Category Archives: Vegetarian

Easy Lentil Chili

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One evening after work last week, Bruce and I had quite the discussion on how we wanted to eat healthier meals in the New Year.  We talked about eating more vegetarian dishes and avoiding white bread, white sugar and most the most damaging thing of all, fast food.  Our conversation was not about making any resolutions, it was all about making some positive lifestyle changes.  I particularly liked that idea for I don’t believe in resolutions.  I know that when I make New Year’s resolutions, you can bet that I will break them within a few short months.

One of the challenges with cooking healthy meals in our home is finding dishes that both Bruce and I will enjoy.  For instance, I love ingredients such as kidney beans, green peas, fresh picked asparagus and mushrooms.  Bruce on the other hand, will not (knowingly) eat those foods.  He considers them taboo.  And trust me…  He has quite the list of “taboo” ingredients.  So, in order to accomplish preparing a meal that I know that Bruce will like, I sometimes have to get really creative and super stealthy.  That sometimes means chopping the forbidden ingredients into smaller pieces, not telling Bruce what he is “really” eating unless he asks and putting the focus on creating fabulous flavor profiles that distracts his attention.  In other words, out of site, out of mind is the key when preparing a dish for Bruce.

While shopping at Trader Joe’s last week I found a package of precooked lentils in the produce section of the store.  Fortunately, after about ten years of marriage, Bruce has finally warmed to the idea of eating lentils.  Unlike Bruce, I have always loved lentils and with our busy lives this precooked ingredient was something that I just had to try.  I figured that the precooked lentils would be delicious in salads or soups for lunch during the work week.  This evening, I opted to put the lentils in a quick chili for dinner.  As a result, I am glad that I did.  Bruce absolutely loved it!  And the cool part about all this was that he did not notice that he just ate a meal that was hearty, and high in fiber and iron.  And, as a final double bonus, it was vegetarian and cholesterol free!

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My Easy Lentil Chili is super simple to make, incredibly flavorful and tastes great with fresh baked cornbread and a leafy green salad on the side.  Garnish my Easy Lentil Chili with some shredded cheddar cheese, a little dollop of light sour cream, a spoonful of salsa and a sprinkling of fresh chopped cilantro.  Enjoy!  Tessa

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 17 oz. package Trader Joe’s Steamed Lentils (about 2 1/2 cups, cooked)
  • 1 cup onion chopped
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1 – 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable stock (or more if desired)
  • 1/2 cup brewed coffee
  • 2 Tbs flour (whisked with 1/2 cup stock to make a slurry)
  • 2 Tbs extra dark cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbs dark chili powder
  • 1 Tbs brown sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp Sriracha sauce (or to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • Top with shredded cheddar cheese, salsa, sour cream or fresh cilantro (optional)

In a medium sized pot on medium flame, cook onions in canola oil until onions are translucent. Add 1/2 package of lentils, vegetable stock, coffee, flour slurry, extra dark cocoa powder, dark chili powder, brown sugar, garlic paste, cumin, sriracha, thyme, salt and pepper.  Turn down the heat, cook uncovered on low for about 30 – 40 minutes stirring occasionally, taking care not to burn the chili.  Add remaining lentils and cook covered for an additional 15 minutes.  Taste and correct your seasonings.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with cheddar cheese, sour cream, salsa and/or chopped cilantro.  Makes about 4 servings.

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Angel Hair Pasta With Roasted Indigo Rose Tomatoes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAngel Hair Pasta with Roasted Indigo Rose Tomatoes

Last week I paid close attention to the weather forecast and as a result I went out to my little garden and stripped all my tomato plants of any and all tomatoes that had color.  According to the weatherman on the television, summer was officially over.  After what I witnessed yesterday, I should have known better.  You know what I’m talking about…  For example, the meteorologist tells you in the morning that it is going to bright and sunny and by mid afternoon, you wished you had brought an umbrella.

Well, when it comes to the weather, sometimes I need to remind myself that Mother Nature can be very unpredictable.  After picking all those tomatoes, I ignored my garden thinking that it was over and done for the season.  Nope.  Not even remotely close… When I walked out to the garden yesterday, I was astonished at what I saw.  There were dozens of tomatoes ready to picked once again.  The first thing I thought was, great!, I will have fresh tomatoes for lunch and dinner!  The second thing I thought was oh, shii…take mushrooms, there are so many tomatoes left out on the vines and I have a lot of work to do!

