Burger Night!

Although we do not eat much meat at home, one of my favorite foods will always be a thick, juicy cheeseburger. Jill, on the other hand, does not eat any red meat at all (well, maybe she will steal a small bite of bacon from my plate on occasion). Despite the general lack of red meat in our home, I figured it was time to light up the grill and kick off the summer season with some delicious burgers.

While in her office a few weeks ago, my co-worker, Erin, gave Earth Fare’s bison and smoked gouda burgers rave reviews and insisted that I buy some and grill them. So, I did. The burger was made with bright red ground bison meat and shredded smoked gouda cheese. The burger was visibly fresh. For Jill I was hoping for a fresh salmon burger or a fresh turkey burger. Not offering these options at Earth Fare, I settled on some Blue Horizon Wild salmon burgers from the freezer case.

Burgers and veggies on the grill
Burgers and veggies on the grill

To go with the burgers, I grilled one golden zucchini from my garden and an eggplant. I chopped the grilled veggies up, mixed them with a freshly diced tomato, and seasoned them with some herbs de Provence to make a ratatouille-inspired salad. I also made kale chips out of some sesame kale from the Earth Fare deli.

The bison and gouda burger was as delicious as Erin promised it would be. Topped with a little spinach and some ketchup, and served on a ciabatta roll, the burger was better than any burger I’ve has in a very long time. The smoked gouda mixed into the meat really added to the flavor of the burger. I didn’t try the salmon burger, but it looked good and Jill said it was tasty. I cannot think of any better way to welcome in the summer than burgers and vegetables on the grill.

Burgers with ratatouille inspired salad and kale chips
Burgers with ratatouille inspired salad and kale chips

The Garden Expansion Project

I love having a garden.

About a year and a half ago, I built a square foot garden and planted kale, rainbow chard, cabbage, and some herbs. A couple months later, I supplemented the square foot garden with tomatoes, an earth box with eggplant, and a salad greens table.  The backyard garden has provided Jill and I with a plethora of vegetables and herbs to supplement our store bought groceries. Many of these homegrown items been the inspiration behind the foods we’ve cooked and featured on the blog.

This spring I decided to expand the backyard garden. With predrilled lumber and decking screws courtesy of my parents, I assembled a garden box a few feet away from the square foot garden. In this box, I planted three varieties of small heirloom tomatoes and some okra.

Artie and his garden
Photo Jill took of me with the garden

I received a couple more earth boxes from Jill’s family and planted golden zucchini and eggplant. The zucchinis have the most beautiful, golden yellow blossoms.

Flower on the summer squash
Summer squash flower

The garden’s first yield of the season was two gorgeous golden zucchinis.  Except for the rich golden color, these summer squashes look much like their dark green counterparts commonly found in the grocery store.

Yellow summer squash
Yellow summer squash

As the  season progresses, I look forward to featuring some more of the garden’s harvest on the blog.

A Birthday Cupcake Tasting

Every year I typically try to do something fun for Jill’s birthday. It usually involves a small party with multiple variations on a type of food. One year I made three types of pizza from scratch, one year I made three different types of brownies, and one year I made four types of macaroni and cheese. Unfortunately, due to schedule conflicts, we did not have a party last year. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass un-celebrated this year, we decided to pick the tradition back up. This year Jill requested a cupcake tasting.

We ordered three 20 inch pizzas from Decent Pizza: a cheese pizza, a pizza with Bradley’s Sausage (a locally made sausage) and fresh mushrooms, and a pizza with eggplant and spinach. The pizza was served, of course, with a selection of Cupcake Vineyard wines, including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot.

Decent Pizza makes delicious pizza

I made a spinach and blueberry salad with the most delicious spinach (grown in my parents garden), organic blueberries from New Leaf Market, and freshly grated parmesan cheese. My parents always grow this amazing, hearty, dark green spinach; it makes the spinach from the grocery store seem flat and tasteless.

