Thursday, September 03, 2015

Corn and Tomato Pasta Salad

For me, summertime fare means fresh, happenin' side dishes. Sure, barbecue chicken and burgers on the grill are fabulous. But, I really look forward to the sides when it comes to summer cookouts and gatherings. Potato salad. Crisp, sliced cucumbers paired with fresh dill and doused with vinegar. Buttery corn on the cob. Fresh fruit salad. A good guacamole. A crudité platter with creamy dip. And, pasta salad. Glorious, scrumptious pasta salad.

I make so many version of pasta salad throughout the summer months. This one is a great recipe for showcasing fresh corn and garden tomatoes this time of year.

The vinaigrette-style dressing used in this recipe is light and simple. It really allows the fresh vegetables to shine and it doesn't compete with the other ingredients. (NOTE: A high-quality, store-bought Italian-style dressing can be used in place of the oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar dressing if you desire a more-robust, no fuss dressing.)

What's great about this salad is that it gets better with time. So, it's the perfect make-ahead side dish for your summer gatherings and parties. Gather up some just-picked vegetables, grab a box of mini pasta shells, break out that bottle of balsamic vinegar and make this before the summer is over!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal with Peaches

I adore recipes that allow me to assemble the ingredients well in advance so that there is little work at meal-time. This baked oatmeal is one of those fabulous recipes. A hearty, healthful breakfast is just a few simple steps away. Assemble the oatmeal at night prior to heading to bed. Toss some fresh fruit into the mix in the morning. Pop the dish into the oven. Brew up some coffee. And, grab some spoons!

Using steel cut oats is key here (they are easily found in the cereal/oats section of most supermarkets these days). They hold up well in the fridge overnight amidst the creamy, perfectly-spiced liquid and have such an awesome texture once baked up in this sensational breakfast dish.

Fresh peaches are used here, but this baked oatmeal works great with any fruit that I've tried (blueberries are another favorite add-in for us in this recipe). And, frankly, I think this recipe would work even if you didn't add any fruit into the mixture.

I bring together a little shredded coconut, chopped nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and maple syrup to really enhance the oats. I, also, mix a little quinoa in with the steel cut oats, but it can be omitted if you're not a fan or don't have it on hand. (Just replace the quinoa with additional oats.)

To serve, scoop some of the baked oatmeal into a bowl, top with a sprinkling of brown sugar (or a drizzle of honey) and pour on a little milk or cream right before digging in.

Serves 4 - 6.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Coconut and Quinoa Granola

Making granola at home is so easy and allows for you to control the ingredients. I've made lots of versions of granola through the years, but this recipe has really caught on in our house as the top contender to nab the title of "Best Homemade Granola Ever."
I just recently started adding quinoa to my granola. Doing so results in unexpected, yet fun little pops of texture and crunch. And, I like that the quinoa doesn't even have to be cooked prior to assembling the granola.

Granola is one of those recipes that can be adapted easily according to what is on hand and taste preferences. If you like pecans instead of sunflower seeds, go for it. Prefer a stronger cinnamon flavor? Use two teaspoons instead of one. Just be sure to keep the general measurement guidelines the same as you go along.

When I make granola, my family utilizes it mostly as a topping for yogurt. We almost always serve that with some sort of fresh fruit or a good-quality jam/preserve. If we want the granola more for snacking on its own, I usually toss in some dried fruit after the granola comes out of the oven ... we prefer the combination of raisins, dried cherries and dried apricots added in.

I will mention that this granola is not overly sweet. Honey and a little brown sugar are included in the ingredient list, but I don't like my granola cloyingly sweet. I should note, also, that I use unsweetened coconut, but sweetened can be used if desired. We usually serve our granola, yogurt and fruit "bowls" with honey drizzled on top, so that gives everything a little touch of additional sweetness, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mexicali Loaded Salad Bowl with Creamy Avocado Lime Dressing

I am a sucker for loaded salads in the summer. I especially dig salads that are substantial and filling enough to stand alone as a meal. This Mexicali Loaded Salad Bowl is one of those salads.

I love that loaded salads are usually a pretty economical choice as a summer meal option ... one or two chicken breasts, for example, can be stretched in a salad such as this one to feed like, four people. And, although the ingredient list may appear to be a little long, everything is super inexpensive and many are items we tend to have on hand.

