I don’t know about everyone else, but for me, whenever my in laws are visiting, I tend to have an above average number of kitchen mishaps. Take for example, the day a kitchen shelf “leapt” from the wall. It smashed my precious mortar and pestle received as a gift from Bjorn as well as a jar of balsamic reduction which spattered most of the kitchen with a thin layer of sticky brown goo. There were also those blueberry muffins that turned out like hockey pucks the day I invited Val for breakfast a few years back. Most recently, I attempted to make deviled eggs out of some lovely, fresh, farmer’s market eggs, and –the eggs would not peel. When the world hands you eggs that are locally grown, fresh, organic and lovely that —will not peel– make Disheveled Eggs! Disheveled Eggs start by following your favorite approach to making Deviled Eggs, mine being a stiff, simple egg yolk mixture with a little mayo, minced celery or shallot, salt, pepper and a bit of mustard to taste. The key to Disheveled Eggs is to pile on eye-catching, creative and tasty garnishes to disguise and distract from your less-than-perfect peeling and filling of the egg halves. Among my great garnish ideas either used or imagined are thinly sliced radishes, finely chopped chives, sprigs of dill and parsley, thinly sliced baby dill pickles, a tiny spoonful of capers, some flaky tuna or a little smoked salmon, a tiny bubble-tower of salty of caviar, a squirt of Sriracha “Rooster Sauce,” tiny olives, a heavy shake of smoked paprika, or a tiny pile of thinly sliced prosciutto. No matter how much you are sweating it in the kitchen, if you bring this platter of fancifully garnished eggs to table you will receive reactions of awe and delight–trust me. My quick-fix to classic deviled eggs was inspired by James Beard Award winning Canal House Cooks Every Day cookbook by Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hirsheimer not only did this lovely tome inspire many of my imaginative garnishes, but they finally gave me instructions to cook eggs from soft to medium to hard with reliable results. For the ambitious who prefer to follow a recipe, here is a deviled egg recipe using homemade mayo piped into the egg halves recently posted on Amateur Gourmet. Bon Appetit!
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.
I love the heat, energy and fireworks explosion of people out enjoying life in every possible way that takes place in July; but to me, August is the heart of summer. I savor August days when the pace of life slows down, the garden booms and I can pause to soak in warmth, the natural wonders, brilliant flavors and the easy pace that life settles into at this time of year. I enjoy being able to base my seasons on what is happening outside, instead of on the school year or the sport’s calendar. It helps me keep the summer feeling alive to the last second when the fall chill genuinely takes hold. I understand that for many people, the first sign of a cooler evening, a fallen leaf or the school year looming close marks a change. Even so, it is too early to shift to autumn-cooking mode while the garden and farmer’s market is overflowing with beautiful summer vegetables and fruits. If you have a potluck, picnic or BBQ left on the agenda, trotting out the classic potato salad is probably starting to seem a little dull and repetitive. This is when it is time to turn the traditional potato salad on its heel–add some veggies to the ingredient list, subtract the typical mayo-based dressing. With a few tweaks, you have a bright, fresh twist on a classic potato salad that capitalizes on August abundance and tastes and looks so different, you will forget the creamy classic potato salad recipe you wore out in June and July.
Dijon and Herb Potato Salad– Yield: 6 generous servings, 20 minutes hands-on, 50 minutes total time.
- 2 pounds small Yukon Gold or Red potatoes scrubbed
- 6 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and halved or quartered
- 1 cup Fresh Peas or String Beans, or a combination of both
- 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable stock
- 3 tablespoons Tarragon vinegar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons Grainy Dijon mustard
- 8-10 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons basil leaves, chopped, plus small, whole basil leaves for garnish
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Drop the potatoes into a large pot of boiling, lightly salted water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are just cooked through. Drain the potatoes in a colander, then place them in a large bowl with the fresh peas or string beans on top and cover with a clean towel. This allows the beans or peas to steam along with the potatoes for 10 minutes more. Note, this approach worked for me, though if you are nervous about the peas or beans being cooked, add, them to the pot of boiling potatoes for the last few minutes, or steam them separately. Cut the potatoes in half or quarters if they are large. If you used Yukon Gold potatoes, you can slip off the skins right off at this point if you like. Toss the potatoes gently with chicken stock. Allow the liquid to soak into the warm potatoes before proceeding.