A spinach salad
Garden fresh spinach, organic blueberries, and parmesan

Following the pizza and salad came the cupcakes. I made a selection of regular-sized and mini cupcakes in four flavors. The wildflower honey cupcakes were made with honey from the bees Jillian’s family used to keep to pollinate the orange groves. Sunflower seed butter cupcakes were a more subtly flavored spin on peanut butter cupcakes. Chai tea cupcakes were a boldly spiced cupcake to contrast the more delicately flavored wildflower honey and sunflower butter cupcakes. The red velvet cupcakes, a cupcake standard, were made with natural red food coloring made from beet and hibiscus extract. The natural food coloring did not give the cupcakes the same intensely red color traditional red velvet cupcakes have, but they tasted great. While we liked each of the cupcakes, Jill and I both agreed that the sunflower butter cupcakes were our favorite.

Happy Birthday, Jill!

Assortment of cupcakes
An assortment of cupcakes

Chickpea Kuri Curry

I wanted to branch out a bit and try a couple of new things, so a couple of months ago I tried to plant Jamaican pumpkin, blue Hubbard winter squash, and red kuri squash in the garden. Sadly, my attempts failed. So when I saw red kuri squash at New Leaf Market, I had to try it.

Not entirely sure what to do with the red kuri squash, I took a hint from the vegetables moniker and decided to make a kuri curry. With inspiration from the Quick Chickpea Curry recipe in the Everyday Food Magazine (January/February 2010), I made several modifications to make the recipe my own.

Red Kuri Squash
Red Kuri Squash

To get started, thinly slice one medium onion and mince four cloves of garlic.  Saute the onion and garlic in about 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat until the onions become translucent.

Onions and Garlic
Onions and Garlic

Dice the red kuri squash into 1/4 inch cubes and saute the squash, onions, and garlic over medium heat until the squash is soft, about 7 minutes.

Kuri Squash and Chickpeas
Kuri Squash and Chickpeas

Once the squash is soft, add two cans of drained and rinsed chickpeas, four tablespoons of ketchup, 1-1/2 teaspoons of Penzy’s Balti seasoning, one teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. I like the taste of the Balti seasoning, but your favorite curry powder would be a g0od substitute.  Stir to combine.

Penzeys Balti Seasoning
Penzeys Balti Seasoning

Add two cups of water and bringthe mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the mixture reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer the mixture until thickened, about 25 minutes. In my opinion, the dish almost resembles baked beans when it is ready.

Simmering Curry
Looks Like Baked Beans

To make the meal a bit more substantial and to provide more color, I served the curry on a slice of pita bread with two handfulls of baby arugula. I added a dollop of plain greek yogurt to add some creaminess and cut the heat from the Balti seasoning a little bit. The unique bite of the Balti seasoning (it’s not like any other curry powder I’ve ever eaten) with the mellow, almost nutty taste of the squash and the texture of the chickpeas (which hold up well and do not get too mushy from the cooking) make the chickpea kuri curry a great use for the winter squash that refused to grow in my garden. I did save some of the seeds from the red kuri squash and I hope to be making this dish again next year with red kuri squash from my garden.

Chickpea Kuri Curry
Chickpea Kuri Curry

A Handful of Summer

Artie picked this from our garden this week.  So fresh and vibrant.  This is what it is all about – enjoying seasonal foods when they are at their peak.  This basil was still warm from the hot Florida sun shining on our garden.  The smell of the handful of basil perfumed the kitchen with the essence of summer.

Oh basil, how I love thee; let me count the ways: I love you in herb butter on ciabatta bread.  I love you with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and a drizzle of olive oil.  I love you on pizza and pasta and pretty much any Italian dish.  I love you in pesto (duh!).  I love you with watermelon, feta, and a sprinkle of salt (it’s good, I promise!).  I love you on top of Thai eggplant, in tomato soup, and in tofu and broccoli stir fry.  So many ways to love basil!

In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver talks about her frustration with her local newspaper food columnist who writes recipes for basil pesto made with “tender, young basil leaves” in December.  December?  In December, our basil plant will be a frosty memory and acquiring enough basil to make pesto from Publix would cost a small fortune.  But, we can enjoy this delicious treat all winter long by taking a little help from the freezer.  The easiest way to store fresh herbs is to wash, dry, chop, and mix with olive oil (basically make a pesto) and then freeze in ice cube trays.  Once frozen, the herb cubes take up very little space and can be added to soups, stews, or pasta sauces all winter long.

