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.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Moroccan Quinoa and Bulgur Salad

We all know that salads can get boring. The iceberg. The shredded cheese. Maybe a slice or two of cucumber. And, don't forget that creamy, bottled dressing. I try to think outside of the box, so-to-speak. I like to use fruits in my salad. I almost always include nuts and seeds in my salads. And, I really prefer to prepare my own dressing.

Also, it's okay to not always have the mindset that the bulk or centerpiece of a salad has to be lettuce or other leafy greens. I love using grains and pastas as the base for a salad. Here, I've used a quinoa and bulgur mix. Using just quinoa works great, too, for this recipe. Couscous is typical in Moroccan cuisine, so that would probably sub in well, also.

The vinaigrette is ultra simple to prepare, yet very complex in flavors. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the warmth of ground cinnamon, ground cumin and ground ginger in this dressing. And, you'll certainly savor the brightness of the orange and lemon. The fresh mint in the salad is really important, so try not to skip it. And, the reconstituted dried cherries and raisins lend a sweetness that truly makes this salad shine.

What is wonderful about this salad, too, is that it is actually marvelously better after it chills out in the fridge overnight. So, it's a great make-ahead. It's perfect to have on hand for your upcoming work week or to serve at a summer gathering.

Serves 4.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Citrus & Ginger Fish en Papillote {Fish in Parchment Paper}

This is one of my favorite methods for making fish. It is a light, healthy and quite simple recipe. The packets can be made a few hours in advance and there is minimal cleaning up to do after dinner. I've made Fish en Papillote many ways throughout the years, but I really love the flavors and simplicity of this version. This pairs well with a salad, rice or quinoa.

The simple cooking liquid that is used within the packet is, also, amazing for drizzling atop the fish after cooking. So, I always reserve a little for time of service. The liquid not only adds a huge bolt of fresh flavor and brightness to this recipe, but it keeps the fish ultra moist (no oil or butter is even needed in this recipe).

The concept here is simple. Stack up the veggies and fish on top of a piece of parchment paper. Add in a little of the citrus and ginger liquid. Seal tightly and bake. My children love that these are individualized ... so they can help make their own packets.

Yields 4 servings.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Giveaway from Enviroboards by Sunlife Brands

With spring upon us, I've been so thrilled to start enjoying some of my warmer-weather favorite foods and recipes. I've been dreaming of Grilled Asparagus, fresh melon (Margarita Watermelon Wedges, anyone?) and my Sonoma Chicken Salad. This past weekend, the kids helped me with lots of chopping when we made another of my spring/summer faves - my "Veggie Overload" Pasta Salad.

I was recently given the opportunity to try out Sunlife Brand's new Enviroboards. When I first set my sights on the set of three flexible cutting boards, I fell in love with the colors. But, most of all, I fell in love with the ease of use of Enviroboards and the knowledge that I can more-safely prepare food for my family.

Enviroboards are a new style of cutting boards that are made from natural ingredients. They are BPA free and FDA approved. They offer a cool icon labeling feature (one for fish, one for meat and one for produce) ... helping to protect against cross-contamination.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Loaded Slaw Salad with Asian Sesame Ginger Dressing

Ahhh. It feels so good to be back to blogging. Between the remodeling of the home we took possession of just before fall, oodles of kids' activities, a computer wiped out by several nasty viruses a few weeks back and the complete malfunction/demise of my (needed-to-be-replaced-anyway) camera, it's been a while since I've brought a new post your way here on JD.

But, my sweet hubby recently surprised me with the camera I had been drooling over for the last year. I love it, but will admit that I am so incredibly overwhelmed by it and really don't have the slightest clue as what I'm doing with it. I plan to spend a big chunk of my time in the future weeks watching lots of video tutorials and doing tons of research on this thing. And, I'm gearing up for enormous amounts of practice to get the hang of taking better pics.