A few days ago, I got a text from our friend, Natalia. Natalia is a dear friend of ours who has a voice like honey, is sharp as an icicle (the sharpest thing my mid-winter brain could come up with), and has a knack for coming up with great food combinations, which she photographs, as you do, and sends to her foodie friend, as you do. She also likes to say, “as you do”, as I just did. This most recent text was an image of a citrus salad, built around grapefruit from her recent trip to Arizona. She added watercress, avocado, goat cheese, a lemon vinaigrette, and spicy salted pepitas. The text was a great reminder that citrus is in season, even if my brain has a difficult time wrapping around the idea that there is anywhere on this earth that isn’t covered in several feet of snow and a blanket of clouds.
An old Ukranian proverb forewarns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.” As a big beet fan, I’d like to think that a tale that begins with a beet will end with deliciousness.
My cooking style has changed considerably since my baby boy arrived in November. Meals are simple, quick, freezable, and lunch-packable. Sundays are filled with food prep to make the work-and-baby-filled weeks a little easier. This Sunday I prepped muesli for breakfasts, grains, tofu, and greens for lunches, and snacks for the whole week. As a nursing mom, I need to make sure I’m eating small, healthy snacks in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon and hummus is a clear winner. Hummus is packed with protein and fiber, easy to make, and endlessly versatile (spread on crackers or in a sandwich, use as a dip with carrot sticks or sugar snap peas or put a dollop on a grain salad). Sometimes I get stuck in a rut with a basic hummus recipe but last month’s Cooking Light magazine inspired me to get a little crazy with my hummus and the results were great. Continue reading
Happy spring….errrrr….whatever it is. Today is March 25 and we had whiteout conditions for parts of the day. Nevertheless, I have some faith, due to thirty two years of walking this earth, that one day soon the sun will shine, the snow will melt, the crocuses and daffodils will force their way through the thawing ground, and it will be spring at last. Continue reading
Christmas is closer than you think. That’s the message behind several of the ads that have been airing from the company I work for as a consumer insights specialist. The ads are really cute and funny and a reminder that we’d better hurry up and get ready for the holidays because they are right around the corner.
I need little reminding about the passage of time. All I need to do is look at our kitty, who suddenly became a teenaged kitty and I’m immediately aware of how quickly time passes.
What a weekend. What a life! One year ago, my weekends primarily consisted of work, work, working on my house. Every weekend I’d have a list full of tasks to tackle: sweep, mop, dust, weed the garden, post a blog post, grocery shopping…..etc. etc. etc. My life has changed so much to one where productivity is not the ultimate goal. Don’t get me wrong…I value productivity and feel good about myself when I’m getting things done. I’m proud to be a hard worker. But it never seems to be enough. I never make it through my list and I always feel like I’ve failed because of it. I’m starting to learn that when the goals you set are unreasonable, you will always feel like you have failed. I recently started something new–now rather than focusing on how many things I have left on a list, I start a new list of what I have accomplished and that list never fails to make me feel better than the list of tasks yet to be done.
My life has changed so much in the last year. I still have the same old anxieties about productivity and accomplishment. But I now have someone who balances me out (most of the time). Last winter when we threw our first potluck together, we were so busy making food that I didn’t get around to mopping. I kept fretting about it and was getting pretty cranked up about it until Drew said something that stopped all of the nerves. He said, “you know…all of these friends are going to come tonight and when they leave, they will all talk about what a fun time they had. And I guarantee none of them will say that they had a fun time but it would have been more fun if only Aura mopped the floor.” Sigh. So simple. But left to my own devices, I’d never have gone down that train of thought. Thank goodness for my voice of reason. Lucky girl.
This weekend was such a far cry from weekends of old! Drew and I crammed in about every fun thing we could think of. It all started with a long walk downtown with the pup after dinner on Friday. Our walks are always wonderful meanders through downtown with no agenda and no idea of when we’ll get home. We are so proud to live in the city of Grand Rapids and proud to see all of the progress made here in the last several years. Grand Rapids has so much to offer…an incredible sculpture park, a small but beautiful zoo, the largest art competition in the world, award winning restaurants and breweries, a great baseball field for the Tiger’s farm team, live outdoor music for free almost any night in the summer, two brilliant farmer’s markets…I could go on.
