Asparagus and Goat Cheese Salad

Hi everyone! Long time, no post. Sorry to those of you who read my blog often – it’s been one heck of a month over here. I’ve been relatively busy during the week with concerts and school wrap-up…and then we’ve been go-go-going almost every weekend (minus the one where I stayed home on a Friday with a stomach flu). There hasn’t been a lot of time for culinary inspiration; my Saved folder on Feedly has grown immensely and the Cooking Light magazines have piled up a bit. However, I’m happy to say that I have 12 actual days left until the end of the school year, and 15 until I jump back in at the bakery for the summer šŸ™‚ Things are starting to slow down…and fewer things are better than slowing down for summer šŸ™‚

Last weekend I had the pleasure of flying down to North Carolina to see my brother-in-law (and now my new sister-in-law) get married in Durham. It was a gorgeous wedding and it was great to see so much family and friends (we stopped in Clayton Sunday night to visit some good friends of ours); better yet, we managed to bringĀ Ā spring weather back to Northern Michigan! I had a lot of time in airports and vehicles to catch up on reading blog posts, magazines, and even a book on my Kindle…glorious. On our flight back north, I am came across this recipe, and knew that it would be the perfect dish to make that evening to help us ‘detox’ from our weekend. It was a snap to make, and Mike & I both really enjoyed it.

Asparagus and Goat Cheese Salad

adapted from Cooking Light (May 2014)

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • a sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • 1 lb asparagus spears, trimmed
  • 2 cups mixed baby lettuce/spinach greens
  • 2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 3 tbsp chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley

For the dressing:

  • 1 cup water
  • rind of 1 lemon, julienned
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp white wine
  • juice of 1 lemon (use the one that you skinned)
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • another sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • 5 tspĀ olive oil
  1. CombineĀ the teaspoon of olive oil, the asparagus, and a dash of salt and pepper inĀ large bowlĀ and toss to coat. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the asparagusĀ and cook until the asparagus is lightly charred.Ā Remove from heat andĀ set aside.
  2. In a measuring cup, pour in the water. Microwave forĀ 2 minutes or until water just boils. Add the lemonĀ rind; let it stand 20 seconds. DrainĀ the water and reserve theĀ rind.Ā 
  3. In a small saucepan, add theĀ rind, orange juice, and sugar. Whisk together, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook until the mixture reduces toĀ about 3 tablespoons.
  4. Combine the wine, lemon juice, mustard,Ā salt & pepperĀ in a smallĀ bowl; stir with a whisk. Gradually add the five teaspoonsĀ of oliveĀ s oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Stir in orange juice mixture.
  5. In a large bowl, layer the lettuces with the asparagus. Top with the cheese, pecans and herbs. Drizzle the dressing over the top; toss if desired.

 

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I’m actually relatively new to the use of cast-iron skillets. I’ve had them in my cupboards for a long time, but wasn’t exactly sure how to use them other than over an open flame when camping. So, shoring up the asparagus in the skillet was a very easy tech week that I can use again and again, especially on nights where I don’t want to fire up the grill. I must note that I also used the cast iron toast the pecans; another technique that I’ve never tried. They were amazing on the salad and if you are not allergic, make sure that you include them when you make this.

If you love asparagus as much as we do, then I highly recommend this salad. The combination of asparagus and goat cheese is not one that I would’ve thought of before, but I really enjoyed the combination of flavors. And of course, homemade dressing beats anything out of the bottle, any day.

I’m really excited to add this to my repertoire of salads!

Valentine’s Day Fondue

I suppose I should let you in on a little secret as to one of our favorite “traditions” that we have, just the two of us.

For our Valentine’s Day celebration, we like to fondue.Ā We’ll clear off the coffee table, set out bowls of dippable fruit, vegetables, & proteins…and have ourselves a wonderful & relaxing meal while watching movies. We received a fondue pot (the kind you can use Sterno with) as a wedding shower gift – it came with both a glass pot and a metal pot. The glass one broke…so a few years ago my sister gave us a new, electric one for Christmas.

