Lemon Green Beans with Feta and Mint

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There is something so romantic about lingering over a fresh lunch. So often we’re pulled in too many directions and end up just “grabbing” a protein bar and an apple to go, or haphazardly assembling a sad salad, only to be unsatisfied at 3pm. I was recently looking (Facebook stalking) through photos a friends recent trip to Italy. After about 300 pictures of thoughtful, bright, local meals enjoyed with chilled white wine at a quaintly adorable street-side cafe, I decided enough was enough. I was determined to create an inspired lunch of my own, and quickly got my mom on board, who would say no to that?

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Though I’ve never been to Italy, I have spent some time learning that though pasta is king, fresh and local are queen (and we all know what that means). Midday we all need something rejuvenating to power us through the afternoon, so we got cooking! We had picked up some green beans at the farmers market, utilized our handy mint plant (fresh and local: check) and created something perfect for summer.

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Green beans don’t have the best kitchen reputation, usually appearing either drained from a can, or in casserole form. This green bean salad provides a much needed makeover: lemon and feta brighten up the background, allowing the crisp green beans to shine. Keeping the beans crisp is key, cue blanching! For some reason blanching is one of my favorite cooking techniques. There is something so satisfying about plunging steamed veggies into ice water, not to mention the insane color retention! Anyway, topped with sliced almonds and fresh mint, this is a simple, but dynamite combination.
We enjoyed this outside, in our backyard, slowly and mindfully, and my fantasy was fulfilled. After just one bite, I was transported to my imaginary Italian cafe, returning only to take another bite. While this salad was created to satisfy wanderlust, It would also be a perfect addition to a summer barbecue, or a great side dish along side burgers or fish!

 

In the end, the best thing about a delicious dish, is the quality time it facilitates. Though always running around in our busy lives, my mom and I overlap lunches all the time. Rarely though, do we take the extra 5 minutes to sit down outside and enjoy. We may not always (ever?!) have the luxury of a leisurely lunch followed by a walk through the park, but enjoying the small things is just as important!

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Ingredients:

1lb green beans, trimmed

1/4 C feta, crumbled

1/4 C fresh mint

1/4 C slivered amonds (we LOVE trader joes toasted slivered almonds)

zest from 1/2 lemon

Dressing:   

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp Dijon mustard

 

Directions:

Blanch green beans: Boil for about 3-4 min, plunge into ice water immediately to stop the cooking process and keep the beans crisp

Refrigerate green beans until chilled, about 30 minutes

While beans are cooling, combine all dressing ingredients and set aside

Combine green beans with dressing, top with feta, almonds, lemon zest and mint

Spring Panzanella

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Two salads in a row… we know. We promise this is no ordinary salad. This past summer, we found the most amazing recipe for a summer panzanella salad from The First Mess that deliciously pairs sweet summer peaches and tomatoes. My mom, (Karen) grew up next to a peach orchard in Ohio, so she has instilled in me an appreciation for a tasty peach. As the resident authority, she has also taught me that a sub-par peach just won’t do. So patience is required for some of our favorite recipes. Yet, as our weather here started to warm up, we began to crave said panzanella. And we tend to do due diligence in listening to those cravings. The solution: an equally delicious spring version we created.

With spring comes a fresh crop of crisp, tender produce. We wanted to preserve that freshness in a substantial recipe. This made its first appearance at our Easter dinner, and thought it was an ideal spring recipe to share before the tomato and peach crops are ready! The egg and white beans provide a clean protein source. The egg yolk inevitably falls out of the hard-boiled egg, but adds a creamy component to the dressing, which is the perfect pairing to the crisp vegetables. Do not be tempted to substitute store bought croutons for this salad. Don’t even think about it. It’s super easy to toast your own and so worth it!

