Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Recycling Your Leftovers

Ugh, another weekend of wedding planning. I was hoping to keep things simple and elegant. The Chef's list keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.  I'm thinking of great locations for a simple outdoor ceremony with only family while he is talking with friends about renting out entire restaurants and bands and cash vars and all of that business. Sheesh!! I think we have the first ever Groomzilla going on! If you have ever had to plan a wedding, you know what a nightmare it can be. For example, I have decided that instead of a multi-tiered cake that costs hundreds of dollars and will be hanging out in my kitchen for weeks after, we're going to order gourmet cupcakes. Yes, I know, I'm a baker, I can easily make my own but what bride wants to make her own cake? I've played that game once before, when my oldest daughter was planning her wedding and we decided to do the majority of the food ourselves. No big deal at all, just required some planning and delegating, but then we got the brilliant idea that Mom the Baker, the same person as Mother of the Bride would bake the cake too. Bad bad bad idea. We ended up ordering the cake.

After a day of planning and researching and pricing and calling around, The Chef and I were ready for dinner. I made one of my favorite Sunday dinners, heck any day dinner for that matter- roast chicken. Some lovely fingerling potatoes were also roasted in the chicken drippings and a fresh green salad went alongside and I was left with most of a chicken to pick and use for another dish, and as I sat there picking chicken off the bones, ignoring the pleading stares and chops-licking of two cats and a dog, I got to thinking about leftovers. Leftovers often get a bad rap. Many people don't want to eat a repeat of the same exact meal so all too often those dishes of perfectly good food are ignored, shoved in the back of the fridge, only to be reborn as a penicillin farm in a bowl. 

What are you supposed to do with your leftovers if you don't want to eat the same thing the next day? Recycle them of course! It just takes a little imagination and a well stocked pantry of basics to pull of some serious leftover revision. For me it starts with a good selection of grains and pastas. If I have a good solid grain or two I can stretch the last of a roast pork, chicken or beef into a great second day dinner or, even better, a lovely lunch for a couple days.

So my story leads us back to Trader Joe's. I swear, it's purely coincidence! I just find so many delicious things there and have to share my ideas with you so..... bear with me here. This recipes used the Harvest Grains Blend. This stuff caught my eye every single time I went in the store and I resisted buying it for the longest time. I seriously have enough grains in the pantry to survive a year. I just couldn't help myself on this last shopping trip. The mixture is gorgeous. Big pieces of Israeli couscous combined with veggie orzo in different colors, baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa combine to make a colorful, texture-filled dish. It's easy to prepare- just add to boiling water and simmer ten minutes. No draining. No fuss. You can use it in all kinds of dishes and it was so pretty I thought it would make a lovely salad. I just happened to have roasted a chicken for dinner and had the leftover chicken to pick and use so....... it was recycled into a tasty salad for lunch during the week. What else got recycled? The last cup or so of a bag of frozen mixed vegetables that was hanging out in the freezer and a half a red onion that was leftover from a salad. The simple dressing combined oil and vinegar with a spicy sweet honey mustard I was given by a friend and voila! Here is how I made it-

Leftover Chicken Couscous Salad

2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1 package Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend*
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2/3 cup oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup prepared honey mustard
salt and pepper

*I used this specific brand. If you can't find it, you can sub orzo, farro, rice or your favorite grains. You want 4-6 cups cooked product.


In a large saucepan heat water and butter to boiling per the directions on the package. When water has reached a full boil, add the bag of Harvest Grains Blend and stir. Return to boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff. Allow to cool slightly.


In a jar or large mixing cup combine the oil, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Shake or whisk to blend.


In a large bowl toss together the grain mix, the chicken, vegetables. Pour the dressing over and toss to coat. Cover and chill.


