Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summer Quinoa Salad with Fennel, Squash, Peas, Leeks and Corn

There is something mind numbingly peaceful about shucking peas.

The tug of the string, the snap of the casing, the pop, pop, pop of sweet little peas hitting the bowl.   (Or, the floor.)

Feisty little things. 

I'm heading out of town again.   Visiting the family in New Hampshire.     The weather report is predicting mid 70s and sunny.    A vacation from the overly balmy 98 we are dealing with in North Carolina today.  

I told myself I'd get up early and hit the trail before the sun rose and the cicadas woke up.   (Didn't happen.)

What did happen is a sweat soaked mid-day romp through the woods, fending off gnats and breathing in warm jasmine coated air.   Sunscreen dripping from my red skin.   All the more sweeter for those little gnats.   They like me.  

I think they might like this salad also.   It's sweet.   And cool.

Given our pending escape, I did a swing through the fridge to clear out the 'forgotten'.  I was rewarded with peas, corn on the cob, leeks, baby fennel and some yellow squash.  

They came together to produce a light and fragrant summer salad when combined with quinoa.   If you've stopped by here before, you know how much I love quinoa.  

The corn and freshly shucked peas add crisp sweetness and color; the fennel and basil in the dressing add fragrance.   The leeks provide a little earthiness which together with the olive oil and garlic give this salad a little more depth.   This recipe makes a huge bowl of summer salad.    Divvy it up into sides or eat as a main if you are looking for a light vegetarian dinner.

Cool and sweet and strangely calming.

Do you do this?   The fridge sweep before traveling?    

Summer Quinoa Salad with Fennel, Squash, Peas, Leeks and Corn

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, green and white parts only, halved and sliced
1 cup freshly shucked peas*
3 ears corn, kernels removed
4 small yellow squash, chopped
1 baby fennel bulb, sliced thin and chopped

Prepare the quinoa.   In a medium pot, add 1 cup rinsed quinoa to 2 cups of water.   Bring to a boil.   Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.   Remove from heat and set aside.

While quinoa is cooking, prepare vegetables.   In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium low heat.   Add leeks and saute for 5 minutes until softened.    Stir peas and corn into leeks and saute for another 3 - 5 minutes.    Raise heat to medium and add in squash and fennel.    Saute for another 3 - 4 minutes until crisp tender.     Remove vegetable mixture from heat and prepare dressing (below).

Combine cooled quinoa, vegetables and dressing in large bowl.    Use all of the dressing for a wetter salad.   If you prefer drier, use less.  

Basil Fennel Vinaigrette Dressing

1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, loosely packed
1 tablespoon chopped fennel fronds (the dill looking part)
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 - 5 turns cracked pepper

Add all ingredients to small bowl and whisk together until combined.  

*Fresh peas add a special sweetness and crispness to this salad, but you could also substitute with frozen.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lake House Salad with Italian Balsamic Vinaigrette

Coppertone.   Burning coals.   Oreo cookies.

Smells like Memorial Day Weekend.

Lathered in lotions to kick start our summer tans, decked out in neon bathing suits, reading the latest issue of Glamour.    If I'm honest, throw in some big hair and way too long fingernails.   True children of the 80s.

First weekend of summer.

At the lake in New Hampshire, hanging out at the kitchen counter.  Feet freshly rinsed clean from sand.   Wrapped in towels to keep from soaking the furniture.

With the Indy 500 whizzing by in the background, we dangle our feet from stools and take breaks from the sun.    Hot dogs with mustard straight from the grill.    Salads doused in Italian dressing.   Oreos for dessert.   Oreos for a snack.   Oreos... just because we could.

Sweatshirts in the evening.   Cool lake air.   Baseball with our neighbors.  Rummy on the porch.   Movies on the couch.    Sleeping like little babies.

(These days, it's a little less about the oreos and a little more about the salads and the sunscreen.)   

What is it about holidays that bring back memories from our childhood?   What smells do you equate with summer? 

Lake House Salad
serves 6 - 8

Head of lettuce, rinsed, rough chopped
2 cups baby spinach
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cup snow peas, chopped
6 - 8 mushrooms, sliced
1/4 large red onion, diced
1/2 cucumber, chopped

Add everything to a large bowl and mix.   Toss with vinaigrette when ready to serve.


Italian Balsamic Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons honey
salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to small bowl and whisk until combined.   Salt and pepper to taste.   Serve with Summer Salad or any other salad that you prefer!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Life Lessons from BlogHer Food 2011

Life lessons from a food blogger conference?  Stick with me... I think you'll find a few nuggets of wisdom.

I've had a few days back from BlogHer Food in Atlanta to unwind/recover/think about the trip.    I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend a conference with a group of truly diverse, talented, energetic, intelligent and savvy women and men (yes, there were a number!)   You can pretty much throw any stereotype you may have of a 'blogger' right out the window.   Definitely not one size fits all.  