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Spring Panzanella:      6 servings

 

3-4 large hard boiled eggs, sliced

4 cups peasant bread croutons (recipe below)

2 pounds fat asparagus, blanched cut into bite sized pieces and chilled

6 cups mixed baby salad greens

1 cup golden sun-burst cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 bunch green scallions (about 8), thinly sliced

2 large red radishes, very thinly sliced

Vinaigrette:

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons

½ teaspoon agave

1 t Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Directions:   The salad components can be made in advance to allow for quick assembly for your meal.

For the croutons: preheat the oven to 350. Cube the bread and using your hands thoroughly toss with about 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional season with s & p). Spread bread on a baking sheet and bake until starting to crisp, about 12 minutes, turning half-way through. Cool on a rack until ready to use. *Tip: to re-crisp if croutons have set and softened a bit, just throw back in the oven for a few minutes!

Hard boil eggs ahead of time, peel and chill until ready to use.

Trim asparagus and blanch in salted water about 3 minutes (enough to remain crisp), plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process, drain and chill until ready to use.

For the dressing: In a small jar, combine the 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of oil with the vinegar, agave, mustard; season with salt and pepper.

To assemble: In a large bowl, place the greens, asparagus, croutons, tomatoes, onion, and beans. Drizzle with the dressing and toss. Garnish with the radish and serve.

As always, enjoy!

 

Strawberry Spinach Salad

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Spring signifies new beginnings, plants blooming, birds chirping, and longer, lighter days. In Southern California, it also signifies one very important thing; the return of rickety old trucks selling strawberries along the side of the road (usually the roads leading to the beach). It’s nearly impossible to drive by without stopping–seriously. When my brother was home for his spring break this past week, he spontaneously came home from the beach with an entire flat of juicy, sun-warmed strawberries in efforts to soak up as much of California as possible before returning to the snowy Midwest. No one can argue with the simplicity of a fresh strawberry, except the genius holding a jar of Nutella… Amazingly, the endless strawberry supply outlasted our dwindling Nutella, so my mom and I took to creating a healthier, albeit equally delicious, use for the strawberries.

Spinach salad, all day, everyday. But honestly, this is one of our go-to salad recipes for a few reasons. First of all, spinach is a powerhouse in the nutrient department. More excitingly, this salad has all the right textural components–you’ll inevitably end up digging to the bottom of the salad bowl to get all the good stuff. We try to eat seasonally, so this is an awesome base salad. As the seasons change, we just rotate fruits and vinegars: come fall swap the strawberries for apples, maybe add come gouda cheese, and use apple cider vinegar, come winter, try pears and pomegranate seeds. The options are endless, but always fresh and delicious.

This is the only salad I’ve ever fought with my brother over who gets to finish it. A fact that can speak for itself.

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Strawberry Spinach Salad

serves 4-6

Ingredients

Dressing:

4 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil

3 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp freshly grated ginger*

 

Salad:

1 lbs fresh baby spinach

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds

1 oz crumbled goat cheese

 

Directions:

Combine dressing ingredients, whisk to combine before dressing salad

Place salad ingredients in serving bowl, drizzle with dressing and toss to combine

Serve immediately

*TIP: we keep our fresh ginger root in the freezer. This both keeps it fresh longer and makes it much easier to grate– just be sure you measure correctly, as the frozen ginger grates to have a texture like snow, so pack it down when measuring! No excuse not to have fresh ginger on hand- it adds amazing flavor and brightness.

** We usually don’t use all of the dressing for this salad, so dress lightly and add more if necessary.

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Spicy Pesto Shrimp Pita

Summer on the east coast is beautiful (minus the pesky mosquitoes) and FULL of bright produce so desperately missed during the winter. It’s nearly impossible to pass up a fresh bundle of herbs or an overflowing pint of berries at the farmer’s market. Last summer, I spent many a long, warm summer night lingering over delicious food with good friends. At one such gathering, I had the most incredible non-traditional pesto—I spent a majority of the evening spreading it on any and everything before just surrendering and eating it with a spoon. The ingredients (brazil nuts, mint, and basil) were perfect farmer’s market purchases thrown together with summer’s inspiration.