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Do you see what I mean?  Most of the tomatoes will be made into a sauce, some will be roasted, and some will be frozen.  Some will be given away, and some will be eaten fresh.  You get the picture.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  I’m happy to have them.  You will however, hear me complain this winter when I don’t have any fresh picked homegrown tomatoes to eat.

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These are Indigo Rose Tomatoes.  They are small in size, red in color and with a splash of dark purple.  These tomatoes are another favorite of mine.  They are great roasted, sliced fresh in salads and can even be stuffed with chicken or tuna for wonderful little bite sized appetizers or a light lunch.  They are also really pretty and different looking than your average red tomato.  A wonderful way to prepare Indigo Rose Tomatoes is to roast them and then toss them with some angel hair pasta, baby spinach, fresh basil, olive oil and fresh grated Romano cheese for light and flavorful dinner.  Enjoy!  Tessa

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup roasted tomatoes (see recipe below)
  • 4 ounces dried angel hair pasta
  • 2 handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1/8 cup fresh basil sliced thinly
  • 1 Tbs olive oil or more as needed
  • 1/2 tsp garlic paste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Romano cheese (more if desired)
  • garnish with fresh basil

Cook angel hair pasta according to manufacturer’s direction, drain and set aside. If needed, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the pasta to keep it from sticking.  Heat a saute pan over a medium high flame.  Add roasted tomatoes (with the juice), olive oil, baby spinach, basil, garlic paste, red pepper flakes and cook until the spinach begins to wilt.  Add the angel hair pasta and cook until heated through.  Add additional olive oil if desired.  Add salt and pepper.  Taste and correct your seasonings.  Place on serving platter, top with Romano cheese and garnish with fresh basil.   Makes 2 servings.

How to Oven Roast Tomatoes

This is a simple recipe that will yield some flavorful tomatoes for soups, stews and sauces.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Cut tomatoes in half or into large chunks.  Gently squeeze out some of the seeds.  Toss lightly with olive oil, salt, pepper.  I added some sprigs of basil and rosemary for some flavor.  Arrange tomatoes in a single layer on a foil lined cookie sheet (for easy cleanup).  Bake for 45-60 minutes depending on the size or variety of tomatoes.  Cook until the tomatoes start to shrivel and get a bit of color or until your liking.  Remove from oven, let cool, remove basil and rosemary, place in plastic bags and toss in the refrigerator.  Use within a few days.  Can be frozen for later use.  When freezing the tomatoes, measure the roasted tomatoes and juice in one cup portions and place in sandwich bags.  Lay the sandwich bags flat in your freezer in order to maximize your freezer space.

Note: if you don’t like the skins on the tomatoes, just pull the skins off after cooking.  They pop off pretty easily.

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Fava Bean and Ham Soup

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFava Bean and Ham Soup

I can’t even believe it.  It’s starting to feel like autumn.  The mornings are cool and the days are getting noticeably shorter.  As I look out my kitchen window, I see that the leaves on many of the trees are starting to turn yellow and some are even beginning the fall drop.  My garden is starting to wind down and the tomatoes are slower to ripen.  With the official start of fall in a few days, the first fall frost is likely to happen later this month or early October.  Once the frost hits, my summer garden is pretty much done for the season.  After that, no more fresh picked organic tomatoes, basil, beans, cucumbers or summer squash.  Bummer…  I will have to wait until next year for the convenience of fresh picked veggies or spend big bucks at the local co-op to get my organic fresh  vegetable fix.

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A bucketful of some of the last of the cherry tomato crop…  If you never have had home grown cherry tomatoes you are missing out big time.  Home grown cherry tomatoes taste so different than the ones you may find at your local store.  They are thinner skinned, juicier, sweeter and pack some hard core flavor.  One of my favorite things to do while watering my garden in the evening is to stand next to one of the cherry tomato plants and pop handfuls of these little red gems in my mouth.  They are so delicious!

While looking for some dried Lima beans at the grocery store yesterday, I ran across a bag of Bob’s Red Mill fava beans.  I’ve never cooked with fava beans before.  Fava beans looked like large Lima beans so I thought that I would give them a try.  Fortunately, the fava beans were shelled so I did not have to deal with the tedious task of shelling them myself.  All I did was to rinse them well and to pick through them to make sure that there was no debris mixed in with the beans.  I then soaked the fava beans in cold water for about 4 – 5 hours to soften them up.