This salad makes a great lunch salad for taking to work or for picnics. I used the remaining chicken leftover from a roast chicken but you can purchase cooked chicken or cook up a couple chicken breasts or thighs to cube. Grilled chicken would bring a great flavor twist and so would barbequed chicken, with bits and spots of charred sweet barbeque sauce- oh yum! I think I better get another package of this grain mix and make it again !!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Twist on Small Plates- Summer Stone Fruit Crostini

What a week. Des Moines has been experiencing a record-breaking heat wave the last several days with highs reaching into the hundreds for the first time in several years. Add the humidity and occasional thunderstorm to make the air even heavier and it's just been miserable. It's been a good week to stay inside and kind of a poor week for cooking and baking. I'll admit it, I've been lazy, going so far as to call a plate of microwaved frozen pizza rolls my dinner. After a long and stressful work week my friend Katie and I decided we need a Mini Girls Night. She planned to make up a salad recipe of mine for her family and I had a recipe I needed to prepare soon as well as a bottle of wine chilling so why not do it together? 

I packed my shopping bag of necessities, my ingredients, my utensils, a mini baking sheet, and that chilled bottle of Kung Fu Girl Riesling and set off the Katie's house for an evening of work gossip, antics of her two yer old, and kick back time. It was so worth it. We chopped, sliced, cubed, roasted and prepped food for her bulgur salad and my crostini. It wasn't long before we broke out the wine. Katie is what I would call a developing wine enthusiast. She has her definite favorites and while they tend to be on the sweeter side, she is not opposed to trying new styles and new drier wines. When I was a wine tasting guide several year ago I often recommended Riesling as a good next step for the new wine drinker looking to step away from the moscato for a while. Most Rieslings are the perfect next step. I always choose German, French, Washington State or Finger Lakes NY Rieslings for this step. They are sweeter than South American and New Zealand varieties which tend to be a little more acidic and minerally.

Katie definitely enjoyed the Kung Fu Girl. It was still sweet enough while not being as sweet as the many moscatos out there. It's got a great acid balance and went great with the recipe I was preparing at the same time, Roasted Stone Fruit Crostini with Ricotta and Hazelnuts. The Riesling is produced in Washington State, which is one of my favorite regions in the world for Riesling. There is just something wonderful about the climate and the soil and the way the grapes grow into something wonderful. The wine toned down the richness of the cheese, and the acidity tamed the sweetness of the honey. The crostini were toasted brushed with light olive oil and sprinkled with just a touch of salt. The crunchy sprinkle of toasted hazelnut and the crisp bread- oh so good.

This recipe has a very Italian flair, with the creamy ricotta cheese drizzled with honey and topped with roasted summer stone fruits. It is a perfect appetizer on the patio with a glass of Kung Fu Girl or any other fruity and crisp Riesling or Pinot Grigio and can easily be a delicious light lunch or even a dessert on a warm summer night. When buying fruit, choose ripe fruits that are not overly soft, as they will soften during roasting. Allow one or two whole peaches or plums per person, or a handful of cherries. I've chosen ricotta cheese but goat cheese would also make a delicious, and slightly French, version as well.

Roasted Stone Fruit Crostini with Ricotta and Hazelnuts

8 ounce container ricotta cheese
1 orange, zested and juiced
peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries in any combination
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons honey, divided, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 baguette
olive oil
salt
chopped toasted hazelnuts

Stir the ricotta cheese in a small bowl with 1 heaping teaspoon orange zest and 1 tablespoon of the honey. Cover and chill several hours or overnight.


Slice the baguette into 1/2 inch slices on the diagonal. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Place on sheet pans and toast in a 425 degree oven until golden brown. You can also toast under the broiler or grill the bread. Set aside to cool.

Use a GOOD quality 100% pure honey.Read the labels and
know your brands. Not all store bought honey is real.
Melt the butter and pour into a large rimmed baking sheet, spread around to coat the pan. 

The fruit will get all caramelized in the oven- so delicious.
For peaches, plums, nectarines- cut the fruit in half and remove the stone. Cut each half into 8 thin wedges. Place in large bowl. Pit and halve the cherries. Add to bowl. Sprinkle the fruit with the cinnamon, salt, 2 tablespoons honey, the remaining orange zest and 2 tablespoons of the juice of the orange (reserve the remaining juice for another use). Spread the fruit out in the buttered pan. Roast in a 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes until tender but not mushy. Remove fruit and cool.


To serve, spread a slice of toasted baguette with ricotta. Top with the roasted fruit. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. Serve immediately.