When I visited my family back in California, I was inspired to recreate this pesto for them, hoping to share a small piece of my magical night. Cue the disaster…… I obviously took several missteps in my recreation. Perhaps I missed a key ingredient, as I was relying solely on my palate’s memory. Regardless, immediately after adding my vibrant pesto to a big bowl of pasta, it underwent a color change. What was once my beautifully dazzeling pesto now resembled a muddy green mess. I somehow managed to convince my family that although it looked like moldy pasta, they were about to have their minds blown. Sadly, the pasta did indeed taste as strange as it looked. No idea what happened there, but you win some, you lose some. That’s the fun in cooking! Hopefully, my dear family has forgotten said incident and will continue to try my new creations. (Though, I will never forget my brother’s face as he skeptically took a bite).

Fresh authentic pesto is unbeatable in flavor and certainly needs no improvements. But as with most traditional recipes, pesto presents a wide range of opportunities to mix it up. This particular pesto recipe comes from Giada De Laurentiis. I actually had flipped on the television one day to see her crafting the most interesting pesto, and immediately had to try it. I’m fairly certain it was meant to be—as a rare daytime TV watcher, this was the universe repaying me for my embarrassing pesto stunt. It is tangy, spicy, bright, and elicits that mind blowing experience! Trading the basil for arugula and spinach bumps up the nutrition immensely, always a plus in our book!

I am also glad to report that after many batches, this beautiful pesto has never failed to deliver……no moldy pasta dish results, so fear not! While pesto and pasta are always delicious, we also discovered, this pesto pairs beautifully with shrimp. Shrimp and pesto, jammed in a pita with the addition of fresh arugula and avocado to cool down the heat creates the most delicious creation I could literally eat every day for the rest of my life.

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For the pesto:

We followed the original recipe with a reduction in the amount of salt and cheese added to allow the greens and heat to shine through more.  Here is our slightly varied version:

Pesto Ingredients: (4-6 servings)
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 (2-inch long) red or green jalapeno pepper, stemmed and coarsely chopped* (remove all of the seeds or seeds from half to control the heat)
3/4 cups grated Asiago cheese

3/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces baby spinach
3 ounces arugula
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

In a food processor, combine the walnuts, garlic, jalapeno, cheese, salt and pepper. Process until the mixture is smooth. Add the spinach and arugula and process until blended. With the machine running, gradually add the olive oil.

*Left over pesto was used with fusilli for another meal as recommended by Giada’s original post.
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Spicy Pita Pocket:

Ingredients:

1 large whole-wheat pita cut in half

Raw deveined shelled shrimp, tails removed, enough for two servings (depends on size of shrimp)

1 Tbsp lemon-infused olive oil (or regular olive oil + lemon zest)

½ avocado, sliced or mashed

1 cup fresh arugula

2-3 Tbsp spicy pesto

Directions:

Organize pita ingredients for quick assembly

Saute the shrimp in lemon infused olive oil over medium heat until pink and cooked through (about 3-6 minutes each side)

Build the pita by smearing the pesto inside the pita, adding shrimp, avocado, and arugula

Enjoy!

Ancho Espresso Vegetarian Chili

One of our favorite kitchen gadgets is our Nespresso machine – we often opt for a perfect double shot in the morning over a pot of drip coffee… in fact, Karen can’t start her day without it!  The smooth intense flavor of a strong espresso satisfies those coffee taste urges in the most efficient way! Our love for espresso certainly doesn’t stop with the cup-full of caffeine itself, it easily finds its way into our desserts. However, when searching for a vegetarian chili recipe, we came across this post from The Kitchn, we had to do a double take. Espresso in chili?

Espresso in chili is right.

