Friday, July 30, 2010

A Manly Steak Salad

We don't do salad very often in our house. I'm not sure why, but it just doesn't make it on the menu. I don't like to eat the same thing every day and most packages of greens are more servings than two people need in a week. But it's summer and it's hot - and light meals are the way to go.

I like salads full of stuff. I'm not a fan of salads that are just lettuce and dressing (like Caesar). I usually order the salads full of beans, avocado, corn, etc.  So when I set out to make a steak salad at home I pulled out a few ingredients from the refrigerator.

For the cold ingredients: Olivia's Organics spinach.  Next up, carrots and English cucumber. The rest of the ingredients (steak, onions, mushroom, and asparagus) went on the grill. For dinner we had, what I'll call a "manly steak salad". For lunch the next day we had the same base salad with grilled chicken on top. It was fantastic both ways.

Mix the salad base early in the week and you can top it with different proteins each day - steak, chicken, chickpeas, tuna (if you like that sort of thing), or even some grilled tofu. You can change the taste with different dressings also. It's easy to tweak the mix and enjoy a different salad every day!

Manly Steak Salad
Serves 2

2 cups spinach leaves, roughly chopped
2 carrots, cut into coins or sticks
1/2 of an English cucumber, cut into one-inch sticks
1 medium Vidalia onion, sliced into rings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon water
8-10 spears asparagus, trimmed
1 portabello mushroom caps, lightly brushed with olive oil
Sirloin Steak, approximately 1 lb.

Wrap onion slices, olive oil, and water in a foil packet and seal tightly

Heat the grill to medium-high heat, grease the grill to prevent sticking
Sprinkle both sides of the steak with a generous amount of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
When the grill is hot, add the steak and onions directly over heat
For a 2 inch thick steak, cook for 8 minutes per side for a medium steak
When you flip the steak, flip the onions and move off of the direct heat and
add the mushrooms and asparagus to the grill (flip after 4 minutes)
Remove veggies and steak from the grill and set aside
Do NOT slice the steak yet (it needs to rest)

While the steak is cooking and cooling, prepare the rest of the salad
Place 1 cup of spinach on two serving plates
Split the carrots and cucumber sticks evenly between the two plates

Combine 2 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar in a small container with a lid
Shake vigorously to combine

After steak has rested for about 10 minutes (so the juices don't run out), slice and place on top of the salad
Top with sliced portabello, asparagus, and onions
Dress salad to your liking and add freshly ground pepper

Serve with a big fork and knife and enjoy!

Grilled Chicken Topping (for the next day)
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, excess fat trimmed off
Old Bay seasoning

Rub a generous amount of Old Bay seasoning on both sides of the chicken
Heat grill to medium heat and grease the grill to prevent sticking
When grill is hot, add chicken and cook until done
The time varies depending on the thickness of the chicken and heat of the grill. It could be anywhere from 10-15 minutes
Let the chicken cool before slicing into bite sized pieces
Add to the salad base and dress the salad before eating

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

Cook time:15-20 minutes
Cutting board, knife, plates, tongs, grill, dressing container, foil, serving dishes and utensils

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Family Tradition: Tomatoes in the Garden

Growing up, every summer meant strawberries and tomatoes growing in the backyard. I was never a big fan of tomatoes - something about the texture just didn't appeal to me - so I never really considered trying to grown them on my own. Fast forward to last year when I started buying green zebra tomatoes from Atlas Farms. They still have some gooey seeds to scoop out, but the rest of the tomato is firm and tangy. I missed the window to plant strawberries this year, but decided to plant two green zebra tomato plants and herbs to go with them.

I previously posted about my garden when it was just starting out. Here is an update on my gardening progress. I'm happy to report that we've been eating basil in almost every meal for the last month. The lime basil plants are doing great - there are leaves to harvest every day or two. My chives didn't like the rainy weather and I'm down to just two little shoots.

