Grilled Eggplant Lasagna

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IMG_7824 So you love summer grilling but are getting a little bit tired of it all.  That pot of chili simmering on the back burner or a chicken casserole in the oven is beginning to sound like something you want. (Smells, good, huh?) Salads truly make you a happy camper, but your mouth is just a wee bit sick of chewing…chewing…chewing. Welcome a new girl on your cooking block:  grilled eggplant lasagna.  You might rather think of it as Eggplant Parmesan Stacks–and you can– but as I recently realized: there’s mozzarella in this gorgeous and quick summer dinner.  Which makes it  more like lasagna, right?

This meal looks and feels like pasta, but there’s no pasta in sight, making it perfect for a gluten-free meal.  Seems a bit like meat, but the meat stayed at the store while the vegetables came home to play. (Scroll down for notes for both G-F and vegan.) There’s little to it but grilling the eggplant and zucchini, topping the eggplant with fresh mozzarella, then layering it all on the plate with warm marinara and shaved Parmesan. A few flakes of crushed red pepper add zing, if you like, and a plate lined with greens tidies the whole thing up and makes it both beautiful and healthful.  Try this, even if you’re unsure about eggplant: Continue reading

Peach-Avocado Salad with Basil

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My larder at any time of the year includes a good number of fruits and vegetables in a basket or on the counter to the right of my range. (As one cooking friend admits, “I’ll forget about them if they’re not out there in plain sight.”)  An embarrassment of riches sometimes produces a meal I hadn’t expected or thought of before –especially in the summer — and that’s exactly how we ended up with this eye-candy salad. My original thought was a sort of bastard caprese as I had beaucoup fresh mozzarella as well as a big bag of avocados and a box of ripe peaches.  I’m a rich girl.  But somehow in the making of the dish — I was racing Dave, who was grilling meat — I just forgot the cheese.  Add it if you have some or covet protein or calcium.  I’m sure it would be great, but this is a stunning plateful without any additions. While I’m a committed carnivore, the meat was nearly superfluous.  Try this:

PEACH-AVOCADO SALAD WITH BASIL

makes 2 generous servings

If you’d rather have this for dessert, try a drizzle of local honey in place of the olive oil. 

  •  2 handfuls of fresh greens–I used spinach
  • 1 large ripe peach (Of course I prefer Colorado western slope peaches!), pitted and sliced
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced
  • 12 large fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice (or to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Handful of fresh grapes

Line a small serving platter or dinner plate with the greens and alternate all of the slices of peach and avocado.  Add a leaf of fresh basil every other pairing or so.  Drizzle with orange juice and olive oil; sprinkle with pepper.  Garnish with grapes. Serve immediately.

IMG_7809Sing a new song,

Alyce

Blueberry-Strawberry Pie with Lattice-Crust for Mike’s Birthday

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There’s this odd baker’s conundrum every summer and it’s all about having the best fruit of year on the days when it’s really too hot to bake.  Even with air conditioning.  I usually get up really early –you’ll know this if you’re a regular reader– and get it done before light comes over the eastern plains horizon.

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Because once it does, it gets hot fast. Last week, even on a couple of cool, 75-degree F rainy days, my deck thermometer said 112 degrees Fahrenheit by 8am. (Soon it cools off back there, but not soon enough for coffee outdoors, more’s the pity.)

There are, however, days when bake you must.  The fruit calls; it’s Mike’s birthday and Mike LOVES pie. (Is it a guy thing?)  The berries in our shops last week were at the top of their form (the Oregon berries are among my favorite), which meant they were cheap.  This also means there are jars of blueberry jam coming soon. Very soon. Like today.

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If you love blueberry pie, you might love it even more with a few strawberries thrown in for color and flavor; the orange rind does what lemon juice could if it were smart.  Make someone happy and make a pie.  I won’t tell if you buy the crust (shh!), but it’s tastier, cheaper, and faster to make your own.  Try this:

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BLUEBERRY-STRAWBERRY PIE with lattice crust

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BBQ Pork Chop Salad

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Our rainy Colorado summer continues. Each day, not all day long, but typically in the afternoon or evening, we’re nearly overwhelmed by lightning storms and great, heavy rains we are unaccustomed to. Most years, a desperately needed now and then drizzle qualifies as a Colorado summer rain.  Instead of that sweet pitty-pat every couple of weeks, there are regular and torrential downpours creating gullies and near-ditches where none have gone before. Streets are closed due to flooding; cars are stuck in rising water.  Potted plants float and are emptied repeatedly and still rot.  My two precious pots of rosemary (brought in over the winter and taken outdoors in the late spring) don’t know how to act; one has nearly expired.

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While Rosie, our labradoodle puppy, has no trouble with the rumbling, grumbling, crashing, thunder or the moaning or beating rain, Tucker is a wreck–a new behavior for him.  I can barely console him and often find 75 pounds of golden retriever in my lap. I know; he needs a thunder blanket. Sometimes I’ll “kennel” them together. We don’t use a real kennel but have our mudroom baby-gated and that seems to comfort him. Poor puppy.

