Blueberry (pop berry) oatmeal whole grain buttermilk pancakes

20110808-021022.jpgYes. The title is a mouthful, but nothing like the mouthful you will attempt to create for yourself once you taste my latest pancake creation!

I don't know how you feel about pancake mix versus make you own batter, but I say when you find a good product, use it. Then, tailor it to make it your own. I will tell you the brands I prefer to use, but feel free to experiment with ones that you are partial to and already have on hand.

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl: 2/3 cup organic buckwheat pancake mix (Arrowhead Mills), 1 cup buttermilk pancake mix (Bob's Red Mill), 1/2 cup rolled oats, and a heavy sprinkle of cinnamon.

In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients: 1 1/2 cups soy milk, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 2 large eggs, and 1 teaspoon almond extract. Whisk until mixed well.

Pour wet mixture into dry ingredients bowl and stir just until lumps disappear. Your batter should be pretty thick, like muffin batter consistency. Thick batter = thick pancakes, and thick pancakes are perfect for holding the plumb berries. Gently fold in 1cup fresh blueberries (pop berries per Jack).

On a skillet heated to medium (I used the 5 setting on my stovetop), spray a light layer of oil (I use olive oil from a pampered chef pump spritzer instead of buying Pam or another store spray). Spoon 2 heaping tablespoons of batter per pancake and cook for 3-4 minutes per side. Remember to spray the skillet between each pancake batch.

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We topped ours with syrup. No butter for me since they were already olive oily, but my boys did enjoy butter on theirs.

These are really good and being stored away as one of my pancake go-to recipes and, it's hard to make it into the go-to recipe file, because I like to try new things!

vegetable ratatouille

20110821-030650.jpg A slow cooker recipe that doesn't involve beans! This is one of those meals that you just feel good eating. It's packed full of vegetables and little else and, if you use vegetables at the peak of their season, there is so much flavor. The gentle heat of the slow cook method nudges the vegetables' flavors into perfect harmony. Bite after bite, you feel healthier (and happier) than the last.

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This recipe is for a summer-inspired ratatouille using 6 small zucchini, 1 large eggplant, 2 small onions, 8 baby bell peppers of different hues (red, yellow, and orange), 6 cloves of minced garlic, and 3 hugs handfuls of small heirloom tomatoes. The dish is rustic, so no need to follow exact vegetable portions. Cut all the vegetables into bite-sized chunks and toss in the slow cooker. Add 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/2 cup of water, a long drizzle of olive oil, and plenty of salt and pepper.

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Stir to combine and then cover and cook over low heat for 8 hours. Use about 2 cups for dinner tonight. Let the remaining ratatouille cool and portion 2 cup servings into freezer bags to store. It will be good in the freezer for up to 2 months. This will allow you to enjoy a bite of summer in late fall! For dinner tonight, serve the ratatouille over penne pasta. Garnish with parmesan cheese.

Grilled naan pizzas

20110815-071234.jpgWe finally made our own pizzas in our new Seattle home! No take away and bake yourself, no delivery, no carry out...just our ingredients, our grill, and a beautiful Friday night when all three of us were at home for dinner together!

Instead of spending lots of time in the kitchen, I opted for the easy and creative way out and picked up some naan to use as our crusts. The naan was perfectly doughy and thick, yet "personal pan sized" and made for an excellent pizza base for grilling. Spreading out six pieces of naan and a counter-full of toppings, we got to work developing our own pizza creations.

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Here are the toppings we chose from: homemade basil pesto, marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, spinach, kalamata olives, roasted cherry tomatoes, and arugula. My favorite pizza combination was a pesto base topped with a sprinkle of mozzarella and roasted tomatoes, then after grilling, a large handful of arugula and a shaving of parmesan.

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What's your favorite homemade pizza combo? I love trying new ideas for our pies...so, please share! Have a lovely weekend!

Panzanella salad

Inspired by the lovely, Heidi Swanson, I made a "not-your-ordinary panzanella salad" for dinner. Yum! I'm still craving the amazingly delicious peanut salad dressing and the charred bits of tofu and bread that added a dimension of smokiness to the fresh dish.

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Start by cutting two thick slices of a good quality bread (I used an herb foccacia bread that I picked up at the farmer's market) and, then, using a pastry brush, brush both sides with olive oil. Grill on a stove-top grill pan (I have a le creuset grill pan that I adore...aside from cleaning it!) until each side is golden brown, crunchy, and has grill marks. When the bread cools a bit, tear it into bite-size chunks and put them in a bowl to use later.

