Grilled chicken quinoa with roasted corn, peppers, and pine nuts

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I’m back! Well… hopefully for more than one post a year! Woo wee has it been a year!! Long story short, I completed my first year teaching chemistry, I started a Master’s program, our garden is now over 3000 square feet, and I am now engaged to the maple syrup man ­čÖé

Putting the busy aside… Not much is being produced in the garden as of yet. We are drowning in sugar snap peas, lettuce, and herbs, but are close to harvesting onions, beans, and tomatoes! I love watching the cabbage fold over and the squash plants blossom – it is just too beautiful! After spending 5+ hours weeding today (we were away for a week and the weeds decided to hold my veggies hostage), a light, yet filling dinner was needed. Enter the filling AND light quinoa! I roasted corn that I froze last year in a 400┬░F oven with a little evoo and s&p for 15 minutes. I used pre-roasted peppers, grilled chicken thighs, fresh basil, and straight-from-Russia pine nuts. Trust me when I say that a small bowl of this is filling.

Chicken Quinoa and Pine Nuts

3-4 grilled boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breasts)

1 cup quinoa cooked according to package

1 1/2 cups roasted corn (or 2 roasted ears)

1/2 cup pine nuts

1 small onion, finely diced

1 pepper, roasted and chopped

bunch of fresh basil, chopped (approx 10 leaves)

crumbled goat cheese

evoo and S&P

The recipe is as easy at is sounds. Cook the quinoa, chicken, and corn (and peppers if using fresh).

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Saute onions over medium heat in about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Once translucent, add pine nuts until slightly browned.

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Toss all ingredients together, season with salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and top with crumbled goat cheese.

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Homemade Pumpkin Puree

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Our winter squashes and pumpkins did incredibly well this year. I ended up with 4 nice sized sugar pumpkins (a few cinderella pumpkins), and plenty of squashes.

While rumor has it that canned pumpkin does not have too much of a taste difference than fresh pumpkin, the benefit of not eating out of cans far outweighs the little bit of effort needed to process a pumpkin. In fact, it is so simple, I think that last can of pumpkin in my cupboard may become a donation. Personally, I think the taste is better- it tastes fresh, not canned! Duh.

Three pumpkins yielded over 16 cups of puree. I packaged 7 ‘can sized’ servings for freezing and some extra to make a batch of┬ápumpkin┬ádark chocolate chip cookies.┬áI can’t wait to make pumpkin soup, muffins, bread, etc…. any pumpkin suggestions?

Pumpkin Puree

Preheat your oven to 350┬░F.┬áRinse the outside of two to three sugar pumpkins and pat dry. Remove stem, cut in half and scoop out the guts (yes, that is what I call them). Be sure to save the seeds to roast later (I just tried Worcestershire sauce on the seeds – great idea!).

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When the pumpkins are cleaned out, cut each half into thirds and lay them flesh side up on a cookie sheet. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes until the flesh is soft. Let cool.

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Remove the flesh from the skin and process in a food processor/blender until desired smoothness is achieved. Freeze in baggies or use right away! 1 can of pumpkin is a wee less than 2 cups.

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Gardens never cease to amaze…

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If any of you are from the North East, you probably considered building an ark in the recent weeks, too. Daily dog walks involved mud boots and rain coats. I even contemplated buying rain pants! My poor garden got flooded during a huge storm at the end of May… like, water rushing through the garden from the nearby normally peaceful river – serious flooding. At the point of flooding, we had only planted herbs, onions, garlic, and loads of seeds. Luckily we plant in mounded rows, so they withheld a lot of the force of the water, but the soil and established plants took a beating during the flooding and the following weeks of rain (2nd wettest June on record).

IMG_1860Alas, sunny and hot (and humid) weather has arrived. Things are starting to dry out. Last weekend we weeded for hours and I left feeling blue, which is never how I feel after a day in the garden. I had posted toward the end of June that things were looking good, but all of those plants looked tired from trying too hard.  A few weeks later, they looked barely any bigger and were surrounded by weeds. I thought about giving up the whole gardening-thing.

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But this weekend, just a few days later, I was met with a pleasant surprise. Almost everything perked up, grew inches, started fruiting, and looked happy. It was an immediate endorphin rush. I pulled any new weeds with a smile on face. I was kneeling in the dirt on a sunny, hot day with sweat rolling down my back and bugs buzzing around my head when I thought to myself, a garden is truly an amazing thing. It was a good day.

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Our pepper plants are loaded! For the first time ever!

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A lesson from the garden: No matter how cloudy it is, the sun will shine again.