My Fava Bean and Ham Soup is made with roasted tomatoes, bell pepper, celery, carrot and onion and then simmered in a good quality chicken stock with herbs and spices.  It’s a wonderfully hearty and flavorful soup that’s perfect for a cool fall day.  Enjoy!  Tessa

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried fava beans (shelled, picked over and soaked at least 4 hours)
  • 1 cup onion (chopped)
  • 1 cup celery (chopped)
  • 1 cup roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup bell pepper (chopped)
  • 1 carrot (chopped)
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1/2 pound ham (chopped)
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • garnish with fresh chopped parsley

Place a large sized heavy bottomed pot or a dutch oven with a tight fitting lid on the stove.  Turn heat to medium high and add canola oil, onions, bell pepper, celery and roasted tomatoes.  Cook, stirring constantly until onions are translucent.  Add remaining ingredients, cover, and turn stove down to simmer.  Cook for 2 – 3 hours until the fava beans are tender or to your liking, stirring occasionally.  Remove bay leaf.  Taste and correct your seasonings.  Makes about 4 – 6 servings.

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Green Bean Tomato Salad With Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreen Bean Tomato Salad with Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

I’ve never seen purple colored “green beans” at the grocery store before and when I saw the seeds for the Trionfo Violetto Beans in one of my seed catalogs earlier this spring, I knew that I had to grow them myself if I wanted to try them.  When it comes to planting vegetables in my little garden every year, I try to grow plants that tend to be uncommon or hard to find at the store.  As for the Trionfo Violetto beans, they certainly fit the bill…

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A big handful of fresh picked Trionfo Violetto Beans.  I absolutely love the dark purple color.  What’s so interesting is that when you slice them, they have a vibrant green center.  While picking my beans one morning, I was startled to see a large purple and green dragonfly sitting on a stem in the middle of the vines.  I’ve seen dragonflies in our backyard around our koi pond but never on the garden side of the house.  This one was big!  Its wingspan was easily 4 inches across.  I did not have my glasses on so I was way closer to the dragonfly than I would have liked.  As soon as I recognized what it was, I pulled my hand slowly away from the beans (taking care not to freak out, scream at the top of my lungs and wake up the neighbors) and ran straight back into the house to grab my camera.

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I was amazed that he was still there in the same spot when I got back! I was fortunate to snap a few photos before he flew away.  He was camouflaged extremely well and was very similar in color to the bean plants.  I’ve been out to the garden several times since and unfortunately I have not seen this beautiful dragonfly again.

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Do you see what I mean about the Trionfo Violetto Beans?  They are really beautiful and very unusual.  What I found is that once you cook the Trionfo Violetto Beans, they turn green just like a regular green bean!

In addition to the gorgeous Trionfo Violetto Beans, I grew some Kentucky Wonder Green Beans.  The Kentucky Wonder variety of bean is similar to the type of green beans you will find at the grocery store.  They are your basic “all purpose” green bean.  You can put them in salads, cook, can, or freeze them.  They are easy to grow and produce an abundance of smooth green pods.  I have to say that for the first time growing pole beans, I was fairly successful with strong plants and a decent sized crop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreen Bean Tomato Salad With Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

My Green Bean Tomato Salad with a Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette can be made with pretty much any variety of green bean.  In this recipe I used the Kentucky Wonder green beans and cherry tomatoes that I grew in my garden.  The Green Bean Tomato Salad With Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette is wonderfully tangy yet slightly sweet.  The bright colored tomatoes make this vibrant green bean salad a stunning side dish. It’s easy to make, fresh and delicious.  Enjoy!  Tessa

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans trimmed and cut into 1″ sized pieces
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 Tbs champagne vinegar
  • 1 Tbs shallot (minced)
  • 2 tsp mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Begin by boiling a medium sized pot of water with a big pinch of salt.  Add the green beans and cook for about 5 minutes or until tender.  Don’t overcook.  If you do, your beans will look gray and not a pretty bright green.  As soon as the beans are done, immediately place them in a medium sized bowl of ice water.  The ice water stops the cooking process and cools the beans.  Remove ice cubes and drain well.  Meanwhile whisk together in a small bowl, olive oil, champagne vinegar, shallot, mirin, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.   Taste and correct your seasonings.  In a medium sized bowl lightly toss the beans and tomatoes with the Dijon vinaigrette.  Add to a serving dish and serve chilled.  Makes about 3 servings.

