Caprese Salad

I made the most amazing salad for dinner the other night.  I know, I know, everyone knows how to make a caprese salad, but wait.  Look at this beauty.  I used small mozzarella balls, grape tomatoes that I halved, micro greens for garnish and to top it all off, balsamic reduction.  OMG!!!

You’re thinking, Lynn, get a grip, but I want you to realize how wonderful a plate of veggies can be.  Sometime you just want something light and refreshing.  I’m not a good meat eater, so after a day or 2 of having meat, I want something light.  G had this with a pork chop, but this is all I had for dinner and I was totally full and happy.

I bought individually wrapped mozzarella balls at Costco.  They are so cute.  They actually come 3 mini balls in each package.  The only problem I have sourcing ingredients is the micro greens.  I currently pick them up at Trader Joe’s, but I don’t know how long that will be an option for me.  Unfortunately, I’m currently housebound.  I’ve had some absolutely incredibly loving helpers, but it’s hard to expect them to go to TJ’s for micro greens.  If anyone knows of any here on my Island, please let me know.

Balsamic Reduction:

2 cups balsamic vinegar

1 cup Ruby Port (it must be Ruby, not Tawny)

1 large tablespoon brown sugar

Combine all in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue cooking until sauce has reduced to 1 cup.  This should take about 45 minutes to an hour.  You will want to use it on just about everything.  I keep it it a squirt bottle.  It will last quite awhile, unless you are like us and use it on everything.

*  From the Recipe Box:

I originally included this reduction recipe in Sept. 2018, but it deserves to be included twice.  Trader Joe’s and Costco each sell a good reduction as well.

and remember:  The Dalai Lama said it best:  Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.  Without them, humanity cannot survive.  Big kiss, Lynn  ( I thought of this quote after reading about the woman who was making brown bag lunches and leaving them out for people who needed them.  About the teacher who drove by each of her student’s houses and held up a sign that said “I miss you”.  About the hot meals at rest stops being made for the truckers.  Ultimately, it’s about the people on the front lines:  the doctors, nurses, EMT’s, grocery workers, your help at the drive up window, truck drivers.  A huge thank you one and all and a major big kiss!!!!!!)

Asparagus Cheese Tart

Another recipe from the Costco Magazine.  They had me at asparagus this time.  I’ve mentioned my 2 favorite foods are watermelon and asparagus, so you know I’m in.  This one looked totally la-di-da and yet super easy.  Our favorite nephew, his wife and daughter were here and it was voted a total winner.  Our 2 year old great niece even helped roll out the puff pastry dough and grate the cheese.

This is a really nummy nibble.  I will be making it all year, or at least as long as I can get fresh asparagus.  Look at the intensity on her face as she grates the cheese.  Isn’t it more important  than the squiggly cut puff pastry?  Yeah, I think so.  I wish you could have seen her piercing the pastry with a fork.  It sort of reminded me of the Psycho shower scene.  She was into it.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

1 tablespoon flour

1 sheet (about 8 ounces) frozen puff pastry, thawed

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup grated Gruyere Cheese

1 pound medium asparagus, trimmed

S and P to taste

Sprinkle flour onto the work surface, roll out the pastry dough to a 14 x 9 inch rectangle.  Trim the dough for neat edges, then transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.  Score the pastry dough lightly with a 1-inch border on all sides.  Pierce the interior dough with a fork.  Bake until light golden, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove the pastry from the oven and sprinkle with the cheeses.  Place the trimmed asparagus on the interior of the tart, alternating with ends and tips.  Drizzle the asparagus with the olive oil, scattering thyme on top and season with salt and pepper.

Bake until puff pastry is golden and asparagus is tender, about 15 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Makes about 6 servings.

*  From the Recipe Box:

This recipe was from the March 2020 Costco Connection.  I get really good recipes from that publication.

G would like to see twice the cheese on the tart.  We like our cheese.

Even with a 2 year old sous chef, it turned out fabulous.  Appearance isn’t everything.  Let these kids help people.

and remember:  Erin go Bragh my darlings.  Big kiss, Lynn

 

Potato, Cauliflower and Corn Chowder

Long before it was trendy, we were a cauliflower eating family.  When G was going to college and working nights, C the MP and I would have cauliflower with melted cheese for dinner.  He was 3 and it’s what he always asked for.   I thought he had incredibly good taste.

My mom used to make potato soup on a regular rotation, so I’m not surprised how many potato/cauliflower soup recipes I found in her binders.  My dad loved potato soup.  Hello, he was born in Idaho.

