Tag Archives: summer

Saute the Squash

30 Jul

I am always looking for something new with my side dishes. At meals, I like to feature more protein, veggies, and fruits than starches. Oh sure, starches are super yummy,  but I tend to opt for fresher options. Since i enjoy cooking, I also like to keep up with food trends and techniques.

That said, I work full-time, am a mom, and have a pretty packed lifestyle. Time is my most valuable commodity. I usually save my big new cooking adventures for weekends when I have more time to tinker in the kitchen. Sometimes I luck out and trying something new can be added into my weeknight “quick cooking” repertoire. Which is exactly what happened recently.

I had a gift card for a cookware store from my sweet sister in law Kathy. What fun! Going into a kitchen store, for me, is delightful and indulgant. But even with a gift card I look for the biggest bang for my buck. In a kitchen store, that means that I would not invest in a “single use” kitchen gadget. What I mean by that is if a kitchen tool only has one use, it has no place in my kitchen. Unitl now…..

I had seen the new trend with sprializing zucchini and squash. “Zucchetti” was the clever moniker, and this new technique for zucchini resembled pasta like spaghetti and lasagna noodles.  So naturally I was drawn to this cool new kitchen tool, and sought it out gift card in hand. Bingo! I found one and couldnt wait to get home and try it.

This gadget was a snap to work from the get go. I spiralized large and small width “Zucchetti”. I sauteed tomatoes to pair with it, and it turned out so well it is now on the dinner table (and lunch leftovers at the office!) quite often. Let me show you what I did.

 

I placed some freshly washed grape tomatoes into a small saucepan with a bit of olive oil, and let that simmer over a low heat for about 20 minutes. The tomatoes got saucy, fragrant, and creamy. After that,  I simply sautéed the spiraled squash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. I then combined the two, and voila! I finished it off with some fresh parsley and basil from my summer garden. With a bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese it was a complete, and completely delicious, side dish.

 

 

Zuchetti has become so much more than a simple side dish this summer. I have used this with marinara sauce, a bright lemony shrimp sauce, and other pasta sauces using zuchetti instead of pasta noodles. Whether using this as a side dish or a feature in the center of the plate item, this is a tasty replacement for starchy rice or pasta.

So even though I purchased a kitchen gadget that had basically one function, the flexibility of what can be done with the spriralized zucchini is endless.  Now my zuchetti is a mainstay for light and tasty meals. What can you do with it?

 

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Beet the Heat

16 Aug

Beets are the best.  Roasted.  Pickled.  Sautéed.  Cold.  Hot.  Beets are great as a side dish with balsamic vinegar and goat cheese.  They are delicious roasted along side other vegetables.  I’ve even eaten them right out of the can.  Being raised in the midwest, vegetables were always on our dinner table, but somehow beets got overlooked. So how did I get hooked?

My love affair with this herbaceous plant began in adulthood.  The first time I tried beets was a happy surprise.  I was tired of my usual repertoire of veggies and decided to try beets.  In the grocery store one day, I impulsively grabbed a fresh bunch of beets with the intention of simply roasting them.

I brought them home, put the beets on the counter, and stared them down.  Hhhmmmm.  This would be an adventure.  I washed them and laid them on paper towels.  Off came the green tops.  I peeled the fresh beets, placed them on a baking sheet, drizzled some olive oil over them, and into the oven they went.  The beets cooked up beautifully.  One taste and I was hooked.

But the thought of those greens going to waste was unthinkable.  Out of curiosity, I pinched off a green and popped it into my mouth expecting it to be tough and woody.  I was delighted to find the greens tender and flavorful.  Oh heck yes!  I would find a way to eat the greens too!  That was many seasons ago…

Now summer is on the horizon. I am beginning to think grilled, chilled and easy.   I do not want my oven on this time of year.  What is the best way to enjoy beets this season?  Piled on a garden fresh crisp salad!

But first, let’s chat for a second about the virtues of beets.  Some would say they are not a desirable or sexy vegetable, or even a popular one.  But since they are packed full of vitamins and minerals, and so versatile, beets cannot be overlooked.