Oh basil, how I love thee; let me count the ways…

Eggplant and Zucchini Pasta Bake

This dish is a recipe I created based on several ingredients that I happened to have and needed to use. I harvested three Japanese eggplant and a bowl full of heirloom tomatoes from my garden and wanted to use them while they were still fresh. Also, while visiting our friends Joshua and Erika Spence over the 4th of July, we stopped at the Winter Park farmers market and bought whole wheat mafaldine pasta from the Pappardelle’s Pasta stand. I had been waiting for the perfect time to use the pasta and decided not to wait any longer.

The ingredients

To make this dish, you need the following ingredients:

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Japanese eggplant, cut into 1/2 in pieces
  • 3 zucchini, cut into 1/2 in pieces
  • Tomatoes (I used three medium-sized tomatoes and five small, slightly larger than cherry tomato-sized, tomatoes), quartered
  • 2 bell peppers (I used one red and one yellow pepper), chopped
  • 8 oz Mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 26oz jar pasta sauce (I used Field Day Organic Roasted Garlic pasta sauce)
  • 1/2 lb whole wheat pasta (I used mafadine, but a farfalle, ziti, or rotini would work well too)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Saute the onion and garlic in about two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until the onions are translucent. Then add the eggplant and the zucchini. Saute for five minutes.

Eggplant fresh from my garden

Add the diced tomatoes to the pan and cook for another five minutes, stirring gently to distribute the heat. Add salt and pepper.

Heirloom Tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes from my garden

Stir in the jar of pasta sauce and turn the heat down to low. Simmer the vegetable mixture for 10 to 15 minutes minutes, stirring occasionally.

Vegetable mixture
The vegetable mixture before adding the pasta sauce

Prepare the pasta according the the directions on the package while the vegetable mixture simmers.

Dried whole wheat mafaldine

When the pasta has finished cooking, add the pasta to a 9 by 13 inch baking dish and cover with the vegetable mixture. Stir to mix well.

Pasta and veggies in a baking dish
The pasta and veggies in a baking dish

Top the pasta and veggies with a layer of mozzarella cheese.

Mozzarella Cheese Topping
Mozzarella Cheese Topping

After adding the mozzarella cheese topping, bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the cheese turns a light golden brown color.

The cheese has turned golden brown
Bake until the cheese turns a light golden brown color

Serve and enjoy.

Finished dinner on a plate

This dish is reminiscent of a spaghetti casserole, but the tomatoes make the sauce is a bit more vibrant than I typically find in a casserole and the whole wheat pasta complements the dish well without dominating the flavor. The whole wheat pasta also holds up well with the hearty sauce and vegetables.

Garden Salad

A couple of months ago, I received Sean Conway’s book Cultivating Life as a gift from my parents. Thumbing through the book, I took note of a number of projects. One project in particular grabbed my attention and left me helpless against the urge to run to Home Depot and start building. After making the list, buying the supplies, and checking the weather forecast for rain, I immediately began work on my Portable Salad Greens Table.

After a couple of hours in the backyard, I turned wood, screws, window screening, mesh hardware cloth, nails, staples, and dirt into a small garden box for salad greens. I checked Target and New Leaf Market, our local co-op, for lettuce seeds and came home to plant Jericho Lettuce, Red Oak Lettuce, Little Gem Lettuce, Bellesque Endive, Wild Arugula, and Sweet Valentine Lettuce.

Within a couple of days, the seeds began spouting:

Salad Greens Table Top View
Salad greens table
Salad Greens Table Side View
Side view

After a few weeks, the salad greens had grown a few inches:

Salad Green Table - A few weeks later
A few weeks later

When our friends hosted an indoor barbecue last week, I checked and the salad greens were ready to be harvested.

Grown salad greens ready to harvest
Grown Salad Greens

After harvesting the salad greens, I cleaned them well and dried them using a salad spinner. I then added some heirloom carrots slices, a chopped orange pepper, Sahala Snacks brand Valdosta pecans nut blend, and organic feta cheese.

Garden Salad
Garden Salad

The garden grown salad greens had a more robust flavor than most of the salad greens I have purchased from the grocery store in the past. The wild arugula had a distinctively peppery taste that complemented the feta cheese and the pecans while the Bellesque Endive had a bitter, but not unpleasant, taste. The heirloom carrots rounded out the subtle earthy taste that should be characteristic of every good garden salad.

We’re looking forward to more delicious salads from the salad greens table garden!