Taking Time to Smell the Roses….Sort Of

If you read yesterday’s post, you know I’m fighting a summer cold.  I don’t want to belabor the point, but I remind you of this so you can understand why I had much more trouble than usual getting moving yesterday morning….and I did!

I woke up between 8 and 9, but felt absolutely ghastly.  I thought about spending the day in bed, ordering soup from room service and feeling sorry for myself; but that thought was fleeting because I’m in a new place and there is much exploring to be done!

So I indulged my inner child and stayed in bed long enough to write yesterday’s post and watch a few episodes of NCIS, but then I got up and decided I’d try to sweat the cold out.  I threw on some workout gear and a baseball hat, brushed my teeth and headed out in search of a nice, safe neighborhood to take a walk and gawk at southern-style houses.

I decided to try the North Hills area, which was a short drive from our hotel.  I explored the area and finally decided on a beautiful neighborhood called Reedham Oaks.  Since there was nowhere safe to park in the neighborhood, I found a nearby church with an empty lot, parked the car and walked from there.  It wasn’t too hot and although there was rain in the forecast I had time to get in some steps and sweat out some of this cold.

While I was walking I listened to a podcast that Jeff and I recently discovered.  It’s called Marriage to the Max (MTTM) and is about healthy marriage – something to which Jeff and I certainly aspire!!!  Not that we have an unhealthy marriage; but anyone who has been married for 24 years (last week was our anniversary – happy anniversary, baby) understands that if you aren’t working toward improving your marriage, you may be giving satan a foothold.  I find MTTM very informative and encouraging.  There are some ouchy moments listening to it, but those are the moments I really need to pay attention and adjust my course.

I worked up a good sweat and a little bit of an appetite, so I started to head back to the car.  And incidentally, it was just in time as it began to sprinkle as I was making my way back to the church parking lot.  Next stop, Target.  Our cooler leaked on the way down so I wanted to replace it and I thought I’d pick up something other than the Sudafed I’d been taking since Saturday night – since it didn’t seem to be helping.

My quick stop at Target included a brief conversation with the pharmacist, who – after asking about my symptoms – steered me toward a quick release, extra-strength pain reliever rather than the Sudafed. And boy was she right.  I feel oh so much better taking the pain reliever rather than the Sudafed.

The long walk and shopping trip to Target turned ‘my bit of an appetite’ into a ‘wow, I could east something substantial.’  Knowing that Jeff was having dinner out I decided to get some takeout to bring back to the room so I could eat in comfort and then get a shower.  I opted for The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar.  Although I love sushi, it was not calling to me in the moment, but a burger was.  Sitting in the Target parking lot, I pulled up The Cowfish menu online and began the difficult task of choosing a burger from their extensive list of burgerliciousness.

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After much deliberation, I opted for the The Local Yokel.  The menu describes The Local Yokel as follows:

“Half-pound beef burger.  Goat Lady Dairy goat cheese, fresh basil, fried cherry peppers, Abbott Farms F.R.O.G. (fig, raspberry, orange, ginger) jam reduction, brioche bun.  Choice of side.”

I used ChowNow (an online ordering system) to order my food and then put The Cowfish into Waze and navigated the late-afternoon traffic to The Cowfish.  I parked in their convenient 10 minute parking and waited for my food at the bar.  In no time, my order was ready and I was on my way back to the hotel.

I dug into my food and was treated to a taste explosion.  The beefy burger was nicely balanced with the tanginess of the goat cheese, the slight sweetness of the F.R.O.G. and the occasional spiciness of the peppers.  The fries were well seasoned and, had I not transported my meal for 15 minutes, would likely have been just the right crispness. I must confess, I was so hungry when I got back to the hotel that I didn’t take any pics of the food…….so sorry!

After I ate, I decided that I didn’t want to be holed up in a hotel room for the remainder of the evening so I set off for the JC Raulston Arboretum at N.C. State.  Parking was easy and there is no admission per se – but donations are appreciated. And you’ll want to make a donation when you see how pretty the grounds are.

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I wandered through the arboretum for about an hour – taking this windy path and then that.  And as I wandered, I realized it is true what THEY say….”not all who wander are lost.”  It was so relaxing just soaking in the beauty of nature.  After walking the grounds, I took some time to sit on a glider near a lovely fountain wall and listen to the water as I watched the evening light change my surroundings by degrees.  Evening light is my favorite – it’s golden and what I call “juicy.”  At this point in the post, I wish I could tell you about the epiphany I had or the philosophical thoughts that went through my mind; but in truth I enjoyed a few moments of NOT thinking.

