Crunchy local cukes and sliced onions in a potent bath of vinegar and water with salt and pepper is the perfect accompaniment to all summer food, as far as I am concerned. The flavor of the freshest mild-skinned early season cucumbers against a headstrong vinegary backdrop awakens the palate and provokes a deeply familiar taste of childhood that brings me right back to the dining room table at my Grandma’s farmhouse. My only addition to this simple recipe-less side from my past is a fluttering electric frizz of fresh dill just picked from the garden and snipped on top. Added sensory bonus: if you bring the leftovers to work and the container opens in your bag, you can smell/smell like the summery parfum of vinegar, onions and dill all day long!
Category Archives: Easy
Vibrant Beet Hummus
My red beet hummus and veggie plate is a stunner, if you ask me. This is how it came to be, and how to make it.
A few weeks ago, we ventured out to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. After seeing a few exhibits, we developed a hunger and a thirst. All we wanted was something small, to tide us over to dinner. We ended up sharing the neat little bento box you see above that we bought at Half Pints, a new snack counter aimed at the Institute’s younger crowd. The “Lunch Box” we selected contained a cute little cheese sandwich with broccoli pesto, pear fruit leather and creamy “pink” beet hummus with veggies. We aren’t the 5 year olds this lunch was designed for, but we might as well be, because we thought it was the perfect healthy and satisfying snack along with a big bottle of mineral water. I often make hummus for us to pack up for lunches and snacks at work. We’ve been around the block with regular chickpea hummus, extra garlicky, white bean and purchased roasted red pepper varieties. Discovering beet hummus gave me the inspiration to add some much-needed variety, vibrant color and a unique flavor to our hummus. The result was gorgeous and is just what we need to provide the brightness and potent superfood fuel we need to help us down the last dregs of winter.
- 1 medium or large red or golden beet, scrubbed clean, boiled or roasted, peeled, and cut into chunks. Cook’s note: the brilliant color and slightly stronger flavor of red beet is the boldest, while the golden beet’s color turns out slightly subdued when ingredients are combined and the flavor is also more subtle, unless you double the lemon and garlic, like I did–it was zesty!
- 1 to 2 tablespoons tahini sesame seed paste (optional)
- Juice and zest of 1/2 to 1 lemon
- 1 clove of garlic, minced fine
- 1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 14 ounce can of chickpeas or cannelini beans, rinsed (or dry beans that you’ve picked through and soaked overnight.) When I use chickpeas, I remove their skins so that the hummus will be extra smooth.
- A little water
- Fresh ground pepper and salt
- Optional garnishes: olive oil, cumin or paprika.
Boil or roast and peel the beet, cut it into chunks that will fit in your food processor (I use a Ninja). Pulse beet in processor until smooth, add beans, lemon zest, garlic and cumin and process.
Add tahini (if using) and lemon juice sparingly, one-half teaspoon at a time, pulse hummus until smooth and creamy. Add additional lemon juice or a little water as needed to make the hummus the creaminess you desire. It is best not to go overboard with lemon juice, as the flavor can overpower the beet. Adjust flavor with salt and pepper. Serve with crudites, wedges of pita or crackers. If serving at a party, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with a pinch of cumin or paprika.
Nacho Pot Pie with or without Chicken
It has been bitterly cold and snowy in Minnesota. I am at once craving variety and comforting, old-school Midwestern staples. These individual Nacho “Pot Pies” are comforting, easy to make for meat eaters and vegetarians, and are also a tasty departure from everyday chicken pot pies. I kept the calorie count under control using fat-free Greek yogurt in the creamy pot pie filling instead of cream or half n’ half, and topped them with a small serving of multigrain chips instead of a buttery crust. We thought the texture and flavor were perfect. When served, each person can add nacho toppings as judiciously as they desire. These mini-casseroles aren’t as “fancy” as Day After Thanksgiving Individual Pot Pies with or without turkey, but they are a guaranteed happy meal for a dreary winter week night or a main course at a Superbowl Party.
