Tacos and Sparklers – A Perfect Texas Night

13 Aug

I love tacos – breakfast tacos, tacos from a trailer, tacos from a nice restaurant… whatever.

I also think that they’re easy to make, and generally turn out well.

Last night I had a few friends over for dinner and drinks. To make things easy, we served tacos and margaritas. I was able to make just about everything in advance and actually got to enjoy the party instead of spending the whole time in the kitchen.

As a side note, check out a video of Nellie from The Office learning how to eat a taco.  Unfortunately it’s not the best quality, but still fun to watch.

Here it goes – some easy, healthy, make-ahead recipes that were all a hit.

Chipotle Chicken Tacos – a favorite at my house. The salad on the side adds color and flavor.

Slow Cooker Chipotle Brown Sugar Chicken (from canyoustayfordinner.com)

I love this chipotle brown sugar chicken- it’s healthy, it’s a slow cooker recipe that takes about 10 minutes to prep, and requires very little prep once the chicken is done.

– 2- 3 Chicken Breasts

– 1/2 red onion

– 2-4 cloves garlic

– one can of roasted diced tomatoes

– 1- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce – chop a little before placing in blender

– 3 tablespoons brown sugar

– juice of 1 lime

– 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, plus some extra for serving

1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke

– a little queso fresco or cotija cheese

– corn tortillas

– 2 limes, cut into wedges

Place chicken breasts in a slow cooker. Blend onion, tomatoes, garlic, pepper, sugar, limes and cilantro in a blender. Puree until the ingredients are liquefied. Pour the liquid over the chicken. Turn the slow cooker on low for 8- 10 hours (or high for 4 – 5).

Shred the chicken using two forks and serve on warm corn tortillas topped with a little cheese and fresh cilantro. Squeeze a little lime juice on each taco.

Ground Turkey Tacos (from smells-like-home.com)

Ground turkey tacos were a huge hit and only take a few minutes to make.

– 1 tbsp cooking oil

– 1 white onion, minced

– 2 tbsp chili powder

– 4 garlic cloves, minced

– 1 tbsp dried oregano

– 2 tsp tomato paste

– 1 package ground turkey (1.25 lbs), use turkey that has some fat in it, not the extra lean kind

– 1 small can tomato sauce

– 1/4 cup water

– 1 boullion cube

– 2 tsp cider vinegar

– 1 tsp brown sugar

– salt and pepper to taste

– corn tortillas or taco shells for serving

Heat oil in a large pan over medium/high heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to look transparent.

Add the chili powder, garlic, oregano, and tomato paste. Mix in thoroughly and cook for about a minute before adding turkey. Cook turkey for about 5 minutes- stirring frequently and ensuring that the turkey is broken up as it cooks.

Once the turkey looks mostly cooked, add in the remaining ingredients and simmer for about 5 – 10 minutes (until the meat doesn’t look like it has too much liquid).

Serve in taco shells or on tortillas. I use lettuce and cheese as a topping, but you could use any standard taco toppings.

Fresh Corn, Black Bean and Pepper Salad (adapted from sugarlaws.com)

Last but not least, a side item or a taco topper – Corn, black bean and pepper salad. Fresh tasting, seasonal and healthy. You can see a picture of this salad at the top of the post.

– 3 ears of corn, cut off the cob

– 1 regular size can of black beans, drained

– 1 green bell pepper, chopped into small pieces

– 1 red bell pepper, chopped into small pieces

– juice of one lime

– 1 tbsp olive oil

– 1 tsp red wine vinegar

– fresh cilantro for garnish

– salt and pepper to taste

Cut fresh corn off the cob – I like using fresh corn much better than canned, but in a pinch, drained canned corn could work.

Combine corn kernels, black beans, and peppers in a large bowl. Pour lime juice, olive oil, vinegar over the salad. Toss with salt and pepper and fresh cilantro.

I serve this as either a side item or a topping for tacos. It works well for either.

At the end of the evening we decided to use up the leftover sparklers from my wedding – made for good iphone pics. enjoy!