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Lemon Cucumbers and Peanut Sauce

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALemon Cucumbers and Peanut Sauce

I’m curious…  Have you ever heard of or seen lemon cucumbers before?  The reason that I ask is that I have to tell you that lemon cucumbers are my all time favorite variety of cucumber.  Every year I grow one or two plants in my little garden and for about 4 months during the summer, I get big handfuls of tennis ball sized sweet little cucumbers.  This year, due to lack of garden space, I had to grow my lemon cucumber plants in a pot.  They did surprisingly well and I will be sure to try that method again next year.

One of the ways I like to eat lemon cucumbers is to slice them into thin slices and dip them into a creamy homemade peanut sauce.  I could eat lemon cucumbers and peanut sauce all day if I could… I first was introduced to peanut sauce by my grandmother many years ago.  She always seemed to have a small bowl of peanut sauce on the table at family barbecues and meals.  I loved to drizzle it on many Indonesian dishes such as pork satay, nasi goreng and gado gado.   Many years later, I’ve taken peanut sauce a step further and put it on pizza, tofu tacos and turkey burgers.  Peanut sauce is so versatile and delicious!

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Lemon cucumbers resemble lemons with the yellow color and oval shape.  What I like about lemon cucumbers is that you don’t have to peel them for the skin is paper thin and you can eat them like an apple.  After picking them, you will notice that the cucumbers have a bit of a rough exterior.  All I do is wash them well and rub off the small little stickers or spines with a damp cloth that grow on the outer skin of the cucumber.   Once cleaned up, the skin is smooth and the cucumber is ready to eat.  Lemon cucumbers are delightfully mild and delicious.  Lemon cucumbers have a short shelf life as compared to the green cucumbers that you see in the store.  Once picked you have to eat them within a day or two.  Maybe that is why they are hard to find except if you grow them yourself or visit a farmers market.  Lemon cucumbers taste great sliced up in salads, on sandwiches or in a pickle.  If you get a chance to purchase or grow lemon cucumbers, be sure to make some of my peanut sauce for dipping!  Enjoy!  Tessa

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Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 tsp. garlic paste
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 lime (juiced)
  • 1 Tbls. Indonesian soy sauce
  • 1 Tbls. sweet chili sauce
  • regular soy sauce (optional, to taste)
  • sambal oelek or red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Lemon cucumbers (regular cucumbers can be substituted)

Grab a medium sauce pan or saucier.  Find a whisk.  Add all ingredients to the pan and cook on low heat for 20 – 30 minutes, whisking constantly.  You want the flavors to marry and the sauce to thicken.  Taste it.  If it is too sweet for your liking, add some soy sauce.  If you want it spicier, feel free to add some sambal oelek or some red pepper flakes.  Remove from heat and let it cool.  Pour into a serving dish.  While preparing the peanut sauce, wash and slice the cucumbers.  Serve cucumbers with the peanut sauce.  Makes nearly 1 1/2 cups.

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Golden Gazpacho Shooters

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGolden Gazpacho Shooters

Every summer there comes a time when I have “almost” too many tomatoes growing in my garden.  Don’t get me wrong, I will eat fresh picked tomatoes with breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It’s just that by mid summer they seem to ripen all at once.  I have limited freezer space at our home so that’s when I share the bounty with family and friends.  I could not imagine a single summer without home grown tomatoes in my garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHeirloom tomatoes and nasturtiums

A few of my tomato plants.  I plant them in sturdy metal tomato cages to keep them growing upright and from falling over.  I also trim the leaves at the base of the tomato plants so all the energy in the plants gets redirected from growing leaves to tomato production.  Did you notice that I cram my plants in a really small space?  No patch of precious real estate ever gets wasted in my garden.  What you see here are early girls, lemon boys and my all time favorite, pineapple tomatoes.  I also planted nasturtiums at the base of the tomato plants.  The nasturtium flowers are edible and have a wonderful peppery flavor.  The bright colored petals are great for garnish or in salads.

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Whenever I head out the side yard to my little garden, my buddy Gromit is sure to follow.  He’s such a comical creature.  While out, he goes on what I call “cat patrol”.  First, he runs straight to the front gate to make sure that there are no uninvited guests in the area and then he follows the perimeter of the fence to ensure that the yard is cat free.  He thinks he’s such a tough guy.  It must be that spike collar of his…  I feel sorry for any unsuspecting cat that happens to be in our yard when he flies out the back door.

