Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rosemary Honey Spiced Almonds and Parmesan Crackers - A Busted Picnic

Possibly the longest blog post in our history: Rosemary Honey Spiced Almonds and Parmesan Crackers - A Busted Picnic. The weather in the Pacific Northwest is a fickle and manipulative beast sometimes. Just when you think you're IN THERE and it's going to be a great weekend, it pours. Just when you think you're going to start growing moss in your hair, the rain stops and it's gorgeous. Lesson #1 for living in or visiting the Pacific Northwest - HAVE A PLAN B. 

SO, as you may have gathered from the title, we were going to have a picnic, and from paragraph one, you may have also gathered, the weather mixed things up. Luckily in our almost 9 years up here, we've learned. Living room picnic it was.

For our picnic, I'd made Rosemary Honey Spiced Almonds and Parmesan Crackers (I also made No Knead Bread and Mango Chili Chicken Salad, and those are already posted.)

Rosemary Honey Spiced Almonds - from Recipes Interrupted
Preheat oven to 325
Makes 1 cup

1 cup unsalted almonds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh minced rosemary
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Mix honey, oil, rosemary and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk until the honey and oil are well mixed. Stir in the almonds and toss until the nuts are all very well coated.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pour nuts and all of the honey mixture onto the paper. Spread out nuts so they have lots of space. Bake at 325 until nuts are well toasted and the honey mixture has set, about 15-20 minutes (I pulled these out at 17 minutes.) Turn the pan once in the middle of baking for even cooking. 

Let the nuts cool completely on the pan and then break up any clusters. DELICIOUS. Maybe my new faves, even over these Spiced Nuts. Oh man, I don't know... very different flavors... I will make both again and again!

Parmesan Crackers - from Ina Garten
Preheat oven to 350
Makes about 2 dozen crackers

1 stick of butter, softened
1 cup shredded Parmesan 
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 heaping teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a stand mixer, or with awesome arm muscles, cream butter until light and fluffy. Add in the cheese, flour and spices and blend until all ingredients are combined. Dough will be very crumbly.

Dump dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until the dough starts to stick together. In a sheet of plastic wrap start to form a log about 12-14 inches long, like making a sushi roll. 

Once the log is formed, place in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Remove when the log is firm and slice into 1/4 inch slices and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. These crackers keep their shape well, so you can place them pretty close together. 

Bake for about 20-22 minutes or until crackers are very lightly browned. Let them cool on the pan for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 

While our outdoor picnic was a bust, the indoor picnic was almost as good... but par for the course, as soon as we had cancelled our plans and set out the food on the coffee table, out came the sun. We shook our heads and grabbed some wine. Sometimes its all you can do.

A few things about these recipes... 
I love making crackers. For some reason it makes me really feel like I'm cooking. These are great too!
I think these crackers would be GREAT with sage in place of the thyme. 
These nuts were insanely easy. Great for an impromptu visit.

Made this time last year...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Challah French Toast

The journey to figuring out the best French toast recipe was tough for me.  I have tried so many types of bread.  I have made toast that is too mushy (soaked too long) or too bready (soaked too little).  I have used bread that is too thick and bread that is too thin.  Honestly, you would think that French toast wouldn’t be so hard!  But if you’re never taught the right way, then it just becomes an experiment with many controlled variables.

Well, I think I finally figured out the right formula to an amazing French toast:
Type of bread = challah
Thickness of bread = 1”
Soaking time = 1 min each side
Cooking tool = cast iron skillet
Heat = medium to medium-low

If you use this formula, you can start to make some minor changes with toppings, flavorings, etc.  But I feel that the above items are a MUST.  If you have any French toast secrets, be sure to share in the comments!  We would love to hear any suggestions you have :)

Challah French Toast

5 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ c milk
1 loaf challah bread, cut into thick slices
Butter or margarine
Powdered sugar (optional)
Syrup (optional)
Berries (optional)

Crack eggs into a square baking dish.  Add vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.  Whisk together.  Add milk and whisk until well-mixed.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat.  While pan is heating, soak 2 slices of challah bread in the milk mixture for ~1 min on each side.  When pan is hot, melt a pat of butter in pan – just enough so that bottom of pan is covered.  Add challah slices to pan.  Cook 4-6 minutes on each side or until browned and the middle is no longer soggy.  Continue process of soaking and cooking with remaining slices.

