Farmer’s Market Season

This is the first summer in two years that we haven’t been moving, so we are so very excited about taking full advantage of all summer in our area has to offer. This past weekend we went to our local farmer’s market for the first time and I can’t wait to go every weekend we can and eat some really fresh produce! We picked up some BEAUTIFUL greens, local meat (no hormones, no antibiotics), local goat cheese (some of the best I have EVER had, it’s AMAZING), local honey and local coffee. We used the greens in a salad and I have pretty much used them every chance I have gotten:

I marinated some mahi mahi in an Asian marinade and put it on top of these beautiful greens with some other veggies

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For lunch today I made a salad with beets and some of that local goat cheese and greens. ohhhh man! I also put some of the greens on my sandwich. What a difference in taste from store bought greens! I wish we had gotten more!

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Country Retreat

My mother-in-law has a couple dear friends that are like sisters. These are the kinds of friends that have seen many joys and sorrows together and have walked through many seasons of life side-by-side. Their children grew up together and the three of them have remained friends all these years (most of the “kids” are now in their late-20s and early 30s). Every few months they do an overnight together and rotate houses. Two of the ladies live “in town” and when they come out to my in-laws they call it a “country retreat”. They lay around the house and relax together, do a LOT of gabbing, watch movies, eat and just enjoy each others company.

This past weekend was a “country retreat” weekend and they came and stayed the whole weekend instead of just one night. I had been itching to recreate parts of a meal my mom made at Christmas as well as creme brulee (helllloooo birthday toy … err I mean torch) and they indulged me. I got to let the creative juices flow and had so much fun doing it! (My husband and father-in-law got to partake and enjoyed the creativity as well, which they didn’t mind)

The menu for the weekend was:
Beef Wellington with Brown Mustard & Horseradish Sauce
Haricot Vert Bundles Wrapped in Prosciutto Brushed with Herb Oil
Dinner Rolls
Crème Brulee with Berry Compote (I will save this for another post)

The recipe for the Beef Wellingtons is ridiculously long so I will just link to it. It’s a little time consuming and finicky, but oh man does it yield an amazing result that will not disappoint. Check it out here!

I will add that I bought a Boar’s Head brown mustard with horseradish thing to go with it and just added some Penzey’s Fines Herbs to help mellow it just a tad. It was the perfect bite to counter the richness of the meat and pastry.

Haricot Vert Bundles Wrapped in Prosciutto with Herb Oil (2 bundles per person)
3 8 oz bags of fresh haricot verts (the smaller French green beans work much better for this)HaricotVertBundles
Prosciutto (verrrrrry thinly sliced)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped chives
2 tbsp fresh basil paste
2 tsp fresh thyme (chopped)
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Chop the parsley, thyme and chives pretty finely. Put all in a bowl and add a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of black pepper. Be careful on the salt because the prosciutto is salty.
Slice the slices of prosciutto in half lengthwise.
Blanch the haricot verts and then plunge quickly into an ice bath to stop the cooking. You are going to roast them later, so they don’t need to cook long just get that bright green color.
Make sure the haricot verts are dried very well before starting.
Take about 10 haricot verts and wrap with a strip of prosciutto as many times as it will go around. Lay seam side down on a baking sheet.
Continue until you have made it through the all the haricot verts and prosciutto. I was able to get 2 strips per slice of prosciutto and made 12 bundles total.
Brush with the herb oil on all sides and roast in the oven at 350 for about 10 minutes. We like our veggies not mushy, so we cooked enough to get them to crisp tender and a little crisp on the prosciutto.

Soup & Sandwiches

It was a VERY cold few days here in NC. It was Denver cold, but in NC. It was also been pretty damp, the kind that goes right to your bones and doesn’t let go. All we wanted was hot and hearty food. I had been itching to try to make a French Onion Soup from scratch, but I have never actually tried French Onion Soup. My in-laws are huge fans of a good French Onion Soup and have tried it in many different restaurants. They said mine was pretty bang on. SCORE! And who doesn’t love a grilled cheese sandwich, even better a grilled cheese with bacon? So I decided, for this particular VERY cold evening to do French Onion Soup and an amped up grilled cheese for hubby and in-laws and then I made a grilled sandwich for me that didn’t include cheese. All turned out delicious! When I got home from work hubby and father-in-law had a fire going in the woodstove to combat the frigid temps and strong winds outside. We were tucked up inside the house, with a large pot of soup on the stove and grilled cheese sandwiches getting all toasty and golden brown. This meal was fairly easy, not greatly time consuming and made for a cozy evening.