I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to find hazelnuts this time of year! We have some large supermarkets here that carry every food from just about every nation (ok I might be stretching the trutjust a wee bit) yet no one carries just hazelnuts? I was afraid I'd have to get them around the holiday season, when EVERY grocery store has them in the shell, and freeze them until peaches come around again! Ugh! I finally did find them- raw hazelnuts- at the Wheatsfield Co-op in Ames, Iowa, in their bulk section. I later thought I might have found them in other stores had I just asked or checked their bulk foods. Oh well. So anyway, I now have some raw hazelnuts. Raw nuts are not what we want for our recipe so we are going to have to roast them. How do you roast them? Easy. Heat your oven to 425 degrees and spread the nuts out on a baking sheet. Roast 10-15 minutes until the skins are blistered and nuts are golden and toasty. Dump them onto a clean kitchen towel, twist it up and let them steam for a couple minutes, then unwrap. You can rub the skins off with the towel if you like, but you don't have to. Let them cool, then use as you like.



I gave mine a quick buzz in the Braun processor and I got the perfect mix of crushed/pulverized nuts and bigger chunks. I had purchased about 1/2 cup, maybe a little less, of the hazelnuts and I had more than half leftover for using in other recipes. I used the crushed hazelnuts the next day- mixed into prepared waffle batter-wow! What crunch and flavor they brought! Delicious!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Let's Go Shopping- Trader Joe's

"Wanna go foodie shopping?" Ohhhh friends, those are words I love to hear, and my close friends all know it. Some girls go to the mall, this girl loves going foodie shopping. Not grocery shopping, mind you, in the big supermarket. That is something I dread. I love foodie shopping- unique stores, gourmet grocery stores, like Dean and Deluca or Des Moines' own Gateway Market, specialty shops and so on. My recent favorites have been Fresh Thyme, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

It wasn't all that long ago that I had to travel to another city to hit Trader Joe's. Many Saturdays I'd get up early and hit the road with my bestie Ronda- heading for Minneapolis to hit Ikea and Trader's and then come back to Des Moines. A few years ago I was so thrilled to hear we were finally getting a Trader Joe's of our very own right here in Des Moines. I wasn't the only person who was delighted. It's a very popular store for great food and outstanding prices. The produce is beautiful, the meat and cheese selections are great, and the store is packed with organic, fair trade, healthy food products. Our location boasts some of the friendliest employees I have ever seen in a retail shop ever. It's just FUN to shop here.

And of course, the food is awesome.

So let's talk about some of my favorite Joe's products. While we aren't big buyers of pre-made or processed foods, we do make an exception at Trader Joe's. I can get a delicious Chinese dinner on the table in a matter of minutes and at a tiny fraction of the cost of takeout. what are my favorites? First and foremost, the pork gyoza. Years ago my daughter and I took a class and learned to make them from scratch but why bother with all that work when I can grab a bag at Joe's and they are every bit as delicious. Super easy to make, all you need is a skillet with a lid. The frozen gyoza get browned on the bottom in a little hot oil in your pan (go non-stick for these guys, trust me on this) until deep golden brown, then you add a couple tablespoons of water, pop the lid on and steam for a few minutes to finish cooking- perfect results every time.

Veggie fried rice, chicken shu mai and gyoza
When the gyoza are done, I remove them to a plate and keep warm while I whip out some fried rice or Kung Pao chicken in the same skillet I just used. The vegetable fried rice is one of my favorites- there is nothing to add, nothing to make to serve alongside, just add it to the skillet and cook until heated. It goes great with the gyoza. I'm also a huge fan of the shu mai dumplings. We have tried the chicken shu mai and the pork shu mai and both are fantastic. You can prepare those like the gyoza, or steam them right in the microwave, which is what I normally do while the gyoza are cooking. 

Kung Pao chicken with pork shu mai and gyoza
The Kung Pao chicken is also a favorite of ours. I always cut the chicken into smaller pieces- it's better distributed throughout the dish that way, and goes great over some instant rice, which we always have on hand, leftover pasta, whatever you like. 