Finally, as the light began to change from golden and juicy to fading, I made my way back to the hotel and to a well-deserved, much-needed shower.  Although it had felt good to sweat out some of the yuck, it felt even better to wash it away and slip into clean pj’s.  By the time I was done drying my hair, Jeff was returning from his dinner and we spent some time talking about our respective days and just enjoying one another’s company.

I got my pics into yesterday’s post and published it.  And I got my pics ready for this post too – even though I hadn’t written it.  Then we climbed into bed with our books.  I pretended to read for about 5 minutes and gave into the heaviness of my eyelids.  I don’t know how long Jeff stayed up and can only assume he left this morning around 7:15 a.m. since I wasn’t up to say goodbye (sorry honey).  But I did get up around 9:00 and got ready for my day.  First stop, BREW….stay tuned for more!

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Tubtrug! Gesundheit

I recently attended a meeting of the Rudy Gelnett Memorial Library Food for Thought Cookbook Club.  If you’re wondering about the evening, read my post entitled Food for Thought.  Today, however, I am referencing my time with that group for a different reason.

GS Box in Sunlight

Today, I opened a box from Gardener’s Supply Company. Stay with me – you know I have a tendency to SEEMINGLY get sidetracked; but if you hang in there long enough, I usually bring it back around!

Why am I telling you about opening a box from Gardener’s Supply in conjunction to a reference to a cookbook club?  Well, while at the meeting of the cookbook club one of the members, Mona, began taking the dish she had made out of an interesting carrier that I hadn’t seenGS Box before.  At least I thought I hadn’t seen it before until she told me about it and then I realized I had seen it before, just not in the context of a food carrier.

The carrier she was using is called a Tubtrug and is from…..drumroll please….Gardener’s Supply (GS).  GS bills it as “one of the most useful gardening tools.”  Among other things, GS recommends using it for:

  • mixing soil
  • rinsing vegetables
  • repotting plants
  • feeding the dog (depending on the size of your dog and the size of your Tubtrug you could bath the dog in a Tubtrug)
  • stashing mittens and/or hand tools
  • soaking your tired feet

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So in my many journeys through the GS catalog I have seen the Tubtrug, I just never thought of using it as a food carrier until I saw it in action and realized just how practical it is for the task.

I transport food quite a bit and I’ve had my fair share of spills and mishaps in my car – in fact, I had a run of several autos that were cursed with the smell of spilled milk and believe me if you’ve ever spilled milk in your car in the summer you know you DO cry over spilled milk.  But, I digress…..

I purchased the shallow 4-gallon Tubtrug – which measures 15″ in diameter at the top and is 6 1/2″ deep – perfect for many platters and bowls.  If something spills in it, you can easily rinse it out in the sink or with a hose AND you can buy a lid for the shallow 4-gallon Tubtrug – so I did.  The Tubtrug is flexible, but when you put the lid on it, it is less so – more sturdy and steady.  AND, Tubtrugs come in many sizes and colors.

Tubtrug & Lid

Tubtrug & Lid

I can envision using it not only to transport food, but also as an icy server for cold drinks at a picnic, as storage for large quantities of fruits from the market or for when I need a REALLY big bowl of chips!  I’m sure I’ll find many additional kitchen uses for my Tubtrug and will keep you posted if there are any especially great ones.

I suspect I might need to buy one or two more for in the garden as well. And I can envision them being great storage bins around the house too.

A quick search of ‘Tubtrug’ on Pinterest showed me the following uses for the Tubtrug:

  • toy storage
  • cleaning supply storage
  • mudroom storage (a different color for each family member)
  • laundry basket
  • pet toy storage
  • baby bathtub
  • hamper
  • tub toy storage

Do you have a Tubtrug?  How do you use it?

Thanks, Mona, for the suggestion.  I cannot wait to deliver a meal to someone just so I can use my new Tubtrug!!!

Greek-Inspired Stuffed Eggplant

One of the aspects of gardening I appreciate most is the social one.  I know, this may sound strange; but if you’re a gardener you know what I mean.  When you garden, you end up talking passionately with other gardeners and trading produce like young boys trade baseball cards (or at least they did when I was young).

