Garden Update #4 – The bitchin new garden box

dsc_04602Ohhhhhhhhhhh yeah, don’t tell me you aren’t liking my new garden box. It’s awesome. With all the warm weather, and lots of helpful parents around to convince my already sure husband to buy another power tool, the little beauty above was born. Why is this so glorious? well for one, it’s about 2+ feet off the ground which is great for both my back and for the limited space we have to garden in. It’s great for herbs and shallow rooted lettuce-type items, and in fact we used the University of Maryland Salad Box as the inspiration. I had seen it demonstrated on the Martha Stewart show one day when I was home sick from work. We made the box a bit more “urban sized” – so 15″x50″ and used 1×6″ boards as the sides so it could be a bit deeper than the 2x4s the UM folks suggest. I placed some of our basil seedlings, plus I added golden beet seeds, swiss chard seeds and parsley seeds. I’ll keep updating to let you know if this bad boy is all it is cracked up to be. 

In the meantime, some new additions to our garden over the weekend:

dsc_0456Baby mint plants which will hopefull grow into many mint juleps down the road. Our plant from the last place didn’t survive the winter, and my hubby convinced me not to plant the mint in the ground (which we have very little of anyway) because it will take over. I am convinced, however, that it is much harder to keep potted perrennials alive than it is to keep the ones planted in the ground… 

dsc_0457Some sage, yum!

dsc_0458And as an exception to my earlier comment about potted perrennials, the chives we planted last year have re-emerged in glorious form. We also still have the seedlings which got potted this weekend so I am hopeful we’ll be awash in chives all summer. The thyme which was in the same long pot as the chives is also starting to show some promise of growth, so we’ll see!

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3-Bean & Tomato Pasta

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This is one of the other side dishes I served this weekend. Probably not the ideal for warm weather, but I wanted a substantial carby side dish and I really hate cold pasta salad (not sure why). Also, this is a good side to serve when having vegetarian friends to a BBQ – it’s a nice substantial meal in and of itself. I used 3 kinds of beans: Kidney, chickpea, and cannelini, but you can use any number of combinations. My family calls this “pasta fagiole” which is essentially pasta with tomatoes and beans. Tonight I plan on cooking some chard leaves in a little vegetable broth and tossing the pasta in to reheat in order to add a little more punch to the recipe. Here is the original recipe:

1 pound short pasta – I used penne

2 cans plum tomatoes, crushed with your hands (including juice!)

1 can chickpeas, rinsed

1 can cannelini beans, rinsed

1 can kidney beans, rinsed

3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1 teaspoon dried basil (or 5-6 fresh leaves if you have them)

1 white onion, sliced

3-4 large garlic cloves, lightly smashed

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese – grate on top when you are ready to serve

Place the olive oil, onion and garlic in a pan on medium heat and cook the onion until it is softened (3-4 minutes). Add the 3 beans and stir to coat. Allow to cook for another minute and add the tomatoes and all their juices, the basil, parsley and a pinch of salt. Allow the sauce to simmer while the pasta cooks. I would allow this sauce to cook for a good 20-30 minutes. The longer it goes, the higher the likelihood that the beans will start to fall apart – while this adds a certain creamy texture, it’s not the most appetizing. I like to have the beans relatively intact when I am ready to serve.

Roasted Corn & Tomato Salad

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As I mentioned in my last (super fast) post, we’ve been entertaining my parents and my in-laws at our condo over the last few days so finding time to take photos and post wasn’t happening. I do have to give a big huge shout out to my parents who celebrated 40 years of marriage yesterday, a feat which is really truly amazing and inspiring, especially as my husband and I close in on our first anniversary together. So in honor of the parents (the in-laws hit the 40-year milestone next year!) we invited some friends over for a big backyard BBQ, complete with ribs n’ chicken and a few eclectic side dishes. We have a variety of eaters amongst our friends and family: vegetarian, wheat allergen, red pepper allergen, no-carb/low-carb, etc, so I always try to make a good variety of items so everyone has at least 2-3 things they can eat. I lucked out in that my mom brought some home-roasted “sun-dried” tomatoes, packed in olive oil which were super tasty and sweet. I added them to the salad for a little extra flavor.