On the other side of the culinary globe we have delicious pillowy cloud of delight- gnocchi. Tonight for dinner I was lazy. Hey it's a million degrees outside and I hate that. Drains me. So I was looking for something delicious and easy and again Trader Joe's had exactly what I was looking for.  Also from the freezer section, sweet potato gnocchi with butter and sage. Holy schmoly it is delicious. Lovely little nuggets of sweet potato and Grana Padano cheese bathed in a rich and buttery sauce accented with chopped sage. Dinner was on the table in almost no time. I just pan-grilled some boneless pork chops in a little Sinful Food wild sage olive oil and grilled a little red onion in there as well. While the chops were resting, I tossed the bag of gnocchi in the same skillet, added a little water per the directions and six minutes later I had a dinner I will be making over and over and over. It was the perfect autumn dinner- tender juicy Iowa pork chops with the hint of sage from that incredible olive oil, hit with a little Signature Seasoning, and snuggled up next to the chops, those delightful little nuggets of love. They are creamy and just the slightest bit sweet, with the creamy buttery sauce and bits of sage adding the perfect balance of flavor. Sage can be overpowering if overused but this combo was perfect. 


I was so impressed with these products, I can't wait to try even more of the frozen ethnic foods Trader Joe's offers. There are several more varieties of dumplings, stir fries, Indian and Mexican dishes just waiting for me to try.

Want to try the wild sage olive oil? Visit Sinful Food to check out all their amazing products. Click HERE to get yours!

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador, the company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Sunday, July 30, 2017

No Recipe Cooking- Not Quite 40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken

It's garlic season in the Midwest. Garlic scapes are making their appearance in farmers markets of gourmet food shops, and all my gardening friends are starting to harvest the garlic they planted last fall.While all the tulip lovers are planting flower bulbs, garlic lovers are planting bulbs of tasty garlic. You can buy specialty garlic bulbs from garden centers or seed catalogs, or you can buy heads of garlic from the grocery store, and plant those- same thing. Like flower bulbs, they require the cold temps of winter to complete their life cycle, and in the spring, as the ground thaws and the air warms, bright green spires of deliciousness being to poke out from the ground.

As your garlic grows you will notice the green shoots start to curl and take on a very unusual look- those are the scapes, and they are just as delicious as the bulbs. Much milder in flavor than the bulbs, scapes are favored by cooks of all levels- blended into a tasty pesto, they are a refreshing change from the licorice-like flavor of basil. Pickled scapes are absolutely wonderful on relish trays, crudite platters, charcuterie boards, anywhere you might use a pickle. If you let some of the scapes grow a bit you will end up with a small cluster of bulbs at the end of the scape- like teeny tiny garlic cloves. Hang on to those guys and plants the in the spring and they will produce a garlic that looks a lot like a scallion, but with flavor in the same garlic family. So delicious!

One of my very favorite, as well as a lot of other peoples' favorite, is that classic recipe for Forty Cloves of Garlic Chicken. You might have seen versions of this roast chicken that is literally roasted with at least forty cloves of garlic. It might seem like a lot, but that garlic mellows into something really beautiful. After you remove the bird from the pan, scoop out most of the cloves, leaving several in the pan to smash and stir into the pan juices. You will not regret it. This chicken itself has the garlicky flavor roasted into it and it's so amazing. You'll soon realize why the dish is so popular. That being said, something you don't have that much garlic on hand, but you do have a cut up chicken......and that's where this dish was born. It's not quite forty cloves of garlic, and not quite that popular recipe but it's pretty darn close and easy to put together and get on the table in no time.

So how do I make it? It's easy, and I rely on a couple products I can no longer live without, Sinful Food Signature Seasoning and Garlic Olive Oil. Here is what I do. Get a chicken- either a package of cut up whole chicken, or whatever pieces you like, legs, wings, thighs, or if you know how, get a whole chicken and break it down yourself. This is often the most economical way to buy chicken and if you break it down like I do, you cut the breast halves in half crosswise so you have four pieces of breast. Trust me on this, they cook quicker and more along the same time as the other chicken pieces and they don't dry out. You absolutely MUST get skin on, bone in chicken for this dish. Boneless skinless breasts just won't cut it. Grab a baking dish, something along the lines of a 9x13 pan or similar size, and spray well with cooking spray. 


Season the chicken pieces liberally with the Signature Seasoning and some fines herbes. Penzey's has a great fines herbes, it's one of my favorites. Arrange the pieces in the dish and tuck a handful of peeled garlic cloves in and around the chicken pieces, and drizzle with a couple tablespoons of the garlic olive oil. Pop in a 375 degree oven and roast for an hour and thirty minutes, until the chicken is golden brown, and the skin is super crispy and chicken is cooked.


