Spring Fruit makes Fantastic salad Combinations!

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It’s so exciting when I can pick fresh fruit right off of my own tree in my backyard. It doesn’t happen often as I only have 5 dwarf fruit trees and most of them only bear fruit every other year. However, my white peach tree gives me a very early harvest each year of whatever I can protect from the squirrels and birds!

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With my abundance of  picturesque baby lettuces that I receive from my Talley Farms CSA box, a salad inspiration was born. I paired my juicy fresh peaches with my Talley Farms greens and blueberries to create an unusual, delightful salad. I added some French feta cheese crumbles and used my favorite vinaigrette ingredients to finish the salad.

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To make the peaches more interesting, I grilled them. I cut them in half, removed the pits and basted them with some of my vinaigrette dressing. I grilled them in my panini press which turned out to be the perfect process to get them lightly toasted and flavorful. My peaches are quite juicy and delicate so grilling them on the barbecue would most likely have been a disaster. This way, I could get nice grill marks and ensure that I would not lose my fruit between the grates!

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To go along with my salad, I decided to use my panini press again and grilled halved steamed artichokes. I served them with a dipping sauce made from a mixture of mayonnaise, soy sauce, dijon mustard and a chopped preserved lemon. It was a nice accompaniment to my fruit based salad.

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GRILLED PEACH AND BLUEBERRY SALAD

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4 medium size peaches (or 2 large)
  • 1/4 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 cups baby lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons peach balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt & freshly ground pepper 

Directions

  1. Make vinaigrette. Add vinegar, honey & olive oil to a tightly covered glass jar and shake until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. Cut peaches in half and remove their pits. Brush some of the vinaigrette on both sides of the peaches. Heat a panini press and lay the peaches on it, cut side down. Lightly press it closed ensuring that you do not smash the peaches and remove all of their juice. Grill until you get nice grill marks and then turn if needed to achieve light grill marks on the other side. (This may not be necessary depending on how firm your peaches are. Mine were quite delicate so it was necessary to turn them instead of pressing hard)
  3. Put the lettuce leaves in a bowl and toss with enough vinaigrette to coat, but not wilt the lettuce. Plate the dressed lettuce on two dinner size plates. Garnish each salad with 1/2 of the feta cheese and blueberries. Lay the peach halves on top of the salad and serve immediately.

Note

  • Feel free to be creative and use other substitutions you might have on hand.

(Printable recipe can be found in my recipe index under Salads)

 

Fine Dining in Amsterdam

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On our recent trip to Amsterdam, we were referred to one of their local Italian restaurants for dinner by our wonderful hosts at the Breitner House. Since we knew they had immaculate taste in everything culinary, we were looking forward to our evening at Incanto.  It is located at Munt square with views on the flower market and the canals. Upon entering, we knew we were in for a real treat!

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The ambiance was delightful and we were greeted warmly and directed to a nice table on the window with a great view. We were promptly served an amuse bouche and a selection of fresh crusty Italian bread. With the help of their Sommelier, we selected a bottle of Barbaresco and they kindly decanted it for us at the table. 

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There were so many interesting items on the menu, it was difficult to chose! Not your typical spaghetti & meatballs kind of place. We began with their Involtino di verza ripieno al baccala e polenta – deepfried roll of green cabbage filled with cod and polenta. It came beautifully served on a piece of slate and was intriguing and delicious!

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For our primi course, we selected their Gnocchi all’astice – Gnocchi with fresh lobster and Tortelloni con radici con salsa di bietola – Tortelloni filled with parsnip and beetroot sauce. These dishes, in my opinion, were the highlight of our meal. The gnocchi was delicate yet not overly rich and served as a wonderful base for the divine fresh lobster served on top. The tortelloni, made with fresh pasta was flavorful yet mild, showcasing the earthy, brilliant red beetroot sauce. It was more like a painting than a dish of food in it’s presentation and absolutely gorgeous as well as tasty. A work of art!

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For our secondi piatti, we ordered their Pesce del giorno – Catch of the day, a beautiful piece of fresh fish cooked tender and juicy with a succulent crisp skin and vegetable accoutrements. The other dish was their Medaglioni di vitello alla Wellington – Veal Wellington with Mushrooms. It was another work of art, plated exquisitely however not my favorite part of the meal. I felt that the veal was a bit lacking in the flavor & texture that I would have expected. 