A few of the sparklers leftover from our wedding. Fun end to a fun evening.

Too Many Tomatoes – the comeback post

13 Jul

Here's the finished product, the edges got a little burned on mine.

I’ve been a little quiet for the past year or so, but it’s time for a comeback. I’ve been keeping busy planning and attending my own wedding, which was amazing. Lucky me – I got married to a wonderful man, had a lot of fun, and was surrounded by wonderful friends and family. Planning the big day has kept me pretty busy but now that it’s over, I have more time to keep up the blog.

This spring, a tomato plant popped up in my garden. Luckily I recognized it and let it keep growing. It grew without much help from me and has been producing TONS of tomatoes. This week, Austin actually got some rain (the first rain in quite a while). This is great news, but has caused some tomato issues. You see, when vegetables have had relatively little water, and then get a lot all at once, it tends to cause cracking in the skin. Basically, the vegetable gets bigger, but the skin isn’t ready to stretch that much. This causes the skin to crack.

Image

After a few days of beautiful rain, I had about 15 tomatoes on my plant, all ripe, and all cracking. I figured that if I was going to use the tomatoes, I needed to do it right away. After looking at a few recipes, I decided it was time to make a tomato pie based on the recipe here. I have to admit, while I thought it was going to be good, it turned out to be great. Even better news, it was really, really easy.

Here’s the recipe:

– 1 frozen pie crust

– 4 tablespoons Dijon mustard

– about 4 or 5 tomatoes, thinly sliced

– Swiss or mozzarella cheese

– 2 cloves garlic minced

– Salt, pepper, olive oil

– Fresh basil

– 2 or 3 eggs

First, thaw the pie crust and bake it for about eight minutes according to directions on the package

Once the crust is mostly baked (not too baked- you’re going to put it in the oven again),  heat the oven to 325 and spread Dijon mustard across the pie crust. Add a layer of swiss and / or mozzarella cheese over the entire area of the pie pan. Next come the tomatoes – layer them on top of the cheese and sprinkle minced garlic over the whole thing. Drizzle or spray a little olive oil over the pie, and sprinkle with salt and fresh pepper to taste. Pop it in the oven for about 5 minutes.

Take it out of the oven and crack a few eggs over the top. I used three. Put it back in the oven for a few more minutes (5 – 6). Keep an eye on it to ensure that the pie crust doesn’t burn. As soon as the egg whites turn a nice white color, it’s ready to take out of the oven. If this is taking too long, you can always turn on the broiler to speed up the egg cooking.

Cut basil into thin strips, sprinkle over the pie and serve.

Kale and Roasted Root Vegetable Salad

21 Mar

I just returned from a week long vacation to discover that, of course, there was little to no fresh food in my house. Naturally, I have some non-perishable items in the pantry, but absolutely zip in terms of fresh vegetables.

The kale plants in my garden have been a little funny looking since the freezes this January, but they're still producing lots of kale.

Having been on a week long vacation, where I ate mostly burgers and other not-so-healthy items, I was anxious to eat something fresh and somewhat healthy, but had little energy for grocery shopping – so I went into the garden to see what was available.

Right now is not the most abundant time for the garden- the winter freezes killed several plants, and we’re somewhat “between” harvest seasons. Fortunately, though, my kale plants have been pretty consistent about providing plenty of Kale to eat, so that was a start. I also had some beets and carrots that had yet to be harvested. The combo of carrots, beets, and kale seemed like a good start for a healthy lunch.

As it turns out, I came up with a pretty tasty salad that I wanted to share.

2 – 3 cups fresh Kale, torn up into salad-size pieces

1 – 2 beets, including the greens

3 – 4 large carrots

1 large shallot

2 cloves garlic

3 tbsp olive oil

1/2 lemon

Thyme, sage, oregano, pepper, and sea salt to taste (a pinch each)

Here are the carrots and beets before roasting. Note, I used some white and some orange carrots because they were available in my garden, but they also added color to the salad.