Serve the chicken with a fresh salad or green vegetable and lots of crusty bread for sopping up those delicious juices. This dish is awesome even on weeknights and it's super easy because......there is no recipe to follow!

You can get your Sinful Food Signature Seasoning and Garlic Olive Oil by clicking HERE.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador, the company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Kick the Bread to the Curb- Italian Sub Salad

Something big big big is happening in our little house!! Love is in the air and a wedding is right around the corner. That's right, The Chef and The Baker are tying the knot. I've been waiting for this day forever, it seems. Our life has been quite an adventure so far and I just know the best years are yet to come. The planning has been in the works for some time and we're now closing in on the last couple months before the Big Day and still have lots to do. We're not going over the top, we are going to keep everything simple and casual. No fluffy white wedding gown, no tuxes, no limos, no expensive reception halls and fancy catered meals, we just want a relaxed get together with close friends and family to celebrate the beginning of our new life together. 


The Chef has had tons of experience as a caterer with different restaurants that he has worked at over the years. He has seen the easy to please couples and the bridezillas. He and I have both been to plenty of weddings, some have been simple church ceremonies followed by cake and punch at the church. Others have been private ceremonies followed by HUGE and lavish receptions at some pretty incredible locations- one couple even renting the entire zoo for their reception. As guests we had the entire zoo to ourselves, so we could enjoy cocktails while mingling with fellow guests and some really amazing wildlife. Iowa is a state blessed with some beautiful vineyards and wineries, and those are always popular locations for weddings and receptions. My son and his wife were married on the lakeshore at dusk out at the lake where our former Little Lake House is located. It was lovely with the changing colors of the setting sun sparkling off the water. He and I have both experienced weddings that offered a simple cake and punch service, to an appetizer buffet and keg of beer, to an elaborate multi-course sit down dinner with full service cocktail bar. Between the two of us, and our incredibly gifted friends and family, I'm sure we will have no trouble finding a menu that works perfectly for our plans.


Now all this wedding and reception talk has worked up an appetite! Since it's still blazing hot outside, I don't really want to fire up the stove and cook, but I'm hungry for something that's a bit more substantial that the typical salad. I'm not much of a cold sandwich person either, but there just has go to be a way to get the best of both, right? Today's recipe is a playful salad that's a fun twist on the sub sandwich shop classic- the Italian Sub. Crunchy Romaine lettuce replaces the sad shredded iceberg and adds more nutrition. Julienne bites of the best Italian sausages and Provolone cheese make the salad a filling and substantial entree with lots of the same veggie toppings you might add to your sandwich. Drizzled with a vinaigrette instead of heavy mayo helps lighten up the dish and instead of a big loaf of bread, a sprinkling of homemade garlicky croutons brings it all together. The croutons and dressing are made with Sinful Food infused olive oils for that extra bit of flavor. Give your salad a healthy sprinkle of the Signature Seasoning too, just like in the sandwich shops.

I also added some chopped baby herbs from our garden.
Fresh herbs add soooo much flavor.
You can get your Sinful Food olive oils and Signature Seasoning by clicking HERE.

Italian Sub Salad

1 head romaine lettuce
salami
pepperoni
capicola or ham
sliced provolone
3-4 Roma tomatoes
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 red onion cut into julienne strips
half a day old baguette
1/4 cup Sinful Food garlic olive oil
1/3 cup Sinful Food Italian Herb olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Sinful Food Signature Seasoning
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano, or a big pinch dried

Chop the Romaine lettuce and add to a big bowl.


City the salami, pepperoni, and capicola into julienne strips and add to bowl. 

I found this package of three meats but you can use
whichever types you like.
Do the same with the sliced Provolone cheese. Add the vegetables and toss to combine.


Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the day old bread into cubes. Place in a large bowl and drizzle the olive oil over evenly, tossing to coat all the cubes. Spread out onto a baking sheet and place in the oven. Toast, shaking the pan every few minutes,until browned and crisp. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

I employed The Chef as the Crouton Maker
Make the vinaigrette by combining the Italian Herb olive oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano and Signature Seasoning in small jar. Shake to combine.