Genovese Basil (with the tag) and Lime Basil

The biggest success (I think) is the progress of my tomato plants. It started with just one tomato.  Now I've got six good looking tomatoes and a bunch of little babies budding. Here's a look into the garden.  I can't wait for them to be ripe and ready to eat! 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Night Snack Dinner: I Love Cheese

When the hubby is home alone, he often dines on his signature "Snack Dinner".  While he's away this weekend on a baseball road trip, I decided to make my own version of a snack dinner to enjoy lounging on the couch in front of the TV. 

We were supposed to head to the Vermont Cheesemaker's Festival today, but the hubby told me the wrong dates for his trip. Just because that meant no cheese-fest, didn't mean no cheese!  I was happy that our tickets went to good use - after sending out a few tweets someone looking for tickets found me. It wasn't just anyone.  It was Dancing Cow Farmstead Cheese.  They offered to send me a wheel of Bourree cheese as thanks for sending them our tickets.  When I thought about a wheel of cheese, I was picturing a circle of brie cheese sized wheel.  Not quite:

I will be enjoying this cheese for a while.  It is a Bourree cheese, and according to their website, "Bourree is washed rind cheese with an earthy aroma, supple paste and a rich, creamy texture that melts into a beautiful smoky, meaty, lingering finish. Bourree is made from raw cow's milk, uncooled, from only a single milking."

For my snack dinner, I paired it with a crusty baguette, a few slices of monterey jack (cheese fest, after all), sliced bosc pear, cherries, carrots, cucumber, and a homemade yogurt dip.  I poured a glass of YB Wines Rose (my recent purchase from The Urban Grape).  This is a neat wine - organic, packed in a tetra pack. It's not too sweet and not too dry. Easy drinking for a warm summer night and matched well with the simple flavors of my snack dinner.

Next year we'll head to Vermont for the festival.  For now, I'll keep cutting off wedges of cheese and thinking our trip next July.  Anyone want to come over for a snack?

Homemade Yogurt Dip
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon greek seasoning blend
1 teaspoon chopped flat leaf parsley
Juice from a small wedge of lemon

Mix and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Guest Post: Renee's Thai Basil Fried Rice

This guest post is brought to you from Renee, my fellow foodie, co-worker, and sorority sister. Thankfully we have similar taste in food. That means a lot of lunchtime leftovers are shared in our office. When we're not bringing in our culinary creations, we can often be found at the local Thai restaurant. Renee decided to try making her favorite Thai dish and this is her recap. You can follow Renee for interesting food, pop-culture, and other tweets at or check out her blog at Without further delay, here she is:

I often get a craving for the amazing Thai Basil Fried Rice from our favorite local take-out joint The Green Pea Pod in Watertown, MA. I am trying to curb these cravings as my new budget means cutting down on take-out. Luckily, one of my favorite ingredients to pick up from my weekly pilgrimage to Russo & Sons is the amazing Thai Basil. I use it in everything! So, improvising I went, and came up with a very simple Thai Basil Fried Rice of my own! It was a great substitute if I do say so myself!

Renee's Thai Basil Fried Rice
3/4 lb chicken breast tenders
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
2 large cloves of thinly sliced garlic (or 4 small cloves)
1 1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1 small red bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 small green bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 small vidalia onion, sliced
1/2 cup chopped Thai basil leaves
3 tablespoons soy sauce (or to taste)
Sriracha (Thai hot sauce)
Olive Oil

In a large pan, heat oil and half of the garlic
Add chicken, sprinkle one side of chicken with seasoning salt
Brown chicken and remove from pan
Add remainder of garlic, when it starts to sizzle add onions
When onions become clear, add both types of peppers
Cook on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes or until peppers are your desired firmness
Reduce heat to medium
Add basil leaves and continue to brown for 2 minutes

Add soy sauce to veggies
Stir continuously until mixture JUST begins to boil
Add Sriracha to your desired heat (NOTE: It is VERY spicy. Know what you are getting into before you dump some in!)

