Two New Recipes and Two Old Faithfuls

I could not have been more pleased with my meal plan for this week. I decided to make my old faithful Turkey Chili recipe that I use alot in the winter. I know that chili tends to be something people make when it's cold out...but the way I look at it, we eat lots of hot meals in the summer, so what's the big deal?

I also used two new recipes that I got from a very good friend of mine who happens to be a fabulous cook and hostess. She invited a bunch of us gals over for a pedicure party. We sat around in a circle outside and ate tons of delicious food while soaking and pampering our feet. How clever is she to think of such a fun get together? Here's a picture of all of us (courtesy of her wonderful husband, who selflessly babysat while we gabbed the night away):

Here was my plan this week:

Monday: Turkey Chili with sour cream, scallions, and tortilla chips

Tuesday: Spinach and Cheese Lasagna (using leftovers!)

Wednesday: Thai Chicken Salad

Thursday: Leftover Lasagna and some Fresh Corn Salad for munching

Friday: Chinese Take-out :)

Saturday: We were invited to a party, so I got another night off of cooking

*Warning: There are several paragraphs below describing how I planned out and cooked my meals...don't be overwhelmed...I just went in to detail to show you how easy it is to do things ahead*

This plan worked perfectly. On Sunday night, I came home from cooking class and threw together a big pot of the Turkey Chili while watching Mad Men with one of my favorite friends. (What is Mad Men, you ask? Well, it's only the best show ever that airs on Sunday nights on AMC) You might think I'm crazy for cooking after going to a three hour cooking class...and that may be true...but this chili is so easy to make that it takes me no time at all. I just put the ingredients together and let it simmer on the stove while I watch TV.

The Turkey Chili was ready for me after quite a long day at work on Monday. After dinner was cleaned up and I had gotten a chance to relax for a little bit, I headed back into the kitchen to make the lasagna for Tuesday. I would hardly call this cooking as it literally took me 10 minutes to make. The recipe uses leftover Turkey Chili as the meat. All I did was mix some ricotta cheese with some spinach and layer the whole thing up with no boil lasagna noodles. I popped a lid on the casserole dish and into the fridge it went until Tuesday.

After making the lasagna, I poured a smidge of olive oil over some boneless skinless chicken breasts, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, and put them into a 350 degree oven. While my husband and I watched TV, they roasted for about 25-30 minutes. I took them out of the oven, let them cook and popped them into the fridge as well.

Tuesday night I got home late and my husband had already put the lasagna into the oven. Ahhh, the joys of planning ahead.

On Wednesday, I took out the roasted chicken breasts from Monday night and shredded them for the chicken salad. With the roasting out of the way, the meal came together very quickly (I would say no more than 15 minutes). Part of the prep for making the chicken salad is to blanch some asparagus. Since I had a pot of water already boiling for that, I went ahead and cooked the corn right after I was done cooking the asparagus. Now I already had the most time consuming part of the Fresh Corn Salad done.

Because dinner was so simple, I went ahead and threw the Fresh Corn Salad together and then called it a night. On Thursday, we ate leftover lasagna and also munched on some Fresh Corn Salad with leftover tortilla chips from Monday's chili.

Without further ado...here are the recipes that my dear friend sent me. They are from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

Fresh Corn Salad
~I was pretty much obsessed with this after my first bite~

*Fresh Corn is important - do not substitute frozen or canned.*
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Jalapeno chili, stemmed, seeded, and minced (you can leave this out, if you don't like spice)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 8 ears fresh corn, husks & silk removed (I used 6)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved, or whatever tomatoes you have on hand (I used a couple large tomatoes that I chopped)
  • 1 (15.5 oz) can black beans, rinsed
  • 6 scallions (green onions), sliced thinly
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro (I didn't use this because I don't like cilantro...don't hate me, I know everyone seems to like cilantro. But even the smell of it turns my stomach.)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  1. For the dressing: Shake all of the dressing ingredients together in a jar with a tight-fitting lid (or a plastic container or plastic baggie).
  2. Cook the corn in a big pot of boiling water until tender (5-7 minutes). Drain and rinse under cold water. Cut kernels from cob with a paring knife into a large bowl.
  3. Add tomatoes, beans, scallions, cilantro, and dressing and toss. Season with S&P to taste & serve.
*This salad can be made a day in advance.