Next, cut a block of firm tofu into 4 slabs and brush with olive oil. Grill on the same grill pan until each side turns golden with grill marks, about 10 minutes per side. Take care not to let the tofu stick to the grill pan...mine did which by no means hurt the dish, but it did take away some of the fabulous crunchy outside of the tofu...you may want to spray the pan first with olive oil to really coat it well. When it is finished cooking, remove from grill and cut into bite-size pieces and place in a large serving bowl.

Now, make the peanut dressing....excuse me my mouth is watering as I type this because its so good! I let Jack help with this step, which I think was fun for him, yet a bit stressful for me as I had to keep reminding him not to put his hands in the bowl! Combine 1/3 cup mixture of almond butter and peanut butter (about half of each), 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 clove of freshly minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper (use less if you don't like a lot of spice), and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Thin with about 1/2 cup warm water to the consistency of melted ice cream.

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Just before serving, pour the dressing over the tofu and toss gently. Add the bread chunks and toss again. It will, at first, look like a lot of dressing, the bread really soaks it up. Place then tofu and bread mixture on top of lettuce and then top with chilled roasted tomatoes.

Greens and chickpeas

This was one of those nights were I craved a warm, healthy homemade meal (yes, the day was thunderstormy and chilly not like the day most of you were suffering through) but I didn't want to spend a long time in the kitchen, especially cleaning-up (my least favorite part). So, I surveyed the ingredients we had on hand and, decided on sautéed mixed greens and chickpeas with grits. It may sound odd, but it's super tasty and quite filling!

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20110726-020150.jpg Before I left my job in Georgia, my friends at work gave me a very generous going away bag filled with all sorts of travel goodies and new home stuff. One of the items in my package was a bag of the fabulous Georgia grits that I love from Logan Turnpike Mill...a little gift of the south to take to Seattle with me :) Tonight, the grits became our grain side and they were extra scrumptious. Maybe being away from the south made them that much better?! Real stone ground grits, as opposed to the instant bleached white variety that are found in most grocery stores, require a good rinsing to remove big grains and extra slow heat cooking time. I made a cup of grits with 4 cups of water and cooked them uncovered on simmer for about 45 minutes. I cheesed up Jack and David's grits and kept mine simple with a small pat of smart balance "butter". "Mmmmm" was the chorus heard around our dinner table as we tried them!

For the greens, I sautéed a good amount of olive oil with 4 cloves of minced garlic. When the garlic was fragrant, I added kale first and when that cooked down a bit, I added a large amount of collard greens, turnips greens, and mustard greens. You can choose any greens combination you like or have on hand, they are so versatile and easily mix and match. Because the greens cook down so much, I like to cook a lot, but this requires adding the greens in batches so that they will all fit in the pan. I sautéed them for about 20 minutes making sure to get the veins tender. Near the end of the cooking time, I added a can (yes, I bought a can!) of drained and rinsed chick peas to the greens in the pot and stirred well to mix.

Serve alongside each other for a tasty southern inspired supper. Hint: Mixing the greens with the grits on a few forkfuls created deliciously tasty bites.

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Quinoa with roasted vegetable (and a pre-dinner mojitos cocktail)

Am I the only one who hasn't been cooking with quinoa on a regular basis??! I've cooked with it several times previously, but its never been part of a regular rotation. I adore it...it's nutty flavor and fun texture adds a lot to a dish and it's incredibly simple to prepare. When I make it, I feel like I'm stepping it up a bit from brown rice or pasta, when really it's easier to cook than either of those foods!

20110730-021333.jpg About an hour before dinner, you will want to stick your chopped veggies into the oven to roast at 375 degrees. To toast to summer's lovely vegetable bounty, I roasted a pound of mini heirloom tomatoes, 4-5 small zucchinis, and 1 small onion. Cut all of the vegetables to about the same size so they roast evenly, toss with a coating of olive oil and some kosher salt. The vegetables will roast on their own so that you can enjoy the night outdoors, but I do recommend stirring once or twice during their hour of cooking for even browning.

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Before you head outside, make a round of mojitos. They don't exactly go with the dinner theme, but we had tons of fresh mint and, wow, they were good! Note: The simple syrup should be made earlier in the day so it has time to cool down. It will last for weeks in the refrigerator in a sealed container making future mojito or other cocktail nights even easier!.

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Fifteen minutes prior to eating, you will have to tear yourself away from the outdoors to start the quinoa. Add 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of water to a medium pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until water is gone. Seriously. That's it!