The health benefits of including beets in the diet are numerous.  They are a good source of fiber, have lots of vitamin C, and are high in folate and potassium.  Beets are also a rich source of antioxidants, compounds that prevent disease and the damaging effects of oxidation of cells throughout your body.  They are very low in fat, and certainly don’t need a lot of added fat to make them taste good.

While they come in many varieties, we most often see the “blood turnip”, or red beet. They are a root vegetable, like a carrot or potato and they like to grow in cool weather.  They are available canned all year long, but we see them seasonally featured in the spring and the fall.

And remember how I said it was not considered a sexy vegetable?  Well think again.  Fruits and vegetables, like herbs, were used in ancient times as medicine.  One of the first known medicinal uses for the beet was as an aphrodisiac in ancient Greece.  There.  I said it.

Anywhoooo….beets are very easy to prepare.  If they are fresh, they can simply be peeled, drizzled with olive oil and roasted.  They are also wonderful diced and  sautéed.  Canned beets are fabulous hot or cold.  Simply open the can, rinse the beets, and toss them on a salad.  They can also be heated and enjoyed as a simple side dish.

Back to those green tops for a minute.  If you have fresh beets with the greens, do not throw those away!  The greens are also a nutrient dense food and adaptable to many dishes.  Like beets, the greens can be enjoyed raw, such as mixed with other greens in your summer salad.  They can also be sautéed much like spinach, in a little olive oil.  Season them a bit with salt and pepper, and you’ve got another phenomenal side dish.

If you’ve tried beets and didn’t like them, try them again.  If you’ve never tried them, its time to add some variety to your diet.  The health benefits  of beets are plentiful, they are budget friendly, and just plain delicious.  Let your own impulses go wild, pick up some beets up at the farmers marker or grocer, and begin your own adventure!

Delicious cold beets piled on a fresh summer salad! Yum!

Delicious cold beets piled on a fresh summer salad! Yum!

Wet and Fresh

23 May

The warm weather is coming.  Thank goodness.  I am tired of the gray rainy spring.  As much as I detest the horror of getting my jiggles and wiggles into a swim suit, I simply adore summer.  The breezy warm nights, a casual vibe,  outdoor evening concerts, dining al fresco.  Yes, the pleasures of summer are many.  But take caution.  The warm weather can increase the threat of dehydration.

If you are thirsty, you are already experiencing mild dehydration.  And did you know that dehydration is the number one cause of daytime fatigue?  Even mild dehydration can decrease endurance, slow cognitive thinking, and cause headaches.  Great reasons to stay hydrated.

Interestingly enough, studies suggest that 70-80% of daily hydration should come from fluids, and 20-30% from the water content in food.  So, it is important to drink water and healthy fluids during the day and limit sugary drinks.  But in addition to that, especially in the warm summer weather, it’s also important to eat foods that are high in water content.  Need a list?  Look no further.  This list contains fruits and vegetables with more than 90% water.

  • cucumbers
  • watermelon
  • grapefruit
  • iceberg lettuce
  • cantaloupe
  • zucchini
  • radish
  • tomato
  • cabbage
  • bell peppers
  • strawberries

Looking at this list I hope you are not thinking of just eating these wonderful fruits and vegetables solo.  Oh no!  Lets have some fun while we eat our water!  How?  So glad you asked.

How ’bout this…a salad.  No, not a lettuce side salad.  A cucumber watermelon salad is the best!  So hydrating and refreshing in the hot summer months, not to mention beautiful.  Simply dice up watermelon and cucumber.   Toss.  Then the fun begins.

Make it more sophisticated with mint.  Or add a savory balsamic glaze.  There are a million ways to customize this fun summer salad, and it will keep you alert and ready to go to the next thing.  So this summer, don’t forget to eat your water!

Watermelon Cucumber Salad.  Delicious and refreshing.  Oh..and so pretty!

Watermelon Cucumber Salad. Delicious and refreshing. Oh..and so pretty!

FRESH SALSA!

21 Aug

It’s time to really dig into the fresh tomatoes and corn of the season.  There are a million things to do with beautiful summer vegetables.  I just love the versatility of grabbing some tomatoes and thinking of so many ways to use them.