If you’re lucky, you grow different things than your friends do….that way when the crops are really prolific, you end up with produce you didn’t grow and your friends end up with a harvest they didn’t grow.  It’s a wonderful way to build relationships!

“When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree; when drinking water, remember who dug the well.”

~ Vietnamese Proverb

Abundance of Eggplant 2

Over the weekend I came into an abundance of end-of-season eggplant; so I spent part of my day today making Greek-Inspired Stuffed Eggplant.  I’ve made this recipe previously; but never written down the process.  Today was a good day to take my time documenting the recipe and an even better day to share it with you!

Preparing Eggplant

Eggplants Cut in Half

Peeled Stripes

Gazebo Room DressingEggplant Boats

Eggplant Boats Drizzled with Gazebo

I began by preparing the eggplant……First I cut the stem end off and then I cut them in half lengthwise.  I used a peeler to strip away some of the peel (I left some stripes of skin on the eggplant because Jeff likes them without the skin, but there are important nutrients in the skin – so it’s my compromise).  Next I used a paring knife to score a “well” in each half and then a spoon to scoop out the flesh.  I saved the flesh in a bowl to add to the filling later.

After preparing the eggplant “boats,” I drizzled them with some Gazebo Room Dressing (about 1/3 cup total for all 7 eggplants) and roasted them in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes (some were smaller so I took them out sooner).

I cut the skinless boneless chicken breast into 1 1/2″ cubes and mixed it with 1/3 cup of Gazebo Room Dressing.  I set the chicken aside to marinate while I worked on the filling.

Orzo Cooking

Filling in Process

Then I boiled a pot of water to cook the orzo for the filling.  While the pasta cooked, I prepared the vinaigrette using lemon juice and zest, minced garlic, minced thyme, coarse Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil.  When the orzo finished cooking, I drained it and stirred about 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette into the orzo and set it aside to cool. When it was cool, I added 1/2 cup of currants, 1/2 cup of pine nuts and 12 oz. of Feta cheese that I had cut into cubes.

Eggplant Flesh for FIlling

I then set about making the filling.  I started by sautéing 2 medium diced onions in olive oil.  (To minimize dish washing later, I used the same vessel in which I cooked the pasta). While the onions cooked for about 5 minutes over medium heat, I diced the reserved flesh from the eggplants (I discarded the really seedy pieces) – in the end it was about 3 cups of diced eggplant flesh.

I added the diced eggplant to the cooked onions and continued to cook the mixture while I cut some Tuscan kale into ribbons.  When the onions and eggplant were softened, I added the kale and cooked it long enough for it to wilt.  When the veggies were finished, I transferred them to the bowl with the orzo to cool.

Cooking ChickenBrowning Chicken

Next I turned to the chicken.  In the pan I used to cook the veggies to cook the chicken (again, this would save me on dish washing later).  I cooked it in 3 separate batches – to avoid boiling the chicken – for about 4 minutes per batch until it was nicely browned and cooked through.

After all the chicken was cooked, into the filling mixture.  To finish the filling, I mixed in all but 3 Tbsp. of the dressing.

Eggplant in Oven

Stuffed Eggplant

I spooned the filling into the eggplant “boats” – filling them until they were nicely mounded with filling.  Finally, I topped the “boats” with seasoned breadcrumbs and a drizzle of the remaining dressing and baked them in a 350 degree F oven for about 35 minutes.

The result? Mmm mmm mmm!

 

Plated EggplantI hope you use this recipe and enjoy the delicious results. I recommend making extra and sharing it with friends or family.  As a matter of fact, the timer is just going off and as soon as I slide the eggplant out of the oven I’m headed to our friends’ house to drop some off.

Sharing the fruits of your labor – whether they’re veggies from your garden or a meal from your kitchen (or really, the result of any of your talents) – gives your friends one more reason to think of you and smile!!!

Greek-Inspired Stuffed Eggplant

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: entree chicken eggplant lemon feta cheese

Ingredients

    To Prepare Eggplant Boats

    • 6 medium eggplant
    • 1/3 cup Gazebo Room Greek Dressing

    To Make Vinaigrette

    • 3 lemons, zest and juice (about 1/2 cup juice)
    • 1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme
    • 1 Tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard
    • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
    • 1/2 tsp. pepper
    • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    To Make Filling

    • 3/4 lb. orzo, cooked according to package instructions
    • 3/4 lb. chicken, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes and marinated in 1/4 cup Gazebo Room Greek Dressing
    • 12 oz. Feta cheese, cut into 3/4″ cubes
    • 1/2 cup currants
    • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
    • 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
    • 3 cups cubed eggplant (reserved when preparing eggplant boats)
    • 2 medium onions, diced
    • 1 large bunch Tuscan kale, chopped

    For Topping

    • 3/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
    • 3 Tbsp. reserved vinaigrette dressing

    Instructions

    To prepare eggplant “boats”

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

    Cut the stem end off each eggplant.

    Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise.

    Optional – if you don’t prefer to eat the peel, peel each eggplant half or compromise like Jeff and I do and peel strips off each eggplant half, leaving a little of the skin intact.

    Using a paring knife, score a well in each eggplant half.

    Using a spoon, scoop the flesh out of the well. (Cut the removed flesh into small cubes and save 3 cups of the cubed eggplant for the filling. I discard any flesh that is really seedy.)

    Place the “boats,” well facing up / skin side down, on a rimmed baking sheet.

    Drizzle the “boats” with Gazebo Room Greek Dressing – dividing the 1/3 cup dressing among all the halves.

    Roast the “boats” in the preheated 400 degree F oven for approximately 30 minutes (you want them to be tender, but not mushy).

    Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

    To make the vinaigrette

    In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the lemon zest and juice, minced garlic, minced thyme, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.

    While you are vigorously whisking, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the lemon mixture. You want to whisk faster than you pour so that you create a nice emulsion.

    Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

    To make the filling

    Cook the orzo according to the package instructions.

    Drain orzo and transfer to a large, heat-proof bowl.

    Pour 1/2 cup of the dressing over the hot orzo and stir to coat.

    Set orzo aside to cool.

    When orzo is cool, stir in cubed Feta cheese, currants and toasted pine nuts.

    Set aside.

    Over medium-high heat, sauté onions in Tbsp. olive oil- stirring frequently – until tender but not brown, approximately 5 minutes.

    Add remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil and cubed eggplant and cook for an additional 5 minutes, lowering heat to medium.

    When eggplant is soft, add chopped kale and cook for approximately 3 minutes just to wilt the kale.

    Remove the veggies from the pan and allow to cool.

    In the same pan, sauté the cubed, marinated chicken – stirring frequently – over medium high heat – working in batches to avoid boiling your chicken rather than searing it – for approximately 4 minutes, until cooked through and nicely brown.

    Remove chicken from the pan and allow to cool.

    When veggies and chicken have cooled, mix them into the orzo mixture.

    Add all but 3 Tbsp. of the remaining vinaigrette and stir well to coat and evenly distribute ingredients.

    To Fill, Top & Bake Eggplant

    Reduce heat of preheated oven to 350 degrees F.

    Fill each eggplant half with filling, mounding the filling over the top edge of the eggplant.

    Place eggplant half on a rimmed baking sheet.

    Repeat with all halves.

    Distribute the seasoned breadcrumbs evenly over all the eggplant halves.

    Drizzle the remaining 3 Tbsp. vinaigrette over all the eggplant halves.

    Bake in preheated 350 degree F. oven for approximately 30 to 35 minutes. Filling will be heated through and breadcrumbs should be golden brown.

    Serve & enjoy!

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    Spring is Springing

    It’s no real secret that I am not a fan of summer. I don’t know which I dislike more, the heat or the humidity; but I can assure you that were it not for the sweet treats the summer garden offers, I would be looking to move to a cooler place!

    You see, that’s what hooks me about summer.  I don’t care about summer vacations – in fact, some of my favorite trips have been in the winter.  I don’t care about dipping my toes in the ocean in July – I’d rather stroll along the beach in October or February.  If I never had to go to another picnic, I’d live – I’m not much for eating outdoors with the bugs at the hottest part of the day!  I know, I sound like the Scrooge of Summer – that’s because I am.  Except for when it comes to the garden!!!

    I love the promise of the garden in spring, the bounty of the garden in summer, and the glimpse of renewal the garden gives us in autumn.  I even love the stark look of the garden in winter when the snow, instead of plants, fills the raised beds.

    And this is when the gardening begins…..oh, there is planning in winter – looking through seed catalogs, thinking about where the plants will go….but now is when the seeds are carefully placed in the soil, the grow lights are on more than they are off, and the beautiful green seedlings poke up through the dark brown of the soil.  It’s a beautiful thing!