Tip: Keeping the heat setting at medium to medium-low will allow the bread to cook through thoroughly without getting burnt on the exterior.

Keep cooked slices warm in the oven until ready to serve.  Top with syrup, powdered sugar, and berries. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pesto and Pea Salad and Watermelon Mocktails

I love summer. LOVE. IT. It's my favorite time of year. I love the smell of hot trees. I love the sound of sprinklers and kids. I love grilled food and fresh veggies. It's perfect! And the Pacific Northwest is in prime-time summertime. Our veggies and herbs are going nuts and we are trying to use them up as fast as we can. Ina Garten makes a wonderful pesto and pea salad, that I made with basil and parsley we are growing. We ate this with a roasted chicken and had watermelon mocktails swirled with mint we are growing. It was a really good dinner, and it was so pretty - just like summer!

Pea and Pesto Salad - from Ina Garten
Serves 2 (With left over pesto)

For the Salad
5 oz of baby spinach
1 cup of peas (I used frozen peas, defrosted in hot water)
1 lemon

For the Pesto
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts - divided
1 1/2 cups basil leafs
1/2 cup of parsley
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Defrost peas in hot water for a few minutes. While peas defrost, arrange spinach on a large platter and toast pine nuts for pesto and to top the salad.

In a food processor, pulse half the pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Add garlic and pulse a few more times. Add in basil and parsley. While the food processor runs, pour in enough olive oil to make a nice paste. I used about a 1/4 cup. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Toss spinach with peas and about half the pesto. Top with reserved pine nuts. Serve with sliced lemons.

Watermelon Mocktails
Makes 2 

6 cups chopped seedless watermelon
1/2 a lime, juiced
1 cup soda water
2 sprigs fresh mint

In a blender combine watermelon cubes, and lime juice. Pulse until well blended. Divide the juice between 2 tall glasses and top with soda water. Swirl with mint and drink up!

Enjoy some summertime!!

Made this time last year...
Veggie Hand Pies and Peach and Blackberry Galette

Green Chili Turkey Burgers

Dirty Rice

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

I have a dish for you that is sure to emit summer vibes!  What else says summer than a cold pasta salad with a citrus-feta vinaigrette and colorful veggies?  That’s what this orzo salad is all about.  My husband and I needed a healthy dinner because our summer hasn’t been full of what should be “healthy summer eating”.  Therefore, I wanted to make something light but filling. 

This orzo salad is chock full of veggies and would be even healthier if you used whole-wheat orzo.  However, I couldn’t find it at my grocery store.  I will definitely be making it again when I find some.  On the side we had lemon-pepper grilled chicken with corn on the cob.  It made for a deliciously vibrant and guilt-free meal that is sure to be on the rotation!

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

1 ½ c uncooked orzo
2 ½ c baby spinach, chopped
½ c sun-dried tomato julienne strips, chopped and drained
¼ c chopped red onion
3 oz marinated artichoke hearts, chopped and drained (or more if desired)
2 baby cucumbers, cut into thin slices
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
½ tsp crushed red pepper
¼ c extra-virgin olive oil
¼ c fresh lemon juice
¼ c feta cheese, plus additional for topping
1 tsp herbs de Provence

Cook orzo according to package directions.  Drain, rinse with cold water.  Combine orzo, spinach, tomatoes, onion, artichoke hearts, and cucumbers in a large bowl.   Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Stir and then set aside.

Tip: Rinsing pasta immediately with cold water stops the cooking process and allows it to remain al dente.  If you continue to let it steam it will continue to cook.

For the feta vinaigrette, combine olive oil, lemon juice, feta cheese and herbs de Provence in a small glass bowl.  Whisk to emulsify. 

Kitchen tool: I have a salad dressing decanter that I use all of the time for homemade salad dressings.  I just pour all of the ingredients in the decanter, shake them to emulsify (instead of whisking) and then pour it directly on my salad.  The decanter has little spouts and a rubber stopper that makes it the perfect all-in-one tool.

