Sunday, August 23, 2015

2015: The Volunteer Garden

Now that it's nearing the end of August, I suppose it's time for a 2015 garden update. One of the things I've learned to love about gardening is how each year is so different. The first few years, I found this very frustrating: what grew well one year didn't grow well the next. However, I've learned to instead appreciate the things that do grow -- especially the surprises, which this year was full of. My mainstays did not do the best this year.  Lettuce grew okay, but not great. Radishes didn't produce much. For the first time, my carrots did not grow (I think the seeds got washed away!). The nice neat little rows that I had last year were not existent this year. The green beans grew pretty well, and some of the plants got huge!! The peas also grew well for the first time in a few years, so that was exciting. The tomatoes did not do as well as I'd hoped, but I've gotten some -- at least enough for salsa, bruschetta and a small batch of tomato sauce so far. Cucumbers were abysmal, as usual. What was most fun about this year were all of the surprises.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cucumber Melon Summer Salad

cucumber watermelon cantaloupe summer salad with feta cheese recipe

Before I get into tonight's delicious summer recipe, I need to do a plug for our CSA. Did I tell you we joined a CSA this year?  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture -- and is basically an association between members of the community and a local farm where you buy into a share of the farm's crops that year. I've thought about doing it for years, and this was the year. We are CSA members at Chimney Creek Farm, and it has been amazing so far! We bought a "half share" which ends up being about two bags of produce every other week. Between that and my garden, we are eating our share of veggies this year! We bought into a "premium" share, which means we also get a few extras from other local farms -- including fruit, syrup, herbs and other fun goodies. Last week's share included cantaloupe and cucumber. I'm not a huge cantaloupe fan, but one of the benefits of a CSA is that it forces you to try new things and get creative in the kitchen. Knowing that I was unlikely to just eat pieces of cantaloupe, I went in search of some other fun ideas. I found some good inspiration on Pinterest and ended up creating my own recipe for a Cucumber Melon Summer Salad. It's a great side dish for a hot night, and what makes it even more fun is serving it inside half of a melon shell!

    cucumber melon salad in cantaloupe shell
  • 1 cantaloupe
  • 1 small watermelon
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Slice melons in half horizontally. Cut around the edges and cut inside of melon into a grid shape to cube it up. You should then be able to scoop out the cubes pretty easily with a spoon. Cut any large pieces in half and add melon to a large bowl. Cut cucumber in half lengthwise, cut in half again, and then slice each quarter into pieces about 1/4 inch thick. Add to bowl. Add lime juice and basil to the mixture and toss to combine. Scoop melon mixture back into hollowed out melon halves (you may need to drain extra juices out of the melons - I added my extra melon juices to some tonic water with a squeeze of lime for a fun treat!). Top each melon bowl with 1/8 cup of crumbled feta.

cucumber melon salad dish recipe

This was an easy and fun summer recipe that paired well with grilled chicken. It's probably my favorite way I've eaten cantaloupe. Tom said he never would have thought of combining these ingredients, but liked it -- adding that it's the feta cheese that really made the dish. Give it a try on the next hot summer night when you don't want to heat up the kitchen!

watermelon bowls with cucumber melon salad with feta cheese

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How to Make Grilled Pizza

How to make pizza on the grill

This is it. The one you've all been waiting for. At least, it's what I had been waiting for my whole pizza-loving life. Grilled pizza. I'd heard of it, but being a grilling novice I had put off trying it until last year. I'm glad I didn't wait any longer. Tom is normally my grill master, but I've been learning, and this recipe helped give me confidence. It took a little bit of tweaking, but I think I have mastered the art of grilled pizza. I daresay it rivals even the famed brick oven pizza. And really, it's quite simple. I took my thin crust pizza recipe and just modified the cooking technique to suit the follows.

For the dough:
¾ cups water
½ tsp. yeast
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt

For delicious crust:
1/4 cup olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and dried herbs (optional) to taste -- mixed together in a small bowl.

Anything is good, so whatever you like! I will typically either use a prepackaged pizza sauce or do a blend of olive oil and herbs for the "sauce" which pairs particularly well with veggie pizzas. Chicken BBQ pizza is good this way, too. Mozzarella, Italian Cheese Blend, Cheddar and Feta are all good options for the cheese.

1. Preheat grill to medium heat, ~300-350 degrees.

2. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl; then add yeast mixture. 

3. Mix until well combined, then knead until the dough is smooth.

Crust should have some nice grill marks in no time flat!
4. Divide dough in half and place each half on a piece of parchment paper.  Use a rolling pin to roll out each piece of dough to about 1/4 inch thick or less (mine usually end up being long, oval shapes.

5. Brush olive oil mixture on one side of each pizza crust and place oiled side down on the grill for about 30 seconds or until the outside of the crust is no longer sticky.

6. While the first side of the crust is cooking, brush the other side with olive oil; flip over and cook the second side of the crust the same way.

