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Re-Post: Our Favorite Peach Salsa

Dear Tummy Treasure readers, I’ve never done this before, but today I’m republishing an older blog post.  I’ve been working my way through a bushel of peaches, and this salsa is as spectacular this year as it was when we first made it five years ago.  The peaches are amazing right now, so do yourself a favor, get some, and make this salsa.  More peach recipes to come soon…

I was going to save the best for last, because this salsa was the real surprise of the bunch, not to mention the most stunning one to look at visually.  But I decided to share it first because quality peaches at the markets may be dwindling, and you definitely want to make this salsa for yourself or to give as gifts.

As I mentioned the other day, neither my brother or myself have made fruit salsas before.  It didn’t really interest either one of us- so don’t ask us how it is we ended up making TWO fruit salsas in the same day.  But we’re so glad we did.  In the case of this salsa, the peaches take the place of tomatoes- which are also sweet in their own way.  Add some deliciously spicy jalapenos, some tangy vinegar, herbaceous cilantro and a few more things, and those peaches make magic.  This was amazing scarfed up with a few tortilla chips.  We all agreed that this salsa would be AMAZING on fish tacos, but the possibilities with this lightly fruity salsa are numerous.

The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving recommends that when you make this salsa, measure your vinegar into the pot first, and then dump in your peaches as you chop them, and toss together.  This will prevent the peaches from browning any and turning the salsa an unpleasant color.  We also left the seeds and the ribs in the jalapenos for some heat.   As I’m reading this recipe through again, I’m reminded how quick and easy this was to put together.  Please note that the recipe and processing time is for half-pint jars.  Since it gives no recommended time for processing pints, to do so could be unsafe- and should be avoided.

Peach Salsa

from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

makes about eight 8-ounce jars

1/2 cup white vinegar
6 cups chopped pitted peeled peaches
1 1/4 cups chopped red onion
4 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed finely chopped cilantro
2 TBS liquid honey
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

Prepare canner, jars and lids.

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine the vinegar and peaches.  Add onion, jalapeno peppers, red pepper, cilantro, honey, garlic, cumin and cayenne.   Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Ladle hot salsa into jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace, if necessary, by adding hot salsa.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar.  Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes.  Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

Easy and Garlicky Grilled Salmon

It’s decided to be a bit muggy here in Wisconsin this week, so I’ve been avoiding the stove.  Anything I can do to reduce the heat in our non-air conditioned home is essential on days like this, so on these days, meals are salads and things that can be done on the grill.

Yesterday it was a lovely side of salmon that I’d cut into six healthy looking portions.  I can’t tell you how the simple act of cutting the salmon into portions has made grilling salmon SO much easier!  It’s much easier to flip a handful of small fillets than it is to try and maneuver a pair of spatulas under a whole side of salmon.  It’s also nice because I can pull the thinner portions of salmon off the fire when they are done instead of letting some of it get overcooked while I wait for the rest to finish.

I went back and forth on how I was going to season yesterday’s salmon.  In the end though, I’d picked some fresh basil from the garden and picked up a package of campari tomatoes from the store, so I wanted to salmon to have a kind of Italian flare to it.  I chopped my garlic, added a healthy dose of Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset seasoning, salt, pepper and olive oil, and then let the fish sit in that for about 30 minutes before cooking it on the grill.

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I cooked the fish for about 5 minutes on the first side, flipped it, and then cooked for just two more.  It was tender and juicy on the inside, but still cooked through, which is how we prefer it.  A fresh sprinkle of sea salt to finish, and we had a spectacular salmon dinner.   We all enjoyed it a lot, and Zander even went in for a second piece of fish, so you know it had to have been good!  Leftover salmon will be tossed in a salad tonight, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that is going to turn out for us.

If you don’t have Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset seasoning, you can use whatever Italian style blend you prefer.

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Garlicky Grilled Salmon

4-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 teapoons Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset seasoning blend
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
a few grinds of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 fresh salmon fillets

Directions:

Combine the garlic, Tuscan Sunset, salt, black pepper and olive oil in a small bowl.  Mix well.  Drizzle mixture over the salmon fillets, rubbing it in gently.  Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before cooking in your desired manner.

I Made The Best Chicken Salad The Other Day…

But I don’t have a picture.

There is a story here though.

