Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What's On the Side: Pesto Pasta Salad

Our garden is growing like gangbusters and I think later today I'm going to harvest our first round of sugar snap peas and beans. Our corn is growing tall, our tomatoes are growing ever larger, and the squash are filling out nicely. The basil is going bonkers, too, which proved to be quite perfect for this pesto pasta salad recipe. I accidentally let the basil in my deck herb boxes bolt, so it was quite nice to be able to pick a few extra leaves from our garden variety.

This pesto pasta salad features the ingredients you'd expect in a pasta salad, such as tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. This time around I also added in some peas (I used frozen, but fresh would work just as well) and toasted pine nuts to go with the fresh pesto. And you can make this pasta salad super-easy by using pesto from a jar rather than making your own. Truthfully, I almost went that route myself, until I discovered the lack of pesto sauce in our pantry! I used this recipe from The Kitchn to make my pesto sauce. Personally, I prefer my pasta salad to not be oozing in dressing, so I typically don't add that much sauce to it. So, feel free to use as much (or as little) of the pesto as you wish.

Pesto Pasta Salad
makes 6-8 servings

3 cups small pasta (I used radiatore)
2-3 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaping cup frozen peas, thawed (or you could use fresh, blanched)
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered or halved
1/2 cup fresh mozzarella balls (I used perlini, which are slightly larger than pea-sized)
3-4 tablespoons pesto (fresh or purchased)

1. Cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions in salted water. Strain and pour into a large bowl. Toss with 2-3 teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil and let cool.
2. Add the peas, quartered tomatoes, and mozzarella to the pasta. Stir gently to combine. Stir in the pesto to evenly coat the pasta and other ingredients.
3. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What's For Breakfast: Huevos Rancheros

Technically, this is what we had for dinner the other night, although huevos rancheros is typically served as a Tex-Mex breakfast. I came upon this recipe while paging through the August/September 2014 issue of Cook's Country. (I earmarked nearly every page of this issue -- there are so many good recipes to try!) I don't think I've ever actually eaten huevos rancheros before, so I can't speak to this recipe's authenticity. However, I can tell you that it is absolutely delicious. 

I followed the recipe fairly closely, aside from halving most ingredients, as the original recipe makes four servings, and I was just feeding D and myself. I also made it into a one skillet meal; the original recipe calls for roasting the tomato mixture in a separate dish, but I found doing everything in a cast-iron skillet worked quite well. While perhaps this isn't the quickest recipe for a weeknight dinner, it would definitely make for a stunning presentation at a leisurely weekend brunch.

Huevos Rancheros 
makes 2-3 servings

2 14.5-ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 red onion, chopped
1 4-ounce can diced green chiles
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup shredded pepper Jack cheese
4-5 large eggs (I find eggs from pasture-raised chickens have the best yolks)
1 avocado, halved, pitted, and diced
3 green onions, sliced thin
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
4 corn tortillas, warmed

1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
2. Drain the tomatoes through a fine-mesh strainer placed over a bowl. Use the back of a spoon or rubber spatula to press as much of the juice out of the tomatoes as possible. Reserve 3/4 cup of the tomato juice, and discard the rest. Whisk the brown sugar and lime juice into the reserved tomato juice and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine the chopped onion, diced green chiles, olive oil, chili powder, and garlic. Stir in the drained tomatoes.
4. Transfer the tomato mixture into a 10-inch cast iron skillet and spread into an even layer. Roast in the oven until charred in spots, 35-40 minutes. Stir halfway through the cooking period.
5. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
6. Stir the tomato juice mixture into the roasted tomato mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
7. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the tomato mixture. Use a spoon to hollow out four or five spaces (depending on how many eggs you wish to cook) in the tomato mixture. Crack an egg into each hole. Season each egg with salt and pepper.
8. Bake in the oven for 14-16 minutes, or until the whites have just begun to set (they will still jiggle a bit). Remove the skillet from the oven, tent with aluminum foil, and let sit for 5 minutes.
9. Garnish with the diced avocado, sliced green onions, and chopped cilantro. Serve with warmed tortillas.