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A bucket full of fresh picked garden goodies.  The lemon cucumbers, yellow peppers and tomatoes will be going into my Golden Gazpacho soup.  The remaining heirloom tomatoes and peppers will be oven roasted and tossed in the freezer to be used at a later date when the tomatoes and peppers are no longer in season.  If you happen to have a bunch of heirloom tomatoes that are yellow or orange in color, be sure to set some aside to make some golden gazpacho.  If you love tomatoes and never had gazpacho before, you are in for a real treat.  Gazpacho is an easy to prepare chilled tomato soup that is Spanish in origin.  It’s wonderfully light, refreshing and delicious.  It’s like sunshine in a shot glass!  Enjoy!  Tessa

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds vine ripened yellow or orange tomatoes (peeled and seeded)
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 2- 3 lemon cucumbers
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
  • big pinch of cumin (or to taste)
  • Garnish with tomatoes and basil

Rinse and remove skin and seeds from the tomatoes.  Cut into quarters.  Peel and chop the onion.  Slice lengthwise and remove the stem and all the seeds from the yellow pepper.  Wash, lightly peel and quarter the lemon cucumbers.  Peel garlic clove.  Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender.  Blend until smooth.  Chill well before serving.  Pour into bowls or into shot glasses for elegant mini appetizers.  Garnish with cherry tomatoes and/or basil.  Makes about 6 cups gazpacho.

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Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoasted Heirloom Tomatoes

My little garden is a well planned garden.  It’s a lot of work but it’s completely worth it.  In comparison to other people’s gardens, my garden is small, efficient and in my opinion, for its size, it kicks some serious butt.  By the time spring rolls around, I know exactly what is getting planted and where.  What’s even worse is that I am extremely picky about the tomato plants that I grow every year.  If you don’t believe me, just ask Bruce.  I have limited space so I have to choose my plants wisely.  I make a list and I stick to it.  When it comes to tomatoes, I like a variety of shapes, colors and flavors.  This year I chose Green Zebra, Early Girl, Pineapple, Sun Gold, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Sweet 100, Lemon Boy, Japanese Black Trifele, Mortgage Lifter, Caspian Pink and Moskovich.  That’s my list and I’m sticking to it.  Until today…

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I prefer to do my gardening early in the cool hours in the morning.  I hand water my plants everyday and inspect every one for pests or other possible plant problems.  Everything that I grow is organic and free from pesticides or sprays.  Sometimes, the veggies that I grow are not as pretty as store bought but I don’t care.  Pretty is not everything.  What’s important is that what I grow in my garden is safe for my family to eat.

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My tomatoes are ripening and I just realized that have an alien specie in my garden.  The tomato that you see is not what I intended to plant.  This little unripe tomato completely threw my well planned orderly universe on it’s side.  This tomato was supposed to be a Green Zebra.  Green Zebras are my son’s favorite.  That is why I planted two plants.  This is no Green Zebra and frankly, I was a bit miffed.  Either someone switched tags at the nursery where I bought it or the seeds were switched at birth.    Fortunately I have a backup.  As for the alien specie, it took me about an hour of internet time to figure this one out.  This tomato is called Stupice.  Yes, Stupice.  Go figure.

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One of my favorite ways to prepare tomatoes from my garden is to oven roast them.  It’s easy to do, they taste freakingly amazing and once they are roasted, they are so versatile.  Just toss them in your favorite pasta dish or blend them up for a delicious sauce.  They also taste great on pizza, in soup or even in scrambled eggs.  The possibilities are endless!

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Just toss the tomatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper.

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And roast them…  Roasted tomatoes are seriously delicious.  As for the Stupice tomatoes,  I don’t know why I was having such an issue… Stupice have a wonderful sweet and tart tomato flavor.  It’s highly likely that Stupice will find a place in our little garden next year and possibly in the many years to come.