One of the gorgeous things about near-mountain life (we live in the Front Range of the Rocky mountains up on the mesa on the west side of Colorado Springs), is the plethora of rainbows. We have many each year even with just a little rain; this year, we have bookoo displays weekly.  The above beauty –they’re so hard to photograph– was snapped just off Highway 24 up near Cascade by my husband Dave while I was a church board meeting. Faithful Christian folk call rainbows, “God’s promise.” (Think Noah.) I can never help but think it.  Right after I think about the pot of gold, that is. (Think Fred Astaire in “Finnian’s Rainbow.”) Continue reading

Mini Cheesecakes with Berries–1 Minute in the Microwave!

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IMG_7720If you’ve looked at the dessert section in my cookbook, you’ll know I’m really fond of very fast and simple sweets.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to bake; I’m my mother’s daughter.  But there’s something fine and easy about a really good tiny after-dinner something or other that doesn’t take a couple of hours to concoct.  To say nothing of being able to pawn off the dessert “chore” to children or the beauty of keeping the heat out of the kitchen on warm days.  Peach pie always sounds so wonderful until the peaches are ripe, filling the bushel basket in the mudroom with dripping goodness, and it’s 90-frigging degrees outside.  Who’s turning on that oven?  Not me.  Heat is not Alyce’s friend. On the other hand, I have a hub who adores a dessert and I like to make this guy happy.  I make a big cheesecake for him every third of July at 0’dark early for his birthday and he doles it out for himself a bit at a time to make it last a long week or more. I have one small piece and that’s about it. IMG_6084 But what about the rest of the time? The days when there isn’t a three-hour time frame for mixing,  baking, and cooling?  Or for folks who are never going to make that big cake no matter what? Or for sweet addicts who really would eat the whole cake if there weren’t individual portions? Enter these tiny bites of fruit-topped goodness that are done before you can say, “What’s for dessert?” Mixed very quickly with a hand-held or standing electric mixer or food processor (my preference), the cakes come together easily, cook for a minute in the microwave, and cool in just a few minutes as they’re so small.  Who doesn’t like individual desserts?  Easy to serve or transport; there’s no cutting or plates. It’s just you and your fork or spoon. Try this: Continue reading

Grilled Tuna and Pickled Onions on Bacon Pintos with Grilled Salad

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Coming off the 4th of July weekend and a little too much potato salad, I was anxious to get back to a healthier meal.  (Small admission to regular readers here: I’ve been dieting seriously since mid-April. Even on the cruise.  I have no idea how much weight I’ve lost, but I’m down a size and more. I mostly kept to South Beach Phase II, and I didn’t give up wine. When I’m down another size, I’ll reevaluate. Ok, so much for truth in blogging.) So then: Costco had ahi tuna on sale and while I’m careful about what kind of seafood I buy, I’m occasionally caught up in the need for a piece of fish just like most people.  (Click here for an informative NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC article about fishing and buying tuna.)

I also had a taste for pinto beans–kept seeing that bag in the cupboard– and it was 60 degrees and wet outside.  Love Colorado weather. Honest.  Just when you think it’s too hot or too dry or too sunny, the weather spins and flips ahead to early fall.

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Typically, though, I’m not interested in long-cooking pots of goodness come July, so this was a welcome exception.  It seemed to me the tuna, if I grilled it, would be a good contrast for the beans with bacon. Tuna isn’t totally bland, but it needs a bit of a foil–a spicy vinaigrette is one of my usual suspects.  This time pickled red onions came to mind, too, and while I quick-pickle cucumbers all year long, I rarely pickle onions. I used a big measuring cup for apple cider vinegar, some spices, and a sliced red onion. I then let it sit for less than an hour.  I wish I’d left it longer and cut them thinner. These onions were wonderful, but could have benefited from a longer bath in the vinegar. They’re great now that the leftovers have sat in the fridge overnight and they’ll keep a week or so if they last that long.

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Tucker had gone to the office with Dave, so Miss Bo-Bo (aka Rosie) stayed home and kept me company as I cooked. While there are easier meals, this one ranks right up there for simplicity. It may take a while because dry beans aren’t instant, but you could do them the day ahead–especially if you want this for a company meal for four.  For two, the leftover beans will feed you lunch with a hunk of corn bread or are perfect for a next night veggie burrito.  I think the tuna’s worth the time spent cooking the beans, of course! Continue reading

Fourth of July–Breakfast and Afternoon Picnic

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Start the day in happy and healthy 4th colors…

Skip the burgers and beer this weekend and put together a festive, but filling picnic-worthy meal of grilled pork tenderloin -one of my favorite summer meals- served with grilled sweet potatoes along with a choice of sauces. Bacon, too, if you want.  Throw together a spicy herb coleslaw and, if you’ve time, my most popular pasta salad–a tortellini and vegetable dish that’s easily made vegetarian (or even vegan) if necessary.  Make the beautiful Strawberry-Amaretto Ice Cream from my last post for the finishing taste and to leave everyone feeling sweet.  This meal lends itself to potluck if you’d like to pass out recipes and just wait for the food to roll in.  If there are any leftovers at all, you’re set for the next day, too, as everything in the post keeps beautifully and the pork makes perfect tacos.  Happy 4th!