Thai Chicken Salad
~This keeps well to bring for lunch the next day~

Chicken Mixture:
  • 8 split chicken breasts, bone in, skin on (or you can use skinless/boneless breasts like I did)*
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 pound asparagus, ends removed, cut into thirds diagonally
  • 2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
  • 4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced diagonally
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (just toss them around in a dry frying pan over medium heat)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp dark sesame oil (I used the regular stuff)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Put the chicken in a pan and rub each breast with olive oil.
  3. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes(more like 25-30 for boneless), or until internal temp is 160. Set aside until cool enough to handle.(Remember, I did this a couple nights ahead of time to save time).
  4. Remove the meat from bone, discard skin, and shred the chicken. (this is obviously if you decide to use bone-in chicken)
  5. Blanch the asparagus in a pot of boiling salted water for 3-5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain.
  6. Cut the peppers into strips, same size as the asparagus.
  7. Combine the shredded chicken, asparagus, and peppers in a large bowl.
  8. Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing and pour over the chicken mixture.
  9. Add the scallions and sesame seeds and season to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.
* This recipe serves 12...so I obviously didn't want to make that much for the two of us. I halved it by using 4 chicken breasts, but used the same amount of peppers, scallions, and asparagus because I love all those things. Then I kind of forgot that I halved it when I made the dressing, and ended up having some left over which I used as a salad dressing for my lunch the next day.

Not only did we have a great dinner each night this week, but we also had plenty of leftovers for us to bring for lunch. The grocery bill came to about $80, but that included daily essentials that we were out of (milk, orange juice, bread, toilet paper...) and some ingredients that were on sale and could be used in future meals (Buy one, get one free frozen shrimp...yes, please!).

I hope you are enjoying the last few days of summer!

*P.S. I don't know why the chicken salad recipe is written in black and the rest of this post is normal...sometimes blogger and I don't get along.*


Easy Meals for a Busy Week

This past week, I felt a little bit like this:

As I said in a previous post, this week was my first week of school. Teaching 2nd grade can be pretty tiring, so I needed easy and delicious meals to whip up each night.

I turned to Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2008 and found some fabulous recipes. All three recipes in this post are from that cookbook. Cooking Light continues to impress me with their easy and healthy recipes.

I made the following menu:

Monday - Spiced Salmon with Mustard Sauce and Sauteed Spinach in Butter
Tuesday - Apricot Turkey Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce, Oven Fries, and Salad
Wednesday - Left Over Burgers and Salad
Thursday - Turkey Tacos
Friday - Date Night Out
Saturday - Stir-Fried Shrimp with Spicy Orange Sauce over Brown Rice

My plan was pretty simple. The salmon came together in a snap on Monday night and didn't need any prepping ahead. The turkey burger meal was also fast and easy, so I threw it together when I got home from work.

While the burgers were cooking, I cooked up the turkey meat for the tacos on Thursday and popped it in the fridge. This was also cost-effective because I bought the family pack (3 lbs) of ground turkey, which is less expensive per lb. I used 1 1/2 lbs for the burgers and 1 1/2 lbs for the tacos.

I had a girls night to go to on Wednesday, so my husband enjoyed left over burgers since the recipe yielded 7 burgers. We even had enough to each bring a burger for lunch! On Thursday night, the tacos were ready to assemble.

On Friday night we went out to a favorite local diner that is inside a small airport. As you eat, you can watch planes land and take off. It's not a very glamorous place, but I find it so romantic. We were there over sunset and got to watch the plans take off into a pink and yellow sky.

