Garlic Toast

Garlic Toast | Brittany's PantryA few days ago I posted a quick, weeknight worthy recipe for a simple Pasta Puttanesca.  It is essentially foolproof, is made with all things from your pantry, and if  you make it with whole wheat pasta, is actually quite healthy.  Like the main dish, the garlic toast that accompanied it was easy and fuss free.  My secret?

The freezer.

An earth shattering revelation, I know.  You see, my freezer and I have a special, mutually beneficial relationship.  I keep it organized (usually) and clean, and in turn, it provides me with quick meals and the occasional pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie.  When I am pressed for time or simply lack the energy and drive to make dinner, pulling something out of the freezer that requires little or no action is the best feeling in the world.  Am I right?  It is like winning the lottery.  Its 5:30 pm on a Tuesday and you are digging through bags of frozen edamame and blocks of ground beef when suddenly you find a quart container of Chicken & Barley Soup, ready to be microwaved.  I can’t be the only person out there who would hold it up in victory and shout Eureka!!  And it is equally gratifying if you are pulling out dinner for one or two people at eight o’clock at night after a long day of work, or if you are a stay at home mom without the time to whip something up between laundry, grocery shopping, homework checks, piano lessons, PTO meetings, and ballet rehearsal.  It is for these exact moments in life that I keep certain items in my freezer.

In this case, it is pre-sliced french bread.  Every once in awhile, I rifle through the day old section of baked goods in the bakery of my local supermarket.  When I find the big loaves of thinly sliced french bread for 1.99, I buy two!  I bring them home and toss them right in the freezer.  They aren’t perfectly wrapped to store long term, but it is enough to let them slowly dry out over the next few weeks.  Then, when I need a quick dinner, I have stale, frozen bread that I can use to make french toast, panini, bread crumbs, bread pudding, croutons, and in this case, garlic toast.  The smaller, chewier baguettes are better for crostini or bruschetta and can be a bit tough for just toast.  So for this, you want the softer, country type loaves that aren’t so crusty on the outside.  Perfect to slather with garlic butter.

Garlic Toast

thinly sliced french bread, preferably slightly stale
1/2 stick (4 T) of soft, salted butter
1 large garlic clove, minced finely

Preheat the oven to 350.  Combine the butter and garlic in a small bowl and set aside.  Arrange your bread in a single layer on a dry sheet pan and oh so very thinly spread with garlic butter.  You want this toast to get crunchy and crispy, so be sure to spread the butter to the very edges and use it sparingly.  Just a VERY thin layer.  Be sure the bread is butter side up on the pan and toast in the oven for 10 minutes.  Check the toast.  If it is firm and overall golden brown, then it is done.  If not, rotate the pan 180 degrees and let it go for a few more minutes.  Watch it closely!  Toast can go from nothing to burnt in a short amount of time.  Essentially, toast until your preference and enjoy!  This is fantastic served with chili too!  Leftover garlic butter can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge to be used for more garlic toast but is also good spread on the outside of panini, stirred into mashed potatoes, rubbed on chicken before roasting, or anything else you can think of!

Weeknight Pasta Puttanesca

Weeknight Pasta Puttanesca | Brittany's PantryIts no secret the our family loves food with a tang to it.  We are just ‘tangy’ people, I guess.

It isn’t as though you couldn’t tell by the kinds of recipes I post here.  They are a direct reflection of what is on my table every day.  Hence, the evidence is in the Zesty Bolognese, the Mediterranean Quinoa Salad, Panzanella, and the Sweet Potato Salad W/Vinaigrette.  We love the brine and sourness of pickles, lemon, vinegar sauces, and olives.  Our family recently discovered Zoes Kitchen, a restaurant chain here in the south that I had never heard of or been to, but am now obsessed with.  Why did no one tell me about this place?!  If you follow BP in Instagram you saw our excitement over our first meal!  They serve greek and mediterranean type food, sandwiches and salads and fresh ingredients with a famous chocolate sheet cake they sell for dessert, and it hits all our good food buttons.  Outrageously scrumptious.
via Brittany's Pantry InstagramItalian food is part of that whole category of great, regional food that uses an delightful excess of vinegar, feta, olive, and oils and…*drool* I’m making myself hungry.  Luckily, I have this pasta to keep me happy!  Isn’t it fun to say?  Pa-stah Poot-a-nesk-ah!  Mmm.  Also, if you and/or your kids have ever read Lemony Snickets: A Series Of Unfortunate Events, they will know exactly what pasta puttanesca is.  Score!  Its a famous dish!

It also happens to be quick, easy, and (my favorite part) is made with pantry ingredients.  That is always nice when you are in a hurry or trying to stretch what you have in your cupboards between grocery trips.  You literally dump all the sauce ingredients together and heat.  Did you catch that?  Dump and heat.  Could this recipe BE any easier?  Add the freshness of a vegetable on the side and you have dinner!  In this case, you also have garlic toast with it, but that is for a future post!  But trust me, you will want to come back.  Come baaaaack for garlic toooooaaaast…
Weeknight Pasta Puttanesca | Brittany's PantryWeeknight Pasta Puttanesca | Brittany's PantryWeeknight Pasta Puttanesca 
This is my version.  While it may not be perfectly authentic, it hits all the major puttanesca flavors.  This will feed four people with a serving leftover for lunch the next day!