Combine the vinegar, mustard, olive oil with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously to make an emulsion. Add the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Add the shallot, dill, parsley, basil, salt and pepper and gently toss. Just before serving, toss in the halved tomatoes and top the salad with halved hard-boiled eggs, fresh cracked pepper and small basil leaves. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Summertime is a season and a mindset for me. It is a season to avoid being booked and busy as much as possible, to allow time to be free to savor summer’s simple pleasures. Over the weekend, this included a trip to the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market, a meal outside on the patio at a favorite restaurant, picking a few weeds in the garden, inviting my cousin over to hang out in our back yard, working up a sweat doing yard cleanup, going to the pool for a swim and sitting in the sun porch listening to rumbling thunder and watching rain pour down, giving our garden a thorough soaking.
The summer mindset is also reflected in the food we eat. We like to eat outdoors in our back yard on the patio as much as possible. The availability of a great variety of fresh produce at the market and from our garden shapes our menu. We make frequent use of the grill. Grilling has the multiple benefits of allowing us to cook outside on the patio, avoid heating up the house and further influences our food choices toward simple, classic summer fare.
One classic summer food staple that I’m thrilled to see back in vogue are deviled eggs. Why wouldn’t these re-emerge and get trendy? They are perfect, tasty bites, extremely simple and they can be made with all kinds of interesting ingredients. I’ve seen deviled eggs with crab meat, bacon, capers and even caviar-topped deviled eggs on food blogs and restaurant menus. I like a classic deviled egg the most, and I don’t follow a recipe. I boil, cool and peel the eggs, mash the yolks and mix in minced onion, a little grainy Dijon mustard and just enough light mayo to make them creamy. I attempted to pipe the filling back into the egg white halves from a pastry bag, but I chose too small a tip to allow the filling’s grainy mustard to squeeze through, so the piping experience started out with a few pretty, piped deviled eggs, then an explosion, followed by me filling the rest of the eggs with a teaspoon. Garnish is a must, especially with the teaspoon egg filling-method. In the off-season, I’m still a fan of a sprinkling of paprika, but in the summer, chopped chives or dill are my go-to garnish. I call the dill from our garden “Electric Dill” because it is so bright and fragrant, and the dill flavor just pops- electric!
Today was one of those days that I was half-way between two dinner ideas. Bjorn had thawed some lean ground beef raised by his uncle, and I had a hankering for a veggie burger with all of my favorite burger toppings, but also a salad. From what I’ve been reading, it is better not to eat bread and high-glycemic, addictive [delicious] carbs at every meal. The idea of a Cheeseburger Salad was born. I am sure I’m not the first to think of it. Mine ended up somewhere in the realm of California Burger meets Mushroom and Swiss, but the topping possibilities are only limited by your imagination–avocado, fried egg, pickles, sauerkraut and crispy bacon all come to mind. The basic premise is to deconstruct your favorite burger, up the veggie count, leave out the bun, and have yourself a great salad.
Bjorn grilled up a burger for himself, and a veggie burger patty for me, and topped both with thinly sliced provolone cheese. We sautéed mushrooms with some onions on the grill’s side burner, and served the burgers and sautéed mushrooms and onions on a bed of lettuce leaves with sliced tomato from the market. As a dressing, we used a little leftover creamy taco sauce that I mixed up for another meal which consisted of smoky chipotle and garlic salsa mixed with a little light sour cream.
We rounded out the meal with a few bright red radishes from the farmer’s market. We are both obsessed with farmer’s market radishes at the moment. They are brighter and spicy, and of no comparison to most radishes I’ve tasted from the grocery store. I’ve been keeping a bowl in water in the fridge so that they are ready for snacking and ready to be served at any meal, including breakfast! I cannot wait until radishes from our garden are ready to eat.
I’m sure I’ll make Cheeseburger Salads again, and will certainly make more deviled eggs. Even with the richness of a deviled egg, and melted provolone, the meal felt just little lighter. After the deviled egg filling vs. piping bag incident was cleaned up, the meal came together quickly, giving us time to sit back and watch the cardinals hanging out in the grass.
Lest my readers think that I’ve quit cooking, I am taking a break from my series on our recent restaurant experiences to share a peek at our breakfast this morning.