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Although full and satisfied, we wanted to try a dessert so we selected a sample plate offering a variety of tastes. Another artful display, both colorful & creative and wonderfully scrumptious! I fell in love with the least likely item on the plate which was the textured crunchy looking ball with garnish on top. It had a marzipan flavor that I love and was so tasty that when I remarked how much I loved it to the waiter, he returned with another one on a small plate for me! How nice is that?!!

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A great dining experience that I would highly recommend if you find yourself in Amsterdam!

 

A Unique Review; Castles along the Rhine

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I apologize for my lack of posts lately as I have been traveling in Europe visiting the Castles along the Rhine River. It was a fabulous trip beginning in Amsterdam, traveling through Germany and France and ending in Switzerland. It was such a phenomenal experience that I decided to add it to my Restaurant Review section as a review of the amazing food that was served on our Uniworld River Cruise!

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The cruise itself was wonderful in every regard. The stateroom that we had was generous in size & amenities and the staff on board were incredibly responsive and competent. A river cruise is an intimate way of traveling as the ship holds only a fraction of what you would find on a traditional cruise line and you get to view the country you are traveling through constantly as you are never far away from land.

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The food was incredible! They serve breakfast and lunch buffets where you can select whatever you prefer. I found it easy to limit myself to areas that interested me without feeling the need to try everything, allowing myself to eat comfortably without getting overstuffed. The dinners were served European style offering a selection of four courses usually with an amuse bouche to start. I really favored their portion sizes as they were plenty to feel satisfied and limited enough to feel comfortable. Perfect for me!

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The elegance and taste is what really impressed me about their meals. As you will see from my selection of photos, they take culinary arts seriously and they met all of my foodie expectations and beyond!

So here is your cruise through some of my culinary adventures on the Uniworld Castles along the Rhine – River Cruise:

Gouda Cheese Souffle served with figs and Proscuitto salad with smoked bacon foam

Gouda Cheese Souffle served with figs and Proscuitto salad with smoked bacon foam

Lobster Cocktail with thinly sliced English celery, Granny Smith apple crunch, iceberg chiffonade in Marie Louise sauce

Lobster Cocktail with thinly sliced English celery, Granny Smith apple crunch, iceberg chiffonade in Marie Louise sauce

Beef Carpaccio on pesto mayonnaise, tossed rocket lettuce, topped with crunchy garlic croutons, tomato concasse and homemade olive ice cream

Beef Carpaccio on pesto mayonnaise, tossed rocket lettuce topped with crunchy garlic croutons, tomato concasse and homemade olive ice cream

Poached white asparagus risotto with lobster and Reisling foam

Poached white asparagus risotto with lobster and Reisling foam

Seared Salmon Trout Fillet with a spinach potato strudel, assorted seasonal vegetables and crayfish bisque

Seared Salmon Trout Fillet with a spinach potato strudel, assorted seasonal vegetables and crayfish bisque

Slow roasted veal tenderloin topped with Noilly prat béarnaise espuma and basil chiffonade on asparagus points, fingerling potatoes, glazed baby carrots

Slow roasted veal tenderloin topped with Noilly prat béarnaise espuma and basil chiffonade on asparagus points, fingerling potatoes, glazed baby carrots

Rosemary mustard crusted rack of lamb served with herbed jus in red wine, seasonal vegetables, blue cheese with bread and butter pudding

Rosemary mustard crusted rack of lamb served with herbed jus in red wine, seasonal vegetables, blue cheese with bread and butter pudding

Homemade lemon sorbet with fresh pineapple and blue curaçao

Homemade lemon sorbet with fresh pineapple and blue curaçao

Cassis and meringue mousse, layered with sponge and forest berries

Cassis and meringue mousse, layered with sponge and forest berries

Specially selected cheese trio with black grapes and fresh shelled walnuts

Specially selected cheese trio with black grapes and fresh shelled walnuts

Every evening’s meal was paired with local wines and presented by the ship Sommelier. We were served both a white and red selection originating from Germany or France, with one exception of a bottle from South Africa. The wines were exceptional and educational as well. I was introduced to the fact that some wines I believed were only sweet also come in a dry version such as dry Riesling.

I highly recommend a trip like this. It was my first River Cruise and will most likely not be my last!

Get Your Greens in this Healthy & Delicious Soup!