  • Wash everything and peel carrots and beets
  • Preheat oven to 400
  • Chop carrots and beets into bite-sized pieces. I like making them round, fairly thin slices. Put beet greens aside
  • Place carrots and beets in a baking dish – preferably in a single layer
  • Chop up the shallots and garlic, in fairly large pieces, and sprinkle over the carrots and beets
  • Pour about 1.5 tbsp of olive oil over the vegetables
  • Add thyme, sage, oregano, pepper and salt to the vegetables – just a little pinch of each
  • Toss or stir vegetables so that they are all evenly coated with olive oil and spices
  • Roast the vegetable mixture in the oven for about 40 – 45 minutes or until tender – test with a fork from time to time
  • When veggies are finished cooking, set aside and allow them to cool a little. You’ll want them to be warm, but not hot when you put them on the salad
  • In a large salad bowl, place the torn up kale and the beet greens (tear up the beet greens if they’re too big to serve as salad leaves)
  • Squeeze 1/2 lemon’s worth of juice over the salad
  • Add about 1 – 1.5 tbsp olive oil to the salad
  • At this point, ensure that the carrots and beets are not too hot, and add them to the top of the salad. It should make for a very colorful presentation.
  • Be sure to toss the beets, carrots, kale and beet greens thoroughly before serving
  • Add fresh ground black pepper to taste

    Finished salad with kale, beets & carrots

This salad turned out to be very tasty and, based on what I’ve read – especially about kale and beets – it’s full of vitamins, anti-oxidants and assorted “good things.” I hope you enjoy it.

The (ever-so-cliche) New Years Diet

12 Jan

There are few things in this world that I loathe quite as much as diets; Few things that I will fight quite as much as I will fight the idea of going on a diet.
I find that it’s fairly common that whatever type of diet I attempt, I crave, need, MUST HAVE the item that the diet forbids. South Beach is supposed to be a great way to lose weight fast. I can promise, though, that the moment I make the decision to go on the South Beach diet, I will want nothing more than rice & baked potatoes.
I think that most people are a lot like me. I think that’s why Weight Watchers has done well with it’s “point” system – you can eat what you want as long as you count the points and balance it out with whatever else you eat that day. There are quite a few similar diets out there.
While I believe that generally, dieting is a terrible plan and a waste of effort because of my lack of fortitude, I have decided that this year I will be one of the millions who engages in a “New Years Resolution” diet. I am of the very firm belief that a diet has to be flexible in terms of what you’re allowed to eat. I am also pretty determined that any type of weight loss regime has to be completely healthy (no Atkins for me – I don’t care how many bunless cheeseburgers I’m allowed to have). Also, I can’t focus on what I am/am not eating all day so there has to be some level of simplicity for me to stick with it.
With all of these factors, I’ve decided to do a diet based on calories/fat. I’m using livestrong.com as my main “diet guru”. They have a great calorie-counting application called MyPlate. I just entered my weight, height, age, normal activity level, and amount of weight that I wanted to lose per week. It provided me with a reasonable daily calorie goal to work towards. What I like about this is that if I do decide to have a cheeseburger (with the bun) tonight, I can balance it by eating really, really low calorie food for the rest of the day (I haven’t checked the cheeseburger’s calories – I might just have to have water for the rest of the day which wouldn’t really work out). Additionally, I can earn extra calories by working out. If I go for an hour-long run, for example, then I get an additional 614 calories for that day (I checked, that’s just about enough for the cheeseburger).
The MyPlate application is free to use, unless you want to upgrade to “gold” status. It tracks my calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbs, fiber, protein, and sugars every day. As an added bonus, there is an app for my blackberry. I can use that to track foods that I eat while away from my computer, look up foods that I’m wanting to eat (to decide if it’s worth the calories), and check my current calories for the day.
Since I’m working on this diet, you should expect to see some recipes/tips for fellow dieters coming up soon. For now, here’s a list of foods that I’ve been enjoying while cutting back on calories (nothing ridiculously innovative here, just some thought starters):
– Skinny Cow Ice Cream sandwiches

– Morning Star Farms sausage links (http://morningstarfarms.com/)

– Baby carrots (skip the hummus or ranch dressing – too high in fat)

– Laughing cow cheese

– Rice crackers (I’ve been eating some from “sesmark” that are pretty low cal/fat- watch out for normal crackers – they are much fattier than you think!)