Nacho Pot Pies, yield 4 Individual Pies, easily doubled
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 a Red Pepper, chopped
1 Jalapeno Pepper, seeds removed and minced—add an extra pepper for more heat.
1/2 an Onion, chopped
1-14 ounce can of Black Beans, rinsed
3/4 cup of frozen Corn, thawed
1.5 Tablespoons of Taco Seasoning I use Home-Made Taco Seasoning following the Girl Who Ate Everything’s recipe.
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Vegetable or Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup Fat Free Greek Yogurt
2 Scallions, white parts and just the beginning of the green, diced fine
Tortilla Chips–I used multigrain
Shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese to top each Pot Pie
Optional: cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized chunks, 1/3 cup per dish
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat individual 5-inch baking dishes, or a small casserole dish or glass pie plate with cooking spray or oil.
Sauté onions in olive oil until translucent, add chopped red pepper and cook 2 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeno, cook one minute until fragrant. Sprinkle taco seasoning and flour, blend together and cook 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a boil, then simmer 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened. Stir in Greek yogurt, most of the black beans and corn.
Add chicken, or a few extra spoonfuls of baked beans into each dish. Divide filling between individual baking dishes.
Top with tortilla chips, scallions and shredded cheese. Bake at 375 degrees, 18-22 minutes until golden.
Serve with traditional nacho/taco accompaniments: shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced olives, sour cream, sliced avocado, lime wedges and salsa. These are Nacho Grandma’s Pot Pies.
How We Stayed Warm in the Winter
Last year, we won a trip to Mexico. We liked it so much, this year we paid for the privilege to return. We went to Cozumel, and it was lovely, colourful, warm and most importantly, relaxing in every possible way. It was a few months ago, but for all practical purposes, we have barely seen the sun since. The late and rainy spring here in Saint Paul, Minnesota makes us extra glad we were able to have a winter getaway.
We spent the majority of our time in Cozumel on the beach. I spent a good portion of my time on the beach considering this functional branch and palm leaf umbrella that filled the gaps between the palm trees on the beach, providing shade. I wasn’t thinking about making one, or how someone made it, just that it exists, it is functional, humble and pretty and provides shade. That is all I could ask of the umbrella, and of myself. That, and snorkeling every day to look at the sea rays, seashells and pretty fish. This is a fire-breathing dragon sunning himself at our resort. Someone might mistake him for an iguana, but that person would be wrong. According to our scientific research, this is a fire-breathing dragon. Here is me, posing with one of the books Bjorn read on our vacation. I might have taken this picture to show off the manicure I gave myself on the beach. Bjorn read two books on our short vacay: Love Rock Revolution – K Records and the Rise of Independent Music by Mark Baumgartner and Big Day Coming – Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock by Jesse Jarnow. He devoured them and clearly enjoyed both of these non-fiction histories of his one of his favorite indie record labels and his favorite band. Since the trip, we have joked that Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley (of Yo La Tengo) were on the trip with us. Side note: on our vacation I only managed to read 5 magazines and one chapter of Big Day Coming and paint my nails. I really needed to be on vacation.
Classic vacation photo: the subject is extra good looking, you can see a reflection of a palm tree and the ocean in his Ray Bans and there is a guy taking a snooze behind him. And the model is extra good looking. That good looking vacationer came up with the perfect drink for a Mexican vacation or a Minnesota summer day: the Sideways Sol. This consists of a Sol beer and a shot of tequila. Add salt and lime if you like. This is a simple drink for vacation in Mexico slash summer. Don’t over think it. Don’t complicate it. Just enjoy it. This is what I mean about Mexico being colourful. There are mod murals on walls like this one. I don’t know what it is advertising, but I love the colour scheme.