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Broccoli is one of the healthiest green vegetables you can eat.
 Broccoli belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, collard greens, rutabaga and turnips. These nutrition powerhouses supply loads of nutrients for little calories. If you are trying to eat healthier, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli should be at the very top of your grocery list.

spinach

Spinach is well known for its nutritional qualities and has always been regarded as a plant with remarkable abilities to restore energy, increase vitality and improve the quality of the blood. There are sound reasons why spinach would produce such results, primarily the fact that it is rich in iron.

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My recipe today, adapted from Martha Stewart, is a Broccoli Spinach Soup that is creamy without needing the addition of cream or milk. Instead, the recipe calls for tahini (sesame paste) which adds a wonderful flavor and texture to the soup. I served it with parmesan pita toasts as a garnish and it was heavenly!

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BROCCOLI SPINACH SOUP

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 leek, white and pale green parts thinly sliced
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 bunch broccoli, chopped (6 cups)
  • 6 ounces spinach (6 cups)
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for toast and garnish
  • 2 Tablespoons tahini
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 pieces pita bread

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add leek and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add stock; bring to a boil.  Add broccoli and cook, covered, until bright green and tender, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat.  Stir in spinach, 1/3 cup Parmesan, and tahini.  Let cool slightly.  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Working in batches, puree soup in a blender until smooth.
  4. Preheat oven to 375°.  Drizzle pita with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Toast bread in oven until nicely golden, about 5 minutes. Cut into quarters. 
  5. Garnish soup with grated Parmesan and serve with pita toast.

(Printable recipe can be found in my recipe index under Soups)

 

Blueberries: Full of Fiber, Vitamin C & Antioxidant Rich!

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Berries are a haven of antioxidants and nutrition and specifically, blueberries happen to be one of the most antioxidant rich foods in the world. They also contain manganese, are fiber rich, and 1 cup provides 25% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C. So go ahead and load up on blueberries as they are very good for you!

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I am not a big dessert eater so when I do make a dessert, it usually contains fruit. That way I can feel like I am getting something healthy in the mix and not just eating empty calories. I usually turn to one of my tried and true chefs or blogsites for recommendations and this time was no different. I found a great recipe for Blueberry Crumb Bars that I adapted from browneyedbaker.com.

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The recipe was easy to follow and simple to make and they turned out scrumptious. My husband, who is very careful about his calorie and sweet intake, absolutely loved them. I found him nibbling away at the pan little by little and almost demolishing the whole thing before I could barely get a taste! That is a true testament to their enticing goodness.

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BLUEBERRY CRUMB BARS

Yield 20-24 bars

Ingredients

  • For the Crumb:
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
    1 egg
  • For the Blueberry Filling:
    4 cups fresh blueberries
    ½ cup granulated sugar
    4 teaspoons cornstarch
    Juice of one lemon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.
  2. Make the Crumb: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, baking powder and salt. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter, and then the egg (the dough will be crumbly). Press half of dough into the prepared pan.
  3. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently fold in the blueberries to coat evenly with the sugar mixture. Spread the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust, drizzling any excess juice in the bowl over the filling. Crumble the remaining dough evenly over the blueberry layer.
  4. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the top is light golden brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Note

  • Can be served warm or room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

(Printable recipe can be found in my recipe index under Desserts)

Spring Pea Pesto adorns this delicious Pasta Dish

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Amazingly bright green is the color of this delectable Spring Pea Pesto. It is blended with a mixture of English peas, walnuts, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, garlic and extra virgin olive oil to compose a light, fresh tasting pesto. I incorporated the pesto with bowtie pasta, pieces of pan fried chicken breast and fresh mint to create my Bowtie Pasta with Pan-fried Chicken Breast and Spring Pea Pesto recipe.

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To ensure the chicken retains its juicy, succulent flavor, I make sure to sear the boneless, skinless breasts nicely and only cook until “just done”. Then I let the chicken rest before cutting it into bite sized pieces being sure to slice them on a diagonal for a softer texture. I keep the drained juices and add them to the pasta mixture for extra flavor.

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The mint adds a fresh dimension to the dish and brightens the flavor. I always save a cup of pasta water and add as needed for the right consistency. This ensures a creamy consistency to the dish and keeps it moist. A little drizzle of olive oil and a garnish of mint and the dish is ready to serve!

