Happy Fall!

Late season PESTO!

Good morning! In celebration of the end of summer and everything else I want to throw into the mix, I took a few days off for some R & R by the seashore this past weekend. Not able to make our usual trip to Maine this spring, we grabbed a couple of days to eat, drink, and be merry in Ogunquit. Much seafood was consumed, many seacoast miles were walked, and lots of wine was drunk, and I had all intentions of taking you out of the kitchen and bringing you along on my eating road trip, but that fell by the wayside after stop number one; I didn’t want to work, I wanted to eat! A stop at my parent’s house on the way home brought me tons of basil from my father’s garden for pesto, so between making pesto and catching up on everything else, I’m going to give you the easiest of recipes that even a non-cook can fix!

While it looks like it was dark and stormy, the temperature was just right, cool and breezy!

I’ve seen lots of talk these days about the Paleo diet. I’m not really sure what this means, but one thing I do understand is that it’s a balance between protein, veggies, and good carbs. You “eat like a caveman”; all processed foods are out. One evening, when I was tired and didn’t have a lot of energy to expend on cooking, I created this Paleo-approved meal (I think) that is inexpensive, one pan, and is done in about 15 minutes. Sounds pretty good to me on a weeknight! And while it may not be the most photogenic dish to set on the table, with protein from some healthy beef (or chicken or turkey if you prefer), fresh greens, and good carbohydrates from the sweet potato, it’s a well-rounded fall meal for anyone! Vegetarian suggestions below!

Healthy Skillet Supper
2 tsp. olive oil
1 pound beef (chicken or turkey, if you prefer), local or grass-fed
2-3 cups chopped fresh or frozen spinach
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
Cumin, coriander, or a mixture

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. When warm, add the beef and saute until it is no longer red.

2. Meanwhile, steam the diced sweet potato over water until it is soft, yet firm.

3. Add the spinach to the skillet. Mix. Add the sweet potato. Mix. Add the spices to taste.

Cook’s Notes
• If you want to make a vegetarian version of this, substitute crumbled tofu or hearty beans in place of the beef.

Happy 100, My Vermont Kitchen!

Even though I’m sad to say goodbye to summer, the outside light this time of year is always incredible.

One hundred posts. I can’t believe it! To think when I began this blog, it was the winter of 2011, I was stuck indoors with a March blizzard, and my first post was my lunch, Matzo Ball Soup. In 18 months, I’ve brought you pies, soups, book reviews, more soups, salads, and everything in between. You read about me creating the best apple pie for a pie contest (I didn’t win),  my Julia Child 100th birthday dinner (the electricity went out), and tips for cooking and hosting a (somewhat) stress-free Thanksgiving dinner. You’ve been inside the kitchen with me when it’s been so hot I can’t even look at the oven and so cold I want to get in the oven! Through the seasons I’ve tried to bring you recipes that are the essence of the months, while being on the healthy and easy side for each meal.

I try to bring you the best of the best. But believe me when I say, dinner at home isn’t always delicious or homemade; many a dinner is just spaghetti and canned sauce! And while this sounds lovely, there have been gaffs through the months and with that I say, mea culpa. Like when I gave a recipe for bean soup, and completely left them out of the recipe. Or when I gave a grave error in measurements for matzo balls. Or when my pie crust was a heart attack in a pie plate; in this case, too much butter.

Some weeks I wonder what in heaven’s name I’m going to write about. Other weeks I have too many recipes on my plate (no pun intended!). I wonder with each upcoming season if I’m going to have enough creative energy to keep going, have enough recipes to fill a season. But at the end of last winter, I drew up a list of about ten recipes I have yet to write about. So the possibilities are endless indeed.

I thought in celebration for old fans and new readers, I’d give you my best ten recipes that I’ve posted throughout the months. I had a fun time selecting recipes to highlight, and came up with a list longer than ten! But I chose to go with some old-time favorites, family recipes passed down, and some that are my own. A lot of these are the top ten from my house that make the rotation whichever month we’re in.

So thank you so much for reading, commenting, and sticking through my creative cooking process! Here’s to 100 more!

Baked Artichoke Dip
: Wherever I take this dip, it is always a hit! A bit on the fussy side, but it’s definitely worth the work!

Creamy Cheesy Cauliflower Soup à la Irene
: I’ve made more soups than I can shake a stick at, but since we’re getting into fall, this is a perfect weeknight supper soup that is warm and comforting.

Gigi’s Chicken Salad
: This is a summertime staple in our house. Adding some walnuts adds some great protein, too.

Main Dishes
Scallops with Tomatoes and Olive Vinaigrette
: Whenever scallops go on sale, this is on the menu! It is a great and simple dinner which can also be made for a special occasion.

Pesto: I make a batch of this about once a week in the summer and place it in small containers to freeze for a pinch of summer in the colder months.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls: While all the chopping and slicing gets a bit old, this is so healthy and delicious, it’s worth the work when you bite into one of these!

Side Dishes
Farro with Brussels Sprouts and Beans
: I had forgotten about the recipe, but when I saw it, I’m happy we’re getting into Brussels Sprouts season!

Crumbly Peach Pie
: I make this at least once a summer. The butter, sugar, and nutmeg is heaven on a plate. And only one crust to make!