– Cucumber/tomato salad (chop up cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and squeeze one lemon, and a little bit of balsamic vinegar over it)

– Yogurt

– Fruit, fruit, fruit

– Soup – I like the Campbell’s soup at hand, personally

Also, here are a few things that I’ve learned that have more calories than you think, though they’re generally considered “healthy”:

– nigiri sushi – while overall a pretty healthy choice, Livestrong.com says that one piece of salmon nigiri has 68 calories- if you have a bunch of pieces for a meal, it actually becomes a pretty calorie-heavy meal

– olive oil – one table spoon is 120 calories and a whopping 14g of fat. Even if it’s “the good fat”, that’s still a lot

– Avocado – one large avocado is between 200 – 300 calories and about 30g of fat. I’m still munching on them (because you do need SOME fat) but watch out!.

As you all probably already know, it’s about moderation. I’ve had a few little “indulgence” snacks and managed to stay under my calorie goals mostly by making them REALLY LITTLE amounts of the snack.
Keep your eyes peeled for diet-friendly recipes to come soon.

Aviary, Austin, Texas

8 Dec

I’m not decorating my Christmas tree right now (which is what I’m SUPPOSED to be doing). “Why?” you may ask.

It’s because I’ve just come home from an adorable new place, where I plan to have many glasses of wine in the future and I want to tell all of you about it. Interestingly, though, it isn’t really a “bar.” By my estimation, it’s not even a “wine bar.” It’s something different. New for me, though I’m not sure if the concept is entirely new. I went to a lovely “lounge” where there was plenty of privacy for me and a friend to have a conversation, but also a bartender who can dispense advice/thoughts on a number of subjects (gardening, cooking, home decorating) and, excitingly enough, a fun shopping experience.

Between the atmosphere, personality, and the ease of multi-tasking, this is quickly going to become one of my favorite wine places in Austin. It’s called Aviary – and it was not intended to be a wine bar (it’s worth the wait that it takes for their web page to load- I promise). It was, in fact, intended to be a high-end home furnishings store. I believe the wine bar concept came into play as the economy went under (though the owner, Marco, would have to confirm). In any case, Aviary is now a home décor store combined with a wine bar (GENIUS). Let’s think about this- when are you most likely buy expensive home décor items? Probably after a glass of wine… Maybe two… or maybe three.

The bar is small and intimate,  with the owner, Marco, serving you relatively inexpensive (though not cheap or bad) glasses of wine. While there, I met Marco’s new puppy, heard tales of his young son, and learned about a few of the high-quality pieces in the store. Fabulous experience, good company, and a unique setting.

Long story short: high quality “bartender” (Marco- the owner of the store/lounge who is wonderfully nice and interesting), nice environment, and great prices on drinks. As a fabulous addition, you can get some of your holiday shopping done there at a great price. Personally, I bought a really great hand painted jewelry set while I was there (multitasking!!!).

I highly recommend a visit for shopping or happy hour or both.

Vegetarian 101

17 Oct

First, I’m a bad blogger – sorry for all of the time without a post! Now, on with it..

A few months ago my mother called me, frustrated. Apparently my father had decided that he wanted to try to have “vegetarian week” and not eat any meat for a week. While my mother thought it was a good idea, she found herself a little lost in trying to come up with meat-free recipes that were reasonably nutritious and satisfying for an entire week.

I’ve been cooking vegetarian for about three years now (since my vegetarian boyfriend came onto the scene and completely confused my kitchen habits). Since it’s been a while, I really don’t have much trouble cooking without meat, and can generally come up with quite a few vegetarian recipe ideas off the top of my head. That said, I had forgotten how difficult it was at first to adjust to the boyfriend’s dietary restrictions at first.