This weekend Grand Rapids got even cooler with the introduction of Movies in the Park at Ah-Nab-Awen park. We stumbled upon this new treasure on our walk Friday night. We were so surprised and thrilled to see a 20-some foot inflatable screen set up in the park with the city lights as a backdrop and about 700 residents watching Princess Bride on chairs and blankets. It was so wonderful to see and made our hearts swell with happiness. We are looking forward to the 16th when we can watch Back to the Future (and come armed this time with popcorn, root beer, the pup, and lots of friends!). Way to go, Grand Rapids!
On Sunday we headed out to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, one of the U.S.’s top 10 places to visit. It was incredible. Although I’ve been indoors to see the plants and art inside, this was my first time in the outdoor sculpture park and I was blown away. Here are a few of my favorites.
Ahhhh….the weekend is over but the memories remain. One way to preserve those memories is by sharing a dish we made after shopping at the Fulton Farmer’s Market. One of the rarest and most exciting finds this time of year are squash blossoms. These pretty flowers make their appearance at the same time we start seeing an abundance of zucchini fruit lined up at stall after stall. Only one farmer at the Fulton Market carries these pretty flowers (The Barry Patch) and I have a hard time passing them up. They are very fragile and will not keep long so I recommend buying only when you plan to use them that day.
When I was a kid my mom would batter and fry these blossoms but being health conscious I prefer to bake them. I set out on a search for baked squash blossom ideas. After a quick search, I found some stuffed squash blossom bruschetta from Cooking Light’s June 2005 issue. I didn’t have everything the recipe called for so I came up with a version using cows milk feta, goat cheese, and fresh herbs. This recipe results in a crisy exterior and warm, rich interior…and a taste that is not masked by the heaviness of oil. And so beautiful! A perfect way to cap off a perfect weekend. Hands down, this has become a new favorite summertime dish.
Baked Squash Blossoms with Feta and Goat Cheese
- 1/2 cup goat cheese at room temperature
- 1/2 cup cow’s milk feta cheese, crumbled
- 3 eggs, divided
- ⅓ cup chopped basil and/or parsley
- 12 squash blossoms, if attached to baby squash, leave squash attached.
- ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Mix together cheeses, 1 lightly beaten egg, and herbs. Season with salt.
- Put the remaining 2 eggs in a bowl and whisk. Put the panko breadcrumbs in another bowl.
- Carefully spoon filling into each squash blossom and twist loosely at the end to close.
- Dip each stuffed squash blossom in egg, then breadcrumbs, and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.
- Remove from the oven. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
“The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing-wax. Of cabbages and kings. And why the sea is boiling hot. And whether pigs have wings.” –Lewis Carroll
I’ve had this quote stuck in my head all day because I keep thinking, “the time has come, the time has come!” The farmer’s market has returned and along with it, the excitement of seeing the produce parade, unfolding week by week. Last week the most exciting finds at the market (for me) were pea shoots and sunflower sprouts. This week, asparagus. I wait all year for asparagus and am giddy when I see it make its brief appearance, standing at attention all down the rows of the market. Alas, I am in Denver this week (well, not alas–I get to learn fly fishing in the mountains–can’t beat that!) and am missing out on the first appearance of asparagus at the market. But lest I get ahead of myself…let’s talk about pea shoots. And sunflower sprouts. And last but not least, for a tour of my local farmer’s market, click here and I’ll show you around my beloved Fulton Street Farmer’s Market.
Before we went to the farmer’s market on opening day, May 4, I was imagining what we might find. It was a cold and long winter so our produce in Michigan got a slow start. Radishes, asparagus, pea shoots, leeks…all popped into my head. We didn’t find radishes or asparagus last week but found pea shoots! And sunflower sprouts! I knew exactly what to do with these two wonderful spring vegetables. This salad seemed the perfect thing to make and it allowed me to experiment with sauteing pea shoots. This salad has both raw and sautéed pea shoots, some sunflower sprouts, yellow beets, radishes, and crumbled goat cheese. Finished with a light honey-mustard vinaigrette, this salad was the essence of spring.