It was Sunday, July 5th, the tail end of a busy holiday weekend, and a busy last week in the kitchen preserving fruit.  Because it was a holiday weekend, we had the unexpected bonus of not having an evening service at church, so I found myself with time to make a decent dinner.  Except I’ve also been nursing a head cold, and my energy comes and goes in spurts.  So I went back and forth on dinner.  Everything rolled through my brain and then rolled back out.  I really wanted to make pancakes, because it was quick and easy.  But poor Andy hasn’t really eaten good, scratch food in over two weeks.  We were gone for 9 days to Florida, and he left to work out of town before we even got home.  Then when he was home, it was holiday run-around, with good grill food, but not a great meal made with love here at home.  And since Sunday was the only opportunity for a decent meal before he left again for another week…

I went out to the garden and surveyed what I had out there. I had tons of peas to be harvested.  They were snap peas, but a lack of rain this last week made them more like snow peas- the peas were not swollen and puffy.  No worries, I like snow peas too.  So I picked peas, and then I picked more peas, and was amazed when I practically filled the bowl I had with me.  I even left peas on the plant for another day!  Then I wandered over by the kale and pulled off a few leaves of dinosaur kale, and decided that I should make a stir-fry for dinner with all these peas and a bit of kale.  I mentioned that to the kids and they begged me to make the ground beef stir fry.  Only, when I went to pull the ground beef out of the freezer, I saw I had a lot more frozen chicken breasts and decided to go in that direction instead.  I’m so glad I did!

I had my peas, chicken and kale, and went in search of a new way to put them together.  I wanted the peas to be barely cooked in the stir fry, and I really wanted a light sauce- similar to a moo goo gai pan that you would get at a Chinese take out place.  I came upon this recipe at Eating Well for a Warm Snow Pea and Chicken Salad.  Go ahead and go look at that, because the picture there is what inspired my chicken salad.  I thought the recipe sounded just a little different and fun, and I decided I wanted to make it.

I started with the chicken breasts that were now about half thawed.  I put them in a pot with 2 cups of homemade chicken stock, and then decided to add a tablespoon of soy sauce to the broth as well.  I brought the broth up to a boil, then turned it down to a simmer, added a lid, and let the chicken poach for about 15 minutes- turning it once or twice as it cooked.

While the chicken did it’s thing, though, I kept reading that recipe and in the end, I decided that I did not want a warm salad at all, and I also did not want the sauce called for in that recipe.  I thought about what it would be like to sit and sliver up my pile of peas like the picture showed, and I thought about how fresh they were and how crunchy they would be.  I wanted that crunch!

So I slivered up my entire pile of peas.  I probably ended up with 4-5 cups of slivered snap/snow peas.   Then I grabbed half a red bell pepper from the fridge and sliced that up thinly for some color contrast and added that to the peas.  The chicken finished cooking, so I pulled that out to cool.  I tasted a bit of the chicken and thought it needed salt, so I also sprinkled the chicken with salt and pepper.  Once it was cool, I shredded that up and added it to the peas as well.  I was really wishing I had some green onion at this point.

So I wandered back out to the garden and pulled up about 5 teeny-tiny baby scallions.  Really, they looked more like chives,but they were packed with onion flavor, and even better than them being full sized scallions, when I chopped them up finely and added them to the salad, they spread the onion flavor throughout- without adding obvious bites of onion.   Finally, I took a tablespoon of sesame seeds and put them in a pan to toast up.

I still needed a sauce though.  I thought really hard about going easy and just grabbing a bottle of salad dressing from the fridge and using that.  I have plenty of options on hand!  But then I thought of how long ago I’d made a chicken salad from Ina Garten that used a peanut sauce.  The sauce then ended up WAY salty, but I thought the peanut flavor would be perfect with the peas and chicken.  Then, as I read through that old blog post I realized I was coming awfully close to making her salad anyway- only I was using slivered snap peas instead of the asparagus!

I modified the dressing, using very scant amounts of everything, because I wanted a scant amount of dressing on the whole thing.  Tossed it up, added another pinch of salt, and dinner was served with some fresh Florida watermelon on the side.  The salad was absolutely delicious.  Andy loved it, I loved it, the kids loved it.  Even better, Andy took the remains with him to work on Monday and texted that it was still delicious- AND the peas were still crunchy.  I will most definitely be making this salad again.  It’s a perfect summer salad that could be made ahead well in advance of when you need it.  Next time though, I will take a picture.

Here is my modified peanutty dressing.  This would  be good in so many applications.  As a salad dressing as I used it, or as a dip for veggies or spring rolls.  It was nice and light, but still full of flavor.  This dressing as made fully dressed about 8 cups of chunky salad without being too heavy and cloying.  It would multiply easily if you wanted more dressing.

A Lighter Peanut Dressing

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt 
few grinds of black pepper

Directions:

Whisk everything together in a small bowl until fully combined.  If your peanut butter is really thick, you may need to add an extra splash of liquid to the bowl.  You can use water or extra vinegar- taste it to see what you would prefer.

You also may need more or less salt depending on the soy sauce you use.  I use a brand I find in the Asian aisle of the grocery store, so it’s a touch more salty than the regular brands.