Mix the quinoa into the roasting pan with the vegetables. Serve with some fresh summer fruit...we enjoyed it with figs and mangos. Oh, and you can add sparkling water to the mint and limes left behind in your mojitos glass for a refreshing and hydrating dinner beverage.

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A Mexican supper of fresh citrus margaritas and spicy black bean enchiladas

20110811-061619.jpgWe had friends over for a fun Mexican supper of avocado, mango, and lime guacamole, delicious Emerald Valley salsa (one of my new local obsessions), spicy black bean enchiladas, a yummy baked zucchini, onion, and tomato dish shared by our friend, citrus margaritas, and an ice cream and sorbet dessert with honey, pistachios, dark chocolate chips, and butter cookies.

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20110811-061631.jpg Besides the dessert, I think Jack and Johanna's favorite part of the meal was helping themselves to the chips and guacamole appetizer. Look how into it they are!

A note about the spicy black bean enchiladas, if you decide to make them (and I think you should, which is why I'm sharing the recipe and my notes!). They are probably perfectly yummy made as described by Andie, but I made a few tweaks. Of course, I used slow cooked black beans instead of canned and, then, skipped the sautéing of garlic and onion steps since I added those ingredients to the slow cooker. Also, I used a Walla Walla white onion instead of red, a can of regular diced tomatoes instead of fire roasted, and omitted the sugar and cilantro.

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20110811-061716.jpg Having a good time using the lawn mower to push each other.

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It was a fun evening and think we may have perfected this margarita recipe, making it our go-to. I'm already craving another round! Cheers and happy weekend!

20110810-020417.jpg Perfectly Citrus Margaritas Combine 1 1/2 cups of white tequila, 1 1/2 cups pulpy orange juice, the juice from 8 limes and 6 lemons, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and 1 1/2 Blue Moon beers. Stir to combine. Add slices of lime to the glasses or pitcher for garnish. Pour over lots of ice and serve with a slice of red pepper, just because it's festive and pretty.

Watermelon and Mint Skewers

So it appears that watermelon and mint are all the rage this summer...were you aware of this?? It seems like everywhere that I turn someone is talking about this pairing. Rightfully so. Fresh mint leaves really balance the sweetness of the watermelon to create the perfect summer fling!

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I got a little bit creative here and instead of a watermelon salad, I made watermelon skewers, which I found to be an easy and fun way to serve my appetizer dish at a friend's house.

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First, cut the watermelon into small cube shaped bites. Then, tear off and rinse small to medium sized mint leaves from your bunch. Finally, cube feta cheese into small bite sized pieces. Now, assemble the 3 ingredients onto a toothpick, placing the mint leaf between the watermelon and feta cubes. Place skewers carefully into a bowl or onto a platter.

Now, make your "dressing" for the skewers. Boil 2/3 cup of white balsamic vinegar for about 7 minutes or until it is reduced to about 3 tablespoons. Take care to watch it carefully because it will burn...trust me! Drizzle the balsamic vinegar reduction onto the skewers and tah-dah...you are left with a palate whetting skewer that is a little sweet (watermelon), a little salty (feta), and a lot delicious!

Pasta with seasonal greens

Truthfully, there is nothing overly exciting about this dish aside from the fact that it is always good. Really good...that is, if you are a bitter greens lover like us! And, the cool thing about this meal is that the taste of it changes a bit with each season, depending on the type of greens that are available.

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Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt generously and add 3/4 pound of pasta (your choice). Cook for about 12 minutes, cooking time will depend on your pasta type. Then drain, reserving a bit of the liquid to thin out the dish.

While the pasta is cooking, sauté 3-4 cloves of garlic in a large pot with a good amount of olive oil. When the garlic is fragrant, add a large amount of mixed greens (I used nearly 2 full bunches). Any type of greens will do...I love to just browse and get what looks the best at the farmer's market. For tonight's dinner, I used turnip greens, spinach, and collard greens. Cook until wilted.

Combine the pasta and greens (along with all of the olive oily juices) in a large bowl (or back in the pot if you don't want a lot of dishes to clean and you just want to dish out your plates from the stove top...nothing wrong with cutting corners midweek!) and salt adequately. Shave in some good quality parmesan because when it's good, a little can go a long way.

Slow cooked pinto beans

Yes. I did it again. I told you I wouldn't, but I did...This week another slow cooked meal post using beans. But I've decided, if people think brown goat and think beans, I will not be offended!