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BOWTIE PASTA WITH PAN-FRIED CHICKEN BREAST & SPRING PEA PESTO

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen peas, blanched in boiling water for 30 seconds and shocked in cold water
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan
  • ½ cup walnuts (or pine nuts)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus 1 teaspoon for garnish)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 boneless skinless chicken breasts , (about 2 1/4 pounds)
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 8 ounces bowtie pasta
  • 1 tablespoon mint leaves, chopped plus more leaves for garnish

Directions

1. For the pesto, combine the peas, Parmesan, walnuts, garlic, olive oil, 2 tablespoons water and salt in a food processor. Blend until the ingredients are combined and form a thick sauce.
2. Season the chicken breasts with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Brown the chicken on each side until cooked through, approximately 5 to 6 minutes per side. (Slightly undercook as they will continue to cook when removed from pan) Rest the chicken covered loosely with foil for at least 5 minutes, then cut on the diagonal into bite sized pieces.
3. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Save 1 cup of pasta water to add as needed. Toss together the pasta, pesto, chopped mint, chicken and any needed pasta water to moisten. Drizzle with olive oil, garnish with mint leaves and serve immediately.

(Printable recipe can be found in my recipe index under Main Entrees)

12 Minute Stracciatella Soup for Breakfast

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I have been a bit under the weather lately and have been craving soup constantly. Not only is it physically soothing and easy to digest, it seems to add an emotional factor to the equation. I love soups of every kind and find that they are an item that you can rarely go wrong with. You can spend hours simmering, blending, removing and adding ingredients for a final outcome OR you can make a delicious and comforting soup in 12 minutes!

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Stracciatella means “little shred” and Stracciatella Soup is a Roman style egg-drop soup. In addition to eggs, I made it with carrots, peas and spinach as I am always looking for fun new ways to utilize my fresh Talley Farms produce, so this recipe suited me perfectly. I decided that it would be a perfect breakfast soup along with one of my Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins. And was it ever!

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I made my soup with store bought chicken broth which made the recipe even simpler. I recently read a survey that rated different brands of broth and surprisingly the top two winners were Swanson and Trader Joe’s low sodium broth. I had expected that some of the more expensive organic brands would top the list, but it seems that in terms of flavor, they ended up lacking. As the saying goes, you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover…

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STRACCIATELLA SOUP

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 medium thinly sliced carrots
  • 1/2 cup English peas or frozen peas
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt & freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. In a saucepan, bring 4 cups broth to a boil. Add the carrots and peas and cook over medium heat until tender, 3 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted.
  2. In a bowl, beat eggs with 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese and slowly drizzle into the soup cooking over medium heat, stirring, until ribbons form, 1 minute.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Serve immediately garnished with parsley and additional grated Parmesan cheese.

(Printable recipe can be found in my recipe index under Soups)

 

Service Beyond Compare at Cotogna, San Francisco!

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For my very special birthday this year, my family took me to Cotogna in San Francisco. Ok, well I chose the restaurant as I always like to do my research ahead and make my selections carefully. I was opting for something that was not too over the top and yet would satisfy my foodie tastes. Cotogna hit the mark for sure, but the pleasant surprise was the incredible service and attention we received that really made our night!

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We had to wait a bit as it is a small restaurant and our table was still filled with guests from the prior seating. However, the staff went out of their way to ensure our comfort and were more than gracious about it. It gave us an opportunity to enjoy the ambiance and watch the radiant fire in their unique wood burning oven. That was a treat in itself.

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My oldest son always selects our wine as he is both a Level One Sommelier and a Certified Specialist of Wine. His expertise has never let us down on selecting something both delicious & original giving us an opportunity to expand our repertoire of fine wines. In this instance, the restaurant did not have their own Sommelier and their list was complete with wines originating in Italy which made our choices more difficult. Our server came to the rescue with an abundance of knowledge and offered a tantalizing discussion resulting in a collaboration between the two of them and some great wine for us!

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We ordered a variety of plates to share; my favorite way to dine paving the way for a spectacular dining experience. For starters we began with their:

  •  Grilled Artichoke Salad
  • Fava Bean Sformato
  • Trofie with Mussels & Pesto.

They were all very unique and quite delicious. The winner of these was the Fava Bean Sformato. Fava beans, being a favorite of mine that I often plant for my winter garden. I understand the care and time it takes to unleash those little jewels from their outer layers which elevates them to a caviar-esque level. The sformato itself (a soft, molded custard) was rich and delicate and utterly succulent. Paired with the fava beans, it was devine!