My desire is to get all sorts of things done today, so tonight I plan to quickly thaw some frozen shrimp and put the meal together fast! I think that some instant brown rice will round the meal out well. I'll have to update you to tell you what I think of the recipe. We'll head to the movies after dinner for Date #2. My husband likes to take me on dates when I have long and tiring weeks...I'm a pretty lucky girl!

**Update: The Spicy Orange Shrimp was SO delicious. It took minutes to make and my husband and I enjoyed it very much!**

Spiced Salmon with Mustard Sauce*
~This was so easy, it didn't even feel like I was cooking!~
(We were so hungry that I forgot to take a picture of this one!)
  • 2 tsp whole-grain mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground red pepper
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 (6 oz.) Salmon fillets
  • Cooking spray
  1. Preheat the broiler
  2. Combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well with a fork.
  3. Rub mustard mixture evenly over fillets. Place fillets, skin sides down**, on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
  4. Broil 8 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.
*I served this with one bag of baby spinach that I sauteed in 2 tbsp of butter until it was wilted. I sprinkled a little Parmesan cheese on it and it went well with the salmon.

**I actually removed the skin beforehand. You can remove it afterward or eat it with the skin. I always take it off, though. I think it's a mental thing...the skin just creeps me out.

Apricot Turkey Burgers*
~These are a fresh take on the typical turkey burger~

  • 3/4 cup drained canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1/3 cup minced shallots
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground red pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground turkey
  • cooking spray
  • 6 multi-grain hamburger buns
  • Tzatziki sauce (I got mine from Trader Joe's...although, you can make it yourself)
  1. Prepare the grill or grill pan.
  2. Place chickpeas in a food processor, pulse 3 times or until chopped. Combine chickpeas, apricots, and next 7 ingredients.
  3. Divide mixture into 6 equal portions (I actually had enough to make 7), shaping each into a 1/2 inch thick patty.
  4. Place patties on a grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill 6 minutes on each side or until a thermometer registers 165 degrees. Remove from grill and let stand for 5 minutes.
  5. Serve burgers on hamburger buns topped with Tzatziki sauce and tomatoes (if desired).
*I serve these with oven fries. To make them, I sliced up 1 large potato into thing even pieces. I tossed them with olive oil and placed in a single layer on a sheet pan. I sprinkled them with kosher salt and some Moroccan seasoning (since I thought it would go well with this particular meal...you can season them however you wish). They take about 20-25 minutes to crisp up in a 425 degree oven.

I made a little salad for the side by combining mixed greens, sliced English cucumber, dried cranberries, chickpeas, and Tzatziki sauce.

Stir-Fried Shrimp with Spicy Orange Sauce*
~This was easy and delicious!~

  • 1 1/2 lbs peeled and deveined large shrimp
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (I will use Simply Orange juice because I don't have fresh)
  • 2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp chile paste with garlic
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions (scallions)
  1. Place shrimp in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with cornstarch, toss well to coat and then set aside.
  2. Combine juice and the next 4 ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic to pan; stir-fry 15 seconds or until fragrant.
  4. Add shrimp mixture and stir-fry 3 minutes. Add juice mixture and onions; cook 2 minutes or until sauce is thick and shrimp are done, stirring frequently. Serve immediately.
*I plan to serve this up over brown rice.

If I didn't come up with an easy and attainable plan to get meals on the table, I would've been tempted to grab pizza or fast food this week. The first week of school is always grueling, so cooking with a plan was a must!


I'm Still Here...

I haven't posted in a bit because I've been busy getting my school year started. I've been setting up my classroom, reviewing curriculum, and meeting my new little munchkins. In fact, today was the first day of school!

One little boy came in with a huge smile on his face and handed me an apple. What a cutie!

Anyway, I'm still here and I'm still cooking. In fact, I am trying out a few new recipes this week and will post them if they are yummy. The recipes look tasty, so we'll see!