3/4 lb of thin spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T extra virgin olive oil
large pinch of red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 tsp anchovy paste, optional
1-28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 c roughly chopped pitted kalamata olives
2 heaping T capers, drained
1 tsp dried oregano
1 T dried parsley
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan cheese for serving

While the pasta cooks, heat the oil and garlic in a large sauté pan over medium heat until just starting to sizzle.  DO NOT LET IT BROWN AND BURN! As soon as it is fragrant, add the anchovy paste, red pepper flakes, and oregano.  Cook for about 15 seconds stirring well to dissolve the anchovies and dump in the crushed tomatoes.  Add the olives, capers, dried parsley and sugar.  Give it a few cranks of black pepper and let it come up to a slow bubble.  Taste it for salt and pepper seasoning, and let the whole thing bubble gently until the pasta is done.  Dump all the pasta into the sauce and toss gently with a tongs until combined well.  Serve with plenty of parmesan cheese.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes W/Orange

Orange Mashed Sweet PotatoesGreetings friends!  Just stopping in quick during my vacation to post one of my favorite summer side dishes.

Seeing as how I now live in the south on the east coast, you would think that sweet potatoes would be everywhere, right?  At least that is what I expected.  Remember that friend I mentioned that introduced me to sweet potatoes?  She would return from trips home to Mississippi with paper grocery sacks full of these wonderful vegetables purchased right from the side of the road.  Naturally, I assumed that when I moved south I would encounter these sweet orange tubers everywhere.  Would people toss them through my open windows when I went through the drive-thru at Chic-Fil-A?  Is there such an abundance of them that they give them away at the DMV?  Could I expect piles of them discarded in the far corners of parking lots?

Apparently, no.  I have yet to encounter any sweet potato vendors, solicitors, or peddlers in South Carolina.  There have been several other food surprises, but those will have to wait for another day as there is way too much to tell.  In the meantime, I plan to continue to purchase my sweet potatoes, or yams, at the regular market.  But you can bet your buttons that the first time I see a dusty farmer on the side of the road with paper bags full of sweet potatoes, my breaks will be squealing.  Because, by golly, I break for sweet potatoes*.  Even if they do give them away at the DMV.

**Wouldn’t that be a great bumper sticker?
Orange Mashed Sweet PotatoesMashed Sweet Potatoes W/Orange
What makes this dish so lovely is not just the simplicity of it, but that the ingredients taste so darn awesome together you would swear that they were made for each other.  I generally keep them on the healthier side and stick to the recipe below, but as you can imagine, a big ol hunk of butter swirled in makes you want to swoon.  It is so unbelievably fantastic (without butter) as a light side dish for the holidays, I implore you to remember this when November rolls around.  The fact that it goes so well with grilled or roasted food makes this a year round staple.

3-4 pounds of sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
zest of 1 large orange
juice of 1 large orange
large pinch of salt and lots of fresh ground pepper

Steam the chunked sweet potatoes until very soft.  Alternatively, you can boil them, but I find when I steam them the end result is less watery.  With a potato masher or large fork, hand mash the potatoes until desired smoothness.  I prefer it with consistently tiny chunks but no big bites.  Add the zest and juice of the orange, salt and pepper, and taste for flavor.  Be generous with the black pepper!  If the mash is too thick, add a small splash of hot water, chicken broth, or if you have it, more orange juice.  Enjoy!

Weeknight Chicken Teriyaki

Slow Cooker TeriyakiHappy Monday!  I have been extremely busy these last few days as my husband and I are desperately trying to make a decision about our living situation.  Since the move to South Carolina, and the SUPER fun craziness that I mentioned here (please note the heavy sarcasm in that statement), we have been renting a smallish house while we build our home.  But finding a builder, closing on a plot of land, designing a house, etc is keeping us very occupied.  I have literally been running from one place to another, always with Evelyn, Eli, and Lane at my side and I haven’t been home all that much to prep dinner ahead.

So.  Quick and easy stovetop recipes have been my main go-to choices this summer.  Especially since our grill broke.  Say what??  Yes.  It broke.  In July.  Talk about rotten luck.  Maybe Mike and I should make shopping for a new grill our next date night?!  A little dinner, a little dancing, a little flirting over BTU’s and automatic ignition switches…

My slow cooker has also gotten a ton of use as well and there will be several recipes coming your way soon.  I have been keeping it by my side more than usual.  And I don’t mean that figuratively; sometimes I set it on my nightstand for safe keeping while I sleep… because yowzah!  Its true what they say!  South Carolina is HOT!  Granted, its not unbearable and we are kind of loving it, but heed my words friends.  Yes!  South Carolina summers are hot and I ain’t just whistling dixie!  So anytime I can get away with ignoring the ‘ol oven is a good day.

This chicken teriyaki recipe was one I had been messing around with the last few months we were still living in IL.  I really really love teriyaki of any kind and I have been making several different versions over the years.  But when I decided to just break it down to the basic teriyaki ingredients with no extra frills, I discovered we all really liked that best.  Go figure!  The simplest and easiest version  is our favorite!

A few things to note:  There is white rice in these pictures because when I photographed this recipe, I was cleaning out my pantry for the move and found some instant white rice in the back corners of the cupboard.  I rarely purchase white rice anymore so PLEASE be sure to eat this with brown rice for the crazy amounts of nutrition it contains.  That said, its your life.  This is fantastic with any kind of rice, rice noodles, or plain old linguini.  Heck!  Scoop it up with cardboard and this stuff would still be outrageous.  I won’t tell.
Slow Cooker TeriyakiWeeknight Chicken Teriyaki 
Inspired by Nigella
Cut up the chicken and make the sauce the night before and you can have dinner on the table in no time!  Mirin is traditional to teriyaki and gives it a flavor you can’t skip.  It is a Japanese rice wine that has a sweet taste and I keep the open bottle in my pantry just for asian recipes.  I easily use a small bottle before it spoils.  Look for it in the asian/international food section of your store.