Optional- Chop your cooked chicken into bite size pieces
Add the cooked chicken to the vegetable mixture
Simmer for 2 minutes
Add the cooked brown rice to the mixture
Let simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes
If mixture starts sticking to the bottom of your pan, add 1/8 cup of water at a time

Serve with a cold beverage and enjoy!


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cooking American Food: Wild Rice Salad

American food was the assignment. The party theme was all-American food and music. My first instinct was to pick up one of my state-themed cookbooks (Missouri, Montana, and Ohio) and pick out an all-American side dish. But when you start reading the recipes, you realize that almost all of the recipes were inspired by non-American cuisine and include many use non-native ingredients. In community cookbooks like these, the recipes included have been passed down through families and most originated in another part of the world.

I closed up the books and starting thinking about what foods are native to this part of the world and what I could put together in a summery side dish to please a big crowd. Since the party was on a weeknight the salad had to be travel friendly (an hour to work and an hour to the party with no refrigeration). And since I didn't know all of the guests I ruled out my favorite herb, cilantro and nuts in case of allergies.

After some thinking I came up with two ingredients - wild rice and cranberries. Wild rice is native to North America - it grows in the Great Lakes region. Cranberries are a product of Massachusetts, so they were an easy choice to throw in.

I perused the cookbook library and really couldn't find a good recipe for what I was looking to make. So I used my American can-do attitude and made up my own recipe!

My weekly trip to the farmers' market yielded a vibrant green bunch of flat-leaf parsley and purple scallions. A quick trip to the grocery store provided the rest of the ingredients - wild rice and celery. Thanks to some delicious free samples, provided to me by Oh!Nuts, I had a bag of dried cranberries in the pantry. The dressing for the salad was made out of ingredients from the fridge and the pantry. As a bonus - this is a very healthy dish! The only fat comes from the oil in the dressing and all the ingredients bring something nutritious to the mix.

The salad was pretty quick to make - while the rice is cooking you can finish all of the other components. It held up well during travel and was a big hit! I lightly dressed the salad the the before the party and put out extra dressing for guests if they wanted more flavor. I will be making this again soon! The wild rice is a great base for a variety ingredients - much like quinoa, barley, or kasha. Perfect for summer lunches and potlucks!

For a recap of all the American inspired dishes and songs, visit the gracious party host's blog Doves and Figs. I forgot to take a picture of the finished product - you'll have to visit Doves and Figs to see the completed salad. Great company, food, drinks, and song!

Summer Wild Rice Salad
Serves 10+ as a side dish

Rice Salad
2 8-ounce bags Quick-cooking Wild Rice (Lundberg Family Farms brand)
1.5 cups celery stalks, washed and diced
1.5 cups dried cranberries
1 cup flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
3-4 scallions, purple (or white) and green parts chopped

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Zest from 1 orange
Juice from one orange
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Cook rice according to the package instructions
Remove from the pot when finished and let cool completely
Toss veggies, herbs, and cranberries with the rice (I think using your hands mixes it best)

In a food processor, combine vinegar, honey, mustard, orange zest and juice
Blend, streaming in olive oil until well mixed and frothy

Pour about half the dressing over the rice mixture and toss well
Refrigerate overnight, or until ready to serve
Toss with additional dressing if desired
Garnish with fresh parsley leaves and enjoy!

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes (rice)
Pot for rice, spoons, cutting board, knife, measuring cups, food processor, serving bowl and utensils

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Daring Kitchen: Homemade Nut Butter and Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew Dressing

This year I’ve been a lot of different nut butters to add some nutrition and variety to my breakfast routine. I was excited to see this month’s challenge – DIY nut butter – because buying it at the store can get pretty expensive!

The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.

Now I’m no stranger to using nuts in recipes, but I never considered starting with nut butter (even though I probably have without knowing it).

It’s been hot here in New England and with no air conditioning in the house I chose the recipe that involved the least amount of cooking – Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew Dressing. We’ve made a version of this before with peanut sauce, so homemade cashew butter dressing sounding like a tasty twist.