    A beautiful thing that I have to share with you.  The following are some pics of the seedlings currently growing in my guest room.  I know, most people use their guest room for guests – but who better to live in your guest room than the plants that will work so hard to feed your family in summer and fall?

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    My mouth is already watering thinking about the first red, juicy, ripe tomato that will go into a salad or on a tomato sandwich, or the first salad with fresh, tender greens, or the wonderful aroma of the first onion sizzling in a sauté pan.  Oh yeah!  Along with spring, my anticipation of fresh veggies is also springing!!!

    What are you planting in your garden this year?

     

    Winter in the Garden

    During the summer and early fall, I share tons of pictures of my garden with you.  I take photos of everything budding and then bursting forth with abundant harvests.  But what about now?  What does  my garden look like today?

    Raised Beds

    Kale Past Its Prime

    Bird's Eye View of the Garden

    At first glance, winter in the garden can look bleak.  It can look like a time of death or abandonment, but really it’s a time of rest and renewal.  A good gardener looks at the garden in winter, without plants, as a fresh canvas.  A good gardener takes stock of which crops did well and which did not.  She looks at the blank space and sees possibility and hope!

    What we see – that which is above the ground – is a void.  But below the surface, the bulbs are waiting with anticipation for exactly the right time to push their tiny shoots through the soil and into the light.  They are storing up energy so that when it’s time they can grow and bloom.  Some plants require “vernalization” and without it they will not bloom.  Vernalization is “the acquisition of a plant’s ability to flower in the spring by exposure to the prolonged cold of winter.”

    Tall Grasses

    The Beauty of Winter

    And it seems to me there’s a parallel between the garden and our lives.  We should spend time each year resting and renewing – perhaps those surprise cold “snow days” we all anticipate – so that when it’s time we can bear much fruit.  But so often we don’t.  So often we rush through our days, fill our calendars, and over-pack our schedules, taking no time to regenerate.  No time to catch our breath and rest our weary bones. Even on our snow days, we rush to “catch up” on laundry, cleaning, television shows.  But we don’t use to our advantage the gift of rest we are given.

    God’s Word tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:

    “There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

        a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
        a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
        a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
        a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
        a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
        a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
        a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

    What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 “

    Notice all the opposites in the scripture passage.  A time to be born, a time to die.  A time to love, a time to hate.  A time to tear, a time to mend.  Yet we try so hard to keep running forward – to do, do, do more –  without the opposite….rest.  We keep talking and talking, without the opposite….silence.  We continue to accumulate things, without the opposite….purging.  So many of us try to put on the brave face and keep laughing, or we try to keep distracting ourselves with tv or technology, or we try to fill voids with drugs, alcohol, food, sex, but we miss the value of crying.  We miss the value of feeling ALL our emotions – of giving each of those emotions some time – a season – in our lives for us to sit with them and deal with them and feel them.  Some of us avoid these feelings because we’re afraid.  We’re afraid we’ll get stuck in them and they’ll never leave us.  But new seasons come.  Or we avoid them because they’re painful and we try to avoid pain at all costs.  But pain subsides.

    A Snowy Nest

    A Snowy Nest

    I would imagine if the garden could choose, it would choose continual harvest.  It would choose hot days and warm evening breezes and gentle spring rains.  But the winter is necessary.

    Thyme in the Snow

    So the next time you look at a garden in winter – whether it’s yours or someone else’s – try to see the beauty of the sparse conditions.  Look at the blank canvas and try to see possibilities.  Value the rest, the rejuvenation.  And I urge you to ask yourself if you need a time of rest and renewal.  A time to slow down and store up energy.  A time to look at the layout of your garden – or your life – and to ask the hard questions about whether you need to make changes in order to bear fruit.

    Neighbors' Snowman

    Winter in the garden – and in life – can be beautiful.  Embrace your own winter.

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    10 Recipes on My “Must Try” List

    It’s no secret that I spend a lot of time poring over magazines, cookbooks, Pinterest, and other websites and blogs looking for recipe inspiration.  I wish I had more time and money to try all the recipes I’ve pinned, bookmarked, tabbed, etc.; but I thought since I don’t have an unlimited supply of either time or money (if you have ideas of how I can accomplish this, let me know) I’d share with you some of the recipes I’d like to try SOMEDAY.

    Perhaps if I spent less time looking for recipes and more time making them, I could fit it all in.  But then, oh horror, I might miss something!!!!