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Without a beef component to anchor the flavor, vegetarian chili often lacks that hearty depth of richness we crave in a steaming bowl of chili – but this combination of spices and espresso delivers!  The tomato base is transformed into a mellow, smoky broth which elevates the other components.  We altered the recipe by adding more vegetables without diluting the intensity of the flavor.  Swapping out a portion of the onions for red pepper, zucchini, and yellow squash kept the consistency chunky but brought in some brightness and more nutrients.

Ancho chilies are not too spicy, we chose to use ancho chili over the spicier chipotle in the original recipe to embrace the smoky rich flavors of the espresso. The chilies should be easily found dried whole at most grocery stores.

We finished off the chili with a sprinkling of scallions for some bite and shredded monterey jack cheese for some added creaminess. The beans and toppings provide enough protein and hardiness that the guys don’t miss the meat at all!

The chili pairs perfectly with cornbread, which adds a nice sweetness. When we make our cornbread, we sometimes (oftentimes) get lazy and turn to a boxed mix, however we amp it up by adding real corn to the mix, definitely give it a try.

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Ingredients:

¼ C olive oil

1 ½ medium sweet onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 small yellow squash, diced

1 small zucchini , diced

3 15 oz cans beans, rinsed and drained (black bean, kidney bean, butter beans) any combination works

1 ½ Tbsp ancho chili powder (ours wasn’t very spicy, so we added liberally, but if using a spicier chili, pay attention to the spice level)

1 ½  Tbsp chili powder

2 ½ Tbsp espresso powder

1- 26 oz carton Pomi strained tomatoes

1- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

3 large garlic cloves, minced

2 Tbsp honey

1 tsp cumin

¼ tsp cinnamon

1½ tsp salt

½ C water

Directions:

Heat a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add ¼ cup of olive oil. Add onions and sauté for about 5 minutes to soften. Add the red pepper and saute’ 4 more minutes.  Add the zucchini and yellow squash, cook to combine.

Meanwhile, place one large dried ancho pepper in the oven at 350 and roast to reconstitute flavor, about 5 minutes watching for it to puff up and the aroma to release, remove and grind to a powder in a mini food processor or spice grinder

Mix in the espresso powder, and chili powders to pot and cook for a few minutes to combine.

Add tomatoes, honey and garlic. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the beans, 1/2 cup water, salt, cumin and cinnamon. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered and stirring often, for about 30 minutes, or until mixture thickens a bit more.

Taste and adjust salt if necessary

Barbeque Chicken Pizza

There is nothing like a delicious pizza pulled straight from of a brick fire oven:  woody, crispy, and perfectly cooked. Homemade pizza makes a really easy and fun meal, though, sans brick fire oven, not nearly as satisfying. We’ve spent many-a-night crafting away on a “masterpiece” pizza and since identifying a great brick fire oven substitute, the results have been mouth-watering. We have started using… the grill! Grilling the pizza ensures a nice crispy crust and imparts the unique flavor that only a grill can achieve. The key is grilling the dough first, at a high temperature, then topping, and re-grilling at a lower temperature to melt the cheese and cook the toppings. This has become our favorite way to have pizza, and it’s exponentially quicker than using the oven.

This recipe is by far a favorite, vaguely inspired by California Pizza Kitchen, except this pizza is obviously revamped to maximize the nutrition and freshness, and minimize all things CPK (no offense to the CPK lovers out there). For a vegetarian protein source, the chicken can be swapped out for tempeh, which provides a nice textural contrast to the pizza. We usually top half with chicken, half with tempeh.

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In our opinion, the stroke of genius that makes this pizza amazing is the zing of feta cheese. (Sadly, we can’t take credit for the idea. After many attempts perfecting the pizza, Carli’s boyfriend Danny suggested the feta. He’s a keeper). The feta—red onion—cilantro combo gives the pizza a much needed acidity and freshness. Since feta doesn’t melt so well, we also add some fresh mozzarella to maintain the gooey cheesy quality that defines pizza.

