Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ruby Colored Gems

I picked up these little beauties at Raab's fruit farm yesterday morning. My mom suggested that I let the cherries "plump" in some water for a few hours before freezing (for pies). Aren't they gorgeous?

We also love cherry pudding, pronounced "churry puddin" here in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

In some other exciting news: corn is in season!! Poor Emma can't quite eat it this year because of her loose front teeth, but we all enjoyed it, some of us with a spoon.

During the summer, we usually travel a good bit - spending a week in Iowa and two weeks in Florida. We're unsure how the Bradenton/Sarasota area will be affected by the oil spill, so we've decided to indefinitely postpone/cancel our trip. I am obviously quite disappointed, simply because it's nice for the kids to be able to spend some time with us (read: Rob) just having fun without the responsibilities (read: distractions of work/phone/computer) that crowd into our everyday lives. So, my question is: what are your vacation plans for the summer? Do you go to the same place every year? What are some of your summer-time traditions?

In any case, whenever I need a little breath of relaxation, I simply look back to last year -


Our First Harvest

Sugar Snaps and Green Beans!

The rest of our little garden is doing very well, despite being enjoyed by other little critters. To all of the expert gardeners out there: what can I do to keep Japanese beetles away? What could be eating our blueberries (I keep seeing feathers...)?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Eggplant Heaven

I realize for some of you the title is the biggest contradiction in terms you've ever heard. I beg of you to leave your preconceptions at the door. Eggplant can be heavenly. I mentioned in my previous post the Afghan restaurant we enjoyed on Tuesday. I'll be the first to admit that food is not the first thing I think of when I hear the word, Afghanistan. I, like you, watch the news and see caves, deserts, and lots of sand in the coverage of Afghanistan. I am saddened by the unrest in the Middle East. The obvious and first reason for my sadness is the lack of a normal life, especially for children. Car bombings, gunfights, and the pervasive hate that separate groups hold for each other is not a carefree childhood.

The other reason that the constant conflict is saddening is reflected in the loss of culture. I recently read an article about Lebanon and the fact that the culture seems to be disappearing under the stress of strife. I personally didn't realize that much of the Middle East enjoys a Mediterranean climate, landscape, and diet. I don't know much about the history of most of the countries, but I imagine it to be a colorful, ancient, and beautiful one. How sad that we can't fully realize parts of our world because Abraham didn't trust God. I'm not sure that I would have made a wiser decision, because who would believe you could have a child at one hundred, but still - it's kinda crappy is all I'm saying.

After eating the delicious Afghan food, I wish I could forget that the Bible foretells of constant strife in this rich area of the world. I wish we could just all sit around and eat chalaw banjan. I wish we could dip our pillowy Afghan bread into stewed eggplant and roasted pumpkin and all just get along. I'm not typically a "bleeding heart" kind of person, but to think of culture and the traditions of food and family going by the wayside is pretty sobering.

The stewed eggplant, what can I's amazing. I researched on-line to see what I could find (with the help of the menu and the name of the dish). I found a recipe on a Jewish foods website and the results are pretty darn near close to the restaurant version. I didn't have any Afghan bread, but whole wheat Naan is a very close match. The ingredients are few, the preparation easy, and the reviews from the family - mixed. Rob and I really liked it, the kids - Josh said it was "ok", the girls were not too impressed.

I think it's kinda reminiscent of eggplant parmesan or baba ghanouj. I served it over rice, topped it with plain chobani (sprinkled liberally with garlic powder) and fresh mint (with toasted naan for dipping). We had this roasted cauliflower on the side. Veggie Perfection.

Eggplant, Afghan (Buranee Banjan) (D, TNT)
Source: NY Times
Serves: 8

2 medium eggplants (about 1 pound each)
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and sliced (or 4 to 5 large plum tomatoes)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
Fresh mint, finely chopped or torn
Naan or lavash bread for serving

Preheat broiler.

Remove the stems from eggplant and cut crosswise into 1/2" slices. Select the 24 best slices (not the puffy ends) and discard the rest. Sprinkle slices liberally with salt, leave for 30 minutes, then dry well.

Brush slices with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and arrange on cookie sheets. Broil until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side. (Don't cook the slices completely.)