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Seriously. For all of you whom I haven't converted yet, here is your chance to jump to the other side. Say NO to canned beans tonight and try slow cooked pinto beans instead. You will not be sorry.

I cooked about a pound of pinto beans for 7 hours in the slower cooker on the low heat setting. Today, I was feeling lazy and did not sauté the onions and garlic before adding them to the beans. And, guess what...it still turned out delicious! The slow cooker is so forgiving (and, it doesn't heat up your kitchen, a bonus for all of you suffering from the endless summer heat wave!).

For tonight's dinner, we created our own burritos at the table with the pinto beans, flour tortillas, cubed avocado, sliced cherry tomatoes, diced mango, salsa, and a squeeze of lime. Sooooo summery fresh, so simple, and so good! I'm glad to have bags of pinto bean leftovers in the freezer so we can recreate this meal again soon!

Homemade pesto with orzo, broccoli, and avocado

I bought a huge bunch of basil from our new favorite shopping market with no definitive plans for it...it's summer, the price was right, and it just smelled and looked too good to pass up. Instead of using it throughout the week to give everything I touched a hint of basil, I decided it was time to perfect my very own pesto sauce. 20110721-013548.jpg

Dutifully doing my research, I read about two dozen pesto recipes gaining ideas from lots of cooks. This is what I decided on: Browngoat Pesto: Put about 3 cups of loosely packed basil leaves into a food processor. Add 1/3 cup of pine nuts, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 4 small cloves of garlic, and a pinch of kosher salt. Blend until smooth, then slowly add another 1/4 cup of olive oil blending to emulsify. It's simple, vegan, and freshly delicious. It will last for a week in the refrigerator in a sealed container or you can freeze it in ice cube trays and then pop the cubes into a freezer bag so that you have small portions to reheat during the winter season when the basil is not as abundant.

I served it with a recipe loosely adapted from Heidi's Super Natural Every Day, a cookbook that I adore (thank you again, Lara, for this wonderful gift!). I use the book almost weekly for some recipes but mostly for ideas about how to cook the foods I have on hand.

Summer Orzo Salad: Bring a large pot of water to boil, salt generously, and add 2 cups of orzo pasta. Cook for about 13 minutes, drain, and let sit. In the meantime, bring a small amount of water to boil in a large pot, then stir in 2 heads of raw broccoli cut into small florets and a big pinch of salt. Steam for about 4 minutes, depending on how soft you like your broccoli to be. The broccoli can be drained in the same colander with the orzo. Dump the orzo and broccoli into a large serving bowl and stir in about 1/3 cup of pesto and the juice and grated lemon zest from 1/2 of a large lemon. Gently fold in 1 medium avocado cut into small slices and top with 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts. The lemon gives this salad a welcome note of cheeriness while the avocado adds a creamy depth. It's really good and makes leftovers for yummy lunches! (The avocado will probably brown a bit in the leftover portion, but it's still okay to eat.)

David's graduation + recipe for grilled feta and buttered turnips

20110802-105144.jpgPlease allow me to step back in time a bit to say, "Congratulations, sweets. I am so, so proud of you!" This is all so long over due (today marks 3 months since medical school graduation!), but my brain was dealing with so much in May...too much. I could barely make it through the simple tasks of each day. To clear a space for celebration, to slow my brain enough to have fun...it just wasn't possible. I tried. Really. I did. But, I know that I didn't fully participate in the graduation festivities...I certainly wasn't capable of adding to the cheery occasion in the way a wife, best friend, and partner should have. I wasn't even in a place where I felt comfortable retreating into my own world...the place I usually turn when I have nothing more to give...because my own world was tumultuous and frightening.
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I'm so happy to be in a place now where jumping for joy seems to be a routine part of my day. My head is feeling clearer and I am capable of celebrating. Capable of truly experiencing, embracing, and creating happiness. So, today, I want to say thank you, David, for working so hard and getting through it all...congratulations on being a double doctor!

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I know our marriage is my most important relationship. I'm sorry that I wasn't truly there for your celebration....but I hope you, too, feel that we have surfaced from the fog and found each other again. I feel renewed and want for you to know that I am forever grateful to you, and that Jack and I will always be here, right by your side.

20110802-105158.jpg (Jack's bowtie is from urban sunday. It's called the Seattle tie. I waited until after match day to purchase it, knowing I wanted him to wear the one with our new city's namesake!)