Makes about 1/2 cup of dressing.

Fresh Fruit Firestorm!

The last week of June I did something completely crazy and unlike anything I’ve ever done before.  I loaded up our car and drove my two children all the way from Wisconsin to Panama City, Florida.  Andy had to work, so it fell to me to drive my two dancing beauties to their last dance competition of the year.  Driving all those hours by myself was absolutely exhausting!  But it was totally worth it, when we’d arrived in Florida in the early evening, and quickly headed off to find the ocean.

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My kids LOVED playing in the ocean.  I only wish we’d had more time to frolic, but as we were there for a dance competition, dance they did.  It was a wonderful experience, and as we sadly packed up for the return trip, we also added a few “souvenirs” to our car.

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Fresh Florida watermelon, a crate of mangoes, and while you can’t see them, a few quarts of ripe and juicy Alabama peaches.   We were disappointed with the peaches.  Not that they weren’t delicious, but we had been planning on picking our own peaches to bring back home.  When we got to the orchard, though, they were no longer allowing people to pick, so we had to settle for buying a few boxes to bring home.  The bushels of peaches I had been planning on quickly dwindled to a few handfuls.

As it turns out, that was providential.  See, right before our trip, we’d managed to go strawberry picking a second time, and I quickly churned out a few batches of strawberry jam and strawberry-rhubarb jam.   I had planned on some peach jam when we got back home, and I started to do just that.  But we also had mangoes on hand, so we played with a Peach-Mango Jam which turned out especially delicious!  As long as I was canning jam, and had the peaches on hand, I dug into the freezer and pulled out a bag of frozen sour cherries, and then made two batches of Sour Cherry-Peach Jam, oh, is that one good too!  AS those jars were sitting out cooling, Andy came home from a week away of work and announced that he had first dibs on a local cherry tree, and the cherries were ready.  So the very next morning Andy and the kids headed off to harvest sour cherries.

The sour cherries were a real gift.  There was no charge at all for picking them, the owner was just happy to see the cherries go to someone who could use them.  The best part was that I had been eyeing the calendar, trying to figure out when we could go cherry picking this year, and it just didn’t seem too likely.  All the sudden, I had pounds upon pounds of cherries that all needed to be pitted and preserved.  I spent two days pitting those cherries!  14 quarts of them went into the freezer for future baked goods, but as long as I was in a jammy mood, I also made up 12 jars of straight up Sour Cherry Jam.

And then I woke up this morning.  :D  Right there at the top of my newsfeed was the announcement that my local farm was open for raspberry picking.  Abigail and I dashed off to the patch right away and came home with nearly 12 pounds of ripe raspberry goodness.  These are our favorites.

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Half of the raspberries have already become jam, and I’m debating a batch of Raspberry-Peach, but I had to pause because I need more jelly jars.  This is the perpetual state that my kitchen has been in for the last week, and it shows no sign of slowing.

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I suspect blueberry announcements any day, and Andy has a lead on some grapes for me this year.  I’m still on the prowl for good plums and blackberries… One thing is certain.  There will be no shortage of jam in our household this winter!   I sure am loving this season, though I didn’t expect it all to come on so fast furious all at once!  I am thinking I should be thankful that the tomatoes won’t begin ripening in earnest until mid August, and by then most of the fruit preservation should be done, save for apples.

Recipes/Directions coming for the peach-mango as well as the sour cherry-peach jam.  Soon.  First I need to come up for air!

Adding Kale To A Thai Green Curry

For the longest time I stayed away from making green curries at home.  For one, I was worried that green curry meant that it was crazy hot, so the kids wouldn’t eat it.  Secondly, it relies on coconut milk a lot, and while I do use coconut milk from time to time, I worried that the flavor would take over the dish, and we are not all huge coconut fans.  But one day last summer I decided to try a really easy Thai Green Curry recipe that I had found and discovered it was so much better than I’d expected.

I do not recall where I got this recipe from, to be honest. What I especially love is how easy it is to put together.  You can use any combination of vegetables that you like, so this time I took advantage of that (and my family’s affection for the green curry) to try and sneak in some more of that kale I was trying to use up.

Braising the chicken in the liquid here makes the chicken so velvety and tender.   Normally I would think to brown the chicken first, but here we slide raw chicken right into our heavily flavored broth, and it just works SO well.  One thing that I was shy on this last time I made it was fresh herbs.  My herb plants are not too big yet, so I was sparing when harvesting a few leaves.  As a result, we all agreed that it was “missing something” and it was definitely the burst of a handful of fresh herbs at the table.