This salad, which is outstanding in the summer when you can get sun-riped tomatoes and fresh corn, is an easy side dish, popular amongst the friends, and offends almost no one, so it’s almost a regular item for these kinds of events:

1 large bag of frozen sweet corn 

1 medium red onion, sliced thin

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

handful fresh parsley, chopped (cilantro works great too)

5-6 fresh chives, chopped (feel free to toss in other favorite herbs, mint is nice)

2-3 nice, ripe tomatoes (Costco has some and sometimes Trader Joes)

6-7 soft sundried tomatoes (the kind packed in oil, not the dry variety)

generous pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 375 (385 if it doesn’t get hot enough). Take a piece of tin foil and line a large cookie sheet with it. Toss the corn (still frozen), the onion slices, a pinch of salt and the olive oil and spread out on the cookie sheet in a thin layer. When the oven is hot, insert the corn mix and bake until it starts to get brown around the edges. You’ll have to stir it every so often so it doesn’t burn. Not all the corn will get brown, but you want to make sure the onions start to soften. 

Once the corn is done, take it out of the oven and place it in a large bowl. Allow it to cool down while you chop the other ingredients. Once the corn is cooled down a bit, add the chopped tomatoes, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, and herbs and toss to combine. You may want to taste for salt again just to make sure all the flavor is there.

This dish tastes better if it sits for a little while, and you can leave it out on the counter for an hour or two (covered) while the flavors mingle.

Grill Ready Ribs ‘n Chicken

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(Updated with Pic !)  I’m sorry I don’t currently have pics for this post…. if I take one after everything hits the grill I will post it up. I couldn’t reach for the camera while my hands were all meated-up and we’ve been busy hosting parents so the house is a bit busy.

But I digress … it is an abso-freakin-lutely amazing weekend with perfect weather and we are totally taking advantage of it with a back yard BBQ. We impulsively purchased a rib rack last weekend at home depot so we are putting it to good use today with some grilled ribs. The ribs, purchased at Costco for cheap (and they are really nice!) are very easy to prepare:

Dry grill rub – even mix of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, some chili powder, and maybe a touch of salt

2-3 tablespoons of aplle cider vinegar per ziploc

several gallon ziploc bags – depends on how much you are making

Rub the ribs down with the dry rub in the morning and place them in the ziploc with the vingar and allow them to marinate all day until you are ready to grill. 

For friends who don’t eat pork, we are making grilled chicken breast with the following marinade:

1 generous pinch of herbs de provence (we got ours from Herb Lyceum farm – it has some lavendar in it)

1/2 cup white wine

generous pinch of garlic salt

Several chicken breasts

Place all ingredients in the ziploc and marinate for the day ! 

I’ll post an update later today with pictures and more recipes for sides and cocktails.

Happy grilling !

Chicken Breast with Dried Mushroom and Sage rub

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It’s been an insanely busy week so I haven’t been cooking as much, which is unfortunate. I did participate in a book club talk about  The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which resulted in a huge discussion of local food sources, what it means to go organic and why we should all be cooking more of our own food instead of eating prepackaged items. It’s a hellova read, and made me think a lot more about what I put in my body and where it comes from. 

But I digress, tonight’s dinner was really simple, and designed to be made on the grill. We picked up some chicken breasts (bone in), some corn on the cob and the fixings for a nice salad. Once I had put together the rub for the chicken we realized we were out of gas on the grill, so we ended up making the chicken in the oven and steaming the corn on the stovetop. It was still delicious, but it would have been nice to bust out the grill in honor of the almost spring-like weather we were having today.

Here is the chicken recipe:

1/2 cup dried mushrooms (I used a mix, but if you can get porcini those are best)

5-6 dried sage leaves

3 tablespoons olive oil

juice of 1/2 a lemon

3 chicken breasts, bone in

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take the dried mushrooms and the sage leaves and place them in a spice grinder or food processor and grind it into a powder. Pour the mushroom sage powder into a bowl and add the olive oil, mixing to combine:

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Rub the chicken all over with the mushroom sage mix. You can do this in advance and place the chicken into a ziploc in the fridge to allow the mushroom & sage mix to marinate the chicken. Once the oven is heated up, place the chicken onto a baking sheet and sprinkle it evenly with the lemon juice. Bake the chicken for for about 40 minutes until it is good and browned and cooked through.  You could use white wine in place of or in addition to the lemon juice for a little extra flavor. Rosemary may go well with the mushrooms as a substitute for the sage.

