28 August 2010

Simple Cherry Tomato & Basil Summer Salad

Since we spent the day at home, I thought today would be a good opportunity to take a crack at finishing off all those half-eaten restaurant meals that have been slowly taking over my fridge since The In-Laws came to visit.

To accompany our smorgasbord of leftovers, I made a simple side salad of garden fresh tomatoes, basil, and parsley. Oh, it was delicious and made my reheated stir-fried chicken and green beans seem like something special.

Easy Tomato Salad

Simple & Delicious Tomato Salad

Two handfuls cherry, pear, or other small fruit tomatoes
2 Tbsp minced parsley
2 Tbsp chiffonade of basil
Garlic vinegar, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

Halve or quarter tomatoes to make similarly sized pieces. Toss with basil and parsley. Drizzle with garlic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with black pepper.
And that's all the cooking I've done this week!

23 August 2010

Menu Plan Monday, 23 August

I went ahead and wrote up an easy menu plan for this week, but I have no idea if I will adhere to it or not. The In-Laws are arriving Tuesday night and their visits are always dominated by shopping and eating out at weird hours. I don't mind shopping, but two meals a day out for five or six days gets to be a bit much!

(Many recipes from Betty Crocker's Cook It Quick!, because I'm trying to make better use of my cookbook collection ... I own many cookbooks but some see much more use than others and, if I'm not going to use them, then what is the purpose of owning them?)

  • "Chicken-Pasta Salad with Pesto" from Betty Crocker's Cook It Quick! with salad. Ingredients: pasta, cooked chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, farmers market peppers, farmers market zucchini, red onion, homemade pesto.
  • Beef burgers on whole white wheat buns with salad and "Summer Squash Saute" from Betty Crocker's Cook It Quick! Ingredients: farmers market summer squash, red onion, garlic, my tomatoes, my basil, balsamic vinegar.
  • Pick something up after therapy.
  • Boneless chicken thighs, from freezer, thawed and marinated in Greek vinaigrette with "Spinach Orzo" from Betty Crocker's Cook It Quick! and salad. Ingredients: orzo, garlic, carrot, low-sodium broth, thawed frozen chopped spinach, Parmesan, dried basil.

    22 August 2010

    Beautiful Tomatoes Are For Roasting

    Made Jamie Oliver's "Sweet Cherry Tomato and Sausage Bake" (Jamie at Home, Hyperion: 2008) for Saturday's supper using cherry and small fruit tomatoes, rosemary, and oregano from my garden plus fresh garlic and really nice beef sausages from New Boston Beef. I'd picked up the sausages at the Coventry Regional Farmers Market many months ago and frozen them until I had time to do them proper justice.

    Aren't my tomatoes pretty?
    This was a really easy recipe to put together and yielded spectacularly delicious results. However, I did have to make a few adjustments:
    • As I did not have any fresh thyme or bay, I omitted them and simply used more fresh rosemary and oregano.
    • As some of my "small fruit" tomatoes were a bit on the large size, I halved or quartered them so all the tomatoes would roast evenly.
    • The beef sausages were very lean, so I only roasted them for 40 minutes. Then I removed the sausages, put the tomato pan on the hob, and reduced the tomatoes down until super thick and nomalicious (about 10 min on high).
    Served over rice, this made an excellent Saturday night supper and I look forward to making it again with different combinations of herbs and varieties of sausage.

    21 August 2010

    Rachel Ray Knows a Thing or Two

    "Orzo with Feta & Tomatoes" from Rachel Ray using cherry and small fruit tomatoes, parsley, and basil from my garden. Served with boneless, skinless chicken thighs I had marinated in light Italian dressing all day and then grilled.

    I didn't pick this recipe specifically because it was a Rachel Ray recipe, but because it used ingredients I already had on hand. In the end, I thought this recipe made a lovely side dish -- fast and easy and all the flavors worked really well together. I can see this become a regular part of my "tomato season" menu.