Don’t be a afraid of the fish sauce in the recipe.  I always keep a bottle in the fridge and find it adds the most spectacular layer of flavor to a lot of Asian dishes.  When you smell fish sauce for the first time, it’s like something so awful and funky, and you’re afraid to actually use it.  All it takes is a splash or two, and you’ve taken a stir fry from tasty to delicious.  Combined with the sweetness from the brown sugar, it makes magic in this pot of green curry.

As mentioned, I added two large handfuls of kale to the curry, and no one noticed.  This was a great way to sneak in the nutrients of the kale without serving KALE for dinner, if you know what I mean.  I definitely recommend adding the kale or other green of your choice as a great nutritional boost.

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Thai Green Curry

1 tablespoon green curry paste or 1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk (light works fine)
1/4 cup fresh basil (or 1/8 c. dried)
1 can bamboo shoot, drained
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup chicken broth or 1 cup chicken stock
1 lb chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch strips
3 to 4 cups fresh broccoli florets
2 cups kale or other green, coarsely chopped
fresh herbs of choice for garnish- basil and cilantro together are delicious!!  A squirt of lime juice is also nice.

Directions:

In a medium saucepan combine curry paste and coconut milk and heat.

Just before it reaches the boiling point, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Serve over freshly cooked rice.

Replay: Fall Off The Bone Baby Back Ribs

Perfect for your summer entertaining, these baby back ribs really DO fall off the bone, and they are incredibly delicious.

Even better?  They are way easier to make than you would think.  Over the years I have watched so many cooking shows that feature ribs, and so many of them make it a really complicated endeavor.  The best ones always seem to be the ones that cook for hours and hours in a smoker.  While I’m sure they are absolutely wonderful, they are hardly practical for the home cook.  These fall-off-the-bone ribs cook for a few hours, but they are inattentive hours.  I pop them in the oven in a roasting pan and let the oven do the magic.  When they come out of the oven, all they need is a quick trip through the grill to sear on the barbecue sauce of your choice.  Andy usually gives them a few extra minutes with some wood added to the fire for smoke, but that is a step not totally necessary.

You can also use spare ribs instead of baby back, but the ribs will not be quite as tender- nor are they as meaty as the baby back ribs.  I haven’t cooked them quite enough to figure out the timing to get the spare ribs falling off the bone, but I’m leaning towards an extra half hour in the oven.

The beer is also optional, but the liquid component is not.  Whatever you do, though, do not use plain old water.  I’ve used apple cider with great success for the non-beer crowd, and I’ve also used chicken broth and ginger ale.  All of them worked, though I prefer using a bottle of beer.  Which is in itself an odd thing, because I really, really dislike the taste of beer.  However, it works with the ribs, so I try to use it when I can.

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Fall Off The Bone Baby Back Ribs

2 slabs baby back ribs (about 3 1/2 pounds)
1 large onion, sliced
1 12-ounce bottle of beer
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups barbecue sauce

1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.

2. To remove the membrane from the back of the ribs, rake a small dull knife, like an oyster or table knife, and pry the tip of the knife between the membrane and bone at the edge of the ribs in the center of the slab. Lift to separate the membrane from the bone, then grab the membrane with your fingers and pull it off and discard.

3. Spread the onion slices evenly on a baking sheet with sides and place the ribs, bone side down, on top. Pour the beer over the ribs, season with salt and pepper, and cover tightly with foil. Bake undisturbed for 2 hours.

4. Prepare a fire in a charcoal grill and let the coals burn to a gray ash with a faint red glow, or until you can hold your hand 3 to 4 inches above the fire for no more than 6 seconds.

5. Brush both sides of the ribs with the barbecue sauce and place them, meat side down, over the coals. Grill the ribs for 10 to 15 minutes, or until slightly charred, basting several times. Turn the ribs and baste the cooked side liberally. Close the lid of the grill and cook the ribs 10 to 15 minutes longer, basting often. Cut the slabs into individual ribs, pile them onto a large platter and serve warm

 

Pasta Puttanesca with Kale

I have long been a fan of kale- well before it became in vogue to be a fan of kale.  The reason I have been a fan of kale really has little to do with the nutritional properties, rather, it’s because of the fact that I can grow it easily!  Kale grows pretty effortlessly in my gardens, and is one of those vegetables that you can cut off one plant all season long, and it keeps growing.  When frost comes in the fall, there is no need to cover the kale, as it is hearty and actually tastes sweeter and more delicious after being kissed by a frost.  In addition, because it’s such a sturdy green, it freezes nicely, to be added to soups and stews and pasta dishes all winter long.   My preferred variety of kale is lacinato kale, or dinosaur kale.  It is less attractive to cabbage moths, and I think it has a less bitter flavor when cooked.