500 bloggers with interests (and locations) all over the map.   Baking, travel, history, politics, unique dietary lifestyles, the environment... it was all there.   If you can think of it, someone has a passion for it and is writing about it.   I'm still working my way through a stack of business cards trying to tie it all together.   So much squeezed into two short days.   Focused learning intermingled with socializing and a constant growing "to-do" list of ideas to incorporate back at home.

Being surrounded by so much talent is incredibly energizing and empowering and at the same time very overwhelming.  I focused my personal agenda on the topics of photography and writing, with a sprinkling of technology and marketing.  I arrived home mentally drained after two packed days.

I met several bloggers who are establishing their blogs now and applaud them loudly for their decision to learn before doing.   I took a different path.  My personality requires that I jump in feet (or head) first (minus the floaties).  I had no idea conferences like this even existed.   If you are a blogger, new or old, thinking about attending, just do it.   For a newbie, I'll admit, it is a little intimidating at first, but I remind myself that newbies attract other newbies and no one really wants to be alone.

I didn't get to see too much of Atlanta.  I dined with the very talented Jes from Urban Sacred Garden (check out her blog... beautiful in so many ways...) and field tripped it to the Sweet Auburn Market one afternoon.   While brief, I enjoyed my time in this southern city and ate (entirely) too much.    Sigh.

This urban market was a visual feast, brimming with pork products, iridescent blue crab, BBQ, ground on site burgers, uniquely flavored popsicles and all kinds of vibrant fruits and vegetables.  A great outing if you find yourself in Atlanta with time to spare.  Bonus points if you like Yellow Root Tea.   There was lots of it.  (extra bonus points if you can tell me what it is.)

I'll leave you with a few lessons learned that I hope you will find useful as well:

Learn light.   Learn dark.
Be you.   Authentically you.
Everyone starts somewhere, usually at the beginning.
You are your own brand.
Dive right in.
Be active, not passive.
Use your senses, all your senses.
Edit yourself.   Less is usually more.
Tell your story.   Listen to other people's stories.
Ask questions, lots of questions.
Life is a series of chapters.
Be unique, but figure out when you need to color within the lines.
Get closer to the source.
Change starts at home.
Get a little mad sometimes.
Be the King (or Queen) of your household.
Simplicity is good, but sometimes messiness can be very effective.
Strive to be an artist.
Try new things.
Practice, practice, practice.

PS - In case you are wondering, that's a "Soul Roll" in the first picture.    Think lots of southern things stuffed into a freshly fried egg roll.    I hear it got good reviews.

What life lessons have you picked up in unexpected places? 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tandoori Lentils and Sweet Potatoes

The trip home yesterday was uneventful.

I woke up.   Packed my bags.   Looked around the room.  Checked out of the hotel.   Grabbed a taxi.    Chatted with driver on a traffic free trip to the airport.    Checked into my flight.   Breezed through security.   Bought two magazines.   Read one magazine.   Found my seat at the back of the plane.   Ate peanuts.  Read another magazine.   Took a five minute nap.   Landed.    Called John to pick me up.   Walked outside.   Got in car.

Truly.  Uneventful.

After all of the buzz and excitement of the past couple of days, my re-entry into normal life was quite calm.  

I had a wonderful time at BlogHer Food in Atlanta.   Still digesting it all (pun intended).  

I'll share some of this with you here, but for now, will share our dinner from last night.  

Our conversation in the car ride home:

"I'm tired."

"Okay, so what do you want for dinner?"

"Don't care.   What do we have?"



"Bread, peanut butter and jelly, one egg."

I knew there had to be more to it.   Sure enough, my vegetable drawer still held a virtual bounty of last weeks  farmers market score.    A couple of sweet potatoes, some baby spinach.   Carrots.   Garlic.  Cilantro.  A bag of lentils that's been sitting in the back of my pantry waiting for the right day.  I started to develop a plan, inspired by Smitten Kitchen's recipe for Curried Lentils and Sweet Potatoes.

Ignore the fact that it was 90 degrees in North Carolina yesterday.   Not exactly soup weather.  I cranked the AC inside and was rewarded with some healthy and colorful comfort food, perfect for unwinding after a long weekend away.  Sweet and mildly spicy, highly flavorful.    The depth of the spices was lightened by liberal use of cilantro and sprinkling of lime.  Filling and nutritious.  Will definitely make this again.

(As a bonus, this recipe is multipurpose.   If you like soup, cook it less.  If you like stew, cook it more.  Great leftovers too.)

How was your weekend?   Has your re-entry into Monday been bearable? 