    Be assured that I will try these recipes ONE DAY and when I do I will write  ‘Recipe Reviews’ and let you know my thoughts, but for now just sit back and drool with me!  Let’s get started…

    ONE. I wish I was one of those people who could skip past a recipe with “Cheesy” or “Bacon” in the title, but I am not.  These just sound incredible to me…..

    Cheesy Bacon Bombs from www.ohbiteit.com.

    TWO. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I am not afraid of making homemade pie crust (in fact, if anything the filling always scared me more than the crust); but this looks this idea is so yummy and cool I just know I need to give it a try.

    Cinnamon Roll Pie Crust from www.taste-for-adventure.tablespoon.com.

    THREE. Since we have an abundance (some would say “over-abundance”) of tomatoes in our garden right now, I should make this soon.  The flavor combination sounds delish to me.

    Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart with Rosemary and Mascarpone from www.theendlessmeal.com.

    FOUR. Another great idea for tomato season that combines my love of shrimp and my love of feta cheese with my current profusion of tomatoes!!!

    Roasted Tomatoes with Shrimp and Feta from www.myrecipes.com.

    FIVE. I am not typically a casserole gal.  I much prefer my food in separate piles on my plate to it being all in one pile; however this sounds too good to pass up to me.

    Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole from www.recipesweet.net.

    SIX. Anything that promises to be a HEALTHY alfredo is worth a try if you ask me!  I cannot imagine it will be as good as regular alfredo, but even if it’s only half as good (and it’s healthy) it’s a win!

    Healthy Fettuccine Alfredo from www.pinchofyum.com.

    SEVEN. I LOVE chickpeas.  In fact, I must confess, there was a time I was probably addicted to them!  Hummus, yummus!  Fried Ceci, yes pleasi!  And now….

    Cilantro Lime Chickpea Salad from www.ohsheglows.com.

    EIGHT. I have written previously about a culinary rut Jeff and I got into for a while….we were relying very heavily on quesadillas for dinner.  They were fast and usually easy – since we used a lot of leftovers.  But had we tried this quesadilla, we probably would not have felt like it was a rut.

    Peach and Brie Quesadilla with Honey-Lime Dipping Sauce from www.cookinglight.com.

    NINE. Oh, this next one combines three of my favorite things in one dish and makes me think of a salad I had at one of my favorite restaurants, The Salvation Café.  I love the peppery bite of arugula, the luxurious texture of goat cheese, and the earthy taste of beets!!!

    Beet, Arugula and Goat Cheese Sandwich from www.bsinthekitchen.com.

    TEN. OK.  If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, I would choose Parmesan cheese.  I love the salty, nutty, butter combination and I truly think it is the world’s most perfect food.  So it’s no surprise that I would add the next recipe to my list of “must try’s.”

    Parmesan Pudding with Pea Sauce from www.marthastewart.com.

    Well, I cannot promise to stop trolling for recipes, but I can promise that someday I will make the 10 recipes above and let you know how they turn out.  Hmmmm….maybe I should do a “10 recipes in 10 weeks” series.  I’ll give that some thought, just as soon as I put down the latest issue of bon appetite magazine!

    Monday Recipe Love MMM Your Review Leftovers

    I know it sounds confusing……but it’s really not.  It’s a Monday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post all rolled into one!!! Except….oh, no….the holiday weekend has messed me up…..Jeff just reminded me, IT’S NOT MONDAY.  Ugh….Ok, so it’s a Tuesday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post!!!

    Coming up with new and creative ideas for dinner can be just as difficult for someone with a passion for cooking, eating and entertaining as it is for the Average Jane or Average Joe.  Sometimes the creativity just isn’t there and/or sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking.  But when you’ve got leftovers on hand and you’ve just tried a RRREEEAAALLLYYY good recipe, it’s a bit easier.

    On Sunday Jeff and I went the home of our friends Lu and Mark for a cookout.  A bunch of folks gathered for an impromptu celebration of Mark’s birthday. And of course, when friends get together you can count on two things – at least with our group of friends – lots of laughs and some darn good food.

    Lu made an appetizer platter with a few new-to-her recipes including Pickled Deviled Eggs and Pickled Brussel Sprouts – both mmm mmm mmm.  I made an Ina Garten / Barefoot Contessa recipe that I recently wrote about when our friends Barb and Scott invited us to their lovely home for dinner.  The recipe is Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes…….I raved about it when Barb made it and my friends raved about it when I did too!

    crostiniLu and Mark also grilled hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, Maureen and Andy brought their yummy mac and cheese, Ev and Jeff brought peach cobbler, and Tim and Jack ran out for glazed donuts when everyone was talking about the Luther Burger craze.  Luther Burgers are allegedly named for Luther Vandross and are cheeseburgers served on sliced glazed donuts.