We opted for a meat-free version. I was going to include tofu, but it wasn’t on my list which meant it didn’t end up in my grocery cart. Oops! A quick look in the pantry produced a box of Thai rice vermicelli which was perfect for the recipe. To brighten up the flavor of the dish even more, I added some freshly harvested lime basil from my garden. The plants are producing leaves like crazy and the flavor is really delicious.

This was a great meal for a hot night and the leftovers were a perfect lunch the next day. Next time I run out of nut butter, maybe I’ll whip up my own instead of running to the store!

Recipe notes:
I used roasted, unsalted whole cashews and added a little canola oil to smooth out the butter
I rinsed the noodles in cold water and served everything cold

Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew Dressing
Yield: 4 servings
Adapted from recipe provided in challenge

Cashew Butter:
1 cup cashews

Cashew Dressing:
½ inch slice of fresh ginger, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, more or less to taste, chopped
½ cup cashew butter
¼ cup soy sauce
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons vinegar
3 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon water

Noodle Salad:
1 box rice vermicelli
1 large red bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into thin strips
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh lime basil
Lime wedges (optional)

Make cashew butter:
Grind cashews in food processor for about 2 minutes until smooth. I added about a half tablespoon of canola oil to help smooth out the cashew butter.

Prepare cashew dressing:
Combine ginger, garlic, cashew butter, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and water in food processor with the cashew butter. Process until smooth. Be sure to process long enough to puree the ginger and garlic. The dressing should be pourable, about the same thickness as cream. Adjust consistency – thinner or thicker -- to your liking by adding more water or cashew butter. (If the cashew butter was unsalted, you may want to add salt to taste.) Makes about 1 ½ cups dressing. Store any leftover dressing in the refrigerator.

Prepare noodles according to package instructions in salted water. Rinse and drain noodles. Set aside.

Slice basil into thin ribbons. Combine noodles, bell pepper, cucumber, onions, and basil in a large bowl.

Plate individual servings of noodles and toss each with about 2 tablespoons of dressing. Top with the vegetables and basil and serve with a lime wedge.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It's Hot...and We Haven't Gone Grocery Shopping...

The combination of a few hot days in Boston, no AC in the house, and a busy week left us looking into a pretty bare fridge tonight with little motivation to cook a big meal. We rarely eat out on weeknights and had already made one exception to that rule this week. I mustered up all the creativity I could and pulled out whatever looked good in the fridge and pantry.

According to the hubby, "It was an old-standby with a refreshing addition". We have two meals that we usually end up making when we are tired and out of ideas - eggs and bagels or rice and beans. Tonight we went with the rice and beans.

My new lime basil plants have been really growing, and I had a lot of leaves that needed to be used up. Digging around in the fridge uncovered a jicama I thought that lime basil and jicama sounded like an interesting combination. I pulled out my Rick Bayless cookbook for inspiration on a dressing and found a recipe for a cilantro lime vinaigrette. Since I had neither of those, I used what was on hand to make a lime basil orange vinaigrette. To make the salad even more exciting I threw in a handful of pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds). This gave the salad a nice crunch and extra flavor dimension. Thanks to Oh!Nuts for sending me some tasty products to try out.

For the rice and beans, I will admit that I used the microwave to cook them both. Hidden in the pantry was one of those 90 seconds rice packages and some black beans. I heated them up and then tossed the black beans with a little of the extra vinaigrette. It was delicious!

The end of the week calls for a summery cocktail - my Thursday night concoction was a spiked strawberry lemonade. A cold, refreshing addition to the meal.

What's your favorite go-to meal when you don't feel like cooking? Favorite pantry staples?