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French Onion Soup
4-5 smallish onions
1 can beef consume (adds that really beefy flavor)
32 ounces beef stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. dried thyme leaves
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
4-8 ounces of gruyere cheese
1/2 loaf crusty bread
4 individual soup crocks (see picture)

1) Peel and cut the onions into half, then slice to a medium thickness (not too thick and not too thin). (I did this the night before, but it made the fridge & freezer smell like onions so perhaps the thinking ahead was not the best plan in the particular instance).
2) Put the onions in a dutch oven, one layer at a time, sprinkle with salt & pepper, then add another layer (mind the amount of salt, because you are going to be adding salt later in your consume and stock).
3) Cook the onions on about medium-to-medium-high heat for about 30-40 minutes until they are well sweated down and caramelized, stirring only occasionally.
4) While the onions are cooking, grate the gruyere cheese and slice the bread into thicker slices and to the size of the opening of your individual crocks and set all aside.
5) Once the onions have sweated and caramelized, add garlic and cook for just a minute or so. Enough to cook the garlic and get that great flavor, but garlic will burn quickly.
6) Add two tablespoons of flour (this will help it thicken) and stir in well and let cook for just a minute to cook off the raw flour flavor.
7) Add the white wine, deglazing the pan and scraping all the deliciousness up from the bottom. Cook that for just a minute until the onions have absorbed and the bottom of the pot is scraped pretty well (those brown bits are good flavor).
8) Add the beef consume (most cans will say to add a can full of water, not needed here unless its super salty), the stock and thyme leaves. Bring to a simmer. Give a taste and see if the and pepper needs to be adjusted. If it is too salty, add some water.
9) Let simmer for about 20-30 minutes and reduce just a bit.
10) While the soup is simmering brush the bread with a little olive oil or butter and toast just a bit.
11) Turn the heat off and ladle the soup into the soup crocks.
12) Place the bread on top and cover with the grated gruyere cheese.
13) Put under a broiler (we used a toaster oven) until the cheese is melted and bubbly. (I would also suggest placing the crocks on a sheet pan lined with foil in case the cheese bubbles over).

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Grilled Cheese & Bacon Sandwiches
1 loaf good bread, something hearty. I used a loaf of some sort of several grain bread. It was a big round.
Provolone cheese slices
Your favorite hardwood smoked bacon
Gruyere cheese
Alouette Garlic & Herb Spread

1) Spread butter or margarine on one side of the bread slices.
2) On the other side, spread some of the Alouette spread)
3) Layer a slice of provolone, cut in half, layer of bacon and a layer of the grated gruyere cheese.
4) Put in a pan or on a griddle until golden brown on that side, then flip to the other side until golden brown.
5) Wrap the sandwiches in foil, pop in a toaster oven for a few minutes until the cheese is completely melted.

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The variation I made for me was a take on something one of my roommates used to make. Spread a thin layer of butter on the bread, same as the others. Instead of the Alouette spread, spread a layer of roasted garlic hummus. Add slices of bacon, thin’ish slices of avocado and thin slices of a tomato. Add a little freshly ground pepper. Toast the sandwich same as the others. If you are not adverse to dairy things, the Alouette spread would be VERY good with the hummus and all the other stuff.

Spring Pesto Pasta and Chicken

Sorry for the delay folks … school work has gotten the best of me the last couple months. Now that I am in the homestretch to the end and the workload is starting to wind down, I’ve been letting my creative juices flow a little more and the results have been pretty tasty if I do say so myself! 🙂

The sun has come out (oh wait, it’s almost always out in Denver) and feels warm (NOT always true in Denver) and a sun dress or two may have made an appearance! The windows have been open more often and the cool breezes blowing in. Sunshine, warm weather and cool breezes put me in the mood for lighter fare to eat and quicker meals so I can spend more time outside. This is one of those recipes that is perfect for a spring evening and for eating outside! 😉

I recently saw a recipe for an edamame and spinach pesto. I took the base idea and made it my own and the result was not half bad! 😉

Spring Pesto Pasta and Chicken
I apologize for the poor quality of the picture … all I had was my phone handy.


Pesto:

1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame, defrosted
1 cup spinach leaves (I used baby spinach)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons water (or chicken or vegetable stock would be great too!)
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt & Pepper to taste

Chicken & Wine Sauce:
2 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup white wine (I like a Riesling because it’s almost always a nice, light wine – feel free to use whatever you like, should always be worth drinking)
1/2 tbsp. butter
1 lb gf pasta (this works best with something like a spaghetti or fettucine, not so much with short-cut pasta)
1 shallot
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 tsp Penzey’s Florida Seasoned Pepper
Goat cheese crumbles

Combine all the pesto ingredients except the olive oil into a food processor. Start the food processor and once the mixture has started to combine, start streaming in the olive oil through the top of the food processor spout. You may need to stop the blender and scrape the sides of the food processor. Pour enough olive oil to get the mixture to creamy. Let the mixture blend for a couple more minutes. It should be creamy and smooth. Taste to adjust for salt & pepper. Add to a small saucepan and cook for a few minutes until simmering … just to heat and get rid of the raw flavor. It’s a beautiful spring green color!