    Well, my assessment of the Luther Burger – five M’s – MMMMM!

    But I digress……

    Tonight I was stumped about what to make for dinner, so I did what all self-respecting cooks do when they don’t know what to make….I stood in front of the open fridge hoping inspiration would jump out at me….and it did. I spied the container with the leftover whipped feta, a package of chicken, the leftover marinated tomatoes and a head of broccoli Jeff picked from the garden yesterday.

    Here’s what I did:

    1. I cut the chicken into cutlets – with my palm on top of the chicken piece and my knife parallel to the cutting board I cut on a very slightly downward angle (to avoid the knife going into my hand).  Then I pounded the cutlets, breaded them (first in seasoned flour, then in egg wash, and finally in seasoned bread crumbs), shallow fried them and set them on paper towels to drain.

    2. I ran out to the garden to pick a few extra tomatoes and followed Ina’s recipe to make some extra marinated tomatoes.

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    3. I made the pesto with some arugula, spinach, the broccoli, lemon juice, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  I tasted it for seasoning and then set a pot of water on the stove to boil so I could cook the pasta.

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    4. While the water boiled and the pasta cooked, I spread the remaining whipped feta onto the cooked chicken cutlets and placed them in a 250 degree F oven to stay warm and for the cheese to soften.

    Chicken with Whipped Feta

    Just after I drained the pasta and mixed in the pesto, I heard the garage door go up.  Jeff’s timing is exceptional – particularly when food is involved!  While he changed, I plated our food – the pesto pasta next to the feta smeared chicken, which I topped with the marinated tomatoes.  We both raved dinner and Jeff complimented me on taking Ina’s Crostini recipe and adapting it for a main course.

    Chicken with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes

    As far as the recipe goes, Barefoot Contessa’s Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes gets 5 M’s out of 5!


    It is easy to make, takes only a few ingredients, yields incredible flavor, pleases a crowd, adapts well to other preparations and holds well for leftovers!!!  So, whether it’s Monday or Tuesday, I hope you love your leftovers, try a new recipe and end up with an MmmMmmMmm!!!!!

     

    Dinner Mmm

    Barefoot Contessa Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta

    Ingredients

    • 6oz good feta cheese (crumbled)
    • 2oz cream cheese (at room temperature)
    • 2/3 cups good olive oil (divided)
    • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed (I also used the zest of one whole lemon))
    • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 tablespoons shallots (minced (2 shallots))
    • 2 teaspoons garlic (minced (2 cloves))
    • 2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
    • 2lb ripe heirloom or cherry tomatoes (1/2 inch dice)
    • 3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves (julienned)
    • 20 - 25 diagonal baguette slices (toasted)
    • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (toasted)

    Directions

    1. For the whipped feta, place the feta and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until the cheeses are mixed.
    2. Add 1/3 cup of the olive oil, the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and process until smooth.
    3. For the tomatoes, up to an hour before you're serving, combine the shallots, garlic, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes.
    4. Whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
    5. Add the tomatoes, stir gently, and set aside for 10 minutes.
    6. Stir in the basil and taste for seasonings.
    7. To assemble the crostini, spread each slice of bread with a generous amount of whipped feta. With a slotted spoon, place the tomatoes on top. Put the crostini on plates and scatter with the pine nuts. Sprinkle with extra basil and serve.

    Recipe Review: Tomato Jam

    Last week I was paging through my recipe notebook looking for possible dishes to make for a friend’s party and I came across a recipe that Jeff printed from the internet for Tomato Jam.  Because we have sooooooo many tomatoes in our garden right now, the recipe really caught my attention.  I set it aside to revisit, but somehow it ended up back in the recipe notebook when I put it away.

    But, the recipe gods were not about to let me forget. Last Saturday morning, after taking a long walk, Jeff and I harvested about 30 pounds of tomatoes and various other veggies from our garden.  When we brought our haul into the kitchen, Jeff said, “You know, I printed a recipe for Tomato Jam that we should make.”  I giggled and knew it was meant to be!

    I got the recipe back out of the notebook and decided to make a triple batch.  I would have made even more, but I was low on sugar so I made as much as I could with the sugar I had.