Speaking of the summer bounty…it’s time to make some fresh salsa.  Who doesn’t  love salsa, served with corn chips-I love the low sodium baked version-Now make some super fresh salsa from scratch.  Fresh salsa is also great on meat and fish.  It packed a punch of flavor, and you can make it as zippy as you want.

It’s time

And be creative. Start with:

  • 5 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 Vidalia onion, finely chopped (sometimes I use green onions instead)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1-2 finely chopped jalapeno peppers
  • 2 T. lime juice
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Throw all these ingredients in a bowl.  Give it a quick stir.  Refrigerate.  Yup, it’s that easy!

Then add, if you so choose:

  • Fresh corn, just cook it and cut it off the cob
  • Black beans, rinsed
  • A variety of other peppers chopped-they are bountiful in the summer!
  • Chill your salsa, and serve with baked corn chips

Grab the chips and a beer.  Enjoy!

Let the pesto pop!

17 Aug

Ok..again my Leo comes out…even in my cooking.  Summer sunshine means amazing herbs spring to life in my garden.  My favorite of the summer herbs has got to be basil.  I wash my hands before I pick the delicate leaves so I can allow the delicious scent to linger on my fingers for a few extra minutes. Then I close my eyes, bring my fingers close to my face and breathe deep. Yum!!  It is an herb I simply cannot live without. It plays a starring role in many of my recipes.

Everyone has basil around in the summer.  It is easy to grow, but if that’s not your thing, its super easy to find in the grocery store and farmers markets.  There are a million ways to use it, from simple Bruschetta to complicated sauces.  Summer bruschetta with fresh tomatoes and basil is as refreshing as a popsicle!  But one of my all time favorite ways to use basil is fresh pesto.

Pesto takes moments to prepare and can be used in many different ways. Pesto can be liberally poured over pasta making a delicious side dish. It can be brushed onto fish, adding beautiful color and flavor to either delicate or hearty fish. I have doused chicken with pesto, adding flair to an otherwise bland weeknight dinner. Pesto can also be spread onto a sandwich as a savory condiment.

I love the freedom to use my flavor packed pesto on most everything! It is simple and makes me look like a rock star in the kitchen at times. Who wouldn’t love that? Pesto is very forgiving too. I have adjusted or substituted ingredients without having to sacrifice flavor. I will pass along my pesto recipe and let you have some fun with it too! It is a crowd pleaser, so make plenty and keep it handy in the fridge or freezer.  Bon appetite!

Basic Pesto:

2 cups fresh basil leaves (or 1 cup dried)

1/2 cup parsley leaves

1 1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil (adjust to taste)

1-2 cloves fresh garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

FYI- I have tried using toasted pine nuts as well as roasted garlic and it did not make a notable difference in taste. I have also substituted walnuts for pine nuts, and the flavor was great. I have used both “el cheapo” parmesan cheese in the can as well as fresh parmesan cheese, and fresh makes a difference. Use it if you can, but if you only have the can on hand, go for it! I usually add a little more olive oil if I am putting this on pasta. If you are using dried herbs in a pinch, you also may want to increase the olive oil. Go ahead! Play with this recipe! Have fun and enjoy the amazing flavors!

Dressings just aren’t that hard!

14 Jul

Its time to step up here.  Beautiful summer vegetables are bursting out of gardens and farmers markets.  They can be fixed a million ways.  Vegetables can be steamed, sautéed, roasted, grilled, blanched.  The list goes on, but as the summer steamy weather is also upon us let’s go for something cool and refreshing.  Many veggies can be prepared then chilled, or eaten raw.  When we prepare vegetables that way we can also add a nice dressing.  And they just aren’t that difficult to create.  So let’s get busy!

I have passed along to you my bleu cheese dressing recipe.  Now let’s just focus on a simple vinaigrette.  Vinaigrettes are fabulous on a salad, but also on cold vegetables.  Like cooked fresh green beans?  Try cooking them, cooling them and serving them chilled with a lovely home made vinaigrette.  Once you get the hang of this super easy dressing, develop your own relationship with it, and let it reflect your own personal taste, I promise you will quickly become an enthusiast!  Soon you will be dousing your cucumbers and cold carrots with a light vinaigrette to reflect the season!