This salad starts with a base of crisp iceberg lettuce. Then, ingredients like, seasoned grilled chicken, brown rice, crispy tortilla strips, grilled corn and beans are simply arranged atop the lettuce in a large serving bowl in whatever manner you desire. This monster of a salad then gets served with a creamy avocado dressing and lots of lime wedges. It's a salad that's bursting at the seams with flavor and is laden to the hilt with amazing textures. It's the perfect combo of fresh veggies, tender bites of chicken, citrus zip, a touch of heat and a whole bunch of deliciousness.

Pair with a cold beer and you've got yourself one winner of a summer salad.

Serves 4.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Summer Quinoa and Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette

The heat and humidity have really kicked in just in the past week or so here in Southern Michigan. We've had quite the mild summer up until now (pretty much ideal weather for this girl). It has been around seventy degrees during the day and has cooled down to the high-fifties at night. We've had enough rain to keep everything green and watered. And, have enjoyed just perfect weather conditions overall. Bliss.

Up until now. The heat index has been close to 100 degrees over the past week or so. Blah!

(Can you tell that I don't do well with high temps and lots of humidity?)

Much of our summer meals are centered around salads, grilling and sandwiches (like, my Sonoma Chicken Salad Sandwich). You probably won't find me slaving away over a big pot of chicken and dumplings very often this time of year. Instead, I serve a lot of salads - all sorts of fresh, beautiful salads. They may be big, loaded salad bowls served family-style (such as my Berry "Peachy Keen" Grilled Chicken Salad Bowl) or some version of a taco salad.

This salad is light and chocked full of fresh ingredients. It is incredibly simple and quick to whip up. The vinaigrette is super flavorful and couldn't be easier to make.

You will regularly find brown rice, quinoa, farro and/or wheat berries on-hand in my fridge. I like to cook up batches to have ready to use in salads or for side dishes. And, since I always have lots of fresh fruits and veggies stocked up each week throughout the summer, salads such as this one come together in a matter of minutes. The recipe can easily be adapted to serve more people if needed as a side dish for a party or gathering. Or, it can be prepared as shown to serve as a simple summer lunch or dinner option for a couple of people.

Serves 2.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Strawberry, Apple and Rhubarb Crisp

I am currently savoring a couple of weeks - the only couple of weeks actually - of the year that we have absolutely nothing on the schedule/calendar. Like, seriously ... this does not happen often. My three children still living at home are involved in a zillion different extra-curricular activities throughout the entire year - baseball, softball, marching band, basketball, cross country, volleyball, quiz bowl, charity events, track, theater and ... well, you get the picture.

These present two weeks are void of any activity, event, appointment, meeting or otherwise. I, literally, have only left my house TWICE in the past eight days ... to get some groceries.

It has been pure bliss! I have been sleeping in, staying in my pajamas most of the day, playing board games with the kiddos, catching up on my DVR recordings, doing a boatload of cooking/baking and working on the blog. Utter heaven.

Speaking of heaven ... I love making crisps, cobblers and crumbles throughout the summer months.

The concept of making a "crisp" is simple - top cut fruit (yes, I am aware that rhubarb is actually a veggie) with a quick and easy oat topping that is kissed with just the perfect amount of sugar and spice. Pop it all in the oven until bubbly and serve warm with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. I urge you to whip one up as soon as possible ... celebrate our bountiful summer fruits in the most-perfect way.

And, if you need me, I'll be kicking back by the pool, listening to the radio, watching the kids swim, enjoying a big glass of my Summertime Fruity Lemonade and thinking of this amazing dessert. (Well, for another week or so. Then, it's band camp and volleyball lessons for the little munchkins of the house .. and back to reality.) I'm hanging on to and relishing these lazy days of summer as long as I can, though.

Serves 6.

Berry "Peachy Keen" Grilled Chicken Salad Bowl

I've been on a bit of a salad bowl kick as of late. I've made my Asian slaw version many times over this summer. And, I'm still loving my quinoa salad bowl - made with juicy citrus and a lemon poppy seed vinaigrette - that I shared last year with you. This past week, I recipe tested this Berry "Peachy Keen" Grilled Chicken Salad Bowl much to the delight of my children. (I swear they were ready with forks drawn before I could even shoot the photos for this post since the salad includes grilled chicken, strawberries and peaches - a few of their most favorite things to eat during the summer.)

I really love salads made in this fashion. I like how the ingredients are arranged in rows and/or fanned out in a purposeful manner. I always find that beautifully presented food is simply more appealing. (We eat with our eyes first, right?) Secondly, one can easily double or even triple the ingredients to serve a larger crowd, as needed, when making salad bowls. (Individuals bowls for each person can even be made instead of one large bowl, too.)