My husband, on the other hand, has been quick to tell me that he is not a fan of kale after an experience with it that he’d rather not divulge details about.  However, after our success with the collard greens the other day, I just had to dive into the kale- especially after I was given a bunch of it from someone going on vacation.  I wanted to use up the bunch of kale I was given, AND hopefully come up with some ideas to use it that I could use in the future with the many plants growing in my garden. (Yes, I have a few too many kale plants this year.)

Pasta is always a winner here, and while I’ve eaten it out, I’ve never made a puttanesca here at home.  This was going to be a gamble, because the flavors and the ingredients in a puttanesca are SO pronounced that you kind of either love it or hate it.  As I was cooking it up, both kids were intrigued.  They really found the capers interesting, and when I said they tasted like a little pickle, they were both game to try them.  I was corrected and told they taste like dilly beans- which are a win for my son, so I remained hopeful.  Then Zander tasted the kalamata olives.  Abigail does not like olives, but I assured her I would only cut them in half and she could pick the olives out of her dish.  Zander thought they were good, but he didn’t come back for a second one.  The little tin of anchovies frightened both children immediately.  I assured them they would never know they were in the dish, and I was correct.  I chopped up the anchovies finely and they melted right into the sauce.  They added a ton of flavor, and I know would be missed if they were not used, but no one got a bite of anchovy that they could identify.

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Overall, Andy and I were completely thrilled with this recipe.  It was SO good.  It was salty and briny  and full of all these different flavors that came together beautifully when tossed with spaghetti and topped with Asiago cheese.  The kids however… sadly, there will be no more puttanesca for them.  My pasta kid (Zander) barely picked at it and filled up on garlic bread that day.  Even Abigail left half of her pasta on her plate, and she’s developed into the type of person that will eat what is on her plate (usually) even if it isn’t her favorite.   Both kids told me it just tasted too strongly of the olives.

This really was delicious, and the strong flavors really were perfect for adding the kale, as they completely took over and the kale blended right in.   I failed to get a picture of the dish completely put together, but I did get one of the sauce.

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Pasta Puttanesca with Kale

1/2 (16 ounce) package dried spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 (2 ounce) can anchovy fillets, drained and finely chopped
2 (15 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine
3 cups coarsely chopped kale
1 small jar pitted kalamata olives, drained and cut in half
Grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese to finish

Directions:

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, and cook for 3 minutes, or until the onion starts to soften.  Add the garlic red pepper flakes. Cook and stir until the onion just begun to turn golden brown, about 3 more minutes, but don’t brown the garlic. Stir in capers, anchovy fillets, diced tomatoes, and red wine, and bring to a simmer. Stir in kale, and simmer over medium-low heat until wilted and tender, about 10 minutes.

Once the pasta has cooked and been drained, stir into the puttanesca along with the olives. Toss and sprinkle with grated Asiago/Parmesan cheese before serving.

A Delicious Grilled Chicken Salad with Strawberries

I really wanted to do something for dinner that incorporated strawberries into a main dish salad the other day.  I swear I have seen a grilled chicken recipe topped with avocado and strawberries somewhere very recently, but of course I now can’t find it anywhere.  Since I couldn’t find the avocado recipe, I turned to a recent issue of Cooking Light magazine and opted to make this Grilled Chicken Salad with Strawberries and Feta.

Feta cheese has pretty much become a staple at our house.  I buy it by the large bucket or block at Sam’s Club, and then use it as many ways as we can for a few weeks.  We just love it.  It adds flavor and salt to any salad we sprinkle on, but where I’ve found it really is dynamic is in dishes that get baked.  I love adding feta to pasta or scalloped potatoes, or anything that has a cream sauce.  As you’re eating it you come upon these little nuggets of warm, melty feta, and they just make me very, very happy.  I thought sweet strawberries and salty feta sounded like a perfect match, so this salad was just the thing to try that idea out.

I made two changes to the recipe.  One was that I ditched the red onions.  Oh, I could totally taste them in the final salad, they would have been great.  However, I try to avoid raw onions in salads for our family, as some don’t care for them, and some have lingering digestive effects after eating raw onions.   We still have them occasionally, but in this case, I thought there was enough flavor going on that I could skip the onions and all would be well.  My second major change was not using the arugula.  I cannot stand arugula!  So much so, that when I looked at the mesclun mix I’d planted in my garden and saw that most of the leaves in the mix were arugula, I simply pulled the whole patch out and planted cantaloupe instead.  I really don’t like peppery greens.  Instead, I used a mix of fresh spinach and mizuna from my garden.  The fresh spinach was spectacular- I think it was way better than arugula could have been.  So I’m altering the recipe to call for baby spinach instead.