You can add any herbs and spices you like to the basic
vinaigrette recipe.
Add croutons to taste to the salad, drizzle with dressing. Toss to coat, sprinkle with Signature Seasoning and serve immediately.  



You can use any fresh veggies you like in this salad- whatever you might like on you sandwich! It's really delicious with some sliced pepperoncini too. I love those peppers, they add a little bit of bite with no real "heat" like hot peppers. I have a jar of pickled shishito peppers in the fridge, so I slice up a few and tossed them in the bowl- delicious!

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador, the company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, July 24, 2017

Cooking with Wine- Fish Piccata

You should always cook with a wine you would drink. Wise words, and truly, words to live by if you are like me and love cooking, love wine, and love cooking with wine. It's no secret to you guys that I am deeply in love with Riesling. Maybe it's my German DNA but there is something about that grape that just appeals to me. Big plus- unlike a lot of other whites, it's never aged in oak. I absolutely hate that oak flavor in wine, especially white. I've complained about that before so I won't rehash it all here. I grabbed an inexpensive Riesling recently, from the Fetzer winery, and it's great for cooking and amazingly drinkable.  

We've covered the wine many times before, so let's talk about something a lot more fun- grocery shopping. Not just any grocery shopping, we all know how much I HATE a boring trip to the supermarket, but fun grocery shopping, gourmet shops, ethnic markets, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, small town grocery stores, you get the idea. In these kinds of stores I don't feel like I have to rush to get out. I like to take my time and check out all the unique items. At the supermarket, for example, they have balsamic vinegar. Might even have two brands. But at Gateway Market or Dean and Deluca they will have twenty different balsamic vinegars, and shelf after shelf of olive oil and all kinds of wonderful things. Olives? You guys know how I am about olives, right? I get in trouble at the olive bars. I'm an olive hoarder, and heaven help me if there is a bin of Peppadews on the bar........

The spice aisle is another danger zone for me. Right now in our kitchen there is a six foot tall shelf unit that is packed with spices. Literally packed. Peppers, herbs, spices, flavored salts, whole spices, ground spices, hot and spicy, smoky and sweet, spices for baking, spices for pickling. In spite of this enormous collection of delicious, I never fail to find something new when I'm browsing in the spice aisle. Maybe a new curry blend, or a new meat rub. It ends up in my basket.

The Chef is always crackling jokes about the pastas and grains we have accumulated in the pantry. There must be four different kinds of lentils in there. Wheat berries, bulgur, amaranth, teff, farro, a few different types of rice. Pastas. Lots and lots of pastas. The Chef is an Italian guy so of course we use a lot of pasta! I love collecting the unusual shapes that I don't find in the normal supermarket and use them for special recipes and pasta salads.

Of course no trip to a gourmet or specialty food store would be complete without at least a couple additions to our staples and condiments. You never know when you're going to need a tablespoons of capers, or a few anchovy fillets. Yes, I do need that many containers of cupcake sprinkles and absolutely we need eighteen different kinds of hot sauce.

Lately The Chef and I have been on a more healthy track when it comes to food. We still like an occasional "naughty" treat but for the most part it's been lean proteins like chicken, fish and lots of eggs, and tons and tons of fresh fruits and vegetables. This time of year there is everything under the sun available from farmstands to supermarkets. I'm going with one of my favorites, baby spinach, and some beautiful flounder fillets to make a deliciously light and flavorful version of one of my favorite Italian dishes, veal piccata. Briney capers and freshly squeezed lemon juice and a big splash of that beautiful Riesling will complete my dish. The Chef still needs his pasta, so I'm adding some buttered orzo, but you could easily swap that for rice or even quinoa or another grain for even more protein power.


The Sinful Food Garlic Olive Oil is the perfect oil for this dish. It adds a nice garlic flavor in the background without being overpowering. I think it makes the dish. You need to invest in this oil and you can get yours by clicking HERE.

Easy Fish Piccata with Wilted Baby Spinach

6-8 flounder fillets*
Signature Seasoning
flour
2 teaspoons Sinful Food Garlic Olive Oil
1/3 cup Riesling
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained thoroughly
2 tablespoons butter
1 package baby spinach, washed and dried
hot cooked buttered orzo for serving

*Use can use any light flaky fish you like, such as tilapia, sole, etc.