(adapted from a recipe in the August/September 2014 issue of Cook's Country magazine)

Monday, July 21, 2014

What's Baking: Blueberry-Lemon Scones

I am a total sucker for a fresh-baked pastry chosen straight from the bakery case. The one thing (okay, one of the things) our small Northwoods town is missing is a bakery. There's nowhere in town that I know of where I can pick up a truly-delicious fresh-baked donut. (The donuts for sale at our local chain grocery store leave a lot to be desired.) A Dunkin' Donuts is opening in town soon, but, truth be told, I'm much more of a fan of small ma-and-pa type donut shops. 

Long story short, if I want a fresh-baked treat in the morning, my best option is to just bake it myself. Hence I recently baked up a batch of these delicious blueberry-lemon scones. While scones are typically a rich, buttery treat, I wanted to make a more healthful option (since I knew most of them would be consumed by me...) so I found a recipe that subbed in Greek yogurt for some of the butter. While these scones may be a little healthier than others, they are just as flavorful as their bakery-made brethren. 

Blueberry-Lemon Scones
makes 8 scones

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons raw cane sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup plain low- or non-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup organic buttermilk
zest of one lemon
1 cup fresh blueberries (frozen also work)
1 tablespoon organic heavy cream
1-2 teaspoons turbinado sugar for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
3. Use a pastry blender or two knives to cut the butter cubes into the flour mixture.
4. Add the yogurt and buttermilk to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Gently stir in the lemon zest and blueberries.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface. Gently pat the dough into a circle about 1" thick. Use a sharp knife or pizza roller to cut the round into 8 slices. Place the slices onto the prepped baking sheet. (Carefully use the knife to lift the slices from the work surface, if you find they are sticking.)
6. Brush the top of each scone with heavy cream and then sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to let cool completely.

(adapted from this Cookie+Kate recipe)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What's For Dinner: Savory Mushroom Casserole

A savory casserole is probably best-suited for dinner on a chilly autumn or winter evening. However, seeing as our highs of late up here in Northern Wisconsin have been in the mid-50s and low-60s, there has definitely been a feeling of fall in the air. (Though I'm sure we'll be back to warmer temperatures soon enough -- summer isn't over yet!) So I felt perfectly justified in spending a recent evening cooking up this savory and satisfying mushroom casserole.

Savory Mushroom Casserole
makes 8 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces brown mushrooms, cleaned and chopped (tops and stalks)
pinch of fine sea salt
1 large white onion, well chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cups cooked brown rice, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (nonfat, 2%, or whole)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish, if desired)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8x8 square baking dish with butter, olive oil, or cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Add the olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and salt and cook until most of the liquid has released and the mushrooms have softened and browned, 5-8 minutes. Add in the chopped onion and cook until golden brown, an additional 5-10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and saute until fragrant, about one minute. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the cooked brown rice.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and salt.
4. In a large bowl, stir together the egg mixture and the rice mixture until well combined. Spoon the casserole mixture into the prepped baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan cheese. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes, or until the casserole is bubbling and brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and top with the chopped thyme and additional Parmesan if desired.

(adapted from this 101 Cookbooks recipe)

Monday, July 14, 2014

What's For Dinner: Chicken Gyro Salad

Now that we've made tzatziki sauce, let's use it in a chicken gyro salad, shall we? I'm not sure where I first came across the recipe for chicken gyro salad, which originated on goop, Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle website, but it's definitely a winner. I made several changes (as I am wont to do) from the original recipe, which included switching up some of the spices used in the chicken marinade, cooking the chicken in the oven rather than on the stovetop, and making a tzatziki sauce that melded together two different recipes. The resulting salad is filling, fresh, and full of delicious Mediterranean flavor.

Chicken Gyro Salad
makes 4 servings

For the tzatziki dressing:
1 small cucumber, seeded and grated
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
freshly ground pepper

For the chicken:
1 1/2 pounds organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
juice from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground sumac [optional]
dash smoked paprika
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
4 large garlic cloves, crushed

For the salad:
4 cups spring green mix
1/2 large red onion, chopped
2 medium ripe red tomatoes, chopped
1 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 pitas, quartered