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat and cut into large, bite sized pieces (about 8 thighs)
1/4 c mirin
1/4 c low sodium soy sauce
1 heaping tsp of sesame oil
1 heaping T of brown sugar
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and grated, about 1 T
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or to taste

Mix all ingredients together and let marinade for half an hour.  Heat a large skillet-preferably non-sitck-and add just a bit of olive oil.  Using a slotted spoon, lift the chicken out of the marinade and fry over medium heat until it gets good color and is almost cooked through, turning so it doesn’t burn, 5-10 minutes.  Add the marinade to the pan and let bubbly slowly while the chicken cooks the rest of the way and the sauce thickens, a further 5 minutes.  Sauce will thicken a bit more as the dish cools.  Serve over brown rice with fresh veggies!

Quick & Easy Pita Chips

Pita ChipsJust popping in to post a quick recipe for an easy snack!

We really love crunchy pita chips at our house.  However, the five of us can easily finish off a whole bag in one sitting so generally, it just makes more sense for me to make them myself.   Very easy and much cheaper to do.  In addition, I can control the level of crunchiness and get them a toasty as we prefer them.  My husband likes things VERY crunchy and just one head scratch away from burnt so I always leave a handful or two on the pan a bit longer for him.  For those of you that prefer your food toasted, but not cooked to ashes, just a few minutes is all you need.
Pita ChipsAbove, these beauties are all set and ready to pop in the oven!  Below?  Toasted and perfect to dip in some hummus!
Pita ChipsQuick & Easy Pita Chips 
These do lose their crunch after a day or so.  My advice is to make them fresh when you need them so you can finish them off while perfect and toasty!  If you have access to different flavors of pita bread or even flavored oils, this would be a good application for that.  These are pretty basic so please experiment with herbs and spices to customize your chips!

Pita Bread-homemade or store-bought (I usually buy it whole wheat and fresh from the bakery.  Then I tuck them in the freezer for whenever I need them!)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Cut your pita bread like a pizza, into 8 or even 16 pieces, depending on what kind of dippers you like.  Spread them out in a single layer on a dry sheet pan and spray or lightly drizzle evenly with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and pop in the oven for 10 minutes.  Check on the chips and continue to toast until desired crispiness.  How long it will take will depend on your oven, your individual tastes, and the moisture content of your bread.  Just keep and eye on them so they don’t burn.  You can turn them over halfway through if you like, but it isn’t necessary.  Cool slightly and enjoy!

Simple Grilled Venison Burgers

Grilled Venison BurgersOh my stars.  It is a very good thing that you are behind your computer/iPad/iPhone device and not sitting next to me as I type this because I would embarrass my self my drooling in front of you.  Buuuuuurgeeeeeers are gooooooooood.

A good friend of mine back in IL shared some venison with me late last winter and I had a fantastic time working it into my meal plans.  I ate plenty of venison growing up in MN but it wasn’t easy to come by in the middle of farm country.  So we thoroughly enjoyed (and devoured) venison steaks, chops, and ground venison.  We grilled everything.  And it was good.  Mouthwateringly good.  I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with the ground venison, and then when winter ended, my affinity for burgers hit full force.  Spring had arrived and as my overwhelming love of burgers fresh off the grill was sitting just below the surface during the snowy months, I was ready once April hit.

I have made venison burgers many times but never really kept track of what I put in them.  Results varied so I figured I should actually pay attention and write it down this time in an effort to yield consistent results.  It took a few tries (bummer) and we had to make venison burgers several times (shoot) and we had to be sure to try each of them loaded with ripe tomatoes, melted cheese, and fresh bakery buns (darn).  It was tough.

But now, thank goodness, I have my master recipe.  The fact that I have been a South Carolinian for exact four weeks has made me start to wonder if they hunt deer down here and if so, who can I make friends with ASAP so as to procure my venison supply for the foreseeable future!  I will pay you in Double Chocolate Banana Bread and Spiced Peach Jam!  Any takers?
Grilled Venison BurgersTwo Years Ago: The Ultimate Snickerdoodle Recipe & Sour Cream Cherry Bars
Three Years Ago: Sweet & Tangy Ribs & Cobb Potato Salad

Simple Grilled Venison Burgers 
Recipe adapted from Leite’s Culinaria
If you are unsure about the taste of venison, these burgers are a wonderful way to try it out.  The gamey taste is limited but you still get the wonderful flavor of the meat.  Venison is usually quite lean so in order to make sure these burgers aren’t too dry, the egg yolks and olive oil give it a bit of help.  If you are one of those lovely people who save their drippings when frying bacon, a big ‘ol spoonful of that would be stellar in here.  Just be sure to be careful with how much additional salt you are adding.

1 lb ground venison
2 egg yolks
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T worcestershire sauce
fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste

Gently combine all ingredients in a large bowl with a fork.  You don’t want to overwork the meat too much or it will give you very tough burgers.  Shape into four large patties and grill over medium high heat until medium well, about 3 minutes on each side depending on thickness and the heat of your grill.  These are absolutely perfect topped with a slice of colby jack cheese and fresh tomatoes. *drool drool drool*

Root Beer BBQ Sauce

Root Beer BBQ SauceBefore we get to the amazing recipe pictured above (think ribs, bbq chicken, kabobs, a sauce for burgers…) I wanted to take a second and say thanks!

Brittany’s Pantry is all about sharing with you my most successful recipes.  I created this blog so that my friends and family had access to all the foods and dishes that I had been making over and over with considerable success.  Wether it is a family recipe that I have been making for years, something I have created on my own, or a recipe that I found in a magazine at the dentist office.  The point is, if I am making it over and over, then it was worthy of passing along to those I am closest to.