7. Turn off half of the burners in your grill and move pizza crusts away from direct flame. Add sauce, toppings and cheese.

8. Close the grill and cook until cheese is melted and bubbly. You may need to turn the heat up a bit since some of the burners are off and the pizza is not directly over the heat.

homemade grilled pizza

I made grilled pizza again the other day and decided to try a new twist. I wanted to make chicken BBQ pizza (I had grilled some chicken and frozen it, so I already had cooked chicken on hand -- part of the 40 pounds of chicken I just got cheap from Zaycon Fresh...but that's a story for another day!). Normally, I top my chicken BBQ pizza with cilantro for an extra zip. This year, cilantro grew like a weed in my garden and threatened to take over the entire thing (also a story for another day). I harvested grocery bags full of the stuff, even after giving away a bunch at work and making a couple batches of salsa.

garden grown fresh cilantro
Garden Cilantro, bundled and given away at work. This was a tiny portion of what was growing.
So, I made chimichurri with the rest (basically just cilantro, garlic and olive oil in the food processor) -- I froze the chimichurri in ice cube trays then put the cubes in a bag. After picking all of my cilantro, there actually wasn't much left in the garden and I didn't feel like scrounging. So, out came two cubes of chimichurri and I used that instead of my normal olive oil and garlic mixture to brush on the crust. It was quite tasty!

BBQ Chicken Pizza with Chimichurri
If you haven't tried grilled pizza yet, trust me: you are missing out. Give it a try and let me know your favorite way to make it!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Garden Harvesting Apron

Here it is: the latest creation from my apron obsession. A harvesting apron! Somehow in my quest for cute apron ideas I stumbled upon this post with an old pattern from the 1940s for a gathering "basket" apron -- you know, what every woman needs for easy, hands-free gathering of berries or kindling.

I may have enjoyed being a 40s housewife. While gathering kindling is normally limited to camping excursions and berry picking doesn't happen near as oft as I'd like, this seemed like the perfect solution for harvesting in my small vegetable garden.

It's a good day when my bounty extends beyond what I can easily carry in my hands, but when the tomatoes and green beans are coming in strong at the same time, it does happen. Or in the spring when the leafy greens all come on at once. I frequently gather up the bottom of my shirt to carry in a large harvest. Last year I got smart and started bringing a basket out with me.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Springtime Chicken Pot Pie

I have a confession to make. I always disliked Chicken Pot Pie. Only, I'm not sure I ever actually ate it to know that I didn't like it. It was more the concept. I mean, meat pie? I don't even like cooked fruit pies (much to my pie-loving mother's chagrin and dismay). Plus, it usually contains mushy peas and a gravy looking substance. Just, no.

A few years back, I actually was served some for the first time since I could remember and it wasn't bad. The crust was good. I could eat it. Then sometime in the last several months I got brave and decided to try making it for myself. It turned out pretty good! Unfortunately, I don't think I saved the recipe or wrote down what I did, so when Tom requested I make Chicken Pot Pie this week, I had to start at square one. Well, almost. The one thing I did remember was that I had used my apple pie crust recipe for the pot pie crust -- although, it's not really my recipe; it's from Tom's mom who is world renown for her apple pie (or, at the very least, a family legacy).

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

2015 Spring Garden Update & Wilted Spring Garden Salad Recipe

I suppose it's time for a 2015 Spring Garden Update. I feel like this has really been an ideal spring for gardening. The snow stopped in a timely fashion. We've had a few hot days, plenty of rain and generally weather on par for the season. I started my tomato seeds (and a few others) indoors in March and they are about a foot tall now. I thought about planting them in the past couple of weeks since it has been so warm, but once I saw we are expecting a low in the 30s this week, I decided to hold off. I don't want to shock them with cold shortly after transplanting. I have set them outside a couple of times to try to harden them off. One of the days was super windy, though, and two of my seedlings that I had growing in 2 liter bottles flipped over. I thought they were done for. I set them back up and tried to set them against a support for the rest of the day. Guess what happened. These two little tomato plants have grown into my biggest and strongest seedlings! For me, that was a good reminder, not only about the importance of exposing seedlings to the elements, but also about life -- how the trials we go through can serve to strengthen, grow and mature us, as we stay grounded in our faith and don't allow ourselves to be uprooted. So there you have it, the first life lesson from this year's garden.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face
trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith
produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work
so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
James 1:2014

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Making Things: Bagels, Cheese and Other Recipes

Unintended though it was, this past weekend was a weekend of making things -- mostly food. On Friday, after a delicious surf 'n turf meal (in which I almost burnt the house down when the grill caught fire, but miraculously managed to keep the steaks from getting charred or overcooked), I decided to try the bagel recipe from my bread book.  I used the provided recipe, only I added sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil, since that's one of my all time favorite bagel flavors -- and it's hard to find! I made up the dough on Friday and refrigerated it overnight. Saturday, I attempted the bagels. They turned out...just...slightly...misshapen.  I got two out of nine that were fairly good looking and decidedly photo worthy.