I’m not sure if it helped my mom, but I wrote down a few of my tips for vegetarian cooking. If you’re learning to cook vegetarian or just want to think up more ideas for what to make on “Meatless Monday”, perhaps some of these will help you to make the transition a bit more easily.

 

Try using eggplants, portabella mushrooms, or squash as a main dish - stuff them to make them even better.

 

Make Main Dishes, Not Just Sides

Vegetables are side items – at least that’s what most omnivorous chefs use them for. One of the big mistakes that people make when they start cooking vegetarian is to keep this mindset and just make more sides. You’ll find that a meal of mashed potatoes, green beans, and corn without the meatloaf for the main course might leave you feeling a little unsatisfied.

The thing is that while side dishes are lovely, most of us need a main dish to feel like we’ve had a complete meal. Try using more filling and fulfilling vegetables for main dishes – eggplant and portabella mushrooms, or butternut squash are very meaty and have a great flavor. Eggs are also an excellent main dish (and can be added to more dishes than you expect).

Don’t fall into the carb trap

 

Yes, carbs are fantastic, but when eating out, you'll constantly be forced to eat pasta, rice etc. in order to avoid meat, so avoid the carbs at home.

 

Many beginning vegetarians, especially those who don’t cook much, tend to turn to pasta, potatoes, and rice dishes as their main food source. All of these things are delicious and each is fine in moderation. If you’re not at least a little aware, though, some people will have toast for breakfast, pasta for lunch, and a nice plate of fried rice for dinner. Shockingly, you won’t end up feeling very lively or healthy if you eat that many carbs in a day. I recommend eating as few carbs as possible at first – you’ll find that you are practically forced to eat pasta or rice at many restaurants in order to avoid meat so avoiding them at home most of the time is good practice.

Don’t Worry so Much About Protein

(this part is NOT for vegans)

I constantly hear about how vegetarians don’t get enough protein. I’m sure that in some cases this is true, but I’ve tracked my own protein intake and have never gone below what’s recommended for the day, even without trying and paying much attention.

 

It's not as hard as you think to incorporate protein into your diet. This is a fried egg. I put fried eggs on top of sandwiches, include egg in fried rice, etc. Cheese, yougurt and beans, are also great if you're worried about protein.

 

At my house, the key is to vary our diet pretty regularly. You’ll find that if you eat a little cheese, eggs, beans or yogurt with most of your meals, you’ll get more than enough protein each day. People who spend all of their time worrying about getting enough protein tend to eat tremendous amounts of protein-rich foods. This isn’t a bad thing, but isn’t really necessary.

If you’re concerned about protein intake, I recommend eating some Greek yogurt for breakfast – you’ll find that a serving has a large portion of your protein for the day, which gets you off to a good start. Still concerned? Grab an egg and mix it in with just about anything – vegetarian fajitas, fried rice (with lots of veggies), or just fry an egg and eat it plain. Eggs are quick and easy options.

Keep Snacks Easily Available

One of the things about being a vegetarian is that you still have to eat just as often as everyone else. There are times when you’ll find yourself in the middle of East Texas in a diner where the entire menu is either meat, or made with meat products (think of green beans made with bacon grease etc.). While you could have a piece of bread and perhaps some butter, that probably won’t hold you over. Other times, you’ll come home from work with about five minutes of energy left and cooking just doesn’t feel like an option.

First off, buy some Amy’s frozen meals. Keep one or two stocked at home and at work for a quick meal (They also taste great). Second, keep a few granola bars, maybe some dehydrated vegetables in the center consul of your car. They won’t go bad for quite a while and you can grab them when you need to – like when you’re in East Texas with a choice between eating meat and eating meat.

Vary Your Diet

 

It's important to eat a variety of foods in order to get the vitamins that you need.