The blog has now grown into something SO much bigger than just an online resource for people I know, and I am thrilled that so many of you continue to come back and see what I have been cooking.  I am excited about some of the changes coming up for BP and hope that all of you lovely readers will continue to Tweet, Pin, Follow, Like, Subscribe, and comment here and on other social media outlets!  I love love LOVE to hear from all of you and have enjoyed connecting with other readers and bloggers that are just as passionate about food, cooking, and baking as I am.  I promise to continue to post only that which I would feed you if you were a guest in my home; tried and true dishes that I know work for me and will work for you too.  So thank you for your support and continued visits to my little piece of the internet.  I love to write on this space almost as much as I like to be in the kitchen and YOU allow me to do it.

Ok.  Enough mushy stuff.  Bring on the barbecue sauce!

As we head into the holiday weekend, I couldn’t help but make sure this was posted for you.  I saw this recipe, and then kinda started to drool.  Root Beer is not a beverage I drink because it is just waaaay too sweet for me.  But as an ingredient in a savory sauce on meat???  Shyah!!  Once I tried it though, the flavor wasn’t quite what I expected.  Or wanted.  I made it the first time years ago, served it at my sons birthday party and wrote briefly about it here.  Years passed and I kept reminding myself to go back and tweak that recipe because I really wanted a finished, perfect version that I could freeze and use year round.  Well, actually, what I really wanted was for someone else to mess with the recipe for me so that I didn’t have to do it.  I wanted the result without the work.  For some reason, it took three years for me to get back into the groove of making that particular barbecue sauce, and this past spring, I was ready.

I remade it according to the notes I had (thankfully) marked on the original recipe, and again, knew at first taste that it wasn’t what I was after.  Don’t get me wrong here.  It was really good.  Better than good.  It was great!  And smeared all over a rack of pork ribs that were so tender a slight breeze would make the meat drop off the bones, it was outstanding.  But I wanted something to change.

It took several more days and more grilled meat, but I figured out what was bothering me so much.  Too much tang, not enough richness.  For you, it doesn’t really matter.  Just know that this is the best version of this there is.  For me, anyway.  *sigh*  I feel so much better.
Root Beer BBQ Sauce Root Beer BBQ Sauce Three Years Ago: Red Velvet Cupcakes

Root Beer BBQ Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit
This sauce will keep about two weeks, tightly sealed in the fridge.  You can also freeze it and use it all summer.  It would make an AWESOME hostess gift to a barbecue or pot luck dinner and is so tasty I imagine you can find some great uses for it!  For us, we love it the most on ribs and grilled chicken, but smeared on a burger (especially venison-yuuuuummm) or just a bit on a pizza and then covered with caramelized onions is fabulous.  It also happens to be just so darn easy, you won’t believe it.

1 c root beer
1 c ketchup
1/4 c orange juice
3 T worcestershire sauce
2 T brown sugar
1 T molasses
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan and set over medium heat.  Simmer gently, lowering the heat if needed to prevent scorching, until combined and reduced until thickened a bit.    Sauce will also thicken as it cools.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary. Enjoy!  Seal and chill or freeze.

Roast Salmon & Veggies W/Mustard SauceAnd my obsession with all things salmon continues…

I admit I have been staring at the above picture for several minutes.  It contains so many foods I love, it could actually be called Brittany’s Salmon Dish.  I suppose I could have named it that but it seems a bit narcissistic.  It is right up my alley and the more I look at it, the more I want to eat it again.  And again.  And then again. Soooo me.

Much like this pasta dish, this meal can be customized to the vegetables that are in season at your specific geographic location. The veggies listed here go particularly well with the sauce, but are certainly not written in stone. Later in the season I would omit the asparagus or up the number of potatoes toward the end of summer, but otherwise I have found my favorite formula and haven’t been able to stray very far from it!
Roast Salmon & Veggies W/Mustard SauceThis is such a great summer dish because it is the caliber of something you would order at a little sidewalk bistro. Fortunately, you can skip the tip for your garçon and make it yourself instead. Heck! Make it for everyone! It’s low fat, heart healthy, gluten free, grain free, dairy free, and darn delicious!

It is the savoriness that gets ya.  The punch of the mustard is tempered by the vegetables, the creaminess of the potatoes, and the freshness of the fish.  You get a bite and zing of the sauce, and then you kinda go “Ooooooooooooo.”  And then you eat some more.  All together, it is pretty much just what you want on a summer day.  Add a big bowl of berries as the final course and maybe a sunset if you can swing it, and gaah.  Bonus points if there is a body of water nearby to gaze at as well.  Awesome.
Roast Salmon & Veggies W/Mustard Sauce Roast Salmon & Veggies W/Mustard SauceRoast Salmon & Veggies W/Mustard Sauce One Year Ago: Mediterranean Quinoa Salad, Cherry Gallette, Oatmeal & Brown Sugar Scones & Carrot & Ginger Rice W/Lime
Two Years Ago: Marshmallow Buttercream, Homemade Granola Bars, Flank Steak W/Tangy Sauce, Far Eastern Salad, Strawberry Lemonade & Baked Oatmeal
Three Years Ago: Strawberry Watermelon Cooler, Fried Corn, Mocha Chocolate Chip Scones, How To: Freeze Berries, Cheeze-It Chicken, Strawberry Sauce, Chocolate Chip Blonde Brownies, Pan Fried Tilapia & How To: Roast Asparagus

Roasted Salmon & Vegetables W/Mustard Sauce
This serves about 6 people, but it really depends on how much you plan on eating.  My kids can tuck away an adult sized plate of this stuff so we rarely have all that much as leftovers.  Ultimately, adjust the quantities to suit your family’s needs.

