Sunday, May 27, 2007

Rocks. Chick'n. Quorn....

This weekend, we were supposed to be in southern Illinois. We were supposed to be camping in the rugged Trail of Tears State Forest, at the southern end of the Ozarks. We were supposed to be eating eggs cooked in a cast iron skillet over a camp stove. We were supposed to go without a shower for three days and smell like nature. However:

The forecast was for rain...and lots of it. As far as I know, it is STILL raining as I write this Sunday evening. As you might have guessed, we ended up staying in Chicago.

Not that it was so bad....but yesterday we tried to console ourselves. We could have been hiking through beautiful terrain and drinking late night wine in the forest. Instead, we found ourselves measuring concrete once again with our hiking shoes as we passed Starbucks. Ugh. And we made up a ridiculous song about rocks, chick'n, and quorn. Every verse was the same....

A bright little shiny part of our weekend (literally) is our new tabletop gas grill. This means that grilling on our super windy deck is now possible! Our beloved charcoal grill just wasn't going to cut it anymore for a time-efficient evening meal. Tonight it is perfectly cool outside and we are both happily remembering that we have tomorrow off. We're grilling quesadillas and inhaling guacamole.

Black Bean Quesadillas
1 15-oz can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 bell pepper (red or orange), chopped finely
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
1-2 c shredded cheese (we used pepper jack)
5-6 12" flour tortillas
vegetable oil (for grilling)
Combine ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Season with salt & pepper.
To make quesadillas, brush one size of tortilla with vegetable oil. Turn over, and spread a layer of filling on one half. Fold in half, and place on a hot grill. Grill 1-2 minutes on each side. Repeat with remaining tortillas. We usually cut each of these into 3 wedges for easier eating.

2 avocados
juice from 1 lemon
juice from 1 lime
1 T chopped red onion
1 tsp sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1 Roma tomato, chopped finely
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped finely
Mix all ingredients together, and keep the avocado pits in the guacamole to maintain that beautiful green color. Chill (if you can wait) and serve.

After tonight's meal, we came to the conclusion that this may just be the first of many hot weather staples.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Green Weekend (and a graduation)

We spent last weekend in my nativeland for Rae's college graduation (B.A. Biology from Luther College; soon she'll be off to post graduate study learning to make body parts... er, prosthetics!). It was fantastic to hang out with my family for a few days, and even with the high energy that is always part of a graduation weekend we enjoyed quite a bit of the area's tranquility (something we can't get in Chicago). Above is a picture of John holding a little piece of Iowa.

Brent, Michelle, John and I went for a little walk before the graduation ceremony to Twin Springs: cool, serene, and beautiful.

This is Mom's new vegetable garden, it's fantastic! It's in an area on the acreage that gets plenty of sunlight, and in no time it will be bursting with veggies. Fortunately, the pups Lucy and Ollie haven't made their mark here....

Cucumber seedlings, freshly sprung from the garden. They are so sweet, and so tiny. Isn't it crazy to think about how food begins?

I counted about five of these big guys over the weekend, they're huge. And loud, I might add.

A cozy nest was spotted in one of the evergreens lining the acreage my parents live on. Tiny morning doves are taking a nap.

These two, a little older, were a riot. In peeking in at them, they froze as if stillness would hide them from our curious eyes. I wonder what they are thinking.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sweet Potato Fries

Oh, yeahhh....sweet potato fries. Sometimes there is just nothing better. Even if you don't like sweet potatoes, they're worth trying. A co-worker of mine suggests adding dried dillweed, but I think they are just fine on their own.

1-2 large sweet potatoes (or yams, if that's what is available)
olive oil (or butter)
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the sweet potato into strips or wedges; be sure to make them as uniform as possible for even cooking.

Spread on a baking sheet or 9” x 13” pan, and drizzle with olive oil (about 1-2 tablespoons; if using butter, dot the potatoes with bits of butter). Sprinkle with salt & pepper, and toss to make sure everything gets coated. Place in the oven.

They'll probably take 45-60 minutes to bake properly...seriously, though, this is one dish that I can easily forget about as long as the timer is on. I like them crispy, but take them out whenever they are easily pierced with a fork and done to your liking.

Leftovers rating: High. Delicious anytime.

(Almost) Faux Paella

Okay, this really isn't paella at all. There isn't even seafood in it (though there could be...maybe I'll use some shrimp next time). It's “almost” in that there is rice, a little meat, some peas, and some seasoning... and, well, that's about it. It was almost 90° today, and I came home from work looking for a quick and easy food fix. This is great on its own for a light meal, or combine with salad or another side dish.

1 box Spanish rice mix (I used Near East brand)
1/2-1 c cubed ham
1 c frozen peas

Cook Spanish rice according to the package directions, and add ham near the beginning of the process. Once the rice is cooked, stir in frozen peas and cover for a few minutes until they thaw. Fluff the rice with a fork and eat!

Leftovers rating: High. Why not?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Meet Simon on Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day! I called my mom earlier today, and she woke up to a happy surprise: my dad built a vegetable garden for her and brought her breakfast in bed. sweet! I'm planning to get a few pics of the garden when I visit next week. She's been digging in the dirt all morning now (one of her favorite pastimes) and has a few tomato plants and some pole beans firmly in the ground.

On a non-gardening note (but related to eating)
this is Simon the Squirrel. In some strange way, he has become part of our lives and munches happily on nuts whenever possible (we have to ration the nuts, as I worry he'll become too dependent on us). Simon talks to us with his body language, and it is absolutely hilarious (everything seems to translate to “I want a nut”). Fortunately, he gets along just fine with our other deck inhabitants...crows are nesting on the east side, sparrows to the west, and we keep seeing a male cardinal that must be living in the vicinity as well. Oddly, Simon likes to dig near the romaine lettuce plants but won't actually uproot them. Sign of affection? Neuroses?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Tomato Blossoms

The three tomato plants are all blossoming, and a couple of pea-sized fruits are budding out. I'm experimenting with the Topsy Turvy tomato planter my mom gave me a couple years ago; the plant is upside down and it is supposed to be a way to grow the veg (fruit?) without stakes. So far, so good, though at the time the seedling itself was almost too big to insert properly into the contraption...note to self, don't squish tomato plant to the point roots break. Lesson learned.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Roasted Vegetable Wraps with Goat Cheese


Happy May Day! We decided to celebrate the occasion with roasted vegetable goodness (I'm sensing a theme this week with wrapped items, too....) and came upon a substantial log of Vermont goat cheese at the grocery store. The wraps themselves only require about 4 ounces (or less) of the cheese, so now I'm on the hunt for ideas to make use of the rest of it! This recipe is really just “a little of this, and a little of that” and it can be easily modified.

1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 zucchini, sliced on the diagonal
2 medium sized portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 small bunch asparagus
6 wraps
3-4 oz goat cheese
juice of 1 lemon (optional)
sea salt & freshly cracked black pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss vegetables with a few tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet or 9x13 pan, and roast for about 30 minutes (the exact time will depend on your oven as well as how thick/thin the vegetables are).

When finished, drain in a colander to remove the excess moisture (otherwise, the wraps will be a little soggy). Put some of the vegetables on a wrap, squeeze a touch of lemon juice over them (optional), and add a little black pepper. Slice a little goat cheese over the top. Fold the wrap burrito-style and cut in half for easier eating.

Leftovers Rating: Medium/Low. The vegetables lose some of their flair, but it's fine for lunch the next day.