This is another mod advertising mural. The colours of Mexico are vibrant, saturated and I can’t get enough.Eating off-resort favors the bold, experienced and bilingual. For a taste and texture adventure, one option we came across was tripe tacos. They are reportedly tasty!We could have ventured out to eat, but we didn’t. We took the path of the utmost easy-going every chance we could on this vacation. Early every morning when we walked to the beach we passed the snack bar at our resort where the cooks were scooping out the ripe green, soft interiors of halved avocados with large spoons, and chopping scores of tomatoes and onions and piles of cilantro and limes. The result was a lovely plate of chips with pico and guacamole like this one, that we enjoyed several times throughout this lovely, lazy, restorative trip. I hope, I so hope that we’ll get to go back.
San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa Tequila Cocktail
For the most part, when it comes to imbibing, we are beer and wine people, with exceptions of course. For one thing, I like a marg on the rocks with my Mexican food, and the “Froggystyle” Salut Bar Americain’s gin cocktail with cucumber, mint and lime juice mostly, because it reminds me of the dozen or so dinners that I had with Bjorn on the Salut patio while planning our wedding. Every now and then, especially on a summer day, a refreshing and spunky cocktail can really hit the spot. This Aranciata Rossa Tequila cocktail that I mixed up recently was a good one. It will make more appearances on our patio this summer.
As evinced by this Instagram photo I snapped a few months ago, I am a little obsessed with San Pellegrino Aranciata soda, and anything else colored a deeply saturated rose hue, apparently.
I brought home 6 Aranciata sodas from Cossetta Italian Market which inspired a Google search for cocktail recipes. Most recipes I found included rum, except the “Mama Beth’s Poptail” recipe containing Aranciata soda and tequila posted on Mama Knows Her Cocktails. I was pleased to find a recipe uses reposado tequila since we brought home bottle from Mexico this winter. Mama Beth gets all the credit for the recipe, but I take credit for giving the cocktail a descriptive name and the addition of a cocktail umbrella and lime wedge to the presentation.
- Fill a glass with ice
- Add 2 ounces reposado tequila
- A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- A squeeze of fresh lime juice
- Top with 4 ounces San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa (blood orange soda)
- Swirl it with a straw and decorate the glass with a lime wedge and a cocktail umbrella (optional)– Enjoy!
This can easily be made into a non-alcoholic “mocktail” for the children and tea-totalers in your crowd by omitting the tequila, so that everyone can get in on the fun — na zdraví!
Prosciutto, Asparagus and Swiss on Toast -An Easy Easter Appetizer
I’ve been missing my blog! We’ve been busy visiting Mexico, hosting visitors, working and waiting for the snow to melt. Here’s a tasty and easy appetizer I made this morning that was inspired by Elsa’s Ham and Asparagus Toasts by Rachael Ray with a few tweaks– I used deli slices of prosciutto and Swiss cheese instead of ground ham and fontina, less butter and smaller slices of bread. These tweaks made the assembly easier, less expensive and more appealing, I think. It is easy to leave the prosciutto off of as many slices as desired to make this appetizer friendly to vegetarians.
- 1/2 pound thin asparagus spears
- 1 baguette, cut into 3/4-inch slices
- 2 tablespoons of butter, melted
- 2.5 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
- 12 slices of Swiss cheese from the deli, halved
- 1/4-1/2 pound of thinly sliced prosciutto from the deli
1. Snap the woody ends off of skinny spring asparagus and steam for 2.5 minutes in salted, boiling water, then run the asparagus under cold water to stop the cooking.
2. Slice a baguette into 3/4 inch slices. Arrange the slices on a sheet pan, and toast the slices 6 inches below the broiler in the oven a minute or two.
3. Mix 2 tablespoons melted butter with 2.5 tablespoons of grainy Dijon mustard and brush over the toasted bread.
4. Top each slice with a pile of prosciutto, a halved sprig of asparagus and a half slice of Swiss cheese.
5. Return the sheet pan to the broiler and watch carefully. Remove when cheese is melted. Season with ground black pepper and serve on a platter.