Tandoori Lentils and Sweet Potatoes  (6 - 8 servings)


1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 medium sized carrots, peeled, sliced
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Teaspoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon tandoori spice*
3 teaspoons grated ginger
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 cup lentils, rinsed
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
garnish - light sour cream, cilantro, lime juice


Heat oil on stove in large soup pot until warm.    Add carrots and sweet potatoes and saute on medium heat until slightly softened, about 5 to 8 minutes.    Add chopped garlic and ginger and saute another minute or two until fragrant.   Stir onion powder and tandoori spice into vegetable mixture until coated.

Pour chicken broth and water into pot and stir.   Add lentils and bay leaf and bring mixture to a boil.   Cover and reduce to simmer for 30 minutes.     Add in chopped spinach, salt and pepper and stir.   Cook for another 30 - 60 minutes on low heat until you reach desired consistency.  

Remove from heat and remove bay leaf.  Serve garnished with light sour cream and liberal sprinkling of cilantro and lime juice.

*I use Penzey's Tandoori spice, which can be found online or in local retail shops.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On the Road Again

I was supposed to post a recipe for this today, before I head out of town.

I wanted to impress you with my superior recipe development skills in the event that any of my soon to be met friends from this upcoming weekend visit my blog.   It was the one final thing I was going to post before leaving.    Unfortunately, I can't find my beautifully hand written and well tested recipe anywhere.   Despite tearing apart the kitchen this morning.   You'll just have to trust that I did want to impress you (really, I did).  

I am not planning on doing anything else to get ready for this trip.   I made a conscious decision to just show up and maybe have a little fun.   No pressure.   No meeting to prepare for, no presentation, no complicated travel arrangements.

I'm heading to Atlanta to attend the 2011 BlogHer conference.    My first trip traveling solo since last year in Europe.    Solo and won't know a soul.   Fabulous.   I am actually super excited about it.    

Truth be told, I felt guilty for about two minutes.   I had a few flashbacks to a certain "Real Housewife" of "Somewhere" who hadn't traveled anywhere without her husband since they were married.  (Think years.  Don't ask me how I know this.)  

I'm over feeling guilty, because that's kind of lame, but I am back to feeling excited.   I've read my 39 page pre conference guide and reviewed the getting ready checklist.   Then I worked on some really important stuff like painting the remaining 8.5 of my toenails pink as they haven't seen the light of day since my honeymoon; going for a really long walk in the woods because I've been feeling lazy and exercise is the perfect pre travel happiness drug;  making these banana cupcakes with our ever growing collection of brown bananas.

Sounds like I am procrastinating, doesn't it?    In any event, I'm looking forward to lots of learning, fun and hopefully some new friends from this trip!  I think it will be good for me to get away on my own again.  

PS - I want to thank you for all of your fun comments on my sandwich post.  I almost didn't write it as it felt a little ridiculous in its simplicity, but I'm glad I did.   I got hungry just reading your comments.

I'm curious, what are your thoughts on solo travel?   Love it or hate it or somewhere in between? 

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Favorite Sandwich

Do you have a favorite sandwich?

I'm on a crazy egg kick at the moment.   Such a perfect little food.   The "incredible edible egg" all wrapped up in a biodegradable package, full of protein and so versatile.  I've been playing with frittatas and quiches lately but I always come back to the simple fried egg.   A little crispy on the edges, but still oozy in the middle.   Definitely has to be oozy.

Did you know that the egg has 13 essential minerals and vitamins and only 70 calories?   Not too bad.

The egg is really the cornerstone of this sandwich.   Add a little avocado and some mustard and you have yourself a great little lunch.   I'm not even sure this qualifies as a recipe, given how simple it is, but sometimes simple truly is best!

What's your favorite? 

Egg and Avocado Sandwich


1 egg, fried
1/2 avocado, sliced thin
two slices whole wheat bread
Dijon mustard
salt and pepper, to taste


Fry egg to your usual preference.  I recommend sunny side up and soft in the middle, purely for the ooze factor.

Lightly toast two slices of bread.   Spread one side with Dijon mustard.   Top with avocado slices.

Add egg to second slice.    Season with salt and pepper.   Put the two parts together and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Trip to the Farmers Market

Beets!   Good.

Beets from the Farmers Market!   Sooooo good.

Aren't these gorgeous?   Everything about them screams earthy perfection.   Dirt covered and all.

Enough about the beets.   We made it to the NC Farmers Market this weekend for the first time in, well, forever.   I don't know why I avoid the Farmers Market in the colder months, seems easier to just order the CSA box.    But as soon as warmer weather arrives, this is definitely one of my favorite destinations.   So much to choose from, so much eye candy!

We filled our bags to the brim.    Spring onions, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, peas... 

Check out these potatoes...