I hope you all are having a fabulous week! I'll be tying shoelaces, labeling folders, explaining classroom rules, returning parent emails, opening water bottles, playing "getting to know you" games, giving placement tests, and trying to keep the kids from hurting themselves or each other. I may even do some teaching! ;)


The Perfect Picnic

My husband and I decided that we were going to enjoy our last day of summer vacation to the fullest. On Sunday night, I prepped some various items for us to snack on in the great outdoors.

We have the coolest picnic cooler bag thing that Sonny's cousin gave us for our wedding...it looks like this:

I packed it up with the following items:

Curry Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Creamy Cucumber Salad
Homemade Granola Bars
Chocolate Chip Cookies

I made the Curry Chicken Salad on Sunday night and popped it in the fridge. I set up the cucumbers and yogurt to drain overnight for the Creamy Cucumber Salad. The Homemade Granola Bars were also made on Sunday night. I grabbed a bag of pre-formed chocolate chip cookie dough from the freezer and placed the frozen balls of dough directly in the oven on a cookie sheet (I always reserve some dough when I make cookies so that I have it on hand in the freezer for occasions like this).

By doing a little bit of work ahead of time, all I had to do was assemble the sandwiches and throw the cucumber salad together before leaving for our picnic.

Creamy Cucumber Salad
~With a little planning ahead, this is very simple to make~

  • 4 hothouse cucumbers, thinly sliced (3 to 4 pounds)
  • 2 small red onions, thinly sliced in half rounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh dill
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  1. Mix the cucumbers, red onions, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt in a bowl. Pour them into a colander and suspend it over a bowl. Wrap the bowl and colander with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to drain for at least 4 hours or overnight. Discard the liquid that collects in the bowl.
  2. Pour the yogurt into a sieve (mesh strainer) lined with a paper towel and suspend it over another bowl. Wrap the bowl and sieve in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Discard the liquid that collects in the second bowl.
  3. When the cucumbers are ready, roll them up in paper towels or a kitchen towel and press the towel lightly to remove most of the liquid.
  4. Place the cucumbers and yogurt in a large bowl with the sour cream, vinegar, dill, 2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper. Toss well and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.
  5. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and serve chilled.
Recipe taken from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Homemade Granola Bars
~These smell delicious as they are baking!~

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
  • 1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates (I got prunes)
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots (I always get nuts and dried fruit from the bulk section in the grocery store...it's so much cheaper and I can get exactly the quantity I need!)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.
  2. Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.
  4. Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture.
  5. Add the dates, apricots, and cranberries and stir well.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.
Recipe taken from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

We found the perfect spot under a big tree right by the water...it was so peaceful.

Here is a picture of our lovely picnic before we ate it all up!

The weather was hot, but it was cool and breezy by the water and under the shade of a tree. It was a truly relaxing and lovely way to spend a summer afternoon.

Julie & Julia

August 7th was a big day. It was my sister's birthday. AND it was the day that the movie Julie & Julia finally came out!!

If you've been reading my blog, you know that I am a bit...shall we say obsessed?...with Julia Child.

I've been excited about this movie for months. My sister loves to cook and we love bonding over food. How perfect to see this movie with her on her birthday! My mom, sister, and I had such a nice time together.

You'd think my mounting excitement over the past few months would only set me up to be disappointed. No. I loved it. I just loved it.

The movie alternates between telling Julie Powell's story and Julia Child's story. Both are true stories. Julie's story is about her attempt to break the monotony of her life by cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. She chronicles her culinary adventures on a blog she names, "The Julie/Julia Project". The project not only brings excitement and opportunities into her life, but gives her an insight into who she really is.

Julia Child's story is based on her autobiography called My Life in France. The movie follows her as she learns to cook at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She eventually gets involved in writing a cookbook that becomes Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Amy Adams (Julie Powell) and Meryl Streep (Julia) are just wonderful in their roles. I can't get over how much Meryl Streep looks like Julia in her scenes (especially the reenactments of The French Chef episodes!). The movie artfully jumps back and forth between their stories and I really identified with each character.

