The View from the Ground Up

It’s been quite awhile since my last post! I’ve been in that sometimes overwhelming process of relocating. Packing, moving, unpacking, readjusting….and once things settled again, rethinking. Our recent move brought us to the home of our dreams…

We went from the dry, parched desert to living on a farm! We’re still in the desert, just a higher elevation where it’s actually green, and things can grow. I’ve found life on this little farm gives me no choice but to focus on the land–which I’ll gladly do!

We have chickens to feed and they peck on the ground, the weeds and the treats that we give them. Their gift to us is the best eggs I’ve ever tasted! We have a miniature donkey who roams most of the property. Now that sunflowers have popped up and bloomed everywhere, we have to play hide and seek to find him sometimes (he’s shorter than most of them!) We’ve watched and learned what blooms when in the yard. And…finally planted a decent garden! So much of what’s holding my attention these days comes from the ground, and I can’t help but look up with a heart of thankfulness!

In order to maintain a sense of ‘normal’ for my family in the midst of all this newness and busyness, I’ve been depending a lot on the recipes you find all over this blog. They’ve wanted what they consider comfort food…from “mamas cafe”! That’s why it’s great to have some good solid recipes in your bag of cooking tricks. Without taking up tons of my time, I know I’ve fed them good food that’s good for them, while getting through seemingly endless to-do lists! I hope I can inspire you to do the same…

The Freshiest Fresh Fresh Salad Ever

..is ‘freshiest’ even a word? I don’t know. But I do know this is a fantastic salad that just screams…you guessed it: FRESH! It goes great with anything you’re grilling for a light summer dinner. And leftovers make a great lunch all on their own or with some cold grilled chicken added in. There’s not much to it, mostly beans and grains. But that leaves lots of room for improvisation! Plain rice is fine to use, but this is a great time to investigate using other kinds of grains. Think wheat berries, barley, quinoa. They have various cooking times so adjust accordingly. Just get your grains cooked and cooled off ahead of time and then combine all the ingredients when you’re ready for the salad. This looks so pretty and appetizing when it’s all put together you’ll want to keep it all for yourself, but trust me–show it off at your next BBQ, it’ll be a surprise hit!

“F  R  E  S  H  I  E  S  T”    B  E  A  N    S  A  L  A  D
1 cup of cooked grains, cooled in the fridge.
Use all one kind like wheat berries (crazy good for you!), or I used a mixture I found at Trader Joe’s of brown rice, barley and spelt. Anything goes…
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of edamame beans, shelled. Use fresh or frozen, just thaw them first.
1 cup chopped tomato
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
1 (yes, only one this time!) clove of garlic, finely chopped.
1 big handful of fresh herbs, mint & italian parsley, chopped
salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste
Optional: a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and about 1/2 teaspoon of the lemon zest, finely chopped.

HERE’S A SIMPLE VARIATION:
A quick version of a similar salad is this:
1 can of white canneloni beans, rinsed & drained
1 cup of edamame beans, same as above
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 good handful of fresh italian parsley, chopped
Approx. 3T extra virgin olive oil (just enough to moisten everything)
salt & fresh ground black pepper.

Mix all these together. The contrast between the creamy white beans and the fresh edamame, along with the sharp taste of the parsley is just…heavenly  :  )

Summer in a Bowl

I could pretty much eat this dish all summer long, I love it so much! It’s basically an Italian dish somewhat like a dish called “cioppino” and it’s full of “fresh” goodness! You can go fancy with it, adding crab legs, lobster, scallops, etc…Or; you can go on my (budget) side of the tracks and use salmon or tilapia, plus a few clams and shrimp to “special” it up! Either way, it’s one of the fastest, most satisfying meals you’ll ever make. A nice cold glass of white wine–something “crisp” not sweet, along with it really makes this sing. Serves 4 as I’ve written it, but feel free to expand.