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The first of the slicing cucumbers are growing strong. The pickling cukes are still struggling, but I have faith.

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Black bean flowers are just beautiful.

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This is the earliest we have ever had tomatoes of this size! We are struggling with some early blight though… any tips for beating it? I am pruning like crazy.

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Our three tomatillo plants have bounced back and are already setting fruit… even though little buggers are still nibbling away!

IMG_1844And after all of that gardening… a much deserved dip at a local swimming hole was enjoyed. We even got Boomer to jump from near the top (over 6 feet)!! I didn’t have my camera ready for that jump though.

Butter Lettuce, Avocado, and Mango Salad

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We have lettuce ready! This is the first year we have ever had lettuce (and radishes, and carrots, and beets). I guess our soil is finally happy ­čÖé Composted manure must do the trick!

Mango’s were on sale a little local market, so I bought a few, but tossed them in the fridge and forgot about them. When I grabbed one today, it was perfectly ripe. After a little searching, I noticed that mango and avocado make quite the pair. Along with a slightly sweet cider vinaigrette, a trio of fresh picked lettuce, mango, and avocado, makes this salad a perfect pre-dinner treat on a triple-H day. For those of you non-New Englander’s, triple-H means Hazy, Hot, and Humid!

Butter Lettuce, Avocado, and Mango Salad

A bunch of butter lettuce – cleaned and torn into bite size pieces

1 ripe mango, diced

1 ripe avocado, diced

1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced

feta cheese, crumbled

Dressing

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp cider vinegar

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp maple syrup (honey would work too!)

freshly ground pepper (just a dash or two)

1. Split the salad ingredients between 3-4 salad bowls. Sprinkle with some feta.

2. In a jar, combine the dressing ingredients. Shake well, taste. Adjust for sweetness by adding more vinegar or syrup. Drizzle on salad. Enjoy!

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Grilled Vegetable and Italian Sausage Pasta Toss

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I wasn’t sure what to call this dish. It’s a mish-mash of vegetables we have in the house, grilled, tossed with some pasta, and enjoyed either warm or cold. I’d call it a pasta salad, but I always correlate pasta salad with raw veggies on a hot summer day. Enter the ‘pasta toss’. A while back my Mom made a grilled veggie salad with Israeli Couscous and a balsamic dressing. I guess after eating that, I realized how good/easy it is to grill a plethora of vegetables and toss it with pasta.

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Although it is not yet summer in Vermont (not even close… it snowed two days ago!), it was 54 degrees today and sunny, so it felt pretty warm! It’s also been insanely windy, so our grill took yet another ride off the porch and rolled about on the ground. I hauled it back up, put all the grates back in, hooked up the propane, and somehow, it lit! The $80 grill that could! So, with a cutting board full of vegetables and a pot of pasta on the stove, dinner was prepped and ready in about 20 minutes.

Italian Sausage and Vegetable Pasta

1 lb sweet or spicy italian sausage

1 lb pasta (bow ties, ziti, rotini, etc.)

1 bell pepper, cut into large chunks

1 zucchini, cut in half

3-4 carrots, peeled

1 onion, cut in half with skin removed

1/3 lb asparagus, trimmed

any other grill-able vegetable (I added 3 stalks celery)

1/4 cup + evoo

s & p

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 splash balsamic vinegar

parmesan cheese, finely grated

1. Cook pasta. Drain and set aside.

2. Preheat grill on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Grill sausage links for about 5 minutes per side, or until charred lightly. Move to upper rack.

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3. Lightly brush vegetables with olive oil and generously salt and pepper all pieces. Lower the grill heat to medium/medium-low and place vegetables on lower rack. Grill for about 5-7 minutes, if starting to char, rotate and continue grilling until lightly charred on all sides (this is like a tetris game… if you have small grill, all pieces need to fit without falling through!). Remove vegetables and sausage when cooked.

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4. When the vegetables and sausage are cooled enough to handle, chop into bite-size chunks. Add to the pasta. Give a good ‘glug’ of evoo, about a 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, 1/2 cup grated parmesan, and a dash of balsamic. Toss. Season with salt and pepper (fresh basil would be delish!). Serve either warm or cooled.

IMG_1464p.s.- You can substitute about anything you want in this dish. Instead of sausage, how about grilled chicken? You could grill up some broccoli or cauliflower, or add some corn or frozen peas… play with it!

Grilled Romaine with Caesar Vinaigrette

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Holy salad!! How have I never had this before?! And holy salad dressing!! How have I never made this before?!