Begin in the morning with coffee along with a bowl of sliced red and blue berries and chopped watermelon topped with Greek yogurt, a little granola, and a drizzle of local honey.

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Start the day’s festivities playing some great 4th of July music. Try Pandora or play this selection off youtube.com…  Raining?  Keep the troops happy watching a patriotic movie or two; snuggle up with the pups. Print off coloring pages for the little ones.

RED, WHITE, AND BLUE BREAKFAST SUNDAE

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You’ll have plenty of room for the big picnic later on in the day. A pomosa (Pomegranate juice and sparkling wine) on the side would be a very happy accompaniment, I think.  Figure on a cup each of berries and watermelon for every person, along with 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 1/8 cup granola, and a teaspoon or so of honey. Continue reading

Strawberry-Amaretto Ice Cream: Drink Your Dessert

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It hasn’t been summer in Colorado Springs until the past couple of days.  In fact, we’ve been wet and cool with little need for sandals (boo hoo), short sleeves or air conditioning.  Vegetables plantings have washed away and flower pots have been flooded, poured out, and replanted, only to start that entire cycle again the next day.  Neighbors have water in their basements for the first time in memory.  Living in a place where fire is a typical weather condition possibility many months a year, we don’t complain about rain. Ever. (But…)
IMG_7671As as cook who adores seasonal preparations, I really have been yearning for frozen margaritas, fajitas on the grill, plain ol’ burgers and dogs, and so on.   Until last weekend, summer’s been pretty much miss and very little hit.  And then it began to look like this around here:

IMG_2576After a nutty week of Dave traveling for work in Mexico, Miss Bo-Bo (Rosie) being horrifically ill and isolated with several upper-respiratory infections, me with multiple-cooking away-from-home jobs, Continue reading

Grilled Cod Salad

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IMG_7654 Cod is something I usually associate with fish and chips, if I am even remembering what fish fish and chips are made of, that is.  But cod can be cooked in many other ways (try it wrapped in foil and baked a la Mark Bittman) and because not each and every home cook chooses it stateside, the price is lovely and often under $10 a pound–a real bargain for fish. (Europe is another story; cod outsells salmon in France, for instance.) Watch for it at your grocery fish counter; I watched and found it at mine! By the way: if you suffer from fish cooking fear, a common American phobia, cod is a great place to start. It’s forgiving, cooks quickly, and comes in close to one-pound  well-filleted pieces with nary a tiny bone to worry your sweet mouth.

(below: Cod is no longer a huge fishing industry off the coast of eastern Canada and the U.S. as it was largely overfished for centuries, but we heard lots about its interesting history in our travel to the eastern provinces over the last few years. Top-  Dave at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia and bottom- a view of the shore from the St. Lawrence River and Seaway. Dave and I have cruised it three times and hope to go back.) IMG_0953 IMG_0875 Continue reading

Salade Niçoise for 8–Perfect Summer Meal

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The last cooking class of the season at MOUNTAIN HIGH (formerly Shouse) is the SUMMER SOUPS class on June 18 and it’s full.  You can drop me a note to put your name on the waiting list if you like.  More classes come fall!  

There might not be an easier, tastier, more adaptable, or prettier summer grilling meal than Salade Niçoise.  Once warm weather begins in Colorado, I’m ready for this perfect fish and vegetable plate as it hits all the right notes for an elegant, simple, and healthy dinner. Did I say I love this quintessential French salad or that I’ve been making it for 35 years? That it’s as happy as food can be and just screams CELEBRATE the season?  It requires little more than a decent bottle of wine for accompaniment, though a little baguette and a scoop of sorbet or gelato for dessert would be welcome.  The addition of a cold soup starter, such as my Guacamole Soup with Grilled Shrimp, along with a frozen Margarita, are happy possibilities for larger meal. (Recipe for the soup on upcoming post.)

IMG_7623We served this up last Friday evening to a small group just before running down the hill into town to see a play together. (Colorado Springs folks, go see the Fine Arts Center’s GUYS AND DOLLS! Great show–WOW!)  Since we were celebrating the summer visit of my sister (below with our favorite granddaughter–sorry for iPhone pic), I didn’t want anything elaborate or difficult; I wanted to spend the time visiting with her, while still serving one of her favorite dinners. Preparation was minimal, mostly done ahead, and the platter of vegetables was ready and waiting for the ahi tuna Dave grilled at the very last minute.  In fact, the preparation was mostly making sure I had all the ingredients on hand. After the show, we returned home for a small, late bite of chocolate gelato served with a few berries.  Note:  If you use the linked Epicurious gelato recipe, read it through a couple of times before making and note that you’ll need to chill the mixture for several hours ahead of freezing. I’ve made it a couple of times and adore it, but always have to go over the recipe as it’s a bit convoluted. Continue reading

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