S  U  M  M  E  R  T  I  M  E      C  I  O  P  P  I  N  O

Prepare enough fish and/or seafood for each person (cut fillets of fish into servings, wash & prep clams or shrimp, etc.)
8 Roma tomatoes
Olive Oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
Red Chili pepper flakes, or fresh chilies, sliced fine
1 zucchini (or yellow squash, or mix the two) sliced into 1/4″ slices
2 good-size glasses of dry white wine (the rest of the bottle is for later!)
Salt & fresh ground pepper
2 good handfuls of mixed FRESH herbs like basil, italian parsley, fennel (in this case I would only use fresh herbs), chopped
1/2 Lemon

First, slice some nice crusty Italian bread into 1/2 inch slices. Place on a cookie sheet and toast them a little in the oven (you could do this in the toaster, or even on the grill, but keep an eye on them!). Set them aside when they’re done.

Then, put a pot of water on to boil (you’re going to blanch some tomatoes) When it boils, pop your Roma tomatoes in for about 1 minute. Drain the water, let them cool enough to touch, then make an “x” in the top. The skin should mostly slide right off. Take the core out and then roughly chop them into fours. They’ll be ready when you need them.

Next, get a nice big saute pan because the whole dish will be done in it and you can even serve in it. Over medium-high heat, drizzle in some olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pan and sauté your garlic for about a minute. Add the red pepper flakes or chili’s, and the zucchini slices. Keep stirring so your garlic doesn’t burn and after another minute pour in the wine. Once that gets going, put in your chopped tomatoes. As they heat up, start pushing down on them with your spoon (this’ll start to make a light sauce).

Now, depending on what seafood you chose, you’ll start to put it in the pan in the order you need it to cook. For instance, a very thick fillet of fish might need an extra couple of minutes before you put shrimp in, which cooks quickly. So, now start putting in your seafood on top of all that’s in the pan. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add a lid and let it simmer for about 5 minutes.
Right at the end of that, add a few fresh lemon slices and your yummy fresh herbs. Once your shellfish are open (like clams or mussels) you’re done. Get rid of any that didn’t open, and season it  all with a little salt, pepper and a squeeze of that lemon.

To serve it I like to bring it right to the table with the lid still on. Once everyone’s ready–give them the show when you take off the lid..it looks SO pretty and SO appetizing you’ll feel like a famous chef (for a minute or so anyway!). Put a piece of toasted bread in the bottom of a bowl and spoon some broth and seafood on top. That’s it!

Mmm…now I’ve done it.  I’ll just have to make this soon myself!

UPDATE: Yep…I didn’t last the week…I made this on Saturday! Delicious, as usual  :  )

Sláinte!

(which mean’s “good health to you” or “Cheers!” in Irish)…
and a Happy St. Pat’s to all you fellow Irish souls out there today :  )

Nothin’ else to do but post my family’s Irish Soda Bread recipe. It goes at least as far back as my Dad’s Aunt Annie. She was a character, for sure…!

I  R  I  S  H     S  O  D  A    B  R  E  A  D
4C flour
1t salt
1t baking soda
4T baking powder
1/4C sugar
1C raisins (softened in water & drained)
1 egg, beaten
2C buttermilk
2T Caraway seeds

Preheat the oven to 350°. Prepare two round cake pans by greasing them with butter and a dusting of flour.

In bowl, using a fork, mix together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and sugar. Combine the Caraway seeds with the raisins you drained and add them to the flour mixture. Add the egg and the buttermilk. Combine it all with a fork until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Don’t overmix it. Split the dough into the two cake pans, forming a round loaf. (It’s a very sticky dough, so I moisten my hands slightly with water when I do this, it helps it come off and also makes the surface of the bread smoother).

Bake for 40-45 minutes until they’re golden brown. Turn out of the pans immediately to cool.

These are absolutely wonderful sliced with some butter and after a day or so (if there’s any left!), I toast the slices.
The loaves freeze well also.

A New Twist on a Classic

A familiar dish growing up was good ‘ol Stuffed Peppers. It was the 70’s (60’s?) version…green bell peppers, stuffing made from ground beef and white rice, topped with tomato sauce–pretty standard, but mom’s was always pretty tasty.

I don’t know what Hubby’s childhood experience was with them, but I knew it probably wasn’t a favorite, so I decided to give them a “makeover” and reintroduce them as a whole new creation. Gone were the ‘scary’ green peppers (those are his words!) and I tweaked the stuffing to A) be a little more healthful and B) make it  a dish that’s versatile enough to use up all sorts of bits of leftover veggies and such. So, as long as you’ve got some yellow, red or orange peppers (or, honestly, green is just fine if you happen to like them!) you can pull this together almost anytime.