Today's recipe: Grilled feta, before I started my mostly plant based diet (I say "mostly" because I made the change for health reasons and my real goal is to limit saturated fats. Really limit them. Because most saturated fats come from animal products, I now choose to eat mostly plant based foods. I prefer it to eating fat-free versions of real foods...ick. I still have occasional treat meals when we go out or when I discover a new food and cannot imagine my family tasting it without me...I am obsessed with food, as may be clear, so giving up a whole category of foods, permanently, is too upsetting.).... Okay. Tangent. Back to feta cheese :) ...it used to be one of our favorite things to throw on the grill and have for dinner.

Wrapping a block of feta in foil, drizzling it with olive oil, and then grilling it for about 20 minutes makes a wonderfully savory meal paired with grilled pitas and, of course, a tasty summer vegetable! Tonight, our veggie is turnips.

If you pre-slice your turnips into thin wafers, while the feta is grilling, you can brown them in butter in a cast iron skillet taking time to pop in from outside only occasionally to turn them. They are done cooking when they are browned evenly...then, they melt in your mouth with their buttery sweetness.

It's a simple, savory, and sweet summertime meal.

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A new slow cooked beans recipe and overly indulgent nachos

It's true. Almost every week, I cook a big pot of beans in our slow cooker to use in various ways throughout the week and also to freeze for using later. I don't know why, but a freezer full of homemade beans makes me feel secure. By having that in place, I always know that I can prepare a healthy and flavorful homemade meal even on a very busy day. I promise to get more creative with my slow cooker recipes, but this week it's another pot of beans. Instead of just connecting you back to my original black beans recipe post, though, I thought I would take a moment to rewrite a general recipe for slow cooked beans and then share with you one of my true indulgent ways to eat black beans.

Slow cooked beans:

To prepare your dried beans, pick through about a pound of beans looking for small pebbles and then rinse thoroughly in a colander. Next, place the beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover the beans by a few inches. Cover the pot with its lid and leave it on the counter or stove to soak overnight at room temperature. You will be thankful for the time you take to prepare and soak your beans because soaking actually speeds the cooking process (which is super helpful if you are cooking the beans on the stovetop) and creates a plumpness to the beans that you don't always get when you skip the soaking step.

This next step you can either do the night before or wait until the next morning. Finely chop a yellow or white onion and sauté it in a skillet with 3 or 4 cloves of minced garlic and a healthy pour of olive oil. Sauté until the garlic and onions become aromatic and tender. If you do this step the night before, simply cool down the garlic and onions, then cover and place in the refrigerator. If you sauté them right before you cook the beans, simply add the onion and garlic mixture to your bean pot along with any oil left in the skillet.

In the morning, drain the beans and discard the now dirty and discolored soaking water. Put your beans in a slow cooker or back in the same pot and add fresh water in a volume nearly triple the amount of beans. If you are going to be away for the day or just want the beans to cook themselves, put them in a slow cooker along with the garlic and onions, sprinkle with kosher salt, set the slow cooker to low heat, and cook for 6 hours. If you are cooking the beans on the stovetop, bring the water in your pot to a simmer and cook the beans with the onion and garlic mixture, uncovered, for 40 minutes to longer than an hour depending on the type of bean and their freshness. Stovetop bean cooking requires some hands on work because you will need to sample regularly to gauge doneness. Every time you taste, be sure to taste more than a couple of beans because they don't always cook at the same speed and a bean that's not quite cooked is icky. Season the stovetop beans with kosher salt in the last 15 minutes of cooking, when the beans are almost finished. If you season them with salt at the beginning, it sometimes makes the beans breakdown and get crumbly.

Regardless of the cooking method you choose, you will be left with a large pot of beans to enjoy in many dishes. The beans you don't plan to use in a few days should be drained and then placed in quart-size freezer bags to freeze for later.

Now, for my indulgent black bean dish that is just so tasty, bean lover or not, it's hard not to enjoy it. I'm forced to be more creative now than I was here with this dish since I have decided to eat a mostly vegan diet, but cheesy, sour creamy nachos are the way to do it...so, if you wish, pile it on!

20110720-015253.jpg For these, I kept it simple and topped blue corn tortilla chips with a large spoonful of black beans, steamed and lightly salted broccoli, a spoonful of sour cream, grated sharp cheddar cheese, and a heavy drizzle of hot salsa. A deliciously satisfying dinner!