Ingredients:

  • tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Cut tomatoes in half or into large chunks and remove the tops.  If the tomatoes are small, then there’s no need to slice them. Gently squeeze out some of the seeds.  Toss lightly with olive oil, salt, pepper.  Arrange tomatoes in a single layer on a foil lined cookie sheet (for easy cleanup).  Bake for 45-60 minutes depending on the size or variety of tomatoes.  Cook until the tomatoes start to shrivel and get a bit of color or until your liking.  Remove from oven, let cool and toss in the refrigerator.  Use within a few days.  Can be frozen for later use.  Note: if you don’t like the skins on the tomatoes, just pull the skins off after cooking.  They pop off pretty easily.  Enjoy!  Tessa

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Blueberry Bread

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlueberry Bread

Yesterday morning while Bruce was opening the mail he noticed that our natural gas bill was unusually low as compared to years past.  He was concerned, shouted out to me and asked me what I thought of it.  Well, the answer was easy.  Our kitchen stove uses natural gas and I have hardly cooked anything for the family over the course of the past month or two.  If it was not for fast food, roast Costco chicken, or frozen dinners the members of my family would have starved to death…

I’ve been working long hours lately and I’ve rarely spent time in my kitchen.  My refrigerator, coffee maker and microwave have been the only appliances that have been put to use.  My stove, ovens and stand mixer have been idle and collecting dust.  My camera has remained in the closet and has not been touched.  By the time I get home in the evenings all I want to do is sit on my couch in complete peace and quiet.  I stopped reading my magazines, books and favorite food blogs.  I’ve hardly checked Facebook and ignored my personal emails.  Feral Kitchen has been mothballed and a good home cooked meal has been nonexistent in our home.  On the bright side, I know that these long hours are temporary and life will be back to normal before I know it.  I look forward to getting back into the kitchen.  Cooking makes me happy.

Well, all things considered, today is a brand new day.  Today is different.  Today, I have a day off!

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This morning while out shopping for groceries for the week, I spied two pounds of fresh picked blueberries.  They were just gorgeous!  Bright blue, fat and juicy.  Without hesitation, they went straight into my shopping basket.  I knew what I wanted to do with them.  I wanted to make some blueberry bread for breakfast and maybe even share some with coworkers during the busy work week.  The rest will be packed in my lunch and the others will be made into a tangy blueberry ginger vinaigrette.  If the vinaigrette turns out the way I want it to taste, I will be sure to share the recipe with you sometime soon.

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I love blueberries!  I love the flavor and color.  What’s funny about blueberries is that I refused to eat them as a child.  How weird is that?  I find it so interesting how my palate has changed as I’ve aged.  I’m curious, has that happened to you too?

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My blueberry bread is packed with fresh plump blueberries and is not too sweet.  A slice or two is great with a cup of coffee or tea.  Any leftover loaves are perfect for sharing with friends and family or as a hostess gift.  Makes 3 delicious loaves.  It’s good to be back.  See you again soon!  Enjoy!  Tessa

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbs baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 tsp lemon extract
  • 3 cups fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, canola oil, and lemon extract.  Add blueberries to the wet ingredients.  Now add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Mix until moist and lumpy.  Don’t over mix.  Add mixture to 3 greased 4 x 8 loaf pans.  Bake for 1 hour or until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on wire racks before slicing.  Makes 3 fabulous loaves!

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Snow Pea Slaw

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Early this morning, barely after finishing my cup of coffee, I grabbed my metal pail off the pot rack and headed straight out the back door to my little garden…  My reason?  My snow peas are finally ready to pick!  Every spring I plant snow peas in March and by mid May I have plenty to add to stir fries and salads.  Sometimes, I may even have extra to share with family and friends.  Snow peas prefer cool wet weather and by the time summer rolls around, they stop producing and the vines quickly wither away.

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My favorite variety of snow pea is the Oregon Sugar Pod II.  It’s a hardy variety of snow pea and is fairly resistant to pests and disease.  It’s a prolific producer of beautiful 3 – 4 inch long pods that taste wonderful raw or cooked.

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This year I planted my snow peas in large pots and I supported them with tomato cages.  Once the snow peas are done for the year, I swap the peas out for my favorite heirloom tomato plants.  Growing below the snow peas are edible yellow pansy blossoms.  Behind the peas in the raised boxes are some newly planted heirloom tomatoes.

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Snow peas climb using their tendrils…  Tendrils grow quickly and wrap around anything that will support them.

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The beautiful white pea flowers quickly produce tender green pods.  Within a couple of days, this pod will be ready to pick.  Sometimes my snow peas never make it into the kitchen.  They taste delicious right off the vine!

A few feet away from my garden I planted some giant allium bulbs.

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The round purple flowers are just stunning!  They grow over three feet tall and bloom from May through June.  This is the third year that the allium bulbs have bloomed.  I hope they come back and bloom again for us next year.