I brought the platter to my family’s weekly Saturday morning coffee gathering, and came home with an empty platter. Success!
Chicken Noodle Soup – A Cure for Cold Season
When the long Minnesota winter is starting to wear on us, there are certain classic recipes that we revisit every year. A bowl of homemade soup provides a fortifying boost of energy and straightforward, clean flavors that help a body endure the waning months of cold and darkness.
A steaming bowl of chicken or chicken-less noodle soup is a warming cure for winter blahs if I know one. It is so comforting if you have a cold. I don’t follow an exact recipe to make Chicken and Chicken-less Noodle soup. I chop a few peeled carrots, a few ribs of celery and onion, and saute them in a little oil until fragrant, but still crisp. Then, I add about 5 cups of broth, (homemade when I have it). I bring the soup to a point beyond a simmer and add two handfuls of frozen peas. When the soup returns to almost-boiling I add a few handfuls of egg noodles, and about a quarter cup of chopped fresh parsley. I like to use ample, wavy, dumpling egg noodles. They need 6-10 minutes of cooking time to cook to tender, but not soggy. In order to make chicken-less soup for myself, and classic chicken noodle soup for Bjorn, I saute chicken breasts or thighs separately. When the chicken is cooked through, I chop it and add a hearty serving of chopped chicken to his bowl. You can make a whole pot of chicken-less soup if everyone prefers, or you can saute the chicken along with the veggies if everyone at your house eats chicken. Before serving, I adjust the flavour with salt and pepper. If you are a stickler for following a recipe, Martha Stewart’s Chicken Noodle Soup is similar to my general guidelines, except that she doesn’t add peas; she opts for dill instead of parsley and she uses quick-cooking vermicelli noodles instead of wide egg noodles. This soup is flexible. You could add other veggies. For me, I like to stick to the classic Chicken Noodle soup ingredients, except that I leave out the meat.
A little while ago, Bjorn’s brother was under the weather, so we decided to bring him a serving of our soup. I removed a portion of the soup and put it in a disposable container before the noodles were fully cooked so that he could bring the soup up to temp without the noodles getting soggy.
To round out our care package, we added a bottle of fizzy mineral water for some electrolytes and a quarter-sleeve of saltines to go along with the soup.
I taped my handwritten instructions to a small bag with washi tape and we dropped the package off at Brett’s house, hoping to bring a little warmth and cheer to a dreary sick day. Homemade soup tastes wonderful and fills the house with a comforting aroma. This soup is made entirely of staples that are usually on hand in the pantry and freezer. Chicken Noodle soup cooks quickly and provides comfort, flavor and textures you just can’t get from a can. When you’ve had it with winter, remember to make this soup!
There are two schools of thought on the ubiquitous sliced cucumber side dish, one vinegary, like mine, and the other, a creamy version made with sour cream. Check out this recipe for the creamy version of sliced cukes on Deucecities Henhouse, a favorite Twin Cities based blog haunt of mine.
Watching the cukes grow has been almost as much fun as eating them. Ours are growing in all sorts of unconventional shapes. I spend time every week tying tomato plants to chicken wire and winding twine around bamboo poles to support green beans, peppers and peas. Cucumber vines take the initiative of sending out tendrils that stretch out until they find other plants and structures nearby, then curling the tendrils tightly around so they hang tight. Cucumbers are fully capable of supporting themselves.
Roasted Tomatoes for the Rest of Us
Roasted Tomatoes – 1 hour, 350 degrees
Wonderful on Salads, Pasta, Pizza, Sandwiches and on their own.
2 pints of Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, halved top to bottom
A few tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Sprigs of fresh Thyme or Rosemary, Parsley or Basil
4-5 cloves of Garlic, unpeeled
Place oven rack in top 2/3 of oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Half the tomatoes and toss lightly in oil until just glistening.