I’ll give you the basic concept, but keep in mind—and this is a good thing–this is really a ‘seat of your pants’ kind of recipe for me. The stuffing can really be anything and any combination. You can keep it all veggie, or you can add very small (1/4″ cubes) of tofu for protein, or make it ground turkey. The trick is adding flavor and keeping it moist. I’ve left the quantities loose because you just need to gauge how much stuffing you’ll make depending on what you’re using, the size of the peppers (why not use those little tiny bells and make this an appetizer??) and how many people you’re feeding.

N  E  W  –  T   O  –   Y  O  U
S  T  U  F  F  E  D     P  E  P  P  E  R  S

First things first–start water boiling to cook some pasta. Any type of small pasta works great, like an orzo, or I used little circles. Get it going and the pasta cooking.

Next, chop very small… fresh garlic, some mushrooms, asparagus etc. The only requirement here is the garlic. Beyond that, use what you like or what you’ve got. Bits of carrot, onion, some of the peppers, spinach, tofu–almost anything, keeping in mind how the flavors might go together. And keep the pieces small so you can stuff your peppers easily.

Sauté all your veggies, etc. in a little olive oil ’til they’re starting to get tender. Season with salt & pepper. Sprinkle about 1 T of flour over the mixture and stir it in. Add 1/2 C of chicken broth (this is for a batch that’ll stuff about 6 pepper halves, adjust accordingly). You’re looking for a moist mixture, not ‘soupy’, but still staying together a little. Drain your pasta well and add it in. Fold in some fresh shaved parmesan–nice little slices about 1/4″ long add little shots of flavor.

While you’re waiting for your veggies to get tender, preheat your oven to 400°‚ then wash and slice your bell peppers in half from the stem down to the bottom (leave the stem on ‘cuz it looks nice, but cut out the seed part inside) As I said, you can use any colors–and actually a combination of a few colors looks great when you serve the whole platter! Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a baking dish and arrange the pepper halves. When your stuffing is ready, fill each little pepper ‘cup’, pressing the stuffing in to fill any spaces and overfilling them so they heap a little. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs over the top (Panko bread crumbs are great if you have them). Cover loosely with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes.

Serve them with a salad on the side, or some fresh, crunchy Italian bread.

Garlic Breath

I think my family must be in a perpetual state of Garlic Breath, ‘cuz we never seem to notice it amongst each other! We love it and eat a fair amount of garlic in general, it’s also good for you, and did I mention we love it? Here’s a little recipe that’s actually very quick, and impressive when you serve it. Plus, it allows you to indulge your inner garlic-lover kind of guilt free…the garlic is roasted and therefore much less…well, you know.  :  )  Serve it with some simple sauteed spinach and you’re all set.

H  E  A  V  E  N  L  Y     C  H  I  C  K  E  N    and
R  O  A  S  T  E  D     G  A  R  L  I  C

4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (trim off any visible fat)
2 heads of garlic, cloves separated, but not peeled
2 sprigs of fresh Rosemary
Herbs de Provence
1-1/2 cup chicken broth (homemade or good store-bought)
1 T flour (for thickening)
Crusty Italian bread, sliced 1/2″ thick

Preheat the oven to 425°

Season both sides of your chicken liberally with salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence. Heat about 1-2T of olive oil on medium-high in a cast iron skillet (or any pan that can go from stovetop to oven). Get it nice and hot and place your chicken in, giving it a good sear. Try not to touch it for the first 3 minutes or so, then lift it to see if it’s getting nicely browned. Once it’s got a nice sear on it (about 5 minutes), flip it over. Turn off the heat and add all the garlic cloves and the rosemary to the pan and about 1/4 cup of the chicken broth. Arrange the cloves so they are mostly in a single layer directly on the pan amongst the chicken pieces.

Pop the pan in the oven for approx. 20-25 minutes. While that’s happening, place your sliced Italian bread on a cookie sheet and put that in the oven just to get a nice “toast” on them (keep an eye on them at such a high temperature and flip them so you can get both sides toasted). Pull them out when they’re done and arrange them on a platter in a single layer.