 

Everyone should think about variety in their diet, but it’s especially important for vegetarians. No matter what you’re eating, if you’re eating the same thing every day (or every 2 days), then you’re probably missing out on some aspect of nutrition unless you’ve worked out your diet with a nutritionist. Eating a variety of foods means that you’ll get a variety of vitamins and it keeps things entertaining.

Give these tips a try if you’re a beginning vegetarian chef or even if you just want to eat less meat. I would love to hear any of your tips if you have more ideas for how to make vegetarianism easier and healthier.

My Finds at the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival 2010

1 Sep

Hot sauce is an amazing invention. My favorite type of hot sauce is salsa (I live in Texas, after all) – it’s flavorful, healthy, and there are so many types that you could eat them all day and never run out of new types to try. That brings me to a wonderful event that we have in Austin every year – the Austin Chronicle’s Hot Sauce Festival. One can sample dozens (maybe hundreds) of types of salsa and other hot sauces both from restaurants and individuals.

Excitingly, this festival offers not only quite a few awesome salsas, but also other spicy sauces that can be used as dips or marinades. I thought I’d share a few of my “finds” from the festival with you all.  (side note – my sister and one of her friends came with me, and also gave their opinions on the best “finds” – we agreed on pretty much everything).

Kala’s Kuisine’s Cilantro Chutney

This Chutney would be great on lots of different dishes. I want to try it with chicken. (Apologies to Kala and to readers for the blurriness - I was trying to snap a quick picture!)

Kala’s Kuisine had some really interesting salsas with a Nepalese twist. All of their sauces were tasty and had a unique flavor, but for me, the star of the show was, without question, the Cilantro Chutney. It was fresh tasting, and seemed like it would be perfect in about a thousand different recipes. I think it could be a great sauce on chicken, enchiladas, nachos and pretty much anything else you can think of.

If only I had arrived in time to buy a bottle (they sold out)!

The good news is that there are a few places around town that sell the Chutney (and even more that sell their other sauces) including Whole Foods. See their website for locations.

Sweet, spicy, unique barbeque-like sauce. I love it!

Grandaddy’s Sweet Southern Heat

This was probably my favorite find of the festival. As the name implies, it’s a barbecue-type sauce that is both spicy and sweet. The spice tasted to me like a strong black pepper instead of a hot pepper – though I have no idea what actually adds the spiciness. According to the folks working the booth, the sauce was actually their grandfather’s recipe- and there were quite a few photos of Grandaddy up around the booth.

Upon tasting, my sister and I both immediately bought a jar of the sauce. Tonight, I had a baked potato with a little bit of Sweet Southern Heat, onions, and mushrooms on it – WOW. I also have plans to invite over a few of my meat-eating friends to make some ribs or chicken wings featuring the sauce.

This sauce doesn’t have great distribution – but you can get it at Tears of Joy here in Austin, and at a few stores in other cities. I’m sure that they’ll have wider distribution soon, based on how happy everyone seemed tasting it.

La Familia Salsa Company’s Roasted Green Salsa

Supposedly I'm sharing this jar with my sister. I haven't told her yet that I dont' really want to share...

This booth had quite a few salsas to taste, but the very friendly woman working there recommended that we try the Roasted Green Salsa. She made the right choice. You could actually taste the “roastedness” in the salsa and it has a great level of spiciness without being overpowering.

I bought a bottle of this too. It appears that you can order the salsa on their website, and perhaps they’ll be kind enough to reply to this post to let us all know if it’s available locally in Austin.

Don’t Panic Hispanic Salsa

Local, delicious, and super fresh.

Don’t Panic Hispanic was the 2009 winner of the Festival. It’s also been one of my favorite salsas ever since my friend Emily introduced me to it about 6 months ago. It’s amazingly fresh tasting, heavy on garlic, and a perfect “medium” level of spiciness. I prefer the red salsa, but also sampled the green, which was quite tasty.

I buy my “Don’t Panic Hispanic” salsa at Fresh Plus, but apparently it’s also available in a few other locations, including Spec’s. If you’re looking for a traditional, but excellent salsa, I highly recommend this one.