2 lbs of wild salmon, skin on (about 4-6 oz per person, give or take)

1 lb asparagus, rinsed, woody ends trimmed and the stalks cut into 1 inch pieces
2 lbs small red potatoes, rinsed and cut in half or into quarters if large
1 lb green beans, trimmed, rinsed and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 medium zucchini or summer squash (or both) cut into bite sized pieces

Sauce:
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
2 heaping T of dijon mustard
pinch of salt
heavy pinch of ground black pepper
2 tsp honey

Combine all sauce ingredients and set aside.
Toss the potatoes with a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper and spread in a single layer on a sheet pan.  Roast the potatoes for 15 minutes at 425 degrees or until just starting to brown.  Using a spatula, toss the potatoes so that they roast evenly and slide them all down to one end of the pan.  Toss the remaining vegetables in a small drizzle of olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper.  Spread in a single layer on the remaining end of the sheet pan.  Use a second pan if the veggies are too crowded-you want them to roast and brown, not steam.  Put all the veggies back in the oven and continue to roast for another 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through, but not mushy, and the vegetables are crisp tender.  While the veggies are doing their final roasting, slide the salmon in next to them on a foil lined pan, skin side down, and drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.  This is all VERY simply done.  The vegetables and fish should be done about the same time, but you will have to judge that individually based on the thickness of your salmon.  It should flake easily, but be just barely pink in the center still.  Combine all the vegetables on a large serving platter and drizzle sparingly with the mustard sauce.  Taste for seasoning and add more sauce until you reach your preferred strength.  Remove the skin from the fish and flake the salmon into large chunks over the veggies.  Serve immediately.

Everyday Zucchini

Everyday Zucchini Just a quick post, dropping in to share a ridiculously easy recipe for you to use all summer! Depending on where you live, zucchini season has either already begun or is quickly approaching.  Looming, if you will, over our gardens and shadowing our minds with the same question that plagues us every year: Why did we plant so much and what are we going to do with it all?? Due to the upcoming move to the East Coast, I have not planted a garden this year (boo) but I am very much looking forward to buying it in bulk at the Farmer’s Markets.  Lots of it.  Tons.  I’m sorry!  I am one of those people who never really tire of the stuff.  You can do a gazillion different things-at least!-with the vegetable and it abundantly grows and is cheap to buy.  So BRING IT ON!! Everyday Zucchini Today’s recipe is actually something I had years ago at my best friends house.  I initially kinda frowned at the spices she chose to toss on the zucchini, but after trying it, I couldn’t stop eating it.  After that day, I started making this side whenever I just didn’t really know what else to do.  If I am out of off the cuff inspiration, have zilch energy to page through a cookbook or look up something on the internet, or am just simply really pressed for time, this is what I make.  It is fast, healthy, cheap, and darn tasty.  On this holiday weekend, you won’t have to stress about what to serve with your meal because this goes with everything.  Grilled, baked, roasted, toasted, or flambéed.  It pairs with it all.  Additionally, the flavors aren’t anything too bold so kids tend to be fine with it. In addition, here are some other ideas to keep ahead of your zucchini crop this summer!  Enjoy! Earth Bread Earth BreadCalifornia Chopped SaladCalifornia Chopped SaladTortellini W/Shrimp tortellini with shrimpVegetables W/PastaVeggies & PastaNon-Traditional Shepherd’s Pie Non-Traditional Shepherd's PieWhole Wheat Zucchini Spice MuffinsWhole Wheat Zucchini Spice MuffinsChocolate Zucchini Bread Chocolate Zucchini BreadBaked Pasta W/Summer Veggies IMG_0998Zucchini W/Corn & Basil Zucchini & Corn W/Basil Two Years Ago: Sweet Potato Salad W/Vinaigrette
Three Years Ago: Shrimp Cobb Salad & White Chocolate Rainbow Cake 

Everyday Zucchini 
The key here is a high heat to get a nice sear on the zucchini, but to not cook them until mush.

zucchini
olive oil
italian seasoning
salt and pepper

Rinse enough vegetables for however many people you are serving, 1 medium zucchini for every two people.  Quarter the zucchini lengthwise and then chop into half inch sections.  Film enough olive oil in a large sauté pan to just barely film the bottom. No more than a few tablespoons, depending on how much zucchini you have.  Set the pan over a strong medium to medium high heat. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a generous amount of italian seasoning.  Again, judge this on preference and the amount you are cooking.  Leave the veggies where they are for several minutes to acquire some color on them.  If they are just kind of steaming, turn up the heat a bit.  Give them a toss, and then leave them alone again to get more color on a different side.  Pull them from the heat when they are fairly well browned but have not become mushy.  Taste for salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Deviled Egg Pasta Salad

Deviled Egg Pasta SaladEvery once in awhile, I serve something that everyone likes.  And I mean everyone.

I am usually a bit surprised by it and this time was no exception.  People went wild for this pasta salad.  I have served it twice, both times to a different crowd and WOW!  What a hit!  As my friends and family raved, I kept saying the same thing.

Really?

There isn’t anything terribly special or amazingly different about this pasta salad.  It doesn’t have any revolutionary flavor combinations that will blow you away, nor does it include any trendy food items (no Sriracha or Nutella in this one…)  And perhaps, that simplicity in itself, is the reason for its popularity.  It is one of those sides that I can’t believe I have never made before.  So obvious!  So simple.  Obviously, when I say everyone loves this, I am speaking in very broad generalizations.  Of course, if deviled eggs aren’t your bag, or pasta salad in general gives you the heebie jeebies, then go ahead and pass on this one.  But for the masses, it is a nice change from potato salad and coleslaw.