 

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Ingredients:

1 package prepared pizza dough (we like Trader Joe’s whole wheat)

1-2 tsp olive oil

4-6 oz crumbled feta cheese

4 oz shredded fresh mozzarella

1 generous bunch of cilantro (about 4-6 cups)

1 cup prepared bbq sauce (Sweet Baby Ray’s original is usually in our fridge)

2 cups thinly sliced red onion

4 cups cooked shredded chicken (we use a rotisserie chicken)

1 ½ cups tempeh crumbled (if making vegetarian)

*Note: on the protein, the amounts listed will cover ½ of the pizza—be sure to adjust accordingly if you plan on using all one protein source

**Amounts listed are very adaptable to your palate

Directions:

Pre-heat grill to high

Let pizza dough come to room temperature

Meanwhile, prepare toppings:

Crumble the cheese if needed, thinly slice onion, and shred prepared                                    chicken,

Crumble tempeh, clean and roughly remove long stems from cilantro

Divide dough in half, and roll out each portion on a floured surface to roughly 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch, lightly brush top side with olive oil

Grill pizza dough oiled side down for about 3 minutes until it begins to puff, remove

With the grilled side facing up, generously spread bbq sauce.

The layer cheese, chicken or tempeh, and then onion.

Lower grill heat to medium heat and place pizza uncooked side down to grill

Close lid and grill for 6-8 minutes until cheese begins to melt and crust is  crisp.

Remove and top with cilantro!

 

Tips for making grilled pizza:

  1. Let the dough sit out about 20 minutes before rolling—it makes it more pliable
  2. Divide dough in half, or thirds makes it infinitely easier to manage on the grill—we usually make 2 to 3 “flatbread” shapes rather than one circular pizza
  3. Roll out the dough thinly—it will bubble and puff up on the grill more than you’d expect
  4. Use a high grill setting initially to ensure a crispy, flavorful crust, then turn it down to medium low before grilling the other side—the second grill time is mainly to melt the cheese and bring all the ingredients together.

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Salsa Fresca

During a summer BBQ a few years ago, the unthinkable happened- the salsa ran out! Thankfully, one of our friends from Mexico City whipped up her home-style salsa, saving the day. This recipe will put any jarred salsa to shame, it is unbelievably fresh and clean, managing to cool you down but leave your mouth tingling. We eagerly followed our guest to the kitchen as she happily shared her family recipe, which has now been adopted as the salsa of choice in our refrigerator.

This past summer, we planted a jalapeno plant along with our tomatoes. As a gardener, Karen is not known for her green thumb, but for some reason this jalapeno plant was a true fighter, supplying us with more than we could use.

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We FINALLY got around to using up the last of our jalepeno bounty and whipped up a batch of this salsa to add a kick of freshness into the post-holiday blues.

We’ve estimated amounts here – the recipe is foolproof and open to variation!

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Ingredients

(makes approximately 4 cups)

4-6 roma tomatoes (try to choose ones equal in size), cored left whole

1 jalapeno (optional, cored and deseeded, or left whole- depending on how spicy you like it)

1/4 – 1/3 cup white onion, chopped

1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

Salt to taste

lime zest to taste (optional)

Use enough tomatoes to fit side-by-side in a small saucepan, stand upright.

Core and scoop out the seeds from the jalapeno if using.  The seeds add heat so vary according to personal taste! Add to saucepan with tomatoes.

Add ¼ cup of water to pan, cover and cook over medium heat for about 7 minutes, until tomatoes begin to soften and peel splits but still maintaining their shape. Be sure all of the water does not evaporate and add more if needed.  Essentially, you are doing a quick steam on them.

Meanwhile, chop onion and cilantro and reserve.

Remove the tomatoes and jalapeno and place into a blender. Blend on medium setting to desired consistency, skin and all.  We like ours to be chunky. The salsa will thicken further after refrigerating.  In a medium bowl, stir into the puree the chopped onion and cilantro.  Salt to taste.