Clearly, you can see that I was floored by this salad. A simple 3 ingredient salad topped off with an insanely easy vinaigrette makes for a deliciously healthy meal! And served with baked flounder… drooling…

Grilled Romaine with Caesar Vinaigrette

2 heads of romaine

6 pieces of bacon, crumbled

1 tomato, diced

4 tbsp evoo

4 tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese

2 clove garlic, minced

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

cooking spray (or more olive oil)

1. In a small bowl or mason jar (works great for shaking), mix all ingredients; well, minus the romaine, bacon, and tomato. Give it a good shake or whisk.

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2. Turn on grill to medium-high heat and let it heat for about 5 minutes. Cut romaine hearts down the middle lengthwise, leaving the stem on. Spray all sides of the romaine with cooking spray or lightly brush a little olive oil over each piece. Grill over direct heat for a minute or two and rotate until all sides are starting to char.

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3. Remove from heat. Top each piece evenly with bacon and tomatoes and drizzle with dressing. Enjoy warm.

Winter Vegetable Gratin

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I found this recipe in my favorite cookbook, Long Nights and Log Fires. It’s kind of fitting to cook from it on a cold winters night in a log cabin (with a wood stove!). I adapted the recipe as I was missing some ingredients, like parsnip and mustard powder, but hey it was still good enough to share.

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This was also the first time I’ve ever had celeriac. It is incredible… so incredible┬áthat I am going to hunt for seed to grow some (Boomer even begged for some! A dog? A vegetable other than carrots? Yep!) I picked up a bag of ‘winter roots’ grown at a local farm. Carrots, beets, turnip, and celeriac. I subtracted the beets, added some potatoes, tossed it with a delicious cream sauce and bam, a filling vegetarian meal (with beets to enjoy later!)

This is a great way to use up some root veggies. The recipe called for parsnip, carrot, rutabaga, celeriac, and potato, but my veggie mix was great as well… meaning another versatile meal! My favorite!

Winter Vegetable Gratin

1 large celeriac bulb, peeled and cubed

2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds

1 large turnip, cubed

2 potatoes, scrubbed and cubed

1 cup light cream

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup plain bread crumbs

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons chopped Parsley (dried is o.k., fresh is better)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

S & P

1. Preheat oven to 350┬░F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add all the vegetables and par-cook for 10 minutes. Drain.

2. In a small pan over low heat, add cream, garlic, and mustard. Stir continuously for 10 minutes until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Mix parsley, bread crumbs, and parmesan in a separate dish.

4. Butter a shallow oven-proof dish. Add vegetables. Pour cream sauce over the veggies and top with bread crumb mixture and some fresh pepper. Drizzle butter over the top. Bake for 40 minutes or until the edges are crusted. Serve warm.

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Meatless Monday: Layered Ratatouille

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Who didn’t love the movie Ratatouille?? With that cute little Remy, who wanted nothing more than to cook his little heart out!! I lived in a place a few years ago where there was evidence of mice… as I set the trap one night, I thought to myself, maybe the little guy just wants to cook!┬áHa. Animated, cooking mice in movies are adorable. Little, scurrying, mess-making, disease-carrying critters on your kitchen counters…. NOT adorable.

Back to the cute, animated mouse… this recipe is a recreation of that gorgeous layered ratatouille. I discovered it a few years ago over at Smitten Kitchen, but haven’t made it since. Served over yummy whole grain pasta with extra sauce and some fresh grated asiago cheese, it makes a beautifully presentable meal.

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Ratatouille

1 small italian eggplant

1 zucchini

1 yellow squash

1 red bell pepper

1 small shallot, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 large can crushed tomatoes

fresh thyme

evoo

fresh asiago cheese

cooked pasta

1. Preheat oven to 350┬░F.┬áIf you have a mandolin, great! If you don’t (like me), using a very sharp knife, thinly slice the eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash into rounds. Cut a circle around the top of the pepper and remove the seeds, leaving the remainder of the pepper intact. Thinly slice the pepper into rings.

2. In a shallow baking dish, like a 9×9, add one cup of tomato sauce. Stir in a drizzle of olive oil, shallot, and garlic slices. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange the sliced veggies, alternating between vegetable types, concentrically from the outer edge of the dish.

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3. Drizzle olive oil over the top. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and a generous helping of thyme leaves. Cover the dish with tin foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 25 minutes.

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4. On the stove, heat the remaining tomato sauce (add garlic and spices to taste, if desired). Cook the pasta.

5. In a shallow bowl, spoon some extra tomato sauce on top of pasta. Top with a serving of ratatouille and some fresh grated cheese.

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Beet Risotto (for your Valentine!)