In a deep 12" skillet, over medium heat, sauté the onions in 6 tablespoons of olive oil for 15 minutes, until reddish brown and juicy but not crisp. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Place 8 rounds of eggplant into the same skillet. Top with half of the chopped onion and tomato slices. Mix 3/4 teaspoon salt and the cayenne in a cup; sprinkle 1/3 over the tomatoes. Repeat with another layer of eggplant and the remaining onions and tomatoes. Sprinkle with half the remaining cayenne mixture. Place an eggplant slice on top of each stack and sprinkle with remaining cayenne. Add 1/4 cup water and cover skillet tightly. Simmer about 30 minutes.

To Serve: Spread half the yogurt sauce onto the bottom of a serving dish. Top with the vegetables, lifting stacks carefully. Top with the remainder of the yogurt, and drizzle with pan juices. Sprinkle with mint. Serve immediately, with naan or lavash.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I Was a Vegetarian


I traveled to Philadelphia with my mom on Tuesday to visit my sister. It was my mom's 60th birthday! We are taking a trip to Napa in August to celebrate, but it was really nice to spend time together yesterday as well. I spent a little time the day before making a few snacks for us to enjoy together. I had run out of ideas for a meaningful gift and so I decided that a gift of time in the form of some yummy and healthy food might just fit the bill. We had roasted beet sandwiches on foccacia with goat cheese. I also made a salad with ribbons of cucumbers and a light asian vinaigrette. Finally, we indulged with chocolate tarts.

The foccacia is a Betty Crocker recipe, and the first yeast bread I'd ever had success with. I think it's perfect for sandwiches, because it's hearty but not too thick.

Foccacia (courtesy of Betty Crocker's New Cookbook)

2 1/2 to 3 cups flour
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 pkg yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup warm water (120-130 degrees)
olive oil
2T dried or fresh herbs (I used dried herbes de provence)

1. Mix 1 cup of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast in large bowl. Add 1/4 cup oil and water. Beat in a stand mixer on medium speed for 3 minutes, scraping down sides occasionally. Stir in enough remaining flour until dough is soft and leaves sides of bowl.
2. Replace paddle with dough hook. Continue adding flour, if necessary, and allow mixer to knead for 8-10 minutes, or until dough is elastic.
3. Place in greased bowl and allow dough to rise (in warm place, and covered) for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Dough will double.
4. Punch down dough. Create desired shape (I made on large round bread). Cover and let rise for 20 minutes.
5. Prick the center of the shapes with a fork, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with desired toppings. (possibilities: sauteed peppers and onions, parmesan cheese and herbs, olives, etc)
6. Bake 12-15 minutes at 425 degrees or until golden brown.

To create the sandwiches, I simply roasted some onions and then mixed them with softened goat cheese, 2 tsp balsamic dressing and 1 tsp olive oil. I slathered the goat cheese on the foccacia, layered some roasted beet* slices overtop, and finished with a little leaf lettuce. The sandwiches were warmed in the oven briefly.
*note: to roast beets, simply wrap unpeeled beets in aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil and bake at 350 until tender, skins will simply slip off

Asian Cucumber Salad (courtesy of epicurious)
* 1/4 cup rice vinegar
* 1/2 teaspoon sugar
* 1 teaspoon soy sauce
* 1/2 teaspoon "hot" sesame oil
* 1 1/2 cucumbers

Bring vinegar and sugar to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then cool to room temperature. Stir in soy sauce and sesame oil.

Cut cucumber lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick ribbons using a mandoline or other manual slicer. Toss cucumber with dressing and let stand 5 minutes before serving (any longer will result in soggy cucumbers). Top with toasted sesame seeds.

Chocolate Tart (courtesy of epicurious)
For crust:

* 9 (5- by 2 1/4-inch) chocolate graham crackers (not chocolate-covered), finely ground (1 cup)
* 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
* 1/4 cup sugar

For filling:

* 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
* 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not more than 65% cacao if marked), chopped
* 2 large eggs
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 1/4 teaspoon salt

For glaze:

* 2 tablespoon heavy cream
* 1 3/4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
* 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
* 1 tablespoon warm water

Make crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Stir together all ingredients and press evenly onto bottom and 3/4 inch up side of tart pan. Bake until firm, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack 15 to 20 minutes

Make filling:
Bring cream to a boil, then pour over chocolate in a bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth. Whisk together eggs, vanilla, and salt in another bowl, then stir into melted chocolate.

Pour filling into cooled crust. Bake until filling is set about 3 inches from edge but center is still wobbly, 20 to 25 minutes. (Center will continue to set as tart cools.) Cool completely in pan on rack, about 1 hour.

Make glaze:
Bring cream to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in chocolate until smooth. Stir in corn syrup, then warm water

Pour glaze onto tart, then tilt and rotate tart so glaze coats top evenly. Let stand until glaze is set, about 1 hour.