Once the chicken is just about cooked through, and the garlic cloves are tender when you push on them with a fork, turn the oven off and remove the pan. Place just the chicken pieces on top of the toasted bread (you can keep the whole platter warm in the oven, so leave the chicken just short of done because it’ll finish at this point). With your saucepan back on the stovetop, over medium-low heat, add 2T of water (or white wine) to the pan and scrape up all the little browned bits. Add the rest of the chicken stock, stirring and heating it through. Move the garlic cloves and rosemary out of the middle and whisk in the flour, keeping it at a low simmer, to thicken the sauce. (This is a great time to sauté your spinach with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Do it just for a minute until it’s barely starting to wilt and it’ll be perfect!) Pour all that’s in the pan over the chicken and the bread and serve.

Trust me (and my garlic breath), this one’s a winner!

Go Saints!

(OK, so I really had planned on writing this before they won the Super Bowl, but it’s especially appropriate now!)

I found myself with a small budget for food shopping one week recently and an inventory of my freezer had turned up some leftover spicy turkey sausage links. Trying to come up with something super-good and inexpensive often points to beans and rice for me. Whenever I’m looking for inspiration, my mind takes a little trip and I start traveling through the country and the world.

This time, I ended up in “N’awlins” with my own version of the classic Red Beans and Rice! I’m sure it wouldn’t stand up to whatever a true Saints fan can offer, but we certainly enjoyed it! I tried to stay true to the region by making sure my little freezer-found sausage had a little smokiness to it, thanks to a quick browning with some cumin and smoked paprika (an even truer version might’ve used a nice Andouille sausage). And just for fun, I served it with some Collard greens…Whooo-eee! So here you have it:

‘L  O  O  O  S   I  A  N  A’     B  E  A  N  S    and    R  I  C  E    w/  C  O  L  L  A  R  D    G  R  E  E  N  S

1/2 Shallot (like an onion, but milder) chopped small
4 links Spicy Turkey Sausage (or; if you use Andouille, you can ease up on the cumin/smoked paprika.
If you happen to only have sweet sausage, add a little extra cayenne pepper while sauteeing)
1 Yellow Bell Pepper, diced
2 cans Dark Red Kidney Beans
1-14 oz. can of Diced Tomatoes (I really like the Petite-Diced)
3 T Tomato Paste
1-1/2 C Vegetable or Chicken Broth
Spices: 1/2 t Cayenne pepper, 1/2 t Cumin, 1/4 t Cardamom (or Ground Clove), 1/4 t Allspice, 1 t Smoked Paprika, 1/4 t Thyme,
1 Bay leaf, a good pinch of Saffron (very expensive, but very special. It’s always used sparingly so it’ll last awhile). Salt & Pepper

1 Large Bunch Collard Greens
Whole Grain Brown Rice (this can be instant rice, or regular, either left over or cooked ahead of time)

Over medium heat, sauté the shallots in a little olive oil for about a minute. Add the sausage–either sliced on an angle, or crumbled so it can start to brown up. Add all the spices except the bay leaf, saffron, salt & pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the diced yellow pepper and cook ’til it’s tender. At this point, add your beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and 1/2 C of the broth. Stir it all together very well. Now add the bay leaf, saffron and season with salt and pepper. Stir it gently again to mix. Turn the heat to medium-low, cover and let this simmer away for as long as you’re doing everything else (very technical, huh?! 20 minutes is good, but you can let it go for an hour if you want, adding a little water or broth if it needs moisture. The flavors just keep developing…)

While you’re waiting, cook (or warm up if made ahead) your rice. Prep the Collard Greens by washing and drying the leaves. Chop off any thick stems, and also slice out the firm, kind of celery-like stem through the middle of each leaf. You want pure leaf here!
Stuff them in a pot with the remaining broth. Cover and simmer gently until they’re nice and tender, about  15 minutes. Drain off only excess liquid, you still want them moist. Season with salt & pepper and maybe even a little nutmeg if you’ve got it (it’s awesome on any dark greens).

To serve, spoon the rice on the plate, top with the sausage/bean mixture and lay the collard greens alongside…mmm, mmm!
Enjoy your time in the South!

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