Electric fondue pots are where it’s at. Easy to heat, easy to clean, easy easy EASY! šŸ™‚

This year one of the movies we watched wasĀ West Side Story. I’ve seen this movie so many times, yet Mike never had. It was really hilarious to watch this with him and hear all of his commentary. As you can imagine, it’s those comments that often people just keep to themselves šŸ™‚ The best part is that my husband truthfullyĀ does appreciate musical theater – he just likes to make comments to make me laugh!

We never did get to the chocolate fondue – as yours truly fell asleep (I ended up coming down with a chest cold the next day, also in true Valentine’s Day tradition – I’m sick almost every year on VDay. How’s that for romance?) We ended up cooking up cheese fondue as an appetizer, and broth fondue for the main course. Chocolate will just have to wait until this cough subsides…

Cheese Fondue

adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

  • 2 dashes garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup beer (we used homebrewed Saison or spitless Chicha, can’t recall)
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, diced into cubes
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • hot sauce, to taste
  • Worcestershire sauce, to taste
  1. Turn on your fondue pot.
  2. Combine first four ingredients and stir until the cheese is melted.
  3. Add hot sauce & worcestershire sauce (to taste) and stir to combine.
  4. Serve with your favorite dippables!

Behold the power of cheese.

Alright, so maybe it’s a little odd that we drank red wine with our beer-y cheese? Oh well. It was awesome anyway. We ate our cheese fondue with some crusty French bread from Breadworks. I also bought some broccoli & an apple to slice, but in the end we decided to keep this course a bit simple.

photo (4)

For our next course, we opted for a broth fondue to be a bit healthier. I had a quart of mushroom broth lurking in my pantry. I supplemented it with some chicken broth as we cooked along, and threw in a clove of garlic.

Our favorite dippables (cookables?) for our broth fondue were some chicken, beef, mushrooms (my favorite), red onion, and potato. Next time I may copy what Kristin did on Iowa Girl EatsĀ Ā and try some tots or french fries. Bell pepper and zucchini can taste pretty good, too. Truthfully, whatever you feel like cooking up in the pot – try it. You won’t be disappointed (and if you are, just don’t make it next time).

Oh – I can’t forget about the sauces! We made a simple soy sauce/teriyaki/ginger/sriracha one, a horseradish-mayo sauce, some honey mustard, and some barbecue sauce. All were delicious – I made them up on the fly, but next time I think I’ll do a bit more internet research so I can make (and memorize!) some winners.

Fondue is great any time, and for any families whose members can be trusted with pointy objects. šŸ˜‰

Do you ever fondue? What are your favorite things to fondue?

Turkey Pumpkin Chili

Alright, here we go. Highs in the 50s and chilly nights. A head cold. I cannot leave my house in the morning without a jacket (or else I’ll freeze during marching band rehearsal). Summer is over…

…but on the bright side, it’s time once again for soup, stews & chili. Yum.

Oh, and football on Sundays šŸ™‚ I love my Cleveland Browns, but that’s a post for another day…

I came across this recipe over at In Her Chucks. It’s a great blog – I really enjoy reading it (hint: check it out!). This dish is a great meal for a chili fall evening; I especially am glad that it uses bell peppers. That is one thing I have a lot of right now…green bell peppers! Which, truthfully, I’m not a fan of on their own. But, I will eat them in chili. I promise.

And yes, it involves using pumpkin in another way other than bakery, pie, and lattes šŸ˜‰

Turkey Pumpkin Chili – adapted from In Her Chucks

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers (of your choice), chopped
  • 1Ā jalapeƱo pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
  • about 1 lb of pumpkin or squash; pureed or smooshed up pretty well
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 can red kidney beans, rinsed & drained
  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the aromatics and peppers, stirring often until they are cooked.
  2. Add the turkey & cook until brown.
  3. Add the tomatoes, pumpkin/squash, water, and spices. Bring to a boil
  4. Reduce heat to low and add the kidney beans. Cover & simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Serve like any other chili – in our house, that means with crackers, cheddar cheese, raw onion or scallions, and spaghetti!