If feels good to finally post this here because I have been sitting on this recipe for nearly a month, waiting for Memorial Day weekend to arrive so that you could add it to your menus.  It is already on my list; right next to some barbecued ribs , this veggie combo, and these Cherry Hand Pies.  Wether you make it or not, I am so glad to have it in my arsenal for pot luck dinners, barbecues, and just lazy evenings by the lake.  By itself, leftovers are a great light lunch, but tossed with some leftover grilled chicken it makes for a fantastic, make-ahead (and no cook!) summer dinner.  Because the sauce is a bit creamy, this would go very well with whole wheat or gluten-free pasta. So it covers all your bases! This pasta salad + friends and family = happy Americans. :)
Deviled Egg Pasta Salad Deviled Egg Pasta SaladDeviled Egg Pasta SaladOne Year Ago: Caesar Salad & Chocolate Cupcakes W/Orange Buttercream
Two Years Ago: Hobo Dinners
Three Years Ago: Whole Wheat Cornbread

Deviled Egg Pasta Salad
Adapted from BHG
The beautiful color of this sauce comes from paprika, but the flavor is light and mild.  I am not usually a fan of raw celery in my salads, but here it adds a freshness that just may convert me.  Don’t leave it out!

1/2 lb (8 oz) cavatappi pasta (pictured), rotini, large macaroni, medium shells, or other medium, bite sized pasta, cooked according to package directions, and cooled (This can be done up to a day ahead.)
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 T fresh chives, minced
10 hard boiled eggs, sliced or cut into large chunks, some reserved for garnish if you wish
3/4 c diced dill pickle
1/2 c mayo
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
3 T dijon mustard
large pinch of salt and pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp smoked paprika, optional

Place the first five ingredients in a large bowl.  Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over pasta mixture.  Gently fold together until combined.  If pasta seems dry and all ingredients are incorporated, add a TEENY TINY splash of milk and mix again, just until it comes together.  It shouldn’t be gloppy, just creamy.  Taste for seasoning and add more salt and/or pepper if needed.  Garnish with chopped boiled egg and more chives if you wish.  Chill.

“Brace yourself,” I ordered my husband, as I dipped a piece of fresh spinach into the large measuring cup I was carrying.  “This may be the best salad dressing in the history of the word.”

And I dipped and he munched and he loved it and I grinned.
Green Green Salad W/Creamy Honey Lemon Vinaigrette I was right: It IS the best dressing in the history of the world. But there is much more to this dinner/lunch/spring supper on the deck, that makes it special.

I am very much a texture person when it comes to food.  One of the reasons I love this Yogurt Salad so much is because it is creamy and crunchy, sweet and tangy, chewy and cold, all rolled into one.  It just works together.  This Green Green Salad is kind of like that, in that the different flavors make your tastebuds dance the hula.  I love to eat asparagus but I am always brainstorming ways to do something new with it that still pays homage to its incredible flavor.  I don’t want to cover up the freshness of these ingredients, just highlight them with a little brightness.
Green Green Salad W/Creamy Honey Lemon Vinaigrette Why do I call it the Green Green Salad, you ask?  I would think that was obvious….
Green=Spring.  ‘Nuff said.

Also, Mother’s Day is coming up shortly.  This would be stellar with an ice cold beverage on the patio for the Mother you are looking to spoil in your life.  Or you could tweet, Pin, copy or share this post where your husband would see it.  Caption the link with ‘Doesn’t this look wonderful, honey?  Mmm.  What a GREAT lunch this would be this weekend…’
Green Green Salad W/Creamy Honey Lemon Vinaigrette Green Green Salad W/Creamy Honey Lemon Vinaigrette Green Green Salad W/Creamy Honey Lemon Vinaigrette One Year Ago: Power Parfaits and Quinoa Granola & Honey Lemon Grilled Chicken
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Cheesecake Bars & Lemon Quick Bread
Three Years Ago: Strawberry Ice Cream, Sweet Veggie Pasta Salad & Black and White Angel Food Cake

Green Green Salad W/Creamy Honey Lemon Dressing
This salad is great with or without the grilled chicken.  Shrimp or salmon is fantastic with it as well if  you want to change up the protein.  This recipe makes 4 large salads.

Salad:
Fresh spring greens, or lettuce of your choice
half of an English cucumber, or 1 medium cucumber (peeled and/or scored) and diced
1 1/2 lb of asparagus, trimmed
2 T fresh chives
Honey Lemon Grilled Chicken

Dressing:
1/3 c olive or grape seed oil
2 T raw honey
2 T plain yogurt, Greek or regular is fine
zest of a full lemon
juice of HALF the lemon
pinch of salt and pepper

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and set aside.  Cut the asparagus into bite sized pieces and drop them into a large saucepan of simmering water to blanch.  Let cook no more than a minute or two, just to take the snap out of them a bit.  Drain and dump the asparagus into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.  When cool, drain well.  Layer the salad ingredients on individual plates according to appetite and top lightly with dressing.  Enjoy!

Savory Lemon Grilled Drummies

Savory Lemon Grilled DrummiesEasy recipes that I can make off the top of my head are what I turn to most often.  A simple formula that I can make again and again with ingredients I always have on hand.  Generally, that is what this blog is all about.  Recipes that have passed the test and actually work.  No kinks to iron out and no surprises.  Today’s recipe is a prime example of this.  How something simple and quick can taste soooo good.  Tang + spices+fire=grilled wonderfulness.