The only change I would make to this salad is with regards to the marinating time for the chicken.  My chicken marinated for ten minutes, and it wasn’t near long enough.   Balsamic is such a strong flavor, and yet the 15 minutes I gave the chicken in the marinade wasn’t enough.  The next time I will put the chicken in the marinade and pop it in the fridge for an hour, provided I have the time.  Andy cooked the chicken for me on the grill outside, but you could certainly use a grill pan inside if that’s what you’d like to do.

Now that I’m looking at this picture again, I remember thinking that this would also be delicious with some kind of toasted nut or seed tossed in it.  Pumpkin seeds would be great, as would toasted walnuts or pecans.

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Grilled Chicken Salad with Strawberries and Feta

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, divided
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
Cooking spray
1/8 teaspoon sugar
2 cups halved strawberries
4 cups baby spinach
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1.5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/3 cup)
Directions:
Combine 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons vinegar in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken to bag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; grill 5 minutes on each side or until done. Cut into slices.
Combine remaining 1 tablespoon oil, remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and sugar in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add strawberries; toss to coat. Add spinach and onion to strawberry mixture; toss gently to combine. Sprinkle feta over salad. Divide salad among 4 plates; top evenly with sliced chicken.

Nice And Easy Chocolate Cake

Because it wasn’t enough to have strawberries with shortcake.  I also decided that I needed to have strawberries with chocolate cake, because what could be better with strawberries than chocolate?  We’d already made a quick ganache to dunk some berries, but I wanted my favorite food group to be represented.  What?  Chocolate cake is not a food group?  It should be.  :)

This super easy one-bowl chocolate cake comes together in a snap.  In my case, I made a half-batch and used my 9-inch square pan to bake this cake in the toaster oven.  I love the toaster oven this time of year because I can bake without heating the whole house up, though it might be worth a little sweltering for chocolate cake.

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Easy One Bowl Chocolate Cake

1 cups white sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a nine inch round (or square) pan.

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer.

Stir in the boiling water last. Batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Shortcakes From Pioneer Woman

It’s been a lovely couple of days enjoying our strawberry bounty here.  I love the day or two after we go fruit picking, because the kids (Zander, really) never need to ask “what can I have to eat?”  They already know what the answer will be.  The fresh fruit seasons are fleeting, and the standard house rule is to eat as many as you want while you can, because they will only be here for a short time.

As we sat there enjoying our fresh berries out of hand, Zander very innocently looked at me and asked which night we were having Strawberry Shortcake for dinner.  Not for dessert.  For dinner.  I confess that we have done that before, but I wasn’t totally feeling it this week.  However, it seemed like a great accompaniment to the Israeli Couscous Salad- just in case the kids weren’t digging the salad.

Every year at this time I make strawberry shortcake, and every year I find myself looking for the perfect recipe for shortcakes.  I thought about the shortcakes from Dorie Greenspan.  Oh, those are very good and flavorful, but for some reason I had it in my head that those particular shortcakes were time consuming.  Only now, two days later I’m reading my old blog post and see that they were of the quick and easy variety. At the time, though, I glanced at my shelf of cookbooks and tried to conjur up which chef would have the best shortcakes.  As I looked at my books, nothing jumped off the shelf, and instead I turned to the blogosphere, and honed in on THE perfect person to give me a shortcake recipe.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Pioneer Woman’s shortcakes are very similar to a biscuit, only much sweeter.  There were two things, however, that really made them stand out to me.  One was the extract in the dough.  She recommends almond extract, I used vanilla.  I really liked that punch of flavor in the biscuit itself.  The other thing that worked really well was an increased amount of baking powder.  The shortcakes rose up nice and fluffy, and didn’t feel dense in any way, shape or form.

They were so good, and one I would make again in a heartbeat.  Provided that I remember that I made them, of course.

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Shortcakes

3 cups All-purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Baking Powder
3 Tablespoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1-1/2 stick (3/4 Cup) Cold Butter, Cut Into Pieces
1-1/4 cup Buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon Almond or Vanilla Extract (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Add flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor (or a large bowl.) Add butter pieces and pulse until butter is completely cut into the flour mixture (or use a pastry cutter if using a bowl.) Add almond extract to buttermilk. While pulsing (or stirring) drizzle in the buttermilk until dough just comes together and is no longer crumbly.

Drop in clumps on two baking sheets, then bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

Canning Season Declared Open

So this happened the other day.

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We totally lucked out and caught the opening day at our local strawberry patch.  We lucked out even further and motivated ourselves to head over early enough in the day to get our picking done before the rain started falling and eventually close the picking for the day.   My tweenage boy has discovered how much he loves sleeping, so he stayed home while I took my Strawberry Girl to the patch for some mother-daughter bonding.