If you don’t have canned or fresh pumpkin laying around, you can use a winter squash or maybe even butternut squash. I though this would be a good way, though, to use pumpkin that may have arrived in your CSA, or that you simply see at the store next time you go grocery shopping. It’s not too hard to make your own pumpkin puree, so I’ve found! I’ll be using this technique to attack the winter squash & pumpkins that are looking decorative in my dining room since I’m out of pantry space.

Happy Fall, everyone! šŸ™‚

CSA 2013 – Week 8

Boy, did it cool off this week! The past few days we’ve been in jeans & sweatshirts all but the afternoon. It’s finally starting to warm-up a bit and we should see the high 70s again by the weekend, thankfully. If it were late September or early October, this weather would be *perfect*. But, it’s mid-August. I’m not ready yet šŸ˜‰

This week’s CSA was still chock-full of goodies, as usual.

2013, Week 8

2013, Week 8

  • flat-leaf parsley
  • another huge basil plant
  • cherry tomatoes
  • bigger tomatoes
  • onions
  • garlic (this week’s top-off choice)
  • eggplant
  • green & purple peppers
  • zucchini & yellow squash
  • cauliflower
  • curly kale
  • red potatoes
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Yep, this is ONE clove from this week’s garlic bulbs!

The cherry tomatoes have been used in a chopped caprese salad that I reblogged the other day from Inherchucks. The cauliflower was roasted right away with some garlic & olive oil, and served alongside our favorite meatloaf from a local butcher (which was definitely a comfort-food choice with the colder weather we’ve had).

I brought home two bulbs of garlic and decided to roast one, using AnnieRie’s technique. The oven was nice and warm from the meatloaf & roasted cauliflower, so it was the perfect time to do so. Coveyou’s garlic has some large, large cloves this year! The garlic clove that I had chopped to go with the cauliflower was pretty big, but the ones coming from the roasted bulb were even bigger – and photo-worthy, even.

The roasted garlic gloves (the final count came to 4 or 5 for that bulb, wow) are now sitting in a small glass jar in the freezer, and will be perfect on the breads I’ve bought home this week.

In case you haven’t noticed, I have a new page up on the Spicy Simmer, called What’s for Dinner? Here you can get an idea of what we’re planning to eat all week, as well as the CSA vegetables that we need to use cook with. It’s ever-changing, depending on work schedules, gathering with friends, and spontaneous trips to the grocery store. It’s also a great way to get a sneak peak as to some recipes that may be appearing on here.

QUESTION OF THE DAY/WEEK:Ā I now have 1 and a half bunches of flat-leaf parsley. What to do, what to do? Any ideas?

Shared at Inherchucks’ CSA Round-up #77

The Mandoline Slicer

Recently, my husband & I decided to buy a mandoline slicer for our kitchen. He wanted to make homemade potato chips, and I wanted something that could julienne & thinly slice vegetables. I did some research online and ended up ordering theĀ Swissmar Borner V-1001 V-Slicer Plus Mandoline 6 Piece SetĀ . It comes with 3 blades and has the ability to “slice, julienne, or shred”.Ā So far we’ve tried two out of the three – and we’ve both loved the results so far!

When the mandoline first arrived, it was on a Wednesday – which in our house is Potluck Night at the community garden. We20130807-065622.jpg had severalĀ homegrown potatoes, so we decided to make some hashbrown casserole (my stepmom-in-law’s recipe, which typically uses frozen hashbrowns). After reading the directions, I put the blade that I wanted into the mandoline (shredding), stuck a potato on the safety holder, and began to slice. Shredding is pretty tedious, but it still went faster than using a cheese grater!

I also purchased someĀ protective glovesĀ for my hands. Amazon recommended this as an add-on item and I totally took the bait. Why? Because my husband & I are accident-prone and that mandoline blade is SHARP.

My husband used the mandoline this past Sunday for 1) breakfast potatoes, and 2) homemade potato chips. Once I showed him how to set up and use the mandoline, he immediately got to work. He sliced the last of the homegrown potatoes (save two for a meal) and threw them into the deep fryer. They were absolutely delicious and perfectly crunchy! After he was done using the slicer, I washed it off, turned the reversible plate around for thicker slices, and quickly sliced through the cucumbers that I wanted to pickle. It was so incredibly easy, and much more consistent than trying to cut with a knife.