After our little snack, we headed out to enjoy the city. I like to "eat my way through" anywhere I visit, and yesterday was no disappointment! We started at Trader Joe's, and would you believe they gave my mom a bunch of flowers for her birthday? I'm not sure how they manage to keep their prices so low or their selection so varied, but that place rules!

We then went shopping at Ten Thousand Villages, here is what I bought.

After that we went to the Sansom Kabob House (a traditional Afghan restaurant). It's been a few years since we first ate there, and I remember my brother-in-law ordering a stewed eggplant dish. Thankfully they still had it on the menu and believe me when I tell you that I don't make a statement like this lightly, "it was one of the best things I've ever eaten". My goal in life (and tonight) is to re-create this dish. I'll keep you posted.

I totally didn't miss the meat in my diet yesterday, I happen to love vegetables, I'm just not sure I could go through the rest of my days without bacon. I could be happy (very happy) subsisting on a Mediterranean diet for the rest of my life.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Grilled Pizza

Also known as the world's best pizza.

The concept is crazy simple. I bought pizza dough (for 83 cents) at Price-Rite and let it thaw. I cut personal portions for each of us, floured them and rolled them out. We turned our grill onto medium and cooked each dough for between 3-5 minutes. The dough bubbles and puffs, and you can decide what level of doneness you prefer. As you can see, we had quite the variation in blackening.

After the dough was grilled briefly on both sides, we topped with our preferred choices and then put the pizzas on the top rack to basically melt the cheese. The kids made "taco" pizzas, Rob had pepperoni and cheese, and I topped mine with pesto, oven-roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and onions, peppers, and mushrooms. I declared it "the best pizza in the world".

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Bright Spot...

Well, it's summer vacation! I really enjoy the laid-back lack of routine, and the gorgeous sunshine. What I don't enjoy are fighting children. It's currently "day 2" and we've had our ups and downs. My plan is to keep busy and active and maybe even let my kids help me in the kitchen. This is fairly challenging for me, because I find my kitchen to be an escape. Too often I'll encourage the kids to watch TV while I cook, just for a few minutes of peace.

Some days, I just have to stop and count my blessings. Today the girls were busy.
First there was air hockey with slippers and a penny!

And then there was this darling little set-up! I'm trying to be realistic that our house [this summer] will never be totally clean and picked up. And that's okay (just keep reminding me).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Simple Comfort Food

More often than not, we enjoy basic home-cooked dinners. My family, while willing to try new foods, simply enjoys no-frills meat and potatoes type dishes. One of the great things about the meals I'm sharing is the fact that the oven does most of the work. With some simple chopping and stirring, you can re-create these meals with little fuss.

I decided to revamp my pot roast recipe a little bit by braising my meat and roasting my vegetables separately. I found the flavors more pronounced and much tastier than the crockpot version.

Pot Roast
2 lb chuck roast (mine had a bone)
garlic powder
onion powder
black pepper
kosher salt
4 T butter
potatoes (I used local new potatoes, halved or quartered)
1 vidalia onion, sliced
3 large carrots, chopped (I left the peel on)
4 T olive oil

1. In a large stockpot, heat butter over medium-high heat. Sprinkle meat liberally with salt, pepper, garlic, and onion powder.
2. Brown meat on all sides. Place meat into roasting pan. Add one inch of water, cover and bake at 350 degrees for 3 hours.
3. On a large cookie sheet, combine remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper.
4. Roast at 395 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until caramelized and tender.

We really like ribs, but the baby-back variety is quite pricey and is fairly fatty with little meat. I typically buy the "country-style" spare ribs and with a little time in the oven, they fall right off of the bone! I baked a sweet potato for each of us, simply wrapping each one in foil and baking for about 1 1/2 hrs.

Country-Style Spare Ribs
spare ribs (1/2 lb for each person)
smoked paprika
cracked black pepper
dry mustard
kosher salt
1 cup ketchup
1 T white vinegar
2 T brown sugar
1 small vidalia onion, chopped

1. Sprinkle ribs liberally with paprika, mustard, salt and pepper. Place into roasting pan and fill with one inch of water. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 2 hours.
2. Mix ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar and onion.
3. Remove meat from oven and drain water from pan. Cover ribs with sauce mixture and tent the aluminum foil loosely.
4. Bake for an additional hour before serving.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Simple Math

I'll be the first to admit, I am terrible at math. Embarrassingly, shockingly, bad at math. This simple equation, though, I understand.