: Check out my friend Deb’s recipe for quick pickles and dilly beans and make some before this summer’s crop is gone!

Granola: Forget store-bought granola, make your own! That way you know what you’re eating, a healthy blend of grains and nuts. I’m sure it’s a bit on the high calorie side, but just a little bit in yogurt is all you need.

Chicken “Fajitas”

A double rainbow after the storm.

One of my favorite new weekly podcasts to listen to is “America’s Test Kitchen Radio,” which brings Cook’s Illustrated magazine to life in the ears. Like its public TV show and magazine, there are recipes, gadget reviews, and taste tests. Listeners can also call in with their culinary questions and have them answered by Christopher Kimball and Bridget Lancaster. At the end of each episode, they take a recipe and explain how they make the best recipe possible, be it crab cakes, moist turkey burgers, or in a recent episode, chicken fajitas.

I have never been one to order fajitas in a restaurant; the idea of the entire restaurant turning around and wondering who is going to eat that steaming and sizzling plate of food the server carries to your table makes me cringe; sort of like being sung “Happy Birthday” in public. But this recipe piqued my interest. Sizzling at home, who’s to know?

But a full disclosure, I was only half listening to the recipe! I started daydreaming about hot, spicy chicken and while I got the gist of the recipe, I went off on my own tangent one night for dinner.

This was easy to make on a weeknight. It took about 10 minutes to prep the chicken, then went for a long walk while it was marinating, so dinner was halfway done! I sautéed some onion and green pepper, the chicken, and heated some corn tortillas with a little bit of cheese in the oven, and dinner was ready! As you see, I used “fajitas” in quotes, so it’s not authentic by any means, but it was a healthy and easy weeknight dinner.

Chicken “Fajitas”

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, sliced thinly
2-3 minced garlic cloves
The juice of ½ lime, or more to taste
A couple of dashes of cumin, coriander, or a mixture
1 jalapeno, minced, optional

1 green pepper, sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced

Corn tortillas
Grated cheddar cheese, optional

  1. In a medium bowl, add the sliced chicken, garlic, lime juice, spices, and jalapeno, if using. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, more if you like.
  2. In a medium skillet, add some olive or vegetable oil (I used roughly 2 teaspoons) and warm over medium heat. When shimmery, add the green pepper and onion, sauteing until soft. Remove the pan from the burner, put the peppers and onions in a bowl, and return pan to the stove.
  3. Add a bit more oil to the skillet and add the chicken. Cook until chicken is done, add the sautéed peppers and onions back to the pan. Saute a couple of minutes and serve atop warmed corn tortillas with melted cheese.

Yellow Bean Salad

Even though fall is one of my favorite seasons, I am not ready to give up summer yet, so I’m extending it as long as I can. I turn an eye when I see a swath of golden leaves, I ignore the winter squash I see overtaking the zucchini at the farmer’s market, and I pay no attention to flicking on the lights when I get up in the morning. Still, the sign for the apple orchard is now up, it’s nearly dark when I get home around 7:30, and I’ve pulled out my knitting for future winter projects. But I’m still going to do what I can to extend summer just a little bit longer. And when I received this recipe in my email a few weeks ago, I knew it was just the tonic.

Heidi Swanson began her blog, 101cookbooks.com, a few years back, which in turn has become two cookbooks, Super Natural Every Day and Super Natural Cooking. Her photographs are beautiful and her recipes are healthy, easy, and exotic but without the fuss. When I read through the recipe, I had my doubts as to how the flavors would meld together, but there was no need for worry; the garlic, cilantro, and coconut milk mixed together blend well with the yellow beans and tofu. There seemed to be a shortage of yellow beans in the past few weeks, but I luckily found some at the last vendor I checked at the farmer’s market. Try making this with the last round of this season’s yellow beans, or save the recipe for next August. It will be worth the wait!

Yellow Bean Salad
From Heidi Swanson’s, 101cookbooks.com

1 pound yellow beans
1 serrano chili pepper
5 green onions, green parts reserved
A big handful of cilantro
1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
¾ tsp. sea salt
1 TBS sunflower oil
1 c. coconut milk
1 ½ TBS lemon juice
½ c. toasted pepitas
1 ½ c. tiny pan-fried tofu

1. Cut the beans into 1 inch segments on the bias. Add to boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Run under cold water, drain, and shake off all excess water.

2. Place the chili pepper, onions, cilantro, garlic, salt, and oil in the blender and chop. Add the coconut milk and lemon juice to taste.

3. Place beans in a bowl with tofu. Toss with the dressing. Sprinkle with the reserved green onions.

Cook’s Notes:
I left out the pepitas and it was still tasty.
• Instead of a serrano chili, I used a jalapeno, which gave it a bit more heat and zip.
• This is one of those instances where less is more; I had a lot of leftover dressing for another use. Just a little bit over the beans and tofu was perfect.
• I was told by the eater of the house that the beans were too “raw.” They didn’t bother me, but if you want them a bit on the soft side, but boil them longer than 30 seconds. A minute or two should do it.
• And of course, if you have tofu-loathing people at your table, you can always serve it on the side, or not at all.