I am one of the lucky kids who got to be with my Mom in person this weekend and because I really am one of the lucky ones, my Dad and Bjorn were there too. My parents and I have always been a tight-knit little trio, and I’m thankful every day that Bjorn has made us into a fabulous foursome. We get along well. My parents drove us around town yesterday helping us finish some last-minute shopping for a big trip we depart on this Wednesday. We enjoyed some nice meals out, good talks, some time in the yard and somehow when they left, the house was a little neater and better decorated. I have a wonderful Mom! Thank you!
This is a day that we make a point of showing the precious women in our lives– our mothers, grandmothers, friends, cousins, aunts, mothers-in law and grandmas-in law — how much we love and treasure them. I dedicate this post to all of the kids celebrating their Moms today, and to all of the Moms who I hope are feeling loved and getting treated to something special. For my Mom, the woman who lives an inspired life and spends her time making it beautiful and going to the end of the earth for the people she loves — thank you for showing me how I want to live. Thank you to all of the Mom’s in my life for being the true examples of love, courage, generosity, inventiveness, selflessness and of course, awesomeness! I know some amazing Moms, and I have one! You are all a blessing!
Being a good daughter is easy with my parents. Sometimes when they visit, Bjorn and I prepare a fairly elaborate repast so that they get in on our cooking adventures. In contrast, one of the highlights of this weekend was recovering from the shopping expedition (shopping is not my forte) with beer and Cheetos and chips and salsa on the patio. Not only do we get along, but my parents like to do pretty much the same thing we do on a Saturday afternoon. They are easy-going which makes them good parents and good guests.
Even with a pre-trip fridge-purge going on I still managed to make breakfast. It is Mother’s day, after all. When I got up, I ran out to the yard and snipped some things that went to seed last year and grew up on their own: dill, chives, lettuce and a radish. I won’t get the veggie garden planted until after we’re back from our trip, but that hasn’t stopped it from shaping our recent meals of its own doing.
I rinsed the garden produce and let it dry and decided to make a salad. For the salad, I rinsed and drained a can of chickpeas, sliced a cup of grape tomatoes, a ball of fresh mozzarella and a few bunches of baby spinach from the farmer’s market that I had washed and dried and torn into bite-sized pieces. I tossed the veggies, cheese and chickpeas in a quick vinaigrette made of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped chives and dill, a shake of Mrs. Dash, and some fresh ground black pepper.
I made some cinnamon-raisin toast and poached eggs. I also made bacon in the oven, which is the best food preparation idea since sliced bread. You simply place bacon on a rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and place it in a cold oven. Turn the temperature to 400 degrees farenheit and check the bacon after 12 minutes. Between 12 and 20 minutes the bacon will be done to crispy perfection, or at least that’s what the omnivores reported.
We aren’t sure what we are doing to attract these noble red beauties to our yard, but we love their company and their song, and we hope that we won’t scare them away.
One of the things I picked up for our trip when I was shopping this weekend was a watercolour sketchbook and a small handful of watercolour pencils. I haven’t done anything more than doodle in a margin for ages, so hopefully I can shed some rust and relearn a few tricks from high school art classes.
Our Iris are doing well. My iris is truly an heirloom. The Iris were first planted in the yard in the house where my Grammie was born, they moved several times with my Dad’s family in the 1960’s and ’70’s before being planted in the back yard of the house I grew up in. They bloomed there for about 18 years and then they moved south to my parents home on the lake in 1995. Last summer I transplanted 20 or 30 bulbs to our back yard.
You won’t be hearing from me much or at all for a few weeks, but when we’re back, we’ll have seen some new horizons and have stories and inspiration to share. In the meantime, above is a sketch and an observations of our Iris. You never know, I might manage one more post before we leave…
Here is a little peek at how things come together around here. We live, I snap a few pictures and sometimes sketch one in watercolour and then put it all on the laptop with my words and thoughts and hit “publish”! It is a fun and happy life.
I’ve been thinking about snacks. If you say the word “snack” I associate it with the small plate containing Triscuit crackers with peanut butter and jam or slices of cheddar cheese that greeted me after school when I was a child. I recall the semester that I studied abroad in England the break between morning lectures was an occasion for friends meeting in a dorm room for cups of instant coffee and McVitie’s Biscuits. It also calls to mind taking part in the ritual of afternoon noshes — a tiny bowl of salty-crunchy bits and nuts served with a cocktail and a crossword at my great Aunt Margaret’s home Victoria, British Columbia — très sophistiqué. In these moments, snacking served a dual purpose — it was a time to pause and enjoy a simple and comforting luxury, and to stave off hunger for a few hours more until mealtime arrived.