Garden Update #3

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Just a brief update … Progress is being made by leaps and bounds for the seedlings in our kitchen. The basil seedlings above have been slow in advancing, but in the last week or so we’ve seen a lot of growth. The tomatoes have really taken off since we did the intermediate transplanting from the Burpee seed starter to the peat pots:

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We just picked up some compost to mix in with the soil as we prepare to move all the plants outside. Since it’s Boston, and it’ll be in the high 30s tonight, we won’t be doing our final transplant outside for another 3 weeks or so. In addition to the tomatoes, basil and chives, we’re hoping to build an herb box for parsley, the basil, and possibly a few other savories. The box will be modeled after the University of Maryland Salad Table but likely on a slightly smaller scale so we can fit it on our front porch.

A New Spin On Spaghetti & Meatballs

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If you are anything like me, you are participating in the annual cliche of dreading the onset of summer bathing suit season. I’ve been working out more, running, spin class, weights, etc, all in an effort to combat the ever increasing size of my bum. Actually, one of the reasons for writing this blog is to help me catalogue what I’m eating so that I can 1. force myself to be more creative and varied with my diet and 2. find new and imrpoved recipes 3. have a history of recipes and eating habits. I guess it’s my equivalent of having a diary.

 That being said, I’ve never been one for crazy diets (if you check out the carb category on this post you’ll see that I’d never survive a low-carb diet) or really restrictive eating. Instead, I’m opting for trying to update a few favorites to be a little more diet-friendly and here is one of my experiments: Brown rice pasta with turkey meatballs in a chunky tomato sauce. I like the brown rice pasta a whole heck of a lot more than whole wheat pasta. It takes slightly longer to cook but otherwise, it’s actually not bad. I have been using the Trader Joes brand and I am so far very happy with it. The meatballs are baked, not fried, which is my preferred method for making traditional beef meatballs. Here is the recipe for the turkey meatballs and the sauce:

Turkey Meatballs

1 lb ground turkey (don’t use white meat turkey, it wll be too dry)

3 teaspoons of non-fat greek yogurt

1 egg

3 teaspoons of chopped parsley

3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs

1/4 cup grated parmesan (cheese is good for you!)

1 pinch of salt

1 small clove of garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine all of the above ingredients in a bowl and mix well with your hand. Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray (I use olive oil spray). Roll the mix into meatballs, placing each on the cookie sheet about an inch or so apart. Once the oven is heated, place the meatballs in and cook for about 30 minutes, until the meatballs are nicely browned all over:

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While the meatballs are baking, you can start the pasta water and the sauce. The following is the recipe for chunky tomato sauce. It makes a light tomato sauce, with the leeks adding a mellow sweetness to the flavor:

1 can whole plum tomatoes

3-4 cloves of garlic

1 leek, white portion sliced thinly

1 pinch dried basil (3-4 fresh leaves)

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

salt to taste

Open the can of tomato, and carefully crush the tomato with your hands – this is messy so you may want to pour out the tomatoes and juice into a large bowl before you start to crush them. It’s easy to squirt the tomato juice all over so squeeze them slowly! Place the olive oil, garlic and leeks in a sauce pan on medium high heat and saute until the leeks are lightly browned – stir frequently. Once the leeks are lightly browned, add the tomatoes & juice, basil and a pinch of salt. Allow the tomatoes to simmer while the pasta cooks. 

Some notes:

1. The meatballs can be made in advance and frozen. If you do bake & freeze them in advance, once they are thawed out, add them to the sauce to warm through while you cook the pasta

2. I used breadcrumbs with the meatballs but you could easily use 1-2 slices of white bread. If you use the whole slices of bread, soak them in a little milk and forgo the yogurt in the recipe

3. If you prefer, you could use cilantro instead of parsley for a nice fresh flavor in the meatball recipe