toppings you enjoy.  I put jalapenos on ours, that was the only thing we currently had.  You can see my wimpy lady slices on the right and Hubs' manly seedy death slices on the left.  (Pretty sure he regretted that decision later)

Fin!  This is one of our favorite meals.  One of the biggest advantages of this recipe is that you don't really have to have anything pizza specific.  Tomatoes, cheese, a form of bread, and you've got it done!  Which is great for me and my lack of grocery planning.

Nom on!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Chicken Pickin'!

Some relatively new neighbors invited us over to their house for a cookout on the 4th of July this year.  I know some people really go all out for holidays: big parties, vacations, themed manicures and the like.  Yeah, we're not those people.  Our plans for the day included sitting on the couch and playing Minecraft and L4D2 as much as possible.  But I am an open book!  And a social butterfly, or so Hubs says.  So I rolled out, where I discovered the most intensely delicious grilled chicken that has ever been.

My dear neighbor was a peach and shared the recipe for her magic chicken rub.  That kind of sounds kinky, doesn't it?  Well I don't really care what it sounds like, it tastes delicious.  It's also incredibly simple.

Magic Chicken Rub:
-1 tbsp seasoning salt
-1 tbsp pepper
-1 tbsp sugar
-1 tbsp garlic powder
-1 tbsp paprika
-olive oil, mixed to desired consistency

Key players.

It's like sand art.

SO MUCH CHICKEN!  I don't usually buy drumsticks, but this pack was on sale for $4.  That's quite a few dinners for just me and Hubs!  Plus this is what my neighbor used on the 4th.

Oooo, pretty...

You can kind of see the consistency I was working with here.  I think I would either add a tinge more oil, or decrease the amount of rub, because it was *slightly* caked on at the end.  But still delicious.  I would suggest 6 chicken legs for the above amount.

Here's the end result!  SO GOOD.