We tasted quite a few different salsas and other sauces at the festival – some good, some terrible, and, happily, a few that are worth trying again soon. I could write about salsa all night, and I promise to provide you all with my mother’s salsa recipe soon. For now, though, I hope you’ll give some of these salsas and sauces a try.

As it Turns Out… Size Really Does Matter

27 Aug

I told you all about my excitement over my vegetable garden’s growth, and how proud I was that (even though it had only produced tomatoes), it was on the verge of producing quite a few veggies for me to cook and write about.

A mere two or three days after that post, I noticed a little baby okra growing on my okra plant. SUCCESS! I had achieved the ultimate goal of actually producing a variety of vegetables from my garden! I had now produced tomatoes and okra – that counts as a variety.

Having never grown okra before, I decided to let my beautiful, magic, little okra bud grow as much as it wanted to – certainly it had a right to get big and beautiful. In a matter of days, it was the biggest okra that I had ever seen. I was shocked and considered calling the Guiness Book of World Records, but decided instead to give it a few more days to mature.

In the following days, several more pieces of okra sprouted, and grew faster than I could believe. All of them were, to me, abnormally large for okra. This was very exciting. I thought “perhaps I have a prize okra plant on my hands.” Really, I had never seen anyone with okra to rival my own in size and beauty, so I wasn’t about to cut down the okra.

After about another week or week and a half, I decided that it was a special night: I was going to cook and eat my beautiful okra. I cut down the four large pieces from the plant and made my boyfriend admire them for at least thirty seconds. We considered taking photos, but couldn’t find a camera.

It was only after I got the okra on the cutting board that I began to realize my mistake…

I said “honey, can you google ‘when to harvest okra’?”.

“It says that you should harvest it when it’s young…”

“why?”

“It says it will get ‘woody’… what does that mean”?

Looking down at the okra, which I could barely cut even with my “nice” cooking knives, I knew exactly what it meant. I had let my okra grow to the point of being bamboo-like in texture. The boyfriend had to cut up a large portion of it- I thought that perhaps it was just a little tough and the “toughness” could be cooked out.

30 minutes of cooking later, I found out that this was the single worst idea I’ve ever had in terms of cooking. The okra had fibers in it that were similar to splinters and was so difficult to eat, that we actually picked around the okra and instead ate the tomatoes and onions that were mixed in with it.

Lesson learned: okra is SUPPOSED to be small – don’t let it get too big on the plant, there are no prizes for “woody” okra.

Afterthought: I guess I’ve learned quite a bit about okra this year – goodness!

Grilling isn’t (all) About Meat

12 Aug

Summertime is in full swing here in Texas which means that just about everyone with access to a grill is firing it up on at least a weekly basis. Grilling gives you an excuse to do so many things – hang out outside, play with fire, invite people over, buy way too much food, drink beer, poke at items on the grill to see if they’re “done” – more things than I can list.

Grilled blue potatoes, eggplant and okra.

Something that I always find funny, though, is how many people think that grilling is all about meat. Whenever my vegetarian boyfriend and I are grilling (or attending an event where others are grilling), people always ask “oh, are you making something special for him?” Naturally, when we go to other people’s houses, I do bring something “special” for him, but when people are at our place, most of what we’re grilling is vegetables. I appreciate a good steak as much as the next person, but vegetables are fantastic (not to mention healthier) on the grill too.

Grilling is a fast, easy way to cook most vegetables and makes for a very satisfying meal.

This weekend, one of my friends and I got together to grill and decided to use up a large portion of my CSA veggies for the week while we did. It was beautiful. We made roasted blue potatoes, grilled eggplants topped with peppers, grilled okra, and grilled peaches (topped with vanilla ice cream).

Most of this is pretty basic, but here are a few notes on making each item:

I'm writing about grilling the veggies, but I couldn't help but love this picture of the blue potatoes raw - they're so pretty!