One thing I really liked about this movie was it's depiction of marriage. I was reading an article recently that said a lot of movies show the "falling in love" phase of relationships or they show marriages breaking down. The article (wish I could remember where I read it!) talks about how refreshing it is to watch a movie that paints a realistic picture of healthy, happy marriages. I don't know the current status of Julia Powell's marriage, but Paul and Julia Child had a famously successful marriage. She adored him and he supported her hopes and dreams 100%. In the movie, Julie Powell's husband also loves and supports her and she loves and appreciates him. It just made me feel happy.

I could go on and on about the movie...but you should just go see it! Before the movie, my cooking teacher, Art, emailed me this article. It's very long, but really interesting. It begins by talking about the movie Julie & Julia, but then goes into commentary on the cooking trends in America and our overall attitude toward working in the kitchen. It's written by Michael Pollan who recently wrote a book called In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.

Anyway...it is unlikely that I'll become a famous cookbook author or TV personality like Julia Child...but, as I've said before, Julia inspires me to believe that it will never be too late for me to pursue my passions and become who I am meant to be.


Friday Night Feast - Birthday Edition

I had the honor of preparing my sister's special birthday meal...and it happened to fall on Friday. Friday Night Feast Time!

I kept bugging her all week about what she wanted me to make. Finally I gave her a huge stack of random recipes and told her to pick out what sounded best to her. I loved all the things she picked! Two of the recipes were ones I've never done before, but I'm hardly ever afraid to try new recipes. In fact, I absolutely love to try new recipes and do so often.

I was able to make almost everything the night before so I could enjoy the day with the birthday girl. Here's the birthday girl, by the way:

I love her.

Birthday Feast Menu

Grilled Shrimp with Strawberry-Mango Salsa
Pepper-Crusted Maple Glazed Salmon
Creamy Parmesan Swiss Chard Gratin
Fresh Blueberry Pie
Pear Cardamon Bread with Vanilla Ice Cream

Grilled Shrimp with Strawberry-Mango Salsa
~This was a wonderfully refreshing first course~

Shrimp Marinade:
  • 1 1/2 lbs raw large shrimp (or you could use scallops...I used some thawed out frozen shrimp)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 mango, peeled and diced
  • 1 package strawberries, sliced thinly
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (I used about 1/2 a pepper to make it less hot)
  • 1/4 cup red onion, chopped
  • 2 or 3 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt to taste
  1. Make sure the shrimp is shelled and deveined. Prepare the grill.
  2. Combine oil, vinegar, and garlic in a small bowl. Add shrimp (or scallops) and toss lightly to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours. (I prepared the marinade in a large ziploc bag and then threw the shrimp in there to marinate).
  3. Meanwhile, combine all of the salsa ingredients. The salsa should stand at least 15 minutes before serving so that the flavors mesh together. (I made it the night before and stuck it in the fridge..it was perfect!)
  4. Grill shrimp on medium heat until pink and opaque (or until firm for scallops). Don't over cook...it only takes two or 3 minutes on each side at the most! (I skewer the shrimp to make them easier to turn).
  5. Serve the shrimp on top of the salsa. The shrimp tastes great warm or at room temperature. This salsa is great for lots of things...grilled fish, meat, or tortilla chips.
Pepper-Crusted Maple Glazed Salmon
~So simple, yet so delicious~

(I doubled the quantities below in order to serve 6)
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 4 salmon fillets, about 6 oz each
  • 1/4 cup cracked black pepper
  • Vegetable oil spray
  1. Prepare the marinade by whisking the maple syrup and soy sauce together. Pour the marinade into a large ziploc bag and add the fillets. Press the air out of the bag, seal it, and turn the bag several times to distribute the marinade.
  2. Set the bag in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight.
  3. Place pepper on a small plate and remove salmon fillets from the marinade. Generously spray both sides of each fillet with oil (cooking spray). Pat the top side of each fillet into the cracked pepper to coat.
  4. Grill fillets pepper side up for a 3 or 4 minutes and then turn to grill an additional 3 or 4 minutes (you may prefer to cook it longer or shorter depending on your preference).
Creamy Parmesan Swiss Chard Gratin
~This is a very decadent side dish~