Last year we missed summer.  Pretty completely and thoroughly.  The unexpected move coupled with vehicle trouble after vehicle trouble literally meant that we were home-bound most of the time. So much time wasted packing and unpacking, or waiting for the shop to call that our van was done AGAIN.  Our camping trip at the end of July was literally a blur- we packed what we could find after moving a week prior, and I sat in the woods with a book and simply rested after months of stress and anxiety.  Last year we went swimming exactly once- and it was on the very last day the lake was open for the season.  This year, we are reclaiming our summer.   We already went to our favorite swimming hole this week, and yesterday we got to experience the joy of strawberry picking.  We’re in summer bliss.

Many years ago I had an issue with my homemade strawberry jam not setting properly after making it.  Another mom who I really looked up to casually mentioned that she had heard once upon a time that you never make jam with the first picking of the season- that there’s not enough pectin in those first, sweet berries to help your jam along.  So yesterday as I we drove home with our first flats of strawberries, Abigail and I were discussing what to do with our bounty.  I want to save the jam making for next week sometime when we get to pick again, but with all these strawberries, I was determined to try something new.  I flipped through my canning books, and found a recipe for Strawberry Sauce.   This sounded like the perfect contender.

One of the things I really like doing with my homemade jam is stir it into a bit of plain yogurt.  It adds enough sweetness and flavor for me, but at the same time, the jam isn’t really smooth when I do that.  It leaves little clumps of jam throughout and doesn’t really blend all that well.  This sauce has a smooth, creamy texture that will stir right into that cup of yogurt.  It will also drizzle effortlessly right over a scoop of ice cream, or drip over the edges of a stack of pancakes perfectly… It’s the perfect thing for all those alternative uses for jam.

This recipe does call for corn syrup.  I used Karo brand light corn syrup, as it does not contain any high fructose corn syrup.  As always, when canning, I also only use C&H brand sugar, as it comes only from sugar cane, so there is no chance of GMO beet sugar being used.  One navel orange will give you the tablespoon of zest, though it didn’t quite give me enough fresh orange juice- I had to top it off with a tiny bit from the juice in the fridge, but overall, we are quite pleased with the flavors in this strawberry sauce.  It will be delightful to have on the shelves in the pantry, and would make a really great addition to a gift basket. Of course, that’s if it still IS in the pantry.  We went through a jar and a half yesterday between French toast sticks and ice cream after dinner.  It’s very good, and the perfect sauce texture.

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Strawberry Sauce

9 cups halved hulled strawberries
2/3 cup unsweetened apple juice
1 Tablespoon grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup orange juice

Directions:

Prepare canner, jars and lids.

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine strawberries, apple juice and orange zest.  Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, crushing berries with a potato masher.  While maintaining a constant but gentle boil, gradually add sugar, stirring until completely dissolved.  Continue boiling gently while gradually stirring in corn syrup and orange juice. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat stirring constantly.  Boil hard for 15 minutes.

Ladle hot sauce into prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Remove air bubbles and adjust head space, if necessary, but adding hot sauce.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar, screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes.  Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

Makes about 6 8-ounce jars.  (I had 7 jars when I was done.)

 

 

Cooking With Israeli Couscous

Waaay back last month, our family spent Memorial Day weekend in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, visiting with family.  Every time we go there we always have a list of things we’d like to do, or restaurants we want to visit, but sometimes those things just don’t happen.  Sometimes before we know it, the weekend is over, and all we’ve done is managed to head out to the backyard to watch the kids play.  It’s always a great time, with the inevitable discussions of what we should do the next time we visit.  We’re very low maintenance guests.

Anyway, after spending our early Saturday morning at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market, sampling donuts and buying the largest rosemary plant they had, we decided to do something completely new for all of us.  We pulled ourselves together early to beat the lunch rush, and headed over to Surly Brewing Company and their brand new restaurant.  The boys would be thrilled with the beer, us ladies would be thrilled with the food, and we hoped the kids would all find something to enjoy as well.

It was wonderful.  Their menu is so fun. We want to go back and try one of everything, because what we had was so incredibly good.  When Zander thinks of his Surly Burger he gets a wistful look on his face, and his eyes half close as we remembers that burger with a side of seasoned fries.   When Abigail thinks of her Salted Caramel Kettle Corn Ice Cream Sunday, loaded with potato chips and kettle corn, she stops what she’s doing and wishes we could recreate that here at home.  When Andy thinks about the beers he sampled, you can tell he’s had the best he’s ever had and would move in next door if it was an option.   It was a pricey adventure, and it seems the menu is exactly the same for lunch or dinner, so there were no cost savings to be had by going at lunch.  But in addition to the amazing food we had, the service was wonderful.  We sat there for two hours enjoying our food, beverages and desserts, and not once did we feel pressured to get up and leave to make room for more people.