    I carefully washed 4 1/2 pounds of Roma tomatoes and cut them into a large dice.  I added the sugar, lime zest, various spices, diced Hungarian peppers (the recipe called for jalapeno peppers, but I didn’t have any so I subbed from the garden) and set it on the stove to cook.  The recipe called for a cooking time of approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes; however mine took significantly longer – perhaps because I tripled the recipe or perhaps the fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes were juicier than the tomatoes used by the recipe author.  But it didn’t matter, I was working in the kitchen anyway, so I kept stirring and testing the jam on a plate to make sure it was the right consistency.

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    There are different ways people test the consistency or setting point, but I learned the saucer or plate methods so that is what I used.  Some ways to test include:

    • The Saucer or Plate Method:  Spoon a small amount of jam onto a plate and let it cool – if it is ready, it will wrinkle and feel firm.  When you run your finger through the jam (be careful that it is cool), the track from your finger will stay.
    • The Spoon Method: Stir the jam with a wooden spoon, turn the spoon over so the “wrong side” is face up, allow the jam to cool slightly, and run your finger through the jam.  The track from your finger should stay and when you hold the spoon sideways with warm jam the jam will form a thick drop.
    • The Thermometer Method: Test the jam with a sugar thermometer.  When the temperature reaches 220 degrees F it has hit its setting point.

    The recipe did not call for skinning and seeding the tomatoes so I didn’t; however once it reached the right consistency I wasn’t happy that the skins were in the jam so I pulled out the food mill.  I processed the jam through the mill, which was a big improvement; however, the jam seemed to get thin when I processed it so I put it back on the stove for a few minutes to thicken.

    Reduced Jammm mmm mmm

    OhMyGoodness!  The jam is incredible.  The first thing Jeff and I did with it was to put it on a pizza we were constructing for dinner.  We spread it on the freshly stretched dough, topped it with some shredded cheddar cheese, added oven-roasted tomatoes and some sharp provolone.  Finally we sprinkled on some fresh basil and slid it onto the pizza stone.  We pulled it off the stone when the cheese was bubbly and just beginning to turn golden brown.  Again, OhMyGoodness!  The pizza was terrific, due in part to the tomato jam.

    Hot Out of the Oven

    The next morning, Jeff made breakfast before church.  He sliced and toasted a parmesan pepper baguette, spread the crostini with tomato jam and topped them with scrambled eggs. Mmm mmm mmm!  Jeff proclaimed that not only was the jam great on a pizza and eggs, it also was great right off a spoon.

    I will play with the recipe the next time I make it.  I want to try making it slightly less sweet, but I don’t think I’ll mess with the spices – the combination is divine!

    Overall, I’d give the recipe 4 M’s out of 5…

    The recipe could have been more specific for a first-timer about how to test to make sure the jam had reached its setting point and I think it should have addressed removing the skins from the tomatoes.  But overall – with a few tweaks – the end result is fantastic. Had the resulting jam not been so good, I would have only given the recipe 3 M’s out of 5.   I’d highly recommend giving this recipe a try – particularly if you find yourself with 30 pounds of tomatoes!!!

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    Check out the addendum to this post!

    Tomato Jam

    Ingredients

    • 1 1/2lb good ripe tomatoes ((Romas are best) cored and coarsely chopped)
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice ((mmm mmm mmm added lime zest as well))
    • 1 tablespoon freshley grated or minced ginger
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 jalepeno or other pepper (seeded and minced or red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste)

    Note

    Recipe by Mark Bittman, The Minimalist / New York Times

    Yields 1 pint.

    Directions

    1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan.
    2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.
    3. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
    4. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep in fridge at least a week.

    Steamy in the Garden

    Last night Jeff and I were sitting out in the backyard by the pool (yes, the pool is a new addition to our yard – pics to come later) reading and chatting and just generally relaxing. Between pages and conversations I was looking around the yard – especially at the garden.  There are so many things hanging on in the garden – not quite ready to be picked – teasing us – that I knew I’d be out in the garden with my camera this morning when the light was better.

    And the light WAS better this morning, but it was downright steamy.  So steamy in fact that when I took the lens cap off my camera, the lens fogged up.  So steamy that in the 20-or-so minutes I was outside my hair frizzed beyond belief and I drooped.  Now I am inside thanking God and Trane (or whoever the manufacturer of the AC system at Sophia’s at Walden is) for air conditioning!!!!!!

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