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter; more for coating the gratin dish
  • 1/2 cup toasted, coarse fresh bread crumbs (or plain store bought)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1/2 tsp salt, divided
  • 3 strips bacon
  • 1 lb Swiss chard(1 or 2 bunches) washed and drained, stems removed and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch slices, leaves cut into 1/2 inch ribbons
  • 1/3 cup parmesan
  • freshly ground pepper
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a shallow 5 or 6 cup ceramic gratin dish (or any shallow medium sized baking dish). Melt 1 tbsp of the butter and toss it with the breadcrumbs; set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and the garlic to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer vigorously for 5 minutes. The cream should reduce to 3/4 cup. Take the pan off the heat and remove the garlic cloves with a slotted spoon. Let the cream cool slightly and then season it with the salt and pepper.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisp and browned. Transfer to paper towels to drain and leave the bacon fat in the pan. Add the remaining tbsp butter to the skillet.
  4. Add the chard stems and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until softened. Add the chard leaves and season with salt. Saute until all the leaves are wilted, about 2 minutes.
  5. Using tongs, transfer the chard to the gratin dish and spread them evenly.
  6. Sprinkle the crumbled bacon and cheese over the chard. Pour the seasoned cream over all and top with the buttered bread crumbs. Bake for 25 minutes; the gratin will be brown and bubbly. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.
All three recipes were learned at The Kitchen Workshop

~This was a beautiful meal to celebrate a beautiful person!~


Who Knew?

Here is a picture of some lentils:

Dictionary.com says that a lentil is:
  1. A leguminous plant native to southwest Asia, having flat pods containing lens-shaped, edible seeds.
  2. The round, flattened seed of this plant.
The reason I looked it up is because I've never eaten lentils before and assumed they were some sort of bean, but wasn't sure.

Whenever I heard of anything with lentils in it, I thought, "Um...no thanks". The word "lentil" doesn't sound good. It sounds like something not edible to me...like some sort of utensil used in urgent situations. I imagine someone saying, "Go get me the lentil...quick!"

Anyway, I saw a Barefoot Contessa episode recently (Ina Garten's show on the Food Network) and she was making Lentil Vegetable Soup. She was oh-ing and ah-ing about how awesome it was. I figured that I would try it since lentils are supposed to be super nutritious and the ingredients are not expensive (so I wouldn't feel bad if I hated it).

My husband and I were in awe of how flavorful and awesome this soup was! The recipe yields a whole bunch and we've been eating it for days because we love it so much. I will be making large quantities of this soup and freezing it. Because I like to freeze things. Make this soup...it's delicious and not hard to make and good for you!

Lentil Vegetable Soup
~I Love it!~

  • 1 pound lentils (they are by the dried beans)
  • 4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large onions)
  • 4 cups chopped leeks, white part only (2 leeks)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil, plus additional for drizzling on top
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried (I used dried)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 cups medium-diced celery (8 stalks)
  • 3 cups medium-diced carrots (4 to 6 carrots)
  • 3 quarts chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine or red wine vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I forgot this and it still tasted awesome)
  1. In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.
  2. In a large stockpot on medium heat (I used an enameled dutch oven), saute the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes.
  3. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through.
  4. Check the seasonings. Add the red wine/vinegar and serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan.

Lentils....who knew?


Can It

So I haven't been doing much by way of cooking lately. My sister has been visiting and her daughter was a bit sick earlier in the week. I was feeling a bit rotten myself. We ended up eating this and that during the day and Wegman's takeout at night. My Mom also bought a lemon cake from Wegman's. I love it with my whole heart. After a lengthy discussion with my sister about portion size and sticking to a moderate daily intake of food...I ate three pieces of cake.