Jicama Salad with Lime-Basil Orange Vinaigrette
1 medium jicama root
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Handful of pepitas

Peel jicama with a knife (the vegetable peeler doesn't get enough skin off)
Dice into your desired shape, I cut mine into about 1 inch cubes
Put into a bowl and toss with the salt and sugar

3/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup fresh lime basil
Dash of salt

Put all ingredients into a food processor or blender
Blend until smooth
Pour 1/4 cup on the jicama salad and reserve the rest of the dressing for another use
Top with pepitas and serve

Lazy Thursday Black Beans
Open a 14 oz. can of black beans and drain
Put into a bowl and mix with 1-2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette
Cover loosely and microwave for 2 minutes
Serve on top of rice

Super Strawberry Lemonade
Chill a glass of your choosing
Muddle 2-3 fresh strawberries in the bottom of the glass
Add a serving of vodka
Fill the remainder of the glass with strawberry-lemonade (or lemonade)
Garnish with a strawberry on the rim and enjoy

Here's to cooler weather!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summery Pasta Salad

Summer makes me think about light, fresh, and simple dishes. Nothing says summer more than a simple pasta salad with fresh vegetables from the farmers market. We had an impromptu birthday lunch for the hubby with the family a few weeks ago and I wanted an easy, healthy, make-ahead meal to serve. The menu:

Turkey and roast beef sandwiches
Pickles and condiments
Chips and salsa
Summery pasta salad
Birthday cake
Blueberries and strawberries

I put together a summer pasta salad with golden beets, English peas, parsley, purple scallions, and a lemony vinaigrette. Served cold, it was the perfect addition to a summer lunch. Sometimes simple really is better!

This pasta salad is perfect for customizing - throw in any veggies that you find at your local market. The ingredients will change along with the new crops all summer. I made the vinaigrette with lemon, you could easily use orange, lime, or your favorite vinegar.

Summery Pasta Salad
lb. bowtie pasta (or other short shape)
2 golden beets
English shelling peas (About 1 cup, after shelling)
1/4 cup purple scallions, chopped
About a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Start by roasting the beets
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
Wash and dry beats and then wrap tightly in foil
Roast for one hour and then let cool before cutting into 1/2 inch cubes

Prepare pasta according to the package
Drain and briefly rinse with cold water
Pour pasta into a large serving bowl
Add peas and scallions into the hot pasta and toss

Lemony Vinaigrette
1 lemon, juiced
Extra virgin olive oil

Juice lemon into a small measuring cup
Whisk in 3 parts olive oil (relative to how much lemon juice)
Add a little salt and pepper, to taste
Pour onto the warm pasta and toss well

Chill pasta salad in the refrigerator until ready to serve
Stir in the chopped parsley just before serving

Prep time: 15 minutes (or faster if you speed chop)
Cook time: Beets - 1 hour; Pasta - 10-15 minutes
Pasta pot, cutting board, knife, foil and baking sheet, serving bowl, measuring cup, utensils

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Look in the Garden

This year the hubby cleared out some shrubs and made room for a new garden. I was overwhelmed by the possibilities of what to plant and decided to start small for my first year of food gardening. I picked up some green zebra tomato plants from Atlas Farms. I bought a few green zebras every week last year, investing the $5 in the plants seemed like a good idea. I also decided to try a few herbs. The winners were chives, basil, and lime basil.

I planted my little tomatoes in the ground with some good soil from Russell's Garden Center. The herbs got nice homes in small pots. That way I could take them in during huge rain storms and I can pretend that I'll be able to bring them in and keep them alive in the winter.

I didn't know what to expect - but everything is blooming! When I came back after a long weekend away there were little yellow flowers and two baby green tomatoes. I can't wait for these to get big enough to eat!

My herbs are also doing well. I thought the seeds might have been waterlogged during the June rain, but they made it through. The lime basil is really flavorful - citrusy and bright. The best way to describe the chives is 'oniony'!

I've already put the herbs to good use. The first harvest was chopped and mixed into scrambled eggs. Tonight I muddled some lime basil and poured strawberry lemonade in the glass for a refreshing summer drink.

I'll report back once the tomatoes are ripe!


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