First, a word about vinaigrette.  Generally, the base is one part vinegar to 3 parts good olive oil.  You can use a bold vinegar like balsamic, a mild vinegar such as apple cider, or get a little crazy with grapefruit infused vinegar!  But best to start slowly and let your flavors grow and develop as you get the hang of making this.  Also, you can add a little lemon juice to your vinegar. Here we go.

  • 2 T. vinegar
  • 1 t. lemon juice (optional)
  • 6 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. Dijon mustard or dried mustard (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • a pinch of fresh herbs in season, or dried, such as  parsley, chives, or tarragon.

Put vinegar in a bowl.  Whisk the vinegar with a pinch of salt.  This is the time to add your mustard if you prefer it in your vinaigrette.  Whisk until salt is dissolved.  Add other ingredients and whisk until well incorporated.  Sometimes I make my vinaigrette in a jar with a lid and shake it.  That is all there is to it.  Budget friendly, delicious, simple and easy.  Start making yours today.  Dress your salad or cold vegetables and celebrate the season with this chilled refreshing twist!

1-2-3-GO!

6 Mar

Alright.  It’s March.  Let’s get rolling on thinking about the upcoming summer.  No, I don’t mean go try swim suits on.  Ugh!  Who wants to try on tiny cloths with pale dry winter skin that hasn’t seen the sun in months!  And shave my legs?  Forget it!  That is not what I am talking about!  It’s time to start planning a garden!  I started mine.  Yahoo!

I get spring fever really early in the season.  I just love warm sunny weather.  So I start to get jazzed about the upcoming summer long before the lawn needs cutting.  Long before warm breezes allow me to enjoy the screen porch.  I simply can’t help myself.  Therefore, I need to placate myself (and NOT by swim suit shopping!).  I find winter joy in planning my spring and summer garden.

The reality is, though, that I am a really busy working mom.  My fantasy of languishing in my fragrant blooming garden, dressed in crisp cotton khaki’s and a sun hat (channeling the lovely Katherine Hepburn!), fielding compliments from jealous neighbors is, well, just that.  A fantasy.  But that doesn’t stop me.  I have learned to reign myself in a bit.  I have a small garden.  But even that is very rewarding.

First, I can start planning my spring summer garden in the late winter months, which is fun.  Second, I go small and easy.  I have mostly herbs in my garden.  My time is tight, and I don’t have the greenest thumb in the world.  In fact, I am a bit clumsy in the garden, so I won’t quit, but I do work within my, shall we say, limitations.  Time, space, and ability are constraints I need to be mindful of when planning my garden.  As much as I would love to devote hours to a fabulous garden, I can’t.  And I learned that lesson the hard way, but I did learn it!

I have already put my seeds in their little peat moss pots.  I have a great sunny window seat, so I move the cushions and plunk my little seedling wannabe’s there to sprout.  My pots are in neat little rows all labels with popsicle sticks and labels.  Simple.  It is very inexpensive to set up because I stay away from the gimmicky “potting and watering systems” for new seedlings.  I go the old fashioned route.  Little cups, good seeds, rich potting soil.  I shove my finger in the filled pot and sprinkle seeds in.  I water them, keep them in a spot where they get good sun, and watch my garden begin.  Happily.

So far I have started herbs including rosemary, 2 kinds of basil, parsley, cilantro, and mint.  I also started arugula, mesculin, and other lettuces.  Again, lettuces and greens are super easy to grow.  I am practically guaranteed success.   I added green onions and red peppers.  That’s it.  Simple dimple.

My little garden scratches my spring fever itch for many months.  It’s so gratifying to watch my little sprouts peek up out of the soil and take root.  When the weather warms up, I will head out to prepare a spot in my yard.  I will spend a morning transplanting and fussing a bit over the garden.  Then I will step back and let it go!  Stepping out of the kitchen into a garden is pure magic.  Picking fresh greens and herbs is gratifying.  And the smells are amazing.  You can’t help but throw your head back, breath the fresh herbs in, and begin creating a flavorful dish in your mind.

So I can’t have the huge blooming garden I think that, as a foodie, I should have, but my little one sure makes me happy.  So go get your supplies, plant your seeds, and enjoy some summer simplicity.  It’s fun.  I promise!