    I can also see myself borrowing a couple of Rachel Ray's cookbooks from my library ...

    19 August 2010

    Slow Cooker Stuffed Peppers

    Last Friday, I picked up three enormous green bell peppers at the Burlington farmers market with the intention of stuffing them. Unfortunately, all the stuffed peppers recipes I am familiar with bake the peppers in an oven and I wanted something I could do in the slow cooker -- I wanted to start them around noon (when I am still full of energy) and have them perfectly cooked by the time I returned home from physical therapy (around 7).

    I did find a few slow cooker stuffed peppers recipes in my cookbook collection, but they were all vegetarian recipes.  That wouldn't have been a problem except that I already had a meat-based ingredients list in my head. I wanted my slow cooker bell peppers to use ground turkey out of my freezer, Penzeys "Bold" taco seasoning, tomato sauce, cilantro, onions ...

    In the end, I just made up a recipe!
    Slow Cooker Stuffed Peppers

    2 very large bell peppers, hollowed out
    1 pound lean ground turkey
    2 Tbsp. dried onion pieces, crushed
    2 Tbsp. dried cilantro
    3 Tbsp. Penzeys Bold Taco Seasoning
    2 (8 oz.) cans low-sodium tomato sauce
    ½ cup medium grain rice, uncooked

    Combine ground turkey, onion flakes, cilantro, taco seasoning, rice, and one can of sauce. Gently stuff mixture into peppers, overfilling if necessary. Place in 3.5 quart slow cooker. Pour remaining can of sauce over peppers. Sprinkle with a bit more taco seasoning. Cook on LOW 8 hours.
    How did they turn out? Pretty good for a first attempt. Next time, I think I might add some shredded monterey jack to the meat mix and replace half the meat with black beans ...

    18 August 2010

    Tomatillos In My Tummy

    Almost bit off more than I could chew when it came time to make Food Network Magazine's "Chicken-and-Cheese Enchiladas." While the recipe was pretty straight forward, there were many steps and I had to take frequent breaks while preparing the enchiladas, because I found myself getting a little frustration. Mind you, it was a frustration brought on more by hunger and impatience with the amount of time involved making supper than by any real difficulty following the recipe.

    Chicken-and-Cheese Enchiladas Ingredients

    Yes, that is a grocery store roasted chicken breast in the photo. I didn't have any leftover chicken on hand and, frankly, poaching chicken to shred to fill enchiladas just seemed like too much work!

    I did shred my own cheese, though, by running a block of Boar's Head Monterey Jack through my food processor. I love shredding things in my food processor. It's just too much fun.

    Because I did not have any fresh cilantro (Peapod brought leeks -- do leeks look even a little bit like cilantro? No, they do not!), I reconstituted some dried cilantro in a little water and mixed it in with the shredded chicken and cheese. This worked out pretty well, but I would double the amount of dried cilantro I used were I to use dried cilantro again.

    Chicken-and-Cheese Enchiladas

    We liked these enchiladas pretty well and I think I would make them again this summer.

    Lovely Leeks!

    I have been going through my cookbooks, looking for leek recipes and I think I found a nice variety of tasty dishes. My favorites are:

    Chicken Shepherd's Pie
    From The One-Dish Chicken Cookbook
    An interesting twist on shepherd's pie, using chicken thighs, poultry seasonings, carrots, leek, white wine, Parmesan, and mashed potatoes.

    Leek Pie
    From The Frugal Gourmet On Our Immigrant Ancestors
    A pie of pan-fried leeks and bacon.

    Rustic Potato-Leek Soup with White Beans
    From The Best Recipe: Soups & Stews
    A hearty soup.

    Salmon and Leek Pot Pie
    From The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
    A creamy mixture of salmon, peas, leeks, and dill topped with rectangles of puff pastry.