Pat the fish dry on both sides. Sprinkle with Signature Seasoning. Dredge the fillets in flour and shake off the excess.


Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet until hot. Add the fish and cook about 2-3 minutes per side, depending on thickness, until golden brown. Remove the fish to a plate and keep warm.


Add the garlic, wine, juice and capers to the skillet. Cook for a minute to blend flavors and soften garlic. Increase the heat to high. Stir the butter in until melted, then add the spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted.

To serve, place about 1/2 cup orzo on plate, top with about 1/3 cup spinach, then the fish. Serve with sauce spooned over and additional lemon wedges.


This is the first time I've ever cooked flounder, and to my memory may even be the first time I've ever eaten it. I can assure you, it will not be the last! The flounder was probably the best tasting fish I have ever had. Zero "fishy" taste, and while that sounds almost silly, most people know what I mean. I purchased the frozen fillets at Aldi and they were quick to thaw, individually packed, had zero bones- just delicious. I am definitely going to stock up on flounder- can't wait to try it in things like fish tacos, stuffed fillets, etc.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador, the company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer School- All About Tea Chapter Two

The second chapter in my Tea 101 class was a trip down memory lane, and a look at my life right now. This chapter spoke to me in two ways- one, the art of steeping, having lived in England for four years and experiencing high tea and being introduced to the British Brown Betty, and two, my new love affair with iced teas. I remember my mom making tea once in a while, with her old whistler tea kettle and big boxes of Lipton tea bags. Simple but exactly what she wanted. Today I have no fewer than ten different tea bags in my kitchen along with at least six loose teas. A bright turquoise vintage looking whistler sits on top of my stove, and a mug tree stands on the counter holding my favorite mugs. 


So back to the lesson. The water is key. Always start with fresh COLD water. To boil or not to boil? Well that depends on your tea. If you are using green tea or white tea you want the water to be ALMOST boiling. Boiling water "cooks" the leaves and results in a less flavorful cup. This was news to me! I thought I always had to use boiling water. Then the tea you choose is the next important step. Always use the best tea you can find. If you're using loose tea you want to use one teaspoon of loose tea for every 6 ounce cup of water. 

How long do I steep my tea? Again, that depends on the tea and how strong you like your tea. I usually shoot for 5 minutes, unless the box says something otherwise. Toss the bag or strain the tea into the cup and enjoy it. I like mine just as is, but you can add sugar, honey, milk, lemon, whatever you like.



This same chapter also touched on iced tea, which is nothing more than brewed tea, served over ice, but you already knew that. You want to brew your iced tea at double the strength of regular tea since you'll be serving it over ice which adds water to the drink. I have mentioned that iced tea is my new thing. It totally is. All my life I hated iced tea, hated the taste, hated the smell, and no amount of sweetener or flavoring would change my mind. One day, last year, I tried a nice glass of ginger peach iced tea at a coffee house in Hannibal, Missouri, with not a bit of added sugar, and it was mind blowing. I was instantly sold, and my love affair with all teas over ice began. I bought a couple different teas that very same day and have been trying new iced teas every chance I get.

Since we're talking about iced tea, let's make one I really really love-

Iced Matcha Lemonade

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon matcha green tea powder
1 cup ice, plus more
1 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth and fairly melted.

Pour over additional ice into two glasses and serve.

Today's photos feature my own teacups and teapot, which is a vintage-style whistler in a pretty turquoise enamel. The teacups are the only two I have, and they have no real historical or family significance. The photos do share a few of my extensive collection of tea towels, these particular ones are made by DII For The Home and feature some pretty French macarons and stripes almost identical to my teapot! They were perfect for these photos.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Foodie Field Trip- Wheatsfield Cooperative and a very cool recipe

I carry a list in my purse. Old school style. In a teeny little spiral notebook I actually have lists- restaurants I want to try, recipes I want to make, places I want to visit/check out such as ethnic markets. Without the lists, I'd never remember all the cool stuff I want to see, like the Wheatsfield Cooperative in Ames. The Co-op is a very cool store with roots reaching all the way back to 1974, when a group of like-minded citizens decided to form a sort of buying club. Today the co-op serves its member-owners as well as the general public with a full service grocery store that focuses on local produce, organic foods, sustainability, environmental and social issues.