They made us giggle (Farmer's Market humor).

We wandered over to the flowers.   John and I apparently have different methods in choosing our spring plants.   I was all set to pick out bunches of beauties to plant in our yard and garden and display on our front porch.   John suggested we make a plan first.   Sigh.   (Although it means we will be back this weekend!)

Rounded the trip out with a visit to the pork farmer.   That's him... the actual farmer.    (We picked up a package of fresh bratwurst, which I proceeded to make, Wisconsin style, and they were fabulous.)

All in all, a great visit.   Looking forward to our return this weekend.  

Do you have a local Farmer's Markets?    Any favorite must haves during your visits? 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Greens and Beans

It's Friday.   Pretty happy about that.   Yesterday was one of those days that I wanted to do a do-over on starting around 3pm.   No real reason.   Was a beautiful sunny blue sky day, I got lots done, but just wasn't working for me.    Some days are just this way. 

Last night we took a walk around the neighborhood and talked about ordering pizza for dinner tonight.    I can't remember the last time we did that.  I should make it myself, but feeling supremely lazy.  

One more night of what John calls "Vegetable Surprise".  

This one consists of farm fresh arugula, white beans and baby green garlic.    Have you tried green garlic before?    It has a subtler flavor than regular garlic, but looks more like a leek with an onion attached to the end.  Was a nice alternative.  

Thanks to all of you for your supportive comments earlier this week.  It really meant a lot.   

We had a nice night celebrating.   The pesto with summer roasted vegetables and whole wheat pasta was better individually than the sum of its parts.     Something about the whole wheat and pesto didn't mesh.   Plus, it turned a really strange unphotogenic shade of green.   The summer vegetables were wonderful though... fresh corn, radishes, grape tomatoes and asparagus, tossed with olive oil and roasted at 400 degrees for about twenty minutes.      

The flowers were a gift from me to me and from John to me.    I must have been sending out an "I need flowers" vibe that day. 

Arugula, White Beans and Green Garlic Wilted Salad


1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 stalks green garlic, white and light green parts only, sliced
1 can great northern beans, rinsed
2 bunches arugula
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste


Heat olive oil in large pan on medium low heat.    Add diced onion and green garlic to pan and saute 3 - 4 minutes.    Add drained can of beans to onion mixture and heat for another 2 - 3 minutes.  

Add arugula to pan and saute until slightly wilted, 1 - 2 minutes.  

Remove immediately from heat and toss with apple cider vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.


I happen to love arugula.  I love the spiciness and bitterness of it.   For those that aren't huge fans, the apple cider vinegar helps to tone it down a bit and round out the flavor with a bit of brightness.   This is a refreshing summer side dish that only takes a few minutes to put together. 

I'm still looking forward to pizza tonight though... 

What are your plans for this weekend? 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Birthday Pesto and Memories of Cinque Terre

Today's is my mother's birthday.   Even though she is no longer with us, every year it is easier for me to imagine that she would fully expect us to spend the day celebrating.    

As time heals and happier memories replace more difficult times, I've found comfort in doing things she loved.    My mom loved to cook and we often cooked together.   When I was older this was mostly over the holidays when we'd travel to get together with family.    My dad would always politely complain that we would make too much and would warn us to keep it simple.    But really, that's not much fun is it?

But today is all about fun and simple and definitely celebration.    With warmer (and almost downright hot) temperatures finally here, I start thinking again about summer foods.  Fresh pesto tops the list.  When the basil is still young, green and fresh and hasn't yet blossomed out of control, or worse yet, wilted and withered into dusty shades of old brown crispy leaves.  

This simple pesto begins with the most basic ingredients:   spinach, basil, olive oil, lemon, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.    Thrown into the blender and that's about it.  

Tonight this pesto will transform a summer pasta dish I am experimenting with for our little birthday party.     Whole wheat pasta tossed with all of the best (almost) summer vegetables I could find, roasted in the oven and bursting with flavor.     Treated with a coating of freshly made pesto, I'm thinking this is not only going to be good, but celebration worthy.   And that's really what today is all about.

Before we get to the recipe, here's a few images from a family trip to Italy about five years back which inspired this birthday menu.    We spent a memorable day together in Cinque Terre, hiking the hills, sipping local wine and eating fresh pesto with even fresher pasta on the edge of the sea.    Cinque Terre is everything that good pesto is.   Simple, beautiful, fresh, lemony, earthy, and just a touch salty.

Spinach Basil Pesto


2 1/2 cups baby spinach
1 1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts
juice of one medium lemon
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt to taste


Add the first five ingredients to blender or food processor and blend until combined.   Add in cheese and blend again.   Salt to taste.


It's that simple!

I'll let you know how the summer pasta turns out.    Wishing you a celebration of your own kind tonight!