I am finding that summer is less "cooking with a plan" for me and more "have fun and figure it out as you go". This is due to the fact that I'm a teacher and don't work during the summer (don't hate me). However, the school year is about to commence and I am getting geared up to start planning and cooking ahead. It's really the only way I can handle getting dinner on the table after a tough day at work. And in the beginning of the school year, there are usually a lot of tough days.

I did do something rather special this week. I canned (I don't really like that it's called "canning" because they aren't cans, they're jars...). My neighbor has been doing it for a couple of years and she graciously invited me over to show me how it's done. I did all these!

Actually, I could have done even more but I ran out of jars. It was a really interesting process and I am definitely going to do it again this season and in the summers to come. I know that some people might cringe at the thought of canning and preserving because it seems like this huge ordeal.

I'll be honest that it can be a bit labor intensive, but it's a very simple process. If you are making a lot of things, it can take a while because you have to sterilize the jars for a certain amount of time (for small jars we did about 10 minutes) and then you have to fill them and put them back in the boiling water for a certain amount of time (in our case, 10 minutes). It doesn't seem like that long, but if you have to work in batches it can take a while. If you are doing it with a friend, you can chit chat and work on other things in the meanwhile. I really enjoyed it.

Here are two of the recipes we did. Both recipes can be made without the intention of preserving, but need to be kept in the fridge and used within a few weeks. Both of these recipes come from the great cookbook by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard called The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving.

Peach Mint Salsa
~This chutney-like salsa is delicious on grilled chicken or fish~

  • 2 cups chopped peeled peaches (about 4 medium peaches)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped jalapeno pepper
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp pickling salt (you can use kosher, but pickling salt is sold right next to it)
  • the zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
  1. You can peel the peaches by dropping them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then plunging them in ice water. The peels should come off easily. If you have trouble, it's not that big of a deal for some of the peaches to be chopped with the peel on.
  2. Combine the peaches, onion, peppers, honey, salt, lime zest and juice in a medium saucepan.
  3. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and boil gently (uncovered) for 5 minutes (stir occasionally).
  4. Stir in mint and cook for 1 minute.
  5. Fill sterilized hot jars with salsa, leaving a 1/2 inch of space between the top of the salsa and the rim of the jar (this is called "head space"). Process 10 minutes for half-pint jars ("process" means boil the jars).
  6. Serve with tortilla chips or use it to top chicken or fish. I'm sure it can be used in other ways, as well!
This recipe only yields two cups of salsa, so it can easily be made to be eaten. If you are canning it, I would double or even triple the recipe.

Raspberry and Blueberry Jam
~This can be made year round with fresh or frozen berries~

  • 3 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (unsweetened)
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (unsweetened)
  • 1 large orange
  • 6 1/2 cups sugar (alot of sugar! but this recipe yields alot of jam)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 pouch liquid fruit pectin (found near canning supplies in grocery stores)
  1. Mash raspberries and blueberries in a large saucepan. I mashed them the point where the raspberries were pretty mashed up but the blueberries were mostly whole.
  2. Zest the orange and add the zest to the saucepan. Remove the white rind of the orange and chop the orange by hand or in a food processor.
  3. Add orange pulp, sugar and lemon juice to the saucepan. Bring to a full boil over high heat and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in pectin.
  4. Ladle into hot sterilized jars and process 10 minutes.
I have the ingredients to make Apricot Honey Butter, too. I am going to pick up some more jars and give it a go at home. I'll try to remember to take pictures so that I can do a post on the process step-by-step.

Tomorrow I am attempting to make a Friday Feast: Birthday Edition for my sister's birthday. If it turns out as good as it sounds, I will be sure to share it with you.

*I apologize for the poor quality of my picture...I have trouble taking clear pictures that aren't washed out with my camera's flash. My camera takes great pictures outside...not so great inside.