Spring Pea Shoot Salad with Sunflower Sprouts, Yellow Beets, and Goat Cheese; serves 1
- 1 medium yellow beet, peeled
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2-3 oz bag of pea shoots
- 1/3 cup sunflower sprouts
- 2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel the beet and slice from top to bottom into thin wedges. Place in a saucepan with water to cover and a dash of sea salt. Bring to boil then turn heat down to simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until beets have softened but are not mushy. They should still have a little bite to them. Drain in a colander and let cool.
- Split pea shoots in half. Arrange half of the pea shoots in a salad bowl—I like to use a shallow bowl to showcase the salad…much prettier that way! Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet or wok. Add the other half of the pea shoots to the pan and saute briefly, just until wilted. Add the wilted pea shoots to the raw pea shoots in your salad bowl. Add the sunflower sprouts to the pea shoots and toss. Arrange the beet wedges amongst the greens and sprinkle the goat cheese on top of the salad.
- Mix the mustard and honey together in a small bowl until combined. Slowly drizzle the oil into the honey-mustard mixture. Add the vinegar slowly then whisk to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle a little vinaigrette over the salad (there will still be vinaigrette left over for more salads). Sit down and welcome spring with this simple salad.
Welcome to another Meatless Monday with the Food Matters project! I say that half-joking because everything on my blog is meatless, Monday or not. This week Lexi from Lexi’s Kitchen chose “Reverse Fondue” for the Food Matters pick of the week. If you have a minute, check out Lexi’s blog. She grows her own vegetables and has tons of tasty recipes. I have been meaning to try her baby spinach salad with dates and almonds for a couple of weeks. It looks amazing and I can’t wait to try it.
I had such a busy, busy day today and had about 30 minutes to whip together lunch (and exactly 7 minutes to eat it!). This no-fuss recipe was easily done in that span of time. All I had to do was rough-chop some veggies, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast for a short time. While that was happening, I mixed together the cheese sauce, which was a five-minute-max project and pretty impossible to screw up. Slice up a few pieces of bread from a baguette and toast a moment, and voila! Roasted Vegetables with Cheese Sauce and Toasts.
Feel free to experiment. This recipe is hard to go wrong with. Use any veggies good for roasting, use any cheese you want, any kind of bread you want (or skip the bread if you want). Piece of cake. I couldn’t help thinking when I made this that this trick is how parents get their kids to eat veggies (broccoli with cheese sauce, anyone?). I felt a little childlike digging into this dish myself. Not a bad thing in the middle of a hectic workday.
Roasted Veggies With Cheese Sauce and Toasts, adapted from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Project Cookbook
- 1 cup broccoli florets
- Stem of broccoli, shaved then sliced on the diagonal
- 2 carrots, sliced diagonally in about ½ inch pieces
- 1 turnip, cut into wedges
- ½ medium onion, cut into wedges
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 oz vegetable broth or chicken broth if you aren’t vegetarian
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 4 oz cheese (I used a combination of Swiss and goat cheese)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat oven to 450°. Cut all of the veggies roughly—they don’t need to be perfect. Spread on a large, rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until crisp-tender and beginning to brown.
- Meanwhile, cut a few ½ inch thick slices of baguette and place in the oven on another sheet or move the veggies over to make room for the bread if you only have a few slices. Toast until browned but still soft in the middle. This should take less time than the veggies, about 10 minutes.
- While the veggies and bread are in the oven, mix cornstarch with broth in a small saucepan. Bring to a soft boil and add cheeses. Stir continuously until all of the cheese has melted. Pour into a small bowl and put a pinch of pepper on the top if you like.
- Serve the cheese sauce with the roasted veggies and the bread on the side.
- Dip away to your heart’s content!
Alright, the secret’s out. I love polenta. I’ll take a big gob of polenta any day over a bed of pasta or rice. And so many dishes taste fantastic spooned over polenta that it is hard to go wrong. Some of my favorite ways to eat polenta are: with marinara and goat cheese, with roasted vegetables, with Provencal vegetables en papillote, with fried eggs and spinach, with fried eggs and avocado, with a tomato-vegetable stew…the list goes on. Polenta is also gluten-free. And really beautiful, if you ask me. It makes for a quick meal that is impressive enough to serve for guests.