For my meal at Surly, I opted to try the Merguez Lamb Sausage.  It came with a salad of fregola sarda, cumin-mint yogurt and feta-salsa verde.  It was out of this world.  It was like Greece on a plate.  So vibrant and flavorful, and every bite made me wish I had double the portion so I could take some home and try to recreate the dish.   The fregola sarda is very similar to Israeli couscous, I’m honestly not sure what makes it different from Israeli Couscous, but it’s tiny balls of pasta that cook up quickly and absorb flavor.   It’s been a few weeks since I ate this dish and I am still thinking about it.  While the sausage was tasty, it really was the salad that was so spectacular and memorable.  So yesterday I thought I’d attempt to sort of create my own version.  My version doesn’t even come close- I completely missed a few things, and I was more light-handed with the herbs- but overall this Israeli Couscous Salad with Cucumber and Feta turned out pretty good for a first attempt.

I’ve never cooked with Israeli Couscous before.  I had the kids at the grocery store with me when I bought it and we looked at the options available.  There was a whole wheat version, a plain version, and a tri-colored version.  I made a brief comment to the kids that if I was going to make this for them for dinner, I’d better use the plain version.  Zander then asked what exactly IS Israeli couscous.  When I told him it was pasta, the caution in his eyes abated a bit.  He loves pasta, and was suddenly game to try something new.

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I cooked the couscous according to the package directions.  I used 1 1/2 cups of the couscous, and added it to 2 1/4 cups of boiling water.  It only took 8 minutes for the pasta to absorb all the water.  It cooks like rice, though I did stir it 2 or 3 times while it cooked up.  Once there was no liquid left in the pan, and the pearls tasted al dente to me, I took it off the heat.  Because I wanted my pasta to not clump together, I drizzled it with a bit of olive oil, as well as salt and pepper.  I went light on the salt, as I was planning on using a hefty bit of feta cheese in the salad.  I spread the couscous in a shallow dish and popped it in the fridge to cool completely.  While it cooled, I would pull it out and stir it around to keep the grains separate and to help it cool more quickly.

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The rest of the salad was quite simple. One cucumber, a handful of parsley, a squeeze of lemon, feta cheese, and a ranch-dill salad dressing.   I also added just 4 mint leaves, finely chopped, as well as some leftover pork from Greek pork kabobs the other night.  The dressing I used I found in the refrigerator section in the produce department at my grocery store.  It’s a very delicious ranch with dill and feta made with Greek yogurt- the brand is OPA, and it is very, very tasty.  I’m sure you could use any ranch dressing you like, or you could make one up with a half cup of Greek yogurt and half a packet of dressing mix.  Use what you prefer.  We all enjoyed this one earlier this week drizzled on our pork kabobs, so I thought this was also a great use for it.

Anyway, it was quick assembly once the couscous was cooled.  You’ll note in my recipe below that I have red onion in the ingredients, which I didn’t use yesterday, but it sure would have been a perfect addition, so I put it in the recipe.  If your family likes mint, you can certainly use more than just 4 leaves, but I was worried about going overboard, so went with just a small bit.  If you sat and thought about it, you could pick the mint out, but for the most part it just blended in and contributed to the dish as a whole.

This was a great use for a small bit of leftover grilled pork that wasn’t enough to do anything else with.  The salad itself would be great without the meat- if you wanted to make it a meal, you could add a can of chickpeas instead, or any other leftovery bits of something you have lying around.  It was very good, and 3 of 4 of us practically licked our bowls clean.  Zander had issues with the couscous.  He ate most of it, but he kept saying that he really wasn’t sure about it.  It may take a few tries to get him to come around.

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Israeli Couscous Salad with Cucumber and Feta

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 large English cucumber
2 Tablespoons finely diced red onion
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2/3 cup feta cheese crumbles
4 mint leaves
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup prepared ranch/dill salad dressing
1 cup cooked and chopped pork, chicken or sausage (optional)
Extra ranch dressing for serving.
  1. Cook the Israeli couscous according to package directions. When the couscous is cooked, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Toss with a fork and set aside to allow to cool completely. Stir it every once in a while to keep the grains separate.
  2. While the couscous cools, assemble the rest of the salad. Dice the cucumber and put it in a bowl with the red onion Add the chopped parsley. Take the 4 mint leaves, roll them up and chop them very finely. Add to the bowl. Next, add the salad dressing, lemon juice and feta cheese. Toss to combine it all.
  3. Once the couscous is cooled, add to the rest of the salad, along with the meat, if using. Serve with extra dressing drizzled on top.