Roasted Blue Potatoes

  • Cut potatoes into small pieces (mine were small anyway, so I cut them into fourths)
  • In a bowl, toss potatoes with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and spices (I used fresh sage – that was great)
  • Put potatoes into a foil pack and leave the pack partially open on top
  • Grill over high heat for about 20 – 30 minutes or until tender, tossing them around occasionally

Grilled Eggplant Topped with Peppers

  • Slice eggplant into rounds that are about half of an inch thick
  • Lay on a cookie sheet and sprinkle the eggplant with a little sea salt
  • Let the eggplant sit and “sweat” for about 20 minutes. This gets out a little of the water
  • Soak up water beads on top with a paper towel
  • Brush eggplants with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper
  • Slice up peppers long ways and put on top of the eggplants (I used toothpicks to hold mine
    together)
  • I didn’t but you could add cheese at this point, it would be delicious
  • Grill eggplants for about 10 minutes or until there are light char marks on the side that faces the grill

Grilled Okra (Adapted from Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers, by Janet Fletcher)

  • Cut off okra caps
  • Pour some olive oil onto a plate, and roll okra in the oil
  • Sprinkle okra with paprika
  • Set okra on the top shelf of the grill (perpendicular to the bars so that they don’t fall through)
  • You want the okra to get really cooked, I like mine slightly charred
  • Cook for about 10 – 15 minutes, turning over half way through

Grilled Peaches

These are our peaches before grilling. Ideally, they'll have nice black grill marks on the flesh after you grill them.

  • Slice peaches in half or in thirds, removing pits
  • Toss peaches with a little bit of oil (we used canola oil)
  • Grill for about 5 – 10 minutes, just until they start to get char marks
  • Once finished grilling, toss in a bowl with a few tablespoons of brown sugar
  • Top with vanilla ice cream

As you can see from the photo, this made for a beautiful dinner that was also tasty and easy to prepare. Other veggies that I love to grill – corn on the cob, portabella mushrooms, squash of any kind, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts. I’m sure that there are more, but I haven’t tried them all yet.
Happy grilling!

The Survivors

2 Aug

As you are all aware, I planted my first veggie garden and started this blog on the same day in mid-June. Now, about a month and a half later, it’s about time for an update on how the garden has survived.

Here's the blossom on the eggplant. I'm hoping that this means we'll have some eggplant soon.

First off, planting in June is not really something that you should do. I think that for most of the plants that I selected, March would have been the ideal time. I’ll admit that a few items immediately committed suicide – including the strawberries and most of the herbs. They were dead within a week of planting. The two squash plants survived quite a while (one even produced blossoms) but they too succumbed to the overwhelming heat.

Fortunately for me, we’ve had quite a bit of rain, and temperatures that have been a little cooler than last summer, so some of the veggies have actually done quite well.

The tomato plant has been producing lots of tomatoes even though the leaves look quite unhealthy.

The survivors include the tomatoes. Though they looked rather peeked when planted, have lived and produced lots of small tomatoes for us to eat. They’ve actually been delicious. Oddly, the leaves have continued to look half dead, but the plant has given tomatoes very consistently (maybe 5 – 6 per week at the most – 3 this week).

The okra (yes, I planted okra) and eggplant have certainly been the most successful of the bunch. Both of the plants are now giant – the okra leaves are broad and flat and the largest ones are now about 16 inches across. They haven’t produced any actual okra yet, but I think that we may be getting some soon.

I'm not sure how big okra plants usually get, but the widest of the leaves on this one are about 16 inches across.

The eggplant has shown some promise this week by growing two pretty blossoms. It’s also gotten fairly large with its largest leaves being about 10 inches long. Do the blossoms mean that eggplants are soon to follow? I suppose that it remains to be seen.

Exciting news is that it’s almost time to plant the fall garden. I’ll probably start in about two weeks, but I’ve already selected a few new veggies that I want to try:

Brussels Sprouts

Cucumbers

Kale

Peas

Spinach

I’ll also add one or two other items depending on what’s available when I go to the store to buy my veggies.

Currently, my biggest debate is whether or not to start from seeds or from small plants. I’ll probably go with small plants, but that also depends on availability.

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