The recipe I’m adding to my polenta-files today is Parmesan polenta with Roasted Root Vegetables and Pistachio Goat Cheese. This is a simple meal to make but the results are creamy, filling, and decadent.
Parmesan Polenta with Honey-Roasted Root Vegetables and Pistachio Goat Cheese
For the root veggies:
- 1 large beet
- 2 carrots
- 1 parsnip
- 1/2 celery root
- 1 leek, white part only, sliced 1/4 of an inch thick
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- generous pinch of sea salt
Heat oven to 400°. Put veggies in a covered baking dish and drizzle with olive oil, honey, and a generous pinch of salt. Bake for 30 minutes and test for doneness. The veggies should be silky but still hold their shape. Pop back in the oven for 10 minutes if the veggies need more time.
For the polenta:
- 4 cups water
- Salt to taste
- 1 cup medium-grain yellow polenta
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- pepper to taste
- Heat water to a boil over high heat. Have a whisk ready and quickly whisk in the polenta. Whisk for a moment to discourage clumping.
- Lower heat to a simmer, add the butter, a large pinch of salt, and a small pinch of pepper.
- Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 25 to 30 minutes.
- Taste the polenta and add salt or pepper to your preference. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.
For the pistachio goat cheese:
- Olive oil
- 6 ounces fresh goat cheese
- 1 cup shelled pistachios
- Combine the goat cheese and pistachios in a food processor. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and, with the machine running, drizzle in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. If the mixture doesn’t come together, add more oil until the filling is smooth and fluffy. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if needed.
- Transfer the goat cheese mixture to a pastry bag or a zip-lock bag with the corner cut off (or you can just use a teaspoon for this). Squeeze or spoon dabs of the filling onto the roasted root veggies.
Oh holidays…why do you always sneak up on me? This Friday I frantically rolled 100 goat cheese truffles (while juggling making chocolate-peppermint popcorn, white-chocolate dipped pretzels, and putting the finishing touches on biscotti, decorating sugar cookies, and boxing it all up nice and pretty). I have to say…I went a little crazy.
It happens to all of us, right? But I may have crossed the line. I actually went all grinchy and said “I’m not doing Christmas treats next year.” Yowzas! Strong words from such a little lady!
I’m happy to say that I got some cute elf help on my project and by the time 7pm rolled around, we were delivering boxes of goodies to some of the good little boys and girls beloved by me. And the feeling of cheer, the smiles on faces, and oh! the hugs. Let’s just say I’d do it all over again. And again. And again.
If you love goat cheese, you will love these truffles. They have a moderate but not overbearing sweetness to them balanced with the tanginess of the goat cheese with a smooth finish. Very satisfying. These truffles have been a big hit around these parts lately. Friday was actually batch three for this gal!
I really hope this recipe finds its way into your hearts and homes. One regular sized-batch takes about 20 minutes hands on. Worth every minute!
Goat Cheese Chocolate Truffles
Makes about 20–easily double or triple the batch for more!
- 8 oz plain goat cheese (to change things up, you can use honey goat cheese, orange goat cheese…any flavor that is not savory); room temperature
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla, almond, or orange extract
- 8 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
- Dutched cocoa, almond meal, or finely shredded coconut for rolling
- With a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat room temperature goat cheese with the powdered sugar; 1-2 minutes on medium.
- Add extract and beat until blended.
- Meanwhile, in a double boiler or a metal bowl over a pan with 1/2-1 inch of simmering water, melt the chocolate.
- When the chocolate is melted, mix with goat cheese blend until incorporated fully.
- Put mixture into the refrigerator for a couple of hours until firm but still scoopable.
- Scoop mixture into balls with a spoon or a melon baller. Roll in between palms of hands to form a ball.
- Roll in dutched cocoa, almond meal, or coconut flakes.
- Refrigerate for 1/2 hour before enjoying.