Start the pasta water, bring to a boil, add the pasta and salt generously (this adds great flavor to the pasta and the dish once complete). Cut the chicken into small cubes, sprinkle the Penzey’s Florida seasoning over it and toss and let it sit a minute. While that is sitting, cut up your shallot to your desired size (I don’t mind seeing it and eating it, hubby doesn’t want to know it’s in there), mince up the garlic.

Put a sauté pan over medium heat, let it get hot and add olive oil (“Hot pan, cold oil, food won’t stick” – The Frugal Gourmet) … just enough to barely coat the bottom of the pan (don’t want to deep fry). Add the shallots (they should sizzle when adding), sauté for a couple minutes, add the chicken and brown (“brown food tastes good” – Anne Burrell). Add garlic and sauté for just a minute (burned garlic tastes bitter). Add white wine and butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let it all cook together for a few minutes and marry together.

Drain pasta (reserve a cup of pasta water), add to a large pasta bowl. Toss with warmed pesto. If the pesto is too thick, add a little pasta water until it’s at the desired sauciness (yes, that’s an “Amy-ism”). Plate pasta, add chicken to top, sprinkle on goat cheese crumbles. VOILA! Enjoy with a glass of white wine and a beautiful sunny evening! 😉

There are so many great variations for this recipe … here are a few of my favorites:

Bacon Variation 1: Render up some bacon that has been chunked into small pieces. Cook until crispy. Add to pasta once the pesto has been added and they have been tossed together or as a garnish on top.

Veggie Variation 2: Roast some veggies till just under done and add to the chicken the last couple minutes of saute’ing (or just make the sauce with the roasted veggies). The picture shows some eggplant that I tossed with salt and pepper and olive oil and then roasted. The chicken and veggies can also be grilled and then cubed up afterward. The wine sauce can also be made by itself and poured over grilled meat if you want to put a whole chicken breast.

Seafood Variation 3: This would be fabulous with some grilled shrimp or fish as well. We can’t get good fresh seafood here in Denver, therefore it’s chicken. This is where the making the wine sauce separately would work.

Momma’s Fried Okra

I have a parent from New England and a parent from the Midwest. My childhood was sprinkled with the cuisine’s from these two very different regions. Fantastic seafood (which I did not appreciate AT ALL as a kid, but now wish I had) and simple, hearty Midwestern (& great food with Hispanic flares) fare. And both love the cuisine from the other region. Today’s post comes from the Midwestern side. Growing up, I ate just about every vegetable I was served and loved them, still do. One of my absolute favorites have always been okra. I’ve been eating okra as long as I can remember. Holidays almost always meant pickled okra (yes, all Ledermans consume pickled okra at a probably alarming rate to outsiders). We also ate a lot of was fried okra and I’ve had it a lot of other places (if we visit a restaurant that has it, I try it) and I have yet to have any as good as my moms’. She tosses it in cornmeal that has been seasoned and pan fries it. We almost always had it with burgers and roasted potatoes. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Momma’s Fried Okra

Ingredients
1 bag frozen okra pieces/slices
2 cups stoneground cornmeal
1 tbsp. garlic powder
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper
Olive oil

Directions
Add cornmeal, garlic, salt & pepper to a bowl or something like a pie dish. Mix with fork, taste to make sure properly salted.
Okra should be slightly defrosted, not all the way.
Heat skillet, add olive oil to cover bottom. Let heat a minute, should sizzle when adding okra.
Toss a handful of okra in the cornmeal mixture and coat. Gently toss with fingers to remove excess cornmeal.
Gently place 1 batch in hot oil, don’t mess with it.
Cook 8-10 minutes until just brown on one side.
Use a spatula to turn and cook until just brown on the other side.
Remove to plate covered with paper towels.
Enjoy!!

Note: I made this last night with bbq pulled pork sandwiches and mac&cheese. Fried okra was the perfect pairing with those!

a quick dinner …

there are so many nights when i get home from work and i’m tired, but i want a hearty, warm dinner. especially during these cold winter nights. here is one of our favorites that has a lot of great flavor and scores high on the “comfort food” scale …

Sausage & Tri-color Pasta

Tri-color pasta (any shape is fine, but I use the spirals)
Smoked Sausage (turkey sausage also tastes delicious in this & has less fat)
1 onion
1 red pepper
Salt & Pepper

Cook pasta to desired doneness. While the pasta is cooking cut the pepper & onion into thin strips and cut sausage in 1/4-1/2 inch slices & brown on stovetop. The sausage is already cooked, but this browning gives it a great flavor! Add a little olive oil to the pan & saute the peppers & onions until soft. Add the sausage & pour over pasta & mix. Voila! Dinner is ready. Add salt & pepper to taste. You may not need much salt though as the sausage usually has a good amount in it.