  • 12 oz bacon sliced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 4 medium russet potatoes peeled and chopped into 1/2″ thick pieces
  • 1 medium head cauliflower cored and chopped into florets
  • 6 cups warm water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
  • 2 to 3 cups corn kernels cooked from fresh or frozen
  • grated cheddar cheese for sprinkling

  1. Cook bacon in a 5 1/2 quart heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over med/high heat until browned. Remove bacon with slotted spoon to paper-towel-lined plate.
  2. Pour the bacon grease into a bowl. Spoon 3 tablespoons of bacon grease back into the pot and discard the rest. Add diced onion and sauté 5 min or until soft.
  3. Add chopped potatoes and cauliflower, 6 cups warm water along with 4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. Stir and bring to a boil. Add 1 cup cream, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until potatoes are cooked through (about 15 min).
  4. Meanwhile cook your corn. Drain and cover to keep warm.
  5. Puree the soup in batches in a blender until completely smooth (making sure your blender has a little breathing hole at the top so you don’t create a suction vacuum from the hot liquid. Return soup to the pot and season to taste (for an adult soup, we add another 1/2 tsp cayenne). To serve, ladle into warm bowls and garnish generously with bacon bits, cooked corn kernels and fresh parsley.

*  From the Recipe Box:

Lazy butt time:  I used precooked bacon.   I put 3 tablespoons of butter in the pot instead of bacon grease to saute the onions.  I did not peel the potatoes, and I did use Yukon Gold.  I thawed frozen corn and dumped it in at the end.  I used the bags of cauliflower-ettes from Costco.  I did not use a stand blender; I used my immersion blender.  Are you seeing how much time I saved you?

and remember:  Life is so damn short, for god’s sake, just do what makes you happy.  Big kiss, Lynn

Corn Chowder

Hooray, it’s time to enjoy the corn harvest in Western Washington.  Yes, we’ve been enjoying fresh corn for about a month, but this is different.  Today, it’s soup weather.  So, say it with me, HOORAY!  You all know how much I love soup and since we’ve been having some interesting weather, it seemed like the right time.  We had a thunder and lightning storm that was almost biblical in its intensity the other day.  Wow!  When your town makes CNN reporting for this kind of weather, you know it was impressive.

But, as usual, I digress.  All I really wanted to acknowledge was it’s time for soup.  I just found out corn chowder is a favorite for one of my favorite people, so it’s time to find the perfect recipe.  This is basically Ina Garten’s chowder recipe with a few additions.  She’s my hero, what can I say.  My favorite sous chef gave me a hand with all the chopping.  He’s turning into a soup fan as well.

4 slice bacon, chopped

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups chopped onions

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

6 cups chicken stock or broth

1 pound white potatoes, Yukon Gold for example, unpeeled and cubed to a 1/2 inch dice

5 cups of corn, approximately 5 ears fresh or a pound or so of frozen

1 cup half-and-half

1 heaping cup grated cheese, I use a combo of Jack and Cheddar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon and olive oil until the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and butter to the fat, and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the flour, salt, pepper, and turmeric and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and potatoes, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. If using fresh corn, cut the kernels off the cob and blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain. (If using frozen corn you can skip this step.) Add the corn to the soup, then add the half-and-half and cheddar. Cook for 5 more minutes, until the cheese is melted. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve hot with a garnish of bacon.

*   From the Recipe Box:

G said it needed more bacon, so we used 8 slices.

The turmeric really added a yellow vibe to the chowder.

and remember:  Fake it until you make it.  Big kiss, Lynn

 

 

Kool-Aid Pickles (Why wouldn’t you?)

I was watching Andrew Zimern’s Bizarre Foods the other day and he was touring the Mississippi Delta.  The Hunka-hunka and I took Route 61 through the Delta a few years ago as well.  I love the Blues and wanted to feel the origins.  We did not stop for Kool-Aid brined dill pickles like Andrew did, but we did see them and it made me go “HUM?”.  I’m married to a non-pickle eater.  I know, where did I go wrong?  He doesn’t like mustard either.  What can I say?

Since I love both flavors, I decided I should do some experimenting even if it was just for me.   Colorful dill pickles/summer time, a match made in heaven.   Kool-Aid dills are called koolickles in the South.  Clever.  I looked at half a dozen recipes before I discovered they are all basically the same.

                (Before and after)

Ingredients

  • 1 jar (32 ounces) whole dill pickles, undrained
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 envelope unsweetened Kool-Aid mix, flavor of your choice (Cherry turned out to be my favorite)

Directions

  • Drain pickles, reserving juice. In a small bowl, combine the reserved juice, sugar and Kool-Aid, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
  • Slice pickles; return to jar. Pour juice mixture over pickles. Discard any remaining juice.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 week before serving. Store in the refrigerator up to 2 months.