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Would this not be a perfect side to serve your honey on Valentine’s Day? Look at that gorgeous red color! Pictures can’t do it justice (at least mine can’t…. I need that photo class!)

Don’t be afraid of risotto – it’s not that scary! It takes about 30 minutes to make and trust me, there is no need to continually stir for 30 minutes (like I always believed!). It only takes two pots (three in the beet risotto case) and is essentially fool-proof.

Beet Risotto

3 medium-sized beets

1 small onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

evoo

1 cup arborio rice

1/4 cup dry white wine

2-3 cups chicken stock

2 cups water

1 tbsp butter

1/4 tsp thyme (1/2 tsp if fresh)

1/4 tsp rosemary (1/2 tsp if fresh)

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

pepper to taste

1. Cut the root end and tops off of the beets. Place on a large sheet of tin foil. Drizzle with evoo and sprinkle with coarse sea salt and fresh pepper, and wrap tightly in the foil. Roast at 425┬░F for 45 minutes to 1 hour… or until a fork easily breaks the beets. When they are done, move on to the following.

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2. In a small saucepan, mix water and 2 cups of chicken stock and heat until warm (not boiling). Keep the last cup as backup if more liquid is needed. In a large sauce pan, heat a good dollop of evoo over a medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until onions become translucent. Add rice and continue to saute for 3-4 minutes or until slighty changing in color.

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3. Here comes the fun. Add the white wine and stir well. When the wine is evaporated, add 1 cup of the stock/water mixture. Stir well for a minute. Let simmer until evaporated. Add another cup of the stock, stir for a minute, let it soak into the rice (technically it doesn’t evaporate…). While this is occurring, peel the skin off the cooked beets and coarsely mash (a potato masher works great!)

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4. When 3 of the 4 cups of stock/water have been used, add the mashed beets, butter, thyme, and rosemary. Stir. Add the remaining cup of stock, stir well, and let simmer until soaked in. I recommend tasting the risotto here. If it still needs a few more minutes, add a little more stock (the 5th cup that was reserved). Remove from heat and right before serving add the parmesan cheese and stir well. Garnish with a spring of fresh thyme or rosemary.

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The hard part of making this risotto was attempting to clean up with two pups guarding the sink…. (I think they wanted to be the dish washers!)

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Beet and Avocado Salad

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A while back, Ty and I went to a friend’s house for dinner. She is basically a vegetarian and eats gluten free. I’ve always loved what she cooks and envy her creativity. She served us up a delicious meal of avocado and beet salad and vegetarian chili. I fell in love with the salad and have attempted to re-create it multiple times; she didn’t really have a recipe, so I took the idea and ran with it. I’d say this past re-creation was the best. Luckily I remembered exactly what I put in so I can share with ya’ll! Her salad had sprouts and a pear. I didn’t have any sprouts on hand or a pear, but I had a golden delicious apple, which did its delicious thing for this salad!

IMG_0506I never really liked beets until recently. Maybe it was the fact that the first time I had them, I was on a date with an ex-boyfriend. It left a bad taste in my mouth (if ya know what I mean). About a year ago, I tried them again. Their gorgeous deep purple bulbs and perky green and red leaves were calling me. They are also pretty easy on the wallet. As a matter of fact, in most grocery stores, I have found the organic beets to be the same price as conventional and with more weight per bunch. Beets are also extremely good for you. With one serving providing 11% DV of Vitamin C (peace out flu!!) 37% DV folate, and 16% DV dietary fiber among other important vitamins and minerals. Then we have avocados, which I am sure you all know are considered ‘super foods’. So what do you get when you put beets and avocados together? Why a super-healthy and super-filling salad of course (it’s filling enough as an entire meal for me).

Beet and Avocado Salad

3 medium beets

2 avocados

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Drizzle of evoo

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 small onion, thinly sliced

1 apple (a sweet variety)

4 cups mixed greens (I used Olivia’s 50:50 blend)

S&P to taste

Preheat oven to 375┬░F. Scrub beets and clean tops (hint: leave about an inch of the stem still on the beet… this will reduce bleeding and thus reduce your chance to stain something!). Wrap the beets in foil and until soft; about 45 minutes. In the meantime, thinly slice the onion and chop the apple. Toss with the salad greens.

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In a small dish, peel and pit the avocados. Mince the garlic and add it the avocados. Mash with the evoo, cider vinegar, and lemon juice (a potato masher works really well). Season with S&P. When the beets are soft, remove from the foil and let cool to the touch. Using your fingers, remove the skins. Cut off the tops and dice. Add to the mixed greens and toss with the avocado mixture. Top with toasted almonds or sunflower seeds.

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