1. Make the tzatziki dressing: Place the grated cucumber in a colander and toss with the sea salt. Set the colander over a bowl and place in the refrigerator to let the excess water drain from the cucumber (at least one hour).
2. Carefully press any excess water out of the cucumber with the back of a spoon.
3. Place the cucumber into a serving bowl. Stir in the grated garlic, Greek yogurt, and lemon juice. Stir in the olive oil. Then stir in the chopped parsley. Season to taste with black pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
5. Place the chicken thighs in an 8x8-inch baking dish. Add the lemon juice, dried oregano, ground sumac, paprika, and olive oil. Gently rub the chicken with your clean hands. (And then wash your hands thoroughly!) Top with the crushed garlic cloves, and then season generously with salt and pepper. Cover and marinate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
6. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken reaches 165 degrees.
4. Remove the chicken from the oven and let rest 5 minutes.
5. After the chicken has cooled, chop into large chunks.
6. Place one (or more) cups of spring greens onto each plate. Add the chopped onion, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Then top with the roasted chicken and drizzle with the tzatziki dressing. Garnish with pita wedges.

(adapted from this goop recipe)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What's On the Side: Tzatziki Sauce

Friends of ours were heading out of town last week, so they gifted us with some of the bounty from their CSA share. Among the vegetables we received were a couple of cucumbers, and my first thought was to put them to use in a tzatziki sauce. Tzatziki is a cold sauce made from thickened yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh herbs. It is common to Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish, Armenian, and Middle Eastern cuisine and is often served as a dipping sauce or as an accompaniment to grilled meats.

I used fresh parsley from my herb garden in this recipe; other commonly used herbs include dill, mint, or thyme.

Tzatziki Sauce
makes about 2 cups

1 small cucumber, seeded and grated
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large clove garlic, grated
2 cups nonfat Greek yogurt
juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

1. Place the grated cucumber in a colander and toss with the sea salt. Set the colander over a bowl and place in the refrigerator to let the excess water drain from the cucumber (at least one hour).
2. Carefully press any excess water out of the cucumber with the back of a spoon.
3. Place the cucumber into a serving bowl. Stir in the grated garlic, Greek yogurt, and lemon juice. Stir in the olive oil. Then stir in the chopped parsley. Season to taste with black pepper.

(adapted from this Ina Garten and this goop recipe)

Friday, July 4, 2014

What's For Dessert: Lazy Girl Patriotic Crispy Rice Treats

This recipe is exactly why this blog is called "a less processed life" and not "an unprocessed life." Sometimes you just gotta go with the processed ingredients to make a quick treat to share with friends. Of course, I could have chosen to make my own marshmallows from scratch, but let's face it, it's just a lot easier to buy the pre-packaged products when you're crunched for time. 

And really ... these crispy rice treats are seriously yummy. D and I shared them with friends last night, and we nearly demolished the entire pan ... I saved just enough for photography (and, uh, afternoon snacking) purposes today.

And of course, to help celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, I opted to take them up a (tiny) notch with the addition of red, white, and blue sprinkles. (You'll notice I also added in some leftover red and white hearts from a Valentine's set of sprinkles, as my mixture seemed to be heavy on the color blue.) With the addition of sprinkles, you could customize these treats for any holiday -- brown and orange for Halloween, red and green for Christmas, pink, white, and red for Valentine's Day, multicolored confetti for birthday celebrations ... you get the picture.

And the best part? These crispy rice treats come together in mere minutes. Meaning, if, say, you've forgotten that you promised to bring something to the July 4th picnic, you can whip these together in no-time flat. You're welcome in advance. :)

Lazy Girl Patriotic Crispy Rice Treats
makes about 32 squares

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 package (10 ounces) miniature marshmallows
6 cups crispy rice cereal
2 tablespoons red, white, and blue sprinkles (plus additional for sprinkling on top)

1. Melt the butter in a large microwave-safe bowl (30-45 seconds).
2. Add the marshmallows to the bowl and toss to coat in the butter. Microwave for 45 seconds, then stir. Microwave for an additional 30-45 minutes, or until melted. Stir until the mixture is smooth.
3. Stir in the crispy rice cereal and sprinkles.
4. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray (or grease with butter). Press the marshmallow-rice mixture into the dish, forming an even layer. Top with a few more sprinkles, and then lightly press to help them adhere. Let cool completely before cutting into squares.

(lightly adapted from this Kraft recipe)


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