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Another bottle of outstanding wine…

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For our next course we selected three more items to share:  

  • Wolfe Ranch Quail, Farro, Turnips & Rhubarb Mostarda,
  • Strozzapreti Cacio e Pepe
  • Hanger Steak with Anchovy-Mustard Butter.

Impossible to select a winner from these three as they were all very different and wonderful in their own way. Top quality ingredients cooked to perfection and well balanced as a group. Food fit for a king!

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We were quite full at this point, but being my birthday celebration, we had to indulge in at least one dessert to share. We decided on their Rhubarb Clafoutis & Sicilian Pistachio Gelato. Oops, we forgot to take a photo of this before devouring it almost completely, but you can see we enjoyed it!

Berry Delicious!

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Berries are a wonderful addition to many dishes. They enhance most any dessert. Are a stylish addition to a salad. Make wonderful sauces for both sweet and savory dishes. And put them in a muffin – well that’s just like soup & sandwich or peanut butter & jelly for me! Berry delicious!!

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This is a nutritious, quick & easy muffin recipe that you can make with any berry or combination of them. It is my new go-to recipe to have on hand for an “on the go” breakfast or snack.

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BLUEBERRY OATMEAL MUFFINS

Yield:  12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) plain yogurt or sour cream
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine the first eight ingredients. Combine the egg, yogurt or sour cream and butter; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in blueberries.
  2. Coat muffin cups with cooking spray or use paper liners; fill three-fourths full with batter. Bake at 400° for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the muffin comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. Serve warm.

(Printable recipe can be found in my recipe index under Breakfast)

What Do I Do With All These Veggies?

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Have you ever found yourself with a stash of unused veggies in your fridge and wondered what to do with such an assortment? Well, I certainly have. Since I cook mostly for two on a daily basis, I find that there are portions of this and that left in my veggie drawer that I just don’t want to waste. So, what do I do with all those veggies?

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White Bean and Kale Minestrone

I have several go-to options. The first is to make soup. It is a simple thing to do with most anything you have in your fridge and pantry. I also love to add beans or some other protein as well as a fun garnish or topping for the soup to make it more interesting. If I have made enough, I will freeze it in 4 cup containers so that we have it handy whenever we get a soup craving. Especially if I’m feeling under the weather, the first thing I want is a cup of steaming hot soup! What is better than homemade soup easily popped out of the freezer and warmed up and on the table in minutes?

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Citrus Scented Israeli Couscous with Caramelized Fennel

Another option I like to make is a mixture of grains and/or legumes and veggies. You can do that with quite an assortment of vegetables pairing it with a selection from a long list of grains such as quinoa, couscous, lentils, farro, rice, etc. Depending on what veggies you have, you can style the dish Mediterranean by adding in some kalamata olives and feta cheese or Italian by adding some prosciutto, parsley and toasted pine nuts. If you want to make it Southwestern, you can add in some black beans, avocado and pepitas or Asian by adding in some water chestnuts, soy sauce and toasted almonds. If I’m adding cheese or nuts, I often serve the dish at room temperature. With a little chopping, sautéing and mixing, you have a meal in a matter of minutes. I finish the dish with many combinations such as olive oil, citrus juices, vinegars, soy or other sauces. The choices are endless and open to your own creativity! 

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Vegetable-Farfalle Cheese Bake

If I want something heated and creamy or more fortifying, I make a veggie  pasta bake. It is simple done in steps. Saute your vegetables, cook some pasta al dente, make a sauce and mix them all together. Pour into a casserole, top with a bread crumb mixture and/or cheese and bake. This can also be done as a veggie pasta dish without baking or making a sauce by just drizzling the mixture with some olive oil and seasonings. You can add fresh citrus juice, soup stock or other enhancements to flavor your pasta dish. I always save some of my pasta cooking water to add moisture to the dish as well. Then top with fresh herbs and grated cheese.

I keep some of these items in my pantry at all times so I can just pull from what I have on hand and throw a meal together at a moments notice. Use your imagination. You can combine all types of vegetables that you wouldn’t have thought to put together and they will taste wonderful! It’s fun to see what new concoctions you can make with fresh vegetables by just adding a little of this or that to create your own masterpiece! 

(Check my recipe index or Talley Farms link for recipes of the photos on this post)