    When the weather cools down, I certainly intend to try these recipes. Meanwhile, I'm going to break out my slow cooker on Sunday and make "Crockpot Chicken with Mushrooms and Leeks (Low Carb)" with my free leeks. The Husband thinks he doesn't like leeks, but I'm willing to bet he just doesn't like the way he's had them prepared. And, aside from the leeks, there is nothing in this dish he won't eat -- indeed, he has eaten many similar things. If he doesn't like it ... well, there's always delivery.

    16 August 2010

    Menu Plan Monday, 16 August

    Yes, Menu Plan Monday! I'm still a bit wobbly on my feet and tire out easily, but I am so ready to get back to normal life and that means, for me, menu planning.

    We picked up a bunch of vegetables at local farmers markets on Friday and I look forward to using them in this week's menu -- along with the tons of cherry tomatoes and basil my garden is producing. I've been harvesting basil almost daily for a month now and the plants show no sign of tiring. This is great, because it's my first experience growing basil and I was a little worried the plants would go all brown and sticky. Silly me!

    I also have a stray bunch of leeks I really should do something with. Peapod brought me leeks instead of cilantro and, though the delivery person credited me for the missing cilantro, he encouraged me to keep the leeks because they would just be thrown away at the distribution center. I have only used leeks in cold weather recipes and don't know what to make with that would be summer kitchen friendly. If you have any ideas, please share them with me! (Alas, vichyssoise is not an option)

    • "Chicken-and-Cheese Enchiladas" with salad. Ingredients: farmers market tomatillos, shredded chicken, red onion, monterey jack, parsley, feta, corn tortillas.
    • Beef burgers on whole white wheat buns with Taste of Home's "Yellow Squash and Tomatoes." Ingredients: farmers market squash, my cherry tomatoes, my basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.
    • Slow cooker stuffed peppers with salad. Ingredients: farmers market bell peppers, ground turkey from freezer, onion, Italian seasoning, garlic, rice, tomato sauce.
    • Pick something up after therapy.
    • Thawed boneless pork loin chops in Greek marinade, grilled, and served with Rachel Ray's "Orzo with Feta and Tomatoes." Ingredients: orzo, my cherry tomatoes, feta, my basil (instead of fresh parsley).
      • Jamie Oliver's "Cherry Tomato and Sausage Bake" from Jamie at Home with parsley rice. Ingredients: thawed farmers market sausage, my cherry tomatoes, my rosemary, my oregano, bay, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar.

      14 August 2010

      Happy Anniversary! I Bought You Some Peppers.

      We celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary by visiting not one, but two farmers markets!

      Burlington Farmers Market
      268 Spielman Highway
      Fridays through October, 3-6

      This year, Gresczyk Farms is the only vendor at Burlington, but they put out a good spread and we picked up some lovely yellow squash, pickling cucumbers, peaches, and huge stuffing peppers. When we go back next Friday, I'll be sure to pick up some eggs and hydroponically grown butter lettuce, too.

      Southington-Plantsville Farmers Market
      1003 South Main Street
      Fridays through October, 3-6

      The Plantsville market had about five vendors -- including one who was custom cutting chunks of Cabot cheddar from a huge block. We considered buying some, but decided we had enough cheese at home. Madness, I know. We did buy tomatillos, zucchini, apples, and baked goods (including a yummy pumpkin pie square).

      Combine my farmers market loot with the huge bowl of cherry and small fruit tomatoes I harvested from my garden and it looks as if my kitchen is exploding with produce. What to do?

      Well, I have a plan. A menu plan ...

      11 August 2010

      Pantry Raid: Chicken & Tomaters

      Heading into a long weekend of wedding anniversary madness, I gathered up everything in my kitchen that needed eating. I found:
      • wrinkly cherry tomatoes
      • wrinkly organic bell peppers
      • partial garlic bulb
      • partial large red onion
      • half a zested lemon
      Lots of tasty ingredients! What could I do with them? The usual, of course.