The co-op enriches the community as well, with educational programs focusing on health, diet and nutrition. The co-op's calendar is loaded with classes and programs with something for everyone, like a class on fermenting and kimchi, brewing beer at home, classes focusing on essential oils and using them for self-healing, recipe, baking and cooking classes of all kinds, and much more.

Kids 12 and under can join the Co-op Explorers Club. Programming with children in mind and free fruit when kids stop in to shop and cookies on birthdays make it fun for kids to learn all about where their food comes home and how to be a good citizen of the planet. The Nickel Club encourages shoppers to use reusable bags. For each reusable bag used the shopper gets a Co-op Nickel. The nickels can be redeemed on purchases or donated to the monthly cause. Since the program began in 2013 over $22,000 has been raised. That, my friends, is a LOT of nickels!

This is one time I'm ok with a sticker on my produce!
As you guys have been with me on several different shopping trips, you know the bulk of my food dollars are spent in the produce section. We all know fresh fruits and vegetables are good for us, and I live by those words. Checking out the unique and beautiful fresh produce in the Co-op store was my favorite part of the visit. Loads and loads of organic items and most, seriously, most of the produce was not only in-season but locally grown. That is hugely important to me and a lot of other people out there. Those huge grocery chains get produce from all over the world and it makes no sense to me to buy an imported tomato that was artificially ripened in a warehouse before being shipped when I can get a beautiful red ripe Iowa-grown tomato. Local wins every time for me. Not only is the quality better, the food is fresher and my purchase is putting money into the pocket of a local grower, who will then spend the money locally, and our economy is happy.

This weekend The Chef and I are committed to using up what we have in the house already- from our pantry, our freezer, and leftovers. I love repurposing leftovers into a whole new dish and the pasta sauce he made the other night was in the fridge waiting to be used. I've been craving zucchini for the last few days and that was all I really needed to make this dish happen. The Co-op had some gorgeous local zucchini, the cutest organic baby bella mushrooms and freshly baked baguette so my dinner was complete with just those three ingredients!


One tip I simply must share for making the zucchini boats- use a melon baller! After you cut the zucchini in half lengthwise you have to scoop out all the guts, and a melon baller is the perfect tool. The sharp edge of the cutting scoop makes it easy to get exactly the right thickness of remaining shell without poking through the bottom. Be sure to save all the scooped out zucchini because you'll chop it and add it to the filling.


Another tip for making this recipe successful is to use the super high quality olive oils and seasoning from Sinful Food. I used the Italian Herb oil but the basil or garlic would have been equally delicious. The garlic olive oil is also perfect for brushing over thick cut slices of Italian bread or baguette and grilled for easy garlic bread. Of course, the Signature Seasoning also makes the dish even better- no need to measure out a bunch of spices, the seasoning mix has it all!

To get your Sinful Food products for your own creations, click HERE.

Summer Zucchini Boats

2 medium zucchini, about 1 lb each
1/2 medium onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1 cup marinara sauce
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons Sinful Food Italian Herb olive oil
1 teaspoon Sinful Food Signature Seasoning

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. I left the stem attached but you can remove that if you want. Scoop out the inside of the squash, leaving about 1/2 inch shell. Place the zucchini boats on a baking sheet and set aside.


Chop the squash that has been scooped out and add to a bowl. Add the onion, garlic, mushrooms and tomatoes. Season with the Signature Seasoning. 


Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, add the Italian Herb Olive Oil. Add the chopped vegetables to the skillet and cook over medium high heat until softened and all the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and stir in the breadcrumbs and the marinara sauce.



Spoon the mixture into the zucchini boats. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese evenly over the boats. 



Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.


So delicious! Not only is this an easy recipe, it's healthy and low in calories. It's a great option for meatless dinners, and can be vegan if you swap out the Parm for a non-dairy cheese. My recipe was not vegetarian since I was using up some of The Chef's pasta sauce from the night before and the sauce was made with pork loin and salami. This dish had something to make everyone happy- locally grown zucchini, organic mushrooms, purchased from a food Co-op and finished with recycled pasta sauce! How's that for thinking outside of the box?

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador for Sinful Food, the company compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."