I make this chicken all the time.  I just kind of throw things together without all that much thought because I am usually desperate to get dinner on the table.  Then I realized that I was ‘throwing things together’ pretty much in the same way.  So I decided to actually write it down!  No frills and no extra steps.  The great thing, is that chicken crummies (or even thighs) are fairly inexpensive so be sure to take advantage of them when they go on sale in bulk packages.  Divide them up into portions that suit your family and freeze.  Then, when you don’t know what to make, toss this dish together!  The other thing I love about these grilled drummies, is that I usually end up pairing them with whatever I have on hand to round out the meal.  Leftover mashed potatoes from a few days ago?  Great!  I can make this to go with it!  Random miscellaneous veggies floating around the fridge?  Perfect for this pasta salad.  Or good grief!  Just nuke your leftovers from the week and have a smorgasbord.  Its all good.  This chicken will pull it all together.
Savory Lemon Grilled Drummies Savory Lemon Grilled DrummiesOne Year Ago: Spring Asparagus W/Raspberry Vinaigrette & Toasted Walnuts
Two Years Ago: Fruit Dip
Three Years Ago: Breakfast Burritos 

Savory Lemon Grilled Drummies
This would be equally great on skinless, bone-in chicken thighs.

the juice of 2 lemons, about 1/3 c
1/4 olive or grape seed oil
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2-3 lbs chicken drumsticks, about 8, skin on or off

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy duty zip top bag, or bowl.  Toss chicken to coat and let marinade up to 3 hours, turning occasionally.  Grill over medium, direct heat, turning to cook evenly, until golden brown and cooked through.  Alternatively, roast in a 375 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until cooked.

Grilled Venison Steaks

Grilled Venison SteaksIf you grew up in Minnesota, then ice fishing was a pastime of yours.  You have eaten lutefisk, are at home on a lake, and you more than likely own a piece of clothing that is camouflage, blaze orange, or a mix of both.  You can make a snow igloo in your backyard, you mind your manners, and think nothing of whipping up a batch of creamy, wild rice soup.  In addition, few freezers up in the frozen tundra are without venison in some form or another and without a doubt, steaks are my favorite way to eat it.  Even here, in central IL, the land with an abundance of corn and soybeans but very little in the way of trees, I have my ways of acquiring good deer meat.  I generally like to drizzle venison with a bit of olive oil, season well with salt and pepper, the roast or grill.  That was my plan when I pulled a package of steaks out of the freezer to defrost for the next day.  I was just going to wing it and call it good.

But then I remembered the title of a blog post by a friend of mine over at the food blog Un-Processing My World.  She calls it The Best Venison Marinade.  Well how do you argue with that?!

I didn’t hesitate or pause.  I felt like doing something different from my norm so I just threw it all together, sealed it up, and stuck it in my fridge overnight.  The next day, I had nothing to do but pull out the steaks and throw them on the grill.  Easy peasy.

The result?  Excellent flavor.  Tangy and herb-y and just the thing too wake up my winter tastebuds and get them ready for spring!  Not that I need any encouraging to prepare for warmer weather…
Grilled Venison SteaksGrilled Venison SteaksOne Year Ago: Blueberry Maple Muffins, Sweet Potato Fries W/Pepper Lime Mayo, & Parmesan Tilapia
Two Years Ago: Cherry Frozen Yogurt W/Mini Chocolate Chips
Three Years Ago: Homemade Ketchup, Egg Ribbon Soup, & Good For You Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

Grilled Venison Steaks
Recipe adapted from Un-Processing My World
The original recipe has an additional 1 c of red wine in the marinade, but I omitted it because I didn’t have any!  Try it both ways!  This would be great with chicken too, but in that case, only marinade for a few hours.

4 venison steaks
1 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c of grape seed or olive oil
1 T dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy duty, ziptop bag.  Press out as much air as you can, place the bag on a plate or in a large bowl, and refrigerate overnight.  This can also be made the morning of!  Turn the bag occasionally if you are around to do it, just to keep the meat marinading evenly.  When ready to cook, take the meat out a half hour or so while you preheat the grill.  This takes ensures that the venison isn’t quite so cold and ultimately cooks it much more evenly.  Grill for 3-4 minutes over medium high heat and turn once.  Grilling time will depend on the thickness of your steaks but you want a bit of pink left in the center of venison.  Don’t over do it!  Remove and let rest before enjoying!

Whole Wheat Naan

Whole Wheat NaanA few days ago I posted this recipe for Butter Style Chicken in the slow cooker.  At the end of the recipe, I casually mention that you should serve it with naan.  What I really wanted to say was, “Eat it with naan or you will regret it.”  Or even, “If you don’t eat this with naan, you are dead to me.”

Naan, if you are not familiar with it, is an Indian flatbread that is usually baked in a fire oven.  Tandoori oven actually.  Not having access to one of those, and being a bit leery of cooking near open  flames with a rambunctious 2 year old, I make do with what I have.  A dry pan on the stove works great and while I am sure it can’t even TOUCH the flavor of authentic naan, it works out fine for me and my family.

I replaced some of the flour in it with white whole wheat flour, but feel free to stick with regular ‘ol all-purpose if you like.  This is so wonderfully chewy and yeasty with just a bit of char on it.  Do me a favor and make the chicken and then make this naan to go with it.  Then we can stay friends.

On that same note, I like to do nice things for my friends!  Which is why I am giving away a copy of the fantastic, healthy cookbook, Cooking With Greek Yogurt, by Cassie Johnston.  It is ridiculously easy to put your name in the hat (click here to head to the post), costs nothing, and heck!  You may win!  Just ask the winners of my past giveaways!  Loot actually shows up in your mailbox!  From me!  Sweet deal right?
Whole Wheat NaanSlow Cooker Butter ChickenOne Year Ago: Cream Cheese Ice Cream
Two Years Ago: Root Beer Baked Beans & Lime Sherbet Punch
Three Years Ago: Speedy Glazed Salmon

Whole Wheat Naan
Recipe adapted from Half Baked Harvest
This is so great fresh, we never have any leftover.  It is really best eaten right after it is made, but I have heard of other people freezing the extras and then warming it in a low oven.