If you don’t happen to be in the midst of childhood or your college years, or making precious memories with elderly relatives, snacking can have a dark side. This would be most snacks that come in 100 calorie servings sealed in shiny wrapping, or anything mindlessly inhaled while standing fridge-side. I don’t find those snacks to be satisfying. For me, a snack composed according to a few simple principles fits into the romantic episodes in my life as well as the real world. Take this tasty morsel — a tiny slice of rye bread topped with a little leftover egg salad and a sprig of fresh dill from my garden. It is well worth saving a few leftover spoonfuls of egg salad so I can have a snack like this one in the middle of a summer afternoon.
The first principle of a good snack is that it should be quick. It should take less than 5 minutes, or preferably less than 3 minutes to prepare. I start each day with only so much energy to devote to food preparation, and I don’t want to devote very much of that to snacks. I like to keep a small bowl of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge so we can grab one for a snack at work. It only takes a moment to crack the shell and eat it with a little salt and pepper. The protein and small amount of fat that an egg contains can sustain me through the afternoon.
The second principle of a good snack is that it should either be light, or very very small. I usually opt for light. For this snack that I prepared for myself and for Bjorn, I spread a wedge of light Laughing Cow cheese on two Wasa Crispbread Crackers. I sliced a radish and some cucumber very thin. I sprinkled a little smoked paprika on the cucumber and a dash of salt and pepper on the radish. The whole snack contains less than 150 calories, and also healthy things like fiber. You can enjoy the crunch of the crackers and veggie slices, the creaminess of the cheese, and take in the brightly colored veggies with a punch of paprika with your nose and your eyes.
The final principle of good snacking is to pause. While eating, it is so important to take a moment to pay attention, so you know you’ve eaten something, and to appreciate the nourishment. I also try to pause when I’m done. If it was a tasty snack, I might think that I want a little more, but if I give my mind and stomach ten minutes to catch up with each other, I usually find that I’m satisfied.
What do you do when you are hungry for a snack and you have a fresh baguette and all of the ingredients for the two perfect summer salads to go with it? Well if you are almost incapable of avoiding complication in the creation of even the simplest of summer snacks (like me), you make both.
Today’s summer afternoon snack started with a caprese. I think an insalata caprese would be in the top 3 contenders of foods that I’d want to have to eat on a desert island. I love them so much that when our garden is kicking out tomatoes and basil like mad, I’m eating them in as many as three meals a day. They are summer’s loveliest flavour and texture combination. A luscious tomato, cut thick, with generous slices of fresh mozzarella and just-picked basil leaves floated down upon them; finished with the lightest drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, salt and maybe a little pepper. I’m no stickler, but I will mention that these things taste like a million bucks if you’ve grown your own tomatoes and basil, or bought them very fresh from friendly farmer who has. And the mozzarella-it must be very fresh, milky and on the watery and porous side. I think the cryo-packed balls can often be as good as the packed-in-water in plastic containers from the grocery store. So many people love good fresh mozzarella that it is becoming very easy to find and cheap to buy. Enough about my caprese obsession. How about a picture of the golden tomato caprese that launched a thousand word paragraph?
This on its own is the perfect summer snack, but there are two hungry people in this house, and, I’ve also got some lovely dill, fresh eggs and lettuce, so I can’t stop with just the caprese. I boiled the eggs, or, if you are a student of Martha Stewart –hard cooked them.
Check out these gorgeous fresh eggs that I bought from a man named Fernando who raises them in the little town where I work.
For egg salad, eggs are boiled, peeled, sliced in half and ready to be chopped and combined with a little light mayonnaise, mustard, diced onion and celery and a little pepper and salt to taste, then piled on top of some lettuce and garnished with dill, both from the garden.
There isn’t much more to do then to place the plate between two hungry people to eat with baguette, or on their own. I put salt and pepper, olive oil and vinegar on the table, to adjust flavours, as needed. We dove in. It was fresh, flavourful and satisfying; the perfect summer snack.