Best of all, I find that making up a big salad bowl like this is pretty economical compared to say, grilling a big chicken breast for each person to be served with a couple of sides. Instead, everything is right here - the perfect all-in-one meal during the warm summer months. One or two chicken breasts - once sliced or cubed up - go a long way towards serving several people when combined in a large salad with various other ingredients such as this.

Fresh, colorful, healthful, vibrant and simple to prepare ... I urge you to try a salad bowl such as this one this summer.

Serves 2 -3.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

My $500 Kitchen Remodel

For those following along with Our Home Renovation Project, I thought I'd share an update on my kitchen now that it is pretty much finished. (I am calling it a "remodel." But, really ... it's more of an upgrade. Still, I think it's pretty amazing considering the small amount of money we actually put into the whole room.)

We knew when we took possession of the house last summer that we would be updating some rooms and doing some remodeling projects prior to moving in. So, having the keys in hand didn't mean moving in right away. Instead, it meant DIY and renovation time. (We didn't have a set time to be out of our previous home, so we were able to take our time while doing the work.)

First up on our to-do list was the kitchen. Although we would have loved to have "gutted" the whole thing and started from scratch (or, rather would have loved to have been able to hire someone else  to come in to gut the whole thing and start from scratch), it just wasn't in our budget. So, we decided to embrace what was there and work with it to the best of our ability. We're not professionals and I'm sure there are those who would have done things differently, but we love how things turned out. It may not be considered a "high-end" kitchen, but we're thrilled with what we were able to accomplish on our own.

We were pleased with the layout of the kitchen, so we only (HA!) needed to update the cabinets, make some (major) improvements to the grout countertops, drywall over a built-in wall shelving area that we didn't care for (shown in the top BEFORE photo - on the long wall to the right), paint the room and install new trim. And, although I don't particularly love white appliances, the stove, dishwasher and fridge are in great shape and I can live with them for the time being. I, also, stained an existing island that I already had on hand from our previous home and I stained two large, antique oak cabinets that I already had. The massive amount of storage in those pieces is amazing and perfect for housing my collection of blog staging dishes, props and the like.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Amaretto Crème Brûlée

It is my humble belief that crème brûlée is quite possibly the best dessert on the planet. Luxurious and sexy, it is perhaps the ultimate in dessert fare. I adore it. My family begs me to make it. (We practically lick the ramekins clean.) We are sad when the last one in the fridge is gone. We order it whenever it is on the menu while dining out. I have introduced many people in my life to this dessert and they inevitably come to crave it just as much as I do.

Seriously. It's pretty darn amazing.

I, typically, make the traditional vanilla-style crème brûlée, but recently began experimenting with different flavors and add-ins. This amped up version has become a favorite of mine.

The flavor notes of the amaretto combine so beautifully with the silkiness and creaminess of the custard. I am totally in love with this version. Of course, the crackling of the glass-like sugar topping brings this dessert full circle. I just couldn't imagine enjoying the custard nearly as much without it, so I beg of you not to skip that part of the recipe.

As far as dessert recipes go, crème brûlée truly is super basic ingredient-wise. You'll be using only a handful of simple ingredients - cream/milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt. For this version, a little amaretto (a sweet, almond-flavored Italian liqueur) is used to enhance the dessert and to truly wow  your senses.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Twenty-Minute Garlic Yukon Gold Baby Potatoes {Stove Top Method}

I love simple recipes. I love potatoes. This recipe is the perfect marriage of both. Can I get an amen, friends?

Looking for an ultra-simple, yet ultra-tasty side dish? I've got you covered with this rockin' recipe. And, you'll love the short, no-nonsense ingredient list.

I've always roasted potatoes in the oven. I recently set out to attempt to achieve the same result as oven-roasting except that I wanted to cut the time way down and I wanted not to have to heat up my oven.  This couldn't-be-simpler recipe is the end result of my recent experimentation.

First, I think you'll enjoy how short and simple the ingredient list is for this dish. Basically, you need just three ingredients - olive oil, baby potatoes and garlic. (Of course, I consider salt and pepper as "freebies.") If you'd like, you can garnish the cooked potatoes with fresh parsley or snipped chives at time of service. And, just for fun, I sprinkled on a little freshly-shaved Parmesan.

These are great served as-is or you can serve them with a sour cream and chive dipping sauce. Of course, my kids seem to enjoy them with ketchup. A creamy ranch-style dressing is, also, good with these.

Serves 4.