      I thawed a pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs and put them in a big bowl. Then I chopped the bell peppers and onions into bite-size pieces and, with the cherry tomatoes and garlic cloves, added them to the bowl. I whipped up a vinaigrette using the recipe on the back of my jar of Penzeys Greek seasoning (olive oil, vegetable oil, red wine vinegar, seasoning, water) and poured that over the contents of the bowl. Squeezed the zested lemon half over it all and tossed everything until it was all evenly coated. Then I let it sit for about an hour.

      After an hour, I preheated the oven to 400°F and poured the contents of the bowl out onto a jelly roll pan. Popped it in the oven and baked it, uncovered, for about 45 minutes.

      Served the chicken on a bed of pearl barley I had made in my rice cooker. Made it exactly as I would "regular" rice -- 1 cup pearl barley, low-sodium vegetable broth to the "1" line, and a handful of dried parsley. When it was done, I stirred in a little freshly grated Parmesan and we went omnomnom.

      How was it? Good, of course. I have made variation of this recipe more times than I can remember. The vegetables, meat, and marinade all vary, but the basic structure of the recipe does not -- chop some vegetables, combine them with meat and marinade, then bake and serve over a grain.

      03 August 2010

      Pantry Raid: Sausage, Orzo, Beans, and Such

      Over the weekend, I had thawed some fully-cooked chicken sausages to grill with peppers and onions and serve on some toasted leftover sandwich rolls.  Well, I didn't get around to sandwiches before the rolls went off ... apparently, fresh bakery rolls won't keep for two weeks in the bread bin. Bad, non-magical bread bin, bad!

      Poking around in my kitchen, I turned up an open box of orzo, canned whole tomatoes, garlic, and beans. Surely, I thought, I could combine these ingredients with the sausage, peppers, and onions to make something delicious?

      Oh, I think I did!
      Tasty Sausage & Orzo 
      1/2 cup uncooked dried orzo
      1 tablespoon olive oil
      1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped
      1/4 cup chopped red onion
      4 links fully-cooked roasted chicken sausage links, sliced into rounds
      2 garlic cloves, pressed
      1 (14 1/2-ounce) can white (great northern) beans, rinsed & drained
      1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes (I chopped up a can of Muir Glen whole tomatoes)
      2 tsp salt-free Italian herb blend
      2 Tbsp parlsey flakes

      Cook pasta as directed. Drain and set aside.

      Heat oil in saute pan, add sausage, pepper, onion and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until vegetables are crisp-tender and sausage is golden brown.

      Add cooked pasta, beans, tomatoes, parsley, and seasoning; mix well. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until mixture is heated through. Serve with tossed salad for an easy, comforting supper.

      02 August 2010

      Basil In My Tea

      Last week, while cooking my basilicious scrambled eggs, The Husband made what he no doubt thought was a hilarious remark about me running mad and putting basil in tea. And I thought, why not? Why not add basil to iced tea? Basil lemonade was very delicious, after all.

      I used Martha Stewart's recipe for "Strawberry-Basil Iced Tea" and it was so very good! Cool and refreshing, with a subtle basil taste and lovely summery aroma.  And the color! Such a lovely strawberry-red -- it reminded me of strawberry cordial.

      (Because I am all about doing as little washing up as possible, I tweaked Stewart's directions somewhat to omit the use of a bowl).
      Strawberry Basil Iced Tea
      Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, July 2009

      8 black tea bags (I used Lipton)
      1 lb very ripe strawberries, hulled and halved (quartered if large)
      5 cups water
      ¾ cup sugar
      1 cup fresh basil

      Place strawberries in a glass pitcher. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Add tea bags, and let steep for 5 minutes. Bring remaining 1 cup water water and sugar to a boil in another saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, add basil, and steep for 10 minutes. Strain over strawberries, discarding basil. Let stand until cool. Add tea to pitcher. Refrigerate until chilled.
      I would like to try this again -- perhaps omitting the strawberries and using a mint or peach tea, instead.