I think that this is going to be a fantastic tool to make stir-frys with, too.

It doesn’t take a lot of room to store the mandoline, as this one is designed to hold the blades in two small compartments on the back. I typically store the julienne & shredding blades back there so that if the food holder falls off its pegs (during storage), the super sharp, pointy blades are not exposed.

Overall, I’m very happy with our purchase and I think that it’s going to be a very convenient tool in the next few months as we process our CSA vegetables, prepare food for potlucks, and just enjoy cooking in the kitchen together!

* I was not compensated in any way, shape or form for my review of these products. These opinions are soley my own – my goal is to spread the word about products & gadgets that are new to me and that which I find to be convenient & worth sharing. Photo created with PicCollage.

Cheesy Broccoli Rice

We’re members of the local community garden and every Wednesday night, we have a potluck & garden work night. This week, Mike suggested that we make cheesy broccoli rice casserole. It sounded like a great idea, since I knew it would feed a lot of people, and who would think to make that on a warm night in June? Plus, it’s once of Mike’s favorites.

Mike has loved “broccoli cheesy rice casserole” for as long as I can remember. It has to be made with Velveeta, or some sort of plain old American/Cheddar cheese, but not nacho cheese – because it’s sheer and utter disappointment. I suppose it’s just one of those comfort foods he always grew up on. But here’s a confession for you: we’ve been married for almost 5 years, and I believe this is the first time I’ve made this dish. Sad, right? I know damn well that he loves it, but I guess I just never got around to making it. Wife of the half-decade right here!

When I went to the store to get ingredients, I started to panic, as I could not seem to find that sinful block of processed cheese food – the main ingredient in the dish! Thank God for iPhones, as before you knew it, I had a substitute for Velveeta that tasted better, and was probably a bit more healthier. And I’m glad for that because the block of processed cheese food kinda grosses me out.

This is a great dish that is easily multiplied for potlucks, or kept simple for a weeknight side dish. You could even eat this as a meal in itself if you really wanted to. And the best part? No processed, rubbery cheese food šŸ™‚

Cheesy Broccoli Rice – adapted from Betty Crocker and MOMables

  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped (you want about 1 cup total)
  • 1 8oz bag of cheddar blend shredded cheese
  • 1 can (10.75 oz) condensed cream of *whatever* soup
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups broccoli florets – fresh or frozen
  • bread crumbs
  1. Preheat the oven to 350*. Cook rice in water according to package directions (or, use a rice cooker).
  2. While the rice is cooking, melt the better into a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until the onions are tender, but still have a bit of a crunch to them.
  3. Turn down the heat to medium/medium-low and add the soup, milk, pepper, and cheese. Simmer, stirring often, until the cheese is melted and the mixture thickens.
  4. Add broccoli and rice. Mix well and spoon into a 9×13 baking dish,Ā coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top of the casserole.
  5. Bake, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes until the edges turn light brown and the casserole is nice and bubbly.
Perfect leftovers for a special someone tomorrow :)

Perfect leftovers for a special someone tomorrow šŸ™‚

The casserole was a big hit at our potluck. I doubled the recipe and the above was all that was left – the perfect amount for someone’s lunch. My toughest critic said that he missed the ‘taste’ of the Velveeta, but that it still tasted pretty good. I’ll take that as a win. Not only because I was able to create a Velveeta substitute, but because I finally made one of my husband’s favorite dishes that has gotten overlooked over the years – recipe SAVED!

Homebrewing 101

This post has been a work in progress for quite a while. And it’s long. But if you’re curious as to how beer is made, read on.