Add about half of the vinaigrette to the orzo mixture.  Taste.  Add more dressing and salt and pepper to taste.  Top orzo salad with additional feta and stir in (optional).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Zucchini Brownies

World War Z. Not to be a spoiler, but it's about zucchinis and how they take over the world. Brad Pitt is amazing, but he's helpless against the zucchini invasion. Basically, it's an epic drama. 

So just like last year, we have a little veggie patch at home, and a little veggie patch in a community garden. You would think that I would know by now, two veggie patches with zucchinis in both means overwhelming zucchini, but when spring is drizzling it's way through the Pacific Northwest zucchinis are somehow optimistic plants to me. I heart them. So I possibly, maybe, could be, over plant them. C'est la vie. I learn to make things like Zucchini Brownies. Awesome. Brad Pitt, THIS is how you save the world.

These DO NOT taste like veggies. They only taste wonderfully of rich chocolate and they are super moist and really delicious.

Zucchini Brownies - adapted from Kitchen Treats
Preheat oven to 350
Grease a 9x13 baking dish

2 cups flour (I split mine 50/50 whole wheat and white flour)
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 vegetable oil
2 1/2 grated zucchini
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips (divided)

In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda and sugar. Mix until everything is combined. Stir in vegetable oil and vanilla. The mixture will look dry and crumbly.

Then mix in the zucchini. Its kind of hard to get this going, and I used my hands a bit, but all of a sudden the zucchini releases all it's water and you finally have brownie batter! Once incorporated, stir in 1 cup of chocolate chips.

Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted towards the middle comes out with just a few crumbs on it.

While still piping hot, and while the oven is still hot, sprinkle the remaining cup of chocolate chips on top of the brownies. Pop the dish back in the oven for 1 minute. 

Remove the brownies from the oven. Spray a rubber spatula with cooking oil and gently spread the chocolate over the brownies. This makes and awesome and chocolate faux frosting. 

Let the brownies cool completely and enjoy!

A few things about this recipe...

Like I said, it doesn't taste veggetably. It's just good!
Since there is no egg in this recipe, if you're a fan of gooey, undercooked brownies, this recipe is for you.
These were almost truffle-like the first day, they were so moist! The second day our house liked them even more!

Made this time last year...
Peach and Raspberry Crisp

Chicken Milanese


PS - I have not seen World War Z. I don't think it's really about zucchini.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Asian Meatballs

When people think “meatball”, they often think Italian.  However, meatballs can be transformed many different ways.  This recipe was one of my pins on Pinterest.  I modified it but overall, it was great as is.  I almost always use turkey whenever ground meat is required: tacos, spaghetti, etc.  Turkey works well for this recipe because there are so many amazing Asian flavors that you don’t need the extra flavor you would get from the fat in beef. 

These meatballs use the typical egg and breadcrumbs for binding agents.  But the Asian-style is brought out with the use of ginger, toasted sesame oil, and green onions.  The original recipe calls for regular sesame oil but the toasted sesame oil, I feel, give the meatballs a stronger nutty flavor which I love.  Each of the meatballs is then dunked in an Asian sauce, which is pungent and salty due to the hoisin and soy.  I muted the saltiness with a bit of honey.  To balance the sauce, I served the saucy meatballs over coconut rice.  Coconut rice has a milky texture and is slightly sweet so it is really the perfect accompaniment.  You can also serve the meatballs individually as an appetizer.

Asian Meatballs

1 lb ground turkey
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
½ c breadcrumbs
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 egg
1 ½ tsp minced garlic
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
¼ c thinly sliced green onions, plus more for garnish
sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

2/3 c hoisin sauce
¼ c rice vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 400F.  In a large bowl combine ground turkey, sesame oil, breadcrumbs, ground ginger, egg, garlic, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Use your hands to combine ingredients.  Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Kitchen tool: Dig in!  Use your hands.  It’s the best kitchen tool you’ll ever have :)

Shape into balls and place on a greased 13x9 baking dish or a baking sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a digital read thermometer reads at least 165F.

Tip: Spray your hands with cooking spray before shaping the meatballs.  It prevents the meat from sticking.

While meatballs are baking, combine all sauce ingredients and whisk together. 

Remove meatballs from oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.  Using a toothpick, dip each meatball into the sauce and place on a serving dish.  Top with green onions and sesame seeds.

Makes ~15 meatballs (approximately 1 - 1 1/2" diameter)