Our first Seattle picnic: black bean salad at Magnuson park

The sun was out, David was home, friends were available, and I was itching to get outside and out of the kitchen (well, out of the kitchen after preparing our dinner)... this made for a perfect combo for our first Seattle picnic! I shared photos from our picnic adventure a few weeks ago where the duck family visited and Jack played in the freezing Lake Washington water, but I've been saving this amazing black bean salad recipe that I made for our picnic dinner for a "new recipe" Thursday. The salad actually has 2 recipes, but both are very easy and trust me...its totally worth the multiple steps, because this is a darn good salad! You start by roasting a pint of cherry tomatoes. This is one of my "new things" in the kitchen...the sweetness that unveils itself in the roasting process is amazing. It really opens up a whole new level to the tomato that is unseen by eating them raw.

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Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and toss in a large bowl with 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon natural sugar, and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Place the tomatoes and all the oily juices on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes.

20110719-023309.jpg The tomatoes are ready when they start to brown around the edges. When they are finished, remove from oven and let cool. Keep any unused roasted tomatoes, with the olive oil sludge, in a sealed glass jar for up to one week in the refrigerator.

20110720-124344.jpg They can be used on tons of things...mixed into beans, pasta, rice dishes, eaten alone or on a crusty slice of bread...you will invent ways to eat them because they are so good!

While the tomatoes are roasting, place about 4 cups of black beans in a bowl and mix gently with the zest and juice of 1/2 of a large lemon, a healthy pinch of kosher salt, a small handful of feat cheese crumbles, and about 1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds. DO NOT skip the toasting of the sunflower seeds...it may be the secret ingredient in this dish that sends it over the edge. Man, it's just so yummy! Once the tomatoes have browned and fully caramelized and then cooled off a bit, mix about 3/4 of the amount you roasted (about 3/4 of a pint) into the black beans.

Serve the salad at room temperature so the flavors can be singled out and really shine through. Carry to a picnic or make it part of a picnic dinner at your own dining table. Enjoy!

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Grilled salmon, buttered turnips, arugula and strawberry salad

The salmon here is amazing! I know I told you in last week's post that I discovered an unbelievable fish stand at our farmer's market...well, I'm serious. This salmon is SO good and this is coming from someone who never really cared for this fish in an unsmoked form...I used to make myself eat it because of all of it's health benefits. Having access to this amazing fresh fish up here makes me actually look forward to salmon nights! Tonight's dinner is simple and lovely. A perfect dinner to help you maximize your enjoyment of each other and the outdoors. As the coals get warm on the grill, start preparing the turnips. Slice the white turnips into thin slices (trying to make them no thicker than a few credit cards stacked on top of each other). Next, warm about 1 tablespoon of butter in a cast iron skillet. When the butter melts, place the turnips in the skillet and cook until browned well on both sides (approximately 10 minutes per side). As the turnips cook, you can make the salad by tossing arugula with quartered strawberries, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and kosher salt. Finally, grill the salmon fillets about 5 minutes on each side and simply season them with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and salt and pepper. A perfect outdoor summer meal. Enjoy!

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Today is the last day to enter my blog contest. Winner will be chosen tonight at midnight PST...good luck to those who enter!

Black bean bowl

When we were in Bend, Oregon over the 4th of July weekend, we had an amazingly simple, yet fantastic lunch one day from a little restaurant tucked inside a large shopping area. I have been craving the lunch since that time, so I decided to recreate it in my own way for tonight's dinner...black bean bowls filled with slow cooked black beans, fresh vegetables, and ooey-gooey toppings like sour cream and cheese. First you want to make a big pot of black beans. As usual, you will have lots of beans left to freeze or to use for other meals throughout the week (yay!).

As dinner time approaches, cook your rice (color is your preference...I always prefer brown for it's texture and nutty flavor, David always prefers white) according to the package or bin directions. I now keep all of my pantry staples on an open wire shelf displayed in jars so I've been shopping exclusively from the bin sections at our markets...my rule of thumb for cooking rice is 1 cup of rice to 2 cups of boiling water. I just keep an eye on the rice during the cooking process, stirring occasionally, and stop the cooking when the water is gone and the rice is ready to fluff with a fork- about 20 minutes for white, 45 minutes for brown.

Add rice and black beans to a nice-sized bowl. Then, go wild with your toppings...we chose black olives, avocado which along with the black beans adds creaminess to the bowl, sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream, steamed and lightly salted broccoli, and lots of hot salsa.

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Eat with a few corn chips and salsa and an icy beer. And, remember to enter my blog contest for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate! Contest ends Wednesday night.