Strawberries +

a blind baked crust +

strawberry glaze +

fresh whipped cream +

=delicious strawberry pie

Strawberry Pie

1 baked pie crust
1 cup mashed strawberries
2 T cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
whole or chopped strawberries
fresh whipped cream

1. In a small saucepan, combine 2 T cornstarch, mashed strawberries and sugar. Cook over medium heat until thickened.
2. Layer fresh strawberries in pre-baked pie crust. Use as many as will fit.
3. Pour glaze over strawberries and refrigerate pie until ready to eat.
4. Top with whipped cream.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer is Here

As you could see with my last post, summer seems to have finally arrived! The kids will be finished with school on Wednesday, and we hope to have a really fun time together.

One of my favorite parts of summer are the many roadside fruit and veggie stands that we have access to. I've already picked strawberries five times, and every time I visit the fruit stand, there are more choices.

I've already tried a few new recipes with the produce in season:

Thai salad (carrot and papaya)

2 large carrots, shredded
1 papaya, shredded (skin and seeds removed)
2 T lime juice
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
3 T thai chili sauce
1/4 chopped, roasted peanuts

mix all ingredients and chill for one hour before serving

Udon noodle salad with sugar peas

1 lb udon noodles, cooked al dente
1 pt sugar peas, strung and blanched
1/2 cup cabbage, finely shredded
1/4 cup chopped, roasted peanuts
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
toss above ingredients with peanut sauce

peanut sauce:
1/2 cup peanut butter (I use Jif natural)
2 T soy sauce
2 T finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp rice vinegar
to make sauce:
microwave peanut butter, then add remaining ingredients -

I combined a few locally grown and produced goods for our teachers (strawberries, new potatoes, sugar peas, and Hartman's bread).

Our dinner last night (grilled burgers, pickled red beets, fresh watermelon, and steamed green beans) included many in-season items.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sights in Our Garden

I'm not usually an outside kind of person, but lately I've been a little more into our gardens.

Here is the pile of mulch that was delivered a few weeks ago...

It's finally gone!

Here are a few of our pots

Here is the update on our "consumables"

My veggie patch: sugar snaps, beets, carrots, green beans

Rhubarb, blueberries, tomatoes, eggplant, and herbs (lettuce and swiss chard have not yet appeared).

fig tree

red raspberry bushes

I love zinnias

and coleus and celosia are my favorites

It's amazing how drastically our house can change in just a few short months!

ps...I never finished house-cleaning the inside, and school is over on Wednesday! Oh, and I'm still waiting to drop those last ten pounds, too (just thought you should know).

Friday, June 4, 2010

A World Perspective...

I consider motherhood to be a calling, a divine purpose ordained by God. The dichotomy in the previous statement lies in the fact that I am one of the most selfish people on the planet. Last night I pitched a royal fit when Rob informed me that he had scheduled a dinner appointment and likely wouldn't be home until 8:30. The kids were fighting, Josh seemed to be in a mood, and I was just downright grumpy. Emma wanted to go to her school's ice cream social and I decided it might be a nice diversion. We waited in line for twenty minutes for popcorn (in the world's hottest gymnasium), the kids had two bites of ice cream and we headed home after about 45 minutes or so.

Fast forward to this morning. I played a game of sorry with Emma, before intending to clean my house and do laundry. I was short-tempered with her, because she still can't grasp the concept of moving the pieces correctly. I've patiently (kind of) worked with her many times, and she still is a little confused. While I was eating my breakfast, I perused the "week in pictures" on msn. If you haven't discovered this feature on msn, I highly recommend it. This morning I was dropped to my knees.

Sometimes I get such a clear glimpse of what a wretch I really am. In the archive for this week there was a stark picture of the world that many children live in. There were children playing in Tivoli gardens in Kingston, Jamaica. A little boy walking past a burning oil tanker [ambushed by the Taliban] in Kabul. A mother mourning her 19-yr old son who was killed while serving our country.

The most compelling picture I couldn't move past was an eight-year old little boy who lives in Pakistan. Gilli lives in a house with two other mentally disabled children, hundreds of drug addicts, and a few abandoned elderly adults. In the picture he is tied to a window with a rope and begging for food from some of the other inhabitants. As I sit in my air-conditioned living room eating Chobani with fresh strawberries, my eight-year old's terra nova test results sit on the adjoining leather chair. Across the world is another eight-year old, tied to a window and begging for food. And I was complaining about having to take care of my own children last night. Lord, thank you for the perspective.