2 c white flour
2 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 T sugar
1/4 c warm tap water
3/4 tsp active dry yeast
3/4 c warm, low fat milk
1 c nonfat yogurt

Dissolve the sugar in the warm water and add the yeast.  Stir to combine and let the mixture sit and bloom-bubble and grow a bit as the yeast activates!  Meanwhile, combine the flours, baking powder, and baking soda.  Add the warm milk and yogurt to the yeast mixture, combine and stir into the dry ingredients with a fork.  When it starts to stick together, use your hands to gently combine it evenly into a ball.  Do not over work the dough.  Cover with a piece of cellophane and let sit and rise for about an hour or so.  When ready to cook, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.  I just eyeball it, but you can use a kitchen scale to be 100% accurate.  Place a dry, cast iron pan, or other heavy bottomed skillet, over medium to medium high heat until very hot.  You can even grill it!!  While the pan heats, roll the dough pieces out one by one on a bit of flour.  Traditionally, it should be rolled in to an oval or tear shape, which is fortunate for me because they never seem to turn out round anyway.  Brush both sides of the dough disc with olive oil or grape seed oil.  Toss quickly onto the hot, dry pan and let set, without moving, until it puffs a bit and is good and toasted in spots.  This should only take a minute or two-tops!  Flip it (Careful! Its hot!) and let it toast on the other.  Remove them to a tea towel lined plate and wrap gently to keep warm.  Immediately brushed with butter and dipped in Butter Chicken, Curry, Tikka Masala, or any other saucy dish, may be the best thing you have ever eaten.  Sometimes, I drizzle a piece or two with honey while the butter is melting.  That would make anyones day.

Slow Cooker Butter ChickenBranching out of your comfort zone is never easy.  Wether it is trying a new fashion trend (No, not everyone can wear skinny jeans.) or talking to people you don’t know at a party (The weather is a safe topic…) or reading a book from a section you don’t normally pick from (Try EXODUS by Leon Uris), it can all be a bit intimidating.

As with most things, I believe being adventurous with your food splits people into two categories: those who are and those who decidedly are not.  There are those of us who order something different every time we step foot in a restaurant, get excited about pot-lucks because of the variety, and never give a dinner invite at a friends house a second thought.  The flip side is one who orders strawberry at every ice cream shop they frequent, prefers to go to only one restaurant because they know they can order something there they like, and sweats a bit at dinner parties because they just don’t know exactly what they will be eating!

Between our families and friends, both groups are well represented.  Thankfully, I have a recipe that takes care of everyone!

This recipe is easy and quick to put together, but wonderfully convenient due to the use of the slow cooker.  While some of the spices may be a little foreign to you, nothing is all that out of this world in terms of flavor.  There is chicken, which everyone loves, and rice, which everyone can eat!  There are no weird veggies lurking in the sauce to make your kids wrinkle their noses, and I have lightened it up so bonus-its healthy!

Butter chicken and chicken tikka masala are very similar dishes.  Butter chicken has…well…butter in it.  But after messing around I couldn’t tell the difference wether I added it or not, so mine is without.  I luuuuuuurv buttah, but if I can’t taste it, there is no sense in adding the calories.  The other separations of the dishes are less obvious and depending on where your recipe comes from and who you ask, often contradicting.  Out of habit, I call my version Butter Chicken.

Bottom line, this isn’t as odd or as crazy as you may think.  So if you are trying to branch out in your meal repertoire, this is a super easy option.  Not knowing you or those you cook for, I cannot guarantee they will like it.  You just never know.  All I can say is that it has become a favorite in my house and my family begs for it often.  Testing this recipe over and over to get it juuuuuust right was a task they were more than equal to.  Adventurous eaters or not!
Slow Cooker Butter ChickenSlow Cooker Butter ChickenSlow Cooker Butter ChickenOne Year Ago: Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake - Holy majoley this is so good!
Two Years Ago: Honey Cheesecake Bars
Three Years Ago: Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars & Lemon Spaghetti

Slow Cooker Butter Chicken
This lightened up version is still rich and flavorful.  The bit of cream at the end can be left out, but it finishes off the flavors nicely so please don’t skip it if you can at all help it!  Leftovers freeze wonderfully.  This recipe makes a lot on purpose!  I portion it out in individual servings so that my husband can take a single container of sauce to work with him.  I just make him a fresh batch of rice the night before to go with it!

3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast and/or thighs, cut into bite size chunks
1/2 large or 1 small onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T grated fresh ginger
pinch of cinnamon
2 tsp thai red curry paste (use 1 tsp if you want almost no heat)
2 T garam masala
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cayenne or to taste, optional
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 (14 oz) can lite coconut milk, regular is all right too
1/2 c plain, nonfat yogurt
1/2 c heavy cream, optional
cooked brown rice for serving
Naan, recommended but not required

In the bowl of a standard size slow cooker, add all the chicken and onions.  In a medium bowl combine the remaining ingredients through the yogurt and pour over the chicken and onions.  Cover and cook on low for at least 6 hours, or until the edges are bubbling and the chicken is cooked through.  If possible, stir once halfway through.  On high for four hours is fine as well.  Turn the heat off and stir in the cream.  Sauce will thicken wonderfully when it cools a bit from bubbling!  Serve over brown or white rice, couscous, quinoa, or even whole wheat noodles.  A great whole wheat naan is ah. may. ziiiiiing. with this.  You could skip it, but why would you want to?!

Note: Stay tuned for a GIVEAWAY and Part 2 of  Things You Should Be Doing In Your Kitchen!