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While I was picking the snow peas, I noticed that some of my purple cabbage was ready to harvest.  I planted only 6 heads of cabbage this year but I am starting to think that it was a bit much…  Fortunately, cabbage has a fairly long shelf life in the refrigerator as compared to other vegetables such as lettuce and spinach.  I picked the largest head and thought it would be wonderful in a Snow Pea Slaw.

My Snow Pea Slaw is a fresh combination of snow peas, purple cabbage and an Asian inspired sesame dressing.  It’s easy to make and tastes wonderful!  Enjoy!  Tessa

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 pound snow peas
  • 1/4 pound purple cabbage
  • 1/8 cup canola oil
  • 2 Tbs rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbs sesame seeds (I used black and white mixed)
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar (or to taste)
  • 4 – 5 drops sesame oil (or to taste)
  • salt and pepper

Begin by slicing your snow peas lengthwise into this strips.  To make the process go faster, stack two or three snow peas on top of each other and then slice.  Set aside.  Thinly slice the purple cabbage into similar sized pieces as the snow peas.  Add cabbage to snow peas in a medium sized bowl.  In another bowl, whisk together the canola oil, rice vinegar, sesame seeds, sugar, sesame oil, salt and pepper.  Add dressing to the snow pea and cabbage mixture.  Mix well and serve.  Makes approximately 2 – servings.  Keep refrigerated for up to 4 hours.

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Herb Salt

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Herb Salt

It’s spring in Southern Oregon.  The perennial herbs and plants have pushed through the soil and the chives are ready to bloom.  Lately, I’ve been experimenting with making my own flavored salts.  Last week it was a Serrano salt made with some leftover Serrano peppers that I had sitting in the fridge.  I liked the flavor but it did not have as much heat as I had hoped.  I will try again.  Next time with triple the amount of Serrano peppers.  I like heat and lots of it.  So, I look at it this way.  What is the point of Serrano salt if it does not set your taste buds on fire?

Early yesterday afternoon as I was tending to my pots of herbs on the back patio, I was inspired to make my own Herb Salt.  Buying pre-made flavored or herb salts can be ridiculously expensive and there was is no reason that I could not make it myself.  So I did just that.  I made my own Herb Salt.  My Herb Salt is a simple mixture of fresh picked sage, oregano, rosemary and kosher salt.  That’s it…

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Purple Sage

I just love the color of this sage.  Any variety of sage will do in the recipe for Herb Salt.  Just be sure to pick only the leaves and rinse and dry the leaves well.

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Rosemary

I use lots of rosemary in my kitchen.  It’s readily available for I have a large bush growing on the side of my home.  I pick fresh rosemary all year long and I use it many Mediterranean inspired dishes.   The needles of the Rosemary plant went into the salt mixture…

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Oregano

And finally, oregano…  I have plenty of fresh oregano growing in one of the big pots on my patio.  It’s now starting to take over and beginning to compete with the other herbs in the pot.  It may be time to start transplanting it or even giving some away to friends and neighbors.  Fresh picked oregano tastes fabulous in marinara sauces and other Italian dishes.  It also lends a nice flavor to my Herb Salt.

My Herb Salt is easy to make and can easliy adapted using other types of herbs.  I chose to use rosemary, sage and oregano this time.  I also have parsley, basil, thyme and tarragon that needs to be experimented with.  That’s for another day…

Sprinkle Herb Salt instead of plain sea salt on pork tenderloin, lamb chops or chicken before tossing on the barbecue or grill for a delicious flavor.  It can also be used in soups, stews and sauces.  So the next time you have some fresh herbs that need to to be snipped, be sure to make some Herb Salt.  Enjoy!  Tessa

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup kosher salt (coarse)
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed rosemary
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed oregano
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed sage leaves

Note:  You can use more or less herbs if you choose.  You can also change up the types and ratios if you want.

Begin by washing and drying the rosemary, oregano and sage.  Be sure to use only the leaves and not the stems.  Add salt and herbs to a food processor.  Pulse and then spread onto a small cookie sheet.  Bake in a 225 degree oven for about 35 minutes or until the herbs are dry.  Stir occasionally. Remove herb salt from oven and let cool.  Add herb and salt mixture back to food processor and pulse lightly until desired consistency.  I kept my herb salt a little coarse rather than fine. Store Herb Salt in tightly covered container in a dry place.  Makes about 1 cup of herb salt.

And a final note.  Be sure to save your leftover spice jars.  They can be washed, reused and filled again.  Just peel off the label, wash and dry well, fill with your new spice blend creation, and add a new label!

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