Arrange tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Season tomatoes and add herbs, aromatics and whole, unpeeled cloves as desired.
Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until partly dried out, sweet, juicy and tender. Store extra roasted tomatoes for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator, covered in olive oil.
The Summer Sandwich // Simple Dining, Al Fresco
This post is one part ode to one of my favor summer meals and one part cautionary tale. I figure that this blog is about my life, including some of the great meals in it, so I will start with a brief account the day when I spent inadvertently spent $17.72 on 0.57 lbs of cheese. [Oopsie.]
It was a typical Saturday morning. We started our day at the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market. I determined my mission that day was to purchase the components of a summer sandwich for our lunch. At the time, our garden still had a few weeks to go before it would have much to offer us. I bought vegetables, bread, and then we left the market and looped our way up Grand Avenue to the Saint Paul Cheese Shop. That place is pretty neat. Sampling is encouraged, so we tasted several paper-thin wisps of cheese the cheesemonger shaved neatly off of several wheels of cheese and dropped into our extended hands from the forked tip of the blade of his cheese knife. I let my guard down. It is atypical for me to make a mindless splurge without glancing at the price per half pound. I was in a cheese-induced stupor when I asked for a small wedge of Marcel Petite Comte raw cow’s milk cheese from France, and a wedge of Terchelling Sheep’s milk cheese from Holland. I’m sure there are people who routinely spend far more than this on cheese in any given week. I’m not knocking it and I might do it again at some point. The difference will be that I do it intentionally. As a consolation, at least the cheese was very, very good.
Whew. Now that I’ve made that confession to my friends and readers, let’s make a sandwich! A Summer Sandwich is quite simply a sandwich with any combination of meat or vegetarian meat substitute, seasonal vegetables, cheese and sandwich spreads piled on top of nice bread.
I sliced a grainy loaf of bread and served the bread and cheese with our own cheese knives on wooden cutting boards. We eat most of our meals al fresco on our patio. It has been 90+ degrees farenheit there lately, but it is still very pleasant in the shade of a Maple Tree canopy.
I filled a platter with sliced cucumber and tomato, garden lettuces, piles of deli turkey and tofurky, along with bowls of mayonnaise and grainy dijon mustard, and placed salt and pepper shakers on the table. The secret to the perfect summer sandwich is bringing out whatever looks good and fresh, and let each person assemble the sandwich they desire.
If Freud were here, he’d say, “a sandwich is never just a sandwich.” It is the meal I ate on pebble beaches out of a cooler with my parents camping in Door County, Wisconsin in grade four. It is the BLT’s that beckoned numerous cousins, Uncles and Aunts to my Grandma’s farm house every July when the tomatoes were all ripe at once. It is the meal of lettuce, ham, turkey, tomato and cheese sandwiches on good sandwich bread that we shared with friends from Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saint Paul and Minneapolis on a lakeshore in Northern Minnesota after a long, hot day on the lake last year over the 4th of July long weekend. It is the halved baguettes piled with cheese, sliced tomato and a pile of pršut [for the meat eaters] that we ate on a secluded pebble beach a few months ago in Croatia.
What is one to serve on the side? Well, nothing—any decent summer sandwich is in itself, a square meal. Or, if the mood strikes, some salty-crunchy potato chips, leftover potato salad out of the fridge, deviled eggs or summer fruit would all be the perfect compliment. On this particular day we rounded out our plates with bright, rainbow radishes that were too pretty to slice or even to remove the stem. Sure, they could have been thinly sliced and piled on the sandwich, but they were refreshing, spicy perfection and a visual treat perched on the side our plates.
A Summer Sandwich is simple perfection. No matter what fresh fixings are available, where you are, or what time it is, a sandwich satisfies hunger. A sandwich feeds a crowd with varied tastes, comes together easily and is a perfect meal to eat outdoors on a hot July day.
And the cheese?
We’re still working our way through it, and savoring every little morsel–we figure it cost us about 8 cents per crumb.