Most online recipes suggest starting with a gallon jar of pickles.  I used a half gallon, because I didn’t need that many koolickles in the house. Simply drain the brine into a clean jar, add in a packet of cherry Kool-Aid and 2/3 cup of sugar.  Shake the jar until the sugar dissolves.  I used sliced dills for maximum surface exposure and I thought they would look good on a hamburger patty; I wanted as much surface as possible to receive the cherry Kool-Aid.  Return the sliced pickles to the pickle jar or a wide mouth Mason jar, and place it in the fridge for at least one week and up to a couple of months.

and remember what Muddy Waters sang about the Hoochie Coochie Man:

The gypsy woman told my mother
Before I was born
I got a boy child’s comin’
He’s gonna be a son of a gun

Big kiss, Lynn

Electric Mud was my first blues album and damn but I loved it.

Pea Salad

Yes, we heated up the bar-be-que this weekend.  It’s definitely that time of the year here in Washington state.  We never get the blazing hot temperatures other parts of the country receive.  I find a 75 degree day absolutely perfect to be out and about, making it time to grill.

I really don’t care about the protein element however, I’m all about the side dishes and this one is a perfect side year round.  The bright color of the peas draws your eyes to the bowl.  The Smokehouse almonds and crispy bacon add a nice color contrast.  I usually use a cheddar-Monterrey Jack cheese combo, so there’s another colorful element.  I shouldn’t forget the red onion, even though I’ve never seen a red onion that wasn’t purple.  Whatever!

The combination of the mayonnaise and sour cream is perfect with the other elements.  I often use this combination for chicken salad or apple salad.  It tastes super creamy without being heavy.  This makes a lot of dressing, but not too much if you like a moist salad.

Some salads get dangerous on the buffet table after an hour or 2, and anything with mayonnaise is high on that list.  As my mom used to say, they are breeding grounds for Sam and Ella to visit.  Mom lived in total fear of making someone sick and salmonella was number one on her list, so be sure and take precautions if you are serving this on a warm day.  My favorite safety tip is freezing discs of ice to set the bowl on.  I make up several and just keep them handy in the freezer.  You would make mom happy if you were being proactive as well.

Combine:

4 pounds frozen peas

1 red onion, diced

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1 pound bacon, fried hard and crumbled

1 to 2 cans Smokehouse almonds

For dressing combine:

Equal amounts mayonnaise and sour cream, 1 to 1

Make early and let the flavors marry.

* From the Recipe Box:

For four pounds of peas, use approximately 2 cups each mayonnaise and sour cream

I don’t add the bacon or almonds until ready to serve.  They soften quickly.

Everyone loves this.  This might be my most requested recipe.  It originally called for water chestnuts as well, but that was not a popular addition.

Excellent buffet salad; stays fresh a long time.  Not that the salad will last a long time.

and remember:  Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what.  If you can’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.   Big kiss, Lynn

 

Sheet Pan Dinners

You all know how much I love my roasted vegetables.  So far, my only failure has been roasted kale.  I called them Zombie Chips so the Gkids would taste them.  I lost a lot of trust as a result that day.  Remember the scene in the movie BIG when Tom Hanks eats caviar and then tries to scrape it off his tongue, it was like that.  But as usual, I digress.

I love easy-squeezy meals.  Why couldn’t I have a tray of roasted veggies going and put chicken on top and have a complete dinner ready with little to no muss or strain.  So, that was my plan this weekend when Gluten-free girl was coming up to visit.

For me, there are certain veggie combos that just work.  I love potatoes and carrots together.  Asparagus goes with anything.  You have to keep on eye on mushrooms; they are kind of delicate.  My jury is still out on broccoli, but it was excellent the other day.

So, grab a 15 x 10 inch standard sheet pan, the kind with sides.   Pick your vegetables.

Zucchini was disappointing; it became too mushy.

Asparagus was overcooked after that long in the oven.

Mushrooms also became too soft.

The potatoes and carrots were perfect.

I like tossing the vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Lay your chicken thighs or legs or breasts on top of the veggies.  S & P the chicken parts.

Place in a 425 degree oven for 45 to 60 minutes.

This was a hit, but it does need work.

For example, some basic changes would totally change the basic concept, but the easy-squeezy would remain the same.

  • chopped garlic sprinkled over the top
  • marinating the chicken parts in teriyaki sauce and using ‘Asian’ veggies like bok choy, green onions, Napa cabbage
  • add the asparagus and mushrooms about half way through the cooking time so they don’t over cook
  • croutons and grape tomatoes and a sprinkling of basil at the end would be good

The possibilities are endless.

and remember:  Making a big life change is pretty scary.  But, you know what’s even scarier?  Regret.  Big kiss, Lynn