In case I didn’t mention it before, we are avid homebrewers – as in we brew our own beer. This tasty hobby started way back in 2009 when my husband was laid off; I bought him a Mr. Beer homebrewing kit for his birthday, just for fun. And boy, did he have a lot of fun…

…he began doing a lot of research on homebrewing. Buying lots of books, reading up on the internet, etc. Later that fall, happily employed, he upgraded his system to simply a 5-gallon bucket, kits with liquid malt, & bottling system. In 2010, we switched from bottling all our beer to kegging all our beer – quite a sight when you live in an apartment. In 2011 we moved into our house, and shortly after we moved from using beer kits to all-grain (making beer through the use of crushed grain). The amount of gadgets, books, tools and supplies that we’ve accumulated over the past 4 years is both impressive and mind-boggling. Yet, it’s a hobby I do not see us letting go of any time soon.Ā With summer coming on, we are constantly brewing beer for gatherings to attend, and guests to entertain. Thus, we wanted to give you an inside look at how we brew.

Uncrushed grain

Uncrushed grain

Mike creates a recipe with the help of a beer brewing software he purchased. He determines the type of beer he wants to make, then calculates the ratios of grain/malt, hops, water, and special sugars, spices or other fun things to add. Sometimes Mike will come up with the recipe weeks in advance, so that he can order supplies from the internet and plan ahead for future brews.

We always start boiling about 6 gallons of water. Typical batches of homebrew yield 5 gallons;

you always want to have more just in case your batch cools off rapidly, it spills, and of course, evaporation. While you wait for your water to boil,Ā you prepare the grain that you want to

mash. Mashing is where you break down the starch in your grain into fermentable and non-fermentable sugars.

Crushing the weighed grain (in the bucket)

Crushing the weighed grain (in the bucket)

Before you process your grain, you need to crush it with some sort ofĀ grain mill or grinder. Mike’s grain mill is operated via his cordless drill, which I have to admit is still kind of funny to watch. He weighs out exactly how many pounds he needs into a 5-gal bucket, processes it through the mill, and into the mash tun (the vessel we use for mashing.

Once all the grain has been, well, ground, it is time to add the hot water. The water needs to be at a specific temperature, depending on the type of beer you are

Sparging

Sparging

brewing. You add it a little bit at a time, stirring it constantly with a paddle to make sure all the water gets dispersed throughout the grain.

After that, you close the cooler and let the grain sit, periodically checking its temperature – which needs to be at a lower, specific temperature than the hot water you added. You always have a pot of hot water on the stove, though, to add to the grain if it cools off too much. You let the grain sit for at least an hour, so that the sugars are extracted from the grain.

photo (17)Once the grain has sat long enough, you drain it into the boiling pot. Because of our mash tun set up, we are able to drain the wort (liquid)Ā via siphon into the brew pot. The leftover grains make great cow feed and/or compost.

The wort is now ready to brew. Instead of using our stove (which can be really obnoxious when you want to cook dinner, or it’s too hot to use the stove), we boil our wort on a propane turkey fryer. This system has worked very well for us, except with three feet of snow and negative temperatures outside (then I let my husband brew in the house ;-)) The boil process typically lasts an hour or more. During the boil process, you have to keep an eye on the temperature and the clock. If the temperature gets too high, you risk a boil over Ā – creating a loss of product and a huge mess. You need to watch the time, as there are certain points in the boil where hops, fruit peels, sugars, etc. need to be added.

The boil (after hops)

The boil (after hops)

After all hops & additives have been added, it’s time to cool the beer. We have a wort chiller (seen behind the brew pot) which attaches to a hose or kitchen sink & is placed inside the brew pot. When the water is turned on, it runs through the coils and helps cool the beer faster – a process that without a chiller can take several hours (unless, it’s winter, then you just sit the pot in the snow!).

Once the beer is cooled to the specific temperature needed (“room temperature”, so I’m told), you transfer it to either a 5-gal bucket, or a glass carboy to ferment. You then add the yeast. The yeast eat up the sugars and cause them to release carbon dioxide, thus creating alcohol. The more sugary the beer, the higher the alcohol content.

From there, you at least a week or two for the wort to ferment and the yeast to do their work. You then transfer the beer to a clean keg, or to a clean glass carboy if you want to do a secondary fermentation (that’s for another day, folks).

You then carbonate using priming sugar (bottles) or CO2 (kegs). And serve nice and cold.

AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, is how we homebrew.

Any questions and/or comments will be directed to the head homebrewer, my husband. šŸ™‚